He took her spot on the brink of the roof next to the warm iron pipes. With feet, dangling in the air aloft the city, he leaned on the wall behind him. Clyde rested on the cushions she brought him up here a week ago and soared across the sea of blinking lights of skyscrapers and seamless roads below. Blue of the night and orange of streetlights tangled together, each trying to shine over the other. Rattle purred and turned on it’s back, stretching the paws towards his unmoving gaze.
Zoey crept up behind him, scaling the wall like a deer, moving her feet on the right tiles, and avoiding the creaky ones. He heard her but didn’t move a muscle. She stretched her hands forward and wrapped them over his eyes.
“What a though call this is, huh. Who could possibly find me here on the abandoned roof in the middle of nowhere? What a mystery,” he eagerly exclaimed. Even a person who heard him talk for the first time would sense the mocking undertone. Zoey rolled her nut-brown eyes and sat cross-legged next to him.
“You’re early,” she uttered. The unsaid question rode the air between them, but only an echo of hollow silence returned.
Zoey sprang an elbow into his ribs and raised her eyebrow. “How’s your work going?”
“Why do you even ask? You don’t believe the shit I say anyway,” he replied, harsher than he wanted.
“Doesn’t mean I don’t find it interesting, besides, you never even tried to prove it.”
Clyde chuckled and pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. Rattle purred, louder this time. moving from his lap into Zoey`s. He rested head where her hoodie wrinkled and piled up into an improvised cushion. A smile found a way on her lips as she brushed her fingers over Rattle`s scoured, but soft fur.
“Well I’m feeling generous today, ask away,” he spat out, saw her glare and sighted. “Yeah, yeah. I also promise I won`t talk in riddles, you win girl.”
“Now that is one good way of celebrating New years.”
“Well, I don`t have all night, so go ahead,” he complained and gave her his dangerous side grin. If she blushed, she hid it near perfectly. Zoey bit her lip and reached up with her hand, letting her burning crimson hair fall in waves around her shoulders.
“You always talked about AI. I know that the Tide system ranks us by our actions, but-”
Clyde shifted in his seat and pulled another long, deep breath of smoke before opening his mouth. “But how does it really work. The question, right? It sees your actions, it tracks your messages, what you buy and sell, what you search and wonder about. Nothing about you is really hidden, not even the fact you tried searching my name and finding out who I am two twenty-eight times.”
She gasped, tried to fumble for words, but nothing came.
The dark in his eyes glanced in her direction. “Don`t worry, I think the fact I know that makes me more of a stalker than you.”
He laughed. She didn`t. Clyde tried to stop his fidgeting, tapping his leg or his trembling fingers while tightly clenching the smoke-filled roll. He failed.
“I thought you said you knew more about it,” furrowed his brows at her. “No? Nevermind. The system has an algorithm that then gathers the information and predicts your future, especially the future about how valuable will you really be for this city. Well, not just the city...”
Zoey's eyes shot wide. “Is that how traffic dilemma works?”
With a wild roll of eyes, she tilted her head towards him. “Is that how the algorithm decides who gets to live and who dies when serious crashes happen. You know, solves the famous who-would-you-choose-to-save question.”
“I always wondered how you people call our EIA.” Glancing at her blank expression, he hurried forward; “Ethical Interception Algorithm. That`s what you`re talking about. Great guess by the way.” He paused and leaned forward.
“You`re right. That AI is the god that decides who gets to live or die. Exciting right?”
“I would describe it more like sickening, but whatever floats your boat.”
He sighed. “Yeah a while ago, I’d argue, but now I tend to agree.”
Zoey's stomach trembled from laughter. “I wonder what could possibly make a smartass like you actually agree with me for once.”
Might have been the wind, that tangled his thoughts with its sizzling slaps of air past his head for the last hours he’s been up here. Or maybe the sleepless night, or two, that followed him wherever he went. Most likely, however, it had been his sister’s death, three days ago. He clenched his jaw, trying to speak but even his tongue stumbled and stopped.
She stretched her tender hand and brushed it over his cheek. No way he could hide the blush that followed, even if he’d actually want to.
