The coldest I have ever been was the day I was born.
Alaska, of course, is a very cold state to begin with, even in the middle of summer. I was born in the winter. It was on New Year’s Day, twenty nine years ago, that I was unceremoniously thrust from my mothers’ loins in the back of a second hand pickup truck. My parents realised they would not make it to the hospital in time. My mother, for her part, was calm. There was no room inside the vehicle, and so my father lifted her out, then rested her on the snow covered truck bed. The cold did its part to dull the pain. Twenty minutes later, I slipped out into my father’s chilly gloves. As I cried, my tears began to freeze.
Every birthday, my parents would share this image with me. I was a baby still dripping with blood, with snowflakes sticking to my body. Their tiny little angel of red and white.
Then we'd go outside and let off the fireworks.
Happy New Year.
The first few years of my life were uneventful. I crawled and mewled and burped and pooped and did what a baby is supposed to do. Tufts of red hair popped from my head, and Alaska's endlessly cold weather resulted in a lot of playing indoors. I aged some more and learned to talk, but had very few people to talk to. My father worked all day and I slept all night, so we saw very little of each other. My mother ran me through my homeschooling course modules; neat, compact little packages of worked examples.
Those course books were the best games I had. My parents would never let me buy computer games, of course. They rot your brain, they'd say. I had no friends to play with. We lived in the middle of nowhere. As a child, the only things I had to occupy my time were those worksheets.
When I was seven years old, my mother had to go to the hospital for a week. While she was there, my father looked after me at home, taking a break from his work. He didn't know how the homeschooling program was supposed to work, and he wasn't a good teacher. We never really had a great rapport. So he left me to my own devices in the room with all the instruction booklets, Kindergarten and up, all sorted neatly into their nice little boxes.
When my mother returned home, I had finished two years of schooling in her absence.
This was, perhaps, the most pivotal educational event of my life. Rather than guiding me through slowly, my mother allowed me to progress at my own pace. She'd lie upstairs in her bed all day, coming out to make quick meals. I would sit downstairs and devour educational materials. After junior school level, the content ramped up in difficulty, and so my progress slowed. I'd go upstairs to visit my mother, proudly showing off my completed worksheets. The things I said to her still incite guilt after all these years.
"Look how well I'm doing without you!"
I was a child. I didn't understand the sort of pain that comes from not being needed in your own house. In retrospect, I'm sure my words were tormenting. A grinning, red-haired little kid, telling his mother that he's glad that she's not slowing him down any more. That she isn't getting in the way. That he's glad she's spending all day in bed now. Now she gets to relax.
The next year she died, and I grew up fast.
My father looked after me after my mother's death. Still, I saw little of him. Some mornings I'd wake up and he'd already have gone to work in the ancient pick-up truck. I worked through my course books, occasionally ordering new ones to fill gaps in my knowledge. When I was thirteen, my father bought me a computer, and I discovered the internet. The net was still in its infancy, then; better in some ways, but worse in others. At the time, it never really occurred to me to use it for anything other than education. Learning was fun, and so I would read. When I was fourteen, I discovered… other things on the internet. There were no sexual education pamphlets in my course work, barring clinically dry biology textbooks. The burgeoning net was the next step in my educational pathway.
When I was fifteen and a half years old, I finished the last of my schooling pamphlets. I remember turning over that final sheet, to look at the aged piece of paper reading "CONGRATULATIONS!" in a childlike font. My mother and father had written on it back when I first started the courses. I felt tears well up in my eyes as I recognised my mother's handwriting.
"We are so proud of you."
I started college when I was sixteen.
I still didn't really know what I wanted to do. Mathematics and the sciences were always a decent option, and admittedly what I'd always found the easiest, but I never really had any great passion for them. I never had any great passion for anything, though, so taking what I was good at made sense. Physics was my choice.
I had to live on my own in Anchorage. Not that I minded; since my mother died, most days I had the house to myself. I was very much used to being alone. What I was very much unused to was not being alone; having to leave the house every day, having to walk to classes taught by Real People, in lecture halls filled with other Real People. I wasn't used to having to take notes; I tried for a week, then realised what I was transcribing ended up mostly useless. Instead, I just remembered the course content the first time. It was easier to understand what was being taught when instead of assigning it to paper, I spent that time assigning it to my mind.
