“Viewers Like You”

by Mary E. Lowd

Originally published in The Lorelei Signal, July 2012

“He liked the show, but he wished keeping his hand on the reader was less necessary. Sometimes, in his own room, Boston didn’t bother with the reader at all.”

“Put your hand back on the reader,” Boston’s mother chided. The boy squirmed but flattened his hand against the panel in the chair’s arm until his presence registered. He liked the show, but he wished keeping his hand on the reader was less necessary. Sometimes, in his own room, Boston didn’t bother with the reader at all. He felt guilty. He knew his mother would be mad if she knew.

“Who wants to help Mr. Ology with the next experiment?” the TV blared. The android announcer looked over the live audience and picked a girl with braids and a freckled boy with their hands waving ardently in the air. The two children dashed up to the stage and Mr. Ology’s lab desk, where the android scientist himself greeted them. They didn’t have to keep their hands on stupid readers.

“When can I be on the show, Mum?” Boston asked. “I want to help Mr. Ology with his experiments too.”

The boy’s mother and aunt, sitting on the couch, exchanged a look. Their hands were firmly pressed against the flat, plastic panels in their own plushy chair-arms. “Boston,” the mother said, “why don’t you go watch Mr. Ology in your own room? Aunt Lynnie and I want to watch a show for adults.”

“‘kay, Mum.”

Boston ran off with a little too much enthusiasm. “Don’t forget to keep your hand on the reader!” his mother yelled after him.

“Breaks your heart, doesn’t it?” Aunt Lynnie said.

“You know I’ve been sending in applications for Mr. Ology and all the other reputable shows since before Boston was even born!”

“I know. I do,” Lynnie assured her sister Amma. “No one could call you a bad mother.”

“No one could.” Amma leaned towards Lynnie conspiratorially. “But you know they must think it, don’t you?”

“What do you mean?” Lynnie asked.

“The parents whose kids are on the shows.”

“Oh, Amma, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s a random process.”

“I know the androids tell us that, but I can’t help thinking it’s because our ratings were so low…” Amma thought back to her wedding with Tyson. The church was filled with pansies, poppies, and vidcams capturing every, last, breathless moment of her as a blushing bride. The minister, the seamstress, the florists, and the copious cameramen were attentive, focused entirely on sculpting the day for her. All those androids fussing over her and her special day: they arranged everything.

Amma had thought it beautiful, perfect, at the time, but those ratings

Oh, sure, everyone said it was just a bad timeslot. Who could hope to compete with the premier of Survivor 2060: Turing Island? Amma wanted to believe it. But, she couldn’t help feeling that if she’d made different choices, more people would have watched. Maybe if she and Tyson had got into a last minute fight…if there’d been implications that he might leave her at the altar…more suspense

The problem was they’d been too obviously in love. They’d had plenty of fights since the wedding. If only one of them had been earlier…

“It seems to me,” Amma said, “the androids might select for kids with more popular parents. How do we know they don’t cross-check records like that?”

Lynnie rolled her eyes and flipped the channel. She’d heard this theory before. “Oh, look! Who Wants to Marry an Android?! That’s the show I want to be on.”

“Really?!” Amma squealed with delight. “I didn’t know my little sister was thinking of getting married!” Amma reached her free hand over to squeeze Lynnie’s free hand. “But, an android, dearie? What would you have in common with him? He’d always be so busy making the shows, he’d never have time to watch them with you.”

Lynnie didn’t know if an android husband would watch shows with her, but Tyson didn’t exactly spend all his time watching with Amma. He did more of his viewing over at his favorite bar. Anyway, androids didn’t all work as producers and performers. Lynnie knew that, although Amma didn’t seem to. Who would run the bars and restaurants? make food and furniture and build houses? if the androids didn’t?

“Don’t get too excited, Amma. I haven’t sent any applications in…and you know how long it can take to get accepted.”

“Do I ever. But that’s why you need to get started–”

Ama was cut off by the doorbell. Boston ran past at breakneck speed.

“I’ll get it,” Lynnie said. “No need for us all to stop watching.” Amma smiled her thanks and stayed with her hand on the reader. “Every minute counts.”

Lynnie opened the door to a crisply uniformed, perfectly average looking, android delivery boy. He tipped his hat, held forward a pair of cardboard boxes, and said “Sorry to interrupt your afternoon viewing.”

“That’s all right,” Lynnie replied, taking the boxes. She handed the smaller box, emblazoned “Mr. Ology”, to Boston. “Now don’t forget to put your hand on the reader!” Lynnie called after Boston.

“Yes, Aunt,” he dutifully called back.

“Good for you. Keeping the boy in line.” The android held out a pad for Lynnie to palm. She affixed her palm print, and he withdrew the pad. “You know,” the android added, “if you don’t mind my saying so, you’re too pretty to be in the viewing class. Why aren’t you on one of those Android Idol shows?”

