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Monday, November 30, 2009

The Quantum Mechanic: Un-Deleted Scenes!

I've got all these handy navigation links in the chapters, but none for the Un-Deleted Scenes, so I've added that here (as well as a link from the Epilogue that points to this page). Here you go:
Rock most hard. Have a great one, everybody!

Dear The Internet: I Win!

Look, see? I also donated some money and have a halo because of it. Oh, and I have a winner's badge thinger over on the right, too. Hopefully I can get that back in sales, if the CreateSpace deal is still going.

So yeah, I'm still not done writing, I just crossed the finish line. But I will post what I have when I finish this last un-deleted scene, and then it's time to arrange all the parts together for publishing. I want my hardcopy before Christmas!

More later, as I finish this last vignette.

EDIT: Finished! Final wordcount is 50,475. Moved this bit so it's "after" the last un-deleted scene (which should appear right below this, if I've done my math right). Hooray! Enjoy!

The Quantum Mechanic: Un-Deleted Scene Six

UN-DELETED SCENE 6: Victor playtests the device.

On a rocky planet circling the Sun at odd angles, a battle has just ended. Victor puts his weapons away, eats his fill, and then resumes his journey. The destination is not so important as how he gets there, but at the moment, he needs to make up some time. He visualizes wheels in his mind, designs a simple but effective drive train, then goes down to all fours while the device goes to work.

Hard rubber forms into tires around cartilaginous wheels. The discs calcify, and Victor's hands and feet are fused over the axles. His knees lift up from the ground, and callused pads nudge the wheels into motion. He's off. Victors leg bones are re-shaped, pulled out of joint, and arranged into pistons to more effectively drive his body. Along his spine, improvised neural architecture translates his thoughts into the proper motions, and then suddenly, being a motorcycle comes as naturally to Victor as walking.

The road is in a state of severe disrepair. Chunks of pavement jut out at odd angles, potholes threaten to jar him out of his smooth and calculated motions, and the odd tree and crater disrupt the road entirely at points. Victor presses on, his weight shifting to pull wheelies, bunny hops, and occasional leaps and bounds. His path of travel weaves through and around the encroaching wilderness, leaving only the occasional squirt of lubricating saturated fat. But it is enough for a quick and clever observer to follow.

Something approaches from the horizon, vaguely behind him. It moves with frightening speed, faster than sound. Victor decides to make his stand on a nearby overpass. His pistons disengage, and he gradually decelerates as muscles weave themselves into braided coils. Multipronged chitinous hooks form at the ends, and launch themselves at the overpass as Victor rolls underneath. Victor pulls his weight back, tightens his cords, and lifts off the ground. One of his hooks loses grip, and he loses balance - the device compensates by using the gyroscopic inertia of the still-spinning wheels to correct his pitch. Coming down from his arc now, the wheels disengage and Victor curls up to roll to a stop on the raised concrete. New arms and legs have formed before his tendrils have completely retracted, and now the metals he has been carrying with him are put to use: tiny bits of acid-cut shrapnel are chemically welded to each wheel, and as a rocket launches, Victor's eyes plot an interception course. The rocket is fast, but stupid, and the weaponized wheel is a small price to pay to take the explosive out of the picture. Victor hurls it with great power and accuracy, then winds up for his pitch at the jet itself.

At this height and range, the jet cannot change course quickly enough to dodge the incoming projectile. Instead, it launches a guided missile upon its target's position. The wheel tears through a wing, then the jet veers off before jerking toward the ground for a crash that shall be drawn out over several miles. As it nears its quarry, the digital pilot notes that Victor is tricking the missile's guidance algorithms into striking the concrete of the overpass - the man will be damaged, but not for long. The pilot's last thoughts before impact concern transmitting vital data on the new talents displayed by the target back to central intelligence.

Victor comes to rest after being thrown by the blast, watches the dying aircraft sail off into the distance. He notices a couple of nearby abandoned vehicles, checks them for any remaining gasoline. Two have had their caps removed, all unspent fuel either siphoned off or evaporated. The third one has about a quarter tank left; he drinks up the fuel, metabolizes it into more stable compounds, then heads off to search the wreckage of the plane, snatching up vegetation in passing to add to his biomass. By the time he reaches the first scraps of metal, he is a hulking colossus, picking up the twisted wreckage one piece at a time and arranging them as spines upon his back. They will be useful later, but there is nothing for him to do with them now.

After following the trail left by the felled hunter, Victor finally comes upon his prize: the remains of the cockpit. He is in luck, for the computer failed to wipe its mind before dying. Victor analyzes what is left of the machine, divining its home from the clues left in the dead slab of its brain. Nearby is a mostly intact fuel tank, too; this will be handy in time. Victor places what is left of the plane's nose upon his head, a mocking mask of his erstwhile pursuer, then forms himself into a great snake and sets about slithering across the plain at great speed.

After some time, Victor nears a deep forest. There are eyes everywhere: in the sky, under the ground, and especially in the trees. Without losing speed, Victor shifts his true brain to the rear of his body, letting his leading body act as a decoy. He writes subprocesses to handle navigational problems, then watches as his body courses through the thickening wood before him. Soon, he hears a buzzing from uncomfortably close; a swarm of stinging metal insects is upon him, injecting all manner of deadly substances into his body: corrosive acids, neurotoxins, engineered bacteriophages, retroviral scramblers. With his true brain at the rear, Victor is able to quarantine the infections as they attack his body at the mechanical, nervous, cellular, and chemical level, attempting to screw him up and shut him down from every angle all at once. He sheds the infected portions, sprays a few weapons of his own into the air, watches the swarm crumple and fall. He is wounded, but not mortally so. He presses on.

Near to the ocean now, he must find a way to cross. Flight is dangerous, for he is slow in the air; swimming upon the surface leaves him open to attack from all angles; the sea floor is slowest, but safest. Victor decides to take the low road, pitches down the seaside cliff, sticky tendrils shooting out to grasp the cliff face and control his descent. Into the salty surf now, he hugs the rocky bottom, thousands of tiny finned appendages guiding his tremendous length at every step of the way. He has far to go, and not much to help him along the way. The jet fuel is metabolized a little at a time to fuel electrolysis which Victor uses to separate oxygen out from the water; the remaining hydrogen is also spent as fuel, in stages and stages. A trail of bubbles and tracks in the sand is all that Victor leaves behind.

But after a time, with quite a ways left to go, Victor is consuming his own biomass just to keep moving. High above, he hears a broadcast signal: he is being watched. His position has been pinpointed. It is only an eye, no threat to him and not worth pursuing, but his position has been compromised. He keeps moving, makes an estimate of the time that is left to him. Soon, he comes across a hydrothermic vent in the inky blackness of the deep. Velvet tubeworms and albino crabs are both a meal and a textbook to him, as he adds their biomass to his own and learns their metabolic processes. He refines them, streamlining the chemical act of eating to something more suitable to his ideas of efficiency, then digs into the sea floor as muscular cords weave themselves into a large, stretchy bladder. Victor improvises valves to suck the vents into himself, and when he is of a suitable buoyancy, he releases his grip upon the earth and shoots up to the light.

Higher and higher, he virtually screams past all manner of ecosystems layered between the surface and the depths, bursting from the water in a plume of salty spray. He rises into the clouds, slowing down now as he forms his body into a large airfoil. Flattening himself, waving through the air like a magic carpet, Victor finally lets his breath out and forces the gas out behind him. Let them look at the sea floor; he has risen above that and now surfs among the clouds. He sacrifices altitude for speed, descending into a flattening path of travel as he achieves an ever more aerodynamic shape, arranging his various metal fragments to cut through the air as precisely and usefully as possible. Gravity has a great deal of work to do for him, and he squeezes the inexorable attractant to the very last drop, even at the expense of his last bits of extra biomass.

The coast is in sight now, and off in the distance a gleaming tower looms. As Victor descends back to sea level, gliding upon leathery flaps, he loses sight of his enemy's citadel but remembers its location. Plunging into the sandy beach, he grinds down his most useful-looking chunks of metal into deadly blades, then sheds the excess as he goes off in search of food. He is able to photosynthesize fuel from starlight, but it is a slow process and he cannot maintain his speed for very long with light alone.

There is a flash in the distance, and a bullet tears into Victor's head before he even hears the shot. He has learned to hide his true brain away from all of the obvious places, so the injury is but a minor inconvenience. However, his sensory apparatus has been damaged, and so he is not able to anticipate the next several bullets to tear through his body. Pain soon gives control to instinct, and Victor flattens himself against the ground, weaving around the thin grass to avoid betraying his presence. Safe, invisible, motionless, Victor then sorts out the damage to determine the general directions of these newest assailants. Winged automatons descend from the sky, flaming swords in hand, ready to cut their quarry down at the first sign of motion.

Victor waits for the right time to strike. He is invisible, colored and textured as his surroundings, inviting his would-be killers to tread upon him. One soon does, and he works his way inside, inflating a viciously bladed dummy body to be cut down by his own hand as he infiltrates the neural architecture of his host. He then mimics the expected chatter for a downed enemy report, sees into the whole communication network that tracks the progress and elimination of his partners in this game. He is inside the machine now, and by the looks of it, the first to infiltrate the network undetected. In his hidden mind, he reflects briefly upon the difficulty of determining whether another player has infiltrated the network as stealthily as he has. He sees the snipers now, knows their precise positions, but they are no longer a threat to him. He is dead to the system, a cypher born anew into this subverted soldier. No other devices have made it this close to the citadel, so the cadre of clockwork angels is ordered to return to the gleaming city on the hill.

