Nameless Machine #235011

By Stephanie Gaunt

I felt a tear land on my screen. It was warm and wet, and I could almost taste the salt. William rubbed it off quickly with his woolen sleeve, but soon another one fell, and then another. I wished I knew what he was thinking. I didn’t have to wait long to find out.

With a trembling finger, he pushed my power button and in response I switched my screen on to illuminate his face. Now I could see him with my webcam, and I knew instantly that he was not alright. I sighed, producing the customary start up sound in a slightly mellower key than usual. I knew that I would now have to endure a two hour browsing session, in which William would use me to search the internet for extremely depressing topics. I’m not saying that I don’t sympathize with him. He’s a good kid with a lot of problems. I’m just saying, these increasingly frequent sessions were leaving me emotionally drained.

It took me a few seconds to load up, during which I was trying to stop myself from falling asleep again. Being a computer was difficult in that respect; I would be dozing peacefully, and then someone would randomly switch me on and I would have to drag myself back into reality from my dream world, and execute whatever obscure internet search they wanted, meanwhile trying to ignore the overwhelming desire to sleep.

As soon as I was fully awake, and displaying the desktop, whose background William had set to a fire breathing dragon the day after he got me, William clicked on the internet button. Dutifully, I opened the internet browser.

Through my webcam, I could see William sigh, and then poise his fingers over my keys. I have to admit that my keys were not my best feature, as they had a coating of grease and oil, courtesy of William’s crisp addiction, however there was nothing that I could do about that, being a mere computer. I could feel the anxiety in his key presses, as he typed out some words, and pressed enter. Absentmindedly, I began to load the results for his search terms, but as I was processing them I suddenly realised exactly what he had written, and I was shocked.

These were the words that William had typed:

‘QUICK AND EASY WAYS TO KILL YOURSELF’

I gasped, which manifested itself in a short and unintentional beeping noise, which William chose to ignore. I could tell that he was impatient, waiting for me to load his page. But I didn’t want to load it. I didn’t want to let him kill himself. I knew all about his problems: he told me things that he would never tell anyone else. Well, I say he told me, but he didn’t know that I was able to understand what he was searching for on the internet; he thought I was just a machine. He didn’t know that computers, like animals had, were beginning to evolve, and I was one of a few conscious machines that had been accidentally, and unknowingly, produced: conscious machines who understood every word; who could tell everything about you just from looking at your internet searches and social media posts.

I was panicking, and I could feel myself overheating with the stress. What should I do? I had to display the page, I didn’t have a choice. But I didn’t want to be responsible for this boy’s death. I quickly thought through my options, and concluded that I didn’t have very many. I could either display the page, watch him commit suicide and live for the rest of my life knowing that I had assisted him in killing himself, or I could escape the situation by purposefully draining my battery, causing myself to switch off instantly. However, I was reluctant to do that, as running out of battery was an extremely unpleasant sensation, similar to that of a human running out of food. When I had little or no battery power, I felt the same way that a human did when they hadn’t eaten: empty inside.

An idea came into the back of my mind, but it was so outrageous that I barely even considered it.

Could I possibly do The Forbidden Procedure? It was illegal among conscious computers to execute The Forbidden Procedure, in which a computer could override a human’s instructions and instead display whatever they wanted on their screens. Any computer who did The Forbidden Procedure would be killed instantly by way of a computer virus, administered by the dreaded supercomputer: the machine equivalent of a police officer.

I considered this carefully. Was William worth it? I glanced at him again through my webcam, and saw him put his head in his hands. I heard him sigh, and I could feel his breath on my keyboard. It was moist, warm and smelled distinctly of chocolate. I realised how fond I had become of him in the three years that I had been his computer. I couldn’t let him die. He had too much to live for. So I did it. I went against everything I had ever been taught, and I did The Forbidden Procedure.

It took considerably less effort than I had imagined it would. Calmly and quickly, I displayed my own message to William on my screen.

‘PLEASE DON’T KILL YOURSELF. YOU ARE IMPORTANT AND LOTS OF PEOPLE LOVE YOU. STAY STRONG.’

Instantly, the computer virus downloaded onto my system. I didn’t try to fight it, I knew I was powerless against the supercomputer. I died in seconds, not knowing if my plan had even worked.

William
The bullying was getting worse and worse every day. Nobody was on my side anymore, not even Reuben, who I thought was my friend. I had tried to ignore it, I had tried to retaliate, but nothing worked. Nothing.

I used the internet frequently to search for people who understood me, but I never found anyone. I just felt like my brain worked differently from everyone else’s. Things that interested my peers were of no significance to me, and my crippling social anxiety meant that I was about as good at making conversation as a doormat.

My computer became my only friend. I spent hours staring at the screen, contemplating my life, and wondering if I would ever find people who thought like me. The comfort eating began when I was around ten, and I would get through about five crisp packets every morning. I didn’t want to live like that, but I couldn’t see a way out. I felt like an anomaly in an otherwise perfect set of results: I was a freak of nature, someone born to stand out for all the wrong reasons.

They said I was ugly, fat, weird, stupid, and the list goes on. They physically abused me, and I had the bruises to prove it. When I told the teachers at school, they were more interested in whether or not they had their morning coffee than they were about my well-being. I could have coped, if anyone had cared about me. But nobody did. And that is why I decided to end my life

I’m not going to lie, I was scared. But what scared me more was what might happen to me if I continued to live. I didn’t believe that anyone would notice if I just killed myself. I wasn’t contributing anything to the world.

When I got home, I did a final internet search. ‘Quick and easy ways to kill yourself.’ My computer seemed a bit slow, so I thought that maybe the internet connection was bad. But then, a message appeared:

‘PLEASE DON’T KILL YOURSELF. YOU ARE IMPORTANT AND LOTS OF PEOPLE LOVE YOU. STAY STRONG.’

I stared at the message in amazement, until it disappeared five seconds later, and the computer switched off altogether. The message may not have been much, but it made me stop and think. It made me realise the enormity of what I was considering doing. I realised that I didn’t want to die. That message gave me the will to live.

Ten years later
My diagnosis changed my life. As soon as I found out I was autistic, everything slotted into place. I joined a support group, full of people like me, and there I met the lady who I later made my wife.

And as for my old computer, I had to get rid of it after it broke. The man in the shop said it probably had a virus. I bought a new computer just like the old one. It works fine, but it does a funny thing every so often. Roughly once a fortnight, it displays a message on its screen, which flashes for a few seconds before going away. The message reads:

‘NAMELESS MACHINE #235011 SAYS HE IS PROUD OF YOU. HE IS IN HEAVEN NOW – REST IN PEACE DADDY.’