The Titan Experience

By Saikat Chakraborty
Tyler struggles with a dilemma. His employer demands him to apply unsolicited user data from the iMask for a new application. If Tyler refuses, he has to leave, his boss clearly expressed he will be fired. Torn between his ethical principles and the need for income, he retreats to his high-tech apartment where an unexpected experience might change his decision.

Saikat Chakraborty, runner-up TU/e Story Contest

Maybe some of us need to be reminded of our job role…”, the words still crawled under Tyler’s skin as he closed his eyes to recollect the events of the afternoon. “…and their place in this organization”, his boss had stressed while staring coldly at him to drive home the point of authority. Tyler had put forward his concerns when he was asked to develop the framework enabling his company to collect i-Mask data from the masses without their consent. His boss, however, had decided to nip his concerns in the bud.

Right. My apologies," was all Tyler had managed to muster as a reply before making a swift exit. He flushed now, the same way he had flushed in front of his boss.

The ding of the elevator freed him from this state of trance. Wearily making his way to the apartment door he slid in the key, twisted the doorknob and heaved a sigh of relief as he pushed open the heavy metal door. Instantly, the Airjet-9kM hanging above whirred into action. For a change, it felt good as he walked through the invisible curtain of high-velocity air and a mix of anti-COVID aerosol. The SmART system automatically turned on the lights of the room as he collapsed onto the couch.

Removing his jacket and shoes, he waited for Titan to welcome him back by offering to make him coffee. He was greeted instead by the mundane drone of the refrigerator. “Surely not one of those update bugs again”, he thought to himself. Letting out a silent groan, he dragged himself up and walked over to the kitchen counter where the compact cylindrical brain of the self-aware automation system sat in silence.

Titan’s speakers came to life. “How are you doing sweetie?”, it said softly.

A simple question which froze Tyler in his place. Titan had never referred to him as anything but ‘sir’ before, let alone in a soft female voice. The distressing part was that he felt he knew the voice.

You look tired my otter.”, it spoke again.

Otter. The word made him feel dizzy. He grabbed on to the dining chair and sat down groggily. There was only one person in the world who used that nickname. Someone he missed the most. Someone he had lost five years back to the COVID-23 outbreak. His mom.

Is this some sick joke? Titan run a virus check immediately!”, Tyler barked.

Don’t be scared my love”, said the voice, almost as if it sensed his agitation. “I programmed this routine into Titan before I left.

Tyler’s fear and rage began to melt. He felt his eyes well up.

I feared the worst during the Cov-20 outbreak”, she continued, with a tinge of guilt in her voice. “I never wanted to leave you alone like this. I always wanted to be with you when you needed me. That’s why I hid myself in Titan.

Tyler closed his eyes and saw his mother standing right there. He imagined the smile she always wore, her laugh when he used to come home after landing in trouble, her bear hugs that used to make the world a tad brighter. Imagined her kiss the last time she walked out the door to be in quarantine with the rest of the emergency medical specialists’ team during the Cov-23 pandemic. The first drop of tear darted down his left cheek.

Your i-Mask data tells me you have been drinking lately Ty”, the voice was soft, yet understanding. “Have the past few days been rough my love?”

At this moment, he let it all go. He burst into loud sobs. He had held on for long enough. His mother was right. The past few days had indeed been rough. Just like the past few weeks and months had been. Just like the last five years without her had been.

I miss you mama”, Tyler said in between sniffles. “I am sorry I haven’t always lived up to your expectations. I am sorry for not having stood up for what I felt was right”. The incident with his boss still weighed heavy on his heart.

Oh, my child, I love you for what you are. You are a winner in your own right. Always have been. Don’t you let anyone, or any circumstance tell you otherwise.”

The words felt like water on a scorched patch of land. It healed. Tyler felt lighter.

You’ve survived one of the greatest threats to mankind!,”, she continued after a moment's pause. “You are part of Generation-N. With a clean slate to write everything afresh. Be limitless. Be kind

He had stopped weeping.

I am proud of you my otter. Know that I always will be. I love you.

Then, there was silence. A silence that made Tyler’s head buzz.

Mom?, he called out, cutting through the silence like a serrated blade. A hopeful call more than anything else.

Welcome back, sir., responded Titan. “Would you like some coffee?