The House with a Clock in Its Walls
Black, more than anyone else, should have been the one to wind up The House with a Clock in Its Walls. Too bad he doesn't…
[Editor's note: This is a continuation of a story Roger was working on when he passed away. This ending is one of many we received. To read Roger's beginning to the story, from the end of which each entry picks up the thread, go here. Illustration by Krishna Bala Shenoi.]
Matt Kolakowski writes:
Claire's personal history with music brought the comment from mind to lips. While Alex quipped about a new musical history for the Thinking Molecules, something about, "Beethoven the Molecule must have had too much lead in its system…", she thought about the Suzuki method.
Her parents signed her up for violin lessons when she was just a squirt. Unlike the more typical method where a child is trained in music by-the-book, the Suzuki way creates a foundation by having the child listen to and mimic what she hears. In a more primal way, it is the mind in direct connection with sound; the student memorizes and absorbs the music completely by ear.
The face of her old teacher popped into her mind. An old man with thick brown glasses wearing a beige sweater sitting on a tan metal folding chair, hands vibrating rhythmically around the neck of the smallish instrument, beautiful sounds and vibrations coming from the relatively odd source. Claire then thought back of herself in her sky blue bedroom and the hours practicing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," and then later Mozart concertos. Amazing how the human mind, far-and-away the most complex biological system known, can travel incredible distances of time and space in mere moments.
Blurting out without care for who was talking, Claire said, "They are conscious and they must have certainly learned this pattern! Order like this emerges through a particular mechanism."
"And all this time I thought you were dreaming about the punch cards again," said Alex.
"Yeah. The Molecules resonated this music to the surface by memorizing, or rather mimicking the sounds and songs that their elders gave to them. I don't know if I can say this right but that's how they genetically spread. This new pattern we now have is part of their genetic code. And like us, they know their elders like we know our elders by how they look, or rather, how they sound."
"Wait, I don't understand? Elders?" Mason looked at Claire with a bit of surprise. Why was she, the most mathematical of the gang, humanizing the molecules with consciousness, taking Alex's lunar intelligence idea even further?
"It's human nature to assume they're somehow alive like we are Claire," he said.
With a curious smile, Regan said, "Keep going, girl!"
"Okay, maybe don't get hung up on their consciousness of lineage for a second. Information travels around easily. It could be that the Molecules at the surface are learning in the same way that a rock learns to fall in gravity and then transfers its momentum to another rock that it strikes on the ground. Everything reacts to stimuli."
"Yeah, how about along the lines of the ozone molecule resonating with ultraviolet light from the Sun, absorbing the energy thereby shielding us on the surface," said Regan.
Claire's hands moved like a conductor as she spoke. "Right. I'm picking up here with this song, I mean pattern, that the Thinking Molecules learned from one another, from older to younger generation, with this sound, this pattern as their actual genetics. I'm willing to bet that we can trace this weird Mozart concerto back to the other patterns. There's going to be generations of songs floating around in that soup!"
"You think the sounds are their memories? I love it," giggled Regan.
"Genetics and phonics…phonetics then, is that what you're talking about?" joked Alex.
For a moment they all paused. Bar chatter and glasses clinking filled the space. They all liked the idea in their own way, Alex at the moment because he was proud of his clever new word.
Breaking the momentary silence, Alex said, "This is getting a little shilly, isn't it?" Everyone knew the beers caused the mistake.
The waitress returned with Regan's apple crumb cake. "Here you are, Hon."
Forgetting she ordered it, she replied, "Oooh, thank you so much."
Glancing face-to-face, index-finger lifted, Mason said, "Sounds as memories… when the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation was discovered and determined to be the echo of the Big Bang itself, a new picture of the early Universe emerged. Maybe this is something like that, an echo we can explore."
Elliott broke his relative silence. "And if we found this new type of life, we could maybe re-create it in the lab. We could use the sounds and patterns. We'd have a new genetics that could even be programmable, after we understand better of course. Then later, at some point, we could create and evolve molecular life here on Earth too, like on Titan, taking us to a new place with the human mind as the driver."
