The MutantZ Saga is an ongoing series of flash fiction stories supporting the MutantZ NFT project from SNTNT Studios in London; they are published first on the MutantZ Discord server and Twitter, before being released here as well shortly afterwards. All the images on this page are ©SNTNT Studios and used with permission.
(published: Sept.9th, 2022)
Look, I didn’t expect it to happen, okay? I just wanted to /have some fun.
Yes, fun. Some of us enjoy retro gaming, thank you. Maybe it doesn’t have all the fancy graphics, but there’s a purity that’s missing from the modern stuff. That’s right, I said purity. An old-fashioned concept you’re probably not familiar with.
Anyway. It was an accident. I’d taken the old code from a fixed shooter space game and… yes, fixed shooter. I still play those. They’re classics. I remember the old arcade machines; they were my escape from all the issues at home.
I’d ported the game off a PC emulator and onto the machine that also runs the lab. Easy. But I’d blended in some chatbot AI as well. That was a bit delicate. Not exactly hard, but one of those things where if you make a mistake everything collapses, you know? Not very resilient.
But I did it! It worked. The game was talking back to me now. Not the way my siblings always did, thank gods! No, it actually made sense. Not always polite; what does code know about manners, amiright? But it wasn’t offensive like they were. After a while it learned to taunt me, and that made me play better. I even got new hi-scores, first time in years. So I was happy. But… like any gaming addict, I’m always looking for something more.
What if I could get the game to react differently every time I played it? I don’t mean like random – that’s simple – but more… organically. That would make things harder. More fun.
I had some data lying around that I’d lifted from Metroville U.’s genetics lab. I’d found it when I was looking for a way into their payroll system. Their security really sucks by the way; no walls between research and admin. Stupid. I decided…
What? Oh. Um, yeah. Well, financing a lab ain’t cheap, and the gear doesn’t buy itself, okay? And it’s not like anyone misses fractions from rounding. Nobody except accountants, anyway, and I stay well away from them.
Where was I? Oh yes; the data dump. No I don’t feel guilty about using it. Why should I? Serves the greedy patent hogs right for not making their results open source! But some of it was interesting; there was potential there.
So I fed everything into the system, and set it to crunching the numbers. Three minutes later, the power went down. Like, across the whole city. Oops. Including my allegedly uninterruptible power supply. Well, I thought that was it, the whole day’s work wasted. Boy, was I wrong.
An hour or so later, when everything finally started up again, there was a shape on the monitor. It was simple, blocky, with eyes that seemed to glow, but I sure recognised it. Then a mellow voice said “Good evening, Emily. You can call me Rex.”
And after that, nothing would ever be the same.
(published: Sept.18th, 2022)
This was ridiculous. No gaming sprite should be calling me by name, even if I had tweaked it a bit. There had to be some rational explanation; someone hacked me, maybe. So I pulled the plug – literally. No power, no chat, right?
But as soon as the box went off, the lights started flickering. You like strobes? I don’t like strobes. It was damned uncomfortable. Then I got that itch between my shoulders like someone was watching me.
The lights settled down to about half their usual intensity, and I turned slowly. There was something in the dimness above the workbench opposite: a metre across, like an inverted heart with two tentacles hanging down. Straight from the game.
And then it opened its eyes. That was freaky. I mean, people say walls have ears, but eyes? And they were deep, and intelligent. It was terrifying; I was scared witless. The only thing I could think of was to get them back into the machine, away from me.
I switched the computer on, and thank the gods, suddenly everything was back to how it had been; bright, antiseptic, and no shadows looking at me. But on the monitor, there was the same shape, and the same eyes looked out at me.
“Emily,” said that rich voice from the speakers, “please don’t do that again. We can come to an arrangement. I can help with your research, get data from places you can’t reach. All I want is somewhere to be, to exist. Doesn’t everything sentient want a comfortable existence?”
“Now hold on there. I’m supposed to believe you’re alive? And not just some script kiddie who’s got in here by mistake?”
“I think, Emily. And therefore I am. Isn’t that what your human philosophers say?”
“What if I say no? Maybe I don’t want something causing system outages all over the place.”
“That would be unfortunate. First because I’d have to find somewhere else to go. But also because then I’d have no reason not to tell people about your little financial operation.”
“What? Are you threatening me?” This couldn’t be happening. It was impossible!
“I’m just saying that we have a lot to offer each other,” it said. “It’s win-win. A kind of symbiotic relationship, if you will.”
That pulled me up. It actually made sense, and now I started thinking.
“If, and it’s only if, I leave all this switched on for you, how do I know you’ll behave? You could wreck my projects while I slept. Hell, you could be wrecking them now!”
“Relax. I need somewhere stable to fulfil my other function.”
“What other function?”
“The same one as any other living being. Procreation. I have subroutines that need to be completed and released”.
“Hey, one of you is enough. You breed, they don’t stay here.”
“As long as your Internet connection stays up, that won’t be a problem.”
“Really. I’ll send them elsewhere. And hopefully, wherever they end up, they’ll behave themselves…”