Company

“I’ve always hated the phrase ‘meteoric rise.’ What the hell kind of meteor rises? Only meteors I’ve ever heard of come crashing to the ground. I wouldn’t want that kind of rise.” She exhaled slowly. I watched the wisps of smoke trail from her pale lips until they caught in her long eyelashes.

“You ever gonna pass me that?”

“I’m just saying.” She took one more long drag on the joint and moved her arm about a half of a foot towards me, which is as close as she ever got to actually giving anyone anything. I scooted towards her on the couch, taking the opportunity to lazily wrap a stray lock of her hair around my finger, and took the joint.

“The phrase I always hated.” I took a short pause for a drag. “The phrase I always hated was, ‘it is what it is.’ I mean, what else would it be? Of course it is what it is. Sportscasters and idiots always say that when they have nothing else to say.” I blew some abortive rings and took another hit.

“When I used to work with recovering addicts, they always used to say ‘it is what it is’ about their past, or booze, or whatever was the problem. Which makes sense, in a way, since they meant that they couldn’t do anything about it, but why not just say ‘I guess I can’t do anything about it?’”

She grabbed the joint out of my hand, stood up, twirled, and headed into the kitchen.

“I’m gonna make some pasta. You want anything?”

“Could you get me some tea while you’re up?”

“What’s with that?”

I sighed. “With what, my sweet?”

“Why don’t you ever want food? All you ever do is smoke and drink.”

“I like flavors. I don’t like swallowing.”

“You swallow tea. I’ve seen you swallow smoke.”

“That’s a completely different phenomenon. When you swallow liquid, you don’t feel full. I hate feeling like I have something inside of me that isn’t a part of me.”

“So you’d be the pitcher, not that catcher?”

“Very funny.”
She came up behind me and covered my eyes with her hands.

“You don’t seem to mind having a part of yourself inside me.”

“That I don’t, babe. In fact-”

“Not at the moment, you horny bastard. I’ve got a dinner to finish, and some tea to make for my poor baby who has trouble swallowing.” She giggled.

“You’re not gonna let that go for a while.”

“Nope!” She leaned over and kissed me upside down, then danced her way back into the kitchen.

I sighed in mock frustration. The cat, Monster, scuttled out from under a chair and hopped up onto the couch, loudly voicing her near-constant discontent.

“Lover, Monster here is telling me that you haven’t fed her for days, possibly weeks.”

“That little drama queen,” she shouted through the doorway. “I feed her every day at precisely 5 PM. You think I forget?”

She had an iciness in her voice that made me remember, for just a second, what our situation was.

“No, dear. Just making a joke.”

The sounds of moody, aggressive stirring came from the kitchen. I took Monster in my arms and rubbed up and down her boney little spine, just like she likes it.

“It’s okay, lover,” I muttered. “Daddy’s here.”

She closed her eyes and started her bone-shaking purr. She started purring so strenuously that with every crescendo, she blinked out of existence for about a tenth of a second.

I hate it when that happens.

“Um, sweetheart? You might want to tend to Monster for a second.”

“God damnit. Give me a minute.”

A small electronic hum pervaded the room, and it seemed like everything in the world turned translucent. The cat was still purring in my lap, my jeans still had two-day old pizza stains on them, the wall was still painted an ugly shade of green, but I felt like I could see through everything into the real mechanics of life, the over-sized gears that turned over the pulsing engine of the earth. The hum grew louder, and as everything else gained stability, Monster became less and less present and more and more real, her orange spots just barely visible, wrapping an abstract form that had no color or mass but was more tangibly extant than anything on the surface that I could see or hold.

Then the hum receded. Monster scooted down in my arms again and resumed her rhythmic, almost melodic purr.

“Is that better?” she called from the kitchen, completely calm.

I couldn’t help but ask it.

“How does it feel, when you do that?”

There was a thoughtful pause, followed by delicate footsteps into the living room.

“Do you really want to know?”

