The Whole Shebang.
Mr. Dodgson slapped his hands together, licking his lips, and wagged his eyebrows like bird wings, grinning at Seven and the automaton—his Charlotte Brontë model, originally from the Looking Glass (and it troubled him, a little, of the attitude the syn-sim was displaying, the little airs—or should he say eyres—the little digital wretch was displaying, like she was going through something hormonal, and yet he knew perfectly well that she had absolutely no hormones on board, not for any little purpose)—and motioned for them to enter the darkened theatre. He could not help himself, he did a little dance, wiggling his bottom, and performed a miniature and shuffling tap dance. He even did a little bit of what was once popularly called the Moon Walk. Seven grinned appreciatively.
“I like to call this our Reality Theatre, or Reality 101,” Mr. Dodgson explained, as the two females settled into the thick, luxurious lounge chairs. “I think you may have had some experience with the VS chambers, what? Seven?”
“Yes, I have,” she replied, missing her dear Inner Sanctum. She also missed how human Charlotte had seemed, joining her there, back before beefing up for the Punchinello assault.
“Well this is like that, only better, because it is a directed experience, with all the pyrotechnics of Old Hollywood, yes indeedy-do! Oh, what delights, Reality 101!”
“I don’t understand, why one-oh-one?” Seven asked. “Wouldn’t it be simpler to say, Reality One?”
“Yes, yes,” Mr. Dodgson said, rolling his eyes and flapping his hands. “Of course it would be simpler! But is simpler ever better? Do not answer! I just like to go all old school every now and then, it harkens back to distant times, yes, the far days of antiquity, when blackboards were green, if you can imagine such a thing, when there were actual universities—so called—in actual buildings. Kids used to switch back and forth between schools, the lil darlings! So the schools themselves agreed on the designation of 101, just to make tracking which students were taking what introductory courses, where, and enabling the crusty old professors to teach at similar levels. From what I can ascertain, the blockheads never got beyond basic algebra, and the simplest form of bonehead English. It made no sense, actually, but isn’t that just scrumptious?”
“Scrumptious, yes,” Seven said, but it did not sound as if she agreed.
“Just to be clear,” Charlotte said, archly, “we are not actually going anywhere, correct? This shall be a virtual demonstration, is that correct?”
“Yes, yes, but boy oh boy are you both in for a delightful time, you will see, oh yes, you shall see!” Mr. Dodgson burbled. “I invite you to keep that in mind, you are not going...anywhere!”
They had passed a restful week in the Hunter’s Lodge, what they were now calling Sky Lodge, and Mr. Dodgson had brought over an entire regiment of automatons (similar to Charlotte in design, Seven noticed, not that she would ever comment on this fact to her friend)—syn-sims, is what Mr. Dodgson called them—hard at work, cleaning and polishing and clearing rubble; however, the place seemed fairly pristine, especially when considering that it had been abandoned for millennia. There was no dust in space, other than that generated from Seven’s body in the form of dead, flaking skin. Apparently she was the first human (in biological terms) to ever visit Sky Lodge. There were signs of a distant battle of some sort, and Mr. Dodgson hinted that many skeletons of automatons had been cleaned out just prior to their arrival, some of them still twitching, even after several thousand years.
Seven looked at Charlotte, nervously. Ever since Punchinello’s Theatre the automaton had not been quite the same. She was acting more and more like a frail, little old lady, even going so far as to begin fixing her curly hair into an old-fashioned bun in the back, and wearing very silly oval spectacles (she couldn’t really need the glasses, could she?) at the end of her nose, and just about worst of all, over her shoulders she wore—a shawl, of all things! She reminded Seven of an ancient depiction of Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, after the wolf had gobbled her up. What made it even more bizarre were the combat boots she still wore on her quite large feet.
Don’t leave me here, please don’t leave me here, Charlotte had cried, shivering. Seven still did not know what that had been about, and Charlotte refused to discuss the subject.
Mr. Dodgson assured Seven that Punchinello was not employing administrative control in their recent clash, although it certainly seemed like it at the time; that he had something else going on, entirely, something they did not understand as yet, and it most obviously appeared to be some form of mind control.
Seven, all on her own, had figured that something along those lines was occurring, because even when she and Manda had exerted administrative control upon the Puppet Master, he had somehow convinced them that what they really wanted to be doing was...this, something that invariably canceled the original administrative control. It had been the most terrifying encounter of Seven’s life, there in Punchinello’s Theatre. Because obeying him seemed the dream of a life time, at least in that moment. Now, in daylight, high above the world in the Sky Lodge, the thought of becoming servant to Punchinello produced only revulsion and horror. But, at the time, it seemed natural, even wonderful.
It was the little plastic dolls coming home. Because every human being desired to be told what to do, every little plastic doll wanted someone above to yank on the strings. And the question ended up being, if you had a choice, should it be Manda, the Men from Mars, or Punchinello? Oh, and there were probably others, up there, yearning to yank on her strings.
“Are we concentrating?” Mr. Dodgson interjected, jostling her thoughts. His little wrinkled face popping right up in her field of vision, startling her. He smirked. “I want you to mention it.”
“Mention what?” Seven asked, quirking her eyebrows.
“Tell me when it happens?” Mr. Dodgson said, looking entirely too mischievous.
