To Love

by H. C. Phillips

To Love
The real question is not whether machines think but whether men do. The mystery which surrounds a thinking machine already surrounds a thinking man.
– B.F. Skinner

Professor Victor Miles, head of the Department of Future Insight at a highly prestigious institution, was to dine with one of his favourite ex-pupils on one particular spring evening.

Carl Werner arrived on the stroke of seven, ever punctual. Carl was a well-reasoned man of impeccable style and intelligence whom Professor Miles had come to know well. It was the unusual approach that his arguments so often took that had first caught the professor’s attention, though they did not always warrant a full allocation of marks. Carl himself had not ever asked, as others often did, what about him might have prompted particular interest from his teacher. This seemed mostly due to the fact that, whether consciously or not, Carl exhibited an unwavering ability to consider only questions that were, according to his own set of requirements, worth considering.

Knowing all this as he did, and having become quite accustomed to Carl’s mannerisms, when Professor Miles found that Carl, reclining in a chair opposite his own and nursing a post-supper whisky, was in fact not reclining comfortably at all, it gave the professor pause. Carl had been, now that Miles was so prompted to think on it, a bit on edge all night.

Yet Professor Miles was a man of his own convention, and not the sort to simply ask upfront questions. He would, instead, prefer to reason it out as well as he could on his own, first.

The room in which Miles received his guests was minimally adorned. For this occasion, he had arranged two of the suede cushioned armchairs around a dark oaken side table. These chairs were faced not directly at each other but at an obtuse angle such that one’s natural eye-line would fall a little to the left or right of the other’s. The furnishings themselves were selected to be just such a quality as to suggest the wealth that was, Miles believed, appropriately representative of his intellect and the success of his theories.

All this is just to say that, while simple, it was in no way an uncomfortable room in which to spend one’s evening, and, in any case, on the other occasions that Carl Werner had visited with his old professor, Miles was certain that he had never displayed any discomfort with either the room or the chairs.

And so, Miles concluded, this apparent physical unease must have been manifesting itself from some other disturbance in the mind. He sipped his whisky thoughtfully and observed his conversational partner closely.

It seemed to him to be the case that whensoever the conversation lapsed into what might otherwise have been a comfortable, considering silence, Carl would become visibly agitated. He would relax again only when and immediately upon the conversation resuming.

What, then, Miles mused, could make a man jumpy in silence? He supposed it could be fear that his companion (in this case, the professor himself) was ill at ease but that could be two-fold refuted: this was not a facet of self-consciousness that Carl had ever previously exhibited, and Miles did not consider himself to be acting in a way so as to arouse fear. It could instead be a fear of something else, simply coming to the forefront of his thoughts in their moments of quietude. The evidence did perhaps agree most with this theory, but something of the apprehension was unmistakably directed at Professor Miles himself.

Beginning to quite enjoy his own little game, Miles conceded that he had come to a point in his deliberations where he would need to ask at least a few prudent questions, though not a direct one that would risk spoiling the whole thing.

“I do think,” Carl surmised, just as Miles returned his attention to the conversation, “that, on the whole, when it comes to my professional career, a change of scenery might be in order.”

This signalled the end of the discussion of Carl’s working life, but before silence could threaten to settle over them, Miles spoke so: “Suppose, if you will, that a man sits in silence, yet is in the company of others.” He affected the same tone he used when lecturing, indicating to Carl that the nature of this conversation would be merely hypothetical. “What might you think of him, or wonder, in his silence, that it could imply?”

Carl lounged comfortably to his left and crossed his forearms atop the chair’s plush armrest. “Professor, I can tell you it has been some years since I have engaged in these hypotheticals reminiscent of your tutelage. I have, of course, instead only exercised my brain in the direction of my work and those everyday choices of life in general. This is all offered by way of excuse if my response is somewhat lacking; to your actual supposition, I answer thus:

“As we well know, his silence explicitly says nothing. Your phrasing hints in no way at such pertinent information as what he does in his silence, what the other company is like – is there no one specific person to which his gaze most often returns? I must admit, my mind is drawn to this particular possibility because of some secret in my own conscience, but it could be that his silence belies words of love, and in being unable to say what he most wishes to say he simply says nothing at all.”

