The Cycle of Axer Carrick
Part III -- Frostmelt
by Henry Wyckoff
Mr. X looked like a different man, as if he had laid his soul bare and scraped all the crud and crap off it. There were no more signs of a bull passing through the apartment either.
Powys opened the two bottles of a black beer and poured them into separate glasses. The foam took up half the glass. He handed one to Mr. X, who looked at him quizzically.
"It's my own homemade porter -- or at least my recipe. I sold it over a century ago. I figured that since you'd be making your last stand, you deserve something of a final drink. Try it."
He did, and nearly spit it out. "This tastes horrible!!"
Powys smiled. "So it does, but when you finish the bottle, you'll be wanting another round." Mr. X couldn't figure out whether he said 'battle' or 'bottle'. "You're afraid, aren't you?"
"Yes," he admitted.
"Let me tell you something that might help you -- about an attitude more than anything else. You took college physics, right? You'd have to know something about it, with all your involvements."
"Remember Schroedinger's cat?"
"I'll tell you, then. Imagine that I put a cat inside of a box with a capsule of cyanide gas. The gas is placed under a trip hammer that will fall only if it's let go. That only happens if a single decay particle from a piece of uranium is sensed by a sensor that is turned on for only a brief nanosecond at a random point in time.
"Do you see where I'm going with this? No?
"Well, remember that the decay of any radionuclide is constant only in a statistical sense -- from moment to moment, decay is random. Particles could decay at any given moment... or not.
"So whether the cat lives or dies is a matter of chance -- fifty-fifty, wouldn't you say? Let's forget about the probability of a single decay product being detected -- just the probability that the cat will be alive or dead when the box is opened."
Mr. X hesitated. "I don't get it."
"Patience... I'm just getting to that. Before you open the box, you don't really know, do you? You know what the options are, but not the outcome?"
"So, let's say you open the box and find out the cat is dead, what was the cat before you opened the box?"
Mr. X fumed. "What the hell kind of question is that?! It's dead!"
"No," shook Powys' head, as if he were doing a lecture in front of many students. "The cat is a *potential* cat. It is both alive and dead, and when you open the box and *observe* you collapse the wave. At the precise moment of observation, the whole universe splits into two separate universes which are identical except for the fact that in one, a cat is dead, and in the other, a cat is alive.
"This is the one hint I have to give you: *you* are the cat, and I have just placed you in the box. The cyanide gas is the band of assassins who are going to make sure that you don't drink any more generic beer." He shuddered. "You might even let them do you the favor!
"Therefore, you and they are in the system that I am about to close. You have a chance to be both alive and dead, and until I open the box, *you* will be a potential human, both alive and dead.
"The task you have before you is to choose which universe you will enter when I collapse the wave by walking through this door in an hour. No matter what you do or where you go, this quantum decision remains -- you will either live or die."
Mr. X snarled, "What the hell are you telling me? Control the future by some mystic power, and I'll live? You're worse than a New Ager!"
"No," smiled Powys. "This is an extrapolation of quantum physics, and is embraced by the scientific community as a whole -- they only squabble about whether there are two separate realities created, or one phantom and one real."
He walked out the door, throwing a coin to Mr. X. "Practice on that -- when you can *call* and *control* the outcome, you'll know the trick. ...And a trick is all it is." The last words he could hear through the closed door were, "And finish that porter -- it cost me five bucks, and I'm not about to have it wasted in a shoot-out!..."
Mr. X guzzled it down in one gulp and nearly cringed as the bitter taste threatened to fold his face in half. But it made him feel better after it went away...
He flipped the coin, and called out to himself, //Heads!//
It was tails.
"Who the hell am I fooling?"
"It sure ain't us."
Mr. X spun around to face five "Good Ol' Boys" with clubs, knives, and one sawed-off shotgun. One of them was chewing a long piece of grass.
"Now, you just stay there like a good ol' 'BOY' and let Bobby Bo Bill here club your knees." He drawled in an Appalachian accent, slapping the guy next to him on the shoulder. "You see, he just wants to be like his idol, Tonya, don't you, Bobby Bo Bill?"
Bobby Bo Bill smiled, opening his jacket which showed a picture from Tonya's infamous "Honeymoon Video". Out of all the possible VCR frames to pick for a still photo, this was a hell of a pick.
"I *sure* do!" he twirled the aluminum bat around. "Just stand still, *boy* -- this'll hurt you more a heck of a lot more than it hurts me!"
There was a lot of coarse laughter.
//It wasn't just some slang word we'd get killed for using,// Mr. X thought -- surprised at the fact his mind was off in the wrong world, as well as the observation itself, //the hick IS breathing through his mouth!//
* * *
Cancerman was chain-smoking in his office with a bottle of Bud in his hand. Five bottles lay in the corner where they'd been tossed. He paced back and forth, sweat pouring down his face.
The door opened, and he spun around, staring at shock at the man who stepped through. The alarm system didn't go off... and the three deadbolts hadn't been unlocked.
//What the hell?// Cancerman stared at the physical impossibility. The door shut firmly, and the alarm system was still on -- he peeked at the alarm panel and saw that it was so.
Then he looked at his intruder. "Powys?!" He reached for his gun and fired without a moment of hesitation -- only, the gun went 'click', 'click'. Cancerman looked at the gun and saw that used shells *were* being ejected, but nothing was being fired.
"Looking for these?" asked Powys, grinning as he opened his hand, and bullets fell onto the ground, spilling in all directions.
"How the hell did you do that?" demanded Cancerman, keeping the table between him and Powys.
"Come now... how impolite! I'd expect you to say something like: "Oh, hello. How are you this evening?" Or how about: "How did that game go, eh?"'
Cancerman just stared at Powys. //This guy's insane!//
"There *is* a game going on, you know?" Powys plopped onto a plush chair, putting a bag on the table. "We can't watch it -- we can't be collapsing the wave prematurely -- but we *can* speculate. I'll tell you what, I'll root for the Nameless man, and you can root for your Good Ol' Boys from Coalmine, West Virginia. It'll be like watching the football game with the power off -- I even brought the beer. In..." he checked his watch, "thirty minutes we'll be able to check in on them and find out the result."
Cancerman continued staring at him.
"Come on -- you're as bad as the Nameless man. Can you believe he was drinking generic beer? It looked like it came from K-Mart or Target! Come on! Have some nice St. Andrews -- it's a favorite of Axer Carrick's."
"You sure have a lot of tact."
"I'd say that using a power drill to put screws in someone's back is a lack of it, too."
Cancerman twitched all over, not in memory of that -- but rather with the memory of what had happened a few years after, in this very office.
Powys smiled impudently. He reached into his bag, pulling out two glasses and two bottles of the Scottish ale "so *full* of hoppyness!" -- as Axer would say, making fun of Powys' accent.
"Now, if Axer saw you drinking out of the bottle, he'd be ranting at you about how much you're showing your low breeding. So why don't you do yourself a favor and start drinking like a civilized man? -- hopefully you'll drink like Axer and rot your liver out in a week. It'll save us all some time and effort in making you leave us alone."
Cancerman started looking around for something sharp or something heavy.
Powys was still pouring the ale. "You're forgetting that the 'luck of the Irish' has nothing on me."
Cancerman stopped his search. A moment later, it all made sense. "I *know* you! I know why the Invisible Ones want you dead!"
"Of course you know -- you've been their lackey for years, and they told you that I have to die!"
Cancerman paced back and forth, shaking his head. He lit another cigarette. "You don't understand -- I was never their lackey. I just didn't recognize you until now."
Powys leaned back in the chair, drinking deeply. "What do you know about me?"
"You were a very special experiment -- I didn't believe what I was told, and I still doubt... but I don't know. They said that they took you because you were an immortal, and the fact that you were the high priest of Loki was an attempt at humor. Their objective was..."
"To transform the native life here into beings capable of climbing the tree of life at will."
Powys sat back, considering. "You know... that can be taken a lot of different ways. Elaborate."
"I don't know what they mean! I'm just the manager of the operation! When they needed DNA from the population after the war, I helped prod the engineer of the project into working out a plan and following through with it. When they needed people for their experiments, I helped them work out a plan for them to do it in the quietest way possible.
"When the Invisible Ones see 'problems', they tell me to fix it -- or else." Sweat ran down his trembling face, "I think I'll be dead this evening if Mr. X walks out that door, or if you walk out my door."
"Not if they aren't here to observe -- waves can collapse, but it doesn't matter who the observer is. Call your secretary on the phone, and tell her to be here in twenty minutes, but wait at her desk. Don't explain, but just state that you want her *there* and on call."
"What do I tell her?"
"Tell her when you walk out that door that the emergency has passed and that her help is no longer needed. Then you hand her a five hundred dollar bill and a bottle of St. Andrews for her trouble."
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