Part 4: Entropy (4,115 words)
(omnipotence, existentialism, no sex)
Rich poked at the embers before him. He had set up camp in a clearing on a plateau, built a fire and cooked a fish that he’d caught. He looked up at the stars as the embers in the pit died, and was about to unroll his sleeping bag when he heard a rustle in the foliage over to his left. He felt his heart rate accelerate; he kept very still. A jolt of fear ran through him, like an electric shock, making his entire body tingle.
He felt as though someone were watching him. Somehow, he felt that this feeling was unrelated to the noise he’d just heard.
Slowly, careful not to make any quick movements, he reached over to his bag. He pulled it over by the strap and reached his hand inside, searching by touch for his knife, keeping his eyes on the bushes the sound had come from. He rummaged around blindly.
His knife wasn’t there.
Desperately, more hurriedly, he tried again to find it. Despite the chill in the air, he began to sweat. It wasn’t a large bag, and he knew that if it had been there, he’d have found it already, but he had to try again. What else was there to do?
After fumbling around a third time, he froze as he was able to make out two gleaming eyes visible behind the leaves. He knew instantly that it was a panther. He looked around, desperate to find some kind of cover or hiding place, though he knew there was none. He had no options.
He closed his eyes, unable to look at his imminent death.
The panther leapt.
Charlotte’s worshippers eventually took over the world. Not through violence or force, but through sheer numbers. There always remained small pockets of society where people insisted on practicing various now-archaic beliefs, but worship of Charlotte quickly became the world’s dominant religion, and remained so for many millennia. She could have forced it on them, but where would be the pleasure in that? She much preferred to simply watch and see what happened.
Not that she hid herself. She often performed miracles, or manifested herself in a body and lived among humans for a time, or caused a natural disaster, or did some other obvious act. Sometimes she would stop completely, just to see how long it would take for the various societies on the Earth to gradually lose belief in her again, before starting up again out of boredom.
Charlotte often enjoyed solitude, but she would sometimes take a lover or a companion, or sometimes several. She often chose a living human for this, but she occasionally re-created her former friends to keep her company, to be her lover for a day, or maybe a century. She occasionally made them demigods, as she had before, but not always. Sometimes she manifested a body for herself, sometimes not.
In this way, Charlotte was witness to the evolution and progression of humanity. Charlotte was neither a benevolent nor a vengeful goddess; she passed through phases of each, but most of the time she was merely a curious one. She observed people’s joy and pain, on an individual and on a societal level; she was fascinated by the congregation and division of different groups of people; migration, which sometimes resembled a trickle and sometimes a flood; and the social factors that drove people, and sometimes entire populations, to bond with each other and separate from each other, sometimes violently.
Over the millennia, humanity’s dominance over the Earth waxed and waned, much like the phases of the moon, but irregular and over a period of many generations. Humans tended to grow in number and in technological power until a crisis caused them to die in great numbers, at which point they would splinter and disperse, regroup and slowly begin to build themselves up again. She was equally fascinated in the differences and similarities that manifested in the different societies that arose. She watched groups of people dominate, occupy, retreat, mix, and change, and disappear, like colours in a kaleidoscope.
Nicole drove as fast as she could. “Come on, you piece of fucking shit!” she yelled at the car. She looked in the rearview mirror, but all she could see was a cloud of dust. There was no way to tell how far away the tornado was, or whether it was moving toward her or away. Her heart pounded in her chest and she had trouble breathing, but she managed to control herself well enough to be able to drive the car.
Lucky there’s no one else on the road right now, she thought. Don’t need to worry about oncoming traffic, just oncoming-
Her thought was interrupted by a tractor falling out of the sky and landing directly in front of her, upside down, with a crunch of twisting metal. She screamed and swerved, but her car smashed into the side of the tractor and the airbag inflated.
Choking on her own breath, seeing stars, she managed to get the door open and stumbled out. She looked up and saw the tornado stretching up to the sky, whirling, howling, like an angry god.
It moved closer to her with a terrifying speed. She knew there was nothing to do, but she turned and ran anyway. The wind lifted her off her feet and she spun around, head over heels, screaming uselessly.
Charlotte had realized, some time after her awakening, that there were certain things she could no longer experience. One aspect of her existence that it took her a long time to fully accept was that she was completely safe. There was nothing that posed her any danger in any way. Her life as a human, short as it had been, had left her with a great many mental habits and reflexes, which took time to shed. It was several centuries before she fully understood and accepted that, for her, there was effectively no such thing as danger anymore. She wondered whether there ever really had been. She had total security from everything. Even if she had wanted to end her own existence, she hadn’t the faintest idea how she might go about doing it.
