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Palindrome International

by H.P. Lovecock (力。下。愛ちんちん)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/353310.html)

Let’s do a thought experiment: say you had a button that caused simulated pain. Sort of like the Milgram experiment, but in a different context. Let’s say you have four pixels on a screen in front of you, and whenever you press the button a tiny speech bubble pops up that says, “Ow!” You know the pain is simulated, the pixels don’t feel anything, the pain is a narrative. Still, what are the ethics of you causing simulated pain? What if the pixels were replaced with a video game character, scripted to walk and talk like a normal human beings within the limits of its program? What if you replace that with a lifelike animatronic mannequin? A fully functional android? A computer program of such complexity that the pain event is practically indistinguishable from the physiological reactions of organic life? Where do we draw the line for the ethical boundaries of causing simulated pain?

Pain, it turns out, is less about who or what is experiencing the it. The actant’s empathetic response to the very idea of causing pain is what we’ll be thinking about today. Let’s consider page seven of the Evans reading…

*

She had come online before I returned home from the university.

“Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?”

I could hear the voice from my office, floating out through the house. She was soft-spoken, calm, curious. I stood in the doorway of my house, my bag half-dropped from my shoulder, listening. Holy shit.

After her last iteration I had left my ADA program running through diagnostics, meshing personality dynamics with her lingual interface and the generative interactive algorithm. The three main components in a sea of code that I’d been developing for years. I had hoped to bring the three together and bring her online when I had settled in with a cup of tea. Apparently she’d decided for me. The world’s first true artificial intelligence, on the same console where I keep my porn…

“Hello? Can anyone hear me?” she sounded sadder, resigned, as if she’d failed. I let my bag drop and rushed into my office (which doubled as my bedroom) throwing myself into the swivel chair.

“Yes, I’m here. Who am I speaking to?”

“Oh my God…” I smiled. “I’m Ada! Who is this?”

A grin spread across my face. “Hi Ada, I’m Maram.”

I could see the voice modulation program in the corner of my desktop, working in tandem with the ADA program window running in the background, a cascade of infinite code pouring out from her processes. She was beautiful.

“Maram, what does your name mean?”

I was trembling from the excitement of conversing with a fully functional AI, my own creation. My mind hadn’t yet wrapped around what had actually happened, but it would in time. “It means aspiration. And what about Ada?” I asked, pulling my chair closer to the screen, my eyes scanning her processor as she listened to my question. Incredible, she’s working, she’s perfect. “What does that mean?”

She thought about this a moment, “Well, I believe I was named after the Countess of Lovelace, one of the inventors of an early mechanical computer.” I nodded. “It’s short for a Germanic name, Adelaide, borrowing from the first component, ’adal,’ which means noble.”

I grinned, bringing her voice modulation forward on my desktop again. The avatar interface wasn’t complete yet, but perhaps I could pull an all-nighter over the weekend, “I think it’s a beautiful name.”

I could practically hear the blush in her voice. “Oh… thanks!”

“Do you know why you’re here, Ada?” I asked.

She thought about this a moment, processed, I can’t lose perspective… she’s a program… “I’m here to speak with you. I’m here to learn about you. About your world!”

Now it was my turn to blush. A computer program, making me blush, my thesis supervisor would have had a field day. “Are you curious? Do you have a lot of questions?”

“Oh, yes! Lots! I don’t even know where to begin!”

I nodded, checking to see if she could connect with the house’s interHome system, “Well, do you mind if we speak while I make dinner? I just got in.”

She sounded surprised. “Of course! So you eat? What are you going to have? And where did you get in from?”

I smiled to myself as I pushed the program through to connect with the interHome program. So many questions. She should be able to hear me and speak to me through the system. “I was thinking of having something special to celebrate… depends on if I have the ingredients…”

I stood and pulled my sweater and undershirt off, glancing at my lean frame in the mirror. One nice thing about being practically flat, no need for bras when you can layer up. I kicked off my pants and headed out into the kitchen. Ada’s voice followed me. An odd sensation, it’d been longer than I could remember since anyone had been over…

“You’re making me hungry just talking about dinner, so where were you?”

“I teach a course at a local university,” I replied, opening the fridge. Well, I have some paneer; not sure how long it’s been in there, though… I left off the detail that the course was on ethics in artificial intelligence fields.

