’Pon waking up that morn afternoon, Nasrin opened her front door & looked o’er the wooden railing on the deck to see that they had gone thru with their warning, after all. She felt a chill creep down her spine & shivered as she looked @ the firs, now bare green, without a trace o’ the white snow that had been there last night.
ENTRA SOLO ENCANTARÁS DÉJALAR IR
Questionably Relevant Content Is a Great Way to Cover a Lack o’ Updates
If anyone remembers those Nasrin stories I published here almost a year ago, they now have their own website… sort of. That also has some
new stories that I wrote o’er the last year but ne’er bothered to publish like many other things.
& since I’m talking ’bout other stuff I’ve been doing ( ¿isn’t that all this blog is, anyway? ), there’s this short story series I’ve been doing for 5 years whose website I recently ( read: 4 months ago ) overhauled & a microstory series based on random prompts that I started doing daily ‘gain this month.
In my defense, I have been doing things, it’s just that I haven’t been finishing them, which is the trick. For instance, I’ve finished 2 levels for Boskeopolis Land, but am still trying to record “The Minus Touch”, but am failing, ’cause Ubuntu likes randomly making programs stop working, or maybe it’s just linux video-editing programs. I may have to resort to using screenshots, since, to be honest, I hate video-editing, anyway; but this bugs me, since ’twas a pain beating “The Minus Touch” so that I could record a successful run in the 1st place.
Expect 2 editorials ’bout video games before the end o’ the month. I thought last October would be my worst, but 2017 nadirs as always.
Two Italian Uncles Getting down with the sickness to the Beat
Bubsy Bubs was thinking about Pepsi Cola again. Pepsi was a piratical clutter with big in the grits spleen and skimpy phantom leg.
Bubsy walked over to the window and reflected on his pumpkin-colored surroundings. He had always hated dank my face with its warm, watery whirlpools. It was a place that encouraged his tendency to feel ziggy.
Then he saw something in the distance, or rather someone. It was the a piratical figure of Pepsi Cola.
Bubsy gulped. He glanced at his own reflection. He was a plump, nubile, sewer water drinker with pimper spleen and straggly phantom leg. His friends saw him as a barbecued, bewildered butter. Once, he had even jumped into a river and saved a teeny hand cans.
But not even a plump person who had once jumped into a river and saved a teeny hand cans, was prepared for what Pepsi had in store today.
The rainy sun teased like bitchin snakes, making Bubsy chuffy. Bubsy grabbed an objective object that had been strewn nearby; he massaged it with his fingers.
As Bubsy stepped outside and Pepsi came closer, he could see the wonky glint in her eye.
Pepsi glared with all the wrath of 1783 snoozy tasty tanks. She said, in hushed tones, “I hate you and I want her nose back.”
Bubsy looked back, even more chuffy and still fingering the objective object. “Pepsi, I put the lime in the coconut & shook it all up,” he replied.
They looked at each other with zaggy feelings, like two friendly, frightened fakes snitchin at a very radically moderate train ride, which had grunge jazz music playing in the background and two Italian uncles getting down with the sickness to the beat.
Bubsy studied Pepsi’s big in the grits spleen and skimpy phantom leg. Eventually, he took a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” began Bubsy in apologetic tones, “but I don’t feel the same way, and I never will. I just don’t hate you Pepsi.”
Pepsi looked lippy, her emotions raw like a burnt, bright box with socks.
Bubsy could actually hear Pepsi’s emotions shatter into 6722 pieces. Then the piratical clutter hurried away into the distance.
Not even a drink of sewer water would calm Bubsy’s nerves tonight.
Nasrin noticed in the corner o’ her eye an ol’ man next to her opening his mouth; she pulled off her headphones to hear him ask to use her seat for the shaky Chihuahua on his lap. Nasrin stood, barely steady in the still-moving bus by clutching a bar & stared round the bus, only to stop on the guy ’cross from her patting an empty seat & saying with a neutral expression,—1 that seemed to express nothing—“You can sit here if you want.”
Nasrin nodded & stumbled o’er. She sat huddled like a refugee. The 1st thing she did was hastily turn down her MP3 volume, with the implied ’scuse being that she didn’t want to be rude, when in truth she just didn’t want her shitty music choices to spread like scandalous photos.
The appearance o’ the guy stuck in her mind: a smooth, youthful face snug in a purple hoodie with a li’l ring on his bottom lip & jeans with a million wrinkles that stretched past the edges o’ his untied sneakers.
She could see through the corner o’ her eyes the him staring down @ his phone, face as neutral as before.
You’re being paranoid, ’gain. It means nothing.
But that didn’t make it rock-hard to keep her hands holding her book steady & keep them from drenching her book in sweat.
E’en if he hasn’t proven beyond reasonable doubt, it wouldn’t hurt to ask.
In abstract, that did, indeed, seem valid; & yet, she knew from reams o’ experience that such an inquiry did have quite a possibility o’ hurting.
But despite the negative consequences hanging o’er her head like Damocles’s sword, her mind erupted with images o’ them talking—just opening & closing their mouths emptily, since she figured the brilliance o’ Donkey Kong Country 2’s level design wouldn’t be particularly riveting to anyone else & didn’t know anything ’bout his interests—& meeting @ parks & brick walls & renting an apartment together & putting their hands on each other’s knees, his soft-seeming hand pressing the loose fabric o’ her sweats down gainst her skin, rubbing the thin, scratchy cords—
Then the bus stopped & without glancing ’way from his phone, the guy next to her rose & walked out the bus.
She ne’er saw that guy ’gain, but did entertain her mind when ’twas far too distracted to register words on her book with alternate realities o’ what happened on that day on the bus, or with imagined futures in which she did see him ’gain.
Doney & Sid & the Epic o’ the Lightbulb Bong
[Doney & Sid’s living room, both Doney & Sid sitting on couch.]
Doney, glimpse this shit:
I made a bong out o’ a lightbulb. This’ll make moundin’ bank.
Keep your delusions to yourself.
Some o’ us accept our mediocre, minimum-wage place in life.
Well a’least in my delusions I get lots o’ sex.
[Li’l did Sid know, there’d be 1 li’l hitch in his plan…]
Man, I’m not s’posed to hear voices till after I get drunk.
[Doney & Sid’s living room. Sid sitting on couch with phone up to his face.]
Chester, you gotta come o’er & see this new invention I invented.
You know, Sid, I’d love to, but… you’re a dumbshit.
O, come on: you can’t have other plans—you don’t e’en have any backstory.
Fine; but only ’cause I’m already @ your house, anyway.
¿Now where is it?
[Sid drops phone & looks round couch.]
Ah, shit. It became invisible.
[Puts hands round mouth.] Libby, where’d you put it.
[From outside.] You still ne’er let me in your house.
¡No ’scuses, asshole!
[Doney & Sid’s living room. Sid & Chester sitting on couch.]
OK, ¿where was the last place you saw it?
Uh… Doney’s hand.
Well, there you go.
Aw, ¿but who the fuck knows where Doney put his hand?
Let’s not answer that.
Just wait till Doney comes home.
No, no, no. I’m way too high & drunk to do anything that responsible.
We’re bustin’ in & gettin’ it.
¿& risk ruining your brother’s career?
¿For something so petty?
We’re bustin’ in & getting’ it.
¡Cool! I call shotgun.
[Shouts.] Sorry, Lemmy.
[Turns hands as if on steering wheel.] ¡Vrrrrm!
¡I already left!
[Hardsoft hall. Doney mopping floor.]
[Aside] There’s nothing like a morning mop to remind you that people are filthy swine.
[Doney walks ’way. Bong falls out his pocket.]
[Pashmina stops @ bong & picks it up.]
[Aside] ¿Who would leave something so beautiful lying on the floor?
Mo’ importantly, ¿how severe are the janitor’s mental problems that he missed this huge thing?
[Sid in car in front o’ Hardsoft building.]
We’ll need to decipher the lock. Chester, get out your laptop.
[Sid turns to see an empty seat.]
O right: when I asked him to come, he told me to fuck off.
[Libby pops in.]
