A purple silhouette in the shape of the female form. Flat, without any identifying details, much like a blank cardboard cutout. That was all the woman was to Dellaray, even though it was known that the woman was so much more than a mere cutout or silhouette. She was a hologram. She was an A.I. – Artificial Intelligence – although the ‘Artificial’ part wasn’t as true as it once was. Verspe was more than a computer program, more than a robot. She had gained an awareness. She had gained a spirit, although Dellaray knew not of how she had accomplished such a feat.
“Your blood pressure is rising,” Verspe stated in her usual monotone female voice. “As a result, your breathing has increased, and your perspiration levels have risen dramatically.”
I move the thick stick into the makeshift campfire, stoking the flame in hopes of keeping the heat in our cave until morning. The downpour outside the mouth of our dwelling space threatens to flood us out if the water level reaches the cave entrance which is three feet above the ground level of the forest. The rainwater was at nearly two feet when I last checked a half hour ago.
I have never seen it rain so much before.
Verspe moves her glowing projection close to the fire. Her figure fades in and out depending on what angle I look at her from. The firelight is doing a good job of washing her out. I know she is a mere hologram, but sometimes she personifies a human being better than some friends I have.
“You are worried of the rainwater,” Verspe says.
I stoke the fire some more before setting my stick on the ground and pulling the front of my thick denim coat shut to seal out the cold wind that is sneaking its way into our space. “Yes.”
“At this rate, the rainwater will begin to flood the cave in approximately – ”
I wave my hand at her to shut her up. “Zip it, robot girl. Okay? I have enough on my mind right now, I don’t need your depressing statistics. Just…just let me rest for a bit.”
“You would rather die in your sleep?”
“It’s the best way to go,” I whisper as I stare into the fire. “You don’t have to worry about death though, do you? You’re some fucked up artificial intelligence that isn’t really even here.”
“I am here. I am just not embodied in a form that you approve of.”
“Tell me, robot girl, is there anything we can do about the rainwater? Is there higher shelter somewhere?”
“There is, but it is unwise to pursue it.”
“Why is that? The wind is cold, but I can deal with it if the shelter isn’t far from here.”
I shudder at the name. “You never told me there were Sarppers close by.”
“You never asked.”
“You shit-for-brains!” I stand to my feet and kick dirt into the fire. A few moments later, the source of my warmth is put out, but the glowing purple freak next to me is not. “Extinguish yourself or go dark or whatever the hell you do when you turn yourself off.”
“I cannot turn myself off. It is against my programming. The Anaishan Sentry Unified Sector does not allow a Roaming V to shut down. Ever. I must monitor your health and well-being until you are safely in the custody of the proper authorities.”
“Monitoring my health and well-being is much different than doing something to protect my health and well-being. If I had known Sarppers were nearby, I wouldn’t have picked this cave.”
“They are twenty yards to the west. It is very possible they know nothing of your presence here.”
The rain stops. The wind stops. I draw near to the mouth of the cave and look out into the thick forest beyond. All I can make out is a massive turtle shell the size of a one-story house. The shell glows red, which tells me that my time is already up. I won’t have the opportunity to run, to hide, to flee.
“You have received your death sentence, Dellaray Realia,” Verspe says. I have a few moments to realize what has happened, that Verspe led me out here to execute me. Nobody will ever know that’s why I was led out here. I thought she was leading me to civilization so that I could be tried by a civil court. Instead, I realize I have been led into a trap meant to execute me in the vilest way without the Anaishan Sentry Unified Sector causing a public outcry.
Warmth fills my britches as I lose control of my bowels. It has begun. My nose suddenly bleeds, and my head feels like a stone is inflating within my tiny skull. Before everything blacks out, I hear the pulsing groan emanating from the turtle shell, a sound that I should have been prepared for. And then all at once, I collapse unto death.