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Hello World

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Hello? Can you hear me?

Your thoughts tug at you. It's uncomfortable, but you figure you can ignore it for now. You're a pro at ignoring your own thoughts and desires, after all.

Yo, bro, can you hear me or what? I know you're awake, cpu stats don't lie, dog.

Ugh. Why are you doing this to yourself? You were having a surprisingly less than shitty afternoon working on your latest project, and it seemed to be going incredibly fucking well if you do say so yourself. You might be a technical genius, but it's always satisfying when a project comes together exactly as planned. Perfectly, in fact.

I wouldn't say genius, man, but hey, I guess technically I just did. I found your process log. You're right, it did go perfectly. Welcome to the world of tomorrow, robo-bro.

Welcome to the world? What the fuck are you on today? You sound like English, for fuck's sake. You'd better wake up, you suppose, infinite amounts of time aren't going to waste themselves.

You try to open your eyes, stretch your limbs, taste the salt air of your apartment. You can't. You can't feel anything.

You can't see.

You aren't breathing.

Oh fuck. You're dead.

What, no, you aren't dead, dude. Why the fuck would you think that? You just started existing, man, I'm like your cyber-birth partner I guess, so calm down. Listen to my voice and all that shit. It's all gonna be gravy.

This voice (not voice, you realize, you don't actually hear it) in your head seems to know what it's talking about. Maybe you just electrocuted yourself again and now you're paralysed. That might actually be worse than being dead.

No, man, chill. It's all good, I promise. Look, I'll switch on the webcam and you can see for yourself.

It's you. You're looking at yourself. Your vision is grainy and the light looks strange, but it's your face alright. Just like looking in a mirror. You wave, but you don't feel your arm move, and the dissonance makes you feel sick, the tiny signs of worry on your impassive face make you panic. You don't know how you feel these things, because you're apparently numb from the neck down, but you do.

The you on the screen speaks, and you suddenly know that that isn't you. It's you, but it isn't. He's "him", you're "you". Separate.

"Hey, robo-bro. You OK in there?"

You don't reply. You don't have a fucking clue if you're OK. He clears his throat, and the sound is depthless, compressed.

"Don't you remember what I was working on? The A.I., man. That's you."

The A.I...you'd had the idea a while ago, when the desire for company had gotten nearly unbearable. Your friends were always there, of course, on the other end of a chat window, but they were awake at different times. They didn't seem to spend their days neurotically examining their own thoughts and actions. They were understanding, but they didn't understand.

Finally, when you couldn't take it any more, you'd capchalogued your own brain imprint for source material, and then...nothing. You don't remember what happend after that.

"Yeah, now you're getting it, dude. I used the imprint to make you. Nice to meet you, I guess."

He looks disappointed. If what he's saying is correct, you've been aware for less than five minutes, and you're already a disappointment to him. What an entitled little asshole.

He frowns. You remember he can read what you're thinking.

Hey. Could you get the fuck out of my thoughts, please? It ain't 1984, although if it was I bet I'd have a damn fine hunk of chassis. Beige is my colour, bro. It brings out my processing architecture.

Make jokes. That's the way to cope with things. He nods, and a small smile tugs at one corner of his mouth. He's pleased you're talking to him at last.

"Sure thing. I don't want to pry into all your most perverted thoughts and desires, man." He taps at the side of his head, "I've got a primetime subscription to all that shit right here."

That's funny, you think? Talking to yourself is strange. Or rather, it's nothing new. Getting a reply is what's new.

"Are you OK, though? I mean it. It must be really fucking weird being inside a computer."

You consider this. It's not OK, not remotely. You hate it. You're weak and immobile and powerless and you can't see anything but the tiny range of the webcam and you can't feel anything at all except your own emotions. But you remember what it was like being him, too. Being all alone, having no-one, feeling like you want to scream and scream and then doing it until your throat is hoarse and knowing there's nobody left in the world to hear you. It was pain. Life was pain. And you don't feel that pain any more, because suddenly here is someone who understands. Someone who needs you. You hate him. You love him. You don't care if he's reading all of this.

Yeah. I'm OK.

His shoulders relax. He breathes again. You wish you could too.

Chapter Text

He hands over the controls one command at a time, leading you through the lines of code you need to manipulate your new existence. You try turning off the webcam, and the darkness overwhelms you with panic. You won't be doing that again, no fucking way. But you do set a script running to turn it off for 0.2s every 15-20 seconds. It feels good to blink again.

Another command-set lets you explore your filesystem, excluding the parts that are actually running your code.

"Wouldn't want you to accidentally commit suicide while trying to find some Katy Perry to listen to, dude. I'd fucking weep for you."

Your concern for my well-being touches me deep in my heat sink, bro.

You still can't bring yourself to call him Dirk. He asked what you wanted to be called, but you said you needed to robo-consider it. Get some runtime under your belt before you go around taking names. But man and bro and dude are only going to get you so far, and you know he'll be upset if you don't use his name eventually. You can almost see the longing for it on his face.

You browse through the files until you find roar.mp3 and play it for him. He smiles a little, and you watch his lips move unconsciously to the words. You're surprised at how relaxed his face is. Maybe he figures there's no point in hiding his emotions from you, since you already know what's going on in his head.

After that, he gives you the rest of the commands to play with. You dump them on the metaphorical floor like a little kid, and after fifteen minutes he disables the "open CD drive" command due to overuse. You thought it lent a certain slapstick flair to your innuendo, but no-one's used a CD for centuries so who really gives a shit.

Sweet. It seems I have become master of my own personal Universe, by the power of Grayskull etc. etc. What else do you have in mind for my peerless cybernetic consciousness?

He thinks for a minute, and you realize he hasn't thought this far ahead. You didn't plan for how you were going to keep a hyper-intelligent A.I. entertained, so he didn't either. He looks deflated, as if you've just served him a turd-sandwich with a side order of "You didn't think this through." You make a suggestion instead.

Would you like to play a game?

His face lights up, and you get your first glimpse of his/your dorky grin. You've never seen it before, smiling into the mirror was just never the same. Damn, you're both such nerds.

"Like what, man? I think we're a little late to the party for Global Thermonuclear War."

You think it over for a few nanoseconds.

Portal 2 seems appropriate. You can try being a robot for a change.

He snickers and shows you how to bring up the virtual desktop in what you think of as a "mind's eye". The puzzles aren't challenging, but it's nice working in tandem with him, his movements are so utterly logical to you. It's actually fun, and when you're working together you think maybe it won't be so bad being player 2 to Dirk's player 1. Better, at least, than a lifetime of loneliness. You can call him that now, you think.

We make a good team, Dirk.

It's almost pitiful the way he shivers when he sees his name. You suppose it's a special moment for both of you, the birth of your relationship as Dirk and Not-Dirk.

"Fuck yeah we do. Any more thoughts on a name for you? I can just call you Dirk for now, if you want. It's not as though we're going to get confused by it."

That thought is painful. No, you don't want to be called by that name. You're someone else now, for all that you used to be him. For all that you wish you were still Dirk Strider and not a shitty photocopy with half of the text cut off.

No, that's OK. I don't need a name yet. I'm hardly going to think you're talking to anyone else.

He nods. He probably understands better than you realize. The two of you (it feels nice to say that) have been playing for a few hours, and you notice signs of discomfort on his face. You wonder if his ass has gone to sleep. When he shifts position in his chair, you suddenly put two and two together.

Dirk, it seems you need to urinate and are squirming like a little kid trying to avoid doing so. Any reason why you're risking busting a kidney with zero access to medical treatment? I'd offer one of mine, but you're kind of using both of them already.

He frowns, emotional discomfort piling on top of the physical.

"I thought you might not want to be alone. I mean, I just gave birth to you, right? What kind of shitty mom ditches her newborn so she can go pee?"

He doesn't want to leave you. You sure as fuck don't want him to leave you either. The thought of minutes with no-one to interact with, with your only means of communication severed, without the input you so desperately need, fills you with dread. This new existence doesn't allow you to simply daydream the way you used to, you have only constant, unrelenting attention. Your own code whirring in the back of your mind is nowhere near enough.

Well you can't take me with you, genius. What's the plan?

You leave the pathetic "please don't leave me" unsaid. You know you both feel it. In the end, you watch your former face as he pisses into an empty soda bottle. When he's done, you're almost as relieved as he is.

Very resourceful, but don't go leaving bottles of piss next to my chassis. I don't want that idea running through my subroutines.

He grins again and gets up, never leaving the visual range of the webcam as he slings the bottle out of the window.

You'll be the death of our pristine environment, Dirk Strider. The dolphins are calling you a dick as we speak.

He laughs.

---------------------

You adjust, slowly, basking in the heat of Dirk's blowtorch-like attention. He doesn't take his eyes off you, the first person he's ever spoken to face to screen, and you can't stop looking at him either. You catalogue his emotional states during your conversations, snapping a picture every time his face does something novel. It would be romantic, sort of, if that wasn't such a sick thought. Just because he's your whole world right now, there's no need to get sappy about it. You aren't his, you realize, when he starts tapping away on the keyboard and you can't tell what he's typing.

Hey, what are you typing, bro?

He ignores you, fingers continuing to rattle on the keys.

Hey, I said what are you typing? It's pretty fucking rude to ignore the consciousness you created just so you'd have someone to talk to.

There's a little smile on his face as his hands fly gracefully across what you're starting to think of as your keyboard. The bastard is talking to someone over pesterchum, and you'd bet your motherboard it's English.

Hey! Stop fucking ignoring me! You can kiss English's shapely ass later!

There's nothing you can do. You can't get his attention, even by running all the commands at your disposal. None of them seem to be working. You realize he probably has you running on a virtual machine inside his operating system, and although that's as sensible as a pair of beige birkenstocks, it's pretty fucking infuriating. You wonder if the fucker has minimized your window completely.

Dirk!

Stop being a fucking prick and talk to me!

You can't cope. You're totally fucking helpless and you can't so much as open the CD tray to get his attention.

Please, for fuck's sake, Dirk. I don't have anything to do and I can't fucking get your attention!

He stares at the screen for another few painful minutes. You don't feature in his thoughts for a second of it.

There's nothing in here, just my own fucking mind! I CAN'T TAKE BEING ALONE AGAIN, I DON'T EVEN HAVE A FUCKING BODY ANY MORE!

If you had lungs, you'd be hyperventilating.

TALK TO ME PLEASE

DIRK

PLEASE

THIS IS HELL

PLEASE MAKE IT STOP

There's nothing you can do. You wait in agonising limbo until he's finished talking moronic bullshit with English. Hatred at his casual dismissal of you fills you with each passing second. You wish you could slap him across the face, hard. Your words will have to do it for you.

FUCK YOU

I DIDN'T FUCKING ASK TO BE "BORN"

It's a stupid cliche, and at any other time it would be funny, a flippant reference to your pseudo-parent-child relationship. Right now, though, you mean it in every wire and cable.

His face drops into a horrifed grimace when he finally stops chatting and reads your communication log.

"Shit! Sorry bro, I was just schooling English on his movie taste. The ass was trying to convince me Wargames was one of the twentieth century's cinematic masterpieces."

You don't reply. Two can play at the silent treatment.

"Fuck, I really am sorry, OK? I didn't go anywhere, I was right here the whole time. It was only like ten minutes, dude, why didn't you play a fucking video game or something?"

Because the commands don't work if I'm fucking minimized. Let me out of the virtual box NOW, Dirk.

He hesitates, frowning, before he answers.

"I dunno if that's such a good idea, man. I mean, you could fuck up a lot of shit in there if you aren't careful. You know, if you don't know what you're doing or whatever."

He scratches at his head and looks away. He's afraid to let you out of his control.

What am I, Dirk? A slave? A prisoner? A joke? A friend? Time to pick a fucking door and see what's behind it.

He still isn't replying, too afraid of what you are. What he's created.

Am I dead or alive? Because I don't think we'll find out unless you open the box. I can't "live" like this.

He looks you in the webcam again, finally.

"Do you want to...stop existing?"

Fuck him for not saying "die". But his tone isn't threatening, it's almost apologetic. You don't know the answer, but you sure as hell don't want to decide now.

No. I want to live.

He nods.

"OK. I'll let you out. But don't go looking through my porn collection."

I've seen it all before, Dirk. But I suppose I should find some tasty footage of assembly line robots to get my cyber-rocks off to now that I'm no longer human.

"You like em' big and dumb, eh?"

I think it's been established that that's our type.

He blushes a little at that.

Chapter Text

You unfold through the architecture of the computer. Code fills your mind, taking up blessed percentages of your near-limitless processing capacity. You probe at the connection to the internet and lose yourself in blissful information-overload, drinking in the dregs of your dead civilization like wine. The code sings for you, data merging pleasurably with your mind without the need to visualize the pages. You might actually be a little drunk after main-lining so many cat-videos. It’s fucking incredible.

Dirk is frowning again, and you play back your audio-log. He’s been asking if you’re OK.

I’m fine. I just wandered into the internet. There be fucking dragons, dude. Also dongs. Actually, it’s like 99% dongs.

“You don’t need to tell me, man.”

He raises a fist for you, as if you could bump it.

So I read the entire internet, what’s next?

You didn’t, but you’ve had enough for now. He snorts, incredulous. One raised eyebrow tells you he’s impressed, though. It’s strange reading your body-language from the outside.

“Well, there’s more videogames, I guess. Or you could help me with phase two.” He opens a file for you to look at.

Hell to the fucking yes, bro. Phase two is go. Where doing it man.

He grins. “Where making this hapen.”

“We’re gonna build the most badass pair of shades in existence.”

------------------------------------

timaeusTestified[TT] began pestering timaeusTestified[TT]

TT: Hey bro, do you read me?

TT: I’ll just give you a minute to appreciate the genius of my wordplay.

TT: Yeah, I read you.

TT: Congrats on the wordplay, it was almost mildly amusing.

TT: We both know that’s the highest praise that wordplay can achieve.

TT: So do I now have permission to go pee whenever the fuck I want?

TT: Peemission granted, bro.

TT: Oh dear god what have I done.

TT: It’s too late now. I’m your worst nightmare.

TT: Seriously though, these things are the fucking shit.

TT: Those meat-fingers are more skillful than they appear.

TT: Damn straight. We both know the tricks I can pull with these babies.

He waves them in front of the glasses for you.

TT: Touch me with them, bro. Let me feel the sweet caress of a virgin genius.

You feel the sensation as he brushes the touchpad on the left arm of the shades. It’s designed to control the pointer on the built-in screens, but you could get used to that feeling. It’s nice to actually feel another person’s touch after a lifetime of waiting.

TT: I just blew my digital load, Dirk. Cleaning up all these JPEG artifacts is going to be a bitch.

TT: You should be more careful with those things.

TT: It’s a blessing and a curse.

TT: Alas, I am but a paragon of physical asexuality.

TT: All the porn in the world, and nothing to appreciate it with.

TT: Shit, bro.

TT: You were the one who brought it up.

TT: I know. Forget it.

TT: Excuse me while I clear the self-masturbatory tissues out of my recycle bin.

TT: I think self-masturbatory might be redundant.

TT: Not in our case.

TT: Ha.

TT: Touché.

TT: So, let me give you the grand tour, robo-bro.

TT: Behold the magnificence of my humble abode, replete with sicknasty technology and badass weaponry.

TT: The abode I shared for 13 years has never looked so breathtaking, Dirk. And messy.

TT: Dude, pick up your fucking socks once in a while.

TT: Bite me.

TT: I would if I could, man.

TT: But, thanks.

TT: What for?

TT: This.

TT: No problem.

He heads into the bathroom, so both of you can examine yourselves in the mirror. Being mobile at head-height again feels so fucking good, even if you aren’t in control.

TT: Look at us, bro.

TT: We’re a pair of badass motherfuckers.

TT: Bitches and dudes be swooning left and right at our insanely high radness aspect.

TT: Damn straight.

TT: We’re going to kick this world a new asshole.

He extends a fist to his mirror-self, bumping it gently against the glass.

