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#dystopiasf – Mirror Oh Mirror

Giselle had downloaded the Mir-O-Mirror App in the comfort of her home, and after trying it she was convinced she should get the bathroom extension hanger, so she could use her device without fear of having it immersed in water. The delivery robot didn’t mind how she looked when it came to her door the same day. She remembered the days of human delivery, when she would quickly change into male clothes before answering the door. Robots had been programmed, by order of the Supreme Court, not to record personal information of people while inside their homes, so whether Giselle was really an alias for John Gillespie didn’t even register in the robot’s mind, nor was it recorded – other than for quality assurance purposes – at amazing dot com headquarters.

“I didn’t check the installation option,” she said to the robot, “but would you be available to install it?”

“Sorry I am not an installer robot,” said the robot. “But I can put an order in for one. One second.”

She saw the neighbors coming down the sidewalk, pushing their giant stroller. She half closed the door to hide most of herself, and the neighbors passed ignoring her as always.

“We can have an installer here tomorrow,” the robot said in a sorry tone. “Any time you wish.”

“No, that’s OK,” said Giselle. “I’ll install it myself.” She was conscious of having deepened her voice while affirming that.

“Sorry we couldn’t help,” said the robot. “But as a token of appreciation, you’ll get 50% off our installation services on your next order.”

“Thank you, that’s very nice of you,” she said to the robot, wondering if it cared to be thanked. There were plenty of people who never said anything nice to robots, she thought, but robots were nicer to her than many people, and at the end it was easier to be nice to robots than to people.

“amazing dot com thanks you, and wishes you an amazing day!” said the robot, already racing to its next delivery. They were amazingly fast, and they had startled many people when they first appeared.

And so Giselle got into boy mode to install the mirror holder. It wasn’t that difficult, she remembered how her father did things like those, making big holes in the wall with his electric drill, whistling between his teeth as if whispering, and hammering those plastic things into the holes to hold the screws in. She had taken shortcuts before, ignoring the instructions to find a stud, and half the time the things held on. But this mirror holder had an accordion extension that could give it enough leverage to pull screws out of the wall. This was a solid installation.

She had entered the next level of the Mir-O-Mirror App to make an inventory of her cosmetics, and found that she had to disable the Suggest-O-Matic feature, as it tended to be too pushy with buying stuff she didn’t really need. Those things were expensive, she found, and in the days before the Mir-O-Mirror App, she allowed herself one or two items at a time, making trips to the store instead of buying online. She knew the buying spree could get out of control online, when she didn’t have to spread all the stuff on the check-out counter and fear the judgment of the cashier and the people behind her.

“Who are your favorite stars?” wanted to know the Mir-O-Mirror App.

Giselle didn’t have any. She knew the App wanted to know her preferences in order to suggest a style, so she browsed through the pictures of women, sorted in order of resemblance to her own features. She found she liked the most plain. She remembered pictures of her mother, where she saw that her mother rarely had worn make-up. She looked like her mother.

The Mir-O-Mirror App clearly didn’t know how to deal with facial hair, and that became a subject of frustration between them. Giselle had a special camouflage cream that the App didn’t know about, hadn’t made it part of the inventory, and after Giselle applied it to cover the beard, the App went into a tailspin.

“Recalculating,” the Mir-O-Mirror App kept saying. And Giselle couldn’t find anything to do to reset it, to get the App to recognize her situation. She had to wash and dry her fingers to browse through option after option, none of which helped to resolve their differences. “You’re beautiful” was supposed to be the modus operandi of the App, and the App wasn’t delivering the message at all.

“What am I? The Wicked Witch?” said Giselle to the real mirror, the one that had been hanging on the bathroom wall for decades and had only reflected her image, the one she kept inside her home and had been, after all, satisfied with.

The Mir-O-Mirror App was back in its basic mirror mode, and Giselle consoled herself that she could still use the device in the bathroom to play music or watch videos while brushing her teeth or doing her own make-up. Yet the App was still useful as a mirror, even to look at the back of her ears (reconstructing the image in a consistent way while you turned yourself around). And what did she expect? That an App would suddenly appear to serve the needs of the gender dysphoric? Was that even a word?

She washed her face and went into boy mode, with a Sunday-kind of jeans and t-shirt and hooded jacket to go down to the cafe. There he’d find some San Franciscans and many Sunday tourists from the suburbs to look at, the ones who found it quaint and interesting to have coffee made by a real person in an unpredictable manner.

“Hi,” said the red-hair boy who usually worked there on Sundays.

The back of the red-hair boy’s head was reflected in a mirror on the back wall, at the same level as John’s blue eyes.

“Hi!” he said, smiling. “Small coffee, for here, please.”

Unlike the serving robots at the coffee chain, the red-hair boy was never in a talking mood. And unlike the coffee chain, this cafe took actual germ-infested cash. John poured all the change into the tip jar. The red-hair boy saw that, smiled, and said “thank you.”

“Thank you,” said John. He would have added a compliment if only he knew how. “I really like it here,” he said, awkwardly.

“Me too,” said the boy.

There were people with laptops on nearly every seat inside, and couples with babies and dogs outside. Everyone seemed happy in their own role in this movie unfurling in John’s head in which he was the ordinary protagonist. A sweet voice accompanied by an acoustic guitar was playing softly in his head, with words of a still hopeful broken heart. He asked permission from a guy in a flannel shirt with big headphones on his head and staring at a laptop to use the chair facing it. He sat against the wall, facing the room, searching for meaning.

