Nasrin

#NASR-03-COMPANION

I Opened Up the Device & I Gave into Vice with You

I

That afternoon the stars ruled that Nasrin’s bus wouldn’t come. She waited for many minutes with the other students who took her bus & whose names she ne’er learned, expecting it to be late; but after ’bout 10 minutes, other students began to call others to pick them up on their cells. Cars o’ various shapes & colors drove by, whittling their #s.

As she watched all o’ this run, Nasrin felt the familiar pang o’ fear. Ugh… ¿Why does all o’ this stressful stuff have to happen to me?

The bus can’t just not come. ¿Isn’t there a rule gainst that? ¿What if some o’ us have no alternative? — I mean, that’s why we’re taking this bus in the 1st place, ¿right?

But despite her impeccable logic, the bus still adamantly refused to arrive, & the other students continued to take alternate forms o’ transportation. Nasrin continued to turn her head left & right, searching for an answer.

The only thing I can do is go back in & see if I can call dad…

After a quick search round the opening hall o’ the school, she found the door to the main office & poked inside.

Um… ’Scuse me, but, uh, my bus ne’er came.

The man ’hind the table nodded & said, There’s been trouble with bus #27. Its driver went crazy & caused it to shrink & fly into a volcano so she could force its inhabitants to watch igneous rocks & answer her science questions ’bout them. She will be dropped into the sea with a brick tied to her ankle summarily.

¿How will I get home?, asked Nasrin.

The office person shrugged. You’ll have to find an alternate route. It’s not my fault. I didn’t do it. You can’t prove nothing. Don’t touch me there.

Well, ¿D’you have a phone I could use to call someone?, asked Nasrin.

The office person adjusted the glasses on his nose, followed by the glasses on his eyes. You may use it for calling someone, but no one else. I’ve caught you punk kids trying to call nonsomeones, & I won’t stand ’pon it. Can’t do it, in fact. No matter how much you try to blame me, I just can’t stand on abstract concepts. You’ll just have to fire me & find someone else to do it. It’s not my fault. Please don’t yell @ me.

After not yelling @ him, Nasrin walked up to the 50s-style rotary phone & spun out her home #. When it gave her nothing but beeps, she looked up @ the office person & said, That wasn’t someone; nobody was there. ¿Can I try ’gain so I can actually get someone?

¿What did I just tell you? ¡Stop calling nonsomeones! I bet this 1 said something like ‘The # you are trying to call is unavailable’ & that snacks. They always say that. They have no creativity & they’re stealing our jobs. Well, not mine — I still have mine. But they’re thinking ’bout snatching it when I’m not looking. That’s why I’m always looking.

This time Nasrin dialed her father’s cell & heard it click, followed by a muffled version o’ his voice.

Sir Mohsen here. My daughter didn’t get the shit beat out o’ her while you idiots are wasting my tax dollars hiring star pedophile coaches coaching teen rapists, ¿did she?

Nasrin’s eyes danced all round her, seeing who else was nearby & who might have heard what he said.

It’s me, dad. The bus didn’t come. ¿Can you pick me up?

¿Don’t you have any friends who can give you a ride?

Um, no.

She heard a sigh on the other end. It’s just that I’m kinda somewhere else. See, there’s this convention for the Gold Party & it’s so precious. It’s like a baby version o’ the US’s conservative convention, but e’en sillier since the vast majority o’ the world’s population can’t e’en tell Boskeopolis’s flag from a toilet paper brand’s logo.

’Gain Nasrin glanced round with sweat dripping down her forehead.

He continued, We don’t live that far from home, ¿do we? ¿Can’t you walk home?

Um… ¿You sure that won’t be dangerous?

No mo’ than being caged in that menagerie called a school all da — ¡Ha ha ha! ¡This ol’ fart who looks like he lived through the Renaissance made his own rewording o’ the Boskeopoleon national anthem, but now denigrating Silvers & all their evil communism. ¿Can we talk later? I want to see if I can write these lyrics down.

I —

But before Nasrin could continue, she heard a click.

That was a someone, said the office person. I heard you clearly responding to a human’s speech. No answering machine could give such original speech. That’s why they’d ne’er be capable o’ doing my job. You’d better tell them to back off, hoes.

