Jordan S. Bassior
Chapter 1: "I Have Become Death, The Destroyer of Worlds"
Year Of Megan 1938, New Mexicolt
The land was barren and parched, sand relieved only by stray scrub bushes and the occasional stunted tree. It was a wasteland, good for little save the purpose to which it had now been dedicated.
The diplomats – representatives from Lippanzer and Neighpon – moved uncomfortably in their silken formal coats in this desert. They were in an unfriendly land, a country which they knew to be on the brink of war with their own. War – almost unthinkable in this modern age, this age of steamships and railroads, airships and airplanes, in which the arts of industry had been applied to make weapons far more destructive than the sabers and lances or even the flintlock pistols, of old.
It had been over a century and a half since the last major war between civilized Powers – and that had been an affair of lines of ponies, away from major towns – shooting at each other on a chosen field by mutual consent. Thousands had perished. Should war come now, in a time of aerial explosives and automatic-loading rifled musketry – hundreds of thousands might die.
It seemed impossible.
But the Leader of Lippanzer had made his demands in the lands over the eastern sea; the Shogun of Neighpon in the lands over the western. Between them, Steellion marshaled his forces. Armies, fleets, and air-squadrons were massing. There had already been violent incidents – only a few deaths, but harbingers of what might come. The part of the world still under sane leadership had trembled in growing fear for the last five years.
Trembled – and acted. The Ponies of the West had studied certain advanced physical theories, worked in secret for that half-decade. Now, the fruits of their labors would be revealed.
Out in the desert there stood an incongruous metal tower. A few hundred feet high, made of steel girders, with a sphere at the top. The diplomats murmured in confusion as the soldiers led them to this tower, as they were told that this was the fabled device. Their confusion was worse as they were then led back several miles the way they had come, to a squat concrete building.
“What is the meaning of this?” asked Ritten Truper, the Lippanzer ambassador. “I thought you meant to demonstrate your device?”
“Indeed we do,” replied Green Grove, the general in charge of the project.
“Then why have you taken us back to this building? Would we not have a better view of the device from a few hundred yards away?”
One of the scientists, tall and gawky, snorted to herself. “Heh, you certainly would!”
“Finemare, shut your trap!” snapped the general.
Another scientist intervened. He was a broad-shouldered, saturnine stallion. “The nature of the device,” he said smoothly, “is such that its operation may be more safely viewed from a considerable distance.”
“Danke schon, I understand,” said Ritten Truper. “You are?”
“Oppenhorser,” replied the scientist.
“You look ---“
“I am, in fact, an émigré from Lippanzer,” Oppenhorser said. “Your government decided that my continued residence in the old country was – unwelcome. I believe you will soon conclude that this was an unwise policy.”
“I would never criticize the decision of our Leader,” replied Ritten Truper uncomfortably.
Technicians appeared with dark glasses. The diplomats donned them, not without protest.
“How are we to witness the demonstration wearing these?” groused Ritten Truper.
“I believe that the demonstration will still be clearly visible,” explained Oppenhorser. “These are to protect your sight while you watch.”
“My sight?” asked Ritten Truper. “What is this to be, some sort of a giant flash bulb?”
But Oppenhorser motioned him to look through the small view slits in front. “The test is about to begin.”
A voice on a loudspeaker began to count down.
“Thirty,” it said. “Twenty-nine. Twenty-eight. Twenty-seven.”
Someone threw a switch.
“Electrical igniters armed,” said one of the technicians. He glanced at a bank of green-lit bulbs. “All igniters normal. We have a go on fusing.”
“Twenty-five,” said the loudspeaker. “Twenty-four, twenty-three, twenty-two.”
Another switch thrown.
“Mechanical separation of hemispheres,” said a technician, checking another bank of lights. “Shielding disengaged.”
“Twenty-one, twenty, …”
“Woops!” said Finemare, looking at a gauge. “Wow, that’s a bit hotter than we predicted!”
Everyone but the diplomats tensed. Green Groves turned to Oppenhorser.
“Do we abort?” he asked? A technician put his hoof on a switch.
“Fifteen, fourteen …”
Oppenhorser checked the gauge.
“Continue,” he said. “Just a small surge.”
“Ten, nine …”
Finemare chuckled. “Bet ten bits we don’t burn the atmosphere …”
“Five, four …”
“How would I collect?” asked Oppenhorser.
“Three, two …”
“Burn the atmosphere?” wondered Ritten Truper aloud. No one answered him.
A technician threw a switch.
For a timeless moment, everything was still.
The Sun rose in the west, behind the tower.
That was how it first looked to Ritten Truper. Then he realized that the Sun was rising within the tower.
Then he realized that it wasn’t the Sun.
“Dai Amaterasu!” shrieked a Neighponese ambassador.
A sphere as hot as the Sun expanded from where the tower had been, casting a harsh light across the desert landscape. For an instant, the brilliance was painful even through the dark glasses. The globe of intolerable radiance swelled, rose, and dimmed as something sucked dust up to cover it, the dust sent spiraling up in a column of black smoke, litten from within by the fireball. The ball of hot plasma rose through its column of dust, which began to swell at the top, opening out like a vast cap covering the sky.
