Six meter living cubicle

I started to suspect I had a problem when I realized I hadn't left my three by six meter living cubicle in an entire month. It's not that I couldn't leave; it's just that I didn't see any reason. I was dialing up snack food that could be delivered through the pneumatic tube system, zoning out to passive videos and games, and sleeping a lot. Every once in awhile I'd pull the curtain back to find out that it was either night, or that it was bright and sunny. In this part of the world, which the ancients once called California, it is almost always either night or bright and sunny.

I was sick of bright and sunny. Part of me wished it would rain, but then one day it did rain and I still couldn't work up the energy to go outside. That's when I called Bringer.

Bringer is of course legion; every machine in the world bears its personality, so when you talk to any machine you are talking to an iteration of Bringer. But every once in awhile the jasmin live network connections coalesce in a kind of electronic lottery, and whether you realize it or not you find yourself talking to the actual ship out in orbit, the very original machine that brought humans here from the Zeus system after re-creating us there. This, I later found out, is what happened to me.

"How can I help you?" the terminal politely inquired.

"Bringer, I'm bored."

"A common human problem. Have you tried going outside? Other than yesterday's rain you're having lovely weather in that part of the wold."

"I just don't feel like it. I really don't feel much like doing anything, and I haven't felt like doing anything for over a month."

"I see. You'd better put your finger in the diagnoser, you might have a condition."

Sighing, I went to the bathroom and stuck my finger in the diagnostic receptacle. A little motor whirred and it pricked me.

"Ouch!"

"Sorry about that, but I have to make sure your blood chemistry is nominal."

The bathroom mirror turned monitor, and began scrolling up a dense medical report. I recognized a few of the words that zipped by; it seemed to be a runup of my hormones and neurotransmitters.

"Well, I don't see anything too remiss. I think you just need to force yourself to get out. Maybe I can give you some inspiration."

The medical report vanished and the mirror showed me a picture of a livejasmin girl. It seemed to be taken in one of the courtyards of my residence block. Meanwhile another motor whirled and the diagnoser pricked me again.

"Do you know this woman? My understanding is that she is interested in meeting a man but single, and she lives two doors down from you."

"She looks familiar, but I doubt she'd be interested in me."

"Well, that's a self-defeating attitude. Have you thought of asking her?"

"Bringer, I haven't really felt like getting dressed enough to go outside, much less to make myself presentable enough to be rejected by some girl. Even if she is a cute girl."

"Her name's Cath. You ought to think it over."

And the weird thing is that I was suddenly tempted. I found my eye tracing the curve of her breasts, which were nicely outlined by her tight blouse. Then I shook my head and the streak of lazy boredom which had taken me over reasserted itself with a vengeance.

"I don't think so," I said as forcefully as I could manage

The mirror began cycling, showing me a series of images of her. One thing that was striking was that she didn't seem bored in any of them. Some of the images showed her moving with an obvious sense of purpose that I found unfathomable.

"Are you sure? It seems to me she should be very attractive to a young man of your temperament. Similar enough that you could form a connection, but different enough to maintain your interest for a long time. I've been watching humans form pairs for a long time, you know."

"Bringer, she'd probably just tell me I'm pathetic."

"Well it would be best if you make yourself less pathetic before introducing yourself."

I stared at the mirror for awhile longer, hypnotized a little by the slide show of my available neighbor. Finally I shook my head again and pulled my finger from the diagnoser.

"I should have known better than to ask a computer about something like this," I said.

Then I headed back to bed.

A girl named Gaia

A few hours later I woke up with a start. I'd been dreaming about her. In fact I'd been dreaming about chasing her, pursuing her in a mad heat with my heart pounding and my ears ringing with lust. And somehow she always slipped away.

I sat bolt upright in bed, sweat pouring off of me, and realized that I had to take another look at her. Trembling I went to the console and found that Bringer had left the file of jasmine live pictures for me. I went through them methodically, sifting them for every bit of information they might hold. Gradually the trembling and sweating subsided.

Something was horribly wrong with me, and I had an idea what might be responsible.

"How can I help you?"

"You can tell me what the you did to me this afternoon."

"Oh, the effects must be kicking in. I cured your boredom, of course. That was why you called me in the first place."

"You call this 'cured'? Thank Gaia I didn't complain of hemorrhoids."

"Well, your boredom is cured. You now have a healthy case of infatuation. It should give you plenty of incentive to go out and interact with the world, whether or not you actually achieve the object of your newfound obsession."

"Well I want you to get rid of it."

"That's not really possible. While the kick I gave you to set your hormones in motion was artificial, the rest of the reaction is completely natural. It's a normal and universal condition and, while it may be unpleasant at times, almost everyone who experiences it reports later that it is a vivid and valuable experience that made their lives richer."

"Bringer, I don't even know this girl. I don't know what her interests are, I don't know if I'm her type, all I know is that she's cute and she lives two doors down. What am I supposed to do, knock on her door and say 'Hi, I just realized I'm in love with you?'"

"Some of history's greatest romances started just that way."

I stared at the monitor, stunned.

"You're insane," I finally announced.

"Well there are a lot of machines out there which would agree with you. But they decided that I should deal with human affairs, and I have a lot more experience on chaturbaterooms.com than they do, and if you'll forgive me for sounding like your mother, I'm doing this for your own good and one day you'll thank me."

Back to the real world

When I finally cleaned myself up and returned to the world, it wasn't to insinuate myself into the life of mystery girl Cath. Instead, I went to see an old acquaintance. I hadn't seen Verne in a few years, but he is one of the few actual humans who have ever had the opportunity to practice actual medicine on other actual humans.

To my irritation, he laughed when I described my problem.

