Frozen Fish

The impact threw Alice clear of the car, sliding across the frozen lake and onto the bank, bruised but miraculously unbroken. Blinking and shaking away the disorientation, all she remembered was the sound — a cruel cacophony of glass, ice and metal. As her head cleared she felt her chest tighten. David was still in the car.

Growing up in a small town and a religious family, Alice was bred with a healthy distaste for artificial life. She had known with certainty she would never be one of the deviants that chose to pair with one. Yet, a dozen years later, she had David made. It was partly out of curiosity, an expensive experiment, as she expected to speak with him and return him within days. Instead, within forty-eight hours, she had known she would never need another human partner. It was not his appearance, although that shock of blond hair could have been designed for her — it was, in fact. Had she designed him herself, she doubted they could have bonded in the same way. Instead, she did what everyone did and opened her entire digital history to the manufacturing service, allowing its finely tuned algorithms to produce a more perfect companion than could ever have been crafted by hand.

Applied Synthetics had dubbed their creations Artificial Personalised Entities — A.P.E.s, as the perfect companions for talking monkeys. Of course, despite the carefully cultivated acronym and branding, humans being as they are with language meant that “Artificial” was instead shortened to “Fish”. It is always the derogatory term that sticks. With a shared appreciation for irony, Alice and David built a large aquarium in the apartment they shared and filled it with exotic fish. He would teach her about each new species they acquired she would name them after people she thought they resembled. During this time she still took the occasional human lover but, if David had objected and asked her to stop, she doubted she would have missed it.

David had suffered a reasonable amount of surface damage in the crash but his chassis was resilient and he did not seem concerned. He released the seatbelt and tested his mobility, swiftly discovering that one arm was trapped by a twist of metal and the other would not be enough to release him from the vehicle without assistance. He strained against it briefly before deciding the attempt was futile. He scanned the wreckage of the car, the front of which had broken through the ice on impact whilst the rear wheels remained out of the water. He assessed the ice and concluded the surface of the entire lake was now precariously unstable.

This was all conducted in a matter of seconds, at which point he caught sight of Alice, lying on the bank and shaking her head clear. He was pleased to find she appeared unharmed, and waited as she sat up and eventually looked over at him. The moment he caught her eyes he was struck by the predicament they now faced.

Alice squinted at David in the car, uncertain why he was still sitting there until she noticed the metal tangle that held him fast. She would have to extract him. She was already on her feet — surprisingly steady given the trauma to which her body had just been subjected — and moving towards David.

“Alice, the ice is unstable. You cannot approach the vehicle.”

“I know I can make it.”

“But I do not know that.”

“And… if I say I won’t?” she felt a knot of apprehension in her stomach.

He paused, “My programming has calculated that the only way to to prevent you attempting this is to ensure there is nothing to save.”

“What are you saying?”

“In order to protect you my programming requires me to erase this mind,” he stated with a calmness that bordered on eerie.

Alice found herself struggling to process this information. Of course the data within David’s synthetic brain was stored in a series of redundant backups. But the self-destruction process would destroy the organic components as well. There was no way to backup or recreate those, no way to restore her David. She could have him recreated as when they first met eleven years ago, or she could have the entire process repeated based upon her current digital history, but that would create an entirely new personality. In either case David would be gone. A nauseating wave of powerlessness washed over her as she reached for words.

David broke the momentary silence, “My neural safeguards have been deactivated. I have calculated that by the conclusion of this sentence, six point eight seconds will remain before the process is initiated.”

She needed more time. “I… I’m sorry, David.”

“Do not be,” he smiled at her and whispered across the frigid air, “Notothenioidei.”

The fizzing sound, followed by a small plume of smoke escaping his left ear, seemed a rather underwhelming end to his existence, to their life together. She sat motionless, staring across at wreckage of the car, still certain she could have reached it. It remained stationary for what seemed like several minutes before there was a subdued cracking and David and the vehicle slid into the icy depths of the lake. She flushed with anger that immediately overpowered her sadness, her first thought being, “he really was just like all men — terminally self-destructive, destroyed his own programming.”

It was several days later, as the heady mixture of emotions conjured by grief drained away, that she was finally able to place the last word he spoke to her: the species of Antarctic icefish. She smiled. No one would ever know her like David.