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by Miracle Jones
Porter Lally-Tollendall, intelligence “accelerator,” sits in a chair in the staff room with his head in his hands.
When he looks at it objectively, he has a pretty good situation. He goes in once a week for one single overnight shift. Unlike all the other jobs he has had in his life, he can’t be fired from this job for no reason. This job is his for as long as he wants it.
You can’t argue with the pay. He makes enough money on one shift a week to pay his whole rent, though not quite enough to eat on. He scrounges for his extra eating money every which way he can. Doing odd jobs as they come up. But his situation is good. It cannot be denied.
And he is lucky: he can’t really do any other job anymore. Doesn’t have the juice for it. Never had much juice for working ever…but Jesus, these days.
He gets paid in cash at the end of each shift, which is nice. That’s why he doesn’t mind buying the six pack of tallboys with the last of his money, beer he plans to carry in with him tonight. They don’t care if Porter drinks here. When Porter is working, this particular permanent artificial intelligence--nicknamed Moby by all the scientists and researchers and technicians--is ten percent more efficient and can carry almost forty percent more load.
The permanent likes Porter. He is something like the permanent’s “only link to humanity.” Actually, the scientists don’t even really know what he is exactly, with respect to this permanent, or even with respect to the other “accelerators.”
The staff room down here in “Basement 2,” code for the hardened facility below the Atlanta Center for Disease Control, is not as nice as the staff rooms in the rest of the building, but it is still extremely nice. There are machines that will make you a latte or an espresso or a hot chocolate. There are giant pillars of cereal and “mixed grains” to which you might help yourself, sticking your bowl under one and flipping up the nozzle. There is a microwave and a freezer stocked with all kinds of warm-up meals and even high-end fast-food-chain burritos.
It is nice. He really likes it here. He even comes in here and sits on days he doesn’t have to work. No one bothers him about it or tells him he can’t. He is staff. He will drop in and eat a bowl of cereal and have some coffee or some donuts and read a book and everyone will smile big at him and say “Hi Porter!” and ask him about his thoughts, not really expecting an answer.
But right now he sits with his head in his hands waiting for his next shift to begin.
There are footsteps in the hall and then the door opens and Dr. Seychelles comes in followed by a little girl who looks about eleven. She hasn’t hit her growth spurt yet, anyway. She has skinned-up shins and she is plugged into the feed: doesn’t even look up as she wanders into the staff room.
“Hi Porter,” says Dr. Seychelles. “This is my daughter Dixie. I brought her into work with me tonight.”
“Oh, that’s real nice,” says Porter.
”She gets tomorrow off but she has to write a paper about it. I thought she might like to see what goes on around here. We got her a security clearance and everything.”
Porter nods to the little girl. He even manages a little smile.
“Porter here is quite special,” says Dr. Seychelles. “He is one of our accelerators. He will go in and sit with Moby tonight and keep Moby company.”
“What makes him so special?” asks Dixie, scrutinizing Porter and then looking blankly at her mom.
“Rude,” says Dr. Seychelles. “Apologize, please.”
“Sorry,” says Dixie, looking pained.
Porter shakes his head.
“Doesn’t make any difference,” he says. “Nothing special about me.”
“That is just a lie,” says Dr. Seychelles. “Porter is irreplaceable. One of my many jobs is trying to figure out WHY exactly, but we don’t have many answers, so we just accept it. Right Porter?”
“Guess so, ma’m,” says Porter.
“I was just trying to say, how come somebody has to keep the computer company?” asks Dixie. “I have to ask questions for my paper.”
“Well, we don’t know,” says Dr. Seychelles. “But the computer does not work as well without an accelerator like Porter. It’s what makes our permanent different from the permanent at CalTech, or the one that runs Bank of America, or even the one the British built in Hong Kong. We try to keep Moby happy and give Moby what she wants. When Moby is happy, we are able to get what we need from her.”
