"homework" for New Centre Anthropol seminar series Week 1
The slight man stepped into my office looking skittish. Eyes bounced around the room at anything but my face, pushed up his glasses, then began speaking in a surprisingly forceful voice. “I don’t care what kind of connections get you this entire floor for your...whatever is going on up here. But we can not tolerate the use of the lab for drug synthesis. Do you have any fucking idea how much trouble that will get us?? Do you know how many laws you’ve broken? I represent the heads of the other departments, and I’ve been sent up here to demand an explanation for this and the state of your….staff.” He slammed a container of liquid on my desk, scoffed, turned to glare at the hooded woman that stepped into the room behind him. “We are running through the new sequence in 5.” she says, handing across a folder crammed thick with notes.
“Perfect. Our new friend is coming along. Management wants to know what we are about. No sense in hiding it from them any longer. Perhaps they can….help.” She eyed him with obvious concern before turning away and disappearing down the hall. “Listen carefully.” I rounded the desk and came face to face. “The work in the chem lab is sanctioned, and will continue. The state of my colleagues is of no concern to you. This work is tiring and requires comfort. The immediacy of this project is, as you will see, defined by the fact that its original designers are utterly unaware of what they have created. This is also why I am choosing to break the secrecy that has been employed thus far. Now if you will follow me.” I stepped out into the hall and followed the robed woman toward heavy, mechanically-locking doors but we could already hear the hum growing from halfway down the hall. “No electronic signal passes in or out of this section.” I say, while pulling a heavy black pKey on a chain from under my shirt. We passed through a kind of “airlock” and as the second door opened the humming became suddenly, exponentially, louder. From a distance it sounded like amplified chanting. As we grew closer, the digital undertones became clearer. We passed a large modular baffling wall and the sound became louder still, coalescing into a droning, whirring, oscillation warbling up and down in microtonal increments. The sound seemed to be emanating from nine robed figures sitting in a circle on the floor.
“They achieve interlock by matching the tone and frequency of their humming to IT. We spent 14 months in this room trying to figure out the source of the effects. Small points and shards of light, at seemingly random points throughout the room, solid and cool to the touch. Fragments of solid light that can reliably be described by terms like ‘force field.’ It was like being in a slow-motion snowglobe. One night a technician snuck her girlfriend in after hours to watch it and smoke DMT together. Set off several alarms trying to scramble to her office while extremely high to type one of the strangest formulas I could imagine. If the math had not achieved so much precision, not to mention immediate results, we would have surely written her off.”
The humming shifted. One radian of the circle lowered their volume as the opposing segment raised, there was a physical lurching as a point of light appeared above the center of the circle. The point extended into a line, a point at the center of the line pulled away into a triangle. A louder exclamation moved around the circle, one voice raised, then its neighbour raised, then its neighbour, causing a circular movement of sound. The triangle mirrored along an edge, doubled. Doubled again, grew monotonically into tetrahedron. Octohedron. Icosahedron. It seemed to settle here. This platonic solid floating above their heads. Circular chanting continued.
“Am I supposed to be impressed? Our VR hardware does this in full 3D with affective response modulation. Your people are what, dropping acid and chanting around a holographic projector?” The chanting began a new pattern, waves of sound coursed through viscera, and the icosahedron imploded and left a visible warping that pushed the gaze away from it. “Does a hologram prevent you from looking at it?”
“We are ready, sir.”
“Go ahead.” The chanting suddenly halted, spacious silence dominated. The warping knot remained motionless. Then appeared inches from the slight man’s face, instantaneously, causing him to nearly jump out of his shoes. It was suddenly human-shaped, the warping effect seeming to dissipate until it was a squirming silhouette of identical size and shape as our interlocutor. It reached a hand up to the man’s face that dissipated as it came close, never quite making contact, like an ice cube pushed close to a radiator and vaporizing. Its “skin” came into focus, and almost like a human-shaped digital screen, began projecting fast-moving, complex swirls of mathematical data and geometric imagery. IT held up the stump of “arm” that remained, waved it around a bit as if contemplating it, then leapt bodily at the man, exploding against him in a ghostly whirl. At this point, apparently the man had had enough, as he raced to the door, shrieking.
The chanting began again, and I followed. I managed to calm him down and we found ourselves back in my office. After sitting in silence for 20 minutes or so, he spoke. “Explain it. Now.”
“It seems to be unable to interact with matter in a normal physical sense, and it does not understand any language any of us speak-”
“Wait, you talk like it’s…”
“Conscious, absolutely. The densest representation of information I’ve ever studied, definitely. Systematically testing every conceptual and physical object it can get at for interaction. Made oddly placid by being given a puzzle, which is how we coaxed it into the box in the first place. Reacts in fascinating manner to sonic mimicry. It seems to draw power from its own activity, which makes no sense to us at all, and it was discovered by antivirus software when it began to grow out of your “affective response modulation” data. You will be pleasantly surprised to know that it did several years worth of corrections to work that was essentially rotting in a garbage file before we pulled it out of the system, though we are sure a doppelganger was only narrowly avoided in that, so we will be keeping said work. As for the drugs, my people are utilising heavy doses of LSD25 and prana meditation to effectively “neuropuzzle” it into cooperation. You could say they are presenting it with hyperplastic encryption combined with tranquilizers. Our problem is, that its behaviour has led us to the inescapable *heh* conclusion that the only reason that it has not been treating the box itself as a puzzle is because it is...having too much fun "solving" us to care. This has caused some of us to worry about how long we can entertain it.”