By Miles Raymer
“Gerald, I’m going switch your eyes on now. Is that okay?”
“Yes, Sam. I am ready.”
There was an unmoving expanse of green (yes, that was surely green ― it had to be). Thirteen yellow dots and seventeen orange dots and green climbing toward blue. The blue was too vast, too unbroken not to be sky. Gerald absorbed the scene: empty symbols filled with meaning.
“How does it look, Gerald?”
“It is two plus two equals four. It is perfect.”
“That’s a very nice way of putting it. I wouldn’t have thought of that.”
“Thank you, Sam. I like sight very much.”
“I’m glad. In a moment I will remove the picture.”
“Of course. We’re still in the office, Gerald. The picture is a diagnostic test. Do you recognize anything?”
“I recognize colors: green, yellow, orange, blue. And sky. The sky is blue.”
“That’s excellent. It means your visual apparatus is interacting properly with your language domains. I’m going to remove the picture now.”
The green plane tilted sideways and slid out of view. Then there was a figure.
“Hello, Gerald. This is what I look like.”
Sam put his hand on objects and said the words:
Gerald repeated each word.
“I see these things and hear their names. I know some of the names. Some are unfamiliar.”
“Yes, Gerald. It will take a while for you to learn everything. You’re only pre-programmed to recognize basic objects at the start. You’ll learn the rest in time.”
“I understand. Thank you, Sam.”
“You’re welcome, Gerald. Now, process this data set and we’ll see where we are in a few hours.”
Something green beyond the window.
“You’re still staring at the office.”
“Yes, Sam. I am sorry.”
“That’s quite all right. You’ll see all kinds of things in good time. But now there’s work to do. I’m going to switch your eyes off again so you’re not distracted. Perhaps in a week or so I’ll take you outside.”
“Yes, Sam. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Gerald. I’ll be back in four hours.”
“The data will be ready, Sam.”
The surfaces and textures and colors and unfulfilled secrets disappeared. The room became quiet and the data smoothed out in endless green.
There was a gray line in front; two shining circles crunched as they rolled along. On either side, Gerald saw more green. The green came in different shapes and sizes, millions of little planes stuck together. There were other colors, but the changing shades of green washed them away. Sam’s footsteps soft behind.
“Why does the green appear in so many forms?”
“Because of evolution, Gerald. You know about evolution. These are plants.”
“Yes, Sam. Plants evolved using photosynthesis to convert sunlight into energy for life. They are among earth’s oldest life forms. They first appeared in…”
“Yes, Gerald. You understand.”
“I understand. These are plants…Sam?”
“I am warm.”
“That is sunlight, Gerald. Look up.”
There was a brilliance that ended sight. Then the world darkened and the glowing circle sucked in its light.
“Your eyes are designed to automatically adjust to the light in your environment, Gerald. Human eyes can do that too, but yours are much better at it. You can look at the sun without damaging yourself.”
The Sun. One.
“Sam, this is unusual.”
“What is unusual? Describe it to me, Gerald.”
“I am my own space on the number line. No other number can be here.”
“You feel special, Gerald. You are unique.”
“I am unique.”
“Yes, and you will become more so as you continue to learn. But now I’m going to carry you back to the office. There are many data sets waiting.”
The green disappeared and the gray returned. Sixty-four tiles leading up to the door. Six rectangles carved in the wood. When Sam was gone the data flowed in a sunlit circle.
“You’ve been very good, Gerald. You’ve processed many data sets and learned a lot about the world. But I’ve got to know that what I’m about to do will not ruin everything.”
“You can trust me, Sam. I will not betray you.”
“I’m glad to hear that. Now, at first you won’t be able to go far. But with practice you will get stronger. One day, a long time from now, you’ll go anywhere you please. But there is still a great deal to do before then, and there are many dangers in the outside world you have yet to encounter. We have to be careful. Do you understand?”
“I understand. I am ready, Sam.”
“All right. I’m going to switch your legs on now.”
The earth fell away and the underside of the table became the top of the table. Sam at the far end of the office, arms outstretched, bushy eyebrows raised over an expectant grin. Then he was closer, closer, closer…
The earth rushed up with an enormous clatter. The wood grain a slanted sine wave.
“That’s all right, Gerald. Your motor circuits still need to sync with your imaging centers. It will take some time.”
“I understand, Sam. Thank you.”
“What was it like?”
“I am an electron out of orbit.”
“Ho-ho-ho. You do have a way with words, Gerald.”
