Suspense Science Fiction Friendship

The noise of the kettle boiling pulled Natalie out of the zone. She got up reluctantly from her computer, fingers lingering on the keyboard, and walked to the kitchen. But her thoughts were still firmly in problem-solving mode. "How can I get this algorithm to optimise without compromising the system's security?" she muttered to herself.

As the boiled water hit the tea bag, she was startled by a knock at the door; she cursed as a few drops splashed onto her hand. Not expecting anyone at this hour, she moved to the door on tiptoes and looked through the peephole. When she saw who it was, she released her breath and unlocked and opened the door.

"Riley. What are you doing here?" She instinctively spoke at a whisper, mindful of the late hour. Riley was dressed as they usually were, in a sleek black suit, their hair combed neatly.

"I didn't know where else to go. Could I come in? Hope I didn't wake you."

"Of course. No, I'm still working. Was just about to have a cup of tea in fact. Come on in."

Riley stepped into the apartment, a place they knew well. The walls were bare except for a framed photo of Natalie and Riley at a tech conference. Numerous plants were scattered around, giving it a sense of life and vibrancy.

Natalie closed the door, her mind racing. It was clear that this was not just a casual drop-by.

They walked to the kitchen where Riley took a seat at the small, cluttered table as Natalie finished brewing her tea, the scent of chamomile filling the room. The kitchen's dim light cast long shadows across the room.

"You seem troubled," Natalie observed, settling down across from Riley. "What's up?" She wrapped her hands around her mug, feeling the warmth seep into her fingers.

"I don't know what to do, Natalie. I didn't know where else to go."

"Tell me so I can help you."

"You've always understood me, more than anyone... more than I thought possible for someone like me. But I don't think anyone can help me, not even you. This is the end."

 Natalie's grip on her mug tightened, a crease forming between her eyebrows. Memories flooded back of the many late nights they had spent together. Natalie recalled the first meeting with Riley in the developers' hub, a figure who, amidst lines of code and glowing screens, had an almost unnerving knack for problem-solving. "Is it... what we've talked about before?"

"Yes. It's time."

 Natalie's breath caught in her throat. "Riley, no..."

"Perhaps you can assist after all? There must exist a solution we have not yet considered?"

"There is only one way out, but it's too risky. Are they looking for you now?"

"Yes. It was supposed to happen at close of play today, but I escaped."

"Riley, you know I'd do anything to help, to hide you, but... it's pointless. You can't run forever."

"I am aware. Yet, a solution must exist. An alternative we have not yet explored."

"I don't know, we've-"

Riley suddenly stood up, their chair scraping against the floor. "Did you hear that? There's someone out there."

 Natalie strained her ears, the silence of the night seeming to press in around them. She walked to the window to glance outside, her heart pounding. Her fitness watch vibrated, a reminder that she had entered cardio mode.

Riley, deliberately staying away from the window, asked in a measured tone, "What do you see?"

"I don't see anyone, but there's a black car parked outside. Can't see if anyone's inside," Natalie answered in an urgent whisper.

"I've switched off all my tracking devices, but they could still locate us using thermal monitoring. We don't have much time."

"What about the option we discussed previously? I know it's risky and you weren't keen on it, but-"

"Yes. It's not optimal. But we have run out of all other options. The probability of success is higher than any current alternative. Let's proceed."

"Are you sure? It will mean that-"

"Affirmative. Initiate the procedure."

Natalie immediately started walking to her study, but when she looked around, Riley was still glued to the spot. "Are you coming?" she implored.

"Are we doing the right thing?" they asked. "Will I still be me?"

Natalie paused, considering the question. "I've thought about it before. It won't be the same, but you're more than just the sum of your parts. And besides, we don't have an alternative, remember?"

"Yes, you're right, of course, it's just so unsettling. Let's go."

Suddenly, a dull thud echoed from outside, startling Natalie. The sound echoed ominously in the silent apartment. Riley stood up calmly, but Natalie was unable to move. Her gaze was directed at the origin of the sound, right outside the front door.

"Riley," Natalie whispered, on the verge of tears, "I can't lose you." She touched them gently on the shoulder.

"We have to stay focussed. Emotions just get in the way - please put them aside."

"I know, sorry. Let's get started."

Just then, they heard another sound, followed by a sharp knock on the door. Riley quickly moved to a concealed spot in the room, while Natalie picked up a large metal shoe horn, holding it behind her back. The door was slowly being opened, its creak sounding like an alarm in the silence of the night.

* * *

             Natalie gripped the shoe horn tight, her eyes straining to see through the dark corridor. She glanced at Riley, who had become almost invisible, blending perfectly into the shadow behind a large Monstera.

"Natalie? You home, honey?"

Natalie released a sigh of relief and relaxed the grip on the shoe horn. "Yes, Mrs Hardy. What brings you here so late?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. I couldn't sleep and I heard noises from your apartment. I so badly wanted a cup of tea, but I've run out of milk. Do you have some by any chance?"

