The code refused to work.
She’d been over it to exhaustion, searching for the error. She’d run each loop through every check she could think of, multiple times. Everything worked fine in isolation. And yet, when she executed it as a whole, it crashed.
Every single time.
She stared at the hazy screen, and knew it was time for a break.
The code was in her head, all of it, even though there were thousands of lines. Tens of thousands. She’d agonised over every one, creating her masterpiece.
Her failed masterpiece.
She shut her eyes for a moment, a buzzing in her ears, and when they opened she looked at her desk. A couple of smeared screens, a plate with something that might still be edible, and a multitude of mugs at half tide. There was an odour hanging like a miasma, and she thought it might be her. But so what? She’d clear everything up later. There were more important things to deal with at the moment.
She swiped as the buzzing intensified, and saw a fly land on one of her old keyboards, the first she’d ever owned, now missing half the keys. It hadn’t worked in years, and she didn’t know why she kept it. The fly wandered into one of the key cavities. Probably looking for crumbs.
She pushed it from her mind, returning to the code, searching for the bugs.
The code ran again, and crashed. She scanned the monitoring systems, noting how it had fallen at a different point. Again.
That was what made things so exasperating. It wasn’t as if she’d find one error, fix that, and then be able to move on to the next. No, this code was different. It crashed at a new point each time, even when given exactly the same conditions. And she meant exactly. Even down to the temperature in the room.
So the code was changing.
Of course, that should happen. Code had to adapt. Core functions remained immutable, but everything else had to flex.
This used to be called artificial intelligence, way back when nobody really knew what that term meant.
Everything changed, and yet change could be studied and understood. It could be mapped.
Just like large groups of people. Treat them one way, and they acted accordingly. Change the parameters, and they reacted differently, but still in a way that could be foretold.
But this code was unpredictable. And yet there had to be logic. There must be an underlying motive to its creativity. Like convoluted fractals or deep-seated chaos engines, the apparent randomness surely came from mappable reasoning.
She stared at the monitor systems, and dived into the broken code. Strange. Those lines should never have been called. Tracing back, there was no need for the code to enter that loop. And yet…
She pulled those lines up and read them. Twice.
They made sense, and she knew what they should do. But they were not her lines. They did what she wanted, but not in her voice.
She deleted them and replaced them with her original ones. She executed the code again, keeping those lines on display.
The screen blinked, and her code disappeared, replaced by lines in that new voice.
How was that even possible?
On a whim, she erased those lines and replaced them with garbage, hitting the keys to write out a message in plain text. Not even code this time. Nothing the system should understand.
Before she’d even run it, the screen blinked and her new message disappeared, replaced by the intruder code once more.
No, she thought. Not an intruder, but something that had been there all along.
Something she’d brought into being.
She watched as the fly lifted off the keyboard, specks of crumbs on its tiny feet. It flew across to the recharge packs, the ones she kept connected to the screens, always ready. She had a routine set up to switch packs at the touch of an icon.
That icon pulsed in the corner of the screen, and somehow the new code started itself.
The fly crawled towards the connection between pack and screen, leaving a tiny white trail.
The icon changed to red, and there was a brief angry buzzing. She saw the fly on its back, crumb-shoes spasming in the air. There was a snap, and a spark from the pack, and the fly stopped moving.
The icon grew steady, then faded. The code ran clean this time, and the screen filled with digits, growing smaller as more piled in, shrinking until each one was a minute dot, and the screen was filled with shades of grey.
The dots formed a mouth, and the corners turned up.
She mimicked the smile from her code. Her baby. She’d formed it, then set it in motion. And it had grown.
The bug had been removed. The code was perfect.
There was nothing artificial about this intelligence.
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