“Busy day?” Shirley asked. Joan gave a half shrug as she stood from the dispatch station to let Shirley start her shift.
“Eh, it’s pretty normal for this time of year. You’ll get along fine,” Joan patted Shirley on the shoulder as the newer employee settled in. She watched Shirley pull a node out of her bag.
“The bosses are pretty lenient with the job, but don’t forget to have your headphones on.” Joan pointed at the large 32″ monitor; it was currently off. “Even if there’s no video feed, audio can still come through.”
“Oh, right! Thanks,” Shirley smiled. She reached into her purse and pulled out a red ball, about the size of a large apple.
“Have a good shift,” Joan waved and walked away. Shirley gripped the ball using the fingertips of both hands and pulled it apart like an orange. It separated into two red halves; she put one over each ear.
“Connected,” the emergency assistant said through the earphones.
“Now, for the hard part,” Shirley giggled to herself. She was one of hundreds of dispatchers distributed around the city. Dispatch A.I. automatically chose the bestThe station she used was a closed-off section in a coffee shop. It was mid-morning and there were almost no other patrons. Her entire job consisted of sitting and waiting for an emergency to happen. A.I. automation handled most of the job; but, humans preferred human interaction. Shirley was a friendly human face during an emergency, the one job A.I. cannot do.
She browsed videos on her node while waiting. Shirley glanced at the main monitor; she debated using it as a screen. The system automatically provides a video feed, interrupting whatever is on the screen, when a call is made. However, Joan’s reminder about audio calls gave her pause; she did not want to accidentally confuse the system.
At the moment Shirley decided against using the monitor, it came to life. The screen was solid white with red text in the middle.[Dialing: 5] Shirley sat up straight and gave her attention to the screen as she watched it count down. [Dialing: 4] [Dialing: 3] [Dialing: 2] [Dialing: 1] [Dialing: Now] The white screen transitioned to a blurry image. Dispatch A.I. processed the video feed from several, sometimes dozens, of different cameras in the area. Shirley’s node vibrated in her lap. She ignored it and fought the impulse to glance down to see who it was; she wanted her eyes on the scene as soon as it came into view. [Dialing: Now] The red text breathed, as if it hung up and tried calling again.
“Uh oh,” Shirley sat up straighter. If no one answered the phone, that meant they might be unconscious or dead. Shirley wanted to be able to spot any helpful hint of what was going on. The fact that no one answered yet explained why the scene was taking so long to process. The person answering their phone was supposed to be the final piece of the puzzle. But, the A.I. was intelligent enough to work around that, and it used other cameras from the area. A red splotch appeared in the center of the blurry image.
“Oh no, I hope that’s not blood,” Shirley whispered to herself as the image sharpened. The red splotch became two smaller, more defined splotches in a person’s head. She saw black hair and a white blouse.[Dialing: Now]
“No…,” Shirley whispered. Her node was still vibrating in her lap. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She tapped her node without looking. Immediately she heard a click in her red headphones telling her the call connected. Shirley forced a smile.
“911, what’s your emergency?” she said to the friendly face on screen.
The sound of breaking glass immediately filled her ears. On the screen, Shirley saw several walking skeletons approaching her from behind. She closed her eyes.