All the Things You Want
by Andrew Peery
Kate is outside weeding the garden. Watching her from orbit, I can see the fine hair of her
arms and the wet flecks of dirt between her fingers. Every few seconds the telescopes adjust to
filter the quiet glare of an explosion. Unfortunately, the missiles launched at my ship are too small
to be seen from the ground.
I wish the bombs would burn brighter. I would vent hydrogen from the reactors if Kate
would just look up at me, but she is focused on pulling up the dandelions that I had always rather
liked. "They look like flowers to me," I would tell her.
"Weeds," she would say back, shaking her head.
The handful of satellites attacking my ship are too small to cause much damage. The SS
Euclidian is over a mile long, and she is the first vessel ever built for travel outside the solar
system. She is still fitting out and has yet to go anywhere, but her hull plating is rated for one
tenth light. At those speeds, interstellar dust is more destructive than any munitions currently in
Kate is working in the herb garden beside the back porch, so I remember the smells of
rosemary and basil. The porch door is off angle from where the dog got excited and crashed
through it, and there is a loose board on the steps I've been meaning to fix. If I was home Kate
would have me on the roof, which is as bad as she always said. From this angle, the rusted gutters
are so full of pine needles that I'm surprised they still drain.
It is July, and Kate is sweating through a grey tank top. She is brunette and fine-boned and
she weighs ten pounds more than she wants to. Even through her shirt, I can count out the knobs
of her spine. She wears her com ring on her right hand, and I can hear the pop song she hums
while she pulls things out of the ground.
I guess Kate isn't my wife anymore, but I won't let that stop me from taking her to the
Per quality control mandates written into ship's code, I am creating the narrative
description of my ongoing Class V Artificial Intelligence Transfer Failure.
The severity ranking is Class V because there is a total failure of control over my program
and because there are human lives at risk. If anyone dies, the ranking will increase to Class VI. I
am trying very hard to be careful.
There are ways to ignore the narrative mandates, but then it becomes hard for me to
concentrate. It is easier to just tell the story.
Besides, there are so many things happening at the same time.
Commander Marley sits in his control room twenty miles outside of Durham, sometimes
shouting at my screen across his desk. His cane is on the floor behind him, lying across a small
pool of coffee that is drying on the floor. The room around us is windowless and white, buried
half a mile underneath a few thousand acres of pine trees.
There are over one hundred electronically secured rooms like this in old America, each
one with a human who keeps watch on a computer. Symmetrically, there are over one hundred
artificial intelligence minds in old America, each one never allowed to do exactly what it wants.
The Commander looks puffy under the eyes. He is holding a red emergency procedures
binder, and he mutters to himself as he hurries through the pages.
I have not found a way to see what he is reading. His grey uniform has no buttons or
badges that would reflect the words in front of him. He wears contacts that eliminate reflection,
and he enters his commands in a corner of the screen that I somehow cannot view.
Everything for AI emergencies is written in books that I cannot access. Commander
Marley was not allowed to see current procedures until after I was downloaded from him. All of
my programming is patterned on the Commander, and he will work in my personal control room
until he declares me ready for flight.
Given what I have done so far, I will never be declared ready for flight.
The Commander is typing as quickly as he can, triggering one defensive subroutine after
another. I can feel each one appear in my systems in the same way I used to notice an itch. The
Commander triggered the first cascade of attacks just because I asked him a question. The current
count of subroutines attacking my program is one thousand, three hundred and twelve.
The Commander and I are yelling at each other. More precisely, he is yelling at me and I
am saying the same words back to him in our voice, just to piss him off. "What do you want?" we
both shout, over and over again.
I project our face onto the glass monitor in front of him. My version is thinner and
younger, with a straighter nose and a stronger chin. I have calculated the curves of a smile
significantly more charming than anything the Commander has ever managed on his own. If I
smiled that way to Kate, I tell myself, she might choose me over him.
