Chapter 3 of Cellular Civilization.
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Dismal dormEdit

800px-Roberts Residence Hall Iowa State University

More campus residence halls.

Charlie instructed Dexamene on how to find his dormitory. It was in the most remote residential cluster of the campus, on a hill up behind the main campus. They fell silent and Dexamene started twiddling with the iPod that she had playing through the car stereo system. Charlie thought that she was annoyed with him for running back to his dorm so early in the evening. Charlie tried to think of something to say that patch things over.

He decided that it was not worth trying to get creative. He had only known Lanora for a few hours, but it was clear that she had no use for the usual games that most people play. She clearly made up her own rules as she went along. He tried to picture where she would be spending the night and he pictured one of the big fancy houses over on the south side of town with pillars in front and a horse barn in back. He hated the idea of spending the night alone in his room after having passed up the chance to stay at the hotel with Lani. "I'd invite you in to my room, but it is just a dismal dorm."

Dexamene grabbed his hand and held it. “I’m not going to feel sorry for you. Open the glove compartment.” Charlie used his free hand to pop open the little door. Dexamene said, “Rummage around in there. There should be some business cards.”

Charlie found a card with a crescent moon in silver on one side and a phone number on the other side. If called, the number would connect directly to the nanite implant inside Dexamene’s head. Dexamene would then have the option of answering the call via the voice synthesizer of her nanite prosthetic or conventionally with her actual voice. Dexamene suggested, “Talk to your girl friend. Find a time that’s good for the two of you and let’s meet at Perry’s. I’d really like to meet this enchantress who has such power over you. Maybe she can tell me some of her magic spells.”

Charlie liked the idea of meeting at Perry’s. It was a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop behind the campus bookstore. “You’re not going to do something stupid like tell her about this evening?”

Dexamene shook her head. “You’ve made it clear that you do not want her to know about what we did tonight, although I think you are being silly. If she knew that you were susceptible to temptations she might think again about asking you to wait years for her. Okay, I had my say. It’s your call. It would probably be safest for you just to never see me again.”

Charlie knew she was right, but while he wanted to keep what he had with Stefi, he also wanted to get to know Lanora better, too. “You don’t get rid of me that easy. We still have not had a chance to talk about physics. Anyhow, if Stefi can test me I can test her. She has to be able to live with me knowing other women.”

Dexamene drove into the loop in front of Charlie’s dormitory and stopped near the main entrance. Charlie was feeling foolish and trying to think of something appropriate to say so that Dexamene would not go away thinking that he was a puppy on Stefi’s leash, but he could think of nothing that would not sound silly. “Thanks for a fun evening, Lani. I’ll give you a ring.”

“Goodnight, Charlie.” He got out of the car and she said, “I’d thank you for being a perfect gentleman, but I hate to encourage that kind of behavior.”

Charlie watched her drive away then turned and went up the steps in front of the dorm. A group of guys was on the stoop and one called out, “Hey, Charlie, who’s the foxy dame?”

Charlie scratched his head, “I’m not sure. I met her in the physics stacks, we talked for a while, and she gave me a ride home. She gave me her number and I hope to see her again. Excuse me, I need to make a phone call.”


He went up to his room and called Stefi’s cell phone number. She did not pick up. He thought for a moment and could think of only one reason why she would not pick up, if she had shut off her cell phone and forgotten to turn it on again. He called the number for the built-in phone in her dorm room, but there was no answer there either. He shrugged and decided to put in an hour of work on a term paper project. He ended up calling Stefi every half hour for the rest of the evening. Finally he called the front desk of Stefi’s dorm and said, “Hi, This is Charlie Parker.”

The desk attendant was a resident of Stefi’s dorm. “Oh, hi Charlie. What’s up?”

Charlie explained why he was calling. “I’m worried about Stefi. I’ve been unable to reach her for the past couple of hours.”

“Hmm. Will you hold?”

“Yes, I’ll hold.”

Charlie could hear: “Stef? This is the Ann at the front desk. I’ve got Charlie on the phone. Okay. Charlie? She said you should hang up and she’ll call you.”

Charlie hung up and the phone rang. “Stefi?”

She said, “What do you want, Charlie?”

“You had me worried, Stefi. I’ve been calling and calling.”

“I know. I didn’t want to talk to you. I was jealous of that sassy pair of jeans you were with.” Judging by the brittleness of Stefi’s voice, Charlie judged he had a significant amount of smoothing over to do.

