The Quantum Mechanic
A Superhero Story of Ethic Contortions
"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.
"The question. You put it here, right? It only says, 'Why did Proxima Centauri just now disappear?' That's all."
"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.