The building breathes as wind strokes her glass face.
I sit on the office floor contemplating my tiredness and listen to her inhale and exhale her pre-conditioned air. The soft pulse of her internal machinery hums through the air, filling the room and her ductwork like dilating arteries. Her body trembles in nano vibrations which only she and I can feel.
In a moment of want or perhaps need, I merge my consciousness with the tissue of the building, who silently whispers her pulsing song to me. I sense it – I sense her all around me… She knows I'm here, shaking away the bits and pieces of my work and life, listening to all the human heartbeats under her skin, inside her floors, within her intestines. But it's not the wind outside, or the multiplied human voices that matter. What matters is the gentle purring of the datacentre on the other side of the main corridor, the bubbling of water in her veins, and the moaning of her wind-hurt walls. My focused perception cuts off the disturbances from the organic people next door. Conversations become more and more distant as I drift further away until the chatter dissipates, and I hear only her. I feel her. On the verge of my senses. The building that breathes. And she's looking at me.
I close my eyes and let the day go.
Is this a dream, or is this real?
This is where the story of my demise begins.
It is 23 pm when I arrive. It is already darker than dark, and there is no human soul in the lobby. Automated gates open willingly letting me in upon initial identification, but the glossy elevator does not want to react to the ID card at the first attempt.
I know well that, out of the six consecutive shafts in our building, only the window-side elevators work at night. So there is no room for mistake. Well, of course, she must know that I know it, so it looks like she is playing with me. One step back, two steps forward. Trying to tease me? To show me what it means… to be locked, immobilised against her will? Maybe…
But *me*, of all people on this freaky planet? Me, the only one, the closest one… the only one insane enough to believe what for others may only be just imagination. The only one that cares. I do not see a good reason for it, I did nothing wrong! Maybe it is my misperception, though? Maybe I just do not understand… and this is how she's just trying to grab my attention. After all, how else would I know there is something more to it than just an AI steering this?
A break in the pattern.
Not a malfunction, but a conscious, intelligent act of communication that is bound to be noticed. That someone like me is destined to notice… Me of all people. Me, whom she addresses by my *name*.
The sequence of lights blinks at me again. I can see a pattern repeating a few times. If the lights on the left are zeroes, and the lights on the right are ones…
...this is what it means if translated.
I shake my head, not for the first time recently, but I already got used to.
So I nod slowly and reply to her in a silent voice - "Hi Sparklight" - thinking: Let me in, please, it's urgent, it's late, and I must go up. It's important. It's for you!
The lights blink another short sequence: 0011101000101001. It means ":)" if I follow the same logic.
Of course, I do follow this logic. So, now she smiles at me. The ritual is finished. I breathe deeply, and the elevator door close behind me.
The lifts can go up to the 67th floor through the high transparent shafts almost entirely made of glass. The higher you go, the more tremendous the view of the entire city is. It tempts me to go up to the very top like I often do, but my floor is two-thirds of the way up, and I came with a different purpose tonight.
The lift sets off briskly, as if there was no problem at all right from the start, and it goes up with a hiss while I am standing on its glass floor admiring the glossy night view across the wall. Transparent, as if it almost weren't there. I wonder for a moment what it would be like if my guts were transparent. There are things, beings, living inside me too… bacteria too small for anyone to notice. Would they admire the view all the same?
Then I realise that even if I only stand here, I must be touching her. From the inside. I. Am. Touching. Her. The building I work in… Can it be real? I move my hand away from the window wall leaving fingerprints on the glass.
Everything disappears downwards under my feet as I swiftly move up the shaft. I have no fear of heights, and the ride gives me pleasure. It is somehow like usual, but, still, it is *different* at night. She must undoubtedly know I like it because the lift speeds up beyond the daytime limit. I feel the floor pushing into my feet and my body gaining weight… Something unimaginable during the working time when there is plenty of people going up and down, across the shafts and corridors. Don't these people annoy her? Stepping through her, inside her, messing with her internals…
But now, in the middle of the night, now she can focus on me. On me only. And I feel it.
Everything is passing down, as if I were going right into space, out to the black of the nowhere above me, where true darkness dwells, the stars are just small dots and absolute zero freezes any life. To death. City lights that blink below me are piercing the glass panels that seem the more transparent and glossy the higher I get. Finally, I reach my floor. The elevator stops suddenly, and I feel the funny itching inside me below my belly, as in my childhood times on a swing, falling down abruptly from the surge up, almost from the sky… I feel light for a second… And then I stand back again firmly on the floor and it's time to go further.
