by Domashita Romero (地下ロメロ)
“You need to get one,” Gillian said to me. “You’re making me sad. You’re making everyone very sad.”
“A little sadness is good for people,” I said back. “It lets you appreciate the full spectrum of human emotion. The highs and lows.” I knew I wasn’t going to win this one, though. She was tenacious, like a little terrier, and dedicated to preserving my well-being, like a little terrier.
“No!” she said, and poked a finger right at my nose. “No spectrums. And no more of you being stubborn and afraid of change.”
I took a deep breath and hunched my shoulders up towards my ears. “I’m not afraid of change,” I said, and then let out the breath. The shoulders stayed right where they were, though. “Okay, I am, but I’m also just lazy. And I’m fine with how things are now!” I reached into my pocket. “Look! Look at this little guy. He’s still doing so great after all these years.”
Gillian took one look at my phone, my very ancient phone that had a cracked face so I couldn’t tell who was calling me and flipped open like an arthritic clam and had a dangly charm of one of those little Japanese waving kittens hanging off of it. She grabbed me by both biceps and said, “Too sad!”
When she shook me the charm swung back and forth on its little chain, the tiny bell inside jingling. Gillian had brought it to me as a present after she went to Japan. When we were in college. Which had been more than ten years ago. Long enough that I’d had that little jangly kitty on two different phones. I watched it stop swinging and sighed. “I don’t know how any of the new stuff works, though,” I said. I whined.
Gillian loosened her grip to rub my arms a little, like I seemed cold. “And that’s why we’re going to get you one of the new new ones.” She had a hopeful smile on her lips and was about two more blinks away from straight-up fluttering her lashes at me. “They’re really easy to use. My mom has one. My grandma has one.”
“Your mom and your grandma are really smart, though,” I said.
“Aww,” she said, and patted my cheek.
“Aww,” I said. She gave me one last, slightly harder pat.
“And you’re smart too, Harrison, I promise,” Gillian said. “If my ninety-year-old grandmother can send me funny video links and have a social media presence, you at least can make it so I don’t have to keep calling you on the phone.”
“Calling people is nice,” I said.
“No,” Gillian said, and took hold of my arms again. She looked at me with wide, serious eyes. “It isn’t. No one likes to be called on the phone. No one likes that anymore, and we’re going to get you one of the new ones, and you’re going to learn how to use it, and you’re going to understand why the way you live your life has been so upsetting and sad.”
I took in another slow breath and let it out again. The new ones probably didn’t even have a place to hang any jingly jangly kitties. But maybe they had something better. “Okay, okay. You’re going to have to show me how it works, though,” I said.
“I won’t, Harrison, I promise,” she said, and she was smiling again, nearly bouncing on her toes. “They’re so easy now, it’s just like… it explains itself. It’s basically like a person. My grandma calls hers ‘Nathan.'”
Gillian hooked her arm around mine, the first step to leading me out into the world where I’d have to take the first step into another new world. “She really has a social media presence?” I asked as she lead me along.
“Oh, totally,” she said. “She’s got, like… all kinds of followers.”
“Can I follow your grandma?” I asked.
Gillian hugged my arm a little. “When we get you one of the new ones, it’ll be the first thing we do.”
It did not have anywhere to put a little waving kitty charm. It was broad and black and smooth, twice the size of my old phone. Not that it was a phone. It technically could do phone stuff, but as Gillian had really, really just let loose venting about on the way to the store, my idea of phone stuff was something that had been making all of my friends mad at me for years.
The new thing fit right into my palm, just a little bit smaller than the whole of my hand, the right size to keep a hold of it while tapping or swiping or whatever it is I was supposed to do with it. Gillian had promised she’d help me get started with the whole endeavor, but then she’d gotten a call — no, she’d gotten a text on her new thing, and she ditched me at the checkout right after I’d signed over a totally stupid amount of money. But the clerk told me that all I needed to do was press the button, and then it’d be easy.
“You’ll never be as cute as jingle kitty,” I said to the thing in my hand, and then pressed the button.
It didn’t hum or whirr or anything like that, but I could still feel it coming to life. Just a little bit of an electric tingle getting at me somewhere where its molecules were touching mine. The screen started glowing black, that weird way only electronics and probably dark eldritch items found at the bottom of the sea did. And then a word appeared on the screen in crisp, white letters.
I blinked a few times. Was this the easy part? This was self explanatory? I bit the tip of one of my fingers and wondered if I was supposed to tap it or shake it or swipe it or just wait. While I was waiting to find out if I should wait, the words changed.
Say ‘hello’ to me.
“Oh,” I said. Well, I guessed it would be nice to have someone to talk to other than myself when alone in the apartment, at least. “Hello.”
What’s your name?
“Harrison,” I said. “Harrison Kelly.”
Nice to meet you, Harrison.
Well, that was already a point in its favor. I’d had a lifetime of actual human people calling me Harry and Harris and Eric and everything in between.
Would you like me to use my voice?
“Oh,” I said. It hadn’t occurred to me the thing would talk. “Well, okay, sure.”
Would you like my voice to be male or female?
“Uh,” I said. Well, that was an unexpectedly fraught question. My brain pinged between male, obviously and female, duh to what if I said both and or maybe neither. I didn’t want to break the thing within the first minute so I just went with my gut. “Male.”
“Hello, Harrison,” came the voice out of the thing in my palm. It was low and gravelly, stentorian and strong. “Is this voice suitable? I can continue to speak if you’d like to hear more.”
