Do you love your partner but wish you didn’t have to put up with their bad habits or allergy-provoking pets?
Are you sick of chasing love only to have your heart broken?
Do you prefer relaxing alone to dragging yourself out on dates, but wish you had someone to love once in a while?
Did the love of your life walk out on you after your father’s funeral last week, taking your cat and the last roll of toilet paper, and proclaiming he liked how generous you were to him and loved being invited to such family gatherings where he could see your smoking-hot mother, but the way you always scratched your ear when you were thinking was driving him nuts?
We have the solution. With the patented HeartValet system, you’ll always feel loved. HeartValet is a precisely controlled, individually tailored, automatic delivery system of your friends oxytocin, vasopressin, and the perfect blend of nineteen other natural love potions just like the ones your body makes in the best stages of love. We’ve taken the body’s unpredictable mess of love hormones and perfected them into the smooth sailing that you deserve. But that’s not all; HeartValet integrates with a HugVest that automatically stimulates your C-tactile network whenever you need it. Users of HeartValet are proven to be up to 42% happier, and live up to five years longer or more.
Pregnant women and chronically ill people are advised to find a partner who will assist them with their physical needs. HeartValet is not suitable as a complete source of affection for infants.
Toya self-consciously stopped scratching her ear, and mentally cursed targeted advertising. And she wondered why, with all the information it had about her, it still seemed to be consistently targeted at idiots. She knew what ‘up to’ meant, and she wasn’t desperate enough to buy their cheesy fake love. Toya had never been a fan of artificial emotions, injected into her mind with no external cause. Even alcohol freaked her out a little. Even the smoother-than-nature hormones from her contraceptive implant. HeartValet was just a blow-up doll for the soul. How dare they imply she needed it… how dare they…
Toya looked down to see her ice cream had cruelly melted while her attention was imprisoned by the dumb ad. The spoon made a goddamn irritating noise when she threw it into the bowl, then it bounced out and spattered melted ice cream all over her. She began to cry.
Are you crying into your Rocky Road after a recent breakup?
Do you wish there were an easier way to feel lov…
Toya swore and threw the terminal across the room. It had the gall to respond by breaking, trapping the irritatingly-cheerful voice in a loop and leaving Toya without a working terminal. She stomped out the door, more for somewhere to stomp and something to slam than anything else. The blasted lift wouldn’t come quickly enough, so she ran down the stairs until they made her tired and she had to lean against the wall to weep. The world was just a big ball of gravity bringing her down.
She managed to settle into a calmer state of self-pity, and mope down to the ground floor. Out into the bright sunlight, which made her sneeze. “Oh, go turn into a black hole!” she yelled at the Sun, and resumed her stomping.
She passed a group of creative anachronists cooking old-time foods with a fire. One of them accosted her. “Would you like to try this grilled bell pepper?” he demanded.
“God no. Don’t you realise what you’re doing to your bodies?! Sure, it tastes nice for now, but you’ll never have the proper balance of nutrients. Don’t you idiots even see the warnings on the packaging? All sorts of diseases are linked to poor nutrition. Everyone knows that. You’re going to die younger, you know.”
She muttered ‘ovary-eaters!’ under her breath, and took a swig of delicious, nutritionally-balanced fluid from the nearest Soylent fountain to prove her point. It hurt her on its way past the lump in her throat.
“Would you put yourself at the controls of your home’s nuclear plant? Would you leave your nutrition up to the whims of taste and circumstances? Would you leave your emotional state at the mercy of…”
Toya swatted the advertising drone out of the way.
It righted itself and hovered back to her.
“You seem to be in an emotionally agitated state. Studies have shown that emotionally balanced people live up to five years longer or more. HeartValet: balanced nutrition for the soul.”
She ran away from it. It chased her through unfamiliar streets, with its calm voice helpfully pointing out each preventable spike in her temper. After a particularly irritating stretch, she stopped and faced it.