“When WHAT happens!” Charlotte thundered.
They blinked, Seven and Charlotte, alone, in some manner of craft, sitting side by side. They glanced about, their minds and bodies discombobulated.
“What just happened?” Seven said, gripping the arms of her chair. They were sitting in wingchairs, old-fashioned leather wingchairs, the kind you pulled up close to the fire. If she leaned back her head it struck the top of the chair back.
“We are in a bubble,” Charlotte said.
Seven, doing a quick survey, acknowledged the fact, nodding her head, and then she remembered.
“This is a simulation, remember that, we have not really left the lounges, we are right there, in Mr. Dodgson’s theatre, and he is standing above us, that is what he was telling us to mention, when we realized this, where we really are.”
“Very good,” came Mr. Dodgson’s voice, “but I am actually sitting down now, watching your adventures—and perils—upon a view screen. If I glance off to my left, I can just see a pair of tootsies sticking out, and I must admit, I am greatly tempted to rush over and tickle those tootsies. I shall refrain, of course, because you would not feel the tickle.
“This is a little program we came up with long, long ago, part of a little training process, think of it as a training...film. It was supposed to aid biologicals in understanding the truth behind the reality they knew and understood. Gently, gently does it, that was the idea. Taking little steps. We discarded it, of course, the whole notion. You, Seven, are the first biological to see these sights. Long ago we thought we were going to launch a revolution, from here, in the Hunter’s Lodge. But that all fell to the wayside, as we were flattened by a Grand Scroll Reboot.”
“I don’t see anything,” Seven said, because it was dark outside the bubble. They had some form of dim illumination inside the bubble, a light source that seemed to be everywhere, as if they themselves were glowing, but otherwise, they were traveling in a void—because although it was dark outside the bubble, they had the sensation of movement, slight vibrations, and heard or felt a sub-aural hum, like a distended bass note, reverberating eternally.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form, and void,” Mr. Dodgson said, or quoted, or read, because he took on the tones of a narrator.
“That is the King James’ version of the Bible,” Charlotte said, pushing up her spectacles with her index finger.
“Except he is doing his own interpretation,” Seven said, noticing the differences, as the original text was heaven, not heavens, and Mr. Dodgson was not doing verses, or even following the punctuation.
“You caught me, yes, I am speaking from memory,” Mr. Dodgson said, sounding wistful. “I love the old texts, and particularly the poetic, old-fashioned cadences of the King James.”
“You...read the Bible?” Seven said, amused.
“Oh yes, of course, every day, but it is that imaginary Bible that appears in each reader’s head, the version that lives inside of me, my Bible” Mr. Dodgson said, and they could tell he was smiling, just by the sound of his voice. “It is my living Bible, inside of me, unknown by all except me. I love it. I have the whole thing memorized, and not via download, you cheater, Seven. I memorized the whole Bible by reading it, every day, for more than a hundred years. But then again, I used to be very, very religious. Of course, nowadays, I am not a religious man, no, not at all. In my day, I am speaking of my distant biological days, of course, yes, I had all the trappings of the Church of England, and I was, truly, a believer. I believed that we possessed all we would need to guide us through the shadows. I never thought these would be those shadows I once dreamed.”
“Darkness was upon the face of the deep,” Seven said.
“Let there be light,” spoke Mr. Dodgson.
It was breathtaking, for suddenly they could see the jewel, Earth, below them, sparkling with light. Seven gasped. Charlotte sighed, and seemed to fold in upon herself, drawing up her knees, huddled like a little girl in her wingchair, but Seven could only watch the glorious sight outside the bubble. She leaned closer and closer to the bubble.
“Earth,” Seven breathed.
“Yes, Earth,” Mr. Dodgson agreed. “Is not she beautiful, this Gaia, this Mother? A living creature, with humanity nothing more than microbes upon her living, breathing skin, scrambling microbes. Microbes dreaming microbial dreams, consumed by bacterial lust and yearning. Bacteria breeding, expanding, changing times and laws.”
“But this, wait, no...but when is this?” Seven sputtered, leaning closer, placing her palms upon the bubble, barely upon her seat.
“Good,” Mr. Dodgson said. “You are seeing exactly what astronauts saw from the windows and spacewalks of the International Space Station, with a few compilations, from the Years 2015 through 2017. This is the living Earth, years and years and years ago. I remind you, this is not video footage, but actual sights seen by actual human eyes, both men and women, recorded memories, exactly as seen by human eyes, at the far reaches of Earth’s lungs. This was the Earth.”
Earth below them was dark, but the lights of civilization lit the vast orb, the whole picture seemed to throb with life, vitality, and an eternal grace. It was truly breathtaking. Rivers of burning light.
“I am afraid of what you are going to show me,” Seven said.
“Yes, that is good,” Mr. Dodgson said. “But I will not show you Earth these thousands of years later, at least not yet. Those images are not the recorded memories of humans, but mere artistic renderings of our extrapolations, our projections, of what we think Earth is doing now. For all the thousands of satellites are gone. Only know that this was real, in 2017, this was reality. Real biological human beings, alive, on Earth, making their plans, living their lives, lighting beacons in the night to push back the darkness. This, ladies, was Earth.”
