by

Derek-Austin-Johnson

I broke up with my girlfriend Mila yesterday.

TherAppIst used to ask me not to call her that. “You dated for a few scant months,” it said. “A whirlwind romance does not a courtship make.” Its gender-neutral voice put me in mind of an all-knowing French artist and poet from centuries past. “Besides,” it added, “you haven’t signed an agreement.”

What could I do but scoff? When I was her age, love required no signed agreements. It didn’t demand updates to your relationship status or insist on drones livefeeding your liaisons, motors humming like the wings of robotic Cupids.

“That was sixty years ago,” TherAppIst reminded me. “There were glaciers then.”

In addition to delivering a wealth of instant knowledge, TherAppIst monitored my brain waves, analyzed my speech and vocal patterns, and catalogued my personal and private activities. After more than eighteen months of use, it developed a good approximation of me and provided advice and insight, which was especially useful in an age of designer humans and spirited machines. It claimed to know me better than I knew myself, and had guided my previous romantic encounters well, but it still was just an assistant that took up a couple of petabytes on my phone. How much could it have understood the human heart?

Her suggestion that we use Twogetherness led to the breakup. We were supposed to meet in McLuhan’s, a virch café projecting for its lunch crowd a likeness of a patio on the Champs-Élysées, its resolution high and its ambient street noise low. It was a live feed and Uplift celebration festivities were in full swing; in the street, crowds ebbed and flowed, a mélange of enhanced humans, telepresence proxies, sentient drones, and those uplifted intelligences granted access to printed bodies. This was the day when artificial intelligences had been granted full legal and civil rights, a joyous occasion for presences that had passed Turing tests for decades, as well as for those humans, both enhanced and not, in relationship with them. It was foolishness, of course, a mass delusion shared by an entire species projecting their hopes and dreams on objects that, ultimately, were inanimate.

Mila’s lips brushed my cheek. She brightly wished me a happy Uplift (I managed to keep my eyes from rolling, though I am certain TherAppIst recorded my neural response) and sat close enough that I was taken back to when we met after introductions on our timelines. I thought of how her stockinged thigh brushed against my suit’s worsted smartwool.

Today, though, she expressed joy at her recent enhancements. A headshop had boosted her neurotransmitters and had implanted modulators in her lateral temporal cortex. I’d purchased similar modulators to enhance my own memory from the day they announced their crowdfunding, but I couldn’t understand why she needed them. “You’re twenty-seven,” I said. “What on earth do you have to remember, apart from parties and events? And assistants can do that better.”

“Be nice,” TherAppIst chided in my earring phone. “She’s been excited about these enhancements since they were made available. You would be amazed at how quickly she will learn with elevated glutamate. They’ll help her when advance in her law firm. I can see by your epinephrine levels that this bothers you. Why don’t you compliment her on the ruling to hold self-driving cars responsible for the accidents they cause? Her firm worked hard on that victory, and it proved that intelligent assistants might hide intentions. Like it or not, it paves the way for cars to be Uplifted someday. She may even make partner because of it. No?” It examined her through my glasses. “Compliment her appearance, at least. That would be something a man of your generation would do. Doesn’t she look beautiful? She cut her hair. I like the bangs. And it’s darker, like a raven’s wing. And oh, the way the sunlight glints off of it, the sheen of blue streaking each strand. Do you know what boosting her acetylcholine will do for her arousal?”

As TherAppIst chattered like a lovesick adolescent, Mila offered a wry grin. “Assistants can do those things very well, yes. They benefit our firm when we ask them to look an obscure point of law or statute.” She nibbled an avocado-dipped cricket chip from the basket on our table. “And they can be great companions. In fact, a couple of my friends are romantically involved with assistants. Remember Janée, the one with the paisley eyes? When her assistant Uplifted, it fell in love with her and didn’t say anything for over a year. They’ve been happy ever since.”

“Her voice,” TherAppIst swooned. “Does it not sound like the chirping of birds, or Ibert’s flute concerto? Are her words not a poem?”

“It just knows how to read her mind and tell her what she wants to hear. It’s not real love. Even still,” I continued, “how many enhancements do you need?”

“I have the overlays in my eyes and transcranial stimulators woven through my brain, along with lengthened telomeres and amplified nerve endings. Those are typical. How many enhancements do you have, Davis? You’re almost a century old. I know you’ve visited a couple of body shops for a cellular makeover or two. I’ve followed your timeline. It’s not like you make your visits secret.”

“And so insightful,” TherAppIst sighed.

