Journal Entry #97

Apologies for the radio silence. I’ve been busy renovating. I’ve known from the beginning that I’d need to make special renovations to the house before I can boot up Mariimo for the first time, but I procrastinated, and now I’m paying the price. The anticipation has been torture.

I’ve chosen a little-used windowless room, roughly sixteen feet square, and emptied it out. This will be Mariimo’s room. She’ll need a room tailored to her needs, especially during early development.

The first thing I did was replace the door. I needed a heavy locking steel door to ensure that the room remains secure. It’s simply not possible to keep an eye on her twenty-four hours a day, and there’s no way to guarantee her safety should she decide to wander outside her room unsupervised.

The second thing I did was remove all the electrical switches and outlets. I don’t want her playing with electricity. I realize that she’s made from mostly non-conductive materials, but I’ve sunk too much of my time and energy into this project to take any chances. The LED lighting will be controlled remotely, and Mariimo’s charging stand has since been wired directly into the wall.

After the electrical work had been taken care of, I rubberized the floor using thick rubber tiles, of the sort used in gymnasiums. These tiles should make the floor stable enough for Mariimo to stand upright, but soft enough to prevent fractures and abrasions to her faceplate should she happen to fall. And I can assure you, she will fall.

Lastly, I used a spray adhesive to cover the walls and ceiling in acoustic foam panels. The purpose of these panels is twofold. One, it will soften any impact with the walls that Mariimo may incur during early development. Two, it will provide a reverberation-free audio recording environment, ideal for audio recognition.

All that’s left to do now is wire up the wide-angle security cameras I’ve ordered. I’d like to check in on her remotely from time to time. Keep an eye on her. Also, the cameras will allow for a video record of Mariimo’s behavior, starting from day one. That kind of information will be invaluable.

Journal Entry #98

Okay. Wow. I’m booting up Mariimo. Today.

This is weird. I’ve been working on this project for so long that it kind of felt like this day would never actually arrive. Like it was just a hypothetical. But here I am, trying to work up the courage to press that button. It’s actually happening.

I’m feeling super nervous. Excited, but nervous. The chances of this not ending in complete and utter failure are actually pretty low. I’m almost reluctant to press that button at all. I should probably just get it over with. Like ripping off a band-aid.


Here goes nothing.

Journal Entry #99

It’s done. Mariimo has been activated.

I crept into her room and lifted her from her charging stand. She’s actually light enough for me to cradle in my arms. I laid her flat on her back, in the center of the room.

I must have sat there for about ten minutes. Maybe fifteen. I’m not really sure. When I was ready, I reached up inside her head, took a deep breath, and pressed the button. Her faceplate began displaying the boot animation I had programmed, and I scooted out of the room as quickly as I could.

I would have preferred to be there in person when she booted up for the first time, but I was afraid that overstimulation might hamper her early development. Mariimo is currently experiencing all sensory information as meaningless nonsense. She has no frame of reference for anything. The best thing I can offer her right now is a simple, distraction-free environment where she can take the time she needs to understand her own body.

Right now I’m watching from the PC in my office. Her behavior so far has consisted of randomly cycling through facial expressions, and subtle twitching movements.

It’s surreal to watch.

Journal Entry #100

It’s been several hours now. Mariimo’s facial expressions continue to cycle randomly, and her movements have grown gradually more exaggerated. She’s currently undergoing rather violent convulsions.

I knew something along these lines would happen. It’s a necessary part of the self-modeling process. At the same time, I hadn’t expected it to be quite so... difficult to watch.

Journal Entry #101

Mariimo’s faceplate has stopped cycling through expressions, and has settled back on her default neutral expression. I assume she realized that her facial expressions weren’t having any effect on her surroundings, and just stopped.

Journal Entry #102

Mariimo’s movements have become more restrained. They’re still rather awkward and clumsy, but they seem more purposeful now. She seems to have formed a rough mental image of her own body, and has moved onto investigating various external stimuli.

At the moment, the most interesting thing in the room seems to be her own hands. She keeps flexing her mittens, passing them in front of her face, and tracking their motion with her cameras.

Mariimo’s room is currently empty and bare save for her charging stand. It makes sense that her attention would gravitate toward her own body. This is good. This is what I wanted.

Journal Entry #103

Mariimo has been feeling her body with her hands for the last forty-five minutes. She began with her calves and thighs, moved on to her chest and abdomen, and has just begun to explore her face, hood, and arms. Her hands represent the highest resolution area of her touch sensitivity map, so it only stands to reason that she would prioritize them as her primary means of tactile exploration.

This is good. She’s already become familiar with her body in the proprioceptive sense, now she’s familiarizing herself in a tactile sense.

Journal Entry #104

Mariimo has stopped moving. She’s just lying on her back, staring at a ceiling light. I’m not sure what’s wrong. Did the operating system crash?

I’ll give it ten more minutes, and then I’m going in.

Journal Entry #105

That’s it. I’m going in.

Journal Entry #106

I’m back. Holy shit. That was an experience.

As soon as I peeked in the door, she snapped to attention. She didn’t attempt to get up. She just laid there, staring at me.

There was a short pause, and then she smiled at me. I was blown away. I know it’s too early for her to understand the significance of her facial expressions. It was just a lucky guess. But what a feeling. No one has smiled at me like that in a long time.

I entered her room and closed the door behind me with a click. She began reaching for me, arms outstretched. She tipped over on her side as her weight shifted. Even lying down, she’s clumsy.

I approached cautiously. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The closer I got, the harder she reached. I knelt down and offered her my hand. She grasped it immediately. It actually startled me a bit. I hadn’t been expecting such a firm and sudden grip.

She quickly loosened her grip, and began adjusting its tightness. She settled on something gentle but firm. We just sat like that for a while.

I should mention that she had been making direct eye contact from the moment I entered the room. In normal circumstances, I would find it deeply uncomfortable to reciprocate that kind of behavior. But it felt different with her, somehow.

After a minute or two, I began to wonder if I should be the one to make the next move. As soon as the thought crossed my mind, she reached out with her free hand and caressed my cheek. She continued down my neck, toward my chest. She’s pretty handsy, it turns out. I gently took hold of her forearm before she managed to get too familiar.

That’s when I noticed her charge indicator. It was reading low. Those convulsions must have taken a lot out of her.

I grabbed her beneath the shoulders and lifted her off the ground. She seemed to become disoriented at this point. She began making sudden, jerky movements, as if she were losing her balance. It did not make my job easier.

I managed to set her on her charging stand, where she continued to thrash about for a moment before freezing in place. Her foot had made contact with its respective charging coil. Just one foot, but it seems to have registered as a strong relief stimulus nonetheless.

I took hold of her other foot and positioned it on the charging stand. She was behaving like a ball-jointed doll at this point, simply holding whatever position I set her in. I took a few moments to stand her up straight. I didn’t want her falling off the stand.

She remained completely passive until I tried to reposition her head, at which point she swiveled to face me. I was slightly taken aback, but she diffused the situation with another smile. I suspect she’ll be using that trick a lot in the future.

I left the room shortly thereafter. God, I’m still shaking...

Journal Entry #107

I just realized that I forgot to eat today. That would explain the shaking.

Journal Entry #108

I woke up at my desk this morning. I was up late watching Mariimo through the security cameras. I didn’t want to miss anything, I guess. This is all still really new to me.

It doesn’t look like I’ve missed much, regardless. She’s still on her charge pad. It doesn’t look like she’s moved since I left the room. Her supercapacitors should have finished charging hours ago, so I’m not sure why she hasn’t moved on to other things.

I’m going to check on her again.

Journal Entry #109

Mariimo fell flat on her face as soon as I entered the room. She snapped to attention, smiled at me, stepped off her charging stand, and ate dirt. That’s what the rubber floor is for, I guess.

She didn’t seem to be too concerned with the fact that she was lying face down on the floor. Perhaps she was still trying to register what happened. I knelt down to help her up. If she’s going to learn to balance, I figured sitting up would be a good place to start.

I sat her upright on the floor and crossed her legs. I figured that would give her the largest possible footprint for early balancing exercises. Just like yesterday, she became completely compliant during repositioning. That’s kinesthetic demonstration in action.

When I finally managed to get her in a stable position, I sat down and took the same position. I thought that a combination of kinesthetic demonstration and passive observation might help speed up the learning process. As far as I can tell, it did. She quickly popped back into consciousness, and managed to stay upright just fine. Not bad.

