"I just can't believe it. These people have no business shoving each other. We're all getting on the bus…Damn thing's empty, after all."
The old black woman who'd lamented her fellow passengers' lack of courtesy sighed. Her silently judging gaze locked onto a younger woman in a grey housekeeper's uniform waiting patiently to board. Her gaze blank and serene, she was not muttering curses upon Metro officials' firstborn children or pleading with their phones for pardon of their tardiness. She looked like a young girl, at most in her early twenties, but she carried herself with the sort of slow deliberation that came with age. The old woman pulled herself up straight as the housekeeper exited the bus. Patience, the old black woman thought as she watched the younger woman walk into the lush vegetation of Beverly Hills. Something the young lack.
The younger woman, however didn't lack patience. Perhaps it was because she wasn't really all that young at all. Perhaps it was because she was a little bit off. But really, it was because forces of nature are not to be rushed. They are deliberate. They plan. They bide their time, carefully waiting until the right moment. So was she, Dr. Molly Jayawadena, goddess-in-training.
Dr. Jayawadena's brilliant but fractured mind had slowly narrowed in on Los Angeles as a choice of sanctuary. While she saw the chaos of the city as a sick aberration, some masochistic crevice of her mind was drawn to it like flies to rotten flesh. The endless mayhem of the City of Angels was perfect for someone who wanted to hide among people wrapped up in the endless minutiae of their uninspired lives.
Molly stumbled on the shimmering, impermanent ground. Where most only saw perfectly manicured gardens and obscenely extravagant houses, she saw rippling quantum chaos, particles that were not particles blinking in and out of solidity, chained together like jewelry made of energy and not-empty space. Atomic cogs meshing together like tiny keys turning the clockwork of cellular life. Blocks of protoplasm forming leafy greenness or warm red flesh. The framework of the world seethed and bubbled under her gaze, maddeningly, eternally. It was like those optical illusions that overloaded your senses and pierced your brain with confusion and pain. It was a disgustingly cluttered veil on the reality that had to be done away with as soon as possible.
Dr. Jayawadena had already entered the gaudy faux-Baroque monstrosity of a house through the unassuming servant's door. Molly was prone to losing large gaps of time like this. She now found herself conducting a bizarre and pointless ritual on a pane of glass with a spray bottle of Windex and some newsprint. If Molly concentrated on exactly how odd and pointless it was, she could avoid feeling aggressive atoms dig themselves into the microscopic feelers of her nose, remain blind to the iridescent bands on the window and the quantum electrodynamical equations that described them…Molly closed her eyes.
The woman of the house entered the room. She was a visually pleasing pile of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and potassium; she was wealthy, famous, and utterly inconsequential. The woman shifted her center of gravity, causing a temporary imbalance before catching herself with her other leg. She repeated this motion, this controlled imbalance, the rhythmic almost-falling, until she reached Molly. "I want this house spotless for our meeting tonight. It has to be perfect. Some real important people are coming." She sighed in irritation before stooping over to Molly. "Big meeting. Important. Clean hard. Comprende?"
Molly nodded vigorously. The owners of the house seemed to be under the impression that Molly spoke no English and was in the country under less than legal circumstances. It wasn't a hard sell thanks to Molly's dark complexion, exotic features, and the banal racism of the wealthy in Southern California. Plus, the current arrangement allowed Molly to disregard this world's odd song and dance about the exchange of goods and services.
The woman shifted into the media room as a flash of something caught Molly's eye.
Her employer was wearing a large, polished stone on her wrist. Molly halted even the pretense of work to consider this. The stone reflected a very distinctive wavelength of light, somewhere in the neighborhood of 510 nanometers. Nothing too unusual by itself, but the frequency of light reflected off that stone was disharmonious with the frequency of light reflected by the woman's clothing, and that was utterly outside the bounds of the woman's normal behavior. Molly remembered that the woman had been telling her equally pretty and vapid friends that it was a gift from some very important people she was entertaining.
