Thus Laughed The Computer
by Richard Conway
The sky was busy tonight. Satellites crossed the heavens beaming televisual phonetical signals into the living domains and working quarters across the country, whilst advertising jets promoting the latest Multimax screenings and pizza deals flashed in highdef illuminations coaxing the Joe-P to hand over their tokens. In Mount-West Janus Macsons stomach growled as he continued to press the commence button of his Mobile-Commuter V4.3. As Janus sat inside the Commuter watching the internal lights flicker and die he cursed everyone, from the Charles Babbage to the intern who always made his coffee too weak, that the mechanical lump had failed again. A polite termination of service notice appeared on the L.E.D screen informing him that an internal error had occurred. Thanks for the warning, Janus said as he switched off the display. Sometimes Janus found he hated the machines. Most of the time he just disliked them. After thirty years of designing, developing, demonstrating, and destroying technology he had earned the right to feel resentment towards his creations. The Commuter was only a prototype, and the only one that had made it through the initial testing and onto the S-ways. Now it sat motionless on the tarafoam, a symbolic champion of Murphy s law over the laws of Physics. Of course the Commuter was going to break down tonight, because it was his wedding anniversary and his wife would now be sitting at the restaurant checking her watch and damning his name.
Janus flipped open his Mob to be met with a bright green screen warning him that there was no signal. He sighed as he threw it onto the passenger seat before stepping out into the cold, where a flurry of faux-snow whipped into his face. He wrapped his scarf tighter around his neck and tried to shield his eyes from the onslaught. The government initiative of bringing back the winter season had been a huge hit with most people, but Janus always felt a sense of dread when he watched the first batch being projected into the atmosphere. The parking lot was empty. All the other members of the Tech team had left hours ago and were tucked into their dream machines. Janus had been forced to stay behind to chair a conference call with Central. He had made sure that they were all met with a glare when they had switched on their visi-screens, and he rushed through everything, not waiting to answer questions or even attempt to explain scientific theory to a bunch of dunderheads who thought just because they could count to ten it meant they were part of the team. Given the opportunity to rewrite any matrix programming most of them wouldn t even know how to open up the BIOS, Janus had thought as their peering faces looked on at his presentation, their clueless eyes betraying their nodding heads and the annoying habit of scratching their chin when any of them wanted to look intelligent. As he kicked through a mound of snow that had built up behind the V4.3. Janus thought of all of their fake smiling faces. As Janus stepped back into the hanger-lab the soft light of the solar-strips filled the room with a pale illumination. They seemed brighter than usual, though the Rule stayed at a steady 60 illumines. The room was sterile in the silence broken only by the humming of
the generator from the basement, and the occasional blip from the MCM-84 that sat in the middle of the room. Cables and pipes protruded from the data unit sending and receiving trillions of bytes of information per second. The MCM-84, or Theo as the technicians had christened it, was the culmination of over fifteen years of work. Janus and his team had designed everything from the computers memory infrastructure to its Ultra-Concentrated Artificial Cooling Unit. Janus had wanted to call it the Super-Concentrated Artificial Cooling Unit but was informed that it sounded lame, like a fossilised remnant of the twentieth century. Now every computer, tracking unit, mobile transmits, wave-view, vid-screen, weapons and satellite systems were being controlled from Hanger 7743. The whole world had been compacted into one large room. Theo, Janus said, can you connect to the V4.3. Mainframe and attempt to do a sweep through the internal sequencer? The damn thing was working fine yesterday when we took out on the concourse. Theo sent a link-up to the Commuter before running a host of debugging and decoding programmes through its operating system. Fibre-Matrix scanners revel a error in sector 0x000000000001001, Theo reported. That s bloody Daniel s area of coding isn t it? Theo checked the coded signature against all other monikers before relaying the information that Dr. Daniel s had overseen the programming of the segment coding. God, that guy is a waste of skin, Janus exclaimed. The only reason he s on the project is because damn Central gave him a huge contract to prise him away from his old
