Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Quantum Mechanic: Chapter Two

The Quantum Mechanic
A Superhero Story of Ethic Contortions

Chapter 1 - Chapter 2: Machina ex Nihilo - Chapter 3

"The trouble ain't that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain't distributed right."
- Mark Twain


"I'll be in touch." Randall breaks the handshake and heads for the door. Doug's mind is racing as he sees his guest out and retreats inside. At some point, he has to go public. At some point, people will have to know he exists. He can't just do good invisibly, or he shall have to work against far more evil for want of deterring it. Douglas Orange is fated to be a superhero, no two ways about it. Funny, he thinks, I can rupture spacetime safely enough for a rabbit to pass through unscathed, yet I haven't accepted that I'll eventually have a public debut. He sinks into the couch and begins ionizing the air before his eyes, making tiny lightning bolts as he loses himself in thought.

After some minutes, Alvina enters the house and goes right to Douglas, wrapping her arms around him.

"Evenin', babe. I got groceries, wanna give me a hand?"

"Sure!" Douglas rises with his wife in his arms, holding her tightly as they kiss, and heads for the kitchen. She takes the refrigerator, he takes the cupboards. Remote viewing both her and the trunk of her car, he begins teleporting the items into the house one at a time, the pair of them sorting and stacking items as they appear in their hands. "So, yeah," he says at some point in the process, "You'll never guess who came to my show today!"

"Wait, let me try! The pope?"

"No."

"The President?"

"No again."

"Ed McMahon?"

"No the third."

"Bob Costas?"

"One more guess."

"OK, let's see. Umm, Nostradamus!"

"Close! Randall 'The Randificent' James!"

"The retired magician?"

"Well, yes, the retired magician, but also one of the founding members of Skeptics Coalition International! He left about half an hour before you showed up."

"Wow, no kidding? That's really cool! So what did he have to say?"

"Well, he showed up to debunk me, and he had a backstage pass 'cuz of his press credentials, so I chatted him up a bit and invited him over for a drink."

"Ooh, cool! What did he think of your show?"

"Well, he said it was really good, but I spilled the beans."

"You - what?!" She pauses mid-grab, and a bottle of salad dressing falls to the floor. "Wait, you told someone about your, y'know, your powers?"

"Relax, hon. He can be trusted. He's a good man, an ex-magician, and if he tells the truth to anyone they'll think he's crazy. Don't worry, he's safe."

"I, well, you," Alvina stammers. "OK, I guess you're right. Still, that's not exactly something you should go about telling everybody."

"Yeah, I know. But he's a good guy, don't worry. Anyway, he had a suggestion: he said I should become a vigilante."

"I've been thinking the same thing, lately." Douglas doesn't tell her that he knows this already. Douglas hasn't told her that he can read minds yet. And Douglas is very, very nervous about the prospect.

"Oh, really? Huh. Well, I think there's something to it. I mean, it's a way to do some real good, and I can also stay anonymous without jeopardizing what we've got here."

"Well, yeah, so far - but what if someone shoots you before you can react? Or, I don't know, fires a rail gun at you that you can't tell is coming before it hits?"

"That's what I've been thinking about. I'm getting to the point where I can make some pretty complex objects, I can almost directly fabricate an entire orange."

"What is it with you and oranges? Making them float, teleporting them, now inventing them from whole cloth?"

"Sorry, I just think they're good test objects. They're roughly spherical, and roughly uniform, but they've got quite a bit of complexity, and if things go wrong then I've only made a juicy mess. It's a lot better than making a mistake with a rabbit."

"Hmm, I guess I gotta give you that one."

"So yeah, I think I can make a body pretty soon. That's way better than a costume, I think. Plus, I can operate it from home."

"Hey, yeah, that really is a good idea. I mean, nobody can discover your secret identity that way, you're not actually putting yourself in danger, it's win-win."

That evening, Douglas and Alvina started drawing up designs for his alter ego, the Quantum Mechanic. Over the course of the next week, it was refined, redone, and streamlined until the final product emerged. Another week, and Douglas had a working prototype assembled: a robot body, since metal and plastic are easier to hold in a single frame of mind than messy, complicated cells; dressed in synthetic fibers with faux leather gloves, combat boots, and belt; all black and gunmetal gray, except for some neon orange highlights.

Standing in the basement now, the prosthetic body looks for all the world like an experimental super soldier with a fancy helmet. As a last touch, Douglas etches an h-bar over the left breast of the thick jacket. The Dirac constant, an h-bar signifies the angular frequency of a quantum of energy - the most appropriate symbol Douglas can think of. Glowing orange just like the belt buckle and the eye slits, the prosthetic body is at last complete with Doug's final stamp of approval.

"Time for a test drive," he says to the lifeless construct before him.

Upstairs, Alvina hears her husband's voice invite her to the basement. It sounds as though he is in the same room with her, but she knows that he is only vibrating the air around her to make sound, and she fondly calls this the voice in her head. Bright with anticipation, she heads downstairs to see her husband's handiwork.

