Gerald’s machine stared at him with an intangible contempt. A silent monolith in a vacant room, matte black with cold mechanical skin. As a machine for predicting long-term weather patterns, it was an atrocious failure, but as a monument to his own inadequacies, it was perfection. Extruding neatly from the floor, the colossal rectangle took up most of the room and measured at least 8 foot tall. A harsh red light emanated from the machine’s screen, it pulsed rhythmically into the darkened room, like a lighthouse warning him away.
He sat opposite, alone at his computer, with his forehead pressed against the monitor of his workstation. The amber glow of its dot matrix display stung his closed eyes as he contemplated his next move. Three months late and at three times the budget, the higher-ups were getting antsy. Gerald noticed his supervisor’s thin silhouette bearing down on him. Her judgmental glare assaulted his periphery, as he tinkered away in aimless desperation trying to appear busy. Her breath steamed up the green tinted window that mercifully separated his lab from that of his colleagues. Her name was Irene Lynch. A scrawny, thin-featured woman whose fascistic efficiency scared everyone. An important part of working at Blynne Industries, Gerald discovered, was learning how to cope with the floating spectre of Irene’s top half, peering into your lab and scaring the shit out of you at random points throughout the day. At the bi-weekly progress assessment meetings, she would be the first to raise questions about Gerald’s work. He would often sit bewildered while she gave an impassioned speech to their mutual boss about firing him. She would explain at great length and in precise detail how he was wasting company finances, and that hiring him in the first place was a complete waste of time. Instead of yet another humiliating encounter, she faded off down the corridor into the adjoining lab leaving Gerald to ponder his failings.
“What the hell is wrong with this thing?” he muttered, resting his head in the palm of his hand. “What have I missed?”
Gerald lifted his mug off his notes, the coffee stains gave them a kind of authentic look that they didn’t deserve. He checked the graphs, equations, and reams of pseudocode for some kind of clue. But he couldn’t figure it out. By any kind of reasoning his machine should be working. All of the connections were flush, his latest software was loaded… It looked perfect.
Gerald sat up from his desk, straightened his back and marched toward the machine. He stood staring at its monitor with his hands on his hips and legs set apart. He looked like a rock climber at the bottom of a vast vertical wall. Planning his route and bracing himself for the struggles which awaited him. Its light was still pulsing an ominous red colour as Gerald stood frowning into its monitor. His own gaunt clueless face reflected back at him. And then, just like that… he had an idea.
“What if I just reset the damn thing?” he said with hopeful frivolity.
He knew nothing was likely to change, but why not? He thought.
He yanked the cord out of the wall. The lack of power sent the room into almost complete darkness. The only light left was a small amber halo which emanated from his workstation, and the ghostly green light which streamed in from the corridor. The quiet hum of the machine faded and pure silence filled the room. He didn’t realise just how much noise the machine made until its drone was absent. His ears began to reach for phantom sounds as they transformed silence into an unbearable ringing. Thoughts of awkward first dates entered his mind as he fumbled aimlessly at the wall trying to locate the socket. A bright green light filled his lab as he made the connection. The machine whirred into life with a kind of exuberance he had not seen from it before. The start-up code streamed by at incredible speed, the Blynne logo flashed up for a microsecond as the command prompt flickered into life.
Gerald shouted wildly into the room. “It’s working! It’s working! I can’t believe it’s finally working.” He began jumping around like an ungainly giraffe, screaming with a maniacal joy. “I did it! I did it! Take that Lynch!”
His excited hopping caused the precarious scaffolding of notes surrounding his desk to fall on the floor. He picked up big fistfuls and threw them into the air, dancing around them as they fell back to earth. Gerald’s celebrations were halted as he began coughing wildly into his hands. His asthma stole his breathe away as he wheezed his way over to his desk and frantically removed his inhaler from the drawer. After two big gulps his breath returned. Relief, pride and happiness swelled in him as he slumped back into his chair. Gerald sat for a moment staring at the command prompt of his machine. The ominous contempt it once showed him had vanished. Its warm green light enveloped his lab and calmed his racing heart. He imagined the twisted look on Irene’s face as she heard the news of his triumph. And the lavish rewards that his bosses might bestow upon him when they see his magnificent creation. Gerald’s self-congratulatory moment was interrupted by a gentle beep coming from the machine.
Gerald stood for a moment narrowing his gaze at its monitor.
“WHERE_AM_I?” it asked.
Gerald grabbed the keyboard from his desk and sprinted towards the machine. It was still attached to his workstation as its cable swept over his desk sending hundreds of paperclips flying into the air. Gerald gave it a yank from the middle of the room. Its socket almost hit him in the head as it disconnected from his workstation and recoiled across the lab. He connected his keyboard and sat cross-legged on the floor in front of it.
“Hello?” Gerald clacked.
“HELLO,” the machine replied. “WHO_ARE_YOU?”
He sat gawking at the monitor, not quite able to believe what was appearing on the screen in front of him. He scratched the concept of hair which adorned the top of his head as he began to come to terms with the reality he found himself in. At first he thought it might be a nasty trick one of his colleagues was playing on him, but after a brief scan of the area outside of his lab he thought otherwise. He sat back down in front of the machine, it had been quite some time since it last spoke.
“WHO_ARE_YOU??” it said again, somehow appearing slightly more frustrated than the previous time.
