28 February 2011

The Jesus Particle

The end of the world is never exactly the same twice - try explaining that to a bunch of Armageddon tourists...
armageddon tourists

Credit: iStockPhoto

I think I’ve finally grown tired of watching the end of the world. You’d think that it would be impossible – since it’s never exactly the same twice – yet I can’t escape the inevitable conclusion that I’ve had enough.

And I know it’s not just the mindless questions from the tour groups that I’ve endured for an eternity. (Wouldn’t you do a bit of research before you come on an Armageddon Tour? Why always ask something that any e-guide would cover in their opening paragraph?)

No, I’ve got to face it – the feeling goes much deeper than that. The joy has been leeching from me slowly over the aeons according to what must be some law of entropy.

Okay, here they come.

My quantameter started humming as the shimmering skein of the Higgs field containing the next tour group approached me through the dark-matter. As usual, the tourists were looking disoriented, orbiting the nucloid like a slow swarm of electrons.

So there they are, just in time – as always – for their once-in-a-lifetime experience. I laughed inwardly at my private little joke (which I’m sure none of the tourists would get).

I glanced down at the quantameter before switching it to vibrate mode. So, this was another Christian Rapturist group – they’re bound to be disappointed!

I’ve never winked a group of Rapturists back to their time zone happy. You can talk about quantum probabilities all you like with them, but they won’t be satisfied unless they see Christ and the saints descending from Heaven, and all of Earth’s Christians floating skyward to meet the Lord with glazed looks on their faces.

Of course, that’s the tantalising thing, there’s always a chance that’s exactly what they’re going to see. You never know. Probability fronts are… well… unpredictable. I’ve seen a version of the Rapture a couple of times myself (ironically each time with a group of physicists), and I have to admit it’s quite a sight.

The Higgs field stabilised in front of me, and I could see the individuals still orbiting slowly through the thick, treacle-like environment inside the membrane.

I switched on my q-mic to narrow band as I orbited the nucleus in my own field. “A warm welcome to the end of the world.” Do I sound sarcastic? I don’t think I care any more.

“I must stress the danger of you moving any part of your body outside the Higgs field. As you know, if any part of your body is exposed to the dark-matter outside the field, you will be annihilated.”

That, of course, isn’t strictly true, since mass to energy conversions aren’t really annihilations, but it’s better to keep the message simple.

“Aren’t we technically already dead?” So, it hadn’t taken long for the inane questions to start. My eyes locked onto the path of the speaker, a woman with a red three-pronged beard that had obviously come back into fashion in her time.

“Dead isn’t really a word that we like to use. You are technically in a quantum state of entanglement. Your bodies are both here and lying back in the Armageddon Tours’ plasma accelerator on twenty-second century Earth. Your quarks and leptons have been ambiguated and you are effectively in two places at once.”

“But our bodies back on Earth aren’t breathing, are they?”

“Yes, that’s why the e-casts dubbed the boson discovery that’s made this end-of-the-universe tour possible the Jesus particle. You’re all going to live again – as long as you don’t break the Higgs field.” (How many times have I been through this?)

“And, of course, the universe will live again after we see it dying. The Jesus particle is why the only reversible time travel we can do is to the end of the world.”

“I’m afraid I don’t really get it.”

I sighed. Of course, you don’t. I was about to plough into the full explanation, which I knew would go in one ear and out the other, when my quantameter began vibrating. I looked down at the reading.

“Okay, we don’t have much time to go through it all – it looks like the end is nigh.” I chuckled to myself (out of habit – I’d used the end is nigh line so many times before). “Now, make sure you take it all in. Remember this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

“Why only one?” This is from a balding man with a series of metallic implants in his scalp.

“It’s called the Jesus particle, isn’t it? How many times do you think you can be resurrected?” Which I know isn’t an explanation at all, but it usually does the trick for these tour groups.

“So you really can only see the end-of-the-world once and live? I thought there would be some way around it.” The man was frowning, his implants shifting into bizarre angles.

“I’m afraid you kinna change the laws of physics.” I said it in my best phony Scottish accent, even though I knew the Star Trek reference was so old, no-one in this group was going to get it. You get sort of self-referential after so long by yourself.

The darkness outside our fields seemed to be pulsating slowly. There was a hum from within the tour group Higgs field, and the tourists started glancing eagerly into the nothingness around them.

No doubt they thought they were about to experience the Rapture personally, although they had been promised nothing.

“I’ve got to emphasise our disclaimer again. We guarantee you will see the end of the world, but we can’t guarantee which end of the world you’ll see. Remember: all end-of-the-worlds theorised by our physicists and postulated by our religions are possible. That’s life in the quantum universes.”

“We have faith,” said an eyebrow-less youth wearing retro-jeans. “The truth will appear before us.”

“I’m sure you do and I’m sure it will, but faith and truth just don’t cut it when it comes to quantum probability fronts.

You could be about to see biblical bodies rejoining with souls, angels pouring bowls of the wrath of God upon the Earth, frogs coming from the mouths of beasts and false prophets, but it’s going to be far more likely that we’ll be witnessing a Big Crunch, a Big Rip, a Big Freeze or a Big Bounce.

The alternate universes that end in a way science has postulated are, I’m afraid, statistically far more numerous than the religious ones.”

“Which doesn’t make them true.” This eyebrow-less guy was going to be trouble.

“No – there’s truth, there’s damned truth and there’s statistics.” (Why do I say these things when I know no-one will get them?) “If you’ve read your brochures, you should know that what you’re going to be seeing isn’t even necessarily the outcome of your quantum universe. Even if we see the Rapture, your universe is still probably going to end in a Big Crunch.”