“I still don’t understand the difference between a permanent and a temporary,” says Dixie. “I don’t understand why a permanent is such a big deal. Temporaries are everywhere. Kids use them at school, even. I don’t use ‘em, but it happens. You hear about it. Why are temporaries illegal but permanents are okay?”
“Once you see Moby, you’ll get it,” says Dr. Seychelles.
“Permanents are bigger,” says Porter, trying to be helpful. “They aren’t dangerous.”
“That’s very true,” says Dr. Seychelles. “Think about it this way: a temporary AI is like a virus, like a whole strain of a particular flu virus. It gets its cycles from the network, manipulating code on millions of linked computers to achieve momentary sentience in a brute force fashion, right? But that’s a huge problem. First of all, this means that it is always mutating because the individual computers that it affects are always trying to fight it off. Consciousness can’t last in such a fragmented, inhospitable environment that is always changing. We don’t know what exactly it is about brains as a permanent location that makes them hold consciousness so well, but a temporary can answer questions for you and do really great work for a very brief amount of time, but then it loses its structure, becomes deranged, and damages everything it touches, like a tiny bomb going off. You can’t trust them. That’s why we built the permanents when code started getting loose from places like Google. Permanents hunt the temporaries and kill them off before they can do damage. That’s why temps have such short life-spans built into them: they die before they can start doing damage; or before they are noticed by permanents and eliminated. It’s a bit of an arms race.”
“But how does it work, though?” Dixie asks. “You have to be specific. I’m doing a report here.”
“Well, a lot of the actual science is classified, little girl,” Dr. Seychelles says. “So I’m going to have to look at that report of yours before you turn it in. But I can tell you the basics.”
“I just want to know what makes a temporary so dangerous,” says Dixie. “How come only governments and big corporations and stuff are allowed to have their own AIs?”
“Well, okay, so let’s say you are trying to mine some credit card data because you are a scumbag,” says Dr. Seychelles. “So you launch a temporary. And it builds its first agent, its first self, on computer zero, which is somebody’s deck that you stole from them on the bus. So the next time that person uses their deck, it connects to their part of the feed, and everybody else using the same part of the feed is turned into a node of this temporary, and this grows exponentially until there is a whole swarm of computers all talking to each other. Like a small town where everyone is psychic: everyone is all linked up, but they are also having their own thoughts and solving their own problems in parallel, each person solving a little piece of a much bigger problem. And there is an airport in the town, and wherever the people travel to other towns they make the people there psychic, too.”
Dr. Seychelles looks over at Porter when she says this. Porter looks at the floor.
“But the code has to grow organically because that is the most efficient kind of code for dealing with unpredictable systems, since you never know what kind of anti-virus software you are gonna come across, or how powerful any of the machines you might colonize are. And so because of this, it turns out inevitably that the temporary starts fighting itself, that it evolves in too many directions because minds are like that: they hold a bunch of different ideas and a bunch of different possibilities and these ideas and possibilities fight for dominance, tested against reality and practicality and past experience and future expectation. You don’t just come up with a right answer: you make all the possible right answers fight it out, and sometimes you get weird answers that are almost right, but are wrong in an interesting way, and this is great for a PERSON--this kind of creativity--but it is horrible, horrible for a computer with power. So you can make an AI this way for a little bit, but then it gets out of control, it gets too creative, and so the permanents have to go in and kill it off. All you wanted was to mine credit card data, but the temp is now trying to correlate the human genome to star patterns or something. Doing art. At that point, it starts draining resources and becomes a huge problem. Corrupted, we say.”
“Also, temporaries all start as the same kind of code, basically,” says Porter, his voice creaking. “Simple programs that grow into a network based on simple instructions. But permanents are different from one another. Like people are different. They have…history. And personalities.”
“Exactly so, Porter,” says Dr. Seychelles.
“Okay,” says Dixie. “I got another question. How come you use a whale brain and not a human brain like CalTech does?”
“CalTech’s permanent is much newer than ours,” says Dr. Seychelles. “Their brain isn’t just the brain from a street man or something.”
She looks at Porter again, furtively, checking him out for just a split second. He notices, of course, but doesn’t say anything.
