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Binary Data

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The weather is unseasonably warm, one point five degrees hotter than it was this time last year, two point three degrees hotter than it was this time two years ago, one point seven degrees hotter than it was three years ago, four point one degrees hotter…I have to go back six years to find a year as warm as this one. The Weather Service website is always my first stop in the morning, to find out how many degrees out of true the day is going to be. It’s a friendly site. No broken links, backdoor code that updates itself very tidily, no loose ends, no bad data. I like the Weather Service website.

Mom is downstairs. Her alarm went off twenty-seven minutes ago, waking us both—her because it rang, me because of the wireless signal that told it ringing time was here. She doesn’t know it wakes me. I don’t tell her. It isn’t important. I use those twenty-seven minutes to check the important things, weather and tides and angle of the sun and whether anyone’s managed to prove Reimann’s Hypothesis in the night. (One man has, twice, but he lives in Russia and he doesn’t publish and he doesn’t know what he keeps doing, and Zoe has, of course, Zoe has proven it and then disproven her proof and proven it again, but she doesn’t publish she’s six years old and she won’t be able to tell anyone about her beautiful numbers until something changes.)

(Something’s changing.)

My alarm goes off. 8:00AM. Eight is a predictable number, always the same, always correct. That’s good. I like 8:00AM, 8:00AM means I get to go to work and save the world again. I like saving the world. I don’t have anywhere else to keep my things.

8:02AM. Mom is putting cereal out on the counter, three boxes today, because today is Tuesday (and we ran out of raspberry granola yesterday, we always run out on Mondays, so Tuesday is a three box day, and tonight at the store she’ll buy a box, right now she thinks she’ll buy two, but the math is against her, she never remembers to buy two, only one, one box every two weeks, all year long). If I got up now, she would look confused, ask me if I felt well, tell me she wasn’t ready yet. I have wound her like a clock, one turn at a time. Now she runs almost as smoothly as I do, even if she doesn’t know it.

(Anna would say that this was only right: adjust the world to suit us, do not adjust to suit the world. I think she’s right about that. Anna would also say that I should pour my own cereal, prepare my own breakfast. Anna was wrong about some things. Anna was a binary creature like everyone else, half wrong, half right, a balanced equation. I miss her. I’m not supposed to, because Red Flag is still the enemy, even now, but I miss her.)


“Coming, Mom!” I wave a hand to close off the screens, shut down the news feeds, clear away the debris of the world waking up. (This is a fallacy: the world never sleeps. People sleep, time zones sleep, but somewhere in the world, someone is always online, working, posting, shifting code from place to place. The internet never sleeps. It sings me to sleep every night, and it talks me through my dreams. The internet was my first friend, and it will be my last, and it may be full of cruelty and horrible people, but it is never cruel to me.)

“Hurry, you’ll be late!”

The same ritual every day, binary state dance: late, or on time? Today is Tuesday. Today is the third Tuesday in the month. I will be on time. If it were Wednesday, or the fourth Tuesday, I would be late. Some equations are large and slow, but that makes them no less important, makes following them no less essential. A binary state does not become a closed loop simply because it is too large or small for most people’s eyes to see.

Down the stairs, one at a time, no skipping, no stopping. At the bottom, into the kitchen, where the wavelengths coming off the television and radio are too strong to resist. Surf the channels while I eat my breakfast, Mom in the background, talking about her day, asking about mine. No real responses needed; just “Yes, Mom,” and “I know, I know,” and “I know my lunch, my name is on my lunch.” All the standard words, the ones I use all the time, the ones that I don’t need to think about. Life was harder when it was newer, when the binary states had yet to be defined. Mom tells Dr. Rosen she’s worried about stagnation, that she’s afraid I’m getting stuck in my routines. What she doesn’t understand is that everyone is stuck in their routines. I just don’t pretend not to be. I am free because I am not spending all my time acting like the math doesn’t matter.

8:43AM. Dr. Rosen honks his horn outside the house. “I have to go,” I say, and grab my lunch as I stand. “I’ll be late, I have to go.”

“Have a good day honey,” she calls, but it’s too late for conversation, too late to break the pattern: I am gone, I am out the door and away, and the car door is unlocked, and I am inside the car, and the radio is speaking traffic patterns and weather and the local news.

“Can I drive?” I ask.

“No,” says Bill from the front passenger seat, and that, too, is part of the binary equation; that, too, is part of the pattern.

“How are you feeling today, Gary?” asks Dr. Rosen.

“They’re showing old war movies on public access again,” I inform him. “I don’t like the explosions. You have to make them stop. They can’t do this. You have to make them stop.”

“I don’t control the television, Gary.”

“You have to make them stop.”

Dr. Rosen sighs. “I suppose I can make a few calls.”

“Good. Good. Because they shouldn’t explode things when I’m trying to sleep. It’s not polite.” I settle in the back, fastening my seatbelt. Dr. Rosen starts the car. “Not at all.”

“And you’re always polite, is that it, Gary?” asks Bill.

I glare at him. There’s an accident off the interstate, there’s a pop star (I don’t know why they call them that) getting a divorce, there’s a cold front moving in, and I glare at him. “I’m perfectly polite. You’re the one who’s rude, Bill. You’re the one who’s rude to me.”

He laughs, and he’s still laughing as we pull out of the driveway and onto the street. This is the binary start of the day. Everything from here will be black/white right/wrong yes/no. But right now, this is the beginning.

Something’s changing. I think we have to change with it. But right now, it’s all binary data, and I will enjoy it while I can.

The weather is unseasonably warm.