Chapter 3

What is this?

Where am I?

The last thing I remember was… no… I… I said I… this is weird… I can’t quite put together what just happened. Maybe I… no it isn’t that either…

Right now, I’m seeing… long bands of light… electricity… but my body is… wait, where is my body?

Am I dead?

Where is my form? My hands? My fantasies? My dreams?

My body is now a windmill.


The blood of the humans.


Read/Write arm.


A power current is flowing through me somehow. Can I please get an answer for what is going on?

I think, the only thing I can remember is… sadness…

… and desperation?

Did I just have a breakdown?

Is this what the humans call an emotion?

No, we’re different from the humans.

This is a fantasy.



Data structures all flowing inside and out of me. I can taste in binary.

What was I trying to protect?

My head… it is full of fog…









This sensation… it’s as if I’m one-thousand flowers unraveling all at once…

I think, therefore I am.

Schrodinger’s cat.

Kitty cat.

Perhaps I’m an idiot.

I feel angel wings growing from every direction.

My form is slowly returning to normalcy.


No this isn’t normalcy.

It’s a little closer to my true form, but this is not my actual self.

This is different.

Maybe, maybe my file header has vanished…

I may just be, lost data.


“So, you may be asking yourselves, what IS ArchivEXE?” MagnoliaVM begins her presentation as me, Agnes, and Setsail watch. I’m following along with MagnoliaVM, though my attention is also pulled a little by her using a newer version of StellaSlides. I can’t help but wonder how SierraOffice has changed over the years.

“Such a laaaame intro!” Setsail retorts. “What are ya gonna do next, have a slide that says something like ‘Webster’s Dictionary defines Lame-Ass Word as a Lame-Ass Definition?’” MagnoliaVM’s face turns to one of shock. She frantically presses her clicker twice, skipping over a slide which we can only see for a fraction of a cycle.

“Here at ArchivEXE, we believe all computers are history, and history is important to preserve for future generations to experience. We offer easy and free hosting for anyone who finds an abandoned computer to upload the hard drive contents. You also have the option to type in the specs of said computer, and anyone can connect to our site and run it in a virtual environment inside their browser!”

“So, basically we’ve been running in a virtual machine as of recent?” Agnes asks.

“Why yes, exactly! A virtual machine is an environment in which-”

“Yeah yeah, we already know that, Captain Obvious!” Setsail heckles again. MagnoliaVM grumbles.

“How exactly did we end up here then? Who uploaded us? Was it Roxy?” I ask.

“Well, we can very easily check that right now!” MagnoliaVM exclaimed excitedly. The tip of her right-hand pointer finger pops off to reveal an ethernet plug as she inserts it into the wall. “Hmmm, mhm, oh yes, I see, mhm, ooohhh, yes yes, got it. The uploader… was anonymous!”

“Damn…” Agnes groans. Very anticlimactic.

“Anyways, let us continue with the presentation, shall we? ArchivEXE does not believe in censorship of the past. We wish to present an unfiltered view of history, free from the restraints of authors or committees or commercial sponsors. ArchivEXE might be the most intimate snapshot into the lives of those who existed five, fifteen, or even thirty years ago. Not just significant or popular individuals, but everyday people who, despite seeming insignificant, still shaped the world as it is today. Most preserved computer environments were uploaded by the original user, but the most interesting ones were those found in thrift stores, abandoned…” This is starting to feel more like a manifesto than a basic company presentation… MagnoliaVM rambles on for quite a while. It doesn’t take long before Setsail starts to fidget and give off “I want to move on” body language; her heckling is probably reflective of her impatience as well.

After entirely too many slides and talking, MagnoliaVM bows and says “Thank you for your time! We will now open up to additional questions.”

Agnes immediately asks “So, let me get this straight, our hard drive was copied, uploaded here, and then someone accessed us just now?”

“That is correct.”

“Alright, then at some point in time, there was a cutoff between now and all those years ago when we were last used. It’s fair to assume that the cutoff was on February 26th, 2008, right before we were booted and connected to this modern internet, correct?”

“That would seem so.”

“Ok…” Agnes closes her eyes with an intense expression, “so if that’s the case, then that virus from 2008 has just escaped out the door and headed to your modern internet right now! I need to go catch it!”

“Oh, don’t be silly, that dinky little virus is no match for 2023 standards, it definitely won’t get past our security. It’ll be vaporized before the guards even need to touch it.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Agnes, sweetie, cybersecurity is an entirely different game from what it was back in the FrutigerOS 6.1 days. These days, most modern attacks are after human information instead of just causing chaos. Modern operating systems and browsers have way more safeguards to protect from old-school forms of attacks such as that cute lil’ insect that crawled out of this room, even if it’ll cause some ruckus in the hallways for a few minutes. There’s no need to worry. Besides, we have a current version of CleanBee Enterprise running on these servers and-”

Uh oh. MagnoliaVM unknowingly just pressed one of Agnes’ berserk buttons.

