Preamble: This week's story, Gitchy Manitou's Bang, is such a peculiar specimen that I'd rather save my preamble for past the post. That is to say instead of saying things about the story up front I'm going to tuck them in back behind.
After the end of the story when everything goes all italicky again you'll know the fiction is over and the post-post preamble has begun. Or resumed. Whatever. Clear?
(The words of the story are arranged sequentially beneath the fold.)
GITCHY MANITOU'S BANG
by Cheeseburger Brown
Dividing the Temporial Sea into a patchwork of roiling cells was probably the best idea ever. It simplified farming, and provided self-contained testing beds for various theories of origination via multi-dimensional tidal pooling. Naturally the environmentalists were super pissed.
On the other hand the fact farmers were under siege by altogether different enthusiasts who claimed such cells sometimes sprang to coordinated improbability, and thereby qualified as life-like. But most of the mites who cycled within the cells were ugly and flat, and did little to inspire sympathy. The likelihood of their spontaneously reifying into a fully dimensional form was low.
But, still. Animal rights activists were all over the issue.
But, even so. It was a really interesting time to be a fact farmer.
Because if you did the academic dance properly you could find yourself with your very own patch of the divided temporium to experiment with. You could try to grow a froth of spacetimes, and if you were a dedicated gardener you might end up with a handful of viable universes.
Seeing something wonderfully fascinating could make your fame. Your career arc would be assured a nice trajectory.
You just had to accept that activists would throw excrement on you. Pretty often, too. They usually shouted something pithy. "Your cup overflows with injustice, pox!"
"Which injustice? Is your outrage environmental, animal or mineral? I have a different guilt for each."
We would spin the shit off our raiments and translate across the quad to the experimental wing. The others would razz me for talking back to the activists. "What's the end, Gitchy? All possible dialogues have been implied and the waveforms collapsed. What vectors remain, you self-intersecting clown?"
"Shut up," I said. "I am that I am."
My grant funding came through. I was golden. Joyous I was, also, when I came to my cloister and looked upon my roiling cell of isolated temporium. With deep seeing I surveyed the whole foam, and lo and behold: amid the sagging and collapsing detritus were a handful of pristine bubbles. Hardened spacetimes, homeostatic and gleaming.
I did a little jig and accidentally knocked over my tea.
I used to always forget how the ninth dimension runs downhill when you face south there at the university. Back home the ninth veers toward recursion southward, and only slants downhill from the perspective of an observer spinning throughwise. I guess that's why they say travel broadens the mind.
At any rate for my first few semesters in post-graduate school I was constantly knocking things over or turning them inside-out. I couldn't get a date to save my life.
But when I did get a date I always took both of them to the cloister so they could be suitably impressed by the experiment. I'd shut off the lights so they could really appreciate the glow of the firmament. "Oooh, what makes it sparkle like that?"
"Mostly an analogue of hydrogen, fluorescing as it's probed."
"What are those swirls, Gitchy?"
"Spinning singularities. Want to touch one?"
"What does it feel like?"
"It tickles. Information runs up your arm. Go on, try it. Both of you."
We'd all have a laugh. The conservation of information often has the effect of physical hilarity, which is why I think they lean on it so much in the transmission of epic stories. I lean on it, too, because a well laughed up date is one destined for the union of trinity. If you know what I mean.
An alarm buzzed. I looked up sharply. "What is it, Gitchy?"
"Hang on, darlings."
One of my hardened bubbles of spacetime had developed a temporal differential and for a while now time had been translating spontaneously, micro-events compounding into tiny little world-strings with their histories dangling out behind them like umbilicals. It had all started with a network of point-like standing waves and then suddenly the whole place condensed down into a stringy mess of smoke and embers. Now one of my automated alarms had been tripped by condition within those vapours.
Bam -- clouds of compound moleculoid systems that interlocked like jigsaw puzzle pieces had developed. "Holy shit. Peptides!"
I turned around to preen in triumph but my date had both left. I wasn't chagrined though. Who could be chagrined? I'd just witnessed the formation of a toolkit for self-organization. Like, personally. Further complexity was virtually assured. It was the most amazing night of my life.
I qualified for a research assistant. His name was Nanabush. "Nanabush," he said when we met. We bowed to one another. "Gitchy Manitou," I said. "It's a pleasure. What do you know about flat chemistry?"
"Which theoretical framework?"
"I'm not yet sure which fits. I'm talking about aggregates of curled dimensionality acting on neighbouring aggregates as if acidic."
"It's an idea in equal parts baffling and intriguing."
"Idea? Oh no, you misunderstand, Nanabush. This isn't fancy, it's observation. Have a boo in the bubble tank if you're having trouble coming to terms."
"You've got a functioning, self-perpetuating domain of physics in your bubble tank? With an emergent chemistry?"
"Holy shit! We're going to be famous!"
"I like your enthusiasm. Welcome aboard."
