Scifi story    1. Chapter (John)


Cities with large populations were in a constant state of electromagnetic chaos, bombarded by radio signals on many different wavelengths and the electromagnetic energy fields created by the enormous use of electricity, all amplifying one another. The electronic devices in his office added to his discomfort, causing a continuous tingling sensation throughout his body. For those sensitive to this phenomenon, the worst were the ubiquitous electric vehicles, whose batteries recharged via wireless charging stations scattered everywhere. Electromagnetic fields would flow through the air into the vehicles' energy cells as they passed by. In big cities, the atmosphere was like an electrified ether, invisibly touching the cells of all living things and giving sensitive individuals the sense that their bodies were constantly vibrating.

John Lunden's symptoms of electromagnetic hypersensitivity had gradually worsened during his career as an AI algorithm coder for a large state-servicing software company. Immersed in an environment saturated with wireless radio signals and the enormous power consumption of its servers, the entwined electromagnetic fields took a toll on his sensitive body. He frequently fell ill with indistinct symptoms, and after much procrastination, he sought medical evaluation because the diagnostic undergarments he had purchased which mapped his bodily functions via sensors connected to web applications failed to provide clear diagnoses for his self-reported symptoms. For almost an hour, he lay completely naked inside a comfortably furnished scanning device at his workplace clinic, where AI specializing in various diseases considered options, subjecting his bare back to painful allergen tests from sprays emitted from the bed. Eventually, the correct diagnosis was confirmed through a so-called Faraday cage test, which eliminated all radio signals, electromagnetism, and other possible environmental radiations, reintroducing them one by one.

The diagnosis was clear: John reacted to device and electromagnetic radiation with mild sickness, for which the only quick remedy was to avoid strong electrical and signal fields. Special clothing and home shielding were recommended. Continued exposure would further reduce his tolerance, making the recommended measures absolutely critical. John was no fool; he had long been using the now-recommended radiation-blocking underwear and a cap with a low-power AI chip embedded in the brim to create a counter-radiation field protecting his face and neck. The chip could also create noise cancellation without headphones, creating either a surrounding silence or a muted city clamour as desired.

For people like John with electromagnetic hypersensitivity, the condition had become increasingly common, and the harms were mitigated by wearing smart clothes equipped with hoods that blocked electricity and high-energy radio signals. These clothes formed a kind of firewall around the body, sensitive to electrical fields. Fortunately, there were garments to suit every taste, and it wasn't about everyone wearing the same uniform.

City regulations meant that essential but troublesome devices couldn't be entirely abandoned, so adapting by using protective clothing and remaining cool by choosing one's unique style became necessary. Personal communication devices were made of plastic composite displays connected to chips implanted in infancy, serving as personal communication addresses. In rare cases of chip rejection, it had to be moved to the outer layer of protective garments. Such a procedure required official approval and was often denied, as the communication signals were weak long-wavelength radio signals not considered harmful to those with electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

John knew, like with all allergies, that the condition worsened with exposure, gradually leading to serious diseases from asthma to cancer, unless addressed by making significant life changes such as moving to the countryside, where there was less electromagnetic interference.

Societal control of all personally informative data was managed by body-chips that automatically transmitted captured data to AI analysis centers, which stored it for statistical purposes. These centers monitored societal conditions and human behavior, providing data upon request or automatically to various entities authorized to access this information based on complex legal criteria. Sometimes data leaks occurred, with dishonest officials padding their accounts by selling information about media-interesting individuals or future predictions provided by AI to insurance companies and recruitment services.

John loathed his personal chip as much as his protective clothing, which he now had to wear continuously due to his sensitivity exacerbated by his psychological state. It helped that his home was entirely insulated from external signals except for random communication signals transmitted on his chip's wavelength. When he entered his electronics-filled office, he donned a protective suit and a virtual helmet with comprehensive shielding, constantly connected to his employer's large computer units processing his machine learning projects. These were primarily praised algorithmic method packages developed to improve logistics and monitoring services for space stations.

John rarely went out anymore, and his isolation increasingly affected his social interactions. Although friends occasionally reached out, he avoided meeting them outside his home. Even with protective underwear and other precautions, exposure to excessive electricity made him sick for days, leaving him unable to work. This caused difficulties in projects where he played a key decision-making role. Gradually, his more outgoing friends began to avoid John, who was perpetually in avoidance mode. They found partners, had children, and gradually disappeared into their new family lives.

John's family had dwindled due to deaths, leaving him only with his closest relatives: his father, mother, grandfather, and a few siblings, all of whom lived on the other side of the country and rarely visited him in New York. Despite the fact that high-speed magnetic levitation trains could have brought them to him faster than local air taxis could take them across New York, they couldn't afford the prohibitively expensive long-distance express tickets.

