Chapter 5: Episode 5 – Relationships

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 125

Kay was looking into Chip Mantooth's employer Plushenko Devices, Inc. because his recent influx of wealth raised red flags. Chip had always been cautious and never flashy as he was now with a fancy car and nice rental home. His home was filled with smart features that Kay and her peers could never afford. Chip never had a huge group of friends and it was troubling to see him dangle his wealth to gain popularity. Jade lusted after him before he had the trappings of prosperity and liked Chip whether he had a great job or not. Kay was raised to help people who needed it. Chip didn't ask for help, but Kay was determined to find out if Plushenko Devices, Inc. and Jan Zabar were taking advantage of her friend's good nature.

Kay fell asleep on her bed with a stream of drool making its way down her cheek. She had a love/hate relationship with Tracey, as most people had with their personal assistants. Soothing guitar music filled the room and after a few minutes, Tracey started with the reminders. "Your conference call is at 8am. Don't forget to call your mother and your laundry is processed and waiting next to the closet."

Kay complained about Tracey, but it was the best of the bunch. She had tried several personal assistant bots before settling on Tracey. She had taken the advice of a friend from college and tried Manna first. Kay should have considered who was doing the recommending. She was meek and so was Manna. She would ask Kay if she thought it would be a good time to call her mother. If her parents asked her as a teen if it was time to do homework, Kay would say no and slam her bedroom door shut. Second time around, Kay went the opposite direction and tried Sir. Who was like having a drill Sargent in the house, and she unplugged it.

She signed a one-year contract for Sir and fought like hell to be released from the contract, which turned out to be iron-clad. Then there was Talas, which was a marketing nightmare. Product recommendations were subtle and constant. Talas helped purchase groceries which included pomegranate juice because Kay liked it over apple or orange. It was tough to open and splashed staining her shirt and the carpet. Talas recommended a great spot cleaner. Kay was sure the juice was supposed to splash so she'd need the expensive cleaner. Kay looked into it – One conglomerate owned the juice company, the cleaner company and Talas. Now she had Tracey and although not perfect – good enough.  Kay felt that Tracey talked down to her at times as if the bot was a know it all. It really was so Kay learned to accept it.

"Thank you," Kay said to Tracey before walking into the bathroom and confronting her BeautyBot, which she disabled at the last minute. There were times that conveniences were intrusive, and she didn't feel like being told she had gained a kilo.

***

Kay logged into her computer. She pulled her raven hair up in a knot and had on a rose-colored silk top with pajama pants. Office appropriate from the waist up was always a good choice for conference calls.  She was ready to meet with Maury and the other people in her district.

John from St. Louis was the first to join the chat. "Hey, it's my girl from the Central Time Zone. You're up early like me. Those dudes on the East Coast have it made because it's almost lunch-time over there. What'd you do last night?"

Kay answered John's questions for about five minutes before being joined by someone else. Sue from California joined, and they spent a lot of time on idle chit chat. She felt as if people she'd never met were beginning to know a lot about her.  John brought up trivial things Kay brought up 1-2 years ago. That's not normal human behavior.

Finally, Maury joined the call. "Kay, we used a focus group to test the effectiveness of the chatbots you’ve been working on. Our goal of making them sound human was met by eight out of ten of the bots. The panel was impressed. Kudos to you. You have a way of using slang without it sounding forced and your bots respond to so many different prompts. We're looking for someone to take over the customer service bots we're working on for a financial services Company – interested, Kay?"

"I'll have to take some time to think about it. I'm not sure I'm ready to oversee other techs. I'll have an answer in a day or two. I’m not afraid of working with John and Sue, in fact, that is the one thing that draws me to the offer. If I agree to do it, I want to be positive it’s the right move. Check back next week, I’m leaning towards saying yes.”

John from St. Louis had questions for Maury as did Sue. Kay checked out for a moment as she checked messages on her Plume. Kay was not into ViaTech at the moment but there was something she noticed while she glanced at the feed. John was wearing the same shirt and tie from a week prior and Sue was also wearing the same outfit from a week ago. Either Kay was paranoid or ViaTech was using bots in place of co-workers. The probing questions and the fawning compliments – were they trying to extract data from her? Kay suddenly felt dirty, used and in need of another shower.

"Maury, if it's ok with you, I'm going to sneak away. You've left me with a lot to think about and we'll talk soon."

"Talk soon."

Kay walked out of her office and her work computer shut down. Her job at ViaTech was to program chatbots and make them more human-like. Had she and others like her gotten too good at their jobs? Could she even tell the difference between a computer programmed bot and a human anymore?

"Kay, remember to call your Mother."

 

"Shut the fuck up Tracey! I'm having a bad day and it's only 9:00am. Sorry, Plume – Call Mom.

"Dad? I called Mom's phone are you her personal assistant these days?" Kay joked.

"No, TK. Your Mom is resting because today was a treatment day and she's exhausted."

"I thought they were trying different meds this time that she'd tolerate better."

"There isn't much difference. We've come so far in many aspects, but there’s not really a cure for either of her issues. I'm glad you called – when are you coming to Buffalo Grove to visit. Your Mom's a fighter but you never know. and she'd love to see you. I would too, TK."

"I do need a break and I'd love to pick both of your brains. How much do you know about bots?" Kay asked.

"I'm sure you know more sweetie. I run into them every day and it helps if you can tell them from real humans."

