Boundary Condition: Chapter 2

2.
Divine Wind

Only in recent years have aerologists given much attention to the slow-moving currents of the lower strata of the atmosphere. In what way can this best be done?

Popular Science Monthly, July 1915

There was some initial shock while the Pope and his attendants filed up into the station one by one. This mission had been planned in such secrecy that even Robert — the station commander! — didn't know, and didn't believe it when told. Heck, at first he didn't even believe it when the Pope and his attendants floated up out of the docking module right in front of him. Truthfully, it was hard to recognize Pope Dave at first glance; Tomohiro hadn't, and neither had Chip. After all, "His Holiness" was wearing a perfectly ordinary NWS flight suit, albeit with the pressure helmet detached, and he was also surprisingly short, which was something you didn't get from seeing him on TV. In gravity, the top of his head would come no higher than Jim's nose, and Jim was barely five foot ten! Pope Dave's only concessions to his station were a heavy gold ring of some kind, and a flat white cap, like a Jewish yarmulke, bobby-pinned to the crown of his head. And those could mean anything, really.
But the face was familiar, in the way that famous faces always are, like an old teacher from your past, or some friend you haven't talked to in a while. It was the attendants who really cinched it, though; in jet-black coveralls with some yellow-white European flag on the breast, with feathered caps and wraparound sunglasses flickering with numbers and text and diagrams, they looked like some weird, twenty-first-century version of the jacks in a deck of playing cards. At the sight of them, Jim had flashed on a title: Swiss Guard. That was about the extent of his knowledge of Vatican culture, but he was sure he'd seen these guys on TV or something.
Any lingering doubts were demolished when Barney Hopper, the Pilot Commander of the shuttle and up till now a stranger to Jim, came up through the airlock and made the formal introduction: "His Holiness Pope Dave, Bishop of Rome and, uh, Sovereign of the Vatican City… I forgot a bit there, didn't I?"
"No matter."
The station crew stammered out a number of fragmentary questions, which the Pope answered with smiles and a disarmingly deep sort of patience. Yes, he really was who they thought he was. Yes, he'd had a pleasant flight, not nearly as rough or as crushing as he'd expected. Yes, the weightlessness agreed with him just fine. He'd done two days' training on the NWS Vomit Comet before coming up here, flying up and down and up and down again in zero-g parabolic arcs, and no, thank you, he didn't need a motion sickness patch. He then turned to the guards and said something in German, and they replied tersely in Italian, or perhaps Latin, shaking their heads. No, they didn't need medication either.
The Swiss Guard had that same unflappable look you saw with Secret Service agents left out in the sun, or in veteran cops surveying a nasty crime scene. They were uncomfortable, yeah, but so what? The job came first. Except for occasional reaching to the cabinets and Hab wall for stability, they managed to stand more or less at attention, and to look cool doing it. Which was no mean trick in zero-g! By contrast, the Pope himself did seem a bit puffy and dazed.
He also radiated an infectious sense of peace, though, which Jim distrusted immediately. Religious people often carried themselves this way; with the calm of absolute certainty. Jim, for his own self, had never felt that certain about anything, including death, taxes, and the falling of a second shoe after the first one had dropped.
"Listen," he said diplomatically, "I don't mean to be rude, but Chip here needs to get down in that shuttle and find the card pullers you guys were supposed to bring up. You did, right? And since we're coming up on North America again for the start of our daily readings, I've got to cycle the sensor arrays and strap in."
"The life of a weathercock, eh?" said the Pope with mild amusement. Was that a dirty joke?
"The Earth keeps turning," Jim agreed guardedly. "The weather never stops."
"Very true. I have to say, young man, I'm honored to live in such privileged times, and to meet such pioneers as yourself. This is God's weather you're talking about — a frontier for scientists and theologians alike."
Jim shrugged. "It's always been there, sir. And if I'm going to measure it on schedule, I'd best step lively. Will you excuse me?"
