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Thomas Patterson’s body was dying. The doctors had given him the diagnosis two weeks ago, but he had known all along, ever since he had had that first coughing fit that ended with blood speckling a napkin. But no matter. He had been working towards remedying his demise his whole life.

The year was 1984, and Thomas was about to have his final and most crucial breakthrough. He sat in his basement, slumped in a wheelchair parked in front of a greenlit computer terminal. As thunder boomed and rain pounded the ground outside, he tapped furiously at the keys, as quickly as a man with late stage stomach cancer can.

He was close. The mouse he had tested the system on earlier had entered the computer’s memory correctly, but when he had run the environment program, the mouse’s consciousness had not reacted to any presented stimuli. It was effectively dead.

He tabbed downward through his code, scanning for a problem in the consciousness transfer file. Obviously, the data was arriving, but not in the same way it was sent. It was always something simple. Wait. There’s three there and only two there… Goddammit. A missing parenthesis, accidentally swapped with a backslash, which… Aha! The incorrect character commented out a section that wasn’t supposed to be like that.

Thomas fixed the error and pressed ENTER. He then slowly wheeled himself over to the table opposite his desk that held a glass tank of a few mice and also a helmet with a tangle of wires and cables exploding out the back to his computer. He plunged his hand into the tank and fished around a bit before emerging with a wriggling white mouse. The mouse was dropped onto a bit of double-sided taped on the table to keep it still, and the helmet was placed over it, hiding it from view. Its tiny squeaks were muffled, but still pitifully audible.

Thomas rolled back to the terminal, pressed a few keys, and ran the program. Numerous lines of unintelligible text flashed across the screen. Suddenly, a world drawn in green ASCII characters appeared on the screen. The view moved side to side, taking in the images of a lush field of tall grass, then scurried forward, much as a mouse would.

Thomas cried out in triumph, nearly falling from his seat. His elation was quickly cut off by a coughing fit that resulted in a red-spattered sleeve. Thomas wiped his mouth with his clean sleeve and prepared for the computer’s final transfer.

Thunder boomed outside and the lights flickered for a split second, but the terminal’s screen quickly resumed its mouse experience. Thomas exhaled, not realizing he had been holding his breath in anxiousness until he let go. He quickly switched the computer over to backup power, which should run for well over a century before even dropping one percent. He then hit reset on the computer. Goodbye, mouse.Thanks for your help, but there can only be one of us at a time.

While the computer rebooted, Thomas put on the helmet and arranged himself. He took a good look around the room, for these were the last moments he would ever spend in it. He glanced at the computer. It was almost done rebooting.

Thomas reached in his jacket and pulled out a sealed envelope addressed to “Whomever May Find This.” He had prepared the letter in the event that someone eventually found him. It read:

“To Whomever Finds This: Welcome to my home. Sorry for the mess, but I am unable to keep this place clean anymore. My body was dying, so I utilized my knowledge in the computer sciences and uploaded my consciousness into the computer terminal to my right. Please don’t turn it off or mess with the computer, for I don’t want my world to become corrupt. Thank you. Sincerely, Thomas Patterson.”

The computer was finished. Thomas gingerly placed the envelope into his lap, making sure it would not fall. He then leaned over and pressed the ENTER key once more. A short countdown, then blackness.

***

Everywhere was black. Thomas tried to look around. All he could see was a flashing green line out in front of him. The cursor. He must have forgotten to set the environment program to run automatically. No matter. That just meant the blackness in front of him was just the computer terminal’s screen. He tried to reach out to type, but his arms did not appear in front of him. Well, duh. No environment rendering meant nothing else was rendered either. That was also fine. Thankfully he had had the foresight to add thought manipulation into the program as well. He thought out loud as hard as he could.

“RUN PROGRAM.”

The blackness in front of him was interrupted by sharp green letters appearing as he thought reading “RUN PROGRAM.” They disappeared, then were quickly replaced with

hello, world!

That’s not right. He tried again. “RUN PROGRAM.”

hello, world!

What the hell? What was wro… Oh. Oh no. No no no… The quick power outage before Thomas swapped the computer to backup power must have erased the computer’s memory before it saved, leaving nothing but the only program installed on every computer with factory setting: The simple “hello, world” program. Those words flashed on the screen in front of Thomas.

He tried to scream, but his mouth wasn’t rendered.

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