"Oh, Doug, it's marvelous!" The six-foot puppet springs to life before her, moving in sharp jerks that gradually smooth out as the puppeteer familiarizes himself with the articulated joints. The eyes appear to crackle with energy as Douglas fiddles with atoms of neon in the air. Moving smooth and silent now, the Quantum Mechanic steps toward Alvina and extends a hand, saying in a calm and anonymous voice,

"Good afternoon, madam. A pleasure to meet you." She responds to the gesture, and it bends over for a mock kiss as the metal face plate brushes against the back of her hand. It steps back, then goes into a low crouch before rising slowly into the air. Extending its limbs into a classic flying pose, Douglas simulates a whooshing noice in lieu of real air flow. Alvina giggles.

"That's so awesome, Doug - you've really outdone yourself! So this is how you're going to fight crime?"

"Yes," he says with his own mouth, returning the Quantum Mechanic to its standing position on the floor. "I think it ought to work out just fine."

"Yeah. It's the perfect alter-ego: an untraceable robot body, manufactured nowhere, with no record of parts purchased or, or," she stammers, "Or anything! You literally can't be caught!"

"Yep, that's the idea." He sounds detached as he brushes off the robot's shoulders, sizing it up one final time. "Hm. Maybe I'll do more work on it later. But this is definitely good enough for now."

The following Monday, Douglas looks up Randall James at the Oregon office of Skeptics Coalition International. They make plans to meet that evening in Randall's home. Douglas has expanded his remote viewing abilities to a few thousand miles of range, and though he cannot take it all in at once, he has found that he can anchor his consciousness at other places well enough to manipulate objects with less than an angstrom of error. This is huge, on scales that Douglas has become accustomed to dealing with, but very safe.

Randall James sits alone in his study, drinking a glass of whiskey in his leather armchair and looking forward to the conversation he is about to have. The Quantum Mechanic appears suddenly before him and says hello in its inscrutably neutral voice.

"And a fine hello to you, sir!" He looks the robot up and down, not sure quite what's going on. "No fancy effects? Fair enough, this isn't a magic show. That's quite the suit you've got there, Doctor!"

"This is no suit," the Quantum Mechanic responds with a chuckle. "It's a prosthetic body. I directly fabricated all the parts. It cannot be traced in any way. This is how I shall fight crime."

"Wonderful." Randall is awestruck. "Simply wonderful! Can I touch it?"

"Certainly." Randall rises to his feet and walks around the robot, now motionless for yet another inspection. He fingers the fabric of its jacket, the faux leather gloves, the brushed metal faceplate. He raps upon the chest with his fist, and hears a satisfying metallic clang, only slightly muffled by the synthetic jacket.

"Douglas, this is a marvel. A genuine marvel. Are there more?"

"I suppose I could make more." The Quantum Mechanic springs to life once more as Randall returns to his seat, neon eyes crackling with bright orange light. "I doubt I shall need replacements, but maybe I can get good enough to manipulate more than one at a time."

"You know what this means, don't you?" Randall is wide-eyed, struggling to believe what he sees. "You're a miracle worker. This is a miracle. There's no overstating this, Doug - you're going to change absolutely everything."

"Well, the sun will still shine, the waves will still crash upon the beach, and the Universe shall continue on its merry way - but maybe I can make it a better place."

They talk for hours. The Quantum Mechanic has no need for food, or shelter, or a base of operations, or transportation, or gadgets, or a sidekick, or a front organization, or any kind of cover at all. One by one, every superhero cliche that Randall can think of - aside from the alter-ego, the superpowers, and the iconic insignia - is swiftly shot down as superfluous.

"It sounds like you're all set, then," Randall exclaims. "What are you waiting for? Go! Play! Be a hero, man!" The Quantum Mechanic laughs quietly, bids the man a fond farewell, and disappears instantly. "Man, he really needs to fancy that up some," Randall muses to himself as he heads for the door. The air in the room swirls, and a spark of neon orange erupts from the middle of the room to herald the re-entrance of the robot.

"Is that better?"

"Why, erm, yes," Randall says. "Look, it's like patter for a magic act. If you don't add a little flash and sparkle, you won't impress people nearly so much. Remember, people like to see a song and dance. If you don't fancy it up at all, you're just going to alienate everyone. Have a little charisma, man!" The Quantum Mechanic cocks its head at an angle and strokes its chin, as if in thought.

"I suppose you're right. Thank you for the suggestion." They shake hands once more, and the robot disappears in another brilliant spark.

2 comments:

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D said...

Oh, I agree wholeheartedly. But without the song and dance, without putting on a show, what's the point of anything? Meaning, purpose, whatever you want to call it, it's all vanity and vexation of spirit. The song and dance is our raison d'ĂȘtre.

Those are some cute jackets, though! Tell you what: you find me a publisher, and if I get an advance, one of those will be my very first purchase!