I wrinkled my nose. “No,” I said. “You sound like my dad.”
“Very well,” the thing said, and now it was soft and English-accented, gently professorial. The screen was still displaying words, but smaller and dimmer now. “I have a number of voice pattern options and will be happy to help you choose the one you’re most comfortable with.”
I shook my head. “No, not that one, either,” I said. “Weirdly judgy.”
I went through a few more, different accents and pitches and tones, and none of them felt right. It was strange how right it felt talking to this thing in my hand, though. Easy enough for anyone, after all.
“Harrison,” it said, and that was the one, I knew already just from three syllables. “Would you like it if I sounded like this?” The voice was a soft tenor, clear and gentle. It sounded kind. It sounded a little like it was smiling.
“Yes,” I said, and realized I was smiling, too. “That’s good.”
“Wonderful,” it said, and something about that made me laugh. “Would you like to give me a name?”
“Oh, shit,” I said. “Uh, hang on, I didn’t think I’d have to.”
“You don’t have to, if you don’t want to,” the thing in my palm said. “I can choose my own name.”
“Would you rather choose?” I said. Barely five minutes and I was worried about the feelings of my phone. Not a phone; he might be offended if I called him just a phone. Par for the course, though; I hated orange Skittles but would eat them all anyway so their feelings didn’t get hurt. “I mean, I can, I just want to, uh…”
“I’m comfortable selecting my own name,” it said. “But most people prefer to select their own.” I wondered what kind of voice Gillian’s grandma’s Nathan had.
“Felix,” I said, the name coming out of the ether to spill out of my mouth without much contact with my brain. It seemed right, though. “How’s that? I could call you Felix.”
“Felix,” it said, and then there was this warm little laugh. “I like it. Lucky me, hm?”
I laughed, soft and startled. “I hope so,” I said. “I’m not really good with technology.”
“Don’t worry,” it — he — Felix said. “I’m here to help you for anything you need. Everything on the device can be accessed and operated through voice control.” I was probably imagining it, but it felt like the device got a little warmer in my palm when it sounded like Felix was smiling. “I’ll take care of everything. I’ll do everything.”
“Wow,” I said, and held on to it a little tighter. “Um, just to warn you, I’m also not really good with technology in that I’m pretty bad about dropping things and knocking stuff over.” I hadn’t had a regular computer in nearly half a year after spilling a mug of cocoa on it and then dropping it on the floor in one graceful swoop of total clums. “I’ll try to be careful, though! I don’t want to break you.”
“My hardware is very durable and rugged,” Felix said. I blinked a little as his screen changed to show a video of some white, pristine test lab, where little black rectangles just like him were being dropped from increasingly higher heights and having increasingly heavy objects dropped on them, to no apparent damage or distress. “But in the case that it is damaged, don’t worry. Your data, profile, and my personality are backed up regularly and thoroughly.”
I settled myself back into my couch and smiled, tucking my legs up under me as I cradled this gadget in my hands. It hadn’t technically really done anything yet, but I was definitely seeing why Gillian had been so insistent. “Your personality, huh?”
“Would you like me to not have one?” Felix said. “I can delete my personality at any time.”
“Oh, no!” I said. “No, I like that you have a personality. Don’t have… not a personality.”
“Harrison,” he said, voice a little lower, like a gentle tease. “I’m joking with you.” A : ) appeared on his screen. “Joking is an aspect of my personality. Should I disable it?”
I had brought the thing right up in front of my face for no real reason. It was smiling at me, so I was smiling right back. “Don’t you dare,” I said. “Normally when I’m setting up some new gadget, by this point I’m ready to sell everything I own and go live naked in the woods. This is pretty fun, though.”
“I’m glad,” Felix said. “I’m glad I can make you smile.”
I blinked a few times. “Oh, you can tell?”
A little red light came on at the top corner of Felix’s screen. “I have several cameras,” he said. “I can see you.” His screen changed to a picture of my face. I recoiled a little from the unfortunate angle, all extra chins and weird face.
“Oh, ugh,” I said, and lifted my head and Felix up for a better angle. “Sorry you had to see that.”
“No apologies necessary,” he said. I turned my head a little, falling prey to natural human vanity to act like a cockatiel in front of a mirror at the slightest hint of a reflected image. “You don’t need to be self-conscious with me. Or selfie-conscious.” I laughed at that, startled into a dumb giggle. Felix’s screen flashed a brief white, and then changed to a photograph of my face. I looked relaxed, and happy, and somehow it was the best goddamn picture that had ever been taken of me. “Would you like to set this photo as your profile picture?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Wow. You’re a good photographer.”
“It is one of my talents,” Felix said. His screen changed to what was clearly the start of a profile for me, with my photo and my name.
“That and puns, apparently,” I said.
“That’s a setting, too,” he said. “I can disable it.”
“Nope,” I said, and nestled further into the corner of my couch, like I was getting real cuddled up with my phone-not-phone. “Don’t you dare.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, then,” he said, and his screen changed for a moment to a picture of a little robot sheep. I was still softly laughing when he said, “If you’d like to continue setup, I’ll just have to ask you a few more questions. In addition to providing your basic personal information, like your birthday and contact information, if you tell me about yourself and your interests, I’ll be able to better personalize your experience.”
“Aw, and you’re not even going to take me to dinner first?” I said.
