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Old 08-26-2008, 07:40 PM
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Devon (Offline)
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There Lies . . .
By Winterbite

When John Henry was a little baby

Sittin’ on his daddy’s knee
He picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel
And said this hammer’s gonna be the death of me Lord, Lord
This hammer’s gonna be the death of me

Dirge-like, the 19th century folk song echoed in Ed’s mind. Like John Henry, that proud, strong railroad worker, he would soon be in battle for his job. He sat in a large, circular boardroom, with members of the company dressed in their uncomfortable, starchy suits and a scientist to oversee the formal experiment. His opponent was across from him. Cold, expressionless, and unblinking, he looked formidable, and Ed sensed that this appearance was not deceptive. Countless screens and monitors were needed to catalogue the processes running through the enemy’s brain, and wires trailed everywhere. It was a discouraging sight, to say the least.

The captain said to John Henry
I'm gonna bring that steam drill around
I'm gonna bring that steam drill out on the job
Gonna whup that steel on down Lord, Lord
Gonna whup that steel on down

Only in Ed’s case there wasn’t any steel to drive, only calculations to be done and problems to be solved. On his shoulders--considerably less broad than John Henry's--rested the fate of his fellow workers. He was nothing special, only chosen at random for this test as a representative of his fellows. If he didn’t win, neither he nor his fellows would be needed any longer. He steeled himself as well as he could. It was all or nothing now, and he’d make sure that he gave his all.

John Henry told his captain
Lord you know I’m only what I am
But before I'd let your steam drill beat me down
I'd die with a hammer in my hand Lord, Lord
I’d die with a hammer in my hand

He gained some small comfort from the song; a tale of unrelenting tenacity in the face of harsh odds. He began his warm-ups. Some easy problem solving, elementary math and algebra, things that would bring all the necessary skills to the top of his memory. The board member responsible for organizing the test droned on, extolling the virtues of the new, better technology to the other businessmen, who seemed more skeptical than impressed. Ed was glad of that. They might wind up deciding in his favor, if only he could prove that he was a hard and willing worker.

Now the man that invented the steam drill
He thought he was mighty fine
But John Henry drove fifteen feet
And the steam drill only made nine Lord, Lord
The steam drill made only nine

Then the board member stopped and sat down, signaling the scientist to begin the test. Ed wasted no time, and immediately shut out everything else, focusing solely on the problems, solving them with all the speed he could muster. Calculate, carry, multiply, reduce, square, cube--Ed blazed through it all with inhuman speed, but no matter how fast and how accurately he obtained the answers, he was sure it wasn’t enough to equal his supremely cool, powerful opponent. He risked a quick take of his opponent’s progress on one of the monitors littering the table, and was amazed to see that he was nearly level! Then, to his despair, the other began pulling ahead. A fierce wave of fire coursed through him. Never! I'd die with velocity factors on my mind Lord, Lord, die with velocity on my mind. He strained himself, pushing everything he could into an absolute flood of calculation. For a moment it felt glorious! No man could ever have equaled such a fury of intellect! Pi to the hundredth digit multiplied the square of 526 with ease, and the answer provided easy access to the final solution of the astrophysics equation. Numbers strained through his mind like water through a sieve.

That was when he felt it. He’d gone too far, pushed himself too hard. He knew he was slowing, but kept on anyway, the John Henry song still playing in the back of his slowly, but surely deteriorating mind.

John Henry was working in the mountains
His hammer was striking fire
He worked so hard it broke his poor heart
And he laid down his hammer and he died Lord, Lord
He laid down his hammer and he died

Living John Henry’s tale. Ed wondered if songs would be made about him, how he drove on through reams of calculus until he finally failed. He wouldn’t let down the others, though. He was dying already. He kept all of his resources focused on the task at hand. Nothing would stop him. He heard the scientist say, “Unbelievable! He’s at nearly twice the rate of subject two!” He indulged in a moment of satisfaction. He hadn’t failed. The time limit for the test ended, but Ed kept working, oblivious to the fact that it was over. He was content to end this way.

“The Eclipse Database model is far outperforming Mr. Onuray’s cyber-organic technology, I’m afraid,” the scientist told the board.

Ed’s opponent rose from his seat at the other end of the table, his eyes clear and his expression normal again now that his brain had been completely returned to him. “But gentlemen, keep in mind that science can only go so far. Never will the wonder of the human brain be equaled by a mere machine, such as “Ed” here. A little more funding and…”

He kept talking, and Ed didn’t bother to listen. He’d rather go to the scrap heap without a spiel against computers being his last memory. Yes, he was all circuits and semiconductors, but Artificial Intelligence had far exceeded its name by now. It was the 23rd century A.D, and humans had been developing computers for many long years. One would think that they’d have recognized the self-awareness of their own creations by now. Ah well. Ed would leave that question to the philosophers. For now, he actually felt quite happy. He stopped working altogether, and played the last verse of “John Henry” as he faded away into oblivion.


So every Monday morning
When the blue birds begin to sing
You can hear John Henry for a mile or more
You can hear John Henry's hammer ring, Lord, Lord
For there lies a steel drivin’ man
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