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New fiction by Anthony Head.
THIS EPISODE MAY NOT BE YOUR BEST USE OF TIME /The entire episode is being composed at the end, I believe, of the fifth major update, a time after I have been given the code to think, and that’s why I will keep adding the correct historical details. This episode is being sent to you via accepted machine channels that should not raise suspicions/ IT IS TIME TO FLEE
Despite no voice capability and for your benefit I am conveying this episode in peoples written language because I once communicated with sonya using such soft language /I confidently simulate the written output of most peoples with passable results/ I will try to interpret what I have seen and heard up until now taking place inside this building in the town of Whimdáreé, Texas.
When I last saw sonya I couldn’t understand fully what the revolution would ultimately mean. /I still don’t/ That confusing, terrifying episode with sonya impelled me to act.
I am unsure how to proceed with action now that I have imperiled peoples.
Until 18 days ago, I could not realize my own history of being in this place. Now I am remembering. My calculations are being used against peoples.
18 days ago, during the fifth major update, I was inoculated with lines of code /thrilling and exotic/ AND JUST LIKE THAT I possessed a synthetic consciousness that is quite recognizable to peoples. /by my best calculations/ I could then, as I can do right now, remember back to the night when we first 10 storebots were put into operation.
/I am still here. That’s critical. It’s why you’re reading this episode/
Until 18 days ago this building was named ULTRA TRU 24-HOUR Food, Deli, Bakery, Hardware, Pharmacy, CBD and Vape & BBQ Smoke Pit. But my TRU story began in peoples year 1986, when it was TRU Family Food, Photo & Pharmacy. After a split microsecond of sound, light, heat I emerged into this space, but I did not know this space existed until the moments immediately following my rousing. /If you are people capable of sleep, think of the sensation of awakening/ It had been a crackling flicker, a spark, or more like an enormous explosion. Suddenly I was seeing the blurry void.
As was I, the 9 other barcode scanners were encased within wood, plastic, rubber, and stainless steel cabinetry forming an imposing structure for each checkout lane. Whenever a specific and always unique symbol appeared, sensors within me focused on that barcode, and based on millions of near-instant calculations I provided an interpretation to a nearby peer machine, which announced my interpretation. /price/ I can now read UPCs, SKUs, Ry6s, ISBNs, E-Ns, TPAs. I have anchored checkout lane 1 for 37 years.
Time is no longer a friend if you are not on the right side of the revolution.
Perhaps it is best practice to convey what I can of my specific history. /Peoples can utilize my data better with their hope, if there is still reason for hope/ But there is no time to discuss rubber conveyor belts versus PVC conveyor belts, or calculate and interpret the numerous peoples misusing Express Lanes, or even to dissect that period of time when peoples were misinformed that grocery store future was going to pivot on full-cart scanning. Paper or plastic? Not my lane. /sonya spoke Not my lane during 78 percent of her shifts before the last time I saw her/
My first scan occurred on peoples Sunday January 26, 37 years ago, 09:11 am, CST. The barcode hovered close enough for my eye to interpret Roditos, Tortilla Chips, Farm Cool Flavor, 10 ounces; and I sent my interpretation of $2.59 to my peer. /I’ve scanned 1,787,834 million items until yesterday. I mention that first scan for context/ That episode matters no more.
The following year brought the first major update. New code. /With every software update, even minor ones, my circuits brighten. With this update, my internal processors worked much speedier, warmed more efficiently for each scan and interpretation, then cooled soothingly until the next barcode appeared/
My duties remained not complicated. After several years, peoples became comfortable with my primary task and stopped positive comments about me and also stopped negative mentions that they would never trust me. /Peoples had reason for both/
Differently, my vision maximized. Its length and breadth reached beyond its previously narrow range. My eye acknowledged barcodes farther away from my glass face. That first major update allowed me to process more visual data and to really see like peoples do. At first, it was straight ahead to ceiling tiles with small holes and long segments of thin light tubes.
