The word was spoken with finality, like dropping an encyclopedia on hardwood floorboards.
Others present in the room looked to one another with stunned, scared expressions, as if they too had encyclopedias dropped on their faces. Fortunately at this point, real encyclopedias had been long since digitized, making this particular danger only metaphorical in nature.
“Are…are you sure?” stuttered Cheryl, youngest of the Sharp crew. This was a bold response, typically forbidden from the family dinner discussion, but she had to try.
“We could do burgers again. You love burgers, Dad,” she suggested, silently cursing the rotating dinner selection policy currently being enforced under her roof. Why couldn’t they just eat the government-supplied protein packets like the pizza-free families of the other girls at school? Sure they had forgotten the meaning of flavor and had difficulty looking up from the ground, but at least they were safe. Well, safer.
“Pizza,” restated Craig, patriarch of the four person family. He really likes pizza, so pizza it was.
Who could have predicted that in 2021 “pizza” would become a curse word, the Amero-Italian dish discussed in hushed tones like Lord Voldemort, Adolf Hitler and Nickelback? Unfortunately for modern day Australians, the Sharp family’s situation is all but ubiquitous.
It began in 2016 with what seemed like a harmless pizza delivery robot called DRU, or the
Domino’s Robotic Unit. The first red flag came directly from the mouth of Michael Gillespie, chief digital officer for Domino’s in Australia. “We have a relentless passion to push the boundaries of what’s possible with pizza delivery.” It was clear from their video announcement about DRU that they were desperate to be first to market with this concept, and that nothing would get in their way to reach that goal.
If that meant re-configuring war machines to shave 30 seconds off delivery time, then so be it. In the spirit of quick delivery, Domino’s was not making an attempt to reinvent the wheel. Instead they consulted with the Australian military, retrofitting bomb disposal robots with a dual heater/refrigerator getup and a friendly but creepy face that is forebodingly reminiscent of Eve from Pixar’s Wall-E.
At first it was all fun and great for international publicity. Pizza lovers were elated with the
innovation. We interviewed many people, and their responses were all very similar:
- “You mean I don’t have to interact with an actual human? I would gladly pay extra for that. I mean, I’m not going to, but you get what I’m saying.”
- “Wow, 30 extra seconds between ordering pizza and sitting down to eat it. God,
technology is amazing. Cumulatively, that’s like an entire 18 extra minutes throughout
my lifetime that I can spend crying about my ex-wife.”
- “I thought I didn’t need to learn to cook before, but this really changes everything. Now I don’t need to learn how to tip, or even count. Thanks Domino’s!”
It wasn’t long before rival pizza chains felt threatened by this technological advancement, and so began releasing their own delivery robots into the environment.
Domino’s did not take this competition lightly. Rumors spread about rival robots intentionally knocking over the army of DRUs that replaced an entire human workforce in a matter of weeks. Again they consulted with the military on how to address these threats, and thus the DRU.2 was born. This time the robots were outfitted with heavy anti-pizza-delivery-robot artillery and angry-looking eyebrow attachments, all while monitored with missile-laden drones. Domino’s went beyond simply avoiding The Noid, and moved straight to annihilating it.
As is the case with quick paced technological evolution, competitors worked hard to outpace each others’ weaponry at every level, vying for the upper hand by any means necessary. In less than a year after DRU began its first, fatal experiment, the pizza delivery industry became characterized by all out warfare, errant ammunition and collateral damage be damned.
But this did nothing to curb the rise of robot-delivered pizza in Australia. The unwalkable streets of Brisbane remain dominated by aggressive, bullet-spewing robots who will stop at nothing to complete their task, even if it means literally liquidating a competitor robot or a human and/or kangaroo that gets in the way of delivering a pizza 30 seconds faster than a person could. Apparently, this is all worth the novelty of having a robot bring people food, plus who doesn’t love pizza?
Fortunately I’ve been able to relocate outside the delivery zones of most major pizza chains, in a region that the Australian government is referring to as “DiGiorno” (because there’s no delivery, get it?) the Sharps welcomed me to their home so I could see how most Australians live every day, and also so I could eat some real pizza, none of this frozen shit.
After it was confirmed that pizza was on the menu for dinner, Craig ordered via text message, since speaking to another person was no longer necessary. Over the next half hour each of the children would assume guard positions on the second story of their house, watching out for mortar attacks from Pizza Hut and Round Table, as they had done since they could first man a machine gun nest (precious memories).
They also kept an eye on competitor brands disguising themselves as Domino’s, which they did in an effort to make buyers not order from them in the future. Neal Stephenson warned us all about this in his novel, Snow Crash, But we didn’t listen.
Twenty-five minutes later Craig received a text notifying him that the delivery was a minute away. All was going smoothly as he went to answer the door, until suddenly he heard a shout from Cheryl above.
“Mortar inbound, ten o’clock!” she screamed, but it was too late. The round dropped from the sky and straight through the DRU.2, exploding on impact. Craig was knocked backwards into the house, his body clearly damaged beyond repair.
I held Craig in my arms as he lay dying from his wounds. Tears welled up in his eyes, pizza sauce indistinguishable from his draining blood, pepperonis littered about his body like so many childhood Pogs (only 90’s kids will get this).
“Was it worth it?” I asked, tightly gripping his mozzarella-covered hand, feeling his pulse grow lighter with every second.
With the last bit of strength he could muster, Craig groped around him, his weakening fingers landing on an errant but intact slice. He brought it to his mouth, desperate to have his legacy include the sacred pie. Through a mouth full of Domino’s pizza, he breathed his final word.
Ali Wunderman is a freelance writer with her feet in San Francisco and her heart in Iceland.