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Chapter 2

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By the end of the 21st century, most of mankind had retired the idea of a god to the shelf of quaint old ideas that no one really needed anymore. It is ironic, therefore, that the physicists and mathematicians of the early 22nd century were the ones to announce His Second Coming. The Crawdads and the Cacks, among others, revealed an impenetrable mathematical proof of a Supreme Being's existence in the very heart of quantum mechanics. It seemed that to prevent the universe from dissolving into an expanding waveform of probabilities, and to avoid self-referential nonsense, there must be an outside awareness to collapse the wave function-continually creating the universe we know. 

As Thomas Aquinas might have said, an unobserved observer. We were, after all, merely ideas in the mind of God.

While one might think the various established religions would have embraced this unexpected support from science, the majority approached it with great caution. The math said almost nothing about the nature of this observer, so the religious authorities waited suspiciously to see if this new belief system would become a friend or a foe.

The resurrection of God was only one of a number of surprises following mankind's first encounter with an alien species. After the shooting stopped, cultural translation experts came like Jesuit missionaries to our world seeking to build a common basis for trade. This seemed to involve a lot of remedial math. It was this same math that allowed the oracles to predict the future interactions of particles by their quantum signatures.

"You should have asked whether or not to make the trip, not how best to go!" Only the deep vertical furrows in Dr. Powers' forehead prevented his bushy white eyebrows from touching. He had been my professor and academic advisor and all around mentor at the New Athens Academy on Mars, and I had learned to fear that expression whenever I declared a philosophical conclusion that I couldn't back up with solid reasoning.

I dialed back the resolution on my corneal displays and shrank down in my seat, trying to speak low enough that the shuttle's air recyclers would prevent my fellow passengers from hearing me. "But I only had one-."

"I know, I know." Dr. Powers waved away my excuses. We had already circled around this argument. "At this point, it doesn't matter. You've asked the oracle's advice and now you must follow it."

Until I had consulted the oracle, my future, like Schrödinger's cat, had existed in any of several states. Once the oracle observed that future, it became as solid and nailed down as a frog in a dissection tray. "It would seem so," I muttered.

"I don't like the sound of some of those projections, though. Win every battle, but lose the war...betrayal by friends, unexpected allies..."

"I know, I know, but this isn't just any alien trading fleet. This is the Cack ruler's brother. The trade possibilities are enormous. Trans-Luminal Systems could be the first company to move out system!"

Dr. Powers just gave me a dark look.

"I'm still examining the profile," I said. "I may yet find a way through this."

"The oracles are typically more precise with simple yes or no questions."

I held my tongue and nodded, ignoring the jab.

Dr. Powers sighed and shook his head. "Unfortunately, you don't have the time to fully analyze the profile. Your friend will be leaving soon with or without you." His expression softened. "I suppose you're as well equipped for this sort of adventure as anyone."

"Thanks to your teaching." 

Dr. Powers gave a short sharp laugh like a bark. "I didn't pour four years of education into you so you could waste them on becoming a politician. Go. Just be careful-and send me a message now and then on how you're doing."

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