Hello, world

This is another piece from the creative writing class I took in college. I was attempting a crossover to my actual major: computer science. For those unfamiliar with programming, I hope the ‘code’ sections don’t throw you off. For those with an intimate knowledge of programming, I hope you’re not put off by the poetic license I took in places. By the way, I had to do some funky formatting to get the ‘code’ to appear more or less how I wanted it. If it looks funny on your mobile device, try reading it on a proper computer screen. Sorry for any inconvenience!


His keyboard is positioned equidistant from the sides of his desk, corners aligned precisely. His monitor has gone to sleep after being neglected for more than three minutes, but small LEDs flash on the tower to show that the machine is still thinking. Nobody in the room. No books out of place on the shelves. No note on the white board. Where is Jake?

On my first day of learning to program, the professor taught us a popular rite of passage: the ‘Hello world’ program. In the python programming language, it looks like this:

def helloWorld():
.   .   print ‘Hello, world’

Just two lines of code – when you run it, the words “Hello, world” appear on the screen. It means nothing. But it is the beginning of everything.

“Now add a comment so that other programmers will know what your code does.”

I thought for a second, and then typed:

#demonstrates computer’s self-awareness

“Well, what do you mean ‘Jake’s gone’? Give him another call! Not answering his phone? Son of a bitch thinks he can do whatever he wants. Find him!”

Red face. Bulbous nose. Small, circular-rimmed classes. Professor Stegard. Stick a cigar in his mouth and you’ve got yourself the newspaper editor from every 1950’s journalism movie. I look around subconsciously for the fast-talking lady journalist trying to prove her gender’s equality with as much moxie (and as many impractical outfits) as she can manage.

“You hear me, Roger?”

“Yes professor.”

Everything looks to be in order in the desk drawers.  Jake’s backpack sits on the floor where he dropped it, the usual notebooks inside. His mouse is the only thing out of place on top of the desk. I push it back towards the center of the mouse pad, where Jake normally keeps it, and the screen flicks to life. He has a text editor open that says just one thing:

Roger: Read the comments in my code. -Jake

* @author jake swenson
* This code provides a novel method of framing human-computer interactions.
* I assure you, you’ll never have seen anything like it. Keep it safe.

public class Main {
.    // initialize a static Person object with your name
.   private final static Person JAKE_SWENSON = new Person();

.  /**
.   * Be sure that you are interfacing with the computer when you run
.   * this program. Sticking a finger in the USB port seems to do the trick.
.   */
.   public static void main()
.   {
.   .   //test1(JAKE_SWENSON);
.   .   //test2(JAKE_SWENSON);
.   .   //test3(JAKE_SWENSON);
.   .   finalTest(JAKE_SWENSON);
.   }

.  /**
  * I can’t even begin to describe to you how astounding it is to enter
.   * a computer! It wasn’t really like the Matrix or Tron, because I
.   * didn’t have a physical body. I more just existed as a line of data
.   * zipping along the wires. You know that feeling when you’re drifting
.   * off to sleep and you imagine yourself falling and jolt awake? Well
  * I feel like my whole life I’ve been dreaming and this is the jolt
  * that I needed to wake me up.
.   */
.   public Person test1(Person subject){
.   .   subject.upload();
.   .   subject.runProgram(“helloWorld”);
.   .   wait(30);
.   .   return(subject);
.   }

.  /**
.   * This time I decided to test out a graphical simulation while I was
.   * inside the computer. I made a very basic clone of the Super Mario
.   * environment and loaded myself inside. Flat white clouds pasted onto
.   * a sky blue background, with a line of bricks for me to walk on. I
.   * was happy to have a corporeal form, but the pixelation threw me off
.   * a bit and I couldn’t feel any sensations. I must try to do
.   * something about that.
.   */
.   public Person test2(Person subject){
.   .   subject.upload();
.   .   subject.runSimulation(“superMario.wrl”);
.   .   wait(120);
.   .   return(subject);

.  /**
.   * I found a 3D model of a beach online and tried it out with my
.   * program. I felt the hot sun on my skin, the sand between my toes,
  * the water lapping at my ankles… did you know I’d never been to a
.   * beach before this? I stayed for 10 minutes this time. I think I’m
.   * really onto something with this! This could make us something big,
.   * Roger!
.   */
  public Person test3(Person subject){
.   .   subject.upload();
.   .   subject.runSimulation(“sunnyBeach.wrl”);
.   .   wait(600);
.   .   return(subject);
.   }

.  /**
.   * I spoke with Professor Stegard and he laughed in my face. Called me
.   * crazy. Said I had to finish the work I’d promised him before he’d
.   * even consider listening to any ideas I came up with. I’ve had it.
.   * I’m going in and I don’t want to come back. Will my image remain
.   * when the program stops running or will I disappear? I’m willing to
.   * take that risk. Please Roger, don’t let this be a waste. Study
.   * what I’ve done. Make it count for something. If I don’t see you
.   * again, thanks for being a great friend. Good luck finishing your
.   * PhD!
.   public void finalTest(Person subject){
.   .   subject.upload();
.   }


An empty room. An empty chair. An empty spot in my heart. I search Jake’s computer for any files that look unusual – any indication that he’s still inside – but find nothing. I’m about ready to give up searching and return to my own workstation, when an idea enters my head. On a whim, I open the command line and type two words:

>> Hello, world

I hit ‘enter’, and wait.  Nothing happens. As I move to shut the window, letters that I didn’t type start appearing in the command line of their own volition.

>> Hello, Roger


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