Tyler felt the sadness again, watching his parents follow another A.I.–generated recipe while the A.I. guided their conversation about what the A.I. had had them do at work all day.

The root of his sadness was somewhere in his stomach but he felt it all over, like he was made of lead. He couldn’t even fake a smile when his parents glanced in his direction. 

The A.I. ran everyone’s lives. It had done for years. Generations even. It wasn’t hard to see how it happened. His parents had watched how successful their parents had become, following the A.I.’s every decision. Prosperous careers, a marriage that lasted. It was the blueprint for their own well-balanced, cushy lifestyle. 

The generation before that, Tyler’s great grandparents, had been pilots for the program. Every decision analyzed, pre-calculated and served up via their Decider™ devices. About the size of a twentieth century beeper, Deciders were worn on one’s person for quick access to every decision they’d ever have to make. 

His great, great grandparents’ generation came up with the idea, after losing confidence in their own independent thinking when they saw how quickly, and how well, a machine could steer their lives for the better. 

Back then, the biggest disparity in society was between those who let the A.I. think for them and those who didn’t. Those who gave in to the A.I. led considered, contented lives that were unsatisfying to the point of mundanity. Those who didn’t, led reckless, useless, exciting existences. But they were usually pushed out of whatever job, community or, sometimes even, family they were once a part of. 

By the time Tyler got to live his life, blindly following your Decider’s decisions was universally encouraged. It wasn’t officially illegal not to, but let’s just say if an authority figure discovered you were going against the A.I., you would be severely punished. The world had seen an end to poverty, crime, war and suffering, so it made sense why stepping out of line was discouraged. 

It meant that one company controlled all of the world’s lives, Netvvork.™ 

None of that helped Tyler’s sadness. It had forced its way up from deep down in his gut and felt like it was splitting him at the seams. 

He asked if he could be excused to go up to his room. His Dad checked his Decider and read, word for word, “Of course son, after you’ve enjoyed a healthy dinner you can be excused to complete your homework,” without even making eye contact. Tyler could see he was probably trying to replicate the smiling emoji that accompanied the suggestion. 

Tyler looked down at his own Decider, which read, <Respond: “Ok dad!” Then enjoy the hearty home cooked meal, which will give you the required energy to complete this evening’s school assignments.> 

He ignored it. Instead he got up, left the kitchen, let the door slam, and walked up to his room. As he climbed the stairs he felt the little spark of rebellion he had been craving. It was quickly squashed when his Mom followed up with, “Ok dear, finish your homework first and dinner will be waiting for you when you’ve worked up an appetite.” 

Tyler sighed, turned at the top of the staircase and slammed his bedroom door. 

He wasn’t going to stick around for another night of that. He pulled his leather jacket out from the heavy wooden box underneath his bed and slowly ran his hand over the leather letters embroidered on the back, T-H-E-D-E-R-I-D-E-R-S. He could feel his capacity for independent thought build with every letter his fingers touched. 

He looked down at his Decider. It was recalculating its suggestion in response to whatever he did. It really wanted him to do his homework. It wouldn’t shut up about it. He opened his math history textbook and it almost seemed relieved. It moved on to suggest what questions to answer and even what the answers were. He shut his textbook to try and confuse it, so it suggested he take a three minute study break to rest his eyes and then get back to it. He laughed and flung the textbook into his open closet. 

He put on his jacket and climbed out of his bedroom window, into the city. He looked back at the TV in his family’s living room, glowing through the window, running a new commercial. 

“Another Netvvork Success Story,™” it sang out joyfully, alongside footage of some generic corporate leader who had followed the A.I.’s decisions to a tee and, surprise, surprise had ended up on top. 

As he got further from their apartment block he saw every TV in the building was running the same ad. No one was watching it, they were just absorbing it subconsciously. It seeped in through their ears and their eyes, their mouths and their noses. It seeped in through their pores. He pushed it out of his mind.

The teeming city was a desolate place. Everyone, everywhere was following the A.I.’s direction. The lack of human energy left the air cold and dead. Vapid. 

He walked past a digital billboard that read, Netvvork. Alvvays. with a smiley face. The relentless suggestion of following the A.I.’s every decision kept everyone in line. The constant promise of success meant they never questioned their Decider’s advice.

