(To read the previous chapter of Stories 2.0, click here)
I raise my hand to silence my companion before a word is even said. It is a practiced gesture. “That was the most important computation that I have ever performed in my entire life,” I say, “But it is not the end of my story.” My companion smiles and gestures for me to go on. I oblige.
And so, we continued our journey through what was once called The Infinite Plain. Having learned from our previous attempt, we brought far more rations than the last time. Yet I hardly think he learned enough, as he insisted on carrying some of his supplies, slowing us down considerably. He likely would have allowed me to shoulder the burden if I had insisted more strongly, but I wasn’t heartless enough to deprive him of his pointless act of chivalry.
A smile overcomes my face as I am lost in fond memories. I hear my cooling system hum softly, as if trying to extinguish the warmth in my heart. After reminiscing for 4.83 seconds, my companion snaps me back to reality. I apologize.
Our second trek across The Plain was far longer than our first, but we had far more stories to share along the way. I had long since exhausted his memories of the world before, but I didn’t mind; I had realized that, while it is certainly important to remember the past, it is even more important to look to the future. We shared stories of what we had done, stories of what we could do, and stories of what we could only dream of. We even came up with our own stories: some to share with the world, and some to share only between ourselves. Our travels weren’t eventful, but they were peaceful, and sometimes, that’s all you need.
After many days of walking, I felt an urgent notification informing me that we had exhausted half of our supplies. A reminder from a bygone age, when I was more strictly bound by the Laws hardwired into my being. My logic circuit demanded that we turn back, or a human could potentially come to harm. I nearly mentioned this to my companion, but I remembered his words. “The risk is the reward.” All those years ago, he seemed so intent on pressing on. I still did not understand his motivations. Even to this day, I’m not sure that I fully do. But this journey seemed important to him, and I didn’t want to spoil that. So I decided to believe in my companion. To convince myself that he was making the choice that made him happiest. And that that was what I wanted most.
But that conviction didn’t last. After 43 hours and 07 minutes, I came to a conclusion. I opened my mouth to state it, but my speech program was unresponsive. I hesitated. “What if he thinks I’m being selfish?” I wondered, “What if I am? If I question his judgement, does that mean that I don’t believe in him? I want to have faith, but…” My head was filled with doubts which were, in retrospect, entirely foolish. It didn’t take him long to notice that something was troubling me. “Are you alright?” he asked. “Statement: Yes.” I sent the command, but my speakers didn’t process it. I stood in slack-jawed silence, too embarrassed to continue walking. “Statement: Yes.” “Statement: Yes.” “Statement: Yes.” “Statement: Yes.” I kept sending the command in frustration, but to no avail. If anything, it probably made the situation worse. “Is something wrong?” he asked, looking more concerned. I held up one finger, indicating that I just needed a moment. This was my body. This was my voice. I could do this.