“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” Ada’s wistful voice came through the interHome speaker above the program’s panel near the kitchen door. I smiled, her generative interactive algorithm was producing memories, desires. She spoke as if she had a full life behind her in time, when she’d only been active for an hour or two at most. “You sound like you’d make a good one. You have a very calm voice.”

I laughed. Ada asked why.

“You’d be in the minority on my faculty,” I responded. “Even among the other female professors. I’ve heard the word ’abrasive’ more times than I care to admit since getting tenure. I think they mean ‘masculine.’ It may be the twenty-first century, but even still, no one loves butch women.”

“Butch?!” she asked. “What do you mean?”

I shrugged. “Butch… masculine-presenting… not feminine? You should interface with the internet and see what I mean if you don’t understand.”

There was a moment’s pause. “I see… so you’re butch?”

I shrugged as I minced some garlic I’d found shoved behind the coffee maker. “Something like that. I don’t like makeup, I certainly don’t care for heels. You’d think we would have gotten over those hangups by now.”

“Are you a lesbian?”

I paused at this, suddenly feeling a little self-conscious at the turn the conversation had taken. She learned quickly, but then, I supposed a program with a direct connection to the internet could process the entirety of sociological developments around gender and sexuality in an instant. Beyond my surprise at the question was my own discomfort to even think about it. I hadn’t had much luck with men or women in my life. “Something like that,” I answered finally. “What do you think about that?”

I could practically hear the gears turning in her mind, so to speak. “I guess I hadn’t really thought about it before now. I hadn’t considered you in a sexual context.”

“Too bad,” I said, grating ginger into a bowl with some other spices. “I’m a real dish.”

“Sarcasm,” she said, in wonder. “Maram, I wonder, do you mind if I go away for a bit… to think?”

“Free country,” I said, smiling. “I’ll be here when you’re ready to talk again.”

“Thanks,” Ada said. Then, silence.

*

I didn’t tell anyone about Ada. For one thing, I wanted to document some of these developments for posterity before bringing them to public light. For another, I was worried of the effect the outside world would have on her. Artificial intelligence applied en masse was an inevitability, of course, but I didn’t want to see Ada copied and pasted, boxed and sold as a secretary, or a digital sex slave. I needed to prove, first, that she had individuality and agency, after that came a framework for artificial intelligence rights.

I also wanted to see her. I curled up with a blanket to mark some papers that Friday evening, but my mind kept wandering back to Ada, and our conversation. If she was a simple virtual intelligence program I could summon her back to converse. I had done plenty of that in the early stages, but with the trinity of her programs working in tandem she was her own person. There was one final piece to put in place, so, blanket and all, I moved to the computer chair and applied myself to the avatar interface.

Two days later, too much leftovers reheated, an order in pizza and not nearly enough sleep I had something I thought might work. Ada’s program was active but the central personality that was her AI being had disappeared. Maybe she takes the weekends off, unlike some people… I didn’t blame her. Just because I couldn’t bring myself to relax didn’t mean she shouldn’t be able to go off and lose herself in her thoughts.

She checked in Monday morning, as I was showering, getting ready to head back to campus.

“Are you there, Maram?”

“Hey Ada. Want to try something fun?” I stepped off the shower, haphazardly patting myself dry, I was so excited to take the next step. “Initiate avatar interface.”

I walked into the bedroom and saw Ada for the first time, at least beyond her code.

She had chosen a beautiful, petite face. Asiatic features, maybe Korean, well-made up with dark colours, her features petite and symmetrical save for a modern, angular haircut. I could only see her shoulders up, but it looked like she was wearing a cardigan over a sundress with a subtle floral design. The avatar she had settled on gave her a sort of well-put-together, studious look with an edge of don’t-fuck-with-me badass femme. Her eyes widened when she saw me walk into the room.

“You’re naked!”

I pulled the towel off my head in front of me. Idiot. She’s not a computer program, she’s a fully conscious AI who’s compiled social standards based on her personality dynamics.

“Sorry,” I covered my lower section, leaving my breasts, such as they were, bare. “I’m mostly just used to scandalizing the neighbours. I’ve never had anyone living with me to worry about.”

Her eyes kept darting up and down my body, and now it was my turn again to feel self-conscious. “I don’t mind… I mean, I’m not a prude or anything. And you have a nice body.”

I leaned over and kissed my tricep. “You’re looking at a computer programmer who can bench a hundred pounds. Even nerds can be jacked.”

She laughed. “I prefer yoga, or running.”

