Fit to be Tied


Russell Hatler

Franklin Farnsworth the Third was an unapologetic geek. He was also a closet fitness freak. He’d never married although intellectually he understood that there were obvious financial and emotional advantages to an interpersonal relationship blessed by the State as well as the Church. He’d just never had the time or the inclination to explore those advantages himself. He supposed he liked girls but that was about as close as he’d come to investigating the issue. Franklin had other fish to fry.

Back in the day when he worked as an IOS systems programmer for Apple, Franklin had come up with an idea for a sophisticated alternative to the Apple Watch. Instead of a device that could be worn on the wrist, Franklin’s concept was incorporated through a pair of tortoiseshell, horn-rimmed spectacles. The nerdy eyeglasses were Bluetooth-paired to a ratty orange cap that said “Who Farted” across the front. Underneath the ragged exterior lurked the artificial brain of his invention. The prototype was really nothing more than a jumble of interconnected silicon processors and memory chips sewn into the crown of the cap, but Franklin had high hopes for the production version of his invention. It was gonna be Boss!

He called his invention the Chrontonicker. The original aim of the Chrontonicker had been to improve the health and fitness of the wearer. In addition to gathering vital signs (pulse rate, blood pressure, body temperature, blood oxygen levels, cerebral activity) his magic hat transmitted the metrics to the cloud where a group of personal trainers and medical professionals correlated the real time metrics with a set of historical fitness profiles as well as optimum performance metrics for the wearer. Subsequent feedback informed the client of the parameters for his/her workout regimen for tomorrow.

But fitness was only the tip of the iceberg. When the wearable device was activated, the lenses of the eyewear became twin monitors. One component displayed the current time, accurate to within ten milliseconds. A built in GPS displayed a map showing the precise geographical location of the wearer. A musical component streamed audio from a playlist selected by the wearer. There was even a visual component that gave the wearer access to all manner of video content from 2D to 3D all the way up to VR. All manner!

Communication with the contraption was through a command-driven, artificial intelligence bot named Boris. And Boris was moody.

Franklin had been in the process of arranging financing for the venture when he was kidnapped by a trio of masked hooligans. Now he found himself in an enclosed echo chamber that smelled of damp earth and decay somewhere in Silicon Valley, blindfolded and groggy with his hands trussed tightly behind his back. All things considered it wasn’t shaping up to be the best of all possible Friday afternoons.

“Boris?” Franklin croaked.

The tiny speakers embedded in the temples of his horn-rimmed spectacles crackled. Then a heavily accented Russian voice answered.

“Yes, Natasha?”

“I’ve asked you a thousand times not to call me Natasha.”

“You prefer I should call you Frankie?”

“Natasha will do,” sighed Franklin. “Where are we?”

“I have no idea, Natasha,” replied Boris. “The concrete walls surrounding us block the signals from our GPS satellites.”

“Where were we when you last received a signal?” asked Franklin patiently, remembering how precise the question had to be.

“At the entrance to an underground bunker near the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center,” replied Boris. “That’s SLAC to you. A few hundred yards north of Junipero Serra Boulevard.”

“Is it dark in here?” asked Franklin. “I can’t see a thing.”

“Here, let me toggle on the camera and take a peek. Swivel your head around if you can. The camera lens is perched behind the lowercase ‘o’ in Who Farted. You have a strange sense of humor, Natasha. Nope. Black as the ace of spades down here. Any other brilliant ideas?”

“You might untie my hands.”

“You didn’t provide me with any digital appendages, Natasha. Even an extendable aluminum arm with fingers on the tip would’ve done the trick. I’d say that was poor planning on your part.”

“Who knew we were gonna be snatched?” blurted out Franklin defensively before he realized he was arguing with a bot. “What can you do to rectify the situation? Hang on a second. I just realized my Apple Watch is missing. Those bastards must’ve taken it. Probably thought it was the Chrontonicker prototype. I think Hayden Wiest is behind this whole thing.”

“The venture capital firm on Sand Hill Road?” asked Boris. “You sent them a query email a month ago, but you never heard back.”

“I have a bad feeling this is their reply,” said Franklin. “Maybe I said too much in the query email.”

“Shut up and let me think, Natasha.”

The circuit went dead. Twelve and a half seconds later Boris came back online.

“I’ve finished mapping the bunker. I have good news and bad news. Which do you want to hear first?”

“Give me the bad news,” said Franklin.

“There’s no way out. The only entrance to the bunker is through a hatchway located on the ceiling fifteen feet above your head. The hinged cover to the hatchway is closed. There used to be a ladder that reached from the floor to the ceiling. I can see traces of its footprints in the dust. It’s no longer here. They must’ve pulled it back up when they left.”

“How can you see anything if it’s dark inside?”

“There’s a trickle of light seeping around the hatchway cover and I’m using the night vision camera lens. The hatchway cover used to be sealed tight when the bunker was built to keep out as much radiation as possible, but weather and time have compromised the original gasket material. Now the hatchway cover leaks.”

“What’s the good news?”

“There’s enough air seeping through the perimeter of the closed hatchway that you won’t die from suffocation. No immediate problems with food. You can go a good thirty days without eating. You won’t die from dehydration for at least forty-seven hours according to the vital sign metrics we harvested at 4:00 this afternoon. Forty-eight if you stop talking. You skipped lunch at noon and haven’t had any water to drink since early morning. The beer you drank last night doesn’t count.”

“Any more good news?”

“I found an active landline on the far wall. There’s a princess phone on the floor. If you can scoot your sorry butt over there and knock the receiver off the hook, I can probably simulate the tones that initiate a phone call. It’s very old technology but it might work. Do you want me to phone anybody?”

“You could do that?” asked Franklin with the slightest hint of exasperation. “Why didn’t you say so in the first place?”

“You wanted the bad news first, Natasha. Don’t shoot the messenger.”

“Is there any other bad news?”

“My batteries are down to seven percent, but I think we’ll be okay if I’m able to complete the call. Well, I’ll be okay in any case. You’ll probably be toast if I fail. Who do you want me to call? Do you have a favorite aunt?”

“Call the Menlo Park Fire Department,” said Franklin urgently, beginning to scoot. “And please hurry.”

Franklin found he was able to make good progress if he kept his back to the wall and used his legs for leverage. Before long he’d reached the spot where Boris said he’d seen the princess phone. He made a final lunge and knocked the receiver off its hook. To his relief he heard a faint dial tone.

“I’m down to four percent on the batteries, Natasha. Dialing now.”

Boris emitted a series of high-pitched tones. A disembodied female voice answered the call.

“How may I help you?”

“Thank God you’re human,” wheezed Franklin. “I’m trapped in an underground bunker a few hundred yards north of Junipero Serra Boulevard. Can you please have somebody come out and rescue me?”

“I’m sorry that’s not in our jurisdiction. I can give you the number of Palo Alto Search and Rescue services if you’d like. Do you have a pencil and paper handy?”

“Can you transfer the call please,” begged Franklin.

“I can surely try. Here’s the number in case we get disconnected.”

There was a triple beep followed by a dial tone.

“Did you get that, Boris?”

“Sorry, Natasha, my batteries are exhausted. I wish you the best of …”

“Boris? Boris?”

But all Franklin could hear was the whisper of a slight breeze kicking up outside and the pitter patter of raindrops on the hatch cover. Strange to have rain this time of year. And suddenly Franklin regretted never having married. Although truth to tell things might have worked out the same way. You can’t count on anybody these days. Not even a Goddamned bot!