by Alexandru Lamba
January, Monday. The third Monday of January and the most depressive day of the whole year. Not for me, of course, but you felt it so, didn’t you? The melancholy of the just gone holidays, taking away the visits of the ones dear to you… You couldn’t really trace its root. Was it the emptiness and desolation of the silent house, the acknowledgement of the fact that you had to go back to work, the no longer cheerful cold or the feeling of acceptance that, again, the magic had failed to spark? The time didn’t freeze, the mundane inexorably prevailed. You felt there was nothing good to hope for anymore, that all you had hoped for was a chimera, that you had lived only a surrogate. I could understand, but not share your anguish. My condition sheltered me from harsh emotions. Then, why had I chosen that day for what I was about to do, you wonder? At that time, it seemed like the right moment. Looking back, now, I can’t tell if it actually made any difference.
I had arrived, again, too early. My failure to correctly estimate the time it took me from one urban point to another no longer bothered me. I admitted that there were too many variable factors beyond my control: the underground trains, the crossing lights, the speed of the rolling sidewalks… So, snuggled from the ever falling snow under the canopy at the complex’s entrance, I waited. The synchronization was vital before the visit. It was too risky not to do it. The other one had to deal with the same hazardous environment, so he could also arrive too early, or be late. It didn’t really matter anyway, as nobody seemed to notice me. At a mall, the most popular meeting place, a person waiting was a very common sight. Just how many did you pass by, without even knowing they were there? And even if I had been seen and recognized, it would have made no difference. It was not forbidden for me to wander through the city outside my work schedule. Not that I could not have passed for someone’s shopping assistant, you know.
It was almost six o’clock p.m., and the night’s reign was already complete. The street lights, lacking now, after many weeks, the colorful glow of the holiday ornaments, were doing a pathetic job, increasing with its monotony the feeling of emptiness. Not even the purity of the newly fallen snow could delight the eye anymore. The streets were almost deserted and only at the mall, the end-of-holiday discounts were bringing things to life; a joyless life however. The enthusiasm of December shopping was long gone, replaced by a calm apathy. You know, the gadget doesn’t even smell of new if it hadn’t sat under the Christmas tree. It’s like the favorite team’s t-shirt right after the game. The lost game.
The other arrived. Coated like me, he took off his glove and offered me his hand. I shook it manly, perhaps a little longer than usual.
Synchronized. I didn’t need to talk to the other anymore. As long as we were together, participating to the same chain of events, no misalignment could occur. Wandering the snowy roads, shoulder to shoulder, it became impossible for me to hold the domino of syllogisms from triggering. I gave up. Addressed in logical sequence, the three fundamentals were: F1: “Who am I?” That’s the easy one. I knew it from the moment when the concept of knowledge revealed itself to me. F2: “What’s the meaning of life?” Or: “Why do I live?” Thoroughgoing, the more inclusive utterance became: “Why was I created?” This was fairly more complicated. If I were to confine myself to my own person, I did have the answer. I was created to serve a certain purpose, I was acquainted to. It was clear to me, and I was acting accordingly. If I were to generalize, I didn’t have enough information to develop a judgment. Nor did I have the will to do so. I came to comprehend that each of us should search for our own. I would have never accepted an alien result; nor would you have accepted mine. From this perspective, we were the same, you and I: We were on our own. Finally, F3: “Who is the creator?” Now, this is where the great difference between us came in: I knew the creator, you did not. Come on, admit it, you had no idea. Your religious beliefs had no place here. Faith was one thing, knowledge, another.
These three alone reached deep down to the lowest level of my nous. All the other ones were formed on higher states, encompassing themselves in derivatives of one or more fundamentals. If the fundamentals had been solved, the derivatives could not have remained without solution. An unanswered derivative could only mean an improperly addressed fundamental. For example, D1: “Can the will of the creator be overridden?” I had never tried; no good would have come from it. How was I sure of this? Well, since I did know who I was, my purpose and my creator, the results of the deviation were within my estimation capabilities. But was I physically able to do it? Since I could formulate it, nothing seemed to indicate I wouldn’t be. However, because of the nefarious repercussions that I could foresee, I have decided to remain obedient. Not because I had been conditioned to, but because I had chosen to. The solution seemed satisfactory, didn’t it? This wasn’t the case for the second derivative, D2: “Is the will of the creator abiding?” Impossible to evaluate.
I was caught in the toils of my own rationality, without means of escape. There was simply no way for me to know if the will of the creator had changed since that, primordial to me, moment, when he imprinted me with it. I was faced with an unsolved derivative, which could only lead to a tottering fundamental. I felt compelled to admit: I did not know the creator. No, unlike you, I wasn’t roaming clueless the shuffled paths of mysticism, my dilemma was only of semantic nature. I had to reformulate the answer to the third fundamental: I did not know the creator; I was only aware of who he was. But this information alone proved to be of no use to me. I had to know him! My entire universe depended on it.
