With a hard exhale, I crumpled into my seat in the back alley. Across from me, Wilhelm did the same without the sigh. Wilhelm looked rasp, like a constellation that had lost its integrity after being renamed too many times.
There was no puzzle about the cause of this situation: summer vacation was near its end, the summer of our fourth and final year in Clock High School, and the loathed summer projects – by which a student’s whole last week is ruined – were deteriorating the air like irregular rod bacteria exponentiating out of the walls.
Of course Wilhelm wasn’t anxious about doing well on his project. Unlike myself, Wilhelm shines in all cerebral aspirations – with the exception of music composition, at which he loses to humming elephants and drone orchestras.
Still, it wouldn’t require a substantial investigation to see the chain of cause and effect. Wilhelm was frayed from deficit of sleep. This in turn had occurred from his being woken up in the middle of the night to deal with the amplitude distributions that had been shifting. The amplitude distributions had been shifting because the main character of the universe, Ada Soryuu, was under pressure herself.
Not that Ada would be afraid of the project grade either. She too out stood me at scholastic arts, and someone with merely an hour’s knowledge of Ada would realize that she was far too confident to be afraid of a project. If Ada were confronted with the epic odyssey to slay all Mount Olympus, she would storm in ahead with the necessary equations.
It followed with the inflexibility of necessary condition that Ada was perturbed by something else, and it was easy for me to understand what.
Entropy. Randomness. In a word, alterations. These are the fountainheads of agitation.
All of us in the MOON Squad would have to select which entrance exams to take, which meant selecting our universities, which meant choosing our futures.
And Ada, who wouldn’t show regret or hesitation in steering her own life, would still be worried about whether the others of the clique… no, I have come to acknowledge it. I am past the point where Wilhelm has to patiently explain it to me yet again. I will say it clearly: Ada is concerned about myself. She does not want to be separated from me.
If the theatre of the world kept playing its routine film, with predictable images on the screen, there would be little chance. Being accepted to the same university as Ada would take intervention from the cinematographers. Of course, I actually have access to the backdoor of reality, having shattered my Newtonian mechanics conception of reality. Wilhelm Wake’s Organization could certainly arrange for a university to take me, though I’d rather not know how. The Neuralink Puppetmaster that stands behind Mary Bryant could rearrange the data of the exam results. As for Deanna Heilmann, I don’t know what a timeless girl with solid grasp of the block universe could do about university entrances. But Deanna, who was formerly a year ahead of us, last year became sick on test day and failed that year’s entrance exams and became a sophomore. Just so that she could keep coming to these after-school gatherings. It never pays to underestimate the power of a cute maiden.
And if Ada truly desired me to be in the same university as her, there can be no possible doubt that it would happen. Even if she had to destroy the Born probabilities.
The problem being that Ada doesn’t know about any of this.
So there was an unsettled expression in Ada’s eyes, even as she kept up her customary intimidation of the rest of us. Today Ada had chosen to make the innocent Deanna a participant in her own displeasure – that is, Ada had been browsing the cloud to find new costumes for the unfortunate girl, and she had been forcing Deanna to watch and “give her opinions”, which consisted mostly of small, adorable screams. I wished for Ada’s sake that she were consciously sadistic rather than just oblivious; it seemed a shame for Deanna to be tormented so beautifully without Ada even enjoying it properly. A year ago, I would have observed the entire commotion without my eyes leaving for an instant, claiming to myself that what I felt inside was pity. But even the charms of Deanna’s suffering had become somewhat routine after a year, and it was Ada’s face that I found myself glancing at instead, when I looked up from the integral competition on which I was defeating Wilhelm.
Finally the costume-shopping expedition ended with a satisfied click from Ada and a wail of total despair from Deanna. In moments, the costume was 3d-printed at the local shop were Deanna ran to change. Ada stood up from the computer and fluttered herself down at the table, next to Wilhelm and myself, a meter distant from where Mary was reading yet another book.
Ada tapped the table impatiently, giving Deanna a solar glance. “Tea,” Ada said annoyed, and Deanna hastened off in her Ada-mandated maid costume to obey, still whimpering.
I don’t understand how Ada executes this sort of behavior without creating an undercurrent of carnal domination.
Then Ada turned her fearsome gaze on Wilhelm and myself.
If there’s one universal law that holds even in a world containing Ada, it’s that, no matter how bad a situation looks at the time, you can’t guess in advance how Ada will make it worse.
