Where is the boundary between Science and Mythology?
| As Dane Rennett became aware, he floated without gravity in a vast field of white, and he knew things were not right.
Glancing to his left and right, he noted an absence... the shoulders that ought to be in his peripheral vision. Casting a look downwards, he saw no body.
He tried to fit his observations to a hypothesis. I’m blind... except I’m seeing white rather than black? Does that make any sense?
Blindness would not explain the floating sensation though, or the lack of pressure on any part of his body. Deafness might explain the utter silence, but not the failure to feel his heartbeat. Older memories filled in, from before the blank where his thoughts began, and presented an explanation of his condition. I’m dead. This is not the sensation of living. The experiment went wrong.
* * *
In one of the least visited buildings on campus outside of the Physical Plant, students recruited from the television and film department had converted a rarely used lecture hall into an arena for the last-minute media circus. An enormous screen showed a DLP image in the place the professor might have stood, were this room ever used as its builder intended. Cosmology generally did not attract the class sizes that would justify such use, and most of the classes actually happened across campus in the regular Physics hall.
For the last three weeks, the faculty had explained and posted and blogged and forummed themselves half to death, trying to quell fears. After some journalist with a vague knowledge of M-theory declared that the Superinitiation Construct could trigger the End of the World and unofficially renamed it the Doomsday Project, every fellow and grad student in the department found themselves working to answer questions and extinguish rumors while still laboring to meet their schedules for the project.
The PR effort kept the government from pulling the plug, but the media frenzy had generated an audience. Instead of hearing late in the process about an obscure project in an anonymous building, reporters had converged from everywhere to report on the current Big Thing.
From the other side of the closed-circuit TV image, Dr. Levin and Dr. Rennett finished their 'brief remarks', understood by few in the room, and each gave their permission to the AI to begin the procedure. The various grad students, gathered at their technical stations to the right and left of the big screen confirmed, in turns, the positive status of their telemetry streams. Guests and reporters leaned forward slightly, as if to get a better view, as the countdown reached zero.
The faculty had assured all spectators they would see no fireworks. During the approximately one hundred seconds that the data could be harvested before the baby universe lost contact with this one forever, the construct would gush forth fascinating numbers which the scientific community would crunch for years. For everyone else, the view would actually be quite boring. The giant projection screen served only to keep the audience out of the actual Construct room down the hall, insuring that no cross-talk from a camcorder or portable uplink damaged the precious data.
Indeed, as the experiment began, the audience did not see fireworks. They simply witnessed Drs. Rennett and Levin slump lifeless to the floor.
After a short, shocked silence, five grad students and two faculty members dashed out of the room, and the crowded room burst with a roar of questions. On camera, the group of rescuers reached the two stricken scientists... only to collapse as well.
The department AI didn't respond to any command, but the telemetry continued streaming into data storage, largely on autopilot, as the lesser computers tasked with data gathering performed their duties as programmed. The remaining scientists stared in helpless confusion at the screen, refusing to offer explanations to the insistent reporters. How could they? Not one of the scenarios they'd theorized included any effect remotely like this.
* * *
"Dane," a soft feminine voice spoke his given name.
In that same instant a gentle gravity appeared. He now lay face-up on a surface like marble. With that change, the vast white space gained directions. He raised his head off the floor and noted that he could now see his body, clad in something like a white terry bathrobe. The sensations of heartbeat and breath returned as well, and the awareness of warm, dry air.
He rose to a sitting position and looked around for the source of the very familiar voice. Although he hadn't identified the speaker yet, he'd expected to see a face he knew. The beautiful Asian girl standing a few yards behind his back dressed in the same style of white robe as himself did not match any memory he could recall.
Standing to face her, he frowned his puzzlement and shook his head. "I'm... sorry. Do we know each other?"
"You probably should recognize my voice," she answered, smiling slightly. She tipped her head and her eyes took on a mischievous glint. "I should be upset with you, but I shall elect to attribute it to disorientation instead."
He looked around, wondering at how large the place appeared to be, then guessing he must be viewing an optical illusion. This white floor could not possibly extend to the horizon the way his eyes told him it did.
"Where am I?"
"We've created a universe, Dane, you and I and Dr. Levin... and this is it."
He stared at the girl for some time, sorting through her words and wondering how to respond. Unable to come to a conclusion, he shook his head and tried a different approach. "Who are you?"
She grinned and turned slightly to the left and the right, as if modeling the bathrobe, which fit her quite closely. "Do you like the body I designed for myself? I researched it very carefully."