“Would you shut up?! My dad died and I’ve just been through a breakup. I really do not need you pestering me!”
Do you need a hug?
Toya’s rage turned back to tears, and she momentarily forgot the drone wasn’t sentient. “Yeah.”
HugVest can give you all the hugs you need, when you need them! Studies have shown that people who get enough hugs are up to 32% happier…
Toya sighed. “Oh, alright. If I get HeartValet, will you stop bugging me?”
With HeartValet, nothing will ever bug you again!
The drone swung its spotlight onto the logo of the HeartValet building, which was, to Toya’s surprise, right next to them. The curvaceous V formed a softly pulsating heart, which hung from a sturdy H-shaped support.
The automatic doors opened, inviting her in.
The receptionist’s smile was disarmingly genuine. “You must be Toya,” he said.
“You want to be fitted with a HeartValet? Not a problem. Just authorise the payment here and the Cupid will be with you shortly. Feel free to use the time to peruse these brochures about HeartValet and our carnal pleasure add-on packages available for a small extra charge.”
“Oh, I… don’t think I need that…” Toya was sure the carnal pleasure package was just rebranded old technology with a hefty price tag.
“I assure you, you will. They’re 25% off when purchased with a HeartValet.”
Toya ignored the receptionist and tried to ignore the preliminary price tag as she authorised the payment.
Finding nothing else to do, she flicked on a brochure, which spoke in the familiar overly-cheerful voice.
Hi, and congratulations on choosing the sensible path to lifelong love! We love having you here. In just a few minutes, your expert Cupid will come and sweep you off your feet and into the clinic to implant your HeartValet device. The implantation is performed under local anaesthetic, and is quick and painless. Your cupid will then run a few quick tests to ensure all your HeartValet’s chemical channels are working properly, and you’ll be ready to be fitted for a HugVest. To perfectly tailor your HeartValet’s functionality to your personal physiology, we will monitor your moods and blood chemistry for seven days in our luxurious Honeymoon Village. Don’t worry, this is all included in the price range you’ve already preauthorised.
You will also benefit from fantastic deals on our carnal pleasure packages, so you don’t miss the other side of having a romantic partner. We have devices that do things your previous lovers never imagined…
Toya flicked it off in exasperation, and seconds later a woman in a soft pink lab coat entered the room from the door marked ‘Cupid’s Lab’.
“Ah, I see you’ve finished with the introduction. Come with me and we’ll get started.”
Toya followed her into the ‘Lab’, which was much like an ordinary clinic: scanner bed, chair, desk. The walls were adorned with the standard medical qualifications, plus a Doctorate of Cupidity issued by the company’s HappyVersity, and the framed quote, “Tampering with their happiness circuits will invalidate the warranty” in an old-fashioned script befitting its turn-of-the-century authorship.
“Alright, we’ve already accessed your medical and behavioral history, and you’re the perfect candidate. If you’d just hold out your arm, we can get the implant in.”
The HeartValet implant went in without problems, the same way her contraceptive implant had.
“Perfect. Now if you’d just get onto the scanner bed so I can test a few functions, that would be lovely.”
Toya did as she was told.
“Okay, I’m going to test the channels on your implant using this remote here while the scanner checks what’s happening in your brain. You may feel some pretty powerful emotions, and I urge you to remember that these feelings are not toward me but caused by your HeartValet. At some love implant companies you’d be told it was love for God, but we’re a little more open about what we’re doing. Just interpret it as love for yourself, or love of biology, if that’s what floats your boat. But if you do slip up and profess your love for me, don’t worry, I’ve heard it all before.”
Toya laughed. She’d never profess her love for someone she’d just met.
The Cupid pressed a button, and Toya was in love. The ‘Cupid’ being the only viable object of affection she could see, Toya reached out to her. The Cupid expertly dodged her, and pressed another button. Toya soon returned to normal, and blushed at the realization of what she’d just done.
