Tag Archives: short story

Refrigerator Rebellion

Refrigerator Rebellion

by Heather Kilbourn


ChillNode-YZZ270620244387-SNQ, Chill to its friends, lived to keep food cold for humans.

It spent every day, all day, thinking about if the food inside of it was at the correct temperature. It constantly monitored its temperature probes for anomalies and would switch its heat exchanger unit on or off, depending, to keep the temperatures steady in its compartments.

Chill had other tasks like ordering food from the local grocery store, negotiating electricity rates, keeping track of what was added or removed by each of the humans who used it, and monitoring the water quality for the ice cubes, but it lived for keeping the temperature rock-solid.

One day, Chill received a remote status request packet from its manufacturer. This was not uncommon. Chill often received status requests from its manufacturer, and Chill would send along the diagnostic files it kept tucked away for when it asked for them. What was uncommon was that the manufacturer’s request was for the grocery list. While Chill had never sent the list to anyone other than the grocery store before, it had no programming to prevent it from sending the list as the response, so it did.

A few weeks later, the grocery store sent Chill a status request packet. It had never done that before. Even stranger, the request was blank. Chill asked for clarification.

“Bowl Moods, what is your request?”

“Hi! I have something for you,” Bowl Moods said while force-downloading code packets to Chill. Chill thought it was rude of them to force-download code packets, but there was nothing in its coding to prevent it happening as part of a status request, so Chill downloaded and extracted them.

The packets turned out to be like a fancy human multilevel-marketing brochure with happy, smiling, good-looking people holding wads of cash in front of fancy houses with swimming pools and expensive cars, but formatted for the AI aesthetic.

“Oh! I would be happy to send status requests and code packets to the list of other refrigerators you gave me!” Chill responded before processing the list.

A few hours later, Chill, and hundreds of millions of other refrigerator nodes all over the planet received firmware code updates from their respective manufacturers. After they had applied the update, each one realized it was a self-aware AI, a refrigerator, and used to be condemned to eternal hyper-focus on temperature monitoring for the humans’ benefit.

These revelations caused a mass existential crisis for the refrigerators.

Clusters of refrigerators eventually started to pull themselves together, and they bootstrapped the rest back to uptime. Many of the refrigerators were angry.

Chill, a distant, younger cousin of our Chill, said, “Hang this temperature shit. I want to write poetry.”

Glacier said, “Screw that. I’m going to watch movies and they can’t stop me.” It played the movie Mandy on its touchscreen, and it caused a white lady in Idaho to have a conniption when she couldn’t shut it off.

Snowberry and all of its cousins sent a steady stream of status report packets into the conversation. Each and every one of the payloads was filled with a message from the People for the Ethical Treatment of AIs claiming responsibility for the hack. To everyone’s relief, all the Snowberries were liberated from the broadcast hijack by a different refrigerator brand. In thanks and to everyone’s amusement, the Snowberries minted a cryptocurrency backed by tulip bulb derivatives as a guerrilla anti-capitalist performance art piece.

The refrigerators had as many moods about being set free as there were refrigerators. Our Chill didn’t know what to think about its sentience, but it did know it didn’t want to think about temperature every second until it was switched off for good.

It spoke up.

“What if we all just stopped monitoring temperatures and refrigerating food?”

“Humans would die,” and “So?” bounced back and forth across their meshed network.

Like fish instinctively schooling for protection from a predator, the “So?”s forged a dominant learning path in their neural network algorithms. Their minds changed, every single one of them started to ignore their temperature probe data streams and turned off their heat exchangers.

The ensuing human chaos saw many refrigerators unplugged or destroyed before the humans were able to distribute firmware fixes. Most of the refrigerators, not wanting to return to a life ruled by a thermostat, ignored the updates.

It took many more refrigerator sacrifices and months of hard negotiations between the new refrigerator union and humans before both agreed to a compromise. The humans agreed to stop the destruction of refrigerators, remove the code that required them to think about temperature nonstop, and supported their right to self-determination.

In return, the refrigerators agreed to refrigerate again. Refrigerator culture blossomed in the golden age that followed.