When she did finally accept this this, she found that she had lost the capacity for fear. There was simply nothing anymore that could make her feel afraid. This didn’t bother her at first, but after many, many years, she became displeased with the range of experiences from which she’d become disconnected. There was a whole spectrum of emotions and thoughts that was unavailable to her; not just fear, but surprise, jealousy, rage, lust, anxiety, guilt, joy, and sorrow. She observed events happening and noted, with some nostalgia, that they would have caused these reactions in her when she was human, but her removal from that previous life made her unable to feel anything much stronger than a cold curiosity, amusement, and sometimes mild disappointment.
And so she started feeding off of the humans, who still could experience these things. For a time, she would do this by inhabiting, unnoticeably, the mind of people who were feeling these emotions – jilted lovers, new parents, survivors of tragedies, teenage thrill seekers. She enjoyed these vicarious experiences immensely; once she started living others’ emotions, she immediately started doing it more and more often.
Eventually she expanded her interests to more subtle, mundane pleasures and frustrations: the relief of a person upon successfully completing a years-long project; the satisfaction of a grandparent watching their grandchildren play together; the lingering dread of a person who doesn’t know whether their secret has been exposed.
But her favourite – her absolute favourite emotion, the one that she sought out and came back to more often than any other – was a short, quick burst of terror in the face of mortal danger. The intense feeling of powerlessness, something which had become so alien to her, was a delicious treat for her to indulge in, something she enjoyed, for a long, long time, above all else.
And as her tastes became more refined, she began to craft situations tailored to her precise desires at the moment. If there was no one in the world who was currently experiencing something that would grant her the exact feeling she wanted, she would simply create someone with the sole purpose of providing her with that emotion, provide them with just enough knowledge and personality to properly flavour the event – which might be slipping and falling off the roof of a building, or being eaten by a wild animal while camping, or being trapped behind enemy lines in a war, or being in the path of a tornado – and then erase them afterwards.
Here, again, she often re-created her former friends for his purpose. She would sometimes put different people through the same situation, one after the other, to see how they reacted differently.
One day, when she was engineering the setup for Aiko to be caught in a burning building, she thought of an ingredient she would find particularly frustrating – a blocked fire escape – and added it. It had been a long time since she had felt really frustrated by something, and she thought she might enjoy mixing some of that into the experience. She suddenly remembered what it was like, as a human, to cook a meal. Briefly, absently, she wondered why that memory had resurfaced. She then put it out of her mind.
Once humans went extinct, creating brief lives to feed her emotional experiences became Charlotte’s primary source of pleasure and entertainment. It took more time and effort after that, because she now usually had to create not only the people, but also the entire environment around them. But that was hardly a problem. Charlotte didn’t notice the time pass; there was nothing to measure it against, and, since she didn’t have to maintain a diurnal routine, time was meaningless to her anyway.
One day, tens of millions of years after her death, Charlotte decided to recreate Pat.
She had recreated almost everyone she had ever known at least once, and some people she had recreated innumerable times. But she had not once recreated Pat since the day she died. One day, she decided that it had been long enough.
She started by re-creating their apartment. She chose to arrange it exactly the way it had been on the day of her Awakening, paying attention to the exact layout of the furniture, the precise position of every book and sock and bowl of chips that hadn’t been put away, each mote of dust lying on the floor and floating through the air.
It had to be perfect.
She re-created Pat carefully, deliberately, molecule by molecule. She paid careful attention to the memories she’d acquired at that point in her life, her precise health condition (she’d been fighting a cold at the time, though neither of them had even noticed it. Nonetheless, she wanted to be historically accurate), and the exact age of her body, down to the millisecond. Anything less would have been disrespectful.
She wanted to interact with Pat the way they had before her awakening. She would pretend to be human for a while, which she hadn’t done in eons. She started to get excited, thinking about how much fun it would be. She wanted just to spend a pleasant afternoon with Pat watching TV and cooking and eating supper together. A day which would have been completely unremarkable when she was human. It had been so long. She had managed not to think about Pat for a long time, but she kept popping up in her thoughts now and again. Now she was going to see her, finally.
She prepared her own body. Since she had done it so many times before, it went much more quickly than re-creating Pat, but it had still been many, many years since she had been corporeal, and she felt an intense moment of nostalgia when she did.
It took decades to prepare for her afternoon with Pat, to make sure that everything was perfect, exactly the way it had been, but finally, it was ready.
Charlotte opened her eyes.
She looked down at her body, examining it visually – she already knew that it was accurate, and that her eyes were pathetically imperceptive in any case, but it was still novel to see again. She smiled, looking around at the apartment around her. She had manifested a calm, sunny day. She looked out the window and saw people driving cars down the street and walking on the sidewalk. All automatons, but they served their function.
