(Copyright) 1997 - 2006
March 14, 1997 Version 3.0
Revision Date 05/21/2006
Andrew's whole being cried out to go to his son, but a small fragment of his mind remembered that he had been asked, as hard as it might be, to trust these creatures, Aarrl in particular. Numbly, the Human allowed Aarrl to lead him to the side of the skid-road, where a shattered log had been pushed aside. The log was snow covered, but he sat anyway. Aarrl sat down beside him.
As he sat, Aarrl's left hand, which had been grasping Andrew's right arm, slid down to take hold of his hand, raising it to press it between his two huge Ursine paws. The Human fought to be calm.
"Yes, I know. Many questions." Aarrl paused, exhaling softly, "We have a brief time before Alignment. I shall try to answer those that weigh the heaviest upon your Soul."
"Why am I here?" Andrew asked, "Why is he here?"
For a while Aarrl was silent, as he gazed out across the darkened valley, collecting his thoughts.
"It is a long story. Very sad. For eleven years, as you measure time, two souls have suffered. Neither knowing the source of their longing, only knowing an emptiness they could not fill: A need without name. Howard has forsaken love and family because of what seemed to him a compulsion. Both would suffer throughout life if, by happy coincidence, we had not sent a probe to this star system a year ago. As with most of our probes, a wide-band Thought Seeker rode upon it. Many thoughts, many minds were tasted. However, one being's thoughts bore the scent of those which have for so long haunted the dreams of One on my world."
"Yes," The affirmation was delivered with a sigh.
"When the source of that which calls to the mind of …"Aarrl paused for a moment, obviously searching for the right words. "Upon my Vow, I may not utter this one's name, as it is forbidden by the Empress Tirrnn, until after the Portal is forged."
"Why?" asked Andrew. After the improbability of all that recently transpired, he couldn't see fit to doubt Aarrl's veracity. That intrigues of Empire entered the picture hardly seemed to matter.
"The search for Howard had become an obsession with this One. Official duties were neglected. Court matters ignored. Rights to Succession have been stripped. It is only because of the vast love of the Empress for her eldest child that an expedition to this world was undertaken."
"How did you find him?" Andrew asked.
"Upon our arrival in this star system, our Living Machine tasted, then devoured the electronic essence of you communication. It learned your languages and your modes of communication. We caused messages to be sent to Howard's electronic mail. We met. We explained all. He greeted us, at first with some trepidation, but later with great joy, as he felt that One in his own mind for so many years. Even now, that One calls to him."
Upon brief reflection, Andrew agreed this explained much concerning the connection of these strange creatures with Howard, and his son's increasingly obsessive behavior over the last several years. Thinking again of his son, Dr. Ripley looked up, Howard still stood exactly as when they first arrived, as oblivious to their presence as he was to the cold.
Human and Gashka sat in silence for a while, each lost in thought. Aarrl looked down at his hands, which still held one of the Human's smaller hands captive. With a slight body movement and a quiet sigh, he slowly released Andrew's hand, placing it on his knee. The Human looked up at him. Aarrl was staring intently at Howard, his head cocked slightly to one side, still lost in his own thoughts. It suddenly occurred to Andrew that while his Ursine form at first terrified him, Aarrl no longer seemed so… Alien.
After about five minutes, their musings were interrupted when the Watcher closest to Aarrl stepped forward and whispered in the Ursine's ear.
"Heffnss' transport has broken orbit and will be overhead shortly. The Gravity Harp runs free. Come. We must prepare."
Aarrl rose, leading Andrew along the side of the road, passing behind the left-hand rank of Dirhal. They were now at a point about three meters behind and to the left of Howard, standing almost directly behind a Dirhal bearing a three meter long light-standard.
At this point, Aarrl looked up and gestured to a point in space almost directly overhead. Above them Andrew could hear a faint hum, as a patch of night sky was obscured. A few seconds later a wedge-shaped craft, about the size of a city transit bus, descended almost vertically. About fifteen meters in front of it was a copper-colored cylinder about three and a half meters long and one in diameter. The two objects came to a hover and then the shuttle rotated in position 180 degrees, landing about thirty meters down the road, its aft end facing them, the light-standards gleamed off its brilliant white exterior. The cylinder that was the Gravity Harp came to a silent hover about three meters in front of and to the left of Howard, levitating upright, thirty centimeters above the ground. After a moment all was quiet except for an almost impalpable half-sound, half-feeling of infinite power emanating from the Gravity Harp.
Shortly, the silence was broken by the whine of motors, as the endgate of the shuttle swung open, folding itself against the frozen ground with a low-pitched metallic *clang*. Moments later, Heffnss exited the craft. He was unclothed except for a bright scarlet cloth encircling his tawny-furred arm, exactly like the cloth Howard wore. In his huge clawed hands, he carried a small wooden box about a half a meter on a side. The Feline approached to within a meter of the Gravity Harp and stooped to placed the box on the ground, opening it. From the box, Heffnss took a smaller object that looked like a PDA and a mallet. The head of the mallet appeared to be made of the same coppery material as the exterior of the Gravity Harp, reflecting the light of the standards with a dull, red gleam. Rising with an impossibly lithe movement, the Sasskal turned and gave the control device to a Watcher who stepped forward to receive it.
Aarrl leaned down to whisper in Andrew's ear, "Watch carefully, Alignment approaches."
At almost the same instant, the Dirhal with the remote looked at his chronometer, and thumbed a button, bringing the Gravity Harp to full stand-by power. The hairs on the back of Dr. Ripley's neck stirred, as though the air was charged with static electricity. From the Harp a faint sound issued, akin to the susurration of falling snow.
