"In order to see chaos, you must build chaos, create it as a process unavoidable as death or the appearance of particles in a vacuum. All possibilities are not only possible, but have already occurred, one after another..."

the law of information
fiction by david connelly


You are on the beach and you find a stick of driftwood. The softer parts of the grain have worn away so the harder strips curve around each other like the backbone of DNA. The stick is very white. It is light, and it is dry. You throw it on the fire and hold your hands over it to make them warm. The warmth feels good and maybe this information is all you need, that some heat, some energy, was stored in this driftwood. The cones and rods in your retinas register the light of that energy. Nerve endings in your fingers flip to send this sense of warmth via dendrites and axons to synapses where vacuoles of neurotransmitter are dumped, dopamine and serotonin. Long, myelinated membranes open cascades of protein channels to shoot this charge at a speed which would leave you unconscious until it hits your brain, and you know it is warmth, and you know it is good for you --

Your car broke down. Your wife was away at a conference so you borrowed hers. You found tissues on the floor, driver's side. They were hard and stiff. They were crumpled like a baker's mistake.

-- But the crude little animals you are know more information than this. You know the heat you feel originally came from the sun whose warmth you'd been denied by the spinning of the earth. You know Biology, Chemistry, Euclidian Geometry, The Laws of Thermodynamics -- matter neither created nor destroyed, energy neither created nor destroyed. Maybe you even understand something about Einstein and Relativity, some of the musings of Tesla. You know a lot, don't you? Whoop-dee-doo. And with all this information you come to the great, logical conclusion of the universe -- it's time to sacrifice a virgin, thus appeasing the god of the volcano. That's right. You know nothing. The amount you don't know is as big as the Universe and as long as time minus one unnoticeable blip made of the tiny bits of your life you can understand. --

You are Professor Frederick McMollock. What do you do after finding tissues on the floor of your wife's car which remind you of the ones she leaves on the nightstand after the two of you make love? You stop at the Mobile to buy Ziplocks and seal each tissue in its own baggie. After giving a lecture on the Law of Information, you carry your briefcase, Ziplocks inside, across the rain-soaked campus of University of Central Michigan, Kalamazoo, cutting across muddy grass and around a patch of crocuses to enter the doors of the Dept. of Biology.

Can you tell me what's in this tissue?

Snot? Suzy arches her eyebrows and tilts her head to the side. It's the same sarcastic and playful voice she'd used when you were undergrads together. Only her voice is not the same. It sounds like a road that needs to be repaved: Cigarettes? Long nights in labs breathing benzine? Whiskey? Divorce?

She's wearing a white coat and latex gloves. All the tools are right there: the forceps to lift the tissue from the bag, the Autoclaved petri-dish, whatever fluid she pours from a glass pipette to make the tissue swell and pulp.

What are you expecting me to discover in this crusty Kleenex?

Just look at it and let me know.

Don't be so macho, Suzy says, I'm not one of your little T.A.s. Do you want a chemical breakdown? A molecular analysis? An antibody screen? Maybe you should stick it in your billion-dollar accelerator?

The microscope should do.

Oh, we're dealing with the bigger issues now. She pokes a pipette into the center of the tissue, soaks it up and drops it onto a slide. What's up with you today? You don't look well. Maybe you need to join me for a beer off campus, she raises her eyebrow.... Okay, okay.... Just a second now.... Whoops... gotta turn the light on first. Your mood must be contagious. There... hmmn... well, well and well. Snot it's not. If you had wanted to.... Fred? What's wrong...? Where did you find this...? Are you sure it's not.... Oh God. I'm your friend, okay. If you need someone to talk to.... She hugs him and then holds his shoulders with both hands. Are you sure you don't want that beer?

Can you analyze the DNA?

Analyze it for what? How?

You're the biologist.

You want me to sequence it? That will only take a team of researchers and a few years. Want me to tell you what the ratio of Cytosine Guanine pairs is? Cut it up and do a gel electrophoresis? And that will tell you...? I know what you want to know. I've been through this, remember? I'm sorry, but I can't tell you any of that. You're a wonderful person, Fred. I can't think why she would do this to you. Maybe there's... well, I don't know.

