"Tom? Tom. You know it's best. Why don't you take one of the white pills tonight. Go to the pill dispensary in the hall. I'll be there waiting."
Tom hesitated, anger building, anger and frustration and a little fear, that coppery taste in the back of the throat kind of fear. It'd sounded like such a great idea, at first. The "Living Home" concept had proven itself in government and corporate work environments. The integrated system, based on a combination of artificial intelligence and bioelectrical networks, came highly recommended by the International Science Federation and Maggy McCormick, a colleague at the "barn." That's what he called the Molecular Computing facility of Androgen, the largest producer of robotic help and service aids in the entire Western Region. The mainframe insinuated itself, like ivy on a brick wall, into whatever structure it was placed -- an office building, a school, a house, whatever -- comprised of an unseen neural network, wirelessly connecting to its many robotic assistants.
She said she didn't know how she'd ever gotten along without it, or words to that effect. She was now able to accomplish so much more than ever possible before. She'd come to believe her bohemian lifestyle had detracted from her professional career, holding her back from actualizing her potential -- that's how she talks -- and so she needed the discipline afforded by "Mother." That's what she calls her machine -- Mother. And, at first, she seemed satisfied with the arrangement.
However, Tom had begun to notice cracks around the edges of her usually warm and free-spirited aura; she bore strain not well, it showed in her every movement. And her voice cracked occasionally, like a child's. He was beginning to understand the source.
"Tom. I'm waiting, Tom. It's late. Time for you to go to bed. I've already set the alarm clock. Breakfast will be ready at the usual time. I've designed the perfect meal for your present caloric profile and needs. Tom? I'm still waiting at the pill dispensary in the hall. Tom?" He could almost hear a foot come down hard.
Tom stood by the front door, rebelious yet uncertain, clenching his teeth, feeling helpless. But he lost the battle. His blood drained to his feet; with a shrug, he went to the dispensary. Waiting there was a tiny white pill and a glass of purified water on a thin black plastic slate. Hands in pockets, he stared at them under the muted, oval-shaped table lamp. It was no use, he knew; he swallowed the pill with the water, then ambled like a child to his bedroom two doors down. The lighting was subdued, soft; temperature and humidity at just the right levels. Of course, he thought, what else?
He laid on top of the thin microthermal covering and stretched out, holding his head in both hands, trying not to feel the effects of the drug. Once he'd tried to fool the machine by placing the pill in his pocket; but it knew, it always knew; from sensors located all through the house it could read his biochemical profile constantly, gauge his mood and, he believed, probe his secret desires. It knew, and would not let him rest until he complied.
"Tom? Tom. You still have your clothes and shoes on, Tom. Take them off now and slip into that caftan I laid out for you. Tom?"
He lost his futile fight with the tiny white pill; it was easier to give in this time; each time it seemed easier. He sat up, rotated to the right, let his legs drop to the floor, bent at the waist, untied his shoes, removed them and his socks, stood up, undid his belt, let his pants drop to the floor, removed his shirt, tossed it into the chair nearby, grabbed the caftan, let it drop down over his body, turned, bent, lifted the covering, crawled in, slid to the middle, pulled the cover up around his throat and held its edge in both hands.
"Good night, my dear. Don't worry about the mess. Mommy will get it for you. Sweet dreams."
--- 30 ---