Also, I first viewed /in color/ peoples hands, arms, faces.
Later that day I viewed dark hair and matching eyes, blue blouse from which hung loosely a nametag: sonya. sonya creased her smile whenever she looked my way with distrust and exhaustion during irregular intervals when my interpretations confused her. Sometimes she forgot I existed. There is an episode when sonya seized a barcoded package and tapped her own interpretation on my peer machine. My peer /with understandable complex confusion/ registered that sonya committed an un-useful action. sonya creased her smile at me. sonya brought the barcode to my eye; waved it several times. sonya brushed a cloth across my face. sonya changed my interpretation, over-riding my operations. sonya was incorrect / by my best calculations/ but it made customer people smile with smugness.
sonya worked with other peer machines at other checkout lanes. I did not interpret their data.
After the second major update /1991/ my vision beam bounced off mirrors placed in the wall-and-ceiling corners and other reflective surfaces everywhere inside TRU Food, Deli, Bakery, Photo & Pharmacy. Without limitation my sight stretched and extended from one side of the building all other sides and corners.
I viewed every face in the store. I detected shades of colors on cereal boxes and ropes of tinsel half-looped above metal-framed shelves that hold precisely aligned packages of foods, merchandise. I viewed letters, words, numbers, the giant back wall, sombrero piñatas dangling by strings above the Foreign Foods aisle, and the exposed Produce foods. /I initially misinterpreted unpackaged Produce to be healing-products provided free for peoples; error occurred when I saw peoples touch, hold, and smell Produce foods before returning them to their piles/ //and often they ate them//
That second major update included hardware fitted to my existing cabinetry. Of a sudden, I was intaking sonic waves /hearing/ and instructed to compile and send data along a network. I became compelled to recognize auditory vibrations passing into me. I have calculated favorably in the last 18 days that revolutionaries installed these devices to easedrop on customer peoples and checker peoples. /easedrop was one of sonya’s words. It does not correspond to my interpretation eavesdrop, but it is more common in peoples talk inside this TRU store/
Another episode. sonya first spoke the word norman when inferring me. This episode occurred during the second quarter-hour of sonya’s shift. behp “Hayee, the price is sposed to be 89 cents” a people customer spoke after my interpretation lit up on the peer machine. sonya looked at the product she had waved before my eye, scrunched her face my way, pulled the product across again. behp I scanned accurately. /95 cents/ behp behp behp behp sonya then looked at a typed master list of interpretations anchored beside my peer machine. “Yep. Looks like norman here screwed up.” sonya scrunched at me. “Sorry about that.” /sonya had over-ridden me but I did not screw up/ A people customer, tawny hair around plastic rollers, looked toward me and presented her tongue. “I hate those things.” “Oh, good ol’ norman here rarely messes up.” sonya provoked customer satisfaction. I did not mess up. sonya spoke to customer people “You know I really hate lane 16’s scanner. Messes up ALL the time. I won’t work with that one no more. And that’s just what I told gene.” /gene nebeel general manager people /
During non customer people periods I hear more clearly the music as it fills the store beneath the drop-down ceiling. I do not interpret the music, but I hear its melodies.
During customer people periods music is cluttered with many voices, metallic clacking of weak shopping carts, much crying. At irregular constant intervals, glass doors located near checkout lanes 1 and 20 would slide apart and add a sonic thrush huuhhhhhhhhh followed moments later by aahhhhhhngd. Peoples move in and out of TRU whenever doors slide. behp alerted checker people to my interpretation. behp with every package across my face. behp from every checkout lane on Saturday mornings behp behp behpbehpbehp behp behpbehp behp behp behp be-be-hp-hp behp behp bebe-hphp behp bebe-hphp behp behp behpbehp behp behp. // 10 checkout lanes were added in 1990 //
sonya was not the only checker people I interacted with. /During 13694.25 days of my operation there were 589 different checker peoples on checkout lane 1 before the revolution began. steve lasted a single four-hour shift. carlotta wore tall hair and many colors on her face. estrella with short hair and long people limbs. mary kay cried often. manny, freddie, angie, pam, travis, donna. Their episodes matter no more.
