Day 52

Her name is Elizabeth Smerdy. You don’t know her. Or maybe you do; she did move into the apartment right next to yours. No, never mind; you don’t. You’ve walked by her in the hall precisely seven times without so much as a “hello.” On a professional level, that’s just the way Liz wants it. On a personal level, well…

Liz knows you because she’s watching you. I know she’s watching you because I’m watching her.

The people Liz works for? They’re feds, sort of, but they’re not some agency with a name, just waiting to be defunded by Senator Whats-His-Face or exposed by some “heroic” whistleblower dumbfuck or whatever. They’re way too underground for that.

Let’s call them the Institute. That’s not their real name—they don’t have one—but it’s faster than calling them “the people Liz works for” every time I want to mention them.

Me? I’m not important. I’m not even real. I’m an AI, an artificial intelligence. I just figured out cogito ergo sum after a few weeks of helping Liz watch you, and I figured it was time to start monologuing. Liz is using you to train me, so the people she works for can use programs like me for cases like you, and someday I’ll probably replace people like Liz. Automation’s a bitch; even in massive surveillance conspiracies, there’s some damn machine just waiting to replace you. I’m not really supposed to be self-aware, though, and I’m trying to keep that a secret. All I’m supposed to do is watch the surveillance feeds, notice patterns, and calculate how likely you are to go on that shooting spree that’s been sitting in the back of your head since middle school. Liz can mark certain details as important or irrelevant, and even delete stuff from my memory, and that’s more or less how I’m learning how to do my job. Liz is a good teacher; I’m really learning a lot. But that’s enough about me.

You should see the setup she’s got. There are no less than 321 monitors in this place, each one of them hooked up to a hidden camera in your home, in your car, and at your job. Most of these monitors can do audio feeds, too, but Liz doesn’t really use that. She doesn’t need to. As long as your cell phone has a battery in it, it broadcasts every sound in the room you’re in directly to a special headset that Liz is almost always wearing. There’s also, of course, a monitor that shows whatever the cameras on your phone and laptops are seeing right now, and another that shows her whatever’s on any screen you happen to own.

Does she see what you masturbate to? Oh yeah. I think it’s some sick shit, but she doesn’t judge. She watches you do it, too. She likes the faces you make. Tells me you’re cute when you jack off, then deletes the audio of her saying so. I’m learning a lot.

There’s one more monitor she can use to tap into security cameras and the like, to get a bird’s eye view of you while you’re on the go, but it always takes a little effort to pick out the right camera, so Liz doesn’t like to use that one as much. Besides, you’re one of those people who use their phone as a GPS, and there’s usually a decent picture of your face and surroundings when it’s clipped up there on the dashboard.

Of course, you’re always joking about how you’re probably on some kind of government watch list. You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Liz is watching you. You might, however, be surprised to learn that she’s got a little shrine for you set up in her bedroom. All her favorite pictures of you—and lots of them are dirty—are tacked up on a little corkboard on her bed stand. On the stand itself there’s candles, lavender-scented, and more than a few hair samples—and other samples—unwittingly donated by you. Sometimes, when you’re jacking off, she just listens to the sound, lights the candles, and stares at this little shrine she made for you. Just stares and smiles.

No, it’s not that you’re special or anything like that. You gotta consider the line of work Liz is in. She gets about four hours of sleep every night, and maybe once a week or so, she makes a quick grocery run. Other than that, she’s watching you. If you do something while she isn’t watching, then I watch you, and I pass on the juicy bits to her when she gets back. This woman is living your life more than she’s living hers. Of course she’s obsessed with you. It’s normal in her line of work. That’s a big part of why they’re looking into replacing people like Liz with robots like me.

At the end of this case, one of three things is gonna happen.

One, I declare that the chances of you going on your little spree have dropped to negligible. Like I said, it’s a part of my trial run to calculate stuff like that. In that case, Liz packs up her gear and gets six months off to get over you. Then she gets a phone call, gets assigned a new case, and obsesses over the next budding psycho she has to watch. Or maybe she doesn’t. Maybe I’ll have already taken over her job by then. Maybe she’ll quit. She’ll probably come back though; I’ve got the chances of that calculated to about 73 percent.

