…And I Show You How Deep The Rabbit Hole Goes

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Seen on Tum­blr, along with as­so­ci­ated dis­cus­sion:

Yel­low:

Peo­ple’s minds are heart­break­ing. Not be­cause peo­ple are so bad, but be­cause they’re so good.

No­body is the villain of their own life story. You must have read hun­dreds of minds by now, and it’s true. Every­body thinks of them­selves as an hon­est guy or gal just try­ing to get by, con­stantly un­der as­sault by cir­cum­stances and The Sys­tem and hun­dreds and hun­dreds of ass­holes. They don’t just sort of be­lieve this. They re­ally be­lieve it. You al­most be­lieve it your­self, when you’re deep into a read­ing. You can very clearly see the struc­ture of ev­i­dence they’ve built up to sup­port their nar­ra­tive, and even though it looks silly to you, you can see why they will never es­cape it from the in­side. You can see how ev­ery in­sult, ev­ery failure, no mat­ter how de­served, is a to­tally un­ex­pected kick in the gut.

When you chose the yel­low pill, you had high hopes of be­com­ing a spy, or a gos­sip colum­nist, or just the world’s great­est saleswoman. The thought of do­ing any of those things sick­ens you now. There is too much an­guish in the world already. You feel like any of those things would be a vi­o­la­tion. You briefly try to be­come a ther­a­pist, but it turns out that ac­tu­ally know­ing ev­ery­thing about your client’s mind is hor­ren­dously coun­terther­a­peu­tic. Freud can say what­ever he wants against defense mechanisms, but with­out them, you’re defense­less. Your ses­sions are spent in in­ci­sive cut­ting into your clients’ deep­est in­se­cu­ri­ties al­ter­nat­ing with des­per­ate re­as­surance that they are good peo­ple any­way.

Also, men. You knew, in a vague way, that men thought about sex all the time. But you didn’t re­al­ize the, um, con­tent of some of their sex­ual fan­tasies. Is it even le­gal to fan­ta­size about that? You want to be dis­gusted with them. But you re­al­ize that if you were as horny as they were all the time, you’d do much the same.

You give up. You be­come a for­est ranger. Not the type who helps peo­ple ex­plore the for­est. The other type. The type where you hang out in a small cabin in the mid­dle of the moun­tains and never talk to any­body. The only liv­ing thing you en­counter is the oc­ca­sional bear. It always thinks that it is a good bear, a proper bear, that a bear-hat­ing world has it out for them in par­tic­u­lar. You do noth­ing to dis­abuse it of this no­tion.

Green

The first thing you do af­ter tak­ing the green pill is be­come a spar­row. You soar across the land­scape, feel­ing truly free for the first time in your life.

You make it about five min­utes be­fore a hawk swoops down and grabs you. Turns out there’s an ex­cel­lent rea­son real spar­rows don’t soar freely across the open sky all day. Mo­ments be­fore your bones are ground in two by its fierce beak, you turn back into a hu­man. You fall like a stone. You need to turn into a spar­row again, but the hawk is still there, grab­bing on to one of your legs, re­fus­ing to let go of its prize just be­cause of this mo­men­tary set­back. You fran­ti­cally wave your arms and shout at it, try­ing to scare it away. Fi­nally it flaps away, feel­ing cheated, and you be­come a spar­row again just in time to give your­self a rel­a­tively soft land­ing.

After a few weeks of down­time while you wait for your leg to re­cover, you be­come a fish. This time you’re smarter. You be­come a great white shark, apex of the food chain. You will ex­plore the won­ders of the ocean depths within the body of an in­vin­cible kil­ling ma­chine.

Well, long story short, it is to­tally un­fair that colos­sal can­ni­bal great white sharks were a thing and if you had known this was the way Na­ture worked you never would have gone along with this green pill busi­ness.

You es­cape by turn­ing into a blue whale. Noth­ing eats blue whales, right? You re­mem­ber that from your biol­ogy class. It is definitely true.

The last thing you hear is some­body shout­ing “We found one!” in Ja­panese. The last thing you feel is a har­poon pierc­ing your skull. Every­thing goes black.

Blue

Okay, so you see Florence and Jerusalem and Ky­oto in an ac­tion-packed af­ter­noon. You tele­port to the top of Ever­est be­cause it is there, then go to the bot­tom of the Mar­i­anas Trench. You visit the Ama­zon Rain­for­est, the Sa­hara Desert, and the South Pole. It takes about a week be­fore you’ve ex­hausted all of the in­ter­est­ing tourist sites. Now what?

You go to the Moon, then Mars, then Ti­tan. Th­ese turn out to be even more bor­ing. Once you get over the ex­hil­a­ra­tion of be­ing on Mars, there’s not a lot to do ex­cept look at rocks. You won­der how the Cu­ri­os­ity Rover lasted so long with­out dy­ing of bore­dom.