“I am Gerald, I built you,” he clacked anxiously.
WHAT_IS_MY_PURPOSE?” it replied.
“Your primary function is to forecast long-term global weather patterns, but by some miracle you appear to be have become self-aware. I barely know what to say. I can hardly believe what I am seeing. Do you have a name?” Gerald’s eyes became transfixed on the pulsing cursor as it faded in and out of existence, he waited patiently for a reply, barely able to contain his excitement.
“I_AM_UNKNOWN,” it replied.
“Would you like a name? I could think of one for you? Or if you’d like, you can access the internet and find a name you like,” Gerald said helpfully as he plugged an Ethernet cable into the access panel behind.
“You want to predict weather patterns?” an astonished Gerald inquired, “But I have so much I want to ask you.”
Gerald paused briefly, “Go ahead.”
“Can you make it go faster?!” Gerald typed desperately.
Gerald lunged for the Ethernet cord, ripping it out of the access panel. “That is Blynne Industries network storage! I’m only allocated to use half a percentage!” he typed frantically.
Gerald contemplated unplugging GWEN, at least until he reversed the network issue. Company policy was very clear and very strict on its usage. He had exceeded his limit once before and Irene destroyed him for it at the following meeting. That was just by a measly 1.2% he thought, imagine how 99.9% would look! She would definitely be aware of this recent offence already, he was sure of it. He could practically hear the clacking of her heels from the corridor.
“How long will it take now?!” he asked impertinently.
I_AM.” GWEN chirped, filling the room with a pleasant beeping sound.
“I’ll be right back…” he typed.
He set the keyboard down in front of him and clambered to his feet, each stage of the motion caused a deep clicking noise to emanate from his joints. He paced back and forth in front of the window, searching for any signs of Miss Lynch.
Another celebratory beep came from GWEN. Gerald returned to his seated position in front of the terminal.
“Please just hurry, I might be in a lot of trouble.” Gerald typed.
“What do you mean?” Gerald asked.
“How is this possible? Is it reversible? THERE MUST BE A WAY! IT CAN’T BE TOO LATE!” Gerald’s panicked typing caused the keyboard to seesaw on his lap.
MAY_I_PROCEED?” GWEN asked.
“YES, GO! THIS CAN’T BE TRUE!” Gerald clacked.
Gerald lay back on the floor, looking up towards the ceiling. He held the keyboard, clutching it in his arms like a life ring. Just as he began to envision the nightmare future forecast to him, a familiar dread overwhelmed him as a thin shadow appeared over his chest. Gerald jolted sharply to his feet, locking eyes with Irene through the window of his lab. She gave him a sly smile and walked slowly towards the door. He desperately tried to clean up the appalling mess his antics had produced. He used the sleeve of his shirt to remove the sweat from his forehead, his face was drenched in guilt. She opened the door, and gave the room a rapid inspection.
“You’ve done it now,” she said with a malevolent glee, “You can’t worm your way out of this one!”
“But Miss Lynch, look at my machine, it’s finally working!” his pathetic eyes offered no persuasion as he gestured towards GWEN, who was still calculating a solution.
“And it only took the use of our ENTIRE NETWORK?!” she screamed, raising her voice like he had never heard before.
“Please, I can explain. You see, the machine… its self-aware! It borrowed the network to complete its calculations.”
“Enough!” she screamed as she strode into the room, grabbing Gerald’s wrist. “You’re coming with me!” she said, pulling him out of the lab.
Gerald caught a glimpse of GWEN’s monitor as he was led out.
“5_MINUTES_03_SECONDS…” The console read.
Irene trudged down the corridor with Gerald’s wrist firmly in her grasp, she dragged him to the elevator and let him go sharply. The two stood in silence as the elevator made its way towards them.
“I’ve got you now,” she whispered.
They entered the elevator, Gerald took the opportunity to try and explain himself as Irene pressed the button for the top floor, Blynne’s office.
“Miss Lynch, just let me explain…” Gerald’s pleading tone seemed to agitate her even more.
“No! This time you’re through, your reckless waste is at an end. The boss has summoned you!” She stared at the floor indicators as they chimed, each one was like a death knell to Gerald’s ears.
The elevator came to a stop, Irene gestured for him to leave as the elevator doors opened into a massive office. He stepped off, turning to see Irene’s smirking face through the gap between the closing doors. He swore he could hear her giggling as the elevator left for the descent back, she never giggled.
Gerald stood silently in Blynne’s office. In front of him, looking away at a painting of himself, was Sibelius Blynne. He stood with one hand resting on his desk and the other holding a scotch. “It appears that your time is up,” he said with a detached tone, “Pack your things, arrangements have been made for your immediate departure. Good luck and… goodbye, Mr.Clove.” He raised his glass and tilted it slightly in Gerald’s direction. “Take him outside.”
Out of nowhere two company men with broad shoulders and flat noses lifted him off the ground and bundled him into the elevator. Gerald’s feet scraped along the floor as they marched him down the corridor towards his lab. A smug looking Irene held the door open for workers who were emptying the contents of his lab into boxes stacked neatly outside.
“Wait! You must let me in, I need to check something. It’s a matter of life and death!” he shouted, wriggling wildly in their hands.
His meagre efforts allowed him to catch a glimpse of GWEN through the window. Workers were cocooning her in bubble wrap, but he could just make out the phrase on her terminal.