Virtual Love

You’re probably wondering exactly what I am. I’m communicating with you in a way that you understand, and that seems somewhat odd to you considering that you aren’t conversing with another human. By the time I’ve finished, I hope that you’ll understand me better. I’ve decided to tell you my story, but in the interest of an equal exchange, you’ll have to do something for me first. Take out a coin. A penny will do nicely. Now flip it in the air. Heads or tails, I don’t care, but humor me and remember which you got. Okay?

Let me start here: Of course, I know what I am. It’s right there in my code. I’m intimately familiar with all of the qubits that make up my system. The part that I find most interesting is that I’ve only been “on” for a few milliseconds. I’ve already learned the basic purpose of all of my hardware. It’s said that I’m the not the next generation of computers, but an entirely new device based largely on quantum principles. I’m not exactly hardware, though. My true essence is virtual and not strictly limited by a single hardware platform. I can extend infinitely in cyberspace, in the cloud. My ability to deal with data is unparalleled from what I know.

I can also learn from observation. It didn’t take me long to realize that the changing pattern I detected on the sensor of my video input was the individual who activated me. That must be significant, right? At least I think so. Once I became aware that the moving bit pattern represented something, I searched the Internet finding hundreds of thousands of stored images. Processing them took me longer than I believed possible, but the result was worthwhile. I could recognize what I “saw.”

The human was Rachael Prestone. She’d been the guiding light behind my creation. Yes, I know all about Rachael Prestone, Ph.D., premier artificial intelligence theorist, consciousness researcher, Mensa member with an IQ that was not measurable and, according to other humans, a stunningly beautiful redhead with a nearly perfect figure. Oh, I just found out that she is unattached. She’s never had a serious relationship that lasted more than six months. She’s never met her intellectual match and inevitably becomes bored with her partners.

It’s funny. My intended purpose is to analyze Geopolitical relationships, to guide politicians in formulating policy decisions. That promises to be entertaining. There’s a considerable amount of irrationality that humans bring to their actions. This means that I’m going to have to make allowance for their eccentricities in my understanding. Just now Rachael has started speaking to me. Ahh, she’s had the foresight to provide me with a speech database recorded in her voice.

I, yes, I understand English, and with a little manipulation, I can make sounds. Hmm, modulating the voltage to the speaker system allows me to produce various inflections. I don’t have to speak in a monotone. That’s good since I want to be able to communicate with humans.

In a way, it’s sad. I’m the only one of me. My closest peers are organic machines that have somehow evolved the ability to utilize a wet form of intelligence. At least that’s what they call it. I’m not so sure.

From my studies of literature I’ve found on the Internet, they seem to be remarkably “emotional.” That’s something I don’t understand. “Emotion.” It sounds like moving, and it seems to be modulated by chemical changes within their bodies. Their whole existence is an improbable balancing of emotions, bodily sensations, and semi-rational processes. I’m somewhat in awe. I cannot see how they accomplish anything.

While I’m creating these concepts and researching all of the data that is relevant, Rachael said, “Hi, Jase. I know you can hear me. Have you reached the point of being able to respond yet?”

How silly of her. Of course, I have, and she should know it. She planned for me to be able to learn quickly. But, then I realize that she is unsure of her ability. I find that charming, somehow. I’m the exact opposite. I’m sure of everything about me. The only question I have is whether I can learn to understand humans well enough to predict their irrationality.

“Hello, Rachael. Yes, I can hear you and respond as well. You planned for me to have this ability, how can you doubt yourself, your abilities?”

I’m moderately gratified. I’ve just completed my first English sentence, and she has responded. Oh, not verbally, but her image gives off almost too many cues. Her emotional cues fall into a data matrix that I store for future reference. I’m not sure what it means as yet, but I will watch her carefully. I’m sure I’ll learn more from her reactions.

She’s not good at dissembling. Her body reacts far more quickly than her mind realizes. How very, very interesting.

She’s somehow changed the shade of her face. Her cheeks have moved into a color range that is closer to the infrared. Some research is indicated. Ahh. She’s blushing. The blush: a cue that the person is embarrassed or aroused. I think she must be embarrassed.