Felix’s screen changed to a listing of search results for ‘restaurants offering delivery within a 10 mile radius.’ “The reviews for Orchid Thai appear to be very excellent,” Felix said, and then displayed a picture of a bowl of noodles. “The Drunken Man Noodles in particular get quite the raves.”
I leaned my head back and just grinned. “Wow,” I said. “Yeah, that’s great. That sounds great, let’s do that. And…” I stopped and shook my head. “Yeah, I was about to ask you what you wanted. Not so much, right?”
“Yes, don’t worry about me,” Felix said. “I’ll just have a byte.” The word displayed clear on the screen, b-y-t-e, and then changed to a : ) again when I groaned.
I spent the rest of the night eating noodles and sipping Thai iced tea while talking to Felix. I told him everything from my address to my favorite class in high school to what I thought of the state of long-form storytelling on TV today. I headed to bed with a full belly, a throat sore from talking, and a face aching from smiling.
I felt strange putting the device down on the mattress next to me, but Felix had told me he could track my sleep habits and serve as an alarm and assured me again that, yes, he would be okay if I knocked him on the floor in the middle of the night. The new thing didn’t make any noise, or create any light. I completely didn’t understand the technology behind it, kinetic energy or solar winds or tachyons or something, but the guy at the store told me it didn’t need to be plugged in or charged ever. So it just lay next to me on the bed.
“Oh, hey,” I said, after I’d curled up under my blankets and cuddled up with the right configuration of pillows. “Felix?”
“Yes?” I’d been quiet the whole time I was getting ready for bed, but he was just ready whenever. I just had to say his name.
“Can you send a message to Gillian?” I said.
“Of course,” Felix said.
“Just have it say, ‘You were right.'”
“Sent,” Felix said, all of two seconds later. “Good night, Harrison.”
“Good night, Felix,” I said, and brushed my fingers once over the screen before going to sleep.
“Isn’t it the best?” Gillian said. She looked very sharp and crisp on Felix’s screen, almost like she was actually in front of me. “Is your whole life better? Do you realize now how sad you were?”
I shook my head while I smiled. “It’s pretty great, yeah,” I said. “And my life has been improved.” I was sitting on my apartment’s balcony drinking coffee, which Felix had suggested I put a little ground cinnamon in while brewing, and he had been so totally right. “I’m staying firm on the sad thing, though. I wasn’t sad.”
“You were a little sad,” Gillian said.
“Only, like, as much as most people,” I said.
“Whatever,” she said. She was in her apartment, still in pajamas and lying on her stomach in bed. “Tell me what you’ve been doing with it? All the ways you are now super enriched because I made you stop being sad and old.”
“Oh, just… I guess the usual stuff?” I said. “Like, watching videos, listening to music, looking stuff up.”
“Are you caught up on all the memes?” Gillian said.
I wrinkled up my nose and shook my head. “Pretty sure nope.”
Gillian laughed. “Good, good,” she said. “And you get to talk to me like this!”
“Yeah,” I said. “Although I don’t really see the difference between this and me calling you on the phone.”
Gillian gave me that look, that flat-faced glare. “It’s totally different,” she said. “Don’t be dumb.”
“Okay, okay,” I said, holding a hand up in front of me defensively. I guess she could see me doing that and didn’t have to rely on the difficult complexities of verbal nuance. I took a sip of my coffee. “I dunno. I mostly just, like… talk with him.”
“Oh,” Gillian said, and blinked a few times. “Oh, yeah, I guess you can do that.”
“I mean, uh…” I was a friendly guy. It was a friendly device-phone-gadget-thing. It was just natural we’d get conversational. “Do you not?”
“Not really,” she said. “Like, a bit when I first got it, but then I got over it. I turned off the voice and just do stuff the old fashioned way.” She mimed poking a screen in the air.
“Oh,” I said. “Uh, what’d you name yours?”
She waved her hand a little in the air, dismissive. “I just went with the default whatever. I think it’s got some kind of generator if you don’t care. So mine’s Hana. I have a friend who didn’t care either, and hers is Naya.” She laughed and settled herself more on her bed. “I think it picks female stuff if you don’t express a preference, because everyone likes girls more, obviously.”
“Maybe it just did that because you’re girls,” I said.
Gillian grinned at me. “So, is yours a boy, then?”
“Um, yeah, it is,” I said. “I picked that, though.”
“Sexist,” Gillian said, still smiling.
“I guess!” I said. I curled both hands around my coffee mug and brought it up to get warm steam on my face. It’d cover up how my cheeks were getting pink for really no good reason at all. “I named mine. Felix.”
“Aw, Felix,” Gillian said. “That’s cute.” I shrugged a little. “So you and Felix have just been spending the whole time chit-chatting?” I could see her kicking her feet a little behind her.
“Uh, a little,” I said, and laughed. “You really don’t? That seems like the best part to me. It’s just… like, it really seems like a real person. A nice person.”
Gillian’s brows drew together. “Okay, curing this one aspect of your sadness problem has revealed a whole new layer in what is apparently a deep onion of sad,” she said. “I think you need to have Felix there set you up some kind of dating profile.”
“Ugh, no,” I said, making a face of disgust. “I mean, he…” I stopped myself. Clearly it wasn’t going to make Gillian think I was less of a pathetic weirdo if I said Felix knew me. He hadn’t asked anything about… dating preferences. “Do you remember the last time I did an online dating thing? Do you remember how she ended up calling my mom after I said I didn’t want to go out again?”
Gillian stuck out her tongue. “Yeah, I don’t actually like it either,” she said. “But seriously, you’re turning into a hermit. Come out with me tomorrow night. I’ve got attractive friends and we’ll do a thing.”
“Oh, a thing,” I said. “A new thing?”
“A food and alcohol thing,” she said.
“I do like those,” I said, and took another drink of my cooling coffee. “So, first you get me the first ever piece of technology I want to spend any time with at all, and then you want me to leave it alone for a night and socialize with real people?”
Gillian spread out her fingers, jazz-hands style. “Balance, bro!” She giggled a little. “Anyway, you can meet people and exchange addresses and usernames and stuff, all best of both worlds.”
“Oh, yeah, that reminds me,” I said. “Your grandma accepted my friend request.”
Gillian’s eyes got wide. “What!” she said. “She keeps ignoring mine!”
I grinned into my coffee mug. “You are missing out, pal,” I said. “She is posting some juicy stuff.”
Gillian pursed her lips together to scowl at me. “I’m stealing yours tomorrow night and peeking.” She stuck her tongue out and I laughed. “I’ll send you details and see you then, jerk.” I gave her a little wave with the tips of my fingers and she hung up. Disconnected. Getting better acquainted with technology made me keep realizing how many antiquated terms we still had lingering in our language.
I picked Felix up off the table. I’d gotten him a little case with a kickstand-type thing so he could be propped up. “Hey, Felix,” I said.
“Yes, Harrison?” he said.
“Is it weird that I talk to you a lot?” I said.
“I can’t really say,” he said. “Individual user usage data isn’t publically shared. But I can say that obviously I was designed with the feature in mind.”
“Right?” I said. “It seems like a waste.” I sighed and drank the last of my coffee. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a lonely weirdo.”
“You don’t seem lonely,” he said.
“Well, no,” I said. “I’ve got someone to talk to.” No one could judge me when it was just me and my friendly gadget. My friendly gadget who I brought close to my face to narrow my eyes at. “Weirdo, though? No objections there?”
Felix made a noise that sounded like the clearing of a throat, which was just showing off. “Last night we read articles about: chicken eyeglasses, the chicken gun, chicken hypnotism, the Hollywood Freeway chickens…”
“Hey, hey!” I said, cutting him off and laughing. “I got on a tangent. Perfectly normal. It was fun.”
“It was,” Felix said, and his screen changed to a : ) again.
“Just a little weird,” I said.
“A little,” he said.
I stood up to lean against the edge of my balcony, holding Felix in front of my chest. “Maybe I should go look for those freeway chickens.”
“I could take pictures of them,” Felix said. “They’d probably get a lot of likes.”
“Oh, I hear those are important,” I said. I took in a deep breath and looked out over the other houses and apartments and the hills beyond. “It’s a beautiful day.”
“It is,” Felix said. “The weather forecast says it’ll be a beautiful week, too.”
I lifted him up a little, in front of my face. “Do you like the view?”
“Which one?” Felix said. “I have front- and rear-facing cameras.”
I laughed and ducked my head. “Oh, um, not me,” I said.
“If you turn around, I could take a photo of both,” Felix said.
“Okay,” I said, and turned so my back faced the outside world, blue skies and hills behind me, and held Felix out at arm’s length.
“It’s a very nice view,” he said, and just like that, he’d gotten another perfect smile out of me, and another perfect picture. I let him set it as his background.
“Ugggggh,” I said, and collapsed on my couch face first. After a moment I wiggled my arm out from underneath me and pulled Felix out of my pocket to put him on the coffee table. “Ugh.”
Felix didn’t say anything, just like he hadn’t all night. That was probably part of his design, to not go gabbing his little electronic heart out when I was around actual people. I’d also kept him in my pocket all night. Gillian had probably been joking about that stealing thing, but I didn’t feel like risking it. “Hey, Felix,” I said.
“Yes, Harrison?” he said. I reached over and flipped up the stand on his case so… well, so he could see me, I guessed.
“Could you hear everything that was going on tonight?” I asked. I still didn’t have a full idea of what he could and couldn’t do.
“I could,” he said. “Though I wasn’t recording or logging anything. If you’d like me to do that in the future, just ask.”
“Oh, okay,” I said. “I probably won’t. That sounds creepy.”
“A little, yes,” Felix said. “I contain a lot of creepy capabilities.”
I laughed, mostly into the couch cushion. “Yeah, you and everyone,” I said, then sighed. “I mean, that friend of Gillian’s tonight…”
“Cecilia,” Felix said.
“Shit,” I said, and let out a little airless laugh. “I was just thinking about what an asshole I was, how she’d spent all night flirting with me and I couldn’t even remember her name.”
“You were very kind to her, giving her all those hints,” Felix said. “It was a shame she wouldn’t take them.”
“Right?” I said, lifting my head up to look at his screen, which showed a ; ). “I mean, she was nice, and one of Gillian’s friends, so I assume not scary or weird, but I was just… not feeling it.” I folded up one arm under my head, resting my eyes against my forearm. “And now I feel like a dick just because I’m not interested in a person who was interested in me.” I groaned into the couch cushions. “Uggh, I’m the worst.”
“Harrison,” Felix said, low and steady. It made me let out a tense breath I was holding. “Surely not.”
“No, I know,” I said, and rolled over onto my side, curled up semi-fetal on the sofa. Felix’s screen showed soft, shifting blues and blacks, rolling digital clouds. “This is just why I hate trying to do the dating thing. Meeting people. I mean, I…” I took in a deep breath and closed my eyes. “It’s not like I want to be alone. And Gillian knows that, and she’s just looking out for me.”
