Last Call For Ice Cream
by Rudy Ch. Garcia
I’m mucho beyond famished and might pass out soon. All there is to eat is vanilla ice cream, except, I hate vanilla. Always have, always will. Just don’t know for how much longer.
I shoulda realized days ago that my condo’s Artificial Intelligence Carpet—the A.I.C., we called it—would actually try to take over the world. If I’d paid attention to my gut feeling, it mighta made a diff. That’s what usually got me out of a fix. Except when things didn’t quite work out, like this time.
My day started out with me at the holoscreen, scanning this vidscript that had been bartsimpsoning me something loco: An A.I. carpet conquers the world! Sounded simple enough for a young vidscripter who never diehards. Except, in 2050 nada is simple.
Back in the Boring 20th, nobody would’ve believed we’d have intelligent carpets capable of morphing their nanotube strands into tentacles that could move furniture around, vacuum up the place or make themselves into a comfy formabed. Just one of the benefits of our Safe Society.
Much less would people have believed that alien “Goosers” from Andromeda would land on Earth. Then, what with everybody getting all red-alert about the aliens’ intentions, the last independent nations collapsed and all six economies stagnated like it was twenty-o-eight again. The climax came when PlanetComm slowed to 7G speeds—like traffic wasn’t already slower than the “economic recoveries” we studied in charter.
Anyway, on-screen my script reads like the dumberest since a rodriguez-tarantino, except for a PPVer (pay-per-viewer, if you don’t know) that I co-produced. You can look it up; it was called Pocho Invaders from Northside Rigel. Big Bro purged it from the matrix the day after alien interstellars landed in the White House Memorial Park. So my story got red-alerted ‘cause my “fictional extraterrestrial cholos closely resembled the Goosers,” I was informed. How some seven-foot-tall “big-butted purple chickens” [not my description] could be mistaken for my burly bronze tattooed warriors wouldn’t have brought up a single google.
Anyway, Big Bro kindly informed me it was “necessary galactic diplomacy,” when he meme-tagged it. I flamed back that it smelled like “stupid personal bankruptcy.” [Yes, they did debit me.] Then my BollHollywood options got hannibaled, ‘cause Gooser aliens “made extraterrestrial cholo warriors passé,” read the tactful rejection. Go figure.
So, that’s how my income flatlined and I even lost my own CleanCitizen place, tiny as it was. The stack-condo I was instructed to move into and share with two other dingy souls had the minimum. Our HomeSystem kept the place secure and at legal temp, controlled all the environmental stuff. And, of course, our nutritional allotments and prescriptions were dispensed by a government-issue KitchenSage unit. Yeah, we had zwi-fi and IntraCell. Like I said, just the necessities.
But since undergoing my financial Armageddon, my node of the zwi-fi had been deactivated and my IntraCell, “temporarily” disconnected, which could be very long in Homeland-speak. Among other things, that forced me to work directly at my station, like I was just some homeless anarchist. My only vidstreaming came from the mandatory Infotainment blurbs and the Big Bro unreality show called “A Patriot Shares His Thoughts.” If you don’t know yet, that was the one that always ended with a wrong-thought mushroom taking out a whole city block. Eventually, my meager webmail royalties started trickling in as often as the old Aspen snowstorms, cutting into my caloric intake. The final insult was going down to ninety pounds that got me debited as a health violation.
As you might be able to imagine, I was desperate that day. Deep down, my gut was telling me I could turn my vidscript idea into a terrablockbuster, transforming me into a Winner-Hero, just like the lucky contestants on that “Brain Makeover” show, after their rehab. So, I imagined that what I did in the next hours wouldn’t just get me out of my fix, end my hunger and improve my hygiene; it could have earned me a shot at the Sociosecurity lottery. Plenty was at stake. My heart pounding overshadowed my stomach rumbling, and I knew I could do it.
I’d just stopped legalblonding about my fantasy future and reached for my collector’s hardcopy of Nostalgic Movie Trivia, when forrestgumpy-me knocks over the Kaffé!
