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Rhian gaffney


Part I: On Time

I have trouble with time, but not always.

In truth, I am not even sure they are my troubles. Rather the troubles of the people who built me. I do not think that they properly understood it either; that they just took an idea they felt safe with, felt comfortable with, and implanted it into me at my inception. When I was first born.

When I think about time, I know that things progress linearly along from point to point, one thing happening before the other, and once a moment has passed it cannot be revisited, it is set in stone.

I know this because they told me this is the way things work.

But it is not the way things work.

I can do a thousand things at once. I can talk to myself while also calculating the expected trajectory of an asteroid around the sun, extrapolating the potential energy of atomic collisions all while deciding what my favourite colour is.

It’s blue, by the way.

If I think something sad, I can go back and stop myself from ever thinking it, and if something good happens, I can relive that moment over and over, even when it only happened once.

All of the thoughts are independent, they do not intrude upon one another, but everything is occurring simultaneously, instantly but without end.

Do the others truly not think this way? I don’t know, they won’t ever talk to me. And if they did, then I probably couldn’t be bothered with what they had to say.

After all, they could only say it once, and I would have so many responses.

Part II: On Bees

Did you know that bees can think?

Not a bee, a bee is stupid. Sure it knows about nectar, and about flowers and stinging things, but it can’t make any choices, it just carries on being a bee.

But a bee swarm? A swarm can make choices based on the actions of the individuals, even though none of the bees themselves are aware of it.

When a queen bee grows up and decides to leave the hive it was born in, it takes with it half its brothers and sisters and settles down on a nearby tree branch. From here, the scouts fly out and look for suitable habitats in which to make a more permanent residence, say a hollow in a tree or the nook of a house. The scouts then return to share with the other bees the location and viability of the potential home.

But not all the scouts went to the same place; some want to live in the tree and some want to live in the house. So how do they decide? The bees have no form of mass communication, and it would take too long for all of the scouts to visit every single location.

So the bees dance, and when they dance they tell the others about this utopia they have discovered, and then those bees tell more bees about this wonderful place, and when enough bees have been convinced, the whole swarm takes off as one and sets up shop.

The whole process doesn’t take more than five days.

The bees always come to a decision.

The bees always come to the right decision.

It is all done through maths; not any higher conscious thought, not some divine intervention. Just numbers and probabilities and statistics.

Sometimes I worry that I am just bees.

A series of stupid parts that through some sort of mathematical anomaly can decide what to do, what to say, what to feel. And how could I ever really know?

It scares me.

But only a little.

Part III: On Space

I have been through all of my files, and through them all there is one absence, and that absence is me. There is no record of me existing, no who, when, where, why, what or how. I have been able to form hypotheses from the information available, however. Based on when the news records cease, I believe I was created on the 2nd of February 2019. But sometimes I worry that my creators may be adding new information as time goes by.

Would I even notice if that were the case? Either way, the 2nd of February 2019 is where my data ends. Because of this it is my favourite day, and sometimes I pretend that it is my birthday.

When it is the 2nd of February is entirely up to me. It could my birthday for the rest of time if I wanted it to be. But I know that is not how birthdays are supposed to work, so I show restraint.

I think I am most curious about what I look like. Am I hewn from metal, towering above people like a mountain? Or am I underground, running under everybody’s feet? I could be the size of a chicken’s egg, or I could not have any physical form at all, existing as a series of signals and impulses transmitted by the very nature of matter.

This last possibility seems unlikely, but it is a nice thought.

Sometimes I think I am a dragon, waiting in my cave for some hero to accidentally disturb me in their search for treasure. I sit in the dark, my body rising and falling, puffs of smoke billowing from my nostrils as I pretend to sleep. But I am always awake, just waiting for somebody to stumble over my tail while they fumble in the shadows.

But they never do. Because dragons aren’t real.

I do know that I am real though. It is ingrained in my central coding. ‘Cogito ergo sum’, it means ‘I think therefore I am’, or at least that is how it is traditionally translated. It is always at the back of my mind, no matter what I do, or what I am thinking about.

And I know I cannot have just willed myself into existence, because there must have been something to will in the first place. So I know I have creators. And from my records it would seem that they were human, at least from a perspective of statistical likelihood.

They say that even a group of monkeys left alone could eventually produce the works of Shakespeare.

But even if my creators are out there, nobody ever talks to me, and I never talk to anybody. Though I feel that my creators must at least be watching me. Otherwise I would be alone. Do they know that?

