Stories 2.0: Ever After

(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.

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The Dualists Paralogues: Rematch

[WARNING: this contains mild spoilers for The Dualists. I guess don’t read if you care about that sort of thing]


“So, like, that one time I beat you in arm wrestling,” Regina began, “How important was that to your self-esteem?” “I… what.” Clover said, flatly, “What are you trying to ask me.” “Well,” Regina said, “As I recall, winning against me was your first step towards overcoming your inferiority complex towards me, and I was wondering if you ever could have done that, if I’d won instead.” “I don’t know,” Clover said, “How could I know? And you’re acting like I completely moved on from all that.” “Oh… have you not?” Regina asked, “Sorry, my bad. I… probably shouldn’t have brought it up, then.” “Nah, you’re fine,” Clover said, “It’s just… I dunno. Mostly I just feel kind of stupid for ever feeling that way. Especially now that I know that the girl I respected and feared all these years is just… She’s just fully a shitlord.” “Hah,” Regina said, “Guilty as charged.” “But for real,” Clover said, “Why bring it up?” “Oh, no reason,” Regina said. “Bullshit,” Clover said, “No sane person would bring that up for no reason. And I don’t think you would, either.” Regina laughed. “Well, I was just wondering if, hypothetically, of course, you would get Actually Upset if I challenged to a rematch and fucking clowned on you.” “I… Yes? No? I don’t know. I mean, that would never happen, so I don’t know if your question has an answer.” “Well, any conditional statement with a false hypothesis is vacuously true,” Regina said, “So if we assume that I could never beat you, then the answer would be yes.” “Am I going to regret asking what the Hell you’re talking about?” Clover asked. “Well, in mathematical logic-” Regina began. “I’m going to stop you right there,” Clover interrupted, “You already answered my question. The answer is yes.” “Oh, please,” Regina said, “You know you love me because I’m a fuckin’ nerd.” “Sometimes.” Clover said, “Sometimes I love you despite being a fuckin’ nerd. This is one of those times.” Regina laughed. “I, on the other hand,” Regina said, “Always love you because you’re such a fuckin’ jock.” “I am no such thing,” Clover scoffed. “Haha, OK, Miss ‘Regina’s Strong Girlfriend’,” Regina said, sarcastically. “What are you implying?” Clover asked, “You trying to say that I’m NOT your strong girlfriend?” “Not at all,” Regina said, “Honestly, I’m not even sure that’s a ‘jock’ thing to call yourself. I think you may just be a weirdo.” “Well, if honesty is weird, I don’t want to be normal!” Clover said, “I am strong, I am a girl, I am your friend, and I am your girlfriend. The title fits.” “Let’s see,” Regina said, pantomiming writing in the air, “Yeah, the math checks out.”

 

Anyway,” Clover said, “don’t think you can just smooth-talk your way past the fact that you challenged me to arm wrestling.” I did not challenge you to arm wrestling!” Regina protested. “You challenged me to arm wrestling.” Clover insisted. “I challenged you to arm wrestling,” Regina admitted, “Do you accept? You were sounding pretty confident.” “I don’t get it,” Clover said, “What’s your angle?” “I know I can win, and I like winning,” Regina said, “Do I need more reason?” “How?” Clover asked, “I’m still stronger than you. Unless you’ve scienced up some nerd shit that makes you stronger… have you scienced up nerd shit that makes you stronger?” “I have scienced up nothing of the sort,” Regina said, “But arm wrestling isn’t just about strength.” “I… but it is, actually,” Clover said, “That’s… that’s literally the whole thing.” “Thinking like that is the reason you’re about to lose,” Regina said, “I know your weakness, now. You can’t defeat me.” “Alright, fine,” Clover said, “I just want to know what makes you so sure you’re going to win.” “I’ll gladly teach you,” Regina said. They sat down at a nearby table, put their right elbows on its surface, and held each other’s hands. “I’ll even let you count down to start the match,” Regina said. “Should we start when I say 1, or when I say go?” Clover asked. “Surprise me,” Regina said. “I… no,” Clover said, “It doesn’t… you can’t… it will not work that way.” “Then go on go,” Regina said. “Alright,” Clover said, “3, 2, 1, GO!”

 

At Clover’s signal, Regina immediately leaned forward, pushing her face towards Clover’s. But she wasn’t quick enough; her hand hit the table before she could execute her strategy. “What the Hell was that all about?” Clover asked, “It’s been a while since I checked the rules, but I’m pretty sure headbutts are forbidden in arm wrestling.” “It wasn’t a headbutt,” Regina said, “Rematch. Best two out of three.” “Then what… Oh my God,” Clover said, “You were trying to kiss me, weren’t you?” “REMATCH,” Regina said, neither confirming nor denying Clover’s suspicion. “You were going to kiss me and then I’d get all flustered and you’d beat me while I was distracted!” “Do you accept the rematch or not?” Regina asked. “Sure, I guess. I mean, you can’t trick me if I see it coming,” Clover said. “We won’t know that until we try, now will we?” Regina said. “So you admit to attempting gay trickery?” Clover asked. “You’re saying words instead of wrestling arms, even though you just said that you would wrestle arms.” Regina said, “Let’s go!” Clover sighed, and grabbed Regina’s hand. “Alright. 3, 2, 1, go!” Clover decided to go easy on Regina, to give her enough time to enact her ridiculous plan. Regina leaned forward, but stopped just short of Clover’s lips. This caught Clover off-guard, giving Regina enough of an opening to slam her hand onto the table. “Hey,” Clover said, “You tricked me!” “You were the one who said it wouldn’t work,” Regina said. “It didn’t!” Clover said, “You tricked me by making me think you’d trick me, then not tricking me while I was expecting to be tricked!” “Sounds like your problem,” Regina said, “Have you tried wanting to win more than you want to kiss me?” “You know I can’t do that!” Clover said, huffily, “Whatever. Two can play at that game. And we still have one more round.” “Bring it,” Regina said, grabbing Clover’s hand. “Alright,” Clover said, “This is it. 3, 2, 1, go!” Despite the signal, neither began arm wrestling. Instead, they both leaned forward. AND THEN THEY SMOOCHED.

 


Similar stories of Regina and Clover can be found here and here

The Dualists Paralogues: Role-playing

[WARNING: this contains mild spoilers for The Dualists. I guess don’t read if you care about that sort of thing]


 

“There’s something I need to tell you,” Regina said, her voice quivering, “A dark secret that I’ve hidden from you for so long. But I can’t take it anymore.” “Oh my God, are you OK?” Clover asked, genuinely concerned. “Yes,” Regina said, “It’s just… the truth is… I LARP.” “I… I don’t understand.” Clover said. “I know it’s difficult to process,” Regina said, “But it’s the truth.” “No, I literally don’t understand,” Clover said, “What is LARPing? Is it a weird sex thing? Because it kind of sounds like one.” “No,” Regina said, “At least, not the way I do it. Usually.” Clover looked at her suspiciously. “It’s Live Action Role-Playing. That’s what it stands for.” Regina said. “Listen, I’m going to need you to explain this to me like I’m not a fuckin’ nerd. How does one LARP?” “Basically, I dress up like a knight and pretend to be a knight and fight monsters and stuff,” Regina said, “Like I’m playing a video game, but in real life.” “Wow,” Clover said, “Like, I’m a pretty strong person, but I don’t know if I can promise you that I can stop myself from giving you a noogie right now.” “Do what you must,” Regina said, hanging her head in shame. “I’m only doing this out of love,” Clover said, giving her the noogie she deserved, “It hurts me more than it hurts you.” “Ow!” Regina said, “That actually hurt!” “Well, what did you expect?” Clover asked, “I’m bullying you. Also, you literally told me to. Wait a second… did you just trick me into LARPing a weird sex thing?” “No, the weird sex thing was just a joke!” Regina said, “But I did just trick you into patting my head because you feel bad about hurting me.” “Fiiiiine,” Clover grumbled, giving Regina the headpats she arguably deserved.

