The Price of Bliss Eternal
by Thomas Dylan Daniel
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
The outside world vanished, going entirely dark.
“I’m glad I decided to put a light in here. I suppose the wires connecting us to the printer were the problem,” Eddie looked lost, for a moment. “Let’s start the experiment.”
Soon enough, an image was produced by the printer.
“Interesting decay pattern, precisely fifty percent,” Nils observed, uneasily.
Eddie forced himself to be cheerful. “Nils, my friend, we have no way of knowing what number that experiment was. Congratulations upon making history!”
Nils felt his heart beat rapidly, and he looked at the wires connecting the external battery to the capacitor system. “Should we pull the wires out of the box and cut the experiment short?” he asked.
Eddie thought about it.
Near the top of the box, a lighted display blinked on. 3, it read.
“No,” said Eddie. “We have no idea what would happen.”
* * *
“The human brain undergoes mutations more frequently than any other structure in the body. Each time we think a thought, the fundamental character of the organ changes.” Jean cleared her throat. “That means that, given enough time, every possible mutation in Eddie’s and Nils’ brains will play out.”
“Yes, but how much time has passed?”
“We do not have numbers large enough to describe it, frankly. If the rate at which the three-minute cycles played out is consistent with the behavior of the microverse they’re trapped in, then every few minutes here, a million years passes there. Each one broken into more three-minute cycles, repeating endlessly.” Jean wiped a tear from her eye.
“But the brain... it is so complex it STILL cannot be simulated! Everything that can happen must have happened by now!” Georg raged. “I watched humanity conquer hunger, poverty, sickness, and even aging itself! Why can I not live to see my brother again, meet the man who made all of this possible?” his voice was a shriek. This was the unresolved issue he had held onto, the source of his humanity.
“Yes. And, though time passes and things play out slightly differently, the stream of consciousness that Eddie and Nils took into the box with them will continue to guide their actions.” Jean’s face had resolved itself of emotion, her quiet attitude counteracting the rage Georg showed.
Suddenly, she knew.
“Georg, come this way, will you?” she asked, getting up.
Georg sat still, deep in thought. He looked so... broken. So defective.
“Georg, I have something I’d like you to see,” Jean insisted.
She and Georg would never recover from the tragedy they had experienced. The ones they had lost simply held too much sway over the world. Eddie and Nils were too central to everything that had happened, everything that would happen; it was simply impossible to do anything anymore without thinking of the scientists who had taken the first steps to make it possible who had, in a very real way, given all of this to both of them.
Georg still did not seem to hear her. He was trying to process his emotions, but he could not. Even from the afterlife, his brother and Jean’s lover taunted him with their innovation. A world where there was no struggle was no world at all.
Jean re-entered the room, holding an old pill bottle.
Georg still did not look up. He had explored another galaxy! He had lived more thoroughly than anyone before him, more thoroughly than anyone would after! Why was the one thing he wanted impossible?
“Georg, old friend,” Jean said, “it’s time for us to go home.” She handed one of the poison pills to Georg, and put the other into her mouth.
Stunned, Georg watched as Jean collapsed to the floor.
All of this ennui, this utter lack of meaning. No matter where I go, I am reminded of my brother. My love for him grows alongside the impossibility of ever seeing him again. Jean’s passing marks the last person my age I knew... he thought. Georg put the tablet onto his tongue, swallowed, and collapsed near Jean on the floor.
Sirens approached immediately. An automated paramedic, which had been notified by biometric monitoring software, inspected the fallen corpses, then left the house to return to its station. The automated hearse arrived a few hours later and disposed of the bodies in an incinerator after recording biometric analysis and confirming the status update to DECEASED for Georg Osterhaut and Jean Moreno.
* * *
The outside world vanished, going entirely dark.
“Let’s start the experiment,” Eddie said.
Soon enough, an image was produced by the printer.
Nils ignored the printout.
Eddie stared. “Nils, my friend, what are you doing?”
“Eddie,” Nils said. “Eddie, this isn’t right!”
Eddie’s face was a mask of puzzlement.
“Don’t stop me, Eddie,” Nils said, reaching up. He kicked his feet from the stirrups and gave a light push... and his feet parted from the floor. He sailed the few inches he needed to reach the temporal battery unit and caught himself against the glass of the box.
Near his face, a lighted display blinked on. 3, it read. 2...
Nils pulled the battery out of the box by the wires, cutting the harness with a knife he had produced from a pocket. He let it fall to strike the floor, where the glass shattered.
Suddenly, the lab reappeared just beyond the glass. The staff was gone, as was one of the walls of the enclosure. Nils fell to the floor. Stepping out of the box, Eddie gasped in awe. Nils, in stunned silence, ran his fingers over a plaque that had been mounted on the floor near the experimental enclosure he had designed. It had their names, and the date the experiment had been begun, and there was a long list of technologies attributed to their breakthrough. The staff was gone, and as Eddie and Nils poked around the museum which had been built around their lab, neither of the two had a single word to say.
Eddie collapsed from exhaustion; he hadn’t slept in over a week. Sirens approached, and soon a medical team was on site. As the robot paramedics attended to Eddie, Nils asked them what the date was. Upon hearing the answer, he began to laugh. He and Eddie had experienced more joy, more bliss, than anyone else ever would, but now their world was gone, faded into a history over half a millennium in the past. Something inside him broke, at the realization, and his laughter increased in volume and pitch until one of the robots gave him some sort of injection and he collapsed to the floor next to Eddie.
