Elena clutched the gyroscope and stared Brian down. I couldn’t think of any scientific explanation for what Brian had just done. A gyroscope stays upright because of its angular momentum. Ideally, it would never fall, since the torque that gravity supplies is not sufficient to offset its gyroscopic inertia. In real life, however, friction gradually erodes the rotation, causing it to precess more and more, until finally the rotation degrades and gravity takes hold.
This left one of two options. Either Brian had managed to eliminate any appreciable friction from our tabletop–not to mention air resistance–or he had a way to inject more energy into the system without touching the gyroscope, thus overcoming the effects of the friction. I couldn’t think of any way he could do either of those things.
“Okay, I give up,” I said. “How did you do it?”
Brian looked grave. “They showed me. The quantum intelligences.”
“I see. The little fairies are spinning the gyroscope?” I tried not to let the cynicism creep into my voice, but it was hard.
“Of course not,” he snapped. “It’s ground state energy. The energy of a single particle’s spin. It never stops. It’s an infinite source of power.”
I hesitated, finding it hard to believe, but at the same time hard to discount the evidence of the gyroscope. “So you took a feature of the quantum world and made it apply in the larger world,” I said.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Brian said quietly. “Gonna change the world.”
“If it were real, that would be a technology worth trillions of dollars,” I said. “Is that why you’re here? Are there people chasing you, trying to get this from you?”
“They’re chasing me,” he said, “but they’re not people.”
I threw up my hands. “You’d better start talking sense.”
“One more example, then,” he said. He reached under the table, and suddenly there was a Glock 46 in his hand, the barrel pointing at Elena.
I was on my feet in an instant, my chair toppling over behind me. I held my hands up, palms out. “Put it down,” I said. “Brian, listen to me.”
Elena stared into the gun’s barrel, motionless, hardly breathing. “Don’t do this,” she whispered.
“It won’t hurt you,” Brian said. “The bullet will just diffract around you.”
“You’re talking crazy,” I said. “Look at me.” He didn’t move. “Look at me!” I shouted. He looked. “It’s a bullet, not an electron,” I said. “If you pull the trigger, it will kill her. You don’t want that.”
He stood. “You won’t believe me unless I show you.”
I started to ease around the edge of the table toward him. “I do believe you,” I said. “Let’s just sit down, and you can tell us all about it.”
“No, you don’t. You call them fairies and make fun of me. But they’re real, Jacob. I’m not going to hurt anybody. I just want to prove it to you.”
“Point the gun somewhere else, then,” I said. “Point it at me.”
“It won’t hurt her,” he said, and pulled the trigger.
* in which a scientist visits hell and a deal is struck
Walpurgisnacht, the Hexennacht. The last night of April. The night of witches, when evil walks abroad.
He stood at a desolate and lonely place where there would be no interruption, no prying eyes. The air smelled metallic with freshly spilt blood; the body of a decapitated virgin kid goat lay nearby. He had no alloyed metal about him but for a thin-bladed sword of fine steel he held in his right hand; that arm was naked, his shirt sleeve rolled up to the biceps. A silver coin wrapped in paper nestled in his waistcoat pocket. Before him burned a fire of white wood.
His name was Johannes Cabal, and he was summoning a demon.
“…Oarios! Almoazin! Arios! Membrot!” The chanted names faded into the unusually still night air. Only the crackling of the fire accompanied him. “Janna! Etitnamus! Zariatnatmix… and so on.” He drew a deep breath and sighed, bored with the ritual. “A. E. A. J. A. T. M. O….”
There was hidden meaning in the names he must call, the letters he must chant. That didn’t mean he had to approve or even be impressed by them. As he recited the Grand Conjuration, he thought that some magicians might have better served the world by writing crossword puzzles.
Then space distorted, and he was no longer alone.
The demon’s name was Lucifuge Rofocale. He stood a little taller than Cabal’s six feet, but the bizarre fool’s cap he wore–three flopping horns, or perhaps tentacles, ending with arrowheads–made his height vary from moment to moment. In one hand he held a bag containing, at least symbolically, the riches of the world. In the other, a golden hoop. He wore a segmented, studded leather skirt rather like a Roman soldier’s. Beneath it, _fur-_covered legs ended in hooves. He had a fat anteater’s tail, and a silly little Hercule Poirot moustache. As is often the case with demons, Lucifuge looked like an anatomical game of Consequences.
“Lo!” cried the demon. “I am here! What dost thou seek of me? Why dost thou disturb my repose? Smite me no more with that dread rod!” He looked at Cabal. “Where’s your dread rod?”
“I left it at home,” replied Cabal. “Didn’t think I really needed it.”
“You can’t summon me without a dread rod!” said Lucifuge, appalled.
“You’re here, aren’t you?”
“Well, yes, but under false pretences. You haven’t got a goatskin or two vervain crowns or two candles of virgin wax made by a virgin girl and duly blessed. Have you got the stone called Ematille?”
“I don’t even know what Ematille is.”
Neither did the demon. He dropped the subject and moved on. “Four nails from the coffin of a dead child?”
“Don’t be fatuous.”
“Half a bottle of brandy?”
“I don’t drink brandy.”
“It’s not for you.”
“I have a hip flask,” said Cabal, and threw it to him. The demon caught it and took a dram.
“Cheers,” said Lucifuge, and threw it back. They regarded each other for a long moment. “This really is a shambles,” the demon added finally. “What did you summon me for, anyway?”
LOG ENTRY: SOL 6
I’m pretty much fucked.
That’s my considered opinion.
Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare.
I don’t even know who’ll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe a hundred years from now.
For the record… I didn’t die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can’t blame them. Maybe there’ll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say, “Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars.”
And it’ll be right, probably. ‘Cause I’ll surely die here. Just not on Sol 6 when everyone thinks I did.
Let’s see… where do I begin?
The Ares Program. Mankind reaching out to Mars to send people to another planet for the very first time and expand the horizons of humanity blah, blah, blah. The Ares 1 crew did their thing and came back heroes. They got the parades and fame and love of the world.
Ares 2 did the same thing, in a different location on Mars. They got a firm handshake and a hot cup of coffee when they got home.
Ares 3. Well, that was my mission. Okay, not mine per se. Commander Lewis was in charge. I was just one of her crew. Actually, I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be “in command” of the mission if I were the only remaining person.
What do you know? I’m in command.
Everything in the universe is older than it seems. Blame Einstein for that. We see what a thing was when the light left it, and that was long ago. Nothing in the night sky is contemporary, not to us, not to one another. Ancient stars exploded into ruin before their sparkle ever caught our eyes; those glimpsed in glowing “nurseries” were crones before we witnessed their birth. Everything we marvel at is already gone.
Yet, light rays go out forever, so that everything grown old and decayed retains somewhere the appearance of its youth. The universe is full of ghosts.
But images are light, and light is energy, and energy is matter; and matter is real. So image and reality are the same thing, after all. Blame Einstein for that, as well.