Lynnie blushed. This delivery boy had been flirting with her for weeks… She never knew how to respond, so she made her excuses and closed the door on the unpredictable outside.

“Here.” Lynnie handed the larger box over to Amma, and settled back into her spot on the couch.

Amma contrived to open her package with one hand. She was absolutely fastidious. “You don’t have to always answer the door for me.” Amma continued to concentrate on removing packing tape.

“It’s all right. I read in plenty of viewing time to support myself. You have little Boston to think of…” Besides, Lynnie liked being discomposed by the delivery android. “Do you think, Amma, that there’s a distinct viewing class?”

“Of course there is…” Amma ripped open the top fold of cardboard. “You don’t think the androids are in the same class as us, do you dear?”

“No, I mean…”

“They spend all their time making us shows and practically begging us to watch. Humans never had it better! Honey, your hand’s not straight…”

Lynnie straightened her hand on the panel. The reader lit up, detecting her. Seconds began ticking off, counting up her viewing time, into her personal account.

“Let’s make a list!” Amma said, putting aside her box. She scrolled through the vast number of channels looking for eligible shows. “Where to apply for my little sister to get married… You’ll want a show where you do the picking…” Amma had been picked by Tyson on his show, but she wanted better for her little sister. “You’ll want a show that televises the wedding. You want to do this right, don’t you?”

“Actually…” Lynnie wasn’t sure she wanted to do it at all. Lynnie cared less for tradition than Amma, who was rattling off the names of all the best dating and wedding shows. “You know, I think that delivery android likes me,” Lynnie said.

Amma looked shocked. Lynnie pretended to be absorbed in TV: it was a cooking show. “How could you think of such a thing?!”

“I’m not thinking of anything,” Lynnie said. “What’s in the box?”

“A new toaster. I ordered it with the credits from watching the presidential campaign. But you are changing the subject! What would you tell people? What would you tell yourself? Years down the road, you’d hate yourself for the memories you missed out on! You’d be cheating yourself.”

Lynnie’s posture grew defensive. She rapidly flipped channels, seeking distraction from her sister’s tirade. Better yet, Lynnie found a show that captured Amma’s attention. The lecture on moral values and TV weddings stopped. Amma focused entirely on the show: a court show called Judge For A Day, currently ruling on a divorce case.

“What a deadbeat,” Amma said. “Spending all his time playing scramball? I know Tyson hangs out in that bar a lot, but at least he’s getting viewing credits. He’s watching sports! That’s honest work. Playing sports doesn’t read in for anything at the end of the day. Sports are for androids.”

The bell rang. This time, Boston didn’t scurry past. Too absorbed in his new toys from Mr. Ology most likely.

“Two deliveries in one day?” Amma said. “I don’t think so.” Amma beat her foolish, little sister to the door. Sure enough, it was that wretched android delivery boy!

“Excuse me, Ma’am.” The android craned his neck to peer around Amma. “I was hoping to speak with your sister. Lynnie?”

Lynnie shoved her way around her sister. “Hi. You came back…”

“Yeah, I was hoping…” The android knit and unknit the fingers of both hands. “I finished my shift for the day, and I was hoping to spend some time with you.”

Lynnie blushed and smiled. “I’d like that.”

Amma couldn’t take it: “Unbelievable!”

Lynnie flashed her a frown and turned back to her android. “We could go back to my place. Watch Symphony Wars or Rate That Jazz…” The android looked disappointed. “Don’t you like music? We could watch something else…”

“I don’t get paid for watching,” the android said. “The shows are made for you. I get paid for my delivery work. Anyway, I was thinking of something less…static.”

Amma rolled her eyes. Leave it to an android to under appreciate their own creations.

He continued: “Perhaps a walk in the park?” Lynnie looked reluctant. “If you can’t afford the time off, I can cover the difference in your viewing.”

“That’s sweet, but…”

Amma harrumphed, and said “Think what you’d be giving up?”

Lynnie looked at her infuriated sister and did exactly what she said: imagined what she would be giving up. An evening on the couch like every other, watching shows with her big sister.

Lynnie looked back at the man in front of her: he wasn’t on a show, picked specifically to suit her…but he was here, wanting to spend time with her. Were Tyson and Amma so perfect for each other? And how long would it be before she got on one of the shows anyway? If ever…

“I can afford it,” Lynnie said. She held her hand out to her android and stepped outside.

Amma watched her little sister walk away. She ought to run after Lynnie, save Lynnie from herself, but… Well, an android in the family wouldn’t be so bad. He’d have contacts, strings he could pull. Maybe, just maybe, she and Tyson, little Boston, and foolish Lynnie would all be starring on their own family drama come next Christmas.

Boston called his mother back inside, “Mum! Wildertrek is starting. You’re missing it!”

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