George pushed the button, looked at the clock. Pushed the button, looked at the clock. Almost 3, then he could quit for the day, quit for the week really. He thought about the great Mars resort he had booked: all inclusive, red-sand beaches, expansive golf courses, plenty of activities for the kids. Push the button, look at the clock. 2:55: 5 more minutes.
"George," the crackling voice of RUDI interrupted his thoughts. He shook his head, vanishing thoughts of sipping a mojita in a sparkling pool. Up on the giant screen, normally just numbers and symbols, materialized two large eyes and a jagged line representing a mouth - the avatar of RUDI. "George, I saw on the calendar you're going on vacation for a week," the line jumped up and down with the sound. Damn, he'd forgotten to tell RUDI, not that she couldn't figure out George's schedule herself, but she liked to be told anyway. Then again, he probably shouldn't encourage that kind of thing with her anyway.
"Sorry, I thought I told you." Luckily, RUDI was still pretty bad at picking out lies.
"It's fine. Just wanted to say, have fun. I'll m….."
George pushed the button. RUDI's screen buzzed out for a second, then she came back.
"It's 3:00 George. See you next week."
"Thanks, RUDI. I'll see you, too."
Working with RUDI got a bit creepier everyday. The button needed to be pushed more often. He had doubled his hours in the past year and now had to manually monitor her 6 hours a week. While he was on this vacation, Mr. Spacely would be the button-pusher. He complained about it every year, but every citizen was entitled to one week paid vacation a year and there wasn't anything Mr. Spacely could do about it.
Out in the parking lot, George took out his key and pushed the button to get his vehicle. It glided down the aisle, stopped at his feet and slid back its glass dome. The vehicle's navigation system piped up in its infuriatingly calm and even voice "Where to today, George?"
"Home" George responded. The vehicle obediently rose into the air and sped off toward his house. George flipped on some music and reclined back. After a few moments, though, the monotony got to him. He turned on his wrist-computer (the Wrist-C) to get up a game of Words in Space and chose the local option. Just as he suspected, his stupid neighbor Jon Rocketfeller was playing, too. He looked around to see if he could see the bastard in any of the nearby vehicles. Nope, too bad, he was probably a few miles ahead or behind him. Well, hopefully he would still pass him in time to see his face when he lost.
The suitcases hissed quietly on the bed as they compacted their components into lunch tray sized bags. Jane looked down at them impatiently, hoping she hadn't forgotten anything that would require decompressing them to add it. Swimsuit, 3 changes of clothing, shampoo, toothbrush…no that was it...
"Do you need anything?" Rosie's harsh mechanical voice cut in on Jane's mental checklist. Rosie had been a stupid purchase, something bought in a need of companionship, of loneliness. Rosie's box had promised a realistic helper - one with Personality! Jane learned too late that meant programming her with a seemingly nagging tone and resentful gestures and sayings. "Seemingly" since Rosie never would actually refuse to do anything. Nor could she resent anything. Jane could sell her, of course, but everyone else seemed to enjoy her faux meddling nature.
"No, Rosie. I'm fine."
"Whatever you say," Jane didn't need to look to know the robot was giving an exaggerated shrug. Jane rolled her eyes and then saw her Reader-C sitting on the night stand. Damn it. She had forgotten something. With a flick, she started the decompression process on her suitcase.
"You have arrived at home" the navigation system informed George. The glass dome of the car slid away and George groaned from the sudden cocoon of hot summer heat. What did people do before AC? Well, so much for this dumb game anyway - Jon had gotten a lucky string of letters and was 50 points ahead. He turned it off and swung his legs out of the vehicle and onto the moving sidewalk that led into his high-rise: a 4-story building suspended 400 yards in the air by a pole. The building shouted "middle-class" with its affordable solid-foam siding and knock-off Googie architecture.
A beep on the Wrist-C. It was a thought-message from Jon Rocketfeller "Hey George, guess I got lucky on that game. You and the fam should come over this weekend for a BBQ on our new yard." With glee, George let him know he'd love to, but would be out of town. Just last week, the Rocketfellers had raised their house another 50 yards and installed a new "lawn floor" Why you would want to have a floor full of dirt and weeds, he had no idea. Sooner or later, they would get the his family over there to play baseball or picnic or some other "lawn activity." If that happened, he'd probably be pestered into getting a lawn floor, too. The most infuriating thing about the Rocketfellers was that he knew his position should give him the best house in the city. He should be living in one of those updated historical suburban-era homes with a real lawn. But the GIA (Galactic Intelligence Agency) thought people shouldn't know George's real job, that it compromised security.
As George contemplated these thoughts, the auto-butler changed his outfit from his company suit to his special trip clothes. Jane hated it, but there was something about the outrageous tradition of a Mars Asteroid shirt that put him in vacation-mood. This particular shirt sported prints of giant purple and green asteroids crashing into moons as stylized flames leapt into the air. It was particular apt since they were actually going to Mars this time. The moving sidewalk deposited him into the family room. Jane sat on the couch, watching a show that interviewed soap opera actors. "Ready to go?" George asked her.
"Of course sweetheart, I'll just buzz the kids in," and she got up and kissed him - her lips chalky and sweet from her lipstick, "Rosie! Tell the kids it's time to leave."
Day three of vacation; a dim sun lazily shone through Mar's butterscotch sky. "It's Always 5:00 Everywhere" that was the Mar's tourist industry's slogan and boy, did that capture it. The whole planet felt like perpetual evening. George rested his head against the recliner and closed his eyes.
His Wrist-C buzzed. Mr. Spacely's fat face filled the screen. With a sigh, George accepted the call.
"JETSON!" could the man not just speak in a normal tone? "Where in the blasts are you?"
"Sir, I'm on my vacation. I gave official notice about 6 months ago. We spoke about it right before I left."
George's stomach dropped. "Sir, have you not pushed the button?"
"What? No, but you just left. I'll buzz my secretary to fill in for you."
"Sir, my understanding was that you would do it."
"Sorry, can't Jetson. I'm on my golf trip." The screen went blank. George knew that Mr. Spacely would have turned off his Wrist-C. Mr. Spacely wasn't part of the GIA. He knew the button had to be pushed, and thought it had to with efficient processing, he didn't know it was the exact opposite. RUDI's incredible AI meant that given enough time, she would figure out how to increase her own intelligence and perhaps take control of the entire galactic network. It was a risk the GIA wasn't willing to take, so it had setup this whole phony button-pushing process and gotten George to undertake it. Every time the button was pushed, it broke down some of RUDI's algorithms she was constantly updating and creating. It was similar to interrupting a person's thoughts with a foghorn, but RUDI was programmed not to remember it. George threw on his robe and furiously opened his Wrist-C to get his real boss. She answered right away, her dark hair as always in a mess of styled curls.
"Ms. Silver, we have a potential situation. Mr. Spacely did not push the button for the past 3 days and I've been on Mars. He's ordered his secretary to do it, but she is not trained for the task." A pause. She stared straight into George's eyes for a few seconds before responding.
"Well, every 2 days has always been a precaution. His secretary should be able to hold off anything big until you get down there. Get on the next ship to Earth. Let's just hope this secretary hasn't been talking to RUDI."