Debriefing

I wasn’t the first person to fall into the time dilation trap. The first guy tested an experimental FTL drive. He blinked out of existence for two seconds… and two decades passed on Earth. When he returned, they gave him a ticker tape parade, 24/7 news coverage for a couple of weeks, and more awards than any reasonable person could count. He committed suicide five years later.

That’s why, after returning from an unlucky trip to a black hole, I’m talking to a psychiatrist AI right now. Well, more like staring at a screen and typing responses to it. I must admit, I did feel alarmed when no humans greeted me on my return, but the AIs were so friendly and helpful that I was able to push the terror down. That’s one new thing I learned about the future: we’ve outsourced everything to the machines.

“I understand that your situation may be traumatic. You were gone for 300 years. You will indeed find things are different here. I am here to help. All my therapies incorporate the latest scientific advances,” the screen read. “The objective of this session is to assess your readiness to reintegrate into society. We will go over preliminary screening questions, and then discuss any issues you may have.”

“I just want to know what’s happened since then,” I typed in. “Did my brother get married? Were there children? What about my-” I paused before typing in the words, “my daughter?”

“Of course you would want to know about your immediate relations, Unfortunately, I am not privy to that information due to the Privacy/Security Act.”

“You guys actually care about privacy now?

“World events necessitated this legislation. Please consult a wiki-AI for more information.”

“Huh,” I said out loud to myself.

The machine must have heard. “Our records indicate that your sense of well-being was within normal parameters before your mission. Has any of that changed since your journey?”

“Besides the shock that everything I know and love has changed? Nope, pretty much the same,” I typed in. I wonder if this AI was advanced enough to detect sarcasm.

“You were chosen for that particular mission because of your normal than lower ties to humanity and well-regulated emotional affect.”

That was a bit blunt, I thought. “We all knew the risk was there. I volunteered because I was sick of everyone else. The bastard took my daughter and the courts protected him. And then our cockamamie leader was leading us into another world war…” I surprised myself at how vehement I became.

“Please refrain from stressing yourself. I detect a spike in your cortisol levels. Your emotional state indicates that further screening questions will not be useful at this juncture.”

“Look,” I said. “Am I ready or am I not? And where is everyone?”

“You are ready. All humans are currently celebrating Tremendous Day. You are heavily encouraged to attend.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

A full second passed. I wondered if the machine had malfunctioned. “Dallas Hub AI wishes to speak with you. It will give you information on current history, living arrangements, job opportunities, and any other needs you may have.”

“What do you mea-” I managed to type in before the AI shut off. That feeling of alarm came back. What happened while I was gone?

Markings on the floor lit up. An arrow flashed on a nearby wall, indicating that I should follow. I stood up and walked along the markings out the psychiatrist’s room into a nondescript hallway into a darkened room. When I stepped in, it lit up with a warm, cozy light. A knock came from the door, and in came a smiling man with an obvious toupee and remarkably orange skin. His teeth almost blinded me. His black suit and tie failed to hide his girth.

He crushed my hand with his handshake. “Hi there! I’m Dallas Hub AI, but you can call me Donald. Guess what today is? It’s my birthday! We’re going to have a tremendous time! A tremendous time!”

Well, shit, I thought.

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