Sam Averis

Emmy wrote an algorithm

The next morning I got out of the shower, and Emmy was changing the sheets already. I winced, the sun on the clean white linen did my headache no favours. I asked if I’d see her again, and she paused for a few seconds to think, while her fingers tapped at the ghost of a number-pad on her thigh.

“It’s somewhat likely,” she said. One corner of her mouth was turned up into a smirk, and her eyebrows were just barely furrowed. I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to be in on the joke. I gawked while she tapped away for a few more seconds, and silently moved her lips. “I’d say about thirty-seven percent.”

The look was the same one she’d given the bouncer at the club, the one that got him riled and my arm twisted a little higher up my back.

“This isn’t a huge city, we’re a similar age. thirty-seven seems correct.” She was wearing my t-shirt, ironically printed with a photo of a puppy. “If you write down your number before you leave it might be more like… sixty-three or sixty-four.”

I zipped my jacket up over my bare chest. The shirt was hers now, and so was I.

She was in big data, and had a government contract, security clearance and a baggy of cocaine that looked small, but seemed to go on forever. She sat cross-legged on the floor in the dark and watched glowing green characters, raw units of information, play across the black screen. I rubbed her back.

At some point she stabbed the enter key with her middle finger, and a spiralling rainbow matrix of dots, lines and bars filled the screen. I gasped, overcome by the colours and the drugs and by the smell of her sweat. Her shirt was damp, and I could make out the bra-strap through the sheer white cotton that clung to her back.

She spun the wheel of her mouse, zooming in, and the graph exploded. It outgrew the confines of the screen, and seemed to fill the room. I was inside it as it grew wider and denser. It slowed while she put her head down to suck up the line of white powder she’d tapped out onto the trackpad of her laptop. I could see the colours from the screen reflected in her hair, impossibly black and glossy like an oil slick.

When she looked up she sniffed, urgently, as if surfacing for air. She started zooming again, faster, and the pixels blurred. The data moved so quickly that it was hard to be sure it was still expanding, like when the wheels of a car seem to spin backwards. She continued strumming the mouse wheel while she spoke to me between clusters of shallow breaths.

“What time is it?”

The numbers on my watch swam, but the light seeping in around the edges of the curtains told me it was morning. She gestured at me with the baggy, but I shook my head.

“Thursday,” I said, looking into Emmy’s eyes. They sat deep in their sockets, wild and fizzing. “I’m worried about you. About that.”

“It’s only this project. Just a means to an end.” She took her fingers off the mouse and enmeshed them in mine, and the expansion slowed. We had zoomed in far enough that the colours were coalescing into recognizable shapes. First flags, corporate logos, stock symbols. then cities, suburbs, products. I looked back as she lead me to the bedroom. The screen had stopped on a photo of my face, just a few months old and encircled by thousands of coloured threads connecting it to a thousand other points of data. It leered at me, a version of myself scraped from a fibre-optic cable and fed, grinning, to Emmy’s algorithm.

Emmy came home from the gym and went to bed. At the end of her contract they’d hired her on permanently, and she’d traded the sledgehammer efficiency of seventy hour coding binges for long-haul output optimization: flu-shots, daily stretches, green vegetables. All that, long hours, and nothing else. She had a new set of needs that served the same end.

In the morning I tried to fight with her. She just watched the TV weather-lady, smirking at the perky blonde’s fifty percent chance of rain. Her coat stayed on the hook when she left for work.

When she got home she was late and dry. Her presence barely registered. She perched on the edge of the couch and opened her laptop. Even the squab she sat on was untroubled by her weight. She was still and hygienic, like the signal from the wi-fi. I wanted her to cut me down, to look at me with the same playful contempt she had for the weather-lady. She stayed silent.

She was so grey, but I could feel the coloured thread that wove us together, the one from her computer program, as strong and vibrant as ever. It was digital, the numeral one stretched to gossamer and tangled around our tongues, stitched into our hearts, and binding our ankles together like convicts on a chain gang.

I wanted to break it, but I couldn’t talk. I squeezed the side of my tongue between my molars, harder and harder. Blood flowed into my mouth, hot and ulcerative, and salty like the tears I assumed came next. I closed my eyes for the grand unravelling, but there was something else holding me together. It was as calcified and organic as coral, analogue and immeasurable as hope. I felt a draft from the air-con, and it picked up a strand of her hair which blew free like a piece of snapped fishing line. I went to the spare room to make up the bed.

Sam Averis lives in Christchurch with his wife and daughters. His stories have appeared in Takahe, Geometry, and Flash Frontier among others. In 2016 two of his stories were highly commended in the NZ National Flash Fiction Day competition. Find him on his website and on twitter @samaveris.