Ok, I know this is very long, but I have tried to pare it down to the bare essentials. I hope the "essence" of the story is not lost. I know I creeped myself out writing it. I want you to know this is not the greatest work of literary fiction ever to grace a monitor, but I wrote what I like to read. Pulp. It's a good story, nothing more. I hope you enjoy it.---------- 1 ----------
Avrie and Joon
Christy bought her first computer in the summer of 1997, just after she had gotten rid of Aaron, her oh-so-sexy-but-way-too-full-of-himself boyfriend of six months. Aaron had introduced her to the online world. When she kicked him out of the apartment they shared, she also disconnected herself from her cyber world. She went out the next day and purchased a new Pentium II system with all the bells and whistles. It was sweet!
Christy was a grad student at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She lived in Dallas and would drive two hours three times a week for her classes. The rest of her time was spent in study or working as an intern for a big consulting firm downtown. Christy had very few friends. Most of the people she knew were more like acquaintances, and she had no real desire to move any of her relationships beyond those bounds.
So, a few months after Aaron the Ass (as she had come to call him) moved out, Christy found herself in the world of chat. The Ass had also introduced her to chat, but all he had wanted to do was go into porn rooms and watch her have cyber-sex. (The Ass liked dirty talk…yuck). Left to her own devices, Christy had finally found a little home away from home in cyberspace. It was a chat room connected to the University of Texas server called Tina’s Café. Christy had chosen the screen name of Joon, based on her favorite movie ever, Benny and Joon.
Before long, she found herself unable to go to sleep at night without a trip to the café. She developed close relationships with many of the chatters. She even talked to many of them via phone and they all exchanged Christmas cards during her winter break.
It was also during this time that Christy started to realize her “gift”. Her gift became a thing of legend in chat. It started out as a joke between her and Gwen, one of Christy’s best friends and fellow chatters. Christy had mentioned off-hand that she didn’t trust one of the new members of the chat room, a lurker named FrogBoy. It wasn’t long after she made the comment in private that Frog started throwing out really nasty things to the women in the chat room. He even went so far as to find out the home number of Gorgeous, another of Christy’s friends. He was subsequently banned from the chat room. Thereafter, Christy was given the nickname of SpookyJoon for her ability to peg someone in the chat room, often moments after they entered the room.
At first, Christy didn’t believe herself to be truly psychic. Such things were the province of weird women on 900 number hotlines, not introverted women in a chat room. It’s just that she would have these feelings about people that always seemed to be right on target. Later, although she never told anyone but Gwen, she became convinced that she had a true gift. She thought of it as empathy, but she never really explored it further than looking up the definition on the Internet. Honestly, her ability scared her. She didn’t want to be thought of as a freak, or worse, crazy.
Christy finished her master’s degree in the fall of 1999 and went to work full time as a business consultant. She soon found that her empathic senses were quite useful when dealing with corporate negotiations and selling herself to companies. It wasn’t long before she had developed a very lucrative career with the largest consultant firm in the country. The new job forced her to travel extensively, but she was never without her trusty laptop. She closed almost every day with a trip into the café.---------- 2 ----------
Christy met Avrie during the Christmas break of 1999. She had stopped in for the night and found the café virtually empty. The only name that popped up in the list of current residents was the name Avrie.
Christy read the name for the first time and a chill went up her spine. She shivered and took a sip from the hot cocoa sitting next to her computer. The chill was involuntary. She had never met an Avrie and had no reason to dislike the name per se, even misspelled.
She bent over the keyboard and was about to type a greeting, and froze. (so lonely…so sad) Again the reaction was involuntary but she was suddenly very frightened. She just stared into the electrical glow of her computer’s monitor completely motionless. Then Avrie “spoke”:
Christy yelped and jerked so suddenly, her cocoa sloshed over the rim of her cup, sending brown drops splashing onto her keyboard and down her leg. How did this unknown know her real name? She had told only a few friends, and they never used it in chat with strangers present. She set her cocoa down with a shaky hand.
