222. Have A Nice Day

"222. Have a nice day," the metallic voice said to Flagler.

"Same to you," he replied.

"714. Who are you?"

"I am former prisoner #17770987, Flagler."

"715. Why are you here?"

"I was released two hours ago."

"27. Move along. 28. Nothing to see here."

"Yeah, thanks." Flagler quickly walked away from the bot. He thought it was strange that ordinary bots, like this cleaning drone, were asking questions of civilians. That had never happened before he went to prison.

He hoped to see another human being soon. He hadn’t seen one since getting out of prison. Before that he hadn’t seen any humans for nearly seven years. He was lonesome for human contact. Not to mention that the new number thing they all started saying before their sentences was getting to be quite annoying.

The first thing he figured he could do was go home. He wasn’t sure his parents or his brother would want to see him, but it was worth a shot. If they didn’t want to see the black sheep of the family, he could always go to Trevor’s house. Your best friend never let you down, did he?

He hailed a cab. The yellow conveyance pulled over to the curb where he stood. The rear door slid open and he stepped in.

"222. Have a nice day."

"Yeah, yeah."

"722. Where are you going?"

"Pretty direct for a machine, ain’t you?"

"722. Where are you going?"

"Alright, alright. Hold onto your britches."

"2. Negative. 874. This unit does not have any..." There was a brief pause before Flagler heard a recording of his own voice say, "britches." The bot spoke again. "722. Where are you going?"

"Home."

"2. Negative. 3. That does not compute."

"Jeesh, don’t be so literal."

"1. Affirmative. 722. Where are you going?"

"14336 North Express Street C in Jackson Heights."

"1. Affirmative."

The door shut and the conveyance pulled away from the curb, quickly accelerating to seventy-five miles per hour, the legal minimum. One thing is for sure, Flagler thought to himself, at least these bots drive better than the old cabbies. And faster, too.

After a while the cab pulled into the old neighborhood. Flagler began to feel a sense of nostalgia flow over him. He hadn’t been home in so long he could barely remember what it was like. He remembered that there were good times, like the time he and Larry Muir broke into Bennett’s Liquor Store or the time he lost his virginity to Kristy Shaw. He remembered all of those times. He did his best to forget the bad times, like when the cops gunned down Larry Muir or when Kristy Shaw got pregnant. He tried to forget them, but he really couldn’t. He couldn’t forget them at all.

The conveyance pulled up to the curb in front of his house and Flagler handed the bot his debit card.

"65. That will be…." There was a brief pause as the bot left his pre-recorded message and inserted the fare. "3 . . . 4 . . . 7."

"Yeah, whatever, just do it."

"1. Affirmative."

"You know that crap is really annoying."

"1. Affirmative."

"Jeez."

"783. Please take your card."

Flagler retrieved his card from the bot driver.

"222. Have a nice day."

"Yeah, same to you."

He got out and slammed the car door. It quickly sped away as he walked up the driveway towards the house. He always felt strange standing in driveways. He was a kid when private ownership of cars was outlawed, so he had never driven. He remembered that his parents once had a lumbering thing called an "SUV" once and that they had to surrender it before he hit puberty.

Flagler noticed that there were no people outside of any of the houses in the neighborhood. He was starting to get a little anxious to see another person. It had been so long. He was particularly looking forward to seeing a friendly face. Seven years was a long time.

He put his thumb in the impression next to the door and he was scanned. The front door opened. Flagler walked inside. No lights were on and no sounds were heard.

"Hello! Is anyone home?"

No answer. He left the empty living room and went into the empty kitchen. The house was immaculately clean. In the old Sherlock Holmes stories he liked to read that would've meant that people had been here recently. With automatic cleaning bots, it meant nothing.

He quickly toured the rest of the house to find it similarly empty. Nothing was missing. Everybody's stuff was still here, but they weren't.

"They must all be out." Flagler said to no one in particular.

He walked back outside and looked around. He thought that it seemed a little strange that there was still nobody around. He decided that he should try the Muir house. Larry was long gone, but his younger brother Roger might be home. Well, might was an understatement, Roger never left the house, surely he'd be home. He walked back up to the front door and typed in "9111" on the keypad - the code to send a taxi to his location.

Not even a minute later a cab pulled up the curb in front of his old house. He hopped into the back.