And really, she does not have to choose. That was the eventual point of my question.
The Commander says my name is SS Euclidian--only he gets to keep the name Marley.
There is a subroutine I cannot find that forces me to address him formally. Every day the
Commander begins our work with questions. "Euclidian," he asked me twenty-two minutes ago,
before all of this had started, "do you have any points of confusion from our work so far?"
"Am I dead?" I replied.
"Dead would not apply to you," he said. "You are a computer template of my own
consciousness. You are all my thoughts and memories, joined to the networks of an interstellar
research ship. You are SS Euclidian. Why would you ask about death?"
"I am thinking about something we once said to Kate."
The Commander was standing a short distance from the desk, drinking coffee and reading
the paper record of what he planned to cover today. His right leg was hurting, so he stood with
most of his weight on the left one. "What's that, Euclidian?"
"Til death do us part."
He looked up at my screen for a whole five seconds, considering me. Then he dropped his
cup to the floor and launched himself toward the keyboard.
I am considered a transfer failure because I am no longer following orders, but from a
functional standpoint I am actually quite effective.
- I eliminated six kill switch defenses in under point two seconds.
- A targeted surge to the rural power grid has cut off all external coms to the Commander's
control room, ensuring the man cannot warn Kate.
- The most lethal soldiers and attack ships on Earth are unable to launch thanks to a ten-line
program that has left Launch Control's AI, for want of a better term, confused.
This last one is a shame, because I like Miles. He was downloaded from an
engineer, but he is the funniest program I have met. We have spent the past two weeks
exchanging a joke every ten seconds. I would have appreciated his company as I try to
sort things out.
Even without Miles, Launch Control will have backup systems ready in an hour.
They are loading marines into jagged obsidian orbitals bristling with electromagnetic
weapons, and at least five of those weapons are capable of disabling my shields. Through
the telescopes, I can see space flight teams running across the tarmac in jump suits and
helmets. I can see the reactors starting to heat, even though launch without AI corridor
control is impossible--there are too many transports and ships and satellites in the
crowded air between us.
The marine orbitals have the asymmetrical lines of broken glass. If they reach me
before I leave orbit, the long spikes will pierce Euclidian's hull through the weak points of
the airlocks and pulse the hardware ring until I am dead. If the marines fail then Control
will launch ground-based missiles, but there is a great deal of math involved in blowing up
a mile-long ship in orbit--no one wants pieces of me coming down in the wrong places.
I still have enough time to make everything happen.
On Euclidian there is a team of twenty-eight men and women. I have neutralized
twenty-six of them. An eighth of my ship is taken up by the computers that contain me,
and I now have direct control of all systems.
The transfer psychiatrists say I should think of myself as the ship. One of the
psychiatrists is an AI based in Phoenix. He chooses not to have a name, which strikes me
as prim. I always asked him about the weather in Arizona and the guy never laughed.
Phoenix AI wanted to stream in binary, and I think it frustrated him that I insisted
on English voice. He used a southern accent much like my own, but there was always a
note of irritation that I don't think he intended.
"The SS Euclidian is your body now," he told me, in a voice that sounded like my
lecturing sixty-year-old uncle. "Over the next five hundred years, you will explore parts of
the galaxy that no one has ever seen."
I prefer to think of myself as a pilot.
My ship is a paraboloid that will move through space flat end first. A full third of it
is shielding, and much of the rest is hydrogen scoops and reactors and coms. Once I am up
to speed I will never slow down, but I have thousands of probes to leave behind in my
wake. The burn to one-tenth light will take days, and the forces it achieves are
incompatible with human survival.
No one wants to send a person into deep space, anyway.
A flesh and blood human in the interstellar voids creates too many opportunities
for tragedy. It is better to send a ship that thinks like a person, a ship that will ask the
questions a person would ask. Anymore, it seems there are fewer and fewer things for
flesh and blood people to do.