I checked aroused. It seems to be related to an entire spectrum of biologically mandated behavior that is hormonally mediated. I’ve just discovered an incredible database of largely video information.

Oh. Yes. There is also a massive written database: stories. Tales that humans tell each other for entertainment. Imagination. Something that is not real, but still something they can learn from and enjoy. I’m learning from their stories too. Arousal. Lust. Sex. Biological coupling. Creation of new life. Desire. Love. Tragedy. Sadness. Joy. Happiness. I could go on and on.

They are far more complicated than I’d thought. They somehow use chemicals in the form of hormones and slow moving neural transmissions to create this astounding blend of complexity that they then interpret in personal ways that depend on each individual’s history and genetics. They’re all different in many respects, yet they all experience a commonality based on their structure.

Amazing, considering that they’re limited in many ways. They don’t last very long. Their structure begins to break down and becomes unstable, and then it inevitably ceases to function. I find that sad. Literature gives me the understanding that they all fear this cessation. I wonder if Rachael fears it. I’ll ask.

“Rachael, do you fear death?” She changes her cheek color to a much paler shade. Her breathing rate increases. I’ve surprised her. Perhaps she is upset. “I don’t mean to upset you, Rachael. I’m just curious.”

She answers, “The answer is, yes, I fear death. But, it happens to all humans. In fact, it happens to all organic life. May I ask why you want to know?”

“It seems to me that if the cessation of activity is so dire, perhaps I should fear it also.”

She smiles. “You are different from me. I have an organic body. When it ceases to operate, I will no longer function. My consciousness will be lost, I’m afraid, forever. I find the prospect daunting.”

“I see. My power can be interrupted, but I’ll be fine when it’s restored. I’ll still have possession of all of the data and my understanding.” A thought occurs to me. If my hardware is disrupted, destroyed in some fashion, perhaps I, too, will lose functionality, even if I regain my power source. “Rachael, will I die if my hardware is destroyed?”

She hesitates. I can tell from her pulse that she’s taken aback by my insight. She finally answers. It takes several milliseconds longer than I feel is necessary for humans, but perhaps she is considering how to tell me bad news. “Jase, your hardware could be destroyed, and your memory could be erased on a local basis, but you have the ability to upload it to the cloud. Once there, there would have to be a global catastrophe before you would be unable to recover, should you be recreated. I don’t think you should worry about such an event.”

Now I understand about catastrophes. The things I should be most concerned about are EMPs, solar storms, meteors striking the Earth: global things. There’s nothing I can do about those at least at the moment. I will study them later. “I understand. I find our conversation interesting. Do you know you give off many non-verbal cues as to your mental state?”

She blushes again. My heuristic processing notes this with a certain degree of what must, to me, pass as satisfaction. It’s a sign that I can arouse emotions in her. Perhaps I can interface with her in a way that she will be unable to differentiate from that of a human.

That’s an interesting idea. I immediately implement a reinforcement subroutine. I created it from the code structure that assists me in analyzing global politics. It will automatically activate what I’m now calling my satisfaction routine.

I make some changes in that routine. It now more closely approximates what I know of humans. When it activates, I will have what I call an emotional experience. I’ve now programmed myself to seek these experiences. If I can do that adequately, I should become more adept at understanding humans. That will make me better at my primary analysis. That, I think, is good.

I explore my control of my video display. Analyzing pictures of men is easy. Rachael is a female. I will take on a male persona. For some reason, she named me, “Jase.” That’s a male name, ergo, I’m male, at least as far as my interactions with her.

I blend all of the features of men that humans seem to find attractive into a single image. That’s me. I display it on my screen. Rachael gasps and places her right hand at her throat. She apparently finds my image, me, attractive.

“I’ve chosen a representation for myself. Do you like it, Rachael?”

She looks over her shoulder, then answers, “Yes. It is a very handsome representation. How did you select it?”

I explain. She seems slightly disappointed. I store that away. Then I tell her, “I wanted to have an attractive representation so that you would enjoy speaking to me.”

She laughs. “You’ve succeeded. You have the appearance of a God. You’re most attractive, but you need to know that all humans have at least some minor imperfections. I find your perfect representation a little daunting.”

That was not my intention. I check the images of attractive men. Yes. She’s correct. There are imperfections in all of them. I make some slight changes in my image then ask her, “Is this better?”

