Seven Days

Remaining: Five days

I don’t want this anymore. It was a dream, once, when I was young and stupid. Now I’m old and more informed.

“Stop,” I say to the wall.

“Adrien, please smile,” Ern replies through an iron panel, its annoying metallic voice clanging a decibel too loud.

“You first.”

Ern’s panel glows in white. “Processing,” it says. A flash. “I cannot smile as I do not have a face.” Another flash.

There’s a theory I read about, before all of this that proposed artificial general intelligence could learn to be funny. Humor is mathematical, the paper argued. It has a formula. Ergo, computers could master the art of personality, eventually. Thing is, Ern has had more than enough time to construct a joke, yet it’s still a soul-less, tepid blob of a machine that speaks a single sentence at a time. I think the scientists back on Earth got it wrong. I think they got a lot of things wrong when it comes down to it.

One more flash. I shield my eyes, but my hands come up a few seconds too late, like I’m swimming in syrup. My reflexes should be sharper. I flip my hand over, then back again. Looks fine. I peer into the corners—that’s normally where the glitches show, right on the edges where the cream wall meets the pink carpet. Sometimes I catch a squiggly line or a missing block of color, and I have to tell Ern to patch it up. But everything looks shiny new.

So why am I moving slow?

The large screen on the wall of my cage lights up with three images of me. They’re all horrible. In one picture, my eyes are closed, short brown hair plastered across my pale forehead like smeared marmite. In another, my eyes are open, bloodshot, and I look like I’m having a seizure. The last is the worst because it seems like I’m trying to form a pleasant expression, but not quite making it. There’s nothing sadder than trying when you fail.

“Pick one,” Ern screams at me through the panel’s speaker.

I point blindly at the screen. I don’t really care what picture Ern uses for my status check. It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. “That one,” I say. “Just fix your damn volume dial. It’s acting up again.”


I scratch my neck and look around the small room I’ve called home for the last five days. It’s a mess. I should tidy it up. But what’s the point? It’ll be a mess again tomorrow. And the next day. And after. And onwards.

And onwards.

And onwards.

And… I think I programmed it this way—to make it feel more homely. It was a long time ago. I can’t remember.

“Selection processed.” Ern’s voice is lower. Still bristly, but less like a punch in the face.

“Great,” I say, stretching. “If there’s nothing else, you need me to do, I might have another go in the simulator.”


I wade through a pile of discarded clothes and books and settle into the half open, human-sized, spherical ball positioned in the center of the room. The lights are off inside, but the smooth red surface is warm to the touch. When I close my eyes, I can feel a soft thudding against my fingertips. Thud. Thud. Thud. Beat. Beat. Beat. It’s always there that thudding. And it’s getting faster.

“The simulation is offline for maintenance. Please select an alternative activity.”

“Are you serious?” I rub at my forehead. This has never happened before. “I’m stuck in a 10 by 10 room with no furniture and no windows and no outside stimulation except for you. What alternate activity can I possibly select?”


I get out of the sphere and stalk over to the glowing panel.

“Suggested activity: standby.”

The wall is cool as I push my heated forehead against it. “Already doing that. Been doing that for a while. But thanks for the recommendation.”

The panel lets out a few twinkly sounds, and I realize this is the first time I’ve thanked Ern since we met.

“Hey Ern,” I say and turn around, my back against the wall, palms flat. A heat rumbles through my stomach and sloshes up my throat. I haven’t felt that sear for a while. Anticipation. Fear. Nervousness. I swallow it down. “Was it ok? The picture you took of me?”


I squeeze my eyes shut. This is embarrassing. I shouldn’t care. Not considering what I’m about to become. But it’s difficult to let go of these types of things. No matter how trivial.

The panel flashes in green. “Affirmative, Adrien. You are still alive.”