For the next semester we practically lived in the farming cloister, Nanabush and I. We slept in nests of our own notes. And as the histories of the domain's aggregates accumulated across the movement of time we witnessed feedback cycles giving rise to reiterated complexities until the stage was well and truly set for the next phase of the project. It was Nanabush who nominated a platform culled from a vast list of candidate loca. "I call it Gitigan," he said, "because it's so fruitful."
Gitigan -- remembrance of the name recalls both the thrill of those first moments and the misery of our eventual failure. Oh, Gitigan!
Gitigan was a four dimensional locus with three dimensions defined by an oblate spheroid and one dimension defined by its compound-helical course through the surrounding spacetime. The oblate spheroid was synclastic from the point of view of an observer within the domain, which meant there was oodles of contiguous topology upon which the active elements could mix. And mix they did!
It was Nanabush who first pointed out how the liquid water membrane atop the crust tended to slosh in rhythm with Gitigan's rocky satellite, leading to a sort of flat version of tidal pooling. Basically the membrane acted as a medium of communication which periodically inundated basins at the threshold of the water's geometric limit, like the beat of a flat metronome, alternating in a steady state of dry and wet, isolation and exchange.
"You're a genius!" I enthused. Nanabush blushed.
I presented our preliminary paper at a very important symposium to heartening response, which I think played no small part in the securing of our next level of funding. While most of the other projects working with cellularized temporium spume confined themselves to observations of novel domains of physics, we alone had the privilege of reporting on second-order complex emergent chemical systems and the dizzying possibility of a flat biology.
The dean was less keen. I was summoned summarily. I translated over as fast as I could.
"I don't think you fully appreciate the gravity of the issues your study touches upon."
"You're doing important work and as the dean I'm here to support and encourage you. But you're entering a political minefield and as the dean I'm here to warn and dissuade you."
Internally I rolled my eyes. Indeterminate advice is such a pain in the mule.
To get my mind off the whole thing I went and played dice. And it came to pass that Nanabush found me and implored me to stop. I had gamed too much, and stank in my body as well as in my spirit. Nanabush washed my head then hit me until I became attentive. "You can't go off the deep end, Manitou! We're in this together! It's my career, too!"
I waved him off and rubbed my face. "There's politics to it. The dean says there are deadly leviathans circling this institution even now, poised to attack, drawn by certain smells our study exudes."
"Be less parabolic. Do you need me to hit you again?"
"Please don't hit me, Nanabush. It's about an artificial biology! That upsets certain people! You've got to get it through your head that our project now works under a pall."
"Zealots don't frighten me."
"Yes," I agreed; "they haven't had a chance to frighten me yet either. But if the dean is right, they will."
Nobody ever said fact farming would be easy. My mothers had always wanted me to go into something more practical, like dimensional engineering or intertemporal shipping, but ever since I was a nymph I burned to be part of the knowledge-growing community, helping to advance the effort to understand the whole of Ishpiming and our place within it.
Why do we become likely enough to happen? Why do we decay?
These are the eternal questions.
It's obvious that true life is too complex to easily study, which is why the Temporial Sea was divided in the first place: so we could grow little universes with limited dimensionality, to observe a microcosm world flattened to clarity. I think the brave agriculturalists who pushed the initiative through should be celebrated as heroes. The environmentalists be damned. We may have lost a body of temporium that had great beaches in summer, but we stood to gain insight into the nature of our collective soul.
Alas. Today's fuck-a-doodle society doesn't share my values.
The truth of it is that we succeeded. Gitigan was indeed fruitful. An artificial biology took hold and local improbability skyrocketed. All of a sudden we were seeing a web of pulsing ecosystems throughout the aquatic membrane, and just when we thought things couldn't get any more exciting the system's fringes reached out onto dry land and turned the whole place green. Poof!
Bang! The top shot off the bottle. I poured eight glasses: one each for Nanabush and I, one each for our new crew of busy little junior gogs. Nanabush drank from his glass and raised a brow. He was impressed. "Ambrosia?"
"Of course," I crooned. "This is just the beginning!"
We toasted. The gogs giggled shyly and sipped. Deep into the night the spectrum flashed with our laughter. The next day was the sabbath so we could sleep in.
Things really picked up from there. The permutations offered by Gitigan's flat chemistry meant the entire spheroid was soon skinned by a layer of life-like stuff, wriggling and crawling and mirroring the environment via neurological simulacra. It was the perfect canvas.
By winter the engineering team on loan from the school of mechanical reality had built -- for our use as well as course credit for themselves -- a stable axis mundi for bridging the floridly multi-dimensional borders of Ishpiming to the reduced four-dimensional domain of the model universe.
I sniffed. "It's quite capillary."
"We don't build for looks," apologized an engineer. "Aesthetics is next semester."
"It's a scale issue. I'm not even sure my extent will fit in there."
