The Matryoshka Curse. Ch 2

Belinda
Sophie and I go into my bathroom that’s covered in white tiles. All of the fixtures are chrome, and after drenching ourselves in our clothes by standing in the shower, we find out they are also sensored. Sophie and I stood in front of the shower head to look up at it, and lo and behold, the shower turned itself on, and sprayed coolish water all over us. We jumped back instantly, screaming out in surprise. James came running and stood in the doorway, wondering what the hell we were doing. We stayed away from the basin faucet and the bath tub after that.
“James – where’s my bedroom? We need to change.” I say, looking at the young man standing in front of me.
He rolls his eyes. “Upstairs.” And then he leaves the doorway, shaking his head. Sophie and I make our way upstairs where there are two bedrooms – James’s and mine and my husband’s. For such a large home, I assumed we would have more than two bedrooms. And what kind of house doesn’t have windows? It’s totally beyond me! Sophie and I peer into a room that has a large king-size bed covered in a light grey cotton 1600 thread count doona cover. “Very nice,” Sophie remarks, running her hand over the beautifully-understated and classy doona cover. “Hmm, it is very nice, isn’t it? I can’t believe this is where I live. It’s such a nice house!” I gush, throwing myself back on my bed.
“It’s beautiful. I wonder where I live though. And if I’m married, and if I have kids…” Sophie ponders, lying down beside me.
“I wonder how everyone got those chips in their heads and their hands. Did you see James talking to his dad? How he had his hand on his ear? It’s like – here – have an invisible telephone!” I say.
“I know! I saw that! Technology has come such a long way. I can’t believe the trains restrain you to one spot while in motion and then know which station you have to get off at. It’s a bit scary isn’t it?”
“It is scary. And what about how they float? Like they aren’t connected to the track in any way.” I say.
“Well, you heard what that lady said. They are driven by magnets. The magnets drive them. They’re kind of connected.”
“We should throw our mobile phones away.” I consider it quickly.
“Why?”
“Because I don’t think anyone around here has a phone. Not unless they’re an antiques dealer or something.” I say.
“Hmm, true. But then we’d need to get one of those chip things.” Sophie says.
“Maybe they have a computer here? I mean, we have…”
“Google it?”
“Yeah, I reckon we could google head-chips and see what comes up.” I say.
“That’s not a bad idea. But let’s get out of these wet clothes first.” Sophie says.

After we have dressed ourselves in the least-outrageous pieces of clothing we could find, and shoes that weren’t too quirky, we made our way downstairs and to the kitchen, where, everything was surprisingly familiar and not too foreign.

Sophie sits down at the plain black glass kitchen table and rests her elbows on the edge of it.
“Arrggghh.” She screams.
“What?” I go running over to the table to see that it has lit itself up like a giant ipad screen.
“Hello Belinda. What are you searching for?” The table asks me, all nonchalantly.
“Umm, head chips,” I say, calmly. The table scrolls through a few digital pages before stopping on a screen with some information in black typography.
“Are you a touch screen?” I ask the table.
“I am a touch screen. Touch the screen, and I will help you with anything you wish: reading the daily news, reading books, reading magazines, watching films, surfing the web, and much more.” The table says.
“What does much more mean?” I ask, intrigued.
“I can also act as a colouring book, a board game, a calendar, a diary, and your own personal secretary.”
“Really? Well can you please book me into whatever place I need to go to in order to have a head chip and a hand chip put into me?” I say.
“You’ll need to go to your local GP for that. And the closest local GP is one kilometre away from this address. Would you like me to book an appointment for you for the closest time slot?” The table asks.
“Yep. Make it as soon as possible. And, can you please book an appointment for my friend Sophie as well? She needs one as well.” I say.
“I sure can. What is your last name Sophie?”
“Bracken. Sophie Bracken.” Sophie says.
“I found you in my database.” The kitchen table says.
“Good.” Sophie says.
“Appointments have been booked. Is there anything else I can do for you Belinda?”
“How much will it cost?” I’m curious.
“The chips are free, as per the 2024 government medical chip scheme.”
“Wow, that’s pretty cool.” I say, and Sophie agrees.
“What’s the address for this place? How do we get there? And what time?”
“Go outside and talk to the car. The car will take you there now.” The kitchen table says.
“Oh okay. Do I need to take anything with me? Like a medicare card or something?”
“No. The clinic will know who you both are.”
“Ok. Bye table.” It seems like the best thing to say.
“Bye Belinda. Bye Sophie.” And it turns itself off and goes back to being plain black glass.

Sophie and I go outside and find the car floating above the grey paved drive way.
“Hello car?” I say, not knowing what to say or how to address it.
