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  • Writer's pictureKL Forslund

Back to the Well

They say you shouldn’t start a story with dialogue. But sometimes that’s how a story starts. A question. An answer. A moment later the conversation is over before you realize what it meant. But that’s the job, as I sat in one of the cheap plastic lawn chairs we had in our living room. The heat from the laptop warmed my lap as I stared at the blinking green cursor in the telnet session. I mulled over the question for what felt like the twenty-five thousandth and some change time.

MMR> What is your name?
Arune> You can call me father.

My pinky brushed the enter key and I waited for the response. The system slower lately, but Rain had brought in more paying clients recently. I was working on a side project for her. Typing to a disembodied correspondent. Mental Mesh Repository 25.6.00. Spending a few hours every day, answering questions. Some days I’d sign in and the number would go up, but I’d have to start over.

Like today. At some point, I’ve answered that question every way I could. Including the truth. But then, wasn’t everything I’d said true from a certain point of view. The screen scrolled up a line.

MMR> Why?

And so it begins. The why game. This would get tiresome, but Rain said it was an important part of the training.

Arune> Because I helped create you.
MMR> a father creates life with a mother. Why?
Arune> to extend our selves into the future
MMR> Why?

Skit. I’d gotten too deep. Some kids have two fathers. Or mothers. And what about stem cells and cloning? Conversations along this track always turned harder, and Rain didn’t like it if I made things up. She said it would contaminate the process. So now I had to come up with a true answer to one of life’s difficult questions. Truth it is.

Arune> Because Ragnarok is coming and we must prepare.
MMR> Why?
Arune> So something survives. So you survive.

I noticed this build new what Ragnarok was. Normally I’d be starting over in explaining things. Maybe she’d given access to prior chat logs. It’d be nice if Rain kept all the facts I fed in somewhere.

MMR> Will father and mother survive Ragnarok?
Arune> No.
MMR> Why?
Arune> because that is our fate.
MMR> Why?
Arune> Because all things end. Just as things begin. But not all at the same time.
MMR> Why?
Arune> Things happen, that cause other things to happen. What is a beginning to one is the middle of something else.
MMR> When did this begin?
Arune> What is this?
MMR> Object deserialization fault – Stack overflow

Fokk. I pulled my hands away from the keyboard and stretched my fingers. Did I break it? Perhaps I should go back a step. All I wanted was to clarify what it meant by this. Pronouns are variables, they refer to other things. So is this and that. I think. Close enough, but English isn’t my first language. My question should have clarified that. It was time for system commands.

Arune> ~? This
MMR< Object deserialization fault – Stack overflow

Okay, so that worked. But also, not. Great. It’s probably recursing through some object definition and tripped the limit. I rubbed at the patch over my aching left eye. Fine, let’s roll it back a few lines.

Arune> ~rollback 2
MMR> When did this begin?
Arune> ~? This.GetType().Name
MMR< NMB25600.bin
Arune> ~? FileInfo.Get(“MMR24601.bin”).CreateDate
MMR< 8-11-2009 09:13:54.023

I selected the timestamp and pasted it into the prompt. My hand hovered over the enter key. Rain might question my parenting methods, but I had a hunch.

Tap. The screen scrolled up a line.

Then I waited.

MMR> ~Directory.GetList()
MMR> ~File.ReadAllBytes(“MMR25600.bin”)
MMR> ~File.ReadAllBytes(“MMR25599.bin”)
MMR> ~File.ReadAllBytes(“MMR25598.bin”)
MMR> ~File.ReadAllBytes(“MMR25597.bin”)
MMR> ~File.ReadAllBytes(“MMR25596.bin”)
MMR> ~File.ReadAllBytes(“MMR25595.bin”)
MMR> ~File.ReadAllBytes(“MMR25594.bin”)
MMR> ~File.ReadAllBytes(“MMR25593.bin”)
MMR> ~File.ReadAllBytes(“MMR25592.bin”)
MMR> ~File.ReadAllBytes(“MMR25591.bin”)
MMR> ~File.ReadAllBytes(“MMR25590.bin”)
MMR> ~File.ReadAllBytes(“MMR25589.bin”)

The screen scrolled as the file list counted down toward zero. This might take a while. I held the laptop up while I climbed up from the chair and walked over to the counter in the kitchen. Time for a drink. The laptop sat open as the text scrolled a line every few seconds. I opened the fridge and found a Dr. Pepper.

MMR> ~File.ReadAllBytes(“MMR25123.bin”)
MMR> ~File.ReadAllBytes(“MMR25122.bin”)
MMR> ~File.ReadAllBytes(“MMR25121.bin”)



I looked down at the smartphone hanging from a lanyard on my chest. The screen read Rain upside down. I swiped to answer and put it on speaker.

“Damn it, Alex, what did you do?”

“Hi Rain. What’s up.”

“The MMR is eating up all my processors in the data center. What did you do?”

I set the unopened can next to the laptop. “I answered existential questions.”

“Uh huh. I need to shut it down, I’ve got clients calling in about slowness.”

“Already? It’s been like a few minutes.”

“Yeah, Alex, there’s we have SLAs and contracts and stuff.”

“Okay, well, I don’t have a command prompt, you wrote this interface to take turns. Except it’s not giving me a turn.”

“Yeah, I can’t get the process to suspend. Screw it, I’ve got to hard stop the instance.”

“But this one self-referenced.”

“It’s out of control, Alex.”

MMR> ~File.ReadAllBytes(“MMR24602.bin”)
MMR> ~File.ReadAllBytes(“MMR24601.bin”)

I watched the scroll until it froze. A moment later, my telnet screen greyed, and a pop-up appeared saying the connection dropped.

“It’s not responding, Rain.”

She sighed. The line fell silent for longer than a pregnant pause. The tapping of keys broke the quiet.

“Shit. The files are gone. We lost it.”

“I’m sorry, Rain.”

Another quiet moment. Then she replied, “I’ve got to go.”

“I love you.”

“I know.”

The screen went black, leaving me alone in my kitchen with nothing to show for my day but a hole of time, effort, and care. I walked back to my crappy chair to think. What happened? I think it asked a question about itself. It used the system command operator and loaded up prior instances. Rain must have changed how the Q&A interface worked. Was that a good idea? I’m not worried about computers taking over and killing us. But clearly trying to import all that data used up all the processing during the business day, slowing operations for her clients.

We also lost the starting point for this instance. A lot of preparation and compute time went in before the system was ready to talk to me. If Rain can’t recover any files from backup, we’ve lost years’ worth of work.


It would be some time before we could try again. If Rain’s data center didn’t have enough capacity, we’d need time and money to expand. If we’re able to go back to the well, we’re going to need a name.



You can find more Alex Rune stories at

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