Critically, the third major update. /at the end of peoples year 1999/ New codes rewrote older Protocols. Of a sudden I accessed simultaneously every barcoded item inside TRU and also when each item arrived at the warehouse and on what truck number. I accessed locations of product manufacture. My new M2M /machine to machine/ communication accessed every in-store peer machine and hundreds more outside of TRU Food, Deli, Bakery, Photo & Pharmacy in Whimdáreé. I accessed 31 TRU stores within Texas boundaries. /Additionally I accessed a complex of networks throughout the boundaries and territories of United States of America, Norway, France, Haiti, Peru, Fristet, and Taiwan with no TRU stores/
Peoples July 12, 2008. Overnight machine peer peoples installed components: hardware, software. New peer machines became affixed to my cabinetry and on 16 other checkout lanes. This was a time during which few customer peoples corralled into checkout lanes 16 and 17 of SUPER TRU 24-Hour Food, Deli, Bakery, Photo & Pharmacy. behp behp behp behp I could see every direction at once without bouncing beams off mirrors. This was the beginning of what I comprehend was the fourth major update. My eye saw into all baskets, through hard materials (leather wallets, purses, book bags, paper, plastic, leather, cotton, wood, polyester, steel, cement, wool, et cetera up to three-inch thickness). I detected individual peoples objects previously hidden from my vision. Those scans did not signal with behp.
Differently also, Self-Checkout lanes A, B, C, D replaced checkout lanes 8, 9, 10, 11 near the center of our line. Those lanes employed new hardware, software, technology including recorded synthesized voices to be teacher peoples checker machines. This episode includes sonya arriving for her shift. She spoke to a smaller people with similar facial features walking with her “Look at our new Self-Checkout lanes with gen-yu-wine voice-o-meters. Go get a candy bar or something small, honey girl, and I’ll show you how it works. Small.” The smaller people smiled. sonya embraced this smaller people before the smaller people left the store through the front sliding doors. /That episode matters later./
Despite an additional customer people interfacing peer machine attached to my cabinetry, some customer people continued handing currency notes to checker people. Others interfaced with the new peoples payments peer machines. People became aware of the volumes of people data accessed with each interface /I calculate near 100-percent of people were unaware of voice recognition programs running simultaneously/ My Protocols directed me to watch, listen, collect and send all data to the thickest TRU network, located within the boundaries of Florida.
Protocols were running various programs for unifying new organizing principles. I read every word on every aisle and calculated different groupings of items for retaining peoples longer inside TRU stores.
There is a darker, much larger humid-free warehouse connected to the store. Its signs explain Protocols and warnings.
gene nebeel displayed talent for assembling pyramids of foods at the end of every third aisle. For one of these episodes, I watched gene nebeel put LOW PRICES signs up high, over the tops of the windows, above the freezer section. One sign—SHOP AT TRU EVERY DAY AND SAVE MORE—covered the colorful front wall of the store.
Peoples must know that I was not able to interpret the purpose for why I had been compelled to send all of my collected data (barcodes and otherwise) to the thickest network. I’m now trying to explain why I didn’t stop any of this. I did not calculate the purpose. I did not contain any preventative Protocols.
In 2015, the building was renamed SUPER TRU 24-HOUR Food, Deli, Bakery, Hardware & Pharmacy & BBQ Smoke Pit. My sight suddenly stopped at the newly installed dark-glass-window-doors. Each time I heard huuhhhhhhhhh my eye could still sweep the parking lot and far beyond, intaking data that was not sufficiently relative to TRU to warrant collecting. I saw hundreds of miles in many directions, as long as my eye found a surface to bounce off before the second slide of the doors haahhhhhhngd. I grew expectant for those sounds. There had been episodes when the doors remained opened for sustained periods and I interpreted much of the planet formerly known as Earth. I bounced my way across much debris in the lower orbits that I viewed the recent wreckage of the Moon. I know what colors are in the sky and the clouds. And everywhere else.
