It turned out Wilhelm, Mary, Deanna, and Ada were having ice cream in the back alley that afternoon. It turned out we would just slip back into routine.
Being born again can be monotonous.
In school they teach you to die before you die. Grate your mind against new content and forget. It’s the primary lesson and us mortals want to ensure we understand our fate from day one.
Today, I had deliberately not paid much attention because I needed energy for a bit of an after-school scuffle with a professor. He had been warning his large philosophy congregation that if they cared about themselves, they should keep away from Ada. I even heard rumors that this man, well above his fifties, had been using nasty names to refer to her. I’d been meaning to confront him about this so I was speedily passing by brutalist architecture mini-brick walls and school billboard screens. Tall-forehead Pippen Peterson was in the middle of telling a story to his club when I walked into the classroom E271.
“Borderline asexuals, incels, and homosexuals are what a woman tends to find in these advanced math courses. I could almost sympathize with her desperateness for me, but had no time. You must understand. She was foreign stuff. Hot stuff,” his speech was that of the falsest of stoics.
Propping his head up in dignity, he continued “She had a little nose ring,” wiggling his finger without raising his arm. “And her skin was tan. A bronze. Belizian bronze.” His students grew more attentive with each second. “Golden Brain. Green eyes.” He met the gaze of an entranced chubby student waiting for more. “Those irises were a Bahama breeze that served to clear the air of penis stench.” The group of all males looked at each other in full amazement.
“And yet, a man must know the place of a woman in his life. Only after duty is fulfilled, can he come to attend such matters. If it is the duty of a Spartan to dine in hell, he must dine in hell before coming to his woman’s kitchen. If it is the duty of an insectologist to attend to the matter of bees, he must attend to carpenter bees, and hornet bees, before boo bees.”
No one laughed him off. They either took notes or struck a fist to their own chest in admiring devotion.
It was time to knock this clown off his stool.
“Hey, you’re the one they call Pippen Peterson.”
Some bobblehead disaffection was his response.
“Why have you been trash-talking about Ada?”
He paused as if to repose on my heavy words.
“The methods and instance variables of life must be those which allow us to fulfill our duties as members of a society – they must be defined in the mind of each individual as thinking objects that facilitate our willful submission. Ada is the opposite of that. She represents the untainted spirit of the Paleolithic hunter-gatherer, of the charismatic barbarian. She will inspire a revolution in the hearts of these developing men, so that they may remain children. This would be a disaster.”
“I can tell you’re a philosophy professor. Now tell me in simple language why you think it’s acceptable to bully a student by spreading falsehoods about her.” I lost my cool and shouted.
“Bully. Ada? She bullies you. And anyone else not protected by the emergent immune systems of anti-fragile brotherhoods.”
Okay. He kind of had a point about her fierceness. Indeed, didn’t go far enough with his point. That skinny girl would rip out the entrails of any enemy tribe, regardless of how many adjectives were tacked on to it’s supposed mechanics.
I did feel weird to admit I was bullied by a girl in the presence of all these aspiring manly-men. Yet it was also true she had given me the courage to act in defiance.
“It is true that Ada can be demanding, selfish, and inconsiderate – never willing to compromise with the rest of the crew. And I can’t speak for the others, but I accept her because I…(loved her?)… because I understand not everything must have parity. Not all transactions will be equal in value. Not all of these images will be mirrors. Gravity has parity, the electromagnetic force has parity, but heck if the weak nuclear force had parity, there would be no universe on which to stand!”
“That analogy was sloppy.”
My eyes became white circles. “Look who’s talking.” I fumed to the side.
His goony sons, all forty students of his, looked ready to carry me off into a flash mosh pit.
I bucked down to my thighs to power-ski through the inertia. “That still gives you no good reason to spread lies – calling her a thief, and dirtying all our names in the process. Everyone knows we are always with her. That’s Deanna, Wilhelm, Mary, and myself.”
“It’s obviously not the case that you have constructed this scene for the sake of yourself or anyone else besides that girl.”
My eyebrow had detected he was right and was twitching angrily in reaction.
“And my calling her a thief must be understood in the context in which the use of that term was embedded. It is the mark of a novice mind to assume that single words constitute platonic solids.”
Just a moment ago he had been using rhetoric that should only impress third-graders. Now I seriously felt him kicking me around. It was like being in the presence of a drunken-pose martial artist.
“In my ontology, there is no phrase in which being called a ‘thief’ is a high compliment. I live in the junction between common sense and reality, and the people in this location hardly make the effort to parse the subtle eruditions intended. You told your students that Ada’s will was that of a thief, and left that insinuation to fester, as it did in the minds of the cafeteria ladies and the security guards, once the rumor had spread.”
