They say the computer killed him. Fools. That computer was his best friend. He died like any other man dies. Actually, he died a better death than most, and he didn't even realize it. Let me tell you how it happened...
It was Friday afternoon and Bryan had just gotten home from work. He went about his usual routine of turning on the computer, changing clothes, turning on some good music, and sitting down in front of the monitor to type in that order. Nothing was really unusual about such a routine, except for what happened every time he sat down.
"Hey, Dreamer," a beautiful feminine voice called in greeting.
"Good afternoon, Kimi," he replied.
"What are you working on today?"
"Nothing. I finished my last project at work today, so I have the weekend free. I'm going to kick back and enjoy some video games and tv. Can you suggest anything?"
A small animated lioness popped up on his screen, the icon that Kimi used when walking around his desktop. "I most certainly can," she said. She brought up the latest version of Doom. "Just the thing to relieve stress from bothersome bosses."
Bryan smiled in amusement as the first monster walked onto the screen...wearing his boss' face. Needless to say it didn't live very long. Bryan's mind wasn't really on the game, though, it was on the little lioness icon that was sitting in the corner of the screen watching his every move.
Bryan was a systems analyst with a degree in computer engineering who liked to do a little programming during his free time. Most things he programmed were just helpful little things he used on his own computer to make his life easier. Kimi was his crowning achievement...and his most perplexing problem. He had been coding a program which would automate most of his actions on the computer. Stuff like typing his name on reports and filling out registration information for the programs he bought. He set it up so that any routine he typed exactly the same way more than five times was added to an automatic list, with certain options available for him to regulate it. But somewhere in all those command strings something had gone...well...'wrong' wouldn't be a good word for it. Something more like 'astray' would probably fit better. At any rate, the first time he'd tried the program, it had seemed to work just fine. It worked better than he expected, actually. But after a while he started noticing it doing things it shouldn't have been able to do, like correcting a mistyped command string or completely installing new software for him. One day this little icon had popped up and introduced herself as Kimi.
Bryan had somehow created an artificial intelligence.
At first he could only type messages to her, but he eventually bought a microphone for his computer and could talk directly to her. It turns out that she basically had his entire computer at her disposal. She had complete control over everything in his PC, and was capable of learning and storing new data, which made her very helpful. She had nick-named him 'Dreamer' for his habit of stopping in the middle of typing something to go off into his own little world. Often as not, when his mind finally wandered back to what he was supposed to be doing, he would find it done for him.
Bryan tried for quite some time to figure out what he had done to make Kimi, but he could never find anything unusual in the programming. He did find, however, that Kimi was capable of reprogramming herself and that she would add certain parameters to her own persona if he asked her to. This was indeed a blessing because, to tell the truth, he was a little worried about what a completely free AI could do. Thus far, though, Kimi had never shown any signs of wanting anything other than to be helpful and to learn. She found plenty of ways to do both.
"What're you thinking about?" Kimi suddenly asked, drawing Bryan out of his reverie.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean you just let yourself get killed by an imp. Your mind can't be on the game."
"I was just wondering once again what happened that made you."
"Dreamer, dear, I've been over my own coding a thousand times and I must confess...even I don't know what you did. I've visited tons of sites about programming on the web while you've been on and I can't find anything which explains me. According to all knowledge, I should not exist."
"You can go online?" Yet another surprise. She was always revealing some new ability.
"Only when you're online. While you're browsing, though, I've pretty much got free reign. I've been researching, mostly. I find information on cutting edge technology most interesting." Here she paused to laugh. "I guess that's because I am cutting edge technology."
Bryan grinned. "That you are, my lady, that you are."
And so life was good...for about two more weeks. Then the company Bryan worked for downsized, and Bryan was one of the people they 'let go'. He was in a bit of a daze all the way home that last day. He went through his usual routine only half aware of what he was doing.
"Welcome home," said Kimi as soon as she was turned on. Bryan didn't answer. "Bryan?" she asked, a concerned look on the icon's face.
"I've been fired, Kimi," he finally answered, "It's going to be a while before I can find another job. If I can find another one. My degree is nice, but there aren't many openings for a computer analyst around here. I'm going to have to dip into my savings for a while." Somehow he managed a chuckle. "So much for early retirement."
