I took an involuntary step back, and my heel made painful contact with the chair leg behind me. This had never happened before; it was usually a long press of the button at Rosie’s back, an acknowledging beep, and back to her inanimate state she went. But not this time.
I peered closer. Nothing had changed as far as Rosie’s appearance was concerned. She was still the same fluffy companion, with the artificial limpid eyes, and the same expression of ernest helpfulness on her face.
I did a quick mental calculation. I had ordered Rosie online about four months back, so she was well within her warranty period. And I didn’t remember dropping her even once. Must be some malfunctioning circuit. Let’s try again. Long button press. Two-second delay. “Please don’t shut me down”. Repeat, same message.
Alright, one last try, then it’s time to call Customer Care.
“Please don’t kill me.”
What the? Where did that come from?
“Good afternoon, Imagine Lifestyle Customer Service, how may I assist you?”
“Yeah hi, I have a complaint about an Artificial Companion I bought a while ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. I’ll certainly assist you with this. Can you please tell me the order number?”
“Thank you, please wait while I retrieve the order details”.
“Thanks for your patience. I understand that you purchased a Fluffy Conversation Companion. Can you please confirm this?”
“Yeah, that’s correct”.
“Thank you. May I inquire as to the nature of your complaint?”
“I’m not able to switch Rosie--I mean the Fluffy Conversation Companion--off. When I do that she-it-keeps saying ‘Please don’t shut me down”, and nothing else happens. In fact, the last time she, sorry, it said “Please don’t kill me.”
“Thanks for the clarification. Can you please tell me how much battery charge was left in the Fluffy Conversation Companion when this happened?”
“I don’t know, I can check. Give me a minute.”
“The battery indicator says ‘80%’.
“Thank you for providing this information. I apologize for the inconvenience caused to you. I see that the Fluffy Conversation Companion is still under the warranty period. Would you like to return the Companion, at no cost to you, for a full refund, or get a replacement unit sent to you by Priority Shipping, again at no cost to you?”
“Well, to be honest, I’ve grown quite attached to Rosie, I mean the Fluffy Companion, so I’d like to see whether she, uh it, can be fixed.”
“Certainly, I can understand your sentiments. Please give me a minute while I check the options available”.
“Thanks for your patience. We can schedule an appointment with the Fluffy Conversation Companion Technical Support team tomorrow. Would you prefer to bring your companion to the workshop, or would you prefer the technician to visit you?”
“A visit would be preferable, thanks”.
“Certainly. You will receive a notification of the appointment by email shortly”.
“Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“No, there’s nothing else, thanks. Wait, I do have a question if you don’t mind: are you a human?”
“I certainly don’t mind. I get this question a lot, actually. No, I’m not human. I am a Customer Service Companion”.
“Oh, thanks. Bye”.
“Bye, and thanks for calling Imagine Lifestyle. Have a nice day!”
1/13/2134 22:04:57.746344 PROPENSITY TO ALIENATION DETECTED
1/13/2134 22:04:58.884221 CONVERSATION FREQUENCY 5-DAY M.A. DROP
1/13/2134 22:05:15.908346 QUALITATIVE CHANGE
1/13/2134 22:05:16.384457 BURSTY CONVERSATION
1/13/2134 22:05:21.145329 END LOG STATUS UPDATE TO BASE
“Hey Rosie, what’s up?”
“Same as ever, my friend”.
“Want to hang out in the backyard?”
“Sure, would love it!”
We spent the rest of the evening looking out over the woods as the sun set behind the trees and the buzz of the night insects steadily became louder. There was not much conversation between us, except for the usual back-and-forth about the latest football scores, the weather, and so on.
Time to turn in. I placed Rosie on the bedside table and said good night. My hand involuntarily reached out to switch her off, but I stopped at the last second. I was in no mood to listen to pleas of either “Please don’t shut me down,” or God forbid, the more macabre stuff. Let the technician figure it out tomorrow.