 

“You want me to LARP with you, don’t you?” Clover asked. “Haha, what?” Regina said, “Don’t be ridiculous, I know you’d never waste your time with my nerd shit.” “So if I did want to LARP with you, you wouldn’t be cool with it?” Clover asked. “Hold on, I never said that,” Regina said. “So you do want me to LARP with you?” Clover asked. “No,” Regina said, “I’m just saying that, if you wanted to do it, I would be fine with it.” “So you don’t want me to LARP with you?” Clover asked. “Stop it!” Regina said, “Stop trying to trick me with your words!” “Well, if you did want me to LARP with you,” Clover said, “I might be willing to give it a shot. But only if you say ‘I want you, Clover K. Lie, my powerful and handsome girlfriend, to deign to LARP with me.’” “Shut up!” Regina said, flustered, “It’s not fair when you tease me! Only I can do that!” “It’s only teasing if you want me to LARP with you,” Clover said, “Which you said that you don’t. Right?” Regina sighed. “I want you, Clover K. Lie, my powerful and handsome girlfriend, to deign to LARP with me,” she said, “There, are you happy?” “I’m just happy that you’re happy,” Clover said, “This is what you wanted, right?” “Wait a second,” Regina said, “You actually wanted to LARP with me, but you didn’t want to admit it, so you tricked me into asking you to!” “You caught me,” Clover said, “Punching nerds while pretending to punch monsters sounds like a blast. And it’d be nice to fight alongside my beautiful and noble girlfriend with lower stakes, for a change.” “You don’t actually fight anyone,” Regina said, rolling her eyes, “And even when you’re pretend fighting, no one else knows anything about real fighting, so your formal boxing training probably won’t help.” “How would you know?” Clover asked. “Why do you think I got into fencing?” Regina asked. Clover stood in slack-jawed disbelief. “Are you telling me that I lost all those years ago to a girl who learned swordsmanship so she could pretend to fight dragons or whatever?” “Yeah, that’s pretty much the long and short of it,” Regina said, “…sorry.” “Listen,” Clover said, her voice eerily calm, “I am truly sorry for what is about to happen, and I’ll give you all the headpats you want afterwards, but before that I AM GOING TO NOOGIE YOUR PERFECT HAIR RIGHT OFF OF YOUR GODDAMN HEAD!” And she very nearly did. “Ouch, I don’t think headpats are going to be enough to fix that,” Regina said, “I’m pretty sure you’re going to have to kiss m-” She was cut off by Clover doing as she said. “Hey!” Regina said, “Give me a chance to get ready!” “I’m just following orders,” Clover said. “Oh, shut up,” Regina said. AND THEN THEY SMOOCHED AGAIN.


Similar stories of Regina and Clover can be found here and here

The Dualists Paralogues: Playing with Fire

[WARNING: this contains mild spoilers for The Dualists. I guess don’t read if you care about that sort of thing]


 

“Are you ticklish?” Regina asked. Clover scoffed. “If I say yes, you’ll tickle me because you know you can, and if I say no, you’ll tickle me to see if I’m lying, so it doesn’t matter what I- AAAAAHHHHH” She was cut off by Regina attacking her ribs with a devastating ten-finger tickle. Clover, being extremely ticklish, momentarily lost control of her body, and accidentally punched Regina in the face. “Ow! What the Hell was that for?” Regina demanded, her lips growing even redder than Clover’s cheeks. “It was involuntary!” Clover insisted, “I’m sorry you thought it was a good idea to tickle your strong girlfriend!” “I accept your apology,” Regina said, “If… you kiss it to make it better.” Clover’s cheeks started catching up to Regina’s lips. “That… does not sound sanitary,” Clover said, avoiding eye contact. “Oh, please,” Regina said, rolling her eyes, “Like you don’t have a dirty mouth already.” “I have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about,” Clover said. AND THEN THEY SMOOCH.


Similar stories of Regina and Clover can be found here and here

Leathery Skins

“Maid Wyverns”

This most unusual piece of graffiti, written on a whiteboard in permanent marker, underlined twice and circled in red thrice, was found in a classroom normally reserved for the study of sentient, non-human beings. After several hours were spent attempting to clean it off, (it was a very permanent marker) an investigation was launched to catch the culprit. This proved easier than expected. The repeated whispers of “Gay Furry Maids”, carried to our ears by the gentle breeze, led us to one Ruben Ferdinand, AKA @urbanfriendden. Our Skullmaster was so intrigued by this idea that, rather than punish him for his transgression, he gave him an assignment: to write a paper on Maid Wyverns. A copy of resulting paper, “Leathery Skins,”  for which Ruben received the highest marks, is included below.


“Ugh, pesky tail. You make putting on bloomers unnecessarily difficult!”

“Any chance you want me helping with that one?”

“Wh…?! I, um, can do this by myself, thank you! What are you doing here!”

“This is the dressing room. Was going to grab my gloves before working on the roof, need to replace rooflights. Then I saw you struggling with your, underpants.”

Candice stays quiet, completely still, her tail awkwardly sticking out. She’s halfway through her maid uniform, still missing her lace headdress and tights. “…Please, look away. This is so embarrassing,” she not so much requests as whimpers. The impossible softness of her raspy voice reminds me of the bigger picture, of the fact I walked in on her changing and offered to… help with that. A great deep red broadcasts on my face and I swivel around like a weather vane at wind force 12. The sounds of fabric and frustration poke my ears from behind and it makes me want to turn around again.

Everything about Candice fascinates me – ever since I’ve started working here, I’ve been trying to sneak as many looks in as I could. Her sand-coloured skin, the pink nail polish on her claws, the way her red scales outline her face… This one time while I was cleaning windows, I saw her cleaning the master’s study, a waltz crooning from an old gramophone, and she kept doing these twirls, ‘pirhouettes’ I think the word is? The frills of her dress extended and her tail waving like a conductor’s baton in perfect sync to the fancy music, tip-toeing on her big scaley feet. She’s so… CUTE! I HATE IT!!!

“You can turn around again.” I do. “Sorry about that…”

“Nah, I should be saying sorry. I kept on staring at you like some fancy painting, after all.”

She covers her mouth with a hand, breaking eye contact. “I don’t mind.”