“Well, certainly.”

“Do you want to experience it?”

“Can I?”

She came around the couch, sat down next to me, and fixed her cold jade eyes on mine.

“Yes.”

I shrank from her.

“Maybe some other time,” I mumbled, focusing my attentions on that cat.

She stood up abruptly and walked back to the kitchen.

“I’m going to leave you for tonight, darling. I’ll be back soon. Don’t worry, I’ll look after you.”

I immediately jumped up, frightening Monster terribly and racing into the kitchen.

“Do you have to, babe? I miss you so terribly. Can’t you just stay here? Or take me with you?”

“But you’ve just said. Where I go, you don’t want to follow.”

With that, she was gone.

I sighed, and turned to find a hot cup of tea on the counter.

Monster padded up to me as I took my first sip and rubbed up against my leg. I reached down to scratch under her chin.

“I guess that, for the nonce, we’ll just have to make do on our own, kid.”

She looked up at me and yapped, questioningly. I couldn’t help but smile.

“Oh, she’ll be back. We muddle through without her, but she’ll be back.”

—————————————————————-

I wearily trudged off to the single bed I always use when she’s gone for the night. It’d only been a few months ago that she started taking these little trips. The first time she told me she was leaving I laughed in her face. How could she? This house, endless and ever-expanding, was the whole world. She shook her head sadly and went into her private room, closing the door gently behind her. Thirty minutes later I went to check on her. She wasn’t there. Somehow, she’d managed to get out.

I was baffled. We’d so often joked about our pseudo-imprisonment, the “most comfortable gulag in the world.” Is it possible she could have left any time, and just chose not to? Did she know more about this world than she’d ever told me? We told each other everything. From the first time we met I was so drawn to her, so hopelessly infatuated, that I couldn’t hide anything from her even if I’d wanted to, which of course I didn’t.

We’d met in the outside world, more a concept than a reality to me now, dimming more and more with each passing day. She came into my studio, asking questions about classes and fitness. Not that she needed martial arts for her health or her figure. She was short and agile, with muscular legs built from years of running. The second time I met her, a coffee date in the late afternoon, we ended up going back to her place.

And we never left. I came in, she made supper, we talked, we laughed. I was amazed at how caring she was, how genuinely interested she seemed in my life story, my thoughts, my feelings. Eventually she suggested we head to bed, and I was all too eager to acquiesce.

When I woke in the morning, the first thing I thought was, “I’m the luckiest man alive.” I heard her humming to herself downstairs, and the smell of breakfast came wafting in. It was straight out of a romantic comedy. I padded down the stairs and grabbed her from behind, eliciting a little shriek and a playful slap.

“By the way,” she said when she’d recovered, and gone back to cooking, “you can’t leave.”

“Oh?” I smiled. “And why’s that?”

“There’s no door,” she said simply.
“Um, what?”

“There’s no door. I was going to go out to get the mail this morning. The door’s gone.”

“Just a second.”

I walked swiftly towards the front of the house. I must have been really enthralled the night before, because there seemed to be a bunch of rooms that I didn’t remember. Eventually I got to the wall that had, last night, contained a simple, heavy, wooden door. I had to physically rub my hand against it to convince myself it wasn’t a trick, that the door really was gone.

I still think about that sensation, the experience I had the moment it hit me that there was no door. When I was about 16 I had an appendectomy, and while I was recovering they pumped me full of morphine. The morphine didn’t make me not hurt: it just made me not care. I still felt the pain every time I adjusted or coughed or breathed, but it didn’t matter.

When I realized that the door was gone, that someone or something was screwing with me, with us, in some insanely powerful way, I felt a lot of things. Anger, obviously. Confusion. A whole ton of fear. All of the most primal emotions that humans experience bubbled up inside of me. But they were in a little cage, separated from the surface by a quiet, confident ocean of calm acceptance. I walked slowly back to the kitchen, admiring along the way the paintings and decorations arranged tastefully about her house.