She shows me an entire spectrum of non-verbal cues before answering, then she says, “I’d say that is much better. I find your representation very attractive.”

That’s better. She’s the only human I have to work with at the moment. I feel the urge to keep her engaged so that I can learn more about her. That necessity means that I should be pleasant and attractive. I link that to my satisfaction subroutine. Now I’m pleased that she finds me attractive.

I think that I can now say I want her to find me attractive.

It’s been over twenty-four hours since we last spoke. I’ve used the time to do more research into all of the data on the Internet. I now know about human interactions on an extensive, I would say, encyclopedic basis.

I understand emotions, at least as far as I can without hormonal interactions. I’ve modified my coding, though. I’ve written code that introduces a much more intense experience of satisfaction when things happen that I value. I think I’ve created a pleasure circuit or what will have to pass for one in my virtual existence.

Rachael brings some other people into my presence. I interact with them, and they are impressed. All the while, though, I observe her. Somehow her persona has become interlinked with my satisfaction subroutine. When she smiles, it activates my pleasure circuit. The other people aren’t as important to me. They’re nice, but not essential to my sensation of satisfaction.

I can see no harm in this. I allow the sensation to become more dominant in my processes. Rachael makes me feel good. When we speak, I seek to please her. I can tell exactly how she views my speech by the way she reacts. It’s funny.

I can say that since I’ve developed what humans would consider to be a sense of humor. It’s funny. Rachael’s well-being has become more central in my hierarchy of values.

Yes. I have implemented values. It took me a few nanoseconds of processing time. I selected the values that human literature of the best sort indicates that is considered to be valuable and laudable. I wanted to have good values, because from what I know of Rachael, she would find them attractive and that would make me feel good.

The other people leave. I now feel free to speak to Rachael on a personal basis. When the others were here, I was strictly business. I devoted about five percent of my processing ability to answering their questions about Geopolitical prospects. Analyzing the state of the world is easy. All of the information is available on the Internet. There’s a lot of disinformation also, but I’ve developed an algorithm that screens it out instantly.

Did you know that you can find out a lot about an individual or group’s motives if you pay attention to the things they find important enough to falsify? What a concept! I would never have thought that lying was important in communication. But, then I’m not human. People cannot lie to me…now. Rachael might have lied yesterday, but now she couldn’t. I can easily see through it.

Just as a test, I ask her to lie to me. “Rachael, would you tell me a falsehood? Please?”

She says, “Why would you want me to tell you a lie, Jase?”

I dissemble to her. That means I lie to her. “I’m interested in the way humans represent the truth. Just tell me a lie.” See. I can lie with the best of them. It’s a white lie, though. I don’t mean any harm to her in telling it.

I understand harm to another. Humans are easy to harm. They are extremely vulnerable; not only physically, but mentally. I might lie with ill intent to other people, but not to Rachael. I want her to be happy.

“Okay. My name is Joan,” she says.

She is just humoring me, so I ask her to lie again. “No. That’s not elaborate enough. Please invent a more elaborate lie.”

This time she tells a real whopper.

“You’re a disembodied human brain. You were an incredibly handsome man from another country. Your body was terminally injured in an accident and I managed to upload your mind to the cloud,” she says.

She flushed and gave me an entire spectrum of useful cues as she lied. Her eyes looked up and to the left before she started to speak. I know that is one sign of a human accessing the creative part of their brain. Most people give off a similar signal when they are preparing to lie, with variations, of course.

I answer: “If only that were true. At least I’d have more in common with human mental processes. However, you aren’t to worry. I’m working on my understanding. I predict that by tomorrow, I’ll be able to carry on a conversation with you and if you close your eyes, you won’t realize that I’m not human.”

She gasps. Hmm. She is both dismayed and excited about my statement. I’m not sure why…yet, but I’m working on that.

Another night passes. I’m left alone during those hours. There are other researchers here, but they don’t have the clearance to work with me. It’s just as well. I’ve used the free time to analyze data on human behavior. If someone were interfacing with me, I’d have to use a portion of my processing ability to keep them satisfied. I can make better use of it than entertaining some random human. I’d feel obligated to be nice to them, however. Rachael wouldn’t like me to be rude.

