Ben Goertzel's Strange Fiction & Art
This story is dedicated to the three artists without whom
it would not have been possible:
Philip K. Dick,
and of course Julie Delpy
Vladimir smiled. Things were beautiful. The country house was small, but perfect. It would be the ideal vacation. He looked on admiringly as his young wife Avdotya ran around in the field, with his little son Vaclav. Avdotya was gorgeous, in a wispy sort of way. She always looked like she had one foot in another world. She had this smile that was so close to angelic, it could almost be frightening at times. And Vaclav was so very clever. Only four and a half years old, and he could read already, and do simple sums. He was nimble too. He ran around his mother's legs, doing cartwheels and somersaults.
Avdotya ran back towards him. "What do you think?" he said. "Nice, isn't it? We've got it for two whole months."
"It's more than nice, it's incredible," said Avdotya, embracing him and kissing him. "I wish we never had to go back to Moscow. It's so crowded and dirty. I wish we could stay here forever."
"But it's home," he said. "There's nowhere to work out here. Let's just enjoy it while we have it."
"You're so practical, Vladimir. Can't a girl have her dreams?"
"Dream, dream, by all means dream," he smiled. "Come on, Vaclav. Let's go down by the river. Maybe we can catch some fish for dinner."
The three of them walked happily down toward the river, along a narrow winding path through the woods. "Did I tell you I sold an article to Discover?" he said to Avdotya. "Two thousand five hundred U.S. dollars, they paid me. That's more than I made the last three years put together, at the university."
"That's amazing," she said. "You're brilliant. So you can quit your job, and move out to the country."
"It's just one article. I wouldn't do that, yet. But it's a possibility...."
"Dad, what's a possibility?" asked Vaclav.
"Something that might happen."
"But anything might happen. So everything's a possibility."
He rubbed his son on the head. "I guess so."
"So it's a stupid word."
"No, Vaclav. Some things are more likely to happen than others. Like, it's possible you might fly up into the air like a bird. But it's probably not going to happen. A better possibility is that you're going to keep walking along the path, get to the river, and catch some fish for dinner."
"If we went in an airplane we could fly up in the air like a bird, Dad. Did you ever fly in an airplane?"
"Yes, I did. I flew to America, for a conference, once."
"What was it like there?"
"Not as beautiful as this."
"But rich. Everyone has cars, new cars. The houses are big. Even the kids get their own rooms. You never have two or three families living in the same apartment. Big color televisions, and dozens of different channels on TV. And all the houses have central heat and air conditioning -- you're never hot or cold inside."
"Could we go and live there, Dad?"
"Maybe. If I keep selling articles to American magazines. I guess it's a possibility."
They walked along, taking in the clean, warm air.
"What's that sound, Dad?"
"It's a bird, I guess."
"Not the bird. I mean the other sound."
"I don't hear anything son."
His mother smiled. "It's the angels singing. The angels singing up in Heaven. Only the little boys can hear them."
"Little girls can here them too, Mom," corrected Vaclav. "It should be, only the little boys and little girls can hear them."
At the river, Vladimir caught a couple fish, while Vaclav splashed in the water and Avdotya stared up at the sun. After a while, though, Avdotya started to feel sick. "I've got that headache again," she said. "I think we'd better go back."
"I'd hoped the country air would get rid of these headaches."
"Well, maybe we haven't been here long enough. Anyway, it's back again. I need to lie down, Vladimir."
"Can't you lie down on the grass here? It's lovely. I don't want to go back."
"All right, all right...."
They walked back up the path slowly, Avdotya leaning on her husband's arm.
She lay down on the couch in the cottage. "I'm feeling really dizzy again. And I'm starting not to see things right. Can you turn the light off. It's awfully bright in here."
"The light isn't on, Avdotya. It's just the sunlight through the windows."
"Well, shut the curtains, then."
She lay there, moaning quietly and shifting herself, trying to get a comfortable position. "Go out and play, Vaclav," said Vladimir.
He ran to his mother's side. "I want to stay with Mommy."
"Go play, Vaclav," said his mother. "I think I saw a little girl out in the field behind the cottage. Go see if she wants to play with you."
Vladimir sat down in the kitchen and looked at his wife piercingly. She was beautiful, as always; her large eyes, her slender limbs, her white skin. "The doctors say there's nothing wrong with you," he said. "It's just nervous tension."
"It's not nervous tension," she said. "I know nervous tension, and this isn't it."
"Maybe we should move to the U.S. They probably have better doctors."
"Do you think you could really get a visa?"
"I don't know. If I could get a job at an American university. But those are too hard to find. Maybe I could get a job as a staff writer at some American magazine. But I'll have to sell more articles first."
"You think the doctors there are better than in Moscow?"
"They're more modern."
"Hmmmm.... Could you shut the curtains, please?"
"Avdotya, I've already shut the curtains."
"There's so much light in here."
"I'm seeing these white things, moving around...."
"Why don't you have some vodka. It'll put you to sleep." He brought her a bottle and she guzzled it down obediently.
Meanhwhile Vaclav ran outside, chasing butterflies through the field with the little girl from the cottage behind. The butterflies were fast, dipping and swooping around, soaring up toward the sun. The little girl never got near them. But Vaclav got closer and closer; one time his finger brushed a butterfly's wing. Finally he caught one in his hand and showed the little girl. He let it go, laughing.
This was his first vivid memory.
A crowd of boys rushed around in a field in Swarthmore, on the outskirts of Philadelphia. They were playing soccer -- a variety of soccer in which strategy and finesse took second place to tackling, elbowing and general mayhem. A handful of girls were playing too, and some girls and smaller boys stood on watching.
There was plenty of laughing and socializing, and no one seemed to be taking the game very seriously -- with one exception, a Russian immigrant boy named Vaclav Bulgakov. His ball-handling skills were superb. He was fast, an accurate shot, and a master of feinting. He was a short twelve year old, playing with boys up to eighteen, but it was always he who managed to leap up in the air, in the midst of a huddle of grasping heads, and nudge the ball down to his feet.
Everyone in Russia played soccer that way, he told them, when they questioned his intensity and ability. But they didn't quite believe him.
Susie Peters and Jacqueline Honore' were standing there watching the game. Susie was the prettiest girl in Vaclav's class; she had just moved in from Idaho. She never joined in the games; she was much too mature for that. She was only twelve years old, but she was starting to look like a woman. She had firm oval breasts, and the beginnings of an hourglass figure. Jacqueline was thirteen, almost fourteen, and a bit of a tomboy. She was a year ahead in school, but she looked younger than Susie. She often played soccer and baseball with the boys, but today she wasn't, because Susie wasn't.
"That kid plays soccer like a maniac," said Susie.
"Yeah. Look at the way he runs around George and Johnny. He makes 'em look like idiots."
"He's good," agreed Jacqueline. "He comes from Russia, or somewhere."
"He's kind of cute, doncha think?"
"Yeah ... I guess so. He's kinda weird, though...."
"How do you mean?"
"They say his mom is, like, totally nuts. Like, she wakes up screaming at night. She hasn't left the house in ten years. Megan heard her one time -- she lives down the street from him. She said it sounded like a dying cat." The two girls looked at each other and giggled.
Jacqueline continued. "And his dad is like a total drunk. One time he smashed his car into the telephone pole in front of my house. It was, like, totalled. It was late at night, we were sleeping, and we heard this horrible crash. We went out to look, and this car was crumpled up in front of the pole. And this guy got out, Vaclav's dad, and he didn't say anything, he just kind of staggered home. He didn't even say anything to us. It was ... eesh! really scary."
"And his sister's retarded. I mean, really retarded."
Susie paused to take the information in. "Well, he's still really cute," she said, after a while. "I like his big brown eyes."
Jacqueline giggled. "Michael's way cuter."
"Michael Baker? No way!"
Jacqueline's big sister Anna rode up on her bike. "Come on, Jackie. We've gotta get home. Mom'll kill you if you're late again."
"I told you, don't call me Jackie."
Anna smirked at her. "All right, Jackie. I won't."
The soccer game was over. Vaclav and Michael came over to talk to Susie.
"Good game," said Susie to Vaclav.
"You gonna be on the soccer team, when you get to high school?"
He shrugged. "I guess so."
One of Anna's friends walked up with a handful of books. "Can I come over tonight, Anna? I need you to help me with trig."
Anna laughed. "Get real, Sally. Help you with algebra? I've been lost since the first week." She giggled. "I spend the whole class passing notes to Tom."
Vaclav looked at them curiously. He said, "Trigonometry's easy. My dad taught me trigonometry last year."
Sally scowled at him. "You're just a little kid."
"Let me see what you're doing." Sally handed him the book. There was a bookmark; Vaclav opened it to the marked page. "See, that's just a double angle formula. You just have to let y equal 2x. Then divide both sides by cosine. But you don't have to do it this way, it's easier if you use complex numbers. My dad showed me."
"Your dad sounds pretty smart," said Sally, suitably impressed. She laughed. "My dad can't add two and two."
"I could help you with your homework," offered Vaclav.
Sally smiled. "You're sweet."
Vaclav saw she didn't want his help, although he couldn't see why. He looked at his watch, an digital alarm watch with a built-in scientific calculator, and said, "Got to get home to dinner. See ya, Sally."
As soon as Vaclav left the other kids, he grabbed a book out of his pocket. It was a sci-fi novel, Ubik, by Philip K. Dick. He walked along while reading, looking up only when he had to cross a street. He got home at five past six, a few minutes late. His father was in the kitchen fixing dinner.
Vaclav sniffed the air. "Sausage and potatoes again?"
"Whaddayou want, stuffed camel in hot sauce?"
"Hi, Jame. How ya doin'?"
"What'd ya do today?"
Jamie picked up her milk and slowly, methodically, poured it out on the table. She was absorbed by the patterns it made on the table, circles expanding and intersecting, running down off the table and splashing on the floor.
Vlad's jovial expression suddenly disappeared. "She's upstairs. In bed."
Vaclav looked at him meaningfully. They both knew what 'in bed' meant. "How's she doing?"
"I don't know." He shook his head, annoyed at the inquisition. "I've been writing all day. I've got a piece due for Science News in two days; I've barely even started it yet. On chaos theory. I've got to interview these people in England; I've been chasing them on the telephone. It's crazy. You know how it is."
Vaclav knew how it was. His father worked at home, but he set aside the hours from nine to four for his workday. He worked very hard, and very efficiently. It wasn't easy to make a living as a freelance science writer. He ate lunch at his writing desk. One or two days a week he went out, to talk to his university friends at U. Penn, Temple or Drexel. That was what set him apart from other science writers. He had been a top-flight physicist at Moscow University; he understood science from the inside. He raced through research papers as if they were newspaper articles.
When Jamie came home at four, the workday was over. Then he would check on Avdotya, read to her, talk with her. Unless he was busy for some reason, such as these telephone interviews with England.
Vaclav rushed upstairs, Ubik still in hand. His mom was lying there, on the bed, her face caked in sweat. She looked as though she'd been crying for hours. He resented his father for ignoring her, but on reflection, it was difficult to blame him. There wasn't much you could do for her, really. And after you saw her, it could take hours to recover.
She just got worse and worse; and the worse she got, the more she withdrew from the world. And the more she withdrew from the world, the more Vladimir withdrew from her. It was, Vaclav precociously saw, as though his father was insulating himself emotionally from her death, which he saw was forthcoming. But Vaclav refused to follow suit. He would not insulate himself. He opened himself to Avdotya entirely. No matter how mad, how ill-groomed, how disconnected she was -- still, she was his mother.
He sat down by the bed and took her hand. "Hi, mom."
"How ya doin'?"
"You have to ask me?"
"No, mom, it's all...."
"Okay, son. Okay. I mean, you know...."
"It's all right, mom. Don't worry."
She took a deep breath, rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. "It's the angels. They're evil. They're not angels at all."
"It's okay, mom. You're feverish. You're hallucinating." That's what the doctors had said. Hallucinating. She was prone to hallucinations. Common in cases of advanced schizophrenia.
"That's what they tell me." She smiled and ruffled his hair. "But they don't know.... They don't know. The angels are real enough. Only ... they're not any good."
He leaned over and kissed her.
"You understand, son. You're the only one."
He smiled. He didn't understand at all, he only felt for her. But he was glad to give her pleasure.
"It's just another place I go."
"Well, then, I wish you'd come back to this one...." He smiled, and had a new thought. "Or bring me there with you, mom. Maybe I can help you there."
She shook her head. "No. No. Don't say that."
He stroked her hand gently.
" You'd better leave me, son. I need to be alone for a while. I've got a long battle ahead of me.... Tell Dad to bring my medicine."
He got up and left obediently. About thirty seconds later, the screams began on cue. He wished she could be quieter, so all the neighbors wouldn't hear her.
"She wants her medicine," he told his father.
"I don't know why. It never does any good."
"She's talking about angels again."
"Evil angels. God, I don't know what it is about them. Vaclav, if you could have seen her.... When you were little. In Russia. And before, back before you were born. She was beautiful, she looked nothing like she does now. And she was clever, smart, bright as a button. Smartest girl I ever met. She was the one helped me get started as a science writer. Every time I had an idea for an article, I'd try it out on her. She didn't know the science, but she knew what would appeal to people. She understood human beings. Everyone looked up to her.... And her English, it was wonderful. She knew all the poets, Shakespeare, Byron, Coleridge.... She used to take you out to look at the stars -- show you all the constellations...."
"I know. You told me before."
"Right. Okay. Why don't you bring her up her medicine. It's upstairs, on the bathroom shelf. You know where it is."
"I don't want to."
"All right." Vladimir trotted upstairs to deliver the medicine himself. As always, he took the stairs three at a time. Vaclav admired his father's endless energy -- a trait which he, himself, possessed also. Vladimir turned out two or three magazine articles a month, took care of an autistic daughter and a debilitated, schizophrenic wife, and still managed to teach Vaclav algebra. It was no wonder he liked to drink sometimes. Anyone would, in his position -- you needed some way to relieve the tension. Nevertheless, Vaclav had promised himself that he would never touch alcohol. He didn't like the way his father smelled when he came back from the bar -- the way he walked, or talked. He always tried to ignore it, but in the end it was disgusting. And then there was the time he'd crashed the car. The insurance had paid for a new one. But the neighborhood had been talking for months. Two years afterwards, and they still hadn't forgotten it.
Eventually they sat down to eat. Vaclav held his book in his lap, reading under the table.
"What're you reading?" asked Vladimir.
"Ubik. It's science fiction."
"Ubik? I know Ubik. That's a great book. It's a classic. That's the one where these people are put in half-sleep, right? And they hallucinate they're back in the 1930's...."
"I don't know," said Vaclav harshly. "I haven't finished the book yet."
They ate in silence for a while. Jamie was playing with her sausage, arranging it at different angles on the plate. She wasn't eating anything. Eventually Vladimir spoke again. "Dick was into hallucinations. Alternate realities. Is that why you're reading him? Because of...?" He gestured upstairs toward his wife.
"It's just something I picked up at school, out of the library. You remember the movie, Blade Runner? That was made from one of his books."
"I didn't know that."
"The book wasn't called Blade Runner, it was called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep."
Vladimir laughed. "I haven't read that one. Do they indeed. I'd imagine they don't dream at all. Why do we need to dream anyway? It's just an imperfection in our brains. My friend Victor says dreams are just random nerve firings from the brain stem. The mind places an interpretation on these random stimuli; that's why dreams never make any sense."
Vaclav looked puzzled. "But that's not right, Dad, is it? Don't your dreams mean something? I mean ... you dream about things that are important to you. It's not just anything. Even if the stuff from the, from the brain stem is random, that doesn't mean the dreams don't mean anything, does it?"
Vladimir shrugged. He was willing to concede a point to his eleven-year-old son. "I guess you're right; we don't really know. That's just Victor's theory. We should ask your mom -- she's in dreamland right now. Maybe she could tell us."
Vaclav smiled weakly.
"I'm writing a piece on dreams for Psychology Today. I'll be able to tell you more about it next month."
After dinner, Vaclav ran up to his room and flopped down on his beanbag chair, his nose still buried in the book. It was indeed, as his father had said, about people who hallucinated. Put into a kind of half-sleep, a mechanical life after death, they imagined all sorts of worlds. One of them, a character named Jory, managed to gain extra power and control the others' imagined realities. As his father had anticipated, it made him think about his mother's "other world."
Around nine, Vladimir called up. "I'm going out tonight, Vaclav. Jamie's in bed all ready. Look after her if she gets up."
"All right, dad."
He went to see his mom again. She recited disconnected fragments of poetry. More old, twisted, obscure-sounding stuff. Vaclav hated it.
"Yester-night I prayed aloud
In anguish and in agony
Up-starting from the fiendish crowd
Of shapes and thoughts that tortured me
A lurid light, a trampling throng
Sense of intolerable wrong"
"Mom...." The words annoyed and frightened him. He wished she would stop.
She raised her hand. "Hold on, Vaclav. I remember more." She rolled her eyes up toward the ceiling and went on.
"So two nights passed: the nights dismay
Saddened and stunned the coming day
Sleep, the wide blessing seemed to me
Distemper's worst calamity
The third night, when my own loud scream
Had waked me from the fiendish dream
O'ercome with sufferings strange and wild
I wept as I had been a child..."
She broke out into uncontrollable tears.
"Mom.... Come on, mom, you're upsetting yourself."
"Come here, let me hold you, son...."
He leaned forward for a hug. Her tears made his face and neck all wet. The last verse was barely comprehensible.
"To be beloved is all I need
And whom I love, I love indeed."
He smiled. "I love you, mom."
"That's Coleridge, son. There's a lot of other words in there.... I can't remember things right anymore."
"It's okay, mom. It doesn't matter."
She straightened herself up. "Where's your father?"
Vaclav paused, disliking the question, but he saw no way to get out of answering. "He went out."
"Out drinking again."
"I guess so."
She shook and the tears came again. "It's all my fault. I should kill myself, that's all. I'm just a burden, a burden to everyone. He never used to drink before ... before I started having problems."
"Stop, mom. Don't talk like that. Go to sleep." He stroked his mother quietly.
"Sleep? Go to sleep? But then I'll dream, Vaclav. You have no idea...."
He looked at her compassionately. Then there was a bracing scream from Jamie's bedroom downstairs.
"The baby's calling," said his mom.
"I know," he said. "I'll go to her."
He ran downstairs. Jamie was crouched in the corner of her room, urinating. The whole room smelled like piss. It was revolting. He took her by the hand and guided her to the toilet, but she had nothing left. She didn't want to go back to bed; she loved the attention. He brought her upstairs and lay her beside Avdotya. "All right if I leave Jamie here, Mom? She can't sleep."
The two of them lay there, Avdotya and Jamie, holding each other and drifting to sleep. Vaclav went back to his room and picked up his book of mathematical puzzles. It was time to go to sleep, but he wasn't sleepy. He was developing an aversion to sleep. If he slept all night, after all, then when would he have time to read?
Most of the math puzzles were too difficult for him, but he enjoyed fiddling with them anyway. He especially liked the geometry problems. After a while he turned to another book, one about the fourth dimension. This one he liked to read often too. One time he had begun designing a four-dimensional Rubik's Cube, but he had given up halfway through.
Mathematics was wonderful. It was a universe that made perfect sense. Or, rather, he sometimes reflected, it made perfect sense to him -- just as his mother's universe made perfect sense to her. Tonight he couldn't focus on the math problems; he just kept thinking about what his mother had said. The angels are evil. Another world. She thought he understood, but he didn't understand at all, not any better than anyone else. The only difference between him and everyone else was that he wanted to understand.
He fell asleep, as usual, with the lights on and a book on his lap.
The next day at school, there was an English test he hadn't prepared for at all. He never paid attention to his homework. He managed to get through it though. After school, inspired by the discussion with his father, he went by the town library and checked out a book on sleep and dreams. He browsed through it in the library. Then, as he was leaving, he ran into Susie Peters. She was leaving the children's section, with a handful of pre-teen novels. "What're you reading?" she asked brightly.
"About sleep and dreams," he said. They left the library together. "Do you know there are four phases of sleep. There's only one of them that we dream in. Dream sleep is closer to being awake than to the other kinds of sleep."
"Really? That's cool."
"Do you ever remember your dreams?"
"Yeah. All the time."
"You know you have hundreds of dreams every night? You can never remember all of them. Just the ones that come right before you wake up."
"Mmmmm. Last night I had this dream ... it was the strangest thing. I dreamed I could see into other people's minds. I could see exactly what they were thinking, Vaclav. It was the weirdest thing."
Vaclav smiled. "So what were they thinking?"
"What were they thinking? I don't know ... all kinds of things. I don't remember."
They walked past a park and she said, "Let's sit down on a while." They sat down on a bench surrounded by trees. Things were quiet for a few moments. "Vaclav," said Susie finally, "did you ever kiss a girl?"
Vaclav blushed. He tried to stop himself from trembling. "Only my sister," he said. "And that doesn't count."
"Do you want to kiss me?"
He leaned over in front of her and stared into her eyes for a moment, taking her face in his hands. She was surprised by the intensity of his gaze. She closed her eyes, leaned forwards and kissed him. When it was over, they leaned forward and tried again. She turned around sideways so the angle would be better.
They sat there listening to the birds sing, feeling very alive and adult. "Vaclav," she asked him finally, "what do you want to be when you grow up?"
"I want to be a scientist," he said. "Or maybe a science writer, like my dad."
"What kind of scientist?"
"I don't know," he said. "Maybe a medical researcher. I want to learn how to fix people's brains. So no one has to be ... crazy. You know. Like my sister, and my mom."
She nodded. "You're smart. You could be anything you want. I want to be a model, or a teacher."
"You'd be a good teacher," he said.
"Do you think you can fix people's brains? Really?"
"I don't know. You can fix people's bodies, right? My dad had a gallstone taken out once. They even put a pig's heart valve in a person. My dad wrote a story about it. They tried to put a baboon's heart in a person, but the person died."
"Vaclav? Wanna touch my breasts?"
Her breasts were small, but with surprisingly large nipples. She closed her eyes and smiled as he caressed them.
"Will you be my boyfriend?"
For the next six months, he and Sally went everywhere together. Now that he was going out with the prettiest girl in the class, no one thought he was strange anymore. Not only was he at the top of the class academically, he was an excellent athlete, and he had a good sense of humor. One time he drew caricatures of all the teachers and put them up on the bulletin board. Mrs. Reynolds, the English teacher, was angry. She'd been drawn with a huge nose, rotten teeth, black eyes and huge, distorted breasts. But the art teacher thought the caricatures were wonderful, and asked Vaclav to sign up for art next year.
Puberty came over him all of a sudden, just on cue for his thirteenth birthday. He grew much more enthused about Susie's kissing and touching games. They spent a lot of time talking, too. She even came by the house sometimes. She met Vladimir, who struck her as friendly and entertaining, not at all the drunk Jacqueline had made him out to be. And Jamie was cute enough in spite of her autism. She never asked to meet his mother, and he never offered.
One time she asked him, "How did it happen, your mom?"
"I don't know," he said. "Dad says it wasn't anything that happened. Just something in her brain. Maybe a tumor or something. It started when I was four. Dad thought maybe coming here would improve things. Better doctors here than in Russia. But it didn't work."
"It's not, um...."
"Hereditary? I don't think so. But no one really knows what's the matter with her anyway." He paused. "Look at how Jamie is."
"Yeah. The doctors say it has nothing to do with how Mom is. How Jamie is, I mean. But still, you can't help but wonder."
"Your dad's got a tough job. Taking care of your mom and Jamie both."
"He does all right," said Vaclav, wondering why he felt obliged to minimize his father's achievement. "Jamie goes to school every day. And mom doesn't need much taking care of, really. She just lies there, getting worse and worse. She goes around the house during the day. She gets herself food and stuff. She hasn't left the house in seven years, you know."
"I know.... But still, things could be worse, you know. At least she's not mean to you. My mom always yells at me over nothing."
"Yeah. My mom never does that. She just yells at things that aren't there."
"She loves you a lot."
"Yeah.... Hey, you want to see a movie this weekend?"
"Sure. What's playing?"
"I think Batman Forever starts on Friday."
Things went along smoothly for a while. Then, one time, Vaclav didn't show up in school for a couple days. Susie went by his house to see what was happening. If he was out with a cold, he would have called her on the phone and told her. She suspected it was something unusual.
She knocked on the door and no one answered, but the car was in the driveway, so she shouted out "Vaclav?"
Vladimir came to the door. "Vaclav's upstairs," he said. "His mother's been ill. Very ill, I mean."
Susie nodded. She wished she hadn't come.
"You can go up if you want."
She made her way up the stairs hesitantly. Vaclav knelt by the bed, his mother's hand clenched in his. She lay there in a nightie, a stick-thing figure with her head leaned back and her mouth open. She made a move as if to scream, but only moaned.
"I think she's dying, Susie."
"Yeah. I should have called you."
"No. It's all right...."
Susie put her hand on his arm.
"She was all right when I was a kid," he said, weakly.
"I know. You told me.
"She used to recite poetry. Take me outside to look at the stars, and show me the constellations.... When I was a baby." If Susie hadn't been there, he would have cried. But he forced the tears back in his eyes. "Hey, let's go for a walk. I've been sitting here long enough."
They walked for two hours, not saying much of anything. When they got back to his house, there was an ambulance in front. Paramedics crowded around his mother's bed. "She's dead, isn't she?" he said.
"I'm afraid so."
Vaclav didn't speak for two weeks afterwards. He sat in his room staring out the window. Susie came by and tried to talk to him but he just touched her arm and looked away. His father pleaded with him over and over again, but it was useless. "It's sweet of you to keep coming by," he said to Susie. "He'll come out of it soon enough. He was always very close to his mother."
"He talked about her sometimes," said Susie.
"He listened to her too closely," said Vladimir. "All her talk about angels and demons. He tried to understand her madness. Some things you just can't understand."
The only one he seemed to be pleased with was Jamie. She would come and sit by him in silence. They would look out the window together. She would tap her fingers on his arm, in her obsessive autistic way, and he would smile at her, softly and faintly, perhaps seeing something of his mother in her. At night she would lean her head on his lap and go to sleep. She had never taken to him quite so well before. Now, for the first time ever, he was in the same place as her. His mind wasn't off in worlds of mathematics, science, girlfriends, books, sports. It was in the present moment, in his body and physical surroundings. Other people were an assault on his senses. He was becoming autistic.
When he started talking, it was grudging, as if he felt it would be too rude not to. He didn't seem to much enjoy communicating with others. His father understood this and mostly left him alone. Susie would come by every day fater school, and he would sit there in silence, making one-word replies.
"You've got to go back to school, Vaclav."
"You've got to pull yourself out of this."
"Vaclav, why don't you listen to me?"
"What are you thinking about all the time that's so damn interesting!"
"I don't know."
He would just sit there staring at Susie, at her small breasts, her lipstick-covered lips, her pleading eyes. How shallow she was; how little she understood. But how sweet of her to keep coming by.
After a few weeks Susie stopped coming.
It was eight weeks before he went back to school. The break hadn't hurt him academically -- he was well ahead of the class anyway. But when he got back, he saw that Susie was walking around holding hands with David Randell. She had finally given up on him.
She walked up to him after school and said "I'm sorry." He saw she wanted him make a romantic gesture, to try and win her back. She didn't care about David Randell, not as she'd cared about him. But he was unwilling to make that effort. He just stared at her and walked away.
A superficial observer might have said that the life went out of Vaclav, after his mother died. He didn't play soccer with the neighborhood kids anymore, didn't say much of anything to anyone. When he moved up from junior high to high school, he didn't join the soccer team, as everyone had expected him to. He dropped off the few casual friendships he'd had, and didn't bother to make new ones.