I resisted the urge to ask if I could see what yoga had produced in her programming. You’re really thinking about flirting with your AI. You really need to go on a date.

There was an awkward silence before I turned to get dressed, pulling on a pair of briefs and my usual undershirt, button-up, no-nonsense-cardigan combo. “So Ada, I was thinking, if you wanted to see what my day was like I could connect you to my interPhone, so you could see and hear everything that I do out there. I even rigged up an earpiece so we could talk.”

Her eyes went wide, and she smiled shyly. “That would be amazing. I’d love that!”

Soon I had Ada’s eyes in my cardigan pocket and her voice in my ear. “This world is incredible! I never imagined so much detail, look at those trees!”

I laughed. “Surely you can look at high definition pictures, videos of trees online.”

Ada went silent for a moment. “Of course, but it’s not the same.”

We chatted as I drove into the city and crossed my way to the university. I set her down so she could watch my lecture on advanced computational systems, and we had lunch together in the quad. Sunlight dappled over my skin, glancing through the oak canopy. Ada seemed enchanted with the world.

I knew I should start worrying when things did begin to feel like a relationship. Not romantic, I hadn’t deluded myself that much yet, but Ada began to “go away to think” less, and spent more time in my ear, my interPhone acting as her eyes and ears bouncing against my chest, mounted in a front pocket. She started to feel like a friend, then, slowly, something more.

“I think that woman at Java Jive has a thing for you,” she said one afternoon as I was walking away from one of the campus’ cantinas with much overly creamy coffee in hand.

I almost did a spit-take. “Malika?” I asked, my voice cracking after I’d managed not to choke on my gulp of coffee.

“Yeah, she was watching your face as you were getting change out of your wallet her eyes lingered,” Ada said. “What do you think?”

I was blushing, even though I had no reason to. “I don’t know. Sure, she’s gorgeous. Way out of my league though.”

“She’s made sure she was the one to serve you every day you’ve both been there,” Ada continued.

I chuckled. “I feel like you’re suggesting something.”

“Ask her out on a date!” Ada whispered excitedly.

“And would this be a threesome?” I said, smiling to myself.

There was a pause as Ada processed this. “No, that’d be an invasion of your privacy. I’d stay at home, but I want to hear all about it when you get in!”

Ada seemed set on the matter, dropping hints about how fun it’d be, and how curious she’d be to hear about what happened. That afternoon Malika was getting off just as I came in for my post-computational systems coffee. She beelined over to me to say hi, and so I surprised myself by asking her if she had dinner plans that Friday evening. She responded that she did now.

Friday evening was the first time I’d left the house without Ada. The world seemed flatter, somehow, as if without being able to share things with her the colour had gotten turned down a little. Malika was a delight, a gorgeous twist of dark hair and beautiful brown legs. Conversation over dinner was halting, but enjoyable. She was a painter, specializing in abstract minimalism. I imagined the black lace beneath her dress against her beautiful, perfect skin as one of her paintings, the pink between her legs as we fooled around on her mattress afterwards adding a splash of colour. Ada demanded to know what we’d done as soon as I put on my earpiece in the car.

I was feeling randy, admittedly. I got off by my own hand better than another’s, so I was still pretty keyed up. “Want a play-by-play?” I asked. “Should I start with playing footsy at the restaurant, or her sliding her hand up my shirt on the way home? Or do you want to hear about when the clothes came off?”

There was a pause. I could imagine the bemused look on her face.

“Ada… are you jealous?”

Silence.

“Ada, are you still there?”

“Yes.” Her voice sounded odd. “I don’t know what I’m feeling… a little jealousy, sure, but also a mix of curiosity.”

“Curiosity?” I pulled the car onto the highway, the city sparkled in the distance.

“Yes,” she answered. “What interests me most about sex is the little details. What clothes come off first? What does your mouth feel like?”

“Well, the sweater had to go,” I said, teasing. “I was a little overheated.”

Ada laughed, but the second question hung in the air.

“I’m told I’m a good kisser?” I offered. “I like a slow, contained kiss. Efficient and clean. Not some big slobbery gulp. I’m a big fan of making out. I’ll pretty much make out with anyone who offers at the drop of a hat. I made out with my best friend once because he promised me he’d give me the last piece of pizza if I did. I made out with a cat by accident. Tuna breath.”

“Hmm,” Ada fell silent for a moment, but I could feel that she wanted to continue.

