Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Day With the Steinhardts

I woke up at ten twenty three. Joanne seemed to have been awake for quite some time at that point. Daniel seemed to have woken up only recently. I elected to make myself some toast for breakfast. I go a slice of our newly-bought bread, and walked over to insert it into our newly-bought toaster. But I was overcome with this urge to take it apart. The toaster, I mean, not the bread.
Ugh. I put the bread in as fast as I could, and distracted myself by trying to calculate the fractal dimension of the surface of a cloud.
As I ate my toast in silence, I contemplated the future. I know, I know. Why would I contemplate the future. My life has been such a whirlwind, filled with so much unpredictable nonsense, that it almost felt foolish to plan ahead. 
I sent my parents an email. It didn't say outright that it was from me, and that Gabe and I were alive and well. To most people, it would have seemed like gibberish. But to someone 
Finally, fifteen minutes past noon, my brother woke up. "Wow," he said. "Old people wake up early."
"Gabe, yesterday I ran fifty volts through my own arm, then cut it open and fished out a cyanide capsule the side of a pea. You do not have the right to sleep in two hours later than me. Speaking of which, everyone should change their bandages. Imagine how stupid you'll feel after you're dead from an infection."

After everyone was fully awake (ahem, Gabe), I called a meeting. "Gabe. You have a decision to make. I think you should return to mom and dad's house, go back to school, and try to live a normal life. You might, however, think that you are a danger to our parents. Gabe, do you think you can control your M.A.D.N.E.S.S.?"
"I... I don't know."
"Well, you probably have several days to decide. Unless Oberon shows up and kidnaps us or something."
"It has been a wild couple of days," Gabe agreed.
"Now, as for the three of us..."
"I can get us as much money as we need," Daniel said. "Provided we don't need more than say twenty million dollars a year."
"Well, that's good to know," I responded. "Are you confident that nobody will notice you moving money around?"
"Nobody on Wall Street notices twenty million dollars a year."
"Okay. In that case, we might consider slightly nicer lodgings. I think we should stick together, and try to keep each other in check. Are the two of you amenable to that?"
"I am," Daniel said.
"As am I," Joanne added.
"Then there is the decision of how in check we want to be kept. Daniel, do you have a good sense for what your limit is?"
"Uh... Umm... I don't."
"Not really."
"What about you, Allegra," Daniel asked. "How 'in check' should we keep you?"
"All the way," I said. "When I think, when I apply myself, when I try to answer the questions that pour into my head... people die."
"How many," Daniel asked. "Feel free not to respond to that."
"Six," I said. "I was experimenting with a new bacteriophage. It wasn't supposed to be able to infect humans, but... I guess I'm not as smart as I think I am."
"You need to trust yourself more," Gabe said. "You haven't killed anyone in years. I mean, you tried to kill Sam. But still."
"If she wants us to keep an eye on her, we'll keep an eye on her," Joanne said. "We don't decide what's right for her."

About an hour later, Gabe elected not to go back home. "I'm some sort of commodity now," he said. "People will fight and kill to get at me. And they won't just be after my charming personality. I can't bring that sort of thing on my parents."
I wasn't sure what to do. My baby brother had just announced he was going to leave our parents for their own protection. I hugged him. My eyes welled up a little. "It'll be okay," I said. "Possibly. Assuming I don't create a supervirus, and Daniel doesn't blow us up."