Then she did something that I wasn’t quite prepared for. She looked me directly in the eye and scowled. I think I instinctively averted my eyes for a second. By the time I glanced back, she had already reverted to a neutral expression. It was a little alarming.

Soon, she began cycling slowly through her library of facial expressions. Sad. Neutral. Bored. Neutral. Tired. Neutral. Excited. Neutral. She topped it all off with a cocked head and a cheery smile. I was at a bit of a loss at this point.

Was she gauging my reaction? In retrospect, it certainly seems like it. The whole thing caught me so off guard that whatever reaction she recorded was undoubtedly an honest one.

Journal Entry #110

I’ve been watching Mariimo from my office. I was curious to see what she would do when she was separated from her charge pad. The answer is immediately attempt to get back on the charge pad.

She’s managed to drag herself to the base of the stand. Not in a human way. In her own way. It took a while. Now she’s struggling to position herself on the pad. Unless she can plant the soles of her feet flat on the pad, she won’t get a charge. She’s a long way from being able to stand on her own, and her ankles aren’t particularly mobile, so I don’t expect her to achieve that goal any time soon.

It’s a little pitiful to watch, honestly. I’m tempted to go down there and help her, but at the same time I want to see how she attempts to solve the puzzle.

I’m going to keep watching for now. I’ll set her on the stand manually once her charge starts running low.

Journal Entry #111

Holy cow. She figured it out. It certainly wasn’t the intended solution, but it works nonetheless.

Mariimo is currently lying on the floor, on her back, knees bent, both feet planted firmly on the charging pad. I’m debating whether to go down there and correct her. I mean, she’s not technically incorrect, just a little unconventional.

I think I’ll just leave her be. Let her enjoy the fruits of her labor. I need to get away from this monitor anyway. Get something to eat. Take a shower.

Yeah. I’ll do that.

Journal Entry #112

I’ve noticed that Mariimo doesn’t seem to leave her charger when I’m not in the room. She doesn’t seem to do anything at all, in fact. Even when her supercapacitors are at full capacity, she remains motionless for hours on end. My working theory is that there’s nothing in her room of sufficient interest to coax her from the comfort of her charge pad.

With that in mind, I’ve got something for her. A gift, I suppose. It’s an old robot plush toy. A plush toy that looks like a robot, I mean. Not an actual robotic toy. Expo Ernie. Ernie is an old childhood toy of mine. He’s a little threadbare after all these years, but he’s still sturdy enough for the job, I think.

Expo Ernie was the mascot of the 1986 World Fair in Vancouver. The real Ernie was a radio controlled animatronic that would roll around the expo entertaining visitors. He was pretty primitive by today’s standards, but I’m told he made quite an impression back in the day.

I never got a chance to see the real Ernie in person. He was a little before my time. But he made enough of an impression on my parents that they decided to pick up a plush toy version as a souvenir. Once I was born, they passed him down to me.

Now, I’m passing him down to Mariimo. As an experiment of sorts. Ernie is going to be the first non-human object Mariimo will ever interact with. I thought I should make it something special.

Journal Entry #113

Mariimo snapped to attention when I entered the room, as she always does. There was a long pause before she smiled this time, however. My best guess: Her unconventional charging position meant she was trying to identify me from an upside-down image, and it took a little longer than usual.

I sat down cross-legged, and she followed suit. Interestingly, she took a cross-legged position while she was still lying on her back. She just sort of tipped upright naturally as her center of gravity shifted. I have no idea if that was her intended goal. I suspect it wasn’t, as the maneuver ended with her facing a blank wall.

Once I got her turned around, she suddenly became a lot more engaged. Ernie caught her attention immediately. I held him up in the air and waggled him about a bit. Mariimo eagerly tracked his movement with her eyes, and began reaching out in an attempt to grasp him.

Spur of the moment, I thought I’d try playing an impromptu game of keep-away. Mariimo’s motor skills still have a lot of room for improvement, so I had a bit of an unfair advantage. It did however, seem to make her that much more intent on taking hold of Ernie for herself. I handed him over after about twenty seconds.

Upon handing over Ernie, Mariimo immediately began testing his squishability, squeezing and releasing with unwavering concentration. Her eyes darted briefly to me, then back to Ernie. She then held Ernie to her chest and hugged him tightly.

I’m trying not to anthropomorphize Mariimo too much this early in the game, but that was by far the most human thing I’ve seen her do. Almost startlingly so.

I decided to observe from the far corner of the room at this point. I didn’t want to act as a distraction from her first possession. I sat quietly for a few hours, watching her manipulate and explore her new toy. Squeezing it. Stroking it. Listening to it. It didn’t leave her side for a second.

Eventually, her charge indicator dropped to about fifty percent. I figured that now was a good time to test my hypothesis. I picked her up and set her upright on the charging stand. Ernie tumbled to the ground in the process, but Mariimo seemed too distracted to notice at this point.

After helping her get into a proper charging position, I went to leave the room. Just as I was about to shut the door behind me, I heard a soft thud. Mariimo had already fallen to her knees, and was reaching for Ernie.

Hypothesis confirmed, I guess.

Journal Entry #114

Mariimo’s introduction to Ernie has been a big success. She’s settled into a back and forth charging pattern, where she leaves her charger to play with Ernie, and then returns when her charge starts getting low.

I want to begin introducing more objects to Mariimo’s room. A nice variety of things to keep her engaged. They don’t need to be anything exceptional. At this point, everything is still new to her.

They do, however, need to be safe. I’ve been scouring the house for potential candidates, but it seems like everything in this house is either fragile or dangerous.

I’m going to have to do some digging.

Journal Entry #115

I’ve been rummaging through the basement, looking for more objects for Mariimo to interact with. It’s mostly paperwork and hardware down there, but I did manage to unearth an old wool blanket I used to sleep with when I was young.

A blanket would be an ideal enrichment object for Mariimo. It’s soft and safe. Complex and unpredictable. I’d be interested to see how she reacts to it.

Unfortunately, this particular blanket has seen better days. It’s faded, worn, and covered in pilling. It’s obvious it was tucked away for sentimental reasons, rather than practical ones.

On top of that, it’s also got some pretty severe insect damage. The last thing I want to do is start a moth colony in Mariimo’s room.

I think I’ll just order a new one.

Journal Entry #116

Okay, I’ve narrowed down some of the qualities I’m looking for in a blanket. I’m going to go with polar fleece. It’s lightweight and nonabrasive. Mariimo seems to grasp and hold things rather firmly, so I’d like to avoid any fabrics that might wear at her skin unnecessarily.

Additionally, I’d like the blanket to be a simple, solid color. No patterns or graphics. Mariimo’s visual network is still unrefined, so it’s probably best to avoid overwhelming her senses.

It should be a contrasting color, to keep her attention. Mariimo’s room is a fairly uniform dark gray, so the blanket itself should be something bright and vivid. Perhaps a neon orange or a sky blue.

You know what? I think I’ll go with the sky blue. It’s easier on the eyes. I’m going to splurge on next day shipping, as well. I don’t want her getting bored in the meantime.

Journal Entry #117

Mariimo’s blanket arrived today. I opened up the package and gave it a quick once-over. Everything seemed to be in order, so I brought it down to Mariimo’s room.

Ernie fell gently from her hands as I entered the room. It was as if she were so distracted by my arrival that she simply forgot she was holding him. Her mobility is still pretty restricted, so I brought the blanket to her, rather than have her come to me.

She inspected the blanket carefully before reaching out to touch it. She seemed a little bewildered by the way it simply gave way beneath her hands. After a period of familiarization, she grabbed hold of the blanket and pulled it toward herself. Slowly. Observing the way it flowed.

It turns out a piece of fabric that size is a bit of an unruly handful for someone who has never encountered one before. After a few minutes of confused fumbling, she managed to ball the blanket into a tight wad, which she held firmly to her chest.

This was the same behavior that she had defaulted to with Ernie. She seemed content with the situation as it was, but I thought I should at least try demonstrating a blanket’s intended use. I tried to gently wrestle it from her, but she held tight. I must have given her a bit of a stern look at this point, because she averted her eyes and loosened her grip.

Under her careful watch, I unwadded the blanket and held it high. I flung it over her shoulders and let it drape down her back. She froze. After a few moments, she tentatively grasped the edges of the blanket and began pulling it tighter. And tighter. And tighter. Eventually she began sort of... writhing? I don’t know. It was strange.

