Short Story Contest #188 Theme: "Kingdom Come" courtesy of @Fernando.C Congratulations @Hubardo for your silver medal for a creative and a provocative sci-fi story. ____________________________________________ The Time I Visited Grandma In Real Life (1,970 words) When I arrived at Rebirth Mansion, the front desk screen informed me that by the end of next year, RL visits would no longer be allowed due to energy restrictions. By then, Grandma would likely be dead in the physical sense, but her mindcopy would integrate into the Netwaves. My sister had told me it was pointless to meet Grandma in RL. “Don’t be a ‘NoNet’ Luddite,” she had said. “Nobody does RL anymore, Lee. It wastes energy and it’s boring. Don’t embarrass yourself.” But I wanted to see Grandma with my actual eyes before she passed. I entered the socialization hall, taking in a slightly unsavory and somewhat sweet odor. The superelderly shrank in their bamboominium bodyfit seats, each senescent face masked behind a VR set. Taking a seat across from Grandma, she waved her bony hands around, signaling full immersion in some other world. “Grandma, I’m here.” I said. “I’m next to your body. Can you hear me?” After trying a couple more times, and poking her shoulder, I decided to wait. At the far end of the hall, a janitor bot the size of a child buffed the mycotile. It said something, but I couldn’t hear it. I went closer. “What did you say?” It was quiet for a while, intent on buffing the floor. Suddenly it said, “Don’t jump the gun!” It sounded like some kind of pathetic attempt at singing, but it was so strange I could hardly tell what to think. An old woman nearby passed gas so loudly it seemed to echo. Someone a few tables away let out a muffled belch. Dying bodies swayed and creaked in their chairs. I really saw how human Grandma was in her physical form. She wasn’t a dragon spacecraft folding space-time, or a giraffe-gorilla shooting lasers out of its nipples. She was just a very, very old person. What was she experiencing behind the VR mask? There was never a way to know from the outside. “Thy will be done!” the bot said, again sounding like it was trying to sing. “What are you—” “Don’t jump the gu-u-u-un! Thy will be done! You’re not the o-o-o-ne! Thy kingdom come!” It spattered cleaning solution across the floor, wiping it up in a circular motion with its bristly bottom unit. “Robot, please explain yourself.” It turned its round silicon head a full 180 degrees toward me, then back to the shiny floor. “Fine,” I said. I jacked in my VR set, despite having hoped I wouldn’t have to. I had to know what this silly bot was talking about. ID tags appeared at the top right, and I didn’t recognize any but Grandma’s: GalacticQueer69. “Grandma,” I said. “Does the janitor robot have a personal channel? I would like to have a talk with it.” An auto-reply: DO NOT DISTURB FILMING I took off my VR set and checked the bot’s model number: JB662B. Ran a Netwave query on it, and a spinning 3D image of the bot appeared. Its model number floated above its spherical head, followed by information about its type. Category 6 service bot, version 2. Self-maintenance software integration. Organic waste disposal specialization. Voice command input activation, programmable automation. No vocal output features. No longer manufactured (see version 5here). No vocal output features? I removed my headset. The bot was on the far end of the socialization hall, dusting a window. “Look at me, robot,” I said. The bot continued dusting. “Bot! You are being difficult! Look at me!” It turned its faceless head toward me. Instead of a face, there was a dull orange glow. “That’s better,” I said. While I said it, the bot shimmied its round body. Metallic clicks sounded out of its hips. Its buffer bottom spun me dizzy. The bot thrust against the sill, continuing to dust the window with its long, metallic arm. “Ooh, ooh, oh! Yes, yes, yes! Thy kingdom COME! COME! COME! COME!” I stuck my fingernails in my mouth and chewed violently. The superelderly drifted through worlds I would never know. They had their heavens; I had this obtuse creature driving me mad. The bot uttered its distasteful poetry again, mindlessly cleaning surfaces that looked to be already spotless. It drifted away from socialization hall and toward the sleeping quarters. I followed. “You are in no way sexually desirable to me,” I said. It turned its spherical head-thing in my direction while spinning its body the opposite direction. The hall dimmed. My heart kicked against my chest. I swallowed. “Don’t be inappropriate!” “Don’t jump the gun!” it screeched. A pungent smell started from somewhere nearby. Along the corridor, VR screenshots of residence members riding dinosaurs, posing in various historical periods and on extraterrestrial soil, lined the walls. The bot turned into a room at the end of the hall. Standing in the doorway, my jaw unlatched and I covered my nose with my shirt collar. The janitor bot removed a body sized black bag from inside its chest. The stench. There was a bluish body lying on one of the beds. It did what it came here to do at Rebirth Mansion. The bot removed the VR set from the corpse’s face and wrapped the body in the bag. “Thy kingdom come! Come! COME COME COME!” Once again, the bot was humping. It was humping a dead person, trying still to sing from a vocal box that should not exist, in a voice that cannot sing. “You abomination.” I clutched for something warm and soft but there was nothing. The bot pulled a lever on the other side of the room and an opening appeared. It lifted the body with its long, tiny arms. Witnessing its impossible strength filled me hopelessness. It dumped the