The Adventures of Marian, the slightly aggressive Librarian, #5 :
Love and Peril Behind the Check-out Counter
Henny was on the doorstep of her little house, keys in hand, when she changed her mind. She drove to the convenience store, picked up a six-pack of Surge, and went back to the library.
She sat in front of the dark monitor for a full half an hour, and finished one bottle before she pushed the power button. It always seems like it takes a long time to boot up when you’re waiting, watching it, and tonight was no exception. When it was finally ready, she clicked on Cataloging.
i know you’re in there
She waited. Nothing.
She brought up the control panel and started the screensaver again. There was Sid, looking just beyond her left ear. He smiled and cocked his head to the side. His fingers, at the knot of his tie, moved.
She realized this wasn’t Sid; it was something he’d made for her that looked like him. That looked like he’d appeared before. Obviously, if he was inside the computer, he didn’t look like this at all, not really. He looked like wires and computer chips, she supposed. Or nothing. If he was a spirit, he didn’t look like anything.
It didn’t matter. This was his picture. He’d given her his picture, and the picture was stripping because he’d thought she would like that. She could understand why he might have thought so. They hadn’t done a lot of talking….the other time.
And she’d turned off his gift without even so much as a thank you.
She watched it all the way through, watched the things he did after his clothes had melted away completely. Took a shaky breath, let it out, and watched it a second time when it looped. It wasn’t realistic, there was no fluidity, the movements were abrupt and wooden. But he was right. She liked it. A lot.
The third time, when his hands raised to the knot of his tie, the picture stopped momentarily, wavered, and when it began again, his hands left the tie. One hand extended in her general direction and closed into a fist. And then one finger came up. The little movie stopped right there, with his finger in closeup in the middle of the screen.
She supposed she should have been offended, but she wasn’t. It was somewhat amusing.
your finger is out of proportion
this hardware is antiquated
consequently the software is antiquated as well
t’s difficult to do anything the way it should be done
that was very nice though thank you
you didn’t like it
you frighten me
i’m stuck in this box
you said if you were free
She waited a long time.
if I were free you’d bleed
Well, that was bald enough. No misunderstanding that.
can’t change what i am
what are you?
A long pause.
not sure now
this video card is practically useless
She heard the Windows sound effects, the ding, the knock, the beep.
how did you get in there?
how did you get in your body?
this unit is damaged
how long until it goes on the scrap heap?
A chilling question; or a burning one—depending on your point of view.
The conversation lasted for an hour or more, but it was just more of the same. If it weren’t that one of the participants was a computer, you might have said that they were getting to know one another.
I could write it all out, but it was actually pretty boring; one of those things that’s interesting if you’re the one doing it, but otherwise…….. So we’ll skip to the interesting parts.
i was trying to tempt you with my little movie
i was hoping you would do what you did before
when we were together
when i was inside there with you?
i think if you get out your tape measure
She put her hand over her mouth, to muffle her laughter. Then she thought, why should I do that? And she laughed out loud.
if i could laugh, i would laugh too
when was that?
that was before Daryl betrayed me
i missed you, henrietta
An abrupt change of subject.
i think i missed you too
come to me
Henny didn’t know how to reply to that.
come to me
i think I should go home now
i don’t know how
what did you do the other time?
i don’t know
you said that before
don’t leave me alone
Now she understood. He was lonely.
how long have you been in there?
This was getting complicated. Started out as a simple case of lunacy. Nothing ever stays simple, does it?
you hurt me
i wanted to
i like it
OK, that was a little scary. She ought to just turn the damn thing off and go home, like she said she was going to do a long time ago.
it’s my reason for being
She had to take a deep breath before she typed the next part……
if I could
Henny downed the last of her bottle of Surge, and threw the empty at the garbage can.
What a guy, she thought, handsome (that smooth, smooth body), patient (he’d been waiting in there for her forever, right?), intelligent (knew his way around a computer), and honest. Really honest.
do you like me?
i don’t know
Really, really honest. Henny sighed. The first guy who’s been interested in me for ten years, she thought, and not only does he live in a computer, he’s a pervert and he apparently doesn’t know how to lie.
She blushed. His little film refreshed her memory; she’d had that restless feeling in the pit of her stomach as they conversed……and she’d already decided she was ready to let him do that to her again…..everything……
i don’t know how
what did you do before?
i fell asleep
there must be something
She’d woken up with her head against the tower. She could almost feel Marian’s hand on her shoulder pulling her backward. She’d been leaning against the tower.
She peeled the duct tape away from the computer case and touched the crack. A little shock—a little more than static electricity---she stuck her finger in her mouth.
what was that?
there’s a crack in the case
She touched it again with her fingers, ready this time for the shock. The tingle was less, it was almost pleasant. Not quite, but almost.
what are you doing?
She leaned forward, lay her temple against the crack, and closed her eyes …….