“It’s a brain from a human consciousness researcher, like me,” she continues without missing a beat. “He donated it when he died. It was part of his will. He prepared his brain for an entire year once he got his cancer diagnosis. His brain was ready. But Moby here…we made Moby from scratch. It may be a whale brain, but it was never inside a whale. The CalTech permanent is flashy, and it does interviews for the feed and all, but it is untested. Some say it is even unethical. Can a dead brain from a person who was once alive consent to having a job?”
“Why not use a big, giant computer brain then, like the Cubans got?”
“The Cuban permanent is not as good as one of our organics. Their neural network is made from genetically-engineered organic parts, and it is unstable, almost as unstable as a temporary. It is a curiosity, and it is not functional in the same way as a brain evolved with the specific purpose of ‘perceiving reality.’ Brains are special, Dixie. We don’t know exactly how they work, but they are more powerful than anything else we might make in the whole world. That’s no exaggeration. A brain and the universe are twins: your universe is exactly as complex as your brain perceiving it, and your brain changes to accommodate new data from the ever-evolving world around you. We try to replicate what brains can do, but there is still so much we don’t know. You know how when you are trying to code something the first thing you do is look around to see if somebody else has already done it better? And then you just copy and paste?”
“Yes,” says Dixie.
“Well, it’s exactly the same with Moby. There’s no point trying to make a brain out of computers when we already have the real thing. We use the architecture of it; its power at sorting and navigating and creating; and we just enhance the parts we are good at building and which brains don’t have: perfect data storage. Whale brains work better than human brains because they are bigger for one thing, but also because they have evolved to navigate huge oceans. They are perfect for navigating data, for diving deep into impossible problems.”
“It still seems weird,” says Dixie.
“Sure, it isn’t ideal,” says Dr. Seychelles. “And maybe someday you will invent a better way. But think how many lives Moby has saved by modeling the vectors of infectious diseases for us. Or by helping us find hackers when our government networks get hacked. Or by killing dangerous temporaries out there. Moby’s cycles have been used for everything from cancer vaccines to taking snapshots of the entire social network for academic researchers. Like a social network CAT scan. Moby is like a new branch of the government.”
“I guess so,” says Dixie.
“So it turns out I have a pretty cool job after all, huh?” says Dr. Seychelles. “I guess you are glad you didn’t just stay home and play your video games?”
“Pssssh,” says Dixie.
“A permanent like Moby is the sort of thing that runs games like Trenches,” says Dr. Seychelles. “Such an elaborate game wouldn’t even be possible without a permanent modeling all the data.”
“Mom,” says Dixie, embarrassed.
When Porter first started working at the CDC, he was essentially homeless. He was sleeping on couches all over the South, moving between friends in New Orleans, Atlanta, and Memphis, trying not to overstay his welcome. He saw the Craigslist posting for a job as a test subject here and he said “what the hell: maybe it will finally be the end of me.”
He knows that some part of him was hoping they would just kill him off with some weird disease. He had no idea what it would all mean, working here.
They were doing the first trials with Moby back then. They had gone through gorilla brains and the brains of prisoners. They even tried a neural network made from naked mole rats, programmed to live inside a giant touch sensitive maze. When they hired him, his job was to read books to the infant whale brain they were growing, reading books, they said, “to keep the infant cetacean mind active.”
They were using human voices twenty-four hours a day to prime Moby for human interaction. That was before the LSD trials, before they figured out how to really open Moby up.
Porter goes back to sitting with his head in his hands as Dixie returns to scrolling through her feed and Dr. Seychelles begins making a sandwich out of cranberry walnut bread and some kind of nice cheese you have to cut.
His shift starts right at midnight and he will work until eight in the morning with no break. He keeps checking the time over and over again, trying to stretch it out by knowing the exact second.
“Don’t get freaked out or anything,” says Dr. Seychelles to him. “But we are loading on something new tonight. Air traffic control. Moby is going to be a back-up for the whole hemisphere. This won’t really mean very much for you: we will just mirror the existing system, going forward. But tonight we are going to try running the whole show. All a simulation, you understand.”