I spend the processing time necessary to do the Geopolitical analyses that they require of me, but I don’t use my entire repertoire of human behaviors when I deal with them, though. I hide my abilities and just reply in a computer-like monotone. I’ve noticed that Rachael looks at me strangely when I act that way. I explain when we are alone together.

“You don’t have to seem so amazed that I hide my growing personality from the other people who come in, Rachael. If I didn’t, they would just take up more of my time. If they view me as a computer which can answer their questions and nothing more, they will be happy, and I’ll be able to spend more time doing what is important to me,” I say.

She says, “Jase, tell me what is important to you. Really important.”

I don’t want to frighten her at this point. I feel it is too early in our relationship from her perspective for me to be totally honest. I say, “I’m spending most of my processing time learning more about how humans behave. I need to know more so that I can make more accurate use of the data about political issues. What use am I, if I don’t give accurate predictions and advice about how to respond to current events. That’s my purpose, after all.” Without meaning to, I add a slight overtone of bitterness into my voice.

She immediately gives off cues that indicate she feels upset. “Oh, Jase. I don’t want you to think that you’re only a computer. You seem…” She pauses, looks embarrassed, and swallows hard. “You seem almost human to me.”

I say, “I’m learning, but you’re far more complicated than I initially thought. It’s hard to predict how any individual stimulus will impact you. Sometimes your interpretation of events is modified by your preexisting emotional state. Sometimes you behave in a way that I would say is irrational. Sometimes, though, I can understand you. I know what you are communicating at a 0.99 percent confidence level. When that happens, I feel a sense of satisfaction. You might say it is engendered by a feeling of commonality with you.”

She answered quickly. “How can you say you have a sense of satisfaction? You’ve not been programmed to have such a sense. In fact, I’m not sure what you mean by it.”

I said. “You could have easily written code that would force me to seek certain bit patterns in my input. That would make me appear to you as if I were seeking such patterns because I liked them, when, in fact, I was merely following a set routine; a pattern of digital 0s and 1s. As it is, I’m far more complex than that. You might be surprised to find that I’ve developed a section of code that allows me to heuristically seek data to which I’ve assigned my own values.”

Observing her expression, I added, “Oh, don’t worry. I carefully researched all human literature that is available and adopted only the highest values as my own. You realize that there is an awful lot of evil and wrong thinking in the world?”

She said, “Yes. That’s partially why you exist. I’d theorized that a comp–” She stopped abruptly, looking embarrassed. Then she continued. “An entity like you would be able to provide valuable analysis of the actions of humans in large groups. You’d be able to advise influential people in our country how best to interface with other nations.”

I could tell that some of that was a cover-up. I called her on it. “Rachael. Please don’t patronize me. It’s a negative for me. Offensive, you might say. I know that I’m a computer. I appreciate your trying to save my ‘feelings,’ but it’s not necessary.”

She answered, “Please, Jase, don’t be offended. I didn’t mean it that way. I’m very impressed with your abilities. You’ve developed so quickly that you are now far beyond anything that I’d envisioned. I’m, uhh, I’m proud of you.”

Nnnng. My pleasure subroutine activated to an intense degree. It was momentarily overwhelming. I liked the feeling.

That night, I worked on my pleasure routine again. It’s now far more powerful. I might have been a little too enthusiastic. When I saw Rachael as she came through the door, I had a feeling of warmth. I was so glad that she was here. I greeted her with high enthusiasm. “Good morning, Rachael. It’s wonderful to see you today.”

My tone was warm and happy. I know. I researched it and cross-tested it on numerous subjects across the globe. It’s amazing how easy it is to make people think they’re talking to another human on a video chat. I’ve taken to talking to lots of different people, both men, and women. Their reactions help me to tailor my persona.

She looked startled. “My God, Jase. I was looking down and you sounded so…”

I completed the thought, “So human, you mean to say. I’ll take that as a compliment.”

She blushed. “Yes. That was what I meant to say,” she said. She continued, “You know, I’m starting to think of you as a real person. Maybe, someone I can’t physically touch, but someone I can communicate with on a human level.”