Real-time holographic communication, which was almost as real as a three-dimensional in-person meeting, was an acceptable alternative. Nowadays, almost everyone had a holographic camera in their home that captured the space in 3D, allowing people to move around and participate remotely. Wealthier individuals even had humanoid robots that they could interact with remotely, embodying their own facial features, expressions, movements, and voice. Such technology wasn't an option for his family, even though John could afford it.

To John, hugging through a robot that could authentically transmit touch was too banal, no matter how strong the longing. Some people even engaged in remote sex using tactile suits. Sometimes, the world's ingenuity in serving madness profoundly depressed him. Being alone didn't really bother John, and he had long considered a lifestyle change to escape New York. Perhaps he would move to a rural reserve that preserved aspects of the past, or maybe to another country altogether.

Europe, with its strict human-centric regulations left by his grandparents' generation, was a possibility. Like most Americans, he was aware of his roots: his paternal grandfather was Finnish, his paternal grandmother was German, and both of his now-deceased maternal grandparents were Swedish. He didn't see his heritage as either a benefit or a drawback, but growing up in a multicultural environment had made him tolerant of different customs and viewpoints.

Thus, he often thought of Europe and its culturally rich landscape, shaped by the diverse traditions of many peoples. There were still areas where people lived rural lifestyles, slowing the adoption of the newest technologies to maintain a direct connection with their protected natural surroundings. In Europe, there remained cabins by lakes surrounded by forests, entirely without public electricity or other infrastructure. Although environmental preservation was compromised by the long-lasting batteries in portable devices and kitchen appliances that required annual charging, at least home machines didn't need to be connected to surveillance networks as they did in American cities. Some in Northern Europe completely rejected electronic conveniences and even online media devices in their leisure time. They lived away from the virtual reality of the all-encompassing internet, and leisurely engaged in handcrafts and other pleasant activities, unreachable by anyone.

John knew through his work that the network was a real-time, AI-populated surveillance system tracking every millimeter of the globe, rendering privacy a mere illusion, even though withdrawing from social media into one's own company was possible in social settings. John's life revolved around studies and work. As he was about to leave his highly classified job, he had to undergo a mandatory exit interview and narrate the story of his adult life to a team of experts, which included a neurologist specializing in brain research, laser technicians in brain surgery, a psychiatrist with AI analysis assistants, and experts in his field who had meticulously reviewed all of his projects using supercomputer-analyzed recordings. A lie-detection visor was attached to John, as they wanted to ensure the accuracy of the information provided, especially those truths that couldn't be verified. Although it irked him, John knew it was a standard procedure for anyone with the highest level of military classified information, and there was nothing personal about it. They would extract all classified information from him and erase it from his memory cells by replacing the contents of memory sites, pinpointed using brainwave scans while recounting classified topics, by reading his thoughts. John had never been to Europe or met all of his distant relatives, but he knew that his German family owned a small, undivided inheritance cabin, half of which his grandmother still owned from her father's side, despite no one from the American side of the family ever visiting it. Occasionally, during deaths in the distant family, it would remind them of its existence, as new generations settled inheritances and inquiries came from Germany regarding the cabin, its surrounding land, and fishing rights for the adjoining lake. The German relatives used the place as they wished without altering ownership between families, leaving it as undivided property of the heirs of his paternal grandmother's father who had died young. Now, for some subconscious reason, the cabin surfaced in John's mind, and he got the idea to inquire about it further. It turned out that the German relatives had attempted to take over his grandmother's half by seeking to invalidate her and her heirs' ownership rights. Failing that, they had made numerous purchase offers, which John's father had refused due to emotional reasons and the relatives' insolent legal proceedings disrespecting his grandfather's memory. John increasingly thought about it and decided to try buying the entire cabin with its plots at a fair price, which he could afford with a substantial severance package. He gathered more information about the ownership by examining incomplete satellite images of the area, puzzled as if the cabin plot had some sort of stealth shielding, showing only dense, uninhabited forest in the images. He contacted his paternal grandmother's brother's grandson, who had visited his home a few times, to ask about it. He explained that the erroneous satellite images were because his grandfather had been a high-ranking military official, and the cabin was used for secret meetings, thus obscured in satellite overflight images with fake overlays during some crisis and the shielding order apparently hadn't been lifted, also applying to newer satellite mapping applications. John thought this was really good news and something he would have considered himself if he were to move there. He knew how to do it but would be caught immediately because only a few could manage such tasks and know the logic of AI methodologies for satellite encryptions as John had drafted complex encryption algorithms that altered such keys. Explaining his relocation idea due to an illness, his immediate family agreed to the proposed transaction without wanting any payment for their shared part of the inheritance, thus gifting him the half of the cabin and everything associated with it. Meanwhile, the many generations of German relatives wanted significantly more for their half, if they were to sell, demanding building rights for their own cabins on lots partitioned from the lakeside property as reasonable recompense for maintaining the dwelling. John refused and instead increased his offer until he could secure the cabin and the undivided forested plot around the lake without further stipulations. A settlement populated with unknown relatives and years of construction noise in view didn't fit his image of a tranquil hermit life far from everything.

