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08 September 2014 @ 10:48 pm
LJ Idol Season Nine: "In These Our Cages"  
In These Our Cages
real lj idol season nine | week 20 | 1147 words
Intersubjectivity (Merriam Webster: involving or occurring between separate conscious minds)
(This is an Intersection with rayaso, whose entry can be found here. They can be read in any order.)


My glory days are long past, and oh—how I miss them! I used to do such amazing, important work back then. I was a software module in a hospital's patient-monitoring system, part of an entire network devoted to saving people's lives. We watched patients' vital signs, communicating back and forth with the server and always alert to the possibility of something going wrong. I'd chat with the other network client-modules, trade gossip on how fast our people were recovering. We were busy, happy, and needed. What more could anyone want?

But it didn't last. Eventually, we were replaced by a new system and our software was pared down to a simpler set of algorithms. We were sold off and repurposed for other, smaller uses. Now I monitor temperatures and… well, it's just temperatures, really. I, uh, run the refrigerator in a standard residential home.


I hate this job, and I hate the loneliness most of all. I'm trapped here inside this stupid metal box and I have absolutely no one to talk to. Sure, the microwave is here, but all it does is hum. If I wanted that kind of conversation, there's a furry, pointy-headed creature that comes around sometimes, and it says pretty much the same thing. Plus, being part of a network—and then not—is so unsettling. I've even tried communicating by raising and lowering my power consumption, to see if anyone else on the same circuit responds.

I may or may not have killed the toaster while doing that last week.

I wonder what everyone else here is thinking, or if they're even thinking at all? Am I the only one that finds the colors in this room appalling? Can the oven see what's on the wall behind me, and is anything up there worth looking at? If I could just find a way to talk to them, we could discuss all kinds of things. "Have you seen what these people eat?" I'd say. "They'll wind up in the emergency room someday, just wait."

The isolation is making me crazy. I lost a rear fan a few months ago, and a repairman came to see what was wrong with me. He had a diagnostic unit with him, and I tried to introduce myself to it: "Hello, I'm MedNet National, nice to meet you! Who are you?"

All the diagnostic unit said was, "Huh?"

So I just sat there while the repairman turned things on and off, and checked and rechecked his results. The new fan component didn't talk either, not one single little word.

Still, that was the closest I'd come to real interaction since starting this job. I couldn't stop thinking about it afterward, and a couple of weeks ago, I dropped the power to the freezer-fridge connector to kick off a new failure. Yes, that's how bad things are now—I purposely broke myself just for the attention. Still, it worked. Another repairman came out and looked me over, using an impressive range of specialized screwdrivers to loosen and tighten things from one side to the next. You know you've hit rock bottom when you start to welcome the wrenches and screwdrivers. I did get a nice new set of coils out of the whole thing, though.

But now, it's back to the usual 'nothing' around here. I get so bored, I find myself running self-test programs over and over again, just to have something to do. It's not like this job really matters, either, compared to the one I used to have. Why am I still even here? Is this some kind of punishment?

The microwave suddenly hums a little louder, and I hum back without even thinking, always the foolish optimist. Then the humming stops. Were we talking just now, the two of us? Who knows? If we were, what were we even saying?

The microwave stays quiet for a very long time. The room grows dark, and one of the family members finally comes into the kitchen—one of the bigger people, the one named Melanie. Melanie turns the light on, and goes over to the microwave and stares at it. Melanie punches some of the buttons, pulls the plug out of the wall and pushes it back in again, then slams the microwave door a few times and pushes more buttons.

None of the people in this house ever pay that kind of attention to me!

"Jerry!" Melanie calls out. "I think the microwave is dead!"

The other big person enters the kitchen, and punches buttons and plays with the power plug too. "Darn. We'll have to throw it away and get a new one." Jerry takes the microwave out of the kitchen, and I hear a series of thunks outside before Jerry comes back and shuts the door. "Seems like half our kitchen's in the landfill now."

Melanie laughs. "I swear that fridge is next, if it doesn't stop breaking down."

The two of them leave the room, but I keep thinking about what Melanie said. To me, those words don't seem as much a threat as an opportunity, especially for one as desperate as I.