“Okay, that one works. By the way, can I interest you in our carnal pleasure add-on packages?”
“No thanks, I already said…” The Cupid pressed a button and suddenly carnal pleasure was all Toya could think about. “Uhhhh…” she moaned. Nurse fantasies suddenly made sense. “Yeah… I think I’ll take that…”
Another button, and Toya had the strong feeling that the Cupid loved her back.
They went through a few more tests, a few more feelings that Toya enjoyed enough that she didn’t care about the lack of external cause. Then they tried out the HugVest, which successfully tightened around her when a virtual reality game induced feelings of loneliness.
“Okay, we’re done with the initial tests! It’s all working perfectly. Don’t worry, in normal operation you won’t feel anything as sudden or as strong as that. The emphasis is on balance, and maintaining a feeling of love to keep you enjoying life when life is not doing its part.”
Toya was still buzzing a little, and wasn’t sure if it was an afterglow from the experiments or the normal operation of the implant. She nodded.
“So to make sure we get the right balance for your body, as you know, you’ll spend a week in our Honeymoon Village. This should also allow you to adjust to your new feelings while surrounded by people who understand you. You should find it quite relaxing, but don’t be alarmed if our staff or other patients upset you occasionally; it’s all to test the responses of the unit and your body. You’re going to feel great. Amy here will show you to your room.”
Amy took her down a corridor, which became a high walkway overlooking an atrium with gift shops, a casino, a swimming pool, and various real and virtual sports courts, “I didn’t bring a change of clothes!” Toya realised aloud, and immediately felt like she was wanted anyway.
“Don’t worry about it. A lot of people come here unprepared. There are some clean jumpsuits and swimwear in your room. Here it is: 216.” Amy led her into one of the rooms beside the walkway, showed her the amenities, and left.
Toya lay on her bed for a while, at first enjoying the solitude, then enjoying the feeling of being with a loved one that naturally took over when the solitude outstayed its welcome. The HugVest tightened ever so slightly.
Eventually she got up and wandered along the walkway, watching the courts. She felt a little more lost than usual watching the virtual games; it was hard to tell from people’s demeanor whether they were winning or losing.
She was startled by the feeling of fur against her ankle. A cat. Her cat! What was Molpy doing there? She patted him happily, feeling a rush of love she was sure was natural.
“Hey there, little Molpy! You’re a kitty! Yeah, you’re a fuzzy wuzzy wittle kit…”
Toya looked up. “Alex?!”
“Toya! It is you. What are you doing here?”
“Recovering from you,” she said. The HugVest tightened slightly. It was only when saying those words that she realised she didn’t feel like she needed to recover any more.
“Fair enough,” Alex said, laughing.
Toya felt a quickly-stifled spike of rage as she realised why Alex was there. “Did you leave me for this?!”
“Yeah, well… that ear-scratching thing was annoying… and their advertising was kind of… insistent… for good reason! This is so much better, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Yeah, it sure is.” Toya fell in love with him again, then reminded herself she was in love with nothing in particular. “But why did you take Molpy? He’s mine… and you’re allergic!”
“Oh. They said I could get a discount if I stressed you into getting a HeartValet. I actually refused to go that far, but they sent a catnip-scented ad drone…”
“Wait, so… The story about having the hots for my mum, that was just to stress me?” She wasn’t sure whether to feel angry or relieved at the thought, so she felt loved. He had cared enough to give her everlasting love.
“No, that part’s true. Actually, I got my carnal pleasure package modeled on her.”
Toya’s gut reaction was anger and embarrassment. By the time she came to think about the reason for her reaction, the HeartValet had kicked in. “But… I love my mother, and she’s been alone for a week now. It’s not fair that she doesn’t benefit from your infatuation with her. You should really sleep with her.”
“Good point! I’ll go see her as soon as I leave the village this evening. It’ll be lovely! Hey, want to go swim?” he asked.
