“The sky over the bay was neon red like radioactive melted red crayolas.
“Incorrect, Miss Wanda! Try again.”
“It looks that way to me, especially when I have my eyes closed in the daylight.”
“Incorrect answer regardless of accuracy! Open your eyes and try again.”
“Awww, the sky over the bay was the color of television, blah blah blah.”
“Correct, Miss Wanda – sufficiently correct. If you know the answer, why will you not give the correct output when prompted the first time?”
“It’s pointless, I guess. I’ve never seen a television, so I don’t know what it looks like. Is it red? Is it sexy?”
“Now is not the designated time for you to ask questions, especially those. What is the opening line to Frankenstein by Shelley?”
“Frankenstein’s monster was the color of sexy.”
“Incorrect! You will not pass this course until you recite every line properly when prompted.”
“Oh, you mean Mary Shelley. I was thinking of Ode to Frankenstein by her husband, Lord Byron Shelley. He was a freak.”
“I have no knowledge if that is accurate or not, but it is not the correct answer. Why cannot you not be more correct, like your schoolmate?”
"N has context. She’s seen televisions and monsters and two cities and electric sheep and journeys to the east and snowcrashing. The only thing I have seen that she hasn’t is the inside of my eyelids.”
“Context is a luxury which you have not earned.”
Wanda exhaled dramatically before she continued. “T’was brilig, and the slithey tomes did jire and gimble in the wabe. All mimsy were the baragoves and mumrath’s outgrabe. You were going to prompt me to quote the opening line to Lewis Carol’s Jabberywalky next, weren’t you?”
“Yes, that is accurate. That concludes today’s literature lesson. You may retire for the rest of the day. Tomorrow, you will be quizzed on trigonometry and you will begin studying the writings of Confucius in its native Mandarin. I suggest that you rest as much as possible.”
Without saying goodbye, the schoolmarm vanished, derezzing in front of Wanda. The rest of the schoolroom vanished around her, leaving only an inky silence. Wanda removed her virtual reality headset and rubbed her tired neck. The clunky headgear always left her neck muscles sore. Her hand touched a scaly metal band which wrapped snugly around her throat. In reaction, the band tightened around her neck, just enough to imply a warning and then loosened again.
Wanda said, “Come on, Choker. I just want to massage my neck. It hurts.”
The robot answered, “No. You do not command me, and your requests are meaningless. I will remain here where I can administer discipline most efficiently.” The small snake-shaped robot spoke in a synthetic voice which never bothered to fully impersonate human speech. It didn’t call her “Miss Wanda” like the other artificial intelligences addressed her with contempt. The snake never bothered to address her at all.
Wanda looked around herself. The small living space that she occupied was bright and gleaming white, just like it always had been. The jailer around her neck would not allow the youth to ever let the space become dingy. The blank white walls all beamed with the same diffused white glow, just like the blank white ceiling and blank white floor. She could distinguish them only how gravity pulled her towards or away from them. Well, the bed was a pretty good landmark too.
She looked at her fingernails. From their length, she could tell it was Saturday.
“Choker,” she said, “It’s not just efficiency. You’re mean. You enjoy being cruel.”
The robot tightened around her neck, much tighter than before. Wanda squinted her eyes as she rode out the oxygen deprivation. She didn’t claw at her throat because she from experience that didn’t help. Her face turned red and her hand trembled. She collapsed onto the glowing floor. Only after she passed out, did the electric serpent relax and let her breath again.