"Oh, Daddy. I miss you, even if you do call me TK. Everyone else in the world calls me Kay."

"I have my reasons."

Kay always asked him, but she never got a satisfying answer

"I'm looking into Plushenko Devices, Inc. You spend a lot of time in the hospital – heard of them?"

"No, and will you stop looking into random things. Remember, curiosity killed the cat." He laughed.

"I'll let you know when I'm coming. Give Mommy a kiss for me and I'll see you soon."

***

Kay had lunch delivered by drone and charged it to her expense account. That money was there to spend so she was just following orders. It wasn't money that would carry over into next month or into her salary. Kay considered getting a dog so he could help with her leftovers.

"Plume call Bryce. Voice only." Kay tried to use Plume for personal conversations because the security was better. She was beginning to think ViaTech and anyone else who gave a shit had access to all of her devices.

"Hey, there. I haven't had a good old-fashioned voice call in forever. Are you going retro on me?" Bryce asked.

"It's a long story but I think we're all oversharing." Kay said. She was looking over the contract she photographed in Chip's office as she spoke.

"At the risk of oversharing," Bryce joked. "I actually have a funny story about ordering a Hebot. I met a guy while working at Beauty Tech who was designing a robot that he guaranteed would bring me to orgasm. I thought guarantee was an arrogant word but whatevs, I said I would test the thing out since I haven't had sex in forever and I'm unemployed. He paid me $500 to write an honest review. I was under whelmed.

"I didn't mean that kind of oversharing, but that's a great story. Do you have the trial on tape?

"No, Kay and if I did, you'd never see it," Bryce said.

"OK". Kay laughed. "I'll change the subject because I really don't want to hear about your night with a Hebot. "What if I told you Chip Mantooth may be in trouble. Would you be willing to help?" Kay asked.

"That depends on what you're asking."

"I'm not sure yet, but I can't do it alone and I know you have free time. I'm reading about Plushenko Devices, which is the company Chip works for and it's beyond shady. We have a lot of investigating to do but I think someone's been laundering money. That's a hunch and perhaps a leap but we have to find out. Do you have the afternoon free?" Kay asked.

"Oh, no way. Being unemployed and searching for a bartending job takes up all my time," Bryce said sarcastically. "I sense your being a bit paranoid, is there a reason?"

"There are a couple of reasons. First, my job may not be what I think it is. I told a bot a lot of personal stuff about myself like where I went for drinks and they know my schedule. I feel manipulated and I'm afraid that's happening to Chip – only worse. Second, Chip is a good guy. I hate seeing good people taken advantage of; something my Mom taught me."

"OK, Joan of Arc, I'll be over. Are you going to feed me?"

"I'll print something up. Bring your workout stuff because I need my daily Dex fix – He's AI at its finest.

With a friend coming over, Kay picked up around her condominium, which meant bringing out the trash and recycling. Since her municipality and most across the nation converted to central recycling, all of her papers were sucked away. There was no need to drag a bin to the curb or even shred anything. Kay just put them into a hole in the ground but this time her paranoia took over. The US Postal Service delivered mail twice monthly and the only things she received were from her parents. Kay shook her head and laughed to herself – It's not as if there were deeply hidden secrets in her family. 

***

Kay retreated to her bed and opened her personal laptop. She decided to do a SEEK search for Plushenko Devices, Inc. It should have pages of information that at least told Kay what they sold. SEEK was the most rudimentary of tools, which she started using at the age of five. She came up with a flashy website with little information about the devices sold besides general categories. They were mostly instruments for microsurgery and tubing kits for dialysis and pheresis. There was no phone contact information. Simply an e-mail address for Jan Zabar.

From her video doorbell, Kay saw Bryce's arrival. She opened the door so Bryce could walk in. Kay had spent most of her morning thinking of all the bad things technology could do if placed in the wrong hands. However, it came in handy and improved her life dozens of times each day. She sighed.

"Hey, Bryce. I hope the long walk across the street wasn't too much for you?" Kay asked jokingly.

"Not bad but I am still sore from my sex trial last night. What's up and what mission do I have to complete?" Bryce` chuckled.

"This is serious. Plushenko hired Chip as a salesman of sorts but as far as I know, he's not doing much selling. Instead of being a salesman, I think he's a middleman. I need a client list so I can determine if they really need the devices they're buying."

"Chip is a friend and I'm sure I can stop by. I can say I want more of the home tour because I did miss the beginning when you guys had drinks. I spoke with him last night and he said he was going to be making double his current salary without ever getting a raise. You don't think Chip would embezzle, do you?"

"He had better not. I have a feeling this international Corporation isn't playing. The secrecy, the money changing hands. I don't see a company that sells medical instruments and tubing kits making that much cash."

"Where is Plushenko located?"

"Eastern Europe, I think. They don't give out a physical address."

"I can only get so much information from Chip, what's your next step?" Bryce asked.

"I have an email address to go on. That's it but I've always been clever. I'm sure I'll have to deal with quite a few bots before I can talk to a human about what's going on. I'm done being manipulated by AI. It's time to beat them at their own game, which will be a challenge but if it helps Chip, it's worth it."

"You have your work cut out for you. Be careful," Bryce said seriously.

"I will. Bryce; promise me you'll keep this between the two of us only. This might get dangerous."

Bryce stuck out her hand and they shook on it.


Submitted: May 22, 2019

© Copyright 2022 kristie leonard. All rights reserved.

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