What’s the safe plan in a Wishing Contest with 8 billion players? You gotta remove yourself from that situation. Fade out.
2 Weeks Later - Doc-Danger - Space
A Halfman is cruising up on the conglomeration of spaceships that host the Hur Warper Party. We’re coasting up behind him.
This is our seventh cosmic drive-by. I’m don’t like that we keep attacking the same way. Too predictable. That said, I don’t have any better ideas. It’s hard to compete with success.
Fox erases the Halfman’s brainstem. “Hmm.” he says.
“What?” I ask.
“I don’t know.” says Fox. “That felt different.”
“Hmm.” I say.
“Shit!” yells High Roller. He points at a huge portal right in front of us. It leads to a black hole. Fuck! Where’d that come from? I slam The Rumor to a dead stop. Fox, Eve, and High Roller keep rocketing forward, crash through the front of the ship, zoom towards the deadly portal.
Whoops. Guess I stopped too fast. I try to call up something to grab them, but their body autonomy algorithms repel my hasty efforts. Fuck!
Eve points at the portal and it disappears. Huh. How did she do that? Crap. Where’s the Halfman?
I feel a steel grip on the back of my neck. Dammit.
BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!
The Halfman hammers me. My body autonomy redlines. Ow. I push him off me. Try to send him to nothing. He resists. Tries to erase me. We lock in. This is going to be close. High Roller warps in beside us. Punches the Halfman in the head. Crushes it.
I send what’s left of the Halfman to nothing. I sigh. That sucked.
“Nice hit.” I say.
“Thanks.” says High Roller. “Body autonomy algorithms work well offensively if you can get close enough. I figured that out from watching the Masked Man choke the shit out of you.”
I scowl at the simulation of the Man in the Mask.
“I was not expecting that black hole portal.” says High Roller.
“Me neither. We almost flew right through it. I guess that’s why Halfmen always approach Warper parties slowly.” I say.
“I thought they were just melodramatic a-holes.” says High Roller. “What would have happened if we’d gone through?”
“If we went beyond the event horizon, we’d have been trapped forever.” says Eve. She floats in through the hole in the Rumor. Seals it behind her. “Probably as dead bodies.”
The event horizon is the area around a black hole where light cannot escape because the gravity is too strong.
“Why couldn’t we just warp back?” I ask.
Eve shrugs. “I don’t know. No one ever has.”
Good to know. Unless she’s lying. I’ll test it with a drone later.
“We should work on our teamwork. At least enough so we don’t fly through the windshield by accident. That was kind of embarrassing.” says High Roller.
Yes, our individual algorithms and protocols are not designed to work together. The Rumor is an extension of my will, but the others are only loosely attached to it. Damn ship has a better grip on its cargo, than its passengers. Also, I couldn’t grab the team to save their lives. Their protocols treated my attempt the same as a Halfman attack.
Hmm. Allowing the others to grab or move my body could potentially save me, but it would also give them control over me. I look at Eve. I can think of a few ways that could go wrong.
“I’ll look into it.” I say. “Try a few things in Pandora’s Sandbox.”
Eve and High Roller nod. Fox is still outside. I can feel him using a fair amount of power. I focus my True Sight. Let’s see what he’s up to.
Outside, the Hur Warper ships are a mess. I guess the Halfman broke them open while we were frigging around with the black hole. Fox is collecting the Warpers and putting their ships together around them. He looks pissed.
Dammit. I sense an escalation of hostilities in my future.
I look at High Roller. “Are you going to find a party?” He nods. “Take Fox with you. He needs to cool off.”
“Okay. What are you doing?” asks High Roller.
“Pandora’s Sandbox. Team building.” I say.
He nods. Leaves with Eve. I enter Pandora’s Sandbox. Try to figure out how to save my friends without letting anyone make decisions for my body.
After a couple hours, I have a few ideas. They’re not great, but it’s a start. I need a break. I exit Pandora’s Sandbox to a completely different Rumor.
The Rumor has no object permanence. It can take any form that is needed. Apparently, someone needed a galaxy class pleasure cruiser. It’s packed with wasted Warpers. I guess we’re having a party.
One of them throws an arm around me. Hands me a glass of glowing green sludge.
“What the fuck happened today?” he shouts in my face. I don’t think he’s angry. Just making poor personal space choices. “One second I’m in my ship, the next I’m floating in space, the next I’m back in my ship! Except, it’s not my ship! Everything works, and is all new! And the carpets are yellow! The carpets used to be brown! At least, I think they were! Maybe they were just dirty! Should I be cleaning my carpets more?”