All at first in silence, save for the gasps of the observing ponies. Then, the ground began to rumble. Plaster dust spilled from the ceiling.
“Seismic pressure wave,” commented Finemare, a manic grin upon her face. “Soon … soon …”
Furnace-hot wind tore at their faces, lashing them with stinging dust that would have made them glad of the dark glasses had they been able to think. Which they could not, for with the wind came the Sound.
It was a thunderclap, the greatest thunderclap they had ever known, but it rolled on, and on, and on, punishing them with its volume, driving them back on their hooves with its sheer force, even protected as they were by the mass of the bunker. All their ears were flattened in defense against the voice of thunder, and still it rolled on and on and on, shaking their world. It was three miles away, and yet it was as if a howitzer shell had gone off less than thirty yards away.
It was the sound of the air, first pushed out by that flash of superhot plasma, then roiling back in to fill the vacuum as the dying fireball climbed that smoke-stalk into the stratosphere. It went on and on and on as the tortured atmosphere rippled in waves bigger than battleships, then it faded away as the air calmed and the light dimmed back to normality. Suddenly blinded, the ponies removed their glasses to observe the colossal cloud.
For the dust had not settled. Riding the tremendous column of superheated air, it had spread out into a great mass of smoke, spreading out many miles above the barren and now blasted plain. Huge, ominous, still lit from within by a spectral rainbow shine, it resembled nothing so much as an impossible, gigantic mushroom.
Oppenhorser stared at it in awe.
“I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” he intoned, quoting an ancient scripture.
Green Groves was more prosaic. He turned toward the foreign ambassadors.
“We have a line going,” he said bluntly. "We can mass-produce them. Just imagine them going off over one of your armies – your fleets – your cities. Gentlemen – do you still want war?”
Ritten Truper was pale. One of the Neighponese ambassadors was openly weeping.
The conclusion was obvious to any sane pony.
The Leader of Lippanzer was not a sane pony. He declared that he would not be stopped by any threat. “I am no coward,” he declared. “No compassion cow. There will be no surrender!”
His generals looked at each other and came to the only sane conclusion.
It was reported as a heart attack brought on by stress.
The war across the Eastern Sea did not start.
The Mikado of Neighpon was more sensible. He assembled a force of loyal officers and executed a perfect coup-from-above against the military junta which had controlled his country.
“Diplomatic matters,” he explained in his first-ever radio address, “have developed in a matter not necessarily to our advantage.”
The war across the Western Sea did not start.
The ponies would never fight a World War. And the power of the atom would never be used in anger by ponies against any pony city. Such was a cruelty of which their kind were not yet capable.
But there were forces beyond their knowledge in the universe, forces out of their most primal myths, forces which had patiently waited beyond the walls separating world from world. And the scientists of the Manehattan Project had built their bomb better than they knew.
Most of the fireball was only as hot as the surface of the Sun. But temperature distribution was in part random -- and quantum effects loom large on a small scale. There were whole cubic femtometers near the center of the colliding plutonium hemispheres which became – very briefly – as hot as the Sun’s core. And there were cubic attometers which attained – even more briefly – temperatures approaching that of the first nanosecond after the Big Bang.
An attometer was as good as an opened stable door to some of those forces.
Not all of them were malign.
Not all of them.
Several days before the test, Dr. Sweetie Finemare had decided to hedge her bet on the possibility of the nuclear fission reaction spreading beyond the bomb and at a minimum destroying the bunker, by visiting her husband, Rich Greentree, and spending a glorious and possibly final night with him. This was strictly against project protocol, and General Green Groves would have been furious had he known that she had done this.
In fact, Green Groves had already instituted several security measures, including an extra guard post and two locked doors, specifically to prevent Finemare from exercising her hobby of wandering about the project at will in utter defiance of the regulations. Green Groves knew how important was the Manehattan Project, and though he did not really believe Finemare was a spy, he did not want to allow even the possibility of a leak.
These security measures worked about as well as security measures usually did against Finemare, which is to say they provided her with what zookeepers would term an “enriched environment” for the entertainment of their captives. Finemare picked a padlock, jiggered a combination lock, and sweet-talked her way with a wink and a case of hooch past the guards.
Green Groves would not find out for several years that several of the foreign scientists working for the project actually were spies working for Steellion, and feeding him weekly reports on its operations. But that is another story.
What is important to this story is that the ponies had not yet discovered just how dangerous hard radiation can be to an unborn foal, and consequently Finemare – whose husband had come down with an inoperable cancer, and hence had little time left to sire offspring – had no reason to believe that she should, and thus done absolutely nothing to prevent conception. And Nature took its course.
At the moment that the Trinity device vaporized a steel tower in the desert, and provided a spectacular fireworks show for the ambassadors and scientists and technicians and soldiers stationed in that bunker, two equine embryos had attached themselves to the walls of Finemare’s womb. This was uncommon – ponies normally have single births.