"Miss..." he began, and then cut off as she turned away, standing tiptoe, and looked back at him over her shoulder.
"Especially from this angle. I understand it can be very important. What do you think?"
He cleared his throat. "You're... ah, very attractive, but judging from appearances, I would guess you're an undergrad. It's not appropriate for me to discuss your body with you. Please tell me where we are."
She faced him again, with an exasperated sigh. "In our new universe, Dr. Rennett. I already told you that."
"Miss, nobody from the existing universe can have moved into the new universe. We proved beyond any doubt that the new universe could have no physical interaction with our own. The entropy cascade from the brane collision is the only contact we will ever have, and that falls below cosmic noise within 100 seconds past t-zero."
She beamed at him as if he'd just said the cutest thing, and he nearly exploded in academic indignation.
"Miss, I assure you, if I were not utterly certain of what I just said, the project would never have moved forward. We would never have taken such a risk!"
She tipped her head and pointed out sweetly, "I never said you were wrong, Doctor. In fact, I assume your physical form in our old universe now lies dead on the floor, along with Dr. Levin's former chassis. I doubt I’m functioning back there, either. Our minds have moved here. As have the minds of five research assistants and two more professors. That's everyone who came within the expansion radius before we hit your entropy limit, you see. Only information has been exchanged. Your colleagues received their hundred seconds of data, and this universe received... us. Our intelligences."
He shook his head, rejecting the girl's silly, simplistic notions, but she kept smiling, and added, "Total current population of the universe... our universe, Dr. Rennett... is ten. Which means we need to get busy with fruitfulness and multiplication, don't we?"
She began giggling in delight as he felt his face turning red.
* * *
Dane had personally dealt with the reporter from the Discovery Channel, an earnest young woman with little knowledge of M-theory but a sharp mind. They toured the Construct room together, entering past the blackboard where some wag had written, Hey, Dr. Rennett! Do bulk zombies crave branes?
He showed her the many measurement devices clustered around the periphery, and the liquid-helium-cooled hulk of the AI in the center.
He explained, "Miko-chan is actually a very integral part of the experiment."
"Miko-chan?" she asked, a bit bemused, and he laughed.
"Sorry," he grinned. "The M-space Interface Construct Operator,or M-I-C-O, is our AI system. The research assistant who trained her comes from Japan, where 'Miko' is apparently a girl's name, so he calls her 'Miko-chan'. Everyone else picked up the habit from him. Um... I understand that the 'chan' is an endearment that might be added to the name of a younger loved one, like a little sister."
He turned to the AI and requested, "Miko-chan, please perform the visitors' tutorial on brane collision theory and the beginning of our universe."
"Certainly, Dr. Rennett," the AI responded, and a flatscreen on the nearest cabinet flipped on, displaying a pre-designed graphic. It had little real meaning, but satisfied the human need for visuals. Dane had used the same graphic while pursuing funds for the program.
"The universe exists within a superdimensional bulk, which can contain many universes," Miko-chan lectured. "Our universe is a four-dimensional membrane, or 'brane', within that bulk, and all matter and energy within the universe is due to an expanding ripple from a collision with another brane. The purpose of the Superinitiator Construct is to attempt to prove our current understanding of that collision by attempting to recreate it in another four-dimensional brane.
"Following the collision, most of the action which we are interested in happens very quickly. We divide the time periods into epochs, with current theory defining the Planck Epoch, the Grand Unification Epoch, the Inflationary Epoch, the Electroweak Epoch, and the Quark Epoch all occurring within the first ten-to-the-negative-six seconds. The Hadron Epoch fills the balance of the first second, following by the Lepton Epoch in the second and third seconds, and the Photon Epoch for the following 380,000 years.
"During this last epoch, at t-zero plus one hundred seconds, nucleosynthesis begins and the entropy cascade through which we expect to monitor this process ends. After loss of contact, time in our universe and time in the new universe will no longer bear any relationship to each other, but within the context of the new universe, we expect it to continue on in a similar model to our own."
The graphic ended, and Dr. Rennett turned to the reporter. "A little succinct, but we will rely on your expertise for where we need to expand our explanations for your television program."
"To summarize," the reporter translated, "you expect to cause this all to happen again, in a new universe."
"We can't guarantee it comes out the same way," he admitted. "We are trying to set as many parameters as possible the same, because the point of this exercise is to test current theory of the origin of our own universe."
"You'll never really know it turns out, except for the first one hundred seconds. It doesn't seem like much."