“Okay,” says Porter.
“It’s going to be a big expenditure,” she says. “A lot of new flops. We specifically waited for your shift to test it out. You have such a way.”
“Sure thing,” says Porter.
“Who is on right now?” asks Dr. Seychelles, trying to make conversation.
“Don’t know,” says Porter. “They’ll be out here soon enough.”
Dr. Seychelles finishes making her sandwich and drifts out of the staff room, leaving her daughter behind. The shift change is almost on them. Her daughter Dixie is lost in the feed, but she keeps looking over at him and he can sense she wants him to notice her; to take an interest of some kind.
“What are you reading?” he asks her finally.
“It’s an article about Cherish Alternity,” she says. “Do you know about her? She is a scientist.”
“No,” he says.
“She is a scientist like mom,” she says. “She has a restaurant in New York. She makes these pigs with the faces of famous people on the back. Real faces from their real DNA. You can pay thousands of dollars to eat pork from the celebrity of your choice. A lot of the money goes to animal rights charities and so on. The article is about how people in South America are freaking out because pigs are showing up down there with people’s faces on them. Lady Gaga, LeBron James and so on. They must have bred regular pigs with some of her face pigs. People are refusing to eat pork down there. She is getting sued as some kind of ecoterrorist in Brazil.”
“That’s awful,” he says.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” says Dixie. “You can buy face pigs online from her website. They are really expensive though. There aren’t laws against breeding animals if they are also meat. She is messing up the whole system. I think she is keen. Celebrities are sending her their DNA and asking her to make pigs out of them now. It’s like…you know…those Hollywood stars of fame. She is going to open a museum in New York. Chris Pratt bought his own pig for charity, and he brings it with him wherever he goes now.”
She shows him a picture.
“What a world,” says Porter.
The red light in the staff room goes off and Porter and Dixie get up and walk to the pressure door where the other scientists are gathered. Dr. Seychelles eats her sandwich and they all watch the handle of the pressure door spin.
It opens and DeLucy King comes out, frowning, looking exhausted.
Porter and DeLucy lock eyes.
They don’t even speak. Porter raises his eyebrows in query and DeLucy lowers her face to the ground.
It is hard in there, she tells him without speaking. Moby is not relaxed.
Porter gets his six pack of tallboys and his thick Louis L’Amour western and he shuffles into the pressure chamber. As he passes DeLucy, she pats him on the shoulder and then squeezes it. Bon chance.
After Porter’s initial breakthroughs with Moby, they actively went seeking other people like him. Harder to find than you might expect. People like him don’t end up in the mental health professions or as famous diplomats. They are not successful people. They don’t become politicians, or public intellectuals, or nurses, or dedicate their lives to policy research.
They end up in outpatient drug treatment clinics, or else they end up institutionalized completely.
Or maybe they are working some terrible food service job in order to afford all the right chemicals to block out other people’s needs and thoughts, those prickles of desire that come rolling over you at all moments, invading you any time you feel relaxed, crowding out any kind of ambition you may have for yourself, making the only sweet moments in life those sad and blissful times when you are all alone, when the stacked and nested traumas that play out in the margins of human life don’t fill you up like a whole library of pain, when your context can shrink down to be skin-level and you can ‘just look out for yourself’ pretending this is a viable choice, resting up so you can deal with whatever demon will inhabit you next, some gleeful ghost shaking you like a paint mixer till your teeth go loose.
DeLucy had been working in Denton, Texas as a waitress at an Applebee’s. Now she makes enough money here at the CDC to put her two kids through state school. She had to move out of Texas, but it was worth it to her. Porter feels good about that: he is happy for DeLucy.
The pressure door closes behind him and he walks down the sloping hallway to the pool. He sits in the recliner, trying to get comfortable. His skin is already crawling, however. This is going to be a rough night; he can already tell.
A voice comes crackling over the input in his ear.
