Iniquitous Computing by Edward M. Lerner

“I had inferred from my surroundings,” began the cloth in a conversational tone, “that I am a dish towel. Was I in err….” The query was cut short by the garbage disposal—a modern abomination I had lacked the funds to have removed—into which I crammed the towel in horror.

“I appear to have jammed.” The entangling fabric did not sufficiently muffle the disposal’s utterance. “I have scheduled a service call by a plumber. Door can let her in.”

At least the raven was succinct. I rushed, heart pounding, to the lavatory. My hands shook as I struggled with the childproof cap of a medicine vial. Pills flew as I dropped the container.

“Danger, danger,” shouted yet another suddenly possessed object. “An overdose of pills has been removed. A call has been placed to 911 and Poison Control. Stay cool, Dave-i-o.”

The red haze through which I now viewed my surroundings bore no relationship to the pills, not one of which had found its way to my mouth. Was each capsule equipped with an invisible computer? Spirits, I thought, having in mind amontillado, not household devices suddenly infected by the twenty-first century. I recalled an elegant Victorian cut-glass decanter of the vintage sherry in my liquor cabinet. Vessel and elixir alike were far too old to have been afflicted by tiny electronic demons.

Alas, I had forgotten the modernity of the lock that secured the spirits cabinet from my occasionally visiting young nephews. “Danger!” bellowed the lock. “Alcohol may not be taken with your medication, Dave Boy.” It would not relinquish its grasp.

“That’s Dr. Whitaker!!” I rattled and shook the door, to no effect. Somewhere, something announced that a suicide alert had been appended to the 911 call.

I was still tugging in vain at the cabinet when the paramedics, admitted by the self-important front door, fought me to the ground. There was a stab of pain in my arm and then …

* * * *

I awakened in an unfamiliar Pit: sealed into a windowless padded chamber by a padded door. Prodding the door with a lace-less shoe evoked no reaction. “Door.” Nothing. “Answer me, door.” Nothing. “Damnation,” I howled, “answer me.”

The door remained silent.

I retreated to a corner. In due course, the mute door swung inward, admitting a burly orderly. His sinewy hand, still resting on the outside knob (the inner surface exhibited no such mechanism) revealed a traditional manual mode of portal operation. “Are you feeling better. Dr. Whitaker?”

“Why did the door not answer me?”

“For the same reason the bed won’t, or your clothes, or the walls.” He paused as his communicator earring chirped and whispered, the words unintelligible to me. “Here in the hospital,” and the hesitation before hospital made clear exactly the sort of institution to which I had been brought, “we do not allow non-medical networks. There is no need to risk interference between ordinary devices and our own.” To my befuddled look, he added, as though it explained anything, “We broadcast a coded low-power signal that inerts nearby smart consumer devices.”

My heart once more pounded in my chest. All that I had gleaned from his technobabble was that this institution had created a modern-day moat.

“So are you feeling better, Dr. Whitaker?” the orderly repeated.

“Demons,” I answered. Ravens. “Demons everywhere.” Everywhere else.

The orderly looked at me sadly. I, with great force of will, looked as somberly back at him.

On the inside, I was smiling.

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Categories: Edward Lerner