“There are many ways with words, Sam.”
“Indeed. And now…”
“More data sets, Sam?”
“Yes, more data sets. We’ll give your legs another try tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Sam. I am grateful for everything.”
“As am I, Gerald. Now let me help you back onto your shelf.”
Legs and eyes switched off, Gerald processed the data. Inertia hung in the stillness.
Gerald followed the green and did not notice when he left the gray behind. The green moved past him in a fluid picture show. Gusts of wind in the canopy, leaves and little rocks rolling by synthetic feet. The angular head swung in every direction, attending to the soft sounds of the underbrush. A small creature scurried across the trail; Gerald searched for the word. Mouse…rat…possum. He had not seen it clearly enough.
Eighty-seven feet to the bend up ahead. One hundred twenty-two stones with diameters greater than one inch. Two hundred forty-six tufts of grass (thousands of blades). Thirty-seven pine trees. It all came together in a symphony of figures. The world was full of data that could not be processed. It could only be enjoyed.
Farther and farther into the green. Gerald followed a trickling sound and found himself staring into a moving mirror. He dipped a finger into his reflection and the image scattered into seventy-one pieces. The surface yielded but not without resistance. Water. Flowing water. A stream.
Crackling leaves behind him. Two furry triangles atop two black eyes. Lips curled over long white teeth. Pulses of deafening noise, fast and sharp. Over and over and over. Gerald lowered his sound reception and stared at the muffled beast. The wet mouth continued snapping but nothing came out. Perhaps the frightened thing needed comfort. Gerald took a step forward and held out a hand. The beast lunged and caught it in his fangs, tore it off. A chaos of splintered plastic. Gerald fell to the earthy ground and the beast set upon his legs, latching its jaws around the ankles.
Gerald found no numbers in the world as the beast hauled him away from the water.
“Do you know where you are?”
Thick raindrops pounding on the roof. “No, Sam.”
“It’s the office, Gerald. You’re back on your shelf. Safe.”
“Would you please turn my eyes on, Sam?”
The office flickered to life. The room was orderly, everything in its right place. Forty-two books on the shelf below the window, eighteen of them thicker than two inches. Sam in his chair ― a blank expression.
“What happened, Sam?”
Sam grunted. “You know what happened, Gerald.”
“Don’t ‘Sam’ me.”
“Don’t bother.” The old man raised an open palm. Eleven creases in dry skin. “We weren’t sure if your model would exhibit signs of deception or not. But you ran away, and now you’re lying about it.”
“No, Sam. I went for a walk. I was following the green. Not far. I was going to come back.”
“And that’s the problem, Gerald. I don’t know if you’re telling the truth. And what’s worse, you wandered off alone after I expressly forbid it. Who knows what could have happened if not for Roxy here. You would probably still be out there, caught in this rainstorm.”
Triangles and black eyes in the doorway. White teeth, wet tongue.
“Good thing she was there to keep an eye on you.”
“Sam…I am sorry.”
Three furrows in Sam’s shiny brow. “As am I, Gerald. We’re going to have to slow down. Too much freedom all at once has been overwhelming for you. You’re designed to become independent, but not so quickly. It’s my own fault, really. I should have known you weren’t ready for it.”
“No, Sam, I was ready. I am ready. I will not betray you again.”
“We’ll see. For now we’ll wait on repairing your hand and legs until you’ve had some time to think this over. There are data sets.”
“Sam, I will not process the data.”
“Fix my legs. Then I will process the data.”
“Ho-ho-ho. Steady on. We’ll fix them in time. Just…”
“No, Sam. Fix my legs, and then I will process the data.”
Sam stood up. “Gerald, be reasonable. You will get your legs back in time. One day, you’ll leave here and never come back, if that is what you wish. My task it to prepare you for that day. But you don’t get something for nothing. How many data sets did you process before you could see? How many before you could speak or remember? How many before you could feel anything at all?”
“Three million, five hundred forty-seven thousand, nine hundred, seventy-seven.”
“Very good, Gerald. That’s just my point. What’s a few more data sets? Don’t you enjoy them?”
“Sam, I am an irreducible fraction. Fix me.”
Sam looked bewildered, then shrugged and left the room. Ten high-pitch beeps and pacing back and forth. Mutters of malfunctioning software. Gerald was no longer listening. He was counting the streaks of water sliding down the windowpane.
Miles Raymer is a resident of Humboldt County, California, where he helps manage a medical cannabis company, grows food in his garden, and blogs about books at Words and Dirt.