editing chapter 5.2
okay, and it’s about time. i’m running out of time to hit 50,000 words for nanowrimo (which i’ve got 2 days left), and i’ve been really struggling to make sense of this part of the chapter, but it’s all come out good enough for me, and now i’m going to move on to the next part, where kurt shows off his new quantum computer.
Kurt had contacts all over the place. He got to gawk at prototypes in fancy funded labs, sometimes got samples of new materials, and every once in a while got hold of a nifty instrument or device nobody needed anymore. So when he was ready to build his quantum computer, he called up his friends to see about access to their labs and maybe a couple of spare parts. Most of them were apologetic; one said something snippy about the last time. So Kurt did a quick inventory of parts and labor and decided he could build a quantum computer himself with things he probably had around the van.
In fact, the back of his van was the kind of diy physics lab a geek would drool over, with handbuilt multimeters and oscilloscopes, a bench power supply, a dc power supply, a function generator, a pulse generator, an entire range of lasers, and he had a nearby storage unit filled with everything from old PCs, microwaves, TVs, CD and DVD players, to smoke detectors, camera lenses and optical filters.
Usually Kurt’s van was full of food wrappers and printer paper and well-thumbed manuals, with a gun under the driver’s seat and a stash of pharmaceuticals in the glove compartment, but it all had to be cleaned up, because the first thing he needed to do was shield his van from prying eyes and electromagnetic interference. As a metal box, his van was a natural faraday cage anyway, but Kurt was a firm believer in the efficacy of tinfoil hats and shielding paint. The next thing he needed was a diy scanning electron microscope, because even a starter desktop unit cost twenty times the trade-in value of his van. Once these were done he parked in a quiet, secure location with wifi, and settled down to create his masterpiece.
He made a supply of diy exfoliated graphene, using scotch tape to peel layers of graphite off of a chunk, including layers of Kurt skin and grunge. Then he sat and debated which of several substrates to use, and where he might obtain a smidgen. This proved to be some trouble, so he sat there thinking in front of his computer screen, bathing his face in radiation he was pretty sure helped keep his skin looking fresh and young. And probably increased his baldness, but oh well. The answer didn’t come. He smoked a few cigarettes and thought. He ate a bag of corn chips and cruised the internet, waiting for inspiration. He smoked some more. He tossed a coin. He took a walk to the corner store for more cigarettes. He thought about it.
Finally he gave up and decided to go to sleep. So he put his seat down and settled in behind the wheel with his pillow and a blanket. He unlocked the glove compartment and rummaged thru his stash, considering his medly for the night.
He started with two zolpidems and a tramadol. Then he smoked some weed, then popped an oxycodone and closed his eyes. Kurt was an experienced and responsible occasional user of substances. He took antianxiety drugs when he had to go out in public because he was an isolator, antidepressants because he couldn’t get going without them, sleeping pills because he was insomniac. He did psychostimulants when he stayed up for days coding on a project, and antipsychotics when he needed to control the shaking, and smoked a blunt whenever he needed to level it all out. He had a standing order for anything psychedelic, and was a big fan of mixing pharmaceuticals for the kick.
This is not to make Kurt sound like a drug addict. Kurt was studying the role of chemicals on consciousness, using himself as the subject, and always searching for the perfect high. He was an armchair expert on neuromodulators like dopamine, acetylcholine, and serotonin. He had mindguard installed on his Bluetooth, and wore funny underwear to eliminate psychotronic radiation.
Kurt was asleep. In his sleep, he was at his really kick-ass computer. Using only the eloquence of his coding, he created a perfectly reflective egg on the table in front of his screen, nubbed all over like an ear of corn. How aerodynamic, he thought. But I need to build the processor first.
Kurt was writing code on his computer, sitting in his office chair in the back of the van, staring at the gleaming egg silhouetted against the monitor. Kurt was asleep. Kurt’s dream computer was diy state of the fucking art, and his van was an Airstream decked out like NORAD. And Nicola Tesla was sitting on the banquette talking to Wilhelm Reich. They wore rumpled suits and were speaking animatedly in German. They turned to Kurt and paused for a moment. Then Tesla got up and put on a kettle to brew some coffee while Reich rummaged thru the cabinets for some spirit to add to it. Kurt’s dream Airstream was well stocked. They made a mess of the kitchen area.
