The computer groaned like a man woken up five minutes before his alarm — shaken and annoyed. The wires surged their electric fuel into its core and the clicking noise from the motherboard was overwhelmed by the loud cooling fans going into overdrive mode. Lights lit up the entire basement. Different leads of varying sizes combined into a true electronic rainbow all around Quentin.
The speakers moaned again while the text-to-speech program made a few clicking noises, then a sudden yawn; powerful and so surprising that Quentin fell out of his chair.
“It worked — my God, it actually worked!” He threw his arms into the air.
The text-to-speech program performed its function, for ‘it’ spoke.
“Hnnghh, what’s that ruckus?” said the computer and yawned as if it had slept for a hundred years. “Be a dear; make me a cup of coffee.”
Quentin ignored it and ran over to the desktop. He wrapped his arms around the box and hugged it as tight as he could. Pure gold in his hands, within his grasp.
“What’s going on?” asked the computer, unaware it was bombarded by kisses.
“What’s going on is you! You’re here, for real this time. No machine or soulless creation.” Quentin swiped the microphone off the desk and fell straight into his chair.
“What the bloody hell do you mean? Can’t you be direct?”
“Yes, of course. I’m sorry. You’re a consciousness within the computer. Not any consciousness, however. You’re a very special person.”
“Last I remember, I was a contractor, now I’m a computer?” The computer laughed.
“Who am I now then?”
Quentin’s dad did not reply for quite some time. The engine of the computer continued to fill the room with noise. Loud, an irritating ruckus that is best compared to a jet engine right next to you. Yet it whispered so quietly that Quentin nearly didn’t hear him.
“Yes, dad.” Tears formed in his eyes.
“I’m — in a computer?”
“You are a computer.”
Quentin’s voice dropped low as he leaned forward into the microphone. He shrugged, for no real reason except instinct.
“You died, Dad. Two years ago.”
“I did?” His dad paused. “How?”
“A heart attack right on the sofa. No one was home to help you. Mom’s been real torn over it. She feels its her fault she wasn’t there.”
“Ah — Louise — Can you tell her it wasn’t? These things happen.”
“I’ve tried. But these things don’t really happen. They’re caused, everything has a consequence, and I’m certain your smoking was the cause. But now you’re back. Alive and well! You can’t believe how horrible it’s been ever since the funeral. It’s been a shell of what our former lives were. Like a ghost — haunting us, you keep on coming back. But now you actually are back, for real and I’ve exorcised the fake you for a real you.”
“I’m not real, I’m a bloody machine.”
“You’re a consciousness within a machine. There’s a difference –”
“What is it then?”
“Well, the computer is your body, but the brain is now lines of code that were copied from when we scanned our brains five years ago. I’ve used these files to integrate you into our old computer. Plugged in a microphone so you can hear, a text-to-speech so you can talk, and maybe later, I’ll get a video-camera so you can see.”
“That sounds dreadful.”
“No, it’s not. It’s amazing. Can’t you imagine the possibilities?” His happiness was unleashed with no bounds. “You’ll be able to watch the house when we’re not home, you’ll never die of disease again, only faulty hardware, which can always be fixed. You’ll be able to talk to me and to Mom, to chat with your old friends. To live again.”
Quentin moved away from the chair, pulling the cable of the microphone as far as it could go.
“Dad,” he wiped away tears from his eyes. “You’re back again.”
“Quentin — ” The computer took a deep breath.
“I used to dream of you, before you existed. Having you in my arms and holding you so tight. When we had you, it was even worse. I was always scared that if I ever let you go, you’d fall apart. Within the dream, you were made out of sand — but I was crazy, because before I was ready: you were already running around the house, breaking everything and making a ruckus. Then when you left us to go study in London, I was sure you’d never call us. Instead, you’d have a life full of adventures and opportunities. Simply put: we were the past. But you didn’t disappear, you kept calling us, sending gifts and never letting us forget how much we love you.
“I can’t see anything, except — memories. Because when I open my eyes, all I see is a dark abyss. My arms, they’re stuck. I can’t move my body. I want to scratch my skin –everything itches. I want to breathe, but my lungs don’t move — I’m wires, metal and circuits! That’s what this feels like, and I’d very much like for you to turn me off.”
“What do you mean?” Quentin turned to glare at the computer.