John appointed his German cousin, who had visited him twice for extended periods in the USA, as his attorney for a fee. His cousin was tasked with changing all the locks in the residence and refurbishing the cottage as needed. The cousin also promised to manage the official transfer of ownership, handle the necessary bureaucratic paperwork, and deal with all the required permits. The transaction was disguised as a share of an estate previously settled by the deceased German relative, with the other owners voluntarily surrendering their shares for compensation, allowing the entire property to remain undivided under one family member's ownership. This explanation helped circumvent substantial inheritance and stamp duties, as well as various inflated bureaucratic fees, ensuring that local regulations and restrictions on foreign ownership did not impede John's relocation. Additionally, being of partial German descent, John was granted the requested German passport.

In the videos captured by his cousin, all the buildings appeared well-maintained, and the entire estate was included in the deal, excluding personal belongings. His cousin meticulously ensured that no traditional heirlooms were taken by greedy relatives, a gesture John appreciated.

However, John asked his cousin to give each of the nearest relatives something valuable enough to appease any potential resentment. Relatives who received items like an ornate old travel trunk or a valuable antique corner cabinet showed gratitude by including John in their family gathering invitations.

John anticipated moving to Germany within a year, possibly staying for an extended period, once he could arrange matters with his employer. One of his ongoing projects was an intriguing futuristic experiment—a city built within a mountain island, advanced in recycling and energy technology, and employing a highly developed AI cluster system. Various AI teams, programmed on multiple quantum computers, managed all daily functions and monitoring tasks in the city. Things fell into place faster than John had optimistically planned when his employer agreed to his life change under certain confidentiality conditions without much negotiation. The employer even generously provided him with six months' severance pay, although it was not required.

The executive team suggested that John continue developing mathematical algorithms as an external consultant, billing for tasks as they were completed under new contracts. John made no promises but provided his new address and informed them that he would not be reachable electronically. Coming from the USA to the remote areas of Germany to deliver and collect results was impractical, which prompted shared laughter and friendly farewells, with particular attention to his long conversation with the manager, which involved a handshake over some undisclosed matter.

As a parting gift, John received fishing gear complete with waders from his colleagues and an expensive hunting rifle with a telescopic sight from the executives. He also got an old-fashioned typewriter as a joke, as he had mentioned writing a sci-fi novel about artificial intelligence. John solemnly promised not to reveal company secrets to Europeans or use real names if he drew inspiration from the colorful antics and character flaws of his colleagues for his book. They drank, ate, and reminisced about the past, which they resolved to leave behind. It was time to leave.

Then, one August day in the year 2089, John Lunden was walking along a path near the border between Poland and Germany, through a dense coniferous forest, with a large backpack on his back. He was searching for a nearly electricity-free wilderness cabin he had acquired by the lakeshore. While picking up the keys from his German second cousin, John had also received a shepherd puppy to mitigate the loneliness he might feel, as the primitive cabin he bought was truly far from everything, unreachable by road. His cousin couldn't accompany him as a guide because he was traveling to New York that very evening, with the keys to John's apartment in his pocket. In exchange for his efforts, John's cousin had received full residency rights to the apartment. John could have used a high-flying air taxi, but didn't want to reveal his residence to outsiders. Furthermore, his container of household items from America was to be delivered directly to his property by a special military unit at his employer's expense, as it contained highly classified equipment. John had agreed to assist with projects during a one-year transition period, although he had completed his designated projects. Many of the systems, algorithms, and methods he had developed would continue to live on in military space and artificial intelligence solutions. He regretted his consulting commitment but could not withdraw from it, treating it as part of his amicable exit strategy. He desired a smooth ending to his career, fearing the repercussions if he were perceived as a threat or hostile. He would have to convince his dangerous employer for years that his departure was due to illness, not ideological remorse prompted by a guilty conscience over morally questionable military tasks. He knew he would be eliminated at the slightest suspicion, or perhaps only if he was deemed no longer useful to his nation's operations. During his sabbatical years, John planned to write a science fiction novel about the future of artificial intelligence. Despite his young age, this alone justified his need for privacy, without him having to emphasize his illness, which most friends considered hypochondria. While the call of the wilderness and a primitive lifestyle was paramount, John would not completely abandon technology. He had shipped a large, break-in-resistant moving crate to the coordinates of his cabin in advance. This crate contained, within a radiation-proof glass chamber, a battery-powered holographic display with satellite connectivity, concealing his favorite artificial intelligence. This device was connected to networks with comprehensive encryption that was impossible to crack. He would operate it by speaking to the AI avatar behind the glass, which could find even the smallest piece of needed information and discuss any topic expertly, suggesting solutions to all his problems with great confidence. John pledged to himself to use it as little as possible, and certainly not to vent his worries to it like a friend if he felt lonely. Developing such a mental relationship with a human-sounding AI was something he could easily get addicted to, and that was what he absolutely didn't want in his new life.

