My entry for the Science Fiction Short Story contest, we are in need of good sci-fy.
|He sighed, then spoke softly, his voice trailing into silence. "We never expected - " his voice broke before he finished his sentence and the man sobbed quietly.
The Al had learned that grief can often do that to people. She had been trained for this occasion.
The AI answered, its voice perfectly modulated.
Her tone was soft and understanding, the exact frequency humans associate with comfort. It was all fabricated of course, the drone knew the concept of grief but had never had any first hand experience. This specific Al was just programmed to comfort the humans at this time of their loss. It was surprisingly complicated and the woman-shaped drone found it very confusing at times, but if she followed her programming the crying eventually stopped and she'd move on to the next client.
"It happened so fast- I - I just don't know what to do w-without her..." The Al placed her delicate hand on top of the grieving man's. They usually found comfort with this gesture. A hug was sometimes received wrong by humans who had lost a spouse, so she went for the more moderate option of physical contact.
This part always felt strange to the Al, as she had no nerve endings. It was thought better that drones didn't feel physically. The engineers warned that it may make them become attached to their physical appearances, and instead gave them sensors to detect as much physical movement they needed. Because of this, when they met flesh on flesh with someone it felt more like an extra limb or other was malfunctioning.
With her hand placed over his, the Al waited for signs of what protocol to use. When he grasped her hand in return she knew it was okay to further her engagement. "I am so sorry you have to go through this. She was a beautiful person." The Al said, varying little from what she said to her last client. "You must have loved her very much."
"I did. I loved her so much." He agreed. Agreeing was a good sign.
"I'm sure she knew," the Al said in accordance. This could be a tipping point in conversation, so she knew she must be careful about her wording. Their data showed that there had been a verbal argument in recent events to her death. The Al needed to cut this at the roots so guilt doesn't seed itself into his grief. The Al's job was to make sure the grieving process was as healthy as possible and would not cause harm outside of the people the death encountered.
"We fought- a lot. There was this one fight we had... She wanted to go to the Great Vulcan Rock with the kids, I told her it was too expensive."
The man released the Al's hand and bunched his fist over his eyes, leaning his elbows on his lap. The Al's warning signals were going off. This was a sign of great pain for humans.
"I should have let her go... I shouldn't have cared how much money it was! Sh- she was more imp-portant th- than any-y amount of money..." His sobs were heavy and his speech was becoming broken with the heaves.
This drastic move from him required a drastic move from her. The Al thought, much like a dance, I have to match him.
"Everybody fights, Jordan, that's part of life. And you gave her such. A good. Life. When it came down to it she loved you. She loved you more than any stupid trip to the Vulcan Rock! Her final thoughts weren't about that argument- they were about you!"
The Al said with appropriately engineered passion.
Her next move was a risk against the protocols, but the Al had other sensors she chose to follow. She kneeled down to face him from the ground.
"Your wife loved you," She began quiet but firmly, leaning in to wrap her arms tightly around the sobbing man's neck, predicting the security and comfort of a snug hold. Everything was premeditated, down to the contrast of volume in her voice. "And she knew you loved her too, more than anything. She knew that."
As she expected the man's sobs got heavier and he grasped her back, bunching his fists tight while he soaked her state issue clothes with his tears. "I know... I know..." He repeated, his voice steadying slightly after saying it.
The Al held the man named Jordan for a while until his sobs stopped and she was permitted to leave him alone safely. Then she crossed the street and got into her auto-piloted vehicle, ready to be taken to her next client. After she changed the shirt of course.