Molly decided that she wanted to observe these "very important people". And since she was Dr. Molly Jayawadena, Bringer of the Perfect Universe, she had every right to know whatever she wanted to know. She frowned before fiddling with the newsprint in her hand. The world as it was did not recognize Dr. Jayawadena's natural entitlement to all imaginable knowledge. She would have to listen in secret, hidden in the shadows.
Night fell as Molly's weary gray coworkers leave the mansion. Molly herself was standing, unobserved, in a corner of the wine cellar. Shaking her head, she pressed a finger to the carefully balanced panel (poorly) concealing the secret passageway. She knew that others were blissfully unaware of the nonstop whispers of the universe, but she would have thought someone would have noticed the odd draft down there. The panel swung open silently into total darkness as Molly stepped in. Shutting the panel behind her, she began to feel her way into the tunnel.
Molly could have brought a flashlight but the possibility of others patrolling this hallway stopped her. Besides, she wasn't so disoriented in the darkness. She didn't have to feel photons and their always shifting nature bouncing wildly off her surroundings and into her eyes. Molly continued to navigate by touch, strangely at peace.
The calm faded as a thin line of bluish light appeared ahead of Molly. Now, she stuck to the walls, silently inching towards the light until she could see the outline of a door. Gingerly, Molly pulled the door open just enough for her to peek inside.
The light was blinding compared to the darkness of the hallway, but as her eyes adjusted Molly realized that the silvery light was actually rather dim. Human figures in dark green robes sat in a circle around a copper stem topped with a large translucent pale green glass globe. Molly's eyes raised to the ceiling. Bright points of light were suspended in an ink blue field. With a start, Molly recognized Orion. It was a perfect map of the night sky over LA, sans light pollution. Molly decided that because she was the Bringer of Order, the Purifier of Nature, she was well within her rights to enter this room. She glided past the door and around the dark corners of the chamber. The people in the circle were completely focused on the center and did not notice their visitor. Molly recognized the man and woman of the house, looking unusually humble and abashed. A man next to them wearing a five-pointed diadem on his head offered them a large incense coil on a copper platter. "The honor is yours tonight," he intoned in a strange voice that seemed to come, not from his mouth, but the walls of the entire room.
The woman produced a small candle and lit the incense, hands trembling. "Slon thrli phthle Fifth ynvo," she chanted.
"Slon thrli phthle Fifth ynvo," the circle chanted back.
Molly leaned back into the dark, heart racing as a horrible realization descended upon her. The incense, the chanting in a strange language, the odd clothes. Her employers had done it. They'd gone and become Catholics. Well, no matter. She'd fought her way out once, she could do it again if she had to.
Her panicked train of thought was suddenly arrested by a voice. "Thl brn, brothers and sisters. All good Fifthists are welcome. The heretics have not prevailed. Yvne, we will rise again."
"Slon thrli phthle Fifth ynvo," chanted the circle. Confused, Molly tried to figure out who had spoken.
"The Foundation heretics grow nearer. But their arrogance cripples them. Remember, brethren, they almost failed. Matter will not save them. The Fifth World will rise."
"Slon thrli phthle Fifth ynvo."
Molly observed that each word spoken by the mysterious voice seemed to correspond with puffs of smoke sent out by the incense coil. She hypothesized that this pattern would continue. Continued observation was in order.
"The Fifth World is not. Neither has it ever been. But soon it will be. Minds and stars align anon. The Fifth world is Freedom."
"Slon thrli phthle Fifth ynvo."
Molly's hypothesis was solid so far. Now, the woman leaned over the incense and took a deep breath in. She shut her eyes tight and held the smoke in her chest as the circle looked on silently. She exhaled thick green smoke as two voices intoned, "All worlds die in fives." Molly started. One of the voices that came from the woman's mouth was her normal, nasal speaking voice. The other was the mysterious voice that had been speaking before. The woman passed the incense to her paramour, who inhaled as she did, and spoke the same words as he exhaled. And again, the mysterious voice came from him along with his own.
"All worlds die in fives," he breathed as he passed the coil on.