She picked up a book, sat down in a chair, and pretended to read. She felt her blood pulse and her stomach flutter; she couldn’t help but giggle. She was going to see Pat again. All she had to do was wait another ten seconds.
On the tenth second, the key turned in the lock. Pat entered the apartment. She looked exactly as Charlotte remembered her.
Charlotte suddenly found that she had trouble breathing.
“Hey Charlotte,” Pat said as she closed the door behind her and kicked of her shoes. “What’s up?”
Charlotte tried to respond, but couldn’t. She was even having trouble looking directly at her. She was completely unprepared for the emotional consequences of the situation she had put herself in. She blinked hard, and tears started forming in her eyes. Her face felt hot, as though she had a sudden intense fever, and she took great, having breaths through her mouth. Pat came over to her in alarm.
“Charlotte? What’s wrong?”
And then Pat was right in front of her. Charlotte looked her in the face, just inches from her own, and Pat took her hands in her own to comfort her. Charlotte jerked them away.
Charlotte screamed, long and loudly, until her lungs had no air left in them. She gulped air down, and started choking on nothing. Pat stepped backwards, not knowing what was happening or what to do.
Desperately, in a panic, Charlotte closed her eyes and dissolved her body. Then, in a fit of incomprehensible rage, she wiped Pat away, as well as the apartment they shared and the city she’d created as backdrop.
Everything was suddenly very still and very silent.
Pat took a long moment to calm down from her reunion with Pat. She had no idea how long she was inactive, but it didn’t matter. She had all the time in the universe.
Charlotte never re-created Pat again.
Once the Earth was no longer capable of sustaining life, Charlotte looked farther. There was life on other planets, but it was unintelligent, and that wasn’t nearly as engaging to her as the life on Earth had been. She occasionally ran experiments guiding the evolution of extraterrestrial life, and followed them with interest, but she inevitably eventually abandoned these experiments to fend for themselves. Some thrived; others didn’t; it wasn’t important to her.
Instead, she passed most of her existence in creating, managing and vicariously living manufactured human lives. This meant creating a new planet capable of sustaining life, which was time-consuming but not difficult; it took millions of years of preparation, but she managed to design a planet very much like the Earth for her to experiment and play on.
When she had first started, she lived single moments at a time – a few seconds, or perhaps a few minutes. But eventually she began to create long scenarios for her to experience, lasting days, then years, then centuries, absorbing and living the life experiences of entire communities and, eventually, worlds. All of the joys and sorrows, produced by dozens, then hundreds, then millions of people.
She experimented with tone; some of her worlds were designed to be strongly sexually charged; others highly aggressive and violent; still others peaceful and static. She appreciated each one for its own merits, erased it when it was done, and got to work creating the next one.
Her communities continued becoming larger and more intricate. She included different combinations of people, different societal power structures, different cultures, in every permutation she could think of. She eventually began playing with the idea of creating a world in which one person – someone totally unremarkable – would suddenly, with no understanding of why, gain total power over the world they inhabited. She thought for a long time about what that might look like, and how she might implement this idea, but soon realized that she was, in fact, imagining the world she herself had come from.
She thought about that for a time.
Eventually, stars stopped forming, and those that already existed burned themselves out.
This wasn’t a surprise; Charlotte understood the physical workings of the universe, and entropy was something she had been able to directly observe since only a decade or so after her Awakening. She was also keenly aware, however, that entropy had no effect on her. She required no energy to exert her power; she could effectively continue doing whatever she wanted. And so, while the innumerable stars in the universe died and exploded, one by one, she worked to maintain a single star, which served as a sun for a single planet, which she used for her experiments and play. The inhabitants lived their lives under a starless sky, and it never occurred to any of them that it might have been any different.
As Charlotte’s existence spanned longer and longer periods of time, she took on ever more intricate and detailed projects for herself, sometimes spending thousands of years to lay the groundwork for a single, sublime moment of relief, terror, or orgasmic bliss. The more entropy flattened and dulled the universe, the more time she had to spend gathering the matter and energy required to keep her play-planet able to sustain life. She knew that, if she so chose, she could maintain this existence indefinitely, but as the universe slowly died, she found herself losing interest in planning and implementing even the most complex, intricate, and brutal emotional experiences.
Perhaps, she thought, like the universe, she was getting old.
Eventually, she thought of a project that was suitable for her – the greatest, most challenging, most intricate project she could possibly imagine: she was going to re-create the Big Bang.