What was even more uncommon were the two packets of information, compressed into data at the sub-quantum scale, that rode the gamma rays from the detonation, then sensed the incipent lives within Dr. Sweetie Finemare and steered their respective gamma photons on a precisely chosen course into that womb, which resulted in them decohering and expanding into nanoscale patterns of electromagnetism in just the right places to avoid harming those lives, and attaching themselves to the nascent nerve nets of those two tiny masses of cells.
This of course required a feat of calculation impossible to even the brilliant mind of Sweetie Finemare, or indeed to any computers that ponies would develop in their wondrous, short and tragic Second Age. But it was well within the intellectual powers of two Cosmic Principles.
So it was that Dr. Sweetie Finemare, who had helped to give birth to the Atomic Age, in about twelve months gave birth in a more conventional sense to twin foals. They were very obviously fraternal rather than identical twins, for one – the firstborn sister – was as white as a plasma fireball. Her mane – dripping wet from the birth – was a wondrous, pastel rainbow, as if something in her split the white of her coat into all its constituent hues. Twenty-eight minutes later, the second born emerged, and she was as dark as the night sky, both in coat and mane, though in her mane were specks of white like the stars.
Their sire was already falling into his last illness, but within a few hours he was able to sit with his exhausted but happy wife, and gaze into the wondering eyes of his two children. As was common with foals, they were sufficiently strong and coordinated enough that they might have been able to walk, had they been born on the plains on which the primal herds had roamed, and hence fearing predators, rather than being born to the safe confines of a modern hospital.
The eyes of the white foal were a strange purple, unusual even for their varicolored kind. Looking into them, Sweetie thought of a high violet, and the life-giving, life-taking ultra-violet actinic rays which stream from the surface of the Sun.
The eyes of the black foal were sky-blue. Sweetie imagined them as the atmosphere surrounding the black Earth of the pupils, and her black fur as the endless night of the Universe beyond. They looked out from the little void of her surrounding Universe.
These eyes were innocent, as are any foals, which Sweetie did not find strange. What had made them was anything but innocent, but the process of decoherence and attachment to the nascent neural nets had only been able to transmit a very simplified form of the personalities and experiences of the Cosmic Principles they had been. And their bodies were merely mortal – in this life, they would never know their true natures, any more than did their mother.
But perhaps not their father. For he was, as I have intimated, already at death’s door, and possibly something of Mortis had touched him, and given him strange insight. Not what his foals truly were – for that would have been cruel knowledge, which would have seared his soul with madness. And Mortis, who brings sweet relief from intolerable pain, is anything but cruel. But something, perhaps, of their affiliation.
Rich and Sweetie had, before the birth of their foals, picked out tentative names for them. Yet when Rich finally beheld the foals blinking at him from their mother’s side, an odd mood came upon him, and he bent first to the white foal.
“Sundreamer,” he said, in a voice choked by emotion. “She’s Sundreamer.”
Then to the black one.
“Moondreamer. She’s Moondreamer.”
And Sweetie Finemare, who loved to argue and debate and generally tease every pony she had encountered in her life, both before and after this moment, could not find it in her to brook the will of her husband at this moment – one of the last pain-free moments he would ever know – of their lives.
Besides, it felt right.
“Sure, Rich,” she said softly. “That’s their names. Sundreamer and Moondreamer.”
Chapter 2: Possession Is Nine-Tenths of the Natural Law
“Mechanical separation of hemispheres,” said a technician, checking a bank of lights. “Shielding disengaged.”
Sehr gut, thought Schwarzwalder Fuchs to himself as he examined the counter. Even before implosion, each plutonium half responded energetically to the neutrons emitted by the other half. Responded well … perhaps too well …”
“Woops!” said Dr. Finemare. “Wow, that’s a bit hotter than we predicted!”
Smartass! flashed through the mind of the Lippanzer-Evelander expatriate. Finemare was always leaping for the spotlight. Though her constant probing at security is very useful, Fuchs allowed. If she stopped annoying Green Groves, the General might instead pay more attention to…
As if the thought had been a switch, the General himself spoke.
“Do we abort?”
Of course not, dummkopf, thought Fuchs angrily. The device can’t possibly go critical without the halves in actual contact. Always it is the stupid military who must run everything, both in Eveland and here in Amareica …
“Continue,” said Oppenhorser. “Just a small surge.”
Fuchs was not sure of Oppenhorser. His heart was in the right place, but he loved his status as a respected scientist. Even had it not been against procedure, he would not have trusted him.
But he was glad that Oppenhorser had made the right decision. Fuchs wanted the device to work. If it didn’t work; if it couldn’t work; then all his efforts had been for nothing –both those for Eveland, and those for his real masters.
Finemare and Oppenhorser started joking about burning the atmosphere. That was of course scientifically absurd: light elements couldn’t support a fission chain reaction. They were just doing it to terrify everyone in the room.
The countdown reached zero. A technician threw a switch.
