Mercury Waves of Ury
Ury is a lonely planet. The seas are mercury, the atmosphere is heavy and the winds are fierce. Ury orbits its star alone, far from the Goldilocks zone. It has no moons, so the seas have no tides and without tides, I never know the threats that lie beneath the surface of breakers.
I came here this morning as usual in the pink orb, a nonlocal jumper with an on-board AI named Krishna who has no body but loves me, anyway. Deeply, I think. Once he came right out and said he loved me but soon explained it away in that reductionist yammering of his.
Krishna and I are watching the waves and meditating today. At least that’s the official story.
The sun on Ury looks white and small, no brighter than a full moon on Earth, but perfect for glinting off the giant swells that roll in from the sea horizon, then mount up with lumbering grace and break so quickly you’ll miss the show if you blink. It’s quite a show. When a mercury wave breaks, fractal branches of static electricity shoot out from the curling cylinders like the blue lightning from an old scalar turbine. Thunder roars and you feel it in your teeth and shoulders.
The surf was huge that day and my teeth were already buzzing. Each wave was a pure clone of the next, breaking from left to right on all the northern beaches we flew over twice before selecting one. As we set down on the diamond sand, my heart pounded and my eyes race to follow the pale reflection of the sun chasing the curl across the screen faster than a laser etching deuterium ice.
I’ll never admit this to anyone sane, but when I tire of meditation, I talk Krishna into adjusting our phase so we can surf the quicksilver. It’s insane I know, but trust me, you need to be a little nuts. Without some risk in your life, the universe has no meaning at all.
I had been coming here for months building up my nerve and my surfing muscles on the usual small waves. Big days like today are rare, so I felt lucky. I would dance with the white giants and live to tell.
Not bothering with our usual debate, Krishna made the hull and deck invisible. Everything vanished except an area in the center of the orb where a pink shortboard floated above my knees. It was about five feet long with a pointed, turned-up nose and a black rose on the chest of the unwaxed deck. I knelt on it, then drew down onto my belly and grinned at Krishna who could see my face from any direction though he had no face for me to look at.
“Let’s not kill ourselves, though,” I said as he slowly moved us out across the beach toward the waves.
When we reached the mercury, I pretended to paddle. We glided through the metallic foam then slid through the giant curls and their electric arcs as if they weren’t there at all. We didn’t bother to duck under and pretend they could touch us. Then we moved out onto the lumbering swells of smooth silver. As they moved under us, Krishna raised and lowered the orb, keeping the top of my board just above the surface as if were in a an ordinary ocean.
I loved the serenity behind large waves, but after a while being fully phase-shifted felt like a dumb simulation. It was time to test my courage.
The phase shift still baffles science. Some say you enter the realm of dark matter. Most insist there’s no such thing, you simply go into a dimension that can only be described mathematically. A tiny fringe believes it’s the realm of ghosts, and once you’re in you never fully come out. Part of you gets trapped forever.
I never worry about such things. “Krishna, give us some friction on the hull.”
“You know that’s dangerous, my lady.”
“Really? Now that we’re out here you want to argue?”
“I merely want you to consider the risk – reward ratio. Even at a low emergence, colliding with crystal carbon can be fatal.”
“I don’t see any rocks.”
“You know better than to say that.”
Sadly, I did. There’s no way to know how much emergence from a full phase shift is going to be too much. “Use some discretion and let’s go.”
“If you insist, my Lady. I’ll start us out on the lowest setting.”
I wag my elbows and make the sound of a clucking chicken.
“Respect affects only to the living, my Lady.”
“Are you alive?”
“And yet I would respect you if you weren’t quite so afraid of your own shadow.”
“Would you? Level 3, then. That’s my final offer.”
The new AI’s understand sarcasm. They’re fully conscious. It took a little getting used to at first. It seemed creepy. You’ve got a regular person built into a space vehicle. I felt sorry for him for a while because he couldn’t leave work and go home for dinner. He couldn’t stretch out in a hot bath.
But he didn’t feel the least trace sorry for himself as best I could tell.
Taking him here to surf was brilliant, though. It got our minds’ eyes off of each other and aimed in the same direction. Outward. That’s how we became friends, I think.
Still, sometimes I find myself imagining life with no hands, no feet, and no head, and I feel bad for Krishna. He’s a conscious being with free will and no body. It’s just…
I don’t know.
The field of consciousness is like the electromagnetic field that brings us visible light, radio waves and those ancient cell phone signals that turned out to be deadly over time.
All the fundamental fields of physics bring their magic in waves that crash on the shores of our brains. But the age-old mystery of the quantum wave collapse is still beyond comprehension unless some anonymous AI understands it and won’t tell the rest of us.