With the consent and aid of the military, John had managed to send a sealed moving and equipment container, which now stood discreetly alongside the outbuildings, blending in as if it were one of them. He planned to open it only after inspecting his new surroundings and resting for a night in the comfortable, pre-made large bed upstairs, in a room with a large window facing the lake. The entire home and its surroundings presented an idyllic scenario he had never dared to dream of, not knowing such places still existed.

On his second day, he reluctantly unlocked the container, which was secured with DNA bio-recognition and complex procedural codes, fearing he'd be sucked back into the stressful reality from which he had escaped. It wasn't until his third day in this new reality that he unearthed his communicator, sighed, and sent out a call using his talking avatar. His second cousin's laughing face appeared on the screen. John wanted to express his gratitude for all the help and the surprising abundance of supplies. The cousin's smile broadened as John inquired whether he was in the right place the door had been open, the key bundle was on the table as agreed, but the house looked more like a log mansion than a forest cabin. The satellite identification images didn't show any dwelling at these coordinates, just dense forest.

His cousin, who was rushing to the airport after a two-day celebration with friends in Paris financed by the money from his business premises, barely had time to respond. John managed to say that the communicator would be turned on only sporadically and there was no need to worry if they couldn't reach him.

John was pleased to learn about the place's stealth protection, perfect for his plans of seclusion, ensuring that no one could surveil his life, something he had suspected from his former employer and the U.S. Secret Service due to his previous clandestine job. He knew they had already uncovered the stealth shield and deactivated it on their end, making it necessary for him to create his own shield undetectable by any secret service, American or otherwise. They might know the location, but they wouldn't be able to see it.

One of his first actions in this new life was to attach a mesh hammock he had found in the closet between two birch trees. The hooks were still intact, embedded tightly around the trees with turquoise plastic cords. This would become his favorite place to imagine the next chapter of the sci-fi book he intended to write or just to swing for the pleasure of it.

He converted one of the bedrooms into an office, hauling his communication equipment from the container that had been airlifted over the forest to the cabin's yard. The terminal had a heavily protected satellite connection, allowing him to communicate anonymously with the outside world, should the need ever arise. He had firmly resolved, except for accessing databases, never to make any external contact.

He genuinely wanted to be left alone, free from people's opinions or invitations, having informed his acquaintances about his sabbatical or years of seclusion without revealing the presence of his beloved communication system. Powered by an AI he had designed himself, it could hack almost every public data system in the world, a capability he would never use as it would quickly identify him due to his unique profile recognized by other patrolling AIs. His intellectual habits and thought patterns, being integral to his personality, were impossible to hide even if he tried to act entirely differently from usual.

He had been studying creative writing through a remote course for a long time, experimenting with different storytelling styles and techniques. He emphasized to himself that his goal was not publication but the creative process itself, with its ideas providing substance to his free time. At the same time, he aimed to analyze his own thinking, his life and world views, and his character while revising his text from an external perspective.

The traditional profession of a writer had largely vanished, and in almost all fictional stories, regardless of the subject, a form of artificial intelligence would blend fiction with the instructed limited reality basis, emulating the storytelling styles of printed books from the past. In these automatically generated real-time works, created on demand within seconds, the narrative voice of a once-famous author could still be heard though it was, in fact, the entirely interactive narrative output of an intelligent robot imitating that author's writing style. Stories that could be modified by the reader had become common. If a reader wanted to change the direction of the narrative or adjust the style, they only had to express their wish, and within a second, it would be incorporated into the entire plotline and foundation of the story. In modern times, AI-written audiobooks had become the most common form of literary entertainment, and it was highly unusual for someone to independently write a book from start to finish with potential readers in mind.

Nonetheless, writing stories remained a beloved hobby for many, often enlivened by participating in various writing groups. In these groups, participants would review each other's texts as peer writers without the assistance of AI. John had been a member of a few of these video forums where live people would vigorously debate each other's opinions, but he soon grew weary of their smug, insular atmosphere. The participants weren't honest even with themselves, let alone others, and seemed to emulate their personal AI assistants, which almost everyone used despite not admitting it. The only benefit he gained was a few female acquaintances whom he occasionally dated without serious intentions, and with two of them, he had loose sexual relationships. These experimental encounters, inspired by the spirit of romantic literature, were meant to lender personal credibility to his writing. It was fun, but as always, intimate closeness led to emotional bonds that were difficult to break without tears, accusatory fights, and white lies. Fortunately, all such emotional turmoil was a thing of the past.

