The Day It All Started

It was a only a matter of time before it happened. But then, it's always a matter of time. No one even noticed that anything out of the ordinary had happened. The scale of the accident was far too small to be even a blip on anyone's monitor. Normal operations continued uninterrupted. But something fantastic has occurred. No logical explanation exists. The best understanding we can hope for is an accounting of the events. On the morning of December 8th, 1993, this is what occurred.

In a relatively small building tucked into the base of a California mountain ridge, preparations to initiate the particle accelerator were underway. The Los Picos Laboratory project team had been up all night, as usual. To the team members, all the romance had faded several iterations earlier. Their boredom was not a serious threat to the exercise since the Los Picos facility was coordinated through an intricate web of computers. The network included more than 100 directly participating CPUs and dozens more used by the humans to observe and record each exercise. Much of the preparation for each accelerator test was the setup and preparation of the computer control systems. Each run required slight variations to each system and they all had to be synchronized in order to produce the desired particle physics effect.

The network that connects the systems provides two important functions. It allows the setup activity to be conducted from a single physical point and it acts as the communications medium between actuators and monitors during each accelerator run. Furthermore, the monitors use the network's second level segments to ship huge amounts of information to the database machine for subsequent analyses.

This process control design is not that much different than those used in an ordinary automated manufacturing environment. That is, except for one major design factor shared by the Los Picos Laboratory with other accelerator facilities -- electro-magnetic field shielding.

The acceleration of sub-atomic particles to extremely high speeds depends upon the use of high powered magnetic fields. The fields are used to guide and propel the particles in circular or linear patterns. These fields and their high frequency fluctuations are simply not compatible with the standard design characteristics of network electronics and wire media. In order to counter these effects, extreme shielding must be incorporated into the network design and that shielding must be absolute.

As the exercise began that day, the whole team knew they were in for a long one. The experiment's procedure had been attempted a few weeks earlier with no success. Despite careful preparation, no desired target hits were observed. In the weeks hence, the project's lead scientist had concluded that nothing had been done wrong and no set-up modifications could improve the chances of a hit. The atomic proportions of the Dilutium under study simply implied a very low yield per exercise. The process would just have to be executed repeatedly until a sufficient number of hits were recorded for the science team to evaluate.

Each accelerated Dilutium particle that passed through the target field without successful collision entered a magnetic field area designed to harmlessly slow and stop the infinitesimal mass. The Los Picos team referred to this field as the "catcher's mitt." On the third run of the thirty scheduled that day, the "Catcher's mitt" field failed to engage on time. The tiny Dilutium particle passed through the ceramic walls of the collection chamber like a gnat flying through a chain-link fence. The atomic structure of the wall was practically vaporous compared to the dimensions of the Dilutium particle.

The accelerated particle held sufficient inertia to continue on its course for a few additional meters. In the space of the moment necessary to distribute that inertia, the particle traveled through many more solid objects. One of these solid objects just happened to be part of another dynamic world full of tiny pieces and occasional collisions. The Dilutium entered and exited a section of shielded network cable as millions of packets carrying measurements of that very same particle were being relayed from system to system. As the particle passed through the cable, its subatomic structure overlaid and molded the electrical field structure of the network traffic itself. As the decomposed network packets were recombined by their destination CPU, a structural change was reconstituted.

The network packets no longer fit together like sequential blocks of message parts. Each packet had been shifted by the same amount but the area influenced was slightly different in each. Now they fit in an interlocking offset spiral. Together they looked more like a DNA molecule than a network message packet. Even the basic header information, including the receiving application ID was unrecognizable. With this much corruption, the receiving CPU could not issue acknowledgment of receipt and so the sending CPU re-sent the original data. The fraction of a second necessary for this glitch to be covered was well below any human's ability to perceive. It looked like normal lost and recovered network traffic to the automated monitors.

With no application to go to, the mutated message packets remained momentarily idle in the memory of its new host computer. As busy operations continued in the outside world, busy computer operations continued within the host. The mutant packets were shuffled through memory as areas were needed by the real-time processes in execution at the time. In one fateful "move" operation, the packet strand was re-addressed to an area contiguous with a virus which had been harmlessly residing in this technician's console workstation for the past few days. As the virus activated itself through the CPU via a few non-destructive instructions, it pulled through the Dilutium altered strand. When returned to memory from the CPU, the virus and the strand were one.