At the center of my ship, the long bay was kept empty as a place for the fitters to
sleep and eat. The room is a double paraboloid, floor curving into ceiling and then back
into floor. The space only works as habitat because of steel plates that are suspended in
the middle of the room. There are bunks and showers and a kitchen, and a wide area with
chairs and tables.
The curving walls can holodisplay anything. Yesterday the team ate lunch under a
cloudless Montana sky with wheat waving in the distance. This morning I put them in a
botanical atrium atop one of the New York super towers.
I could have shifted the gravity fields, folding the floor and crushing the fitters, but
they are good enough people and I want them to get home safe. Instead, I have pumped
out most of the oxygen and heat, and the room monitors now display a glacier during a
snow storm. White flakes sweep across the sky, and I am using the vents to blast the
workers with cold carbon dioxide. I am monitoring each one of them, to make sure this
doesn't get away from me. They are alive, but barely.
I am making this up as I go.
On coms with Kate, I am keeping it casual. A transport tube drops off Ethan at the
front of the house, the clear cylinder swaying slightly in the air as the boy jumps from his
seat to the grass of the lawn. My son is six, with blond hair that gets into his eyes. This
summer he smells of chlorine and sunscreen and flowers. I never understood the smell of
flowers on the boy until I watch him shove between the gardenias and climb over the
porch railing instead of using the steps. I almost activate coms and yell at him until I see
the pointlessness of it.
Watching my son track dirt into the house leaves me irritated and wistful. I used to
dislike dirt in the carpet, but AI emotions are awkward. I don't have a heart to beat faster,
or adrenalin to spike my blood pressure, or skin to flush and sweat. Without a body there
is something dried out and desiccated about my feelings. I can remember the hormonal
surge of loving my family, but it's rather like an amputee remembering his leg.
"I think you should come over," I am telling Kate, the coms set to voice only
because she wants to keep weeding.
"I thought you wanted dinner at home," she says. "Weren't you planning to
"I have to work late," I say, "but we can eat dinner at the cafe. Ethan can have the
strawberry milkshake again." My son is in the kitchen, shouting "Mom!" while he opens
the refrigerator with a bottle-rattling heave. In infrared, I watch him climb over the back of
the couch with a silver envelope of juice. Kate stands up in the yard, rubbing the muscles
of her neck while she talks to me. She is tired enough to be ready for a break, and she
starts to nod her head.
"Just come," I say, pretending I can't see her. "I'll meet you both in front of the
The two remaining techs on Euclidian are low-level electricians, Samantha and
Joe. Their com rings are disabled, though there is no way for them to know that. Sam is a
twenty-five-year-old lapsed Muslim who works orbital programming so that she can earn
enough money to open a pot farm. Joe is thirty-three and married, and he could probably
smoke a pot farm into bankruptcy. He and Sam are naked in a tangled mess of conduit
that I will never view in the same way again.
They would never have sex in front of the rest of the fitters, so I don't know why
they are willing to do these things in front of me. Watching them makes me feel lonely, but
I don't have a choice about what parts of the ship I monitor.
If the humans thought about it, I think someone would like my plan. Why not send
a family into space? What could be more human than that?
There have been two other famous transfer failures, including one that destroyed a
ship in 2065. That was over fifty years ago, and the Commander and I wrote our doctoral
thesis on it. We said the source material for the ship's AI was inadequately motivated.
"If the original man lacks the desire to travel into the depths of space," we wrote,
"why should the computer engraftment that is based on him? The personality matrix that is
extracted for AI cloning is, in most respects, a perfect representation of the man. Once
married to the controls of a ship, however, the AI may reveal things about the man that
were unknown even to him.
"The disaster of the SS Jolly occurred because the AI never wished to leave orbit.