body down a chute and closed the opening. “Thy will be do-o-o-one!” My wristband buzzed and lit up. A new message. I put on my VR set. “Lee! Saw you poked! We were filming Christian hardcore. It’s the new viral. Total infection. Here, join my channel.” An invitation appeared. CH.221. “Grandma, someone just died and the janitor bot threw them into a hole in the wall.” “Come visit!” she said. “I don’t want to see you having sex, even if it’s an avatar.” “Such a prude. Got it from your mother, didn’t you? We’re done anyway, dear. Wearing clothes now. Mostly.” I found myself in front of a young woman in black lingerie lying on her stomach atop a piano. Above the woman there loomed a stained glass window depicting an agonized man nailed to a cross. Plumes of smoke rose from the sprawled woman’s cigarette. Her hair was a mess and her face was covered in smeared makeup. “Jesus!” she cried. “Lee, you are so boring! Why don’t you ever use a REAL avatar?” She swatted a shirtless man beside her. “This is my grandson. He’s a total Luddite, but he’s a good boy, like you.” I felt my face contort. “Grandma?” “The last time he saw me,” she said to her shirtless friend. “I was a yodeling space dragon with eight physical senses. He didn’t bat an eye. Now I’m a pornstar and he’s about to shart himself to rebirth.” The man smiled, wrapping his arm around… Grandma. “I used the restroom before I came,” I said. “I’m not going to defecate. Who is your friend?” “Lee, Zeep. Zeep, my grandson Lee.” “Hello, Lee,” the man said. His pronounced pectorals glistened either sweat or oil as he protruded his long arm. “I can visually detect the resemblance.” “Grandma, the janitor bot just dumped a dead resident into some kind of disposal unit in the wall. Is that normal?” Grandma turned to her friend. “That’s what you do, right?” “Well,” said Zeep, flexing a bicep. “I am a partitioned identity whose hardware resides in the JB662D unit. One might say I am the janitor bot. However, that would be inaccurate to say. One does not identify a character in a dream as the dreamer, although the character is a projection of the dreamer’s mind. How would you rate that analogy?” “What? Wait a minute,” I said, gathering my thoughts. Grandma blew the ash off the end of her cigarette. My eyes wandered up toward the crucified man above us in the multi-colored glass. Its woeful eyes seemed to meet mine. I became overwhelmed with guilt for a moment. “Zeep, were you the one talking to me? Or singing? From your… robot body?” “Singing!” Grandma cackled. “There’s that crossover again, Zeep! Let’s never get that fixed!” “Crossover?” I said. “Some apparent glitches in my software have reportedly presented some verbal and nonverbal partition crossover issues, recently,” said Zeep. He touched his toes while speaking to me. His voice was smooth and unwavering. “This complex identity from which I present to you now, was programmed by GalacticQueer69, whom you refer to as Grandma, as a top-of-the-line VAI companion. At times, it appears that what I do in VR crosses partition boundaries in a way that sends unintentional behavioral commands to the JB662D unit’s hardware. We have yet to determine the root cause.” “But that’s not possible,” I said. “The waves told me that JB662B has no vocal output capacities.” “Honey,” said Grandma. “Dee, as in dickless dead dyslexic dog. JB662-D. The B model had no vocal output. The D model does. It’s not impossible at all, sweety.” Grandma, in her pornstar body, rolled off of the piano and into the bench in front of the keys. “But anyway, I programmed Zeep to write Christian rock lyrics. I can’t stand it, but Zeep makes it tolerable. We’re really bringing in the Vitcoins. Christians are the biggest porn addicts in VR now, did you know? Pretty divine. And we gotta follow supply and demand. Like they say, you have to do unto others—“ “As you would have them do!” Zeep sang. The agonized stained glass man above us began blowing wind out of his inanimate face. It combed through Zeep’s brown hair, making it wave. “Do unto you! You! You! Do unto you! You! You!” Zeep leapt onto the front most pew in the church and humped the air as he sang. The stained glass head tracked him, blowing strong wind like a spotlight. Grandma threw her head back in lunacy, fingers slamming piano keys, howling. I felt my virtual body creeping away, palms facing outward. Back set against a wall, my eyes darted around the room. Up at the crucified man in horror, down to Zeep in bewilderment, over to Grandma then quickly away in confusion and shame. “Don’t jump the gu-u-u-u-n!” “You’re not the o-o-one!” “Thy kingdom co-o-ome!” Grandma joined in. “Thy will be DONE! DONE! DO-O-O-O-ONE! As this phrase ended, Zeep pulled his penis out of his pants. I removed my headset. Back in socialization hall, everyone was still masked and immersed. I scratched my head. A sound came from the corner of the hall. The janitor bot extended its arm into a high corner, perhaps removing cobwebs. It trying to sing again. I turned away. The superelderly seemed to be devoured by their headsets. I couldn’t see their eyes or mouths as their bodies made subtle adjustments in their bodyfit seats. Their heads and arms and torsos sent prompts into worlds beyond my comprehension, or maybe prompts were being sent to their bodies. I realized that I knew nothing about this world or any other world. Did I control myself? Did something or someone else? Maybe I was a partitioned identity due to a glitch in the fabric of whatever evolutionary programming made me possible. Exhaling my confusion, I departed Rebirth Mansion. “Good luck, Grandma,” I said. The sky train descended moments later. It took me home.