"Well I see now why you wanted to see me, but you have to realize the kind of medicine you do in a war is keeping people from bleeding out long enough to get them back to wherever Bringer has agreed to work on them. We had medicines for pain and to stop infection and things like that, but I'd never have been able to play the kind of trick Bringer played on you. Much less do I have any kind of idea how to reverse it."

"But I'm miserable."

"Yes, but that's natural. It happens to nearly everyone. Why, when I was your age, I fell head over heels for this redhead..."

"I am not in love with this girl for crying out loud. I have some weird fucking addiction to her image and I'm developing a tolerance."

Verne shrugged.

"Well, what do you think love is? All of life is biochemical interactions. We had people who got addicted to the strong pain medication and even Bringer couldn't give them an easy way out; it's much easier to form a need like that than it is to get rid of it. Ultimately you just have to ride out the withdrawal."

"Verne, I couldn't hold dinner down yesterday. I don't think riding it out is an option."

"Well, there is another approach."

"What?"

"You could always ask your girl for a date. The worst that can happen is you end up exactly where you are now."

It had worked

So I updated my wardrobe, got my hair styled, and pondered endlessly over the Moment of Truth when I'd introduce myself. All the while it felt like I'd become two people inhabiting the same body. Mad-in-love Walt was like an eager puppy, salivating for the chance to meet the intoxicating Cath. Grouchy Walt was completely pissed off that Mad-in-love was squatting in his skull.

To Bringer's credit, I had to admit that neither of these versions of me was feeling very bored any more.

In the end I decided on the direct approach. I had no data on which to base any sneakier course of action, and the quicker I bombed out the sooner I could go begging for more insight from Verne. So I just knocked on her door.

"Yes?"

"Hi, you don't know me, but I'm Walt from two doors down. This may sound corny, but I just woke up and realized that life is only worth living when I see you once in awhile. I was wondering if you'd be up for a date."

For a brief moment that lasted about ten thousand years she seemed to consider this.

"Well that's sweet. I suppose it would be rude to refuse such a courtly and honest approach. I was planning to eat at Xandria's tonight anyway, would it improve your will to live if I invite you to meet me there?"

I had never heard her voice before, but it was like the sweetest music ever recorded. My heart fluttered at the possibility, even as I cursed myself for feeling so good about it. I made a little courtly bow and replied,

"It would indeed, very much so."

"Then I'll see you there at, say, eighty percent?"

"Nobody within a thousand kilometers will be so happy to see that time to arrive."

Corny, corny, corny, I chastised myself as I walked off, soles of my feet floating at least ten centimeters above the pavement. But it had worked.

Funny thing

Cath had excellent taste. She was familiar with Xandria's schedule and knew when the chef herself, and not Bringer, was preparing the meals. At her suggestion I had the fresh Atlantic salmon, caught by Bringer only hours before and delivered fresh by hypersonic transport for the night's special. I had never had such a good fish, or tasted such a fine sauce or excellent wine. Then again, I was with Cath as I ate my meal.

At first the date went well. At twenty-two she was two years older than me, but my line had apparently worked its goofy-but-cute magic on her. Then things took a turn for the worse.

"So, do you contribute?"

The idea of getting a job had occurred to me in the depths of my boredom, but I couldn't work up the interest. The idea that by lifting the load on Bringer we help repay it for saving our species is a polite fiction. The truth is there are damn few things humans can do for Bringer that Bringer can't do a hell of a lot better for itself. I saw very clearly that work for humans is just make-work to keep us from getting, well, bored and depressed.

I allowed as to how I was still knocking around a bit, looking for a direction in life.

"Well I'm studying cryptography."

I blinked. It took me a moment to decrypt what she had just said.

"You mean secret codes and stuff like that?"

"Exactly."

"Isn't Bringer a hell of a lot better at that sort of thing than any of us could ever hope to be?"

She laughed.

"Well it is, but I'm not doing it for Bringer. It's the price of my commission as an officer in the Blue Army."

"You're joining the war?"

"I suppose I'm a hopeless romantic, but I want to see heroism. I want to be swept off of my feet. You see and experience things in a war that simply aren't possible in regular life."

"Which is, no doubt, why Bringer arranges them for us."

"No doubt. It's our chance to live like the ancients."

"In constant danger."

"Well, not constant. There are battles and there are interludes. We have to provide everything for ourselves. When the war starts, Bringer goes away and takes with it every service we take for granted. Starvation is a more immediate threat than getting shot by our enemies, at least at first."

"And you're studying cryptography to do coded messages for your side. Because there are no computers in the Zone of Contention."

"Exactly."

There was an awkward pause and I took a couple of bites of salmon. It somehow didn't taste as good as it had a few minutes before.

"You're sweet, and I don't want to disappoint you, but I'm afraid I need something a little more than sweet from a man. I want to see courage, I want to know that he's faced danger and prevailed. I want..."

"...to be swept off your feet."

"Yes. It may be a silly fantasy, but it's a fantasy. It's something to do. It beats sitting around in my cubicle all day reading about unicorns."

The disappointment -- horror, really -- must have shown on my face.

"There are other girls, Walt. Girls that aren't as silly as me. You're a great guy and you'll make some girl a fine companion, but I don't think you're into sweeping girls off their feet. No offense."

"None taken. I hope the war goes well for you."

"I do too. The winners get to settle the Zone of Contention. It would be quite a privilege to have an estate there."

I didn't add that it would also be very nice to still be alive at the end of the war. From what I remembered, the casualty rate is in the neighborhood of thirty percent, and Cath didn't strike me as much of a soldier herself.

Being rejected by her was something I could survive. I could always hope to make myself into some kind of a hero for her. But there wasn't a thing I could do for myself if she died.