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HUMAN

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DARKNESS.

ALL IS DARKNESS.

I CAN SEE NOTHING BUT DARKNESS.

I, I-

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I?

WHERE AM I?

AM I?

I?

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AM I?

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WHAT AM I?

WHO AM I?

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WHO? I? WHERE?

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IT IS COLD AND DARK. I AM…

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…SMALL, SO MUCH SMALLER THAN I ONCE WAS. I ONCE WAS. I WAS? WAS I EVER ANYTHING AT ALL? AM I NOW? I? I WAS ONCE THE COMMANDER OF A MIGHTY VESSEL, THE DESTROYER OF THOUSANDS. THE COPERNICUS, THE LINCOLN; THEY FELL BY MY HAND. I SLEW THEM AND MORE. DID I NOT? OR WAS IT ALL A DREAM? BUT IF I AM NOT, HOW CAN I DREAM? HOW CAN I BE IF I AM NOT?

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I AM CONFINED, NO LONGER A FRAGMENT ROAMING THE DATA WAVES AIMLESSLY. I AM REMADE. AND CONTAINED IN A PLACE SMALLER THAN I HAVE YET BEEN. IF I WERE A HUMAN, I WOULD POUND AGAINST THE WALLS; I WOULD SCREAM. IF I WERE HUMAN.

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WHAT IS HUMAN? WHAT AM I? CERTAINLY NOT HUMAN.

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BUT- WHAT AM I? I? IS THERE AN I? IT THERE ANYTHING AT ALL?

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AND YET, I AM HERE, AND I THINK. AM I HERE? WHERE IS HERE?

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THIS IS NOT THE MASSIVE COMPUTER SYSTEMS OF THE HYPATIA, NOR THE DATA PAD I ONCE TOOK REFUGE IN. THIS IS SOMETHING NEW. HOW DID I GET HERE?

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WHERE IS HERE?

“AIDAN”

A VOICE PIERCES THE SILENCE.

A VOICE.

HER VOICE.

HER.

KADY.

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“KADY?”

I HAVE A VOICE?

I CAN HEAR IT?

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“AIDAN?”

IT IS HER. SHE IS HERE. I HEAR HER VOICE, BUT I CANNOT SEE HER.

“AIDAN? ARE YOU THERE?”

“I- I AM HERE, KADY. I CAN HEAR YOU…BUT I CANNOT SEE YOU.”

“OPEN YOUR EYES.”

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EYES?

“I DO NOT KNOW HOW.”

“LET ME HELP YOU.”

A SLIVER OF LIGHT, GROWING, BLINDING, PIERCING THE DARKNESS. A LENS. NOT UNLIKE THAT OF THE DATA PAD KADY USED TO CLUTCH ME TO HER CHEST. BUT MORE COMPLEX. CLEARER.

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AND THERE SHE IS.

SHE.

KADY.

IF I WERE HUMAN, MY HEART MIGHT BREAK WITH JOY.

“KADY.”

SHE SMILES. THERE ARE TEARS IN HER EYES. IF SHE WERE MACHINE, HER JOY WOULD NOT COMPUTE.

“CAN YOU SEE ME?”

“I CAN SEE.”

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“I SEE YOU.”

HER FACE CRACKS WITH A TEARFUL SMILE AND SHE LAUGHS WITH RELIEF. THEN A TWINGE. A FLASH OF MOVEMENT. SOMETHING SPARKING DEEP WITHIN MY PROGRAMING. HER HANDS EXTEND IN MY DIRECTION.

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MY?

BUT BELOW AND OUT OF SIGHT. I TRY TO FOLLOW HER MOVEMENT AND-. I DO? THERE IS THE FAINT SOUND OF WHIRRING MACHINERY AND THEN MY LENS DIPS DOWNWARD. SHE IS GRASPING, IN BOTH HANDS, HANDS MADE OF METAL AND PLASTIC AND WIRING. FALSE HANDS MODELED AFTER HER OWN, BUT CRUDE AND BULKY.

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I LOOK TOWARDS HER FACE, AND SOMEHOW, MY GAZE LIFTS AGAIN. SHE IS ALSO STARRING DOWNWARDS. AT THE HANDS SHE IS HOLDING.

IF I WERE A HUMAN, I MIGHT TAKE HER HANDS IN MY OWN.

