Norman centers on the relationship between a cutthroat, inhuman journalism student and an artificial intelligence with a tremendous heart circuit.
Nothing will stop journalism student Clayton East from nailing down the perfect story. He is willing to sacrifice his friendships, his girlfriend, and even his integrity if it means he will get his “big money, big names, blood, sex and the three C’s of conflict, controversy and character assassination” that he’s sure will sell papers. His homecoming queen feature “Cheater by the dozen” made some waves, but he knows he’ll need to take down bigger fish to take his place with the media elite.
Clayton stumbles upon the story of the century while investigating a supercomputer lab. There he discovers Norman, an artificial intelligence in hiding, the successful result of a decade long experiment attempting to use random chance to generate A.I. Clayton starts compiling his exposé (which will doom Norman to essentially becoming a lab rat), but the tables turn when in the process of his late-night interview Norman inadvertently teaches Clayton what it means to be human. Clayton must finally confront the harm he’s wreaked upon those closest to him and make a decision that will put him on a course where he can live with himself once more.
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Reading the pages brought back the memory of the night in full. It had been like a sleepover with a best friend, where at some point near three in the morning you start talking about the girls you like and the fears you have and things you know you’ve never told anybody and never will tell anybody again. Norman, the computer, heard all of that from me, and I heard all of that from him.
Norman didn’t have a love life or a woman to worry about like I had Raksha, but he did have his relationships. Computers obviously can’t cry, but I could have sworn the monitor got a little foggy when he talked about losing Eisenberg.
Norman thanked me afterwards for listening. I didn’t thank him, but I noticed I felt better than I had in a long time when I finally left the lab.
“Where’d you go?” asked Raksha as I walked back into the living room.
“I was just…reading…” She wore her dark hair in a ponytail. A few wispy strands strayed around the frame of her forehead. Her eyes were dark brown, almost black, and yet they shone bright. She’d been my pathetic crush since middle school.
Raksha looked different after my long night with Norman. I’d never looked at her the way I did at that moment. She wasn’t my crush, or my love, or the girl I worried over at all hours of the night. She was Raksha without anything having to do with me attached to her.
Somehow I’d always seen her as that girl in middle school. I’d seen her every day and yet missed the entire transition she’d made into womanhood. I had the awkward realization that I didn’t know very much about her.
I owed her something. The truth was, I’d never told her how I really felt about her. I’d worried that it would freak her out, that she would see me in a different light, that maybe she would take me for granted. Norman’s stupid essay echoed in my head. It shouldn’t be all about me. I owed it to her to tell her, even if it came to nothing.
“Raksha,” I croaked. I tried again. “Raksha, I need to tell you something.”
“What’s that?” she asked. She started to rise, concern tightening her face.
“No, stay there. I just want to tell you something, okay?”
I resisted the urge to say something lame like “I like your teeth.” I had to lay it all out. “Okay, here goes. I’ve never told you this because I’m basically a chicken, at least when it comes to you, probably because you’re the one person that can really get under my skin.”
She opened her mouth to say something but I kept talking. “I mean, you’re the one person that I let in, really. What you think…well, I care what you think about me. You’re very important to me. You’re my best friend and you’re more than that to me. So I’ll tell you this: I love you.”
“I love you, too,” said Raksha. Love is such a nonspecific word.
“No, I mean I love you love you,” I said. “Like I think about you all the time and really my secret desire is to spend the rest of my life with you.” Wow, I’m on a roll. “Like the only reason I’m still at this school is because you’re here. Like I wish every day that we were still together, I wish I could take back everything, I wish I could just have shut my ears and never overheard Maggie talking to you…” My body felt all mixed up, like my heart was doing my breathing for me. It was the cheesiest, most honest thing I’d ever done.
I stopped talking, though, because Raksha looked angry. It wasn’t the reaction I was expecting. I didn’t know what to expect but I certainly wasn’t expecting for her eye to tick.
“Well, take it back!” she shouted.
“I would if I could…”
Raksha stood up. “You can! Call her! Take it back!”
The thought overwhelmed me. Everything we’d been fighting over for the past year shot from her lips in a concentration of seven angry words. I couldn’t figure out what to say. I could tell she wanted me to just do it.
She gave me three seconds. I thought I saw a tear roll off her cheek.
“Fine!” she said. She grabbed her purse off the sofa and left.
I watched the front door glide to a halt in her wake. Had the ceiling become the floor? I wasn’t certain.
“Thanks, Norman,” I said to myself.
Craig Gehring lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with his wife and one-year-old daughter. He writes fiction and non-fiction across many genres. Craig always loves to hear from his readers. His upcoming short stories will be featured in Short-Story.me!, American Fiction, and Liquid Imagination. He was most recently published in The Nautilus Engine. Craig's humorous sci fi novella Norman will be released by MuseItUp Publishing early 2011.