Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Quantum Mechanic: Chapter Eight

The Quantum Mechanic
A Superhero Story of Ethic Contortions

Chapter 7 - Chapter 8: The Third Law - Chapter 9

"For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."
- Newton's third law of motion

Douglas has been wondering about the next question. He wonders about it because it didn't make sense for weeks, and now it does. Time dilates, and Gleck closes his mouth in extremely slow motion as Douglas ponders the possibilities with his full concentration.

Logs. He can check the logs for the question repository. Where was it? Day three: it was asked on day three, and it made no damn sense. Douglas remembers reading it, partially, as he continued to answer Earth's questions, and fulfill their hopes and dreams. He was amused then. It's not funny any longer. OK, where did it come from?

Puzzling. No, not merely puzzling. Downright worrisome. The question came from nowhere. It was simply logged into the question database, apparently for no goddamned reason at all, by no user, from no location, with no way to tell how it arrived. Everything leaves a trail. There has to be another clue.

It's staring me in the face, he thinks. The answer is right the Hell in front of me, and I can't accept it. I'm the only one who could do this. Me. OK. This is scary. Now let's bite the bullet and see where it goes.

OK, Doug reasons, I'm the only one who could put this question here. I'm the only one who could cause it to make sense right now. How would I go about doing this behind my own back? Perhaps an errant partition duplicated itself and broke off? Perhaps I made myself forget that I made a problem for myself to solve? Perhaps a fuckin' million things. This is pointless. Move on.

"Why did - wait a minute." Gleck reads the question. Confusion lights his brain. "This doesn't make any damn sense." Douglas decides to feign ignorance.

"What doesn't?"

"The question. You put it here, right? It only says, 'Why did Proxima Centauri just now disappear?' That's all."

"Hm. Strange."

"What? Why? Is it strange because Proxima Centauri is still there? Or strange because it's gone?"

"It's strange that it was there when the question was asked three days ago, and now it's gone when the question is asked on live TV. The timing is too good."

"What?! How do you make a star disappear?"

"Put something in the way, I guess."

Nothing is in the way. No black hole that Douglas can perceive. He reaches out to where he knows the star to be. No explosion. No collapse. Just nothing.

That's it! That's the clue! Erasure: the question was asked and its tracks were erased. Douglas would have seen the logs erased, but that memory is erased as well. Now a star has been erased, along with all the light that by rights should still take some four-odd years to arrive. Just plain erased. OK, that's that. What's next?

"What's in the way?"

"Nothing. It could also be erased, I suppose. Though I'm not sure how."

"You're saying that a star disappeared, and you don't know why?" Color drains from Ben's face.

Think, dammit! Think! Where are there other clues? Maybe only the light bound for Earth has been erased, perhaps the rest of it is left behind. Searching a sphere four light years in diameter is taxing, even for Douglas. He sets partitions of his mind to the task - then immediately recalls them. If this is how self-sabotage is done, then he needs to be especially careful not to let himself lose track of himself.

But how can you look for what you're hiding from yourself?

"Yes. I'm afraid so. I can't do anything about it, though. Next question?" Gleck stares for a moment, then shakes it off and moves on. Douglas resolves to keep an eye out, but get on with his life. Maybe it's nothing. Maybe it's coincidence. Maybe it's -

Maybe it's a distraction.

Maybe it's a million fuckin' things. It's nothing, right now - a big, obvious, weeks-in-the-making nothing. Douglas resolves himself to keep his eyes peeled and his guard up. There's no telling what's going on here, but he needs to be prepared for anything.

Zach L said...

Duuuude.

Conservation of mass-energy?

Cathy S said...

Well...if Orange's prepared to twiddle a few physical constants [especially Planck's constant]! But there's little much I can predict from here, except for the quantum cosmology concept of "the wavefunction of the universe"! After all, he has access to the underlying reality of things, which is mathematical [as I had speculated with the Darwin quote a few days earlier].

D said...

Twiddling for the win. Think of "quantum-sense" as the ability to reach out and "tip" probabilities one way or another. For anything. Like, even vacuum fluctuations. Now just do a whole fuckin' load of 'em, and there you have it: instant magic!

Cathy S said...

A little quip: I have seen many people misinterpret Newton's 3rd law of motion, because it seems to say a cause-effect relationship. All it says is that forces always interact between different objects. There's no force on one object which 'decides' to 'react' to some other force of another object. Only when objects are moving very close to light speed does this relationship weaken.

D said...

Oh, I'm totally abusing this principle for poetic license. I know it only means that when you smack something, that something smacks back. Or, in lolcat-speek, "Balanced equations are balanced."

Cathy S said...

But surely such 'tipping' of wavefunction probabilities takes some energy...or is Prof. Orange's mental effort just imaginary? For if it is, then I could indeed suggest a weird model of Orange's universe where we have to count real and imaginary amounts of energy!

The hard question is: how does anyone find 'imaginary' energy?

Zach L said...

anyways what I was trying to say but did not quite get across was that I really like this chapter, short though it is, for being honestly pretty awesome!

D said...

OMFG, so sorry, Zach! I thought that was a snarky "dude" and a criticism! I totally mis-read you!

Thanks very much for clarifying, though. I'm glad you liked it, and I can't wait for you to see how the rest goes.

D said...

Oh, and Cathy, of course thinking takes energy - just not much. When computers run simulations, they're doing the same thing (in principle, and not at a distance), in a kinda-sorta hand-wavy type of deal.

In all honesty, Orange's powers are modeled after what it's like for me to be high, when I start concentrating on things. I start to see into deep patterns, and pretty soon I lose myself in a fractal allegory of my own making. I don't get actual powers, of course, I just thought it would be really cool if I did.