Your wife's car is maroon and ten years old, a Volkswagen Jetta with a hundred and thirty thousand miles. Open the door and stare at the driver's seat, the passenger seat, the back seat. Hold the steering wheel, feel the dash, the upholstery beneath your crotch. Is this the way clairvoyance works? Check the pre-sets on the radio: jazz, jazz, talk, pop, static, static, static. The wipers move like radar screens that thunk instead of blip. Was it raining? Did it interrupt their picnic? No, this is not the way clairvoyance works.

Fifteen years. Think about that. Fifteen years and pretty T.A.s and you'd never done that to her. She's become mousey in the way of middle-aged professors. You'd never have suspected her. You don't know your wife at all. Of course you feel this, you think. All men in this situation have felt what you're feeling now. You are no different than anyone else, and the sarcastic smile this thought crimps into your lips is no comfort to you at all.

Scotch one is finished. Pour again. You won't break anything. You are calmer now. Your stuff. Her stuff. Your stuff. Women cry, men rage; it's all the same. You might throw the glass at a framed manuscript on the wall. You'd bought it for her, sheet music from a session of John Coltrane's, the heavy print of the notes scribbled by Trane's own hand. It has a stain that's supposed to be a blood drop from the end of his syringe. At that time, Trane was a jazz man on horseback, a saxophone on the back of a galloping horse, playing like mad.

She used to make you listen to the music she was studying, and Coltrane was the only bit of it which did anything for you. It sent you into raptures, kissing her and drawing equations in the air, totaling every note. Near the end of each song, with the nonexistent conclusion hanging in the air, your throat would open wide and you'd laugh, laugh and laugh. Coltrane's notes totaled to an hysterical sum. You were an hysterical sum. You and Julie added up to an hysterical sum. And then you felt like one being, one quantum of flesh and time. You were exactly everything you were, not this thing broken into bits.

The second scotch is in your hand. Look at the manuscript, sigh, take a sip. You will lose control when you feel like it. Drink it off. The glass flies from your hand and shatters Trane on the wall.

To:freedmollock@umich.facstaff.edu
From:suzeywin@umich.facstaff.edu
Subj:iknowwhatyoumustbefeeling
sent: 04/01/01 21:38

ive been thinking about you all day. I have pictures of the two of you from parties years ago and ive been looking at them. I think you should talk to her. You have this way of closing off and piling everything on your own shoulders and just grunting along like the old ox on the wheel, and not seeing anything else. im sorry for saying that now, but I know we have talked about it before so its nothing new. I also know that when you two got together and got married so quickly I was against that for you and I let you know. It seemed to me that she just flew in here, a young experimental music teacher, and pretty, and you were talking to me about how her music theory and your chaos theory were the same thing and you didnt make any sense to me. I never trusted arts people anyway, you know about that. I had some other reasons for not liking her then but they were just selfish. Anyway she seemed so much different than you and that scared me, but what im getting at is that it ended up being such a good thing. With her some things about you changed so much for the better, that ox thing too, you seemed to see so much more in life and to actually like it. You expanded. Looking at these pictures I see from her face, the way she looks at you, that you must have done some pretty amazing things for her too. She really loves you, im sure of that. and I hope you two can work it out.

Sorry I couldnt, or wouldnt, do more for you in the lab. It wouldnt tell you anything, and I don't think its a good idea. Please stop by to see me, any time, you really need to talk to someone. I really hope you two can work it out, sincerely I do.

Pain comes before you can open your eyes, four minutes before the alarm goes off. This is not the hangover which hits a half-hour later when you gather the will to get out of bed. The hangover makes you put a hand on the bathroom wall while you pee to keep from falling down, but you hardly notice because the pain which came first is so much worse. It makes you sit at the breakfast table with nothing in front of you, makes it take so long to stand that you forget what you stood up to do, so you sit back down.