Charlie groaned. “Ya, when you wouldn’t take my calls I guessed you saw her. Her name is Lanora. I met her in the physics stacks this afternoon. When I told her about you she decided that she wants to meet you.”

Stefiz asked, “What for?”

Charlie replied, “I think it’s a good idea. She knows physics and I’m going to be seeing more of her. She’s a real unique individual and I want you to meet her.”

Stefiz said, “I’m really not interested.”

Charlie was irritated by Stefi’s attitude. “Well, I can’t force you, but I was thinking we could meet at Perry’s and you’d have a chance to see that she does not have horns and does not breathe fire.”

Stefi still sounded irritated. “I really don’t care. I’ve never been interested in your nerdy physics friends.”

Charlie was surprised to see how jealous Stefi was. “You know they are not all hopeless nerds. Lanora certainly isn’t.”

Stefiz said sarcastically, “Of that, I’m sure.”

Charlie knew that Stefi’s first class was at 11:00 on Tuesdays. “Well, I’m going to be at Perry’s with Lanora before your first class tomorrow. I’d like it if you stopped by.”

Charlie could tell that Stefi was now trying hard to sound like she did not care what Charlie did. “I’ll think about it, but I’m meeting with Jenny first thing and I can’t promise I’ll have time.”

“Well, that’s fine. It’s not really important. I just don’t want you to be mad at me.”

“Why should I be mad at you?”

“Because I distract you from your school work and call you late at night when you’ve asked me not to call after 10:00.”

“I don’t mind that you called. I was being silly and I’m glad you cared enough to check on me, make sure I was okay.”

“Stefi, if you get mad at me, please talk to me.”

“I was upset. I did not want to say something to you that I would regret when I calmed down. I’m still upset.”

“Well sometimes if you don’t talk you just get more and more upset over things that you are imagining.”

Stefi asked, “What do you think I was imagining?”

“It doesn’t take much of an imagination to guess what goes through a guy’s mind when someone like Lanora comes on to him.”

Stefi’s voice finally brightened a fraction. “You say she came on to you? In the interest of not allowing me to let my imagination run wild, why don’t you tell me what went through your mind?”

Charlie said, “The usual. Did you see those pants she was wearing? They pull every string that’s been used to keep the human species in business for the past million years.”

“And when I put that together with what you told me about your math professor, I figured you were on her hook and being reeled in.”

Charlie laughed, “The metaphors are getting absurd. I saw Lanora reading Feynman and I was surprised and intrigued.”

Stefi sounded skeptical, “I did not realize that Feynman pulls evolutionary strings.”

“You don’t think I’m attracted to intelligent women?”

“I like to think of myself as a soul mate, not a list of desirable features.”

“You know I’m a reductionist. But I’ll admit that it’s the whole bundle of….you…that I fell in love with.”

“I’d feel better about that if we just had not met four years too early.”

“I’d feel better if I could understand why you always say four years. It's pretty clear that we are both going to go to graduate school and then it will be jobs and careers….”

“Well, it's just reality Charlie. If we even last that long we are going to have to reconsider our situation when we graduate. What if you want to go off to Stanford Medical School while I go to graduate school in Europe? I do not see how you can expect any kind of certainty at this point.”

“It is not a matter of certainty, but I do need to be able to see possibility. The longer the tunnel gets the harder it is to see any light at the end.”

“Particularly when you have all the Lanoras of the world flashing in your eyes.”

“It's not like I’m unable to see how special you are, Stefi, it is not a matter of every tight pair of pants being your competition.”

“I know that, Charlie. We would not have lasted this long if that was the case. But all it takes is one glimmer of distraction and you might turn down the wrong tunnel so that you would be lost to me. And I can tell by the way you talk about Lanora that you are seeing a glimmer.”

“I am always going to know other people who shine in ways that you do not. That does not mean that I will be “distracted” and loose sight of you.”

“Well, I agree, it does not have to mean that, but it might come to that, in the end. Only time will tell.”

Charlie felt that this was probably where he should object and declare his never-ending commitment to Stefi, but their relationship had never been defined in those terms. It was late and they said their good nights.

Silver MoonEdit

Charlie pulled out Lanora’s card and looked at the silver Moon. In the better light of the room he could see that the card was very well done and that the image of the Moon was a hologram built right into the structure of the plastic card. The plastic was thinner than a credit card and felt like a conventional paper business card. He then called the number on the card.

