The rhythmic click-click-clack of a keyboard was the only sound in Otto’s apartment that night. The computer monitor glowing bright onto Otto’s face was the only light. It was almost 2AM, and he had to work the next day, but he knew he couldn’t stop now. He was close to a breakthrough, to fixing the fundamental problem in his code, and, honestly, fixing the fundamental problem in his life. The one he referred to as the problem when he was talking to his therapist. 

The keyboard stopped clacking. Otto stared at the code. Could this be it? He tentatively, hopefully, reached back out to the keyboard and pressed four keys at once to initiate the test sequence. Green, green, green, and green. Otto smiled, put his computer to sleep, and put himself to sleep.

The next night, Otto went on a date. The date was going well, or at least Otto thought it was. The girl across the table was quite pretty.

She was describing her work, and doing a fairly good job of it. He toyed with his half-empty wine glass, swirling the liquid around and around and watching the ripples and channels form.

    “… and we actually use some machine learning stuff in our software, too!” Her story wrapped up. 

“Oh really? What do you use it for?” He questioned, a slight smirk starting to form. 

She looked back, blankly, for a second. “You know, machine learning stuff. Like predicting things.”

He didn’t like that answer. He riposted, the smirk widening: “What do you even predict? Isn’t it tax software? What’s the point of machine learning if you already know all the correct rules to follow?”

She tilted her head slightly to the right, and pushed her tortoise-shell glasses back up to her eyes. Otto realized that he hadn’t noticed them before, but they framed her eyes well, and tuned back into the conversation as she was midway through her riposte.

“… and so even if you don’t have to make predictions about what is legally the case, you can predict user behavior and make a better user interface. I incorporate ML-powered suggestions into the app to improve the user experience, not because we need to predict anything about the taxes themselves.”

Good answer.

Otto looked up, and said as much. The smirk was gone, and a more friendly smile had replaced it.

The girl smiled with satisfaction, and was about to say something when the waiter arrived to check in on their table. Otto and the girl each glanced at the menus, looked up at each other, smiled a little, and then starting placing their orders for a second drink.

Later that night, the two were walking into Otto’s apartment, the lock clicking with the turn of the key, and then the front door silently sliding open. They moved through the apartment, Otto barely having time to set his keys down on the shelf before they were embracing and kissing and pushing up against the wall and touching and kissing and her shirt was coming off –

And Otto pulled away. The girl’s face wrinkled with confusion, and the anxiety of a strangely-scorned lover. 

Otto sighed, tapped his temple, and said “Too easy. Reset!”. Otto blinked in a very particular way, and saw his real bedroom. His computer fan was still whirring along at full speed, recording and processing the date’s data. 

Another failed night, Otto thought as he booted up his computer and started tapping away at his code again. He felt a little sadness, a little contempt, and a little boredom. 

And the girl never felt anything, ever again.

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