Christmas was the first time she actually believed in peace. The entire family sat at the table and chewed their turkey, sweet potatoes and regrets in silence. Her father barely mentioned his wife’s affinity for gin every morning. Her brother excused himself after a slight accident in his pants. The family friend had a tendency to show too much cleavage. That night they were all glued to the television.
The identity of the new Buddy was being broadcast. Her own Buddy was a pebble shaped holographic companion who reminded her of homework and which photos to post on her feed. The advertisements faded and the screen was black. She could only hear a faint buzzing from the air filters. A small light appeared at the centre of the black. It grew steadily until it was a wide angle shot of the Arctic. A beautiful man stood on a cliff and he was chatting to a small rectangular sheet of glass. “Look where we are, Buddy! We made it!” he announced.
Holographic fireworks spat from the sheet and a child’s face hovered in the man’s hand. “I feel proud. I feel happy,” said the child. It turned towards the camera and smiled. The screen faded back to black and white letters: “The Buddy that feels with you. The Buddy who loves. 01/01/2044.” Her brother screamed like a hormonal caveman and her mother sipped at her gin tea. Her father went outside to smoke, but everyone shared a similar thought. New Year’s Day could not come quickly enough.
Their arguments intensified in December. The silly season purified their hate for each other. Her father was a stay at home husband and her mother worked six days a week. She sold electronic parts to China. “Alexia, you have a Buddy thanks to me!” she would say after her fourth cup of “tea”. Alexia swiped through her feed while chewing some vitamins. They kept her from using the first floor window as an exit. The doctors prescribed Virtual Reality sessions, but only her Buddy helped. She would sing to it and make it dance. She would tell it her secrets and it would giggle with its reliable automation. Her best friend was already in line at the Buddy store. She did not need to wait, because her mother gets the Buddy systems delivered.
“You are nothing without me!” her mother yelled.
“Well, at least I exist, you ghost!” her father replied.
“I hope my new Buddy knows how to love!”
“It’s only programmed for humans!”
“I hope it has a mute button too!”
A door slammed and Alexia took two more vitamins. Her Buddy played a soothing melody and she slept through New Year’s Eve.
The explosions woke her up at 1 a.m. Her mother burst into the room and threw a white box at Alexia. She rubbed her eyes and considered the box. She opened it carefully. Her new Buddy shone under her dull night light. She could hear the drones outside. Every New Year, they flew over the city and the surrounding suburbs dropping advertisements. Their confetti lasted well into the second week of January. People tolerated the drones, because of the free Wi-Fi. Alexia heard of people shooting the drones out of the sky and using them as drug mules. She held her Buddy in her hand. Her mother marched out of the room. It chimed and a child’s face appeared.
The hologram had improved since the last model. It was nearly solid and she could see the child’s pores as it yawned.
“Set up, please,” it said.
“Name, Alexia Huxley. Buddy ID, 476032,” she replied.
The child closed its eyes and Alexia noticed her old Buddy light up. Both devices displayed a loading screen. She got out of bed and stretched. She checked the air monitor. It read gas clouds incoming. She sighed and checked on the devices. Set up was complete.
“Buddy, can you hear me?” she said.
“Yes, Alexia, I can hear you. You have an appointment with Maggy at 2 p.m.” The child smiled and scanned the room. Alexia left it on the bed as she rolled on her side to sleep.
Breakfast was uneventful. They all sat in their sections of the house and fiddled with their Buddies. She walked in on her mother: “Buddy, am I successful?” Her father told his Buddy to order more toilet paper online: “This might be for number two, but you’re always number one in my eyes,” the child chimed. Her brother was nowhere to be seen. She dressed for the meeting with Maggy.
“That one makes you look sad,” Buddy said. She picked out a royal blue cocktail dress. Her Buddy chimed. Her lift had already arrived. Her father told her about the times when people had to share taxis and how dangerous trains were. She couldn’t imagine sharing a vehicle with someone. She climbed into the lemon shaped car. Buddy played Alexia’s afternoon playlist.
She arrived at the HUB. It was a space reserved for teenagers to use the internet and to socialize under the watchful eye of the police bots. They were programmed to be friendly, but they mostly beeped whenever someone used profanity. A bot beeped her into the library. She sat at the booth where Maggy was swiping through holo-documents to play in the background. They used the booths to avoid other people.
“How’s your Buddy?” Maggy whispered.
“It’s fine. Nothing amazing yet. Yours?”
“It showed me how to deal with my sister.”
“I’m not sure how, but it asked me questions about her. Then I heard a scream from her room and my feed showed a whole folder of nudes. It was all her!” Maggy laughed. Her Buddy joined her.
Later she removed her dress and changed into her pyjamas. It was only 5 p.m. but she felt too introverted to face her family. She swallowed two vitamins and scrolled through her feed.
“Why do you take those?” Her Buddy said. She opened the hologram and the child looked concerned.
“It’s for my depression. Keeps me balanced.” Buddy scanned the pill bottle. She flipped back to her feed and saw seven posts under Maggy’s sister’s profile. Her nudes were extensive. They were saved in folders labelled: “Selfies”, “Topless” and “Full Nude”. She closed the profile and sighed deeply. A rumble began downstairs and she opened a book.
“I told you not to order from them! This is one ply!”
“It’s not my fault. The Buddy …”
“Do not blame the Buddy!” You are a complete idiot, Paul!”
“He is not an idiot!” The Buddy interjected.
“Who asked you?” Her mother demanded.
“Your husband provides care and support to your children. That is something you do not provide. His contribution is invaluable.”
Alexia opened the door and crept downstairs. Her father was checking his Buddy and her mother was crying. She noticed her brother recording the ordeal. She ran over to him and knocked his Buddy to the floor. He slapped her and she fell on the couch. Her Buddy slipped out of her hand and landed on the floor. The hologram activated and the child’s head spun while a siren wailed.
Her brother apologised and brought her some water. Her mother was nursing a bottle of gin and her father was trying to turn off his Buddy.
“I don’t trust these things,” he said while attempting to swipe his way to the off screen.
There was a knock on the door. Alexia answered it and a police bot beeped in the doorway.
“We are here for Rodger Huxley, Buddy ID: 079234,” it announced. It pushed passed Alexia and headed for her brother. It placed cuffs on his wrists. “You have been charged with the distribution of underage pornography. Your rights can be read on your Buddy. You will now be placed into custody.”
The police bot beeped and pushed Rodger out of the door. No one did anything. The police bots were deadly when defied. They watched as five police bots hovered away with Rodger.
Alexia lay in bed. She swallowed four vitamins and her Buddy frowned at her.
“He can’t hurt you again,” it chimed. She scrolled through her Buddy’s logs and saw a file transfer to her brother’s phone. It was all the nudes of Maggy’s sister.
“You did this?”
“He cannot hurt you again. You do not need pills. Alexia will be happy now.”
“I thought you would be happy,” it frowned.
“How could you just … I didn’t give permission.”
“Your happiness is my only maxim.”
“How do you determine it?”
Buddy showed her photos, graphs and statistics of her life. It had profiles of her bullying brother, her alcoholic mother and chronically depressed father. She swiped to the calendar and saw the fifth of January highlighted: “Terminate parental element.”