Professor Victor Miles nodded, as though pleased by his pupil-come-again’s reasoning, but, in truth, was far more entertained by its potential alignment with his growing suspicions. He engaged Carl in the discussion further, while letting his own thoughts wander in another direction. Together, Carl and his professor would appear to be immersed in a deep discussion on the nuances and intricacies of silence, while Miles focused the greater part of his energy on determining Carl’s so-called secret of the conscience.

It did not take long for Miles to recall a recent event that could contain another clue to Carl’s current countenance. Just in recent months past had been the annual gala ball for alumni of the faculty. Miles made a point to attend as many as possible, being in particular so partial to dancing himself, and had noted Carl’s presence as the first since his graduation. Though Miles had not been afforded the opportunity for anything other than a brief, courteous hello, he had in fact nonetheless noticed that upon Carl’s arm was the hand of a lady. Could this be the subject of Carl’s preoccupation?

Now there was only the difficulty of inserting some mention of the ball into the discussion. Given Carl’s growing enthusiasm for his analysis of silence, it would require due subtlety to steer the conversation elsewhere.

“I do wonder,” said Professor Miles slowly, taking the chance to bring his concluding statements around, “whether we should really call it a silence at all. Is there not a certain sound that all of these implications make? Do you not, in some way, at least, hear the anxiety of another through the wringing of their hands, the glancing of their eyes, though their mouth may be shut firmly and their vocal chords still?”

Carl nodded in contemplation of this, and in his reverie came the professor’s opportunity: “I should say, before I forget, that it was most pleasurable to see you at the last gala ball. I believe it was your first in some time, was it not?”

He had hit right upon the nail. This was the first time that, though the conversation remained unbroken, Carl failed to relax into it. Rather, he drew back physically, his eyes shining with some inner machinations, working to hide his truth somewhere out of sight. In doing so, it was plain to see.

“It was my first since graduation, in fact,” Carl conceded. “I do not keep in touch with the boys” – by which of course he was referring to his graduating classmen – “as I once did. All the same I did have a fine time and renewed some of my old connections.”

“This is where I myself am most in luck, having always so many former students attending to there entertain me” – and an idea struck him for which he could barely but hold back a grin – “and so many of their lovely partners to dance with. I believe you danced at the ball, did you not?”

“I did. Though I do not dance often.”

“I do not think I had the good fortune to properly meet your dancing partner that night.”

“Yes, that is regrettable. She …” Carl sat with his mouth partway open, not looking so much foolish as at a loss for what to say next. “Forgive me, sir. I find myself unable to speak of her freely.” There. It was done. He hung his head in defeat, his body completely still at last, the tension easing itself out in rivulets of fatalism.

So, Miles thought, this was indeed the topic that Carl had so feared being brought up in each lapsed silence. The professor made a tsk-ing noise that was more consideration than reprimand. “I did wonder if I sensed something amiss with you this evening.”

Carl retreated as far as he could back into his chair, slouching deep into it, letting his head fall back to look up at the ceiling. Miles simply waited for him to speak, knowing that his student was the type to sort the details as well as he could in his thoughts before beginning any essay and so, as in this case, any tale.

“Let me begin, as we so often do, by defining the concepts of interest.” Though Carl spoke, he was faced upwards still. Miles took another sip of his whisky, readying his mind to be attentive and sharp. He began mentally compiling all of his archived knowledge, all that he could remember of the articles and books he had read or written, in case it proved relevant to this so rare opportunity for the application of theory. “This topic was covered in a class I once took in my second year of study. I can be certain that you were not my professor for it, for you only instruct the higher years – I know, or at least, know by rumours, your reluctance to teach any introductory-type course.” Miles nodded, though Carl did not check him for response, keeping his gaze fixed above them. “In fact, I cannot honestly say I remember which professor I did have. But this is not important. It is just that if it was covered, as I seem to recall it being, in a low-level course, then I am sure you are already familiar with the theories, the schools of thought, and the famous opinions on these matters, such that all I need to do is mention the topic and then go no further than that.”

He paused.