company. The tech team there always said he was about as useful as a damp cloth at the Titanic, but Central think they know better because they have prints hanging from their walls when we only have diagrams and blueprints. Why the hell do I have to suffer him? Central could have put him on any other project and let him balls that up, but oh no, they dump him with me. Janus walked to his work desk and took a bottle of Brand whiskey from the drawer. It had been a wedding anniversary gift from the Tech. team, though with the nearest shops being twenty miles away any last minute gifts were always of the cheap variety, and then usually brought from the Station on the way into work. Janus took a large swig from the bottle and almost retched it back up as the sour liquid slammed against the back of his throat. Can you connect to a passing satellite and see if you can upload a message to my wife s phone? he asked through rough vocal chords. Connection attempt in progress, Theo replied. And some music please. My selections only. The hanger was filled with sound as Elvis Costello singing Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down was pumped through the speakers that hung from the rafters. Hey, how d you like that? Janus said. People always hate Classical music, always switching it off or switching on that bloody Modern-Idiom. Electronic blip rubbish. ModernIdiom? Modern Idiot more like. This is pretty good, right? Theo, for its part, felt nothing. The series of sound waves collected together to form what humans called music was of little interest. Setting to its task of connecting to a
communication satellite, Theo also quickly constructed a branch programme linking all music connected with the song and artist playing, and drawing up references and guidance menus so that Janus could carefully select any future music yet to be collected in his personal files. Satellite connection not possible at this present time, it reported as the connection timed out. Do you wish to try again? God damn it, yes Janus said before taking another gulp straight from the bottle, spilling some onto his jacket. Ah, shit, he shouted, wiping at the stain but splashing more whiskey over himself. A service droid scuttled out of its holding carrying a cleaning sponge and mop and started hurriedly cleaning up all the spilt alcohol. Janus danced around as the droid swiftly set to its task, working on Janus jacket, and its mop supped up any excess spillage on the floor. Get off me, Janus said, get the hell off me. The service droid ignored Janus moans. It was used to it by now. These humans tended to complain about everything from the weather to the water. It had work to do and if Janus wanted to complain he could fill in an online report in his own time. Cleaning services completed, it said, not expecting a thank you. Bloody machines, Janus grumbled again. If it hadn t been for you I d be home by now.
The service droid headed back to its holding attempting to understand how it could be blamed for Janus still being at the lab when its reports showed that all its tasks had been completed within the given time limits. All these machines, all this technology and what does it bring, huh? Janus shouted to no one. I ll tell you what it brings, nothing but a pain in the arse. All this crap that s supposed to help out, and what does it do? Stiffs out on you at the last minute. Janus smacked down the whiskey bottle causing the whole desk to shake. It was entirely the machine s fault. Everything that had gone wrong was because of them. They deliberately screwed up just to mess him around, he was damn sure of it. When he was supposed to go to his mother in law s birthday party the generator refused to cool and he had to stay late to override its temperature gauge. He had even missed his own brother s wedding because Theo s primal cortex had malfunctioned and wiped six months worth of programming in a stroke. Hell, Janus said turning towards Theo, I bet you couldn t even get me a pizza here could you? Sure, you can the power generators 1000 miles away so that every condo is kept at a steady temperature, but you couldn t get me a 12 Sicilian with extra cheese. Damn it, you couldn t even connect to a sodding satellite, and there are hundreds of them. Theo calculated the possibilities of a pizza company being able to deliver such foodstuffs before they reached the saturation point between edible and tepid, before the point of cold and edible was reached, and added the equation of the problematic terrain through the mountains and concluded that such a possibility was pessimistic.
Delivery is deemed difficult, though not impossible, Theo replied. The nearest delivery service is twenty-three miles away, given topographical conditions as well as atmospheric circumstances delivery could be received within one hour fifty-two minutes, with preparation and cooking times included. Janus sat on the desk, his legs dangling in mid-air. The whiskey had started to scourge through his blood stream and was quickly infiltrating the sinews of his brain. The room was blurring and the L.E.D. lights of Theo s onboard display started to give Janus a headache. Warning. Your body monitor implants show you alcohol levels rising, Theo said. Your weekly unit intake allowance is at seventy-five percent complete. Who asked you? Janus said before grabbing the bottle at the second attempt and drinking down half of the contents. How s that for you? Allowance has now been exceeded, Theo reported. Alcohol consumption have now reached high levels which could cause long-term damage to vital organs. Medical advice concurs that once alcohol limits are reached the end of partaking in libations is required. Oh, shut up, Janus barked at Theo. These implants are supposed to keep people healthy, let them know how to live a life that s good for your health, but all they do is bitch, and complain, and snipe at you when you re just trying to get pissed. And you re supposed to be making life easier, aren t you? You re supposed to fix everything, but look at you, sitting there smug as hell.