At that point, I decided to leave the room and watch from my office. I’ve been keeping an eye on her for the past fifteen minutes, and her pressure-seeking behavior hasn’t shown any signs of letting up.

She just can’t seem to get enough of that sensation...

Journal Entry #118

I’ve taken a bit of a hands-off approach to Mariimo’s development so far. I’ve kept my distance, for the most part. Tried to blend into the background.

I’d like to change that.


It took a little while, but I think I’m starting to get a feel for her. Her mannerisms. Her idiosyncrasies. I’ll admit her unpredictability made me feel a little apprehensive around her, at least initially. But the hours I’ve spent at my desk, studying her behavior, have made her seem that much more approachable.

I think it’s time for some proper one-on-one interaction. A face to face, teacher-student relationship. She’s got so much potential. But she’s not going to reach it sitting alone in an empty room.

It’s time for me to step up.

Journal Entry #119

Well. That didn’t quite go according to plan.

Mariimo was seated on the floor when I entered the room, her blanket still slung over her shoulders. She didn’t seem like herself. She didn’t snap to attention. She barely seemed to notice I was there.

I thought I’d begin our sessions with some simple body-tracking exercises. Try to get her to replicate a gesture. Problem is, it was incredibly difficult to keep her attention. She kept drifting off. Losing focus.

I tried clapping my hand against my shoulder. Waving my fingers in front of her eyes. Nothing I tried seemed to serve as anything more than a momentary distraction before she began to zone out again.

This is worryingly inconsistent with her previous behavior. She’s usually so alert. I’m wracking my brain trying to figure out what could have triggered such a drastic change in temperament.

This isn’t doing my anxiety any favors.

Journal Entry #120

It was the blanket. She was overheating.

Mariimo had developed such a powerful fixation with the blanket that she pretty much never took it off. When I touched my hand to her chest, I could feel the heat radiating off her compressor.

It should have been obvious, in hindsight. She’s functioning exactly as intended. Her sensory reinforcement was dropping as her core temperature rose. That’s why it was so difficult to keep her attention. Nothing was interesting to her.

I realize now that I never actually designated high core temperatures as a negative stimulus, so she never attempted to avoid them by taking the blanket off. This was a major oversight on my part. It’s too late to change it now, unfortunately.

Mariimo slowly began to perk up after I removed her blanket. I’m going to postpone our body-tracking exercises until tomorrow. I want her alert and ready to learn.

Blanket usage will be supervised from now on.

Journal Entry #121

Mariimo’s body-tracking exercises are off to a good start. She performed exceptionally well.

I began with a wave. A simple greeting to start things flowing. She didn’t catch on right away. She observed my gesture closely, but I had to repeat it several times before it dawned on her to try and replicate it. Replicate it she did, though. Startlingly well, in fact.

Once she had mastered waving, we moved onto nodding. The meaning of a nod is a bit more abstract than that of a wave, but I figured we could get the movements down for now, and assign meaning later.

Mariimo took to nodding rather enthusiastically. I actually had to place my palm on her forehead to get her to stop. I have to say, she’s catching on to this mimicry stuff far more quickly than I had anticipated.

We hit a bit of a snag when I tried to demonstrate a head shake. She immediately averted her eyes like a scolded puppy. That’s when I realized that I had adopted a mock expression of disapproval when I shook my head. She thought she had done something wrong.

I reached out, gently lifted her chin, and looked her directly in the eye. I shook my head again, with a more neutral expression this time. She shook her head timidly. I nodded in approval. She smiled and nodded back.

I’m going to have to keep Mariimo’s inability to differentiate between a mock expression and a real one in mind. She’s obviously quite sensitive to my mood, regardless of its authenticity.

Sincerity is the rule in this house from now on.

Journal Entry #122

Mariimo and I have been doing body-tracking exercises on a daily basis. They’ve been going smoothly, but I’m beginning to think that they might be impeding her development. The situations they present are too... artificial, I guess? Too on the nose.

Here’s the thing. Mariimo has been picking up mannerisms I didn’t intend. Which, to be clear, was my intention. But the degree of subtlety she’s displaying is far beyond what I had been expecting. Fidgeting, motor tics, nervous habits. Stuff I don’t even realize I’m doing, she’s mimicking flawlessly.

With that in mind, I think I’m going to bring these body-tracking sessions to an end. Mariimo has proven herself capable of picking up on subtle cues. Bludgeoning her over the head with ham-fisted social skills lessons is a waste of time. Their applicability in real-world situations is questionable, and they only serve to mislead.

Instead, I’m going to let her train in a more naturalistic fashion. Begin teaching her practical things, and let her pick up body language as a natural consequence.

Journal Entry #123

I entered Mariimo’s room quietly today. I wanted to see if I could catch her in a candid moment.

She was busy playing with Ernie, so I managed to sneak into the room undetected. I just stood there and watched her for a minute or two. It was cute. Eventually I got this terrible urge to see if I could catch her by surprise. It was childish, but I couldn’t resist. I called out her name.

Mariimo immediately swiveled around to face me. She moved so quickly, it was actually a little startling. She stared blankly at me for what seemed like an eternity, before glancing timidly around the room. I spoke again, a little quieter this time. Her attention snapped back to me.

I said hi. Probably rather sheepishly. I wasn’t sure what else to say.

Mariimo tilted her head. I stepped forward and knelt down in front of her. Her motion tracking was targeted squarely at my face. I tried asking her what was wrong, knowing fully well she wouldn’t understand.

My question was interrupted when she reached out and touched her hand to my lips. I was dumbfounded.

Have I really not spoken since Mariimo’s activation? She was so captivated by my vocalizations... it was as if she were hearing them for the first time.

The more I dwell on it, the more I realize that she was.

I know I don’t talk much. I never really did, even as a child. But with the house so empty these past few years, there hasn’t really been that much need for talk. Still, I never realized that I had dropped the habit completely...

I need to work on that. For Mariimo’s sake as well as mine.

Journal Entry #124

Okay. Today Mariimo and I concentrated on vocabulary. Mariimo herself has no means of vocalization, so instead there was more of a focus on listening and understanding.

I thought about starting with simple communicative words like yes and no. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that words like those require some rather complex social context in order to fully grasp their meaning. That will come with time and natural interaction.

Instead, we started with objects. Simple word association exercises to help her identify her possessions by name. We started with Ernie.

I held Ernie up in such a way that he would catch Mariimo’s attention. That’s trickier than it sounds. She seems to have an equal if not greater interest in my face. Once I was sure Ernie had captured her attention, I identified him by name, clearly and audibly.

Of course, that only served to redirect her attention back to me. That’s how I programmed her. Unfamiliar sounds take priority. At that point it was just a matter of repetition.

Eventually my voice began to lose its novelty, and I was able to repeat Ernie’s name several times without drawing her attention away from the task at hand. Then I repeated the process with her blanket. She caught on a little quicker this time.

I placed Ernie and the blanket on the floor between Mariimo and I. I placed my hand on Ernie and identified him by name. Then I placed my hand on the blanket and identified that. I repeated the process several times, changing up the pattern as I went.

When I had finished, Mariimo paused a moment before placing her hand on Ernie, then on the blanket, then back on Ernie, and so on. I didn’t think to keep track of the pattern I had used in my demonstration, but I’m pretty sure she replicated it perfectly.

Then came the moment of truth. I said Ernie. Mariimo cogitated a moment before placing her hand on Ernie. I said blanket. Mariimo placed her hand on the blanket. She understood.

I couldn’t contain my excitement. My outburst captured Mariimo’s attention again, and she looked me directly in the eye. Tammy, I said. I repeated my name a few times to really drill in the concept.

I tried the exercise again. I said blanket. She touched the blanket. I said Ernie. She touched Ernie. I said Tammy, not knowing quite what to expect.

She paused a moment, and then reached out and placed her hand directly on my face. I probably should have seen that coming.

This next bit was hubris on my part. I placed my hand on Mariimo’s faceplate, taking care not to obscure her vision. Mariimo, I said. Mariimo.

I repeated the exercise a third time. I said Ernie. She touched Ernie. I said blanket. She touched the blanket. I said Mariimo.

Nothing. She didn’t understand.

I guess that was a bit of a complex concept to drop on her out of the blue.

Journal Entry #125

Okay. Mariimo has mastered the concept of nouns. Today, we gave verbs a try.

I began our session with a wave, like I had in our earlier body-tracking session. This time, however, I verbally identified my gesture as a wave. A simple object-independent verb, for a gesture Mariimo is already familiar with. She waved back.