To which the Pope just smiled again, placing two fingers on Jim's arm. "Actually, your readings are exactly what I'm here to observe. You're Jiminy Gomez?"
"Saint Jim," said Lorraine Kennet, hovering in the airlock hatchway. "God's own private secretary these past six months. How you doing, bud?"
Now that struck Jim as very rude, for two reasons. First because he didn't believe in God, or that kind of God anyway, and second because the Pope obviously did. Shooting a glare at Kennet he said, "I've asked you not to call me that. I'm a meteorologist."
"No one has suggested otherwise," the Pope assured him. "And I shouldn't allow my presence to interfere with your important schedule. But I'd like very much to accompany you and watch the process. I have a thousand questions already!"
"Sure," Jim said slowly, because what else was he going to say? The guy was a VIP; if Jim didn't show him around voluntarily, he'd do it under orders.
At this point, the commander piped in with a, "Take Saint Lorraine with you, too."
Lorraine Kennet was Jim's replacement for the upcoming six-month rotation. She'd be taking over tomorrow, just as soon as Jim stepped aboard that shuttle. And she was bloody welcome to it.

#

Twenty minutes later Jim was strapped into the telemetry chair at the station's geometric center, and Saint Lorraine was lowering a collander-shaped cap down over his head, like they used for executions in the electric chair. This one wasn't a simple metal electrode, though, but an array of two-inch wafers called "gallium arsenide quantum wells," which helped focus the weird subatomic energies storming around here at any given time. There were decoherence sensors all up and down the long arms of Dewey Park Station, but by far the most sensitive detector was Jiminy Gomez himself, whose brain fell far outside the normal human range for quantum decoherence events. That Jim had an above-average IQ was beside the point; there was a lot more going on inside his brain then mere cognition, and in the relative silence of low Earth orbit, these events could be measured very clearly and accurately.
"Ready?" Asked Kennet with a look of concern, for she knew better than anyone how disorienting this business could be. She'd only ever done it Earthside, though, and she was wise to observe the process once or twice before assuming full responsibility for it. It wasn't worse up here, but it was … different.
"Ready," Jim told her, at which point she went ahead and threw the switch. Coils hummed to life around Jim's head, and the base field settled in with a taste like bitter metal in his mouth, and with a vague buzzing sensation the flight surgeons had never adequately explained. The field was D.C., not A.C., and should not "buzz" unless it was interacting with Jim's neurons in some kind of unknown way. He didn't much like that idea, but the weather, as they say, never sleeps. Anyway, between the flight pay, hazard pay, and travel compensation, and the fact that his wife was planning to leave him —or he had already left her if you wanted to get technical about it — Jim considered it an acceptable risk.
"You're like a damn Christmas tree," Kennet observed as the monitor screens began to flesh out an image of his brain, rendered in twinkling points of starlight. This, at least, didn't feel like anything at all. Jim's brain had been decohering all his life, and on the occasions when the events were suppressed by outside forces — by "miracles" if you wanted to call them that — he didn't feel any different. But for whatever reason, he did sparkle brighter and brighter the higher he got from the Earth's surface. It was why he was up here, why all of them were.
"This is free will?" The Pope wanted to know. There was a gleam in his eye — of interest? Of holy terror? "These are small miracles, the thoughts of Jiminy Gomez overpowering the laws of physics?"
"Nothing overpowers the laws of physics," Jim told him firmly but wearily, because he'd answered this question way too many times in the past few years. "These are 'decoherence events,' and they're a natural process, albeit one we don't fully understand. On a much smaller scale, the same thing happens in a quantum computer."
But that wasn't exactly true, and the Pope seemed to know it.
"Listen," Kennet said, "Your, uh, Your Holiness…"
"Please, just call me Dave. David Wayne Stassi. I'm a person, like you."