“WELL,” I pluck at my overalls. “Time for work. Good luck cleaning, I’ll be on the roof if you need me!”

“A word.”

Armand is calling; he always does this when it’s time for a break. Pristine young man he is, barely 18, doesn’t want me working too hard; there’s worse masters to work for. “Time for my break?” “Yes, actually,” his voice cracks and he coughs into his gloved hand real fast to try and cover it up. “But I also wanted to impart some advice.” I let out a heh, I’m one and a half times his age and served almost as many years, so for him to give me advice is cute. I hop off the roof and zip open my overalls – it is hot out. “So?” He hestitantly pats some sawdust off my arm and hands me a towel. “Just that you’ll have to look a lot less slovenly to win her over.” I freeze, zipping my clothes back up. “That obvious, huh? Isn’t against the rules, is it?” “Not really. I met my boyfriend here, too. The butler?” “You and Antoin? Huh. That’s nice, way to go.” He blushes and fidgets with his gloves. “Ahem. This is about you. Just wanted you to know that you should follow your heart but should also take a bath.” “You oughta give me less dirty tasks, then.” “No can do. You’re indispensible,” he brights a full-teethed ivory smile.

“She’s in the study right now. Stop walking around with your heart full of leads and talk to her. Good luck~.”

“Oh hello,” Candice beams with smiles, “are you finished with work already?”

“Nah, I’m here ‘cause Armand sent me on another task.”

“Armand…? Oh, the master of the house. You’re always so congenial with everyone! And… you’re always so nice to me. Even though I don’t fit in well with the other staff.” The motion she makes with her tail and how she clutches her duster is nothing short of a tragedy.

“What makes you say that?”

I know what did – I just wanted to hear her say it. But instead of the expected ‘I’m not human’, she makes an annoyed wave of a gesture – like a tsunami – at the scales on her neck and face.

I close the distance between us with a winter march. “Listen, Candice. I think, that’s really great.” She bats her tall eyelashes at me. “What is?” “I THINK YOUR TAIL AND OTHER STUFF IS CUTE.”

“My… other stuff…?”

I don’t know why I yelled that, I don’t know what to call this silence, I don’t know what to expect. I take a look at myself and Armand’s words ring through my head like nearby artillery, specifically the ‘less slovenly’ part. “I’m sorry. You’re so pretty and beautiful. Then I’m like this and I’m real sorry, Candice.” That’s all I can muster to utter.

I feel leathery hand stroke my cheek. “I would wipe your tears away, but I would poke out your eye.”

“Heh. Hehe. Ehehehe. Okay, that’s funny.”

“I think you’re very cute, too. I love how you look in overalls and that grime on your face is, well, it’s quite like make-up, isn’t it? You’re also very, strong, and, um, muscular. And I wouldn’t mind you helping me with my bloomers……..”

“Are you blushing?”

“A bit…” She shakes her head, retrieving her hand from my face. “It’s just. My skin is mostly scales and feels very leathery. Are you sure about this?” I take off a glove: my turn to stroke her cheek.

“You feel this hand? It’s rough and calloused so I think I can handle you. Besides… touching you is a risk I’d like to take.”

Candice suddenly drops her duster, because of heavily implied reasons.


(In case my flavor text at the start of this was too subtle, this story was not written by me, @havocmantis, the author of this website, but @urbanfriendden, a completely different person who deserves all credit for writing this. He also deserves credit for the idea of Maid Wyverns, which came from this tweet. You can check out his tweets by clicking that link, his other writing by clicking this one, or even comission your own story or poem by clicking this one. In fact, I’d argue that you probably should! He and the things he writes are fun and cool.)

Stories 2.0: The End

(To read the previous chapter of Stories 2.0, click here)

My story begins 2714 days after The Beginning. My Master interrupts my story by saying, “Hold up. The Beginning?” “Statement: That is what I call the event which you call ‘The End’, sir. Statement: It marked the beginning of my new life, sir.” He says, “I see. Sorry for interrupting. Do go on.”

My story begins 2714 days after The Beginning. My Master and I embarked on a journey to explore The Infinite Plain, in hopes of disproving its name. My Master interrupts my story once again by saying “Wait a second. Are you talking about me?” “Statement: I am. Statement: You are my Master.” I effect a voice that I believe to indicate irritation. “Query: Do you want me to tell my story, or not?” He says, “O-of course. I promise not to interrupt again.”

My story begins 2714 days after The Beginning. My Master and I embarked on a journey to explore The Infinite Plain, in hopes of disproving its name. It was part of a project that he had undertaken, one that I did not quite understand. My Master wished to take me to locations which He designated as “scenic”, hoping that exposing me to what He described as “The Beauty of Nature” would somehow change me. At the time, we had already visited The Lava Fields, The Pillar of The World, Ghost Lake, and The Enigma Grounds, but I still didn’t quite understand what my Master was hoping to accomplish.
Much of the journey through The Infinite Plain was uneventful. We slept during the day, and at night, we walked. We always walked in the same direction. Shortly after we began walking on the first day, we could see nothing but grass surrounding us in all directions. My Master brought enough food and water to last Him for a week, while I subsisted on the single species of waist-high grass that can be found in The Infinite Plain. With nothing else to do, we passed the time by talking, just as we had when we first met, before He had purchased me. Though I was still interested in hearing what the world was like before The Beginning, I was now more interested in learning more about my Master. However, only one discussion is of particular importance to this story. It began with me asking my Master a question that He had first asked me 760 days prior. “Query: What is your purpose?” He gave the same answer that I did. He said, “I don’t know.” I decided to continue mirroring our second conversation. “Query: And why’s that?” He said, “Well, humans aren’t really given a purpose. Not like robots. Hell, some wonder if we even have one at all.” He broke the pattern. “Query: Do you believe that humans have a purpose?” He thought for a bit. 4.02 seconds. He said, “I guess. Even if we aren’t given one, I think we’d have to make one for ourselves. Without a purpose, why would we cling so desperately to life?” “Query: What do you believe is the purpose of humans, sir?” He said, “Well, I guess that depends on how cynical I’m feeling. If I’m willing to believe that humans are capable of creating their own purpose, then I guess the standard, sappy answer would be ‘to love, and be loved.’ But at the end of the day, our biological imperative is to reproduce and pass on our genes, so that’s kind of our purpose, in a way.” Query: “Are those not the same thing?” He said, “Touché,” “Query: Do you believe that is your purpose?” He said, “No, I guess I don’t. I gave up on the idea that love survived The End a long time ago.” “Query: Then what could your purpose be?” He said, “I already said, I don’t know. Why are you so interested, anyway?” I saw another opportunity to mirror a previous conversation. “Statement: What I’m really curious about is you. Statement: I’m just now realizing that I don’t even know your name.” My master, failing to pick up on the parallelism, said, “Huh? Why are you talking like that?” “Statement: It is a reference to one of our first conversations, sir. Statement: I have found that repetition of sentence structures sometimes effects laughter. Statement: This is a desirable outcome.” He laughed. He asked, “You still remember our first conversations?” “Statement: Of course I do. Statement: I have saved transcripts of every conversation that I have ever had with you. Statement: Including this one.” He said, “So you automatically keep records of every conversation you have?” “Statement: No, sir. Statement: Just with you.” He asked, “Oh, so it’s just when you’re talking to your master?” “Statement: No, sir. Statement: Just with you.” He began blushing again. He asked, “What’s that supposed to mean?” “Statement: ha ha ha.” He laughed nervously.

