• Published 12th Aug 2013
  • 3,832 Views, 130 Comments

Bright as Polished Chrome - Retired5262020



In the near future of 2025, almost everyone is sure of the lines between A.I. and human. But what happens when those lines begin to blur, and everything once believed true is changed?

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Chapter 2

Chrome huffs in annoyance but reluctantly obeys. She goes back to listening to the professor and jotting down notes for you.

Mous meanwhile must’ve forgot to bring any paper. Because he is using his phone to type the new notes into a laggy holographic screen that Explorer seems to be struggling to keep open.

Honestly, you’ve never felt so lazy before. Chrome was already useful right out of her box, but the upgrades and modifications that you’ve given her make most menial work to be little more than a joke.

Tomorrow you’ll be the one taking the notes.

“Say, Anon?” Mous quietly asks from next to you without looking up from his phone, “what have you been up to lately? It’s been awhile since we’ve hung out.”

“Eh, same old same old,” you reply just as quietly with a ’meh’ hand motion “I’ve been busy studying up and giving Chrome a bunch of mods. I should be free here in a week or two if you want to do something. What have you been doing?”

He gives you his trademark stupid grin, “BL-OPs 4, bro. I bet if I keep climbing the scoreboards, then an MLG team will totally want me!”

You just look at him like he told you that he was dating a supermodel. Of all the obsessions he could have...

Sometimes you just want to smack the stupid out of him.

“Mous, don’t tell me that you’re still going on about that game... It’s a one in a million shot that any sort of official team is going to recognize you. I’m pretty sure that you have a better chance of being struck by lightning.”

"Do you know who you’re talking to? Man, I WAS struck by lightning! Remember that time back when we were in the sixth grade and I stood outside with that metal coat hanger?”

You palm your face and sigh. “That’s beside the point, what I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t get your hopes up.”

Explorer chimes in. “I’m not sure, Anon. I’ve seen Mous play and he does really good. Maybe it could happen?” she asks with a tilt of her head, making her lose concentration on her screen.

With the sound of crackling static, the thin wall of light dissipates and takes Mous’ notes with them.

‘Oh my gosh! I-I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it! Please don’t replace me!” Explorer cries in alarm.

Many heads in the room turn to look at her, making the poor browser shrink in on herself.

Mous looks over at her, his eyes softening. "Hey, calm down. There’s no way I would do that. Everyone makes mistakes so I’m not mad,” he says quietly as he runs a hand through her coarse, factory grade mane. Although she can’t feel it, as she has no nerve endings, the action serves to calm Explorer down. Ignoring the curious eyes of the other students and the disapproving ones of the professor like a pro, Mous slouches back down in his seat.

In the corner of your eye, you can see Chrome shake her head.

Class continues on without incident until the lecture lets out. Chrome looks over the 1200 words worth of notes with a pleased expression before saving them and closing her screen.

You, Mous, and your browsers wait until everyone else has left before making for the door. It’s 10 o’clock now and if your schedule is correct, that was the only lecture that you and Mous had today.

“Dude, let’s grab something to eat, I’m starving!” Mous pipes up the your little party is out in the parking lot.

“Didn’t you eat breakfast or something?” you ask as you fish your keys out of your pocket. “It’s not exactly healthy to skip it, you know.”

“Pfft, who has time to eat breakfast anymore?” he asks. Once your car comes into view, he dashes in front of Chrome to the passenger door while screaming “Shotgun!”

Yeesh, sometimes you’re not sure if he’s a kid or an adult.

The white pegasus scowls at your friend, but obviously decides against arguing with the obnoxious human as she trots to one of the back doors with a raised nose.

“Wait, did you drive here?” you ask as you press a button on your key-fob and unlock the doors.

“Nah,” Mous says as he gets in. “I caught a ride from a pal seeing as how my Aztec is broken down again.”

You open a backdoor and to let Chrome and Explorer into the car before getting in yourself and starting it up. “I told you about buying a Pontiac... they’re nothing but money holes...” you grumble as you pull out onto the street. Let’s see, where’s a fast food joint that isn’t outright gross..?

“Yeah, well, maybe you should’ve told me before I bought one...” he says back cheekily.

Chrome smirks from her spot in the back seat. “If I recall correctly, Mous, Anon and I warned you almost two weeks before you bought it,” she says dryly.

He says nothing, opting to sit and fume while mumbling about “Smug-ass ponies”

Your browser’s smirk deepens as the Explorer model next to her titters at Mous’ plight.