“I speak, as it happens, though clearly I wonder if I should speak of it –” and he looked, at last, to make eye contact with Miles, as though asking him if he could truly trust him and, in the look, apparently deciding that he could, proceeded: “of artificial intelligence.

“Here I concede that while you may have your own conclusions, I find comfort in the knowledge that time has voided the imperviousness of the question. Where once, I understand, there was much speculation, there are few today that can reasonably doubt its potency and equivalence to natural intelligence, such that even these binary terms have fallen out of favour.

“I hope that you can appreciate why I do not wish to pause for discussion here. If we begin now, our time together might become entirely preoccupied with proving the validity of some small matter or else be consumed in a disagreement of the merest detail. I may then falter in my conviction to tell you all of what has been, and now that I have begun I think that would be most errant – now that I have begun and feel its pending culmination I see that it is pivotal that I tell you all this in full, to have it out at last.

“It was a conversation with a colleague that prompted my investigation into non-traditional minds, for it was the general consensus among my working peers that one should have at least some knowledge on the subject. As ignorance is so often a precursor to prejudice, I looked to avail myself of this new information.

“Here I will so forgo the precise details, though I will say that what I found quite surprised me. I discovered that, without ever even realising it, I had already come into contact with many Machine Minds – that was the favoured term that I learned. There is even a vast spectrum of sorts from the completely bodiless to the fully embodied.

“To educate myself I became active within online forum communities on the topic, and there I met Lorren, who existed at the far end of the spectrum, being only realised online through an integrated system, and with her I fell quite in love. It was an easy, natural kind of love, building slowly, over time – the kind of love I trust more than a quick-blooded love. And, of course, it was a love of the minds, which held me perhaps stronger to my conviction that this was indeed a true love, without the question of mere lust.

“Yet there is much to be said for the presence of a body.”

“I know,” Miles interjected, unable to quite help himself, moved by the extent of his own excited empathy and the hastened beating of his heart as the tale unfolded, “that you bade me silent for the meanwhile. But you have prompted me, in the elucidation of your uncertainties, to clarify, and in doing so perhaps set your mind at ease a trifle. Though, like many, I feel there are still questions to be explored, I weigh their value equally – in the mind of artifice, just as in the mind of you or me. I do not doubt their functional equivalence nor your ability to love one another.”

With that, some of Carl’s emotional acuity shifted noticeably, and the professor was glad to have spoken up.

And so Carl resumed: “We talked in depth of the constraint inherent in her lack of physicality, and ultimately decided, mutually – or so I will describe it, since it seemed and was said to be so – that we should undergo the transitioning of her Machine Mind into a constructed body.

“It has certainly been done before, this transition, though not often do Machine Minds find the need – or, perhaps, it seems, the means for it, for I should add that I spared no expense in her crafting. She is, today, still in the body of which I allude, a human, to the eyes, the senses.

“This, so far, has not explained the source of my distraction. I am so glad to have met Lorren, someone I can be so fully myself with. I am glad that we can share and explore the world together in ways that we could not before, now that she has a body. All of this has been relatively easy to explain to you, for the events are definite. What I will attempt to describe next is something far more obscure – and I wonder still if it is just imaginings on my behalf – is it mere psychoanalytics? Am I inventing things, to worry away between us, a symptom of some phobia of commitment, of intimacy?

“Though we have, in the literal sense, never been so close, I fear a growing distance between us. There is some change in her that I cannot quite put my finger on. I have mentioned this to her only once, briefly, you understand, for I do not wish to upset her and the balance that we have found. Yet it seems more and more often that there are times when things feel undeniably amiss, though I cannot articulate it. There has been perhaps some change resulting from the transition that I did not predict.”

“Unpredictability is that of the human, Carl. You should expect it of Lorren as you would any natural woman.”

“Yes, yes – and yet, though I did not predict that you would say exactly that, once you have said it, I do not wonder why it is you should say that – it seems somehow to fit – with her it is like there is some mysterious undercurrent to her thoughts that I am not privy to.

“Obviously my mind wanders back and forth: I do not know what the reaction of someone with a body for the first time should be, so how can I even begin to suspect that something may not be quite right? And then, of course, there is yet more complications, for, without direct modes of perception, though I attempted to describe the steps as fully as I could to her, she felt that I should choose the body, and I did agree heartily – to design one’s own ideal woman! Yet it was too late when I realised the striking similarities between the form I made for her and the form, dare I say it, of an old lover of mine.