* * *
Upon waking up, Eddie’s first thought was Jean. He stood, and a hovering robot approached, quietly beeping on occasion.
“Eduardo,” it said in a remarkably human voice which still somehow conveyed a certain amount of this is a machine, not a person.
“Hello,” Eddie said. “What is your name?”
“I am a medical robot. I do not have a name. I am here because my sensors informed me that you had awakened. Your friend Nils has experienced something of a shock, but you seem to be in good health. How can I help you?”
“Do you know how I can find Jean Moreno, my wife?” Eddie asked the robot.
“I regret to inform you that Jean Moreno passed away two hundred years ago,” the robot replied.
“What was the manner of her passing?” Eddie asked, automatically laying himself back down onto the bed.
“Jean Moreno ingested a fast-acting poison pill in the company of Georg Osterhaut on March 11, 2260,” the machine replied.
Eddie was shocked. His body felt conflicting waves of depression, excitement, and joy at the news: Jean was dead, but robots were real, now! He had received the news of his wife’s passing from what he was increasingly sure was an artificial superintelligence, and his body simply did not know what to do with itself as a result. He was crestfallen to have lost Jean. He was enthralled by the new technology.
Suddenly, he was aware that his wife had committed suicide. This brought another dagger for his heart, initially, but eventually it occurred to Eddie that this was probably normal: suicide must be the only way to stave off immortality, if disease and physiology had been truly mastered. The droid patiently waited as he shed a few tears, doing his best to process these emotions. He did not feel embarrassed by its presence.
Nils entered the room in a hospital gown, flanked by another medical robot.
“Eddie,” he sobbed, “I’m so sorry!”
Eddie embraced his friend in a numb hug, suddenly feeling very embarrassed indeed.
“There, there,” he replied. “I’m not at all sure that you have anything to be sorry about,” he continued, puzzlement entering his voice.
“I could have let us continue to live the happiest moment of our lives, forever, and I stopped it. Now Georg and Jean are gone, and no one else I can even think to ask of has survived. They’re all gone,” Nils moaned, tears streaming down the sides of his face.
The medical droid dabbed at the tears with a tissue it held in a thin, plastic hand at the end of a shockingly compact plastic arm which had extended out of the robot’s body. It demonstrated a surprising dexterity as it cleaned the tears from Nils’ eyes, and then it clutched his nose and he blew into it.
“Well, that’s pretty cool,” Eddie said, pointing at the robot’s long, thin arm. “I feel great,” he lied. “Let’s go explore, see what all is different. Just because we broke ourselves out of Jean’s timeline doesn’t mean we’ll never see her again,” he said, forcing himself to sound hopeful.
Nils nodded, finally free from his tears.
“Everyone we know is dead,” he mumbled.
“I know,” Eddie said. “I will miss Jean and the staff and my parents and all the rest. But isn’t this incredible?” he asked, gesturing widely, at everything around them. He was already starting to feel a bit better. We’ll just have to go back and find them somehow, he thought. If this was possible, surely we can do almost anything at all.
“Yeah, I’m sure there is no end to the new technology our little experiment spawned,” Nils agreed, his eyes opening a bit wider.
The wall lit up behind him, and a bald man appeared.
“Dr. Moreno and Dr. Osterhaut. I’ve heard so much about you both. I would like to thank you, on behalf of all humanity, for the wonderful leap you both took all those long years ago. I am President Marshall, of the Sol Alliance, and I would like to invite you to a celebration in your honor on Io tomorrow.”
The man bowed, and Eddie noticed that there were at least a dozen other official-looking people in the room with him.
Nervously, he glanced at Nils, who shrugged.
“Of course, President Marshall,” he said.
The wall went back to being a wall. It was a nondescript wall, now, and there was even a picture framed in the middle of it which had disappeared when the call came in. Eddie put an arm around Nils and led him out of the room, alarmed at his friend’s moribund demeanor.
“Nils, I know you think you made a mistake by ending the experiment, but if not for my design flaw, we would have grown old surrounded by our families. So the fault is entirely mine, and I must offer you my most sincere apologies for all you have lost. And yet... I don’t feel so bad. I feel excited to see the new technology and meet the new people. I wonder how many people there are now? We have to go and explore this strange new universe!” he chattered, emphatically, now feeling downright cheerful.
Nils perked up a bit, and when they reached the outer door of the hospital, they were surprised to see that their surroundings were natural. The sun was shining brilliantly upon a field of grass with intermittent trees and even wildlife. Birdsong enchanted their ears. And suddenly, a hypercraft landed in front of them, seeming to materialize almost out of thin air. A door opened near the ground and a robot approached them.
“Come along, gentlemen. We have a party to attend on Io.”
Eddie and Nils followed the robot into the craft, and soon Nils adopted more of Eddie’s childlike state of wonder.
Perhaps, Nils thought, as the craft ascended through Earth’s atmosphere, providing him with the most impressive view of the planet he had ever been privy to, perhaps that’s the price of bliss eternal. You can never look backward at what came before, and you cannot look too far into the future. Instead — his eyes shifted toward Eddie, whose attention was directed out a similar window a few feet away — instead, the trick is to live in the moment, appreciating each new experience as a life in itself.
Copyright © 2020 by Thomas Dylan Daniel