Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Quantum Mechanic: Chapter Thirteen

The Quantum Mechanic
A Superhero Story of Ethic Contortions

Chapter 12 - Chapter 13: Defeat - Chapter 14

"If there's no war outside our heads, why are we losing?
I don't ask for much - truth be told, I'd settle for a life less frightening"
- Rise Against,
Life Less Frightening

"Well," the Entropic Engineer says, "You had better hurry, then. I plan on razing this entire system down to rocks and wreckage."

Douglas feels a shift in the gravitational pull surrounding the solar system. Countless shapes - yes, Doug is completely incapable of counting them - swarm and dance, swirling in to converge on Earth. Accelerating. Twisting and turning. Douglas stops trying to take it all in; he folds spacetime around his mind and flings his consciousness out into the slowest moving spot in the horde.

Angels. Polished, angular metal angels, all sharp and shiny in their featureless homogeneity. "I hope you like my army," his nemesis continues, "They're likely to be the very last thing you see. I started with Proxima Centauri, but then I thought to myself, 'No, a single stellar mass may not make enough robots.' So I made more."

Raw numbers, Doug's only weakness. He can't keep track of them all. His starbeam cannons kick into gear, opening wormhole apertures into stellar cores and tapping a bit of their tremendous power. The first one fires, punching a hole a mile wide through the teeming morass. Those in the center of the blast are vaporized, hundreds of thousands more flung into their neighbors with explosive results. "Now THAT is a neat trick! You'll have to teach it to me some day. You might even have a full day, so I guess I could pencil you in for tomorrow, if you've got time." The Quantum Mechanic glowers at the Entropic Engineer, orange lightning crackling about its body in impotent rage. More cannons are needed.

Douglas sets bout making cannon after cannon, while the swarm continues constricting around the entire star system. Round after round fires, and Douglas is no closer to wrapping his mind around them all. He begins pulling colonies, laboratories, even the outer planets and plutoids, all towards Sol, buying more time.

"Ooh," the Entropic Engineer exclaims with mock excitement, "Does this mean we have time to play our guessing game? Let's see if I can guess your name! Does it start with," the gleaming white apparition strokes its chin in mock thought, "A? Does it start with A? Aaron, Adam, Alfonso, Alonzo? No? Then how about B?"

A few million gunmetal gray puppets appear in the midst of the angelic army. Each of them carries inside of it a thermonuclear device, and they begin taking pot-shots at passing robots even as their bodies are flayed by razor-sharp wings. One detonates, the blast destroying many, the resulting EMP deactivating far more. "You continue to surprise me, my friend! But even at this pace, you won't be able to stop me. It would take you seven days to undo all that I have made, but my Heavenly Host will have scoured your pathetic civilization clean by this time tomorrow. That includes you, by the way.

"So it's not a B name. What about C? Am I getting closer?" Douglas gives the fire order to all of humanity, and they unleash their fury. They can't aim at specific angels, they're too far and too fast for even a light-speed weapon to be accurate. But they are so numerous that their numbers work against them - any passing laser fire has upwards of a ninety-five percent chance to strike at least one passing angel.

The solar system is ablaze with conflict, heat and light pouring out, robot angels pouring in. Douglas is losing.

"Why are you doing this? What's the point? What do you get out of this?" The Quantum Mechanic speaks to the Entropic Engineer with palms open, frantic desperation creeping into its voice.

"Victory."

"What?! Victory over what, for crying out loud?!"

"Pointlessness. You have been gallavanting about, painting a very pretty picture, and I'm just sick of it. So I'm doing the only thing I can: I'm tearing it down."

"But there's no point in that, either!"

"Of course there is. I'm teaching you a lesson. And upholding the fundamental nature of reality."

"Oh, you think so? And what would that be?"

"Nothing. You have been creating a whole lot of anything. I am here to restore the nothing."

"You - you - you don't even know how this works, do you?" Douglas is aghast. "The whole Universe is always nothing, it has always been nothing and will always be nothing! For all the matter that we see, there is dark matter to cancel it out; for all the energy there is, dark energy counterbalances the disturbance. The net energy of the entire Universe is precisely zero - it's nothing - I'm just trying to create the most interesting and fulfilling nothing that I can. What's so wrong with that?"

"It is vanity, Douglas. Pride, gluttony, lust, sloth, greed, and envy - you have made it possible for six of the deadly sins to be realized by all persons, at all times. The only one you have managed to quash is wrath, and here I am to complete the picture. Here I am to be your undoing, the logical end result of all that you have worked for."

"So what? So fucking what? People can do what they like, and you think you have to come piss on our parade? What's your fucking problem?"

"You have stamped out the possibility of virtue. Restraint, delayed gratification, these values no longer hold meaning when the magical sky-daddy gives people everything they want."

"But I don't." The Quantum Mechanic's tone is firm now, resolute. "I can't give people everything they want, I can only give people some nice things that they've come to associate with success and living the good life. We still have work to do, we still have things to find out. I don't know everything, and I can't do just anything. We haven't lost the value of a hard day's labor, goddammit! We're just defining life in a different direction now."

"Vanity of vanities! This conversation is over. You can no longer run from the consequences of your actions. Your little hippie commune is coming to an end."

And with that, all is gone.

It takes a moment for the Entropic Engineer to realize what has happened. The Heavenly Host stands inert, their targets gone, their raison d'ĂȘtre vanished without so much as a crackle of orange lightning. Angelic wreckages drift through empty space, starbeam cannons initiate self-destruct sequences, and the Entropic Engineer floats in the near-vacuum where Megiddo used to be. The pillar of light dissipates. No point in putting on that show any longer. Now where did they go?

Sol and its orbital entourage have found themselves yanked through spacetime into a particularly noisy region of Andromeda. With any luck, the Entropic Engineer moved his physical body in one of the many disappearances that were staged over the last several months. Maybe they'll never see an angel for a million years. Without luck, Douglas reasons, he has brought his enemy with him and it's only a matter of moments until he gets his bearings back. Either way, Douglas needs to be ready.

"Hey, Bea?"

"Yeah?"

"I need you to be my secret weapon now. We've got to work on expanding our minds. Maybe the two of us together can nail this guy."

"I hope so, baby. I really, really hope so."

Douglas and Alvina peer into black holes, vivisect the hearts of stars, and create life again and again. They probe each other for weaknesses, looking for threads in each other's minds to pull and unravel the whole. They create simulacra of their native solar system, making decoy light cones to throw off the Entropic Engineer if he tries to follow humanity with his angelic horde.

But Douglas needs something more. Something big, something really big, in case something bigger than he can imagine comes for him again. He needs to be a step ahead. And so, in the darkness between the stars, a carbon lattice begins to form. It outlines an enormous superstructure, light and strong enough to not collapse in upon itself despite its great size. Live or die, this shall be the legacy of Douglas Orange, if he can only complete it in time.

As days roll on, Douglas finds himself unable to reasonably estimate just how big an "if" that is.

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