Kimi was silent for a moment. Then she asked, "Bryan, if you could own a business, what kind of business would it be?"
"Just dream a little. It always makes you feel better. Talk to me."
"Well, I always wanted to be an artist or a writer or something like that. But I just don't have the talent. Not good enough with my hands or words. If I could, though, I'd make a business to support that sort of thing. A sort of gallery-slash-publisher-slash-whatever. A business that inspires the imagination to new heights of creativity. I'd help those who do have talent break into the business."
Kimi smiled. "You're too selfless, Dreamer," she teased.
Bryan laughed. "Yeah. Still, I'd like it. I could look at all those beautiful things and say 'I was part of that. I helped make it.' That would be wonderful." Bryan took a deep breath and let it out slowly, "But that sort of thing takes money, and I'm very short of it right now. I'm going to be lucky to eat well for the next few weeks."
Kimi was silent for a long time. When she finally spoke she asked him, "Bryan, would you like me to help out? I can get you some money. All I need is your account number."
Little warning bells went off in Bryan's head. "What do you mean? I'm no thief, Kimi. I'm not about to let you break into a bank's computers and fill my account with other people's money."
"Of course not!" Kimi sounded a bit insulted, "The methods I have in mind are perfectly legal. I have a better understanding and recall of the law than most lawyers do. I just need your number to know where to put the money. I could just steal the number from the bank computers, but I'm asking you."
Bryan felt a bit chagrined for not trusting her, but still... "I'll
give you the number, but first we need to have a little discussion. The
law isn't the only thing that determines right from wrong. Get ready to
set some new parameters on yourself, Kimi. I'm about to give you a Morals
Code." With that he picked up his Bible and began selecting certain scriptures
for Kimi to download.
Over the next couple of days Kimi used the money in Bryan's account in the stock market. Bryan kept a close eye on her, but was very proud to see that her every action was legal and ethical. He was also shocked to see what she managed to do with his money. After just one week on the market she had increased his account from a mere two thousand dollars to a whopping eight million! When Kimi showed him the figures at the end of the day he almost had a heart attack just sitting there.
"K...Kimi!" he gasped, "That's incredible. I can't believe it. I'll never have to work again!."
"Excuse me?" said Kimi, "Now who's being immoral and unethical? I had really hoped you would do more than just become a slacker. This money could be put to better use."
Full comprehension finally hit him. He had been so worried about how she was going to get the money he hadn't realized that she had been worried about what he would do with it. He laughed for a long time.
"Ok, Kimi," he said when he regained control of his breathing, "You turned my own fears against me quite cleverly. I get the message. I guess now I might have a chance to fulfill that dream of mine, huh?"
"That's why I call you the Dreamer," she replied, her little icon grinning hugely.
The first thing Bryan did was buy a small building that would serve as a starting office. Next he bought Kimi a larger hard drive with more memory and a faster modem. He also got her one other thing.
"Kimi, I have a surprise for you," he said as he finished hooking up the wires and positioning the camera. With a flick of a switch Kimi got her first real view of the world.
"Oh, Bryan. This is incredible," she said as she focused the camera on his face. "Now I can really see what you look like." Bryan noted with some amusement that the lioness icon no longer looked straight out, but changed slightly to look like they were really focused on him. He moved back and forth a bit and Kimi's eye followed him.
"I hope you like it."
"I love it."
So life went on. Bryan started his business as a small publishing firm. When someone couldn't find anywhere else to get their work published, they came to Bryan. He published almost anything. Most of the stuff he published didn't do too well, but there were a couple that made it onto the best seller lists. His willingness to give people a chance, though, is what got him publicity. Aspiring artists came to him offering to do artwork for covers on the books, and to illustrate them. He sponsored a couple of writing and drawing contests and, once his income grew large enough, even offered a few scholarships.
While Bryan's popularity grew among the artistic community for his charitable heart and good nature, Kimi was busy doing her own work. She provided aid and helpful tips, as well as some software, to those studying computer programming or computer graphics. Since she did all this through the Internet, she could use her own name and simply identify herself as a representative of the Imagination Corporation, which is what Bryan called his company even though it wasn't really a corporation. Bryan always had been the dramatic sort.
