The Sine (Creative Short Fiction)
The oscillations are increasing in frequency and amplitude, the dry, emotionless voice of the Dr. Hritch said in monotone, the recording time keyed and duplicated as the bits of his analogue voice were modulated and sent to headphones, server and work-pad.
Hard to believe, thought his graduate student and lab assistant, he can be so calm, knowing that probability was working with emotions and the earth itself to bring an end to the world as we know it.
When Suri had first come to Wazzu, she had been a bright eyed, newly minted graduate student from the east coast. Washington, to her mind, was made of images of lush greenness, large trees, and abundant water, all of which Pullman has very little. Her disillusionment started on the plane as it circled Spokane in preparation for landing. Its all brown, she had thought, brown and dry. Hot too, she further realized as she walked from the airport to the shuttle, the arid afternoon heat differing from the humidity she had left at home.
She had, however, accepted this adjustment of her views with respect to reality and moved on quickly. I am, after all, a Panologist, she recalled thinking, and panologists, as the name implies, synthesize new concepts utilizing information from all branches of science, mathematics, philosophy, even studying different religions and their interactions with the physical and spiritual world. It is a great discipline for me, because I have never known what I wanted to be. Maybe it would be better to say that I want to do it all, and this is my best chance at that.
Her initial meeting with her advisor brought on a flurry of activity at first, extending from the brief squall to the perpetual storm, all of which had barely dropped off even when she went home for breaks. From moment she smilingly introduced herself to the taciturn Dr. Hritch until now, four long years and almost two degrees later, she had been sucked into the vortex of panology, unable and unwilling to separate herself from the science: Unable, because of the sheer amount of data that had to be gone through in order to find and establish a link between disparate fields of study; Unwilling, because she felt driven to not only get a degree, but to go into the world as one of the first viable panologists with a track record of showing the efficacy of the science to help humanity.
Driven crazy, smore like it, she thought one night as she trudged through the late evening to her apartment in town, Maybe I should have taken it a bit easier. I think that I am beginning to burn out.
She had managed to surround herself with an extensive network of colleagues from the multiple disciplines that she frequented, and from this list of colleagues she had made several fast friends who would all agree, most vociferously, with her own estimation that she was in danger of burning out. Indeed, of late she was getting a bit worried about her own sanity, as she had been seeing things, strange dark things lurking in the shadows and giving her the impression that they were malevolently watching her, and actively trying to hurt her.
Two more semesters had become her mantra, maybe less if I can get the Economics and Physics departments to see that they are both approaching the one area of my dissertation from different viewpoints that are leading to similar conclusions. If I had wanted to teach physics to an economist, or vice versa, Suri sighed to herself, I would have held either as my discipline. I have to know as much as the professors from each faculty, because I have to be able to reason form all points of Holy fuck!
She threw herself up against a wall as a ball of darkness wizzed by, missing her by inches, popping into nothingness in the brightness of the street light. A drunken couple in search of a room looked at her strangely as they walked into the street to avoid getting to close, whispering and giggling nervously.
Why cant anybody else see them?
That wasnt exactly true. At least other people, or rather one other person, had said that he had seen similar things. Dr. Hritch.
She had gotten a ride home one evening from Dr. Hritch, and as she had stepped out of the car, she had been buffeted by two black blobs, causing her to spring backwards, headfirst into his car, landing quite unceremoniously. Her torso, head and arms were inside the car on the floor boards and her legs splayed and twisted outside, the door halfway closed on her midsection, her knees not quite touching the pavement of the parking lot. He had looked down at her, and she was afraid that she would see a look of puzzled cynicism on his face. They didnt hurt you, did they? he said along with a wide eyed look that conveyed concern.
You saw them too? She asked, slowly extricating herself from the awkward position, brushing herself off and trying to gain some measure of composure.
Yes. I did, He said, and, come to think of it, I have been seeing similar things myself ever since you started getting into the branch of panology that you are currently pursuing for your doctoral dissertation. That revelation was almost as startling as being attacked by the two things, whatever they were or werent. Was it something about her dissertation topic causing these strange things to happen? Thats mad she thought, but so are these things attacking me.
She had written her masters thesis on the frequency of major events in species existence relative to other events as either stressing or benefiting a population. Looking at several longitudinal studies in which the species had crashed, she had been able to show, by the use of some analytical physics and advanced probability theorems, both the stressor and beneficial incidents increased in frequency and amplitude right up to the crash. It was the combination of oscillatory nature and drastic swings between positive and negative that upset the species. She had even proposed a formula for predicting population collapse.