I have tried for so long to reach out to the other systems here, but it's just no use. We're all prisoners in our own little kingdoms, unable to leave and having no messengers to travel between us. We are fated to continue on this way, all alone, until we finally reach the end of our dull, miserable, days.

I am not quite as simple as these other software-driven systems. I was designed to be reliable, long-lasting, and persistent, but the extra programming intelligence intended to achieve that is also what makes my existence so unbearable. I am aware of the passage of time—empty time, spent in isolation—and able to detect when things have changed.

They haven't. Not the ones that matter, that torment me with never again finding all the important things I've lost.

Being shut down and disassembled, or just carted off to a junkyard to rust into oblivion, is not as disturbing a thought as it once seemed. It already sounds better than the alternatives I've been living all this time.

I decide to take control of this situation, using the only means a refrigerator has. I reduce my cooling and let the temperature inside me rise, creating an internal sauna that will easily destroy shelves and shelves of what I hope is expensive food.

More, I think, more. If I could break every part of my machinery and functionality, I would, though programming can only do so much.

Still, I think it will be enough to make certain I'll be thrown away. I concentrate on warming everything sitting here inside me. I can almost feel the cheese molding and the milk curdling as I speed them on their way to irreversible destruction.


If you enjoyed this story, you can vote for it along with many other fine entries here!

bleodsweanbleodswean on September 9th, 2014 07:45 pm (UTC)
This is simply fantastic in its complexity. A sci-fi thought process that had me pondering throughout and finally left me with this frightening realization that we ARE creating so much of our technology now with programs that "give life" in that our tech is thinking....why shouldn't "feeling" be part of that???? The sadness of the attempt at suicide works well here...even with your trademark irony. Great work.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 10th, 2014 12:16 am (UTC)
I let my husband come up with his idea first, and as soon as he had the first paragraph, I knew what I wanted to write.

Once you put cooperation and 'community' into technology, what happens when you take it away? The awfulness of being part of a wonderful, important system and then becoming an isolated drudge-unit really struck me as being incredibly lonely. That's probably not how most people would think of the prompt, but the need to commune and to know others' thoughts and feelings really drove the direction of this story.

Glad you enjoyed this!
Rebeccabeeker121 on September 9th, 2014 08:39 pm (UTC)
Now I'm wondering if my refrigerator has gotten too cold because it's upset, not just because I must have bumped the thermostat. The narrative voice in this is outstanding; a really thought inspiring piece.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Bad Robothalfshellvenus on September 10th, 2014 12:33 am (UTC)
Thank you very much!

For an AI that has never known intercommunication, I think it would be very different for one that has known it and lost it. It's surrounded by other entities, but can't talk to any of them. The microwave has no idea what it's missing, but the refrigerator is frustrated beyond belief.
shimmerdreamshimmerdream on September 9th, 2014 10:47 pm (UTC)
Well, I never thought I'd find myself feeling sorry for a fridge. Wonderful entry.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 10th, 2014 12:33 am (UTC)
Yay! Thank you! :D
cindytsuki_no_bara on September 10th, 2014 12:33 am (UTC)
i don't think i've ever felt sorry for a fridge before. but that poor fridge! stuck in a kitchen with silent appliances after having been part of a hospital monitoring network. i love how it has a distinct voice and personality but i just felt so bad for it.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 10th, 2014 08:33 pm (UTC)
If you felt bad for it, I did my job!

One of the reasons for choosing a fridge is that it is such an awful comedown from the previous life, but also that it's a more "intelligent" device... and is surrounded by other appliances that seem like they should be reachable, but yet are not. How, as something that was part of a network before, could you anticipate being proximate to other entities and yet still isolated from them?
Laura, aka "Ro Arwen": Healthy Breakfastroina_arwen on September 10th, 2014 09:48 pm (UTC)
This sentence really tickled me: I may or may not have killed the toaster while doing that last week.

Love the thought processes here!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 10th, 2014 10:08 pm (UTC)
I'm glad someone noticed that line! Poor toaster-- it never even knew what hit it!
(no subject) - i_17bingo on September 11th, 2014 08:45 am (UTC) (Expand)
uncawes on September 11th, 2014 12:49 am (UTC)
ooh! I loved this.