“Oh sorry Belinda, I was sleeping. Where would you like to go?”
“I have to go to the Upper Plenty Chip Clinic.” I say, and the car swings it’s door open for us. We climb inside, sit down, and the doors close.
“What is wrong with your current chip? They should still be active.” The car tells me.
“They got infected. I had to take them out.” I lie.
“Oh, I didn’t know that. And there isn’t much I don’t know.” The car says.
“I guess you would know everything.” I say.
“I do know everything. I know every place I have ever driven you, and every appointment I have ever taken you to.” The car speaks proudly.
“Well, thank you for being such a remarkable knowledge-keeper.” I say, not knowing how to compliment my own car.
“You are welcome Mrs Meldon. And might I just say, you are looking extremely young today. Have you had work done?”
“You can see me? You can see what I look like?” I’m gobsmacked.
“Of course I can. I have digital eyes. You know that.”
“Right. I forgot. Well, in that case, then yes, I had work done, but don’t tell my husband. He will kill me.” I say.
“I promise I won’t say a thing. Unless he asks me directly, and then I’m afraid I have to tell him. Are you ready to go?” The car asks.
“Yep, we’re ready.” I say, and the car wraps seat belts around our torsos and then buckles them into until they click, and floats backwards out of my driveway and down my street until it turns and we find ourselves whisked away further from home, before we can say marshmallow.
When we get to the clinic the car tells me it will wait for us in the parking lot, and I say good boy, to which the car corrects me, and tells me it isn’t a boy nor a girl, but simply is genderless, and I’m gobsmacked again. Sophie laughs hysterically.
There is a woman at the desk, who clearly isn’t human, but a robot made to look human.
“Hello, we have chip appointments for round-about now.” I smile.
“What are your names?” The female robot asks in perfectly friendly, and smooth lady speak.
“Sophie Bracken and Belinda Meldon.” I say.
“Right yes, your table booked these in for you just before. Please go and sit in booth number four. The clinician will see you soon.” The robot says, and turns her head to look at something else.
We sit down in booth four which is like a two metre by two metre glass room with two chairs and a hospital bed in it. The door locks itself behind us.
“That’s a bit fucking scary if you ask me.” Sophie says.
“Just a bit.” I agree, and swallow my saliva.
Shortly afterward a handsome young man with black hair and green eyes walks into the glass room, with a huge smile on his face.
“Chips again Mrs Meldon?” He chuckles as though it’s an every-day thing.
“Yep, sorry.” I say.
“How do they keep getting infected?” He asks me.
“I’m not sure.” I lie.
“Are you bathing them in the solution we recommend?”
“Yes. I am.” I lie.
“Infection is extremely rare nowadays Belinda. Your skin must be fragile.”
“Must be.” I lie.
“And you are?” He looks at Sophie.
“Sophie Bracken.” Sophie smiles and holds out her hand.
“I was gonna say! You haven’t been here before. I’d remember you if you had been.” And we can’t tell if he is hitting on her or not.
“No, I don’t live around here.” Sophie says.
“No, you don’t.” He chuckles, clearly bemused with himself. He is reading the screen above his hand that has just appeared.
“You live in Mornington. Database knows everything.” He laughs again.
“Mornington?” Sophie is surprised and shocked.
“Have we got it wrong?” He asks, his brows arching with uncertainty.
“No, it’s right. It’s right. Sorry, my tone was all wrong. I meant to say it in a tone that suggested I was confirming it to be true.” Sophie says, placing her hands tidily into her lap.
“Aha! Yes, you humans can’t help it. Your voices are quite imperfect.”
“You’re a robot?” Sophie asks him.
“I am.” He smiles again.
“You’re pretty goodlooking for a robot.” Sophie says.
“I am. And I’m also married. So let’s start this chip process, shall we?” He chuckles, and leaves the glass room. Sophie and I are in fits of laughter.
“Married? Robots can get married? That’s amazing!” Sophie says.
“You were so hitting on him.” I say.
“I was not. I’d never hit on a robot. That’s gross.” Sophie says.
“Yeah, it’s pretty gross to think that, well, you know. I wonder if humans and robots can get married to eachother?” I ponder before the doctor comes back in.
“You should know the answer already Mrs Meldon. Humans for humans and bots for bots. That’s the law.” He says, as he comes back into the glass room.
“Oh yes, I know. I was being silly.” I say quickly, so embarrassed that he heard me.
“Very well. Mrs Meldon, you’re first. Please sit up on the bed for me.” He instructs politely, with an air of flirt about him, however, he probably can’t help it, because he isn’t human.
“If you don’t mind me asking doctor, are you married to a woman or a man?” Sophie is so direct with her questioning.