“It is true that I have done wrong if that is the case. Tomorrow morning I will speak with the cafeteria ladies, with the security guards, with the professors who may have begun to get the wrong idea, and clarify with greater precision what was meant to my students during class. If I see her walking past on the hallway from my office to the classroom after lunch, I will even ask her for a bit of her time and apologize where it is due. But I will never accept anything about her besides her standard personhood. Man’s character exists in his willingness to blame what is wrong, and not hold back unnecessarily.”
And that’s when I walked out in case his fatherly trance began to get to me.
“Just fix up the mess, and apologize to everyone.”
This firmly satisfied me, as indeed such an insubordinate statement should have, and I was now eager to run over to the alley where I could replenish my affiliation and be filled with the sense that this was all worth it.
Wilhelm’s favorite way of positioning himself was to have one leg lunged over the crate in the corner, swanking here and there with little tugs at his clothing.
Despite that, tonight he was standing forthright for my arrival and I probably had never seen him alone in the back-alley when it was late and the others had left.
After I caught my breath and asked where the others had gone, I realized that he was not merely zoned out, but he was awfully dead in his eyes and wore gloves with tetrahedron knuckles.
As he zipped up the side of his boot he said, “Just what do you think would happen if one of us were to kill Ada?”
I almost gasped.
“Wilhelm. We’ve always been friends. But what the heck is wrong with you?”
The suddenly unrecognizable hooded Wilhelm seemed to smile mockingly.
“You know you’ve thought about it before.”
Shamefully, I had. But I would never admit that.
“Watch what you say. I’m not afraid to…”
“To what, Dante?” his mien sharpening to attack.
Something in my inner program had rolled along too far, and I couldn’t stop my balled fist.
It hit cleanly on the side of his mouth. I almost wished it hadn’t.
He picked himself up with elegance.
Couldn’t un-hurl myself now. I rammed myself shoulder-first into his gut.
Bad move. Always a bad move.
I’d given my neck away in the easiest of headlocks.
There was the clogged notion that these were my carotid arteries meant to feed my brain being mercilessly crushed.
A field of black and static-like pressure made his words distant.
“Did you know Genghis Khan………. his own brother……. with a bow and arrow……. ”
…Distant until their stretching distance was unreachable by my consciousness.
It is said that when you lose a sense, for example, the sense of smell – after recovery, the first smells to come back are those that you hate the most. In keeping with the will of nature, it seemed that Wilhelm was bent on uploading my most hated sense module first – knowledge of the truth.
He held up my head from a tuft of hair to lecture me better.
“As you know by now, degenerate orbitals don’t just apply to a hydrogen atom’s electron. Superposition applies to us too. Your tissues and organs are part of the degenerate flesh of the universe.
Physicists accept the wavefunction when it applies to the supposedly separate magisterium of small things. And then chitter in fear at the prospect of biting the bullet when it implies that they too are in many places at once.
They scuffle their papers and run ducking out the building, mumbling something about ‘philosophy’ or ‘metaphysics.’ But we know that this is physics. Our decisions are weighed by a factor of infinity, and we cannot escape.”
He released my head to find comfort in the concrete.
“Now answer my question Dante. What do you think would happen if one of us were to kill Ada?”
My spit fell on sharp little pebbles as I growled through my lips.
He insisted, “Alright. Let me make the hypothetical more palatable. What if Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence doesn’t pan out in our lifetime, and she just ages and dies?”
“Like an arch without keystone, I would expect the world to wilt along with her. But this won’t happen because of quantum immortality. If anyone’s identity is to be preserved, it would be hers. We may see her die, but that would only mean the real her, the one which continuously survives, is no longer entangled with the majority of us. Seeing her die wouldn’t mean she died, it would mean she abandoned us to die. Wouldn’t you agree Wilhelm?”
“You lack self-awareness, as evidenced by the fact that you let yourself be possessed by a sense of destiny and can’t bother to respect the people you need the most. But I’ve gotta give you one thing, you’ve got insight.”
I didn’t need fake compliments. We weren’t some abstract group of fake friends, we had built a family, and by openly suggesting killing Ada, even as a hypothetical, he was no longer playing his part.
“The reason I asked this question is to motivate a revelation.”
Something clicked, something which made me very angry, something which my subconscious had discovered but could not yet deliver in clear words.
Wilhelm stared at me, waiting to see if I got it. But it was not coming to me right now.
“Okay. Apparently not enough insight. Let me give it away.” he said almost playfully.
