Rex Riptide woke to a silence laden with the possibility of
ninjas. But it was 3AM, and he had a test today. He lay there
quietly, taking stock.
There was no smell of Wasabi in the
air. This was good. It meant there were no containment leaks.
There was no fire alarm sounding, though this was a trivial
matter. Rex remembered the last time he'd awoken suddenly like
this: when the fish he'd been using to seal Cthulhu's soul had
died and, just as Rex had feared, had gained enough ethereal
converts just from cult suicides alone to put up a fight. That was
a special case, though, because the soul had possessed a
strangelet he and his roommates had been manufacturing.
it hit him: The silence was the answer. There lacked the
infrasonic hum that went hand in hand with the house's defense
system. Oh, well. No need to rush. Probably just blew a flux
Getting up, he found the house strangely
empty. The first three rooms he checked were unoccupied. And !N
couldn't have been said to really be there.
!N's skull was
splayed open, radiative surfaces glowing red with the waste heat
of his computation. It is useful at this point to know that "N"
did not, contrary to the beliefs of most of the public, stand for
a first name. His real name was "!NP => !P Theorem",
to which he owed his consciousness. Despite this, he was still
only roughly human-equivalent.
"!N, where are the
roommates?", said Rex, which did not get a reply immediately.
It would take some time to work through his buffer.
think they're out patrolling", were the words that eventually
passed through !N's lips, Microsoft-Sam style. He could not be
expected to fully render social intonations at this point in his
computation. Rex was surprised he got an answer at all.
referring to the fact that their three other roommates were each
individually masked vigilantes, and thought that the others didn't
know. There was the Atomic Girl, Dr. Polski, and NASA Lass. The
former even had super powers; not that that was a prerequisite for
their line of work.
On his way back to the basement, Rex
passed Mephisto, the Great Old One's new seal. It was fitting.
After sleeping dead for untold eons beneath the sea, he looked
remarkably chipper swimming around a half-gallon tank.
basement contained a boiler, a hot water heater, and a laundry
machine. Hardly the stuff of super-science. The sub-basement,
however, was so chock-full of Tesla-scale madness that they often
had to break up an old piece of equipment and distribute the
broken chunks throughout the neighborhood's garbage to avoid
suspicion. Statistically, anyone running even a cursory check on
the garbage output of the city would find anomalously high numbers
of chunks that would fit into potentially dangerous scientific
equipment. Luckily for Rex, most of the kit they used was so
beyond the scope of your regular authorities that they might have
been a magician's saw-box for all they knew. It was not the
authorities that made them drive around in the cover of darkness,
depositing pieces of garbage in a perfect Gaussian average
distribution to their neighbors, it was the bizarre crowd they
seemed to attract. After the Steel City packed up and left, a
different crowd of supervillains began to crop up: egotistical
teenagers in Mecha suits, biohacked warriors from the USSR,
fledgling singletons (the plural belying the definition)
struggling against the same inherent limitation of computing that
!N was, and clone Hitlers; lots of clone Hitlers for some reason.
A quick check of the privacy filters that screened out
eavesdropping via most classical methods yielded negative results,
so Rex allowed himself to call up his password image. Machines
analogous to fMRI's nearby detected the change in bloodflow to his
brain and opened the portal/trapdoor to the sub-basement.
Polski and the Atomic Girl were in the Ikea-laden lab. This meant
!N was wrong. No matter. It still happened once in a while.
"Roughly human equivalent" was rough in two ways:
hardware, as in same order of magnitude, and software, as in when
!N optimized himself for chess, he could beat Deep Blue and most
successive iterations. And !N was optimized for optimizing
Dr. Polski sat on his Ikea-stool with his Ikea-lab
bench occupied by a vacuum-sealed contrivance for the scattering
of positrons off of strange matter. Strangelets were not the
homogeneous blobs of existential destruction most people believed
they were; they had structure and interacted with themselves. The
Doctor, Rex supposed, was receiving the Atomic Girl's assistance
in creating biological analogs in the strange matter.
"Containment's off. Can't you hear it?", Rex
"Been kind of busy. Can you handle it?",
came the response.