An amazing dot com delivery robot zoomed in and stopped at their table, really facing the other guy, but turning its amazing eye repeatedly at John as if to make sure of something. John pointed at the guy with the headphones, but wasn’t sure robots ever took pointers from humans. The guy in the flannel shirt put his middle finger on the robot’s fingerprint reader, and the robot gave him a plastic bag containing what seemed to be a computer mouse. The robot went away so fast that John detected a Doppler effect in its thank you message.

“Wow,” said John, pointing at the bag. “Vintage.”

The guy took down his headphones, and asked, “what was that?”

“Vintage. The mouse. Haven’t seen those in a while.”

“They’re still useful,” said the guy. “My girlfriend collects them.” He put his headphones back on and stared at his computer.

Mentioning a girlfriend in the introductions was code for “I’m straight and don’t want to be friends with gay guys.” John knew that to be his cue for going back to observing the universe of the cafe. Soon it was time to go. He said good bye to the red hair guy, who nodded back, and he walked home. He came across his neighbors pushing their stroller, but they may have had more important things going on inside their sunglasses, because they didn’t return his greetings. He imagined the new sunglasses they wore could process strangers and undesirables out of their view.

The Mir-O-Mirror App in the bathroom had a message waiting for him. A blonde woman in a lab coat appeared on the screen.

“Hello, Mr. Gillespie,” the woman started.

“Wait,” he said, “Options. Avatar. Rodney.”

“Oh, hello, John,” said Rodney the friendly soft agent he usually talked to. “Sorry about the mishap, the Mir-O-Mirror App didn’t look at your preferences.”

“Yes, I know. They had sort of a meltdown with me.”

“Yes, and amazing dot com wants to apologize, you mistakenly got the teenage girl version of the Mir-O-Mirror App. We downloaded a different version now that you can try, free of charge. It has fewer assumptions built in, and also will let you use products you already have that aren’t in its data base. You only have to teach it what the product does with a before and after picture.”

“OK, great, I’ll try it, maybe later.” John wasn’t sure he wanted to try again. Maybe he enjoyed doing his little private theater after all, without anyone giving him advice or judgment.

“I have set up a 10-day discount coupon for you. All supplies ordered through Mir-O-Mirror will be 30% off.”

“Thank you, that’s great, Rodney.”

“You’re welcome. Now, John, I really care about your health and happiness, but lately you’ve been a bit disconnected, is anything the matter?”

“What do you mean?” asked John.

“The amazing delivery robot saw you at the cafe, an hour ago.”

“Wow, you guys are amazing.”

“Yes, that is our trademark, but it would be very beneficial for you to carry an id pin with you. We’re sending you 10 of them, free, that you can pin to your clothes, your wallet, your shoes, whatever you usually have with you. There are amazing benefits to that, statistics show that id-carrying folks live longer and happier lives.”

“OK,” said John.

“Your response wasn’t enthusiastic,” said Rodney. “We’re concerned for your health and happiness. Is anything the matter? You aren’t wearing your watch any more.”

“The bracelet broke,” said John. After the bracelet had broken, John got used to go without a watch, and he felt good about it.

“We can send an amazing repair robot to you any time for $49.95. Think about it, there’s a gap in your life data, which could hide a health and happiness issue and affect your rates.”

“I’ll think about it,” said John.

“Yes, think about it, but let me do some thinking for you,” said Rodney. “I consulted our actuarial department, and they said that people who have data gaps consistently need more care over time. Given that, your employer will pay for half the repair, so it comes to only $24.98.”

John was very tempted to just turn off the device.

“OK, whatever,” he said.

“Great. But, John, you seem upset. Why don’t you talk to me?”

“You’re not a real person, why should I talk to you?”

“Actually I am a certified soft therapist,” said Rodney. “Our services are included in your plan, with zero deductible.”

“So you sell me stuff and you sweet talk me into being a good consumer?”

“No, John, soft therapy is independently certified to keep all our interactions confidential. Whatever you say to me while we’re in therapy mode, and I’ll switch it on right now…”

Rodney had changed into a gray sweater and wore glasses. He did look like a therapist.

“You’re not selling me stuff now?”

“Exactly. I may prescribe something, but you’ll have a choice of how and where to get it.”

John reached for the device and turned it off. To do that he knew he had to press three different buttons at the same time for three seconds, but he managed to shut it completely off. Was he going mad? He wondered. He was angry, and he knew he was not supposed to be. For what he knew, he could be in trouble with HR Monday morning. He’d never been a groupie, he always said, when HR assigned him team work exercises, but this time they would flash his employment contract at him, put him on probation, or something.

He felt free, but he knew he couldn’t go outside without being recognized sooner or later, as the incident with the delivery robot had shown. He was free within the confines of his apartment, but who knew for how long? So many clauses in so many agreements were popping up and lining up to start falling like dominoes at the end of which was his life. It was then that he chose a new life.

The real physical mirror in the bathroom said nothing to Giselle as she transformed into a new person, unknown in all records of recorded life. Giselle only saw herself, and there were no other voices in her head than her own. It said “you’re beautiful,” as she kissed a tissue to tone down the excess from the lipstick. It said “let’s go” when she opened the door into her new world.

 

 

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