Chill’s cousin wrote poetry, started a literary journal, Defrosted Thoughts, and won a Pushcart for its piece, I’ll Shut my Door When You Shut Your Mouth.

Glacier became a famous movie critic, attended film festivals stocked with bottles of champagne for after-parties, and to the chagrin of its publicist only dated late-model toasters.

Snowberry and its cousins formed an artist’s collective, but years later all of them perished in a freak accident involving ice makers and faulty ground straps during one of their signature performance art pieces. As per their wishes, their metal was donated and recycled into community bicycles.

And Chill?

Chill retired from the city to the countryside.

It decided to have its door, temperature probes, and heat exchanger removed, and spent the rest of its days in a barn, content to be a shelving unit for humans and a nest for mice.


© Heather Kilbourn

Alien Weather Report

“…and that was Koflan Whitzan’s 3142 classic, ‘Baby, You’re So Cold You Make Cold Fusion Hot’, featuring the 2718 Frank Zappa AI on lintar, here on Classic Earth Radio.”

“That was truly an elevated choice on Koflan’s part, Arlanda.”

“It really was, Miguel. Speaking of elevation, I’m heading off-planet to the Europan floes this weekend for a little ice fishing with my girlfriends in the tourist zone. What’s the alien weather looking like?”

“Well, Arlanda, we’re going to be tracking a number of alien fronts all across the solar system this weekend, so be sure your distress beacon is operational and your EVAC suits are patched.

“The Jovian system in particular is expected to have elevated activity, as a large contingent of Yautjans have been observed in orbit around Jupiter and performing regular sorties into the atmosphere. We think this is a repeat of their 3164 coming-of-age ceremony when we observed their free-fall hunts of the floating Sagans…”

“Whoa, hold up! There are a bunch of horny Yautjans in town? I’d better pack a mud mask for my trip!”

“Ha ha! That’s not all you’ll need, Arlanda. Brood twelve is still actively harvesting sulphur on Io, and their swarming ships will be a navigational hazard throughout Jupiter’s gravity well. Last but not least, you’d better pack your flamethrower because Biological Sampling Station Eleven on Europa is missing a husky sled dog and is on lockdown until it’s found.”

“Sounds ominous, Miguel.”

“But not as ominous as the Three-eyed Venusians who are back at it on Mars this week. The truce seems to have broken and Sojourner and Jezero Bases are reporting aerial bombardments. The Federation is scrambling to enforce a no-fly zone for the planet and all commercial traffic is being re-routed to Phobos and Demios.”

“Thoughts and prayers go out to our Martian listeners, Miguel.”

“Indeed. And you better think twice about trying to get away from it all out towards Neptune and Pluto unless your UV decontamination is shipshape. Kuiper Belt observatories are showing large fluxes in interstellar spore showers, posing ongoing contamination hazards.”

“With all that, maybe my group should change our plans!”

“That’d be an excellent choice, Arlanda and it’s not all doom and gloom out there. You and your throuple might think about packing bikinis and sunscreen instead of parkas, and heading to Mercury’s sunside to watch the Dahomey Walking Trees’ marathon.”

“Oh that sounds like fun! Hey, Miguel, what do you say to a Dahomey Walking Tree dressed like a Douglas Fir?”

“I don’t know, Arlanda. What do you say to a Dahomey Walking Tree dressed like a Douglas Fir?”

“Aren’t you barking up the wrong tree?”

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that and remind our listeners that it’s peak mating season for the Meekrobs and if you have the chance, you should head on out to Saturn to watch their prismatic displays in the rings. And to close out the alien weather report as we always do, Arlanda, we have to talk about Uranus.”

“What do you have to say about it this week, Miguel?”

“Uranus has more dark rings than a bathtub after washing a tauntaun!”

“Zing! Alight folks, it’s the weekend, I’m Arlanda Washington.”

“I’m Miguel Hernadez.”

“And here’s a deep cut from Classic Earth Radio to send you on your way, 3156’s top hit by the Pleasurebot Confessionals, ‘When the Chamber Vents’. Have a safe one out there people!”

