Of Clockwork and Chaos

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Ming closed her eyes and visualized an imaginary place she hadn’t visited in years- a library whose corridors extended outwards for infinity. She located herself at the heart of the library. There she saw it- the machine which she had imagined as child- layers upon layers of magic circles and runes slightly spaced apart. It glowed softly. The magic circles began to turn, and the runes began to chug up and down. The machine moved as though it were driven by underlying clockwork principles. She smiled. The sound of the machine humming as it went about its work was as soothing as she remembered. For a while she continued listening to the hum of the machine that never existed, brimming with the peace of feeling the universe progressing smoothly ever forwards,

Then she was snapped out her trance by the sound of a door screeching open. William, her husband tore into her room, shooting an accusatory glance at her. “You promised you would rest for at least another five days before you began your research” he growled.

Now her immediate surroundings and her circumstances fully seeped back into her consciousness. She was a patient at a hospital. She had just..ahhh...given birth to her daughter two days ago and had been engaged in (she glanced at the laptop placed on her bed desk) the intellectually strenuous task of reading academic papers, before she had taken a quick mental break. Also, she had just severely irritated her husband.

Ming smiled sheepishly and replied “Well as an up-and-coming quantum physicist I can tell you that time is largely relative….” William just looked at her in that way of his and she laughed.

Then quietly they looked at each other. “Surely,” Ming thought “He understands why I’m still working.” After all, he had witnessed what she had witnessed.

The day before, Ming swept the curtains covering the windows of the ward because the traffic on the streets had gone deathly silent and she was curious. Then it flooded her vision- a silvery thing, clouding the sky and sweeping towards her general direction like a tidal wave with the vague corporeality of mist. A split second before a screech tore its way through her throat because that thing was completely alien, ergo dangerous, it engulfed her. What happened next was that….time…seemed to dismantle itself. Space…seemed to reveal itself as an illusion. Her mind drew a blank as it desperately sought the words to describe what was happening to her, even as it reeled from the effort of comprehending what it was probably never evolved to experience.

Finally, it passed.

Ming learned later that this silvery thing had swept across the Earth’s entire surface. It was harmless- physically. But in the moments after she was freed from its influence Ming felt herself shuddering to her core, terrified.

What was it? What did it mean? She dearly wished she could laugh at how silly she was acting. But whatever she had witnessed a few days ago truly deserved fear.

“Too few things remind comfortable city-dwellers that all things are never truly in their control” Ming thought, “and those like me are plunged ever deeper into folly by the superficial sense that science has indulged our fantasies of achieving dominion over nature.” Ming cracked a bitter smile. “We have thus been dramatically disabused of this notion.”

And yet she longed for it again. The lie that things could still be under complete control. The humming of her machine. As a child she had first came up with the idea of the machine one stormy night, holed up in her bedroom, her internal world a tempest because her favourite aunt had just died. It was so unfair. So unpredictable. So random. She continued to soothe herself with the promise that she would build it one fine day whenever she was hit by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune till she was twelve. Then she read about quantum physics which stated clearly that no matter how much information humankind amasses, no one will never be able to, even in principle, predict what the position of a particle will be. The Universe’s irrepressible chaos.

Yet she remembered that this upset her considerably less than she thought it would have. Perhaps the machine was never to click its gears in the real world and with time it had taken on the meaning of tenacity even in the most unpredictable of times.

This was why Ming knew that she had to begin her investigation into the nature of the silvery thing- because more than ever she felt like averting her eyes from the subject of her study- the very fabric of reality, simply because she was cowed this time by the vast swathe of the unknown and uncertainty inherent to her field of study. Furthermore Ming knew that the instant she broke her scientific gaze from the mystifying phenomena, as she was tempted to, terrible gods could rise from the gaps of her knowledge, whispering to her unfounded possibilities. One particular possibility that had haunted her already was that the silvery thing was a sign of vengeance from a being or many beings of higher intelligence in the Universe.

If she did not act in the right spirit now, slowly, the world could slip into the grip of terror, under the false impression that we back away from the unknown, and then what a terrible world she would have brought her new-born child into.

Now it was Ming’s turn to look helplessly at William, hoping that he would somehow understand though all she had done so far was stare into space. And somehow she felt he did. William sighed exasperatedly, and then he spoke.

“You should visit our adorable Faith daughter later because I can’t do it for you- and don’t you dare bring in a bad quantum physics reference to ‘spooky action from a distance’. You both deserve to have a good look at one another.”

Ming smiled and agreed.

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