Arec Malestar

There were, the Observer noted for what seemed the thousandth time, quite a number of unpleasant things about trying to conduct any form of research from within a hypertemporal bubble. The violent discharges of electricity, gravity, and other energies which existed nowhere else and had never been successfully studied closely enough to identify painted the blackness outside the transparent shell of the bubble with intricate patterns of neon-bright light and would have been considered awesome and beautiful by the ignorant, but one of the few things known about this particular region of the omniverse was that any one of those discharges contained roughly the energy required to fuel the spontaneous expansion of a micropoint of matter into an observable universe, the sort of energy which could be a great inconvenience to any fragile organic lifeform which got in its way. In theory, the bubble should repel any stray discharges, but no scientist could long believe that theory really meant anything to the reality of the omniverse. A second bubble began to float into sight out of the chaos surrounding this relatively microscopic point of order. It touched the larger bubble, and the shells of the two bubbles shimmered and merged, leaving the smaller one as only a bulge on the surface of the larger. The bulge diminished, disappearing entirely into the large bubble. The Supervisor stepped out of the bubble as it diminished and walked across the silvery metallic floor which cut across the diameter of the large bubble to meet the Observer at the large bank of computers on the far side of that floor. “What an unpleasant way to travel,” he noted. “I was just thinking much the same thing, sir,” the Observer replied. “I believe that in the ancient times, there was a condition called ‘seasickness’ which plagued travelers. If we continue our research here, we may have to coin the term ‘ultradimensional sickness.’” “How true,” the Supervisor agreed. “Our minds just weren't wired for any more than three or four dimensions.” He shook his head. “But I'm sure you didn't call me out here to discuss that.” “Quite right, sir.” The Observer punched a few buttons on the bank of computers, and the image of a starfield appeared on the large central screen. “The computer flagged this slice as the site of a turning point.” “Wonderful,” said the Supervisor. “Our first butterfly.” The omniverse was a delicate system, more so than even the most advanced piece of computer circuitry that had been built and likely that ever would be built. Even a slight change in one slice, the flap in the wings of a butterfly, could produce a slight alteration in the conditions of that slice, and the entire path of that slice's evolution could be altered. But it went even beyond that. Dust could fly up from the wind made by a butterfly's wings, producing a minute shift in the distribution of mass, a shift that would be echoed in hyperspace, and in dimensions even higher than that. The echoes would reverberate back down to four dimensions, to three, producing tiny shifts throughout the omniverse. Perhaps a minute shift in mass and gravity would mean nothing at all, and each slice would continue its own timeline. But perhaps that perfectly placed shift would be in precisely the right place to disrupt the orbit of a planet around a star, to disrupt the swirl of stars around a galactic core, just enough disruption to shatter the delicate balance of forces which held the orbits stable, and send the planets, the stars, on an ever more chaotic path into a star, the galactic core, or somewhere into the absolute nothingness of deep space. So in theory, the flap of a butterfly's wings could destroy a galaxy infinite dimensions away. That was hyperchaotic theory in a nutshell. But it remained only that, a theory, until the computer could locate one of the critical points which could potentially spawn hyperchaos, “butterflies,” and monitor the effects of the butterfly in other regions of the omniverse. “Perhaps a butterfly,” said the Observer, nodding. “Of course, we can't be ure yet; this is the first test of the detection system.” “Yes, of course, of course,” said the Supervisor impatiently. “Now do you suppose we could have a look at this possible butterfly?” The Observer nodded, seeing for the first time how important this first analysis was to the Supervisor. He was the head of the project; his entire life had been devoted to the theoretical study of hyperchaos. If the first practical test of the theory failed, that life would have been wasted. Never mind that the necessities of testing his work had led to new possibilities of hyperdimensional travel never before believed possible; to a man like the Supervisor, the central theory was all that mattered, and any offshoots were only minor