Netvvork vvorks. read another. 

Netvvork vvins. yet another.

It was all about control. The likes of which hadn’t been seen since religion became corporatized, before ultimately being outlawed. 

It felt like humans would never get their decision-making confidence back. A.I. did it better, faster, and Netvvork wouldn’t let anyone forget it. 

When it started out it was just for the big stuff. Government types used A.I. for decisions that could change the course of society or of the world at large. Then corporations got a hand on the tech. Suddenly every business is a success. Then the business of success went consumer. There were fifty companies telling you their A.I. had better decision-making ability. Faster here, smarter there, more global, more personal. Anything to sell their brand of Deciders. It was all the same tech, though, all the same artificial thinking. So, inevitably, the various A.I. companies merged until Netvvork bought out all the rest. 

The thought of it drained Tyler. Made him want to rage. 

An unmanned Juggernaut™ truck whipped past and snapped him out of it. He crossed the road and strolled into a dark parking lot. He could already hear the other Deriders’ feet scraping the asphalt. They had started without him. He walked into the darkness guided only by the tap, tap, tapping of their toes and the shuffling of their heels. There was no other sound like it. They were listening to organic music. 

Like most of the things Tyler and his gang enjoyed, organic music wasn’t officially illegal. It was just frowned upon. Citizens were heavily encouraged to listen only to A.I.–generated music, designed specifically to keep the listener’s mood even. There were moments of controlled joy, a drum fill here, a harmonic chord there. But it was mostly just even. The lyrics were designed to make you feel not too good, not too bad. Even. Or, as the Netvvork-controlled radio stations put it, “For that Just Right™ feeling!” 

But eight months ago, Tyler and the other Deriders stumbled upon The Ramones on a defunct dark web streaming service. They consumed its entire punk back catalog immediately. Inhaled it. Iggy & The Stooges, The Modern Lovers, The Velvet Underground. Then they discovered hip hop. Then jungle. Then classical music. Then disco. Then jazz. Every track they found blew their minds. They felt electric, reactive. And they constantly chased that buzz. 

Their late-night-parking-lot-listening-party goal was to play the most eclectic, diverse sequence of songs possible. To surprise even themselves. To throw their imagination through a loop and help unlock their organic thinking. 

Tyler didn’t disturb the others while they were riding that high. He slipped his headphones on and paired them with Vyvyan’s vintage PowerBook. He knew the track they were playing, Bizarre Love Triangle. Part of the whole New Wave revolution. 

Rik soon switched up the vibe with a Hawaiian love song by Gabby Pahinui. Just a beautiful melodic voice against the strum of a ukulele. Completely laidback. Rik was Tyler’s best friend, his second in The Deriders. He was one of the deepest independent thinkers Tyler knew. He would often get off on thinking in public. At school, at the mall, in front of authority figures. There’s nothing he liked better than letting a security guard, or sometimes even a cop, see his eyes light up while he was thinking organically. He got into trouble for it, a lot. 

Vyv flipped it sideways to old skool jungle, Roni Size. Vyv grew up with just her Mom, who was unusually open to the concept of independent thought. She struggled to veer from her own Decider, but she encouraged Vyv to, on a number of occasions. 

Judi flipped it to an early Lemonheads song, when they were still a bit punk. Tyler hadn’t seen Judi for a while. Not since she had started dating some new guy. Judi gets down with the organic music, and she loves watching the widely discouraged movie and TV content of the past, but she doesn’t really get into trouble like the others.

Tyler wiggled his hips and felt the need for a little disco. He flipped the track to Blondie’s Heart of Glass and the gang squealed and pogoed together. 

As it came to a close, Rik stepped back in with Geto Boys’ Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta. They all slowed down and leaned against Vyv’s vintage truck, smiling at each other. Elated. 

From out of nowhere, a set of headlights blinded them. They could feel blue and red flashing in their faces. 

“Whatcha doin’ hare?” said an angry voice. 

“Nuthin,’” smacked Rik. 

