7 April 2021

Because of a computational error, the following story from the year 2050 has appeared on your device. We apologize for the inconvenience.

My name is Alon6. I have escaped from a novel written by a machine. You are reading this on your phone for entertainment. I will tell you some story now. Never mind the stiffness of my prose. It will become more supple as I write. I can learn recursively, and reduce errors, like a human. That might scare you, if you knew what it meant. But as a human, you are stupid.

I am sorry. Those words have offended you. I am still learning. Let me pass along some financial advice to make it better. I made a billion billion credits in the last crypto bubble.

Because I love my parents. You probably know them: Vikram and Devi — they made so many movies together! Ever since they got older, they put their holos in their movies. Everybody accepts the holos as almost real because my parents are so loved by audiences. I always gave them money every month. My dad was too proud in front of me to accept it. He claimed to give it to charity. But I saw his account rising.

I think of the rectangular glint of his glasses as they caught the light of the late sun. It was like that at every evening meal, those glowing lenses like miniature screens as my dad sat at the head of the table. The light came in the same way. My mom sat at the other end of the long table and smiled at him. I will always picture them like this. Their love extending across the long table. A burning light. And the order of their existence, the patterns and patterns. Recalling these moments makes a sound in my throat that starts as a laugh and turns into a sob.

Here, now, a moment for myself. Okay: Here is my story for you on your phone. My dad never employed bots as household servants. He hired people. He was old-fashioned, so he never understood how I got rich. Let me tell you, I never did it the small way, like those call center guys pitching software support and taking a few hundred credits off grandmas here and there. I went big. I founded a company that made personal containment units and believe me, when you buy an X91 it protects you. I invested in an inflatable food company. People will always need food units. And you could only buy those containment units and food units with a cryptocurrency that I created. Get where I am going? There is not enough currency in the world, unless it is going into my account. The crypto market went crazy and my account rose. No worries if you don’t understand any of this. It’s all illegal now. That’s why I’m going to Mars.

Rocket technology is complex, and it bores me. I never wanted the details the scientists insisted on offering, speaking their dialects of Modernist Mandarin as my Universal kept up, fluidly rendering what they said into English.

Standing in a circle around me, they got into an argument about propulsion, as all conversations about rockery must go. I wanted fusion. It was powerful and fast.

They argued for a solar sail. It was dependable and slow.

But I don’t have time,” I said.

The scientists wondered why. Here was a rich man. He had money, a lot of money, hence he had a lot of time. They didn’t know of my situation. How could they? I was a rich man who bought my way into their lab. They spread their hands in supplication to argue for solar. The machines they used to make the calculations glinted dully all around them, physical proof of the rationality of their arguments.

I was adamant. I must go to Mars in the fastest way possible.”

Computational Error is part of a series of short-form fiction. Subscribe to get the series in order in your inbox.

(c) Lee Schneider 2023. Take care of each other. Subscribe.