PROGRAMMING BUGS • by Gary Pattinson

Gil hit the reset button and crossed his fingers. The bumblebee gyrated to the near-frantic music, arcing graceful curves and patterns inside the glass enclosure. Abruptly, the bee braked to a hover, and plummeted to the enclosure floor. After a moment, the bumblebee walked about, wings hanging at its sides seemingly forgotten. The music raced on.

Failed again, he thought, turning back to the workstation screen.

His partner, Rupert pressed his face against the glass, watching the bee. “We shouldn’t—”

“Don’t say it,” Gil said.

“—have taken this contract. We knew it couldn’t work, and that Hollywood producer will be here any minute.”

Gil sighed. “I told you not to say it. A negative attitude spoils the karma. Besides, we needed the cash.” He punched commands on his console. Code and data flowed once more into nano-sized wireless receivers delicately attached to neurons in the living bumblebee’s brain.

SmartBugs had been their brain-child. Over a century ago, scientists built smarter chips by connecting snail neurons to silicon chips. Rupert and Gil’s work went the other direction and interfaced directly to the insects. The industrial and military possibilities — yet, Hollywood had come calling first.

In an age of full-submersion-sensatouch movies, there hadn’t been a living actor working Hollywood in sixty years. Yet, this movie producer wanted to make a short-short of a real, living bumblebee dancing to, of course, Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee”. For the gobs of cash offered, Gil and Rupert had decided the bumblebee would dance, no matter what. Start-up companies always needed cash.

“Why’d it stop flying again?” Rupert said, jumping into panic mode. “It’s got to be a bug in your code.”

Gil rolled his eyes.

The code fed instructions to the bumblebee, teaching it the dance. However, the data feed was a new idea. In the first demo, the Hollywood producer had thought the bumblebee’s motions were too stiff. “The bumblebee is not aspiring to our romantic views of itself,” the man had said.

So they’d innovated, drawing on humanity’s written word about the bumblebee. Poems, essays, the works, distilled down to their raw semantic essence in code, and then uploaded to the bee. The idea had been the bee would interpret the essence, and fly to its romantic potential. In the worst case (Rupert always liked to examine the worst case), the producer might at least think he saw a difference and pay them.

Remarkably, it had worked. With the first data flow, the bee’s dance had taken on a joyous expression. It had flown with flare and flamboyance until, well, until the bee decided to stop, and refused to fly again without a program reset.

Gil stared at the data flow. The insect had a… bug. He just needed to pinpoint where in the joined code and data flow the bee had stopped.

“I knew it wouldn’t work,” Rupert prattled on, pacing back and forth. “We’ll lose the company before we even get started.”

Gil sat up straight, intent on the screen, and said, “We should have reviewed the data before the upload.”

“Why? It’s just poems and essays about bumblebees, not technical specs.”

With a gesture, Gil plucked a document from the data flow and dropped it to the side. “There’s something we didn’t consider. Have you ever heard the old saying about the bumblebee? It’s a positive attitude platitude.” He smiled as he typed a few commands, and hit the reset button. The “Flight of the Bumblebee” began again, and the bee rose into the air, tracing its delicate but frantic gyrations once more to the music. The effect mesmerized.

Rupert stood transfixed, while Gil spoke on.

“The old saying goes that the bumblebee’s wings are too short and its body too big to fly, but since no one ever told the bumblebee it couldn’t fly, it just flies anyway.

The bee danced on, its performance now flawless.

“That is, until we included the old saying in the upload—”

“Don’t tell me,” Rupert said, rubbing his face with his hands.

“That’s right, we told the bumblebee.”

Weaned on fairy tales and hero adventures, Gary Pattinson remembers reading his first space opera when about nine years old. He began writing in his teens and writes primarily fantasy and science fiction. He is a Liberty Hall Writers denizen. A software engineer, Mr. Pattinson builds scary things that self-heal and self-organize. He is a devoted husband and Dad who, when not writing, enjoys history, antique cryptography, fossils, reading, and gardening with his wife.

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