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Author's note: This is my entry for Cornconic’s Random Title Contest 2023. My category was “Science”.



After several rings, a phone call is answered, and a woman’s enthusiastic voice speaks out: Thank you for calling Ultrexicore Industries, my name is Marianna. Your business is important to us. How may I direct your call?

Caller: Hello? Are you a real person? Oh my God, I can’t believe I finally got through to someone! I need help.

Marianna: I would love to help you today. Would you mind explaining why you’re calling?

Caller (terse): I need this thing in my head turned off… now.

Marianna: Well I can certainly help you with that. I’ve found the account associated with the phone number you’re calling from. Can you please confirm your name?

Caller: Last name Fernsby, first of Peter. Please, I need this thing shut off as soon as possible.

Marianna: Please give me one moment to bring up your details. (sound of typing)

Peter Fernsby: It won’t let me die! You know that, right? It won’t let me die.

Marianna: Please give me one moment to retrieve your details. (long pause) I see you’ve been a client for over two years, and we thank you for your loyalty. (more typing) You must be calling about your GX45 Remote Bio-Enhancement implant.

Peter Fernsby: Yes! Of course I am! I need you to turn it off.

Marianna: Well I’m sorry to hear that you want us to stop your service. Can you please tell me why you’d like to cancel?

Peter Fernsby: What?! Are you even listening to me? You must’ve heard about what’s going on out here. At this point I just want to die, and this thing won’t let me.

Marianna: Once again I’m so sorry to hear that you’re not satisfied with our service. As a token of our gratitude for being a long-term customer, I’d be happy to give you twenty percent off your next three months of service.

Peter Fernsby (incredulous): Lady, this isn’t about money. Not even a little bit. I shot myself in the heart hoping to escape from this thing. My neighbor? He shot himself in the face. I suppose I should be grateful I didn’t make THAT mistake. I hope you can help him too.

Marianna: (long pause) I… (another long pause) Please hold while I transfer you to our retention department.

Peter Fernsby: Please don’t put me on hold. You’re the first real person I’ve been able to get hold of.

Marianna: (wavering voice) H..Hold please (a click is heard, followed by the melodic sounds of an easy-listening, instrumental version of Smells Like Teen Spirit.)

Peter Fernsby: Please no!

45 MINUTES LATER

(cheerful voice): Thank you for calling Ultrexicore Industries, my name is Carlos. Your business is important to us. How may I assist you today?

Peter Fernsby: I’ll tell you how you can help me - you can turn off this damn implant. I don’t want to be part of this trial any longer. Please just let me die.

Carlos: Well I can certainly help you with that. I’ve found the account associated with the phone number you’re calling from. Can you please confirm your name?

Peter Fernsby: I already confirmed my name with the last person!

Carlos: Yes, of course. (sound of typing) Would you mind explaining why you’re calling today?

Peter Fernsby: I just told you! Do you even know what your company does to people? Please just turn off my GX45 so I can die in peace!

Carlos: Ultrexicore Industries is a global leader in providing industry-defining solutions for the wide array of detrimental biomedical complications associated with advancing human maturation.

Peter Fernsby: What?!

Carlos: (calmly speaking) Mr. Fernsby, you asked me what Ultrexicore does, so I was simply explaining…

Peter Fernsby: (loudly interrupting) No! I’ll tell you what Ultrexicore does –  you guys tell people they’re going to be part of some exciting trial, then you put implants in their heads that apparently prevent them from dying… no matter what! Pretty much the whole damn town has the implant, and we’re all basically a bunch of walking dead people, for lack of a better term. Oh yeah, to add insult to injury, you’re even charging us a monthly service fee.

Carlos: I can certainly understand how that would be frustrating. I’m happy to provide you with a credit for a free month of service. We obviously haven’t lived up to our high standards, and on behalf of Ultrexicore Industries, I apologize. (sound of vigorous typing) Is there anything else I can help you with today?

Peter Fernsby: Yes! Shut this off, you moron. Are you even listening to me?

Carlos:  If you’ll please hold after the end of the phone call, there’ll be a brief survey regarding the service you’re received today. I hope I’ve exceeded your expectations.

Peter Fernsby: Well you guys actually answered the phone for once, so I suppose you did more than I expected. (long pause) Please, don’t hang up on me. There’s gotta be someone there who can help me. Can’t you just go off script and maybe try to be a decent human being? I’m suffering. There’s a lot of us here suffering. Why are you doing this to us?

Carlos: All calls are recorded for quality assurance purposes. I hope I’ve exceeded your expectations today.

Peter Fernsby: So that’s your angle? You’re afraid they’ll hear you acting like an actual human being for once? Afraid that they’ll find out you’re actually helping someone? Look, if you can’t help me, please pass me to someone who can.

