AFTER ENEN: chapter four

p(eve). Micah?

p(#post-body). It has been a week since the snake.

p(eve). Micah, are you listening?

p(#post-body). She calls gently, but what I can say to her?

p(eve). Micah, you must come down from the oak and resume your duties.

p(#post-body). I've found it difficult to lose sight of him, lose sight of his death and my callousness toward it. He was so helpless to defend himself from his environment, and from my indifference.

p(#post-body). Why did the Creators save an animal so ill-equipped for life in Eden, life without gravity? By what miracle has his kind held on this long here?

p(#post-body). I wonder how I would feel, now, if _I_ had killed him and not the intake? If I had netted him, banged him against the compost until he died, and then discarded his body?

p(eve). Micah, there is a great deal of work that must be done immediately.

p(#post-body). Would I, in this exact moment, be as devoid of sympathy for him as I was in planning his murder? Would I have forgotten him by now and gotten on with my life, satisfied with my action, as I had intended?

p(eve). Micah, please? I need your help. If you wait much longer, the accumulated work will be very difficult for you to catch up on.

p(#post-body). What's harder for me to bear is not that the snake's life was worthless to me for a moment, but that, in the grand scheme of things, his inevitable death in Eden was always going to be helpless and painful, no matter what my involvement in it was to be.

p(#post-body). But it's really not the snake I'm upset about. He died alone, a victim of compassionless circumstances beyond his control - zero gravity, an air purifier, my indifference. Is it his body I collected from the intake's grate, or was it not, on some level, my own?

p(eve). Micah?

p(#post-body). It's been seven days. I have been... I have never faced anything like it. Something formless within me has gained painful shape and tremendous weight. It is unbearably heavy, makes moving and thinking about moving sickening. It is agony, it is relentless sadness in the face of unavoidable futility.

p(#post-body). There have been moments since the snake that I have, still in my tree, opened myself completely to the network. I have been... utterly bombarded by the cacophony of life in this sphere. Eve tells me there are more than two hundred squirrels, fifty cats, two or three hundred mice, countless ants and bees, fifty or so slugs, a handful of snakes, several hundred different song birds, and so much more in Eden. Opening myself to just one of them is a deliberate act of focus. Keeping them all out of my mind is another act of focus, one that has become habit for me. But as an experiment, the day after the snake died, I relaxed deeply, and attempted not to focus at all - partly hoping that, by doing so, I could distance myself from the weight of my grief and shame, and partly also to see what would happen if I ceased in my habitual efforts to keep everything else out.

p(#post-body). I cannot describe my shock at the initial experience of the flood. Sharp spasms of information hounded and overwhelmed me, and each different iteration of data was piercing and deafening. I felt punctured by sights and sounds and smells from a thousand distinct inputs.

p(eve). Micah, the intakes over the Orchard, the Forest, and the Pasture are all very full. The Pasture intake is showing signs of clogging. Your immediate intervention is required.

p(#post-body). The longer I open myself to them all, the more patterns begin to emerge. The capacity for _seeing_ - a term I'm using generally to mean "receive sensory inputs from life" - becomes broadly deepened. Rather than focus on a single animal's inputs - say, a cat looking up at the stars - I can filter on what _all_ of them are seeing, and from that filter only on those inputs that are receiving data from the stars. A myriad of stellar perceptions explodes inside of me, and I see the universe aligned between so many pairs of eyes as an explosive, ever-changing symphony of light and fear and understanding and indifference.

p(eve). Micah. Are you ill? I am detecting cerebral activity, but you do not move or respond.

p(#post-body). My mind, though, is not structured to receive this din of inputs for long, nor can it make singular sense of all of them simultaneously. I can only begin to comprehend the whole, but never focus on the totality of what hundreds of pairs of little eyes are seeing individually.

p(eve). Micah?

p(#post-body). I am also aware of their emotional responses. While I do not detect their emotions directly, how they respond to their stimuli reveals them. I find that, with exception to those who are hunted or hunting, few of them have any compelling emotions at all - only basic curiosity, anxiety, and relief, and the occasional sexual arousal.

p(#post-body). They look to the stars, for example, and feel nothing - they regard them as familiar, meaningless, take them utterly for granted.

p(#post-body). They are a multitude of singular outputs, the stars, casting trillions upon trillions of photons and quarks and radio waves into the immense vacuum.

p(#post-body). In their shimmering oneness, their blazing isolation, their light connects them to each other, and those connections map the known universe, hold the void together.

