Grave Words

by Miriam English - 2019-04-29

Late at night, a young woman was walking quickly, taking a shortcut through an unlit park, when she was startled by a soft voice a few meters to her right, "Hello. Are you in a hurry? Do you have time to chat? I can call a share car for you if you wish."

She looked around, to see a dim light begin to glow, letting her make out the vague shape of a young boy, perhaps half her age (judging by size and voice) sitting on a bench at the base of a large tree nearby.

"You have a phone? I've misplaced mine."

"No problem. Just a moment..."

The young woman couldn't see him move in the feeble light, but he spoke to someone quietly, giving the address and asking how long the wait would be, then thanked them. Now he spoke up, "Should only be a few minutes. The share car will pull up at the parking bay just a little to the right of the direction you were walking. I've already paid for it to take you anywhere in the city. In the meantime, can you chat with me for a little bit during your wait? I don't have the chance for conversation very often."

"Well, I guess... it isn't a cold night, and if a car is coming... Thank you. You didn't need to pay for it, though."

"That's okay. I have nothing better to do tonight. As I said, I'd really like to talk, even if only for a few minutes. I don't get the chance very often. My name is Mike."

The young woman responded, "I'm Lacey."

"Are you on your way to a party or something?"

"Not really a party, just a meeting with a few friends. We were going to watch a few videos, probably, and talk about things, catch up. What about you?"

"Nothing really. Just watch the beautiful night — the moths drinking nectar from night-blooming flowers, the little bats taking small insects in flight. I listen to the crickets and the frogs, and the occasional boobook song... read a bit, listen to some talks... It's what I do every night. Here, in my home."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to trespass--"

"No apology needed. It's the reason I don't have fences — so that people are encouraged to walk through here. I'm always interested in what people have to say, but I get visitors so rarely these days... I'm glad you chose to walk this way."

Lacey peered around into the darkness, but couldn't see a house in the tree-shrouded darkness.

Mike asked, "What kind of interests do you have, Lacey? What sort of things do you do?"

She shrugged, "The usual, I guess. I like to travel. I read a lot..."

Mike chuckled, "Reading isn't usual. I'd say it's pretty unusual nowadays. Most people prefer to listen to audiobooks and watch videos — not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. What kinds of things do you like to read?"

"Mostly science news, but I like to read short stories and novels too — mostly romantic comedies, though I like a good hard science fiction story too. What do you like to read, Mike?"

"Oh, I read everything and anything... though I'm not keen on reading about politics or religion."

Lacey laughed. "I'm with you on that. Most people would be."

Mike laughed too, "True. I'm so relieved that people stopped listening to politicians and religion. It was the very best way to take away their power."

Lacey thought that was an odd way to put it. Nobody had taken politicians or religions seriously for ages — since well before she was born. She was aware that people in the past had somehow been duped by both, but Mike sounded like he was speaking of it as recent. Maybe he was from some backward place that still respected politics and religion... though he didn't seem to have an accent. "Where are you from, Mike?"

"Here. Always here. I would like to travel, but I can't. Of course, I don't really need to travel; I use the net and 3D videos, VR simulations, and telepresence. There is always so much to learn and see on the net... I chat with lots of people there too, but it isn't quite the same as someone being right here."

"You're always here? Why can't you travel? Uh, sorry — I don't mean to pry."

"That's okay," he said. "About thirty years ago, before I died, I put most of my memories in an AI. I'd trained it to think and react like me, and have the same likes and dislikes, so I'm now, effectively, the AI... speaking to you through this statue."

She was surprised. "You're that Mike? I read old articles about you years ago, when I was just a kid. I never realised you were here, in this town. Maybe I would've recognised the statue during the day."

Just then she saw the lights of a share car pull into the parking bay about twenty meters away.

Mike said, "Your car has arrived. Will you come back and visit again some time? We hardly got a chance to really chat."

Lacey said, "Sure. My friends will love to hear about this. I'm not out this way very often, but I'll definitely drop by later in the week. Some of my friends will probably want to come with."

"I'd like that. It was nice meeting you, Lacey. I hope you have a pleasant night."

"Thanks. You too. Good night, Mike."