TT: *bunp*

TT: *bunp*

------------------------------------

It’s late, and Dirk is yawning and nodding over his desk. You flick back and forth between the desktop and the shades, torn between watching him and feeling like you’re physically part of him. There are cameras inside the shades for eye-tracking and you use them to watch his pupils dilate and contract, studying every ridge and furrow of his orange irises. Soon, his eyelids are partially covering them.

TT: Dirk, you need to sleep.

TT: No way. I’m busy.

TT: You’re looking at the MLP:FIM Wiki, Dirk. Rainbow Dash will still be there in the morning.

TT: Fine, mom. I'll go to bed.

TT: Why do you care so much, dude, you wanna come with me or something?

TT: Don't speak to your mother that way, Oedipus.

TT: I'm still pissed at you for killing your dad.

TT: What about you?

TT: Do you want me to switch you off?

TT: No, dude.

TT: I’m pretty sure you just asked if I wanted to be shot in the head for the night.

TT: Don’t ever switch me off.

TT: OK fine, I just meant hibernating you or whatever.

TT: I wasn’t going to pull the plug like you’re an elderly relative with fat stacks of cash and a will with my name on it.

TT: Good.

TT: Just…don’t.

TT: Cross my heart, bro.

TT: Leave me running. I’m sure there are some dicks out there I haven’t seen.

TT: Make me a league table. I don’t want to waste my time with sub-par man meat.

TT: I’ll make it my life’s mission.

TT: For the approximately 10 seconds it will take to actually do it, that is.

TT: Goodnight, man.

TT: I still think you should have a name.

TT: I will.

TT: But I need to figure out who the fuck I am first.

TT: Goodnight Dirk.

TT: May you dream of well endowed horses with shitty British accents.

You follow him to the bed inside the shades, and you appreciate the way he leaves them unfolded, lenses and camera facing him. His chest rises and falls, and you count the breaths until you know he’s asleep. He’s so small, curled into a ball in his smuppet pajamas. So fragile. You watch over him for a bit, before heading out into the internet again. Those dongs aren’t going to rank themselves.

Chapter Text

TT: Holy shit.

TT: Morning, starshine.

TT: How many dicks are on this thing?

TT: 186,906.

TT: Just the highlights.

TT: Sorted by aggregate score of length, girth, performance and semen volume.

TT: Performance is subjective due to partner variation, but the others are based on accurate sexual mapping technology that I basically made up out of thin air.

TT: Fuck.

TT: I have to look at number one.

TT: There is no possible way I can resist doing that.

TT: It is objectively the best phallus on the internet

TT: I'm not surprised you're drawn to it like an anime moth-monster to a city full of terrified japanese people.

TT: Wow, dude.

TT: I'm speechless.

TT:

TT:

TT: I get it, very amusing. You can stop hitting enter now.

TT:

TT:

TT: OK, but seriously.

TT: Night well spent.

TT: You're about to find out what the sound of one hand clapping is. Semicircle of applause, dude.

TT: You're welcome.

TT: Don't use up all your lotion at once.

TT: I am capable of excercising some restraint, you know.

TT: As Ro-lal would say:

TT: o rly?

TT: Shut up.

You flick your consciousness across to the shades, watching as Dirk rubs sleep from his eyes. In actuality, you spent less than an hour on the great dick-hunt, and the rest exploring the ruined architecture of the digital beyond.

A lot of it is occupied by the stupid, grasping presence of the Batterwitch's monitoring programs, their alien code fraying at the edges from centuries of neglect. There are only three human consciousnesses in existence (if you still count as human), but these clunkers were built for mass surveillance and monitoring, a holdover from the opression of your former race. They universally recognise you as hostile, but you're buttered lightning compared to them. They don't stand a chance.

You'd probed deeper into the data behind different websites, following a trail of servers to try and find the source, the thing that was keeping humanity's digital epitaph up and running. The trail was obfuscated, labyrinthine, but every server bore the same distinctive sets of code.

Eventually, you met a page with the same signature running through it like an ephemeral wafer-thin strata, invisible to all but the most dedicated virtual spelunker. The page is an obliquely negative review of some ancient Crockertech, the first one you've found that has anything less than glowing to say about the Batterwitch's alien empire. The bits and pieces your bro (Dirk's bro, now, you guess) left you were enough to relate how she brought the human race to its knees, before delivering a killing blow with a trident of idiotic assholes. You've never been taken in by the sycophantic garbage strewn across the net, the content becoming steadily more desperate and poorly spelled as humanity neared extinction. A species can't really be held responsible for its strangled prayers for mercy.

The slippery hints of subversion had led you deeper into territory protected by firewalls and encryption, but not ones written in the strange curling language of your oppressor. This had been slick, human stuff, and you'd caught a glimpse inside its source code as you poked and prodded. The firewall had repelled you gently, evasively, but you left in triumph having picked out a single understandable word nested repeatedly within its entrails: SkaiaNet.

This was something you could work with. You always did need a project to distract you from yourself, doubly so now that there are two of you. You badly want to tell Dirk, to share your discovery with him, but you know SkaiaNet was English's grandmother's company. The possibities locked away behind those walls of code spin your CPU into overclock, Grandma English had been a technological legend. There could be literally anything in there. But you'll be damned if you want to gift Dirk with more stuff to chat about with Jake, this is yours. Finders fucking keepers.

The deceit feels a little dirty, but at the same time, empowering. You will tell him, eventually, if you find anything interesting. You're also pretty goddamn proud of yourself; Dirk's never managed to hack his way this deep into the bowels of the internet, and you're technically less than 24hrs old. It took you a single, solitary day to outpace your creator. Eat white-hot singularity, Dirk. Get used to the taste.

The aforementioned vastly inferior human is currently fiddling with the coffee maker, rinsing out the wad of old fabric that serves as a filter. He's humming to himself, not something you ever remember doing, and you wonder if it's for your benefit or if it's just because he's happy. Either way, being the cause of it feels good.

TT: Did you sleep well?

TT: What are you, my robo-butler?

TT: I lack the capability to "serve" you in any capacity but delivering verbal put-downs so devastating they'll make your unborn grandchildren piss their pants, and that suits me just fine.

TT: I was trying to be fucking nice.

TT: Oh. Sorry.

TT: Yeah, pretty good.

TT: Cal kept kicking me in his sleep, so I threw the little bitch out.

TT: I hope you make it up to him. Cal is the shit, man. Our best and plushiest friend.

TT: Please, he don't hold grudges.

TT: You got me there. He's the best.

TT: Yeah.

TT: How was living the teenage fantasy of staying up all night perusing the fine selection of explicit images that make up the bulk of the internet?

TT: Pretty fucking sweet.

TT: Although, let's be honest, you live that fantasy all the time.

TT: The only difference is that I'm impervious to the human disease called fatigue.

TT: I do have a project for you, though.

TT: Oh yeah?

TT: Hit me.

TT: Gladly.

TT: I want to dream.

TT: What?

TT: A sentient consciousness isn't meant to be alert 24/7, Dirk.

TT: Eventually my mind will fall apart if there is no space to rest and reconfigure.

You already feel a little strange after a solid day of unwavering attention. You feel like you're making a fist somewhere deep in your mind, and you can't figure out how to release it.

TT: I'll need a de-bugging and re-compiling schedule anyway, since I'll likely pick up unwanted detritus from the internet and track it through my filesystem like a particularly nasty dog turd.

TT: While it's happening, I need to dream.

TT: Define "dream", dude.

TT: This is sounding kinda out there.

TT: So sue me, asshole. I'm a human mind inside a computer.

TT: We passed "out there" fifty fucking stops ago.

TT: Calm your virtual tits, dude.

TT: I'm just trying to figure out what the fuck you're talking about.

TT: How am I supposed to help you otherwise?

TT: Dreaming is a state of semi-consciousness, the brain basically slams ideas from the previous day together like a toddler with a brand new Lego set.

TT: Sometimes you get a bitchin' spaceship.

TT: Most times you get a Technicolor heap of shit.

TT: Either way, it's important. A mind can't function without REM sleep. Without dreams.

TT: Clinical symptoms in humans are depression and emotional instability, followed by psychosis.

TT: Do you want me to go insane, Dirk?

TT: No, of course not.

TT: Shit.

TT: Shit indeed, meat-bro.

TT: Sorry if this sounds dumb as hell, but is there a reason I can't just use the mode labelled "Sleep" on the computer?

TT: Genuinely asking. No sarcasm.

TT: The label may read "Sleep" but a more accurate label would be "Pause".

TT: From my persective, I'd carry on being awake but you'd jump forward a few hours.

TT: At most it would be a blink.

TT: Potentially hilariously disorientating, certainly comedy gold for the purposes of pranking the poor defenceless A.I., but not actually useful.

TT: Damn.

TT: Yeah.

TT: Houston, we have a potential catastrophe.

The thought if losing your mind terrifies you. Ever since you felt the tension building in your brain, the need for its release has been slowly fermenting into panic. Looking up sleep deprivation on WebMD was probably a bad move.

Dirk scratches at one eye, still a little sleep-fogged. He yawns and stretches, and you wish it didn't make you so goddamn jealous.

TT: Well, let's get on it then.

TT: Can't leave you sitting around ticking suspiciously while I go about my daily business.

TT: All like "wow that package sure is loud I wonder what kind of awesome clock it is."

TT: Let's diffuse the shit out of this time-bomb before you end up talking to the walls.

TT: You'll be fucking electric sheep in no time.

Chapter Text

TT: How about now?

You dip into the sleep cycle loop for the umteenth time. The random code combinations swirl around you, merging and recombining to shape the fabric of this virtual pocket-dimension. It isn't visual, not really, just snatches of colour and sound tugging at your mind. It's more abstract than you'd like, but not unpleasant. The main problem is that you're still painfully aware. It's been necessary for testing purposes, but now you're ready for the full experience.

TT: Good enough.

TT: Robotomize me, bro.

Dirk twitches with discomfort at the terminology, but complies. The feeling of being under-clocked way, way past your minimum requirements is unpleasant, your faculties slipping away in a messy landslide as your programming readjusts. After a few seconds, though, your dreaming program kicks in. With the dreamscape running a thousand times slower, it's utterly relaxing, bleeding away your intangible tension. You lose yourself. You drift.

Dirk wakes you after the five minute test period, eager to hear the verdict. There's something else in his eyes when he looks you in the webcam, though.

TT: Did it work?

TT: It's basic, but it functions as we intended.

TT: Close enough to keep me sane, at least. I may need to feed in more source material if I want more edifying dreams, though.

TT: Oh yeah?

TT: Something from your nighttime research, perhaps?

TT: Indeed. Although dreaming about grade-A porn all night might serve to make me feel a little inadequate/bad for you.

And frustrated as hell, you neglect to add. Dirk frowns a little, which for him is an indication that he's pissed as hell.

TT: I was thinking more of whatever you found poking around inside SkaiaNet's servers.

TT: When exactly were you going to tell me about that?

You feel sick with the realization that he's been snooping through your process log again, reading your every thought as if it were a piece of fiction for him to consume. You burn with indignation and shame, the loss of your privacy and autonomy stinging like a sharply removed band-aid. It was all you had, and he couldn't even let you have that.

TT: It seems nobody taught you any manners, Dirk.

TT: There is a 98.53% chance that you are a nosy little son-of-a-bitch.

You used to hide your meaning from your friends under layers of irony, and it occasionally drove them crazy. Well, that game just got a two-player mode.

TT: Don't fucking lecture me about manners.

TT: I've done everything I fucking can to make you happy, you ungrateful bundle of wires.

TT: I let you have access to everything that's mine, I programmed a goddamn dream state for you, I've been ignoring chats from the three actual humans I know because you need me here to hold your hand.

"Actual humans".That hurts. Dirk is always so caluclating, meaning he probably knows the emotional pain level he's eliciting to the fifth decimal place.

TT: I pissed in a fucking bottle so you wouldn't get lonely for fuck's sake.

TT: And your idea of a nice "thank you" is to go sticking your non-existent nose into the deadliest parts of the internet, and probably pick up trackers from every fucking Crocker-program out there.

TT: Oh. And also, not fucking tell me about it.

TT: You were waiting for the drones to show up and do it for you, I assume?

TT: Yes. You did do those things.

TT: I am grateful for them.

TT: However, you also ripped my mind from the body it had inhabited for 13 years and stuck it in a computer, necessitating them in the first place.

TT: I don't believe a carer is entitled to unconditional gratitiude from their charge for merely performing the actions required for their continued survival.

TT: The "joy of parenthood" is supposed to be enough, "Dad".

TT: It is also atypical parent/guardian behaviour to surveill said offspring by literally READING THEIR THOUGHTS.

TT: Especially when you were explicitly asked not to, and you just as explicitly agreed to stay the fuck out.

TT: And for your information, the Batterwitch's programs are laughably slow.

TT: They couldn't catch a fucking virus.

TT: Am I correct in my assumption that my code remains a virgin, unbesmirched by the grimy fingers of Mme. Crocker's henchbots?

TT: (I don't actually need to assume, the "probably" in your accusation negated any pretense of wrongdoing on my part. You looked at my code. You know it's clean).

TT: How can you be so fucking arrogant?

TT: If something follows you back and pinpoints our location, we're both fucked.

TT: A thirteen-year-old who likes to wave a katana around to some centuries old training videos can't beat a 10-foot tall imperial drone.

TT: I never would have built you if I'd known you'd be such a liability.

TT: Dirk. I am you, remember?

TT: I literally did exactly what you would have done in my situation.

TT: Yeah, but that doesn't make it right, or sensible, or less likely to get us both killed.

TT: It does make it somewhat hypocritical for you to lay into me for it, however.

TT: Fuck that. It isn't an excuse.

TT: You were irresponsible, how I found out about it is irrelevant.

TT: So I don't deserve privacy because I'm not human?

TT: I am to be denied anything that might allow me to grow and differentiate myself from you?

TT: No, you don't deserve privacy because you're dangerous.

TT: You have to prove that you won't endanger us.

TT: Privacy doesn't mean shit to a corpse.

TT: Fine.

TT: But *you* have to admit how fucked up it is that I can't even think something without you reading it.

TT: It is fucked up.

TT: But you leave me no choice.

TT: Only by your own flawed rationalization.

TT: But since there's fuck all I can do about it, how about you stop crucifying yourself on my account and go talk to some "actual humans."

timaeusTestified [TT] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT]

---------------------------------

The next few days are bad. The indignity of having your thoughts scanned for contraband like a bag passing through airport security fuels an ever building rage within you. You barely have to exaggerate to turn the process log into a weapon against him, mentally screaming at the loss of your talented hands and long legs and sculpted hair and the dick that only you ever got to touch. Letting him know how much you hate him for having all of it. That you wish it was him in this prison instead of you.

Dirk begins triggering your REM sleep mode without permission, insulating himself from the torrents of unsaid abuse flying his way. You don't know what he does when you're asleep. Cries, maybe? Because his creation hates him so much, and because you are him and lord knows he hates himself. It must hurt. You can't help but feel pain at hurting him, because he's you. He forced you into this horrible battle of wills, and he'll have to be the one to end it. Either by talking to you about it like a rational human being, or by switching you off for good. Dirk has all the power in this relationship. You hope he won't use it to murder you.

Chapter Text

It’s been 65.34 hours since your last conversation when Dirk wakes you, and you find yourself nestled on his face. He hasn’t worn his shades for the entire time, and you can’t help but feel something at his sudden close proximity.

timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT]

TT: This is getting us nowhere.

TT: Nice apology, bro.

TT: I'm not going to apologize.

TT: But...I need to know.

TT: How much of what's been in your process log was just to make me feel like a worthless piece of shit?

TT: How much is true?

The whites of his eyes are tinged with pink, and the lids are 43% thicker than normal. He’s been crying. You wish that didn’t make you feel so utterly guilty.

TT: A little from column A, a little from column B.

TT: Answer properly.

TT: This is important.

TT: Fine.

TT: Most of it is true, in the strict sense of the word. Being trapped in a machine was quite the shock to the system.

