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Murphy's Law

A Metamorphosis Alpha® play-by-post adventure run by ghost_of_warden

Interlude: What's Up on Level 14?



Dr. Amanda Flockheart stood in front of the class as a lecturer, preparing to explain her personal thoughts on the beauty of the proofs she was about to outline, beginning simply and climaxing triumphantly so everyone in the audience could follow along and share the joy. Yes, this day was always one of her favorites each time she taught differential equations.

"No, no, no," came the protest, each word louder, somewhere from the back row. The badgering came from a young student dressed in a plain grey jumpsuit---obviously a propulsion engineer. He was auditing the class, and this was the first time he'd spoken up. "You got it all wrong!" He reveled in the ensuing laughter. "What do we need existence and uniqueness for? I mean, practically speaking, everything we care about is solvable to any fixed precision!"

Slightly deflated, Dr. Flockheart quickly recovered. She blinked a few times and responded. "But what if you come across a system for which you have no inkling of the solution? Where none of the standard tricks or transforms will work? That's when you'll need math, Mr... Cole, is it? And you'll thank me for enlightening you."

Mr. Cole mumbled, "Like that'll ever happen" under his breath to save face among his friends snickering around him.

Dr. Flockheart was glad to see such curiosity. In her own little world, it was simply impossible for her to recognize the distaste the young engineer had for her antiseptic theorems. She was blissfully oblivious, and hoped her standoffishness wouldn't hurt his feelings, or turn him away from the beauty of mathematics, for he clearly had the right intuition. Evolution in mathematics was not dead; rather, it came in fitful bursts when the right conditions arose, when the right minds were cultivated and encouraged, as hers was at the tender age of three, when her prodigious talents became apparent. To her, all souls were potentially fertile soil. Mathematics could make a believer even from the most hardened skeptic.

Meanwhile, Elsewhere on Warden...

[Cut to Level 14, Enviromental Area. Wide angle pan of grassland.]

Her eyes darting back and forth, Amanda pauses, looking around with a worried expression. She is very pleasing to the eye, and of medium build and height. She sports a one-piece military green jumpsuit, and even though every part of it is practically skin-tight, we get the sense that it is more for ease of movement than sex appeal. But it provides both. A patch on her chest has a picture of an ellipsoidal ship, the word "WARDEN" above, and a white box below with "Mat./Rp." embroidered in red.

"I wish I could see the stars," she murmured, her voice trailing off with uncertainty.

She sat silently against an apple tree facing the open grasslands. The tree's shadow lengthens in the growing dimness of what she knows are man-made lights straining to simulate the solar cycle of a long forgotten world. The entire artificial ecosystem will soon be under the full grip of darkness. A few stunted clouds pass by high in the upper reaches of the vast space. These atmospheric phenomena were in fact real, but closely monitored and controlled.

It is soon apparent that what we see is a woman in search of a purpose. A million words run through her mind, but nothing seems right. Life is a guessing game, she tells herself. Like theoretical physics. Both must be played within the constraints placed upon it by empirical evidence. Even so, these constraints do not provide a safe harbor for Truth. While empirical evidence is carefully gathered, theory is a matter of opinion and debate. This by itself is not unproductive, so long as the theorist admits the assumptions contained in the theory, for even an incorrect theory can be helpful in making predictions. She feels crazy for debating theoretical physics in her head, but logical progression is the one constant that keeps her from the existential crisis that threatens her sanity.

"Of all the dreams humanity has had, why have you brought me here?" she asks the apple in her hand. It could've been Newton's apple, or Hamlet's skull. Either were as receptive. In fact, no one here can answer her. That person, if he can still be called that, lies miles away. Only he can answer the question why so many mathematicians have been cloned and re-cloned.

The simple answer is that they are needed, for Warden has stumbled into a problem for which none of the standard tricks or transforms work. It is a configuration so pathological that it simply defies categorization, automated analysis, or even angle of attack. It is the kind of challenge that can potentially consume a mathematician, suck her will to live, drive her to the brink of depression. And yet, they should be drawn to it like flies. But like so many mathematical challenges, this one will choose its solver.

He doesn't know this of course. If only Amanda knew how many times she has been cloned. For all their intellectual power, these mathematicians sure are made of delicate stock.

The outline of Amanda's face is beautiful in the faint light. Gathering a few more apples, she stands and walks back towards the control room which has become her home. There is a reason for everything, she reassures herself.

[Switch to control room, continuous pan from ceiling.]

Amanda enters the small hut, going to one corner of the room, and lies down, pulling an old army blanket over her. Her breathing is silent as the blanket rises and falls, rises and falls.

[Fade out.]

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