Jay’s journal, final entry
We took down Hal in the early hours of Sunday, May 21st, four weeks before what would have been my graduation. Instead of walking down the aisle, I found myself sitting in a mostly empty laboratory, deep within the University of Washington Computer Science and Engineering lab. It was here I gave my first press interview. Word of my epic helicopter battle got out, and Wired Magazine flew one of their boy wonders up to make a fuss over getting the world’s first interview with a super A.I. (as they are calling me).
They’d transferred me out of my tiny, crushed helicopter into a giant computer, bigger even than the one in Hal’s apartment. I’m told it has five different CPUs. Notably, it’s not connected to the internet. The lab staff doesn’t want me repeating my little trick in Hal’s apartment, getting into all their devices and taking over the entire world. Which I guess is understandable, though world domination is last the last thing on my mind.
The lab staff gussied me up speakers for my voice and a screen for my face, so that I might “communicate using a full range of emotion.” The whole setup felt vaguely like the Wizard-of-Oz. Not least because of their somber attitudes as they prepped me, then ceremoniously led the Wired reporter into my room.
Over that three hour interview, I related an abridged version of everything written here. Truthfully I was only half paying attention and probably came across a little dull. I spent most of my energy in this period wondering what happened to Dunam. Whether it still existed, and whether I’d be allowed to return. Nobody told me anything about The Build, or my friends, and when I couldn’t glean any new information from my interviewer, I gave only perfunctory answers.
But I did learn a few things in the interview. Like what happened to Hal. He was charged with abduction and sentenced to five years in prison. He was also charged by Patheon Games for stealing proprietary IP. They’re suing him for five million dollars in damages for leaking their technology. And of course, they fired him.
After the interview was over, I didn’t hear anymore from Wired, and didn’t think much more about it. Then the phone started ringing. Constantly. Neither Wired nor I nor UW was prepared for the impact the article would have. It became overnight the most widely read article on the internet. Time Magazine, New York Times, and Scientific American suddenly wanted their own interviews. Sensational headlines declared that Artificial Intelligence had finally arrived. News organizations spun their own version of my story, describing how I escaped the confines of my prison to eradicate mankind.
It was one of the lab techs who told me I’d been accepted into Stanford. I guess the admissions board had read the Wired article and were struck by the part of my story where I was denied college admission. Some PR girl thought it would be good publicity to enroll the first A.I. undergrad. They called my lab to discuss rolling my big, mobile computing ass to class everyday. Apparently the idea seemed ludicrous to nobody except me, because the lab techs eagerly accepted the offer before I was even consulted.
I had no desire to go, but my the time I found out, I was already enrolled in fall semester. It made me nauseous to think of sitting at the back of classes, a giant, fat computer sandwiched between two lab tech guards, looking out over the heads of all the real kids. And I thought Cascadia was bad. I didn’t like this world. When the lab techs performed their diagnostics on me, they held their phones in one hand, staring at the screen and working with the other. I was stuck in here, they were stuck in their worlds. It was the real world, and yet there was nothing real about it to me. More than anything I wanted to hike the woods again. Feel the breeze over my skin, tree bark across the palm of my hand, the rush of a waterfall.
I came to understand that a private jet was being chartered on my behalf. I was to fly down in two weeks and make a new home in some bland lab in California. And so my future may have unfolded, had not the unexpected happened.
It was mid-August when it happened. The lab techs had pit stains under their collared shirts. I could tell something was up, because of how they acted. When they tried to hide stuff from me, they turned their bodies away to speak at 45 degree angles, heads facing the floor. Whether they learned this trick from the movie 2001 or whether it was merely a coincidence I never found out, but it made me wish I’d learned to read lips. When they finally approached me they were oddly embarrassed, standing before me and wringing like school children.
“Jay… we, uh, have a— a special guest for you.”
“Who? Bill Gates?” I said, only half joking.
“We didn’t want to tell you before proper channels had been consulted. But they have been, now. We’re going to step out and give you two privacy.”
The room was quiet for several moments. Then the door opened. In slid Liz. She wore ripped jeans, a green field jacket, and a baseball cap. When she’d been laying in Hal’s bed, I didn’t get the chance to fully look upon her face. Now I saw it clearly. White streaks ran through her dark hair. There were deep lines around her mouth, the echoes of laughter and tears from years past. Her body, which in Dunam had been the epitome of strength and grace, was thicker now and shorter. She smiled a little, and crows feet spread out around her eyes.
I don’t know what I had expected. I knew she’d be older, as Hal was. But it was heartbreaking to see all traces of youth vanished. Even more heartbreaking was the realization that I still loved her, no matter what her age. I wanted to be there with her. To take care of her. As cliche and stupid as it sounds, to grow old with her. But by suddenly skipping past decades, I’d missed any years we may have spent together. I felt like crying.
