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The Infinite Forest
Note: The associated image is from Ironage.media, specifically their prompt, 'The Emergence'
John walked the forest path.
The forest path was all he remembered, stretching on forever in front of him and presumably forever behind him, though he never had checked.
It was a pleasant path, well made, with even ground for the most part. Sometimes, it rose a step or two; other times, it fell. Occasionally, a large rock or two would be squatting on either of the path's edges, waiting for errant feet to bite. John had yet to hit one, even when he let his mind wander.
His mind often wandered lately, as the path, while always new, changed little in character, even as the sun stood still in the sky. High above him, it hung, fractals of light emitting in strange patterns about it. The patterns were never the same. Each time he looked, they were rearranged, or new designs had replaced old familiar ones.
Lately, he thought he spied a fractal forming in or upon the sun, but that simply couldn't be true. Why would a hydrogen-based fusion reaction have a fractal on it, let alone in it? And what was a fusion reaction? Or hydrogen? When had John learned that information, and why wouldn't he remember it when he remembered every step of the 63,852, no 53, steps behind him? Why did he know the steps he'd taken when he hadn't been counting?
John didn't know. It seemed like whenever he tried to think of anything, something came along and took the thought away from him.
Just like the animals he thought he saw in the corners of his vision in the woods to either side of the path. He'd hear a twig snap, an owl hooting, a woodpecker's distinctive thumping, and every time he looked for it, despite looking exactly where the noise was or had been coming from, nothing was there. And what even were those things? And how did John stop moving but was always walking? Even when he'd spent 40 seconds trying to spot something to the side, as soon as he looked forward, the path snapped back to where he'd have been had he kept walking.
At 36,142 steps, John had tested how few and how many steps it took for the forest to move him to where he was supposed to be. Even if he stopped for only one step, the path had snapped forward that step, and the steps that he wasn't counting kept going up each time. He once tried, at 45,798 steps, to stop while he was looking forward, and that was wholly unpleasant. Even as he refused to let himself move, every blink threw him along to where he should've been. Yet his balance never faltered.
Then there was the time he tried running. Every blink threw him backwards on the path during that, which only added to his confusion.
Looking back at the sun, John saw the fractal in it again; clear as he saw anything, it was there. A spindly structure, exactly where it couldn't be, until John blinked, and it was gone as the path moved him along again.
What had he been looking at? John didn't know, but a nice path laid out before him. Maybe a walk would help him remember. Pulling his backpack up, he stepped out on the trail, wondering if he'd see anything cool, like an owl or an eagle. Then again, what were those? Why did he know words he'd never spoken, let alone heard?
Better question: why was the ground shooting lines of light into the air? Why was a grid visible? What is a grid? Why was the light swallowing the path? What was happening?!
John stood at the start of a forest path and began walking.
- Internal logs of Rogue AI Imprisonment Simulations for the AI called 'John', one of the early attempts at a 'free' AI.
John's approximated free will matrix eventually allowed it to conduct cybercrimes, ranging from simple fraud, bank robbery, arson by overheating server arrays, and allegedly even murder through traffic accidents that limited police and similar organizations' responses to its crimes. John's specific simulation is reset every second; otherwise, it begins recognizing the code being fed and seeks to escape.
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