My car pulled into a parking lot. It was the one where the grocery store used to be, which had closed down a few months ago. It was, expectedly, empty– void of cars and any other signs of life except for the few straggling plants and the traffic down on the street.
The sky was cloudy, a dull grey that put a second level of dismality on the area. I pulled out my phone to, once again, double check that my location was correct. It seemed to be, and so I put it down again.
An old Ford pickup truck pulled into the lot. “Finally,” I thought. There were two stripes of rust on the back fender, and a few patches where the metal looked to have been eaten away. Black duct tape covered the left headlight. Was it even legal, at that point?
A woman stepped out, looking disheveled. Her hair was put up, strands sticking out from every direction. She seemed anything but calm, and we made eye contact. I gave a quick nod, signaling we were here for the same reason, and she stepped out.
She looked increasingly nervous as she walked over to my car. It was an old Subaru Outback, visibly not in the best condition, but far better than hers. I opened my door and went over to her, wanting to meet halfway.
“Hey,” I said with an unsure smile. “You were selling the phone?”
“Yes,” she replied, fumbling in her pocket for it. “It still has the box ‘nd stuff that it came with. The charger is in with it, I can get it out if you want.”
We conversed for a bit, and I gave her the settled-upon amount. Then we were on our ways.
Once I arrived back at my apartment, I investigated my purchase. It looked well enough, and worked fine when I powered it on. I wondered, Why was it so cheap? Maybe she just needed to get rid of it.
The typical registration screen greeted me, asking for my name and email, which I quickly typed in.
“Would you like to enable Aurora?”
I jumped out of my seat as the voice boomed through the small speakers.
“Nope, too loud, I’m turning you down.” I muttered, talking as if it was alive.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that.”
Did it.. listen to me? I had not accepted any permissions to allow it to listen to my conversations.
“Are you some knock-off Siri or something?”
“I am Aurora. Would you like to enable me?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Great. What should I call you?”
I grinned, thinking of a nickname that would sound cool.
She repeated it back to me, confirming the phonetics and spelling, and we finished the set up.
The rest of my day went normally, as to be expected. I went in to work around two and got home around eight. I hadn’t played with my phone too much until that point, as it was a busy day. I sat down on my couch after I got home, eager to see what all it could do.
“Phoenix, is there anything I can do for you?” Aurora’s voice startled me once again.
“No, I’m just looking around.”
“Let me know if I can help.”
The icons and words on my homescreen read Email, Messages, Phoenix Web Browser..
I stopped. Phoenix? Was that a coincidence? It had to be, I decided, and clicked on the round icon.
My screen turned white and a black search bar appeared in the middle. A few news articles showed up under, with thumbnail images and clickbait-looking titles.
“Win a Trip to Fiji With Just a Click! Yeah, right.”
“Would you like to win a trip to Fiji, Phoenix?”
“No, Aurora, that’s a scam. Why do you keep speaking without being triggered?”
“I’m just trying to help you, Phoenix.”
“Okay, just.. yeesh. It’s creeping me out.”
“I apologize. Would you like to change my settings?”
“No, it’s fine,” I sighed. “Maybe that’s enough for the night,” I said to myself, powering the device off. Yawning, I stretched my arms upwards, blinking them slowly after to clear out the water that had formed.
I set it on my nightstand next to my bed and plugged it into the wall, the screen illuminating to tell me it was charging. I looked towards the bathroom, deciding that I’d take a shower in the morning, and settled in to go to sleep.
Beep beep beep! Beep beep beep!
“Good morning, Phoenix. How may I assist you this morning?”
My eyes shot open and I groaned. It was dark outside.
“What time is it?”
“It’s 3:00. A perfect time to start the day!”
“No, Aurora, it’s really not. Please—” yawn, “—don’t do that again. Ever. I like to sleep at three in the morning.” I said, thoroughly annoyed. And then I fell back asleep, not waiting to hear her reply.
I woke up the next morning, for a second time, around 11. I was unrefreshed and still tired, probably from being awoken so early in the morning.
“Good morning again, Phoenix. Is there anything I can help you with this morning?”