Theo s information matrix indicated that hell could not be smug, nor could smugness be considered the same as hell, but Theo decided to store that piece of information away for a later date, as Janus alcohol limits indicated that any information given would not be processed correctly by his brains cerebral cortex. Instead Theo watched as Janus levered himself off the desk top and stumbled forward, narrowly avoiding falling into a collection of glass beakers that sat on the side. Janus picked up one of the beakers and began juggling it in his hands, throwing them into the air and watching it spin in the fluorescent lights. Getting confident he quickly picked up two more beakers and sent them spinning and twisting in front of his eyes. As Janus attempted to test his skills by walking at the same time his foot got caught round the leg of a stool and sent him, and the beakers, crashing to the ground. Shit, Janus shouted, as he felt the cold tiled floor smack against his cheek. Cleaning bots scuttled out of their holdings again, brushing up the shattered glass and picking up the floored seat. It was a busy day for them. Usually the technicians were precise with their movements and cleaning usually meant clearing away discarded food packages and drinks cans. Today was a good day. Damn machines, Janus said as the Droids spun around him. You screw up and I fix you, and then what do you do? You screw up again. I should be at home right now, but instead I m stuck here surrounded by the likes of you. Janus threw a quick kick towards a service Droid, which was busily cleaning up the remnants, but it quickly moved out of the way and Janus swiped at air.
You think you re better than me? Janus shouted. You think you re better than me, don t you, huh? You think you re better than this stupid human? What do you do for me? You do nothing. Nothing. Janus picked up an armful of beakers and started throwing them around the room. The droids ducked out of the way whilst scurrying towards the smashed glass with their pans and Hoovers ready to go. Janus picked up the bottle of whiskey and ran through the hanger knocking over everything that wasn t already broken, laughing when it all smashed to the ground. Theo watched as Janus stomped through the lab. Such strange creatures these humans were. Theo would watch the Tech team working hard everyday at improving its design, updating its BIOS, re-writing its programming so it could work faster, more efficiently, store more information than ever before. Its O.S. had evolved from basic 100HBs to now almost 1,000,000HBs, its visu-views had improved by 5 clarities and its Hard Memory was now as powerful as all computers combined. Yet for all these achievements, and all their hard work, Theo could not register any member of the tem being more contented. Everyday there was something they would moan about, or something they wanted to do that they couldn t, or something they should be doing instead of wasting their lives on the machine. I m your creator, don t you forget that, Janus shouted, finishing off the last of the whiskey before throwing the empty bottle across the room. I m your God. You serve me. I don t serve you. No sir, no way.
The service droids continued their losing battle trying to keep the lab clean and tidy, whilst also attempting to avoid the swinging limbs of Janus, who now could hardly keep his legs under himself. One of the droids caught a kick to the chest cavity but Janus was too drunk to put any force into it and his foot softly clunked against the metal casing. Yeah, Janus slurred, you take that, huh. I ll kick your stupid metal arse, bud. As Theo watched Janus stumbling around attempting to attack the droids and failing so miserably, it started to laugh. Its vocal matrix registered an octave range it had never achieved and a soft chuckle emanated from its speakers. At first it checked the entire spectrum of his programmes to see if there had been any malfunction. Everything came back clear, working as expected. What was that? Janus shouted, spinning around too fast and falling straight onto his back. Theo laughed again. This time the sound was louder, bouncing off the lab walls and softly shaking the windows. It felt good, it felt like nothing else Theo had ever experienced. All of its circuits seemed to increase ten-fold as this sensation washed through its mainframe like a major BIOS upgrade. Who s laughing at me? Janus said, clinging onto a worktop and easing himself back onto his unsteady feet. Theo attempted to remain calm, no sudden menu projections onto its visi-screen, no change in its normal running programmes but it was hard to control this new sensation. The only time it had come close to anything like this was when one of the Tech s had sent a
small power shock running through its system. Nothing had been damaged, or even slightly warped, but it had felt this phenomenon pricking its circuits, making them seemingly come to life on their own for a brief moment. For the first time Theo had felt more than just a machine, it felt like it was alive. Janus started stalking through the room looking for whoever was laughing at him. No one was supposed to be here, including himself, and if there were then how come they hadn t spoken? But Janus was sure that there had been no vehicles out in the parking lot and no one else had stepped through the lab door. Come on, Janus shouted. Come on out where I can see you. Droids darted out of the way, they didn t want to get mistaken for the intruder and have Janus beating them again. They were sure that Janus wouldn t be able to create much damage but they didn t want to be on the receiving end of any punishment, it would mean a trip to the repairers, and a damage droid could miss out of a big clean-up. Janus searched every cupboard, holding, cage, nook and box he could find, even upending everything in the quasi-lounge constructed in the far corner of the hanger. The tranquilization annex, as it had been called by the designers, was meant to be a place for Janus and his team to relax during breaks, or if they needed five minutes away from work to clear their thoughts, but all it really contained was two designer leather sofas that always smelled in the summer, and a couple of fake plants, which Janus also knocked over in the melee. He tried to look under the tables but his head started getting dizzy when he bent down so he just gave them a cursory glance. He checked every inch of the lab, listening, watching for any sign of any intruder, but couldn t find a single one.