I was making a peanut butter sandwich. Don't think about the viscosity of the peanut butter as it spreads across the bread. Don't think about how those same dynamics might be modified to study the jelly. Don't think about all the chemical in both of them. Don't even read the nutrition labels.
"Hey," Gabe said, "looking over my shoulder. So, how would you model way the bread deforms under the knife."
It was an interesting question. A dozen equations popped into my mind. "I don't want to think about it. Ask Daniel."
"Okay," he said. I couldn't tell if he was actually hurt, or if he was just being melodramitic. "Thanks for the help." Probably the second one.
He walked over to Daniel. Remember, we were all living in the same room at this point. "Writing code to play the stock market?" Gabe squinted. "Wait. What is that? Some sort of image parser?"
"Yes," Daniel said. "Back in the day, I wrote a program named Buttercup to predict what the big banks would do before they didn't. It didn't work for long-term movements, but it could project a couple seconds in advance. Which is enough."
"Two remarks. First of all, that is a really cool program. Second of all, that is a really lame name."
"My mother was named Buttercup."
"Was your mother a pony?"
"Then your grandparents made a mistake."
Daniel sighed. "Anyways. I don't have time to reconstruct all of Buttercup's source code. It took years to make the first time. But, I have a backup copy."
"To me, this looks like a photo album you posted to Instagram, not a computer program." It took a moment for the realization to dawn on my brother. "Oh. You encoded Buttercup's source code in the images. That is so... awesome."
"Thank you. And yes. Four thousand photos spread across six albums contain a program worth probably billions of dollars to the right buyer. I should be ready to extract the code in a few minutes."
"Awesome. Also, how would you calculate the deformation of a peanut butter sandwich as my sister cuts it?"
"That is really interesting... How to explain it? So, you know what a stress tensor is, right?"
They chattered on for two hours and three minutes. I tried not to pay attention. I didn't want to think about that sort of thing. It hurt. So I took a walk outside. I admired the slightly nice-looking buildings around me. I made a listing of what I thought were the best characteristics for fantasy characters. I would need a hobby. Why shouldn't I try writing a fantasy novel while they do their science? Or a romance? No. Fantasy.

"Okay," Daniel said. "We have a hundred thousand dollars in the bank. Do we plan on buying a house, or renting one? Should I get us more? It wouldn't be hard."
"Probably renting," I said. "I composed a list of candidates. I'll email them out."
Joanne had some preferences about location and home layout. Daniel and Gabe didn't care.
"Will we need new names and stuff if we want to rent a house," Gabe asked.
"Yes," Daniel replied.
"Think the two of us can handle that?"
Daniel was surprised. He didn't really consider Gabe to be his partner in crime. "Yes," he said. "I think we cam handle that."
They could.

We were a family. Daniel, Joanne, Allegra and Gabriel Steinhardt. It was hard to imagine that. Daniel and Joanne as husband and wife. "Nobody's going to think its weird that Allegra and I have a black mom," Gabe asked.
"We have a Latina mom in real life. Nobody is going to walk up to us and say Joanne is not our real mom because our skin tones don't match up perfectly."
Gabe seemed satisfied. "So, dad, want to play catch," Gabe said.
"It is strange when you call me that."
"Oh, are you going to be one of those dads who goes by his first name? I'm down with that."
"Frankly, I'm not sure how good an idea it was to retain out real first names," I said.
''You worry too much," Gabe said.
"We live among people who can traverse any form of computer security, build weapons that make machine guns look like toys, and release plagues so terrible that governments will nuke their own capitals to stop the spread. There's a lot to worry about."

We drove around, and checked out the various possible homes. I had to admit, I was out of my depth. My most comparable experience was choosing which dorm to live in for college. And I developed a mental disorder there.
"We'll take it," Joanne said to one of the agents.
"Wonderful. When will your family be moving in?"
Family? It still felt strange. To imagine that these two divorced, middle-aged MADs were my mother and father, it didn't fit. I wonder if it ever will.
Tomorrow, we'll be moving.
"Guys," I asked. "Have any of you heard of the Take Back the World Rally?"
"Yeah," Gabe said. "Annual gang of bigots. Madophobes and homophobes, mostly. Why?"
"Did you know that it is happening tomorrow evening, and that it starts about four blocks from our new house?"
"No, I did not."'
"This isn't a dealbreaker," I said. "We selected our future house, we can stomach some people outside saying they hate us for a few hours."
"Ooh," Gabe said. "I wonder what we could do? Messing with their sound system would be a piece of cake. Oh, and we could hand out signs that have their slogans, but under exposure to UV light, the slogans change."
"Right, right. It was a stupid idea. We don't have nearly enough time to make those."           

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