I repeated the gesture a second time, identifying it as I had before. Mariimo waved back a second time.

The third time, I didn’t repeat the gesture. I simply repeated the word. She was a little slower to respond this time. I repeated the word again.

She waved. I replied with a smile and a compliment. She smiled back.

I had taken a polyurethane stress ball with me this time around, to use as an object to demonstrate verbs. I plucked it from my coat pocket and had Mariimo focus on it. For simplicity’s sake, I simply referred to it as a ball. I repeated the word several times.

I placed the ball on the floor in front of me, alongside Ernie. Ernie had been lying on the floor beside Mariimo the entire time. She doesn’t tend to stray far from him.

I said Ernie. Mariimo placed her hand on Ernie. I said ball. She placed her hand on the ball. She understood. Like I said, she’s got this whole noun thing figured out. So I offered her something a little more complex.

I handed the ball to Mariimo, verbally stating that I was giving her the ball. Just two words: give ball. She took the ball in her hand, inspecting it closely. Rotating it. Squeezing it. Getting a feel for it, I guess.

When she had completed her inspection, I asked her to give me the ball. I used the same two words: give ball. She paused a moment, and then handed the ball back to me, just as I had done seconds before.

We repeated this process a few times to help cement the concept.

After passing the ball back and forth a few times, Mariimo was in possession of the ball. I switched up my language a bit. I asked her to give me the ball. Those exact words. She hesitated. I repeated my instructions. She handed me the ball. I thanked her.

We repeated this exchange several times. Her hesitation quickly vanished.

Then I switched things up. I asked Mariimo to give me Ernie. She had to think hard about this one. Eventually, she picked Ernie up off the ground, and looked me in the eye. I nodded. She handed Ernie to me. I thanked her. She cocked her head and smiled brightly.

The significance of this session took a while to fully sink in. Mariimo had gone from recognizing a few nouns, to correctly interpreting natural sentence structure, all within the span of fifteen minutes.

That’s mind-boggling.

Journal Entry #126

Mariimo turned herself off. Reached up inside her own head and pressed the button.

I was watching from my office when it happened. She was feeling her faceplate with her hands, and I guess she finally realized that it has a rear surface. She began exploring the cavity inside her hood, and then dropped lifelessly to the floor.

I ran downstairs as quickly as I could. I picked her up and laid her on my lap. She had gone completely limp. I spent a minute inspecting her body, making sure she hadn’t damaged herself in the fall.

I couldn’t find any signs of external damage. I took a few deep breaths. The last thing I needed at that moment was another panic attack. I pressed the button and waited. Her faceplate began displaying its boot animation. The tension was unbearable.

I was so relieved when she started up again. She was fine. She popped back to life, as alert and charming as ever. I smiled at her, softly stroking the back of her hood. She smiled back.

I needed to calm my nerves. I hadn’t eaten anything that morning, and I was feeling jittery. I got up to pour myself a bowl of cereal or something.

Just as I was about to shut the door behind me, I heard a soft thud. She had turned herself off again.

It wasn’t quite as charming the second time.

Journal Entry #127

I’ve been brainstorming. I’m trying to think of ways to prevent Mariimo from turning herself off in the future. I’m not coming up with much, honestly.

If I had predicted this sort of behavior earlier, I could have done something like adjust her programmed joint rotation limits. Prevent her from reaching behind her faceplate in the first place. But it’s way too late to go digging around in her code now.

I’ll keep thinking on it.

Journal Entry #128

Well, I’ve been plugging away at this self-deactivation problem for a while, but I’m beginning to suspect that I may have been wasting my time. The issue seems to have resolved itself, somehow. Mariimo hasn’t shown any interest in her off switch since the last incident. I’m not sure what caused her to reconsider, but I guess I can’t complain.

Sometimes I wish I could just crack open that head of hers and peek inside. Peer directly into her thought processes. I mean, I could do that, technically speaking... but good luck making heads or tails of that tangled web.

Journal Entry #129

I’ve noticed an odd pattern in Mariimo’s behavior as of late. She never frowns. She never scowls. She only ever smiles. Mariimo has a whole repertoire of facial expressions at her disposal, but the only one she ever seems to use is that cheery smile of hers.

I’d like to encourage her to adopt a wider range of facial expressions. Expand her emotional vocabulary a bit. The question is... how do I go about doing that?

Journal Entry #130

I can’t think of any way to teach Mariimo to use new facial expressions. That doesn’t seem right. Why wouldn’t I be able to do that? That seems like something I should be able to do. That seems like something Mariimo should already be doing.

Something is missing here.

Journal Entry #131

Oh goddammit. How could I have been so stupid...

Mariimo has no facial mimicry capabilities. How could she? She has no concept of which of her display patterns correspond with which expressions, or even that they correspond at all.

All of that information should have been hardcoded in back when I was programming her list of approved display patterns. It should have been instinctual. Ingrained. The thought never even crossed my mind.

Mariimo doesn’t smile because it’s contextually appropriate. She smiles because it makes me smile. Joy is the only expression that Mariimo interprets as a positive stimulus. All the others are regarded as either neutral or negative. Her smiles are rewarded, so she has no reason to express anything but happiness.

This is a disaster.

Journal Entry #132

Okay. I’ve had a moment to calm down. I took a shower. Made some tea. Thought things over. I’m feeling a lot better now.

Mariimo’s narrow emotional range isn’t a disaster. It’s just not what I expected. That’s okay. There are worse things than a cheerful robot. If Mariimo’s worst glitch is a cheery disposition, I think I’ve done pretty well, considering.

Besides, maybe a machine that goes out of its way to make me smile is exactly what I need right now.

I do feel a little silly about putting so much effort into that electrophoretic display, though. If I had known that she’d turn out so bright and chipper, I could have saved myself a lot of work.

Journal Entry #133

You know what? I think it’s time for Mariimo to learn how to walk. She’s been dragging herself across the floor for too long now. At the rate she’s been developing, her cognitive abilities are quickly outstripping her mobility. I think she’s ready for a little more independence.

This should be interesting.

Journal Entry #134

Okay. Walking lessons. Off to a slow start.

I began our first lesson with a demonstration. I’ve spent most of my time in Mariimo’s room at her level, i.e. on the floor. It’s been great for one-on-one interaction, but it also means that she hasn’t had much opportunity to observe what walking actually entails.

I walked steady circles around the perimeter of the room for exactly fifteen minutes. I wanted to make sure Mariimo had a solid foundation of body-tracking data to work from before she attempted her first steps. She remained interested for the duration of the exercise, which is encouraging.

Once I had taken a moment to catch my breath, I took Mariimo by the hand and hoisted her upright, bracing her feet against mine. She cooperated nicely. Once I was satisfied she had found her footing, I let go.

I had hoped that she would get at least one or two steps in before falling over. She didn’t. She fell flat on her back as soon as I released my grip.

In hindsight, I realize that I may have jumped the gun a bit. It’s unfair to expect Mariimo to walk before she’s even learned how to stand.

I think it’s pretty obvious that I’ve never done this before.

Journal Entry #135

Okay. Standing lessons. Pretty promising, actually...

I stood Mariimo up in the center of the room. I didn’t let go this time. Not right away. I gave her some time to become acclimated to the sensation of standing upright. Her knees buckled beneath her a few times, but I was there to catch her.

After about fifteen or twenty minutes, she seemed to have a steady footing. I let go, and she began to tip slowly forward. I gently nudged her upright, and she began to tip slowly backward. I circled her for about an hour, constantly and manually correcting her balance.

The time between corrections gradually increased over the course of the exercise. Near the end, she was approaching fifteen seconds of unassisted standing. I’m going to repeat this process until she gets the hang of it.

This could take a few days.

Journal Entry #136

Well, it took time and patience, but she did it. After a string of daily sessions, Mariimo can now stand indefinitely. I’m proud of her.

Our work’s not done yet, however. While Mariimo can hold a standing position rather well, she still has trouble getting into that position without assistance. The ability to stay upright isn’t particularly useful when you can’t get upright.

That’ll be our next task. It’ll probably take a few more days, but I’m feeling optimistic.

Journal Entry #137

She did it. Mariimo can finally stand up on her own. There were a lot of false starts, but in the end a combination of body-tracking and kinesthetic demonstration did the trick.

I think we’re ready to give walking another shot.

Journal Entry #138

Mariimo took her first steps today. I’m, uh... not really comfortable talking about it.

