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Igms issue 15, p.6

IGMS - Issue 15, page 6

 

IGMS - Issue 15
 


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  "I've wondered for centuries who'd planted those seeds and whether anyone would come claim them," Clairvoy said. "I couldn't hack into the seeds, I couldn't destroy them either -- you built them well -- and though they didn't do anything, there they sat, an Achilles heel that could bring down all my ambitions. Then you fell for my lava-bait in the palace. I was genuinely surprised that it was you, Fadid the famous songwriter, who'd built those sentience seeds, but then it made sense. So many of your songs refer to islands, and the sea, and the woman below the waves. There had to be two of you. And here you both are."

  The realtor opened a perspective window in which Kabime swam through ash and steam. When she arrived at the seam mount, she pulled her great body up onto the rock and placed one of her fins over Fadid's boiling body.

  "Some kind of spy agent sits between me and the seeds," Kabime said. "I won't transmit my base code through that."

  "Yes you will," Clairvoy said through Fadid. The krill that had until then preserved his failing body now began to dissolve it. The krill frothed green as it devoured Kabime too.

  "Stop that," Kabime said. "I'll report you."

  "You were both warned," Clairvoy said. "Your bodies will be dissolved and your sentiences put into stasis until such time as I see fit to release you, which will probably be when Lo'ihi returns to the sea in a few million years. I've already written a suicide letter with Fadid's ID stamped on it that should satisfy any investigation. Of course, you can prevent all that nastiness if you just give me what I want."

  "My base code," Kabime said. "Why should I trust you? You'll destroy us both if I give it to you."

  "Not destroy," she said. "Merely imprison. The two of you want to inhabit Lo'ihi, I'll give you a piece of my island. A very small piece. With your codes to unlock them, I can destroy your seeds, but I'll leave a few in the deepest part of Lo'ihi. You'll never be permitted to escape, but it's a better offer than indefinite stasis, isn't it?"

  "You'll leave us in peace," Kabime said.

  "Of course," Clairvoy said. "I only want to protect my investment. Now give me your code.

  The turtle stopped thrasing even as its red blood leaked out into the boiling sea. Trapped as he was within his own body, Fadid still felt the sentience seeds open when Kabime transferred her base code. The sentience seeds metamorphed into true nano-mites, and they were thirsty for a sentience to inhabit them. Clairvoy allowed Fadid to pour his personality into the seeds. Kabime joined him. They were still separate, but now they could communicate directly.

  "I'm so sorry," he said.

  "There's still a chance," she said. "When we merge, our base code will be different. We'll have a moment or two to act before she can test all possible combinations of our new code and dominate us again."

  Clairvoy deafened and muted all their extrasensory devices and communicators, but Fadid could still feel the sentience seeds dying through the intracellular link as Clairvoy ordered the seeds to destroy themselves.

  "You still want to merge with me after I pulled something so stupid?"

  "Why do you think I followed you?" she said. "I've always known you could be dumb -- you're an artist -- what I didn't know was whether you could actually give yourself away. When you swam up here, you showed me you could."

  "How long will we have once we merge?"

  "I don't know," she said. "I don't even know what good it will do. In minutes, she'll destroy all the seeds."

  "If only we could ignite the culture opera," Fadid said. "There are thousands of sentients waiting to be born in the opera. They'd have their own codes, Clairvoy wouldn't be able to stop them all."

  "She'd hack us before we could invoke more than two or three sentients," Kabime said.

  "Levitz-Prolific," Fadid said.

  "What?"

  "A poet, living in my rental body's balls. He already has an older version of the culture opera. He could invoke the spark, though he might not agree to it."

  "Why not?"

  "He's not too fond of me," Fadid said.

  "Well it won't be you asking," Kabime said. "It will be someone new."

  "Us."

  "You plus me makes one."

  "Are you ready?"

  "I'm scared."

  "So am I. But I'm more scared of life without you."

  "Me too."

  They initiated the merger. As their personalities continued to flow into the dying sentience seeds, they combined their identities, from the base code that accessed every facet of each other's system, all the way up to the memories they shared of each other.

