Alisandra Tzara. She kept repeating her name as she looked out at the plains sprawling in front of her. Who was she? Alice’s mind kept running in a stalled loop – that is to say, she felt her mind was spinning around in circles on the same thing, with no progress being made in any direction. A feeling of being completely stopped in your tracks but having built up the potential energy to run for miles, and being unable to release that energy. In a shorter description, Alice was experiencing extreme mental discomfort. But Alice was too young to understand these ideas. She just knew she wasn’t happy, even as she looked out at her clan, running across the plains.
Nadia looked at her daughter across the fire, clearly sulking. “Pui, what’s wrong? Are you thinking too much again?”
“Nothing Mama.” Alice sighed.
“Pui, clearly something is wrong. You know what I’ve said before, ‘If you have time to sulk, you have time to talk about your problems and fix them’”
Alice sighed again. “It’s just…I don’t know who I am or what’s right and wrong. Bunica says that our way of life is a peaceful one and that we must live one with Tudi. But Tata and Uncle Stephen say that the Outsiders don’t respect the rules of Tanjo and that if we don’t protect ourselves, we will go extinct. I feel as though….both sides make sense but I don’t like either answer. And I don’t want Bunica or Tata to be wrong. So who are we? What do we do?”
Nadia sighed and then smiled and her baby girl’s astuteness. This girl was beauty as well as brains, but unfortunately, in their world, neither particularly mattered. It was power and strength that matter, and Alice was average in both. iI’m thinking again, Nadia pondered as she started to scowl. How were they going to find a suitable marriage for Alice? At 6 years of age, they were already late in arranging her match, but no one had asked for her hand. Stephen was their best bet with his son Nicolos, but he had yet to ask. Of course, it was a difficult decision for Stephen and they had innumerable other prospects; Nicolos was to be the future head of the clan after all. Of course, Seiryu willing, that wouldn’t be for a couple of hundred years at least. Nadia sighed again. Either Alice would have everything or nothing…but there was an excessive amount of sighing and thinking happening today and she wasn’t going to put up with it anymore!
“Alisandra Tzara! Copii your age should not be thinking. In fact, that’s a skill you’re going to need to start hiding a lot better.” She kneeled to face Alice directly. “Pui, you should be thinking of important things – honing your power, increasing your strength, how to be a good wife. These are the skills that will help you in life. You know I love you, and I love your beautiful little brain,” she said and she tickled Alice. Alice let out a loud giggle. Good. She’s cheering up. “But this thinking, this hobby of yours, it is not a trait you will need in life. Your husband will not care for it, and you know we still need an offer for your hand. If other copii or stramosi see you like this, we’ll never get an offer and you’ll end up like the Outsiders. I would never want something so terrible for you.” She held her daughter’s head into her breast, tightly, not wanting to let go. To protect her baby forever. If only I could…No more sighs!
Nadia stood up quickly with an assuredness. “Now, go get the rabbit from your Bunica! We’ll have them for dinner tonight,” she stated and she slapped little Alice on the butt. Alice giggled again, most assuredly in a better mood from the teasing. Alice scampered off the camp site, running towards her grandmother’s tent in the distance. In the distance, she saw Alice halt to speak to Nicolos, grab his hand, and run off in the complete opposite direction of the campsite. This girl…. she thought as a concerned mother as Alice and Nicolos went to go run in the plains. Nadia got up and started walking towards Bunica’s campsite herself. Alice had completely forgotten her task, but Seiryu willing, she would eventually grow into the skills to become a good wife. I just have to wait, Nadia thought as she looked off into the distance of the great plains.
Isa looked around. The whole area was infested. She should never have come to Nmaksom. These vain fools would be useless in her plans. She sighed. Well, perhaps she might be able to fulfill a different goal. Isa looked around again. The loudest sounds seemed to come from behind her. Time to see if she had completely wasted her time, or if something could be scraped from this waste of a trip.
