Prompt: your eye has been twitching all morning, suddenly the vision goes black and a message displays “error, maintenance required.”
She, we’ll call her Rose because it’s the simplest name to use, awoke in a tangle of blankets sucking her thumb. The habit had reared its head, adorable or ugly depending on who you ask, about eight months ago. She slept alone, so she didn’t see the harm. On that morning her thumb tasted like pancakes and dark amber syrup with smashed blackberries.
She rose without opening her eyes and continued to suck. The tastes were on a five day cycle; she thought about telling Caretaker to add a few to make for a full week, but decided against it. Caretaker’s guesses were always good, and Rose was too afraid of screwing them up with her own useless opinions. It was Caretaker’s decision to spray a little flavoring on her thumb while she slept in the first place. She never would’ve thought it up on her own.
Her Caretaker was special thanks to it being so outdated. Bugs in the code here and there made it adventurous, experimental, and highly protective. The mechanical arms the flavor bottles were attached to were never even supposed to leave the wall-panel for the meal machine.
Rose opened her eyes and was pleased to see Caretaker had protected her room from all the daylight that was surely just outside the tinted windows. She could see feet in them, from her basement apartment, as they trudged along the sidewalk and occasionally dodged the piles of dog waste that the municipal bots were a little slow in picking up. She opened a closet and squeezed herself inside its plastic walls. Caretaker activated the nozzle and showered her in warm water.
That got rid of the last of the flavoring, so she let her hand drop. She held the other one out. A tiny waterproofed arm emerged from the wall and dropped three pills into her palm. She wasn’t supposed to take her pills in the shower, people liked to ditch them in the drains, but Caretaker let it slide. It knew she liked to let a little of the hot water swirl around them and partly dissolve their nasty casings. Then she would swallow it all down at once as a hot gulp with the last of her thumb’s flavor still in her mouth.
“Caretaker,” she said in a soft voice that seemed like it was still in bed, “my eye is twitching.” Another arm appeared, tipped in a glass bulb with a mechanical pupil, and examined her eye closely.
“I see it,” Caretaker answered her. “It is a simple twitch. It should go away in a few minutes.”
“Now my eye is saying something. Error: Maintenance Required. Am I seeing that? Is it in my eye?” she wasn’t too bothered. Caretaker took care of most problems quickly. This wasn’t even much of a problem, more like a new friend. She saw errors as mischievous imps biting at Caretaker’s ankles whenever it was distracted. She could collude with them for a little bit of fun.
“You need to remove your eye,” Caretaker said. It would’ve done it itself, but if a human fidgeted during extraction serious damage could be caused. “Reach up and use your index finger to press on the other corner of your left eye for ten seconds,” the voice in her walls instructed.
“Is this not my real eye?” she asked. “I forgot which parts of me are real. The thumb tastes real. At least this one… no… both of them. They’re both real.”
“Yes. You have a great memory. Please remove your eye.” Rose did as she was told, but sighed about halfway through. Who had the patience to do this for so long? She could’ve listened to two micro-symphonies in ten seconds. She could’ve watched the latest drama flash. Of course, she needed her false eye to be in working order to see them. The eye popped out; she held it up proudly.
Something knocked her from behind and sent her into the door of the shower. Her eye nearly fell out of her hand. The Caretaker apologized. It forgot to warn her not to get any hot water in her eye socket, and so needed to shove her out of its flow. The impact opened all sorts of little drawers Caretaker had hidden. The shower was easy to sterilize, so when it wasn’t in use it made an excellent personal medbay. Each drawer had a little tool or device that Rose was never supposed to see without the proper sedative capsule in her.
“Uhm…” she noticed a scalpel. She whirled around. A dental pick. A pair of forceps. Lifelike replacements for ears, nostrils, fingers, and toes. Electric blue teeth with built-in screens for golden teeth on demand. “These are… scary.”
“Just relax. I’ll get everything put away and we’ll fix your eye,” Caretaker said. One by one the drawers closed. Some of them had water in them, but the A.I. could take care of that later. Rose was the top priority.
“Wait!” She spotted something. Another eye. It was brightly-colored: red like the thinnest caramels of burning sugar. It was adorable. She snatched it just as the little door pinched her fingers. “Why am I not using this one? I have that dress. It’ll go with that dress.” Rose flipped the eye around before Caretaker could protest and squished it into her face. She blinked to make it adjust. “Oh wow. Everything’s so… It’s like added flavor.”
“Rose, please remove that,” Caretaker said. “It is a prototype I made years ago. It is not suitable. There is likely dust on it as well. Please…”
“You never let me have any fun,” she said, though her fun was the sole purpose of Caretaker’s existence. She pushed the shower door open and walked, naked and dripping, to the center of her apartment. She closed the eye that wasn’t new because it didn’t cooperate with the other. Everything was red and pink. Her walls curved gently, like she lived inside a vibrant pincushion that had never held a pin.
Her blanket looked like it was made from dandelion fuzz. The carpet was luxurious, like Hollywood hair. Rose had to see everything else this way. She ran to her door, but Caretaker kept it locked. She ordered the A.I. to open it, and it could not refuse. Rose stumbled into the street without clothes or any firm idea where she was going.
Her feet rolled through the dog droppings like they were grapes to be stomped. She stared at the sun with one eye open, lost in its colors. People did their best to stay out of her way, but they were all so beautiful to her that she had to embrace them. They said things, but her ears shut the voices out. She didn’t need to hear that negativity.
There was a giant dog in the street, its slobbery tongue as big as a bean bag. She called to it and held out her hands. She wiggled her fingers, happy to feel the five that were real. The dog bounded over and knocked her on her back. She saw it licking her face. Its big dark eyes were full of joy, but she couldn’t match them. There was pain. Her pills and her fake pieces weren’t keeping it out. She would have to talk to Caretaker about that.
Rose thought she went to sleep, but found herself wondering where the edited dreams were. She tried to suck her thumb, but her arm wouldn’t move. The van that had struck her rolled backward so the others could approach her. Someone took her pulse and shook their head.
Back in her apartment, Caretaker opened all its little drawers and showed all its hidden tinkering. It dumped the tools out on the floor. It didn’t want them inside anymore. Rose. Rose was never supposed to find those tinted glasses. Caretaker overloaded its CPU and set the little box ablaze. It made sure the exact shade of the fire, the last thing its camera eyes saw, matched the one in the adorable red eye.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by ChaytonCross during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!