Evolutions Darling - By Scott Westerfeld

If we can find out those measures, whereby a rational creature... may and ought to govern his opinions and actions, we need not be troubled that some other things escape our knowledge.

- John Locke

To San Miguel, and those who came



It started on that frozen world, among the stone figures in their almost suspended animation.

Through her eyes, the irises two salmon moons under a luminous white brow, like fissures in the world of rules, of logic. The starship's mind watched through the prism of their wonder, and began to make its change.

She peered at the statue for a solid, unblinking minute. Protesting tears gathered to blur her vision, but Rathere's gaze did not waver. Another minute, and a tic tugged at one eye, taking up the steady rhythm of her heartbeat.

She kept watching.

"Ha!" she finally proclaimed. "I saw it move."

"Where?" asked a voice in her head, unconvinced.

Rathere rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands, mouth open, awestruck by the shooting red stars behind her eyelids. Her blinks made up now for the lost minutes, and she squinted at the dusty town square.

"His foot," she announced, "it moved. But maybe... only a centimeter."

The voice made an intimate sound, a soft sigh beside Rathere's ear that did not quite reject her claim.

"Maybe just a millimeter," Rathere offered. A touch of unsure emphasis hovered about the last word; she wasn't used to tiny units of measurement, though from her father's work she understood light-years and metaparsecs well enough.

"In three minutes? Perhaps a micrometer," the voice in her head suggested.

Rathere rolled the word around in her mouth. In response to her questioning expression, software was invoked, as effortless as reflex. Images appeared upon the rough stones of the square: a meter-stick, a hundredth of its length glowing bright red, a detail box showing that hundredth with a hundredth of its length flashing, yet another detail box... completing the six orders of magnitude between meter and micrometer. Next to the final detail box a cross-section of human hair floated for scale, as bloated and gnarled as some blackly diseased tree.

"That small?" she whispered. A slight intake of breath, a softening of her eyes' focus, a measurable quantity of adrenalin in her bloodstream were all noted. Indicators of her simple awe: that a distance could be so small, a creature so slow.

"About half that, actually," said the voice in her head.

"Well," Rathere murmured, leaning back into the cool hem of shade along the stone wall, "I knew I saw it move."

She eyed the stone creature again, a look of triumph on her face.

Woven into her white tresses were black threads, filaments that moved through her hair in a slow deliberate dance, like the tendrils of some predator on an ocean floor. This restless skein was always seeking the best position to capture Rathere's subvocalized words, the movements of her eyes, the telltale secretions of her skin. Composed of exotic alloys and complex configurations of carbon, the tendrils housed a native intellect that handled their motility and self-maintenance. But a microwave link connected them to their real intelligence: the AI core aboard Rathere's star-ship home.

Two of the black filaments wound their way into her ears, where they curled in intimate contact with her tympanic membranes.

"The statues are always moving," the voice said to her. "But very slowly."

Then it reminded her to stick on another sunblock patch.

She was a very pale girl.

Even here on Petraveil, Rathere's father insisted that she wear the minder when she explored alone. The city was safe enough, populated mostly by academics here to study the glacially slow indigenous lifeforms. The lithomorphs themselves were incapable of posing a threat, unless one stood still for a hundred years or so. And Rathere was, as she put it, almost fifteen, near majority age back in the Home Cluster. Despite harnessing the processing power of the starship's AI, the minder was still only a glorified babysitter. The voice in her ears cautioned her incessantly about sunburn and strictly forbade several classes of recreational drugs.

But all in all it wasn't bad company. It certainly knew a lot.

"How long would it take, creeping forward in micrometers?" Rathere asked.

"How long would what take?" Even with their intimate connection, the AI could not read her mind. It was still working on that.

"To get all the way to the northern range. Probably a million years?" she ventured.

The starship, for whom a single second was a 16-teraflop reverie, spent endless minutes of every day accessing the planetary library.