Well, Molly thought to herself, unless they'd severely restructured the Communion service, this was not a meeting of Catholics. She watched with growing confusion as every member of the circle repeated the ritual. The room was beginning to fill with green smoke, but it was not dispersing as smoke does. It pooled at the celebrants' feet, sending out tendrils like some undiscovered sea animal. Green tentacles snaked across the bodies of the assembly, as every celebrant tilted their heads up and spewed a thicker, black smoke from their mouths. This smoke mingled with the green as every celebrant hummed a deep, barely audible tone felt deep within the ribs and spine.
"Now…now hold on one goddamned minute!" shouted Molly.
The celebrants leapt to their feet, screeching. The green smoke suddenly gathered itself like a frightened squid and swept back to the incense coil, enveloping it. Molly marched into the circle as the celebrants screamed in unison a harsh, dissonant tone.
"Everybody…you all…just-just be quiet! All of you!" Molly thrust her finger into the man with the diadem's face. "I don't, I mean, if you, that is…That smoke is not acting the way smoke should act! It's acting more, you know, it's just that, it's alive, but of course not really…" Molly rubbed at her eyes in frustration as she tried to collect her thoughts.
The man of the house gaped at her. "What the he-you spoke English this entire time?"
Molly answered, not facing him, "I was born just outside Chicago. Now tell me…you explain…that thing over there," she pointed at the hovering incense cloud.
The man with the diadem had maintained a neutral expression throughout Molly's interrogation. Molly wondered briefly if his face hadn't been paralyzed when he spoke from seemingly closed lips. "Your curiosity is your downfall. You will long for death."
"Hold your wrath, Your Grace." Everyone turned with wonder to the green cloud shrouding the incense coil. "The ptlwi did not sound. It should have announced her. It allowed her to enter. It is worth asking why."
The woman piped up. "Maybe it's, like, broken or…" Every other celebrant except her darling whipped their head around and hissed, cowing her into silence. The large green cloud left the incense coil and floated over to Molly.
"Breathe me in, rash woman," it commanded. Molly, figuring that she'd gotten this far on bad decisions, shrugged and inhaled deeply. The smoke slipped into her lungs like the slimy predestination of a half-remembered nightmare. It left a bitter, evil taste in her mouth. It wanted the quantum anarchy that tormented her vision stripped of even those lax laws that governed it, expanded, reconfigured. If her New Nature was heaven, the Fifth World was hell. Struggling to remain calm against the invasive presence, Molly slowly exhaled.
Mercifully, the smoke shot out of her nostrils and wrapped itself around the large glass globe above them. It began to glow with a pulsing green light until the smoke drifted down to its coil. A small slip of paper popped out of a slot in the copper support. The man in the diadem picked it up and read it. Though his face did not change, Molly could feel a jolt of wonder surge through him.
"Fives alive, she's a 998," he breathed. Silence reverberated through the room before everyone began to whisper. The woman's nasal voice sliced through the charged air.
"So, what does that mean?" she asked irritatedly.
"She sees the world's wrongness. Nature's sins call to her. She can undo it all. She can birth Fifth World." To Molly he said, "You have failed once before. Machines will always fail. The observer changes the observed. We have succeeded thus before. The mind shall bring salvation."
The hot, acidic taste of failure returned to Molly as sharp as it had been that day in her university apartment. He was right, the machine had failed. And he was right again in that every enthusiastic undergrad knew that an observer could collapse the wavefunction. What implications did that have for The Project? Could she really use human consciousness to rewrite the laws of nature?
It was definitely worth investigation, and these people seemed to know something. Even if their Fifth World was the antithesis of her vision, even if their robes were strange and their chants blood-chilling, science was science. Discoveries made by the Nazis, draped in mindless cruelty and stupid occultism, are still discoveries.
"I will…I mean, of course I would like…If you would…" Molly stopped and collected herself before smiling darkly. "Slon thrli phthle Fifth ynvo."
The green smoke snaked over to the man in the diadem. A tendril wafted up to his face and situated itself under his nose. As Molly watched with some concern, the thin trail of smoke curved up to form the illusion of a ghostly green smile on the man's static face.
To be continued…