Everything is impossible, still you move. You just don't take an umbrella.

-- In this lecture we will concern ourselves with another law, The Law of Information. It states that information, like matter and energy can be neither created nor destroyed. Information can be broken down to quanta of truth which exist eternally. So if you were a machine much more advanced than you are, you would get more than a warm, fuzzy feeling from this scene on the beach. If you could gather more than light and heat from this burning stick you would know, to the second, how long that stick had been lying on the beach, the weather, to the drop of rain and photon of light, which punished it there, how long it spent floating in the ocean, the fish that nibbled or brushed against it and the plankton that clung to it. You could name the river it floated from, how long this took, the makeup of the water each second of the way, the disease or storm or kid with an axe that got it there. --

You hit the brakes and fishtail. The upholstered seat rises beneath you like a magic carpet. Take your foot off the brake, hit the gas and cut the wheel. The car swerves around a doe standing frozen in the lane. You gradually get back to the right side of the road. You breathe deeply a few times, and by the time you get to school, you know what to do.

You would know the placement of the stick on its tree, the whole tree itself, the soil it clung to, the birds or squirrels that perched on it, the cicadas that nuzzled against its roots, the light and shade it had as a sapling, the shape, to the ribosome, of the seed it grew from, the insect or wind which fertilized that seed all the way back to anything, for all time involved in the creation of this stick, its transportation to you on the beach and the match you put to it. All information, being eternal, is not only in the stick itself, but in the fire that comes from it.... Yes? The hand in the back...?

Is this the way clairvoyance works?

In answer to your question, no. Bad science is the way clairvoyance works.

This question, as idiotic as it may have been, leads us towards the theoretical crux students tend to have a problem with. It is easy to grab ahold of the idea that information can never be destroyed. But if information can never be created then how can there be any change? If a single moment contains all information which created that moment, and is caused by all information creating this moment back all the way beyond time then how can there ever be anything new? The universe would seem a single, homogenous fluctuation of the plasma of energy, matter and information. How could you get up and leave the room when this lecture is over? How could life or the universe happen at all...?

To:freedmollock@univ.mich.facstaff.edu
From:julieemollock@univ.mich.facstaff.edu
Re: comminghomeearly
Sent: 04/02/2001 09:32:48

Hi honey. I'll be home early. They're going to start performing voice-reading of new symphonies today. This was a disaster. You don't have to pick me up, I'll just take a cab to school. I figured I might as well teach my lecture tonight. That T.A. I told you about will probably come in stoned or something. My flight doesn't leave till two. I'll log on again before I go to check if you write back. Anyway, I'll see you tonight. I can't wait. I miss you so so much.

love,
me

This is Fred McMollock. I'm calling about my Saab.

It's done. Guess what was wrong with it.

It wouldn't run?

Pretty smart, professor. Not just that. It didn't run because some fucker put sugar in your tank. Fail anyone lately? Get it on with the wrong coed?

Can I pick it up about four.

Yeah. Four. You should check this thing out. It could be your tires or something next. You don't put sugar in a guy's tank for fun.

To: julieemollock@univ.mich.facstaff.edu
From:freedmollock@univ.mich.facstaff.edu
Re:re:comminghomeearly
Sent: 04/02/2001 12:13:13

Hi dearheart. Remember when I used to call you that? It came from my grandma, I don't know if I ever told you that. Anyway, my car broke down so I've been using yours. It's amazing how well it runs and I see why you didn't want to get a new one. I'll just leave it in your spot so you don't have to worry about calling a cab so late, you might have to wait forever.

The conference sounds awful. I can't wait to see you. I love you.

your husband,
fred

You do something you've been neglecting for a long time. You open the file cabinet, take out a folder and a three-ring and spread them on your desk. Modify chaotic system equations to define the probability of a deer crossing a highway in front of a car on a specific night at a specific time in a specific season with the variabilities of traffic patterns and population, deer and human, farmland distribution, hunting limits and weather.