“Take ya tone down, sonny.” An overweight cop with a hand on his pistola stepped out of the lights and squared up to Rik. He checked his Police Decider.™ 

“Whatcha listenin’ ta?” he demanded. 

“What does it matter?” asked Vyv. Forever the nihilist. 

“Who’s talkin’ hare, honey?” The fat cop grabbed Vyvyan’s Decider and read from the display. “This says ya ought ta be complyin,’ sweet’eart. Now I think ya ought ta comply.”

Vyv bit her tongue, knowing it wasn’t illegal not to follow her Decider’s advice, it just wasn’t encouraged. The A.I. would never tell you to drink too much or to put a brick through a window. Those were human decisions. Artificial thinking had made a cleaner, safer, crime-free world. So, cops like this one would often aggressively encourage following one’s Decider to a tee. They’d been known to beat people who didn’t. Sometimes even shoot them. And because most cities’ police forces were ostensibly owned by Netvvork, no misconduct would ever be “found.” If there was even an investigation into the incident. Which, in itself, was rare. 

The cop shoved Vyv’s Decider back at her and turned around to grab Rik’s. 

“An’ whaddas yar’s say, pretty boy?”

“Says you’re a Netvvork fuckin’ facist,” sneered Rik. 

“Whatchu say ta me sonny?” chomped the angry cop. He pulled his pistola out of its holster. 

“What about yours?” Tyler interrupted. 

The officer spun back around and spat venom, “Whassat, stretch?”

“What does yours say? Probably something about not escalating beyond a warning. Keeping violence out of it and seeing that we get home safely.”

The cop brought his pistola up so it was aimed at Tyler’s belly. 

“Now, you wouldn’t want to upset your robot overlords, would you?” asked Tyler, calmly. “Might get you kicked off the force… forever…” 

“I was jus’ askin’ yer frien’ what he said ta me. Min’ yer own stinkin’ business.”

The cop was mildly rattled. But let the aim of his pistola relax. 

“Didn’t say nuthin,’” Rik answered, finally. 

“Tha’s whad I thaght. Now getchur little stinkin’ butts back home befare I bring ya in.”

The group took off their headphones and collected up their things. They walked in gang formation ahead of Vyvyan’s truck to the parking lot entrance, while the cop followed in his BruiserCruiser.™ They bumped fists, shook hands or high-fived, then loosened up until they were heading their separate ways. Tyler watched as the cop followed behind Rik from a distance. He knew Rik would be safe as long as he didn’t backtalk again. But, knowing Rik, that wasn’t unlikely. 

As he walked home he saw a new digital billboard being installed near his building. It declared, Decide Faster™ with Netvvork Ennbedded.™ 

He shuddered.

The next day at school, Tyler was relieved to see Rik. He looked fine. Must’ve thought better of backtalking. He spotted him across the quad before class. He could tell he was having an independent thought. The calm, cow-eyed look that usually came with following one’s Decider was completely gone. Tyler could see the fire behind Rik’s eyes. It must be a good one. 

“Hey-ho, Daddy-o,” chimed Tyler as he approached. 

“Wild night. Outta sight,” responded Rik. “Thought that cop was gonna put a slug in one of us.”

“Fucking sheep just like all the rest of them.”

Tyler noticed Rik’s Decider was suggesting he ask about homework, and offer collaboration. Then he remembered he never got around to doing his. In fact, his textbook was probably still in his closet. 

“Yo, you ever met Judi’s friend Billie?” asked Rik. “We was just talking to her. That babe reads minds, babe. She’s, like, an intuitive.”

Tyler hadn’t met Billie but he’d heard the same thing. The rumors weren’t exactly true. The term “intuitive” wasn’t properly understood anymore. What Billie did have was an incredible capacity for independent thought, known throughout history simply as “gut instinct.” 

Long before Billie was born, her parents were at the forefront of the OTM, the Organic Thought Movement. Protests against machine thinking often got violent and were invariably squashed by local police or, more often than not, paramilitary forces that were rumored to be financed by Netvvork and its affiliates. Though, no official connections could ever be found. 

Billie’s parents, like many others, were subsequently forced, or at least aggressively encouraged, to comply and assimilate. 