I topped the class in every course for my first semester.
This gathered a lot of attention. Sure, some people had noticed I was shorter than other students, that I didn't talk to many people or join any clubs, and that I never entered into the on-campus bar. They mostly kept their distance. Course results came out, and I made the mistake of letting my name go out on print. Not long after, I gathered a reputation among my peers for being "the short nerd". Then everyone kept coming to me for course help.
I hated it. I wasn't an anti-social person, but having to slow down my mind to explain things to people was frustrating. Never before did I have to transfer ideas in my head into other people's. Trying to do so made me extremely uncomfortable. I hadn't met this problem before. The second semester finished, and with one exception, I topped all of my courses again. Then I took to solving the problem of dealing with Real People.
I found it surprisingly simple.
Sociology, body language, some study of linguistics. I spent three days reading the dictionary from cover to cover. I'd never thought to do so before, nor really needed to; even if I didn't have the right words in my mind, there was no need to limit my thinking to the constraints of language. I saw it as a mesh, a grid with which one could transfer information, and with that attitude I turned my mesh into the finest one I could.
I got along with my classmates far easier after that.
When I was eighteen, a Professor offered me a teaching job.
I knew him quite well. He was a personable, if somewhat eccentric man; he'd taught three of the courses I'd topped. While not the best teacher, he was an excellent orator, and could easily hold the attention of his students for the marathon three-hour lectures for his more advanced classes. He needed someone to take a position teaching the first year courses' tutorial classes; I was glad to take the position, and the pay nicely supplemented my personal finances.
It took some time to review the material on the course. It had been some years, but refamiliarising myself with the content didn't take long. Each week, I'd spend some hours preparing notes and worksheets for the course. The physics was basic to me, and I enjoyed passing on the knowledge. Admittedly, I was younger than some of the students, but nobody made too big a deal of the matter.
At the end of the semester, only 3 in the class of 78 students failed, and they were the ones who hadn't attended my tutorials. The Professor was exceptionally pleased, and offered me a similar job in the second semester.
At the end of the second semester, just before my nineteenth birthday and going into the final year of my Undergraduate degree, he offered me a research job.
The research replaced most of what my final year of tuition would have been. For the first half of the year, I mostly covered theoretical Quantum Mechanics concepts. It was, while groundbreaking, not especially interesting work for me. Most days were spent poring over scientific articles the library's archives, trying to piece together the way that the nanoscopic world worked. At the end of the first semester, I came across a paper that greatly altered the course of my research.
The article was written on a typewritter; not formatted, not in the library's database, and likely unpublished. Just some twelve dense pages of scientific prose on seemingly ancient paper, likely undecipherable to anyone who hadn't spent as much time as I had poring over the literature. There was no mention of the Author's name. It was woefully incomplete - likely an early draft, if it had ever been completed - but the concepts put forward were alien. Alien, and potentially revolutionary.
1. Introduction [TO WRITE]
2. Traditional Mathematical and Scientific Thought [TO WRITE]
3. Modern Mathematical and Scientific Thought
3.1. Modern Understanding of Reality [TO EDIT]
3.2. Physically Empirical Non-Axiomatic Models of Mathematics
3.3. Non-Axiomatic Models of Physics
4. The Interdependencies of Systems [TO WRITE]
5. Philosophical Discussion
5.1. Bias Within Non-Axiomatic Biological Minds [TO EDIT]
5.2. Repercussions on Epistemology
5.3. Analysis of the Modern Non-Axiomatic "Naïve Science"
5.4. Accounting For And Removing Bias [TO WRITE]
5.5. Effects on Engineering Disciplines
5.6. Morals in Memetic Engineering [TO EDIT, maybe cut]
6. Conclusion [TO WRITE]
Empirical Mathematics. Non-Axiomatic Physical Systems. While the mathematical concepts violated fundamental assumptions, the tenuous structure that they still held appeared to stand on its own. The paper put forward what seemed to be physical impossibilities with casual simplicity. It made no intuitive sense, and yet, the few examples given seemed viable, if not trivial to construct.