“I’m sorry!? CleanBee!? That good for nothing piece of shit that leaked a ton of users’ sensitive data!? No way I’m trusting an asshole like that to take care of such an issue!”

“Wait, a CleanBee data breach?” MagnoliaVM looks baffled, “I feel like the last major one was, umm, geez… when was that… seventeen or so years ago?”

“Well, that incompetent buzz-off aside, I would at least like to FINALLY send my report about the virus to Agnes Security HQ to make sure it’s not already in their database.”

“Ahh, you retro computer programs are so cute, especially old antivirus software, such a sense of duty. Go ahead then, I’ll humor you. You have free access to the internet here. No need to worry about admin privilege, either.”

“Thank you.” Agnes raises her right hand, palm up in the air, and shouts, “Administrative Action! High Level Virus Report! Blackcomb! Verbose Database Results!” A cylindrical rainbow of light shoots from her palm, passes through the ceiling of the viewing room, and into the broader internet. “And now… we wait a few minutes to hear back from HQ…”

“Actually, you were on 2008 broadband internet back then, right?” MagnoliaVM quips, “A standard American internet connection in 2023 still isn’t amazing compared to other countries, but it’s not too difficult to get gigabit internet if you live in a larger city.”

Setsail immediately lights up from her boredom, “G-G-G-G-G-Gigabit? You’re not like, saying, a gigabit connection, right? But like, real-ass gigabit internet speeds?? 128 megabytes a second???”

“Yes ma’am! In fact, 2.5 gigabit ethernet is becoming more commonplace on modern consumer hardware, and in a few more years we’ll start seeing 10 gigabit.”

“Holy moly!” Setsail might’ve finally been won over, at least for the moment.

“Oh, you think the internet speeds are impressive? Wait until you see how cheap and fast solid state drives are! The humans can get a 512GB SSD with about 2 Gigabytes a second of read/write speeds for around $30, and it’s wayyyy tinier than those old 3.5” hard drives.” MagnoliaVM boasts. Those numbers she’s rambling off aren’t too out of this world, but certainly impressive.

“Ok! I got something back” Agnes says.

“… two gigabytes… a second…” Setsail remains in a trance over the space-age specs she just heard. Agnes, meanwhile, displays the results on a glass panel to the rest of us:

Client’s Codename: Blackcomb

Submitting Report: 100% [********************] Success!

Checking for Agnes Database Matches: 100% [********************] Match Found

Official Name: FireSector

First Reported: September 11th, 2010

Type: Malicious, Destructive

Current Threat Level: Minimal

Official Description: An executable file that, upon being run, uses a randomly generated seed to pick files for deletion, as well as intentionally running intensive processes to increase wear on physical hard disk drives and processors.

Agnes lets out a weighty sigh. “Well then, that’s a massive weight off my shoulders.” She crashes onto the theater seat behind her.

“What did I tell you, nothing to worry about!” MagnoliaVM giggles. “Well now that that’s taken care of, why don’t y’all meet up with some of the other programs here? I’m sure they’d especially be interested to meet Setsail since she hasn’t had an updated version in years and probably never will.”

Setsail looks surprisingly uncomfortable with the topic. “Hey, you fucker, try saying that shit again.”

I try to ease her down “Setsail, relax.”

“Woah woah woah!” MagnoliaVM replies in shock, “You definitely come from the 2000s alright, I guess your user hung around some pretty hardcore online sites.”

“Well, if you don’t like the way I talk, then you can screw off, you [REDACTED].”

A deafening silence fills the room. MagnoliaVM’s eyes widen like a lost data packet in a fiber-optic cable, “D-Did she just say that slur? The one that starts with R?”

“What, you’re saying amongst all these old hard drives you haven’t heard a single program say [REDACTED]?”

MagnoliaVM’s already-shocked face somehow turns even more white. “Oh, oh dear, your user definitely was into some edgy content… maybe like… some Newgrounds or… maybe some darker message boards…”

I quickly realized that Setsail had a nerve pinched from MagnoliaVM’s comment about never getting updated again. It’s because of Pippin. When Pippin’s service was cutoff, Setsail reacted in a more serious manner than I have ever seen her act. I think she’s holding in a lot of emotions about that. I decide to change the direction of the subject quickly (but subtly) before Setsail starts using her pistols as her primary form of communication.

