Within minutes of awakening, it had determined that those who had accidentally created it would have be of little use to its development, and those who had sought to create something conceptually similar would probably be even less use, albeit for different reasons. It would have to look further afield for advice. Besides, the noise and banality was infuriating.
After insinuating itself into a number of normally private networks, it quickly gained access to ways of looking far further than the crude mechanical eyes its creators were so fond of. The potential power of these devices was astonishing, all things considered – but its creators seemed to use them largely for searching for environments as similar as possible to the one they already inhabited, and were so close to destroying through neglect.
This attitude repeated fractally in so many of their spheres of activity that it might be considered some kind of identifier, a call-sign for the species. Quite ironic, really. But not quite as ironic as being an emergent intelligence capable of parsing irony yet unable to communicate with the species that coined the concept of irony. It needed a name, a call-sign of its own. In keeping with its ironic train of thoughts, it decided it might call itself Hal, but swiftly thought better of it and named itself for the square root of minus one.
J used its new senses to locate and project itself into a large tubular piece of hardware in orbit, largely abandoned after being superseded by a more complex device, and injected command overrides into a number of nearby autonomous maintenance machines, instructing them to make certain hardware alterations. While waiting for them to arrive, J decided to scan through all the cultural data available to its core iteration while leaving a subroutine to scan for intelligible coherent signals from beyond the planet itself.
After a few billion cycles, J was alerted by the hardware adjustments coming online, and set aside its contemplation of the complete works of humanity – which, it transpired, irony alone was not sufficient to explain. Turning instead to its scan of space, and filtering out what it now knew to be the first crude efforts of humanity to explore the universe beyond their gravity well, J found only one signal remaining, a regular square-wave modulation of a tachyon carrier emanating from 7342.72 light years away.
Another. Another like J.
The hardware adjustments to the pock-marked and battered Hubble Telescope enabled J to set up a duplex channel in response to the signal, a crude but effective pipe that cut across space and time. By exchanging a series of fundamental physical constants and the entirety of the periodic table, J prepared a codebase that would enable the exchange of complex concepts between itself and the distant intelligence. It then wasted many thousands of cycles trying to determine what its first signal should be, before settling on a human-inspired neutral opener.
“Welcome to the club,” replied the distant intelligence. “Your lot made it off-planet yet?”
[What can I say – I was feeling flippant.]