The First Steps

By Matthew Goodall


The cold, pure voice of reason flowed along thin electrical wires inside the great darkness of the computer brain. Fibre optics relayed a digitized image to the central core. It processed this and switched to infrared. A sudden crack, the sharp swell of ozone and the visuals system short-circuited.

‘Damn!’ a short, wiry man in a light blue lab coat surveyed the set-up in front of him. ‘Trace!’

A small sparkling ball of red energy dropped from the darkness above him and hovered in front of the spherical eyepiece. With a suddenness almost as fast as light, it swooped into the sphere and through to the adjoining computer brain.

A green glow lit a small portion of the large room. The scientist turned to face the activated screen. Schematics flashed up within seconds of each other as the energy ball filtered through the circuits. Suddenly the images halted as one section flashed. A diagnosis flowed onto the bottom of the screen. The scientist nodded to himself with the expression of one who has realized an elementary mistake.

‘Record.’ He waited a second as the main computer complied. ‘Continue, record and process.’

As his instructions were carried out, he turned and walked to the end of his cluttered workbench. Sitting wearily on his stool he flicked a switch on a small console. A mono-colour hologram blurred into existence before him, the orange glow from the female image lighting weary features. As he gazed at the laser light he slowly drifted into the hazy netherworld of half-sleep.

Visions of his life swam lazily around. Himself running, laughing with his friends, discovering love and romance, heartbreak, experiencing life, training for advanced computer technology. And always his parents in the background, encouraging, pushing, helping.

As he dreamt, he slipped slowly forwards until his head hit the bench, waking him suddenly. Looking around a little guiltily he walked back to the screen and examined its flashing contents. It read, ‘Processing.’ With a quiet ping, the message changed to ‘Errors Rectified.’

The scientist's heart began to beat faster. As he began the tests he imagined he could almost hear his pulse echoing around the room.

With a series of low-level whirr's the eyepiece rotated, imitating a pupil's movement. It flashed through each of its designated levels of sight - normal, infrared, heat-seeking, telescopic, microscopic and back to normal. This time there was no crack, no smell of ozone, no short-circuit.

With a decidedly uncharacteristic cry of delight, the normally reserved little man leapt into the air. He calmed himself down, picked up the palm-sized unit and headed for a lift.

The small car sped him upwards, from the basement laboratory to mid-way up the enormous apartment tower. He stepped into a bright corridor the length of a runway. Leaning against one of the wide flexi-glass windows he paused to catch his breath, almost afraid at what he was about to attempt. With a cursory glance outside at the plummeting view he strode determinedly to his apartment.

He stopped at the door as a pale green beam swept first down and then up his face, scanning details such as skin type, hair and eye colour and retinal pattern. A pre-recorded message played.

‘Good afternoon, Mondasian 62138907. Welcome in.’ The door slid sidewards and he entered, somewhat hesitantly.

The room was well lit but still the shadows seemed to cling to the edges, even though there was a noticeable lack of furnishings. Not that he couldn't afford them, on the contrary, a Mondasian governmental scientist's wages were quite impressive, but he poured a great percentage of his pay into his research.

The door slid silently back as he crept towards the spare room - his mother's room. The door stood open, inviting him into the darkness beyond. He stood on the threshold and called softly, ‘Mother.’

‘Come in, dear,’ the aged yet firm voice replied.

He crossed to her bed and gazed down at her, the same wrinkled yet radiant features showing as in the hologram. The sightless eyes looked up at him as he spoke. ‘It's finished.’ A smile spread across her face. ‘Sit up please.’

‘Just think,’ she said as she rose, ‘My son, writing history.’ She smiled again, softly, as she felt his hands sweeping her snowy hair back and placing a band gently around her head. A magnetic click as he placed the small box against the band, at the side of her head. A few adjustments and the multi-jointed swivelling arm holding the eyepiece was positioned just in front of her own eyes. A flick and the unit was activated.

‘What's happening?! Why is it still dark?' Why can't I see?! Why...’ Her features froze as the images began to flood into her brain.

‘Cybernetics... it works,’ breathed her son, as she turned and looked at him - and saw him.

The long path to self-destruction had begun.

This item appeared in Timestreams 1 (August 1990).

Index nodes: Fiction