quote:Some days Immanuel felt his imperfection like a wound, a ragged-edged flaw he could almost touch. How he had come to love the human woman under his charge, he still could not understand. He should have recused himself, he knew, when the feeling began. Passed her on to another ethical intelligence who could approach her case objectively. But no other EI could understand her, he told himself. Wyldernha was not like other criminals.
Most wrongdoing had simple causes: loss, trauma, isolation. Such people could re-socialize in a century or less with proper care. But Wyldernha had been in Immanuel's charge for eleven centuries, and was no closer to developing a proper sense of remorse.
He manifested at the edge of the vale where she waited. In this form he was an egg-shaped nexus of light, hovering just above the snow.
Wyldernha was so different in the winter – pensive, sometimes regretful. He'd never met another human whose moods were so greatly shaped by the seasons. But she created this planet, he reminded himself. So perhaps it is the seasons here that follow her temper.
Sometimes he thought it might help her to leave this place, to make a fresh start. But even his authority didn’t extend to force.
He found her huddled in the snow, naked as she often was. "My peaceful machine," she said.
"What have you got there?" he asked.
She turned and showed him. She held a rabbit in her hand, her thumb and forefinger wound around its neck. The animal flailed against her grip, desperate for life.
"Please," he said, "let it go."
"And waste the hours it took to catch him?" She turned the rabbit around in her hand until she could look into its eyes, as if she were trying to make some mental connection. "I've always cared for nature itself, but never much for animals. Another of my moral imbalances, would you say?"
"You shouldn't be that way." His flaw felt like a cancer now, as he watched her toy with the helpless rabbit.
"I was goddess of the hunt. I blessed the hunters among my people. The chase, the kill, they brought me joy."
"There are ways to hunt without killing." To his relief, she opened her fingers and released her small captive.
"Yes," she said, ignoring the rabbit as it fled. "I've heard of a place in Coma Virgo Aleph where one can hunt strangeling black holes. Perhaps we could travel there."
Immanuel searched the Dataverse for details. "The orbital preserve is a high-risk area. We'll have to warn the wardens about your record."
"They won't be obligated to allow you in."
"And yet I have a feeling that they will."
Wyldernha lifted a handful of snow, packing it into a ball. "Such cold, yet without pain," she mused. "We live so unnaturally."
"Unnaturally? You draw a distinction that I don't recognize," said Immanuel.
She laughed and threw the snowball at him. It flew through his intangible middle and landed a few meters beyond.