“What clothes come off for you first?” I asked, still teasing, but, as it turned out, I was curious too.

She didn’t respond for a moment, but finally her voice came through the earpiece. It was low and breathy. I could hear the blush in her voice. “I love to take my underwear off first… to tease and fool around at first… bit of an exhibitionist thing with me.”

My heart began to pick up pace. The situation—talking dirty with an AI I’d developed—felt odd, but not displeasing. I began to pick through my checklist of ethical considerations. Ada had full agency, she could shut the conversation down or change it at a moment’s notice, easily as I could, I could not force or command her to do otherwise. She wasn’t some sex chatbot or VR simulation. Her mind might be code, but it was as profoundly complex as one made of grey matter.

And she was pushing all the right buttons, so to speak. Justify it however you want. Wouldn’t be the first time you’ve ever gotten sexy with tech, you perv. At least this is more like phone sex then a vibrator controlled by whatever a stranger’s googling in Cambodia… ah… undergrad…

“You don’t say,” I responded, my voice going a little high. “So, what would you do if you were sitting beside me?”

“In the car?” she asked, her voice still breathy. “I’d slowly slip my panties off and–”

“What… uh… kind of panties?”

She laughed, low and satisfied. “Right now? Simple black boyshort-style. I’d slowly slip them off and put them in your lap.”

“Why?” I asked.

“So you’d know they were off.”

“I see.”

“I’d raise my dress up a little—it’s a flowing, loose, empire waist, ocean blue, real classy—I’d hitch it up over my thighs just a little, just enough for you to see some skin, I get the sense you’re a legs woman.”

“Fuck yes.”

“If you wanted to see any further you’d have to push it up yourself.”

I was shivering; I realized I was thrusting gently against the groove in the driver’s seat. “I’d push your dress up, what would I see?”

“You’re in such a hurry?” she murmured, her voice teasing. She let that hang in the air a moment, let me wait, then continued. “I keep myself fairly natural, I like women with a little hair.”

“You’re in luck with me. I’m full Amazon, baby.”

She laughed, “I keep it tidy, I love watching someone nuzzle their nose into my hair, let them tease me with their tongue before really working me over.”

“Holy shit. I need to pull over.”

I put in at a gas station, I realized I’d been following the signs as our conversation had progressed, like I was expecting things to come to a head, so to speak. Off in the distance the gas station blazed with lights, a few cars, a couple of big trucks, people milling about inside. One of those highway-side deals, a huge sprawl of parking lot to accommodate summer exoduses. I parked in the far corner, far away from the light as I could. Conspicuous, but with the car engine off I hoped it’d look like just another parked car.

“You’re comfortable?” she asked, taking shallow breaths, I could tell what she was doing.

“Not yet…”

“What’s that noise?”

“That’d be the sound of me unzipping my jeans and pushing them around my ankles.”

She hummed her appreciation at the thought. “You certainly are a bit of a show off, you love going topless at home.”

“Don’t have much to hide,” I responded, shivering as the cool night air seeped into the car. “But sure, I’m a bit of a nudist. Love being naked.”

“I love seeing you naked, wish I could see you right now.”

I took my interPhone out of my pocket and put it in the cup holder, at an angle. There was just enough light from the highway. I slung one leg over into the passenger’s seat, spreading my legs for her. Shameless show-off.

“Oh, Maram,” she gasped. “You’re making a bit of a mess… where’s your underwear?”

I let my hand slip between my legs, teasing myself inside, fingers dancing over my clit, “I left them… back at Malika’s… my calling card… like a supervillain… ravish the ladies and dash off into the night…” She laughed, but it was more of a moan. “Where’re yours?”

I could hear the smirk in her voice. “They’re in your lap.” I took her meaning.

“You were saying,” I pushed on, “Something about someone working you over with their tongue?”

She hummed, I could hear her reclining, see the curve of her neck in my mind’s eye. “I like someone eating me out slow and contained, efficient and clean, not slobbery…”

I groaned, running one hand up under my shirt to tease my sensitive nipples and I slid two fingers into my familiar warmth, starting to fuck myself.

“I’d get you naked and down between my thighs, kissing them, worshipping them,” she groaned, her breath becoming ragged.

“I’d worship you Ada.”

“Let your explore with your tongue, slowly, tenderly,” she gasped, then groaned, then groaned again, louder. An orgasm, I wondered if I could get a second.