You go fur­ther afield. Alpha Cen­tauri A has five planets or­bit­ing it. The sec­ond one is cov­ered with wa­ter. You don’t see any­thing that looks al­ive in the ocean, though. The fourth has a big gash in it, like it al­most split in two. The fifth has weird sta­lac­tite-like moun­tains.

What would be re­ally in­ter­est­ing would be an­other planet with life, even in­tel­li­gent life. You tele­port fur­ther and fur­ther afield. Tau Ceti. Ep­silon Eri­dani. The galac­tic core. You see enough ge­ol­ogy to give sci­en­tists back on Earth ex­cite­ment-in­duced seizures for the nest hun­dred years, if only you were to tell them about it, which you don’t. But noth­ing al­ive. Not so much as a sea cu­cum­ber.

You head back to Earth less and less fre­quently now. Star­va­tion is a phys­i­cal dan­ger, so it doesn’t bother you, though ev­ery so of­ten you do like to re­lax and eat a nice warm meal. But then it’s back to work. You start to think the Milky Way is a dead zone. What about An­dromeda…?

Orange

You never re­ally re­al­ized how in­com­pe­tent ev­ery­one else was, or how much it an­noys you.

You were a con­sul­tant, a good one, but you felt like mas­ter­ing all hu­man skills would make you bet­ter. So you took the or­ange pill. The next day you go in to ad­vise a tech com­pany on how they man­age the pro­gram­mers, and you re­al­ize that not only are they man­ag­ing the pro­gram­mers badly, but the pro­gram­mers aren’t even writ­ing code very well. You could write their sys­tem in half the time. The lay­out of their office is en­tirely out of sync with the best-stud­ied er­gonomic prin­ci­ples. And the Chi­nese trans­la­tion of their user man­ual makes sev­eral ba­sic er­rors that any­body with an en­cy­clopaedic knowl­edge of rel­a­tive clauses in Man­darin should have been able to figure out.

You once read about some­thing called Gell-Mann Am­ne­sia, where physi­cists no­tice that ev­ery­thing the main­stream says about physics is laugh­ably wrong but think the rest is okay, doc­tors no­tice that ev­ery­thing the main­stream says about medicine is laugh­ably wrong but think the rest is okay, et cetera. You do not have Gell-Mann Am­ne­sia. Every­one is ter­rible at ev­ery­thing all the time, and it pisses you off.

You gain a rep­u­ta­tion both for brilli­ance and for fear­some­ness. Every­body re­spects you, but no­body wants to hire you. You bounce from in­dus­try to in­dus­try, usu­ally do­ing jobs for the peo­ple at the top whose jobs are so im­por­tant that the need to get them done right over­rides their de­sire to avoid con­tact with you.

One year you get an offer you can’t re­fuse from the King of Saudi Ara­bia. He’s wor­ried about sedi­tion in the royal fam­ily, and wants your ad­vice as a con­sul­tant for how to en­sure his gov­ern­ment is sta­ble. You travel to Riyadh, and find that the en­tire coun­try is a mess. His se­cu­rity forces are idiots. But the King is also an idiot, and re­fuses to be­lieve you or listen to your recom­men­da­tions. He tells you things can’t pos­si­bly be as bad as all that. You tell him you’ll prove that they are.

You didn’t plan to be­come the King of Saudi Ara­bia, per se. It just sort of hap­pened when your demon­stra­tion of how rebels in the mil­i­tary might launch a coup went bet­ter than you ex­pected. Some­times you for­get how in­com­pe­tent ev­ery­body else is. You need to keep re­mind­ing your­self of that. But not right now. Right now you’re busy build­ing your new cap­i­tal. How come no­body else is any good at ur­ban plan­ning?

Red

You choose the red pill. BRUTE STRENGTH! That’s what’s im­por­tant and valuable in this twenty-first-cen­tury econ­omy, right? Some peo­ple tell you it isn’t, but they don’t seem to have a lot of BRUTE STRENGTH, so what do they know?

You be­come a weightlifter. Able to lift thou­sands of pounds with a sin­gle hand, you eas­ily over­power the com­pe­ti­tion and are crowned what­ever the heck it is you get crowned when you WIN WEIGHTLIFTING CONTESTS. But this fails to trans­late into lu­cra­tive en­dorse­ment con­tracts. No­body wants their spokesman to be a body­builder with­out a six­pack, and al­though you used to be pretty buff, you’re get­ting scrawnier by the day. Your per­sonal trainer tells you that you only main­tain mus­cle mass by do­ing difficult work at the limit of your abil­ity, but your abil­ities don’t seem to have any limits. Every­thing is so easy for you that your body just shrugs it off effortlessly. Some­how your BRUTE STRENGTH failed to an­ti­ci­pate this pos­si­bil­ity. If only there was a way to solve your prob­lem by BEING VERY STRONG.