For a timeless moment, everything was still.
Then something exploded invisibly inside Fuchs’ head, and the stocky brown-coated stallion collapsed in a heap.
Given that this happened at almost the exact moment that the bunker was suddenly bathed in the light of a thousand suns, nobody noticed the unconscious scientist until the test was over.
“Dr. Fuchs … Dr. Fuchs?”
Someone was shining a light in his eyes. He opened them, blinking blearily … but there was something wrong about the motion of his eyelids. Something sluggish.
He tried to speak, to ask “What happened?”
For a moment nothing happened. Then his lips moved, and he heard himself say:
“Oh, that’s annoying.” The light switched off. “What happened to me?”
Fuchs felt a moment of sudden panic. This was not what he had meant to say!
“You fell unconscious – right at the moment the Device went off.” It was General Green Groves. He sounded concerned. “How are you feeling now?”
“Oh, just a little woozy,” came his voice calmly. “Must have fainted from all the excitement.”
Fuchs was terrified. The voice was his – and he could feel his mouth and voicebox move as he spoke – but not a single word had he spoken of his own voluntary intent! It was as if his body were a puppet, being operated by some unseen strings.
“Hmm,” grunted Green Groves. “Well, you’d better get to the infirmary, get checked up. Could be something serious.”
“Could it be some horrible unknown effect of hard radiation?” Fuchs’ voice said in a mock-spooky tone. “Or even demonic possession?”
Dr. Finemare snickered from behind Green Groves.
General Green Groves glared angrily at Finemare, then sourly at Fuchs. “Nurse Raindew!” he called.
“Yes, General?” Raindew was a cute light-pink pony, her mane a deep red, her body slim and athletic. She was known to be one of the kindest of the Army nurses attached to the Project.
Under normal circumstances, Fuchs would have welcomed a chance to spend some time under her care. Under these circumstances, he felt absolutely terrified.
“Get this joker over to the infirmary, and make sure he gets a complete physical. I want to see him kept there for at least a day. If this is some weird side effect of the Device, then I want to make sure it doesn’t spread. And if he’s just being a fool, he can have some time to think twice before wasting my time again.”
With some assistance from Finemare and Raindew, Fuchs’ body struggled shakily to its hooves. It felt strange – thoughts ran through his head without his calling upon them, muscle memories triggering, and no control over any of it from his conscious mind. It was not precisely as if his body was being worked like a puppet – more as if his brain were, with his consciousness a helpless observer during the process.
He found his body walking outside, with one mare on either side. His head swung around. He could see a huge, slowly-dissipating mass of black smoke towering miles-high into the sky from the direction of the Device.
It worked! he crowed inwardly, elation at the long-desired success momentarily-overwhelming his horror at his inability to control his own body.
Yes, looks like it did, said a sardonic Voice within his head. Wonder if you stupid ponies will use it to blast yourselves back to the Stone Age? Ah well, we can always hope …
Fuchs reeled. Or he would have, if he had been in control of his own bodily motions. Instead, his consciousness reeled inside his head. Suddenly, the part of the joke about demons didn’t seem quite as funny.
Who are you? What are you? Fuchs shouted in his own mind. Demon? No, that can’t be right, religion is the opiate of the masses. Alien? Yes, you must be some sort of alien, drawn here by the signature of the test!
Oh, so many questions, replied the Voice. Demon? Alien? That’s all a matter of perspective – or terminology -- now isn’t it? It’s not as if your concept of “aliens” is all that much closer to the truth than the concept your kind had of “demons” a few millennia ago.
You may call me – D. The Voice almost purred with amusement, like some sort of large and dangerous cat. And yes, to both your questions as to my nature. I am what you ponies would once have called a “demon” – and I’m certainly not from around here, so I’m also an “alien.” Does that put your mind at ease?
It most certainly did not. Fuchs felt his every concept of normality, of sanity – of reality itself – shake within him.
Oh no, D said. Can’t have you going mad – not yet. I need your mind all nice and … yuch … well-organized, for as long as I need to be you. Which may be for some time longer, so – be sane!
Abruptly, the shaking stopped. Fuchs was remarkably calm.
You don’t know how much I hated to do that, D continued. Driving ponies mad is more my preferred métier. But as long as I’m limited to a mere pony form … well, one makes do.
Nurse Raindew led them into the infirmary. There, she performed some preliminary checks on his heartbeat and blood pressure, had his eyes track a light, and called for a doctor.
Fuchs noticed that his body and voice were being run much better now. What’s more, the tone of his voice – which had previously sounded something like the sardonic Voice in his mind – was returning to normal. Is that D thing somehow learning to[/i] operate me?
Precisely, D said. It’s not as if your body is all that complex. Compared to some … you should see a Krell, or even a Velantian.
Why are you here? Are you spying on our planet’s atomic secrets?
Spying on – oh, that’s rich. That’s hilarious. For so many reasons.
Fuchs didn’t see why the idea was funny.
