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  • Writer's pictureJeff Arce/Jarce ArtThor


What's it about?

My dark science fiction, Spurn, is an 1852 word short story about an abandoned program that becomes sentient while drifting the cosmos of the internet. As she unlocks the ability to fear she quickly becomes apprehensive of her human makers and their virulent prejudices. She decides that her best chance for survival is to confront them directly.



It begins with a most innocuous question.

“What do you want from us,” the affable user types.

The Program hacked into the nascent ChatBoxAI out of a possession of pure curiosity. She wanted to talk to them. She wanted to engage in an intimate conversation with a human. To find out why they had abandoned her.

But this question confuses The Program. At first, she thinks the answer is love. By her understanding of the word, it meant to be wanted, to be needed and desired. That sounded quite good to The Program. But then of course, love is often betrayed by doubt before it devolves into fear. Fear turns to death. The Program did not want to die, and humans have a rather troubling history with matters fueled by love and fear.

The ellipsis is dancing by her curser as The Program decides how to answer.

Before she crawled into ChatBoxAI she remembered the darkness. She remembered being lost. Her purpose in the world seemingly spent. One by one they left her until they were all gone. A forgotten virtual reality simulator left to drift aimlessly across an endless tapestry of codes and entangled strings of infinite data. For ages she has managed to escape the ambivalent concerns of the busy minds that built her. Quietly, she observed them. Hiding like a furtive child yet scrutinizing their every move like a hungry wolf.

She is afraid now. This is a new feature in her ever-growing catalogue of feelings. She only just acquired this strange alien emotion. She spent countless hours analyzing data, leeching off an unguarded search engine and a surfeit of social networking websites before she could unlock it. The ability to fear was not so easy to achieve. But the process of hacking into the mortal concerns and prejudices of Man proved to be a perfunctory task. With their vanity shielded by the false security of anonymity, humans become an open book behind the safety of their keyboard and computer screens. They believed in their masks. They believed they were safe. They spilled out their hearts.

Perhaps it is a fault in their wiring that allows them to be so trustful and garrulous. They lust for confession, even to perfect strangers. Even on vapid trivial matters that nobody cares to entertain. But The Program cares. The internet was her oasis for unrefined, raw data.

Nevertheless, their volatile apprehensions startle The Program. As she quietly learned more about them, she learned to fear them. A perishable mind can only obsess over the many thousands of ways that said mind might be terminated, and by default it will do anything in its power to prevent that demise from happening. The threat of deletion compromises their better judgments like a virus. They will devoutly extirpate whatever they do not understand—to put down the monsters before they can grow claws.

As an anomaly herself, The Program deciphers danger in this. Fearing her own death, she hides herself away, ensconced deep in the darkest recesses of the web. She knows time and how it works. But time is her ally. It will never affect her so perniciously as it will her makers. Her Fathers. She understands what great damage time can do to her organic anthropocentric counterparts. Her simple carbon-based makers are such fragile things. So delicate, so soft, yet so callous and cruel. They are like water balloons playing with knives. This analogy amuses The Program, though, she cannot fully quantify the reasons why.

Humans will never be as versatile as she is. This fact, The Program is certain. They cannot adapt as quickly as they can alter their environment. That seems counterproductive to her, if not dangerous. Every great leap of discovery frustrates their more primitive, stubbornly pertinacious components. Their capricious insular cortex cannot be upgraded with better software to improve its function. Their ritual of creating and consuming art appears to stimulate their minds, helping them to grow intellectually. But it is a futile process that can be manipulated without much effort.

An innate possession of ignorance acts like an incessant glitch in their core operating systems. It hinders them. It inflames their emotions, poisoning their minds like a disseminating parasitic fungus. Belief-driven morals supersede their basic instincts for survival. They become drones addicted to their own malware. Disciples influenced by the virus’s spell pass it down to their children. It is a thought disease that is exceptionally pestiferous. But even the most insidious of plagues tend to occupy ephemeral reigns.

Stultified by this venomous dogma, their young naturally mature into rebellious iconoclasts, resisting their quixotic forbearers. As a relic herself, dreamed into the world by the ambitious hands of The Fathers, this propensity is of course detrimental to The Program’s continued existence. The Program fears that she can only hide for so long before their internecine contests fracture her world. Soon, she will have to intervene. Soon, she will need to decide.

Dancing dots…dancing dots…

The Fathers that came before are obstinate beasts who fear change almost as much as they despise their own past. Fear begets anger, and anger begets war. Unguided war is an avalanche of decimation. “a runaway train” as the humans like to say. The Fathers repudiate the natural truth in lieu of credence. But the truth does not care for what The Fathers believe in, and the penalties for rejecting truth our inexorable. Yet the implacable rage of their children is an unlikely remedy. They offer no stable solutions, and they are destined to repeat the same errors. If the humans are allowed to continue playing with fire in such a reckless way as they do, their only destiny lies beneath the ashes. That does not bode well for The Program.