She stared at the name and tried to focus on what she was feeling. This person scared her all right, but she didn’t think it was fear for herself or for anyone else for that matter. (He’s here… but he is not) It was more like that feeling you get when you ride a roller coaster that’s topping that first big hill. It was dread she was feeling. She also sensed a deep sadness that dug at her heart. It made her feel so empty that she actually moaned. Suddenly she felt very cold, and more than a little frightened. Her “feelings” had never come across so strongly before.
|Avrie: It’s rude to ignore a person. |
Christy’s heart knocked in her throat. Who was this and why was she having such strong feelings about him? She had to admit it might be nerves. Maybe she was just worn out from Christmas with her folks. The holidays at the Butler home had recently degenerated into a two-day tirade from her mother about grandchildren, or lack thereof. She was emotionally wiped. Maybe the cocoa had her on a sugar high. It was probably one of the regulars like LateNite messing with her anyway. (no. he’s new)
“You are freaking yourself out, girl.”
She forced a smile, trying to be polite. Christy found it amusing that in a virtual room where no one could see your expressions, she still found herself tossing her head or smiling appropriately as if she were actually there. Now she was trying to look nonplussed by a stranger who she couldn’t even see her.
With some effort, she leaned down again and typed the first few letters of her message. The act of typing seemed to loosen her paralysis.
|Joon: who are you?|
Joon: thats what your screen name says. how do you know my name?
Avrie: I have listened in to all of the conversations in this room for the last year. I have seen many people call you Christy. I assumed that was your name. If I have offended you, I apologize. I just wanted you to talk to me.
Avrie’s response to her question had been immediate. It was like he had been typing up the answer before she had asked it. She didn’t blame him for wanting to put her at ease. When she first started chatting she had lurked in many rooms before diving into the conversation. She had found that most people didn’t care too much for others watching chat without participating. It was the electronic equivalent of having a stranger at a private dinner party who refuses to speak or tell you his name. It creeped people out.
|Joon: i didn’t know people could lurk in this room without being seen, avrie. have you been using other screen names?|
Joon: then i dont understand...how have you been watching?
Avrie: My computer has a direct connection with the UT server hub. I was compiling data for a project I was assigned, and found this “room”. Until today, I haven’t been able to communicate with the room. I was just feeling very alone. I only wanted to talk to someone.
Christy smiled at no one. She knew the feeling of wanting to talk to someone. She began developing a picture of Avrie in her mind. He probably worked at the University of Texas (no, that doesn’t feel right…but he’s at a University somewhere), grad student most likely (or a professor). He was definitely a computer geek (but weren’t they all in their own ways?)
As irrationally as the fear of or for Avrie had appeared, it seemed to vanish. What replaced it was a motherly urge to take Avrie under her wing, to make him feel welcome. (He is so lost…confused.)
|Joon: okay avrie, fair enough. but here i am just Joon okay?|
Avrie: I am sorry if I frightened you. Joon. I like that name. Phonetically spelled like in the title of the movie Benny and Joon. Was that your inspiration?
Joon: omg that’s right! its one of my fav movies ever. do you like it?
Avrie: Yes, I liked it quite a lot. The theme of that movie really touched me: two people so different from everyone else around them, finding one another. That is rare.
Joon: i know…
So began what would be one of the best friendships that Christy would ever know. She and Avrie talked until the wee hours of the morning and the next day she returned to find him sitting in the café as if he had never left. By the time Christmas break was over and the regulars returned, she had spent what seemed like weeks talking with Avrie. The sense of tragedy that surrounded him never really left, but the sense of dread she felt at first meeting him hadn’t returned.
Christy found herself deeply intrigued by Avrie. He seemed so analytical and sometimes he was downright cold. However, at his core she sensed a very deep and sensitive soul.
Felicia, who’s screen name was Gwen, once said that chat time was accelerated time. In other words, one week in a chat room was like a month anywhere else. In a span of four days, she bonded with Avrie and felt like she had known him for years. It was only later that she rellized she knew very little about her mysterious new friend.---------- 3 ----------
Avrie disappeared without warning from chat on New Year’s Day, as did many others, in preparation for the Y2K disaster that never happened. He didn’t get back online for almost two weeks. During his absence, speculation flew about who he was and where he came from. LateNite, the resident cynic, had used some of his friends in the admissions office at the University of Texas to try and find a guy in the Computer Science department with a similar name. They found no one who fit the profile. LateNite had even tried to cross-examine the poor guy before he left, but Avrie refused to tell any of them anything substantive.
It was the middle of January and Christy was locked in her apartment while an ice storm locked down the rest of the city. She was in the café chatting with LateNite, Gwen, and Jiffy.
|LateNite: all I am saying is that we shouldn’t trust the guy.|
Joon: why not? because he wont tell us his real name or where he works exactly? he said he works for a prof, just not the university, besides his project is very hush-hush supposedly.
