System Failure

I took a break from my current project to complete a Flash Fiction Challenge.

The challenge is hosted by Miranda Kate. She has been running it weekly for over two years. I would highly recommend giving it a try if you are wanting to dabble with fiction, or join a writing community.

The image prompt below is “See No Evil” by Zummerfish.

System Failure

The rain fell on Blackburn’s windshield in a perfect, predictable pattern. Others would have described it as chaotic, but not him. He saw a sequence of events that he could parameterize and reproduce. An equation that — fed into THEO — could predict the exact pattern this storm would create on this glass canvas.


He felt a twist of grief whenever he thought of his lost chance at apotheosis. But THEO had been his sole purpose for so long that even now his trains of thought always ended with the project.

He had nurtured THEO from a single digital cell running on a simple processing device. He had reverse engineered life and created a perfect simulation of its origins. It had progressed just as the ecosystem it was designed from. THEO had was an exact simulation of the planet’s biological history. Every system that was ever influenced by biological impulses would exist in THEO. Complex ecosystems in prehistoric eras existed exactly as they had in the past. THEO had only been a couple years away from completion when the disaster happened. Then Blackburn would have had access to everything. The stock market, dictated by the hopes and fears of creatures thriving for survival. His body, decaying as the chemicals in his body weakened him. Even the evolution of mankind could be guided and manipulated through simulated experimentation. He could have manipulated any of these systems to his advantage.

Omnipotence, omniscience, immortality would have been capable with THEO. He would have been a god. But the only source of funding he had been able to acquire was from the university. They stipulated that he had to take on grad students on his team to secure the funding.

He wasn’t sure which of the students was accountable for the failure that ended the project. Likely they all were. One of the nodes had been completely down, an unknown failure causing it to completely crash. Not an unexpected event in a distributed system like THEO. He thought he had prepared for such a failure by implementing a disaster recovery system.

Unfortunately, the grad students had implemented the disaster recovery system. After it failed to restore THEO to a working state, Blackburn had reviewed the system. It was worthless. An over complicated design that failed to accomplish its intended purpose. The inadequate system could not restore THEO. The only solution was to restart ten years worth of simulation.

Tires squeaked on the wet asphalt as Blackburn pulled from the parking lot. “It’s just a setback” he told himself. Now, four years later, THEO was complex enough to require a cluster again. He was on his way to speak with potential investors.

A sudden jolt threw Blackburn from his vehicle. Initially he thought that a truck had hit him. But it seemed odd that a truck could launch him across the city. He felt instant heat, and then freezing cold as he watched the earth plummet beneath him. As he was flung across the cosmos, it seemed to fall away from him into an infinite chasm. It became an indiscernible sparkle in the contrail of particles that followed him. Strangely, the glistening particles were the only thing Blackburn could recognize. They were his atoms. Ripped from his body by the incredible speed at which he had been flung across space.

He had only a few milliseconds to process all this. Then, he ceased to process anything at all.

* * *

Gabriel gaped at the CPU that lay shattered at his feet. The Junior Astral Engineer looked around the simagogue to ensure he was alone. Only the vacant expressions of the GoDOS units returned his gaze. Hundreds of face like interfaces lit by the dull glow of the CPUs in flat, outstretch receptors. Intricate covers hid the condemning recordings of their optic inputs.

Nobody had seen Gabriel knock over the Cosmic Processing Unit from the GoDOS next to him.

Panicked, he scooped up the microscopic particles and returned them to the receptor. Only afterwards did he realize the futility of the action.

Gabriel slipped from the simagogue unnoticed, and he realized his good fortune. Nobody would ever be able to determine that he had brought the GoDOS node down. But they would have to use the disaster recovery system he designed to restore the cluster. He would likely receive honors for preserving a millennia of processing cycles.

Gabriel beamed as he returned home. For once, all seemed to be going right in the universe.