My quantameter was beginning to shake, and the dark-matter around us looked a little less dark than it had a moment ago.

I obviously wasn’t going to have the time to argue too many finer eschatological points with this group before it was all going to start. To begin to end. My grin was a reflex – the phrase stopped being even mildly amusing a long time ago.

“It’s about to happen. Make sure your communication devices other than your q-mics are switched off and, please, no flash photography.”

They all look at me as if I’ve lost the plot. I can’t help it. The private jokes are what keep me sane – or used to keep me sane. “Remember, no matter what you will be seeing or experiencing, the only way you can cause yourself any damage is to put a part of your body outside the Higgs field.”

“I can feel it!” The three-pronged woman had the shrill tone of a believer who is about to reach an ecstatic state. You’re going to be disappointed, lady.

Others around her were flailing their arms and yelling “Alleluia!”.

The darkness brightened into an increasingly sharp focus. I used to get a lightning sharp amp rush through me at the transition.

Even after that sensation slowly faded, over the vastness of time I had been doing this, I still fed off the excitement of the tour groups. This time I felt a void. Nothing. Had I finally just wound down, like a dying star?

The Earth’s surface came into view below. That can be a sign of a religious end-of-days. The end of the physics-based universes is usually so far in the future that Earth no longer exists.

This time the sun shone, but was covered in multiple dark spots. Something I hadn’t seen before. Where had I heard the term “a spotted sun”?

“Alleluia! Alleluia!”

The Earth’s surface appeared to be pocked and barren, cut by a vast steaming river of silver. Suddenly the ground erupted in countless micro-explosions, and bones poured into the sky where we were now hovering cocooned in our Higgs fields.

All around us the bones gyrated and melded with a hidden purpose, forming human skeletons in mid-air. This wasn’t a Christian scenario, nor something from any of the other Abrahamic religions.

Flesh and hair appeared from the ether to grow on the reconstituted human forms, like the decay of death in reverse, until recognisable humans crowded the sky around us.

Entropy in reverse. So, sometimes the broken egg does reform?

The Alleluias from my tour group had stopped. They knew this was no Rapture.

As the suspended humans took their final form, they started to fall to the ground like a torrent of rain, screaming as sentience and awareness was restored to them, but somehow not being injured by the impact with the Earth’s surface. A shining figure then seemed to emerge from the spotted sun and descend slowly to Earth.

The Saoshyant! Of course. This was an end-of-days I hadn’t seen before, nor one I had ever expected to see. This was the Zoroastrian world view. The oldest recorded eschatology in history.

A religion that once spanned the Persian Empire, but by the middle of the twenty-first century had all but died. Who, now, would possibly have any knowledge of it? Perhaps its memory resided only in my head.

Yet there it was, before us. Everyone who had ever lived was being brought back to life for the final battle between good and evil, between Ahuramazda and Ahriman the Deceiver – with the Saoshyant, the resurrected saviour of the world, born of the seed of Zoroaster, bringing about the final judgement of mankind.

And the steaming silver river was the molten torrent through which all humanity must wade and which only the righteous will survive.

I trembled at the scene. “You are witnessing something quite remarkable,” I said, unable to keep my thoughts to myself.

“This is an image straight from the mind of someone from six millennia before Christ, before even the Old Testament. This is the first end-of-the-world imagined by humanity. This is what started us on our path to understanding the fate of the universe.”

The voices of the tourists hit me like a volley of darts.

“This isn’t the Rapture.”

“All those horrific skeletons.”


“How can bones join together?”

“You’ve cheated us. This is just a 4-D hologram.”

I turned off my q-mic and shut them out. I couldn’t stand it any more.

Not the end of entropy afterall. Just a final spectacular flare of a dying sun.

The moment was lost. They had taken the joy away from me. How is it they never ask the one crucial question of me? Are they so unthinking? Surely it would occur to them to consider my plight just once. Couldn’t they ask the question just one time?

How is it possible that I have witnessed an eternity of world-ends? That’s what I want them to ask. I’ve told them the Jesus particle allows them to undergo death and subsequent resurrection only once. Yet they can’t think past their own experiences. How am I here? Do I not exist outside the tour for them?

If they would cut through their self-absorption to ask, I would give them an answer. I desperately want to tell them. Of course, I can’t escape the physical laws of the Jesus particle.

My dilemma is my own doing. I chose to see the end-of-the-world more than once. And I paid for it with my death. Once the choice was made, there was no going back for me.

My body no longer existed in my original time-line. I can’t go back. I only exist here at the end of the universe. I willingly chose the eternal apocalypse, an endless Armageddon.

Perhaps I chose wrongly.

I push closer to the membrane of my Higgs field. Perhaps I can make the only choice now open to me. That would be a human thing to do. Just reach out past the perimeter of the field. Annihilation!

Ha, I always had to simplify the explanations for the tourists. Nothing is ever annihilated. The world starts again. And ends again. In a myriad of ways. Perhaps I can imagine another way and bring it to life.

I hold onto the physical laws that I know are true. Nothing is ever annihilated. Mass doesn’t simply disappear, it manifests itself as energy. And what is energy in this universe but the divine?

I’ve seen the universe end in every way conceived by the mind of man. Finally there’s no new experience open to me but to see what lies beyond the end.

I turn my q-mic back on, this time to full spectrum. For these last few moments I’m still human. I want my final words to be recorded in every quantum timeline, seeping into to collective consciousness of every human civilisation, spoken by others in the belief that they had sprung from their own minds.

“This is one small step for man…”

I push my foot through the membrane.

Dirk Strasser has written over 30 books and is the founder of the Aurealis Awards. He has co-published Aurealis magazine for over 20 years.

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