This is Part Four of a short fiction.
J-Seven associated the tonal countdown that had come bursting into his eardrum implants with progress. Not only did it represent the end of his duly allotted rest period, but it also signalled the start of a personal learning phase. He had another two of these scheduled, and he contemplated what might help to drive him through them. His upcoming briefing concerned History, a subject far too removed from the future he placed his true interest in.
At least Vitrius’ latest model was a greater comfort on the temples, which resulted in an appreciated lack of headaches. As the stuffily familiar Mero.exe launched, J-Seven remembered his mother’s earlier version from her teenage years. Vitrius were apparently too loyal to Mr. Mero — their ubiquitous poster boy — to recast him, no matter how archaic his image became.
Similarly, they’d retained “.exe” in its name as a nostalgic reference. Outside of niche groups of enthusiasts, nobody had seen an executable file for centuries. Mero.exe had evolved into a functional hallucination. By stimulating hyperspecific areas of the brain, the program could essentially suggest thoughts. The effect was so profound that Vitrius users could see Mr. Mero’s ghostly frame in front of them. When the loading process abruptly finished, J-Seven looked directly at the “START” prompt, which had appeared on his wall, and confirmed it in silence.
‘Good morning!’ Mero.exe exclaimed, an hour and a half into the afternoon.
‘It isn’t morning,’ J-Seven countered. He rolled his eyes, knowing what reply to expect.
‘Have you noticed an error in my operation? I’m sorry, I must not be at my best today. Would you like me to send a report to Vitrius moderators on the nature of my error?’ Throughout Mero.exe’s spiel, J-Seven waited patiently until he could swipe away the obligatory report form. They were a waste of time, and he could work past any bugs himself.
‘Itinerary,’ he said with perfect diction. Although Mero.exe could comprehend full sentences, exploiting its ear for keywords was the most efficient approach.
‘Hang on, student. Give me a minute to review your data. Then the lesson can begin!’
With its human counterpart’s accent and demeanour intact, Mero.exe’s personality would have been palatable if it weren’t so pervasive. Following a lifetime of its tutelage, J-Seven had grown all too aware of the program’s cold distance. When its guidelines were satisfied, it could only squawk pre-recorded, presumptuous praise. There was no real discipline either — failing an assignment was its own disgrace. J-Seven expelled a bored, aimless grunt, and felt a jolt he didn’t understand. A bleep echoed, signifying that his data had been fully reviewed.
‘You’ve been doing well, student. In order to meet your set targets, I have selected three appropriate topics for you. Which would you like to explore?’ As Mero.exe spoke, its neural avatar paced the room. Then it materialised a drop-down menu from the palm of its hand. “‘Irish Home Rule” is a particular favourite of mine,’ it offered.
‘No. Too political,’ J-Seven dismissed. He read ahead, instantly deciding that “Brexit” would be just as dull. The third option, “The Holocaust”, sounded slightly more enticing. ‘What about this last choice?’
‘That’s a four-part phase, with the first concentrating on events leading up to the Holocaust. We’d cover how racial tensions…’
‘Stop.’ Mero.exe paused in compliance, unable to grasp the irony of a pupil in command. J-Seven, in an impulse he couldn’t label, was done with academia for the day. He knew that this kind of holistic truancy didn’t have any punishment prepared. Vitrius allowed for total independence, but no one had resisted a learning phase since the compulsory introduction of their units. J-Seven’s next idea came to him suddenly.
‘Dance,’ he insisted, free from any fear of regret. Though a sharp pain stabbed through his jaw, he kept deadly still and watched. Slowly, Mero.exe ceased its authoritative pacing and fell into the rhythm of a waltz. Its movements grew in nimble exuberance with each step.
Defiance hadn’t seemed possible to J-Seven before, and mockery was unheard of. Yet, in that moment, he found Mero.exe’s humiliating gyrations to be genuinely amusing. Humour wasn’t something he experienced, unless served to him in censored packages (twice weekly).
‘Bullocks!’ the dancing program yelped, ‘Haired doggo stones, student!’ Of course, the original Mr. Mero never said anything of the sort. Equally, he hadn’t so much as clicked his heels in his motion capture sessions. Instead, J-Seven pulled the strings of the whole ludicrous performance. His whims fed back into his Vitrius, leaving its facade at his mercy.
J-Seven reflected on the pride he’d feel if he could record his discovery and show it to his peers, as if he were among the skilful few who could create comedy. Mero.exe churned out pointed insults and appalling profanity in bulk, speaking words and phrases surely shameful to its progenitor. J-Seven was surprised that such manipulation hadn’t been tried by anyone else, and — like every mischievous trailblazer — he sneered in recognition of his act.
He had learned, with no spark or influence, to misbehave.