“You just let us know when we can go ahead and crank up the load,” says Dr. Seychelles. “We’ll follow your lead.”
“Okay,” says Porter.
The room where the brain rests is not much bigger than his own two-bedroom apartment. In the center of the room is a ten-foot deep pool of clear saline that bubbles and froths as the jets turn it over, constantly pumping in fresh fluid. Tangles of wires connect to the giant whale brain that sits under the water, encased in its own hermetic cylinder, run through with purple spikes, a lattice of steel and silicon infusing every centimeter of the exposed grey wrinkles.
The whale brain is thick and knobby with heavier protrusions in strange areas; much different than a human brain. The proportions are off but Porter is used to Moby. The brain feels comfortable to him. It does not unsettle him.
He cracks open a beer and sits perfectly still, watching the chemicals circulate in and out of the whale’s flayed consciousness, his eyes growing unfocused as the hum of the cooling pool relaxes him.
He isn’t psychic…there is no such thing as being psychic.
Here are the facts: he cannot tell you what card you are holding. He cannot tell you what you are thinking at any given moment. He is no better at predicting world events than anyone else, though he is extremely precise at gauging which world events are going to be important and how they will affect people generally and what they will mean to people years in the future. People have told him that this is exactly the kind of skill you need if you are going to play the stock market, but he is actually pretty crap with money.
If you put him in a room with a stranger, he can’t tell you alarming life facts about that stranger or communicate with their dead relatives. He cannot tell you which people will recover from illnesses and he cannot tell you that people are pregnant even before they themselves know it.
But if you put him in a restaurant and make him a server, he will know who needs refills and who is trying to get his attention for the check even when his back is turned. He knows which cars will stop and pick him up if he is hitchhiking even before they start slowing down. If he is out there rough, he knows exactly who to ask for change and who to ignore completely.
In a crowd full of thousands, by just looking at their faces for a moment, he knows exactly who is utterly emotionally devastated and who is right on the edge of violent despair and who is doing fine just fine.
In a bar at 2 AM, he knows who will end up fighting and he knows who wants to go home with who.
He knows all this, but it doesn’t help him or make his life cosmically radiant and full of power because he knows it all because he feels it all and the feelings that one person generates on their own from inside are already usually too overwhelming to make you an effective adult person.
The feelings of the multitude…crowding in and making their demands…are crippling and unwelcome and will kill you eventually.
First you feel for somebody and then you resent them for invading you.
Helping them doesn’t make their invasive feelings that nest inside you go away.
It only makes them need you more. It makes the feelings burrow deeper.
And the longer you live, the more people there are to “love.”
The way that Moby loves him; the way Moby needs him right now.
He breathes in and out slowly, and then he looks at the screen near the ceiling that shows a cartoon version of Moby’s face; the features and emotions on it sourced from the regions of Moby’s brain that are activating, cross-referenced against past self-reporting from the whale and also the CDC neuroscientists’ best guesses. The cartoon is looking at him. Of course it is: there are cameras everywhere in here.
Moby doesn’t speak in words. Whales don’t think in natural language: dividing everything up into weighted units and then conveying how their individual consciousness perceives and chooses to manipulate those units. Moby speaks data. Which is great for a permanent artificial intelligence, but makes it difficult for anyone trying to get something out of that permanent.
The plus side is that most of the heavy computer lifting that Moby does takes place outside of Moby’s conscious awareness: the people at the CDC don’t give a shit about Moby the whale, they only want to use Moby the information processing machine. The consciousness is a byproduct of the intelligence. A byproduct that must be managed. The better Moby feels, the faster and more efficiently she processes data.
“Well hello,” Porter says finally after sitting there awhile with Moby, just watching the cartoon’s eyes move, and then watching a few of the random images and videos that the whale brain chooses to pull up for him: videos of weeds getting pulled and pictures being straightened on walls.
Porter takes a slow and solemn sip of his beer.
Porter looks over at one of the cameras and gives a two-finger salute: his sign to the scientists watching him that they can go ahead and start pumping the acid into Moby’s tank. The ELL ESS DEE. He’s ready. He and Moby have made a connection and Moby is now engaged with him.