“The way we at the MOON squad have been returning the world back to normality is by murdering Ada as much as possible.”
My eyes were peeled as if by raven claws. I suddenly saw the blood on the leaves.
He stared into me victoriously. “When the course and order of life seem thrown at peril by some sharp, demented change in her epistemology, we crank up the amount of betrayal branches.”
“Yes – the locations of the universal wavefunction where we suddenly stab, strangle, or otherwise cause Ada’s destruction, whether after long conspiracy or sudden sleight of hand.”
“You explain this as if you were a tired office worker complaining about his day job. Do you realize just how evil you are!?”
I couldn’t visualize all the Ada’s, but I could visualize one. To see just one Ada suddenly stabbed in her gut by Wilhelm – that was all that was needed to feel myself vomit in reverse.
“You’ll get used to it. I mean, what else could we do? In a big universe, we must comfort ourselves knowing that there are smaller infinities than others. It is the only thing we can do.”
I thought of the Wilhelm I once knew, and Mary, and for God’s sake Deanna – the innocent. I would have drowned myself from hyperventilating if I hadn’t had a further question. “But this doesn’t make any sense. How does she respawn in the world we observe, and not remember, and….”
“I thought you understood quantum mechanics, but you’re just a bozo. Fooled me there for a second, Dante.
I don’t remember ever waking up with blood on my hands because I delegate that task to my clones. All I have to do to increase the versions of reality where I kill her is by vividly predisposing myself with murderous thoughts – by fantasizing and only stopping myself short at the very edge, when I feel the fantasy is going to spill into my actual hands.”
I looked at his hands. They were not clean at all. They were tainted with that precious glimmering-red iron, though we could not see it.
“But these murders you commit, you do so knowingly. You know that people just as real as us will experience this.”
“The slightest dipole-moment of ideation causes a displacement of an infinite amount of actual you’s. You send clones to maraud the night when you are restless in bed. Clones jump out the window when you so much as think it a poetic death. Every thought matters. You must learn to accept the significant consequences of your every move atop infinite dimensional Hilbert space.”
His words were sensitive little stabs, and my morality couldn’t comply with that. It was just disturbing, repugnant, to think about what it would actually mean to be a good person. The implications of all this invisible machinery.
“We’re saving the world by doing this, remember? If we don’t trim her measure, things will get very weird or disappear completely.” He finally mustered to say this with something like sympathy for my pulsing head.
The echo of his past words throbbed violently: ‘Just keep slaughtering her until the measure of her soul is negligible. In a big universe, we must comfort ourselves knowing that there are smaller infinities than others. It is the only thing we can do.’
I became heaving breaths, one mind expelling my spirit out of my lungs, the other mind cursing with non-existent words.
His knuckles shoveled me straight into the wall.
“It is supposedly said that when Muhammad learned he had been chosen by God, his first thought was that he should cast himself from the mountain on which this had been revealed – for if he had not gone crazy, then he had been entrusted with a responsibility so large that he would rather not deal with it.
Dante. You jumped. Willing to forsake us all.”
“It wasn’t like that. I thought she would heal the world. That we would all wake up somewhere new.”
“Such sudden blackmail was reckless. But what ticks me off the most is that for these past few weeks you thought you could just slyly sneak back into routine and forget. As if it had all been a dream.”
Considering that he too had been acting as the perfect Wilhelm who he had been in the past, down to his cool faux-laziness and the little coquettish smiles he always threw around indiscriminately, it was now evident that I had always been in the presence of a highly intelligent sociopath of some sort.
“Perhaps you are not an unscrupulous narcissist, Dante. Perhaps not.
I think I can deconstruct your character further.
In gerontology it is said that as people grow older, they exhaust their ego energy, and hence become more self-absorbed, feeling less and less of a need to prove anything to the society around them.
But take a look at you and me. There are those of us who never felt a need in the first place. We were born old-and-worn retiree children – wanting nothing but peace, like elephants in the forest. When such a person is captured; bound at the ankles by the demands of the world, they must either learn the ways of the circus or rampage.”
Maybe it was the novelty of Wilhelm’s hypnotizing sociopathy. I could almost feel the South Asian heat, my eyes red; horrible noises cross-linking lanky blobs swinging faceless from side to side. I, fed, and again fed, just enough, by a demigod parade of cruel trapezists who failed to fall from each other’s shoulders out of sheer collective insanity.
He threw his face across my shoulder and past my line of sight, “I am the smart elephant who accepts the long defeat, and learns to call it a win. You are the impatient fool who stampedes, only causing damage to yourself and others.