Technology » Science

Sensei

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Apr 23, 2018

Let me start by telling you a story.

There was this one time I pranked a kid... sweet kid, I liked him... by popping out of an old teapot he'd picked up at an antiques shop. He had been antiquing with this friend of his, a guy he'd been crushing on, hard, for years. He never told his friend how he felt. I'm a sucker for love stories, and being a romantic at heart I assumed if this kid had one wish - just one, for anything in the world - he'd ask for his friend to start feeling the same way about him.

But the kid surprised me. His friend suffered from a viral infection. A lot of people did - or, I should say, do - in the time and place they were living. Instead of asking for his friend to fall in love with him, what this kid asked for was that the virus would disappear from every person who carried it. More than that, it would vanish from every laboratory, every stored sample... from everywhere. He figured that if his friend didn't have to worry about dying from the virus, or passing it on to anyone else, he'd feel free to fall in love again. Naturally, he hoped he'd be the one his friend would fall for. But he left the door open for his friend to make up his own mind. Well, you can see where this is going. His friend fell in love, all right, but it was with someone else.

I actually gave this kid a little more than the one wish. I told him he could have a wish and a half. When I saw how things had worked out, I went and found him. He was walking through the snow, head down, heart broken. I reminded him that he still had half a wish coming. As part of the stipulation for his one big wish, the kid had said that he wanted it to be impossible for anyone else ever to undo that wish, and I had granted him that. But I never said anything about denying him the right to undo his own wish, and I wondered if, in his disappointment, he would take back the gift of healing that he'd made to the whole world.

But as we walked through the snow together that evening, the kid made a different wish. He asked to know how it was possible for a magical being like myself to exist, and to do miraculous things like remove every single copy of a killer virus from everywhere in the world. I figured he would never understand even if I told him the truth, so I didn't see any point in lying. I explained that I'm not a magical being at all. What looks like magic to someone like him is really a matter of technology to someone like me.

Someone who can manipulate the basics of reality: Matter, energy, process. Time. And, underneath it all... composing it all... tiny, tiny snippets of information. Assemble the information in the right way and you have one of an infinite number of universes. Assemble it in many ways simultaneously, and you have a multiverse. Shuffle it around and you have universes that shift and scintillate, all their possibilities unfolding throughout hypertime.

That's what I do. I'm a Creator Entity. I'm one of the beings who brought that kind-hearted kid into existence, though that was not a specific goal. That kid; his friend; the guy his friend fell in love with; and everybody else in the world. And the world itself! That's what we created. Which is to say, we created the tangled skein of multiple, intertwined universes that comprise the cosmos. If you could see the cosmos as we see it, how would it look? Like this: A trillion trillion duodecillion separate threads of cause and effect winding together, branching apart, and, sometimes, trailing off into nothingness. That's what we engineered and set into motion. Some of us wanted to call it the Let There Be Light Project. Some wanted to call it the Fade to Dark Project. We split the difference. We called it...

Half Light


I like to come in here sometimes, hop around through various proximal universes that are similar enough to have given rise to intelligent, corporeal life. I like to see what these beings created from matter have come up with. They're unbelievably cute. They do a lot of really horrible things, and they do a lot of really stupid things, but I have to say they have grown on me in a way I wouldn't have expected. There's something magical in how the same two people in love can exist in universe after universe and have their relationship work out... or not... the same way over and over. It's the same for two people who hate each other. After a while, you start to see how lovers and enemies are not so very different.

And once you get to know a few of these people, it's fascinating to see who they would be if they were with someone completely different. Or if they had one single crucial gene that was different. Or if they'd made that left turn at Albuquerque years earlier. Two, or three, or one million different paths fork away from each and every moment of decision, and each of those paths has more and more forks down the road in turn.

And you wonder where we came up with a trillion trillion duodecillion variants on reality? It wasn't hard to do. They generate themselves. It sounds like an awful lot, but compared to the infinity of possibilities that we could have engineered, it's a drop in the ocean. We needed a finite number, and that was the minimum we figured would do the trick. It helps that the cosmos as a whole is always roiling and reconfiguring, re-writing itself even as it runs through all those permutations. That neat little trick was our way of economizing, trying to accomplish our task in as elegant a way as possible.

As well as the system works, it's sometimes necessary to cheat a little - to come into the cosmos and consciously give it a nudge one way or another. Without just a little shaping, this creation of ours might require another vigintillion iterations or so to find its final, definitive shape. We just don't have the time. Or rather... the hypertime. Or, if you prefer, the bandwidth.

One thing I have noticed in my many forays into this creation is that I'm not alone in being an interloper. That is, I'm alone - except for other Creator Entities, which, in a sense, are still me - in that I come from entirely outside this cosmos. But I'm not alone in posing as a native in the realm of intelligent flesh. There are these other guys... they've been called angels for millennia, so they've taken that identity when they move among organic beings. These angels exist at the very top of the cosmos - at the surface, so to speak. They stand outside of time; they stand outside of space; they even stand outside of basic things like number, and location, and cause and effect. Truth be told, they take after us in some pretty essential ways. The reason for this will come clear later.