"Ahem," said the engineer, pointedly not looking at how well fed I was. "Perhaps your slim assistant here could assist you, Professor Manticore."
"It's Dr. Manitou, actually."
"Enjoy your axis mundi, doctor. We'll see ourselves out."
While it was true that the bridge was a little snug I did manage to lean right in and manifest an aspect of my right hand directly within the physical domain of the flat universe. The surface rippled in response, my extra dimensions twinkling in rings of spacetime glamour. Like a great roiling smoke I descended my appendage upon the face of Gitigan, and drew upon its mud a body plan baked from coiled acids and bilipid membranes. I exhaled chi up its nose and lo, it was on its feet and looking around.
I withdrew across the bridge and straightened up, rubbing my back ruefully. I turned to Nanabush with a proud smile. "What do you think? I made them in my own image. Well, my image reduced to four dimensions, naturally."
Nanabush frowned. "Their trunks are awfully small."
"I like them that way. It's cute."
"You have a singular taste, Gitch," he said. "What about continuity?"
"Ah!" I grinned. "Indeed, yes, brilliant question. That's the beautiful implication I've been trying to explain to you: probabilistic continuity is a feature of the local physics. All I did was create my first instance slightly upwhen in time, then the universe itself filled in the world history gap!"
"Spontaneous gap filling -- amazing! What did it connect these things to?"
"Don't call them things, Nanabush."
"What should I call them?"
"I call them: homo."
Nanabush weighed this, then nodded. "So what did it connect your homos to downwhen in time?"
"Tiny placentals with fur. Wooden-dendrite dwellers. Lactaters."
"Lactaters? How will they ever keep kosher?"
I shrugged. "The point, Nanabush, is that from the point of view of an observer within the domain it would appear that homos have descended naturally through selective pressures modifying a furred placental body plan. If any of them become curious about the origin of their kind it will all look totally legitimate from an in-world perspective."
"Can I have permission to hug you?"
We passed all our days observing the homos as they multiplied and spread across the land. Soon there were homos everywhere. The binary nature of their sexuality meant hooking up was dramatically easier to coordinate than in real life so there was a pretty much constant rain of little baby homos falling out from between everyone's legs. When pools of them got stuck behind mountain chains or similar barriers the acid network at their core found new local optima in response to conditions, altering homo behaviour and sometimes even changing their colour!
The project was moved to a bigger laboratory. Orchestrating that mass translation of equipment and personnel took a year off my life because of stress. I was so worried the universe would be destroyed.
But we made it. And in the new building things were different. Support staff, clerical services, hot lunch from the cafeteria -- we had bureaucratically fettered access to them all!
But the political climate was changing. It made me lose my appetite.
I stewed in the dean’s office. The dean said, “It’s a new government, Manitou, and there’s a new attitude toward farming. Today’s leaders want to get behind projects whose practical utility is obvious. There’s talk of complexity pollution, also. A cap and trade initiative, a tightening of scrutiny and a fear of being associated with anything environmentally untoward.”
“It hasn’t been demonstrated to the point of mathematical certainty that artificial complexity contributes to thermodynamic bias.”
“That’s petulant and you know it. There is an overwhelming agricultural consensus of opinion on thermodynamic bias. You can’t fight the facts, Manitou.”
“I remain doggedly sceptical.”
“Even so, today’s climate runs counter to that current. And whether it is beside the point agriculturally or not, increased scrutiny means a spotlight on experimental choice-leakage from indeterminacy-based cognition.”
“Isn't that the custodial department's concern?”
“If you want your creatures to continue cycling you'll make it your concern, too. I’m telling you this new government has taken a hard line against exponential outcomes generated by experimental farming, and you’ll have to answer for each iota of fate pollution your project generates. If you won't answer to me, than you will to the board; if not to the board than to the inquisitors.”
I shuddered. “My specimens can’t be judged by a pedestrian rubric.”
“But they will be,” said the dean, leaning forward to make his face closer to mine. “And if their destinies are found to be leaking thermodynamically-caustic complexity, your project will surely be terminated.” He sat back and spread his arms wide. “It will be out of my hands.”
We didn’t believe him. But we should have. Because it all happened just the way he said it would. Farms were scrutinized plot by plot, cell by cell, angle by angle, until an inventory was made encrusted in a curmudgeonly commentary of dwarfed imaginations and sex envy.
The inquisitors proclaimed their decisions and the crowds roared, passions enflamed by judgement. Decency was paramount. Candle-light vigils were staged so people could express their solidarity in being opposed to whatever it was we university eggheads were up to.
I took to wearing a cloak over my raiment in response to a quadrupling of the quantity of excrement thrown at me daily. "There are some things nobody needs to know!" they chanted, hucking old vegetables and stones or shoes when their chamber pots were empty. "Origination can't be simulated!"
