Fiction, titled suggested by Alasdair Stuart. Some time around 2002, back when I wanted to, y’know, do this shit for a living, I came up with a character called John Dials. The basic idea was that he was a hyper-intelligent time traveller, shagging his way around various kinds of historical fiction, and solving crimes by really unlikely methods or even by accident. You know, comedy. The first was was going to be a Bronte parody, full of overblown violent landowners, windswept moors, and amusingly graphic incest.
But I don’t really do light comedy very well, and I was constantly frustrated by my inability to make it work. But then a year or two later someone asked me to come up with a horror thing with “scary trees” in it for them to draw. And I went back to Dials, and re-imagined him in a more mad scientist/stark horror vein, and came up with something titled “Earth Died Screaming”, set in 17th century Dorset, about Black Shuck, the devil hound, and a hangman’s tree.
But when I saw the title “The Atom Waltz”, it reminded me of him. So here’s John’s recounting of his own origin story. John Dials, my own personal Doctor Who, back before all this revival bollocks.
The Atom Waltz
The hippies will tell you we’re made from stars. That all the matter of our planet, and our own bodies was all born in that white hot furnace in the heart of the sun. And they’re not actually wrong. They’ll get all excited about protein chains in some primordial soup, and a lightning strike. They’ll tell you’re we’re born in fire and lightning, that we’re somehow holy or remarkable for it.
Fuck ‘em. I am John Dials, and I am a scientist, and I tell you straight: fuck ‘em. In the eyesocket.
We’re mud that sat up, and about as fucking bright. We’re bastards who spend our lives looking from things to hump, kill or eat. Just like every other animal on the planet. That fact that we’ve got a language means nothing what so fucking ever. Whales have a fucking language. And no, it’s not fucking deep and moving and beautiful. It’s just vast fucking cow noises. Get over it.
We’re nothing but an accident of chemistry and physics. Bear that in mind. Sure, people will waffle on about the astronomical odds of our universe happened. Of us happening. There’s a fucking massive number of zeroes on the odds of anything. Great. But it still doesn’t make us special. There might be a massive number of zeroes on the odds, but there’s an even more massive number of zeroes on the amount of time that everything had to happen in. You can pick your own metaphor, if you have to, but I’m not helping you dress it all up in something like it means anything. It’s all just fucking maths. Physics. Whatever.
The point is, the expanse of nothing we came from is so fucking vast, that however massive the number you need to stake against one is, still, there’s enough of it to make sure that we happened in it. In fact, the odds are pretty good that we’ve happened an infinite number of times. That actually, despite the vastness of the odds, actually, we’re tediously inevitable. That everything is.
But the really sad thing is that stupid fucking inevitable accident of cosmic-scale science that we oozed our way out of, somehow equipped us with brains that like to find patterns and meaning. Impose order on things. Whatever. So we scrabble around a meaningless universe, and we find patterns, and we make shit up that gives it all meaning.
That’s all your fucking gods and magic and hippy star children rubbish are. The heavy grey bit in the top of your strangely shaped bag of dirty water making shit up, so that… so that…
I don’t fucking know why.
I’m the smartest fucking man on the planet. You think anyone else could have invented all this shit? I’ve looked inside quarks, I have. You know what’s there? Vibrating string. Vibrating fucking string. You get down small enough, it’s always vibrating fucking string. You look inside one vibrating string, you know what you find? A smaller vibrating string.
That’s the face of your god, cunts. Vibrating fucking string.
So I started drinking. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? I mean, every last one of us is all alone in a pointless universe that contains not one iota of detectable meaning, but at least all that fucking starstuff has come together in a few forms that will get our brains good and fucked up.
Anyway, some time around the third week, I had an idea. It’s all vibrating string, all the way down. And there’s this thing where time works differently when you get down to the really small scale. Look, there’s maths, OK? Give me a blackboard, and about three weeks, and quite a lot of really expensive scotch, and I’ll write it down for you. You won’t understand it.
But to cut a long story short, I invented a fucking time machine. Yeah, I really am that fucking smart.
Of course I’ve used the fucking thing. You know what I did with it? I came back in time of course. So I’m standing here in a my sealed suit, in the middle of the most unpleasant fucking storm I’ve ever seen, and in about two minutes, lightning is going to strike this pool of horrible smelling sludge at my feet. Probably. Well, certainly, but I’m standing here with a big copper pole. I’m just trying to decide if there’s any meaning in killing all life on earth before it starts or not.
Yeah, it’ll work. Don’t give me that killing your own grandfather rubbish – I’m the one that did the maths, not bloody you. It the lightning his the pole, rather than this slime, I’ll have wiped out all life on earth for ever.
But I can’t decide if it means anything that I’m in a position to do this.
I’m the smartest man on earth, and I have no idea if it means anything.