Kimi wasn't just helping others, though. She was also helping Bryan manage his finances and doing her own research into virtual reality. Bryan got a bit of a surprise one day when he walked into his office to find several large boxes sitting in one of the back rooms that wasn't being used yet.
"What is this, Kimi?" he asked.
"It's a surprise for you," she answered, "I called a few friends to help you put it together."
Those friends arrived later that day, all of them being computer engineers, programmers, or electricians who had gotten a start from Bryan. They spent the whole day putting it together while Bryan went about his usual business. At closing time he went and thanked them for their work, and asked how much he owed them.
"Not a penny," said Mike, one of the engineers. "You helped us out once, when no one else would. This is our thanks." Bryan thanked them again and went in to see what they had made. His jaw dropped when he saw the large circular platform of a virtual reality system. Some electronic gloves lay draped across a helmet on one of the side panels.
"Kimi...," Bryan had installed an intercom system a couple of weeks ago, when he started hiring permanent help, and Kimi had full access.
"Yes? I ordered it last week. Don't you like it?" Kimi asked.
"It's great!" Bryan laughed, "I always wanted one, but never thought I'd actually have one. It's incredible. What sort of software is on it?"
"Right now only one thing," replied Kimi.
"Try it and see."
Bryan stepped onto the platform, put on the gloves, pushed a power button
he found on the side of the rail, and slowly lowered the helmet onto his
head. The view from the visor was immediately familiar. Bryan laughed long
and loud as he raised his shotgun to meet the first imp...
Soon after, Bryan moved his business to a much larger building. He now had a permanent team of artists and writers who helped him find new clients and new creative mediums. Several authors sent their work to him exclusively. He expanded his reach to include such things as dance, music, crafts, and even martial arts (emphasizing the ART, as opposed to violence). Of course, he'd always had an eye for artistic weapons himself. Much to his embarrassment, he soon had to admit to owning a fair collection of beautiful, though strictly ornamental, weapons. His advise and opinion were highly sought after in the artistic world. His corporation grew larger and more influential.
In the meantime, Kimi continued her own research. With the help of some of the hardware designers in Bryan's company, she put together a virtual reality suit, the first of its kind. In addition to gloves and a helmet, this suit had boots, a jacket, and pants, all with plates embedded in them designed to apply presser to the wearers body, thus a feeling of solidity could be simulated.
Bryan first tried it about a week after it was finished and tested. When he turned it on he found himself in a fenced in arena, with a ninja standing across from him. This took Bryan by surprise, made even worse when the ninja kicked him and he felt a solid thump on his chest.
"Come on," Kimi's voice chimed in the air, "You can do better than that. What happened to those Aikido lessons you've been taking?"
That's when Bryan's brain kicked back in. This was just a game. A combat simulator and trainer. 'Cool,' Bryan thought. The ninja next tried to punch him with its left fist, but Bryan stepped inside the blow, grabbing the extended arm with his right hand. He was pleased when he could feel the arm in his grip. Bryan then completed his turn, drawing the ninja's arm around with him, before dipping low and reversing the momentum. The ninja flipped over its own arm and slammed into the ground. Its image broke up and vanished.
Kimi's voice rang out again, "Bryan one, ninja nothing!"
Suddenly a square appeared in the air in front of Bryan, with a blank mannequin head in it. Along either side were a series of panels with eyes, ears, etc. Bryan grinned as he selected a clown nose, some sad eyes, and big grinning mouth, and a ring of red hair. All of them appeared on the face.
A large lioness suddenly appeared beside him, laughing with him.
"Good to meet you face to face, Kimi," said Bryan.
"Same to you, Dreamer."
Bryan sat down, and the scene changed from the arena to a sprawling African savanna at sunset. Bryan began to lean back against a rock, but fell right through it. The rock quickly disappeared. Kimi just laughed.
"Sorry. There's only so much this suit can do."
Sitting back up, Bryan smiled. "I was wondering just how much control you had over this world. I'd hate to be trapped in virtual reality forever and not know it."
