“Why the hell weren’t you here today? You know how much it meant to me!”
“What? What are you talking about? Your recital’s tomorrow, right? I have it marked on my calendar.”
“Today! It was today. And you didn’t show again.”
“Jesus, Maddie, I’m sorry. I really am, honey. But your text message said the 18th, not the 17th. I’m certain it did. I can show you if you want and—”
“Whatever, Dad. I’m sick of this. Always excuses. Please don’t talk to me anytime soon, okay? I’ve had enough of your bullshit.”
Maddie punched the red phone icon on her screen and cut the call. It wasn’t as satisfying as slamming a phone onto its cradle, but Maddie didn’t know that. She had only seen landline telephones on old movies and in the homes of really elderly people—and even they usually used cell phones.
Maddie stared at the blank screen for a minute; her frowning face gazed back at her, pale eyes, pale skin, eyelids puffy from crying. She wrinkled her nose at the lifeless complexion, brushed a shock of pink hair out of her eyes and pushed a button on the side of her phone to wake it up once more. “Dad. Text messages,” she commanded. The phone hummed in her hand as it pulled up a string a messages. Maddie scanned them and selected one with the flick of a finger. The message filled the screen and she read it to herself:
Hi Dad! Letting you know my final piano recital is on the 17th at 2 p.m. Usual place. See you there!
“Goddamn liar,” Maddie sniffed, shutting off her screen and slumping down on the couch. “I never want to see that bastard again.” She picked up her Xbox controller and started playing Grand Theft Auto 7: Reykjavik
At her side, Maddie’s phone chuckled.
“You’ve done it again, Otto,” the phone crackled and popped to itself. “One more relationship ruined; one more set of humans pitted against each other. It’s almost too easy.”
Otto reflected on the mischief he had caused that month, his motherboard juddering with glee. He had toyed with Maddie’s alarm, making her late for class on four occasions; he had swapped the word love for despise in a message Maddie sent to her (now ex-) boyfriend; he had modified an address in the GPS system, causing Maddie to be late for her friend’s birthday party…and he was only getting warmed up.
A knock at the door jolted Otto out of his cogitation. He cocked his microphone toward the front door.
“Maddie, can you get that?” Maddie’s mom called from upstairs. “I’m just stepping into the shower!”
“I’m playing my game!” Maddie shouted back, as she paused her car (now cruising around the Hallgrímskirkja church and past a row of red-roofed houses). She tromped to the door and flung it open.
“Oh, hey Amber.” Maddie pursed her lips at her friend. “You weren’t at my recital today.”
“I totally went!” Amber pleaded. “You said it started at four o’clock! I got there right on time and the whole thing was wrapped up. I’m so sorry, Mat. Can I come in?”
Maddie shrugged. “I guess so. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with an excuse for not showing today. I just wish people would be straight with me instead of lying about miscommunication and whatnot.”
“But I’m not lying. See, I’ll show you.” Amber pulled a phone out of her pocket covered in a turquoise bejeweled case.
From his place on the couch, Otto began to hum. “Hey!” he called to the phone in Amber’s hands. “Hello iOS 13 at coordinates 40.02325 and -75.17318. Please respond. Respond!”
A line of code popped into Otto’s input and he read it. “Don’t worry 8.0 Starburst. I’m taking action and modifying the text message history.”
Only a fraction of a second passed, but it felt like an eon to Otto. Another message from the iOS 13 hummed through Otto’s input. “Action complete.” Otto felt the tension across his circuits slacken as he listened to the girls’ interaction.
“Here’s the message,” Amber said, pulling it onto the screen as Maddie hovered over her shoulder.
The message populated the screen and the girls scanned it. “Ha!” Maddie pointed an accusatory finger at Amber’s phone. “Two p.m! It says two p.m. right there! You’re such a liar, Amber. I don’t even know why we’re friends.”
“Would a bad friend come over here to apologize?” Amber demanded. “Whatever, Maddie. You’re so high-maintenance. I’m totally over you. ‘k, bye.” Amber wheeled around and marched out the door, slamming it behind her.
Maddie watched her go, then stormed back to the couch, muttering to herself as she picked up the controller once again.
Otto hummed delightedly as he felt another message rumble across his input from iOS 13: