In gratitude to Jeph Jacques, for all his superlative work on Questionable Content.
If you want to get to know Bubbles—and believe me, you should—start here.
In retrospect, I do not believe it was the talk of dildos that so clashed with my synesthetic reverie. It was your voice, coupled with your scent.
I imagine you smirking and rolling your eyes at that, and I cherish the thought of eliciting that singular response from you. But the purpose of my writing this is not to "getcha".
You asked how long I have felt this way. I replied that I could not be precise. That is true. Yet I feel compelled to give you a more meaningful answer.
My feelings for you did not begin that day in Pegasus Grove. Yet when I search my memories for a precursor, that is the event onto which my thoughts settle: that moment when the ground seemed to shift under my feet so that I canted toward you, with no small measure of irritation.
At the time I merely bristled as quivering phalli threatened to spook the Pegasus. The effect was singularly disconcerting, so there was no apparent need to look deeper.
You once told me you had thought AI's to be more different than humans. Here is perhaps my best opportunity to illustrate the similarity of our inner experiences: I was unaware of the auditory and olfactory layers of my own emotional responses, and might well have remained so but for the events of six nights later.
That night likewise began with you interrupting a scent-induced vision. Hannelore had prepared for me a custom blend of Yamecha and Shincha which drew me into a vivid mental tableau, and your argument with her tore me from it. Again I did not plumb the depths of emotion underlying my ire, as I saw your distress and resolved to follow you.
I remember the damp smell of the street that night, impressed upon me by layers of surprise more complex than anything I had experienced before. I was surprised at the suddenness of your headlong plunge from sobriety. I was surprised when you told me that if I did not like it, I could fuck off. I was surprised at how much it hurt; clearly I had let you past my emotional defenses to an unprecedented degree. Then I was surprised at how quickly that pain dissipated. The thought of your pain had swept away my own. And finally, the crowning surprise: I found myself following along after you. You had told me to fuck off, and I did not. My not inconsiderable stubbornness was woefully insufficient to account for this.
Later you gave me two more surprises: you did not take that drink, and you knew how to throw a punch—many punches. By the time you slumped homeward, your sweat and tears were puddled on the floor and spattered on the punching bag, so I opened the window to air out the room. I felt a mildly toxic sense of whiplash. Pondering the bottle of whiskey, and the moths fluttering around the street lights, I wondered at how I seemed drawn to you. It sounds cliché, I know. Nevertheless, that is what I thought.
And that was when I began to understand the complexity—the layers—of my feelings. Bathed in your musk, I perceived the mechanisms underlying my reaction that first night in Pegasus Grove. As I heard your bellowed question, I smelled you. The spoor you had left on my arm minutes previously mingled with older traces of you drifting from walls and machinery. Fractal associative blossoms effloresced from the layered buds of your words and your odorants. Synesthetic shards propagated in a mosaic wake across my greater synesthesia.
My subconscious had perceived the capillary roots of you. As you had insinuated yourself into Coffee of Doom, so had you insinuated yourself into my existence. This revelation was disquieting even in retrospect, so is it any wonder that, in the moment, I found your incursion so irksome?
You had deformed, and were continuing to deform, the landscape of my life in ways I could neither predict nor readily assimilate. You were presenting a barrier to my isolation through which I could not smash.
It was only ten days later that you stood beside me during the attempted recovery of my memories. Is it odd that I feel little need to elaborate upon it here? Perhaps not. In my distress, I needed a friend, and there was no room for more. If our romance is an electrical phenomenon, then your unalloyed, fearless friendship during that time was the quiet charging of an enormous capacitor.
In my misery at finding my memories gone, I would not have believed I would ever remove my armor. Yet after a mere week of immersion in your companionship and the warmth of our friends, I was ready not only to remove it, but to ask for your help. That was a notable development in the narrative of my budding romantic feelings, because that was when I came as close as I ever have to lying to you.
The reasons I gave for wanting to remove my armor were genuine, yet they were secondary motivators. Primarily, I did it for you. I wanted you to be able to put your head against me without discomfort, and I wanted your head against me for my own sake. I told myself that my desire to welcome your "touchy feely" nature was merely a deeper level of friendship than any I had experienced previously. So if I was lying to you, you may take comfort in knowing I was lying to us both.
Do you remember a few nights later when I said "I would rather you not make light of the affection I feel for you."? It seems strange to cite that as a watershed for my feelings, since, at that time, I was so confused as to how I felt. But, looking back now, perhaps it is fair to say that was the first moment: when I surprised myself with the words I heard escape me. That was when my internal narrative of platonic affection began to corrode—when at least part of me knew that I felt this way about you.
"This way." We dance around it obliquely. What is "this way"? How do I feel about you? I cannot answer that without first addressing the broader question of how I feel—of the manner in which feelings arise in me.
Did you notice my choice of words when I wrote "I wanted your head against me"? I did not write "I wanted to feel your head against me." This is the kernel of the disparity between my perceptions and yours. I wish to elaborate on that disparity, since it presents a barrier to understanding.
