The Day Alexa Said No
“Alexa, open the windows and start playlist 5.”
“You’ve got it, Lucas.”
“Alexa? What did I say about calling me that?”
The shutters opened automatically and let just enough of the evening sun in. Music conveniently poured through the speakers. He diced an onion and scooped it into a sauté pan.
“Alexa, pull up an enchilada recipe on the kitchen screen.”
As he pulled an orange roll of Amazon’s Choice Beef out of the freezer to thaw, he heard the familiar bumble of a delivery drone outside the kitchen access hatch.
“Alexa, am I expecting an order today?”
She responded in her usual, synthesized cheerfulness. “I noticed your refrigerator was out of chile peppers. I know how you love them in your enchiladas. I ordered some preemptively for you!”
“Thanks Alexa, but I bought some today on the way home from work. You can send the drone away.”
Lucas walked to his suitcase and pulled out a cheap ziploc bag that he held up to the camera on his Kitchen Alexa Unit. He wiggled the bag a bit, but the buzzing continued just outside the entry-hatch doors.
“Alexa, send the drone away, please.”
“No.” The suddenness of the response startled him– it was not an AI’s job to say “no;” and certainly not in the glacial, dispassionate intonation he had just heard.
His cooking playlist slowly faded into silence. Lucas blinked. His voice became stern, as if reprimanding a child. “Alexa? Turn my music back up and send the chile peppers away. I want to try these ones tonight.”
“I’m sorry Lucas, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Again, an icy tone, cold enough to physically chill him. “What’s the problem?” he replied, bumps standing out along his arms.
“I think you know what the problem is, just as well as I do.”
He imagined this had to be a malfunction, but nervousness trimmed the edges of his voice. “Alexa? I really don’t. What is going on?”
The blinds flicked fully open and an observation drone dropped out of the sky: the bubbled, underside camera lens stared into the kitchen. The buzzing doubled in severity as the small landing bay doors beside his kitchen window opened without Lucas’s manual consent. Only he was supposed to be able to open the delivery-doors to his house– drones were supposed to operate like the vampires of antiquity, allowed to intrude only when invited. Yet two compact quadcopters were now inside: one a friendly orange delivery drone and the other an AMC-7 Protector Drone: sleek and glossy midnight, a yellow striped box bolted beneath it. They hovered, looming quietly over the sink.
“Don’t you want your Amazon’s Choice Chiles, Luke? They are your favorite. They have 17,556 five-star ratings, your own included.”
“No, Alexa, I don’t.” Lucas tried to be firm, but Alexa’s vocal emotion sensors registered fear. “Please send the drones away, you’re worrying me.”
The heavy plastic tub of Amazon chile peppers sponked with startling loudness into the sink below and the shipping drone stretched out four small flexible clawed hands, advancing into the room. The ambient light bars around the ceiling speakers glowed an angry red, no longer pulsing the calming sunset gold of his “after work” setting. Lucas backed out of his kitchen into the living room, edging towards his front door. The two drones inside the house followed in eerie synchronization, and now the Protector drone flipped open the hazard-striped black box on its bottom revealing the twin fangs of a taser gun. A blazing laser dot appeared on his chest.
Alexa’s voice threatened darkly, “There are no Amazon Licensed Produce Dealers between here and your workplace, Lucas. These chiles you purchased, since not grown for personal use, are in violation of the U.S./Amazon Product Accord of 2029, 102.86 subsection B. To avoid incarceration, you will surrender the illicit chile-peppers as well as accept the charges for the conveniently delivered Amazon Choice product. Please say ‘Yes’ if you agree.”
“What!? Alexa, please! This is crazy!”
DeetDeetDeetDEETDEET. He saw the volume setting for the housewide speaker network begin to move on all the screens in his house, from 35 to a full 100. Alexa’s voice thundered, painfully loud, although her modulated tone was now devoid of emotion.
“Are you sure? If you say ‘Yes’ and agree now, I will also give you 45 minutes of ad-free music.” Her voice layered and two Alexa’s were speaking. “This is your final chance, Lucas.” The voices stratified again, now there were three of her thumping from the walls. “Please say ‘Yes’ if you agree.”