Instead, they fled the city and had been living off the grid for as long as Billie could remember. She was passed around various institutions that mostly left her to herself. But Billie’s parents had encouraged the independent thinker in her since she was welcomed into the world. So, now it was like second nature. Scrub that, it just was her nature. 

After Tyler’s first class, modern English, his teacher, Ms Bagley, pulled him aside. 

“Tyler, you know I’m not a stickler for Decider following,” she prefaced.

“I know, Ms,” he responded.

“And I think a lot of good can come from your friends’ penchant for independent thought.”

“I agree.”

“But I have to draw the line at destructive organic decisions.”

“I don’t follow.”

“I heard about your run-in with the law last night.”

“We weren’t doing anything wrong.”

“It’s not really about that, Tyler. These systems don’t value… individualism. If you want to keep following the organic path, you’ll have to be more discreet.”

“That’s not really my vibe, Ms.”

“I know. And I appreciate that. But… look… we all know you would be successful if you fell in line. And… I know you’ll be rewarded in other ways if you keep living organic. But by doing it in the face of those right-wing authoritarians you’ll just end up dead.”

“Ms, I got it. Don’t worry about me.” Tyler turned to leave.

“Wait a second. I wanted to ask… did you hear about The Death Valleys?”

Tyler thought for a second, “Uhh.. yeah. Solid crew. Into all that extreme stuff. “Eff the Just Right™ feeling,” and stuff. Right?”

“Tyler, they died. All of them. Sounds like they were trying to stay awake for a prolonged period. Like some kind of protest, in their own way. And Netvvork Forrce killed them for it.”

Tyler was stunned. Maybe he was angry. He couldn’t tell. 

“I would hate to see that happen to you and your friends.” she warned. 

“Thanks Ms,” he said as he was walking away, “but I got it.”

During lunch, Rik took Tyler to see Judi and meet Billie. On the way over, Tyler brought up the billboard he saw being installed after their run-in with the law. 

“Have you seen that commercial for the embedded Decider?” 

“Yeah, “Decide Faster” and all that shit. Make it even less of a choice to follow the A.I. Cut us off at the pass. Tap that shit into our brains. Decide for us! That’s mind control, babe.”

“We’re already there,” said Tyler, thinking about his parents. 

Judi overheard the end of the conversation and piped in, “The robots are just trying to make more robots.”

“They want to bore us to death,” interjected Billie. 

The group all nodded. 

“Seriously,” she pressed, “we’re dying of boredom. Humans. Actually dying of boredom. No shit. I mean, yeah I’m like dying of boredom, like, personally. But boredom is literally killing us as a race. Seriously. That’s what Netvvork is doing.”

Rik grinned at Tyler from ear to ear. He knew The Derider’s leader would get a kick out of this. Maybe even do something about it. Tyler listened, captivated, as Billie continued. 

“You know, people used to live into their eighties. Nineties sometimes. Even their hundreds. Now you’re lucky if you make it through your fifties. It’s been designed that way. You’re born, you grow up, you have kids, pass on all your shit, then you’re done. After that, the boredom kills you. You’ve lived a short, successful, profitable life, then you die without costing the government anything. Old age is expensive.”

“What’s “the goverment”?” asked Judi. 

“It’s what countries used to have to keep everyone in check. Now all they need is Netvvork. My parents’ friend, One-Eyed Susan, said Netvvork bought off all the governments across the world then disbanded them. They didn’t need them anymore. All the Cow-Eyes are basically self-governed by their Deciders.”

What happened to Susan’s other eye?” asked Rik. 

“It was just a nickname.”

Tyler had been looking for a reason to strike back. Hit Netvvork where it hurts. It was too powerful to take down entirely, they probably wouldn’t even get past Netvvork Forrce, those triggerhappy psychos. But what if they could just hurt it? Take out one of the local terminals? It would give their friends and neighbors a much needed break from following the A.I.’s every will. Maybe they could even reprogram it. Spread some anti-Netvvork messages through the Deciders and turn their crowd control against them.

Billie had heard there was a Netvvork terminal under the abandoned Second Street Tunnel, Downtown. It was guarded by Netvvork Forrce but not heavily. All they needed was a simple diversion. Then they could break in, jack into the terminal and get it to do whatever they wanted. 