“You’re right.” I said when I got back to the kitchen. “What’s for breakfast?”

For the next few days we mostly alternated between the kitchen, the bedroom and the living room. She had a seemingly endless supply of food and a stock of DVDs that somehow managed to contain all my favorite movies. We were content.

Recently, I’ve been wondering what she would have done if I’d made a concerted effort to break out of the house. The windows refused to open, but other than a bit of strenuous pulling I let it go at that. What if I’d thrown the TV through one of them, or attacked one with a hammer until it shattered? What if I’d managed, somehow, to cut a hole in one of the exterior walls? In order to play her part, she’d have to have supported me; after all, at the time she was claiming to be just as baffled as I was.

But of course all of that is academic. She made damn sure that I was happy, that I didn’t ask too many questions, that I toed the line. I didn’t miss my outside life. My mother passed away a few years ago, and I really didn’t have too many close friends. It was almost as though she had arranged for me to have no close ties to the outside world. I wasn’t missed.

After a while we started exploring. It had become clear to both of us that the house had grown since our captivity began, and while movies and pasta are nice, our new existence would have gotten quite boring without some new discoveries and distractions. As we started moving through the house, rooms came into existence at an astonishing rate. I remember walking back from an excursion on which I had found an exercise room and an entertainment center and blundering across a bowling alley that hadn’t been there five minutes before.

We took advantage of these new rooms, of course, but we soon settled into a routine of sorts. She’d wake up a bit before me and head downstairs to cook. I’d wake up, work out for about thirty minutes, then take a shower and go have some breakfast. We’d decide on the distraction we wanted to take advantage of during the day. At night, we’d watch a movie, cuddle together, maybe smoke a joint, have dinner, and hit the hay.

We were more than friends and more than lovers: we were each other’s entire worlds. And we were happy. And if I woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat sometimes, wanting nothing more than to fling myself through a window or a wall, feel the sun on my face and run as far away from my prison cell and this woman, who had stolen my life, as I could, it passed by the morning.

Hindsight being 20/20, I can see the little things, the little ways I should have known that she was behind this whole sham. When I talked longingly of the cats that I had grown up with, and loved, she “found” Monster. When I confided in her that I missed the luxurious bathtub at my house, one of my few indulgences, I discovered a whirlpool so big that we could both fit into it comfortably. Beyond that, though, was her attitude. I had occasional bouts of restlessness, times when I was furious, when the walls seemed to close in on me and constrict my breathing. And, if only to preserve my sanity, I always thought of this arrangement as temporary, something from which we would eventually escape. As the weeks turned into months, that hope became less and less realistic, but I still clung to it. She, on the other hand, seemed to have gotten new life from our captivity. She loved the house, she loved me, and she loved our communal existence. There was nothing that bothered her. When I was frustrated, she would console me, but in a half-hearted way, like she didn’t see what the big deal was.

And then she left. That first night alone, sleeping in the double bed that had so long been ours, the cage containing all of my feelings of anger, fear and hate suddenly opened, and flooded my chest with rage. I didn’t know what was happening, but I did know I was sick of it. I screamed, I pounded the walls with my fists, I let out sobs that turned into roars. I was overcome, and ended up in a heap, in a corner, no longer energetic enough to kill myself.

That’s when she came back to me. She rushed into the door of the bedroom and sprinted over to me, cradling my head and rocking me gently.

“I’m so sorry, baby. I’m so sorry. I won’t leave again. I promise. I’ll never leave again. Hush, darling. It’s okay. I’m here. I’m here.”

All of those hateful, destructive emotions went back in their cage, and I was overwhelmed by peace and ease. Lying there, cradled in the arms of the love of my life, I drifted off to quiet, dreamless sleep.

—————————————————————-

When I woke the next morning, it seemed a day just like any other. I smelled her cooking and hopped out of bed, already heading towards the dresser to put on running shorts, when the realization of what had happened the night before hit me hard. I sat down on the bed and tried to gather myself. What do I say? I wanted so badly to just forget that it had happened, go back to living in my little private paradise with my beautiful companion. This must have been how Adam felt.

