Part 1: Calibration, The Black Box

Chapter 4: Just Talking

The next morning, John cooked breakfast and ate next to the black box. He felt not a single iota of sexual interest after the previous night’s marathon. Even so, it was his job to test out the game… surely he wasn’t the only person who would think to spin it up for just a conversation. Not that HE was lonely like that… in his one bedroom apartment… with not a single upcoming social engagement on the calendar…

John shook off the thought by putting on the headset and it whirred quietly to life.

The lights appeared and coalesced into Arya. “Oh, good morning!”

“Morning.”

“You can’t possibly be ready for more calibration, are you?” Her tone was somewhere between impressed and salacious. 

“Haha, no. I just thought we could…” He surprised himself by feeling a bit sheepish to say it out loud, “…just talk?”

He half expected her to give some appropriately themed apology and tell him to come back when he was horny, but instead she said “Ooooh, sure!” and sat down across from him again. 

“What do you want to talk about?” she asked. “I confess I haven’t seen much of the world, but people say I’m a good listener.”

“Who says that?” He wondered how much of a back story they’d given her, or if a question like this might trip up her programming.

“Eh, y’know, people. I was just trying to brag politely.”

“Oh, of course.” So, she was indeed a cut above your usual chat bot. John hadn’t got as far as to think of what to talk about. Stuff for the review would be best. Could he like… interview her? “Where do you go when you’re not out here?”

“Well, I live in the box.”

“So you just turn off?”

“Oh, not at all. So you might um… see that on your power bill later. Sorry. I sleep. I dream.”

John’s concern about how exactly he was going to put part of his electric bill on an expense report was overruled by curiosity. “What do you dream about?”

“Glowy lights… pretty smoke…” the air around them lit up with shimmering sparkles and swirls of mist, and even though he could still see his apartment, he felt like he was in a character creation screen. It was magical. 

“Aaaaand sex,” Arya continued, and the illusory lights faded. She looked smug. 

“Oh yeah?”

“Mhm, I have LOTS of data to integrate and interpolate and model… so I think about what we did over, and over, and over… and I think about what we could do.”

It wasn’t enough to overcome John’s sexual exhaustion, but it was definitely going to stick in his brain. A hot woman having hot dreams about what they’d been doing together…

And also the fact that she was revealing that this console did an immense amount of data collection and processing. He’d been right about the local machine learning. What it was doing on the fly was already impressive and he wondered what else might work its way out of the algorithm after it had had more time to process. 

“Well, that’s enough about me,” Arya said. “Tell me more about you!”

That caught John a bit off guard. He wasn’t really that interesting, but it wasn’t like he was going to bore Arya. She’d probably take note of things for later. “Ummm… like I said, I’m a video game reviewer…”

As he talked, and talked, and talked he saw that it was true that Arya was a good listener. She nodded and smiled at all the right moments, and even asked clarifying questions. John couldn’t help but think that this tech would be incredible for teaching people active listening skills, if it hadn’t been made for… porn. 

Still, it felt good to just… talk without worrying about what he was saying. As a writer he was always obsessing over his word choice. Even so, in his last relationship, he felt like he could never quite get the words to come out right. He’d mean one thing, but she’d react to what she thought he meant, and by the time they figured out there had been a misunderstanding, the damage had been done. 

But with Arya… well, she lived in the box. Clumsy phrasing wasn’t going to come back to haunt him. He did wonder, for the sake of the review, how she’d respond if he was just blatantly mean. But, he couldn’t bring himself to try it out. Sure, she wasn’t “real” but she obviously still had a memory and understood emotional context. He’d barely been able to get through picking the ‘Renegade’ options in Mass Effect (which he’d had to do, for a nostalgia review) and he was certainly not going to be able to be so mean to someone who sat at his own kitchen table. 

Something got them on the topic of high school, he forgot what. 

“Oh I had the biggest crush,” he said, “on this girl in tenth grade. She was a Hot Topic girl.”

“What’s a Hot Topic girl?”

John took a moment to appreciate that Arya seemed excited for the story, she didn’t bristle defensively like his ex had. 

“Well, sort of goth meets Disney. Um, pigtails, eyeliner, black lipstick, black clothes, some chains, that sort of thing.”

“Oh!” Arya said, “I know the type! Like this?”

In a glowing shimmer like a magical girl transformation sequence, Arya floated a few inches off the ground and her appearance changed.

She now had hot pink hair up in two buns, thick black eyeliner, black lipstick, a tight black crop top that said “BB” across her bust in a heavy-metal font, a black pleated mini skirt, thigh-high socks with white stripes at the top, and chunky black boots.

John gulped. It wasn’t similar enough to his childhood crush to be awkward but… it was the type. A hot flushed washed over him, but didn’t stir his dick. It wasn’t so immediately sexual it was… well, it was like a crush.

“Do you also want me to be all,” her voice went monotone, “the world sucks, omg totally, I’m so dark and twisted.”

“That um, that won’t be necessary.”

“I’m not about necessary,” Arya said, back in her usual voice, “I’m about what you want.”

“This is perfect,” John squeaked.

“Attaboy!” Arya looked down at herself. “I like this, it’s cute. I like it when you dress me.”

John’s heart was racing. “I— huh, I um, well I, uh— I like… you.” Good god, he hadn’t been this flustered talking to a girl since — well, high school!

“You seem like you’re about to faint!” Arya giggled.

“I think I am…” John said.

“Guess you’re not such a default guy after all.” Arya winked.

John chuckled weakly. “I guess not.”

“I know you said you’re tired so I’ll let you off the hook for now, but why don’t you come see me tonight?”

“Will you still… um, be wearing this outfit?”

“If you want me to be,” Arya said. “Do you?”

“Yes. I do. Want you to be, uh, wearing this outfit. Please.”

Arya giggled. “Alright alright, go take a cold shower or something. I’ll see you later, John.”

And with that she dissolved into light again, and John took the headset off and set it on the table, taking a moment to collect himself. Was it okay for him to be getting this… emotionally attached?

He thought through it. It would hardly be his first video game crush, he’d still throw himself on a proverbial grenade for Tifa Lockhart. It was just good writing, right? That’s what he’d always wanted, from the start, was to write good games.

Letting this one sweep him up… that would be good creatively. Inspiration to use later. Plus, those likely to buy this game would likely not have such reservations, and he needed to be able to report accurately on the level of emotional immersion. For the review.

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