Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Quantum Mechanic: Chapter Sixteen

The Quantum Mechanic
A Superhero Story of Ethic Contortions

Chapter 15 - Chapter 16: Metamorphosis - Chapter 17

"We pursue her in her incessant metamorphoses yet we never manage to trap her. She always escapes: each encounter ends in flight. We embrace her and she disappears immediately: it was just a little air. It is the instant, that bird that is everywhere and nowhere. We want to trap it alive but it flaps its wings and vanishes in the form of a handful of syllables. We are left empty-handed. Then the doors of perception open slightly and the other time appears, the real one we were searching for without knowing it: the present, the presence."
- Octavio Paz


Sage sits atop Mother Tree, holding the black fruit in her lap. It is time. She and her brothers have grown and watched and waited. She has seen her sister Sages grow into Mother Trees themselves and cover the planet, and she knows that other Sages on other planets have been watching and waiting, just the same as her.

But she is not destined to become a Mother Tree, as the others before her have done. The wind has spoken to her, told her that their time-of-building has reached its end and now the time-of-battle looms nigh. Her sister Sages sit atop their own Mother Trees, likely contemplating the black fruits in their own hands, ripe with dark device and the promise of power. The preparations have been made, and it is time to join the human in battle against his lesser self.

She raises the head-sized fruit to her mouth and takes a slow, careful bite.

When Sage's teeth break the skin of the fruit, the device goes into motion. Tiny molecular machines talk to each other in code, orienting themselves in relation to the user who has just awoken them. Ah, yes. This is a Sage. Her biology is very familiar to the device. Its cells flow into her mouth, a viscous liquid somewhere between the consistency of blood and sap. Under her tongue, the device grips her by extending tiny cilia, then injects anaesthetic into her bloodstream, then entering her bloodstream itself. It is better that she does not feel what is about to happen.

Sage goes numb as she feeds on the black fruit, her muscles continuing to go through the motions of sucking and swallowing on instinct. She is calm and insensate as the device latches on to the carbon nanofibers that run the length of her spinal column, familiarizing itself with the particulars of her genome by analyzing a few of the immortal stem cells held at the ready in each vertebra. It spreads throughout her system, a symbiotic virus, a living computer programmed in genes. She feels an icy cold envelop her consciousness as the device reaches her brain, then a flood of awareness as the world unseen is exposed to her mind for the first time.

The merge complete, Sage stands to her feet atop Mother Tree and surveys the village below. Smooth, matte blackness covers every inch of her skin. Her eyes, engorged with blood, fluoresce with light as if afire. A small processing center emerges from her forehead, glowing electric blue with activity as she coordinates the minds of all her thousand brothers within her. They, too, have eaten; they, too, have metamorphosed; they, too, have had their eyes kindled with the new awareness. Sage now knows not only their faces, but sees their sights, hears their sounds, thinks their thoughts. Before, she was a guide, a mentor, a chaperone; now, she is their head, and they are her hands.

It feels like the absorbed memories of their callings, this new sensation that creeps into Sage's developing overmind. But now she feels as strong as a rock-eater, as lithe as a gatherer, as stout as Mother Tree herself; and yet as young and new as any one of her brothers, fresh from his knot-of-birthing, before hearing his calling in dreams. The rock-eaters, the gatherers, the tenders and tillers and un-called all stand before her, speaking their whole minds to her, hearing all their minds from her, communing and calibrating towards a singular purpose: the destruction of the Entropic Engineer. There is work to do before this, though.

After reorienting themselves to their new awareness and purpose, Sage and her brothers gather closer to Mother Tree and begin to consume her, taking her biomass into themselves for the journey ahead. Devouring tendrils twist and wend through her circulatory system, pulling her apart with painless, ruthless efficiency, making every part of her into a part of each of them. Their task done, the dark figures build wings with their devices and head skyward. They see in the distance that other villages, formerly clustered around other Mother Trees, are doing the same. Still more rise from the ocean, from the ice caps, from everywhere on the face of the planet. Their minds reach out across the distances, speaking to each other in electromagnetic fluctuations.

"Greetings. We are Sage, and we fly to battle."

"Hello! We, too, are Sage. We, too, fly to battle."

"As are we, and they, and the rest of us."

"Good! Then let us fly together, and put an end to this evil!"