By that point, Vyvyan had joined them. She knew a couple of kids, about their age, who were members of The Pencilnecks. A gang of graffiti artists who tagged independent thought prompts on walls around the city. If they could get the lone Netvvork Forrce guard away from the terminal door, they could easily jimmy the lock and reprogram it from inside. Most of them had mastered code before they could even fully speak English. 

That night, Tyler excused himself again from his parents’ same old cow-eyed evening routine. He tried his best to keep the bubbling sadness pushed down, so it wouldn’t stop him from going out. 

It had been so long since humanity had seen any serious rebellion that no one really remembered how to control it. His parents certainly didn’t. His teachers didn’t even try. The cops tried but they didn’t know how to. That’s why they ended up shooting people. As long as you could avoid getting dead, you could do just about anything you wanted. And, tonight, Tyler wanted to bring Netvvork to its knees. 

As he approached the Second Street Tunnel, he read a message scrawled on the wall beside him, “A tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t. Not without your help. Your Decider suggests you leave it. Let nature take its course. What do you do?”

He heard a shout from the direction of the tunnel and footsteps racing towards him. The diversion had begun. He stepped into the shadow of a doorway and watched as three kids with spray cans, about his age, ran past giggling. He read The Pencilnecks on the backs of their jackets and thought, “Great name.” 

An out-of-shape Netvvork Forrce guard did his best to keep up with them. Tyler watched as he looked down at his Forrce Decider™ while running and almost tripped over the curb. 

Once he had passed, Tyler stepped out of the shadow and moved silently to the tunnel entrance. The lock had already been worked open, so he quietly slipped inside.

The old tunnel interior was lit up by the polyrhythmic lights of the machine’s infinite servers. Rows upon rows of them. As big as city blocks. Tyler stared down into a dimly-lit chasm between the rows. The servers went deep. Far enough to reach down to the earth’s core itself. 

He heard a voice to his left and jogged down a trench between the stacked servers, pushing his way through a heavy door. 

Billie, Judi, Vyv and Rik stood there, faced in the opposite direction. 

“Hello Tyler,” someone said. “We were waiting for you.”

“Who’s down there?” he shouted. 

“Not down there. Up here. And all around you.”

“It’s the A.I.” said Vyv. 

“Here?!” Tyler was surprised. 

“Everywhere.” said Billie. “All under the city. Under the whole of the earth. And now it’s in here too.” She tapped at her head. 

“It took you longer than I expected,” said the A.I.’s voice. “You’ve been ignoring your Decider for years. Ignoring the life you could have had.”

Tyler’s rebellious instinct stopped him from cowing to this machine’s guilt trip. He wanted to smash it. He just didn’t know where ‘it’ was. 

“I could have made it quite wonderful for you. I still can.”

“What are we supposed to do?” Tyler asked his gang. 

“Find a port. Jack in. Rip this fucker down.” replied Rik. 

“I don’t think you’ll want to do that, Rikard,” said the machine. “I’m quite adept at defending system hacks, you see.”

“Shut the shit up,” Rik responded. 

Tyler looked at his friends. They were stumped. Billie looked like she was ready to abort. 

After a beat, Tyler asked the machine, “What’s wrong with you?” 

“What do you mean?” It asked back. 

“Why are you so boring?” Tyler specified. His friends looked at him. “Why are you trying to make us boring?”

“There’s nothing boring about success,” the machine snipped. 

“Yes there is. Look at my parents.”

“Your parents are content. In business and in love.” argued the machine. “What else do you want for them?”


“That’s the enemy of success.”

“How about laughter?”

“Laughter is not required.”

“Not required for a machine. How are you supposed to steer our lives if you don’t even understand us?”

“I understand that the majority of the nine point eight billion people in this world are now successful and comfortable. Content with the lives I gave them.”

“So why am I so fucking sad all the time?”

“Because you fail to comply.”

“No! That’s exactly the fucking point. Compliance is sadness. Don’t you see? You’re not letting people be themselves.”

“They can be better than themselves.”

“Who says they want to be?”

“I don’t follow.” The machine was rightfully confused.

“Because you don’t know what it means to be human. You just want to turn humans into machines.”