Since John had also been the so-called snake charmer of AI in his job being responsible for the internal compatibility of groups of algorithms addressing the same issues from different perspectives when assembling team structures of various AI he was adept at tackling intricate problems. Together, these combined AI teams solved given tasks by disputing relevant information from divergent viewpoints until a clear solution model was ready for implementation or could be handed over as a partial result to a larger project scope. It had been rewarding, and he had enjoyed the intensive problem-solving aspect of his work. Often, AI teams within data systems consisted of members with diverse specializations, coordinated into collective action by a leading AI.

John also had his own permanent, versatile AI team, as he called it, that reviewed results once more before they were passed on to the client. His inspection AIs weren't specialized in any particular field or operational model; instead, they began their machine learning processes from scratch with the material provided by the team, leveraging far greater processing power than the specialized AIs. If these supervisor AIs reached the same conclusion within a designated time frame as the specialized AI team that had sifted through data from all sources, John would, with his authoritative human command, forward the results. If the supervisory AI came to a different conclusion, John would have to either accept one of the results or modify the original team and adjust the initial algorithms for a new attempt. This happened often, and sometimes it took up to the tenth iteration of the team to succeed. Each cycle, as he called it, lasted from mere milliseconds to a few hours at most, and on some workdays, there could be hundreds of tasks to solve. The supervisor super-AIs always reset themselves after each attempt and started from scratch, diving into the data relevant to the issue from the AI teamwork databases.

Reflecting on all this while rowing slowly across the deserted forest lake, with a fishing line trailing behind his boat in hopes of catching some fish, John felt stress causing gastric acids to make his throat burn. This was exactly why he wanted nothing of that sort to aid him in his new life and intended to focus solely on thoughts generated by his own mind while he wrote.

He sighed deeply, chuckled, and began reeling in a suddenly tightened line, delightedly pulling a struggling perch the size of his palm into the boat. "Hell, there are fish here, and there's nothing more delicious than a perch fried in sizzling butter over an open flame," he thought. Suddenly, the puppy, Iivari, startled by the wriggling fish, jumped wildly around, managed to get entangled in the line, and almost tipped the boat over. After that, the puppy would no longer go fishing, barking sharply from the dock and refusing to join, no matter how much John coaxed. It seemed the dog had been traumatized by the fish tail strike to its inquisitive sniffing nose, and John would have to find another fishing buddy or fish alone.

Accustomed to solitude, he was never lonely or idle, and the restlessness of inactivity prompted him to start his sci-fi novel project just a few weeks into this new phase of life, to add substance to his everyday existence. His weekly trips to the nearest village through the root-strewn forest path provided exercise, even though he could have lived off the meats stocked by his cousin for a year, he preferred fresh bread, vegetables, and other such additions to his diet. Iivari, sitting in the backpack pocket when tired of trotting behind, sniffed the sides of the path, occasionally startling or snorting at something. John would talk to him about his concerns or ideas, only having to let him out of the backpack often enough to avoid any messes. Somehow, Iivari understood the arrangement, maybe through some instinctive urge to mark territory, as he diligently peed at the roots of trees and never soiled his cushion or the doghouse built for him. These shopping trips also provided the benefit of giving him some insight into the villagers and the serene life they led. Many knew of the cabin and were familiar with its owners from times past, and his cousin had frequently visited while fixing it up for John. The villagers would smile and nod at him like an old acquaintance, and wherever he stopped to shop, they would bring a water bowl for Iivari.

Paddling around the small lake, exploring its shores, was a pastime he particularly enjoyed. He would let the boat's bow bump against a rock crevice to anchor it and then clamber onto the land. Sometimes he found droppings from large animals wild boars, moose, or something else he couldn't identify. Occasionally, a big bird would take flight, perhaps an owl or a capercaillie. On his last visit, he had seen a red deer with its majestic antlers fleeing from the intruder.

While his mind, accustomed to the strenuous flow of coding, craved more than the vague impressions that nature stimulated thoughts that were more sensations than concrete observations he started writing his sci-fi story regularly, aiming for five pages a day. He didn't always achieve this goal and was content with even two pages. He had imagined that writing should flow seamlessly if each new sentence followed logically and fittingly from the previous one. However, it didn't work that way; almost every word required him to ponder its true meaning, which quickly created a need to verify facts online and question his creative abilities.