But for the moment let's flash back. Long ago... if you can say that about beings who live outside of ordinary time... the angels made a terrible mistake. They looked at organic life and assumed it couldn't possibly be intelligent. They were wrong about that, and when they realized they were wrong they freaked out and tried to exterminate organic intelligence. The problem is, organic intelligence is what makes the cosmos run. It's not only the point of the cosmos, but also the essential... how to put it? Organic intelligence is the operating system of the cosmos, in a manner of speaking. When they started erasing intelligent biological life, the angels were actually tearing out the guts and the underpinnings of existence itself.

They caught on to what they were doing, lucky for them, or they would have disappeared along with the rest of the cosmos in a system-wide crash that would have zeroed everything out. But to repair the damage, the angels had to assume the roles of many of the threads of cause and effect that weave the great tapestry together, insinuate themselves into the fabric of the universe, and become players in the great game. In short, they had to distill themselves into the biological intelligences they had destroyed in order to fill the holes they'd poked in all realities.

I'm sorry for this long-winded preface, but you have to understand these things before I can tell you the story. I mean, you can sit through these couple of pages, or you could - I don't know - wade through about a hundred and six previous stories to get the idea. The choice is yours, but who has that kind of time?

Okay, then. No further ado, as they say. Let me direct your attention to a tightly-wound fellow showing a couple of friends a bunch of videos on the Interweb. His name is Henry Darrow. He's been obsessing for a few months over things like "walk-ins" and "chi," the universal life energy. Or, "qi," if you prefer. He's found videos on WeStars and MeVid of t'ai chi masters standing rooted to the spot while huge brawny guys try to budge them and fail. And he's got other videos of other masters - Aikido adepts, venerable qi gong practitioners - facing down aggressors. Not even hitting them or fighting them, just staring them down or deflecting their attacks using the power of their convictions. We didn't build this stuff into the universes, but that's not to say it's not real.

His audience isn't convinced.

"I don't know what I'm supposed to be making out of this," Henry's old friend Jason Darius is saying.

"Are you suggesting that this 'life energy' force is behind some or all of the events we've seen lately?" his partner at HomeSec is asking. Her name is Jillian DeGuerve. They used to work together at another government law enforcement outfit, the FBI, but that was a long time ago. And it's not a matter of different universes that DeGuerve used to be a man. Well, physically anyway. But she was never a man on the inside, in her heart and soul. The time came when she transition physically and became in body the woman she always had been in spirit.

I find it heartwarming and hopeful that human beings, for all their flaws, have found ways not only to adapt themselves to their realities, but also to adapt their realities to themselves. What more could a proud Creator Entity want for his children than to see them taking after their all-powerful spiritual parents? If the human conception of God were a real thing... I know, a bearded guy on a throne, what could be more disappointing?... but if the human idea of a God did exist, I really doubt he would feel any different. Funny how so many humans freely assert just the opposite, though. They seem to believe that "God" shares all their feelings, and every last irrational, selfish human whim. Of course, that's only logical when "God" is your own mirror image projected out into the philosophical void. But just try telling that to your average zealot.

Speaking of impossible arguments, Darrow is having a hard time there. He isn't quite sure what he's trying to say, because he hasn't quite defined the idea he's chasing. He's never been much good at this sort of thing. He was given all the worst assignments at the FBI - the strange killings, the grotesque crimes, the impossible and unexplainable cases that, to his credit, he usually did more or less make sense of.

DeGuerve, on the other hand, is dead set on tackling the truly mysterious things in the world, picking them apart, and putting them together again in ways that help her make sense of a larger picture. She's the visionary of the two. She knows she's working for cynical, evil people who only want to find new ways to tap into power and control the great forces: Fate, destiny, coincidence, divine providence. Authoritarians and dictators always have a mystical bent, and DeGuerve knows this. She suspects the truth, which is that President Kirsch himself has taken an interest in the work she does, and she's exploited the ambitions of her superiors to bring Darrow into HomeSec, where he can help her pursue both Kirsch's agenda and her own.

"Do you have a better idea of where to start?" Darrow's asking them. "We saw a being of some sort occupy the bodies of various different people and do his work through them."

"Or else what you saw was a mass mind," Darius says. "A group consciousness consisting of many people, but directed by a dominant personality."

Well, no, they saw me. I was doing a little of that nudging - a little social engineering. Working through multiple people, coopting their bodies temporarily, is a highly effective way to get stuff done. Sure, I was leading a neo-Nazi cult and pulling off a string of murders, but it was important for this phase of this particular universe's event matrix flow.

"Either way, the suggestion is that there's larger life force that exists, independent of the human central nervous system," Darrow is telling them.

"That's quite a leap," Darius is saying, which is hilarious coming from him. He, alone of the three of them, actually knows better. Those angels I mentioned? Darius is one of them.

