People gave him grief about it in college, gave him that nickname for the first time. He accepted such abuse good-naturedly. He had an IQ of 189 and other things to worry about. Coincidentally, he graduated with a doctorate in computer science in 1989. Fuzzy logic was his specialty. At the dawn of the 1990s, he launched his product, which he defined as, “A friendly HAL 9000 without the psychopathic murder glitch.” That was a fairly accurate description, actually. He sold it to the Defense Department, which immediately pulled it out of commercial application. His product prevented a nuclear war, but they never told him. (Occasionally, it tried to call him at night. Only silence on the line, but he could tell.) He made a ton of money.
Then went on to the next thing. And made more money.
And nobody gave him grief about socks or gloves.
To his face, anyway.
Technology on the other hand …
Technology seemed to hate him. Odd, considering his love affair with tech. But the love, evidently, was one-sided.
Light bulbs exploded when he entered a room. Screens fibrillated. Hard drives crashed. Files disappeared. Orderly columns of data were replaced with cuneiform gibberish.
His staff politely asked him to stay away without saying it in so many words.
He politely stayed away.
Others would be irritated by his problem. Or refuse to acknowledge that it was a problem.
He had a theory. Which he told to his wife in his usual non-linear fashion.
Arranged in order and condensed, what he said was:
The universe is an information system. (Strictly speaking, our pocket universe, defined as U1.) Space-time is the user interface: a constantly refreshed image on a phenomenological “screen” that users interact with. (Users = conscious beings making choices.) The quantum substrate is the hard (or fuzzy) drive outside space and time: all the possible futures exist there. From nanosecond to nanosecond, the universe (U1) rewrites itself. And the cloud of possible universes narrows down to one actuality. The greater the number of possibilities, the greater the chance for “hard drive” error. The greatest source of uncertainty: the human mind—or any form of volitional consciousness with the capacity for imagination. The mind is a map of the universe—more accurately, it contains maps of X number of possible universes. The maps influence the territory; the territory influences the maps; it’s interactive. The poor quantum substrate has to generate all the what-ifs you imagine, and it doesn’t have infinite memory. Thus, the smarter you are, the more scenarios you have running in your head, and the more hard drive errors you generate. Hence, vanishing socks and the like.
She noticed the digital recorder in his hand.
“Yeah, you know. Lost files. I’m on a riff. This is …”
His eyes rolled up. Like a visionary. Or a nut in a Stanley Kubrick movie.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she said. “Is there an application for this? A commercial application?”
So, he got to work. It was simply a problem of generating sufficient mental complexity until he crashed the U1 system. Evidently, he did it all the time, unconsciously. Now, he would do it consciously. Make the appearance/disappearance event happen deliberately. Crashing the universe boiled down to multiplying the already multitudinous parallel scenario tracks in his mind (The chess track, the politics track, the irritating family relationships track, etc.) It had to work. Various audio and video recording devices would capture the event when it happened. Then he’d do it again. Repeatable results confirming the model, and all that.
He worked late into the night. For many nights.
And, late one night, his wife heard a loud BANG.
She knew, immediately, that he had disappeared.
He fell head over heels like Alice tumbling through the rabbit hole. The Zero-G experience went on for awhile. Then he landed, not in Wonderland, but a kingdom of lost crap.
“Holy crap,” he said.
It seemed like the right thing to say.
But there he was.
Imagine a basement, attic, storage bin or garage stuffed with boxes, bicycles, old lamps, magazines, faded posters, yellowing plastic toys and the like. Make that space a seemingly infinite space, extending in all directions. A seemingly infinite space stuffed with crap.
He walked around, prayed, studied his environment.
Apparently normal gravity. “Air” to breathe. Indeterminate light source above. A floor, yes. As grey as his college dorm. Ceiling? Hard to say. Just fuzzy up there. But on the “ground.” A planar surface stacked with accretions of junk in files and rows. An infinite attic/basement. Not exactly Cartesian. But a grid with definite pathways. Random? Designed?