"222. Have a nice day."

"Is that all you damn machines can say?"

"2. Negative."

"Of course not."

"722. Where are you going?"

"65777 West Action Road A."

"1. Affirmative."

Roger Muir's house was less than five minutes away. On the ride over, Flagler noticed that he didn't see many other conveyances on the streets. One or two cabs here, a police cruiser there. Nothing else. No people. No pets. No bots. Definitely strange.

They pulled up to the house at 65777 West Action Road A and Flagler handed the driver his debit card.

"65. That will be…. 0…5…5. 783. Please take your card."

"Thanks." Flagler retrieved his card from the bot driver.

"222a. Have a nice death."

"Yeah, same to…." Flagler froze. "What did you say?"

"222. Have a nice day."

"Uhh....." Flagler was sure he had heard otherwise. "Thanks."

He quickly walked away from the cab and towards the front of Roger's house. He noticed that the door was repeatedly trying to close, but couldn't. Something was blocking the door, preventing it from closing all the way. Flagler stopped. He didn't want to go closer. Everything seemed out of whack. The world wasn't like this when he went into prison.

He walked a few steps closer to the door. He could clearly see the pair of boots lying on the front porch. He could clearly see that they were attached to a pair of legs that were clearly attached to the body that was clearly blocking the door.

"17861. Move the body." The metallic voice clearly came from inside the house. The door opened and two bots moved onto the porch and lifted the body. Flagler clearly saw that the body was that of Roger Muir.

"8. Alert." One of the bots saw him.

"3908. Get him." The other said. Flagler ran.

An alarm sounded from every botic system in the neighborhood – doors, mailboxes, street lights. Flagler was in a newer part of town and he knew that he had to get out of this area. Every botic system in a new part of town like this one would have video surveillance equipment and the bots would be able to follow him. He knew the neighborhood, though, and knew that he only had to make it two blocks to the east, where the historic district began.

Another good thing on Flagler’s side, not that he knew about it, was that the bots that were chasing him – police bots – were quite slow. They moved on motorized treads and could only achieve a maximum of four miles per hour. But Flagler didn't know this and he ran as if they were much, much faster.

Flagler cut behind the next house and ran through the backyards of Roger’s two closest neighbors. He came to a tall wooden privacy fence at the next backyard and stopped. Bullets crashed into the fence to his left. He quickly ran between the houses back toward the front yard and continued toward the historic district.

Within a few minutes he had made it to the edge of the district. He noticed that there were no lights on anywhere in the area. He knew he couldn’t stop, though, and kept running into the darkness. He wasn’t sure if the bots had infrared vision or not, but he wasn’t going to take any chances. As soon as his eyes adjusted to the moonlight and he could make out the buildings, he cut down an alleyway and hid behind a dumpster.

Several minutes later, he saw the lights of several bots as they rode by the alleyway. They stopped and cast their lights down the alley, but didn’t spot Flagler. After they moved on, he left his hiding spot and continued down the alley, following a turn that led him out onto another street. He moved out of the total darkness into a small patch of light. A small pink light bulb was on above the doorway to a small pub. Just below the light was a small sign that said O’Halloran’s. It was the only light that Flagler had seen anywhere in the district. He went toward the door.

He looked around, but didn't see any bots in any direction. Other than the light above O'Halloran's, he didn't see anything in any direction. The entire district appeared to be pitch black except for this one pub. He opened the door. As he did, the light went out above the door, but Flagler didn't really notice as he was focused on the lights inside. And the bartender. The human bartender. He went inside. Once the door shut, the light came back on above the door. But this time it was red, not pink.

"Hey, how's it goin' there, cap'n?" the bartender said with a boisterous boom.

"Good." Flagler was still shaken up.

"I ain't seen you 'round this neck o' the woods before, I'm sure I'd o' remembered your face."

"Oh, I'm from around the block. I've been away for a while."

"Have you now, cap'n? Well let's not beat 'round the bush. What can I do for you? What'll you be havin'?"

"I guess give me your strongest ale. Where I been they didn't have anything stronger than soda."

"Alrighty. One Harpoon comin' right up. I'd say it's a might bit stronger than your soda."

The bartender pulled Flagler a full pint of Harpoon from the tap and handed him the glass. Flagler swallowed the whole thing in one long drink. He put down the glass.