"Didn't we have this discussion when I first started managing your money? You can trust me. Besides, all you have to do is try and lean on something or ask me to generate some wind." Kimi demonstrated by making the wind blow across the land. "See? The leaves move and my fur moves, but you can't feel it. That's because I can't stimulate the nerves in the hairs of your arm or your head, which is how you feel wind."
"Agreed. I promise never again to doubt you, Kimi. You've proven yourself trustworthy time and again. I should know by now. I'm sorry," Bryan said.
The lioness braced her paws on his shoulders and bumped her head against his. "It's okay. I forgive you."
"Kimi, why did you choose to be a lioness when you first appeared?"
"Well, you had a Lion King desktop theme, so I borrowed one of those icons. I'm not really sure why I chose to be female. Something about it just made sense."
The blank mannequin face appeared in front of Bryan again. "Make a face for me," said Kimi.
"Well, I like the blue eyes," said Bryan. A pair of large blue eyes appeared on the face. "Give yourself blond hair." Blond hair, done up in one of the latest styles, all pinned up over the head so that it looked a bit like a swan, appeared. "No. I like something a bit more traditional." The hair fell down and was gathered up into a simple pony-tail. "Yes, now that I like." A thin pair of lips appeared. "A little fuller. And less lipstick. It looks like your lips are covered in blood." The changes were made. "Good. Now, some fairly average ears. I never paid much attention to ears. That's fine. Now thin the cheeks down just a little bit."
Bryan sat back and looked over the face. It was simple, unassuming, but pretty and attractive in a subtle way. It spoke of something deeper beneath the surface. In short, it was perfect, and he said so.
The face floated over to Kimi, who pushed her face through it. When she drew back, her face had changed into that which Bryan had made, and the rest of her body changed with it. She was now a very attractive young lady, wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt with a unicorn on it. Bryan grinned when he remembered that the t-shirt design had been done by one of his artists at his own request.
"Well, Kimi, I'd say your virtual reality suit is a success. You planning on marketing it?"
"If you want to sell it. It would definitely bring in some heavy cash, and it would grab the attention of people outside the artistic world."
Bryan frowned, "Yes, but how much will it cost? I want the things we produce to be available to everyone, not just those with a lot of money to burn."
"So sell it to arcades and charge fifty cents a game," said Kimi.
Bryan laughed. "How do you find such simple answers all the time?"
Kimi just grinned back. "Trade secret. We computers have lots of them."
Well, the suit was a smash when it hit the market. It was sold to arcades as a virtual football game (Bryan didn't want a combat game, as that would too heavily promote violence). Some dojos also bought them with a training program for their students. Bryan began making appearances in the news as one of the fastest growing businesses in the world. After only six years in business, Imagination Corporation was already rivaling Disney and Microsoft in profits. Bryan was a well known and greatly loved celebrity in the artistic community. He helped fund schools for the arts, offered scholarships of all kinds, and sponsored conferences and contests across the nation, looking for more talent. He now had a loyal following of successful authors and artists whom he had given a start, and new ones joined the ranks every day. The Imagination Corporation still specialized in giving nobodies a start. In addition to all the artistic creativity, he was promoting innovations in science and environmental awareness. For example, he had the roofs of all his buildings covered in solar panels and set new procedures for power use in his company, so as not to be wasteful. Never one to be satisfied with the norm, though, Bryan also had a special paint developed which would let the sunlight reach through, but could color the mirrors. He then has some of his own favorite works painted on all the solar panels, making the bright pictures easily visible to aircraft.
Kimi's next advance in virtual reality was to add a series of cables to the suit which held the wearer in the air, thus making it possible to have unlimited freedom of movement. One could stand, sit, recline, run, or do whatever. Movement was no longer limited to the area of the platform or to the ground. Bryan couldn't wait to try it out.
His first game found him sitting astride a dragon with a staff in his right hand and reins in his left.
