Author's notes, disclaimers, etc.
I wrote this trippy little snippet after attending a tutorial for my first agronomy assignment. And agronomy, for those who don't know, is the study of organizing grass. Field trips are literally field trips; one stands in a field and watches grass grow. Anyway, I sent it into the student newspaper, who printed it with a picture of some very menacing looking sheep, and now here it is for you to scratch your heads at.
It references Jeff Wayne's "War of the Worlds", the Bible, The Matrix, George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four", the BVSc Agronomy Module study guide, and probably a few other things - none of which I own. See if you can spot them all. :)
In the beginning, there was a blank Microsoft Excel template. And AA said
"Let there be numbers!"
But there were none, so she went to the tutorial.
It was a Monday evening like any other. Across the campus, doors swung open, releasing floods of students into the crisp evening air. This was no disciplined march – it was a stampede, without order and without a goal; a mass of human beings, driving headlong. From the dining hall came a fell odour carried on the chill wind. AA saw flames flashing in the deep blue night, red weed glowing, tripod figures moving distantly.
Inside the lecture theatre, the air conditioning pumped frantically in a vain attempt to recycle the musty air from the day's classes, and AA took her seat. The blank Microsoft Excel template surveyed the class from its lofty position on the screen and waited.
"Let there be numbers!" the lecturer intoned, and there were – cascades of numbers, faster than the eye could follow, streaming down, glowing green digits in an opaque, ebony sky.
"It's…not real?" AA realized. "It's a computer program! I don't want it – I don't believe it! A computer generated dream world…your mind makes it real!"
"Good luck getting marks for that," AA's friend muttered out of the corner of her mouth.
A single square now took its place in the centre of the screen, and AA regarded it coolly, confidently meeting its accusing emptiness with a glimmer of assured knowledge.
How many sheep?
AA knew this. She had counted the sheep herself – high on Munro Hill the previous afternoon, the mud squelching beneath her boots and a rain-flecked breeze sprinkling itself across her pasture cover measurements, she had counted those sheep with her own eyes.
"Twenty. How many sheep are there, AA?"
"Sixteen." The word ended in a gasp of pain. The needle had shot up to fifty-five. The lecturer drew back the lever.
"How many sheep, AA?"
The needle must have risen again – must be at seventy, seventy-five.
"How many sheep, AA?"
"No, AA, that is no use. You still think there are sixteen. How many sheep, please?"
"How can I help it? How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? There are sixteen sheep!"
"Sometimes, AA. Sometimes there are ten. Sometimes they have lambs. Sometimes they are lactating. You must try harder."
The pain flowed into AA's body. She knew that the sheep were still there, and still sixteen. All that mattered was to somehow stay alive until the spasm was over. She had ceased to notice whether she was crying out or not. At that instant, a blissful, healing warmth spread all through her body. The lecturer now spoke in an easy, conversational tone.
"How many sheep?"
AA thought. She knew what was meant by sheep, and that the dry matter they consumed could be calculated by producing a trajectory of energy requirements and pasture cover growth over the coming months. And there was a moment of luminous certainty, when each new suggestion became absolute truth if that was what was needed.
"There are twenty sheep. Do you understand that there are twenty sheep?"
AA was walking down the beige lino corridor and into the foyer. In one hand, a sheaf of paper, neatly stapled together, represented the efforts of hours late into the night, when the void in the Microsoft Excel template had been filled with dispensed and unquestioningly understood truths. She paused and gazed at the assignment submission box.
It was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. She had won the victory over herself.
She loved Agronomy.