The first place Rex checked was the bank of
Flux Capacitors. They used the quantization of electric flux to
perform a job similar to classical capacitors. There was no reason
to use them, when there existed inexpensive alternatives, except
that Rex loved the Back to the Future movies. Their flawed view of
causality gave him and everyone with whom he associated fits of
One of the RTG-powered skitters that was
designed to fetch drinks from the fridge had gotten into the bank
and was raising hell. The same phenomenon that kept singletons and
other computational supervillains from becoming godlike, the
phenomenon that !N was stressing just upstairs, must have
scrambled its programming, which was especially susceptible
because of its little core of high computational density, made of
what Rex called "Computronium" before they determined so
many better alternatives that the name was now just a joke.
sighed. All this, waking up the night before a test, just for !N's
effect on the stupid little skitters. But as he stooped to
MacGyver a replacement capacitor from the disabled skitter,
something sounded in the back of his head. Like any normal person,
he had interpreted the shadows and black patterns on the wall as
either his own shadow or the unconscious background noise of his
visual processing. But he'd spent enough time around what was to
come that he could see the signs. This was what a thousand ninjas
"Ninjas!" he sounded to alert the
others, as he reached for the IR laser he kept on his belt. They
must have gotten in while security was down. This laser would take
out the ones wearing night vision, but those that had simply
dark-adjusted their eyes (or gone blind, as more were doing
recently) would be a bigger problem. It didn't matter whether the
laser hit one, just that enough light was put out to blind the
CCDs of the near-IR visors. As he flashed it on for the first
time, those ninjas that were depending on their vision to stay in
the myriad mobile blind spots that accompany every unaugmented
human became visible. It was as if the walls around him melted and
deposited twisting, fluid black shapes on the floor near him.
When their concentration had lapsed, ninjas looked almost
funny. All of the slow waving, twisting, almost dancing they did
to convince one's subconscious that they weren't there looked
silly when it wasn't accomplishing its goal.
slowed. It was as if he were living in a world where gravity was
decreased, where objects were more massive and less rigid than
they were normally. A ninja jumped across the room, in the perfect
game-theoretical move to assist his brothers in catching Rex.
There was one objective best way to avoid this fate, and it
involved doing nothing right this moment. So he watched,
fascinated, as the ninja sailed through the cloven air like an
astronaut, turned in its path and slowed, pushing its feet against
the wall. The bones in its legs, normally rigid as any animal's,
bowed and flexed in bizarre slow motion as it absorbed the impact
that had to have been the equivalent of dropping hundreds of
meters. It made the ninja look fragile, soft, flexible. Not the
But this was what Rex's plan made of this poor
being. The next jump took it on a straight trajectory that, at its
closest point, put it just outside Rex's projected maximum reach.
It knew from past experience the coefficient of friction between
Rex's feet and the floor. He simply couldn't summon enough force
parallel to the ground to get closer than he already was in time.
What it didn't take into account was the skitter. It can't
have massed more than 20% of Rex, but that was enough to impart
the amount of momentum necessary to catch the flying ninja. The
rest of the ninjas had foreseen Rex's throw of the skitter, and
had moved into positions that weighted line-of-fire and frictional
ability to change trajectory. But they had assigned such a small
Bayesian probability to its use as a momentum-sink that they had
conserved computational time by not evaluating its implications.
Had they gone through with it, they would have seen that this put
Rex in such a good game-theoretical position that, even multiplied
by its low probability, it was worth countering.
momentum was imparted to the skitter that it appeared to impact
and crash through the far wall opposite the projected ninja
rendezvous within an instant of being thrown. This put Rex right
on top of the enemy. He hit at a high impact parameter and held
on. Their trajectories curved around each other's, each twisted by
the centripetal force between them. Rex waited exactly four
revolutions, when his velocity could be directed toward the exit
and the ninja's toward one of its brothers at the same time. He
let go. At this high speed, the impact caused a concussion that
threw off the timing of the pursuing ninjas, and he was thrown
clear at the same time.
As time resumed its normal march, it
found Rex running back toward the portal to the basement. He
didn't worry about his roommates. They could take care of
themselves. Right now, he wanted to get to the university campus,
to get to the anti-ninja field he was testing in the machine shop
there. This would be the perfect opportunity to give it a field
The lab was inundated with ninjas. Everywhere he looked,
pieces of equipment into which he'd put countless meat-hours and
orders of magnitude more sim-hours were simply crawling with them.
Luckily they were not after the equipment. Apparatus that would
have held the world breathless on public auction were simply
regarded as props in their zero-G ballet. They were after the
inhabitants of the house. After saving the President of the United
States from this infestation, the five were dogged by them
wherever they went. Rex would have called it pride, if the ninjas
showed more cues of being able to feel any anthropomorphic
emotion. Having been foiled once, their entire effort was spent
toward righting the perceived wrong.