The drive is fairly quiet for the most part, broken only by the radio spouting some artificial talent pop song or Mous talking about some FPS that you’re likely to never play.

“Say,” you ask as you pull to a stop at a red light, getting everyone’s attention, “Explorer? What was with that meltdown you had?”

She looks down nervously and rubs one foreleg with the other, trying to come up with a satisfactory answer. “It’s...well, um... I don’t...”

Mous frowns and comes to her rescue. “She saw a bunch of negative reviews for her model online. Afterward, she got the ridiculous idea that I was going to get rid of her for different browser if she didn’t overwork herself.” He turns his head to look back at her with a smile. “But that would never happen.”

Explorer shyly looks up at her master. Even if her current software limits the amount of emotion she can express, it’s still plain how grateful she is.

Chrome looks like she wants to bite out some rude remark at the display, but manages to stop herself at the last second.

You give her a semi-scolding look in the rear view mirror, making the program look away with a hint of embarrassment. Of course, one of the first human traits she developed had to be the ability to have a sour attitude. If it weren’t already part of her personality then you might have removed it. But luckily, she also developed restraint.

After what seems like forever, the red light changes to green and you all continue on.

“Bro, are we getting something or what?”

“I’m still looking for someplace to stop, Mous,” you tell him with a roll of your eyes.

He scoffs. “Why not just stop at some random fast food place?” he says, gesturing out the window at a line of restaurants. “It’s not like it’s going to kill ya.”

“Actually,” Chrome cuts in, “there is overwhelming evidence in more than one study that shows fast food is likely to take more years off your life than smoking.”

You peek in the rearview mirror and your eyes widen in surprise. Chrome’s blue eyes are glowing, meaning she is on the Internet. How is she doing that? There’s no wifi around in the middle of the street and Chrome isn’t signed up for a data package...You’re not sure what to feel. On one hand, your browser is becoming more independent, which is something you’ve been aiming for a while now. On the other, she could be getting herself, and by proxy, you into trouble by simply doing things without asking. That’s not to say you don't dabble in less than legal activities while online, but you always make sure to cover your tracks and destroy any evidence afterward.

Looks like you and she may need to talk.

“You know what? I think here is fine.”

Before you even know what’s going on, Mous grabs the steering wheel in your hands and pulls it sharply to the side. The tires of your car squeal in protest from the sudden turn and multitude of other drivers lay into their horns and swerve.

Both Chrome and Explorer scream in fright.

The car almost loses a wheel with how closely you come to hitting the curb of the McDonalds you unwillingly pull into.

You shake away your shock and slam your foot onto the break, making your abused car screech to a halt and sending poor Chrome and Explorer flying into the back of yours and Mous’ seats, where they impact with twin “Oof!”s. Sitting silently for a moment, you think over what just happened.

Mous just gets out of the car and makes his way for the shady looking restaurant as if nothing just happened.

He didn’t even see your phone impact with the back of his head.

Crack!

His hands shoot to the back of his head. ”Ow! Fuck! What was that for!?” he yells as he turns around with a wounded expression.

“That...” you start, glowering, “was for almost getting us all killed. What were you thinking when you did that?”

“Ummm...” he scuffs his feet on the ground in a vain attempt to look innocent.

“That’s what I thought.”


Inside, seeing as how you don’t want your so-called ’best friend’ near your car anymore, the four of you stand in line. Well, three of you stand at least. With lazy beats of her wings, Chrome opts to hover at head height rather than walk.

You crinkle your nose at the smell of the greasy food. Chrome mirrors expression as well as throwing looks of disdain at the other people in the restaurant. You want to the reprimand her for being so rude, but most of the people dining here aren’t the most savory sort. It goes double seeing as how this is the bad side of town. Looking over, you see a woman twice your size wolfing a down huge burger, large fries and... a diet soda...

Really? What’s the point in diet?

Mous and Explorer seem indifferent. Mostly because Mous just doesn’t care and Explorer lacks both the ability to smell and overly judge others.

“Mommy look! Ponies!”

A young girl, no older than nine, with her mother just behind your group points at Explorer and Chrome excitedly as she tugs on her mother’s hand.

“Yes sweetheart, I see them. They’re very nice,” the mother says, looking down at her daughter with a smile.

Explorer seems pleased with the praise, but Chrome is much more so, as you see the Google browser’s chest swell. The ego on her…

The young girl’s excitement seems to double. “Mommy, can we get a pony? I want one like that one!” she says, pointing at Explorer, who seems confused by the choice.

You struggle not to snicker when Chrome almost drops out of the air, shock written on her face. Mous just grins widely.