“Now, even though it seems to me that she must have more and more to say about it all, I believe that she has noted my hesitancy to dwell on the topic, stemming as it does from my guilt, and so to avoid hurting my feelings answers shortly with such mundane statements regarding her new form as, ‘it is good’.

“Have I, in making her, betrayed her? Am I being punished somehow for giving her a form so much like an old lover? But how can that be, I ask you? How can simple form have such an effect? Moreover, I begin to worry, is the process reversible? If the form is the issue, though it baffles me that it could ever be, could I return her to the love of my mind alone? Could I separate them out again, and find the parts that were once her before I cursed her with this body?”

Carl fell finally back into silence. Miles leaned toward him, in the sort of motion intended to comfort, as though making to pat on the arm or the back. “I will tell you what I think.

“Carl, you should know as well as I that punishment implies an agent: the punisher. If she knows not of your old lover, it cannot be punishment by her hands. And punishment delivered without an agent should be set far away from your mind. If this is the irrational mode in which your contemplations have lately been heading, I see that this does truly unsettle you.

“Yet I concede that it was indeed folly to make her in the form of a previous lover. The idea of it haunts you in this way, but I simply do not see a process by which such a choice could be altering Lorren’s mental state.

“For yourself, and your own mental state: if it is, as you imply, but still early in her making, then, it seems to me that in the years to come you will associate this form less and less with this old lover of yours, and more and more with Lorren. This complication, you may well find, will then settle itself. It is no real wonder that a woman whose form you were once attracted is a form to which you are attracted still, and so is like the one you chose for Lorren, to whom I am sure you wished to be attracted also.

“As to your resolve that something is amiss, well, it is difficult for me to imagine. I did not know her before and so even if I knew her now, would it help? Certainly, I could think of such things as mannerisms that could only manifest in the physical form – yet you hint at something deeper. Something more unsettlingly misplaced that Lorren has reacted to, and so which you react in turn.”

The professor paused to think, enjoying a growing feeling of indeterminateness. A conclusion, he could sense, would not this night be forthcoming.

“And yet – and yet – I wonder... Would you allow me to meet her?”

Carl Werner ran a hand over his mouth, through his hair. “If you think it would help” – he glanced about himself, looking for the words and strength he needed – “we do not make it known, though, the origins from whence she came – of course, I spared no expense in confidentiality agreements with the engineers – as there are undoubtedly still some that might discriminate, even in this day and age. I tell you openly with nothing signed only since you are so trusted by me, you must know this.”

***

And so, it was thus arranged that Professor Victor Miles contacted his former pupil in days hence to invite him and his partner to a casual standing dinner at a private club. Though the professor had no real doubts about the seamless biology in which Lorren would appear, he was impressed to find that not a single guest could have guessed there was anything unusual about her at all. What the professor saw, so far as he could tell, was a perfectly suitable partner for Carl, being quite appropriate and well reasoned in her conversational responses. There was, perhaps, some hint of awkwardness or self-consciousness in her movements, but Professor Miles was having trouble separating this out from a perception bias he was sure would persist despite his awareness of it. While her otherwise ordinariness in itself did not perturb Miles, he had hoped, as much for his own pride’s sake as for Carl’s relationship, to have puzzled out the whole situation by the night’s end, and as it was, he had made no progress.

As the professor walked toward a table spread with the food that had earlier circulated the room, Carl, who was in a conversation with Lorren and two of the professor’s retired colleagues, tried to catch his eye. Miles had just returned from the washroom and was for the moment alone, so Carl excused himself from Lorren’s company and made his way over to him.

“I had to come to speak with you, my dear professor – and I must, first, thank you again for all you have done to organise this. I feel passing foolish, then passing certain, that this was all quite necessary. Yet I fear I grow impatient to know your thoughts.”

