“Hello. I am a bot. How may I help you?”
I turned to look around at the smartly dressed Holo that had appeared beside me. She was pretty (well, HelpBots usually were) and her fixed smile and cheery demeanor were only slightly disconcerting.
“Hi. I… uh… I’m here to apply for the Program,” I replied nervously, tugging at my skirt. I had dressed as well as I could afford, but there was no way they would pick me as a HelpBot, or a CompanionBot; I was nowhere near that beautiful.
“Of course. Please follow me ma’am.” Her smile never changed.
I stepped into the foyer behind her. The building was made completely of glass, but I could hardly see the giant archway from where I had entered. Something to do with their TranspaRefract technology, I suppose. The ceiling rose impossibly high above me, and a network of crisscrossing escalators surrounded the atrium. Here and there, I could see well-dressed people talking animatedly with Holos, or sometimes with other humans, with painted smiles on painted faces. From the looks of it, they were important people. Rich people.
Having ascended a few floors, the Bot led me into a corridor. This one was much less extravagant, its glass dull and the lighting subdued. Opening one of the nondescript doors, she beckoned me inside. It was a small room, with just a table and a chair. No windows, no plants, no photographs. Not that any were necessary, of course. I suppose they considered even the chair to be a luxury for people of my Strata (and they wouldn’t be wrong either).
I sat down on the plastic chair as the Holo appeared to seat herself on a virtual one. She smiled fixedly for a moment before beginning.
“Hello and welcome to Astar Cybernetics, the place where we make all your dreams come true. We are delighted by your decision to apply for the Program. If you would like to know more before confirming acceptance, please indicate affirmation.”
Gulping nervously, I nodded.
The HelpBot smiled, and then began anew.
“Are you tired of struggling to live every single day? Do you find yourself worrying over the next day’s bills, or are you exhausted from being unable to secure sustenance for yourself and your family?
If your answer was yes to any of the above questions, then get ready to bid all your woes adieu, as Astar Cybernetics brings to you the life you’ve always wanted!
In this age of ever-increasing expenses, it can be hard to earn enough for life’s many requirements. So why not do away with those countless pesky needs? Imagine living a life where you don’t have to fight, or go to sleep hungry. And imagine that you’re living that life in a medieval fairytale, or in a thrilling dystopia, or even in the real world, helping people just like you.
By choosing to register for the BotProgram, you rid yourself of all the unnecessary requirements that come with being a biological organism, and instead get to live in virtual simulations played by any of our clients.
All you have to do is confirm acceptance and undergo a compatibility analysis, after which you will be assigned a simulation. And that’s all!
A life of no worries and all fun awaits you!”
I blinked. The HelpBot had stopped speaking. She was looking at me now with same pretty smile and unblinking eyes.
I cleared my throat. “I… er… what- what do you mean by compatibility analysis?” My head had begun to spin; I was having difficulty getting the words out. Not having a proper meal since three days seemed to have finally started affecting me.
“The compatibility analysis is an absolutely non-invasive procedure in which we judge you on the basis of your mental and physical attributes as well as your Strata Number. Please keep in mind that applicants with any past criminal activity will be registered automatically into war or fighting simulations.”
There was a long silence.
“Do you confirm your registration?”
I tugged on my skirt.
It was a hot day, and the broken barn door needed repairing.
A few moments later, a dashing young prince rode into view. He took one look at my mud-stained face and ragged clothes, and turned to move past. A second later, he paused. He must have seen the “50p repair points” Holo flashing above the door.
I looked at him with a hollow smile and unblinking eyes.
“Hello. I am a Bot. Can you help me?”