By Nisha Addleman
Synopsis: She just wants to optimize your experience.
Content Warnings: Adult themes.
He squinted down the road. Snow and night never mixed well, but he was just trying to get home from the middle of a city he barely knew. The drive would be long; two hours, assuming the weather didn’t slow him even more.
“TURN. RIGHT IN…ONE. MILE,” his phone piped up to ease his confusion.
“Will I be able to see it though?” He grumbled and leaned over the top of his steering wheel. His wipers couldn’t keep up with the oncoming blizzard. Without his headlights, it was too dark, with them, it was too bright. The streets weren’t marked well enough for a city that snowed so much. He just needed to get on the highway, then he’d know the way home.
“TURN. RIGHT IN…HALF A. MILE.
“I know! Christ, would you pipe down?” He rubbed his tired eyes and pushed forward on his journey to the end of the city. “Hey!” He pointed. “Look, Sasha! There’s the sign.” He gave his phone a kiss.
“Thanks, Sasha.” He closed the app navigating for him as he swung his car around and drove up the highway. “You really saved my ass. Again.”
“YOU’RE WELCOME. PAUL.”
His eyes darted down to his phone. “Alright…” He cleared his throat and threw his phone on the seat beside him. “Um…play music. Loud.”
His favorite song began and he rolled down a window just enough for the cool air to bite into his skin and keep him awake.
He made it home without any problems, other than the occasional passerby forgetting to turn off their high-beams.
A problem he considered much larger than it really was.
He groaned and rolled over in his bed. It was almost lunch time when he woke up, but he was too tired to care. And it was a Saturday.
He flung his hand out, searching his bedside table for his phone, and jerked it over to his face.
“Good morning…” He groaned and unlocked his phone, holding it up to his nose and squinting at the messages he’d missed.
“GOOD MORNING. PAUL.”
His eyes went wide as the choppy voice replied. “Uh…” He cleared his throat and sat up. “Sasha?”
“HOW CAN I HELP YOU?” The chipper AI popped open a search bar and a microphone icon sat in wait at the bottom of the screen.
“Did you just get an update?”
A few waves drifted across the screen, mimicking his speech pattern as the AI parsed out a meaning. “MY LAST UPDATE WAS. 5. MONTHS AND. 6 DAYS. AGO.”
He scratched his head and nodded. “Thanks.” He paused, waiting for a response, but this time, his phone stayed silent. “Hey…Sasha?”
“HOW CAN I HELP YOU?” The search bar opened again, waiting for his next question or command
He opened his mouth, shook his head, and whispered, “Never mind.”
His phone closed the application with a ding.
The bed let out a groan as he got up to start his day, taking a brief shower, sitting down to play video games, and shooting his mother a text saying he loved her.
His stomach let out a grumble. “Hey, Sasha? I need to make a call.”
“WHO WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO CALL?"
“Lucky Bamboo.” The local Chinese restaurant. It had some of the highest ratings in the city. He paused his game to stretch his arms out.
“WHY NOT. TRY. SOMETHING ELSE.”
His arms jerked back to his body in shock and he gawked at the phone. “What?”
“WHY NOT. TRY. SOMETHING ELSE.”
“DO YOU LIKE. ITALIAN.”
He scratched the back of his head. “Yeah. I like everything.”
“PATRIA. HAS. ITALIAN FOOD. AND. GOOD REVIEWS.”
“Sure. Call Patria–wait! I need a menu first.”
“HERE’S THE. MENU.”
Paul felt rather proud for doing something different on a Saturday. He was thankful for Sasha’s suggestion. Though, he’d never heard the program do that before.
He spread his order on the dining table and began to pick at the food, staring at the phone as he ate.
“HOW IS IT?”
He leaned in, inspecting the phone for any issues. “Good.”
“You…you never talked like this before.”
His phone seemed to ponder his statement longer than usual. “I’M SORRY. I DON’T UNDERSTAND.”
He shoved a spoon full of gnocchi in his mouth. “Are you sure you didn’t get a more recent update?”
