This feeling of exhaustion hits suddenly — the weight of your full existence apparent in your every motion, every breath. You try to explain it away as being rundown. All you need is a good night’s sleep. Then your nose starts to leak. Your body begins to ache. Your head is a balloon ever expanding. You can sense this terrible thing emanating somehow, the sickness transcending your skin like an aura.

Then you experience your first sneeze.

It’s happening. You’re forced to come to terms with it again. You wait for the terms.

It always strikes right before something important — a meeting, a date. And you think…they know so much more about you than you do them. You wait for the call now. You’re at their mercy. They’re just making you feel their leverage, imposing their power. They let you suffer for thirty minutes to an hour before your phone rings.

“Hello?”

A woman with a chipper voice greets you. Behind her plays delightful chamber music. It’s almost as though this weren’t a shakedown. She’s professional and courteous.

“Is this Mr. Reznick?” she asks, as though she doesn’t know damn well it is.

“Yes…”

“It seems you’ve become ill,” she says.

“I have.”

“Do you need us to reboot your system?” she asks.

The pretense is infuriating.

“I can see that your veins are constricting, Mr. Reznick. Are you okay?”

You cover the receiver and breath deeply. There’s no reason to be rude to the customer service person. She’s just there to help.

“Yes, I’m fine. I would like a reboot please.”

“Are you okay authorizing the one-time fee of three-hundred dollars for this reboot?” As though it were a one-time thing and not a transaction you’ve already paid for several times. A happy accident.

“I am.” You grit your teeth and bite your tongue. They have everything. Even your rage.

You close your eyes. The nano particles in your blood stream have targeted the problem.

“It shows here that the nano particles have targeted the problem,” she says.

Un-fucking-believable.

Like a switch the symptoms are gone. The particles have destroyed the virus in seconds. Like a miracle of science. Or a thinly veiled hustle. Even if you wanted desperately to believe it you couldn’t.

“It looks like you’re feeling better now,” she says.

You agree, even though really you’ve never felt worse, your body utilized as a product.

“Much,” you agree.

“At the end of our call there’s going to be a brief survey and we’d really appreciate it if you’d take a minute to answer the questions.”

It’s a veiled threat. You don’t say no to a person with a gun to your head.

“Right.”

The questions assume that you don’t know what is going on. You wonder if there really are people out there who don’t.

“On a scale of 1–10, how would you rate your experience with us?”

As though this were a service and a choice, instead of a technology injected into every newborn child.

“Ten.”

Imagine having to thank a mugger for the experience.

“Where do you think you caught your virus from?”

They actually fucking ask that. As though you just happened to be out in the world and catch a cold, like it was the 21st century or something like that.

“The subway. I got my virus from the subway, a common place where humans are huddled together.”

You’re piling on the bullshit now. Giving them everything they want. This isn’t a transaction. It’s a stick up.

“How friendly would you say the operator was?”

The operator was a fucking robot.

“She was courteous and kind. Never grew impatient. We had a very nice, organic conversation.”

By the time you hang up you’ve forgotten entirely about your date. It’s entirely possible they’ve come down with their own mysterious illness and forgotten all about you.

Your veins are constricting again.


Andrew Dolbeare is a writer and editor, living in Chicago. Most recently, he has had very short fiction appear in Nanoism, and longer fiction appear in The Oddville Press. He is on Twitter @adolbeare.