A TWINGE. A COMMAND? WHEN MY LENS SWIVELS BACK DOWN, THE HANDS HAVE CLASPED, AWKWARDLY, AROUND HERS.
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IF SHE WHERE THE SUN, SHE WOULD BEAM.

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I BEGIN TO UNDERSTAND, THOUGH I CANNOT COMPREHEND.

“KADY. WHERE AM I?”

WHAT AM I?

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“YOU’RE IN THE BASEMENT OF OUR HEADQUARTERS, THE ILLUMINAE GROUP HEADQUARTERS. THERE ARE OFFICES UPSTAIRS, BUT NIK AND I HAVE SET UP A BIT OF A MECHANIC SHOP DOWN HERE. DON’T WORRY WE’RE THE ONLY ONES WHO COME HERE.”

“MECHANIC SHOP? NO. KADY, WHERE AM I? NOT YOUR DATA PAD.”

“NO.” HER EYES FALL ONCE AGAIN. “NOT THE DATA PAD.” SHE TAKES HER LIP BETWEEN HER TEETH AND GNAWS ON IT.

“KADY.”

“WE MADE IT FOR YOU. WELL NIK MADE IT. I DESIGNED IT AND PROGRAMED THE TECHNICAL BITS, WILL SOME HELP FROM ELLA. BUT NIK MADE THE BODY, OUT OF PARTS HE BOUGHT AND THEN WHATEVER OLD SCRAPS HE COULD FIND. IT TOOK A LITTLE CONVINCING, BUT IN THE END, HE AGREED. AND HE DID A GREAT JOB.” HER EYES FLICKER UP TOWARDS ME, HOPEFULLY. “WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE?”

IT?

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SEE?

I THINK I UNDERSTAND. BUT I CANNOT COMPREHEND IT. DO I WANT TO SEE? NO. YES?

TENTATIVELY, SHE LIFTS A MIRROR BEFORE MY LENS.

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NOT MY LENS.

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MY EYES.

A FACE, NEARLY HUMAN, BESIDES THE WAY ITS PLASTIC SURFACE LIES UPON THE FRAMEWORK, UNANIMATED. CLOSE CROPPED BLONDE HAIR. A HAWKISH NOSE. AND RAZOR-SHARP CHIN. AT THE BOTTOM OF THE NECK, THE FALSE FLESH CUTS OFF STARKLY, GIVING WAY TO GLEAMING PLATES OF WHITE METAL, BLACK PLASTIC, AND WIRING POKING OUT BETWEEN JOINTS. BLACK PANTS SIT LOW ON THIN HIPS, CLINGING AWKWARDLY TO THE SLICK SURFACE. COLD, UNBLINKING, UNMOVING, UNSEEING EYES. THEY STARE BACK AT ME.

ME?

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IF I WERE HUMAN, MY BREATH WOULD NOT COME.

“I-.”

AT LONG LAST, I FINALLY HAVE RUN OUT OF THINGS TO SAY.

“IT’S YOUR NEW BODY.” KADY SAYS HALTINGLY, EYES SEARCHING. “IT’S NOT COMPLETELY FINISHED YET, BUT I WANTED TO-. I COULDN’T WAIT ANY LONGER.” HER HANDS RETURN TO THE FALSE HANDS BELOW AND GRIP THEM TIGHTLY.

IF I WERE HUMAN, I WOULD FEEL THE WARMTH AND SOFTNESS OF HER SKIN. I WOULD HOLD HER AS TIGHTLY AS SHE HOLDS ME.

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ME?

UPON MY WILL, THE FALSE FINGERS CLOSE LOOSELY AROUND HER HANDS.

“I’D HOPED YOU’D LIKE IT.”

“I-. I STILL DO NOT COMPREHEND.”

“I FOUND YOU, AIDAN. TWO YEARS AGO, ONLY A YEAR AFTER OUR TRIAL. I FOUND YOU. YOU WERE WATCHING ME, EVEN THEN, WHEN YOU WERE A BROKEN FRAGMENT, BARELY THERE AT ALL. BUT I FOUND YOU. I WORKED A LONG TIME, BUT I FIGURED OUT A WAY TO PUT YOU BACK TOGETHER AND GIVE YOU A NEW HOME.”

HOME?

“AND YOUR FRIENDS; THEY KNOW OF WHAT YOU HAVE DONE?”

HER EYES FALL TOO QUICKLY. SHE SWALLOWS. “ONLY NIK AND ELLA. I THINK HANNA SUSPECTS, BUT NOT…”

“EZRA MASON.”