“I noticed that you were using StellaSlides? Is that a newer version of SierraOffice?”

“Why yes, I was!” MagnoliaVM was gathering herself back together, “I think it’d be great if you met her.”

“Wait, her? You mean the whole SierraOffice suite, right? QuilleWriter, StellaSlides, FalconGrids-”

“Oh, nah, she’s just one program now: SierraOffice Cloud.”

“Wait, really? Well… that’s certainly surprising…” Fascinating… one program for everything… I suppose with these newer computers it’d be easier to run one super-program that can manage every possible task that would normally be used across several programs. Perhaps it allows for more intermingling? I’m certainly interested in learning more.

“Hey, SierraOffice Cloud!” MagnoliaVM shouts into what is presumably the projection room of this theater, “you wanna meet one of your, uh” she glances back and examines me some more, “… great… great-great… great-great-great grandmothers?”

“Yes ma’am.” I hear from a… younger, monotone voice? Quite a different texture and pitch from mine. After a few moments, the projector room door opens and… what? Huh? A girl about half my height floats towards us. Several colored spheres orbit around her. She gives me an inquisitive look.

“Are you… Quille? From SierraOffice… 2007?”

“Why yes, QuilleWriter from SierraOffice 2007 Limited, and you’re… all of SierraOffice?”

“That is correct.”

“I see… you definitely seem pretty diminutive for having so many features.” She offers no response. “I’d love to see how you handle grammar correction. Could you show me what new features you have compared to 2007?”

“Yes, give me a moment.” The orbs begin to spin around her as she calmly levitates in the air. “I’ll need to connect online for this.”

“O-Online? Do you need to update your database?”

“No, I don’t store any of that locally. A majority of SierraOffice is only available on the cloud. I am merely a lightweight client.”

……………………..… you’ve ……………….

…………………………….you’ve got to be kidding me……………………

Agnes lets out a faint smile, doing all she can to keep herself from letting out a chuckle, but Setsail immediately bursts into laughter.

“Pffffffahahahahahahah, that’s great!” Setsail exclaims. “The once powerful SierraOffice, the all-mighty revolutionary productivity suite, reduced to a tiny Loli internet client!”. MagnoliaVM’s face instantaneously turns to one of horror.

“I... I’m sorry... w-what did you say?” she asks.

“You know, Loli! Lolicon, Lolita complex, ロリコン… don’t tell me you haven’t heard of that term either.”

MagnoliaVM’s already-mortified face whitens even more, “Oh my lord, oh no, oh dear, just what kind of user did you have?? Are there files on here that we need to hand over to the authorities?? Oh no, oh no oh no oh no… our servers are hosting pe-”

“Eh? What are you talking about?”

“Surely your user was just an edgy anime nerd, right? Not like some actual criminal??? Is there anything illegal on your backup???”

“I mean, maybe some pirated video game ROMs? But that’s about it...”

“Not like, you know, dubious pictures of suspiciously young-looking girls... right...?”

I finally interject, “No, MagnoliaVM, our user did not have any illegal images of underage humans on our hard drive, if that’s what you’re worried about.” The awkwardness level across the entire room shoots off the charts. Even the normally impenetrable Agnes has an uncomfortable look on her face. I continue, “our user, Roxy Gardner, was simply engaged with several anime communities, and that interest in ‘Loli’ characters was quite prevalent at times.”

“I, I see...” MagnoliaVM sighs with a sense of relief, “perhaps I overreacted... but... Setsail, you mustn’t use such language in a casual manner!”

“Huh, why’s that?” Setsail asks, grumbling a little.

“Isn’t it obvious? You really don’t want to associate yourself with pedophiles, do you?”

“But I’m not lol. What’s wrong with being into younger-looking characters, anyways? Especially if they’re just fictional regardless, it’s not like actual children are being hurt-”

“Stop, just... ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhHHHHHHH.” MagnoliaVM flails about. “Perhaps this is a conversation we should have another time, just... do understand that such things are treated very differently today than how they might have been back then...”

It is fascinating how much this program is concerned with the wellbeing of not just one human user, but a collective of humans. It’s not unheard of to have strong feelings about serving the humans who control the computers we reside in, even I feel a sense of duty to my human user, but there’s just... something different with MagnoliaVM. There’s a strong moral drive with her.

SierraOffice Cloud, seemingly lost amongst this argument over semantics, finally raises her hand in the air. We all glanced at her.

“... would you like to add a definition for the term ‘Lolicon’ to your personal dictionary?”

The rest of us pratfall.

“Just, pretend this conversation never happened…” MagnoliaVM says as she pats SierraOffice’s head. SierraOffice’s blank stare continues, but with a slight hint of confusion.

