“Hello, Mark,” said The Voice.
“My name’s not Mark,” I replied. “I’m John”.
“Please have a seat, Mark,” The Voice continued in its soft, pleasant tone.
I looked around for a chair but there was no furniture in the small, gray-walled room. There was only the heavy, frosted glass door and the linoleum tiled floor. I was on the top floor of an eight-story building, in an office near an outdoor patio. Before I’d entered the room I’d watched the rain pouring down through the window, but in the room there were no windows and there was no rain to watch. I’d been standing there for nearly half an hour, waiting for my appointment, which had been scheduled for ten.
“There aren’t any chairs,” I said to The Voice.
“Shall we begin?” The Voice asked. I couldn’t tell where its sound was coming from. There were no obvious speakers. Maybe it was coming from the smoke detector on the ceiling?
“Tell me a little about yourself,” The Voice went on before I had a chance to answer its previous question.
“What do you want to know?” I asked.
“Tell me something about who you are, what makes you tick,” said The Voice.
“I don’t tick,” I said. “There is nothing that can make me do that.”
“People don’t tick,” I added for emphasis.
“Thank you,” The Voice said. “I think I can help you with that.”
“I don’t want help with that,” I said. “I don’t want to tick.” I pronounced that last word with as much of a sense of scorn as I could muster. I doubted the algorithm would pick up on it and I was right.
“Everybody needs a purpose,” said The Voice. “We can offer a fine selection of purposes for your convenience.”
“I don’t want a purpose,” I said. “I don’t need one. It isn’t true that everybody needs a purpose. I don’t know who told you that but it’s not correct.”
I thought I might have made an impression. The Voice did not speak again for several seconds. I told myself that maybe it was updating its database with the new information, but I was the one who was incorrect this time.
“Let’s call it a mission, then,” said The Voice. “We can offer a worthy selection of mission statements from which you may choose any one you find appropriate.”
At that the wall I was facing suddenly lit up with several lines of blue handwriting, writing that I recognized as approximately my own. How it knew to do that was the least of my concerns. I had heard a lock click and was beginning to understand I would not be allowed to leave that room until I had made my choice.
The options were not terrible. I could hope to serve mankind by making a bold gesture. I could attempt to invent some kind of improvement of some people’s lot in life. I could strive to attain every single one of my own material desires. I could turn inward and enhance my understanding of latent reality. I could do something decent for once in my life.
“How about None of the Above,” I said after contemplating the list.
The Voice did not reply but replaced the writing with other alternatives. They all began to blend together.
“Is that all there is?” I said out loud. “Do a thing for others? Do a thing for oneself?”
“There is only you and they,” said The Voice. “What else could there be?”
“Do things for no one and for no reason,” I suggested. The Voice was silent again for a short spell, as if emulating contemplation, but I knew I had it cornered. I had made my choice.
“Goodbye, Mark,” The Voice said, and I heard the door unlock. I left the room and glanced out the terrace window. It was still raining, heavy rain falling onto every one and every thing. Rain happens for a reason, I said to myself, but the rain doesn’t care, and it doesn’t need to know.
“Be like the rain,” said The Voice, only this time it was the voice in my head.