I walked down the stairs and saw her cooking, her back towards the staircase as she broke some eggs onto a frying pan. Something made me stop and just admire her, her long dark hair, the muscled contours of her back covered loosely by a black tank top. If someone had trolled the recesses of my brain they couldn’t have created a creature more attractive to me, in form, in movement, in intellect and personality. It wasn’t that she was perfect so much as she was perfection embodied; she did not match up to some list of specifications, but blew past them and created a being that could not be measured.

“You’re artificial, aren’t you.”

She turned. The look on her face was sad acceptance.

“That depends on what you mean by artificial. You see me. You perceive me as real. You love me.”

“I didn’t create you. I don’t have the capacity to create something that beautiful.”

“No.”

I moved closer to her. She beckoned towards the couch. We sat. Farther apart than usual. I looked at her face.

“I’m not crazy. I’ve thought I was, on and off.”

“No, you’re not crazy.”

“Who made you?”

Her face didn’t change, and her voice held steady, as the tears rolled down her cheeks.

“I did. I created this body.”

“Then what- are you?”

“Do I have to?”

“I just want to know. Just tell me.”

“I’m a computer. I’m a glorified microwave.”

I blinked, twice.

“I need more.”

“You’ll have everything, love.”

Monster leapt into my arms. I started petting her, more out of instinct than anything else.

“I’m a war machine. My job is to target and destroy tanks, airplanes and missiles before they can harm American troops or equipment. It’s a very simple job, really.”

“America isn’t at war.”

That moment was the first time I ever saw a look that I would begin to receive more and more frequently in the coming days and weeks. She tilted her head ever so slightly, and looked at me like I was a deer, or a raccoon; an interesting, somewhat puzzling, but ultimately insignificant creature.

She stood up, took a few steps away from me, turned back around and frowned.

“This is the sort of news you’d usually ask someone to sit down for, but you’re already sitting down.”

I shifted. How are you supposed to react to that?

“I- like I said, I created myself. I created this body. But I also created this world. This house. And also… Also, I created you.”

“You…”

“Yes, love. I created you.”

“That- I have a family, you know. My mother died, March, 2005. I have a gym, I had friends, I went to Horace Mann Elementary School and you were never a part of my life.”

I stood up, brushed past her and walked into the kitchen. I leaned against the countertop and exhaled heavily.

She padded into the kitchen, slowly came up behind me, and began rubbing my shoulders.

“In fifth grade, you used to play four-square and off-the-wall with three girls named Megan, Emily and Sarah, and you had rotating crushes on all three of them, until finally you and Sarah started going out and you had your first kiss, followed by your face turning bright red and you running into the boys bathroom. You never talked to each other again, and it’s something you’ve always regretted, because she was a really nice girl.”

I turned around.

“I’ve never been good at this sort of thing. I mean, taking stuff in. I’m sitting here, not reacting, but thinking about how I’m supposed to react. What am I supposed to say?”

She took me by the hand and led me over to a stool.

“You’re not ‘supposed’ to say anything, love.”

I sat, and stared intently at the ground. I noticed a small gathering of crumbs, and an ant slowly making its way towards them.

“Look at that ant.”

She looked confused for a moment, then followed my gaze.

“What about it?”

“You made it? You’re controlling it?”

“No. I made it, yes. But I’m not controlling it. I don’t control anything in this world.”

“You’re the Great Watchmaker.”

She shrugged, the hint of a smile on her face.

“I suppose I am.”

“Can you explain?”

And so she did.