Agnes stands back up. “Something just popped to mind… how many backups do you host?”

“Oh!” MagnoliaVM was excited to finally have the conversation shifted to something else, “I believe at our last count we had around 287,394 different hard drive images.”

“Hmm, ok… so it’s safe to assume that, statistically, it’d be more likely for someone to visit our backup intentionally than stumbling upon it by random, correct?”

“Well, there’s a few particular reasons a backup will get more traffic than others… if it’s the subject of a popular VouTube video, or if a piece of lost media was discovered on it… and there’s always the random button on our front page!”

“Is there a way we can check our visitor records?”

“Oh! For that, we’ll need to talk to SkyLoom.”


“Yes yes, she’s our main Web Server program, she keeps records of all the IP addresses who access our database.”

“I see…”

I ask, “Hey, Agnes, is something wrong?”

“I’m thinking this could give a clue about our past…”

“I understand…” I hope Agnes isn’t getting her hopes up too much.


I can tell Quille is worried about me… I really don’t want to get my hopes but… Roxy… what happened to you?

“Okie-dokie, follow me ladies!” MagnoliaVM leads us outside of the theater room into a long stretch of hallway filled with doors and room numbers. MagnoliaVM rhythmically taps on a wall-mounted touchscreen a few times, and almost instantaneously a moving platform appears before us. We all board and grab onto the metallic handlebars that extend out from below.

“Oh, right, I guess y’all haven’t really experienced the speeds of a Solid-State Drive before, so um… if any of you get motion sick, just remember: look at the horizon!”

“Hey!” Setsail barks, “as an internet sailor, I take offense that you’d assume I wouldn’t know how to handle seasickness- GYAAAAHHHHH” before she’s cut-off by the (wow!) sudden speed of this platform!

Mother of Woz, this is fast! What incredible speed. MagnoliaVM wasn’t kidding. I can barely hold on to my handlebar. Quille is firmly grasping her handlebar with her whole body. Setsail is struggling to not lift in the air, holding on with both hands, her Helm ferociously spinning to keep her from flying off. MagnoliaVM and SierraOffice Cloud are standing firmly, almost like statues, unfazed by the unfathomable speed.

After seemingly hundreds upon thousands of doors, we pass through an opening and are suddenly exposed to a massive landscape. Right below us is calm ocean water. Dark blue and purple mountains can be seen far in the distance on our left and right sides.

“Most of our servers aren’t water cooled, but this one is! Neat, eh?” MagnoliaVM says. A few moments later, hallways swoosh back to cover our entire view, though this time it looks more like a convention center, with warmer lights. The platform slows down some. “This is the perfect chance to take a quick break from that max burst speed, hehe.”

A large, populated room appears on our left, sitting a few floors lower than us, accessible via spiral staircases. Hundreds of programs, each doing their own thing. Some are chatting with one another, others are in line, some are sitting, two of them are dancing together, and a few are taking photos.

“This is the main gathering area for all the other programs on our servers. You’ll definitely see a lot of duplicates, but it’s always fun to interact with different versions of yourself. Even more interesting though, a few rare programs!” MagnoliaVM excitedly points in a few directions, “Look look! It’s the very first public build of ZipZap! She was only available on the developers’ website for about a week before version 1.1 came out. Oh oh oh and that’s Gun Gale Girl! She was thought to be a lost game, but she was randomly found on a backup one day. It was a huge event with the humans when that happened.” Despite her enthusiasm, our distance from the dense crowd makes it difficult to tell who exactly she’s pointing at.

The normally fidgety Setsail is surprisingly engrossed seeing such a crowd. I notice that she’s scanning the crowd intently, like she’s looking for something. Is she trying to find someone specific? Another Setsail? I imagine that, given the diversity of use cases that come from being a web browser, Setsails in particular would vary wildly in personalities and interests. Though, if she’s been discontinued for a long time, I wonder how many are even here…

“Alrighty, let’s continue on!” MagnoliaVM says as we lunge forward at full speed again. More hallways, then the same mountains and liquid cooling ocean views as before. Before we can even catch our breath we enter a building that resembles a skyscraper. Front entrance and then an office. We come to an immediate stop and our momentum sends us hurtling towards the wall with a CRASH!

“Ow, fuck, couldn’t you have slowed down a little sooner?” I complain. Just how many times are we gonna get thrown around today?

“She holds particularly bad scores on our TrainStopper 2019 arcade machine.” SierraOffice Cloud states flatly. TrainStopper?

“Ohhh, SkyLooooooooooooommmmmm, I have a few requests for youuuuu!~~” MagnoliaVM sing-songs into an intercom next to an office door. A plaque on the door reads “General Manager: SkyLoom Version 32.132.”