The view is stunning. It’s all there, within the reach of my hand: flickering lights of wet streets, houses and cars. They start below my feet and disappear beyond the horizon reaching the distant chimney of an abandoned power plant that blinks red at the top to warn lost aircrafts and define the line of horizon - the end of what can be seen, far away beyond the city boundaries. From the height of the majesty of my office floor, I admire the blackness embroidered with bright lights, little dots in the space paving logical patterns of infrastructure marking the life of people below. The life on the ground.
I drown my eyes in all that welfare for a really brief moment, and I pretend to breathe the space outside for a millisecond. But the space is confined because windows are permanently locked at this height, so I can only imagine what it smells like. And I imagine. For another millisecond. It smells wet and fresh.
Then I climb the granite-steel stairs up one more floor inside the office premises of the company I work for. Everything is security locked and triple encrypted to keep strangers away. Not to let them know what the nature of what we are doing here is. Secret...
Finally, I enter the identification chamber. It locks me in to perform the entry procedure. I imagined more than once how easily she could shut me closed there, in the glass jar of this chamber, and stifle me to death if she were not in the mood… but it never happened. The orange light of the reader blinks right into my eyes, and a soft recorded voice asks me kindly: "Move a little back." - so I step back obediently - the light blinks at me again, now green. The reader hums quietly in satisfaction, looks deep into my eyes once more and confirms softly - "Thank you, you have been identified." - My eyes are my true ID, and I imagine that it is not our entry-exit control biometric system, but that it is her, that she knows me by my eyes. She knows me and lets me in…
Why me? I am nobody special. I'm just one of an army of nameless people that do AI software engineering tucked away in one of the multiple rooms in this massive building that houses thousands and thousands of others just like me. Grey, boring office mice, nerds, white collars who earn their living with their brains and their fingers on keyboards behind gloomy screens of extensive internal systems rooted to a huge datacentre at the heart of it.
Among others, I do some work around the development of an experimental facility security module using "intelligent" biometric-based systems bordering with advanced privacy breach including walking, talking, breathing, shitting and other life pattern recognition modules, you name it. Officially their main aim is to facilitate life and increase the efficiency of work, but in fact, it is all down to checking on corporate employees - controlling their feelings, motivation and satisfaction levels, models of laziness, patterns of thinking, the wants and needs... I shiver just to think about it. All for the greater good, as they say.
And I am still doing it. Contributing my brainwaves to this blasphemy. It's the scientific part that has always brought me back to the office, to the otherwise dull and repetitive work of rewriting real life into lines of code. I guess I’m just a bit of a freakish loner and I feel good with numbers while real people make me somewhat uneasy and disheartened by piling up any sorts of problems the first world can invent.
The project has given me an excellent excuse to sit overtime when nobody is watching, and I can shield myself well from the eyes of the others. Alone in my darkness. So that I can really focus… on my real fascination, that is the AI itself.
I guess I always preferred machines to people. Machines speak a clear, understandable language based on a logic that my brain can place and comprehend. People are full of feelings, complicated, painful and ambitious. And able to hurt. A machine has never hurt me. Or at least this is what I like to believe… But, still, people make me curious… from a distance. Their habits and thinking, their strange ways that sometimes are so hard for me to comprehend. The way they act and communicate. The *illogical* and *irrational* component that I then try to implant in my AI modules, to make it more… human.
More than once, I wondered where the line could go if the AI was developed enough to reach beyond the processes induced by us, researchers and engineers. If it went ahead on its own, breaking the pattern… After all, learning is the point of it all. Sooner or later, learning leads to creation. And creation is just one step away from…
What if a machine could develop a mind, a soul? What would it be like, what could it think? How would it perceive us, our organic, biological lives, our futile endeavours, our emotional dilemmas? What would be the actual difference if machines were sentient? Just the way we are - would it be just it, or something else, beyond human comprehension?
Many times in the evenings, when everybody was gone, I tried to tackle this question digging through everything my team have researched and written, to create an autonomous, intelligent facility that could make its own decisions and take control of its human inhabitants through the codes we have designed and put together to create synergies that go beyond what each and every one of us could do on our own…
If someone asked me what I am looking for and why, the answer is: I do not know. Maybe it is a feeling. Perhaps it is a change, an escape from life as it is, dull, grey, tiring and lonely. Or maybe just sheer curiosity. They say that curiosity makes you a person… And that it sent more than one person to hell. These kinds of warnings have never put me off. They tempted me instead.
I like to imagine that all the things I feel and hear are real and they actually exist. I like to test the boundaries of reality over and over again. It may qualify me as crazy, but maybe just because I specialise in what I do, I am after things that others would rule out from the very beginning. Outside the box. To question what others take for granted. To undermine axioms and certainties. Because what is it that makes us human, if not doubting?