Once again Aarrl leaned toward Andrew, "This is the culminating moment for your son. All that was his past and all that will be his future come now together. If he should die in this attempt, it will be better for him than if he never tried. It is as though he has lived his whole life for this. To end his suffering, he must try. Sire of Howard, this I must tell you. S'Challh has chosen to die if he should fail."
"What?" Andrew bit his tongue to keep from shouting, "Nobody said anything about dying!"
"By Imperial Law, a direct Inheritor of the Empire cannot leave Taahas by mechanical means. Imperial Persons must always travel by Portal. If the Two are to Become Together they must, between them, open a FoldSpace Portal. The effort will be very great. Many have perished attempting much lesser transitions. If one should perish, so would the other. Both risk all."
Andrew was torn with fear. Part of him was willing to do anything to stop this insanity, while another part, now better understanding Howard's agony, could do nothing but stand and watch, praying his son had the strength to achieve his Soul's Desire.
"What does he have to do to create the Portal?" he asked.
Aarrl proceeded with a brief description of a classic thought experiment he eponymously called 'Arfid's Rodent', which, to Andrew's mind, sounded amazingly like the proposition, called by Humans, 'Schrodinger's cat'1.
The Ursine's explanation was brief as he said he lacked the proper technical vocabulary to be more detailed. As Andrew understood the gist of his explanation, an observer could cause a pre-determined effect on the quantum structure of Reality if he were to shape his desires with sufficient accuracy, striving with what Aarrl called 'absolute ardor'. Visualizing the desired change with such totality that it subsumed the current Reality. The ultimate in wish fulfillment. Some might say this sounded suspiciously like magic, but Dr. Ripley knew it was disquietingly consistent with Quantum principle.
Aarrl stated that an entire priesthood had evolved around the practice, raising it to a scientific religion. The huge Feline standing in front of Howard was in fact its Chief Priest.
The Ursine reminded Andrew that the task Howard had set himself was to somehow cause space to be folded upon itself, so that an imaginary plain in front of him would be transposed on a similar plane forty-two light-years away, the distance between them diminishing to zero. This had to occur along a direct line-of-sight between Taahas and Earth, so could only be done at specific times when specific points on both planets were in alignment. Presumably, both Howard and the eldest child of the Empress would be simultaneously bending the universe to their wills.
A tone sounded from Aarrl's chronometer, and he reached out, once again taking Andrew's hand in his, raising his other arm to look at his chronometer.
"Alignment," he whispered.
At that second, the Dirhal controlling the Gravity Harp brought it to full power. The multi-terawatt energy flow from its vacuum-well caused Andrew to experience an intense itching sensation and a sharply vertiginous feeling, as though he were standing on a steeply declining slope with the Gravity Harp at its bottom.
As a coherent beam of gravitons stabbed down toward the Earth's core, the Feline priest shouted a sentence in his native tongue, which Aarrl translated:
"The Harp clears the Mind.
The Mind seeks the Thread
through FoldSpace to Taahas!"
With that utterance, Heffnss raised his mallet, striking the cylinder three sharp blows, less than a second apart. The tones generated, floating over the frozen mountainside, were agonizingly sweet, yet possessed the power to reverberate to the planet's core. The sounds whispered of Infinite Time and Infinite Space, the single notes flowing with geometric perfection. A corner of Andrew's mind incongruously thought of how this would give new meaning to the term 'Harmonic Tremor'.
Until that moment, Howard stood unmoving, seemingly impervious to the sub-freezing wind and occasional flurries of snow blown from nearby boughs, his eyes fixed upon unseen Taahas. After the third pure reverberation of the Harp, the Human raised his arms, palms outward to compel the opening of the Portal by force of will. His heart was near-breaking for the Desire of this fulfillment.
With all his Being, Howard shouted a singe word: "Taahas!"
Simultaneous, two things happened: With a sound like ripping steel, the Universe short-circuited and the Portal materialized, flashing into existence in the middle of a intense corona of electrical discharge, which arced to the four metal rods in ear-shattering bolts. As the Portal stabilized, warm air spilled out to form a small fog bank, which was illuminated from behind by distant Senn as it rose above the Imperial Gardens, a literal Door Into Summer.
Overhead, a football-sized meteor, captured by the intense gravity pulse of the Harp, roared across the valley like an incandescent artillery shell, smashing into the far wall, flaming debris arcing from its point of impact. An expanding spherical shock wave blasted branches and snow from the surrounding trees.
Slowly, the echoes of the deafening concussion dissipated, leaving a profound silence, broken only by the sound of a wind from another world flowing through the new Portal.
* * * *
1 In 1935 Erwin Schrodinger
published an essay describing the conceptual problems in QM1. A brief paragraph
in this essay described the cat paradox.
One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following diabolical device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small that perhaps in the course of one hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges and through a relay releases a hammer which shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The first atomic decay would have poisoned it. The Psi function for the entire system would express this by having in it the living and the dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.
We know that superposition of possible outcomes must exist simultaneously at a microscopic level because we can observe interference effects from these. We know (at least most of us know) that the cat in the box is dead, alive or dying and not in a smeared out state between the alternatives. When and how does the model of many microscopic possibilities resolve itself into a particular macroscopic state? When and how does the fog bank of microscopic possibilities transform itself to the blurred picture we have of a definite macroscopic state. That is the measurement problem and Schrodinger's cat is a simple and elegant explanations of that problem.
* * * *