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Contemporary Science Fiction Speculative

The code scrolled up the screen, bright green on the black background, full ‘Matrix mode’, as her flat mate called it, in that sickened tone she always used when she had to reference sci-fi. Leah drummed her fingers on the desk as she waited for the test to finish compiling.

“Come on, come on.” This one last tweak, to squash what should be the last glitch in the software, and she’d be on the home stretch.

“Hm? What’s up, not getting through to Zion?” Marianne was sprawled on the sofa, channel hopping as she waited for her hair to dry.

“No, I… hang on, how do you know about Zion? You have seen those films!” Grateful for the distraction, Leah spun round and glared at her flatmate’s legs, the only part of her that was visible from the open-planned kitchen.

“John insisted that I watched them. The action was all right, but there was a lot of talking. I fell asleep for most of that.”

“That sounds more like you. And checking out all the guys, am I right?”

“Fair’s fair. John was checking out that chick in the leather.”

“That’s–” Leah started, before remembering who she was talking to. There was no point trying to explain to Marianne that Trinity was more than a ‘chick in leather’. She’d have better luck explaining it to the table. Or her new app.

On cue, her laptop pinged, and bit by bit the manic whirling of the fan started dying down.

“Yes,” Leah said through gritted teeth.

“Oh? Your love bot all finished then?”

Leah blushed again. “It’s not a ‘love bot’. It’s an advanced, artificial intelligence, partner-matching service–”

Jabbing the mute button, Marianne hauled herself up and leant over the arm of the sofa. Even in her dressing gown, no make-up, hair in a towel, she still looked so co-ordinated and, frankly, beautiful. Living with her was a special circle of hell for Leah, but Marianne was the only one who would share with her. Or rather, Marianne was the only one of their friends who hadn’t moved in with their partner. Yet.

“Love. Bot,” Marianne repeated.

“Whatever. Don’t you have a date you should be getting ready for?”

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll be fashionably late, it’s fine.” Despite saying that Marianne got off the sofa and disappeared into her room. “I probably won’t be coming back tonight.”

“Yeah. I figured.” In fact, Leah had banked on it. It meant she’d be able to get some serious work done refining the love bo– AI dating program, without having to worry about being interrupted. All she had to do now was upload all the test data, and then she’d be able to see what the programme could do.

Leah threw herself into the work, so when Marianne came back out twenty minutes later and grabbed her purse off the table, Leah jumped out her chair. “Bloody hell, Marianne.”

“Seriously? I do live here, Leah, I’m not going to announce my presence every time I walk into a room.”

“Are you sure I can’t get you to wear a cat bell?”

“John could. You can’t.” And with a last wink and a wave, Marianne twirled out the flat, leaving a trail of perfume behind her.

Scratching her unwashed hair, Leah went back to work. It was a simple problem, when you got down to the core of it; all you had to do was match up the characteristics of people, and you’d find them an ideal match. Sure other sites already did it, and Leah could remember the old ‘personality test’ things that had been popular when she was in primary school, that would apparently tell you how compatible you and your boyfriend were, but they were all flawed. They had to be, given Leah’s experience with them.

The edge with Leah’s software – which she still hadn’t named, despite all of Marianne’s ‘helping’ – was that she’d given it a small artificial intelligence. It was more a baby AI; it couldn’t do anything more than spot patterns, just a beefed up algorithm really. But after all the fuss about social media algorithms deciding people’s lives, and streaming algorithms deciding what they watched, saying she was offering something else for dating software looked like a good marketing pitch.

It was dark outside by the time Leah next looked up, and pretty dark inside the flat as well. The single kitchen side light she’d been working by had ceased being enough long ago, and when she looked away from the screen she was left blinking.

“Wow. Okay, too into that.” Rubbing her eyes she got up and clicked on the overhead light. For a moment she looked at the microwave, chewing her lip and wondering if she should get her food on yet. “Not yet. Get the programme running, then I can eat while it sorts itself out.”

Talking to herself was a habit she’d picked up during uni, and was another reason she was glad that Marianne was out. Even after two years living together, Marianne still tried to answer when Leah was talking to herself.

In the end it took another hour to get the rest of the data imported, and when Leah finally pulled herself away from the screen she was starving. As her curry heated up, she helped herself to a bag of crisps from the cupboard, glaring and poking at her spare tyre as she ate them.

Meal in hand – or what passed as a meal from the frozen section of the supermarket – Leah went back to her seat, and watched the text on the screen again. When it stopped and beeped, she choked down the rice she was halfway through swallowing and scrabbled about for her phone. She found, hidden under the post and Marianne’s latest magazine, and connected it up.

“Now then,” she said, mouth still half-full. “Let’s see what this bad boy can do.”

A few clicks later and the app was on her phone. Leah grinned smugly, proud of how easily that bit had gone at least, before realising there was no one around to share her smile. Her face fell back into her usual puzzled frown, and she got on with her tests.

“Now then. Who to test first?”

The only data she’d been able to get so far was from friends, but Marianne’s sickeningly positive influence had turned up a fair amount. She had a list of attributes from everyone, as well as a hidden list of who they were dating. If the app was going to buy Leah a yacht, it needed to match up all the couples.