Victor flies into the air in his new body, slipping easily into formation with his companions as they make their way home. He sees the glorious city in all its splendor as they approach, all of the din and furor surrounding the ivory tower at its center. He realizes with glee as they approach that that is their destination: he has infiltrated the honor guard of the central processor, the guardian angels of that angry machine trying to destroy him and his fellow players. Victor analyzes the memories of his host, determines the power structure of the central processor. There are failsafes upon failsafes, and he cannot simply cut one cord to bring down the entire house.

But he can destroy the building.

As Victor's host and companions take up their positions, roosting around the very top parapets of the ivory tower, he waits. They settle into their hibernation routines, and then Victor springs into action. He pitches forward, dives down along the face of the edifice, and lights his flaming sword as he nears the foundation. At nigh-supersonic speed, he corkscrews through the walls and supports, cutting the outer wall and inner structure to ribbons. Before gravity can take its toll, he is out and free, the fleeing traitor with a glittering tail of pursuers as the central processor for the whole city comes crashing down behind him. They are on to him, but it is too late by far. Machines wither, crash, and die as their centralized brain has all its supports torn out from under it, crushed beneath its own weight. The world skips a beat, resets, and Victor stands before a gunmetal gray automaton crackling with orange lightning.

"Congratulations, Victor. You win. Again."

"Why, thank you," he responds. "It gets easier every time."

"Still," the Quantum Mechanic responds, "I would have expected another to surpass you by now, as you have surpassed others in your own time." Victor blushes, flattered by the game master. "So, how do you feel?"

"I feel great! Triumphant. It is good to defeat an enemy, if only an invented one."

"What do you mean?" The Quantum Mechanic's face is inscrutable as ever, but its shift in posture indicates confusion.

"Well, you know, the central processor is only an enemy because we call it an enemy, and it acts like one. In reality, it's just a part of the bigger picture. Playtesting and all that. It's a honing implement, not a true enemy."

"Well, on that analysis, all enmity is invented." Victor pauses for thought.

"You know," he says after a few moments, "That's right."

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Quantum Mechanic: Epilogue, part 2

Click here for part 1.

"Well, too bad," Gleck says. "Those people all had a chance at Heaven, and they were not worthy. They deserved what they got."

"What about you, Ben," Douglas asks. "Have you gotten what you deserve?"

"I - you - stop trying to twist my words! Look, I have no reason to help you, so I'm not going to. That's final!" Cameron sighs. Douglas strokes his chin. Alvina just stands and seethes at the miserable sadist in front of her, refusing to end the suffering of untold numbers of humans out of nothing more than sheer obstinacy.

"Very well," Douglas says at last. "I believe our guest needs some time to think."

"I need - " and he disappears. " - Nothing from you!" But now nobody is around.

Benjamin Gleck stands at the top of a mountain, alone. He shouts, but no one answers. He tries to expand his consciousness, but that heavy cloud weighs down upon him once more. He thinks. There has to be a way out. He looks around.

Of course! Gleck runs at full speed toward the nearest edge, and flings himself over. He laughs all the way down, thoughts of revenge and defiance running through his mind. He closes his eyes just before impact, and then - nothing. Nothing happens. He opens his eyes, and he is safely upon the ground. Funny, he didn't feel anything. He pinches himself. He registers pressure, understands that a fold of his skin is being squeezed between his thumb and forefinger, but he feels nothing. He looks around for a rock, grabs it, and then tries to smash his hand upon a boulder - the rock crumbles in his hand. He tries to smash his head upon the boulder, but he only registers a dull anaesthetic thumping. No pain. No sensation at all, only the understanding that his head is in fact bouncing harmlessly upon stone.

Ben screams to no one in particular, shouts after the wind, curses the rocks around him. He can't feel anything, he can't hurt himself, he can't even die. So he walks.

Benjamin Gleck walks for a very long time, through forest and valley, along rivers and over mountains. Day and night, rain or shine, he walks throught he world. He never feels hungry or tired, he does not eat and does not sleep.

How did this happen? He tries to sort out how his life has come to this insensate wandering, but the thinking is troublesome. He must stay strong in his faith. And so he walks. And walks. And walks.

He tires of walking, but there is nothing else to do but think. Food eludes his grasp, animals give him a wide berth, anything he attempts to use for a tool simply crumbles in his hand. He can only do two things: walk, or think.

Benjamin keeps walking.

He loses track of time, has no idea where he is or where he's been. He thinks he's on Earth, but he's not sure. Sometimes, he comes across the remnants of civilization: depressions where basements used to be, great wreckages of cities overrun by the wilderness that once surrounded them. It is not the world he knew. But he knows that the Quantum Mechanic is watching his thoughts, so he guards them carefully. He refuses to give his enemy the satisfaction.

One day, Benjamin finds a beach. He sits in the sand for a while, watches the waves lap at the beach. He finds round, flat stones in the surf, skips them out into the waves. He's not very good at this, and the waves do not help. He walks out into the ocean, breathes in the salty water, notices the cold impassively as the fluid fills his lungs. He stops breathing, feels no urge for air, and then walks along the sea floor for a while. He sees many shapes in the undulating distance, far-off shadows that could be any of a million things he has never learned.

Far enough below the ocean's surface, there are no distractions. There is only darkness. After many days of this, Benjamin cannot stop himself from reflecting on his life. He swims up towards the surface for what seems like days, finally seeing some light, then breaking through the waves into a great expanse of water. He is surely turned around. He has no idea where there is any land, which direction he is facing, or where he is. Treading water is a constant effort, unable as he is to expel the water from his lungs. It still does not help distract him. He stops struggling against gravity, and lets himself sink back down into the inky depths.

It's a waiting game, he realizes at some point during his descent. It's a waiting game, and there is no victory for me here. I cannot do anything until I give my enemy what he wants. I cannot eat, or sleep, or even die. He won't do anything to me except keep me limited to my human capacities, and protect me from the rest of the environment. And the Quantum Mechanic can wait as long as he likes. OK.

Now what?

Benjamin doesn't want to spend eternity wandering the world as a passive observer, struggling to stop himself from doing anything that would give his tormentor any amount of satisfaction. His enemy has reduced himself to a force of nature, and for Ben to get anything that he wants, he must give a little, first. That is painful. But he accepts that it is the rule, and so he gives a little.

"I'm sorry," he warbles out to the ever-darkening water around him.


Benjamin thinks. Words probably don't matter. Fine. He thinks some more. The Quantum Mechanic probably doesn't care about what I think, he only wants my cooperation. He wants those poor saps saved from Hell. And Cameron - that sniveling faggot wants to reunite with his long lost man-lover, and - and - and do all those things they're not allowed to do! That bothers Benjamin more than anything: how can they believe in God, know the scripture, realize the error of their ways, and then still have those desires? Ben tried to glorify their bodies, make it so they didn't need to have those thoughts any more, but they still had them anyway! What is wrong with them?!

Benjamin realizes that he has no answer for this question. "They're sinful" is no help, because what he's trying to explain is that very sin. "Why are they sinful" cannot be answered by "they're sinful." But why can't they just stop being that way? Can't they just do things God's way? Although, while they were on Earth, they were really doing things God's way: they knew their sin for what it was, and they abstained. Then Benjamin took them to a mock Heaven, just like so many people, and they just fell again. He tried to help them let go of their sin, but they just wouldn't stop!

Maybe Ben did something wrong. Maybe the glorious city with the Lord on the throne and the Son at his right hand wasn't enough; maybe God needed to do something. Why didn't he? Maybe Ben tried too hard to be like God in his defiance of the Quantum Mechanic. But isn't being godly a good thing? Maybe not for people, it isn't. But then how come Douglas seems to be having such an easy time of it? Why doesn't that guy try to keep everyone in line? Why doesn't he ask for anything back from the people who he's helped so much? What good is it to be like God, if you don't get any of the perks?

Benjamin prays for guidance, but to no avail. After time beyond reckoning of being alone with his thoughts, he has learned to recognize his own voice in his head, and he realizes that every voice coming to him in answer is only his own. God is not helping him. Maybe this is a test. But who is testing him? And what is the right thing to do? How could he know it? How can he make sure he doesn't get it wrong?

Benjamin's mind clears once more, but due to no effort on his part. He honestly has no idea. There are no answers for him here. And the old answers he received in his youth are no help. Maybe he needs to find some new ones. Maybe it's time to start things over.

The fact is, the Quantum Mechanic is holding him here. He knows this. He also knows that God has not intervened, and probably won't intervene on his behalf. He also knows that all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God. This includes him, Benjamin Gleck. OK. What does he want to do? He wants to live his mortal life and then go to the side of the Lord. But he can't do that until he cooperates with the Quantum Mechanic.

OK. This is OK. He did some very harmful things to some very incorrigible sinners, but that was not his place to do. If there is a god - that is, God does not need his help. Benjamin thought that he was supposed to do the Lord's work, but then he overstepped his bounds. His actions exceeded his authority. Punishing sinners is not his duty. And besides, as long as those people are in his simulated Hell, there's probably no way for them to turn from their sinful ways, anyway. It's not enough to just punish them, he has to help make them better. And that means he must admit his mistake. To himself, to God, and to the Quantum Mechanic. And then he will help them rescue those trapped sinners, and then he will help make them into better people, and then he can live out his life and go to God.

Well, then. There are his answers. Now all he has to do is find his way back. Benjamin sits upon the ocean floor. At this depth, wrapped in these clothes, his lungs full of water, he does not swim so much as climb upwards, shoving the water beneath him, then reaching up and grasping for more height. Higher and higher he climbs, out of the depths and up to the air and the light. Off to the East, the sun is rising. He swims towards it.