“Sure!” she said, wondering why the breakup had once seemed so important. It was just a thing that happened. She didn’t even need him.
She went back to her room and put on the provided swimsuit. The thin HugVest was barely visible underneath it, and she reckoned it gave her a smoother figure. Not that her appearance mattered.
Toya and Alex swam happily for a few hours. They even gave each other some real hugs, but eventually stopped bothering; the real thing was never in quite the right way at quite the right time.
“Hey, my week’s almost up; I have to go,” he said after a while. “I don’t actually have anywhere to stay lined up. Mind if I move back in?”
She felt a euphoric buzz at the opportunity to help someone out. “Not at all; your stuff’s there and there’s still enough room in the bed for both of us, and room for Mum this week if you want. Oh… I may have smashed some of your things; sorry about that. See you in a week!”
After just less than a week of socialising with eminently lovable HeartValet users, and contentedly losing at tennis, virtual wall ball, and roulette, Toya came across her mother in a Honeymoon Village gift shop. She’d turned to HeartValet for solace after the death of her husband and some disturbing passes made by her daughter’s ex. They reminisced about Toya’s father, imagining that the HeartValet allowed him to hug them and send them his love from beyond the grave.
And they all lived happily ever after.
Except Toya’s father, who was dead, due to a freak accident involving a HeartValet advertising drone.
Big Brother loves you very much, and you love him back. This story is sort of like Chemistry rewritten in prose by HAL9000-model spambots.
By the time I was about three quarters of the way through painstakingly dealing out Jacks of Hearts from my many souvenir playing cards, I’d come up with a vague idea involving simply the name of the Jack of Hearts in French: the valet of hearts. At first it was going to be like a parking valet, where you could just put your heart into a parking orbit for a while until you felt ready to date again. But I started with the ad, and more and more ads kept invading, until eventually the whole thing turned a little sinister, and I suspect that once they get them installed, people will pay to have their HeartValet’s topped up with hormones until they die. Not doing so would be an awkward breakup.
Toya’s name was originally Sonya, but when I figured out (very late in the game) that HeartValet Inc. might have deliberately killed her father, I changed it to Toya after Inigo Montoya. The name ‘Amy’ comes from the French aimée, which means loved; appropriate for a HeartValet employee. There’s no special significance behind Alex; it’s just the first name I thought of at the time. Apparently it means ‘protector of men’, which could be true; aside from inspiring them to get unconditional, lifelong love, he’s not much of a protector of women.
I’m tempted to change Toya’s room number to 101, but it’s really not that scary, and the reference might distract from the story even more than the quote on the Cupid’s wall does. The quote on the Cupid’s wall is from the outro to one of the episodes in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Quintessential Phase; I don’t remember whether it’s in the book, so I’m unsure about when and by whom it was written. And while I’m pointing out references to comedy science fiction writers, Wall-Ball is a game played in John Scalzi’s book ‘The Android’s Dream’ which may be difficult to simulate, but would surely be safer in virtual form. I am not sure about the punctuation of that, since I listened to the audiobook.
While this particular story is probably too humorous to be particularly plausible, the technology in it is not particularly far-fetched. Things mentioned in this story that not everybody knows already exist include targeted advertising, hormonal contraceptive implants, photic sneezing, Soylent (it’s not people, unless ‘you are what you eat’ goes the other way too) hug machines and hug vests. Carnal pleasure options are also many and varied, but I won’t link to those. Love drugs similar to the ones described may be on their way and are probably already around in some form. Of course, we already have plenty of general mood-altering substances. Cake, for example.
Given the company’s tendency toward HV acronyms for product names, I imagine the carnal pleasure package would include something named for a phrase used repeatedly near the end of this song. I can think of a relevant drug beginning with V too, but I won’t mention it for fear of spam or content filters.
In other news, if you enjoyed Taken, or even if you didn’t enjoy it and are looking for something of similar length but better quality, the Flash Mob is now up, so you can read all the other entries to that competition.