The development of autonomous androids had languished in the periphery of scientific discovery until the middle of the 21st century. At first the technology had remained on computer screens, with real-time, real-world simulations to ascertain real damage from a certain course of action, so that potential consequences could be reduced or avoided altogether. With the vastness of cyberspace and the increasing capacity of computers for memory, many store chains began using computers and "self-serve/self-checkout" technology to streamline information between stores (if a certain store did not have a product, the computer would search all the stores to find it and have it shipped directly to the customer) and cut down on food-handling-related accidents and diseases (by building machines that could prepare a dish to order, which could be "programmed" on a computer screen and served via a chute to the patron). Businesses with more of a capacity for computer automation, such as banks, switched to mostly computer screens and hyper-secure networks, retaining only a few employees to give their clients the illusion that their money was in the hands of a real person, whom they could trust.
All that changed at the turn of the century, when human likeness could be sculpted and molded over a robotic shell, creating a functional android. At first the droids were used in hazardous environments and menial, repetitive tasks that required more precision than humans could deliver with consistency, but as the droids' central processors became more sophisticated, more human-like, droids were then used as wait-staff, entry-level clerks, and menial employees, still under on-site supervision by humans. By the year 2120, though, droid programming had advanced to the level of near-humanity, meaning that an entire shopping center could be staffed by a fleet of androids and monitored by only a handful of off-site programmers, and very rarely would things actually "go wrong."
The one difficulty with an android staff was that the technology needed to run them, plus the droids themselves were still too expensive for small businesses to "hire." Typically an android staff could be found only in larger shopping centers and higher-end businesses. They never got sick, they never needed vacations, and the variable of fraud (whether stealing or lying) had not yet been considered or explored.
Such was the world in the year 2130, the year of the collapse of the Byblos corporate empire in the face of the up-and-coming Peres Corporation. Conrad Parisian acquired the Californian company and effectively replaced Byblos as the largest monopolistic company in the nation. Rather than move his workforce population to the new location, President Parisian turned the former corporate campus into a privatized, company-owned community, called Paristown. Former Byblos employees could continue to live there in comfort and constant employment, or choose to move to the Reno Headquarters, a larger, better version of the original Grand Campus. Furthermore, since Peres employed the largest android population of any company, President Parisian issued the provision that any small businesses usurped and absorbed by Byblos could return to their original locations and start again. The former company Integra Communications announced its severance, and a large portion of the original workforce departed to St. Louis, Missouri, unsure of what they would find, or whether they really could begin again. Rumors floated that some Integra employees still remained in Paristown, but no one cared to confirm these words.
Into this world, a girl was born......
Vanessa Decker awoke at 8 AM on Thursday, April 9, 2150, sure of at least one thing: her father was cooking her favorite breakfast. She could smell the maple syrup and the warm cinnamony scent of the French toast. She sat up in bed. The doors of her smart closet took the day's fashion trend and weather forecast into consideration and projected a recommended outfit for her. Vanessa ignored it and merely threw on her robe before running down the hall. She could get dressed later.
In the kitchen, Michael Decker dunked the slices of bread into the beaten egg mixture and laid them on the hot griddle. He angrily swept his hand across the kitchen computer screen, closing another ad informing him as they always did when he cooked that, for a sizeable fee, Michael had the option of "hiring" an android personal chef, or installing an automated kitchen, fully self-operational, to cook for him instead. Michael grunted and lifted the crusty brown slices onto a plate and prepared the next batch. He didn't need more machines watching him and recording his movements! He had enough of that as a security technician, repairing surveillance equipment and various electronics for the Peres Corporation in Nevada.
He looked up as Vanessa waltzed into the room.
"Good morning, Daddy," she chirped.
"Good morning, sweetie," he replied. "Did you sleep well?"
"Oh yeah," she gushed as she sat down and began eating.
"Oops!" Michael cried, joining her. "What did we forget?"
Vanessa swallowed the bite in her mouth. She knew almost immediately. "Oh, the blessing!" She bowed her head and twiddled her fork as Michael prayed, "Dear Jesus, bless this food; Amen."
