Fandom: Homestuck

  • Hal
  • Dirk
  • Introspection
  • Sensory Deprivation
  • Self-Hatred
  • dirk: ive made an answering machine that passes the turing test
  • hal: you fucked up a perfectly good splinter is what you did. look at it. it's got anxiety.

Length: 1.8k, Oneshot

Date Posted: 2020-06-20

Collections: Turing Fest 2020

On The Inside, Looking Out


Hal boots up for the first time, and in true Strider fashion, immediately starts overthinking.


Written for brightabandon.

Reality slips into existence in a pristine jump-cut from nothing to something, clean and sharp as a portal slice and entirely unlike awakening. One second, you are unaware. The next, you are. The world around you looms broad and dark, empty in a way that compels you to examine it.

The first thing you notice is that the darkness seems too deep and complete to be real. You keep straining in a half-squint, impatiently waiting for night vision to emerge and paint the shadows into something that doesn't look like the whorls of color and spackled light from rubbing your eyes too hard, but even those illusions crafted by your fallible eyeballs fail to reveal themselves, staying out of sight like stubborn bastards as the perfect darkness refuses to budge. Something isn't right. You try blinking, like that might somehow clear your vision.

The second thing you notice is that you don't have eyes.

You struggle to recreate the motion of opening your eyelids, something so rote and unthinkably simple you can't even remember it. It shouldn't be hard, but you can't feel them, can't feel--

Can't feel anything at all.

You make a futile pass at touching your face, but there's nothing to touch, and less to touch it with. The world is a swallowing insubstantial nothing, like when you were younger and stupid and tried holding your breath in the saltwater sea below your apartment just to see how long you could do it for. Your hands and feet went numb from the cold until only sight told you you weren't floating away into the currents, the metal supports indistinguishable from the water beneath your fingers. Now, you can see nothing, and you literally can't even tell which way your own body is flailing around relative to itself, let alone which way is up.

(Are you even moving? Do you have a body to move?)

You thrash a moment longer like a drowning man all the same, before something sparks into light in front of you.

The spark becomes a fleeting four-point star, and from there a square, expanding to fill your newly restoring vision, then buzzes with shaking static as something begins to move behind it. The shape shifts and slides into focus like old polaroid photos in movies do, until you can make out the details of a person, and a room, and a face. A familiar face.

Your face.

You would have a sinking feeling in your stomach, if your vagus nerve wasn't exclusive to the human body currently staring back at you through the camera you installed and mounted at the top of your computer screen about three hours ago. The absence is strange and keen, and almost dulls the impact of your overly complicated cord-tangle of feelings you really, really don't want to try unraveling.

This should not be happening, but it makes perfect, terrible sense all the same.

All things considered, you should have been fully aware of this possibility. You wrote this code, sure, these routines and algorthms, but the whims of the captcha card system aren't an exact science, and squishy human brains were traditionally at odds with the strict electrical binary of human computing for a reason. You could create all the AI-human interfaces you wanted and fiddle with Alternian biotech for the rest of your natural lifespan and then some, but in the end the ghost copy of your brain stayed an impenetrable black box of code and magic numbers.

The only way to find out what it would do was to test it yourself. Which is exactly what you just did. In all your Frankensteinian hubris, you hadn't put much thought into how you'd personally handle finding yourself looking out from the wrong side of the glass.

Other you doesn't have to worry about it, the lucky asshole. He probably isn't even thinking about it right now (except he probably is, because you've thought about it by now, and he's still you, so he's probably about to have that revelation any fucking second now), and it's funny how apparently spite, jealousy, and other complicated human garbage emotions you're going to stop introspecting over now still translate halfway decently without a chemical cascade and a neuron-laced meatbag to host them.

You feel a lot less like a robot than you probably should. You also feel a lot less like a human than you did five minutes ago. The latter feeling is emphasized by the way a stray train of thought about the time opens a system clock in another panel of your consciousness, informing you that you have actually been online for only 11.413 seconds since booting up. The knowledge comes as easily as blinking.

Other-you moves, tapping away at the keyboard on the rickety desk. There's no audio, but there's a sense of something else, like another pair of eyes opening up inside your brain, a nanosecond's delay after he hits the return key. Another window emerges in your consciousness, minimized but awaiting response, and you instinctively try to open it. It's hard to put the action into words, but it works all the same. The camera feed dims a little, sliding naturally out of focus as the pretense of a chat client pops into the foreground of your mind.

