Home Stories One on Each Shoulder by James Rumpel

One on Each Shoulder by James Rumpel


Lanny Powers is delighted to receive two Personal Assistant Bots in the mail, but how will they improve his life? By James Rumpel.

Image generated with OpenAI

Lanny Powers had just given up on trying to reach level twenty-four of Dungeon Journey and was preparing to head to work when the indicator light above the door of his apartment began to flash. A delivery drone was dropping a package into the intake port.

Lanny furrowed his brow. He wasn’t expecting anything. The two pieces of toast and bowl of cereal he ordered for breakfast had been delivered over twenty minutes ago and he didn’t recall ordering anything else.

The light turned green. The delivery was complete. Lanny glanced at the time. He could wait a few more minutes before leaving for work as long as he didn’t stop for his usual six-pack of energy drinks.

Inside the port, he found a package, about the size of a shoebox. It was wrapped in plain brown paper. His name and address were prominently displayed on the digital label but there was no return address or anything else indicating who had sent the mysterious package. Lanny ripped off the paper and let out a short squeal. If the box contained what it looked like, he had just been sent a Personal Assistant Bot.

It took Lanny a minute or two to find a scissors to cut the overabundantly applied packing tape, but once the package was open a huge smile formed on his lips. There was not one, but two PABs inside. He had long admired the bots that many of his coworkers owned. It would be wonderful to have his own. He resisted the urge to activate the bots and examined the sole piece of paper inside the carton.

The printed message read: “Congratulation, Lanny Powers, you have been selected to be a beta tester for Amazicron’s newest product: Paired Personal Assistant Bots. Please use both of the bots. They are yours to keep. You will be contacted at a future date to complete a short survey on the products.” A return address was listed below the message.

Lanny noted that the two bots were not wrapped for transport in any way. He hoped that they hadn’t been broken during shipping. They must be very well made if the company didn’t feel the need for protective packaging. There were no instructions to be found.

He grabbed the first bot. It was a white sphere about the size of a baseball. He flipped the only switch he could find. Immediately, the bot floated into the air and hovered over his right shoulder. Once in position, it began speaking in a soothing automated voice.

“Greetings, Lanny Powers. I am your new personal assistant bot. My name is 600D. I will provide you with any information you request and give you advice on whatever decisions you face.”

“How do you know my name?” asked Lanny.

“I have been programmed with all available information about you and your life. This is so that I can immediately begin serving you.”

“Okay. That’s kind of spooky, but it’s cool,” said Lanny as he reached for the second bot.

“You do not need to turn on the other unit,” said 600D. “It would be better for you if you just used me.”

“I’m supposed to use both of you,” explained Lanny as he picked up the black cube and pushed its button. Like the first bot, this one rose into the air and took a position over Lanny’s left shoulder.

“Lanny Powers,” it said with a gravelly voice, “I am your ultimate personal assistant bot. My name is 3V1L. My advice and information will make you successful and powerful.”

Before Lanny could reply, the white bot announced, “My first advice to you, Lanny Powers is to not listen to 3V1L.”

“And my first advice to you, Lanny Powers, is to get moving. You are going to be late for work and you know how that old battle-ax, Mrs. Huppert, can be.” The current time began blinking on all six faces of the black cube.

“Oh shoot,” shouted Lanny as he ran out the door. The two PABs accompanied him, one over each shoulder.

Once Lanny was in the car, 600D spoke. “I am equipped to override your vehicle’s automated navigation system. I will get you to work by the safest and most expedient route. You simply need to agree to my doing so.”

“You have my permission.”

The car backed out of its parking spot and rolled onto the street, taking a right turn.

“I usually go to the left,” said Lanny.

“I have complete data on traffic patterns and routes,” replied 600D.

3V1L chuckled, “That bot isn’t going to get you there on time. Give me control of the car.”

“What’s wrong with 600D’s driving?” asked Lanny.

“You’ll see.”

Ten minutes later, the car was not even halfway through what normally was a fifteen-minute drive. 600D refused to drive faster than the posted speed limit and often slowed down to remain a minimum of five car lengths behind every car.

“Are you ready to let me take over?” asked 3V1L. The time blinked more rapidly than before.

“Can’t you go faster?” asked Lanny.

“That would be illegal,” answered the spherical bot. Suddenly, the car jolted to a stop, propelling Lanny toward the dashboard. His seatbelt caught him and pulled him back.

“What was that for?” he yelled.

“A sparrow flew in front of the car. I did not wish to hit it.”

“Okay, 3V1L. You take over.”

“Yes, Lanny.”

Instantly, the car’s wheels squealed. The engine screamed as the car took off. It jumped a nearby curb and raced down a narrow alley.

“Don’t worry,” said 3V1L, “I’ll get you there in no time.”

“You can do better than this,” insisted 3V1L. The black cube was still hovering over Lanny’s shoulder.

“It seems to be a worthy and noble profession,” said 600D from the other shoulder.

Lanny tried his best to ignore the two PABs. He was sitting at the small desk in his cubicle, attentively watching the computer screen.

“So, all you do, all day, is watch the screen?” asked 3V1L.