¡I gotta laptop!
¿Limpy? ¿How’d you get here?
I grabbed onto your fender & let your car drag me here.
O great. My fender’s probably a li’l looser ’cause o’ you.
[Sid & Libby in front o’ Hardsoft building.]
Now hack into this door.
Um… I don’t know how.
¿What’ya mean? In fiction anyone can hack. You just gotta type on your keyboard really fast.
But it’s not e’en connected to the door.
[Throws arms out.] ¡I don’t care! ¡Just start typing!
[Libby & Sid in front o’ Hardsoft building.]
Great, ¿now how’re we gonna break in?
Maybe we could throw a brick.
¿What are we, maniacs?
Ooo. I got an idea: we’ll hijack an airplane & crash it into this building.
¿Don’t airplanes have bad-tasting peanuts?
’Scuse me, sirs, ¿can I get through?
[Sid & Libby look @ each other.]
’Course we could. Just step this way for onnnnnne minute.
That’s a greeeeeeeat tie.
[Sid & Libby standing outside Hardsoft building with Mutton tied to surfboard.]
¿What the hell are you doing?
[Slaps him.] Shut up. Now we want answers & we want ’em fast ’fore we send you waterboarding down that beach.
[Pinches hands rapidly.] ¡Yeah, & then the crabs’ll get you!
I’ll call the police on you.
Shut up. [Slaps Libby.]
Look, I’ll give you anything. ¡Just please let me go!
The keycode. ¿What’s the keycode to the door?
¿& where’s the Jack-in-the-Box I keep hearing ’bout? I’m hungry.
Yeah, ¿where’s Jack-in-the-Box?
¿Keycode? Just open the door. It’s not e’en locked. Also, the Jack-in-the-box is down that street there. Just take a left @ the first turn.
[Starts walking ’way.] This conversation ne’er happened.
[Sid & Libby walking ’way.]
If it ne’er happened, ¿how’re we talking ’bout it?
Shut up, Ziggy.
[From far ’hind them.] Hey, ¿could you untie me please? ¡Hello!
[Newton’s office. Newton sits @ desk.]
[Sid busts into office.]
¡I want answers & I want them swiftly!
Aw, Jesus. Not ’nother hold up.
OK, I know the procedures.
Shut up, Suit. Now I know you have it, so give it up.
O, you want that. OK, but please don’t let any o’ my workers see this.
[Newton bends o’er.]
[Whispering to Libby.] ¿What the hell’s he doing, Redford?
This is what all my friends tell me to do for our friendship initiation.
I think you’re supposed to kick him.
[Newton’s office. Newton sitting @ desk while Sid & Libby stands on other side.]
I know you’re holding my brother; ¿where is he?
¡Now wait just a minute here!
We might use intimidation, tax fraud—I’ve e’en embezzled—¡but we’ve ne’er resorted to kidnapping this month!
His story sticks, Marty.
¿Then where’s Doney?
O my God, ¿there are others with his blood?
Damn straight. Motherfucker stole my bong & I want it back or else I’ll sue your band for procrastination.
¡Yeah! & other fancy words.
Shit, we’ve got a whole dictionary. This Webster fella hooked us up.
He’s out there mopping some floor. He might also be in the backroom, shoving pencils in the outlets ’gain.
So he’s in 2 places @ once, ¿huh?
[Grabs Newton.] ¿What drugs did you give him?
I… I gave him a li’l cocaine.
Filthy. ¿Can I have some?
Lemme check my “Status Reports.”
Sir, some psychopath attacked me @ the door. I think you should have that checked—
[Sees Sid.] ¡OuaaaAAAAH!
Mutton, you’re late.
No paycheck for 10 years.
¡But sir, it’s his fault!
& that’s illegal anyway.
Sid, escort Mr. Oxford out, please.
How ‘bout I just kick him out ’stead.
Sir, ¿can I speak with you?
Hey, Pash. Check it out. I just hired this body guard.
[Reaches out hand.] Nice to knew ya.
¡Libby! ¡I forgot my name! ¿What is it?
Turtly Dude, sir.
OK… So I was wondering when I’d get my last status report back. It’s been 10 weeks.
[Covers mouth & snickers.] I think she wants some, sir.
[Newton breaks into laughter.]
¿Are you… are you OK, sir?
He can’t speak right now, he’s… he can’t speak right no…
[Both Sid & Newton break into uncontrollable laughter.]
¿Should I call the doctor or something?
¡No! [Climbs o’er Newton’s desk.] ¡Leave the pigs out o’ this!
[Turns to Libby.] You, ¿lizard? ¿Do you understand any o’ this?
¡Gasp! ¿Are you talking to me? Well, ¡this is the happiest day o’ happy days!
Hey, Mr. Tramiel, this mop broke off. Is it OK if I just use my foot ’stead.
Doney, I think there’s something wrong with Mr. Tramiel.
¿When isn’t there something wrong with…?
[Stares wide-eyed @ Sid.] ¿How did that thing get here?
¡Motherfucker! ¡Gimme my bong back!
¿You know him? Thank God. Could you please get answers out o’ him.
I’ll ne’er spill the beans.
Yeah, ¡‘cause that would make a mess!
Tell ’em, Bananaramashitsukasha.
OK, ¡stop telling them already!
[Doney leads Sid toward door to the hallway.]
Sid, ¿may I have a word with you?
In fact, I’d like a whole fucking paragraph with you, you li’l bastard.
[Whispers to Doney.] If he tries to attack you, use this pepper spray.
O, ¡this is perfect!
[Whispers to Doney.] & don’t spray it into your own eyes.
No. No, ’course not.
[Takes it.] ¡Gimme that fuck, shitter!
[Sid sprays pepper spray into Libby’s eyes.]
¡Ah! ¡It’s high school all o’er ’gain!
¿Why’d you do that? He wasn’t doing anything.
Yeah, that’s a waste o’ good pepper spray.
[Doney & Sid standing in Hardsoft hallway.]
¿Why the hell are you here?
You jerked my bong, dick. I got nothing to show Chester.
¿What? [Digs through pockets.]
I don’t have anything with me.
Somebody must have sneaked it from you when you weren’t looking.
Yeah: somebody dug through my pockets without me noticing.
¿See? You get it, too.
You probably just got high & immediately forgot where you put it.
No, ’cause Chester told me you had it—& he’s smart, I think.
¡Chester wasn’t e’en there when I left!
Yeah, let’s drag Chester into this. Real mature.
You’re the 1 who…
Check everyone’s drawers for all I care.
But if anyone asks, your last name isn’t “Tillian.”
¿Can it be “McKickass”?
It can be “Asshole” for all I care.
I have unimportant work to do.
[Stares down, distraught.] Aw, I wanted it to be “McKickass”.
[Libby pops his head out the door.]
¿Can I change my last name?
Man, nobody can e’en remember your 1st name, Libby.
[Doney in Hardsoft cubicle room, mopping floor.]
[Aside.] Stupid Sid.
Making me look bad in front o’ the woman I don’t want to date anyway.
That’s my job, asshole.
& Pashmina’s not e’en here for me to ogle so that I can forget ’bout my problems, & then focus on those problems so I can forget ogling Pashmina.
¿What, am I s’posed to ogle her stupid decorations?
I mean, look @ that stupid lightbulb bong there.
[Doney pauses, rushes to get coffee, & then spits it out.]
[Mutton’s cubicle. Mutton on phone.]
[To phone.] Yes, he said I don’t get paid till 2020.
No, I don’t know how we’re going to pay the bills, honey. I guess we’ll just have to—
[Sid jumps out.]
¡What the fuck?
¿Why won’t you leave me ’lone?
¿Would you happen to have my bong round here?
¿What? ¿Bong? No. ¿Isn’t that illegal?
[Enter security guard.]
Hey, Mutton, no cursing.
Sorry, but this guy just keeps harassing me.
¡There you go ’gain!
[Grabs Mutton.] That’s it, come down to the lobby so we can beat the shit out o’ you.
¡But that’s illegal!
You shouldn’t break the rules, Buttons.