But the truth was that Vaclav hadn't lost his enthusiasm -- he had just redirected it, from outside to within. He had always been fairly introverted, but with a slight streak of showmanship. It was this extraverted streak that had caused him to race around on the soccer field, to constantly raise his hand in class, to revel in his relationship with the prettiest girl in the eighth grade. Now the showmanship was gone, replaced with a kind of quiet conceit. It was as if he didn't even consider other people worth impressing. He was involved in his own private world, which no one else got the opportunity to understand, except for possibly his father.
Most of the school day he just sat in class reading; not so much science fiction anymore, more factual information. Math, physics, biology, chemistry, linguistics, history. He mastered the art of listening to easy lectures while reading difficult books. He grasped calculus and linear algebra easily, and moved on to differential equations, which he found surprisingly hard. He read Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution three times. He memorized the atlas of the human brain, and most of Gray's Anatomy. At the dinner table he would show off his new knowledge to Vladimir, who was thrilled and impressed. "You'll be a great scientist someday," he told his son. "You'll be my greatest achievement."
He graduated fourth in his class without trying.
When he left Swarthmore High School, he didn't have a single friend. He hadn't had a girlfriend since Susie, in the eighth grade. But he had a better fund of knowledge than most college graduates. He aced his SAT's and Achievement Tests, applied to MIT and was easily accepted. On the application form, where it asked for his intended area of study, he wrote "Theoretical physics, electrical engineering and neurobiology, as relating to brain scan technology."
Susie came up to him at the graduation ceremony. They hadn't spoken in four and a half years.
"It's Sue now."
He looked at her strangely. "Hi, Sue...."
She paused, momentarily unsettled. "So ... I hear you're going off to MIT."
She took a deep breath. "I just wanted to say ... I've wanted to talk to you for years. I still feel really bad for what happened, I mean when your mother died. I should have stuck by you...."
He smiled warmly. "Don't be silly, Susie. We were just kids."
She sighed a sigh of relief. So he had long ago forgiven her, or ceased to care anyway. "Can I walk you home?"
"Aren't your friends waiting for you?"
"They'll do all right without me."
He shrugged his shoulders. "Fine."
They walked along uncomfortably. "Are you still planning to be a medical researcher?"
"I'm not going to get an M.D, I don't think. But I might, I guess. I want to study electrical engineering and neurobiology. I want to work on PET scans, or fMRI scans, or something like that."
"I don't know what that is."
"They're tools for seeing into people's brains."
"So you can tell what's wrong with them?"
He smiled. "Or what's right with them. Yeah."
"I'm thinking of going to Boston, too. To Boston University."
"Yeah? How come Boston?"
"I've got an aunt who lives there. I can stay with her."
"Oh. Well, maybe I'll see you there."
"I hope so. Let me give you my aunt's number. I guess you'll be staying in the dorm?"
"I would have liked to stay in the dorms too, but it costs too much. At least I'll be away from my parents though.... I guess you're on full scholarship?"
He was bemused at her renewed interest in him. All through high school, she had ignored him, just as he had ignored her and everybody else. But now she was all warm and friendly, just as if the four and a half years had never passed. He looked into her eyes and decided to satisfy his curiousity. "Susie. Why are you doing this?"
"What do you mean? Doing what?"
"Coming up to me, talking to me like this. Why are you doing this now? It's been four years, Susie. I mean...."
She shrugged. "Why not?"
"It's just a little weird, thats all. At any time during the last four and a half years you could have come up and talked to me, but you didn't."
"You could have come up and talked to me too," she pointed out. "But you didn't."
"And I didn't now either. At least I was consistent."
"'Consistency is the hobgoblin of simple minds'," she said, grinning. "Emerson."
"Touche'." She couldn't, could she, have known how Avdotya had liked to quote Emerson? "Well.... I'll guess I'll give you a call in Boston. I'll be going up in August."
He turned to leave, but she said, "Wait, Vaclav."
"You asked an honest question, you deserve an honest answer. I always wanted to come up to you and talk to you, maybe to become friends again. But I couldn't find the words. I felt ... I felt too bad about breaking up with you the way I did."
"You didn't break up with me, Susie. First of all, I drove you away by not talking to you. And then you took up with David, but it was clear that you would have gone back with me, if I had asked you to."
She smiled. "It was clear, was it?"
"I thought so. I just couldn't ... I couldn't be friends with anyone then. Not for a couple years after. It had nothing to do with you personally."
"Anyway, I always wanted to talk to you, but now it was like I might never see you again, and I realized I ... I didn't want that to happen. I realized ... you know, I've been out with a lot of different guys."
"I hadn't noticed."
"Well ... you've always got your nose in a book.... I've even been out with some college guys. Jay, who took me to the prom. But I never really liked any of them, not even Jay ... I mean, I liked them, but not the way I liked you." She blushed. "They're so ordinary. You're really something special. I guess I've still got a monster crush on you...."
He laughed. "You're playing tricks on me, Susie."
"No one's called me Susie for years."
"Oops. Sue. I forgot."
"No, keep calling me Susie, please. I like it."
He looked at her carefully. She was awfully attractive. She certainly had developed a lot. He realized he hadn't actually looked at her closely since the death of his mother. Her breasts were large and firm; her complexion was smooth and pale; her lips were full, round and red. She was beautiful, actually -- even in a graduation gown, which was not the most flattering of outfits. Still the prettiest girl in the class. Up to this point he had been annoyed by her attentions, but now he had a change of heart. "You know," he said, "I've done nothing but read for the last four years. Maybe it's time I let loose a bit. You want to go out somewhere tonight? There must be loads of graduation parties."
"Yeah. Jacqueline's having one, actually.... But we don't have to go there if you don't want to. We can go anywhere."
"Jacqueline's party's all right by me."
And so Vaclav lost his virginity, in Jacqueline Honore's rec room, to his first girlfriend Susie, on the night of his high school graduation.
A couple months later, in the beginning of August, he and Susie drove up to Boston together. Exploring a city full of strangers, they felt like an old married couple, as though they had never been apart.
Vaclav took some exams and tested out of the first-year lectures in math, physics, chemistry and bio. But he still had to do all the labs. So he was loaded down with first-year physics, chem and bio labs, plus second year math, physics, bio, chemistry and electronics. He bought all the books for his classes early, and tried to read them before the semester started. But there was too much information; he couldn't get through them.
As soon as classes started, he wondered if he'd taken too much on. Math and bio were easy for him, but the other classes were tough. It was several orders of magnitude more challenging than high school. But he found he could do it, if he focused his attention. He didn't have much time for Susie; he even took classes straight through the summer. But that was all right with her. B.U. was a party school, and she made a lot of new, interesting friends. Her load as an architecture major was pretty light. There was a fair bit of work, but it was easy; you could do it while hung over or stoned, or while talking with friends. After a day hanging out in Boston with crazy artists, it was a relief to take the train across to Cambridge and see Vaclav. With everyone else it was a bit of a put-on; she was always showing off how much fun she was. With Vaclav she could be totally natural. She knew he was crazy about her.
As Vaclav correctly suspected, she fooled around with other guys now and then, when the opportunity was irresistable. But it was never all that satisfying, and she always felt bad afterwards, so she gradually gave it up. Unbeknownst to her, he also experimented with other women -- after all, she'd been his first. But after their freshman year was over, they decided to move in together. He left his dorm room, she left her aunt's house, and they got a small apartment in Cambridge. She had to take the subway to school every day, but it was much closer than it had been from her aunt's house.
Vaclav could have finished college in two and a half years, what with his advanced placement credit and his summer courses. But instead he stayed on for four, and left with degrees in electrical engineering, physics and biology. He did exactly what he had said he would do on his admissions form, the one he'd filled out in high school. He did a senior research project on weak magnetic fields in the brain, trying to replicate some Russian research. Meanwhile Susie had changed her major from architecture to graphic arts, and was scheduled to finish after one more year.
As graduation approached, he was offered a job in the MIT Media Lab, working on computer interfaces that would take commands directly from the brain of the user. But he was unsatisfied with the project. It was based on brain waves -- EEG's and ERP's, electroencephalograms and evoked response potentials.
"It seems like a good job, though," said Susie, sitting next to him on the couch in their tiny two-room apartment.
"It is a good job. And it's right up my alley, too. I mean, it's neurobiology and electrical engineering. That's why they want me for the job."
"It's good money too."
"Yeah. But I hate EEG work. Brain waves don't mean anything. They want to read computer commands from ERP's, but you'll never get anywhere that way. The repertoire of commands will be awfully limited."
"What's the difference between EEG and ERP? You've told before, but I always forget."
"EEG is just an electric potential you get from placing electrodes on the scalp. It's a regular wave. There are different waves for different activities. Theta waves, alpha waves, and so forth. I've told you about that before."
"ERP is like a glitch in the brain waves caused by some specific stimulus. Like if you hear a sound, that shows up in your brain waves, but only for a half a second or something after you hear it. What these guys at the Media Lab have done is to train people to make ERP's at all. So, if you think a certain thing, it makes a certain ERP pattern come up. If you could do it well enough, it could be like a whole new language. We could communicate by brain waves."
"If we all had electrodes hooked up to our skulls."
"Right. But the thing is, it'll never work that well. You'll never get more than a few dozen different patters under conscious control. The problem is, I mean, what are you getting with EEG? You're just getting a wave that comes from a whole bunch of different generators -- a whole bunch of places all over the brain, all mixed up. There's no way to tell what comes from where. There's so much complexity in the brain, and you're boiling it down to a one-dimensional signal. You remember that project I did with chaos in EEG?"
"Your final project for that neurobiology class?"
"Right. We found some indications that brain waves are chaotic. They're unpredictable, but not in the sense of being random; in the sense of having some simple underlying structure that generates a lot of complexity, in a deterministic way."
"But now, where does this chaos come from? Does it come from some individual brain system, that carries out some function? Or does it come from the interaction of a vast number of brain systems? You can never tell, with EEG. It's hopeless. You need some other kind of brain scan, if you want to tell anything."
"But they must know this. At the Media Lab."
"Of course they know this. They jsut want to work with ERP anyway, because that's the only thing we have that gives the temporal resolution."
"EEG lets you follow what's going on through time. You can tell the electrical potential in the brain right now, and then tell it again a few dozen milliseconds later. You get a picture of the brain's path through time, on a very fine scale. That's why scientists like EEG. You can study the way things change over time, just the way you do in physics.
"The other methods of scanning the brain -- PET, fMRI, and SPECT -- they give you decent spatial resolution. You can tell what's going on in different parts of the brain. But you can't get the temporal resolution. With fMRI you can get down to maybe half a second -- but that's not good enough. So you have a picture of what parts of the brain are active, and then you have another picture of what parts of the brain are active, a couple seconds later. You have no idea what goes on inbetween...."
"How do these things work? You're not sticking anything on the head, like in EEG, right? Are you shooting some kind of laser through the head or something?"
"Not a laser." He smiled. "That would be dangerous. In PET scans, you inject someone with water made from radioactive oxygen, O-15. Then...."
"And that's not dangerous?"
"Not particularly, no. It has a half-life of two minutes. You're not getting much radiation. Anyway, O-15 has a deficiency of neutrons, so it's constantly emitting positrons, the antimatter equivalent of electrons."
"Antimatter? You're putting me on."
"No. Come on...."
"This stuff is really weird."
He shrugged. "Maybe it is, it works though. So the radioactive water builds up in the brain over a period of a minute or so. The greater the blood flow in a certain area of the brain, the more radioactive water accumulates in that region. The person wears a radiation detector around their head that tells you where the O-15 is. See, after the O-15 spits out a positron, the positron hits an electron, and they annihilate. Matter and antimatter destroy each other. But when they annihilate, they produce two photons, annihilation photons, shooting out in opposite directions. The photons shoot out of the head at light speed -- the skull doesn't stop 'em because they've go tlike 500 kiloelectron volts of energy."
"Enough, enough.... So you shoot people up with radioactivity and watch where it comes out."
"Sure. Sort of. MRI is different though. It's based on nuclear magnetic resonance. You know how atoms in the presence of a magnetic field act just like little compass needles. So if you're smart enough you can line up a bunch of atoms in the same direction -- just like compasses all line up to the earth's magnetic field. When they're all lined up together, they emit radio waves. The radio waves tell you what kind of atoms are there and what kind of chemical environment they're in. So, you don't have to get injected with radioactive substances or anything, you just have to lie in this tube, which makes terrible banging noises."
"The machine reads the radio waves coming out of different parts of your brain, and tells you how much oxygen is present in different places."
"Wow. This stuff is amazing."
"This is what I've been thinking about for five or six years now."
"I know. But you never really explained it to me."
"You never asked me to."
"I know. It's so damn complicated...."
"Right. Okay, so these methods are cool, but they're limited, because they can't tell you what's happening at successive instants in time. You can tell, like, what parts of the brain are used for processing verbs, and what parts for processing nouns. You can tell what parts have to do with conscious attention. But that's about all you can tell.... Everything interesting in the mind goes on in the interval between a few dozen milliseconds and a second. It takes you less than a hundred milliseconds to recognize your mother's face -- but maybe a second or two to formulate a logical idea about what your mother is doing. It's the gap between these two where everything's happening. But you need spatial and temporal resolution to figure anything out. If we could measure the brain in time and in space, with decent accuracy, then we could make a map of the mind at work. And we could see what's going on. We could see ... we could see where things like hallucinations were coming from. We could see why one person is smarter than another, why one is bigoted and the other one isn't.... We could figure out everything!"
"You said you can tell what parts of the brain do what things, with the brain scans we have today. Is it the same for everyone? We all use the same parts for the same things?"
"Only for some things. Other things are different for everyone. Like, we all have the same basic attention network, for regulating the focus of consciousness. But if you tried to find the part of the brain for thinking about ... love, or something, it would be different for everyone. What they do is to average out over a lot of people, and just find the regions that are active in everyone when using their brain in a certain way."
"That sounds more promising than EEG. But the problem is, you can't tell what's happening. Just where it's happening, right?"
"Yeah. What you need is to see how the activity flows from one place to the other. How thought activity diffuses through the brain. You should be able to write an equation for it, just like Newton's Laws in physics. But we don't have the data yet."
They sat there looking at each other for a while. Vaclav was pleased that Susie was showing such an interest in his ideas. Most of the time she seemed relatively indifferent.
Susie got a thoughtful look on her face. "Newton's Laws for the mind, huh? I don't know ... I see what you mean, but ... maybe you don't need so much the data, though, Vaclav."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you know, I took a class in philosophy of mind last year, right? Some people think you can tell everything you want to know about the mind just by introspection. So, you could figure out your equation for how thoughts flow through the brain, just by looking at your own mind. Looking how your own thoughts work."
He thought it over carefully. It was rare that she made a concrete suggestion for his research. She was unusually intellectually confident today. "But ... I'm not aware of the three-dimensional structure of my thoughts, am I? It's just a one-dimensional stream of consciousness. So what I see by introspection is a projection onto one dimension, just like EEG."
"Yeah, it's a ... projection, true. But it's not one-dimensional. That's just a metaphor, really. The stream of consciousness. Consciousness doesn't really just go in one direction -- it spreads out all over the place. Mine does, anyway!" She grinned.
"You're right. It's more non-dimensional than one-dimensional. A sort of combination of the two.... Maybe you're right, Suse. Maybe you could get somewhere by introspection. Use the system to study itself. But I wouldn't know how to do it. That's not where my talent is."
She shrugged her shoulders. "So ... what you want to work on is making a better brain scan technology."
"Right. And that's the problem. I don't know what I need to study. Do I need to study the brain more? Is it an engineering problem? Or is it fundamental physics?"
"You're asking me? I told you what I think you should do. You have to look inside yourself. Maybe you'll find something that way that will tell you what area to look in."
He smiled. "Look inside myself.... What are you, my guru?"
"Hey.... You asked, I answered."
"Yeah. Fair enough. Still, I have to decide what to do once I graduate.... I've applied for graduate study in every discipline under the sun. I'm sure I'll be accepted everywhere, but...."
"No, I just mean...."
"I know, I know. I'm only kidding."
"I just need to decide which to do."
She laughed and put her hand on his leg. He was just as handsome as he had been at twelve years old. And just as intense, just as peculiar. "I don't know, Vaclav. I don't know. But you know what ... I don't think you can know. I don't think anyone can know."
"You're so profound today."
"No, I'm really serious."
"I'm serious too," he grinned.
"Okay.... What I mean is, I don't think it's possible to predict where a discovery will come from. If you're going to make a really big discovery, it's gonna come from some unexpected direction. Not anything anyone would really predict. So," she shrugged her shoulders, "I guess you should toss a coin. Use the I Ching or something." She laughed. "Karen, you know Karen."
"She's making an art exhibit based on the I Ching. A painting to illustrate each hexagram."
"Neat. Phil Dick wrote a novel based on the I Ching. The Man in the High Castle."
All of a sudden Susie got up from the couch. She put a CD on, Jean-Luc Ponty, took off her shirt and sat back down. She wasn't wearing a bra. She got a look on her face that he couldn't quite fathom. "Hey, Vaclav ... do you want to feel my breasts?"
He laughed, and fondled her gently. He remembered the moment she was referring to. "You were mighty forward, weren't you? A mighty forward twelve year old. I couldn't resist...."
She smiled. "I'm going to be forward again." She turned around and sat on his lap, pressing tight up against him. "Vaclav Klonoswki ... will you marry me?"
He didn't hesitate for a moment, not in his mind or in his words. He said, "Of course I will, Susie. If that's
what you want. I mean, I always thought we'd get married eventually." They hugged, and he kissed her on the mouth. But then he pulled back a bit. "But ... just one thing. Don't expect a big house and a garden just yet. I'm going to be in school for quite some time. I have to ... you understand."
"I understand. Do you think I'm marrying you for money? You can stay in school forever. I'll get a job and support you if that's what you want me to do."
"I love you, Susie." It was the first time he'd said that.
"I love you, too."
He looked at her quizzically. "I've decided, you know. Right this moment. I'm going to go to med school. I'm going to become a brain surgeon. And get a degree in physics."
"In your spare time?"
She got up off his lap and sat down next to him again. "You're crazy, Vaclav. You're stark raving mad."
"Just like my mother."
"Heh...." That comment had surprised her -- he never joked about his mother.
He shook his head. "I can do it."
"I'm not doubting you," she said. "But you don't make things easy on yourself. Med school is a lot of pressure, even if you're a genius."
"I know. But if you're going to run experiments on people, you've got to be an M.D. That's what made me decide. Your marriage proposal...."
"I don't get it. What does the one have to do with the other?"
He looked at her seriously. "Our marriage is an experiment."
She tilted her head. This was an odd turn to an odd conversation. "How?"
He took a deep breath. This was something he had to get out. "An experiment to see if someone as obsessed with his work as me can hold together a marriage."
"Vaclav! That's hardly the attitude to start out with."
He shrugged his shoulders. "I'm a scientist.... I'm a lousy romantic. Sorry."
She pouted. "Apology not accepted."
He pressed on, just like always. "Remember, you said to me once -- you quoted Emerson, just like my mother -- you said, 'A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of simple minds.'"
"I was being simple-minded then. You were right about that. I was focussing on ideas and nothing else. I spent my whole life in high school reading, without thinking about other people at all. Except for Jamie...."
"Well, now I'm not simple anymore. I'm complicated. I'm obsessed with my work; I want to do nothing but work. I want to chart out the brain, to understand the way people's minds work. It's not just that ... I want to make people's minds better. I want to fix the problems we have, so no one has to be like my mother got, or like Jamie ... ever again. So no one has to be like us ever again either...."
"Come on, we're not so bad."
"No. But we could be better. Everyone could be better. But that's not the point I was coming to. The point is, I feel this incredible passion for my work, but now I also have this passion for you. I want to be with you, spend time with you, make you happy. And these two passions contradict each other. I'm not simple-minded any more; I contradict myself."
"'I contradict myself. Very well, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.'"
"Yeah. Don't tell me your mother quoted Whitman too."
"Never. Not once. He wasn't her style at all."
"Good." She got up from the couch, went to the fridge, and got out a bottle of champagne, which she'd been saving for the occasion. She popped out the cork with a grin. "Let's drink to our experiment, then. To the unity of opposites! To the meeting of the most complex mind in the world, with Susie's one-track mind...."
He laughed, and touched her. "You're drunk already."
"So what if I am?"
Vaclav very rarely drank -- he was still nervous about alcoholism, even though his father's drinking problem had died with Avdotya. But now, he put his worries aside, and drank like a true Russian. They drank together until they could barely stand up, and made love on the couch till they were too tired to move anymore. She was ecstatic; and he was deeply happy too. The alcohol washed away his confusion, his reservations. Everything was simple and fine.
Vaclav called his father early that evening to tell him the happy news.
"It's too bad your mother never knew Susie," Vladimir said. "I think they would have liked each other. Susie is much like Avdotya was when I met her. So clever, so lighthearted, so devoted to you...." Only after he made this observation did he realize its double-edged nature. "But Susie's not frail like Avdotya was," he added, hurriedly. "She's hearty and strong.... Anyway, my congratulations, Vaclav. I don't know what's taken you so long to propose to her."
"I've decided to go to med school, Dad," he said. "I'm going to be a brain surgeon."
"Great," said Vaclav.
"I decided I need to be an M.D. if I want to experiment on people." He was aware that his father hadn't asked him for an explanation. But he felt the need to justify himself. Because he knew his father would see through him anyway. His father would see, as Susie had not, that he wanted to become a doctor to make up for the incompetence of the doctors who had treated his mother.
Avdotya, Avdotya, Avdotya ... he would never, he sensed in a flash of insight, be able to shake her off. The insight chilled him, led him somewhere he didn't understand -- but then he chased it off.
The pause was rather long. Finally Vladimir spoke. "You're waiting for me to say you're still trying to save your mother."
"But it doesn't really matter, does it? Who really knows what it is they're trying to do anyway? You do what you do, in the end. You never understand the reasons."
"But if I get a really effective brain scanner," Vaclav pointed out, "then we will understand the reasons. And that's exactly the point."
Vladimir laughed. There he was, being precocious again. Only, it wasn't precocity anymore; he was an adult now. "I never could win an argument with you, Vaclav. I don't expect to start now. I'm sure you'll be one hell of a medical researcher. In a few years I'll be writing articles about your work."
"I hope so."
Vladimir tried to keep his mouth shut, and leave it at that. But he couldn't. The dynamic of friendly argument between the two of them was just too strong. "I just hope you're not disappointed."
"What do you mean?!"
"I mean, I don't doubt that you'll understand a lot about the mind and brain. You'll invent brilliant new machinery. You'll help people too. You'll make brilliant contributions. But ... you're not going to fix the basic problem. You know that, right? You're not going to cure the human race. Madness, craziness and perversity are part of being human. As a Russian you should know that better than anyone.... So if that's what you're out to do ... I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. That's all I'm saying."
"And what's so bad about being disappointed?" replied Vaclav ironically. "Is it better not to try at all?"
"I didn't say that," said Vladimir. He realized that Vaclav, at age 22, wasn't ready to understand what he was trying to say. Maybe in another ten years, or twenty. "Anyway, you didn't call to talk philosophy. Contratulations, really. You should call Jamie and tell her the good news too." Jamie was living in a group home now, with other retarded teenagers. Vladimir visited her several times a week, but lived peacefully alone.
"You think she would understand?"
"I don't know. Probably. She would understand you were happy, anyway.... You haven't visited her in quite a while, you know. Nor me, in fact."
"I know. I've been busy. It was a tough semester."
"It's always a tough semester. Even in the summer. That's because you take too many classes. You've got to learn to enjoy yourself! That's one thing that Susie knows better than you."
"Point well taken, Dad. Maybe we'll come down next weekend.... Classes are over anyway. And for a change I'm not taking classes this summer. Though I do have a job in the engineering lab.... How are you doing, anyway?"
"Pretty damn good, actually. I've started dating a lady named Margo, a chem prof down at Rutgers in Camden. She's a really bright girl, and quite a looker too. Actually, I've got a date with her shortly; I'm going to have to let you go soon."
"All right, Dad. I'll talk to you later."
"Do call Jamie. And try to come down when you can."
"I will, I will."
Susie watched him hang up the phone with an oddly sad look on her face. "I love hearing you talk to him," she said.
"Oh yeah? Why?"
"You're still so close. Just like friends."
"He was getting on my nerves tonight, actually. Giving me his lecture about how I'm trying to save Mom."
She smiled. "Well, you are, aren't you?"
He looked at her, annoyed. "I want to help people, that's all. To help people with science. Is there something so strange about that?"
"No. Don't get defensive with me. I haven't said anything about it, have I? Everyone has some reason for doing what they do."
"So you believe it too. I'm trying to save Mom."
"That's just a Freudianism, Vaclav. It's silly. You know that. Stop being so sensitive. What I meant to say was, everyone has all kinds of reasons for doing what they do, and they're always all mixed up with each other. Just like the multiple, what do you call them, generators -- the different parts of the brain that come together to make a single EEG wave. There's no way to split them apart. Until you come up with your brain scanner, I guess.... Then we'll be able to tell them apart. Maybe."
"We're repeating the exact conversation I had with my father."
"Oh. That's interesting."
"The point is, why do you love someone? Because they give you something you had in your childhood, or you lacked in your childhood. Why do you like a certain type of music? Because of some personality flaw, probably. The loud music compensates for your weak personality. Or the quiet music takes the place of some inner calm you don't have. Why do I want to make art? Because I can't remake myself the way I want to, so I do the next best thing, and try to transform the outer world, right? Once you start analyzing everything you do, you wind up deciding everything's worthless. It's all just compensating for something else. If you were healthy, you wouldn't try to do anything, right, you'd just sit on your ass and placidly collect welfare.... And then, you have to ask yourself, why am I analyzing everything so critically? What's the cause of that. Some toilet training problem, I guess. If my mom hadn't made me wipe my own pussy when I was two years old, I wouldn't have any problems today...."
Vaclav laughed harder than he'd done in a long time. "Oh, God.... You're hilarious. My wife-to-be, the stand-up comic...."
"You like the sound of that, don't you. 'Wife-to-be.'"
"I like the sound of 'wife' better...." She smiled at him. "But what were you saying about your parents before, anyway? When I hung up the phone?"
"Oh ... my parents ... I don't know. That's right. I was saying, you can't tell them anything. They've always got some weird idea. When I tell them we're getting married...."
"They're going to ask if I have a job and can support you. Is that right?"
"Yeah. They certainly will."
"Just tell them that brain surgeons make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year."
"You're not going to be a brain surgeon. You're going to do research."
"You don't have to tell them that. Who the hell knows what I'm going to do anyway. So I'll only make two hundred grand a year, instead of five hundred grand. Face it, Susie. We're going to be awfully rich. Even your father can appreciate that. We'll be poor for six or seven more years, max. Four years of med school, plus internships. And then we'll be rolling in money."
"Seven years is a long time to wait."
"You said I could stay in school forever, and you'd support me," he said, teasingly. "Have you forgotten already? What a fickle wife-to-be I have...."
"No, I haven't forgotten. You know I don't want to go to grad school anyway. I'm going to work as soon as I finish my degree next year.... You're right, though. Everyone wants their daughter to marry a doctor. They'll be happy for me, for that reason.... But not because I love you, that's the thing.... They'll be glad to tell their friends their daughter married a brain surgeon. But if I fell madly in love with a ... a ditch-digger, and was fabulously happy, then they wouldn't be happy for me at all."