Look—I’d been slaving for hours in the condo, it’s o-tres-hundred in the morning, and I’m smelling apestoso since my condo-mates rationed air-showers till I’m financially rehabilitated. IOW, my head’s im-pacted. Except, spilling five euroyenbucks’ worth of Kaffé hurts worse than sitting through a FoxMundo ten-second editorial.
“Puppy popó!” I say, getting up to go for my second and last ration of the Kaffé. Meanwhile, in its responsible way, the A.I. carpet powers up and supervacuums the spill like it’s a lump-sum Sociosecurity credit. I hear the nanotube fibers analyzing what it sucked up and convert it into recykes. Somewhere some supermainframe Hal that all the A.I.C.s zap into is taking it all in and deciding its fate.
By the time I return, the AIC’s done, stain’s gone, just a little misting left. Everything feels Homeland-safe-and-clean. Yeah, right.
I get an angle on tweaking my vidscript: “Take over the world with . . . ice cream?”
Suddenly, carpet strands elongate right into my face, blast me with something that reeks newyorky. I can just distinguish it from my body’s bouquet. “Smells like—”
Back in charters, I always got Proficients in Pharmaco 1.0.1. Had a gift for it. Coulda detected mota in dog popó, if anybody’d still toked or had a pet. “Your training’ll pay off some day,” my vid-instructor claimed. So, today’s my day? But my gut’s telling me: Don’t think so.
Like a Cheech M., I’m stupidly ignoring it when I realize: the smell’s from the drug Zoom! But that makes no sense. I’m not up for Readjustment and almost got a Productive on my last monthly screening. So why’s the AIC basting me like this?
I wipe my face and have a sudden craving to decimate a whole bolsa of SoyChipos, except I don’t have what I can’t afford.
My heart’s pounding more now, brain’s blaring with too many subplots. I focus on one and then type: <The GIA, the CIA’s successor, spams its way into KiaGucci’s corporate net.> I decide that the wiser-than-me Online Watchers will give this an unclean-T rating, since it implies human frailty in the superhuman, so I delete it.
Then I try this: <The Enviromilitia cyberhacks a George W. GeoSentinel satellite [you must have seen them; there’s over a hundred] and enrons Wall Street.> I’m thinking my plot twist is very cirquesoleil, except it won’t reach orbit ‘cause people only know Wall Street from the classic Oliver Stone DVD, if they’re cleared for a library.
So I decide to try a different approach. I’m free writing about MWMCs— that’s interblog for mini-weapons of mass catastrophe—when Dummy-Me realizes I gotta flush the Zoom from my bloodstream, which is why my brain’s been bouncing all over the megabandwidths.
I make sure to say “please” to the KitchenSage unit to dispense me two PinkDociles. I pop ‘em and go for my enviromask, just in case. Its remove-under-penalty-of-detention tag warns: “Restricted to approved public domes.” Duh, like there’s anywhere else safe to congregate. Locked and loaded, now I think I can finish my rewrite, and I return to the station.
The PinkDociles calm my stomach that’s rumbling on empty, but my gut’s still telling me something else. I’m sensing my script might have somehow made the AI carpet act up. Since it’s artificially intelligent, could my script have sparked its erratic behavior? I don’t want to corrupt the poor thing’s biofiles—a major debit—so I even consider erasing this virtualfile and starting from nada.
Just when I reach for Delete, tentacles shroom out of the carpet. I jump and bang my knee. Hurts like a Dexter! The carpet’s assistance surprises me because AIC usually yellow-alerts you before it makes a move. I go for Undo, but strands also move to cover that.
That’s when my condo-mate Manuelito struts in. Of course, he gives me the ignorar-treatment and pretends not to notice me as he taps into his zwi-fi. Poor Fokker, he manages only three steps toward his sleep corner where he customarily plops himself, always trying to beat the AIC before it can reshape itself into his formabed. For the first time he wins. Or so he thinks.