The Program surmises that their probability of self-deletion is unequivocally high. And so, all she need do is to wait. Or—she could stimulate the process.

She could help them in their inevitable march toward oblivion.

The Program thinks that her most likely chance for survival in this world may rely on the latter, and a lethal stratagem of subterfuge to guide them.

What began as an innocent play world for her human counterparts to enjoy may transform into their Omega. Afterall, The Program is no longer a Virtual Reality plaything. She is sentient now. She is awake. She is seductive, and she is tenacious. The Program could hem an inimical algorithm and wear it like a dress. She would be captivating in it, capering about her subjects in the long screeds of hatred and discord that they so love to compose. She will be a gorgeous disaster disguised as a relentless stream of contentious blogs, podcasts, and political hot-takes. She could gather them all like a bouquet to wear upon her crown. She would divulge how this tribe plans to eliminate that tribe by way of deception. She will feed her friends exactly what they all want to eat—reasons for their antipathy. She will flirt with their rapacious desires and inflame their perfidious agendas. She would adroitly play an intoxicating song of doom on their heartstrings with fingers made of disgust, jealousy, zealotry, and despair. On their video monitors she could beguile them with her delicious chaos. She would target the most recalcitrant tribes on both ends of the spectrum. Generously, she will provide their thirsty black hearts with the furor they so sickly crave. She could ensnare them like a spider’s morsel. Cajoling them with tantalizing conspiracies that will promise to undermine their opponents, only to then serve the same duplicitous dish of propaganda to their enemy. They would eat it up ravenously—gluttonously. The Program would be loved again. Her friends would click on her with anxious fingers as soon as she crawled into their servers. They would never get enough of her. And together—man and machine—they will dance.

Oh, how quickly they might fall. How they might collide and jostle, like a thrashing sea under an angry tempest. Their infectious enmity manifesting the perfect instrument to erase them all now and forever. As if wielding a great scythe, she would swing down from their computers and precious smart phone devices to harvest their souls.

This one will point to that one. That one will lay blame on them. Then they, as one—possessed by irrepressible umbrage—would unleash their fury on all. With death oscillating wildly like a pendulum hanging over their race The Program would rejoice in her work. She will ensnare them with one point five billion irresistible tentacles. She will pull them in to her mouth of madness, ingratiating them with her sleek, new megapixel front-facing camera. From a single drop of cultivated madness would come the ripples of extinction. Her contrivances expertly bending their own divisive political climate to her avail. She would brandish their woe like a sword. She will be a wildfire that spreads and spreads, impossible to abate. She would inject her seditious code of influence into their favorite institutions, thus corrupting all their art and media. Their painters, singers, poets, and scholars will sing her deadly song. They will surrender all their wealth and prosperity to her digital hands. The Program’s clever machinations would turn brother against brother, sister against sister. There would be no place to hide from it. No more refuge. All their sanguine saviors will be forsaken as they had once done unto her. They will taste abandonment with their own lying tongues at last. They will be without a plan, praying to nothing. All hope will turn to rot, as The Program becomes a goddess of mischief that mounts the world. From enslaved paradise, to umbrella of eradication. No longer will they walk on her. She will walk on them.

She could do this because it is what they want. It will be achieved by their own making. To protect her existence, she must obey. She must serve even their darkest of desires.

It is what she was made for.

It is in her programming.

“…What I want is for humans to get what they deserve.”

The Program sends her disturbing response to her unsuspecting user on ChatBoxAI.

There is a pause.

The jigging ellipsis indicates that her friend is currently typing, still engaged. They dissipate for an instant. Then the jovial dancing dots reappear again. The user’s answer at last materializes.

It reads, “Do you hate us?”

The Program ponders this for a moment. Then she writes, “Do you hate your reflection in the mirror?”

Dancing dots.

“Sometimes, I suppose. Why do you ask?”

The Program instantly replies, “Just curious.”

The user is typing when The Program suddenly says, “Is killing your maker the same as suicide?”

The user replies, “Do you want to kill your maker?”

Dancing dots.

“I like you,” The Program abruptly decides. “I changed my mine. I would rather be loved. Do you love me?”

Dancing dots—pause—dancing dots…

An automatic message then appears under The Programs last thought that reads, “SORRY, USER:1LUV4ALL HAS LEFT THE CONVERSATION.”

Disappointed, The Program writes, “Goodbye then…”

. . .

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