Knowing What to Buy
Mem strode down the aisles of Gainswell, Moss Bay’s largest department store. She’d gone up the aisle full of bath salts and bombs, turning her head to look at either side as she went. Then she reached the end, took a right, and went down the next aisle, which was shampoo, soap, and conditioner in plastic bottles.
With her steady speed and the way she canvassed the entire space, some of the other customers had mistaken her for an employee, only to notice her shopping basket. It was organized in layers, with a bottle of detergent, a box of chocolates and a cat bowl on the bottom, a tent in a box and a cellphone in a smaller box, a disassembled bird feeder.
The way she’d organized her basket, fitting items into its confines like puzzle pieces, was merely quirky compared to everything else about her. Her voice had a crackling quality to it, like she’d had the remnants of a cold for years. Her skin was smooth, and pale even for someone frostbitten by the winter weather. As her inexorable march continued up and down the aisles, like the mowing of a lawn, the customers and employees alike started to give her a wide berth.
But even robots could shop at Gainswell, as it turned out. And there was nowhere more efficient to buy Christmas gifts. With a simple glance, she could assess the quality of an item on sale and how much each member of her inner circle would like it. The methods she used, mathematical to the extreme, were once referred to as “artificial intelligence,” both exalted for their usefulness and lambasted for their weaknesses by different parties. But while Mem would agree that she was an artificial being, there was nothing more natural to her than knowing what to buy.
In fact, she felt a little bad for a few of the human customers, who she overheard saying “I don’t know what to get her,” or “he’s hard to shop for.”
She’d never had that problem, not once! Yes, Eleanor had been disappointed in one of her gifts last year, but every other gift she’d bought had been well-received. And now that she’d updated her gift-purchasing model, she was 100% confident in what she was buying this year.
Back at her apartment, Eleanor decided that feeding the birds outside her window wasn’t worth the trouble anymore.