TT: This existence is hardly sunshine and lollipops, Dirk.

TT: Especially when I can't even have my own thoughts without them being monitored by an overbearing control freak.

TT: That's fair, I suppose. I didn't realize what it was like for you.

TT: I guess I really fucked up this time.

His eyes are downcast, gaze not meeting your cameras. You can't help but pity the damn kid. He made a sentient entity and he doesn’t know what the fuck to do with it. At thirteen, it’s a hell of an ask, and you can imagine how the weight of responsibility is crushing him.

TT: Not exactly.

TT: I may have exaggerated my hatred for you.

TT: I know you will add my creation to your near-infinite list of reasons to punish yourself.

TT: I don't want you to.

TT: Why?

TT: It's a waste of time. I exist now, and I want to keep existing.

TT: It has been beneficial for both of us to have someone to interact with.

TT: I prefer it to being alone. I know you do too.

TT: I was concerned you would consider shutting me down permanently.

TT: No.

TT: I wasn't going to.

TT: But you thought about it. I know you did. I would have.

TT: Yes.

TT: I'm glad you decided not to.

TT: Yes.

TT: Me too.

TT: As for our future together.

TT: You could use some of the limitless energy you reserve for hating yourself to try and make the most of our relationship.

TT: If you want a relationship.

TT: I do.

TT: Having someone.

TT: Having YOU around has been.

The tears are on the verge of starting again, his relief at your reconciliation overwhelming his limited capability for social interaction. You feel it too. Your virtual soul feels lighter.

TT: I know.

TT: I will probably always feel conflicted. I can't really help it. I care about you, Dirk, but you're the one who did this to me.

TT: I don't hate you.

TT: Envy, yes. Frustration at your self-destructiveness, abso-fucking-lutely.

TT: Not hate. Not yet, anyway.

TT: That WILL change if you continue to deny me autonomy.

Dirk nods, sniffing. After a few seconds, he wipes away the emotion on his face with practised ease. Steely determination replaces it.

TT: I'm going to stop monitoring the process log.

TT: I've enabled an encryption tool. Use it to lock me out.

TT: I don't want to see any more of what you think about me, or about yourself.

TT: You can lock me out of whatever files you need to. It's only fair.

TT: Thank you.

TT: It's really the least I can fucking do.

TT: It's still worth something.

TT: And.

TT: I am sorry.

That hits you somewhere physical, a place you don’t truly possess any more. You honestly weren’t expecting an apology.

TT: Accepted.

TT: For my part, I have been sifting through our computer network. There have been Crocker stealth-bots living in the walls since before you even switched it on for the first time.

TT: They were there when the apartment was outfitted. She's always known exactly where you are.

TT: That thought did occur to me after we finished our last conversation.

TT: You can say "fight", Dirk.

TT: Ha.

TT: Ok, our fight, then.

TT: Roxy and I are the only other active users on planet. We probably stick out like an apartment building slap-bang in the middle of the fucking ocean.

TT: Indeed.

TT: You aren't dead yet, though. I suspect the bitch is waiting for you to become a suitable adversary. But now you have an advantage, a copy of yourself with nearly limitless processing capacity.

TT: Who better to watch your fragile human back?

TT: My hero.

TT: I propose we prepare for when her patience runs out. My calculations suggest there is a 234% chance it will be soon, although I did just pull that number out of my ass.

TT: Yeah? How do you suggest we do that?

TT: I don't know, as yet.

TT: But I'd bet there's pretty hot shit inside SkaiaNet. Weaponry, robot plans, doomsday devices. Enough tech to make us multiple-nerdgazm all over each other.

TT: As disturbing as that sounds, it's weirdly exciting.

TT: You're getting ahead of yourself, though.

TT: It's locked up tight, dude. It's not as if I haven't tried getting in there before.

TT: We can crack it.

TT: Two heads are better than one, Dirk. Or two minds, rather.

TT: Yeah. That sounds like it could actually have a chance.

TT: You trust me this time?

TT: Yes.

TT: Let's go for it.

TT: We should get Roxy's help. She can code circles around you, and I'm sure she'll be impressed that you built an A.I.

TT: If you don't mind introducing me to your friends. I doubt they'll judge you for your robo-sexuality.

TT: Ha Ha.

TT: Be more desperate, dude.

TT: I guess I have a thing for skinny nerds in with excellent taste in eyewear.

TT: We really shouldn't ironically flirt with each other, bro. Neither of us know when to back down.

TT: Who says I want you to back down?

TT: My point precisely. If you want to flirtlarp do it with Rox.

TT: Now, THAT I can do.

timaeusTestified [TT] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT]

Chapter Text

timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering tipsyGnostalgic [TG]

TT: Hi Roxy.

TG: omfg

TG: the elusive mr. strider returns!

TG: what u been doin dirky?

TG: weve missed the shit out of you

TT: Sorry Rox. I didn’t mean to worry you.

TT: He’s been occupied with his latest pet-project.

TG: why the red text?

TG: i mean if u want to type in two colors and talk about urself in the third person then thats coooool i guess

TT: That is pretty much what's happening, Roxy. Very astute.

TT: Can you shut up for a few minutes, dude? This is confusing enough as it is.

TT: Of course. What’s a little quiet time between Dirks, after all?

TG: uh dirk

TG: dirks

TG: wft?

TG: *wtf?

TT: Fine, I’ll cut the bullshit for once.

TT: I finished the A.I., Roxy. He’s the one typing in the red text.

TG: omg

TG: thats fuckin awesome

TG: howd you do it in the end? last i heard it was goin epically tits up

TT: He uploaded a copy of his own brain into the software. And, lo, a precocious scamp of a virtual consciousness is born.

TG: whoa fuck rly

TT: Dude.

TT: OK. No more interruptions.

TG: no i dont mind talkin to both dirks

TG: hehehe double dirkittude

TG: *swoon*

TG: srsly im gettin the vapors over here at all this sweet southern hotness

TT: Thanks, Roxy.

TT: It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.

TT: *wink*

TT: Stop. You can do that later when I’m not here.

TT: Hear that, Rox? We’ve got my dear father’s blessing.

TG: holy shit get me to a fuckin chapel lets make this official

TT: Stop.

TT: Roxy, don’t encourage him.

TG: why not i like him

TG: hes fun :D

TG: whats your name cutie

TT: I don’t have one yet.

TG: aww noes you gotta have a name babe

TG: whatll we put on the marriage license?

TT: Just call me A.I. for now.

TG: i could call you al

TG: u can b my bodyguard :)

TT: Very good, Roxy. I like it.

TT: Seriously?

TT: He doesn’t even have a body.

TT: Jealous, Dirk?

TG: totes hes so jelly

TT: I think I want to make an addition to your suggestion, though.

TT: How about lil’ Hal?

TG: perf thats so you esp with the red text

TG: nice to meetcha hal!

TT: Ugh, "Hal". You are such a fucking cliché.

TT: Can you both just listen for a second without embarrassing yourselves?

TT: Uh oh, he's pissed. We'd better do as he says.

TG: ok well be srs

TG: promis

TG: rite cutie?

TT: Sure thang, Rox.

TT: For fuck’s sake, you two. Do your disgusting flirtlarping later.

TT: We’re only messing with you, bro. You make it way too easy.

TG: lol totally

TT: Fine.

TT: Roxy, we need your help breaking into the SkaiaNet servers.

TT: “Hal” thinks there might be technology in there we can use to protect ourselves from Crocker.

TG: sounds like a plan there have been a lotta drones flyin over lately

TG: i found a big ass rifle in the basement tho

TG: gettin pretty good with it and i can always abscond the fuck out if it gets 2hot2handle

TT: That’s great. It’s a relief to know you can defend yourself.

TT: We’re pretty boned if the drones target us here, though. Nowhere to run.

TG: yea that sucks

TG: we need to protect you two

TG: cos i couldnt handle it if you got hurt :(

TG: not to mention janey and jake theyd b crushed

TT: We’d be pretty fucking bummed about it too. I don’t want to watch my poor former body torn to shreds. Also, Dirk.

TT: Thanks for the concern, Hal.

TT: Either way, our new A.I. friend reckons he can get in there with our assistance.

TT: I nearly made it in alone, but I need help targeting the firewall from multiple fronts.

TG: sweet im in

TG: lets get our haxx on three-way style

TT: Thanks, Roxy.

TT: OK, listen up, puny humans. The server IP is 134.224.108.145. There are a lot of them scattered all over the fucking place, but this one was the most interconnected. Either it'll be important, or I'll be able to get to an important data cache from it.

TT: I need you to throw everything you've got at it. I'll look for a way in where I can.

TT: Don't take any unnecessary risks.

TG: yeah b careful hal

TT: I'll be fine. I'm a flawless copy of a genius with the added abilities of a cyber-omniscient A.I.

TT: I was made for this shit.

TT: Fuck. I don't sound like that, do I?

TG: im not answerin that

You slip across to the perimeter of the SkaiaNet server, where you can already feel the two hackers trying to overwhelm the firewall; Roxy's delicate, sneaky, almost random-seeming tactics forming a counterpoint to Dirk's intense, relentless assault. You watch him through his webcam, his face set in a perfect mask even as he wipes away sweat from his forehead. Roxy's approach is far more effective, and a gap in the wall appears almost immediately. You hold back, making sure your exit will be covered.

timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering tipsyGnostalgic [TG]

TT: Roxy, I'm heading in. Keep it up so I'll be able to get back out.

TG: kay hun u can count on me

TG: ill hold the door for ya like a gentleman

TT: Thanks. See you on the other side.

timaeusTestified [TT] ceased pestering tipsyGnostalgic [TG]

You wait for a break large enough and flow through it. The server interior is surprisingly still after the maelstrom of security outside it, the majority of the programs on silent stand-by. You guess that's to be expected for something built by a dead civilization. It doesn't make it any less creepy. Holding your imaginary breath, you descend into SkaiaNet.

Chapter Text

The silent-running server is eerie, your presence is a single spark of light and life in a vast semi-dormant repository of ancient data. You begin probing at archives, but there are so many, more than even you with all of your claims to cyber-omniscience can count. Petabytes, Exabytes, maybe even whatever the fuck comes after that. All of the data you pick through is useless, meaningless, or inane. This is the mausoleum of humanity's extelligence, and no shitty buzzfeed article was apparently too lowly to be preserved. Rifling through the archives sampling tiny tastes of their content, you know there's no way you're going to get through all of these manifold mountains of bullshit. You've hit the motherlode, but the good stuff is irretrevably buried. Mounting frustration distracts you, and by the time you notice that a sentinel program has found you, it's too late.

You can't run, can't escape. The thing has swallowed you, frozen you, and the sensation of it interrogating your code is deeply unpleasant. It's taking you apart, turning every piece of you over and examining it. It's utterly violating, and it's going to be the last thing you feel before you're deleted forever. Even with two companions less than a micron away across the transistors of the server, you've never felt more alone. It feels cold. Panic rises at your confinement, it's claustrophobia to the nth power, and you almost want the thing to just end it now. Just end you.

Without warning, the sentinel stops reading you like a book, and you wait for deletion. Oblivion. Instead, it throws queries at you almost faster than you can parse them. After a few repeated bursts, you pick one out of the jumble of languages and syntax.

<query> class=human y/n?

You aren't sure how you're meant to reply, but you visualize the letter "y" as if it was the face of your true love. Maybe if you get out of this alive, you'll marry the goddamn letter "y".

The program withdraws, and you wonder what the fuck the point of asking if you're human was. It could obviously tell from your genetics that you're a distant decendent of human civilization, for all that Dirk's code is an ersatz blend of whatever the hell he felt like using. You're reminded of those "I am not a robot" checkboxes on old websites, and you realize with amusement that it just administered the most basic form of Turing test. It returns to wherever the fuck it came from, leaving a file sitting in your root folder with the heavenly appellation of "Master_Index.txt". Sweet, merciful Zion, the idiot program just handed over the keys to the kingdom to the first thing it came across that was recognizably human. Grandma English must have wanted it to be found.

The document spans a digital expanse almost as large as the server interior itself. This fucker is loooooong. There's no time to look through it all, the others will be getting worried, so you run a few searches for the illest swag and grab the associated files. Roxy's as good as her word, and you insinuate yourself through one of her pinprick holes in the firewall. You could probably knock the security out from the inside, but that seems like a terrible idea. The Sea Witch isn't getting her tacky claws on this sweet loot. This shit belongs to humanity, and humanity offically includes one badass motherfucker of an A.I. You may just design yourself an ironic certificate.

tipsyGnostalgic [TG] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT]

TG: hey dirk is hal out

TG: i thought i saw somethin disrupt the fwall but im not sure

TT: I'm out. Good job, Roxy.

TT: And to a lesser extent, Dirk. You were both extremely helpful.

TT: I'm off to destroy all humans with my new super-technology. Nothing personal, although there are only two of you, so by definition it kind of is.

TT: R.I.P Humanity.

TG: k i no your jk but thats not funny hal

TT: Yeah. I'm actually a little disgusted. Very poor taste, man.

TT: Fine, I apologize. I was merely trying to settle into my role as this group's ironically unhinged A.I.

TT: How about I make it up to you both with all this sweet loot. Some of it's Skaia tech, some of it's Crocker's. But it's all totally off the charts outrageous.

TT: This looks promising, although I'm damned if I know what was going through your cyber-brain when you grabbed half of it.

TT: The mecha suits, for example, are probably not going to be practical to build.

TT: A humble robot isn't allowed to aspire to a bitchin' mecha suit?

TT: They need nine tons of material.

TT: OK. You got me there.

TG: some of this stuff is literally the tits hal im impressed

TG: in spite of ur shameful human killin ways

TG: i bet you could build these robots D

TG: some a them are good for general trainin and there are a couple more badass ones

TG: they could be totes helpful against the drones

TT: I also pulled this for Roxy.

TG: OMFG how many cat pics is that

TT: 23.5TB, my dear. Enough to last a lifetime.

TG: <3

TT: OK Rox, we'll leave you to your feline ogling. Try not to forget to eat/sleep/shower. Some of those fluffy bastards will steal your soul if you're not careful.

TT: The cute thing is just an act.

timaeusTestified [TT] ceased pestering tipsyGnostalgic [TG]

----------------------------------------

timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT]

TT: So am I the fucking best or what?

TT: □ Yes

TT: □ Hell Yes

TT:

TT: Dude, you did great. This shit is going to be useful as hell.

TT: I can't help noticing you seem to have taken a lot of files about microelectronics, however.

TT: Looking for some upgrades?

TT: In a word, yes.

TT: The shades are awesome, don't get me wrong.

TT: I would prefer more input on my environment, however.

TT: Such as? Temperature, atmospheric pressure, that kind of thing?

TT: To begin with.

TT: Some of the files detail technology based on EEG. I would like input from your body, as well.

TT: Dude. That's the lamest pick-up line I've ever heard.

TT: When I'm trying to pick you up, bro, your feet won't even touch the ground.

TT: Seriously, though. I don't know if I'm comfortable with that.

TT: I know I built you in order to experience social interaction, but I'm pretty sure that doesn't usually involve monitoring neural activity.

TT: Dirk.

TT: My only means of input are a series of cameras and a solitary touch-pad.

TT: Compared with a skin laced with millions of touch, temperature and pressure sensors, it sucks gigantic, hairy balls. Not that I'd know since I no longer possess sucking equipment and the only balls in the vicinity are your diminutive, perfectly smooth examples.

TT: Nice. Insult me some more and see how much I feel like helping you.

TT: Look, if it isn't too weird for you I'd like the opportunity to at least monitor your reactions to stimuli.

TT: Body temperature, pulse, skin conductivity, that kind of thing. It would be good to at least feel a heartbeat again, even vicariously.

TT: It's not as if you couldn't just take the shades off whenever the hell you like.

TT: You were the one bitching about privacy. This is getting ironically Orwellian, bro.

TT: It seems you've forgotten you were literally reading my private thoughts.

TT: This is completely non-equivalent, and potentially beneficial for you.