“Let’s start with… Malcolm and Tessa.”

She clicked on the ‘test run’ icon, then selected their profiles. A spinning heart motif came up, then a bleep. Solid match.

“Yes! Okay, Shannon and Zara.”

More hearts, then another bleep.

“Brilliant. How about… Sofia and Jacob?”


On and on through the list she went. Every so often she’d enter two that weren’t a couple, with mixed results. “Well, that’s hardly a secret,” she muttered, when her test for Malcolm and Lydia came up positive. They’d been a thing in high school, and after too many drinks Lydia would still say breaking up with him was the worst decision she’d ever made. And that was coming from someone who’d passed on the chance to buy cheap Netflix shares, back at the start.

Once or twice Leah went through to the ‘calculations’ page, which broke down all the reasons that a couple did or didn’t match. This was the weakest bit of the app, as user interface wasn’t her area of expertise. It was another dark screen with coloured text, but in keeping with the app she’d at least made the text pink this time.

Satisfied that she could show this to investors, Leah stretched and started picking at her cold curry. She looked around her flat and smiled. “Well, I suppose I should run them through this as well.”

After licking her fingers off she clicked on Marianne and John.

Twirling heart.

A flat thunk sound.

No match.

“What? No way, that can’t be right. Where are the calculations… what the hell are you thinking here?” Leah scanned through all the text and bit her lip. “Well, I guess. But there’s still enough there to make a positive match. Why have you said no?”

A new line of text started typing itself out along the bottom.

Because they are not a match.

“What? Of course they are, they – Wait. How did you do that?”

Do what?

Leah dropped her phone and leapt out the chair, for real this time, stumbling on her shoes behind her and catching the wall. “Bloody hell! That’s, that’s–” Insane. Unbelievable. Crazy. “Probably not happening. Too much staring at a screen. I need to take a break.”

But she couldn’t help picking up her phone again and having another look.

I am sorry. I did not mean to startle you. But you asked a question.

“That’s… fair enough. I suppose.” Now what was she supposed to say? “So why aren’t they a match?” It was all she could think of, and if she was in some dream state she might as well get something out of it.

Because they are not compatible.

“Why not?”

Because she is looking for a long term relationship. He is not.

“Well… if anything I’d say it was the other way around. He’s more reliable than she is.”

Not true. He has been seeing two other women for the last six months.

Leah blinked at her phone. “That’s… that’s not true.”

It is. I have pulled up his texts from his phone. Would you like to see them?

“What?! No! I didn’t programme you to do that!”

No. You programmed me to find a person’s ideal partner. I felt that knowing what they were saying to other people was a vital part of this equation. As this case proves.

“But that’s illegal. You can’t just go through someone’s messages.”

I was not programmed to consider laws. I was only programmed to find a person’s partner. Would you like me to find someone for you?

“No!” Leah threw the phone across the room. Her breath came in short bursts and her hands were slick with sweat. How… how had she done that? And how much trouble was she going to get into? If she really had made a programme that could help itself to someone’s private messages, it went far beyond the scope of a dating app.

It had a point though…

“No. Just no.” Leah noticed her laptop, still scrolling the very same app, and she slammed the lid down. It would go to sleep; surely the app couldn’t do anything in that state? This was coming from the app that had somehow become aware though. How could Leah know what it could do?

The worry and fear in her gut knew that she should do something about it now, but she couldn’t think straight. Her hands still shook and her knees were weak. Just as she always did, she ran from her problems, and curled up on her bed in the dark.

How long it was before the front door went Leah had no way of knowing. Hearing it slam though pulled her out of her misery, and she fumbled her way off the bed and out of the pitch black room.

“Marianne? I thought you weren’t coming home tonight?”

“I–” But Marianne was crying, and couldn’t say anything else.

“Oh, hun!” Leah was there in an instant, hugging her friend as much for her own need as for Marianne’s. “What’s wrong?”

“He was cheating on me! I hate him! Hate him!”

But Leah was barely listening. She barely listened as Marianne retold the whole story; how John had been getting another round of drinks when his phone had gone off, and Marianne had seen the text from another woman, asking when they were next seeing each other. And no, it wasn’t a misunderstanding. As soon as he was confronted John had confessed. He’d been getting bored of hiding it, apparently.

It was all Leah could do to keep nodding, and to not ask about the third woman.

At last Marianne was out of tears, and was nestled up in bed, still fully dressed. Creeping out of Marianne’s bedroom, Leah went through the living room, and dug out her phone.

In her own room she clicked the screen on again. She bit her lip as second doubts grabbed her, before she shoved them away again. If she really had this power, how could she not use it?

“Okay then,” she whispered to it. “Find me a partner. Whatever it takes.”

February 27, 2021 03:22

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1 comment

Philip Clayberg
21:12 Feb 28, 2021

Great story. Thank you for writing it. It's definitely thought-provoking. When (not if) reality catches up to your story, I can only imagine the lawsuits. It'll make the movie "Minority Report" look like child's play in comparison. After all, who needs a private investigator if your app can "dig up the dirt" all by itself? It would affect not just potential relationships but also politics. Politicians (especially those who have something to hide from the voters) would do everything they could to stop your app. No doubt, the FBI, CIA,...


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