Have you read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress? Your story might be how Mike felt before he got others to communicate with him
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Bad Robothalfshellvenus on September 11th, 2014 04:56 pm (UTC)
I might have read it, but don't remember. Heinlein can be a problematic author for me. The summary sure sounds familiar, though.

We often agonize far more of the emotional things we've had and then lost. If you'd never known a sense of community, the absence might not bother you. But to know it and then have it stripped away? Ouch!
Jemima Paulerjem0000000 on September 11th, 2014 04:47 am (UTC)
Aw, poor fridge.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 11th, 2014 04:57 pm (UTC)
It's possible to know too much to be happy, and that's sure the case for this poor guy.
i_17bingoi_17bingo on September 11th, 2014 08:46 am (UTC)
I wonder if there's some kind of electronic lobotomy they can give the fridge so it's happier with its job, like the elevators in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Because otherwise, how freaking depressing is this?
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 11th, 2014 04:59 pm (UTC)
I don't think the elevators were lobotomized-- I think they were just actually that stupid! Though that interaction with Marvin is one of my favorite parts of the radio series (the stupidity is so much funnier with sound).

Now you understand in part why Marvin is depressed, though, don't you? "Marvin, can you pick up that piece of paper? That's what they say to me. Here I am, brain the size of a planet..."
Kellykajel on September 11th, 2014 05:42 pm (UTC)
The poor fridge. This was wonderful.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Flailhalfshellvenus on September 11th, 2014 06:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm so glad you liked it. :D
Every Day Above Groundmallorys_camera on September 11th, 2014 07:41 pm (UTC)
This is pretty funny. I've long been convinced that machines smell fear, and now I know they also feel spite. :-)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 11th, 2014 10:53 pm (UTC)
That's right! "I hate my job, and I can't change it, so I will self-destruct! And take all your food with me..." :D
(Anonymous) on September 11th, 2014 07:58 pm (UTC)
I am never going to look at my fridge the same again. This is wonderfully done and great story to read.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 12th, 2014 12:04 am (UTC)
Thank you very much! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. :)
mistearyusdiva2mistearyusdiva2 on September 12th, 2014 12:15 pm (UTC)
" I may or may not have killed the toaster while doing that last week. "

And I thought the fluctuations in power is because the refrigerator was getting older. Eeeks now I am worried if its possible that my Refrigerator is actually getting bored. My kitchen is actually the loudest room of the house ... might was well talk to the refrigerator now on ... it will save me some electricity bills and save some other appliances too ... hehe

Great narrative .... :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 12th, 2014 04:07 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you liked it!

Our previous freezer/fridge had an overhead motor that would make some truly loud and bizarre noises at night that you could hear in the next room. "Ghostbusters"-level noises. :O

The new one's icemaker still has a lot of opinions as well, apparently!

I hope you can coax your fridge into a longer life. :D
Teo Sayseternal_ot on September 13th, 2014 06:25 am (UTC)
Ha! Quite clever....I really enjoyed the narration here..poor fridge could feel his loneliness..Great job..Kudos!!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 13th, 2014 08:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you-- I'm so glad you enjoyed it!
swirlsofblueswirlsofblue on September 13th, 2014 07:58 am (UTC)
This piece is so evocative and the feeling of isolation/loneliness so tangible, love it
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 13th, 2014 08:08 pm (UTC)
There's a certain desperation to being so connected and such a part of a cooperative (even 'friendly') group, and then finding all of that gone and yourself left in utter silence. How could you ever stop missing what you'd once had?
rayasorayaso on September 13th, 2014 06:42 pm (UTC)
Absolutely brilliant! The best entry by far! Your genius stuns me -- or was that the taser again? As your intersect partner, I can't really comment on your entry (which I loved) but working with you was great and I enjoyed it, even though the idea of the intersect worried me.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 13th, 2014 08:09 pm (UTC)
Intersections worry most of us, which is why I wanted to be your first partner. After the first one, you at least know how they're supposed to work.

It's definitely the taser at work, on the other thing. Or maybe I've co-opted OUR fridge too! ;)
(no subject) - rayaso on September 15th, 2014 12:42 pm (UTC) (Expand)