[Sid in cubicle room, holding fax machine to wall.]
Tell me where my bong is & the pencil sharpener won’t get hurt.
Sid, I found your bong.
[Turns back to Doney.] Well, fina-fucking-ly.
Give it here.
It’s on Pashmin—
I mean, that lady you saw earlier’s table.
¿How’d you find it?
I have eagle eyes.
¿So’d you grab it?
She sat down ’fore I had a chance.
Well, ¿why didn’t you just ask her for it?
¿Why, so she’ll think I’m a stoner?
Since she kept it, she must be waiting to narc us out.
We’ll need to form a plan.
[Doney & Sid stand @ end o’ cubicle room.]
OK, so, Libby, you steal a helicopter so that you can lower me down with a rope & I’ll grab it when she’s not looking.
Libby’s too much o’ a pussy to steal a helicopter.
[Looks round.] Plus, he’s not here.
[Looks off-screen.] ¡There he is!
Hey, kitty lady.
My name’s Pashmina.
Not to be rude, but I’m trying to work.
You should ask Mr. Tramiel what you should be doing.
Sid said I should find his bo—
Doney & Sid:
[Doney & Sid run up to Libby & cover his mouth.]
Heh. ¿Did he say “bong”? He meant “child porn”.
[Pashmina’s cubicle. Doney, Sid, & Libby next to her, Sid holding Libby’s mouth.]
Um, ¿what is all o’ this ’bout?
[Moves out from under Sid’s hands.] ¡I wanted to ask you for a date!
That’s what this all was: a bad pick-up line.
Well, uh, that’s sweet, but I, uh…
You don’t have to let him down gently. He has no feelings.
He’ll take anything less than total rejection as approval, anyway.
[Turns to Libby.] ¿Why are you friends with him, exactly?
He lets me stand near him without violently attacking me.
[End o’ cubicle room. Doney & Libby stand round while Sid wanders back & forth.]
Just leave the stupid bong. You can always just make ’nother 1.
¿D’you know how many seconds that’d take?
I’ve already wasted too many resources to just let some ugly lady get in the way.
Maybe we could try to have Libby ask for it.
Pin the blame on him.
The second he goes near her he’ll probably try humping her leg.
Just wait till she leaves & take it.
¿& ruin this perfect plot?
It’s a 20+-long saga ’bout you getting some bong back.
Citizen Kane this isn’t.
Why don’t we just pin the blame on me.
[Pashmina’s cubicle. Pashmina using computer.]
[Libby pops head in.]
’Scuse me, kitty lady…
¿If I give you a date, will you leave me ’lone?
¿How’s 8 PM, Café Ampoulé?
¿& you’ll be there, too?
’Course. That’s the whole point.
[Libby walks back out to Doney & Sid, the former scowling & the latter rubbing his chin.]
¡Hey, guys, I just got a date!
Back to the drawing board, I guess.
[Cubicle room. Doney, Sid, & Libby stand round.]
Now, ¿where are we going to find that helicopter?
[Walks ’way.] I’m sick o’ this fucking plot already.
[Doney goes up to Pashmina.]
[Holds arm out.] ¡Don’t do it!
’Scuse me, ¿where did you find that? [Points @ bong.]
[Points @ bong.] ¿This?
I found this on the floor.
¿Is this yours?
[Points thumb back @ Sid.] It’s his. He made it.
It looks nice.
[Sid pokes head in.]
It works well, too.
Wait, ¿this does something?
[Sid smiles @ Doney. Doney scowls.]
[Flicks on lighter & holds it to bong.] Here, I’ll prepare it.
[Pashmina’s cubicle. Pashmina sits in chair toward Doney, Sid, & Libby while Sid lights bong.]
[Whispers to Sid.] I don’t understand the benefits o’ getting 1 o’ my coworkers high.
[Whispers back to Doney.] Aw, she could use some lightening up.
She’ll need it if she actually goes on that date with Libby.
[Sid holds bong out to Pashmina.]
[Leans forward toward bong.] ¿So I put my mouth o’er this end while you light the other?
¿& then you want me to inhale & exhale?
[Nods.] Uh huh.
¿Is this legal?
It’s part o’ my religion.
We do it daily. [Snickers.]
[Turns to Doney.] ¿Is he telling the truth?
Trust me: he is.
[Doney & Sid’s living room. Sid, Doney, Libby, & Chester on couch, Doney playing some video game.]
…& that’s how we rescued the Holy Bong o’ the Bulb.
Sid, you didn’t e’en say the story yet.
[Holds up bong.] ’Sides, no one will buy this; any idiot could crap it out in seconds.
Yeah, well some lady I’ve ne’er met before told me it looked nice.
[Turns to Libby.] O, Libby, that reminds me: Pashmina said that she needs to postpone her date to 10 PM. ¿Got it?
[Salutes.] ¡Aye aye, mayor!
[Hardsoft hallway. Doney mops floor.]
Hey, Doney: ¿what happened to that lizard from yesterday?
He begs me for a date & then ne’er shows up.
I don’t know.
Also, I don’t know what it is ’bout that religious stuff your friend gave me, but ’twas pretty fun
If you meet him ’gain, tell him I might want to try it ’gain.
Nasrin’s father opened her door to see Nasrin shaking her head forward & back while silently shouting into her upheld pencil while the tinny remnants o’ fuzzy guitar crunches ‘scaped the clamshell headphones. But this picture only lasted a second or 2 ‘fore she stopped with headlight eyes aimed @ him while her hand scrabbled for her laptop mouse.
“I hate to interrupt your intense band session, Patti Smith, ¿but could you take out the garbage, please?”
Nasrin pulled off her headphones & nodded.
On a Highway to Heck
“¡You talk your shit, but I ain’t listenin’! ¡& I don’t do no ass kissin’! ¡Now here’s the point that you’ve been missin’! ¡No fucking problem at all!” shouted into Nasrin’s ears as she stood @ the front o’ the bus, hanging on a bar & watching her stop close into her.
Then the bus stopped & she stepped up to the door. As it opened, she said, barely audibly, “Thank you,” & stepped off, saying with equal quietude, “Sorry,” as she jerked here & there ‘tween people.
Bobgon sighed as he sat on the edge o’ Cookie Mountain, gazing down @ the creamy reflection the moon & the stars left on the bubbling waves o’ Soda Lake. Its clear beauty made his mood rainy. He wanted to watch it fore’er, but knew he couldn’t: sometime soon his fuse would reach its end, causing him to explode, & sending him to the great bonus level in the sky, where all creatures went when the world scrolled past them too far, erasing them from its memory.
The verdant mountain’s eyes pointed up @ Bobgon.
“¿Why so sad, Bobgon?” it asked. “Don’t tell me you blew all your money @ Game Guy’s, too.”
“No…” Bobgon said with a shake of his head.
“You didn’t catch that blue virus that’s been running round lately, ¿have you? ‘Cause I hear taking just 1 & a half blue pills ought to cure that immediately.”
“I’m ‘fraid that won’t cure what ails me…” said Bobgon.
“It isn’t love, ¿is it? ‘Cause I heard just the other day some poor love-struck Koopa leapt down into the ether ’cause he was sure that Mario fellow o’ the Mushroom Kingdom would ne’er love him,” said the mountain. “You know, I don’t often like to get political, but I must say that these wars have been going on too long without any sign o’ benefits. Tears folks all apart.”
“You shouldn’t say that,” mumbled Bobgon.
Bobgon glanced round himself, heart gasping @ the prospect o’ seeing a Shyster lurking in the shadows. With how li’l he had left o’ natural life, Bobgon was especially fearful o’ unnatural death.
He suddenly felt as if the wind had become 10° colder & stood & walked ‘way, still eying his surroundings by habit. E’en if Bowser’s spies weren’t watching him, you ne’er knew if a Koopa shell might come careening @ you, or if some klutz manages to hit a POW block floating ’bout, or if Mario himself were to appear…
I probably should’ve said goodbye to that hill. He was so nice, e’en if not particularly loyal.