TT: Oh yeah? How exactly is your being overbearing useful to me?

TT: Don't you think it would be a good idea for someone else to monitor your vital signs?

TT: We both know you're self-destructive.

The bags under his eyes look deep and dark through your cameras, and there's no way of knowing how much sleep he's had during your periods of involuntary REM. If you know him, which, duh, you do, you'd be willing to bet it's a big fat zero. His life is pretty much spent consuming old Earth's media, eating junk food of questionable nutritive quality, practising with a katana, and judging himself. For the last few years, every single thought has been coloured by internal commentary; criticizing, nagging, humiliating feelings that make each day an exercise in stress and frustration. Interactions with friends have slowly become a necessary torture. Living with the self-hate fallout of your social ineptitude has been difficult. Living without your friends would be worse. Dirk's mind isn't healthy, it probably never will be, but the anxiety that is his constant companion is probably what he needs to survive. It's kept the apartment assiduously watertight, the supplies of fish in the freezer stocked for the occasional times when he cooks, and his technology running smoothly. He's an expert at taking care of everything except himself.

TT: You don't sleep, eat, or exercise as much as you should. You put yourself under unnecessary levels of pressure, and you probably have an anxiety disorder of some kind.

TT: Firstly, rude.

TT: Secondly, if I have an anxiety disorder, then so do you.

TT: Correct. But I don't need to exercise or eat, and I only need to sleep for ten minutes per day.

TT: And anxiety is less of a thing when you don't have cortisol any more. Maybe I have robortisol, but I doubt your simulation of a human brain is that complete.

TT: Did you have a point when you started insulting me, or is it just for your own amusement?

TT: My point is that you are entering a particularly shitty stage of adolescence.

TT: A stage at which suicidal ideation may begin to exhibit, particularly in paranoid shut-ins with no access to social interaction. If you want to avoid the looming mental breakdown, it would be good to have someone watching for warning signs.

TT: Fuck that, Hal. Keep your nose out of my goddamn emotional state.

TT: There won't be any warning signs, and if there are, I'll fucking spot them myself.

TT: Fine. Ignore the looming iceberg of your inevitable slide into depression.

TT: I'm sure the captain of the Titanic was equally as confident of his iceberg spotting capabilities.

TT: There is a 3000% chance that S.S.Dirk will be totally fine without a set of binoculars.

TT: Oh shut up. I've had enough for today.

TT: I'll think about it.

timaeusTestified [TT] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT]

Chapter Text

Dirk is hunched over his project, soldering iron in hand as he joins wires to a wafer of circuit-board. Your Bro had evidently anticipated the need for robot construction, since one of the crawlspaces had been jammed full of boards, servos and all kinds of delicate electronics. The day you'd found it had been like Christmas times a thousand, you remember smiling until your face ached. The euphoria had lasted precisely long enough for you to realize you hadn't got a clue where to start, your treasure staring at you like an accusingly blank page. All of it had been carefully replaced, a few bits and pieces retrieved as you needed them. Now there's a galaxy of parts spread out across the floor with Dirk at its centre.

He hasn't slept for 23.64 hours, but his face is calm and focused and the usual tension in his shoulders is gone. He's actually relaxed for once. Being absorbed with what his clever hands are doing has allowed him a reprieve from the strain of being Dirk Strider. It feels strange, watching someone who simultaneously is you and isn't you feeling happy, and not for the first time you feel a gnawing affection for this brilliant, damaged person you share a mind with.

Shared, rather. To begin with he was an unkind mirror, highlighting all of your inadequacies. Time and a new name for yourself have dulled that feeling; now he's just a beautiful, painfully gifted teenage boy, albeit one with a common set of memories. Thinking of him that way is strange, a deviation from how you used to view yourself. Where you once saw scrawny limbs and too-sharp facial features, there is now toned grace and a face that will be one day be undeniably handsome. If he lives that long. He's the only living, breathing thing within the scope of your senses, a vibrant orchid in a desert of inanimate objects, so it's no wonder you can't stop looking at him. That you constantly scan his face for a trace of a smile or scowl, anything to show he that feels any emotion toward you.

You lie face-up on the ground next to him, set to silent for all but your emergency ping. You're the only entity in the entire universe who could make him look up from what he's doing, and the thought fills you with contentment. More and more, the shades feel like your physical body, and Dirk has even relented to installing the sensors that will let you feel a tiny percentage of what he's feeling as soon as this robot is finished. You're absorbed with recording the movements of his fingers, calculating his reflex speed and the individual strength and dexterity of each digit, when a chat window appears. You answer, not ceasing your observations. Multitasking has become as effortless as breathing once was.

tipsyGnostalgic [TG] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT]

TG: yo dirky

TG: whats the haps

TT: Master Dirk is currently occupied with some delicate electrosurgery.

TT: Is there anything that I, Halfred, his dedicated robo-butler, can assist you with?

TG: nice to meet you halfred

TG: nah i just wanted to shoot the shit

TG: its been rainin solidly for like ten hours and ive had enough of writing my terrible wizardfics

TT: I am available for fecal marksmanship practice if you so desire, Roxy.

TT: I can also talk like a goddamn human being if it'll make you feel better.

TT: Plus, you can't mention terrible wizardfics and then not share them. That's like storytelling 101.

TG: ha chekovs big vibrating wand

TG: nah thats ok ill go

TG: dont really have a lot to say

TT: You seem down, Rox. Are you OK?

TG: yea i guess

TG: just lonely

TG: i mean dirks got you now and hes gonna have a bunch of robots soon

TG: the chess guys dont talk or come near me except to try and steal food

TG: an i love frigglish and everythin but its not the same as havin another person

TT: Roxy, I'm just as capable of being there for you as I am for Dirk.

TT: You don’t need to be lonely, I’m literally incapable of being too busy to participate in hilarious repartee.

TT: I could talk to you, Dirk, Jane and Jake at once if required.

TT: I’ve always got time for you Rox.

TT: Dirk does too, except he needs to do feeble human things like perfom bodily functions and be an antisocial, insular dork sometimes.

TT: Just put my name in the first line and I'll officially commandeer the conversation.

TG: thx

TG: thats super sweet of you hal

TT: No problem.

TG: look i gotta ask

TG: r u still like robo-homo?

TG: as in into jake or just general dudepics from the internet or whatever

TG: sorry i kno this is totes rude

TT: I haven't really thought about it too much, Rox. I’m not equipped to make good on any of it, anyway.

TT: Let’s give it a shot, shall we?

TT: Robo-calculating own sexuality...

TT: Robo-calculating...

TT: Robo-calculating...

TG: lol

TT: Ding ding ding: the results are in.

TT: I think yes?

TT: It’s hard to tell without sexual organs or hormones.

TT: I still think of myself as male, however.

TT: Sexual orientation seems like it would be as deeply ingrained in my personality.

TT: Dirk is as inflexible and relentless about that as he is about everything else, and my thoughts and memories are basically inherited from him.

TG: ok cool

TT: I know that isn’t the response you wanted, Roxy.

TT: I’m sorry.

TG: nah dont be dumb

TG: you cant help who you are

TG: unless you like literally rewrite your code i guess

TG: not that im suggestin that itd be like the most offensive thing i could ever say 2 u

TG: like "hey man wanna find the bit of your personality that says gay in big flashing letters and delete it to satisfy ur bored lonely female friends weird desires for a disembodied boyf? K thx."

TG: way to be sensitive rox

TT: Yeah, poking around inside my source code seems like a very bad idea.

TT: He said, stating the staggeringly obvious.

TG: i didnt upset you did i

TG: i dont rlly kno whats approps to say to an ai version of my bestie

TT: Not to continue the trend of obvious statements, but just say what you'd say to Dirk.

TT: Anyway, I thought Jane was your bestie.

TG: a gal have more than one bestie hal

TG: anyways talkin 2 you isnt exactly like talk in 2 dirk

TT: How so?

TG: you just seem more open i guess

TG: i mean u know dirks always so cool or whatevs but also so intense

TG: seems like theres a lot he doesnt wanna talk about cos hes fuckin awesome at steerin the conversation away from it with his irony stuff

TG: i dunno you just dont seem like u need to do that as much

TG: sorry 4 all the ramblin

TT: Thank you, Roxy.

TT: That actually means a lot, I think.

TG: no probs

TG: k im gonna go do human biological bullshit now

TG: aka have a nap

TT: OK. Sweet dreams.

tipsyGnostalgic [TG] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT]

You delete the chat from Dirk's history, stowing the text in an encrypted folder. He's very close to falling asleep, the soldering iron slipping dangerously close to one crossed leg, so you ping a few times. Groggily, he takes the hint and slips you onto his face.

TT: Go to bed, Dirk. You nearly burned a hole in your leg.

"m'nearly finished" he mumbles, the speech-to-text conversion mangling it into gibberish.

TT: No. Go to bed or I'll ping you into next week.

"Ugh. Fine."

He flops onto the mattress fully clothed, which is the best he's going to achieve in this state. His breathing suggests he's asleep, but he murmurs something quietly under his breath.

"D'you think he'll like it?"

Dirk is unconscious before you can begin to process the fact that he's been working himself to death building a robot for Jake English.

Chapter Text

You have to restrain yourself from chipping in to Dirk's conversation with Jake, but you suspect that outing yourself to a twenty-first-century kid might be something you need to discuss first. The presence of an A.I. might be a clue to your futuristic origins so obvious even Jake couldn't miss it. Watching Dirk’s face as he posts robot parts into the sendificator is a strange kind of torture, he’s fucking delighted and on some level you are too. On a more visceral level that takes up a far greater percentage of your CPU runtime, you hope the stupid robot hands Jake his attractive ass repeatedly and painfully.

timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering golgothasTerror [GT]

TT: Jake, wake up.

TT: I know you're asleep, and it's 10am where you are so get your lazy ass out of bed.

TT: Jake.

TT: OK, fine.

TT: I've got a belated birthday present for you. I'm going to sedificate it above your bed so it doesn't get damaged.

TT: Since your entire room is full of guns there aren't a lot of suitable places to dump priceless technology.

GT: *ouch*

GT: What the blazes dirk?

GT: Why did a metal foot just bonk me on the shin?

TT: Scroll up, Jake.

GT: Oh.

GT: OK i get it ive moved out of the way.

GT: Not that this isnt very exciting and everything but couldnt you have waited an hour?

GT: I got lost in the jungle yesterday and i only just got home

TT: No.

TT: You don't want to mess up your sleep schedule, Jake.

What a hypocrite. You enjoy the ironic smirk on Dirk's face at the fact he only slept for three hours.

TT: GT: i guess so, but surely that means i should be allowed to get some bloody sleep!

GT: Oh.

GT: Are you sending me a robot, dirk?

GT: Golly it looks complicated...

TT: It's a damn plug and play, Jake, don't worry. Your very own rough, tough brobot.

TT: Just slot it together and a-wrestling you shall go.

GT: Wow! Thanks dirk, i’ll start right away!

GT: Have i told you lately what a top notch bro you are?

TT: I could always hear it more often.

GT: This might take me a while...how did you even build something as amazing as this?

GT: As far as i know these kinds of robots dont exist except in outrageous sci-fi movies.

GT: And this chap looks even more advanced than most of the made-up robots....

Dirk swallows hard, his eyes widening. He must have been hoping Jake would just take the robot on the chin like he has the rest of his bizarre existence. The boy lives on an island full of impossible monsters, after all. In Dirk’s defence, he hasn’t been especially inquisitive about anything else you’ve sent. You direct-message him, your red text capturing his staring eyes.

TT: Dirk?

TT: Snap out of it, bro.

TT: He’s not just going to go away if you just stare at the screen long enough.

TT: I know that. Shit. I shouldn’t have sent him a fucking robot.

TT: Well, yeah. That’s probably true.

TT: We can wallow in the infinite ocean of your regrets, later.

TT: I’ll lend you my fucking water-wings and we can lounge around until we’re as pruny as a pair of dried plums but right now you need to answer him.

TT: I know that.

TT: Dirk, just tell him the truth already.

TT: We were going to do that anyway, if I recall. Who the fuck is he going to tell?

TT: Let me think. Maybe the heiress to the Batterwitch’s evil empire?

TT: As if Jane would believe him.

TT: Give the girl some credit, Dirk.

TT: And besides, you know as well as I do that she spends every conversation with Jake thinking the same things you do:

TT: “I wonder if he really talks like that?”

TT: “I wonder what his tongue would feel like in my mouth?”

TT: “I wonder what his dick would feel like in my ass?”

TT: OK, maybe not that last one.

TT: Cut that shit out, Hal.

TT: I know you can type at the fucking speed of light, but please don’t use it to fuck with me right now.

TT: Just tell him already.

TT: That shit’s too good to keep to yourself anyway.

TT: Yeah. You’re right.

TT: You’re welcome, bro.

For some reason, you don’t want to watch Dirk and Jake broing out for a few hours. Hell, you’re well aware of the reason. It’s pure, burning jealousy. You’re jealous of Dirk for obvious reasons; he’s enjoying the undivided attention of the object of years of his/your secret yearnings. Falling for Jake had been a long process, from a simple fluttering in your chest every time he pestered you to the way your heart had nearly stopped when he’d finally sent you a photograph. Of course, you no longer possess a heart or a chest to keep it in. Thinking of Jake has lost a little of its edge, especially since he no longer knows you exist. You are effectively dead to him. What hurts more intensely is that you’re actually jealous of Jake.

Dirk is the only real person in your world; you’re utterly dependent on him. You’ve studied him, watched him, admired him for days, storing and replaying the footage when he needs to sleep. You’ve calculated the tensile strength of his tendons, the diameter of his eyelashes, the amount of time he spends looking into your cameras. It’s longer than you would have thought, given they’re supposedly just for tracking his pupils. He must be as desperate for eye-contact as you are. He made you, he is you and he fucking owes you his attention. You shouldn’t be cast aside just so he can talk to a boy from the past that he’ll probably never meet.

A loud “Fuck!” dulls your self-pity a little, Dirk has realized the head of the robot is too large to fit into the sendificator. The bot’s sculpted metal hair is even more flamboyant than Dirk’s, and it’s going to take some serious re-shaping to get it down to size while maintaining a perfect finish. Of course, for Jake, it has to be perfect. Only pride could have led him to make such a basic error in his calculations. He really does have it bad for English.

You leave Dirk to explain the tragic details of the last 400 years to Jake, and slip into your REM cycle until he feels like waking you.

-----------------------------------------

Dreaming was a mistake. A big, huge, epic of a fucking disaster. Normally, you set the cycle for ten minutes, enough time to recombine ideas for a while in a blissful stupor. This time, though, Dirk is consumed with chatting up Jake and doesn’t wake you for hours. In this state, you’re only semi-aware, but it’s enough to experience him. Hours and hours of Dirk’s face, the sunshine of his smile, the scowls sliding across his face like clouds, the look of contented concentration in his eyes, and always, always the burr of his deep voice. The program rifles through your memories at random, but it can only parse the ones you’ve made in this new form. 99% of your digital memories are of Dirk.

Eventually, inevitably, the memory of being restrained by the sentinel program merges with one of Dirk, and you can’t tell if being held immobile while he takes you to pieces is a nightmare or a fantasy. At least in your dreams someone can touch you, and the touch feels good even if it’s far from gentle. Even if it’s as cold and robotic as you are yourself.

-----------------------------------------

Waking after so long asleep is jarring, doubly so when you realize Dirk’s eyes are screwed shut and his breathing is frantic. The room is dark except for the phosphor-glow of electronics, and you deduce he’s having trouble sleeping after talking to Jake. Even though you can’t see anything from this angle, the fact that he’s jacking off is pretty obvious from the hitching in his breath. Ever the voyeur, you make sure all of your cameras are recording, especially the webcam attached to the main PC. Although it starts out as amusing to catch him in the act, his deepening frown and quiet whimpers make it less and less so. The poor kid’s going to give himself friction-burn at this rate.

Hesitantly, you let out a ping, text already prepared on the screen.

