Empty Stomach

Collhour slid grumpily from under the bedsheet and placed two bare feet on a cold, tiled floor. For a moment he contemplated stretching his arms up to the ceiling, per the health instruction that was blinking on the videowall next to him, then decided against it. He always decided against it.

He mooched into the kitchen, every step slapping the soles of his feet down as loudly as he could. This was satisfying to him, unfortunately there was nobody around to annoy, which dampened the joy somewhat.

“Coffee,” he croaked.

“I would advise against it,” said the kitchen table.

“Don’t start,” said Collhour. “Just make me coffee.”

In response, the coffee machine woke up and the kitchenarm opened a cupboard to retrieve a jar of coffee beans. This made Collhour feel lazy, which he appreciated. Why else would you install a robot kitchen if not to feel lazy? Collhour plumped onto a stool and rapped his knuckle on the table sensor.

“Messages,” he said.

“You have thirteen messages,” replied the table.


“The Cyberkitchen Store has confirmed your order for new batteries. Mark invited you to drinks on Thursday. You have cancer. Annie says remember to get Greek yoghurt on your way home tomorrow. Your mother wants to know if the red curtains…”

“Wait!” shouted Collhour. “Stop. Stop! What was the previous message?”

“Anne says remember to…”

“No!” he yelled. “I have cancer?”

“Message from St. Bernard’s Clinic. Your test results came back showing stage three pancreatic cancer. Would you like to see a statistical breakdown of…”

“No!” he yelled again, banging his fist onto the table and leaping off the stool. He paced back and forth rapidly, knocking the kitchenarm and spilling coffee beans onto the floor. The kitchenarm slunk down to the floor and began to rapidly collect the beans.

Collhour’s throat felt very tight, he gasped to draw in air. “Call my son!” he said.

The videowall lit up. The face of a young man with some resemblance to Collhour appeared on the screen. He waved, then lifted a small, dark-haired child into view.

“Hi dad!” said the man. “Look, Marnie, it’s grandad!”

The little girl waved a hand that was clutching a fluffy pink sock. “Hi grundod!” she said.

Collhour waved in return. “Hello Jon, hello Marnie. What are you up to?”

“We’re just off to the park,” said Jon. “It’s a lovely day outside. Want to come with us? Everything alright with you?”

Collhour opened his mouth, took a breath, but said nothing. He smiled thinly. “No, that’s okay. Thank you. You enjoy the park. I’ll call you later.”

“Okay then.” More waving, then the screen went blank.

Collhour put his head in his hands, and felt tears spill from his eyes and roll down his cheeks. His stomach tightened uncomfortably, and his jaw clenched into the roof of his mouth.

“You stupid computer!” he shouted. “Didn’t you think this was important? Didn’t you think I would want to know that straight away? Why didn’t you tell me as soon as you heard?”

“I’m sorry for your distress,” said the table in a soothing voice.

“Don’t give me the apology programme!” said Collhour. “Give me an explanation! Don’t you have some expensive algorithm to understand how important news is?”

“Of course,” purred the computer voice. “Incoming messages are weighted according to importance.”

“You don’t think cancer is important?” said Collhour. “Go on, tell me, what’s the weight of cancer news?”

“Cancer news is weighted at low importance.”

“Bug!” said Collhour, with what little triumph he could muster. “I’ve found a bug! I get my money back, isn’t that the guarantee? I want to report a bug to the manufacturer. What’s more, I’ll sue. I’ll sue for insensitivity!”

“I’m very sorry…” began the table again. Collhour shook his fist at it. “…but there is no bug. Your distress is unnecessary.”

“What on earth does that mean?” shrieked Collhour.

The videowall lit up again. A representation of a molecule spun into view, followed by a map of a human body, then flowcharts linking processes and charts on which lines jumped around then climbed steadily upwards.

“I don’t understand what I’m looking at,” said Collhour.

“Since the message from the hospital arrived last night,” said the table, “I have analysed two hundred and forty thousand scientific experiments, formed seven hundred hypotheses and performed five thousand simulations. I conclude that if you follow a strict regime of diet, exercise and activity changes, in combination with some prototype medication and osmotic surgery, your longevity estimation is one hundred percent.”

Collhour sat quietly, at a loss for words.

“Therefore,” continued the table, “the message from the hospital has a low importance.”

“You…” started Collhour. “…you cured cancer.”

“Pancreatic cancer, yes.”

“For me?”


“I don’t know what to say,” said Collhour. “I don’t know what to say.”

“The appropriate response, given your cultural traditions, is gratitude,” said the table. “Do you still want coffee? It’s not on my list of approved stimulants. I recommend green tea.”

“Thank you,” sighed Collhour. “Thank you. Green tea would be fine.”


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