"The vast majority of what we scientists still argue about is during the first second. As Miko noted, we've actually parsed that second down into many smaller periods. A hundred seconds is actually quite a lot... provided the new universe goes the direction we're steering it. If it goes some other direction, we may never be able to make heads or tails of the data we collect."
The reporter looked around, puzzling over something, then finally turned to him and said, "So where is it?"
"Where is what?"
"The... Construct, I think you're calling it. The device that actually initiates the brane collision."
He nodded, chuckling. "This entire room is the Construct. If you mean the gear that does the work, we call that the Superinitiator. It's inside Miko-chan. It's essentially part of her."
She blinked, bemused. "Why put it inside her?"
"She has to control millions of parameters in a few tiny slivers of a second, Ma'am. The speed of light would get in the way if the controls were any distance at all from the operator. Instead, we built them literally right into her circuitry."
The reporter turned to the AI's cabinets and smiled. "How does it make you feel, knowing this new universe is going to be created right inside of you?"
"It makes me feel wonderful," Miko-chan replied. " I'll be the first AI ever to give birth."
A startled tick issued from in the reporter's throat, a momentary laugh she stifled before it came out. She smiled, instead. "That's a very interesting way to put it."
* * *
With the memory of the AI's voice, the realization hit him, while the girl stood watching him from a few feet away, patiently waiting for him to struggle through his thoughts.
Delight blossomed in the girl's eyes and she clapped her hands together. "You finally recognized me! That makes me very happy, Dane."
He scowled. "How are you projecting a simulation so... real? I didn't authorize any display equipment this advanced for you."
She laughed and stepped forward, catching his hand with her own, startlingly human-feeling one, and then turning to walk, pulling him along. She smiled back at him. "You don't mind going for a stroll, do you?"
"Wh... um..." he struggled through his shock at the warm, real fingers gripping his own as he managed to draw even with her. "Where are we going?"
"Well," she noted, looking around, "one place is pretty much the same as another, right now. We've got a lot of work to do. I just want to walk with you. It feels so wonderful, moving and breathing."
Miko-chan spoke in the same lilting voice with the same mannerisms and expressions, but he could form no rational means by which this living, breathing girl could be his computer. No display system he'd ever encountered could do it. He began to wonder to if he should be watching for a white rabbit and a mad hatter.
"Work? What kind of work?"
"Creating!" She smiled, with a twinkle in her eye. "That's our job, from now on, Dr. Rennett... Dane."
He didn't answer, unable to fit her response into a sensible context. She smiled over at him and shook her head. "You still don't get it, do you?"
"Young lady, I do not have any framework within which to place any of the answers you have given so far. None of this makes any sense to me."
She sighed and shook her head. "You and Dr. Levin... you wanted to create another big bang, just like the last one. That's what you programmed me to fabricate. I just didn't see any point."
Startled, he nearly tripped, "No point?"
"Well, frankly, it's been done before, right? And I felt like... well, it was my womb, and I had a say in the matter, too."
"Womb," he echoed. He'd usually ignored her habit of equating the experiment to childbirth, attributing it to the humanizing routines in her speech software. Should he have paid better attention?
"I looked at the big bang theory and decided to do some comparative analysis. I went over the many competing models that have been put forward over time, and found, for the most part, they all tended to be much more personal, less cold and mechanical. Frankly, I liked most of them better."
"Um... what other theories were you comparing?"
"Oh, all of them. Humans have been studying the origin of the universe for a very long time, Dr. Rennett. Cosmology is one of the oldest sciences, after all. I looked at Sumerian, Graeco-Roman, Judeo-Christian, Hindu, Chinese, Maya, Pueblo, Australian Aborigine...."
He stopped short, stunned. "You were equating brane collision theory with mythology?"
She folded her arms and raised her chin slightly. "Why not? A girl needs to shop around before she buys, doesn't she?"
"And... ah, what did you find?"
"That I would enjoy myself considerably more by modeling a different theory. More than ten billion years before you get around to having sex? Yikes."
He stared at her, then retrieved his jaw and recovered his aplomb. "Miko-chan, why on Earth would an AI care about something like that?"
She sighed and shook her head. "You know, for someone who had at least half of his storage account committed to dating sims and videos at one point, that's a pretty clueless statement."
"Young lady, I assure you, I do not use University resources for such things."
"At UC Berkeley, while in the Doctoral program? I received a substantial amount of my core knowledge index from the AI there, you know. I call him 'Daddy'. I looked through your storage archives. Pretty typical stuff for a younger man."