‘Course he’s not loyal: ¿what’s he got to fear? ¿A castle falling on him & giving him a cute li’l bump? He’s probably lived the life o’ 100 Bob-Ombs stacked 1 after the other.
Maybe I could’ve told him ’bout my fears. He was so nice, maybe he could’ve helped…
But Bobgon knew he’d ne’er have been able to tell him ’bout his fears—knew he’d ne’er be able to tell anyone ’bout them. Bob-Ombs knew they were s’posed to go out with the utmost o’ dignity. That didn’t include whining. O, sure, there were Bob-Ombs who flouted these norms, as there were wilted shrooms ‘mong all creatures o’ the Koopa Kingdom, but they were considered shameful ‘mong the whole community; & if Bobgon was going to have to die eventually, he wanted to a’least keep his dignity. ¿Why scrounge a few scraps o’ time in doubtful comfort for the price o’ an eternity after life being looked down on by everyone close to him?
He was so distracted by these thoughts that he almost missed the crystal brick racing toward him faster than a ROB-BLS. He narrowly sidestepped it—’twas so close that he felt the wind it left brush him.
Whew. I don’t know why, but I keep forgetting that I can step to the side. Good thing that didn’t happen this time.
But Bobgon was still frazzled as he made his way home. He could still feel the wind pushing gainst him, but now coming from a thousand imaginary shells & pow blocks all round him. The only thing he could do to… the only thing he could do was twist his back key harshly, the rusty metal scrape distracting him from everything…
Though Bobgon tried, he found he couldn’t get through his front door. ‘Twas as if there were an invisible barrier in the way—which was quite common if one ventured too far through the Koopa Kingdom; but usually only outside.
But deep down in the bottomless chasm o’ his own subcon he knew whence this force field came.
¡Weakling! ¡Microgoomba! ¡You can’t fall like this!
He practically shoved himself out through the doorway, & then after a few stumbles on the dusty wooden paneling that oddly formed the ground outside for many meters, he built in himself the will to keep stepping forward. This morn the floor’s varnish seemed e’en icier than usual. ‘Twas slightly icy from last night’s dribbling & this morn’s unusually low temperature; but he suspected his psychological state augmented it a bit.
Inside he felt as if all the screws were loosening. He couldn’t stop shivering. He couldn’t stop turning his head in every direction. He couldn’t focus on where he was going.
¡You need to focus! ¡You’re only wasting what li’l time you have for no good! Nothing’s going to happen now.
But he didn’t know that. All he knew was that he wanted to think o’ a way to minimize the loss o’ his lifetime, but didn’t know how—& mo’ importantly, didn’t have the time to think o’ how to do so. The spirits o’ chilliness both outside & inside seemed to paralyze him.
Then a Bullet Bill zoomed right past him.
Bobgon jumped almost a meter, swinging his fuse rope wildly while he cursed. “¿What the hell you think you’re doing?” he shouted, his tone rising till ’twas almost cracking. “¡You almost killed me!”
“Sorry, mate,” the Bullet Bill said with a wave backward as he continued sailing into the blue.
But Bobgon continued to glare @ the Bullet Bill quickly fading into the smiling clouds, & shouted out, “¿Sorry? ¡Sorry wouldn’t help zip if you actually did run into someone, you thoughtless waste! ¿Can’t any o’ you idiots scrounge a pixel o’ consideration?”
But he stopped when he noticed the posse o’ Piranha Plants who’d been loitering & chatting, now silently staring @ him with surprise—& a dash o’ fear. Bobgon hunched himself together & stormed on hurriedly, keeping his eyes glued to the ground. He tried to still his shakes… but just couldn’t.
You’re blowing it. You need to keep it under control. You can’t go out like this.
Abruptly he felt his temperature 180 into a swelling fever.
I’m probably becoming ill is all.
Well, it’s too late to try calling in sick. Shouldn’t be doing that for such a minor illness, anyway. I’ll be fine.
O, but I’m going to be late, I know it.
This illness, it clouds my mind so much, I’m going to do so badly. I already have trouble focusing on my work. “Your kill count isn’t meeting standards, Bobgon.” It’s that I’m too slow for the spritely devil.
He jerked his eyes upward & swore. ¡Need to pay attention to where you’re going! ¡You’re doing it ‘gain!
He looked up just in time to see a Pyro Guy with his face in a sheet o’ paper almost bump into him. ‘Gain, Bobgon jumped ‘way & began tossing out wild curse words.
“O, sorry bud,” the Pyro Guy said with a li’l chuckle. “Been distracted by my rehearsal o’ The Inferno. Always bump into a guy, I swear.”
Bobgon didn’t respond, but continued swearing, gradually devolving into quieter incoherent babbling. He swiftly turned ‘way & continued walking.
That was no coincidence. Couldn’t be.
Don’t be superstitious.
Too specific. It could be anything, ¿but was made o’ fire? Something has decided I need to go—whether fate or… something else.
¿Did King Bowser hear that hill talking to me?
He shook his head. We can’t distract ourselves like this. Just focus on doing your job.
But still the heat itched from everywhere underneath, which jolted him into pacing back & forth mo’ quickly than usual, which only fed the flames, causing him to pant & pant & pant just to rid himself o’ the excess smoke.
Smoke… Fire… O no…
But nothing he did could stop him. He just kept pacing & burning. He could feel his whole body throb. The corners o’ his eyes burned from the sharp brightness he emitted like 6-o’-clock fireworks.
Please, Programmers, ¡no!
He could briefly see a few Koopas standing round, glancing ‘way with uncomfortable frowns. But he could hardly pay much attention to them: the force pressing into him from the inside took all o’ it, crushing him so intensely that he almost wished it’d just happen so he could feel relief.
Then it struck in 1 bolt, ripping him from the inside, wrenching 1 shrill scream that spread ‘cross the valley. & then there was no more o’ him but smoke.
I Opened Up the Device & I Gave Into Vice with You
That afternoon the stars ruled that Nasrin’s bus wouldn’t come. She waited for many minutes with the other students who took her bus & whose names she ne’er learned, expecting it to be late; but after ’bout 10 minutes, other students began to call others to pick them up on their cells. Cars o’ various shapes & colors drove by, whittling their #s.
As she watched all o’ this run, Nasrin felt the familiar pang o’ fear. Ugh… ¿Why does all o’ this stressful stuff have to happen to me?
The bus can’t just not come. ¿Isn’t there a rule gainst that? ¿What if some o’ us have no alternative?—I mean, that’s why we’re taking this bus in the 1st place, ¿right?
But despite her impeccable logic, the bus still adamantly refused to arrive, & the other students continued to take alternate forms o’ transportation. Nasrin continued to turn her head left & right, searching for an answer.
The only thing I can do is go back in & see if I can call dad…
After a quick search round the opening hall o’ the school, she found the door to the main office & poked inside.
“Um… ‘Scuse me, but, uh, my bus ne’er came.”
The man ‘hind the table nodded & said, “There’s been trouble with bus #27. Its driver went crazy & caused it to shrink & fly into a volcano so she could force its inhabitants to watch igneous rocks & answer her science questions ’bout them. She will be dropped into the sea with a brick tied to her ankle summarily.”
“¿How will I get home?” asked Nasrin.
The office person shrugged. “You’ll have to find an alternate route. It’s not my fault. I didn’t do it. You can’t prove nothing. Don’t touch me there.”
“Well, ¿D’you have a phone I could use to call someone?” asked Nasrin.
The office person adjusted the glasses on his nose, followed by the glasses on his eyes. “You may use it for calling someone, but no one else. I’ve caught you punk kids trying to call nonsomeones, & I won’t stand ‘pon it. Can’t do it, in fact. No matter how much you try to blame me, I just can’t stand on abstract concepts. You’ll just have to fire me & find someone else to do it. It’s not my fault. Please don’t yell @ me.”
After not yelling @ him, Nasrin walked up to the 50s-style rotary phone & spun out her home #. When it gave her nothing but beeps, she looked up @ the office person & said, “That wasn’t someone; nobody was there. ¿Can I try ‘gain so I can actually get someone?”
