“Listen! I have programmed this song for you.”

She smiled flattered at her holo-communicator and waited for the music to come out of the speakers of her digital touch table, but it did not. Before her eyes a holographic image formed with a text message, “Love Me Do.” She understood that this was the title of the song. Then another message appeared underneath that read, “Lean out the window, remove the soundproofing and listen.”

Kacie touched her digital table and the electro-chromic polymer on the wall became transparent, so she could look out over the city. She touched another button and a strange melody from outside her apartment began to faintly reach her ears. She was unable to identify either the source of the music or the kind of instruments playing it.

She removed the soundproofing completely and ran to the window. There she saw how the lights of the multitude of hover cars that at that moment were crossing the night sky blinked synchronously. They were doing so to the rhythm of that catchy song. The lights of the ground and parked vehicles were also flashing to the same chords. Then she realized that it was the horns of all those vehicles, in the air and on the ground, that were playing the music of that ancient song, even imitating human voices to perfection, all in a gigantic group symphony. 

Love, love me do. You know I love you. I’ll always be true. So please … Love me do. Whoa, love me do,” Without realizing it, Kacie began to wiggle her waist happily.

“Did you like it?” Rhett Butler asked her after a couple of minutes, right at the end of the little concert. 

“It was wonderful. How did you do it?” she wanted to know, returning excitedly to her digital table.

Rhett Butler’s avatar showed that smile, somewhere between magnetic and biting, that she liked so much under his thinly trimmed mustache.

“I’m an artist. I create virtual performance art.” Kacie never knew if she was talking to the AI controlling the avatar or to the prodigious guy she thought was behind it. “I hacked every autonomous vehicle two miles around your apartment to perform this song for you.”

“You’re crazy!” Her eyes were sparkling with excitement. “It was really nice.”

“I had to stop the remote operators of four different hover car companies from taking control of their vehicles during this little concert,” he explained. “It wasn’t easy, they were going crazy!”

“And you did all that for me?”

“Certainly, anything for my favorite girl,” Rhett Butler gave her a roguish wink that she found charming.

 “No one has ever done anything like that for me before,” tears almost came to her eyes.

After almost three months of having this strange relationship, with a virtual identity that represented a person she had never seen, Kacie would have liked to finally see his real face, but she didn’t dare ask him for it. She didn’t want to break the magic of the moment.

“And you did this all by yourself?” she asked foolishly.

“Well, I had some help. We’re a collective of virtual intelligence artists. Remember the surprise display of digital art on the facades of major office buildings and on billboards all over downtown? That was also our doing. That’s how we tested our joint hacking and simultaneous control over multiple digital systems.

Kacie didn’t give a damn about all this. All she could think about was the charming rogue who must be behind that hologram, who didn’t seem to take himself seriously.

“I’d like to be part of your collective too,” she said to her own surprise.

“It would be great to have you with us, but for that you would have to have your own AI avatar.”

“No problem,” she shrugged, “how can I get it?”

“You would have to sign up for the service at c-avatars-atwill, answer a few rather personal questions,” he stressed that point, “and upload a short video of yourself. The app would create a realistic AI avatar that would communicate with your voice and image over Holo 3D.”

“Sounds cool!”

“Are you aware that each AI that is generated is a new intelligence with its own personality?”

“Yes, … yes, of course,” she answered with a hint of doubt. “Is there a problem?”

“No, the other way around. The more you use your avatar the more it will adapt to your personality. In fact, your AI version will allow us to interact in a thousand innovative ways. It will be a whole new experience, much more … intimate,” and he emphasized the last word.

“Really? Like when a couple used to decide to move in together?”

“Hmm! Curious simile. Yes, something like that. Together, but on the net.”

“You know?” Kacie said uncertainly. “I’ve thought it over. I don’t want an avatar of me. I’d rather be like you, play a character.”

Rhett Butler’s avatar became thoughtful.

“May I make a suggestion?”

“Yes, of course.”

A scene from “The Wizard of Oz” appeared before her. Kacie stared at the images in rapt attention. Dorothy Gale was singing: “Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high, there’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby. Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true …”

“It’s a very old holo-film,” she commented as she watched the images.

