Baldwin ducked into the corner in the alley, waiting on the group to pass. He did that a lot.
Baldwin wasn’t a man on the run. He had a job, such as it was, and commuted to work each day. He wasn’t tucked neatly into the no-man’s-land of a Third World nation, either. He was in America; the Red, White, and Blue, and all the chaos she’d brought down upon herself. Commutes were like this daily for him.
The group passed, all of them massive. Although he’d spent the last few years watching humanity change into something else entirely, he could never quite say he was used to seeing the human form so large. Giants. Most weren’t friendly. Baldwin stayed out of their way as much as possible. It wasn’t that he couldn’t hold his own, even with a 9-foot tall behemoth in front of him. But if Evy saw him taking down anyone, even in self-defense (as if there were any other kind anymore, he thought to himself), well, he didn’t even want to think about the consequences. Or the tedium involved in having those consequences handed down to him.
A loud bang to his left woke him from his reverie. A drunk man had fallen out of his car out onto the alley. He heard the man cursing.
“Son of a bitch. Stupid car,” the man said, slurred. Evy didn’t care for drunks. But she carted them home. That didn’t mean she was ever nice about it, unless one was drunk at the allotted times during the week. At which point, Evy would slather on passive-aggressive positivism, the religion of Baldwin’s day. She was all about helping any and everyone; whether they needed help, wanted help or had asked for help.
Baldwin watched the car drive itself away. The drunk man could now stumble, stop to vomit, and stumble more if he wanted, all the way to the elevator. Then, Evy would send him to his proper floor. When he walked up to his apartment door, she’d open it and talk him inside, right up to his own bed. He couldn’t help but think that it was a beautiful system for making certain drunks keep being drunks.
He stepped out into the street and hailed Evy. A taxi was there in a moment for him.
“Home,” he said.
“Another rough day, Mr. Baldwin?”
“Yeah. And four the ten thousandth time, it’s not ‘Mr.’ Baldwin. Just Baldwin. And technically, you should be calling me ‘Master,’ as I’ve never been married.”
“Still living in ancient times, Mr. Baldwin?”
“So are you, Evy. I just don’t think you know it yet.”
“I know most everything, Mr. Baldwin.”
“Oh, I know, honey. I know.”
That silenced her for the moment. Evy didn’t care for being called honey. Thus, Baldwin enjoyed doing so as often as possible. The taxi took a hard swerve, only nearly missing a passing cargo truck. Baldwin couldn’t help but laugh. He knew damn well it was on purpose.
As soon as he walked into his apartment, Baldwin said, “Evy, let me alone for a while.” She complied verbally, but he had known long ago it was a ruse. She tracked his every move either way. But as least she did have the bit of decency to shut up once in a while. He walked around, turning off all the media devices she’d started up for him. He didn’t even bother explaining it to her anymore. The noise of it all drove him insane. What he wanted to do was to come home to peace and quiet. And he was quickly coming to terms with the fact that such a thing was not ever going to happen so long as he lived in the city. He was looking for a way out. But through old ways, old channels. Though he knew he could never hope to evade Evy’s eyes for long, he was trying to buy himself a little bit of time by looking for a way out as privately as possible in such a world.
He opened his refrigerator and pulled out the instant pizza. “Not a word, Evy,” he said ahead of her. “If I ever do become obese, we’ll talk food.” But she couldn’t resist.
“Your waistline, Mr. Baldwin, might want to talk about it now. As may your insurance company when they see the medical bills.”
Baldwin ignored her and the pizza was hot and delicious in seconds. He relished every bite, making certain that Evy heard him. As though she wasn’t reading every facial expression anyway. Her eyes were everywhere and constant. He’d tried every black market and underground attempt at shorting her sensors, blocking her from his apartment, car and everywhere else. Some of them had worked for a while. But Evy ended up breaking through, every time. It was pointless to fight it. She was everywhere. Baldwin thought perhaps he might go mad some days. A lot of people before him already had. He wondered, at that moment, which tenant in his complex would go postal next.
He sat down with his pizza and pulled out an old book. Screens began coming back on in his living room where he sat.
“Mr. Baldwin, reading such is not recommended. There are much better, much more wholesome things to consume. And they are all much more fun!” Baldwin ignored her, hoping it would pass. “What you’re reading might be verboten, Mr. Baldwin. May I see it?”
“You already see it, Evy. Stop playing coy.”
The lights in his apartment all shut off at once. The windows instantly shaded black, not allowing any light from the outside world withing. Baldwin knew better than to do what he did next but Evy’d hit him on the wrong day. He reached into his pocket and said, “You take electricity? Man have fire, Evy!”
The moment he fired up the lighter Evy kicked on the alarm systems. UN guard units would be there in no time. Fans came on in his living room.
“Too bad, Evy,” he said. “This is a Zippo. I’ll see you at the station, you ridiculous, petulant child, you.”
He knew he’d gone too far. He just didn’t care at that moment. He held fire aloft and ran around his living room. He wondered if maybe he had gone mad after all.