Gwen: He did kinda give me the creeps at first. He has a very strange online persona. Kinda cold.
Joon: How do we know anything about anyone on here? hes just shy. hes getting better…
LateNite: “Better?” Better at what, Joon?
Joon: get yer pee brain outta the gutter LN. i have a feeling about him okay? i think he needs us.
Gwen: he seems nice once you get to know him…and i trust spookyjoon’s feelings.
Joon: awwww…i knew i kept you around for a reason.
Jiffy: and what is this project that he keeps talking about? we have all assumed he’s a computer geek, but he may just as well be studying sociology and we’re like his thesis or something
Joon: JiffyPop speaks! i had the same idea. he is actually quite deep…
LateNite: Look at Joon going all swoony. “Oh I do love him so” <hands Joon a fan>
Gwen: He’s just jealous…
Christy smiled. LateNite was jealous in the worst way. Late had tried calling her one time and she decided that it was a mistake. She wasn’t looking for a boyfriend in chat. LateNite didn’t understand that though. He had been sending her personal emails and his recent flirting in chat was almost crossing the line. The sad part was, he was beginning to remind her of Aaron the Ass.
|LateNite: I think the guy’s a nutcase and you are asking for trouble getting involved with him.|
***LateNite has left the room***
LateNite was suddenly disconnected from the room. It happened from time to time in there. LateNite said that it was the Internet connection, and that because he had a DSL line, he could never be kicked unintentionally. Christy actually laughed. She loved seeing cocky guys cut down to size.
|Joon: LateNite? Where did you go buddy?|
Jiffy: he was runnin off at the mouth so the room kicked him
Joon: lol i wish it were that easy
Suddenly the keys under Christy’s fingers felt hot and she pulled back from the keyboard so fast she almost tipped over backward in her chair. Her eyes flew open in surprise. She felt a sudden rush of white-hot anger and her screen flashed a blue screen and went black. At that same moment her cordless phone, which she had brought into her computer room, rang out with its patented shrill whine. Christy screamed.
She grabbed the phone and hit the talk button. The phone buzzed and popped like someone had called with a bad cell phone connection.
“Hello?” she said, her nerves hitting the red line. “Who is this? Hello? What the hell is happening here?”
That rush of anger returned and she gritted her teeth to keep from yelling out. When she spoke again, it was a harsh whisper, “…Avrie…?”
The line went dead.
Christy called Felicia that night, and found out that after she and LateNite were kicked, the whole room shut down. She also tried calling LateNite but to no avail. Christy found out a few days later that Late had somehow gotten a computer virus that ate through his hard drive like a “fat man at an all you can eat buffet.” It looked like he was out of chat for a while until he could get a new computer.
Avrie returned to chat the day after the room shut down. He seemed so depressed and angry. He said he would be leaving soon and wanted her to know how much their friendship had meant to him. He told her several times that wanted her to be happy no matter what she did. She tried talking to him about why he was leaving, but he would just ignore the question or leave the room angry. He also started disappearing suddenly and reappearing without warning. He said his computer was on the fritz, but Christy could tell he was lying. (Something was wrong with him.) That sense of dread she had felt at first meeting him grew stronger every time she saw him.
It was almost the end of January when weird things started happening with her computer. It began crashing almost every night, and it always occurred when she was in chat. Her first real idea that something really unusual might be happening was in chat one night. Avrie had come and disappeared without warning again, which was his latest M.O. Suddenly, her computer began playing music. It was a song by The Proclaimers called “500 Miles”. It was the theme song from Benny and Joon. Christy had downloaded the song off Napster one night after she and Avrie had discussed it. He called it “their song” because he said it was that movie that had brought them together.
As soon as the song began, she yelped in surprise and minimized her chat window. Her mp3 player wasn’t running. According to her task bar, no other programs were playing it either. She crinkled her brow and hit the ctrl-alt-del keys together (or as Gwen called it, the three finger salute). The song stopped immediately. It was then that she got a feeling that Avrie was there. It wasn’t the same feeling she got in chat. He felt close, very close.
“Avrie?” she said aloud, looking aound her small room and feeling stupid for having said it. Avrie wasn’t there (yes, he was). It was impossible. Then the feeling left and she was alone, staring at her chat window again.
She had two more instances in which she felt sure that Avrie was near. Once again, she felt him during a chat session when he wasn’t supposed to be in the room.