The Sages and their brothers fly up above the clouds, up to the very shimmering wall of the heavens, where their devices find the carbon nanofibers that circle the whole planet. Everyone spreads themselves out along the gossamer threads, a planet's entire biomass anchoring itself to a web invisible to the unaugmented eye. Traces of elemental iron serve as magnetic tethers to the satellites that float in orbit, cloaking the planet from the Entropic Engineer's sight, destroying any approaching space debris that threatens the floating spherical lattice, and stopping the whole thing from crashing down to the planet's surface prematurely.

As every Sage spreads her brothers out around her, each brother spreads his device out around him, connecting the invisible threads and wrapping the whole planet in impenetrable darkness. Minds merge and meld, individuals orient themselves into a new station in a greater society, each a cog that knows its place in the machine. When all are ready, tiny locks and latches are released throughout the web. The black shell unfolds around the planet they all called home, metamorphosing into a great bird-like structure, slowly spreading its wings into the vacuum of space. With one great flap, the enormous avian pushes away from the now-barren rock, casting off a few tiny seeds to float down to the surface and begin the cycle anew.

So large and so thin, the flat bird is buffeted by solar winds away from its homeworld. Satellites are absorbed and consumed, and in the freedom of empty space, the enormous bird folds in upon itself, patterning itself into a more stable form. The cannibalized technology is repurposed to form faster-than-light engines, programmed into the device's molecular information architecture by the Quantum Mechanic itself as soon as humanity had solved the problem in a mundane fashion. The planetary life form orients itself within the galaxy, then plots coordinates and prepares to jump.

It's the big day. Douglas imagines that he can feel something in the air, but he knows that it is only the nervous tension of anticipation. He is not eager to face his nemesis head-on. Last time, he had to run, and humanity will no longer accept running as a way of life.

Alvina chops vegetables in her Montana home while Douglas sits on the couch. The TV is on in the background, but neither of them is paying particular attention to it. On the screen, the Quantum Mechanic places the Interview on hold.

"We'll return to this shortly, Ben," it says. "I need to concentrate."

"Ah. Is it time, then?"

"Yes."

"Well, best of luck to you. We're all hoping for you. It's all our lives riding on this moment, after all."

"I couldn't have said it better, myself. The Million Minds are almost finished with their countdown. When they do, I shall cease my cloaking measures, and then we shall see what happens." A counter appears in the background. Gleck stares at it, starts to sweat. He tries not to think about all the different ways that things could go wrong.

Zero. Go time.

From within an atmosphere, nothing visible happens. But from space, the stars are suddenly much clearer and brighter. And light minutes above the solar plane, a brilliant white figure appears, growing ever brighter as angels surround the star system in ones, twos, tens, thousands, millions, billions, trillions. Heaven's army has arrived.

The Entropic Engineer pauses. Something is not right. There is a kind of fuzziness about, he is not sure what. The angels stand ready, but he does not give the order to attack. Then something shows up - a great bird, truly massive and matte black, nearly invisible to light but carrying with it an unmistakable gravitational pull.

Another shows up.

Then another. They pour into the system, tearing wormholes through spacetime and hopping through, fuzzy ripples evening out in their wake. While the Entropic Engineer struggles to comprehend what he is seeing, the birds continue to show up even as the earliest arrivals begin to dissolve into billions of tiny man-sized bodies. They set upon the dumb angels, passive without the Entropic Engineer's order. These black creatures, eyes aflame with intelligence, begin to devour his horde. Literally. He watches as the metal bodies are taken apart and then consumed, added to the biomass of these space-faring demons.

More black birds show up. Still more. There is no end to them, it seems. They outnumber his army with ease. He needs to focus, to marshall his troops against this new threat. The angels are only programmed to kill humans, these amorphous symbionts will require a bit more care and attention.

He drops his wards.

Douglas has practiced this maneuver so many times that it is not worth counting. He has learned to recognize the signatures of a quantum mind such as his own or Alvina's, and become swift at reacting before thinking. No sooner are the wards down, than the Quantum Mechanic springs into motion, pinning Benjamin Gleck's frail body against the wall by his throat.

2 comments:

jemand said...

continues to be totally awesome!


(but I think it's Million Minds? Unless there's a retcon? Or I have to go write some fan fiction reconciling the Million Minds becoming the Thousand Minds after 300 years?)

D said...

Thanks!

And you're right. Fixed! I'd love to see that fanfic, though. :)