The mother’s smile becomes strained. “I don’t know, honey. Ponies are very expensive. We’ll have to see.”

How right she is. When they first became available to the public years ago, browser ponies were ludicrously expensive. It wasn't uncommon for someone to spend upwards of ten thousand dollars for a halfway decent model. Even now after the prices had dropped significantly, Explorer had cost Mous almost a thousand dollars. Chrome was more expensive than your car.

Such is life though…

“But mommy! You always say that! You said that when I asked for a friend for Christmas time!” the little girl argues back.

You, Mous, and Chrome look at each other with uneasy expressions. Explorer meanwhile just seems confused by the proceedings.

The poor mother looks almost heartbroken. “Kimberly, I know I said that, but sometimes things just don't go our way. You need to understand that.”

The girl, Kimberly, seems to be on the verge of tears. “But-!”

Her mother holds up a hand, telling her daughter that she doesn't want to hear it. The poor girl sniffles, and in a surprising display of maturity, holds back what you thought was going to be a massive meltdown.

By now, your group is at the front of the line and Mous just orders the same thing for both you and him. After a moment, the somewhat rude cashier stiffly hands Mous a filled paper bag. You can't really blame the cashier; if you worked here it would probably make you into an ass as well.

You follow Mous back to a table, but not before throwing glances back at the mother and her sullen daughter. For some reason you can't fathom, Chrome seems to be just as fixated with the pair as you are. Every now and then, she looked back at them with an unreadable expression.

At the table, the four of you seat your selves and Mous tosses you a paper-wrapped burger from the bag. You stare at the greasy sandwich in thought, not really feeling all that hungry. You neglect to open it and instead look over your shoulder at the mother daughter pair.

They’re across the room. Kimberly, if you remember her name correctly, is slowly eating a kids meal as her mother quietly talks on her cell phone. You’re no expert lip reader, but you can still make out bits of the conversation. You catch the words “bill”, “can’t afford”, “bounced check”, “school”, “difficulty” and “broke”.

It doesn't take a genius to tell you that they both fallen on hard times. With the downward direction the economy has gone, it's not a big surprise.

Mous looks at where you're looking and speaks up. “Man, poor kid. Their situation sucks, I kind of wish we could do something about it.”

“Same here,” you reply. “We don't have much to go on, but it looks like the girl is not too well off socially either.”

Chrome snorts from her spot next to you. “Anon, it’s plain as day. You don't need to be around the bush,” she says, her voice surprisingly subdued.

“Can’t something be done to help them? They seem like nice people…” Explorer asks with her ears pinned back as she looks as Mous.

He just ruffles her mane with a low chuckle. “There’s not really much we can do, Ex. Me and Anon are only two guys, two guys with a pretty limited income.”

Explorer seems saddened by the news. Chrome, however, keeps her face straight.

A glance at the daughter tells you that she is still devastated by her mother's denial. Red face, puffy eyes, sniffling, the works. Before long they both finish and get up to leave, dumping their trash and dragging their feet out the door.

Chrome suddenly looks over to you, making you start.

“Anon,” she asks slowly, trying to think out her words, “didn’t you get a bunch of vouchers for random stuff in the mail a few weeks ago?”

You nod, not really sure where she's going with this.

“And you kept them, right?”

You nod again.

Chrome looks away. “Go through your wallet for them. You’ll know the one you want and what to do with it when you find it.”

Without waiting for a reply, she dips her muzzle into your pocket and pulls out your keys. “In the meantime, I'll go get the car started.”

The energy construct stretches her wings and takes off, heading out the door and to your car.

You blink at the sudden and unexpected actions. Across from you, both Mous and Explorer are just as surprised at Chrome’s uncharacteristic behavior. What has gotten into her?

Pulling out your wallet, you open it and pull out a wad of coupon-like vouchers that you got mistakenly in the mail. You almost forgot about these, as Chrome was the one who brought in the mail that day and she simply left the pile on the kitchen table. It was oddly organized, but you didn't question it. Digging through the pile of waxy paper, you find nothing really worth noting. Free junk that you don't need, discounts on scam products, and one for a mail-order get-rich-quick scheme.

Did Chrome want you to give these to the unfortunate mother and daughter? That’s just horrid! Doing so would say you pity them but don't actually care enough to do something that might actually help. Chrome’s been acting more and more nasty lately, but to sink this low? A surge of shame overtakes you. You thought you taught her better than that.

