The glass beads were black and white: tiny flattened circles that made a loud clattering sound when he emptied the bag onto the glowing white floor. Most of the 1,394 settled within a few feet of his legs, although a few rolled to the outer reaches of the room.
“The problem here is that you don’t understand the potential,” Sudoku told her without lifting his attention from the beads. “You use this thing to play games and watch stimvids. You’ve never even opened the console.”
“And this is the console.”
“This is what the console looks like today.”
From her position on the floor across from him, Ery glanced around the room, then snorted. “Nice. Well, now that that’s over with, I’m going to go finish my coffee.”
“This room isn’t actually empty,” he said when the edges of her body started to shimmer with logout. She recondensed with a sigh that was slightly louder than necessary.
“I know an empty room when I see one.”
“There’s me. And you.”
“And stimvid pickup lines, apparently. But there’s coffee back in your apartment, and it’s winning.”
He wiped the beads into a small pile, then swept them onto his palm before spilling them over the floor again. “What’s a stimvid, Ery?”
“I’m not going to justify that with an answer.”
“It’s a program that shows you exactly what you want to see, right?”
“Because the program is written to pick up on your unique desires. Imagine what kind of engine something like that would have to run on. And don’t even ask about the hardware.”
She sighed. Although he didn’t look up, Sudoku recognized the expression on her face.
“Go touch the wall,” he told her.
Ery stood up and stepped around the pile of beads with uncharacteristic care. Beneath her fingers, the wall was smooth and glossy, reflective. She followed it to the corner as she searched for imperfections. None.
“What does it feel like?” he asked.
“Because that’s what you expect.”
As her fingers dragged along the surface, it became rougher, softer. In a brief flicker, she saw warm patterns of woven fiber, plush reds and yellows swirling together only to disappear into blank whiteness an instant later. Ery stopped. “What was that?”
“It’s a Persian rug. You’ve probably never seen one.”
“I know what they are. But-”
“It’s just a matter of deciding what you want to see, then seeing it. You’re doing it right now, but you don’t realize it.”
Ery pulled her hand away and squinted at the featureless blank. When it yielded nothing to her scrutiny, she returned to her place opposite him. “What am I changing?” she asked.
“Me.” Sudoku emptied the bag again. This time, most of the escaping beads were deflected by Ery’s seated body and settled back in the space between them.
She frowned, and waited.
“This isn’t what I actually look like.”
“I’ve seen you thousands of times.”
“Exactly. You’ve seen me thousands of times.” Neglecting the beads, Sudoku met her eyes. “Right now, I’m the person you picture when you think about Sudoku. I’m not the person I see when I look in the mirror. Likewise, you appear the way I see you.”
“What do I look like?”
Sudoku chuckled. He began gathering the beads again. “I told you. You look exactly like you look on the outside. To me, I mean. You look the way I see you.”
“So if you can change the things in this room just by thinking about them in the right way, why do you do the bead thing? If you created them with your mind, don’t you already know how many there are?”
“It’s not the counting,” Sudoku said as he scattered them for a third time. They lay around his legs, disregarded, waiting to be numbered. He bit his lip and stood up as he searched for phrases. Language had never been one of his strong points. “I don’t even think about the counting. My mind does that on it’s own. It’s more about the pattern when they fall out. I just can’t deal with these rooms. Everything is so…” he took a few steps, facing the wall, “so easily controlled, I guess. But if I create enough beads the mainframe has to take over and control them as they fall. The more I watch it, the more I understand the mainframe.” He turned to face her.
“So what happens then?”
Sudoku smiled for four seconds before closing his eyes to log off. As his image flickered away the uncounted beads dissolved into ether, but Ery hesitated, wondering what would remain after she left.