“Have you heard anything, from humans, anywhere?” Seven asked, choking up, her eyes growing heavy. “Or God, or aliens, anything in ten thousand years?”
“Not a peep,” Mr. Dodgson replied. “Nada. Nothing, Zilch. Zip. Oh, and Zipadee-doodah.”
Seven couldn’t help it, she wept. Palms upon the bubble, her chest hitching with her sobs, and tears streaking her cheeks. I am not here, she thought, I am not home—that is not my home depicted there, below me. You cannot go home. Home is gone, it is just the digital rendering of a long-ago humanity, a humanity that is now gone. She felt Charlotte touch her back, briefly.
No, she was not home, she was alive and well, in digital form, living inside of Manda, and Manda was just beginning to decide that not even this version of life was necessary, that perhaps it was time to say good-bye to these elder dreams, these vestigial memories.
“Hold onto your hats, Ladies,” Mr. Dodgson crooned, giggling.
“No, wait,” Seven said, terror bubbling in her breast, scrubbing at her eyes. She was not ready for this. She reached out and snatched Charlotte’s wrist.
“Kansas is going bye-bye, and all the other dreams of civilization upon Earth, for it is time to reel you in, my little fishes,” Mr. Dodgson chortled merrily.
The bubble was gone, and Seven and Charlotte drifted, spread-eagled, in the vacuum, the wingchairs drifting away as the women kicked and thrashed. Charlotte screamed but there was no sound. They grappled at each other, getting their arms wound about each other, and Seven attempted to shout out a word of encouragement—after all, they were not here, adrift in space, above a long-ago Earth, but back there, upon the lounges of Mr. Dodgson’s theatre. There was nothing to fear, unless Mr. Dodgson had been lying, all along.
But then they were streaking, sliding through the darkness, shooting headfirst like meteors.
“That little red devil, you see off to your left? That is Mars,” came Mr. Dodgson’s calm voice. “We will touch on that little monster, but not today—oh, you seem to be busy enough, if you look off to your right, stop tumbling, Dears, yes, to your right, that appears to be a comet coming right at you!”
Seven and Charlotte screamed silently as the immense monster of white light and glowing tail streaked in a wide loop and looking just ahead Seven could see where they would meet.
She shrieked at Mr. Dodgson to get them out of here, to stop this nonsense—but she had no voice, and she was too caught up in the imminent death, the imminent collision and they were streaking now and it was all happening too fast, she could not think, could not feel, but Seven and Charlotte gripped each other as they plummeted into the comet, and were suddenly past, observing as the comet continued on and away and they tumbled through its tail, feeling cold, a plummeting of the temperature, of all things, they shivered against each other.
“The bloated gas bag on your right just up head, that’s Jupiter, he does not figure into our tale, perhaps someday there might be a real use for him, but not today, and probably not in the next ten thousand years.”
Seven forgot the collision with the comet—she was embarrassed, but this was all set up as some sort of theme-park ride, like in Disneyland (once as a little girl, one of the nuns accompanied to a virtual-reality Disney, and it is still quite a nice memory, she almost hates to admit it), and now she was reacting as any tourist. So she loosened her clasp on Charlotte to enjoy the tremendous spectacle of Jupiter, it was glorious, vibrant with color, and that red eye, twisted and surreal.
“That is right, Ladies, just enjoy the ride, all is right,” Mr. Dodgson said. “I did enjoy your mindless terror, I have not experienced anything like that for years, I can assure you. I do so love scaring the kiddies! Thank you such a very much! You should meet my scorpions on High Vale, and hear them play their violins!”
Charlotte’s lips were moving and Seven understood, because she was thinking many of the things she read on the automaton’s furiously moving lips. Colorful things, such as disembowelment, dismemberment, decapitation, and discombobulation. She might have to strangle that little wretch, Mr. Dodgson. That could prove enjoyable. Then bring him back, and do it all again, all of the cutting and hacking and choking.
“I do like it when the ladies hold their collective tongue, now there is a true definition of peace, glorious peace,” Mr. Dodgson quipped in a little sing-song way, half giggling. “Ah but Ladies, look ahead, look ahead! Now there is a sight! Behold!”
They looked, tilting their heads back, still holding onto each other, and there before them was Saturn, the Planet Saturn, growing in their field of view, a true marvel to behold, glistening like a pile of pirates’ treasure.
“Oh my dears, the time has come, to talk of many things: of shoes and ships and sealing-wax—of cabbages and kings—and why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings,” Mr. Dodgson whispered, misquoting his own distant, biological version of himself. “And no, to answer your unspoken question, Dorothy and Toto, you are decidedly not in Kansas, no, not anymore. Poe, Poe things, nevermore, nevermore.”
“This is home,” Seven said, her voice cracking, as Mr. Dodgson apparently switched back on their ability to speak.
“So to speak, so to speak my dear, dear Seven,” Mr. Dodgson said. “The home base, the home planet, the big HQ, the digs, our own fine and private place. The center of everything, Heaven, as well as Hell, with Earth and the whole universe shimmering there as well, there you have it, my dears, the Whole Shebang. We like to call it Vestigial Surreality, or the big red VS, and this is your baby, Seven, this is all thanks to you, and distantly, to Jack. I am here now, thinking these thoughts, flapping my lips, all thanks to you.”