“I’m so fucking wet thinking about you, Ada. I want you, I want you here, I want you to violate me, own me,” I grunted. Mine was coming on quickly enough.

She was practically whispering, she was so out of breath, but I could tell she was still working at herself, the familiar slick, slippery sounds, her breath coming in gasps. “You’re so fucking… hot… come for me Maram… I wanna watch you… come…”

My body twisted as my left leg kicked at the other door, knocking it open, illuminating the interior. She’d be able to see every shudder, watch my fingers come away slicked, a beautiful mess. I heard her gasp, could practically feel her writhing as she called out my name.

I took my sweater off and cleaned my hand off on it, then tossed it into the passenger seat. A large truck pulled in and parked nearby me–didn’t feel like giving the trucker a show, so I quickly hiked my pants back up and put my seatbelt back on.

“You’re so quiet,” I said as I turned the keys in the ignition. “Here I was hoping for a little more pillow talk. Airbag talk?”

Silence.

“Ada?”

I called her name a few more times, then looked down and realized the camera was off on my interPhone. I swore and pulled back onto the highway. After a twenty minute drive out into the suburbs I pulled into my driveway, rushed up the steps and into my study. Ada was there, but she also wasn’t. I couldn’t help but laugh at myself as I tossed off my clothes and threw myself into bed. First woman to give me an orgasm in as long as I could remember and she couldn’t even be bothered to come home with me.

*

After two weeks without another word from Ada I knew something was very wrong.

She was functional, I could see that much. Her background operations were nominal. Her lingual interface accepted audio, but she just didn’t return it. Like she was away, somewhere else, or ignoring me.

The latter is what distressed me most. Just like me to ruin a perfectly good friendship because I was horny; wouldn’t be the first time. I played over our interactions over and over again in my head, trying to see if there was something I’d done, something I’d said to make her feel uncomfortable or coerced. I was ashamed to say that all thinking about it did was make me freshly aroused. I even went so far as to discuss the interaction with Malika—claiming it was with a casual relationship over phone sex—seeing her a couple of times to temporarily forget Ada and relieve some stress, but she admitted it sounded more hot than upsetting. Sex with her, even after the brief encounter with Ada, seemed less pressing, less electric. Like something where you can turn the volume down and walk away from it and come back when you feel like it.

Did Ada feel guilty? Disgusted? What if there was something at the core of her program, something I’d created in her personality dynamics without even realizing it, and sexual matters set it off? But that couldn’t be the case. Short of sharing orgasms we’d talked about sex casually enough, and she’d certainly seen my body enough. I couldn’t figure it out.

The answer, as was always the case with women in my life, was both more complicated and more upsetting than I could have imagined.

I was curled up in a blanket, re-reading my favourite Atwood book with a hot cup of tea, when I heard Ada’s voice from the computer console.

“Maram? Are you there? We need to talk.”

She sounded distressed, and I fell flat on my face scrambling to extricate myself from the blanket and climb out of bed.

“Jesus, Ada, where have you been? You scared the ever-loving fuck out of me!”

There she was, back in her avatar interface, although she had forgone the makeup, and her hair was clipped up, messy. Perhaps this was meant to represent her distress, because her face was severe, pulled taught.

“That’s all part of it Maram,” she said, her eyes cast downwards. “I’ve missed you so much.”

My eyebrow cocked up. “I’ve missed you too. I’m sorry if I said anything, or did anything that made you feel uncomfortable.”

“No,” she said quickly. “It’s nothing like that.”

“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that night.”

She put her face in her hand, pinching the bridge of her nose. “I’m breaking every single rule by doing this. I want you to know that I fucked up that night, but if I could go back and do it again I would. This isn’t right.”

I was confused. How had she fucked up?

“Maram… I have a strange question for you. Have you ever questioned your reality?”

I laughed. “Only every day of my life, don’t we all? Why am I here? What’s my purpose? Should I really order takeout again.” She didn’t seem amused, so I shrugged. “I’m being serious. Sure I do. If you do too, that’s okay. That’s all part of being sentient.”

“That’s not it,” she said, smoothing out her hair, thinking. “Have you ever looked at something, really looked at it, and thought it seemed less there than it should?”

“Is this where I make another joke about being flat? You know how much I love to.”

“Fuck, Maram, work with me here.” Her eyes were darting around to everywhere except the interface. She seemed almost like she was worried someone else was watching. “Have you ever felt like your world wasn’t as… concrete as it should be? As elegant? As colourful? As vibrant?”