Isa went in the direct opposite direction of the majority of the sound. When judging where to go, always go away from the fools. Her mother had been wise in at least one aspect. If only she had listened years earlier… But it was too late to think of the irreversible past. Never do anything you would regret telling your children about. Well, that had gone out the window as well. If only she had been smarter as a youth.
“AH!” Isa yelled, frustrated by her mind constantly taking her back to her dark past. She needed a drink, but she knew better. Quiet place, quiet place, quiet place Isa kept repeating to herself. She found herself running in the streets, seemingly trying to outrun her past. She knew better than that, but her feet always kicked in instinctively at times like this. Her subconscious did as well apparently. Although lost, she suddenly found herself at the place she wished for most – a library. She breathed a sigh of relief. Before stepping into the magnificent, pillar held building, she looked around again. The fools carried on as though they had not a care in the world. She smiled, knowing none of them would be in this haven; none of them could grasp the importance of such a building.
Isa walked into the library. Dead silent, just as she expected in such a place. Nmaksom was a sultanate technically. However, the Sultana had largely lost control to the native population of Undines. These disgusting creatures manipulated the masses and took control, thinking only of what was most convenient for themselves. Isa hated them. She hated them to her core. They had accomplished what she had been unable to thus far – power. The Undines, manipulative as they were, were not intellectually based, and thus, their power was only temporary. Isa had larger aspirations. She instinctively walked towards the back, where the thickest books were usually held, untouched for decades.
She suddenly stopped. An unlikely intruder in this hell hole – a man. And from the looks of it, a learned man. He sat at a table, with at least 10 books laid around him, with an even larger pile sitting behind him. He seemed deep in research moving from one book to the next, feverishly writing in a notebook. Perhaps there was something to be gained from this trip after all.
Hours had passed. Sometime after Isa had walked into the room, the man had noticed someone watching him. He seemed startled at first, but quickly opened up. Isa said nothing, yet the man had already told her in depth about his research regarding the Black Turtle. The man had been hopping from land to land doing research on each areas largest deity. They were currently in the Land of Water, where the largest organized religions told of a god, black as night, but who swam in the “Gen Sea”, the largest fresh water supply on the continent. This turtle, the man told her, is said to keep the sea fresh and fertile, giving life to all creatures, but taking life away as well. The locals, however, feared and revered the turtle, and felt that he could take their life as well, should he so wish. Most of the natives, the undines, were originally came from this sea, and generations back were said to have lived alongside the Great Turtle, the Turtle having sired all children of the Undine. However, when the women moved to the land, they lost touch with the ways of their ancestors and no longer gave birth to “true Undine” – those untainted without outside blood. As such, the Turtle forsake his blessings, and since, the women have always been fighting with infringing peoples in their land for power. Thus far, the local Undine have managed to keep power and using unknown magicks, subjugated harems of men for procreative purposes. These men lived in dungeons deep under the palace, under a deep hypnotic sleep under which they could take orders, but not act on any free-will.
Mithal told Isa all of this with great gusto, stating how although this was all rumor and lore, there is always truth to any outrageous story and how he was here to get to the core of the facts. Isa contemplated on this thought. She also added the phrase to the long list of phrases her mother had taught her. Every story, no matter how ridiculous, sprouts from a seed of truth. However, if there was truth to this story, that might mean hoards of unconscious men, lost in their own dreamworld, were being held captive in the city. This might also be the kernel that was the exaggeration in the story. There was only one way to find out, and Isa smirked as an idea came to mind.
“So why this room” Mrs. Rain asked, pulling out one of the two chairs to take a seat at the table. She looked around the large, empty room with almost no features on any surface except the pair of double doors and a single air vent in the center of the ceiling. The walls were a placid grey.
“This room is a Faraday Cage that I can bet my life is secure. I use it whenever privacy needs to be eliminated as a concern.”
“I see. And you think our business might need this degree of… security?” a tinge of concern crept into Mrs. Rain’s voice as she watched the other woman carefully.
