The dark green abyss stretched into inky darkness, its depth intangible.
Bubbles of air tapped against the glass walls, clinging to the solid surface, before being pulled upwards by pressure. I watched them dance, lost in the unstable current, towards the light of the city.
The neon streaks were disjointed and blurred by the choppy waves, hundreds of meters above me, above the lab. I sank in my chair, tilting my chin towards the unmistakable skyline and losing myself in the memory of what used to be.
Whining caught my attention. Behind me, the core of the machine rotated, faster, faster. Its golden light twinkled through gaps in the fuselage as it rotated, uninhibited by friction. Each revolution produced more data. As the spikes were recorded on the monitor, I watched the data rise, manifested into reality, and gather as a translucent cloud of blue shards hovering at the center of the machine.
I leaned against the desk and watched the procedure with curiosity. The machine was replicating life, in its own way, of course. At first a barren landscape devoid of warm bodies, and then a city, glowing brightly with flashes of blue neon. While it was an admirable attempt, my hopes remained low.
Until there was a flicker. I leaned forward and squinted my eyes. The data shuddered, and then solidified into water. Floating orbs of water. I covered my mouth as I watched it materialize into something coherent. Something real.
The machine sparked and I covered my eyes. When I opened them again, the world was quiet.
And there she was, floating in front of me.
I walked slowly, stumbling forward. The cloud of data waited for me, the water now formed into something else, something organic. My fingers uncurled towards the hand that offered me its warmth.
She was so close...so close...
The world resumed as she touched me. I exhaled. The world felt warm, even though that was something I hadn’t known for years. I stared at her face, made of water and data, as she smiled at me. Her fingers intertwined with mine, and her body of data engulfed mine.
She lifted me from the floor. With her other hand, she tilted my chin upwards, towards the light of a city I separated myself from. All the laughter, warmth, love, everything I had tossed away upon her death.
I looked at her face, now perfect, no longer showing signs of the illness that had ravaged her body.
Her grip tightened around me. She blinked, and the numbers froze. Her face, a distorted collection of nonsensical numbers, their values jumbled and meanings erased. There were echoes of her, of laughter, of the love we once shared, of her warmth, but it was static through a tunnel. Data misinterpreted into an expected outcome. It was overwhelming, a scream, a cry to be recognized. To be saved.
I held her, burying my face into her static chest.
The chaos faded. It was clear in my ears—old music from our young days in the living room, dancing to the static tones emanating from our radio. “Is this real? How can this be real?”
I felt her fingers, now fading, clasp the side of my face. She directed my gaze upwards again, towards the surface, where the rest of the world lived on without me. “You’re still here,” she whispered. “They’re still up there. Life and love, they’re still up there. Stop searching for it through a screen.”
“I can’t let you go again,” I breathed. “You’ve been gone so long.”
“I’m not real,” she whispered. A shuddering finger along my neck pulled my face back.
Her smile was static as the machine coughed and shook, trying to right the error. “Live, while you still can.”