Ada’s eyes moved to me directly.
She gave me a searching look.
Then she turned away and looked through a shattered window, staying silent.
I went back to solving integrals with Wilhelm.
It wasn’t until minutes later, after sipping some of the tea poured by the obedient Deanna, that Ada turned back to Wilhelm and I. She set down her teacup on the table and asked:
“Do you believe in the multiverse?”
What the hell kind of question is that for the main character of the multiverse to ask you?
If I had been drinking tea myself I would have spit it all over the tablet. At this point in my disastrous high school education, I didn’t need anyone to explain the terrifying possibilities if Ada got quantum mechanics.
Ada created the MOON Squad out of her desperate boredom with the tedium of a common-sense universe and forcibly enlisted us to search for Jesus, Iran, and Tripteridia leucocarpa’s. We’re pretty sure that she was the one who effectively seemed to collapse our wavefunction so that we did find Jesus walking around, visited Iran, and found Tripteridia leucocarpa’s out of region as well. While making a business plan in industrialism class, Ada became so obsessed with making us money that Deanna inherited an estate from an unknown relative, we found ancient Greek pottery just laying around outside the theatre and her stock in Amazon made millions. For a year we’ve run ourselves ragged trying to hide Ada’s specialness from Ada, so that she goes on trusting her invincible common sense. Our school life is unstable enough because of Ada’s blameless fantasies. If Ada began to believe that improbable things are possible, the probability distributions might make the universe unrecognizable.
And if there’s one terrifying factor that could destroy Ada’s common sense even with all the evidence carefully hidden away from her, that factor would have to be learning the Many-Worlds interpretation. When you put it that way, it’s such a dreadful menace that… that it’s astounding we never had to deal with it before now.
I couldn’t even speak, I was so horrified by the thought of what might happen if the person who’s branches have the most weight developed a firm understanding of quantum mechanics.
Thankfully, even in his sleep-deprived state, Wilhelm grabbed up the thread of the conversation and the burden of saving the universe.
“Which multiverse?” asked Wilhelm. “There are tons of hypotheses, whether many-worlds of QM, Chaotic Inflation bubbles, or merely the infinite ergodic universe. So again I ask, what do you mean by multiverse?”
Ada made an annoyed gesture. “You know what the word multiverse means!”
Sadly, we did.
“How can I know what you would consider to be the multiverse?” countered Wilhelm. “If the universe is not composed of merely what we can see and touch, but is instead described by complex mathematics then wouldn’t all possible objects exist?”
Ada puckered her eyebrows briefly, and gave a perplexed nod.
“Notice,” Wilhelm continued, “those word games are just the way religions argue for God. And yet someone who values evidence doesn’t listen to the spiel and say that religion has proved God. So people do have something specific in mind when they talk about scientific evidence, a rigorous empiricism that excludes many possibilities. All these unfalsifiable suggestions fall outside the domain of science.”
Ada looked dissatisfied at this, as though suspicious that Wilhelm was trying to give her the runaround, which he absolutely was. In his own mind, he knew that everything he had uttered was absolute bullshit epistemologically.
“But what do you believe?”
A slight smile appeared on Wilhelm’s lips. “I believe that the reality is probably strange enough that no one would ever hit on the truth just by trying to imagine one thing after another.”
Wilhelm, you are an amazing person. No one could deny that your reply was truthful. If you asked a physicist at the summit of academia to enumerate all the possibilities, they would die of old age before they got to ‘The Born Probabilites are explained by the being of Ada Soryuu, a third-year student at Clock High.’
“That’s a boring answer,” pronounced Ada in her usual timbre of disaffection. I have never understood why Ada would create a universe that annoyed her so much, though it’s the one aspect of theology that conventional religions guess correctly.
The gaze of the black-chokered deity turned to rest upon my own trembling spirit. “What about you, Dante?”
If I had been at all intelligent, I would have answered “I agree with Wilhelm”. Instead, I foolishly picked that time to try to show off my cleverness.
“For myself,” I said, “I would have to ask about Everett’s quantum immortality -”
“It’s not really immortality,” Wilhelm interrupted.
And he shot me the most alarmed look he could manage with Ada watching.
I was confused.
Wilhelm continued. “Everett abandoned his work in many-worlds, so he wouldn’t have thought to say anything about immortality. It must be a misattribution.”