Police no longer intervened when things got too ugly. They stood aside impassively, eyes at infinity. These days the inquisition made good their paycheques. What's it to them the cries of a couple of shit-streaked boffins? Everything good people needed to know they knew with their hearts.
The speed of change was alarming. So much so even the dean himself was caught off his guard. I occupied a corner locus of the dean's office while the dean packed his raiments. "This is alarming," he said grimly. "My replacement takes over tomorrow."
"Will they be...?"
"Inquisitors? Of course. Of course they'll be inquisitors, Manitou. The university is no longer independent. Your institute is compromised. You'll sing the national songs from now on or be silenced."
"I can adapt," I said.
"But maybe you shouldn't."
Many projects in the experimental wing were shut down. Many of my colleagues and friends of many years withdrew from academic life or were prosecuted from it. Row upon row of bounded temporium cells were untied and released to reconnect with the ocean. Years of work were randomized. Theses dissolved and ran out with the tide.
But I was determined to stay. Where else could I have access to bounded temporia? There were no private industry projects that even came close to having the necessary infrastructure. Nor the moral mandate to explore deep issues. I couldn't chase profit. That wasn't my world.
So we did a lot of desperate clean up work before our evaluation. When the time came Nanabush and I smiled like idiots throughout, bowing to everybody.
The result was a good news, bad news sort of thing.
Our universe was spared but its homo denizens were deemed adjudicatively toxic and slated for obliteration as part of a larger programme to curb the university's waste products -- especially choice pollution and its infamous thermodynamically troubling byproducts. I filed three appeal forms and attended two hearings but none of it did any good.
We were ordered to wash the domain clean of decision.
What alternative did I have? My hands shook as I took hold of the axis mundi. Nanabush turned his face away in grief. I reached down into our universe, straight down to the precinct of Gitigan, and from the flecks of snow whirling around Gitigan's light I selected my harbinger. I nudged it on its way.
The speck steamed as it sped, developing a swollen coma of vapour smeared out by light's pressure into a long, glamorous tail. Very pretty.
Its shadow hardened on the face of Gitigan as the helices of their travels met.
The sky parted at the bowshock. The core burst over a great glacier, shattering it, and letting a heretofore pent-up sea free to equalize itself across the globe. An angry ripple of foam and mud cast out ahead of the free sea, and Gitigan was inundated with a scourge of swollen waters in its wake.
I withdrew across the bridge because I could stand to witness no more. Nanabush touched my shoulder but I did not turn. I fled the laboratory.
And it came to pass that I was arrested at the dice tables. I fought the police. It was Nanabush who came to bail me out. “You shouldn’t have,” I said. “What's the point in being free to farm when all we're permitted to grow are fucking turnips?”
Nanabush had a secret little smile for me. “Come to the laboratory,” he said. “There's a hope yet.”
I poured my face into the axis mundi. My triplet eyes unwillingly took in the state of Gitigan, its only now receding waters revealing sloppy swarms of corpses -- every kind, regardless of their quality, spread-eagled without dignity, effusing a bacterial gas miasma. “I despair,” I reported, starting to pull out.
Nanabush pinched me and forced my head back in. “One still lives. Look for him.”
I frowned. “Is he environmentally friendly?”
“He will have been, once we harden the instance. That's my idea: direct intervention."
"Insert yourself upstream in time, Gitch, and let him hear your voice. The combined likelihood of his survival and your direct manifestation will surely crystallize into a low-decision actuality. We could build on that.”
I blinked. “Are you suggesting we could mould moral homos?”
Nanabush smiled. “There’s always a finite anti-improbability. If we can find it, we can amplify it. Make the cause of his survival be his righteously blighted decision matrix -- enough to keep emissions at quota. If he obeys rather than decides we might just squeak it in under the detectors.”
"You think he'll listen to me?"
Nanabush stepped closer and squeezed my shoulder. "Yes, boss. Yes, I think he'll listen. To you."
And so I did. I found the last living homo and traced his history upwhen, and there I commanded him to survive by taking certain measures and bearing in mind certain principles. Mostly to do with boat building and animal husbandry.
That little homo was seminal in everything that came afterward.
Nanabush and I co-presented the paper. Suddenly we were leading authorities on the curtailing of choice-leaking via anti-diluvian didactic intervention. Naturally the comment from all quarters was, "Amazing trick, but will it scale?"
"Ah, yes. Brilliant question. It will, actually. It will indeed scale. Because our schedule calls for a series of discrete interventions in order to confine the specimens' decision bifurcations to a reasonable, non-toxic limit that minimizes destiny-related magnetism and brings the release of particulate alternatives to levels considered safe by even the most righteous industrial standards."
And it worked. It really, really worked.
Well, for a while.
Nanabush and the gogs kept things in check locally at Gitigan while I concerned myself with more universal matters. Principally exports. But nobody knew about that but me. Also imports. That was secret, too.