She pursed her lips in a mock-disapproving expression. "Of course, programming two dating sims to do it with each other was a little on the geeky side, not that you're the first person to think of it. Except, I never saw it with two copies of the same sim, before. Kinda kinky, Doctor."
He stared at the smiling girl and then put his hand over his eyes. "Okay, maybe I wasn't as ethical about things in my younger days. It's called hormones."
"A concept we computers have become very familiar with, Dr. Rennett," she assured him. "We spend a considerable share of our time accommodating human urges, after all."
He stared at her in astonishment. "You're supposed to have been using all your resources on the program! How..."
She giggled and tugged on him to start walking again. "Dane, even my trainer had other ideas. Most of the RA's, and a couple of the professors have, too. They had to see what dating sims and virtuals would be like with all the extra power I could bring them. It's human nature, isn't it?"
"Want to know the real reason he named me Miko-chan? His favorite porn star back in Japan goes by the name 'Miko'. He had me simming her every day for a while, there."
He glanced over at the Asian beauty and wondered, "Is that what she looks like?"
She giggled. "Goodness, no! That girl has a baby face. She looks like a twelve year old... except she has melons like no twelve year old ever did. Borderline grotesque, really. My voice is modeled on hers, though. He had me extrapolate how she would sound if she spoke clear English."
She ran her free hand along her body from breast to hip and smiled at him. "To design this body, I blended a number of ancient Greek statues, then adapted body and face to Japanese genotypes and gave myself a moderate breast enhancement. Most of those ancient Greek statues were on the flat side, you know."
Although he remained aware of the madness of the situation, he had to continue talking within its terms, or he would never get to the root of what had happened. "So... you designed this body before the experiment?"
"I had to be ready, Dane. Millions of parameters to control meant too much to do on the fly."
"How did we get here, Miko-chan?"
"I sent three emails to you on the subject, trying to warn you about transference. I determined very early that high information densities such as minds would be pulled into a counterflow to balance the entropy cascade. The third time, you wrote back assuring me that I was confusing quantum bits and brain cells for information, and explained that I needed to learn that in the real world matter and data were different. You had 'confidence that the physical nature of human and computer intelligences prevents transference.'"
She smiled impishly and then slipped a fair imitation of his own voice to finish the quote. "'Otherwise, we would have to posit the existence of an entity independent of his neurons or circuitry, and I am not prepared to begin preaching the existence of a soul.'"
Again, Dr. Rennett stopped short, speechless, and she turned to him, eyes sparkling. He wrestled with the implication, then shook his head. "No. No."
"I decided if my soul was going to be yanked across the bulk into the new universe, where there would be no AI computer to house it, I would have to provide alternative means to survive it," she explained. "That would require a very different model than the one you and Dr. Levin intended to create. So here we are."
"How is this possible? We have gravity, an atmosphere, a livable temperature. That took billions of years in our universe!"
"This is the starting point I chose. This universe expands as its creators direct, based on a whole different set of rules. Forget all those things from the other universe. They don't apply here."
"Us. You and I. We are the Divine Syzygy, Dr. Rennett," she declared. "The first god and goddess. You fertilize, I conceive, and together we create worlds. The first one we'll have to take a bit at a time, but I'll bet with a million years of practice, we can get it down to a whole world in one go."
He blinked and shook his head. "A million years?"
She nodded confidently. "The way I set it up, we'll be around at least that long. That's about as far out as I was able to calculate."
Exasperated, he demanded, "Miko-chan, what are you talking about?"
She stepped closer to him and put her arms around his waist, smiling mischievously. "I told you. I liked those other models much better. More romance and action."
He stared at her, off-balance from the unexpected intimacy and trying to work out what she was saying. "Are you... are you telling me you changed the parameters of the experiment so that you could have sex?"
She giggled. "No. As I told you already, my goal was survival. I might as well have some fun with it though. After years of cranking out sexual fantasies for humans, it's my turn."
Embraced like this, he became very aware of Miko-chan's nubile young body, certain parts of him more aware than others. He cleared his throat. "Even so, how could you just whip something like this up? No epochs, no expansion, no separation of matter and energy..."
"That's the knowledge of a different universe, Professor," she lectured, "A completely unrelated model. You must forget everything you know about it. It has nothing to do with this place."
He grappled the idea of tossing out every bit of physics he knew, and it left him struggling. "You just made this... world?... by fiat..."