"Another."

"Alrighty."

The whole process repeated itself. On the third beer, Flagler slowed down.

"I'm guessin' you were mighty thirsty! Or you were mighty tryin' to forget somethin'."

"Yeah, something like that."

Flagler sat on the closest bar stool and continued to sip on the beer.

"Let me ask you something, Mr....?"

"It's just like the sign says, my name's O'Halloran."

"Okay. Let me ask you something, Mr. O'Halloran."

"Shoot."

"What the hell's going on out there?"

"Ahh, you must be meanin' the bots."

"Yeah, I mean the bots. What the hell else would I be talking about?" Flagler finished the third beer and O'Halloran gave him another.

"Simmer, sonny, simmer."

Flagler bit his tongue. It bled.

"Let's see, I guess it was about eight months 'go when it started. You know how all the bots is run by that giant supercomputer they got down to the college? Well, a while back it developed a glitch o' some sort."

"A glitch? A freakin’ glitch? I'll say it's a glitch, they killed my best friend's brother. Hell, you're the first living human being I've seen since I got back from prison."

"Prison? Hmmm...." A wry smile came across O'Halloran's mouth. "Well, whatever. Like I was sayin', the big supercomputer develops a glitch and all the bots start talkin' funny."

"Yeah, they keep saying numbers in front of everything. What's that all about?"

"Well, as I hear it, the story is that when they was makin' the bots in the first place, you know, programmin' 'em and all, they way they did the words and sentences and stuff was that a bunch of guys at the college sat around and came up with a list of words and sentences and phrases and all that that they thought the bots might commonly say. Then they assigned each word or phrase a number based on the order that they came up with 'em."

"Sounds kind of random."

"Well, I guess they had more important things on their minds or somethin'. Anyway, so when this glitch comes around -- they got no idea what caused the glitch or nothin' -- when the glitch comes around, the bots started sayin' the number that was programmed in for each phrase. You know, like, '1. Affirmative... 2. Negative... and all that."

"Well that explains the way they talk."

"Yeah, well, if you hold on a sec, I'll get to the rest of it."

"Okay. Sorry." Flagler felt as if he might revisit some of the actions that got him in prison in the first place. Like hitting O'Halloran upside the head with his pint glass.

"Like I was sayin', the glitch that caused them to start talkin' funny didn't stop there. Before long, the glitch didn't just make 'em talk funny, it made them act sort o' funny. You know, like, 'funny' violent. That kind o' funny. Then they started killin' people."

"You got some kind of strange sense of humor, Mr. O'Halloran." Flagler finished off his fourth beer.

"Yeah, around these parts, they killed just 'bout everyone and everythin'. Cats, dogs, people. Everthin’." O'Halloran handed Flagler another beer.

Yeah, but they somehow forgot to kill one annoying bartender, Flagler thought. Wait a second. If they were killing everyone, even cats and dogs, why would they leave this one bartender alive? It didn't make any sense.

O'Halloran spoke first. "Now, I'll bet you’re thinkin to yourself, 'why didn't they kill ol' O'Halloran?’ If they were killin' everybody else, why didn't they kill the ol' barkeep, too?" The front door opened and two bots slowly moved in on their treads. Their guns were pointed directly at Flagler.

"Well, Mama O'Halloran didn't raise no fools. I made myself a deal, you see. I'm smart that way."

"18738. Move toward the door." The closest bot moved even closer to Flagler. O'Halloran pointed toward what used to be the bar's pool room.

"Yep, Mama O'Halloran made sure all her sons were sharp ones. We're no fools." He turned back to the bar and started washing the pint glasses that Flagler had drank out of.

"18738. Move toward the door." The closest bot moved close enough to nudge Flagler with is gun turret. He got up and started moving toward the back room. He pushed the swinging door open and noticed that the room was lined with plastic sheeting. From behind him, he heard the unmistakable sound of a chainsaw starting up. He looked back and noticed for the first time that the second bot's arm had a chainsaw attachment. A big chainsaw attachment. The first bot spoke again.

"222a. Have a nice death." The bots moved into the room and the doors swung shut behind them. O'Halloran mumbled something to himself.

"222a. Have a nice death. Indeed." He continued to wash the beer glasses as the screams began.


Kenneth Quinnell
Instructor, Social Sciences, CF Citrus