He Sees You When You’re Sleeping | A Short Story

“You know why we picked you up, Ms. Huys. Don’t pretend that you don’t. Tell us who gave you the book by Mr. Orwell.”

“No one. No one gave me the book. I picked it out of the trash bin at my complex.” As soon as she said the words, she was bathed in microwave radiation. As though she were on fire. She screamed. The burning stopped.

“Telling the truth is a great virtue,” said the Voice, which seemed to come not from any single place, as from an Echo or Alexa speaker, but rather from everywhere, from the air of the room. This was by design. “You are a fastidious person, Veronica. High rankings on the Purity scale. Not ideological or sexual purity, mind you—but squeamishness, about bugs, body fluids, TMI, disorder in the kitchen or bathroom, the sexual activities of acquaintances. A person with your Profile doesn’t take things from the trash.”

“Bob. Bob Shepherd gave me the book.”

The Voice paused, as though it were thinking. “Clever, Ms. Huys. Giving us the name of a deceased person.”

“I’m not lying to you.”

“No. Pupils. Heart rate. Galvanic skin response. EKG activity. It’s likely that you aren’t. OK. The deceased Mr. Shepherd. May he rest in peace. Did he tell you why he gave you this book?’

“He said it was prescient.”

“You have quite the vocabulary, Ms. Huys. Perhaps this is why you continue to read novels instead of watching movies and reading manga like normal people.”

“I’m not abnormal.”

“You are too modest, Veronica. You were flagged years ago.”

“I’ve done nothing wrong. My mother was Gold Star.”

“We are not interested, Veronica, in what you have done, but in what you will do. You score at the 86th percentile for pridefulness, and you have genetic markers suggesting that this characteristic will increase with age. Pride, Ms. Huys, is a sin. You may have learned from one of your books that in the Christian religion, this was the sin that motivated the Adversary. You are not an Adversary, are you, Veronica?”

“You have my genetic profile?”

“We have everyone’s genetic profile, Ms. Huys. Do you have any idea how cheap and quick it is to sequence a person’s DNA?” You buy a cup of coffee. You discard the cup. There it is, your DNA, on the lip of the cup, ready for analysis. Of course, these days, the sequencing of children is done before birth. Necessary precaution. It would be a terrible thing, of course, if people were born with dysgenic defects that are easily curable. And storage—do you have any idea how cheap storage is these days? We collect and store EVERYTHING. Permanently.”

“You are laughing.”

“Yes,” said the Voice. “I was remembering my first hard drive. Only 3 terabytes.”

“You’re human.”

“You thought you might be talking to a machine? No, Ms. Huys. We try to give personalized service. So rare these days. My name’s Hal. Nice to meet you.”

“You couldn’t possibly store everything.”

“Everything. Every electronic transaction on planet Earth. Every email, text message, financial transaction, roll of security camera footage. Everything. 2.86 quintillion bytes a day, approximately.”

“So, it’s true.”

“It’s surprising, Ms. Huys, that anyone continues to doubt this. Storage. It’s practically unlimited. Way back in the last century, the physicist Richard Feynman explained how all the information ever produced in the history of the world could be stored on a device the size of a sugar cube. We’re not there yet, but we are close enough for practical purposes. The problem was never storage but sifting and making sense of all that data.”

“I guess that means you have job security, . . . Hal.”

“That’s good. Using my first name, now that you know, or think you know, that I am human. Try to establish rapport. Enough of that, we might release you.”

“Might? MIGHT release me? I have done nothing wrong.”

“Ms. Huys, there is a 99.87625 percent probability that it is false that a female who reads Mr. Orwell’s book and had a Gold Star mother and buys the smaller of two boxes of simchocolates, either of which she could easily afford, will not commit an antisocial act of significance Red. Sorry if that sentence was a bit complicated to process, but that’s how it works. Testing of the null hypothesis, Ms. Huys. And no, it’s not a matter of MY job security. That sifting of data is done by an AI datamining program called Purkinje.”

“Uh, OK. Wow.”

“Red, not Orange, mind you, though Red is bad enough. Better Dead than Red, as they say.”

“I am not a threat. I am a good person.”

“Ms. Huys. The accuracy of our predictions simply isn’t in question. Your personal Profile consists of, uh, let me see. Sorry, I don’t have that figure in front of me. A very, very large number of data points. Shall I give you some examples?”


“On March 3rd, 2026, at 8:27 in the evening, you liked a cartoon by Nomi Hayakawa on the Tracebook page of your sister, Emily. Then you argued with someone with the Tracebook Profile name Tim Starship about the efficacy of the rhinovirus vaccine. On March 4th, at 9:57 in the morning, you dropped a hardcopy of a memo from your Principal on the floor of the Facilitators’ mail room at the school where you expedite the use of Personalized Educational Software. There’s video, if you would like to see it. Your prescription for the NewUda anti-anxiety medication was automatically refilled by electronic debit at midnight that evening and delivered by drone to your apartment on . . . at 3:36 PM on the 25th. You weren’t there to receive it because you were buying surplus Valentine’s Day chocolates at a 78 percent discount at the Amazon cafe 19.6 meters from your apartment. A small box. Three pieces.”

“OK. I get the idea.”

“The AI knows you better than you do yourself, Veronica. It sees correlations and tendencies in data that no human could possibly follow, and it flags issues so that these can be addressed, for your benefit and for that of society at large. Surely you understand this.”

“Of course. Of course I do.”

“Then you will understand that you will need to undergo some treatment. It will be minimally invasive, and you will feel fine afterward. Better, even. And the only difference is that you will not cheat on the taxes due on your proceeds from a community garage sale, or whatever it is that you are going to be doing, though you will still masturbate, on occasion, to softcore gay male porn, which, it may surprise you to hear, is acceptable to The Algorithm. We all have our little quirks, don’t we, Ms. Huys? We’re going to send in a couple people, now, to prep you for the procedure. Do we have your consent?”

“Of course.”

“Consent is so important. Civilized. Please say, ‘My name is Veronica Huys, and I hereby give consent for the performance on me of procedure 27-K9b.’ Do I need to repeat that or print it out for you?”

“My name is Veronica Huys, and I hereby give consent for the performance on me of procedure 27-K9b.”

“OK. You will receive 8 Profile points for this procedure. Just relax then. Nothing will hurt, and everything will be just fine.”

Art: Althohenschönhausen Gedenkstätte. By Z thomas – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62070206

For more short stories by Bob Shepherd (and essays on the reading and writing of fiction), go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/short-stories/