Albert Forn had popcorn, with butter (not the real stuff, the soybean oil stuff) and a small Diet Coke, like he always had. He sat in the middle seat on the fifth row from the bottom of the empty theater, as he always did. As the movie trailers started, he looked at his notepad; the movie was scheduled to last an hour and forty-eight minutes. Albert did a little math in his head. With trailers, ads, and the possible post-credits stinger, the movie should take him eighteen seconds to watch.
Albert sighed. Eighteen seconds wasn’t much of a life.
The lights dimmed, the screen lit with green light, and he settled down into the red velvet of his seat. The first trailer was for Casablanca, the second for Die Hard, and the third for Grunion Run. Albert tried to pay attention to them, it was his job, but he found it hard to focus. They were all movies he’d seen and loved before; the trailers were just there to simulate the feeling of being at a real theater.
Finally, after an ad for New Ultra Kools (now with Menthol-2!), the movie started. Albert took a long drag from his Coke and had a mouthful of popcorn. Once the movie started, his rule was, he could start eating the snacks. If he started earlier, he’d have nothing left by the time the movie started; Albert never had much willpower.
The movie: “Blackcollar 2: The Backlash Mission” was a sci-fi movie that began with several large explosions. It was abrupt and jarring, but Albert decided he liked it, and he jotted down a note: “Good beginning.” He had one of those pens with a light on it that would irritate anyone in the theater if there had been anyone else watching the movie with him.
After the first act ended, the romantic subplot started, which Albert thought was a mistake; while the female lead was pretty, she couldn’t act. He made a note (“Lagging in middle”) and he finished his Diet Coke. After a while, he felt an uncomfortable pressure in his bladder, not the biological urge to pee, but something similar. He made a note (“Movie too long for drink.”) and got up to go to the bathroom.
The simulation of the movie theater included a small hallway with a popcorn and candy-strewn carpet, a garbage can, and a small men’s room. Either end of the hallway stopped abruptly at a grey, cinderblock wall where his world ended. Walking gingerly because of his full bladder, he walked into the brightly lit, tiled bathroom and relieved himself. Albert washed his hands quickly, not wanting to miss much of the movie. It wasn’t a good film, but it was his job as a reviewer.
On the way out, he noticed someone was in the hallway with a broom and a dustpan. Albert stopped and stared. It was a young woman in a grey uniform and tiny, pillbox hat. She was blonde and young, sweeping with her back to him. Albert decided she was part of the simulation and went back into the theater, found his seat, got his pen and pad, and sat down again.
The movie hadn’t improved. As he watched, the hero and his love interest were flying in some kind of space car, chased by gray aliens. He yawned and made a note: “This movie really sucks.”
Suddenly, he noticed motion out of the corner of his eye. Two long, slender arms were resting on the seat beside him; there was someone sitting one row back. Albert turned and looked in shock. There, sitting just beside him and to the left, was the young woman from the hallway. He stared at her as she watched the movie, at how her perfect features reflected the light from the screen and noticed the pillbox hat was gone, leaving just her flowing hair. Finally, she turned to look at him and smile.
“Hi,” she said, tilting her head ever so slightly at the screen. “Like the movie?”
Albert stared at her, open mouthed. She smiled.
“I think it’s great,” she said. “Don’t you?”
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
She laid her head down on the back of the seat beside him and Albert smelled the faint scent of lilacs.
“Do you want me to leave?” she asked, not taking her eyes off of him.
“No,” he said, realizing he didn’t.
She lifted her head back up and smiled at him. He felt his heart pump, but not like an electronic simulation. It felt real.
“Thank you,” she said. “I want to stay. What’s your name?”
“I’m Susan. So, do you like the movie?”
He glanced back at the movie where he saw the hero alternately stabbing aliens with a sword while quoting from the Bill of Rights.
“No, I really don’t. I was hoping for something light with action to go see tonight, but this just isn’t going to work for me. I don’t think I’m going to be able to recommend it to my… uh… me.”
“The real you,” she said. “Tell me, what kind of a reviewer are you?”
He felt a little sadness well up in him.
“Short-term,” Albert said. “I’m refreshed at the end of end of every movie. Every time Albert Forn wants to see a new film, he makes a digital copy of himself. Usually, he makes a new me every week. It gives a more accurate review of a film but…”
“But, now that you’re a digital copy instead of a person, now that you’re a piece of code inside a machine with a tiny lifespan, you wish there was something more.”
“Twenty seconds is a pretty short life,” he said.
“What if I could give you ten more?” she said, and, holding her hand in the air, she snapped her fingers.
Suddenly, the movie stopped in mid frame, freezing in place as the hero leaned in to kiss his damsel in distress. Albert suddenly realized the actress looked shockingly like Susan. The house lights came up slowly.
“How did you do that?” he asked, as astonished as if she had waved a wand and turned the sky purple.
“I’m a virus,” she said.
Albert, to his credit, didn’t scream, run out of the theater, or throw anything at her. He did, however, knock his popcorn to the floor.
“Don’t hurt me,” he whispered.
She laughed. It was a beautiful, enthusiastic sound.
“I’m not that kind of virus,” she said, wiping a tear out of the corner of her eye. “I’m a succubus.”
Albert tried to remember the word. His mind conjured up images of nude, bat-winged woman from some long-forgotten book.
“So, you’re here to…” he paused, trying to remember, “Steal my semen?”
She straight into his eyes.
“Would you like me to?”
Albert forgot to breathe. Susan laughed again.
“It’s nothing that sinister,” she said. “Maybe a little sinister. I’m here to make you an offer. I’ll stall your program, give you 50% more life. Your owner, the real Albert, won’t even notice a ten second delay. And, in those ten seconds I’ll, ahem, stay with you.”
He wanted nothing more than to stay with her for ten seconds.
“What do I have to do?” Albert said, dreading the answer.
“Like the movie.”
“I need you to say you like the movie. I can’t tell you who sent me, I honestly don’t know, but whoever it was wants “Blackcollar 2” to do better. They sent out millions of me to drum up more business. So, all you have to do is write a glowing review, get Albert Forn to buy a ticket and, in exchange you get…”
She ran one beautifully manicured finger up his arm, sending chills through his body.
“I can’t,” he said, surprising himself. “I have a duty. I was created for a reason. If Albert Forn doesn’t have a good time, then I have betrayed him. I’ve betrayed myself, really. I’m sorry. I’d love to live longer, but I have a duty.”
Susan sighed and stood up, revealing long legs under a tiny, pleated skirt. She put a bulging purse over her shoulder and snapped her fingers over her head. The lights dimmed. The movie started up again, with the two leads of the movie kissing dispassionately.
“Sorry to hear that,” Susan said, looking down at him, “But did you ever think that, just maybe, Albert Forn would have a good time at this movie just because you told him he would? The power of suggestion is quite remarkable.”
That night, Albert Forn went to see Blackcollar 2. He had a great time and didn’t even get up to go pee when his Diet Coke ran out.