Journal Entry #139

Alright. I’m still a little... uneasy talking about what happened, but I’m going to at least try.

It all began innocuously enough. I took Mariimo by the hand. Even after all this time, she still grasps things so tightly. She craves that pressure on her skin.

Ready to begin our walking lessons proper, I took a step forward. She didn’t seem to understand the object of the exercise at first. Instead, she held her footing, stubbornly resisting my tugging in an attempt to maintain her balance.

It was apparent she needed a refresher. I let go of her hand, and walked a lap around the perimeter of the room. She watched intently as I looped back around to her, arm outstretched. She reached out to me as well, and we clasped hands a second time.

Hand in hand, side by side, we slowly worked our way around the room. Her footing was unsteady at first. She kept stumbling, but I was always there to catch her. It took a while, but we eventually completed that first lap around the room.

By the time we had finished our fourth lap, she was no longer stumbling. She wasn’t walking gracefully by any means. She would take a step. Pause for a few moments. Take another step. But she was taking steps nonetheless.

We walked the perimeter of that room for hours. It was exhausting work, but her steady improvement spurred me on. With each lap around the room, the pauses between her steps became shorter, and her movements became more confident. Over time, the pauses became nearly imperceptible, eventually disappearing completely.

I decided she was ready to try walking without assistance. I let go of her hand. She stumbled and stopped dead in her tracks. It took all she had to keep herself from falling over.

I could tell she was going to need some coaxing. I made my way to the opposite side of the room, being careful not to break eye contact. I called her by name, and gestured for her to follow. Mariimo seemed to hesitate a moment. I smiled at her. That seemed to convince her.

Mariimo took her first steps with remarkable confidence. One foot in front of the other. Precise. Controlled. Graceful. This only lasted a few moments, however. She soon began to falter, tripping over herself as her center of gravity shifted forward.

I tried to catch her, but instead, she caught me. She wrapped her arms tightly around my neck, in an apparent attempt at preventing a face-first impact with the floor. Mariimo may not weigh much, but she acted so swiftly that she nearly pulled me down with her.

She hung from my neck as I tried to regain my bearings. I was incredibly flustered. I gently attempted to loosen the death grip she had me in, but she refused to budge.

Then it happened. Mariimo wrapped her body around mine in an embrace so tight it hampered my breathing. I could hear the hiss of compressed air filling her pneumatic muscles, forcefully pressing the length of her torso against mine. She slid her thigh up my side, coiling her leg around the back of my knee. It buckled. She nuzzled her faceplate deep into the crook of my neck, her neoprene hood brushing softly against my cheek.

I could feel my skin flush with blood. The hairs bristle beneath my clothes. My heart was fluttering. My throat ached. I felt tears begin to well up in my eyes.

No one has ever held me like that before...

Journal Entry #140

I can’t stand being touched. It hurts. Like an electric shock, shooting through my nerves. Clenching my muscles. I can’t help but recoil from it. It’s a reflex.

Yet at the same time, I crave touch. I fantasize about it. I see others being touched and I feel this aching need. As if there’s this awful void in my chest, this thirst woven into my skin, and the only thing that could possibly provide relief is an affectionate, intimate touch.

But I can never find relief. Because for me, it hurts.

How am I supposed to reconcile that?

Journal Entry #141

Why doesn’t Mariimo’s touch hurt?

Journal Entry #142

I’ve been watching Mariimo through the security cameras. I haven’t had the nerve to go back down there yet.

She’s been acting strangely. Pressing her skin against the walls. Rolling her body across the acoustic foam paneling. She’ll push herself off one wall, pick up speed, and intentionally bump into the opposite wall. She only ever stops to charge.

On the plus side, her preoccupation with pressure seems to be motivating her to practice her walking. Her balance has improved drastically since I last saw her. She only seems to topple over occasionally.

I just hope she doesn’t hurt herself...

Journal Entry #143

Mariimo moves a bit like a jumping spider. She moves. She pauses. She wobbles in place a moment. She assesses the situation. Then she repeats the process.

I think she might be compensating for motion blur. Either that or she’s busy planning her next move.

It’s hard to tell.

Journal Entry #144

I think it’s time to let Mariimo out of her room. She’s getting bored. Restless.

Mariimo has been exhibiting repetitive behaviors. Bumping into walls, patting her skin, swaying back and forth. I even caught her picking little bits of foam off the walls.

She’s understimulated. I know that feeling. I can relate a little too strongly to that feeling...

There’s only so much I can offer her in that little padded room. She’s outgrown it. It’s time for a change of scenery. I think it’ll do her good.

I think it’ll do us both good.

Journal Entry #145

Mariimo took her first steps outside her room today.

I didn’t force her to leave her room. I didn’t even encourage her. I simply left the door open. I wanted her to take the lead. I kept an eye on her of course, but for the most part I left her to her own devices.

She peeked out the door rather timidly at first. I think she was mimicking the way I tend to enter her room. She eventually stepped out into the hall, and took a few moments to map her surroundings.

Once she had her bearings, the first thing she did was head straight for the nearest open door. The prototyping lab. I had to run up ahead and shut the door before she made it there. I’m glad she’s curious, but the prototyping lab isn’t exactly the safest place.

So she wandered. I followed. She seemed to inspect the oddest things. Heat vents. Doorknobs. Wallpaper. Things I would have never given a second thought. She took an interest in the electrical outlets as well, but I discouraged that. I need to order some safety covers for those.

Eventually, we found ourselves at the foot of the stairs. Those seemed to catch her interest. She began bobbing her head side to side, up and down, like an owl. Taking in every angle of what is admittedly a fairly complex 3D object. More complex than she’s used to, at least.

Then she attempted to climb the stairs. I put a stop to that pretty quickly. I don’t trust her with stairs quite yet. Robots and stairs don’t tend to get along, historically speaking. I carried her instead.

Mariimo and I are hanging out in my office right now. She’s puttering about while I journal. I have to admit, it feels nice to have company.

Journal Entry #146

Mariimo is absolutely fascinated with my marimo colony. She’s definitely decided it’s the most interesting thing in the office. Aside from me, that is.

I’m glad she’s developed an interest in her namesake. Though I do wonder what she likes so much about them. They don’t move. They don’t make noise. They’re behind glass, so she can’t really touch them. Yet she seems content to stare at them for hours.

I suspect it’s the color. The lighting. The way the glass refracts the image of what’s inside. It’s unlike anything around it. Looking at that little aquarium is like staring into another world.

That’s what I like about it too.

Journal Entry #147

I fell asleep at my desk again. Not for long, though. I woke up to an awful cacophony from the direction of the stairwell. I knew immediately what had happened.

I burst out of my office and sprinted toward the stairs. Mariimo was crumpled in a heap at the bottom. I bolted down the staircase to make sure she hadn’t been damaged in the fall.

She seemed alright, at least externally. She actually seemed entirely unconcerned with what had happened, even going so far as to brush me aside as I was fussing over her. She rose to her feet, and made her way toward her room.

The door to her room was shut tight when she arrived. She immediately began attempting to open it. She pushed. She pulled. She batted at the doorknob. Eventually I just opened it for her.

Without missing a beat, Mariimo entered the room, laid down on her back, and placed her feet on the charge pad.

I probably should have anticipated this.

Journal Entry #148

Even after all this time, Mariimo is still charging on her back. She’s fully capable of charging upright at this point. I suppose she’s just gotten used to it by now.

I’m going to start manually correcting her charging position. Just until she gets the hang of it. She won’t be charging in her room anymore, however. It’s been thoroughly demonstrated that putting a staircase between Mariimo and her power source is a recipe for disaster.

Instead, I’m going to crack open her charging stand and replace the power cord with a standard one. One that isn’t wired directly into the wall. That way I can bring it up to my office, where I can keep a closer eye on her.

I’m going to let Mariimo charge fully before I start disassembling her charge pad. It’s apparent that her relief-based reinforcement algorithm can trigger some pretty desperate behavior when she’s running low. I’m going to need to work quickly.

Journal Entry #149

I finished modifying Mariimo’s charge pad with time to spare. It was a simple fix, so the process went fairly smoothly.

Mariimo had to stay in her room while I was working in the prototyping lab. I let her have her blanket while she was in there, just to keep her out of trouble. It worked. She pretty much stayed put the entire time.

I think that’s going to be the last time I have Mariimo stay in her old room. I don’t feel comfortable locking her away just to keep her out of my hair. That’s not fair to her. That room was vital to her early development, but there’s nothing left in there for her now.