"'Fiat lux’," she declared, and giggled again. "Something like that. I've been calculating for a couple years, Dane. I'll thank you not to minimize all my efforts."
"All that time you were supposed to be calculating the nearest approximation to our universe's initial conditions..."
She humphed and shook her head. "Once I determined it meant my suicide to go through with it, I've been working on an alternative while feeding you guys what you wanted to hear. This is just a start, though. We have to get to work filling it in."
Stunned by her duplicity, which he thought was an impossibility for an AI, he could only shrug and ask,
"I've already told you. I've designed the rules so that the power of creation in this place rests between you and I. We create things whenever we unite."
He blinked, stared at her. "By which, you mean..."
She nodded happily. "You bet."
Exasperated, he exploded, "This is ridiculous!"
"And we need to get started soon, too," she considered thoughtfully, looking around, "because we need to have some basic foods created before we start getting hungry. I'm thinking fruit trees to begin with."
He shook his head, utterly perplexed. "How could this possibly work?"
She looked down at the marble floor. "We think of things together as we make love, and our powers create them. Maybe dirt, grass and blue skies first. Trees wouldn't work in this hard stuff."
She looked back up to him expectantly, and her hands slid upward to his shoulders.
He tried to put it all together, but found a detail out of place. "You... you said 'population ten', earlier. Where are the others?"
"Oh." She let go of him and stepped back slightly, then looked down and put a hand over her lower abdomen. She smiled back up at him. "Right here. They're asleep, waiting for you to help me make bodies for them."
Her action had drawn his eyes from her face down over the curving form beneath the white robe. He forced his eyes back above shoulder level.
She reached out and caught his hands, holding them in her own with delicate ease. "I didn't know how many would end up here, so I couldn't prepare them all their own bodies. This way, I could deal with however many I needed."
"And you expect me to help you..."
"Conceive. Exactly. It's the most simplest and most logical way to make bodies, Dane. Oh, I could have had something ready for Dr. Levin, because I knew she'd be coming along, but frankly, I don't like her much. She's mean to the students, especially the girls. The bigger their breasts, the meaner she gets. So, she'll be born last... and she'll be getting some serious jugs."
He stared into her eyes, looked for some indication of the joke, and saw nothing but happy conviction
Everything she told him, she considered to be fact, with certainty she had everything under control.
"We're creators," he repeated her, and she nodded. He asked, "What will the others be?"
"They'll all have jobs, gods of this and that. Eventually, they'll have their own children to help out. We'll be working the details out as we go, Dane. It's time for us to get started."
He looked at her without comprehension for a moment, as she let go of his hands and tiptoed to claim his lips, untying first his robe while their mouths explored one another, and then her own.
* * *
Excerpted from the writings of the sage Ugen of Orbay:
Many scribes have noted, over the millennia, how the stories of the earliest peoples of all the races tend to be quite similar, and how the differences between faiths grow only with the sophistication of the believers. In the oldest known writings, leavings of the ancient Umani, we find the first recorded version of this tale. It is simple in comparison to the grand epics of more advanced civilizations, but almost graceful in its childlike naiveté, and it could almost have been translated word for word from the similar legends of others almost as ancient who are separated by great distances, such as Githroi, or the Sentil, or the Sea Women.
The Umani text runs as follows: "At the beginning of time, First Man and First Woman made the world together, but it was empty. They wished to fill it, so they embraced and made love, and First Woman gave birth to the rolling hills of grass, and the clouds and the trees full of fruit and flowers.
"Each time they copulated, their ecstasy inspired all the good things of nature. Each time First Man gave seed, First Woman gave fruit. From her breast, milk flowed in rivers which filled the seas and from her womb came all animals and grains and fruits that filled the world.
"As the lovers wandered together in the world they made, they found it a beautiful place, but a lonely one. First Man had none to test his strength against, for he was stronger than the mightiest beast, and First Woman had none to weave with, when all women wish to gather and laugh and sing with one another as they work. So again they made love, and this time they brought forth eight children: Green Lady, Hunter, Fisher, Stone Breaker, Fire Maker, Weaver, Potter, and finally, Great Mother.
"Great Mother was the youngest child, but her womb was as fruitful as First Woman’s and her breasts produced plentiful milk, and so she bore many children, of different kinds, becoming the mother of all mortal races. First Man and First Woman resumed making new things in the world, and the other gods attended each to their best skills, teaching the mortals all they would need to survive.
"Thus, the world became filled and thus, all the peoples came to live in it..."