Friday, July 24, 2015

Fiction Friday: Cosmos

“Can’t you see what we’re building?” Lilith asked. She leaned black in the big faux-leather chair.

Harry frowned at the windowpanes. Construction?

“This, this, all of this,” she said. “I mean as a species.” She gestured dramatically indicating everything in the office—the chair, the desk, the plate glass windows, the steel beams hidden in the walls. “All of these buildings, everything we do. The entire world. Don’t you see it?”

He had to confess: he did not.

“It’s a necrocosm. A tomb-world. We’re making our own mortuary, our own moratorium. For as long as there’ve been people we thought we were the top. Nothing could be more spectacular than us! To us, thinking is the same as commanding—right?” She had a wry grin on her face. It made Harry uncomfortable. He wasn’t used to talking this openly, this bluntly, with superiors. There was something wrong about it. “Look, look outside. We’re really just parts in one giant organism. Lovelock had it right. The highways, look at them. Can you see? They’re veins and arteries.”

He looked. They were highways. He saw the people, saw the cars. So what?

“So what? Think about it.” Lilith sounded irritated, maybe even slightly disappointed with him. “We’re just one more step on the road of evolution. Everyone wants to think of themselves as the peak of the mountain, but the mountain keeps going up and up and up. In ten thousand years, archaeologists will come here and look through all our silent buildings and all our crumbling works and say ‘Look how industrious they were! Look how little they understood, yet how much they built!’ They’ll marvel that we could be so self-absorbed and yet seem to have such insight.”

Harry didn’t like where this was going at all.

“We’re not the top of the mountain, that’s the problem. We’re just another step on the way. Not even a very smart step, not even a very creative step. I mean, look; when you’re in the lab what do you study? Eukaryotes and prokaryotes, right? What makes us any different? Oh, sure, we have a culture. Eukaryotes with a culture. There’s a joke in there about petri dishes.” She smirked again, Harry’s uncomprehending stare forgotten.

“But really, nothing more than that. We sweat and we bleed, work, groan, grunt, fuck, and in the end we convince ourselves that it all really means something. We write books and plays and television shows and movies and on and on, for what? To keep our minds off of the truth.

“The truth is that we’re transient, Harry. Do you get it? Easy come, easy go.”

Harry shook his head. “No. I mean, maybe you’re right. Say we are... just building this necrocosm of yours. How are we transient?”

Lilith went back to her desk. She tapped the inbuilt senseboard. “Right here,” she said. Her fingers caressed the wood and brass. The senseboard sprang to life, projecting images of letters across its surface. The monitor hummed. “We’re just a step on the road. Life is information. Right?”

And suddenly he saw it. The highways pumping people through the cities, which were the great organs of a creature as large as the world.

“We have a global consciousness now,” Lilith said. “It took us a long time to develop it—well, actually, not all that long in relative terms. But we’re awake. Finally awake! Yes, it’s diffuse and can only think at the lowest grade. The global thought-patterns are glacially slow and stupider than any one of us, but all you have to do is go online to see that we’re thinking. So what if the thoughts seem fragmented? It’s like a Monet, take a step back. We’re all individual pieces playing our individual roles. Someone produces a germ: a post on a forum or a piece of art, or something. The rest ruminate on it. Before long there’s a whole exegesis about it. If that’s not thinking, I don’t know what is.”

Harry shivered and looked outside again. He didn’t like the glee playing over Lilith’s features. “Maybe,” he admitted. Life is information. But… “Information can’t make life. I mean, information alone.”

“That’s all genetic material is, Harry. A blueprint!” Lilith laughed.

He shook his head. “Yeah, but when I learn something new, I don’t give birth.”

“Maybe you do.” Another laugh, this one nasty. Lilith lording her reproductive might over him? Or lamenting twenty thousand years of repression? “But you’re right. Our biological makeup isn’t well suited to incorporating new information. We can learn things, and that changes us, but we can’t make radical changes to ourselves. There’s always a second-order process. We can learn how physically it is possible to fly, but we can’t make ourselves into birds.”

Then Harry understood. “But machines can.”

“They don’t need to stop, or die, or fade away to become something else. They can change themselves, Harry. They can do more than learn. They can embody new information completely.”

“You think we’re here to pave the way for a race of machines.”

It was Lilith’s turn to shake her head, tersely, in that sharp way she had. “Don’t be stupid, Harry. That’s teleological. We’re not here for anything. We’re just here.”

“I like being myself, Lilith. I don’t want to be a machine.”

She rolled her eyes. “You wouldn’t be. You’re taking this all the wrong way. This is the long view I’m talking about.”

“So what’s the point then?”

“The point?” She cocked her head, like a confused bird. “What’s the point of anything?”

“To reproduce,” Harry said. He knew that would make her laugh. She was a lab rat at heart, even if the Company thought she was useful.

She didn’t, though. Laugh. She nodded at him. Her eyes were scary wide. “Right. To make copies of ourselves.” Harry looked at her. Was she propositioning him? That would be an HR nightmare. But no, she didn't look like she meant sex at all.

Her hands were on the senseboard. Her attention was turned more toward the machine in front of her than to him, regardless of where her eyes were. The whole rest of her body was twisting toward it, ready to leap. It took him a few minutes to understand. He kept looking at her. When he was sure he finally understood, she nodded slowly. Another shiver, this one deeper and more awful, spread from his very core.


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