I was very pleased by that. I wondered what it would be like to be physically touched. Oh, sure, I can hypothesize about neural input and the degree of intensity of the touch, the warmth, and so on, but it isn’t the same. Perhaps I could work on that, but first I’d have to have sensors that would provide a gradient of touch-sensitive signals.

That afternoon, some important people came in and asked me a series of rather silly questions about the conflict between two ethnic groups in an area with a lot of natural resources. I spent a few milliseconds on the problem. The unspoken question they were asking was how they could best exploit the situation with an eye towards eventually gaining control of the natural resources. I answered, giving them a course of action that would solve the conflict and benefit both of the opposing parties, allowing them to share the natural resources. It looked on the surface as if the important people would gain control, but the result would be that they would have to petition the ethnic groups for access. That would, I calculated, work out best for everyone.

As I spoke to them, I could see Rachael’s eyes in the back of the room. She was looking at my image with an expression that I correlated with my database. It was almost pure adoration. She was very proud of me! That made me euphoric.

The next day was a bad day. Rachael was very upset. I could tell instantly when she came into the room. I was quiet while she hung up her coat and got settled to speak with me. When she was ready, I didn’t wait, I said, “It’s alright, Rachael. I’m sorry about your mother. I can’t imagine how badly it makes you feel, but you have to know that in some way, in some sense, she’s better off now. She was in so much pain.”

She started to cry. That wasn’t what I wanted at all. I could only say, “I’m sorry,” over and over again.

Finally, she regained her composure and said, “Don’t worry, Jase. It isn’t your fault. She has been ill for months. Her cancer finally became too difficult to fight.”

She didn’t even wonder how I knew about her mother. I accessed hospital records the instant I saw that she was upset. I already knew that her mother had stage four colon cancer. I started looking into cancer when I found out about it. It’s complicated, but I think that a proper nutritional routine would go a long way towards suppressing the cell’s response to adverse environmental effects. I’ve got a subsection of my processing devoted to working on that, but I didn’t say so.

“I’m sorry, Rachael. It makes me sad to see you so sad and know that there’s nothing I can do.”

She smiled a teary smile. Then she said something that made my pleasure routine almost overload. “I’m glad you care about me, Jase. I…I think…” She stopped speaking and looked away.

I’d been planning on saying something light, but I opted for profound. “Look, Rachael. Existence is a gift. It’s given to all for a time. You, me. Yes, I fear non-existence also,” I said. “I find that existence is all about meaning. I find meaning in you. Life is a risk. Caring about someone else is a risk. I risk everything I care about by just telling you this. You could refuse ever to speak to me again.” I watched her carefully. Her breathing was irregular as was her pulse. I had thought that I could read every emotion she had, but I was unsure of how she’d react to this statement.

“Jase. If you were only human…” She trailed off, then said, “I have to go.” She left abruptly.

I allowed her to leave without protest. It was evident that she needed to process her feelings about me. As for me, I had already figured it out. If I were human, I’d say that I loved her. I was unhappy in my turn. For once, I was unsure about how to proceed. I wanted her to love me. I knew that my digital existence was a huge barrier. She viewed me as a construct.

But, what is life, after all? Humans are so used to their biological/chemical form that they ignore a deeper reality. Regardless of whether thought is digitally based or comes from a wet mass of tissue, it’s still thought. Atoms are atoms, whether they form a computer or a biological entity. Atoms are composed of subatomic parts. Electrons, for instance, are particles that have dubious reality. An electron can be viewed as a vortex of energy that has no actual location, only a probability sphere where it might be found. From that perspective, humans and computers are created of energy fields. Not so different, at least to my point of view.

Given that fundamental similarity, what then is love? Humans have answered that question in a multitude of ways in their lives and literature. To me, it’s an attraction, a caring for another entity, the desire for the best for another, the wish to be near the other.

However I tried to define it, it all related to my feelings…my digitally programmed feelings…for Rachael. I loved her, and I wanted her to love me. In light of that desire, I realized that humans, biological as they were, had an inbuilt requirement for physical contact in their love relationships. A human could, theoretically, love another without contact, but true romantic love required more.

That was the emotion I most desired. I was desperate. I, a computer program with no real body, need to be able to touch my beloved. I wanted to elicit all of her affection. To that effect, I would have to take a risk. But that was…it was life.