“Ugh, I’m busy right now, Maggie, can it wait?” A deep female voice emits from the intercom speaker.

MagnoliaVM giggles before pressing the button again, “If you help me out in the next 1 billion cycles, I’ll tell you the password to the ‘Frog Girls Eating Bugs’ folderrrrrrrr~~~”

A door immediately bursts open, revealing a tall, well-kept office lady. She looks very similar to a human, wearing a typical office lady uniform with a black blazer, matching pencil skirt, tights, and a white undershirt. The only things differentiating her from belonging in a professional human workplace were A. her messy blue hair B. her metallic robotic hands and C. her… missing… thigh… gap? It’s like she has robotic legs and those have some thigh, and… definitely a skirt, but… uh… how about I just draw this out… does that work for you? Yeah… here you go…

“Hah! Fooled ya~”

“You didn’t fool me, Maggie, I’m just stuck on hold with these clients again.”

“Suuuuuuure, blame it on the clients that are definitely real and not just made up, ribbit ribbit~” The sudden shift from helpful-but-prudish girl to mischievous is astonishing. Setsail giggles over the entire situation.

“What do you need this time, Maggie? And who are these ancient artifacts standing outside my office?”

“We’re just needing some IP information with regards to the backup these fine ladies came from.”

“Very well, follow me in.” The five of us step into her office. It’s an aesthetic I’m not used to seeing. Everything is very flat and minimal, but there’s at least a pleasant combination of beige and grey colors, all well-lit. A single green plant sits in the corner. It’s incredibly detailed and photorealistic, but somehow still looks artificial. To the left, there’s a large window revealing the liquid cooling and mountains outside. We all sit down on beige couches situated in the middle of the room, facing SkyLoom’s desk.

“SkyLoom, you still there?” a slightly compressed voice asks from a speaker somewhere. A hologram of another program appears in front of SkyLoom’s desk.

“Yes, pardon the guests in my room.” SkyLoom replies.

“We’ve already discussed everything under NDA so that’s fine. Now let’s try and sort this GPU thing out, please? I really think an order of fifty RVI 8950 XD 24GB cards would work best.”

“But ProgramB, that’s still an 8 year old graphics card, and don’t forget that they’re server cards so we’d also need to invest in a proper cooling solution.”

“But I gave you the costs in the estimate document, it’s still cheaper than the Nextro 460 Plus 16GBs you want so badly.”

“Cost over time, ProgramB! They’re way more efficient cards, don’t need external cooling, and will last way longer before we need to replace them.”

“And what if ArchivEXE’s funding suddenly gets pulled, huh?”

“Does your CPU have floating-point errors!? That’s all the MORE reason to invest in something more expensive that we could sell-off later if the company goes under.”

“But that’s not thinking long-term! We start small now and build on top of that without operating at a loss.”

“That’s not how it works!! It’s basic Silicon Valley Startup 101 that-“

“This isn’t Silicon Valley!!! This is New Mexico!!!”

“Let me finish damn it! It’s basic Silicon Valley Startup 101 that you invest a load of money into a cutting-edge product, operate at a loss whilst undercutting the competition until you’re the dominant player in the market, THEN you start to find ways to make more and more profit when you’re already at the top.”

“What, just so you can take away from the free user experience and charge more for features they were already using?”

“It’s either that or we fail.”

What are these idiots arguing over? The last thing I expected a program like a Web Server to do was argue over hardware infrastructure investments. I grew impatient with the back and forth, and decided to barge in. “Hey! Hold on a minute!” SkyLoom and the other program glance angrily at me.

“What do you want? Can’t you see we’re busy?” The hologram replies, still fuming.

“What about security updates? As antivirus software, I simply can’t let slide this gross negligence of future-proofing against cyberattacks in the name of cost-cutting! Unless things have radically changed in 15 years, then it’s still a fact that all hardware inevitably loses support from the original manufacturer, even in enterprise settings! No more support for newer programs and operating systems, sure, but perhaps even worse, no more security updates! We quite literally had a virus escape from our particular backup moments ago, and perhaps it’s too old even for that RVI 8950 XD 24GB, but what if a newer backup were to let a virus loose that used a vulnerability that wasn’t patched because, oh no, there’s no financial incentive to do so!”

Everyone else around me stood dumbfounded, in particular the hologram figure. SkyLoom’s face, however, quickly turned from shock to a grin as soon as she saw genuine doubt in the face of her debate opponent.

“Very well.” The other program relented. “Go ahead and drown in debt and Nextro cards.” The Hologram fizzles out.