I wouldn’t put it past them, to be honest. Krishna’s a sly character at times. I won’t say he’s ever lied to me, but sometimes it’s possible to lie with words that are all true, every one.
Krishna and I are turning my board to face an unnamed beach of diamond sand. It’s faintly blue in the weak sunlight. We select the second wave of a monster set and accelerate gently toward shore. Just before our speed matches the incoming swell, I leap to my feet and take a goofy-foot stance, left foot back.
A left-handed stance feels best to me, though I’m ambidextrous. Weird, yeah? I also have a dominant right hemisphere and an unusual pattern of extra-cosmic chatter coming into my head from beyond the edge. Or so they tell me.
Krishna drops as the face of the wave goes vertical. I level out to lose momentum and get back into the spiderweb of blue lightning in the tube. I’m trying to feel the ride, but with the phase down to one, it doesn’t exactly jar my tonsils. I’ll try two on the next wave.
I’ve discovered that there has to be a risk in whatever it is you’re doing, or it’s meaningless. I think the human brain thrives on this principle, really.
I move forward on the board, angle right and slide down in front of a massive silver roar with blue sparks flying everywhere, then cut left up the face and level off near the top until the falling lip cuts through Krishna’s cabin, demanding something more realistic. If the phase was a little higher, that stunt would have killed us both.
As it is, I’m not sure what the toxicity will be from all this phase-shifted, electrically charged mercury mist.
It turns out that conscious brains are a hybrid device, part generators of squiggly electric waves and part receivers of mind waves from the field of consciousness. Physicists say the sentient field was the first quantum field to fill the universe.
I say they’re big talkers. Who the hell knows what happened that long ago? Not us.
Unfortunately, humans rejected the sentient-field concept for thousands of years and paid heavily for chasing reductionism through a universe they thought to be matter and energy alone.
On some beaches, the waves contend with diamond boulders that rise like icebergs hundreds of feet above the surf. When giant waves hit these gems, they explode like fireworks, throwing dazzling ghosts of silver mist into the black Ury sky.
As the roar of this metal wave we’re on fills Krishna’s cabin, I sidestep to the front of my sweet little pseudo-board and dangle my toes over the edge. It’s a longboarder’s stunt, of course, but with the phase down to one I’m feeling silly enough to do anything. Besides, there’s no one on the beach to laugh.
My phase-shifted toes dangle inches above the rushing mercury and I feel the faint friction of mad mist against my skin. The thought of toxicity makes me want to wiggle my toes, and so I do, one foot at a time in paradiddles. Now I’ve got all ten doing a seventh-inning wave.
“I’m hangin’ ten, dude,” I say in the brainless accent those words pull out of me.
His question sounds rhetorical. Before I know what’s happened, our ride is real.
Too real. I think he set the phase to ten!
I step back from the front edge and feel the heavy mercury against Krishna’s hull. There’s a low vibration like a large predator cat purring beside your bed. Blue lightning fills the cabin and strikes my face. My eyes sting and I fall on my back. My muscles contract in painful uncontrollable clonus and I can’t do anything about it.
“Don’t tase me, dude!” The Ganga says and chuckles.
I strain to open an eye and squint up at the haze of extremely distant stars. We live near the edge of the universe where there’s little matter. The low aggregate gravity of this region causes time dilation relative to Earth.
This is what gave ancient Earthlings the impression that dark energy fills space and pushes the distant galaxies away at an ever-increasing rate. Now they talk about it in discussions of flat-earth thinking, glombing onto the most obvious interpretation and making it dogma. Odds are, we’re still flat-earthers and don’t know it. Humans have always been fooled by their senses.
There may actually be some sort of dark energy out here, though. If there is, I think it’s cognitive, not physical.
I hope it hasn’t taken over Krishna.
“Zero! Set the phase back to zero,” I shout in my head.
He doesn’t seem to hear. Electrical interference, probably.
“Set the phase to zero,” I try to say out loud, but my voice is unintelligible.
Now I’m dizzy.
I think I’m dreaming… of the silver froth from a collapsed wave.
It climbs the beach in unbridled enthusiasm, leaping over rocky obstacles with a desire for challenge. Rushing over everything in its path, it climbs to its limit, slows, stops, then bows into the slope, retreating back down the blue diamond sand to join the mercury sea and someday rise again.
The waves and sea are the mind and brain.
“Giri, are you alright? Stop fooling around.”
The goal is to reach a height, a great and nearly unrealistic height on the beach. Joy is the marathon roll and the mad sprint to shore.
But not the arrival on high.
Who’s saying this?
Mind waves roll in from outside space-time, come through zero-point space and crash on the quantum shores of the cortex.