“I don’t mind you asking, not at all. I have a husband. And I’m not a doctor – I’m a clinician. You know only humans can become doctors.”
“That’s such a shame. You’re probably smarter than most human beings.” I say.
“That I am, Mrs Meldon, that I am. I’ve paid a lot of money for my software, let me tell you. But laws are laws, and right now there are only a few degrees we can do legally.”
“That’s so sad. The government should realise you guys all deserve equal rights.” Sophie says, watching him stick a needle into the side of my head just behind my ear to insert the chip behind my ear drum. I don’t feel a thing, miraculously. He then grabs my hand with his hand, and his hands feel so real. They feel like real man’s hands. I can’t tell that he is a robot at all. I can’t decide if it’s magical thought or a terrifying one.
He injects the second chip into my hand between my thumb and my first finger and pulls the needle back out.
“There. You’re all done. Sophie, your turn.” He looks at Sophie who’s glaring at me for any kind of a reaction.
“It’s fine. It doesn’t hurt at all.” I assure her.
“Really? A needle that big should kill.” She says, sitting on the hospital bed.
“It doesn’t hurt. Not lying.” I say and smile.
After Sophie has had her chips injected into her, we leave the clinic and hop back in the car.
“Car, can you please take us to Sophie’s house? How long from Upper Plenty to Mornington?” I say.
“Thirty minutes Mrs Meldon.” The car replies.
“Thirty minutes? That’s amazing!” Sophie says.
“It sure is. What’s her address? It isn’t in my log.” The car says.
“Can you look her up?” I ask.
“Sure. What’s her full name?”
“Sophie Bracken.” Sophie says.
“One result for Sophie Elizabeth Bracken. 111 Eliza Drive Mornington.” The car says.
“That’s me.” Sophie says, the only Sophie in Melbourne named Sophie Elizabeth.
“Departing now. Get comfy ladies. Would you care for some music for the ride?”
“Hell yeah.” I say.
“Allow me to play the top forty for you.” The car says.
“Thanks car.” I say, and we are both wondering if we are going to recognise any of the artists who exist nowadays. We listen to an eclectic mix of songs by Blue Ivy, North West and South West, Harper Seven Beckham, Luna Teigen, Taylor Swift’s grand daughter, and the grandchildren of Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Zayn Malik and Justin Bieber. It’s a bizarre experience.
We arrive at Sophie’s house in Mornington and get out of the car. Her home is small with a cute landscaped front yard. She has a car floating in her drive way.
Sophie touches her hand to the front door and it unlocks itself and we go inside. Three cats, a tabby, a white one, and a black one come running down the hallway, and then weave in between her legs vying for her attention.
“Oh my God, I have no idea what their names are! This is just cruel.” She says, bending down to pat each one of them.
“Oh thank the Lord they’re wearing collars. Snowqueen, Ash, and Ginger. Wow, how original.” She rolls her eyes, and stands up.
“Hey – at least you have pets. I didn’t see any at my place.” A phone starts ringing. I look around the house for a phone.
“Sophie your phone is ringing.” I say.
“I can’t hear anything.” She says, looking at me.
“Oh shit. Maybe it’s the chip. How do I answer it?” I’m like flustered now because the chip inside my head keeps going off and I have no idea how to answer the call.
“Answer call?” Sophie suggests, thinking it may be voice controlled. And sure enough it is.
“Answer call.” I say, and James’s voice comes screeching into my ear for the second time today.
“Mum – where are you? You didn’t tell me you were going out. What are you doing? Are you safe?” James asks me hurriedly.
“Yes honey, I’m fine. I’m with Sophie. We are at her place. I couldn’t find you to tell you.” I lie.
“I was in my room studying.” James says.
“Good boy. That’s good to hear. I’m happy about that honey. Well I don’t know how long I’ll be. So yeah. Call me if you need anything.” I say.
“I will.”
“Are you feeling better now?” James asks.
“I am honey. It must have been the drugs they gave me this morning. I had some work done in the city.” I say.
“I noticed. No fifty-seven year old woman ages like that naturally Mum.” James says.
“No, they don’t.” I say.
“Dad’s going to kill you.” He says.
“No, he won’t It was very cheap. I didn’t spend too much.” I say.
“I have to go now. Have you got the car?” He asks.
“Yes, the car is here.” I say.
“Okay. I’ll catch public transport out then.” He says.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m gonna head over to Katrina’s place soon.”
“Okay,” I say, assuming it’s his girlfriend.
“Love you Mum.”
“Love you honey.” I reply, and the call ends.
“It’s so weird telling a stranger that I love them like I’ve known them their whole life.” I say, plomping myself down onto Sophie’s sofa.