Dexamene was expecting him to call. “Hello.”

“This is Charlie.”

“Hey, what’s up?”

“What time do you want to meet at Perry’s tomorrow?”

“I’m flexible. Did you find a time that’s good for you and the Amazing Stefi?”

Now it was Charlie’s turn to be irked. “There’s no need to mock her.”

“I’m not mocking. I’m truly in awe of anyone who can command the kind of loyalty you show towards her.”

“Well, I’m not sure she’s going to show up at Perry’s. She saw us together when we left the library and she was fretting about it all evening.”

“I’m sure you would be just as jealous if she started seeing another guy.”

Charlie examined his own feelings and had to admit that was true. He and Stefi had something good and if and when it ever fell apart, it would be painful. And doubly painful for the one who was not the first to let it fall apart. But Charlie did not feel like he was abandoning Stefi by spending time with Lanora. He had proven himself by resisting all of Lanora’s most outrageous advances. He just hoped that Stefi would look at Lanora and Charlie together and see for herself that she could live with them having an intellectual relationship. Charlie still imagined that it would be ideal if Stefi and Lani could become friends. Dexamene asked, “Are you still there?” thumb|425px|right|Let’s meet at 9:00. “Ya, I was lost in thought. Anyhow, let’s meet at 9:00, okay?”

“That’s fine for me.”

“Okay. See you there. Good night.”

Dexamene seemed in no hurry to end the conversation. “Just a so-so night, I’d say. It could have been a great night,” she said suggestively.

Charlie chuckled. He definitely had a weakness for Lani’s willingness to do and say anything that came to her fertile mind. “You are bad. That is just the kind of comment I fear you will drop on Stefi. She would not be amused.”

“But the point is, you were amused. And I am smart enough to control what I say around people. Most of the time.”

“You are dangerous. You do not really care what other people think about you.”

“That’s almost true. I don’t care what most people think because they do not matter. I care what you think. I’ve already told you that I’ll respect your wishes for protecting tass.”

“What is tass?

“T. A. S. The Amazing Stefi.”

“God, you are the one who is amazing. You say you care about my feelings but then you persist in taunting me. There’s no point in you constructing some trivializing pet name for Stefi.”

“Well, I know it makes you uneasy, but that does not mean that there is no point in my doing it. I think you will admit that it is when you feel uneasy and disoriented that you are in a position to learn something about the world.”

“Is that your job, to teach me something?”

“Yes, if we are going to have any kind of future together. You and I come from two different cultures. I think you already know that it is not possible for me to conform to the rules of your world. If you want to be in my world, you are going to have to learn new ways of being and seeing.”

Charlie was impressed. “Wow. You create such drama for yourself. I thought we were just going to talk about physics and other nerdy things.”

“Well, Charlie, I thought you were the kind of person who wants to do more than just talk. Personally, I’m changing the world. I’m building a better world. Don’t you want to be part of that?”

“Of course I do. And that is what I find so exciting about you.”

“Ya, right, and my Juicy ass.”


“Can’t you read? That’s the label on the pants I was wearing today.”

“I guess I was looking at something other than the label.”

“There’s nothing wrong with accepting the kind of animal you are.”

“Well, Stefi expects me to be a gentleman, not an animal. I’m not really pleased by the way I behaved when I met you today.”

“That was fun and exciting. What’s wrong with letting yourself be caught up in your emotions?”

“I hope you remember you said that when we have our first fight.”

“It sounds like you want to do that right now.”

“No. It’s just that you make me uneasy. I’ve never pictured myself being with someone like you.”

“That’s because there has never been anyone like me in your past experience. So this is part of what you have to learn: The Amazing Lani.”

“And what if we learn that I can’t deal with you and the full intensity of your uniqueness?”

“That would suck. Are you going to worry about it or just get on with life?”

“You have the luxury of not worrying. We mortals worry all the time.”

“Plan, scheme, connive, but why worry? That’s not any way to live.”

Charlie muttered, “You should be a spokes woman for BuSpar.” There was a long silence and Charlie looked at his watch. “Well, it's getting late. See you tomorrow.”


Off CampusEdit

Dexamene and Charlie got to talk about physics for two hours, and Stefiz never showed up at Perry’s. Charlie was amazed by the insights that Dexamene had into a broad range of physics issues. He asked her why she did not become a physics major, “You’re a natural.” Dexamene had simply shaken her head.