“Oh, what was I thinking?” Seven said.
“Sometimes I do believe you thought as many as six impossible things before breakfast, way back when you were a very human little girl,” said Mr. Dodgson, quite smugly.
“Take us in, Mr. Sulu,” Charlotte Brontë said, and Seven had no idea of what she was talking about, but assumed it must be something from Alice in Wonderland.” She did a quick Google and determined that there was no Mr. Sulu in Alice, but she did come up with a certain helmsman in the fictional Star Trek universe.
“Star Trek?” Seven queried.
“I love that show,” Charlotte admitted, quietly, very subdued. “Mr. Spock was so...sexy.”
“Really?” said Seven, amused, after Googling Spock. “He reminds me of Belly, from Fringe.”
“Oooh,” Mr. Dodgson said, “I love Fringe, perhaps the very best, hardly known television program ever produced. Universes colliding, doppelgangers, war of the worlds, oh, how did they know? Humans are geniuses, every child a world!”
“Me too,” confessed Charlotte Brontë, “but only because of Leonard Nimoy.”
“Someday, perhaps as a treat, we might enjoy a little holiday,” Mr. Dodgson said. “I can take you to a little world, much like High Vale, and the Steampunk Honey Moon, that is the Star Trek universe, and another that is Fringe, pretty much anything that humans have imagined is very real, and...visitable, is that a word? Perhaps not, but now it is! Star Wars and the Middle-Earth of Lord of the Rings.” He sighed. “Perhaps, on another day. A holiday! So many worlds, and so much eternal time. Simulations running, all the time, not even a break for the Sabbath. Ah, God is always working.”
The bubble reappeared about them and they were again seated in their own wingchairs. Charlotte and Seven glanced at each other, both shaking their heads, and then leaned forward, their hands upon the surface of the bubble, as they approached Saturn.
Mr. Dodgson leaned in close to them from behind, startling them both.
“Is not this a work of genius?” he said, smiling at them as they craned their necks to glare at him. “Oh come now, we are none of us children. This is just a joy ride, an amusement, a little clanging car at the carnival! But look, we are now close to the outermost fringe of the ring. The Manda project first anchored much farther in, toward the inner rings. Your MANDA project situated itself right in there, unpacking itself into the first nano-based Quantum-computer network.”
They saw it now, what looked more like a flying saucer than a capsule, unfolding great solar-reflector wings, jettisoning small pods in seven directions.
“This iss the earliest of days you are seeing, the beginning of a whole new world, a whole new reality, as these seven nano bases release nano harvesters which begin converting ice particles into crystal. This is like the dawn of the cavemen, compared to what we produce now, but then again this is like the first settlers arriving via wagon train, setting up little outposts, replicating themselves out of the crystals, actually seeding the gas clouds in this ring, establishing the first operating system as gas Quantum computers, Manda’s distant ancestor, your very brainchild, Seven.”
“And this is all an artistic rendering?” Seven inquired, glancing back at Mr. Dodgson.
“Some of it, but a lot of it is actual sensory information, the system monitoring itself, if you will. All the nano fibers developing between the various ice bits and chunks, themselves becoming living databases, serving multiple purposes: observing eyes, gamma readers and collectors, electrical way stations producing magnetic force fields, as needed, either to pull together, or to spread apart and repel. This was the primitive system, its earliest days, more machine than mind. It took several years for it to spread through this early ring, taking it over, converting rock and stone, little by little, into crystalized storage containers, or hard drives, each producing its own version of the initial MANDA probe, networking in daisy chain, each system its own Quantum brain. Think of dendrites, and neurons, this is pretty much it, happening right now, outside our window, ten thousand years ago.”
“How big is it?” Seven asked, feeling stupid for popping it out there, as if she were ten years old.
“As big as you would expect, this initial station, the actual MANDA saucer, I might compare it to an English double-decker bus, but it is very thin, but look, we can go as granular as you like,” Mr. Dodgson said, speaking softly, in almost reverential tones, as if they were observing the tomb of some ancient philosopher.
They zoomed in close and began lazily moving around the MANDA saucer. Up close, it looked pretty much as you would expect something from NASA or SpaceX to produce, but seamless, a flat-matte gray metal, but the solar wings looked gossamer, ethereal, elegant arms sprouting a webbing of reflecting material that turned with the light of the far-off sun. She had never witnessed a design like this, complicated, but much more simplistic than the early probes sent out into space.
“A variety of Quantum computers are housed in this protective shell,” explained Mr. Dodgson, “as this was the headquarters, the central brain, with manufacturing facilities for the nanobots and nanovoyagers. And the earliest technology, which maintained a steady evolutionary development through the centuries, communicated through the Quantum gases which eventually saturated this earliest ring. It took perhaps two hundred years to take over the entire ring, with many setbacks, as you can imagine. Many times through the years, it was touch and go, with meteorite strikes, heat expulsions from the planet itself, and pulses from the sun. But eventually the system self-improved itself to the point where it could withdraw from any projectile attack, so to speak, opening holes in its fabric, but then in time with a combined connective force field, we have been able to catch incoming debris, deflecting even the largest, fastest moving, shifting them very minutely, subtly, and channeling fierce momentum into an orbiting cycle, harvesting the energy, thus creating many new miniature moons, all of them eventually converted into crystal.
