Short Story Prompt: “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut
Monday, April 7, 2025.
6:00 a.m. The alarm went off inside his head. “Mr. Patterson, it’s time to wake up,” the Voice said. He rolled over on his side and said forcefully to the chip inside his head, “Leave me alone, Martha.”
6:02 a.m. “Sir, it’s time to wake up,” the Voice went off again like an alarm clock with a sharp beep that he could not put on snooze. “Okay, okay,” he climbed out of bed. He went into the bathroom and quickly relieved himself.
6:05 a.m. Patterson stumbled down to the kitchen. He poured water from the tap into the coffeemaker. “Sir, you have to use distilled water. You never know what poisons they put in the water these days.” “Yes, ma’am,” he responded. He went to the pantry and pulled out a gallon bottle of water, then poured the water into the coffeemaker. “Happy now?” he said to the Voice. The Voice came back, “Sir, please do not be smart with me. I am only doing my job.”
6:30 a.m. The Voice reminded Patterson that it was time to shower. He showered and dressed.
7:00 a.m. Patterson headed for the front door. “Sir, are we not eating breakfast this morning?” He answered, “I’m just going to stop at Krispy Kreme for a couple of donuts.” “Sir,” Voice said firmly, “donuts are bad for you. Loaded with sugar. How many times am I going to have to remind you. Now fix yourself a healthy breakfast.” He said begrudginly, “Okay, okay.” While Martha played some morning motivational music, he prepared an omelet. Once his breakfast was on the table, he opened his tablet and read the Wall Street Journal.
7:30 a.m. Bing! a soft reminder went off in his head, letting him know it was time to leave for work. He placed his dishes in the sink, did a quick brushing of his teeth, straightened his tie and went out to his BMW. He said to Voice, “Lock the house please, Martha.” The Voice obeyed.
7:35 a.m. Patterson’s BMW headed up the interstate on-ramp and followed the flow of the traffic. The robotic driver corrected the car’s speed to the flow of the other cars. The traffic eased along at a steady pace, each car driven by its own robotic driver. Thanks to technology, there were no more traffic jams or pile-ups. “Martha, could I have the market report?” he requested. The radio came on with an update of the financial news.
8:30 a.m. The BMW pulled into his parking spot at The Company. He checked his digital for the time. It was good to be early this Monday morning. He had a meet-and-greet with a major investor that afternoon. The extra time would give him a head start on his preparation.
8:35 a.m. Patterson entered the door of the office of the Vice President for Financial Affairs, his office. He said hello to his administrative assistant. “Helen, can you cancel any appointments I might have today.” It was not a question; it was a request. “I have a big meet at 3:00, and I need the time to prepare.”
Helen looked up from her work. “Yes, sir. All but one. You are to report to HR102 at 9:00.”
He said, “Cancel it.”
“No, sir. It’s an order from upstairs.”
He argued, “I’ve got to prepare for this meeting.”
Martha interjected, “Sir, you are to report.”
Shaking his head, he said, “Since it seems I have no choice, I’ll go. But there will be hell to pay if this meet-and-greet don’t go well this afternoon.”
“Sir,” the inside of the head said, “you will still have plenty of time. I can help as well.”
“Okay, I’m going.”
8:50 a.m. Patterson got on the elevator and pushed the button for the 13th floor, the Human Resources Floor.
8:52 a.m. Patterson stepped out of the elevator on the 13th floor. The receptionist showed him Room 102, better known throughout The Company as the Interrogation Room.
8:53 a.m. Patterson entered Room 102. A man and a woman, both wearing dark glasses, sat behind a table, facing the door. “Have a seat, Gregor,” the woman said. “We can call you Gregor, can we not?”
“Yes.” Patterson took his seat. “I have an important meet with a client today. Can’t this wait?”
“Not really,” the woman said, “but this won’t take long. Less than thirty minutes.” Then the man, his hands folded on the table, asked,” Are you happy with your work here at The Company?”
“I am,” Patterson said. “Quite happy.” His palms sweated.
8:55 a.m. The woman asked, “Gregor, you are happy with your office? With Helen, your administrative assistant? With the perks of your title, such as the BMW? With the support you are getting from The Company? You do like it here, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Patterson said, wondering why the third degree.
“Then what seems to be the problem, Gregor?” the man asked. There was a smirk in his voice.
8:56 a.m. Patterson looked confused. “There’s no problem.”
“Gregor, we have been receiving reports from the Martha 760 that you are not happy. She says you have been not giving her your full cooperation. You’ve been arguing with her. Is this true?”
8:57 a.m. Patterson answered, “Ah, c’mon guys. I have been following Martha’s instructions to the letter.”
“Yes, but you are not getting into the spirit of the program,” the man said.
“I am. I can assure you absolutely that I am,” Patterson said.
“We hired you,” the woman said, “right out of college to be our youngest vice president ever. We are paying you a very lucrative salary with very good benefits. I hope you appreciate that.”
8:58 a.m. “I do,” Patterson responded, “I do.”
The woman continued, “There was only one condition on which you were hired. That we implant the Martha 270 chip in your head. And that you follow her instructions to the letter and in the spirit of the program. You did agree to this, did you not?”
8:59 a.m. Patterson was starting to get scared.
“Would you like a glass of water, Gregor?” the man asked.
“No, no, no,” Gregor answered. “Yes, I agreed to that.”
“Then why are you resisting?” the woman asked.
“I didn’t think it would be so hard,” Patterson said.
“But it isn’t,” the man said. “It’s very easy. All you have to do is listen to the Martha 270 and respond positively.”
“You know,” the woman said. “You have been upsetting Martha 270. You don’t want to do that, do you?”
9:00 a.m. “I didn’t know,” Patterson said.
“She doesn’t deal well with conflict, Gregor.” The woman smiled
“You don’t mind apologizing, do you?” The man was not asking a question. He was making a demand.
“Of course not, and I promise I will do better,” Patterson said.
“Then all will be well,” the man said.
“You play your cards right,” the woman added, “you could very well be the youngest CEO of The Company. You would like that, wouldn’t you? You haven’t changed your mind?”
9:01 a.m. “No,” Patterson said, “I haven’t changed my mind.”
“Then it is settled,” the man emphasized. “You will comply with the Martha 270’s instructions. After all, Martha is looking out for your best interest. You think you can do that? Of course you can?”
The man and woman stood up. Both walked around the table. Patterson stood up. They offered him their hands and he shook hands with both. As the man was leading Patterson out to the door, he said, “Or else.”
9:02 a.m. The woman turned Patterson toward her and straightened his tie. “One last thing,” she said. “Don’t forget the party tonight. We’ve got a woman for you to meet. She’s going to make a perfect wife for a future CEO.”
The man added, “And don’t forget to apologize to Martha.”
Next Wednesday’s Short Story Prompt: “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway.