A Turing EclipseShe stood through the whole eclipse on the same three foot square of concrete, shifting her weight sometimes, never once speaking, never once showing interest in the happy mob of watchers around her. We had come, along with the other watchers, to Santa Ana Junior College, to the planetarium where the Astronomy faculty had organized an eclipse event. Inside, on the planetarium dome, they projected NASA video from the path of totality; outside there were two lines, one to get into the planetarium and one to look through one of their two solar telescopes. Most of the people brought solar glasses. Some had cereal box pinhole projectors. The Astronomers handed solar glasses to those who had not brought any and explanations to anyone and everyone who asked. They had goofy smiles on their faces - the Astronomers not those who had come for glasses or explanations - the goofy smiles of enthusiasts who have been discovered and are getting a chance to explain to the mob. Happy that there are all these interested people and happy, perhaps, that they aren't carrying torches. We had arrived and parked across the street because the school lot was full. I got out of the car and put on my glasses to see the beginning; the moon occluding just a small piece of the sun; a small black disk intruding slightly on the bigger disk of the sun. I took a breath; that may have been my high point of the trip; it was really happening, not totality, but, oddly for my age and interest in science, my first eclipse and I got to celebrate with a group of festive people. Except her. We went through the planetarium line, the shorter of the two, and came into the courtyard outside to sit and wait for the max. We weren't anywhere near totality. Three days earlier, my wife had said to me as I was washing dishes, "There's still time to drive to Oregon." By that time I'd seen the news reports with traffic forecasts and motel prices, "That's okay; it'll be a zoo up there." She persisted a little and then invited me to come with her, our granddaughter and our granddaughter's friend, to the planetarium and while the two girls went off to sit and gossip and take occasional glances at the eclipse, and my wife went off to watch them and take occasional glances at the eclipse, I noticed the young woman. She might have been a student, she looked about that age, not quite dressed the part, jeans and black blouse, but designer jeans and blouse. Black hair and eyes the color of her blouse. She stood there and occasionally shifted her weight not appearing interested in anything about her. I found NASA TV on my cell phone and took it over to show the kids the totality with the corona flaring. Give them credit, neither one is a science nerd, but both oohed and ahhed over the pictures. My wife, who is a science nerd with a Masters in Micro Biology, also oohed and ahhed. When I returned to the shade, the girl hadn't moved from her square of concrete. We stayed until the moon had carved out as much as it could, until the sun looked like a crescent moon and walked back to our car. Along the way I let two people who didn't have glasses use mine to look. One a young boy about four (his parents approved but were too shy to look themselves) and one a pedestrian waiting for the bus. I didn't offer my glasses to her. If I had, I might have learned something about her. My speculations range from the absurdly fantastic to romantically mundane: Absurdly fantastic: she was a robot, programmed by the technology students and faculty as a constrained Turing test. Would she pass as human as long as she didn't have to interact with the people around her? Romantically mundane: she was waiting for her boyfriend. He had joined the solar telescope line. She wasn't interested and would wait for him. What she doesn't know is that in line he had met another girl, not as cute as she was, but as excited as he (let us be truthful to the extent that is possible in fantasy: neither of these two were truly interested in the astronomy, it was more the event as event itself), But, talking, they found they shared a number of common TV shows and bands and he had gone off with her, leaving the girl he had come with. I walked within a foot of her as we left. If she was a robot, I couldn't tell. I didn't see her boyfriend in the solar telescope line either - even if I could have identified him, it stretched around the other side of the building away from us. The eclipse wasn't total in our town. Perhaps he came back to her, perhaps some other of the watchers tried to hand her some solar glasses and machines failed Turing once again.
25 Aug 2017
Copyright © 2017 Truck Smith