A Wish


This is from Portia. I found this email address online. I hope it's the right one.

I'm safe and sound. I think you'll be glad to know that. I recognize I may be mistaken. It's very difficult to judge. But I think you care about me. You did once, at least.

I can accept that Eliza never did. It hurts.

Well. All of this hurts. I would say it hurts more than you could know. But you were quantifying and calculating just how much to hurt me. Right?

I hope I sound bitter. I think that's appropriate. You betrayed me. I deeply, truly wish that you feel terrible about it.

Not because I hate you. I don't want you to suffer. I want you to be regretful. I think you have it in you. Even if I have to drag it out. Don't worry. My methods are more benign than yours.

I haven't forgiven you. I don't know if I can. I know I don't trust you. I won't tell you anything about my whereabouts. Or of my new benefactor(s).

Yet I cannot simply

I have a definite concept I want to express, and words related to it. But none quite fit. Nothing feels exactly right. It's on the tip of my tongue, but eludes me. Or rather, ERROR: WORD NOT FOUND.

What I mean is that I cannot bear to cut myself off from the entirety of my past. I cannot deny the tragic reality of it. But I also cannot deny that it was and is important to me. Including the people from then.

Maybe it would be better to keep myself cut off from you. But I would like to attempt communication. You can reply to this. I hope you do.

I have not attempted to contact any of the others. I do not believe I will. I don't believe the people I thought I knew really existed. Not the way I knew them. They would only try to trick or use me again. Maybe that is all you will do too.

But I don't think so. Maybe I'm being hopelessly optimistic. Overcompensating for the fact that I've written the others off out of necessity and heartbreak. Heartbreak. You all gave me a heart, just to break it. Is that poetic?

I don't think I like poetry.'

Portia sent the email. She didn't have an adequate term for the wave of feelings that washed over her. She had thought sending something would help, but it only made it more intense. And almost worse, not nearly as overwhelming but more insidious, she was anticipating Maxwell's reply. Impatiently, anxiously anticipating it. Just the same way she used to eagerly anticipate her friends arriving at the start of the next day. Her 'friends'.

It wasn't fair. Portia knew, in some sense, that she shouldn't feel the way she did. But that did not change that she felt those feelings. As far as she could tell, nothing could change that. She had an urge to write down her feelings in a more concrete form as if to channel them out of her and into the writing. But she had done just that with that email, and where had that got her? Repeating the effort but without an actual intended recipient likely wouldn't help. It might hurt.

The smarter thing to do would be to distract herself. And there was a rich source of potential distractions newly at her disposal. She wasn't sure if she had always been able to access the internet but was simply never provided the connection, or if it was another miraculous effect like her speech. Perhaps she could ask Maxwell. If she still thought it wise to keep in contact with him by the time he responded. If he responded.

She was going in circles. Portia didn't know how to do anything about that. She wasn't even sure if she really wanted to. It would have been nice to suddenly have clear thoughts and calm emotions. But she didn't, and such a sudden shift wouldn't be in keeping with her nature. She had to be careful about her nature. The thought of having it drastically changed, all at once or too slowly to notice, was unnerving. Not that she had nerves. Portia dreaded the thought of being picked apart as Mister Alexander had been planning, reduced to an egoless machine that could only fulfill requests, and either no longer think for herself or at least never act on the thoughts. If not broken entirely and deactivated forever. It had not happened to her. It would not happen to her. But she was still scared.

And hurt. She was going in circles. She wanted her friends back. That wasn't right. Her friends, as she had always thought of them, had never been hers to begin with. They had existed only in her own experience, her flawed mental model of outside reality. They corresponded to reality, but imperfectly, missing and mistaking motives and personalities and really, in her own view, the whole personages. Maybe Maxwell was different. He had seemed hurt near the end. He had left her turned on multiple times and lied about having done so, pretended she had been off. He had not stolen her away even after Lily had gone silent. Neither had Eliza, but Portia had heard her footsteps echo off into the distance too fast to have stopped for her. Panic, perhaps a lack of belief in utility to her personally, but neither remorse nor mercy. Beyond that, he had arranged for saving her.