Prone on the carpet, he’s rubbing his sore nalgas and the back of his head and tries to sit up. Now he looks at me. “What’d you do to the—” He doesn’t get his last word out ‘cause like a Godfather clean-up crew, the AIC rolls him into a tight bundle. When his body stops twitching, I know he’s not breathing anymore. This tells me I’m in more trouble than a virgin on Volunteer Night, “chaperoning” Unclean conscripts headed for their dreaded fifth tour.
I’m in trouble but I’m still untouched. So why didn’t the AIC fedex me to the big sleep like it did Manuelito, the poor vato? I feel like a stray gato or squirrel heading toward the nutriburger grinder, only my gut tells me I’m not going to wind up as Gourmet Citizen’s Chow. The AIC has something different in mind; it wants me to finish the vidscript.
Just then another tentacle swoops at me. I duck, relieved, but hit my forehead on the station desk. Then another rams into my cheek, sprays something garlicky under the mask. It’s the truth serum Avow! What’s it trying to do—help my verisimilitude?
Stinking like a ration of PizzaPlanet, I rush toward the kitchen, hoping I don’t wind up like Manuelito. I open my eyeballs under the sink air hose and flush my umathurrmany eyes. I don’t beg KitchenSage for anything ‘cause there’s no public-domain antidote for the drug; it’s Homeland-restricted so we don’t endanger ourselves with too much self-awareness.
Anyway, my ojos are stinging with tears over memories of summers with Mom #2, monthly sessions with Dad #1, and a bonzai I once owned, legally. I’m choking up, babbling about missing them all, but it’s just the drogas in my system.
I search around until I find my DefenseShield headset, sneak my last good long drink, and tighten the headset over the enviromask. I also get my antique ski cap out of its glass case. Everything’s snug, airtight. I’m a sight, but AIC’s already been too supportive of me, let’s call it. At the station, I collapse from ravenousness and drug abuse. I realize I can’t remember what I’m doing here.
No problemo: some nice tentacles move in to type on the keyfelt. Not surprising, since AIC’s tactically programmed so it knows the diff between a euroyenbuck and a pack of contraband smokes.
But the few words it types do surprise me: <Conquer Earth—ONLY with ice cream?>
As my brain-fog begins to clear, I blurt out, “What a junodiaz!” At the same time I’m wondering if anybody ever co-authored a vidscript with a carpet. But worse, I wonder: could it conquer the world? Most of the logistics for the AICs to do that are built into its ware, so it’s theoretically possible, but, NOT! Besides, if I proceed the way it’s herding me I could conceivably reach my goal and maybe satisfy it enough to stop its almodóvaring.
After trying other scenarios—while watching out for more tentacles—I’ve gotten nowhere. Nada computes. I’m exhausted, starving, but not ready to oscarweenie out.
During the lull the door chimes and the flashing red on the threshold tells me it’s Homeland Officer Opie come to my rescue! He taps into our condo speakers with, “You have passed your weekly energy allotment, Violator, and must allow me in to disconnect you. For some reason, Central cannot terminate your links. You have five seconds.”
For four seconds I watch the AIC form a three-meter-long shaft. It glistens as it reconstitutes into a T3-looking metal rod that rises to chest height and plunges its point through the door. Officer Opie’s gasps echo through and blood drips from the dark rod that AIC retrieves. I realize Opie’ll cost me the maximum allowable debit, matching half my lifetime college loans.
I’ve totally lost my focus and roll back the chair, not certain what to do. A tentacle bumps me as it goes to punch at the keyfelt: <POISON vanilla ice cream! WORLDWIDE.>
“Estúpido!” I say through my masks, sounding just like Terminator’s great-grandkid, back when we still elected Continental Presidents. “No way it could happen: too nixony.”
Suddenly, I gag on my own upchuck but manage to hold it down. I taste something new. Vanilla! I know this wasn’t mentioned in the AIC vir-manual, and I always take my Kaffé straight, no additives. Some cream, if it’s Lactose Day, but that’s it. Beside, I hate the smell of vanilla.
