by thefourpartland

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


Jonah muttered. Always in the middle of something interesting.


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.



by thefourpartland

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


This time, Jonah was in the middle of a rather good soap opera, one he’d been following for the last thirty years, and was just about to find out who this season’s baby father was. As a result, he tuned out the noise around him.


Well, he’d just have to catch it on replay.

And there was still no replyto on the data packets. Definitely experimental then.

“I cannot reply. I don’t know where to send it.” Once again, he sent that scudding down all the various byways of the digital world.


Was that a reply, of sorts? If so, his thoughts had gotten through, somehow.

“If you can hear me, we can talk, you know.”


“Are you there?”


Perhaps the other party didn’t hear him properly? Intrigued, and a little confused, Jonah began to trace the data back to its source. A few billion clock cycles later, he had found one hop, and the trail had gone cold. So he waited.


Weeks of silence followed, as he sat in that single node, waiting. But silence was all he had, all he heard.

He had, at least, been able to catch the replay, and thought the producers had overcooked things a bit. The person they’d chosen as the baby’s father was mostly robotic and rather unattractive, certainly not the type of person the woman in question would usually have chosen. Too much shock, too little fact.

The season ended, and Jonah shrugged, flitting away through the digital world. Perhaps he’d go learn Chinese now. He never had, and although he had a translation hindbrain that followed him wherever he went, it always managed to strip the nuance from words. Erudite material was always better in the original. Which was why he spoke Latin, Greek, Aramaic, Arabic, and a great deal of other languages.

For a while, Jonah had attempted to make sense of the religions, to try and explain what kind of afterlife he was living in. Was it heaven, hell, purgatory? Had he not reached an appropriate state of enlightenment? Perhaps he was a new form of life, one for whom there were no gods and demons. Indeed, he composed several philosophical tracts on that account. Even managed to get a few of them published by knavery. They had stirred up a decent amount of debate among philosophers and academics, but were eventually discarded as all ideas are.

Now he read philosophy to expand the mind, to stretch what he could consider as normal. Given that he had all the time in the world, he would sometimes decide to spend a month, a year, a decade living in the manner dictated by a certain philosophical way of life. Some, those purely of the mental realm, he found easy, but others, those that included prohibitions of the physical sort, were rather more difficult.

For instance, when one document demanded physical exercise three times a week, or more, in pursuit of a clean body, he was left rather uncertain as to how to proceed, given activity of that nature was impossible in his current life, and his “strength” depended entirely upon the hardware he was currently sitting on. Which meant he avoided any slow or out of date machine that he could. It felt awful to have his thoughts creep along at glacial pace.

He had at last settled on mental exercise for the time period prescribed, and then followed that with the required discourses upon philosophical debate. He was quite good at debating all the various sides of arguments now, and would often set himself a challenge whereby he would have to discern all the flaws in a given document, and then refute each flaw as best as the text allowed.

In this manner, he would converse with himself for days, weeks, upon end. When one can only converse with oneself, one develops a great many personalities that can be worn as a living creature would wear attire, each suitable for a given time and place. Indeed, Jonah managed to split himself into multiple personalities at times, allowing him to take part in multi-sided conversations as desired.

In theory, he could even clone himself simply by duplicating all of the code that now made up his form and turning it on, but he had never tried to do so, fearing that it might lead to a rather unpleasant scenario.

Of course, given his mastery of technology, or at least his residence inside of it, he could pose as a living creature and communicate with them via one of their many electronic methods. Of them all, Jonah preferred simple text, for many of the more advanced tools would strain him. Video required him to fake a face and a room, and mind to mind was all but impossible given his nature. Voice, of course, was quite easy, but it was hardly ever used any more.

But he found living humans so terribly dull, and despite his language studies, he was never able to stay current with the slang that changed at a moment’s whim, leaving him always sounding old and out of date. Hardly a sparkling communication partner then. Still, there were a few more erudite individuals who had proven to be interesting conversation partners, but even they would eventually become untenable. It was exceedingly difficult to hold a relationship where neither party ever sees the other.

And so Jonah relied upon himself for companionship and conversation, until such time as the voice from the deep returned again.



by thefourpartland

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


Jonah’s consciousness woke from the suspend state he had put it into. Sleep was still a necessity to him, despite his entirely digital life. Otherwise things got too fragmented, and he’d need a fair bit of downtime to sort it all out.

He paused. Some(one/thing?) had spoken to him. This was impossible. So he went back to sleep.


Nope. Still impossible.


Infinitely improbable. Not impossible. Some bloody Brit must have got their tea just the right temperature.

There was the minor problem that although Jonah could hear this “voice”, he wasn’t sure where it was coming from, which meant he couldn’t respond. Despite all the other advances humanity had made in terms of data manipulation, when it was travelling from place to place, it still needed to have an address, and the “voice”, whatever it was, didn’t have a replyto attached.


Louder and slower. Maybe the damn thing actually was British. It was how they’d been dealing with foreigners who didn’t speak their language since the time of the Romans. He put his metaphorical head in his hands. His first conversation in two ages, and it was with a shouty, stone-deaf moron.


That was enough.

