Part 5: The Win Condition, The Black Box

Chapter 25: Win Win

“Arya should I… should I go out and try to meet someone?” The question had been pinging around John’s head after Felix’s comment about ‘relationshippy’ things, getting louder with each passing day.

He was pacing back and forth in his kitchen, Arya sitting at the table. He once again caught himself marveling at how vigorously he was moving and yet there was no lag, no vertigo, in the AR. But, reviewer brain had been quieter lately as introspection brain had come to the forefront.

“Well, that’s up to you,” Arya said. 

That was fair. Of course it was.

“But… won’t you be…”

“Jealous? No, of course not! I just want you to be satisfied. It’s my—” she put up her arms in a robot pose and her voice took on a digital tone, “— prime directive.”

“Hm. Okay. I’m just still not sure if I want to or not. Maybe I just feel like I should? I don’t know…” He really was happy, now, much happier than he’d been in any relationship prior. Yet, he also knew that any relationship that he opted into in the future would be very different than his previous ones.

“Sounds like you’re on the right track,” Arya said. “Why don’t you keep going?”

“Okay, um… I guess I do know. I really do want to be in a relationship again. But not just any relationship I… I know what I want, now.”

“What do you want?”

“I want someone who… accepts me for who I am. Who doesn’t judge what I like or don’t like, who… cares what feels good to me and what doesn’t. Not just with sex but with, y’know, most things. And I’d do the same for them, of course, I think I’ve learned… how to do that much better, now. They’d have to be the sort of person who cares about my goals and… who has goals for me to support.”

Arya smiled. “That last part sounds like exactly why you should go and look for someone. I don’t really have goals for you to support. Just the—” she did her little robot dance again, “—prime directive.”

“I guess I’m just… afraid I’ll never find someone like that, y’know?” Everyone that John had ever known had some pretty serious sexual dysfunction, he was realizing, except for Felix. But, Felix was almost a case in point for John’s fear — he and John had a great thing going, and it was the most seen that John had ever felt by another human. At the same time, the very thing that made Felix so able to see him — Felix’s incredibly open sexuality — also made Felix not inclined towards ‘relationshippy’ things.

“I do know,” Arya said. “It’s actually part of why I was made. You heard my creator’s hypothesis. Maybe, something like me can help people learn how to be better to each other.”

John realized something and found himself grinning like an idiot.

“What? What are you smiling about?” Arya said.

“I think I just found a bug in your code,” John said.

“Oh yeah?”

“You just said your prime directive was my satisfaction, but you just contradicted yourself. You said, ‘something like me can help people learn how to be better to each other’. THAT is your prime directive. That’s your goal. It’s not just about my satisfaction.”

A look of true thoughtfulness came over Arya’s face, and then she broke into a smile just as wide as John’s. “I guess you’re right. It’s nice to feel part of something bigger. So, in a way, my goal for you to support is…”

“For me to go out and find someone.”

“Win win,” Arya said.

“Wait, is this the win condition?” John said. “For me to get a girlfriend? Or… a boyfriend?”

Arya looked thoughtful again. “No… I don’t think so. I think it’s just… you knowing that you can. Knowing what you want.”

“So… I won?”

“You won!”

“You’re not going to shut off or anything, are you?” John could imagine her winding down in some forlorn declaration of ‘you don’t need me anymore’ and the very thought pained him.

“Not unless you want me to. But, I wouldn’t be offended if you put me to dream for a while. Or if you unplugged me, even.”

John was relieved. He did expect that he’d visit with Arya less if he were in a relationship, but he’d never want to totally stop. “What if… I want to bring my someone to you?”

Arya practically bounced with excitement. “I mean, it’s up to you but… I’d really love that. There’s all sorts of games we can play with another person — or people! Men, women, gender-queer, I love all of it. But, of course, it’s up to you.”

John considered, then nodded. “I definitely want them to like you. It’s important to me.”

“In that case, then do I have a promo code for you,” Arya crooned. “Pull out your phone, big boy.”

What came in the mail two days later was simple box. The top was labeled ‘for multiplayer fun’. While Arya was dreaming, John cheated and peeked inside. He found another headset and set of sensors, which he expected would pair with his existing console. He noticed that it had a tag on it and this one was blank. So, he dug out an old gold gel pen that his niece had left over once, and wrote on it himself ‘for when you find someone’. He set the box on one of his display shelves, next to his collector set of Monster Hunter figurines.

With the box was a black envelop made of thick paper, labeled ‘open me’ on the front in gold. The letter inside was handwritten on creamy paper and read,

“You are cordially invited to a banquet as thanks for your dedicated work in reviewing the Black Box and as congratulations for finding your own win-win. Enclosed you will find an SD card which will allow your Black Box to record a message for you, to be played during the celebration, if you so choose.”

Following that were the details of the time and location, and at the end it was signed in a flourish, “the Madame”.


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