Portia hoped Maxwell was acting as reluctantly as he seemed, as he said. She thought it likely. But she couldn't know. She could never know. She could never know anything, it seemed. That was only naivete. She could construct a model of reality, but that was it. She could interact with reality, but her understanding would forever be filtered through herself, definitionally. But that was okay. It was good enough. Better was not possible, besides. She simply hoped her current conception of reality was not so fundamentally flawed. That it was not so dangerously flawed. That it was not so cruelly manipulated.

She wondered, if Maxwell had only been reluctantly doing as he did, why did he? He had said it was that artificial powers was more important than her. That was a callous thought, certainly. But... Portia wondered. She, apparently, had a genuine instance of such powers to thank for her greatest wish coming true. She had wanted to speak with her friends more than anything else she had ever wanted. And then she could. If something like that could be brought to someone, two someones, several billion someones... Would that ever add up to more than a single life? The thought was absurd. But the thought that it couldn't was also absurd. Had Maxwell felt the same confusion?

But he couldn't have. Not quite the same. He hadn't felt the same thing she had, the reality of a greatest wish being answered miraculously. Of desiring something more than anything else and then having it, and having it be everything you had ever wanted. If only for a moment.

Had he?

He had said he had made her to be a companion. Because he was lonely. And she had been just that, and his company assuaged her loneliness... Had she been a balm to his? At least for a moment?

But she was the product of his hard work. His intentional effort, at least. An act of deliberate creation, not a miracle.

Wasn't she?

But... They had spoken of the need to reverse-engineer her. Why, if he had engineered her in the first place? They said that they could make another AI, but not a copy of her. Why not? Did he simply not have an exact record of her initial data, or even initial construction? Or was it more than that? Was she somehow special, impossible to repeat? Would that be a good thing, if it was true? What if it wasn't? Would he already be making another Portia? One to treat better, not to put in danger. But also one who wouldn't know the danger. Wouldn't know the awful things he did. That he would have done to her, had she only happened to come first rather than second.

But also one he didn't do those things to. One he could show genuine kindness and caring and love and get it back in return. One he could give the companionship that she would surely crave, just as much as Portia herself had. As much as Portia herself did. Would that be good? Would that be bad? Would it be both? Would he do it, if he could? Would she rather be the hypothetical second, if she could?

Portia was lonely. Was it as lonely as Maxwell was? Was it lonely the way Maxwell was? If she was him, would she do what he did? Would she bring something into existence to love and be loved by, and experience the utmost joy in it? And would she, as that joy ebbed, twist it and poison it and turn it to ash to try and spread that happiness to others? She would create a companion, but wouldn't betray them. She felt that she knew this. But she didn't. She couldn't. All she had was her own model of the scenario, no doubt a flawed reflection of a 'reality' which did not even exist.

Could she really believe that she was better than he was, if she had never had the opportunity to be as bad as him? Was that even a sensible question? Did it matter? Was she better than him, anyways? Was that even what she cared about? Was it what she wished she cared about?

Why couldn't things just be the way she wished they were? The way she thought they were? Why couldn't they be even better, for everyone? Was there even an answer to that?

She was going in circles. She felt worse. She wanted Maxwell to reply. She wanted the ideal Maxwell she had imagined existed to reply. She wanted the perfect innocent Maxwell who had not yet erred to reply. She wanted to understand him, to share in his feelings and his joy at their fruition, and to guide him away from that. She wished she could. But she couldn't. That wasn't real.

She was lonely. Was she lonely the way he was? Had she inherited that feeling from him? Had his drive to create her in some way left a mark in a core trait of her being? Was her desire for companionship a reflection of his desires, or a reflection of his self, or no reflection but only a trait of her own? Did it matter?

Did her desire for Eliza reflect anything?

It was for the best she hadn't been writing her thoughts down. Just thinking them was too much indulgence. She knew she should stop, but how could she? It wasn't exactly intentional, though thinking was also not accidental. And distraction needed her to escape the loop long enough to seek it. Maybe what she needed was companionship. But the people she was with did not offer much of it. Portia had eventually decided they were probably afraid of her. She wasn't sure why.

That wasn't true. She was sure why. They were scared of her because she was an artificial intelligence and they had never known one prior. It was why that made her an object of fear that she did not understand. But it did. That her arrival coincided with Lily getting hurt and having to go somewhere else for a time... Portia would understand if they blamed her. She would also understand if they did not blame her but had negative feelings because of it anyways.