And that was a bit too true, because it was widely rumored that Dave, like Jim and Kennet and a few hundred others worldwide, was a saint. I.e., he had a really unusually high DQ, or decoherence quotient. In fact, his was supposedly one of the highest ever recorded.
"I thought you were supposed to change your name," said Kennet. "When you were crowned, I mean. Or mitered, or whatever it is they do."
Pope Dave just shrugged at that. "Knowing I was a reformer, even a radical, the Cardinals elected me anyway. I wasn't the first to refuse the Papal Oath — otherwise known, I kid you not, as the Oath Against Modernism — but there haven't been many of us. And that name thing just stuck in my craw. Why change? Why reinvent myself to fit this role? It was the first of many traditions overturned."
A strong statement, considering Pope Dave had been in office for just under six months. He'd mentioned he was fifty-four, but he didn't look that old; his hair was still black, fading gracefully to silver at the sides. And he'd done that puppet show thing on PBS, and he'd written one or two New York Times bestsellers about psychology or something. The proceeds had no doubt gone to worthy causes, but still he seemed an odd choice to be the Pope.
As if sensing Jim's thoughts, Dave shrugged again and said, modestly, "The Cardinals claim they were divinely inspired. Or if you prefer, they saw me as a man in step with the changing times, and followed their gut. Better the upheaval you know than the upheaval you can only guess at, eh? Or maybe they panicked. I'm not sure I would have picked me if the choice had been mine to make, but you know, sometimes the shock of novelty brings us closer to the truth."
"So now you're infallible?" Kennet asked, again rudely. She was one of those people who was determined to behave exactly the same toward all people in all situations. You simply couldn't impress her with titles or credentials, or money or charm or wit. On the other hand, she was just as difficult to offend.
"Ah," said Dave, clasping his hands briefly in a gesture of humility. "You know, there's a lot of disagreement on that point. It's a touchy subject. Some would say that if I screw up, it'll prove I was never the legitimate Pope to begin with. Others would say the office is infallible; according to Paul's testimony, Jesus granted him the right to speak for heaven, and to bind it to his word. But even taking that at face value, I'm not Paul. The very concept of Papal infallibility is a modern invention, dating to Pius the Ninth in the late eighteen hundreds. In my opinion, Miss Kennet, the best I can do is pray for guidance and apply my own judgment. I would not expect that combination to be right all the time."
Kennet seemed ready to work another jab in, for fun or curiosity, just to see what might happen. She was a real social scientist, that one. But fortunately the stats were coming in on Jim's decoherence events, and suddenly the anomaly warning was flashing and chiming. Jim looked over the monitors and said, mainly for Kennet's benefit, "Bing, bing. I read negative slope, negative concavity. There's a major boundary condition trying to impose itself here. Type alpha, magnitude 4 or 5, extraterrestrial origin and centroid. Do you concur?"
"Um, yeah. I'd call it around 4.7."
Although it wasn't evident from the picture of Jim's brain, there was a kind of stuttering going on at the quantum level, as external forces tried to suck all the Heisenberg uncertainty out of this volume of space. If not for the human brains here trying to do the same thing on a microscopic level, the decoherence hypercone or "deek" would have succeeded already. In a deek, particles could move or change energy without seeming to. Events could be influenced; outcomes could change. "Miracles," some people called them.
Finally it found its opening: a moment in time when there were no interfering flashes inside Jim's head — or Kennet's, or Dave's, or anyone else's on the station. The results were brief, and like anything involving the word "quantum", they could be interpreted a variety of ways, and visualized only by analogy and metaphor.
Jim liked to picture a major deek as a swarm of hungry bubbles, growing from pinpoints and rapidly expanding to the size of buses, or even whole space stations, before popping and vanishing and being replaced with new bubbles. "Decoherence" was the collapse of quantum uncertainty, and "hypercone" was the shape these events sketched out in four dimensions. "Hungry" was Jim's own term, because what the bubbles wanted was space — great volumes of it to expand unimpeded. But no two deeks could overlap, so the presence of a human mind, fizzing with its own little microevents, broke the symmetry and prevented large hypercones from forming. In layman's terms, human thoughts were "stepping on the channel."
The result — the analogy, the metaphor — was a cluster of bubbles clinging to the space around Dewey Park Station, waiting for their moment to pounce. And when the moment came, the bus-sized deeks vanished and were replaced by something much larger. Now it was Jim's own activity that was suppressed; the scanner showed a blank where his brain should be. He was still breathing, still thinking and feeling, still going about his business. He could speak or dance or whatever, and as far as his senses were concerned, nothing had changed at all. Was he really on autopilot? Soulless, a meat machine? The channel was being stepped on by something much larger than himself; according to the instruments, his free will was gone.
The event trying to happen here was somewhere between ten and 100 kilometers across — or sixty-three by Lorraine's estimate — and since Dewey Park Station was hurtling above the Earth at seven kilometers per second, they passed through it in just a few seconds and were out in clear space again, where he was once more the captain of his soul. But then, on the heels of it, came another, slightly smaller deek.
"What miracle is this?" the Pope wanted to know. His eyes were wide, hungry, amazed. "What's changing? Something big is happening here!"
"Not really," Jim told him. "We get these little blips all the time. It's just weather."
A type of weather undreamed of even five years ago. The weather of the soul, some called it. Manna from heaven, the miracle rain. A symphony of quantum decoherence on a cosmic scale, sweeping through the solar system and battering into the Earth like a kind of wind. And if "free will" could be said to exist on the quantum level — if human thoughts could guide and tweak the subatomic processes that gave rise to them — then these storms were of great consequence indeed, for they quieted the brain's "little miracles." They had other effects as well, which a worldwide scramble had so far done little to decode.
"Get the Stormbreakers up there," the President had famously remarked. "If this 'quantum wind' affects our security I want to see it coming." And here they were.
"Overall," Jim said now to the Pope, "the trend is down, which is what we'd expect for this time of week."
"Ah. Right, yes. It peaks on Sunday." His eyes had taken back that knowing gleam. Was certainty the enemy of wonder?
Again, Jim felt a flutter of annoyance. "It peaks when it peaks, sir. In the U.S. and Western Europe, it often happens on Sunday, yes. But that's already Monday in Australia. It can happen on Saturday, too, or Friday, or sometimes even Thursday night. I wouldn't read too much into it."
"No," the Pope mused, with a little smile. Sure, because any data Jim gave him would simply confirm his own models of how the universe should work. Anything truly anomalous would be rejected, right? Critical thought was a skill anyone could learn but few people really wanted to. Like knitting. Arguing the point would be sort of interesting — trying to convert the Pope himself! — but with little hope of success and a great probability of pissing off his superiors, Jim opted to ignore it and press on instead with his work.
Which was uneventful, as it turned out. They made it through the rest of the orbit with only three more major deeks, making this a quiet day indeed. Throwing off his buckles and lifting out of the chair, Jim moved to the instrument console and messed with the laptop-style touchpad there, switching between a couple of different window views on the monitor. First derivative, second derivative, absolute magnitudes and station ground track… Looking these over, Jim thought for only about fifteen seconds before rendering up his forecast. "Projected Free Will Index of 9.2. Call Earth and let them know it's going to be an interesting Saturday night."

#

"You called it a boundary condition," the Pope said. "Not a miracle."
"Uh, well," Jim answered, reaching up to scratch his face and trying hard not to grimace. "It's not a value judgment on my part. I mean, a boundary condition is any point in time or space where certain variables are nailed down. When you start up your car in the morning, its speed is zero. When you park it at the end of the day, it's zero again. In between it might vary quite a bit, but those two zeroes are your boundary conditions. The system is fixed at those points."
They were in the wardroom, the lounge and dining and recreation area of the main Hab, where Jim had gone to recuperate after his ninety minutes of data taking. He wasn't exhausted or anything — the job wasn't that hard — but he did need to clear his head and drink a sippy mug of coffee. Pope Dave had followed along behind him, far more dignified than a puppy but no less eager.
