“I,” said Alice to Tom, “Will. Not. Sleep. With. You.
“But I wrote you a poem,” Tom said, puzzled.
“A limerick. And a dirty one at that. And don’t tell me all the other girls liked them!”
George laughed. ”They did like them. Jane couldn’t wait to jump in the sack with him after this one:
There once was a lady named Jane
Whose chatter was totally inane
With her speaking device
One could date her and not go insane.”
“That’s the point,” Alice said petulantly. Yesterday it’s Jane; today it’s me. But tomorrow there will be a dancer named Jill, and a cook named Lucinda, and so on ad infinitum. I don’t want to be a part of this series. I want to feel like I’m special.”
“Not ad infinitum,” muttered Tom dejectedly. ”There are only a finite number of dirty limericks that can ever be written. I proved it mathematically.”
“Great,” Alice said. ”You can only cheat on me with, let’s say, a billion other girls? Well, this makes all the difference in the world, Tom.”
“Nine billion,” Tom muttered. George whistled his appreciation.
“How did you prove it?” asked Tina.
“I wrote a program,” Tom answered. ”It calculated all possible permutations…”
“I have an idea,” George interrupted. ”Tom, your program could actually write every possible dirty limerick with only minor modifications, right?”
“Yes,” Tom said uncertainly.
“Alice, if Tom wrote for you every conceivable dirty limerick that could ever be written there’d be no chance he’d write a new one for any other girl, right?”
“Yes,” Alice said slowly.
“So then you would have no objection to sleeping with Tom, would you?”
“This,” said Alice, “makes a disturbing amount of sense.”
“Bad idea,” said Tina. ”I have this funny feeling that once every conceivable limerick is written, something apocalyptic will happen.”
George laughed. ”Arthur C. Clarke, Nine Billion Named of God. ’Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.’ Somehow I doubt we have to worry about that.”
Alice sat in her dorm room, looking for ways not to study.
There was a knock on the door.
It was Tom.
“Hi Alice,” said Tom. “They are ready.”
“Who are ready?” asked Alice.
“Limericks,” said Tom. “Nine billion of them. Well, almost. It’s counting down the last couple of thousands.” He handed her his laptop. “The program is checking each one.”
“Two years,” Alice whispered. “You still expect–”
“That’s why it took so long,” said Tom. “The algorithm to make sure the limerick is dirty was really hard to write.” He tapped a few keys on his laptop. ”The rest of the program actually isn’t that difficult. Plenty of storage on the hard drive, you need less than a terabyte for all the limericks, they compress very nicely.” He looked at Alice. ”What do you say?”
“Fine,” said Alice. “It’s not like I have anything better planned. How long will this take?
“Just a few minutes,” Tom answered. “See, it’s counting down: eight-twenty, eight-ten, eight hundred…”
“God,” Alice said. “Two years. You spent two years writing a program that would get you into bed with me. “
“Yeah,” said Tom. “I knew you’d like that.”
“Oh, uh, absolutely,” said Alice. “It’s so… flattering. I don’t suppose you ever thought of… like, talking to me?”
“We did talk,” said Tom. “You said you’d sleep with me if I finished writing every possible dirty limerick. What else was there to talk about?”
“What indeed,” said Alice. “Uh — about what George and Tina said? Some kind of an apocalypse, once the last limerick is fini–”
The computer beeped.
Alice stole a nervous glance at the window. The moon and stars hung in the sky, twinkling.
“Done,” Tom announced. “And we are still here. Obviously.”
“Let me see,” Alice pulled the notebook toward her and clicked on the new text file on the desktop. ”Wow, there sure are a lot of them,” she added, scrolling.
“Nine–” said Tom
”Billion,” Alice interrupted. She took a deep breath. ”OK, a deal is a deal. Let’s go.”
They walked in silence to her bedroom. Once inside, Alice undressed first and snuggled into her bed, holding the blanket open for Tom. He joined her immediately. Alice turned off the light.
Beyond the window, stars continued to burn in the night sky, and as the terminator made its way west, all over the Earth, in rooms, yurts, cabins, caves, tents and igloos, every other couple in the world, one by one, without any fuss, like Tom and Alice fell asleep, their last conscious thought before uneasy dreams a vague recollection that somehow, once, “sleeping together” might have meant something different.
© Anatoly Belilovsky
The author is a New York pediatrician who learned English from Star Trek reruns. He has sold stories to Andromeda Spaceways, Immersion Book of Steampunk, 10Flash, and Ideomancer.