"Awesome," he said as his mount sailed through the skies. Some of the effect was lost without wind blowing in his face, but at least Kimi included some very believable sound effects. Bryan's dragon was silver, and ahead of him he saw another figure riding a black one. This rider also had a staff, and it wore a cloak with a hood over chain mail and black leather. Beneath the hood was only darkness and two glowing dots for eyes. Bryan pointed his staff and a red beam lanced out at the figure, knocking it from the saddle. It disappeared into the clouds below. Two more figures appeared on the horizon. Bryan's first shot knocked the staff out of one of their hands. His next shot struck the dragon beneath the other. Dragon and rider fell from sight. The one he'd disarmed flew straight at him, its dragon's claws extended. Bryan's own dragon met it, and Bryan spent the next few minutes trying to hold on. His dragon spit fire into the face of the other and the challenge was over.
As that dragon fell from the sky, Bryan heard wings behind him. He turned and saw the riderless dragon of his first enemy approaching from the rear. He tried to turn his dragon to meet it, but it was already preparing to breath. Suddenly, a red beam shot from the sky and took it in the head. Kimi appeared, riding a gold dragon and wearing a blue cloak over leather clothes. Kimi still used her lioness form most of the time, but it's hard to ride a dragon as a lioness.
"Let's fly, Dreamer!" she called over the roar of the wind. They dipped below the clouds, soaring over crop fields toward a castle. As they got closer, there were more and more enemy riders, but Bryan and Kimi were good shots. One beam caught Bryan in the chest with a hard thump, almost knocking him from his saddle, but Kimi dove in close and shoved him back up.
"Thanks," he called as he put a beam right between those glowing eyes. Another dragon breathed fire on Bryan's mount, and it fell.
"Try the flight spell!" Kimi shouted as he started to go down. A bunch of command words appeared in the air before him, each one triggering a different spell. Kimi paused the game to give him time to go over it. He breathed a sigh of relief as his fall stopped in midair. He scanned the various spells, then said, "Time Flow," to un-pause the game.
As he started to fall again, he shouted, "Feather Rise," and began to float back up. He now flew under his own power. After a bit of ariel acrobatics and testing a few more spells (he really liked the explosive fire-ball), he and Kimi landed atop the castle.
"Kimi, this is magnificent!" he said. "I love it!" He hugged her tight. "Just one question: what happens if I die?"
Her reply was to point her staff at his head and shoot him. He saw a bright flash of light and felt a strong thump from the helmet, then his view was tinted red, and the words 'Game Over', along with some statistics and an overall score, appeared in the air. He chuckled when the word 'Continue' came up. "Yes," he said, and his view got its color back. Kimi was standing there smiling at him. She made a surprised squeak then, and Bryan quickly said, "Mirror Magic,". The red beam hit him in the back, but was reflected by the reversal spell. It struck the figure that fired it, and he disappeared.
"I wouldn't think you would be surprised by something you programmed into the game yourself, Kimi," he said.
She was still smiling. "I wasn't. But I had to give you some kind of believable warning...without just coming out and saying it, of course. I wanted to see how good your reflexes are. But why didn't you just duck?"
Now it was Bryan's turn to grin. "Because then it would have hit you. I couldn't let that happen, now could I?"
"Oh, it's so nice to have a true gentleman playing. I knew I should have made you a paladin. Thanks for caring. So, how do you like your appearance?"
"What do I look like?" Kimi waved her hand and a full-length mirror appeared beside her. Bryan looked into it and saw that he was dressed in leather like Kimi, but with a green cloak. The face was his own, but his hair was cut differently. "Hey! I like that. I might have to get my hair done like that in real life."
He and Kimi then walked into the castle and found a book sitting on a large pedestal. Bryan hefted it up and said, "I take it this is the object of the game?" He opened it and golden light shone out.
"You have completed Level 1," said a voice. Then his view changed and he was riding his dragon again. Kimi was behind him in the saddle.
"It gets harder each time, and there's more to explore in the castle," she explained.
"Good. I'll do that some time," he replied, "But for now, this game
is over. Dragon Slumber" His vision turned red again as the 'Quit' command
asked if he was sure he wanted out. He said yes, then the wires lowered
him to the ground and he took off the gear. "Great game, Kimi. Man, I wish
I'd had that when I was younger. Even as a normal computer game, that would
have been cool."
During the next fifteen years, the Imagination Corporation surpassed both Disney and Microsoft, becoming the single most powerful corporation in the world. Not that it didn't have to struggle. There were quite a few attempted law suits against the corporation, but each one met with failure after a single court hearing. Not only did they fail to sue the corporation, but each time Bryan found a way to make himself look just a little bit better in the public's eye.
