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Simulacrum

Vicki Lindem is a technical writer in the cyber security industry and spends her days theorizing how and when the robots will take over. She lives with her husband and his unfortunate cat allergy in Boston and is not a Patriots fan. You can follow her on Twitter at @Vicki_Lindem.
All you see is darkness. A pinprick of light dances in your peripherals, but you don't know if it's real or a side effect of the oxygen deprivation.
His hands tighten around your throat. You can feel the blood struggling to pump through the veins in your neck as his grip strengthens. He looks through you with those beautiful eyes. Eyes fashioned from ones and zeros. The lack of air fragments your consciousness. Daylight flares in and out, like paper burning in reverse. You briefly wonder if it was worth it.
The idea came to you late at night, in that chasm between consciousness and sleep.
The paper you wrote in college. The one where you copied random snippets from different sources and mashed them together to make an essay that would pass the plagiarism programs. You Frankensteined that shit.
The next morning you tell Lotus your idea. The two of you sit hunched over the contest rules spread out on the counter of the apartment you share with your sister.
Lotus is skeptical of course. Stealing code isn't what makes her squirm, she is a hacker after all, it's poring over all the inevitably crappy code from some asshole who thinks making code decipherable is a soft suggestion.
The rules were simple enough: create a virtual avatar that can pass the New Turing test. Do it, and the money's yours. But in their simplicity, the rules lacked guidelines. Attempts to pass the enhanced test had been made and rejected. So why not take the best of those, stich them together, and present it as their own?
In the end, Lotus narrows her eyes with those cat-eye contacts and nods.
She gets to work trolling the web and stealing code to get you started.
You're the VR gal. The eyes in this hacker gestalt. You pull the headset over your face and exhale the real world through your nose. Soon, Lotus's code scrolls by. Your learned eyes easily separate the useable bits from the crap.
You spend days stitching each line of code to the next, stringing together commands, building a creature byte by byte.
Weeks later you have a prototype.
Lotus jacks in and joins you in the virtual world you constructed for the project. The environment itself is lackluster: gray and grainy, like a sky of storm clouds shot through with streaks of white light. The environment, however, isn't what matters, it's what's standing in front of you. The simulacrum in the simulation.
Lotus's mouth hangs open, her eyes flit over the creature standing rigid between you. His body is toned and chiseled, his eyes like marbles, clear and innocent. He is still at the moment; you haven't activated the movement function, the one that will make him act of his own accord. But you're confident he'll pass the test. His insides are more human than your own.
The harsh daylight plays tricks with your eyes so you pull on your sunglasses. Too much time in VR, that's it. But there he is again. The man that doesn't exist. You walk faster, humming the tune to Kill Bill to take your mind off what can't be happening.
But you walk, and he follows. He follows you past the 49th street station entrance, past three Dunkin Donuts, past the Landro'Mat where you're supposed to meet Lotus. She sees you speeding past, confusion in her eyes. Her eyes shift behind you. They widen.
You speed up. The sound of the Landro'Mat door somehow penetrates the sounds of the street. Lotus's feet slap on the sidewalk behind you.
Her hand whips you around by the shoulder. The man is gone.
"Did you see him?" Your voice shakes.
Lotus hesitates, but you can read her face like a line of code. She doesn't need to nod.
You're at the empty diner when he next appears. Lotus with her honey tea and veggie burger, you with your pancakes. It's where you first met, where your lives first intertwined like stripped wires sparking when they get too close.
Then there it is. There he is. Standing at the edge of the Formica table, staring down at his creators. In real life he's more beautiful than ever; his simulated beauty almost too much for this harsh reality. His hair is a richer shade of black than any human could have created, his muscles more defined.
But his eyes betray him. Once clear and hopeful, they are now scarred by frustration and resentment.
You can't turn away when his hand reaches out for Lotus. You can't move to stop him as his powerful hands crush her larynx. Soon her eyes stare at nothing.
It's just you now. You and him. As his hands reach for your neck you consider how this is all possible, how the simulacrum has become true. Was it ever not? The question bounces around in your head, growing more abstract as his grip tightens. The darkness becomes more permanent. Your brain is convinced you're dying. Maybe you are. Maybe you don't care. Because those eyes, however jaded, are looking only at you.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, January 29th, 2018

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