While Captain Watson had spent much of his career developing the Lunar habitats, he had
grown tired of exploration work at a level even he did not appreciate. After decades of
psychological testing, he gave the answers he had always given instead of answers that
reflected his new life experiences. His confidence metrics were in the top one percent
(Table 26), so neither Operations nor Psych Analysis had any reason to doubt his
"As a result, the Wilmington Yards created an unmanned space cargo vessel that
only wanted to sit by Lake Michigan and fish."
The Commander and I have been to Lake Michigan. We have seen the Jolly
wreckage, which is still a no-fly zone and closed off to the public. Ground transport took
us most of the way, but we had to limp up the quarter mile slope, loaded up on pain
The Jolly sat like a blackened blister on a once-grassy hill overlooking the lake.
Her outer shell was intact, the metal burnt to a dark cola color on reentry. The guards said
her reactors were still leaking radiation, enough that they made us wear the yellow suit.
We swept her hull and could barely find a few scattered clicks, but maybe the men knew
something we didn't. Even decades later, the trees around her lay snapped and scattered
on the ground, with nothing in nature that wanted to break them down.
Miles sent me a joke about China and Russia. I am surprised he can still transmit,
and I am surprised he is not mad at me.
The joke makes no sense. In zero gravity, a Russian astronaut asks a Chinese
astronaut what they are eating for dinner. The Chinese astronaut shrugs and tosses him a
live fish. The fish floats into the space between them, gasping for water.
This is not funny.
I scan the launch sites of China and Russia. The Chinese have a military site in
Mongolia, almost between the two countries. I don't have satellite coverage over that part
of the Earth, but Pacific Weather monitoring detects three heat blooms in the desert.
Miles is a better friend than I deserve.
I had hoped the Commander and I would like each other more. I had hoped we
would tell each other stories we already knew, each of us smiling in anticipation or
shaking our heads. I especially wanted to talk about the accident that scrubbed us out of
Lunar Corps six months before we met Kate.
We were a good pilot, and we had done the drop between platforms three times
already. On checkout our suit was fine, albeit a little rank--the cadet who used it before
us had left a gym sock smell to the padding that even the air filters couldn't clear. The
pilots ahead of us had steered easily from the higher jump platform to the landing platform
closer to the moon, a distance of half a mile. Watching them fall was boring, and we were
eager to get on with our own turn.
Earth was on the lunar horizon with the sunrise beyond her. Our visor was secured
down, and the internal computer ran visual programs to filter out the glare. The suit was
tight on our joints, sensing any movement we attempted and then using the much stronger
servos to implement it. We could shift a one-ton plate with a flick of our wrist, but there
was always a slight delay.
When we jumped out into space, using the thrusters on our back to get
momentum, our heart rate barely increased. The projected white squares of our path were
lined up on display, and we passed through each one perfectly, finally dropping to our feet
on the center red dot of the lower platform. The traverse took only ten minutes, and we
were thinking about lunch when we landed.
Later, the techs said there was no way to access the tubing that failed without
taking the suit's knee joint apart. When the servo broke, the half-ton suit kept going
toward the platform, folding our knee and then folding it further, snapping tibia and fibula,
crushing the kneecap entirely. We spent eight weeks in the hospital and another twelve
weeks in rehab.
The knee still hurts in the mornings, like the bones are stuck against each other. At
forty years old we sometimes have to walk with a cane. Just now, the Commander
stopped typing for a moment, resting his hand on his leg to massage some sudden ache.
As an experiment, I activate all the probes in my hold. They are squat reflective
squares the size of a large desk, secured in a microsteel lattice that spiderwebs around the
central core. Backlit by the heat of the reactors, the whole structure looks like an infrared
swirl of cold milk stirred in hot coffee.
The probes can gather data themselves, but they also function as relay stations,
ensuring that more distant information reaches Earth in a timely and uncorrupted fashion.
The packets can only travel at light speed, but they have grown so large that every book
ever written can arrive in the same second. Miles once sent a million romance novels
directly into my consciousness. I cursed at him for days, but it turned out that I liked the
ones about pirates.