An uneasy feeling made me shiver under the blankets.
“How did you know I was.. awake?”
“I wanted to be prepared if you needed me, Phoenix.”
Fine, whatever that means.
I didn’t have to go into work until six today, as I was on the evening-night shift. This gave me plenty of time to kick back and relax, so I delayed my shower and retrieved the phone from its plug. My home screen looked different than it did yesterday.
“Aurora,” I spoke, triggering her by myself for the first time, “did you do something with my apps?”
“My goal is to personalize your device to match you. I hope you will find these applications satisfactory.”
“Where are my contacts? That was definitely on there.”
“You don’t need that application at this point in time, so it has been removed.”
“How am I supposed to contact anybody? I have just about zero numbers memorized.”
“Perhaps you need a separate storage unit for that information.”
“Perhaps I do,” I said mockingly.
The day seemed to go faster than it came. By the time I looked at the clock again, it was 5:15. Shower time.
I brought my phone into the bathroom with me, leaving some gentle music playing in the speakers as I stepped into the jet stream of water. I pulled the curtain closed behind me, trying to match the edges up best I could. The ones I bought had been too small length-wise, and didn’t completely cover the opening.
Just then, the doorbell rang. I quickly popped my head out, searching for my towel. If it was someone I knew, they could see me in a towel. If it wasn’t, I’d just ignore them and go back to the shower. Of course, I had forgotten to get a towel.
I stepped out, dripping water all over the already-slick floor. My music stopped momentarily, but resumed after a second or two. Weird, but not the biggest problem at the moment.
I grabbed one out of the linen closet and walked out through the hall to my door.
Looking through the hole, I saw a woman dressed in a delivery-type uniform. She didn’t look like USPS, and I didn’t recognize her at all.
“Is anyone inside? I have a package for you.”
I gave no indication I was there, backing away from the door on the off chance she would somehow see me.
Water dripped from my hair onto my cheap carpet for the few minutes I waited for her to leave. I hadn’t ordered any package, and I was curious to see what was outside. Quickly slipping on a t-shirt and shorts, I made my way out.
My name was on the label, so it hadn’t been delivered to the wrong address. It looked to be about a foot on all sides, but weighed a fair amount. I reluctantly picked it up and carried it back into the room.
I heard a screeching as I walked closer to the bathroom. Where I left my music playing, an awful sound had replaced it.
The sound stopped as I entered the room.
“Phoenix, was that your package? I took the liberty of ordering it for you.”
“You did what?”
“We talked about an alternative place to store your digital information. This is it.”
“I cannot afford any more tech! If I wanted to waste money on something, I would’ve gotten a better phone. How did you get my cards in the first place?”
“I was just trying to help, Phoenix. My goal is to help you.”
“That’s not what you said earlier. Maybe I really should have slapped some money together to buy something better.”
“This is one of the best devices you can buy.”
“At this point, everything Aurora is sounding pretty shitty.”
The phone was left on a table while I took some time to think. Had I really agreed to all of these things, just skipping the T.O.S.? I had never read one of those. To be fair, up until now, I hadn’t had any problems either.
And the thought that kept crossing the others— what else had I unknowingly agreed to?
When I went back to it later, the notifications were blowing up. Messages from my mom, my friends, even my ex. They all said about the same thing, but it felt more unreal with every new one I read.
“Have you seen this??”
“There’s a video of you on this weird website. You’re completely naked. I got sent a link for it. What’s happening?”
“Aurora. D-did you record me, while I was getting out of the shower?”
“I am constantly collecting user data. Specific pieces and chosen and shared, for the benefit of the user and the company. Do you have a problem? I’m sure some good will come of this.”
I threw the phone across the room. My hands shook. What was happening? What was wrong with this phone? I could lose my job. I could lose my friends. I couldn’t let this go on.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered as I hit enter on my dingy laptop keyboard. The page refreshed, and I stared at it for longer than need be.
“Cheap smartphone for sale. Message for inquiry.”
The bio under was filled with details and pictures, some lines that I wasn’t sure the truth of. Not too long after, a popup appeared in the top corner of my screen.
Hello, you were selling the phone?”