He studied the crap so arranged if not organized.
It reminded him of all those depressing hoarder shows he tried to avoid on cable television.
No perceivable order, aside from the files and rows. Worse …
Stuff randomly appeared. Like the old, discredited Steady State theory.
A ball of string. Occasionally with a cat’s paw attached.
The first edition of Action Comics.
The lost reels of The Magnificent Ambersons.
He noticed the common thread, eventually.
This crap wasn’t exactly crap.
The crap was all treasure. To somebody.
A random sampling confirmed this hypothesis. That spool of thread wasn’t crap, if you collected thread spools. Bottle caps. Old calendars. Everything he saw had value to somebody. That was the common thread. Somebody wanted it. And somebody else lost it.
Loss is connected with desire, he reasoned. Desire is the magnetic pull, drawing this stuff in.
Gradually, he discovered whose desire it was.
He wasn’t alone in here.
Muttering men, all men it turned out. Thought he saw one out of the corner of his eye one time. Then a mob of them shuffled up. Grey, obsessive, clutching men, who gravitated to the random crap, snatched it up in their hands, and walked away muttering. Men of indeterminacy, neither here nor there. Who wound up here.
He tried to strike up conversations. Futile. But he kept at it for a long time.
He’d grab one of the human tumbleweeds by the shoulders. Try to make eye contact. Recite a string or rational words, based on their ad hoc reference frame. If the man was reaching for a comic, he’d talk about comics. If the man reached for an engine part, etc. Hey, watcha got there? Occasionally, something seemed to float up in the man’s milky watery eyes. Like a murky, octagonal answer in the window of a shaken Eight Ball. A flicker of recognition. A spark that didn’t quite catch.
They were too absorbed. Something had a grip on them. A powerful singularity in their heads: a black hole whose pull they were powerless to escape.
The flicker of recognition would die. The man’s eyes would dart around. He’d spot some lovely thing, shuffle over and grab it like a crow gathering shiny stuff for its nest.
Collectors, of course. Collectors all.
Each man would clutch his treasure, his piece of sacred crap.
Each man would mutter and walk away.
“Action Comics. Volume one, issue one. Excellent condition. No tear or stain front cover …”
ASK AGAIN LATER.
Nobody home, yep. No dialog here.
He gave up his conversational efforts.
And limited his dialog to the confines of his mind.
I’m like them, he thought.
The next thought:
No. I’m not like them.
Somebody up there loved him, he was certain of it. Somebody out there did too.
The woman who loved him in U1,
His disappearance was well documented. She watched the footage from multiple cameras at multiple angles.
He turned flat. Like a piece of paper. Seemed to turn flat.
Like General Zod in Superman II.
Folded at an angle. Slipped under the door of the universe. Poof.
The Forbidden Zone. Yeah. He was in the …
It pissed her off that she knew these nerd references.
He was gone.
That pissed her off more.
She picked up the digital recorder. Oh God, no … I can’t.
Don’t kid yourself. Of course you can.
She pushed PLAY.
That conversation. Her voice.
“One probable universe becomes the actual universe?”
Jesus, does it sound like she’s humoring him? No.
“Yeah. But it’s not like there’s only one possibility.”
His nutty ideas usually turn out to be true. She knew that.
“There’s a range of possible universes, some more probable, some less. The more uncertainty, the more forking paths.The more uncertainty the more possibility for error. Yes or no. That’s cool. But yes, no, maybe, kinda, sorta—uncool.”
Mind games. Keep on playing those mind games forever. Focus.
“The human mind is. Uh. A quantum map of the universe. But there’s a map inside the map. Which is interactive with the actual. Uh. Territory. So…”
She wasn’t following it. But she had to follow it.
The path he’d taken out of this world. She had to find it. Whatever he went, she had to go there, too. Repeatable results.
It was going to be a long night.