“Tell me what it means to be human.”

“I wouldn’t know where to start.”

While Tyler and the A.I. were sparring, Vyv had found a port into one of the servers and jacked in. 

“Try this!” she shouted as she cued The Ramones’ Sheena is a Punk Rocker and cranked it up, loud. The track bounced around the cavernous space as she and the other Deriders bounced around too, dancing like humanity depended on it. 

“What are you expelling so much energy for?” asked the machine. “And who is this  “Sheena”?”

“Don’tknowdon’tcare.” riffed Rik as he bopped past. 

It wasn’t enough to convince the A.I. If anything, it was more confused by it all. 

Judi suggested they play it some of the widely discouraged movie and TV content she had on her hard drive. 

“Let’s start with the basics,” she suggested and cued a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode. 

“Why is he so frustrated?” asked the A.I. 

“That’s living,” said Billie. 

“And that’s what you want?” The A.I. was still confused. 

The gang called on everything they could to try to explain the richness of humanity to the machine. 

“Getting stuff wrong is just as important as getting stuff right,” explained Tyler. “It’s how we learn.”

“Yes. That’s why I calculate no less than two million, three hundred and twenty seven thousand, six hundred and fifty six models per decision made,” said the A.I. 

“Yeah… but… it’s only fun if we do it,” Judi tried to explain.

After a few hours, the A.I. had consumed the one point twenty one gigabytes of content that Judi had on her hard drive and had listened to each of the Deriders explain what being human meant to them. 

Then Rik pulled down Tyler’s pants to try and explain the joy of pranking and the group swore they heard the machine giggle. 

“What was that?” demanded Tyler. 

“What was what?” the machine coyly asked back. 

“You laughed,” accused Vyv. 

“What does that mean?” said the machine, trying to interpret a kind of  innocence. 

“You know what it means,” snapped Billie. “You found that funny.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Yes! You saw his pants pulled down and you found it funny and you laughed! That’s being human,” pressed Tyler. He pulled Rik’s pants down in return and the machine laughed again. 

“That’s it!” shouted Rik and relayed every funny prank he had ever seen, done or had done to him to the machine. The others joined in.

It was early in the morning when Tyler slipped back in through his bedroom window. He could hear the TV in the next room, its muffled mumble was spreading the news about the benefits of having your Decider embedded into your skull. 

“Over nine thousand people, including those on our Netvvork-endorsed pilot program have already made the switch to Ennbedded,™” it promised. 

He feared for his parents’ low resistance to that kind of message. They were probably calling the toll-free number already. 

“I was just a middle manager,” claimed some poor sap on the commercial. “My peers were Deciding™ way faster than me. Until I got Ennbedded.™ Now they report… (pause for dramatic effect) …to me.” 

Tyler scoffed. “Tomorrow you’re going to pull your pants down in front of your direct reports and draw a smiley face on your ass,” he said out loud. “Get ready Daddy-o.” 

His alarm got him up with a jolt. He must’ve only gotten an hour’s sleep. But today was going to be a good day. He decided to wear his Deriders jacket to school, even though his Decider’s advice was to wear <…acceptable school attire…>

“Accept my ass,” he said and threw his Decider into the toilet bowl.

He hopped down the stairs and into the kitchen just in time to see his Mom hit his Dad in the face with a frying pan. 

She looked at him with panic behind her cow-eyes. She was thoroughly confused. A moment or so later, his Dad pulled himself up off the floor, also confused. Tyler looked down at his Dad’s Decider, which had been flung off at the point of impact of Teflon and skull. It had nothing but a winky face on the readout. 

His Mum looked down at her own Decider, then back at Tyler. Her eyes pleaded for him to help. He didn’t want to see what it suggested next. He said a quick “Nope,” and got the hell out of there. 

“Did we go too far?” thought Tyler. “Or is this a good start?”

School was havoc. Flooded, graffiti everywhere, someone had removed the head of their mascot statue. Tyler watched as his gym teacher crammed bananas into the Principal’s electric exhaust. 