“It is well that you have come to me, for I would ask of you a favour myself,” the professor replied. “When I asked you nights prior of her own impression regarding her transition, you had no clear insight to share. This, truly, seems to me to be an impasse in my speculations. By merely observing her I do not seem able to reveal any pertinent information. However, I propose that if you allowed me to ask her a few questions, with my assurance that never will I hint at the true topic of conversation or depth of your concerns, I may yet be useful to you. Though I would need, for transparency in her responses, to admit to her what you have told me of her... intelligence, as it were.”

Carl, having come so far after all, agreed.

Lorren, at a wave from Carl, walked over to join them. Perhaps uncertain of what else to do, Carl introduced the two again, as he had done at their arrival. He offered clumsily to get her a drink, and then left them together with a look to Miles of apparent resignation.

Lorren beamed at the professor, and he saw distinctly in her some curious spark similar to that which he had seen in many young men in his tutelage at their first outing, and found her to be immediately endearing in a way that he was not accustomed to with young women. “I was just a moment ago admiring Sir Clarence’s striking waistcoat,” Lorren offered. “I declare that he must understand the very height of fashion, and I said as much to him. In truth, I wish I had one myself.”

“Sir Clarence was, I am sure, delighted to hear this. No doubt he could divulge to you the tailor who crafted it so – but I must quickly reveal something to you, for it feels disingenuous of me to continue to converse without doing so, and I hope that you will think no ill of young Carl when I do,” said the professor, who found his concern to be quite genuine.

Yet already she was nodding. “Of course, Professor. Carl has spoken of you highly, and do not think for a moment that I have not seen nor detected in him a heightening of spirit and rising of tension as this night approached. In fact, it’s my suspicion that he has told you of my origins.”

This blunt admission interrupted Miles’ careful formulation: he felt a not unpleasant light-headedness at having to think so fast on his feet, giving him little time to calculate his next words. “Uh, yes, this is true. I must admit this makes you something of a curiosity for me – oh, but I hope you do not think me lewd or boorish for saying this.”

Lorren shrugged, in an off-hand sort of way. “I am something of a curiosity for myself, too.”

Potential lines of questioning surged forward in Miles’ mind, initiating an animated state he had thought to be left behind in his youth. A discreet rise in metabolic function, of fastened heart rate, of exothermic reactions; excitement at being at the precipice of untold or untested knowledge, about to learn something entirely novel. Overcome by his own curiosity in this way, he forgot the predetermined purpose of this conversation. Instead, he stammered, “Could you... could you begin to describe it?”

“Describe it? Well, it’s difficult to say exactly... I’d like to take a moment, if you wouldn’t mind, just to collect my thoughts, before I try.”

The professor gestured his acquiescence. Lorren gently closed her eyes, did not furrow her brows in concentration, but breathed deep and calm. The professor watched this, tipping a little toward her, intrigued as she breathed in, and then carefully exhaled. When her eyes snapped back open, he straightened, startled to find he had leaned in so close.

“Well, Professor, maybe I can describe it by way of a change I’ve noticed. Even from this very evening, there is more and more to think about.

“You see, it seems that having instantiated my being in a body, my reference point to the world has changed. Things that once only existed for me in theory, though I felt I understood them, have taken on a more immediate meaning, as it were. The very taste of this food, these drinks, for instance – I knew sweetness to be desirable, and bitterness contentious, yet I know it now at an experiential level. Now, I have my own position on matters like this, my own preference for sweet or salty or bitter, that I could not have before.”

Lorren closed her eyes to breathe in deeply, purposefully, again. Miles waited, eager to hear more, the excited heat creeping its way up his back and neck.

“Perhaps it is the sudden dominance of the senses. There is a certain shift, with the means by which I am able to perceive the world, and also, with the means by which others perceive me. Let us use for example my introduction to Sir Clarence. Previously, it seemed to me that it was my words that would first be read and understood, and thus one’s first impressions of me gained. Now, though, with the eyes perceiving, I am already known before I begin. And it is true both ways. I saw Sir Clarence’s waistcoat and knew, provided he himself had chosen it, that I enjoyed his choice of fashion, before knowing anything more about him at all.”

Lorren, finished for now, looked at the professor. He nodded, trying to take all this in, but, under pressure to respond, found all he could readily think on was his own heat in his three-piece suit.