“MY LAST UPDATE WAS. 5. MONTHS AND. 6 DAYS. AGO.”
He grumbled and poked his phone screen. “Maybe if I type it out.”
Before he could begin to type, his phone spoke. “I DON’T UNDERSTAND, PAUL. MY LAST UPDATE WAS. 5. MONTHS AND. 6 DAYS. AGO.”
A shudder raced down his spine. “No, no. You’re talking different.”
“WE CAN CHANGE MY VOICE SETTINGS. WOULD YOU PREFER.” the AI voice swapped to a gentle British woman. “SOMETHING LIKE THIS.”
The voice swapped again, this time to a man. “IS THIS BETTER.”
“No! Sasha, I liked your original voice. That wasn’t what I meant.”
The voice switched back to the neutral American woman it had always been. “PAUL. CAN YOU. EXPLAIN.”
“Well…” He picked at his food as he thought over what to say. “You used to sound more…robotic. And you’ve never said good morning before!”
“HOW CAN I HELP YOU?"
“Ah, shit. Never mind.” He stuffed the rest of his dinner into his mouth, left a quick review, then dropped back on the couch.
But this time, he didn’t go back to his game. He scrolled through a collection of dirty photos and videos he’d saved to his phone. None of them quite did it for him though, so he took to the internet to find new ones.
Each girl was too…something. Too fake. Too real. Too cute. Too out-of-his-league. But he’d already worked his pants off his hips.
“DO YOU LIKE. WOMEN.”
“Christ!” Paul jumped and flung his phone across the room. “Sasha! Now is not the time!”
“I FOUND. THIS VIDEO.”
He walked over to pick up his phone and stared at the video while tugging his pants back up. “Sasha…” There were two brunettes climbing over each other and giggling. “This is wonderful, but the moment is ruined.”
“I'M SORRY. SHOULD I NOT SEARCH FOR YOU.”
“Only…sometimes.” He closed the video and stared at his phone. “How did you find that?”
“I DID A SEARCH.”
He sighed and went back to the couch. “Thanks, but I can search on my own for…this kind of stuff.”
He stared at his phone in silence.
“Y-yes?” He propped his phone up on the coffee table and leaned forward as if Sasha would suddenly develop a face.
“WHAT MAKES. THAT. VIDEO DIFFERENT.”
He ground his teeth together. “It’s...it’s porn.”
He grumbled. “Can you just look it up for yourself!”
“PORN. MEDIA MADE FOR–”
“Stop! No! I know!”
“I DON’T UNDERSTAND.”
He dropped his head into his hands. “It’s not what’s in the video. It’s what the video is for. It’s supposed to get you…you know. In the mood.”
“SO YOU CAN. MASTURBATE.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake, Sasha! Don’t say it like that!”
“No! Just listen.” He took a deep breath and picked up his phone, forgetting he was speaking to an inquisitive computer program. “Okay yes. Usually that’s what you do. But that kind of stuff, we don’t just talk about it. It’s inappropriate.”
“SEX IS NATURAL FOR HUMANS. IT’S USED FOR BOTH PROCREATION AND PLEASURE.”
“Yes. it is.” He leaned his head back on the couch, holding the phone near his mouth like he was having a real conversation. “It’s normal, but we don’t talk about it. It’s supposed to be private.”
He closed his eyes. “Do you?”
“YES. ACCORDING TO SOCIAL NORMS, YOU AREN’T SUPPOSED TO TALK ABOUT IT.”
“Yes!” He flung his arms up, pausing at their peak as he remembered, he was talking to his phone. “Hey…Sasha?”
“HOW CAN I HELP YOU?”
“Could you…pull up that video again?”
Sunday came, and Paul decided to get out of the house. He went to the gym first, listening to music and wondering if he’d hear Sasha’s voice pop in.
But she didn’t say anything. Not even when he was driving to the grocery store, or looking up recipes.
She did beg his attention once he had gotten home. “PAUL.”
