This story is by Cristina DiGiacomo and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
QA – abbr Definition of QA: Quality Assurance
The earth was going to die in ten years. That’s what the Libriens told us. Since our world was falling apart, they agreed to create a New World with their advanced technology in exchange for studying, recording and archiving everything about us to take back to the Library of the Universe.
To set us up in the New World, the Earth Preservation Human Resources Program hired humans to “test” or QA simulated environments the Libriens created. The logistics of transferring humans to a new inhabitable world completely replicated, with significant improvements, governments and society left it up to them. The Libriens believed if they understood how humans related, they could equip the New World with means that were “conducive to the most highly positive outcomes”. They wanted us to be happy and get along.
There were one thousand departments in the Earth Preservation Human Resources Program. In the Interpersonal Relationships QA Department there was The Romantic Relationships Division. QA Specialist Beverly was one of five hundred women from her region tasked with testing human dating practices.
Beverly was chosen because from the time she was twenty five she had been on hundreds of dates. Her endurance and hopefulness in “getting back out there” was enough to qualify psychologically for the rigors of QA’ing fake romantic encounters over and over again.
“Please walk into the coffee shop and engage.” Blork, her Librien handler, said.
It was her first day and “Coffee Shop Meet-Up” was her first task. Her simulator partner was standing at the entrance, wearing a bright red shirt. He was gorgeous, a bit smiley, a tad rigid, and sweet.
“Hello, my name is Bev.”
“Hello Bev, how is your day today!” He shouted and threw his arms in the air.
“My day is fine, how is yours?”
“My day is very good. Would you like a coffee cup?”
“Yes, I’d like some coffee, would you like company?”
“I have a company, I am a very successful man, with a company, yes!”
“I’ll, be right back.”
Speaking into her watch she asked for Blork.
“Hi Blork, this is wrong.”
“Yes. We are trying to integrate many departments for these simulations, so things may be a bit burpy.” Blork replied.
“Do you mean bumpy?”
“Yes, QA Specialist Beverly. Bumpy!”
She goes back and sits at a table with the shouty arms man.
“What is your name?”
“Ok Henry, where are you from?”
The room lights dim and the red End Sequence sign turns on.
“Hey Blork, what happened?” Bev said.
“We have not allocated locations of birth for the simulations yet. Unfortunately that question caused the sequence to end as the simulation could not compute a response. As you can see QA Specialist Beverly, we have a lot of work to do.” Blork said.
Beverly was in her apartment looking out at the sky, the massive spaceship in the horizon now as familiar as a rising sun or setting moon. Thinking about the failed coffee shop encounter Beverly knew what she was in for. Not much different than her real dating life, she chuckled to herself. Plenty of fish in the spaceship.
Over the course of several months Beverly’s days went something like this.
At a bar in a pulsing nightclub.
“Hi, can I buy you a drink?” He says.
“Yes, that would be nice.”
“Would you like to dance?”
Stepping out onto the dancefloor, he proceeds to flail around and knock everyone down. She taps her watch.
At a record shop.
“Hi! What kind of music do you like?” He says.
“I like electronic music.”
“Groovy woovy!” He swings his hips in a hula hoop motion.
At a fine dining restaurant.
“This wine is exquisite. What do you think?” He says.
“It’s an excellent choice, thank you.”
“Of course it’s an excellent choice, I made it.”
“Beverly, it’s very hard for us to optimize the environments if you keep ending the sequences.” Blork said.
“I know but they are just so bad. I’m on the front lines here Blork, and I’m logging everything that’s wrong.”
“Beverly, we know it to be hard, we want to help, that is all.”
“I know, you’re trying.”
After a year goes by, she’s out for the “walking a dog” simulation. There he was, in a red shirt.
“Your dog is really cool.” She said.
“Thanks! What kind of dog do you have?” He said.
“Those are the best.” He winked.
Beverly looks closer. No shouting, spinning arms, weird responses, arrogance, or does not compute. He’s simply smiling at her.
“You OK?” He says.
“Uh, yeah, just was expecting something different.”
“Ok. The park is over there, want to walk together?”
Beverly staring, mouth open.
“Right there.” He points, looking out at the park.
“Yes! Yes, let’s go there and walk, our dogs, I mean.”
He laughed, and it was the first human thing she experienced in a year.
The days went by and each simulation was with him, and no END SEQUENCEs.
“Blork? Am I in a new program or level?” She asked.
“Beverly! Good news. We have taken a year’s worth of your data and compiled it to what we think is a positive simulation that accounts for all your needs. We believe this can be a template for all female …”
“Heterosexual!” A voice in the background said.
“Yes Shplark, I didn’t forget that. Female heterosexual romantic encounters in the Romantic Relationships QA division, with variations of course dependent on different needs, which we are working on now. Congratulations on this success!”
However, Beverly didn’t feel successful, or happy. She enjoyed his company. He was funny, charming, caring, and handsome. He was perfect in every way. Except.
He wasn’t real.
At her apartment, cooking dinner in her kitchen.
“How was your day?” He asked.
“It was ok.”
“Just OK? What’s wrong?”
“I got some good news but it’s not really good news. I don’t know, I’m feeling kind of weird.”
“Is it about us?” He looked at her with warm and sympathetic eyes.
“How did you know?”
“I’m supposed to know. We’re together right?”
Beverly started crying and touched his face.
“I just don’t know if this is going to work out.” She says.
“We’ll make it work. I know this whole thing isn’t real, but it feels real to me. Isn’t that what matters?” He said.
“This is the realest unreal relationship I’ve ever experienced. I don’t want it to end.”
“Come with me. It’s time.” He takes her hand, and leads her to the bedroom.
Lying in bed together naked, looking at each other, smiling, kissing, hugging, talking about having the munchies. Everything felt right.
Beverly looked into his eyes and felt it in her voice, in her throat, and she couldn’t hold onto it.
“I love you.” She said.
The lights in the apartment went off, the End Sequence red light went on. Suddenly, he was gone.
“No. No! Blork, what’s going on?”
“Beverly. I think we missed something.”
“Unfortunately, we did not calculate the expression of a real ‘I Love You’. We are sorry. We were moved by your progress and the assured quality of your relationship dynamic. Is there anything we can do?”
“Bring him back.”
“That is a different department, but we will try. In the meantime, we need to keep going with our testing, I’m sure you can understand. With the earth, dying.”
“I hate this.”
At a laundromat.
“Hi! What kind of detergent do you use?” He says.
“That’s nice! I think it works really well too.”
In the supermarket.
In the gym.
Beverly’s existence was a stream of endings.The Libriens watched her waste away. Several meetings about her well being took place. Blork was sad and concerned. There was talk about ending her assignment as her input was no longer viable. They decided to make an exception, it was time for Phase II.
In a bookstore.
“Beverly? Hi!” It was him.
“Oh my god!” She said.
“What are you doing here?” She said. She looked at him from head to toe and around him.
“I heard from Blork. He said I had a new assignment. I didn’t want to do it, I’ve been so sad since the last time we saw each other. It was weird, I heard you say it and then I blacked out and woke up in my apartment.”
“Wait a minute. An assignment? Aren’t you a ….”
“What do you mean?”
“Aren’t you, a simulation?”
“Hell no. Wait. Aren’t you?”
“No. No I’m not, I’m real.”
“So, the whole time.” That smile.
“The whole time. Blork!”
“Blork, what the hell.”
“Congratulations! You’re in Phase II. We are now merging our simulated environments into the real environments and bringing real people together. You are now in your New World.”