Darla put up a hand. “If Am-heh's a rogue NPC, then just shut down Realm of Egypt. Use your GM override. Log out everyone there and shut down the damn program! You can always tell your customers it's an emergency maintenance or something.”
Farker exhaled slowly. “I can't do that,” he said.
“Oh, come on!” she flared. “Don't give me that crap about bottom line and profit margins. You have to help those people and get them out of him. I'm sure your boss will understand and back you up when you get a chance to explain it to him. But shut it down now!”
“You're right about that. As a matter of fact,” Farker said, “he suggested the same thing, shutting Egypt down. But I can't do it.”
“What? This can't be some kind of programmer ego thing,” she said, disgusted with him. “You didn't write Realm of Egypt. You just bought it from another company.”
Farker frowned at her. “Believe it or not,” he said, “I am a human being, too. I'd love to shut it down until we can figure out what happened. But there were two reasons why I couldn't, and now there are four reasons: those four people. The users whose avatars Am-heh swallowed can't be logged out, because the system doesn't know where they are. And we have no idea what will happen if we shut down while they are out of contact. Do you know anything about quantum interference devices?”
“The link bed transceivers? Not a lot. That's next semester.”
“Basically, they provide quantum entanglement with the brain's microtubules at a molecular level. Do you know what that means?”
“Not the slightest idea,” she admitted.
“In the old days,” he continued, “people thought the way to do mind-to-computer interfacing was by attaching micro electrodes to nerve endings. The first applications were ways to control prosthetic limbs and replace the sight of the blind by stimulating their optic nerves creating dots of light in their sensorium. No one does it that way anymore.”
“Why not?” she asked him, interested in spite of herself, and glad she was an engineering major. She glanced over at Aes, who was listening solemnly and probably understanding one word in seven.
“It tends to damage the nerves eventually, and it's too slow. No decent lawyers, even corporate lawyers, would sign off on the long term danger to human nervous systems. Besides, it's too slow for the quantum computers that power the UNET.
“The superconducting polymers they developed in 2018 solved the problem. Another breakthrough in our ability to sense and manipulate weak fields. Not needing liquid air to cool the superconductors made the electroneural transceiver – the link bed – both possible and affordable.”
“So...they use magnetic fields now to hook up with the nerve endings?” She'd wondered about the technology but hadn't looked into it in detail yet, as long as it kept working.
“Not exactly. We were fooled for a long time onto thinking that the nerve impulses were the whole show. They're not. Thought isn't a result of nerve cells firing off impulses, It's the other way around.”
“This is all fascinating,” she conceded. “But I don't see how it relates to the current problem.”
“It turns out,” he continued, “that the most important part of the brain is inside each individual neuron. It's a structure we didn't see in the early days of biology because the stains they were using dissolved it. What they missed back then were the microtubules. When you stain them carefully, the inside of cells have an incredibly complex set of cables that connect to internal parts of the cell and to the synapses. These microtubules are the muscles, the circulatory system, the skeleton...and the nervous system of the cells. They are used like railroad tracks for motor proteins that transport molecules around in the cell. And they carry information as well.
“When an incoming impulse is received, the receiving end of the synapse sends a pulse of data down these 'wires' into the cell's interior. But they are more than just wires. The microtubules are like long corn cobs, and the individual kernels on them are protein dimers that have exactly two main configurations. Which shape each subunit is in is determined by the position of a single electron in the molecule.”
Darla wished she had an emote set up to make her eyes bulge out in astonishment. “Are you saying...they are like on-off switches?”
“Oh, they're more than that. They can influence their neighbors through molecular electrostatic fields, which means the patterns on the corncob can flow down the cables and interact with each other like the seemingly moving lights in a movie marquee...or pixels in a moving image. And their states can be quantum-entangled with each other. ”
Darla found herself wanting to sit down. “Farker, are you saying that each nerve cell...”
“...is a quantum computer? Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. And when you log into the UNET, the quantum computers that make up your mind are connected to the quantum hypercomputer. So I can't just shut the Realm down. If we could log everyone out first, sure. But since we have four minds stuck in there, crashing Egypt could kill them or at the very least, turn them into permanent vegetables.”
Darla absorbed this, her mind whirling like leaves scattered in the wind. She looked at Aes. “In other words, Aes, we have people trapped in the dream world. If we stop the dream before they can get out, they die, or worse.”
“And if you don't stop their dream of Egypt,” Aes countered, “even more of the people from your world will become trapped in there by the actions of this intruder.”
Aes stood up. “Then there really is only one choice,” he said. “We had better destroy the Devourer of Millions before he lives up to his name.”
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