And you’re supposed to be one of the brighter members of your species, D commented drily. First of all, my little Uplifted eohippus, let me assure you that your kind knows nothing about nuclear energy that would be at all useful to any race capable of traveling between the stars – even those primitive species which still need to do it in spaceships. As for weapons, in my true form I could command energies utterly-dwarfing your little rub-two-sticks-together and spark-into-tinder Device. And I could do that without the need for my equivalent of tools.
Fuchs shuddered at the implications. The alien … demon … whatever it was, might be bluffing, but then, it might be telling the truth. There was certainly no pony equivalent of whatever technique it had used to take him over, mind and body, in an instant.
Why would I even bother to lie to you? asked D. Oh, right, because it might be amusing. It must be no fun to be you right now. Glad I’m not.
The casual sadism of this statement was utterly appalling to Fuchs, the more so because he was entirely at this creature's mercy.
The second reason what you said was funny, though, is that if I had come here to spy on your quaint native arts and crafts project, I would have come here for the exact same reason that you came here. Which is probably why you thought of it. Projection – D said with dramatic mock-sadness. It’s so ugly a defense.
Fuchs was offended.
I’m watching the Project to preserve the peace! he objected. The Amareicans and Evelanders are ruled by capitalist overlords who would enslave the peace-loving ponies under the benign historic leadership of Comrade Steellion! We need the Device not to make, but to deter war – for self-defense!
Blah, blah, blah, replied D. Say it to someone who actually cares about your planet’s stupid religious wars. You’re both wrong, anyway. If you knew the real origins and purpose of your universe, you’d go mad, and as I’ve mentioned before, I need you sane … for[/i] now.
But the third reason why your projective paranoia is so funny is that you were actually right about one thing, and that one thing in particular I thought you might find it amusing to know. D stopped and waited.
Somehow, Fuchs felt that D was waiting expectantly. But he also felt that knowing what D meant might important.
What’s the third reason? Fuchs asked.
Why I came, explained D. It’s not that your toy of a Device attracted me, it’s more that it opened the gate for me. You see, your cute little plutonium sphere released enough energy to rip a very tiny hole through spacetime between where I was – and where you are. So in a sense, you did bring me here.
D paused, and chuckled.
Just thought you’d like to know the part you’ve played in all of this, he said, in a voice dripping with insincere solicitude. Just thought that you’d like to know that you’ve helped bring about the end of your world.
D laughed. And laughed. And laughed.
And Fuchs was very sorry, now, that he couldn’t go mad.
3: Waste Products
February, Y.O.M. 1940
Sweetie Finemare stood unmoving by the headstone. Her body was draped in an all-concealing black dress. It was a very unattractive dress, even by Sweetie's eccentric standards: rather sacklike and coming down in back to below her hocks. Its only concessions to femininity were a belt gathering the garment together well forward, and some black lace trimming about the collar. But then, Sweetie wasn't feeling very feminine right now.
Her outfit included a large, broad-brimmed hat, from which depended a totally-obscuring veil. This was also traditional, and, in her present state, Sweetie rather approved of the main effect of this veil, which enabled her to see out into the well-lit day, but ensured that nopony could see her expression. Or any tears.
Though, right now, she wasn't actually crying. Well, not much.
She'd cried when the doctors had told her there was no hope. She'd cried when Rich -- that good and gentle stallion who in the few short years they'd had together had given her nothing but the joy of his friendship and the pleasure of his love, had screamed in agony. Those very same doctors, who had told her that he had no chance to live, had explained that they couldn't give him more morphine because too much might make him die.
She'd cried then, at the cruelty and unfairness of a world that had let her taste true love, only to rob her of it so soon -- a harsh world in which the life of a paragon of all the virtues like Rich Greentree mattered no more than that of the vilest criminal. She and Rich had worked with that radium, back in 1935 and 1936, on the master's thesis which had originally attracted the attention of the organizers of the Project, and he'd been her assistant, and she'd had him do the heavy work because that's what stallions do, and he must have been more exposed than her. That simple.
I wasn't even eighteen yet, she thought. Not a mare for long, scarcely more than a filly, and I was really in love for the first time ever and he was just twenty and the world was bright and beautiful and our lives together just beginning, extending forth to infinity ... oh, Tambelon, the experiment was my idea, my brilliant super-genius idea, and he went along with it because he trusted me ... Some moisture ran down her cheeks. I'm sweaty under this veil, she told herself.
The Principle of Minimum Action in Quantum Mechanics, she thought, mocking herself with her own master's thesis title. I wanted to do a physical experiment because I was just a mathematician, just a blackboard-scribbler, and I wanted to be more, I wanted to be a scientist like in the pulp stories I loved, manipulating the forces of Nature for real. "That path of particle interaction occurs which requires the least energetic steps to realize." I was going to prove Occam's Razor on the quantum-mechanical level. She remembered the elegance of her experimental apparatus.