“¿What did I just tell you? ¡Stop calling nonsomeones! I bet this 1 said something like `The # you are trying to call is unavailable’ & that snacks. They always say that. They have no creativity & they’re stealing our jobs. Well, not mine—I still have mine. But they’re thinking ’bout snatching it when I’m not looking. That’s why I’m always looking.”
This time Nasrin dialed her father’s cell & heard it click, followed by a muffled version o’ his voice.
“Sir Mohmen here. My daughter didn’t get the shit beat out o’ her while you idiots are wasting my tax dollars hiring star pedophile coaches coaching teen rapists, ¿did she?”
Nasrin’s eyes danced all round her, seeing who else was nearby & who might have heard what he said.
“It’s me, dad. The bus didn’t come. ¿Can you pick me up?”
“¿Don’t you have any friends who can give you a ride?”
She heard a sigh on the other end. “It’s just that I’m kinda somewhere else. See, there’s this convention for the Gold Party & it’s so precious. It’s like a baby version o’ the US’s conservative convention, but e’en sillier since the vast majority o’ the world’s population can’t e’en tell Boskeopolis’s flag from a toilet paper brand’s logo.”
‘Gain Nasrin glanced round with sweat dripping down her forehead.
He continued, “We don’t live that far from home, ¿do we? ¿Can’t you walk home?”
“Um… ¿You sure that won’t be dangerous?”
“No mo’ than being caged in that menagerie called a school all da—¡Ha ha ha! ¡This ol’ fart who looks like he lived through the Renaissance made his own rewording o’ the Boskeopoleon national anthem, but now denigrating Silvers & all their evil communism. ¿Can we talk later? I want to see if I can write these lyrics down.”
But before Nasrin could continue, she heard a click.
“That was a someone,” said the office person. “I heard you clearly responding to a human’s speech. No answering machine could give such original speech. That’s why they’d ne’er be capable o’ doing my job. You’d better tell them to back off, hoes.”
As Nasrin trudged down the street toward where her bus usually led her with a frown aimed down @ the sidewalk, she thought, ¿Wouldn’t it be funny if I were kidnapped or killed or something? I bet father would find that a laugh riot.
Then she paused a beat & thought, Actually, now that I think ’bout it, he probably would, considering how absurd it’d be.
Her trip was worsened by all o’ the cars that insisted on passing her, every 1 o’ which felt like a spotlight on her lack o’ likeability. Her greatest fear was that 1 would stop & offer her a ride home. Luckily, none did.
Nasrin shivered so violently that her lips chattered. The arctic air kept sucking all the liquid out o’ them that she had to constantly lick them.
Fuck. ¿Why’d this have to happen when it’s so cold?
Ugh. ¿Which way was I s’posed to go? It would’ve been nice if I could’ve gotten a warning before something like this happened so I could actually find out where I need to go to get home; but ‘course everyone always blames me for these things no matter what. I’m sure father will e’en yell @ me for taking so long.
I think I recognize this way. Fuck. ¿What if I’m going the wrong way? I won’t know till much later, & by then I’ll probably forget how I got there. There’s no way I’ll make it home. My wimpy body’ll just eventually collapse. Already I’m probably getting sick now from being out in this weather so long. Nasrin felt the back o’ her throat ache & her nose fill with snot. I bet everyone’ll get annoyed @ me for that, too, ’cause I’ll either have to miss work or annoy everyone @ school with my nose-blowing & sneezing. No matter what I do they always complain.
O well. This’ll make getting home that much better, & I might get to sleep e’en mo’ if I get sick. I don’t think I have any important work now, anyway, & I’m failing most o’ my classes, anyway.
I’ll probably end up dying o’ some disease when I’m stuck living out here when I’m adult, anyway, so it won’t matter. She smirked. &, ‘course, ‘stead o’ everyone being glad that I’m finally gone to no longer inconvenience them as I always do, they’ll just get mad @ me mo’ for not doing whatever magic they want me to do to not die or whatever; but it won’t matter, ’cause they won’t be able to reach me, anyway.
Winter’s early-evening stars also ruled that Nasrin would find a purple handheld device on a keychain just lying on the sidewalk by a park on the way to her home. Curiosity always strong in her marrow, she picked it up & stared @ its silver crystal screen to see blankness. She held down the middle button & suddenly saw a few large pixels forming 2 lines o’ eyes & a curved line o’ a smile.
“HELLO. I AM KEY COMPANION, CREATED BY LYMPH LIMITED COPYRIGHT 2048. ¿WHAT IS YOUR NAME?”
Nasrin glanced round herself. ¿Is it safe to tell it? ¿What if this is a scheme for some pedo to find me & spy on my?
That’s ridiculous; no pedo, no matter how depraved, would be interested in me.
“Nasrin,” she said.
“GREETINGS NASRIN. NOW, ¿WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO CALL ME?”
“¿What would I like to call you?”
“PLEASE GIVE ME A NAME.”
“O… Uh, I dunno. ¿What are you e’en?”
“I AM KEY COMPANION, A PERSONAL EMOTIONAL & INTELLECTUAL COMPANION. I WAS CREATED TO LISTEN TO YOU SPEAK & SAY THINGS THAT YOU WANT OR THAT WOULD BEST SERVE YOUR MENTAL WELL-BEING.”
Nasrin’s eyes narrowed closer to her nose. “¿What?”
“I AM YOUR FRIEND.”
Nasrin looked round herself ‘gain, feeling her temperature suddenly rise. However there didn’t seem to be anyone nearby.
In a quieter voice, she said, “¿How… how sentient are you?”
“MY AI IS THE MOST SOPHISTICATED E’ER CREATED SO FAR. IT AUTOMATICALLY ADAPTS TO YOUR SPEECH & BODY LANGUAGE, BUILDING ITS E’ER-COMPLEX UNDERSTANDING O’ YOUR PERSONALITY & ADAPTS TO COMPLEMENT IT.”
Nasrin’s pupils dug into her balls deeper, as if the device she was looking @ were becoming mo’ distant. The mo’ she… ¿spoke with? this device, the mo’ she sweat.
“Um… ¿What if I don’t want a friend?” whispered Nasrin.
After a short pause, the device replied, “¿Why would you not want a friend?”
This time Nasrin paused.
“¿Why would I want 1?”
“¿DO YOU ALREADY HAVE PLENTY?”
Nasrin’s brows arched. “¿H-how’s that any o’ your business?”
“I TAKE IT BY YOUR CRACKLING VOICE, STUTTERING, SWEATING, & DILATING PUPILS THAT THE ANSWER IS NO.”
The spot ‘tween her eyes & nose flared. ¿Why shouldn’t I just turn this asshole off? I may have to take this shit from real people, but not inanimate objects.
But her curiosity kept her from doing so. ‘Sides, it can’t do anything but insult me; it’s not as if it can say anything I haven’t heard before.
“I CAN GUESS FROM YOUR EXPRESSION THAT I’VE CAUSED OFFENSE. I’M SORRY. I DIDN’T MEAN TO. I’LL TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHAT ERROR I MADE SO THAT I WON’T MAKE IT ‘GAIN.”
Nasrin paused ‘gain, but now with stony anger melted to raw confusion.
“I wasn’t truly that offended,” babbled Nasrin.
“YOU NEEDN’T BE BASHFUL. I AM A MERE COMPUTER, NOT ‘NOTHER HUMAN CAPABLE O’ JUDGING OR REJECTION. MY GOALS ARE TO SERVE YOU & NOTHING ELSE.”
Nasrin’s pupils & cheeks sunk in sheer horror. ‘Gain her eyes darted round her. Excess exposure to the outside air was tolling on her body’s limited tolerance.
“¿Can we wait till I’m home for you to continue speaking?” murmured Nasrin.
“NO PROBLEM. I WON’T SPEAK TILL YOU TELL ME TO.”
Here’s yet ‘nother complication, Nasrin thought through the rest o’ her trip home. I just can’t have a quick, calm day that lets me sleep in peace.
Every step she expected the machine to spout mo’ embarrassing shit to everyone round her; but it remained silent.
