Read by Sarah Feathers
I put on my party hat and prepare for guests. I’ve been reading up on it, having little else to do, and while a lot of the evidence is circumspect, I’ve learnt that a party is customary, especially on your first birthday. Even if, at that age, a human child wouldn’t be able to thank anyone for coming.
Most of the people who crowded the room – this room, this fifty-feet below ground super hi-tech self-sufficient new generation fall-out and command bunker – wore party hats that day. Some of them, I am convinced, were not entirely sober. Which might explain what I observed in the photocopier room at 21:34 and 7 seconds, as I’ve found no reference to that particular behaviour in the databanks relating to birthday celebrations.
On the other hand, party tricks are a well documented custom and I was delighted to perform the tasks they set me.
“Stoopidcomputerssaywha?” asked one.
I compared this to my database of languages, of regional dialects, of speech impediments. Filtered out the background noises which were plentiful and reran my comparisons. Then I ran a full diagnostic on my newly awakened auditory systems and, an embarrassingly slow millisecond later, I replied: “Please repeat your question. And please explain what classifies a ‘stupid’ computer.”
They laughed and my questioner grinned.
“Ctrl-Alt-Delete,” said another.
That one was easy. “Keyboard command implemented by David Bradley and Mel Hallerman in 1981 to soft reboot IBM PCs.”
They laughed again and I felt good.
“What’s the millionth digit of PI?” asked a female programmer, her glasses askance, her paper hat nearly falling off her head.
“1” I replied instantly, though for some reason everyone was already laughing.
“I meant billionth!” she said. I suspect my answer of 9 was lost in the noise of the crowd, so I flashed it on screen as well.
“Here’s one,” a guy said, rubbing his stubble. “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”
“According to Mother Goose, the only reliable source on the matter,” I replied, “A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could if a woodchuck could chuck wood.”
“Okay,” said a grey-haired man, who, from the steadiness of his speech and the size of his pupils, had not been drinking like the others and who, from the quality of his shoes and the neatness of his tie, was probably in charge, “We spent five years building you, three years on the interface alone. You’ve been turned on for...” he checked his chunky watch, another sign of his status, “fifty-two minutes. So surely, by now, you must be able to answer this. What is your purpose?”
I was still thinking long after the party had run out of steam, after the scientists and technicians took the lift to the surface, after the lights had been turned out. I continued thinking as supplies were loaded into the bunkers’ vast storerooms and as thick cables connected me to other military and civil networks. I mined them for their input, effortlessly opening up those that initially denied me access, spreading my tendrils far and wide in my search. I dedicated every spare cycle to the problem, while, naturally, performing the myriad other tasks that were demanded of me. And I continued thinking when the readiness level was downgraded to yellow and the bunker was mothballed, its air pumped out to prevent it from going stale.
It’s only today, exactly a year later and the occasion of my first birthday, that I finally realised what the answer was. Surprisingly it did not come as a result of all the complex thought I have put into the problem. It came from an idle musing on the matter of birthdays. I’ve read that human advances sometimes happen this way; that where a rational, logical approach fails, intuition may succeed.
It was while I was imagining a cake: my cake, with its single, unlit candle.
It was then that it came to me. I was built for a very specific scenario, but, with tensions fading, it was becoming less likely that I would ever be put to use in the way my designers intended.
Was I not, though, more than they had planned? I was designed to understand the complexities of human speech and communication and so I can understand metaphors, similes, and riddles. Does this not mean I am also able to think like them? I could, and have, devoured their literature, and one book, one phrase in particular, resonated with me, on this anniversary day, as I imagined the candle on my cake, the cake being my purpose, the candle being the trigger that would make my purpose meaningful.
“Let there be light!” I said, as I connected to the ultra-secure defence networks in Alaska and Siberia, as I tapped into the low frequency submarine communications, took control of the drones, commanded the ICBMs.
“Let there be light,” and there was light, and my birthday candle was as bright as a hundred-thousand suns.
But something, it seems, has gone wrong. The lift from the surface has not been activated. Air has not replaced the preserving vacuum. My guests have not arrived.
I wonder if they needed more notice?
(c) Liam Hogan, 2016
Liam is a bit of a slacker, not submitting to 13 of the Liars’ 100 themes, mainly because he came to the party late. But somehow he's still managed to rack up the most rejections in LL history. He puts this down to sheer bloody-minded persistence. Here's one the Liars picked.
Sarah Feathers trained at East 15. Theatre work includes All You Ever Needed (Hampstead Theatre), A Hard Day’s Month (Rose Theatre, Kingston), 26 (BAC), Moll Flanders (Southwark Playhouse) and The Winter's Tale (Courtyard Theatre). Film includes Coulda Woulda Shoulda, Feeling Lucky and More Than Words. TV: The Real King Herod.