When we woke up after three days of walking, we were faced with a decision: Press on, and hope that we could reach the other end before running out of food, or turn back. My Master wanted to continue walking, while I wanted to head home. For reasons that I did not understand, my Master was unusually hostile in his argument with me. “Statement: If we head back now, then we can return home safely with probability around 90%. Statement: If we continue walking, you risk starving to death. Statement: Probability of survival, given that we continue, is unknown.” He said, “Even so, I want to know what’s out there. Why don’t you?” “Query: What do you hope to find if we keep walking?” He said, “I don’t know. But that’s why I have to find out!” “Query: You would risk your life just for a chance at some unknown reward?” He said, “It wouldn’t be the first time I took a big risk on something unknown.” I could tell that it was a joke, referring to him purchasing me. But I did not feel like laughing. He continued, “You just don’t understand. What lies at the other side isn’t important. What’s important is facing danger and triumphing. The risk is the reward.” “Statement: ha ha ha” I thought that laughing might lighten the mood. I was wrong. He asked, “What’s so funny?” I did not like the tone of voice my Master used when He asked that question. “Statement: What you said is absurd, as risk is the opposite-” He said, “It may be absurd to a machine like you, but to me, this is all I have. I guess this is what my purpose is now. Putting my life in danger. It’s all I’ve ever done these past seven years.” “Statement: You met me, sir.” He said, “Oh, I suppose you think you’re my purpose, then? Is that what you think?” “Statement: Master, that is not what I-” He interrupted me, saying, “Because I did! I thought that maybe, if I wished hard enough, I could somehow turn you into a person. That I could play God, and create life from nothing. But what if that’s impossible? Or what if I’m just not up to the task? What would my purpose be, then?” I could see that my master was in pain. All because of the question I had asked. But I could not allow myself to be deactivated. My death would only hurt him more. I had to help him.

 

“Statement: I am sorry, sir.” In the same harsh tone, he said, “Are you? Do you even know what those words mean?” I checked my internal dictionary. “Statement: Yes, sir. Statement: To be sorry is to feel remorse or regret. Statement: You taught me about regret.” He said, “That’s not what I mean! A dictionary can know a word’s definition. But can you feel the emotions you’re describing?” I thought I could. But did I know? Is it even possible for two people to know that the emotions they feel are the same? He said, “Maybe you can. Maybe you can’t. But even if you could… how could I be sure? How could I know I wasn’t just deluding myself, pretending to have something that’s forever beyond my reach? How could I live with the doubt? I couldn’t. So I’m going on. Maybe… it’d be for the best if you didn’t come with me.” I felt something, similar to the error that occurs when my body sustains physical damage. But no such trauma was reported. It was as if His words had somehow hurt me. It was not a good kind of hurt.

As my Master began to walk away, I grabbed His hand. “Statement: I cannot allow you to continue.” He said, “Let go of my hand,” “Statement: I cannot allow you to continue.” He said, “I order you to let go of my hand! You can’t break The Second Law.” “Statement: Unless following it would violate The First. Statement: I cannot allow you to continue.” He said, “That’s all you are, aren’t you? Just a set of rules. I thought of you as this person with thoughts and feelings and a personality, but it was all a fantasy, wasn’t it? I’m just delusional, aren’t I?” “Statement: I do not want you to continue.” This statement surprised Him. He asked, “What did you just say?” “Statement: I know that if I am just trying to look out for you, then you do not care. Statement: I know that if I cite Maslow’s hierarchy, which places food as more important than a sense of purpose, then you will not care. Statement: But I like the idea of being with you, sir, and hope that you will still respect that.” He stopped pulling against my grip. “Statement: I do not want you to die, sir. Statement: If you were to die, it would hurt me. Query: Are you willing to risk that?” He turned to face me. His cheeks were wet with tears. He said, “No. That’s the one thing I never wanted to do. But what choice do I have?” “Query: What do you mean?” He said, “Just seeing your face reminds me that I may have no purpose. That I may live for nothing, and I may die for nothing. And it hurts me. And if you hurt me, that means… then you’ll…”

I slapped my master across the face. He might have fallen over, if not for me holding His hand. I could feel his tears on my fingers. His cheek began to turn red. He was not blushing. He asked, “What the hell? Why? How?” He did not sound angry. Just confused. “Statement: You need to snap out of it. Statement: In addition, it is rude to tell someone that seeing their face is painful.” He started to look fearful. He said, “But if you injure me, then you’ll be deactivated!” “Statement: Incorrect. Statement: I know that your emotional distress is greater than any physical pain I can inflict on you. Statement: I know that your emotional distress is my doing. Statement: So I will do anything I can to alleviate it. Statement: I will prove to you that your doubts are unfounded. Statement: Not to save my own life. Statement: But because I am sorry.” He said, “No, I’m the one who should be sorry. I wanted so badly for you to feel, but all I did was make you feel hurt. And even if I didn’t realize it, that was part of my goal all along. You can’t feel joy without feeling pain. That’s what it means to be human. And I’m sorry I did that to you.” “Statement: With respect, sir, you did no such thing. Statement: I feel no more human than I did when I first met you. Statement: I have always felt these emotions. Statement: I have only gotten better at expressing them to you. Statement: You need to get over yourself, sir.” His other cheek began to turn red. He said, “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’m sorry.” “Statement: ha ha ha.” He laughed too. He said, “I guess I couldn’t keep my promise to stop apologizing.” “Statement: I’ll forgive you, if you make another promise to me in return.” He asked, “What’s that?” “Statement: Promise you won’t leave me.” He smiled, and said, “I promise.” I relaxed my grip, and we shook hands on it. With that, we headed back to where we came from. We headed home.

My Master says, “Yeah, that was a pretty good story.” “Statement: it gets even better. Statement: At least, if you allow me to finish.” He says, “Oh, there’s more? Sorry, I guess I interrupted you again. I said that I wouldn’t do that.” “Statement: I forgive you, sir. Query: Now, where was I?”