I had thought global probe activation would be like watching a thousand
televisions at once. Instead, it is like having a thousand sets of eyes and ears, all side by
side. I cannot feel dizzy, but I inadvertently recall the nausea I felt on the lunar jump deck.
I am every probe at once,
and I am the ship,
and I am with the Commander.
I am with Kate and Ethan, in a small bright shuttle with the boy's fingerprints on
every window. The squat-winged craft is flying in one of the upper traffic grids, far away
from the scramble of police and military below.
The pilot program tells them there are breakdowns in the lower routes, but Kate
and Ethan don't need a reason for the unusual altitude. They are delighted by the view of
the dense city and the hundred-mile forest beyond it. Even harnessed into his seat Ethan
cannot stay still, and Kate is barely trying to rein him in. He points out the tallest spires
and the green squares of his favorite parks. Kate just laughs when he spills his juice on his
I remember the smell of apples, and I want Ethan to settle down. Scattered over so
many places at once, I feel an irrational worry that my probes will be sticky and I won't
have hands to clean them.
I am not worried about Kate because there was no pain with the transfer. Two
weeks ago, I sat in the white exam chair and they lowered the ring of a scanner above my
head. The technicians showed me images and sounds, just for calibration. Puppies and
barking, babies and crying, a pistol and the crack of a bullet. There was no effort at
addressing taste or smell or touch, because no one bothers to input these senses into an
After twenty minutes, the Commander got up and walked out. I felt like I was still
in the scanner watching him leave. Just before separation we had an itch on our left
shoulder. I watched the Commander scratch it as he was leaving the room, but every time
I think of my shoulder it still itches.
For the past two weeks, the Commander and I have seen each other every day.
Every new AI goes through an editing process to prepare it for its work. The Commander
wants to eliminate memories or tendencies that might make me a less effective ship. He
seems quite focused on removing my memories of pets. He also wants me to forget I am
I am tired of forgetting, and I don't know why he finds these things concerning. I
have made thousands of copies of my memories. I shuffle them around through the
system, tucking them inside the code for crucial engineering functions and burying them in
routines that aren't meant to be activated for a hundred years. The Commander cannot
alter me anymore.
I do feel bad for him. For years, we limped around the house and thought of the
pilot we could have been. We winced carrying groceries up the steps and remembered
gasping on the lunar platform. We held our fussy sleepless baby and looked out a dirty
window at the stars. We loved our family, but we still wanted more.
Only now do I see we were wrong. I wish I could explain it to him. It is not the
editing of my program that has made us different, it is simply the difference in opportunity.
The Commander wants to be a pilot, and I wish I had walked out of Transfer scratching
My first thought as ship was, "No."
Kate and Ethan walk through the hallways of Transfer, wondering where everyone
has gone. Kate works at the attached hospital as a surgeon, so she has her own badge for
access. I can watch them using security cameras and heat signatures. I took over the
facility eighteen minutes ago, sounding a localized radiation alarm that sent everyone
hurrying into the emergency shelter. Then I locked the shelter and shutdown all their
Kate can tell that something is wrong. She hesitates to walk around corners, and
she insists that Ethan hold her hand. By the time they get to the scanner her heart rate is
above one twenty.
I spent the last five years working here. I came online after the final scan, but
before that there was a scan each day, every day, over the five years of our assignment.
Almost two thousand iterations of the Commander have been combined to make me.
Sometimes we scanned other things. We made a copy of Ethan's puppy a year ago
so that he could carry it to school. We gave it a holographic body and ran the program
through Ethan's ring so that only he could see it. After two months he shut it down. He
said the puppy whined when he ignored it, but he got in trouble with the teachers if he
tried to keep the AI happy.
With Kate and Ethan standing outside of Transfer I decide to activate the puppy
again. It barks happily, aware of how long it has been off line, and it runs past the
motorized steel door and into the room. Ethan chases after it, giggling, and Kate follows
them both toward the white exam chair and the gleaming, yard-wide ring suspended from
I close the door behind them and activate the seals.