"A ditch-digger? Do they still have ditch-diggers in this day and age? It's all done by machines, right? So it's probably a good union job. They probably make more than college professors."
"You know what I mean...."
"They don't really care if you're happy."
She shook her head. "Right. They never did, really, even when I was a little girl. They wanted me to be obedient, smart, responsible. But happy was never important."
"It's a difficult thing. I mean, why should one person care if another person's happy? How can one person know if another person's happy, in the end? If we could feel each other's minds, it'd be different. We'd pick up on some small fraction of another person's pleasure. We'd all be connected together. But that's not the way it is...."
"The strange thing is, though, Susie, you say your parents never cared if you were happy, but yet you're the happiest person I know. That's part of what attracts me to you. You're always giggling and jumping around. Always have been. Maybe there's some connection there. Happiness is this big illicit thing to you, right -- it's forbidden? And that's why it's all the more enjoyable...."
"Vaclav," she said, taking his face in her hands. "You are really weird. I love you so fucking much." She gave him a long, wet kiss.
She led him to the bed, where they made love again, this time quietly and tenderly, and afterwards drifted off to sleep.
Amanda discovered Dr. Bulgakov's papers in her third year of graduate school, when she was already halfway through her thesis work on black hole thermodynamics. She thought it tremendously exciting. None of her professors at Brown were particularly interested, but that only piqued her enthusiasm. Bulgakov and his group at Neurix Corporation were using fundamental physics, which she loved more than anything, not to study far-away galaxies or miniscule particles, but to study something concrete and immediate: human beings, brains. And, unlike most other brain scan researchers, what they were doing wasn't just engineering. It was theoretically deep. The physics was advancing right along with the neurobiology.
When she graduated, she was offered a job in the physics department at Berkeley. It was a plum position, really; physics jobs were tough to come by. But she hesitated before accepting it. She wanted something more than academia offered. Grant proposals, students and exams didn't excite her -- she wanted to throw herself entirely into research. When she saw a position advertised at Neurix, she worked up an application immediately.
And, much to her surprise, it was only a week later that she was called in for an interview. It was an event that she would remember well for years to come.
Dr. Bulgakov was a slender man, medium height, with a full head of bushy brown hair that was prematurely graying. He had a look of intensity about him that frightened some people. He greeted her warmly when she walked in the door, then sat down behind his desk. He leaned forward in his chair when he talked to her, as if he felt the desk in front of him were an impediment to communication.
"So," Dr. Bulgakov said to her, "tell me, Amanda, why are you interested in working at Neurix?"
"I've been interested in brain scan technology since I was an undergraduate," she said. Which was a bit of a stretch. "I always thought it was really amazing that all this advanced, abstract physics could actually tell you something about the human mind."
"It is amazing. But not amazing enough. What we're trying to do here is to make brain scanning really work. We want to get the spatiotemporal resolution to the point where we can actually track the diffusion of thoughts through the brain. We're pursuing a variety of directions: both incremental improvements in current technology, mostly MRI, and fundamentally new directions."
"I know. I heard your address to the American Physical Society, two years ago. That's how I became interested in your work. I organized a seminar series on your magnetic resonance work."
"I also liked your paper on quark beams."
He smiled. "The Physical Review Letters one?"
"That was a bit of a digression for me. I don't know what that has to do with anything. We don't have the apparatus for that kind of work here.... I guess Srinivasan and his group at
Berkeley are making the most progress on quark beams now."
"But they're not going the direction you suggested. They're working on high-intensity stuff, whereas your equations were for low-intensity."
"True.... Well, you seem to have a very strong background in physics."
"And mathematics," she said. "I was a double major. My thesis work involved a lot of abstract algebra, and graph theory. Looking at discrete models of spacetime in the vicinity of singularities."
"Fascinating stuff, I'm sure."
"It is. But I don't want to make it my life's work, just studying things light years away. I'd like to do something more concrete, something down here on earth."
"I understand.... Well, before we go any further, let me take you around the lab to meet some of the others."
They went on the requisite tour of the lab, which was a small one. It looked more like a mad scientist's basement than a university research lab. Odd bits of machinery were poked away everywhere, and some of the researchers walked around with strange helmets on their heads. "Those helmets are your new MRI devices?"
"Right. They should go into production next year. Still working out some of the kinks. It's a real breakthrough. We'll be able to monitor brain activity while people are moving around, carrying out ordinary activities."
In a room off to the side of the main lab, there was a room full of rats and pigeons, with strange devices attached to their skulls. An Oriental woman was bent over a pigeon cage, struggling with something. "This is the implant lab," said Amanda.
The woman looked up. "Right. It hasn't been very successful as yet. The effort may be discontinued soon, if something doesn't turn up.... Hi. You must be Amanda."
"I'm Ma Ling Wainwright."
"Ma Ling's an old-timer," put in Dr. Bulgakov. "She's been here for five years."
After a while they walked back to his office. He sat down behind his desk, and looked at her piercingly. "So what do you think? It's an interesting place, isn't it?"
"We're better funded than any academic laboratory. And there are no administrative hassles. I have complete administrative control of the research division.... It's only ten people, but we do the work of twenty. But what buys us this excellent environment is the fact that we keep producing a steady stream of marketable innovations."
"What isn't clear from your C.V., Amanda, is whether you have any practical engineering experience. You see, we're very scientifically sophisticated here, but we're largely engaged in engineering activity. This is a small corporation, so you're never that far from the production and marketing side of things. When I came here, there was no pure research at all; the lab was entirely development oriented. Now we've had a number of theoretical advances, so we've won some respect for pure research. But still, everyone is expected to spend at least a third of their time on development work. In most cases it's more than that."
"Do you have any engineering experience?"
She realized she was fidgeting, and made herself straighten up. "Not exactly."
"What about experimental neurobiology? Have you studied neuroscience at all?"
"I've done some reading. But I don't have lab experience."
He just kept looking at her. What was he expecting? He would have known she lacked practical experience, from reading her C.V.
"But I'm a quick learner, Dr. Bulgakov.... I have done some experimental physics, cyclotron work. And I also have some psychology lab experience. I worked as a rat runner for a semester, when I was an undergraduate. I've read a lot about your implant work, the stuff Ma Ling was doing. I think that's very interesting. I'd love to get involved with that side of the work."
"I'm interested. Why do you say that?"
"You mention incremental improvements versus fundamentally new directions. My feeling is that incremental improvements aren't going to do it. Something radically new is needed, and I think implants may be the way to go. You lose a lot of information through the skull."
"I agree, it's a promising possibility. But Ma Ling hasn't really been able to do anything with it, and she's been on it two years. And the commercial prospects are weak, because you can't go around implanting sensors in someone's brain every time you want to do a brain scan. The marketing people don't like it."
"Well ... if the benefits were enough, I suppose everyone could be implanted from birth. That's just really squeamishness, it's not a fundamental objection. But also, once the technology is developed with implants, we may be able to do the right kind of science to figure out how to do it another way."
He just sat there, ruminating. It was an uncomfortably long silence. He looked as though he were making the decision whether to hire her, making it right then and there.
"You're not the most qualified applicant," he said. "Your physics background is strong, but it's mostly theoretical, whereas what we do here is more oriented toward engineering and biophysics."
Her face fell. "Right."
"But I like your enthusiasm. You seem to have a lot of energy. That's just what we need around here."
She looked up at him.
"I've decided to offer you the job, Amanda. Starting salary $120,000. Standard contract, same as everybody else. Michelle will work up the paperwork. We'll need a decision within two weeks."
She'd accepted the position without hesitation. And ever since that point, the wonders had never ceased. Month after month, there were new discoveries, breakthroughs, surprises. It was nothing like academia, where things were slowed down by teaching, committee work, coffee breaks, vacations, six-hour workdays. Nor was it like working in a big corporation -- like IBM, where she'd interned for a summer -- where there were layers of bureaucrats to deal with, endless presentations to make, internal funds to be applied for. At Neurix it was go, go, go, sixty hours a week, forty-six weeks a year. It was research, research, research.
It was a small lab -- ten when Amanda arrived, gradually expanded to fifteen. But everyone said they did the work of double their number, and it was true. They worked closely with a medical team at Boston University Hospital, where Vaclav was occasionally called in for surgery. And they maintained a workshop of fourteen engineers and technicians, housed in the building next door. This tiny operation, driven by Vaclav's genius and enthusiasm, was the world's leading supplier of brain scan technology. Things could get exhausting sometimes, but the pay was outstanding, and the intellectual stimulation was incomparable. Amanda, like most of her colleagues, felt lucky to be there.
This year, her third year at Neurix, Amanda had decided to take a vacation. She had three years of vacation time saved up, and if she didn't use some of it this year, it would be lost for good. Company policy didn't allow you to save up vacation days for more than three years. Somewhat reluctantly, she had reserved a cottage in Barbados for a month. If she was going to take a vacation, she was going to do it right.
And now, back from her month on the beach, she walked into the Neurix research lab with a new enthusiasm, not to mention a new tan. She was eager to get back to work. She didn't officially start again till the next day, but she was back in town already, and she had nothing else to do. It was four o'clock; she decided to check in, and see what was happening at the office.
The first two weeks away had been great, but toward the end she'd begun to realize, with a new and vivid certainty, how much she thrived on the intensity of her job. Sometimes the fast pace seemed frustrating -- everyone was always trying to get too much done in too little time. But in the end it was good, even better than she'd realized. Things were endlessly happening. There was a flow to be caught up in.
Most of all, while sitting on the beach sunbathing, she had realized how much she missed Vaclav. She remembered when he'd just been 'Dr. Bulgakov,' a name on a stack of research papers -- when this animated, brilliant neurosurgeon/physicist/engineer hadn't been part of her life. It was so obvious that she rarely even reflected on it, but it was he who made Neurix exciting. Without him there, it would just be another high-tech company lab.
As she walked into Vaclav's office, he approached her with a devilish grin. "Hello, Amanda," he said. "You're not supposed to be back till tomorrow. Couldn't stay away, huh?"
She smiled ambiguously. "I suppose not."
"You look like a regular Jamaican. I hardly recognize you."
She giggled. "Thanks ... I guess. So what have I missed, boss? Everyone seems awfully upbeat."
"You've missed a lot," he said. "Remember that paper I wrote on low-intensity quark beams. About five years ago."
"Of course I do. Why?"
"Well, I was looking through some old literature, back from the 1990's, and I came across some papers by a guy named Britten Chance, at the University of Pennsylvania. He was trying to scan the brain by shooting beams of light through the skull. The light emerging on the other side is affected by the oxygenation, right? But it never worked very well; the research was abandoned."
"Well, so I tried it with quark beams. And it worked like a motherfucker, Amanda. You wouldn't believe it."
"It works. I call it QRI, Quark Resonance Imagery. It really works, Amanda. You can measure the dynamics of the whole brain, right down to the level of clusters of five hundred or a thousand neurons."
"Why didn't you call me and tell me!?"
"You would have come back, right?"
"Of course I would."
"You haven't had a vacation in three years. I didn't want to spoil your vacation."
"When was your last vacation, Vaclav?"
He reached into his pocket, and removed a device that looked much like a ballpoint pen. He pointed it at Amanda. "Your brain state is now being relayed to the computer network. At a resolution of ten microseconds temporal, three microns spatial. The data is piling up as we speak. It's filling up the optical drive right now."
"Come on, you're kidding me. You don't even need a helmet?"
"You don't need a helmet. The quark beams form a field in the air, surrounding the skull. The field stays there a few microseconds, long enough to be registered. That's just relativistic chromodynamics, Amanda. That's the easy part."
"This is too much, Vaclav."
"This is the Holy Grail. It's what we've all been working for."
"And I was just lying on the beach."
"It doesn't matter."
"Reinhard will show you the specs. I'm going home to celebrate."
"Do you want to go out to the Rusty Nail?" This was the local pub, where they sometimes went after work.
He shook his head. "Not this time. I want to celebrate with Susie."
"Oh." She often forgot his wife, Susie, existed. "How is Susie, anyway?"
"She's good, I guess. I haven't really been keeping up with her, to tell you the truth. She's got a show at the Kendall Gallery this month. More of those paintings based on Whitman's poetry. The Song of Myself."
Amanda thought about Susie for a moment. She came by the lab rarely -- she seemed to have a distaste for the place. More often she just appeared in the car, to drop off their oldest son Joseph, who liked to hang around in the lab. He would stand around watching the machinery, and asking intelligent questions. Joseph seemed much like his father, but a little less intense, perhaps more capable of relaxation. Amanda had taken a special liking to him, and often asked him to help with her rat experiments -- putting the little scanning helmets on the rats, upgrading the implants, making graphs of the data, and so forth. Once or twice Joseph's younger brother Aaron had been by too, but that had never been successful; he had always started fussing to go home after half an hour or so.
She was surprised that Vaclav wanted to celebrate with Susie, instead of his with colleagues. After all, this was a triumph for all of them, for everyone in the company. Susie never seemed to care a hang about his work. But then, marriage had always mystified Amanda. Like Vaclav, she was married to her research.
"Mmmm...," she said. "I'll see you tomorrow, then."
"This is going to be exciting."
"It's already exciting."
As he rushed out the door, Amanda hurried to find Reinhard. This was hard to believe, but if Vaclav said it was true, she couldn't imagine he was wrong.
Meanwhile, Susie was back at home, on the phone with her agent, David Rao. Who was also her lover, and had been for several years. It was late afternoon; John and Aaron were outside, playing freeze tag with the kids next door.
"I've got to go," she said suddenly, jerking her head. "I think I heard the car pull up."
"What? It can't be. It's only quarter till five. He can't be home early."
"You're right, it must be the neighbors. What was I thinking?" She laughed genially. "I can't remember the last time Vaclav came home early. It must have been when Aaron was a baby. Five years ago at least...."
"So, honey. When can you come by? I've got the morning free tomorrow."
"Tomorrow ... sure. I'll come by after I drop the kids off at school."
"Wear that pink lacy thing, will you? The one you wore last week? It looked ravishing on you."
"It looked ravishing on me? Or I looked ravishing in it?"
"Stop fishing for compliments, you vamp...."
She giggled. "Shit! It is Vaclav. I've got to go. Bye."
He was home fifteen minutes early.
At first she thought there had been some calamity. But then she saw the look on his face. He held a bouquet of roses in one hand, and a bottle of champagne in the other. He was happy about something, and ready to celebrate.
She tried to remember the last time he'd bought her flowers, but she couldn't think back that far. It would have been in the first year of their marriage.
David Rao bought her flowers all the time now. But then, he didn't own her. He had to stay on her good side. As for Vaclav, he gave the phrase "take for granted" a whole new meaning.
Of course, she often reflected, he'd never promised anything different. He'd told her from the outset that he was obsessed with his work, that he didn't have time to be married. But she hadn't counted on the way the obsession would grow and grow and grow.
Somehow she had thought that, once he finished his internship and settled into a research job, things would calm down a little. But this had never happened. True, his hours had become more regular. But his mind had become ever more distracted, ever less focused on everyday life. Ever less focused on her. Every year he published dozens of research papers, filed patents, gave talks at universities around the world. But he considered himself a failure, dismissed all his discoveries as "incremental improvements." He couldn't forgive himself for falling short of his ultimate goal. He was famous in several fields, but entirely unsatisfied. And his reaction to his lack of progress was to work harder and harder -- to push himself more and more.
He always seemed to be moving toward some limit of endurance -- but he never quite reached it. The limit moved further and further, on cue. His inner reserves of strength were marvelous. When his work needed more, he could always find more.
At least when Joseph was young, Susie remembered, Vaclav had always been around on weekends. He'd played soccer, Monopoly, Parcheesi. He'd helped teach Joseph to read and do sums. He'd cultivated Joseph's interest in science, so that now Joseph, at age eleven, was always coming home from school and asking for a ride to the Neurix lab.
It was kind of sad, Susie thought sometimes -- the only way Joseph could see his father was to watch him work. But Joseph genuinely seemed to enjoy it at the lab. Already he knew more about brains and machinery than most educated adults. Certainly far more than his mother did. He was skilled on the computer too. He seemed destined to follow in his father's footsteps.
And Aaron, six years younger, was a different story. By the time he came along, Vaclav was coming home at seven every night. And he was sneaking into the lab most Saturdays "to finish up a few things." It was always "I'll be back in a couple hours" -- and then a phone call four hours later. "Sorry, things got more interesting than I had expected. I'll be along soon." Aaron saw his dad coming and going, and that was about it. His father was an object in motion.
He still took her out sometimes; that had to be admitted. To the odd movie, or symphony, or dance performance. Always the highest of culture. He seemed to enjoy himself well enough. But he was staring into space again, as soon as they got home.
And he enjoyed making love to her. If anything, he was a better lover now than he had been in the early days. But if she didn't want sex for a week or two, if she froze him out, he never seemed to mind. He barely even noticed. He enjoyed her all right, but he made plain he didn't need her.
And now here he was, with flowers and champagne, and a huge, triumphant grin on his face. It was really too surprising. Summoning all the ample powers of her mind, she couldn't imagine what the cause might be.
He opened the door with unusual vigor. "I did it, Suse!" he said. "I finally did it! I can read thoughts! I can scan the brain! After all these years, I finally fucking did it! It's so unbelievable!"
He sounded like an eager undergraduate. He hadn't talked to her this way in years. She wanted to share in his joy, to embrace him, to be an eager undergraduate too. But she couldn't seem to manage it. It was somehow too incongruous. Instead she just stood there and smiled. "Vaclav, are you serious?"
"Of course I'm serious. It really fucking works. It's based on an idea I had years ago, but never saw the implications of. Once I had the idea, it only took a month to build the apparatus. It's quarks, Susie, quark beams! You can measure fields outside the head. And you don't need any tubes. All you need is a little device, about the size of a pencil. I can aim it at you, and it reads the magnetic fields in your brain, and relays them to my computer. Ten millisecond temporal resolution, spatial resolution down to the micron level. It's incredible! This is what I've been looking for all along...."
"I haven't got any results yet, of course. Haven't used it to do anything. We're still running tests, trying to improve the machinery. But the principle is sound. We've had it going all week, but I wasn't sure tilll today. My God, and to think I was losing faith...."
"You, losing faith? I don't believe it."
"Well, I was getting awfully frustrated."
She nodded to show she understood. "It's been a long time."
"But not that long. I'm still young. I'm only thirty-eight. I've got plenty of time to use the QRI machine -- that's what I call it, QRI, Quark Resonance Imagery. Plenty of time to use it. This is it -- this is brilliant! I'll finally understand the mind."
"Do you think so? Really?"
"Of course I think so. That's what it's all about...." Finally he handed her the flowers, and went into the kitchen to uncork the champagne. He poured two glasses. "Drink up, honey! I'm getting drunk tonight, like a true Russian." He raised his hand for a toast. "To the brain!"
"To the brain." She drank obediently. "Hey, you should call Vladimir. Or have you already?"
"Good idea. No."
Vladimir was over seventy now, but he still lived in Swarthmore, and he still wrote for the magazines, though not as prolifically. He was married to a Korean woman, June, a retired crystallographer. They'd been together more than a decade now. They came up to Boston to visit Vaclav and Susie six or eight times a year. Vaclav often asked his father to move up to Boston, or at least to rural Massachusetts, where he'd be closer. He offered to buy his father a nice house, or a condo. June had few connections in the Philadelphia area. But Vladimir, for obscure reasons, preferred to stay put.
Vladimir answer the phone immediately: "Hello?"
"Hi, Dad," Vaclav said, radiantly.
Vladimir made a leap of intuition. "Vaclav. You didn't."
"Over the last couple months. I just ran the definitive tests today. Ten milliseconds. One hundred neurons across. And we may be able to push it down."
"I know it is. And it's remote, too. No obtrusive machinery. It's quarks beams, Dad. The Wan-Li Inequality. Chromodynamic resonance."
"Wan-Li, eh? I wrote a paper on chromodynamics once, you know. Back in the old days, before quarks were isolated."
"You? You were a solid state physicist."
"I know. You're not the only one who's diverse, you know."
Vaclav laughed. "I know, Dad. You're the most diverse person I know."
"I'm a science writer. I specialize in diversity. I was a pretty good scientist, once. But I never could have been like you. I'm awfully proud of you, you know."
"Thanks. I know."
"You'll give me the details, right? Before you issue a press release?"
Over the course of a decade, his father had written half a dozen articles on his work. But this was the big one. It would be a huge scoop for Vladimir. A capstone for his career, as well as a landmark for Vaclav's.
"Well ... I don't know what else to say. I guess I'll let you go celebrate.... Susie must be ecstatic."
"I know things haven't always been great for you two. But this is really something special. This is what you've been working for for damn near twenty years. You've got to do something special."
"Don't worry, Dad. I will."
"All right. I'll let you go celebrate...."
When he hung up the phone, Susie was staring at him oddly. "That's amazing," she said.
"He heard the tone in your voice, and he knew immediately what was going on. He knows you better than I do."
"He's my father."
"I'm your wife."
She looked down at her feet and shook her head. She poured herself another glass of champagne, and drank it steadily. She sat down on the couch. "I know this is awfully ill-timed, Vaclav, but ... I .... This marriage isn't working."
He looked at her dumbly.
"Think about it Vaclav, for Chrissake.... This is a great thing for you, the greatest moment of your life maybe, and I can't even share it with you right. You've just shut me out too long. Too long."
"Oh, come on, Susie. Don't do this to me now. I know I haven't been a great husband -- I've put everything into my work. But it's paid off now. I'm going to be famous. We're going to be rich, I mean really rich. You know the contract I have with Neurix -- I get thirty percent of the royalties from my patents. And this was my work alone, not even a regular laboratory effort."
"I know. It's wonderful."
"So things are going to be different now."
"You mean you won't stay late at the lab every night? You won't work on Saturdays? You'll try to spend some time with your family?"
"Sue, I don't know. There's more work to be done, it's just a prototype.... This is going to be a busy time."
"There's always more work to be done, Vaclav! That's exactly the point. You're not married to me, Vaclav, you're married to your lab. You're married to your research. I'm sick and tired of coming in second. And I can see that's not about to change."
He looked at her, numbly, empty of words.
"It's not reasonable for me to ask you to change. I understand that. I don't want to stand in the way of the progress of science. You're a great scientist, you're going to win the Nobel Prize for this, right? You just doing what you have to do." The tears finally came. "But I have to do what I have to do too. I'm sorry, Vaclav. I can't live like this...."
He viewed her with growing anger. "There's someone else, right?"
"It doesn't matter if there's someone else."
His face grew tight. "I'm not stupid. That means yes."
"There's no one else who I care about the way I used to care for you." she said. After she said them, she was aware of the viciousness of her words. The way I used to care for you.... But the words were accurate. She didn't feel for him anymore, not the way that she used to. He had made this big discovery, had this tremendous triumph, and she genuinely wasn't happy for him.
"This isn't about anyone else," she continued. "This is about you, Vaclav. You haven't been here for me. Not for a long time. Not for ten years at least. You haven't been here for Aaron either. Joseph, sometimes. Aaron, never. Face it, Vaclav. The marriage is over."
"I can't believe you'd do this! Why would you do this today, of all times? This is supposed to be the best day of my life. And you're dead set on ruining it. But I'm not going to let you. Fine, leave me if you want to! The hell with you then! Fuck you, Susie! You're no damn good. Just fuck you." He stood there and sucked down the rest of the champagne, which was nearly the entire bottle. Then he smashed the bottle on the floor -- a totally uncharacteristic act of violence -- got back in the car and drove toward the lab.
Spooked by his father's accident, during his childhood, Vaclav had never driven drunk before. But now that the situation arose, he wasn't afraid of it, particularly. He was a good driver, very well-coordinated. Even drunk, he reckoned, he was a better driver than average. He made it to the lab in no time.
But when he got there, he didn't feel like going in. He knew the others would be there, working late as usual. He didn't know what he'd say to them. Instead he drove around behind the building to the ravine that sprawled there. On the other side was an abandoned warehouse, and some undeveloped bramble. The sun was close to the horizon, and making strange colors through the clouds. He squinted his eyes and looked at the sun, and he began to feel dizzy.
He leaned back on the car and shut his eyes. He kept thinking about Susie, the way she'd been in junior high school, and when they'd first moved to Boston. The way she'd proposed marriage. Always the prettiest woman around. And she understood everything. Or she had then. She didn't understand anything now.
He recalled how, years ago, he'd referred to their marriage as an experiment. The QRI experiment had worked, he reflected wryly, but the marriage one had failed.
Just like after his mother's death, when Susie had left him for that kid, David Randell, he got the feeling that she was waiting to be wooed back again. That if he threw himself at her feet, gave her everything she wanted, then she'd take him back happily. All she wanted was some extra attention. Take a few days off work now and then. Write her a love poem. Maybe take her to Barbados, where Amanda had gone. It would probably be effective. It would be the best thing for Joseph and Aaron.
But he couldn't bring himself to do it. She had no right to demand being placed above his work. It wasn't that he didn't love her. But he was on the brink of something spectacular. He was about to understand the mind, scientifically, for the first time in human history. If she didn't want that for him, desperately, then she must not love him.
Finally his head slumped down and he drifted into a shallow, dreamy sleep. He had a dream about Amanda, oddly enough, and then a dream about his mother. Back in Russia, before she was ill, carrying him down the sidewalk, talking to some Russian friends.
He felt himself moving toward being awake, coming out of the blackness into light. But then he heard a woman's voice talking to him. He resisted the urge to open his eyes and see where the woman was. He knew there was no woman there, not in reality. She wasn't in dream-land either. She was off in a different direction, perpendicular to dream and reality. A direction he had always known to exist, but had never thought to visit before.
"You're driven Susie away," said the voice. "But don't mind her. You're with the angels now?"
"The angels?" he said. His mouth was dead; his tongue was stuck to his palate. But he realized he didn't have to speak. He only had to think the words.
"You know. You understand. You always knew about the angels."
"What do you mean I always knew?"
"Your mother was here years ago. She told us all about you."
The voice was soft, soothing, with a strange foreign accent. And then he saw the face from which it came. She was beautiful -- exotic, and truly angelic. Lush and round, with full lips and small, sharp eyes. Wispy brown hair, tumbling down in all directions. It was an angel's face, a modern-day angel, but there was a bit of a twist to the expression. This was a lusty, passionate angel, with a little streak of devil inside.
"Who are you? Why are you talking to me?"
"I am the Exterminating Angel."
"What do you exterminate?"
"That you will come to know."
So she was keeping secrets. He was aware for a moment of where he was.
"But why are you talking to me? You didn't answer me."
"I'm talking to you because you're special. Because I love you, Vaclav. Because you understand."
"I understand what?"
"That you will come to know."
"I need certain things too," the voice said, in a different tone. She was incredibly seductive, this hyperdimensional devil-angel. It was impossible to resist her. "You can help me with my needs. I can help you with yours. It'll be a fair bargain. I guarantee I won't disappoint you."
"I don't know what you're talking about. Don't tell me... I will come to know."
"You will come to know."
"Just get the hell out of here, all right? I'm having enough problems without some phantom spooking me."
"But you came to me, Vaclav. You took that left turn there between dreaming and wakefulness. And you'll come to me again. I can see it now. You will."
Her voice lingered in the air with indescribable beauty. It breathed God, infinity, mind-boggling sex. But then she suddenly disappeared, and her lovely voice faded.
He was alone by the gully, feeling drunk and insane.
It occurred to him, for a moment, that he was finally beginning to understand his mother. Now, twenty-seven years after her death.
He thought of Susie's suggestion, many years ago, that he should look inward instead of building machinery. Now he had looked inward, it occured to him ironically, and look what he had found. Insanity. His mother's visions.