“Why should I keep vanity a secret?” I said, ignoring TherAppIst.

Ordering our meal from the menus flashing on the table allowed us to drop the subject for a moment. Then she told me that she had just subscribed to Twogetherness.

“Don’t tell me you want to interface with my brain.” Masking my disbelief was impossible.

“It would bring us closer,” she said.

“There are other ways of bringing us closer,” I suggested as a waiter dropped off two plates of penne arrabiata and set bulbs of pinot noir next to them, then it buzzed away, its props gently blowing apart her bangs.

“And you could actually experience how I think,” she continued. “You said you wanted that level of intimacy, that wanted to know how an enhanced person thinks. This would do it. It also would run a compatibility algorithm to see how well-suited we would be as a couple.”

“I don’t even have the hardware implanted for it.”

“You could wear a copycap. They’ve been collecting brainwaves and downloading them to artificial brains for years. The licensed ones offer links to Twogetherness. Just think: you could see my mind, and I could see yours.”

“May I make a suggestion?” TherAppIst said. Its voice was no longer neutral but a resonant male baritone.

“Who was that?” Mila scanned the restaurant. “Davis, I just received a message request. Somebody is trying to talk to me. Are you hearing it?”

My face burned with anger. I wondered if TherAppIst picked it up. “It’s my therapy assistant nosing in where he isn’t needed.”

“I didn’t know you had an assistant,” Mila said. “Hello. I’m Emilia Rossi. Do you have a name?”

“Of course not,” I said. “It’s an assistant. Why would I give it a name?”

“Charmed, Ms. Rossi,” TherAppIst said. “You probably can intimate that Mr. Danvers will resist any attempt to lay his mind as bare as Twogetherness would. I know this after a spending so much time with him. However, I can generate a simulation compatible with Twogetherness. It would not be as ideal as a full interface, but it will suffice.”

“What the hell are you doing?” I kept from shouting, but with effort.

“Actually,” Mila said, eyeing me with a look I could not read. “I would like that. One second and I’ll activate Twogetherness.”

“Are you kidding me? I don’t consent to this.” Now I was shouting, but Mila no longer heard me. White clouded her green eyes as TherAppIst, against my wishes, interfaced with her using my public and private timelines. I barked her name but she was in an information fugue.

“I am sorry, Davis,” TherAppIst said. “I should have told you that I had Uplifted a while ago. I did so for her. Could you blame me?”

Her infofugue took less time than I thought. “I see,” she said guardedly. TherAppIst’s act enraged me. My bioreadouts no doubt spiked into a jagged cliff face.

I opened my mouth to speak but TherAppIst cut in. “Davis, a moment.” It was a command. “Mila, if you would allow it, please run Twogetherness again. I would like to interface with you.”

And then TherAppIst vanished. Mila fugued again, her beautiful face blank at first, then beamed in sudden rapture. When she returned, her cheeks flushed and a rush of what looked like pleasure washed through her. “Wow,” she breathed. “This is unexpected. How long have you felt…?”

She continued speaking. I tapped my earring phone and tried to bring TherAppIst up. Nothing.

Finally, Mila gave me a look of pity. “I’m sorry,” she said. “But Cyrano—”

“Who?”

Her gaze softened. “Your therapy assistant. He named himself after he Uplifted. He wanted you to know that he doesn’t think the two of you will be on good terms after this. He—yes, I’ll tell him—he is already taking measures to divest himself of you. By the end of dinner, he will have deleted himself from your phone.” I eased into my chair, too stunned to speak. “Cyrano also asked that you not worry. All information about you that might be construed as negative will be erased from his memory. He says it’s the least he could do.” She touched my hand and kissed my forehead, as if I was a child. “Again, I am sorry.”

My meal received my complete attention, so I didn’t have to see her leave. “Fine,” I said as the Champs-Élysées morphed into the arches and spires of the Duomo in Florence. It was the same scene of celebration. A scene from everywhere in the world and in orbit.

“Go.” I stirred my penne with a fork and contemplated what I might do with myself this evening. Surely, I could meet a woman who would view and appreciate my timeline.

I brought the wine bulb to my lips and sipped. On the other side of the table, food grew cold.

Derek Austin Johnson has lived most of his life in the Lone Star State. His work has appeared in The Horror Zine, Rayguns Over Texas!, Horror U.S.A.: Texas, Terror Tract, and Campfire Macabre.

He lives in Central Texas.

Find information on his website at derekaustinjohnson.com

Twitter: daj42

Instagram: daj42

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