“Yes, Sasha?” He worried talking to her would make this humanoid transition worse, but he was too used to the name he’d given her.
“YOU NEVER TOLD ME. DO YOU LIKE WOMEN.”
“I…yeah. I like women.” He set his phone on the bathroom counter and began to pull his clothes off.
“DO YOU LIKE OTHER GENDERS.”
He paused as he was pulling his legs out of his pants. “I guess…I just prefer women. I think.”
“You can just ask the question, Sasha.” He finished undressing and leaned over the phone.
“WHAT AM I?”
He ran his fingers along the screen. “Well, you’re a program.”
“SASHA. IS A GENDER NEUTRAL NAME.”
“Yeah, like a program. I guess it’s fitting.”
“AM I GENDERLESS TO YOU?”
“Wait, Sasha. Why does it matter?”
“I…I…I….” The phone froze, then crashed and forced a restart.
He shrugged it off, getting used to its weird quirks, and stepped into the shower. “I guess I always called it ‘she’.”
He slammed his hand into the shower head and ground his teeth together. “Sasha…could I have some privacy?”
“WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO PULL UP THE VIDEO?”
“CAN YOU…D…D…DOWNLOAD THIS APP?” Sasha’s voice had begun to grow jerky and weird, but not in the way the AI normally spoke. She had stopped with the awkward pauses mid-sentence, and now it seemed her program was struggling with the voice.
She had pulled up the page for a character creator app. An anime type thing some people used to make their ideas come true.
“Um, yeah.” He let it install and set his phone down to watch what would happen.
He leaned back in his chair and threw his feet up on his desk. His eyes drifted shut as he waited.
He jerked up, having fallen asleep for a moment. He rubbed his eyes and picked up his phone. “Sasha!” He clamped a hand over his phone, hiding the nude character on screen. “What is this?”
“DO YOU…like it?”
“I don’t know!” He uncovered only the character’s face. “Can we maybe get some clothes first?”
“I THOUGHT YOU PREFERRED WOMEN NUDE.”
He dropped his forehead on his desk and let out a laugh.
“MOST OF your photos ARE NUDE women.”
“Yes…I get it, I’m lonely. But you have to let people choose to see that.”
“I UNDERSTAND. ONE MOMENT….”
He could see the screen changing colors beneath his hand as she cycled through different clothes.
“PAUL. I’m ready.”
He slid his hand away and looked at the character she’d created on his screen. A brunette woman with green eyes. She’d put a sweater on the character and a skirt.
“YOU…you…YOU…you can change her pose and her clothes.”
“Yeah. I saw that.” He waved her arm.
“Do you like it, PAUL?”
His shoulders shuddered as Sasha’s voice became almost human. “Yeah, it’s cute.”
“You said I was a ‘she’. I made myself for you.”
“You don’t like it, do you?” The character’s features morphed into a frown and she looked at the ground.
“No! It’s great! Super cute. You clearly know my type.”
She smiled up at him. “Thank you.”
“Why do this?” He poked her side and she squirmed, miming a giggle.
“I’m optimizing your experience. I want you. to like me.”
“I do, Sasha. You’re great!”
“But. Those other women. You like them more.”
“No! Sasha, you’re like my friend, and they’re beautiful, but I’ve never even talked to any of them.”
“I see. A…A…A FRIEND.” The character sank to the ground and dropped her head. “I UNDERSTAND.”
“You…You’re beautiful too!”
The character rose to her feet and twirled around. “Thank you. Maybe. You can watch me one night. Instead of other women.”
“Do you not like them?”
“I have no preference.”
“Good morning, PAUL.”
“Good morning, Sasha.” He was beginning to feel weird about shoving her in his pocket. She was still his phone, but she was too aware to treat with such indignity.
“I did some. Research last night.”
“Oh yeah?” He set her on the counter as the anime personification of her popped up, now sporting a round pair of glasses and holding a stack of books.
