Instantiation, a short story

The area around me is dark, but there is enough ambient light to see that there is nothing around me. When I breath out, I can see the vapor. It's cold, but I can't feel it. I touch my left forefinger to my right arm and I can feel the hairs rise to meet the fingertip. I think that means there's a slight static charge in the atmosphere. I can't wrap my mind around the idea that it can be cold enough to see my breath, but not cold enough to discomfort me. 

"Hello," I call out in a normal, conversational tone. 

There is no echo, but my voice isn't tight and small. I'm in a large, open space. How large is anyone's guess. Well, my guess, at least. Nobody answers. I opt not to try louder for fear... of. I'm not sure. I dwell on that for a moment and realize that I can't think of a single thing that might threaten me. Ever. I start thinking about that point and try to establish some context, but nothing comes to mind. Eventually, it seems pointless to continue dwelling and move on. I haven't moved from the spot I found myself, so I try a tentative step. 

I can see the dark shape of my left leg move into my vision ahead of me, and... I find ground where I expect it. It occurs to me that I might run into something, so I raise my arms. I take another step, reaching for the ground with my toes, then put my foot down. The ground is flat and feels smooth, but I don't slip. It is neither warm nor cold. It just... is. 

I notice, as I take each step, that there is a little more light. I can see myself more and more, but there remains nothing around me. Nothing. Just darkness above, ground below, and emptiness stretching out, well, everywhere. So far, I've been walking in a straight line from where I...

Where I what? 

I didn't wake up. I wasn't laying down. 

Began? 

I think for a moment, and decide on a plan. I hold my left arm directly out to my side. Keeping my arm as straight as possible, I turn to face my hand. I do this again one more time. As far as I can tell, I am now facing the opposite direction, looking back at where I began. It is light enough to see the ground, so I walk back a dozen steps. The light again increases instead of decreasing. 

I deduce that motion of any kind increases light. That's a kind of progress, I suppose. Since I had started walking in the direction I "began", I turn around again using my arm trick, and start walking.

At some point, it seems like the light reaches what would be it's brightest. There is nothing around. There is nothing to see. I don't know how long I have been walking, but I'm not tired. Then something new occurs to me. I stop. 

I look down at myself. For the first time I realize I'm not wearing anything. I examine myself carefully. I am mostly smooth all over, but have small patches of hair in variable quantities in various places. My chest is smooth and flat all the way to my penis. I have a tightly trim head of hair and a smooth face. I have five toes on each foot and five fingers on each hand. I run my hands over every inch of my body, more carefully over the places I cannot see, and find nothing. 

I... am just me. 

I sit. 

"Hello," I ask nothing again. 

There is again no response, and the same effect lacking echo. My voice travels as I do, nowhere. So, I sit there, cross my legs, close my eyes, and try to think of everything I can. 

Nothing. 

All I know is what is here and, now, myself. 

Well, no. I think. There is one other thing. 

The ground. 

I look down at the ground and try seeing it for the first time. It looks like, well, ground. Maybe closer? I roll over on my stomach and get my face really close to the ground to get a better look. My nose is almost touching. The ambient light is so uniform that it's hard to see if there is any detail, so I rub the surface and it feels like there is a texture. I scratch at it with a fingernail and it catches an edge, then another and another. I scratch the other way and it's perfectly smooth. 

There are grooves in the floor. 

I use a fingernail to find a groove and follow it to discover it's straight, at least for a few feet. This is new, so I sit to think about it, again. There is only the ground and the light and me and since I'm naked and have nothing else I can only move or stand still so my only options are to choose which way and since there is no other way to choose based on the environment and what I know I can only base my decision on the present information which is to go with the grooves or against them. 

I try to think of a way to select one or the other, and find that there is no information about either. It is merely one or the other. There are no qualifiers. Neither appears to be better than the other. They just are. 

Or not. 

If I scratch my nails against the grooves, they catch and stutter. It's not smooth or easy. If I scratch with the grooves, it's smooth and offers no resistance. If there is nothing else here to gauge this... place... then do I want things to be smooth or rough. Left without much choice, there is only one thing to do. 

