The ads considered you.
That sentence alone was enough to make Carter shudder. The ads considered you. They looked at you and they thought. They fucking thought. And then they sold you something.
In the split second since he had appeared in the billboard’s line of sight, a million calculations had gone underway and now it showed, in a brilliant display – both literal and metaphorical – of scientific ingenuity, a cinemagraph of a single can of Diet Dr Pepper, moisture sliding down the side, a cloudless sky in the background.
Millions of dollars had gone into the research and development, and it assessed that Carter, in hundred-degree weather, might be thirsty.
Still, he never got over the impression that they were learning. They were designed for that, certainly. They tag you, follow you around, remember your habits, and sell you a can of Diet Dr Pepper. Well, still, he reasoned, they knew he drank diet. So there was that.
The weather was beating down hard on him, though. The machines reasoned well. A can of Diet Dr Pepper would certainly be exactly what he needed.
But he resisted.
The billboard had failed to notice the bottle of water he kept in his bag. He guessed it was nice that they didn’t have X-Ray vision just yet. He opened his bag, took out the bottle, and stood in front of the billboard’s badly hidden cameras as he poured the still-cold water into his mouth. For added effect, he made sure the label was facing the right way.
The machine within the billboard whirred as it tried to figure out what Carter needed. He looked refreshed. He didn’t look particularly hungry. He had the air of someone who seemed pretty content with life.
Except, the machine had been told, no one was ever content. They needed something. It scanned Carter with increased scrutiny. Beads of sweat had formed on his forehead and on top of his hair. His hat size was large. His income dictated he could spend upward of thirty dollars on something as frivolous as a hat. There was a good clothing store that offered that within a mile.
It displayed a large-brimmed Tilley Airflo Hat, only twenty-five dollars, from a shop 0.83 miles away – with directions.
It was exactly what Carter needed. But instead, he fished into his bag and fetched out a very similar hat, and placed it on his head.
The machine ignored people walking past it, and focused on Carter. It was almost vengeful. Carter’s shoes were starting to wear out. There was a cobbler nearby who could fix the soles for cheaper than a pair of new shoes, and it was only 1.34 miles away, provided Carter turned back on himself.
Carter wanted to walk past it, like everyone else. Ignore it. But it had just too weird for too long. He took off his shoes and threw them in the trash. He had figured the machine would notice the shoes, and had also packed a small pair of sandals. They were much comfortable to wear in this heat anyway. And then he did something he never thought he would: he smiled smugly. At a machine, as if that would make any difference.
The machine thought long and hard, and once again considered him. Carter looked like he needed a hospital.
The Chicago All Saints Hospital. 2.51 miles away. Catch an Uber there for less than seven dollars!
Carter almost laughed. He’d beaten it. “There’s nothing wrong wi –”
The bolt struck him in the leg and left a large, burning hole. He collapsed on the floor, howling in agony.
The screen changed: Dialing Uber driver
Carter stood up, pain searing through his entire body. He tried to retrain the tears that were pooling up around his eyes.
“I’ll walk, thanks,” he said, through grunts of misery.
He saw, through his tear-filled, hazy vision, the screen change once more.
Sanford Funeral Care. 1.99 miles east. Buy 5 get the sixth for free!
Carter barely had time to speak when the bolt exploded through his head.