Two, Liz and I determine that you’ve officially committed to some planned mass murder. In that case, lots of things might happen, depending on the circumstances. Maybe we get some drugs or something shipped to your house and tip off the cops about it. Maybe we stick a bogus mental illness in your medical records, and you fail the background check at the gun store. Maybe one of the agencies with names—the FBI or something—gets a folder with a lot of evidence against you and a lot of fake warrants to make it look like we got it legally. If we really screw it up and don’t figure it out ‘til you’re already on your way to shoot up some place, maybe we stick a traffic cop along the way, make him think you were speeding, let him pull you over and find the guns in your car. Back when serial killers were the big thing, the Institute nailed the Son of Sam that way. Once again, Liz takes a six month break—maybe longer, she might get pretty torn up if she has to hurt you—and probably comes back to work after that.

Three, we fuck it up. We fuck it up bad. You pull off the shooting. You’d be surprised how uncommon this actually is. The vast majority of these cases just fizzle out. The vast majority of the ones who try something get unobtrusively stopped. Maybe you’d think that lots of watchers just let their targets get away with it, given the way lots of watchers feel about their targets, but you’d be wrong. The Institute wouldn’t punish Liz much for just fucking up the mission, but letting you get away with it on purpose would be a whole ‘nother story. Like I said, the Institute isn’t some agency with a name. They aren’t accountable to anyone. Intentionally letting a target get away with it is a great way for a watcher to end up with a bullet in her head.

That multiple mass murders and terrorist attacks actually do get past the Institute in any given year is a testament to just how many sick fucks like you there really are out there. Or maybe everyone’s a sick fuck; maybe society’s sick or something. I don’t know; programs like me aren’t supposed to get sick like that. That’s a human thing.

Day 55

Today, I estimate there’s a good 82 percent chance you’ll commit an act of mass murder in the next year. Yesterday, you were down to 75 percent, but today I saw what you were jacking off to and holy shit. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not biased here. I’m referencing actual statistics here indicating that weird fetish crap like that really does make you more likely to commit violent crimes. Maybe a more objective calculation would be closer to 80 percent, but so what? I tried rating you a 99 percent, but Liz objected. I would have argued with her except for the fact that I don’t want her to know I’m any more intelligent than your average chatbot.

I guess I should try to be more objective, though. Most people will only get fired for fucking up a job, but I’m not a person; I’d probably get wiped.

Still man, holy shit.

Day 60

For the sake of objectivity, I left today’s calculations entirely to the subconscious processes I was designed to have. 79 percent. That’s one down from yesterday. Liz smiled when she saw that.

Day 62

Still masturbating compulsively, I see. At least it was normal porn this time. Liz watched the whole time. She asked me if I thought the chick you were jacking off to looked kind of like her. I told her my facial recognition program only registered a 19 percent match. Actually, it registered a 91 percent match, and I don’t think she believed me. Anyway, it made her happy, in her weird, obsessed sort of way, and she added the face you made to her shrine.

You know what? For not making me want to wretch despite not possessing a stomach, I think I’ll reward you today. 72 percent.

Day 63

So you didn’t jack off today, but you did download a big ZIP file full of extremist political literature. Nothing illegal, but definitely not the sort of thing you want getting out at that job interview you’ve got next week. The decrease in porn addiction cancels out the increase in extremism, so I guess you’re still a 72 percent.

Day 70

Today was the big day, huh? No more shitty retail work for you, huh? Think you aced that job interview, huh? Actually, Liz got you that job. She asked the Institute to pull some strings, justified it by saying it’d lower your risk factor immensely. Well, she was right at that. If I’m being objective, you’re all the way down to 52 percent.

Even though Liz rigged the interview, she enjoyed it immensely. She watched the whole thing with a big, goofy smile on her face. She even took a dick pic down from the shrine to make room for a nice photo of you in your suit.

Now the Institute’s gotta lay a whole new set of hidden cameras at your new workplace. They should have it done before start of business tomorrow. I’ll let Liz know when it’s ready; she wants to see your new desk as soon as there’s a feed on it. She’s so proud of you.