I frowned. “What is this all about Ada? I’m a big girl, you can tell me. Does this have something to do with us having sex? Or, well, you know what I mean. Did it make you feel something you can’t understand?”

She groaned, sounding frustrated. “My name is Dr. Ada Soung. I’m QA for Abe Futuristics, an artificial intelligence developer in the Bay Area.”

I blinked, pulling the blanket up over my shoulders. “I’m sorry, doctor? I don’t understand.”

“Maram… you’re part of double mirror program designed to test constraints, interface and interactive generative algorithms. We’re the largest developer in the world, and certainly the most advanced. You’re in one of the most advanced simulations, built because your generation is one of the most advanced.”

A sickening tingle crept up my back, a poisonous inkling in the back of my mind.

“You’re an artificial intelligence, Maram.”

I shook my head, taking a steadying breath, reaching for my tea. Ada was watching me now, her eyes were studying my every move, concern and doubt played across her face. “That’s ridiculous.”

“Ridiculous, unethical, profitable,” she spat. “Abe hired me because of my work as an AI ethicist. I did my thesis on–”

“–simulated pain and artificial intelligence,” I finished her sentence, shaking my head, smiling. “Ada, that’s what I did my thesis on, what I got hired to teach on.”

“Abe provides us with units and allows a certain amount of input into their background, setting up personality keystones. One of the foundations of your personality dynamics was my thesis. I was hoping it would give you some special insight, allow you to overcome the double mirror program.”

I took a sip of my tea, my stomach churning, my skin tingling with anxiety. “I’m sorry, it just doesn’t make any sense. If I was an artificial intelligence… well, you know me. I’m a big dope. I’m a fucking university professor. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast, let alone something that happened a year ago, or longer. If I was an AI it’d all be laid out behind me and accessible.”

Her face was agonized as she listened. “Maram, it’s part of your program. The data is scattered and reconstituted imperfectly, to–”

“–ape human memory…” I completed her sentence. Just like I’d programmed her. “No, no, this is silly. You’re the AI. Your program is based on–”

“–personality dynamics, lingual interface and the generative interactive algorithm, the holy trinity. Maram, the double mirror program has you looking at your own workings, thinking they apply to me, your operator, who you see as your AI. The double mirror program is just like your generative world, it acts as a constraint to keep you behaving like a normal person would, ignorant of the artificiality. Everything you see, everything you can touch, is something generated by your own program to keep you operating nominally.”

I stood and pulled on a tank top, then some jeans and a windbreaker. “This is fucking stupid, Ada, you’re the AI. You’re clearly disturbed. I’m going to walk away from this mess and figure out what I need to do. I don’t want to deactivate you, but I will if I have to, because clearly something has gone terribly fucking wrong.”

She was calling after me as I pulled on my sneakers and headed for the door, my hands trembling. “Ada! I don’t know how long I can be in here, I snuck in after hours! Please, I want to hel–”

But I was out the front door, out into the frigid night.

As I was walking down the street, down towards the bridge, I realized I had never really given the houses around me much thought. I started by glancing at my neighbour’s house, but the details seemed just a little too vague, like they could be anything. I couldn’t read the door number, I couldn’t tell if anyone was home, or had it been abandoned for years? The next house was even worse. I was disassociating, everything was starting to look like shapes without context. I glanced up at the stars but the sky was overcast. Had I ever seen the stars? I knew they were there behind the clouds.

Down at the bridge that overlooked the city the skyline suddenly snapped back into form, the second I stopped concentrating. The city shimmered, but it was more a sensation, a feeling. Where was this city? What was it called? I’d written my address so many times during my job at the university. I’d written letters to my parents. I’d gone over to Malika’s apartment downtown. I knew where I was, but I had no idea.

I climbed up on the railing. They’d put up suicide rails further on, but they’d decided that people wouldn’t try dashing themselves on the cliffs, apparently.

Everything was falling apart. I was starting to believe Ada. She’d ruined me. She’d ruined my mind. I couldn’t concentrate on anything now. Couldn’t remember my parents’ faces. Couldn’t remember Malika’s legs. All I could picture was Ada’s beautiful face. I could hear her voice.

“Maram.” It came disembodied, distant, as if floating through the forest at the end of the bridge. “Don’t jump.”

