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Excerpt from “The Dark Manual” by Colin O’Sullivan

May 2, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

From Chapter 3:

Susie suddenly lashes out, sending the cereal bowl flying from the counter out into kitchen space. It smashes to pieces against a side cupboard and lays silent on the floor in thick white shards.

“Turn it off,” she shouts.

“Yes, Miss Susie.”

The grey woman on the grey beach vanishes and there is nothing but the silence of a woman and her mechanical charge in a lonely kitchen, once more.

The homebot moves tentatively towards the broken bowl. It looks up at Susie and waits a second before softly inquiring:

“Shall I clean the floor, Miss Susie?”

Susie stares at him. Even if she wanted to hide her disgust she’s not sure she could manage it.

“You don’t even know, do you?”

“Know what, madam?”

Susie laughs. Madam! That’s a good one – Masa programmed that word in too, no doubt. Was that meant to impress? Who was it meant to impress? It all seemed like such a sick prank now.

“Don’t madam me. Your Miss Susies are annoying enough. If Masa thought that was some kind of joke…to have you all polite and…you don’t even know what happened, do you? Last night, again you said: Mr. Masa recommends you take some herbal tea. Remember that? In your shitty, horrible voice. The present tense. You haven’t figured it out, have you? That the present tense is no longer viable. What you should have said was: Mr. Masa used to recommend you take herbal tea. Used to. When he was alive. When he breathed and laughed and sang bad karaoke in bad bars. Before he was blown to smithereens. But how could you know that? How could you know?”

Susie’s eyes are malevolent now and she feels them flaming red in her sockets. They sting and burn: late nights, scalding tears, the sourness of spirit and no clear target of recrimination.

“You haven’t a clue. Or, if you do…no, you can’t process it at all, can you? I mean, a mere mortal such as I, a stinking bloody human can hardly process it, so how could a thing, without blood…a thing…even…”

The words are choking her and she can no longer spew them out. She has exhausted herself. The confusion of her thoughts. Could it know? But how could it know if Masa was not there to program…or, has it been programmed in such a way that all news feeds become part of its knowing? When a dog’s master doesn’t come home from the hospital, does it know that it is dead? Does a dog know about death? Or simply that its master is absent? Does a homebot know that its master is no more? And if it does, does it care? The breakfast milk feels like it is curdling inside her, her guts clenching, her blood pressure is high and rising.

Sonny bends to the mess on the floor. With an outstretched hand and with dexterous digits it goes to pick up a shard of ceramic but is halted by Susie’s command.

“Leave it. What difference does it make?”

The homebot freezes in its half-bent position. How fast it is to respond to her every utterance. How quick its every perception. She flings her spoon, hitting it on the head and making a pinging sound, but the homebot shows no reaction, not an ounce of emotion.

“Doesn’t even hurt, does it? How the fuck could it?” Susie says, breathlessly.

Sonny rises to its full height.

“Miss Susie, I…”

“I’m going to be late. Bring the car round.”

coming out on May 15

e-book available for pre-order

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