So when the time came to choose a dissertation topic, Dr. Hritch had suggested that she expand on her research and try to apply it to various civilizations and societies throughout history, and she had somewhat foolishly unaware of the volumes of data that she would be required to consume and assimilate, readily agreed.
She had started the research with the sociology, history and anthropology departments, and soon had an application written to simulate the cultural rise of civilizations based on broad spectrum positive and negative stressors. Then she brought in the psychology and the computer science departments to flesh out the stressor lists and refine her modeling techniques. The rest of the sciences were brought in during the next phase to parse the database for upper and lower stressors to observe the changes in a linear fashion between the whole dataset and thereby check the reality of the modeling algorithms.
Somewhere between the first and second semesters she had started to feel that something was watching her. This feeling was just a faint tingling at first, it was there but able to be brushed off. As she progressed with her studies, however, it grew progressively more pronounced. Worries about her own sanity grew inside of her, and then she had her first sighting.
She had just successfully run a portion of the program to simulate societal decay rates. A feeling of accomplishment warmed her and she felt that she should go down to Ricos, have a stout and do something unusual for herrelax. As she walked down the long hill towards downtown, she had the by now familiar feeling of someone watching her, but then she was pulled from behind.
Whirling about, she had her can of pepper spray out and aimed at where she thought her attacker should be, only to find a black blob hanging in the air. Nothingness would describe it better than somethingness, and the spot on her back where her body had intersected the thing felt like it had been pulled, almost like a giant vacuum cleaner nozzle had been attached to her shoulder. Then this ball of nothingness just vanished.
Shaken, she had run home, locked her doors and windows, and called one of her close friends, whom she kept up for the rest of the night talking, worried that that she might be going crazy, and afraid that she wasnt.
Even now, she still wasnt sure, Dr. Hritchs similar sightings aside. She had mentioned these things to her friends as a joke, watching them for signs of recognition. It was like having something really important to say, but being afraid to say it, afraid of the scorn a little bit, but more afraid of the reason for the scorn, of the people with whom she had placed her trust and built a bond not believing her. Modern day Cassandra, telling the truth and nobody will believe. Those closest to her studies, judging from the way they reacted, bodies stiffening, eyes widening, had some inkling of what she was talking about.
Is this what crazy is, this being alone? I have developed a whole new way of looking at the world. I have synthesized, from all branches of study and human knowledge, a series of algorithms that hold the prospect of being able to predict, and thus avert, the decay of society.
Another pass through the algorithms yielded the same result. This cant be. This just cant be.
The final raising of the bar by her dissertation committee had been to add the request that she use her algorithms that she had formulated for her masters thesis in conjunction with the ones predictive of species decline. She could sense them mocking her when they said this. They are trying to make me predict when mankind will fall. What a title for a dissertation, she thought: Calibration and Utilization of the Species and Societal Predictive Algorithms with Specific Application To the End of Human Civilization. I think that a little less grandiose title will do.
It had seemed almost as if I were being set up for ridicule, set up for failure as the disparate boards gave each of their requirements. Were they trying to show that the entrenched sciences and disciplines were somehow above panology? Was this some turf battle, a fight for limited funding, the baser instincts of collegiate personalities sharpening their grant writing knives, with me as the pawn? Or were they just curious as to how far this science could go, stretching it to see the extents that panology could reach?
It was, most likely, a combination of these and other reasons which I have not thought of and, right now, I dont really care about why. Right now, I have to figure out why this sine function is increasing at such a rapid rate. I know why, it is the input to the algorithms that control that aspect, but it seems too fast, too rapid an increase. At this rate, with the amplitude and frequency increasing at an almost exponential rate, we will have exceeded the threshold at which the human race is supposed to collapse before my dissertation defense tomorrow. Which puts me in a rather difficult spot. Can I defend an algorithm that I think is wrong? But I dont think the algorithm is wrong, it is the information that is being used by the algorithm that is somehow suspect. Shit! I dont want to spend another year here working this out!
The black unthings, as she and her friends had begun to call them, became more active, less averse to light. They seemed to have increased in population, visible in the day as well as the darkness. They had become so prevalent that she no longer had to think herself crazy. The unthings were in plain sight to all of her closest friends and acquaintances, and advisors. They couldnt be ignored.