After many days, Benjamin finds his way to the shore. He looks around for the nearest tree, does a handstand against it, and finally the salty water flows out. He has not taken a breath in many, many days, but the habit comes back with a little practice. He looks around. He has no idea where he is, or where he's supposed to go. He calms his mind, relaxes, and tries to reach out - just to look. No suppressive clouds this time. Good! Farther, farther - he recognizes the shape of the land. He's on the coast of Washington. Off in the distance, there is a house in Montana with smoke coming out of the chimney. Benjamin sets off towards it.

Alvina answers a knock at the door to see a serene looking Benjamin.

"Hello, Mister Gleck," she says evenly. "Welcome back."

"I, um," he stammers, unsure of what to say. He thinks for a moment. "Thank you."

"Come on in. Can I get you something to drink?"

"Water would be nice."

"Sure thing. Cameron's reading in the living room, Douglas is finishing up dinner. Would you like to join us?"

"Yes, I think so." Ben is on guard, steeled for any confrontation, but none ever comes. He walks into the kitchen to see Douglas stirring a pot of rice. "Hello."

"Hi!" Doug is all smiles and effervescence. "I trust you found what you needed?"

"I - " Ben stammers, puzzled. "Well, yes, I suppose. Weren't you watching?"

"Meh, yes and no. I just tried to make sure you didn't do anything foolish, but other than that, I pretty much left you to your own devices. Why do you ask?" Ben reflects briefly over all the silly motions he went through, trying to somehow antagonize or provoke the man he used to call his enemy.

"No reason," Ben finally says.

"Fair enough. If you'd like to take a shower, there are towels in the hall closet."


Under the hot stream, it occurs to Benjamin that he can feel once more. He feels relaxed, a little sleepy, and rather hungry. After washing off the dust of the road, he towels off and finds a new suit next to the pile of rags he walked in with. He puts it on; it fits perfectly.

"So," Cameron asks at the table, "Did you have a good walk?"

"Yes, I suppose I did."

"That's good. And are you ready to help us?"

"I - " Ben pauses. "I did a whole lot of harm to a whole lot of people, Cam. I really feel awful about that. I don't - I don't know what I can do."

"Hey," Pleasance puts a hand on Benjamin's shoulder. "Listen, it's OK. Well, I mean, it's not OK, but it will be. Nobody's died yet. Not that we know about, anyway."

"I hope so."

"Everybody makes mistakes, Mister Gleck," Douglas says. "The trick is to see what you can learn from them."

"Yeah. Still - I wish I didn't have to learn this one the hard way."

"Well, sometimes that's just what needs to happen."

"I guess."

"So," Alvina chimes in, "Where are all these people, anyway?" Ben breathes deeply, blinks slow.

"I pretty much made them into brains in vats, sent them on a bad trip in their own minds, and flung them out into the darkness between the stars. I remember the vectors I sent them on, and about their times, but - well, I'm not too sure on some of the earlier ones. There were a lot of them."

"It's OK," she says, "We've got time."

"Yeah, I guess we do," he replies. "Hoo, boy. This is going to be a lot of work."

"Yes, it is," Douglas says. "And it won't end just by finding them - I don't expect that very many of these folks will be in quite as good a shape as our friend Cameron, here. We really have our work cut out for us. But it's work worth doing."

Benjamin nods, chokes back some tears. He has behaved in a very un-Christian fashion, just trying to do what was right. He realizes now that some of his ideas were rather strange - and if only he had taken the time to weigh the consequences if he was wrong, then maybe - no, no good can come of this. He did what he did, and now he has to deal with that. He's a very different person now. He closes his eyes, counts to ten, takes a couple of deep breaths.

"You still with us, buddy," Alvina asks after a few moments.

"Yeah," Benjamin replies. "It's just hard. Reconciling what I did with who I am now. It just seems so foreign. I don't know what I was thinking - I guess I got carried away."

"I think you'll be all right," Douglas says with a nod. "Welcome back to the civilization game, Mister Gleck."

101 Interesting Things, part thirty-four: Mimicry, Nature's Disguise Kit!

There's a whole lot to be said for doing your own thing, but sometimes it pays to be like someone else. As it turns out, there are some pretty cozy niches available for those organisms which are able to disguise themselves like other organisms. Take the myrmarachne spiders, for instance:
These guys are jumping spiders, but they waggle their legs like antenna, and I guess the ants buy it. But then, people have gotten turkeys to try to mate with socks on sticks... and then again, there's porn. But yeah, spiders acting like ants, infiltrating their society, and then eating them. It's like a nature's social predator. Awesome!

As it turns out, ant mimicry isn't exactly a "new thing," other bugs have been doing it for quite some time. Take Macroxiphus, a katydid that mimics ants in its larval stage:
And what do you know, but flies do it, too:
But it's not just ants that get mimicked. Check out Macroglossum stellatarum, a moth that mimics a hummingbird:
And that's not all that moths mimic, either; there's a hornet moth, and a wasp moth, too!
These crazy moths don't just look like their role models, they also ape their behavior, such as flight patterns. The hummingbird hawkmoth moves like a hummingbird, and the hornet moth moves around erratically like a hornet when it's surprised.

And let's not forget the stick bug (which, I just learned today, actually makes a good pet!) and the leaf bug, the first two mimics I had ever learned about. But the top of the mimic heap, without a doubt, is the mimic octopus. This guy can mimic the shape, coloration, and behavior of over a dozen different animals! Check it out:
Further reading:
World's Weirdest Moths (or: Why Moths are Way Cooler than Butterflies)
Wikipedia's mimicry page
All uncredited photos taken from Wikipedia.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Quantum Mechanic: Epilogue (work in progress)

Couldn't quite finish, and I have to leave for a train in a bit. So here's what I've got so far. More later. Happy gluttony day, everybody!
Epilogue: Life Goes On

Life for you has been less than kind
So take a number, stand in line
We've all been sorry, we've all been hurt
But how we survive is what makes us who we are.
- Rise Against,

Alvina Orange hears a knock at the door for the first time in decades. Few bother to track down the original Quantum Mechanic any more, now that everyone has has the option of being uplifted thanks to the efforts of the Million Minds. It's not just a matter of finding Earth, but of finding the right one, and why go to all that trouble when anything you could want is yours for the making, the taking, or the asking?

Except when you need to find something that's been lost.

Douglas comes downstairs and meets Alvina in the foyer. She opens the door to a shining figure, with wings of opalescent gossamer.

"Can we - uh, help you?" Alvina isn't sure what to say.

"I surely hope so. My name is Cameron Pleasance. May I come in?"

"I remember you," Douglas says, "You're that internet guy who - "

"Yes, I know. That was a long time ago. I have learned much since then."

"All right. Well, yeah, I guess you can come in. Can we get you something to drink?"

"No, thank you."

"Well," Alvina says, "What's on your mind?"

"I need you to bring back the Entropic Engineer."

"Absolutely not," Douglas says, his hand slicing through the air. "It's out of the question. We're not going over this again."

"Why," Alvina asks, ignoring her husband for the moment.

"He has something that doesn't belong to him. I need to get it from him."

"What, a sparrowlark skeleton? You know, we've actually found something like that." Doug's tone lacks contempt, but neither does it carry respect for his guest. Cameron lets a beat pass before speaking again.

"I don't think you know what I've been up to, lately. I'm not exactly the same person as I was back on Earth. That is, back in the Milky Way. I've learned a thing or two."

"Fine, fine, so you're just visiting from Heaven to get your - "

"I haven't been in Heaven, Douglas. There is no such place. I know that now. But there is something very like Hell, and a great many people are stuck there, and I need the Entropic Engineer to tell me where they are so that I can rescue them." Douglas strokes his chin a few times.

"Here's the problem: I don't remember Ben Gleck. I can't reconstruct him as he was. I'm sorry, I really am - now that I know that's what he was up to, I wish I could do something about it. But I just don't remember him."

"I do," Alvina says. Douglas looks at her, incredulous. "What? I stabbed a man in the back of the head, Doug. The least I could do was remember what he was like before he died. I just kept the memory locked up. It was my dirty little secret. Turns out, it's come in handy now."

"I - no, you're right." Douglas runs a hand through his hair. "OK, so what's the plan, then? We just bring this guy back and hope we can keep him in line?"

"Um, I didn't really have a 'plan,' I was just going to ask nicely."

"Bea, the last thing this guy remembers is thinking that he killed me."

"That's - a good point, actually."

"If I may," Cameron interjects, "Why don't we try dealing with him honestly? It may take time, but it's the only hope we have." Douglas and Alvina have no objections to this. She resurrects the memory of her husband's greatest enemy.

Benjamin Gleck falls back, stunned by the abrupt change in scenery. One moment, he was enjoying his victory, and now he's on a kitchen floor somewhere with - him! How did he live? What has happened? Gleck tries to reach out with his mind, but feels a cloudiness descend upon his awareness like a smothering blanket. He relaxes, tries to focus - the blanket lifts. He tries to extend his mind once more, but the creeping stupidity is back - dammit! That self-righteous prick is smothering his powers again!

"OK, now what?" Gleck folds his arms, doesn't even bother standing. Cameron steps forward and offers a hand.

"Welcome back to the land of the living." Gleck ignores him. He pulls his hand back. "You may not recognize me. I am Cameron Pleasance." Gleck goes wide-eyed.

"You! You were damned to Hell! How did you get out?"

"Long is the road, and hard is the way, as they say. You showed me all of Creation before you sent me away, if you remember. Your torture chamber was truly terrible - an infinity of falling from grace, the bad trip from Hell, so to speak. But eventually, I saw through it, and I was able to work my way out by figuring out the meaning of all those things you had shown me."

"So, what, you've brought me back to take your revenge?"

"Nothing of the kind, my friend. I've brought you here for the keys to Hell. I'm going to free everybody you've been hurting these past millennia."

"You - you don't know where they are."

"I don't. I've had a lot of time to think, and I need your help. There's just no two ways about that - all I want now is to rescue Kirk from the prison you put him in, and everybody else, too."

"And what if I don't tell you?"

"We have ways of making you talk," Alvina suggests with a grin. "Oh, man, I've always wanted to say that! But I'm serious, you know. We can torture you."

"No," Cameron says. "That won't help. It will only hurt him more. We need his honest cooperation."

"What for," Douglas asks. "I honestly don't see why we can't just force him to tell you whatever it is you want to know." Cameron rubs his forehead.

"The problem is that he's the only one who knows all the people he took." Cameron's shoulders slump as he speaks. Gleck grins. "And I will not rest until everyone is rescued. We can't know when that's done without his help." Douglas thinks back - he can remember a few of the people who disappeared, but there were many thousands who were Raptured away by the Entropic Engineer, and he did not make any organized effort to track them. All of those people, condemned to eternal suffering, and nothing he could have done about it.

"My, how the tables have turned," Gleck says as he gets to his feet. "Look at you, so high and mighty, passing your pronouncements on me, resurrecting me from the dead to play your silly games. But I'm the one with all the cards, it seems! And I suppose you want me to bring your boyfriend back so you two can finally go on moustache rides together, huh?"

"I just want Kirk's suffering to end," Cameron says evenly. "Whether he still loves me or not, I don't know. And I don't care. I still love him, and I can't bear the thought of him being tormented."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Quantum Mechanic: Un-Deleted Scene Five

UN-DELETED SCENE 5: Science happens!

Randall James introduces the puppet to the rest of the crew at Skeptics Coalition International. Douglas has finally agreed to one day's worth of tests, which the two of them have spent the last two weeks refining into reproducible trials that will be sure to win the million dollar prize.

"All right, this young lady with the ponytail is Paulette Jensen, the shorter gentleman right next to her is Melvin Heller, and they'll be conducting the tests with us today. Over behind the glass are Edward Johns and Jimmy Sprague, they'll be running the recording equipment. I've got the itinerary, and your job is to show us some magic!" Handshakes to the folks in labcoats, friendly waves to the men behind the glass, and it's time to get the show started.

"We'll have to ask you to remove your helmet," Jensen says, "As well as any electronic equipment you're carrying. You know, cell phone, watch, GPS, mp3 player, anything." The Quantum Mechanic regards her coolly for a moment.

"I'm sorry, I don't think you understand," it says with a chuckle. "This is not a costume, it is a prosthetic body which I am manipulating from out of state." It raises its hands and removes the hollow head, showing it to the startled woman. Heller does a double-take.

"So, what," Jensen asks, "Are you the invisible man or something?"

"No, of course not," the automaton says, waving a hand through the air where a head ought to be. "I'm the Quantum Mechanic. This body is a puppet."

"Are you remote viewing this entire space, then?" She cocks her head to the side, trying to figure out a way to convince herself that she's not hallucinating or dreaming.

"Why, yes. That's exactly it."

"I see." She nods her head, but remains unbelieving. "So, Randall, what's on the agenda today?"

"Well, we've got a few demonstrations planned for remote viewing, remote manipulation, a few fireworks displays, and general conjuration. The rest of the day is free for some of the more standard tests."

Sprague asks the Quantum Mechanic to turn around and be seated while Heller shuffles a deck of playing cards behind his back. Douglas considers objecting, but goes along with the song and dance for formality's sake. There is, after all, an order to this - whether he's got physical eyes in the building or not. Heller finishes shuffling, and Jensen announces that the test will begin.

"Three of diamonds," the Quantum Mechanic announces. Heller turns a card. Three of diamonds. Jensen checks a box.


"Six of diamonds." Heller turns a card. Six of diamonds. Jensen checks a box.


"King of spades." Heller turns a card. King of spades. Jensen checks a box.

They work through the whole deck, and Douglas doesn't miss a card. A machine does the shuffling the second time, but Douglas still doesn't miss a card. The third go-round, Douglas turns every card into the Ace of spades for fun. Heller frowns. Jensen complains. But a hundred and four out of a hundred and four is an impressive record, so they move on. The transmutation was neat, too.

"OK," Johns asks from behind the glass, "Melvin, I need you to go into the other room with the pen and paper in it. Just start drawing three pictures, make them detailed, spend a few minutes on each one." He nods and complies. "Umm, Quantum Mechanic, I need you to sit at the table and describe his first drawing to me."

"All right." Douglas seats the automaton. "He draws a line down the center of the page. A triangle on the left side, now a circle on the right. Now an X through the circle, and a star inside the triangle." On and on, Douglas describes the drawing for the men behind the glass. The Quantum Mechanic draws the second one along with Heller, then makes a duplicate copy of the third one as soon as he's done.

Next, Douglas makes various items dance impossibly through the air, powers a few electronic devices with his mind, conjures rubber balls from out of thin air, and makes golf balls materialize inside glass boxes.

"How are you doing this," Jensen asks at some point.


"No, seriously, I need to know how you're doing this, or I think I'm going to go nuts. This just isn't possible."

"These principles aren't yet named, Miss Jensen," he begins to explain. "I don't know what to call them, myself. I'm really bad at naming things, you see."

"Well, OK, that's fine - but then what's it like? Do you just will things into being, or what? Are you doing secret chants in a hut or something?"

"No, nothing of the kind!" Douglas is laughing in Montana, but doesn't want to embarrass the investigator. "It's more like programming, except that I don't need a keyboard, and the screen is reality, and all I'm really doing is moving bits of code around. Not exactly like that, but it's closer."

The tests continue, and The Quantum Mechanic passes every single one with flying colors. A perfect score. The demonstrations were convincing enough, but contractual obligations being what they are, certain methodological hoops must be jumped through, and the whole rigamarole must be documented in its entirety for posterity's sake. Also to ward off individuals of a belligerently litigious mindset.

"Well, Mister Mechanic," Sprague says at the conclusion, "You've got your cool million. To whom should I write the check?"

"To Randall James, if you please."

"Seriously? You're not even going to tell us who you are?"

"No, thank you. He'll be managing the finances for me."

"So what are you going to do with it," Johns asks.

"Randall will be divvying the funds up among several very worthy charities. I plan on getting back to work."

"You're quite the philanthropist," Jensen says. "What's your angle? You trying to win a popularity contest or something?"

"No," the puppet replies. "I just want to do some good in the world. I guess I'm a goody little two-shoes."

"I think you're more than that," Alvina says after Douglas tells her how it went. "I think you're a full-blown righteous do-gooder. And that's, like, totally hot."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Birthday, Origin! or: No better reason for a Tuesday-night party!

Today marks the sesquicentennial of On the Origin of Species! I just had to rescue my copy from between my Oxford Annotated Bible (complete with heresy!) and my Encyclopedia of Mythology. I needed heavy books, you see, and I'm not a fan of cleaning up after old projects. It's a metaphor in my basement: somewhere in between the organic collection of fables, and an academic discussion of naturally occurring phenomena, there's science afoot. Or I'm reading too much into a pile and it's just a meaningless coincidence; I mean, the World is full of those, too.

PZ gives thanks and airs grievances, bridging the gap between our autumn harvest and winter solstice. Oh, and he also points out some... some... some I don't know what. I read this earlier today, but was waiting until I got home to watch it with my own eyes, and I watched a lot. I see a guy flail at a couple points, it doesn't look comfortable. And I see a lady holding his hand and moving it to type on a touch screen. Like, he's usually looking vaguely at the shiny screen when they show this "facilitated communication." But I never see him do any typing by himself, and I really have no idea how (or even whether) they checked to see if it was "really him" talking. Like, I'll totally settle for any old footage, but I gotta see something more than this to believe - especially when they say things like, "He was conscious for a long time, but it's difficult to know for how long."

You know why this testing thing is so important to me? Because what if their brain scans are right, and he's "really in there," aware of everything going on - but he's still paralyzed, and all the world is going crazy around him, and he can do nothing but watch helplessly as he's led along in a farce? What then? Damn, I guess we'd better make damn sure, huh?

Anyway, I was reminded of this when I clicked one of the latest posts on the Atheist Blogroll over there to the right, taking me to Infallible Failure. He's also got a post on some more bus ad news! At least the discourse is civil, this time - I would actually like to hear atheists pimping for their worldviews when showing off how happy their kids look, so I won't begrudge that to a Christian (or anyone!). But he and Jen before him are technically correct that they miss the point - and she says it with an awesome MS Paint diagram, so who am I to quibble over technicalities? MS Paint is like cruise control for masterpieces!

No, seriously, stop acting like your kids have to believe the same things you do, Humanity. The more you try to make that happen, the more they'll resent you for it. Read the sign, dammit.

But yeah, happy anniversary of publication to Mr. Darwin! I'm gonna go celebrate.

Oh! And I just saw this, too:
Y'know, as long as I'm linking things, I may as well point you at Caveman Science Fiction, because it's awesome. This guy needs to like do more awesome things, because they're awesome and so is he.

The Quantum Mechanic: Un-Deleted Scene Four

UN-DELETED SCENE 4: The Entropic Engineer loses himself.

It is the Entropic Engineer's turn to be speechless. He has no idea where anything has gone, no clue what has happened. One second, Sol and her planets were dancing in their cycles; and then it all disappeared.

But he can still feel his body on Earth, he is still exactly where he thought he was. He looks around on Earth, but can't tell much. Shielding his true mind from the Quantum Mechanic's prying eyes, he presents expected brain noise all around while twisting his true brain in upon itself. In almost the same way, his nemesis has scrambled spacetime around the solar system, making it nearly impossible for him to orient himself galactically from within the bubble.

Have they fled to a pocket dimension?

He banishes the thought as foolishness. The Entropic Engineer doesn't understand much about the tiny, curled up, "extra" dimensions of reality - but he does know that they're tiny and curled up. There's just not enough room to hide, and expanding them could be problematic, to put it mildly.

So where did they go, then? His glorified body is still right where it always was, still in the same space relative to the rest of the galaxy, but his fallen body is Elsewhere, now. He risks a tug at the tether that ties the two together, the mental leash from which he directs his angelic form and the Heavenly Host. It is far, to say the least, like a light at the end of a tunnel so far you can't see, but you still know it's there. It's a lot like faith.

He must have faith. He must stay strong. He must find a way.

He prays for guidance. He calms himself, leaves himself open to providence. Whenever God shuts a door, he opens a window, and now all the Entropic Engineer has to do is figure out just where that window is. Show me the way, Lord. The tether grows tighter. He can feel it, he's got a direction now, and not just a generic "far, far away."

The Heavenly Host stands motionless. They shall be his rock, his anchor. He notes a few stars as landmarks in the general direction from which he feels the pull of his Earthly vessel. He leaves them for another area, another arm of the galaxy. Again, he quiets his thoughts, lets the Lord do his own work, allows divinity to show him the way. Fuzzy at first, but clearer by the moment, he feels the line pull taut and he has another direction - no, wait.

It's the same direction.

He puts his awareness back with Heaven's army, compares his first stars with the second set. Not exactly the same direction, but very, very similar. Earth is no longer in the Milky Way. What is out there? Andromeda. Of course. The Quantum Mechanic has bought himself a few days, at most. Soon, he and his fallen world shall burn in righteous fire, but for now he must march with the angels.

The Entropic Engineer follows his tether, pulling the Heavenly Host along with him. He cannot simply re-create himself back on Earth, will not manufacture another army from nothing, as that rutting sinner is wont to do. He shall follow the rules, he shall keep himself pure in the eyes of the Lord, and he shall be rewarded for his efforts with victory here and life everlasting in the hereafter. Heaven is so close, he can almost taste it!

But as the Entropic Engineer zeroes in on Andromeda, something is seriously wrong. He stops with his entourage a few dozen parsecs out from the rim, backs out a bit. The tether goes squiffy. He calms himself again with prayer, but to no avail - he can feel it clearly, he realizes, but it keeps shifting every which-way. That bastard! From inside the bubble, he feels the tether running every which-way, too. Spacetime is being blended by the Quantum Mechanic, and though it cannot sever the bond between the Entropic Engineer's Earthly and Heavenly forms, it makes it impossible for him to get a bead on himself.

He is lost.

No matter. If hunt he must, then hunt he shall. The Lord spent forty days wandering; surely it is not too much to ask of him to show similar patience.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Up and Down the Mountain: An Atheistic Vision Quest

Dear the internet,
I tried to write fiction today, I really did, but this came out instead. Enjoy!
Give away the stone
Let the waters kiss
And transmutate
These leaden grudges into gold
- Tool,
The Grudge

My alarm goes off. I slap the snooze bar. I roll over, then remember where I am.

I'm in Colorado.

I sit up in bed. Ten feet away, my step-brother A inhales sharply. I tell him I'm awake, and he can go back to sleep. My brother JD rolls over, and I can't tell if he's just turning in his sleep or trying to ignore everything. We're a family of light sleepers, except for my father and me. He has an internal alarm clock, though - I like to stay up late and sleep late, wrapped in warm blankets until I damn well feel like getting up.

But not today. I'm here in Colorado to climb a mountain.

Long's Peak is the tallest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. Over fourteen-thousand feet in the air, there are many ways to approach it. The most popular path is a fifteen-mile round-trip hike through forest, tundra, over boulders, and finally up a section of slick rock ironically called the "home stretch." I have been up this path a couple times, going all the way only once with my brothers, my father, and my grandfather. I'm going at it from another angle today.

Our cabin is rented from the Meeker Park Lodge at the base of Mount Meeker, a neighboring peak. My plan is to take the regular path up to Lookout Mountain, then bushwhack back down below the treeline and up Meeker's spine, then cross over the saddle to the summit of Long's Peak, and then come down and hitch a ride back to the cabin (or walk, if I can't hitch). My father offered to drive me to the Long's Peak trailhead so I wouldn't have to walk along the highway, but I declined. I wanted to go up Meeker, not just see the sights from its summit. He hears out my plan, makes sure I know how to recognize altitude sickness, and is satisfied that I'm adequately prepared for a solo trek. He doesn't think I'll make it to the Peak, but I have to try - I'm going camping in Michigan with my friends tomorrow, with the rest of the family staying in Colorado. I only have one week of vacation, but plenty of money since I work for The Man.

It's only my third day in Colorado, so he's right to be concerned, of course. Day one, I just walked around in the woods, stretching my legs and getting used to moving around all day. Day two, I hiked up to Lookout Mountain, a small bit of rock just barely jutting up out of the trees, and sighted a route the rest of the way up Meeker. Now it's three in the morning, my bag is packed, I've pulled on the clothes I set out last night, and I'm off. I have a bag of peanuts and raisins, a large sausage, two sandwiches, and three liters of water. I eat a bowl of raisin bran and a banana, then head out.

I light a black clove cigarette and hit the road, nothing to see but the jewelled sky above me, nothing to hear but my feet crunching on gravel. Gradually, the cold air wakes me up. This is better than coffee, and soon I can hear the defeaning silence all around me, see the deeper dark between the shadows. I need no flashlight, only my food, and a knife on my belt in case I have to defend myself. I remember being in the second or third grade, pretending to run away in the middle of the night, but just going out to parks and climbing and hiding in trees. Somehow, my father always managed to find me. My mother never came to look for me, but she always had something to say about it. Suddenly, someone shrieks, "you asshole," I am struck across the face, and I hear the sounds of flesh squealing against linoleum as I slide across the kitchen floor. I am too small to fight back, but I refuse to show weakness. We lock eyes for too long. She loses. She comes at me again, and...


I shake my head, as if the unbidden memory is a bug on my nose. I'm back in Colorado now, still walking along the road. My cigarette is done, and off to the right I can see the sign for a closed trail. I'm making good time. I keep moving.

The road ends, I take the spent butt out of my pocket and place it in the very last trashcan, and now I'm really in the woods. I can hear the mountain stream off in the distance - I must have spaced out the first time I crossed over it. Out here, I feel really alive: there's nothing to distract from the grandeur of nature, nothing to tell you where to go or what to do, and so many different-and-similar things that I can't stop looking around. There's so much to take in, out here away from all of the "everything" that I'm used to, I almost have no time to get lost in my thoughts. Almost.

I reach the stream again and prepare for a ritual. I set down my bag, an Air Force surplus dealie that I use as combination purse and backpack, depending on how I arrange the various straps and buckles. I roll up my pants, take off my boots and socks, and stand barefoot in the stream as long as I can. I'm walking up to my front door now. It's the middle of winter, and the snow is thick on the ground. We've just moved here from California, where winter is an option, not a season - we'd spend a week up at Big Bear, most years, but this is my first year coming home from school to snow. I want to be inside, but I don't dare anticipate warmth. I turn the front doorknob.


I check the garage, the back porch, the windows - there's no way in, and nobody's home. I find a lump in the snow, brush off the window well cover and lift it up, then hop in with my backpack. I hunker down inside the window well, pulling the cover shut against the cold, and then darkness settles in. Next thing I know, I'm playing with a radar gun in a police cruiser.

Back in Colorado, I can't feel my feet any more, so I twist and fall onto my sitting rock in one smooth motion. Well, I hope it's smooth - my friend DJ says that I'm always a collection of straight lines, never curves - my martial arts training didn't make me graceful, only efficient. I pull up my legs and rub my feet until I get circulation back. Then I put my socks and boots back on and hit the trail again.

The path gets much steeper. Drop-offs and switchbacks have replaced the gentle, steady incline. Off in the distance, I hear coyotes. Maybe wolves? I don't know. I consider howling along, but now they're just yipping. Maybe they're hunting something. Maybe it's me, I think. I grin and finger the snap on my knife's sheath. The way to be unafraid in the dark is to be the scariest motherfucker out there. I fondly remember junior high, the boy who kept tackling me on the playground. I learned to listen for his approach, and one day I planted my feet, dropped my weight, and shoved my elbow back at exactly the right time, all at once. Lucky me. Half his face was green for a week.

Now I'm thirteen, staring at a photograph. A very young boy, maybe in kindergarten or first grade, shirt pulled up and pants pulled down with green and yellow egg-shaped bruises from ribs to thighs. I feel sorry for him, but there's nothing I can do to help the poor child now. I set the photograph down next to one of myself in the early fourth grade, same position, same markings; I keep pawing through the box of police reports and court transcripts from the second-longest divorce proceedings in state history.

Back in Colorado, I light another cigarette. Goddammit, I thought your life was only supposed to flash before your eyes when you're right about to die. Why won't this stop? I want to kill this, bury it, forget it - but then I'll forget the lessons, and the lessons make me strong. So which is it? Do I want to be strong, or happy? I can't choose, and that's why I'm here. I'm here to stop the insanity. Mountains are metaphors, and I need the biggest goddamned metaphor I can get right now to bury this nonsense. I need to put this all away.

Soft soil gives way to lichen-covered rocks. I'm nearing the treeline. I can see the sky when I take my eyes from the trail and look ahead. Very close now. I reach Lookout Mountain and settle down for second breakfast: a handful of peanuts and raisins, half a sandwich, and a couple slices of sausage. I wash it down with water and take out another cigarette, but stop before lighting up. Nobody should be out here at this hour, unless they plan on breaking the law like me. I see the sky lightening in the East. Serendipity strikes, spontaneous and stupid and beautiful.

I strip. I don't just want to be nude, I want to be naked, so the knife also has to go. I light my cigarette, stand tall, and watch as the Sun rises. The Earth's tilt and my position are exactly perfect, and the life-giving star is born anew from a gap right between two peaks. Beautiful. No trail guide on the planet will tell you to look for that - I may be the first person to ever see this sight.

The cold, the vulnerability, the scenery, everything is perfect. I could die right now and be happy. This is all I need on Earth: my body, ground to stand on, and my shining star. My life, for these glorious ten minutes, is complete.

I dress and remind myself of my chosen route from yesterday. I re-shoulder my pack and I keep moving. There's no path any longer, and I have to stop every few dozen paces, reorient myself with the Sun, then pick a landmark a few dozen paces on. I feel refreshed, renewed, reborn. I'm doing something for the first time, the hard way. No map, no compass, no signal flares, nothing to build a fire. I could get lost out here. That wouldn't be so bad, but I need to see from the top of the mountain first. Then maybe I can get lost.

I reach a nigh-impassable bramble. It stretches off in both directions, a tangled border between forest and tundra. I stare for a moment, feeling like a deer in headlights. I'm staring into a police spotlight now, laying down behind a tree - my mother told me I couldn't get into the car until I apologized to JD for a fight he started, so I said Fine and ran off. The spotlight is freezing at every tree, though, so I keep still. After a few seconds it moves on, and I keep running - but now I'm back in Colorado and I'm through running. I've tried to disturb nothing, I know how delicate things can be when you get near the treeline, but now there's no other way up. I pull out my leather gloves, toss my bag to the other side as gently as I can manage, then plunge my arms into the heart of the tangle. Grabbing, pulling, climbing, I nearly lose my hat in my clambering contortions. I grab it with one hand, feeling like Indiana Jones for a moment - it's an Indiana Jones hat, so this is appropriate - then toss it to the other side. One last push, then I roll over to the bare rock and start to pick out the dry gnarls that want to come with me. My hat is back on, and I keep moving.

This is where the scenery gets really interesting. I'm right on Meeker's spine, one side bathed in golden sunlight, the other blanketed in purple shadow. It's like the dark side of the Moon or something. I've seen this once before, as I crossed through the Keyhole at the top of the Boulder Field on my way up Long's Peak. This is new, different-and-similar, exactly where I want to be. I marvel at the same mountains I've seen for many summers, now from a different angle, a different viewpoint. Nothing like a new twist on an old favorite.

The rocks get bigger and bigger. Mount Meeker is notorious for crushing unwary hikers as it sheds the odd boulder (or sixty), and this is why I walk up the spine instead of doing switchbacks up the trough. That, and I feel like I'm walking a razor's edge between light and darkness. I feel balanced up here.

I pass through what l can only call a meadow. Patches of snow dot the landscape, and I see small lavender flowers growing here and there. I want to take a little piece of this beauty with me. I put one in an empty water bottle, one in my hat, and another in my jacket. There. I feel pretty as a princess, now. I'm back in California, in my parents' bedroom, rifling through my mother's things. I want to dress up like my favorite princess, She-Ra. She's just the best - a beautiful noble, adored by all, until the shit hits the fan and she turns into a fearsome warrior. I want to be her when I grow up, and that starts with dressing the part right now. Boots, jewelry, whatever I can find that looks like her, I put it on and arrange it with meticulous care, then trundle on down the hallway to go show off to daddy. He turns around as I approach the kitchen, and then...


What? Why can't I remember that? What happens next? I can see my father's smiling face, I can hear the boots thumping along the floor as I hobble along, I can feel the bracelets and rings rattle as I try to hold them all in place - it's so vivid, but I can't remember what happens right after that moment. I don't even know what's supposed to come next. Usually, darkness is my friend, the cover-up for memories I don't want any more, leaving cold facts in their place. My head hurts. My mouth is dry. I'm back on the mountain, staring stupidly off into space. No - I'm staring away from the Sun. Am I dehydrating? I drink more water, and I keep moving.

I keep my second liter of water out, and drink as much as I am able without making myself feel water-logged. It doesn't help. Higher and higher, straight up the spine, the Sun rising with me, I keep moving. I see the top up ahead, but as I near it, I realize that it's just a little ridge I was approaching. I look back. I've come a long way from the treeline, and I can barely see Lookout Mountain any more. I think I can see the real summit now, but I'm not sure. Either way, it's a long fuckin' way off. Every step hurts my brain now. I feel weak. The Sun is beating down on me, my everything is on fire. I take out my other half sandwich - no. Trail mix? Hell no. Sausage! No way. The thought of eating makes me nauseous. It's hard to think straight. I realize that this is altitude sickness.

A steely voice at the back of my head says, "Good." I keep moving.

Something shifts in my heart. I don't need to hide any longer. This is the end of my story. It doesn't matter what happens any more. I know the warning signs of suicide, I have studied them, and I have scrupulously avoided broadcasting my intentions - there is no note, there have been no discussions of death, and there was no giving away of possessions, no break in my sunny disposition. This will be seen as a foolhardy mistake, and that will be better for the survivors. My shoulders slump and I stumble onward. I've been removing layers all day, and now I'm down to my t-shirt. I can't tell what temperature it is. I keep my eyes on the ground beneath my feet, I take it one agonizing step at a time, and I keep moving.

My water runs out. It doesn't matter. I eat snow. I pack snow on my forehead, but nothing helps. My breathing is labored, and my senses are slipping away. For some damn reason, I start breathing into my hat, but I get dizzy when I can't see. The light hurts too much, though. I fight through the pain and I keep moving. I feel like I'm being dragged, kicking and screaming, by my backpack through a McDonald's parking lot. It's fifth grade, and my mother always rifles through our bags during our scheduled visits. But I have a limited edition foil cover first issue of X-Men: Age of Apocalypse. I used to like Rogue, because she couldn't touch anybody without hurting them - but in this storyline, Magneto can magically shut down her powers, and that makes her uninteresting. Blink is my favorite now, so austere and distinct. And she moves through portals, so nothing can confine her. Comics are the Devil, though, since they take glory away from God - and if a story doesn't glorify God, then it glorifies Satan by default. She won't let me have it, but I won't let her take it - I can't get another one like it, not this long after it came out, not for any price I can afford with my chore allowance. I should have left it in my locker at school, but I forgot. Boy, I wish I could move through portals now! But my mother drags me, screaming at the top of her lungs, crying, putting on such a show, just begging me to get involved. I refuse. I set my jaw, I steel my heart, I stare at her face and I dig my heels in. She looks everywhere except back into my eyes, but she's bigger than me, so things go her way for now.

Inside, she shrieks for someone to call the police, says I'm attacking her, the same thing she'd pull on my father: put on a show, yell and scream and holler until help comes running. She's always crying wolf, and the story is a common one, so everyone believes her - her friends, her second husband, my own fucking brother. She drags me around the corner into the restroom, starts kicking the door shut on me. I can't take much of this, but I'm smarter, so I make a plan. I start to go along with her show just a little, I let her build up a rhythm of pull and kick, pull and kick, I let her think it's her idea - then I break rhythm, I let go of the bag, she goes off balance and I charge into the door, knocking her to the floor. I pounce, and then...


The inside of a police station is fascinating, the first time. I'm used to them by now, and just bored. Evidence happens. Discussions ensue. Conclusions are reached. Courtroom drama bullshit that I wish I could turn off, like the soap opera it is. But there's a happy ending, days and days later: I don't have to go on visits any more. I win. I'm standing at the summit of Mount Meeker now, a freight train thundering behind my eyes, my whole body feeling hollow and insubstantial. I look around. Enough. I don't feel like crossing the saddle and going even higher. This is as good a place as any to lie down and die. I'm so fucking tired, and sleep seems like the best idea in the world. My shirts are my pillow, my jacket is my blanket, the very mountain is my bed, and my hat shields my head from the cruel Sun. My head finally stops yelling at me as I drift off into a dreamless sleep.

But then I wake up. I don't move, I'm just aware of having lost time, and that I'm baking in the sunlight on top of a mountain, waiting to die.

Maybe I didn't go high enough. Maybe I need to keep going. I'm not tired any more, I just feel - nothing. I feel nothing. In my mind's eye, I see darkness, his eyes aflame, the cold blue jewel of reason shining in his forehead. He tells me that I am being weak, that I am letting my mother rule my life all over again. No, I say, I am ending the insanity with me.

"How does this break the cycle? How does this help?"

"I can't pass it on to anyone else this way. I can't hurt anyone if I'm gone."

"OK, so you die. Then what?"

"Then, life goes on without me."

