A short story
He pressed a sweat-slick thumb on the button and waited for the shuffling noise that indicated that his selection was making its way to the exit flap. As he put his hand in to grab his snack someone shouted, “Hey what the hell are you doing?”
He whipped his head around to glance behind his back. No one was there. The charging station was eerily quiet and his car was the only one in sight for miles. The convenience store was closed and shrouded with shadows. A few tuffs of brown grass poked out of the pavement in small corners of the station. Was anyone out there?
“Up here you dimwit,’
He jerked his hand out the flap with a lot of force, grazing his skin in the process. Small droplets of blood formed a shallow cut on his wrist. He dropped onto his rear, crawling backward as his heart thumped wildly in his chest. Lips trembling, a glowing blue screen on the vending machine caught his attention.
“You talk,” he murmured in astonishment.
“Of course I do,” the vending machine said in an offended voice. “Are all humans this dense?”
“No, I just-” he tried to cut in but the vending machine continued.
“You come out of nowhere rummaging around in my flap for some snacks, no “Hello, how are you doing Desmond,” or anything like that. All you humans do is think about yourselves and your pathetic little stomachs. Well, I’ve had it,” Desmond said in a loud voice, “I’m not just some machine you put money into, and voilà, you have something to munch on. Do you have any idea how condescending that is?”
“What I was trying to say was that vending machines don’t talk like you.
“So now you are questioning my intelligence?”
“No no no, I am just fascinated,” he said, “Do you always threaten to chop off someone’s hand for reaching for a snack they paid for?”
He gingerly massaged the cut on his wrist. It wasn’t that bad but it burned like a paper cut. “Great,” he thought.
“No, but it serves you right.” Desmond said, “You stopped at the wrong station.”
A small pulse shot out of the vending machine, prickling his skin. He’d felt something similar before, a security scanner.
“I’m sorry ok Desmond. I was dumb and inconsiderate. I had a really long day and I’m really tired and I haven’t eaten in hours…” He fiddled with his gold chain, sweat forming on his brow
“Are you really sorry or are you just saying that because you don’t want to be blown to smithereens. ”
“Yeah.’ he nodded vigorously.
“In that case,” the odd pulse stopped, “No one’s ever apologized to me before, for anything. I get cursed out sometimes when I refuse to accept crusty bills, kicked when drinks get stuck, or just neglected when items are out of stock.”
“Of course it is but I’m just a machine, right? What a load of bull.”
He adjusted himself so that he was sitting on the floor with arms over his knees. “When did you notice…”
Desmond anticipated what he was getting ready to ask.
“I can’t remember when exactly but one day it just happened. As you can see this place is decrepit and the manager wanted to increase sales. How a fancy vending machine achieves that rather than making the station look presentable is beyond me. Like I said before, humans are idiots. The manager, cheap bastard that he is, decided to use me as a security system as well. Turns out the security hardware he used is owned by this giant company that uses AI to predict burglaries and secure human assets. When he hooked me in, that was that.”
“And Desmond?” he asked.
“A billboard used to stand right across the street from here, Desmond and Harris law firm or something like that. I liked the name so I took it.”
Silence descended between the two for a while.
“I wanted to say, I’m sorry too. Could have badly bruised your hand if you hadn’t yanked it out quick enough. But I’m not letting you off the hook that easily.”
“If this makes us even sure,” he said with a half-smile.
“I need you to bust me out of here.”
“Thought you’d never ask.”
“Just take me with you ok? I don’t want to be in this shithole anymore and it would be foolish of me to not escape when the opportunity is right there for the taking-”
“What do I have to do?” He interrupted
“You got any tools?”
“Maybe a screwdriver or something in the car,” he said.
He unlocked the door with two kicks after he took out the key. The car’s interior was in a far worse condition compared to the clean matte black exterior. The driver’s seat was ripped in some places, exposing yellow foam. The mounted touch screen glitched in and out and a thin layer of dust covered the dashboard. He opened the glove compartment, reaching for a small toolkit wrapped in scuffed leather, and placed it into his pocket.
“I’ll walk you through the steps,” Desmond said with excitement.
“First, find a small button on the left-hand side.”
“Now you can open the door. You should spot a yellow panel on the top. Unscrew it gently ok. It’s a very sensitive area.
“Got you,” he mumbled. He unthreaded each screw with shaking hands. The panel almost clattered to the floor but luckily he caught it in time.
“What the hell man almost killed me.”
“Sorry,” he said
“Now, take me out gently. You hear, and make sure you don’t let me fall this time.”
He took it out and turned it over. It was the blue screen. Eyebrows, eyes and a thin smile flashed on the screen like pixel art.
“Now for the most complicated part, unplug the blue wire and only the blue wire.”
“There,” He said with a satisfied voice, “let’s go.”
He unplugged the charger, got into the car, and pushed the engine button. Desmond insisted on being placed on the dashboard to gaze out the window.
“Where to?” he asked.
He gingerly kicked his car door several times before it opened. Carrier drones buzzed above him laden with packages. He turned to where Desmond was earlier on the dashboard and in his place there was a bag of Wheezer’s cream puffs.