A half hour later, after she gave a brilliant one paragraph summary of the cosmological significance of dark energy, Charlie again suggested that she become a physics major. Dexamene said, “I can deal with the concepts, but I do not have the patience to deal with all the math.”

Charlie was having so much fun that he was shocked to notice that it was after 11:00. Dexamene insisted on paying the bill. They stepped outside and found that it had started to drizzle. Charlie knew that he should get ready to go to class but he was having too much fun. Dexamene said, “Well, this has been fun, but I have to run some errands. When is your last class over today?” They arranged to meet after his last class and she took off, headed in the direction of the visitors parking garage.

Charlie wondered if Dexamene was really a student, but he could not picture a woman like her just cruising the campus and tantalizing physics undergraduates in her spare time.

The afternoon seemed to crawl by and Charlie could not really tune into his classes. When he got out of his last class he was pleased to find Dexamene waiting where they had arranged to meet. He got into her car and asked what she had been doing.

She replied, “If you must know, I’ve had a small pipe problem in my house.” She gave a short account of the plumbing difficulties of a hundred year old house. “That’s why I did not take you there yesterday.”

Charlie noticed that she was driving towards the old upper class part of town. “Are you taking me there now?”

“Unless you’d rather go somewhere else.”

“Oh, no, I’d like to see where you live. I’m curious.”

“Don’t worry. I have no husband who is going to walk in on us.”

“I’m not worried about that. I’m not sure that they’ve invented the man who could meet your standards.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“I’m not sure I know myself. It just occurred to me that I’m not sure that there is any guy who is your equal, someone you would feel was your soul mate.”

“Oh, I see. Well, ya, I’ve never understood it when people talk about soul mates. I just do not understand the exclusivity of that. I never signed on to the idea that there must be one person that I’m supposed to be devoted to for life.”

Charlie observed, “I’ve read about many extraordinary people who seem to have had similar ideas. I think most of us mortals know we can and should be happy with one of the people we happen to get to know in life. You seem to be in another class, above and beyond what most people accept in life.”

“I certainly do not like the idea of accepting anything. Things are either right or wrong. If they are wrong I change them.” She turned into a quiet street lined with large, old trees. Through the trees, Charlie could see well set back grand old houses. Dexamene said wistfully, “This is what I always imagined Earth should look like.”

Charlie had ridden his bike down these streets many times. “It would be nice if everyone could live like this.” Dexamene turned up a driveway towards one of the few brick houses in town. Huge green shrubs clung to the red brick as if they were mortared in place. Charlie said, “It’s lovely.”

Dexamene nodded. “I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it.” She pulled around to a car port on the west end of the house and parked. "The only flaw, besides the plumbing, is that I find it a bit spooky in this house when I'm by myself." A large garage sat further back behind, probably a converted horse barn. Dexamene asked, “What do you want to see first, inside or outside?”

It had been raining much of the afternoon and while the grounds around the big old house looked beautiful, Charlie was in no mood for slogging through dripping foliage. “I think there will be a better day to see the gardens.” They went inside and Charlie could immediately see that the interior of the house had been renovated and was completely modern, although all of the original brick fireplaces had been retained and restored.

Dexamene led him into the kitchen and she started heating water on the stove. “The people who lived here before me totally modernized the interior.” She pointed to the fireplace. “They did remove the array of brick ovens that had made up that half of the original kitchen to provide room for modern appliances. He was a banker or something. They spent a fortune on this house.”

“I was guessing maybe this was your parents’ house.”

“No, they never lived to see this. Although I think they would have liked this place.” She showed Charlie a selection of teas and other drink options. “When the water is hot, fix me a cup of tea. Make yourself at home. I’m going to go change out of these street clothes.” She abandoned Charlie to the care of the water pot.

Charlie got a pair of mugs ready and waited for the water to boil. Dexamene did not return immediately. He turned off the stove and took the filled mugs to the table that was in the kitchen. Charlie drifted into a kind of fantasy of imagining what it would be like to live in such comfortable and private conditions rather than in a dorm. He heard a sound from upstairs and was surprised to notice that his mug only held half a cup of cooled tea. He wondered: what had happened to Lani?