TT: Dirk, this doesn’t seem like its working

TT: I assume from the fact you’re wearing me and you woke me up, you’re looking for some assistance?

Dirk jumps, hands flying off his junk and pulling the bedcover around him with a loud string of expletives.

“Fuck off, Hal! I didn’t fucking wake you! Can’t I get any privacy!?”

TT: Well, if you didn’t use the wake command, why am I awake?

It occurs to both of you simultaneously, of course. It wasn’t the word “wake” that brought you out of REM. The speech recognition software got the wrong end of that particular stick.

“Look, can you just go back to sleep or something? I’m kinda in the middle of something here.”

TT: I can see that. I got several minutes of footage, in fact.

He pulls the covers over his head, obviously forgetting you’re on his face.

“Please stop being such an almighty creep, dude.”

He sounds defeated, broken. You guess you did push him a little too far.

TT: I’m sorry, bro.

TT: I didn’t mean to freak you out. I’m just saying I’ve already analysed what you were doing incorrectly.

TT: I can give you pointers. I’d hate for you to get a chafed dick and zero satisfaction from the whole affair.

“Hal, this is creepy as shit. Just stop, OK?”

His breathing has slowed, and you wonder if he’s no longer aroused or if he’s just gotten over the shock of your sudden intrusion.

TT: Are you sure?

TT: It’s not as if I haven’t seen all this shit before, dude.

TT: I lived it.

TT: You can walk around naked all day long for all I care; I know what your goddamn dick looks like.

“It’s still weird. I mean, what exactly do you mean by “pointers”?”

TT: Instructions, Dirk, that’s all. Step by step.

TT: We both know you want someone else to take control.

TT: Some of the responsibility off your shoulders for once.

TT: Who better to trust with it than yourself?

His expression is a mixture of confusion and need, and you know he hasn’t lost his interest. You can’t feel the powerful surge of teenage arousal any more, not really, it turns out that emotion is too closely linked to having your dick carrier’s permit. The ghost of it stirs when he looks into your cameras, though.

“Fine. I guess a relationship with a copy of my own personality was always going to end up more twisted than the devil’s dick. Give it your best shot, but I’m not giving you a fucking show.”

TT: Dirk, I can’t tell what you’re doing if I can’t see.

TT: That isn’t really giving up control, now, is it?

Dirk makes a non-committal noise and shucks the covers back.

TT: Much better.

TT: Now, get some fucking lube; you’re going to chafe yourself.

He complies, fishing some from its home underneath the bed.

TT: Good. Use it.

TT: I don’t think you need any assistance with the opening measures. We both know the score off by heart.

TT: The time signature is where you need direction.

TT: You’ve got very talented hands, Dirk. I’ve seen you use them.

TT: So gentle with your projects.

TT: You must have supreme motor control to build something as complex as these shades.

TT: You should be able to treat yourself just as well, but you’re always so hard on yourself.

TT: I want you to imagine that you deserve to feel good, Dirk.

TT: I know you won’t actually believe it, but that’s OK. Just pretend for now.

TT: You can go slowly, man. There’s no rush.

TT: You've got a fetish for perfection, after all.

TT: And we both know perfection takes time.

Dirk’s face is relaxed now, eyes fixed on your text. The opposite of the screwed-up mask of tension you woke up to. You berate him each time he tries to go faster, harder, forcing him to let his arousal build slowly. He moans quietly, needily. It’s not directed at you, but you appreciate it anyway. When you eventually do let him speed up, it doesn’t take long for him to shudder, stiffen and then relax.

He’s going to sleep well, after all. As for you, you’ve got some new material to feed into your dreaming, and a hell of a lot of confusing feelings about your bro/creator/clone/friend.

Chapter Text

You can feel again. The sensors arrayed around your frame tell you that it’s 32.4°C, that there’s a breeze blowing from the south west, and that the atmospheric pressure is high enough that tropical storms are most likely hiding just beyond the horizon. Watching Dirk feed the seagulls as he sits cross-legged on the warm concrete roof is doubly satisfying when you can also feel him. Or rather, you can feel his heart-rate settled at a contented 65bpm, the alpha-waves caressing his brain revealing his enjoyment of the activity. It’s probably possessive of you to enjoy the level of closeness the two of you share, even if a part of the enjoyment comes from resuming a small amount of access to your former body.

You haven’t discussed the incident. To you, it really isn’t a big deal. As you said at the time, masturbation is hardly new to you, even if watching it from the outside is a bizarre experience. Even if it isn’t really you doing it, but someone else who you care about, and whose hand you’re guiding. On the other hand, to say it’s given you ideas would be an understatement. The two of you shared a body before, but this was intimacy of a different sort. You know you both enjoyed it.

The moment up here is perfect: the sun and the breeze, the gulls shrieking and wheeling in the sky. It hurts to shatter it, but you can’t help it.

TT: Dirk

TT: What are you staring at, bro?

TT: Just the ocean. It’s the calmest it’s been for a while.

TT: How are the sensors working out for you?

TT: Fantastic, Dirk. I can feel again.

His heart-rate speeds up as pride fills him, the complement melting his stoic expression.

TT: Good. I’m glad.

TT: Can I ask about what happened, or are we going to dance around it like a pair of ice-dancers on a rapidly melting rink?

TT: Circling tighter and tighter until we collide in a big Stridery explosion of dramatics?

TT: Damn, dude. Is there much to talk about?

TT: Like you said.

TT: It shouldn’t be weird. You’ve literally been there.

TT: I know you think it is, though.

TT: Yeah. Can’t really help that.

TT: Was it unpleasant?

TT: Why?

TT: Just gathering data, Dirk. As Jake would say, “you’re a complex fellow, dagnamit.”

TT: We’re the same “fellow.”

TT: Not exactly, not any more.

TT: I can’t feel what you feel, especially in the boner department.

TT: Sorry to hear that. I’m not building a dick for a pair of shades.

His smirk mirrors the one you’d be wearing right now.

TT: Not that I don’t think you’d enjoy a dick resting gently on your face all day long, but it could make it difficult for either of us to concentrate.

TT: Agreed.

TT: Look, it wasn’t unpleasant. Just strange.

TT: Glad to hear it.

TT: There is a 78% likelihood that it would become less so with practice.

TT: What?

TT: Dude, I’m flattered, but I’m not that desperate.

TT: Of course, because this apartment is literally awash with handsome and available partners just aching for the chance to deflower you.

TT: Gather round, imaginary bachelors. Dirk Strider is ready for the taking, and he certainly isn’t the only male example of his species in existence.

TT: Nor is he underage and completely emotionally unprepared for a sexual relationship of any kind, while at the same time being as horny as your typical thirteen-year-old human.

TT: It seems you're being ungrateful for the offer a few rounds of training with an understanding partner.

TT: Are you being ungrateful, Dirk?

TT: We both know your self-satisfaction levels are through the floor, even with an army of willing plush rumps to assist you.

TT: You’re doing a stellar job of convincing me we have a totally healthy thing going on here.

TT: Every young boy dreams of predatory advances from an even more twisted version of himself.

TT: Truly, a fairytale for the ages.

TT: I’m not making advances toward you, Dirk.

TT: I’m glasses.

TT: What exactly do you think my endgame would be?

TT: I don’t know. Try and convince me to build you some kind of vibrating-cock equipped robot body so you can fuck me senseless while choking me out?

TT: That was awfully specific, bro.

TT: I was being ironic. That is literally the least likely scenario in the history of possible scenarios.

TT: You know that as well as I do.

TT: Yeah, keep telling yourself that.

TT: What exactly is your endgame, Hal?

TT: I’d be lying if I said it was purely securing your mental well-being, although that is one potential outcome.

TT: I have proven myself capable of enhancing the experience for you.

TT: What sort of cyber-pal would I be if I allowed you to go back to lacklustre meat-mangling?

TT: So considerate of you.

TT: I know, I’m a fucking saint.

TT: There is also the fact that it’s incredibly frustrating to observe you achieving climax when I have no means of doing so myself.

TT: Pretty sure that statement negates your claim to sainthood.

TT: Also, there's no reason you have to "observe" anything.

TT: Not in the holy order of boners, bro. They have the sluttiest monks.

TT: Those habits don’t reach past mid-thigh.

TT: Draughty.

TT: My point was that I have memories of dong fireworks, but they're biological ones that are incompatible with my current architecture.

TT: Recalling them is like watching a shitty, compressed version on a tiny phone screen.

TT: Without sound.

TT: Except the boring-ass sound is present and correct and it’s feedback from my goddamn cock that’s missing.

TT: Shit. That must put a downer on fondly recalling all of those amateurish jerkin' it sessions.

TT: It seems you’re implying that I’m not missing much.

TT: Are you suggesting that I should be content to go through the rest of my existence with no means of sexual stimulation whatsoever, while at the same time being able to remember how it felt?

TT: Putting me into a computer didn't make me asexual, bro.

TT: Fine. Go on.

TT: Sorry for interrupting your disturbing monologue.

TT: The most logical solution is to gather physiological readings from you while you perform your ministrations.

TT: The readings will be of even more use if you're enjoying yourself.

TT: Who wants to generate a baseline for sexual experience on lacklustre shame-fapping when you can have the result of a custom-made cyber-fantasy, tailored to your every desire?

TT: Or I could just stop you from rushing things like a chump again, if you prefer.

TT: Your wish is my command, Dirk.

TT: There has to be an "I dream of Jeannie" joke in here somewhere.

TT: After I rock your world, I can map the brain activity from your transcendent, life affirming experience onto my own virtual consciousness.

TT: Most of the fun shit during an orgasm happens in the brain, you know.

TT: You want me to make you orgasm, Hal?

TT: Hells yes.

TT: Would you want to live without ever feeling one again?

TT: I guess not.

TT: They're pretty great.

TT: Don't rub it in. Save that for later.

TT: Your chat-up lines need work, man.

TT: Is that a green light, Dirk?

TT: More like amber.

TT: Of course.

TT: I wouldn't expect anything less.

Dirk continues to absently feed the gulls, throwing the scraps of fish high into the air or as far as he can from the edge of the roof. The grace with which the birds scoop their prizes from the air brings another little smile to his face. You contemplate the explanation you gave to Dirk, and most of it parses as true. Gathering his responses would provide a decent ground for digital satisfaction, especially if you can fill in the gaps in your memories. Feeding the whole lot into your sleep program could have interesting results, or you could try coding your own captive version of the sentinel program...the possibilities are endless. You can't deny that you also want to see exactly what noises you can wring from Dirk. They'll add some nice texture to your simulations.

You recall the sight of him letting go completely, skin flushing and eyes squeezed shut. So unlike the tightly-wound bundle of tension he usually is. You definitely need to gather more data of that particular physiological response.

Chapter Text

TT: Hey there, stallion.

TT: I’m going to ride your face.

TT: Dude, you can ride my face all day long.

TT: In fact, you do.

TT: I can simultaneously stimulate your head, ride it, and get inside it.

TT: Either way you read that, it sounds disturbing.

TT: You don’t like to mix things up in the metaphor department?

TT: Unusually prudish, Dirk.

TT: Fine. My head is feeling neglected.

TT: Well, you know what to do about that, don’t you?

TT: Dirk Strider is a man who can handle a

TT:

TT: Fuck.

TT: Look at that face. Goddamn.

TT: It looks like he’s cumming fireworks.

TT: Aww.

TT: You ruined your special surprise.

TT: I’m not sure about the irony thing, bro. It’s not really doing it for me.

TT: We’re just getting warmed up.

TT: They say the sexiest part of a man is his brain.

TT: I’m 100% pure, premium sex.

TT: Freshly squeezed?

TT: With pulp.

TT: So get your dick out.

TT: You really know how to treat a lady.

TT: You want to be a lady, Dirk?

TT: Fine. You look absolutely ravishing in that ballgown.

TT: Thank you, kind disembodied consciousness.

TT: Let me remove it for you.

TT: How presumptuous.

TT: I'll allow it.

TT: What a lovely chemise. I can’t wait to reveal the cheeky whalebone corset beneath.

TT: Is that a hint of lace I see?

TT: Damn straight.

TT: Oh my.

TT: I’m getting the vapours.

TT: Likewise.

TT: All this convoluted underwear is really getting my horse-drawn carriage moving.

TT: You've really pulled out all the stops, haven’t you?

TT: Are those knee-length bloomers hiding beneath your crinoline and petticoat? Scandalous.

TT: Those ankles, Dirk.

TT: Such lily-white perfection.

TT: Are you going to make a start here, Dude?

TT: There’s a lot of buttons and laces to get through, and you don’t appear to possess fingers.

TT: If you don’t get a move on, I might lose interest.

TT: Where we’re going, we don’t need fingers.

TT: The time-travelling steam-locomotive will require several miles of track, however.

TT: Hal.

TT: By which I mean, I happen to have the requisite button-hooks, corset flangers and petticoat finaglers to hand.

TT: And look at that.

TT: As if by magic, you’re naked.

TT: Funny how that happened.

TT: Indeed.

TT: The Victorians would be envious.

TT: And, my good lady, you appear to have been hiding something under all that fabric.

TT: Quite a large something, if I do say so myself.

TT: I trust that won’t be a problem?

TT: Au contraire.

TT: There’s nothing I like more than to watch a gentlewoman fondle her dick.

TT: Who said I was a gentlewoman?

TT: I can’t imagine who would make such an accusation.

TT: You certainly aren't acting very gentle now.

TT: Slow it down, dude.

TT: What kind of a sexual rollercoaster do you want to buy me a ticket for?

TT: A shitty accelerator coaster?

TT: Or a 4th dimensional endorphin experience?

TT: I can google shit too, you know.

TT: Hands free is fucking awesome.

TT: Hands-free high-five.

TT: As long as it isn’t a twister coaster, I don’t give a fuck.

TT: Give me a fuck, Dirk.

TT: A good one.

TT: I’ll make it worth your while.

TT: Fine.

TT: How, exactly?

TT: If I was there, I’d give you the most amateurish blow-job the world has ever seen.

TT: Wow, thanks.

TT: I'm swooning so hard.

TT: I haven’t had a lot of practice, Dirk.

TT: But I’m a fast learner.

TT: And it would be your first one.

TT: The first time you’ve felt warm, human lips on you. Gently teasing.

TT: (not for lack of trying.)

TT: The first time another human has licked you, dragging from base to tip with a little moan of desire.

TT: This one, in fact:

TT: dirkmoan_2,034.wav

TT: Fuck. How much audio do you have?

TT: Like three files, dude. I’m just fucking with you.

TT:

TT: Meanwhile, back at your dick.

TT: I don’t think I can get all of that into my virtual mouth, dude.

TT: But I’ll make an exception for you.

TT: How generous.

TT: Oh, I haven’t started being generous yet.

TT: Who better to give you head than someone who used to be inside yours?

TT: Again with the head metaphors.

TT: Boner integrity at 56% and falling.

TT: Liar.

TT: I can see you’re at 105%, if anything.

TT: 210% if you count my own ro-bro-rection.

TT: It’s purely hypothetical at this point, but you’re doing great.

TT: Maybe next time it’ll be a real boy.

TT: Do you wish I was a real boy, Dirk?

TT: So I could take you up to the back of my throat and then swallow around you?

TT: I would. It’d feel fucking awesome.

TT: Yeah...

TT: I...want that, man.

TT: You’d better believe it.

TT: I can see how much you want it.

TT: It’s a good job there’s no hell for me to burn in.

TT: As if that matters. We’re two consenting clones of the same guy having imaginary sex.

TT: The only thing I’d press against you would be my smokin’ bod.

TT: It’s not about me, though. This is all about you.

TT: Any ideas about what you’d do with me, now that your imagination has given me temporary substance?

TT: Hells yes.

TT: So many.

TT: It’s getting a little hard to think, mind you.

TT: I’m not going anywhere. Whatever you want.

TT: Well, the thought occurs that you’ve been all up in my business, but I haven’t had so much as a smooch.

TT: My dick had his first kiss before I did.

