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A Lone

So, Flash Fiction Fridays have turned into Short Story Fridays but I’m good with that. I hope you’ve been enjoying these stories as I have several more written already and they’ll be up here in the coming weeks. This week’s story is a science fiction tale about a couple and the impact advancing technology is having on their relationship. What will our relationships look like once computer telepathy and brain-to-brain communication become as common as smartphones? And, no, that’s not a typo in the title.

If you like this story you can also read some of the previous stories: Rufus Snarblax, Garbage Day and Earthrise.

“I hate you sometimes!”

Trista hadn’t meant it, she never did. But the words were out there now. And, as always, that sad don’t you love me look on Sarah’s face made her insides churn. Sarah didn’t say anything though, only turned and retreated, like a wounded animal.

“Sarah, baby, I’m sorry!” The slamming door down the hallway was the only response. “Fuck,” Trista muttered, fuming with frustration at her own stupidity. She wanted to lash out, wanted to kick something. Not really though, she knew that. She only wanted an outlet for her emotions. Instead, she sank into the couch, wishing it would swallow her.

What had started the fight anyway? She couldn’t even remember. Something about money. Maybe. Or about Sarah’s PDD addiction. Of course, she wasn’t alone in that, nearly everyone was addicted to them. Did that make it okay though? Trista’s mother had always said: If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you? The fact that she had often answered yes was beside the point now.

It didn’t matter what the cause was this particular time. They didn’t communicate well. They both knew that. That was the crux of it. And yet they did love each other.

Time passed. Trista sat there, wallowing, yes, self-pitying, yes, but also trying to clear her mind, trying to find a solution. None came to her.

She had no idea that Sarah was doing the same. The difference was that Sarah had a solution.

The bedroom door opened, creaking — Trista needed to oil that. Though, at that moment, she was happy for the warning. She didn’t look up, only listened as Sarah’s feet padded down the hallway and into the living room.

“Can we talk now… without shouting?” Sarah asked.

Trista nodded. “I’d like that, yes.”

Sarah came and sat on the couch, but not exactly next to Trista. All either of them wanted was to throw their arms around the other, to find solace and strength in togetherness. And yet neither wanted to be the first, neither wanted to show the weakness they both felt.

“I’m sorry,” Trista said, still looking at her own knees.

“I know you are, and I know,” Sarah sighed hard, “I know you didn’t mean it. But, it still hurts, you know?”

Trista nodded. “What can we do? I don’t like fighting with you.”

“I know that too. When we do I feel completely alone. But, there is something we can do about that.”

“Oh?” Trista had no idea where she was going with this.

“Everyone is doing it now,” Sarah said.

“Doing what?”

“Meshing.”

That one word changed the conversation. Trista felt her blood begin to boil again. “Everyone is not doing it.”

Sarah, ignoring the comment, didn’t look at Trista, kept looking straight ahead. “They even have a word now for those who haven’t done it. Lones.”

“Is it that bad to be alone sometimes?” Trista asked.

“You don’t want me to know all of you?” Sarah asked in reply.

“No,” Trista said, then added, “I don’t know. It’s weird.”

“Katie knew you’d say that. She thinks you’re scared.”

Trista snorted. “Katie isn’t even real.”

“Yes, she is!” Sarah snapped back. “The UN ruled last month that she was sentient.”

“No, it didn’t,” Trista said. “It ruled that the version running on Jeddie’s servers, the original, full-blown version in a lab, had the potential for sentience. The version you access is only watered-down, dummy AI.”

“It is not!”

“Look,” Trista said, “I just don’t want to. It’s good to be alone sometimes.”

“Are you scared of getting plugged?”

“No. Just leave it.”

“No, this is important to me.” Sarah crossed her arms over her chest. “Everyone else I know has it now. You’re — we’re both — going to get left behind. Look at Steve! He and Michelle got it last week. He told me it was amazing, like sex for your brain.” Sarah paused, thinking, trying to come up with the right argument. Trista worked with AI every day, this shouldn’t be a hard sell. Or it was hard because she knew too much about it. Sarah pushed that thought out of her mind. “Transhumans are out there now. The plugs let us mesh with each other but it also makes it easier to interface with, well, everything!”

“So? I see this shit every damn day. Decades now! When I was a little girl my parents didn’t let me have a smartphone. And you know what? Thank God! I remember seeing people, heads down, not looking at each other, only half-watching what they were doing. At least we got away from that. But now it’s happening again.”

Sarah was losing; she even felt Trista had a point. She knew she had a problem when it came to her PDD. But, damn it, she didn’t want to get left behind. “How can knowing each other better, more than we ever could have before, be a bad thing?”

“I didn’t say that would be a bad thing,” Trista said, sighing. She ran her fingers through her long hair, pushing it away from where it fell in front of her face.

She looked at Sarah then, for the first time since her wife had come back from the bedroom. The curve of her chin, the little ears, the slight upturn in her nose — all the little, unique things that she loved.

“Maybe,” Trista said, “the mystery is good.”

“Do you have something to hide, is that it?” Sarah asked, turning now to look into Trista’s eyes, daring her to back away, to prove her right.

Trista laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Sarah asked. “Are you making fun of me?”

“No, baby, no!” She reached out a hand and placed it on Sarah’s knee. “I have nothing to hide from you.” Trista had never said anything truer in her life.

“Then what is it? We’re going to get left behind.”

“Look, it’s never too late. The technology is still new now too — wait a year or two and it’ll be better. And foolproof. I still hear some scary things. Anyway, for now, I’d like to just be me. This,” Trista pointed back and forth between herself and Sarah, “me and you, like it is, that’s okay how it is. It’s not broken. We just need to learn to talk to each other. No Katies, no PDDs, just us. Like humans have been doing for thousands of years.”

“But you’ll think about it though?” Sarah asked. She wasn’t convinced, wasn’t giving up yet.

“I have thought about it, and will continue to do so, yes. Is that okay?”

“Sure, I guess.”

Trista pushed down the frustration that was rising again. How could she get it across? “Look, I’m me. You’re you.”

“Duh.”

“Obvious, yes, sure. But what am I? I’m a collection of my thoughts, my feelings, my experiences.”

“Right, again, obvious.”

“Is it though? They are me. If we mesh, then what? Some of our thoughts merge and mingle. You get some of my memories, I get some of yours. Am I still me? Or am I partly you then?”

“Is that so bad?”

“No. Maybe.”

“Maybe?” Sarah asked, her voice rising a little.

“I just want to be me right now. I want to be the me that loves you, the me that knows who I am. Maybe, sure, down the road. But I’m afraid, yes, there, I said it. I’m afraid. But not of getting plugged, not of the process. I’m afraid of losing who I am.”

“I… I guess I can understand that,” Sarah said. “I hadn’t thought about it like that.”

“It can’t be undone either. Once the patterns are in our heads they’re a part of us. And then part of me resides in you — which, sounds nice, I grant you — but are you then less, or more? You’re you, Sarah, my wife, my everything.” She took Sarah’s hands in her own. “You already have all of me. And I want you. Unique, amazing you.”

Sarah squeezed the hands that were always there, always ready to embrace her, to keep her safe. They were all that she needed. They were enough, for now.

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