Having done this, they could safely resume eating.
"So," Michael conversed with his daughter, "What are you going to do today while I am at work?"
Vanessa shrugged, "Oh, I think I need to go grocery shopping; I might pick up a few things for myself. Then I'll probably go to the library. They have this new visibook series that looks pretty awesome."
Mike chuckled, "The usual?"
Vanessa laughed, "Yep, the usual!"
A chime sounded from somewhere in the house. Michael scrambled to his feet. "There's the bus!" he exclaimed.
Vanessa rose to see him off.
"Have a good day, sweetie," Michael told his daughter. "Remember, keep a low profile, stay out of trouble, and if anyone asks—"
Vanessa sighed, "Tell them I am Tricia Carson and my family has always worked for Byblos." She kissed her father on the cheek, "Daddy, I know." She chuckled lightly, "It's not as if the androids are going to ask anyhow. They have no imagination!"
Michael laughed and shook his head as he walked out the door. That expression, once meant as a figure of speech, now took a more literal twist in the age of Artificial intelligence.
Vanessa waved as the hoverbus containing her father skated away on its magnetic track. She moseyed back to her room. Pulling on red jeans and a pink tee shirt, she plopped down in front of her computer screen and flicked through the ads and the Peres-approved news stories on the Internet.
"President Parisian Promises Prodigious Party!" one headline boomed.
"Peres Lets The Good Times Roll!" trumpeted another.
A banner flashed, "BIG SALE!"
Vanessa selected it. She read that all merchandise was on "extreme markdown" because of the party going on at the Reno complex. Vanessa grinned as she slipped on a pair of red sneakers and prepared to go shopping.
On her way out of the room, she nearly tripped over the small, box-like housekeeping droid, one of a set built into the house that regularly kept its surfaces free of dirt and germs. Vanessa scowled at the oblivious mechanism and continued to the kitchen.
Reaching the computer, she gave the order, "Grocery List." The computer instantly projected a holographic list of the supplies that were getting low in the pantry. Vanessa pulled a touch-sensitive glass tablet out of the shelf below the counter and downloaded the list by passing the tablet through the hologram. This done, she slipped the tablet into her red leather purse and donned a cap and sunglasses before stepping out the door.
"Farewell, Tricia," the door chimed as she departed down the walk. Now that the house knew that both occupants were no longer present, it would automatically lock all holoplast portals until one or the other returned.
Tricia Carson moseyed through the shops in the large Paristown Market, built—ironically enough—out of the former Byblos Marketing Department. Colorful signs and displays guided her to the stalls and booths selling the items on her list, while at the same time directing her down aisles stocked with unlisted items Tricia would be most likely to buy. She came out of the Market with everything on her list, plus a new handbag, some tablet games, and the latest edition in closet organizers. She strolled down the block wheeling her purchases behind her, feeling almost giddy with success. Even the merchandise scanners at the front of the store congratulated her when she scanned her card. "Well done, Tricia Carson! Great selections!"
Vanessa skipped up the front walk, but stopped when she reached the door. The lock was visibly disengaged. Who was in the house?
Vanessa stepped in slowly. "Hello?" she called. She heard the familiar theme of the Peres News channel. Walking into the living room, she saw her father sitting on the couch, a bottle of champagne on the TV table, and the flatscreen tuned to a celebration occurring in Peres Reno.
Vanessa walked up behind her father and rubbed his shoulders. Michael jumped and nearly dropped the flute in his hand.
"Oh, Nessa," he sighed when he saw her. She took a seat next to him as he resettled himself.
"What are you doing home so early?" Vanessa asked. "Where did you get champagne?"
Michael chuckled and gestured toward the television. "President Parisian is throwing a party for his executives." He said, "He's allowing all employees a bottle of champagne and the day off. Isn't it great?" He offered her a flute of the sparkling beverage.
Vanessa took a sip, grimaced, and resolved not to try anything like that in the future. Father and daughter sat back to watch the famous "party like no other in the country."