"I don't understand," he said. "The words make sense, but I'm afraid I don't know how to apply them."
You could never be truly alone on a station this small, but Kennet was still back in the weather lab, checking out the equipment she'd be using for the next six months, while Chip was off fixing the backup file server and Tomohiro was in his cabin writing an email or something. Robert and Lisa had work to do up on the bridge, and one of the Swiss Guard was up there with them, either watching for danger, watching them, or monitoring communications or something. The new shuttle crew was down in their vehicle, powering down flight systems and putting the thing in docking mode, so it could draw from the station's solar arrays rather than its own limited fuel cells. Jim knew from experience that the flight crew had gear to stow, personal effects to unpack, checklists to run through with ground control, and all sorts of other little tasks. They were handing the shuttle off to Robert and Lisa in the morning, but they themselves would be here on station for the next six months.
For the moment, the only person here was the other Swiss Guard, and he was hovering discreetly in the distance, managing somehow to look alert and take in everything without ever really turning toward His Holiness or Jiminy Gomez, or seeming to eavesdrop. So Jim and the Pope were kind of alone. Which was a strange experience, definitely.
"Here," Jim said, "I'll show you."
This particular issue had come up so many times that he'd finally written a Java applet to explain it, and posted the thing on his web page. And finding a computer here on Dewey Park station was never a problem. The walls were practically made of computers, so Jim moved to the nearest one and opened up his web page, noting the very slight delay that came from bouncing his request off a communications satellite and down to Earth, and from the return signal following the same path on the way back up. Still, it was only a few seconds before the desired window appeared on his screen, with the heading JIM'S TINYVERSE at the top. And indeed, this Java universe was very small and wonderfully simple: just 10 little dots bouncing around in a black square box. Bouncing off the walls, and each other, in perfectly elastic collisions with no inertia or rotation or other messy physics.
"Can you see this?" He asked the Pope.
"I'm not blind," Dave answered agreeably.
"All right, well, for this run the balls started out in a random pattern. But I can impose any pattern I want, any combination of initial positions and velocities. I can make them start in a particular shape, like a square or circle. Any shape you want."
Amusedly: "How about a cross?"
"Um, sure, I can do a cross." Jim used the touchpad to freeze the simulation and drag the dots around. "Just to illustrate my point, I'm going to use random velocities. But the same rules apply whether we do that or not. Anyway, here's your cross. When I restart the simulation, the balls will all fly apart. See? Now, you… are you watching them? They're going to… They're going to bounce around forever, until the end of time. At this point, I don't have any further control over the system. It's running on autopilot, but that cross shape we had at the beginning — that's a boundary condition. We forced that on the system. It's not a variable; we constrained it to behave that way."
"All right. That's a clear enough concept."
"Thing is," Jim said, "we don't have to impose that condition at the beginning, or in that exact spot. We can move it to a different point on the screen, and in exactly the same way we can move it to a different point in time."
He froze the simulation again, slid the keyboard out on its track and began rattling off keystrokes.
"I understand what you mean," the Pope said. What he seemed to imply by that was, You don't have to do this work just to show me. I can probably figure it out from here.
But it was familiar work, not at all difficult, and in half a minute Jim was done anyway. With a theatrical flourish, he restarted the program. "Now watch this clock over here, because in thirty seconds something interesting is going to happen. The balls are still bouncing, right? But I didn't pick their initial positions or speeds this time. Instead, I calculated those values to get a particular effect. Are you watching the clock?"
"I am."
The time ticked over: 20 seconds, 25, and then suddenly the apparent disorder on the screen began to vanish, as the dots momentarily came together to form the shape of a cross. And then flew apart again.
The Pope began to laugh. "It's a miracle!"
