I’m trying something a little different here and writing some fiction. If I enjoy it, maybe I’ll make it a weekly (or monthly) thing (e.g. “Storytime Sunday” or “Fictional Friday”). If it’s really awful, then don’t worry because you’ll never have to see something like it again!
“It works. Matt, I’m telling you, the damn thing works!”
He looked up at her, wondering what to say. What did people usually say when momentous things happened? “I am become death” came to mind, but it didn’t really fit because…well…they’d sort of solved death, hadn’t they? Eventually he came up with something, though it was much lamer than the occasion warranted.
“Meet me in my office after lunch. Tell nobody it’s happened.”
He retreated, leaving Laura to her own devices, as well as the one very special device sitting on the middle of the lab table, happily humming away. His thoughts were everything and nothing at once. He let his feet carry him down the hall, up the stairs, turn right, down the shorter hall, don’t bump into anyone around the stupid blind corner where nobody’s bothered putting a mirror, a bit more hallway, past the faded gold lettering reading “Dr. Matthew Tithon”, and into his office, plopping onto his chair in a most undignified way.
There was no way any eating was getting done with all the thinking to do, so it was sort of a surprise when Laura walked back in, gingerly carrying the apparatus. Was it really a couple hours later?
“Let’s be careful,” he began, to a measured nod. They didn’t want to mess this up. He imagined a Manhattan project miscalculation lighting the atmosphere on fire or an LHC mishap swallowing the earth in a black hole. This would be far worse. He was already certain the device would work—the theory was undeniable. But as a human being, he needed consolation.
“Back to first principles. How does it work?”
“It’s a world-branch chooser. When events with multiple quantum outcomes occur, there are multiple worlds built, which we can think of as a branch in multiverse history.”
He nodded. “And this lets us pick among them. It’s time travel.”
“More or less…” she acquiesced. “Except it’s not really anything to do with manipulating time directly, or we wouldn’t get consciousness preservation. It’s more like picking from a menu of histories that have already happened”.
The phrase “menu of histories” brought him back to his thesis. Was she pandering to him? This was not the time….
“…of course, you can only pick histories that happened in the world you’re actually in. Otherwise we’d run into severe paradoxes. So when events happen again, they replay themselves in the exact same way, from the perspective of someone in that world. They’re just time-independent, meaning that if you set up a stable loop, eternity never comes. Your experience lasts forever.”
He looked at her more closely, noticing no small sense of pride. Time independence had been Laura’s major contribution, after all.
“Let’s talk about the consciousness part.” He wanted to get this right, as most of that research had only come around in the past few years. The way he learned it in school made consciousness seem much less spooky than it actually was.
“Sure thing. We’ve checked the math a hundred times, and the theory is well-developed. Consciousness is a special thing in the universe. Once it blinks out, it’s gone forever. If we reset to an old world-history branch, anyone who died in quote-on-quote ‘real time’ is coming back as a p-zombie.”
He was a little creeped out. How many people had he talked to during his life that had later died? If history replayed itself, how much of his experience would be spent talking to people with…nothing there anymore, and himself completely unable to tell? He knew Laura would be saved, and most of his family, but it was scant consolation.
“Alright, but this is the only way to preserve human consciousness as we know it?”
“It’s the only way to preserve ours. If we blink out, even far-future humanity won’t be able to save us.”
That was a true Lovecraftian horror. If they didn’t do this now, there might not be another chance. It wasn’t even himself he was worried about—in all likelihood he was set to live another hundred years. Maybe more as medicine got better. He’d have more chances to save himself, but just couldn’t shake off the sense of responsibility for everyone else. Anyways, if he had to spend eternity somehow, he’d rather spend it conscious than un-.
He gave himself a long minute to think. His authority as Director felt very feeble, compared to the power he could assert with just the press of a button. But really, everything he was going to “cause” to happen had already happened anyways. He was just ending the ending.
The costs of his long minute entered his mind. Two hundred thousand minds forever lost each day. He shouldn’t have waited until after lunch, how stupid was that! The cost of 20,000 souls weighed on him heavily. A hundred more each minute. One a second. No time to waste.
He hesitated, lifting a finger over the button, and made the decision.