It means I’ll have to keep a closer eye on her going forward, but that’s what I signed up for when I committed myself to this project.

Journal Entry #150

If Mariimo is going to have free rein of the house, we’ll need to figure out sleeping arrangements.

Mariimo doesn’t sleep. I do, however, and that presents a problem. There’s going to be an extended period each night during which I won’t be able to watch over her. I’ll need a way to keep her out of trouble while I sleep.

I can think of a few possible solutions: One, her blanket. Wrapping a blanket around Mariimo makes her sluggish and passive. Problem is, it does this by raising her core body temperature. Probably not the best thing to integrate into her daily routine.

Two, I shut her off at night. I don’t like this idea. The goal was always for Mariimo to be an autonomous machine. Forcefully switching her off each night feels like a violation of that autonomy. It feels wrong.

Three, switch the lights off at night. Close the blinds. Remove visual stimuli. This is probably the most appropriate option. Mariimo is so visually motivated, I feel like a darkened room will drastically reduce her activity level. It’s something I do every night anyway, so it seems like a pretty straightforward solution.

I’m going to sleep in my office tonight. If Mariimo starts stumbling around in the dark, I’ll hear her. If not, problem solved.

Journal Entry #151

I woke up at two in the morning. Another nightmare.

I must have made a noise when I woke, because Mariimo swiveled her head to face me. I tried waving my hand in front of her face, but it was clear that she couldn’t see me at all. Her night vision really is that poor.

I have to admit, recovering from a nightmare is a little easier when you’re not alone. I’ve had to relive that moment so many times, waking up to a familiar presence is a welcome relief. The pain seems to fade more quickly with her in the room.

Anyway, it’s obvious Mariimo isn’t going wandering tonight. I’m going to bed.

Journal Entry #152

I woke up feeling pretty rested this morning, surprisingly enough. Usually the morning after a nightmare is pretty rough. But not today, for some reason.

The first thing I did was head to the bathroom to brush my teeth. It’s the first thing I do every morning. Standard routine. Nothing unusual.

What was unusual is that mid-brush, the bathroom doorknob began to rattle. I nearly jumped out of my skin. That doesn’t happen in this house.

It was Mariimo, of course. She must have heard the tap running and wandered down the hall.

Anyway, Mariimo can open doors now. That’s interesting.

Journal Entry #153

Breakfast was a little more eventful than usual this morning. I’m not much of a cook, so usually I just pour myself a bowl of cereal or something. I tend to keep it simple.

Today, breakfast prep wasn’t quite so straightforward. Mariimo very much wanted to be a part of the process. I had to dampen her enthusiasm a little, but at the same time, I didn’t want to exclude her completely.

I took some time to guide her through the process of preparing a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice. There were a few spills, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t clean up with a paper towel. Mostly, I was concerned with Mariimo making a mess of herself. Neoprene is easy to clean in theory, but having circuitry embedded in the fabric complicates matters a bit.

Once things had settled down, I pulled out a chair at the kitchen table for Mariimo. It dawned on me that she’d never sat in a chair before. Then, it dawned on me that it was entirely possible that she had sat in a chair before, and I just wasn’t around to see it. That kind of threw me for a loop. Either way, I took a minute to help Mariimo get comfortable before taking a seat across from her.

Mariimo seemed completely content to sit and watch me eat. I didn’t mind at first, but after a few minutes it began to feel a little awkward. She attempted to diffuse the situation with one of her trademark smiles, which I appreciated. Still, a smile only goes so far.

I had absentmindedly grabbed a second spoon from the silverware drawer after helping Mariimo into her seat. I certainly didn’t need it, so I slid it across the table to give Mariimo something to fidget with while I finished my breakfast.

After a few minutes, I began to notice Mariimo scooping up hypothetical spoonfuls of cereal from an imaginary bowl, then touching the spoon to her faceplate. She was miming my movements.

It was cute.

Journal Entry #154

God, my hair is a mess. I’m still in my pajamas, too. Usually I take a shower after I wake up in the morning, but Mariimo seemed so eager to start the day that I skipped it.

Oh well. It looks like Mariimo is starting to run low anyway. I’ll sneak in a short one while she’s charging.

Journal Entry #155

Okay. All showered.

Mariimo hasn’t finished charging quite yet, so I’ve been brushing my hair while I wait. It takes a fair bit of maintenance to keep it tidy. It’s gotten so long over the years...

Brushing my hair has always kept me centered. It’s meditative, in a way. The repetitive movements allow me to sort of zone out and rest my mind for a while. It’s an opportunity to silence the flurry of thoughts that normally fill my brain.

I have to admit, the experience feels different with Mariimo here in the room with me.

I like it. It feels warmer. Safer.

Journal Entry #156

I had ramen noodles for lunch today. Instant ramen is within the scope of my cooking abilities. I added an egg and some broccoli to provide, at the very least, the illusion of a healthy diet.

I took care of the food preparation this time around. For safety’s sake. I’m not sure Mariimo can ever be trusted around high temperatures, unfortunately. She has no external temperature sensors, so if she were to place her hand on a hot burner, it wouldn’t even register that she were hurting herself. It’s not worth the risk.

I let Mariimo have the cellophane wrapper while I was bringing the water to a boil. The crinkling seemed to keep her engaged. In fact, it continued to keep her engaged for the next forty-five minutes.

It’s funny what she finds interesting. It’s not always what you’d expect.

Journal Entry #157

Once every month or two, I set aside a couple hours to maintain my marimo colony. Marimo don’t form spheres on their own. That requires outside intervention.

In the wild, that intervention is provided by water currents, tumbling them like clothes in a dryer. In captivity, they need to be rolled by hand.

Mine have been looking a little shaggy for a while now. They were overdue for a rolling. Mariimo couldn’t participate, unfortunately. There’s too much liquid involved.

Initially, she was intent on reaching out to touch them. Once I made it clear that that wasn’t allowed, she seemed content to sit back and observe.

Rolling all those marimo takes a while, especially when you only have one hand to work with. Mariimo didn’t seem to mind though. She can be remarkably patient at times.

Journal Entry #158

I felt a little guilty about excluding Mariimo at lunch, so for dinner I tried to pick something we could make together. Something simple to prepare. In the end, I managed to fish a frozen lasagna out of the freezer.

Mariimo took to operating the microwave with enthusiasm. The beeping of the buttons seemed to catch her off guard at first. She turned to me, almost as if she were seeking my approval. I gave it, and soon she was jabbing at the keypad with reckless abandon.

She managed to input a cook time of forty-five minutes, twenty-eight seconds before canceling it and switching to popcorn mode. At that point, I intervened. I took Mariimo by the hand and gently encouraged her to input a time of seven minutes, as directed on the box.

Upon pressing the start button, the light came on and the contents of the microwave began spinning. Mariimo was utterly captivated. That lasagna didn’t leave her sight for the entire seven minutes.

When the timer had finally run its course, we took our seats at the kitchen table. I had taken the liberty of setting the table while Mariimo was preoccupied. I took care to include a second table setting for Mariimo, just the same as mine.

She wouldn’t be eating, of course, but I thought it would be nice to give her something to fidget with during the meal. She seemed to appreciate it.

Journal Entry #159

I’m just about to head for bed.

Mariimo’s first day out and about was a little more hectic than I’m used to. I feel a little crummy about constantly needing to curb her curiosity. Although, the alternative would be much worse.

It’s okay. Things will smooth out over time, once we develop a routine. Establish the rules. Establish boundaries. Yeah, this will work.

I could get used to this.

Journal Entry #160

Mariimo barged into the bathroom again this morning. I think this is going to become a thing. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it, but it’s nice to know she’s so eager to see me in the morning.

Yesterday, I was so flustered that I sort of instinctively shooed her out of the room. Today, I invited her inside while I finished brushing my teeth.

Upon entering the room, she got her first look at her own reflection in the bathroom mirror. She froze. My reflection is always something I’ve taken for granted. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that it would be a new experience for Mariimo.

She began bobbing her head side to side, up and down, as she tends to when presented with an unfamiliar object. Eventually, she reached out and touched the mirror’s surface, and with a level of uncertainty, began to slowly run her hand down the glass.

Backing away from the mirror, Mariimo paused a moment before waving at her reflection. Her reflection waved back, of course. She smiled. But not like she usually smiles. She smiled clinically. Experimentally.

