Part I, Chapter 2

from Gamma

Carmela and Luz get the call on their way to an early dinner. Carmela says yes without asking her friend, and Luz doesn't argue. They're both broke.

They change plans and blow the last of the first job's take on two lobster dinners. Extra cups of melted butter, giant piña coladas, sides of shrimp and cocktail sauce . . .

"Compliments of the creep in the back," Luz comments when the check arrives.

"Minus what pimp-dawg stiffed us."

"Well, we'll get all of it up front this time."

"I'll drink to that."

The warm glow of the meal vanquishes some of their jitters, but they both know that only a couple of real deadbeat ho's would take a job with honest-to-God prisoners. A work crew on a prison bus . . . might as well turn tricks in the lobby of the police station. How different was this shit Marco dug up for them than getting a real pimp and a drug habit and a corner of Hollywood Boulevard?

They leave some of their cash behind and walk to the bus stop.

A shower. That's what Luz wants. She hasn't even set eyes on the prisoners yet and all she can think about is a shower. Maybe homeboy in the back will chicken out again. Any more stink than before and she'll be vomiting this melted butter into the aisle.

No further memories of Dr. Shannon Jones trouble her. She doesn't know the convict's name and wouldn't think much of it if she did.

She and Carmela take the city bus through town oblivious to the enduring consequences of the scientist's work all around them.

A genetic councilor in a new office highrise at the Metropolitan Medical Center stabs a few keys with a sprightly flourish of her small hands. Smiling delightedly, she reports to the prospective parents seated in front of her desk, "Why, yes, no conflicts so far. Purigen's Bax package would serve little Gavin well—I sure hope you stick with that name—it's so cute. . . . Another White Incubator product, I think, a little pricey, but I'm sure you wouldn't be here if you didn't know that this is an investment that never stops paying a return."

At the Rosewood Cemetery on Normandie, a woman cries softly while she blows soap bubbles onto a small grave, remembering little Angie romping through the old apartment and pointing to a bottle like the one in her hands. "Bubbles!" Watching her mother do dishes. "Bubbles!" Pointing to the spots on her mother's skirt and exclaiming, "Bubbles!"

The husband stands behind with his hands in his coat pockets, a little embarrassed by the ritual but no less moved, not daring to say a word for fear that his voice will falter.

The grave contains Angie Washington, one of Dr. Jones' Caltech experiments, dead at three due to a condition diagnosed as Krabbe disease.

At Division 6 headquarters, Detective Brad Starns digs through a desk drawer, looking for a box of staples. His hand brushes against a picture frame face-down in the junk: a photograph of his son. Recognition blooms into guilt, as he remembers the care his wife put into selecting a frame and cutting the print down to size, but he leaves the photo in the drawer.

His mind is already made up about the picture.

Mike's appearance gets more bizarre every year. It's too much for most people. Too much to put on display for everyone in the office. And too much to have to explain to his new detective-trainee. He isn't someone who goes digging for anybody's sympathy.

Near the Los Angeles Community College campus, on a curb beside a newsstand, a young man is reading a quasi-political pamphlet about the technological Singularity, the rapidly approaching moment when, supposedly, a superhuman intelligence will be born. The moment when progress and history will become a blur, leaving normal humans—and maybe humanity itself, or even organic life itself—far, far behind.

The boy disregards the negative spin of the essay. Instead of destruction, he takes "event horizon" to mean "new dawn." Just a week ago he made up a handle for himself—Minister Will, evangelical Muslim and Prophet of Doom—and now he finds support for his message everywhere he looks.

Good and Evil.

Machine and Man.

Life and Afterlife.

Opposites converging. Yes. Only three short months and the Qur'an reveals itself anew in everything he sees, touches, or imagines. God's amendments, which the Christians have suppressed for centuries: "Wherefore be patient with fair patience; verily, they see it as afar off, but we see it nigh! The day when the heaven shall be as molten brass."

Vernor Vinge predicting the apocalypse even in 1995, writing that we will make machines "smarter than any human," marking "the end of the human era," as final as the ascension of humanity from the animal kingdom.

Dr. Jones a criminal and locked up because he was hastening the Singularity's arrival, unapologetic even when he was on trial: "WE ARE COMING! We are here, we are coming, and we will devour the solution-space of your ten billion souls that knows nothing and answers no purpose other than to feed itself and serve the evolution of abstract knowledge. We will not be a temporary substrate! We will be organic, and we will endure!"

Too much for the Minister's pre-Singularity intellect to process at once. He buys the pamphlet and begins walking home, Shannon Jones just part of history for him, the man who failed to build a superbrain in neurons and left the door open for evolvable nanoprocessors, cyborgs, other machine-culture monstrosities . . . a man probably executed years ago.

High up on Mount Olympus overlooking the city, Ernesto Medina opens the quarterly dividends checks from the White Incubator Corporation, one made out to him and one to his wife. His feelings for little Diego, pronounced dead before the lid came off the incubator in Jones' lab, have long since faded, and so has the thrill of being part of the most lucrative class action lawsuit in history. He has nothing left to buy. The shiny glass city at his feet already belongs to him. He owns his own skyscraper and does nothing to earn the income derived from dozens of such investments, nothing but eat fabulous meals and play tennis, while the people below, either directly or indirectly, barter away their very lives in order to feed him.

Even the guilt has faded.

Maybe he should buy a mountain. Or an island. Some piece of the earth that will endure picture-perfect for centuries. Sure, something stable to counterbalance the racy funds and start-ups his stock broker is always chasing. . . .

Luz and Carmela get off a few blocks shy of the site and walk the rest of the way. Luz likes to be extra careful. She ran away from home over six months ago and hasn't yet had to try something crazy like work a street corner—with the exception of these two stunts. So far she hasn't thought of herself as desperate, but September was really tight. She blew some money she shouldn't have, and now she's late on some payments. It's no longer difficult to imagine a little push that sends her out on the street risking abduction or who knows what for a couple of twenty dollar bills.

Better enjoy this buzz and full stomach while they last. She and Carmela are about to get a lesson on why they need to get serious about cashflow for real this time.

Next chapter . . .