The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Life Stories
“The Bee is the first device of its kind ever made,” Oliver told Sheila. “We produced only a hundred as samples but when it's released in August, it will take over the mobile phone market.”
Sheila turned the gold and black computer phone over in her palm, then flipped it open to examine its keypad and screen. In its pouch, she found a tiny electronic pen and wireless earbuds. Slim, elegant and more addictive than cigarettes, she thought. The Bee hummed in her hand.
“It will hum like that when I call you,” Oliver explained. “And if you oversleep or miss an appointment, the alarm will do this.”
The Bee buzzed frantically until Sheila found the red stop button.
“That's not the best part,” he went on. “If anyone tries to get into your Bee without the password, it will defend itself.”
Oliver typed a code into the Bee and set it on the gray carpet beside Vita, Sheila's cat. The Bee buzzed and levitated off the rug. Vita tapped it tentatively with one brown paw.
In a bass voice, the Bee shouted “Stop, thief! Return me to Sheila Davenport! I am calling the police and emailing them your picture!”
Vita backed away as the Bee glared at her with its red screen and snapped her picture with a blinding flash of light.
Oliver laughed as the cat yowled and fled. He called out “Follow the thief!” and the Bee chased Vita around the room, buzzing and flashing red lights.
“Stop it!” Sheila screamed.
Oliver tapped out a code on his own Bee and Sheila's Bee quieted down and floated back toward them. It hovered above the table, blinking a white light at her.
“Hold your hand out,” said Oliver. “It has memorized your fingerprints.”
Sheila had produced and sold Internet phones for eight years, even while she finished her double major in electrical engineering and business at Stanford. She had memorized every feature of every wireless phone, not only those she helped design at Telside, but also phones of every major competitor in the Americas, Europe and Asia. Sheila had worked on a prototype of the Bee, but Telside guarded the final stages of its production closely. Now the finished product left her amazed and slightly intimidated.
The Bee woke her up each morning with her favorite songs and reminded her of each appointment and task all day, from staff meetings to her grocery list. As Sheila rode the commuter train from her condo in Pacifica to her fiftieth floor office in downtown San Francisco, the Bee spoke to her constantly. Emails appeared like white ghosts in one corner of its screen, and text messages and voicemails in the others. It reported on the local weather, traffic conditions, and exactly when the next light rail train would arrive. The Bee remembered her friends' birthdays and looked up recipes Sheila could prepare in fifteen minutes with only five ingredients, since work now left her too tired to turn on the oven.
News headlines scrolled across the bottom of the Bee's screen in blue and Sheila read the articles, no longer having time to read a newspaper, much less an entire book. She had the option of reading messages and typing responses or listening to messages through her earbuds and speaking a response.
When Sheila clung to the handrail in a crowded train or bent down in a yoga sun salutation, the Bee played relaxing music, sitar and steel drums. It memorized which songs Sheila played most often and her favorite web sites for stock prices, web comics and online games. The Bee let her know who was calling before she answered and its red cyclops eye flashed when she missed a deadline.
Oliver called Sheila at all hours of the day and night, knowing that the Bee recorded his every word even while she slept. He set daily deadlines for her and forwarded his electronic notes from all his meetings.
Sheila strove to be as efficient as her boss, to arrive at work earlier than Oliver, have her green tea and fruit and plug the Bee into her computer before he came in. Often he surprised her with lattes, invited her to the organic deli for wrap sandwiches or for drinks after work at Float. She found herself wearing gray and white suits because Oliver did, drinking espresso or sake because he did.
One night as they sat at the shiny zinc bar at Float, Oliver said “Of course I'm too busy to date anyone seriously.”
She rushed to add “Oh, me too.”
“I think I'm married to my Bee,” he joked, cradling it in his hand and beaming. “I spend more time with it than anyone. It wakes me up in the morning and sings me to sleep at night. The Bee knows more about my favorite music, movies and clothes than my own parents. No one loves you like your Bee.”
“Except Vita,” said Sheila.
“Who's Vita?” Oliver asked.
Oliver shook his head. “You should have gotten a purebred Persian like I suggested, not that thing from the no-kill shelter. You don't know where it's from or what diseases it has. Breeding and brand – that's everything.”
“I am not a purebred,” Sheila pointed out.
“But you are a Telside designer,” said Oliver, his gray eyes shining like computer screens.
He reached out and squeezed her hand as it rested on the bar. Sheila felt a warm rush of flattery and longing, but also genuine surprise. She could not remember the last time another person touched her.
With the Bee, Sheila became an efficient, manic multi-tasker, answering email and text messages at all hours, long before and after work each day. She caught herself trying to return phone calls at hours when the recipients would be asleep. Luckily the Bee warned her what the time would be in any time zone she called. Sheila now trusted the Bee to count her steps with its pedometer and estimate the calories she burned on the treadmill and weight machine in the office gym. It checked the amount of vitamins, minerals, sugar and fat in all her meals. It could estimate the number of REM cycles in her sleep each night, but she never asked the Bee to number her forgotten dreams. Besides she knew darn well she went to bed at midnight and woke up at five every day, maybe eight on weekends.
