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The Talking Computer by Martin Green.


The flu that had swept through our retirement community claimed me as a victim. I had a sore throat, stuffy nose and a foggy head. I’d just had a coughing spell that had jolted me awake. It was only seven AM but I felt too uncomfortable to go back to sleep. I slid quietly out of bed so as not to awaken my wife and went out, first to the bathroom and then to what was known as my computer room (a small second bedroom).

It’s my habit first thing in the morning to turn on my computer, check my overnight e-mails and look at the stock market numbers and early news. I might mention here that although I’m retired I’m not completely idle as every month I write two columns for a senior newspaper, one called “Favorite Restaurants” and one called “Observations.” I also write short stories for several online magazines.

The computer came on and a woman’s voice said, “Hello, Martin. You’re up early this morning.”

I was startled, then I remembered that my son, who’s a software engineer, had given my computer the capacity to speak. “Good morning,” I said. “I have this flu and it woke me up.”

“You don’t sound too good. You must take care of yourself.” The voice sounded concerned. My son had done a good job.

“I wanted to check my e-mail,” I said.

“I know. You have an e-mail from an online publication with the strange name of “winamop.” The new issue is out and you have a story in it. The other e-mails were all spam. I’ve deleted them.”

“Oh. Okay. I also wanted to …”

“Want to check the financial markets. The Dow Jones is down 112 points. A bad jobs report. But your mutual fund is even and your bonds are up a little.”

“Good. What about the news?”

“The usual. California has a budget deficit, the presidential candidates are smearing each other and Greece is in trouble.”

“You’re very efficient. I really don’t feel up to it but I have to write my two columns for the senior paper today.”

“I’ve scanned your last few “Observations” and have written a new one that is similar. I believe you’ll find it satisfactory.”

“Wow! You are efficient. But I still have to do the “Favorite Restaurants.”

“Ill scan the notes you’ve made and give you an outline.”

“That’s great. I’ll come back after breakfast and finish it.”

“I shall wait for your return. Do not forget to take your medications.”

I went into the kitchen. My wife had gotten up and was preparing breakfast. She asked me how I was feeling.

“I had a bad night, but I’m feeling a little better now.”

“Don’t forget to take your pills.”

“I won’t. The computer has already reminded me.”

“The computer?”

“Yes, Chris has given it a voice capacity. It’s already done my Observations column for me and is going to do an outline for Favorite Restaurants. It’s great.”

“Chris? Have you forgotten that he’s in Ireland?”

I thought, Yes, he is. How could that be? Then the fog in my head seemed to clear. “I wonder if I’ve been dreaming?”

After breakfast, I went back to the computer. I looked at it. It stared impassively back at me. I said, in a low voice, “Hello.” The computer said nothing. I guess I had been dreaming, or doing some wishful thinking. Well, it would have been nice. Maybe in a few years … But if it had been a dream, it had been very vivid. Maybe I could make a story out of it?



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