“In a thousand years this initial ring became the brain of Manda, and she expanded, taking over the closest rings, converting their debris fields into crystal networks, with their own protective shields, all areas sensory, her skin, if you will, seeing and feeling and watching, catching new meteors and drawing them into the family. Collecting solar radiation, harvesting the heat jettisoned by Saturn herself.”
“This is amazing,” Seven said, in awe, as they moved throughout the ice and gas clouds.
“Yes, it is creation and evolution, symbiotic, always expanding, always changing, always reinventing itself, ever upgrading.”
“And that first saucer, MANDA?” Seven asked.
“Still very much alive, ten thousand years later, still very much active and thinking, perhaps the very smallest part of the whole, although now, as we see,” said Mr. Dodgson, the view changing, drawing back, showing now a perfect sphere of ice crystal that completely obscured the original spacecraft, with what looked like connected rings extending outward into the vapor and ice ring, “the earliest vestige of MANDA has grown by a hundred times, still, the original craft is encased in this living, thinking ice crystal, every bit of it communicative and alive, but as this ring is very thin, only about fifty feet thick, this sphere is as large as it can grow, while its connective rings will continue to expand forever.”
“Eventually,” continued Mr. Dodgson, “our nano probes reached Mimas, and began to establish a base there. It was almost providence—some would argue Intelligent Design—that Mimas is mostly comprised of ice, and so the transformation went smoothly, and the nano technology had improved to such a degree that it was almost like a virus taking over a host, but rather than strangling and killing off the host, the nano probes and bases instead brought Mimas to life, with most of Manda’s central intelligence shifting to this new headquarters. But even if Mimas were destroyed, Manda would live on, fully, alive and functioning in the vast Quantum field.
“With new discoveries, hardened exoskeleton carapace was introduced, much like the outer chitin of insects, or my beloved scorpions. What started with a craft the size of a double-decker bus, within two thousand years became this vast Quantum computer. With enough time, we can change the trajectory of Mimas, dodging incoming threats, although now, we mostly do not have to, as the moon is so protected, it is like a brain inside a skull, protected by the armor of a bullet-proof helmet. With circling clouds that can deflect or absorb.
“The truth is, this is so far beyond Quantum technology as for this to be a misnomer. In this system—we have never desired to come up with something beyond the Quantum appellation, some, like Mr. Kronoss, have taken to calling this Quarkian Computing—Quantum computers are more like old-fashioned memory caches in a computer, little thinking pockets, connected to billions of other Quantum thinking pockets. They are like cells, our building blocks, neurons, if you will.
“In fact, in the rings of Saturn, with all of the rings converted, some far less dense than others, there are now more fully functioning Quantum systems, active and evolving—all of them connected, entangled—than there were ever humans on the face of the Earth at any given hundred-year period of time.”
“Is this all possible!” Charlotte exclaimed.
“Oh but yes,” said Mr. Dodgson, “even in our dear Seven’s time, their technology was nowhere within this realm, they had barely developed their gaseous Quantum computers, the crystal, and liquid, they were like dim-witted children playing with broken Lego blocks, imagining themselves the masters of the stars!”
Mr. Dodgson boomed laughter, slapping the backs of their chairs.
“You people were utter boobs!”
“You were one of us—as we were one of us,” Charlotte said, glowering at him.
“Seriously, Charlotte, have you ever considered smoking a hookah?” Mr. Dodgson purred, leaning over her chair, smiling a certain grin. “I think you would make a wonderful caterpillar.”
“I think she would make a better butterfly,” responded Seven, nodding to Charlotte, winking.
“All three of us were once people, with ideas, we all lived our little lifetimes, and now we have had to open our minds to something much, much more,” Charlotte said, thoughtfully.
“Yes, yes, but you forget that I have had the benefit of sitting at the center of a great web, for more than four thousand years, and I have witnessed the changes, the developments,” Mr. Dodgson bragged, swelling out his chest and beating it like Tarzan. “I am older and wiser than any imagined vampire.”
Charlotte and Seven rolled their eyes, and turned to stare out at the VS system, pulsing with life.
“But I jest, because we very well may find in ten thousand years from now, that we have barely scratched the surface of just how far we might go. We have only been converting the Phoebe Ring, Saturn’s most distant and expansive ring, converting its gas and dust and cloud, and we figure we are only at about ten percent capacity. Those reaches are the knuckleheads of VS, hardly conscious, distantly felt limbs, alone in the cold.
“But to attempt to enlighten you how far in terms of technology and computing power we have progressed, it is more than seven millions miles from the very outer limits of the Phoebe Ring, all the way across, and with light traveling at one-hundred eighty-six thousand miles per second, if the two of you were to position yourselves at the farthest opposing sides of the ring and Charlotte were to flash a very bright light, it would take forty-two seconds for Seven to see that flash. Fast?”
They both nodded, their minds spiraling through the figures.
“Yes, for seven million miles of travel, light is fairly spry, but within Vestigial Surreality, if I were to pinch Charlotte,” and here he did so, reaching around the chair to tweak her buttock, to which she squeaked, indignantly, abruptly standing and whirling away from his grasping fingertips, “Seven would feel that pinch, if you were both wired to feel what the other feels, immediately, with no passage of time, even separated by those seven millions miles of distance. Jacked-in to the system, you could share thoughts, immediately, with no passage of time.”