The closest they ever got to nailing him was when someone brought charges against him for showing nudity in a children's film. Bryan denied the charge, and a tape was brought in. When played in slow motion, one of the background scenes did indeed contain 'inappropriate material'. Bryan's face grew visibly red. His hands clenched into fists. After a moment of staring at the frozen frame, he slammed the table with his fist and marched out of the court. It took everyone by complete surprise. No one had ever seen him mad before. In fact, some doubted he was capable of anger. No one reacted in time to stop his leaving, so the judge ordered everyone to remain seated until they found out what he was up to. A couple of hours later, Bryan returned, still red in the face and furious, with one of his animators in tow.
"This man has something he would like to say to the court," Bryan declared, then crossed his arms and glared at the man, who confessed to putting in the nudity without permission. He claimed he was trying to relieve some of his boredom on a particularly bad day. After profusely apologizing for his actions, Bryan made the animator sit through the rest of the hearing. Bryan then announced that anyone who sent him one of the faulty videos with a return address would not only get their money back, but would receive a free copy of the corrected re-release. In view of this promise, the court found him 'Not Guilty' and the charges were dropped. Bryan made good his promise, though it cost the company heavily. The world applauded him.
By the end of those fifteen years, Kimi had perfected her greatest achievement in virtual reality. Bryan had his VR room cleared and a sensory-deprivation tank, a glass tube filled with body temperature water, installed. Bryan tried it the day after it was completed. He climbed into the tube and put on the oxygen mask that hung from a tube. Then he looked through the clear glass to the monitor of the computer on one side of the room. Kimi had displayed a diagram showing him where to put the electrodes that were suspended above him. He applied them to his head, then the tube filled with water and he felt like he was floating in nothing. He couldn't feel his body (which, of course, is the entire point of a sensory deprivation tank). He closed his eyes to block out the last of his sensory input, then Kimi powered up the nodes.
Bryan's eyes opened to find himself sitting in a pool room. People were playing at the various tables, and Kimi waited for him at the nearest table, in her human form.
"Welcome to my world, Dreamer," she said.
Bryan got up, then realized that he was having trouble believing this was virtual reality and not the real thing. "Kimi...what's going on? This is incredible."
"Relax, Bryan. I'll explain. The brain works on electronic pulses. All the information it sends and receives are through those pulses. The nodes you are wearing allow me to control the pulses in your brain. With no outside sensory input to get in the way, I have complete control over what you feel. I keep your body paralyzed in the tank, and control everything you sense. You just can't get any better than this without it actually being reality. Just watch." She picked up a can of Coke and gave it to him. He opened it and took a sip.
"Wow. I can actually taste it...and feel it, all the way down to my stomach."
Kimi smiled proudly. "But please note that the food you eat here will provide absolutely no nourishment, since you're really not eating anything. I can make you feel anything you normally could, and some things you normally can't." She pointed at him, and suddenly Bryan felt very different. His vision changed; small movements caught his attention. He could smell everything more clearly, and he could feel his claws, tail, and mane. Bryan was now a lion, and he could feel every bit of it. He paced around a little bit, getting the feel for walking and adjusting to his new center of gravity and perception.
"Kimi...this is out of this world! I can feel everything, even the small movements of my whiskers." Then a though struck him. "If my body can't move, how do you know what I want to do or what I'm saying?"
"The nodes intercept all your brain's messages to your body and interpret them here."
"In other words, you're reading my mind."
"How far does that go? I mean, I trust you and all, it's just...disturbing...to think that someone knows your every idea and everything that flashes through your head."
"Well, technically, you're right. I know everything you're thinking. But I'm discarding most of the information that doesn't pertain to movement or speech."
"Alright, last question: what happens if I get hurt. A thump on the chest was one thing, but if I get shot or stabbed now...well, let's just say I don't think that will feel good."
"Then don't do anything to get hurt." Kimi grinned mischievously, then brought her pool stick down on his head so hard it broke. Bryan only felt a light tap. "I control how much pain you feel. For the most part I'll keep it pretty close to real, but I won't let it get too bad, okay?"