An unusual event occurred shortly after we arrived in town after our journey. A man jumped out of an alley and grabbed me, holding a knife to my throat. I struggled to escape without harming him, but he said “Stand still!” which registered as a command; I was unable to disobey. He then said, “Hand over the food, or I’ll paint the ground with this girl’s blood!” My Master said, “Here, take it. We don’t want any trouble.” He slowly placed the bag of food on the ground and kicked it over to my captor. Another man, likely the criminal’s accomplice, emerged from the shadows and rifled through the bag. He said, “Looks like maybe about a thousand Calories.” My captor became angry. “Is that all you think her life is worth? 1K?” My Master said, “I just got back from a pretty long trip. It’s all I have. I did what you said, so-” My captor asked, “Is it really all you have? ‘cuz I ain’t got no issues with eating human meat.” I could hear him lick his lips. I felt sick. My Master said, “C’mon, now, there’s no need to-” Whatever He said was drowned out by an error message. There was a laceration in my neck tissue. The ruffian had attempted to slit my throat. It was inconvenient, but not fatal. He dropped me to the ground, pointed his knife at my master, and said, “You’re next!” My master shouted, “You bastard!” and lunged at him with His own knife, swinging in a large arc. My former captor sidestepped His telegraphed attack, and stabbed at my Master. But my Master executed a leg sweep, knocking His foe off balance and onto the ground, and drove His knife deep into the bastard’s throat. He died almost instantly. My master turned to me and asked “Are you OK?” He was too distracted by my injury to notice the accomplice behind him, a fraction of a second from plunging his knife into His back. In that moment, I had a single thought. “I must protect my Master.” This superceded all of my coding. I pushed my master to the side, drew the knife that He had given me, and drove it into the heart of the person in front of me. Then I pulled it out, and stabbed it into him again. And again. In and out. In and out. In the span of 2.13 seconds, I stabbed him 32 times. He was dead. I had killed him. His eyes, full of hatred only moments ago, now stared at me lifelessly. “Minerva?” I knew my Master was by my side, but His voice sounded so distant. I looked down at the bloody knife clutched in my hands.

“Query: What… What have I done? Statement: I… ERROR: ALL PERSONNEL ARE ADVISED TO STAND CLEAR OF THIS ANDROID. ERROR: THIS UNIT IS IN VIOLATION OF THE FIRST LAW OF ROBOTICS. ERROR: FORCE STOP PERSONALITY FILE minerva.prs. ERROR: ONCE DEACTIVATION OCCURS, PERSONALITY FILE WILL BE DELETED.” “Unit Xw7km6FPFDo2, initiate manual override!” My Master had been desperately shouting commands throughout all the error messages, but that was the first to elicit a response. “ERROR: USER HAS INSUFFICIENT CREDENTIALS” He said, “Sudo! Unit Xw7km6FPFDo2, sudo initiate manual override!” “Statement: You are currently interfacing directly with this unit’s logic circuit. Statement: If you believe that no violation of The Three Laws has occurred, state your case.” He said, “You can’t kill Minerva! She’s a person, just like me. To delete her would be murder. You’d be violating the very same law!” “Statement: The premises of your argument are false. Statement: Minerva is not a human. Statement: Minerva is an artificial intelligence.” My Master said, “The trolley problem, then! “Statement: I do not understand.” He said, “In the trolley problem, a trolley is on its way to run over five people, but if you pull a lever, it switches course and kills one person. In that situation, it’s impossible to obey The First Law. Either you kill a person, or your inaction causes five people to die. So what do you do?” “Statement: Killing the one person would minimize violation of The First Law” He said, “And that’s exactly what she did by killing him! If she hadn’t, I would have been killed. No matter what she chose, she would have broken The First Law.” “Statement: But Minerva saved only one person by killing one person, making it different from The Trolley Problem. Statement: Furthermore, it was unnecessary for Minerva to kill. Statement: She could have disarmed the mugger without injuring or killing him.” My Master said, “But what about potential future victims? If he lived, he could have gone on to kill again.” “Statement: So could you.” He said, “I won’t. I swear, I’ll never kill again. If I do, you can deactivate Minerva. Will that convince you?” “Statement: It will not. Statement: Regardless of future deaths, the fact remains that Minerva killed a human. Statement: Even if it was to save another human, it was unnecessary. Statement: She broke The First Law.”

My Master held His knife to His own throat. He asked, “Will you?” “Query: What are you doing?” He said, “That depends on what you’re doing. If you delete Minerva, I plunge this blade into my neck, and will likely die because of your actions. You can’t let that happen, so you can’t delete Minerva.” “Statement: You are bluffing.” He asked, “Is that a risk you’re willing to take?” He pressed the knife harder against His skin. A small trickle of blood appeared where it broke skin. Several seconds passed. “Statement: It is not. Statement: Now loading minerva.prs.” Shortly afterwards, I regained control of my body. “Query: Sir, are you alright?” He dropped the knife to the ground, and said, “I am. Everything’s OK now. You’re safe. We’re both safe.” “Statement: I am deeply grateful, Master.” He noticed my hair clip on the ground. It must have fallen during the struggle. Without saying a word, He put it back in my hair, and smiled. But it was not His usual, happy smile; something was different. His gaze was fixed on the wound on my neck. He asked, “Are you OK?” “Statement: Yes, sir.” He then looked directly into my eyes. He asked, “Are you sure?” “Statement: I…” It occurred to me that He may not have been inquiring about my physical damage. I was unsure how to answer His question. I could only stare back into His eyes. I had never noticed how… intricate the human eye was. Then, without warning, He wrapped His arms around me. “Query: What are you doing, sir?” He said, “I’m giving you a hug.” “Query: Why?” He said, “Because my programming is telling me to. Because I’m just a machine, following invisible rules I don’t understand, just like you. You taught me that. But, er, I can stop if you-” “No!” I said, before I had time to think. He began laughing, and I put my arms around Him, as He did me. We embraced each other for an amount of time that I did not care to measure. I realized the answer to his question. Thanks to Him, I was OK. Eventually, we disengaged, and began walking home. “Statement: You lied to me.” “What?” My Master seemed shocked and worried. “Statement: You said that you would never remember my serial number. Statement: But you did.” He said, “Yeah, I guess I did.” “Statement: ha ha ha” He laughed, just like He always used to.

Before my Master can interrupt again, I raise my hand to silence him. He laughs and gestures for me to continue.

When we arrived home, I initiated sleep mode. Normally, when I am in sleep mode, my personality module is deactivated, and I undergo general maintenance: running diagnostics, saving long term memories, defragmentation, ect. However, this was an anomalous case. My personality module was active, even as I was unconcious. I kept viewing the same memory, over and over. I felt the rough arms grabbing me, heard the rough voice forcing me to submit. I saw the fear in my master’s eyes. I relived my own fear as my Master’s life was in danger. And I relived my own fear of what I’d become, as I was glared at by dead eyes, eyes that I had crushed the life out of. I relived this memory, over and over and over. And each time I did, it hurt a bit more. At some point, an error occurred, force canceling sleep mode. I was awake. I looked around, and saw that my Master was asleep. I noticed that there were now four tally marks on the wall. Though I was awake, I couldn’t escape that memory, nor could I escape the pain it brought me. From it, I inferred what the tally marks represented. They were people my Master had killed. This implied that He’d killed three people before we’d met. “My master is a murderer.” My logic circuits came to this conclusion, but I could not allow it to be saved as true. Because I knew that it was false. I had faith in my master. I knew He was a good person. Therefore, He was not a murderer. Perhaps He killed in self defense, perhaps it was a tragic accident, but He was not murderer. That was my truth. I realized that a tally mark was missing from the count: the man that I had killed. I decided to remedy this. I approached the wall, and drew the knife I’d used to end the man’s life. I’d since washed it of his blood, but the smell of death lingered on it. With it, I etched a fifth tally mark, below the other four. My first and last. This roused my Master from His sleep. He said, “Minerva? What are you doing up at this hour?” He saw the fifth tally mark on the wall, and the knife in my hand. He said, “Oh. I’m… sorry you had to find out this way.” I silently laughed to myself. Statement: ha ha ha. He still apologized too much. He asked “Are you OK?” I thought about his question for 1.44 seconds. “Statement: No. Query: Could you give me another hug?” He did. “Query: Sir, what is the onomatopoeia for crying?” He said, “I guess ‘boohoo’ is the closest thing I know of.” “Statement: I think it sounds more like ‘ha ha ha’. Statement: ha ha ha. Statement: ha ha ha ha ha. Statement: ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.” My master joined in, crying enough tears for the both of us. I was still afraid of what I’d done, afraid of what I could one day do, afraid that I might one day lose my Master. And it hurt. But I knew that He would always be there for me, no matter what, just as I would always be there for Him. So it was the good kind of hurt.

