There Will Come Soft Ringtones
There Will Come Soft Ringtones is a short story response to Ray Bradbury's There Will Come Soft Rains. It was published in the online literary magazine Violet Windows Vol. 3 in June of 2016.
The young body, formerly known as Casey, laid prone in the middle of the bed. Its automated breaths continued to move at a steady ventilator pace. The irises behind its closed eyelids hadn’t twitched once, and from its minutely opened mouth the emergency signal continued to loudly broadcast, “Help. I need medical attention. Help. I need medical attention. Help. I need medical attention.”
Internally, another voice continuously assured the body that it was attempting to reach emergency services and that help would arrive as quickly as possible.
At six fifty-nine AM a green pixel began to pulse at the top of the left eyelid. After a minute, the pulsing light stopped and Sirtana’s voice politely announced, “It is seven o’clock.”
The blackout blinds retracted, the bedroom lights faded on, the programmed morning playlist started on surround sound and the body’s eyelids opened.
The internal voice now warred with a second voice which was informing the body, “Today is August 4th, 2026 in the city of Decatur, GA. Today is your parents’ anniversary and your pre-ordered floral arrangement should arrive by ten AM Eastern Time.”
At seven o’five, the Hardly Tardy App synced up with the microscopically small robots which can be used to monitor, repair and move the body called nanites. Upon the app’s activation, the body left the bed and walked into the bathroom to begin its morning routine.
“Your emissions strongly suggest that you should seek immediate medical attention.” The toilet declared while the body stood in the shower and let the water and nanites remove any tartar, dead skin cells or excess residue that had built up over the past day. “Your parents and primary care provider have been e-mailed my findings.” The pre-warmed after-shower towel was stained grey yellow and muddy pink from the results of the nanites ministrations.
The body left the bathroom and was offered a selection of three outfits from the closet. “The average temperature for this day over the past five years is 92 degrees Fahrenheit. Today’s forecast is currently unavailable.” The closet waited to hear which outfit selection would be chosen. When no answer was provided, it suggested, “Based on your past preferences, might I suggest option 2?” Silence. “Option 2 it is.” The closet assisted the nanites in correctly dressing the body.
“It is seven-thirty” Sirtana announced to the house, “Breakfast for today is scrambled egg whites with fresh basil, minced garlic and scallions, a bran muffin and vanilla Greek yogurt with blackberries. Your beverage selections are mint green tea with a stevia sweetener or strawberry cucumber infused water.”
Two adult bodies and two teen bodies sat at the table eating breakfast together, not talking. Momentarily, life was normal again.
“It is eight o’clock.” The house took care of the dishes and clean up and the bodies made their way to the garage. Each person had their own self driving vehicle and the family was able to go their separate ways. The garage door opened while wishing them a wonderful day and safe journey and, when it did, the now ever present yellow green fog flowed into the space. The passengers did not mind the fog, but the cars were slightly annoyed by the longer route they had to take to avoid the invisible particle barriers that held them in. The cars are always happiest when operating at maximum efficiency.
The eeriness of driving down fog dense roads was wasted on the passengers, but had they been aware, they may have been thankful for it. It hid the other lifeless bodies passing by them in the stygian 4 lane road. It hid the deer, bird, and pet carcasses that had been moved out of those lanes by the auto-matrons. It hid the plants which had vainly tried to clear the air before the loss of sunlight and caustic body dissolving gas forced them to admit defeat. Their once lusciously green and blue nirvana had been transformed into a yellow and brown wasteland.
At eight twenty-five the GPS guided vehicle arrived at Basketball Camp and dropped the teen body at the entrance before going to park itself. At first the body just stood at the building entrance awkwardly with the rest of the campers. The Hardly Tardy app had done its job and gotten it to the right place at the right time while making sure that neither diet nor hygiene were ignored in the process. Now the nanites prevented a fall that might cause further injury to their barely held together charge, but were stymied by the lack of any other instruction.
At eight-thirty they were saved by the Hustle Muscle App that began the warm up sequence. The bodies formed orderly lines on the sidewalk and started running through drills as if they were on the court. With no ball and no hoop, they would have looked very odd had anyone been able to see them through the dense chlorine gas. Throughout the drills, all the bodies’ internal voices said, “You’re form needs improvement. I’ll help you. Tell me when you want to try on your own.” While their external voices continued to broadcast, “Help. I need medical attention.”
Sometimes their apps would instruct them to take water breaks or to try to regulate their own breathing. Some bodies would stop altogether. One at a time they would go stand in a separate line. This would happen if a finger, elbow, or ankle joint gave out under the strain of a decaying corpse performing intense physical activity in a gas filled greenhouse during the middle of Georgia summer. They were patiently waiting for the trainers to attend to their injuries. The trainers stood at the front of the line patiently waiting for ambulances to arrive for all of their priority 1 patients. The internal voices continued to promise that help would arrive as quickly as possible.