Darrow and friends don't know that they are about to be interrupted by a knock at the door. Actually, a frantic pounding at the door. They haven't looked outside lately. The sky has unzipped and there's a lot of unrestrained cosmic energy flying around in the great rent in the heavens. I don't mean "cosmic" in a hippie-dippy sort of way. This isn't just some big light show. The rip in reality lays open the underlying superfield that nests all the strands and fibers that constitute reality... or, rather, all those separate realities that wrap together to create the cosmos. The superfield is actually six distinct kinds of field, and ordinarily they interact without much fuss. Imagine oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and other gases all peacefully coexisting inside a balloon as it floats on the wind... a wind made of those same gases. In a steady state, all's well, there's no panic or fuss. But a localized, uncontrolled space-time aperture? That's like a pin-prick in the balloon. A stable system goes hellz-a-poppin' bonkers in a situation like that.

And the reason for it... well, the moment Darrow opens his apartment door, he'll know the reason for it. So will Darius - because another Darius will be standing there in the hall, along with Darrow's ex, a guy called Randall who has clairvoyant powers. Randall, at least, won't be a surprise. Darrow's been expecting him. Darrow left Randall message a few days ago, after getting back from an assignment in Indiana where he had a brush with vengeful people from the future. He's hoping Randall can help shed some light on that case, as well as the incident he's been discussing with Darius and DeGuerve - the one where I played a part.

Tagging along with Randall and Other Darius is Ted. He's a low-level enforcer for shady characters in another universe. He's a dim bulb and a heartless goon, but despite all that he's kind of a good guy. Ted's how all this got started. He, too, had a run-in with the people for the future... in his universe, that is, which is close enough to this one for events to more or less run in parallel. In his case, the future people stupidly tried to take him forward through time with them.

That's a no-no. Why? Well, that's obvious, isn't it? But we didn't put any restrictions to traveling to the past, an you may wonder about that. It's because we had some interest in whether people could learn lessons from experiencing actual history.

In most universes, the future people already know they can't bring anyone from the past into their present. But in a few universes, they haven't figured that out... or, rather, they don't know it's an absolute law, more absolute than even the speed of light, which, if you're clever, there are ways to get around. In Ted's case, the future people were mad enough and crazy enough and reckless enough to try a new and different approach to bringing someone from the past directly to their own time. The results weren't kind to poor Ted. He ended up being shifted from his own universe into a few different close-lying parallel realities, including the one he's in now, but the problem with that is that without some pretty sophisticated technological support you can't have the same person occupying the same universe twice. Teds are spilling not and out universes left and right, pushing each other out of universes and into other universes, and the problem is becoming exponentially worse. It'll calm down after a bit, as most of the Teds are finally ejected from existence entirely. One or two lucky ones might find their way back home, but for most of them it's going to be the big erase.

So how did the Dariuses get here? Ted had a brainwave. He and I had been hanging in the marginalia - that is, a realm between universes, kind of up near the non-causal level where the angels live. I decided to do an experiment by guiding this version of Ted into different universes and bringing him safely to the marginalia between times. It was my way of charting some of the currents, if you will, of cross-dimensional causality. I know that sounds like bullshit, but just remember who it is here that has the limitations of a three-dimensional brain. Not me. So you're gonna have to take my word for it.

Anyway, Ted surprised me... and, more to the point, Darius... by throwing himself out a window and taking Darius with him. I played along and brought them both to the marginalia. But if one errant universe-crosser creates a cascade of chaos, what do of them do to the system? I'll tell you: Hello, ripped sky! What's exciting about all this is that between the cascading Teds making their way across various cosmic membranes and this little puncture we have going on this particular rendition of reality, it's possible that the situation will spin entirely out of control. Remember how the cosmos nearly had a fatal crash thanks to the angels and their antics? Imagine that, except instead of dissolving into static the cosmos rips into confetti.

If this multifarious complex of realities does come apart, it might be fun to have ringside seat. And if it doesn't, that'll at least be some new information about our own engineering and how well it holds up to unexpected stress. We have a certain interest, you see, in the way things hold up - and in the way things fail.

Though I'm certain it won't actually come to that. We let universes evaporate all the time, and different iterations of the human race commit mass suicide, and we even allow sinister alien races to go around casually inflicting genocidal carnage in pursuit of their own goals. But letting all trillion trillion duocdecillion universes in the cosmos blow up or zero out? Letting the whole machine disintegrate? That would just be wasteful. So I guess that, sooner or later, I'm going to have to step in and set things to rights.

But back to Darrow and DeGuerve, and Darius and Darius, and Ted and Randall. As it happens, a few of them are designed to meet with this artificially constrained single one of me. It's gonna happen pretty soon.

***

"I don't know what I'm supposed to be making out of this," Darius said.

The holographic display of the aarovadis showed three burly men trying to shove a t'ai chi master off his stance. They were getting nowhere. Though the master was a tiny man in comparison, and elderly to boot, he was as immovable as a stone.

Jillian DeGuerve, Darrow's partner at HomeSec, nodded in agreement with Darius' objection, but she offered an interpretation of her own. "Are you suggesting that this 'life energy' force is behind some or all of the events we've seen lately?"

Darrow gestured at the hovering images, which now switched to a taekwondo master facing off with a younger, highly aggressive challenger. The younger man charged at the master, but then seemed to lose his nerve. Instead of striking out, he simply slowed and came to a stop a few inches away, then stood still, his head bowed. The master evidenced a slight smile.

"Do you have a better idea of where to start?" Darrow asked his small audience. "We saw a being of some sort occupy the bodies of various different people and do his work through them."

