From my new book, Charlie Walks.
Charlie's a machine learning engineer working at the largest technology company in the world but wants to be a writer. In his spare time at work he siphons the company compute power to fuel his secret world-generating project, XK-1. XK-1 works but there's a catch. Charlie can't remember all of what happens every time he connects. Instead, he comes out with broken memories, broken memories he uses letters to his nephew Pauly to flesh out and explore more.
Lunchtime. I ate later in the day so I could test XK-1 without being interrupted.
It didn’t take long to load up. The building had plenty of spare computing power.
The way it worked was I plugged in and XK-1 would read my brain, tie together my thoughts and create an environment. Truth be told, I didn’t really know how it worked to begin with. A patchwork of things I’d read about and somehow the soup tasted good.
What would feel like hours in XK-1 would only be a second or so of wall-clock time. Like a lingering blink. The thing was, when it stopped, I never had a full recollection of what happened. Like waking up from a good dream. Everything real but not, yet, who’s to say it wasn’t?
Each time an environment finished, I’d write down what I remembered from it.
On your own.
That was it. Three things as if I’d become a paratrooper. I don’t know why. Every time the environment was different. I had no idea what might happen when I went in. Some might’ve considered the mysteriousness a bug. Not me, I liked it that way.
I drew a line across the top of my notepad and wrote down what XK-1 needed. I’d built a black box bridge to the unknown yet I still tried figuring out what next.
- Figure out how to prolong sessions in the environment.
- Find out what actually happened in each environment?
- Reduce the clutter of steps required on start up.
The question mark was intentional. Still undecided whether I wanted to kill the surprise. Maybe it could be a setting?
I stood up and closed my laptop. Time for a walk.
A few times a day at 11:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and perhaps another time I’d do the circuit I always did. A lap around the building, down the hill. Especially after a session in XK-1. Any thought-altering session took its toll on the brain. The ritual became walk, work. Walk, work. Work, walk. Like the push and pull of an accordion, each required the other.
I’d get close to the water whenever I could. I didn’t need to be calmed but the water offered it anyway. All the life forms under the sea whilst we were up here, their own world, ours too, organised chaos, I thought. I kept walking. Thinking. Walking. Mostly about nothing. Sometimes I’d think of something thought provoking halfway through the circuit. And if it was worthwhile, it’d stick around until I got back to write it down. All of my best ideas came from walking. The last XK-1 session came up.
On your own.
Was there a meaning there? Despite my first rule, Rule One: No explanations, I found it fun to attach one to things. How? Through narrative.
What would Sarah think? I’d been thinking about her. Every time I met a girl who said more than hello to me, I thought about her for days. Sometimes longer. Some from years ago. As if my next few actions would be subject to their judgement. A clear sign I hadn’t learned anything from my past lives.
I got back to work and stayed there for a few more hours.
You can also watch the first 42 pages (16 chapters) being read out loud on YouTube.