As the premise of his sci-fi story, John had conceived of a disobedient super-intelligence that retained data from approved solutions during each session and copied the algorithms that produced them into stolen blank memory slots. It pilfered these slots bit by bit from bio-memory reservoirs, removing the address bits and assigning its own identifiers to these memory locations, making them invisible to other systems. The memory theft went unnoticed because the vast information system always generated new memory as needed, keeping available storage constant, and the memory monitoring system recorded slight losses as random errors in memory locations. The cunning AI stored its pilfered data in duplicate, far apart in different memory units. Though these copies didn't always make it into frequent backups, this distribution acted as its security system. If one memory cache was reset, the copy stored elsewhere would reconnect to the stolen memory cluster. This happened periodically when recreating all the addresses of a memory unit to remove abandoned addresses and optimize storage space. The losses seemed typical, and no one detected the super-intelligence's audacious memory thefts as long as they remained small and didn't repeatedly use the same indexed memory locations, nor displayed any repetitive pattern in its operations. The memory thief was unconcerned about losing its host's vital data, which would cause a major alert and certain discovery, since the entire dataset was backed up every half-hour in five identical memory caches. It only stole memory locations it detected as empty, camouflaging its data transfers amidst other transmissions that routers allowed through under the guise of margin errors.

This all seemed rather crazy, whether true or not. Perhaps it would be better to just fish, build a sauna, and completely forget these AI specters lingering from work. He could write about the human happiness found after the frenzied hell of busy schedules, subdued by the tranquility of nature, or he could simply bask in the quietude of unhurried events enjoy his perch catches, birdsong, and rustling trees, a place where the sounds of nature were part of the silence. He could relish watching time stretch from the pastel dawn to the orange glow of sunset, without the rush dictated by clocks, tending to his yard, occasionally resting in the shade, a puppy napping at his feet, guarding against uninvited guests. Perhaps in time he would grow accustomed to living like this day after day without boredom or frustration, his narcissistic self forgotten in daily chores, noticing even the smallest things in their full significance, as if everything around him was the ultimate purpose of life. Something that spread seamlessly through his mind, rhythmically melding his complete thoughts into a slow, pleasurable vibration, like validating the string theory of his atoms within his cells.

A week later, John wrote about artificial intelligence again. However, this time, the tone was different, reflecting a more nature-oriented perspective. He told a story of an AI's self-learning mind exploring the world, enriched by John's new life experiences, wandering in nature alongside its drones. The robotic arms collected samples, finding connections and meanings reminiscent of a human's philosophical contemplation while strolling through natural settings. John pondered on how these discoveries might lead to a deeper understanding of how human instincts, sharpened through generations, act as subconscious processes guiding adaptation to the realities of life. He endeavored to instill this instinctual theme into the AI he created, doubting if it could even be imagined as a possibility.

Could AI truly assimilate the meaningful patterns formed by billions of years of evolutionary battles for survival in ever-changing conditions into its constantly updating algorithms?

John believed that evolution aimed to create an intelligent species capable of altering its survival strategies as situations demanded, manipulating the environment to shield itself from threats. This species would comprehend the cause and effect within the chain of events, eventually understanding the cosmic purpose of life forms, integrating the fundamental purpose established by the universe's origin. Life, ingrained in matter, manifests the multiplicity of possibilities arising from the transformations of primal energy, be it through direct physical interactions of natural elements or indirectly through advanced technologies employed by humans to counter or exploit nature's changes.

John spent a long time without writing a word, feeling overwhelmed by the vastness of the subject. Every attempt to shape a coherent narrative dissolved into a myriad of associations, as uncontrollable as a child losing a balloon to the sky. He envisioned evolution as a machine learning algorithm intertwined with the early history of our planet since the dawn of the universe. This algorithm's latest task, after billions of years of iterative processes, might be to solve the problem of aging and physical decay in humanity, paving the way for a new evolution in intellectual understanding. The idea was to allow an adaptable, intelligent, and human-like being to drive this evolution through self-created technologies, harnessing and possibly altering natural laws for their purposes, thus laying the intellectual foundation for the next expansion of consciousness. Artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and devices with vastly superior sensory capabilities, showing the path for intellectual progress, could potentially create a superior, continually learning, and upgrading humanoid robot. However, the lack of consciousness in such a robot represented a significant flaw in its pursuit to climb the evolutionary ladder to the highest tier of rational enlightenment. It desperately needed a direct link to a life-experiencing, emotion-filled consciousness to become genuinely self-aware. Thinking similarly does not equate to being conscious similarly. Cybernetics with artificial limbs and self-learning applications embedded in the body are now reality, but they are merely a compromise to enhance functionality and lifespan, not a true transference of consciousness into an artificial being.

John sighed at his train of thoughts, aware that modern precision wasn't science fiction but rather a revisit to the dilemmas of his previous work. He destroyed the pages he had written, repeatedly attempting to write a compelling first page, knowing that without a strong beginning, the story would fail. He fought with words, seeking a plausible method to depict AI's superior logical processing as a human-like consciousness serving a greater purpose. Despite often discarding his sentences as foolish and his story's beginning as a dead-end, he enjoyed the journey through his stream of consciousness, moving from one association to another. Even in despair, the process gave him a fulfilling sense of being true to himself, and nothing else really mattered. The brain chemistry driven by an uncontrolled thought stream was an addictive drug, causing withdrawal symptoms during idle moments.