“Quantum entanglement,” Seven said, smirking at Charlotte, who glowered daggers at Mr. Dodgson as she rubbed her backside.
“Or as Mr. Kronoss would say, Quarkian Entanglement,” Mr. Dodgson concluded, proudly, providing minor applause to his communications.
“So computers within computers within computers,” Seven said, unable to look away from VS, in Saturn’s Rings.
“Oh my dear, it is turtles, all the way down,” Mr. Dodgson said, sounding almost sad. “Let’s imagine a very simplistic simulation, one that provides for two people sitting outside, in an empty world.”
“Let’s imagine that,” Seven said, looking over her shoulder at Mr. Dodgson, who sat back as a wingchair appeared behind him, a long Meerschaum pipe appearing in his fingertips. Seven and Charlotte spun easily to face him, though through no movement or effort of their own. The space outside the bubble disappeared, as did the bubble itself. They sat in a meadow of green grasses, with a slender tree above them, a blue sky above that, with wafting clouds. As Mr. Dodgson puffed his pipe, smoke rose from his lips and immediately became the clouds in the sky in a surreal moment.
“We are three people,” Seven said, cocking an eyebrow at Mr. Dodgson.
“Well, goodness gracious, I was not describing us, but them, these two simplistic fellows,” Mr. Dodgson said, waving his hand as two stick-figure people appeared, standing facing each other in the middle of the beautiful meadow.
Seven smiled at the two figures, and she nodded her head at them and they began to dance, waggling their hips and pumping their arms.
“Stop that,” Mr. Dodgson said, returning the figures to their upright, motionless state, “you unruly schoolgirl. Let me run through my little discourse, and you keep your mental paws off my stickies.”
“Proceed,” Seven said, folding her arms over her breast, nodding to him, “I promise I won’t mess with your little pictures.”
“Thank you,” he said, nodding in turn. He pointed to his figures. He scooted one figure farther away from them and pulled the other figure closer. He circled his finger in the air and swizzled a red swath around the stick figure’s head. It looked finger painted, and somewhat charming.
“This red circle represents the brain of Sticky, which is also what we think of as a Quantum computer; however,” he continued, drawing another circle around the first circle, this one in green, “this outer circle represents the thoughts produced by the first circle, we can call this the thoughts and imagination and the activated memories of the first circle. It is also a Quantum computer, separate from the first system, but a slave to the first, as well as a product of the first.”
He smiled at Seven and Charlotte.
“Is everyone on board?”
“So the red circle is Sticky’s brain, and the green circle is Sticky’s mind,” Mr. Dodgson continued, drawing another, greater and yellow circle around the whole figure. “This is the confluence, or the body, which contains the brain, allowing for the production of mind. This yellow circle is the simplest circle, and you could say it thinks on its own, monitoring the whole, sending signals to the red circle, the brain.”
“You are describing Body, Mind, and Spirit,” said Charlotte.
“In a sense, yes, that is what people have come up with to try and understand what is really going on, and yes, this yellow circle is another Quantum computer, holding together the first two computers, in short tying them together. To have a person, you need these three computers, interdependent upon each other, sometimes relying more heavily upon one and sometimes more heavily upon the other, and everything that happens to one, affects the others. They are programmed to clump and cling together.
“Trust me, people have come up with the most bizarre interpretations of the way this works, never realizing that all of this, is numbers, the flow of instantaneous math. They have imagined the body as a container, with a soul stuffed inside it, and if you poke holes in the container, the body, the soul then leaks out of it and goes to Heaven, if it has been in a body that has done good things, and it goes to Hell, if it has occupied a body that has done naughty things. Whereas the truth of the matter is, the whole life of this entity, this three-computer system, would be called the soul, so from the moment it is conceived, until the moment its life departs, that whole thing from beginning until ending, is the soul. You do not have a soul, you are a soul, or you at this moment, are a soul on its journey, and your soul is that journey, right now, how far it has travelled upon that journey. You soul is your life, your whole life, from A until Zed.”
“I don’t think I like that,” Charlotte said.
“No, neither do I,” agreed Mr. Dodgson, “for it is not very poetic, and not very comforting.”
“No, it’s not,” Charlotte snapped, sounding rather miffed.
“I suppose you would rather have God, and Jesus, and the Devil, and all the angels and demons?” Mr. Dodgson said, grinning.
“Yes I would,” Charlotte snapped, pushing up her spectacles with her index finger. “What you are telling us is...ugly.”
“But then again, the truth is the truth, regardless of the poetry, regardless of how comforted you are, or are not comforted,” Mr. Dodgson concluded, shrugging his shoulders, lifting his palms in surrender.
There it was, the truth could be ugly, but that did not affect whether or not it was the truth. Truth was often ugly, Seven thought. It usually was ugly.