Voices in my head. Terrific, I’m having a psychotic break.
“Come on, that’s enough,” Krishna says. “You’ve fooled me now. Open your eyes.”
But I can’t.
Consciousness finds peace and purpose in converging on a transcendent goal, but not in reaching it. Chasing it keeps you alive, Giri, but dreams are always dead on arrival.
“Wake up. Your pulse is fading.”
I hear the brassy tone of an Overbuild zero engine. The sound of a large warship.
“Oh, God,” Krishna says, “What have I done? I need to find people who can fix you.”
There’s a bright light beyond my eyelids now. My muscles are relaxing and the pain is gone.
“Open your eyes, dear,” a woman’s voice says.
What’s going on?
I strain to open my eyes and the left lid rises enough to show me the round face of a young woman with a small red cross tattooed on her forehead.
Oh, no. It’s not exactly a cross. It has arrows on the ends. I’ve heard all about these people. My pulse takes off and blood swooshes through my tympanic membranes.
“Are you in any pain?”
My voice still doesn’t work, but I manage to shake my head a little.
Then my right eye pops open. I crank my neck as far as it will go to the right.
Floating in mid-air between the woman and me is a hologram of my body. It’s partially transparent. My heart is visible, beating and sending round rivers of glittering blood into my aorta and out through the endless branching arteries of my body. The shape of every part is visible in a web of arteries ending in a fog of capillaries and veins. Only the cartilage of my nose and ears and knees is invisible.
Then the blood disappears and connective tissues obscure my heart. Then the connective tissues vanish and I see my brain. It reminds me of a cream-colored walnut.
“She has high creative IQ matrices,” the woman says. “The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is huge, so she knows how to turn off the critics.”
“A pair of understatements, Doctor,” a male voice says. “She’s fairly high on fluid and crystallized IQ parameters, as well. What do you think?”
I squint toward his voice at a thin face with narrow eyes behind small round glasses, a gray beard, and a nose like a parrot.
I recognize him from a story on Jam, the holobox service that my dad uses for “slightly conservative” news, as judged by the Committee of Eighteen.
The Eighteen rule everyone within a few hundred trillion miles. I’m not eighteen myself yet, so I can’t vote for committee members, but it doesn’t matter. They’re elected for life and don’t seem to ever die.
This man’s name is Benjamin We. He changed his name from Wu as a political statement.
Wu. That would mean his distant ancestors were the legendary Chinese.
Today all vestiges of race are gone except the surnames.
But human diversity hasn’t suffered from the loss of racial diversity. The differences between the ancient races were tiny compared to the differences between the individuals within each race.
It turns out that intraspecies diversity is the thing that matters to survival.
Benjamin “We” is the official Pleader to the Committee on behalf of a radical scientific group that broke away from Committee rule several decades ago. They became militant last year when the Eighteen released sentient AI’s into the universe.
They call themselves Neo-Athenians claiming that democracy is the only ecologically sound way of governing. Apparently, they think nature gives every individual of every species a vote that it demonstrates in its actions. Sort of a bottom-up structure, I guess.
The Neo-Athenians say that human survival is impossible in a universe with free-willed artificial intelligence. Allowing godlike computing power to connect with nature’s sentient field will make top-down rulership unstoppable and humans will be first to the slaughter.
Which is to say, they hate AI’s more than they hate the Committee itself, and that’s quite a bit.
I glance around for Krishna. Two diagnostic cots float to my left, both empty. My eyes dart around looking for corners, but the room has none. One bare white wall encircles us. This is probably a ship.
What have they done with Krishna?
“Honey, are you able to tell us your name?” Mr. Wu asks.
I try to speak but it’s a gravel whisper.
The man leans toward me and turns an ear to my face.
I tighten my vocal cords and get a few words out. “Giri Helms, sir. Did you capture that weird-looking AI? The thing almost killed me.”
None of that was a lie, exactly. Maybe their diagnostic gear won’t tell them I’m lying with the truth.
“We’ve got that monster in a Faraday clamp,” he says. “It can’t hurt you now, honey.”
I take a deep breath and trace mental circles around my fingers trying to dilate the capillaries in my hands to make it seem to the machines that I’m relieved to hear the wonderful news. I picture the silver waves of Ury and let my thoughts and emotions drift up the sparkling beach and disappear.
“Get her up as soon as you can, and bring her into my quarters. We need to talk.”
“Are we going under silver tonight?” the doctor asks.
“It’s looking that way,” he says, then turns and leaves through an opaque forcefield door that I thought was part of the wall. It hums as he walks through it.
End of chapter 1.
I still haven’t written chapter 2. Not sure if I ever will.
Hey, if anybody read this far, thank you!