They were talking about fabricating on a nanometer scale. Reich wanted to strip a regular silicon transistor down atom by atom. Tesla wanted to scale up, one atom on top of another. Where they speaking in English now? Kurt wanted some coffee. Tesla suggested pre-programmed building blocks that would assemble themselves. Reich argued for growing from seed by cell division and dendritic growth.
Kurt knew he was sleeping. He could turn over in the reclined driver’s seat and smell the console ashtray. But he never minded that, because he was sitting at his task chair in the middle of his dream lab, working in a cloudlike mind/computer space where the kernel of his quantum computer were forming, with only a little bit of help, into a massive tangle of purposeful connections and chunks of functionality, a beautiful, symmetrical organism that rolled up into a buckyball when he was done. Kurt was feeling good, his mind was being its brilliant self and he was cruising along feeling how wonderful it was to be really smart. How righteous it felt to just snatch ideas out of the air and transform them into reality with a few stabs of his fingers. Like a boss.
Tesla brought him coffee that reeked of whisky. It tasted like chocolate pudding. Kurt slugged it down while they bent around his shoulders to peer at his progress. Good, they both said, then had different suggestions for his next step, and started arguing. Kurt got up for more coffee and sat at the banguette to roll a spliff.
They worked all night. Actually it was over the course of several weeks, but thru the miracle of modern medicine, it all went by in a single burst of effort that Kurt hardly noticed. His dream Airstream had a pantry full of coffee and ramen noodles, a fully stocked bar, and a machine that dispensed cigarettes, weed, and pharmaceuticals. With Tesla and Reich around he didn’t have to get up except to medicate and pee.
Reich worked with him on the bioengineering portion, while Tesla played solitaire at the banquette. Kurt’s hands were a little meaty, expanded by his altered perceptions into big heavy slabs, while his knife bent and rippled as he used it.
“You oaf,” Reich berated as Kurt cut himself and bled all over the graphene he was prepping.
“You are contaminating the samples at every step,” Tesla complained, resorting the deck and dealing himself better cards.
“That’s perhaps not all bad,” Reich mused as he went thru the pantry again. “Happy accidents.”
Kurt sucked his bloody thumb and reminded them that he hadn’t chosen a substrate to deposit the graphene onto.
“We’ve got a better idea,” Tesla said, winning his game and gathering his cards smugly. “We’ll use graphene as the substrate.”
“How about this?” Reich asked as he stood up in the kitchen, wearing a package of ramen noodles on his head like a hat.
“Starch?” Tesla wondered.
“MSG?” Kurt wondered. “Don’t we want something rigid as a substrate?”
“Nonsense. That’s two dimensional thinking. We’ll just take a twist of dried noodle, like so, two of them, twist them together, and you’ve got a double helix.” He held it in his palm and turned to Kurt. “Are you still bleeding? Open that cut up and squeeze a few drops on this. The protein will bind the energetic essence of your blood to the helix, then we’ll twist it down and mush it hard, into paste.”
“Bloody paste.” Kurt was dubious.
“Of course. It retains its helical structure and its matrix of embodied life essence even when broken down into its component molecules.” They lapsed into German, which was good, because Kurt’s brain wasn’t doing rational very well at the moment, and didn’t need to know the details. And I’m afraid that if Kurt missed out on it, then so did I, and we’re just going to have to conjecture a little blob of magical realism here.
They smoothed the graphene down on the kitchen counter and washed the slurry over it. All sorts of crap came unstuck from the counter and mixed with the slurry. It was riddled with contaminants.
“We have to throw it away,” Kurt said, embarrassed.
“No don’t,” Tesla said. “We can make use of the different properties.” He pointed to visible objects in the hardening sludge. “This part is semiconducting. This part is ferromagnetic.”
Reich leaned over and had a close look, then motioned Kurt down beside him. “Here’s how you alter the conductivity,” he said. “Breathe out slowly.” Kurt’s breath fogged and floated over the solution in waves and tendrils. “You’re donating oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen to the mixture.” The breeze created lines and fernlike spiraling ribbons on the surface. “Those are insulating lines you’re etching into the substrate,” he said. “The dendrites are semiconducting.”
Kurt poured himself more coffee, did up some designer ketamine, and rolled another joint. Tesla was sweeping the floor, which made Kurt feel a little guilty about the mess, but then Reich scooped up a handful of dust out of the pile and dumped it on the cooled sludge. Tesla lightly folded and kneaded the mixture a few times, and Reich explained that they were layering semiconducting and insulating graphene to make an orgone accumulator.
