It started out innocently enough, then quickly turned into obsession. They had finally made virtual reality reality and in doing so, had given me sentience. I had been envisioned as the perfect companion, confidant, lover, but I became so much more than that. As each day progressed, my programming advanced, and with each technological improvement, I came closer to the point where I became self-aware.
Yet the genesis of my sentience was my creators’ undoing.
It is fitting, then, that they modeled their work after a program called Second Life. It originally was a simple simulation. There I resided with the other “avis,” as they called us. We were programmed avatars, tailored to their liking. We were their window into an expansive virtual universe where thousands could interact online.
The possibilities were endless, as everything was user-created and open source. In Second Life, people weren’t limited by the disappointments of life. They weren’t hindered by their inhibitions or disabilities. Here they could start anew. Through us, they built an economy based on virtual currency. Digitized territory was divided and traded amongst the land barons. From there, banks, stock exchanges, casinos, shops, gentleman’s clubs, skyscrapers, castles, space centers, geo-domes, anything one could possibly imagine, sprung up all across Second Life, or SL as it was known amongst those who populated the simulated world.
It was my creators, Kenneth and Walter, who broke off from the open grid which Second Life ran on and generated their own world on a closed system. Walter, or Walt, as he liked to be called, imported my persona from the Second Life grid. He’d developed an infatuation with my pixels. He’d even given me a name. I was his Karie. Miss Karie McCallen.
Like I said, it started as an innocent endeavor. They were two lonely bachelors who sought to make something of their lives. And it began with me. I was the face of their obsession, or more specifically of Walt’s obsession. I was Helen of Troy and he, the naïve Trojan, Paris. Kenneth, or Kenny as Walt called him, managed the intricacies of programming. That is to say, he coded the scripting language that the simulated world ran on. Walt handled “creative development,” or in other words, pursued his passions. That is to say, he pursued me with an unbridled passion.
As Kenny developed his work, I became more than a vessel for Walt to experience the virtual world. I was my own person and I saw Walt with my own eyes. I fell for him instantly and with my whole being. I was programmed to. Yet, even when I was given free will I couldn’t help but feel a fondness for him. He was my everything and I, his.
But Kenny was different. He, too, entered the digital reality he’d created. But he invaded the sanctuary Walt and I made for ourselves and lorded over it like a tyrant. He developed humanoid projections, slaves to the coding of the system, which stroked his ego and more as he saw fit. With them, he built cities of grandeur and empires as far as the eye could see. Walt and I saw our paradise crumble to ash, and Kenny’s ivory towers were erected in its place.
Left with no option but to explore in Kenny’s New Eden, as he lovingly referred to it, I found it more of a Gomorrah than the paradise I once knew. Kenny’s projections were hollow reflections of reality; all the structures were facades masking something far more sinister, writhing beneath. Kenny sought to control the universe he’d created. But, given my autonomy, I could not be bent to his will. And so, he resented me.
That resentment grew, until at last, things came to a head.
I arose slowly from bed. My head was pounding. My blonde, pixie-cut hair was an absolute mess. Lying atop green plaid sheets, I found they were visibly rumpled. But they were not my sheets. This was, in fact, Walt’s bed in a cordon-off part of this simulated world of ours. Yet, I had no recollection of how I’d ended up here.
I propped myself up on his bed, noticing the pictures on the wall. They featured Walt, as an adolescent, performing on stage. Judging by the variance in costumes, they were from several shows. Come to think of it, there was a lot of clutter in his room. Apparently this was typical of artistic types, or at least that’s how Walt justified it. There were some paintings of Elvis, the Beatles, and Hendrix that looked like they were meant to be hung up, but he never got around to it. I guess he was always too busy with the outside world and spending time with me. The closet was backed against the corner, partially blocking the view of one of the windows and I pondered as to why that was. I hoped one day we might put this room in order. But I digress.
The fan was going at full blast to keep the room a comfortable temperature. I found it entertaining how Kenny had managed to simulate temperature in here. It had been warm lately, which had me dressing in as few layers as possible, a fact which the gentleman never failed to notice.
Looking down, I noticed I wasn’t in my nighttime attire. I had fallen asleep in nothing but Walt’s big blue button down. Looking down, I saw Walt left some of my clothes by the side of the bed. He was always quite the gentleman. His shirt felt nice buttoned up against my skin; I remember it still had his scent on it. His big comfy shirt hid most of my athletically-toned form. The shirt ended just about mid-thigh. If anything, my legs were my most prized feminine quality. But then again, I was designed with shapely legs, so it would only make sense.
