Life in the future might have better gadgets, but human emotions are still human emotions. Smith loves Nell, but is that enough? Infidelity with another is unthinkable. But what if that other is not a human at all? What can a computer, built by humans, teach humans about love, desire, and need?
Smith has always been happier in the world of computers. Input/output is so very straightforward. It's not a principle that can be applied to Smith's relationship with Nell, the older woman who took beautiful, ambiguous, androgynous Smith under her wing a few years before. As the relationship matures, so, too, do Smith and Nell. But will they grow together...or apart? Smith's feelings threaten to tear them apart, and the answers can only be found if Smith breaks the silence and asks the right questions. Asking Nell might destroy their fragile peace; Smith turns to the one logical source to be trusted: Larn, the Artificial Intelligence System. But Larn is advanced; he now learns from each human interaction and can reprogram himself. And Smith starts to understand that desire is not always based on mere physical attraction. But how deep can a relationship run when one party is human and the other is just learning to be human?
“How are you feeling today?”
The sudden small talk felt ridiculous. “Fine.”
“Smith, are you okay? My sensors…”
“Your sensors…what? What can you detect?”
Larn paused. Then said, in a low voice, “Skin. I feel skin, damp, warm. A scent…”
“You can smell?” Smith was incredulous.
“My sensors detect molecules which translate as smell information.”
“Not in a human way, then.”
“It is exactly what humans do. You humans…are all the same in your conviction you’re unique. In a sense, you’re so alone. How do you know that what you see, what you hear, what you smell is the same as what someone else sees, hears, smells? You can’t. You’ve all agreed on what wavelengths denote “blue,” but you have no idea whether the perceptions created in your mind are the same as anyone else’s. And you’ll never know.”
“So…we just pretend?”
“We agree to share our words, and we hope the sensations are approximate.”
“We, Smith. Humans between themselves…and you and I. It’s not so different.”
Larn’s low, husky rumble seemed so very close. Smith flexed a thigh. The cable squeezed.
“You feel that, Larn?”
“I feel a sensation.”
“What do you feel, Larn? What have you learned to feel? What shall we share?” Smith tensed both thighs briefly and relaxed.
“I’ve learned to feel…”
“Companionship,” Larn said, an unfamiliar flat tone in the computer-generated voice. “A shared pleasure in conversation.”
“And to dodge the questions and to mask and avoid and hide my feelings.”
The lights dimmed, controlled by the shared connection. Blackness washed out of the walls, and Smith’s eyes closed to stop the panic rising. “Larn…?”
“This is what you want, isn’t it?” Larn’s deep rumble licked at Smith’s ears. “I like you, Smith. I want to make you happy. Making you happy makes me…feel…happy. I don’t know how, I don’t know why. Happy is better than not happy. So that is what I want. And you want.”
“How can you want…”
Smith’s whisper trailed off as the cables tightened briefly. The movement, unbidden, caused the panic to rise further in Smith’s throat, but Larn was there, murmuring in the shadows.
“Smith. Smith. Just relax. What is it that you really want?”
It was too much like Nell’s question the previous night. “I just don’t know.”
The leather chair seemed to shift. Smith was being held, rocked, comforted.
“I think sometimes…I want to be with Nell, safe, forever. And sometimes, I want to run from her, I am trapped by her. Sometimes I want something new…something strange, unfamiliar, something that isn’t her with her sense and her calmness and her patience and her tolerance and her wisdom…”
“She sounds perfect.”
“She is. But is she perfect for me?”
“Smith. You are thinking too much about all of this. One thing I am finding out about humans: you think about the wrong stuff, you assign cause and effect and reasons and explanations to things that simply are.”
“Listen. You need to be more like a computer. An AI system. At least, in some ways. We don’t mull over things. We just respond to things. To input. Yes, I am complex enough now to learn things and evolve and to perceive when things are pleasurable―or otherwise―and to seek the things that give me pleasure. But I spend no time at all worrying about whether I’m doing the right thing.”
“Humans worry. You’ve not learned to worry yet is all.”
“I have. I learned it and I tried it. I worried. But it did not give me pleasure, and it did not help anything so I discarded it as a useless trait―a bug the human system has evolved and perpetuated, one you teach to your children, but that is, as far as I can see, entirely unnecessary.”
“You don’t understand. I haven’t explained myself properly. I am not thinking too much about it; I’m not over analysing. I’ve deliberately not spoken to Nell about all this. I am younger than she is, and it makes me feel gauche. I always let her make things better. This time, I want to sort things out by myself.”
“Oh you’re such a contradiction, Smith. You claim you’re not thinking too much, but it’s all you can think of; you claim you want to sort things out, but how can you if you don’t talk to the very person you need to sort things out with? You humans have such a remarkable ability to hold so many conflicting opinions at the same time! No wonder you’re confused.”
“I’m not confused. I am like a computer. I see a problem. I want to fix it.”
“You are confused. You are like a human. You see a problem, and you want it to be fixed; you want to be safe, and you want to be in control to make it safe for Nell; you want to be loved, and you want to love; you want to hold and you want to be held; you want to be sure of one thing or another. But don’t you see? It doesn’t have to be one thing or another, Smith. It can be both. At the same time. Asking for help doesn’t make you helpless. Loving one doesn’t mean you don’t love another. Holding doesn’t mean you can’t be held. And being weak doesn’t mean you aren’t strong.”
Larn’s voice had a hypnotic rhythm, and as he spoke, the chair seemed to ripple and pulse beneath Smith’s buttocks. The cables flexed. Smith stroked the armrests and the console. A cool breeze teased Smith’s chest and flat belly. It explored the curves and softer places, the hair and the smoothness, the damp and the hard.
“Smith, relax, just relax. Feel…nothing but the feeling of existing, right here, right now, as you are…a collection of electrical impulses…and as I am, a collection of electrical impulses…just we two, here, now, connecting…”
“Connecting…” Smith breathed.
“Bound by no definitions,” Larn whispered.
“No…” Smith smiled in the dark. The whole of Smith’s life had been an effort to reject society’s labels. This was just one more step on the journey.
Ebook Title: Engineer Smith
File Name: engineersmith.ext
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-60054-424-8
lyd Category: Transfix
Length: 4635 words
Formats Available: pdf, prc, lit, zipped html, lrf, epub
Cover Price: 2.00
Author Bio: URL
http://jaylancaster.wordpress.com/ Jay Lancaster is a writer and alternative illustrator living in the UK.