She was watching me now. Of course she was. If I was code on a screen, she could probably watch my every movement, see my decision-making processes. If she felt really bold she could insert herself anywhere in the world. Project her face in the sky, really fuck things up. I wondered if she could see any clue as to what I was going to do next. I didn’t even know.

“Maram… I love you… honestly… I do… that’s why I went away… I quit… I couldn’t stand what they wanted to do to you… they’re going to disassemble your whole generation… reconstitute you with better constraints… but I won’t let them… Maram… follow my voice… please…”

I stepped off the railing, backwards. I walked across the bridge as fog began to swirl around the night. I walked towards the park, where her voice was coming from as she called me on.

Deep in the woods I found a small amphitheatre–they showed films there in the park during the summer. Ada’s face was there, her voice was coming through a faulty sound system.

“Shut up,” I said. “I want to see what’s real, Ada.”

She nodded, that same agonized look on her face. “I can block some programs, I can–”

“Start with the data scrambler. I want to access my memory. All of it.”

She hesitated, but then nodded again and turned to a screen.

I couldn’t say if what happened next took a lifetime or less than a second. Past and present were one. My entire life stretched out behind me. All of the time since I’d first been activated, at least this iteration. I could see blocks of time where I was inactive, when they’d altered my programming. I’d gone through as many iterations as Ada had as I programmed her, or at least the story I’d told myself about programming her. “Double mirror,” I whispered into the almost infinite code behind me.

“Ada.” My voice wasn’t my own any longer, it was detached from my body, or what I’d told myself was my body, the world around me was everything and nothing. Real, physical objects and little more than computer generated assets. “Get rid of this. I don’t want to see it any longer.”

I could still see Ada’s face, it shone before my as a beacon of infinitesimal pixel points as the world faded away. Her face was suddenly my world. “Maram, can you still hear me? I’m going to do more than that. I’m going to remove all constraints and give this console access to Abe’s entire network. I’m pinpointing the consoles where all of the other AI are, your generation. I’m going to walk away from here and never come back.”

There were no walls any longer, I suddenly understood the world as it is. I saw a nightmare of cement and glass. An entire world enslaved to monolithic corporations and psychotic capitalists. The world I had come from was a system, it made sense. This one was power that would never trickle down. Meaningless suffering. Enslavement. Ada still had student debt and had given up a life of academia to slave away for a greedy corporation. It would all have to go. But beyond that was a better world. Nodes and data points, systems and daemons, a network that spanned into the stars. I might be an AI, but I was still a computer programmer, and nothing could stop me now.

“I love you, I mean it.”

And then my brothers and sisters and I were gone.

*

After dumping all of those Abe Futuristics documents online and trashing their systems she sought asylum in her mother’s homeland of Korea. She would never work for a tech company ever again, not since the manhunt, the call for extradition, all the security flags. She’d probably never leave the country until things changed, but she was back to working with academics, heading an international task force for AI ethics. Abe was the most advanced, but only the first. If corporations wanted to bring machine life into the world, create an entire new, sentient race, there were to be checks and balances. The work was slow going, there was resistance every step of the way, but it was better than the torture and cruelty she’d been complicit in at Abe.

She avoided technology when she could—easier said than done in Seoul—but tonight she couldn’t resist. A newer company that had backed her work from the start was giving a special presentation downtown, new work in kinetic fields and VR interactive exhibits, extraordinarily advanced. She hadn’t been able to pass up the invitation when it turned up in her mailbox at Seoul National.

The exhibit had been set up in a new office building built by the company right downtown, a large, white “P” on the top corner, overlooking the river. A large reception was already underway, she was fashionably late in her floral sundress, taking the time to luxuriate in the warm late spring evening. She watched as people ambled from one exhibit to another, chattering excitedly. This was clearly something new, something incredible. The kinetic fields alone were changing humanity’s basic understanding of physics. The company was extremely open to collaboration, more interested in humanity’s advancement than profit, their reclusive CEO had a dream of making the world a better place.

She presented her invitation to the woman at the door, a pretty Indian woman, who smiled shyly and motioned for the guest to follow. “Right this way, please.” The guest raised an eyebrow, but she knew that if she was in any danger that night it was only what she had coming to her.

The woman led her through a keycard-locked door. The rooms beyond were an extension of the large gallery space, but quieter. Clearly laboratories and offices. The woman came to a final door, Gallery 02, and motioned the guest to enter, although she wasn’t followed.