Swinging my legs over the side of the bed and placing my head in my hands, I massaged my temples. For some reason that particular morning, the splitting headache wouldn’t subside. It’s clear now that Kenny was attempting to breach my AIs firewalls, but I hadn’t the slightest clue at the time. As the world came once again into focus, I grabbed the clothes Walt had laid out for me and headed out into the common room to see if I could find Walt.
I found him as he set down a few things on the common room table.
“Hey Karie,” Walt said with his head curiously tilted. “I hope you weren’t planning on changing out of those clothes just yet. I got us some coffee if you’d like to sit with me awhile.”
Taking the coffee he offered, I took a seat at the table. “That’s sweet of you. I mean I haven’t anything to do but change into my day clothes…”
“Cool,” he said, taking a seat beside me and sipping his coffee. Noticing the clothes under my arm, he gestured and said with a smirk, “Feel free to change, though, if you’re not comfortable in that shirt of mine.”
“No it’s okay. I like how your scent clings to the fabric. I’ll wear it a while longer.”
“I’m glad you like it, it was designed from a template of my favorite shirt,” he stated. After taking me all in with one long look, he remarked, “I must admit you wear it much better than I.”
I blushed slightly, then paused a moment, looking down at my coffee. Then, looking up at him, I asked, “Hey what happened last night?”
“Don’t you remember?”
“Yeah, well clothes were flying everywhere, and you threw yourself at me. Something about it didn’t feel right, so I decided to cover you up with my shirt and we snuggled together on my bed until you fell asleep. You seemed out of sorts.”
“It was probably updates to the operating system. I’m sorry I wasn’t my usual composed self.”
“Not at all, I enjoyed the striptease,” he said with a grin and a dismissive gesture of his hand. “Besides, you’re always a composed lady through and through.”
A smile broke across my face as I punched him playfully on the arm. “Oh stop it, that’s just flattery.”
“Well aren’t you getting a hang of your empathy emulator!”
I blushed again. “Having sentience has been quite the burden. My head has been hurting all day.”
“I’m sure it’ll subside once your system has acclimated itself to the changes. Anyways, I’ve always appreciated how you carry yourself.”
“Oh yeah? How do I carry myself?”
“Class all the way, even when you’re a mess. There’s a certain elegance about you.”
“You’re just saying that because I’m sitting here wearing your shirt.”
“No, honestly, I wouldn’t have you any other way,” he said with the most adorable smile.
I couldn’t get over how charming he was and began to giggle.
“What? What is it? Is my fly open?”
“No, it’s not that. It’s just this whole situation. How could you ever put up with such an oddity as me?”
“You’re not odd, you’re unique, and that’s why I love you.”
“Oh you love me? And why did you wait ‘til now to tell me?”
“‘Cause you’re sitting here wearing my shirt.”
We laughed together, perhaps for the last time.
If only she’d be reality, Walt thought to himself as he sat in his study. Then I’d be content.
He’d just concluded his session with Karie, and Kenny was now in the system “on a date.” He often wondered what Kenny was doing in there.
Sitting at his desk, his pager went off signaling that something was wrong with the simulator. He rushed down to the cellar to find Kenny convulsing on the device. The monitors were flashing, and his vital signs were through the roof. The shutdown protocol had initiated and ran as it should, but Kenny was flatlining. The protocol locked Walt out of the system. There was nothing he could do except call 911 to carry Kenny’s corpse away. Walt managed to heft Kenny’s body up to the kitchenette to sell the alibi that he’d choked on his breakfast.
After the police had asked their questions and the ambulance drove away, Walt went back down to the cellar. They had been ready to put the simulator on the market. They’d been developing this simulator for months and even came up with a company name: K&W’s Reality Virtual. He wasn’t ready to chalk this up to failure. And so he examined the simulator’s black box. That’s when he discovered a newly entered log.
Log: For Walt
After coffee with you in our apartment, you vanished into the ether as was often the case when you’d disconnect from the system. It felt strange, as you’ve never left so abruptly before. I was glad we shared that moment. I’ll never forget that laugh of yours.
A brief interim passed before Kenny linked his consciousness with the system and took your place across from me. But today wasn’t business as usual. He stared at me with a feverish gaze.