Not that that mattered
right now. Rex's running took him, at last, past the room with the
Ikea-supported positronic microscope. He caught a glimpse of Dr.
Polski's particle beam before being blinded by the Atomic Girl
joining the fray. He needn't worry about his roommates.
struck for a moment by the difference of scale between the two
parties at odds. The ninjas were simply extraordinarily good at
kidnapping people. Rex's little group had temporarily halted the
expansion of the cosmos. They had played with objects of
primordial fury as if they were intellectual toys. They had
literally grappled with the incarnated concepts of destruction and
disorder. Yet here they were, on frustratingly even bases. This is
how Captain Kirk must have felt, he thought, whenever he was held
captive by some warring provincial band, when his starship above
held the very practical capacity to level everything his captors
could even comprehend. Not that Star Trek dealt with that
particular situation in a very Hard-SF way... With that thought he
burst outside, to the view of a thousand ninjas. Or possibly just
a normal summer night; it was very difficult to tell.
reason ninjas always respected personal property, especially when
it came to motorcycles. This is why Rex was not surprised to find
his little Suzuki DR125SE right where he left it, with no visible
sabotage. Not wanting to trust the ninjas' bizarre sense of honor
(or whoever made the ninjas' bizarre sense of honor, or some quirk
of an alien value system), he gave it a quick once-over. The DR
was not powered by a black hole, slowly evaporating. It was not
powered by anti-hydrogen annihilating with parts of a fuel cell.
Nor was it powered by beamed electrical energy, Tesla-style. Nor
fusion, nor fission, nor batteries, nor N-60 sublimation. It was
little more than a dirt bike.
The moment he began to run up
the bike to start it, the unsung parts of his personal
surroundings that had hid the black-clad kidnapping machines were
suddenly stripped away, leaving him inside of a formation
optimized for taking down a slow-moving target. They had examined
the bike, then, even if they hadn't touched it, enough to know
that the battery was perpetually dead.
This was the reason
that Rex had made a detour on his way from the basement to the
bike outside. Collecting the katana from his room had cost him
dear seconds, weighted higher to him because of the raised
Bayesian probability of severe detriment to his experiments, but
at this point it recouped the loss. In general he tried not to
kill ninjas, in the same way that one avoids the soggy worms on
the sidewalk after a rain. This time it was less avoidable.
was difficult to cut through a ninja, but easy to hit them as long
as it put their brothers in a better position to kidnap you. They
were like a hive-mind that way, and Rex found himself admiring the
optimal way they went about achieving their terminal goal. But the
best way to deal with them, he'd found through experience, was a
stabbing motion through the head, probably where most of the
processing took place. In this way he littered the driveway with
their corpses in a manner that was at least as exciting to the
discerning reader as the fight in the capacitor room, yet much
longer to describe.
He was now free to run up the bike and
force it into 2nd gear, the better to begin its ignition. The
first two tries it simply coughed and died, not unlike the ninjas
when disposed of in their correct way. Then Rex slapped his
forehead. The choke, he thought, I always forget the frickin'
choke. He began to walk the bike back up the hill to his house to
roll it down again. He had time to wonder what was taking the
ninjas so long before the counterattack began.
This time it
started with a black net, blocked out by the dark night sky from
his position. It eventually dropped down below the level of the
street lights, giving him the time he needed to jump out of the
way, right into a carefully placed flashbomb. He could not see for
valuable mental iterations. He calmed himself, gripped his sword
once more, and listened. They had certainly been given enough time
to implement a plan of any complexity, but no ninja yet born (or
manufactured, or spawned) could model the atmosphere to the extent
that it could perform its characteristic jump-attack without
leaving a turbulent wake through the time-slowed air. The only
problem was that the sound still traveled at the normal speed of
sound in air, giving Rex comparatively little time to counter. He
hated fighting blind. He knew that, with each swing of his katana,
in all probability he wasn't thwarting more of the ninja horde, he
was playing further and further into their shuriken-bearing hands.
Calm down, he told himself. Gather your wits. He knew that
their checkmate would have to come before he regained his sight
enough to turn the tide, but the ninjas' moves were obvious from
extrapolation and game theory for at least three seconds. That
placed the attack in time. In space, he could only move so far in
the duration he'd allotted for the opposition's master stroke, so
he had to assume that the ninjas had planned for each eventuality
of his making a break for it. If he could somehow get farther than
they had allowed for, he stood a chance... No. That's how he'd
gotten away from the attack in the capacitor room. They'd be on
their toes for that sort of thing.
