by Theo Henson — 2021-10-14

The boy was born in 1984 (the same year that the thing named after the apple was released) in a suburb of the Big City. He afforded a lucky childhood in a typical way: excelling at the various academies he attended, instilling pride in his family. Enamored with some normal things, he liked the movies, but also enjoyed mathematics and ancient literatures. Most of all, though, it was the computer that occupied his time. He used it to build machines—machines that didn’t have motors or wires, rather loops and logic: programs. Programs that talked to each other, played games and music, all without needing physical parts replaced or repaired—they were beautiful machines.

Eventually, the boy lived up to the grandeur of his youth and was accepted to the University (the University where that president, and the other one—as well as the software guy had gone). He made more programs there, just for fun. After all, it was what his classes were about. These programs, though, dealt with people, and people used them too. They were used enough that he started to take things seriously: he made a company. In a way, this was a new machine, one built with people and money. He wanted to use this machine to spread the joys of his programs past the gated grounds of the University; he wanted the world to be improved, but didn’t know if he was the one to do it.

The boy saw an opportunity, and so he took it. He left the University to build the Machine (the Machine was both a program and a company, but in a way, more than the sum of its parts). He got the money from prospectors in the Valley who now looked not for gold, but for golden ideas. The people came naturally because they liked the Machine—at this point it was very likable—it was charming, fun, even. People who knew those people came to the Machine, their friends and family. Word of it spread quickly: “a wonderful machine full of things made by people you know,” and the boy worked hard to meet this ideal. He was quite happy with what he accomplished. He had lived up to and beyond the grandeur that even the University would have expected of him. He had become popular with the people and made a comfortable living. These were all things he was told he should want, but most importantly, he was happy that the programs he made were now part of the world.

The Machine was marvelous, of course, but it could not be stopped (because now it was the sum of a program, a company, and hundreds of millions of people and even more dollars). The boy went along with this, but really, the Machine went along, while he just followed. He tried to make more programs, just for fun, but it swallowed them. The Machine was terribly hungry; it ate his time and his humanity—when it needed more fuel, it ate those of the people.

The boy saw as strange things started to come to the Machine (it permitted these things, as the Machine was indiscriminate in who could use it, so long as it could extract fuel). Strange things made by corporations, governments, other machines—not people. They tricked the people with the Machine’s own functions; manipulated them to siphon fuel for themselves. The Machine was no longer a part of the world; it was a world unto itself—a world where people and Things fought, the Machine monitoring all of them, all the time. He was belted to the driver’s seat and the controls were ripped out.

The Things changed the boy. He needed his machine to cooperate with them (the Machine was what gave him purpose, it was the only anchor he had in life, and it must keep running). As it grew bigger he became increasingly dissociated. Now, he was no boy. To the people, he was the man who ran the Machine—the Machine they hated to love but loved nonetheless. To himself, he did not know. All he saw were the loops and logic, the people and money. For many of the people, the world that the Machine provided was more of a world than the real one. It was no longer likable, charming, or fun, but the people still loved it—they needed to. They could not imagine life without it.

The man often asked himself if he had actually improved the world. Of course, it didn’t really matter: nothing could be changed. He realized now that he was dead, buried deep within the programming. Whatever was left of him was used by the Machine to talk to different Things which stood in its way—the direction it took changed with each passing month, and the people changed with it. Unguided, the Machine now existed just to exist; it, its own anchor, so it must keep running.