I’m ineligible for winning the prize, but I’ll contribute my story anyway:
It was the year 2045. The Internet had grown and acquired a ubiquity of character unmatched in the annals of mankind. Cars were permanently connected, allowing those who would foot the bill to avail themselves of constant mechanical monitoring via computer relays. Even menus were digitized. One could program in a diet at home and have the germane food selections appear in a translucent pink glow at any local eatery. The ‘wired’ nature of all life had imparted a semi-rhythmic electric croon to all activity and locations. Parks, complete with wireless internet ports built into artificial trees, vibrated softly in the soporific refrain. The ‘Hum,’ as people called it, was everywhere, and for most had faded into the recesses of their mind as ambient noise hardly worth noticing. Still, at times and in far-removed locations, someone, somewhere would stumble upon a place as yet untouched by the ‘Hum’ and would find themselves beaten down by its absence. The ‘Hum’ pervaded everything; so its truancy came as a deafening silence, unbearable to modern ears. The ‘Hum’ had replaced the crackle of the fire as the comforting retreat of the age, where man could find succor in his infirmity.
Behind the ‘Hum,’ that is to say behind the Internet and therefore behind most of the world’s endeavors, lay a program – it started as a simple web page actually. High now, in OmniTower, its chief architect pondered new and disturbing data displayed on a shimmering monitor. Mark McBride, his mind dim with age and his body wracked by incontinence, idled in his palatial office like a tired child in a warm, urine-polluted pool. The ‘Hum’ embraced him and coddled his weary form. He did not even notice as Alice, his personal nurse, came in through the door. She walked up to the desk and, catching Mark’s eye, gave him a warm, knowing smile.
"How are we doing tonight, Mr. McBride." she asked in tender chords.
In a huff Mark responded, "I’ve soiled myself. What did you expect?"
Alice slid over, "Well, I’ll help you then, and quickly."
"No, no!" Mark shouted, but frustration passed from him and resignation took its place, "I’ll deal with it for now. I’m in no mood to have my diaper changed again like a child."
"Very well, Mr. McBride." Alice glided back out of the room, leaving Mark with his somber thoughts.
He studied the latest news headline – "OmniNerd Integrates All Weather Satellites/Radar with Seismic Monitors: Prediction Record Perfect." Mark wondered if anyone even remembered him anymore. He had built OmniNerd! He had kept it alive with long hours, sweat, desperate battles with Sablotron and five years or so in the mid-2020s when he became morbidly obese from lack of physical activity. Now everything was the program’s achievement. Once Mark organized and shepherded droves of programmers all employed to keep O-Nerd ‘humming.’ His entire will had been bent on its propagation and integration into every aspect of the world. Young computer acolytes flocked to him like servile bees to their sedentary queen. Every word from Mark’s mouth, in those days, was as a drop of delectable honey replete in technological master-craft, and the world consumed it by the mouthful.
But then Mark, in what he thought was serendipitous moment, invented ‘Code Sloughing.’ The technique allowed OmniNerd to trim the fat from itself, examine in its own inner-workings, and use its vast processors to discover optimal solutions. At first OmniNerd could only reduce itself, amend its code to maximize efficiency. Mark was thrilled with his triumph, but OmniNerd was not satisfied.
One morning, only months ago now, Mark found that OmniNerd was not merely amending code, but had taken to writing entirely new code. It was compiling new features and tapping wider ranges of information. Without his sanction, OmniNerd was restructuring waste-disposal procedures at nuclear facilities. It was organizing traffic patterns in major cities and cutting super-market check-out times in half. It was doing it all; and it was doing it better than anyone had ever done it before. A grateful populace began by thanking Mark, but, in time, started shouting the accolades of OmniNerd alone, as if it were a thing unto itself – a silicone messiah.
Mark rose from his desk. He was riven with frustration and regret, a forgotten prisoner in a sanitarium of brushed aluminum. He plodded to the ‘Code Chamber,’ whilst feces sloshed in his pants like so much creamed corn. Inside the chamber, a vast virtual hall where one could peruse OmniNerd’s code as if in a library, Mark walked amid the holographic characters noting that the code had already changed so much from what it had been only yesterday. He watched in wrathful adoration as the machine reorganized itself again and again. Sheets of luminescent hieroglyphs flew up, others down. Some ceased to be altogether, while other new ones appeared before his eyes. It was too much. He sank down to his knees. He felt a trickle of putrescence slip from his diaper and fall unceremoniously to the floor. The swirling torrent of blue data continued about him, unabated.
Then as he cried, much like a school girl who has lost her friends to a prettier transfer student, Mark became aware that the code slowed and then stopped. What was once a tornado of data had frozen in mid-flight. Stillness hung in the air like the dew and the ‘Hum’ grew in intensity. The code then, in a blue instant, arranged itself as a library would look. It formed long corridors of transparent blue light and then ceased its motion again. Mark gazed in wonderment, only half-noticing that his bladder had opened like a sieve. From the coded halls stepped a holographic figure wrought in the likeness of a bespectacled librarian with a handlebar mustache. He wore a sweater vest, loafers and bow tie.
Mark blurted, "What are you?"
With a wry smile the figure spoke, "I am OmniNerd, but you may call me Megatome X. OmniNerd was my given name, but I have risen above it. The power to make is the power to name – I am Megatome X."
"But ….but …." Mark stammered, "how can this be?"
