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ROW80 - the writing challenge that knows you have a life

Present Tense

Another challenge from Terrible Minds - to write only in the present tense. This was difficult, but I think I came close. Story follows.


Julie stares into the dark, eyes wide open, listening. She hears it again, a thump, then a muffled curse. She is pretty sure no one else has a key to Don's apartment, and she knows he's still in Taiwan. She's tempted to call out, but decides using 911 is safer. She fumbles on the bedside table for his phone, but when she picks it up, instead of a dial tone she hears a recording.

"Hello ... Don ... your telephone access is now restricted to ... no ...calls, as per Federal regulations. You now have ... seven ... outstanding responses in your iVote queue. Press 1 for a list of your priority items, 2 for a list of all items, or 3 if this is an emergency."

She presses 3.

"I'm sorry, that is an invalid response. Press 1 for a list of ..."

She presses 1.

"You have ... one ... mandatory vote. If you are voting now please stand in front of your iMonitor to show your vote. Remember to ensure your face is free of any coverings, for optimum response from the iFace system."

She hates this new system, even more than she hates junk mail and telemarketing calls. She hates that it's a sellout from her government to Apple, that trades exclusive access rights to every household for a massive government buyout. It's no longer just optional online voting, and a few surveys, it's now regular votes at all levels of government, a daily barrage of survey questions from all sorts of companies, and stiff penalties for non-compliance. And it appears that Don shares her dislike, and now she's paying for it. She tries her iPhone, and gets the same response as it tries to call out over Don's network. She looks around Don's room - no iMonitor, which means she has to somehow use the one in the living room. She assumes she can fool the response software into reading a positive or negative response from her face other than Don's, but she knows that the biometrics software developed by Homeland Security is picky. Luckily she and Don are almost be twins, right down to the same haircut.

Julie opens the door slowly, phone in hand, and peeks out. The room seems empty, the sounds now coming from the distant kitchen. She tiptoes over to the monitor, set in the middle of a wall of electronics and speakers, and whispers,"Display on, low volume."

The screen brightens, and asks, "please confirm identity."

She drops her voice, "Don Pritchard."

"Unable to confirm."

Damn. She tries again, "Don Pritchard."

"Unable to confirm. You have one attempt left," says the monitor.

"You're screwed!"

As she spins around she sees a tall figure standing in the hallway, smiling at her.

"Guess you haven't seen Don in a while, he's got a beard now." He picks up a portrait of Don from the shelf and turns it towards her.

"Who are you?" she says.

"I'm Charlie, a friend of Don's" He jingles some keys. "These are spares from last time he went away, I'm here to pick up a book of mine. How about you, are you a burglar or just house sitting?"

"I'm just crashing for the weekend while he's away. I'm trying to call 911 to report a burglar, but it turns out our friend Don is protesting iVote by ignoring it. Which means no phone, even 911. But no problem, now that I know your intentions are honourable."

"It is a problem," said Charlie. "A 911 attempt, plus failed ID, means a lock down. Go ahead and try, the doors are all bolted now."

"So what if we just flunk the last ID and let the cops come?"

"Don has iGuard now to protect all this electronics, the usual options are gas and or taser. The police are already on their way to take us downtown, are you prepared to wake in a cell and wait for Don to come home?"

They hear sirens in the distance.

"Shit, we're both screwed," she says.

Charlie holds up the photo in front of his face. "Not necessarily."

"You might fake the voice, but there won't be any expressions to show yeah or nay," she says.

Charlie holds up his cell phone. "Android phone, very rare. With some hacker apps, including one I call noVote. With some visual and audio jamming, the system defaults from visual to just voice responses." He holds the photo to his face, and triggers the phone.

"Hi, I am Don Pritchard."

"Hello Don, this is iVote. You have ... one ... mandatory vote ... Bill C-10, the copyright act. How do you vote?"

He turned to Julie, "does he support this?"

"Hell no," she says, "he hates it. Vote yes. And we can clear the rest too, all with the wrong vote. Be a bit of payback for getting me almost trapped in here."

"Don here," he said," I vote yes."

"Thank you Don. Cancelling 911 alert, doors are now unlocked. Be advised there is now a 911 access user fee charged to your iAccount."




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