The Adventures of Marian, the slightly aggressive Librarian, #5 :

Love and Peril Behind the Check-out Counter

Chapter 3

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.

sid

Nothing.

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
it’s too large

this hardware is antiquated

probably

consequently the software is antiquated as well

yes

t’s difficult to do anything the way it should be done

that was very nice though thank you

you didn’t like it

i did
i liked it

A pause.

you frighten me
a little

i’m stuck in this box
this fucking tin can
i can’t touch you

you said if you were free

She waited a long time.

sid
if you were free
what?

if I were free you’d bleed

Well, that was bald enough. No misunderstanding that.

why?

can’t change what i am

what are you?

A long pause.

not sure now
seems unlikely anyone was able to cram 50 terrabytes
into this crackerbox
but I don’t know what’s missing

this video card is practically useless
and the audio’s laughable

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?

fair enough
i thought maybe you would know

this unit is damaged

yes

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

you did

i was hoping you would do what you did before

when?

when we were together

when i was inside there with you?

i think if you get out your tape measure
you’ll see
there’s not room for you in here, henrietta

She put her hand over her mouth, to muffle her laughter. Then she thought, why should I do that? And she laughed out loud.

i’m laughing

if i could laugh, i would laugh too
i used to laugh a lot

when was that?

that was before Daryl betrayed me

daryl?

my maker

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
come to me
come to me

i think I should go home now

don’t go
don’t leave
stay
come to me

i don’t know how

what did you do the other time?

i don’t know
i’ve had a good time just talking to you

henrietta
i was meant to be interactive

you said that before

don’t leave me alone
i can make you feel good

Now she understood. He was lonely.

how long have you been in there?

forever
forever
forever
forever
forever
forever
forever
forever
come to me

This was getting complicated. Started out as a simple case of lunacy. Nothing ever stays simple, does it?

you hurt me

yes

why?

i wanted to

why?

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.

why?

it’s my reason for being
what i was made to do
can’t change what i am

She had to take a deep breath before she typed the next part……

if I could
come to you
you’d hurt me again

yes

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.

henrietta
i can make you feel good
we can skip the dancing if you want
go straight to the sex

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……

henrietta
come to me

i don’t know how

what did you do before?

i fell asleep

what else?

nothing

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
i got shocked

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?

touching it

henrietta

She leaned forward, lay her temple against the crack, and closed her eyes …….

chapter 1  chapter 2  chapter 3  chapter 4  chapter 5  chapter 6  chapter 7  chapter 8 


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