Because of all the protected information on her Bee, Sheila had to change her password often and use different passwords for each of the Bee's programs. After three months of this, Oliver found her handwritten list of passwords on a page of her address book. The tiny leather-bound book fell out of her purse while they were drinking at Float.
“I can't believe you're still writing on paper!” he snapped. “Any pickpocket could steal all your information and it would serve you right!”
He pushed his way through the crowd of suits and high heels in float, holding the address book too high for Sheila to retrieve it.
“Oliver, stop it! That's how I organize!”
“It's not organized!” he said, gutting all the pages from the cover and shoving them in the recycling tube.
Sheila screamed as she heard the tube suck up her New Years' resolutions and quotes from the Dalai Lama, her best friends' home addresses and the tiny card inviting her home for her parents' thirty-fifth anniversary in Omaha. Because this information was personal, she never entered it into the Bee. Now she felt too exasperated to explain any of this to Oliver or even remember her password.
“I haven't written on a piece of paper in six months,” Oliver boasted. “Not even on a sticky note; I threw them all off my desk the day I got my Bee. It's much more environmentally correct.”
Sheila grabbed Oliver by the lapels and hissed into his face “You have no right to steal from me! My life was in that notebook!”
She dashed out the side door of the bar and flung herself in front of a cab. The startled cab driver asked for directions to her condo address and without thinking, she snapped “Just look it up online!”
The white-haired man chuckled and said “Ma'am, if I could afford one of those computer phones, I'd be retired instead of driving this bucket of bolts.” He unfolded a street map and traced his route before turning on the meter and driving.
At home, Sheila went straight to bed, silencing the Bee and snapping it shut without checking her messages. She didn't want to read Oliver's explanations, excuses or watered-down apologies. Deciding to reset the password tomorrow, she shoved the Bee in the back of her underwear drawer.
Vita woke Sheila up in the morning, purring beside her head and tapping her nose with one brown tabby paw. Sheila stroked Vita and scratched under her chin until the cat closed her lime green eyes.
“I've neglected everyone and everything in my life but Oliver and that stupid Bee,” Sheila said. “I can't remember the last time I saw my friends or called Mom and Dad. I was so stupid to get involved with a coworker, let alone my idiot supervisor. Not that we ever actually went on a date or anything.”
Sheila sat up and Vita raced to the kitchen.. For the first time in months, Sheila fixed a real breakfast: green tea, old-fashioned oatmeal with bananas and Greek yogurt with honey for herself, milk and organic canned salmon topped with three shrimp for Vita. It was 6:03; she had plenty of time to get ready for work.
She dreaded resetting the Bee's password and put it off, doing twenty minutes of yoga, showering and dressing in a comfortable yellow sundress and sandals. Finally she opened her drawer to face the Bee.
The Bee buzzed, flashed its red light and flew past the side of her head, whizzing through her hair, shouting “Stop, thief! Return me to Sheila Davenport!”
“I am Sheila Davenport! Come back! Look at my fingerprints!”
She chased the Bee into the living room, waving her hands like a lunatic. It turned toward her, hovered and flashed its red eye. Oliver had warned her that an alarm would go off if the Bee went too long without a password reset, but as he had explained that, she had stared at his thick black hair and gray eyes, completely forgetting the directions for disabling the alarm.
Sheila held out her hand and slowly repeated her last password.
The Bee threatened “Stop thief! I am calling 911 and emailing your picture to the police.”
Not about to be framed for theft by a defective cell phone, Sheila reached out to grab the Bee in mid-air. It buzzed and stung her palm with its red laser. Sheila covered her injured hand and the Bee kept firing, one hot red flash stinging her cheek. It would aim for her eyes soon, so she risked both hands to catch it, then shoved the buzzing, burning Bee into a pillow and wrapped it up.
If she could get it to water before it burned the pillow, she had a chance. Sheila prayed that the Bee was not totally waterproof as Oliver had claimed. As she pressed both ends of the pillow, it began to smoke. She rushed toward the bathroom and got halfway down the hall before the Bee flew out of the pillow.
Terrified, Sheila dove to the floor and covered her head as the Bee swooped down. She heard hissing and clicking, then one long buzz that slowly faded out. She looked up to see Vita ripping the Bee open with her claws. Sheila snatched Vita out of the wreckage of microchips and plastic.
“Don't eat it, Vita. It's poison,” she said.
Vita's whiskers were scorched and she licked one singed paw. Sheila sat up, crying and catching her breath as she held her cat in her arms. She felt the small wild heart beating against her heart.
© Jill Charles Jan 24th 2012
jillcharles at wildmail.com