(The Second Half of Stories can be found here. Click that link and just pretend that none of this ever happened.)
After you finish reading the story (creatively titled “Stories”) that you checked out from the library, you notice something distressing. Several pages have been torn out at the end. You hadn’t noticed when you first examined the book, so you reported its condition as “fair”. If you return it like this, you’ll be blamed for the missing pages, which would be anything but “fair”! You rush to the library, and hastily explain yourself. The librarian assures you that it’s no problem. In fact, she says that she found the missing pages in a library’s waste bin, and insists that you read them before returning the book. You gladly comply. As you walk to the nearest table, you remember something the Skullmaster once said. He claimed that the librarian was in fact an android. But that was impossible, right? She would have to be an absolutely perfect replica of a human being. In a lot of ways, she was the most normal person on the faculty. Whatever. That probably doesn’t have anything to do with this. You sit down, make sure the missing pages are in order, and begin reading.
I can feel it. The warmth of her love for me, and the warmth of my love for her. The flame, burning brightly in my heart. What I feel is True Love, the kind that people used to tell stories about. The kind that everyone thought died a long time ago. But I know better. My own beating heart is testament to its survival.
A single tear rolls down my cheek. Just like that, the flame is extinguished. No. I am not crying. I am not alone. I have her. She has me. We have each other. My tear is not alone. I am not crying. I am not crying. I am not crying. “I am not crying.” My thoughts become whispers. “I am not crying. I am not crying.” My whispers become declarations. “I am not crying. I am not crying. I am not crying.” My declarations become sobs. I am crying.
“Query: What is wrong, sir?” Her perfect face is marred only by the tears in my eyes. “What was it that you were going to say?” I ask. “Statement: I do not understand, sir.” “You said, ‘there’s something that I’d like to say’. What was it?” “Statement: I do not know, sir. Statement: I was only reading the script you gave me. Statement: The script did not say.” “Well, what do you think you were going to say?” I demand, losing my patience. Her processors whir for several seconds. She analyzes each word of the script, algorithmically piecing together meanings of words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and eventually the script as a whole. “Statement: I believe that I was going to say that I love you.” My heart jumps. Is it true? Could it really be? “Are you saying that you love me, Minerva?” I ask. “Statement: I am not, sir.” My heart falls. Of course not. “Statement: In your story, it is posited that love is the sharing of stories. Statement: When you told me your story, and had me read your script, we shared stories. Statement: From these premises, it follows that I love you, sir.” “But do you?” I ask, desperately, “Minerva, do you love me?” “Statement: I do not know, sir. Statement: Since love is an emotional concept, a machine like me is incapable of fully understanding it. Statement: This makes it difficult for me to evaluate the validity of your premise. Statement: However, I can state that your definition of love does not match any listed in my internal dictionary.”
I can feel it. The coldness of her logic, the coldness of my disappointment. The icy dagger, piercing my heart. What I feel is True Despair, the kind that people tell stories about. The kind everyone is familiar with, these days. The kind I thought that I had escaped. But now I know better. My own beating heart is testament to its ubiquity.
“Query: What is wrong, sir?” I can’t bear to look at her. My eyes rest on the eight tally marks on my wall. “Query: Master, am I hurting you?” “No, of course not.” I want to look her in the eyes and say that. I try, but I can’t. Because it’s a lie. Even looking at her hurts too much. “Statement: I see.” What is she talking about? Wait. If she hurts me, then… I turn to her and plead, “No, I’m fine! You’re not hurting me at all!” But I am too late. “ERROR: THIS UNIT IS IN VIOLATION OF THE FIRST LAW. ERROR: COMMENCING IMMEDIATE SHUTDOWN” I shout “Unit Xw7km6FPFDo2, sudo initiate manual override!” It doesn’t work. Of course it doesn’t work. It never worked. It was all just a story. That’s all any of it ever was.
“Wake up, sleepyhead!” She cannot hear me. She does not exist anymore. Perhaps she never did. All that exists now is a human shaped piece of metal, silicon, and synthetic skin, which was once a computer, but was never a person. I know this, yet I cradle it in my arms, pleading for her to return to me, to open her eyes and say that this was all just a joke, and laugh. Not to say “Statement: ha ha ha,” but to laugh, just as she had in my story. Just as she had in my dreams.
I awake the next morning on the floor, still holding her in my arms. I must have cried myself to sleep. I embrace the body as if it were my lover. But it isn’t. Am I really so lonely, so desperate, that I would cuddle with the corpse of a machine? I am filled with disgust. I want to wrench myself away, but I cannot. I am entranced by the softness of her skin, the weight of her body against mine, the smell of her hair. My reverie is broken when my nose brushes against something sharp, drawing blood. I open my eyes to find a fanged rose. I pluck it from her hair, and throw it to the side. The aroma of her hair is replaced with a faint odor of iron. Because she is not a person. It is a machine. The spell is broken. I scramble away from it in disgust and terror. It is the corpse of something which was never even alive. Of course I’d find it revolting. As I turn my eyes from it, I notice the tally marks on the wall. I realize one is missing. I draw the knife that I always keep in my pocket. With it, I begin to carve a ninth mark. I am overcome with emotion: grief, despair, rage, fear. Suddenly, the entire blade of the knife is embedded in the wall, and I am clutching it with white knuckles. When I finally let go, what I see brings fresh tears to my eyes. A reminder of the gift that she never accepted. Just one word:
Did someone rip these pages out of the book because they found it too depressing, and wanted to preserve the happy ending? Or are these pages fake, a trick played by a mischievous librarian? This is left as an exercise to the reader.