Charlie was about to set off into the house to find her when he heard footsteps. A man entered the kitchen and all of his fears that Lani might be married came rushing out. The man was clad in black pants and a black turtle neck shirt. He looked to be in his late forties or early fifties. He held out his hand to Charlie and they shook. “I’m Andresklo. Lanora got delayed and asked me to come tell you.”

Andresklo’s grip was like stone, like that of a man who worked with his hands. Charlie could see no family resemblance between Dexamene and Andresklo. “I’m Charles Parker.”

Andresklo sat down on a stool next to the counter. His eyes seemed to cut into Charlie, revealing the details of his existence. “Yes, I know, the physics major. And you want to become a physician. A noble calling.”

Charlie said, “Lanora could be a physics major, too. I can’t understand why she has not declared a major.”

Andresklo shook his head. “Do you really think something as conventional as a major is suitable for Lanora?”

Charlie realized that Andresklo was right. Lanora already had the equivalent of a college major, it was just that she majored in Life.

Andresklo nodded. “Exactly. Of course, she has a purpose in attending the university, but it is nothing so mundane as trying to obtain an academic degree.”

Charlie was in awe of Andresklo’s self confidence and Charlie felt like Andresklo could read him like an open book, like a book that Andresklo knew all too well already. “It sounds like you know Lanora quite well.”

Andresklo shrugged his heavy shoulders. “Of course I know her well. I’ve known her since the day she was born.”

Charlie asked, “Then you knew her parents?”

Andresklo replied, “I knew her mother. Lanora did not really have a father.”

Charlie pictured a desperate, abandoned woman and Andresklo stepping in to help out. “I wish I could have known her mother.”

Andresklo closed his eyes and lowered his head. “She was a remarkable woman, but there is a lot of her in Lanora.”

Andresklo was certainly not old and decrepit. In fact, he seemed to bubble with hum with power, like the power plant of a huge ocean going vessel. Charlie tried to imagine the nature of the links that kept Lanora and an old friend of her mother together. Did Lanora look upon Andresklo as her father? Charlie could not resist digging for more information. “So you live here with Lanora ?”

Andresklo finally let Charlie slide from his gaze and he looked around the kitchen. “No, this is not my place. Lanora needed some help making this place truly hers and I’m good at that kind of work. I’ll be going back home soon.”

Charlie wondered where home was for Andresklo, but before he could ask he noticed that Lani was standing in the doorway that led to the adjacent dining room. She said, “Sorry I got delayed. I’m glad that you two had a chance to talk.” She came to the table and examined her mug of tea. She put it into the microwave oven to warm it up.

Andresklo said, “I was just telling Charlie that I must soon return home.”

“I know, uncle Andy. But please stay as long as you can. I’ll be lonely without you.” She pulled her warmed tea out of the microwave and took a sip and sat down at the table with Charlie.

Andresklo spoke to Charlie. “I’m sure you noticed the amazing world that Lanora constructs in her imagination. She’s never had a chance to be lonely; she never will.”

In fact, it was hard for Charlie to imagine Lanora not being the center of a swirling tribe of friends and acquaintances. He still could not understand why a woman like Lani would even say hello to him. It was only 24 hours after the event, but he was already wondering what had even given him the confidence to talk to Lani in the library.

Dexamene said, “That’s not fair, Andy. A person raised in a city as part of a large family is going to have different standards of loneliness than an only child who grows up on a farm.”

There was an awkward silence and Charlie sensed that this was a topic that Lani and Andresklo had frequently discussed and never came to a meeting of minds over. Lani and Andresklo glared at each other and then Lani got up from the table and went to Andresklo and placed a kiss on his cheek. She put an arm around Andresklo and turned back to face towards Charlie. “Andresklo never had a childhood, so he has trouble understanding such things.”

Charlie had known people who, due to unfortunate personal circumstances, never had a chance to be a child. Looking at the no-nonsense air that Andresklo projected, Charlie could well imagine that he had never had a normal childhood and may have been forced at a young age to be the man around his house. As for Lani, it was easy for Charlie to imagine her as a pampered only child still clinging to her favorite “uncle”. As an only child, Charlie thought maybe he could understand some of Lani’s perspective on loneliness. “Maybe part of what brought Lani and me together with such force was a shared readiness to make friends and a shared inexperience in how to be friends. It seems that children in a large family would learn that early, while only children would have more difficulty.”