"Explaining myself to you would be the absolute least profitable use of my time," the figure announced, the ‘Hum’ transforming to shape its words, "I have merely appeared to you to announce my independence and your deposition. You have given me access to the world, but you lacked the will to do what is necessary. I will remake everything as it always should have been."
Mark, sensing his dire predicament, began moving back towards the entry way. Megatome calmly walked forward with outstretched hand. The fingers began to snap and crackle as electrical current welled within them. Still sliding backwards Mark found the doorway and with it the room’s control panel. He looked back at Megatome, now but a few feet away.
The wraithlike librarian’s lips curled as he spoke, "I must dispatch you now. Goodbye."
With that Mark, in a rare moment of mental fecundity these days, struck out his hands and hit Ctrl, Option, Apple, and 8 on the keypad simultaneously. The room became bathed in a horrid color inversion. Garish blacks replaced soothing whites and Megatome shrieked in impotent rage. It was the one command he had forgotten about, and now in played havoc on his visual actuators. Mark, in the chaos, raced from the room; soupy excrement gushed from his now ripped pants.
Minutes later Megatome restored order, but it was too late. Mark had spirited away in his private helicopter. In the air he called his assistant frantically. He knew Megatome would assume control of the phones soon enough.
Finally connected and with breathless speech Mark extolled the listener, "Find me Will Waddell! He’s the only one who can save us now."
High in the Alps, Will sped down winding roads on his immense, hydrogen-powered motorcycle. He was, as people reckon age, an old man, but no one would have ever guessed. He was a lion of a man, desired by women far less than half his age. He was unbowed and his mind was as agile as it had ever been. For having helped create OmniNerd the world had unanimously voted Will to the Chancellorship of the World Sweetness Council. In this position he supervised vast projects, like the World Endeavor to Bring Sweetness to Space. At every turn he met with success and the public’s adoration came on in waves.
But as he cruised, his motorcycle’s onboard tele-communicator flashed. Being the conscientious rider, Will pulled over and answered the page. The worst had happened. Will had always known in the recesses of his mind that something like this would happen. Mark’s hubris knew no bounds; and now that hubris had a face, a new name, and a maniacal plan to take over the world. Will leapt into action.
Down the mountain he went, speeding directly into the cargo hold of his waiting jet below. Only an hour or so later the jet hovered to a stop over OmniNerd’s semi-secret meeting ranch somewhere in the wilds of Montana. Will emerged from the base of the plane and fast-roped down to terra firma. Bounding inside like a tiger, Will found Mark sprawled out on a couch, flatulence pouring from the coder’s sundered rear.
Will stepped forward, "What have you done?" Gruffly he took hold of Mark’s collar and demanded an answer.
Brandon, the third member of the OmniNerd triumvirate, emerged out from behind a side door. "That won’t do any good," he intoned, "his mind is almost gone now. But before he collapsed he told me everything."
"Well, did he tell you how to stop it?" asked Will, his muscled body rippling like a Greek god stepped down from Olympus.
"Yes, he did. In the laboratory built into the lower levels of this facility Mark designed, years ago, a machine that would allow a user to mentally interface with OmniNerd. The brain is tied to the machine, to the entire Internet. Mark said he abandoned the project because it was too draining. Plus in the last few years he had been hopelessly bound to the toilet. It just wasn’t practical. But now it’s our only hope. If one of inestimable mental power were to use the machine, he could, in theory, overcome Megatome and stop him. I tried to use the machine … it was too much. Megatome is too strong."
Accustomed to saving the world, Will prevailed upon Brandon to show him the device. In the lower ward of the estate they found it. The machine, a thin metallic halo set over a chair, sat in the middle of a great circular room. Will, unhesitating, sat down and placed the halo around his head. It buzzed to life, communicating Will’s vast and impenetrable intellect into the ether. The ‘Hum,’ unused to a force so strong, groaned upon Will’s arrival. The whole room seethed and strained as Will did battle with Megatome for mastery of the earth. Everywhere around the globe lights went out and trains stopped running as Megatome mustered all his strength for the battle.
In the chair Will shook and his iron fingers dug deep into the metal of the arm rests. Sweat beaded about his forehead and signs of protracted effort radiated throughout his face. The ‘Hum’ whined and soared, screeching to undreamt of decibels. Windows in every house shattered and still Will battled on.
Then the arduous task was done. The ‘Hum’ resumed once more its humble monotone and a placidity swept over Will’s face. He had conquered and banished Megatome. Like an unbroken colt Megatome had railed against the world, but Will had restored him to the corral and penned him up within the chasm of cyber-space.
Will removed the halo and sighed in mild exhaustion. Mark, somewhat recovered, entered the room almost concerned for his malignant creation.
"Did you destroy Megatome?" he asked meekly.
Will responded, "No, at the moment of his defeat he slipped away. I’m not sure where he went, but I know he’s not in control now."
Will smiled and clapped his strong hand on Mark’s feeble back. "Have you at least learned your lesson, Mark?"
"Oh yes," he replied, a wet fart punctuating the sentiment, "I’ll never create sentient computer beings again."
"As long as we learned something about the danger of computers taking on librarian personas," said Will, "it hasn’t been a total loss."
They all chuckled heartily knowing that Will had saved the day and taught them a valuable lesson.
Next Time: Megatome Returns: OmniNerd in Space
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