In order to see chaos, you must build chaos, create it as a process unavoidable as death or the appearance of particles in a vacuum. All possibilities are not only possible, but have already occurred, one after another. Amplify each variable, each deed. Julie returning to her lover again and again. Words of love. Her trip. Sugar in the tank. A long marriage, each tense morning, each dead evening. Where did the first improbable probably act? Your faults. What? Hers. Why? These images are in your head while drawing equations on deer. Who? The probabilities of people you know, students. People you don't know. He and Julie crossing paths. When is a variable with limits. Where, the car, another variable with limits, the number of places it can drive in the night, in the day? On lunch? While you lecture? It feels good to think so coolly about this. How to find out what is going on in a system? Tweak it. Slam one proton into another, just make sure you can measure the flakes that come out.

Rain has turned the campus into a cold soup. You stick to the paths, step around a patch of crocuses, their petals crumpled by the rain, and open the doors to the Department of Biology.

Professor Pavlovich, Dean of Animal Behavioral Studies, has his office open just a crack. Knock, knock, knock.

I'll get it. Bye. A young Asian-Indian woman in Hindi dress and a nose stud opens the door. Excuse me. Her skirt rustles around her and her tall, laced boots clomp on the floor.

Fred? Pavlovich waves you in. Welcome, you're soaking. There is a stick of incense burning in a holder on his bookshelf which makes his office smell like a church.

What did you used to call this place? he says. The department of Voodoo? You know we now have a professor whose specialty is Voodoo? Only she's in Anthro, I think.

Here are the formulas for the deer project.

At last. I was just about to hire someone to break your kneecaps. I wanted them a month ago. Well, I have some good news. You might get paid for this. A lot. I just got offered four hundred thousand to develop this study.

You're out of your mind.

You can't think of anyone who would be very interested in this information? Come on, Fred. You hadn't even thought about it, have you?

The Sierra club?

No. Geico, All-State-Farm. Mutual of Omaha. Pavlovitch has triumph in his voice. The insurance company, there's really only one, you know, and it has more money than anyone else. You ever hit a deer? Or been in a car that's hit a deer?

No.

That's very odd, almost everyone has, at some point. I forgot. You're just a lucky son of a bitch. He smiles. If you had hit one, you would know what the insurance company calls it -- An Act of God. This means they have to pay up and pay to the max. Millions of dollars a year. Having predictions on this is very important to establish blame. It lets them take the God out of Act of God.

Well, good for you. Put the three-ring on his desk. Here's the equations. Get someone to put them in a computer. I might have to do some tweaking.

I'll send you a check.

Do you have any more of the sensors to track the deer?

The collars? Pavlovitch gets up and pulls a box from the bottom of a bookshelf. There are a couple we didn't even use. Here, still in the wrapper. What's it for?

How does it work?

Does your dog keep running away? Pavlovitch grins but drops it when he sees you don't. It's in the university's mainframe. It takes up a lot of space but I made them keep it. Now it looks like this study might go on for years.

What do I do?

It's here. Pavlovitch pivots the screen on his desktop so you can see. I can't believe you haven't checked this out. It's beautiful. Eight surrounding counties are mapped here. You just track them like radar blips, and you see them on the map, all the highways and streets... you can do a highway or topographical map. The deer show up in red. They look like little deer. Isn't that great? Twenty-four hours. Patch-in any time. It's in the central system under activegod.

Act of God?

No, that was already taken. It's actIVEgod. One word. Like this. He writes it on a Post-it.

What about the deer? How do I know which one is this one?

They're not specific, but the deer collars were programmed to stop broadcasting a month ago. People said they might give the deer cancer. I'll turn this one on now. He takes a keypad with a wand attached to it and touches it to a metal disc on the collar. It'll work for three months.

Thanks.

Are you okay? Pavlovich seems pained to ask. You want to get a beer or something?

You say no and goodbye.

