Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Busy Day

Today, during lunch, Tom walked up to me. "I was searching through our database to see what Team Basement had figured out about skin grafts. I saw that you had some notes. Could I ask for your help."
"First of all, Team Basement is a terrible name. Second of all, I'd be happy to help. Do you know someone in need."
"Yes. Although you might not be his biggest fan."
I thought of people I knew with severe burns. "Spectrum?" Was he The Basement's newest recruit?
"No. The reason Spectrum still has those burns is that he is proud of them. I was thinking about Samuel R. Barton."
"The human trafficker who kidnapped me?" I don't know why I asked that. It's not like I knew a lot of other people named Samuel R. Barton.

Anyways, I was still willing to help. Tom explained that he was keeping Sam for information. Sam had moved a lot of MADs over the course of his career. "Which means had can point us in the direction of a lot of MADs who might need help. We can free them, and bring them here."
"Who is 'we'? You might think your wealth is unlimited, but even your can't force the government of Iran to part with all of their nuclear engineers."
"Well, needless to say, some of the MADs may be slightly beyond our reach at the moment. But between Dalton and myself, we have a rather large ability to either buy or seize many of the world's captive MADs."
Tom showed me the body of my former captor. He was unconscious, and wrapped almost entirely in bandages. "I can do this," I said. "But I am going to need a sample of his skin. He has some left, I assume. Otherwise, I'd have to clone his DNA into someone else's, which would be a pain."
"No," Tom said, "no need for that. He still has skin. And some hair, I believe."
"Excellent. He may well look like a guy from a spaghetti western yet again."
I got to work. First I cataloged the damage. Then I made scaffolds to grow the artificial skin. I was entering his room to collect a sample, and I found him awake.
I didn't know how to act. He had kidnapped my brother and me, but he had sustained these injuries defending us. Plus, I sort feel obligated to be nice to sick people. Was I his doctor? Did I need to have a good bedside manner? 
"Allegra," he said. I could tell that speaking was difficult for him.
"You shouldn't be talking," I said. "It is bad for you, and it will continue to be bad for you until I fix up your mouth. If you feel the need to communicate, you can move you eyes in Morse code. Do you know Morse code?"
"Excellent. Do you have something to say."
"U is dot-dot-dash, not dash-dash-dot, and I am not doing this for you. I am doing this because Tom Markovitz wants you to tell him the name and location of every single MAD you sold, and that requires getting you at least well enough to talk. If you make him happy, I might even get you to the point where children won't scream at the sight of you." Immediately after I said that, I felt bad. "Sorry. I guess some part of me still hates you for kidnapping Gabe. But another part of me doesn't hate you, because you did sacrifice quite a lot fighting Spectrum. Thank you for that."
"Dot-dot-dash, remember?"
"There yog go. Now, if yog will exc-g-se me, I have to regrow yo-g-r skin." I shouldn't have done that. He smiled, which made his whole face hurt. "I'll administer something that should numb that. Sorry."

A few hours later, Dalton came into my lab. "Allegra," he said. "You seem to be focusing your energies on regrowing the skin of this Samuel Barton. Could you please redivert it back to the influenza project."
Well, that was awkward. My two bosses wanted me to do different things. "Tom asked me to deal with Barton's skin grafts."
"I understand. Tom is a very intelligent man, but you may have noticed that his sense of priorities is somewhat lacking. Just yesterday, he took time off building a quantum computer in order to teach a robot to play hopskotch. A year ago, he spent some time watching a children's cartoon. Now all of his cars can transform into large humanoid robots." Dalton sighed. "What I am trying to say is that right now, Samuel Barton is Tom's new toy, and Tom wants to play with him. That does not necessarily mean that helping Samuel is in fact the optimal use of our time. That being said, how close are you to being finished with this particular task?"
"I really just need to wait for the skin to mature, and later today I'll operate on him."
Dalton gave a flicker of a smile. "Excellent. And if you need any guidance with either project, feel free to ask me."

You know, diary, I never really discussed clothes. I guess it's not the sort of thing I usually consider important. But I have noticed some things, so why not write it down?
I myself am a t-shirt and jeans type (Gabe jokes that I'm a t-shirt and genes type), but of course I wear a lab coat when I'm on the job. Tom's wardrobe seems to consist of a bunch of brightly colored shirts with references to old TV shows (you know, typical billionaire clothes), and he has lent those clothes out to Daniel and Gabe. Joanne usually wears normal, clothes. How do I describe them? She dresses like my mom,  I guess. A decently normal set of clothes.
But Dalton... he wears a suit in the laboratory. What's up with that? I asked him about that, and he said that you can never know when the president will call. I've never known him to make a joke, so I guess that means he was serious? I don't know.

So, I didn't notice Joanne during dinner. I asked if anyone had seen her. Nobody had talked to her since breakfast, it seemed. "I'll send someone to check her room tonight," Tom said. "I'm not terribly worried. She probably just got absorbed by some problem. It's not like there was anywhere for her to go." I hope he's right.
Tom, Gabe, Daniel and I played Scrabble over dinner. When was the last time I played that game? It must have been in high school, back when I was still living at home. It tonight was anything to go by, Gabe must have creamed everybody. That kid knows how to Scrabble. We all had to admit that. "But I could totally write a computer program to play this," Tom said.
"Of course," Daniel added. "Which algorithm would you use? Recursive?"
"Not worth it. You don't know the other player's letters, your best bet is to run MEX regression on a large sample database and just optimize based off of that."
"You would need an absurd database."
Tom got out his phone. "I own a social networking site where people can challenge their friends to Scrabble games. I can start collecting data right now."
"That ought to do it," I said.
"Well," Gabe challenged, "I bet I can still beat it."
After fighting words like those, Tom and Daniel got to work. "We have twenty-four hours to write this program," Tom said. "We are allowed access to every sort of dictionary, every pre-made artificial intelligences I already have, et cetera."
Gabe was suspicious. "I get the feeling I'm being hustled. Are there any AIs I should know about before I agree to this?"
"The most germane one is for chess. When we defeat you, when our computer program leaves you weeping in humiliation, you will have nothing to blame except for your own hubris."
"Okay," Gabe smiled. "Deal. If I win, can I have a billion dollars?"
"No, but I'll buy you ice cream."
They shook hands, and then immediately started arguing about whether quantum computers are allowed. They reached the compromise of yes they are allowed but it doesn't matter since Tom's computer wasn't actually powerful enough to be useful.

I spent the evening talking with Gabe. "You know," he said. "I never asked. When did you first realize you were a MAD?"
"Well," I said, "it wasn't an abrupt realization, like you had."
Gabe laughed.
"I began to suspect over the course of a few weeks. At first, it was great. My classes were easier, I was never bored, I could always get my computer to work. But it quickly became distracting, the voices in my head asking me questions. The changes in my personality. I drove my friends away when I needed them most. I tried to convince myself that it wasn't M.A.D.N.E.S.S. I said that I was just discovering an interest in science. But eventually, I learned the truth. I came out to you guys a few weeks after I was sure. And the rest is history."
Gabe gave me a hug. Surprised, I hugged back.
"I am so lucky," he said. "To have you around for this transition. To have Daniel and Tom and everyone. It must have been so scary for you. When things got out of control... when you were shipped off to that horrible place."
It was scary. It was terrifying, discovering the power of my ideas. Discovering how weak my will really was in the face of the urge to do science. But at the end of the day... "I did what I did. I killed six people, I was locked up for two years, and now two of the most important men in the country have taken us under their wing. Life has been more than fair to me."
Gabe gave me another hug.         

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