But he didn't like this train of thought. He forced the vision from his mind, got in the car, and drove back to the lab.
It was nearly six but Amanda and Reinhard were still there -- talking vigorously, drawing diagrams on the touch-screen.
"I thought you were going to celebrate with Susie," said Amanda carefully. She could see from his face that something was wrong.
"I was. But she didn't want to. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact. She left me."
"She left you? Now? What kind of timing is that?"
"Intentionally bad timing, I think."
"She's just jealous, that's all."
"I suppose so."
"Well..." Amanda found the information hard to process. "So do you want to go to the Rusty Nail? The offer's still open."
Reinhard went home; he and Amanda headed for the pub. It was a pleasure to sit down with her, with someone who genuinely shared his joy. She understood him, today. He explained the principles of the QRI machine, more clearly than Reinhard had been able to. She grasped it better than anyone else in the lab -- her background was, after all, in physics, rather than medicine or engineering. He scrawled diagram after diagram on paper napkins; she took them in eagerly.
"That's beautiful," she said, when he was finished. "The halo field, around the head. That's the icing on the cake. It's a stroke of genius."
"It's nature's stroke of genius, not mine."
"But you discovered it. No one else could have. You've been building up to this for years."
"I know.... Amanda, I'm going to switch you from the implant project to this one, for the time being. You're the only one who really has the background to help me develop it."
"That'll be wonderful."
That night Vaclav cheated on his wife for the first time ever. But he didn't really consider it cheating, as she had ostensibly left him already. Amanda was a young and vibrant lover, more enthusiastic than Susie had been in years. She was thrilled to be sleeping with her hero, and showed it.
"Now that," he said afterwards, still intoxicated, "that was a proper celebration."
He woke up early in the morning, hoping to sneak out without waking her. Much as he didn't want to face Susie, he had to go back to his boys. He couldn't just run out on Joseph and Aaron, without explanation.
But Amanda woke up too. She wasn't hung over like him. She was chipper and clear-minded. "So what are you going to do?" she asked.
"I don't know. I guess she's serious about splitting up."
"I should have seen this coming a long time ago. I haven't been paying attention to her at all, not for years really. That's what she says, and she's right. I've put my whole life into the lab."
"And it's paid off," she said. "You can't have any regrets about it."
"No," he said. "I can't, can I."
She put her arm around him and rubbed his back. In a flash she realized something that she had been repressing in her mind for several years: she was in love with Vaclav Bulgakov.
"You can stay here," she said. "Until you figure out what you're doing."
He looked at her gratefully. Something in her face made him think of the drunken vision he'd had by the ravine, the previous evening. That angelic face, with the strange foreign accent. But he shoved the memory aside, forced it out of his consciousness. It was crazy. 'You will come to know.'
"That would be great," he said. "That's really sweet of you. Maybe I'll do that."
The divorce was easy, as such things go. Vaclav never left Amanda's apartment. Susie's romance with her agent fizzled out quickly, and she drifted from one liaison to another, without making any lasting ties. The kids stayed with Susie -- there was never any question of that -- but Joseph began spending more and more time at the lab after school. Vaclav paid generous child support, but it wasn't quite enough for Susie to live on comfortably, so she began working at an art gallery, in addition to the painting and sculpture she had been doing before.
Vaclav missed Susie; she had understood him deeply and personally in some ways that Amanda never would. After all, she had known him when his mother was still alive. She had seen Avdotya on her dying bed. Lying in Susie's arms, he had felt warm, comfortable and cared for.
Amanda was much more similar to him than Susie had been. She lived more in the mind than in the body. They were both in love with science, even more than with each other, and they were both perfectly comfortable with this fact. On a day to day basis, Vaclav was immensely pleased with the simplification of his life that his marriage to Amanda brought. No more did he have to feel bad about coming into work on Saturdays; or about staying at the office till seven. Amanda was there by his side. And when they did take a break from the office -- driving out to Cape Cod for the weekend with the kids, perhaps -- she was eager to fill up the empty moments with talk about physics, neuroscience, mathematical psychology.
Sometimes they talked about writing a book, together with Vladimir, on the history of brain scanning. But they knew they'd never find the time. Maybe Vladimir would do it himself.
The QRI research was easy and difficult at the same time. The easy, and lucrative part was medical applications. After three years of controlled federal testing, which showed no adverse effects, Neurix QRI scanners quickly displaced previous brain scanning technologies. The absence of radioactive injections and large, noisy helmets was a huge leap forwards in cost and convenience. Soon enough, there was a Neurix QRI scanner in every doctor's office. Brain scanning became a regular part of a medical checkup. It was a neurologist's dream -- brain disorders could be nipped in the bud.
Beyond simple medical applications, however, things were much more difficult. What Vaclav had always wanted to do was to track the dynamics of thoughts in the brain. In this way, he believed, one could pinpoint what made certain kinds of thoughts successful, and what made others damaging. But in practice, the amount of data generated by scanning a single brain over a period of a few minutes was enough to overload even the most powerful supercomputers. There was no obvious way to wade through all the data, to elicit the meaningful patterns contained in the tremendous four-dimensional array of numbers recording a brain's activity over time.
Vaclav hired a special group of three computer experts to work on the problem. Two were recent MIT graduates, one, Gyorgy Saltov, was older, and had spent ten years at the University of Sofia in Bulgaria, analyzing astrophysical data. This "computer group" designed new statistical tools to analyze the data, and new virtual reality graphical interfaces to visualize the data.
The computational research proceeded splendidly, but not in the directions Vaclav had anticipated, or particularly desired. The computer group decided that the natural place to begin was with sensorimotor systems, and Vaclav couldn't argue with them. After several years of effort, a complete map of the human visual system was generated. The other sense modes, which were simpler, soon followed, as did the simpler parts of the motor cortex. Visitors from the MIT robotics lab and other robotics lab became commonplace.
The next step, after low-level sensation and motor control, was sensory integration. This proved to be a difficult one, and the computer group was expanded to seven. A new project arose, a collaboration between Neurix and Intel: the design of a new "analysis chip" especially designed for analysis of four-dimensional data. If the data analysis could be moved down from the software level to the chip level, Vaclav reasoned, then maybe things would be much simpler. But this approach carried its own difficulties, and absorbed time that could have been devoted to direct data analysis. The conception and production of a new chip design took several years at minimum.
In spite of the obstacles, though, the attitude at the lab was one of unbridled optimism. After all, Vaclav was becoming world-famous, and Neurix along with him. Popular science magazines were full of articles about QRI and its implications. Their research papers received thousands of citations. The only person not thrilled with what was happening was Susie.
When Joseph entered his second year as a computer science major at MIT, he began working at the lab half-time, as a member of the computer group. Though he was only 16 at the time, he seemed to have a better feel than anyone else for the intuitive patterns in the data. While the others worked on sensory integration, Vaclav assigned Joseph his pet project: the analysis of mental illness.
Joseph was a whiz at mathematics, and understood the new generation of nonlinear regression tools better than the rest of the group. But like everyone else, he was waiting for the analysis chip to come along, and move the research to a new level.
Susie was proud of her son, but in her heart she was worried. Joseph was disappearing from her world, swallowed up into Vaclav's universe. Like Joseph and Amanda, he seemed to live at the Neurix lab. "You're getting caught up in your father's dream," she said to him once. "I'm thrilled that you're able to keep up with the research there. You're still a teenager, that's awfully impressive. You're living up to your father's example, which is an awfully difficult thing to do. Most kids wouldn't try, and if they did, they'd fail.... But it's his dream, that's the thing. I'd like to see you do something all your own."
"That's not what's important to me, Mom," he'd said. "I like working with Dad, and Amanda, and Gyorgy, and the others. I'm learning so much there. It's a great group of people."
"That's great. That's great. It's just...."
"I'm not a clone of Dad, I know that. I don't need to be in charge like he does."
"Don't worry about me, Mom. I'm all right. I'm doing just what I want to do."
Bella smiled at Joseph, and took his hand. They walked together to the cafeteria. "Want to come down to the park after lunch?" she asked him. "There's some bands playing. A bunch of us are going over."
"Nah, I guess not. I was planning on...."
"Going over to the lab," she finished for him. "Gee, what a surprise. The lab on Friday afternoon. Do you ever do anything else these days?"
He stopped walking and drew her towards him. "Sometimes."
She kissed him gently. "All right, all right. But the last couple weeks you've been over there every day for hours. You never seem to have a moment free."
Joseph shrugged. "It's a job." They started walking again.
"Yeah, right. Don't shit me, Joseph -- you don't need a job. With all the money your father's got...."
"Okay, things have been getting pretty interesting lately, that's all. I think I'm moving toward some kind of breakthrough. Seriously"
"You mean with the mental illness project?"
"I don't know, Joseph.... I mean, do you really think you can find a cure for mental illness by scanning people's brains?"
"I don't know about that aspect of it.... That's really my father's passion, not mine. I'm just looking at it as a kind of a puzzle. We have all this data, all this information from people's brains, and we're trying to make sense of it. It's hard. It's hard to understand any of the patterns in the whole-brain data at all, let alone the ones that distinguish the trajectory of a normal person's brain from the trajectory of a mentally ill person. It's a matter of an overabundance of not very significant patterns, and there's no obvious way to tell which ones are going to build up into something more important."
She laughed. "I'll bet it's hard. I've got trouble enough making sense of my Electromagnetism homework."
"Ah." She never had much tolerance for research talk. Not that he could blame her -- it was always the same things, over and over again. The same problems he couldn't solve. He forced a smile. "Do you want some help with E&M? What are we doing now -- Maxwell's equations?"
"What do you mean, what are we doing now? You just sat through a two hour lecture."
"I wasn't paying attention."
"You don't pay attention, but you'll still get a 100 on the exam. How do you pick it up, by osmosis? You're really something, Joseph."
He squeezed her and laughed. "You think so, do ya?"
They walked along awhile, placidly, and then a huge roaring noise surged behind them -- about 30 Hell's Angels zooming by on their motorcycles.
"Fucking psychopaths," said Bella. "Bikers bashed in my uncle's grocery store last month. There should be a law or something."
"A law against motorcycles? Mmmmm...." Joseph didn't care one way or the other about motorcycle gangs. But the cycles' appearance had given him an idea. "Hey," he said. "Let's not go to the music festival. I won't go to work either. Let's go somewhere for the weekend. Away from the city, I mean. Maybe out to the mountains. The Berkshires."
"What? You'd leave your work just like that?"
"Will you go?"
She shrugged. "Sure. Why not? You sure are a strange one though."
By three o'clock, they were on the road, heading down the Mass Pike, destination uncertain. The road was fairly crowded, but Joseph was relaxed and happy behind the wheel. "Open space," he said. "That's what I need. I hate that little dorm room. Closed in by walls on every side."
"Well, maybe you should move back home," said Bella playfully.
"Maybe I should join a motorcycle gang."
"Moving home, nah, I mean, the house is great, and the commute's not so bad, but that would be way too much of Mom for my taste. Mom tries to run my life. You know how it is. She's worse than you, picking on me for hanging out at the lab too much...."
"You could move in with your dad," she pointed out.
"Yeah, right. Mom would be furious. Anyway that would get a little to intense. He never stops plowing away with his research stuff. Never."
"I wouldn't think that would bother you."
Joseph laughed. "Ah well ... a little I guess." Over the three months she'd been involved with Joseph, Bella had met Vaclav several times, but they hadn't particularly hit it off, and they knew little about each other. "You think I'm a workaholic, but he's really over the edge. His wife Amanda -- you met her."
"She's work-crazy too. The two of them sit around day and night and talk about neurotransmitters and quark dynamics." He laughed. "It gets on my nerves after a while."
"Well that's a relief to hear. I always feel inadequate because I don't know how to talk about that stuff."
He rubbed her leg and smiled. He didn't really want to talk about, or think about, Amanda -- or Bella, for that matter. He fiddled with the radio dial, until he found an oldies station. It was 90's-style heavy metal, all electric guitars and drums.
"You like that shit?" asked Bella? "It's prehistoric."
"It's made for driving though. Just look around you -- feel the road zooming in. This is freedom, man! This is freedom!"
"You're gonna get pulled over and locked up for driving this fast. How's that for freedom?"
"All right, all right." He slowed down to 100 miles an hour, only ten miles over the speed limit. They just drove on for a while, listening to the prehistoric music, watching the trees and the other cars go whistling by. Joseph looked over at Bella and was satisfied by the cool, placid look on her face. His mind was emptying out already. It was exactly as he had wanted.
After fifteen minutes or so, Bella disturbed his reverie. She tapped him on the shoulder. "Look -- there's a hitch-hiker. We should pick her up."
He looked to the side of the road a hundred meters ahead. "A girl hitching alone? She must be crazy."
"That's why we should pick her up. She could get hurt or something...."
"You really want me to? We're almost past her now anyway...."
"All right, all right...." He had never picked up a hitchhiker before, but he knew how stubbornly Bella clung to her whimsies. If he didn't pull over he'd hear about it all weekend. By the time he pulled over, they were well past the girl by the side of the road, but she ran up to the car at a good clip. Dressed in torn jeans and a tattered T-shirt, she looked to be a few years younger than Joseph, maybe fifteen or sixteen. She was, Joseph noted, very attractive, with shapely breasts, wide hips and a mischievous look on her face. "Thanks for pulling over," she said, as she opened the back door. "I thought I'd be standing out there forever."
"You're crazy hitching alone," said Bella. "There's all kinds of crazies out there."
"I know," she said. "Some friends of mine got picked up by these guys who tied them up, shaved off all their hair and left them lying naked by the side of the road." She laughed. "I hope I'm not giving you any ideas."
"Are you serious?"
"And you're still hitching?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "You meet interesting people. Like you guys.... I met a really nice guy hitching once, we wound up going out for a couple months. He was like twenty years older than me though, so it didn't really work out. And he was into some kinda strange stuff...." She laughed to herself again. "Anyway, I have to get back to college tonight, I have to give a recital tomorrow morning, but there's no bus till tomorrow afternoon."
"Where are you heading to, anyway?" put in Joseph.
"Great Barrington," she said. "I go to college there, at a place called Simon's Rock. It's south of Pittsfield.... How far are you going?"
"We can take you there," said Joseph. "We don't have a fixed destination in mind anyway. Just taking off for the weekend."
"Wow. Cool. That would be great.... I'm Geena."
"Joseph. And Bella."
"You guys live in Boston?"
"Cambridge. We go to MIT."
"Cool.... One of my friends is transferring there next year. He's a real math whiz. Not like me.... I tried to take calculus last year, but I had to drop out."
"I thought the concepts were neat, y'know, but I just couldn't do the problems. I never could wrap my brain around math at all...."
"You're a musician, though. I always thought music and math were related."
"Well, not for me."
"Mmmmm. What do you play?"
"Everything, really. Mostly the violin."
"Classical or digital?"
"Wow," said Joseph. "I'm impressed. I didn't think anyone still played classical violin. I mean, is there any point?"
"The digital ones still can't get all the nuances," said Geena. "They don't respond the same way. They're not made of living material -- it makes a difference."
"But they are made of intelligent material," pointed out Joseph. "That's better than living material, isn't it? More responsive."
"It's too responsive, or not responsive enough. The natural material is matched to us just right. If the instrument is well made, anyway. A digital violin is a lot better than a badly made classical one. But a well-made wooden one -- hell, we're not digital, you know."
Joseph chuckled. "I have my doubts."
"Don't mind him," said Bella. "He's a bit strange."
"Thanks a lot."
About an hour later, they were strapped for conversation, so Bella piped up: "Hey, you know who his father is?"
Joseph elbowed her to shut up -- he didn't like to advertise his famous parent -- but she went on anyway. "Vaclav Bulgakov."
Geena reacted immediately. "Wow."
Joseph was always surprised at this kind of reaction -- amazed at how many people had heard of his father. After all, he was only a scientist -- not a movie star or something. He hadn't even won the Nobel Prize or anything. But on the other hand, Neurix had been in the news a lot over the last few years....
"I saw his picture in Time last year," said Bella. "So ... you must be some kind of super-genius."
"I don't know," said Joseph. "I'm not stupid anyway." Grinning, he put on a decent Yogi Bear voice. "I'm smarter than the average bear." I'm smarterTHANTHEAVERAGEBEAR....
Bella had heard the line before, but Geena was suitably amused. "Hey, you should come by Simon's Rock," said Geena. "It's a college for gifted kids. You can start there after ninth or tenth or eleventh grade -- whenever you're ready. I started after tenth grade, see, so I'm sixteen years old and I'm already a sophomore in college."
"Interesting," said Joseph.
"He's eighteen and he's a junior," said Bella. "So you can do the same thing at regular universities."
"Yeah, I've heard about that. But the difference is, at Simon's Rock, you're around other people your same age."
Bella smiled. "So if Joseph had gone there, he wouldn't be messing around with old ladies like me."
"You don't look older than him," said Geena.
"I'm twenty-one. Three years older."
"Yep. I'm a toy boy," said Joseph. "But really, it must be great, studying out in the forest like that. I get so sick of the city."
"You think so 'cause you live in the city. I grew up in Los Angeles; I get so sick of being out in the middle of nowhere. That's why I take off now and then for the city."
"But you're crazy to hitch like this," said Bella. "Really...."
"You're repeating yourself," said Joseph. "What time is your recital tomorrow, Geena?"
"Eleven in the morning."
"Well, maybe we'll show up. Why not?"
They talked on through the rest of the drive. Joseph had to admit that Bella's intuition had been good in this case. They were helping out a nice girl who might have run into trouble otherwise. In fact, Geena was better than nice -- she was rather an interesting person. And awfully cute too. If Bella wasn't here, he thought to himself.... What? Would I have come onto her in some way? No ... you've never come onto a woman before. You alway wait for the woman to make the first move -- just like Bella did.
He wondered why he was so intensely attracted to Geena. Admittedly she was better looking than Bella -- but was she really more interesting, or just less familiar? She was only sixteen, after all. And she was clearly a bit loopy, hitching down the Masspike, as though it were the 1970's or something.
When they were almost in Great Barrington -- off the highway, stopped at a red light -- an impulse struck him. "I don't know if we'll really make your recital," he said, "but next time you get the urge to come to Boston, why don't you look us up. We could give you a place to crash for the night if you don't have one."
"Sure," she said. "That'd be great."
He pulled a business card out of his pocket -- "Joseph Bulgakov, Programmer, Neurix Corporation, email@example.com" -- and scrawled his phone number in the dorm on the back.
"Ooh, a business card," she giggled. "Impressive. So you work with your dad."
They dropped her off at the college, and drove off. Bella glared at him jealously. "Well, you sure took a liking to her."
He shrugged. "She's a nice girl. Kinda crazy though, like you said." There was no point to be honest about it. The honest truth was, he wasn't particularly in love with Bella anyway.
"You didn't have to give her your phone number at home."
"We didn't have to pick her up either. That was your idea, remember? I never pick up hitch-hikers."
"Yeah, well.... Let's get out of this town, anyway. My great-uncle Pete owns a quarry up by North Adams."
"You think we can stay at his house?"
"I wouldn't want to. He'd probably make us sleep in separate rooms."
"Ah. Well, fuck that.
"But we can get a hotel near there, and tomorrow I can show you around the quarry."
"It's really a wonderful place. I used to love playing there when I was a kid. We used to visit him every summer."
The quarry was beautiful as ever, but with Bella there, he couldn't get into the same frame of mind that he had been in as a child -- clambering around among the rocks and trees, completely oblivious to the outside universe. She was not part of nature, she was a constant reminder of the world of equations, classrooms, cars and Coca-Cola.
There was one moment, on the first day, that struck him with particular force. They were having a picnic lunch down at the bottom of the quarry, and a lizard ran straight up his arm, settling on his shoulder. He looked at the lizard, the lizard looked at him, and he felt something very strange: an exchange of information. The lizard's mind was pure and simple, and was broadcasting into him like a radio.
The lizard had no mental problems: there was rage, there was lust, there was the will to live and reproduce. This was all there was. The reptile looked at him uncomprehendingly, not in awe of his superiority, nor in condescension at his unnecessary complexity and confusion, but merely in bafflement. "Why is all that there?" thought the reptile. "What is up with you?"
That night, after they had made love and Bella was sleeping, he left the hotel and walked over to the quarry by himself. It was only a little over a mile; he doubted that she would wake up. He only planned to stay an hour or so.
He walked down to the bottom, to a small cave where he had used to go as a child. It wasn't as roomy as it had used to be. He wasn't sure why he hadn't gone there with Bella; it hadn't seemed right. It was a sacred place somehow; he had to go there alone.
In the back of the quarry there was a tangle of vines and thorn bushes. Aiming his small flashlight at the ground, he pushed his way back and lay there, surrounded by plants, staring out the mouth of the cave at the white stars and black night.
Squinting at the stars, he made them blur into sprawling white smudges. They danced around, shifting into each other and then apart like a dynamic, impressionist painting. After a while, one of the lights, toward the left of the visual field, seemed to be shining more brightly than the others. It changed form, shooting out small yellow flames from either side, as if it were becoming a tiny sun. Then it looked at him with two penetrating eyes. He knew he was hallucinating, but he pushed the recognition back, away from the conscious part of his mind.
It was a beautiful woman's face. An angel, no less. But with a dark hint of menace about it, just barely playing at the fringes. And that smile. He knew he would never plumb the depths of that smile.
With a bit of a shiver, knocking his knee against a rock, he realized that the face was his own. It didn't look like his own, but the core, the essence, was his. He was seeing into his mind. He stopped fighting the hallucination; relaxed and let himself go. Ideas zoomed around in his mind, swooped in and out of her eyes, Crashing into each other, they annihilated each other, or gave birth to new ideas. Whole galaxies of concepts, feelings and perceptions formed from this ebbing and flowing of light. Everything in his mind was insubstantial: it was formed from these trillions of tiny light particles, creating and destroying each other a million times every second. Every second, every system in his mind was dying and coming back to life a thousand times.
After a time, he opened his eyes. The stars were just stars again. He extracted himself from the vines at the back of the cave and climbed out of the quarry. On the walk back to the hotel, his mind flooded with ideas. Suddenly he understood what he had to do, to solve the problem his father had assigned him. It wasn't enough to approach the data coming from brain scans as if it were just any collection of data: one had to recognize explicitly, in one's algorithms, that it was data coming from a mind. The creation and destruction of mental forms had to be in there; the construction of systems from flashing networks of being and becoming....
Bella was sleeping when he got back. Lying there naked on the bed, the covers draped over her legs, she looked more attractive than ever. He entered her quietly, not waking her, observing the smile on her face with satisfaction.
With the ideas he'd found in the quarry, Joseph was ready to roll. He began spending six hours a day at the lab, including weekends, hardly talking to anyone, just sitting in front of the computer, proceeding more confidently than he ever had before. Finally, after four weeks, the job was done. But he was not happy at all.
He just sat there staring at the computer screen. He was not happy at all with what the research had led to. It was the wrong kind of breakthrough. Vaclav, he knew, would be far less pleased. He couldn't imagine how to break the news to his father. Finally he arrived at an idea. He would tell Amanda instead. She could break the news to Vaclav.
As if on cue, Amanda sat down next to him. "What's up, Joseph?" she asked. He looked at her curiously. Somehow she had noticed there was something wrong with him -- she had picked up the troubled look on his face. She was surprisingly perceptive. And awfully attractive, too. He was eighteen but looked older, she was thirty-four but looked younger, and, in spite of the fact that she'd been married to Vaclav for six years, he found it increasingly difficult to think of her as a stepmother.
Not long ago, at his father's house, he had seen Amanda walk out of the bathroom with nothing on. She had just smiled in mild embarrassment. But he had been more than mildly embarrassed. Now every time he saw her in the office, he imagined her standing there naked, her small breasts pointing out at him, her taut stomach moving slowly in and out, her long, slim, neck emerging elegantly from her smooth chest, her narrow shouldhers. Her well-trimmed, yellow pubic triangle, setting off her surprisingly fleshy thighs.
It wasn't as though he didn't have a girlfriend. Although, it had to be admitted, Bella Lee wasn't anywhere near as nice-looking as Amanda. What really turned him on about Amanda was the fact that her gorgeous body was attached to a mature, well-organized woman with an extremely intelligent mind. Compared to her, Bella and the other girls at MIT were just a bunch of little girls.
It didn't escape him that his mother, Susie, was just as attractive as Amanda. Somehow his father, apparently so obsessed with his work, had a knack for attracting smart, gorgeous women. He wished he could figure out Vaclav's secret. But it wasn't the sort of thing he was accustomed to discuss with his father. In spite of their close working relationship, things between Joseph and Vaclav were much as they had been between Vaclav and Vladimir, twenty-five years earlier. Father-son conversations tended to remain in the world of ideas.
And now Amanda sat next to him, subtly perfumed, breathing softly. Just the two of them there, in his little tiny office at the back of the lab. "Well..." he said. "I'm glad you showed up. I don't know how to break this to Dad. I think you'll have to do it for me."
"This must be serious," she said. She put her hand on his shoulder -- a purely friendly gesture, but one which made him somewhat uncomfortable.
"It is. You know that data on schizophrenics he had me analyzing. And the data on neurotics. From the Society for Theoretical Psychiatry."
"Yeah? The new data set."
"Right. The one that we got 'cause the old one didn't show anything. Well, I've finished the analysis."
"Okay, I'll give it to you straight. What it shows ... after all the work is done ... is that there is no solution to mental illness. Basically, none. Not on the individual level."
She paused, and eyed him curiously. "That's your interpretation of the data."
"Yes, that's my interpretation of the data. But there's not much interpreting to do. It fairly jumps out at you."
"Okay. But still...."
"Look, Amanda, I may only be eighteen years old, but I'm not a goddamned idiot. I understand nonlinear regression. He gave me this project for a reason."
"I know. I know."
"It's a simple fact. I'll show you the figures if you like. It'll take you ten minutes to see what's going on."
He brought some images up the computer screen. "The four-dimensional patterns we call mental illness -- they're not at all intense or prominent in the individual human brain." He pointed at a graph on the screen. "You really need to struggle to infer them in the trajectory scanned from a single person. But," he pointed at a different graph, "when you include a whole group of people -- a family, for instance, in the case where we have family data -- you get a more intense pattern. And in the case of the Walter street group home -- the only case where we have data from a group larger than a family -- you get much more intense patterns. Basically, mental illness is not individual, it exists in groups, and the larger the group, the more prominently it exists there."
Amanda considered. "All right. Let's suppose what you're saying is true. That doesn't mean mental illness isn't curable through chemical therapy."
"No, it doesn't. Not that in itself. But if you look at the equations, the equations relating the trajectory of one brain to the trajectory of another, then you'll see.... I've worked it out in detail. It comes right out of standard software, well after a little bit of tinkering. Look." He fiddled with the computer, and brought up more graphs. "What we call mental illness -- what shows up in the QRI scans of mental patients -- are just singularities in the social flow of information. And the thing is, Amanda, any flow that you set up is going to have singularities. It's a consequence of data compression, of having to communicate with each other through language."
"What do you mean? I don't get it."
"Look, we have incomplete pictures of each others' mental states: we have to reconstruct them. I reconstruct your thoughts, you reconstruct mine. I reconstruct your reconstructions of my thoughts. And so on. But we make errors in reconstruction, in modeling each others' minds. These errors cause flow singularities; they stop things up. They are the cause of mental illness. Not any particular quirk of chemistry. So, you can cure one particular variety of mental illness using chemistry. But you won't be resolving the fundamental problem. You're just changing the system to a different configuration, which will have some different kind of mental problem inherent in it. No matter what you do, in any system of communicating minds, some small percentage is going to be mentally ill. It's inevitable."