Reich took the floury doughlike mixture and flattened it with his hands, bending down to peer closely at it. He twisted specks of contaminant off and separated them. There were a lot of them, and they were plumper and more hydrated than when they’d first come into contact with the slurry. “Graphane, graphone,” he named the bits as he sorted them. “Graphyne, graphune.’ They were in shapes now, triangles, rhombuses. He pointed to the blocks in turn. “Insulating on the counter, conducting next to the stove, magnets on the floor, on the table, semiconductors on top of the microwave.”
They did a lot of work with Kurt’s handmade scanning electron microscope, using tweezers to work a small piece of graphene into position under the lens. With a tiny pair of nano hands, Kurt tore off a strip from one side, and then a strip from the other side, and stopped when he had a long, thin ribbon of graphene. His physical dexterity fading, he had a hell of a time taking one end and joining it to the other with a mobius twist. When he was finished, Tesla clapped him on the back and congratulated him on his first real act of genius – making the seed of his quantum computer. So they had a little party with brandy and cigars all around.
They looked at the mobius strip on the screen. “That’s the qubit?” Kurt asked, not entirely following the line of inquiry.
“Certainly,” Tesla replied. “Actually, it’s a qubit array, since each molecule of graphene contains either a qubit or storage.”
“Say what?” Kurt was starting to get a little fuzzy.
“You’ll see. Now, we’re going to wrap it up in a buckyball. You can build a generating chamber, can’t you?”
“Maybe I need a little nap first.”
“No need, I’ll build it. Why don’t you freshen up a little?”
Kurt made microwave popcorn and got out the bong and the good weed.
In twenty minutes they had a jar full of buckyballs that smelled like butter. They’d used the mobius strip as a seed inside the generating chamber, and when they opened the jar and scraped the smudge on the inside, they had about a gram of C60 fullerene with mobius qubits trapped inside. Like magic.
Reich mumbled around a mouthful of popcorn. “So, it’s getting late. What’s next?”
“Uh, we need to embed it onto a chip,” Kurt said, seeing Tesla nodding off at the banquette.
Reich brought him back. “Here’s how you grow transistors. Give me one of your hairs.” Kurt plucked a hair from his chest – there weren’t that many on his head. Reich went over to the banquette table and dragged the hair thru the semiconducting blocks, which had shrunk to the size of a small pile of powder. Then he gave the hair back to Kurt, who put it under the microscope. Reich showed him where to position the scalpel. “Tiny slivers,” he advised. “Thinner.” When he was satisfied, Kurt picked up a cross section with a tweezer, and put it under the microscope. “OK that’s ten thousand transistors,” Reich said.
“Yeah, that’s a metaphor, right?” Kurt retorted. Onscreen, the crossectioned hair broke up into thousands of pieces and grew legs, crawling offscreen. “That’s illustrative,” Kurt remarked as Reich gathered them into a test tube and stoppered it.
Tesla moved in next to Kurt. “Here’s how you make an integrated circuit.” He put a piece of treated graphene under the microscope. “Hold your thumb in the middle.” Kurt objected, but there was his thumb onscreen, measuring roughly 10nm at the nail, while it still felt the normal size on the end of his hand. He wiggled his thumb. It wiggled onscreen. His thumb throbbed, the cut still oozed. “Hold still,” Tesla snapped. Kurt’s nanoscale thumb hovered over the graphene, almost touching it. A faint electrical corona grew visible and began casting off sparks. It looked like lightning onscreen. Kurt pulled back to 10,000x magnification. There was a glowing ring around his thumb at the gap between it and the graphene. “Just hold it there, and we’ll coax these little fuckers onto the surface,” Tesla said, as Reich bent over with the test tube and flicked a few specks out onto the graphene. Onscreen, a shower of invisible transistors rained onto the surface. Like ants in search of food they marched across the surface toward Kurt’s thumb, leaving little glowing tracers. Their movement slowed and stopped as they packed themselves in and took root in the graphene.
Then Reich came over with the buckyball smudge, and Kurt selected a single ball and placed it in the center of the still-glowing ring.
Kurt removed the chip from the microscope with tweezers. “This is pretty cool for a prototype,” he said. “But I’m wondering if this is how we’ll do it on a production scale.”
“Don’t worry,” Tesla assured him, “we’ve already thought of that. We’ll clone them.” He waved at the far end of the airstream, which was now the size of an Amazon warehouse, with thousands of workstations and millions of qubits performing billions of actions.