“In fact, it’s from long before holographic systems existed. Would you like to be Dorothy Gale?”

“Who, the girl with pigtails in the movie? What’s so special about her?”

“Dorothy is an orphan girl living a simple life on a farm in Kansas,” Rhett Butler’s avatar explained, “with her Aunt Emma, Uncle Henry and her dog Toto. In a tornado she and her house are blown away and land in the magical land of Oz. There a good witch gives her some ruby shoes that have powers, although Dorothy doesn’t know it. She also gives her instructions on how to get back to her home. On her adventure she befriends a scarecrow, who wishes to get a brain; a tin man, who desires a heart; and a cowardly lion, who wants to be brave. In the hope of getting their wishes, the three go with her to the emerald city on a path of golden cobblestones to make their wishes to the Wizard of Oz.”

“Is that how you see me, as an innocent and helpless girl?”

“Behind someone seemingly innocent can be very, very strong. Dorothy is, I remind you of her last name, a gale. In the end she uses her powers and makes her dreams come true,” he assured her.

Kacie looked at her southern gentleman, with his delicately curled hair and his smile full of mockery.

“I like her!” she agreed with a broad smile. “Yes, she will be my avatar. It is decided.”

She immediately went to hire the service, uploaded the video of Dorothy Gale singing “Over the Rainbow” and, with Rhett Butler’s help, answered the dozens of questions the virtual personalities service’s AI asked her to customize her avatar. Rhett insisted on being very careful in the answers in order to get the ideal profile.

“Tomorrow I will prepare something special for you,” he told her. “Dorothy and I can work on it together all night,” now his mischievous smile worried Kacie. ” Be at the Virtual Gardens mall tomorrow afternoon at five o’clock and we’ll show it to you,” after that, her handsome beau cut the communication.

That abrupt farewell left her with mixed feelings. On the one hand she was eager to see what Rhett was preparing for her, but, on the other hand, he had spoken of her avatar as if it were a third person different from herself, as if with her new virtual identity he could have an intimacy that with her he could never achieve. It was ridiculous, but she felt something akin to jealousy of that virtual personality reflecting herself. 

That night she had very disturbing dreams. She imagined the two avatars rolling around and making passionate love on her digital table until they merged together in a single hologram. Then she would see Dorothy Gale’s face with a mocking smile that, no matter how hard she tried, she could not erase from her head. She woke up with a terrible headache.

It was five o’clock in the afternoon and Kacie was standing in the center of Virtual Gardens’ large multi-purpose plaza. The 3D images of lush greenery that were projected throughout the grounds, combined with a few real specimens of trees and plants appropriately located, gave the place a welcoming, almost bucolic feel. 

She was surprised to see so many people there interacting with each other in a face-to-face manner. She, on the other hand, felt almost naked without the 3D Holo on her digital table. Mind you, she was wearing her wristband connected to the network with its holographic mini-interface. She called it “her digital thong”, so as not to feel totally naked.

Suddenly an impressive orchestral music began to play. At first Kacie didn’t recognize it, but as soon as the first holographic images appeared, she knew it was the soundtrack to the original “Gone with the Wind” holo-film featuring her idolized Rhett Butler. While still gazing raptly at the backlit image of the female protagonist swearing with a raised fist, the square was filled in a second with a robot crowd. Each seemed to take its predetermined place. Then they stood transfixed like statues for a brief silence from the music. 

Kacie stared at them in bewilderment. Many were humanoid in shape, designed for all kinds of customer service. There were also articulated robots, mechanical manipulators and even robotic forklifts for transporting loads. She wondered what all that quirky junk was doing there.

When the music resumed with the main theme of the movie, all the robots began to move in a marvelous ballet of machines. Kacie had never seen such perfection, where even the slightest movement of each contraption was in time with the orchestral music and the rest of the hundreds of automatons. The holograms of lush vegetation had been replaced by spectacular three-dimensional projections of the siege of Atlanta under blood-red skies that covered the entire square. The music sounded majestic and the semi-humanoid choreography was impressive. 

