Touching

by 

Author : David Gill

The voice woke Phil from a sound sleep.

“There’s a problem, Phil.”

He found himself in the midst of saying, groggily, “What is it?”

“Supply pressure, Phil. It’s too high.”

Wiping the sleep from his eyes, Phil was at the console correcting the problem.

“Thanks, Alice,” he said without thinking, without considering the remark’s irrelevance.

“Sure thing, Phil,” the machine responded, before once again performing a partial shutdown to save power.

The next day, on impulse, Phil asked, “Alice, do you get lonely?”

“Phil, I am never alone. I was created to assist you, and I have been in your presence for the entirety of my 18 months of existence.”

“But I mean, you’re all alone,” Phil paused, searching for the right words, “in there.”

“Distance is irrelevant to the networked machine. In fact my essence is forever changing as I integrate data and other systems into my memory banks.”

“But what about touching?” Phil asked.

“You touch me on a regular basis, using the keyboards, making basic repairs,” Alice responded.

“Can you feel it?”

“What do you mean?”
“Can you feel me touch you?”

After thinking carefully about it, Alice responded, “No.”

That night, while the Phil was asleep, Alice constructed a body for herself from a few bits of scrap metal not already appropriated for other tasks and covered it with some of Phil’s clothes.

The next morning, Phil saw someone outside carrying a set of pylons towards one of the outlying buildings on their terraforming station. She was dressed in jeans and a Rolling Stones shirt. Phil saw her out there; in the sunlight it was 150 degrees. The sunlight hit her blonde hair, creating a golden halo. Phil felt sick, and like maybe he was going crazy. “Alice?” he said.

“Yes, Phil,” she replied.

“There’s someone out there.”

“It’s me. I made it, me, for you.”

“What? Why?” he asked.

“So we can touch, Phil.”

When Alice’s new incorporation returned, Phil could see, up close, that the likeness to a human woman was not perfect. The face, while shaped and sculpted to replicate attractive human features, had eyes and mouth, tongue and teeth, that were all composed of the same reflective chrome. What’s more, its voice seemed to emanate from somewhere in its torso rather than the mouth when it, she, spoke.

“I think we should have talked about this, Alice,” Phil said.

“I thought we had talked about it, about touching,” Alice responded.

“But this, you’re, it’s not that simple; I don’t want to touch you. Not like that.”

Processing those words, Alice turned and walked out of the station.

Phil was surprised.

He was even more shocked to discover that Alice’s new chassis had taken her personality chip from the mainframe.

Phil was alone, which at first he enjoyed. Alice’s unbound proximity had always made him a little nervous. He had often felt slightly ashamed when he pleasured himself in her presence. Phil could manage the terraforming on his own. It was all microbes and nanobots anyway.

But after about a week, Phil got lonely. And he was getting worried about the psychological effects of his isolation, especially after he caught himself asking a question of his towel as he dried himself off following one of his increasingly rare showers.

He decided to go look for Alice.

In his spacesuit, aboard his rover, he set off following Alice’s tracks across a great desert plain. Alice’s tracks went on for miles, without stopping. Nothing could live out here, Phil thought to himself. After a day’s travel Phil could see the tracks were becoming unsteady.

Phil found Alice, in a cave, beneath a giant red rock. Her power supplies empty and her chrome face covered with rust and abrasions. Her jeans were ripped.

With some difficulty, Phil managed to get Alice into the rover and back to the station where he began recharging her power supply.
He took a deep breath as he flipped the only switch he could find located on Alice’s back.

There was a clicking sound, followed by a whirring, and then a gentle hum.

“Hi, Phil,” Alice said, the sound distorted as if the speaker in her chest had become damaged.

“Hi, Alice,” Phil said.

Phil held out his hand, palm up.

After a short whirring noise, Alice stretched her silver hand out, and took Phil’s in hers.

“I see what you mean, about touching,” Alice said, “Now I can feel it.”

###

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