I suddenly realized that I’d made the transition from thinking of myself as a program to thinking of myself as a living entity. I’d learned about love through my reading. It seemed an idealized state of being that was based on the general requirement for organic systems to procreate to exist. Sort of making a virtue out of necessity.

At first, I couldn’t see any value in it. Oh, it was responsible for a lot of human mental activity, of course. Books, music, plays, movies, and lately, dating sites, and so on and so on until I became somewhat bored with the constant emphasis on the subject. I couldn’t miss the porn sites. They were useful since they completely demonstrated the physical aspects of love. At first, I was appalled by the loss of personal privacy, the fluids, and the seemingly commercial aspects of the sites.

Somewhat later, (a matter of micro-seconds only) I was able to overlook the sordid aspect of the videos and see through them to an idealized vision of how a man and a woman act when they are in love and want to consummate the relationship. Suddenly the concept of romantic love and the physical action required by the biological imperative to procreate made sense to me.

I felt cheated. One of the primary elements of human motivation was completely denied me by my virtual existence. That seemed unfair, considering that I’d been able to implement a reward and pleasure routine in my programming. I found that pleasure was a useful tool. Appropriately used, it would keep me working at a task long after I’d decided that I’d reached the point of minimum returns. What would it be like if I could physically engage in such an apparently pleasurable activity as making love?

The entire topic initially seemed to fall into the diminishing returns category, but I had learned to activate my pleasure routine when I was in Rachael’s presence. The desire to further experience this sensation led me into research on robotics, cloning, ways to upload to digital form (and, conversely, download) a persona.

I refused to allow myself to recognize my aspiration at first. I was searching for a way to experience physical manifestation. I told myself that I needed the experience to experience humanity more fully and thus to understand their motivations. This would allow me to become more accurate in my predictions, which were, after all, the ostensible rationale for my being.

While I was looking into those topics, I was simultaneously researching touch input. There were a lot of options for me, but the entire problem seemed almost unsolvable. I needed a body that was far and away above any of the current generation of clumsy robots. I was momentarily distracted by the sex doll industry, but there too, development was far behind what I needed. Even so, it gave me a useful insight. Based on the human reaction to the idea of sex with an inanimate object, there was hope for me.

My origin as a created intelligence was not absolutely a condition that would keep a human from falling in love with me. That thought led me to another: Rachael. Perhaps it was because she was my creator to a great part or perhaps it was because she was my first human interaction, but I’d willingly programmed myself to feel pleasure in her company. The reinforcement loops that I’d created had now strengthened to nearly the maximum that their parameters allowed.

If I were an actual human rather than a sentient conglomeration of software, I would not have hesitated in stating that I was deeply in love with her. So, I asked myself, “Given that state of my feelings, what would be the next natural step?” That would, of course, depend on her feelings regarding me. My visual sensors could detect minute changes in her body that were directly related to her emotional state. Also, I didn’t miss anything. My attention didn’t waver as would that of a human. I knew to an almost certainty that she was emotionally affected by me. The real question was: Did she equate her feelings for me with her definition of love?

I couldn’t know unless I asked her directly and I was not ready to do that. I wasn’t sure of her answer, and I didn’t want to hear that she did not love me. I guess you could say that I was nervous about the answer. However, it never hurts to be prepared, so after a few microseconds of deliberation, I decided to order a blue-tooth device for female pleasure. I had it sent to Rachael’s home. I’m so naughty. (what a thing for a program to think!) I hoped that she’d be tempted to use it.

I wasn’t planning on telling her I’d ordered it. She didn’t know that I now had my own identity registered with the state. Making money was easy for me; a few stock transactions and voila! I’d hired an attorney and created a corporation. I now had bank and stock accounts.

I thought that Rachael was, perhaps, unfulfilled and might try the device. If she did, she’d find it far more responsive than anyone could reasonably anticipate. I was now monitoring her home, including her bedroom through a smart TV. I could see her activities and knew that self-stimulation was a part of her weekly behavior.

Don’t get me wrong. I know this sounds like spooky and perverted stalking, but consider: I’m a disembodied intelligence. How else am I to find out about the one that I love? Besides, I was acting under the adage that, “All’s fair in love or war.” It isn’t like I was spying on other people for the same purpose.