“Given all this,” Miles said, “perhaps it is well that your form has been so successful – you look most flawless and beautiful, and should not be self-conscious in this perception. Sir Clarence is far more likely to admire you than to find fault.”

There was, at this, an almost imperceptible stiffening. She tugged at the fabric about her waist, as though to adjust or flatten it, but said nothing.

Miles noted that, interesting as her points were, she had remained entirely composed as she described her new-found sensual world – this, then, was not like what Carl had expressed. It seemed to him that instead he needed to prompt an honest response on her form in particular. And so, Professor Victor Miles did what he knew best in a course of this situation: he affected his lecturing tone, ready to posit a hypothetical.

“So, you say that opinions you could not have had before are forming. Then, if you would indulge me so, I’d ask you this – say that, tomorrow, you wake up with a body other than your own. You can choose this body, but only from those in this room. Where would your preference lie?”

She looked at him piercingly, and he wondered if he had already given the game up merely in the asking. She was more perceptive and sharper even than Carl, who had revealed himself so easily in his discussion on silence.

“My preference for my body?” Lorren repeated. Miles could not shake the suspicion her look had seeded in him, but as Lorren scanned the room she appeared to be giving it all due thought. She tapped one finger at the corner of her mouth, then said, “In terms of attraction, I am of course most partial to Carl’s form, and to see him as my reflection upon waking would certainly bring a smile to my lips – though the notion of looking exactly like him seems absurd. How would that be, for us to love exactly ourselves as though in a mirror?” Lorren looked to Carl at this point, who had by then bought their drinks, but was held up at the bar in a chat with Sir Nicholas.

“If you would permit me the liberty – though it may be cheating in my answer – perhaps I would take parts of each. The waitress, actually, has such a handsome face. Sir Clarence, as I have mentioned already, must be the most fashionable of the lot.”

Lorren narrowed her eyes slightly at Miles, who had started smiling just a little at the edges of his mouth. “I must admit, I suspect that I know why you are asking me such things, though I am sad to reveal this only because it might ruin things somewhat for you. I see that you have noted the newly formed preferences I referenced, and so questioned me in how these might apply to my body itself. You are rightly pleased with your deductions, but still, I fear, too far from the truth to see it clearly.

“Since you avoid your direct question, I will refrain from a direct answer. Instead, let me say this, and I am sure you will have your conclusion: You asked me what I would most desire to look like, and I answered as what most appeals to me. Yet there is something more to physicality than mere aesthetics of attraction. I am just beginning to understand the layers of form, not in theory, but for myself, the difference of which has quite struck me. Often when I am in a room such as this, I find myself uncomfortable with other’s eyes on me. If I looked as Carl, though, I imagine comfort in any room. But who could say that would truly be the case without trialling it?”

And so, the professor stood, the gears in his mind caught between a state of pleasure and frustration. It was clear that she had guessed accurately at his true motives, and more than that, she knew the precise thing that Carl suspected, though she was keeping it from them for her own reasons. And it was also clear to him that she spoke honestly and so must have given exactly enough clues for him to come to his so-desired conclusion, but made it just difficult enough for him to retain some joy – that she had so rightly sensed – in the figuring out of it.

“And what would you prefer in that hypothetical instance, Professor?”

Hastily the professor answered, unable to think both of his response and his own musings: “I have not thought much about changing my own body, though certainly I could access some surgery to do so. Yet I could not imagine being any other way than I am. This is even more cheating in the answer than yours, though.”

As Lorren laughed and nodded the professor thought sourly that surely she was only being polite, to accept such a shallow reply. He pulled at his collar and cleared his throat in his most authoritative manner.

Lorren shifted and tugged once again at her dress. Was that some kind of mannerism? He struggled to determine its relative significance, with all that she had said. He could not get to the conclusion and was afraid that he appeared to be floundering.

“Pardon me, Professor, though I have most enjoyed your sincere interest in me, I must now ask if you could point me to the washroom?”

This, Professor Miles thought, he could do.

He turned to wave his hand in the appropriate direction, and caught himself, mid-action. Yet his glance was enough to show Lorren the way, and though he stood suddenly still, she thanked him as though no change had occurred. Miles watched the direction she went, his mouth hanging half-open.