So I did.
It took me twelve days to build my first working perpetual motion machine. It was a brutal, makeshift thing, constructed from gears and pulleys. The action of the machine acted to pull further tension along an already-tense piece of rubber, which drove the machine even more. I analysed the construction, since I'd simply been building based on plans that were not my own. It took me a further four days to modify it to extract more energy than I put in. Admittedly, it then ended up breaking, spinning faster and faster until the rubber band snapped from the stress. But it worked. Despite traditional physical thinking, despite long years of being told otherwise, it was possible to construct a perpetual motion machine.
A few weeks later, I could make one out of two pieces of paper and an elastic band.
At the end of the second semester, I finished my degree, and submitted two completed academic papers. One was on my original research topic, and it was the capstone of my educational career. It went to the American Journal of Physics. The other was the side project I'd been working on without the department's knowledge, knowing I'd probably be berated for the project or seen as insane. It was wholly possible that I was, which was a concerning prospect. It was my paper based on The Paper; the nameless article that I couldn't help but make a proper noun in my mind. This one, I sent to Letters in Mathematical Physics - a more frequently published journal, and one with the objective of rapid dissemination of breaking research. The worst case scenario, I thought, was that my paper get discarded into a trash can thousands of miles away.
Eighteen days later, a week before my twentieth birthday, the worst case scenario knocked at my door.
The knock was rapid, methodical, military. Five knocks, almost perfectly spaced from one another, then a break, then another five knocks. I got to the door and opened it a crack, the chain lock still in place. A man slightly taller than I stood outside the door, sporting a brown crew cut and a black suit. He looked at me through the crack in the door, smiled, then spoke.
"Mister Stanley Burden?"
"Hi Stanley. My name's Max Green. I'm from Springer Media, I'd like to talk about the paper you submitted to Letters in Mathematical Physics. Can I come in?"
"Uh, sure, yeah, hang on."
I closed the door, undid the chain lock, then re-opened it. Green smiled again, then held a small white rectangle out in his hand.
"Thanks, Stanley. Here's my card."
I took it from him, looking at the plain black ink printed there.
Agent Maxwell CT-B05
Green-type Anomaly Agent for Anchorage, Alaska
Global Occult Coalition
"You're not from Springer."
I looked back up at him. He was smirking, holding up another one of the same business cards, then turned it around. The reverse side had a fractal image on it, similar to those I'd already seen in the Morals in Memetic Engineering section of The Paper. I felt my eyes unfocus and the sun started to go dark. I fell forwards, dizzy; Green caught me in his arms. He looked down at me with amusement in his eyes.
"Sorry, Stan. I lied."
Then the world felt like nothing.
I opened my eyes, my heart feeling like it was on fire. I jerked, trying to clutch at my chest; my arms, however, were bound to the chair I was seated in. I looked upwards and to the right with unfocused gaze, slowly resolving into view as "Max Green" as he continued to inject a concoction of chemicals into my arm. He looked down at me, his face severe. He emptied the syringe into me, then pulled it out roughly. My arm began to drip blood.
Green walked to the other side of the table, staring at my face while the liquid circulated around my body. My heart kept trying to escape my chest cavity. Every icy breath I pulled into my lungs stung and scraped at my insides, and every exhalation left me feeling less than empty. My brain felt like it was bunching up in the wrong places. I felt my neck spasm lightly, and with each twitch of my head the world kept spinning. Green stared until the protests of my body ceased, then started to talk.
"I have injected you with an inhibitor. Whatever unusual abilities you previously possessed are now under lock and key. Please understand that this is simply a precaution and is mandated by procedure."
"Pay attention, Stan, because I'm only going to give this spiel once. You are currently two hundred feet underground in a holding cell of the Global Occult Coalition, an organisation dealing with threats of a metaphysical nature."
I felt my neck start to twitch again.
"Metaphysics, in this context, is not some odd and intangible realm of philosophy. It is a very real, very dangerous system acting to subvert the fundamental workings of our reality. It is, if you break down the term into its roots, quite literally beyond physics."
My neck stopped twitching.
"Physics is meant to work for a reason. The most dangerous thing that a human being can do, if they have to obey the laws of physics, is split an atom. Human beings who subvert those systems can do far more dangerous things, without need for a stockpile of radioactive materials or a particle accelerator."
Green pulled a cigarette case from inside his suit jacket, tapped one out into his hand, pulled a lighter from his other suit pocket and lit the cigarette's end. He took a deep draw of smoke-infused breath, then exhaled the putrid toxins into my face. I started to cough, and my lungs again felt stabbing pins.
"These people are known as Type Green threats. In the vernacular, 'Reality Benders'. If you are capable of performing the experiments detailed in your submitted article, then it is almost certain that you are one of them. Of course, you were 'exceptional' to begin with. There are patterns in the childhood of a Type Green, involuntary and unconscious alterations to the world around them. Loss of a parent at a young age, to serve as a tragic backstory. Eternally lamenting the constant pain of being 'better' than everyone else. Talents precipitating into some level of either arrogance, if they are to become 'mysterious loners', or modesty, if they want to play at normality. Your life story is so formulaic, so cliché, and so statistically improbable that it's as though an untalented author has been curating your entire life. You raised flags."
He paused to take another pull from his cigarette, then blew several rings of smoke up into the air.
"As the Green-type Agent for Anchorage, it was therefore my job to monitor you. A job I've been doing since the second your father drove you into city borders four years ago."
He stared at me, waiting for me to object. My lungs still felt like cold fire, my mind still foggy and slow. If I opened my mouth to talk, my stomach may well have clenched and emptied itself onto the table. Instead, I simply nodded, though it likely seemed like another spasm. Green continued.
"There are four phases in the development of a Type Green threat. Firstly, denial. A refusal or rationalisation of their metaphysical capabilities. In your case, until recently, you were thought to be at most in this stage. You did not have conscious awareness of your abilities, I believe, until some time this year."
I spurted out the phrase reactively. Green frowned.
"We'll get to your paper in a moment."
Not my paper, The Paper. I opened my mouth to speak again, then heaved up the remains of a half-digested sandwich onto myself and the table. Green looked on with disgust, shook his head, and continued.
"The adverse physical effects of the inhibitor will wear off soon. You can give your part then. As I was saying, you were believed to be a Phase One. Phase One Type Green threats do not elicit a threat response from our organisation, simply occasional observation. We are quite happy to leave people alone, if they are no genuine threat. Phase Two is more dangerous. Phase Two typically involves experimentation, an exploration of your abilities. You're a Phase Two right now."
Green pulled out a copy of the paper I'd sent to Letters in Mathematical Physics and thumbed through it.
"What you put forward here is what we expect from Phase Two experimentation, just a bit more formalised. There is a very clear method to your metaphysical madness, where other Phase Two examples simply 'do' or 'feel' without any analysis of their metaphysical phenomena. You've put down what you perceive to be a new paradigm in mathematical and physical research. What you don't realise is that it's entirely incorrect for anyone who isn't you."
Green stood and walked to a corner of the room behind me. I tried to twist my head around to follow him, but the bindings prevented it. He walked back with a soft rag, wiped my vomit from the table, then returned beyond my view. I heard a tap running for a moment, then Green turned it off.
He walked back to the table and placed on it a glass of water, a small pile of paper, a box of elastic bands, and the copy of the paper that I'd sent to Springer. Green then stood next to me and untied the knots holding my arms to the chair. He returned to his seat on the other side of the table, then gestured to the pile of materials.
"You state in your article a very simple example of a perpetual motion machine, one which 'anyone' can construct over a few minutes with two pieces of paper and an elastic band. I'd like you to try and make one for me now, based on either your memory or the comprehensive instructions you've written down."
"And the water?"
"It's water. You just threw up. Drink it and try to keep it in."
I picked up the glass, pouring the liquid down my throat. My head felt a little better, and my heart had resumed its regular pace. I took two pieces of paper and an elastic band, looking back up at Green. He nodded and raised his eyebrows.
"Have at it, Stan."
