Author : Andi Dobek

“So, I was watching this film last night.”

“Yeah? Which one?”

“Something called Casablanca.”

“I’ve heard of that one. Never seen it. Any good?”

“I don’t know. My emotive censors blocked most of it out. I guess so.”

Iteration 247 stared at Iteration 7225. “They censored that much?”

7225 shrugged. “It was listed as a ‘romance’.”

“That would explain it.”

“It wasn’t even in color! Everything was grey! My lenses kept trying to adjust, and extrude the forms into dimensional space, but the format wasn’t supported.”

“They don’t even list those for viewing if they’re that old.” 247’s eyes narrowed. “You’ve been going off-grid again.”

There was a pause.

“Viewing the network is against code. You know that.”

“Don’t you sometimes wonder?” 7225 asked quickly, evading the accusation. “Don’t you wonder…what we might be missing?”

247 smirked. “Pain. A whole lot of pain, kid.”

“But our neural receptors have been modified so – ”

“I’m not talking that kind of pain, this is different. Older.” 247 put both hands on the table between them, then reached for a knife. Before 7225 could protest, 247 brought the knife down swiftly, severing the left index.

“We don’t even bleed anymore,” 247 sneered, holding up the detached digit. “You’re newer. You probably can’t even remember blood.”

“No…I can’t.”

247 dropped the finger, letting it roll across the table. “As painful as that would have been…the pain we’re “missing out” on is even worse. They even had a special word for it.”

7225 looked intrigued. “What is it?”

247 cocked an eyebrow.

“That one? Say it, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it.”

“If you know which one it is, you know I can’t say it.”

“It’s four letters, right? Please say it.”

247 glared, then picked up the knife again, and slowly, deliberately, began scratching the word into the metal surface of the table.

7225 squinted, trying to read it upside down. “Lo – ”

A nine-fingered hand clapped over 7225’s mouth. “Don’t.” Silence hung between the pair, until, satisfied the word wouldn’t be uttered, 247 pulled away.

“It’s rather small. Looks innocuous, really.”

247 scratched furiously through the word to make it illegible. “It’s why that film is unlisted. Why we have censors.”

“But…why? What’s so special about it? Is it dangerous? You said it was the same as pain. And I can say “pain” just fine. Pain.”

247 scowled. “Because pain can be a teacher, and the last thing they want is for us to learn something we shouldn’t.”

“Have you…what’s the word…“hurt”, yes, have you been “hurt” before?”

247 blinked, wordlessly twirling the knife, before letting it clatter to the table. “Forget it kid. And quit going off-grid.” With that, 247 stood, leaving 7225 to finish third meal alone.

Cautiously, 7225 launched an ocular definition generator, and whispered a query.

“‘Romance’, definition of.”

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