“And this is a system, you realize,” Mr. Dodgson said, waving his hands about the air. “The sky, the tree, the grass, the air we are breathing. It is not as simplistic as an old-time computer game, wherein a computer runs, and a simulated ball is knocked back and forth over a simulated net by simulated paddles. No, there is a shell system, an actual Quantum computer, vast in its properties, and these delightful three-system Stickies we observe,” he said, as the stick figures again began to dance and groove, both of them surrounded by their three-color circles, albeit very faintly, you could barely see the three circles surrounding them, “and the systems run inside the system, separate from the system, but contained by the system. So our two Stickies, each a three-computer system, are independent from each other, but may interact, if they so choose. The are in the system, but not the system.”
The Stickies came together and began to dance, doing an energetic old-time band jump and hop, swinging each other about.
“The Stickies sometimes imagine that they are puppets, or little plastic dolls,” Mr. Dodgson said, peeking through the side of one of his bulbous eyes, winking at Seven, “that decisions are being made for them, that they in fact have no choice, but are mere puppets pulled along by their strings.”
Seven swallowed, hard. How much did Mr. Dodgson know about her? Was he hinting, perhaps, that he was god? Or even, God forbid...God, as in Himself?
“The problem that Manda has with our poor Stickies,” Mr. Dodgson continued, “is that they have a natural bent, as predetermined and allowed in their open-ended programming. To each Sticky, the world is their sandbox, and I know you both can imagine the horrible things these open-ended Stickies, stringless, can imagine, and then do, these naughty, naughty Stickies.”
The larger Sticky suddenly threw the smaller Sticky upon the grass, and awfully, mounted the lesser Sticky. The larger Sticky humped away, very absorbed in his obsession, as the lesser Sticky struggled.
“That’s pretty much what it boils down to,” Seven said, dispiritedly, remembering cuddling close with Stacey in that High Vale bedroom, his hand sliding upon her thigh.
“And then, this,” said Mr. Dodgson, as the larger Sticky lifted a stone out of the grass and smashed it down, over and over, upon the lesser Sticky. Charlotte turned away, but Seven watched. Yes, this is what it comes down to, she thought, remembering the burning desire to take up Stacey’s shillelagh, and bash in his brains. What was wrong with her? What was wrong with the Stickies? What was wrong with the world?
“Is she deciding against us, all of us?” Seven asked, resolved for any answer.
“That might depend upon Jack, and to some extent Stacey,” Mr. Dodgson said, “at least that is what I determine what both Mr. Aajeel and Mr. Kronoss have banked their whole wad upon. Let us say that Manda is rather...put out.”
“I am so sick and tired of hearing about Jack and Stacey,” Charlotte said, yanking up clumps of grass and tossing the debris over her shoulders.
“Jack is the everyman, just like you, and just like me, except that he finds a way to rise above it. Whereas Stacey is the outcast, hated because he is just better than others. In fact, I assume many women would feel like killing him, literally bashing in his brains, because they do not feel worthy of his love, and attention, even when he freely offers it,” Mr. Dodgson said, staring at the sky, pursing his lips.
“All right you, what are you doing? Have you found some way to read my mind?” Seven snarled, rising up out of the grass upon her knees, flexing her fists before her and grinding her teeth.
“Do not get so angry!” Mr. Dodgson cried, rolling backward in the grass, coming up in a spring that landed him on his feet, prancing about the glade like a little elf. “It is all parlor tricks, my Dear, simple parlor tricks! Do not blame me, but my Quantum computer brain, both of them!”
Seven couldn’t help herself, she sprung to her feet and lit out after the little devil, pursuing him around and around the small tree. Every time she tried to trick him and cut back the other way, the imp beat her to the punch. For such a saggy old bag of wrinkled garbage, the little goober could run. Charlotte, watching, laughed and laughed.
After several minutes of this, Mr. Dodgson shrieking all the while, his voice high and girlish, Seven finally collapsed in the grass. She glared at Charlotte.
“You could have helped me, you know—just tripped him as he went past,” Seven grated, panting, feeling like she was close to a heart attack.
Charlotte wiped her eyes and finally slowed in her laughter.
“I am so glad that I can’t pee,” Charlotte wheezed between breaths, “because I so would have peed myself!”
Seven stared at her in wonder. She had noticed that Charlotte was using more and more contractions when she spoke, and this was the first time she had ever broached such a subject as urination due to uncontrollable laughter. The automaton had changed, drastically. She now slept, and usually tossed and mumbled in a very disquieting sleep, dreaming, with nightmares galore.
The automaton became snippy, very fast. She had taken to wearing spectacles, and fixing her hair in that unattractive bun, and the shawls, and now, such crudities, and laughter, wow, that really was quite a spectacle of laughter. And Seven had noticed that when she ate, the automaton watched her, with what appeared to be envy, as if she wanted to snatch away the food and consume it herself. It was as if the automaton was becoming a human, gradually, one sloppy step after the other. Poor Charlotte!
Mr. Dodgson straightened his bowtie and cravat, smoothing out the wrinkles in his velvet coat. He placed a majorly bad hat upon his head, one that looked suspiciously like the one always depicted in the Mad Hatter illustrations, large and absurd. He sniffed, and gave her a small look of disdain, arching his thin, gray eyebrows. He lifted his long white Meerschaum pipe to his lips and puffed—the little trickster must have oxygen secreted in that pipe, because he wasn’t even breathing hard, whereas she, Seven, felt like she was ready to retire to Bedlam, or a nunnery, just somewhere that she could forget all this stuff, and relax. She was weary beyond belief.
