May 2021


“Now we just enter the Schrodinger Splitter, and we’ll see one contestant head to the right and the other to the left, as a result of a quantum causality waveform!” Llesco’s synthetic voice, doing a spot-on imitation of a laconic mid-20th-century sportscaster, warbled over the arena speakers.

“Do you have any idea what those words mean, Llesco?” said its counterpart, Satsoc, with an early-21st-century drawl.

“Not a bit, Satsoc. Not programmed to! But it’s amazing technology, and what better use for it than blood sport with no lasting consequences for the spacetime continuum?”

“Sort of like using advanced, emergent artificial intelligence to do color commentary for said bloodsport?”

“Exactly!” Llesco said with artificial enthusiasm. In the arena, the Splitter snapped, crackled, and popped as the contestant took two differing skeins simultaneously, resulting in two nigh-identical copies emerging into the arena.

“Well, Herr Schrodinger has come through for us once again,” Satsoc said, “and the result is once again better than any mere cat!”

“For those of you just joining us, we’ll be referring to the contestant that comes out of the right gate as Righty, with their opposite number being Lefty. The rules are simple: murder, or be murdered.” Llesco sounded positively bloodthirsty despite its monotone.

“And don’t leave the arena,” Satsoc added. “Snipers are standing by to prevent any paradoxes, causality snarls, and CP violations. Not that I’m programmed to know what any of those are, but they sure sound bad.”

Below the speakers, the contestant was readying for the bout, the two copies doing brief, jumpy calisthenics before the bell rung and they raced off to find weapons.

“It’s a good thing that he’s such a sport, eh? said Satsoc.

“Considering that the alternative is a state-sponsored execution, I’d say they’re doing just fine,” replied Llesco.

Next in line, waiting at the opening into the Schrodinger Splitter, the final contestant of the day was already formulating a plan to break the cycle.

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If a random number generator spit out digits in sequences of random length and complexity, would you take the time to categorize them, define them, treasuring the rarer sequences? Of course not. You know, instinctively if not analytically, that numbers are infinite. No one number, no matter how novel, distracts from that infinite variety. It would be a greater waste of time than trying to categorize grains of sand on a beach.

But then, in an infinite universe, how different is everything we see than those random numbers? Orders of magnitude more complex, granted, but ultimately no more than the same sort of data with different bytes. Random arrangements of quantum particles giving way to more complex randomness. What is classification, what is knowledge, other than fleeting attempts to classify meaningless data? Naturally, there may be some meaning in the moment-to-moment, especially for the “numbers” so involved.

But in the wider scheme, what does it matter?

The is the ultimate problem confronting intelligent life here, now, and forever. Every sort that has arisen must grapple with the random meaningless of its existence, especially as it slides–inevitably–toward self-destruction. Some find meaninglessness, randomness, to be empty and hollow. Others see it as reassuring, even kind. In an infinite universe, we have all lived before and will live again; it is statistically impossible but mathematically inevitable.

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As his head rang from the blow, Sexton felt something cool and hard slide up his nose. He sneezed involuntarily but was in no position to offer any resistance as he was hit by a second hammer stroke, this time from the front. Blood gushed freely from his nose as he lay on the floor.

The man picked up his phone, casually flipping open a burner of his own. “It’s done,” he said.

Fairburn’s voice was audible on the other end. “Wipe the apparatus for prints as I showed you,” he said “The funds will be transferred in fifteen minutes exactly, and the documents will arrive tomorrow. Do with them what you will. Place this phone, set to speaker, next to Mr. Sexton and then leave the building. Tell no one.”

The man nodded, gingerly set the phone down, and left. Sexton could only weakly bat at his shins, and a moment later an engine turned over and roared out of the parking lot.

“I apologize for the subterfuge, Mr. Sexton, but given the psych profile I’ve assembled for you, it was strictly necessary,” Fairburn said. “You’re not overly motivated by profit, knowledge, threats, or even curiosity. But you will act to save your own life, and that is what my associate has just arranged. He has put an explosive charge in your head, in your nasal cavity. A 1.5 gram silver azide charge, if you’re curious.”

“You ripped that off,” Sexton said weakly. “From the movies. Total Recall.

“That was a tracking device, Mr. Sexton, though the device I’ve introduced into your body does function as one. No, if I’ve ripped anything off, it’s Mission Impossible. But it’s quite real, I assure you. Unless that device receives a signal from me at a set time, it will detonate and drive lethal slivers of your own skull into your brain.”

“It’s…a bluff…”

“Perhaps you should tell that to our mutual friend who just left us,” Fairburn said. “I warned him to tell no one, and you ought to see the wreck of his automobile quite clearly on the way out. Tell me this is a bluff after you see that.”

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