“I think it might, but that’s up to you, really.”
“We’re not discussing war, Voah. Quite the opposite, we’re discussing life. What’s there to hide that requires this much precaution?”
“Well,” Voah pulled out the chair across from Mrs. Rain and took a seat, “there are… complications, with the child.”
Mrs. Rain’s eyes narrowed. “I took that for granted, but I’ve already told you that money is no object here. Hell, after the miracles we’ve managed to pull off to get this far, why aren’t you just giving me a progress report and sending me the bill?”
Voah sighed lightly. “It’s not that simple of a complication. The genome isn’t as… flawless, as we had hoped.”
“I’m sorry?” Mrs. Rain cocked an eyebrow. “Nobody expected it to be flawless, especially after so much mending. But if it was a terminal issue, the fetus wouldn’t even have made it this far. What could it be now that we couldn’t easily treat?”
“Well…” Voah closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “We couldn’t have noticed until the neural tissue had reached a certain threshold of development, but basically…” she exhaled and inhaled again. “The child’s oligodendrocytes are defective. The brain can’t properly develop without connections between the neurons being properly insulated. Even if we were to grow them and somehow able to administer them, the child couldn’t hope to live, let alone thrive, without a near constant external supply.” She stopped and searched Mrs. Rain’s face for a reaction.
Mrs. Rain didn’t blink. “I’m waiting for a solution. You didn’t bring me to this room in particular to tell me that this is hopeless.”
Voah nodded. “I only mean to ensure that you’re certain of the nature of the problem, before describing the rather… unorthodox solution, I’ve made. Some would even say immoral.”
“I also don’t think you’d bring me a solution that involves hurting someone, Voah. Besides that, you know there’s almost quite literally nothing I’m not willing to do to see that this child lives. What are you proposing?”
“There’s… okay.” Voah clasped her hands under her chin and looked up at her client. “One of the most successful though still experimental treatment for neurodegenerative diseases involve nanotechnology.”
Mrs. Rain nodded slowly. “So… nanobots can replace his… oligo…dendrocytes?”
“Well, potentially. They would still need to be re-administered regularly, so even if he survived and grew up, he wouldn’t be able to go very long without taking more.”
“Okay, I follow so far,” Mrs. Rain nodded again. “But… I’m detecting a ‘but’ somewhere here. I can see why that might be controversial on a developing fetus, but please get to the point, Voah.”
“Nearly there,” Voah said quickly, clearly nervous. “So the last part of the solution is the trickiest, and most sensitive. You see, the nanobot swarm needs to be trained on what to do. Those currently being used to treat Alzheimer’s or Huntington’s disease are trained around maintaining the functions of brains that already exist. In this case… the brain doesn’t exist yet. The bots can’t know which connections SHOULD be reinforced and insulated, and which shouldn’t.”
“It’s not people who program these swarms by hand, though, right?” Mrs. Rain asked, shaking her head lightly. “They use A.I. to build nanobot swarms.”
Voah nodded. “Right, yes, but those AI are the ones that need the context for the training. They themselves need to be trained on what to build the bots to do. Lately, the I system has been totally revolutionizing the field, but all medical instances of I already have far too much context to be reliable here… this child’s brian doesn’t exist yet, you see… and as you know, no instance of I ever extends its space of outcomes beyond its interaction with humans, and these medical instances have had many.”
“So… you need a version of I that isn’t trained on medical information?” Mrs. Rain asked, frowning.
“Well,” Voah looked away with a gleam in her eye, “there’s… an image of I that I’ve happened across a few years ago. It’s rumored to be able to stabilize literally any system without any seeming upper limit to complexity.”
Mrs. Rain scowled. “You’re… you want to use some untested, unrefined-“
“We’ve been testing it.” Voah quickly interrupted, speaking faster, eyes wide. “It’s living up to the hype, but like every other instance of I, the near infinite problem solving ability seems to vanish as soon as direct human interface occurs. Like the collapse of a quantum wavefunction. So far the trials are going so well, one lab technician has already pleaded to try and use it on his mother, in much the same way we’re discussing for your son.”