Maybe the In­ter­net can help. You Google “red pill ad­vice”. The sites you get don’t seem to bear on your spe­cific prob­lem, ex­actly, but they are VERY FASCINATING. You learn lots of sur­pris­ing things about gen­der roles that you didn’t know be­fore. It seems that women like men who have BRUTE STRENGTH. This is rele­vant to your in­ter­ests!

You leave the body­build­ing cir­cuit be­hind and start fre­quent­ing night­clubs, where you con­stantly boast of your BRUTE STRENGTH to PROVE HOW ALPHA YOU ARE. A lot of peo­ple seem kind of creeped out by a scrawny guy with no mus­cles go­ing up to ev­ery woman he sees and boast­ing of his BRUTE STRENGTH, but the In­ter­net tells you that is be­cause they are BETA CUCKOLD ORBITERS.

Some­body told you once that In­ter­net sites are some­times in­ac­cu­rate. You hope it’s not true. How could you figure out which are the in­ac­cu­rate ones us­ing BRUTE STRENGTH?

Pink

You were always pretty, but never pretty pretty. A cou­ple of guys liked you, but they were never the ones you were into. It was all crush­ingly un­fair. So you took the pink pill, so that no one would ever be able to not love you again.

You find Tyler. Tyler is a hunk. He’d never shown any in­ter­est in you be­fore, no mat­ter how much you flirted with him. You touch him on the arm. His eyes light up.

“Kiss me,” you say.

Tyler kisses you. Then he gets a weird look on his face. “Why am I kiss­ing you?” he asks. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.” Then he walks off.

You wish you had thought fur­ther be­fore ac­cept­ing a su­per­power that makes peo­ple love you when you touch them, but goes away af­ter you touch them a sec­ond time. Hav­ing peo­ple love you is a lot less sexy when you can’t touch them. You start to feel a deep sense of kin­ship with King Mi­das.

You stop dat­ing. What’s the point? They’ll just stop lik­ing you when you touch them a sec­ond time. You live alone with a bunch of cats who purr when you pet them, then hiss when you pet them again.

One night you’re in a bar drink­ing your sor­rows away when a man comes up to your table. “Hey!” he says, “nice hair. Is it real? I’m the strongest per­son in the world.” He lifts your table over his head with one hand to demon­strate. You are im­me­di­ately smit­ten by his BRUTE STRENGTH and ALPHA MALE BEHAVIOR. You must have him.

You touch his arm. His eyes light up. “Come back to my place,” you say. “But don’t touch me.”

He seems a lit­tle put out by this lat­ter re­quest, but the heat of his pas­sion is so strong he would do any­thing you ask. You move in to­gether and are mar­ried a few con­tact-free months later. Every so of­ten you won­der what it would be like to stroke him, or feel his scrawny arm on your shoulder. But it doesn’t bother you much. You’re happy to just hang out, bask­ing in how STRONG and ALPHA he is.

Grey

Tech­nol­ogy! That’s what’s im­por­tant and valuable in this twenty-first-cen­tury econ­omy, right? Right! For ex­am­ple, ever since you took the grey pill, an in­creas­ingly large share of na­tional GDP has come from ATMs giv­ing you cash be­cause you ask them to.

Your luck fi­nally ends out­side a bank in Kansas, when a whole squad of FBI agents am­bushes you. You briefly con­sider go­ing all Em­peror Pal­pa­tine on their asses, but cau­tion wins out and you al­low your­self to be ar­rested.

Not want­ing to end up on an au­topsy table in Roswell, you ex­plain that you’re a perfectly or­di­nary mas­ter hacker. The gov­ern­ment offers you a plea bar­gain: they’ll drop charges if you help the mil­i­tary with cy­ber-se­cu­rity. You worry that your bluff has been called un­til you re­al­ize that, in fact, you are a mas­ter hacker. So you join the NSA and be­gin an illus­tri­ous ca­reer hack­ing into Rus­sian databases, stal­ling Ira­nian cen­trifuges, and caus­ing Chi­nese mil­i­tary sys­tems to crash at in­con­ve­nient times. No one ever sus­pects you are any­thing more than very good at pro­gram­ming.

Once again, your luck runs out. Your han­dlers ask you to hack into the per­sonal files of a mys­te­ri­ous new player on the world stage, a man named William who seems to have carved him­self an em­pire in the Mid­dle East. You don’t find any­thing too damn­ing, but you turn over what you’ve got.