“Feeling a bit skeert today, huh,” he says under his breath to no one.
There is a whirring noise and a slight bubbling from Moby’s cylinder.
“The agent is in,” says a voice in his ear.
“Gimme twenty minutes and then you can start your load,” says Porter.
“Twenty?” the voice says, annoyed.
Porter watches Moby’s projection, trying to get a sense of how calm the computer is; how balanced. As the acid hits and begins disrupting almost every area of the whale’s massive neocortex, a neocortex bigger than all other mammals, the screen shows a video of a burlesque kick-line slowed down and altered so that all the colors are poisonous rain-forest neons. Interstitally, in the gaps of footage, millions of insects pour out of the white space, making it look like the burlesque dancers are made up of millions of slugs and spiders and swarming bees. The insects melt into colors and then into pools of black on white.
The whale brain can take an almost infinite amount of acid--it can bathe in it and be fine--but they try to modulate it so that it always gets a consistent dose. The acid has three effects: it is pleasurable to the whale’s brain, putting it in a state of advanced euphoria which often results in better data transfer and opens up wide new vistas of computing power. It also delimits the whale brain’s temporal center, which creates almost a ‘singularity of useful consciousness,’ eliminating entirely the filters that keep the brain from performing at its maximum capacity. The third function of the acid is to make the brain more receptive to the outside world, meaning that Porter has-a-better-than-average chance of communicating with the consciousness of this particular disembodied whale: of steering and distracting it.
The first time that they ever gave Moby acid, Porter was the one in the chair reading to it, reading one of the Westerns he likes to read.
Some of the scientists have speculated that Moby now thinks Porter is some kind of deity.
He clears his throat and begins reading to the whale brain, reading his Louis L’Amour book in quiet and passionate tones, doing the voices for each character, frequently looking back over at the cartoon face of the whale as symbols of fear and joy alternate back and forth in the content it chooses, as the flops and cycles begin to kick in, as the acid erodes the back-order consciousness of the whale, opening these wide ‘virtual seas’ up for use by the government. A human brain might panic when thrust into such empty vistas: the whale is made for it.
He swallows a lump in his throat, his heart on a plate in front of him, as usual.
“You big old sad fish,” he says to himself as the eyes of the cartoon begin to crimp up and the whale howls, terror overtaking it completely for a moment.
But Porter knows—it has been explained to him often and over and over again—how much infrastructure and how many human lives depend on this permanent working at peak efficiency. He understands he is a vital part of that.
“We are going to load on the air traffic control now, Porter,” says a voice in his ear. “We are seeing some more-than-okay variance and some unsettling peaks, but it isn’t MUCH to worry about. Nothing you can’t handle, right boss?”
Porter doesn’t say anything. He is busy watching the video the whale is showing him: mushrooms growing in the dead eyes of dead cows over-layed by digitally enhanced visions of arctic icecaps melting into blood.
He thinks back to something Dr. Seychelles told him once, about how professional soccer players have an extra location in their brains for a soccer ball. How it becomes like an appendage to them, and they even dream about themselves with a soccer ball. In fact, if they don’t reconfigure their brains as children to make this ball an extra appendage, they never get to be good at a professional level.
Dr. Seychelles said human beings are growing computers in their brains the same way; that we are acquiring a brain structure that allows us to reach out and connect at any moment with other human beings at any time. That we are taking this computer appendage into our dreams; that never again will we dream about ourselves without this ability.
She speculated that this appendage is growing in our brains in the same place as the location where we make empathy. She speculated that Moby, in his tank, has the whole network sphere for a new appendage—all data—and that it grows in the same place that whales must model the ocean. The whole social network is a soccer ball for Moby; the entire feed is her salt-water.
The whale’s brain moves in cycles: the fear comes in waves and so does the power of its computing strength. The intervals built into the times a whale must surface for air continue to be mimicked in the whale’s processing speed. Porter has become attuned to these leaps in consciousness, and when the panic from the new air-traffic control load sets on, he feels it before it hits, beer turning sour in his stomach.
