Clocks – Chapter 5 (Finale)

The hospital kept me in observation for a short while afterwards, but quickly enough I was given a clean bill of health and sent home to the awaiting news crews. As it would turn out, my story would have quite the impact on the world in the coming months. My dysfunctional Life Clock caused irreparable damage to the manufacturer’s reputation. They even offered to have it replaced or disabled if I kept quiet. But it was too late for them.

My specialist, my colleagues and the hospital staff all testified in my favour: there was a flaw in the design of the Life Clock product. It could falsely report someone’s doom, as well as falsely report the lack thereof. Furthermore, the value it reported might not even be consistent between the unit and the database. With that many faults, what point did such a device even serve? What benefit did it provide?

The public opinion of the Life Clocks shifted almost instantly. People stopped buying new ones. The ones who already had them wanted them gone. It turned out there were others with similar circumstances to mine, and as soon as they began to emerge, they queued up for class action lawsuits en masse. It was no surprise when the courts ordered that all Life Clock users requesting removal were obliged. The company ended up going under as a result of all the negative publicity. I’m sure those conspiracy theorists on the Internet would have been pleased. There was still one question that remained, however; I headed over to the specialist’s office to get it answered.

‘None of this is based in fact,’ he said, forming a tent with his fingers. ‘I have no proof, no methodology, and no repeatable tests. All I have is an idea, and nothing more. Is that enough for you?’

‘I’ll take what I can get.’

‘Known conditions aside, you are perfectly healthy. Always have been, probably always will be. In all the years you possessed a Life Clock, you never once had a problem until after you had your leg amputated. What do you make of that?’

‘I dunno. At some point around that day it stopped working, I guess.’

‘That’s the logical conclusion to make. But how do you know it was working properly? You said yourself that you never really paid attention to it beforehand. It might have malfunctioned much earlier and warned you about your leg by chance. A broken clock is right twice a day, after all.’

‘What are you getting at? Are you suggesting that it was broken the whole time?’

‘On the contrary’, the specialist chuckled. ‘I’m suggesting it was working as it should, but after your surgery your circumstances underwent a lot of change and as a result the data your Life Clock was processing also underwent a lot of change. What would you say changed for you?’

‘Well I only had one leg, for starters. I had rehab, I had to move apartments—’

‘And you started paying attention to your Life Clock. But not just that: you started viewing it negatively, resenting it and fearing it and who knows what else. Because your perception of it changed, so did the values you perceived. You kept expecting the readings to be negative, and so when they were, you noticed. Or, rather, whenever you noticed, they became negative.’

‘But what about the database? The values you had were normal; they didn’t match what I was recording at all. How do you explain the discrepancy?’

‘I believe it’s because our views differed. You see, the database doesn’t store the value, it stores the calculation that created the value. When I looked at the calculations, it output the values that made sense to my viewpoint. When you looked at the calculations, it output the values that made sense to your viewpoint. Because your viewpoint was so much more extreme, so too were the values.’

‘Even if that’s correct, remember that I actually was clinically dead for a while there. It wasn’t wrong.’

‘Ah, but by what cause? Your heart doesn’t stop by itself, you know—excepting old age—rather, it was made to stop.’

It was made to stop? ‘By what?’

‘Your brain and your body generate signals to communicate with each other. The quantum computer that used to be implanted in you is supposed to take those signals, among others, and generate some output. But after your surgery you started to perceive the outputs to already be negative, and came up with the reasons why after the fact. Similarly, this meant that your Life Clock also had to come up with the reasons why after the fact. You were making it operate in reverse. You willed it to make you die to fulfil your prediction that you would. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will. That’s my idea: take it or leave it.’

I thought about the specialist’s idea for a long time. The way he explained it made no sense to me. I wanted it to show me negative values, so it made my life worse to fulfil that desire? Come on, now. That violated cause and effect. Only the manufacturers knew exactly how the Life Clock calculated its values and what input it used, but there was no way it could do that. It simply isn’t possible to decide on a result, and have the world reorganise itself in order to arrive at that result. Not retroactively, anyway. That’s a paradox.

My thoughts returned to the historical Doomsday Clock in use by the old world. That Doomsday Clock wasn’t a computerised system; it was just an abstract value that was manually updated by the collective opinion of a panel of scientists. If they believed the value needed to be incremented, they incremented the value themselves, and then displayed it themselves via the popular medium at the time. But one edge case occurred to me that hadn’t before. Since that Doomsday Clock was supposed to measure the human race’s proximity to probable destruction, then the only way it could possibly reach 12:00 was if the human race had been destroyed, in which case there would be no one left to increment it. That, too, was a paradox; one that no quantum computer could self-correct.

But, as I recalled, the Doomsday Clock was fitted with a quantum computer eventually. And when it was, the value it produced was independent to what the scientists thought it would produce. As a comparison, the quantum computer in my Life Clock should also produce an independent value to what I thought, right?

No, not quite. My Life Clock applied only to me, but the Doomsday Clock applied to every human alive. It wasn’t just the scientists. If they thought it should be higher, but the vast majority of the populace thought otherwise, then maybe that discrepancy was being accounted for. It could have been that the scientists were simply outweighed by the thoughts of the rest of the human race. And if that was the case, how was the world altering itself in order to match that global perception?

Come to think of it, the general state of affairs for humanity as a whole had been on a steady rise ever since the invention of the quantum computers that were the basis of these clocks. People were living longer, living healthier, and living happier. Was it because the world was in a better situation, or was the world in a better situation because of them? If the specialist’s idea was correct, people’s collective desire to be happy had affected the world profoundly enough to produce today’s society.

Then the value of the computer was meaningless. It wasn’t predicting the future; it was displaying the desired future of its subject, and the subjects, thinking their desires would come to fruition, worked to do just that. That held true whether the end result was positive or negative. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy after all. And, if both the Life Clocks and one’s own life were that easily manipulated, then the future must be, quite literally, what the user makes of it. Your value—your future—is in your hands and yours only.

I smiled. After all that had happened to me, I finally felt back in control of my life. What had happened before, what was happening now and what would happen next was all up to me. But wait. If it was always in my control, then what did it mean when my Life Clock displayed 12:01?



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