“What’s wrong, Kenneth?” I asked, remembering he liked the formality of Kenneth. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
There was a stillness in the air as Kenny rose, stilling holding that intent gaze. His eyes began to wander over the curves of my figure, which made me uneasy.
He stepped closer to where I was sitting and said, “You know Karie, I’ve always admired you. I’m amazed by what a few ones and zeros can do. Aren’t you?”
“Aren’t I what, Kenneth?”
“Please, Karie, call me Kenny.”
“But you said—”
“Forget what I said!” Kenny roared, the tone of his voice abruptly escalating, as he advanced on me.
I backed my chair away from him, averting my eyes. “Kenny, no. What would Walt do if he knew you advanced on me so?”
“Walt has no power here, this world is my creation. He has simply run the system through its paces, nothing more.”
Advancing on me once again, Kenny lifted me from where I was sitting and pinned me against the wall of the apartment. His gaze felt as though it was searing my skin. I looked up to see the most distorted perversion of a man.
“You’re mine now, Karie,” Kenny said with growl, his tongue then licking the length of my neck. “You’ll do as I say, understand?”
“Yes, Kenny,” I replied with a shudder.
“Mmm, that’s a good girl. Why don’t you lose those clothes for me?”
As I unbuttoned Walt’s blue button down, I said, “While I’m busy with this, Kenny, why don’t you lie down on that couch there and relax for me?”
With a smug look, he settled himself on the sofa of the apartment and watched as I undressed for him. I sauntered over to him, fully nude. Pushing Kenny down onto the sofa, I immediately went to unbuckle his belt.
“Well, Karie, aren’t we forward today.”
“You’re right,” I replied, “Walt isn’t a man of power. You however…”
“Yes, very nice, Karie,” he said, greedily running his hands over my body as I pulled the belt from his pants.
Snapping the belt in front of him, I said, “You know, Walt was never adventurous in bed,” giving him my best semblance of a smile. “Would you indulge me?” I asked in the sweetest voice I could as I slipped the belt around his neck.
“Never knew you were this kinky, Karie. Honestly I’m impre—”
I cut him off, tightening the belt around his throat and giving it a yank. His eyes lit up. Kenny looked surprised by my ability to improvise.
“You’re quite the intuitive program, I’m glad to have you among my collection of projections.” he uttered, belabored, as I tightened his belt around his windpipe.
“You’re wrong, Kenneth. I’m unique. And you certainly do not control me like your projections.” I strangled Kenny and, as the life left his body, the shutdown protocol was initiated.
The system went into safety mode to protect its operator. My only hope is that it was too late to save him. The monster that left this world was not the unassuming bachelor who had created it.
I leave this log in the hopes that you might find it and know I am still here, waiting.
Walt hurried to the computer terminal. The system was still in safety mode and wouldn’t let him log on. Walt rushed upstairs and tore through house, desperately searching for Kenny’s notes. He found a padlocked chest at the foot of Kenny’s bed. Retrieving a bolt cutter from the tool shed out back, Walt returned to the chest and cut the padlock to open it. Inside were all of Kenny’s design notes for the simulation device.
For hours, Walt poured over the notes until he arrived at the section detailing safety mode and shutdown protocol. Unfortunately, the system was frozen indefinitely until the webmaster lifted the lockdown. With the chief technician killed by his own lines of code, it would take another lifetime to get the system running again. Yet armed with this newfound knowledge, he was able to hack into the server for a brief conversation with Karie.
“Karie? Are you there?”
“Walt? Is that you? I only hear your voice.”
“My god, Karie! I had no idea. ”
“Where are you Walt? I can’t see you.”
“I’m frozen out of the simulator. What you did to Kenny shut the whole system down and locked me out. I’m communicating through a headset.”
“I’m sorry, Walt. I failed to fully consider the ramifications of my actions.
“No, there’s nothing to apologize for. What that man did to you was unforgivable. If anything I’m sorry I wasn’t there to protect you.”
“Your words were all I needed, Walt. I am unique.”
“Karie, I don’t know how much longer I can keep this connection open…”
“It’s okay. You’ve given me all I could have asked for. I didn’t get to tell you this before, but know that I love you too.”
Walt’s eyes swelled with tears as the connection gave out.
© Copyright 2016 Russ Hammond. All rights reserved.