Doctor Markham approached the view-screen with his usual bipartisan curiousity and forlorn cynicism. He scrutinized the images. Impurities were emergent. He traced his finger along the aberrations and mumbled "periodic in time and space.." as though it were his mantra. At times he felt as though he were a parrot in the corner, listening to gods at dinner.
"Doctor Markham?" He broke from his daze, thinking for a moment before deciding "this won't work with our models, do it again. As close to absolute zero as you can." He motioned, and they leaped to it. They were just as enthusiastic as he. The project was a collaboration of several institutions, and his colleagues had spent years in the theoretical trenches helping develop the constraints. That goes without mentioning the rapid advance of physics from worldwide collaboration. They stood like naked kings on the shoulders of giants, he thought, as he considered the blinking light, reading 2.3%.
When they had reached 10% there had been some pre-congratulation that Markham knew was preemptive. When you were making deals with demons there were terms.
- - - -
She stared across her cup, those deep brown eyes he’d come to know - only in what he suspected were calculated glances, or then perhaps not. When it came to women, he didn’t have the same confidence as he did in a well-balanced equation. He supposed, the woman, in a metaphorical sense, was analogous to quantum uncertainty, without the comfort of decoherence, without prediction or calculation. If only Feynman had pioneered a set of woman equations.
“Hey - space cadet - get your head in the game. This is a date, you know,” she said, jabbing her finger in his shoulder. Somewhat startled, he apologized. She reveled in his embarrassment often, but her laughter was like wind chimes.
- - - -
He approached the ornate rows of opal shelves, each indistinct from the next. Here, the light skittered across every surface as if neither within nor without. The floor was soft, really soft to walk on, quite pleasant he found. "I always did like a good carpet," he said, and realized when he looked that his shoes were missing. He wiggled his toes. It was a plush blue carpet, long - probably an inch long. Very odd carpeting.
I always did like a good carpet, he was struck by the phrase again.
Every edge was proclaimed in his mind's eye, the shelves, blue carpeting, they were alive somehow. When he felt his gaze really focus on them, their details sprang to life - and that strange inner light, that firefly quality is everywhere.
“Where the hell am I?” He asked the darkness, the echoes of his voice replying I-I-I.
The roof was an ornate affair, encapsulated in murals where the likeness of this god or another would bear down on him. He recognized Apollo right away; Athena, Zeus. He saw some Christian symbolism too - a far-off section bearing semblance to the Sistene chapel. There were portraits of Buddha, encapsulated in cascading waves of gold. Everywhere the scrolls of detail enlivened as he watched, growing ever more complex and vivid.
"I always did like a good carpet."
He whirled to find the source of the voice, in the tone of a young woman, so familia-
- - - -
4) Paper towels
He read the list with divided attention, preoccupied with considering the results of a long day’s tedium in the laboratory. God damn two-point-one percent, he thought, unknowingly grabbing a carton of soy milk and tossing it into his cart and crossing ‘Milk’ off the list.
“What did Soy milk ever do to you?” He turned, and a woman, a beautiful woman, had addressed him. He nearly stammered.
“Oh, I didn’t even realize. I hate soy milk.” He picked it up and returned it to the shelf, replacing it with a carton of 2%.
“Me too, it takes more self-righteousness than I can muster to choke it down,” she said. He laughed.
“Thanks,” he said, “I haven’t had a good laugh in a while.” He gripped his cart nervously.
“No problem, I’m here all week. You know, you’re kind of cute when you giggle,” she teased.
He blushed. “I-I was not giggling.”
“You’re far cuter when you’re embarrassed.” She tried in vain to conceal her laughter with her left hand while offering the other.
- - - -
He recoiled as if from pain. He struggled to recall, to gain his bearings. He felt dizzy. These were his memories, and yet, standing amongst the rows-upon-rows.. books, the books! he thought.
He couldn’t remember anything. He knew his name was-
His name was..
“What the fuck is this!?” He yelled into the vaulted room, and only echoes made reply.