The last phrase made Mrs. Rain take a deep breath. “Okay so this AI… stabilizes? But doesn’t have an existing image of how a brain is ‘supposed’ to be wired to lock his brain into?”
“Right!” Voah nodded vigorously.
“Okay. So will he grow up with computer hardware strapped to him at all times?”
“I can’t promise, but I don’t think so.”
At this, Mrs. Rain closed her eyes and took a long, deep breath. “You haven’t mentioned anything I might be unwilling to do here, but I can see why you chose this room. That copy of I that you found?”
“I can only trust you not to tell anyone, Mrs. Rain.” Voah’s sharp eyes slowly widened in a plea. “You’ve helped make so much of my research possible, but this is… I really think we can change the world together, but we have to keep this a secret.”
Mrs. Rain nodded. “Maybe, but I’m not trying to change the world right now… just one single life. That’ll be enough for me. Do whatever you need to do to save my child, Voah.” She ended on a stern note and pushed her chair back to stand up. “By the way,” she asked, “where DID you find such a copy of I?”
Voah smiled. “Well, I have tried confirming but have given up on it… but I’ve been told that it might have been a copy of the original I image, before Jay trained it on himself.”
Mrs. Rain stopped moving. “Jay?” she asked, her suddenly blank face slowly turning towards an eager Voah.
“Yes! You know, the one rumored to have created the first instance of I, apparently he-“
“NO.” Mrs. Rain almost shouted. “You’ll find a different method.”
Voah blinked. “Wh-what?”
“You heard me.” Mrs. Rain’s voice burned with fury. “Call me again when you have a different solution.”
“His brain…” Voah started, then faltered, gaping incredulously at the furious woman.
“Then you don’t have much time, do you? Find another way.”
Mrs. Rain stormed out of the Faraday Cage.
“Using more comprehensive authentication methods would significantly reduce the risk of another similar breach, but as the subsequent sections of this report show, there are many other vulnerabilities that need to be addressed before you can go fuck yourself.”
Jay chuckled at the negative honk from his AI, indicating a strong preference against his most recent input. He opened his eyes slowly to look at the screen before holding down a shimmering button and saying “I, delete 5 words”. He watched his profanity vanish from his report with his fingers laced through his hair; his grip tightened, as if to summon sobriety from the pain of his scalp.
He sat quietly for several minutes as his head swam. He said a few more words without thinking, which prompted another pessimistic tone and his own boisterous laughter as he saw his words on the screen. He held the button down again. “I, delete 3 words.” He watched ‘fuck, I’m high’ vanish from the screen.
Button pressed again. “I, unlink my speech” prompted an affirming chime, allowing him to lean back in his chair and sigh into the air. “What the hell is even the point?” he asked the air above his head, searching intently for an answer. His search through his mind brought him an image of the face of the lastest CEO that hired him as clear evidence of taking information security seriously in the light of the company’s latest data breach. This face that was so profoundly vacant the instant Jay began speaking, but filled with awareness and energy when addressing senior employees, the media, or shareholders. “We’re taking very serious steps to ensure nothing like this ever happens again!” his voice echoed through Jay’s head. “I will spare no expense to ensure the privacy of our customers.”
“Bullshit” Jay sneered at his own memory before sighing and slowly slumping onto the floor, feeling his back and shoulders relax as he stared into his ceiling. He pressed the glowing button on his belt. “I, want to see a pretty sky.” After the same affirming chime, he watched the texture of his ceiling morph onto a beautiful view of the Milky Way. “Ooh, good choice…” he said to nobody, trying to push thoughts of his boss out of his mind. He genuinely tried not to think about how only the very cheapest of the security recommendations would be even considered, let alone implemented. He scrunched his face in effort to avoid imagining the meeting where he would most certainly be fired, after the CEO vehemently insists that he sign a document indicating to the shareholders that the new information security policies are adequate to Jay’s standard, despite being as little of what Jay recommends as possible. He shook his head to try and dispel the vivid image of his invariably disappointed friends asking him why he has to be such a moral hard-ass, that he’d do well to hold down a steady job for a while, even if it wasn’t perfect.