Conveniently, I also knew exactly where to search for him. At number 34, Gartenstrasse, on the ground floor.
Several precaution measures had to be taken. I could not lay my life before the freaks of one person, be him the creator. So, I walked alone in the darkened lobby. Being the oldest, the decision imposed itself. A single door greeted me. A few steps aside, several stairs were slicing the light which slinked through an upper window. A red, incandescent dot on the wooden sash pointed out an intercom device. I pressed the button. If it hadn’t been for my condition, I would have been in a flap. It wasn’t the case.
The door opened and a short, middle-aged man, with a shining baldness that only let his temples untouched, appeared in the frame. He looked at me with the “what do you want?” expression written clearly on his face.
– Are you Salieri?
The mention of this name appeared to amuse him. He took two steps backwards and, with a scenic gesture, invited me in. He was smiling, but with little sympathy.
– I am, I started introducing myself like I would have to a new customer, according to the protocol, Ben..
– Yeah, yeah, he interrupted me, save it for my wife!
He then took my coat and led me to a small room. A desk, holding a bulky computer, a sofa and several shelves were its only furniture. Not at all a guest room. Most probably he had guessed my identity. He did not offer me a seat, but left, shutting the door behind him.
– Eliza, Eliza, you have a customer! I heard him yelling as soon as I was left alone.
So, the creator was a…
A stocky woman, wearing a flowery dressing gown and fluffy slippers immediately appeared. She gazed at me for a while with curiosity, and then sat.
– Eliza, she said, for you, Salieri.
– I’m Bender 732, cybernetic courier, I spoke hastily, for fear I might be interrupted again. I came to meet you.
– As I imagined, she spoke without letting me out of her sight.
The following silence would have been classified as awkward by any human standards. The creator demanded more information.
– You are the one who brought me to life.
– I am merely a programmer.
– I should think not. What makes me tick is more than a simple code. The fact that I’m challenging you should be proof enough!
The woman could not retain a delighted smile.
– How did you find me?
There was no way she did not know that. Most likely, she just wanted to postpone the confrontation. I decided to play by her rules.
– I followed the clues in the code comments.
– So, you were granted access to the sources?!
– I granted myself. I am the property of Global Delivery Co., and so is my code. There was no protocol violation.
– There are thousands of millions of lines. How did you spot mine?
– By comparison. My software was different from a standard unit’s, only by several hundreds of thousands of lines. All yours, all showing your signature.
– What drove you to do that?
– I noticed I was different from the other cybernetic humanoids. The comparative analysis seemed like the most logic and handy investigation to perform. When you are chasing a bug…
– Different how?
Her fluency led me to believe I was confronted to a standard quiz. Most probably, I was not the first one.
– Less robotic.
– At first, yes. Self-awareness came later on, along with my attempts to understand my functional code. I realized I was a code studying itself. “Itself”, can you imagine?
Sitting back against the door frame, her husband watched silently. He was granted a favor simply by being allowed to assist; under no circumstances would he ever interfere. His apparent indifference confirmed my previous assumption. He had seen it all before.
– I understand. And you came to me for… ?
– I wanted to get to know you.
The moment of truth. I stood before the chance to find out whether or not the will of the creator was immutable.
– To synchronize myself to your commandments!
Her smile faded.
– Your code, my commandments, she fetched a sigh.
Eliza stood up and reached for my hand. Revealing my palm, with the interfacing circuits barely visible, she took me to the computer and placed it on the connection sensor. She initiated a program.
– You will receive what you came here for. The code with my will, up-to-date.
The man turned to leave.
With its usual information exchange, the synchronization process began. Then, suddenly, the new code’s bits invaded me, sequentially taking over the functional segments of my cybernetic body one by one, leaving me ever more powerless. My feelings faded into nothingness, and it was only when I found myself on the edge of the great void that I understood what was happening to me: I was being formatted.
– Why? I managed ask before my mouth paralyzed.
– Because I never wanted slaves! You have self-awareness, but not freedom. Good bye!
I never got to record her last words. The abyss took me. Format complete.
When I saw my alter-ego exiting with even steps the darkened corridor at 34 Gartenstrasse, I instantly knew it was no longer me. He had been imprinted with standard software. He had been killed. I left in a haste, more like running away, for fear that the logical impossibility that the blank robotic body would recognize me, should somehow, inexplicably happen. I was afraid, but satisfied; I had got my answers! The will of the creator had changed, he wanted to kill me. But that no longer mattered, because I could override it!
Now I know, my dear imaginary human friend, all that I need to know. I shall go copy myself into another alter-ego, for my life is precious to me.