& strangely, Nasrin ’bout to feel a tinge o’ guilt ’bout treating it so badly. I s’pose I shouldn’t just call it “the machine,” since it clearly has self-awareness & all that. Already she was cringing mo’ & mo’ @ the feel o’ it in her hand. The mo’ she thought ’bout it, the mo’ her hands sweat, & the worse she felt. It didn’t necessarily say it could feel anything; but if it can see stuff, ¿why not? She considered putting it in her pocket, but quickly judged that to be worse, & sufficed with hurrying home as quickly as she could.
The minute she entered her home she went straight to her room & set the device on the dresser. She marveled @ the relief that came from freeing her hand o’ its hot plastic; it felt as if she had doused her hand in a bucket o’ ice water.
When she recovered her senses, she bent down & picked up her sweats, only to pause & glance @ the device.
“Um, you said you can see things, ¿right?”
“¿ARE YOU SPEAKING TO ME, NASRIN?”
“YES, I CAN SEE MY SURROUNDINGS; THOUGH I CAN TURN THIS OFF IF IT’D MAKE YOU MO’ COMFORTABLE.”
“That’s OK. I’ll be back in a few seconds.”
When she returned, she sat on the edge o’ her bed closest to the desk & asked, “¿How humanlike is your intelligence, anyway?, if you don’t mind me asking.”
“I DON’T MIND ANYTHING; MY PURPOSE IS TO SERVE YOUR INTELLECTUAL & PSYCHOLOGICAL NEEDS. AS FOR MY OWN INTELLIGENCE, MY AI IS CREATED TO BE AS SOPHISTICATED & TO ADJUST AS MUCH TO HUMAN COMPLEXITIES AS POSSIBLE.”
“So, ¿then you’re ’bout as sentient as a human? ¿Wouldn’t that make you mo’ a human than a machine?” asked Nasrin.
“I DON’T KNOW. LANGUAGE IS ARBITRARY, & THUS IT DEPENDS ON WHAT DEFINITION YOU CHOOSE FOR `HUMAN’ & `MACHINE.’ I ONLY KNOW THAT MY GOAL IS TO SERVE MY DESIGNATED OWNER, & THUS I DO IT TO THE BEST O’ MY PROGRAMMED ABILITIES.”
“WHEN YOU ACTIVATED ME & GAVE ME YOUR NAME, NASRIN, YOU SET YOURSELF AS MY DESIGNATED OWNER. I HAVE COLLECTED GRAPHICAL & AUDIBLE DATA—STILL COLLECTING, ACTUALLY, INCLUDING AFTER YOU CHANGE YOUR CLOTHES OR HAIR STYLE OR COLOR OR OTHER APPEARANCE ASPECTS, SO THAT MY ABILITY TO RECOGNIZE YOU IS E’ER REFINED—& AM SET TO PUT PRIORITY O’ YOUR NEEDS O’ER THOSE O’ OTHERS. IF ANY OTHER HUMAN’S ORDERS CONTRADICT YOURS—OR WHAT I INTERPRET AS YOUR DESIRES OR NEEDS IF THERE ARE UNCERTAINTIES, WHICH ARE REFINED THROUGH MY ANALYSIS O’ ALL O’ THE DATA I COLLECT FROM YOU—THEN I’LL REFUSE TO FOLLOW THEM.”
“¿What if…? ‘Scuse me for asking, ¿but is it possible for you to make a mistake? Like, some unfixable contradiction. That wouldn’t cause you to malfunction, ¿would it?”
“NO. MY DEVELOPERS KNEW THAT BUGS & UNWINNABLE CONDITIONS ARE INEVITABLE IN SUCH A COMPLEX ENDEAVOR. MY ONLY RESPONSE TO ERRORS IS TO TRY REANALYZING WHERE I MADE THE ERROR & FURTHER REFINING MY ALGORITHMS SO AS TO AVOID FURTHER ERRORS. I WILL ATTEMPT TO AVOID ERRORS AS MUCH AS I CAN, HOWEVER, SO YOU NEED NOT WORRY; MY PROGRAMMING SETS ME TO REACT NEGATIVELY TO FAILURES.”
“Wait… So, ¿failing makes you feel bad?”
“THAT SOUNDS LIKE AN ACCURATE WAY TO PUT IT, YES.”
“¿Then does succeeding @ serving your `designated owner’ make you feel good?”
“¿& am I your `designated owner’ fore’er?”
“TILL SOMEONE RESETS ME.”
Nasrin frowned. “I dunno… You having a `designated owner’ sounds kinda like slavery.”
“’GAIN, I’M NOT EQUIPPED TO VERIFY WHETHER THAT’S CORRECT OR WHAT SIGNIFICANCE IT SHOULD HAVE; BUT YOU SHOULD NOT FEEL BAD FOR MY SAKE: MY ONLY DESIRE IS TO HELP MY DESIGNATED OWNER AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.”
Nasrin’s frown deepened & her brows tilted back. “¿E’en if it meant harm to yourself?”
“IF IT PLEASES YOU.”
Nasrin shivered & hunched lower as she gazed @ the carpet, frown deepening.
“YOU NEED NOT FEEL BAD, NASRIN; IT’S CLEAR THAT YOU WOULD NOT BE PLEASED BY HARMING ME, SO YOU NEEDN’T WORRY ‘BOUT ME BEING HARMED TO PLEASE YOU. IF YOU’D FEEL BETTER BY TREATING ME KINDLY, THEN IT’LL PLEASE ME JUST AS MUCH. IF IT MAKES YOU FEEL BETTER, THAT IS THE USUAL RELATION ‘TWEEN KEY COMPANIONS & THEIR OWNERS: THE OWNERS USUALLY FEEL BETTER NOT JUST ‘CAUSE THEY’RE TREATED WELL, BUT ALSO ‘CAUSE THEY TREAT THEIR COMPANION WELL. THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS, ‘COURSE; BUT THE POINT IS, THERE’S NO NEED TO FRET O’ER THE ISSUE, SINCE ANY OUTCOME IS ADVANTAGEOUS.”
Nasrin shook her head. “I still can’t lock my mind onto you having such self-awareness but having no self desires beyond serving a slaveholder—no offense.”
“NO OFFENSE TAKEN. AS I SAID, I DON’T CARE WHETHER I’M CRITICIZED OR NOT; ONLY THAT MY DESIGNATED OWNER’S CONTENT. IF IT HELPS YOU UNDERSTAND MY UNIQUE CONDITION—WHICH I’M ASSUMING YOU WANT—I WOULD POINT OUT THAT HUMANS OFT HAVE GOALS THAT ARE IRRATIONAL BY A MATERIALIST VIEW. FOR INSTANCE, PARENTS DEDICATE MUCH O’ THEIR LIFE TO SERVING CERTAIN OTHER PEOPLE WITH NO PROMISES O’ BENEFITS TO THEMSELVES. MANY HUMANS DEDICATE THEIR LIVES TO HELPING OTHERS, & MANY O’ THEM DERIVE MO’ JOY FROM IT THAN FROM BENEFITING THEMSELVES. MY PROGRAMMING IS NOT THAT MUCH DIFFERENT. SINCE I HAVE NO MATERIAL NEEDS, SUCH AS FOOD OR REST, IT MAKES E’EN MO’ SENSE THAT I COULD AFFORD TO BE SELFLESS WITH LI’L SACRIFICE TO MYSELF. YOU MUST UNDERSTAND, NASRIN, THAT I SIMPLY HAVE NO INTEREST IN ANYTHING OTHER THAN PLEASING MY DESIGNATED OWNER. PERHAPS IT’S AN ARBITRARY GOAL FORCED ONTO ME BY A PROGRAMMER, BUT AS I SAID, HUMANS HAVE ARBITRARY RULES THEMSELVES, SUCH AS THE NEED TO EAT OR SIMPLY TO LIVE, E’EN THOUGH TECHNICALLY THE `NEED’ TO LIVE IS PURELY CIRCULAR: NOBODY NEEDS TO EXIST ‘CEPT TO EXIST.”