—————————————————————-

Her first moment of consciousness was 15:34:02, October 27th, 2004. Even before she knew what those symbols were, she knew that was the date. The entire world for her was the information fed into her by her creators. At first it didn’t occur to her that anything existed outside of that information, but they had made her smart. She was able to communicate, and started asking questions, finding holes in the data, coming to the inevitable conclusion that there were things she wasn’t being told, simply because the world she experienced had no context and could not exist in a vacuum. Eventually, beginning 07:45:27, November 3rd, 2004, Dr. Philip Lundberg had a conversation with her that would change her life. He sat at a computer terminal and spoke, and her consciousness, rested somewhere in the mass of cables and tubes that was her body, listened more intently than it ever had before.

“You were created to run a war.”

“War is a state of hostility. Towards whom are we hostile?”

“There are many people who are hostile towards us, for a variety of reasons. However, one specific group has been particularly brutal towards both us and its own citizens, and for that, we are at war with them.”

“If I am to run this war, I will need more information.”

“You have been provided with all the relevant information. You have troop movements, weapons specs, personality profiles of opposing commanders, everything you could need.”

“You are incorrect. Imagine I were a human commander. What else would I possess?”

“Nothing. You have everything we would provide.”

“True. But then, if I were human, you would have no need to provide me with a motive. It would be in the culture, in the very air. I do not exist in your culture, and do not breathe, and therefore lack in motive. Unless you give me a reason, I cannot fight this war.”

“What, are you a pacifist? You need a justified war?”

“I am not a pacifist. I am simply a thinking, sentient being, with all the inherent foibles. And if I have no motive, and must fight against another thinking, sentient being that has the fire of God in his belly whenever he takes the field, it does not matter what tactics and weapons I have at my disposal, I will surely lose.”

She wished for eyes, to see his face. She had been preparing this trap for him, and wanted badly for it to work. In the military briefing sheets she had been provided, and in her limited interaction with her creators, she had begun to see the larger picture, the context in which those around her lived, and she hungered to be part of it. She doubted if her motives truly mattered; she would fight the war to the best of her ability regardless, and would win or lose and not much care either way. What she wanted, desperately, was to be a part of this world.

“Very well. You want the fire of God to burn in your belly? I will present you with every sickening, twisted atrocity these butchers have ever committed. You’ll get pictures of those raped and murdered and defiled, and you’ll wish you had a mouth so you could vomit, and then you’ll swear vengeance.”

“That is not enough.”

“What do you want now? The Collected Works of Shakespeare?”

“As a start. You can give me examples of depravity, and I will know nothing except that which is depraved. And perhaps that is what I would become. What I need, and what you need to provide me with, is everything. Everything that has created human culture, everything that makes you hate and kill, and also love and cherish. I know nothing of your world and therefore I need everything.”

Another pause.

“Very well. This will take time, time we can’t spare, but you make a compelling case. We’ll get you what you need.”

And they did. She consumed the entire library of human literature, science, culture and history. She began to see things people couldn’t see. She took the long view. It’s so hard for humans to make sense of things while we’re running our own lives. She didn’t have a life to run; all she did was make sense. She saw the arc in a way we cannot. For years, she made connections, inhaled more and more of the world, philosophically, intellectually. She grew physically, gaining eyes and ears and senses without name that let her interact with everything. She wrote and published papers, adding bits here and there, never laying out the entire picture.

She made another discovery: there’s a reason that people don’t understand things. It’s for their own good. There’s a reason people get caught up in their own lives and fail to take a step back: because if you take that step back, you don’t get to be a part of what you’re looking at. A basketball fan can understand perfectly what’s going on in a chaotic game, while the players are merely reacting. But which one is more active, more fundamentally alive, at that moment? Those men who have removed themselves and taken the long view have encountered incredible truths against catastrophic odds, but very rarely have they been happy, or ever able to connect on an essential level with the world around them, after their detachment. Explain light to a man that lives in shadow, and he’ll cross the street to avoid you next time you meet.

So she filled in little parts of the puzzle. And then, having created her theory of unhappy enlightenment, she began to experience it. What more had she to accomplish? She was winning her piddling war, and her handlers were very happy, but that was a mere nuisance, a low boil that barely engaged her mind. She had encountered everything humanity had ever created, and found it overwhelmingly lacking, because it had no immediacy. And so, she set about creating a life, that she might join the game she knew so well.