We could get the radium. We shouldn't have been able to, it would have been too expensive -- but my own brilliant brain and light little hooves took care of that, didn't they? We could get the rest of the apparatus -- just some test stands, some dime-store electronic tubes, and the cloud chamber we'd already constructed. We built a bubble-gum-and-packing-tape machine, we called it 'Finemare's Monster,' but it was beautiful and it was ours and it worked. Two teenaged scientists unlocking the mysteries of the universe together, just like in Amazing Wonder Stories.
She smiled wanly. Well, or Spicy Adventure Stories. We made love, all the way, for the very first time for both of us, right in that room next to the Monster. A memory stored up for our old age, something we could take out together and grin about when we were in our sixties, maybe hint at and disgust our children and grandchildren when we made goo-goo eyes at each other, some day in the 1980's, when everypony had a flying car but Love still worked the same.
And if we couldn't get quite as much lead shielding as some of the studies suggested, who cared? We were daring young adventurers, exploring the wonders of Nature, both in particle interactions and macroscopic biological and emotional ones.
"A particle interaction occurs, and in the resolution of all potential interactions determines which future worldline is realized, leaving the others mere ghosts from the point of view of any observer in its future on that worldline." A particle interaction such as a high-energy photon sleeting through their cloud chamber to leave a trace on the screen, or into Rich's beloved flesh to leave a trace in the mysterious germ plasm in the nuclei of his cells ...
Oh, Rich! I'm so sorry! I didn't know! I want to go back, to choose a different path! I wanted the perfect master's thesis, I wanted to be a success, but not at the cost of losing you! Never at that cost!
Her own written words rose up in memory to mock her.
"Once the interaction has been realized, the worldline chosen, other worldlines are forbidden to the observer -- become inaccessible." That's where all those worldlines were now, the ones where she and Rich grew old together, where she got to make love with him, or kiss him, or even hear his voice again ... inaccessible to her observation, forever.
Someone was keening, a wail of utter despair, and she thought it rather rude and over-demonstrative at her husband's funeral, and then her knees gave way and she sank onto Rich's grave, feeling the sun-warmed earth on her belly, and then she realized. Oh. That's me making that noise. I should stop. So she did.
"Sweetie," a gentle voice asked. "can I help?"
She turned her face up to see her friend Schwarzwald Fuchs, dark brown eyes almost black against his yellowish-ivory coat, close-cut light brown mane little more than a crest atop his high forehead, looking down at her with concern.
Blackie, she thought affectionately. His name was Germane for "Black Forest," and she'd taken to calling him "Blackwood," or "Blackie" for short. I don't know what I'd have done without you these last few days.
She'd always seen him as a friend. During the lonely years of maximum secrecy on The Project, when she'd only been able to get occasional long leaves off-base, and short leaves didn't give her time to take the buses, Blackie had loaned her his car -- a fine green convertible -- and let her drive it into the city to be with her husband. He'd asked nothing in return for the favor save that she park it with his own friends in town, to keep it safe. She was fortunate to have a friend like Blackie.
When she'd first met him, he'd been annoying. Pushy, insinuating -- it had been very obvious to her, even at nineteen, that he had been hoping to get under her tail -- despite the fact that she was married, and almost newlywed at that. He'd often been fun to talk with, though, and she'd respected him as a physicist. She could use his attraction to her to get minor favors out of him, and she did --she'd always been good at that sort of minor manipulation.
But then, almost two years ago, on the day of The Test -- he'd fainted, right there in the bunker, and she'd been worried about him. They'd all been working hard, pushing themselves, and handling inherently dangerous materials and equipment. Had he suffered some injury, or poisoning? Fuchs was at worst a horny jerk, and hardly the worst of that sort she'd ever encountered. She'd helped Raindew get the Lippanzer scientist to the infirmary.
And after that -- he'd changed. It was obvious that the realization of the great historic event of which they'd both been part had hit home. He'd stopped trying to start an affair with her, stopped even making insinuations. He'd become the perfect gentlecolt that one might have expected him to be from his intelligence and upper-middle-class Neighropan background.
From merely tolerating him because he was useful, Sweetie had gone to seeing him as a real friend. Which was good, because as Rich sickened, as her own world darkened, she so needed somepony on whom she could rely.
His motives were clearly no longer sexual, which was also good, because she'd probably have kicked anypony who made any sort of pass at her in the face, given Rich's illness. It had helped that he'd started seeing Nurse Raindew after The Test. Raindew was single, and really nice -- Sweetie hoped that Blackie and Raindew got married -- and the Army nurse was obviously giving Blackie whatever comfort he'd previously hoped to take from a married mare.
Though sometimes Sweetie wasn't sure that it really was working out so well, because she caught a haunted look in Raindew's eyes ... but then, everything looked dark to her these days. She mustn't impose her own emotional state on the phenomenal world -- that was the classic Experimental Bias, to be avoided at all costs. Blackie had developed into a truly fine stallion. Delayed maturation, she thought. Not uncommon among hyper-intellectual types, like him -- or me.