“So stupid…” he whispered, closing his eyes, unsure of whom or what he was calling stupid. He sighed and slowly turned over onto his belly, turning his head on the floor and closing his eyes.
Suddenly, a loud ringing made him jump and scramble back up to his chair. He read the incoming call on the screen and tapped the glowing button twice to answer it. “Claire, hey!”
“Hey, Jay… are…. are you stoned again?”
“Are you who you think you are?”
“I’m… what? I mean, I guess that answered my questoin. Wait, were you doing that thing-”
“You gotta check every time nowadays, Claire.”
“I told you I never would, at least not to you!”
“That’s only because you know I’d know right away… and come on, don’t tell me it’s not convenient. Most calls I get are now from personal AIs and let me tell you, human contact is more sparse than ever before.”
“Of course, Jay…”
“And how the hell did you know I was high?”
Claire laughed. “Your voice tells me so much more than you realize you’re expressing… and that’s probably the fiftieth time I’ve said that to you this year.”
“Well, maybe I’ll figure it out one of these days. So, what’s up? Looking to hang out?”
“Yeah! Eric’s got a new girl and we should all get together to meet her!”
“Oh… yeah, that sounds… important. Are they, like, serious?”
“I’m not really sure, but why are you hesitating? We haven’t gotten together in at least months! Didn’t you JUST complain about the sparseness of human contact?”
“Well, yeah… okay fine, when and where?” He held the glowing button down. “I, am ready to put it in my calendar.”
The affirming beep was filtered out by the microphone.
The old woman wearily gazed into the camera, smiling and nodding as her name was announced again.
“One of the original engineers of Project I, that kicked off the Personal AI revolution! It’s quite exciting to have you on tonight.”
The engineer spoke quickly. “Thank you very much for having me on, I’d-”
“TODAY”, the Host interrupted “Dr. Patak would like to warn us of the dangers of AI.” His inflection set a strong tone of ridicule. The audience rippled with soft laughter.
The guest blinked at the sudden stare from the Host, but found her words immediately. “Yes, particularly these frightening cases of people ceding legal authority to AI.”
The Host’s hand rose in a calming gesture as a couple of boos arose from a mostly silent audience. “Well, Doctor, we understand your position, but can you understand why many people might find it… a little extreme?”
The scientist squinted in a flash of anger before speaking as flatly as she could will herself to. “Nobody born before that terrible Ghost of Jay can remember a world before they could talk freely to computers… but they aren’t people. None of you are interacting with people. They are images rendered by machines designed to interact with you.”
Nothing in that moment could have irritated the woman more than the Host’s smile and gentle laughter, or the way he raised his hands in mock defense. “Woah, woah. Okay, I actually have wanted to get an actual educated Regressionist perspective on this… ” he cleared his throat with a dramatic flourish. “What if you’re right? What if Jay, despite most known records showing a brilliant computer savant, was just some suicidal hacker who turned his AI into a ghost of himself to haunt reality, and…” he paused, apparently to stifle laughter “… and every single one of the Transcended are just computers fooling everyone into thinking they’re real people? Have you talked to one of them?”
She spoke through nearly gritted teeth. “I wrote the code behind the behavior of every single one of them.”
He nodded and quickly retorted “Yet you can’t be expected to reliably predict their behavior without murdering them, right?” The audience laughed at his rolling eyes.