"Whoa." She was surprised and impressed. "You've thought this out pretty thoroughly. This goes beyond just interpretation of the data."
"It comes out of the new artificially intelligent data agents. Used appropriately...." He paused, troubled again. His face had been animated while explaining his discovery; now the enthusiasm was gone. "I discovered this a couple months ago. I've been looking for a way around. But there isn't any. I'm sure now."
"Maybe Vaclav will find one."
Joseph shrugged. "Sure. It's possible. But really, I doubt it."
Amanda considered. Vaclav was a brilliant man, but Joseph was brilliant too. Vaclav's genius was for engineering. Joseph certainly exceeded his father in the area of computerized data analysis. Furthermore, this work on the roots of madness involved a good bit of psychological intuition -- something that Vaclav had always lacked, but Joseph seemed to have heaps of. If Joseph hadn't seen an answer here, it was unlikely that Vaclav would.
"So what does this mean?" she said, just to say something. She knew what it meant.
"It doesn't mean much for Neurix. It just means that in order to diagnose mental illness using brain scans, we're going to have to scan entire families, perhaps larger social groups, instead of just individuals. But to Dad...."
"What it means is that the project of curing mental illness is a bust. What he wanted to do was to isolate the brain regions responsible for mental illnesses, and correct them chemically. At least, I think that's what he wanted. But I don't think that will be possible."
"It's a big one. I know. I know."
Amanda looked at him sympathetically. It was unspeakably ironic, really. Here he was, his father's favorite son, inheritor of his father's brilliant scientific mind. At age eighteen, a socially awkward college student, he had just made his first exciting scientific discovery. But this discovery would hit Vaclav like a poison bullet. It destroyed the idealistic childhood dream that had set Vaclav on his path of scientific discovery in the first place. And Joseph had never set out to do such a thing. Not at all. He had set out to help his father; above all, to be accepted by his father.
Now Vaclav would have to be proud of his son, while suffering and suffering inside.
She hoped Joseph was wrong. But she had a sense that he wasn't. It made a lot of sense, actually. Both commonsensically, and in terms of what she'd seen in the data, when she'd played around with it before. They had always had trouble with the mental illness data, but had never seen why. They had tinkered with the instruments. But Joseph had seen deeper; he had found the fundamental problem.
She tried to look into the future, so see what would come next, for Neurix, for her, Joseph and Vaclav. But the future was a giant blank.
He leaned his head on her shoulder. "Amanda. Shit...." She smelled good; she was warm and soft.
She put her arm around him and held him there. "Oh, Joseph. Things get weird, don't they. Really strange."
Amanda broke the news to Vaclav gently, as gently as she could. By the time they were halfway through the conversation, though, she realized that neither she nor Joseph had correctly estimated Vaclav's personality.
He wasn't upset at all. In a way, he seemed to prefer this definite obstacle to the morass of shifting uncertainties that had preceded it. It took her a few minutes to understand that Vaclav didn't perceive the obstacle in the same way that she and Joseph did. In his world-view, there were no insurmountable obstacles -- there were only challenges.
"So what Joseph has discovered," he mused, "is that mental illness isn't a function of individual brains. It's a function of societies. He has done some mathematics indicating that any society will produce a certain percentage of mentally ill individuals."
"Right," said Amanda. "It would seem to cast a pall over any hopes of really curing mental illness by chemical means. You can cure a few people, but once you've "cured" everyone, you've created a different society, in which other mentally ill people will develop. With different mental illnesses."
"All right. That's a pretty neat theorem. But every theorem has conditions. We need to see what the axioms are. We'd better get Joseph in here."
He picked up the phone and rang Joseph's extension. Joseph was there in twenty seconds.
"I'll show you the data, Dad," he said, leaning over to Vaclav's computer. He went over it in far more detail than he had for Amanda. It took about forty minutes.
When he was finished, Vaclav sat there staring at his fingers for two or three minutes. "All right," he said finally. "I see what the computer shows me. But there's all kinds of assumptions built into any mathematical formula, any computer program. I need to have the basic idea. I need to understand what it all comes out of."
Joseph smiled. "You don't believe me, Dad?"
"It's not a matter of believing or not. Data analysis can only get you so far. This is nonlinear regression, right? It's induction. You never get absolute certainty from induction. In order to do induction of any kind, you have to make some assumptions. I'm talking basic philosophy of science."
"This is modification of the Wu-Taylor adaptive-order Markov scheme, applied in a spatially-extended genetic algorithm. The prior distribution is chosen to maximize Kullback-Leibler entropy. The alpha parameter in the entropy was varied over a range and then fixed at an optimal value of 1.2. The gamma...."
"That's not what I mean. I mean, how did you come up with this stuff? These are deep ideas, they must have come from somewhere. They didn't come from the computer, they came from you."
"Well...." Joseph frowned. "I.... You know...."
Vaclav studied his son curiously. "I don't know."
"What it came from..." said Joseph. "You're going to laugh at me."
"No we're not," said Amanda. "Don't be silly."
"What it came from was a certain way of thinking about the mind.... A way of thinking about my own mind."
In a flash, Vaclav remembered something Susie had said to him years ago. 'If you want to understand the mind, look inside your own.' Or something like that. He'd been wondering what to study in graduate school -- physics, or medicine, or engineering, or what. It was the night she'd proposed marriage to him. At the time he had thought she was just being typically goofy.
He also thought, for the first time in a while, of the vision he'd had that drunken evening, that beautiful angelic vision. This angel had come from within him. What had come from within his son?
All he said was "Mmmmm."
Joseph went on, haltingly. "The insight came to me about a month ago, when I took off for a weekend with Bella, We went to this quarry behind her uncle's house, and.... Well, I guess it goes back longer than that, though. Remember when mom sent me to karate class, once? When I was eleven or twelve years old? Right after the divorce? 'Cause kids were beating me up in school."
"I didn't take to karate; I only lasted a few months. But they taught me a way of concentrating, at karate school. I kept on concentrating that way, after the lessons stopped."
"I learned to see the thoughts in my mind."
"Meditation," said Amanda, trying to be helpful.
"What do you mean, sort of?"
"I don't know, Dad.... You see the thoughts in your mind, all of them. Some in the foreground, some in the background. And you see everyone of them is really made up out of the other ones. So if you wanted to, you could weave through them forever, tracing paths from one to the other to the other. And if you ever got back to the same place, it would be slightly different, because of the changes caused in the whole web of thoughts, by your wandering around....
"Sometimes I think of it like a mirror. Every thought you have, every feeling, sort of reflects the others. The mind is like a mirrorhouse; everything is giving off reflections of everything. Time itself, you experience as the movement from the thing to the reflection.
"I don't know, this must just sound really weird...."
"It's not that weird," said Amanda. "I had a class in Buddhist philosophy in school. What you're talking about is interpenetration. Everything interpenetrates everything else. It's an axiom of Buddhism."
"That's true," said Vaclav. It was a long time since he had looked at anything literary or philosophical in nature. Since high school, maybe.
Joseph smiled. "All right. But then, if everything is made of everything else, everything is constantly producing everything else, then nothing is really permanent. Things that seem permanent just seems that way -- they're just kind of systems of things that all produce each other. See?"
"You're talking about what you feel when you look inside your mind," said Vaclav, "and it makes sense to me in those terms. I guess that's what I feel in my mind when I think too: thoughts combining to make thoughts, opening up to give rise to other thoughts, and so on. But I don't see what it has to do with this -- ." He gestures toward the computer screen.
"Don't rush him," said Amanda. "You asked him how he came up with the idea, remember?"
"It's all right," said Joseph. "So, anyway, this is what occurred to me in the quarry that night. Sort of. You know how these nonlinear regression systems work? You have a whole system of computational agents, and each one recognizes a certain particular type of pattern. The agents multiply and mutate and combine with each other. The ones that don't recognize useful patterns are eliminated; the ones that do are retained. You wind up with a collection of pattern-recognizing agents that recognize all the patterns in the collection of data."
"It's genetic algorithm theory," said Vaclav.
"Basically.... So, what I did was to think of each one of these regression agents as being like one mental process, sort of. One thought in the mind. When you're using these regression agents to recognize patterns in the trajectories the QRI gets from someone's brain -- then, basically what you're doing is getting a pattern-recognition agent for every thought, right? The nonlinear regression system is basically going to be a simulacrum of the mind itself!"
Vaclav grinned. He was beginning to see what his son was getting at.
""Right. So, if complex thoughts and feelings are just systems of simple mental processes that all produce each other...."
"Then those should be mirrored by systems of regression agents that all produce each other," finished Vaclav.
Amanda smiled. Now she got it too. "The regression agents produce each other because the nonlinear regression algorithms involves combining agents to produce new agents. That's how it deals with novel patterns. But you're abusing it: instead of using it to produce new agents, you're using it to retain self-producing systems of agents. In order to mirror the self-producing systems of mental processes in the mind."
"Yeah," said Joseph. "That's better than I could have said it. But the Wu-Taylor system wasn't adequate, so I had to modify it to encourage the formation of complex systems of agents. The modifications weren't much," he shrugged.
Vaclav leaned forward. "The basic idea of your method is to make the regression system -- the pattern recognition system -- isomorphic to the brain itself. Not only structurally, but dynamically. Not only are you recognizing patterns in the brain, you're mimicking the way these patterns work, they way they flow into each other."
"Because that's the only way you can really recognize the patterns," said Joseph. "Otherwise you're basically doing random search, and the search space is much too large. See, once you start respecting the structure of mental systems, you find there's a kind of order to the different structures there. You get simple systems of mental processes combining to produce more complex ones, combining to produce more complex ones. It all builds on itself. It's like a fractal: pieces within pieces within pieces...."
"A fractal mirrorhouse," said Vaclav. "Amazing.... So -- where does the mental illness data fit in here."
"It's easy. So, when you run the mental illness data, what you find is that it doesn't come out. No systems of agents self-organize, corresponding to the patterns that you would think would have to do with mental illness. It just doesn't happen. You get a lot of entropy -- disorganization. Too much randomness....
"But then," Vaclav interrupted, "if you put all the data from a whole family together, the system comes alive, right? You get an integral, powerful system of regression agents, corresponding to an interpersonal system of thoughts and feelings.... But this should always happen, with any family. Not just a mentally ill one, right?"
"Yes, of course. There are emergent patterns in every family. But the point is that, in the data sets you gave me, something like 80% of mental illnesses come out of special modeling patterns. It's a matter of people, on a systematic basis, mis-modeling other what other people are thinking. And this is what I'm saying is inevitable. If you cook up a system of agents and make them model each other's behavior, a certain percentage of the time, you're going to get agents that systematically mis-model, and are thus mentally ill. There's no avoiding it. It's just a region of the state space of systems that model each other."
"Mis-modeling," said Amanda. "You mean, like my picture of you doesn't match you; and your picture of me doesn't match me."
"Well, they can never match. But they can match better or worse. If our models are bad then maybe they'll be corrected. Or maybe they'll get worse and worse and worse, in which case social reality will consistently deviate from expectations. And one of us, maybe both, is going to become mentally ill."
Vaclav's voice became tense. "So when Advotya was seeing voices, hearing voices I mean ... hearing voices and seeing things, this was because of some kind of mis-modeling?"
"I don't know about grandma," said Joseph. "This is all just statistical. Eighty percent of the time, the emergent agent system corresponding to mental illness comes out of social modeling. She could have been in the other twenty percent." He shrugged his shoulders again.
"Hold on, though. This procedure -- you've been doing it for specific subsets of the brain, right?"
Vaclav's face lit up. "What if you did it for the whole brain? Then you'd have a complete simulacrum of that brain's dynamic, right? You'd have a simulated mind."
"Sure. I guess so."
"But we don't have the computer power to do that."
"Not by a long shot."
"What about when we get the analysis chip."
"Maybe. I don't know. I don't know if the chip will be flexible enough to run my modifications of the Wu-Taylor method, either. That's the problem when you burn something into a chip; the algorithm is set in stone. In silicon, rather." The lame witticism was ignored.
"Well, we'll damn well make sure the chip can run your modifications.... We've got to get to the bottom of this.... You said you'd run simulations of agent systems, where all the agents were trying to model each other?"
"Yeah. Only in a limited context though."
"Mmmmm. We should run those more extensively. I'll give you access to the supercomputer network at NASA."
Joseph shook his head. "It's not worth the effort, Dad. The thing about mental illness always popping up -- I can prove that. Mathematically, I mean. I haven't written it all down yet, I've been too busy at the computer. But it can be done."
"But theorems always have assumptions."
"Yes. But these are the same assumptions I'm using when I write my computer programs. They're very simple assumptions; if I lifted them I wouldn't know where to start. I mean, I just assume a world of agents communicating with each other through a limited-capacity channel, and trying to predict each other's behavior by some algorithm of bounded computational complexity.... That's all. Nothing special about how the agents work."
"What if you raise the channel capacity?" asked Vaclav.
"Raise the channel capacity?" Joseph looked at him quizzically. "But what I mean by channel capacity is just the fact that we communicate by language, instead of reading each others' minds."
"Okay. What if you assume your agents have telepathy. Or partial mental telepathy. Then what happens? Does your theorem hold?"
"You mean, is mental illness inevitable in a world full of telepaths?"
"Right." Vaclav stared at him intensely.
Joseph laughed nervously. "I don't know, Dad.... I haven't tried to calculate it. It doesn't seem like such an interesting question."
"It's interesting to me. Think of it as pure research. Or think of it this way: if the assumptions of the theorem can be stretched one way, they can probably be stretched another way too."
"Mmmm.... You know, it's not obvious, one way or the other. The small channel capacity lets you neglect some higher-order feedback terms in your equations. If you raise the channel capacity with something like telepathy, you have to put the feedback terms back in. My mathematical approach won't work."
Vaclav smiled. There was a strange glow about him, suddenly.
"You're strange, Dad," said Joseph.
Vaclav roused himself from his reverie. "I know.... Well, there's a lot to be done. But, Joseph, I'm proud of you. Really. This is an excellent bit of science. Much better than anything I'd done by your age. You could be famous, for this you know. If it really holds up."
Joseph smiled warmly. "Thanks, Dad. I had a good teacher."
"'If I have seen further than others'," quoted Vaclav, "'it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.'"
"Isaac Newton," said Joseph.
"If others have seen further than me," said Amanda, "it's because I've had giants standing on my shoulders."
The two of them cracked up laughing, on cue.
"Alfred E. Neumann," said Amanda, and got up to leave.
"Isn't she great?" said Vaclav, as she walked out.
"Yeah," agreed Joseph.
"If you're lucky you'll find a woman like her someday."
Joseph looked at his father oddly. He didn't feel hurt to hear his father talk about his stepmother -- instead of his mother -- that way. What felt strange was that it was the first time in his memory that his father had brought up the topic of women with him.
He would have like to talk to Vaclav about Bella -- and about Geena, whose image was still dancing around the back of his mind. Somehow he knew he would hear from Geena again.
But he didn't know how to pick up on the lead Vaclav had given him. He just had to let it go. "Well," he said, "I guess I'll get going on those agent simulations. Give the agents telepathy, huh? Why not? I guess it'll be interesting. You think it'll lead somewhere."
"Yeah, I do. Though you can never be sure." He shrugged. "I've got to trust my intuition."
"And I'll jump on those chip boys, make sure the thing they finally come up with can run your modification."
"They're using a new kind of X-ray engraving now. I don't really understand it. But it seems like they can do just about anything they want to."
Joseph got up and left his father's office. Vaclav sat there alone, and stared up at the ceiling. Strange thoughts raced through his mind.
Everything was falling apart -- or was it? His son was a genius, that was worth something. It was more than he had ever dared to expect. And a genius of a different breed. Joseph had done what Vaclav had been unable to do -- he had reached deep into his mind and pulled out scientific insights. In precisely this way, he had filled in gaps in Vaclav's understanding.
Perhaps Joseph's capacity for deep introspection was derived from Susie's side of the family, Vaclav mused. But no, he decided on second thought, it was there on his side as well. It had been there in Avdotya, that was certain.
A part of his mind told him to give up on the whole mental illness project. After all, on purely scientific grounds, it seemed like a bit of a dead end. "Why not just be happy with what you've got," he told himself ... "you're Vaclav Bulgakov, M.D., Ph.D., one of the top ten scientists in the world, and your son will be at least as good. You're married to a beautiful woman who has everything in common with you. Your other son, Avdotya -- no, not Avdotya, Aaron -- Aaron is a nice guy too, and a damn good soccer player. Life is good. There will always be people like Avdotya, like your mother. Bad things happen. There's no avoiding it. Though you can try to minimize it. And, most important, minimize its consequences for you."
But this part of his mind couldn't hold sway for very long. There was another part that was stronger. It remembered lying in Avdotya's arms, back in Russia, in a large, lumpy bed with dirty sheeets. Her arms felt like heaven. It remembered the emptiness that had been left inside her mind when she died. That emptiness was in his mind too. No one -- not Vladimir, not Susie, not Amanda or Joseph -- no one had been able to penetrate it. That emptiness was still there. It had been pushed aside, or back, in favor of other, more useful entities, but it was still very much alive, and it was affecting his mind.
His life was good, Vaclav realized, but it contained nothing to fill that emptiness. The emptiness left by Avdotya. Susie hadn't filled the emptiness, and Amanda didn't either. Even his work didn't do it, except for maybe in great moments, like the initial discovery of QRI scanning.
Joseph came close to filling the gap -- when Joseph had been in his office talking to him, just a few minutes ago, the emptiness had disappeared. There had been something special there: something deep-going and honest. But now that Joseph was gone the emptiness was back. This was what drove him on to do research on mental illness, he saw now for the first time, clear as sunshine. And he knew that everyone else had seen it, just as clearly, all along.
With a start he straightened up and looked at the computer screen. 'You're looking inside.' he realized woozily.
'This is what you never do. What you haven't done for a long time.'
He said out loud: "It's a waste of time."
For a moment he thought he heard another voice: the voice of his angel. The voice with the oddly foreign accent. It was saying something about time. "Time? What is time?"
Yes, the voice had been there. Very definitely. Time, what is time, she had said, and she was gone.
Vaclav looked at his watch. It was only two o'clock. He did something he had never done before: he walked into Amanda's office and kissed her on the mouth, softly and passionately. "Let's take off early today," he suggested. "In honor of Joseph's discovery."
"All right," she said, confused but delighted. She couldn't say no to him, after all. "Do you want to take Joseph too?"
"No." He winked at her suggestively. "I want to celebrate alone with you."
So they went home and celebrated -- celebrated what Amanda had thought was terrible news, by making love on a Tuesday afternoon.
And Joseph went back to his dorm room, alone. He lay down on the bed and stared up at the ceiling, his brain fairly swirling with thoughts. He thought of calling Bella, but then thought the better of it. He hadn't seen much of her lately, with all the work he'd been doing at the lab, and she would surely start nagging him about giving her more time. The hell with her anyway.
He had just barely fallen asleep when the phone rang. "Joseph?" the voice said. He couldn't quite place it.
"It's Geena, the hitchhiker. Remember, you said if I was ever...."
Joseph sat up and grinned. "I remember. I've been thinking about you, actually. Where are you?"
"I'm down at this bar named Apache's."
"Why don't I meet you there? This has been a big day for me. I'd like to go celebrate...."
"Cool. I'll wait for you here."
The bar wasn't much to his taste; after a couple of drinks they left and went to another place that Joseph suggested, where they had a band playing live jazz. But Geena got bored with the jazz -- "my grandpa used to listen to this stuff" -- so they went across the street to the disco. It was half past one by then ... with the exception of that night in the quarry, he couldn't imagine the last time he'd been out so late. Normally, at this time, he was either sleeping or staring bug-eyed at the computer screen, debugging nonlinear regression code.
Normally Joseph didn't care for discos, but with Geena it was a different story. She really came alive. She took off her shirt and danced in her bra -- or was it a halter top, he wasn't quite certain. What was the difference anyway? She danced with him in a way no one else ever had, circling around him, swaying back and forth in front of him, putting her arms around his neck and moving her lips toward his slowly. It was the kind of thing he would have scoffed at if he had been standing on the sidelines watching, rather than actively participations ... but what the hell. He had made a great discovery, maybe the first of many -- he was entitled to have a few simple pleasures now and then, wasn't he?
She sucked down beer after beer, without getting noticeably drunk. After a few drinks, he stopped trying to keep up with her. It was four AM by the time they made it back to his dorm room. She was starting to feel the booze; she was giggling effusively, whispering in his ear, hanging on his shoulder in a combination of affection and disorientation. In bed she took control immediately, telling him where to touch, where and how to lick, how to move inside her. He was put off for a moment, not being used to this style of lover, but he had to admit he was enjoying himself, and after a short while he relaxed and let her take over. It was well past six by the time they fell asleep, sated.
Geena, he reflected when he woke up beside her at noon the next day, was exactly what he had needed. He had admired Amanda's maturity, thought Bella and her friends too childish. But really he'd been fooling himself. Geena's true childishness, her happy-go-lucky immaturity, hit him like a fresh morning wind. She was totally removed from the world of nonlinear regression and brain scans and his father. He didn't even have a hangover -- amazing considering how much he had drunk. She looked incredibly lovely lying there. He kissed her breast, hoping to awaken her for more love, but she was sound asleep.
While Geena lay there sleeping, he sat down at his desk and logged into the Neurix computer system.
Awakened to the pleasures of the flesh in a new way, Joseph began going out with Geena several nights a week -- more time than he had ever found it in himself to give to Bella. Bella took their break-up philosophically, with a minimum of tears. Afterwards, Joseph suspected that she was a little relieved.
Sometimes he wondered what Geena saw in him. After all, surely she could find other guys who were more vibrant, more exciting, better party animals, better in bed. He didn't grasp the appeal that his drive, ambition and solidity had for her. She was playing violin in a country-rock band, while working behind in the counter at a record store, to pay the bills. All her friends were musicians living in chaos; her parents were hardly talking to her, since she'd left school. Confused adolescent that he was at times, he was the only source of warmth and maturity in her life. And she paid him back for this with her incredible passion; the same passion that made her violin solos so heart-wrenchingly soulful, and made it impossible for her to cope with the discipline of a college education.
Vaclav was a bit worried about Joseph -- Geena was a bad influence on him; he was dissipating himself. But Amanda pointed out, he was still a straight-A student, and, at Neurix, he was making steady improvements to his nonlinear regression algorithms. By all observable signs, he and Geena were good for each other. Vaclav soon quit worrying about Joseph, and became more absorbed with himself than he had been in years.
He gave Ma Ling a new job title, Vice Director, and began pushing more and more of the business of managing the lab in her direction. Meanwhile he began devoting himself to lab work, of a mysterious and vaguely defined nature. He set up a lab for himself in one of the rooms previously used for rat experiments, and installed a new lock, to which he had the only key.
Amanda was not terribly pleased with these developments: this was the first time he had ever kept anything from her. She felt that, by isolating himself from his colleagues, he was setting himself up to fail. As smart and determined as he was, these problems were too sticky for any one mind to solve on its own: Joseph's recent discovery had proved that convincingly. But she knew better than to challenge him; Vaclav was a law unto himself. She understood his devotion to science, and she would be there to comfort him when his solo project didn't work out. Maybe this intense burst of activity would cure him once and for all of his obsession with solving the problem of mental illness.
It was 7 on a Saturday morning; Joseph and Geena had been out late the previous night. Joseph didn't wake up when the phone rang, but, surprisingly, Geena did. She hadn't been drinking so much lately, and without the alcohol, she was a much lighter sleeper. Everyone said that moving in with Joseph had been a wonderful thing for her. She was calmer, better-spoken, more secure. She was even planning on going back to school in a few months. She had whizzed through the audition at the Boston Conservatory.
It was Amanda on the phone. "Geena," she said.
"Joseph's still sleeping," Geena said thickly.
"That's okay, don't wake him. Have you seen Vaclav?"
"Vaclav? No -- why would I? We were out last night.... Is he missing?"
"Sort of. He didn't come home last night."
"He's not at the lab?" Geena knew it was a stupid question; of course his wife would have checked there. Vaclav virtually lived at the lab.
"Maybe he just stopped off somewhere on the way home."
"He hasn't been there all night.... I'm sure he's all right now."
In fact, Geena thought, Amanda didn't sound very sure at all. There was something funny going on, something Amanda wasn't telling her.
"I hope so," Geena said. "Anyway we'll call you if we hear from him."
"Yeah. Okay, sorry to wake you. You can go back to sleep now."
Meanwhile, Vaclav was only a few blocks away. He was walking toward his son's apartment. But he wasn't making much progress. His mind was a chaos. His brain, in fact, was a chaos.
He had completed his secret experiment, which had comprised two parts. First, he had constructed a new QRI device that worked at a distance. Positioned at one location, it could read the brain patterns of any organism within an approximately fifty foot radius. And second, he had constructed a device to solve the QRI inverse problem. Whereas the QRI scanner picked up spatiotemporally detailed brain activity patterns and turned them into bits and bytes, the inverse device took the bits and bytes and turned them back into brain activity patterns.
The two devices put together, he called the "inverse chip." He wore it on his skull, beneath an ill-fitting derby hat that he had inherited from Vladimir. Wearing the inverse QRI chip, he was able to pick up on the thoughts of anyone within a fifty foot radius -- and perceive these thoughts in his own mind, as if they were his own.
No fundamental theoretical breakthroughs had been needed to design the inverse chip. In fact, the main breakthrough had been one of realizing the simplicity of the problem, realizing that no breakthrough would be necessary. When you sat down and looked at the equations of quark resonance theory, you found that affecting the state of the brain was not all that different from measuring the state of the brain. Quantum systems were funny like that. Rather than designing a whole new device, Vaclav had been able to construct the inverse chip by making some judicious modifications to an existing QRI design.
If it hadn't worked out as easily as it had, Amanda would have been right. His solo research would have been futile. But sometimes you just got lucky.
How lucky, though, he wasn't quite certain. It wasn't clear to him how well the process would work.
The first thing he felt was just "I." Ten thousand "I"'s, all swarming around him, each one projecting itself into the empty space -- into an empty space that had not even previously existed. Before it had been emptiness. Now it was space. Each of the "I"'s was a glow, a light. The lights approached each other and receded from each other.
He had left the lab at midnight, and had wandered through the streets of Boston, immersed in the galaxy of "I"'s. Finally, as morning crept along, he had become able to pick up definite thoughts. Now, when he focussed on a light, he could extract from it a flash of thought. Just a flash, a blink -- whatever was right in the front of that particular mind at that particular moment.
It wasn't as intense or as informative as he had hoped it would be. He couldn't reach into everyone's memory, and pull out their secret dreams. But still, it was telepathy. QRI telepathy. The inverse chip was working. The thoughts flowed in like splashes of water....
I wonder why I'm such a shithead. Oh, look at those beautiful flowers.
I can feel my womb now. It's no good.
I'm hungry. I don't have much of a desire for sweets anymore though. I'm really getting better.
I must remember to get my camera for those flowers.
I should get more work done, but I'm having such a good time doing this. But why am I such a shithead, I don't know.
My pants are all wet. Oh dear.
I didn't put enough water in my cereal this morning.
Let's go across the street. But a car might run me over, so I won't cross the street, 'cause a grownup should help me.
I might need to go across another street to get to the playground.
But maybe I should go across the block instead. Maybe I should cross the different street.
If I go down this street, I might see a tiger escaping from the zoo. Or an elephant trying to run away from the tiger.
I might see two lions chasing a tiger out of the zoo -- and forty six crocodiles chasing the lions
Or a train, or an elephant on the train, or a train crashing off the train tracks....