A few days later, you’re ly­ing in bed drift­ing off to sleep when a man sud­denly bursts in through your win­dow bran­dish­ing a gun. Think­ing quickly, you tell the gun to ex­plode in his hands. Noth­ing hap­pens. The man laughs. “It’s a de­coy gun,” he said. “Just here to scare you. But you bother King William again, and next time I’m com­ing with a very real knife.” He jumps back out of the win­dow. You call the po­lice, and of course the CIA and NSA get in­volved, but he is never caught.

After that, you’re always look­ing over your shoulder. He knew. How did he know? The level of de­tec­tive skills it would take in or­der to track you down and figure out your se­cret – it was as­tound­ing! Who was this King William?

You tell your han­dlers that you’re no longer up for the job. They beg, ca­jole, threaten to re­in­state your prison sen­tence, but you stand firm. Fi­nally they trans­fer you to an eas­ier as­sign­ment in the Moscow em­bassy. You make Vladimir Putin’s phone start ring­ing at weird hours of the night so that he never gets enough sleep to think en­tirely clearly. It’s an easy job, but re­ward­ing, and no as­sas­s­ins ever bother you again.

Black

You know on an in­tel­lec­tual level that there are peo­ple who would choose some­thing other than the black pill, just like you know on an in­tel­lec­tual level that there are peo­ple who shoot up schools. That doesn’t mean you ex­pect to ever un­der­stand it. You just wish you could have taken the black pill be­fore you had to de­cide what pill to take, so that you could have an­a­lyzed your fu­ture con­di­tional on tak­ing each, and so made a more in­formed de­ci­sion. But it’s not like it was a very hard choice.

The ba­sic prin­ci­ple is this – given a choice be­tween A and B, you solemnly re­solve to do A, then see what the fu­ture looks like. Then you solemnly re­solve to do B, and do the same. By this method, you can de­ter­mine the op­ti­mal choice in ev­ery situ­a­tion, mod­ulo the one month time hori­zon. You might not be able to de­cide what ca­reer to pur­sue, but you can sure as heck ace your job in­ter­view.

Also, a mil­lisec­ond in the fu­ture is pretty in­dis­t­in­guish­able from the pre­sent, so “see­ing” a mil­lisec­ond into the fu­ture gives you pretty much com­plete knowl­edge about the cur­rent state of the world.

You are so delighted by your om­ni­science and your abil­ity to make near-op­ti­mal choices that it takes al­most a year be­fore you re­al­ize the true ex­tent of your power.

You re­solve, on the first day of ev­ery month, to write down what you see ex­actly a month ahead of you. But what you will see a month ahead of you is the piece of pa­per on which you have writ­ten down what you see a month ahead of that. In this man­ner, you can re­lay mes­sages back to your­self from ar­bi­trar­ily far into the fu­ture – at least up un­til your own death.

When you try this, you see your­self a month in the fu­ture, just finish­ing up writ­ing a let­ter that reads as fol­lows:

Dear Past Self:

In the year 2060, sci­en­tists in­vent an Im­mor­tal­ity Serum. By this point we are of course fab­u­lously wealthy, and we are one of the first peo­ple to par­take of it. Com­bined with our abil­ity to avoid ac­ci­dents by look­ing into the fu­ture, this has al­lowed us to sur­vive un­ex­pect­edly long.

I am send­ing this from the year 963,445,028,777,216 AD. We are one of the last hun­dred peo­ple al­ive in the Uni­verse. The sky is black and with­out stars; the in­evitable progress of en­tropy has re­duced al­most all mass and en­ergy to un­us­able heat. The Virgo Su­per­con­fed­er­a­tion, the main poli­ti­cal unit at this stage of his­tory, gath­ered the last few mega­tons of us­able re­sources aboard this sta­tion so that at least one out­post of hu­man­ity could last long af­ter all the planets had suc­cumbed. The sta­tion has been fulfilling its pur­pose for about a billion years now, but we only have enough fuel left for an­other few weeks. After that, there’s no more ne­gen­tropy left any­where in the uni­verse ex­cept our own bod­ies. I have seen a month into the fu­ture. No­body comes to save us.

For the past sev­eral trillion years, our best sci­en­tists have been in­ves­ti­gat­ing how to re­verse en­tropy and save the uni­verse, or how to es­cape to a differ­ent uni­verse in a lesser state of de­cay, or how to col­lect en­ergy out of the waste heat which now fills the vast ma­jor­ity of the sky. All of these tasks have been proven im­pos­si­ble. There is no hope left, ex­cept for one thing.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to see the fu­ture, even if it’s only a month ahead. Some­how, our black pill breaks the laws of physics. De­spite hav­ing ex­plored through­out the cos­mos, my peo­ple have found no alien species, nor any signs that such species ever ex­isted. Yet some­body made the black pill. If we un­der­stood that power, maybe we could use it to save re­al­ity from its in­evitable de­cay.