“You have known him his whole life. Well, your older self knows him his whole life.” Sophie says.
“True that. I’m thirsty. Do you have any drinks?” I ask.
“I should. If I have a fridge, i should have some cold drinks, right?”
We go into the pristine marble kitchen where the cats follow us, and sit on the marble bench top, eyeing Sophie suspiciously.
“I bet I look different to them.” Sophie says.
“Yeah, the only thing that’s the same about you is your voice, and your smell.” I say.
Sophie opens the fridge to find an assortment of groceries inside, including the liquid kind.
“Excellent. I’m glad Coke is still around.” I say, opening a can of coke and drinking it quickly.
“Hmm, good thing.” Sophie says, opening a can and plonking herself down on a bench stool; the cats start meowing.
“I wonder what they want?” She says, watching them.
“Their dinner maybe?” I say.
“It’s only four o’clock. It’s too early, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know what time fifty seven year old Sophie feeds her cats.” I say, laughing.
“Hmm, and neither do I.” She giggles.
“You could always ask the kitchen table.” I say.
“Oh my Gosh. Great idea. Table, can you turn yourself on?” The table turns itself on and says: Good afternoon Ms Bracken.
“Ms Bracken… oh, I’m not married?” Sophie seems upset.
“You are not married Ms Bracken. Otherwise, if you were, you would have a husband. And you don’t have a husband because you live alone.” The table says, neutrally, not seeing how annoying it is being.
“Right. Thanks for the update. Okay. So why are the cats meowing? What time do I normally feed them dinner?”
“Normally, you would feed the cats now, Ms Bracken.” The table says.
“Oh, okay. And what’s my job?” She asks.
“You are a teacher.” The table says.
“A teacher? Wow. Teachers must get paid good money these days. My house is pretty nice.”
“You have a decent income Ms Bracken. Special teachers do. One hundred thousand a year.” The table says.
“Really? That’s awesome. What’s a special teacher?”
“A teacher for genius children Ms Bracken.”
“I teach geniuses?” Sophie asks.
“You do Ms Bracken.”
“Wow. That’s awesome.”
“If you say so. Was there anything else you needed to know?”
“Are my parents still alive?”
“No, I am afraid they passed away two and three years ago from heart failure, and pneumonia respectively.”
“And my brother?”
“He lives in the US, as you well know.”
“Oh, ok. Thank you table. That’s all.” Sophie says, and the table switches itself off, like it’s in some kind of hurry to go back to sleep.
“What a rude bloody table.” I say, and laugh.
“Who ever thought tables could be rude?” Sophie snorts and laughs with me.
“So my parents are dead, I live alone with three cats, and I’m a teacher of geniuses. That’s pretty awesome.” Sophie swigs her coke and says ah.
“I wonder what I do for work. I should have asked my table. Maybe I can ask your table?” I say.
“Maybe. But it might get pissed off for being woken up again.” Sophie says sarcastically.
“I don’t care. It’s a table for goodness sake.” I say, going over to the table to rest my elbows on it, the way Sophie rested her elbows on mine.
“Hello Sophie’s guest. How can I help you?”
“Can you look me up in your system and tell me where I work?” I say.
“I can. If your career profile is online. What is your full name?”
“Belinda Meldon.” I say confidently, not minding my married surname.
“Of which area?”
“Of Upper Plenty.” I say.
“Belinda Meldon, of Upper Plenty…” the table says, as though it is scrolling through it’s own internet source.
“You are a screenwriter.”
“Am I really?” I gasp.
“Yes, you are. You are responsible for many films. Shall I list them?”
“Can you print them off?” I ask.
“No, I don’t have a printer.” The table says.
“Oh, okay. Just display them here then.” The table displays a long list of films I’ve written. My first film was released in January 2020 and is called The Night. My most recent film was released in theatres two weeks ago in May 2046, and is called Leather-bound.
“You’re a writer.” Sophie exclaims.
“I am. Can you believe it?”
“Maybe your husband isn’t rich. Maybe it’s you who’s rich?” Sophie says.
“Maybe. There are at least thirty films here.” I say, immensely proud of myself.
“Table, are my parents alive?” I ask.
“What are their names?”
“Geoffrey Fremia and Pixie Fremia.” I say.
“They have both passed away Mrs Meldon.”
“Oh, that’s wow. That’s a lot to hear. How long ago?”
“Ten and seven years ago.”
“Wow, I was only forty-seven and fifty years old.”
“You were Mrs Meldon.”
“You can go to sleep now. I don’t need anything else.” I say.
“How will you go to work on Monday? You won’t even know what film you’re working on.” Sophie says.
“This is where my kitchen table is going to come in handy. It is going to teach me a hell of a lot.” I wink.

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