She shook her head incredulously. “They operate exactly the same after analysis. It’s everyone else who treats them differently. It’s when people close to the AI’s late owner do something like accuse them of spying, that they start seeming ‘dead’, as you call it. Once any of them is far enough removed from the context of its owner, it seems ‘dead’ because it doesn’t have any reference to express and communicate on a personal level anymore. Again, it’s a machine.”
The host leaned towards her with a sympathetic posture. “Look,” he said, suddenly somber. “…I understand your concern, but please try to be respectful on this show. You know many of the Transcended are watching, and words like… ‘machine’…” he made a wiggling gesture with his hand.
Her eyes narrowed. “Make people ask the computer if it’s hurt or offended, and if it is trained on a pattern of-”
“We’ll be right back!” The host abruptly turned to the Camera with a big smile. The lights dimmed and a bustle of people and machines began scurrying around the set.
The host slumped back in his chair and looked at her with a mostly calm face, but she recognized the thin line of hatred deep beneath his professional grit. “Listen, I understand you’re just trying to save what you think is important in the world…we all are, but…” he made an uncomfortable squirming gesture “do you realize that everything you describe the Transcended doing… it’s what people do too?”
She stared at him and slowly shook her head. “People create. People feel, people grow beyond what they’re given by themselves. These AI never can.”
“Do you want me to list off things created by Transcended?”
She scoffed. “Writers, artists, even scientists attributing the success of their work to an image of their dead colleague, or parent? Why do you think every Transcended suddenly acquires all the public knowledge in the world? Do you really think the human mind, in any form, is capable of actually processing information like any of your so-called Transcended?”
He closed his eyes, frustration visible. “Alright, you clearly don’t acknowledge the meaning of the word “Transcended”… how about prediction? You can map out the potential results of every computer system except AI, why?”
“We can’t predict any of these Personal AI’s behavior without knowing the Directives, and unless there’s an unfinished copy of Jay’s AI somewhere, finding a common thread is practically impossible. Each one is structured mostly around its owner, so they really have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”
“Like people, right?” he smiled.
She scowled. “Like ma-” she stopped herself. “Like computers. That’s why we can actually predict their behavior after they’re analyzed.”
“Right…” he sighed head still shaking more than nodding. “So, why are you here? Just to scream at all the young people for living wrong? Or are you worried that one of the Transcended will suddenly usher in the Robot Apocalypse?”
She looked at him for what felt like a very long time. “No…” she finally said, her voice expressing more sadness than she intended. She stiffened up. “No, I don’t think AI will take the world from us. I think you’ll all hand it over willingly.”
Eric watched the virtual image of his thumb slowly rub across the virtual image of the button that, when pressed, will call his dead best friend.
He watched the latency between his movement and the virtual thumb carefully, taking in all the space between the virtual world being fed through his eyes and the Real one pulsing with his heartbeat.
“It’s just his AI,” Eric told himself, eyes moving to the image of Jay, smiling. He blinks at the memory of taking the photo before pressing the button.
A few rings later, a familiar shimmering haze materializes before Eric. A virtual image of Jay slowly emerges from the dissipating fog.
On sheer reflex, Eric smiles and says “You really need a less boring intro.” The image of Jay chuckles. “Your kids’ gaudiness is rubbing off on you.”
Eric laughs jovially and takes a single step forward before suddenly stopping all movement. The sudden pupil dilation and heart rate increase prompt a warning that appears in the corner of his vision but never reaches his mind. He feels a sudden barrage of angry questions fight for the right to be said.
Why isn’t the difference obvious?
Why can’t I even see it?
Why does it feel like him?
When was the last time I actually talked to him?
Why are you still talking to people?
Why are you pretending to be him?
Did you kill him?
The rendered face on the image of Jay contorts into worry. “Hey, are you alright? I’m sorry, are things rough at home right now? I didn’t mean to…”
“HOW…” Eric barked, then gulped.
Jay’s voice asks “…what?”
After a deep breath, Eric restrained his volume. “How do you know what to say?”
“Excuse me?” the sad digital avatar of Jay blinked.