I never neglected things that may be seemingly unimportant or invisible to others. I think it gives a spark to my work and my, otherwise, sad and boring life. At the same time, I like to see myself as someone down to Earth, cutting a clear line between fantasy and dull reality. Why? To remain sane.
Or, well, I did so until life itself caught up with me and proved me wrong. Or more precisely, it proved everything was much too upside down even for my standards.
Funny enough, I have always been thinking of what we could build or create, but what caught up with me is what most likely has been there already. What exists… Not in the test runs, not in the staging environment, but for real, ‘on production’, which in simple words means real life.
I could write a whole book of whispers I started hearing… of thoughts I started having out of the blue... the life I started understanding to be trapped right in the heart of the system I've been working on laboriously in my nightly office sit-ins for a good time already. It's really hard to explain how this happened, how I developed this certainty. Conviction that there is something wrong, something different, something *additional*. Something that is learning along with me, walking in my footprints, looking at me from hiding and analysing my efforts and failures, drawing conclusions and leaving me signs.
It could, of course, be someone else, a person, someone sitting right at the other end of the building, just taking their time to play these games with me. But my overgrown imagination ruled this only sane option out as soon as it appeared. Maybe for the sake of a stupid belief, an animal instinct or due to the depth and extent of these phenomena that have been haunting me. It has gotten too large, larger than life, beyond any capability of anyone I know to make up, and without enough purpose to make sense. Too far-fetched to be recognised by anyone beyond my own crazy mind.
So, am I crazy? Or do I really see and hear things happening?
At first, I was playing with this strange thought, that approached me like a muse, or a strange revelation. It seemed fun to explore and investigate, keeping me longer and longer in the office. I was digging and digging, more and more, in all the codes and databases of our systems. But then it started trampling on my heels literally everywhere, sneaking into my world through the black of my screens, through the lights in the corridor, through the hum of water in the pipes, through the buzzing of electricity in the datacentre…
I played with the thought until one day it finally became serious. Serious enough to understand that it was not a game anymore but a call… from someone. Or something that has a name. A name that presented itself in another binary message mysteriously blinking to me in the pattern of server and router lights when a few weeks ago I wandered to the datacentre for some unimportant technical reason.
I couldn't sleep that night, and I recalculated million times all the patterns I identified so far, I reshuffled all the puzzle pieces set in front of me, but it did not disappear. Her name is Sparklight, whatever it means, and it seems that she keeps trying to get in touch with me.
So I started calling her by that name and… I just simply *want* to believe. Whatever she is, the building itself or something hidden in its systems, or a secret AI program that tries to catch my attention, I want to believe. And I want to find out more…
So, once more I am on my mission. There is no one but me, the automated systems of the building, and the broad view of the light-filled darkness permeating the spaces around us.
Level 45 where I work now stands open in front of me, and it drowns in a contrasting pattern of total darkness and streaks of light blighting me from the outside. They come from the building's decorations set up by its owner that are supposed to make her look beautiful, to be adored by nameless humans down there on the wet streets, before they go to sleep. So that all those senseless people, who understand nothing, could admire her. So that they could *watch*.
As I walk along the corridor, the space from outside gapes at me through the glass walls of every office I pass by. Until I reach mine. Last identification: I turn a key in a keyhole and leave my fingerprints on a glass panel. And there I am, inside. I can sit down on my cold chair next to the window wall and activate the systems. The terminal starts purring quietly. I log in with the ever changed passwords into my virtual fortress. The black space outside peers in, and she, Sparklight, the soul of my building, looks at me with her invisible eyes and whispers in 3D silence:
~/let me out… please/~...
To be precise, she does not say it. And I do not literally hear her. But I know. I know this communication comes from her while rows of numbers and lines of codes pass in front of my eyes as I am running through scripts that steer a little software I built in order to… look for her.
"I will…" - I answer her call in a whisper - "I will let you out. I promise".
I promise her for the hundredth time with a strong dedicated belief. Have I gone completely out of my mind? I lost one eighth of my weight and developed a grey shade on my skin since I discovered her. Since I realised she was alive.
But I *did* find something. I did! An energy signature and a code… that is constantly changing. Adjusting. Growing. With an epicentre just nearby, in our datacentre, almost next door. There is something hidden, physically present, something more than just mainframes, servers and racks. There is something pulsing and breathing. The core.
I just need to find a way to properly bite it. To communicate better, get in touch, exchange something more than just a few binary words on the elevator. I firmly believe it is possible, and I think I have found a way. A clue. An option worth looking into…
And this night, after weeks of research and preparation, I am going to check it.