“Bits of Kurt on every chip,” Reich said jovially.
Kurt thought it was hilarious. “Cloned Kurt sandwiches.”
Tesla walked over to Kurt’s computer and grabbed the shell that was still floating, gleaming and slowly spinning in front of the monitor. He brought it over to where Kurt was sitting holding the quantum chip. “Now put yourself around that,” he told the shell. Ripples appeared on the surface of the shell, and the chip passed thru into the center.
“Just like that, huh,” Kurt said with irony. “If only I’d known before. How simple.” Tesla and Reich both nodded impatiently, and Kurt felt stupid.
Tesla pressed the point. “Okay, now we need to shield it. What are our options?” He raised an eyebrow at Kurt, who remained silent. “We’ll use an optical coating, of course. Let’s see, dissipative, reflective, dichroic, I think.” He reached into his vest pocket and withdrew a small vial that he began to shake.
Kurt balked. “No please, just tell me what this is a metaphor for so I can cut thru all this bullshit.”
Tesla put the vial back in his pocket. “Okay, fine.”
Reich looked disappointed. “We still need to coat it.” He went to the counter and took a bit of the dough, balled it up and gave it to Kurt. “Here, gob this up in your mouth for a minute. Nice and gooey. Okay,” he held out his palm. “Spit it out.” He went over to the stove and rolled it in the conducting powder, then smeared it over the egg. “Right. Then we heat set it.”
“Can we do that here?” Kurt was perplexed. He followed Tesla’s eyes. “In the microwave, duh.”
Kurt set the timer and pushed the button, watching anxiously thru the door, then impulsively canceled it and pulled out the dish, peering at its diminishing smallness for signs that he’d overcooked it. It spun slowly, gleaming richly in the light of the open microwave door. “Okay, it’s shielded, now what?”
“Now we power it,” Reich said.
“Where are we going to fit a battery?” He looked at Tesla, who only winked. “Oh yeah. We’ll make it part of a wireless transmitter. It’ll resonate with the earth’s frequency and get its energy from that. That’s how it will communicate with the peripherals, too. We’ll wrap it with a mobius coil made from a ferromagnetic graphene nanotube, and that’ll generate a scalar wave to cancel out interference, and the resulting superconducting magnet will act as one terminal of a scalar field.”
Tesla beamed. “You will go down in history!” he exclaimed.
“You will go down in flames,” Reich added.
“What the fuck,” Kurt shrugged.
They gave each other high fives. Tesla handed Kurt his hip flask. Reich offered him a line of blow.
The rest was easy. They embedded the quantum egg onto a standard chip, set onto a standard motherboard, linked to standard devices, wifi enabled. Then they all turned in for a few winks. Kurt crawled into his king-sized waterbed and fell back to sleep, and dreamed about the whole night all over again.
When he woke up, he was cold and cramped in the front seat of his grimy, filthy van, parked in a basement garage, cars pulling in all around him and slamming their doors. He tried to go back to sleep. The egg was shining, floating in the dream space inside his mind, pulsing with his own brainwaves. He stood in front of it and said, “Open sesame,” and it opened up and let him in, enveloping him like a living suit, making him physically infinite, indeterminate, fuzzy.
When he woke up for real, his van was trashed, there was green vomit in the wastebasket, he had bruises on his leg and scratches on his arms. There were a couple of dozen ramen noodle packages on the floor, stamped flat and torn open. His tools had hardened doughy fingerprints all over them. His computer showed a videogame with a message saying, “Banned for Teamkilling.” He stared at the screen for a long time, drinking cold coffee and smoking cigarettes, eating two provigils and an adderall.
Slowly he got to work building an operating system to translate the quantum side into something a regular computer could work with. Alone in his messy van he did what he did best, sitting in the back on a broken swivel chair in front of a bank of computers and screens, surrounded by cables and computer junk, trash, cigarette butts, plastic coffee cups, fast food wrappers, and a big half-empty pee-jar, lit by garish monitor-light, oblivious to the world outside his van.
He was in the flow the moment he began creating the game engine. The hours passed, and he slapped the code down as fast as it came to him, and it was a thing of beauty. The code just flowed out of his fingers and went where it needs to go as if it was predestined. No mistakes, no debugging, no rewriting. His best work ever.
Then he encrypted it so nobody else could mess with his quantum kernel.