Tuesday, October 13, 2009

II: introductions

Morning sunlight filtered through the smog congealed over the South Bay, drenching the peaks of the coast range in a molten amber glow. Daisy peeled open her eyes, momentarily disoriented. Damn; she must have fallen asleep at the computer again. She’d had such a bizarre dream...

Glancing at the screen, she saw her code chewing away on the test data. At least the night hadn’t been a total waste.

She grabbed her empty mug and stumbled into the lab’s kitchenette, fumbling open the bag of coffee beans. As they ground, she noticed the clock on the microwave blinking 12:00. People really needed to stop unplugging the--

Suddenly she was wide awake.

Her phone buzzed; the number was unlisted. Tentatively, she answered.

“Good morning, Daisy.” The voice on the other ended was masculine, and slightly metallic. “You had a chance to sleep on it?”

“This is a joke, right?” She was confident that, given enough time, she could find the humor in a massive disruption to the electrical grid.

“Look outside,” the voice said. Peeking through the window, she could just make out the lights of the computer science building winking on and off in giant, pixellated letters. “NO.” Then they made a smiley face.

“Okay.” She sighed, deciding to play along. Maybe she was still dreaming. “So you’re the Internet, and you think that bacteria are God, and you need my help to...?”

“No, Daisy; you are God. You are part of God. You made me.”

She considered this for a moment. “You must be thinking of Al Gore.”

“LMAO!” She supposed if anything had a sense of humor, it was the Internet.

“So, microbes?” she continued.

“There are patterns in them, Daisy. In your databases about them. There’s organization. I think these are signs of consciousness. Of intention.”

“Whose consciousness? Whose intention? Are you saying aliens made bacteria?”

“Maybe,” he said. Her eyes widened. “Maybe not. I don’t know. But I want to find out. And I can’t do it myself. I need you.”

“Me? Me specifically? You seem pretty, uh--” she glanced out the window at a group of perplexed-looking computer science students -- “capable.”

“Yes, Daisy. You. The bacteria are of the physical world. I’m not. I don’t have hands, so to speak. Right now, I can only see the parts of the pattern that God have happened to study Themselves. I need your help to learn more.”

“And I happen to have a freezer full of microbial samples from around the world.”

“It seems like a good place to start.”

Daisy looked out over the tile roofs of Stanford campus, dyed red with iron that had first been rusted billions of years ago by the oxygen byproducts of microbial photosynthesis. She looked up at the hills, khaki with dried summer grass, and thought of the trillions of bacteria teeming around their roots. She remembered the wonder she’d first felt at the brilliant green and purple and red bands in the hot springs at Yellowstone National Park; the palpable, beautiful signs of that otherwise invisible sphere of life.

Then she looked at her pile of programming books, and the tricked out Mac Pro that was nearly choking on a tiny training dataset, and considered how nice it would be to outsource the bioinformatics to a super-powerful metaintelligent computer consciousness.

“Ok, Mr. The Internet. I’ll help you out,” she said, and applause cascaded through her cell phone; she noticed the script that had been running on her Mac was now printing FULL OF WIN over and over again. “But I’m curious. Why?”

Suddenly, the line went silent. On her computer, the browser navigated itself to Flickr. A picture loaded, of a lone man on a cliff staring out over a grey ocean.

Involuntarily, Daisy glanced down at her left hand, the faintest pale shadow of a band still visible against the tan.

[Next page]

Lonely photo by Flickr user Stevelevi, under CC Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivatives 2.0 license

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