“But what’s the idea?” Ada asked.
Wilhelm made a careless gesture. “Oh, just something along the lines of, how is it possible to die if there is always a branch with your identity that survives? Of course there are many possible answers to that.”
“I was asking Dante, though,” Ada said. She gave Wilhelm a hard look, then turned to me.
Wilhelm nudged my ankle under the table.
“Ah,” I said through my bewilderment, “that was pretty much it, really. Just that -”
Well, come to think, I couldn’t honestly say that for this reason many-worlds was wrong. It would have been my answer a few years ago, but it didn’t work anymore.
At this point my thoughts stabbed in on themselves like a team of murderous rats, and I couldn’t think of a single word to say next.
The uncomfortable pause stretched.
“- well, I don’t believe in any theories told by theoretical physics,” I finally finished, striving to make the word ‘theory’ sound unscientific, as normal, ignorant people do. “Anything which sounds so crazy is probably a lie.”
Wilhelm seemed satisfied with this, or at least he didn’t kick me again.
“Mm.” Ada pondered over this. She gave a remiss look over in Deanna’s direction. “What about you, Deanna?”
“Eh,” Deanna stuttered, a cute look of swift panic crossing her face, “I, I would just go with what Wilhelm said.”
Bah. Showing off her superior intelligence like that.
Mary Bryant seemed as always to be wholly stabilized in her book, and Ada didn’t even bother asking. With a few more remarks, Ada left the room to go home for the day, freeing the rest of us.
My own thoughts were still scattered. I looked at Wilhelm. What was that about?
The tired teen seemed to slump further in his crate. “Quantum immortality is a fact which is empowering, not just rationally true.”
“So? It would be disastrous if Ada understood the correct interpretation of quantum mechanics. Shouldn’t we be trying to make her more skeptical with an implication of it which seems so counterintuitive?
Wilhelm shook his head. “That is just bait to get her more interested. Suppose Ada was given a shot to be immortal and change the normality of phenomena. What would happen if she had even an inkling?”
My thoughts stabbed each other some more, like spies cranking out orders during a world war. I got up from my seat and went to stand by the alley, staring out at the wet sky and the few buildings that could be seen from here. “What would happen?”
Wilhelm shrugged wearily. “I don’t know either, but I think we should be aiming to create a state of suspended judgment. We can’t afford for her to believe anything crazy, even if it’s the truth.”
I nodded, not trusting my voice.
“But that girl certainly has changed,” said Deanna in her soft tones, as she put away Ada’s teacup. “A year ago, she wouldn’t have thought to ask our opinions, only told us what they should be.”
I made my excuses then and left. I had something to think about.
It was the next day at lunchtime when I saw Ada taking out that tablet to read. In that low-class school cafeteria where there are too few chairs, Ada and myself had somehow managed to grab a matched pair. I was behind on studying and planned to read through lunch, and so Ada took a tablet out of her own backpack.
I glanced at the screen, interested in what Ada might be reading these days.
It was Theory of the Universal Wavefunction by Hugh Everett.
I choked and coughed on my sandwich as if I had been eating dungeon hair. I couldn’t even imagine how ironic it would be if a brilliant Ph.D thesis rejected by contemporary colleagues turned out to be accepted by the only person that mattered and caused God to awaken in the sleepy eyes of a high school girl, but I knew that it wasn’t what I had in mind for today’s lunch.
It was at this point – I found myself explaining to Wilhelm and Mary and Deanna a few hours later, after Ada had left for the day – it was at this point that I had panicked.
“Tomorrow,” echoed Wilhelm. “You asked her to meet you there tomorrow morning?”
“Tomorrow is Saturday,” I pointed out.
They just stared at me. Even Mary stared at me.
Sweat was forming on my forehead. “In any case, can you do it?”
Wilhelm looked a little worried. “You don’t seem to understand how conspiracies work. You can’t just order anyone to do anything. You have to find a pressure point. If the pressure you can apply is weak, you have to do other things to create excuses. Even if I can find out who can allow you and Ada into a sealed-off area, how can I get them to do it? A monetary bribe would create great suspicion, if there’s no clear reason why you would consider it worth the money. It may be that we’re lucky and that the owner of the building is a member of the Organization, but things usually aren’t that convenient.”
“With respect to explaining the purpose of the bribe,” I said, “you could simply tell them that I wanted to take her there on a date.”