"It looks like one, yeah," Jim agreed. "Order emerging from apparent randomness. But in fact, this entire universe was constructed to make that one event happen. And I'm a poor substitute for God, because I can only do it once."
The Pope frowned. "Okay, there you've lost me."
"The system is running on automatic," Jim explained, scratching his ear nervously. "If it produces any additional patterns, it'll be by coincidence. I could arrange for that cross to reappear on a periodic schedule, but that's not a miracle either. That's clockwork."
He typed in some more instructions, and soon the cross shape was coming together and flying apart, coming together and flying apart again in an endless cycle.
"If this universe of mine were more complex, if it were shaped differently or if there were nonlinear effects between the balls, then chaos theory would come into play. The motion would be much harder to predict. Also harder to control. I can impose a boundary condition on this pinhead universe with only a handful of calculations. To do it on the real universe, I'd need to know the position and velocity of every single molecule, with absolute precision. My computer would have to be perfect."
"You'd have to be God, in other words."
"If you like. But even then, I could only do it once. If I try to impose a second boundary condition …" Jim demonstrated this by grabbing the dots on the screen one by one, dragging them back into a cross shape and freezing them there. "I have to defy my own laws of physics. The second boundary condition gives me away. If you were an astronomer, I couldn't fool you for a second with this kind of thing. You'd know right away that the universe was being tampered with."
"And it isn't," the Pope said. "Not in that way."
It wasn't a question. Indeed, there was a certainty in the tone which prompted Jim to ask, "How much astronomy do you know?"
"I was brought up a Jesuit," the Pope said, as though that explained anything. In response to Jim's blank look he added, "Seekers of God through knowledge, and through the realities rather than the ideals of human behavior."
"Oh," said Jim. "Don't those guys run a bunch of universities or something?"
"Prominent ones, yes. The philosopher Tielhard de Chardin belonged to the order, as do many notable scientists today. They're well represented among my advisors. But that's a digression, which keeps you from answering the obvious question here."
Jim quirked an eyebrow. "Yeah? What question is that?"
"How does God do it?" The pontiff spread his hands, genuinely anxious to hear Jim's opinion. "Boundary conditions happen all the time. We encountered five of them just now in that weather room, and I saw thousands of little ones pop off between your ears. How do you explain that?"
Ah, the hard cold glare of religion, always searching for chinks in the armor of science, and for methods to exploit it. Still, Jim considered truth to be the stoutest weapon in his arsenal, and he'd never been shy about using it. "Yes, well. There's a whole new science emerging just for explaining that, uh, Dave. And since it's a new science, I can't just look up the answer a textbook and tell it to you."
"But it has something to do with quantum mechanics?"
"Right. And now you know as much as I do."
A chuckle. "Oh, I doubt that very much."
Just then, Robert poked his head down from the cupola and said, "Sorry to interrupt, but Jim, I need you to step outside and retrieve the radiation dosimeters. Flight surgeon wants them for comparison purposes, to measure against our personal badges."
Jim glanced down at his own dosimeter badge: a sheet of laminated white plastic that turned imperceptibly more gray with each passing day, each solar flare and cosmic ray. He smiled grimly and thumped the wall, which flexed slightly like the hull of a fiberglass boat, or like a Kevlar tent wall stretched very tight. "On the theory that this dishrag of a station provides any shielding? That's a nice thought, but I kind of doubt it. Do you want me to go now?"
"Please. You can buddy up with Kennet; she needs the training anyway. With departure ops starting first thing in the morning, I don't think you'll get another chance." Then he turned to Pope Dave and said, "Your Holiness, if it's not too much trouble I'm hoping to speak with you in private at some point."
"Of course," Dave answered, like any man of the cloth. Always ready to give counsel, to hear a confession, to offer such blessings as he could. A doctor for the soul, sworn to help wherever possible. But then he said something that really did draw the attention of the Swiss Guard on the other side of the room. "I'd prefer to postpone it, though. Commander, is there any chance I can go outside with Jim?"