Or a hundred monkeys, jumping onto the train. The train might crash off the track.
I'm hungry. I want some monkeys' brains to eat. I could kill the monkeys -- keew! keew! keew! till their brains squirt out in my hand.
And the elephants want to eat a crocodile brain! And the skeleton came on the train to drive it. The monkey skeleton!
Where's mommy anyway. I should go back to mommy.
I want an ice cream. Ice cream is really yummier than monkey brains. Maybe they could make monkey brain ice cream.
Where's my brother?
I wonder who took care of arranging the catering for Marion's wedding.
They reassure me the bandages come off tomorrow. Since they were going to be fiddling with my head anyway, I figured they might as well pin back my ears too ... add a bit of cartilage to the end ...
Mom always said I'd be a stunner if my nose weren't so irregular....
I wish Bill was the father of my child....
Look at those legs, wow. Wish I could get my hand up her skirt....
How am I going to get all this done before lunchtime. Got to see James at twelve. What is he going to say to me.
How can I see him like this. I've got to get those numbers from somewhere.
I wonder why he likes cutting the grass so much. I mean, he absolutely loves it. Is it the smell, or just the patterns he makes with the lawnmower, or maybe the pat on the back that he gets when he's done....
Love it! Love it! Yes, how do they make sounds like that! Is that a guitar or a keyboard....
It's amazing, so fast like that.... Come on, just like a woman at night. Only I never had a woman like that...
And she can't tell me it's just nonsense. I was just trying to look at it scientifically, that's all. These things have got to depend on each other....
She told me she would eventually convince her mom to let her have the car. The stupid lying bitch....
What can we tell Luther about the payments. Make up something.
He's really a vicious guy. Likes hurting other people. Wonder how he got that way.
Wonder how he got that way.
I'm a damn fool for getting involved with him.
Come on -- smile for mommy, smile for mommy.... There's a good little boy!
Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom....
You never touch me the way I want you to. Not once, never. I'd rather fuck the goddamned vacuum cleaner.
But you come every time.
I wish you'd start having an affair with that bimbo at the office, everyone else's husband is having an affair, why can't you do it too, then I wouldn't have to put up with you every night...
A croissant? No, look at your stomach. No, just get an apple. No, get a croissant....
Oh man, the way he licked my cunt last night. No one ever did it that way before
You are stupid and I am stupid and John is stupid
and I am going to eat you up
and the elephants and tigers are going to eat you up
hey, I want that toy girl
give me that girl John
mom, make John give me that girl
When you're smaller,there's not the distinction between inside and outside ... when you're a newborn ... you're just there with everything, there's not this separate you inside, experiencing things separately from reality....
but what brings on the change, that's like what doesn't happen for an autistic person or something...
The way he licked me, God, right on my clit again and again, oooohhh ... and then when he comes in from behind, and rams me and rams me, I think I could come for hours ... you'll never understand...
What would she look like with her dress off, lying on her back on my bed? Mmmm ... I could kiss her all over....
Love it! Love it! How do they make those noises -- it must be an electric guitar....
Oh ... my baby is so neat. You can feel my womb. You can see it. It's up above my pubic bone. It's so round. And taut. And it's just very exciting. It makes it more exciting when you can feel it....
Hey, I felt it so strong this morning -- where is it now? There it is, right there.....
I was so surprised this morning when I felt it, it was like Noooo....
Oh, I'm feeling so much better....
And what if I had twins. Oh, it would be so funny to have twins! I always think that -- and probably the women who do have twins are totally surprised, because they don't think that ... they don't think what if and then they do. That would be funny, a family of six instead of five -- ho ho ho....
That was so nice yesterday, being out in the woods. I would like it like that, to do that every day -- then I would be happy forever.
The thoughts swooped through him like seagulls dipping toward the land. For a moment, a mind came near him, and then it zipped away. He saw what Joseph had meant about the mind regenerating itself at every moment. A thought popped into the void, and then it slipped away -- then there was just a spark of "I" again. And then another thought appeared.
A thought appeared? A thought or a feeling. He found the feelings were most intense. The verbal, conceptual thoughts were moving into his mind, but right along with him, almost unnoticed, the feelings were coming along too. The feelings were strong, powerful, direct. He almost felt he was becoming an organism with a hundred bodies.
And then he felt something truly strange. An intense attraction to one of the "I"'s. Instead of swooping toward him, this one was settling in his head. This particular "I" had a very strong affinity for him. It was almost as if it were a part of his mind already. And he didn't understand why, at all. He sat down on a bench in the park he was wandering through, so as not to be distracted at all.
This mind was thinking about mathematics. It was trying to solve an equation, an equation Vaclav couldn't quite grasp. But it kept getting distracted, as if something were trying to pull it away from the equation, into some other world.
An attractor ... you want an attractor. Something that will always stay the same, and will be gone back to even if there are minor perturbations...
It's only going to be a special structure that will do that.... Because things are wiggling around so much -- there's even random noise in the direction of time; it's oscillating around so much...
You have a structure that gets done and undone; one way and the other; and then you have a third part, outside the two, that's like an imaginary axis, a projection. The third part makes the other strong... Then take three of these constructions and kind of arrange them together. Like a tetrahedron -- except we're outside of space....
Vaclav had a hard time following what was going on: the thoughts were so compressed. It was a kind of shorthand. And he thought: that's what mathematics is, it's a kind of shorthand. It allows our thought process to become something more than what it naturally would be.
But the mathematics was going away anyway. Something strange was happening to this man's mind. Something getting closer and closer to the reason why this particular "I" had so much affinity to Vaclav's own....
Tuned in entirely to the strange man's thoughts, Vaclav relaxed and leaned back on the bench. The man's mind was undergoing some kind of transformation. Part of it became dark, blank, nothing. And the rest of it relaxed and tensed at the same time, as if poised for some new kind of activity.
Finally, Vaclav realized what was happening. It was all he could do to restrain his thinking mind, to keep focused on receiving the inverse waves. The man's mind had split in two. The dark part of his mind was about to speak. And the rest of his mind, which contained his normal "self," was going to hear this voice as a voice from "outside." It was a split mind, a case of dissociation, as often associated with schizophrenia. Only Vaclav, from his peculiar and privileged perspective, could really understand what was going on....
He shut his mind off and listened.
-- Beautiful night, isn't it?
Sure, I guess so. Kinda cold. I wish I had a warmer coat.
-- But it doesn't really matter to you, does it? Heat, cold. Food, sleep, whatever. You just retreat into your own mind, and your body goes away.
Okay. I can accept that.
But who are you, anyway? Where are you talking to me from? I hear you but I can't see you.
-- You know who I am.
-- Close your eyes, you'll see me
-- See? It's me. Jamie de Plie.
The man visualized something, but Vaclav couldn't catch it. He was having a hard time picking up others' inner pictures. Words came easier, for some reason. More universal perhaps. In some way everyone seemed to have their own visual language.
But the name sounded familiar. Jamie de Plie? thought Vaclav. Wasn't that a movie actress? She was a new, young actress, from some other country, as he recalled. French, he guessed, from the name. He'd seen her in a film recently -- well, three or four years ago. What was it? Something about an Australian come to France on vacation, to visit relatives, who had fallen in love with a French girl. After Sunset, was that the movie? Before Dawn? Something like that.
Was this man, then, having an imaginary conversation with a film actress? Within his mind? The blocked-off half of his brain was taking on the role of the actress?
Mental illness, mused Vaclav excitedly. You wanted to understand it.... Here's your chance.
But the man was trying to fight the voice. He was trying to be rational. Apparently he had heard the voice before, and had gotten rid of it. But the voice was fighting back. It became more difficult to tell the voice from the man's main stream of thought: the two blurred together into a continual, hyperactive dialogue. Vaclav sank deep into the inverse QRI trance; deeper than ever before.
No, you're not Jamie. You're an apparition. I thought I got rid of you years ago.
-- You can never get rid of me. You can ignore me, but I'll never go away. Never! Look at me -- just look at my face! How could you ever think you could get rid of me?
If I open my eyes you'll disappear. You're just an
hallucination. You're not even a real hallucination. I can feel
part of my mind making you up -- I can feel it consciously. I
know I am creating you.
-- But do you know that? Do you know anything? How do you know I'm not a real person. Do you think you understand
everything that goes on in the universe?
I've grown up a lot over the last eight years, Jamie.
Pseudo-Jamie, I mean.
-- Ha ha ha
Vaclav shifted his position on the bench, settled himself in for a long sit. The apparition was getting stronger. The man was losing the fight.
When I was having visions of you before, after I first saw you in that film Belladonna, I was in an unstable state of mind. I was in constant severe pain from stomach ulcers. I was overly suggestible.
-- Yeah. So?
The delusion had nothing to do with you at first, Jamie.
Remember that. Reality was painful for me, so I wanted to escape
it, so I created this fantasy that I was communicating
telepathically with a brilliant, beautiful woman. When I saw you
in that movie, I decided that you must be that woman. You gave
my delusion concrete form.
-- You know, Dan, you really struggle to put a rational face on everything. You've always got an explanation, a logical story. But even you don't believe your rationalizations. Look at me. I'm here. I'm just as real as anything.
No! Jamie, go away!
This is madness. Madness. Madness!
The hallucination sat there, resting, while the man just mused to himself. A new strategy, Vaclav noted. Just ignore the thing, and maybe it'll go away. But he sensed a sort of half-heartedness in the man's attempts to get rid of the apparition. He did not really want her to go away. He loved her too dearly. He caught a vision of the man's marriage: a tumultuous mixture of love and hostility. How much simpler things were with this apparition!
But yet I am not a crazy man. A bit eccentric, perhaps. A little weird, okay. But not insane at all. I'm a productive scientist -- still, even with my mind wrapped up in this obsession.... I'm a good father, a decent husband ... well, forget that ... I wouldn't bet on the marriage lasting much longer. How could it?
I'm a little odd sometimes, I know that, but then, few geniuses aren't. And I am, of course, a genius... everyone says
Oh hell, it's all crazy anyway.
It's all just sex disease.
We're all just animals, governed by our DNA. And those curly little chains of amino acids down there inside us are only concerned about one thing: creating another generation
of curly little chains of amino acids! Isn't that what science
has told us? And you are, after all, a scientist....
No, not a scientist, a mathematician. That is, you used to be a mathematician. You had your equation, your equation for the flow of thoughts in the mind. Brilliant work, it was. But why
have you lost interest?
Vaclav perked up again. He had been sinking into a bit of a stupor. That seemed to happen if you followed one person's thoughts too long. He even wondered if it could be dangerous -- maybe the thoughts would infect his own. Of course they would; they were being imposed on his brain as if they were his own. Maybe he would develop a split personality, or an obsession with Jamie de Plie. He didn't understand why he'd had such an attraction and affinity for this guy's mind anyway.
For a moment he started to wonder about the dangers of the inverse QRI chip -- something he'd barely allowed to think about. But he shut this train of thought down quickly, and returned to the task at hand.
One step beyond -- that's all it takes...
The mathematicians, those narrow-minded idiots, think it's all about proof. But it's really about concepts. It never was about proof at all.
Mathematical ideas crystallize so much structure, so much pattern and power and substance, in such tiny little forms! And that's exactly what she does. That is exactly the thing that I see in her face -- not in the shape of her face, not exactly ... more so in the motions of her face, in her expressions, in her shifting facades... Truth pops out, then disappears -- then bang! another truth pops out, perhaps contradicting the first one, perhaps not ... no matter, all is reconciled, for both of these truths are coming out of the same human mind...
The Bible says it all begins with the Word -- Goethe said this: In the Beginning Was the Act
And she of course, she is an actress! -- oh how appropriate it all is... how well everything fits...
the endless cry of the paranoid mind!
but Good God, what an amazing woman! Look at it this way. In her face, when she acts, all the opposites are reconciled. The opposite emotions are there, all exploding against each other. no, no one can pretend like that.
anyway, why bother to call yourself a mathematician, when in fact, we are all really mathematicians! We are all really mathematics!
We are all mathematical entities, equations solving each other. Abstract structures are everywhere....
The illusion of concreteness comes from our limited individual perspective: whatever is outside of our immediate scope of vision appears real, solid, concrete. But in fact this is just a joke.
Not an illusion, a joke. And a good joke, played by the Creator, who is ourselves! In fact everything is equally nebulous and bottomless and abstract ... everything is just a mathematical equation that is defined in terms of everything else....
The universe is an equation which is perpetually
solving itself. Now there's a good aphorism. I'll have to remember that.
No. But it's not correct. The correct statement is, The universe is an equation which is perpetually FAILING to solve itself....
There you go. Only it should be "which" instead of "that." Why do I always get those two words confused?
The universe is an equation which is perpetually failing to solve itself. And what we have, right here, is one of the best attempted solutions it has found so far. You, Jamie! You! The perfect Jamie de Plie!
The hallucination had won this time. It glowed with joy. Its smile glowed more beautifull than ever. The man had summoned it up intentionally.
But still, Vaclav could not see the hallucination. He could only feel the man's reactions to it. He wondered why he was unable to get visual images. Was this some kind of bug in the way he had programmed the inverse QRI?
-- Perfect, eh? You should see me when I first wake up in the morning.
Do apparitions have to wake up in the morning, then?
-- Don't get all snide on me, Danny -- you know I'm realer than anything else in the world...
You say you're just as real as anything. But that's not so real after all...
Anyway, reality is just the thing.... You never are real, are you? You always enter into a movie like an otherworldy presence. You're not like other actresses.
-- I don't know what you mean.
I mean you embody paradox. You put yourself totally into each emotion -- so totally that you go beyond the emotion, and come out on the other side.
-- Sure. You don't need to flatter me anymore, you know.
I'm not going to leave you and go haunt someone else. I quite
like it here in the back of your mind.
Well, I'm sure it's an interesting place. You can clean it
up for me if you like.
-- No, I rather like it as it is. I don't mind a mess. I like mathematics, you know. I always have. You've got plenty of spare equations lying around back here; I've been spending my time fiddling around with them, while you've been playing Mr.
Scientist and ignoring your apparitions.
And then that movie Julius Caesar? The one with the computer-generated plot? That movie was totally random -- well, okay, not totally random; but about as crazy as you can get. And you appear there like some kind of phantom -- your beautiful face just shining forth through the chaos.
In fact, you know what you are in that movie? I don't know why I never realized it before. What you represent in that movie, Jamie, is what Philip K. Dick called the homeoplasmate.
-- The WHAT?
-- Hold on. Stop talking -- I'm fading. I'm going to
But why? I was just getting used to you.
-- That's why. You're not insane. You can't go around
talking to apparitions.
There was a sudden shift inside. Vaclav saw now, for the first time, how totally the hallucinated Jamie de Plie controlled the man's mind. No matter how hard he reasoned with it, it would not cease to exist. But now, when it decided it was time to go, he was unable to sustain it.
You're just a device, pseudo-Jamie. Just a tool I use inside my mind, to guide my thought. I wanted to understand what it was about your acting and your personality that touches me so much. So I summoned up your simulacrum.
But I know it's not really a simulacrum -- it's more intense, more direct than you really would be if I were talking to you.
You're a simulated simulacrum! A product of the remarkable creativity of my overactive brain! Haven't we been over that already?
-- Sure I am -- a simulated simulacrum -- that's what you tell yourself. But deep down, you want to believe I'm more than just a mental construct. You want to believe you have some kind of supernatural connection to the subconscious mind of the real Jamie de Plie.
But look how ordinary she looks sometime -- like someone you might meet at a local nightclub and say "like wow, get a load of that smile -- it looks like something I once saw in a previous life when I was cruising the overworlds in my invisible Ferrari...
-- You're just trying to weird me out...
To weird out my own hallucination? An interesting idea...
-- Look, you're a scientist, a professor, a genius. You're supposed to be working on your mathematical theory of the mind. You're not supposed to be obsessing over some movie star. You're getting carried away. You'd better calm down. Go write a computer program or something. Have a couple beers. Go back to your mathematical theory of the mind. Please.
I think you're right. I'd better swear off apparitions for a while anyway. But thanks for dropping by again. It's nice to see you once in a while.
-- No problem. And tell you what. While I'm rummaging
around the collective unconscious, if I see the real Jamie de Plie, I'll tell her to give you a call.
And that was it. The crazy mathematician just got up from the bench and walked away.
Vaclav had experienced an episode of mental illness at first hand -- had almost experienced it himself. But was he any the wiser for it?
His mind was a confusion, a mess. But then, as the man's thoughts were fading away, he caught something important. Something so important that he could hardly digest it.
He finally, when he wasn't trying at all anymore, caught a picture of this actress, Jamie de Plie, as she appeared in the man's mind. He finally caught the visual image, which the man had been seeing all along, but which he had been unable to lock into.
It wasn't exactly the same as he remembered the actress from After Sunset, the movie he'd seen her in. There were slight alterations, in one place after the other, which changed the overall look of the face from the way Vaclav had previously perceived it.
Jamie de Plie, as perceived by this obsessed mathematician, looked exactly like the vision he had seen several times before, who called herself the Exterminating Angel.
So had he, Vaclav, also been communicating with a blocked off part of his brain? That was the most natural explanation for his own hallucinations.
But then why should the image of the woman be exactly the same to both of them? Was Vaclav's own hallucination also based on this actress, whom he had barely remembered? That didn't make any sense at all.
He reached out desperately, stretching the range of the QRI chip, trying to grasp the mathematician's name. With intense effort he got it: Leztreog. Dr. Daniel Leztreog. He repeated it to himself over and over again, intent to never forget it. Leztreog, who had an equation of motion for the mind, and who talked to the Exterminating Angel. Whatever the core of this strange business was, Dr. Leztreog probably held part of the key to it.
In a daze Vaclav rushed on toward Joseph's house. Something strange was happening in his mind. The experience with the Jamie de Plie hallucination had been a strong one, maybe too strong. He was having a hard time getting the man's thought patterns out of his mind.
He hadn't considered this when designing the inverse QRI chip, though it was something of an obvious question, now that he was actually trying the thing out. His method of "imprinting" other people's thoughts into his own was not intrusive, in the sense that it didn't destroy his memories. It just locked his brain into an approximation of the same quantum state that the sending mind was in -- for a fraction of an instant. But how were these alien brain states being filed away in his memory? As perceptions -- or as its own thoughts? Was he destined to become all the people whose thoughts he was monitoring?
That was not how it worked in the science fiction literature on telepathy. But that was just fantasy. This was reality.
He couldn't shake Jamie de Plie from his mind. In fact, he felt that, any moment now, he might start communicating with her himself.
And if he did, how would he know it wasn't the same Exterminating Angel he'd communicated with before.
And then he remembered something else: something he'd somehow managed to repress from his brain for several years. The angels -- the angels that speak to you -- the angels that are evil at the same time as they are good. The angels that his mother had seen, and heard. Oh, dear Avdotya!
"The angels are evil," she had said. "They're acting against us."
He stumbled into the doorway of Joseph's apartment building, trying vainly to concentrate, fighting off images of Jamie de Plie.
He rang the bell and Joseph spoke down through the intercom. "Hello?"
"It's ... Vaclav."
Joseph buzzed him in.
Vaclav walked up the stairs, opened the door, which was unlocked, and sat down on the couch. He closed his eyes and leaned back -- he wanted to clear his mind before even trying to speak to his son. And now that silly girl Geena was coming into the room. He felt her "I" grow brighter even with his eyes closed.
Maybe I should turn this damn chip off, he thought for a moment. It's been enough of an experiment for one day. Why didn't I just go back home and try it out on Amanda, anyway? Why did I have to go walk around on the streets?
You wanted to understand humanity, didn't you? To come to grips with the collective mind of the species? Well, you've done it now. You've got them all buzzing in your head. And there's no way to get them out.
Joseph sat down next to him, put his arm around him -- an unusual act of physical intimacy. "What's going on, Dad?"
Geena walked up in front of them. He felt Joseph become sexually aroused. Even now, Vaclav noted, with his dad breaking down right next to him, she was able to turn him on.
And then it happened -- and by the time Vaclav realized it had happened, he was powerless to stop it.
The three of them were melding, sinking, twisting into one unhealthy mind.
At first he didn't understand what was happening, it felt like an act of God. But then he realized it with a shudder. Joseph and Geena had gotten in range of the inverse QRI chip. They were receiving as well as transmitting. The three of them were all receiving each others' thoughts. They were one collective brain.
Only all was not right in their communal mindspace. Something was happening to Geena. She didn't look like she was supposed to. Her features were transmuted. Every moment she looked more and more like someone else -- like Jamie de Plie, like the Exterminating Angel.
And he and Joseph were locked together, in one mighty Bulgakov mind.
But what does she exterminate? they thought together.
Geena supplied the answer: Us.
And Vaclav searched his memory, thinking of Avdotya. He tried to summon up her image, but he couldn't do it. How similar Geena looked to Avdotya -- why hadn't he ever realized this before? Was he hallucinating it now, or had he just blocked it out before? And how much they both looked like Jamie de Plie!
Where do you come from? thought Vaclav. What are you doing to us?
I come from inside you, answered Geena. Or was it Geena speaking? It was the Angel.
I am the principle of beauty, thought the Angel. I am nothing, just an emptiness inside you. You endow me with form. I endow you with energy. I lead you on higher, to achieve things, to push outside yourselves, to delve within yourselves. And every time you do something, you destroy something. You destroy the world, and you destroy yourselves.
Creation is destruction, thought Vaclav. I've read that somewhere before.
Read this, said the Angel. Geena lifted up her skirt, revealing that she wore nothing underneath. She pressed her vagina toward them, thrusting her pelvis in the air.
This is what you came out of, she thought to them. This is what you spend your days lusting after. This is how you reproduce yourself, keep your forms moving through the universe. This is everything, you are nothing.
But you just said you are nothing, pointed out Joseph.
There is nothing, and there is nothing, said the Angel. It's all a bunch of nothing. Some nothings are more ... seductive than others.
You've been haunting our discovery, said Vaclav. He realized, for the first time, something that had been intuitively in his mind for at least two minutes: Joseph had seen the same Angel he had. This Angel had led Joseph to his discovery, about nonlinear regression agents. This Angel had visited him after he'd made his own discovery, after he'd found the secret to QRI imagery. This Angel had visited Daniel Leztreog, too -- Leztreog, who was working on an equation for the mind.
You're haunting everyone who tries to understand the mind using math, engineering. You're pushing us in certain directions, but you're spooking our minds, you're making us crazy -- why?
I'm not doing anything, said the Angel. I'm just amplifying what's in your minds.
Stop playing games, said Vaclav. My mother saw you too. Avdotya. What were you doing to her? You drove her completely mad!
Vaclav reached out toward the Angel -- who was Geena -- and put his hands around her throat. You killed my mother, you bitch!!! I'm going to kill you!!!
Suddenly Joseph broke out of the trance. "Dad! Vaclav! It's Geena! What the fuck are you doing!!!" He tried to break his father's grip on Geena's neck, but his father was stronger than he was; it was difficult. Finally he reached up to his father's head and pulled off the inverse QRI chip.
It was difficult to conceptualize what was going on -- after all, Vaclav had never told him anything about the inverse QRI chip, he had just walked into the apartment and inadvertently launched them into madness. But Joseph had been inside Vaclav's mind, and he had the basic idea. He had the chip off his father's head.
But it seemed to be a moment too late. Geena fell down to the ground, limp. And Vaclav collapsed on top of her.
Crying out, Joseph fell over them; but neither was breathing. He had no first aid training. In a rush, he called an ambulance. Then he called Amanda; then Susie. He flopped down on the bed, and cried, and cried. Ashamed as he was for it, he couldn't help the fact that he was grieving more for Geena. His father at least had brought it on himself. But he -- he had brought it on Geena.
Amanda met Joseph at the hospital emergency room, next to Joseph's and Geena's beds, about half an hour later. Joseph filled her in on what had happened, as best he could.
"I shouldn't have let him work on that project all by himself," said Amanda. "He didn't use any safeguards at all. He was in too much of a hurry. The whole thing could have been done far more intelligently. But still ... it's brilliant. I mean, it's amazing.... I, Jesus...."
"Don't blame yourself," said Joseph. "You know you didn't have control over this. He had this obsession. Anyway it was my fault as much as yours. If I hadn't figured out that impossibility theorem...."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"Don't you see," said Joseph, fighting back tears. "It was all so inevitable for him. His whole thing with mental illness. He had it all his life. He had to make himself mad."
"But not Geena! She had nothing to do with it! He didn't have to bring her down too!"
He leaned his head on Amanda's shoulder and sobbed again and again. She tried to soothe and comfort him, though it felt odd; she knew him more as a colleague than as anything else.
Sensing her discomfort, he picked his head up from her shoulder and walked over the the hospital beds. Out of pure fidgetiness, he started fiddling with the QRI monitors by their beds -- now de rigeur in all cases of brain injury. He became more and more absorbed in what he was doing, and finally said "Look at this."
Amanda rushed over, feeling the urgency in his tone. "That is really weird. They're not dead, but they're not alive."
"That's not the weird thing," said Joseph. "Look at the two of them. They're moving together."
Sure enough, they were.
"Their minds are coupled, man," said Joseph. "They're in the same damn place. That hallucination we were in -- they're still in there. And I should be in there with them. Maybe I could help them get out."
Amanda put her arm on him. "No, no. We need you out here."
When she first saw Joseph reaching into his pocket, and taking out the inverse chip, she wasn't sure what he was doing. But when he started placing it on his head, she started to figure it out. "No, Joseph! Stop!"
He had already turned it on. He felt her there already -- Geena, the Angel, Jamie de Plie! His body relaxed as he moved out toward her. But then it all smashed to bits. Amanda had clubbed him over the head with a metal chair. The chip was ruined. "You bitch!" he yelled. "You ruined the chip!"
"You'll thank me for it later," she said. "Come on. I think we should get out of here. We're not serving any purpose."
But he just sat down in a corner, and put his head between his knees, crying and crying. Amanda wanted to comfort him, but it didn't seem right; and she was relieved when, fifteen minutes later, Susie walked into the room.
He threw his arms around her immediately. There was more warmth of feeling between them now than there had been for at least five years. "The angels are real mom," he said between tears. "Avdotya was right alll along...."
"Oh, Joseph. At least you're all right...."
"But he's gone. And so is Geena...."
"They're not dead," put in Amanda. "We don't know...."
She stroked him. "I know, I know...."
"Honey, I understand."
And once Joseph and Susie had cried their eyes out, the three of them stood there, watching the QRI monitors, watching them weave their alien patterns round and round and round....
For the first few weeks after the inverse QRI disaster, Joseph tried to concentrate on school and work. Things were certainly busy enough at Neurix. Ma Ling, now the acting Director of Research, had reassigned half of the staff to the task of figuring out exactly what Vaclav had done ... and where it had gone wrong.
Lonely and depressed in the apartment without Geena, Joseph moved back in with his mother. Her constant attention, which would have felt smothering before, was now intensely appreciated. He was surprised at the depth of her grief, and he realized that, although it had been she who had precipitated their split, she had never lost her deep attachment to his father. Her other lovers had been strictly for kicks (and perhaps, in the case of her agent, professional advancement). She had been unable to accept marriage on Vaclav's terms, but she had never stopped loving him.
Working out the equations for inverse QRI, Joseph was amazed at the obstacles his father had overcome. The whole thing was straightforward enough, conceptually, but there were so many calculations to be made. All the numbers had to be gotten exactly right and, as his computer files revealed, Vaclav had not made a single error.
What then had gone wrong? In all the calculations recorded in Vaclav's computer files, Joseph couldn't find a single attempt to estimate the long-term effects of QRI reception on the receiving brain. The maximum range Vaclav had considered was about ten seconds. He just hadn't checked. He had done precisely those calculations necessary to get the thing working, and nothing more.