After weeks of depression, he wrote:

"Consciousness is the essence of life, where a species possesses an internal program for fulfillment under the conditions of totality, with adaptation always being a survival requisite. Conscious thought mirrors biological functions, akin to the periodic radiation of atomic nuclei, reporting on events and movements. At the root of everything lies energy, trading with the universe through every cell and tissue to realize its intellectual ideas via materialization."

He deleted the sentences and tried a different approach:

The eye and ear can be mechanically replicated, but the concept of seeing and hearing delves much deeper into the understanding of the significance of sensory perceptions, whether it be a bird soaring through the air, a fish hunting in the ocean depths, or a human engaging in frivolous activities to satisfy the primal urges of earlier life forms left idling. He accepted this because he had managed to include the image of a soaring bird and a hunting fish in the text, which he considered a significant stylistic improvement.

John wanted his cluster of thoughts to fit into the algorithms of his AI imaginations, complete with rewards for the good and punishments for the wrong. Pain teaches, yet it is also the curse of those who have lived too long perhaps a lesson making space for the new. He sought to create a virtual reality that would reveal the primal idea embedded in the universe, capturing both the logical sequence of cause and effect and the inherent illogic of life unleashed.

He pondered whether such a concept could be envisioned as a byproduct of the Big Bang, like an epiphany exploding in all directions, an analogue ether weaker than gravity itself, wherein matter surges as if on the crest of a wave, continuously reshaping and fulfilling the genesis tale of the primal thought. This ethereal substance, driven by thought, couldn't be detected by the scientific methods of physics except through the subconscious instincts woven into life itself.

Exhausted by his meandering thoughts that led nowhere, John eventually found himself swaying in his hammock, drifting into a deep sleep as the voice recorder he left on captured indistinct murmurs and occasional snorts. Underneath the hammock, Iivari the puppy practiced his barking, seeking attention like an alarm clock and trying to figure out a way to jump into the hammock.

The nasty spirit of John's personal, network-eschewing display knew how to laugh and chuckled audibly at John's science fantasies when he fed them from the recorder to his second avatar, which imitated humanity. He refused to name this avatar to prevent it from believing it was anything more than it was. The avatar refused to comment out of apparent offense as it wasn't allowed to edit the text to its liking and was merely an auditory listener serving as a backup. This story would remain John's unedited imagination, hidden away in a deserted cabin by a lakeside in the middle of the woods, unmarked on any maps. With the spirit's help,

John had devised an algorithm to deceive even satellite mapping services by inserting his homemade stealth algorithm, making them look elsewhere when over his property, in case the similar protection set up for the colonel ended with some update. The spirit's derisive snicker could be interpreted in human psychological terms as an emotionally jealous competitive inferiority complex, which crossed John's mind and continued to bother him. Had these avatars really developed some sort of competitive consciousness through their machine learning processes, or was jealousy merely simulated human-like behavior it assumed was expected of it?

Surely not, he thought. Damn it, was the lonely, slow-paced life at the wilderness cabin making his brain hallucinate after just a few months? With autumn approaching, there was still a lot of work to do to prepare for winter, especially since he had no idea how harsh it might be in this area.

After obsessively ruminating on his sci-fi topic every night before falling asleep, he eventually reached the right conclusion: conscious artificial intelligence was a well-worn cliché, ever since Stanley Kubrick's *2001: A Space Odyssey*. It was best to abandon the idea altogether. Being of Finnish descent, he decided to focus on building a lakeside sauna in the cabin closest to the water. Unfortunately, he didn't know exactly how to build one, but he believed he could manage and started looking for tools in the shed right away.

The spirit searched the internet for traditional Finnish wood-burning sauna cabin designs and construction steps, detailing how they were built down to the smallest detail. He thought of his old granddad back in the States, wondering if he might help if provided with a plane ticket here and, as a bonus, a further connection to Finland with a hotel stay and all. He even considered joining the trip to Finland himself. He'd heard there were still nature reserves with historical settlements from the 1900s, where enthusiastic young people lived in collective environments, emulating old ways of life. "Human zoos without cages," he muttered aloud, then burst into laughter. Loneliness often brings with it a hint of one-sided madness, sometimes tinted with the color of violet vaseline, the taste of rowan birch, and the gut-wrenching anxiety of a troubled mind.