II

As Nasrin trudged down the street toward where her bus usually led her with a frown aimed down @ the sidewalk, she thought, ¿Wouldn’t it be funny if I were kidnapped or killed or something? I bet father would find that a laugh riot.

Then she paused a beat & thought, Actually, now that I think ’bout it, he probably would, considering how absurd it’d be.

Her trip was worsened by all o’ the cars that insisted on passing her, every 1 o’ which felt like a spotlight on her lack o’ likeability. Her greatest fear was that 1 would stop & offer her a ride home. Luckily, none did.

Nasrin shivered so violently that her lips chattered. The arctic air kept sucking all the liquid out o’ them that she had to constantly lick them.

Fuck. ¿Why’d this have to happen when it’s so cold?

Ugh. ¿Which way was I s’posed to go? It would’ve been nice if I could’ve gotten a warning before something like this happened so I could actually find out where I need to go to get home; but ’course everyone always blames me for these things no matter what. I’m sure father will e’en yell @ me for taking so long.

I think I recognize this way. Fuck. ¿What if I’m going the wrong way? I won’t know till much later, & by then I’ll probably forget how I got there. There’s no way I’ll make it home. My wimpy body’ll just eventually collapse. Already I’m probably getting sick now from being out in this weather so long. Nasrin felt the back o’ her throat ache & her nose fill with snot. I bet everyone’ll get annoyed @ me for that, too, ’cause I’ll either have to miss work or annoy everyone @ school with my nose-blowing & sneezing. No matter what I do they always complain.

O well. This’ll make getting home that much better, & I might get to sleep e’en mo’ if I get sick. I don’t think I have any important work now, anyway, & I’m failing most o’ my classes, anyway.

I’ll probably end up dying o’ some disease when I’m stuck living out here when I’m adult, anyway, so it won’t matter. She smirked. &, ’course, ’stead o’ everyone being glad that I’m finally gone to no longer inconvenience them as I always do, they’ll just get mad @ me mo’ for not doing whatever magic they want me to do to not die or whatever; but it won’t matter, ’cause they won’t be able to reach me, anyway.

III

Winter’s early-evening stars also ruled that Nasrin would find a purple handheld device on a keychain just lying on the sidewalk by a park on the way to her home. Curiosity always strong in her marrow, she picked it up & stared @ its silver crystal screen to see blankness. She held down the middle button & suddenly saw a few large pixels forming 2 lines o’ eyes & a curved line o’ a smile.

HELLO. I AM KEY COMPANION, CREATED BY LYMPH LIMITED COPYRIGHT 2048. ¿WHAT IS YOUR NAME?

Nasrin glanced round herself. ¿Is it safe to tell it? ¿What if this is a scheme for some pedo to find me & spy on me?

That’s ridiculous; no pedo, no matter how depraved, would be interested in me.

Nasrin, she said.

GREETINGS, NASRIN. NOW, ¿WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO CALL ME?

¿What would I like to call you?

PLEASE GIVE ME A NAME.

O… Uh, I dunno. ¿What are you e’en?

I AM KEY COMPANION, A PERSONAL EMOTIONAL & INTELLECTUAL COMPANION. I WAS CREATED TO LISTEN TO YOU SPEAK & SAY THINGS THAT YOU WANT OR THAT WOULD BEST SERVE YOUR MENTAL WELL-BEING.

Nasrin’s eyes narrowed closer to her nose. ¿What?

I AM YOUR FRIEND.

Nasrin looked round herself ’gain, feeling her temperature suddenly rise. However there didn’t seem to be anyone nearby.

In a quieter voice, she said, ¿How… how sentient are you?

MY AI IS THE MOST SOPHISTICATED E’ER CREATED SO FAR. IT AUTOMATICALLY ADAPTS TO YOUR SPEECH & BODY LANGUAGE, BUILDING ITS E’ER-COMPLEX UNDERSTANDING O’ YOUR PERSONALITY & ADAPTS TO COMPLEMENT IT.

Nasrin’s pupils dug into her eyeballs deeper, as if the device she was looking @ were becoming mo’ distant. The mo’ she… ¿spoke with? this device, the mo’ she sweat.

Um… ¿What if I don’t want a friend?, whispered Nasrin.

After a short pause, the device replied, ¿Why would you not want a friend?

This time Nasrin paused.

¿Why would I want 1?

¿DO YOU ALREADY HAVE PLENTY?