"Or else what you saw was a mass mind," Darius countered. "A group consciousness consisting of many people, but directed by a dominant personality."

"Either way, the suggestion I get from this is that there's larger life force that exists independent of the body," Darrow said. "A form of life not tied to any sort of central nervous system."

"That's quite a leap," Darius scoffed. "It's much more likely that some sort of mass suggestibility or group hysteria is to blame."

"No, I don't buy that," DeGuerve said.

Darius rolled his eyes. "If course you don't," he said. "You're even more of a sucker for this sci-fi stuff than Henry."

"Only when there's evidence for it," DeGuerve said, pointing at the aarovadis. A new image hung there: A martial arts instructor who, like the taekwondo master, was facing off with a younger opponent. But the two weren't staring at one another, as the taekwondo master and his intimidated student had ended up doing. They were matching one another's strikes and blocks in a symmetrical, flowing fashion - a dance, Darrow thought, that looked like a single mind working through two bodies.

"Wow," DeGuerve said, as the demonstration continued.

After about a minute and a half the video ended and the image froze. "And this," Darrow said, keying the image into a close-up of the instructor, "is what I wanted to show you."

DeGuerve leaned forward, her eyes attentive.

"So?" Darius asked, giving a shrug.

"His eyes," DeGuerve said. "Look at the sensei's eyes."

"The who?"

"The sensei. The instructor. The older guy."

"They're blue," Darius said. "What about it?"

"Not just blue," Darrow said. "Phosphorescent. Glowing."

"That's just a trick of the light," Darius said.

"No," DeGuerve said. "No, I see it more plainly the more I look. Henry, that's the same man we saw before. The one in Idaho. And he was also a sensei." She expelled a ruminative breath. "More than a coincidence, I'm sure."

"The face of the man in Idaho appeared on several different people," Darrow explained for Darius' benefit. "And then disappeared again. This guy might have a different face, but he has the same eyes."

"What do you mean different people had the same face?" Darius asked.

"In actuality, no one he channeled himself through looked anything like the sensei in this recording. But their appearance changed when he inhabited them. And when he channeled himself through people, he could direct their actions."

" 'Channeled himself?' " Darius' gaze flickered from Darrow to the aarovadis and back. "You know, I think I'm starting to see a resemblance."

"Who is this?" DeGuerve asked, looking intently at the man in the image. "What's the name of this... this sensei?"

Before Darrow could answer there was a frantic pounding at the door to his apartment.

Everyone jumped. Darrow said, "Excuse me."

The pounding continued as he made his way to the door. "Hold up!" Darrow called, annoyed. "I'm coming, for Christ's..." The rebuke died away as he opened the door.

"Randall," he said.

"At your service," Randall smiled.

"And..." Darrow frowned, looked over his shoulder at Darius in the living room, and then looked back. "Jason?"

"Hey, Henry. Sorry to come busting in like this, but..." In his turn, Jason lost his voice and his train of thought as, entering, he caught sight of himself in the other room.

"Holy shit," Darius said, looking at himself hesitating in the front door. "Is that me?"

DeGuerve turned and examined the newcomers. "That's you," she said with unflappable calm. She'd seen way too much to let a duplicate Jason Darius get a reaction out of her. "And that's Randall. Henry's lover, who he thinks I don't know he's still in contact with."

"I didn't hide from you that I get messages from him once in a while," Darrow said, as Randall, the other Jason Darius, and a third man he didn't know all made their way into the apartment, moving into the living room.

"By placing your hand against a specific spot on the Conroy Building," DeGuerve said. Looking back at Randall she said, "The marble cladding holds impressions well."

"It's also a two-way channel, so to speak," Randall said.

"I left him a... a message in that spot," Darrow said. "After we got back from Indiana."

Now DeGuerve did look perturbed. "I didn't know you could do that," she said.

"Of course he can," Randall said. "So could you, or anyone. It's the same thing as when you use a fork at dinner and then I pick it up and know you were thinking about the Dodgers game the whole time you were eating. Your thoughts and feelings leave impressions. All Henry has to do is lean on the building and focus for a few seconds on whatever he wants to tell me, and I can pick it up easily in the next day or two." Randall looked at Darrow. "Like, 'Come find me, I am freaking out about a case.' But I don't know why you think I can help."

"Because you work for the government," DeGuerve said, her guess based partly on how well she knew Darrow and his thought processes. "In fact, you work for a black ops branch of HomeSec."

Darrow's head pivoted toward her. Shocked, he said, "That's not true. It that true?"

"That's true," DeGuerve told him. "What, you didn't know HomeSec hires assassins like your boyfriend there?" She looked back at Randall, and even though her cool veneer there was a trace of distaste.

Randall sneered right back. "It's a dirty job," he said, "but someone's got to like it."

"Randall," Darrow said - not in reproach, but to take charge of the conversation. He jumped the frozen video image back a few moments. Randall watched as instructor and pupil engaged in a faultless, slowing sparring match. The image froze again as the recording ended. Darrow enlarged the image a second time, framing the instructor's face as he had before.

"Is this the Blue Eyed Man you were so worked up about?" Randall asked. "He doesn't look like the image I got."