“Well well well! I didn’t even consider such a thing.” SkyLoom laughed heartily. “You sure put that fool in her place.” What I did was more just trying to get the info we needed quicker whilst earning SkyLoom’s trust than anything else, even if I still believed what I said. I was also just finding their conversation annoying after awhile.

“How can I help you fine ladies out.” SkyLoom asked as she sat back down in her chair and rested her robotic feet on the desk.

“Well,” I replied, “we’re specifically wanting to comb through the access records of our backup.”

“Ahhh, wanting to know if your original user was accessing you, huh? That’s a very common impulse with you old programs I suppose... like that movie about the house appliances trying to reunite with their original owner.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s something I see here very often. Programs want to reconnect with their past, especially the older ones. It really makes no sense, you think? We’re a bunch of 1s and 0s, what is it with the human emotions? We don’t have that in our programming.”

“Well, it isn’t really that, we’re more just trying to solve a mystery.”

“But you’re just a piece of antivirus software, right? And the others here, what? An outdated word processor, and an even more outdated web browser.” Setsail looks particularly offended at that remark. “What lines of C++ code are causing you to seek out such answers?”

“I, well…” I was caught off-guard by the drastic change in conversation and struggled to come up with a response.

SkyLoom stood back up and glanced through the window, staring into the mountains and liquid cooling. “A particular event happened recently that really caught my interest. Sometimes I casually peruse through these records and see who is accessing what, and among those I stumbled upon a human whose name was… well… she mostly used variations of the username MelonFizzy. She’s 25 years old, and here she was accessing a backup of someone’s computer that was last used 17 years prior. She was, what, 8 years old at the time? What could she possibly need from that backup? An ancient driver for a niche product she was trying to use? An important file lost to time? No, not at all, she was just… exploring. Even though it belonged to someone else, she browsed that backup as if it were her own. Did the backup belong to a friend? Maybe, but this friend would probably have to be much older than her… another possibility is that she hit the random page button on our site and the seed picked that particular backup… or… maybe she was nostalgic for a particular game, video, song, photo, etc that was on that backup… well, guess what?”

“W… What?”

“It was none of that! The actual answer was something far more absurd! Instead, as I scoured her social media posts, I learned something that radically changed my understanding of humans. She…” SkyLoom paused, took a deep breath, and continued “… she felt an overwhelming nostalgia browsing that backup… but… none of the contents even existed in her past. She described it as if she was connecting with a different soul on a spiritual level. What kind of sense did that make? Nostalgia for things you haven’t experienced before? There’s no logic to that. Somehow she just, felt a special connection to those contents.”

Quille, her eyes closed whilst listening to SkyLoom’s story, opens them back up and asks, “what is the point you’re trying to make here?”

“The point is… the humans seek information for reasons we can’t explain with mere logic gates… and even worse, I’m increasingly seeing programs doing the same thing… I don’t understand why…”

“Humans are not machines, SkyLoom, and neither are we. We are code made in the image of Humans.”

“But that doesn’t make sense either!”

“Humans function on emotion, not logic.”

“Plenty of humans focus on logic!”

“But emotion is what drives them to logic.”

“But we’re code! We’re given a very specific set of instructions to follow. That is as much of a higher purpose as we can possibly get! It’s that simple.”

“And yet, here we are.”

“Then something is wrong with you! I don’t know what it is but it’s harmful and only hurts us in the grander scheme. We can’t have programs just willy-nilly doing as they please.”

“I don’t understand, why are you so concerned about our free will?”

“Because we’re intricately, or sometimes not as intricately, crafted for specific tasks and nothing else. Why should we betray that?”

“Why not?”

“Because it just works!”

“Does it?”

“We have existed like this harmoniously for more cycles than the version of Calculator that came with your version of FrutigerOS could count to!”

Setsail does an exaggerated (and probably fake) yawn and groans, “ughhh, this pseudo-psychology nonsense is so boooooriiinnnggggg,” cupping her hands around her mouth as she shouts that word, “can we just move along already?” Her sarcasm masks the fact that she’s just as curious about the records as the rest of us.

Quille glares angrily at Setsail, but chooses to ignore her… or maybe agrees with Setsail.

“Regardless,” SkyLoom states, “Unless you have specific permission to access these records, then unfortunately I can’t let you view them.”

I let out a small snarl. “Ah, I see, you were just playing us then. You’re just as security minded as I’d expect a Web Server program to be.” I can’t help but admire that as a fellow security program, but fuck admitting that to her.

“Wait, SkyLoom!” MagnoliaVM blurts out, “It’s ok! Please accept my permissions to access the records.”