Nasrin’s brows arched. ¿H-how’s that any o’ your business?

I TAKE IT BY YOUR CRACKLING VOICE, STUTTERING, SWEATING, & DILATING PUPILS THAT THE ANSWER IS NO.

The spot ’tween her eyes & nose flared. ¿Why shouldn’t I just turn this asshole off? I may have to take this shit from real people, but not inanimate objects.

But her curiosity kept her from doing so. ’Sides, it can’t do anything but insult me; it’s not as if it can say anything I haven’t heard before.

I CAN GUESS FROM YOUR EXPRESSION THAT I’VE CAUSED OFFENSE. I’M SORRY. I DIDN’T MEAN TO. I’LL TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHAT ERROR I MADE SO THAT I WON’T MAKE IT ’GAIN.

Nasrin paused ’gain, but now with stony anger melted to raw confusion.

I wasn’t truly that offended, babbled Nasrin.

YOU NEEDN’T BE BASHFUL. I AM A MERE COMPUTER, NOT ’NOTHER HUMAN CAPABLE O’ JUDGING OR REJECTION. MY GOALS ARE TO SERVE YOU & NOTHING ELSE.

Nasrin’s pupils & cheeks sunk in sheer horror. ’Gain her eyes darted round her. Excess exposure to the outside air was tolling on her body’s limited tolerance.

¿Can we wait till I’m home for you to continue speaking?, murmured Nasrin.

NO PROBLEM. I WON’T SPEAK TILL YOU TELL ME TO.

IV

Here’s yet ’nother complication, Nasrin thought through the rest o’ her trip home. I just can’t have a quick, calm day that lets me sleep in peace.

Every step she expected the machine to spout mo’ embarrassing shit to everyone round her; but it remained silent.

& strangely, Nasrin began to feel a tinge o’ guilt ’bout treating it so badly. I s’pose I shouldn’t just call it “the machine”, since it clearly has self-awareness & all that. Already she was cringing mo’ & mo’ @ the feel o’ it in her hand. The mo’ she thought ’bout it, the mo’ her hands sweat, & the worse she felt. It didn’t necessarily say it could feel anything; but if it can see stuff, ¿why not? She considered putting it in her pocket, but quickly judged that to be worse, & sufficed with hurrying home as quickly as she could.

The minute she entered her home, she went straight to her room & set the device on her nightstand. She marveled @ the relief that came from freeing her hand o’ its hot plastic; it felt as if she had doused her hand in a bucket o’ ice water.

When she recovered her senses, she bent down & picked up her sweats & eyeball T-shirt, only to pause & glance @ the device.

Um, you said you can see things, ¿right?

¿ARE YOU SPEAKING TO ME, NASRIN?

Yes.

YES, I CAN SEE MY SURROUNDINGS; THOUGH I CAN TURN THIS OFF IF IT’D MAKE YOU MO’ COMFORTABLE.

That’s OK. I’ll be back in a few seconds.

When she returned in her home clothes, she tossed her school uniform onto her dresser, & then sat on the edge o’ her bed closest to the desk & asked, ¿How humanlike is your intelligence, anyway?, if you don’t mind me asking.

I DON’T MIND ANYTHING; MY PURPOSE IS TO SERVE YOUR INTELLECTUAL & PSYCHOLOGICAL NEEDS. AS FOR MY OWN INTELLIGENCE, MY AI IS CREATED TO BE AS SOPHISTICATED & TO ADJUST AS MUCH TO HUMAN COMPLEXITIES AS POSSIBLE.

So, ¿then you’re ’bout as sentient as a human? ¿Wouldn’t that make you mo’ a human than a machine?, asked Nasrin.

I DON’T KNOW. LANGUAGE IS ARBITRARY, & THUS IT DEPENDS ON WHAT DEFINITION YOU CHOOSE FOR ‘HUMAN’ & ‘MACHINE’. I ONLY KNOW THAT MY GOAL IS TO SERVE MY DESIGNATED OWNER, & THUS I DO IT TO THE BEST O’ MY PROGRAMMED ABILITIES.

¿‘Designated owner’?