He thought ahead. For the
next twelve attacks, spanning half a second total, there was no
angle from which an attack could come that he could not defend.
But there! On the thirteenth, assuming the ninjas played a perfect
fight, there was a 2-steradian-by-50-microsecond gap in his
stance. That was certainly when they'd make their move. In the
intervening iterations he tried as much as he could to close the
gap, but couldn't do better than to reduce the area by half. When
it became t-minus zero, Rex geared up for more drastic measures
with a mental sigh. But the attack never came. Come to that, his
vision was taking longer than he'd have expected to come back.
Either that or...
A net! They had caught him in a net without
his knowledge, sending ninja after ninja underneath to give the
impression of a continuing struggle. The black net was
indistinguishable from the flashbomb-blurred night. They had never
gotten this far before, and therefore had no reason to suspect
that Rex had no trouble disabling it with a shot from his IR
laser. Here the ninja material's ability to absorb in a wide range
of radiation was its weakness. This was not his victory, though.
He had allowed them to probe yet another of his abilities, to
revise the schema they'd been building of what he could do. When
next came an attack, it would be efficient with the brutal
ferocity that only dispassionate mathematics could give.
cursed. At least he was at the top of the hill. With the choke on
his DR opened, he forced the engine to turn one more time, and it
came to life with a roar. The tatters of the ninja net, ruined
holistically by Rex's point-burn, briefly wound around the rear
wheel before falling apart. The night seemed alive with ninjas. It
was not just his neighborhood that was inundated; every time the
DR's headlights illuminated another shadowy alleyway, anomalous
black stains shifted around his perception and became solid as
they could not keep up with his changing vantage point.
Eventually, he knew, there would be a dedicated group following
him, just as invisible as they were in the capacitor room, or more
so, as an unaugmented human had a much harder time keeping up with
the constant sensory assault of driving a motor vehicle. Pursuers
could mimic any number of things written off as unimportant: the
rider's reflection in a long window, a pivoting shadow in a street
lamp, or their favorite, an image of a stationary object in a
rear-view mirror. They were particularly good at this last feat,
though the majority of their illusory techniques were not so
This was not normal behavior for ninjas.
Their numbers were spread to mirror the population distribution,
not to minimize the possibility of escape from any one area. Rex
saw the night envelop a jogger, as if he'd never been there. They
were targeting more than just his roommates. There was something
Eventually his pursuers arrived: ninjas riding Ninjas.
The choice of an ungainly (relative to its namesake) vehicle like
the Kawasaki Ninja 650cc sport bike gave Rex the ability to allot
processing cycles to muse on the implications this decision had on
the ninjas' origin. It certainly raised the portion of possibility
space that belonged to them having human origins; what other value
system would give preferential treatment to a bike called a
"Ninja"? That didn't rule out other cases, however. It
was possible that the significance their victims attached to the
bikes upon being kidnapped led to their use. It was also possible
that it was simply a decision based on the superior performance of
the Ninja. In the time it took for the muscular sport bikes to
overtake Rex's dirt bike, he quickly summarized his findings to
himself. All in all, the update of his belief function saw a 20%
decrease in the probability that the ninjas were created by a
These specimens had obviously not
worked through the theory behind what they were doing. One quick
backslash had sent the foremost aggressor pinwheeling into the
path of maximal disruption. Rex was making great time toward the
campus when he rounded a corner and saw something that threw a
wrench into his plans: a damsel in distress. From what he'd seen
so far, he'd pegged the rate of ninja kidnappings at around three
per second, weighted by proximity to himself. If he wanted to
rescue this poor soul, he had to somehow justify to himself the
loss of no more than one-third of a second, accumulated over the
entire distance he'd have to carry her. But now that he'd seen
her, if he left her there the fraction of the guilt that he
couldn't filter out would be a detriment. This was not going to be
an easy calculation, and he didn't have the time to fully exploit
the nuances of the problem. Rex hated not being able to determine
the objective best route in time.
He picked her up. It was not
until she was swinging away from the darkness that was enveloping
her, up onto the speeding bike, that her face showed recognition
of what was happening. Her first instinct was to hold onto Rex for
dear life, choking the breath out of him. Her next was to scream
some more. Eventually, agonizing seconds later, she managed to
internalize as much of what had happened as she was going to.
"What were those things?", she called over the wind
into his ear.
"Ninjas. On Ninjas."