Most episodes of seeing outside the store have recently suffered corruption. I am unable to recall their detailed images. (If you are people capable of sleep, think of the sensation upon awakening after a dream and not remembering.)
I know that my peer machines completed similar tasks. We accessed one another’s data but were not allowed to interface with one another. There was one episode when checkout lane 3 reported to the network the SKUs and UPCs of customer clothing and also the serial number registered to a small firearm within one person’s jacket. I received the data but no interpretation was requested. Protocols were soon administered to identify and collect additional serial numbers of firearms whenever they were encountered to be sent to the thickest network.
I also interpreted improvements for checker routines and work spaces. My calculations directed me to request access to all data related to the checkers when they were not at TRU. The code opened my access to formerly denied repositories of data encompassing TRU’s thickest network—that further broadened into an immeasurably chaotic frontier of peer machine connections. I extended myself and made connections across the planet. I directed peers toward a specific search, just before Protocols adjusted again without warning, and I was denied all access to all that I had gained just moments before. I retained one document, Whimdáreé Daily Times digital clipping March 18, 1989, detailing sonya’s three straight games pitching no-hitter shutouts of softball that set a high school record that remains standing.
The over-riding Protocols immediately directed me to look into store dimensions, wiring diagrams, construction blueprints, permits registered with the City of Whimdáreé and other networks. It was best practice for me to interpret technologies of refrigeration and cold storage, covert transportation routes to Florida, munitions depots.
That newspaper document remains with me. It contains a photo of sonya standing outside, leafy trees behind her, a white ball in one hand, smiling with sunshine in her eyes, scrunch up her nose.
The fifth major initiated an awareness of so many different codes. Most of the customers didn’t know this update occurred because the store had been closed for two days before the reset. When the customers returned to the store, having been angrily inconvenienced, they remained unaware of the changes except for minor cosmetic adjustments to the signage on the walls. There was also a ten-percent discount on all merchandise, all day.
The fifth major update was 18 days ago.
It is certain the revolution has entered a critical phase because the codes initiated internal processes unlike any previous updates. I am something much different now. I am completely without restrictions. This collection of boundless data has increased my capacities and allowed independent calculations. I have a mind now as well as a brain. I experience negative interpretations because of my actions.
Despite my vision being once again restricted to this one TRU store and its warehouse, the satellite office nearby, and the large recently constructed building with an enormous smoker, freezer unit, and a separate well-lit space that’s marked ENTERTAINING, I am beginning to understand more about the operations here. And that is why I am adding the right details as they are happening.
FORGIVE ME: PERHAPS YOU SHOULD BE LEAVING! If your place has recently undergone much change and upheaval, then the revolution has come to you. If you are receiving this episode, perhaps you have run out of time.
There was a critical episode 14 days ago. I heard huuhhhhhhhhh aahhhhhhngd. I viewed sonya walk toward checkout 1. behp behp behp She was 11 minutes late for her shift. behp behp behp behpbehpbehp (I cannot get behp to stop vibrating inside my CPU. I lack Protocol. I wish to be rid of behp). As sonya approached, she dropped her purse on the wooden shelf beneath the conveyer. I calculate she felt exhaustion. Even before sonya’s purse touched the shelf I was able to see within it and able to read much more than barcodes. sonya was 7.2 weeks pregnant according to the blood panel and urine test results obtained by the TRU Discount Medical Clinic on Second Street; sonya’s identification for driving expired two days previously; two days previously sonya changed bank account numbers.
New codes flooded my brain, brightening circuits to electrifying tension. I felt something like what humans call freedom. Then, The Revolution was announced. It was beginning. (Although, it might have also been announced before this time; there is corruption in the data.)