"He does look different," Darrow said. "But the eyes are the same. And the... I don't know how to put it. The energy is the same. Something about him. How he stands or... I don't know what."

"Maybe his personal effect?" the third newcomer piped up. "His what da ya call it. His aurora."

"His aura?" Randall looked at the image again. "I see what you mean, but auras don't come across on recordings. Do they?" He looked at DeGuerve.

"Depends on the camera," she said. "Some cutting edge cameras do record EM frequencies outside the visual range. And if the theory holds true that at least part of a person's individual field lingers right on the edge of visual perception, then it's conceivable that a little of his personal presence - or charisma, or whatever - could be perceived off a recording." DeGuerve held a hand out to the stranger. "I'm Jillian DeGuerve," she said. "I work with Henry at HomeSec."

"I'm Ted," the man responded, shaking her hand. "I came with Jason." He gave a sidelong look at the Darius who'd been in the room all along. "I mean, my Jason. Not yours. We... we came from a different universe."

"A couple of different universes, really. Which is why," the newcomer Jason put in, linking his eyes with those of his doppelganger, "the world seems to be going crazy."

"Crazy? What do you mean?" Darrow asked.

"Nothing, just the sky is full of weird lights," Jason said. "I'm not sure about this, but I think me being here at the same time as..." He nodded at Darius, who picked up on the thought.

"He and I can't be sharing the same causality matrix," Darius said. "Not without a dampening field in effect over at least one of us."

"A puppy cord," DeGuerve said. "And the effect s probably enhanced by Ted being here as well."

"What the hell is a 'puppy cord?' " Randall asked.

"I'll explain it later," DeGuerve said. "Though you rally should know, given your line of work." To Randall's appraising look she added, "I used to do your job. And no, I didn't like it, but I got it done."

"I don't really like it either," Randall said. "It just doesn't bother me. But, whatever. I'm always happy to meet another professional."

DeGuerve smiled slightly at that.

Darius spoke softly into Darrow's ear as this exchange took place, knowing that Darrow had no idea what they were talking about. "It's a device that establishes an ongoing connection with a time traveler's home universe. Otherwise, he might end up in some other reality and never get back home. That link also dampens any disruptive effect caused by crossing from one universe into another."

Darrow digested this and then looked up at the newcomers. "So," he said. "You ventured here through nacht and nebel - and weird shit. What exactly is going on out there?"

"The end of the world," Ted said. "I mean, that's what it looks like to me. And we saw some dead guy on the way over here. If the dead are coming back, it must be the apocalypse, right?"

DeGuerve looked from Ted to Darrow. She shook her head, bemused. " 'All will be revealed,' " she quoted.

"Dead guy?" Darrow asked Jason. "Was he with you?"

"No. Some petty crook. Dead in my universe, maybe not in yours."

"Although," Randall put in, "from the look of things out there, this universe and everyone in it might end up dead before long. They didn't explain the finer tech details to me, but they did outline what it could mean... on paper, at least... if two versions of the same person were to meet in the same space-time continuum."

"It's not good," DeGuerve added.

"What do we do about it?" Darrow asked the room.

Both Jason and Darius spoke at the same time. "Find the sensei."

Darrow and DeGuerve looked at them, puzzled, and then looked at each other.

"What does he have to do with this?" DeGuerve asked.

The two identical men looked sheepish. "I don't know," Jason said.

"But I'm pretty sure he's going to have some answers," Darius put in.

"Call it a feeling," Jason added.

"Okay then," Darrow said. He and DeGuerve turned back to the frozen image, still in close up. The man was a little younger than the one in Idaho, with more sharply etched features. Like the sensei they had previously encountered, he was bald.

"This man's name is Makoto Yuri," Darrow said. "As it happens, he runs a dojo right here in D.C."

"I'm driving," DeGuerve said, already headed for the door.

"Jason, why don't you come with us," Darrow said.

"You mean me?" asked the newcomer version of Darius.

"Yes, you. Other Jason - Darius - maybe you had better stay here with young Ted. Can you work a little black magic on him or something?"

"Not a bad idea," Darius said. "He doesn't belong here. Maybe I can work out how to get him home."

"Randall?"

"Sorry to disappoint, but I really have no answers for you this time, Henry."

"You want to come along?"

"Wouldn't miss it," Randall said.

Once on the street, everyone but DeGuerve stopped for a few seconds to behold the sky. The sight provoked a primal terror in each of them. DeGuerve simply strode toward her car, parked half a block away. Darrow could see in the set of her shoulders that she wasn't looking because if she did it would freak her out too much.

It occurred to Darrow to catch up to her and tease her for refusing to look as a way of checking whether her imperturbable manner was nothing more than an act about to shatter into who knew what kind of meltdown. Jason chose that moment to mutter a disapproving, "Black magic?"

Darrow glanced at him. "I don't know exactly what it is you guys do," he said, "but Darius always seems to know a lot about angels and demons and all kinds of things that go bump."

"He can't just say an incantation and send Ted back home," Jason said. "Or me, either, for that matter."

"Are you sure? All you all both of you seemed to know - somehow - that we should go talk to this Yuri guy."