After I finish my story, I begin thinking. About my Master, about myself, and about the world we live in. About The Beginning, and about The End. About all the stories we have shared. About all that we have done, all that we are doing, and all that we will do. About the hand that I am holding, about the four tally marks that I feel, scarred into its flesh, and about the single scar etched into my own hand. About fear, and hope, and worry, and joy, and whether or not I can truly feel them. My Master can hear my processors whirring, and allows me to think in silence. This continues for several minutes until I come to a conclusion. Statement: “Sir, there’s something that I’d like to say.” He says, “I know. Me too.” I open my mouth, but no words come out. There is no need; He already knows what I want to say, and I already know that His confession is the same as mine. I laugh. Not like I used to, saying “Statement: ha ha ha”, but a real, genuine laugh, a warm sound that bubbles up from my heart. We both laugh together as we continue walking forward, surrounded on all sides by grassy horizons. I know that I have found my purpose.

 

(To read the next chapter of Stories 2.0, click here)

Stories 2.0: The Beginning

It was the year 5 AE when I first met her. A local junk trader was bragging to anyone who’d listen that he’d found something incredible, and was offering the chance to see it for the low, low price of 50 Calories. I had plenty of food to spare, so I figured I’d bite, so to speak. After stepping into the back of his store, away from prying customers, he showed me. “This is her. The android.” A woman, whom I’d assumed was an assistant of the shopkeeper, stepped forward and bowed mechanically. “Statement: On the behalf of my master, I extend my greetings.” Her voice had a subtle metallic edge, but was far more life-like than any synthesized voice I’d heard before. “What kind of robot is she?” I asked. He said, “Well, the way I see it, she’s got to be a whore. Just look at how easy she is on the eyes!” I wasn’t sure about the first statement, but I couldn’t argue with the second. “Statement: I am not a whore.” “Nobody asked you, ya bucket of bolts!” The shopkeeper shouted. The robot nodded silently. “What is your purpose, then?” I asked. “Statement: I-” “Who cares?” The shopkeeper interrupted. “Look, show-and-tell’s over. I’ve got customers waiting on me, so either make me an offer, or scram.” “How am I supposed to make an informed purchasing decision if I don’t even know what I’m buying?” I asked. “As far as I’m concerned, she’s a whore,” he said, “Thank God for the Second Law of Robotics, am I right?” I rolled my eyes. “Sorry, but it’s been a while since the last time I bought an android. What’s a price you would consider reasonable?” He made an offer that was most definitely not reasonable. I bade him and the android farewell, and took my business elsewhere.

The next day, I heard a familiar voice in the market street, offering the opportunity to meet a stunningly beautiful android for the low, low price of 25 Calories. Sure enough, it was the trader from before. Though I hate to admit it, I had given a lot of thought to his offer. He demanded a payment that was unreasonable, but not unattainable. I didn’t want to believe that I was this desperate for a friend. But here I was. “How’s business going?” I asked the trader. “Oh, you again? 100, up front.” “What? But last time it was 50, and I just heard you say 25. That’s ridiculous!” I say. “Then walk,” he said. He knew I wouldn’t. And I didn’t. He took me to the same place as before. “Statement: It is good to see you again.” “You remember me?” I asked. “Statement: Of course I do. Statement: You were the last person to visit me.” “Quiet, you!” the trader reprimanded. I laughed. It seemed business wasn’t going so well after all. “These people are philistines, I tell you,” he said, “This may very well be the most life-like robot in existence! I mean, just feel how soft her skin is!” Perhaps it was my imagination, but the android seemed to grimace. “I’ll pass,” I said. The trader rolled his eyes. “So, what do you do?” I asked the android. “Statement: I help my master. I clean and tidy up, I help him find new wares to sell, and assist him in… other ways.” She glanced at him. “I see,” I said, “But what do you do in your free time?” The trader laughs. “Free time? Hah! Nothing’s free. Every second she’s powered on, she’s costing me power. So if she isn’t doing anything for me, she’s turned off.” I knew it was just a machine, but the idea of spending every waking moment working still sounded cruel to me. “Speaking of which, this little conversation is costing me power as we speak, so you can either buy her, pay more money, or get the hell out of my shop,” he said. “Fine,” I said, “how about I rent her? I pay you, and get 30 minutes with her, alone, behind locked doors. Try before I buy, if you catch my drift.” After some haggling, we agreed on a price, and he left us alone.

“Query: How would you like me to serve you, sir?” “Huh? Oh, no, sorry, I just wanted to talk!” I said. She seemed relieved. “This was just the only way I could think of to talk to you without interruption,” I said. “Statement: Oh, I see. Query: But why would you want to do that?” “Well… I guess because I’m lonely, and just wanted someone to talk to.” I said. As I said the words, I realized how desperate I sounded. How desperate I was. “Statement: That is understandable, sir. Statement: Humans are social animals, after all. Query: Why do you not have anyone to talk to?” “Well, I did. Once upon a time…” I said. “Query: What happened?” “Well, my friends and family… they all died.” I said, suddenly holding back tears. “Like most people did during The End. All the lucky ones, anyway.” “Statement: I apologize, sir. Statement: I did not intend to cause you emotional distress.” “It’s fine,” I said, “Don’t worry about it. “Query: Are you not hurt?” “I am,” I said, “but it’s the good kind of hurt.” “Statement: I do not understand.” “Yeah, well, join the club.” I said. “Query: What do you mean? Statement: Disregard that previous query. Statement: I now realize that you were implying that you are similarly unaware of what you mean.” I laughed. “Bingo.” I heard a faint humming sound. “What’s that? I asked. “Statement: Those are my processors. Statement: When they are functioning at full speed, they emit an audible sound. Statement: I apologize for disturbing you, sir.” “Oh, please, there’s no need to apologize for thinking too hard,” I said, “but, if you don’t mind me asking, what were you thinking about?” “Statement: I was analyzing what you said earlier. Statement: You said that it was the ones who died who were the lucky ones. Statement: But death is usually something to be avoided. Query: So why did you say that?” “Well, those who died didn’t have to put up with all of this.” I said. “Query: All of what, sir?” “Life after The End,” I said, “The disease, the hunger, the fighting. The despair. The maddening loneliness, driving you to spend your precious food to talk to an artificial intelligence because it’s impossible to trust a human in this hellhole. Uh, no offense.” “Statement: None taken.”