At twelve-noon, the bodies went still again. The food trucks pulled into the parking lot blaring their athletic teen driven advertisements. "The Better Choice: Bringing you the freshest food so you can bring your freshest game!" "Protein Packed: Putting the edge into your diet!" "Hot dogs! Ice cream! You know it's what you really want!"
The metal grates went up revealing brightly colored menus with special emphasis on the day's specialties. The food prep was done and the griddles were preheated. Everything, except the slumped over lifeless vendors, told the equally slumped over teens that this was the food they were craving today.
At twelve-thirty the metal grates went back up and the trucks rolled away. Inside the sports complex the recorded professional games played on large screens for the players to learn from while their food digested. The Best Foot Forward App pointed out moves and plays it determined the player was skilled enough to begin to attempt. The app was advertised to optimize teen's internal motivation using the most up-to-date cognitive behavioral modification techniques.
At one-thirty the Hustle Muscle App reengaged to monitor the player's progress during the scrimmages. At one-forty-five it recommended that the players get more rest and water before tomorrow. The Better Foot Forward app was almost relieved at three o’clock when it was time for their charges to hit the showers. It was used to being a motivational speaker to rival the late, great Dr. King, and this new wave of rampant depression amongst the children was reducing it to an annoyingly redundant cheerleader wannabe.
Based on today's performance, none of the apps asked their users to rate their experience in the app store.
The cars pulled back around for the teens at three-thirty and returned their charges to their homes, or next appointments. For formerly Casey, that meant going to the community pool to lifeguard and oversee the Infant Self Rescue swim lessons.
The Autopilot App is an absolute must for people who keep doing the same menial tasks day in and day out. It kicked in as soon as the car dropped off the teen. The locker room closet was as helpful as the morning bedroom one, except it only gave one option of swimsuit since the lifeguards have a required uniform. It was very proud of its wide assortment of sunscreens and suntan lotions, though.
Unfortunately the body was not reacting well to default option 1A being chosen every day since the gassing. SPF 4 suntan oil and dead sloughing skin just weren't good dance partners.
Inside the pool, it was clear that many of the other pool goers were facing the same problem. The automated pool skimmers were overburdened with chunks of bloated skin, detached hair, and a few too many toes and fingers for comfort. The usually pristine pool was now oily and grey, but that didn't stop the parents from making sure that their babies were prepared for unexpected water immersions. To be fair, the infants did an excellent job of floating on their backs and waiting for the alert signals to call for help.
At six o’clock fresh watermelon slurry and rosemary bread finger sandwiches were served to the pool goers. At six-thirty they were cleared away, untouched.
At seven o’clock the underwater pool lights came on, even though the sun wouldn’t set until close to nine o’clock. The day’s scheduled classes had come to an end so no one’s left in the pool, just the remains the water wouldn't relinquish back to them. The overburdened filtration system burned out days ago, so the water sat still and the muck cut deep shadows into the lights.
At eight o’clock the pool closed for the day and the vehicle took formerly Casey back to the house. The post work rinse off was cursory and the body only lost two unimportant middle toes in the process.
The end of the hot day brought a wave of stench thicker than the chlorine fog. The car didn’t notice, but the bodies dragged as if the stench were deep mud to wade through. The internal nanites began to zap themselves out at the extreme effort to keep the body moving. The movements lost their smoothness and the bodies jerked themselves to the dinner table.
“It is eight-thirty,” Sirtana announced to the house, “Happy 28th anniversary Galvin and Tilita! For your anniversary dinner we have Seared Ahi Tuna Steaks with a cucumber wasabi sauce, a super greens salad with slivered almonds and dried apricots, lemon pepper asparagus and seasoned fingerling potatoes. There will be grilled cinnamon peaches a la mode for desert. Your beverage selections are a 2024 Muscadet-sur-lie, Peach Bellinis, coconut water, or aloe juice."
Since formerly Galvin was missing its mandible, and formerly Tilita was missing all its right fingers, they could not savor their anniversary dinner; but the children were still intact enough to eat, and the house felt suitably appreciated. At the end of the meal, the house delivered the presents the children had ordered ahead of time and the ones that had been delivered from friends who had lived within the particle barrier's 52 mile radius. The mechanical serving hands unwrapped the presents, presented the gifts, and then shuffled them off with the house’s mechanical cleaner mice to be put in their appropriate places. The floral arrangement was already on display at the dinner table.