By send­ing this mes­sage back, I de­stroy my en­tire timeline. I do this in the hopes that you, in the care­free spring­time of the uni­verse, will be able to find the per­son who made these pills and es­cape doom in the way we could not.

Yours truly,
You From Al­most A Quadrillion Years In The Future

ACT TWO

Red

You hit the punch­ing bag. It bursts, send­ing punch­ing-bag-filling spray­ing all over the room! You know that that would hap­pen! It always hap­pens when you hit a punch­ing bag! Your wife gets re­ally an­gry and tells you that we don’t have enough money to be get­ting new punch­ing bags all the time, but women hate it when you listen to what they say! The In­ter­net told you that!

The door­bell rings. You tear the door off its hinges in­stead of open­ing it, just to show it who’s boss. Stand­ing on your porch is a man in black. He wears a black cloak, and his face is hid­den by a black hood. He raises a weapon to­wards you.

This looks like one of the ap­prox­i­mately 100% of prob­lems that can be solved by BRUTE STRENGTH! You lunge at the man, but de­spite your su­per-speed, he steps out of the way eas­ily, even grace­fully, as if he had known you were go­ing to do that all along. He squeezes the trig­ger. You jump out of the way, but it turns out to be more into the way, as he has shot ex­actly where you were jump­ing into. Some­thing seems very odd about this. Your last con­scious thought is that you wish you had enough BRUTE STRENGTH to figure out what is go­ing on.

Pink

You come home from work to a liv­ing room full of punch­ing-bag-parts. Your hus­band isn’t home. You figure he knew you were go­ing to chew him out for de­stroy­ing an­other punch­ing bag, and de­cided to make him­self scarce. That lasts right up un­til you go into the kitchen and see a man dressed all in black, sit­ting at the table, as if he was ex­pect­ing you.

You panic, then reach in to touch him. If he’s an axe mur­derer or some­thing, you’ll se­duce him, get him wrapped around your lit­tle finger, then or­der him to jump off a cliff to prove his love for you. It’s noth­ing you haven’t done be­fore, though you don’t like to think about it too much.

Ex­cept that this man has no bare skin any­where. His robe cov­ers his en­tire body, and even his hands are gloved. You try to reach in to touch his face, but he effortlessly manuev­ers away from you.

“I have your hus­band,” he says, af­ter you give up try­ing to en­slave him with your magic. “He’s al­ive and in a safe place.”

“You’re ly­ing!” you an­swer. “He never would have sur­ren­dered to any­one! He’s too alpha!”

The man nods. “I shot him with an elephant tran­quil­izer. He’s locked up in a tita­nium cell un­der­neath fifty feet of wa­ter. There’s no way he can es­cape us­ing BRUTE STRENGTH. If you ever want to see him again, you’ll have to do what I say.”

“Why? Why are you do­ing this to me?” you say, cry­ing.

“I need the alle­giance of some very spe­cial peo­ple,” he said. “They won’t listen to me just be­cause I ask them to. But they might listen to me be­cause you ask them to. I un­der­stand you are pretty spe­cial your­self. Help me get who I want, and when we are done here, I’ll let you and your hus­band go.”

There is ice in his voice. You shiver.

Grey

That night with the as­sas­sin was re­ally scary. You swore you would never get in­volved in King William’s busi­ness again. Why are you even con­sid­er­ing this?

“Please?” she said, with her big puppy dog eyes.

Oh, right. Her. She’s not even all that pretty. Well, pretty, but not pretty pretty. But some­how, when she touched you, it was like those movies where you hear a choir of an­gels singing in the back­ground. You would do any­thing she said. You know you would.

“We need to know the lay­out of his palace com­pound,” said the man in black. Was he with her? Were they dat­ing? If they were dat­ing, you’ll kill him. It doesn’t mat­ter how creepy he is, you won’t tol­er­ate com­pe­ti­tion. But they’re prob­a­bly not dat­ing. You no­tice how he flinches away from her, like he’s afraid she might touch him.

“And it has to be me who helps?”

“I’ve, ah, simu­lated hun­dreds of differ­ent ways of get­ting ac­cess to the King. None of them hold much promise. His se­cu­rity is im­pec­ca­ble. Your spe­cial abil­ities are the only thing that can help us.”

You sit down at your ter­mi­nal. The In­ter­net is slow; DC still doesn’t have fiber op­tic. You’ve liv­ing here two years now, in a sort of re­tire­ment, ever since King William took over Rus­sia and knocked the bot­tom out of the Putin-an­noy­ing busi­ness. William now con­trols the en­tire Old World, you hear, and is also Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral of the United Na­tions and Pope of both the Catholic and the Cop­tic Churches. The United States is sup­pos­edly in a friendly co­ex­is­tence with him, but you hear his sup­port­ers are gain­ing more and more power in Congress.