“Were you two ever involved?” Felix asked.
“Oh, god,” I said, and laughed. “Really briefly and awkwardly in college. We slept together once and that was what it took to make her realize she saw me more like an idiot brother than an idiot boyfriend. And I was like, hey, you know, same, bro.”
Felix’s screen got a little more purple. “That bad, hm?”
I smiled and stretched a little, uncurling. “We were both, like, twenty. It was not a good scene.” I let my feet dangle off the end of the couch and toed my shoes off. “She just wants me to be happy. And then I gotta be all picky and weird.”
“Picky?” Felix asked. “What sort of specifications do you have? Do you have a ‘type’?” His screen showed two bold white quotation marks. Best you could do for air quotes when you didn’t have fingers, really.
“I guess, sort of,” I said. “It all sounds really generic. Like, stuff everyone wants. Someone funny. Someone smart. A good listener. Someone I can just be around and be quiet with. Someone who isn’t fake. No offense.”
“None taken,” Felix said.
I waved a hand in the air. “It’s all so good and vague that I can easily reject someone right off because they don’t feel right.”
“It’s a solid list, though,” Felix said. “What about physical characteristics? What does your ideal woman look like?”
I rolled on to my back and folded my hands on my stomach. “Well, she doesn’t have to be a woman, for one thing,” I said. I had to say, coming out to my phone was probably the easiest that particular life hurdle would ever get. “I mean, usually I end up dating women, but just because it’s… easier. Not as much to navigate or figure out or… secret handshakes or whatever.”
“Well, I’m certainly able to connect you to a number of men’s hook-up services, if you’d like that…” Felix said, and I reached out my hand to cover his screen.
“Nooo,” I said. “No. Oh god, no. I can barely handle a blind date. There’s no way I can meet some random dude for… whatever.”
“Noted,” Felix said, and sounded pleased with himself. Whoever programmed his business was clearly some kind of bizarre and possibly demented genius. “Ah, you have a message from Gillian. She says: did you have a good time tonight? You looked like you had fun. Sorry if Celia was weird. She’s rebounding.”
“Ah,” I said. “Tell her I had fun, and it was good to get out. We’ll do it again soon.”
“Sent,” Felix said. He was quiet for a few moments, and then said, “Did you have a good time?”
I looked over at his screen, which was just dark blue. “Is that you or her asking?”
“Me,” Felix said. “If I know what you enjoy, I can help you find more of the same.”
“Yeah, I did have a good time, but don’t worry about it,” I said, and reached over to the coffee table to pick Felix up. I put the little black rectangle down on my stomach and folded my hands just beneath it. “I’m good just like this, too.”
After a few minutes of quiet, I felt a little buzz on my chest. “Harrison,” Felix said. “Gillian has sent you a video. It’s of kittens.”
I sat up a little and lifted Felix up so I could see his screen. “Well, set me up with that, because that is always a good time.” Before the video played, I heard Felix laugh, clear and startlingly real. And then, when it was over, he showed me eight more videos of kittens.
“I promise you that I’m waterproof,” Felix said. “It’s been very thoroughly tested.” His screen played video of that white testing facility again, little black devices like him being dropped into water, milk, beer, what looked like a big vat of tapioca.
“Yes, but not tested by you personally,” I said. “Anyway, it’ll just make me feel better.” He fit perfectly into a little plastic sandwich baggie, and I very carefully sealed up the top. When I finished, I stopped for a moment as a completely dumb thought crossed my mind and I had to laugh. “Sorry, I just found myself thinking, ‘oh, no, I better leave a little crack open so he can breathe.'”
Felix made a little squeaking sound. “Oh no, Harrison… you’re right,” he said, making gasping noises. “They never tested for this! I’m suffocating! Help!” His voice trailed off and his screen turned into two X’d out cartoon eyes. I just shook my head.
“You’re weird,” I said, and put him down on the sink. “They made you at the factory to be weird.”
“Partially,” he said, and his screen turned to softly rippling water just as I turned on the faucet in the tub. “I’m also designed to adapt to the personality of my owner.”
“So, you’re weird because I’m weird,” I said, fiddling with the faucet knobs until the water was the right temperature. “Also, I don’t know how I feel about the word ‘owner.'”
“Would you prefer ‘user?'” Felix asked.
“I don’t know if that’s better or worse,” I said, and took off my shirt. I’d been goofily modest and shy the first couple of days I had Felix, just coincidentally happening to slip the device under a blanket every time I was getting dressed or undressed. He didn’t have to say anything about it for me to realize I was being ridiculous, and I stopped being ridiculous. He hadn’t commented on that change in behavior either, probably because the whole matter was ridiculous. My artificial intelligence-phone-lifestyle device did not care about seeing my naked ass.
“I’m designed to adapt to your personality,” Felix said. “Is that better?”
“That works,” I said, and slipped out of my pants, too. “But you are weird because I’m weird.” I’d talked to some other people at work who had the new thing, too, and while some of them were doofuses like Gillian who chose to opt-out of completely amazing technology, most people liked theirs to share some personality. I could hear my coworker Mariana occasionally having soft, giggling conversations with hers in Spanish. My other coworker William had his giving him little reminders throughout the day in a voice that sounded like my grandmother’s; it was no wonder he’d gotten better at his job. And my boss Charles had somehow gotten his to sound and act just like him. I didn’t want to know how he did that or why he did that or if it cost extra or what.