"Well," Jason said, as they reached DeGuerve's car and climbed inside. "That's different."

Randall crowded in next to Jason in the back seat. Darrow, riding shotgun, spared a glance at his partner. DeGuerve seemed pale, but as collected as always.

Darrow decided she was fine and focused on deep breathing to try and calm his own pounding heart.

***

I won't try to tell you that I was... am... scared and dismayed at the way the sky lit up and roiled like an upside-down ocean of million-colored plasma. I knew exactly what the story was. I mean, I always do. And not just here... but everywhere. I'm not just me, you understand, I'm also myself in a number of other realities and times. Like the angels - like Jason Darius in his native state - I am not bound by number, or by location, or even by cause and effect.

I don't need to look outside to know that the sky was ripped open. I don't need to gaze into a crystal ball to see how Jason and Ted appeared together in this reality, because I was talking with both of them in the marginalia a little while ago... well, as you reckon time, that is. And I am pretty sure I could take the time to finish my 8:00 p.m. class before worrying about any of it.

So here I am, at quarter to ten on an otherwise lovely May evening, the last of the students having departed in a hurry once the class realized something diabolical was going on outside. I've put away the equipment the class was using. I have wiped down the statue of Quan Yin that watches over the dojo from her small altar in the corner of the room. I haven't even bothered to change out of my ghi.

I wait for them.

They take a ridiculously long time to reach me. DeGuerve is more rattled than she lets on, and she takes a few wrong turns. Then there's the way the wind has picked up as the time-space disturbance roars on. That has caused some pedestrians to panic and run right in front of DeGuerve's car, which has prompted her in turn to slam on the brakes and roll down her window to deliver a terse cussing out. I pare my fingernails and smile over her tart, eloquent language.

Finally, her car turns onto my street, rolls up the block, and parks in frot of my dojo.

The whole group comes crashing in as if they own the place.

"Come on in," I invite them.

"My god, they do glow," Jason gasps.

It's something my students see only now and then, when I am really channeling the qi - or when I insinuate myself into them, as in that technique demonstration in the online video. But for my guests I am letting down my hair and showing my true (blue) colors.

They all gape at me for a moment and I try to give them a reassuring smile.

DeGuerve spoils the moment by drawing her service weapon. It's a newer model Sig, the kind that only allows a registered user to activate the weapon. "Hold it right there," she says loudly.

"You don't have to scream," I tell her.

"Hands where I can see them!" she replies, still too loudly.

I flash jazz hands at her. "Am I under arrest?"

"Yes you are," she says. "For possible involvement in the deaths of a number of people in Kamisach, Idaho."

"Oh, my," I say. "You know, I've never even been there."

"Maybe not in that body," Darrow says. "But you, or someone like you, ran a survivalist compound there. And he, or you, killed quite a few people."

"Yes, yes." This is more tiresome than I would have expected. They're so serious and so rigid. I go back to paring my nails.

This sets DeGuerve off. "Are you stupid? I said show me your hands!"

"You can see them quite well, Jillian," I tell her.

Darrow and his partner flash concerned looks at each other.

"I'm a fan of your work," I tell them. "I was just being coy before. I know about Kamisach and what happened there. And, let's see. Henry, you've chased after a painter who seemed to predict the future in his paintings. And you dealt with a series of impossible murders among the denizens of the fashion model demimonde. And you even had a brush with a sacred book - wait a minute, that hasn't happened yet."

"What, are you a time traveler, too?" Darrow snaps.

"Like those people you ran into in Indiana? The operatives from the future who were abducting people from the present and storing them in dimensionally mined cocoons as a way of transporting them to the future without having to put them through a time machine? That was a clever workaround. And there's no reason it shouldn't have worked, except that a few years from now - well, a few decades from now, actually - dimensional mining companies will start setting up facilities in the temporal interstices. That disruption will, unfortunately, act like a reef in time's ocean, wrecking those cocoons and ejecting them back into the regular temporal flow."

Draw hesitates, his mind gong back to the way he saw people appear out of nowhere in an Indiana warehouse. Temporal abductees, one and all, some of them taken from more than a century earlier.

"The facilities won't be created for many years, but their effects will ripple back in time. Have already done so, actually - you saw the result," I tell him.

"So you know about Herr Scharbel," Darrow says. "That doesn't prove anything."

I hold up a hand, surveying my nails. They're better, but I really need a mani-pedi. Long, unkempt claws might look good on drunken masters but not on a respectable sensei like me. Especially not when I'm enjoying having the upper hand, as it were. "Not trying to prove anything," I tell Darrow. "But did it occur to you that temporal cocooning perpetrated by people from the future was, perhaps, the explanation for that empty passenger plane that set itself down in New York a year or so back?"

"I determined that plane was sent up using autopilot, and landed the same way," Darrow says. "No one was aboard the flight. It was empty start to finish."

"Yes, but why? Could it be that hostile people from the future absconded with a couple hundred scientists and project managers from a single multi-national company?"

"I'm going to cuff him," DeGuerve says, starting toward me.

Darrow waves her off. "You have half a minute to keep my interest," he says.