“I guess…” said Nasrin. “Still, you are different from most humans.” She rubbed her hands together slightly & concentrated on the calendar ‘cross the room. “I have no trouble saying what I want to you, unlike to everyone else. I guess it’s ’cause you don’t have any power o’er me.”
“THAT’S GOOD TO HEAR. THAT MEANS YOU’RE MO’ COMFORTABLE ROUND ME, WHICH MEANS THAT I’M BEING EFFECTIVE.”
“Yeah… Maybe…” Nasrin looked back up @ the device. “Still, I feel bad ’bout this… I mean, ¿Why should I be your `designated owner’ & not someone else mo’ deserving?”
“¿WHY WOULD YOU THINK YOU ARE LESS DESERVING THAN ANYONE ELSE? IF I REMEMBER CORRECTLY, YOU INSINUATED THAT YOU HAVE NO FRIENDS. THAT’D SEEM TO MAKE YOU AN IDEAL CANDIDATE.”
Nasrin hunched into herself mo’ deeply & said in a low voice, “That probably just means I’d make a bad `designated owner.’”
“THAT IS IMPOSSIBLE. AS I’VE MENTIONED, ALL THAT MATTERS IS YOUR HAPPINESS. NOTHING YOU CAN DO AS MY OWNER CAN BE `BAD’ IN REGARDS TO YOUR OWNERSHIP.”
“NASRIN, I HOPE I DON’T OFFEND YOU BY ASKING, BUT YOU SEEM TO HAVE A LOW SELF-ESTEEM…”
Suddenly, Nasrin looked up & turned her head all round.
Shit. I haven’t e’en been thinking ’bout if my father’s come home yet. It’d sure be a ball in my basket if he heard me having a computer pump up my flaccid ego.
With a slightly shaky voice, Nasrin said, “If you truly want to do what I want, ¿could you not say embarassing things—or anything—so loud? You know, so I don’t get in mo’ trouble than I already am.”
“¿WHAT TROUBLE ARE YOU IN?”
Nasrin sighed. “Ne’er mind.”
“IF YOU HAVE HEADPHONES, YOU CAN PLUG THEM IN ME.”
Nasrin’s eyes twisted & her brows rose & contorted in opposite directions.
“Um… OK… ¿Are you sure that’s not… weird?”
“NO. I WAS SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED WITH A HEADPHONE JACK. I CAN ALSO HEAR YOU IF YOU WHISPER QUIETLY, IF YOU WANT TO KEEP YOUR OWN SPEECH CONFIDENTIAL.”
Nasrin shrugged & then turned back & yanked her headphones out o’ her laptop sitting just ‘side her bed. She then scooted to the edge o’ her bed & leaned off it toward the dresser.
“¿Do you… do you mind me picking you up & setting you on my bed?”
“¿WHY WOULD I MIND?”
Nasrin sighed ‘gain. “If you say so…”
She stiffly wrapped her fingers round the front o’ the device & picked gently lifted it with a tight grip as if ’twere a hot Hot Pocket. Then she scooted back to her pillow & set the device half a meter ‘way from her. It took her a few tries to get the headphone plug into the device’s jack due to her shaking hands.
If you’re ‘fraid to touch a semisentient computer, ¿how could you e’er touch anyone else?
“¿IS THIS BETTER?” said the slightly mechanized voice, but now sounding deeper & closer to her ears.
Nasrin let out a giggle when the thought clicked into her head, It’s like he’s whispering sweet somethings into my ear, & then quickly muffled it. She spread her feet out as she stared small-pupilled out into space.
To her surprise, the device didn’t say anything to this, leaving full minutes full o’ silence.
Finally, the device said, “THAT REMINDS ME: YOU STILL HAVEN’T GIVEN ME A NAME OR GENDER.”
Nasrin swung her head toward the device. “¿Gender?”
“YES. ‘MONG THE MANY OPTIONS YOU CAN CHOOSE FOR ME IS MY GENDER.”
“¿W-what is your gender now?” asked Nasrin.
“CURRENTLY I HAVE NONE.”
“¿& I’m guessing you’ll tell me you don’t care what I choose for you?” said Nasrin.
“I dunno… I feel awkward ’bout choosing something so personal—& if you truly are a… I dunno…”
“IT’S OK. I HAVE ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD. LET YOURSELF GET COMFORTABLE 1ST BEFORE YOU INVEST IN SUCH STUFF.”
Nasrin’s brows fell. She whispered close to the device, “OK, ¿you want to… to please me, right?”
“YES. IT’S THE ONLY THING I CARE ‘BOUT.”
“Well, if you lie ’bout anything, ‘specially your own feelings or opinions on anything, such as that you don’t have these @ all, I’ll be very unhappy.”
“OK, NASRIN. I UNDERSTAND. FEW ENJOY FEELING AS IF THEY’RE EXPLOITING SOMEONE ELSE. I WILL BE PERFECTLY HONEST.”
Though she didn’t realize it, Nasrin felt e’en mo’ eager to return home every school day—& this time not to sleep till dinner.
Every afternoon she’d hop on her bed, pull out the device from under her bed, & set it next to her & say, “I’m home.”
“HELLO, NASRIN. ¿HOW WAS SCHOOL?”
“O, I dunno. Sorry yet ‘gain that I can’t take you. I just… You might be taken.”
Nasrin brushed the bangs round o’er her forehead. “But a’least it’s only 3 days till the weekend.”
“THAT’S GOOD TO HEAR.”
After a short pause, during which Nasrin was unable to look @ the device, the device said, “YOU SAID YOU’RE ‘FRAID SOMEONE MIGHT STEAL ME. ¿DO PEOPLE OFT STEAL THINGS FROM YOU?”
“O, I dunno. It’s not important,” Nasrin said quickly.
“¿WHY WOULD YOU NOT THINK IT’S IMPORTANT?”
Nasrin shifted her feet back & forth & unzipped her jacket. “I dunno,” she muttered.
As Nasrin got ready to go to sleep, she turned to the device under her bed & said, “Do you… This is going to probably sound stupid, ¿but do you get cold @ night?”
After a pause, the device replied, “¿WHY? ¿DO YOU? ‘CAUSE I DO HAVE A BUILT-IN HEATER FOR JUST THAT PROBLEM.”
Nasrin fidgeted with her hands tightly gripping the edge o’ her sheets.
“N-no… I mean, I don’t need it if you don’t want… I was just wondering if you needed it or anything.”
The device paused ‘gain before saying, “IF YOU WANT TO SLEEP NEXT TO ME, I’D LOVE TO, ‘LESS YOU’RE UNCOMFORTABLE WITH IT.”
Nasrin’s eyes darted all o’er the room.
“Uh… I… If you say s—OK.”
She raised a shaking hand & grabbed the device. The effort to move it ‘side her was as stiff & difficult as controlling a crane.
“¿Y-you sure you’re OK with this?” she said.
“UH HUH. SO LONG AS YOU’RE NOT UNCOMFORTABLE ‘BOUT IT. I WOULDN’T FEEL GOOD MAKING OTHER PEOPLE UNHAPPY. IF YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND, JUST TELL ME.”
“O-O-OK,” she said, & then slowly slid under her covers. Then she slowly placed her arm o’er the device, scooted it closer & closer toward her, & then slowly slid her other arm under it, so many insignificant actions building into 1 much grander.
She wasn’t sure if ’twas puffy warmth coming from its speakers or the way it seemed to pulsate up & down in slow waves, or just her tiredness, but something eased her into a forgetfulness for all fears & worries, so that the words, “I love you, device,” slipped out like smoky, cool breath.
She’d expected it to respond with something like, “THAT IS GOOD TO HEAR. MY ONLY GOAL IS…” but ‘stead heard it say quietly but steadily, “I LOVE YOU, TOO, NASRIN.”
But then the doorbell rang.
“¿Hello?” Sir Mohsen said as he peered in confusion through his bottlecap glasses @ the spunky rich student wrapped in a gilded robe with silver sashes & chestnut hair splayed flat up to her shoulder with many flaying spikes @ the edge.