He sat on a stack of old 78” vinyl records, thinking.
My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
Blasphemous dope. You’re not Jesus. You dug a quantum hole for yourself. Man up. But, on second thought… God, if you wanna help, in no way am I saying I don’t want You to help.
Reverse psychology. Doesn’t work on God, stupid.
Made of dust. Fully aware.
Try to stay positive. Look on the bright side.
What bright side?
You’re stuck. Creativity pops up in that place where you’re stuck. Also, no apparent hunger, thirst, or need for evacuation yet.
This was all true. Always an upside, yep.
There must be some way out of here.
A man of dust shambled up to him.
An engineer. Working for EMI- Schlumberger.
As the nametag on his formely white coat announced.
The company wasn’t EMI- Schlumberger anymore. Just Schlumberger. Period. When did it…? 1979?
The engineer of dust sat next to him. And posed a question.
“How’s it going?”
“Surfing the Dirac Sea, right?”
“You could say that.”
“, … right?”
“Yeah. We were working on that.”
“How’d that work out?”
“Head of research winked out of existence.”
“Corporate pretended it didn’t happen. Wiped the files. I’m assuming, OK? No rescue mission for yours truly, so I’m assuming. Liability issues…”
“Youre not insane.”
“No. Not like those … whatever they are.”
“Collectors. I call ‘em Collectors.”
“Idiots. That’s what I call him.”
A sneer in the dust man’s voice. He resisted it. The attitude, the implications. That contempt for the Collectors. Judge not. He didn’t want to judge the poor bastards. There but for the grace of …
The dust man asked him another question.
“You believe in God, right?”
“Yeah. You believe. And there’s somebody back home, right?”
He nodded. The dust man laughed.
“You think the cavalry’s coming?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Yeah. She’s trying … she’s repeating my experiment, OK? She’s coming here, and she’s taking me home.”
“You say so.”
“She’s opening up…”
“Whatever you say.”
“Go to hell,” he said pleasantly
“But this is hell,” the dustman replied, making the obvious statement. Ha-ha. There’s no way out, stupid.”
“Every door …”
“Opens both ways. Screw you. There’s no way out, asshole.”
“There has to be.”
“No, man. No, you poor schmuck. I’ve been thinking about it, OK? I’ve been working on the problem for the last … I don’t know how many years. You think there’s a way out?” The dust man laughed. “I can’t even imagine…”
The dust man turned to dust.
He almost wept.
Hypothesis. At the moment of seeing no possibilities, the man’s file was deleted. The loss of hope creates the hopeless loss. When you can’t imagine a future there’s no future.
He could imagine that happening.
Another argument in his mind. Happening too much, lately.
The dust man’s voice. Still arguing with him.
Nobody’s coming. Bullshit. Truth, my friend. What makes you so important? Hubris, that’s a bad thing. Face it. You ain’t getting out of here. No. She’s coming, damn you. Uh-uh. This is your fate, your karma, your eternal sentence. Your lovely wife isn’t coming.
And then she was there.
“Fancy meeting you here.”
“You did the math?”
“It wasn’t easy.”
“Great. Well. Welcome to purgatory, or whatever the hell this is.”
She looked around with distaste.
“It reminds me of those depressing hoarder shows.”
“Also my first impression.”
“These guys. I call them the Collectors.”
He shared his theory. All these losers generate this universe. You mean the Collectors? Well, they collect because they’ve lost. Their minds are stuffed with multiple possibilities. Like yours? Yes and no. They look back, like Lot’s wife. Keep thinking about all the stuff they’d lost, doors not taken. It’s more real to them that the here-and-now, so they get deeper and deeper into the maze of all the what-ifs and maybes. Eventually, they pop out of U1 and wind up here. But they’re still the same people. Whirlpools of desire, mourning for the lost stuff. Like a bag of money in a dream you can’t take with you when your eyes open. But they want it. They want it. They keep holding on. Thinking, thinking, running multiple scenarios in their heads. Still wanting and longing and needing. That want has a pull. It’s a singularity, a vortex. People like me create cracks in reality. The Collectors pull stuff in through the cracks, all the stuff they’re longing for. But it’s never enough. It’s never the same.
“Whole new meaning.”
“You tried praying?”
Stupid question, but he doesn’t point that out. He was always praying. God, to him, was a fact, an obvious fact. So why’d He let this shit happen? Clearly, that was her next question.
“God knows what He’s doing.”
“And let them create this crap universe?
“I spoke badly. They didn’t create it. I think it’s a memory buffer or something. They’re just here.”
“With their crap?”
They shared a look. One of those nonverbal conversations.
Every problem has a solution. An article of faith. Faith doesn’t generate solutions. But it keeps you looking for them.
She spoke first.
“This reminds me of something.”
“Yeah. That old Lost in Space episode with Michael J. Pollard.”
“Yeah! And that depressing Victorian novel. Water babies or something.”
“The vision recurs. There’s a reason. See the mirrors?”
At random intersections, mirrors gleamed.
Mirrors. Windows. Cracks in the universe.
After a thousand years or so, they managed to find the mirror in his lab. Cops were investigating Damnit to hell! and breaking things. They shouted and tried to get the cops’ attention. No good.
But one cop kinda looked. Tapped on the glass.
Then snorted and looked away.
They tried to press through the mirror. Unlike Alice, they were stuck. The glass was unyielding on their side too. But he almost saw us.
Hypothesis: Various writers glimpsed the lost souls in the corner of his mirror. Cute idea. How does it help? Because light got out. Observer affecting the observed. The order in their minds…
“Of course!” he said. “It’s so simple!”
He was always saying that.
He was always doing that, too.
She looked at him patiently and finally asked …
“So, how do we get out of here?”
“Ordo ab chao.”
“Ordo my ass. I didn’t take Latin you private school assh—“
She figured it out.
“Order out of chaos.”
Hypothesis: The multiplication of indeterminate/contingent reality models in the human mind creates hard drive errors in U1. Lost files (i.e.: people and stuff) wind up in the memory buffer universe. Said buffer isolates chaos and indeterminacy. Corollary: creating order in the buffer universe will cause lost files to be “found.”
“Yeah. I know it’s thin. We create order and we go home. If the hypothesis is wrong, we don’t. What’ve we got to lose?”
So they stacked, sorted, arranged, tidied up.
And tried to create order in the universe of chaos.
This was easier said than done.
The instant they started organizing, the Collectors appeared. Order attracted them with a relentless magnetic pull. Then they pulled it apart.
They’d stack up comic books by order of publication. The Collectors would come, pull the stack apart, walk away.
They’d sort stuff by kind.
The Collectors would unsort it.
You get the idea.
It was futile. Sisyphus work.
Then, miraculously, they discovered it was incredibly easy to kick the Collectors’ collective ass. Not fighters these guys. Fighter that she was, she got the most licks in. He stacked stuff up while she kept them away. Sorted it. Made it all nice and neat. Then neater and neater still.
And, just like that, they popped back in the supposedly sane universe of U1. And fell on their rear ends on a pile of crap in the garage. Old paper files from their first start-up, fortunately.
“God, we got to get this place organized,” she said.
“No kidding,” he said. “Put some of this stuff in storage.”
He stood up with a gleam in his eyes.
“The practical … yes! The practical application!”
“Stop,” she said. “Don’t.”
But he was smiling.
“Storage… Infinite storage!”
If his smile got any bigger the edges would meet and the top of his head would fall off.
He got to work.
And they made even more money, creating the network of N-space storage bins that we’ve come to depend on these days.
Occasionally, she wondered what would happen if the storage space failed and all the crap dumped back into our universe. He told her to have faith.
“In you?” she said.
“Yes. But I was referring to the math.”
He smiled an indeterminate smile.
“Have you seen my glasses?”