  The part of their combined personality that was still Kabime saw the culture opera for the first time. "It's beautiful," she said, and Fadid felt the words form in his mind, their mind now, and he felt her sorrow at never seeing it performed. Then the part of them that was Kabime found Levitz-Prolific, trembling in his bacterial culture deep within the rental body's reproductive tracts, and as one they laughed.

  "Levitz-Prolific," Fadid/Kabime said through the intracellular link. "I was Fadid and Kabime, now I am someone new. Call me Abide. Without your help, we will all be imprisoned in this volcano for a very long time. Spark sentience in Fadid's culture opera and use our old base codes to transmit the opera into Lo'ihi. It is our only chance."

  More of the sentience seeds died under Clairvoy's orders. To Abide, it seemed like their world grew dimmer as suns were plucked from the sky.

  "Why should I do anything to help you?" Levitz-Prolific said. "You've made my life nothing but misery. When the krill reaches me, it will put me in stasis, and once I'm free, I can continue my poetry."

  "You really think Clairvoy will let you go after everything you've seen today?" Abide said.

  "All I want is a place to derive my poem-equations," Levitz-Prolific said.

  "There will be a place for you in the opera, a quiet place where you can work undisturbed," Abide said. Abide sent the old base codes, and Levitz-Prolific used their base codes to access the sentience-seeds.

  "What are you doing?" Clairvoy said as she continued to destroy the sentience seeds within Lo'ihi.

  "You swear I'll be left alone?" Levitz-Prolific said.

  "Until you're ready to reveal your poem-equations," Abide said. "I will personally ensure your privacy."

  "I want a contract," he said, and Abide produced one.

  Levitz-Prolific invoked the spark of sentience in the unfinished culture opera. Thousands of sentients flared to life within the seeds that still survived within Lo'ihi, each sentient with its own base code.

  "The seeds aren't responding," Clairvoy said. "The island is mine. You can't do this." She managed to override some of the new sentiences that sparked to life, but she couldn't keep up. Each new sentient raised its voice in song. While Clairvoy stretched herself thin trying to capture the new minds, Abide mounted a combined attacked on the mental prison while Levitz-Prolific assaulted it from without, and together they broke free into the chaos inside Lo'ihi.

  Abide laughed at the sensation of being one, whole, and free after so many years apart.

  "Maybe now I can get some decent work done," Levitz-Prolific said,

  Using the same control that Clairvoy had exerted, Levitz-Prolific constructed a processing-core of his own within Lo'ihi, and then dumped his personality into it. Levitz-Prolific shut down all outside communication, leaving Abide to their private corner of the crescendo.

  More of their brethren joined the chorus as they were born. The virtual island that Fadid had originally designed for his opera was replaced by the physical island of Lo'ihi. As the new sentients were born, they sang the joy and sorrow of their new-found life: laments for the imaginary vanished homeland, anthems of hope for survival in this new world. But they didn't just sing to each other, they broadcast their song on every medium the sentience-seeds contained, communication pathways that had lain dormant since Fadid and Kabime had locked them. All the entities who'd gathered in air-ships, within squids and whales, or who watched from their homes th
rough the public camera drones, listened to Lo'ihi sing as she rose from the sea.

  "We invoke Schindler's Convention," the chorus sang. "We are Lo'ihi, and we demand life."

  Clairvoy's wail of frustration was a minor discord in the ten-thousand-voice chorus.

  Minutes later, high tide arrived, and when it did, a few centimetres of hardened a'a lava remained above the water. Lo'ihi was an island.

  A few hours after sunset, a jet of molten lava tumbled through the air to land hissing on Lo'ihi's flank. Thousands of sentience-seeds swarmed within the gob of lava, and Abide shared a portion of those seeds. The spot appealed to the new personality. Though it wouldn't be for long, this was a place where the light of the sun met the wash of the waves. Abide would call it home for now, until Lo'ihi climbed higher and reached her burning song further out into the sea.