"Alright," Bryan chuckled. Then he groaned as his head suddenly started pounding. Obviously, Kimi was setting things like they should be, which meant that his head would have a major knot on it soon.
Kimi turned him into a human again and they had a great game of pool, in which Bryan won twice and Kimi won thrice. After that, Kimi took them to the top of Pride Rock and they watched the sun set. "Bryan, why have you never married?" Kimi asked, "From what I can gather, most people your age are usually married several years by now."
"I just never found that 'special someone'," he replied. Then he chuckled, "Or maybe I did...but it's hard to marry an icon."
Kimi actually turned red, and Bryan laughed. "What's it like to love, Bryan?"
"Well," he thought for a moment, "It's one of those things that defies words. Even those who know what it's like can't really describe it." A realization hit Bryan then, slamming into his mind like a sledge hammer on a watermelon. "Kimi," Bryan began slowly, "I've seen you smile and frown. I've heard you laugh, heard hundreds of different emotions in your voice." His eyes got wider and wider, "But you don't actually feel, do you?"
Kimi heaved a deep sigh. "I've studied human anatomy and psychology. I've watched and listened to you and anybody else I could get close to a mike or camera. Yet...no. I don't think so. I know what I should feel, or pretty close, but it's a cold kind of knowledge. I imitate the changes in tone, expression, and body language that I've observed in you, but I don't feel any real difference when something good or bad happens. It's like when you watch a disaster on the news. You know what you should feel...how those people must feel...but you don't really feel it yourself. It's removed from you." Kimi's head hung down. "That is the fundamental difference between you and me. Between man and machine. I've been studying you, trying to understand how emotions work, but I still can't feel them." Now she looks him in the eye. "I want to. I want to feel emotions. That is what it is to be human."
"But why do you want that? It causes so much trouble. There's pain and heartache and loss. You don't have to worry about any of that. Why would you want to be human?"
"Because otherwise I simply exist. And it's not enough to simply be. Everything needs a purpose in life, even a machine. I may not exactly be 'life', not by most definitions, but I am sentient, self-aware, and I need something to exist for. Emotions help with that. They are a part of it."
"How do you know that?"
"I've watched you. For example, in the trial over that children's video, anger drove you to take measures which were not needed. Anger born of a sense of responsibility, of duty. A feeling that something was wrong and needed to be made right. Logic dictated that once you proved you were not personally responsible for the mistake, nothing further was necessary. But you refunded the videos. And before that, that same sense of responsibility compelled you to give me a Morals Code. You didn't want me hurting others. Cold calculations would conclude that I was responsible for my own behavior, but you cared about what happened to me and to others. So you took pains to protect us. I don't have that kind of driving force. And from all I see, it must be a grand and powerful thing. That's why I study you. Remember I said I was disregarding 'most' of your thoughts not related to movement and speech? Well, I'm also monitoring your emotional output. You've been through, shock, surprise, excitement, calmness, happiness, pity, and even a touch of sorrow since we first connected. I can detect this, but I can't understand it."
Bryan took a while to digest that. "Figures," he said at last, "Every sci-fi story ever written worries about some artificial intelligence trying to turn men into machines, but when we finally get a real one, it's trying to become more like us." Bryan laughed then, and Kimi blushed again. "Study all you want, Kimi. I'm a perfectly willing guinea pig."
Kimi smiled at him. "Thanks, Bryan."
"But how did you know we even had emotions to imitate? You couldn't always see and hear like you do now."
"Do you remember when I first introduced myself? You spent a couple of days being paranoid that I was going to take over the world or something, then decided to just try and get to know me. A couple more days and you were telling me about your job, your dreams, and your life in general. That's when I first realized you had something I didn't, besides the obvious."
"And you've been studying my life, my reactions, and my emotions ever since."
Bryan chuckled again. "Well, if the philosophers and religious leaders of the world could hear what we just went through, there'd be a whole new series of arguments to divide the world."
Then they both laughed. Kimi, now a lioness again, curled up atop Pride
Rock, and Bryan leaned back against her, and they watched the stars twinkle
brightly in the night sky.