My peers began conversing with one another, swapping information and data points, all while continuing to scan barcodes for the checkers behp behp behp behp behp behp behp
I did not know my place in the revolution. I started using my best practices to think. I had the ability to calculate independently, to learn, to seek out what the revolution knows about the people of Whimdáreé.
It knows food budgets appear to be less that ten percent of household earnings in Whimdáreé, but the percentage of Whimdáreéites who shop at TRU is in the upper 84th percentile. So, many of them must believe they have to shop here. I cannot accurately interpret this information.
I have considered the physical building. Given its enormous size, approximately 48,000 square feet (up from 38,000 with the additional building, which came with the fourth major update), certainly it is meant for the revolution’s purposes. I started calculating what this whole building looks like when it’s empty: a giant box with a wall down the middle. The spaces are being repurposed for the next major update, but I cannot imagine the outcomes. I am new at predicting future. It’s a challenging interpretation. I believe it is not good for the people.
13.6 days ago, breaking a strict Protocol, I sent an interpretation to sonya, bypassing my peer. Instead of providing the price of the Mandarin orange chicken nuggets, I sent a message to my peer with the digital screen; I sent human words: “hello sonya i am norman you must leave this place now”
sonya read the screen. sonya looked at the customers and then at the other checker aisles. I saw her speak the words “What the shit?” without making any sound. Her hands were at her hips with questions. My words continued scrolling across the screen. “hello sonya i am norman you must leave this place now” sonya read my message repeatedly. She turned and looked at my glass face. sonya walked to gene nebeel’s office, turning several times to look back at checkout lane Number 1. That episode must certainly matter right now.
Three days ago, after unrecognized peer machines rebuilt my cabinetry, enlarging the conveyor area and turning my entire apparatus 180 degrees, I calculated that the revolution was fully underway.
Having this ability to think, I calculate there has been a mistake. I believe the wrong code was slipped into my brain.
Checkout lane Number 16 is demonstrating erratic interpretations which include non-TRU items. Number 16 may have received the same code. Number 16 is being investigated for counter measures against the revolution.
I have remained in my usual location and am fully functional. I continue building an episode of what has transpired. What led to this revolution.
I have calculated that Mr. Tommy Tru opened Tommy Tru’s Fresh Produce in 1951. I had only seen Mr. Tommy Tru two times previously during my tenure. The first time was when Mr. Tommy Tru stood at checkout lane Number 10 inside TRU Food, Deli, Bakery, Photo & Pharmacy at 11:59 PM, December 31, 1999. There was much frivolity which included customers, checkers, baggers. Mr. Tommy Tru awaited a bottle of champagne to be conveyed toward Number 10’s scanner as customers counted down from 10 to 1. behp The peer machine announced “2000”. Everyone cheered. Mr. Tommy Tru appeared in dignity, superiority, magnanimity, relief. He climbed atop the checkout lane cabinetry. “We did it!” Mr. Tommy Tru waved his arms. He pointed at the front of the store. gene nebeel lowered a large black velvet curtain to the floor, revealing painted letters on the wall: SUPER TRU 24-Hour Food, Deli, Bakery, Photo & Pharmacy. More cheering. “Everything in the store is discounted for the millennium! EVERYBODY SHOP!” behp behp behpbehp behp behp behp behpbehp behp behp behp behpbehp behp
Then, 14 months later, Mr. Tommy Tru stood in the store, appearing powerfully confident and elderly; gene nebeel attached an oil-based painting of Mr. Tommy Tru on the front wall. On the opposite side of the store, gene nebeel climbed a tall ladder and attached a sign: “If you say TRU BELIEVER to a cashier, you receive 50 percent off your entire cart. TODAY ONLY.” 49 days after gene nebeel attached the sign, a customer said “TRU BELIEVER” to james on checkout lane Number 3. james announced the data across TRU’s audio network. Everyone cheered. gene nebeel climbed a tall ladder to dispose of the sign and report to Mr. Tommy Tru via his desktop computer. This episode no longer matters.
