Sometimes you just get sideswiped by inspiration. This week, Wonderful Awful Ideas is coming early.
Behold the Tree of Worlds: Yewdharma.* Its roots are sunk deep in the quantum bedrock of creation, invisible at the infinitely distant convergence of parallel lines that forms its trunk. Its branches are, of course, fractal. From mighty limbs of “what if the dinosaurs never went extinct?” to the microscopically insignificant twiglets of “what if I had woken up just five minutes earlier?” its canopy stretches in all eleven directions, drinking in the sunlight of probability.
It’s not a real tree. That would be silly. Yewdharma is a metaphor, a hideously complex bit of math squashed into a tree-shape by the brains of the pitiful primates that venture out upon its manifold surface.
There’s one now. Stony-faced, he clings to a metaphorical branch, supported by the metaphorical equivalents of rappelling line and cleated shoes. He has a pair of metaphorical hedge-clippers, which he is waving at a crow. The crow is not metaphorical; it is an angry black bird, and if you get too close to its nest, it will go right for your eyes. This bird is not messing about. It claws at the man’s gloved hands** and darts its pointed beak at his face, screaming.
The man wonders if this would have happened if he’d woken up just five minutes earlier this morning. He might have managed to get a cup of coffee inside him and been alert enough to avoid the bird. He flails with his hedge-clippers and knocks them into a small branch behind him. There’s a dull crunch and a world where Australia developed the first nuclear weapon goes spinning off into oblivion.
Oh well, more where that came from. It’s not so much words as a groove in the man’s brain, he’s had that thought so often. With a grunt, he hoists himself onto a sturdy branch*** out of the crow’s territory.
Free to look around without getting his eyes pecked out, the man searches for his target.
There it is: a broom-like outgrowth of twigs from the gnarled bole of World War II. More damn Nazi victories.
Nobody likes Nazi victories. Of course, half of them are blighted hell-scapes of apocalyptic destruction, but the other half are somehow worse. In those, someone in the Third Reich finally figures out that you can’t run a government on murderous racism, and starts making changes. In no time you have the swastika flying over humanitarian aid stations in Africa, and it just confuses the hell out of everyone. There was even one timeline where Germany ended up a Jewish theocracy.
Can’t let that happen again. What sort of example would that set for the other timelines? Why should they bother fighting against evil when down some other branch of history, the evil turned good all by itself? It would be bad for moral. It would disrupt the tree’s pleasing symmetry.
The man’s shears snick and billions of lives are lost.
Except they aren’t really dead. That’s another well-worn brain-groove. The man knows that none of the lives that he just caused to cease are actually gone. There are an infinity of lives just like them somewhere else on the tree. That’s how infinity works. All you can do is carve out your territory and keep it well-groomed.
The man has long since stopped wondering whether what he does is murder. Even when his metaphorical shears are cleaving through the heart of a screaming human being, he knows that in countless other spaces, they are not. In other other spaces, it’s him who’s being murdered and you with the shears, so what does that signify? Nothing at all.
Look into the man’s eyes as he does his work. See in them the absence of consequence, the boredom. See the omnipotent nihilist, and be afraid.
The eyes twitch. Was that a shadow? Or is that damn crow back? No. It’s something worse. Something that puts a spark of fear in the man’s heart the way no mere fascist empire could.
There, on a twig on a branch of the world-tree Yewdharma, is a flower.
*The Vikings spelled it wrong.
***It leads to a sheaf of worlds where cereals were never domesticated.