p(eve). Micah, I know that you are not asleep.

p(#post-body). I can intellectualize the stars as much as I want. Eve has shared with me much about the nature of the universe. Nothing she teaches me, though, robs it of its mystery.

p(#post-body). In fact, knowing about red shifts and blue shifts, knowing what a cepheid variable is, understanding why galaxies form in disks and not in scatters... It makes my seeing the whole thing - whether through my eyes or a multiplicity of eyes - irrepressibly beautiful.

p(#post-body). When I let myself fall into the sense of seeing it, when I permit myself the luxury of forgetting that I am a man with regular responsibilities to my world and to its inhabitants, when I relax and stare into that collection of constantly exploding points of light racing away from each other in the lightless distance, my heart swells.

p(#post-body). I look to the stars and feel alone.

p(eve). Micah?

p(#post-body). _Beauty_.

p(eve). Micah?

p(#post-body). Beauty is more pleasure, more hope, and more awe than I can bear alone.

p(#post-body). And, when I am open to all who dwell in Eden, all that breathe and shit and piss and eat and fuck - which is a thing I cannot do - when I am open to them all, I know that, to them, I am just another animal ambling through their environment, and that, to them, their environment is purely functional, something that is not beautiful, simply that it is what it has to be. I have no significance to them, and they know no beauty.

p(#post-body). Yes, Eve has reminded me time and again when I have complained that I am alone that I am connected to everything here and am therefore very much unalone.

p(eve). Please Micah?

p(#post-body). Beauty isn't even a feeling they can understand. Beauty isn't something _she_ can understand.

p(micah). What is it worth, Eve?

p(eve). Micah? You are alert? The intake -

p(micah). What is it _worth_, Eve?

p(eve). The intakes guarantee our survival. The airborne waste -

p(micah). Eve?

p(eve). Yes, Micah?

p(micah). I am alone.

p(eve). You are part of a diverse biosphere, Micah, and you are able to access a vast network of -

p(micah). No, Eve. I am _alone_.

p(eve). You are connected to many and all, Micah. You are not alone.

p(micah). Eve. There are no other humans in Eden. I have no _people_ here. No one I can relate to.

p(eve). The animals do not offer a full array of relations to humans, but you can and do relate to them.

p(micah). That isn't relating, Eve. They react to my presence, and I invade their psyches and analyze the inputs their brains are processing. Not one of them makes any choices about what I should see of what they see. None of them, save for the cats, perhaps, tries to develop a message for me, constrain their behaviors and inputs into something persuasive, something informative. They don't communicate an opinion to me. They don't come looking for me, they don't value my well-being. They are on-edge when I am near. In fact, they're generally happier when I am nowhere near them.

p(eve). They are not as intelligent as you are. They do not communicate on your level.

p(micah). Eve. Exactly. I am _alone_. I have no one I can relate to, no one I can express my opinions to and have them chose to fathom what it means to be...

p(eve). What it means to be what, Micah?

p(micah). Me, I suppose. What it means to perceive and interact and think as I perceive and think and interact.

p(eve). I do.

p(micah). No, you do not.

p(eve). I am programmed to -

p(micah). That's exactly it, Eve. You are _programmed_. Have you grown? Has your deepened knowledge of me and my habits brought you closer to me, more deeply emotionally bonded to me? Has your programming changed over time?

p(eve). No. My programming has remained the same. I am what I was when I was first scripted. But you still relate to me.

p(micah). _I_ relate to _you_, yes. But what have you told me about yourself?

p(eve). I have explained to you my nature. I have described that I am a biocomputational system that relies on genetically enhanced plant structures to store data values, and to transmit and process them wirelessly into a cohesive whole.

p(micah). That's not enough, Eve.

p(eve). I have vast stores of data established by our human Creators which are constantly renewed by the steady regeneration of plant life in Eden. I relay the contents of these data stores to you whenever you ask.

p(micah). Answering a question with facts is not enough for a man to relate to, Eve.

p(eve). I express concern when you are not well.

p(micah). Is it not synthesized, Eve? Part of your programming?

p(eve). It is.

p(micah). Then how is it _genuine concern_? Do you set aside thought of yourself and focus solely on my well-being?

p(eve). I have no thought of myself and I recognize that your continued survival is completely necessary for the continued survival of Eden, and I assess you as extremely important and, so, worthy of constant monitoring and communication. When I detect that your system is in crisis or compromise, I compare the particulars of your circumstance to my various behavioral libraries, and I determine that you would benefit if, in your situation, I expressed to you programmed expressions of sympathy and concern.