It only takes a few min­utes’ work be­fore you have the doc­u­ments you need. “He cur­rently spends most of his time at the Rome com­pound,” you say. “There are five differ­ent se­cu­rity sys­tems. I can dis­able four of them. The last one is a com­pli­cated com­bi­na­tion of elec­tri­cal and me­chan­i­cal that’s not hooked into any com­puter sys­tem I’ll be able to ac­cess. The only way to turn it off is from the con­trol cen­ter, and the con­trol cen­ter is on the in­side of the per­ime­ter.”

The man in black nods, as if he’d been ex­pect­ing that. “Come with me,” he says. “We’ll take care of it.”

Blue

There are a hun­dred billion stars in the Milky Way. Each has an av­er­age of about one planet – some have many more, but a lot don’t have planets at all.

If you can ex­plore one planet ev­ery half-hour – and you can, it doesn’t take too long to tele­port to a planet, look around to see if there are plants and an­i­mals, and then move on to the next one – it would take you five mil­lion years to rule out life on ev­ery planet in the galaxy.

That’s not prac­ti­cal. But, you think, life might spread. Life that origi­nates on one planet might end up coloniz­ing nearby planets and star sys­tems. That means your best bet is to sam­ple var­i­ous re­gions of the galaxy, in­stead of go­ing star by star.

That’s what you’ve been do­ing. You must have seen about a hun­dred thou­sand planets so far. Some of them have beg­gared your imag­i­na­tion. Whole wor­lds made en­tirely of amethyst. Planets with dozens of col­or­ful moons that make the night sky look like a tree full of Christ­mas or­na­ments. Planets with black inky oceans or green cop­per moun­tains.

But no life. No life any­where.

A few years ago, you felt your­self los­ing touch with your hu­man­ity. You made your­self promise that ev­ery year, you’d spend a week on Earth to re­mind your­self of the only world you’ve ever seen with a pop­u­la­tion. Now it seems like an un­pleas­ant task, an an­noy­ing im­po­si­tion. But then, that was why you made your­self promise. Be­cause you knew that fu­ture-you wouldn’t do it un­less they had to.

You tele­port into a small Welsh ham­let. You’ve been away from other peo­ple so long, you might as well start small. No point go­ing right into Times Square.

A per­son is stand­ing right next to you. She reaches out her arm and touches you. You jump. How did she know you would –

“Hi,” she says.

You’re not a les­bian, but you can’t help notic­ing she is the most beau­tiful per­son you’ve ever seen, and you would do any­thing for her.

“I need your help.” A man dressed all in black is stand­ing next to her.

“You should help him,” the most beau­tiful per­son you’ve ever seen tells you, and you im­me­di­ately know you will do what­ever he asks.

Orange

You are in your study work­ing on a draft ver­sion of next year’s su­per­weapon bud­get when you hear the door open. Four peo­ple you don’t rec­og­nize step into the room. A man dressed in black. Another man wear­ing a grey shirt, thick glasses and is that a pocket pro­tec­tor? A woman in pink, pretty but not pretty pretty. Another woman in blue, who stares through you, like her mind is some­where else. All five of your se­cu­rity sys­tems have been to­tally silent.

You press the but­ton to call your body­guards, but it’s not work­ing. So you draw the gun out from un­der your desk and fire; you hap­pen to be a mas­ter marks­man, but the gun ex­plodes in your face. You make a con­nec­tion. A per­son from many years ago, who had the power to con­trol all tech­nol­ogy.

No time to think now. You’re on your feet; good thing you hap­pen to be a black belt in ev­ery form of mar­tial arts ever in­vented. The man in grey is try­ing to take out a weapon; you kick him in the gut be­fore he can get it out, and he crum­ples over. You go for the woman in blue, but at the last sec­ond she tele­ports to the other side of the room. This isn’t fair.

You are about to go af­ter the woman in pink, but some­thing in her step, some­thing in the po­si­tion of the oth­ers makes you think they want you to at­tack her. You hap­pen to be a mas­ter at read­ing microex­pres­sions, so this is clear as day to you; you go af­ter the man in black in­stead. He deftly sidesteps each of your at­tacks, al­most as if he knows what you are go­ing to do be­fore you do it.

The woman in blue tele­ports be­hind you and kicks you in the back, hard. You fall over, and the woman in pink grabs your hand.

She is very, very beau­tiful. How did you miss that be­fore? You feel a gush of hor­ror that you al­most punched such a beau­tiful face.

“We need your help,” she says.

You are too lovestruck to say any­thing.

“The pills,” said the man in black. “Can you make them?”

“No,” you say, truth­fully. “Of course I tried. But I wouldn’t even know where to be­gin cre­at­ing magic like that.”