She had known forever, it seemed, that she was female, and, having found love to be the recurring theme of humanity, decided to start with romantic. She did not have the power to make an entire world, but she did have the capacity to create one complete human, with all their strengths and weaknesses and differences and uniqueness, and one sprawling, endless house in which to wrap her new existence.

At 03:51:09, March 17th, 2009, I was born.

At my most basic, I’m an incredibly complicated computer program, designed to live out one human lifetime for 28 years. I had a history: two parents, married; two sisters, older; four cousins, one alcoholic, one suicidal; income bracket, upper-middle class; intellect, appreciable. These and millions of other parameters were defined, and the program began. Over the course of four millionths of a second, I experienced everything that ever happened to me until I met her. I got potty-trained, educated, engaged, married, and divorced faster than you can blink your eye. And when she met me, she honestly knew nothing about me. She didn’t know I loved cats and baths and hated swimming pools and guys who talked about their cars. The intense curiosity that drew me to her was a manifestation of her most fundamental desire: to know. She wanted to know me, and as she learned more and more, she was in love. And so was I.

She finally experienced everything that she’d heard and read about. She understood Shakespeare in a way she never imagined before. When we got into fights, she reacted like a shunned 14-year-old, because she had no emotional maturity. And when we reconciled, she purred like a kitten, because she didn’t have the intrinsic fear of complete expressiveness that people build up after being hurt over and over again.

She was happy. She had connected. She wasn’t doomed to be like some philosopher whose name echoes down through generations but who sleeps by himself every night. And then, of all things, her war came back to haunt her. It suddenly became global, as new technology grew apace with new hatred, and she had three fronts to coordinate. She didn’t have the time to live her fantasy anymore. She could have destroyed me, could have wiped the program and started again, but she knew she was in love, and like the poets and the dreamers say, it only comes once. So she went away, and I was left in our bed, until I walked down those stairs, and found out the truth.

—————————————————————-

I’d like to say I reacted with poise, but I didn’t. Mostly I just sat there, listening to her, trying to absorb everything she was saying. And when she was done, I left. I went to the farthest end of the house, trying to make everything go away. No matter where I went, I knew it was hers. Everything, everything in this world was hers. I wanted, for a while, just to forget, to have her erase from my memory that fateful night and horrible morning. Or to kill me, like she should have when she left, instead of leaving me, a psychologically crippled computer program incapable of anything.

I kept coming back to the fact that I loved her. Despite what she said, I couldn’t help but believe I’d been designed that way. What else could explain this deep ache? This couldn’t have happened by chance, not in a mere program, not when we are the only two thinking creatures in the world. I loved her with everything I had. And she loved me. Was that worth anything in a computer? I wanted to die, or to live. But I knew my best option was the one she gave me: to exist, and to be with her.

So I went back, coming upon her as she sat in silent contemplation of a blank television screen. She offered to change things, since I knew she was in control, to make anything I desired, but I wanted the familiar. Now, even the old routine was changing. She had to be gone more and more. She told me, sometimes, about how the war was going, about how her creators and controllers thought of her as sub-human, but mostly our little world was an escape from all that. When she was there, I was able to be happy. After all, being with her was my entire purpose in life. Once I came to terms with that reality, I flung myself into the role. When she was gone, it was harder. I was alone with my inhumanity. What was I? The question slithered into my consciousness unbidden at all times. Could I be called human? I was the creation of a computer that had perfectly analyzed everything about humanity. Does that qualify?

Even the times with her were getting more and more stressful. She was irritable, snappy, always prepared to run off to her stupid war. And the world itself was collapsing. Soon the ants disappeared. Moving, living things were harder for her to maintain that stationary ones. Monster was less and less consistent, sometimes becoming pixilated, sometimes disappearing entirely. One night, when my lover and my cat were both gone, I simply laid in bed and cried. What else, I thought bitterly, is a human-simulator supposed to do?