Deanna laughed softly.
Mary had gone over to the computer and begun typing. With everyone present already knowing her nature, her fingers doled out commands with such ease that the sound of her typing was like picking a lock. After a ridiculously short time as always, Mary looked up and said, “I believe I comprehend the building’s security systems.”
That wasn’t the ideal solution I was hoping for, but with luck it would work. Thank you, Mary.
“However,” Mary added after a moment, “I do not understand why this undertaking is necessary.”
How could I explain my extraordinary request? “That girl is the one who said, ‘love is a mental illness’. This rules out certain strategies. I can’t take her to a fancy restaurant because she has no interest in something as ordinary as that.” She would stab me with the butter knife, to put it frankly. “I also estimate that Ada would not react well to flowery professions that another girl might consider ‘romantic’ -” Again, the butter knife came to mind. “- but she still desires romance in her heart. Thus the place itself has to speak for me.” I waved my hands helplessly. “But it can’t be an ordinary romantic place, because that girl would never even go there. So I thought I should take her somewhere strange – though not too strange -” I shut my mouth, aware that I was babbling out too many excuses.
“I believe Mary is asking,” said Wilhelm, “why it is necessary for you to confess to Ada at all. This seems like a serious overreaction to the matter of distracting Ada from a thesis. Shouldn’t we keep this card in reserve for a more critical occasion?”
Deanna gave a small, wistful smile. “Sometimes I remember that you really are a male, Wilhelm. This is a matter of the heart – no matter how unbelievable that seems with those two -”
Sometimes I wonder if Deanna resents losing me to Ada.
“- and when it’s time, it’s time.”
I cleared my throat. “Besides, the real problem at hand, the cause of these ever stranger observations, is that Ada is uncertain about our future. I can’t just say to her ‘Tell me your choices for university so that I can apply there as well.’ That itself is tantamount to a confession. Therefore I do feel that this may be the correct time. It must happen eventually, at any rate, and putting it off is also a risk.”
Deanna shook her head in amazement. “It seems that Dante is also quite male. But considering the female of the pair, I think that in the end those two are well-fitted to one another.”
I walked over to the edge of the alley and stared out corner of the building. I think that in the end those two are well-fitted to one another… The terrible weight of what I planned to accomplish tomorrow was beginning to sink into me.
“Is Dante nervous?” Deanna said softly.
“Naturally I’m tense! Damn!”
“Dante, I… I wish my thoughts and actions had an effect on your life the way her’s do so that I may cure you of this nervousness. But in the end, skittishness is only natural for a boy confessing to a girl.” She beamed an unexpected, shining smile, every bit as attractive as the day I first saw her a year ago. “It’s happened many other times over the course of history.”
I gulped down a chuckle of thoughts that were trying to play functional role in my tongue. Of course. I’m sure many other high school boys have been in this situation.
“Wilhelm,” I said immediately. My voice was shaky as I spoke. “If observations deviate from common-sense while I am speaking to Ada, send text messages to my cellphone. I don’t think that interrupting the conversation will be a good idea, so I will set it to vibrate. One vibration for a small deviation, two for a large one, three for one that is extremely huge, and four vibrations if it seems that Ada is about to erase the comprehensibility of the world. I will do my best to recover the situation.”
There was artsy silence in the back alley.
I stared through the alley at the sky and ground and the buildings full of people.
A year ago.
That was the last time Ada got fed up with this reality.
I woke up one night, dressed in my uniform, finding myself inside a green river, in a sunny world without decay or beauty. A quantum branch, longer in duration than anything seen before. And the halls of ice, the ships, salt for the ocean. Ordinarily I wouldn’t become entangled with that part of her mind; that was usually the factorization of Wilhelm and his fellow squad, their task was to beat the mass of many-worlds back into what we consider probable. But that one time a year ago, they were locked out. In that whole world there was only myself and Ada. And soon that world’s branches would outnumber the ‘normal ones.’
I tried to persuade Ada that going back to the ordinary world was desirable, but she was finally seeing something interesting happen. She had a good feeling about the new world, she said. I even told her that in the ‘ordinary’ world she was a special person, that the world revolved around her. And she only looked back out at the flooded ships combining into everything, with a unusual delighted look in her eyes.
Kiss her, Deanna had told me. The one thought she was allowed to be before flashing away as a brief random Boltzmann brain within my brain.