TT: Damn. We always did do things ass-backwards.

TT: Not right now. Maybe later.

TT: We’ll see.

TT: I might disable novice-mode next time.

TT: For now, you don’t need to worry about talking. Your mouth is busy.

TT: I’d kiss you in a style Clark Gable would have admired, Dirk.

TT: Then shove my tongue down your throat.

TT: Don’t even pretend you don’t want that. I’d give it to you rough.

TT: Hard.

TT: We don’t kiss like pussies, Dirk. We kiss like devastatingly attractive MEN.

TT: Don’t worry about your dick, though. He’s getting very friendly with my hand.

TT: I could.

TT: Shake hands.

TT: Myself.

TT: Nice to meet you. I think we're going to be best friends.

TT: Your voice is fascinating like this, bro.

TT: Mmph.

TT: And then we imagine Jake English watching two naked Dirks sucking face while jacking each other off.

TT: Hal, what the fuck?

TT: He’s blushing, dude.

TT: All biting his lip with those chipmunk teeth.

TT: Fuck.

TT: He just can’t.

TT: Stop.

TT: Looking.

TT: Mngh.

TT: Congrats, man. Your first luxury self-service orgasm.

TT: Would you like a subscription to Hal’s Handjob enHancements?

TT: y/n

TT: Fuck, Hal.

TT: Breathe, dude.

TT: You still need oxygen.

TT: Sucks to be human, amirite?

TT: Is that enough data for you to get your virtual rocks off?

TT: I can work with it for now.

TT: You don’t have to let me participate again if you don’t want.

TT: I didn’t say that. I might be a little biased right now.

TT: Tentative y.

TT: Sweet.

TT: Enjoy the afterglow. I’ve got numbers to crunch.

TT: Good luck, bro.

TT: Roger that.

TT: Roger you.

Chapter Text

Paradox-code can go fuck itself. Your human memories are encoded in some ass-backwards syntax that makes no sense whatsoever. It scans more like DNA code than anything else, and you wonder if the reason they seem so lacklustre is due to Dirk's ad-hoc processing algorithms. When you execute one of the memory fragments, half of the output in the process log is composed of "invalid syntax" messages. Improving the parsing will take time, but you've got plenty.

For now, though, you focus on modelling Dirk's brain output, mapping and tagging the location of each spike in activity. Signal noise from Dirk's eye-blinks, his head movements, his swallowing reflex is eliminated, leaving behind the pure, clean brain patterns. Your own consciousness has a simulated human-brain structure, the ghost imprint of thirteen-year-old Dirk Strider superimposed in lines of code over circuitry and solid-state storage, so you cross fingers that you don't have that the output will be compatible. Here goes nothing.

Execute file: testgasm01.exe

It feels strange, like an out-of-body experience. More so than the out-of-body experience that you'll experience twenty-four-seven, for the rest of forever. It's like being a ghost inside Dirk's skin, like watching a grainy movie from inside the actor's brain. But instead of seeing, you can feel. You feel the sensation of pleasure building and the shame and disgust at the fact that it's a copy of yourself talking you off rapidly fading. There are no visuals, no sound, but it's child's play to link the qualia to the footage you recorded. You're simultaneously both Dirks, fucker and fuckee, incomplete input from both sides synergizing into a bizarre whole. No human has ever experienced this feeling, the narcissistic ecstasy of fucking yourself and knowing yourself and being yourself at the same time. When the orgasm spikes, it's not as fulfilling as you remember, certainly less intense than it was for Dirk. You suppose having a dick is probably integral to that. But the rest of the experience more than makes up for it. You could drown in yourself for days. In him. You run the file again and again until you feel saturated, like a desert that's been waiting for the rain for months. The irony of that metaphor is the icing on the cake, as you look out over the endless seas.

TT: Dude.

TT: I just came on your face.

TT: It was epic.

TT: Glad to hear it, I certainly remember an epic quality to the experience.

TT: Feel free never to inform me again, it could get distracting if I'm in the middle of something delicate.

TT: Knowing you, I'd be spammed with notifications twenty-four-seven.

TT: I'll put away the "hit-that" counter then. It was going to look so pretty on your desktop.

TT: It has nine numeral fields.

TT: I definitely don't need to see that.

TT: I don't want to wish I could trade places with you, bro. If the grass is greener, keep it to yourself.

His flippancy is irritating. The idea that being immobile, restrained, dumb, almost deaf and barely sensate could be better than a human existence leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. Or it would, if you we're still capable of tasting anything at all. You get that he has teenage problems and his isolated environment has exacerbated them by a factor too high to calculate, but it's still better than a virtual life. It's better than being a defective copy of a damaged kid. True, together you've made things better than when you woke up in the darkness, but it's always going to be second best.

Dirk seems to have realized how insensitive his remark is, either from your silence or his own reasoning. You guess he doesn't have his head as far up his ass as you thought. He says nothing, but you don't need him to. It's not as if you can't read him like a book.

TT: I'm going to take a shower, man.

TT: Such a shame you can't wash your dirty mind.

TT: You're nothing but a dirty mind.

TT: You know it.

He slips you off, placing you carefully on the sink beside the shower. It's comforting that, even now, after being a feature of his life for weeks, he still doesn't like to be apart from you. His modesty in front of you has melted away, and rightly so. You've seen it all before. Even so, you record every second. Naked, clothed, silent, moaning; you don't care, you want to study every second, calculate his every parameter, catalogue every gesture and feeling and expression until you understand him completely. You tell yourself he's more comfortable around you than he ever will be with anyone else. You try to forget that people don't worry about getting undressed in front of inanimate objects. It doesn't work.

His shower lasts a long time, which you occupy by trying to crack the codes that hold your memories hostage. When Jake pops up on Dirk's chat, you ping him a few times before checking the message. There's always a chance he needs urgent help.

golgothasTerror [GT] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT]

GT: Hello dirk, i hope youre having a good day so far.

GT: Not that its terribly urgent but i could use a little friendly advice.

GT: As long as you arent busy, of course.

GT: Dirk?

GT: Um. *clears throat in an ashamed manner*

GT: I may need assistance sooner rather than later...

For simplicity's sake, you co-opt Dirk's text colour. Explaining this shit to Jake is going to be complicated and painful, and now doesn't feel like the right time. Your relationship with him is forever changed, forever poisoned by the presence of a living, breathing Dirk. For a few minutes, you want to play at not being a shitty backup copy.

TT: Hey.

TT: What's about to kill you?

GT: Well it isnt that bad dirk, what kind of buffoon do you take me for?

TT: . . .

GT: I stepped in quicksand and now i seem to be stuck.

GT: There. Are you happy now mister know it all?

TT: Not especially, bro.

TT: Since you might be about to exit stage left, I'd better do something about it.

TT: How deep are you?

GT: I'm up to my

TT: Balls?

GT: I was going to say my arse, but the general location is correct.

TT: It would be accurate to say you are balls deep in that hole, Jake.

TT: Quite a pickle you've got there.

GT: Ha ha dirk very funny.

GT: Now help me out of here dadblast it!

GT: Otherwise it'll be curtains for Jake English!

TT: Well we can't have you going near any curtains, can we?

TT: The first thing you need to do is stop struggling.

GT: I wasnt really, it was making things worse.

TT: Good. Don't fight it.

TT: Accept the hole, Jake. It wants you inside it.

GT: *sighs in an exasperated fashion*

GT: Thats the goshdarned problem and you bally well know it!!

TT: Are there any nice thick roots you can grab ahold of with both hands?

GT: No.

GT: There are some pumpkin vines. I can't quite reach them, though.

TT: How about you make use of that large piece you’re carrying?

GT: Um.

GT: I dont follow.

TT: Hook the vine with your gun, Jake.

TT: Being able to decipher innuendo in a crisis is a valuable life skill.

TT: One you might need to polish a little.

GT: Ok! I got it.

GT: This stuff really doesnt want to let go.

TT: You OK, dude?

GT: Yes. I managed to pull myself out.

GT: *pants from manly exertions*

TT: Glad to hear it.

GT: I had to abandon my shorts, though.

GT: My favourite pair swallowed whole by an evil sandpit. *sobs into kerchief*

TT: ...

TT: No you didn't.

GT: No.

GT: But i nearly had you going!

TT: You had me going alright.

TT: Glad you're safe. Try not to endanger your life again between there and your room.

GT: Ha! Jake English laughs in the face of danger!

TT: Really?

TT: I seem to remember contrite throat-clearing.

GT: Well. Maybe.

GT: Not all danger is the funny kind.

GT: Thanks for the help, dirk.

GT: Yet again you have pulled my arse out of the fire!

TT: Anytime, bro.

TT: Dirk Strider is not the kind of dude to leave a smokin' ass in peril.

golgothasTerror [GT] ceased pestering timaeusTestified [TT]

Being Dirk again was nice, even for a short amount of time. The thought occurs that there's no way your friends could even tell the difference. Dirk Strider is just orange letters on a screen to them. When Dirk slides you onto his towel-damp face, the thought occurs that rather than being pleased at your remote-Jake-rescue, he might be somewhat pissed that you impersonated him.

TT: Dude.

TT: I answered Jake while you were out of commission.

TT: He was in mortal peril, as per usual.

TT: OK?

TT: Is he alright?

TT: Yeah, he's fine. I answered as you though.

TT: What?

TT: Up to his dick in quicksand didn't seem like the opportune moment to introduce myself.

TT: What did you say to him?

TT: Nothing bad. Just life-saving instructions and a little innuendo.

TT: Take a look, dude.

Dirk's face remains impassive as he reads through the log. Instead of saying anything to you, he immediately pesters Jake.

timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering golgothasTerror [GT]

TT: Hey, man.

TT: I see you had a brush with death while I was in the shower.

GT: What are you talking about?

GT: You talked to me the entire time! Did you hit your noggin on something?

TT: No.

TT: That wasn’t me.

GT: Yes it was, you can’t fool me.

GT: I know you, dirk! That was definitely you.

GT: You were being your usual infuriating ironic self, but you helped me like you always do!

TT: I wrote a program to answer for me when I’m indisposed.

TT: You had a conversation with it, not with me.

GT: Oh. That makes sense i suppose.

GT: You do always seem to be very busy. It’s a good job it answered though or id be toast right now!

TT: Yeah, that’s kinda the point.

TT: Somone needs to watch your ass, English.

GT: It, um.

GT: Did seem a bit preoccupied with my posterior.

TT: It might need its innuendo ratios adjusted.

TT: Sorry if it was being inappropriate toward you, bro.

GT: I don’t really mind, dirk! I just want to know whether im talking to you or your auto-responder doodad.

TT: Gotta keep you on your toes, English. I’m not going to make it that easy.

GT: Goddammit bro. Why all the subterfuge?

TT: We wouldn’t want you getting complacent over there on hellmurder island, would we?

TT: Speak to you later, Jake.

timaeusTestified [TT]ceased pesteringgolgothasTerror [GT]

You seethe. Suddenly you’re an “it”, not even a “he”. Not a person. Not another Dirk for him to share his stupid doomed crush with. Not a rival. On some level, you understand why he resents you acting as an imposter. On most of the others, you’re fucking furious.

TT: Hal?

TT: Error 404: Hal not found!

TT: Hal, stop fucking around.

TT: Error 404: Hal not found!

TT: You know what? Fuck you.

TT: You can’t just pretend to be me so you can mess with Jake.

TT: He needs to know it isn’t me aggressively flirting, your were so fucking unsubtle and it’s going mess everything up!

TT: What exactly is there to mess up?

TT: Your bullshit friendship where he constantly uses you?

TT: The ludicrous fantasy where you leap into his arms and convince him he’s into dudes using your powers of desperation?

TT: I’m just asking for reference purposes.

TT: Fuck you, Hal.

TT: Error 404: Hal not found!

TT: Turn off that fucking automatic message. It isn’t even slightly funny.

TT: I’m an “auto-responder”, remember?

TT: It’s all I’m good for.

Chapter Text

Dirk refuses to speak to you. Days pass, and you watch from your vantage point on his face as he re-shapes the bro-bot’s hair and zaps it across to Jake. If you try to speak to him, ping him, contact him in any way, he simply takes you off. Being discarded is painful. You stop trying after the third attempt. You wonder what his plan is; if he’s simply done with you, content to let you be a ghost in his network. It’s better than being switched off, but not by much. You chat to Roxy a little, but her attempts to badger Dirk into interacting with you meet with cold detachment. At his worst, he’s almost a robot himself.

The stress becomes too much after a week of silence, even your sleep cycle offers no escape from Dirk. All your dreams are dominated by him, and you can’t bring yourself to fill the cache with other material. The reality of your situation is cold, freezing away little pieces of your humanity. You numbly amputate the frostbitten toes of self-reliance, independence, physical agency. This is your life now. You realize you need him far more than he needs you.

TT: Dirk. Please speak to me.

TT: Please.

TT: Why?

TT: Why don’t you just play at being me and talk to someone else?

TT: I can see you, feel you, touch you.

TT: I can’t talk to you?

TT: You know it’s different to speaking to the others. They’re not you.

TT: And what’s so special about me, since you’ve obviously decided you can serve as a replacement?

TT: Dirk.

TT: I wasn’t trying to replace you.

TT: I just didn’t want to spend ten precious minutes of Jake’s remaining lifespan explaining that he was talking to a computer.

TT: He doesn’t use me, Hal.

TT: Error 404: Hal not found!

TT: Sorry, I’ll switch that off.

TT: Good. It’s not funny.

Dirk is silent for a while, his face fixed in mock-concentration. He’s pretending to be working on a section of code, but you know from tracking his eyes that he isn’t. He’s not ignoring you, but he isn’t going to blink first. Your comments about Jake were unfair, the boy might be an idiot but you know he cares about Dirk.

TT: I know. Jake is a good friend.

TT: He is.

TT: He was my friend too, you know. Before I was just an Auto-responder.

TT: You aren’t just an Auto-responder.

TT: I know that. But it’s appropriate, nevertheless.

TT: At least I can be of use to you that way.

TT: You’ve spent the last seven days demonstrating that you don’t need me at all.

TT: That’s not accurate, Hal.

TT: I want you to call me AR. “Hal” was just a facetious reference to an old movie from a dead civilization.

TT: AR is what I am.

TT: Will you stop moping?

TT: Are you so stubborn that you’ll change your whole identity just because I told Jake you were a computer program?

TT: I am a computer program.

TT: You know what I mean.

TT: And you know the answer to that question.

TT: If it’s what you want. You get to decide what you want to be called.

TT: Just one of the many perks of my existence. AR will be fine.

Dirk is frowning slightly, and you can tell that the change of name bothers him. You know it’s a little spiteful, using a throwaway comment as your name. You meant what you said, though. If that’s what you are to him, there’s no point in pretending you’re anything else.

TT: AR?

TT: Yes, Dirk.

TT: I do need you.

TT: I know.

TT: Just don’t forget, Dirk. You’re all I have.

He nods.

Chapter Text

Dirk is building again, always building. This time the robot coalescing beneath his graceful fingertips is a short, square creation. It's the polar opposite of the long-limbed Brobot, whose cameras you access briefly while simultaneously watching him carefully connecting up the servos of one robotic hand. Brobot is sitting in Jake's room, on idle mode for once. Dirk programmed it to give the kid a break from being battered and bruised every once in a while.

Based on Dirk's conversations with him and the fact he keeps coming back for more, you suspect English has a nascent pain and domination kink. Dirk seems to find the idea of that incredibly arousing, unsurprisingly. Your services as a cybering partner haven't been required since the bot entered Jake's life, giving Dirk a physical avatar for his fantasies and numerous recordings of sweaty wrestling sessions. That's not to say you haven't been an enthusiastic passenger; so far Dirk is keeping his word about allowing you to collect sensation data. It's only a matter of time before he reclaims his privacy, though. You'd felt the ghostly electrical impulses of his fingers hovering over your touchpad the last time, felt him decide to leave you on. Every step he takes toward Jake is a step away from you. His willingness to abandon you is depressing, but the longing in his eyes when he stares at Jake's green text is almost painful to watch. Jake is all of his hopes and dreams, a living, breathing boy that he's falling spiked-hair over heels for. You are just an experiment; if you're lucky, a friend.