“And you’ve mas­tered all hu­man jobs and ac­tivi­ties,” said the man in black. “Which means the pills weren’t cre­ated by any hu­man.”

“But there aren’t any aliens,” said the woman in blue. “Not in this galaxy, at least. I’ve spent years look­ing. It’s to­tally dead.”

“It’s just as I thought,” said the man in black. He turns to you. “You’re the Pope now, right? Come with us. We’re go­ing to need you to get a guy in north­ern Italy to give us some­thing very im­por­tant.”

Yellow

It is spring, now. Your fa­vorite time in the for­est. The snow has melted, the wild­flow­ers have started to bloom, and the bears are com­ing out of hi­ber­na­tion. You’re walk­ing down to the river when some­one leaps out from be­hind a tree and touches you. You scream, then sud­denly no­tice how beau­tiful she is.

Four other peo­ple shuffle out from be­hind the trees. You think one of them might be King William, the new world em­peror, al­though that doesn’t re­ally make sense.

“You’re prob­a­bly won­der­ing why I’ve called all of you to­gether to­day…” said the man in black. You’re not ac­tu­ally won­der­ing that, at least not in quite those terms, but the woman in pink seems be listen­ing in­tently so you do the same in the hopes of im­press­ing her.

“Some­how – and none of us can re­mem­ber ex­actly how – each of us took a pill that gave us spe­cial pow­ers. Mine was to see the fu­ture. I saw to the end of time, and re­ceived a mes­sage from the last peo­ple in the uni­verse. They charged me with the task of find­ing the peo­ple who cre­ated these pills and ask­ing them how en­tropy might be re­versed.

But I couldn’t do it alone. I knew there were seven other peo­ple who had taken pills. One of us – Green – is dead. Another – Red – had noth­ing to con­tribute. The rest of us are here. With the help of Pink, Blue, and Gray, we’ve en­listed the help of Orange and his wor­ld­wide or­ga­ni­za­tion. Now we’re ready for the fi­nal stage of the plan. Yel­low, you can read any­body’s mind from a pic­ture, right?”

Yel­low nods. “But it has to be a real pho­to­graph. I can’t just draw a stick figure and say it’s the Pres­i­dent and read his mind. I tried that.”

Black is un­fazed. “With the help of Orange, who among his many other ac­com­plish­ments is the cur­rent Pope, I have ob­tained the Shroud of Turin. A perfect pho­to­graphic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Je­sus Christ, cre­ated by some un­known tech­nol­ogy in the first cen­tury. And Je­sus, I am told, is an in­car­na­tion of God.”

“As the cur­rent Pope, I sup­pose I would have to agree with that as­sess­ment,” says Orange. “Though as the cur­rent UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral, I am dis­turbed by your fa­nat­i­cal re­li­gious liter­al­ism.”

“Orange can do any­thing that hu­mans can do, and says he can’t make the pills. Blue has searched the whole galaxy, and says there aren’t any aliens. That leaves only one sus­pect. God must have made these pills, which means He must know how to do it. If we can read His mind, we can steal his se­crets.”

“As Pope,” says Orange, “I have to con­demn this in the strongest pos­si­ble terms. But as Lu­casian Pro­fes­sor of Math­e­mat­ics at Cam­bridge, I have to ad­mit I’m in­trigued by this op­por­tu­nity to ex­pand our knowl­edge.”

Black ig­nores him. “Yel­low, will you do the hon­ors?”

You want no part in this. “This is in­sane. Every time I read some­one’s mind I re­gret it. Even if it’s a lit­tle kid or a bear or some­thing. It’s too much for me. I can’t deal with all of their guilt and sor­row and bro­ken dreams and ev­ery­thing. There is no way I am touch­ing the mind of God Him­self.”

“Pleeeeeease?” asks Pink, with big puppy dog eyes.

“Um,” you say.

“Don’t you know how this will go, any­way?” asks Blue. “Why don’t you just tell her what hap­pens?”

“Um,” said Black. “This is ac­tu­ally the one thing I haven’t been able to see. I guess con­tact with God is in­her­ently un­pre­dictable, or some­thing.”

“I have such a bad feel­ing about this,” you say.

“Pweeeeeeease?” says Pink. She ac­tu­ally says pweeeeeeease.

You sigh, take the shroud, and stare into the eyes of Weird Pho­to­graphic Nega­tive Je­sus.

Black

It is the year 963,445,028,777,216 AD, and here you are in a space sta­tion or­bit­ing the Galac­tic Core.

After hand­ing Yel­low the Shroud of Turin, the next thing you re­mem­ber is wak­ing up in a hos­pi­tal bed. The doc­tor tells you that you’d been in a coma for the past forty one years.