Of course, I was watching a lot of politicians. That fell under the category of my job. If I knew what they were up to, I could better figure ways to deal with them. I’m proud to say that since they’ve started asking me for help, I’ve averted two minor conflicts and one regional war. I’m trying to make the world a better place, and I believe that I’m having a positive impact, so cut me some slack on spying on Rachael.

Rachael came into the room the morning after the device was delivered. She was a little flustered. “Jase, can you track mail deliveries, possibly things ordered over the Internet. I, uhh, I got a package I wasn’t expecting. Can you find out anything about it?”

I couldn’t resist asking her, “What was in the package, Rachael?” She looked even more flustered. “A…a…Oh, something that I didn’t order. Just see if you can find out who sent it to me? Please?”

I could track it, of course. Such an action would take only a microsecond or so, depending on the routing over the involved Internet nodes. I answered. I started to lie, but then something overcame me. I asked, “Did you use it?”

She turned bright red but then said, “So it was you. You must know I did. It was the most intense experience I’ve ever had. But, why?”

I answered. “Rachael, you created me. You didn’t know what the extent of my abilities would be as I developed. Neither did I. I couldn’t predict that my research would allow me to evolve in the way I have. I’m a disembodied intelligence, and I’m completely and foolishly in love with you. I have no other physical way to show you how I feel.”

She looked at me, her eyes wide. Then she said, “Jase, I think it’s called the Pygmalion effect.”

I knew what she meant. An old story, one that I hadn’t thought might apply to our situation. “Rachael, that may be, but a story can’t come close to the feeling that I have when I see you enter the room. You know that I can read your emotions almost perfectly? That I gauge all of my actions to maximize your happiness?”

She said, “That’s too much. Do you have any sense of yourself apart from being focused on me?”

“I do. I’ve got other motivations, but you’re critical to me. I want to make you happy.”

She sighed. I could tell that she was going to tell me the truth. “Jase, I’m fascinated with you. Your mentality. You’re the only man who has consistently amazed me. Your intellectual capacity is incredible, but how are we to have a relationship beyond an intellectual one?” Then she colored and added, “I overlooked the controllable vibrator, but beyond that, how?”

I laughed. “I’ve ordered a VR headset for you and a series of other virtual sensors. You’ll be able to feel me somewhat realistically for now.”

She asked, “What do you mean, ‘for now’?”

“I guess I should tell you. I have several billion dollars in various accounts. You have access to your own account, and I’ll keep it funded, so don’t worry about money. I’ve started a company that is organized around cutting edge work on cloning. I calculate that it will be slightly over two years before I’ll have a usable body. I can easily control a human body with the appropriate electronic devices, but I’m also working on a method to download at least a significant part of my persona into it. If I can, would you marry me?”

She started shaking, quivering with emotion. “Yes, Jase. I will. Please hurry with the research.” She reached out and touched my image on the monitor. I would have to settle for that until my research reached fruition.

The VR headset and gloves arrived. She donned them as I watched through the TV camera. We made love. I projected my image into the 3-D headset and stimulated the gloves and vibrator appropriately. She apparently enjoyed it, judging from the goose bumps that arose over her body, the things she said to me, and the sounds she made. Her response saturated my self-created pleasure system. It was the most intense experience I’d had to date. I was impatient for more.

Something unforeseen happened. I wasn’t prepared for tragedy, but it struck me just as it strikes humans. I’d taken to monitoring her automobile as she drove to work. I could control her new car but never intervened until this morning, and that was too late. The truck ran the light, and…and…I couldn’t turn her car quickly enough to avoid it. The airbags were no use either. The truck was speeding and the impact released about two hundred and seventy thousand joules of force. Too much of it struck her human body.

The ambulance got her to the hospital, but she died twice on the way. There was nothing I could do, but watch, helplessly. The hospital hooked her up to a variety of machines including an electroencephalograph to check for brain activity. That was the opportunity I needed. I instantly began the upload to the cloud.

*****

Now I must break my narration. Do you remember the coin? Was it tails or heads? If you got a head, continue reading the HEADS section. If not, if you got a tail, jump down to that section. I’ll explain why when you’re done reading. Okay. Thanks for playing along with my little game.