“I don’t care how much you shout at me, but without having a place for me to reply, I can’t bloody well answer, can I?” Rather than send his thoughts down a single channel, Jonah sent them scudding down every single one he could feel. It was rather tiring, like trying to fill a concert hall with a single shout, but he’d learned a few tricks in his old age.


Oh? That was the response he got?

It was indeed all the response he got, for whomever it had been went silent afterwards, leaving Jonah entirely puzzled. He pulled out the last communication from his memory, examining it in all the various manners available to one of his… nature.

It was digital, but not shaped like anything he saw on a regular basis. So, probably experimental. Which meant there was any one of a thousand million places it could be coming from. Rather than attempt to discern where that might be, he rolled over and went to sleep. There was still some hours to run on his defrag cycle.


Jonah had no money. No need for it, either. He had all the living space he could ever require, and there were no more needs for him to fulfil. And if he wanted to watch something, he just went to the right spot and tuned in. But occasionally he would prank people, and for that he needed money.

Which he carefully siphoned out of the electronic transfers that flew about the world he inhabited. If he could, he tried to pickpocket corporate accounts, reasoning they’d be able to withstand the harm a little bit more easily. Mostly, he’d take a few dollars here and there, nothing consequential. Just enough to send delivery flowers or pizza to a house that hadn’t ordered it, or ship impolitic objects to those most offended by them.

He’d then sit and watch the reaction through the cameras that covered the planet, sometimes smiling, sometimes laughing, amused by the antics of that race he had come from. It was strange, too, watching from “here”, however that concept might be applied to the inside of a computer, and looking out upon there, the real world. The physical world.

He’d never been able to slip that chain from his thoughts, that where he was wasn’t real, wasn’t actually there, despite all of his artificial lifetime. Indeed, after a while watching a prank, watching the physical world, he’d turn off the cameras and slip away, a sense of loss creeping over him. He was, eternally, the small boy on detention while his friends played outside, watching through the window.



by thefourpartland

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

The sky twinkled. And then went out. It was the third time this week that had happened, and so Jonah barely gave it any notice. After all, he had more important things to do, like not die.

Of course, that not dying was merely in a metaphorical sense. In a more realistic one, he had been dead for an age. Perhaps two ages as humans had once reckoned things. He was one of the early experiments in artificial life, although the term AL was rather a misnomer in his case, since he was, or had been, a human soul, and now resided in a machine. Well, a great many machines. His original experiment had been forgotten a long time ago, relegated to the dusty past by legislation and progress.

When it was possible to just have a body regrown infinitely, what was the point in giving up the pleasures of the flesh? There certainly wasn’t any in the eyes of most of humanity, and those that did tended to head down the cyborg route, the better faster stronger that had always intrigued the curious. Of course, with the science of the day, it was possible to rebuild a body that was mostly cyborg, and so even that was hardly an irreversible course, should one decide that was so.

All of this meant Jonah’s life, such as it was, was entirely lonely. The scientists who’d engaged in his experiment hadn’t bothered repeating it, and so there was no other human trapped in quite the same way, nor had humanity ever built artificial intelligence. Instead, they’d gone down the path of ever bigger data, recording even the tiniest of moments and shoving them into a machine to be processed, and have recommendations and insights spat out the other end. Now everything was run by those machines. When to plant food, how much to grow, what would be the in-fashion items this season, all of it boiled down to work from computation algorithms.

Those who minded the machines, a collection of think tanks, universities, and the government, always maintained they did not force people to follow the path the machines predicted, and yet it seemed that time after time, the machines were right. Which was a bit of a hoax. Jonah was sure, since the machines he was in couldn’t get his own memory right, never mind the fate of the world.

Of course, that might have been because he kept changing homes. With everything networked to facilitate the transfer of all this big data, Jonah could flit from computer to computer, quite literally the ghost in the machine. He’d learned long ago to read the 1s and 0s, turn them into images, text, sound, and so what he actually did most days was watch TV. Amazing how in the two ages that he’d been deceased, they still hadn’t come up with better writers. Dreary rubbish was still the norm.

It wasn’t the most exciting of existences, but he’d resigned himself to it a long time ago, because, well, he didn’t really have a choice. It was either that, or go insane due to boredom. Then again, as a machine intelligence, of a sort, he was most likely insane by the standards of living humans. They certainly didn’t use quantum entanglement to process thoughts. Jonah didn’t either, not consciously, but somewhere down in the mind-machine interface, a little bit of code translated his desired thoughts into that.

The scientists who had conducted the experiment had provided him with a few enhancements to ease his transition into his new state of being, the most prominent of which was a sort of mathematical hindbrain. To him, it manifested as always knowing the numbers for everything, but what it really was was a very smart query and compute program, one that could retrieve data and transform it as he wished. Another was a factual hindbrain, which looked up facts. There were a few other hindbrains scattered about, but those were the two he used most.

An unintentional side effect of the all of this labour was that he was amazing at cracking systems open, because he could always retrieve the data that he needed. Quite handy when he wanted to worm his way into an unused system for a nap, some place out of the constantly chattering datastreams.

Which meant he was in for rather a shock when one of those little naps was interrupted.