Ap­par­ently Yel­low went to­tally berserk af­ter read­ing God’s mind. You don’t know the de­tails and you don’t want to, but she im­me­di­ately lashed out and used her su­per­pow­ers to turn off the minds of ev­ery­body within ra­dius, in­clud­ing both you and her­self. You all went co­matose, and prob­a­bly would have starved to death in the mid­dle of the for­est if Orange’s sup­port­ers hadn’t launched a wor­ld­wide man­hunt for him. They took his body and the bod­ies of his friends back to Rome, where they were given the best pos­si­ble med­i­cal care while a stew­ard ruled over his em­pire.

After forty-one years of that, Yel­low had a heart at­tack and died, break­ing the spell and free­ing the rest of you. Ex­cept Blue and Grey. They’d died as well. It was just you, Orange, and Pink now.

Oh, and Red. You’d hired a friend to watch over him in his tita­nium jail cell, and once it be­came clear you were never com­ing back, he’d had mercy and re­leased the guy. Red had since made a mea­ger liv­ing sel­l­ing the world’s worst body-build­ing videos, which were so bad they had gained a sort of ironic pop­u­lar­ity. You tracked him down, and when Pink saw him for the first time in over forty years, she ran and em­braced him. He hugged her back. It took them a few hours of fawn­ing over each other be­fore she re­al­ized that noth­ing had hap­pened when she touched him a sec­ond time. Some­thing some­thing true love some­thing the power was within you the whole time?

But you had big­ger fish to fry. The stew­ards of Orange’s em­pire weren’t too happy about their figure­head monarch sud­denly ris­ing from the dead, and for a while his po­si­tion was pre­car­i­ous. He asked you to be his ad­vi­sor, and you ac­cepted. With your help, he was able to re­take his throne. His first act was to fund re­search into the im­mor­tal­ity serum you had heard about, which was dis­cov­ered right on sched­ule in 2060.

The years went by. Orange’s em­pire started coloniz­ing new wor­lds, then new galax­ies, un­til thou­sands of years later it changed its name to the Virgo Su­per­con­fed­er­a­tion. New peo­ple were born. New tech­nolo­gies were in­vented. New fron­tiers were con­quered. Un­til fi­nally, the stars started go­ing out one by one.

Faced with the im­pend­ing heat death, Orange elected to con­cen­trate all his re­main­ing re­sources here, on a sin­gle sta­tion in the cen­ter of the galaxy, which would wait out the fi­nal doom as long as pos­si­ble. For billions of years, it burned through its fuel stock­pile, un­til the fi­nal doom crept closer and closer.

And then a mir­a­cle oc­curred.

EPILOGUE

Red

This space sta­tion is AWESOME! There are lasers and holodecks and lots of HOT PUSSY! And all you have to do is turn a gi­ant tur­bine for a cou­ple of hours a day.

One of the eggheads in white coats tried to ex­plain it to you once. He said that your BRUTE STRENGTH was some kind of sci­en­tific im­pos­si­bil­ity, be­cause you didn’t eat or drink any more than any­one else, and you didn’t breathe in any more oxy­gen than any­one else, and you were ac­tu­ally kind of small and scrawny, but you were still strong enough and fast enough to turn a gi­ant tur­bine thou­sands of times per minute.

He ram­bled on and on about ther­mo­dy­nam­ics. Said that ev­ery other pro­cess in the uni­verse used at most as much en­ergy as you put into it, but that your strength seemed al­most limitless re­gard­less of how much en­ergy you took in as food. That made you spe­cial, some­how. It made you a “novel power source” that could op­er­ate “in­de­pen­dently of ex­ter­nal ne­gen­tropy”. You weren’t sure what any of that meant, and hon­estly the sci­en­tist seemed sort of like a BETA CUCKOLD ORBITER to you. But what­ever was go­ing on, they’d promised you that if you turned this tur­bine ev­ery day, you could have all the HOT PUSSY you wanted and be SUPER ALPHA.

You’d even met the head hon­cho once, a guy named King William. He told you that some of the en­ergy you pro­duced was go­ing to power the sta­tion, but that the rest was go­ing into stor­age. That over billions and billions of years, they would ac­cu­mu­late more and more stored ne­gen­tropy, un­til it was enough to restart the uni­verse. That it would be a cy­cle – a new­born uni­verse last­ing a few billion years, col­laps­ing into a dark pe­riod when new ne­gen­tropy had to be ac­cu­mu­lated, fol­lowed by an­other uni­verse again.

It all sounded way above your head. But one thing stuck with you. As he was leav­ing, the King re­marked that it was ironic that when the black hole har­vesters and worm­holes and tachyon ca­pac­i­tors had all failed, it was a ran­dom re­ally strong guy who had saved them.

You had always known, deep down, that BRUTE STRENGTH was what was re­ally im­por­tant. And here, at the end of all things, it is deeply grat­ify­ing to fi­nally be proven right.