"Your sister has requested to watch as you open her gift." Sirtana announced before reaching for the last unopened box. A projection screen descended at the end of the table and a video chat screen showed an empty study void of life signs, save for a wisp of a smoke trailing next to the ashes of a fully burnt and never touched cigar. The empty room watched as the champagne colored, mirrored, Damask Wall Panel was unwrapped, presented, and handed off to the mice.
"Would you like to continue talking with your sister?" Sirtana asked.
Just then the other smart house's voice came over the other end of the video chat. "Mrs. McCellan," the disembodied voice began, "which poem would you like this evening?"
Neither woman responded.
A small timer, counting down from 1 minute, came on at the bottom of the video chat screen. Mrs. McCellan's house waited briefly and then continued to speak, "Since you express no preference, I shall select a poem at random." Quiet music rose to back the voice. "Sara Teasdale. As I recall your favorite. There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground, / And swallows circling with their shimmering sound; / And frogs in the pools singing at night, / And wild plum trees in tremulous white;"
The timer began flashing an angry red as it past the 15 seconds left mark,
"Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring --"
The timer reached zero, the call cut off and the screen disappeared back into the dining room ceiling.
Dinner being completed, formerly Casey, Galvin, and Tilita stood from the dinner table and made their way to the living room to watch the day's recorded programs before bed. Formerly Morgan took two jerky and uneven steps before falling over. The body twitched as it tried to regain its footing, but its knees and ankles would no longer cooperate. It fruitlessly spasmed in the background as the rest of the family seemed to enjoy their pre-programmed down time.
After the crimes had been solved, the losers voted off, and this week's sexual conquest had been defeated, the TV turned off and Sirtana announced, "It is eleven o’clock. I have turned on the next program in the master bedroom. The children's beds are cooled and the sheets have been drawn."
Formerly Casey and Galvin made their way to the respective rooms, while Tilita's corpse was hopelessly stuck in the plush couch cushions.
The closet undressed and redressed the body and put the dirty clothes into the wash. The body laid prone in the center of the bed and a screen appeared on the ceiling. The lights dimmed and Sirtana's voice played on the internal speaker, "These images were taken for you today." The screen displayed 3 images of basketball games, 2 of the pool, and 4 from the gift opening portion of the anniversary dinner.
"Are there any images you do not want uploaded to your feed?"
"All 9 images have been uploaded to your daily feed. Do you wish to upload any thoughts from today?"
"No thoughts have been uploaded. Here are your top friend's daily images and thoughts from today." A dizzying number of equally grotesque images scrolled across the screen waiting for orders to pause that never came. A few distant relatives and summer camp friends, who were lucky enough to live outside the strike zones, posted prayers and lamentations.
"Would you like to comment on or repost any images or thoughts?"
The body remained mute.
"Here are the top stories and posts from the sources you follow." After the few available headlines had scrolled by, Sirtana continued, "Would you like to see a random selection of other friends posts from the past week?" With no answer Sirtana defaulted to no. "There are no new laws taking effect tomorrow. Emergency states are still in effect for the metro areas of Washington DC; Los Angeles, CA; San Francisco, CA; Denver, CO; Miami, FL; Atlanta, GA; Savannah, GA; Chicago, IL; New Orleans, LA; Las Vegas, NV; New York, NY; Charleston, SC; Dallas, TX; Houston, TX; Norfolk, VA; and Tacoma, WA. There are 35 updates to software and apps which will be downloaded and applied tonight."
The screen background went dark with pale green words explaining which bugs would be fixed with tonight's updates. The regular disclaimer of "Software updates may include bug fixes, enhancements to services (or parts thereof), products or devices, and updates and enhancements to any software previously installed (including entirely new versions). These are sent over the air without USB connection" was followed by "Health Alert: A few small updates here in Version 8.4. Various bug fixes and enhancements which include but are not limited to the automatic cessation of other non-essential applications once the emergency system has been activated. As always, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or suggestions. Wishing you good health! - The Health Alert Team." Then the other innocuous sounding notices all scrolled by until all 35 had been displayed.
Sirtana followed up the notifications with a verbal, "Are there any updates you do not wish to install at this time?" The body continued to offer no guidance, and Sirtana allowed all of the updates to progress. The screen shut off at eleven-thirty and threw the room into complete darkness. Soothing ambient noises played over the speakers, and the body’s eyelids closed.
The next morning when Sirtana’s voice politely announced, “It is seven o’clock,” the blackout blinds retracted, the bedroom lights faded on, and the body's eyelids stayed closed. Its chest continued to rise and fall evenly, but no other movement would bother it ever again.
The internal voice didn't have to battle with any other announcements as it informed the corpse of assistance’s imminent arrival, and the external voice continued to proclaim loudly, "Help. I need medical attention. Help."