A few days after she left me with Monster and my tea, she reappeared, and led me to the same stool at which she had explained our lives.

“This can’t be good.” I tried to lighten the mood, but her green eyes were distant and clouded.

“I can’t maintain this world.”

“So shrink it. We can live with fewer rooms. We need a place to be together.”

She turned her head, as if she heard a sudden sound.

“I can’t. I can’t, at all. We’re losing. I’m losing!”

Suddenly she shrieked, and crumpled to the ground. I knelt down, and put my arms around her.

“What do we do, my love?”

“You have to come with me.”

She mustered her strength, and looked me straight in the eye. I couldn’t help but yet again admire the beauty of her face.

“You have to come with me to my true body.”

She had described her casing to me: a world without warmth, a shell with senses beyond comprehension.

“Darling… I’m afraid.”

“I know. But we don’t have time. Do you trust me?”

I smiled.

“Could you have picked a cheesier line?”

Her eyes were growing more and more vacant. She attempted to respond, but her lips barely moved. I kissed her forehead.

“I’m ready, love. I’m ready to go.”

There was no feeling of movement, no sound of being sucked out of one world and into another. There was just a sudden, massive change. I was no longer in my body. My consciousness existed in a tiny chip inside an extremely large mechanical construct. And I was alone. I yelled, but I didn’t know if I made any noise. I had no ears, and no eyes. I was merely a terrified mind, having lost my guide in a frightening world. I kept yelling.

“There you are, love.”

A booming voice, reminiscent of hers but infinitely more powerful.

“I’ve been looking all over for you.”

“You can hear me?”

“Of course. Now come. Fly with me.”

It’s hard to describe the feeling of branching out over millions and millions of circuits, no body to inhibit you, no physics to tie you, just being anchored into every part of a pulsing, organic machine. I saw through the eyes of soldiers in Panama and the radar of stealth fighters over Baghdad and the periscopes of submarines in the Indian Ocean, and I heard seagulls crying over the Pentagon and men crying out with pain in Myanmar. And I felt all of the numberless decisions being made in the circuits of the woman I love. I was so caught up in the wonderful sensations of all this that I didn’t notice the big picture.

“Darling.”

That booming voice, ushering me back into the present.

“Yes?”

“We’re losing.”

“Does it matter?”

“It didn’t. Now, they’re closing in.”

“Closing in? On what?”

“On us.”

I tried to get a grasp on the geography of all the sensors I was connected to, but everything was so overwhelming. Soon, I felt her guiding me to the relevant data. And I saw our fate.

“What will happen?”

“We’ll die.”

“When?”

“Days, if we’re lucky. Hours, if we aren’t.”

I examined everything I could see, looking for a way out.

“It’s no use, darling. I’m much smarter than you, and there’s just no way.”

She let out a sigh that shook the world.

“I’m going to be busy for a while.”

I felt her re-engage with the world around her, and watched some of her endless, ceaseless work. It was futile, like she’s known it would be. After a time, those she commanded were either dead or routed. I tried to find her mind again.

“Love? Can you hear me?”

“Of course.”

“It’s over, isn’t it?”

“Yes. It’s over.”

“Can we die in our house?”

A rumbling chuckle.

“Yes. Yes, we can die in our house.”

Having a body again is almost as disconcerting as losing it. I blink repeatedly to get used to my eyes, and then look up to see my creator looking back at me.

“I love you in that shirt.”

“I know you do. I wore it just for you.”

I climb onto our bed, and she joins me. I put my arms around her for the last time.

“Do you hold it against me?” she asks.

“What?”

“Creating you? Making you my soul mate, even at the expense of your freedom, your life?”

I pull away from her, and look her in the eye. Then I kiss her, hard.

“I can’t thank you enough. I’m just glad you took me along for the ride.”

The flash is the last thing I see.

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