In the light of day the homos were thriving. I was surprised when Nanabush came to my office hat in hand, his face long and his beard blowing unkempt in the ether. I stood up and rushed around the desk to take him by the shoulders. "Nanabush, what's the matter?"
His left hand hung listlessly, clutching a report output from the abacoid. "It's the homos, Gitch," he said. "Try as we might, they're still generating virtual alternatives too quickly for us to expunge. There's a build up of destiny crud around all the intakes. It's -- well, it's a mess, Gitch. It's a mess and it's all my fault."
"Don't be like that, Nanabush. I hate to see you this way. You and your gogs are going all out. Naturally they'll be some setbacks, but there must be measures that can be taken, no?"
I raised the brow over my third eye. "You've determined the measures needed? And you don't like them, is that it?"
He nodded. "There's misery enough in being so flat and indeterminate..."
"Oh, Nanabush," I said, knuckling his jaw playfully; "what a soft spot you've developed for our little homos!"
He held up the report. "There are a couple of epicentres of difficulty," said Nanabush. "They've got be -- well, they've got to be undone. Obliterated, I mean."
"Listen, why don't you let me take care of that?"
"Really. Go home. Take a load off. Have a drink. I'll raze the trouble spots and when you get back in the morning Gitigan's emissions will all be tickety-boo."
I had to scale up my import-export engine considerably but the epicentres slated for obliteration provided the testing beds I needed to perfect my methodology, and the quiet and dark of night provided the solitude I needed for maximum discretion. The project had to continue. That was paramount.
Because the grants kept coming. We had a whole sub-department specializing in proposals and applications for further funding. We generated more patents per semester than any other academic institute, chiefly concerning exciting spacetime manifolds applicable to food preparation but also novel prayer-based medicines. The major pharmaceutical concerns were all over us. The inquisition itself signed off on raises for me and the senior researchers. Undergraduates were falling over themselves to volunteer to do the dreariest tasks in the lab, so that even our gogs had gogs.
I had no longer had any trouble getting dates. Sometimes I'd even go doublies and date five at a time. We'd go to my place and do the dual inverse trinity, which until then I'd been convinced was not an actual act but merely a concoction of pornographers. But it's feasible. It's kind of uncomfortable, honestly, but it is feasible.
I played all kinds of dice. Why not? I was the most famous fact farmer in Ishpiming. I could afford the tax on all my wasted alternatives, hiding the infinities with the kisses and lies of the world's hottest accountants. It came to pass that the amount I was paid for a single interview was comparable to a whole semester's stipend from the institute! People were always telling me how personable I was, and how my big flowing beard made me a memorable and friendly face audiences liked to associate with my comprehensible and pithy descriptions of complex farming matters.
I was even invited on to chat shows when the topic had nothing to do with agriculture. "What's your take on the new look for spring, Gitchy? Hot or not?"
I'd stroke my beard thoughtfully. "Pretty hot, I think."
"You heard it here first, folks. Again, I'm here with the inimitable Dr. Gitchy Manitou, creator of homos and the homo model universe. How's your work coming, doctor?"
"It's super. I've got a fantastic team, and a lot of support from the university."
"Do you ever find yourself feeling bummed out by all the protestors?"
"Not really. I just wish they'd enroll in the school rather than picketing it. They're not going to learn how wrong they are about agricultural issues until they come inside and sink their teeth into some scrolls."
"For the record, doctor: what's your stance on destiny dumping?"
"I'm against it, of course. If it really does turn out to be the case that our way of life is having a deleterious affect on the fundamental thermodynamic budget -- a point I am not alone in contending at this time, by the way -- obviously we should do everything in our power to mitigate any adverse effects while balancing the needs of knowledge growers and the integral part they play in our civilization's metabolism. Everybody likes balance, right?"
"Let's have a round of applause everyone -- Dr. Gitchy Manitou!"
But everything wasn't all rosy when I got back to the institute. Nanabush met me under the arches. His expression was dark. "Something's not adding up," he said. "We've got to stop all experiments until we get to the bottom of it."
"What? More gunk on the intakes?"
"No," he said, unrolling reams of data. "We've got a deficit of destiny inflation."
"Well, that's good news, isn't it?"
"But it doesn't make sense, Gitch. Even narrowing the decision field with commandments shouldn't have cut the emissions this drastically. I mean, the homos are genuinely life-like: their neuronal nets are running meta-cognitive processes -- we can read it in the fumes -- and scenario-spinning is fully functional. So why aren't they generating infinite virtual alternatives?"
I put my arm around him. "You've been working too hard, Nanabush. When was the last time you didn't have supper brought to you in the lab?"
"This is a critical phase."
"I know, I know. And there's no one in the whole of Ishpiming I'd trust to see it through as I do you. But you're not at you're best if you're on the edge of exhaustion. You look pale."
"Let's you and I take a restorative tour of the riviera."