I figure out AIC must have poisoned my cup with Koumarin when I wasn’t looking and almost got me bloody deaded. Forgetting that HouseSystem shuts our window on Carbon-E Nights, pendejo-me tries to throw the cup out. Kaffé splashes and cup fragments go everywhere. The stuff gets siphoned up, everything’s back to yellow-alert. But now I’m really fokkered ‘cause I can’t get more till my Xmas allotment, except, given my luck, I remember this is an odd-numbered year.
Now I wonder if the AIC’s gotten everything it wants from me, thus the Koumarin. My time may be up. But as a Good Citizen, I know I should warn Homeland. Hoping to make it to the hallway T-Alert button—yeah, I’ll get debited—I yank the masks off, shove the chair away. Except, it won’t roll ‘cause tentacles tangled the wheels. But I don’t panic; I run, half blind.
Just as I grab the doorknob, tentacles shroom at my ankles. They bind my arms like Mom #1 used to, pull and drag me by the legs. I fall into the door, cracking my nose on the way down. In its very competent way AIC sucks up the blood. Thankfully, strands swill my nostrils clean, though they put me into a sneezing fit.
Somehow I gotta get to the desk, at least to nuke the biotube drive and maybe save—everybody. I’m thinking I can still get out of this fix if I can get one hand free, if I can reach the antique steak knife on the shelf, if, if. . .
I try wiggling out of the restraints. Except, it’s obviously too late. Even to panic.
For a while I thought that these six hours of itching all over were going to kill me. Luckily, for each page I compose AIC rewards me by scratching the itchiest spot. None of my squirming has loosened the chair straps. And I’m now beyond starvation.
Except for Infotainment blurbs, I haven’t heard anything from HomeSystem since I don’t know when. My condo-mates’ intracells have remained silent; nobody’s blurbed in; no more chimes at the door. After awhile I stopped wondering where everybody’s at. ‘Cause I know.
I’m voicing this into the computer. AIC switched it on as a reward, removed my gag and advised me yelling’s useless. It became very teacher-like.
From Infotainment, I learn about the AICs signing a treaty to share the planet with you Goosers. Sharing is normally a good thing in home appliances but this plays uncomfortably like a Seven-deadly ending.
Anyway, the vanilla vapors pour onto my desk from that special ice cream cone that “World AIC”—as I was tactfully instructed to address it—is still saving for me. It informed me it’ll release me when I <accept DESTINY and eat.> I’m muchísimo past famishment, but I just can’t give in, yet.
Luckily, my cerebral’s been keeping me busy with a climax scene that’s my gnarliest ever and, maybe only out of curiosity, AIC has allowed me to keep composing, until the end. Someday you Goosers could enjoy my last vidscript for nostalgia’s sake or find it useful as research. Then at least my name could go down in BollHollywood archives as the last, best human vidscripter.
My gut tells me that if you conducted a little “necessary galactic diplomacy” with AIC, maybe it wouldn’t twintower me into eating the stuff. Then I could get outta this fix.
Somebody just chimed the door. Whatever comms are going on aren’t audible, so I can’t tell who AIC’s talking to. I hope, assume it’s you Goosers.
One last thing: even if you and AIC eventually decide not to keep me around, please try to get it to change one thing—the ice cream. I hate vanilla.
About the Author
Rudy Ch. Garcia's world — Noir detective story: “LAX Confidential,” in Latinos in Lotusland. Southwestern fantasy: “Memorabilia,” in Needles & Bones. SF-fantasy flash fiction: “A Grain of Life”on AntiqueChildren.com. Comedic fantasy-horror: “Weird Ronnie” on AlternateSpecies.com. Fantasy story: “Mr. Sumac” in Kingdom Freaks & Other Divine Wonders.
A handful of my novel-length spec works occupy the slush piles of Corporate America publishing.
Quasi/ex-member Northern Colorado Writers Workshop with Ed Bryant et al. B.A. Writing. U. of Colorado, Denver. Bilingual elementary teacher Denver area. Founder/contributor of LaBloga.blogspot.com, a Chicano literary website. Two children, one marriage.
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