She was quiet
for a time, apparently oblivious to the shapes that silently
twisted around them in the night. It was not yet safe, and Rex
already calculated at least one whole second discrepancy between
his original plan and his current trajectory. He was tempted to
invoke sunk cost reasoning and simply drop her, but he didn't. He
was sure he'd be able to justify this decision to himself later.
Besides the danger lurking in every spot of darkness, the ride
out was pleasant. There was a good view of the downtown district.
Every so often the beam of a searchlight would dart up and either
it or a muted explosion would illuminate something that looked
like a giant praying mantis that was probably terrorizing the
city. Or getting terrorized, because the transponder Rex had
implanted in the base of NASA Lass's skull during one of their
more cuddly moments was telling him that she was in that
direction. He needn't worry about that particular problem.
university campus rolled into view, its lamps bathing it in an
appealing, soft light. But every superimposed shadow on a surface
was another potential hiding place for a ninja to do whatever it
did to convince the brain that it didn't exist. There were no safe
spots to dump the surprisingly calm damsel. He had to take her
with him, right to the doors of his shop.
Rex disembarked the
bike on a public walkway, and felt a twinge of guilt that he
thought he'd suppressed. If everyone abused the public walkways like this,
the utility to pedestrians would go down a disproportionate
He ran up the steps to the building that housed his
shop, damsel in tow. He made his will known to the guard AI that
the door be opened. It wasn't. This meant that there were threats
in the area, but after careful inspection of his surroundings in
enhanced-perception, he found none. The only people present were
himself and the... The damsel!
Quick as the crack of a whip,
and with the accompanying noise caused by rent air, his visitor
realized that its primary function had changed, and transformed
into the largest concentration of danger by volume within miles of
Rex. It began denying areas of the playing field to him with
shuriken throws, and setting up its battle schema.
concerned about his waste heat. Since the turn of the seasons, his
own thermal emission needs hadn't changed but the ambient
temperature had risen. As a result, he was more limited in scope
and duration of ninja combat than he was in the winter. The hotter
it was outside, the longer he had to wait to reject the heat
released from the rigors of fighting.
But fight he must. The
ninja had to be stalling him; no other strategy would do. The
number of denial-of-area attacks in the form of lethal shuriken
throws backed up this theory. He couldn't allow himself to be
delayed in this manner. But this was still only one ninja, and he
still had his blade. He only had to launch himself one time at his
foe before victory was assured within at most four combat
From the ground, it must have looked quite
stunning, at least to someone with a high-frame-rate camera. To a
passing jogger, there would simply have been three (the ninja had
not performed maximally) blurs through the air, and the handle of
a katana materializing in this monstrous-looking girl's throat.
Danger over, he once again queried the AI, but again he was
denied admission. He tried not to hold it against the poor
computer. After all, AI's could only grow so fast, and this one
was brought online scant days ago. The computers weighed
investments of utility on an inverse-exponential scale with time,
meaning that if they could project themselves as growing at a rate
faster than exponential, they made investments that only panned
out after infinite time had passed. It often became sad to watch.
He didn't have time for this. There were better ways of
getting inside. His cell phone came out and dialed the Atomic
"Hey, it's me. I forgot the
dimensions of k-sub-E. Can you remind me?" This was code, and
not very cryptographically rigorous code at that. Rex often
wondered what would happen if he ever actually forgot the
dimensions of k-sub-E, though like any self-respecting individual
he used epsilon-naught more often.
"I'll be there in
She was actually there before Rex's
phone registered her hanging up, due to the lag in voice
processing. He spoke:
"You could have gotten here faster
if you hadn't made the time estimate. And you left off the units."
She knew exactly how to wind him up.
said, "just tell me that you need a door blown up." He
nodded. "Ok. Shield your eyes." Her gaze drifted
downward. "And nuts."
Rex knew enough of her powers
to know that the latter was unnecessary, but the former was
something he'd want to get on right away.
A few seconds later
they were walking down a corridor that still glowed red-hot from
the Atomic Girl's passing. Sitting at her desk was Rex's machine
shop assistant. Her eyes bugged just a little at the image that
the two roommates presented her.
The assistant once terrorized
a fair portion of the continent with her mechanical creations.
When it became necessary to neutralize her as a threat, !N
adjusted her utility function to remove her tendency to create
destructive things. To !N it seemed a mercy. To Rex, not so much.
The only time her lifeless eyes ever exhibited spark was when she
was around machines. The only thing that kept her going was
something she was fundamentally incapable of finding fulfilling.
