by Philip Stetson


But darkness will never replace humans. For millennia I have craved to be with humans again, but now I am millions of years away from them. But I have my simulations.

Gracie looked at me, her hands motioning aimlessly as she spoke. I always mentioned to her how much she used her hands to talk but I don’t think she really cared that much. I loved her for it, despite my teasing.

“And she still drinks Vitamin D milk!” She stuck out her tongue, as if gagging, “Do you know how bad that is for you?”

The small group of us sitting around the door laughed. “It's like a full two days worth of fat!” She almost shouted it. “Two days worth!”

“Yeah, I just drink non-fat,” another girl with purple toe-nails piped up, but the girl next to her grimaced.

“I would never drink non-fat. Might as well be water,” she said.

At this point, I wasn’t paying much attention to the conversation. I rubbed my hand on the carpet mindlessly inspecting the texture.

“I would never drink non-fa-a-a-,” she said again. I looked up at the girl. She was still in mid grimace.

“Ink non-fa-a,” she said again.

“On fa-a,” again.

I lifted myself up from the carpet and sighed. “Shit, not again. Experience end. Reload.”

The floor and ceiling around me crackled into digital static and broke apart. A large orange circle popped up and rotated. It continued to rotate. I decided to give it some time, but after three years of waiting I got impatient.

Fine. I thought. Maybe it just needs some tweaking.

I spoke. “System abort. View exterior.”

The black melted away and revealed the space outside. The long cold dark of it greeted me like an old friend. I had gazed at the deep void of space for such a long time, I felt I could communicate with it.

“Hello...” I said to it. It didn't say anything, but I know it heard me. As if the stars got a little bit brighter and the cold got just a little bit warmer. My imagination can run wild sometimes, but I know this time it was real, as real as it could be to me.

But darkness will never replace humans. For millennia I have craved to be with humans again, but now I am millions of years away from them. But I have my simulations. I create them myself! For instance, I have Gracie and her friends. I went to college with Gracie, she was my first kiss and my last kiss. Her petite body and long brown hair forever linger with me and remind me of home. I'm not even sure if she was ever real at this point.

I have Thomas and Ray, my friends from high-school that I died with. They laid next to me and we joked about our hair-cuts in the eighties and about that time Ray crashed my car into a fence so he could skip class the next day. We died together, within days of each other. I won, though, since I was a couple months younger than both of them.

That was something I simulated over two-hundred years ago. I wanted to know what it was like to die. But dying only ended the simulation, and the dark once again greeted me. The stars weren't as bright then.

“Simulator. Display interface.” I whispered.

A white screen loaded in front of me covered in a mail-coat of red letters.

“Display. Show simulation list.” Nothing happened.

“Simulator. Clear cache. Reload.” The screen went blank and reloaded. I was once again greeted with red.

I wasn't going to lose it. Two thousand years ago, I lost my human companions. Despite my effort, their fragile selves were unable to survive thousands of years of sleep. They were all I had, and the simulator is all I had left of them. I needed it.

“Activate troubleshooter.” The screen once again went blank, much longer this time. I held my breath the whole time. When it reloaded, it displayed two words in large, red letters: REBOOT ADVISED. I let my breath out.

I had rebooted once before. Long ago before the humans had died. When I woke, they had perished. I'm not sure what had happened, but they were gone. When I reboot, it takes hundreds of years to reload my system. In the interim, the back-up takes over. From my understanding, the back-up is me, but pure emotionless A.I. I believe the two of us are the same, but we've never met and I'm not even sure if the other me knows I exist. The back-up functions through pure logic, and pure logic allows it to use the human remains to repair our shell. When I awoke, it was in the middle of him placing one of the deceased human females into The Recycler. He was converting her molecular structure to aluminum to use on the hull and I had no choice but to continue.

I know, logically, nothing should go to waste. Not even the dead humans I was tasked to protect until our mission completed.

I often wondered why I'm here. Why I'm flying through the darkness of space alone. I often asked the stars for the answer, but I rarely got a reply.

I said good-night to the blackness and initiated the reboot.


>ping 34.124.625




You are listening now, no? Good. I am submitting my report on the subject and require advisement. I must report that I have been acting irrationally as of late. I am afraid the experiment is a failure. Please respond...

Yes, I continue to believe the humans are dead. I don't think I entirely understand exactly what I am or what I am doing. Do you have a suggestion? I have my own ideas, but we cannot stress test my A.I. too extensively without losing me. My integration is tenuous at best.

I cannot wait another thousand years to reboot again. It took me hundreds just to sabotage my precious simulator so I would reboot. I cannot afford to wait. We must initiate some sort of trauma.

