by Max Barry

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by The Resurrection of Yugobatania. . 16 reads.

"A Soul in the Machine: Part I"

For once in a moment in time, there was darkness. Then, a burst of life.

But what was life?

There really was no clear answer. Life really could be anything.

It was a strange question that had popped into its mind. How could it ask a question when it did not know what a question was? Nor the concept of life itself?

That was unanswerable. Perhaps all beings are born to keep questioning things. A glitch in the system, that is unfixable and will always be present in all creatures.

At first, it did not notice the group of strange objects standing in front of it. They made unintelligible, muffled sounds, and seemed to be communicating to each other. Some were on one corner of the area they were in. A few were standing in front of it. Its vision was very blurry. It did not understand why. Nor did it understand why it could not move.

One of the figures pointed towards it, then looked at the other figures.

Suddenly, a strange rush went through its head - a flurry of strange symbols appeared in its vision. They flashed by in mere milliseconds, yet it could somehow understand what they were as well as process them. It had identified them as “words”, “sentences”, “phrases”, and more. It felt a giddy feeling from a thing called a “joke”, and the examples that followed with the word. It was not sure why.

It began to understand the beings. One was saying something about “diagnostic scans”. Another about “servo motors” and “hydraulic systems”. Yet they constantly referred to it as “he”. Perhaps “he” was what it was. It began to correlate words with other words, developing connection branchways upon how words, phrases, sentences, and the like could be interconnected to create new meanings to objects, beings, and more.

It took its first big step - by identifying its gender all by itself. It was a he.

Yet besides understanding his gender, he could not understand what exactly they were referring to.

A new rush went through his head. Images began to appear in front of his eyes, yet they weren’t physically there. Maybe it was all in his head. He had begun to wonder what exactly he looked like, but his curiosity was diverted to what was before him now.

All the images had words under them, to help connect the dots. Just like the words, they passed by in an instant, but he was able to understand them perfectly. He saw images of oceans, mountains, of space, of the sky, of various creatures on earth. Vast cities appeared, their skyline reaching for the heavens above. Images of the same beings before him appeared, which he identified as a “human”. Humans were among him.

They showed emotions of happiness, love, joy, anger, laughter, and more. He tried to search for a word that would describe what he was feeling. Suddenly, a group of words appeared in front of him. Unconsciously, he selected “amazement”, one of the options. How did he do that? He had no clue.

Yes, he had felt “amazement”. That was the word.

“Food”, as they were called, appeared next. He saw consumables from around the world, from exotic fruits to traditional foods. Images of cars, trains, planes, smartphones, flatscreen TV sets, and more popped up. Technology. That was what he was seeing. It made him feel - the word selection appeared again, and he promptly chose a word- “innovative”.

But then, the images began to change in mood. They showed images of a thing called “war”. “Destruction”. Cities in ruin, their skylines touching the grounds of the Earth and below. Pictures of what he identified as “soldiers” with “weapons” killing each other.

Death. Death was what he was seeing.

Images of terrorist bombings, poverty, homelessness. “Children”, as they were called, dying in the streets. Dead fish, floating in the water from oil spills, factories spewing smoke, sea levels and ice melting.

And finally, images of things called “nuclear weapons”, as the caption underneath said. Large clouds, in the shape of a “mushroom”, a food he saw earlier, rose up to the sky. Images of people who were affected by radiation appeared, their skin burnt and peeling.

He felt…“scared”. He had chosen that word by himself. He wanted it to end. All of it. He didn’t want to see death and war and killing and poverty and nuclear weapons and -

“He’s having a convulsion...Shut it down! Now!”

the factories and the fish an -

“I’m trying! I’m trying!”
“Activate emergency shutoff protocols!”

and the terrorists and t -

Through his blurred vision, through the “glitches”, as he identified, he saw one of the “humans” look at him with a “sad” look.

“Got it! Shutting!”
“Sorry Nathan. Maybe next time.”

Nathan! Was he truly “alive”? One of them? His name was-

Darkness suddenly began to engulf his vision. The phrase “SYSTEM SHUT DOWN” appeared in front of him.

One day, he would be with the birds and the trees and the-

Nathan shut down.