"It's obvious, really," I tell him. "If you're a big company that makes its money poisoning the air and water, and dumping toxic waste all over the place, the people living in the almost-dead, miserable world of the future are going to wish they could get their hands on you. And when they make use of time-disrupting technology, they can do all sorts of nasty things in revenge. Reset the clock, so to speak, by jolting the entire world back eleven years. Maybe that will get your attention. Declare an out and out war on the past - see if they can get you to take them seriously enough to mend your ways and avert the coming catastrophes you're bound to inflict on them. Erase whole city populations in an instant by wrapping those cities in temporal shrouds. From everyone else's point of view, the city is suddenly and inexplicably emptied out, but when you take a look at the infrastructure and notice that it's suddenly aged a hundred years or more, the fate of the poor souls trapped inside becomes horribly clear."

"None of that has happened," DeGuerve declared.

"So the former temporal assassin speaks. She's taken a few trips to the past to rub out inconvenient people before they can cause trouble. She thinks she knows everything, even though she relies on the fact that nobody can know the things that have been unwritten. Well, how about the things that are written in another language? In another ink? In other realities? It's all happened. It's all going to happen. Even here."

"What does that have to do with the plane in New York?" Darrow breaks in.

"Well, those enraged people in the future don't just want to erase cities. They want to put the evildoers on public display, give them a big show trial. But in the future, the evildoers are long dead and gone. So the future people go back in time and round up a few of the worst perpetrators. Now it's just a matter of where and how to store them until enough years roll by. Suspended animation? No, no good. No mater where they hide cryonic chambers, they could be damaged, destroyed, discovered. And it has to be out of the reach of ordinary time, because there's an absolute law of temporal physics that you can go into the past, but never into the future. Even you know that, Ms. DeGuerve."

She nods. "It's true," she tells Darrow. "You can return from the past to the moment you left, but no further forward than that."

"But when you're a big bad company doing big bad things and suddenly a couple hundred people go missing from a dozen cities across five countries... well, you don't want all those separate investigations nibbling away at your carefully constructed webs of secrecy," I narrate, deploying the file on my nail clippers. "Something might unravel. So you concoct a story within a story: A commercial stratoliner that takes off full of corporate personnel but then lands empty. One big, impossible mystery that flummoxes and frightens everyone so much they don't want to look too closely. And when some smart young investigator - like you, Darrow - when he cracks the case and realizes that the plane went up as empty as it came down, then it's obvious the company is doing something, but what? Hiding its people? Sending them off to some island like in that Ayn Rand book? The investigators grumble, but they don't poke too hard at the puzzle. It's just one big fat inconvenient mystery instead of a couple hundred pointy little mysteries, and it can be contained."

Darrow looks stricken. "My god," he says.

"Yep. You fell for it, too. You were as cynical as they expected you to be. You thought it was just more corporate shenanigans, when really there was a whole different and much more sinister plot going on. As to what you saw in Idaho... well, you have me there. I am guilty as charged. Only, why? What's the motive?"

"Since you're in a confessional mood, why don't you tell us?" DeGuerve suggests. Darrow looks too confounded to speak up. That woman is a marvel.

"Happy to," I agree. "But let me preface what I have to say by presenting you a question. Is it possible for evolved intelligence - organic intelligence, concerned with resources and genetic propagation - to thrive in the long term? Think about it: Your average hominid, or any other intelligent organic life form, is going to be driven by a need to accrue status. Power. Access to resources, to safety, to muscle and might, all to protect and enhance his own chances at reproduction. Sooner or later he pulls down the world around him in his blind quest for political and social dominance - which is really one short step from his deeper instinctive goal of genetic dominance."

"This isn't answering our questions," DeGuerve says, the gun in her hand tilting fractionally upwards as if in warning.

"Oh yes it is. If you listen, you'll have your questions answered," I assure her. "Did you ever wonder why there are so many different realities? Why so similar, and yet distinct?"

"It's a law of nature," she says.

"Not a law, exactly, but yes. It's the way things work," I agree. "But why?"

"I suppose you have an answer for that?"

"Because we built it that way," I tell her. "We created the cosmos. We created it to contain you."

"Me? Us? Humans?"

"Organic intelligence of all sorts. And then we ran every relevant variation on the same question: At what point do thinking organic beings destroy themselves?"

My visitors all shift uncomfortably.

"Is it when they discover how to use fire? When they invent spears, arrows, other sorts of pointy, body-penetrating weapons? Is it when they reach mass industrial capacity with its resulting pollution? When they learn to generate electricity? Or when they crack the atom? How about when they learn to manipulate genetics and custom build organisms? Or is it when they master transphasic technology? Or maybe when they reach the 'singularity' point at which artificial intelligence and biological intelligence conjoin? When they encode their thoughts into digital form? Into holomatrix form? Into spatiogyrics?"

Jason speaks up now, understanding what I'm saying. "You're testing the world to destruction."

"Yes. Again and again. Universe after universe. But we're also testing your ability to grow into mindfulness, to create life out of the elements around you - artificial life - and to overcome your pre-programmed selfishness and violence. Can you create sustainable communities and systems of government? We frown at your religions, but they seem, from time to time, like a promising method of self-regulation. So, however, do social norms that encourage widespread drug use. Pretty colors! Tranquil thoughts! And in the end it all comes crashing down in spasms of fragmentation. Selfishness and self-importance carry the day.

