A True-Blue Miracle

on February 15, 2011 in Science Fiction

In later days, it became a common pastime to sit around and talk about when and how exactly the world had started to go wrong. Things had turned weird so slowly and gradually that it was hard to say exactly what the first sign had been.

Nick is always sure it was the bugs, but then, he’d had a close encounter with them before any of it was on the news, so it was only natural that he’d think of them as the precursor to it all.

Lauren thinks anything physical is a red herring. She maintains that there had been a weird “vibe” building in the air before anything actually happened. She claims that members of her online coven had known that something was coming, often talking about what shape they thought it might take and how they could fight it.

I believe that these conversations happened. I can’t ascribe the same importance to them that she does.

Kit thinks it’s all in an invasion in the most literal sense. She thinks it was all orchestrated, and there were agents of what she likes to call “the other side” living here in secret for years… maybe centuries… before they made an overt move.

Dave enjoys these conversations. He thinks it’s important to analyze the sequence of events that led our world to the point it’s at today. He disagrees with the terms we frame it in, though. To him, talking about little changes that lead up to a big one just doesn’t make any sense. As he puts it, either nothing actually changed or it all changed at once.

The others think he’s full of it. Obviously the world has changed. Obviously it happened little by little. His view clashes with what they can see of reality, so he’s stopped trying to explain it to them. I get what he means, though. I don’t know if I agree but I at least understand it. He explained it to me one night when we were on sentry duty, back at the farm, with a story I like to call “The One Gallon Miracle”.

“Think of the Atacama Desert,” he said. “The driest place on earth. There are parts of it that have never received rain for as long as we’ve been monitoring them.”

“I know,” I said. “I do watch cable documentaries. Or I did.”

“Imagine the Atacama Desert became a great, elevated inland sea,” he said. “The western hemisphere just wakes up one morning and… poof. Aguamenti. Geologists and climatologists and the whole fraternity of scientists in general would start looking for a rational explanation, but in the final analysis the only rational conclusion would be that we were looking at something entirely beyond explaining according to our understanding of the physical laws that bound our reality. A miracle. An act of God. Whatever you want to call it. We’d be staring the impossible in the face.”

“But that’s not how it happened,” I said. “It wasn’t such a ‘sea change’, if you’ll pardon the pun.”

“Never,” Dave said. “But I’m not finished. Imagine half the Atacama Desert became a sea and the rest stayed as it is, changes brought on by the presence of water within its climate zone notwithstanding. Would this be any less of a miracle? Any more explicable?”

“I can’t see how,” I said.

“Okay,” Dave said. “And what if it didn’t happen all at once? If water started bubbling up from the ground from no clear source, it might give us science types a little bit longer before we had to throw in the towel and admit that we don’t know shit about what’s going on. It might take a bit longer for the layfolks to catch on to the fact that we’re dealing with a bone fide miracle. But impossible is impossible, whether it happens all at once or over time.”

“You’re still talking about a massive change,” I said.

“Then let’s go smaller,” he said. “Instead of a sea, make it a lake. Or a pond. A gallon of water, Dar. If a gallon of water appeared in the middle of the Atacama Desert, it would be as much of an impossibility as the whole desert flooding. In point of fact, if the Pacific Ocean suddenly found itself enlarged by one gallon it would be equally impossible.”

“How would we notice that, though?”

“We wouldn’t,” he said. “The chances of noticing a small amount of water appearing in the Atacama is also vanishingly small. If we stumbled across a small amount of water, we could write it off more easily, too. It would be harder for us to say for certain we were dealing with something inexplicable and not just something that’s unexplained. That’s not the point. The point is that our understanding of the world says we don’t need to constantly check every square inch for unexplained spontaneously appearing matter. If it ever happens, it means we got something badly wrong in formulating our rules about how the world works.”

“Or that the rules have changed,” I said.

“That in and of itself would be something we got wrong,” he said. “Now, it would be easier to write these one gallon miracles off, to say that someone must have missed something or imagine that the gallon was brought in by mortal hands, but if we could rule out those explanations and prove that the water had spontaneously appeared, then it wouldn’t matter how much or how little was involved, how long it took to get there, or how moist or dry the environment was.”

“Okay, but…”

“But what?”

“Once we say that the rules have changed or are different than you thought,” I said, “you have to call into question the whole framework that says it would take an equally large change to make a one gallon miracle as a million gallon one, don’t you? I mean, in that example, imagine it was always possible to produce a small amount of matter out of nothing but no one noticed. And that each time it happened, it got easier. A little difference in the world that gets bigger.”

Dave just shook his head.

“I can see why you might think that would be a smaller difference, but it really wouldn’t,” he said. “There are no little miracles. There’s no such thing as being slightly impossible. You know?”

“I know there are a lot of things in the world we didn’t think could exist,” I said.

It’s one of many things we’d probably never agree on, but we don’t have to. We each know where the other one stands. At least Dave is able to accept that the world had changed. There were some of his science friends who I’d met in earlier days that I couldn’t picture coping with the new reality of things. The ones who’d gotten into screaming matches with Lauren at our dinner parties, for instance.

It takes a certain mental flexibility to cope with the changed world and to get along with a group. A neo-pagan who can get along with a skeptical scientist and a scientist who can get along with a fluffy, flaky neo-pagan are probably better companions than many.

Whatever Dave said, the fact that the five of us have each other qualifies as a little miracle in my book.

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