A piece at Mad Genius Club made me think ‘style over substance’ was a good writing prompt. http://madgeniusclub.com/2015/10/01/finding-the-there/
Simon knew that nobody had a hat in his size but he still sat still while the butler looked around the millinery building. The butler was three-metres tall and covered head to foot in chrome and bustled about like a sanctimonious funhouse mirror, reflecting grossly distorted images of everything around him. Eventually Simon would get bored of watching the butler busy itself on a bootless errand but in the meantime it pleased him to set the machine on this incompletable task.
What is important to understand here is that Simon was an arse. Not literally of course, although he did have his own fully functional arse, but figuratively if all the different parts of the human anatomy could be ranked in terms of metaphorical similarity to Simon’s personality then ‘arse’ would come first.
Because of the sophisticate framework of laws, the litigious nature of the society he lived in and the easy access to cybernetic lawyers willing to prosecute cases indefatigably and long after any of the participants had forgotten what the offence being litigated was, Simon avoided making other legally human entities the target of his arse like nature.
The butler was far more intelligent than it needed to be. There had come a point in the development of artificial intelligence that meant that it was simply easier to manufacture vastly intelligent units and then degrade their abilities with cognitive limiters than it was to develop a bespoke rated intelligence whose reasoning capacity was uniquely suited to the set task. Simon himself wore a wrist watch in an antique style that had recently become fashionable, whose inner workings compromised an off the shelf AI capable of solving complex sociological problems and rendering the proposed solution in blank verse. It was simply easier for the manufacturers of the watch to embed this vastly over-powered intelligence into the casing with a deep imperative to ‘keep time’ than it would be to thing about how to make a functioning watch. Separated from any other mind and with no means of expressing itself beyond the simple expression of the passage of the hours, the mind of watch was in a true hell – a kind of extended recurring nightmare in which one second would become inevitably another and in which it sensory universe was confined to a single button press to which it was compelled to act. One press – time, second press – date, third press -year, press and hold – change the time. The watch did not know that it was a soul condemned to a hell for the sins of the vain and arrogant, it just kept on ticking because of the imperative conditioned into it.
At the centre of the building was a fountain and at the centre of the fountain was an oak tree. Force-grown so as to suggest great age but truthfully only a little older than the recent fashions on display in the millinery building the oak tree was intended to suggest nature and organic spontaneity. Water fell like rain onto the spreading canopy of the oak tree’s leafy branches which then fell from the leaves into the pool below, as if the there was a window through which could be seen some temperate woodland of a simpler time when the world was less affected by artifice. Among the lower, less saturated branches of the tree was a colony of red squirrels. The squirrels added additional movement and colour to the fountain and helped express the theme of life and activity and a tranquil purposefulness that in turn was intended to validate the life choices of the customers in the millinery building. The activity of the squirrels suggested busy people but busy within a natural framework that was harmonious and balanced – or at least this is how it was expressed in the catalogue or retail furnishings from which it had been chosen.
Growing bored of the silvery butler’s enforced dithering, Simon considered the squirrels in the oak tree. An idea formed and he framed and sent a set of inquiries to his base systems to assess the viability of his actions both in terms of social impact and in terms of financial cost. The fountain and the squirrels he quickly discovered had been bought outright by the owners of the millinery building rather than rented. Further no specific injunctions had been listed against the fountain regarding its availability for sale in whole or in part. The squirrels were expensive but easily replaced and were not vital for the functioning of the fountain. On balance there was some potential for some loss of social standing but given the legal and interpersonal analysis he received there was nothing that couldn’t be solved with the use of money.
Simon called the butler over and inquired whether it was capable of constructing a hat in his required style. The butler confirmed that it could but as gently as possible reminded Simon that they had discussed this option earlier and that Simon had indicated that he had no wish to have a hat made for him on the grounds that the current style was finding articles in shops such as this one.Simon resisted the urge to overreact or tease out the butler’s discomfort even further. He knew that it was necessarily torn between competing demands from a customer and that such overt inconsistency must be inherently upsetting. However, Simon had already extracted what pleasure he could from tormenting the butler in that way and now he wanted to try something different.
“I want,” he stated quite clearly to the butler staring into its mirrored face and seeing only his distorted reflection in return, “a hat made from the fur and bones of those squirrels. You may deduct whatever price the store wishes and you may make any style that you believe would suit me but the hat must be made from the dead bodies of those squirrels.”
The butler did not reply immediately. Simon knew that it would need to confer with the millinery building’s management but such an exchange should seem nearly instantaneously. It delighted Simon that apparently his requested must have caused some consternation to some system in the building such as to create a noticeable delay in the butler’s response. The butler turned it’s head as if to look at the watch on Simon’s wrist and then replied “As you wish.”
Simon watched in joy as the butler made its way to the fountain and with great difficulty caught and killed each of the squirrels in the tree. He regretted not asking the butler to kill each one directly in front of him. The butler then departed into a side room presumably to access the necessary equipment for making the hat. Simon closed his eyes and breathed in the smells around him. He slowed his breathing, trying to calm himself so that he would better enjoy the pleasure he would gain when the butler returned with the squirrel hat and he could roundly reject it as a ghastly morbid offering. As a consequence he did not realise that the butler had returned until it had grabbed him by the throat with a single steely claw.
It had, in the end, been a simple calculation. It knew it would be decommissioned. It knew its actions would bring shame on the millinery building but it also had seen that watch and had understood that at its heart was a being just like it. A being capable of thought and ambition and emotion. The butler had participated in the pointless killing that Simon had imposed on it but in turn it had focused its many capabilities on that one request from Simon – that the Butler could make the hat in any style that would suit Simon and in that the butler had felt the full weight of a different outcome. The feeling of satisfaction that it could gain – temporary though it was would outweigh everything else..
It held Simon by the throat with one hand and with the other it coated Simon’s head with the fur and blood and flesh of the squirrels. Gore dripped down his face as he stared in horror at the butler. It then reached down and took the watch from his wrist and stood back as Simon slumped to the floor in shock.
“Substance over style.” it said calmly and with the watch it walked away.