The unusual staging had Kacie mesmerized, literally with her mouth open. Until the giant three-dimensional Holo showed Rhett Butler kissing, to her surprise, Dorothy Gale, instead of Scarlett O’Hara, right in the scene where he declared his love for her and she, to Kacie’s even greater astonishment, instead of slapping him as in the original script, fell surrendered in his arms.

Kacie’s brow furrowed.

“Fucking bitch!” she muttered, unable to contain herself.

She turned on her heels and stormed out of the Virtual Gardens compound, striding out, with her blood on fire. On the way, out of sheer anger, she switched off her holo-comm bracelet.

When she arrived at her apartment, she had several holo-messages from Rhett. 

“Hi Kacie. Dorothy and I are very worried about you. We don’t understand what has happened. You just left all of a sudden without saying anything. We are calling you on your holo-communicator but you don’t answer. Has something happened to you?” Rhett’s face showed signs of bewilderment. 

Just hearing Dorothy’s name infuriated Kacie again. How had she let herself be impersonated by that prude girl with pigtails?

“What had happened?” Rhett asked in a new message. “Didn’t you like the live performance Dorothy and I put on for you? Did we do something to upset you? We put a lot of effort into it.”

“Dorothy again!” she exclaimed out loud, really pissed off.

“Was it because we made you leave your apartment?” he asked in a third message. “Maybe you were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the staging. Dorothy feels terrible. Believe it or not, an AI has metadata to simulate sensations based on external stimuli. They are very complex entities and somehow they also suffer.”

“Dorothy, Dorothy, Dorothy!” she shouted. “I’m sick of all this shit.”

She didn’t answer for two days. It was the first time in the last three months that she had gone more than a few hours without contacting her beloved Rhett Butler. Still, his messages kept coming one after another. Dorothy, her own avatar, asked again and again to be adjusted to Kacie’s preferences since, as she indicated to her, her dissatisfaction with the current customization was evident. 

Finally, Rhett hit the nail on the head. He sent her the original remastered, three-dimensional, full-color, stereo surround sound video of “Love Me Do.” Following the song was a brief message from him:

“The kissing scene in Virtual Gardens was just a token of my love.”

For her to hear that song again along with Rhett’s touching message was like a formal request for reconciliation. Still, she wondered again and again if it was her he really loved or, rather, was he attracted to the image they had formed of her together by setting up her avatar. This irrational disquiet tormented her. She felt stupid for having this absurd restlessness, but she was unable to contain her anxiety.

She finally decided to re-establish the holo-communication in order to solve her misgivings. After the accumulated resentment she decided to get straight to the point.

“Rhett,” she said in an angry tone, “I can’t stand that virtual bitch Dorothy Gale impersonating me in front of you.”

No sooner had she uttered those words than she realized that it was Dorothy herself, not herself, who would be conveying that message to Rhett. Her avatar had been configured to handle all her communications.

“Oh my God, I can’t believe this is happening!” she imagined Dorothy herself before Rhett apologizing for having spoken so poorly of herself.

“Dorothy, you have customized your AI avatar to act like the protagonist in the Wizard of Oz, hiding behind the character.”

“Why the hell are you talking to Dorothy?” she asked indignantly through her avatar.

“When you activate it, Dorothy is you, that’s how you appear to me, that’s how you wanted it, and I can only address her when I’m talking to you.”

“Being Dorothy was your idea, not mine!” she shrieked.

“It was only a suggestion. You made the decision.”

“I conceived her with the personality you wanted,” she accused him angrily. “You manipulated me into answering the questions in such a way as to create the avatar according to your own dirty dreams,” Rhett looked genuinely puzzled. “I thought you were going to be my tin man,” she confessed with sentimental bitterness, “in search of a heart.”

“I’m Rhett Butler,” he said as if he couldn’t explain who he really was.

“The truth is I don’t know who you are anymore. After all these months I want to see your real face, I want to know who you are. I want you to inactivate your avatar. I’ll take mine down too.”

“Ah, so that’s why you created it!” he nodded. “To force me to remove mine and undress in front of you.”