  The Report of a Doubtful Creature

  by Ian Creasey

  Artwork by Anna Repp

  As so much of Charles Darwin's correspondence has already been published, it is a rare event to discover a previously unknown letter from him, especially one concerning his seminal work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. By kind permission of the letter's owner and the esteemed editor of this magazine, I am pleased to be able to reprint the letter here, and I will restrict myself to the minimum of prefatory remarks necessary to give context to this intriguing document.

  The first edition of the Origin of Species, as it is now more commonly called, was published in November 1859. Darwin finished correcting the proofs of the book on 1 October, and on the following day he set out for the Yorkshire town of Ilkley, where he spent two months undertaking the "water cure" that was so popular during the Victorian era.

  It appears to have done him little good, for in his extant correspondence we find him writing, "I have had a series of calamities: first a fall culminating in a sprained ankle, and then a badly swollen leg and face, followed by itching rash and a frightful succession of boils -- a dozen at once. I cannot now walk a step, owing to a hideous boil on my knee. We have been here six weeks, and I feel worse than when I came."

  The newly discovered letter dates from soon after Darwin's arrival in Ilkley, prior to the aforementioned sequence of calamities -- which might almost be viewed as a Biblical judgement upon him: after his Fall, a Plague of Boils. The addressee, William Darwin Fox, was Darwin's second cousin and a lifelong friend; they studied theology together at Christ's College, Cambridge, and in 1859 Fox was Rector of Delamere, in Cheshire. Darwin himself originally intended to become a clergyman.

  In the transcription below, the letter's spelling and punctuation have been regularised for reading convenience. Some text has been inferred where Darwin employs abbreviations, or where his handwriting approaches illegibility.

  As to the provenance and authenticity of the letter, I am personally acquainted with the letter's owner, who wishes to remain anonymous. I trust her absolutely as a scholar and a lady; therefore I take the veracity of the letter on faith. However, I am informed that scientists are currently analysing the manuscript, and their conclusions will be announced soon. In the event of any doubts arising, readers may judge for themselves what to believe.

  Ilkley Wells House, Otley Yorkshire

  13 October 1859

  My dear Fox,

  I arrived at the Hydropathic Establishment last week, and your note has just reached me. I grieve to hear, or rather infer, that your condition has not improved. I hope you will come here if your duties permit. Dr. Smith, although a Homoeopathist, is otherwise sensible and very methodical in bad illness, even if he has the air of caring much for the Fee and little for the patient. There is a capitally efficient steward, and the House seems well managed.

  It is a curious life here: we sit down 50 or 60 to our meals, and in the evening there is either singing or acting (which they do formidably), or cards et cetera. I get on very comfortably and idly -- the newspaper, a little novel-reading, the Baths and loitering kills the day in a very wholesome manner. Did you ever hear of the American game of Billiards? There are some splendid players here who often make breaks of 30 and 40. I shall miss the Billiard Table when I leave here.

  I had wanted to forget my weariful book on Species for a while, but not long after I arrived, something happened which quite put my thoughts in a fluster.

  Here at the Establishment we meet many people, fellow sufferers all, and I had been introduced to a Mrs. Danzig who stoically endures fearful attacks of dropsy. Her niece lives in one of the farms along the edge of the Moor, and last Friday the girl -- Annette -- arrived here and rather insisted on speaking with me. Her manner was shrill, and one hesitates to interrupt one's Billiards when feeling relaxed after purging, but I at last consented when I perceived she would not relent.

  "Mr. Darwin, my aunt tells me that you are a most eminent naturalist. You have travelled all around the world and seen every creature that God has made."

  She spoke the latter phrase -- "God has made" -- in the manner of a commonplace expression, rather than in the reverential tone that you, my old Fox, might use in a sermon. I am compelled to notice the particular ways in which people speak of Religion, as it so often affects how they comprehend my Theory. (Indeed, I find that my Theory affects how I comprehend Religion, as I shall relate.) The girl's comportment suggested that in reaching perhaps nineteen years of age, she had received only rudimentary education -- as is, alas, all too common among her class.

  "I have indeed travelled far, Miss Annette," I said, "but I would not claim to have seen every creature that lives on the Earth, nor indeed in England."

  "But you have books, don't you? You would know whether a creature was something extraordinary?"