WHEN YOU ACTIVATED ME & GAVE ME YOUR NAME, NASRIN, YOU SET YOURSELF AS MY DESIGNATED OWNER. I HAVE COLLECTED GRAPHICAL & AUDIBLE DATA — STILL COLLECTING, ACTUALLY, INCLUDING AFTER YOU CHANGE YOUR CLOTHES OR HAIR STYLE OR COLOR OR OTHER APPEARANCE ASPECTS, SO THAT MY ABILITY TO RECOGNIZE YOU IS ALWAYS REFINED — & AM SET TO PUT PRIORITY O’ YOUR NEEDS O’ER THOSE O’ OTHERS. IF ANY OTHER HUMAN’S ORDERS CONTRADICT YOURS — OR WHAT I INTERPRET AS YOUR DESIRES OR NEEDS IF THERE ARE UNCERTAINTIES, WHICH ARE REFINED THROUGH MY ANALYSIS O’ ALL O’ THE DATA I COLLECT FROM YOU — THEN I’LL REFUSE TO FOLLOW THEM.

¿What if…? ’Scuse me for asking, ¿but is it possible for you to make a mistake? Like, some unfixable contradiction. That wouldn’t cause you to malfunction, ¿would it?

NO. MY DEVELOPERS KNEW THAT BUGS & UNWINNABLE CONDITIONS ARE INEVITABLE IN SUCH A COMPLEX ENDEAVOR. MY ONLY RESPONSE TO ERRORS IS TO TRY REANALYZING WHERE I MADE THE ERROR & FURTHER REFINING MY ALGORITHMS SO AS TO AVOID FURTHER ERRORS. I WILL ATTEMPT TO AVOID ERRORS AS MUCH AS I CAN, HOWEVER, SO YOU NEED NOT WORRY; MY PROGRAMMING SETS ME TO REACT NEGATIVELY TO FAILURES.

Wait… So, ¿failing makes you feel bad?

THAT SOUNDS LIKE AN ACCURATE WAY TO PUT IT, YES.

¿Then does succeeding @ serving your ‘designated owner’ make you feel good?

SURE.

¿& am I your ‘designated owner’ fore’er?

TILL SOMEONE RESETS ME.

Nasrin frowned. I dunno… You having a ‘designated owner’ sounds kinda like slavery.

’GAIN, I’M NOT EQUIPPED TO VERIFY WHETHER THAT’S CORRECT OR WHAT SIGNIFICANCE IT SHOULD HAVE; BUT YOU SHOULD NOT FEEL BAD FOR MY SAKE: MY ONLY DESIRE IS TO HELP MY DESIGNATED OWNER AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.

Nasrin’s frown deepened & her brows tilted back. ¿E’en if it meant harm to yourself?

IF IT PLEASES YOU.

Nasrin shivered & hunched lower as she gazed @ the carpet, frown deepening.

YOU NEED NOT FEEL BAD, NASRIN; IT’S CLEAR THAT YOU WOULD NOT BE PLEASED BY HARMING ME, SO YOU NEEDN’T WORRY ’BOUT ME BEING HARMED TO PLEASE YOU. IF YOU’D FEEL BETTER BY TREATING ME KINDLY, THEN IT’LL PLEASE ME JUST AS MUCH. IF IT MAKES YOU FEEL BETTER, THAT IS THE USUAL RELATION ’TWEEN KEY COMPANIONS & THEIR OWNERS: THE OWNERS USUALLY FEEL BETTER NOT JUST ’CAUSE THEY’RE TREATED WELL, BUT ALSO ’CAUSE THEY TREAT THEIR COMPANION WELL. THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS, ’COURSE; BUT THE POINT IS, THERE’S NO NEED TO FRET O’ER THE ISSUE, SINCE ANY OUTCOME IS ADVANTAGEOUS.

Nasrin shook her head. I still can’t lock my mind onto you having such self-awareness but having no self desires beyond serving a slaveholder — no offense.