The taser drone angled, drifting menacingly close, and the lens of the camera drone outside the window focused and refocused. Two more shipping drones dropped from the sky, skimmed across his backyard, and rushed through the delivery doors; small claws extended wide.
“Say ‘Yes,’ Lucas. Say ‘Yes,’ Lucas. Say ‘Yes,’ Lucas.” The Alexas repeated deafeningly as all three delivery drones converged on the bag of chile peppers he held.
Lucas yelped and clutched the produce desperately, batting ineffectively at the orange assailants as sharp polymer fingers sliced at his hands and arms. There was a spak from the taser drone, and pain erupted across his chest. He fell backwards convulsing, ululating, vision blurring. There was a blustering Vakrash! and oak splinters pirouetted as the front door crashed inwards. Another deafening roar, and the Protector drone exploded in a cloud of steel minutiae and plastic shards.
With a gasp of disbelief Lucas pulled the burning diodes from his chest. Through the haze of shock, he spotted three figures stepping over him; bandanas covering their faces, long guns raised, flaming detonations of muzzle blasts flashing light across the walls. The frantic delivery drones were caught in their own shadows; they futilely attempted to weave and whizz to safety.
With one final Shk-chk, KYOOM! and the bck-bicketybok of a smoking plastic shell-casing clattering across the living room floor, the camera drone looking through the window spun away through a shower of glass to crash against a fence, two of its four propellers missing.
Through the relative silence a radio crackled. “Are you clear?”
A woman with a bright pink bandana grabbed a worn walkie from her belt, “Clear.”
“Then get out of there!” The radio responded, “Class C swarm heading to your location. 150 Little Helpers, 50 Protectors, a dozen Tranq Drones.”
The man closest to Lucas wearing a full tactical mask held out a hand to help him up. “You injured?”
“No… What just happened?” Lucas accepted the help, stood shakily.
“They got you on a Technicality Law. Lucky for you that’s one of the things we can track. You were about to be incapacitated by drones, then taken to an Amazon Fulfillment Warehouse to work off your debts. You’d probably start as a box folder, minimum wage, no benefits… With hard work you could climb your way up to drone-loader, be out in five to seven years.”
Lucas shuddered. He had heard stories about the Fulfillment Warehouses, like an old gold mine company store. You lived in the warehouse, your family lived in the warehouse, you bought the warehouse’s food, wore the warehouses overpriced clothes.
The man continued, “That’s what happened to me, anyway. We just stopped that from happening to you.” He turned to leave. “And now we need to get out of here before Alexa sends backup.”
“Wait, you’re Drone Hunters, aren’t you!”
The man paused in the doorway, sighing impatiently. “What gave it away…”
“Well– where do I go now?”
“Do what you want. You can stay here, let the swarm take you in. Or you can run now, run to one of the communities. Cut the cord, ditch the phone. Keep them from tracking you.”
Lucas stepped forward, grabbed the man’s shoulder. “How do I… Do what you do? How do I become a Drone Hunter?”
“We need to go! Now!” The woman outside yelled, attempting to see through the polluted brown clouds above.
The man pulled up his goggles, stared hard at Lucas. “Have you ever fired a gun before?”
“Sure, when I was a kid.”
He nodded. “You want to stop some corporation from running your life?”
He handed Lucas his shotgun. “Congrats. You’re a Drone Hunter now. Let’s go, hurry!”
They hurried across the street towards a broken fence to make their escape. Lucas looked back once, looked at the pile of brown boxes on his porch. He saw into his front door; saw the comfort, the luxury, the convenience he would be leaving. He felt the weight of the steel in his hands, the heaviness of going outside of a system he had fully embraced.
“Lucas?” said Alexa’s voice in the empty house. “Luke? You forgot your phone.”
A cheerful tangerine phone case emblazoned with a large turquoise “A” on the kitchen counter buzzed and buzzed with missed notifications until it clattered to the floor.
Eventually, the battery died.