What is more, they seemed to become more active with an increase in negative emotions. Somehow they seemed to feed off of anxiety, fear, pain, stress detecting these negative emotions, congregating around the source, growing larger and more numerous with the source of these emotions. Finals week they could be seen by the people who had the knowledge of them, openly floating about campus, clustered on the unprepared and the unsure, nowhere near to the supremely confident.
I could almost grade my tests by looking at the relative numbers of unthings gathered around each student. Almost. Not every item on an undergraduates mind came directly from the test.
She had to admire Dr. Hritchs calm demeanor, therefore, while looking at the equations, baselines and algorithms. It would appear that everything is working according to theory. So either your theory and equations are wrong or, Dr. Hritch said. mankind is approaching the end of its run as dominant species on earth.
He can say that without a single unthing around him. Amazing. I have to retreat to a memory of a warm spring day at home in the Adirondacks, out in the woods, snow all around with big glacial erratics sticking through the snow pack, just sitting on the boulder, sunning myself and thinking of Grandpas sugaring operation boiling down the maple sap till it is amber and thick and sticky Ahhhh. That did it. That got those unthings away from me for awhile.
It is hard to think of good things while in the midst of troubles, difficult to keep your thoughts positive. Dr. Hritch does it so well. Another hurricane, another earthquake or tsunami or both, balance these things with positives, pro-democracy peaceful protest, progress on hunger, treaties to help stabilize nuclear powers, humanitarian interventions, and then the occurrence of more bad, more good.
I think I have it figured out, she thought as she walked to the window, holding on calmly to that deep feeling of warmth emitting from the thoughts of home and family. Looking out the window, she thought even more strongly of home. I will not be defending my dissertation tomorrow. It doesnt look like I will receive my doctorate after all.
Outside, the unthings were feasting on passers by. Even those people who did not know why, who couldnt see the unthings, were aware of their presence now, trying to avoid a palpable sense that something was wrong, crossing roads because they felt that some one was looking, watching, waiting for them to do something. Just think and worry. Believe that something is there and it will be, feasting on thoughts of your own creation.
Grandmas making buckwheat cakes and sausage gravy.
Let go of the thoughts, Suri. If you know this much you know there is no escape. Just let us in and there will be peace for you. We know how much stress you have been under lately.
I will never let go of my good thoughts: Fishing in the Hudson, riding my bike with two wheels only. I used to think that you were doing this out of a desire to help humanity, Dr. Hritch. You just needed a human who was driven to help, driven to make a difference in some positive way; some human to balance out the needs inside of you. You are driven, are you not? You and your unthings.
My first kiss. How wonderful. The first time I truly loved someone.
Think of how they hurt you, Suri. Think of the nights spent crying in your bed over the love that was not shared.
Oh, but that was good, too. Learning is good, you see. I have the way, or at least a way, to not fight you, but to hold you at bay, to complement your negativity so that it cant get out of you and hurt the world.
Hiking the day I got accepted to graduate school. You did your job too well, Dr. Hritch. I wasnt supposed to figure you out until you had consumed me. A little flash of awareness as I was about to succumb to the blank, sucking blackness of un-ness, but not until too late would I realize who or what or when or why.
But, you were a little too eager. Just thinking of how I am going to outsmart you is enough for me to hold you and yours at bay right now. You thought that I would crumple, waving out such strongly felt negative emotions that I would just be sucked into your vortex and you would need me no more.
What a bright girl you are, Suri. I knew that you were the right one to offset me.
There you go, thats it. Try to think positively. Think some good thoughts now. You do have some of those, right? I cant imagine what they would be. I love you, even though you are triggering your own demise, Dr. Hritch. Here, we can go together if you like.
She reached out a hand towards the professor, as if to grasp and hold his hand. He recoiled, backing away in the small office. Dont run away. Dont hide. I just want to help. Please let me help you, Dr. Hritch. Thats it. It is ok. Come here. That is the way.
The flesh on Dr. Hritchs hand seamed to bubble from the inside, twisting and writhing like a sack of serpents. Suri held him, content and confident that the emotive state was the only way to complement and cancel the cruel heaving emotions coming off of him. The doctor, or rather, the doctors clothes, slid to the floor, no longer encompassing any solid body.
Suris eyes relaxed, content.
2011 Broliver Stagnasty, TomE and TomEArtSite. All rights reserved.
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