Kari flung herself onto the sofa. She had just enough time to enjoy the softness of the cushion before she felt the impact. Sonia, a three-year-old whirlwind, had vaulted over the sofa and landed on her mother’s back.
Kari resisted the urge to play dead and turned over to finish the tickle fight Sonia had started upon landing. Sonia devolved into a bucket of giggles and Kari raised her hands in victory.
When Kari’s eyes refocused Sonia was gone. Kari sat up in fright, but a clatter and a howl from the dog in the other room was all she needed to locate the spry little mischief-maker.
Kari lay back down. She’d had these little mind lapses before, but the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with her implant or her brain. “Little Slips” her husband called them with a smile. The innocuous term only intensified her terror.
There were some whispers of update problems in some dark corners of the internet that the search engines hadn’t found yet, but nothing she could ever find again once she left it.
The doctors had checked her implant a thousand times. “No one has ever had a problem with the implant,” they said. Their instruments always stated that “Operations are consistent with normalcy” whatever that meant. Each doctor suggested she’d feel better after a goodnight’s sleep, though for her that never seemed to come. She was always restless no matter how tired she was.
Only Dr. Falks had once suggested the diagnostic equipment might be malfunctioning, or that there might be a glitch in her implant. But when she came to see him the next morning for a follow-up, he dismissed that possibility out of hand.
Her day at work, her last day, hadn’t helped her fragile state of mind.
Her husband, Todd, saved the dog and sent Sonia up to the bathroom to wash up for dinner.
He entered the room and bent over the couch. He touched her gently and said in a soft voice, “Hey there, Goldy.” Despite her red hair, “Goldfish” had been his pet name for her since college, since even before they were dating. It all went back to a conversation neither of them quite remembered fully, but the nickname, given in love, had stuck.
She roused, looked up at him with sad eyes and laid her head back down.
“What happened?” he asked.
“I lost my job.”
“Susan called me into her office and broke the news. I’ll get three months severance and benefits through the end of this month…”
“What happened? How are we…Did you-” he cut himself off when she looked up at him again.
“Why?” he asked in a penitent tone.
“They bought a new program. Apparently the AI is good enough that it can do my job ‘more accurately, efficiently, and economically’ than I can even with my implant. As Susan put it, ‘in the end it’s all numbers.’”
“But it’s not. You have to make decisions about how to cut costs and what to do. You’ve gotta make calls about people.”
“They’ve been running the program for a year, shadowing my decisions and seeing who can perform the best. The software claimed I was costing the company more than my salary and-” She drew her thumb across her neck and made a cutting sound.
Todd leaned over the couch and touched her hair, running his fingers through it, trying to both calm himself and encourage her.
“They let half the workforce go today,” she continued. “Heh, they let Susan go too once she’d fired two-thirds of her staff. That must’ve sucked.”
“It’s okay,” he said, “you’ll get another job.”
“Don’t you see?” she asked ruffling her feathers. “The problem isn’t that I lost my job, it’s that the stupid program was right.”
“You’re the best accountant I know.”
“You don’t know that many accountants,” she said and laughed, breaking for a moment out of her melancholy. It had been an old joke with them. Her mirth did not last long. “I was beaten by software and silicone. And there’s nothing I can do. Nothing I can offer. Nowhere I can go. Nowhere to be me.”
She paused for a moment.
Her eyes went blank and she slipped away.
Todd made a mental note with his implant to have Kari checked out again. This stress couldn’t help her condition.
When Todd saw the lights come back on in Kari’s eyes, he said, “Don’t worry. You’ll feel better in the morning.” Stress always increased the frequency and severity of the slips. Sleep would solve this too.
Kari gave him an inquisitive stare. “About what?” she asked.
“Oh don’t worry. Alfred will take care of it.”
“The AI from work.”
“I thought you said he cost you your job.”
“No, I said he could do it better, and he can. He found me a nice waitressing job. It’s perfect.”
“But after grad school you swore you’d never waitress again.”
“Oh, pish-posh. Sleep on it. I’m sure you’ll find Alfred’s right.”
Todd was puzzled, until the next morning when he got out of bed and it all made sense.