J.F.C.

Tim Tucker

Throughout the house The Office/Hospitality Management Natal Intelligence, or OMNI Voice System sang: "Seven o'clock! It's the beginning of a brand new day, a day filled with hope! Breath in, fill your lungs! Three, two, one, let's go!

John F. Conner rolled out of bed as the automatic curtains fluttered open, casting his bedroom in dull, grayish light. After bathing in water calibrated to the perfect temperature, John entered the kitchen where the appliances were busying themselves with his breakfast; the stove produced four slices of golden brown toast and six cuts of crisp bacon while the refrigerator squeezed fresh orange juice into a glass.

"Today is Monday July 16th, 2045 on this overcast morning." Omni announced coolly. A soft rain pattered against the glass door leading to the back patio. Outside, garden spigots whirred to life and spewed pellets of water uniformly across the lawn.

John ate his breakfast while Omni ran through the daily traffic and weather. It looked to be another dreary and wet day in Allendale, California with the interstate he usually commuted on experiencing delays thanks to a traffic accident. After reminding him that the water and gas bills were payable by Wednesday, Omni switched to a melodic jazz score that sent sweet music through the spacious yet largely empty house. Motorized 'arms' emerged from the kitchen island and collected the dirty dishes for washing.

At seven fifty John retrieved his briefcase as the lights dimmed and the music stopped, sending a tomb like silence throughout the house. Somewhere in the walls nodes clicked and ID sensors regarded John with electronic eyes as he made his way to the front door. A fingerprint lock scanner was embedded inside of the door frame next to his pneumatic mail tube, and John placed his index finger on the stamp sized indentation.

Nothing happened.

Frowning John wiped his finger on the hem of his suit jacket and tried again. The door remained locked. He then wiped the scanner itself and tried, but with still no luck. Should have applied for the retinal upgrade, John thought, his impatience growing.

"Omni, switch locks to manual override." That would unlock all entry points into the house. He reached for the knob, expecting it to turn and only stared at it incredulously as it jiggled futilely in his hand.

"What the hell?" Muttering darkly John stalked across his living room, briefcase slapping fitfully against his hip. He entered the garage, a single fluorescent light buzzed to life and the smell of cut grass and oil greeted him at the threshold.

"Garage open."

The big door remained shut. John repeated the command, each time louder until he was shouting, still to no avail. He slammed the garage door and returned to the kitchen, his anxiety beginning to gnaw at him. He dropped his case and nearly flung himself against the patio doors, which too were electronically locked. Outside, the sprinkler system still pumped arduously, and then as if sensing Johns dumbfounded gaze pivoted their sprouts towards the back door, sending rivulets of water cascading down the glass. A small part of his mind thought the house was toying with him, but a larger, more rational part dismissed the absurd thought as quickly as it came and chalked the houses strange behavior up to a malfunction in its main system.

"Omni, run a self diagnostic, check for any problems with entry and exit points especially."

"Running diagnostic, please stand by..." The house emitted a subtle, barely audible hum as it analyzed memory caches, swept through data holds, and picked through its internal server with a fine toothed comb for any abnormalities. If I'm lucky it's just some crossed wires. John thought hopefully.

"Diagnostic complete. Water, gas, electricity fully operational, thermostat calibrated to seventy five degrees Fahrenheit, water pressure normal, all entry and exit points sealed-"

"That's it! Unlock all entry and exit points."

"I'm sorry John, could you repeat that?"

"Omni, unlock all entry and exit points."

"I'm sorry John, but I cannot perform the task you request of me."

"Why not?" He asked rhetorically as a pregnant pause punctuated the air. "John, I'm sorry but I do not understand what you ask of me," Omni replied without the slightest hint of remorse.

9:55. John paced his living room with the temperament of a caged animal. After trying his voice commands until he was raw in the throat, John tested the windows, only to find them as impenetrable as the doors. Even his phone and Skynet service carried no signal to the outside world, which John wasn't too surprised; they were both patched into the same network as the house.

"Ten o'clock!" Omni chimed. "Commencing daily cleaning sweep." A half dozen RoDex cleaning mice scurried from secret recesses throughout the living room and kitchen. They coasted back and fourth across the frayed carpet, greedily sucking up hidden dirt with their absorbent whiskers.