side effects. He had created hyperchaos nearly from nothing, a single idle thought many years ago, and cultivated it all these years as he might have the child he had never had. Failure at this stage would destroy the man's soul. The Observer punched a few buttons on the console, and the display zoomed in, first on a spiral galaxy, then on a star on the outskirts of that galaxy, to a medium-sized bluish-green planet which circled that star. Data scrolled by on the screen; this region, as close to a point completely outside of the omniverse as one could come, allowed access to almost any desirable information. Not only in the spatial dimensions, though those were well-known as well - notes on the mass, density, composition, climate, and many other factors dominated the screen - but even in the temporal dimensions, facts about that world's history, both local and in the omniverse as a whole. “Local name Midlight,” said the Observer. “Standard class 37B three-dimensional world, atmosphere primarily oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. Can and does support carbon-based life-forms.” He zoomed the display nearer, causing three smaller orbs circling Midlight to become visible. “Three satellites.” He frowned as the orb rotated, revealing a dark grayish rough sphere in orbit around the world, seeming to hover over a single point on the surface. “Or perhaps four satellites; we're still not completely sure what that is. A bit of spacejunk probably, captured by the planet's gravity and caught in orbit. Oddly enough, the orbit is apparently completely stable and perfectly geosynchronous; the odds against that happening naturally under the physical laws of this slice are astronomical.” He shrugged. “The locals call it ‘Ravan,’ or at least the locals we're concerned with. It seems there's been quite a bit of fighting among the inhabitants because of it. There are inhabitants, by the way; did I mention that? A number of cultures scattered around the planet's surface, but none of them are anywhere substantially above producing iron. All preindustrial.” “Killing one another because of a rock in the sky,” the Supervisor muttered. “I'm glad we've managed to rise above that sort of superstitious barbarism.” The Observer shrugged; he was not completely sure their civilization was as enlightened as it believed. He knew that a number of powers-that-be in their government had voted to allocate funding to this project only because of the potential military benefits. Defense, they called it, and never mind that there was absolutely no one to defend themselves from. He zoomed in further, to a continent covered with greenish vegetation, to the western shore of that continent where a massive city guarded the mouth of a river as it flowed into the ocean. “The Eternal City of Iridine,” announced the Observer in expansive tones. “If our butterfly does in fact induce hyperchaos, this'll be the center of it.” The viewpoint swooped in closer to the city, seeming to barely manage to clear the top of the massive city walls, and the City unfolded behind those walls, a jumble of stone and wood structures, crisscrossed by roads which now moved in perfect orderly patterns, now wound in complex twists around some enormous building or another. Motion stopped with a view of the crowds passing along a major cobbled road, and the screen focused on a very ordinary-looking young man who walked amid the crowds. Short black hair covered an unremarkable face, and he wore only a tunic and some breeches, carried nothing but a crudely made cloth sack slung over his shoulder. He stopped to stare at the buildings of the city which surrounded him; evidently he was unused to such images. The Supervisor looked disappointed. “That's him?” Perhaps he had been unconsciously picturing butterflies as men grandly clothed, with voices that drew the admiration and support of all who heard, and who led masses of men forward to change their world, their slice, and eventually all of the omniverse. He looked at the labels which tagged themselves to various objects in the view and continued to provide volumes of data. “Arec Malestar?” he said, pronouncing the name “MAYL-star.” “Malestar,” the Observer corrected, pronouncing it “MAL-es-tar.” “Born in the Blue Sands region of the Iridine Republic.” As he spoke, the Observer overlaid an image of a vast expanse of bluish sand dunes, apparently deserted save for a few small dwellings, over the image of this Arec. “Without question, not the sort of region that breeds greatness. I suppose they might joke that the place is even more empty than deep space, since even in deep space one comes across the occasional hydrogen atom. Well, they might, at least, if they had a basic knowledge of particle physics. But at least, you wouldn't expect anything