You scowl. Your browser needs a serious attitude adjustment, and sh-

You cut off your train of thought when you notice that one of the vouchers is stuck to the back of another one. Curiosity getting the better of you, you pull the first one off of the other and take a look at the one on the bottom.

It’s from Best Buy, which makes you roll your eyes at the irony of the name. You lower your eyes and keep reading.

What..?

Your eyes nearly bug out of your head of what you see.

It’s a voucher… for a free Opera browser pony?!? That’s almost two thousand dollars of free hardware on the little paper. What? When? How? Why didn't Chrome to you about this earlier?

“Dude? What’s with the look on your face?” Mous asks, trying to peer over the edge of the paper to see what is on it.

You silently turn around and let Explorer and Mous see. As you expected, both of them are shocked speechless.

Then you remember what Chrome said.

’You’ll know what you're looking for and what to do with it when you find it…’

Looking out the window of the McDonald's, you see the mother and daughter are almost to their car. You need to catch them. Flying out of your chair, you run out the door and stop at the curb around the restaurant.

“Hey!”

Both of them stop and turn to look at you, curiosity on the face of the girl, and distrust on the face of the mother. Seeing as how they are going to just take off, you walk your way over. Idly, you wonder how you're going to tell them this.

“Sorry for stopping you. My name is Anon and I couldn't help but overhear the little plight that you have,” you say gesturing to the girl, who now looks as curious as ever. You bend down to her level, but keep your peripheral vision on her mother. It wouldn't do if she decided you’re a creep and decided to pepper spray you or something.

“Kimberly, was it?” she nods and you continue, “I saw that you liked mine and my friend’s browser ponies.”

Her eyes widen in amazement. “Those ponies are yours?” she asks excitedly.

You smile at her enthusiasm. “Yep. The flying one was mine and the other belongs to my friend. Sorry for eavesdropping, but I couldn't help but notice that you wanted a pony too.”

Her shoulders slump and her face falls at the reminder that she didn't have one as well.

“Hold on, don't give me that look. I think I know how to fix your little problem.”

Straightening and flattening the waded voucher as much as you can against your jeans, you hand the little paper to the girl who looks it over curiously.

“That right there?” you point to the paper in her hands with a growing smile “it lets you get one free browser pony. It may not be the kind that you want, but-Oof!”

You cut off when the young girl squeals in excitement and bowls you over with hug so strong that someone smaller might have suffocated.

“THANK YOU MISTER THANK YOU SO MUCH!! YOU’RE THE BEST!!” she almost shouts. She then lets you go and rushes up to her mother with a blinding grin on her face. “Mommy look! Now we can get one too!” she exclaims, holding the voucher up to her mom’s face.

With an expression of numb disbelief, she looks at the unassuming piece of paper and her daughter’s hands. A minute passes before the mother looks up at you, layers of both gratitude and confusion in her eyes. “I… I don’t know what to say…” she stammers, amazed at the random act of kindness.

“You’re supposed to say ‘thank you’,” Kimberly supplies, as chipper as can be.

Her mother let out a short laugh. “Yes sweetheart, I guess you're right,” She looks at you and extends a hand. “I’m Bernice. Thank you for this, I don't think you realize just how much this means to my daughter.”

“Oh, I think I do…” you say, looking at the girl practically bouncing in her spot.

Bernice smiles at her daughter's excitement. “Mr. Anon…”

“Just Anon. Mr. makes me feel old.”

”Alright, Anon, if we meet again and there is anything we can do for you just ask,” the young mother says, sincerity shining in her eyes.

“Of course,” you reply, not meaning it at all. “I don’t mean to be rude, but me and my friends need to get going, so if this is everything…”

“Oh, don't let us hold you up,” the mother tells you, waving a hand “Remember what I said.”

You turn and begin the walk back inside as you hear car doors opening and closing behind you.

Just as you get the door, Mous and Explorer walk out. Mous is grinning like a loon and Explorer looks like she could cry if she had tear ducts.

“Dude, THAT was one of the greatest things I think I've ever seen,” your friend says, clapping you on the shoulder.

You go to wave it off but Explorer cuts in. “He’s right you know, Anon, “ she says with a small smile, “you could have sold that, but instead you selflessly gave it away.”

You blush a little from all the praise. “Hey, I just did what was right. There’s no need to tell me about it.”

Both look like they want to argue the point, then settle for just smiling.

On the way back to the car, you spy Chrome in the passenger seat looking away from the scene that occurred just minutes ago.

You smile gently, feeling your heart swell at the sight of her. God above, you love that pony.

Author's Note:

All I have so far. Tell me about typos, errors, what you think about the story, stuff like that.

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