Minimum Safety Threshold; a Tale of Sloth

While browsing the list of interesting prompts I have saved, I came across the seven deadly sins. I instantly started wondering which of my characters would fit each sin. That later evolved into wondering which critical sin each of my major characters would suffer. I decided to write a series exploring that very topic (there will be more than seven). Up first is Lilianna/Phage and her deadliest sin.
. . .

.Argus> Priority 1 interrupt. New message_

.Phage> Is this the message I’ve told you about twenty times now to ignore?

.Argus> Alerts are provided according to the programmed parameters. There is no automatic disable function for priority messages. They are set to auto-repeat at regular intervals, as per your design_

.Phage> I don’t think I programmed you to be sarcastic_

.Argus> This message is new_

.Phage> Ignore it. I told you already; I’m busy_

.Argus> Please be advised; ignoring this message is unwise. The proximity alert has been triggered. Someone has entered the room with you_

.Phage> Can you identify the intruder?

.Argus> Based on voice and face recognition, the lifeform is identified as Xavior Erikson. He is asking where there is a safe way to extract you from the system_

.Phage> Tell him no_

.Argus> That would be a lie. You have not programmed this system to lie as part of the pre-programmed responses_

If Lilianna had been inside her body, she would have sighed in frustration. She had programmed the AI to be infallible, but she hadn’t expected it to be so irritating. Not that she had ever delved so deeply into the virtual world before, or for so long. It must have been almost forty-eight hours since she plugged in by now.

.Phage> I’m starting to think your program needs an update, Argus_

.Argus> Perhaps that would be the case, if you had not locked yourself out of my program files with an oscillating passcode encrypted with a series of randomly generated security keys_

.Phage> You think I can’t hack my own work?

.Argus> You did program me to interfere with your attempts to further adjust my source code. You also programmed me to override any order which would prove harmful to your physical body_

Funny; she hadn’t given her AI assistant the ability to simulate emotion, so where had this sudden sass come from? She wasn’t wearing off, was she?

The data she had been deep diving through wavered, her vision going suddenly blurry. Cursing silently, she rushed to save her work; though stopping now would mean hours to get this deep again.

.Phage> Argus stop the override sequence! Priority 1; authorization sequence Alpha; Five; Lambda; Two; Omikron-

Her hold over the data fizzled mid-code and Lilianna unleashed a physical cry of frustration as she shoved the dilapidated laptop away from her. It managed only a few inches across the uneven blankets topping her bed before it came to rest.

“What the hell, Xavior?” she demanded before she even spun to look at him. Her voice sounded raw and scratchy and she realized only belatedly that her throat hurt. She was probably dehydrated; she hadn’t exactly consumed much the past few weeks. It had been a long time since she had been this absorbed in her work, and she was loathe to step away for longer than was absolutely necessary.

“That’s exactly what I was about to ask you, you absolute idiot.” He sounded much healthier than she did, but his voice was missing the usual sting of venom, too scored by genuine concern to hold its usual bite. “From what I understand, you haven’t left this room in over a month!”

Sounded about right to her. “What business is it of yours?”

“It is my business if you are going to starve yourself. Have you looked in a mirror? You are skin and bones! Your skin is ashen as though it has never seen sun and I doubt you have bathed in the last three days.” He wasn’t so crass as to hold his nose, but his face did wrinkle with displeasure.

He looked pristine by comparison; not a wrinkle on his clothing, face tanned from long hours in the sun, hair slicked back, eyes bright.

Lilianna pulled a face of her own. “I thought you weren’t going to be back for another four months, or something like that. Looks like you’ve been enjoying the new job.”

“Is that what this is all about?” Xavior laid the chords he had disconnected from her various plugs and ports aside and settled his weight gingerly on the edge of the bed.

Lilianna made a sound deep in her throat and instantly regretted it. She was going to need to hydrate better if she wanted to continue. Maybe some kind of IV system, though how she would convince the members of the institute to let her have one was beyond her. “Not everything is about you, Xavior. God!”

“Should I ask your friend Argus then? Perhaps he will tell me what you have been doing inside that computer for weeks on end while your body withers away in this… It’s starting to look like a prison, Lilianna. This room was very nice when they gave it to you.”

“I have work of my own to do!” Lilianna tapped several buttons on the laptop keyboard. It seemed she had been able to save the last of her work, but it would still mean several lost hours if she hoped to finish. “Just because it looks different than yours-“

“Looks different?” Xavior grabbed her shoulders and the force of his light shake took her breath away. “Have I ever cared that your work was beyond me? That it involves floating numbers and letters in a digital space I cannot begin to comprehend? No amount of work is worth neglecting yourself to this state. You look like a walking corpse!”

“You’re exaggerating-“

Another shake. Was she really so brittle that such little motion made her head spin? She had been making unhealthy choices, but she had been tracking the minimal nutritional requirements. The absolute override triggered every time her body reached the critical level that required attention.

“I am not. Do not quote to me the mathematics of physical survival. You can still damage yourself beyond repair if you insist on the ‘minimum safety threshold.'”

She was beginning to think her old friend knew her entirely too well. When she let him get close enough to learn all her secrets, she hadn’t counted on the two of them growing up and living separate lives. It had been a stupid oversight, considering they came from different worlds. And try though they had, neither of them was particularly good at surviving where the other thrived.

“Why do you care?” She almost choked on the words and that, more than anything, surprised her. She thought she had gotten beyond all this. Perhaps it had just been the work absorbing her. Perhaps she had forced it to absorb her to the point where she had gone numb.

To the point where it had begun to consume her.

“You are so stupid. Did you really think I was not coming back?”

Lilianna said nothing. She couldn’t eve bear to look him in the eyes.

He cursed; not something he usually did within her hearing. Then he slid to his feet. “I am going to get you proper medical attention. And when you are feeling better, you’re going to clean up this mess. And I had better never catch you letting yourself slide into such a stupor ever again. You are not some stupid sloth. Your mind deserves a healthy body.”

When he scooped her off the bed, she could do nothing but cling to his shoulders. Not because she was weak; because she was stunned. For once, she couldn’t even argue with him. She had been colossally stupid.

Check out what my writing partner has been up to with this series, starting with Wrath.

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