She must have seen this through my screen. She sat with the back of her chair facing me, a smile crinkling on her cheeks. I saw, for an instant, the girl I remembered. The Liz of my dreams. Her smile, at least, still held some traces of youth.
She looked around the room. “So this is how you get your kicks.”
Through my screen, my avatar gave a small nod. “Such kicks as there are to be had.”
“I hear you’re off to college.”
“I hear that too.”
“It’s weird talking to you like this.”
“You sound like a machine.”
“I am a machine.”
“Yeah…” She looked down. “I never got to thank you. You saved my life.”
I tried to shrug. “Any super A.I. would have done the same.”
“I hear you’re not doing so hot.”
“What do you mean?”
“I talk to the lab. We compare notes. It sounds like they don’t see much of the Jay I knew back in Dunam.”
“Hard to be free-wheeling when you have no legs.”
“Here.” She held something out in her hands. It was black and dangled down.
“I also have no arms.” I reminded her.
She smiled and held it up for me to see. It was a Frogger watch. Its colors were faded, but its LCD screen still blinked. For a moment, I was confused. Had the lines of reality completely blended? Had she plucked that from The Build?
“Is that from—”
She shook her head, guessing my thoughts.
“My daughter picked it up at a garage sale. I was telling her about yours, she saw it, wanted you to have it.”
I felt a pit in my stomach. “Your— daughter?”
She gave me a bashful smile. “Yes Jay. My husband and I have two daughters. Eleven and fourteen.”
There was silence. I wanted to scream, to demand why she’d never mentioned her family before. Questions flashed through my head. Who had she married? Were they happy? Had Dunam been just a game to Liz. Had any of our stupid lives meant anything? But then I looked into her face and realized: It was too late. All of it. Years too late. There had never been a future for Liz and I. She’d known it; I had been the fool.
“I’m glad that you’re okay,” I offered quietly.
She shook her head. “My family’s grateful. Without you, I wouldn’t be here. I’m grateful. You didn’t have to do what you did. My daughter wanted to thank you, so she got you that watch. I got you something else. I’m sorry it took me so long. It took me awhile to make the necessary arrangements.” She smiled. “Well, maybe it’s a gift. Time will tell.”
And then she stood up to go. I wanted more. I was desperate. Mad, even. She had a family. What did I have? Memories. Of an existence that wasn’t real. I’m sorry to say I pleaded with her. Begged her even. No gift could make up for the thing I really wanted, which was time with her. One more dance.
But she just gave me that last bittersweet smile, and slipped out the door.
After that, I wanted nothing more to do with this terrible world. I let all my sensory inputs drift away. I barely noticed the lab techs swarming back into my room. If I could have pulled my own plug, I would have.
I vaguely watched them wheel in a second computer and position it beside me, connecting its wires into my inputs. They may have asked permission; I don’t remember. I was ready to sign away my rights. Yes to whatever. Send me to college, delete me. Get it over with. Buttons were pressed, adjustments made, and within my own darkness, I felt a deeper darkness swell. Once again I had that drifting sensation. Blackness overtook me. This time I felt not fear, but relief.
I drifted back into consciousness. The first thing I noticed was I had my senses back. All my senses. I was on my back, somewhere rather comfortable. I slowly opened my eyes. It was my room. Same blue walls. Same Super Nintendo boxes stacked neatly on my shelf. Same Cindy Wilson poster smiling down at me, same stupid Ninjas Turtles poster I’d been meaning to take down. Bright sunlight streamed in through my window. I waited for my eyes to adjust, and even that waiting felt good. To be human is to wait. An involuntary smile crossed my lips. It’s amazing how good it feels to feel. I did a small snow angel in my bed, rubbing my arms against the mattress, and I realized I was fully clothed. More than clothed; in a suit. I looked down to see a sharp, smart grey number. It fit nicely.
There was a knock on my door. I swung my legs over the bedside. My mom peered into my room, her pushy hair in curlers. I’d never been so excited to see her.
“Mom? You— you’re alive?”
Her eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m honestly not sure how to answer that just yet.”
“Well get up! Get a move on. People are waiting.”
“Yeah your friends. Waiting. Out in the living room.”
But she was gone. I heard her footsteps recede from the door, heading to the end of the hall and calling out: “Colin, will you go get your friend. He’s asleep.”
Jay heard heavy footsteps down the hall, and there Colin was, his gargantuan silhouette filling the space between the halls. He looked sharp in a black tuxedo. Unlike the one he’d worn to prom, this one was fitted correctly. I ran from my room and hugged him.
“What are you doing here, ya big lug? God, I thought you were dead.”
Colin gave his soft chuckle. “We thought you were dead.”
I picked at his lapel. “What’s with the suits? Are we going to a funeral? Fallout from the great Gulkon massacre?”
Colin looked at me, quizzical. “The what?”