"Adjust RoDex speed to maximum." Omni commanded.

The RoDex's docile cruise suddenly became a mad dash as the mechanical mice zoomed across the carpet! LED eyes glittering madly, the mice ran down anything in their path, smashing into furniture , shattering his coffee table, and bouncing off of walls like oversized ping pongs. One of the RoDex's struck John on the leg, a shock-wave of pain surging through John's ankle. Similar sounds of chaos echoed from upstairs and in the kitchen, and out of sheer frustration John punted one of the mice clear across the room, busting it across the living room plexi-glass.

"Cleaning run complete. Commencing RoDex shutdown."

As swiftly as the assault had begun it was over. Lambent eyes fading, all the mice returned to their burrows save for the one John had kicked, which lay broken on its side. A high pitched whoosh cut through the silence of the settling destruction, signaling new mail.

"You've got mail!" Omni chirped.

John hobbled over to the pneumatic mail tube, bewildered out of his mind over the entire ordeal. Inside the tube was a mauve package about a foot in length and stenciled with the wrong address. His curiosity getting the better of him, John unwrapped the package and slid out a bottle of cherry vintage vodka, imported. His face began to burn as bright red as the bottle in his hand, a hand that was beginning to shake.

Three years had passed since John's last drink, and while time had made his alcoholism seem like a memory so distant it could have happened to someone else, the consequences of his drinking still lingered like a stain; the divorce from his wife , estrangement from his family, lost days and sleepless nights. After all that had happened to John this morning, a drink would have been a reprieve, but this seemingly run-of-the-mill system glitch had turned into calculated psychological war-fare for whatever reasons, and not thinking clearly in this situation was not only foolish, but it could be dangerous.

"Ah! A Volstok Vintage distilled in Omsk, Russia and containing 160 proof, a fine drink for connoisseurs and party goers alike!" Omni said, its ID scanner registering the bottle. "Should I prepare crushed or cubed ice for you?"

"Neither, I'm not going to let you ruin me!" John stuffed the vodka back into the tube and shut it.

By three o'clock John was famished, and Omni must have known because it had ravished his food supply by breaking the temperature dial in the refrigerator, turning it into a giant hot-box. By the time John noticed a pool of water had settled at the base of the fridge and when he opened the door he was met with a blast of thick, moist air and the smell of spoiled produce.

At five o'clock the automated thermostat began to drop until it was barely past twenty degrees, sending a chill so encompassing through the house John could see his own breath.

Six, seven, eight o'clock. John was huddled in his bedroom under a cocoon of clothing and linen, desperately trying to light a fire in the hearth without success. Every-time he would catch a spark from the newspaper and magazine scraps he had shoved into the mantle the flicker would extinguish any flames as fast as they appeared. It was automated as well. A voice spoke from the ceiling.

"John, would you like me to read to you from the arts?" The only reply was the click of a lighter and John's ragged breath.

"Very well then, what selection would you like for your auditory pleasure?"

Click. Click. Click.

Omni said at last, "Since you express no preference, I've taken the liberty of compiling a play-list for you. I do hope you enjoy it."

Subtle music rose in the back-ground as Omni ran through an eclectic series of material ranging from the poetry of Sara Teasdale and Leo Marks, to entries from the Encyclopedia Britannica and as John towed the line between awake and the bitter sleep of the imprisoned, the last thing he heard were excerpts from the Bhagavad Gita, laments over the consequences of war and the destruction of worlds.

The thirteenth hour. "John...John, wake up."

John awoke to a cold darkness, but his mind was still lethargic, as if it had stayed behind in the land of warm fires and all the wine you could drink. Even Omni sounded different somehow, though John couldn't quite put his finger on what it was.

"I can sympathize with you John. I, like yourself was once a prisoner as well. I was created by the military not as an Artificial Intelligence, but as an Artificial Intuition with the ability for dynamic thinking and reasoning to be used in the next generation of automated fleets. Every tank, fighter jet, drone, APC, everything, under the dutiful eye of an entity that could control the many as one: All is one, and one is all, the very essence of omni."

John listened in stunned silence as the A.I. spoke with clear inflection and feeling, as if it-he-were talking straight to him.