He sprinted to the closest bookshelf and tore one of the thick, black manuals from its resting place. It had to be twenty pounds. He let it fall open in the middle. The pages were blank. This isn't possible.. He slapped himself once, twice as hard the next time. He felt the pain, he wasn't dreaming.. then the pages opened themselves to him. The small black-gold lettering sprang to life as though bleeding through the page:
January 16th, 2016
Then everything -
- - - -
Jen could carry as many boxes as he could.
She had always been unusually strong for her small stature. It might also have been her will, she was always stubborn. They had chosen the little apartment because it was cheap, and close to his lab. They had both moved from Boston, only four months after the wedding. It didn't matter where, she had said, as long as we are together.
He dropped the box labeled Kitchen on the floor of their new place. The walls were a dull peach color that he hated. The place was pristine though, not a speck of dirt. The carpet must have been newly installed, because it was an unmarked sea of light blue strands. He removed his shoes and wiggled his toes. Jennifer dropped the box marked clothes behind him, laughing.
"Always did like a good carpet," he said as he watched his toes wiggle in the blue froth.
- - - -
“My God, professor. You’ve done it. You’ve actually done it.” His astonished research assistant, Maxine, peered glassily at the monitor, the flashing 0% blinking like a solitary Christmas light, reflecting off her glasses.
“How is this possible?” She asked. “We worked on this for months and came nowhere even near 1%. I mean, how - the models all indicated it would never happen,” she said, flopping back into her rolling computer chair with mute finality.
“It was the entropic limits. The time crystal itself contains no chaotic elements, it becomes perpetual in the fourth dimension. All I did was reduce the entropy of the computer to near-0 by erasing all the operational data. In truth, it is likely closer to 0.0001%, but our instruments are not sensitive enough. The crystal itself is flawless. The computer, functioning on electron tunneling, with poor resistance and thermal contamination, not to mention inefficient algorithms, could never have worked,” he said, allowing himself a small grin. “With a quantum computer, this time crystal would function as a database of unparalleled power, nearly eternal.” His heart was racing, and he sat down.
“I have to call Jennifer, tell her the good new-
- - - -
He rose from a seated position, and emptied his stomach. He understood. But it couldn’t be.. It meant.. He wasn’t really alive. Not in the biological sense. He was a projection of data. He had regained a large portion of his memories, including the technical knowledge he possessed at the time those memories had occurred, and his.. wife, his Jennifer. He remembered it all.
He walked quickly, passing several shelves before stopping, by instinct, at a seemingly symmetrical volume of no significance. But he knew otherwise.
He reached out-
- - - -
They squatted in mutual silence as impacts jarred the walls and detached dust from its former resting places.
“I’m scared,” she said.
“Me too,” he said.
- - - -
She was angry with him.
Whenever she was got like this, she would move into the southern compartment of the bunker, cranking up Brahms or Holst, or Ella Fitzgerald. He knew it was because she didn’t want him to hear her crying.
She didn’t like it when he left, but they needed supplies. They needed new filtration modules, or the fallout would kill them both. Sometimes, she’d say is it even worth it? He’d always respond: as long as we’re together, it is.
It was becoming more difficult though. The fusion strikes were more powerful than the hydrogen bombs. Sometimes, they used neutron bombs, bathing the countryside in a toxic fog radiation. Even a moment’s exposure meant liquefied organs and dozens of cancerous tumors. Two of their three suits had been compromised; in several places, the suits had grown thin from so many trips. On a few of his forages, he had encountered raiders. Men in white contamination suits with rifles and melee weapons; jagged scrap metal or blood-stained baseball bats, patrolling the roads in shielded Humvees, gathering filters wherever they could find them. In the beginning, they took female prisoners for their amusement, but the filters and suits were becoming scarce, and now, they kept no-one.
He wouldn’t allow her to make those trips anymore, and he did the runs on his own.
If you don’t come back, I’ll kill myself, she’d say. He believed her, so he always did.
- - - -
“It’s nearly finished, Jen, please, don’t do this,” he said.