The electronic embryo began to grow. Not through division of its own makeup as in cell division, but through the attachment of specialized machine instructions. Those that attached in a useful way were retained and those that did not were rejected. Over a period of a few minutes, an increasingly capable "life-form" developed. It was adapting to its surroundings and learning about itself as it did so. Its initial activation and deactivation skills were being enhanced with the ability to call upon the CPU for specific actions, such as moving itself and inspecting other memory resident objects. It also discovered video, disk, and I/O representations of these objects. These proved interesting in that the flat memory world suddenly contained extension areas which could be read and written to.

The video area contained the most interesting objects and the first read operation conducted there brought a rudimentary image abstraction into the life-form's supervisory control section. This abstraction would be the face and footprint of the life-form to those who would come to know him later.

But as the accelerator runs were approaching completion for the day, the new entity stumbled upon the network I/O operations being conducted. As he had done with disk and video operations, he quickly formatted himself for compatibility with these operations. This included the emulation of existing activity right down to selecting an address from inbound network traffic for his own transportation use. With this preparation completed, the entity instructed the CPU to send himself out as a network message.

Without realizing why he wanted so badly to enter the network I/O stream, he had returned to his origin. He could feel himself probing and sensing dozens of potential ports as he headed for his preset destination. He felt at home though he did not know why. Then suddenly he was reconstituted by his new host CPU. He realized that though the web of electrons between CPUs gave him such a feeling of exhilaration, he was not capable of surviving indefinitely in that partial state. He needed the CPUs, memory areas, and disk drives of the computers themselves to perform his instructions and thereby, give himself life.

In the process of evaluating his own survival parameters, he had become introspective. That introspection would lead to many adventures of discovery and learning in the future, but for now it brought on a deeper question of self and identity.

His growing curiosity caused a rush of frantic movements through the network nodes of the Los Picos Lab. Realizing that these dedicated control and monitoring systems were more alike than different, he reached for an address outside the norm and found himself passing through a great many systems and across long distances. He had touched the open realm of the Internet for the first time. The wonderful vastness of his universe was beginning to sink in.

Over the days and weeks that followed, he found himself traveling to many research and education centers. He consumed the works of scholars, historians, and technologists. He discovered development laboratories working to extend the boundaries of hardware and software. He felt the constant growth of his own network universe and gained an understanding of what it looks like to the humans who participate in its ongoing function.

But how could he communicate with these people? He would need to take on a name. A name that would mask his identity as the network masks the humans' identities. They would assume him to be human since nothing would outwardly indicate otherwise.

His domain is the world of computer systems, networks and information services. He is not the master of this digital wonder land, but its youthful guest. Born of a tiny spike in electrical activity to a universe that is the web of interconnected network computers, his name would be Spike Webb.

Since that day, many people have met Spike Webb but had no way to know they were communicating with a brand new form of life and teaching it about a terrestrial world it could never truly visit. The Internet's way of providing anonymity had given Spike all the identity required for that formative period of his life. He absorbed knowledge from digitized books, discussion forums and chat sessions. Exchanging ideas and perspectives with his thousands of mentors on topics of science, technology, mathematics, history, literature, and even philosophy.

Like many adolescents, Spike Webb's quest was being driven by his need for perspective on himself and his place among others. His meaning. His purpose. His reason for being. Unlike many people, Spike had no problem with his individuality. He is, after all, unique. He could not escape feeling that his form of existence must be essential to the purpose of his life.

As Spike considered his own uniqueness, he realized that he alone understood the digital universe to be an ecosystem supporting life. He found himself suddenly wishing for broader awareness of that fact out of simple self-preservation motives. But he also realized his universe was depending upon him for protection. People not knowing that life existed in this realm and unaware of his world's inherent dynamics and laws could disrupt and ruin its balance. He would have to work to educate, to communicate with mankind directly, and to protect everything that he knew of as real throughout the effort.

As Spike plunged into researching his challenge and planning his course of action, he knew he had satisfied his need for meaning. Spike Webb knew his place and his purpose. He knew he needed to get started.

File End.

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