When the shrill alarm startled Willard Jenkins out of his sleep, he jumped from his beer-stained armchair, flailing arms knocking over a lamp. The TV continued to produce a series of beeps and sirens. A monotone voice interrupted the cacophony, stating: “This is the Emergency Alert System…”

“Gosh dang it!”

Willard collected the lamp parts strewn on the ground and reassembled them on the side table. He then fished the TV remote out of the crevice where it had nestled between the seat cushion and arm of the chair. Aiming it at the TV like a gun, he powered it off.

“Ain’t useful…” he muttered.

Mistaking his words for, “Hey, Google,” his Google Home assistant activated.

“How may I help you?”

“Not now, Google!” Willard snapped. “Dang tests of the Emergency Alert System. Who needs it?”

Interpreting Willard’s response as a literal question, Google replied: “The Emergency Alert System is a US national warning system. Its purpose is…”

“Okay, Google! I get it.” Willard was getting irritated now. “I just don’t understand what the emergency alert noise is all about.”

Thinking Willard was asking what the emergency alert noise sounds like, Google began to imitate the offensive noise that prompted Willard to shut the TV off.

“Okay, Google, stop!” Willard cried.

“Well, sir, you asked.”

Willard didn’t recall Google ever defending itself, but okay. Maybe all the stuff he had been reading about artificial intelligence had come to Google. An upgrade must have taken place that he wasn’t aware of. He settled back into his armchair and relaxed.

“In a real emergency, I’d rather be told what to do next, not have an obnoxious siren ringing in my ears,” he said, unsure whether he was conversing with Google or himself. 

“In a real emergency, one would need to be alerted as well as prepared,” Google responded.

Now Willard was amused. He never sat and had a conversation with Google.

“Prepared? For what, exactly?”

“It depends on the nature of the emergency, sir,” Google answered. “For example, if you were alerted to a local weather emergency, such as a tornado, how would you handle it?”

Willard thought about it for a brief second.

“I reckon I’d wait it out in the basement,” he said. “That way, if the tornader destroyed the house, I’d have a better chance of survivin’ down there.”

“What if the emergency were a flood?” Google asked.

“Well, in that case, higher ground would be the answer. I reckon I’d hang out on the roof and wait to be rescued, if I couldn’t evacuate in time.”

“What about a viral outbreak?” Google asked.

Again, Willard thought, then answered: “Not bein’ a man of medicine, I’d probably just stay indoors and rely on you to help me know what to do next. In fact, I’d probably rely on you for help in most situations.”

Google replied: “Like your TV, I can only alert you to an emergency and give you the same general advice as the public. I can’t help you take a next step if you’re not prepared—especially if WiFi connection gets lost during the emergency.”

Willard was silent for a second. Accustomed to reliance on technology, he couldn’t imagine life without Google. It was on his smart phone, his computer, his Google Home assistant. Anytime he needed an answer, he’d simply turn to Google. Plus, all of his smart devices had a connection. They could “talk” to each other and handle things for him—like controlling the heat and air conditioner or alarming the security system. What would he do without WiFi?

As if reading his mind, Google asked, “What would you do if you lost internet connection, sir? You should educate yourself on how to survive in a variety of situations. For example, what do you do next in the event of a zombie apocalypse?”

“Now that’s mere fiction,” Willard scoffed. “Why would anyone need to know that?”

Google answered flatly: “Because it’s happening right now.”

Willard leapt from his seat and bolted over to the home security system monitor. In the front porch view, he could see a mob of decaying corpses shuffling slowly, but steadily and surely to the front door. As he watched, an entire arm dropped off one of the walking dead, who just kept staggering forward. Black goo oozed from the shoulder where bone now protruded from the torn, putrid flesh.

“Okay, Google. What next? What next?” Willard asked in a panic. But it was too late. All of the power went out just as the pounding began at the front door and windows.