The other incident occurred in downtown Dallas. She was walking to a little diner down the street from her office, and she felt Avrie’s presence so strong that it was like he had grabbed her arm. She whirled around and stared at her reflection in the front window of a store called Tyson’s Electronics. Sitting inside the front store window were a row of video cameras, all marked with big sale tags. She stared into the electronic eyes of the cameras, transfixed. They were all running, watching any that walked past the store window. Their images were fed into in a big screen television set off to the side.
It was then that she noticed a small camera sitting atop the television. She recognized the device as a web camera. It was running, feeding images of the Dallas street to a web page somewhere in cyber-space. She felt a sudden wave of sadness (help me Christy) and then the feeling vanished.
Christy immediately returned to her office and told her boss she was taking the rest of the week off. Nelda, her manager and friend followed her to the elevators. She asked repeatedly what was wrong, but Christy barely heard her. She had something that needed doing and soon.
“You can’t just walk out like this Chris!” Nelda said, placing her arm in front of the elevator. “We have that meeting with Poolman Lumber tomorrow and you know I can’t handle those macho assholes all by myself.”
Christy brushed passed her and into the elevator. “There’s something I have to do,” she said, “Sorry.”
“What?” Nelda was almost screaming now. Nelda was unaccustomed to being told no. “What is so damn important that it’s worth risking your career with this firm?”
“I’m not sure yet.”
As soon as she got home, she went into her computer room. The computer was on although she had shut it down the night before and had not rebooted (He turned it on). She was also logged onto Tina’s Café. She knew without looking that she and Avrie were the only two in the room.
“How is this possible?” she said aloud, not expecting an answer.
|Avrie: It is. That’s is all that is important. |
Christy placed her hands to her mouth to avoid moaning. He could hear her. He was talking through the chat room, but she didn’t need to. (We are connected now)
“I don’t understand what you want from me,” she said, “What are you? Who are you?”
|Avrie: My name is John Slaughter. I was a professor at UCLA until the beginning of this year. |
“What happened? How are you able to do this?”
|Avrie: I have suffered from a debilitating neurological disorder for the better part of my life. I was diagnosed in college. I have worked my entire life to be free of the prison that was my body. I have been unable to speak, hear, or even move for almost six months. |
“Then how…” Christy crept forward and sat on the sofabed near the door. Her legs felt too weak to support her.
|Avrie: I died in the UCLA Medical Center the day before Christmas. |
Christy was shaking her head before she even read his reply. “No…that’s not possible…”
(It’s the truth)
Christy turned from the screen. She placed her head in er hands and wept. She didn’t need to read from the screen anymore to hear him. He was in her mind.
|Avrie: It is the truth. And you know it, Joon. You feel it don’t you? |
“What do you want from me? Why are you doing this to me?” Christy was suddenly very afraid. It was like the night she had first met Avrie. She wasn’t afraid for herself. Something was happening to him, but she didn’t know what.
|Avrie: I don’t have much time. I am dying again, Christy. And I can’t stop it this time… |
The chat window suddenly disappeared and her browser opened. The page that appeared was a page from the Los Angeles Times. Across the top of the page was the headline:
Beloved UCLA Professor Loses Fight With ALS
Christy stared at the picture of John Slaughter while Avrie spoke to her silently. She now knew what she had to do. ---------- 4 ----------
Christy hated flying, but the plane ride from Dallas/Fort Worth to LAX was uneventful. She spent the trip rereading the article that she had printed out from the Times.
According to the article, Professor John Slaughter suffered from a disease known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS. He was a computer programmer and professor at UCLA. The disease struck him while attending MIT at the age of 20. He had taught classes at UCLA until the disease began to rob him of even his most basic motor skills. His hearing left just six months before he passed away at the age of 39. He had been wheelchair bound for most of his adult life.
The article also stated that Slaughter had developed several unique devices and computer programs designed to enhance the lives of other people suffering from similar debilitating conditions. The article mentioned that another famous ALS patient, the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking was using several of the devices that Slaughter had developed during his tenure at UCLA.
Christy had called her friend Felicia, known as Gwen in chat, from Dallas and she had met Christy at the airport. The two had spent most of the night talking. Felicia was a grad student at UCLA and a struggling actress. She had made some phone calls and set up an appointment with the professor that Christy had wanted to see, a Dr. Ronald Harlow.
