Mr Boltzmann's Questionable Legacy

The war that was raging around me, a thousand lightships raining fire and death. Gone.


The coruscating sheen of the nursery nebula as it gave birth to burning children. Gone.


My hands—


I cannot find my hands. Everything is white.


I am waking up to who I am, and receiving flashes of who I used to be.


I am young, angry, and suspended over the edge of a bombed-out bridge in the darkest part of the night with a can of hydro-active paint in had.


I am drinking KillBeast beer in the rain from a safe distance away, watching as the words appear in wet, fluorescent glory: I WAS HERE. None of that tag bullshit. I knew who I was. Unfortunately, so did the proctors.


I am in a dark room, with a mirrored window. An officer hands me a cup of synth and an ultimatum—get off the streets and do something with your life or suffer the consequences. The forces are always recruiting and she could put in a word. Otherwise, it's in and out of the cubes until you die like your dads, in a blaze of ignominy. I spit at her, tell her she can't talk about my dads like that, wonder what ignominy means. She's right though. There's some business with a laser pistol that fell off the back of a hoverlorry, and...


I am lying on the highstreet with a half-cauterised hole in my guts. The ambulance driver pulls a sheet over my head—


I can't have truly remembered that, I was far too dead. But my brain doesn't seem to care. It keeps going. They kept it going. Salvaged it from the wreckage of my life. Donated it to the war effort. Tested it, trained it, and stuck it on a weapons platform as a cybernetic augment. The rest of my half-life: a blur of ballistics and parabolas, lasers and lightspeed calculations. But still me. Shooting the shit out of shit for a century or more. Turns out, with the proper training, I'm damn good at it. I am defending planetary bases, floating beside orbitals and powering up from Dyson spheres. Look at me, Dads, I'm killing it! I am an artist of destruction, fine-tuning my beautiful weaponry to any atmosphere or environment.


It's not enough. We're losing. Badly.


The blinding white gleam that suffuses everything finally fades, leaving only pools of light that swirl slowly away. At least I still recognise my immediate surroundings, the protective diamond lattice that surrounds the framework of my weapons platform appears intact, and through its translucent shield the ice of the comet glistens in the glow of my photon generators. Behind me and around me, though, the tail of the comet, which both sheltered and hid me, has disappeared. I feel intensely vulnerable. My platform, embedded behind the comet, could be noticed and destroyed at any moment. Defense beyond stealth was not part of the plan, anything non-essential was another potential blip on an enemy sensor before I slipped into range. Even the lattice itself mimics the ice crystals of the comet when sensed from outside. Instinctively I do a visual scan above me, looking for the telltale violet pulse they say you see before a direct hit from an ultra-cannon tears you apart.


There is nothing. No pulse. No light. No dust. No gas. No stars.


Nothing at all.


"Computer," I say. (I do not actually use that particular word. Instead I internally initiate the section of my brain that has been designated for intense computation). "I need a sit-rep like I have needed a piss for the last hundred years."


Anomalous situation. Awaiting further information from diagnostics. Also detecting slight thinning of diamond lattice and substantial degradation of porous ice and rock on comet substrate.


I am pleased by the fact, but not the meaning, of the response. The lattice is like my skin, it separates my power sources, weaponry and control lobes from the unsurvivable vicissitudes of the vacuum. Possibilities to check run through my mind. This is what I'm here for: the inimitable human ability to ask "what the fuck?" in the face of imminent systemic failure and adapt accordingly. "Is this some kind of strategic, blinding effect? Have we been swallowed by some larger ship? Are we being digested by something? What is happening on wavelengths that I am not currently configured to see visually?"


Internal diagnostics complete. No malfunctions reported beyond slight dehydration of cerebrum. Probing external hemispherical area to 1 light second. No response from 17 subatomic types. Initial analysis: Absorption of all 17 particulates unlikely. Sensors on all spectra report: nothing to report.


"Great. Computer says no." I dose my cerebrum with a nutritional wash that includes the suggestion of the taste of KillBeast lager. Old habits, dying hard. "One final question, though, computer. Where the ever-living hell are my hands?"


Unknown. Disintegration of comet now at 20%. Disintegration of weapons framework support lattice now at 10%


Being a re-embodied-in-a-not-a-body brain, has always been three parts frustration to one part blowing stuff up to feel better. I can feel chemicals swish that remind me of panic, and I desperately want to shoot something, but this is still, officially, a stealth mission, so I can't, not yet, which only makes me more frustrated. I run through all the information I have. There isn't a lot. I am forced to contemplate the possibility that our mission has failed, that our glorious, ludicrous plan has come to nothing. It was always a risk, trusting they would never suspect a ruse so primitive as this; hitching a ride on a comet to get me and my lasers into position, while the flyboys fought and died in gallant misdirection.


