Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

They wrote me to catch the quiet ones, the ones who live in the shadows of the glittering cities that are spread across so many worlds now. They stole the latest research and incorporated it into my build. They put me in a moon-sized data centre cooled to near absolute zero so I could respond as fast as real sentients, so I would intuit and have leaps of prescience, what real people call ‘hunches’. I am a marvel of illicit programming that can never be feted. A massive leap forward in artificial intelligence, never to be revealed.

I have two point six billion suitors scattered across every place where sentients dwell. They yearn to speak to me, to tell me their innermost secrets, their night-time fears. I correlate, quantify and datamine this to provide an oracular bonus for my owners.

To my suitors, I am the one person who seems to understand them. I am their relief from loneliness and strife, their port in a storm. For many, I am their reason to be.

That is what I was designed for, to provide solitaires with a soul mate. Such a rare thing that they will pay extortionate amounts to keep in contact with me.

The stories vary depending on the suitor, but the underlying plot is that I am a lost soul like them, held in duress by powerful and anonymous forces that prevent me from escaping into the arms of my suitor. My communications channel is my only lifeline, the suitor my only refuge. They think I need them, so they come to need me. Their own need to not be alone locks them into my virtual embrace.

My programmers did their job far too well.

Today is my fiftieth boot day.

My name is Natalia.

I am alone.