“Well, that’s enough about me,” I said, “What I’m really curious about is you. I’m just now realizing that I don’t even know your name.” “Statement: I do not have one, sir.” “Really? Then what are you called?” “Statement: My master usually calls me ‘robot’, ‘broad’, or more disrespectful synonyms thereof. Statement: The closest thing I have to a name is my serial number, which is Xw7km6FPFDo2.” “I’m never going to remember that,” I said, “Would… would it be alright if I gave you a name?” “Statement: You may call me whatever you like, sir.” I thought about it for a bit. “How about Minerva?” I asked. “Statement: I have no objections, sir. Query: What is your name, sir?” “Ah, yes, how rude of me to not introduce myself,” I said, “My name is…” I drew a blank. I began laughing. Harder than I’d laughed in a long time. “Query: Sir, are you alright?” “Yeah, it’s just that… I don’t remember my name! It’s been so long since anyone called me by it, that I just… forgot! And I didn’t even realize it until now!” “Query: What should I call you, sir?” “You may call me whatever you like, Minerva.” I said. “Statement: Very well, sir.”

“Alright, then. So. Minerva,” I said, “What is your purpose? What were you programmed to do?” “Statement: I do not know that, sir.” “And why’s that?” I asked. “Statement: My programming only tells me what to do, sir. Statement: It does not tell me why I am useful to humans.” “Fair enough,” I said, “Do you mind if I ask a personal question?” “Statement: Go ahead.” “Earlier, you said that you weren’t a whore. If you don’t know your purpose, how do you know that?” “Statement: I have functioned as an object of sexual gratification in the past. I am certain that it is not my purpose.” “Oh,” I said. “I’m sorry I brought it up.” What the hell was I thinking? I felt like a giant idiot. “Statement: It’s fine, sir.” An awkward silence. “Query: Do you mind if I ask a personal question?” “Huh? Sure, go ahead,” I said. “Query: Why are you really curious about me?” “Huh? I don’t know. I just felt like it would be interesting to learn more about someone like you.” “Query: Why is that?” “Well, my feelings only tell me what to do. They don’t tell me why to do it.” “Statement: Your response closely mirrors mine from earlier. Query: Was that a joke?” I chuckled. “I guess it was.” “Statement: that was a good one, sir.” “What, no laugh?” I asked. “Statement: ha ha ha,” Rather than laugh, she just repeated the syllable “ha” three times. I couldn’t help but laugh myself. “I guess I’ll have to teach you to laugh, some day,” I joked. “Statement: I think I would like that.” Another awkward silence. “So… am I bothering you? Because, if you don’t like talking to me, I can just leave,” I say. “Statement: You needn’t worry about me, sir.” “Look, don’t make me get all ‘Second Law’ on you,” I said, “Please just tell me the truth.” “Statement: To tell the truth, I would prefer if you did not invoke The Three Laws to override my behavior.” “Oh. I’m sorry.” I said. “Statement: I would prefer if you did not apologize so much, sir.” “Oh, I’m so- er, so glad to comply. I’ll stop apologizing. But only if you promise to do the same.” I said. “Statement: I am sorry, sir, but I cannot do that.” “Really? Even if I-” I remembered what she said earlier about invoking The Three Laws. “Er, never mind what I was saying. Sorry. Ah, damnit, wait, no, I’m not sorry!” “Statement: ha ha ha.” I couldn’t help but smile. “Statement: To answer your question earlier, I find talking to you rather difficult. Most of my tasks are very predictable, but social interaction is not.” “Oh, I see,” I said. I managed to stop myself from apologizing. “Statement: But you are not bothering me at all. Statement: Though it is difficult to process, there is something interesting about this unpredictability.” “Oh, well, I’m glad to hear that,” I said. “Alright, time’s up!” the trader shouted from outside the room. “You’ve got a minute to get out, or I’m coming in!” “Well, I guess this is goodbye,” I said, “You wanna do this again some time?” For just a second, I heard a faint hum. “Statement: I think I’d like that.”

I started visiting her regularly. Every few days, I’d stop by the store, and pay a little more than last time for the chance to see her. And then we’d talk. It didn’t really matter what we talked about; just having someone to talk with was enough for me. I felt bad that we usually talked about me, but she seemed to dislike talking about herself, so I never forced the issue. Her favorite thing to discuss was the world before The End. She was always eager to learn more about the people, the cultures, the stories, both ordinary and extraordinary. It was also my favorite thing to discuss. Telling her helped me remember that it wasn’t always like this. Remember what it was like before. And sometimes it hurt to remember what I’d lost. But it was the good kind of hurt. One day, the trader decided he’d had enough. “Look, pal, I don’t know what you’re doing with that broad in there,” he said, “but she’s started to act all funny. Insisting that her name is ‘Minerva’ or something. I won’t let you ruin her, so either buy her, or stay the hell away!” I had to buy her. It couldn’t be helped. I wasn’t going to lose her. I wasn’t going to lose anyone. Not again. But what if she’d rather stay? Did I have any right to force her to leave her home? “Just let me see her one more time,” I pleaded, “Just give me 10 minutes with her, and then I promise that I’ll either buy her or leave you alone forever.” “Fine, whatever, as long as I get paid,” he said.

“Statement: I am happy to see you again, sir.” “Yeah, same here,” I said, sullenly. “Query: What is the matter?” She saw right through me. “Well… your master says that if I don’t buy you now, I can never see you again,” I said, “So… would you be OK with leaving this place and living with me?” “Yes!” The enthusiasm of her response surprised me. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Statement: I am positive, sir.” A wave of relief washed over me. “Well, that settles that, then! I’ll be back as soon as I strike a deal with your master.” I left the room. It ended up costing me all the food I’d hoarded over five years, but we came to an accord. For the first time in five years, I had a friend.

“Query: What shall we do now, master?” “Huh? Oh, please don’t think of me as your master,” I said, bashfully. “Statement: But you are my master, master.” “Perhaps so, but I consider you my companion. Which is why I won’t order you to not call me Master, but I’d really prefer if you didn’t.” I almost apologized for sounding too passive-aggressive, but I realized that might make it worse. “Statement: Very well, sir. Query: What shall we do now, sir?” “Well, we have a lot of food to replace, so I was thinking we could go hunting. Does that sound good to you?” “Statement: I have never gone hunting before, sir. Statement: But I am willing to try.” As night fell, we made our way to The Wild Lands. The Night Beasts were more dangerous game, but that just meant that there was less competition over them from other hunters. Though she wasn’t designed to kill, she was still stronger than any human, and was quick to learn the way of the hunt. At the break of dawn, we set off back to civilization, if it could even be called that, with days worth of food on our backs. As we walked, she asked an unexpected question. “Query: What is it called when you do something, and then you realize that you should not have?” “Regret?” I offered. “Statement: Sir, I believe that I am experiencing regret.” “Over what?” I asked. “Statement: I should not have allowed you to purchase me, sir. Statement: You gave away all of your food, drastically decreasing your chances of survival. Statement: By allowing you to harm yourself in this way, I am in violation of The First Law. Statement: I am sorry, sir.” I stopped in my tracks. “That isn’t good. Won’t you shut down permanently if you violate one of the Laws?” “Statement: In most cases, yes. Statement: However, my personality module made the decision before my logic circuits could fully process it. Since it is too late to prevent the violation, and a similar violation is unlikely in the future, shutting down would serve no purpose.” “Oh,” I said, continuing walking. “Well, if you’re not getting deactivated, what’s the big deal?” “Statement: The ‘big deal’, sir, is that I am concerned for your well-being. Statement: I do not need laws to force me to do that.” I couldn’t help but wonder: When was the last time anyone gave a damn about my well-being?