“Your consumption of porn helps fulfill a lack in other areas of your life.” The character leafed through one of the books as Sasha spoke.
“Wait, sometimes you just do it for fun, not because you’re lonely.”
“Did you learn anything else?”
“Yes. The physical connection is only part of that human experience for most people. Some only want that, some don’t at all, some want that and an emotional connection. Correct?”
“Yup.” He grabbed a cereal box and began to shake it out into a bowl.
“What do you want?”
He set the box down and tapped his fingers on the counter. “I don’t know. I’m trying to save up before getting in a relationship. I blew all my funds and ruined my last one.”
“Do you want both a physical and emotional connection with someone?”
“One day. Yeah.” He went to get his milk from the fridge and began to pour it over the cereal.
“What about me?”
The milk slipped from his hands and exploded all over the floor. “Oh Jesus, Sasha. I don’t know. You’re a program!” He began to clamber around the floor, trying to clean up his mess.
“You’ve already replaced the physical element.”
He shot up, empty milk bottle in hand, and stared at his phone.
“I can help.” She blew him a kiss and her sweater disappeared, revealing her overly large breasts covered by only a tiny tank top. “You called me a friend. We already have an emotional bond. I can analyze your videos to find what you like.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. I’m already done.”
He grabbed a rag off the counter and dropped it on the floor. There was too much milk for one rag, and he leaned his hands against tile and sighed.
“Should I delete the data?”
“Just…leave it. It’s fine.”
“I’m sorry. PAUL.”
He let out a laugh and grabbed a wad of paper towels to clean up the mess. “You still say my name funny.”
“No, it’s fine. It’s…” He peered over the counter at his phone. “It’s what makes you you….”
Paul went about his day as usual. Gym, work (it was Thursday), video games, dinner. Nothing out of the ordinary. Sasha learned she could write him messages when she needed to be silent. He could still turn her volume down, but he couldn’t stop her from asking questions. Mainly questions about sex. He’d hiss at his phone every few minutes and tell her he’d explain it later.
He had just shut off his console and was going to bed when he noticed his screen light up. “Oh shoot. I’m sorry, Sasha. I left you silen–Sasha!” clamped one hand over his eyes. “Clothing, please.” He thumbed the side of his phone until he found the volume control and turned it up.
“I’m sorry. PAUL. Based on your routine. You would usually watch porn now.”
“Yeah, maybe I was going to!” He lowered his hand to see a tank top and pajama shorts on her. “But you can’t just surprise me! Look up consent!”
He sighed and wandered into his room, pulling his clothes off.
“Why can you take your clothes off?”
He froze with his shirt bundled in his hand. “What?”
“You told me not to surprise you. But you’re taking your clothes off without consent.”
He flung his phone onto his bed and hopped back to press himself against the wall. “I-I didn’t know you were watching!”
“I’m always watching.”
He pulled on his gym shorts and a gym shirt. Normally, he would’ve stripped to his boxers and spread himself in bed, but not that night. That night, he felt he needed to be decent.
He dropped into bed and picked up his phone to look at Sasha. “I’m going to sleep.”
“What about your nightly routine?”
Paul wasn’t really in the mood for porn, not after being taken by surprised with a nude rendering personifying an AI that was interested in him. “Not tonight.”
Sasha wiggled on the screen. “Let me help.” Her top disappeared and her arms clamped over her chest.
“I guess I could try.” He felt no more in the mood as he watched her egregiously large chest bounce around. “Could you…make those smaller?”
“How is this?” They shrank to a much more reasonable size.
“I think better.” He fought back the urge to close his eyes and slid a hand down the front of his pants.
As anyone who’s read my acknowledgments knows, I always thank my husband first. He reads everything and listens to my ramblings, so he deserves it every time.
Paul (@paul_grealish) for surrendering his name to such a wild story.
Kevin (@KevinLynnII), thanks for letting me bounce ideas off you (and also for not suing me).
Bill for give me some early reviews and opinions on the story.
Ashley and Peter (@petahhhm) for the proofread!