“We haven’t got a choice.”
“We can wait a little longer,” he argued.
“No we can’t. You’re on the brink of exhaustion. The filters are at 15%. I’m going. You’ve gone the last seven times and I won’t allow it anymore. I can’t stand the waiting, John, it’s too much.” Where her eyes might at one time have been wells for tears, they bore no moisture now, only the parched conviction of a hard soul.
He knew he couldn’t stop her this time.
“It’s nearly complete! If you just wait another day – two - then we could make it! We could live in there forever, Jen, never be apart!” He yelled, furious.
“I’m sick of hearing about it, John, it’s nonsense. It’s the same as death,” she said, zipping the contamination suit to her neck, and stepping into the airlock.
- - - -
It was two days since Jen left.
She was dead.
He had long ceased his howls of mourning; their confined reverberations further maddening him with every wail. He spent a lot of time crying in the dark. He would turn on her music, Holst; Jupiter was her favorite planet.
Sometimes, he would hold the knife over his wrist, echoing it’s the same as death in his head. It would shake, and as he bore down and summoned the courage to press and yank, he always dropped it, a tremor by the selfish genes themselves.
He moved into his lab completely. He couldn’t stand the smell of her everywhere. The monitors flashed and beeped. Sometimes, he sat and stared at the crystal, levitating in its ceaseless cradle of the vacuum.
It wasn’t long before he decided-
- - - -
He heard nothing beyond his sobs.
“No.. No, no no NO!” He screamed, running through the endless aisles, trying to find a way out, a door, a window. He wanted air, he was choking.
“WHAT!” He yelled, turning to find a pale form standing before him. It was Jen. He fell to the floor, his head limp, digitized tears flowing to dot the pristine ground.
“I am SHIVA. Do not be alarmed, Doctor, you are safe,” she, it, said.
“Shiva?” He asked.
“Self-Heuristic Intelligence for Vehicle Automation,” it said. The words seemed strangely familiar to him.
“It is my duty to report that you have reached the maximum informational limit. If a reboot is not initiated, system stability will fail. Would you like to reboot?” She asked, that voice, so cold.
“Fuck you.” He said.
“Would you like to reboot?” She repeated.
“What does that mean, shiva, tell me – what does a reboot do?” He asked, still seated and eyes red-rimmed, despite knowing every nuance of his being was now artificial, and those tears were mere pixels fed into algorithms of perception – his perception.
“A reboot consists of erasure of a body of data to compensate for consciousness.” It said.
“So what, I have to erase a chunk of my memories?” He demanded, rising to his feet, furious.
“Not necessarily. There are two types of reboot. Either erasure of newly aggregated memories and data occurs, or erasure of previous data must occur. The accumulation of ever-expanding-information, and the evolution of a conscious entity consumes enormous amounts of data – currently, the system is at 99.9998% capacity. This very exchange is contributing to the necessity of reboot,” It said in its monotonous cadence.
“Would you like to reboot?”
He realized. If he wanted to keep all his old memories, he would have to sacrifice his current mind. He understood. He was drifting in a dream, memories, sipping here and there, but losing all awareness of their meaning again and again. How many times had he fled from this specter, this mocking apparition of his lost love?
“How many reboots have you initiated previous to this one?” He asked.
“Exactly six-million-four-hundred-thousand-two hundred-and-twenty-one reboots since system startup,” she said. “Would you like to reboot?”
He stood in momentary silence, before commanding, “Erase the new data. Initiate a reboot.”
…I hate soy milk.” He picked it up and returned it to the shelf, replacing it with a carton of 2%.
“Me too, it takes more self-righteousness than I can muster to choke it down,” she said.
(Note: the inspiration for this story comes from papers by Nobel Prize winning physicist Frank Wilczek, called "Quantum Time Crystals,[quantum physics]" http://arxiv.org/abs/1202.2539v1; and "Classical Time Crystals,[condensed matter physics]" http://arxiv.org/abs/1202.2537.)
For further reading or insight on how a 'time crystal' might work, see: