“When will it end? Yet another drug-related theft from a single mother, a 47-year-old woman, was sentenced to fifty years in prison after she stole hundreds of dollars worth of baby formula.” The reporter says.

The screen changes to a sobbing woman, ”I stole for my baby! Please, just give her back!”

The screen returns to the reporter, who shakes her head in disgust.

“Monstrous, using he-“

“Nora, turn off the holo-screen and play my relaxation playlist,” Trent tells Nora, the universal AI assistant required in every home, whether one likes it or not.

If you didn’t agree to their terms and services, you couldn’t access the internet, which meant exile. Legally, they couldn’t exile you but disagreeing leads one to become a defuncter, someone who is uneducated and can’t vote. On paper, they just refused to get an upgradeable ID, and it wasn’t real discrimination, just a way of the 23rd century.

Trent’s a reporter, one you might see on the news, who captures you with his friendly smile. Most of his reports were about puppy adoption events, and yes, who doesn’t love puppies but Trent desires to talk about more serious matters. However, every serious story he requests is rejected by the AI network. The story he’s working on now is too good for him to quit. There’s but one snag, as the key to this story has yet to send him a holo message back.

Trent tries not to think about it, but time is running out. If he doesn’t get this key piece, then it’s back to playing with puppies for the entirety of his career. He sits on the couch in his small apartment, where the open floor plan gives no illusion of space. The apartment is filled with the sounds of smooth jazz as Trent closes his eyes. He lets his mind drift away to happier thoughts, like his favorite dessert. A sweet potato pie that tastes extra sweet, a creation that seemed only his mom could make.

“Would you like to put on your VR glasses for full immersion? I recommend the vintage New Orleans jazz club setting.”

“No, I’m okay, Nora. I think I’ll take a dehydrated water tablet, though. I’m parched.”

His kitchen cabinets beep as a scan is done to check the amount of tablets he has left. Soon a ping of success is heard throughout the room, mixing with the smooth jazz already playing.

“You are low on dehydrated water tablets. Would you like to restock?”

“Yes,” he says, making his way over to the cabinets.

Once there, he grabs a tablet and puts it in his mouth. These days, a dehydrated water tablet is the only way to drink clean water. Centuries ago, only the privileged had clean water, something they took for granted as minorities and low-income neighborhoods dealt with the effects of the reality that the more privileged didn’t care much if they lived or died. Once it started affecting them, however, things changed as outrage spread. Slowly, laws were made to fix things but it was already too late. Clean water became a story the elders told their grandkids. In the past, people once swam in water but if you dare try now, don’t be shocked about any infections you acquire later.

Hydrated. He heads back to his couch, lying down this time to stare at the ceiling. Nora checks on him after five minutes of inactivity. He tells her he’s fine but five minutes later she does the same thing but this time she states, “Sorry, I don’t understand the question.”

“Nora, can you go into hibernation mode?”

“Hibernation mode was deleted after the last system update. I’m sorry. Would you like to restock on razors?”


Suddenly, an alert showcases, on his supposedly off, holo-screen. An alert indicating a new holo-mail. Relieved, he tells Nora to open up his holo-mail, which she obliges. It’s the holo-mail he’s been waiting for! Nora automatically plays the message.

“Hello, you inquired about my collection of books written by humans. As you know, I prefer to keep my collection private because of its rarity. A rarity that I and a few other elites have access to. However, considering the flattering piece you approached me with, I will allow you to view my collection.”

Trent pumps his fist up in victory. He was going to view an item that any ordinary person would think of as a myth—a book written by an actual person! Most books today were all written by AI, and if you had enough money, you could request specific plots and characters you wanted, but usually, big corporations sent cease and desist letters because any AI creation was their own personal intellectual property. In the past, books written by people were banned, as there was fear they might incite violence or corrode people's brains into thinking things were unfair.

He tells Nora to reply and makes his way to his destination. The man was shocked to see him at first, even though he had sent a message saying he was coming over. He explains his time limit as he and the man walk into the man’s library. The man allows him to look but not touch.

When the man isn’t looking, he slips a book under his jacket. He hopes the man’s AI security systems don’t expose him. He manages to get through, making it out the door. After a short train ride, he walks carefully, every movement he makes, his hand stays on his stomach to protect his precious cargo. When he gets home, he goes to the most secure area in his apartment and pulls the book from under his jacket. Admiration fills him. It looked new, perfectly preserved in that old man’s storage house.

He flips through the pages. The words already feel alive, unlike the books he’s used to. Finally, he goes back to the beginning of the book and reads.

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