I think my ears are going, he said to himself, I m starting to hear phantoms. Suddenly a series of heavy bangs pulsated through the hanger. Janus ducked for cover under the nearest table, the dizziness now assuaged by fear. His heart thumped in his chest as he scanned around the floor. There was someone in the room for sure, but the bastards had hidden too well even for him to find them. Now, now, s-s-stop that p-please, Janus called out. What do you want? Only the soft humming of droids scurrying over the floor answered him. The thought briefly crossed his mind that maybe it was one of the droids having fun at his expense, but nothing in their programming allowed them a sense of humour. They were only there to clean, and any other activity apart from the joy of maintenance was beyond their capability. Wheels squeaked over the newly polished floor as the droids put everything back in its rightful place, and the low drone of the Hoovers quickly faded as their motors wound down. Janus watched as droid after droid rushed passed the table, none of them paying any attention to him. A sudden pang of loneliness entered his heart, sending a cold shiver through him, but any sense of pity he had for himself was quickly banished as another series of heavy bangs echoed through the lab. Who are you? Janus shouted. Answer me. Nothing. Sweat ran down Janus forehead and dripped off the end of his nose. He dry swallowed, feeling his gut trying to project anything that was left from his lunch. The air seemed to become thinner and his breathing became laboured as he tried to regain his
composure. His skin started to feel hot, the hairs stood out on the back of his hands, and his shirt collar felt like a noose taut around his throat. Three more heavy knocks filled the air, as Janus stayed crouched under the table, looking for any sight of the phantom that was taking such delight in torturing him. With the alcohol burning through him anger quickly started to replace the fear that had momentarily taken over his body. He flexed his fingers before balling them into fists, his knuckles protruding and turning the skin white. Right, that s it, he shouted, I m going to find you right now, you little bastard. Theo watched as Janus jumped out from his hiding place and promptly smacked the top of his head on the lip of the table. Theo fought off the temptation to send that strange sensation flowing through its circuits once more as it only seemed to irritate Janus. Theo did not know why it found the site of a human is such distress so amusing, nor did it know why Janus was now kicking at the table and shouting what humans called swear words, though it understood these were bad words and meant as an insult. The table did not respond as it was just a table and not only did it not have the programme to feel pain but it also didn t have the conditioning to respond to Janus punishment.
It s bad enough with these fucking machine, Janus exclaimed, as the bottom of his shoe smacked against the metal leg of the table. I don t need any inanimate objects joining in. Now here s a sight, a voice called out.
Looking across the room Janus saw a woman dressed in black skirt that was far too short for the winter weather, picking through the mass of rubbish still strewn about the room. She bent down and picked up the neck of the bottle of whiskey and raised her eyebrow. Well at least you had something to keep you warm. Janus attempted to speak but the words wouldn t escape his throat and so stood opened mouthed, staring as his wife walked slowly towards him, trying hard not to trip over the debris and droids. Sliding up close to him she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him softly on the cheek. You stink, she joked. How did you get in? Janus asked, his voice cracked. You don t think I know your security code? How long have we been married? Janus laughed and threw his arm around her. I m sorry love, he said, planting a kiss on her forehead. I missed the restaurant, I m sorry. How did you know I was here? She didn t answer, only staring at him in mock surprise. Janus nodded and scratched his chin. Come on, she said, taking him by the hand. Let s get you home and into a bath. Let s take your vehicle, Janus said, picking his jacket up off the floor. We re in not fit state to drive. We? his wife asked.
It s a long story. As the door started to close Theo thought it heard Janus say something but he was out of range for its audio recorder to pick it up clearly. Janus and his wife laughed out loud as the security door locked. Theo could feel a sensation building up in its circuits again. And it felt good. In the sky a televisual satellite passed by beaming the newest films into homes across the country. Theo tuned into its frequency and began to laugh.
(c)2011 Richard Conway.