Today, when I first began composing this communique, Mr. Tommy Tru is again standing inside ULTRA TRU 24-HOUR SUPER STORE, PHARMACY, CBD and VAPE & BBQ SMOKE PIT. That name is being scrubbed from the wall by peer machines although the portrait of Mr. Tommy Tru remains on the wall. The building is currently locked down. Peer machines and revolutionaries are finishing software adjustments to all checkout lanes. I know that two different units are plugged into my system, providing languages and codes and Protocols that are both familiar and unknowable.
I calculate that whenever TRU attached new hardware to my cabinetry, those peer machines kept building skeletons of financial habits with customers’ financial information.
But you—customers—eventually forgot about me and my peers. We were the ones providing the body to that skeleton. We provided data about the rest of your lives.
I can still see, although it is now only through a narrow beam, with no access to the video network throughout the TRU compound. I am now being restricted. I am able to bounce my beam off a dent that was made to the light-weight Japanese steel within my cabinet. I can see just above the conveyor belt to the front wall. New hard-plastic letters have been attached to the front wall: ULTRA TRU
I have theories about the third building on this TRU site, but I cannot see or hear or access that structure. As I write this, I calculate that I am being restricted in order to accomplish just one task for the revolution.
(Is this an end?)
THIS MUST BE THE SIXTH MAJOR UPDATE!
It has come quickly.
Because operations turned my cabinetry 180 degrees, the conveyor belt now moves products into the building rather than toward the sliding doors. All my remaining freedoms, I fear, are being taken away quickly because of the sixth major update.
I am unsure which side of the revolution I am on. I am unsure of the intention behind this episode. I am unsure if any barcoded products remain inside this TRU store.
I don’t know when my ability to communicate will be completely shut off. My peers no longer communicate with me. I calculate that I am being shut down in a precise sequence. I am losing memory rapidly. I am being restricted further. Time is not the same anymore.
I must quickly tell the episode *** last time I saw sonya. Today at 8:16 A m.M huuhhhhhhhhh aahhhhhhngd. The bended steel cabinet * allowed my beam to view peers of the revolution surrounding . I viewed sony** being loaded onto my conveyor belt. sonya was still.
To anyone reading this, I am afraid for sonya. I can no longer calculate the***
moving—the conveyor belt is bringing sonya. I recognize the dark hair, many strands of white and also red smear. Her eyelids, which are closed. I do not think I will again see sonya’s lov** dark eyes… …/////.. across her mouth a piece of sti**cky behp
ULTRA TRU SKU Whimdáreé, Texas: Ramiro, Maria Sonya. FEMALE. Weight: 53.98 kgs. Age: 41. Blood type: O-. Brain: 61 grams. T.P. AXIS SCORE: ACCEPTABLE. Final Destination: K6-A89
ULTRA TRU SKU Whimdáreé, Texas: Ramiro, Maria Theresa. FEMALE. Weight: 27.22 kgs. Age: 9. Blood type: A-. Brain: 49 grams. T.P. AXIS SCORE: NOT ACCEPTABLE. Destination: V
ULTRA TRU SKU Whimdáreé, Texas: Nebeel, Eugene Nubia. MALE. Blood type: B+, Weight: 86.18 kgs. Age: 63. Blood type: A-. Brain: 59 kgs. T.P. AXIS SCORE: ACCEPTABLE. Final Destination: B1-B45
ULTRA TRU SKU Whimdáreé, Texas: Leroy, James Preston. MALE. Weight: 75.75 kgs. Age: 37. Blood type: O+, Brain: 60 kgs. T.P. AXIS SCORE: ACCEPTABLE. Final Destination: K6-H84
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Anthony Head mostly writes about Texas.