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About the Author: Leland Neville's stories appear in Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Barcelona Review, Sobotka Literary Magazine, and Brilliant Flash Fiction.

The first thing the boss did was put me in solitary.

“This has nothing to do with your … circumstances,” he said. “All new employees need a little guidance.”

Solitary was about the size of your typical 9 feet by 6 feet cage. A green plastic shower curtain separated me from the paid employees.

“Super-Max Supercomputer is one big family,” said the boss. “Our softball team is undefeated. You’ll like it here.” The boss nervously laughed. His unease was judicious. He was responsible for almost one thousand employees.

“I’ll do my best.” I remembered to maintain eye contact.

“I’ve heard good things about you.”

The boss was undoubtedly referring to my successful completion of seven anger management courses. The only blemish on my recent record was a minor tussle in the cafeteria after being blindsided by a wad of milk-soaked corn bread. But that’s all in the past. I was recently certified as non-violent.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity,” I said while still maintaining eye contact. I smelled like Ivory soap and desperation. I wanted this job to work. I was up for parole. The third time’s the charm.

“You’ll soon be up to speed. It’s two clicks with the mouse if you identify the people on the monitor as a family. A single click means they are not a family. Remember, Super-Max isn’t as smart as it thinks. Hundreds in our Super-Max Supercomputer family are assigned to just identifying cars. Last month a driverless car T-boned a Peugeot 404 because Super-Max hadn’t been programmed to recognize a Peugeot 404 as a car. By the way, the data we gather here might soon be used in military drones, but that’s just a rumor. And you didn’t hear it from me.” He winked.

“Will I be responsible if a drone mistakenly wipes out a family? All it takes is a momentary lapse in judgement.”

I’d been told not to ask too many questions, but the boss didn’t seem to mind.

“Lawsuits happen, but there’s a lot of redundancy built into the system. We’re all about due diligence here at Super-Max.”

I sat and stared at the monitor. The mouse was ready and waiting in my sweaty palm. “Should I begin?”

The boss was gone.

A man, a woman, and a little girl patiently stared back at me, begging to be saved from a driverless car or a homicidal drone. I noticed Minnie Mouse in the background. A man, a woman, and Minnie Mouse are obviously not a traditional family. But what if an armed drone, its navigation system corrupted by malware, was erroneously flying over Disney World while hunting for a spy balloon? Why should a nice family evaporate because Minnie had been prowling nearby? Also, some families have pet mice.

I was already overthinking. It’s one of my limitations that I learned to recognize and surmount in an anger management course. I took a deep breath and double-clicked.

Next up was a woman standing next to a dozen adolescent girls. I was most likely looking at a photo of a soccer team and their coach. Is a team a family? Is Super-Max a family? The boss mentioned that Super-Max was a family. He also mentioned the softball team. Maybe he was being helpful. He seemed friendly enough. I double-clicked.

Every picture appeared to display a family. I vigorously double-clicked. I began humming “We Are Family.” I was already up to speed. Back at the house the sounds of weights dropping and escalating arguments about television programs resounded. But Super-Max and I were saving lives.

My first two parole hearings didn’t go so well. I mentally replay my blunders every night before falling asleep. The parole board is adept at psychological warfare. I am sleep deprived.

The lights dimmed and the screen froze. A mandatory five-minute break occurred at the top of each hour. I stretched and paced. I needed to get back to saving lives. I was already accumulating earned time credits. They are better than cash.

There were more and more families. Faces smeared. I recognized someone from high school. He was standing with a woman in front of the Eiffel Tower. I double-clicked. I had saved Denny and his companion. Yes, his name is Denny.

Boredom is another one of my failings. Boredom generates carelessness. When I lose at poker my mind starts wandering in unpredictable directions. Rage somehow gets into the mix. An anger management guide intimated that playing solitaire helps regulate emotions. Meds have also helped.

This story appears in our MAR 2024 Issue
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