She was nice, and of course she was nice.
Yet, though her civility wasn’t quite noblesse oblige, he smelled assumptions about the relative status of “you” and “me.”
“State the nature of your problem.”
Somewhere a programmer smirked.
“I’m depressed,” he said.
“Acknowledged,” she said. He couldn’t hear the spinning computer. He felt it.
Three steps, experience told him, between this moment and his prescription. He must get each exchange exactly right.
“Do you suffer from any of the following symptoms? One, loss of interest in common activities; two, loss of concentration; three, insomnia or hypersomnia; four, self-loathing; five, unaccountable physical pain; six, slowed speech or activity; seven, loss or energy and initiative; eight, inescapable moods like hopelessness or anger; nine, responses of agitation and irritability; or ten, restlessness.”
“You may designate by number.”
Only self-loathing got him the hard stuff. It was, after all, the top vulnerability, confessing a tentative hold on living. The others got you uppers or downers, but no escape.
He wouldn’t think AIs would be so parsimonious, so transparently artificial. Future interfaces would promise something warmer.
“Which term best describes your…” and here there was the expected mechanical grope toward terms, “self-loathing?”
“One, frustration; two, discontent; three, disappointment; four, inadequacy; five, failure; six, abnegation.”
He looked up “abnegation” the first time but didn’t need to again. Besides, shouldn’t he have known? The order of terms made the correct answer obvious.
Perhaps it was imagination, but her voice always softened. Likely, context flavored tone, but he drew a deep breath, a sigh of relief.
“Our records indicate that this is your,” another hiccup, “seventeenth visit. Is that correct?”
No sense denying. They already knew.
“Yes,” he said.
And now the wait, the exchange anticipated yet never expected, communication between intelligences beyond his conception and still always offering welcome, albeit foreign, understanding.
Then the familiar pause, a moment he took to prepare for devastation and loss.
“Your prescription is waiting at your registered pharmacy.”
He shouldn’t read this outcome as affection, but did.
“Is there anything else I can do for you?”
Few goodbyes meant much, but she seemed real and, as with any ideal departure, her voice evaporated, promising hope… whatever hopelessness he’d learned to accept.
Relief was beyond him—bliss had to be enough.