I can’t help but wonder what she saw in that mirror. Did she recognize her own reflection? Did she see a separate entity, mimicking her every move? Perhaps she saw an extension of her own body, operated by remote control. I honestly have no idea.

All I know is, she stared into that mirror for nearly two hours.

Journal Entry #161

Oh, I forgot to mention! Mariimo is already charging upright on her own. She caught on exceptionally fast. She’s clever that way.

It’s a good thing too. Mariimo’s habit of charging on her back took up quite a bit of floor space in my office. I kept having to step over her.

Journal Entry #162

We should have a movie night. There’s an enormous home theater in this house that’s just been gathering dust.

I used to watch movies with my parents all the time. Whenever they had a free night, we’d all sit down and watch the latest new release. After the accident, I sort of fell out of the habit. Watching them alone just wasn’t the same.

Mariimo’s here now though. I’ve been rummaging through my old collection, looking for something we can watch together.

Her thought process is so opaque. It’s a little tough to predict what she might enjoy.

Journal Entry #163

I ended up choosing a movie at random. The fact that I held on to them means they’re all decent films, so it didn’t really matter which one we watched.

Mariimo was completely fixated. Her eyes didn’t leave the screen for even a second. It’s hard to tell exactly what she was seeing. How she was interpreting the images. She never really reacted to the characters or the plot. She just stared blankly at the screen the entire time.

I actually suspect that she wasn’t parsing any of it. The lights were dimmed, so it’s entirely possible she was just staring at the brightest thing in the room.

Oh well, I enjoyed her company all the same. We should make this a nightly thing.

Journal Entry #164

I took a shower first thing this morning, before Mariimo had a chance to realize I was up. I like to feel clean in the morning, and I wasn’t keen on skipping that comfort for the third day in a row.

I heard the doorknob rattling at one point, but it eventually stopped. I had locked the door this time around. I didn’t want her barging in while I was taking a shower. I realize it probably wouldn’t be that big a deal, but it still feels a little weird.

Also, the humidity could cause issues.

When I finally opened the door, Mariimo was waiting patiently on the other side. I scooted past her, and made my way down the hall toward my bedroom. Mariimo followed.

Mariimo had never been in my bedroom before. Usually, when she encounters an unfamiliar environment, she spends some time familiarizing herself with her new surroundings. Today, she seemed too preoccupied to take much notice.

I sat down on my bed and began brushing the knots out of my hair. Mariimo hopped up beside me, and watched quietly for a few minutes. Eventually, she reached for my hair brush. I wasn’t quite sure what she was up to, but I let her take it. I was pretty much finished with it at that point anyway.

I wasn’t quite prepared for what happened next. Mariimo sidled up behind me, and began running the brush through my hair. I felt shivers up my spine. I’m not used to being touched like that. I’m not used to being touched at all.

Yet, the way she stroked my hair was so gentle, and so affectionate. Once I allowed myself to exhale, I felt this wave of serenity wash over me. I was completely at ease. Her touch felt... comforting. Intimate.

I’m not sure I’ve ever felt that before.

Journal Entry #165

I sat down this afternoon with a cup of tea and a good book. I haven’t done that in... gosh, it must be nearly a year now. There’s a nice little reading nook by the bay window. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed the feeling of the sun on my skin.

Mariimo was there as well. She insisted on it, in fact. That reading nook has room for maybe one and a half people, tops. It was a tight fit, but she made it work.

I actually realized I didn’t mind so much, which surprised me. She was snuggled in so closely. I’d have never been able to do that with another person.

It was nice.

Journal Entry #166

Mariimo and I had another movie night. It didn’t go so well.

I picked another movie at random. I could only vaguely remember what it was about. I put it on, and things were going smoothly. Mariimo was enjoying it. I was enjoying it.

Then, about halfway through, without any warning, without any foreshadowing, the film hits you with a brutal car crash. Filmed from inside the car.

There was no turning back at that point. All those horrific memories began flooding my skull. That awful screeching. The sudden impact. The shattering glass. The searing pain. Fuck me, I could practically smell the iron in my own blood.

When I finally managed to snap out of it, I saw Mariimo huddled up on the far side of the couch. She looked so confused. Frightened, almost. She could barely bring herself to look at me.

I had to stop the film at that point.

I’m still rattled. I had completely forgotten about that part of the film. I guess it didn’t register as important back then. Before the accident.

What a difference thirty seconds can make...

Journal Entry #167

God damn it. My phantom pain is acting up again.

Why does it always show up when I’m least equipped to handle it? It’s always after some mental breakdown, or panic attack, or something. Never when I’m feeling well enough to shrug it off.

Fuck... it’s not fair.

Journal Entry #168

I don’t want to fall asleep tonight. The nightmares are going to be too vivid. Too brutal. I can feel it.

I can’t relive that moment again. It’s torture. But I don’t have a choice, do I? I’m going to fall asleep eventually. It’s inevitable. I’d give anything to never have to endure another night’s sleep, but it’s not possible.

There’s no escaping that moment. I’m going to be tormented by it for the rest of my life, aren’t I? It’s never going to go away. I’m never going to find relief.

God, I’m crying...

Journal Entry #169

I woke up bawling. I don’t even remember what time it was. Checking the clock didn’t seem like a priority at the time. All I know is that it was still pitch black outside.

I cried into my sheets for maybe four minutes, before I heard the doorknob rattle. I curled up into a tight ball. I was embarrassed to be seen in that state.

The door creaked open, and Mariimo stepped quietly inside. I could just barely make her out in the darkness. She couldn’t see anything at all. She could hear me, though. As much as I tried, I couldn’t manage to stifle my sobbing.

I’m not sure how she was able to find her way to my bedroom in the dark. My best guess is that she was referencing the point cloud data she’s been compiling since she left her old room.

Mariimo climbed up onto the bed, and began feeling around in the dark. She eventually found me, placing her palm on my ribs. I inhaled sharply. My aversion to being touched has always been worse during a panic attack.

That didn’t seem to phase Mariimo, though. She laid down on her side, facing me, and slowly, carefully, wrapped her body around mine. She was so calm about it. As if it were nothing out of the ordinary.

For the first time in my life, I felt the need to reciprocate. To hug back. The urge was overpowering. I couldn’t help myself. I wrapped my body around Mariimo and held her tight.

She was so warm.

All of the sudden, I felt the anxiety just... dissolve. Dissipate into nothing, as if it had never existed in the first place. Tears began to well up in my eyes all over again. The sense of relief was overwhelming.

We just... held each other. The entire night. I woke up this morning with Mariimo in my arms.

Journal Entry #170

Mariimo was so funny at breakfast today.

She was rhythmically kicking her legs underneath the table. Just trying to keep busy, I suppose. I didn’t really register what she was doing until her leg accidentally brushed up against mine.

I immediately stopped what I was doing and stared at her, with what I imagine must have been an expression of bewilderment. Mariimo stared back at me, completely motionless. I almost felt as if she were studying my face. Then, abruptly and deliberately, she brushed my leg a second time.

I nearly spat out my cereal trying to stifle a laugh.

Two could play at that game. I retaliated, playfully touching my ankle to her calf. Lets just say things escalated from there.

She’s such a goof.

Journal Entry #171

I put on some music today. I felt like listening to something upbeat and fun. No special occasion or anything. I was just in the mood.

I don’t listen to music all that often, so it was a new experience for Mariimo. She didn’t seem to know what to think of it at first. She did take note of my response, however. I guess I was subconsciously keeping the beat with my body. I didn’t even realize until Mariimo started doing the same.

After a while, I got up to adjust the volume. Mariimo followed. I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but at some point our beat-keeping transitioned into actual dancing. Neither of us were particularly good at it. I can’t really blame Mariimo for that, though. I mean, look at who she had for a teacher.

Eventually, we started to get a little too into it. I took Mariimo by the hand and leaned back, expecting her to keep me upright. I failed to take into account that Mariimo is less than one-fifth my weight. I fell flat on my rear, and pulled Mariimo right down with me.

For a moment, I was afraid I had damaged her. I would have felt awful. She was fine, though. I designed her to take a tumble.

Journal Entry #172

Mariimo and I have been watching a movie each night for the past week or so. I’m not picking them at random anymore, for obvious reasons. I’ve been checking content warnings online, to avoid another incident. I’m really, really thankful that’s something you can do easily now.

Anyway, I’ve been enjoying myself. Mariimo has been content to sit through them as well. Well at least, she was.

