An Extract from Premee Mohamed's 'Beneath the Rising'
31 March 2020
More events for our #virtualconvention - we're delighted to be able to share an extract from the second chapter of Premee Mohamed's Beneath The Rising.
Premee had been due to sign with us, and this is the reading that she would have been giving at the event!
As I turned into her driveway, I had to pull my visor down to know where to stop. What the shit? Every light was on, every room, every floor, hard blocks of white shining in the yellow late prairie sun. No way had she turned on all those lights. And in fact, hadn’t she installed motion sensor lights a couple years ago to make sure only rooms in use were lit? Was she having a party? I glanced around at the mostly-empty street. No, if it were a party, I’d never have been able to park in the driveway. And where was Rutger’s Lexus?
Uneasy, I splashed through the lush lawn in what was rapidly turning from sunset to dusk, triggering a set of halogen spots that shone right into my face as I punched in her code, praying she hadn’t changed it when she got back. The alarm system was wired to call the police if you fed it the wrong numbers.
But it let me in, and I stepped into a blinding photosphere, forearm over my face. “Johnny?” No reply. I toed my shoes off and tried the intercom. “John? It’s me. Where are you?” “Uh, Hadrian... let me come up and get you, okay?” “What’s going on?” Every single light was on, even some I hadn’t known existed, tucked away in recesses in the ceiling, behind floor vents, in sunk tracks on the walls. The heat was intense after the coolness of the evening; sweat prickled on my back. Great. Stupid to believe I couldn’t possibly smell any worse. Moisture was condensing under my socks on the cool tiles.
She appeared at the end of the hallway and for a second I thought she’d figured out how to make herself into a hologram—all silver spangles, shimmering and shivering, not really there. I hesitated before following her. “Sorry,” I said, “I thought maybe you were a T-1000?” “That’s the last goal of science, not the first,” she said. “But no one will want to be a robot after I show the world what just happened.”
I looked at her properly and did a cartoony doubletake, making her giggle. She was in a short, white dress covered in silver sequins. On anyone taller, it would have practically been a shirt. “What the hell is this?” I said. “Like, no offense, but we both know Rutger has to shoot you with tranqs to get you to dress up.” “Yeah, like in The A-Team,” she said, pausing to do a little pirouette in the steel-toed boots she wore in her lab. “I bought this in Venice; we were coming back from the conference centre and it was just so pretty and there was only one left.”
“My God, you’re finally becoming a real girl.” “Don’t be so gender essentialist, Nicholas,” she sniffed. “Anyway, I was trying it on between two mirrors and something just kind of... it was like... you remember that reactor I worked on a while ago?” “The one you were working on when you were ten? That’s more than a while ago.” “You know what I mean,” she said, speeding up to a trot. “Listen, I was looking down at the sequins, and I just kind of, I don’t know, I had had a lot of coffee, and it seemed like they were sort of moving—” “Do you mind my asking if yousleptlast night?” “—no, but listen, listen, moving in a pattern, something I knew, or I knew the start but not the end, I had seen the start on the plane, like when you’re at karaoke and you realize halfway through the opening that you don’t know the verses but just the chorus, but when the words come up you realize you doknow the verses after all, so I ran to write it down, and it seemed okay, I mean it seemed like it shouldwork if you look at the sequins as electrons? Anyway, I started the same as the old one, but this time I created the graphene substrate by making kind of a carbon snow—”
“Is one of its side effects not needing to breathe?” “—and it works, I switched the house grid off the solar cells and onto the reactor and I’m sorry about the heat, and the smell, I think that’s mostly burning dust and bugs on the halogens, I keep meaning to switch them to the LEDs, but there’s never time...” She trailed off; her face was slick and hectic, red dots below her eyes, hair not just damp but actually dripping down her neck into her dress, turning the white to gray.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll come look. But then we’re sticking a cold washcloth on you.” She tapped a long sequence on the keypad, thirty or forty digits, letting us into Hadrian, one of the more familiar of her many inexplicably-named research rooms.
