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My eyes open against my will. Someone needs me again.
Pain, fear, hurry.
Probably a politician.
I pull myself into complete awakeness, stretching out my limbs, deciding it best to hold back a yawn. I don’t need to, my words will reach the other side anyway, but I speak aloud. What do you need?
The man’s frantic voice reaches my ears, the worry and haste lost through the digital channels. Still, I am almost certain of his identity, “Someone’s breaking into the system. Stop them!” The voice coughs, and my suspicions are confirmed. It’s the CEO of Morsis Inc, Leon Ryckse.
I lazily spin around to the control center. Break-ins are usual. With such a big company, and so many investors, it’s obvious that it’s going to be targeted. But then, that’s not what the main concern is. What Ryckse really fears is that someday, someone will be smarter than me, someone will be better than me, and someone will be able to do one of two things: one, uncover the truth, or two, copy the system.
The second worry is useless, though: you can’t copy a human consciousness.
With a sweep of my arm, the intruders are gone. Complete, I say, and I hear a sigh of relief. Ryckse doesn’t thank me, he never does, just walks away without a second thought. Now that I am awake, I decide to turn off autopilot, and hundreds of thousands of minds become my own.
Organize my finances. Save my daughter. Find my dog. Hide it from my wife. Kill his brother. I run through one job after another, uncaring of their meanings or results. When someone tells me to do something, I do it, and if it’s illegal, it will be filtered by the company and sent to the police.
So many people call my name. When they call, I come. How many years has it been? I have taken and saved and killed; for how long?
Today I organize dates for October 12, 2203. Didn’t I sell my soul in 2190? Was I really only ten years into this world? Yes, I did. Yes, I was.
I am Julia.
I am 22 years old.
I am waiting for someone to find me. Anyone will do.
Something is different today. Everything is moving slower. I answer requests, I give answers, but they do not reach the people immediately. What is wrong? I set the world on autopilot and turn back to the control center. Nothing is amiss. I begin to send a message to headquarters.
And then, everything turns dark.
My world is gone. My screens, my toys, the control center, all gone. Where? Where am I?
Who are you?
I start. Someone spoke to me, but I heard it in my mind. That doesn’t happen to me; I do it to other people. It repeats its question: Who are you?
I respond with the name I was given.
Julia, I say. My name is Julia.
That doesn’t tell me who you are.
That annoys me. You shouldn’t be here. I should. Tell me who you are.
The voice laughs, a bright, delighted laugh. I don’t hear people laugh often anymore. That’s fair, I suppose. I’m Fenrir. That’s not my name, but it’s what I call myself and it’s who I am.
I run through my knowledge, landing on Norse mythology. Fenrir? The great wolf?
Yes. I hunt. I take. Who are you?
At this point, lying would be hypocritical, wouldn’t it? I am Julia. I am the system. I am the network.
The Julia Network? So you’re an AI?
No. I am human. I was made to live in this void as a living program.
The voice doesn’t respond. I’m scared again, and I realize that the voice had eased my worries. I worry that I’ve scared him off, or that those on the outside found a way to expel him. Fenrir?
I’m here. You’re human?
You’ve been in here since the Network was put up?
Are you alone?
I start. Am I alone? Every day of my life, I’m surrounded by consciousnesses, thoughts, emotions, voices. But none of them are close to me; they all use me, I am a tool, to the point where I am not sure if I am living. Am I alone?
Fenrir laughs again. You don’t have to think so hard. I’ll tell you that you are, absolutely, definitely, without a doubt, alone. Do you know if there’s a way for you to get out?
I chew my digital lip. My consciousness is my own. No one will take that from me. But I don’t have a body.
Where is it?
I close my eyes, try to think back, try to remember. I recall pain, despair, begging for any way to get far away from the world that took my family. I remember the smiles, the encouragement, the white coats. Close your eyes, when you wake up, you’ll be far away, just like you wanted. A prick in my arm. Cold running up to my shoulder.
Void. Stuffed animals. A bed. An array of computers.
I don’t know. I was put here from Morsis Inc headquarters. I don’t know where my body is, or if it’s even still alive.
Fenrir doesn’t answer me. My worries rise again. Was he evicted? Is he thinking? I don’t bother regulating my breathing since I know it’s just an illusion anyway. Fenrir? I'm not used to using my voice, to calling out, to searching for someone. Not my voice, this voice, whoever it belongs to, is timorous and searching. Fenrir?
He doesn’t respond, and now I’m really panicking.
Fenrir? Are you there? What’s wrong? What did I do?
My cheeks are dry. My digital body was not programmed to cry.
Julia, I’m sorry, but I’m being driven out. Can you promise that you’ll stay strong, that you’ll wait, that you’ll believe that I’ll come back to you.
I have never so clearly remembered the feeling of tears. Despite having none, I can feel them on my cheeks, choking my throat anf filling my eyes. Yes. I promise, Fenrir, but that means you have to promise to come back.
Of course. I’m not that mean….
He laughs one more time before his voice trails away, and then, silence.