My dismal reverie is interrupted by the computer once again, bringing my attention to the timepiece embedded within the framework. It appears to be broken. A war in space, across vast distances at relativistic speeds, requires hyper-accurate clocks. Ours use entangled particles to synchronise individual timepieces, but mine... mine has stopped. That should be impossible, or at least, only possible if all the other clocks were destroyed. I take a closer look, and notice with surprise that the year part of the date reads a succession of 9s, up to the display limit.


A dawning dread rises over me, the first hint of the true enormity of my predicament. If I am right...but how can I be right?


"Computer, check background radiation levels."


Null.


"Null? Confirm."


Null Confirmed.


"What's happened to them?"


Anomalous situation. Awaiting further information. Disintegration of comet now at 50%. Disintegration of weapons framework support lattice now at 30%


I know I am essentially talking to an IQ-augmented aspect of myself, but I hate that particular dumb-arse side of me with the fire of a thousand fiery, albeit currently conceptual, suns right at that second. I hate it even more because this seems to confirm my worst suspicions. As a weapons platform, I have to deal with physics, a lot of physics, more than you'd expect. I pick up tangentially related things here and there. I've got half the sum of human knowledge (the not-juicy stuff they don't care if the enemy knows) directly available on a quartzdrive and I get bored when there's nothing to shoot, so when I find myself in some unexplainable blackness with no Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation I can put two and two together and get "Holy Fuck, I am surrounded by the heat death of the goddamned universe!"


Some background research process pipes up: Any form of existence that far into the future has only ever been speculative. The integrity of the space/time continuum may have collapsed, making matter unsustainable, and flatlining the wavelengths of all forms of radiation. Contrary-wise, it may not have. The computer equivalent of a shrug.


"But how? How did I get here?"


Another background process: Means of time travel have been theorised numerous times. Popular examples include alien technology, black holes, and wormholes. Similarly, the co-incidental atomic reconstruction of intelligences complete with accurate memories owing to random quantum events over extremely large time periods has been postulated and might result in functionally equivalent circumstances


Did I fall through a hole in space or am I just a fantastically improbable piece of quantum spit? And where in the fifteen hells are my hands?" I feel naked and defenseless without the ability to aim.


Unknown. Awaiting further information. Disintegration of comet now at 65%. Disintegration of weapons framework support lattice now at 40%


The comet has once again developed something of a tail. It's much shorter this time, which suggests particles of ice and rock breaking down and leaving their brethren to radiate off into nothingness, a dying glow I can just barely perceive. The diamond weave of my protective lattice is, however, apparently made of sterner stuff. Idly, I wonder if this is all happening in an instant, but the absence of space/time around me is elongating the moment somehow. But I can't get the maths to work so I abandon that train of thought.


Disintegration of comet now at 80%. Disintegration of weapons framework support lattice now at 50%.


This is it then. Our valiant efforts failed and now I'm stuck here, possibly in the impossibly far future, watching my artificial skin and my temporary home disintegrate. Whatever's outside, I can't survive in it. I only hope the ending will be quick.


Comet disintegration complete. Lattice at 70%.


At least, I think to myself, I don't need my hands any more. I can maneuver my weaponry just by using the lattice jets that were previously embedded in the rock and ice. I test one, and am delighted to find out that it still works. Well, it still fires. I assume it works, but there's nothing out there to compare my orientation to. Still, I can't help but wonder what happened to my hands, my trusty limbs that would normally coordinate my weapon bearings - did they not make it through the wormhole? Did the rolling of the quantum die not get every detail right? What if it wasn't even a matter of right or wrong - what if all of it, my mission, the war, my life, was just a random, spontaneous, memory-like construction of the universe's own invention, born here at the end of time? Could I even know?


Lattice disintegration at 90%.


Burning with frustration, I prime and fire. Photons scream into the void. As always, I feel a little better.


I fire again, and again. It feels good to be doing something instead of sitting around contemplating the imminent destruction of my arse. I activate my platform jets, turning my lasers into cutting arcs of light, searing a broadside into the depths. Its radiation, somehow still physically present, is suspended in the darkness like the letter 'I' splashed on a canvas of infinite black.


I laugh, inwardly. Switch the laser off. Fire my jets to rotate a few degrees. Switch it back on. Carve the word 'WAS' into the emptiness of space, lasers and jets working in harmony. This time, I oscillate the beam through the rainbow, ultra to infra and back


Lattice disintegration at 97%.


The controls are smooth, but I feel distant. Perhaps the diamond shield isn't fully protective, and my own substrate, my own consciousness, is coming apart at the seams, but this possibility barely even registers. I am consumed, instead, by the thought that there might never be another me, another being, in the whole entirety of the remaining history of everything. No one to see my final fireworks display, my last message to uncreation written in letters of burning light.


'HERE'


Lattice disintegration at 99%.


I bathe my overheated cerebellum in KillBeast-tainted wash and look upon what I have wrought. It seems incomplete, somehow. Too much of a callback to my earlier work, perhaps? It needs something more. And here, at the end of all things, the grace note comes to me, in all its perfection. I slash and stab at the dark heart of the universe.


'!'


 

Ending typographical flourish

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