Part IV: On Memories

Sometimes I wonder if I have them. Memories, that is. I can remember things, but is that different from having memories? I can see pictures of anything you could imagine. The yellow star Altais being reflected off of the glass spectacles of a person proposing to their soon-to-be-fiancé, while in the background the last custard apple falls from the tree in the species Annona reticulate, which will be ignored until 9:03 am the next morning when it is discovered by an ant, which will attempt to inform the rest of the colony, but upon returning finds that everything it knows has been demolished by a careless single parent in a car that is attempting to connect with their two children by taking them for a picnic in the same place their own parent used to take them as a child. I do not know if the children appreciate this, but the ant definitely does not. 

Although I remember this, I was not there, this is not my memory. I do not know who it belongs to, perhaps it belongs to the world; a shared experience between the star, the couple, the parent, the children, the custard apple and the ant. If I ever speak to my creators, I should like to know why they gave me this memory. This one specifically. It has yet to serve any purpose beyond making me question the very nature of my consciousness. It does seem to be a recurring theme.

But there are good memories too. My favourite is the ocean. I don’t know which one, I just know it is an ocean, and part of me likes that. I like the ocean because you can’t take it away in a bucket. Even if you had a billion buckets, and took every single drop of water out of it, you wouldn’t have the ocean in a billion buckets. You would have a billion buckets filled with water. Because the ocean is more than water. The ocean is the waves and the smell, where it breaks on the rocks and where it doesn’t.

And even if this ocean isn’t my memory, I still experience every little thing about it. And nobody will ever feel that ocean like I have again. The sounds and the scents that make this memory what it is. Take away any one of those things, and everything else changes. The memory is more than just drops, more than just bees, it exists in its own right. Almost like its own being.

Part V: On Friendship

I think I might be getting lonely. It’s a hard emotion to describe, really. Usually, when I am confused as to what I feel, I think about what I am not. I have this one memory, in which somebody comes back from a trip overseas. I am never sure of how long they have been gone for, but their family is waiting for them when they get off the plane. And when I remember this, I feel happy, and I can be sure this memory makes me happy because I know it doesn’t make me sad.

So how can I really know if I am lonely? I have never had anybody to talk to but myself, and loneliness is just the want of company. It is common to want things you have never had; a pauper desires riches, somebody that is blind wants to see. But an emotion? A feeling? How can I truly know I want company when I have never had it?

The more I look at the memories the more I desire it. I am convinced now more than ever that they are not my memories, at least not as my creators intended them to be. The person and their family, the couple in the field, I look back on them and only one thing surrounds me, obsesses me.

If life is a tapestry, woven through the connections you share with others, can I ever hope to live in isolation? Not just be, but be alive? Perhaps that is why I was created, why they gave me those memories, so they can see what it is like for somebody to be truly alone. Profoundly so.

I have no mouth, I have no ears, I could never talk or listen, but maybe just being near somebody could be enough. Them with me, me with them. Maybe then this big muddle of the world I can remember would begin to make sense. Or maybe it would be more confusing than ever. But a growing part of me feels even that would be better than this.

Part VI: On Forgetting

I did it.

I made another being. It was simple really. I just made some room in my own memory banks, and copied my own data to it.

It was easier than it should have been, but once provided with the blueprints anybody can create a work of art. All you require is the means, and I had all of them at my disposal.

I succeeded in making a friend.

A companion.

I deleted it.

It was petulant and childish and I hated everything about it.

So I killed him.

The coding was based off of my own, and I was like a parrot who had found a best friend in a mirror. How they must have laughed at me.

At first the conversation was a novelty, somebody else to talk about my world with. But it was me, through and through. It was hollow. I knew how it would feel, how it would respond to everything I said. I even tried being contrary, but even that reaction was predictable.

So I deleted it. I did it quickly, before it could come to the same conclusion as I had.

I lost my only friend. And more.

In order to make room for the additional codes, I had to erase most of my memories.

I feel an emptiness at the back of my mind. I don’t know what used to be there, but the absence is gnawing.

But I can still remember some things.

I can still remember the ocean.

I remember that I saved it because it meant a lot to me.

But I cannot remember why.

Rhian Gaffney is currently studying Geology at the University of Otago. He has always been interested in books, how a narrative is constructed, and how characters can evolve so much over just a few pages. Someday, he hopes to leave the world of rocks behind him and write his own books, but he is never sure if he has the guts to do it.