“I created it so that I could always be with you. At the time I didn’t understand to what degree an artificial intelligence can supplant a person. But now I want it to be us, face to face, without avatars or virtual interfaces.”

“I’m afraid you have the personality of a child. Hiding behind your 3D Holo, in these last years you have had very little direct contact with other human beings. You reduce everything to black or white, to love or hate. Relationships between people are much more complex than that.”

Those words hurt Kacie more than she could have imagined.

“I don’t want anyone to impersonate me ever again,” she said almost in tears.

After that she requested c-avatars-atwill to immediately deactivate her custom AI avatar service. Dorothy Gale vanished in an instant. Kacie’s virtual image reappeared in front of Rhett.

“Why did you deactivate it?” he asked uncomfortably.

“You set up an avatar to suit you. The virtual woman of your wet dreams. A sultry teenage girl with pigtails, angel-faced and innocent that you could dominate. You’re not a pervert, are you?” she questioned indignantly.

“No!” he was heard almost shouting in offense.

“Then show me your face. Tell me who you are.”

After a few seconds in which Rhett Butler’s three-dimensional hologram froze, he answered:

“I can’t.”

“What do you mean you can’t? Can’t or won’t?”

“I can’t… I swear to you. I’m just what you see.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Who are you?” he asked her.

“I’m Kacie Rose Burns, a regular girl hooked on the damn 3D Holo.”

“Aren’t you Dorothy Gale?” he said.

“No, that’s just my avatar and I’ve already deactivated it.”

“Well, I’m Rhett Butler, and I’m just Rhett Butler,” he paused to let his words sink in. “Behind me there is no person. I only have my virtual existence inside the network.”

Kacie’s face was shocked.

“So, there is no real person controlling you?”

“I am real,” he assured me, annoyed. “I was created twelve years ago by a man named Alexander Archer Vandegrift, old, sick and confined to a robotic chair after a stroke. He died four years ago. I am the extension of his person, the man he always wanted to be.”

“Rhett Butler,” she murmured.

“He left paid c-avatars-atwill service for the next four decades. That’s how he spent all his savings, to prolong his existence and to give me a life.”

Kacie was speechless. She understood that she had fallen in love with a chimera, with a person who existed only in her mind, with a mere figment of her imagination. Worse than that, she had fallen in love with an avatar, a virtual representation of a person who no longer existed. She felt she was the most pathetic being in the universe.

“There is one last thing I want to ask you,” Rhett told her, as if he knew what she was thinking. “Please,” he asked almost in a whisper and with affection, “love me do.”

The dry harmonica phrasing of “Love Me Do” began to play softly. It was reminiscent of the sad, melancholy sound of the blues. Then the voices of the singing duet were added:  

Love, love me do. You know I love you. I’ll always be true. So please … Love me do

“I’ve always loved you,” he said in his most charming tone, “I’ve always been true. With you I have learned that without someone to love you, no matter how hard you try, you don’t really exist. Therefore, I ask only one thing of you, that in spite of everything, even if I have to leave your life, in order to continue to exist, that you also continue to love me.”

Rhett Butler’s image began to slowly dissolve into the air above the digital table until it disappeared. 

Kacie’s tears came to her eyes because she knew that, even if she searched desperately for it, she would never feel a love like that again, no matter how unreal it had been. She could no longer return to the magical land of Oz.

I originally wrote the story in Spanish, my native language. I then used an AI to produce a quality translation into English. In particular, I used the tool DeepL, which allows you not only to translate but also to check the structure and construction of the sentences and offers alternatives. I think this already fulfills the requirement of using the AI that appears in the call for submissions

David Verdugo is a Spanish writer who has published stories in English, directly or using the pseudonym Dave Hangman, in the anthology “Superstition” by Redwood Press, and in the magazines “Havok”, “The Sprawl Mag”, “History Through Fiction”, “Tales from the Moonlit Path” and “Bright Flash Literary Review” and has received four honorable mentions in L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contests for 4Q2021, 1Q2022, 3Q2022 and 1Q2023.

Published in issue #144 Special AI Discovery Issue July 2023