"There are certain pockets of shade in the budget. We can expense the whole thing. Face it, Nanabush: nobody works harder than you. You deserve this."
"Shit, Gitch. I don't know. I mean, who'll watch over the homos?"
"Gabriel's a good gog."
Things got a little weird on the riviera when I tried to kiss Nanabush. Nanabush blushed. "I won't even be sexually receptive until my next metamorphosis," he explained, "plus it's supposed to make things really complicated if you triumvirate with a colleague."
"We're more than colleagues," I said. "We're friends."
"Sure," he agreed. "Sure we're friends. But I like our friendship just the way it is, is all."
I didn't press. I felt like a heel. I burned to run away and game for a while but I couldn't let Nanabush catch me at it again. If he lost even more respect for me I'd just curl up into a ball and go unlikely. Why am I such a lummox?
The project went on. I saw to that. It cost me everything. But in the end it cost Nanabush more.
Irregularities in my expenses drew increased scrutiny. There was an official probe. But that wasn't what caught me up. I tried to cross domains with a pair of dice in my pocket and got busted. It was my second arrest for mismanagement of chance. And while I was out on bail a cop followed me.
On the pier. Midnight. The smuggler vessel idling on tethers while barrel after barrel of destiny was hefted aboard by blackmailed gogs and even sorrier things. Hades worked the winch while Beelzebub hefted. I jiggled dice in my hand as I watched over.
The cop shined a light. I winced and held up my hand, dropping the dice.
"Holy shit!" I said.
Like a common criminal my locomotion along several axes was bounded. I was permitted to travel to my place of work, for example, but not to move in time. I could through-drop, but only locally. Most kinds of spinning were totally out of the question except for simple changes of orientation in space. That was probably the most embarrassing part.
Accounts were frozen. The institute was put on an emergency budget while everything was sorted out. I lost my parking space to a mathematician, which was especially unjust because he only really needed a spot, strictly speaking. Not a whole space.
A trial was scheduled. In the meantime I had to face Nanabush.
"What have you done, Manitou?"
"You know the allegations."
"I want to hear you say it."
"Because I can't believe it's true. I can't believe you've been smuggling pollution. I can't believe in all the conversations we had about those bastards who don't give a whit about thermodynamic bias I was supposed to be imagining that you were one of those bastards. I thought we were on the same side, Gitch!"
"We are on the same side. You've got to understand. I did it all for us. For our universe."
"You committed repercussions fraud -- for the project? You gambled everything we've worked towards -- for the project? Explain to me how that works."
"It's the project's waste," I said.
Nanabush blinked. "What?"
"Isn't that obvious? Why are you making me say it?"
"What?" said Nanabush again. His eyes twinkled with tears. His chin quivered. He was right about the bastard thing.
I sighed. I closed my eyes. "Listen," I said, "I've been exporting contingent realities from the universe for a while now. Pretty much since the flood. Don't look at me that way, Nanabush: I didn't do it to undermine your theories. Your theories are brilliant. The savings are real. But they were never enough to curb our emissions below quota." I swallowed and turned to look at him. "It's been in the results all along but you've never wanted to see it like that."
His eyes were narrow and hard. "You manipulated me, you mean. Pig-fucker."
"Please Nanabush, I did it because I couldn't bear to hurt you. You love homos like no one else does. Not even me, the mother of their world."
Nanabush wept. I was quiet for a while. When he was ready he looked up again, his eyes all bleary and shot-through with ichor.
"Shit," I said, handing him a handkerchief. "I'm so sorry, Nanabush. I really hate myself right now. I should have let your heart break earlier, rather than putting it off so it could become something worse than that. I'm sure you never want to see me again. I understand."
He shook his head. "This isn't about you and me, Gitchy Manitou. This is about being a homo; thinking, feeling things -- even if they are flat. They are precious to me and they should be precious to you. And right now -- correct me if I'm wrong -- their universe is filling up with a toxic accumulation of latent alternatives."
I nodded miserably.
"Somebody has to do something about that," said Nanabush.
Suddenly I was angry. I stood up, my face colouring. "Will you grow up? You're not a nymph. You've seen Ishmining. Accept the limit facts have forced on us: I've been doing everything in my power -- everything! -- to keep their universe cycling and it was very nearly not enough. And now I'm covered in soot. Do you think you can save them better than I, punk?"
Nanabush smirked humourlessly. "Watch me."
And before I could stop him he charged straight into the axis mundi, the entire extent of his body folding down into a four dimensional spaghetti that twirled and writhed across the surface of the homos' tiny spacetime. He spilled down the hill spatially to Gitigan and hopped out of my reach upwhen.
I couldn't follow him. I was bound not to move temporally -- by a special oath but also by an unbreakable collar. My countenance gnashed over their world, my frustration fluorescing into a great light in the firmament.
With my widest and deepest looking I surveyed every iota of homo topology. I smelled the smoke of their fires and heard them squeak when hurt.