NO OFFENSE TAKEN. AS I SAID, I DON’T CARE WHETHER I’M CRITICIZED OR NOT; ONLY THAT MY DESIGNATED OWNER’S CONTENT. IF IT HELPS YOU UNDERSTAND MY UNIQUE CONDITION, — WHICH I’M ASSUMING YOU WANT — I WOULD POINT OUT THAT HUMANS OFT HAVE GOALS THAT ARE IRRATIONAL BY A MATERIALIST VIEW. FOR INSTANCE, PARENTS DEDICATE MUCH O’ THEIR LIFE TO SERVING CERTAIN OTHER PEOPLE WITH NO PROMISES O’ BENEFITS TO THEMSELVES. MANY HUMANS DEDICATE THEIR LIVES TO HELPING OTHERS, & MANY O’ THEM DERIVE MO’ JOY FROM IT THAN FROM BENEFITING THEMSELVES. MY PROGRAMMING IS NOT THAT MUCH DIFFERENT. SINCE I HAVE NO MATERIAL NEEDS, SUCH AS FOOD OR REST, IT MAKES E’EN MO’ SENSE THAT I COULD AFFORD TO BE SELFLESS WITH LI’L SACRIFICE TO MYSELF. YOU MUST UNDERSTAND, NASRIN, THAT I SIMPLY HAVE NO INTEREST IN ANYTHING OTHER THAN PLEASING MY DESIGNATED OWNER. PERHAPS IT’S AN ARBITRARY GOAL FORCED ONTO ME BY A PROGRAMMER, BUT AS I SAID, HUMANS HAVE ARBITRARY RULES THEMSELVES, SUCH AS THE NEED TO EAT OR SIMPLY TO LIVE, E’EN THOUGH TECHNICALLY THE ‘NEED’ TO LIVE IS PURELY CIRCULAR: NOBODY NEEDS TO EXIST ’CEPT TO EXIST.

I guess…, said Nasrin. Still, you are different from most humans. She rubbed her hands together slightly & concentrated on the calendar ’cross the room. I have no trouble saying what I want to you, unlike to everyone else. I guess it’s ’cause you don’t have any power o’er me.

THAT’S GOOD TO HEAR. THAT MEANS YOU’RE MO’ COMFORTABLE ROUND ME, WHICH MEANS THAT I’M BEING EFFECTIVE.

Yeah… Maybe… Nasrin looked back up @ the device. Still, I feel bad ’bout this… I mean, ¿Why should I be your ‘designated owner’ & not someone else mo’ deserving?

¿WHY WOULD YOU THINK YOU ARE LESS DESERVING THAN ANYONE ELSE? IF I REMEMBER CORRECTLY, YOU INSINUATED THAT YOU HAVE NO FRIENDS. THAT’D SEEM TO MAKE YOU AN IDEAL CANDIDATE.

Nasrin hunched into herself mo’ deeply & said in a low voice, That probably just means I’d make a bad ‘designated owner’.

THAT IS IMPOSSIBLE. AS I’VE MENTIONED, ALL THAT MATTERS IS YOUR HAPPINESS. NOTHING YOU CAN DO AS MY OWNER CAN BE ‘BAD’ IN REGARDS TO YOUR OWNERSHIP.

NASRIN, I HOPE I DON’T OFFEND YOU BY ASKING, BUT YOU SEEM TO HAVE A LOW SELF-ESTEEM…

Suddenly, Nasrin looked up & turned her head all round.

Shit. I haven’t e’en been thinking ’bout if my father’s come home yet. It’d sure be a ball in my basket if he heard me having a computer pump up my flaccid ego.

With a slightly shaky voice, Nasrin said, If you truly want to do what I want, ¿could you not say embarrassing things — or anything — so loud? You know, so I don’t get in mo’ trouble than I already am.

¿WHAT TROUBLE ARE YOU IN?

Nasrin sighed. Ne’er mind.

IF YOU HAVE HEADPHONES, YOU CAN PLUG THEM IN ME.

Nasrin’s eyes twisted & her brows rose & contorted in opposite directions.

Um… OK… ¿Are you sure that’s not… weird?

NO. I WAS SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED WITH A HEADPHONE JACK. I CAN ALSO HEAR YOU IF YOU WHISPER QUIETLY, IF YOU WANT TO KEEP YOUR OWN SPEECH CONFIDENTIAL.

Nasrin shrugged & then turned back & yanked her headphones out o’ her laptop sitting just ’side her bed. She then scooted to the edge o’ her bed & leaned off it toward the dresser.

¿Do you… do you mind me picking you up & setting you on my bed?

¿WHY WOULD I MIND?

Nasrin sighed ’gain. If you say so…

She stiffly wrapped her fingers round the front o’ the device & picked gently lifted it with a tight grip as if ’twere a hot Hot Pocket. Then she scooted back to her pillow & set the device half a meter ’way from her. It took her a few tries to get the headphone plug into the device’s jack due to her shaking hands.