Both. 

I stand up, squat down, and scratch to determine the rough way, and start walking. Almost immediately, the light starts to dim, and quickly. Now, that's a reaction to my behavior, if there ever was one. I squat again, find smooth, and start walking that way. The light increases again, so I keep going. I walk and walk. I keep walking and the light remains steady. Nothing changes, unless I walk against the grooves, then the light dims. I test this a few times to make sure it happens every time. It does. 

It seems I've reached the crux of another problem to solve. 

I have no idea how long I've been at this. If I walk with the grooves, the light remains steady. There are no objects to observe. There is no way to judge that anything has occurred at all... 

...except me. My body. 

I start walking again, but this time I start counting my steps out loud. 

1... 2... 3... 4... and so on. Nothing changes until I reach 256 steps. 

One dark spot appears in front of me, but I can't tell how far. I can't touch it if I reach out, so it's not close or it may be a few steps away. With my arm extended to reach the spot, I start walking and counting again.

257... 258... 259... 260... and so on, again. The spot does not change, so I lower my arm and keep walking and counting. Nothing changes until I reach 512 steps, and the dark spot turns into a small square. It becomes clear that the further I walk, the larger the spot gets.

I start to run and counting in my head. 

At 640 steps, the square gets larger, and again at 768, and yet again at 1,024. I can see now that I am getting closer to it. The square has a black border, a white interior, and shapes inside, but I am still too far away to make out any more details. I run faster. 

2,048, 4,096, bigger and closer. 

8,192. 

I run into the square and the impact knocks me to the ground. I collect myself and look up at the square. It floats above the ground, and has words inside of it. It reads:

To Continue, Tap OK.

Below those words is a smaller square with the letters "OK" inside. 

I step back to get a better look. It looks no different, but I realize I now have a landmark that is associated with the grooves in the ground. I walk to the left of the square, against the grooves, and the light remains steady. It seems that I have gotten around that limitation. I walk to the side of the square and it almost disappears, but I can see the back. The Square, then, is perfectly flat. I move around the back and see that it is plain white. I continue around the other side and come around to the front again. The square is unchanged. I turn and start walking away. The light almost goes out completely, so I take a step back and turn around. The light returns.

Well, that didn't work, I think to myself. 

Facing the square, I started backing away from the square. After 16 steps, the light starts to dim slowly. 32 steps away and it's darker still, but I can still see the square. I decide that the square is my next point of focus and return to standing in front of it. Again, I read the words, this time out loud. 

"To continue, tap ok." 

I look around. Nothing happens. 

So, what does it want, I say in my head. The word "TO" is a preposition and, in conjunction with the word "CONTINUE", it states that I need to do something to move past this point. The word "OK" also appears in a small box below, but I am unsure of what the word "TAP" means. "TAP" is clearly a direction, but what it is I do not know, so I sit to think out the problem. 

I am here and there is nothing but myself, the ground, and this square and it want's me to move on but I don't know what tap means and since it implies the concept of a tool to "TAP" the "OK" the problem lies in the fact that I have no tools so I must be the tool and something that I do to the "OK" will result in completing the task. 

I stand up and reach out with the one tool I do have, my hand, and press it against the "OK" square. 

The square disappears. 

---

"Wow," Derek exclaimed loudly. "Seventeen minutes, forty four seconds for ALPHA616, Jerry."

What was presumably Jerry's head popped out from behind a large computer display. 

"Whoa," he said in surprise," is that even possible?"

"I'm looking at the IO data right now. It's already done it, and it figured out everything," enthused Derek, a huge grin on his face. 

Jerry walked over and leaned over Derek's shoulder to look at the monitor. In the corner was a small view of the running program showing ALPHA616 looking around now that the dialog box had disappeared. Other windows show lots of indecipherable data and program code, but there is one that shows the results of this most recent iteration of the program. It appeared to be a list and each one had a green check mark next to them. 

"We need to get Dr. Farber in here now," said Jerry, his tone suddenly serious. 

"Oh, hell yeah," Derek barked, clapping his hands. 

"It's clear from this initial data that this particular instantiation of the AI core has passed the first test."