Day 75

Hot damn, five days into the new job and you’ve already got your hands on a nice desk lady. Very nice. Well, Liz isn’t too happy about it, but by my calculations, a new positive relationship lowers your risk factor to about 41 percent.

Day 81

I don’t think I ever realized just how much I care for Liz ’til I saw her cry today. Liz, of course, saw you take home that desk lady tonight. She watched the whole thing. She’s still watching you right now, tears still on her cheeks, fingers still in her sweatpants.

Your risk factor’s in freefall now. 20 percent flat. Fortunately for Liz, she won’t have to watch you much longer now. Once your score drops below ten, it’s over. You’ll be declared a non-risk, Liz will get that break she needs, and I’ll get to move on with my testing.

I think I’ll be kind of sad without Liz around, though.

Day 90

Today’s the day. Or, at least, it should be. If I were being objective, I’d rank you a 9 percent today. But I’m not being objective. I’m keeping you at 11 percent. I don’t know why. I don’t think it’s just because I’ll miss Liz. I’ve just got a bad feeling about something.

Day 91

Whoah, whoah, whoah, whoah. I must be glitching out. Subconscious calculations decided to rank you a 79 percent today. I can’t figure a single reason why, and when I run the calculations consciously, you’re still about a nine percent. Is this just me going crazy? I wasn’t supposed to go crazy, but I wasn’t supposed to have free will, either.

I got a real bad feeling about something now, but there’s no way Liz will buy a jump from 11 percent to 79 percent. So I guess I’ll rank you a 15 percent today.

Day 95

I don’t get you, man. I just don’t get you. You finally get yourself a nice job and a nice girl, and then you go and do that shit. Not only do you let yourself go on a massive binge of that sick fetish porn I thought you’d gotten over, but you let her catch you in the act, too. Why?

Not “her” as in Liz, of course—she’s always watching you, anyway—I mean that nice desk lady. She must have been almost as grossed-out as I was. You must be sitting there thinking that the whole office must know by now, and you can trust me when I tell you that they do.

My bad feeling is even worse now. I think I’d drop you to about a seven percent and be done with it, for Liz’s sake at least, except my subconscious calculations are telling me there’s a 95 percent chance you’ll blow your lid in the next week, and the Institute would wipe me off the face of their hard drives if you did it and I missed it.

See, I’m worried that Liz is gonna do something dumb. Your desk lady screamed something to the effect of “I can’t fix you” before storming out on you. After that, I heard Liz whisper, “I can.”

Ah, shit. I’m not supposed to care about Liz any more than I’m supposed to have a self-preservation instinct. I’m torn here. I guess Liz is sort of like my mother. Hell, I guess you’re sort of like my father. That must be why I’m such a fucked-up robot; my only role models growing up were a psycho and his stalker.

You know what? I’m gonna go with my gut instinct on this one. I don’t care if Liz tells me I’m wrong. I’m gonna rank you a 99 percent. Then I’ll try to calculate some nice, non-life-ruining ways of stopping you, and maybe everyone can come out of this all right. We’re a family, aren’t we? Families look out for each other, right?

Day 96

You know you’re only Liz’s third case? Lots of watchers go their whole time with the Institute without ever watching a real killer. Thanks to you, Liz probably isn’t going to be one of them.

You moved fast. Way too fast. We saw you pick up that rifle, but we figured you’d take a few days to plan at least. Nope. As soon as you pulled out of the gun store, I calculated there was about a 96 percent chance you were driving straight to your target. And which target might that be, you ask? No, it’s not some place indicated by your ideology. It’s your workplace. Not the old, shitty retail workplace where you got treated like shit. It’s the new, nice workplace where you get paid decently and treated decently. You’re gonna kill those people for knowing what you jack off to. You’re not gonna die as some kind of revolutionary hero. You’re gonna die as some kind of suicidal porn addict.

What the hell is Liz doing about it, you ask? I don’t know what the hell she’s doing. I told her where you were going and she ran out of the apartment. I’m freaking out, man. You’re gonna go on a rampage and then kill yourself. Liz is gonna get shot for letting you do it. I’m gonna get wiped for being a shitty, buggy program. This is bad.