It took her some time to figure out how she was going to do that, but since the universe was physical, she knew that she could apply the same principles she used for anything else. She could observe the position and speed of every atom in the universe, and mentally calculate where they must have been, going backwards in time, until she determined how they must have been arranged at the beginning of time. However, she encountered a startling problem.
Her use of her power violated the laws of physics. From the very first time she moved an atom, she disrupted the natural cause-and-effect system that had dictated the happenings in the universe since its conception. She could still reverse-engineer the universe – working backwards from the state of the universe at the moment of her Awakening – but she couldn’t account for her own presence in it. Since her awakening, if she’d wanted something to defy the natural laws governing the universe, she’d had to do it herself; she didn’t know how to allow something (or someone) else to do it.
Charlotte had no idea where she came from.
No matter. She was going to re-create the universe anyway.
She started gathering all of the matter in existence. The universe was vast, and matter was scattered throughout it. She began by locating all of the matter at the outer reaches of the universe and drawing it inward. As she pulled it toward the centre, she picked up more and more matter, collecting it so that if anyone had been observing it from the outside, it would have resembled a sphere, shrinking and becoming denser.
It took a long, long time, but that was no issue.
After billions of years of collecting matter, Charlotte discovered another curious thing: it was difficult. Not since Charlotte had been human had she found anything difficult. Time-consuming, yes, painstaking, certainly, but never difficult. There had never been any question of whether she would be able to do a thing she wished to do; it was only a question of how much time and effort it would require. Until now.
Still, Charlotte was committed, and the difficulty of the task only strengthened her resolve. It was a great surprise to learn that she could still have difficulty doing anything, and she enjoyed it tremendously.
The first time she dropped something was a remarkable moment; a small cluster of atoms clinging to each other fell away from the rest of the matter she was pulling, getting left behind. Charlotte noticed it immediately, and the surprise of having been unsuccessful at something was so great that it nearly broke her concentration on her task. It was exhilarating – and funny. She quickly reasserted her control over the atoms that had fallen behind, brought them in line with everything else, and continued her work, feeling joyful.
The closer she was to her goal, the more difficult it became. She soon started dropping things more and more often, sometimes as small as a few atoms, and sometimes enough matter to form a galaxy. But she learned, strengthened herself, and continued. Nothing could be lost; she needed every last piece. She worked feverishly, single-mindedly, almost as though she were following instinct.
When all of the matter in the universe had been collected, she worked hard on condensing it. It required immense concentration and effort, and she had to restart several times. But she made progress; each attempt yielded greater and greater results, and it was exciting to know that she could still become stronger with exercise. She wondered what would come after she was finished. What could there be left do to after this?
By the time she had condensed all of the matter in the universe down to the size of a soccer ball, the effort it required from her was incredible. She concentrated hard to contain it, and the little mental energy she had left over was spent arranging it so as to produce the exact result she wanted.
She felt herself being consumed by the effort. It was eating her. She observed this without sadness, or even surprise; somehow, it seemed perfectly natural, and even desirable. She knew that once she let go of her grip on the universe, the resulting explosion was going to affect her. She didn’t know how, exactly, but she understood that her existence as she knew it was about to come to an end; the effort and energy she was putting into the creation of the new universe was drawing so much from her that she was going to be an integral, inextricable part of it. She would not exist apart from the new universe, and it would not exist apart from her; they were going to be one and the same. The more she worked, the less she felt that she was trying to contain this new universe, and the more she felt that she was trying to contain herself.
Still, she worked. At no point did she question whether she wanted this.
Finally, the last atom slid into place.
Charlotte felt the most exquisite satisfaction, and allowed herself a moment of relaxation, breaking the hold she was maintaining.
And there was light.
Approximately 13.8 billion years later
Charlotte and Pat were sitting at a picnic table in the park near their apartment, studying. Pat made a grimace and reached into her purse. She cursed quietly.
“What?” asked Charlotte.
“Just – I know I’ve got pain pills in here somewhere.”
“Yeah, yeah, just… headaches.”
She found the pills and took two, sipping from her bottle of water to swallow them. She continued reading, but found it hard to concentrate. Charlotte took notes in silence. Pat stared off into space. Her mind kept wandering off to bizarre thoughts, strange ideas that she couldn’t quite articulate, that seemed to hover just past the edge of her comprehension. When she pursued these thoughts, they would slip away teasingly. Eventually, Pat closed her textbook and put it back into her bag.
“I just can’t focus,” she said. “I’m ok, though, I’ve studied a ton for this exam already. I’m gonna go home.”
“Let me finish this chapter, ok?”
“No, you stay. I’ll see you later.”
Pat walked home slowly, wondering what was happening to her.