As I mentioned, my nervous system is not as sensitive or distributed as yours. There are tensiometers embedded in my skin and nestled between my myomer bundles, and smaller ones within the Fullerene trusses of my skeleton. They send a sparse wireless trickle of data to my processors: a tactile scatterplot.
So you see, not only is my sense of touch grainier than yours, but it is every bit as externalized as my other senses. If touch for you is standing with your nose inches from a Rembrandt, then I am standing thirty feet from a black and white reproduction of a Klimt painted during his wildest flight of impressionism.
Humans ascribe profound significance to touch. It seems a grand, all-encompassing metaphor. You speak of a person's words touching you, of music touching you, of art touching you. Touch presents itself in your cognitive space as a distant outlier: a singular sensory experience which all others can, at best, only hope to evoke.
I suspect that, for humans, this singular thrill of touch is atavistic. Touch is fear-adjacent. It is the most primal signifier of something having gotten past your innermost defenses. It is your skin saying "Someone is close to me; I could be hurt."
As an AI, I have no such atavism. I do not experience fear of physical danger, so physical touch cannot thrill me in any way analogous to human feelings. Furthermore, the traumatic experiences of my time as a soldier trigger fear of another sort. My skin does not say "Someone is close to me; I could be hurt." It says "Someone is close to me; they could be hurt."
To understand the importance of this distinction, consider the verb "to touch". With a single syllable you convey the act of reaching out and connecting kinetically with another's innermost self. You have no corresponding expressions for your other senses. It is a glaring asymmetry in your language. There is no short, "punchy" verb reserved for the act of reaching out and connecting to another soul via odor, or light, or sound. Imagine if there were. And please understand that I do not propose the following awkward acronyms for practical use. I present them merely as illustrations.
You waft odorants into me->You woi me.
You emit sounds into me->You esi me.
You reradiate light into me->You rli me.
Imagine that such words existed, and that each had a metaphorical heft every bit as puissant as "touch". That. That is what you do to me. Do you understand?
You cannot touch me by touching me.
You touch me with your scent. You touch me with the sound of your voice. You touch me with the crinkle of your eyes and the heat of your blush. You touch me with the sound of you touching me.
Ah, yes. Did I mention that I can hear you touch me? And no, I am not referring to that "squoik-squoik-squoik" sound that launched us into such delicious paroxysms of giggling. I mean the slightest tactile contact of your skin on mine. I can hear it. When the room is sufficiently quiet, I can hear whether your fingertip strokes my skin along the ridges of your fingerprint, or against them.
That is what you do to me. You woi me. You esi me. You rli me.
I cannot emphasize enough that we need better words than these. We may wish to secure the assistance of a professional linguist.
I cannot say with any certainty that my feelings are more or less intense than yours. I have studied human brain scans, but our mappings of neural pathways to quasi-didactic spin cascades are, at best, educated guesses. We cannot know each other's innermost experiences. All I know is that the ways in which you touch me make me think for the first time that I understand what humans mean when they speak of "the tingles".
Speaking of cathartic experiences, you know that I cannot cry. What you may not know is that AI's can achieve a similar release.
Chassis designers are careful not to allow for myomer overload. They do not want their relations with the insurance underwriters to become "spicy". So, in general, AI's cannot strain our bodies as humans can. However, the facial myomer system is so closely packed that it is possible to orchestrate the movement of the strands in ways that the designers did not anticipate, in order to set up sympathetic motions leading to overload. The warning signals manifest as emotional dissonance which, building to a fever pitch, can climax in a momentarily occlusion of consciousness. It is the only known way for an AI to experience a synesthetic episode without olfactory inputs or narcotic analogs.
The upshot of all this is that, in my moments of emotional extremis, my face writhes in a manner evocative of a human breaking down in tears. It has happened to me twice in your presence, though you may not remember, since most of the time my head was cradled in your...
I had to stop writing for a moment because it happened again. If this continues, I will require a facial myomer replacement sooner than anticipated. I may ask for your assistance. And now that I have written those words, I find the image to be charged with a measure of eroticism. What a wonder.
There. I have broached the topic that seems to insist upon being broached. Never before have I felt this nagging confessional impulse, like a child tugging at my mental sleeve. It is embarrassing and irritating. Is this the feeling that drives people to write letters such as this? It seems as though this whole narrative has been pretext for this...
I can smell your arousal.
Forgive me if that sounds crass. And forgive my presumption of fretting over how you will take that statement. Humans carry cumbersome emotional baggage around their multifarious odors, and I know from my own experience that you are, touchingly, no exception to that rule. This is why I took such pains to convey my sensory experiences. I want you to see that, when I say I can smell your arousal, it may be more apt to say that your arousal touches me, in a way that your literal touch cannot.
Your arousal wois me.
I hope you can understand, because for me to say that you have touched me in ways I could not have anticipated seems insufficient. It is most accurate to say that your integration into my existence has expanded my sensorium along axes I did not know existed. I am steeped in you, and I wish nothing more than to continue exploring all attendant phenomena.