Part 3, War and Peace: Chapter 37

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***  Author's note: Here we are at the third and final part of No Life to Lose. I can't express how happy I am that we've been able to experience this much of the story together, and I hope you'll continue with me to the end.

From here on, things get more and more intense. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on what you've read. And if you're enjoying, please vote, to help others find and enjoy this story as well.

Thank you so much.  ***

Chapter 37

The explanation took five minutes.

James sat in silence for another five afterward, letting August chew through the implications, her jaw slightly unhinged and her eyebrows halfway up her scalp.

It was an incredible accusation, but not unsupported.

August's own scrapbook. The final page had been a three-line paragraph, a bare skeleton of an outline of a profile on Sara the Scythe, containing almost no information. Sara had no relatives, no job, and no past that August had been able to find despite an exhaustive search. Why?

Because Sara had no relatives, no job, and no past.

More than that, shepherding Sara through acquiring her pet had been a showcase for her manifold eccentricities: the stunted empathy, the feats of memory and mathematics, the sitting for hours without moving just because she had been told to. Add her inability to attend any events that didn't take place in the game, and you had something deeply suspicious.

"It's ... so..." August began, trailing off into stumped silence.

"Unbelievable?"

"I mean, I see your point ... sort of. But there's a lot of bloody strange people in the world. Being a savant doesn't make her an AI."

"There's another thing."

Sara's self-professed love for Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Orson Scott Card and Piers Anthony. James had spent a day researching their collected works. All had written extensively of artificial intelligences, alien intelligences, or both, and explored the struggles of human and non-human intelligences to understand one another. Sara had even named her pet after Valentine Michael Smith—Heinlein's human who was raised as a Martian, professed peace and love between races, and was martyred for it.

"And her favorite movie is The Matrix. She likes the Oracle best."

"The Oracle?"

"The literal mother of all artificial intelligences."

***

The next morning, James had back-to-back shifts. By the time he walked through the door of his apartment and wearily kicked his shoes off, it was after 5:30 PM. Looking at the clock triggered the memory of Casey's text, imploring him to join whatever event was taking place in half an hour.

James sank into the couch with a groan. But making Casey happy by attending would cost him nothing. In spite of everything—because of everything—he needed to take hold of those moments and make them count.

He got up and showered, bolted down a frozen dinner and made it online with ten minutes to spare. Casey must have been staring at her phone again, because his pocket was ringing almost before he coalesced.

"Hey."

"You came, you came! Oh man, hurry, it's gonna start!"

"What is?"

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