28

Feb

by thefourpartland

A short story written for fun over the weekend. Will appear over the course of the week. The title is entirely temporary.

 “Sob.”

Jonah muttered. Always in the middle of something interesting.

“Pain!”

At that Jonah shot bolt upright, or at least performed his equivalent thereof, and sent his tendrils out through the electronic surf. This time, they followed a hop, and a second, and a third. Closer, now, and he cast about for the next, the fourth hop. But. Silence.

***

More so than the previous encounters, this one left Jonah thoughtful. Computers, for all their myriad benefits, did not feel pain, or at least he had never encountered one that could. He could, certainly, but he was human, with a human’s basic responses to stimuli. Even his transition into artificial life had not changed that, for the scientists had been loathe to alter him in any way lest they corrupt the experiment.

All of that resolved the matter into one of two things – either it was a computer program that had been created in some way to feel pain, or it was a living creature somehow communicating into the ether. The former was entirely possible, given that scientists created simulacrum after simulacrum in order to better test their theories before inflicting them upon living beings. Pain or emotional distress being researched would be hardly outside the norm for a medical firm.

The other possibility, that of a living animal hooked up to machines, was also not that far outside the realm of possibilities, given the copious research into cybernetics that was undertaken on a daily basis. Neither, in fact, was all that curious. The curiosity was how it had managed to find him three times across a great span of time. Find him and communicate with him, if what had happened could truly be called communication.

Jonah had, as far as he was aware, no distinct locator, no address that would always find him. He was a ghost in the machine, and quite deliberately so, always flitting from one to another, barely making his presence known. And he certainly had not been in the same location each time, so whomever was communicating with him was attempting to do so to him, as opposed to arriving at his presence via luck.

With that information in hand, he retreated to a nice quiet nook on an unused high-performance computer, and proceeded to examine all of his code in minute detail. Somewhere in the digital detritus that made up his being was a tag, a locator, something that could be used to find him again and again. Otherwise, all of what had happened was impossible, and not just infinitely improbable.

Despite all of the computational ability at his disposal, it took Jacob the better part of a week, and several quadrillion computer cycles, to discover the means by which he was being communicated with. Legacy software, designed long ago and using an archaic protocol the vast majority of the connected world had discarded. But as he never discarded memories, he never discarded old code, even if it was running merely in archive mode.

And so here he was, being spoken to on a protocol not used in a millennia, and presumably by a machine that should be using far more advanced systems. Now, at least, when it next reached out to him, he would be able to trace the voice properly.

So he sat back and waited, placing most of his thoughts and systems into a low performance mode to make the time seem to pass more quickly. At first, he played Go, but then moved on to more advanced games, usually ones played in n-dimensional space, where the rules fluctuated each turn.

He appreciated the difficulty that these presented, but the inherent randomness meant that there was always an element of luck, and depending on the particular ruleset, a great deal of luck, in terms of who was the eventual winner. More accurate to the nature of life than Go or Chess, but far less appealing at those moments when his luck turned sour.

Eventually, after one too many bad beats, Jonah turned all of his systems off, and descended into listen only mode.

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