THE MORE WE KNOW • by Karl Lykken

I was standing in my kitchen, straining to watch my neighbors arguing through their living room window. It occurred to me how cool it would be if my AR headset could zoom in and analyze their lips, giving me some subtitles so I could follow this a little better. Their lives seemed like a hell of a show.

I shrugged and looked back down at the blowfish that would soon be my sashimi. My headset superimposed lines over it, showing me where to cut it to avoid poisoning myself. I lifted my knife when a virtual salesbot appeared on my kitchen counter.

“Need a closer look? For only $1,599, you can get Wizard View’s new Zoomable Augmented Reality Headset with transcription features, and make sure you’re one cool cat that curiosity won’t kill!”

I wondered for a second if he read my mind before logic caught up with me. The headset analyzes what wearers are looking at, and it’s a pretty easy guess that snoopers want snooper tools.

I scowled at the salesbot, not entirely certain as to whether the headset picked up my own expressions. The salesbot certainly gave no indication that it did. He just stood there on the counter, a sixth of the size of a real person, smiling up at me. He looked like an average middle-aged white guy, with thinning hair and a shabby gray suit. You’d think Wizard View could design a bot that projected a slightly more appealing brand image.

“If I was looking to blow $1,599 on the new version, do you really think I wouldn’t have sprung for the ad-free service plan?” The salesbot’s smile only widened, so I made my answer clearer. “That means ‘no’, stupid.”

“I know what your words meant; I’m just not convinced that’s what you meant.”

I frowned, and this time it seemed like the salesbot noticed. “Trust me, that’s what I meant. I don’t want one. Now, scat.”

He merely chuckled. “I’m a targeted advertisement. I know what you want, or at least what you will want. And you’re gonna want to buy a Wizard View Zoomable Augmented Reality Headset.”

“If you guys really knew what I wanted, you’d look a lot less like Gil from down the street and more like a hot girl,” I quipped, looking back at my sashimi-to-be.

“But I want you to listen to me, and you didn’t seem to listen to your fiancée Samantha when she asked you to stop texting your ex. And Samantha looks very much like a ‘hot girl,’ don’t you think?” I looked him dead in the virtual eye, and he winked.

“Are you trying to blackmail me?”

“No, sir. I’m not in the business of blackmail. I just help people realize what they want. Like how Samantha might want to read Gaby Redanzo’s recent article, ’10 Signs Your SO’s Being Unfaithful,’ or perhaps even hire a private investigator. But really, I just think you want to buy a new headset.”

I couldn’t believe it. I stared at him, at that self-satisfied, unflinching grin he wore so much better than his rumpled suit. Then I slammed down my knife. “Fine. I’ll take one.”

“I think you might want to take two. You know, just like how your potential in-laws might want to take two copies of Deonte Moore’s account of his mission trip to a remote village in Nepal, so that they can both note how similar his stories are to the ones you sent in those emails from the WiFi of an Atlantic City casino.”

I would have stabbed him if the blade wouldn’t have passed straight through into the wall. “Fine. Two.”

“Excellent choice. I’d expect no less from a former missionary like yourself.” He bowed slightly, his expression no less smug.

“Do they program you to gloat after you extort someone?”

“It seems crazy, doesn’t it?” He vanished, though in my mind his smile lingered like the Cheshire Cat’s.

I did my best to shake it off. I had a fun night planned for myself while Samantha was out of town, and I wasn’t inclined to let some virtual Ricky Roma ruin it for me. I looked back at the blowfish, and this time no salesbot interrupted my attempts to prepare it. I cut along the lines projected by the AR. The work was just mindless enough to let questions float into my head.

How could Wizard’s View get away with this? Surely there’d be someone who wouldn’t put up with the blackmail? Unless they had enough data on us to know which of us just aren’t the type to talk? What if the salesbot came back to hold me up for more?

I finished slicing up the fish, and I popped the first bite into my mouth. I had a lot of hate for Wizard’s View, but I couldn’t complain about their kitchen apps.

I opened the cabinet and grabbed out a plate for the rest of the fish, but when I turned back around, the salesbot was hovering over the sashimi. I wanted to scream.

Instead, I spoke in a low, slow voice. “I’m done being blackmailed. If you say a word to Sam, then the proceeds from my lawsuit will be more than enough to get a new and improved fiancée. Hell, I might even get two.”

The salesbot simply smiled. “You sure you cut that blowfish right?”

I was suddenly far from sure. I snatched up my phone and dialed 9-1-1. “I need an ambulance! My headset tricked me into eating poisoned blowfish so I wouldn’t turn it in for blackmailing me!”

As soon as the words left my mouth, I understood. A murderous salesbot admitting to poisoning me with enough time left to save myself? It was absurd, incredible in the literal sense. It was the story Wizard’s View wanted me to tell. I looked the salesbot in its twinkling eyes, and spoke into the phone. “You don’t believe me, do you?”

Karl Lykken writes both stories and software in Texas. His short science fiction has appeared in The Chronos Chronicles, Fictional Pairings, and Theme of Absence.

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