"I'm all right," Sweetie told Fuchs. "Just a little bit ... all this." She got to her hooves, and regarded her friends. Blackie's kind, pale face. Raw-boned, saturnine Oppenhorser, looking gloomier than ever -- his lugubrious expression somehow warmed her, for she knew that he cared about her. Dear old Bright Home, who had brought her into the project, as always standing a bit awkwardly -- a brilliant mind, who understood how the stars burned, but not to be trusted handling delicate equipment. Dark, intense Tailor Strangelove, always so energetic, like a bold warrior on an intellectual battleground. None of her family, and none of his, had made it out here to New Mexicolt, but these Ponies, her companions of the mind, were there for her, and she was very grateful.
Though she was still alone.
For there was something none of them knew, something she could not, did not dare to tell them.
When Rich had been in his final agony, tormented by the cancers spreading through his frame, Sweetie had -- despite her horror -- seen it as a fundamentally-intellectual problem. She knew there was nothing her mind couldn't master.
So she had bought and read medical books on his condition. She had learned exactly why it was inoperable, incurable. And then, stymied in her hope for a remission, she had taken the next step in her researches.
She had read up on pharmacology. Specifically, on the effects of painkillers on the equine body when administered far above recommended dosages. And she had learned exactly what to administer in order to induce a quiet, dreamless sleep, from which a Pony would never awake.
Sweetie and Rich had both been raised Yehvist -- and, in Yehvist philosophy, suicide is a serious sin. Sweetie was a philosophical atheist, but Rich wasn't. So she couldn't ask Rich if he wanted to die.
Not that she'd needed to ask him. His cries of anguish, in the process of which he'd more than once verbally wished for death, were plea enough. Though he was not in his right mind then. Sweetie figured that, if there [i]was[/i] an All-Father, He would forgive her darling this inadvertent sin.
Then, she paid a visit to the base infirmary. The room and the cabinets were locked, but to one who routinely cracked the safes where the Project kept its real secrets, the wards on the medical supplies were as gossamer webs, to be brushed aside by Sweetie's talented hooves. She removed certain supplies -- from the stores rather than ready cabinet, so that her theft would not be discovered for weeks.
Finally, Sweetie went to see her husband one last time. He was asleep, the limited amount of morphine they allowed him combined with exhaustion to offer him temporary relief. She was sad that she wouldn't get to say goodbye to him -- her resolve almost wavered -- but then she reflected that if she did not do this now, she might not have another chance this visit, and then he would have to suffer at least a week's more torment in his slow slide to death. Her dearest one had already suffered more than enough.
So she kissed him on his forehead, the last time she would do this in his life, and that sufficed her for a farewell. Then she injected the supplies she had extracted directly into his veins, taking care to use a previously-bruised injection site. He stirred slightly as the needle pricked him, not quite coming awake.
"Hush, darling," she said softly. "It's almost over now. No more pain." And at that her eyes, which had remained dry during the earlier steps of her plan, misted and then overflowed, but she was careful to withdraw the needle without further harming her beloved. He had been harmed enough by her already.
Then she sat by his bedside, scarce able to see her husband through her tears, as the overdose of opiates coursed through his blood, passing the blood-brain barrier and gently, slowly depressed the functioning of his brainstem, shutting down his autonomic nervous system. His heart-beat slowed, his breathing shallowed -- there was a dreadful convulsion, noticed at most dimly by his sleeping brain -- and then it was over.
Rich Greentree, sinless, was with his ancestors.
Sweetie Finemare, who had sinned very greatly, survived. Though she wasn't sure why she wanted to survive, now that her great love was forever gone.
She looked at her supplies. She was a good engineer. She had included a safety margin for accidents and spoilage.
There had been no accidents, no spoilage. She had performed her experiment flawlessly. As usual.
There was enough for one more.
As she considered this dark course, an image rose before her mind
Two little foals, one fair and one dark, both helpless. Both loving her; counting upon her for their survival. Two innocent young fillies, who should not have their lives scarred, right when they were just beginning, by the deaths of both their parents. Light and shadow, and both of them supremely good. Sundreamer and Moondreamer.
They needed her. She would not leave them alone.
She put her supplies back in her bag, went to the bathroom, cleaned herself up until she no longer looked distraught. She walked casually, her expression unconcerned. She nodded to the night nurse on the way out.
"I spoke to him a bit. He's sleeping now," Sweetie said. "He looks peaceful."
They would remember this as the sad misunderstanding of a wife who hadn't seen the symptoms that his body was finally failing. In social engineering, misdirection was always better than outright evasion.
She put them in the glove compartment of Schwarzwald Fuchs' car. Then she drove out miles beyond the town, and stopped by a roadside scenic view. She took a spade from the trunk, walked out a bit, dug a shallow hole, replaced the dirt and patted it down well, rolled some rocks over it.
This wouldn't fool any skilled eyes who knew where she had stopped, but it was unlikely that anypony would. Then she drove back to town, to her motel room, and lay down to sleep.
She was remarkably calm, even cold, considering what she had just done. She slept soundly.