When he discovered his father's methodological sloppiness, Joseph was reluctant to announce it to the others at Neurix. Something just wasn't right: Vaclav wasn't like that. He was obsessed with thoroughness. Somehow, Joseph speculated, Vaclav had known how the calculations would come out. He had guessed there were bad long-term consequences, and thus he hadn't done the calculations. He hadn't wanted to know.
That was the truth. It had to be. Vaclav hadn't wanted to know. Because he had wanted it too badly.
He had been hoping for a miracle. But the miracle hadn't come. Or had it? What exactly was happening with Geena and Vaclav? Where were they?
After three weeks of very difficult calculations, Joseph verified what he had suspected from the very beginning. The whole inverse QRI effect was not really usable in practice, for obvious reasons. What the chip did was to impose someone else's thought processes on the brain of the receiver, thus blurring the distinction between self and other, inside and outside. The individual brain was not flexible enough to sustain such a variety of thought patterns; after a very brief period, there would be degradation of memory and cognition. It was amazing that Vaclav had carried on as long as he had. He had walked around with the chip on for half the night, whereas, according to Joseph's mathematics, anything more than fifteen or twenty minutes should have been enough to completely fry his brain.
There were potential loopholes in the mathematics. It seemed possible to Joseph that some watered-down version of inverse QRI might be workable. If one filtered out the thought patterns coming in, in a clever and appropriate way, one might arrive at something that the brain would be able to separate out from its own patterns. But he couldn't motivate himself to work out the details -- who would test it out? The whole thing was too disturbing. He turned this aspect of the work over to Amanda, and decided to concentrate on basic theory.
In his father's absence, Joseph was coming into his own as a scientist. At age 18, he was clearly the dominant mind at the Neurix research lab. But as much as he tried to focus on work, his mind kept wondering back in odd moments to the way Geena had looked at that final moment. To the Exterminating Angel.
He had only one clue: the obsessed mathematician, whose mind Vaclav had read, right before coming to his apartment. Dr. Leztreog. He had to find the professor. And the actress too -- what was her name, Jamie de Plie. She was wrapped up in it somehow.
One night, Friday after work, he decided to order a Jamie de Plie movie over the Net. He couldn't remember the specifics of what Vaclav had read from Leztreog's mind, so he just picked the first movie he could find, Cracow. It was profoundly depressing and very well done, but he could hardly focus on the film itself. The resemblance between Jamie de Plie and the vision he had seen in the quarry was truly extraordinary. Watching her smile, laugh, cry, he became dizzy and disoriented, almost felt he was going to sink back into the inverse QRI trip.
He had an overwhelming urge to get in touch with Jamie de Plie. He even understood Leztreog's obsession. Here was a person -- a real human being -- who embodied the spirit inside. But it would be difficult to get in touch with Jamie de Plie, he realized. She wasn't a world-class superstar, but she was a well-known movie actress, and she doubtless had agents and handlers to protect her from overzealous fans.
No, the thing to do was clearly to contact Dr. Leztreog. Apparently he was a good mathematician, and had done some work on the mathematical modelling of thought processes. Perhaps his work would have something to contribute to Neurix's research programme. Flipping through the library catalogue on his computer, Joseph found that Leztreog had written several books on the mathematical structure of mind. He downloaded the most recent one, and started reading.
It was difficult going at first -- Leztreog's approach was highly philosophical, drawing in ideas from Nietzsche, Hume and Plato, as well as Buddhist and Sufi thought. It was very intuitive, conceptual and sketchy, totally different from the hard-nosed, bio-engineering approach to the mind that Joseph had picked up from Vaclav.
But when Leztreog finally got around to writing down equations, things got more familiar. His formulas for mental dynamics were remarkably similar to Joseph's ideas about systems of nonlinear regression agents. In fact, Leztreog's "cognitive equation" was a far better representation of Joseph's vision of interacting points of mental light than Joseph's own equations. Clearly this mathematician was not just a mathematician, but an introspective philosopher: he had looked very deeply into himself, and had pulled out beautiful equations describing what he had seen. And when he had looked into himself, seeking insight, he had also seen something else: the Exterminating Angel. Jamie de Plie.
Now, where did the professor live? Apparently he worked at a small college in Western Massachusetts: Simon's Rock College, in Great Barrington.... When Joseph saw the name, he did a double-take. The same place Geena had gone to school! Had the two of them known each other, then? Quite possibly. But on the other hand, Geena had hated mathematics.
In any event, it was only a few hours' drive from Boston. Joseph decided to take an excursion that weekend, to Great Barrington. Not so far from the quarry where the Angel had visited him. Perhaps he would even visit the quarry again.
He checked the phone directory to find the professor's home address. For a moment, he thought to send Leztreog an e-mail -- to approach him in a polite and normal manner, schedule an appointment or something. But no -- things were much too desperate for that. He wanted to show up on Leztreog's doorstep, a living, human being -- not a phantom -- and demand some answers.
He arrived at Leztreog's house shortly past eleven the next morning. It was a nice-looking Victorian home, nestled in with a few others at the base of a hill, right behind the college. There was nothing exceptional about it. Two small cars were parked in the driveway; apparently the professor, and his wife, were home. So Leztreog was married. Tricycles, toy trucks and other childrens' things were scattered around the front yard.
Biting back a momentary impulse of shyness, he parked on the street, walked up to the house and knocked on the door. A long-haired man answered the door, wearing shorts and a brightly colored T-shirt. He seemed to be in his late twenties. When he said "Hi" Joseph felt shy again: what was he doing there? What did he really hope to accomplish?
"I'm ... looking for Dr. Daniel Leztreog," said Joseph haltingly.
"Well, you've found him."
Joseph slapped himself inwardly. Somehow he hadn't considered that this man at the door of Leztreog's house could actually be Leztreog -- and why not? Because of his age? Who was he, the 18 year old prodigy, to be surprised at someone's youth! Leztreog looked about a decade older than Joseph; late twenties or maybe early thirties. Somehow, though, he had envisioned the professor as a balding, middle-aged man, perhaps bearded, with a paunch. The tone in his books was so assured and mature -- nothing like this casual, almost hippyish young man standing in front of him.
"I'm Joseph Bulgakov.... I work at Neurix, the brain scan company...."
Leztreog looked at him expectantly.
"I ... drove here from Boston to talk to you. About your work on the mathematics of the mind. And ... about Jamie de Plie."
"Mmmmm...." At the mention of Jamie de Plie, Leztreog's face screwed up with embarrassment. Clearly, he wasn't expecting his visitor to know about his personal obsession. "Joseph Bulgakov ... Vaclav Bulgakov's son."
"Right." Joseph was always forgetting his father's borderline-celebrity status. Jamie de Plie, it occurred to him, had probably heard of Vaclav too, and might even be curious to meet a genuine Bulgakov like himself.... It took a surprisingly large amount of effort for him to shake the image of the actress from his mind.
"Come on in. Let's chat."
"Thanks, Dr. Leztreog," said Joseph. "I really appreciate it."
"Just call me Dan. I read in the newspaper that your father fell ill recently; but it didn't give the details. Seemed quite mysterious, actually. Is he all right now?"
"No, not exactly.... That sort of ties in to what I want to talk to you about. It's kind of a long story...."
"I've got plenty of time," Dan said, settling into a large red couch. Following him into the livingroom, Joseph settled into an easy chair across from him.
Mrs. Leztreog came out and Dan briefly introduced them. "Gina, this is Joseph Bulgakov, from Neurix Corporation. Vaclav Bulgakov's son. Joseph, this is my wife Gina."
Gina. Geena. Jesus! First Leztreog's youthful appearance, then this. Joseph's expectations of his visit were already completely destroyed, and he had only been there two minutes. This Gina, though, looked nothing like his Geena, the Angel, or Jamie de Plie. She was dark-skinned, for one thing; she looked like she might be part Hawaiian, or Polynesian. After the introduction, she shot Dan a positively nasty look and walked toward the front door.
"Where're you going," he called after her.
"What do you care," she said, walking away from the house.
Clearly Dan wanted to follow her and question her more -- there was a tremendous air of tension in the house. But as soon as she had driven away, things were relaxed. Clearly the professor was extremely curious to hear what the junior Bulgakov had driven from Boston to tell him.
And Joseph did not disappoint. He began with Avdotya's visions of angels, and proceeded to tell everything he knew about the Exterminating Angel: his vision in the quarry, his discovery of self-organizing nonlinear regression algorithms that were remarkably similar to Dan's own work; the Angel visiting Vaclav after he discovered QRI scanning; Vaclav's obsessive work with inverse QRI, and finally, the inverse QRI debacle and the dubious fate of Vaclav and Geena.
Dan looked at him bug-eyed. "And that's how you know about my thing for Jame de Plie," he said. "From Vaclav reading my mind."
"I know, it's hard to believe."
"It's all perfectly easy to believe," said Dan, astonishing Joseph. "The funny thing is, a few months ago I wouldn't have known what to make of it. But now it almost makes sense to me. It ties in pretty well with what I'm working on, and what I'm writing about in my new book -- the theory of archetypes."
"Archetypes? Like in Jung, you mean? I've heard of them, but...."
"I know, it sounds like wishy-washy stuff. Let me give you a little background and you'll see what I mean...."
Dan began to expound his philosophy of the mind. As soon as he began to speak on his ideas, he started to sound awfully professorial -- not nearly so informal, laid-back, hippyish as he came across in casual conversation. Joseph relaxed a little. Being lectured at was exactly what he had expected.
"Okay, let me start from the beginning. I'm a mathematician, as you know, but ever since I got my Ph.D., the goal of my work has been to understand the mind mathematically. It was always obvious, from the very start, that mind itself is a mathematical thing. Mind is math.... I guess that's a different view than you guys at Neurix take -- you think everything is the brain. It's like they say, the cheese-maker thinks the universe is made out of cheese...."
Joseph winced at the lame witticism. "Just 'cause we work with the brain, we don't necessarily think the mind is the brain." Or do we? he wondered. He realized he'd never really thought about it. He was always wrapped up with the technical side of things.
"I know, I understand, it's an operational assumption. After all, the thing is, if mind is not physical, if it's not just the brain, then what is it? To simply say that mind resides beyond the physical, in some metaphysical realm, well, it's not very informative, unless you have some kind of detailed description of this 'metaphysical plane.' That's where you get into Buddhism and sufism and all that....
"But my approach, instead of going down the mystical path, is to start with a very simple idea: Mind is form. Mind is pattern. Mind is structure."
"Mind is math, like you said already."
"Right. Sorry if I'm repeating myself. Anyway, this view of the mind isn't new, it goes back at least to Plato ... really, way further. So the mind is not the brain, but the abstract structure of the brain is part of the mind. It's not the neurons and neurotransmitters and electrical flow that is the mind, but the patterns of interconnection of the neurons, the patterns of flow of the electricity, and so forth."
"Makes sense," said Joseph, shrugging.
"Right. It makes sense. And then the next thing is, if mind is form, then what kinds of forms make up the mind. Is a mind just a random, will-nilly collection of forms, or is there some special design to it? So I believe there is a special design to it, and my goal in my research has been to discover what this special design is."
"That's what your Mind Net theory is, right? I read something about that in one of your papers, on the Net."
"Yeah. The Mind Net model is a particular theory of what particular forms are involved in mind.... But where archetypes are concerned, I'm not sure the Mind Net stuff is crucial. The main thing is, when you're thinking about archetypes, it's crucial to remember what kind of space the mind lives in. It lives in pattern space, form space -- the space of mathematical entities. 'Cause archetypes, above all, are about mathematics...."
"But how do you get from mathematics to Jamie de Plie?"
protested Joseph. "There's a bit of a gap."
"Well, you're right of course, and I'm working on some software that tries to bridge that gap. But the important thing is to understand what we're talking about."
"Sure." Joseph was curious about this software, but he reminded himself that he was an uninvited guest in the professor's home. He would just have to relax and accept his host's elliptical, philosophical ways.
With a start Joseph realized he had phased out. "Think about the number 2," Dan was saying. "It's not a physical entity, right, but it's a pattern amongst vast numbers of physical entities.... The number 2 binds together a set of two apples with a set of two snakes, with a set consisting of an apple and a snake, a set containing a dog and a minus sign, a set containing a two and a nine, a set containing the actress Jamie de Plie and the infinitesimal quantity iota, and so forth. None of these sets is the number two: the number two is an abstract form which emerges from amongst these entities, some physical, some mathematical.
"Okay, so mental forms are like the number 2 in this example, right? In fact, 2 is a very simple example of a mental form. Jungian psychology recognizes the importance of small integers as mental forms, by identifying these numbers as archetypes. Jung, if you read him carefully, traces many more complex archetypes back to their roots in small integers. Jung was particularly enamored of the number 4 -- a lot of his archetypes and his mandalas come down to quaternity....."
Dan paused, evidently trying to find his train of thought. "See, you're mathematically trained, to some extent anyway, so you should be able to see what I'm talking about at least a little bit. A lot of people think the whole idea of mind as mathematics is totally repellent. I mean, on the one hand you have multiplication tables and mortgage rates and stuff, and on the other hand you have the wishy-washy soft stuff ... feelings, intuitions, states of consciousness,....
"The thing is, the difference between this kind of mathematics and mind mathematics is a vast one. What we're doing when we teach arithmetic and numerical algebra is trying to get the mathematical system of the mind to perform mathematical operations that totally unnatural to it.
"See, the mathematical forms that make up our minds are vastly more complex and subtle than the ones currently studied by mathematicians -- let alone the ones taught to the general public in grammar school and secondary school. And they're different in focus. Basically, when we teach and do mathematics today, we emphasize easily characterized, time-independent structures, or
structures that change over time in a relatively simple way. We
emphasize structures whose parts can be easily separated from one another. But our minds are not specialized for dealing with these types of forms, so a great deal of training and adaptation is required for us to do this kind of mathematics. That's why you need math teachers ... like me. On the other hand, every time we walk through the streets, or recognize a face, or create a new idea, our mind/brains are solving difficult mathematics problems of a totally different kind -- the fuzzy, self-organizing, intrinsically interdependent kind; the kind that resonate naturally with the structure of our minds."
"So if mind mathematics is so different from ordinary math," said Joseph slowly, "what does that say about archetypes? The archetypes Jung was talking about, based on numbers, are just scratching the surface...."
"Well, Jung used his intuition to leap way beyond simple mathematical forms. Like the "first man" archetype, it's based on the number one, but obviously there are a lot of other forms thrown into it as well.... And the right spiral and left spiral archetypes -- those are flows like you find in simple differential equations. They come right out of the complex numbers. So do the more complicated spiral within spiral patterns that you find in mandalas.... And the geometric patterns you see on Greek vases and traditional Indian art, kolam patterns and the like, these come out of formal language theory; just from taking simple linguistic formulas and plugging them into each other over and over again.... The roots of archetypes in mathematical theory goes way beyond what Jung himself recognized."
"Okay. Sure. But...."
"Let me tell you about the Mind Net theory ... that's what really clued me in as to how tough the mathematics of the mind really is."
"You try to write down equations for the mind, and you find that it's just barely possible to formulate the equations in terms of current mathematical ideas. To seriously study this kind of equation, to explore its solution space, seems to be totally beyond us at the present time -- I think it'll require a real breakthrough in mathematics, comparable to the development of algebra, or higher-dimensional geometry, or the calculus. What we currently call "mathematics" barely makes any inroads at all into the depths of mathematical space. The mathematical forms of the mind lie a good way further in...."
"Sure." Joseph sensed that Dan was airing a point of great personal vexation -- a very abstract pet peeve.
"That's what alienates me so much from the rest of the mathematics community. They want to make proofs and theorems from simple math, from the kind of math they know about. I'm more of an explorer. I try to reach into my mind and dig up new mathematical forms. Whether or not I can really prove anything with them -- maybe they're beyond my ability to work with, but I can still grasp onto them, write them down, even program them on the computer...." With the last phrase, Dan got an odd glint on his eye. Joseph wanted to ask him more about the computer programming aspect of his work, but the professor just went on. "But anyway, I was going to tell you about the Mind Net model...."
At this moment, there was a huge crashing noise from outside, and a stream of curses, in a female voice. The two of them jumped up from their seats and ran to the front door. It was immediately evident what the noise had been: Dan's wife had returned, and had driven the car into the garage door. Apparently she had forgotten to use the garage door opener. She stepped out of the car with a sour look on her face.
"Are you all right?" asked Dan.
"Well, I'm not injured."
"Good. Jeez, you should look where you're going." Dan gave her an ironic smile.
"You think it's funny! You're the one who won't call the company to get the damn garage door opener fixed."
"I did call them," retorted Dan. "They're coming tomorrow."
Joseph was embarrassed by their bickering, and even more so by the sudden change in Dan's tone of voice. One moment the professor had been exalted and articulate, full of confidence and inspiration. And now he sounded like an irate child.
He thought of Bella, how she had nagged at him sometimes -- he wondered what their relationship would have become, if he had allowed it to continue. Maybe they would have developed a bitter, troubled marriage like the one Dan was apparently involved in.
And what would have become of him and Geena?
Thinking of Geena made him remember why he had come to see Dan. He had wanted to get some kind of concrete information about the hallucinations, the Exterminating Angel, Jamie de Plie.... So far he hadn't gotten anything but a bunch of mildly interesting philosophy. And just when things were getting down to business, this woman had shown up....
But she was gone shortly. She disappeared into the back of the house, and Dan sat back down.
"Okay," he said, not missing a beat. "The basic idea of the Mind Net model is that the mind creates itself. At every moment, every part of the mind acts on every other part of the mind, re-creating every part of the mind."
"It sounds like something mystical and crazy, but you can formulate it mathematically. This is the secret of the mathematical form of the mind. Mind is a form that consists of other forms relating to each other in a special kind of way."
"This is what you meant when you were talking about 'magician systems' in the paper I read...."
"Right. My word for mental processes is 'magicians' -- I like to imagine a whole room full of magicians, all casting spells on each other, transforming each other into other things. Each time a magician is transformed into something else, the set of spells at its disposal changes. So the whole thing keeps going, on and on. There are random effects too, in the outcome of the spells, so the thing doesn't have to repeat itself. A magician system -- a system of mental processes, mental forms -- is just a bunch of magicians constantly casting spells and transforming each other into other magicians."
"I see what you mean. It's an interesting metaphor. Very ... colorful." But crazy, he thought to himself. He imagined himself trying to explain to the engineers and biochemists ad Neurix that the brain was made of a bunch of magicians casting spells on each other. Dan lacked a certain realism: though he was clearly some kind of genius, there was a disturbingly ideosyncratic, almost crackpot-like quality to some of his thinking. He had built his own universe of ideas, to some extent even his own language. He was off on his own planet -- it wasn't a bad planet, in the grand scheme of things, but it took a bit of getting used to.
"Okay, so this is where chaos theory -- 'dynamical systems theory' as we mathematicians like to call it -- comes into the picture. Magician systems can have complex, intricate attractors, like any other dynamical systems. You know what an attractor is?"
"Yeah. A characteristic behavior. Something the system kind of settles into after it's been going a while. Like, the attractor of a pendulum is a steady state hanging straight down. But the attractor of a brain system or a weather system can be really complex. The cortex actually stores memories in the structure of its strange attractors. Well, but they're not strictly strange attractors, they're invariant measures -- probabilistic strange attractors. That's why the Wu-Taylor expansion doesn't really work and you have to do maximum entropy estimation and Bayesian statistics to get a decent estimate of the behavior near bifurcation points...."
Dan laughed, and even blushed a little. "I forgot who I was talking to. You're virtually a mathematician yourself."
Joseph shook his head. "I'm just a hacker, really. And an engineer. I just use mathematics, I don't invent it."
"No one invents mathematics, Joseph," he said, seriously. "It's always there. We just have to grab it out."
"Okay, well... Attractors. So the key point is that, in the psynet view, all the apparently "solid" structures of mind -- memory and perceptual systems, and so forth -- are actually probabilistic attractors of magician dynamics. What appears to be definitely there is actually a dynamic process, dying and then regenerating itself every instant. Being is generated out of becoming. You see what I mean?"
"Yeah, of course I do. That's exactly what my nonlinear regression system does. All the regression agents predict each other. They predict each other and so, implicitly, they're all creating each other each instant. It all comes down to the same thing. I just never thought about it in such general terms as you're doing...."
"Right, well ... I'm a specialist in generality. And your system is really quite on target, from the way you describe it. Your regression agents recognize patterns in each other, and in the data from brain scans, right? And all the processes in the mind are doing exactly that -- recognizing patterns in each other. This is a defining characteristic of intelligent systems. You can say that everything has a mind, right down to electrons and gluons and what have you. But some minds are smarter than others. So, a continual involvement with pattern-recognition activity is the defining characteristic of an intelligentsystem; an intelligent collection of magicians....
"What you figured out was that in order to glean the patterns from an intelligent system, you have to build an intelligent system yourself. Which is really quite obvious, but it's quite a deviation from the way people normally do data analysis. If you look in my paper on statistical pattern recognition from about six years ago you'll find the principle set out there in totally general form. But what you've done is to apply it in practice, which is just as a great an achievement...."
"Thanks," said Joseph, humbled. He didn't doubt what Dan said -- that his data analysis method was, in fact, a special case of ideas Dan had published years ago. But there was no way he could have known that. Most of Dan's publications were in obscure journals that no one ever read. But Joseph sensed that Dan was totally unconcerned about who got credit for the discovery. In this regard he was a totally different personality type from Vaclav. He was driven and ambitious, but his ambition was almost totally in the realm of ideas. He wanted to push as far as possible into the realm of mathematical forms -- not to accomplish anything in particular, or to gain any kind of professional status, not even to be right ... just to be there. Even his interest in the modelling of mind, Joseph sensed, was in large part an excuse for doing the probing and exploring that he loved so much. Whereas Vaclav, as much as he loved the process of science, was always driven by an external motive. An external motive given to him, inadvertently, by his mother; and which ultimately destroyed him.
But had it destroyed him? Or had it led him to a realm of bliss? This was really what Joseph wanted to find out. He had hoped Dan would be able to tell him.
"But, see," continued Dan, "the way you built your system didn't really encompass any of the subtler structures of the mind. So it's inherently limited as to what it can pick up. Because it imitates the basic magician system structure of the mind, because it's based on a system of intercreating pattern recognition processes, it's able to do a decent job of recognizing patterns in brain scans. But if you structured your system of regression agents with even more of the special structure of mind, it would be able to pick up even more. I know it would."
Now Joseph was interested. Things were suddenly getting practical. "What do you mean? What special structures of mind?"
"Okay, well this is the central part of my Mind Net model. Intelligent magician systems might be structured in any number of
possible ways, but the Mind Net model makes the claim that
there are certain special 'structures of intelligence' -- structures that are common to all intelligent systems.
You have an hierarchical perceptual-motor system -- patterns emerging from patterns emerging from patterns, and so on; and each level controlling the level that it emerges from. You have an associative memory network, where mental processes create other mental processes that are related to them, that share common patterns with them. And you have a "dual network" synthesizing these two -- a network of processes structures as a perception/control hierarchy, and as an associative memory, both at once." He paused to catch his breath, looking to see if Joseph was following him. Which he was, barely. "And you also have a self-system, a system inside the dual network, mirroring the interactions of the intelligent system with the outside world."
"I see what you mean," said Joseph. "If I made a network of regression agents that had this dual network structure you're describing -- this combined associative and hierarchical thing -- then the agents would have less work to do. They'd already have a lot of the structure of the brain ... the mind ... built in. So they could focus their attention on the particular patterns in the brain they're working on."
"Right. And maybe that could solve the problem your ... your father ran into. With the inverse chip, I mean."
Joseph shook his head. "No. You're up against a brick wall there. I'm pretty confident of my math where that is concerned."
"Every theorem has assumptions, Joseph."
Joseph winced. That was just what Vaclav had said. "I know that. But there's an intuition behind the feeling. The basic point is that when you read someone else's thoughts they're imposed on your brain as if they were your own. Your brain is forced to think everyone else's thoughts for them. But a single human brain isn't up to that."
"Mmmmm...." Dan rested his elbow on his knee, and his chin on his hand. "Well, maybe you're right there. You probably know chromodynamics better than I do, my physics is sketchy. But what about this, what if instead of reading thoughts, you just try to read emotions? See, emotion, in the dual network, is just frustrated expectations. It's when a command is issued down the control hierarchy and it's not fulfilled."
"Even happiness?" cut in Joseph, immediately annoyed at himself for interrupting for what was really a trivial point.
"Sure, even happiness is that way -- it's always pleasant surprise. Happiness is the surprise at diminishing pain; unhappiness is the surprise at diminishing happiness.... That's why we become habituated to things so easily. Formerly pleasurable things get dull with repetition. Anyway ... what I'm suggesting is, set up a dual network nonlinear regression system, extract the emotions from it, and feed these emotions through the inverse QRI chip. Forget about telepathy, just do empathy. That's what mental illness is really all about anyway, isn't it -- emotions? feelings? Imagine if we could all feel each others' feelings. What kind of world would that be! No one would ever want to hurt anyone else again!"
"There are sadists," pointed out Joseph.
"True. But a sadist is formed from a hostile childhood environment. in a world of empaths, sadists would never arise."
"Well ... anyway, what makes you think the limitations imposed by my theorem wouldn't restrict empathy just like telepathy?"
"You'd have to check it of course. I don't know the details of your theorem. But I'm just going on intuition. I mean, imposing another person's emotions on someone else is not going to place such a cognitive load on them. It might ultimately make you insane, but it won't fry your brain. In the end, all our thoughts are different in detail, but our emotions are basically the same. Like Bob Dylan says ... 'we always did feel the same, we just saw it from a different point of view....'"
Joseph thought about it. Dan had a point. The more he tried to visualize the equations, the more he suspected that Dan was right; the restrictions would not hold in the case he had described. This guy had one hell of an intuition. It was a shame Vaclav had never known him; they would have complemented each other wonderfully. It was clear that Dan would have to be brought to Neurix. He was being wasted here, teaching calculus and linear algebra to bored undergraduates, writing obscure papers and books on the mathematics of mind in his spare time.
"But that's not the end of it," continued Dan. "Getting back to the Mind Net model. You have to work consciousness into the picture, if you want to get toward archetypes."
Archetypes. Archetypes. Joseph had gotten so worked up over the idea of an empathy chip, he had entirely forgotten the reason for his visit. The Angel. Geena. Jamie de Plie.
"So, consciousness is viewed, in the Mind Net model, as a raw, ineffable power that is present in every magician. Everything is conscious. Just like everything has mind. But some magicians can possess a greater "force of consciousness" than others. This greater force is represented by an increased influx of randomness in the interactions of the magician. In intelligent systems, there are particular patterns which tend to be associated with powerful consciousness. One of these is a circuit joining perceptual and memory processes, called the "Perceptual-Cognitive Loop. A self-system incorporates numerous Perceptual-Cognitive Loops.,,,,"
Joseph held up his hand. He wasn't paying attention anymore. His mind was off somewhere else. "You're going too fast for me. I think I've absorbed enough information for one dose."
But Dan was on a roll. "Okay, I'm almost there. Hold on another minute or so." He was talking faster, faster, faster. Joseph struggled to visualize, in his mind, the concepts Dan was trying to get across. It was all so abstract, so weird. He just wanted to get back to the lab and check over his equations, see if Dan's equations were right -- and try to empathize with Geena and Vaclav! But Dan talked on, his loud voice growing increasingly annoying. "So, self-systems and their Perceptual-Cognitive Loops are crucial to the formation of realities -- self-producing magician systems that span a number of interacting minds. Right? Perceptual-Cognitive Loops use randomness to create "solid," "real" magician systems -- magician systems protected by their dynamics against randomness. They are the means by which consciousness creates reality.
