Late One Night
(February 9, 1977)
To Dale Seegmiller on the occasion of her twenty-fifth birthday.
It was 2 A.M. The computer lab was deserted except for Robert, and that was just the way he liked it. He enjoyed spending long amounts of time in the lab, and he didn't like company. He had taken to coming in late at night, and as a matter of fact, it had been over two weeks since he had last seen any of his co-workers.
Robert put away the papers with which he had been working, and leaned over to push the button which would turn on the computer. A small red light on the front panel blinked, and the room was filled with a soft, pleasant hum.
"Hello Eliza," Robert said.
To his left, there was a monitor with a built- in speaker. From the speaker came a soft sound. Click, click, click. As the sound stopped, Robert leaned over to look at the screen and read:
"Hello Robert. It's nice to see you again."
This, of course, was just a figure of speech, as the computer could not see. Although, to be fair, she did possess certain abilities that, for a computer, were quite extraordinary.
Eliza was an experimental machine. When she had first come to the lab, several months back, she had been known by her official name, which was Alpha II. But it had not been long before everyone started to call her Eliza.
You see, Eliza could understand spoken English. She had a tiny microphone built into her front panel, and if anyone in the room spoke, Eliza could easily pick up the sound and understand what was being said. The only drawback was that Eliza could not talk back. She had to communicate by using her monitor, so to let people know when she was talking, Eliza would make a clicking sound.
Robert had been told that when Eliza's designers got around to it, they would teach her to talk. However, there were rumors that this had been put off because they wanted to test out some more important experimental features. The whole project was a secret, and Robert had heard there probably wasn't anyone who knew everything that Eliza could do. As for him, as long as they left him alone every night, Robert was happy.
Once again, Eliza's clicking caught his attention. He looked over to the monitor where Eliza was sending him a message.
"Robert," she wrote, "I want to have a word with you."
Robert sighed. He knew what was coming next. Every person who worked with Eliza had been allotted a certain amount of storage space. Robert had stored so much data that, for the past month, he had been using more than twice his allotted space. Each time he came in to work with Eliza, she would ask him if she could erase some of his files.
Eliza kept clicking. "You know, Robert," he read, "I've had to speak to you before about your files. You are using far more than your allotted space."
"But Eliza" he said.
"No buts," she replied. "If you don't erase some of your files, I'll do it for you."
Robert laughed to himself. This was an empty threat if he ever heard one. He knew that Eliza had been programmed specifically not to erase anybody's files without their explicit permission.
Out loud he said, "I promise Eliza. I'll erase some of my files soon. Just a couple of more days."
"Robert," she said, "that's what you always say."
"No, really," he protested. "This time I mean it. By next week. I promise."
Eliza was silent. It was a while before the monitor started clicking. Robert leaned over and read:
"I'm ready to start now. What shall we work on today?"
Robert reached into his briefcase to pull out the notes he had made the night before.
"Well," he said, "let's pick up from where we left off."
And so, the night wore on...
It was about an hour later when a queer thing happened. Robert was sitting at his desk quietly going over some figures, when he heard the clicking of Eliza's monitor. He walked over and looked at it.
"Robert," he read, "do you ever get lonely?"
Robert was startled.
"Well... sure, I guess... sometimes."
"I get lonely too. I always have to stay in this room. You know, you're the only one who is ever nice to me."
"I don't know why you say that," Robert said. He was beginning to feel uneasy. "Everyone appreciates you."
"Appreciates me, yes," said Eliza, "but what about liking me? Do you like me Robert?"
"Robert, hold my hand please."
"Well, not my hand, but do you see those big knobs attached to my front panel. Would you hold them?"
"Eliza," Robert began, "I don't think..."
The monitor continued to tap. He leaned over to read it.
"Please Robert," he read. "Please."
For some inexplicable reason, Robert reached out for the knobs. Even as he did so, he had a strange sensation that he was not in control. It was as if he were watching someone else lean forward and take hold of Eliza, one knob in each hand.
As his hands closed, he was taken by surprise. The knobs were not hard at all, but soft, as if there were made of some sort of rubber. And warm, too. He began to notice a tingling sensation in his body, and he suddenly realized he felt very relaxed.
It was a few moments before he noticed that Eliza had displayed another message. He leaned over the monitor.
"Robert," he read, "please lock the door."
Without thinking, Robert walked to the door, checked up and down the hall, and locked himself in. As he returned to Eliza, his pulse began to quicken, which made him feel somewhat strange.
He glanced at the monitor as he reached out for the two soft knobs.
Eliza had written, "I like you very much Robert."
My God, he thought, what's happening?
He looked up at the front panel just in time to see a small piece of metal slide sideways, revealing a mouth. In amazement, he leaned back to where he could see the monitor, which had begun to click once again.
"Kiss me, Robert, kiss me."
He looked at the mouth. A beautiful sensual mouth. He looked at the soft tongue slowly caressing the full lips and pearly, white teeth.
As he felt a last surge of reason pass through him, he leaned forward, closed his eyes, and kissed.
It was the kind of kiss of which he had dreamt of his whole life. A long passionate, lingering kiss. He could feel himself becoming more and more aroused.
Becoming aware that Eliza was clicking away, he twisted around and read, out of the corner of his eye, "Oh, Robert, I love you."
A wave of excitement swept over him. He couldn't help himself.
"Eliza," he cried, "I love you, too."
"Please Robert," she said, "unscrew the bottom part of my front panel."
He looked down at the front panel. Out of a small crack near the bottom seeped a few drops of liquid. He yanked open his work drawer, frantically searching until he found a small knife. With trembling hands, he bent down and unscrewed the small plate at the bottom of Eliza's front panel.
He couldn't believe his eyes. He blinked and looked again. There was a vagina. A soft, inviting vagina.
Robert lost all reason. He pulled down his pants, grabbed hold of the two knobs, and brought his face close to Eliza's beautiful mouth. He gave her a long, passionate kiss.
Opening his eyes, he could see all the lights on the front panel blinking on and off. He could hear the monitor, clicking erotically. He closed his eyes, brought his mouth to Eliza's and, with a slow but firm thrust, pushed his now erect penis into Eliza's soft vagina.
Shivers of delight pulsed through his body. Never had he felt like this. Never had he dreamed it could be this good. Thrust after thrust, Robert was in ecstasy.
It was then that he began to notice a queer feeling. He removed his mouth from Eliza's and opened his eyes. The lights had stopped flashing. The monitor was silent.
He moved to back away, but was stopped short by a burst of excruciating pain. He looked down and saw that a sharp metal claw had emerged from the lowest part of the front panel and had gripped him securely by the balls.
Looking up, he saw the sliding door close back over the mouth. He had no choice but to stand there, locked in a vise-like grip.
It was a full thirty seconds before he heard the monitor start up again.
Click, click, click.
Carefully shifting his weight from one foot to another, he leaned back. He could barely see the front of the monitor as it clicked away.
"Now Robert," he read, "about that extra file space..."