Forgiveness is already in your heart. You can see it more than feel it, meaty and warm like blackberries about to burst in the sun. You can't touch them for all the thorns -- your rage, betrayal and insecurity. More than anything else, you don't want to be a chump. You'd literally rather die. The loss of Julie can be recovered from, but not the loss of her respect of you as a man. If that happens, you will disappear, your limbs will drop off and your mind will go feeble. You want to forgive. There is nothing you want to do more than forgive, but you don't think you know how and can't imagine a world this forgiveness could belong to.

Stand in the rainy parking lot. Open the door to Julie's car and pop the hood. In the rear of the engine compartment, driver's side, against the firewall, you find a space big enough to ball up the collar and jam it in. You empty the rest of the Ziplock baggies onto the floor. You don't feel well. Go back to your office. Call a car and take it to the mechanic to pick up your own.

Pick up Coltrane from the floor. Throw away the broken glass and lay the frame on the table. Pull out the nail it hung from. It just fell. You're nothing like the man you think you are. Sitting is impossible. This loss is impossible. The impossible is just that, impossible, and it's impossible to accommodate impossible. Pour scotch. Dread presses your diaphragm as you pull an old photo album off the bookshelf and sit back down.

Study the faces of your wife and yourself, your eyes, the lines around them, your mouths, chins and noses. See no specific differences from the way you look now. The lines seem no deeper, the eyes no cloudier. Still, you looked much younger then. How did your faces communicate the passage of years? Peel the photo from the page and check the back even though it's just chemicals on paper, pixels people assemble into an image of a woman laughing at her man. He is standing and gesticulating with so much excitement that he might float from the frame. Photos don't lie. This information was never created. Where is the betrayal in her face, just pixels another man would assemble into a beautiful woman? You total them to loneliness and terror. Julie has broken your heart. Her smile from years ago is doing something worse.

You set the laptop on the passenger seat and angle back the screen to see it while you drive. Dial in to the university mainframe and type in activegod. There she is, your little dear, on Rte. 52, parked along the side of the road.

The wipers are pounding. There are spots on the road where the water has risen in deep puddles you can't see through the rain. Your car starts to hydroplane. You straighten it out and know you've had too much to drink. This is the perfect condition for a man, you think, as he goes to catch his wife and her lover. There is a crowbar in the trunk. You don't want to go there. You squint at the screen to make it out. Rte. 52 flies past. Stop and back up to make the turn. They would have headlights off, windows steamed. Drive at thirty-five glancing at the screen and searching the side of the road.

Maybe it's due to the heavy rain, but the doe is not transfixed by your headlights. She's curious. She's scared. She turns and tries to run. You're the one who panics. Hit the brakes. Your bumper takes out her legs. They collapse, but her body hardly moves. The hood slides under her and she hits the windshield. It nearly tears her in half before letting her through.

Rain splashes on the dashboard. A deer is inside your car. You can't understand this right away. You try to open the door but it's stuck against a ditch.

She sits in the passenger seat like a person except her head and forelegs reach through the windshield. She is trying to get out but she can't. Her hooves pound the hood. Her hindquarters just sit. You try the door again but can't budge it open more than an inch. She stops moving and all you can hear is the rain and the two of you breathing. She tries to turn her head and brings down a shower of glass. A stick is jammed through the casing of the collar around her neck, beneath it her skin is a red and yellow sore. The edges of the sore are black. The smell of her fills the car. It is dizzying and good. The fur of her back is steaming and sleek. Her spine bulges under it like a knee raised beneath a blanket. There's no blood. Her eye is open. It goggles sideways at you. You don't see any pain in it. It's just moist and black and very much alive. But you know she's in pain and the pain is terrible. She will die. If you could open the door, you would get the crowbar to euthanize her. You're glad you don't have to.

The fur of her shoulder is hot and wet. She is shaking beneath your hand. Pet her even though it makes her more afraid. Pet her and talk to her because the rain is so cold and you need something warm.

(art: john richen)


This story originally appeared in Lurch Magazine

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©2003 David Connelly
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