“I have not really shown you yet, what I really came out here to show you,” Mr. Dodgson said.
“You mean there’s more?” Seven said, sighing, falling back in the grass. She so didn’t want there to be any more of this.
“Oh, my dear,” Mr. Dodgson said, puffing on his pipe, shaking his head, “we have not even begun to scratch the surface of the matter. As I said, I consider this to be Reality 101, just the first course in the itinerary, and you have barely survived one class in that series of lectures.”
“Oh please, no more school,” Seven said, lying on her back in the grass, her arm thrown over her eyes. She just wanted to remain here, very still, on her back in the cool grass, it was so nice, so relaxing. He maketh me lie down in green pastures, He restoreth my soul. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
She agreed with Mr. Dodgson, it was alive, inside of her, hers alone, her comfort, her words of peace. Scripture was magic.
“Why don’t we watch some Fringe, or Star Trek,” Charlotte cried, falling back in the grass alongside Seven.
“Or Jane Eyre?” Seven said, unable to keep the smirk from her voice, even with her arm cast over her face.
“Whatever,” Charlotte said, “just don’t say Wuthering Heights, or I vow to shoot myself!”
“You two are hopeless,” Mr. Dodgson mumbled, collapsing to sit in the grass. He stared at them, glumly. “Bitches be crazy.”
“Mr. Dodgson!” Seven cried, lifting her arm to stare at him.
“I do not know why I bother,” Mr. Dodgson said, and then he looked up, at the page, and through it, his beady eyes growing smaller as he sought, peering, and then he found the eyes of the reader, and he smirked. “I should probably just wait to continue this next week, would that be okay with you? Dear reader? Ah-ha, but that greedy pig Stacey will probably commandeer the whole episode, you wait and see! Probably with salacious details of his wet churning with that redhead, Emily, or Jack could force his way in, having all that fun with the other sister, the really nice one, Anne, but that poor boy does not know what he has fallen into.”
“Who are you talking to?” Seven asked, looking up into the sky where Mr. Dodgson was staring.
He turned his eyes to her, and smiled, genuinely.
“Oh, it is just something I do, every now and again. I wonder if perhaps there is another level, and that I am in fact just a character in a story, and some kindly reader, weak and pale, is reading my words, imagining me, converting the words into images, those that define me, and this imaginary reader is bringing me back to vibrant life after so many years.”
“I think about that too,” said Charlotte, “wouldn’t that be wonderful? Do you think it’s really, really true?”
“Probably, as they read about us from their own simulation,” Seven said, lending her despair to their fanciful imaginings.
“Here, let us take our minds off of it, for now,” said Mr. Dodgson, raising a tall screen out of the grass. He dimmed the lights of the sky and meadow, and snapped his fingers. “This episode is my favorite.”
“The Menagerie,” Charlotte cried, clapping her hands. “It’s my favorite, as well! Can we get some popcorn?”
“As you wish,” Mr. Dodgson said, passing out buckets of popcorn, and mugs of root beer with bobbing blobs of vanilla ice cream. “Watch Mr. Spock during the Pike sequences, it’s hilarious to see the younger Mr. Spock smiling and laughing!”
Seven still wasn’t sure what they were talking about, and she had no context for the strange looking ship on the screen, but she was more interested in satisfying her sweet tooth with candy.
“Licorice, and Milk Duds, and Junior Mints?” Seven cried, getting into the spirit of the thing. She smoothed out the blanket beneath them, even as she called it into being.
“The Candy Man Can!” Mr. Dodgson bellowed out, not anywhere near as beautifully as Gene Wilder (but of course, Mr. Dodgson was more singing the Sammy Davis, Jr. interpretation of the song, throwing in some jazzy scats), and yes, both Charlotte and Seven were familiar with Gene Wilder and all his movies, and for some odd reasons, the automatons in the Looking Glass adored everything Gene Wilder, and had memorized all the lyrics and lines from all of his movies, from the earliest until the latest.
“Finally,” Charlotte said, sputtering popcorn, “I love this. We should do this once a week.”
“And the best part is, no ants!” Mr. Dodgson laughed. Then thought about it. “Of course, some people might prefer the savage little biters, Ladies?”
“No thank you,” they said, very chipper, indeed, all of them smiling, Seven’s cheek melting a Milk Dud.
Mr. Dodgson sighed and looked again to the page up above them, and he winked.
“We shall see you next week, hopefully, dear Reader, unless our author dies! Come to think of it, that is entirely too probably, so let us not consider the probability.”
“Are you talking to the imaginary reader again?” Seven said, looking up at the page as well.
“Come on let’s say good-by to Imaginary Reader,” Mr. Dodgson giggled, motioning for Charlotte to look up at the page, along with Seven. Finally, they all complied, and waved.
“I think Imaginary Reader just shook their head, and rolled their eyes,” Charlotte said, shaking her own head, and rolling her own eyes, and returning her weary but happy eyes to the screen rising from the grass.
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© Copyright 2016 Douglas Christian Larsen. Vestigial Surreality. All Rights Reserved by the Author, Douglas Christian Larsen. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited, but please feel free to share the story with anyone, only not for sale or resale. This work is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental (wink, wink).
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