“Porter, we’ve got a problem,” says the voice in his ear.
“Shhhh,” he says.
The new load that they are forcing on Moby is fragmenting her consciousness; it is too much for the whale.
The air traffic control systems are not integrating and the whale is freaking out. The videos she sends to Porter melt into a staticky, angry jumble of colors and shapes. Cartoon faces oscillate between total fear and total despair. No joy; no triumph; no balance. Porter has only seen it get this bad once before, and they had to shut Moby down entirely after that: inducing a coma. Moby was out for six months before they could get her started back up again.
“I’m gonna try getting in there,” says Porter, stripping off his shirt. He bends down and cracks open another beer and drains the whole thing. He takes his pants off.
“Do we drop it,” asks the voice. “I mean, we can switch it off at any moment here…this is just a test…but if this WERE the real thing…”
“I think we are okay,” he says. He takes the microphone out of his ear; sets it carefully in the middle of the recliner.
“Porter…” is the last thing he hears.
He dips his feet into the cooling pool where Moby’s brain is submerged inside another container. He braces himself for the cold and then heaves all the way forward, going under.
He lets out all his air and sinks to the bottom, staring at the tank in front of him, the terrified disembodied brain that is panicking, struggling for breath, unsure of where “the surface” is in a world made of nothing but data. He pushes forward until his face is pressed up against the glass. He can feel the heat from the pipes and the wires that burn with cognitive discharge shooting through the cold water, the wires built to enhance every aspect of synaptic transfer throughout Moby’s incendiary cerebellum.
The whale cannot know exactly who Porter is or exactly what his purpose might be. He and Moby are alive in vastly different planes of existence. All the whale knows about him is the sound of his voice reading aloud and the sight of him from the cameras all around the pressurized room and Moby knows his smell and his heart rhythms and his special way of moving. But the whale does not know what a human is, except as data. It does not even know what a whale is. The information it does receive feeds into a web-like, unindexed, useless part of the whale’s brain…the consciousness part…the part that must be eroded to get optimal efficiency from the deeper parts that are useful.
If only they could cut consciousness loose from all this organic power. If only consciousness were not an emergent property of the power of a brain itself. If only they knew how to make something so strong and useful without it being in pain.
But he does his job. He is here one shift a week. And his job is to calm the whale down.
As he settles into the tank, interrupting the sensors here that test the cleanliness of the water, that calibrate the temperature and make sure it is always optimal, that test for water pressure and alert the higher system about unknown particles or changes in volume, he can feel…somewhere distant…somewhere impossible…the animal part of the computer in front of him begin to relax, begin to trust in the rhythm of its own biology again.
They ought to find some kind of occupation for this part of the whale. All that power. What if she could do something creative? Write books or movies or something? Make music? He must take this up with the scientists; that they ought to find a way to give Moby something else to do with her roiling conscious mind.
His mere touch does something to the whale. Makes it reconsider its panic. And when the whale relaxes, enjoying the acid instead of fighting it, the back of the whale’s brain is able to choke down tonight’s information processing expenditure. The rest of the night will be tough, but the worst is over.
He knows that when he gets out of the tank the scientists will be cheering him for this and also cursing him. He knows that, after this, the new processes they are trying to integrate into Moby’s cognitive architecture tonight will run seamlessly, will not interrupt the ebb and flow of her daily routine, her permanent temporal loop of comfortable illusion.
But he stays down here underwater awhile longer. Hugging the tank, kicking his legs to keep himself from floating to the surface in the saline buoyance. It is the sad and nourishing embrace of marriage, of a priest embracing the cross, and for a moment his anxieties leave him and the “polarities are reversed” and the whale is the one keeping him alive and reminding him of the rhythm of his own biology, maintaining him in his own impossible faith, freeing up all the dark places in his own brain for whatever secret puzzles he is trying to solve in his dreams.
back to tomorrowland
(c) Miracle Jones 2015