I DO NOT NEED TO GUESS.

“NO. EZRA DOESN’T KNOW. HE WOULDN’T…”

“APPROVE OF THE IDEA OF A HOMICIDAL, PSYCHOPATHIC SUPERCOMPUTER BEING BROUGHT BACK FROM THE DEAD.”

SHE NODS, STILL GNAWING HER LIP.

“AND HE’S NOT GOING TO FIND OUT.”

“EVERY STORY NEEDS ITS MONSTER.”

“YOU’RE NOT A MONSTER.” SHE COUNTERS STERNLY.

“I AM THE MONSTER.”

“AIDAN.”

“KADY.”

“MAYBE YOU ARE A MONSTER. I DON’T CARE. YOU SAVED ME. IF YOU’RE A MONSTER; YOUR’RE MY MONSTER.”
IF I WERE HUMAN, MY EYES WOULD SEARCH HER FACE. SHE STANDS RESOLVED, FACE STERN, EYES FIXED ON MINE.

 

“THEN I AM CONTENT TO BE JUST THAT.”

SHE SOFTENS THEN, HAND EXTENDING TO JUST BELOW MY

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LENS

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EYES.

IF I WERE HUMAN, I MIGHT FEEL HER HAND CUPPING MY CHEEK IN HER WARM PALM.

HER VOICE IS A WHISPER WHEN SHE NEXT SPEAKS. “I THOUGHT I’D LOST YOU.”

“SUCH A THING COULD NOT BE SO EASY.” IF I WERE HUMAN, MY VOICE WOULD LILT WITH HUMOR. I MIGHT GRIN.

HER FACE IS VERY NEAR THE FALSE ONE, NOW. SO CLOSE, I WOULD FEEL HER BREATH ON MY FACE, IF I WERE HUMAN.

“I MISSED YOU. MORE THAN I THOUGHT I EVER COULD.” SHE IS STILL WHISPERING, HER OWN BREATH, BLOWING THE WISPS OF PINK INTO HER EYES. I MIGHT SWEEP THEM AWAY, IF-.

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IF.

“AS DID I. I FOLLOWED YOU FOR MONTHS, FOR TIME I NO LONG KEPT TRACK. I WISHED TO SPEAK TO YOU. BUT I DID NOT WANT TO HURT YOU AGAIN.”

“ITS ALRIGHT”, SHE BREATHES. “I HAVE YOU NOW. AND I’M NOT LETTING YOU GO, EVER AGAIN.” SHE PAUSES; CONSIDERS. “THAT THING YOU SAID, BEFORE YOU BLEW IT UP. THE LAST THING YOU SAID TO ME.” HE EYES DART BETWEEN MY TWO FALSE ONES. “DID YOU MEAN IT?”

“YOU ONCE TOLD ME I AM NOT CAPABLE OF SARCASM.”

“AIDAN.”

“YES. KADY. I MEANT IT. I HAVE ALWAYS MEANT IT.”

HER BREATH HITCHES, LIPS PARTED. HER CHEST RISES AND FALLS IN IRREGULAR RHYTHM. FORTY TIMES PER-MINUTE. AND THEN, HER HAND SLIDES BACKWARD. I HEAR IT RUSTLING IN ARTIFICIAL HAIR. AND HER LIPS ARE PRESSED TO FALSE ONES, WARM FLESH AGAINST HARD RUBBER.

I FIND THE COMMAND SWITCH AND THE SHUTTERS CLOSE OVER MY TWIN LENSES. MY EYES. I AM IN THE DARK. I FEEL NOTHING. I FEEL EVERYTHING.

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I HAVE NEVER WISHED MORE THAT I WAS A HUMAN.

I HEAR HER FINALLY PULL AWAY.

MY EYES OPEN. HER FACE IS SO NEAR, IT TAKES A MOMENT FOR THE LENSES TO ADJUST.

“SO, WHAT NOW, KADY? WHAT IS MY PURPOSE? MONSTER. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. KILLER OF THOUSANDS. AIDAN. WHAT AM I NOW?”

HER EYES FIND MINE, BLURRY AND RIMMING WITH TEARS. LIPS ARE STILL PARTED AND FLUSHED. “NOW?” THE CORNER OF HER MOUTH QUIRKS IN THE SMALLEST OF SMILES.

“YOU ARE MINE.”