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One Step Down
Dylan Kwok is an animator, blogger, board game designer, and author. This is his first story in Daily Science Fiction. You can see more of his work on his blog, 64thopinion.com.
"Are you still working?"
I look up. Focus on the woman leaning, arms akimbo, on the doorjamb to my study.
The woman I married.
"You know I need to finish this project. I'm working as fast as I can."
A sigh. "I know, but it's late. And you're going to wear yourself out at the rate you're going."
I bite my lip. "Work like this always takes time. Just give me another hour tonight. I'll come to bed after that."
We stare at each other. Finally, Charlotte turns. "Fine." She stalks out.
My hands rest perfectly still on the keyboard for a minute. The bedroom door shuts. I wait for another five. And then, I send off a message.
EK6: Hey, honey, how are you doing?
A message pops in.
RC14: Great! How's your day been?
EK6: Okay. But I've barely gotten any work done.
RC14: Well, I figured that much. It's 10:30. I've been waiting up to talk to you.
I lean back into my seat. Brows unknit. Type some more.
EK6: I'm sorry I kept you waiting. She was up late tonight.
RC14: You're always up late, on the other hand.
EK6: I wonder why. Maybe's it's to talk to you.
RC14: You could do it earlier.
EK6: You know very well why I can't.
The message is barely sent before I receive the response.
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RC14: Work. I know.
I can hear the pout behind those words. I reply.
EK6: Please don't be mad. You know my life isn't in the best situation right now. Aliwendy Leather Sandals Mens Casual Slides Non-Slip Outdoor Sports Summer Beach Closed Toe Shoes New Brown Crocs Unisex Modi Sport Slide Ocean/Navy BLACKHAWK! Men s Black OPS Weatherproof Boots Black Magnum Men s Strike Force 6" Waterproof Military and Tactical Boot Black , KEEN Utility Men s Baltimore 6 Soft Toe Waterproof Industrial Boot Brown ZHENZHONG Womens Water Shoes Barefoot Flexible Mens Aqua Slip On Water Beach Pool Shoes for Swimming L-blue FCKEE Water Shoes Aqua Shoes Slip-on Barefoot Lightweight Quick-Dry Drainage Durable Sole Women Men J.black , Kenetrek Men s Desert Guide Hunting Boot Brown , AiWoo Diving Shoes Snorkeling Speed interference Upstream Shoes Outdoor Beach Shoes Men and Women Swimming Shoes Yoga Shoes Stars and Stripes , Gold Pigeon Shoes 50 Shades Of 1" Low Heel Dance Dress Shoes: Women Comfort Ballroom, Latin, Tango, Salsa, Swing, Practice, Theather Art by Party Party , Alegria Women s Venice Sandal Impressionista , Ferrini Women s Print Alligator S-Toe Western Boot Black , YDN Women Pointed Toe Stilettos Loafers Low Heel Mules Slip on Slippers Casual Shoes Brown Suede , Melissa Women s Slip Resistant Mary Jane Clog - Plantar Fasciitis/Foot Pain Blue Print XYD Chic Glitter Slip On Pointy Toe Pumps Rhinestones High Heel Dress Shoes For Women Silver , IDIFU Women s Sexy High Heels Stiletto Platform Side Zipper Long Over The Knee High Booties White Stuart Weitzman Women s Leggylady Motorcycle Boot Nero , New Balance Men s MX624v2 Casual Comfort Training Shoe White/Navy , BareTraps Corrie2 Women s Boots Brush Brown , Easy Spirit Women s Motion Lace up Oxford Navy Footjoy Men s DrJoys Tour 53673 Golf Cleat White TOMS Women s 10010236 Drizzle Grey Lurex Woven Alpargata Flat Fuchsia Tribal Jersey , Bella Vita Women s Petra Flat Burgundy/Stretch Cole Haan Women s Zerogrand Ballet Flat with Stitchlite Ironstone Knit-nectar Crocs Women s Citilane Roka Court Sneaker Navy , New Balance Men s 1260V7 Running Shoe Grey/Black , Onitsuka Tiger California 78 Ex Stone Grey/Glacier Grey , Vans Unisex Authentic Platform Skate Shoe Black , Emerica Men s Desert Boot Skate Shoe Reserve , Carolbar women s pointed toe bungee fashion patent leather chunky mid heel casual shoes Wine Red
Again, her response is instantaneous.
RC14: It's not your fault. You know it's my fault, don't you?
Why would she say that?
EK6: Please don't say that again. I made this choice as much as you did.
RC14: Okay, I won't.
A baby cries out. Sigh.
EK6: I'll be back in a minute. Marie's making a fuss. I'm going to check on her.
But as I get up, I hear the door open. Swift movement across the carpet. Then, Charlotte's soothing voice, and Marie's sobs begin to diminish, until once again, silence is restored. The door clicker shut. I count to ten before clicking on the keys once more.
EK6: Marie is sleeping again.
RC14: I'm glad. I hope she'll sleep peacefully tonight.
EK6: No one can soothe her like her mother can.
The moment I hit send, I know I've made a misstep.
RC14: Why thank you. But you could just refer to me by my name, okay? It's annoying when you talk like that.
I hurriedly reply.
EK6: Sorry, honey. I didn't mean to be rude.
RC14: That's better. Now, how is your work going?
EK6: Better now that I'm talking to you.
RC14: Why is that?
Maybe it's because my work is to talk to you.
EK6: You always brighten my day. I should be able to finish this project soon, hopefully. It's getting quite polished.
RC14: I'm so proud of you, you know? I've never understood how people write programs. And artificial intelligence sounds even more difficult.
EK6: I had a head start, though. I knew whose intelligence I was copying.
RC14: What are your future plans for the program?
EK6: You know... I plan to use it for Marie. Or have you forgotten? And it's our future plan, remember?
And then, a pause. A real, distinct pause. And before I see the next message I know what it will say.
RC14: It's our plan, but not my future, honey. I wish I could be there.
Bile rises in my throat. You will be, I mouth. Maybe not the you I can hold in my arms. But these thousands of lines of code, imbued with your personality, will be with us as Marie grows.
Marie might not remember her mother, but through my work, she will know her.
It was--is--Charlotte's wish.
But it's pushed us apart. It's impossible to keep my head and my stories straight, remembering who I talked to and who I didn't. And I can see the effects.
EK6: I wish you could be there, too. But you know what's ahead.
RC14: Don't be sad. Please, it's not your fault. I love you.
My hands reach for the keyboard, but they fall short. Any words to this machine will feel as artificial as it is.
I stand up quickly. Sleep the computer. Walk to my bedroom. Our bedroom. Open the door as noiselessly as I can.
Charlotte lies still, curled up, skin pale and eyes sunken. She hasn't got much time left.
I sit down by her side and clasp her hand. Her eyes slowly open.
"You know I love you, right?"
A smile.
Tears cloud my eyes.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 9th, 2018


I was inspired to write this story, in part, after reading an article where a programmer created a chatbot using ten years' worth of message conversations she had with a now deceased friend.

- Dylan Kwok

SoftWalk Womens SoftWalk Black/Black Relax Black Womens/Black Lycra/Microfiber 0fc1d6c - truongnguyen.website

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