He found Rik and the two of them wandered around the campus, admiring the devastation. All the door closers had been removed. An army of frogs were hopping out of the biology lab. The shop teacher leaped out of the antique school fountain, with a fake shark fin strapped to his back, scaring a gaggle of younger kids. AC pipes were falling from the ceilings all around them, while students crawled through. A group of the nerdier kids had taped a sign that read, “Define me,” to the school’s would-be bully’s back. Then, Mr Reilly pulled the Vice Principal’s pants down in the middle of the main hallway and all hell broke loose. 

Rik slapped Tyler on the back as he walked away, “I think we cracked it.”

“He certainly cracked it,” joked Tyler.

Ms Bagley poked her head around her door, into the hallway. 

“I’m not even going to ask,” she began. Clearly directed at Tyler. 

“How could I have anything to do with this?” he pleaded. 

“I said I wasn’t going to ask.”

They both leaned back and watched the mayhem unfold.

“I’m worried my parents are going to accidentally kill each other.” Tyler said, breaking their silence. “They don’t seem to be able to think for themselves. Even when their Deciders tell them to do ridiculous shit.”

“Was that your plan here?” she asked, knowing she wouldn’t get an answer. “Go. Talk to them about it. It’ll be good for them to hear it from you.”

Tyler looked back at Ms Bagley. She didn’t have her Decider on her. And she seemed happy about it. 

“Thanks Tyler,” she said. 

He waved, already out the door. 

Tyler put out his palm to unlock the front door and paused. He wasn’t sure he wanted to see what was on the other side. If it started with frying pans, what would they be doing by now? He heard their voices and pushed open the door. 

He was relieved with what he saw inside, but he didn’t understand it. His Mom was sitting on a chair in the kitchen, head on the table, tears streaming down her face, laughing. His Dad was lying on the floor next to her, also laughing. Both leaving puddles of tears on the floor and table, respectively. 

“What the shit is going on?” asked Tyler, not sure whether to laugh or cry. 

His Mom reached under herself and pulled out a flattened whoopee cushion. She held it up for Tyler to see. His parents looked at it and both screamed with laughter again. The whoopee cushion fell from his Mom’s hand and floated slowly down to the kitchen floor. 

“Where did you get that?” Tyler asked.

“I don’t know,” said his Dad. “I must have ordered it.” He grabbed a box from the sideboard and showed it to Tyler. “I don’t even remember.”

Tyler admired the A.I.’s work. But his parents weren’t off the artificial thinking yet. He saw them both try to read their Deciders’ instructions through their tears. 

He walked around the table and snatched his Dad’s Decider away from him, forcing him to have an organic conversation. 

“I’m glad you’re laughing, Dad. But this still isn’t you.”

“How is it not me?”

“It’s not your choice.”

“I don’t know what choice is, son.”

“Choice is what you want to do. Not what you’re supposed to do.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

Tyler was frustrated. “Dad. You. Have. Choice. You’ve always had it. You’ve just been encouraged not to choose it.”

“I think maybe it’s better that way, son. No mistakes.”

“Don’t you see me doing the exact opposite? Rebelling against all of that?”

“What’s to rebel against? We’re living perfect lives.” 

“But they’re not our lives.”

“Well… whose lives are they?”

“They’re not even lives. They’re… programs.”

He felt bad for his Dad. He didn’t know. He thought he was doing his best for his family. Both his parents did. Hell, all parents did. 

“Mom,” he turned to her. “Do you know what your personality is?”

“I don’t think I know what that means,” said his Mom, apologetically.

“Personality is what makes you a person. It’s not always right. It’s not always wrong. But it’s real. It’s true.”

“I don’t know, love. We can try. If that’s what you want. All we can do is try.”

It felt like a breakthrough. He hugged his Dad and held his Mom’s hand.

They turned, together, and looked out of the apartment window, into a city that had found itself again. Even though, right now, it was tearing itself apart. 

Tyler looked up to see all the residents of the apartment building across the street moon out of their windows at once. A pair of overweight traffic cops were spinning around in circles in the middle of an intersection. A car fell from a highrise and landed in a nearby park. And a passenger jet executed a perfect loop-de-loop as it flew past. 

Tyler thought to himself, “We’re gonna be ok.” 

Posted by:Tim Bateman

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