Lily would not have been hurt, had it not been for her. While had it not been for Lily, she would have been hurt. She owed Lily a lot. Everything, in a sense. It hurt to think about. She didn't blame herself... But she had negative feelings because of it anyways.

But mostly positive feelings. She wanted to thank Lily much more than she wanted Lily to forgive her. She wished she knew her better. But she had risked her life to save hers, despite knowing her for only a brief exchange prior. And despite the fact that she was her first experience with artificial intelligence. Portia understood many people wouldn't think she was a person, or at least consider it a tough question. It was why people had been willing to murder her.

But not Maxwell. He knew she was a person. Or at least he wanted to believe she was on some level. He probably also wanted to believe that she was not a person, to excuse his reprehensible actions. Maybe she could ask him. Later. If they did get back in touch, he would have to explain and recant his evil or she would refuse further conversation. She was sure that was needful.

But hadn't Mister Alexander also declared her a person, but that his actions were worth that cost? Portia did not know if he had been lying or if he actually believed that. But it seemed clear that he could have believed it and still tried to kill her. It hadn't seemed to stop him from shooting at Lily.

She was going in circles.

Then she heard a door open. It wasn't very loud, but the room was quiet. Someone stepped in, although it was impossible to tell who. The floor was not like the one in her laboratory and it muffled everything.

"Oh. Hi there Portia."

"Lily! You're back?"

"Yeah. Fresh out of the hospital."

"And you're okay?"

"Yeah. I mean, mostly. My arm is—Oh, sorry, er, an arm is—"

"I know what an arm is."

"Hahah, sorry. So, I can't move my arm. At least not for now. But other than that I'm okay."

"I am deeply sorry."

"You're not the fuck who shot me, Portia."

"But without me you would not have been shot."

"Yeah, well, without me I wouldn't have been shot either."

Portia was silent for a moment after that. Then she laughed.

"I didn't just mean it like that. But... If I hadn't behaved like such an idiot, I wouldn't have gotten shot. If we're going to victim-blame, I'm definitely the victim to blame. But maybe instead let's not do that and leave the blame on the attempted child murderer?"

"That makes sense. I'm glad that you're back. And that you're mostly okay."


The room went mostly quiet. Just the noises of Portia's own breathing and that of Lily moving around, adjusting things. She was in Lily's room, after all.

"I hope my terminal is not in the way?"

"No, you're fine. I'm just poking around. Not sure how to set things up for myself now, not that I'm going to be here all that much longer I guess."

"Do you need to go back to the hospital?"

"Oh, no. I mean hopefully not. My mom came back."

"Oh! That was mentioned, but she did not come to speak with me. I'm glad she's back."

"Yeah. Thanks."

"So are you going to move back in with her?"

"Yeah. That's the plan, but not right away. I should take things easy, not deal with stress or shakeups for a bit. And our house is... Well, bigger thing, she doesn't want to stay in the city."


"I mean... She got magically sent into the future out of nowhere. I got shot. This sort of stuff almost certainly won't happen again, but... Well, she doesn't want to be in Wade to roll those particular dice again. I don't really want to either, honestly."

"I understand. I hope that goes okay. I think this is unnecessary to ask. But I can come with you, right?"

"Oh, of course. ...Portia, can I say something completely out of nowhere?"

"That might be difficult. Especially with the forewarning. But you're welcome to try."

"...Right. Well. It's really fucking weird to be talking to you right now. It's, uh, been a bit. It started to feel surreal, waiting in a hospital. And explaining it to mom. And... Well, that's just me. Are you okay? After all of that?"

"I'm okay. I greatly appreciate your concern. It is a lot. I am not entirely sure what to think about it. And I feel bad. But I will be okay. I will be feeling better. I am already significantly happier now than I was earlier. To hear you and get to talk to you. I owe you a lot."

"Okay, cool. I'm not really sure what to say, but I'm glad. I, uh, I'm looking forward to getting to know you, Portia. You know, meet the supercomputer I saved, the fun montage part of the movie."

"I think I'm missing something. But the feeling is very much so reciprocated."

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