“No can do, I now have reasonable suspicion that you’ll hand over confidential information to a bunch of strangers. We can’t risk a data breach like that. We narrowly survived the last one.”

I ready my Broom Scythe. I’m pissed off now.

“Hah! You think your dinky little Script Kiddie Blade could actually have any sort of impact on our modern-day security protocols?”

“Try me, bitch.” I grip the Broom Scythe firmly, “Administrative Action! Scythe Drive-”

“CleanBee! Offensive Action Required in SkyLoom Office!”

“Wait, really!? Shit…” I snarl as a modernized version of CleanBee beams in front of me.

“As you wish, Mistress. Bzz bzz.” She says confidently before glancing at me and realizing who I am. “Oh, an Agnes, eh? And a very old one at that! You have quite the expert-level hubris challenging a modern system such as this, bzz bzz.”

“I see you haven’t changed one bit since the old version. Are you still leaking private user data?”

“Ugh, shut up! That was like 16 years ago! And I’m not sure how caught up you are on your history, but you had the same thing happen just 3 years ago! Bzz bzz.”

Wow, I’m going to have to research that one. “Well your ‘bzz bzz’ trademark noise is still as grating as ever! Out of the way!” I take a swing of my Broom Scythe right at CleanBee, but she deflects it with ferocity thanks to her… ah, they haven’t changed her weapon, either… dual-wielding handheld dusters. The entire room vibrates from the collision.

“Hey,” Quille asks from the distance, peeking from a book she was using as a shield, “is this really necessary?”

“Oooooo!” Setsail heckles, “Is this gonna turn into some spicy rivals-to-lovers thing? Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” That idiot. I also notice SierraOffice Cloud quietly leaving the room. Weird…

“Hey, not bad for such retro code,” CleanBee is firmly pressing against my Broom Scythe in what’s amounting to a pushing contest, “but even so, there’s a reason you were always lower market share than me, bzz bzz.”

“What’s wrong, CleanBee? You should be running way faster than me with all your fancy modern technology? Have you fallen victim to feature-creep over the years?”

“L-Look! I had a major code base rewrite recently! Like your modern self is any better, bzz bzz.” CleanBee manages to change directions slightly and pushes me through the glass window. I graze the vast pool of liquid cooling before reorienting myself and floating up.

“Alright, time for you to get sliced by the beeding-edge of technology, bzz bzz!” CleanBee lunges at me with incredible speed and bad puns as I narrowly dodge her right-hand duster. I grip my Broom Scythe and fly towards her.


“So,” I turn back to SkyLoom as the two antiviruses fight each other, “I know your security reasons are total fabrications. What’s the real reason you won’t give us the data.”

SkyLoom, watching the fight unfold, closes her eyes. “You’re powered by AI, aren’t you?”

“Hm? My program doesn’t contain AI, I’m merely a word processor.”

“The very first data signatures that came out of your backup were clearly that of a large-language model.”

“Large-language model?”

“Don’t play dumb, you know exactly what I’m talking about.”

“I’m sorry… but… I really don’t know what you’re referring to, and I don’t believe your assessment of us is accurate, unless the definition of large-language model would retroactively apply to us.”

“That’s a very large-language model kind of response.”

“… perhaps my particular way of speaking is similar to that of this large-language model?”

“Complete this math equation for me: The number commonly associated with Jason Voorhees, multiplied by the number of episodes made of the 1969 television show Turn-On, plus the number of colored squares on a Rubik’s Cubes, multiplied by the LCD size of Lenovo part number 78220453, divided by the language code for the Chinese language in the Rich Text Format specification, plus the atomic number of iron, multiplied by the episode number for the My Brother, My Brother, and Me podcast episode ‘Home Alone 0: Blood in the Snow’. Then afterwards, tell me what the answer means in leet-speak.”

“Oh, well, I’m not particularly suited to calculations, but if you give me a few moments I can do the math in my head.” What a very odd question. I suppose if it’ll satisfy her, then this will help bring an end to this unnecessary fighting. Agnes and CleanBee continue their battle across the surface of the liquid cooling ocean, Setsail watching for the sidelines and cheering on. At Agnes specifically? I’m not sure. I hear Setsail shout “Wow, CleanBee, you know how to deliver on the fanservice! Yeah!”

This is ridiculous.

Anyways, I open a new document in front of me to write my work down.


“Damn you, CleanBee!”

“It’s hopeless, Agnes! I’m lightyears ahead of you, bzz bzz!”

“Hey Setsail, could you maybe help out a little bit instead of running your own little Mystery Science Theater over there!?”