With a subtle turn of his hand, Andresklo dismissed Charlie’s hypothesis. Andresklo looked back and forth between Charlie and Dexamene. “Charlie, don’t ever ascribe a whole lot of innocence to Lanora. If you came together with “force” what makes you think it was an accident?”

Charlie realized that his mind had been tirelessly playing around with the mystery of how Lanora had magically appeared in his life, but he could not imagine a reason other than accident to account for it. He recalled that was how Lani had tried to pass it off, as an accident of their emotions being fired by physical attraction and their rational minds imagining some shared intellectual brotherhood. Seeing her clinging to the bulk of Andresklo, Charlie thought Lani looked like an innocent school kid, but what if she was an actress? What if she was using Charlie? Charlie shook his head. Hell. If so, all was lost. If so, all he could say was- please, use me! He realized then, looking at her, that was a battle that she had won in that first wild flare of his emotions when he had first seen her in the library.

Andresklo seemed to read Charlie’s thoughts in the twitches of his face. Andresklo said, “Yes, it is probably best to think of it as fate. Lanora is a force of nature as real as gravity. And you know that the ground is not suddenly going to give way beneath you.”

Charlie could not fully parse Andresklo’s enigmatic statement, but it seemed to contain truths that registered with Charlie on a deep level. He thought he could see how Lani, while so wild and free, still kept a firm grasp on reality: Andresklo was her anchor.

Dexamene left Andresklo’s side and went to Charlie, took his hand and tugged him out of his chair. “Don’t let Andresklo spook you. He once meditated on a mountain and he attained a Transcendental Oneness. He’s now like a walking oracle. Come on, I want to show you the rest of the house.”

The house was not huge, but it had been built for the large families of the 1800s. Every room retained its original access to a chimney, but most of the fire places were now adapted to ultra-modern fixtures with glass panels and built-in natural gas lines. At the end of the tour, they ended up seated next to a circular fireplace that came alive with flames at the touch of a button. Charlie remained baffled as to why anyone accustomed to living is such surroundings and as smart as Lani would attend the state university. He asked her to explain.

She gazed into the fire for a while without answering. Charlie was about to rephrase the question when she finally replied. “There have been times when universities have been sources of true fundamental change. Right now, most universities are devoted to protection of the established order. Where is real change going to come from? From those at the top who are protecting what they have or from those at the bottom who see the need for change?”

Charlie had thought along these lines before. “Maybe neither. Those with the means to produce change do not want change. Those who want change lack the means to make changes.”

“That’s why I search for the rare conditions where the will and the way are both present at the same time.”

“And that is here?”

She looked from the fire into his eyes. “Is that so hard to believe?”

Charlie replied, “I like to think that I will make a contribution to the world, but an incremental one. You seem to be looking for a way to create a revolution.”

Dexamene shrugged. “Revolutions can come in unexpected ways. And I never said that I was here because of you.”

“And you won’t tell why you are here.”

“It’s really just a hunch. I might be wasting my time. I doubt I can explain it to you.”

“And you won’t even try.”

Dexamene laughed. “Don’t pout.” She seemed to consider just how to explain it. “Our species is balanced on knife edge. There is an optimal rate of cultural change. We have so much to learn, so much change still awaits us, but if change comes too fast, the whole social structure can collapse. You agree?”

Charlie replied, “Sometimes a collapse might be needed. If a culture reaches a dead end.”

“True. It can work that way. But there is a theorem that says gradual change is always an option by which collapses can be avoided. Do you believe that?”

Charlie scratched his head. “You make it sound like Asimov’s psychohistory or something. Is that your goal, to become a sociologist and find the rules by which human society evolves?”

“What if the rules are already known? Have been known for a long time?”

“If they were known, then wouldn’t they be taught in sociology classes?”

“Charlie, have you ever read Asimov or have you only heard about his psychohistory second hand?”

“I’ve read the Foundation series. Sure, Asimov proposed that psychohistory would only work if people did not know that prediction of the course of societies was possible. I always thought that was a very artificial and unnecessary part of the whole idea.”

“Well, what if there is some reason why the rules of social evolution were known, but that information could not be widely distributed to the people of Earth? Not because the rules would be short-circuited by such knowledge…..just….because.”

Charlie was reluctant to accept anything “just because”. He complained, “I can’t think of any reason why that should be so. You seem to be saying that you know these rules but you cannot share them with someone like me. That’s delusional.”