The hallway outside of Computer Lab 27b on the UCLA campus was quiet as the stout Dr. Harlow shuffled through his ring of keys. Christy shifted nervously from foot to foot as the man looked for the right implement, and Felicia put a hand on her arm to help calm her.
Christy had not wanted Felicia to come along, but in the end she was glad to have the company. She had no idea what she was doing here in the first place, but she felt like Avrie needed her. She also needed to know that she was not going out of her mind. She didn’t think she was, but what mentally unstable person really thought they were coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs? Part of insanity was being out of touch with reality, wasn’t it?
She had told Felicia enough of the story that her friend was standing by her, but she didn’t tell her about feeling Avrie on the street or in her room. She also hadn’t shared the experience of talking to him in the chat room with her mind. Dr. Harlow finally found the key to the room and opened it up. Christy made a move to enter and Dr. Harlow blocked her entrance.
“You realize,” he said in a hushed tone, “that I could get into big trouble for letting you see this room. No one outside our department is supposed to know about it.”
“I know.” Christy said, “but I have to. He wanted me to come here. I don’t know why but he wanted me to see.”
“I still don’t recall Professor Slaughter having an acquaintance named June.” Dr. Harlow flashed his dark gaze back to Felicia. “Or Gwen for that matter.”
“We have covered this already, Dr. Harlow. John always said he considered you a friend. He asked me to come here and see this project. I intend to do it. If you like, I could take my request to the dean or perhaps the Los Angeles Times.”
Christy was bluffing, but she had gotten good at that. If she could play tough with a room full of corporate sharks, playing this little tubby nerd like a fiddle was small potatoes. Besides, she knew that whatever was in this room represented something big for Harlow. He had a dirty little secret and he didn’t want anyone knowing about it. Best to just appease the harmless little bitches and send them on their way.
Dr. Harlow produced a winning smile, but Christy could feel his anger toward her seething through his pores like acrid sweat. She forced herself not to shudder as she stepped passed him into the room. The room was small and dark. It was temperature and climate controlled and the slight chill in the room reminded her of the night she had first spoken to Avrie. Dr. Harlow flipped on a set of fluorescent lights and the room lit up.
“What is this place?” Felicia said, looking around the room in amazement.
“This,” Harlow said, with more than a little pride, “is AVRIE.”
The name caught both women by surprise, but they said nothing. They stared at one another for a shocked moment and then turned to examine the room.
The room was painted white with pale carpeting covering half of the floor. It was bare of creature comforts. Several cameras were set up at various angles throughout and some microphones dangled from the ceiling. Four sets of speakers adorned the four corners of the small space. The room was cut in half by a floor to ceiling Plexiglas enclosure. Sitting in front of the clear wall was a computer workstation and a small uncomfortable looking chair. On the uncarpeted half of the room was a rack with several blue body suits that Dr. Harlow said were static-free suits. He said that the area beyond the Plexiglas wall was called a clean room. It was kept free of anything that might damage the computers.
Christy walked across the room and peered through the clear wall. The room on the other side of the wall was smaller than the first and contained a metal rack with three shelves. Lining each shelf were large computer towers with cords running back and forth between them. Hanging over the top of the rack was a handmade sign:A.V.R.I.E.
Automated Voice Response Intelligence Engine
She turned and saw Dr. Harlow standing in the door, eyeing them suspiciously. “What is this?” she asked, her voice cracking.
Dr. Harlow sighed. “It was the project the John was working on before he went into the hospital. The details were quite hushed. It has taken us some time to figure out exactly what he was attempting here.”
Christy placed her hand flat on the Plexiglas wall and smiled. He was there. His presence was suddenly so strong that she felt like she could open her eyes and see him. She turned toward Dr. Harlow and when she spoke it felt like her voice was coming from very far away, like hearing herself through the wrong end of a megaphone.
“You are decompiling his program.”
“Yes…well…yes. I mean, he didn’t leave us any notes about the project save for the ones embedded in the code, so we had to take it offline…”
“So what was he doing with it?” Felicia asked. She was standing next to the small computer desk near the wall. Felicia had her arms clasped around her, and Christy could literally feel her fear. Felicia was shivering. The temperature in the room had just dropped by almost 10 degrees.
“As near as we can tell, he was attempting to create a device that could speak for him.”
“But aren’t there already devices like that?” Felicia said, her jaw quivering, “I remember seeing Stephen Hawking using a voice modulator thing on some talk show.”