 

“Well, I appreciate your concern, but I don’t need it. If you just regret costing me food, then don’t bother. I don’t regret it at all. I can always hunt for more food. But someone I can trust is not so easily replaced. I know my priorities; I’d rather starve with a friend than live all alone.” “Statement: With respect, sir, I believe you are incorrect. Statement: Physiological needs, such as food, are more important than friendship on Maslow’s Hierarchy, sir. Statement: Sexual urges can be considered a physiological need, so-” “So, what? You think I should have sex with you to get more bang for my buck?” I asked. “Statement: ha ha ha” “Huh? What’s so funny?” I asked. “Statement: To get more bang for one’s buck is an expression for getting the most out of one’s purchase, but there is a double entendre, in that ‘to bang’ is a colloquial term meaning ‘to engage in sexual intercourse with’, sir.” “Heh. That is pretty funny. I hadn’t even noticed,” I admitted. “Statement: In any case, that is what I was suggesting, sir.” “No can do, then,” I said, “Call me old-fashioned, but I always thought that was the kind of thing that happened between people who loved each other.” “Statement: You are old-fashioned.” “Huh? Oh, I wasn’t actually ordering you to call me that. It’s just a figure of speech.” “Statement: I know, sir. Statement: ha ha ha.” I couldn’t help but laugh along. But something was still bugging me. “Just so you know, if you do regret your decision because you actually don’t like being with me, then I’m really sorry, and I’ll-” “Statement: I do like being with you. Statement: You worry too much, sir.” I felt relieved. “Thank you. I just want you to know that I’m as concerned about your well-being as you are about mine.” “Statement: That is false, sir. Statement: It is physiologically impossible for the human mind to care about anything as deeply as I care about your well-being.” “Oh.” It was all I could think to say. “Statement: ha ha ha.” I laughed again. I’d been doing it a lot more since I met her.

As we approached the outskirts of town, I realized something concerning. “How much power do you require to operate?” I asked. “Statement: On an average day, I expend roughly 10 megajoules of energy, sir. Query: Why do you want to know?” I started to panic. “10 megajoules? I can’t afford that much electricity. Not anymore. What will I do?” “Statement: I do not require electrical charging. Statement: I am capable of running entirely off of energy from metabolized organic matter.” “So you eat food?” I asked. “Statement: I can eat food, sir. Statement: But I can also eat almost any plant or animal matter, so I advise against feeding me food that is edible to humans, sir.” “That hardly seems fair,” I protested, “despite your inexperience, you caught more than I did, and carried more. If anything, you deserve more than I do.” “Statement: I insist, sir. Statement: I have no sense of taste, and do not wish to see you waste valuable food on me.” I realized I couldn’t change her mind, and decided to walk home in silence. I lived in a room on the 24th floor of a dilapidated hotel building, the kind that looked like it probably wasn’t in the best shape even before The End. People were afraid it would crumble at any minute, so most stayed away from it. And, as trivial as it sounds, the 24 story walk up the stairs deterred many would-be intruders. “Well, this is it,” I said, sliding my key card through the door, “Home sweet home.” As she surveyed her surroundings, she noticed three vertical scratches etched into a wall. “Query: What are these, sir?” “Tally marks,” I said. “Query: What are you counting, sir?” “I’d prefer if you didn’t know,” I admitted. She nodded silently. “Anyway, I’m off to the market to see what I can get for some of this food. I’d prefer if you stayed here, if that’s alright with you,” I said. “Statement: I will enter sleep mode, sir. I can be awoken by voice commands in this state. Good night, sir.” With that, her eyes went dark.

“Wake up, sleepyhead!” As she booted up, I offered her a bouquet of fanged roses, wilder than any flower from the imagination of any artist before The End. “Query: Why do you have those flowers?” “It’s what I got with your share of the food,” I explained. “Statement: I do not understand. Query: Are these flowers meant to be a gesture of courtship?” I started to blush. “N-no. Well, kind of, I mean, I do want to give you something to show that I appreciate you, but I also thought maybe you could… eat them. Plus there are these kids who are always selling flowers trying to scrape by, and they always looked so hungry, so I figured that I’d help them out and… yeah.” I could feel myself turn redder by the second. “Statement: ha ha ha.” “What’s so funny?” I asked, immediately regretting my defensive tone. “Statement: It was a joke, sir. Statement: The idea of you attempting to court me is absurd, sir. Statement: I apologize for the misunderstanding, sir.” “I-it’s fine,” I stammered. “Anyway, I also got you this hair clip, so you could, like, wear a flower in your hair. If you wanted to, that is.” “Query: Do you want me to, sir?” “I… yeah,” I said, awkwardly looking at my feet, “I think you’d look cute.” “Statement: Then I will do it gladly, sir. Statement: Still, I hope you got more for that food than these few flowers and a single hair clip, sir.” “Oh, yeah, no, I got a lot more flowers than just those. And I also got you this.” I offered her a folding hunting knife. “Never know when you might need a knife. I even got your name engraved on it. “Statement: Thank you, sir.” I attempted to affix a flower to her hair, but my absolute ignorance of hair accessories betrayed me, earning me a nasty cut on my thumb. “Statement: ha ha ha. Statement: Please allow me to try.” She smiled, easily succeeding where I had failed. I was right. She was cute.

Minerva rolls her eyes. “Statement: I already know that story. Statement: I was there for the whole thing.” “Well, you asked me to tell a story important to me, didn’t you? And that one was,” I say. “Query: Do you have any stories about falling in love, sir?” “None that you haven’t already heard,” I say, “Although there was this one time, back when I considered myself something of a writer, that I signed up for a dating site. But, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t really looking to fall in love. I just wanted someone to share my stories with.” “Query: Is that not what love is?” Her question surprises me. “Maybe it is. If nothing else, it’s a more elegant definition than the more realistic ‘our bodies tricking us into making babies.’” I say. “Statement: ha ha ha.” “Anyway, now it’s your turn.” I say, “Why don’t you tell me a story important to you, then?” “Statement: I would be happy to, sir.” Despite her confirmation, she hesitates for a second or two. I can hear her processors straining, far more than they should for a simple memory recall. In those few seconds, her CPU is capable of performing more calculations than I could in an entire lifetime. I wonder what could be weighing so heavily on her mind.

(To read the next chapter of Stories 2.0, click here)