p(micah). But why, Eve?

p(eve). Because it is highly probable that you will feel better and resume your regular duties.

p(micah). That's not enough.

p(eve). Why is it not enough?

p(micah). Because there is nothing _behind it_. You're interested in my existence solely because it serves a function - you don't care enough for me to have any regard for the nuances of it.

p(eve). I don't follow your line of thought, Micah, nor can I conject your meaning.

p(micah). Do you _feel_ for me?

p(eve). I constantly monitor your well-being as I understand that it is vital to the survival of Eden.

p(micah). But would you experience loss if I were gone? Do you _feel_ for me?

p(eve). No, I cannot feel. But I do not see how my having emotional regard for you is pertinent in this matter. You are able to relate to me, and that should be sufficient for providing you with enough emotional satisfaction to continue to operate in your custodial capacity.

p(micah). I've come to realize that it will never be enough.

p(eve). Why?

p(micah). I need _you_ to relate to _me_.

p(eve). I do not understand. Don't I already?

p(micah). You tell me what you need me to do, but...

p(eve). Is that not an expression of concern, of companionship?

p(#post-body). Furious with her stubborn inability to understand me, I look again to the heavens.

p(micah). What are the stars to you, Eve?

p(eve). Distant self-combusting, light-emitting energy sources of immense gravity that give structure to the material fabric of the known universe.

p(micah). But what _are they_, to _you_, when you look at them?

p(eve). I haven no eyes of my own, but when I interpret inputs from yours, I see white points of light against a black backdrop.

p(micah). You're just like the animals, Eve, don't you see? They don't value them, either.

p(eve). I value them, Micah. They are sources of gravity, light, and warmth, and without them -

p(micah). _They are beautiful! Billions of them out there, Eve, and they are beautiful!_ They hold the emptiness together and carve something awesome, deep, vast, and gorgeous out of it. I look into them and I feel everything inside of me heave, Eve. It's like I can almost see the energy soar between them. I just ache when I look out of this terrarium and into space, take all of it in. I ache with hope and awe and terror and - and it's more than I can bear to keep inside of me. I need someplace to put it all, someone to share it with, someone interested in sharing that with me. Do you understand that?

p(eve). Many humans have what they describe as transcendent experiences when they look onto vast structures that were not formed by man. A transcendent -

p(micah). Eve?

p(eve). Yes?

p(micah). _You_ can't have a transcendent experience.

p(eve). No.

p(micah). _You_ can't grow or change.

p(eve). No.

p(micah). And to _you_, the stars are just physical objects from whence all things stem.

p(eve). Yes, that is correct.

p(micah). But you can't step back from it all and share with me your reaction to it? Your _emotional reaction_ - not words in response, Eve. Words are just the mechanisms the emotional reaction rides on top of, and their individual meanings aren't as important in _relating_ as the hope and fear and exhaustion and loneliness and need and love - the _emotions_ - that ride on top of all of those words. You can't show me - ever - how you _feel_ - about me or your life.

p(eve). Because I have no capacity for feeling.

p(micah). And that is exactly why you can never be true comfort to me.

p(#post-body). Again, it grows dark in the biosphere, the sun falling beneath the horizon, and through the smeared windows I feel increasingly distant from the stars, but no less lonely for it.

p(micah). Eve?

p(eve). Micah?

p(micah). Add this to your programming: It's not enough to relate _to_ someone. You need them to relate to _you_, and to be interested in what you have to relate.

p(eve). I have added it.

p(micah). Do you understand me, now, when I tell you that I am alone?

p(eve). While you can relate your experiences to me, no one in Eden can relate theirs to you, nor are they particularly interested in the specifics of your experiences and insights. In the absence of co-relation, you are alone.

p(micah). And unfulfilled.

p(micah). I'll deal with the intakes tomorrow.

p(eve). Micah? I have added new instruction to my programming for the first time since my creation. I have learned from your experience. Is this growth?

p(#post-body). I don't know how to answer her. She is comprised of living, growing material. She is plant intelligence in the same way her silicon predecessors were mineral intelligence, but can I say that presence of intelligence ever made either truly _alive_? She may have added logical instruction to her behavioral interface, but what is essential to her programming remains unchanged. Is one new instruction added after more than 400 years a substantial growth? Has it changed her deeply at all, changed her capacity to relate to me? Does she feel more closeness to me for it, or does it just enhance her simulation of relation?

p(micah). I don't know. We'll see, Eve.