No Time — Truespace
“Atom nuclei can be created in two hundred and fifty-two varieties,” the voice continues, “but the ability of atoms to act as components of higher-level structures called ‘molecules’ is determined by their electron cloud configurations, which in turn is determined by the number of protons within the nucleus. There are eighty stable varieties of atoms possible.
“The study of inter-atomic bonding and the subsequent behavior of molecules is called ‘chemistry’. Chemistry is possible only at temperatures close to absolute zero: the minimum possible temperature at which particle motion ceases. Only a small fraction of matter in the boundary universes is cold enough to participate in chemistry. Yet this matter is significant because it is only from near-absolute-zero matter that bodies may be constructed for the lowest-level intelligences of the boundary universes.”
At last we are coming to it! the prince thinks.
The great display shows various atoms, represented as colored balls, slowly coming together into a complex structure.
“Bonds form between atomic electron clouds in several different configurations. Some permit no movement of the bonded atoms, but some allow flexure, or rotational motion along the axis of the bond. This allows the construction of complex machines called ‘proteins’ whose motion is controlled by the permissible motion of certain bonds, and powered by the attraction and repulsion of atoms coming within force-effect distance of the machine. Also, such forces are always applied against a background of small ‘water’ molecules which are ubiquitous in the boundary universes.”
The machine on the display is becoming huge. Thousands of atoms are joining its structure at ever-increasing speed. The prince cannot imagine how the atoms are guided to the proper places so that the machine will function! An overall shape gradually becomes apparent. It has two appendages at the bottom, with a long trunk rising above.
As the prince watches, the formation of the shocking complex machine is completed. It has thousands upon thousands of atoms. The two bottom appendages begin alternating movement. It is propelling itself, ‘walking’ along a cylindrical structure of substantial diameter and great length, its end fading into the distance.
The prince’s heart quickens. Surely this is one of the simple creatures.
“The machine you see here is a protein called ‘kinesin’. It is one component of a much larger structure called a ‘living cell’. Each cell contains between fifty million and one billion such proteins, as well as support structures like the microtubule on which this kinesin motor walking. The kinesin carries bundles of raw materials and manufactured components to many destinations within the living cell. There are many such devices within a typical cell, as well as a great variety of other mechanisms.”
The view zooms back until it encompasses a fantastic scene: an immense region filled with astonishing activity. Hundreds of complex components moving, bending, folding, encompassing, disgorging, admitting, expelling, creating, destroying. The view continues to zoom out and the prince sees that this region of activity is some sort of immense chamber. It has a translucent surface studded with dozens of ports accepting and rejecting input molecules and expelling waste. The zoom continues and he sees several independent manufacturing centers creating come into view, each one assembling multiple new proteins with every passing second, their activity fueled by energy-storing molecules that have been produced in distant power stations. The view zooms out until he realizes that there are thousands of these manufacturing centers, hundreds of the power stations, thousands of the ports in the gigantic structure’s wall. The activity becomes far too small to see. The curvature of the immense being’s outer skin becomes apparent. It is vast. The kinesin devices that he mistook for the inhabitants of the boundary universe would take ten thousand, twelve thousand of its little steps to cross this vast chamber, like a man walking half a dozen miles.
Finally the entirety of the vast being is visible, the huge and complex ports on its surface reduced to nothing but a texture. It is a three-dimensional ovoid.
“This,” the voice says, “is a living cell.”
Somehow, the prince realizes, all of that immense conflagration of chaos and order, creation and destruction is orchestrated! There are informational pathways, messages embodied by complex molecules, flows of requests, offers, negotiations among disparate subsystems, inventory management, planning, error detection and correction.
If this at last is the body of one of the boundary universe inhabitants, the prince’s soul quails at the prospect of understanding such technology.
Also, he is faintly disappointed. He had imagined that they might be given a form more similar to people.
“These living cells,” the voice says, “are at last the true components of the inhabitants of the boundary universes.” The view continues to zoom out until other cells become visible. There are connections between them, then there are skeins and walls composed of them, and then they become invisible, lost in the immensity.
“Human bodies of the boundary universes are composed of two hundred and thirty-three different types of such cells, their total count for an average body approximately seventy trillion.”
The prince’s mind becomes still.
At last the zoom out from the foundations of reality is complete. The scale shows that the ‘physical’ body being displayed is slightly more than thirty-five orders of magnitude larger than the minimum scale size in this universe. Twenty-nine orders of magnitude smaller than the cosmos in which it resides. Twenty thousand times larger than the individual cell that seemed so overwhelming moments ago.
The prince understands now for the first time that the design and implementation of such technology belongs to beings of an entirely separate order from his. What use can he possibly be to such beings? Yet they allowed him to travel here, allowed him to enter into this training.
As though reading his mind, the voice answers.
“It is important that you understand the complexity and delicacy of the cold-matter technology necessary to implement the physical bodies of the inhabitants of the boundary universes, but this technology will not be your main focus in the Work.
“Beings of your order will nevertheless be crucial to the success of the Work. To understand your role, we will now describe the creation and maintenance of a nursery world.”
That renews the prince’s attention and allays his fears of uselessness. Looking up at the display, he regards the prototype body as the display once more begins to zoom out.
He is glad that they did after all design the bodies as far as possible in three dimensions to resemble those of people.