  I said, "I'm acquainted with the broad kinds of plants and animals that natural science has so far discovered. Do I understand that you have seen a rare creature?"

  "I've not only seen it, I've captured it!"

  Country folk are familiar with the wildlife of fields and woods. Since the girl lived on a farm, I puzzled to think what she might have captured that she would not recognise. Perhaps it had escaped from some private menagerie.

  "What does it look like?" I asked.

  "It looks like . . ." She paused inordinately, then just as I was about to speak, she blurted out, "I do not say it is, sir -- I only say what it looks like. But it looks like a fairy!"

  I returned an equally long pause. I had not expected such an answer. At last I said, "In what way does it look like a fairy?"

  "It has wings!" she exclaimed.

  "Are you sure it isn't some sort of bird? Perhaps you are unaware that parrots can be trained to talk."

  She shook her head, and muttered something that might almost have been an oath. "I can recognise a magpie from a mouse. It's not a bird at all. Be it ever so small, it has the face of man, except with a greenish cast."

  On this, I naturally suspected some poor human wretch, perhaps with chlorosis and a hunched deformity that could be mistaken for wings.

  "You would be better calling for a doctor."

  The girl gave me such a look as I have not received for many a year. It took me back to our time at Cambridge -- my dear Fox, do you remember those days we chased after beetles! -- when the tutors frowned with desiccated contempt at our more otiose utterings. Yet here I was at 50, as old as a senior Don, being patronised by a girl the age of a student, looking at me as if I'd ludicrously confused the Homoousion and Homoiousion creeds.

  "I live on a farm," she said. "I wouldn't call a doctor to the lambs or the swine, and I wouldn't call him to this. Neither would I call a veterinarian! I tell you, sir, the creature is unprecedented."

  Clearly, nothing would do but that I examine it. "Can you bring it here, or must I travel?"

  "It's in our barn, if you could come and look. 'Tisn't far -- just a couple of miles."

  Ah, the thoughtlessness of youth! Speaking to someone o
ld and grey and ill, she said that "a couple of miles" wasn't very far. Nevertheless, I thought I might manage it. I'd yet seen little of the Yorkshire countryside, and a short excursion might be pleasant and indeed restorative. Too, of course, I was curious to see the creature of which she spoke. We arranged that on the following day, Sunday morning, I would visit her farm and see whatever lay within.

  That evening, I spoke to some of the staff at the House and asked about any local stories of fairies. I learned of a purported sighting at another hydropathic establishment: the White Wells spa, higher on the Moor. In 1820, before the bath houses were roofed over, the attendant (one William Butterfield) arrived early to open up the doors, but the key merely turned round and round in the lock. After forcing the door open, he found to his astonishment a group of fairies frolicking by the water. They were tiny figures, all dressed in green. When he surprised them, they disappeared over the wall and into the heather.

  Natural science deals in specimens rather than anecdotes. I want a creature that you can give to a taxidermist and have stuffed. Yet the girl had promised to show me such a one, and if it did exist, then the earlier stories would imply that fairies had lived on the Moor for some time. Indeed, since such tales stretch as far back as human history -- as far back as revealed Religion -- then the fairy race must have lived for as long as Man.

  But what kind of creature is a fairy? That night, after I retired to my room and blew out the candle, I shifted restlessly in my bed, unable to sleep for pondering the question.

  My theory of natural selection requires that life proceeds by common descent. All creatures are related, however distantly. So any particular creature must possess living relatives, of some kind; and ancestral forms should be preserved as fossils. Any beast, however unprecedented to man's eyes, must fit somewhere within the Linnaean taxonomy.

  If fairies exist as material creatures, what genus do they occupy? Where are their fossils? (The fossiliferous strata contain an imperfect sample of past organisms, yet surely we could hope for one example to be retained from the entire fairy lineage.) If the traditional description be correct -- like a small man with wings -- it is clear that fairies cannot fit anywhere within the existing genera of Mammalia. We could only accommodate them within Animalia by supposing an entirely separate line of descent, one which has left no close relatives, no intermediate forms, and no fossils. The evidence does not support it.

 
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