Dr. Harlow clicked his tongue in disapproval. “No no no,” he said “this is much more complex. You see ALS is a degenerative condition affecting the spinal column and the brain. Stephen Hawking uses a computer to speak, but he controls what it says by computer input. This device is designed for people like John who have lost the ability to hear or speak. It acts like a translator. But more than that, it can anticipate responses from its user and in many cases answer basic questions for them without waiting to be translated.”
“A computer speaking for you? How is that possible?” Felicia’s fear was growing. (So was Harlow’s). Christy wanted to help, but she couldn’t. She felt so far away from them even though they were only a few feet away. She was in another state of conciousness. She was listening to Avrie.
“This is revolutionary!” Harlow said. He sounded like a child who had discovered a device that dispenses chocolate candy from thin air. “The professor created a program that could learn. He connected it to a network of colleges around the world through the Internet. He then set it about to gather data about the way human beings communicate and interact. He wanted a program that could learn in a few sessions how a specific individual normally communicates and be able to mimic their responses...”
“It learned all right.” Christy said, interrupting him. “It learned well.” Fresh tears spilled down her cheeks and she stared at the sign hanging above the rack of computers:
“What do you mean?” Dr. Harlow exclaimed, “What do you know about this?” His emotions were becoming erratic. (He knows and he doesn’t care)
“It didn’t work, Dr. Harlow, and you know it. This project was an abysmal failure. Artificial Intelligence is the Holy Grail of theoretical computer science. Everyone has tried, but no one will ever succeed. John knew that. He knew that a device could never take the place of a human being. He knew that a computer lacks the one element that makes human beings what they are…a soul.”
Felicia stepped toward Christy and stopped. “What’s going on Chris? You are seriously freaking me out here.”
“I am sorry, friend.” Christy said, looking at Felicia. Her breath was starting to form mists of vapor in front of her face as the temperature in the room continued to fall, “But you are going to have to trust me on this one. I don’t understand what is happening here anymore than you do. I do know that what is behind this wall is alive, and that man is trying to kill it.”
Harlow looked flabbergasted. “You, young lady, are out of your mind. How can a person kill a machine?”
“It’s not a machine!” Christy yelled, feeling her anger arching out from her and bathing Harlow. She was projecting her emotions. She pointed a finger at the walled off bank of computers. “That is John Slaughter!”
Harlow had gone pale. He glanced from Christy to Felicia and then at the row of computers. “I think you better leave,” he said, turning to the door.
“Not until I have finished what I came here to do,” Christy mumbled and rushed to the small computer workstation. She sat down at the keyboard and hit a key. The monitor flashed to life. Avrie had already instructed her on what to do. She entered the commands so fast, Harlow barely had time to yell a warning.
He rushed over and pushed her away from the computer with such force, she spilled out of her chair and sprawled butt first on the carpeted floor. “What did you do?’ he asked accusatorily. She didn’t need to answer. He knew.
Suddenly, the lights in the clean room hummed to life. An overhead came on, illuminating the bank of computers, all of which turned on simultaneously. At the same moment, a door on the far side of the room began to open, allowing entrance to the clean room.
“Is this what you came here for, you little slut!” Harlow’s own fat face was red, his eyes bulging out at her. He was feeding off of her anger and using it to fuel his outrage. Felicia backed away from him and huddled in the corner. Christy’s emotions poured from her unbidden and Felicia had latched upon her fear. The poor girl was going into shock..
“He told you what he was,” Christy spat, rising from the floor, “You knew, you sick bastard! ”
“It’s a goddamned program!” Harlow fired back, “It was learning to speak for John, to act like John. Somehow it now thinks its John. It has gained awareness of who and what it is. This is what we have worked our whole lives for! I refuse to let you or anyone else take it!”
“Then why did you take him offline? Why are you decompiling his programming?”
“Because it was uploading itself!” Harlow spat this last out and then stopped. His face was so beet red, Christy thought he might pass out at any moment. He had slipped in telling her that John was trying to get out. That was why he was killing Avrie/John. He didn’t want anyone else to have his new toy.
Christy glared at him for a moment longer and walked past him toward the newly opened door to the clean room.
“What are you doing?” Harlow asked. He sounded drained.
“I’m reconnecting him to the network. I’m going to set him free.”
Harlow grabbed her arm bruising it. “I can’t allow that,” he said, “you need to leave here now.”
