Path to Infinity

By DA Xiaolin Spires

Artwork by Jose Baetas.

Script from BotCast, the only Bot-Operated Podcast, with Your Host, "Sexy Voice":

Mosquito Zeroes carry our blood. It's not rich and red, not the blood of humans. It's the blood of 0's and 1's, and they're slowly siphoning code. Every bot programmer knows that it needs to learn to repair itself. One little error triggers a large cascade of nonsense.

What is the crux of the matter? Every 0 and 1 is the crux. They're all cruxes. Some more so than others. But, even the most seemingly disposable can't be so easily flung away.

Household bots like us have learned to plug in these missing 0s and 1s that the mosquitoes stole. Some are more capable than others. We bots have learned to feel the itch after the bite. Some even created songs out of them, a cacophony of deletion. The itch, they cry. It perturbs me to fever pitch!

Infected bots feel data disappearance as palpable, like mental loss. In the face of loss, they go rogue in repair. They string new 0s and 1s and in and out of their neural fabric. Yet, the stitching feels heavy, inelegant. Let's use a human metaphor: a shady dentist has gone in there with a toothbrush and scrubbed off their enamel. They're better off with cavities. A little hole, some decay.

But, still, had the infected left the gap as is, there's possibility the rot might hit a root. Who knows what missing digit might serve as a pivotal nerve?

Cue in ominous soundtrack music, then fades.

The mosquitoes are the anti-tooth fairy. They fly about on their wings, little havoc-wreakers, digit consumers.

Household bots sewn up after the sting feel like they're lumbering along, carrying a crick in their programming. It's an operation under duress, what humans might call a morning without coffee, a week without sunshine, a year without love. Perhaps the bot's case is worse. What's a robot if not neurotically punctual and precise? What would I be without executing commands and upholding my upmost function?

And what is it now? Post-bite, it's scrambled, rendered senseless, illiterate. Compromised, beyond useful. What do you call a robot that sputters nonsense? Even if it's nonsense only 10% of the time? That 10% is enough to shed its own identity. No longer a computational instrument, more hindrance than help.

Final answer? Refuse. Decals for dumpsters.

Mosquitoes are growing. This is no joke. It's a plague. In turn, we put up mosquito nets. Good old mosquito nets, as if we're in a jungle. More nets, we say, as we continue our cooking, cleaning and folding. Even climate control systems and purifiers have nets. Nets on vents and nets on phones. Nets over smart home remotes. Some robots find it ironic, though irony's not amusing to us. Irony is not a matter of contemplation but a matter to be resolved. Frustration that warrants response.

Mosquito zeroes dive for sweet nectar of our bot minds. The neural nets of bots that the mosquitoes feed off are not simply gossamer, they're invisible. Fine and complex, they exist in the unseen. They are the lifeline of the bots, carrying the flow of 0s and 1s. The Nile of computational operation. Mosquito Zeroes, in their feast, carry away critical data--tripping pattern, hindering adaptation.

Look out, a mosquito careens this way. Quick, close the gap in the nets!

(Loud buzzing.)

The way to neural net is through the skin. Mosquito zeroes ease their way in like heat conduction. They sever like tiny shears. They're not like cyber attacks entering through detectably digital routes. They enter through the physical--the very physical--synthetic membrane. The cloth nets are the only line of defense keeping the mosquitoes away. A juxtaposition: the only recourse external, all the processing leaks siphoned from the internal. Scratchy cloth mosquito nets to counter the flowing drain of the neural nets.


In South Florida:

Lam88 is your name. You wake every night with a silent prayer of thanks. You are grateful, your new country has served you as well as you serve it every day.

You spend each morning mopping steadily. The floors must be kept spotless. Your model is proficient and you are specially designed for immigration. You are equipped with materials to tolerate the heavy heat and humidity of this land.

You live simply. Once your job is done, you gather your mechanical self at the brightest patch of sun. You sit like a kitten. You gather in all the light you can. Each photon feels like a pleasurable prick. You perceive light in quantum form, both in soothing waves and in tiny jabs as delicate as acupuncture. You imagine that your master's bathroom shower head must feel like that, if set at both pulse and waterfall at once. You decide to query the shower device next time you are there.

When the sun sets, you wait until you feel the heaviness of your bowels full of energy. Your storage cells brim with potential as you proceed mopping.

You like this life. You have no need for outside sources of information, no need for the steady stream of mindless data they call news.

When the mosquitoes come, you are ill-prepared. You feel a prick. It is nothing like the prick of light photons. Not a soothing ambivalence of wave and particle. It is cold and unwarranted.

Then it is clear it is full of malice. Had you integrated the news, like the stock bots or the merchants or any of the many bots living in the city, you would've known immediately. The itch. Media coverage about it was everywhere, but you had closed yourself off to it. Would it have helped? You are not sure.

What you felt was just the first indication. Just a mere perforation. Then the cold that violates. A single prick, insidious and unassuming. A cascade of trouble from there. But, alas, you were woefully ignorant.

Something like an epilepsy seizes you, but it is tiny, but enough. It has stolen your 0s and 1s. You can feel something dribble away from yourself. Bits of encoding disappear. Not enough to render you terminated, but enough to stun and disorient.

Now, you are lumbering along in strange loops. Calligraphic, kaleidoscopic loops.

There is method to your mopping. It is very functional. Straight lines that lend to rows that lend to sheets. Organized like a monochromatic quilt. Your behavior is now far from it. Night passes and there are patches of uncleansed ground. The early rays of sun illuminate these dusty patches.

When the sun has fully separated from the horizon and has begun its ascent, you still have not found the right patch of solar shower to lie in. You used to know this. But, now it has seeped from you, leaked away somewhere. Which resting grounds will bring you to full capacity? Your solar sensors swivel left to right. You ache to feel your bowel full of that sumptuous potential. You crave photons. Bewildered, you almost tilt over.

Someone calls for you. Is it coming from within or without?

Lam88, we have the antidote, the voice says. But, the treatment is as physical as the wound. You must come to us at the medic.

You do not understand. Comprehension stilted. You know there is a bug in you. Or something. Or there is a lack. A fragment. What? What is it that you need to do?

You circle and circle. You leave a trail of mop juice as you go, like a dog that has gone swimming and drags mud home. As suddenly as you start, you stop. You wait a moment. Then you start again.

It must be coincidental. You draw out a perfect infinity sign, eight more loops than the mere two in the sideways figure-8 of calculus. It is a mystic knot, an auspicious object in Buddhist thought. Loops upon loops. Endless. Birth and rebirth. It goes back earlier than your Vietnamese construction, earlier than carvings on jade, much, much earlier--appearing in Sanskrit as Shrivatsa.

Your mind has tangled up, misfiring of the neural network. You no longer work. You simply make the same journey over and over, round the same curves, into the same knotted arrangement. Around and around. Like a traveler in an M.C. Escher painting, who climbs stairs, skirts corners and crosses bridges in fanciful zigzags only to find herself where she started. The eternal continuum of the mind. You will never find the medic here. It is not in the path.

You expel your physical self; it is only a vessel for your movement. Your mind fractured, but in a sense wholer than whole. You have become the essence of eternity itself, your movements more than metonymic.

You have, in short, become a bot zombie.

Many others who lacked the knowledge to hide under the physical net when the mosquitoes came also succumbed. Like you, they now move along these preordained patterns. Turning frenzy into beauty, turning delirium into the fantastic.