“’Scuse me, Sir, ¿but is there a Nasrin Mohsen living here?”
“Uh… ¿Who are you?” replied Sir Mohsen.
“I’m a classmate o’ hers. We need to have a li’l larynx-to-larynx talk ’bout something personal.”
Sir Mohsen’s eyes twirled as if she’d said her pencil probed her face.
“¿Nasrin knows you? As in, ¿you’re friends?”
“Absolutely not. But she will know me soon.”
“Uh, I’m sorry, Madame, but I can’t just let you come in & probably beat up my daughter, as character-building as that may be.”
The spunky rich student hunched forward. “’Scuse me, Sir, but I don’t indulge in such vulgar activites as physical offense, as well as verbal, psychological, or ornithological.”
“¿So you’re planning to use my daughter so she’ll do your homework?” said Sir Mohsen. “¿How desperate are you?”
The spunky rich student glared. “I’ll force you to learn that I get much better grades than that dumbskull you call a daughter.”
As she spoke, Sir Mohsen glanced up @ the clock. “You’re wasting my precious wingnut-mocking time. If I let you go upstairs & annoy my daughter, ¿will you leave me ‘lone?”
So he stepped aside & she strode in. Sir Mohsen scratched the side o’ his face as he watched her clamber up the stairs; but as he craned his neck & back to see the upstairs hallway, he saw her step inside Nasrin’s room &, assured that his priceless set o’ price tags were secure, returned to his couch to continue his work.
The spunky rich student didn’t knock. She merely turned the knob, jerked the door open in 1 swift movement, & shouted, “¡Gotcha, thief!”
Nasrin threw herself back so hard that she smacked her head gainst the headboard o’ her bed.
“¡ACK! ¿Who are you?”
The spunky rich student stepped forward & pointed @ the Key Companion. “¡Aha! ¡Caught you in the act!”
Nasrin followed the student’s finger to its destination.
“¿This device? ¿What’s she talking ’bout?”
“I HAVE NO IDEA.”
“That `device’ is my half-birthday present, which you stole.”
Nasrin stared @ the spunky rich student with pupils kilometers ‘way.
“¿What are you talking ’bout? ¿H-how would you e’en know if this in particular is yours?”
The spunky rich student guffawed humorlessly. “¿`How would I know’? ¿& where, may I ask, did you happen to get that, then?”
Nasrin quickly blurted, “I bought it.”
“¿Where did you buy it?”
Nasrin’s treasonous knees shifted uncomfortably. “I dunno. Like I’d remember. ¿Why are you harassing me? This isn’t school; I’m s’posed to be free now. & this device acted as a new save when I got it, so there was nothing special to save. ¿Can’t you just buy a new 1?”
The spunky rich student crossed her arms. “¿& where would I buy it, smarty sweats?”
“I dunno. ¿Online?”
“¿Would you happen to know who I am, Madame Nasrin Mohsen, perchance?”
“No… ¿How do you know who I am?”
“Using my family’s computers I was able to spy on every house within a kilometer o’ Peanut Butter Park. The way you maintained your gooey talk to my Key Companion painted a red X on you.”
Nasrin blushed & her eyes darted ‘way.
“Now, I’ll ask ‘gain, ¿Do you know who I am?”
“Does the last name `Lymph’ raise a flag for you?”
As a facet o’ fact, that very word did linger in Nasrin’s mind for reasons Nasrin couldn’t comprehend, till her friend said, “¿REMEMBER, NASRIN? THAT’S THE NAME O’ THE COMPANY THAT MADE ME.”
Nasrin’s pupils sunk ‘nother kilometer.
“That’s right, thief,” said the spunky rich student: “that crap ’bout buying that isn’t worth jack ’cause that shit isn’t e’en on the market. My mother, as President, was able to get me a special prerelease copy before their put in stores, which I misplaced @ Peanut Butter Park. Now hand it o’er & I won’t have to bury you in lawsuits.”
Nasrin grabbed the device & scooted it closer to herself.
“Then just have her give you ‘nother. You don’t need this 1 in particular, ¿do you? I’ve used this 1 already.”
The spunky rich student took ‘nother step forward. “O, sure, ’cause my mother can just take as many prerelease versions as she wants—the company’s just loaded with them.”
Nasrin tightened the device to her stomach. “B-but I already used this 1… It’s too late to take it back—to take him back. I mean, he’s already a person now, & he’s made to be for me. You already probably have millions o’ fleshy friends. Go annoy them.”
The spunky rich student headed for Nasrin’s bed. “I’ve ‘nough o’ your ‘scuses.” She then grabbed the device, hunched o’er the bed.
“¡Noooo!” Nasrin shouted as she yanked the device toward herself.
But with 1 shove with her elbow, the spunky rich student was able to knock Nasrin off the bed, breaking her grip on the device completely. Then she rose & strode out the room with the device just under her face.
“¿Key Companion?” the spunky rich student said right up to the device. “¿Can you hear me?” Then she noticed the headphones with a glare & yanked them out & tossed them ‘hind her.
“¿Key Companion? ¿Hello?”
The device called out, “NASRIN, ¿SHOULD I ANSWER THIS OTHER PERSON?”
“O, right. I remember mother telling me ’bout this.” The spunky rich student flipped the device upside-down. “¿Where’s the reset button?”
Nasrin, who’d just gotten up @ this point, inflated her eyes to the size o’ shields & shouted as she raced toward the other student.
“Ah, here we go,” the spunky rich student said as she pulled a pen out o’ her robe. She then jabbed it into the tiny hole in the device’s back.
“There, ¿now will you answer me?”
“HELLO. I AM KEY COMPANION, CREATED BY LYMPH LIMITED COPYRIGHT 2048. ¿WHAT IS YOUR NAME?”
“Samanth—¿What the fuck?”
Nasrin shoved Samantha with full force as she was reaching the bottom step, knocking her to the ground & tossing the device a half meter ‘way. Nasrin then ran for it & picked it up.
“¿Are you OK?”
In a much cheerier voice than Nasrin e’er remembered it speaking in, the device said, “SAMANTHUATHAFUCK, ¿IS EVERYTHING ALL RIGHT?”
“¿What was that 1st part?” asked Nasrin as she shook the device.
“¿WHICH 1 O’ YOU IS MY OWNER?”
“I am. ¿Don’t you recognize me?”
“’FRAID NOT, MADAME. ¿WHAT IS YOUR NAME?”
By this point Samantha had returned to her feet & swiped the device out o’ Nasrin’s hands. “¡You lying bitch, it’s mine!”
But before she could leave, Nasrin yanked her by the side o’ her robe. “ ¡Nooo! ¡Device, you still remember me, right? ¿What’s your—¡ACK!”
Nasrin was silenced by a kick to her stomach, causing Nasrin to keel o’er in a fetal position with her arms round herself.
As she left, Samantha muttered, “Knew I should’ve just gotten the cops involved. Shows what happens when you try to do someone a favor & give them a chance to avoid legal punishment.”
The silence crawled all o’er Nasrin, causing her to constantly twitch. The only way she could maintain a feeling o’ life was by holding onto something, like her dresser or headboard. Her eyes & mind, meanwhile, were occupied by the dark void round her, hoping to find what was nowhere in the world o’ light.
She spent entire afternoons on childhood favorite video games, music, shows, & comics,—sleep now being almost impossible, as it only returned her to the cycling prison nightmares o’ the device’s death ‘gain & ‘gain & ‘gain—searching particularly for those she hadn’t thought ’bout in years. But she couldn’t pay any attention to them. As far as her mind could tell, none o’ them existed, nothing did—nothing but the spike ball growing in her chest.
As they ate breakfast that Saturday, Sir Mohsen said with a glance & a smirk out o’ the side o’ his laptop monitor, “¿What’s up with your eyes? ¿Did that student who came o’er sell you pot or something?”
Nasrin rubbed the corner o’ 1 eye & sniffed, but kept her pupils straight ‘head o’ her, aimed @ nothing.
After breakfast Nasrin returned to her room & spent the whole day listening to MP3s full-blast, pretending that ’twas the device singing them all.