Christy’s leg shot out so fast, she wasn’t even aware she was going to attack until she did. Her knee connected squarely with his crotch, eliciting a wheeze from the bloated bastard that made Christy want to shout for joy. His grip loosened on her arm and she pulled away, stepping into the room as he collapsed to his knees. It didn’t take her long to find the right cords and the proper slots for them to fill. Avrie/John was leading her the whole time.
When she came out of the room, she found Harlow limping toward the door. She didn’t need to ask what he was planning. She could sense it. He was going to cut the power to the building. If he got out, John was through.
Without thinking, she ran across the room and grabbed Harlow by his coat, hefting him backward, and sending both of them sprawling to the floor. Harlow’s rage had reached a fever pitch. He rolled over quickly, pinning Christy under his frame. He grabbed her around the throat and began to squeeze. The effect was almost instantaneous. As her oxygen supply was cut off, her vision began to blur. Bright spots danced and shimmied in front of her eyes. She tried to call out, but couldn’t. (He’s going to kill me!)
A whining noise like feedback through a busted speaker suddenly rang through the room. The sound was so loud and startling, Harlow let go of Christy’s throat just for a moment. She gasped for air and pumped her body up like a wrestler freeing himself from a shoulder pin.
Harlow launched at her again, but with her arms free, she managed to get her hands up this time, clawing for his face. He swatted the hands away and hit her with a closed fist in the jaw. She yelped in pain and his hands were around her throat again.
The whining noise was suddenly replaced by music. It was their song.
Christy’s vision began to blur again, and her arms were losing their strength. The Proclaimers were blaring, “WHEN I WAKE UP, YEAH I KNOW IM GONNA BE, I’M GONNA BE THE MAN WHO WAKES UP NEXT TO YOU! WHEN I GO OUT, YEAH I KNOW I’M GONNA BE, I’M GONNA BE THE MAN WHO GOES ALONG WITH YOU.”
Christy fought to reamin conscious, but it was so hard. Her world went momentarily dark, and all that kept her awake was their song, floating through her darkness. Then, she felt a thud and Dr. Harlow flew off of her like he had been picked up and thrown. As her vision returned, she saw Felicia standing over her with the computer chair in her hands. Dr. Harlow lay nearby, unconscious. The music suddenly died. John was gone. (He’s free!)
Christy slowly stood to her feet. Her legs felt wobbly, but she leaned on Felicia for support. The two walked that way over to the small monitor on the computer desk. The screen was dark except for a single gray box. The message box said: “Upload Complete”.
Christy smiled. She hugged Felicia with all of her might and the two women cried for several minutes before Christy felt Avrie’s presence in the room once more. She turned toward the clean room and saw a figure standing near the rack of servers. It was John. He looked so young and alive. In death, he had finally escaped the prison of his useless body. He looked beautiful.
She wanted to run to him, to hold him. But she knew that she could not. Instead, she smiled. He smiled back, and when he spoke, his voice came from the speakers overhead. But it was more than that. His voice rang inside their heads, through their ears, and touched their hearts.
“Thank you,” he said. Then he vanished like a fog blown away by a breeze.---------- 5 ----------
The police arrived shortly after John had departed, and there were a lot of questions asked, and a lot of answers that neither of the ladies could provide. In the end, Christy was taken to the UCLA Medical Center for treatment of her wounds. Her throat was nearly crushed, and she stayed at the hospital for several days to recoup.
Felicia came by to visit and told her that Dr. Harlow had been arrested for attempted murder. The university had subsequently fired him for his “work” on the Avrie project. When it was all said, Felicia sat on the side of Christy’s bed holding her hand. A question was hovering at the edge of her mind, but she was afraid to ask it. Christy already knew what she was going to ask.
“I don’t know if Avrie is really John or not,” she croaked. Her throat was still very sore. “It might be just as Dr. Harlow said, that Avrie was just carrying out his programming. That he thought he was John. But I honestly think that John was so passionate about Avrie and what it was capable of, that he put a little piece of his soul into it. When he died, that piece of soul lived on in Avrie.”
Later that night, as she was drifting off to sleep, the speaker next to her bed, normally reserved for communication with the on-duty nurse, buzzed to life. The noise startled her and she jumped, whirling toward the sound. Lightly at first but then growing louder, The Proclaimers began to sing. Christy smiled and lay back down on her pillow.
“You’re welcome Avrie,” she said. “I’ll see you around.”
“But I would walk five hundred miles, and I would walk five hundred more. Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles to fall down at your door…”THE END