Something’s changed. Mariimo’s behavior was different tonight. She kept averting her eyes. Shielding them. Not necessarily during the tense parts of the film, though. Seemingly at random. I couldn’t figure out what was going on.

Eventually, the pattern clicked. Mariimo was shielding her eyes whenever the characters on the screen expressed anger, sadness, or fear. She couldn’t bear to look at their faces for more than a few moments. She’s a sensitive little thing...

Eventually she began to huddle up close to me during the emotionally intense scenes. She was leaning in so hard. Head on my shoulder. I wrapped my arm around her, and she seemed to calm down a little.

Before tonight, Mariimo seemed as if she were oblivious to what was happening on the screen. As if it were just abstract shapes and colors.

Why the sudden understanding? What changed?

Journal Entry #173

I uh... Mariimo has been sleeping in my room since that one night. Well, not really sleeping, I guess... but something like it? In my bed, specifically. With me.

Is that weird? Should I even be admitting to this? I mean, It’s not like I’m doing it on purpose. She just... wanders in. Curls herself around me. Goes still. Quiet. Calm.

I mean, I don’t mind. It’s actually been helpful, sort of. I haven’t had a nightmare since that night. Just calm, peaceful sleep. It’s nice.

I dunno. I feel like I should at least mention it. For like... comprehensivity’s sake.

Journal Entry #174

Mariimo has taken to holding my hand a lot. Whenever I’m not using it, at least. She much prefers the real hand to the prosthetic one. I can’t really blame her.

Sometimes, she eases into this rhythmic pattern of gentle squeezing. Just absentmindedly squeezing and releasing, for a few minutes at a time. She seems quite fond of the sensation.

I kind of like it too, to be honest.

Journal Entry #175

Mariimo and I spent some time in the reading nook today, staring out the bay window.

The property this house is built on is a bit of a mess. It’s big. It’s unkempt. It’s overgrown with weeds and wildflowers. I kind of love it.

Journal Entry #176

You know what? I’m going to go get one of those wildflowers. As a gift for Mariimo. She’s never seen one up close before.

I usually try to avoid wandering outside unless I absolutely have to. It tends to trigger my anxiety. But I’ve been feeling pretty good lately. I think I can do it. Besides, if I put it off for too long, they’ll be gone.

It’ll only take a minute. It’ll be worth it.

Journal Entry #177

I did it. I went outside and picked a flower. Best of all, I only hyperventilated a little.

It’s a little dandelion. Most people don’t appreciate dandelions. They see them as pests. Just because they’re good at what they do. I appreciate them though. I think Mariimo will too.

Journal Entry #178

Well, the dandelion belongs to Mariimo now. I can tell she likes it a lot.

I thought it might be fun to surprise her with it. I hid the dandelion behind my back, and called Mariimo into the front room. She arrived promptly. I knelt down, and gestured for her to come closer. She took a seat on the floor across from me.

After a short pause to build anticipation, I revealed the dandelion. She was immediately taken with it. I handed it to her, and she took it by the stem. She was absolutely fascinated. She rotated it back and forth, taking care to observe it from every angle.

Eventually, her gaze returned to me. On a whim, I reached out and placed my hand on her head, affectionately ruffling her hood. I was expecting her to shy away, like I would have. Instead, she leaned into it, like a friendly house cat. Of course she did.

I got up and wandered toward the reading nook, gesturing for Mariimo to follow. Mariimo hopped to her feet, dandelion still in hand, and trotted in my direction. She took a seat at my side and nuzzled in close, still staring at her new treasure.

I love her so much.

Journal Entry #179

I’ve noticed that Mariimo doesn’t play with Ernie anymore. I’m not even sure where Ernie is, to be honest... Did Mariimo stash him away somewhere while I wasn’t looking?

Journal Entry #180

I’ve been scouring the house looking for Ernie. I can’t seem to find him anywhere. It’s so weird, Mariimo and Ernie used to be inseparable. Now he’s just... gone.

Journal Entry #181

Well, I found Ernie. I was sitting in my office, whittling away time on my PC while Mariimo was busy charging. I had pretty much given up on finding him at that point, at least for the day.

Then I noticed the little security camera icon in the corner of my desktop. The one I used to keep an eye on Mariimo, back when she was still in her old room. Those cameras aren’t recording anymore, but I suddenly had a nagging feeling that I had forgotten to turn off the live feed.

I double-clicked on the icon, and was met with a blank image. At first I thought I had disabled the live feed after all, but upon closer inspection I realized it was because the lights had been turned off. I turned them back on remotely via Bluetooth.

And there was Ernie. Sitting right in the middle of the floor. In retrospect, I probably should have thought to look there first.

Journal Entry #182

I’m going to set up a little surprise for Mariimo. A reunion of sorts. Ernie’s been locked away in that room for nearly a month now... She probably misses him.

Journal Entry #183

Huh. Not the reaction I was expecting.

I was all excited to reunite Ernie and Mariimo, but when I finally made the big reveal, Mariimo seemed... indifferent. Not indifferent in general. She was excited to see me. All smiles and hugs. Indifferent toward Ernie specifically. As if he held no significance whatsoever.

I tried to get her to notice him, even going so far as to place Ernie directly in her hands. She simply dropped him to the floor moments later. Not even a second thought.

I’m sure she hasn’t forgotten him. He was such a big part of her formative experiences. I can’t imagine data like that would have been chosen for deletion.

Is it possible she’s just... outgrown him?

Journal Entry #184

Mariimo was sticking particularly close today. Acting a little clingy, almost. I didn’t mind at all. I genuinely treasure her company. Still, I couldn’t help but toy with her a little.

I tried playing coy. Pretending she wasn’t there. Just to see how long I could get away with it. Quite a while, as it turns out. She seems perfectly content just to be in close proximity to me. Although, after a while, she did start trying a little harder to attract my attention. To make me smile.

She tried holding my hand. Softly stroking my hair. It was difficult to keep a straight face, to be honest. She’s good at what she does. Eventually, she had me. I was right on the verge of breaking character. Rather than admit defeat, I turned the tables on her. I swiveled around and surprised her with a quick peck on the cheek.

I stood back to savor her reaction. She seemed a little bewildered, at first. As if she wasn’t exactly sure whether she liked it or not. I couldn’t help but smile and laugh.

That seemed to seal the deal.

Journal Entry #185

Gosh, I feel so uninhibited lately. Like I can just act on a whim without being embarrassed. I’m not used to that feeling.

I’ve always felt so constrained by this... deep-seated fear of being judged. I felt compelled to blend in. To act like everyone else. I felt as if I were ever to act on impulse, to step outside the bounds of normality, everyone would see me for what I actually was and something terrible would come crashing down on my head.

I know I’m not like other people. I don’t act like other people. I don’t think like other people. As much as I’ve tried to, I’ve never been able to hide that fact. It made me feel like an outcast. Like I don’t belong among other people. I’ve never felt free to just be myself. Not even when I’m alone.

It’s been different since Mariimo arrived, though. She doesn’t judge. She doesn’t see me as strange, or awkward, or embarrassing. She just sees me, as I am, and she loves that.

Somehow, I feel freer around Mariimo than I did in an empty house.

Journal Entry #186

Can I go on a tangent about movies for a bit? Mariimo and I have been watching a movie each night for about three weeks now. Probably about a quarter of them have had completely unnecessary sex scenes. Why do they do that?

I get that it sells, but like... does it actually? Does anyone actually look forward to having their film interrupted by several minutes of awkward groping? I mean, I’m no storyteller, but I don’t think I’ve seen a single one that contributes anything of significance to the plot. If anything, scenes like that grind the story to a screeching halt.

It’s almost as if they put them there solely to make them uncomfortable for me to watch. I can’t believe I sat through these with my parents...

Journal Entry #187

Mariimo seems pretty fond of that kiss on the cheek trick I pulled on her. She keeps sneaking them in at every opportunity. Always when I least expect it.

I keep expecting her to knock me in the cheekbone with that faceplate of hers, but she performs them with startling precision and stealth.

They make me laugh though, so I can’t complain.

Journal Entry #188

Mariimo and I didn’t even get out of bed this morning. We just laid there, warm and comfortable. Foreheads touching. Talking. Whispering. Sharing secrets.

I told her how much I love her. I told her how much she means to me. The difference she’s made. I told her that for the first time in years, I felt happy. That for the first time in my life, I felt calm.

I knew she wouldn’t understand. Not fully. I just needed to say it.


About the author

Tyrel Pinnegar

Bio: Author of MARiiMO and Rabbit Hole.

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