Carlos: Please hold for our remediation department.

Peter Fernsby: (resigned) Thank you.

(a click is heard, followed by the melodious sounds of a jazzy instrumental version of Enter Sandman.)


32 MINUTES LATER

(upbeat voice): Thank you for calling Ultrexicore Industries, my name is Shelly. Your business is important to us. How may I assist you today?

Peter Fernsby: I don’t even know anymore. I’m not even sure why I’m still talking to you people. Obviously, nobody there is going to help me.

Shelly: I would love to help you today.

Peter Fernsby: Of course you would. (long pause) This is being recorded, right?

Shelly: All calls are recorded for quality assurance purposes. (typing sounds) I’ve found the account associated with the phone number you’re calling from. Can you please confirm your name?

Peter Fernsby: Fernsby, Peter. And if this is being recorded, then let this stand as my testament about what’s going on out here.

Shelly: Yes, I would love to assist you with that.

Peter Fernsby: About two years ago I agreed to join a scientific trial for Ultrexicore Industries. In fact, a lot of people in my town did. We were told we were part of a special study group. It was a chip, or something, that was inserted into our heads. It was supposed to give us more stamina, faster healing from injuries, and slow down the aging process.

Shelly: Why yes, that’s our GX45 Remote Bio-Enhancement implant. We hope you’re satisfied not only with your implant, but also the accompanying subscription-based service updates and maintenance programs, all for the low price of nine hundred and ninety-nine dollars, billed monthly to your credit card.

Peter Fernsby: (not acknowledging the previous statement) It was good at first. It worked just like we were told it would. I had enough energy to do everything I wanted, all on only two hours of sleep a night. Minor injuries healed in minutes. It was great, I felt like superman. But then it started working too well. We went from having excess energy to not being able to sleep at all. We went from fast-healing injuries to excessive skin and bone growth. Soon, we all looked like monsters, and the lack of sleep drove us crazy.

Shelly: I’m so sorry to hear that you’re not satisfied with our service. In order to keep you as a client, I’d like to offer you a completely free software upgrade to your GX45 device, which will be uploaded during its next maintenance cycle. (sound of typing) I’m updating your account now to reflect your new status as a premier client. Give me just one moment please.

Peter Fernsby: Can’t you just stop with the canned responses for even one moment? I know now that you won’t shut it off. But won’t you at least listen to me?

Shelly: I’d like to remind you that all calls are recorded for quality assurance purposes. (sound of typing) And there we go – congratulations Mr. Fernsby, you’ve the newest premier member of Ultrexicore Industries. You’ve made a terrific decision to upgrade your device. Is there anything else I can help you with today, Mr. Fernsby?

Peter Fernsby: (long sigh) No, just end the call, because I can’t quite bring myself to do it. This was my last hope, that maybe I might get through to someone who would really help me.

Shelly: Mr. Fernsby, I can’t end the call until the customer’s received full satisfaction. Please hold while I transfer you to customer service. (a click is heard, followed by the happy sounds of a slow tempo piano version of Anarchy in the UK.)

10 MINUTES LATER

Thank you for calling Ultrexicore Industries, my name is Marianna. Your business is important to us. How may I direct your call?

Peter Fernsby: Marianna? I think I already talked to you earlier.

Marianna: I’ve found the account associated with the phone number you’re calling from. Can you please confirm your name?

Peter Fernsby: (getting annoyed again) You already know my name.

Marianna: Yes of course. How can I help you today Mr. Fernsby?

Peter Fernsby: I just want to die. I’m in immense pain from all the skin and bone growth. I can’t even look at myself in the mirror – I’ve turned into some sort of monster.

Marianna: I’m sorry to hear that you’re unhappy with…

Peter Fernsby: (cutting her off) Can’t you please just talk to me like a normal human being?

Marianna: (voice wavering) All calls are recorded for quality assurance purposes.

Peter Fernsby: Who cares if they’re recorded. Is anyone really going to listen to it? It’s only one conversation out of what must be a thousand others that are going through your call center today. 

Marianna: (voice still wavering) All calls are recorded…, and yes, someone probably will listen to it.

Peter Fernsby: (suddenly energized at the shift in her tone) And what if they do listen? Is your job so great that you have to let go of your last bit of humanity to keep from getting fired? I’m sitting here with a hole in my chest because I shot myself, hoping that the bullet would somehow kill me, even though I knew it probably wouldn’t. And all you can do is to give me canned responses when I’m begging you for help.

Marianna: What’s it like over there?

Peter Fernsby: Crazy I guess. I mean, pretty much everyone around here signed up for it when they told us they were piloting the program in our town. It was awesome at first, and then… not so awesome. And no one will help us – not the hospitals, not the police. It’s like, they know better than to intervene. Even the roads out of here are closed.