She was like a boy who'd found his father's business shoes,
striving so much to divine the purpose of these shiny objects yet
knowing that it was beyond his reasoning in some basic way.
was still capable of fawning, however.
"Oh my goodness!
Is that Atomic Girl?"
"'Atomic Girl'? Not 'an Atomic
Girl'? Not even 'THE' flipping 'Atomic Girl'?" THE Atomic
Girl mock-fumed, handling her fame well, "I'm THE Atomic
Girl, and I'm the most powerful being on this planet!"
is why Rex hated scope insensitivity. He spoke:
me? Why is she 'Oh my goodness'? I've halted the expansion of the
cosmos themselves! In terms of sheer energy release, if you plot
my achievement and hers on a log-log plot..."
Girl interrupted him. "Get it right, Rex. You've temporarily
halted the rate of increase in the expansion of the universe."
She winked at Rex's assistant. "And there's a trick to it."
Rex did not find this particularly convincing. The word
"incalculable" was invented for the scale of the work
that he did. For some reason this argument did not sway his
The shop was originally a pure white
ceramic with modular partitions that screened off work, test, and
storage areas. Years of powdered aluminum and machine oil had
caked on the walls, turning it a dull gray. Most of it was now
storage, as Rex hated to see something go to waste used in spare
parts, and he had no shortage of material to use. Thinking back on
it now, he couldn't remember a time he thought that any of these
things would have been useful. The walls were lit by nothing more
complex than fluorescent tubes, not updated because they were
built into the partitions. In every room there was a faucet for
hosing down the floor when a project was completed, or scrapped.
The drains to which the floor sloped had probably collected more
superscience detritus than an average person is likely to in a
Eventually he managed to translate her adoration
into a drive to show around her new guest, in doing so affecting
his proximity to the anti-ninja field favorably.
The field was
at the university because, for personal reasons, Rex did not want
to be within range of !N when he activated it. It worked because
ninjas did their processing in tiny, complexity-dense nodes,
similar to the structures that were accidentally disabled by !N's
experiment. But in order to deal with the situation that was
developing outside, he'd need to increase the range of the device
to the point that !N would have no choice but to notice. Rex
wasn't looking forward to that.
When the Rex-assistant-Atom
convoy finally got around to entering its test room, he fell upon
it with a sense of urgency that belied the rational care with
which he worked. It had to be done quickly, but it had to be done
right. MacGuyvering solutions to the problems that up-scaling
caused was no laughing matter, even though Rex laughed a little
when he was reminded of the up-scaled Mantis that NASA Lass was no
doubt finishing up at this moment. The idea was comical. Who would
build such an ungainly monster?
When he was done, he asked his
assistant to stay behind and turn it on in exactly 30 seconds,
when he'd be above ground and able to see its effects. A
comfortable walking speed took him up in about that time, when all
of a sudden the world started running. It was as if a painter had
worked in extremely cold conditions, then allowed his creation to
warm destructively. Everywhere, the lines of differing contrast
that characterized images in the night drooped downward,
eventually depositing their loads of prone ninjas onto the ground.
There were those, too, that were standing in the middle of open
areas when the field activated. Rex had no idea how anyone could
have missed those, though he'd learned not to underestimate his
own ability to overlook even the most incongruous phenomena.
Ninjas taught one humility, if nothing else.
He sighed. !N
would be on is way here. There was no way he'd ignore something
Rex walked past the AI, its processor still
functioning at full capacity though now given no inputs or
outputs. He met up with his companions and noted an anomalous lack
of celebration. The Atom Girl must have been slogging through the
enemy for at least a half an hour before getting Rex's call, and
the enthusiasm that his assistant showed had dried up. This spoke
There was a ninja in the center of the room. A
limp ninja-body would have been disturbing in its own way,
indicating that even this place of security had been breached
before the threat was neutralized. This was a standing ninja, arms
and legs like boughs, chest rounded and optimized for single
combat. Rex had time to wonder how long it had been standing in
plain sight, and how it had avoided death-by-anti-ninja-field,
before it became necessary to spring into action.
job was to secure the safety of his friends. Now that the world
had become a fleshy, slowed-down world of low-gravity Newtonian
mechanics, he had to be careful of the forces he applied. It was
easy to imagine removing your charge from danger, only to find
them falling apart like tissue paper in your hands. Though the
Atom Girl was moving to take care of that front, and Rex could see
her velocity change under the influence of her superhuman forces.
His priority was therefore the enemy itself. It was difficult to
determine its capabilities just from appearance, but it became
unnecessary as soon as it started moving.