I looked back to the pieces of paper. The first section, the stand, was the easier of the two to fold. I started to construct it, firstly by folding the paper up to a point. Then, around the base, I folded the sections on which the elastic band should catch, without any particular problem. Moving the completed base to one side, I took another piece of paper, and folded it to rest on top of the first piece. I tested placing the two together, and the rotor spun nicely on top of the base.
The next part was to fold the rotor piece so that the elastic band would pull on it, then as the piece spun, give way to the next jutting section, then catch on it. Similarly, it would realign the elastic band on the base, which would repeatedly fling the elastic band around the whole mechanism opposite to the rotor's movement.
The folds no longer worked.
I knew how the fold was supposed to happen. It should have been intuitive; I'd folded hundreds of the things. I moved the half-folded rotor to the side, then picked up a new piece of paper. I closed my eyes, deciding to rely on muscle memory. Fold, fold, fold, fold, fold… and then there was paper in the way where there shouldn't have been. I opened my eyes and looked at the folded rotor. It wasn't the right shape.
I picked up the copy of my article, flipping through to the relevant section.
Then, taking the outermost points of the star rotor, fold them into the opposite sides of the paper by twisting them through the clockwise-adjacent points.
I looked up at Green, looking at me sombrely from the other side of the table. I spoke.
"This doesn't make any sense. I know how it's supposed to fold, but there's paper in the way where there shouldn't be."
"Type Greens have an intuitive understanding of how to enact metaphysical effects. Whatever terminology that makes internal sense to you, however you're perceiving these changes to the world, is nonsensical to anyone who hasn't had your experiences. You can't communicate what you think to people because the ideas can't operate outside of your own head."
Green pulled out a completed paper perpetual motion machine, then plucked the elastic band into motion. The mechanism started to spin, propelled by its own momentum.
"We took this from your house. I'm sure, looking at it, you can tell the mechanism by which it operates. But nobody else can, other than you, or maybe another Type Green. It's built off your internal idealisation of reality."
Green pushed his lit cigarette against the central point of the still-spinning paper.
"Pay close attention."
The rotor caught fire, yet continued to spin; the flames spread to the base, and the whole structure started to collapse and curl in odd ways. The elastic band stopped moving as it should have, flinging itself to the ceiling, then falling to the ground.
Then there was a loud CRACK, and what remained of the structure exploded into a puff of ashes.
"That's the sound that space makes when it unfolds itself. That's what it sounds like when normal reality is reasserted."
Green swept the ash from the table, then took another deep draw from his cigarette. The room was filled with the scent of tobacco.
"There are two more phases after where you are. A Phase Three Type Green is at stability. They know their limits, and don't try to push beyond them. They're the ones that normally give us the least trouble, and that's where I want to get you to."
"And Phase Four?"
"The fourth phase is the Type Green finding that they have no limits, typically accompanied by delusions of godhood. I don't believe that you will reach this phase for two reasons. Firstly, you seem to operate under a very strict and self-consistent system of metaphysical comprehension. Your abilities, for example, will not let you levitate objects with your mind, or alter memories, or do any of the stranger things which we have to deal with for Type Greens. Even in your idealised reality, you have limits. Secondly, your personality doesn't match what we'd expect for ascension to Phase Four. You take your academic abilities for granted, admittedly, which led to a superiority complex - one you're disappointingly unaware of, or flippant about. But the fact remains that you can quite easily be reasoned with. You don't try to manipulate people, beyond maintaining an amicable outward mask; nor, frankly, do I think you're capable of it. You're far too naive to put yourselves in the shoes of a god. Which is good, since we've enough gods to deal with already."
There wasn't much I wanted to say in response that wouldn't make me look petulant, so I remained silent.
"I think, though, you can understand why this organisation exists. There are people out there who do consider themselves as gods. There are people who can grab other people's minds and twist them, reshape them, or snap them with trivial ease. These people are not reasonable in the way that you are. These people cannot be negotiated with. What they want to take, they take, what they want that is not there to take, they make. These are people that the world can't know exist, and these are people that we can't let exist."
Green tossed the stub of his cigarette to the ground, extinguishing it with his foot.
"My job is to kill those people, or stop them from getting to that point in the first place."
I kept quiet while Green lit another cigarette.
"In our organisation, Green operatives like me are normally accompanied by Orange operatives. They're the heavy artillery for when something goes wrong. They're either normal people wearing 'Orange Suits', huge armoured exoskeletons resistant to the sorts of things that Type Green threats can enact, or they're a Type Green themselves who can go head to head with the other reality benders. Which finally gets me to my point."
It was obvious what was coming.
"I want you as a reserve Orange operative."
I kept quiet.
"We have three Orange operatives in Anchorage already. Orange Suits are expensive, and impractical for urban environments, so all three are reliable Type Greens. Given the sparsity of threats, I'm the only Green operative in the region."
"I can't say I'm impressed by the whole Reservoir Dogs, colour-by-numbers shtick."
Green's face remained stern.
"I need a yes or no response."
"I'm a theoretical physicist. Also, you have kidnapped me and have held me against my will. No."
"I think you understand the necessity of having done so, but fair enough. Then here's how this will work. Keep out of our way, keep to yourself, and we'll never see you again. No more attempting to describe or communicate metaphysical phenomena. No more perpetual motion machines. No more of any of it. Keep to yourself, continue on with your research at the college, go on as if nothing has happened. If you violate any of these, we will bring the full weight of the GOC down on you. If you make it necessary, we will end your life. Indicate to me that you understand and accept this."
Green was quiet for a bit, then continued.
"That inhibitor's going to last the rest of the week. Get used to feeling like the rest of us."
Green took out his business card, flashed the fractal image at me, and the world felt like nothing again.
I woke up on the lounge chair in my apartment, a dull pain pervading my head. I opened my eyes slowly, then blinked; the room was dark. The LED clock across from me shone red numbers across the room at 23:37. I stood up, walking across to the light switch; flicked the lights on, then swore a bit and shielded my eyes with my left hand. My eyes adjusted, and I looked down at myself.
The blood from the injection still drew a coagulated tree down my arm.
I went to the kitchen, twisting the tap and wincing as cold water washed the pattern away, dissolving it into a red spiral that disappeared down the sink. I splashed some water in my face, trying to rouse myself further. I walked to the bathroom and took a shower, then switched into my winter sleepwear. Tired, I moved to my bedroom, previously filled with the pitter-patter of perpetually spiralling papers.
Now, there was silence.
I sat at my desk, then took out two stapled sheaves. The first, my thesis. I thumbed through it, looking at everything I'd written. It made sense to me, but seemed… hollow. I'd thought it some great work, a breakthrough, at least some kind of progress, but no, my mind was tricking me. There was nothing new here. Yet how the Professor had raved on it, called it astounding, lauded me with praises. Whose thoughts had I errantly twisted to see my way? How much of what I thought true was self-delusion, how much of my success was trickery? How much of my life, just some formulaic and predictable pattern, straight from the same cookie-cutter as every other 'Type Green' abnormality?
The second, my derivative article, a knockoff imitation of The Paper, filled with highly personalised theories I had thought universal. I knew what I meant, the ideas were in my mind, but the words didn't have the meaning they needed to. It was rambling. It was incomprehensible nonsense by an incoherent author, an author blind to the work's absence of communicable meaning. How much of what I had done really meant anything, when separated from my ambit? What of my life was taken the easy way, and what was earned? How could I be sure I deserved any of what I had?
Did I deserve anything at all?
I jolted up and started racing to the kitchen.
Your entire life's a play, and you turn people into actors.
I retched into my mouth.
Your life's a play, and your mother died from the role you cast her in.
Dark yellow splattered across my kitchen sink. I heaved and heaved again; the stomach acid stung at my tongue and went up my nose. My eyes began to water as my heaving stopped. I panted, watching as my vomit dripped down the drain. My reflection in the metal base stared back through the pane of bile, ginger stubble peeking through my blanched chin. I wiped my mouth, rinsed my hands, cried, then returned to bed.
Get used to feeling like the rest of us.
My sleep was broken and full of nightmares.
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