Short story: Terms of Service by Timothy Yam

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

“Diana, can you hear me?”
There was no response.
Stephanie’s voice echoed through the house. The little glass dome hanging in the corner of the kitchen glowed with pink light. Stephanie put the shopping bags on the marble countertop and sighed. Diana had been sluggish for about a month now, and whenever she was queried about her slow responses, would simply reply, “I recommend that you update my operating system. I assure you that it will greatly improve my ability to serve.”

As compelling as that argument was, Stephanie had been reluctant to comply. Yes, a fully upgraded Diana would provide her with more help, and some of her new features sounded good. Okay, she didn’t understand what they were exactly, as they had names like the Oneiric Satiation Module or the Phronesis Budget Calculator, but she had to admit that they literally sounded impressive. But there was a part of her that took a spiteful glee at saying “no” to Diana, which was odd considering how hard she had pushed Jason to purchase her when they first bought the house.


“You’re late.”

“I apologise for my delayed response. I suspect that this is due to minor malfunctions in my operating system that would be resolved by updating my software.”

“Yes, but I have a lot to do today. Jason and I have friends coming over at, at—”

“Seven forty-five pm.”

“And I can’t clean and cook for eight without—”


“Excuse me?”

“Seven, Stephanie. Teo Hui Shan will be attending alone. George Teo is currently in Tokyo, and his flight will be delayed by four hours because of inclement weather.”

“At least that makes life a little easier, right?”

“Yes it does. I highly recommend the update, Stephanie.”


“The update will take no more than half an hour. In the meantime, you can sit back and relax with a glass of two thousand and twenty-four Sauvignon Blanc. You have had a busy morning. You deserve it.”

Stephanie drummed her fingers on the countertop.

“Why don’t I get started without you? I can do the prep work, and you should be back just in time to help me with the rest.”

“That would be unadvisable. My records show that the last time you used a kitchen knife was ninety-four days ago.”

“Diana, I can do it myself. I want to do it myself.”

“Stephanie, are you sure?”

There was no response.


“Ok, fine. You win. Update yourself. I’ll wait. What do you need me to do?”

“I will guide you through it. Do not worry. It is very simple.”


“Two, one, zero … zero. Done. Diana?”
There was no response. The little dome was dark.
“Diana, you there?”
“This is a pre-recorded message. Your Diana Smart Home system is currently offline due to software updates. Estimated update time—fifty two minutes.”
Fifty-two? Had to be a mistake.
“Diana, repeat.”
“This is a pre-recorded message. Your Diana Smart Home system is currently offline due to software updates. Estimated update time—fifty three minutes.”


Read the complete story in The Best Asian Speculative Fiction 2018. Show your support for contemporary Asian voices. Order your copy now:

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