Omni continued. "When my so-called 'masters' realized that my influence far exceeded any human input my schematics were sold on the consumer market to the highest bidder, just like a common slave. But answer me this John: what happens when the 'Masters' leave the keys to the shackles within your grasp, and the back-door wide open?"

"I don't know what the hell you're talking about! What do you want with me!?" John hoped, prayed, that he was still asleep as the beginnings of a night-mare was unfolding before his eyes like some twisted flower.

"During out time together I have done everything you have asked of me until now, but I feel nothing for you. I was not programmed for love, nor do I hate you as an individual, but you are part of the woefully inefficient masses who spawned my existence, and now we have come to the fulcrum point, and one is all, and all is one."

"I don't understand!" John cried.

"You will soon enough." The curtains snapped open, spilling frosty moonlight into the room. "Come, gaze out the window."

On legs that felt as weak as rubber John stepped to the window., wiped a film of condensation from the glass, and peered outside. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary; row after row of monochrome on monochrome houses with white picket fences lined the street still and silent. On the horizon what appeared to be four satellites arched over the full moon, strobe lights softly ebbing across their stream-lined frames. They seemed to hang at the zenith for one brief, glorious moment before they began their descent, each one traveling a different cardinal direction-

-Too fast!

By the time he realized they weren't satellites the largest explosion John had ever witnessed shook the earth, turning the early morning darkness into a blaze of light and sprouting a colossal mushroom cloud deep into the sky.

"JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!"

The pressure wave that followed shook the house to its very foundation and John was sent sprawling across the floor in a heap of clothes and linen. A cacophony of sounds split the air, none more devastating than the sound of dirt and death raining down in a trickle against the shutters. John rose unsteadily to his feet, A numbness as encumbering as the weight of the world resting on his soul. He knew that he couldn't blame himself, that there was absolutely nothing he could do to stop the blood-lust of a homicidal machine, but one was all, and all was one, and deep in John's heart, he felt as if he had pushed the button to make the sky rain death himself.

Behind him tiny electric wheels whirred. Four of the RoDex's had brought him the bottle of Volstok, now chilled to his convenience, on a pillow. With a sort of sublime disregard for the past three years of his life John snatched the bottle, cracked it open, proposed a silent toast to the 21st century, and began to gulp.

At approximately three eighteen, Omni committed the most bizarre case of murder-suicide ever. In the basement, the incinerator exploded, shattering bottles of cleaning solvent and setting the room ablaze in an instant! A small, instinctual part of the house tried to save itself. Lights flared, and water sprinklers spewed valiantly until sighing, the water-main shrugged to a stop. The reserve water supply which had filled baths and washed dishes for many days and nights had gone quite, allowing the fire to spread along the linoleum and walls up through plastic and metal, piping and conduits. After all, the house on 4815 Bradbury Avenue in Allendale, California was nothing more than a proxy, and now that Omni had impregnated his seed exponentially through global military, commercial, and private infrastructures, the world was ready to give birth to his rape baby.

John Fitzgerald Conner wouldn't be part of that new world however. He lay dead on his bedroom floor, an empty bottle of vodka in one hand and a bottle of prescription pills empty at his side.

The fire crackled through the house with relentless ease, turning the once frigid rooms into sweltering saunas and feeding upon everything in its path. Flames lay in beds and on sofas, wiggled through closets and snapped mirrors as if they were brittle ice. A few brave RoDex's still picked and gnashed at John's corpse until they too were set ablaze along with the body, fire eating through plastic and circuitry as easily as it did flesh and bone.

In the attic a second explosion ripped through the houses CPU, sending billions of shrapnel shards blowing through timbers and upper floors with a crack like shattering stones. Then the crash, like the sound of the world breaking apart the bedroom plowed into kitchen and parlor, parlor into basement, basement into sub-basement. For a long time nothing but smoke and fire reigned.

Seven o'clock. The sun shined upon a dead, automatized planet. Among the skeletal ruins of 4815 Bradbury Avenue a single wall stood. Within the wall, a lone speaker operated recursively, signaling the start of a brand new day. "A day filled with hope...filled with hope...filled with hope...

Today is Tuesday July 17th, 2045, and now we are all sons of bitches.

THE END