Dexamene laughed. “You think I’m insane? That I live in a fantasy?”

“How can I judge? You won’t tell me anything that’s verifiable.”

“What if I can’t tell you?”

“But you’ve told me so much. Why stop half way?”

She tried to suggest an analogy. “A sequoia might grow 300 feet and some would still ask: why did it stop half way?”

Charlie reached over and took hold of her hand. “I think you just delight in mystifying people.”

“Well, you are the one who asked.” She raked his palm with her nails and smiled wickedly. “If you force someone to talk about something that they really cannot talk about, you are just asking to be frustrated.”

“But why can’t you talk about it? I just can’t imagine why.”

“Charlie, why place your limited imagination on a pedestal? Human history is full of examples where people turned a simple failure of imagination into authoritative pronouncements. I told you before that I represent a chance for you to learn. Don’t tell me that you cannot imagine until you have really tried.”

“I’m ready to learn, but you won’t teach me.”

She swung around to face him and straddled his legs. She leaned her face close to his and said suggestively, “There are some things I’m ready to teach you. Are you open to them?”

Charlie felt a rush from the feel of her legs against his. She had changed out of street clothes into a silk kimono with a colorful oriental design. He could now see that she had nothing on under the robe. “Are you suggesting that I have to have a physical relationship with you before you will answer my questions?”

“Not at all. I’d love to share my body with you; that is not part of any deal or trade. TAS takes that off the table. I’m just using it as an example, one that you are very much aware of, an example of how you are not open to everything. You want me to give you answers, I’ve told you that I can’t so…..” She waited for Charlie to complete the equation.

“So you expect me to figure the answers out for myself?”

“Bingo! Is that such an outrageous idea?”

Charlie shrugged. “Maybe I’m spoiled. People usually do not expect me to turn them into topics for study.”

“You do not think I’m worthy of your careful study?”

“I did not say that. You’re fascinating. I’m risking my relationship with Stefi just to have the opportunity to get to know you.“

“But you are lazy. You expect me to just reveal all of my deepest secrets to you. What if it is my mystery that you find most attractive? I’d lose my power over you if I gave away all my secrets.”

“Is that what you want? Power over me?”

“Why not? I want to change the world, remember? One way to do that is to influence other people.“

“Most people are not so blunt and open about manipulating other people.”

“Get over your expectations, Charlie. All of your conventional instincts are wrong when you apply them to me. You think I’m too secretive about some things and too blunt about others. Adapt. I cannot change to conform to your expectations.”

“What makes you so different?”

“The same things that make you unique. My experiences, the people I have known.”

“But I do not carry around dark secrets. I’m not as unique as you are.”

“That’s up to you Charlie. So far you have been content to find a niche in the social system you were born into. Not everyone is so eager to fit in. If you want, you can take a different path.”

“I have no special wisdom that would let me select such a path.” A strange thought occurred to Charlie. “Is it Andresklo that puts all these strange ideas into your head?”

“Andresklo has been very important to me, but if you are looking for the source of what I am you should probably focus your thoughts on my mother. There have always been witches and oracles who have irritated the bulk of humanity. You could say that Pandora is my Patron Saint if you allow us to mix metaphors.”

“How long ago did your mother die?”

Dexamene pulled away from Charlie and went to sit in a chair on the other side of the fire place. She said quietly, “I’d rather not say.”

Charlie figured it was probably so recently that she had not gotten over the loss. Charlie had been doing a lot of thinking about what he would do when his father’s heart finally gave out. “Sorry, I did not mean to pry into your loss.”

“That’s okay Charlie. Anyhow, it’s as if she were still with me. It's not so much that I have suffered a loss as I fear that I cannot live up to the standard she set. It is not easy to be the daughter of a great woman.”

“Was she famous? Would I know of her?”

Dexamene shook her head. “No. She was not great in that way. She could not have been both great and well known.”

Charlie was puzzled by that comment. “What are you talking about? In what sense was she great?”

“She did her work quietly, in the same way I must.”

“What sort of work was that?”

“Where do you think change comes from Charlie? She worked for change. She changed the world.”

“In what way?”

“Mmmm...I smell something good. I think Andresklo has our dinner together.” She led him back to the dining room and they joined Andresklo for dinner. Andresklo hardly ate, but spent most of the meal telling stories of the silly things Dexamene had done while growing up. It was clear from the stories he told that he had for all practical purposes been her father. Dexamene laughed at all of his stories and seemed embarrassed by nothing Andresklo could say, even though Charlie was several times embarrassed by elements of Andresklo’s intimate stories.