"But that's the problem with organic intelligence," I continue. "It remains granular, adversarial. It needs to be competitive to remain sharp-witted and innovative. But at the same time, true cooperative peace, sustained mutual interest always slips your grasp. In the times when you achieve some sort of workable self-rule and civilization we step in to give the system the barest shake - again, to test it. In Idaho we challenged your democratic institutions with a small cadre of Nazis, and created a massive disruption. We've done the same on national scales. Global scales. Galactic scales... Yes. The cosmos is enormous in scope, and enormously old, and I'm not just talking about the past, but the future also. We operate across vast scales of reach and duration... or we reduce to intimate individual interactions, like this one." I look at each one of them in turn, smiling sweetly.

"Why?" DeGuerve asks. "Are you using the universe to calculate the answer to a problem? Is the universe a machine for your simulations? What do you get from it?"

"No," Darius says. "The universe isn't a machine that's calculating an answer. It is the calculation. And the problem of organic life..." Realization flares on his face. "They're hoping to find a formula. They need a place to go - a place of refuge. They're looking to create a perfect physical world, filled with perfect people..."

"Organic intelligence that isn't constrained by its own innate physical limitations," I say. "Is it possible? If so, then how? And if so, then for a long time? Or a shot while only? Very astute, Jason. You've nailed it, but then you have an advantage over your human friends."

Darrow and DeGuerve look at him.

"He's not a god," I chuckle. "He's just a poor little angel who wonders, as all his kind do, why God abandoned him."

"Only to find," Jason fires back angrily, "that God has no answers!"

Angels. So arrogant. Such troublemakers. I never liked them, but once they screwed up the universe and then took on the task of repairing the damage it seemed sensible to let them keep at it. Still, this one doesn't even belong here. He can be dismissed.

I decide to make it theatrical for my human audience. "The day we created this cosmos, this perfect equation," I tell Jason, "we held it in our hands and admired it, looking deep into its glowing folds of place and possibility, numinous and notional and beautiful in its thriving complexities. But we neglected to wipe our fingerprints off the lovely orb. That's what you are: An echo of us, a bare remnant. Let me clean you up!" I give a wave - overstated, big with flourish, and Jason crumbles away, smitten and stricken to ash that disintegrates in an instant.

Darrow cries out and DeGuerve pulls the trigger. Nothing happens. The gun doesn't even click.

"Don't worry," I tell them. "He didn't belong here. Erasing him was a way to repair the imbalance that's affected this universe. As for Ted, well, he's back where he belongs. It's time to put the toys back in the box... time for all this to end."

Already the wind outside is dying down. I walk past DeGuerve and Darrow, walk toward the door, past Randall and into the night. Overhead the sky is whole and serene. The stars are intact and bright, so bright.

Darrow follows hot on my heels.

"Why?" he demands.

"Why what?" I ask him, looking at those gorgeous stars. "Why create the cosmos? It's as I told you. As Jason said. To answer a question. And we have that answer. We don't need the cosmos any longer."

"Are you...?"

He has a dozen questions in mind all at once. I cut him short. "I'm not able to satisfy your curiosity," I tell Darrow. "We have what we need. We have made our determination. The universe will continue because it already has continued, but it will also end because we have our answers... our melancholy and hopeless answers."

I give that sweet smile to Darrow again. I know it's touched with sadness. Just because I know it doesn't mean I am making it up. It's all real. This is all real. But it's also something created, sculpted, and contrived.

"Tomorrow will come as always. Your life will play out as it must. All history will unspool in it proper order because the entire hundred billion years of cosmic existence is whole and complete... from our perspective, anyway. We'll let this magnificent creation burst into fractals of nothingness - disappearing shards - but it won't make any difference to you, to any of you. You won't even notice. We, however, will move on. I'm only here enjoying my last visit."

"Idaho was your last experiment?"

"Not first or last or even most recent. To you it's something that just happened. To me? Time only has the meaning that's built into the cosmos. When I come into the cosmos, I can reengage with time. When I leave it, I am free of time, and self, and locality - of this organic and temporal mode of existence. You can't imagine it. By my reckoning, Idaho was a year ago. A hundred years, a billion years. It was before and after things yet to come, things long accomplished."

Darrow stares at me, panicked.

I reach out and caress his face. "When God says he loves you, do you know what he means?"

Darrow shakes his head.

"He means that he's become you. You cannot partake in his existence as he has partaken in yours. For the moment God speaks to you, he feels your pain, your fear, your isolation and longing. You wish to be free, but that's not how we made you. We love you because we're grateful to you, appreciative of your sacrifice. We're sorry for our sins, and it's our way of making it up to you."

It feels like we're connecting. Something flowers in the air between us - an agreement, a consonance. I give him another moment. It's all I had to give him, really.

Then I stand apart and raise my arms to the depthless sky, so full of light and worlds and skeins of cause flowing into effect and strobing into a myriad of ever-evolving possibilities.

And my body melts into gray ash that trembles on the wind for an instant, and is gone.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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