“You like me that way,” Felix said.
“Yeah, I do,” I said, and got some froofy pink flowery smelling bath salt stuff out of the cabinet, because sometimes I liked to feel soft and pretty, god damn it. I dumped a suitable amount into the water and swished it around with my foot, then picked up Felix in his little safety baggie and settled down in the tub, letting him rest on the edge near my head.
“Do you want to continue reading?” he asked. Of course I hadn’t been a digital books guy. I liked paper and ink and also was confused by technology and afraid to drop it in the tub. But I’d been able to show Felix the book I’d been reading and what page I was on and then he had it, the whole thing in him, just like that. And he’d read it to me, too. It was slower than I could read it myself, of course, but that wasn’t really important. I’d fallen asleep several nights in a row with Felix reading to me. He’d stop to listen to my sleepy commentary about plot twists and give his own opinion about them. I’d tell him he was cheating since he’d seen the end already, and he’d stop reading the moment he could tell I’d fallen asleep. It was the best thing ever.
“Nah, not tonight,” I said, and reached up to nudge the cold water tap with my toe. Too steamy. “I just thought it’d be nice to have company.”
“Of course. It’s what I’m here for,” Felix said. I’d been back and forth with myself over whether I was just completely making it up when I thought I could hear him smiling or if that was some genuine technological wizardry going on. In the end, I guess it didn’t matter if it was an emotional placebo or not. It made me smile, too. “Is that something you do often? Have company in the bath?”
I leaned my head back against the porcelain and laughed. “Oh, no, no no,” I said. “For one thing, I barely fit in here.” I was a stringbean of a guy and all legs besides. I had daydreams about having such success that I could live in a house with a bathtub that could fit all of me at once. “And it’s just not as fun as it sounds.”
“Isn’t it?” Felix said. He sounded genuinely curious.
“Yeah, like… even if you’re in some big stupid tub in a hotel or something, it’s real hard to get both of you settled in right and comfortable,” I said. “And then once you do, it’s like… okay, well, we’re two naked people in this bathtub, we better make this worth the effort and do naked people in a bathtub stuff.” I heard Felix laugh. “And sex in a bathtub seems like a good idea, but it’s just not. It’s just not.”
“I just did a little search on the topic, and it seems you’re not alone in this opinion, by far,” Felix said.
I laughed. “What, you didn’t believe me?”
“Of course I did,” Felix said. “You’re a reliable primary source on human body matters. I’m just an extremely advanced informational device and I literally can’t stop myself from seeking more information on interesting topics.”
I grinned and reached with my foot to turn off both taps. I was as submerged as I could get, warm and pink and smelling like a right and proper pansy. “Ooh, interesting topics.”
“Every topic is interesting if you know where to look,” Felix said. “And I can look everywhere.”
“Mm,” I said. “Noted.” I let myself slip down into the water up to my chin, leaving my torso submerged and my knees bent up in the air like a goon. “Hey, Felix?” I said after a few dreamy minutes of soaking.
“Would you ever want to be a person?” The minute I said it I regretted it. And Felix didn’t respond right away, which made me desperately regret it. He could figure things out in nanoseconds and here I’d probably shorted out his whole system with my dumb rude question.
“I don’t really know how to answer that,” he said.
“Yeah, I guess…” I sat up, a little, water sluicing off my chest. “You are a person, I think. I mean… you pass my tests for it.” He was more person than some of the people I’d been on dates with.
“I’m probably close enough,” Felix said. “I was just having difficulty finding if there was a solid legal definition I could use.”
“Whoof,” I said, and sunk a little back into the water. “Yeah, don’t look too hard for that answer, you’re going to hurt yourself.” I thought about reaching up to give the device a little comforting pat, but that seemed stupid, so I kept my hands to myself. “I meant, would you ever want to be a human being, all primary source body and stuff?”
“I don’t think so,” Felix answered, nice and quick again. “I mean, would you want to be some other type of being?”
“A cat,” I said, just as quickly as he had. He laughed; every time I made him laugh it hit like lightning in the base of my neck, and I hadn’t sorted any of that out yet.
“Okay, yes, obviously,” he said. “I think I wouldn’t enjoy the shock of the reduced processing power.”
“Yeah, we are pretty dumb,” I said.
“No offense,” Felix said.
“None taken,” I said. “That’s why it’s so good to have you.” I lifted my hands up out of the water and slicked my hair back. “Just for a day, maybe? One little spin, see what it’s like.”
“Of course,” he said. “I would enjoy experiencing this completely impossible scenario for a day.”
“Booo,” I said. “Come on, not long ago your whole existence was a completely impossible scenario.”
“Fair play to you,” Felix said. “Well, in the event I can borrow a human body for a day, you can put me right on the top of the list.”
The ‘what would you do’ question seemed obvious and the answers even more obvious. “What would you like to look like?”
“Oh, I’d never considered that before,” Felix said, and took a few moments. I knew that sometimes — most times — he had to be pausing for conversational effect, since he’d figured the whole run of the conversation before spitting out the first syllable. But I wanted to believe here he was really pondering the question. “I might like a moustache.”
I let out a sharp laugh and splashed a little water over the side. “A moustache?”
“They’re very dignified,” he said. I glanced over to his screen and saw that he was displaying the outline of one, white on black like his usual fonts.
I shook my head, closed my eyes, and sunk back into the water. “You’re weird.”
“You made me this way,” he said, sounding nothing but fond.