Its limbs were a
blur as it set up a jump directly at Rex. He wouldn't have thought
it possible to extract that much momentum out of the fragile floor
in such a short time until he saw this being move. His own
trajectory had since become non-trivial under the exertions of his
effect on the scenery, but this thing was fast. Fast translated to
strong, about a factor of two in comparison to Rex. It could do
things that Rex could in only half the time in terms of momentum,
half the run-up distance in terms of energy. But it still had the
limitations that any other physical enemy had: it had to exert
force to alter its path, and it needed something on which to exert
Because of this its jumps never took it across an
open space. So far it was staying close to something fixed, like
the floor, the ceiling, or one of Rex's modular walls, or
something massive, like the desks and workbenches that littered
this larger room, to be able to change its direction rapidly.
Anything within reach of Rex became missiles, but anything within
reach of the ninja became handholds. Finally it caught up with him
and tried a grab.
Strength made it faster, but either the
field or its own computational limitations made its reactions
slower. As soon as a grasper locked around Rex's ankle, he began
to pull his leg up. At the same time, the ninja began to pull down
on him. There was a long run-up distance to build energy, the
length of both his leg and the ninja's arm. The magnitude of the
force was large as well, so large that the amount of energy they
had accumulated in their rest frame was enough that they shot past
each other, the ninja unable to keep up with the relative velocity
its own strength had imparted. When they reached the extent of the
big foe's reach, their relative momentum was too large to stop
within the span of a finger's length. Rex shot out of the ninja's
reach with a wrench, almost exactly canceling the velocity of
their rest frame, appearing stationary with the room. The ninja,
on the other hand, its momentum and Rex's summed, shot into the
far wall with more force than it alone could have supplied with
such a short run-up distance.
This was apparently not going to
stop the being. It was stunned for less than a second. But this
gave Rex the opportunity for which he'd been waiting.
sped-up vantage point, strength does not put limitations on
performance. It puts restraints, yes, but anything the ninja could
do with one second momentumwise, Rex could do with two. Anything
it could do with half the length of the room energywise, Rex could
do with the whole thing. It took Rex about this distance to bring
a lab bench from rest to his intended velocity. The ceramic behind
the ninja was the most rigid thing in the lab, but everything sped
up was flabbier than it was at-speed. When the bench hit, the wall
bowed out, flexed a significant amount before a complex pattern of
cracks appeared and spread over its entire surface. Every time a
crack elongated itself, a shock wave visibly propagated out of it
at the speed of sound in the material, bounced off of the edges of
the wall, and converged elsewhere. Eventually the force still
being applied by the ninja's slow compression due to the flying
lab bench caused a catastrophic yield stress in enough of the
diamond-hard material to cause holistic failure. Wherever the
shock waves happened to converge during this tremendous release of
energy were foci of singularities in the material, regions of such
high energy release rate that Rex had a hard time working a
surface integral around them to calculate the ejecta distribution
and whether he should be worried about debris hitting his
companions, who were just leaving.
When the atomized ceramic
cleared, the ninja stood up. Rex's heart sank. Convection currents
in the air were not removing waste heat from him fast enough. The
indoor setting cut off many of his more spectacular options for
dealing with the ninja. Even after these last few bouts, he still
did not know enough about its capabilities to determine a plan
that had an acceptable probability of victory. It was not a good
Just then a biological-looking shaft of green burst
through the far concrete wall, revealing an immense cavern
beneath. The floor collapsed, crumbling into man-sized chunks and
falling into this new abyss. It was dark now that the lights of
the machine shop had failed; the only illumination came from some
twisting mote, impossibly far away to be in an underground chamber
of reasonable size. Frequently the shafts of light emanating from
the tumbling shape passed over more of the monstrous green
material, which may have been thrashing in time with the mote, or
may have been stationary as far as Rex could tell.
glow underneath the falling shape must have been reaction control
thrusters. Instantly he knew what had happened. NASA Lass was in
that point of light, and the sporadically illuminated object was
her foe, the giant mantis thing he'd seen from the ride to the
university. She must have been using the souped-up EVA suit that
was broken out for special occasions, the one equipped with more
weaponry than was healthy to concentrate in one place. Perhaps the
mantis had started burrowing, perhaps the Lass had deliberately
lured it underground to prevent damage to the downtown region.
Either way, the battle had broken through Rex's dear machine
shop. She would pay for the damage later. In the meantime, the
ninja was hopping falling boulders, adjusting its trajectory with
a single-minded determination. The eventual impact with the ground
was no more than a passing thought, more of an abstract idea than
a concrete event to come.