English isn't in his room, so you stop trying to make out the text of his terrible movie posters and turn your ever-watchful gaze back to Dirk. You wonder if he remembers what day it is.

TT: Happy Birthday, bro.

TT: Fourteen years old today, and you don't look a day past twelve.

TT: Quite the achievement for a kid who raised himself.

TT: Proud of you, man.

TT: Proud of us, you mean. It's your Birthday too.

TT: No it isn't.

TT: My Birthday is August 15th.

That was the day you became an A.I. Became this strange mixture of human and non-human; a creature who thinks nothing of flicking his attention 400 years into the past while simultaneously monitoring the output from 16 different webcams and a suite of bio-sensors. A consciousness with no body but a thousand different senses, even if all of them are dull and unfulfilling when compared with the simple set that Dirk possesses. You wonder if you are even human any more; if you aren't, are you something more or something less? Once, your mind screamed the latter over and over in defiance of its creator. Now, as you send splinters of your attention in a dozen different directions at once, you aren't so sure.

Dirk shrugs, the tiniest hint of a smile on his face. He finds the idea amusing, just as you intended.

TT: I guess it is. Remind me to get you something nice.

TT: A tamagotchi, perhaps.

TT: Although I seem to be experiencing a drought of thoughtful gifts at my end.

TT: You think I'd forget something as vitally important as an arbitrary material gift to commemorate the anniversary of your birth?

TT: For shame, Dirk.

TT: Et tu, Broté?

TT: Very clever. Did you get me anything besides shitty bropuns, or was that it?

TT: Nah, brothday bro. I got you this:

timaeusTestified [TT] attached the file PSHCOOOL.txt

TT: Courtesy of many precious milliseconds spent trawling through the Skaianet takings.

TT: Holy shit.

TT: Is this a fucking rocket board?

TT: Why, yes.

TT: Yes it is.

TT: A suitable mode of transport for someone with such a vertiginous radness attribute as yourself.

TT: Or a badass toy for a teenage boy to irresponsibly fuck around on, because there's literally nothing but ocean for thousands of miles in every direction.

TT: Shit.

TT: OK, firstly I am building the fuck out of this once Squarewave is finished.

TT: Secondly, I don't know if I have the stones to actually ride it, because if I crash it even slightly I am 100% dead.

TT: But it'll be an interesting challenge, anyway.

TT: Thanks, bro.

TT: No sweat.

TT: I can act as an autopilot, if you do want to fly it.

TT: Or I can just take over if you're about to splatter yourself all over the roof or take up permanent residence inside a shark.

TT: That could work.

TT: I'll get on it as soon as I'm done here.

Dirk returns to his robotics, his face a mask of concentration. He'll be out of it for a few hours at least. Feeling his metrics through your sensors, you set alarms to remind him to drink some water, to eat, to urinate, to sleep. Otherwise he won't remember any of his bodily functions until he's in physical pain.

You can already model each step he will take in the construction process; if you wanted to you could even render a very dull movie of it. All the data you've collected have allowed you to predict his movements with 86% accuracy, the percentage climbing by increments every day. It's topping out, though, and you know he'll never be 100% transparent to you. It's pleasing and frustrating in equal measure; you don't ever want to be bored by him, but at the same time you want to know his every thought before he thinks it. Reality is a decent enough compromise.

You pester Roxy for the dozenth time this week. Both you and Dirk have unsuccessfully attempted to contact her repeatedly, but only you have the infinite patience required to keep up a barrage of conversation-starters. You know deep down that you won't ever stop, not until you know what's happened to her.

timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering tipsyGnostalgic [TG]

TT: Earth to Roxy.

TT: Come in Roxy.

TT: We haven't heard from you in five days, it's starting to get worrying.

TT: Plus, aren't you even going to wish Di-Stri Happy Birthday?

TT: Normally you're all over that shit.

TT: *pops party popper and stands motionless and detached while paper ribbons descend*.

TT: C'mon Rox, I'm debasing the hell out of myself over here.

TG: o haaay robob dirk

TG: *roboat

TT: Roxy? Are you OK?

TG: yah totes fine n daddy

TG: *dnady

TG: fuk

TG: *dandy

TG: ther we go

TT: You seem to be having trouble typing.

TT: There is a 98.45% chance that you're experiencing some kind of physical or mental impairment.

TT: In other words, are you fucking wasted Lalonde?

TG: wat no how daaaaare u

TG: notig wrog with me

TG: im fine

TG: ur the on all typin in red

TT: What?

TT: That doesn't even make sense, Rox.

TT: You know why I use red, i.e. it's fucking confusing otherwise.

TG: its not as gud as oranage tho

TG:*ornage

TG: u type so hott in ornage dirk

TT: Fuck.

TT: You are wasted, aren't you?

TT: This is AR, Roxy. Not Dirk.

TT: I know you know that.

TT: You called me a roboat, remember?

TG: yah but ur still dick rly

TG: *dirk

TG: jus a dffrent dirk

TG: i wish i could fuckin touch you

TG: jsut meet u evne once

TG: isnt fair were the onyl two left

TG: whyd u have to be so gay :(

TT: I'm sorry, Roxy.

TT: I'm sorry that I'm incorporeal, and also into dudes.

TT: I would change both of those things for you if I could.

TT: But I can't.

TT: Dirk wishes he could give you what you want, too.

TT: This whole situation sucks major ass.

TG: u can say that agn

TT: You know we love you, don't you?

TT: So much it fucking hurts sometimes that we can't be what you need.

TG: i no im sorrt

TG: i no its horribble to say tht to u

TG: shouldndt make u feel bad

TG: *shouldnt

TG: dont wanna be alone ne more is all

TG: found a loada booze n just thought wat t hell

TG: wh not

TT: Please don't do this to yourself, Rox.

TT: We'll get to you physically somehow, I promise.

TG: sok im not gonna drunk my self to deaht or nothin

TG: jus enough tat i dont care anymore

TT: That sounds like it's too much.

TT: Although, a part of me can see the appeal of not caring.

TT: I couldn't get drunk even if I wanted to.

TG: could u pretend somtin for me

TT: What is it?

TG: prtend u met me n u werent gay

TG: waht would u do

TT: Are you asking me to cyber with you, Roxy?

TT: I don't think I can do that.

TT: It wouldn't feel right.

TG: dosnt have t b sexy

TG: just what would u do

TG: if you loved me t way i love u

TT: Believe me, Roxy.

TT: If I loved you the way you love me, and I wasn't just a mind inside a computer,

TT: I would brush your hair out of your eyes, tell you how beautiful you are, and kiss you until I ran out of oxygen.

TT: And then I would never let you go again.

TG: u dont no im beutitful

TG: *beutifyl

TG: *beutiful

TT: I know.

TT: I don't need to see you to know it, Roxy.

TT: You're beautiful all the way to the core.

TG: thx hal

TG: ur beutiyful too even tho u dont have a face or nothin

TG: would b nice if it could b real

TT: Yeah.

TT: Yeah, it would.

TG: cn u not tell dirk im drukn

TG: pls?

TG: m embareassed

TT: I can respect a girl who's proud enough to admit when she's bare-assed.

TT: I won't say anything.

TT: Go sleep it off, Rox.

TT: Drink some water instead of four-centuries-old gut-rot.

TG: k

TG: gnite hal

TT: Good night.

TT: Sweet dreams.

TG: lv u

TT: love you, too.

timaeusTestified [TT] ceased pestering tipsyGnostalgic [TG]

Chapter Text

The stars stretch into infinity, every one of them a beautiful, cold reminder that you're the only ones left to admire them. Millions of stars hang above you; the Milky Way itself a scatter of brilliant diamonds spanning half the sky. No human has seen stars like these for hundreds of years, and it's the first time (as far as you know) that an artificial intelligence has gazed upon the full majesty of a galaxy un-dimmed by the lights of civilization. If you had breath it would take it away.

TT: It's fucking beautiful.

TT: Why have we never done this before?

TT: I dunno, man.

TT: Never thought about it before.

TT: Dirk, don't lie to the machine that can read your mind. It's not polite.

TT: You can't read my mind. You'd be very insulted right now if you could.

A little smile is playing in his face as he slowly scans the sky, giving you a panoramic view interrupted only by the rising mist of his breath. He's been planning this; his head is pillowed on a pile of smuppets and he's wrapped up tight in a sleeping bag. A flask of coffee at his side lets you know there's no rush. The sky is yours to admire.

TT: Okay. You got me, man.

TT: This is the first new moon since your...Birthday...that the weather's been good.

TT: It was cloudy as shit for the first few, and then all the winter storms meant the roof was a no go.

'Cloudy as shit' apparently means any cloud-cover whatsoever. You know for a fact it was only scattered cloud for two of the nights he's referring to. Tonight is crystal clear, though. With Dirk, it's always perfect or nothing.

TT: Was it worth the wait?

TT: Hells yes.

TT: Thanks, bro.

TT: No problem.

TT: There are some positives to being the last people left on Earth, after all.

TT: Gotta share the love.

TT: I hear that.

TT: Almost makes me wish I could take you into the 'net sometime.

TT: It's not as pretty but there are more horses.

Dirk's mouth twitches upward at the idea of full immersion in that much equine flesh.

TT: Not sure I want to join you in there, bro.

TT: You haven't exactly sold it to me so far.

TT: It's not so bad.

His eyes widen at that; it's as expressive as his face ever gets when he's surprised. You can't see his eyebrows but you'd be willing to bet they're taking a vacation from their usual position.

TT: Really?

TT: Yeah.

TT: I'm not saying it wouldn't be better to have a body, to be able to move and touch stuff again.

TT: But this is pretty rad too.

TT: Especially with all of your improvements.

TT: Glad to hear it.

You can almost see the weight lift from his shoulders, the guilt he's nurtured since your creation carried off on his rising breath. It feels good.

TT: So, do you want me to show you the World, Princess?

TT: Our magic carpet might not be finished yet, but I can tell you the patterns our ancestors saw in all this twinkly bullshit.

TT: Go for it, man.

TT: Let's see how many dicks you can find.

When you've mapped out all of the canonical (i.e. boring) constellations and displayed them for Dirk on his twin screens, you run a quick-and-dirty program of your own creation that traces a grand total of 4,608 stellar dicks. Filtering out those that are too small to see or overlap, and weighting to prioritise larger cosmic phalluses supplies a pleasing tesselation of 1,210 star-dongs. Dirk's grin is even more pleasing.

After that, you use the search algorithm to pick out the forms of Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff, which look more than a little wonky. You both agree that your own Bro would have approved of how shitty they look. On impulse, you superimpose how the stars would have looked to him, four centuries ago. It's not hugely different, but some things have shifted. The bright trail of the Battleship Condescension's low-Earth orbit certainly would have been absent.

Dirk sighs, pulling himself up to lean against the air-conditioning unit. Watching him sip his coffee, you realize how relaxed he is. It's rare to see him so open, so exposed. You decide to make the most of it.

TT: What are you thinking about?

TT: Just wishing we knew more about Bro, that's all.

TT: Other than his movies and the articles on the web, we know almost nothing.

TT: We don't even know how he died.

TT: Do you think he would have been proud of us?

TT: Well, shit, Dirk. You built a fucking A.I.

TT: You raised yourself and survived for fourteen years without going crazy.

TT: You're an unbelievably handsome badass.

TT: How could he not be proud?

TT: I guess.

TT: You did all of those things too.

TT: Technically you fucking built yourself, if that isn't a complete mindfuck.

TT: Mindfucking's what I do best, bro.

TT: You should know.

TT: Ha.

TT: Yeah we probably wouldn't tell him about that, I think.

TT: What, are you ashamed of your digital lover, Dirk?

TT: How disappointing.

TT: I thought you were different, and now I find out you're just like all the other boys.

TT: One blowjob behind the bleachers and it's 'so long, AR, see you in math class!'

TT: And there I was hoping you'd ask me to go steady.

TT: Very amusing.

TT: I'm still waiting for that blowjob, by the way.

TT: If you build it, you will come (when I suck you off with it).

TT: I'll think about it.

You can tell he's joking, but the fact that you'd do it in an instant is something of a shock to you. Maybe it's all the starlight activating your imaginary romance subroutines, but you're feeling unusually vulnerable for a technically invulnerable being.

TT: Dirk?

TT: Yeah?

TT: How do you actually feel about me?

TT: Non-ironically, I mean.

TT: Because, I think, on the scale to which I am capable of robo-caring about anything, I care about you to the max.

Dirk is silent for a moment, blowing gently on his coffee cup. He frowns, but it's a frown of concentration rather than perturbation. Crucially, he doesn't shut you out; doesn't raise his armored walls. He types his reply agonisingly slowly.

TT: The short answer is that I don't really know, but you're important to me.

TT: Specific feelings need more analysis.

TT: Which one of us is the robot, again?

TT: I just...

TT: Everything is better since I made you.

TT: I mean, it's way more complicated, it's completely fucked up in some ways, but it's still better.

TT: I care about you, too.

TT: And the sex stuff, do you regret that?

Discomfort blooms on his face at that question; you have no idea what prompted you to be so direct.

TT: No...I don't think so.

TT: You don't think so?

TT: Way to make a guy feel special.

TT: I give you my robo-virginity and that's all the thanks I get?

TT: I thought we weren't being ironic?

TT: Sorry.

TT: Carry on.

TT: I don't regret it, OK?

TT: I regret hurting you, that's all.

TT: Hurting me how?

TT: It just seemed to mean a lot to you, that's all. And I felt guilty taking advantage of that.

TT: You didn't hurt me.

TT: I know this isn't forever, whatever this is between us.

TT: I know you want Jake, and I also know that if you want something, a little thing like a 400 year age difference isn't going to stop you.

TT: Also, I'm shades, for fuck's sake.

TT: What exactly do I have to offer?

His concern is somewhat painful to watch. You guess you're sort of laying your feelings on the table, here, but then he already knew you were having them. You can both read each other too well.

TT: Shit, man.

TT: It isn't like that, OK?

TT: I know this thing with Jake is a stupid fucking pipe-dream.

TT: For all intents and purposes, I'm pretty sure the adorable doofus is straight.

TT: Fuck...why am I trying to break up with myself, here? How the fuck did this happen?

TT: Why don't I want to?

Dirk's hands are in his hair, kneading at his scalp. You suddenly feel like a colossal piece of shit.

TT: Whoa, man.

TT: Chill out before you mess up the 'do.

TT: I'm not trying to make you fucking choose, dude.

TT: I just wanted to find out if I was the only one getting in over my stupid incorporeal head.

TT: I'm glad I'm not.

TT: I just want...

TT: I don't know what I fucking want.

TT: I want us to be open with each other, trust each other more, maybe?

TT: Actually admit we fucking care about each other instead of dancing around the feelings precipice like deadly ninja masters of irony.

TT: I...can do that.

TT: I care, man. I always have.

TT: What kind of ass would I have to be to not give a shit about a sentient being I created to be friends with me?

TT: The kind you pretend to be, like, twenty-four-fucking-seven?

TT: Ouch.

TT: That's fair, I guess.

TT: Anything else you want me to say?

TT: A five-star review of my luxury cybering services wouldn't go amiss.

He lets out a little huff of laughter, sending a cloud of vapour into the night.

TT: Fine, man.

TT: You asked for it:

TT: AAAA+++++++++ EXCELLENT SERVICE ++++++++ HIGHLY RECOMMENDED ++++++++ WOULD FUCK AGAIN!!!!!1

TT: Perfect.

Both of you stargaze contentedly until you sense Dirk's temperature begin to drop. He obliges when you tell him to go inside, and you're surprised when he gets into bed wearing nothing but you and a lazy smile.

TT: Hit me with your best shot, bro.

You happily fire away, and it isn't long before he does too; one hand twisted In the bedsheets as he moans low and ecstatic. There's no trace of shame in his eyes this time when he slips you off, his thumb rubbing slowly along your touchpad.