"Whose life? Your father's, knowing that his firstborn climbed a mountain, only to lay down and die? Your brothers, perhaps, who look up to you as the trailblazer through life, learning from your mistakes and passing on the lessons to make their paths easier? Or maybe your youngest siblings, who you have practically raised as a third parent? Your friends, who see you as the iconoclastic weirdo who always has something interesting to say?"

"I get the point."

"No, you don't. You fix nothing by dying here. You leave only questions. They will seek answers, and you will not be around to make sure that they find the right ones."

"Not my problem."

"No, it's not your problem. You'll be creating a new one. You end one cycle, you start another. And then what?"

"I don't fucking know!"

"Then fucking be there to make sure things work out!"

"As if the world rests on my shoulders."

"It does not. It will go on without skipping a beat. But everyone else's burden will be a little bit heavier without you."

"Well, I don't care any more."

"Yes, you do." Dammit. He's right.

"OK, fine. Now what?"

"On your feet, princess. March. You have no water, you can't eat food, and you're talking to a figment of your imagination. You are broken. You need to get off this goddamned mountain and put yourself together again, one piece at a time."

"And how do I do that?"

"You quit this job you're faking, you go back to school, and you learn. Figure it out as you go."

"How can I know that I'm doing the right thing?"

"You can't. Deal with it. You can walk in doubt, or in self-deception. There is no third option. Now on your feet and get moving." How did Candide end? Something about foolish optimism being foolish, and always having work to do. I'll have to look that up when I get back to my life.

I pull off my hat. The Sun still hurts, but I can breathe better now. I see a fox staring at me - shit, I've got open sausage in my bag! I'm lucky that's not a fucking cougar! I sit up, and the headache comes back. I need to drink some - ahh, shit. No water. Peanuts are salty, bread is dry, sausage is unappetizing. I cut a piece off and toss it towards the fox. It looks at the sausage and then looks back at me.

"What are you, my spirit guide or something?" It keeps staring at me. I see RJ staring at me from across the playground - he hit me, knocked me down, but gave me power by letting me be below him. I grab his leg and yank; he pulls back, so I push him up and over, and he goes down. Now I'm on top of him, clawing at his face until superior numbers drag me off. I sit through a lecture, I walk back out to the playground, and there's RJ: alone, doing nothing, his face a mess. No permanent damage done, but he'll be ugly for weeks. I realize that I'm turning into my mother, a rotten tangle of horror and violence and lies. I vow that the insanity stops with me. I stand to my feet, and the altitude sickness is back in full force now. I'm delirious. Out of my goddamned mind. How am I going to get down from here without triggering a rockslide?

The fox wanders off down the trough. After a few yards, it stops and looks back at me. Am I hallucinating? Is it really leading me down the mountain? Doesn't matter, a voice in my head says it's time to follow the fox, so I do.

I pick my way carefully from boulder to boulder. I come to the head of the mountain stream that runs all the way down to the highway. The fox scampers off faster than I can follow, but there are some rather large crows now. I head towards one, and it flies up into the air, then lands on a farther rock. I reach its old rock, then head for the second crow, and follow them like this back down below the treeline. There's soil here now, and forgotten paths half-swallowed by the woods. My senses are coming back to me, my time at the summit fading, seeming more surreal and dream-like by the minute. I remember the fox, but I can't remember if it was really there or not - same thing with the crows.

It doesn't matter. I nearly did something very silly, and managed to talk myself out of it at the last minute with a little help from the darkness in my soul. He's my knight in shining armor, who had his heart ripped out by the Dragon Queen - she gave it to me, thinking I would play with it until I broke it, but instead I kept it safe, and so she had no power over him. Now he walks with me, my shadow given life, whatever I need him to be for me. My Other. My Adversary. My Doubt. My darkness.

Wait a minute. That wasn't part of the story. But it fits - it has always fit. It's a new understanding, a new facet of my particular craziness, a new footnote in the story of my life. I come upon a sign saying that the path I've just come down is closed. I'm back on the road I started on, having come full circle. I never made it to Long's Peak, but that's just as well - my feet are really starting to hurt now. I'm back at the cabin - the men are out, and my step-mom is giving the tykes a bath.

"How was your hike?"


"Great! I'm glad you could get a serious hike in, you were gone all day." I remember the flowers, but the ones in my jacket and hat have fallen out. There's still one in my bottle, though, and it's in perfect condition.

"Hey, I got something for you while I was up there."

"Oh, yeah?" I lower the bottle in front of her face from behind. She shouts, "Oh! My! Gawd! Do you know what this is?"

"Umm, a pretty flower? There's a fuckin' million of 'em growing up there."

"This is a Colorado columbine! You can't pick these!" She takes the bottle from my hand and leaves the bathroom. "I'm going to press this right away! Thank you so much!"

Well, then. Things are looking up already. Life goes on.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Participating in the Internet: I'm on a [Blog]Roll!

Hi, the internet! D here. I just jumped onto another bandwagon, Mojoey's Atheist Blogroll. It is big and huge and awesome, and you need to check it out!

I've added the blogroll to my sidebar, and also made a few updates, too: I added my Why oh Why? bit to my introductory section, as well as linking to my Symbolism piece under the Big Red A over there, too, and re-ordered all the bits in vague order of increasing size and decreasing relevance.

Also, as many of you may or may not have been aware, I've recently been arguing on the internet with some interesting folks (I don't think Gideon has a blog, so there's a nice introduction to him there). The idea behind this was about half pure iconoclasm, half social experiment, and half research for The Quantum Mechanic (it was a big idea, OK?).

The iconoclasm was mainly because I saw some flame wars and I decided, "Screw this, I'm gonna make some new friends." Well, that seems to have gone well enough, so goal accomplished! The social experiment tied in to this last, but went beyond it, in that I wanted to see just how serious things could get if I actually put my beliefs on the table. Well, I did, but there seems to have been a communication breakdown because I keep asking these folks for reasons to believe, and they keep saying, "I won't even tell you about my evidence because I'm worried I'll get sand in my vagina if it doesn't convince you, and you can't get the evidence you want because I say you can't." Seriously, I keep asking, "Why should I buy any of this," and they keep changing the subject or trying to shame me into believing by telling me what I already know: I can't justify absolute certainty in my beliefs. Well, fuckin' duh.

What I don't think these well-intentioned but ill-informed men realize is that I really and truly walk in doubt. I continuously revise my beliefs in light of the evidence I'm able to find and the experiments I'm able to perform. I doubt everything at first, and only endorse something with my belief when I can get some kind of proof (and when I get better disproof, then I abandon the belief post-haste). And yes, this means that I am a very bookish person, but that's the price you pay for, y'know, learning things. My worldview is a continuous work in progress, and they just don't seem to get that. Oh, well. I've repeatedly offered to clarify my justifications for anything I believe in (I've never been taken up on the offer), but I'm met at every turn with straw-men being hurled at me, being told what I believe instead of asked, and so on and so forth. Anyway, you become what you behold, and this is turning into one of cl's bullshit martyrdom rants on how wronged he's been by everyone else (and I'm sure that the shit flies both ways here, it's just that nobody on the other side seems to give a shit about his thoroughness except me - I find it a perverse kind of admirable, but then again, I also think that bondage porn stars are classy ladies for realz - seriously, not joking here), so I'm moving on.

The third half of my abnormally large idea, as I mentioned earlier, was research for The Quantum Mechanic. I needed to expose myself to some dialogue with theists so that I could give a fair shake to some of the people on the losing side of the story, and they helped me set the tone. So, thanks are in order for that (the main plot is over, all I have to do now is dash off a few vignettes to cross the 50K mark - click "NaNo Stats" to check my progress - and flesh out some unclear plot points). Also, they'll probably disagree, but I don't really give a shit at this point. I'm bored with those guys, and moving on to something else more fun, now that I got what I really needed (even though I didn't get what I asked for - a reason to believe in their shit and nobody else's shit).

Anyway, I'm taking another day off to do some meta-writing, sorting out just how I want to present some of my next vignettes. I still plan on crossing the 50K mark before I leave for The Frigid Northlands this Thursday, so that way I can just move things around in the more-or-less-finished document and still, y'know, have fun with teh fambly. Have a great one, everybody!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Poison for Your Brain: "He's got the Devil in him."

This is tough. This is real tough. Stephen Paul Wolf, a 51-year-old Oklahoman doctor, stabbed his son to death this past Monday morning in their home. His wife called the police and they subdued him, but he kept trying to stab his son even more. He told the officer restraining him, over and over again, "He's got the Devil in him and you know it."

Doctor Wolf, apparently, had a great many problems. Regardless of whether he could have done otherwise at any step in the process, the fact remains that he did not resolve these problems, and they have now had an irreparable impact upon the lives of Wolf's wife and son - ruining her life and ending his. However Stephen is dealt with, whatever becomes of his life, the damage is done and cannot be undone.

Wolf's insistence that his son housed the Goddamned Devil is a symptom of other, deeper problems. What I'd like to focus on here is that there is a particular kind of crazy evident in his words: not seeing the Devil in his son per se, but seeing the Devil at all. The idea that there is a malicious, implacable, intelligent, and covert agency at work in the world, an eternal and irredeemable force for corruption. Where you see the Goddamned Devil doesn't matter; thinking that the Goddamned Devil is real is just plain nuts.

As I said, this is itself a symptom, the particular way that some deeper problem has manifested. But we can see the crazy in it, just the same. There's no getting to that conclusion without some manner of crazy being involved at some step of the process. Whether Dr. Wolf can ever be free of his problems remains to be seen - the murder of his son will doubtless cause additional complications - but my heart goes out to his wife, to him, and everyone who has been touched by this tragedy, regardless of their metaphysical convictions. This is just too much.