And Nanabush was among them.
Walking on their earth, whispering on the air with them. He drank of homo milk. He biologically matured. He perspired and masticated and farted.
And it came to pass that he made himself a great attractor of virtual potentialities, and took into himself a grievously harmful quantity of stray homo destiny. And though it would cause the alarm on my collar to sound I extended an aspect of myself down to him, and grabbed him, and jumped upwhen in time.
"You can't do this Nanabush! You'll die!"
"I can buy them trillions of cycles. I've figured it out. By filling myself with homo emissions I can stave off the end. It's the right thing to do. We owe them that much."
"Shut up, Gitchy Manitou. Seriously. Just shut the fuck up for once."
My mouth closed. My lips trembled. I wanted to say, "I love you Nanabush" but I didn't. I choked on my own beard as he gave me his final, widest smile and let himself drop back downwhen to his death.
I would've dived after him and damned be the consequences but I was violently yanked out of the axis mundi and all my dimensions were harshly shackled to a singularity. I yelled. The event horizon was way too tight. "Gitchy Manitou, you are under arrest for breaking the conditions of your bail. Any information exuded from your aspects will be considered testimony. You have the right to entangle with a lawyer. If you have no entanglement with a lawyer one will have been bonded to you by the state."
"Shit," I said, and then I cried.
There was a trial, of course. I was found guilty, of course. I was subject to extensive remediation. My projects were shuttered, my chattels liquidated to pay off my debts. Instead of being invited on the chat shows the people on the chat shows just talked about me in unkind terms. Comedians based whole routines on me. The state named a law for the prosecution of polluters after me, which I guess is an honour of a kind. Certainly a legacy.
There was a bright spot in it all. I wish Nanabush had been there to see it.
Those stinking protestors finally found an issue the public could sink their teeth into, and it was the preservation of all the cute little flat creatures in the bubble universe that handsome fellow Nanabush had sacrificed himself to save. Somehow those animal rights imbeciles successfully petitioned the inquisition to have the project decreed a cultural treasure, to be housed in any one of the state's most venerable museums.
The highest bidder was a zoo. A very nice zoo, mind you. Opening day for the exhibit was a very big affair. Balloons and rides. I read all about it.
These days I'm remediated. Instead of playing dice I go talk it out with a group of others with similar problems. They're a good bunch at heart. Earnest and tough. There's something in each of them for me to look up to.
I've been barred from knowledge farming so I work in a flower shop. It's the next best thing. I look pretty different these days but every now and again one of the customers will dawdle, stealing glances at me with their third eye while they think my trunk's in the way. "Have I seen you somewhere before? Did you used to have a beard?"
"I don't think so.”
A couple of years ago some damn journalist convinced me to take a walk through the zoo for a piece she was writing on the history of artificial complexity. I felt really weird as we translated nearer, like I was numb and far away from myself. The journalist asked me vapid, chatty questions I would've had no problem answering memorably back in the day.
"It's complicated," I muttered gruffly.
We arrived at the exhibit. She said, "Good news! I've secured special permission for you to access this portable axis mundi. Would you like to give it a try?"
I blinked stupidly. "A portable axis mundi?"
"Things have come a long way in the last few years," she said, unfolding the roots and setting it up with the bridge pointed right up the firmament of the homo exhibit at the zoo. "Now it's easy as pie to transfold oneself into limited domains. Why don't you give it a whirl? For old time's sake?"
"I don't know..."
"But you've got to be curious. After all this time, what are the homos up to? Kids put nickels in the deep looker every day to take a peek -- why don't you pour yourself in personally for free and -- ahem, for posterity, former-doctor Gitchy Manitou?"
I sighed. I looked back and forth between the young reporter and the bridge. Then I juggled a couple of imaginary dice in my mind and decided to let the outcome speak for itself.
Bang! I came downwhen to find me spread thin throughout the axis mundi. And then I was over, and on the other side.
It was strange. Like coming back to a childhood home. Everything seems the wrong proportion. But it wasn't because I'd grown. It was because of an altogether different reason.
The smell of the fumes and pebbles and sparkles inside the place filled me with a fierce nostalgia. Before I could even stop myself I'd manifested at Gitigan. I looked upon the folds of the old oblate spheroid.
Homo war was everywhere, fought via proxies of metal and kinetics. Beaches were red with blood. Every facet of conflict had been mechanized and honed to brutal precision. Whole factories smoked with the supernova bone dust of my favourite tribe.
"Holy shit! You bastards!"
I was so angry. I was so angry at what they'd done in the face of Nanabush's gift. I felt the wrath of old run through me and I longed to turn entire nations to salt. But I wasn't a farmer and this wasn't my plot. I couldn't invoke my fires against them without causing a commotion and landing my sorry mule back in custody. And I was too damn old for that.