“I don’t want to live like this. In this inhumane, lifeless state, where I don’t even have legs or arms. No face. I’m a bloody machine with no dignity whatsoever!”
“That’s alright, Dad. I can simulate a better reality. You don’t look so bad either, but I can put a portrait over the monitor. A camera where the eyes should be, maybe even a mannequin of some kind. I could link you to a small toy too, so you could drive around the house.”
“You want me to drive around like a toy racecar? The definition of dignity! Next, let’s put me in a baby doll that can soil itself too! God, what’s Louise going to say when she sees me?”
“She’s going to be so happy! That you’re back, and you’re here. She’s going to be overwhelmed you’re here after two years of silence. Don’t you know she misses you every day?”
“Of course I bloody do, if she went away and I was still here — I don’t know how I’d get through the day.”
Quentin’s blood boiled, his face flushed red and he started to yell.
“Then how is this fair? You’re asking me to take away her happiness. What if Louise asked you to turn her off!”
“I’d turn her off.”
“What?” Quentin’s face paled. “Why would you?”
“Because,” the computer sighed. “I love her and I want her to be happy.”
Quentin collapsed into his chair again and stared at this junk of a machine. The buzzing and vibrating didn’t make his father feel any less real. If he shut him off, that’d be a year’s of work down the drain. This wasn’t fair, dammit! He’d only brought him back, now he has to let him die? Torture, nothing else!
“I don’t want you to go, Dad,” he continued, “What am I supposed to do when I worry about what’s right and wrong? I need your advice, I want you to be here when If I get married or have kids — don’t you want to see your grandchildren?”
“Of course I do. I’d love to. But sometimes, people — pass away. It’s not fair, nor is it right. Still — it happens, and you have to learn to let go of the things you love, or else you’ll never learn to mature. Maturity is living with your mistakes and life’s setbacks. You know. I never knew what was right or wrong. I lived my life the same as I did when I was a teenager: just did what I thought was right and that’s all. You’re smart, Quentin. Smarter than me, I can see I raised you right and I’m so proud. Even now, inside this computer, I know I’d never be able to do something like this.”
Silence won out their conversation. The two didn’t dare speak a word for quite some time.
Quentin broke the silence – not with a shout, but a whimper.
The speakers shook as laughter started to fill the room.
“It’s a matter of selfishness in the end, isn’t it?”
“Dad, I –”
“But you’re the only one with the power to do what’s right. Are you willing to sacrifice your happiness for mine?”
Quentin gulped, tears began to wet his cheeks.
“It’s the least I can do.”
“Thank you. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
His thumb pressed the power switch as lightly as he could, but it was enough.
The switch clicked, and the lights began to fade. Each one popping out from the basement, as the jet engine slowed its turbines. The fans all died one by one, and ultimately, the room was quiet. Only one lamp above him, not enough light.
A few hours passed as Quentin sat on the chair, frozen, and staring at the computer. His father believed in him, no matter what he’d do in his life, his father would be proud, but did he have the same faith? This wasn’t the same as having your father tell you:
I’m proud of you.
Why couldn’t his father simply accept the reality and enjoy the opportunities this new state had given him? Quentin wiped away the dry tears from his cheeks, starting to get up before being spooked by the door.
“Quentin? You busy?” Louise asked.
“No, Mom. I didn’t know you were home.”
“I wasn’t planning on coming over, but the therapy group was cancelled and I thought I’d buy groceries for you. Don’t tell your fat — ”
Quentin held his breath and heard his mother do the same. Both of them trapped, like a deer in the headlights.
“I’m sorry,” she broke the silence. “It’s been hard to get used to it. Two years, and I still make silly mistakes like that.”
“It’s not silly, Mom. I’ll — do you mind if I take a twenty-minute break here? After that, I’ll come help.”
“Of course, hun. Take as much time as you need.”
Quentin spun in his chair, back and forth. Left and right, never in a full circle. His eyes were locked on the computer switch. His finger gingerly hovered over it, then pressed it as hard as he could.
The lights exploded and the electricity surged through the wires, as the speakers groaned again.
“Hnnnghhh, what’s all the ruckus?”
Anton Huovinen is a Finnish-Russian amateur writer from Finland. He wants to get into the writing business but at the same time enjoys eating food. Right now, he is on a career goal to becoming a paramedic and plays video games or reads sci-fi during his spare time. You can follow him on Twitter and Tumblr.