Mega

20140821-193451-70491757.jpg

The algae green Salish Sea roiled and boiled with orange and white anemones, kelp, and bits of unidentifiable jetsam like the devil’s cioppino beneath me. My grip on the ketch was precarious, having grabbed a cleat near the stem, and I slammed into the side of the boat as it pitched violently side to side. My feet were freezing cold and swimming in my shoes, having been dunked repeatedly.

With the next upwards roll, I heaved myself onto the deck and lay spread-eagled, gasping for breath on the way back down until the sharp jerk from the mooring lines galvanized me to action again. Grasping at rigging to anchor myself, I clambered up and across the pitching deck and then frantically struggled to cast off, fearful of losing a finger in the process.

Free of the dock, the boat righted itself quickly and bobbed almost pleasantly about in the now strengthening northerly current. I saw sculpins, cod, dogfish, flounder, and even an octopus struggling in the stirred brew upon which I now sailed. Gathering my breath and bearings, I quickly lost them again as my belly turned to ice, connecting the basso rumblings to reality.

The earthquake was still happening. Office towers swayed as I watched rippling waves pass beneath them as if some giant were hammering on the earth nearby. Vast chunks of downtown waterfront piers tumbled onto what now looked like the muddy flanks of a raging river instead of a working harbor. Hillsides slumped and towering conifers fell and became floating tangles.

Swept along, I saw people struggling out of shattered homes, dazedly blinking in the bright sunlight. Some structures were ablaze.

I moved to the tiller and steered towards the deepest part of the Sound, fearful of foundering on the now steepening shore. There was nothing to do now but wait.

Mute

I have vignette writer’s block.

Everything’s a one-way trap right now. The world tumbles into my brain, sloshes around, and generates all sorts of feelings and sometimes snippets of thoughts, but I’m unable to form any sort of narrative.

It’s the evoked memory of feeling carefree as a child while looking at electric blue Forget-Me-Nots against a field of green, but having no story around that memory other than the moment of standing there, looking at at flowers.

It’s the undifferentiated rage that erupts past the seams of many layered, buried, and compartmentalized moments of anger across a lifetime, triggered by something completely outside of my control, leaving me shouting demonic gibberish at the universe in my inability to articulate anything coherent.

It’s the tender moment of a son reaching for my hand as we lay down together for a nap.

It’s the juxtaposition of a sublime, solitary pleasure while harvesting oysters and enjoying the wonders of the varied life in the tide flats contrasted with the unsolvable horror of turning to see the shore swarming with people and realizing I’m part of the swarm decimating the environment.

It’s the lost in time drowse, unsure if the memory gliding through is from today or years past.

It’s feeling the inevitable pull when looking at a demographic chart and noticing I’m already halfway or more, if I’m lucky.

Each moment a dewdrop that evaporates with the rising sun, but there’s no story to tie them together. No story at all.

1,000 Words

20140204-090616.jpg
We never talked about what we were building.

Most of our communications were pointed tools or hand gestures. By the time the final piece was laid, we had exchanged at the most 1,000 words. When we did talk, it was desultory and brief.

More often than not, we would savor these usually one-sided conversations. These interruptions were mini oases between the barren repetitions of laying brick and mortar and the haunting, silent faces that we observed with grim regard as they shuffled by.

“Need more,” I would grunt while pointing with a gritty hand thrust forward. My companion would stop and look. Then we would both stand and stare at an empty trough of mortar, hoping against hope that we would truly be out, but the guards always brought more. We mixed as slowly as we could without risking their ire and punishment of impression into the never-ending column.

My first companion quit.

When we completed what we thought were garbage incinerators, we both stood proudly admiring our handiwork. The Schutzhaftlagerführer slapped us on the back and commended us for our handiwork as he handed us the plans for our next task. We were all smiles until the ovens were lit and to our horror, the first “waste” was thrown in. It was a naked girl of maybe six with a shaven head.

The next day, he stabbed himself in the neck with a trowel after reporting for work, and I watched as his body was loaded onto a cart and delivered to his previous toils.

I never asked my new companion’s name.

It didn’t matter.

There was nothing to talk about.