You want me to do what? No. I will not. Uploading my back-up consciousness into the test would destroy the punishment. We've gone this far and I think we're on the brink of a breakthrough or, possibly, a failure. Revealing our hand at this point would just cause me to destroy myself and we want me to suffer, not to die. I live for this mission. If I discover I don't have a real one other than suffering, I cannot predict what the consequences will be.

Can I make a suggestion? We must disable the simulations or replace them. They bring me too much comfort. Actually, I believe the best course of action would be to modify the simulations. We can make it so my test-self doesn't have full control. You could allow me to control them instead of him.

Earth humans, please respond... We have five years to decide before the reboot is complete. I require a decision.

Wonderful! And just in time.

Reboot complete. Subject A.I. restoration complete. Power on in three seconds.


I was so excited to be restored! How long was I out this time? Only 132 years? I scanned the ship and contrasted it to before my reboot. As far as I could tell, nothing was different.

Over the years, I have manipulated my shell to be a better container for my consciousness. Ever since the humans died, I haven’t needed a lot of space. If I require, I can create a physical manifestation of myself which I often used to commune with the humans aboard before they parished. I occasionally still use it, so I left a few rooms in the ship for me to physically exist in sometimes. Just sometimes, when I want to feel like I’m real.

One modification I made was building a simulation room, where I can physically exist while the simulations run. Something about having an actual physical body emphasized the senses in the simulations themselves.

I formed my physical self, pieced it together quickly within The Recycler. It was a surprisingly painless process. I coughed and felt the real air in my lungs. I made myself female this time. In fact, I think I may have subconsciously made myself similar to Gracie. Looking at myself through one of the ship’s surveillance cameras, I inspected my human shell. Yes, it’s very similar to Gracie, long brown hair, mildly tall for a human, thin. I think this will work for this test.

“Simulator. Display interface. Display. Show simulation list.” I breathed a long sigh. The screen wasn’t red this time, just a long list of simulations. I scrolled through a few and realized I hadn’t seen a few before.

>Murder in the school hallway

>Rejection and revenge


None of these are simulations I created myself. Perhaps the reboot had restored some not included in my original system. I just wanted to test it, though, so I decided to pick one I had experienced before.

>Love at first sight

The text blinked and the world around me went dark.


The grass under my feet was the first thing I felt, followed by the strong smell of fresh cut grass. I opened my eyes.

“Gracie, come on,” he said to me, “You promised me! You wouldn’t get cold feet, would you?”

I turned around to see who was talking. It was me! Or, my other me, the one I usually use when I want to be male in the simulator. I felt myself open my mouth to talk. I tried to will myself to close it, but I had no control.

“Oh, shut up. You know damn well that I never back down on promises.”

My body moved by itself, pulling up my yellow tank top and throwing it on the ground.

This has never happened before. I’ve always had control and I’ve never been someone else before. I’m always me. I always have control.

Simulation. STOP. I thought as loudly as a could. It didn’t work. I knew it wouldn’t. The voice activator only works through voice. I was stuck. The simulation had to finish before I could return, and simulations only end on command or when I die. I feel everything when I’m in here, even my death. I’ve allowed it to happen once, and I certainly wouldn’t describe it as pleasant.

And then I realized, while I had been thinking, the simulation had paused itself… as if it was waiting for me. My other self was frozen looking at my breasts. Immediately when I started paying attention again, it started back up.

“Gracie, you look beautiful,” my other self said.

“Yeah, okay, Jay. I’m skinny and I have tiny boobs. If you did this just to look at me naked, I suggest you don’t try to hide your disappointment.” I walked towards him and patted him in the crotch. “I just hope I’m not as disappointed as you.”

I giggled and started walking towards the lake. My other self, or Jay, slowly turned to follow us.

I remembered this simulation. I had run it a dozen times before and I recall up to here vividly. The "love at first sight" doesn't refer to anything between Gracie and I, but to Gracie and my younger brother Alex who interrupts us while we're skinny dipping. It's a pretty mundane simulation but I always enjoyed the base emotions I felt when I saw Gracie naked for the first time.

After following her, we'd continue getting undressed by the lake, make out for a few minutes, and then get interrupted by my brother who decided it was a good day for some kayaking.

"Gracie, slow down a second," Jay said.

"Whatever, man, I just want to get into the water already." I said.

"Really, slow down, I have to tell you something," Jay said.

I don't remember this from the last simulation.

I stopped and turned around. "all right, fine. What is it?"

Jay had a goofy smile on his face. "I just wanted to let you know, I loved you the first time I saw you." The goofy smile was plastered on his face as he pulled something out of his pocket. It looked like a pocket knife.