“Well, I`m not that convinced our little EIA system works anymore.”
“But you always said it`s 100% perfect.”
“It was. And maybe that was the issue,” he sighed. He rubbed his eyes with tired, rough hands which made of a decent cover for wiping the few tears that slipped through before she could notice. Clyde turned away from the red silky strands of her hair and fixed his eyes on the burning horizon. The sky full of dying light, made of the sun giving in to the moon. They sat in hollow silence for minutes, that dragged like an hour, dreadful and dry, before he spoke.
“So an owner of second-largest company wakes up one day and sees one of his partners backstabbed him. He`s furious, but helpless, at least at the time. One cup pours down his stomach after another before one or two becomes one or two cups too many. He sits in the car, blasts a sad, humming melody, and decides to take a stroll around the city.”
Her gaze burned on the side of his face intently, but he couldn`t turn to her, not with the swelling knot in his stomach and strained eyes, burned from tears.
“Of course, he crashes. He`s drunk as shit and swaying from side to side from the melody. His car should have veered directly over the bridge, plunging into the water, and take him to the depths of the ocean.”
Clyde paused and smirked, even if the lifted corner of his mouth was more bitter than sweet. “Instead, EIA takes over the wheel and crashes the car into the pavement onto a strong point of the bridge fence. The fence that, by calculations, would damage the car but save his life. It just so happens my sister walked across the bridge, and leaned over the fence, watching the endless blue. The car rammed her against the fence, maybe even folded her in half, who knows. The only thing it cared about was the that owner would, a few days later, give his company into the hands of our company, that just so happens to own a system that predicted that.”
Normally she would gasp. She couldn`t. Zoey covered her mouth with both hands with eyebrows pulled together in agony. “I’m so sorry,” she managed to blur out before they fell quiet together.
She sighed, he took a deep breath.
Clyde ruptured the silence. “The problem here is, I’m the guy to blame.”
“Don’t try to explain some stupid reason you should have been there for her. You told me a million times she wanders off to the city.”
“...Because I’m the one who made EIA, and considering you told me you hated it, I couldn’t- I didn’t want to tell you that. Anyways,” he finished with a faint sigh.
He knew she would flinch away, curl up lips or bolt up, too mad to not show anger, too disappointed about him to say anything. And unlike usual, he was wrong. She scooted closer and put an arm around his shoulders. The red in his cheeks returned. After he hunched forward and dropped his head into his palms, she leaned onto him. Shivers ran down his spine and the knot in his stomach burst out, no amount of strain could stop it. Another set of tears followed, along with her hand, gently caressing across his back and her whispers of the usual it’s okay.
“I knew. I heard the talk about the wonder boy of the corporation. You’re quite famous in the underground meetings I used to go to, so wasn’t hard to put two and two together” she laughed uneasily and hesitated for a second before wiping away a tear from his cheek.
“They also said you were a monster, programming a robot that eats children and trips grandma’s as they cross the street,” she continued with a whisper in his ear.
Tears turned to a grin shining as Clyde caught her eyes. “Oh yeah, that one is in progress, too. Field testing begins in a week.”
“Yeah, if only they knew you like I do. You’re much, much worse than that,” she mocked and showed her elbow into his ribs again.
He grunted and curled up into a ball, dramatically rolling to the side.
“That one hit a wrong spot, damn that hurts” he blurred out between the grunts.
“Or was it the right spot? You might have deserved it, at least a little.”
She laughed and he returned the smile, matching her intensity.
Shoulder to shoulder, heart by heart they sat on the rooftop and listened to the city. The city obliged and offered them it’s nights melody. A car, veering sharply with a drunk driver inside. Scattered music of nightclubs opening. Lonely humms of birds going to sleep.
Clyde smiled to himself. The night's wind rustled past them, sending cold shivers down his bones. The sounds of the city interrupted one another, trying to prevail. Rattle moved his ass between him and Zoey so she had to let go and now sat just out of his reach. The melody of the night was tinged in bitter, not at all perfect.
Maybe that is what made it special.