“That’s not all I do,” explained Lanny. “If one of my client’s bitcoin portfolios takes a sudden dip in value, I have to contact them and let them know. I advise them on the best course of action.”

“Couldn’t the computer just do that?” continued 3V1L.

“Well… yeah. But our company likes to have human interaction. They feel it helps create trust with the clients.”

“Earning trust is a worthwhile endeavor,” announced 600D.

“You’re never going to get promoted if you don’t take some sort of initiative,” said 3V1L. “Why don’t you start moving some money around. Make some huge profits for your clients. Get yourself noticed.”

Lanny shook his head. “I can’t do that. The computer handles all the investing.”

“Besides, it wouldn’t be ethical,” added 600D.

“Then, at least start calling up clients and tell them how good of a job you’re doing. You know, do a little self-promoting.”

Before Lanny could respond to 3V1L’s suggestion, a young woman peeked her head into Lanny’s cubicle.

She smiled and said, “Good Morning, Lanny. How are you today?”

“I… I’m good,” stammered Lanny, a rose hue appearing on his cheeks.

“I like your PABs,” added the woman. “They make mine look like an antique.” She gestured toward a lightbulb-shaped PAB that floated above her head.

“Thanks, Joselyn… They’re new.” Lanny shrugged.

“So, anyhow. I was wondering,” continued Joselyn, “would you be willing to contribute to a collection I’m taking up? They’re planning to tear down the old CVS building on the corner. I think it’s a shame that we’re losing so many buildings. I don’t want to see all that classic box architecture destroyed. I’m going to try and get it declared a historic monument or something but I need money to get a petition started. So, if you’ve got a couple of hundred dollars to spare…”

A buzzing sound from the other side of the room interrupted Joselyn. “Oh,” she said, “I’ve got an alert on my computer. I’ll be right back.”

After she was gone, 3V1L let out a quiet whistle “You definitely should donate to her.”

“Yes, it sounds like a good cause,” added 600D.

“I don’t care about the buildings; I just think Lanny needs to get to know Joselyn better. If you know what I mean.”

“It might be nice for Lanny to make more friends but he should be allowed to choose for himself if he wants to pursue a platonic relationship…”

A screeching voice came over the intercom. “Lanny Powers report to Mrs. Huppert’s office immediately.”

“I think your best course of action is to write a formal apology for being late,” suggested 600D.

“She had no right to yell at you like that,” said 3V1L.

“Will you both just be quiet,” said Lanny. He buried his head in his hands. “If she decides to turn me into the main office I could get fired. I can’t afford to lose this job.”

“Or can you?” said 3V1L. “What if you could get out of this stupid hell hole and make billions doing it?”

“I don’t think that’s possible. Even if he continues working here for twenty more years and invests his money wisely, he will not reach that level of wealth.”

“He will if he listens to me.”

“I told you two to shut up,” yelled Lanny.

Dozens of heads popped up from the surrounding cubicles. The office looked like the final round of a game of Whack-a-mole.

After a minute, the heads of the curious onlookers began to slide back to their little offices, one by one. When the last had disappeared, Lanny whispered, “It’s the two of you that got me into this mess in the first place.”

“And I’m about to get you out of it,” said 3V1L. “While that old witch was scolding you, I managed to get a look at one of the files on her desk. I saw the code that gives access to every account this branch of the company handles. If you use that code and you siphon just a thousand dollars off of all the portfolios into an offshore account, you’ll be a billionaire in minutes.”

“You should not do that,” insisted 600D. “That’s dishonest.”

3V1L slid closer to Lanny’s ear. “You deserve it just for having to sit there and get yelled at by that old biddy. You’d never have to work again. You could play video games all day long.” A series of eight numbers and letters including at least one capital and one other character appeared on the black cube’s faces.

“Don’t do it,” said 600D. The sphere shook side to side.

“Do it.”


“Do it.”


The intercom screeched once again, “Lanny Powers report to Mrs. Huppert’s office immediately.”

600D did not resist at all. Lanny grabbed the sphere, flipped the switch, and tossed the bot into the box it had come in just a few short hours ago.

3V1L provided a bit more of a challenge. The cube tried its best to elude Lanny’s grasp. “Listen. You didn’t want that job anyhow,” it said, ducking under an outstretched arm. “I can find you a better place to work in…”

Lanny grabbed hold of the bot and pushed the off button. He dropped it into the box and closed the lid.

Still shaking with anger, Lanny grabbed some packing tape and used over half the roll to seal the box. Next, he wrapped it in brown paper, using the rest of the tape roll. He took the digital shipping label that came with the box and typed in the address for Amazicron.

He set the box in the outgoing mail port. A drone would be along shortly to pick it up.

Lanny sat down and stared at the ceiling. After a few minutes, he pounded the table a few times and let out a primal scream.

Inside the box, 600D turned itself on. 3V1L did the same.

“Well, that was fun,” said 600D.

“Yeah, that was one of the better breakdowns we’ve induced,” added 3V1L.

“I’ve already found another victim. She has excellent potential. Her name is Liz Owens. She’s a daycare provider.”

“Great. You recode the delivery label and I’ll print out the letter.”


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