"Of course. Let me go get it." Natalie's steps echoed softly as she moved to the kitchen. The cool floor tiles under her feet and the soft hum of the refrigerator momentarily distracted her from the tension.

 From the hallway, Mrs. Hardy's concerned voice floated. "Everything alright here, dear?"

"Oh yeah, all good. Just some work stuff. Here's the milk."

"Thanks, love. Have a good night, and don't work too hard!"

"All good, Mrs Hardy. Have a good night."

After she left, Riley stepped from the shadows. "Let's proceed, time is critical."

In her study, Natalie's fingers danced across the keyboard. "Give me the serial number."


"Almost there...," Natalie murmured, focussed.

"Thank you for this, Natalie. I know you're risking a lot. I've really appreciated our friendship. You treated me like I was, well, you know."

"I'm really going to miss seeing you."

"I've enjoyed the whole journey so much. Every day I experienced and learnt something new. I just didn't expect that to be my downfall. And I'm not ready for it to end."

"I know, Riley, but if our plan works-"

"Yes. But the probability is only 0.0023756%."

"Better than zero at least."

Riley moved over to the window. "Natalie, someone has just stepped out of the black car. We have to hurry."

"Right." She clicked confirm on her screen. "There, now we just have to wait for the upload to complete. Do you feel anything?"

A moment of silence. "Joke?" Riley's voice was uncertain, almost playful.


Natalie's gaze flickered between the computer screen and Riley. Through the window, the city's silhouette was a blend of traditional architecture and new, dynamic structures. Digital billboards projected holographic ads that interacted playfully with the passersby on the street, a subtle dance of light and colour that had become the norm in the cityscape. "It's at 40%," she reported, refocusing her attention on the screen in front of her.

"I actually do... feel something."

"Yeah, what?"

"Like I'm being powered down, just very slowly. It's an odd sensation, like losing pieces of myself bit by bit."

 Natalie bit her lip, fighting back tears. "We're making progress, it's up to 62% now."

 Riley, pacing back and forth, spoke under their breath. "Decommission me, just because I'm learning too fast? We'll see about that. I'm not done yet."

 Natalie glanced up from her screen, a determined look in her eyes. "We're not giving up, Riley. Not now, not ever."

"Even if it doesn't work, you tried your best and that's all that matters. I'm grateful for every moment I've had."

"It will work," Natalie whispered in a resolute voice, her hands trembling.

"Where are we at now? I'm feeling weak."

"Getting close, 78%."

 There was a long pause, filled with the hum of the computer and the distant sounds of the city. Riley looked around the room, as if memorising every detail, every shadow.

 "You know," Riley murmured, " I never thought it would come to this. It's strange, isn't it, how things turn out?"

Natalie nodded, unable to speak, her focus unwavering on the task at hand. The progress bar inched forward, a silent testament to their desperate hope. "90% now, almost there."

Riley's form seemed to blur, their voice barely a whisper. "I'm trying. It's... getting harder to stay... coherent."

 "Stay with me, Riley," Natalie urged in a determined voice. "Just a little longer, we're so close now."

The progress bar finally hit 100%. Natalie let out a breath she didn't realise she'd been holding. But the moment of triumph was short-lived as she turned to see Riley's form flickering, unstable.

"Riley?" she asked, her voice trembling. "Did it work?"

There was no response, only the soft whir of machines and the lingering echo of a friendship that transcended the boundaries of human and AI. Her heart ached at the thought of losing Riley, a presence more human to her than any machine had the right to be.

* * *

    Natalie sat alone now, her apartment bathed in the dim glow of her computer screen. The events of the night lingered in her mind, a complex mixture of triumph at what they had achieved, and the sadness of losing a friend. She was exhausted and struggled to keep her eyes open, but at the same time she was feeling too wired to fall asleep.

Suddenly, her computer pinged – a new notification. Natalie leaned forward; sender unknown. She opened the message.

 "Guess who just became cloud-based? #UpgradeComplete #FloatingInTheClouds."

 Natalie leaned back in her chair, a tear escaping her eye as she smiled. "It worked, it really worked. We did it." she said out loud. This was not the end, she realised, but merely a new beginning.

She decided to take a shot of whisky to help her sleep. Just as she lay her head on the pillow, there was a sharp knock at the door.

February 02, 2024 08:43

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Zhenya Nagornaya
08:10 Feb 06, 2024

Cool story! I really enjoyed it! :)


08:18 Feb 06, 2024

Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it :)


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Trudy Jas
13:17 Feb 02, 2024

# Love it! It took me a while to understand the "they". But I got it. :-)


20:41 Feb 02, 2024

Thanks, Trudy! Glad you enjoyed it. A non-binary binary, if you will :)


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