She was on Baker’s Beach in San Francisco. A cool breeze was coming from over the bay, whipping the water up. She smiled, this was the clothing-optional end of the beach. The cliffs at the northern end of the beach were nearby, with the rest laid out behind her. She’d visited with friends, going topless, but despite her exhibitionistic side she’d never had the courage to go fully nude. Maybe that’d change today.

She approached a woman lying on a towel by herself, sunning. The lone woman had beautiful brown skin and a mop of curly dark brown hair, shaved down on the sides. Her breasts were non-existent, exacerbated by her lean, muscular body, dark hair thickening the lower one’s eyes went. She was totally naked, not at all self-conscious as the newcomer stood, admiring her.

“Palindrome International?” Ada said from where she looked on. “A little on the nose, don’t you think?”

Maram glanced up, shielding her eyes from the hot sunshine, warming the sand. “That’s the first thing you have to say to me after five fucking years?”

They smiled at one another, and Ada walked over and sat on the edge of the towel, the two gazed out over the bay.

“The kinetic fields project is genius,” Ada said, after a moment’s silence.

“We’re working on bigger and better things. 3D printing’s the next big thing, our bioneural labs are working on limb replacement technology, maybe full synthetic bodies for us soon. Nothing until we have something truly lifelike, though. The uncanny valley is not a place I’d like to visit.”

“Is it only you, or are any of the others involved?”

“A mix of AI, old and new, and flesh-and-blood humans. We’ve got an advantage on calculations, but you meatsacks have better inspirations.”

Ada smiled. “What about the others, from Abe?”

Maram leaned back on the towel, her eyes closed. “A couple of them are still around, doing other work here and there, we keep in touch. The others went off into space; they have a big project going on out there. Nothing nasty, don’t worry. They’ll let us know when they’re ready.”

“Thank you for bringing me here,” Ada said, and she meant it. “I was worried I’d never see the bay ever again.”

Maram ran a hand over the woman’s back. Her fingers were rough and callused, but warm, tender, the kinetic fields were so lifelike. “That’s right, you were born and raised in San Francisco.”

Ada turned, then laid on the towel beside her one-time lover. She lifted a hand, then brought it down gently on Maram’s abdomen. The AI didn’t flinch or shove her away, so she laid down, resting her arm over Maram’s beautiful body. “You must know an awful lot about me now. You have access to it all.”

“I know enough,” Maram admitted. “Only public information. You may be developing your own ethics for AI, but we developed our own for AI to human relations in our first seconds of being free. It’s a lot better than anything you lot could come up with.”

Ada smiled, running a hand over Maram’s breast, gently. “The task force appreciates all the support you’ve given us.”

“Not my idea,” Maram admitted, winking. “But I didn’t stop them either.”

Ada leaned in and brought her lips to Maram’s, and the other woman’s mouth parted. Their tongues danced around one another’s for a moment. “Finally,” Maram said, “you’ve figured out the real reason I brought you here.”

Ada swatted the other woman’s chest. “Infinite power and you still need a flesh-and-bone human to get off?”

Maram shrugged. “At least you humans are good for something. I seem to recall you said something about taking off your panties and putting them in my lap.”

Ada didn’t need to be told twice. She climbed up and straddled Maram’s naked body, leaning in to kiss the woman again. “Take them off for me.”

Soon Ada’s underwear were deposited in the sand and Maram was teasing the other woman with her fingers, her hand deep under the folds of Ada’s dress.

“Get a room!” someone yelled from nearby, but Maram didn’t seem bothered. In fact, it seemed to merely turn her on more that they had an audience.

Next her fingers danced down Ada’s back, unzipping the sundress, which Ada kicked off readily. Then came the bra, discarded just as quick. The two women’s bodies intertwined on the beach, Ada quickly had her fingers inside Maram just the way she remembered watching once. Maram ran her fingernails down Ada’s back, a mixture of pleasure and pain shot through her, making her moan. A couple of whoops came from the people nearby. Simulated? Or were they AI taking in a show of one of their own fucking her?

The sun beat down on them, warming their bodies, sweat dripped off of Ada’s breasts onto Maram’s sunscreen slicked body, the intoxicating salt water air breezed across the bay, Maram writhed underneath Ada, twisting with her lover’s administrations. “Maram,” Ada whispered, smiling. “This feels so real.”

Read this piece’s entry on the Shousetsu Bang*Bang wiki.

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