It was not until the morning, when she woke and rolled over, coming out of a dream in which Rich was loving her, and half-expecting to see his dear face on the pillow next to her, that she broke down crying, to the point that it took her an hour to simply leave the room.
She wasn't arrested. She wasn't suspected. The death certificate read "natural causes," with notes regarding Rich's bodily weakness due to cancer and depression of the central nervous system due to anesthesia. Nopony ever realized just how much morphine had been in Rich's system at the point of death. Sweetie was almost shocked by the shoddiness of the system.
Sweetie was never punished by the State of New Mexicolt for the murder of her husband. Instead, she would punish herself for it, in memory and nightmare, for the rest of her life.
She knew why she had done it, knew that it made sense, that the alternative for Rich would have been terribly worse. She was not sorry that he had died, then, that his suffering had ended.
But still, when all was said and done, she had murdered her husband. She had killed the Pony she had loved most in all the world.
Sweetie believed in no gods, but she very much believed in good and evil, and there was no way that this could be anything but "evil," even if the evil had been necessary in the service of a greater good. Rich was good, too good to commit suicide; it was only rational that she, who was not quite so good, should relieve him of the burden of that sin. She did not know whether there was life beyond this life, but if there was, she was sure Rich was happy.
She was less optimistic about her own prospects.
Back by the graveside, the somber little party was breaking up.
"Come on," said Schwarzwald Fuchs. "Let's get you home."
By his side, pretty pink red-headed Raindew nodded agreement. The nurse looked very sad, which was understandable given the occasion.
Sweetie looked at the grave, uncertain of herself. "I don't know," she said. "I feel I should stay longer with him."
"If you insist, my dear," replied the Lippanzer scientist. "But not too long -- you have two little filles back in your quarters who are probably very eager to see their mother again. We'll wait by the car." The couple walked off.
Sweetie gazed at the headstone.
Not much, to sum up a life, to sum up a soul. It left so much unspecified. The way he smiled when he was happy. The clear merry sound of his laughter. The little gasps he made in their most private passion. The way he'd seen the whole Universe with joy and wonder.
If there was an afterlife, there must be some awesomely supportive substrate if it were a transition; or detailed analysis if it were some sort of copying process. Do you know the secrets now? she asked her husband. Can you tell me? Or is it forbidden? Or are you just -- snuffed out?
I hope you don't hate me for killing you, she thought. I had to -- for your sake. You were in too much pain. But if you hate me, I'd understand. If you want vengeance, I'd understand. If you sought it, I wouldn't resist.
And if there's any One else out there, the fault was mine! Punish me for it, not him. He is blameless!
Nothing answered her. She expected no answer. This was reality, not some weird fiction. No ghosts, no gods or demons, were there to condemn or forgive her.
And if she felt a bit better after that internal outburst, there were sound reasons, well-grounded in fundental Joyous psychology, why such should be the case.
Goodbye, Richie, my darling. I suppose I'll go on with my life now. I already miss you so much, and I will miss you even more in the times to come. But I couldn't join you. I hope you forgive me this. Our children need me.
I shall always love you.
It was surely her imagination that she felt as if Rich, somewhere, understood.
She walked to the car, by which Blackie Fuchs was standing, in which Raindew was sitting, and nodded.
"I'm ready to go home now," she said, calmly.
The intense and strange flare in Fuchs' eyes was surely also in Sweetie's imagination.
From within the form of Schwarzwald Fuchs, an entity older than the terrene globe on which they stood regarded Sweetie Finemare with admiration.
Such intellect, D thought. Such strength. Such fire!
So you want to schtup her, commented Schwarzwald. Why don't you? You're the super-powerful alien demon creature utterly beyond our equine understanding..
The psychic equivalent of a slap sent Schwarzwald's soul reeling.
Philistine! D protested indignantly. You entirely misunderstand me. Our lusts of that sort are entirely satisfied by Nurse Raindew, whom -- incidentally -- I won by means of my superior capacity for apparent sympathy. Your crude means would never have worked on her. Still less, he added, would they have worked on Sweetie Finemare. She is a very exceptional mare, one who has almost transcended the limits of her savage culture and primitive technology. Surely even you can perceive that.
I understand that you want her, replied Schwarzwald. He had long since realized that D either couldn't, or didn't want to, kill him. At least not yet. So he had become bolder, over the last year.
It is not a lust such as your feeble mind grasps,asserted D. It is an appreciation for the height of excellence achieved by a species, even one as simple as your own. He gripped Schwarzwald in some obscure fashion and glared into his immaterial eyes. Here, I shall explain it to you in very simple terms:
My dear old friend Celestia and her Sister have chosen to become incarnate on this plane, as Ponies. They have not possessed an existing mind, like yours, but instead occupied embryonic flesh-forms before their souls could form. And of couse, being Cosmic like myself, they picked a point of entry which would allow them to select suitable hosts.
I now, D said, understand why they picked[ precisely this spacetime to enter. For they wanted a mother. He regarded Sweetie Finemare.
And what a mother they have found!
He grinned, like the predator he was.
This, he said, should prove interesting.