Mouth full and reaching over to high five Elliott, Regan said, "Now that's what I'm taking about!" A little bit of cake spit out of her mouth. Covering her mouth and smiling, "Sorry."
"That stinky ammonia-laced ocean is bloody amazing. Who would have thought, we're all going to win Nobel prizes, easy peasy from here on out, am I right?" Alex said.
"You goof." Claire added.
Mason glanced at his watch and slowly reached for the wallet in his back pocket. "So, without a traceable set of patterns and a way to really directly test this new sound-based life, we've stumbled onto a new form of genetics?"
"But for now lacking genetic diversity, or at least as we know it, until we can find it." said Regan.
"Still, we're assuming there is going to be a way to link the other patterns we have to this new pattern. And if we do, the likelihood we find a mechanism that connects these sounds in some evolutionary way is…unlikely," Mason added.
"There are patterns in our DNA. Advanced alien life could easily find patterns in us if they knew that it was in our genetics and they could link it across different life forms," Claire said.
"Yeah, that's the reason for all of that intense anal probing!" Alex yelled, and a little too loudly for comfort.
"I think the one they gave you last night was particularly rough," replied Elliott a little awkwardly.
"When we find other mini-concertos, more forms of their strange kind of DNA or genetic heritage in there, we're going to be able to make sense of it." Regan said.
"We haven't found these other patterns yet because they probably don't exist," said Mason.
Ignoring the silliness entirely, Claire replied, "Well honestly we haven't looked very hard, Mason. And now that we have a simple but potentially workable model to understand the data, old and new, we can consider all of this data we have in this new light. Who had a reason to look for this sort of thing before?"
"I'm willing to be open enough to the concept to consider it as a viable option, to at least look," Regan added with conviction. "It's possible something similar has happened on Io or Europa, or why not Mars, but nobody has had this framework to consider before? If this super simple molecular life learned from grandpa and grandma molecule through music-like vibrations, if they can reproduce through this strange form of resonance, couldn't life really be as common out there as we all think it probably is? And couldn't we redefine consciousness or even life along the way?" Regan was definitely excited.
Alex wanted to dampen the enthusiasm for all of this. "Earth, people! Like Mason said, where is this mystical musical reproduction or vibrating molecular life on Earth, or anywhere?"
"Well…," said Regan.
"And if it did exist, we could make our own little musical life in the lab if only we could find and then hit the right notes. We should damn-well be playing music to test tubes, not spending our valuable time with our ridiculously priced advanced modern equipment and instrumentation."
"Sorry you guys, but I've got to head out. I have to say, I do like the idea after all Regan, and yours too Claire. We'll talk later." said Elliott reaching for his pockets.
"I'm out too. Don't let the girls wander off too far now Alex. And promise me you won't have any more to drink until way later tonight, okay?" Mason dropped a few bills on the table. He did have somewhere to go, but he also wanted a little time to think.
Walking out of The Capital, he headed south this time towards the Office of Minority Student Affairs. A store selling t-shirts caught his eye, attractive blue and orange colors and symbols. He looked down at his feet as he walked for a moment and thought about the deep below, all the way down to the core of the Earth. Nobody has ever dug and thus seen deeper than the crust, and yet there is still understanding of what exists. He thought about the pattern and imagined songs in the far beyond; nearly immortal atoms and molecules swaying together, vibrating and dancing in unison, grabbing partners along the way.
Mason was tutoring again this semester. Glancing at his watch a second time, his steps now hopped with eagerness. There was a time when he was tutored there. Believing but not really in karma, he wanted to help others, pay it forward somehow. He considered how life and learning and communicating and wondering was all connected and essential to his being. Are the Thinking Molecules of Titan really that different? Was he being foolish to even consider it? But it made him think about knowledge passing from person-to-person. Is knowledge alive in some strange and different way?
The bells that indicate the time of day on campus rang, and rang again, and he wondered too, were the bells part of a system, or somehow even themselves, trying to reproduce?
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