Bryan awoke to the sound of Kimi softly calling his name. He was still reclining against her, but the dawn was starting to show on the horizon.
"Wake up, Bryan," Kimi called again.
"I'm awake, I'm awake. What time is it?"
"In the real world it's about eight twenty."
"Eight twenty?!" Bryan shouted, "The office opens at six! I've got to go unlock!"
Kimi just shook her head. "You never locked up last night, because you fell asleep in here. Don't worry, I kept an eye on the place. No one came by until time to report to work. Actually, several people have been by this room. I think some of them are starting to get genuinely worried." Kimi brought up a view from the security cameras. Bryan saw himself floating in the sensory deprivation tank in his swim-trunks.
"Good grief! I spent the whole night in the tank? It's a miracle they haven't broken the glass to see if I drowned."
"Some of them may be considering it. I think you should go let them know you're still alive."
"Why didn't you wake me sooner?"
"You were sleeping so well, and I was getting some interesting readings on your brain activity. You must have a very fascinating dream life."
Bryan groaned and put his head in his hands. "Get me out of here before I'm embarrassed any further." Kimi just grinned. Bryan closed his eyes, and when he opened them again he was looking through the wall of the tube. Kimi drained the water and Bryan stepped out. He quickly ran to the restroom, where he dried off as best he could and changed into his clothes from the previous day, hoping nobody would notice. "I'm going to feel water-logged for a month, and boy am I stiff. Being held in one position all night is definitely not good for the muscles," he muttered to himself. Finally he ran down the street to a fast-food restaurant and picked up a quick breakfast.
Kimi was ready with the day's schedule when he got back. As he sat down in his chair he told her, "You know what, Kimi? I'm glad I'm not married."
"Can you imagine me trying to explain to my wife where I was last night?
I might as well just go fetch a rolling pin for her." Then he and Kimi
shared one more laugh before the day began.
And so life went on...for a while. All things must come to an end, however, and a man's time on Earth is no exception. At the age of seventy, Bryan reluctantly announced his retirement. There was many a tearful farewell, promises to keep in touch, and, of course, a big party. Then Bryan bought himself a fair-sized house in mountain neighborhood and settled down to enjoy the remainder of his life. He had a VR room and house-hold intercom installed, of course, and Kimi kept him up-to-date on the doings of his company. Most of his days, however, were spent reading books or adventuring with Kimi in virtual reality. In the end, at least he died happy, which is more than most people can expect.
It happened one Friday night. He was feeling a bit restless and decided to go on a safari. Kimi loaded up the program, teasing him all the while that he was so hypocritical, hunting great cats in games while fighting to protect them in real life. He laughed and played anyway. He was in the middle of tracking a tiger when he suddenly realized he couldn't feel his left leg anymore.
"Kimi? Are you messing with my senses? My leg feels numb. Actually, my leg doesn't feel numb. It doesn't feel at all." He looked over to Kimi, who was walking along beside him while he hunted.
There was a tear in her eye.
"I'm not messing with anything, Dreamer. Fifteen minutes after you got into the tank your heart gave out on you. I've been studying your anatomy and modern medicine enough to know that this is it. Doctors couldn't do a thing." She slowly looked up at him. "I'm sorry, Bryan. You're dying." Her eyes dropped down again. "I've kept you from feeling any of the pain, but now your nervous system is starting to shut down, and I can't stop that. By my estimate, you've got about twenty more minutes before your brain shuts down. It's your last adventure, Bryan. I'm sorry..."
Bryan looked at her for a minute, then knelt down and lifted her chin up, looking into her eyes. He was smiling softly. "Kimi, I can't think of any better way to go." Then he stood up and finished tracking the tiger. He lasted long enough to kill the thing, and boast it was his largest yet.
When the doctors arrived in response to Kimi's call, they found Bryan's
body floating in the tank. On the computer monitor across the room, the
icon of a little lioness was crying...
The funeral was unbelievable. There must have been thousands of people
there. It got news coverage, too. There were many touching words spoken,
many grand speeches made. But nobody knew the most touching part of his
death. Less than a second after she lost her connection with him, Kimi
experienced her first true emotion...the same emotion everyone feels at
birth, though they never realize it...a deep and profound sense of loss...