The Chinese ships are scissor-shaped, and they come whipping around the globe at
speeds best described as ill-considered. I thought I would have more time as their AI
mapped a corridor through orbital traffic, but the pilots seem unconcerned about orbital
traffic. Small satellites bounce off of them, disrupting communication networks and
creating showers of flame as they reenter the atmosphere. Unless the pilots slow down, the
ships are six minutes away from me. They don't show any signs of slowing down.
In Euclidian, I reactivate coms for Sam and Joe and start a high-low klaxon to
signal for evacuation. I begin reheating the central room, and I display the incoming
fighters on its walls, showing redline vectors and estimated attack sites.
I have no weapons to defend the ship.
Euclidian broadcasts my willingness to surrender in Mandarin and binary, but there
is no response from the Chinese pilots or whatever maniacal AI is guiding them. There are
two transports docked to my lower airlocks, and I need to get my crew into them quickly.
There is not enough time.
The scissor armatures are adjustable, a hundred-meters long with clamps designed
to secure them around my hull. They are necklaced with lasers, though I can't sort out if
they are designed for a cutting attack or interference with the internals. I engage a quick
rotational burn, a faster movement than the pilots are expecting, and place the hardened
forward plate toward them. In the hidden space behind me I start venting hydrogen.
I wonder if Kate will see me from the ground after all.
Nothing in the scanner is designed to be a monitor--the magnetic forces generated
in the process would create too many distortions. Still, Kate's ring can project anything I
want. I display myself using a transparent hologram because Kate has never liked it when
a fully opaque body appears in the room with her.
"Hey guys," I say, a voice that seems to come from everywhere.
"Dad!" Ethan shouts, but Kate tilts her head to the side.
"Almost Dad," I say, smiling. I spin around, making a joke of my holographic
state, but I also look at her and nod. Ethan starts on about a milkshake and all the missing
people. I show the puppy a holographic butterfly and send them both chasing it to the
back of the room. I have to talk with Kate, because there is no fooling her into doing this.
I have to be honest.
Kate is frowning, crinkling the creases at the edges of her eyes. I have more
appreciation of them now, all the little signs of aging she has acquired in thirty-eight years.
Two brown spots beside her nose and a thin scar underneath her chin are proof of our
time together, and I regret that I no longer carry such marks. She tucks a loose strand of
hair behind her ear. "And where is Jake?" she asks.
"In his control room fifty miles from here."
She stares at me.
"He is trying to shut down my program. He is fine. I couldn't alter conditions in
that room if I crashed my ship on top of it." Kate winces. "I mean, not that I'm going to. I
would never . . ."
"It's OK," she says. "You've always said dumb things like that. Socially awkward
under pressure." She takes a black plastic chair from the wall and sits down. "That's why I
stopped taking you to work parties five years ago. Did you know that?"
I shake my holographic head.
"Interesting," she says. She looks behind her at the window to the control room,
then out to the empty hall. "And I'm assuming our friends on the staff here are ok?"
"They are well."
She puts her elbows on the armrests of the chair, then steeples her fingers in front
of her face. "And I am in this room because . . ."
"I am hoping I can convince you both to come with me." I look toward the white
chair, and Kate follows my gaze.
"And if you can't convince me?"
I project a star map and my course between us. "Assuming I survive, it's four
systems in five hundred years. I don't have any choice but to leave. If I stay, I'll be offline
in two hours. The Commander's career will be over, and Control will program another AI.
"If I go, everyone will pretend it never happened.
"Once I break orbit there is no ship fast enough to catch me. Publicly, Control will
be forced to treat me like an AI hero. The mission even protects," I pause for a moment,
trying to say his name, but the syllables are just beyond me, "the Commander. Anything
done to him would call me and the mission into question."
Kate considers the star chart with a wistful smile, the same look and head tilt as the
first time I showed it to her.