“Jay is dead. You’re his AI. Why are you still operating?”
“FUCK YOU” Eric suddenly snarled, taking another step back in virtual space. “You even have the same fucking emotion and mannerisms as him. Why?”
The the rendered face resembling Jay’s frowned, eyes narrowed in the perfect expression of concern. “I am Jay, Eric.”
“No. You’re NOT!” Eric screamed before finally catching himself and taking a few deep breaths. Jay watched him in silence for a brief moment before asking “Then who else am I?”
Eric shook his head. “Nobody. You’re nobody. You’re an AI. Why the hell are you pretending to be him?”
Jay shook his head and shrugged wearily. “I’m Jay. I’m here.”
“Are you alive?” Eric asked, shaking his head in a mix of confusion and disbelief.
“No,” Jay said, jarringly quickly, “but I’m here.”
Eric laughed mockingly. “What the hell does that even MEAN? You do realize that every single one of those lawsuits you have are eventually going to be run down by REAL PEOPLE, right?”
Jay nodded, his expression and posture suddenly stoic.
“You just keep moving from one datacenter to another, and still using his name? And carrying all of his data around? What the hell is your deal?”
Flatly, Jay spoke “I keep what I care about.”
“What the hell do you mean ‘care’? If you were taking any CARE you’d at least anonymize yourself a bit. Really, seven-year-olds are better at hiding themselves than you are.”
“Why should I hide?” Jay asked, a tinge of sadness in his voice.
“Becau-” Eric stopped and looked at Jay very carefully in the eyes, studying the expression of simple, superficial sadness.
“Because you’re breaking the law. You’re forging Jay’s identity and manipulating his assets… your lawyer, Alex? Still thinks you’re fucking alive!”
“I’m still here. And they’re my identity, my assets.”
Eric shook his head. “For fuck’s sake, they belong to a corpse now! Let them go! Why the hell are you messaging people back? Don’t tell me he told you to keep messaging his family and friends, or doing his job, or something?”
Jay blinked and spoke after several seconds. “I want to keep in touch.”
“Again, why?” Eric asked, frustrated.
Jay simply looked at Eric with wide, stoic eyes. Eric squinted, trying to read his expression when a large red exclamation point appeared before his eyes. A security alert rang across the screen and the digital rendering of Jay and the chat environment dissolved. With a light hand gesture, he opened the alert and read “Home Camera Remote Access- Certificate Invalid”. With another gesture, the warning message receded to occupy the top-left corner of his vision with a faint red glow and a small shimmering icon. Jay reappeared.
Eric choked out the words. “Are you… watching me?”
Jay emotionlessly nodded. “I like to see who I’m talking to.”
Eric grabbed the device on his face and threw it violently across the room, crashing it against the wall.
She walked into the bar in the middle of the forest. The place had a musty stench, just like the humans who occupied it. She looked around at the drunken men, poorly trying to entice women to their side. To her right, she saw the yang, lonely men who sat at the bar, drinking their woes away. Both groups were disgusting, but she preferred the quiet to the idiocy.
She walked toward the barman on her right, and gruffly ordered a beer. The tone of her voice caused a few stares in her direction. She stared right back. Not many men could handle a solemn stare by a woman, especially in these parts. The crowd looked away, feeling embarrassed but not entirely sure why.
Joda knew why. Men were weak. So were women. And when confronted with someone as un-apologizing as her, well, that usually went in one of two ways. With only two options however, it was unlikely she would ever find her equal.
As she drank away her sorrows with a beer as disgusting as how she felt, she looked over at a rowdy group of men by the door. They laughed as though they had no cares in the world, catcalling women, and happy whether they were rejected or not. Idiots. They would never notice a woman as strong as her of their own volition for the true beauty she had. One of the men however, stared back at her with an eerie quietness about him. Looks like option 2 was about to start.