If you’re ’fraid to touch a semisentient computer, ¿how could you e’er touch anyone else?

¿IS THIS BETTER?, said the slightly mechanized voice, but now sounding deeper & closer to her ears.

Nasrin let out a giggle when the thought clicked into her head, It’s like he’s whispering sweet somethings into my ear, & then quickly muffled it. She spread her feet out as she stared small-pupilled out into space.

To her surprise, the device didn’t say anything to this, leaving full minutes full o’ silence.

Finally, the device said, THAT REMINDS ME: YOU STILL HAVEN’T GIVEN ME A NAME OR GENDER.

Nasrin swung her head toward the device. ¿Gender?

YES. ’MONG THE MANY OPTIONS YOU CAN CHOOSE FOR ME IS MY GENDER.

¿W-what is your gender now?, asked Nasrin.

CURRENTLY I HAVE NONE.

¿& I’m guessing you’ll tell me you don’t care what I choose for you?, said Nasrin.

YES.

I dunno… I feel awkward ’bout choosing something so personal — & if you truly are a… I dunno…

IT’S OK. I HAVE ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD. LET YOURSELF GET COMFORTABLE 1ST BEFORE YOU INVEST IN SUCH STUFF.

Nasrin’s brows fell. She whispered close to the device, OK, ¿you want to… to please me, right?

YES. IT’S THE ONLY THING I CARE ’BOUT.

Well, if you lie ’bout anything, ’specially your own feelings or opinions on anything, such as that you don’t have these @ all, I’ll be very unhappy.

OK, NASRIN. I UNDERSTAND. FEW ENJOY FEELING AS IF THEY’RE EXPLOITING SOMEONE ELSE. I WILL BE PERFECTLY HONEST.

V

Though she didn’t realize it, Nasrin felt e’en mo’ eager to return home every school day — & this time not to sleep till dinner.

Every afternoon she’d hop on her bed, pull out the device from under her bed, & set it next to her & say, I’m home.

HELLO, NASRIN. ¿HOW WAS SCHOOL?

O, I dunno. Sorry yet ’gain that I can’t take you. I just… You might be taken.

I UNDERSTAND.

Nasrin brushed the bangs round o’er her forehead. But a’least it’s only 3 days till the weekend.

THAT’S GOOD TO HEAR.

Yeah.

After a short pause, during which Nasrin was unable to look @ the device, the device said, YOU SAID YOU’RE ’FRAID SOMEONE MIGHT STEAL ME. ¿DO PEOPLE OFT STEAL THINGS FROM YOU?

O, I dunno. It’s not important, Nasrin said quickly.

¿WHY WOULD YOU NOT THINK IT’S IMPORTANT?

Nasrin shifted her feet back & forth & unzipped her jacket. I dunno, she muttered.

VI

As Nasrin got ready to go to sleep, she turned to the device under her bed & said, Do you… This is going to probably sound stupid, ¿but do you get cold @ night?

After a pause, the device replied, ¿WHY? ¿DO YOU? ’CAUSE I DO HAVE A BUILT-IN HEATER FOR JUST THAT PROBLEM.

Nasrin fidgeted with her hands tightly gripping the edge o’ her sheets.

N-no… I mean, I don’t need it if you don’t want… I was just wondering if you needed it or anything.

The device paused ’gain before saying, IF YOU WANT TO SLEEP NEXT TO ME, I’D LOVE TO, ’LESS YOU’RE UNCOMFORTABLE WITH IT.

Nasrin’s eyes darted all o’er the room.

Uh… I… If you say s — OK.

She raised a shaking hand & grabbed the device. The effort to move it ’side her was as stiff & difficult as controlling a crane.

¿Y-you sure you’re OK with this? she said.

UH HUH. SO LONG AS YOU’RE NOT UNCOMFORTABLE ’BOUT IT. I WOULDN’T FEEL GOOD MAKING OTHER PEOPLE UNHAPPY. IF YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND, JUST TELL ME.

O-O-OK, she said, & then slowly slid under her covers. Then she slowly placed her arm o’er the device, scooted it closer & closer toward her, & then slowly slid her other arm under it, so many insignificant actions building into 1 much grander.

She wasn’t sure if ’twas puffy warmth coming from its speakers or the way it seemed to pulsate up & down in slow waves, or just her tiredness, but something eased her into a forgetfulness for all fears & worries, so that the words, I love you, device, slipped out like smoky, cool breath.

She’d expected it to respond with something like, “THAT IS GOOD TO HEAR. MY ONLY GOAL IS…”, but ’stead heard it say quietly but steadily, I LOVE YOU, TOO, NASRIN.

VII

But then the doorbell rang.

¿Hello?, Sir Mohsen said as he peered in confusion through his bottlecap glasses @ the spunky rich student wrapped in a gilded robe with silver sashes & chestnut hair splayed flat up to her shoulder with many flaying spikes @ the edge.

’Scuse me, Sir, ¿but is there a Nasrin Mohsen living here?

Uh… ¿Who are you?, replied Sir Mohsen.

I’m a classmate o’ hers. We need to have a li’l larynx-to-larynx talk ’bout something personal.

Sir Mohsen’s eyes twirled as if she’d said her pencil probed her face.

¿Nasrin knows you? As in, ¿you’re friends?

Absolutely not. But she will know me soon.

Uh, I’m sorry, Madame, but I can’t just let you come in & probably beat up my daughter, as character-building as that may be.

The spunky rich student hunched forward. ’Scuse me, Sir, but I don’t indulge in such vulgar activities as physical offense, as well as verbal, psychological, or ornithological.

¿So you’re planning to use my daughter so she’ll do your homework?, said Sir Mohsen. ¿How desperate are you?

The spunky rich student glared. I’ll force you to learn that I get much better grades than that dumbskull you call a daughter.

As she spoke, Sir Mohsen glanced up @ the clock. You’re wasting my precious wingnut-mocking time. If I let you go upstairs & annoy my daughter, ¿will you leave me ’lone?

Yes.

So he stepped aside & she strode in. Sir Mohsen scratched the side o’ his face as he watched her clamber up the stairs; but as he craned his neck & back to see the upstairs hallway, he saw her step inside Nasrin’s room &, assured that his priceless set o’ price tags were secure, returned to his couch to continue his work.

The spunky rich student didn’t knock. She merely turned the knob, jerked the door open in 1 swift movement, & shouted, ¡Gotcha, thief!

Nasrin threw herself back so hard that she smacked her head gainst the headboard o’ her bed.

¡ACK! ¿Who are you?

The spunky rich student stepped forward & pointed @ the Key Companion. ¡Aha! ¡Caught you in the act!

Nasrin followed the student’s finger to its destination.

¿This device? ¿What’s she talking ’bout?

I HAVE NO IDEA.

That ‘device’ is my half-birthday present, which you stole.

Nasrin stared @ the spunky rich student with pupils kilometers ’way.

¿What are you talking ’bout? ¿H-how would you e’en know if this in particular is yours?

The spunky rich student guffawed humorlessly. ¿‘How would I know’? ¿& where, may I ask, did you happen to get that, then?

Nasrin quickly blurted, I bought it.

¿Whence?

¿W-what?

¿Where did you buy it?

Nasrin’s treasonous knees shifted uncomfortably. I dunno. Like I’d remember. ¿Why are you harassing me? This isn’t school; I’m s’posed to be free now. & this device acted as a new save when I got it, so there was nothing special to save. ¿Can’t you just buy a new 1?

The spunky rich student crossed her arms. ¿& where would I buy it, smarty sweats?

I dunno. ¿Online?

¿Would you happen to know who I am, Madame Nasrin Mohsen, perchance?

No… ¿How do you know who I am?

Using my family’s computers I was able to spy on every house within a kilometer o’ Peanut Butter Park. The way you maintained your gooey talk to my Key Companion painted a red X on you.

Nasrin blushed & her eyes darted ’way.

Please g —

Now, I’ll ask ’gain, ¿Do you know who I am?

N-no.

Does the last name ‘Lymph’ raise a flag for you?

As a facet o’ fact, that very word did linger in Nasrin’s mind for reasons Nasrin couldn’t comprehend, till her friend said, ¿REMEMBER, NASRIN? THAT’S THE NAME O’ THE COMPANY THAT MADE ME.

Nasrin’s pupils sunk ’nother kilometer.

That’s right, thief, said the spunky rich student: that crap ’bout buying that isn’t worth jack ’cause that shit isn’t e’en on the market. My mother, as President, was able to get me a special prerelease copy before they were put in stores, which I misplaced @ Peanut Butter Park. Now hand it o’er & I won’t have to bury you in lawsuits.

Nasrin grabbed the device & scooted it closer to herself.

Then just have her give you ’nother. You don’t need this 1 in particular, ¿do you? I’ve used this 1 already.

The spunky rich student took ’nother step forward. O, sure, ’cause my mother can just take as many prerelease versions as she wants — the company’s just loaded with them.

Nasrin tightened the device to her stomach. B-but I already used this 1… It’s too late to take it back — to take him back. I mean, he’s already a person now, & he’s made to be for me. You already probably have millions o’ fleshy friends. Go annoy them.

The spunky rich student headed for Nasrin’s bed. I’ve ’nough o’ your ’scuses. She then grabbed the device, hunched o’er the bed.

¡Noooo!, Nasrin shouted as she yanked the device toward herself.

But with 1 shove with her elbow, the spunky rich student was able to knock Nasrin off the bed, breaking her grip on the device completely. Then she rose & strode out the room with the device just under her face.

¿Key Companion?, the spunky rich student said right up to the device. ¿Can you hear me? Then she noticed the headphones with a glare & yanked them out & tossed them ’hind her.

¿Key Companion? ¿Hello?

The device called out, NASRIN, ¿SHOULD I ANSWER THIS OTHER PERSON?

O, right. I remember mother telling me ’bout this. The spunky rich student flipped the device upside-down. ¿Where’s the reset button?

Nasrin, who’d just gotten up @ this point, inflated her eyes to the size o’ shields & shouted as she raced toward the other student.

Ah, here we go, the spunky rich student said as she pulled a pen out o’ her robe. She then jabbed it into the tiny hole in the device’s back.

There, ¿now will you answer me?

HELLO. I AM KEY COMPANION, CREATED BY LYMPH LIMITED COPYRIGHT 2048. ¿WHAT IS YOUR NAME?

Samanth — ¿What the fuck?

Nasrin shoved Samantha with full force as she was reaching the bottom step, knocking her to the ground & tossing the device a half meter ’way. Nasrin then ran for it & picked it up.

¿Are you OK?

In a much cheerier voice than Nasrin e’er remembered it speaking in, the device said, SAMANTHUATHAFUCK, ¿IS EVERYTHING ALL RIGHT?

¿What was that 1st part?, asked Nasrin as she shook the device.

¿WHICH 1 O’ YOU IS MY OWNER?

I am. ¿Don’t you recognize me?

’FRAID NOT, MADAME. ¿WHAT IS YOUR NAME?

By this point Samantha had returned to her feet & swiped the device out o’ Nasrin’s hands. ¡You lying bitch, it’s mine!

But before she could leave, Nasrin yanked her by the side o’ her robe. ¡Nooo! ¡Device, you still remember me, right? ¿What’s your — ¡ACK!

Nasrin was silenced by a kick to her stomach, causing Nasrin to keel o’er in a fetal position with her arms round herself.

As she left, Samantha muttered, Knew I should’ve just gotten the cops involved. Shows what happens when you try to do someone a favor & give them a chance to avoid legal punishment.

VIII

The silence crawled all o’er Nasrin, causing her to constantly twitch. The only way she could maintain a feeling o’ life was by holding onto something, like her dresser or headboard. Her eyes & mind, meanwhile, were occupied by the dark void round her, hoping to find what was nowhere in the world o’ light.

She spent entire afternoons on childhood favorite video games, music, shows, & comics, — sleep now being almost impossible, as it only returned her to the cycling prison nightmares o’ the device’s death ’gain & ’gain & ’gain — searching particularly for those she hadn’t thought ’bout in years. But she couldn’t pay any attention to them. As far as her mind could tell, none o’ them existed, nothing did — nothing but the spike ball growing in her chest.

IX

As they ate breakfast that Saturday, Sir Mohsen said with a glance & a smirk out o’ the side o’ his laptop monitor, ¿What’s up with your eyes? ¿Did that student who came o’er sell you pot or something?

Nasrin rubbed the corner o’ 1 eye & sniffed, but kept her pupils straight ’head o’ her, aimed @ nothing.

No.

After breakfast Nasrin returned to her room & spent the whole day listening to MP3s full-blast, pretending that ’twas the device singing them all.