I followed her, barking my shins repeatedly, around a maze of shin-height equipment and reels of cable to an ordinary metal table bolted to the floor, lit with the same blue Ikea desk lamp the kids had in their room. The table was cluttered with tiny bits of metal and plastic and had a shoebox-sized metal case on it sprouting a dozen black cables, one of which snaked into the darkness. It hummed unpleasantly, setting my teeth on edge like biting foil.
Next to it for some reason sat a four-pack of lemon Perrier, one half-empty. I opened a full one and offered it to Johnny, who wasn’t paying attention. I drank while she babbled.
“So normally you’d need a Grabovschi Plate to make real carbon snow, but then I thought, what have I got to get it up to the same temperatures but, and this is really crucial, just in the microcavitations rather than on the overall flake surfaces, and I figured if I used the microwaveinstead of the forge in Belisarius—”
I gazed stonily at it. The lab microwave was about as old as she was, smeared yellow and brown, a very ordinary little box dwarfed by the equipment around it. After a minute I said, “I made a Pizza Pop in that yesterday.” “I suggest you not try it today. So, the new graphene torus is a—” “What?” “All right, the graphene doughnut is—” “Actually, that’s not the word I was—” “—atomically plated in silver, which I got from melting down my Cartwright medal, but it’s okay because if you tell them you lost it or had it stolen or whatever they’ll send you a new one, but it’s just stainless steel, I already sent them an e-mail, so now we’ve got this topological graphene matrix, right, and it’s creating edge effects because I gave it a fractional angstrom flex and then linked it to the C-398 magnet that I sort of pulled out of the RC-NCI back end over there, it’s fine, I’ll buy a new one, and in the aqueous matrix, the electrons display independent choice behaviour and they start to generate their own topographical material, which isn’t real—”
“What?” “—under the Yerofeyev definition anyway, but it’s so close to the border between the definition and the quantum definition that from their desire to return to their original state, because they immediately regret their choice, right, they discharge energy, and bam!”
“Bam?” I said weakly. “That’s the loop. The choice and the second choice. A renewable electron source. Electricity. Anyway, I calibrated it to the house draw, but if my calculations are correct there’s kind of no upper limit to production,” she said, absently tightening the clamps holding the box to the table.
“Wait. Stop. Drink this.” I forced the bottle on her, as much to shut her up for a second as to get some water in her. “Are you telling me this shoebox is... powering the house? And could power... anything?” “Uh, yeah, does that sound okay? Is that too insane?” She choked on the first sip, water trickling down her neck. “Yeah. It’s running on a little bit of Perrier because I can’t use the sink right now, I sort of welded a—” “Johnny! You made a powerplant in a shoebox!” “It’s not a shoebox, thank you very much, it’s a shielding setup that—” “Is this going to cook my sperms?” “I don’t think so, but maybe don’t hump it all the same, the shielding isn’t really necessary, I don’t think, but it does seem to dampen down the harmonics, and maybe it’ll be quieter when it’s not on a metal surface, I don’t know.”
“Harmonics? Is that what we’re calling that incredibly annoying noise? I feel like I’m chewing on tin foil. What’s causing that?” “Beats me. I’m guessing the impurities in the silver.” “Not the artificial lemon flavouring?” “No, I don’t think so. It’s just an electron source, after all. Man, Dr. Yerofeyev is going to freak out when he hears about this, you remember him, he was at my Darwin Day party last year dressed as a trilobite—”
“Stop stop stop stop stop. Please stop.” I was getting lightheaded, I assumed from the heat, dehydration, exhaustion, and... whatever she was trying to tell me, which seemed to be that she had put a quantum in a box and plugged an extension cord into it.
She’s done it again. The headlines lined themselves up. Child prodigy changes world. Child prodigy... makes a million things obsolete.
Coal-fired power plants first to go. Nuclear next. No one liked those anyway. Gas, crude. Except what we needed for the plastic that could not be replaced by her vat-grown spider-silk substitute, which everyone had been using for years. Even her solar panels, her wind turbines unneeded. We could have electric cars, like in sci-fi movies. Electric... planes? Electric submarines. Electric everything, the whole world humming to her tune. No more wars over oil. The entire world looking at each other and thinking: We could get along now. We might not have to be friends, but we could be neighbours.