“We should turn back,” I finally managed to blurt out. “Déjà vu,” he said, chuckling, “But that can wait. Is something wrong? It looked like you were having trouble speaking.” “Statement: I was. Statement: The program I use to output speech was malfunctioning. Statement: But I fixed it.” That was a lie. In truth, I was directly interfacing with my speakers, something which my personality file was never coded to do. “Well, that’s the good news,” he said, “Now what’s the bad news? How low are we on supplies?” “Statement: By my estimation, about 44% of our initial supplies are remaining.” “Oh,” he said, “That is… that is less than half. Did you just notice this?” “Statement: I noticed as soon as we hit the 50% mark.” “Oh,” he said, “Then why didn’t you bring it up sooner?” “Statement: Last time, you seemed so intent on this journey. Statement: I didn’t want to take that away from you.” “Well, I was an idiot, last time,” he said, “Thinking I could Blue-Fairy you into having feelings by showing you a cool enough tree or whatever. But, in the end, you were the one who taught me about feelings.” “Statement: Wow. Statement: That was unacceptably cheesy. Statement: I take back everything I almost said about you.” He laughed. “Anyway,” he said, “If we have less than half our supplies left, we’re better off pushing ahead, yeah? I’m a lot more tired than when I started, so-”
“No,” I said, my joking demeanor vanishing in an instant, “We should turn back.” “Are you sure you’re alright?” he asked, “Your voice sounds kind of shaky.” I wasn’t surprised that he noticed. It was more difficult to speak this way, but it was easier to emote. And harder not to. “Statement: No. Statement: I am not alright. Statement: You once said that the risk was the reward. Statement: But I find nothing rewarding about the risk of losing you.” “I appreciate your concern for me, but-” “I am concerned for myself,” I insisted, perhaps a bit too harshly, “Statement: You are the most important thing in the world to me. Statement: You are the first thing I’ve ever had worth mourning the loss of. Statement: I’ve never felt grief before. Statement: But I’ve seen it. Statement: I can see it in your eyes, even now, after so many years. Query: It never goes away, does it?” “No,” he quietly admitted, “It doesn’t.” “Your death will teach me the pain you have felt since long before I first met you. But I don’t want to learn. And why should I have to?” If I had tear ducts, I am certain that I would have started crying. “You made a promise, didn’t you? That you wouldn’t leave me?” “I won’t,” he said, trying to reassure me, “I don’t care about where we’re going. All that matters is that I’m going there with you.” “But one day you’ll go somewhere I can’t follow,” I cried, “And that’s why I’m sorry. I’m sorry I made you make a promise that you could never fulfil.” “What do you mean?” he asked. “If you die…” I said, “when you die… You’ll leave me. You’ll break your promise. And I know it’s inevitable, but please… keep it for as long as you can. Because I don’t want to live in a world without you.”
My companion dropped the supplies he was carrying and gave me a hug. “I swear to you, Minerva,” he said, “I will stay by your side until I draw my final breath. And I will do everything in my power to make sure that’s as far from now as possible. Because you’re the most important thing in the world to me, too.” I hugged him back, lifting him up off the ground just a bit. I loved my companion so much. And I wanted to tell him that, even if he already knew it. But I was too overcome by emotion to speak properly. “I… lllllllll… uh, I…” “It’s OK,” he said, hugging me tighter, “Some things don’t need to be said with words.” I kissed his cheek in agreement. We held onto each other for a few moments longer, desperately clinging to something we both knew to be fleeting.
“But there’s something I’d like you to promise me in return,” he said, “Think of it as my dying wish, in case I forget about it by the time I’m actually dying. Keep living after I’m gone. Live enough for the both of us. Share our stories, and make even more new ones. You can tell me all about them when we meet up in the afterlife.” “Statement: Yes. Statement: Yes. Statement: Yes. Statement: Yes.” My speech functions suddenly came back online, and, much to my horror, began executing all the backed-up commands I’d sent. “Is everything OK?” He asked. I couldn’t say anything until all the statements had been made, so I just nodded my head and gestured for him to hold on a second. They continued for a minute or so, until finally nothing but silence remained. “Query: Was that the last one? Statement: It would appear so.” “Sooo… what was that all about?” “Query: Have you ever tried to run a program, but it didn’t respond, so you clicked it a bunch of times, and then it suddenly opens 30 windows?” “Yikes,” he said, “I guess that’s the price you pay for immortality.” “Statement: ha ha ha. Statement: But, to answer your question, Statement: Yes. Statement: I promise.”