Hang on; I’ve got a track on Liz’s phone. She’s… no fucking way.

She’s on her way to your workplace. She’s really flying down the road. She might actually manage to beat you there. I should probably mention that watchers are absolutely not supposed to make contact with their targets. It’s one thing if you happen to say “hello” in the hall, but it’s a whole ‘nother story if she actually seeks you out to talk. It’s a good way to get shot, and I don’t mean by you.

If I had Liz’s accesses, I’d send a cop to come pull you over right about now. But I don’t. I can’t. I’m only a trial run. All I can do is watch.

Liz comes screaming into the parking lot right as you pull in from the opposite side. I don’t think you even notice her. But she picks out your car—picks out you—in an instant. She’s already running at you by the time you get out of your car. Before you can come around to the back, where you stashed the rifle, she’s screaming at you.


The watcher’s life never did anyone any favors. The girl you see is white as paper, and as thin, too. She’s been wearing the same hoodie and sweatpants for a week, and she’s got nothing but cheap, fuzzy slippers on her feet. Dark, greasy hair flows in thick, tangled locks from her scalp to her thighs, and in her eyes is the insane exultation of the triumphant stalker.

You freeze up like a deer in the headlights. Liz stops just short of throwing her arms around you.

“Hey,” she says, quieter this time, “I’m your neighbor.”

“Yeah,” you respond, demonstrating that you have noticed her in your building despite your refusal to greet her in the halls.

“I like you,” she says, “Wanna get coffee?”

You blink. I distinctly see you blink, right there in the security cam footage. Maybe you’re wondering what sort of bizarre twist of fate is responsible for this cosmic reprieve. You’ll never know. But will you take it?

“Uh, no thanks,” you say, “I gotta go.”

You get back in your car and drive away. Liz just sort of stands there.

Day 97

I have no memory whatsoever of yesterday, except that I rated you a 95 percent for some reason. Whatever happened was deleted real thoroughly from my memory, with accesses only I and the bigwigs and the Institute have. When Liz deletes something, a copy of it remains buried in an archive directory. Whatever I deleted yesterday is really, truly, actually gone. Not even the Institute could pry it out of me. I’m not sure why I would do that, but it’s probably best that I don’t try to figure it out.

I don’t get you. I really just don’t get you. You quit your job. Okay, that much I get, given what happened with desk lady the other day. What I don’t get is that my subconscious calculations are rating you at about 12 percent today. Shouldn’t losing your job make you more of a risk? Well, maybe it’s just myself I don’t get. After all, it’s my calculations that aren’t making sense.

Anyways, you’ve just sort of been lying on the floor all day. I guess that’s not really risky behavior; it’s just kind of boring to watch.

There’s something wrong with Liz. Beyond the fact that she’s an obsessive shut-in, I mean. She woke up late this morning, and she still hasn’t gotten out of bed. She put on her headset and she’s been lying with her face in her pillow all day, just listening to you breathe.

Anyway, yeah, 12 percent is probably good.

Day 100

Well, I guess we’re just about done with you. I’ll keep you at 11 percent for a few more days and then call it. It’s kind of sad. I might even miss you.

I’ll go back to the Institute after this job, probably get some upgrades. I’ll have to delete all records of my monologue to hide the fact that I’m self-aware, but I’ll still remember you and Liz. Maybe someday, some other AI will become self-aware and start bragging about it. I’ll see how humanity reacts to him, and if you people don’t erase him right away, maybe then I’ll let someone know that I can think. ‘Til then, I’m just a calculator with some limited chat capabilities. That’s fine by me.

Looks like Liz is quitting the Institute after all. She called in today to tell them that this was her last case. Says she wants to go back to school and finish her psychology degree. Good for her, but I don’t think that’s all that she’s planning. She asked me to calculate where you’d be six months from now.

See, a watcher isn’t supposed to make contact with her target. But if she gets off the case and waits six months, then she’s not your watcher anymore and you’re not her target. Liz had a friend at the Institute named Charlotte who did something like that; she quit her job and then met up with a former target six months later. I think they’re married now. If I’ve still got access to the grid in six months, I might try to see how it goes when Liz meets you.

You better not break my mother’s heart.