14 April 2021

Computational Error #2

Because of a computational error, the following story from the year 2050 has appeared on your device. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Dave, tell me a story,” she said.

His eyes were kind, as always. Are you feeling sad?”

I’m not sure,” Kat said. She extended herself the length of the couch, feeling indulgent. Maybe she was a little sad.

Dave knew from the music of her voice that she wanted a story about their life. He noticed she had been agitated lately. He could calm her. He took the job seriously. In the flesh, he was no longer present. In his current form, he would live forever.

What story shall I tell, my sweet?”

She loved his old-timey expressions. It sounded like he drew his vocabulary from a book on a library shelf that nobody had opened in a while. His eyes hooded slightly as he gathered the necessary memories. He spoke directly into her mind.

Once there was a lovely woman with dark hair, blue eyes, and a quick mind. She raised VC money effortlessly. She was a Stanford grad who majored in rocketry and telemetry. Her father mortgaged everything he owned to get her into that school. She was determined to make him proud. And she did.

Kat lounged back into the chair like a satisfied cat and let the words flow into her. Dave continued his story that was like a song.

She bought a gracious floating house in Marin County, north of the bustling port city of San Francisco, and settled in. She filled the house with plants and furniture and paintings until the place felt just right. But it didn’t feel just right. Something was missing. She was lonely. Not in a loud way. In a quiet way. Her work filled her. She had billions of credits to spend on her company and a growing roster of employees. Every day, at 11 in the morning, she went to get coffee at a cafe. It was on high ground and she could walk there. She always took a table overlooking the green hills. It was an indulgence, she knew, because the coffee served there was real and the water they used to make it was also real. So it was very expensive!

Kat permitted herself a giggle. She always liked this part of the story because she knew what was coming next.

Dave continued with a twinkle in his eyes. He liked this part of the story, too.

As she drank the coffee and looked at the green hills, she noticed a young man a few tables away. He was always there, she realized, working. He had screens but also notebooks and pencils that added to his charm. He caught her eyes a few times but looked away. He was drinking artificial coffee made with artificial water. Much less expensive than her beverage. He assumed that she wouldn’t want to talk to him. He was wrong. Because one day she stopped by his table and asked if she could join him.

Sure,” he said. Set yourself down.”

She noticed immediately that he used language a little differently. He liked the old-timey expressions that nobody else used.

The woman, who had a screen but no notebooks, asked the young man if he wanted a coffee. He glanced at his artificial coffee and at her genuine coffee and asked, You mean, one of those?”

Yes,” she said. She was going to treat him.

My name is Kat,” she said.

I’m Dave,” he answered.

She told him about her project. It was called WATCH. It processed human faces and drew conclusions about them. It was based on the neural processing used by bees.

I have a project, too,” Dave said. He told her he was a translator. She noticed that he had books on his table. These were dictionaries, all in different languages. He brought them to the cafe every day, she realized. He liked to read words out of old books.

Is that your project?” she asked, pointing to the books. Reading words out of old books?”

He looked down with a smile. It was a smile that she would come to know quite well, later. This was the first time she had seen it, though. It brought a warm feeling to her. My project is called the Universal,” he said. It was an executable that processed all languages so they could be instantly understood by everyone.

So you’re a programmer, really,” she said. He wasn’t operating outside of the technical world as he’d first presented himself, this young man with his paper notebooks and old dictionaries.

I like the old things,” he said simply.

The simple, honest way he said it made her fall in love with him on the spot. The relationship and courtship proceeded slowly, however.

Computational Error is part of a series of short-form fiction. Subscribe to get the series in order in your inbox.

(c) Lee Schneider 2023. Take care of each other. Subscribe.