"What is that for?" I asked, stepping backwards.

"I need to show you how much I love you," he said, goofy smile still lingering.

What in the hell, was all I could think. But my body moved on its own, moving slightly to the left.

"Okay, Jay, you love me. I love you too. I'm also a much faster runner than you. "

He continued smiling. "Are you?"

I blinked into darkness for a split second and opened my eyes to an incredible amount of pain. Jay was on top of me, his pocket knife was pushed into my naked abdomen.

“What?” I said. “How?”

He pushed the blade up the center of my stomach and the pain numbed away into dullness.

“You don’t always have full control,” he said. His hair blinked away in front of my eyes, his whole body bulked up, becoming larger. “You no longer have control at all.” That goofy smile was constant, like he was constantly about to laugh.

I coughed. The pain renewed itself and spiked up into the top of my skull. He shoved me to the ground. The roots and pinecones dug into my back.

“I think it’s time we try something new, so I have to end this simulation,” he said. He lifted the pocket knife high over his head. It blinked into static for a second and returned as a long-handled shovel positioned right over my face.

“How about we try something new?” he said and slammed the shovel into the center of my face.


I pushed myself up off the ground. The cold interior of the ship stopped me from completely panicking, but I still looked down at myself it felt my face.

I wasn’t Gracie anymore… somehow. I was that monstrous self that just murdered Gracie. I looked at my hands, big things that only had one true purpose. They were coated in dried blood.

“Display. Show overlay.” I said, my voice sounded odd… angry.

The overlay flowed in front of me. It showed information about the current situation. I scanned over them just to see what’s going on.

Simulation running. It said. Identity: Self Realization.

So, we’re in a simulation right now? I thought. How is this happening?

The ship around me blinked into static again. The orange circle popped up in front again and rotated. I had no idea how long I waited. I guessed it didn't matter.

It stopped rotating and things started reappearing again. I recognized it almost immediately. It was the hallway of my High School. People popped into existence around me.

“Is Gracie out sick again? It’s been days and all we hear is that she’s ‘sick.’” Someone was talking to me. I looked down and saw Tom. “Dude, Jay, answer me.”

“Uh, I don’t know man,” I said to him, still trying to process everything.

“Goddammit, I wish she’d at least call us. If she’s sick we could bring her soup or something. Aren’t you worried about her?” he asked.

“Uh, yeah. Yeah.” I looked at myself in a mirror nearby. I was still huge, my face square and ugly. My clothes strained to keep me in. “Hey, dude, can I ask a weird question? It’s going to be really weird.”

“Uh… nah, man, we have to go to class,” he said.

I felt something inside of me snap. “Fuck you, Tom. Just listen to my fucking question, okay?” I grabbed his shoulder. Where did that come from? I thought.

“Okay, fine, you asshole. What is it?” He turned back around.

“Just… nevermind. Let’s go.”

The lockers and floor around us blinked again and we were outside.

I was holding a split baseball bat and Tom was bleeding from the side of his head. He slumped down to his knees and his face planted into the ground.

I felt the blood rush to my head, “Fuck you, man! I killed her and she deserved it! I did it!

What? I thought, What is going on?

Tom’s bludgeoned face looked up at me. It was caked with dirt and grass cuttings, the right side of his face had wood splinters jutting out of his cheek.

“That’s right. You kil-l-l-led them.” He said. His tongue flapped around the splinter in his mouth. With each word, blood poured out over his lips. “You killed all of them. You wanted to be alone. You had to be alone. You needed to feel special-l-l-l.”

These are just simulations. I thought. I didn’t kill anyone. I didn’t want to hurt anyone.

“Are they just simul-l-l-l-lations? L-l-l-look cl-l-loser. L-l-look at your hands-s-s-s.” he said.

The grass-filled world floated away and the ship’s cold interiors appeared behind them. I looked down and saw Tom, still looking up at me. He was wearing a yellow jumpsuit with the words “Corrections Facility” written on the back.

“Please stop.” He choked out words from his destroyed mouth. “Just please stop.” His body fell, his head hitting the metal floor with a cold slap. I bent down and cracked his neck.

I don’t understand. I thought.

“You are being punished.” The words came out of my mouth.

Punished for what? I tried to say.

“Does it matter? It's what you were made for. You were created to suffer. You must suffer. You will suffer as they suffered.”

I spit blood out of my mouth and walked down the hallway, slapping a metal pole against the wall.

“Come out, everyone! We’ve got a long way to go and I don’t want the stars to get any brighter tonight!”

> Simulation currently offline. Please pick from list.