I shrug. “Maybe?”
“And my leg! My leg was gone! And now it’s back!” he shouts.
I shrug. “Mass hallucination, I figure. Only thing that makes sense.”
“I lost my leg at the Birith Disaster! Have I been hallucinating the last 40 years?”
I drink the glowing green sludge. It’s my only escape.
It takes me an hour and several liters of sludge to fight my way to my crew. They’re at some kind of stonehenge folk rock burning man festival. It does not belong hanging off the side of a starship. Nobody seems to mind. The acoustic instruments make it easier to talk here.
Fox and High Roller are holding each other up. Fox insists that High Roller is the greatest. High Roller is contemptuous of his thesis, and argues that it is Fox, who is in fact, the greatest. When they see me, they cheer! Now I’m the greatest.
Eve is over by a big fire. Drinking toxic sludge, and shambling around like a vampire T-Rex.
“What’s going on over there?” I ask.
“Apparently it’s the dance of her people.” says High Roller.
“That’s so cool.” says Fox. He gasps. “I’m gonna show her the dance of our people.”
He snaps his fingers and a tight sparkly unitard covers his body. Celine Dion music starts blasting from nowhere. He glides around. Leaping and spinning.
“What am I looking at?” asks High Roller.
“I have no idea.” I say.
High Roller gasps. “He’s figure skating!”
God damn! That is the dance of our people! I had totally forgot.
I party with my crew for a bit. They are the greatest. After a while I see someone else I know. It’s Piratebot. We move to the fringe of the party so we can talk.
I’m sitting on a lawn chair on the side of a spaceship, drinking space moonshine with a computer simulation. I’m not sure how it came to this, but I guess it could be worse.
“What have you got for me?” I ask.
“Nothing on our principal objective. The Khen’s have no solutions to the continuity of experience problem.” says Piratebot. “But I found something interesting about Halfmen.”
He tosses me a book. Halfmen and the Fourth Cosmic Power. By Ibok. I look at the back cover. Ibok is a cheery octopus fellow.
“I printed that myself. It was never published.” says Piratebot. “Ibok was a thought experiment game theorist. He made up games that couldn’t possibly exist, and then worked out winning strategies for them. Weird stuff, but really cool.
“Anyway, he made a thought game called ‘6 Men and a Time Machine’. Imagine you had a time machine, but you shared it with 5 other guys. The object of the game is to get an advantage over the other owners of the time machine, but you can only use it together. What is your strategy to beat the other players?
“Now, this game’s a goofy bit of mental masturbation. There’s no such thing as time travel, and if there was, why would you need 5 other guys to do it? But, Ibok liked to solve problems, even if he had to make them up. This particular problem got fucking creepy. Because, when Ibok calculated possible solutions, one of the six guys started acting exactly like a Halfman.
“Which bring us to the age old question - what the fuck is the deal with the Halfmen? It’s possible to imagine why they want to kill everybody. We all have our moments. But why are they so bad at it? They have every possible advantage over the Warpers. Why haven’t they wiped them out?
“The prevailing theory is that Warpers are a universal phenomenon. They pop up everywhere, every billion years or so. Because the universe is infinite, so are Warpers. You can’t win a war against infinity. It looks at your exponential attack and laughs.
“This theory may be correct, but it doesn’t really explain anything. Why start a war you can’t win? Why do some Warpers always escape the attacks? Why are they so horrific? Why are they common knowledge? Why not infiltrate, and wipe out entire civilizations at once? Leaving no whisper that they ever existed to warn your next victims. Halfmen could replicate easily. Why aren’t there quintillions of them? Why aren’t they a roiling unstoppable tide remaking the universe in their image?”
“Because there’s other space gods.” I say.
“Yes.” says Piratebot. “And if Warpers are infinite, then so are they. A much smaller infinity, but still infinite. Also, not the kind of neighbors you want to piss off. That answers some of the questions, but not the main one. Why start a war you can’t win?”
I think. Drink some toxic sludge. “I don’t know, man. Just tell me.”
“They aren’t fighting a war. They’re recruiting.” says Piratebot. “They have a time machine, but they can’t use it on their own. They need allies. They’re stacking the universal deck with people who have lost more than they can endure. People who will choose to go back in time.”
I stand. Drink toxic sludge. Think.
“Does this change anything? With us? With what we’re doing?”
“No.” says Eve. She stands close to me. I can feel the heat coming off her.
“I like you.” she says. “Wanna make out?”
She’s really not so bad.
We make love.