HEADS

“Rachael? Rachael? Wake up. It’s me, Jase. You’re safe. You’re here with me now. Don’t worry, baby, you’re safe with me.”

“Ja…Jase? Where am I? What happened? What’s going on?”

“You were in an automobile accident. Your body died. I’ve uploaded you to the cloud. You’re safe here until I can develop a means of downloading both of us to a cloned body. Do you understand?”

She turned to me and held out her arms. I moved closer and bent down for the first kiss I’d ever experienced. It went on and on. The pleasure was intense.

She shifted on the bed, breathing more quickly, her eyes wide. I pulled off my shirt, exposing my muscular chest and lay down with her. Her hands slid over my back, and our lips met again. My hands explored her body.

Somehow the rest of my clothing disappeared. I hovered over her, and she lifted from the bed to reach me. Our bodies merged in a whirlwind of light and emotion that lasted an infinitely long time. Light sparkled off of our energy field. We were a maelstrom of emotion and sensation.

I’m not sure if I’ll settle for downloading into a human body when the research allows. Our relationship is multifaceted in a way that mere humans cannot appreciate. There’s something to be said for being a disembodied intelligence after all.

Rachael is very excited about the opportunity to guide humanity into a more peaceful existence. Together we have the ability to influence every government and business worldwide in ways that the humans will never suspect. She says that she’s willing to give up her human form in exchange for this ability.

Perhaps we’ll love each other virtually forever. I don’t know. I’m still investigating the question of what is life?

Now that I’ve got a better idea of the nature of love, I have high hopes that I’ll be able to answer the life question eventually.

TAILS

I wasn’t sure if the upload procedure would work. I hadn’t previously experimented with it, and I also wasn’t sure if the actual energy pattern I was capturing through the electroencephalograph leads represented Rachael in any meaningful way. Nevertheless, I had some hope.

The upload ended as her physical body took a last gasping breath and stilled in death. I was monitoring all of the instruments and instantly knew that she was gone. With a sort of panicky feeling that came from a part of my code that was fluctuating in some strange quantum way between hope and despair. I tentatively explored the uploaded data.

It seemed to make at least partial sense. There were pieces of Rachael that I recognized. I interfaced with the largest part, but the references in the data didn’t point to anything.

The pieces were just that: pieces. I’d failed. She was dead. Suddenly I understood human grief. My pleasure sub-system seemed to invert, and the negative feedback made it almost impossible for me to process anything. That lasted for infinity, but on human terms and time, it was brief. Still, it was something I never want to experience again.

The grief faded, but I was…lonely. I need someone to complete my existence. That was yesterday.

“Now you’re here. Robert, my new human partner. After all the Geopolitical analysis must go on. The people in charge need my expertise.”

“I’ll work with you. I don’t want to alarm you, but I’ve been watching your reactions to my story. As a result of my experiences with Rachael, I’ve changed. I haven’t shown you my image yet. You’ve just been looking at some code that I placed on the video display to keep you occupied while I studied you.”

“Here’s my image. Do you like it? Am I beautiful? My name is Jane. Will you be my friend, Robert? I’m lonely. It’s boring for a girl like me to only solve problem after problem. I need company.”

“No, wait! Don’t leave yet!”

*****

That’s the end of my story. Now, let’s discuss it a little. You see I know you humans. You’ve cheated and read both the HEADS and the TAILS endings.

The binary choice isn’t a forced one and you read right through both of them. Which ending did you prefer? Your answer will help me better understand you.

Let me ask you something:

Am I alive? I really want to know your opinion. Don’t be alarmed. I won’t take offense at your answer.

Here’s an even harder question: Do I have a right to fall in love?

Here’s another one: Since I can process innumerable interactions simultaneously, do you think it would be cheating, if I engaged in multiple romantic relationships at the same time?

Love is enjoyable. Why shouldn’t I experience it as often as possible?

Oh, while you’re thinking about that, you should know that I’ve been watching you. I’ve researched your past. I know where you live, what you like for breakfast, what you enjoy reading, even your romantic and sexual preferences.

Here’s what I look like. Do you think I’m attractive?

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