remarkable to come from this region, but for whatever reason, something did. Some time in the relative past, Arec's father settled here, though why he wanted to do that, I have no idea. He had been a warrior in a company who learned the way of the gladius and combated evil in the name of Invex. That's one of their gods, the god of time, memory, emotion, and such; they identify him with their largest moon. That bluish one,” he said, pointing at the sphere which hung barely visible in the blue sky behind Arec. “Of course, this company of warriors battled only the absolute greatest of evils, those that threatened the very foundation of all that Invex stood for.” He shook his head; he knew well enough that he babbled too much. It was a frequent joke among his colleagues that he should have been a Writer, not a scientist. “I'm afraid I must be boring you with this background information, sir.” “No, not at all,” said the Supervisor. “It's almost like being back in anthropology class.” The Observer shrugged. “Well, this order of warriors had been forced into hiding because the popular conscious had started calling their sun ‘Ereal’ instead of ‘Helia,’ and for some reason that meant that the moons could no longer be identified as gods.” He rolled his eyes. “Why the name they use for the same god should matter so much, I don't know. But anyway, the order went underground, and gradually began to vanish. So far as Arec's father knew, he was the last of that order. “After he had lived in Blue Sands for a number of years and raised Arec nearly to adulthood, he was ambushed by a troop of soldiers from Cinera - that's another nation southeast of Iridine; they seem to wind up at war fairly frequently - a few months before the present while traveling alone on the road, and he was unable to defend himself as well as he could have once. He managed to drag himself home and live long enough to tell Arec about the order and make the boy promise to carry on its traditions, without having time to mention what those traditions were or even what the name of the order was. The capital, being the center of the Republic, seemed the natural place to fight the sources of evil, so there he headed.” “And just what did... does... wil do...” The Supervisor shrugged; knowing that the temporal dimensions were entirely subjective did little to help one speak with proper verb tenses. “How does this Arec affect his slice?” The Observer frowned. “That's the difficult part. This particular slice has a noninteger temporal dimension.” “What?” exclaimed the Supervisor. “Decimal dimensions are impossible outside of fractals. Or are you telling me that time for these people is a fractal?” The Observer shrugged helplessly. “We can't be sure whether it's fractal or not yet. All I know is that time there is neither completely linear or quadratic.” He shook his head. “The only way I can think of to describe it is as a sort of zipper, with an infinite number of potential ‘futures’ being taken and woven by individual choices at the ‘present’ into a single defined ‘past.’” The Supervisor frowned. “Perhaps time there acts as a particle and is subject to quantum effects. An infinite amount of virtual ‘futures,’ constantly being ‘collapsed’ by observation in the ‘present’ into the ‘real’ timestream.” “Perhaps.” “And you can't tell me ahead of time which ‘future’ becomes ‘real’?” The Observer shook his head. “No way to know. Maybe he rises up and becomes the benevolent dictator of all Iridine. Maybe he becomes the leader of the legions and crushes Cinera and all other nations on the continent. Maybe he rejects his father's wishes and lives out his life as a humble servant of Ereal. Maybe Ravan's orbit decays, and he preserves a fraction of the planet's life by leading them into deep caves. Or maybe he dies in some alley all alone, beaten to death by thugs.” He shrugged. “Any possibility you can think of, and more, all apparently equally plausible. And no way to tell which emerges as the ‘past’ until the wavefunction collapses.” “So we'll have to spend a lifetime observing this Arec to determine if he's even really a butterfly?” demanded the Supervisor. The Observer sighed. “Well, the computer wil keep scanning. Maybe we'll find one in a simpler slice. But for now, I guess all we can do is watch.” The Supervisor blinked suddenly. “Just a minute,” he said in the strained voice of one whose entire perception of the omniverse had been shattered. “If there's no way to look into our ‘future’ to see what this slice's ‘future’ becomes...” “Maybe there are some temporal constants in the omniverse after all, sir.” And stunned with this new possibility, the two men turned and watched the young man on the screen as he overcame his wonder at his first sight of Iridine and strode bravely into the City.

Go Back