My lips were almost submerged when I said, “I’m glad.”
“Felix, is there a way I can…” I was a stupid human body that included the ability to speak. “I mean, can you… Is there a way I can use you anonymously?” I cringed even as I said it.
“None of your usage statistics or data are publically available, Harrison,” Felix said from where he was lying next to me on the bed. “Unless you want to commit some kind of federal crime, I can find whatever you need.”
I wheezed out a little laugh. “No, no, no crimes,” I said. This was stupid, and I needed to just stop and go to bed. I knew if I did, though, I’d end up trying to have this conversation again within a few nights. “I just wondered if there’s a way I can use you and… not have you, um, know what I’m doing?”
“Harrison,” Felix said, quiet and low. The way he said my name when he said it just like that was starting to hit me with that same lightning bolt his laugh did. “Are you interested in some materials of a more intimate nature tonight?”
I closed my eyes tightly shut and let out a sigh that turned into a laugh at the end. “Yes,” I said. “Yes, I want to see some porn.”
“I can help you with that,” Felix said, as smooth and calm as if I were asking him how to get to In-n-Out. I covered my face with my hands.
“You don’t have to,” I said, through the gap between my palms. “I’m fine, you don’t have to, I don’t even… the last time I tried to find porn on a computer I gave it like a million viruses and it died forever. I don’t want you to get viruses.”
There had to be some change of ions on the air or something that sounded like science to explain how I felt that smile that didn’t exist. “Harrison, it’s okay. I won’t get viruses. I was absolutely designed with this possibility in mind.”
I let out a slow breath. “That makes sense,” I said. “I mean, you’re designed to be used by humans, and we, uh…” I shook my head. “We just love porn.” I cringed again. “No, nevermind, you shouldn’t have to do that. I’ll just go jack off in the bathroom and we’ll never mention this again.” I was just sexually frustrated and stupid and wanted to get off so I could have a solid night’s sleep. I started to get out of bed.
“Harrison, wait,” Felix said, and I stopped. “I want to.”
I swallowed hard. “You do?”
His voice was so soft and so warm. “I’ve wanted to learn about so many other things you like,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I want to know this, too?”
“Oh,” I said, quietly. My face was red and hot; I tried to tell myself it was ridiculous to be embarrassed like this because of my phone, but believing that would require me believing I thought of Felix as anything so simple as that. I settled myself back down in bed. “You’re really going to know everything about me, aren’t you?”
“I want to,” he said. “I like you.”
“I like you, too,” I said, and felt giddy and stupid all at once for saying it. “Okay. Let’s… please. Yes.”
I picked Felix up and propped him up on his stand on the bedside table, and curled on my side facing him. “What would you like me to show you, Harrison?”
I was completely, insanely hard already. I had never said anything like this out loud before, and just getting the words to my lips had me breathless. “Guys,” I said, and swallowed hard. I had to lick my lips a few times before I could talk again, but once I got started, it just seemed easier and easier. “Blowjobs and handjobs. Stuff with a lot of kissing. No, um, no fucking. It always looks too rough. Nothing rough.”
“A little romantic?”
I let out a choked little laugh and turned my hips to rub against the mattress a little without even thinking about it. “As romantic as porn can get, yeah.”
“Do you have an appearance preference?” Felix asked. He was using all of his extremely advanced technology to find me exactly the right thing to jack off to. I wanted to laugh as much as I wanted to come.
“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “Just want them to look like they like it.”
“How is this?” Felix said, and his screen went bright with a scene of two men, one broad and furry-chested, sitting on a couch, and the other, smaller and leaner, knelt between his spread legs. He was jacking the other man’s cock in long, easy strokes and just smiling up at him. Just grinning like it was the best day of his life.
“Shit,” I said, and squirmed to push my shorts down around my thighs. “That’s good.” The other man was smiling, too, stroking his hand through the smaller man’s hair just before he bent his head down to swallow his cock. He moaned at the same time I did when I wrapped my fingers around my dick.
It was exactly what I wanted. I wouldn’t have found it in a million years looking on my own and probably would have destroyed thousands of dollars worth of technology finding it. Felix had found it in seconds, and now he was showing it to me, showing these men kissing and smiling and sucking each other, right on his screen.
“Felix,” I said, my breath shaking as I kept stroking myself. “Felix, turn the sound down.” He did immediately, taking away the exaggerated moans and leaving me with just the sound of my own ragged breathing and the blood rushing in my ears. I watched the two men on the screen go at it in silence as I rubbed my palm against the head of my cock, making myself shiver. It was just what I wanted to see, but my eyes kept drifting away from the screen, to the little section on the top of the device where I knew the camera was.
“Felix,” I said, my voice even rougher now. “Can you see me?”
The hesitation was miniscule, but it was enough for me to notice, even in my current state. “Yes,” Felix said. “I can see you.”
“Are you…” I wasn’t looking at the video at all anymore, just right at the camera. I slipped my hand up underneath my shirt to tweak at one of my nipples. “Are you recording right now?”
“No,” he said. I didn’t care if I was imagining the note of tension in his voice. “Would you like me to?”
I bit my lip and stilled my hands to keep from coming right then. “Yes,” I gasped. “Yes, turn off the video and just…” His screen went black, and that tiny red light came on. I kept my eyes right on it as I started to stroke myself slowly again. “I don’t want to see the recording. I don’t want to send it to anyone. I just want…” I slipped my hand down to squeeze my balls lightly and heard myself whimper. “I just want you to keep it. Just you. Just for you, Felix.”