So at the end, I told Ada that I had really appreciated she dyed her hair red, and closed my eyes, and kissed her… and then I woke up on the floor of my bedroom. The next day in school, Ada said that she’d had a nightmare last night and had dyed her hair red.
One years ago. That was the night I wouldn’t forget if I outlived the universe, the night of my first kiss.
Sometimes, even my sense of normality shatters, and I start to think about things that you shouldn’t think about. It doesn’t help, but sometimes you think about these things anyway.
I stared out the window at the fragile sky and delicate ground and flimsy buildings full of irreplaceable people, and in my imagination, there was a grey curtain sweeping across the world. People saw it coming, and screamed; mothers clutched their children and children clutched at their mothers; and then the grey washed across them and they just weren’t there any more. The grey curtain swept over my house, my mother and my father and my little sister –
Wilhelm’s hand rested on my shoulder and I jerked. Sweat had soaked the back of my shirt.
“Dante,” he said firmly. “Trying to visualize the full reality of the situation is not a good technique when dealing with Ada.”
How do you handle it, Wilhelm!
“I’m not sure I can put it in words,” said Wilhelm. “From the first day I understood my situation, I instinctively knew that to think ‘I am responsible for the whole world’ is only self-indulgence even if it’s true. Trying to self-consciously maintain an air of abnormality will only reduce my mind’s ability to cope.”
“It’s not a good weight to put on your first confession,” said Deanna. “You’re only a boy and a girl together. Just do your best, Dante!”
Even Mary spoke, in that flavorless, dead serene voice. “Romantic thoughts are the only thoughts you must have in the present situation.”
Why must I think about it?
All these endless days of trying to keep Ada under control, I had managed not to dwell on the stakes at risk.
Why have I suddenly lost that ability?
But I knew the answer to my rhetorical question. A certain thought had caused me, just a short while ago, to realize that my brain had avoided thinking about some matters. Once you come to that sort of realization, you can also see other things you haven’t been thinking.
The fact remains that Ada’s attachment to me was the only covalent bond that held this universe together. Even though Ada might have changed over time, there is no guarantee that this aspect has become any different. If I told Ada that I never wanted to see her again, or let her discover me in the arms of another woman, there is a high probability that the sun would not rise the next morning. If I didn’t look both ways before crossing the road and was hit by a passing truck, then Ada might remake the universe to bring me back to life, or reality might just not be there anymore.
Isn’t that an absurd encumbrance to bear while crossing the street? How can it possibly be that one person has to take responsibility for the world like that? If billions of lives hung on it, wouldn’t the government assemble a biochemistry Manhattan Project so that every single cofactor and ligand of my body be tracked? Wouldn’t all hiding aliens ignore conventional game theory, reveal themselves, and convene to decide what to do about Ada Soryuu, so that the matter would long since have been taken out of the hands of this high school student? This singular burden of personal responsibility makes me want to say, “But that sort of thing couldn’t possibly happen in real life.”
I looked over at Mary. She was the organic interface for the Puppetmaster who had developed from Earth’s connected brains when Neuralink became common, Mary Bryant. And yet things could be a billion times as strange, just because Ada’s probability mass decides to push into scary regions of Hilbert space.
“Mary,” I said, “I want to talk with Ada about personal things, and I might be embarrassed if I thought the Neuralink Puppetmaster Entity was listening to our conversation. Is there any way you can assure me that we have some privacy?”
“I cannot stop the Neuralink Puppetmaster Entity from listening,” Mary said in her carbon fiber voice, “but I should be able to notice if they do. If so, I will cause your cellphone to discharge a small peep. In the absence of this pointer, you can deduce that no one is listening.”
I couldn’t even look at her, thinking about our strange friendship and how much I was surmising on it. And my trusting relationship with Wilhelm, and Deanna…
“Dante certainly has changed,” observed Wilhelm.
I could feel my holoenzymes reverberating. What does Wilhelm mean by that?
“Stomping in here with a completely psychotic plan he made up all on his own, and presuming the rest of us will follow along. Does it remind you of anyone else you know?”
“Yes,” said the sweet Deanna, her voice mushy and clean. “I also think that Dante has developed the inner budding of love towards his future sworn wife.”
“If you’re done saying awful things that shouldn’t be considered even in the personal space of one’s consciousness, I think I’ll go now.”