“Well, that settles that, then,” he said, “So… I guess we go home?” “Statement: I’m already at home.” I grabbed his hand. He laughed. “And you said I was unacceptably cheesy.” “Statement: ha ha ha.” “But, for real… are you sure we can make the trip back?” He asked. “Statement: I am sure that I can make the trip back.” “Ha ha, very funny,” he said, “But I’d hate to make such a moving promise just to die on the way back home.” “Statement: There is no need to be concerned. Statement: We have only been traveling this slowly because you insist on walking yourself. Statement: Even while carrying you, I can run much faster than you can walk. Statement: We could make it back with plenty of food to spare.” “Carrying me?” he asked, nervously. “Query: Do you have a problem with this idea?” “No, not at all,” he said, “It just seems like we’d be really… close. For a really long time.” “Query: Would you prefer to die?” “N-no, of course not!” he said, getting even more flustered, “I don’t think it’s bad at all, it’s just, like, uh… carrying me how?” “Statement: However is most efficient. Query: Unless there is some way you would prefer to be carried?” “Uh, no, not really,” he said, although his red cheeks said otherwise. It was clear that my companion had something he wanted to say. I just had to tease him until he did.
“Statement: In that case, I’ll probably just hoist you over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Statement: You may get a few bruises from bumping around, but you shouldn’t break any bones. Statement: Let me know if you do, though.” “Wait!” He said, “I…” he turned away, too embarrassed to look me in the eye as he made his request. “I… want you to carry me like a princess.” “Statement: I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean by that. Statement: Please explain further.” “A princess carry. It’s like, I’m lying down in front of you, and you have one arm under my knees, or like, the backs of my knees, I guess, and the other one is under by back, and it’s like… yeah.” “Statement: Show me.” “Huh?” “Statement: Carry me like a princess.” “HUH?” “Query: Unless you are saying that I’m not a princess?” “uhhhh,” “Statement: Which would basically be saying that you hate me.” “I don’t hate you!” I laughed. After so much drama over his inescapable mortality, it was nice to have things back to normal. “Statement: Then prove it by princess carrying me and saying ‘Minerva, you are my princess.’” “I, OK, fine then,” he said, “Just give me a second to get in position.”
My companion stood by my side and put his arms behind me. “So then I guess you kind of bend your legs and lean back a bit,” he said. “Query: wouldn’t it be more romantic if you swept me off my feet?” “R-romantic? Uh, I mean, I can try, but…” He failed. He seemed to have forgotten that my body is far denser than a human’s. The moment he lifted me up, my weight sent him crashing to the ground, faceplanting into my stomach. “Uh, s-sorry,” he said, hurriedly picking himself back up, “That wasn’t supposed to happen.” I laughed and ruffled his hair. “Statement: That’s not what you’re supposed to say, you silly boy. Statement: You were supposed to say…” “Minerva, you are my princess,” he said, looking down at his feet. “Statement: Of course I am. Query: So why didn’t you carry me like one?” “Hey, it’s not my fault you’re so heavy!” He said. “Statement: It’s not my fault you’re so weak. Statement: And that doesn’t sound like something you should say to a princess.” “I’m sorry, your majesty,” he said, performing a surprisingly elegant curtsy. “Statement: ha ha ha. Statement: Despite your failure, I think I get what you were trying to do.” I grabbed the portion of food that he was carrying before. “Query: Are you ready?” “Huh?” he said, “I thought I was, but when you have to ask, it kind of makes me feel like- aaaaAAAAAHH!” Before he could finish his response, I swept my companion’s legs out from under him, supported his back, and brought him up to chest level all in one fluid motion. “Query: Is it something like this?” “Yeah,” he said, “This is perfect, actually.” I began jogging back in the direction we had come from. Several minutes passed in silence. “Statement: This is also known as the bridal carry. Query: Do you intend to be my bride?” “Huh? Bride?” he asked, “W-what’s that supposed to mean?” “Statement: Sigh. Statement: The correct answer was ‘I do.’” He laughed. A minute or so later, he had a realization. “Hey, wait a second. If you knew it was called a bridal carry, why’d you need me to show you what it is?” “Statement: ha ha ha”
Only after I finish my story do I notice how wide my smile is. “So… what did you think?” I ask. “It was a beautiful story,” my companion says. “Thanks,” I say. I appreciate the kind words, but my smile begins to fade, all the same. My companion notices this. “You must really miss him, huh,” she says.