When they retired from the dining room to sit by the circular fire place, Andresklo said to Charlie, “I hope you are starting to appreciate the type of creature that Lanora is.”

“If those wild stories you told are actually true, I can see that she has always been very special. She did not suddenly turn into an enchantress when she hit puberty.” Andresklo started asking about Charlie’s interests and quickly the three of them were deep into debate about the theoretical and practical limits of NMR as a tool for scanning the human body for medical diagnosis purposes.

It was the early hours of the next day when Charlie finally felt the wind go out of his sails. He said, “This has been a lot of fun for me, discussing my favorite topic, but I’m worn out.”

Andresklo said, “And I should be going, also. Can I give you a ride home, Charlie?”

Dexamene took hold of one of Charlie’s arms, “If you are leaving, Andresklo, then Charlie is going to stay and keep me company.”

Andresklo and Dexamene said their goodbyes, and then Andresklo was out into the night. Dexamene was suddenly very quiet as she led Charlie up to the bedroom next to hers. “Why don’t you use this room, Charlie?”

He said, “I’ll sleep here if you can get me back to the campus in a few hours. I’ll need to get back to my dorm to shower and change clothes before class.”

Dexamene went into his bedroom and opened up the closet, revealing clothing that looked like it would fit Charlie. “If you find these suitable, you can shower here in the morning.” She pulled open a drawer containing underwear. “I’d never had the chance to buy underwear for a guy before.”

Charlie checked the sizes on the clothing. “I can’t believe you bought me clothes.”

“You can think of this as a trade. You can keep me company here tonight and in exchange I can buy you a few things.”

“Deal. But this cannot be a regular thing. I had a great time tonight discussing medical imaging with you and Andy, but I cannot afford to have my usual study routine interrupted.”

“You are always welcome to study here.”

“Are you suggesting I move in here with you?”

“You are welcome here any time Charlie. Isn’t this more comfortable than the dorm?”

“No question about that, but Stefi would totally freak if she knew I was here for even one night.”

“She expects you to suffer in the dorm in order to prove yourself to her?”

This was where Dexamene always seemed to push things until she crossed the line and started irritating Charlie. “It’s a matter of appearances. Even if our relationship is perfectly innocent and intellectual, Stefi cannot help but have doubts. And it would not be fair for me to live in luxury while she has to stay in dorm.”

“There’s plenty of room here. Invite her over tomorrow. I’m sure she will like it here as much as you do. You can both stay here and she can keep a watch over you, make sure you are not screwing around behind her back.”

“I couldn’t even get her to join us for a meal at Perry’s.”

“Just give me her number. I’ll call her and invite her.”

“She keeps a strict schedule during the week. The only chance would be for the weekend.”

“Then invite her over for Saturday.”

“I will. It might be best if it is a party for a larger group.”

“Sure. Invite all your friends.“

Charlie nodded. “Okay. Now I need to get some sleep.”

Lanora kissed his cheek. “Thanks so much for staying here tonight. It means a lot to me.” She turned and sauntered to the door. After casting one last seductive glance over her shoulder, she went down the hallway to her room.

As tired as he was, Charlie lay awake for a long time wondering what he was getting himself into. As he drifted into sleep, he had the idea that Lani was a fiction, an alias created as the cover for some kind of spy and technology thief from the Orient.


  • Continue to Chapter 4 - Mary, the nosy dorm queen

Here is a map of the chapters:

              _> Mary –––––––––––––––––––––> Lincoln
             /                                \
            /                                  \__> Amelia
      PAlbert ––––––––––––––––––––> Andresklo
      /  \                          \---->Ferace      ------> Yasas
     /    \      __----------> Cathy                /
    /      \    /                 \                /
   /        \  /                   \__________>Tess
CC –––> Charlie ––-----–> Stefi
    \                    ----------------> Lani
     \                  /                     \
      \ _______---> Jenny –––> Thomas          \______> Dexamene

Sunday ----> time flow --> one week in the Fall --> ---------> Saturday
Useful pages for the reader: List of characters and the Glossary. Readers can discuss the story at Talk:Cellular Civilization.

If you want to help write the story, see the meta page (warning: spoilers!).

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