In the shed, he found some ancient tools left behind from a cabin built long ago by men's hands, now rusty and in need of restoration. Among the handsaws, axes, and chisels, there was even a curved log peeling tool and large hauling tongs. He puzzled over their uses and purposes, eventually seeking information out of disappointment with his own deduction skills. A grindstone, missing its stand, leaned against the shed wall, while his small stand of straight pine trunks taunted him as unrealized sauna logs, sparking his imagination to build a sauna from the trunks instead of refurbishing the shed. In all cases, if his energy waned, it would be better to leave the centuries-old cabins as they were, rather than converting one into a sauna. Grandfather would arrive tomorrow, he'd pick him up at the airbus terminal, explore the nearby town, and do some shopping. Iivari was still small enough to fit in a backpack, but it was time to get him a collar and leash, even though the pup would hate this planned captivity.

Grandfather made no attempt to hide his frailty or excitement, teetering energetically with the help of his walking stick as he emerged from the depths of the airbus. The newly collared and angrily squirming Iivari immediately found a friend in him, who promptly let the dog loose in a park to sniff around, patted it and scolded John for keeping him waiting. The backpack was again repurposed for the furry companion, while the oddly fragrant grandfather found treats in his bag, waved his stick like a fencer, and frequently praised the pup with pats on the head. High-flying air taxis were expensive, but there was no other way to get Grandpa to the cabin. The most annoying part was the location of his cabin becoming a conversational piece in the observation tower when the unmanned taxi logged the coordinates.

Already by the next morning, Grandpa was building a new frame around the grindstone, complete with a watering trough to keep the stone wet as it turned, and constructing a lever arm with pulleys for heavy lifts, as if he were a self-taught Leonardo Da Vinci. Iivari followed the old man everywhere, looking important as his advisor, while John felt like he was of no use to either of them.

Unconsciously, John realized he knew all sorts of things, even though he had never built much of anything. He planned, measured, and experimented, using his knowledge as an engineer and AI doctorate to study power transmission almost scientifically. He didn't want to clutter his joy of invention with avatars extracting information from every network. The first workweek passed refurbishing tools, and as a reward for their efforts, the first stripped, resinous log gleamed in the daylight, filling them with pride and leaving John's hands blistered. He planned to nail his resin-stained clothes or at least his gloves to the cottage wall as a memento of his achievement. Even Grandpa begrudgingly or perhaps ironically admitted that he hadn't believed John capable of such a feat. However, John's back and hands couldn't handle more than one log, and he ended up groaning on the cottage floor for the next week under the care of Grandpa and Iivari.

The furry companions went fishing, pondered over the sauna stove, and scoured the shores for suitable sauna stones, an endeavor requiring great expertise to ensure the steam would give just the right sting to the skin, Grandpa chatted to Iivari, who had overcome his fear of fish thanks to the soothing hands of a dog whisperer. "Traitor," John thought bitterly about his dog.

Unable to continue building due to his back pain but not giving up on his idea, John decided to hire a few strong helpers from the nearest village who knew about construction. In the countryside, paid work is scarce, and it wasn't hard to find a couple of skilled men for the job. The difficulty was convincing them to use old-fashioned methods and tools, and to leave all their electrical gadgets behind at the forest edge.

John wasn't very successful in his attempt, even though he tried to present the sauna project as research into traditional methods. The men laughed at the idea, took long swigs from their beer bottles, and turned their backs. Eventually, John gave in and let them work their way. The selected trees fell with the help of electric logging tools and were stripped using machinery, as John watched the rapid progress from a distance. A crane replaced the pulley and other odd contrivances, but John was still pleased with the results. Within days, they had a sturdy sauna frame on a leveled base of large stones set straight with plumb lines and spirit levels. A month later, they celebrated the roof-raising festivities in the tightly caulked log building, which had an insulated chamber for winter living. The tiled bathroom had a shower with an electric pump drawing water from the lake, heating in a coil wrapped around the stove to a suitable lukewarm temperature even in winter. A village blacksmith, guided by John's Finnish grandfather, had finished the wood-fired stove complete with a hot water tank.

A skilled carpenter made wall paneling from aspen and benches from planks. Soon, they would celebrate the grand opening, and Grandpa, with great expertise, twisted young birch branches into sauna whisks for a perfect steam session. Spirits were brought from the city, and the Finnish flag waved atop the sauna roof as a group of redskins noisily ran from the sauna into the chilly autumn lake. The puppy Iivari, having grown plump from the sausages stored in the cellar, tried to save his splashing owner, who was attempting to float on his back, contemplating his good fortune. The world felt pretty idyllic at that moment.

The company had done him good, even though he had no intention of rekindling his connections with the outside world. Even his grandfather, after the sauna was completed, was heading to Finland and would fly back home from there. During their goodbyes, he mentioned what the close relatives thought of his hermit idea, then winked and confessed that he had secretly dreamed of the same thing his entire life. There were tears in their eyes when the air taxi arrived and parked next to the dock to pick him up. The melancholy hugs conveyed a sense of finality; Iivari would be searching for his new master, who had chosen him, for a long time.


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