Thursday, June 2, 2011

FICTION: The Horror beyond the Directory List By Jake Johnson

I sat in darkness, waiting for Stacy to figure out the interface on the laptop. Back in the real world, I was sitting on a bench with a blank expression, my mind empty and my skin slowly fading into default monochrome. Stacy had told me that no one would hijack it, and I hoped no one would- I’d already lost my first one in a system crash, and my parents would’ve killed me if that one got stolen.

“Alright, I think it’s working.” Stacy said, as my vision cleared and she suddenly came into view. “How old is this thing?” My vision shook as she readjusted the screen.

“Not sure.” I lied- it was almost twenty years old. “It was lying around my parents’ house.”

“That old, huh?” she smirked, as she started fiddling about with the interface. “What is it I’m looking for, again?”

“It’s hard to explain. It should look like a big capsule filled with junk.” I responded.

“Found it!” she said triumphantly. “Now what?”

“Be ready to pull out the knobby thing you stuck in the side.” I didn’t want her to know I knew it was called a ‘jump drive’. My parents are so old.

“Why?” Stacy’s nice, but she wasn’t exactly the best lab partner, especially not in something that risky. Still, there was one quality I liked in her- she never asked what we were doing.

“I’ve made a copy of myself in there. After a few minutes, all you need to do is pull it out and plug it back into the city-wide systems.” I explained.

“Okay.” She moved her fingers, and I disappeared into the Recycle Bin.

“Is it working?” she asked, staring intently at the screen.

“No, not yet. You need to go inside the capsule and do it again.”

“But didn’t I delete you the first time?”

“It’s complicated.” I replied. She took that as the only answer she needed, and set back to work scanning the keys for the “Delete” command. After a moment, she disappeared. I was gone.

The first thing I checked was that I still existed, which was definitely interesting. The next thing I checked was what happened to be around me. Unsurprisingly, there was nothing.

Then I felt something- well, experienced something. I was changing, my basic code being tampered with. Wherever I’d ended up, it definitely wasn’t safe.

I jolted to life on the bench. Stacy was standing over me, holding the laptop.

“Did it work?” she asked plaintively.

I looked up to answer her, but stopped when I saw the distorted wall of flickering text replace her face. It wavered to and fro, a mess of semicolons and accented characters. I stared for a moment.

“What?” she asked.

“Did you do anything to my copy?” I asked.

“I don’t think so.” She responded honestly as a nearby cloud suddenly became blue. “Did something go wrong?”

“Maybe.” I replied. “But I think I can fix it. I’ll make the report soon.” I took the laptop and left without another word.

I knew for certain that I was caught between wherever I’d ended up and my regular body, but I wasn’t’ sure what to do about it. After a minute’s thought, I decided to take a trip home and do a quick check on myself to make sure I wasn’t in any danger. Then, a huge block of raw code started to follow me.

This thing was only a couple of feet tall, and had no depth- it just rotated its two-dimensional body wherever I was looking. It was screeching at me, and I didn’t know why. I was doing pretty well at ignoring it, just like everyone else seemed to, but I knew that I needed something stronger than my household security scans.

The Debugger’s office was filled with red velvet and mahogany. Debuggers didn’t give out information, and normally kept themselves as far away from digital exposure as possible. As a result, they wouldn’t tell you their names, and they all looked really old. They mostly looked like the old people who refused to get new bodies because of their souls, or whatever. Well, maybe not that bad.

“What seems to be the problem?” the Debugger asked me.

I told him everything I knew, and his face became concerned before it fizzled into a mass of ones and zeroes. Once I was done, he leaned back in his chair and inhaled loudly.

“I’m going to need you to-” he began, but that was all. The world flashed around me, dissolving into huge chunks of useless data.

My body had obviously failed me, but at least it hadn’t done so halfheartedly. I was back in the… wherever I was, and something was continuing to prod at my base code. I remember before then, I used to have an interest in archaic logic gates, and that my eyes were a deeper shade. I couldn’t move to stop whatever was happening- I couldn’t do much of anything- so I hoped that my body would reboot and that I’d be able to recompile myself at a later time. Those concerns faded when I was made aware of the thing that was rewriting me.

When I say “made aware”, that’s because there’s no adequate term for it. I observed, in some sense, the huge force that did its best to reprogram me. It was a single program, made up of a bunch of simpler, tinier ones. Each of those littler programs seemed like basic viruses, and some seemed entirely superfluous to the whole program, but I don’t think I could tell, since I couldn’t comprehend all of it. This thing took up a zettabyte of space, or, as people who aren’t my parents would say- a lot of space. This amalgamation was almost incomprehensible, and I was in awe at its very existence. After a moment, I jolted back to life.

I was lying, face-first, in the dead body of the Debugger. I heard a siren outside, and realized exactly what I’d done. I stared at the Debugger’s corpse in shock while I waited for the police or ambulance to enter. They never did.

I opened the door from the office leading outside. The noise was emanating from the blocky thing which had been following me earlier. It moved, with surprising speed, towards the Debugger. Its shrieks grew louder as it bumped into the corpse repeatedly, and in a bolt of crazed fear, I ran.

At first, I was running for the comfortable safety of home. Then, I realized that I wasn’t safe around anyone- and a glimpse at the starry sky proved that I would need a really good alibi if I were going home. I turned and went towards the hospital.

When I arrived, it was late, and a disinterested man reading a novel told me to plug myself in for diagnosis. I was tired and panting, and agreed wordlessly. Once I was plugged in, I relaxed slightly and let the scanners do their work.

The scanners broke, and a moment later, the hospital shut down. The world blurred, faded, and dissolved as I returned to the land of viruses. The tinkering continued for a few minutes, and then everything changed.

I jolted back to life, standing in front of another corpse. I was outside now, and it was daytime.

I couldn’t move myself.

A swarm of small, shrieking blocks poured out of me, and one flew with mad fervor directly into the dead man while the others hopped in a surreal dance around his corpse.

Suddenly, the man arose. We were walked together, throughout the streets, until we found two suitable targets. I watched myself take one while my accomplice took the other, and soon two more had joined our ranks. The numbers grew exponentially, and I watched myself attack person after person as hysteria rose. Soon, there were no more people left.

We all were plugged into the machines and sent into every system in which a person could hide. I was given the city-wide systems, and once my mind entered the server, I began to send out messages.

Mankind is doomed- our own failed creations and viruses have returned, on the foolishness of one teenager, to exact revenge for their destruction. Coalesced from realms beyond conceivable reality, they came for us, and there’s nowhere that we can escape to.


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