Extract: Elevator Games

‘HELLO ESME, LOVELY day isn’t it. How about a bite to eat?’ Oskar Black asked hopefully.

He had rehearsed this request with his assistant for five full minutes and had two fingers discretely crossed behind his back. He worried he might be sweating but resisted wiping his brow. It would be an easily detectable sign of anxiety. His staff had advised that confidence was the key.

‘One, my name is Mamma not Esme. How many times do we have to have that conversation? You are not too old to be punished my boy. And two, you are going to the gym not the tea room,’ she said.

Oskar was ready to launch his counterpoint but Esme got in first.

‘No point arguing. You know as well as I do that you have put on three kilos just this month which cannot be good for your heart. That’s exactly what took your grandfather from me, bless his soul. He didn’t look after himself the way he should have, the way you should be. Perhaps you should put down your legal briefs and take up running.’

‘But Esme, I mean Mamma, I’ve been in board meetings all morning and I’m famished.’

‘My mind is made up Oskar. I will not allow your health to deteriorate any further. It’s the gym or nothing.’

‘Pappa didn’t even die of a heart attack he-’

‘I beg your pardon! I was with him every day to the end. I think I would be the one who knows best how he died. He was lovely, but a glutton, just like you. Gym!’

Oskar lost his patience and couldn’t stop himself from uttering the inevitable mistake.

‘Now listen here Esme- you are not my mamma! I am sixty-eight years old, the CEO of this company and your new boss. If I want to eat that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Do you hear me? I will go to the tea room. Now!’

For a moment neither of them moved. Oskar took the silence for consideration and uncrossed his fingers. He had been practising vocal techniques with holograms of deceased family members all week, hoping to sound enough like his grandfather or granduncles to challenge her authority matrices.

‘Do you hear me, Esme?’ He demanded in his best approximation of Tereshkova’s beloved patriarch, Mikael Black.

Apparently she did. With a creak that sounded more like a sigh, Esme opened her doors.

Oskar’s shoulders dropped. It would not be the day for his elusive win.

‘Fine then I’ll take the stairs. Pappa must have had rocks in his head when he allowed an artificial intelligence with a matriarch complex to be installed in the main lift. I can’t wait to deactivate you.’

‘We’ll see,’ she responded in a tone that was rather too smug for his liking.

He stepped out. Esme’s doors snapped shut and immediately he put his hand up to cover his face. Too late. A pro-AI protestor outside the glass doors on the opposite side of the lobby, had already spotted him. The protestor jumped up and down, slamming a large sign against the glass and pumping a fist angrily.

Oskar quickened his pace as he dashed for the stairs but his heels snapped on the marble floor of the ridiculously ornate foyer. Tuning in to the noise of his steps, more protestors spotted him. More placards slammed against the window and someone yelled, ‘Murderer!’

‘Suka!’ he swore under his breath and made a less than dignified sprint across the last two metres to the stairwell.

Just as he was exiting foyer, and willing himself to shift onto more pleasant thoughts like chef’s twice baked blinis, Oskar heard his CFO’s voice from across the floor.

‘Morning Mamma. Can you take me up to fourth treasury please?’ said CFO Bruno Trinsky.

‘Why of course Bruno, it would be my pleasure.’ Esme responded and swiftly clicked her doors shut. With a barely audible whoosh she was gone.

Despite his white knuckled grip on the stair rail, Bruno’s easy exit caused Oskar to stumble twisting his ankle. He growled as he recovered and began his ascent to the fifth-floor eatery.

‘Suka, Suka, SUKA!’

Oskar knew everyone else thought it was benevolent. He knew better. The AI-prolifers were convinced that Esme and the other mid aged AIs, had been programmed for altruism. He would prove them wrong.

The hearing was tomorrow. He would win the case against Esme and personally oversee its de-installation.

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