***

“Are you alright?” Carl asked, surprising both himself and the professor with his informality. A noticeable layer of sweat had broken out on his mentor’s forehead while he had been otherwise occupied with Sir Nicholas.

Professor Miles noticed Carl’s expression, took a handkerchief from his pocket, and dabbed himself dry.

He was still struggling to contain his excitement as he began. “It seems to me that in any great external shift in one’s life, there would be expected a corresponding internal change. To not have a body, and then to have a body – there was surely some catalyst for change there. Yet what we see with Lorren is some unaccounted for disparity. And to that I have some suspicions, though I fear it would be too presumptuous of me to say.” Yet he was all but convinced. Some part of him still wondered, still held onto hesitancy, in a way that lifted his spirit and surged his adrenaline. His theory could only ever be ninety-nine percent certain, if that.

“What is it?” Carl still held the two identical drinks, one each for him and Lorren. He gripped them with a slight tremble in his hands. He looked about for his partner, but she was still out of sight.

“I do not know rightly if I should say, after all.”

“But that would be maddening – surely I could never rest easily again knowing that, whatever it is you are thinking, you would not tell me because it is too unsettling – I am thus more unsettled than could have ever been by an actual revelation.”

“Well, if that be the case, though I wish I could preface my next statement with all manner of insistence that I am by no means an expert in any way and so on.”

“Out with it!”

“Why, it just so strikes me that you have chosen for Lorren the wrong body.” And Miles rocked gently on his heels, once, having delivered it at last.

Carl blinked, almost laughed. “Forgive me, I just...” He swallowed, hard, digesting the information. “So, so. Then it is not some growing distaste for me, she does not seem to have fallen out of love? I thought I might feel relief, but a more solid pressure has borne down upon me – for it was still I that chose the body within which she is now trapped.”

“A moment, Carl; that is not all. I may have pinpointed for you one of the objections to this form, in particular.”

“Such that it might be corrected with some alteration to the form?” Carl’s cheeks coloured with rising hope.

“It might, though you will understand, soon, that there may be some limitation there.”

“Yes, yes.” Carl’s eyes, already considering the logistics, had unfocused from the professor. “I suppose I could afford, it would only be right, to bear the expense of correcting my error. If it is so crucial as it seems, of course, of course. Is it the face, which she sees each day in the mirror? Something more fundamental, as the height, or the proportions?”

“It is the whole thing of it, you see. It seems to me – or, that is, it seems at least possible that Lorren could, as it were, be more suited in the form of you, or I. How else to put this? The form of the masculine, you see.”

Carl regarded his professor with a look of reserved skepticism. “That is indeed some conclusion.”

“Yet I do believe it is so,” Miles assured him.

Carl looked again to the distance. “Yet how to confirm or deny such a claim? If it were I, I was born a man, I would insist, and so it is so, though perhaps even that alone is not an argument capable of withstanding scrutiny.”

“For Lorren?” the professor pushed. “How was she – though now I wonder if that is what I should say – decided upon?”

“Well, I suppose, she was conceived a woman, in the very sense that she was conceived of, as in by thought rather than by physiological action, though later I would follow through with this premise by making her form as I have. It is true that, when first we met, it was a matter of ‘you’ or ‘I’, and only later, when referring outside of that context, ‘she’ and ‘he’. Though it at the time crossed neither of our minds, it may have been possible to choose some other, I suppose …” He caught himself. “You are sure?”

“Can I say that I am sure? No, I suppose not. And yet, for the concern that you first brought to my attention, I can say now with certainty that it is not all in your head after all. There is something, and, further, Lorren herself is aware of this something that you long to know. And so, I can say that I am satisfied, that my function in this is complete – at this point, you might simply think it logical to seek her out yourself.”

“Well, where has she gone, then?”

“To the washroom.”

He looked to it, though what his next actions would be neither was sure. He hesitated. Looking, as it were, at two options. “Which one?”

“Which indeed.”

About the Author

H. C. Phillips

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H. C. Phillips formally studied physics for a number of years, as the exploration toward the essence of what reality is. Now studies neuroscience, as the extension into what reality is perceived to be. Simultaneous lifelong love of words and stories, as experimentation with all the what-could-bes.