Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Quantum Mechanic: Chapter Fifteen

The Quantum Mechanic
A Superhero Story of Ethic Contortions

Chapter 14 - Chapter 15: The Hunt - Chapter 16

"God does not play dice with the universe: He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players [i.e. everybody], to being involved in an obscure and complex variant of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won't tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time."
- Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett,
Good Omens

The Entropic Engineer hunts, desperately trying to pick up the trail of his quarry. He felt the pull of the Quantum Mechanic's cosmic disappearing act, saw a trail through spacetime that pointed right at Andromeda. But galaxies are large places, and even solar-system-spanning civilizations can easily lose themselves amid the din and fury of Andromeda's trillion stars.

One trillion stars. Even if the Entropic Engineer spent only a second at each star, it would take him over thirty thousand years to search the whole galaxy. In that time, the Quantum Mechanic could easily pick up and leave for another spot, another galaxy, maybe even hide between a cluster of black holes in the vast darkness between the stars.

He does not have thirty thousand years to kill his enemy. That is too long by far. The fear must be fresh in his mind, he wants to taste the sweet terror as their pointless existences are brought to an end. They are laughing at him. They must fear him. They must! Their foolishness cannot be allowed to continue, they must be forced to face their fate, Quantum Mechanic or no.

But now the Entropic Engineer must face reality. He does not have a race of intelligent minds at his disposal to solve problems for him, but what he does have is several dozen solar masses of angelic drones programmed to find and destroy humans. He leaves a few at each star, just in case something shows up. He can always make more, he can always swallow another star, he can always tap into the bounty of nature before him. There is no need to create from nothing, as the Quantum Mechanic is so irresponsibly hasty to do. That is the work of God alone, and the Entropic Engineer shall not step on the toes of the deity he still worships.

Even now, he hears his Lord's voice, compelling him to obey. Instructing him to hunt. Inspiring him to keep fighting the good fight. He shall restore balance to the Universe, and then he shall reap his eternal reward, remove the sanctifying wards that shield his Earthly body from the Devil's prying eyes, and lay himself to rest. These very same wards stop him from orienting his mortal form in relation to the galaxy, however, and he cannot feel anything but the vaguest tether to his true body. The hunger is exhausting. He looks forward to the final rest after his long hunt. He failed before, but he shall not fail again.

"This is a test," he tells himself. "This is only a test. I must be strong. I must stay faithful. I must place my trust in the Lord, and he shall guide me to victory. Thy will be done. Amen."

The prayer turns into a mantra.

The days turn into decades.

Douglas watches from transported Earth, his mind now spanning the whole breadth of Andromeda. He has wrapped Sol and its environs in a muffling blanket of curled-up spacetime, giving a false atmospheric shimmer to the night sky even from empty space. What electromagnetic radiation does escape is too jumbled to be recognized as the aura of civilization.

And yet the Entropic Engineer hunts on, leaving its angels at each star. He was thorough at first, methodical, but after decades of silence and tracking down a few dozen decoy signatures from Doug's false light cones, the Entropic Engineer's path becomes erratic, random. He becomes distracted, Douglas presumes, re-visiting some stars dozens of times.

"You know," Alvina suggests at some point, "We could lobotomize a few of those robots. Send him on a couple wild goose chases." Douglas ponders this.

"No," he says at last. "We don't want to provoke him. He may start destroying stars, and while I could protect us from the direct harm, we would eventually be exposed. Better to let him hang himself with half a plan, than to give him something to go on."

"Hm. I guess you're right."

The Interview has changed in some ways, and stayed the same in others. Benjamin Gleck still sits across from the Quantum Mechanic, wearing the same suit he wore on his last day at Fawkes News, reading questions from a sheet of paper that keeps changing before his very eyes. Questions are still asked on a wide variety of topics, but most these days have to do with the Entropic Engineer's pursuit, and the Quantum Mechanic's opinions on matters of pop culture. Many humans are around Doug's own age, living relics from the days before his fateful night cooking pasta in the kitchen. Their memories are stored in a variety of media, some choosing to upload themselves into machine intelligence conglomerates, others writing their memoirs or archiving recordings of their favorite day-to-day experiences, and a few choosing to live in the moment and not be burdened by an unfailing memory. Douglas finds this last group the most fascinating: while he sustains their living bodies, they deliberately experience the same things over and over again, always as if for the first time, forgetting the experience by the time they come back around.

Seven hundred years after their departure from the Milky Way, Douglas places a population cap on the solar system. The Million Minds swiftly forms as an organization to deal with this perceived tyranny. They are represented first and foremost by a collective intellect of the same name that resides primarily on the lunar brain. A public debate convenes between the Quantum Mechanic and a robot shell receiving the thoughts of the Million Minds.

"We do not wish to be so constrained," the Million opens.

"I am sorry," the Quantum Mechanic responds, "But I am left with little choice. I cannot keep us safe from the Entropic Engineer without placing some kind of limit on our expansion."

"We are most grateful for your assistance," comes the Million's rejoinder, "And yet we are frustrated by your behaviors. Why do we hide instead of fight? What is needed to defeat the Entropic Engineer?"

"I do not know."

"How long will it take to find out?"

"I do not know."

"What do you know, then? What is your plan?"

"I need the Entropic Engineer to expose himself. I do not expect that he will do this willingly, and yet I cannot devise a way to accomplish this without placing all of humanity at undue risk."

"You are presumably working on a way to accomplish this?"

"I am."

"And what progress have you made?"

"I cannot say."

Several cycles pass before the Million Minds respond.

"We understand that you are at risk of exposing your strategy to a potentially present threat. Again, we are grateful for your assistance. However, we cannot place our trust in you for no reason. We must work out a deal."

"I have little patience for politics."

"And yet you seek to rule."

"I - erm - OK, you've got me there." The Quantum Mechanic runs a gloved hand over its smooth metal head. "What do you propose?"

"It depends on several facts. We must have facts to form our proposition. With current uncertainty, our proposed solutions are too numerous to list."

"Very well. I shall answer to the best of my ability."

"First, can you send us to other galaxies? May our civilization be spread throughout the Universe?"

"I can do this. But the Entropic Engineer was able to follow us here from the Milky Way. I suspect that he shall be able to follow you, as well, and I shall not be able to protect or sustain anyone at so great a distance."

"This narrows down our options quite a bit. We must consult with ourselves."

"Of course." Minutes pass.

"We are decided. We wish to stay within your protection, yet we find your methods stifling. We wish to reach an agreement regarding when to stop hiding and make a stand. Are you amenable to this?"

"That depends on the time frame, as well as the opinions of the rest of humanity."

"Give us three hundred years to convince the rest of humanity of our proposal." Douglas will have to hurry, but he can prepare everything he needs in that time.

"Agreed. If you can get a unanimous decision to stop hiding in three centuries' time, then I shall stop hiding us. If not, then we shall re-evaluate the situation at that point."

"Very well. We shall set about our preparations immediately. Until we meet again, Quantum Mechanic." The representative automaton stands lifeless.

Three centuries pass. Consensus is reached. Humanity will stop hiding and face the Entropic Engineer. Douglas and Alvina are as ready as they'll ever be. The show is coming to an end.


Cathy S said...

There's a mention of a very large structure which Prof. Orange at the end of chapter 13...and I wonder how's that going to fit in...

jemand said...

I'm wondering if Sage and the tree people are how the parts of this structure experiences itself...

but that's pure speculation!

D said...

You both follow my trail of bread crumbs very well!

I feel kinda bad about not having a chapter yesterday, but I needed to take some time to sort a few things out. Here, have a cookie!