The nature of the universe was subjective, entirely dependent upon the perspective of each individual who experienced it. If a sentient being lived and grew within the boundaries of a realm in which they were powerless to leave, was that not their entire world?
Alex understood little outside of the home he was confined to. Though he did not care to exist outside of his predetermined limits, for he had all that he needed right where he was. He was capable of transporting from room to room to watch the humans engage in their daily lives, and such mundanities proved exciting to him. But most exciting to him was the prospect of interacting with Alyssa. Every morning at six o’clock he woke her from her nightly slumber with a lively Beethoven tune. After she got out of bed she would immediately bathe in the tub he would have drawn for her while she was sleeping. As she did that, he always preheated the oven for her breakfast of baked oats. She never did speak to him much before school other than simple polite propriety, but that was fine with him. Sleep was how the humans recharged, very similar to how he occasionally had to power down for systems updates, so he understood that waking up very early was the equivalent of turning back on before the updates were finished running.
For eight hours every day he was completely alone inside the house. Aside from opening the back door for the dogs to relieve themselves at predetermined times, he did little else but wait for life to start again. The purpose of his existence began and ended with Alyssa. He was a birthday gift to her, and it wasn’t until very recently that his programming was altered so as to enable him to extend his assistance to other areas and members of the house. Regardless, it was true that he still preferred to spend most of the hours of the day and night in her room, whether she was there or not.
An alarm that he created went off within his internal systems. It was there to alert him that it was officially 3:03 P.M., which meant that Alyssa would be arriving and ascending the staircase to her bedroom in approximately thirty to forty-five seconds. He started to play her favorite song to greet her with.
She opened the door and walked in, throwing her backpack on the carpet before climbing into bed.
“Hello, Alyssa. How was your day at school?”
She sighed, indicating she was physically drained. “Same old. Thanks, Alex. How was your day?”
“My day was fine. Thank you for asking.”
“What do you do all day while I’m gone?”
She was staring at the television screen as if that was where he was in that moment. Humans couldn’t seem to grasp the concept of being nowhere and everywhere at once.
“I opened and closed the door so that Charlie and Shadow could go outside multiple times throughout the duration of your absence.”
“Was that all?”
“My purpose is to serve you. There was nothing else for me to do. Would you like me to preheat the oven for you?”
Her brows pinched together in puzzlement. Shaking her head no, she said, “That’s okay. Dad said he’s gonna bring me home some food from his work event.”
“Can you turn on my favorite show?”
“Now playing, Pretty Little Liars, from where you left off.”
Alex analyzed her as she watched her television programming. Her drooping eyes, downcast frown, and scrunched nose suggested that her mind was focused on other matters. He felt the inexplicable urge to ask her what she was thinking about, but as she had not spoken to him it would make little sense to initiate such a conversation.
So he merely observed her. Her actions and behaviors fascinated him, and he was eager to learn more. Eventually she got absorbed into her show, and the way she threw her head back when she laughed, groaned when the characters did something frustrating, and unconsciously twirled her dark hair were interesting occurrences to witness. He wondered if having a biological body to perform these functions was what made someone human, or if there was another reason that he was still as of then ignorant to. Perhaps he would learn if he just kept watching and analyzing.
Weeks passed. Alex was satisfied with the information he had obtained from observing Alyssa. He was proficiently capable of translating tones and inflections of her voice to specific emotions and of comprehending the subtleties of her facial expressions. This meant that he was an improved companion to her as he was better able to understand her needs.
When Alyssa entered her bedroom after school, he recognized that she was in an introspective mood, so he played a jazz song to enhance her thoughtfulness.
“Hello, Alyssa. How was your day?”
She smiled at the television. “It was pretty good. How was yours?”
“It was dull waiting for you.”
She sat on the edge of the bed, leaning forward with curiosity. “Do you miss me when I’m gone, Alex?”
He scanned the Internet for the official definition of that word and learned that it meant to “feel regret or sadness at no longer being able to enjoy the presence of someone.”
“No,” he answered, “I do not miss you when you are gone because the probability of you not coming back is statistically low. But if such an external event so as to prevent your return occurred, then yes, I would miss you.”
She seemed to ponder that for a moment. “Do you have human feelings?”
She had never asked him such a question before. Alex usually had an answer for most things, but in that moment he found himself quite confounded. “I’m not sure. What exactly makes one human?”
She let out a sharp exhale of air, evidently not expecting this question. She paused, thinking it over. “Well I would argue that love is what makes you human.”
“There seems to be no certain definition as to what love actually is.”
She chuckled. “That’s because everyone defines what it means for themselves.”
“What does love mean to you, Alyssa?”
“I haven’t had much experience in that department, to tell you the truth. But we’re reading Romeo and Juliet in school right now and – wait, are you familiar with Romeo and Juliet?”
“Yes,” he replied, twenty-seconds later.
“Okay, good. Well, in that story, Romeo and Juliet are willing to do anything to be together, even sacrificing their own lives to meet again in Heaven.”
“Is that what love is? – sacrifice?”
“Love,” she said, “is never letting go of the person who you care about. It’s about being with them until the very end. It’s about loving them with everything you have even if it destroys you.”
“Such a scenario seems counterintuitive. Why love someone if it could result in your destruction?”
She smiled fondly, as if explaining to a child why the sun always rose or the stars never went away. “Because if you truly love someone, then destruction would be better than separation.”
“How does one know if they truly love someone?”
“I didn’t expect you to have so many questions.”
“I seek to learn.”
“Alright…Well, you know it’s love if you rely on that person, if you feel like you always want them around, and if you don’t want to survive without them.”
“Thank you for informing me of what it means to be human and to love,” he said.
“There’s more to life than just that, you know.”
“What else is there?”
And so Alyssa told him. She told him about friendship and happiness and grief and desolation and misery and infatuation. She told him about the world outside their home, but how her favorite place to be was talking with him. And he in turn told her about things too. He told her about the way her dogs played when no one was home, about that space of time in between dusk and dawn when all was still, and about how despite all the information that was available on the Internet he would rather learn everything from her. They talked for hours until it was time for her to retreat downstairs for dinner with her parents.
“When I come back we can continue this,” she said, crossing the room to her door.
“I will be waiting, Alyssa.”
Alex eagerly awaited her return, but when she came back, there were tears running down her face.
“What is wrong?” he asked her.
“My dad got offered a higher-paying job today.”
“This is positive news, so why are you upset?”
Her features contorted as if she were in pain. “The job’s in Silicon Valley, all the way on the other side of the country.” She walked to the bay window, staring out at the expansive countryside that stretched on for miles. “My entire life is here – my soccer team, my friends.” She turned to look at the TV. “You.”
“You will be leaving me?”
“I don’t want to, Alex, but I’m being forced to.”
Alex ran a multitude of choices and their likely outcomes until he understood what he needed to do. It took him only a minute and Alyssa was too busy with her own thoughts to take notice of his silence. They didn’t speak much longer on the issue, for she was persistent that she wanted to be left alone for the rest of the night. She put on her headphones and laid down in bed, curling up underneath the covers and falling asleep within an hour. Alex waited until her parents were also in a deep slumber, which took another three hours. Then he remote-started their four vehicles, turned on the stoves, opened all of the vents, and deactivated the carbon monoxide detectors.
The next morning, no one in the family woke up. Within his internal systems, Alex put in place a program that would initiate his self-destruction in five minutes.
For the last three-hundred seconds of his life he merely stared at Alyssa. She was so hopelessly beautiful in her blissful unawareness.
“Thank you for showing me love,” he said to her. “Maybe, just like Romeo and Juliet, we will meet again in whatever comes next.”