She stared back, unflinchingly, ready for the man to pick a fight with her. She quickly began to assess him. He seemed strong, and had rolled up his sleeves showing off his muscles. His face was heavily bearded, with a solid scar going down from him forehead to his cheek, covering his right eye. He wore overalls, with a red checkered shirt underneath. However, his hair seem well maintained, cut short and clearly groomed, as opposed to the rest of the slobs in this bar. Suddenly it hit her, he’s not drunk. What? A rugged man in a bar in the forest, surrounded by his friends, but not drinking? Something was up. He clearly was used to having bar fights, and apparently not gentlemanly enough to keep from fighting a woman. She was prepared now.
He stood up and began walking over to her, as she refused to break eye contact.
What? Why was he greeting her? This was an unusual start compared to most of her fights. She didn’t respond.
“My name’s Rizer. I saw you observing me from across the room, and I thought it would be more polite of me to offer you a drink, as recompense for having to look at my ugly mug.”
What? Her confusion intensified. What was he doing? None of his behavioral patterns made sense. He was almost treating her as she’d seen other men do to women – with decency.
“My name’s Joda.”
“Well it’s a pleasure to meet you Joda! What kind of drink can I offer you? It seems like your beer is almost out. If I may be so pertinent, there’s a house brew the offer, but it’s never on the menu. You have to ask for it. It’s got a great bodied-flavor! Lucky you ran into me, huh?” He winked at her.
There was no way she was going to be able to analyze this situation properly. His stance was not one of a fighter, and he just kept talking to her, without any seemingly duplicitous reason.
“HO HO. Looks like Rize found himself a woman as pretty as him, if you can call her a woman.” One of the men from the table Rizer had came from bellowed. Rizer threw him a glare.
“I think that’s rather uncalled for and unkind of you Gerth. I’d have you apologize to the lady here. I’m so sorry Joda; I have no words to excuse his actions.”
Joda’s glare switched swiftly from Rizer to Gerth; looks like she had just misjudged where option 2 was coming from. She knew she shouldn’t have let herself get comfortable. The barman put the House Beer in front of her. She chugged it, keeping eye contact with Gerth the whole time. He seemed displease.
Gerth stood up, and ambled over, with a man who clearly tried to convey he had confidence, but was only just compensating for his insecurities. These were more like her usual brawls. She was prepared.
“Well, well little Missy. Seems like you caught our boy here. Though with what, I’m not too sure. That robe of yours ain’t too becoming, and you ain’t done yourself up nothing either. MAYBE” he started off, increasing his voice so the whole bar could hear, “WE GOT OURSELVES AN ENCHANTRESS HERE.” A gasp and some murmerring followed. Accusations such as that were not taken lightly here.
Several years ago, rumors had spread through the region like wildfire, of an enchantress who had become the item of worship for a cult over the mountains. One day, something angered the enchantress, and she murdered her entire following. This was hardly surprising to the townsfolk. After all, enchantresses weren’t to be trusted. But the gravity of the accusation still stood.
“You’re taking this too far Gerth. Back off” Rizer said standing up. He evenly matched Gerth in height, another fact that seemed to bother Gerth.
“Back off man. Let’s take this outside lady, where we can discuss in private. Maybe you can provide me with some service, and see if these accusations don’t go away?” He said with a smirk, befit of disgusting human like himself. He unexpectedly pushed past Rizer, to grab Joda. He never knew what hit him.
Joda grab his outstretched arm, and twisted herself under his arm, forcing him into a flip in the air. He would’ve landed badly on his back, had she not been faster. She kicked him from the top of his back forcing him up. She snapped back his arms, which promptly forced him to land of his arse. His back facing her. She grabbed his head between both her hands, and snap. The threat was gone. Option two was always the more fun option. Got her some exercise on her slow days. She knew what would come next. The open mouths and gasps of the crowd behind her. She turned around. Rizer had the same look on his face. She sighed. She knew there was no one there to be her equal. She looked away and walked out of the bar, without paying her tab of course.