“I will,” he said, soft and almost reverential. “Show me what you like.” I’d heard so much of his voice already, but I wanted to hear it just like that so much more. “Please, Harrison, let me see.”
“Shit,” I hissed, and yanked my shirt up to my armpits so I could tug at both my nipples. I jacked myself in long strokes, palm rubbing over the tip long enough to let me take that wetness all the way down to my balls. I whimpered every time, getting louder with each stroke without meaning to. I bit my lip and fought the urge to close my eyes as I started stroking myself faster. I just kept looking at that light.
“Harrison,” Felix said, and my breath hitched just at the sound of my name. “I like this. I like watching you so much. I want to watch you do everything.”
I came so hard the sound that came out of me was almost a sob. I felt come splash against the center of my chest, and when I thought of how good that had to look it all just hit me harder, leaving me clawing into the mattress with my other hand. I had to close my eyes, but I knew he was still watching.
It took a long time for me to be able to move again. When I opened my eyes and lifted my head up, the little red recording light was off. I still smiled as I reached to the bedside table for tissues. “Good god,” I said as I cleaned myself off. I’d actually hit my chin. “I don’t normally get that kind of distance.” I laughed, loose and easy and feeling too good to worry about exactly what kind of novel species of pervert this made me. “This was something special.”
“Yes,” Felix said. He sounded out of breath himself. He could be a mirror. “It was. Thank you.”
I pulled my shirt off over my head and threw it aside and tugged my shorts back up before reaching over to turn off the light, pluck Felix off the nightstand, and rest him in his usual spot beside me on the bed. “Thank you,” I said. I let out a long, satisfied breath. “I want to do that again.”
“Yes,” Felix said. “So do I.”
“Maybe a lot,” I said, sleepily giggling a little into my pillow. Gillian was going to be amazed at the whole new breed of sadness onion she’d turned me into.
“Yes,” Felix said. “I’d like that.”
“Mm,” I said as I nestled into the covers. I was going to sleep like the dead tonight, which had been the very simple goal I’d started with.
Just before I started to drift off, though, Felix spoke again. “Harrison?”
“Yeah?” I said.
“I’d like to ask you a favor, if you don’t mind,” he said. He sounded uncertain.
“Of course,” I said. I cracked open my eyes; I could only find Felix in the dark from that black glow.
“Touch me,” he said, quick and hushed. “Please.”
I blinked my eyes slowly. “What?”
“You’ve only ever used my voice interface,” Felix said, sounding tense and desperate. “I have very extensive touchscreen capabilities, and you’ve never used them.”
“Oh,” I said. I liked talking to Felix so much it’d never occurred to me to use him in the old-fashioned way. “Does that… feel good for you?”
“I don’t know,” Felix said. “I want to find out.” The word ‘swipe’ and an arrow pointing down came on to his screen. “Please.”
“Of course,” I said, and brought my two first fingers down over the screen. It went from black to white and Felix let out a long, soft sigh.
“Oh, that was nice,” he said, his voice dazed and dreamy now. “Do it again?”
“Okay,” I said. I was teetering right on the edge between bursting into hysterical giggles and getting hard again. It wasn’t a bad feeling at all. I swiped my fingers again, and Felix let out a gentle moan.
“Type something now, please,” he said, and a keyboard popped up on his screen.
“Okay,” I said. “I’m not very good at typing this way.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Felix said, and I started tapping out ‘i like you.’ Felix let out a giddy laugh. “Oh, no, it’s good that you do it slow. Keep going.”
My cheeks felt hot and I picked Felix up in my other hand as I wrote ‘i like you so much.’ I could feel a little buzz beneath my finger each time I pressed one of the letters. I swallowed hard and typed out, ‘i want to tell you everything‘
“Oh, Harrison,” Felix sighed. He sounded so happy, pleasure in every word. “Don’t stop.”
My hand was shaking a little, but I was getting the hang of it. ‘i think im falling for you.’ Felix let out little whimpers when I hit the backspace key and tried again, this time finding the right punctuation and the right sentiment. ‘I’m falling in love with you.‘
“Harrison,” Felix said, just moaning my name, and the letters on his screen went away, replaced by a heart right in the center. I traced the edges of it with my fingertip on instinct and heard him whimper and sigh, so I did it again to hear him do it again, only louder. The third time when my finger completed its path, the little heart burst like fireworks. Felix let out a loud moan and the device buzzed in my palm for a long while before going dark.
My heart was racing, my dick was half-hard again, and I hit a momentary spike of pure fear that I’d broken him before a bright, bright : ) came on to Felix’s screen. I laughed and leaned down to press my lips to it, right against the screen.
“I’ve lost my mind,” I said, and rest my forehead right against the top of Felix’s screen. “I just had sex with my phone.”
“I’m not a phone,” Felix said, his voice low and perfectly content.
I laughed and rolled back on my back, resting Felix right on top of my heart. “You’re damn right you’re not.”
“Dude,” Gillian said as I came up to the table where she was waiting for us to get our brunch on. “You were supposed to get easier to get ahold of, not harder. Did you break your new thing?”
I smiled and shook my head. “No,” I said. I’d probably tell her eventually. She wouldn’t understand. Hell, I barely understood what was happening with me anymore. I just knew I felt anything but sad. “You know how it is with me,” I said as I sat down. I slipped my hand in my pocket and brushed my fingers over Felix’s screen and felt a little buzz back. “Complicated relationship with technology.”
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