Ask me anything

This is a work of fiction, a short story of just over 600 words.

Some people might have described Victor as a ‘know-all’. He wouldn’t have minded that, as he took great pride in being able to answer any question, about anything they liked. He had that sort of brain. A retentive memory too, able to recall facts and figures on demand. Many people would seek him out, asking him anything and everything. Mostly, it was young Antonia, though sometimes her brother Clark would try to catch him out. Their parents, Sally and Dave, generally asked him very mundane things. They were too easy though, and no challenge at all. One time, Sally had the temerity to check up on one of his answers, but she had to admit he had been right all along.

Victor suspected that Antonia used his skill to cheat on her homework. He noticed her writing things down often, but never once betrayed their shared confidence. After all, he thought, if he can help her, what’s the harm? He didn’t like Clark so much. The boy’s voice was too loud, and his tone always had something not quite right about it. Perhaps a sneer. Victor thought about that. Can you sneer in a tone? He would give that more consideration, another time.

That afternoon, Clark came into the room to see him. He had a friend with him, but didn’t bother to introduce the boy. Bad manners. “Victor, what is the capital of Afghanistan?”, Clark asked. Quick as a flash, Victor replied, “Kabul.” Clark opened a large book, and checked the answer. He turned to the other boy. “See, I told you. He knows everything.” They left, probably going to play on a computer game or something. Their quest for knowledge was satisfied for that day, so it seemed.

When Antonia arrived, Victor was secretly pleased. He was certain that she would ask him lots of things. She always did. She sprawled on the bed, opening some books and bending her legs behind her.
“Victor, where is Switzerland?”
“Switzerland is a federal republic in Europe, consisting of 26 administrative Cantons with four official languages.” Victor waited for the next question, sure it would be something else about that country.
“Victor, what is the capital city of Switzerland?”
“Berne.”
“Victor, can you spell that for me?”
“B-E-R-N-E”
Antonia obviously had some project to do about Switzerland. She scribbled furiously in her notebook as Victor continued to answer the questions.
“The population of Switzerland is approximately eight point three million.”
“The currency of Switzerland is the Swiss Franc.”
This went on for almost an hour, and there was not a single question that Victor was unable to answer. He was almost disappointed when she stopped asking, and waited to see what she would say next.

Antonia put away her books, placing them neatly inside her backpack. She walked closer to Victor, then sat on the padded stool in front of him. She was wiggling her toes inside her socks, the socks with small pink dots on them. Leaning forward with her chin cupped in both hands, she stared directly at him.
“Victor, do you like me? I mean really like me?”
Victor was confused. What should he reply? He thought long and hard about what to say to this young girl. His answer had to be correct and truthful, but on this occasion, it involved more than just a plain fact, and could be liable to misinterpretation of course.

He was saved by Sally coming into the room. Perhaps she had a question for him?

When she spoke though, it was to Antonia.

“That’s enough for now ‘Tonia. Switch Victor off, and come downstairs. Your dinner is ready.”
The girl reached forward, clicking the switch on the screen-mounted two-way webcam, then selecting ‘Shut Down’ from the computer menu.

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30 thoughts on “Ask me anything

  1. I suspected what it was not from the beginning but for some of the things Victor was Β΄thinkingΒ΄. I forever see on You Tube people who keep telling jokes and asking strange questions to Amazon Eco (Alexa, I think used to be). My cousin years back had his computer greet him with a female voice and call him ‘Master’. I told him it was really sad.

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    1. It was prompted by my annoyance at those mobile phone and electronic gadgets that answer questions, and are designed to have some sort of ‘character’. When we are capable of making machines that can really begin to think for themselves, we might be in danger of becoming too dependent on them At least we have the ‘Off’ switch!
      Glad you liked it, Jude. x

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    1. It was meant to show that Victor cannot deal with emotions, only facts. He doesn’t understand her question, and that worries him. However, he is programmed sufficently to realise that he has to be careful what to say in reply, and it throws him into some confusion. The girl is very young. She is not supposed to be flirting, just at that age where she is seeking approval and friendship.
      It was a device, to try to throw the reader from concluding that he might be a machine.
      Hope you enjoyed it, Cindy.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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    1. It was prompted by the constant TV adverts for that bloody Amazon Echo, FR. Whatever happened to shopping lists made using good old pen and paper?
      (I have one of those on my desk now. Off to Tesco’s shortly…)
      Glad you enjoyed it.
      Best wishes, Pete,.

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