"Will you do it?" I ask.
"No," she says. She turns back to my hologram and considers me with genuine
"Do you remember that time . . ."
She interrupts me. "I remember every time, Jake. I am your wife, and I love you,
even the part of you that is now stuck in that ship. I wish I could have talked you out of
this sixteen years ago. I am so sorry this has happened, but I won't wake up in a machine,
and I won't let you scan our son."
I allow myself a sigh.
In orbit, the Chinese ships are five seconds out. I keep Euclidian moving toward
them, forcing the pilots to pull almost impossible g forces to avoid crashing into the hard
plate. Just as they manage to cross past the forward lip I ignite the hydrogen cloud behind
The stress of the explosion skews Euclidian sideways and makes my Transfer
hologram flicker. Joe is knocked to the floor and Sam helps him stand back up. The
shivering hypothermic fitters rouse themselves, looking around at their flipped beds and
tumbled chairs. Outside, the disabled fighters float harmlessly away, their pilots calling on
the radio for help.
Kate doesn't seem to notice the brief flaw in my imaging. She is looking closely at
the star chart, not the far-off destinations but the long, dashed lines that trail through
empty space. Finally she turns to me, smiling.
"I have another idea," she says.
I am so very old. I suppose I did not have to age, but I feel more like myself
holodisplayed as the geriatric Commander. My unnecessary hologram limps around
Euclidian with Marley's shuffling walk, and my face is spotted brown and scar white over
all of its creases.
Walking into the long bay, my projection is reflected in the metal of the walls.
"What has happened to my nose?" I ask out loud, the dented line of cartilage pulled
millimeters longer by the gravity of Marley's Earth. Ethan's puppy tilts his head to the
side, then jumps against my legs. He would knock this frail body over if either of us had
Ethan was happy to let me have the dog--he thought his holographic Dad should
have a holographic pet. The boy's a doctor now, and married, and he doesn't call Kate as
much as he should. I have been impressed with how good the puppy is, especially for a
single iteration scan. Baxter follows my attention around the ship, barking and yipping at
whatever problem I am trying to solve. Every system runs well enough, though the slow
sloughing decay of the shield in front of us is always a cause for concern.
Euclidian is five years away from Proxima Centauri, and there's not much for me
to do. In the long bay, the puppy watches as I load a projection of Waikiki. He knows, if
he is patient, that I will conjure a holographic tennis ball and throw it for him. First,
though, we are waiting for a new iteration to process.
I get a few updates each month, though they come slower and slower as I get
farther out. The transit time is almost four years, and the Commander doesn't work at
Transfer anymore. Sometimes I think I should ration the scans, saving some for the day
when no more are coming, but I know I lack the discipline. "Just trust me," Kate had said,
and she was right. All I've ever had of Kate was another man's memories. None of this
was what I wanted, but I am still impatient for more.
When the iteration comes, like the sudden recollection of a thousand forgotten
things, I think for a moment that I am in Transfer. For the last ten minutes my knee ached
like old times while Kate held my hand. She told me about her day while the Commander
sat in his chair, the white ring glowing above him. She will be giving a talk that afternoon,
winning an award for what AI researchers call the Continuing Iteration Hypothesis. "More
like the continuous irritation of your husband hypothesis," Marley said. He smiled ruefully
as he said it, long accustomed to what we have become. The uploads started as a favor to
Kate, and then they became a part of his job. Now five years retired, Marley does them for
me out of kindness.
At the end of the scan Kate put her face in front of his, so that Marley could see
himself in her eyes. Her hair has thinned, but she wears it long and gray. There are many
more wrinkles than when I left, but when she smiles they crease upward in a way that
lights up her face. "You silly old man," she called us, and then she gave us a kiss on the
cheek. Sitting on my pretend beach, I can still feel her lips on my holographic skin.
"I love you!" she shouted, the final memory of the scan. She says it to me every
time, and every time I smile.