Marianna: We were told to start expecting calls from you guys, that they were finally going to start letting them through. You’re the fifth person I’ve talked to today with the same problem.

Peter Fernsby: And it seems like they told you that under no circumstance are you allowed to cancel our service.

Marianna: Yes, basically. I think it’s practice for us, or maybe a test.

Peter Fernsby: Practice for what?

Marianna: Practice for when the trial phase ends, and the program gets rolled out on a nationwide basis. They know we’ll be getting a lot of calls then, and they need us to be ready.

Peter Fernsby: There’s no way they would do this nationwide! Why would they do that?

Marianna: I don’t know a whole lot, just what I hear around the break room. But I think that the nationwide rollout will be a toned-down version, maybe something that’s not as extreme. You guys are part of the Dawkins trials – that’s the unofficial name, anyway.

Peter Fernsby: What does that even mean?

Marianna: It’s just a name the eggheads around here came up with. Are you familiar with the concept of memes?

Peter Fernsby: You mean those stupid pictures people make and pass around on the internet?

Marianna: Well yes and no. Memes were originally described by a guy named Richard Dawkins, and they referred to cultural ideas that, in a manner of speaking, take on a life of their own. They’re transmitted from one person to another, and they have the ability to evolve, just like genetic material.

Peter Fernsby: You may as well be speaking Greek.

Marianna: So that thing in your head, which you keep referring to as an implant, it’s not really a typical implant as you know it. It’s self-replicating, it’s selfish, it wants to live and it wants to survive far into the future.

Peter Fernsby: You’re telling me it thinks?

Marianna: No. That’s just a manner of speaking. But the way it behaves might be described that way. Let’s just say, it’s designed to thrive by changing over time.

Peter Fernsby: And self-replicating?

Marianna: Eventually yes, it’ll be that way – moving from person to person – I’m not exactly sure how, but it will change itself to match the person. It will change itself to thrive. That will come with phase-two of the trials.

Peter Fernsby: So what about me? What about everyone here? We just suffer in misery? This was supposed to help us.

Marianna: I don’t know exactly. I don’t think they’re done studying all of you yet. In some ways the trial has exceeded anything they could’ve hoped for. The only thing I know for sure is that we’re not supposed to actually turn the implant off. We’re just supposed to talk to you, to lead you on. It’s all part of the trial to see how you react. I think a lot of people are going to have miserable lives before this all gets straightened out.

Peter Fernsby: This is all so insane! You can’t really be complicit in this. I hear it in your voice! You’ve got to do something to help me. I know you can!

Marianna: It’s impossible. Once the computer knows I’m talking to you, it disables certain functions on your account. I can’t turn your implant off. I guess they don’t trust us all that much.

Peter Fernsby: What about people you’re not talking to at the moment? Can you turn off my neighbor’s? He’s worse off than I am. I don’t even want to describe what he looks like right now. Just imagine that he’s somehow still alive after a shotgun blast to the face. He was so sure that would do the trick, but it didn’t.

Marianna: (typing) I don’t know if that would work. Maybe? What’s your neighbor’s name?

Peter Fernsby: Samuel Hitchens

Marianna: (sound of typing) Okay, let me bring up his account. (more typing) Okay, I see it. Give me just a second… I just want you to know, we were told we would be doing a good thing. We were supposed to be helping people. They told us that some of you might be unhappy at first, but eventually everything would work out.

Peter Fernsby: I’m walking over to his house now. I was with him earlier, but I just couldn’t listen to the noises he was making any longer. (the sound of a door opening and closing is heard, followed by an unusually loud gurgling sound.)

Marianna: Okay I think it will let me, give me just a few seconds… (a stern female voice in the background can be heard) Marianna, please come with me…

Peter Fernsby: Hello? Hello?

Long pause

Stern Female Voice: Nice job Mr. Bardot. She guessed we’d be testing our operators, and still managed to fail spectacularly.

Peter Bardot (formerly referred to as Peter Fernsby): Thank you. By the way, for an employee at a level as low as hers, she knows FAR too much about the trials.

Stern Female Voice: I agree. She might not have had all her facts straight, but nonetheless we seem to have a leak somewhere. We’ll have to look into that further.

Peter Bardot: Absolutely. Let’s meet in the conference room in ten minutes.

Stern Female Voice: Give me fifteen – I still have to escort Marianna over to the lab. I don’t fully trust security to do in on their own.

Peter Bardot:  Okay. Hey, while you’re down there, tell the other two - Carlos and Shelly was it? – tell them they did good. They’re the kind of operators we’ll need when the implants start replicating and real calls start getting through.

Stern Female Voice: I’ll let them know. See you soon.

Call ended



Written by Creepy Thomas O.
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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