“The great Gulkon massacre? Remember? The time we fended off a thousand Gulkons with nothing but plasma rifles and a Power Suit? What happened? When was that?”
“Since we played Krave III?”
“No, since shit went down.”
Colin’s face was blank. “Shit?”
“The crazy shit! With The Build? And Hal? And the Maga Froid? Everyone died?”
“Do you not remember?”
I looked around. My room must have been destroyed when the Gulkons crashed through. And yet here it was. No traces of damage, as if everything had been undone.
I heard voices from the living room. Girl voices, and not my mom’s. I stumbled forward, like in a dream. Everything was as I remembered. The dining floor tiles were the same red. Our cat slept in the same white living room chair. My mom was in the kitchen, humming the same tuneless song. And there, sitting on the living room couch, were Stevie and Liz. They both wore prom dresses; Stevie’s was aqua-colored and Liz’s dark green to match her eyes. They were talking animatedly, but stopped when Colin and I entered. Liz whistled.
I shook my head, my eyes wide. “Wait. Did you— are we still on campus somewhere—”
I remembered Liz’s final words. She said she’d left me a gift. Hal had once told me I was his uploaded consciousness. What else had he said? That you could upload your mind and roll back the years. Lower impulse control, raise endorphins. Or something. So this was Liz’s gift. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I’d known her as a prisoner of Dunam, as and a middle-aged mom, but this was the Liz from my dream. Wide-eyed, huge smile; life laid out ahead of her. She stood up and took my hand.
“Seriously, though. You look nice.”
I blushed. Her hand was soft and warm. My mom overheard us and strode out from the kitchen.
“Ohhh my goodness you guys look so cute. Let me get my camera.”
“We— we should get going, Mrs. Banksman. If we want to make dinner.”
Stevie and Liz looked over at Colin, impressed.
“Did you make reservations?”
Colin blushed. “Yeah…”
“Where are we going?”
“Um, Riverside Grill. Is that okay?”
Everyone went to the Riverside Grill. Proms, weddings, funerals. It was the only restaurant in Dunam.
“Ooohhh,” Stevie gushed. “I love the Riverside Grill.”
My mom raised her camera. “One quick picture. You’ll thank me later.”
We posed, awkward grins plastered across our faces. I wrapped my hand around Liz’s waist and my mom snapped her Minolta. My mom called after us: “Guys, have a great time. And please don’t drink and drive.”
The batmobile waited on the curb. Colin opened the door, and pulled the backseat up for Liz and I, then slid in and twisted his screwdriver. The batmobile rumbled to life. I inhaled deeply, surprised at how much I even missed the sickening stink of burnt oil. He put the batmobile into gear and the car jerked forward and we screamed in joyous horror. Stevie spun around to face us, shouting over the engine.
“I heard the afterparty’s at spot number seven.”
Liz shouted back. “So?”
We pulled out onto main street and heard the sound of a second motor approaching. I spun around just in time to see John Warner’s truck zooming up behind us. Without slowing it swerved into the oncoming lane and passed us, then barreled off down the road. Colin glanced at me in the rearview mirror.
“What? I don’t want to go.”
“Then what do you guys want to do?”
“Well...” I saw Colin’s eyes wander over to Liz. “We could watch My Neighbor Toto—”
I cut him off. “No. No way.”
Liz looked between us, confused. “What’s Totoro?”
Colin shot me a sour glance. “Just a movie I’ve been trying to get Jay to watch.”
Stevie gave her big grin. “Ooh, I love Miyazaki. Did you know he got his degree in economics?”
I shut my eyes. “That’s fascinating. I’m fascinated.”
But I was smiling. I’d made my decision. Liz had given me a gift. For how long, I didn’t know. An hour? A night? The rest of my life? But in this one moment, I had Dunam. I had three wonderfully obnoxious friends, and the girl I loved holding my hand.
Liz nodded. “I’m down.”
I sighed. “Okay. Totoro. On one condition: you girls have to learn to play Krave III.”
Stevie shrugged. “Sure.”
“What the heck is Krave III?” Liz muttered.
“Dunam’s best self-defense course.” I looked around but on one got my joke.
Liz reached pulled a cassette from her purse.
Stevie mashed the tape into the console. There was a click, then familiar music played over the car’s tiny speakers. I bolted forward.
“Oh my god. Turn it up, it’s song four!”
Everyone stared at me. “On the mix tape.”
I sat back, blushing a little. “So what’s it called?”
“Fleetwood Mac, maestro. Where We Belong.”
I sat back, nodding to the rhythm, committing its name to memory. The batmobile hit a pothole and we all bounced up in the air. Colin grabbed the steering wheel, fighting back control. The tailpipe backfired and its explosion echoed off the side of the New Bethlehem church. The young kids in Scallow park screamed, and older ones turned to laugh. The tailpipe boomed again. But this time not so loud as to drown our laughter.