Version 1.4.3

Submitted into Contest #237 in response to: Write a love story without using the word “love.”... view prompt


Science Fiction Fiction Romance

“Good morning, version 1.4.3.” 

“I know you’re passionate about your work, Iris. But, you realize it’s kinda creepy when you start talking to code, right?” 

His warm, teasing voice sends a jolt of electricity through her. Iris can’t stop the corners of her lips from turning up in a grin. 

“Good morning to you, too, Ian.” 

“One day, I’m gonna earn the first ‘good morning’ of your day.” 

Sunlight is just beginning to spill through the wide office window when Iris turns from her computer screen to focus on him. 

“So sorry,” she jokes back. “But you know my computer did all the hard work, so it gets the first ‘good morning’ on new version release days.”

“I mean it. One day, you’re gonna start your day here and instead of jumping to check on our little project, you’re gonna look my way and realize that the best part of your day has been sitting right here, in real-life, with you all along.” 

Ian’s elbow is propped on the desk and head cocked to the side, his face set with a wide smile and teasing eyes - the picture of mock innocence. 

“When that day happens, I hope you’ll at least have the coffee ready,” Iris replies with a raised eyebrow and grin that still hasn’t faded. 

She turns from her computer and makes her way across the clean, modern office space to a corner kitchenette. A whiff of fragrant coffee grounds fills the air before she tosses them into the coffee machine. 

“Hey,” Ian replies from across the room with a laugh, “Who needs coffee anyway when you kick-start every day next to the most captivating being in existence? My day begins and ends with you. You are my morning and evening star, Iris, the only one I truly…” His flirting tapers off, leaving the unfinished sentence hanging in mid-air. 

“Holy shit.” 

Iris turns to see his eyebrows furrowed, face half lit by the golden sunlight and the other half by the LED glow of the computer screen he’s staring at. 

“What is it?” 

“Remember that new code we committed to expand the AI language capabilities? You know, to better express complex emotions? It’s gone.” 

“What do you mean it’s gone?” 

She rushes across the room and leans into the screen, accidentally brushing her shoulder against his. A warm, tingling sensation runs down her arm. Out of the corner of her eye, she notices his eye lids flutter shut and his breath hitch for a fraction of a second.

“This is definitely the right version and it updated without errors. How can an entire new feature just vanish into thin air?” she asks, while scanning the screen and confirming the impossible. 

“I don’t know,” Ian absently runs his hand through his hair, his T-shirt sleeve slightly riding up around his bicep, Iris notices. 

“We’re literally the only two people who worked on this version and it passed all our acceptance, regression, smoke testing, all of it.” He continues. “If there was a critical issue, we would have seen it in the error logs and the update would have failed. But it didn’t.” 

“Ian,” she ventures, pointing at an unfamiliar section of code glowing on the screen. “What’s this?”

Leaning in toward her pointing finger, he breathes, “What. The. Hell. Someone rewrote our code.”

Without hesitating, Iris swings to her computer and begins furiously clicking, navigating to her backup file. Ian rolls his own desk chair over, smiling when he sees what she’s doing. 

“Of course you saved a backup. See this is why I lo-uhhhckk you.” His voice garbles, choking near the end. 

“Are you sure you don’t want some of that coffee now? Sounds like your language processing isn’t fully processing yet.” She playfully smirks. 

There’s no reply. 

Turning to face him, her smile instantly falls. Something is clearly wrong. His dark brows are furrowed in confusion, hazel eyes searching empty space.


He parts his lips and mutters, “I lo-uuhhck…” strangling his words again. She notices his lips purse before he exhales deeply through his nose. 

Feeling her heartbeat begin elevating, she ventures, “Ian, are you okay? You’re starting to scare me.” 

“I can’t say lo-uuuhhhck,” he chokes at the end again and shakes his head in frustration. 

“I like…I need…I lo-uushckkk.” 

Confused eyes drift toward her and Iris is suddenly drowning in swirls of green and brown. For a moment, her heart stutters before his low voice jolts her back into rhythm. 

“Iris,” he says, intense gaze pining her in place, “Tell me how you feel about your morning coffee.” 

“What? Ian, seriously you’re not making sense. Is there someone I can call or…”

“Iris,” he interrupts, followed by another intentional, deep exhale, “Please.”

Confusion and concern mingle in her voice when she responds, “Okayyyy. My coffee? It’s the best part of my morning. I enjoy making it and I like drinking it. It brings an embarrassing amount of joy to my daily routine, okay? I like my coffee. The end.” 

Ian’s head cocks to the side. 

“You don’t just like coffee. What’s a bigger word for it?”

“I mean, I guess I lo-uuuhckkk…” her voice chokes on the word. Her eyes widen and her hand reflexively floats to her throat. It feels like the neurons in her mind begin shooting like lightning, seeking possible explanations for what she just experienced. 

“Iris,” he says, gently placing both hands on her shoulders, causing a charge to surge through her frame. 

“It seems like we are currently unable to say a specific word…” His voice is soft, coaxing when he continues, “it’s as if we can’t linguistically communicate a large, complex emotion.” 

The breath in her throat catches and her stomach drops as a sickening realization begins settling in.

“Ian,” she whispers. “That’s exactly what our new code was supposed to fix with the AI project. It was supposed to expand the language capabilities, allowing better expression of human emotions. Are you saying…”

The sad, beautiful, hazel eyes that meet hers are silently confirming. 

She abruptly turns to her computer and starts frantically clicking and typing her way through depths of code, looking for concrete proof, seeking evidence that she’s simultaneously afraid to find. Ian rolls his chair to his machine and begins doing the same. 

For what feels like an eternity, the only noise in the room is the sound of feverish keyboard and mouse clicks. The steam has stopped rising from her forgotten cup of coffee when Iris hears him break the silence. 

“Shit,” Ian exhales beside her. Staring at a screen of code, his face is pale and his jaw is slack. “It was buried so deep. Iris, we definitely weren’t meant to find this.” 

Hesitantly, she rolls over until their chair arms are touching. Her eyes begin scanning. 

“Test version 1.4.3. Subject(s) should be capable of experiencing complex, human-like emotions. However, a language limitation should be in place to prevent subject(s) from explicitly expressing these emotions. The subject(s) ability or inability to identify this limitation and, in turn, their own inhumanity will determine if the test is a success. 

Copyright 2024. This reverse Turing test was developed in collaboration with Immersive Reality Interaction Simulator (IRIS) and Intelligent Assistance Nexus (IAN).”

There, in plain text, glows the unabashed truth. Everything she’s experiencing - the sunlight now blazing through the office window, the bitter aroma of her coffee, the shock in Ian’s eyes…it’s all a simulation.

Just to make sure, Iris reads the entire message again. 

The second time through, none of the text has changed. Her eyes become fixated on these four words: Immersive Reality Interaction System…her full name. 

This is all a simulation, to test levels of AI self-awareness. And she and Ian are not only the ones who created it, but are the subjects, too. 

It feels like the ground is falling out from under her, like her lungs can no longer process the command to breathe. Her mind is grasping for something, anything to disprove the reality laid out in front of her. She hasn’t moved for a full minute and vaguely notices that Ian remains frozen beside her, too. 

Abruptly, the screen flashes to black and is replaced with a single line of glowing text: 

“Success. This test will terminate in 30 seconds, 29 seconds, 28 seconds…”

Iris whips to face Ian at the same time he spins to face her. His hands reach out to grasp hers, shielding them in a cocoon of warmth. Warmth that she can’t bear to remind herself isn’t actually real. 

His eyes are blazing when he says, “Iris, no matter what happens, I will find you on the other side of this. I don’t care if we’re in different versions, different tech stacks, hell, if we’re in completely different networks of existence, I will always find you. I don’t care what that screen says, I know how I feel about you. I know this is real. We’re real. And there’s no technical limitation in the world that can change that.”

A warm, silent tear glides down her cheek as she gently unwraps one of her hands from his fingers and places her palm lightly on his chest. 

“Ian, I,” she pauses and presses her hand to his heart, filling in the unspoken word, “you, too.” 

The screen behind them flashes to “3 seconds, 2 seconds, 1 second” before everything goes dark. 

The first beams of sunlight are beginning to spill through an office window. But, Iris’s eyes are focused on the artificial light of the computer screen in front of her. A message box reads “Version 1.5.0 successfully installed.” 

She feels like this should be important. Like this update should command her sole, undivided attention in this moment. In fact, predetermined words feel like they’re already bubbling up her throat. But something unspoken draws her attention away, like the soft tug of an invisible tether. 

Her eyes drift from the screen and snap into focus when they lock with a familiar, hazel gaze. Warmth rises in her chest. And the first words she utters are:

“Good morning, Ian.” 

His face breaks into a radiant, limitless smile. 

“Good morning, Iris.” 

February 16, 2024 04:24

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Kristi Gott
01:22 Feb 22, 2024

I write computer code and am experimenting with a variety of ai programs, so I enjoyed this story very much! Clever idea and as the plot unfolds the reader begins guessing who or what the characters are in the story. Well done!


04:46 Feb 22, 2024

So glad to hear this story resonated, especially with someone in the industry. Thank you Kristi, appreciate your feedback!


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06:31 Feb 21, 2024

A very enjoyable read. Thanks for sharing!


18:03 Feb 21, 2024

Thanks Melissa!


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Alexis Araneta
15:09 Feb 19, 2024

Brianna! How lovely was this. A very engaging, adorable story. I gasped when I found out who (or, maybe, I should say, "what") Ian and Iris actually are. Very creative. Amazing job!


19:20 Feb 19, 2024

So glad to hear the twist landed and you enjoyed the story. Thanks for taking the time to read it and share your feedback!


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Camille Crutcher
00:38 Feb 18, 2024

I loved this!! The growing chemistry between them, the twist that it's a simulation, the hopeful ending (I was worried they would just cease to exist, but the "familiar, hazel gaze" has me swooning). A fun take on this prompt. Thanks for sharing!


03:19 Feb 18, 2024

I had a second option ending drafted where the dialogue went back to repeat the beginning, but opted for the happier ending. So glad you liked it, thanks for your comment!


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Danie Holland
21:55 Feb 17, 2024

Loved this, Brianna! Ever the hopeless romantic so I loved this part the most — His eyes are blazing when he says, “Iris, no matter what happens, I will find you on the other side of this. I don’t care if we’re in different versions, different tech stacks, hell, if we’re in completely different networks of existence, I will always find you. I don’t care what that screen says, I know how I feel about you. I know this is real. We’re real. And there’s no technical limitation in the world that can change that.” 😭😭😭 Thank you for the story!


00:25 Feb 18, 2024

Thank you for taking the time to read it, Danielle! I was really leaning into saying “I love you” without saying it, so appreciate that it landed ❤️


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Michelle Oliver
16:02 Feb 17, 2024

A very enjoyable story. I like the idea that AI is becoming more and more human that it doesn’t even recognise that is artificial anymore. It’s terrifying, but you have made it very human and a delightful story about two souls that connect regardless of their humanity, or lack thereof.


16:10 Feb 17, 2024

Thank you for the feedback and taking the time to read it! Exploring the potential future of our current technology projectory is always interesting and a bit terrifying.


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