#fridayflash: customer experience

“I need to talk to a human,” Stiltskind demanded.

“Sir, prejudice against non-Earth androids is prohibited from public discourse under rule 239-B7. If you will not refrain from your prejudicial remarks, I shall be forced to call security.”

Stiltskind took a deep breath and loudly exhaled it as he walked away from the help kiosk. Two metres away, the nausea hit him again. He fell, rather than sat, on the nearest bench.

He put his head between his knees and sucked in more air. Things seemed a little better at knee level. It let him clear his head and think of how to try again.

The kiosk AI were programmed to placate irate customers, but not rude ones. Their encounter memory span was… Stiltskind blinked away the excess moisture from his eyes and concentrated on not scratching the backs of his hands. That would make the blisters worse.

Their encounter memory span was eight minutes. Right. He used to repair the damn things. It should be easier for him to remember. He closed his eyes and straightened up slowly. Circumstances could really mess with your head.

He rose and did his best to approach the help kiosk at the opposite end of the airport terminal at a casual pace, instead of the sprint he wanted to use. He jogged a few steps when the line of sight was blocked by a magazine stand.

“Excuse me,” he said, in a cheerful, slightly falsetto voice. “I was wondering if the environmental controls could be adjusted.”

“Temperature and humidity are normal,” replied the AI. This one was programmed to use a female-sounding voice. Good. The other one had annoyed him so quickly he’d almost punched it.

Stiltskind choked back vomit. “Ah, I’m sure, I’m sure,” he said, clearing his throat and wincing as stomach acid burned his throat. “But the, ah, air, quality, the air quality seems to be off. There’s that smell. Can’t you smell it?”

“We have had no other reports of smells.” Maybe he would have to punch this one.

“Yes, the, ah, the other passengers asked me to be their spokesperson. I used to repair kiosk AIs, you see. And the smell is very bad.”  He was going to say something more, but a coughing fit brought him to his knees. This time the nausea wouldn’t go away until he laid his head on the carpet. He watched crumbs and specks of dust flutter as he exhaled.

As soon as he thought he could hold himself up while leaning against the kiosk desk, he reached up with one hand and heaved his body into a semi-standing position.

“Oh, there you are,” said the AI. “I wanted to confirm — is the smell disturbing everyone, or just people with sensitivity to fragrances?”

Stiltskind glanced back at the terminal and the bodies littered across it. The ones who were moving at all were breathing shallowly.

“I’d say it’s everyone,” he said, before he lurched two steps to the right and bent over. This time he couldn’t hold back the vomit.

“Are you ill? Do you want me to call a medic in addition to the repair team?”

“That would be a good idea,” Stiltskind croaked.

“Please wait in the infirmary area,” the AI said. Stiltskind felt as though his brain were melting out of his ears, although he was fairly certain he’d be dead already if that were true. “It’s three and a half metres to the right,” it added. “I have unlocked the door for you.” Perhaps it was the effects of the fumes, but Stiltskind couldn’t help but think the AI sounded a little prim.

“Thanks,” he muttered thickly, and stumbled towards the door. He fell against the latch button, and managed to step inside and close the door behind him before any of the fumes followed.

The infirmary area was a small room separated from the main terminal with walls of frosted glass. It had three cots and a cupboard with medical supplies in it. Stiltskind had been in similar ones many times before. It was so rare for travelers to get ill these days, they were often used as break rooms by repair people.

The infirmary was designed to be sealed off from the rest of the terminal in case of infectious diseases. Certainly the air was much clearer inside than out. Stiltskind flopped onto the nearest cot and gulped in air. His face cracked into a half-hysterical laugh as he realised that if he’d arrived for his flight on time, he would have been affected like all the other biologicals in the terminal.

He sighed and pressed his back into the cot. Maybe it was an attack, or maybe it was just a major ventilation malfunction. Right now, he just wanted someone with some authority to deal with it.