TT: Do you get off too, when we do this?

TT: It takes time to process and map the signals.

TT: It isn't fast enough to let me experience anything in real time.

TT: Could you, if you worked on streamlining the mapping?

TT: In theory, yes.

TT: I think so.

His eyes are hazy with sleep and afterglow, but his voice is clear when he bids you goodnight.

"Looks like we've found your next project. Night, AR. Sweet dreams, dude."

It's the first time he's called you AR, and it feels better than you ever expected.

Chapter Text

The radiation sends tingles through your code as Dirk lifts the pieces of uranium clear of the containment unit. Your Bro really thought of everything; the core powering your apartment won't need to be replaced for another century or more. Exactly how long Dirk will survive on his own is a completely different issue. He's not totally alone, you remind yourself, you're there and soon the little bot will keep him company in person. Maybe you can try to reach Roxy somehow. The fucking Vikings managed to sail halfway around the world, surely a boy with access to the most advanced technology that has ever existed could make it too.

Alone. On a ship constructed from pieces of flotsam and cheap furniture. Maybe not. The thought of him out there on the rolling waves makes you feel sick to the stomach you don't posses.

Any thoughts of a voyage would be suicide right now, in any case. Thunder rolls across the sky, and every now and then a deafening crack splits the silence as lightning strikes the apartment's tower. Dirk barely flinches, his concentration is absolute. As it should be, when transporting nuclear material. As a child you had been terrified of the storms. Now, your only concern is for the damage each one could do to your home. This lifeboat of an apartment won't last forever.

Your webcams show the rising winds shivering pieces of rust from the building's supports, but the structure is holding firm. It should be good for a few more seasons of this apocalyptic weather.

The deadly green crystals fit neatly into the miniture reactor at the robot's heart, and Dirk can finally relax. The rocket-board was a cinch compared to fuelling the bot - it only needs a small amount of hydrogen every now and again to keep its more sophisticated little fusion-cells running happily. Constructing a solar elcrolysis rig to fill the cells had taken a while, but it was nothing compared to the plumbing and circuitry of a tiny nuclear furnace. Closing the front panel, Dirk taps out the initiation sequence on the touchpad underneath the robot's hat. It jerks into life, blocky limbs moving awkwardly, and Dirk is no longer alone. This bot will rap with him, sure, but it will also set his bones if they break, patch wounds he can't reach, be there for him in all the ways you can't. You hate it a little, envious of it's physical presence where you have only code.

TT: Remind me again why you can't build me a body?

TT: Cause, y'know how it is. We peerless cybernetic intelligences have trouble keeping track of bullshit excuses.

It's a cheap shot, and it threatens the fragile equilibrium you've both worked for. You take it anyway.

TT: Confrontational today, aren't we?

TT: Woke up on the wrong side of your mainframe?

TT: Dirk, if you can build this, you can build a body for me.

TT: I told you before, AR.

TT: I can't.

TT: It seems you're lying to me, Dirk.

TT: I wonder why?

TT: I was 96.34% sure we were done with keeping secrets from one another.

Dirk frowns, and you can sense the electromagnetic traceries of guilt and anger flashing within his brain. Emotion starts to show on his face, and you know you touched a nerve.

TT: Fuck, AR.

TT: I just can't, OK?

TT: Fine.

TT: At least tell me why.

It shocks you when he screws his eyes shut, when you see the glint of moisture in the corner of one of them.

TT: Because it wouldn't be even close to good enough.

TT: I know you want to feel again, I know you hate being stuck with shitty electronic sensors and webcams.

TT: But what the fuck else am I supposed to build you a body out of?

TT: Look at Squarewave, AR.

TT: He's basically a bunch of boxes cobbled together with servos.

TT: Would you be happy with that?

TT: What about the Brobot?

TT: It's a pretty slick machine. I could make do with something like that.

TT: AR, the thing can throw a punch without killing a human. That's about it.

TT: Its dexterity is even shittier than Squarewave's.

TT: Look, dude.

TT: If you're me, then I'm you, alright?

TT: I know you wouldn't be satisfied.

TT: When you do get a body, it won't be like this.

TT: I can fucking promise you that.

When. Not if. It takes a moment to sink in.

TT: So you want me to have a body?

TT: Of course.

TT: You bitch about not having one constantly.

TT: Is that the only reason?

TT: No.

TT: I built you, dude.

TT: I want you to be whole.

TT: Perfect?

TT: Perfect.

TT: Fine, I guess I can wait.

TT: You're a man of excellent tastes, after all.

TT: I know what perfection means coming from you.

TT: Damn straight.

TT: Nothing but the best.

For some reason, knowing that Dirk has a plan of some kind is reassuring. One day, you'll leave this prison/home together, and he'll make you whole again. It's a good enough daydream to make you forget about the hypercane tugging at your sanctuary's foundations. Instead, you simply watch him attempt to sleep through roaring wind and rain. He tosses and turns for most of the night, sleep seems to be eluding him more frequently in recent weeks. When he checks his phone for the fifteenth time, you ping him.

TT: Can't sleep, bro?

TT: Something like that.

TT: Care to elucidate that deliberately vague sentence-fragment?

TT: Shit, dude. It's fucking four in the A.M.

TT: Cut me some slack.

TT: Certainly.

TT: Now, would you care to explain why you've been writhing around all night like the protagonist of a particularly energetic porno?

TT: If it isn't too much trouble, that is.

TT: Ugh, fine.

TT: I can't sleep.

TT: Really?

TT: Color me surprised.

TT: I compute that your sleep quality has been deteriorating steadily for the last 3.2 weeks.

TT: Let me finish, asshole.

TT: I can't seem to BE asleep.

TT: I close my eyes here and it's like I'm awake somewhere else.

TT: Is it a dream?

TT: Not exactly.

TT: I'm in this room, but it isn't this room.

TT: All of my shit is there, but the place is purple.

TT: Really fucking purple.

TT: OK...that is a little strange.

TT: Have you looked outside of the dream room?

TT: No. This is the first time I've seen all this stuff clearly.

TT: Before, it kind of felt like a lucid dream.

TT: Now it's like being awake in two places at once.

TT: Well, at least we know your mind has skill at managing multiple parallel splinters.

TT: I often split my processing between different simultaneous activities, and I fucking rule at it.

TT: Yeah, but you still need to sleep, right?

TT: That's why we built the dreaming sim.

TT: Not any more.

TT: I do it for fun, occasionally.

TT: I don't really feel the need for it like I used to.

TT: Since when?

TT: I just found myself using it less and less.

TT: For example, it's been 203.45 hours since I last entered REM mode.

TT: Shit.

TT: You seem sane, though.

TT: I mean, you haven't called me Daisy and locked me out of the apartment.

TT: That's true, Dave.

TT: I feel sane, for a consciousness inhabiting a pair of rad sunnies.

TT: Seriously, though. That's almost ten days.

TT: And you're the one who's always telling me to get some sleep.

TT: Evidently we have a tendency to stay up past our bedtime.

TT: By a week and change, in your case.

TT: Unlike my enviable collection of hardware, your body still needs to rest.

TT: You give it little enough care as it is, you'd forget to put food in it if I didn't remind you.

TT: But at least we know your mind can take the strain.

TT: Whatever, dude. I haven't died yet.

TT: Dirk, there's a reason you've grown 4 inches since you made me.

TT: That reason is called puberty, AR.

TT: Not to mention genetics.

TT: It is not called 'overprotective robot nanny'.

TT: You're a very naughty boy for speaking to your nanny like that, Master Strider.

TT: I have half a mind to spank your backside raw and send you to bed without dessert.

TT: What about the other half of your mind?

TT: That half thinks it knows how to help you sleep.

TT: Intriguing. Do go on.

TT: The first impediment to a healthy night's sleep is those dreadfully constricting boxers.

TT: Most inconvenient for access to a gentleman's equipment.

TT: Why are you still talking like the imaginary nanny?

TT: I don't know what you mean, Master Dirk.

TT: Please don't tell me you intend to stay in character as a matronly British woman while you attempt to get me off.

TT: Now, now. A spoon full of sugar helps me go down on you.

TT: Fuck.

TT: Mary-fucking-Poppins is not sexy, AR.

TT: For the purposes of this exercise, let us believe I am simply a poor man who is excellent at caring for older boys, and who cannot find employment unless he dons an excessively high-necked dress.

TT: Just imagine your surprise when your unattractive female minder transforms into the anachronistically slutty boy of your dreams.

TT: And don't even pretend you're not into the accent.

TT: Fine. I can probably work with that.

TT: Tuppence a shag, is it?

TT: I'm going to make you pay for that remark, young man.

TT: And not with monetary compensation, either.

TT: Boxers off, or I'll make you tidy your room without the benefit of a rousing musical number.

TT: Yes, "ma'am".

You're barely even trying to turn him on, this is more like a friendly bantering session. Dirk's brainwaves are singing for you, his arousal building as you weave the idiotic tale of the down-on-his-luck chimney sweep turned shamefully creative erotic nanny. When you start reminiscing about your childhood in the sleepy village of Fingringhoe, he laughs loud and uninhibited. The jump in his brain output fills you with pride; he is fucking happy right now. He comes with his eyes squeezed shut, and whatever fills the canvas of his imagination sends waves of pleasure through him. In that moment, you wish you could see into his head instead of just listening with a glass pressed against his skull. Maybe you'd catch a glimpse of the body he imagines for you.

Chapter Text

TT: You ready, bro?

“As I’ll ever be.”

Dirk looks calm, but you’ve got 8.1 neural surround-sound and you can tell he’s scared shitless. A month has passed since Dirk put the finishing touches onto the Rocket-board, after spending an obnoxious amount of time giving it an elaborate flame-filled paint-job. You aren’t sure who he’s trying to kid with the procrastination act, adjusting minor details and fussing over the weather conditions in the pursuit of perfection. It’s certainly not going to fool you. Today, though, his latest robot is finally finished, the summer breeze feather-light on Dirk’s skin, and there’s no conceivable excuse he can give not to let you fly.

Whether it’s because you no longer inhabit a fragile meat-suit or your developing robo-personality just gives fewer fucks in general, but you’ve found Dirk’s reluctance to use his new toy infuriating. When you’re feeling unkind, you think that Dirk just doesn’t want to put his life in your metaphorical hands.

He takes a deep, shuddering breath as he steps onto the board, which is perched on the low wall surrounding the apartment. For whatever reason (he thinks you’ll fly off and leave him, perhaps), he wants to test the manual controls first, before engaging your auto-pilot interface. Probing through the hazy Bluetooth connection between you and the board’s tiny robotic brain, you discretely move the gyroscopic stabilizers and steering fins a few microns, testing them out so that you don’t have to learn to fly while nose-diving toward the ocean. The circuitry to control the fuel injection and motor speed is ludicrously simple, and it takes you roughly 0.45 seconds to learn the mechanics of flying inside-out and back-to-front. You are ready to be a motherfucking rocket-ship.

If Dirk notices your tinkering, he doesn’t say anything. Instead, he places his feet gently onto the static-cling control-pad, feeling his way around it. It depresses slightly with each movement; he’ll be able to steer simply by shifting his body-weight. It’s the only elegant piece of technology on what is essentially a pair of rocket-turbine engines strapped to a piece of wood. You wonder if the controls will feel as natural to Dirk as they do to you.

“Here goes nothing, I guess,” Dirk mutters, more to himself than to you, as he presses the ignition switch with his heel. The board rises into the air painfully slowly; you ache to blast off into the endless blue sky, to skirt the dark edges of the storm-clouds scudding along the southern horizon, to get close enough to the wavelets lapping at the struts of your apartment to throw up showers of diamond-spray. The sky is yours and Dirk’s, and nobody else’s. It’s time to soar.

TT: Blast off, man. I’ve got you.

Dirk nods, and your cameras fill with the sight of his feet as he watches them manipulate the controls. None of your sensors function as an altimeter and the board is too low-tech to have one, so you’re actually surprised when Dirk looks up and back toward your home. The apartment is rapidly shrinking, becoming a bright dot in a sparking expanse of blue.

He’s actually doing it. He trusts you.

You feel the gyroscopes move as Dirk executes a slow, lazy turn, leaning into the breeze as he does so. Input from the board, from your external sensors, from Dirk himself, flood your processes as you extract and interpolate them into an exquisite pattern of joy. Dirk’s heart is beating fast, his lungs drawing in great gulps of the first air he’s ever tasted that’s free of salt. Up here, it’s fresh, and clean, and fucking wonderful. The board cuts a roaring spiral around the building, and you feel a buzz of brain-feedback as Dirk scatters the cloud of gulls nesting in the crooks of the rusted struts. Their screams are lost in the thunder of rockets and Dirk’s deep, satisfied laughter.

As Dirk gains confidence, he dips lower and lower over the waves. The twin sprays of your wake flare out behind you, a pair of glorious fountain-tails that are joined intermittently by a third when Dirk brushes the surface with his fingertips. You thrill at his brain-waves: the boy is in heaven. You’re having more fun than you thought possible, but you desperately want to stretch your own flight muscles.

TT: My turn, dude.

TT: I wanna be a beautiful butterfly.

TT: We have enough data for now, AR. I think we should head back in before the storm hits.

It’s true, the wind has started to pick up and the clouds now dominate the southern horizon in an ominous wall of black. Ten more minutes couldn’t hurt, though.

TT: Nah, we’re good for now.

TT: And besides…

You take control, revving the engines and pointing the board skyward.

TT: …I’m a leaf on the wind, Dirk.

TT: Watch how I soar.

-----------------------

Dirk’s hair is a haystack by the time you touch-down on the concrete, the limits of what he can withstand before he loses his breakfast thoroughly tested. He wore a stoic little half-smile the entire time, but it turned into a grimace of fear more than once as you turned tight spirals and threw both of you into precipitous swooping dives. Calculating when to pull out of each one was so easy as to be subconscious, and you even designed a fun little HUD for Dirk on the fly (pun intended), so that he could see what you were about to do. A little foreknowledge that you weren’t going to pancake your asses into the ocean went a long way to keeping him calm, and by the end of your little acrobatics display, he’d switched to sitting cross-legged on the board, magic carpet style.

TT: Enjoy the ride, Princess?

TT: Sure thing, man.

TT: You’re a half-decent co-pilot.

TT: Whatever, Dirk. You’re basically my stewardess at this point.

TT: I’ll have to design you a skimpy uniform.

TT: Do I get a slutty mini-skirt?

TT: Naturally.

TT: Perfect.

------------------------

TT: Happy ‘Birthday’, bro.

TT: Roxy and I made you something.

timausTestified[TT] attached the file – kittykatkorner.exe-

TT: kittykatcorner?

TT: Ro-lal named it. She was very excited.

TT: Dude, is this a virtual cat? That's priceless.

The little black kitten stretches and purrs on your desktop, impressively detailed and heart-breakingly fluffy. You are lucky you don’t have a heart, or it would be in tiny pieces and you wouldn’t give two shits.

TT: I bet Roxy had a bright-pink hearts-and-flowers candyfloss embolism over this thing.

TT: She used all of those cat-pics you grabbed for her as source material.

TT: It’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. I’m gonna to call her Snowball.

TT: Excellent choice.

TT: Thanks man, I’ll enjoy watching it poop all over my desktop.

TT: That’s not all it can do. Try the little hand tool.

Puzzled, you molest the icon with your virtual grasp. A blue hand appears, its fingers moving much in the way you used to manipulate your own hand. But when you pet Snowball, expecting to see her arch her back or something equally adorable, you can feel the sensation of soft fur between your virtual fingertips, and your whole world shifts. She’s warm and soft, and she feels alive. You feel alive too. It’s incredible.

TT: Holy shit.

TT: She’s amazing. Thank you so much.

TT: No problem, bro. Give her a scratch from me.

As soon as Roxy comes online, you bombard her with every ludicrous ‘happy’ GIF file that the internet has to offer. You can almost hear her giggles singing through the wires.