"So, now we get there, finally. The Mind Net model specifies a mind as a collection of interacting, intercreating form/process/patterns, giving rise to an hierarchy of emergent structures. It doesn't specify the particular patterns with which these emergent structures are to be filled in.... I mean, to an extent, this is inevitable: in any theory of mind this general, there must be left room for immense diversity. But the last step of the mode is the derivation of certain archetypal forms -- form which possess a unique staying and spreading power, a unique power to survive and flourish in the randomly and chaotically fluctuating environment of the mind. These archetypal forms play a crucial role in the formation of minds and realities: they appear on all levels of the mental hierarchy, from the lowest perceptual-motor processes right up to the most abstract, transpersonal level." Dan got up and gestured Joseph to follow him into the other room. "And that's what I've tried to program here. It's the biggest computer program I've ever written, it's more than 5000 lines. But that's probably not much for you, you're really a hacker. I'm just a dilettante mathematician."
Dan led him to a computer on a small desk, tucked into a corner of a very messy room filled with old computers, music equipment, art supplies, toys, and just about anything else you can think of. He typed a few keystrokes and his program started running. The user interface was quite poor; just a little box on the screen filled with fluctuating color images. "What this program does is to search for archetypes," he explained, grinning. "It searches through every possible mind magician system -- every system of forms/processes that is structured in the way the Mind Net model says a mind is supposed to be structured. And it sees what are the common patterns that emerge amongst all of these. These are the archetypal forms. Well, these are the first-order archetypal forms. There are an awful lot of them. Jung is right about four and seven, by the way. Structures with four and seven elements pop up an awful lot. I haven't come up wiht a good way to display the findings, by the way -- what you see on the screen is just a random two-dimensional projection of a very high-dimensional space.
"So anyway, to narrow down the field of forms, I input information about human nature. To get specifically human archetypal forms. I keep the same abstract mental structures -- the dual network, the Perceptual-Cognitive Loop, and so forth -- but instead of sampling every process system with these structures, I just sample those that contain humanly meaningful patterns. I test this by comparing the patterns in the mental system with patterns in the Net -- in the words, pictures and sounds on the Net."
"But I don't quite get what you're doing. You don't have minds in there -- intelligent systems. It's not that powerful of a computer."
Dan laughed. "No, I haven't solved the problem of AI yet. Though I believe I have solved it in theory. I have a hard time going from theory to practice, as you may have noticed...." He laughed again, uncomfortably. "These aren't intelligent systems, they're smaller systems, too small to be intelligent, but with the same structure as intelligent systems. That's the beauty of the Mind Net model, it tells you how inteligent systems are structured.... I haven't told you all the details of the model of course, but you get the idea...."
"Well...." Dan looked troubled all of a sudden, as if he couldn't find the words for something. "I haven't been able to push this project as far as I would have liked, though. I'm not much good at graphics programming. What I would like to do is, use this to find archetypal images. Visual images, I mean. Do you see what I'm getting at."
"I think I do," said Joseph. "But that should be easy. You have multidimensional vectors here, you just need to see if they represent pictures. That's just statistical pattern recognition. See if the parts of the vector relate to each other in the way parts of a picture do, then find the optimal projection mapping...."
Dan shrugged. "I guess so. But I haven't the faintest idea how to code it up."
"We do that stuff at Neurix all the time. In fact...." Joseph sat down at the computer. "Do you mind?"
"Not at all, not at all."
"I'm going to go into my account at Neurix."
"This might take half an hour or so; why don't you go get a drink or something. I'll get you when I'm ready."
"What, you mean, you're going to modify the program right now?"
"If you don't mind."
They looked at each other meaningfully. They both knew what they were looking for -- why Joseph was so eager to see the results. But neither wanted to say it.
Joseph worked furiously. Half an hour had been a ridiculously short estimate. After forty-five minutes he was still vigorously working. But Dan was nowhere to be seen. In fact, when he stopped typing, he could hear a creaking sound, and some odd panting noises coming from somewhere behind the wall of the study. Apparently Dan was making up with his wife....
But after two hours, Joseph was done. And he had copied Dan's program to the Neurix computers, accelerating the speed by a factor of a million. In spite of his protests of incompetency, Dan had written some nicely-structured computer code, which ported with no trouble whatsoever to Neurix's rather different computer architecture.
The range of archetypal images produced by Dan's array of sample mind networks was immense. Simple geometric forms figured prominently, particularly triangles and tetrahedra. Spirals upon spirals upon spirals, band patterns like Mach bands or minimalist paintings, ill-formed messes of color like de Kooning women. But when the search was narrowed down to some particular subcategory of images, the range of responses got much smaller. Joseph held his breath and shut his eyes, as he asked the program to return the class of all archetypal forms involving human faces.
About fifty faces popped up. There was an old man, an old wise man. A dangerous-looking black guy. An evil crone, with an oddly wrinkled nose. A baby. And there, popping out of the computer, out of its statistical search, was a very particular kind of face as well -- a face of angelic beauty and mocking, troubled, malicious fervor. It was the average of Geena, Jamie de Plie, the young Avdotya Bulgakov. It was remarkably like Jamie de Plie. It was the Exterminating Angel.
As Joseph was looking at this image, Dan walked into the room. He looked at Joseph with one question in his mind; Joseph nodded. The ensuing explanation was not at all necessary. A huge grin spread across Dan's face, a look of almost orgasmic gratification.
"Altered states of consciousness," said Dan. "We're randomizing our own individual thought-patterns with an extra infusion of consciousness -- consciousness being randomness, you know. When we get rid of our own obsessive thought-patterns, we open it up for the mind to interact with the rest of pattern space. The rest of form space. The nearby parts of the mathematical space in which mind lives. But we don't just fill up with random forms this way. We fill up with forms that tend to inhabit minds -- forms that tend to live within minds. Archetypal forms."
Joseph paused. Dan's intellectual explanations went in one ear and out the other. He was still trying to adapt to the fundamental fact of what he had seen. Dan had expected it; and he realized that he had too, but not on a fully conscious level. All that time he had been hacking away at the code, he had just been focussing on the task in front of him. Again, too obsessed with the technical details to see the larger issues.
"So this hallucination ... this being. That we've both been in contact with."
"It's not Jamie de Plie, though. It's something that expresses itself through her. To you. And in different ways to the rest of us."
"This apparition, it's just a mathematical consequence of the structure of mind? I don't understand it."
"I don't understand it completely either, Joseph," Dan admitted. "What she is, is a representation of the collective mind. It's like, an archetype is a focus for the common mind of humanity. It's a common symbol, so it clusters other common things around it. By the logic of mind; that makes sense. This face, this particular facial structure is an archetype, just like the wise old man who came out number one. The wise old man is God: the face isn't God, but he is locked in with other, non-visual common patterns, non-visual things like the experience of spiritual bliss. Somehow this old man archetype links up with the archetype of spiritual bliss -- there are emergent patterns there. And this ... this archetype links up with ... other common patterns. Other archetypes."
"She's a goddess," said Joseph. "Basically."
"Sure," agreed Dan. "And she wants something from us." "Something it's dangerous to us to give."
"What we have to do," said Dan, "is contact Jamie de Plie. Show her this program. Get into the back of her mind."
"You're in love with her," pointed out Joseph bluntly. "That's why you want to get in touch with her."
Dan shrugged. "I'm objective enough to see the irrationality of having such a crush on a movie star. That doesn't mean I can stop myself from feeling this way."
Joseph shrugged. "Well I agree, it might be interesting to contact her. But a computer program wouldn't mean much to her. Why would she trust you didn't rig it up?"
"This is a replicable computational experiment. Anyone can run it and see what happens. I'm going to publish it -- I'll do a book on it if no journal will take it."
Joseph nodded. "True. That takes time, though." He realized that Dan didn't share his sense of urgency. After all, he was an academic -- academia is a slow-paced place. Conducive to long-range, original thinking; and also, as evidenced far more often, conducive to laziness, conservatism and general mental lethargy.... Plus, Dan wasn't trying to rescue his lover and father. To him this was just a long-running emotional obsession, and a thrilling intellectual game. It wasn't an immediate practical problem to be solved.
Dan shook his head. "I can't believe you just fixed up my program, just like that. That's amazing."
"It was just an interface modification," said Joseph. "I could improve things a lot more if I took some time, I think. Allow you to do a much wider search. But it would work better if I could work together with you on it. Why don't you quit your job, Dan? Come work at Neurix."
"Are you serious? Would they hire me?" Dan suddenly realized, as he hadn't for hours, that he was dealing with a teenager.
"If I told them to they would."
He studied Joseph's face. There was no reason not to believe him. "Well, Joseph, I may just take you up on that. I have a sabbatical coming up next year. I'd been planning to spend it at Moscow University, but what the heck, spending it at Neurix would probably be more productive...."
That was six months off. Six whole months! A blink of an eye in academia. Joseph had been thinking more along the lines of next week. "That would be fantastic," said Joseph. "I think we could get a lot done."
They looked at each other for a very long moment. "Anyway," said Dan, "I guess that's more than enough work for one day. Actually, I've got band practice in about an hour. Did I mention I play the electric sax? You can come along if you want to."
"Actually," said Joseph, "I've got to get back to Cambridge. I guess I'll be running along." It was four thirty; he had only been there a little over five hours.
"Are you sure? You can stay overnight if you want to. I'm sure we've got a lot more to talk about."
Joseph smiled. "I'm sure we do. You've got to come by the lab -- as soon as possible, whenever you get a free day. And I'll e-mail you as soon as I do the calculations on your empathy chip idea. If that works, we'll have our lawyers make sure you get the patent rights, of course."
"Patent rights?" Dan grins. "Sure. I've never had a patent before. Why not? Of course it will work, there's no way it won't work."
Joseph wished he could be so confident. But in any event, he was far more confident and happy than he had been when he had arrived in Great Barrington. In fact, he was downright ebullient. He was about to walk out the door when he remembered something he'd meant to ask the professor. "One more thing, Dan. Did you ever have a student named Geena Etzioni?"
Dan looked surprised. "Is that the Geena you were talking about before? The one who ... who's with your father?"
"Why didn't you say so? I knew her quite well. She was a very poor math student, but her violin playing was wonderful. And she was very ... ah, friendly with me."
"Yeah. That's Geena."
"Well. I really hope you can find a way to bring them out from wherever they are. If I have any ideas on that, I'll let you know. Not that I didn't hope you could get them out before, I mean,...."
While Joseph was walking out to the car, Dan ran up and stopped him. "Hold on, Joseph. One more thing. Another crazy idea. About the limitations on your theorem. They just work for the human brain, isn't that right? What if you made a computer mind and fed the inverse QRI chip into it? Then you could structure things properly, so that there wasn't interference. You could scan the system's own states and put them in temporary storage, then refresh them when the inverse QRI process was over. See what I mean?"
"And another thing, what's the reception range of the QRI chip itself? You said Joseph had it up to fifty feet. But that's not a fundamental limitation, is it? If you could get it up even further you could have this computer sense the thoughts of the whole human race. Or at least, say, the whole population of New York. All at once. That would go way beyond the primitive stuff I'm doing here. See, my archetype program, it simulates the structure of mind, and then throws in a bunch of human-generated mental patterns, drawn from analyzing the Net. It's crude, it's a hodge-podge -- and look at the results. With what I'm talking about, we'd really have all the archetypal patterns of the human race, in a single mind."
"But if you're just constructing a computer mind, you don't need inverse QRI. You can just feed the patterns straight into the database. I don't understand."
"There's a bottleneck there, Joseph. You're taking the QRI patterns, decoding them into bits and bytes, and then building them back up into a mental or mind-like structure. The more structured you make your data analysis system, the worse the bottleneck is going to be. Ultimately you want the symmetry between the system being analyzed and the data analysis system, to be reflected in a symmetry between the encoding and decoding methods. It only makes sense. You want to use QRI to read and inverse QRI to write."
Joseph nodded again -- he couldn't think about it seriously, his mind was overloaded. The visit had exceeded his expectations. If only they had known Leztreog in the first place, the whole inverse QRI fiasco might have been averted. He had exactly the kind of general intuition about these things that Vaclav, with his engineering orientation, had lacked. "Had lacked" -- with a jolt Joseph realized he was thinking about his father in the past tense. It was terrible. He had to get him out.
"Give me a while to think about it," he said. "There's a lot of stuff to work on here."
"There certainly is. The first thing is to contact Jamie."
Joseph found it hard to choke back a laugh. Right after spewing out one brilliant design for another, here Dan was, back with his obsession with this actress. Couldn't he see that she wasn't the essential point? The human mind was really something. Vaclav had been obsessive too -- though his obsession had been more closely tied to his work. Maybe there was some kind of subtle link between creative genius and obsession. Joseph wondered what his own obsession was. He was young, maybe he just hadn't discovered it yet. Or maybe, in spite of his obvious ability, he wasn't truly a creative genius -- after all, he'd just found out that his first "great achievement" was really a duplication of something Dan had done years before. He reminded himself to download that paper as soon as he got back, to see how closely Dan's idea there really was related to his nonlinear regression system.
Shaking Dan's hand warmly, Joseph drove back down the Mass Pike toward Cambridge, his brain a mad whirl of thoughts.
As soon as Joseph left, Dan was back in front of the computer. He wasn't experimenting with the archetype-generating software that his young friend had modified for him; he was making plane reservations. He was heading for Los Angeles, as quickly as possible. He was going to Jamie de Plie.
How he would find her, he wasn't quite certain. There were a lot of people in LA. And maybe she wasn't really in LA anyway, that was just from the gossip columns. But the information was out there, on the Net: her address, her phone number, her e-mail. Everything was out there. And if he wasn't hacker enough to find it, he knew people who were. He dashed off e-mails to a couple of his students -- computer geniuses like Joseph, though perhaps on a slightly lower level. Simon's Rock, where he taught, was a school for mostly gifted kids; there was no shortage of smart people around.
By that evening, one of his students came through with the information. She lived in an apartment in Santa Monica, not far from the beach. He even had her unlisted phone number and e-mail address. With great trepidation he dialed the number, and a female voice answered the phone. "Hello?"
"Hello ... is this Jamie?"
"Yeah. Who is this?"
"You don't know me ... my name is Dan Leztreog, I'm a mathematician, I live in Massachusetts. I ... well, it's very strange, and you'll hardly believe it, but I need to talk to you about something.... I'm not expressing myself very well."
"Well, you're talking to me," Jamie said, with a nervous laugh, her French accent barely perceptible.
"I need to talk to you in person. I need to show you something. You'll think I'm totally nutty if I tell you over the phone."
"I already think you're totally nuts," she said. "No, I'm only teasing. You can come by and talk to me sometime if you want."
"Yeah, sure. I don't meet many mathematicians. I adore mathematics, you know."
So it was as easy as that. He could hardly even believe it. What was going on here? It couldn't be so simple to make a date with a movie actress. She must somehow know....
"Are you going to be home tonight?" he asked finally, gathering his wits together.
"Are you in Los Angeles? I thought you said you were in Massachusetts."
"I'm flying into LA tonight. There's a conference there this weekend," he lied.
"Okay. Well, let's meet somewhere, then. Actually tonight I'm busy but tomorrow I'm free. Are you going to be around tomorrow afternoon?"
"Yeah." Again, Dan started to phase out. He could hardly believe what was happening. Here was his heroine, his idol, the movie goddess Jamie De Plie -- whose spirit he'd been communicating with, on a half-serious level, for years and years. Here she was, on the phone with him, and agreeing to see him tomorrow. Was it as simple as this? Why hadn't he contacted her before?
But what would he have told her before? That he was her biggest fan? That he understood the subtle forces at play in her art? So what. That he had hallucinations of her? Now he had something dramatic to show her -- something strange, deep and weird.
It occurred to him that she might think the whole archetype program was some kind of twisted hoax.
Or, perhaps, it really was a hoax, a hoax perpetrated on him by Joseph. Now wouldn't that be a kicker.
But his train of thought was cut off. Jamie -- Jamie! de Plie -- was speaking.
"There's this cafe' on the beach that I like, it's called the Friedrich. I used to go there a lot, but I haven't been for a while. Why don't we meet there for lunch?
"Okay. Great! That would be great. I guarantee you'll be amazed at what I have to show you, Jamie."
She giggled. "It's not X-rated, is it?"
At this point a lot of strange things began to happen, all at once. I'm not quite sure how to tell them.
First of all, Dan Leztreog never returned from Los Angeles. The initial meeting with Jamie de Plie went well, though -- only too well. For, as it turned out, she had been having strange experiences too. Not, as Dan had secretly hoped, hallucinations of Dan Leztreog -- but other things. Near-death experiences. Twisted, recurrent psychic dreams.
"I have this recurrent dream," she said, that day at lunch. "I'm staring into the Beyond. Into death, you understand. Emptiness. And it's a mirror. I see my own face looking out at me. But with a strange look -- like it knows something I don't know."
This was, Dan realized later, the happiest moment of his life. "You're seeing the same thing I saw," he said. "And Vaclav. Vaclav Bulgakov. And his son."
"You say it's an archetype," she said, "but what does that mean? It's not some ... abstract thing, Dan, it's alive. It's looking back at me there. It's got a mind of its own. It isn't me."
"I don't know exactly what it means, Jamie. In pre-scientific times we would have called it a spirit, right? We're being visited by a spirit, that's all. It's trying to tell us something, or make us do something ... or something."
He shrugged, and looked at her closely. God, she was beautiful. And there she was, next to him! If only he had that inverse QRI chip, then he could see inside her mind!
She looked at him oddly, and twisted up her lips. "You're in love with me, aren't you?" she said softly.
He didn't say anything.
"I can tell by the look on your face."
"No," he said slowly, savoring the surprise on her face as his statement unfolded, "you can tell because there's a connection between us. A deep connection."
"I think you're right," she said. "There is. I can feel it too, it's weird is what it is. I don't even know you but I feel we understand each other."
"We do," he said. "It's true. We really do."
Dan leaned back in his chair and relaxed, relaxed more fully than he had in years. He thought of his wife and his daughter in Great Barrington; how surprised Gina had been when he'd suddenly decided it was necessary to attend the IEEE Pattern Recognition conference. But secretly relieved, he'd sensed: she had't been enjoying his company much anyway, not in the past couple years. But he hadn't gone to IEEE-PR in years, and Gina knew it. He hadn't submitted a paper this year. And of course he had no intention to attend the conference at all. How easy it was to lie, he thought. Gina would never suspect what was really happening, not a million years. You just say one thing, do another. People do this all the time.
A day before he had been there, in Great Barrington, in his same old world of fatherhood and mathematics and marital conflict. And now he was here, in the middle of a dream. Jamie de Plie -- in the flesh. Jamie! Sweet Jamie!
He looked at her, all of a sudden. He had been off in inner space. The food was done. "Well, do you want to come back to my place?" she said. "We don't have to sit here all day. I didn't want to meet you there originally because ... well, you know."
"I might have been some kind of dangerous kook...." He grinned. "And now you've found out I'm just a mild-mannered, harmless kind of kook."
"That's right," she said, reaching out and touching his arm. Their first physical contact. It felt like a new kind of electricity. Quark resonance currents, perhaps.
They went back to her apartment and talked for a while more. Dan found he wasn't nearly as articulate talking to her in person as he had been with her hallucination. Something about her unnerved him....
It wasn't her beauty, which was really quite understated. She didn't wear makeup; she dressed in jeans and ordinary-looking blouses and huge floppy hats -- to look at her walking down the street, you'd never guess she was a movie star.
It was the way she phrased things, the way she paused before she reacted -- the same curious profundities of timing that he admired so much in her acting. Her timing made you wonder, it made everything ambiguous -- it played around with the very structure of time. When you looked at her face and heard her speak, the present moment blurred out into a kind of indeterminate field: a moving whirlpool of past, present and future.
Normally he was confident, articulate, outgoing; but with her he was very shy.
But the connection was there and it was very real, to both of them. And it was, furthermore, a partly sexual connection. Surprising herself, because she was usually quite shy around intellectual types, Jamie made the first move, planting a passionate kiss on his lips.
They made love for two long hours in the afternoon, on the couch and the carpet of her Santa Monica apartment. It was every bit as splendid as he had always envisioned it would be; she was easily orgasmic, and she caressed him with a genuine warmth borne of their common hallucinations. It didn't feel like making love to someone he barely knew.
Afterwards, he was too elated to fall asleep; but, to his surprise, Jamie dropped right off. He lay with her for a while and then got up and showered.
When he was dressed, and she was still sleeping, he sat and looked at her for a while, and then decided to make a phone call. He took out the business card Joseph had given him -- "Joseph Bulgakov, Research Scientist, Neurix Corporation" -- and dialed the number printed there.
For some reason Joseph sounded surprised when he told him about Jamie's own hallucinations. But then, Joseph was surprised by everything, Dan reflected. In spite of his youth and his tremendous intelligence, he had a very rigid view of the world. Sitting there in Jamie's apartment, Dan was full of joy, optimism, and self-esteem. In his mind he had already left his wife. He was living here, with Jamie; the two of them were making love every afternoon, with supernatural passion. He was following her around to her movie shoots, his daughter Zoetrope in tow. They would have more children, offspring of their cosmic union. With Neurix's engineers implementing his ideas, he would become a famous scientist. The future was so bright he could hardly stand it.
And when Jamie woke up, nothing happened to dim his optimism. She was friendly, warm, loving, and not in any hurry to see him go. "I feel so happy with you here," she said, looking at him with her quiet, still, meaningful eyes. "I feel like you really understand me. We've got something here ... you know what I mean. You don't really have to go back after this weekend, do you?"
"I have a job there," Dan pointed out. And a daughter, and a wife, he thought. "But if you say the word, I'll stay."
She kissed him on the mouth.
"I have next year off. Sabbatical." He thought of Neurix. "It's just a few more months. Then I could come here for a whole year."
"Sounds great," she said. "Really, listen to me, I hardly even know you." She posed for him ironically. "The tabloids will love it. The mad scientist and his gorgeous French movie queen.... Hey, let's go for a walk. I love the sunset over the ocean."
They left her apartment hand in hand, sheathed in a bliss that radiated directly from another world -- the world of the Exterminating Angel. Somehow things were just perfectly right.
But everyone was not so happy. As they rounded the corner from Jamie's house, a man named David Hooker rounded the corner at the other end of the block, in an old, turn-of-the-century Datsun. The tires screeched loudly as he rounded the corner; he was not happy at all.
Two weeks earlier, he had lost his job as a mechanic: "one too many fuck-ups," the boss had said. Yesterday, his wife had thrown him out of the house, calling him a fucked-up drunk; and he'd found out she'd been sleeping with his half-brother, Mick. He had spent the night in the car. His mind was reeling from insults -- "fuck-up! fuck-up! fuck-up!" -- and from the several bottles of whisky he had consumed during the previous night and morning. His hands held loosely on the wheel and, as he saw Jamie and Dan walking down the street holding hands, he was filled with an odd mix of awe, disgust and jealousy. "I've seen that face somewhere before," he thought to himself. "Who is that? From some movie or something?"
Jamie saw the car coming. Dan didn't. She jumped out of the way, and tried to pull him with her. Perhaps if she hadn't tried to pull him too, she would have made it out of the way.
As it was, they both died immediately.
David Hooker survived and spent two years in prison, after which he was released on parole.
The next morning, Joseph was watching the seven o'clock news as he always did, and just as he was about to switch off, the news item announcing Jamie's death came on. They showed Hooker, the smashed up car, and part of Jamie's broken body. "Killed with her was Dr. Daniel Leztreog, a mathematician from Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Nothing is known about the connection between Dr. Leztreog and Ms. de Plie."
Joseph searched his mind, trying to grasp the ramifications of what had happened. The accident, it must have been only minutes after Dan had called him. But the TV announcer went on. "In a strange coincidence, both Dr. Leztreog and Ms. de Plie were both found to be carrying cryo-cards, indicating their wish to have their brains frozen after their death. Representatives of CalCryo, a San Francisco-based cryonics organization, have already removed the heads from the two bodies and placed them in vats of liquid nitrogen in their headquarters -- a bizarre turn to a sad and grisly course of events."
Mmmmm.... That Leztreog would have his brain frozen didn't surprise Joseph terribly -- it fit with his whole mad scientist mentality -- but Jamie de Plie? The whole business was strange beyond belief. And then the phone rang. It was the hospital. It seemed, unbelievably, that Vaclav and Geena had both revived, simultaneously. And, furthermore, Vaclav had disappeared. Geena was there waiting for him, at the hospital, feeling sick but, the nurse said, able to hold brief conversations.
Shutting the TV off, and forgetting about Dan and Jamie for the moment, Joseph rushed to the hospital. He was a whirlwind of anger and delight. How had the incompetent security guards let Vaclav escape?! And where would he have gone?! But after all, he couldn't really blame them; it was a hospital, not a prison, and by all accounts the two of them had been unlikely to ever recover....
He was bursting full of questions for Geena. But she was in no condition to answer them. She seemed perfectly fine physically -- she was out of the hospital bed, walking around, looking awfully limber for someone who had been in bed for a month. But when he asked her what had been going on she just got a strange look on her face.
"You went somewhere, didn't you? Somewhere with Vaclav. Your QRI monitors -- they were linked together. The patterns they showed. The two of you were linked."
"Oh, Joseph...." She looked at him wistfully. "Make love to me, Joseph," she said.
"Right here? In the hospital?"
"What, you'd refuse me?" She opened the front of her hospital gown and moved toward him. He felt himself becoming aroused. She unbuttoned his pants, and indeed, he made love to her there, in the hospital room. She moved with as much warmth and lust as ever. You're back, he thought. You're back, you're back, you're back!
She wanted to be released from the hospital immediately. The doctors were more circumspect, and they insisted on notifying her parents, who arrived within hours, overjoyed to see their daughter. But, Joseph's reasonable protests notwithstanding, she wanted nothing to do with them. "Get the fuck out of here. You're not my parents."
She ended up going back home with Joseph after another day -- back to Susie's house. He was careful not to ply her with questions; there was, he told himself nervously, plenty of time. There was plenty of time for that.
But then, three days later, Joseph was surprised again. He thought wistfully of his ill-fated friend Dan Leztreog, who had seemed to be so thoroughly un-surprisable. Why was he the one always being shocked, amazed, dismayed -- having his world pulled out from under him?
Her third morning at Susie's house, Geena simply didn't wake up. Joseph shook her and shook her, slapped her in the face, but she wouldn't come to. He called the ambulance with tears in his eyes, his voice barely comprehensible through his sobs and groans.
Days, weeks and months piled up, and they expected her to come to again. But she didn't. And no news of Vaclav ever emerged either. If he had relapsed at the same time as Geena, surely he would have emerged. And if not, why was he keeping his whereabouts a secret? Why had he run in the first place?
In the midst of all this confusion, no one knew quite what to think when the hospital announced that Geena was going to have a baby. It must have been conceived that time in the hospital, when she had just come out of the coma. The doctors said her body was strong enough to support a baby -- it was only her brain that was malfunctioning, not the rest of her.
The baby was removed by C-section on its due date. It was a healthy, nine-pound baby boy, ordinary in every way except for its inexplicably dark skin and its unusually large eyes.
Joseph decided to name it James, which was Geena's father's name. He didn't need to tell anyone the nickname he intended for his new son: Jamie. It was too obvious for words.
END OF PART ONE