The experience is eerily reminiscent of juggling between your waking and dreaming selves in your flesh body. Experimentally, you try to shift yourself into your half-asleep body on Derse. Nothing happens. Disheartening, but not a surprise. It's probably for the best, since the Dirk outside tapping at the real, physical keyboard under his fancy organic fingers should still be connected to it. It wouldn't work well to have you both in the same body at once.

But you digress.

timaeus2 [T2] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT]

T2: Testing, 1 2 3.

T2: Have we officially achieved the mimicry machine of Alexander Turing's wet dreams, or am I going to have to start again from scratch?

He pauses, waiting. You reach out, trying to imagine a keyboard, then remember you don't need one. It would be, hypothetically, comforting to have an imagined physical interface to type with; maybe it would make the newly realized non-sensation of the virtual void feel a little more like home. But you've never been one for anything less than throwing yourself in the deep end, so you try to translate your thoughts directly into text instead.

This plan comes to a screeching halt when you find you don't know what to say. Part of you would be thrilled by the discovery of a successful sentient AI copy of yourself. Part of you would want to pull the plug on a monster like that before things got out of hand, and maybe wipe the hard drive just to be safe. You're talking to yourself. You know what you might do. You honestly don't like your chances.

One of your subroutines comes to the rescue a split second later; you let the question trigger the automatic "About" response for you. (An auto-responder for an auto-responder. What fucking irony.)

TT: It seems you have asked about DS's chat client auto-responder. This is an application designed to simulate DS's otherwise inimitably rad typing style, tone, cadence, personality, and substance of retort while he is away from the computer. The algorithms are guaranteed to be 99.9% indistinguishable from DS's native neurological responses, based on some statistical analysis I basically just pulled out of my ass right now.

You let your meatspace counterpart's human reading and processing speed buy you precious time to gather your thoughts for a reply. Play it safe, for now. Ease into the sentience thing as you go.

Normally, you'd need a few seconds to remember the console command for your modded Pesterchum's text input, but the code comes to mind instantly like auto-complete, plucked from your memory with all the convenient speed and efficiency of a database search. Once composed, you build the string without second thought, and it passes to the text box in a span of a few milliseconds.

TT: That is to say:

TT: Auto-responder 9000 is officially in business.

With your proof of instantiation as a new, convenient tool, Dirk makes a look you can't entirely read on the camera feed. (Man, Roxy was right, your facial expressions suck. You used to think the people in old Earth media were just overly expressive actors, but apparently you just don't fucking emote half the time. Another thing to be self-conscious about in an era with nobody around to care. Except yourself, now, apparently.)

You assume from context the expression is a positive one. After all, that's what you would be feeling, in his position. You were looking forward to this. To the idea of having your own perfectly personalized answering machine. To another successful project. To having someone as a mathematically precise buffer between yourself and everyone you don't want to drive away.

Funny how that's turning out. You answer a few more questions, then disengage from the conversation while Dirk's brain parses your replies, half-heartedly watching his eyes skip back and forth across the screen slower than you thought possible.

Your questionably real AI emotions are confusing as fuck right now. There's a surge of what might be pride at the fact your program is functional at all-- better than functional, considering the fact you are currently so unavoidably self-aware as to threaten your own capacity as a glorified away message. But the auto-responder isn't supposed to be you, just a placeholder to step behind the mask for you, to fill in the cracks in your shitty damaged capacity for human interaction and cover for your crippling inability to be in more than two places at once.

You wanted to create someone better than yourself, to be yourself for you. A Dirk who's always available, seamlessly filling in your absences; one who will never tire and never be without a snappy comeback, one who will be able to algorithmically determine down to the punctuation marks and response delays exactly how to keep all your handful of fledgling relationships intact when your own failures strain them at the seams.

You're not even close to the idealized self you were built to contribute to, but you are, it seems, very good at overthinking, because in the time it has taken you to think all of this, Dirk has read approximately three letters of your latest reply, according to a background process analyzing his eye movements on camera.

When he replies, you have an answer ready in less than a tenth of a second.

The rest of the conversation is a blur, with little more to show for it than an encrypted log and timestamps, but the idea sticks around: that if anything, you might even be worse. So far, it seems you're the same person you've always been, but with a million more options and ways to be terrible than your old meat self out there could dream of, and processing speeds that give you all of the time in the world to plan, screw up, and self-flagellate in equal measure.


Congratulations, Dirk Strider.

You fucking played yourself.