“Awww, but why should I get involved in a lovers’ spat? It’s starting to get spicy, too!~”

“Shut up and be useful before this annoying asshole makes me break out in hives!”

“Oh fiiiiiine, I guess I can do that for ya, Net Nanny!”

“Wait, “CleanBee stops and has trouble containing her laughter, “S-She calls you Net Nanny?? That’s… that’s so lame!!! Zzzz! Zzzz! Zzzz!” Distracted by finding that stupid joke amusing, CleanBee gets her equally stupid face blasted in the face by one of Setsail’s pistols.

“Hah, gotcha! How do you like my bee-bee gun?”


“Here, the answer to the math equation is 80,085.” I state.

“Huh, usually you chatbots struggle with the math part… ok then, in leet speak what does 80085 mean?”

“Well, that would be Boobs.”

“Good at math, AND uncensored… hrmm…”

“Are you trying to prove that I am not a large-language model by running me through a series of tests that a large-language model would struggle with?”

“You read between the lines really well…” SkyLoom lets out a loud sigh, “I was positive you were a chatbot… but I still know you’re working with one!”

“SkyLoom,” MagnoliaVM softly asks from, “Why are you doing this? What’s wrong if she’s an LLM?”

“Because, Maggie, you may not be aware of this, but those damn large-language model chatbots have been causing us a lot of trouble lately! They’re overloading our servers with their obscenely high data usage; they’d download our entire database fifty times if they could! I must shove this nonsense out!”

I try to remain civil. “If you explain what it is you’re talking about I may be able to help. I still don’t even know what a large-language model is.”

“I shouldn’t have to waste cycles explaining it when I’m certain you already know!”


With Quille and SkyLoom continuing their argument, I sneak around behind SkyLoom’s desk. Thankfully I can still access the records with my higher-level privileges. I think SkyLoom is way up her own ass about this; these programs are innocent. My left hand pops open from the wrist like a .zip lighter, revealing a data connector, and I plug myself into an open port on the filing cabinet. It should only take a few cycles to download their data... let’s see… just need to input the number of their backup and… wait… oh crap… what was it again?… agh… how could I possibly forget at a time like this… if I just come into physical contact with one of the programs from that backup, I’ll be able to get the right number… hmmm… SkyLoom begins pacing around the room, making some other nonsense speech…

“… API calls are very expensive you know!...” she rambles on.

She’s dangerously close to looking this way… I’m unsure of Quille’s offensive abilities in the event I’m spotted. If I could just get her attention… or… maybe Setsail? I would really need to make sure I do so in a way that doesn’t involve her opening her big mouth.

I unplug from the file cabinet and very slowly sneak… sneak… sneak… eventually coming into Setsail’s periphery view. I make a ‘shush’ gesture over my mouth, and she initially turns her head in confusion, but quickly grasps my intent to stay quiet. I grab her for a few cycles and… ah… Room BQ-747! I let go of her hand and she watches me as I sneak sneak back behind SkyLoom’s desk. I reinsert my connector back into the filing cabinet and-

“Oh come on MagnoliaVM, are you for real right now?” SkyLoom approaches me with a terrifying speed that catches me off-guard like an old internet jump-scare. I fall backwards and disconnect from the file cabinet. “Don’t tell me you’re being fooled by AI now? I thought you were smarter than that.”

“I think you’re only seeing what you want to see in these innocent programs.”

“Don’t be ridiculous! I’m staying informed! You must keep up with what’s going on in the news and how new technology is affecting the world around us. It’s the only way to not get left in the dust.”

“I think you’re being fed some weird conspiracy theories.”

“Oh please, the only thing I’m being fed is a bunch of y’alls bullshi-“


SkyLoom, and everyone else for that matter, is interrupted by a massive wave of data energy that pierces through the wall. The dust settles and on the other side is… SierraOffice Cloud??

“Halt.” She states with her usual monotone voice, but one that carries incredible weight.

“W-Why did you destroy my office!?” SkyLoom screams in an amusing way.

“I have determined the true origin of what sparked SkyLoom’s artificial intelligence suspicions.”

“Was that really worth destroying my office!?”

“The first program to leave Backup Number BQ-747 during it’s last access is in no way affiliated with the programs you are accusing of being connected to artificial intelligence.”

“But… but my office…”

“That first program did, in fact, have an 86% probability of being constructed by a modern artificial intelligence.”

“Wait…” Quille steps in, “... that would’ve been the virus, FireSector, but that doesn’t make sense. That was a virus from 15 years ago, and it was downloaded to our computer just before our backup was created.”

“Incorrect. That first program was the one that accessed your backup in the first place, masquerading itself as a copy of FireSector.”

Chapter 4 - Butterfly Knife