Biding time, Carter looked down at his drink, his eyes unfocused. The acrid smell of vomit and booze filled the room. Born of countless libations, like a worm the stench had burrowed its way into the wood—the floor, the tables, the bar—and now, in the absence of smoke, even with the filtered air cycled in, it took on a ubiquitous life of its own.
Across the room, Jazz stood in the doorway, his pale face turned toward the street. A million miles from home, trapped in a giant revolving donut, and some aspects of life still remained the same. They had a city. They had streets. And thank the stars, they still had drugs and alcohol.
“What’re you doing?” Carter said. “Trying to get yourself shot?”
Jazz turned his head slightly. His two orbs sparkled like black pearls in sunlight in a way that always struck Carter creepy. Replicas could never match the real thing.
“They’re pointing their guns at each other, Carter, not at me.”
Carter lifted the glass. “That’s a little beta, don’t you think?” He took a gulp of mescal and swallowed hard. “I’ve never known Sal to be a straight shooter. Especially when he’s drunk.”
The pearls blinked off, then on. After a moment, Jazz moved away from the door and glided toward the bar. Carter smiled. Jazz could be presumptuous, at times overconfident in his design, but presented with a set of proper constructs, well-defined patterns to analyze, Carter also knew the AI to be reasonable. After all, it was better to evolve at the expense of others.
“Why is Sal doing this?” Jazz’s voice chip sounded worn and dated, an original part that would need replacing soon.
“I heard Sal say that Lucius was making a run after his woman.”
Jazz stopped. The pearls narrowed. “But Lucius is like me.”
Carter nodded. “True, but you know how programming can go at times. One small line of improper logic, a tiny code misplaced, and the robot you thought would only sweep your floor is now eating your pet dog.”
The line of Jazz’s mouth curved slightly. “I don’t have a pet dog, but that would be something to see.”
“I have seen it. It isn’t pretty.”
Jazz shook his head. “It still doesn’t compute, though. Why would Lucius go after Sal’s girl? Humans and AIs don’t share the same platform. They can’t replicate.”
“Who said anything about replicating? There’s more to this than sex.”
“Oh? Like what?”
Carter finished the mescal. “Like companionship. Two souls connecting in a universe that fights to exist without souls.”
Above, a ceiling fan’s monotonous whirring disturbed the silence that filled the room.
“That’s something I can never quite process about humans,” Jazz finally said. He moved toward the front window. “Why you’re so quick to kill each other over simple ideas. Mere intangibles.”
Carter nodded. “True. But consider this: tangibles come and go. They no longer serve a purpose, they’re replaced with upgrades or discarded. It’s the intangibles that live forever. Things like freedom and beauty. Or love. You take those away from a man, and you’ve taken his world, shattered his reason for living.” He pointed toward the door. “Sal is a case in point. He’s drunk, he’s angry, and he doesn’t care about the consequences.”
Staring out the window, Jazz shook his head. “And you say I have bad programming.”
“You do. You’re standing in harm’s way again.”
Jazz frowned. “I’m not in the doorway.”
Carter smiled. “A bullet can go through that window just as easy.”
Jazz moved away and Carter raised his glass. “Hit me again.”
Jazz grabbed a bottle of mescal and glided toward Carter’s table. “I wonder,” he said. “What will happen to Sal’s girl if Lucius is the better shot?”
Carter watched as Jazz filled his glass. “She’ll find another man.”
“You mean she’ll dispose of Sal?”
“His body will already be disposed of, but on some mental level, yeah, I guess that’s right.”
“So Sal’s just as tangible as the robot sweeper that ate your dog.”
“Again, his body is.” Carter lifted his glass. “His soul is still very much an intangible.”
“Interesting.” Jazz placed the bottle on the table. “And this is what you believe—what is preached in your church on Sundays—the intangible soul?”
Carter stopped mid-sip. Mechanical or not, there was a tone in Jazz’s words. “What’re you driving at?”
“It seems a waste of time.”
The pearls stared at Carter for a moment. “Can you tell me much about your great grandmother?”
“What about your great-great grandfather?”
Carter frowned. “No.”
Jazz nodded. “Ideas like freedom and love, I can compute. Centuries old, they’re still around for us to consider. But two generations removed and people’s souls are quickly forgotten, tossed aside like wrapping paper on a fast food burger.”
Just then two shots rang out. The glass window shattered as a bullet punched through.
Carter looked at Jazz. He smiled. “You can thank me later.”
Standing, he walked to the door and looked out.
Behind him, Jazz said, “Did he make it?”
Carter shook his head. “Looks like Lucius was the better shot after all.” He returned to the table and picked up his hat.
“Where are you going now?” Jazz asked.
“To see Sal’s girl.” He placed twenty credits on the table. “She’ll need some comfort at a moment like this.”
As he turned, Jazz stopped him with another question.
“I wonder who told Sal that Lucius was after his girl?”
Carter smiled. It was a good question. “It doesn’t matter now.” At the door, he heard Jazz mutter something else. “Pardon?”
Jazz shook his head. “Such terrible programming.”
He wasn’t sure exactly what Jazz meant by that. Failing to see any benefit in pursuing the conversation with an AI, though, Carter placed the hat on his head and stepped out into the fluorescent light and processed air.