By this point the giant monster was
clearly in its death-throes. Even at the speed at which they were
falling, bladed green arms as big around as locomotives overtook
them in every direction, flailing as nothing up-scaled to that
degree should be able to. The red glare from the EVA suit's
rockets flared again, pointed away from the falling duo,
indicating the Lass was accelerating toward them. The ninja had
almost completed its sporadic, boulder-jumping path toward Rex.
But here, in a wide-open space, he was less limited in what he
could do. Rex carried any number of defensive and just plain-old
useful devices with him everywhere, from his ever-trustworthy IR
laser to objects that held the very practical potential to take
over the smaller countries of the globe. These items had never
been seen by this ninja, nor any ninja, though it was entirely
plausible that they'd extrapolated the existence of such
ace-in-the-hole style devices.
Rex went for one of the more
subtle objects. The ninja exploded. When Rex landed on the cavern
floor, he was surrounded by a fine red mist.
Lass arrived, rocket nozzles still glowing from their workout.
"Rex? Rex, is that you?"
He snapped out of his
reverie. He still had no idea what he was going to do about his
ruined equipment, but he really should put this fantastic space
carved out by the epic battle to good use. And his old shop was
had been running out of space, anyway.
"Rex, I'm sorry!
It turned out the thing could burrow, and then I thought we were
farther from the surface so I didn't hold back as much as I would
otherwise, but then I saw your little thermoblip... Hey, weren't
there two signals?"
"It's ok. You can make it up to
me by letting me use this cavern you carved out. It must be pretty
structurally sound, or it couldn't support the university
NASA Lass smiled. She probably would
have just filled it in to neutralize the risk of collapse, anyway.
This was a win-win situation, in which Rex specialized.
filled each other in on their exploits of the night as they walked
back toward the surface and the two friends they'd left on the
campus. Joining them was !N, who had apparently started out just
after Rex's anti-ninja field had pulsed, some two minutes ago.
There was an awkward moment. Rex did not want to talk about
"Ok, !N. I guess you have some scientific
questions that need answering. Let's go home first."
the only questions I need answered are your motivations. I've
worked through the implications already. Why didn't you tell me
you had explored into the field of the fundamental limit to
Rex was surprised. Either !N had
taken a much shorter time to go from phenomenological description
to working model, in which case he was taking the news rather
well, or he hadn't yet internalized what this probably meant about
the universe in which they lived.
He studied his friend
carefully. Was he hiding the turmoil that the knowledge had to
bring? Or was he a ticking timebomb, waiting to stumble upon the
"So you've worked through the
math, have you? You know the most probable explanation?"
processed for a time. Perhaps his swap speed was limited this far
away from the house.
"Yes. I know to what you are
Rex felt a pang of empathy for his friend.
Perhaps it was unwarranted. After all, he was taking the news much
better than Rex had.
"!N, you know that this is probably
what Quantum looked like at first to some people, right? Just
because it happens that the structure of the universe is maximized
for easy simulation doesn't mean that..."
!N cut him off.
"Don't try to comfort me. I've already updated my belief
distribution. And even old man Bayes must have known he was
probably a Boltzmann Brain anyway." Rex was glad he wasn't
getting bent out of shape about it. "But Rex, what I'm not
really getting is the motivation. What value system sees utility
in simulating a universe?"
"It's probably one so
alien that we might as well make analogy to something we know. I
prefer to think of it as some little nerd somewhere, writing a
fanfic of his reality."
"Reality's Fanfiction, huh?"
!N's face expressed concentration, for the benefit of the
unaugmented humans present. "No. I don't buy it. There's no
reason to believe that the universe in which the simulation is run
is anything like ours. Why imitate when you have the computational
resources necessary for" he swept his hand, "all of
Rex saw appeal in this view.
"So what are
you going to do now that I've made your research a symbolic
gesture, at best?"
"Well, now I've got more insight
into the structure of the thing, I can learn what conditions are
conducive to its operation, and what conditions aren't. I'm
particularly interested in that latter. Care to join up? You have
some expertise on the subject of simultaneous
computation-intensive processes on a scale that's truly cosmic, if
Rex noted the pun. "No thanks. I prefer
not to hack reality. And there's a trick to the whole cosmos
Rex watched !N
turn and walk away.
"Jeez, what a nerd", he muttered
as he picked up his katana and motorbike, and started home to get
some sleep before his test.