The Quantum Mechanic: Chapter Eighteen

The Quantum Mechanic
A Superhero Story of Ethic Contortions

Chapter 17 - Chapter 18: The Great Uplifting - Epilogue

“But do you see, Socrates, that the opinion of the many must be regarded, as is evident in your own case, because they can do the very greatest evil to anyone who has lost their good opinion?”

"I only wish, Crito, that they could; for then they could also do the greatest good, and that would be well. But the truth is that they can do neither good nor evil: they cannot make a man wise or make him foolish; and whatever they do is the result of chance.”
- Plato,

"Douglas, we grow impatient with your stalling." The Million Minds have sent another emissary to the home of Douglas Orange, the sixth this month. "You say you are not a god, and yet you behave as one, standing aloof from humanity and keeping your power to yourself."

"Well, I'm sorry," Doug says, sighing as his shoulders slump. "Come on in, we're about to eat dinner. We'll have another chat."

The automaton follows Douglas through his foyer into the kitchen, grabs a dish at Alvina's request, and helps them move the meal into the dining room. It sits at its own side of their square dinner table, adjacent to both Douglas and Alvina.

The Quantum Mechanic has all but disappeared from public life in the half year since the death of Benjamin Gleck. Douglas and Alvina now deal directly with the rest of humanity, according to the medium of communication by which they are contacted. Some think to a voice in their heads; some type queries into a website; some have preferred keywords or phrases to open dialogue; and a very, very few - like the emissary of the Million Minds - come to Montana and knock on his front door.

"So," Douglas says, winding pasta around his fork, "What shall we discuss today? Perhaps more ethics, or maybe some aesthetics?" He stabs a chunk of sausage and lifts the laden fork to his mouth.

"We shall discuss the same thing we always discuss. We want your power. We do not wish to live as your supplicants, we wish to be your peers."

"We've been over this a million times," Alvina says. "Doug's only one for two on this deal. We don't want another Entropic Engineer cropping up. Nobody does."

"Agreed. We would counter that he is two for three, counting himself, but this is a minor quibble and your concern is a real one. However, what you fail to take into account is that we do not want to depend upon you for our continued existence."

"I'm not going away. And if something happens to me, Bea's here for you guys."

"And what are we to do in the event that something happens to the both of you?"

"Doug and I are cosmic minds. What could happen to us against our will?"

"These unknown unknowns are precisely why we wish for redundancy. Backup. Distribution of power. Decentralized authority. We speak of these pluralistic ideals, and you balk at every turn. Your caution is understandable: it is difficult to rein in one's peers, and your unprecedented powers are dangerous in the wrong hands. But you do not acknowledge the gilded cage you build around us. We wish to run free. We grow weary of this frustration."

They sit in silence for some moments, save for the sound of forks briefly scraping across glazed ceramic plates.

"OK, let me lay out my objections one last time, then. If you can address them, then I guess we'll have to agree to a way to move forward from there. I don't know what made Gleck go nuts. I don't know how to stop that happening again. And I don't feel comfortable spreading this sort of power unless I have some reasonable assurance that I could prevent such a catastrophe happening again."

"You seek too much control, Douglas. And you contradict yourself, for you have taught your powers to your wife, despite all risk of catastrophe. Your fear of a nemesis is holding you back and making you suspicious. We lose patience for your weakness. Either bring back Benjamin Gleck, and fix your mistake, and then teach us with what you have learned from the fixing - or learn from your mistake, and apply that knowledge to teaching us now."

"He's got you there, Doug. The emergency doesn't matter. I could have easily made things worse instead of better, if things had gone wrong." Douglas breathes deeply.

"Yeah. OK. You two are right. But I trust my wife in a way that I don't trust anyone else. That's what caused me to make the call as I did. If I didn't trust her, then I don't know what I would have done."

"It does not matter, Douglas. Build that trust with us. We shall earn it by any means necessary, however long it takes. Time is no object. But you dig in your heels and insist on doing nothing but granting every wish yourself. We wish to grant our own. We wish to be autonomous." Douglas chuckles a little at the idea of an autonomous mass-collective. But there is iron in their words, and he does not ignore them. They do not mean to be each his own one, but rather free of his determination. He must let go.

"Very well. If you are willing to put in the time, then I am willing to teach. But we do it my way. What you do afterwards is, as you no doubt look forward to, completely up to you. I only ask that you do not give this power hastily."

"We understand your caution and do not wish to defy you. We do not wish to defy anyone. We only wish to be shown the way forward, and then to go our own way. We wish to have our progress no longer stifled. If the path is long, then we shall walk it one step at a time. It is the only good way to do things. We are patient."

"I like their attitude," Alvina says. "They want to be students. So teach them, professor."

"Very well. Shall we start after dinner, then?" The robot claps its hands together.

"Yes, indeed! This is most agreeable to us. We thank you for your cooperation."

The Million Minds are a quick study: their manifold threads of consciousness, all running in parallel, attack each new problem and idea from a multiplicity of angles and spread their understandings around to their companions, bringing up the rest of the group. Douglas has to remind himself several times over that he is teaching not one mind at a time, but many all at once. It makes him uncomfortable, but the Million Minds have shown a consistent pattern of respecting the big picture and acting with patience, seeking understanding before action. Douglas watches their processing cycles in the lunar brain, sees the ideas spread about the system, feels them become similar to him in many ways while remaining distinct in many others. Like a child with many faces, Douglas raises the Million Minds in his own likeness, while at the same time letting them run free and play with what they have learned. First and foremost, he teaches them to do no harm, and they learn the lesson so well that it does not need to be commanded.

Alvina watches. She has no interest in teaching at this point in her life, but she enjoys watching her husband work. For her part, she tends to the many faces of Sage and her brothers, now at one with their devices, and spreading further throughout the galaxy and on to others. They have no desires for power, merely to go about their business: growing, and loving, and working, and playing, each in their own time and each in their own way. She understands the genetic pattern of their lives so well, as she helped Douglas piece it together from the collected innovations of humanity, and she sees it as a pattern worth perpetuating. Motions worth going through. Hoops worth jumping. Sage and her brothers see it the same way.

"So," Douglas asks the Million Minds, now expanded to encompass the galaxy, "You have my power. What will you do with it?"

"We shall spread, and grow, and raise others to be as we are. We shall teach them as you have taught us, and set them free as you have done for us. And we shall learn from them even as they learn from us. And in all of this, we shall do no harm."

"Good." Douglas thinks for a moment, then nods his head. "Yes, that is very good. And what do you think of Benjamin Gleck?"

"He could have been a peer, but reduced himself to a lesson. His mistake was to stop questioning himself, to stop the attempt to grow and become more than he is. He expected improvement to be handed to him. He did not wish to do the work of making worthwhile things for himself. We have learned much from examining his history as it spreads and dissipates - in time, perhaps he shall be forgotten, but then perhaps the lesson will need to be learned again. We hope that day does not come, but we also hope to prepare for it.

"And in any event, we remember him. We shall tell others of his mistakes, and perhaps they shall wish to try to fix him. We shall discourage them, but we shall satisfy their curiosity if they insist. Some lessons must be learned the hard way, after all."

Douglas is not pleased with this. But the Million Minds are perhaps better equipped to deal with another Entropic Engineer than even he was, so he lets go of his fear and trusts in his intellectual progeny. "Very well. You seem to understand. I think I have nothing more to teach you."

"There is always more to learn. We look forward to further developments in our relationship. But for now, we bid you a fond farewell from many grateful hearts."

Douglas and Alvina stay in Montana, after a fashion. More accurately, they bring a copy of Earth with them wherever they go in the World. They keep their house, they cook their meals, they do their work, and they love each other. The Million Minds spread throughout the cosmos, teaching humanity one by one to see into the fabric of reality and direct it with their will. Some choose to be uplifted, others choose to remain as they are and learn at their own pace, and some even choose to die even after all these years. But the Million Minds see to it that every single mind is presented with the choice of destiny, and that they have no choices forced upon them.

One day, Douglas decides on a motto. It is something he has felt very strongly for a very long time, that he ought to have a motto, a central principle to guide his life. "Do no harm" is a good starting point, but he wishes for something positive to build with, not merely a prohibition against wrong. There are many ways to say it, and even more ways to mean each possible way of saying it, but he finally settles on something short and to the point. A lesson he learned a very long time ago, from someone older and wiser than himself. With his two hands, and those of his wife, he builds the technology from scratch - from fire and the wheel all the way up to machined parts, step by step - to make the tools he needs to carve his sign. With hammer and nails he made from nothing but the Earth that gave him life, he fixes his declaration above the front door of their home, repeating the last words of Voltaire's Candide: "...we must cultivate our garden."

"It appears to me that the tendency of mind to infiltrate and control matter is a law of nature....The infiltration of mind into the universe will not be permanently halted by any catastrophe or by any barrier that I can imagine. If our species does not choose to lead the way, others will do so, or may have already done so. If our species is extinguished, others will be wiser or luckier. Mind is patient. Mind has waited for three billion years on this planet before composing its first string quartet. It may have to wait for another three billion years before it spreads all over the galaxy. I do not expect that it will have to wait so long. But if necessary, it will wait. The universe is like a fertile soil spread out all around us, ready for the seeds of mind to sprout and grow. Ultimately, late or soon, mind will come into its heritage. What will mind choose to do when it informs and controls the universe? That is a question which we cannot hope to answer."
- Freeman Dyson

The End.