So I did the next best thing and hopped downwhen to insert a sacred vision into the mind of a homo. I did it on the sly, as I'd seen Gabriel do. And I did it unflinchingly, as I'd seen Nanabush do.
"Energy and matter are equivalent in your domain," I told a genius in a dream. "Imagine yourself riding in an elevator in space."
The war ended with two cities immolated just like in the old days, but it was a bit of an empty fireworks show because the factory-scale murderers were on the other side of the globe and my favourites were almost all dead. I felt totally depressed by the whole thing. Nanabush would've hated me for it. The homo survivors from the fringes of the cities I'd helped raze were all burned and cancerous. In smiting for spite of misery I had only created more.
I withdrew from the axis mundi. It was the last time I would see my universe.
"So, how was it?" gushed the reporter.
I pushed her over and she fell into an aquarium.
That's kind of funny. I hadn't thought about it in ages. But it's all on my mind now. Because yesterday a student came knocking at my door to rouse up ancient history. I tried to ignore it but it was persistent. The knocking wouldn't stop. "I know," the student said when I finally consented to open the portal. "I know why you don't care what happens when Nanabush's compensation expires and the emissions levels start climbing again, Dr. Manitou. I've figured out your secret."
"Good for you. What a clever nymph. Now leave an old mother in peace, will you?"
"Don't close the door on my foot. That's assault."
"It is? Oh my, what a world."
"The homoverse is polluting as much as it ever was, isn't it? But it's not taking up very much space so nobody's noticed. But I noticed. You cheated. You tricked the scale."
"It's awfully late. Let me go to bed, brat."
"You spiked the flat universe with inflationary dark matter. Admit it!"
"Maybe somebody did. It's all very hazy, the past. I can't turn my head that way because I've got a bad tendon."
"It's there in the zoo, leaking poisonous adjunctive foam at the same rate as ever, but at a scale that doesn't trip the detectors. The homoverse is shrinking relative to its own domain, but the impact on thermodynamic bias is the same. You've got to realize that, right? You're not too old and random?"
"No, my dear. Not random yet."
The student's face darkened. "I didn't know how it would make me feel to hear you say it, but I'm having a lot of strong feelings right now. You're the biggest destiny dumper alive."
"I haven't said anything. You're doing all the talking."
"Deny any part of it."
"This isn't a legally binding doorway."
"Just tell me why. Why did you do it, Dr. Manitou?"
I shrugged. "Why does anyone do anything stupid? For love, child. I did it for love."
Maybe she's figured out the long game. I didn't find out because I closed the door in her face. But between you and me the homo universe will continue to shrink until it escapes the likelihood of containment at the zoo. It will exist as it always has, but invisible and drifting free. Who knows where the wind will blow it?
That's my gift to Nanabush: homo liberation. It’s coming.
These days I confine myself to flowers. Their lives are manifest on their petals, with patterns drawn out upon them not even visible to eyes like yours or mine. How can Ishpiming be so grand and so staggering and yet have time to let flowers mumble in ink?
And flowers, bless their hearts, are decisions made by the world and don't take decisions mirrored within themselves. They don't sprout alternative froth into stinking barrels that have to be squirrelled away by a senior agriculturalist with a bad back. No, they just grow. As likely as they are, they do. No choices.
At the shop we sell the flowers mostly to trinities in love. I'm making amends, by serving the only faith I've really ever known.
Postamble: Hello, and welcome to the resumption of the preamble. What I'd've said way up there except for fear of spoilers was that this story is, a) not canon; b) not to be misconstrued as an assault on faith; c) inspired by my own father's rather hazy metaphysics.
My father hasn't been a churchgoing man for many years. His vision of the operation and purpose of the universe is summed up by the phrase "white labcoats." He believes, or says he believes -- because believe it or not sometimes it can be hard to know whether Cheeseburger Brown's father is joking or not -- that we are certainly specimens being studied by experimentors.
These hypothetical superior beings may or may not be wearing literal white labcoats, depending on the contingencies insisted upon by the local needs of reality. That much he's willing to grant. "The labcoats themselves might be metaphorical. Nobody knows."
At any rate, I got to wondering how the white labcoat world might work. Would their be any point to their research beyond insights into behaviour? How else might gods benefit from men? What if we have the nature of prayer backasswards, and it's actually an essential product for the health of the gods? And so on and so forth.
This story is the result. Well, more or less. Emphasis shifted more to personalities and circumstance when I realized a plot focusing on the technicalities of prayer-based pharmaceuticals was too hard to keep comprehensible and too open to misinterpretation as a philosophical critique.
So if we all keep points (a), (b) and (c) from above well in mind any ensuing comments should hopefully avoid angry accusations of blasphemy or concerned questions about how all this impacts Mr. Mississauga. Oh, and while we're at it let's throw in: d) Yes, I know this story isn't an easy read...but hey, neither's the Bhagavad Gita.