When the Machine was ready, he tried it out, asking for a 15.4-kilometer autobahn, a 2.31-dimensional cauliflower, and 7 antennules, which it provided, and then Mrorl requested unrashness, lithography, ebullience, counterpressure, and bachelordom, each with an arbitrary and oddly specific quantification. The Machine granted his wishes precisely. Still not completely sure of its ability, he ordered it to partition, in turn: the arachnids (into 11 orders), clouds (4 types), crystals (14), dolphins (17), nuclei (287 types), and langues. This last it could not do, regardless of the numeric parameter, and Mrorl, considerably irritated, demanded an explanation.
"You programmed me to grant wishes to any requestor, and language with all its diversity is a part of that. If I were to standardize language, or reduce language diversity, it would require a corresponding change in my programming. I can't go beyond what you programmed, so the langues will remain unchanged."
"But what if I asked for there to be exactly one language with complete agreement. All aspects of parole, langues and translation would then be moot, and everyone could communicate to anyone including you. Surely you can do that."
"No. If there were only one language I could not be a Machine That Grants Any Wish With A Single Parameter N
, I would merely be a Machine That Grants Wishes Expressible in Mrorl's Language (and With A Single Parameter N
"Very well," said Mrorl and ordered it to limit aggrievedness to 3 types, which it did at once — still irritating perhaps, but perfectly classified and distinguishable. Only then did Mrorl invite over his friend Balthacarius the great bOTTifactor, and introduced him to the Machine, praising its extraordinary skill at such length, that Balthacarius began to wonder if he'd ever get a chance to see some actual evidence.
"Be my guest — wish for anything, qualified by a single parameter N
"Anything?" asked Balthacarius. "That seems dangerous. Don't you think he needs a safeword?"
Mrorl frowned for a moment, but saw Balthacarius' point. "All right, let's see… the safeword shall be 'NI'
. Hear that, Machine?"
"Yes," replied the Machine, "I understand. From this point forward you may suspend or halt the granting of any wish by uttering 'ni!'
. But of course, anything done is done, so you'll need to stay alert, if you're worried about a wish going awry."
Satisfied by this, Balthacarius thought for a moment, inventing a suitable challenge. "Okay, I wish for there to be 12 Ideals!"
The Machine whirred, and in a trice Mrorl's front yard was packed with Loopists. They argued, each writing long posts detailing when and how events would eventually repeat, which the others tore to pieces; in the distance one could see flaming pyres, on which the Conclusionists were being martyred by the Fatalists; there was thunder, and strange baobab-shaped columns of smoke rose up; everyone talked at once, no one listened, and there were all sorts of haiku, songs, captioned GIFs and other document-types, while off to the side sat a few Old Ones, fervently updating their signatures and hatting avatars.
"Not bad, eh?" said Mrorl with pride. "Idealism to a T, admit it!"
But Balthacarius wasn't satisfied.
"What, that mob? Surely you're not going to tell me that's the whole wish."
"Heavens, no!" replied the Machine. "This is but a local sampling. In granting your wish, I have ensured that throughout the world, every goal, principle, and value fits one of Twelve Ideals, and you may travel anywhere and see for yourself. From Białystok to beyond the Butterfly nebula, from Antilles to Andromeda, everyone now ascribes to one of the Twelve, which may in future generations be called the Twelve Ideals of Balthacarius, the Great bOTTifactor who brought order to Idealism."
"So, give the Machine something else," offered Mrorl. "Whatever you like."
For a moment Balthacarius was at a loss for what to ask. But after a little thought he declared that he would put two more tasks to the Machine; if it could fulfill them, he would admit that it was all Mrorl said it was. Mrorl agreed to this, whereupon Balthacarius asked the Machine to quantify Time.
"That would be merely observing
. The way this works is, you tell some way that Time can be measured, and tell me what that measurement should be, and I shall make it so."
"I think perhaps you
have misunderstood," replied Balthacarius. "I mean that I want Time to be quantized: It shall exist in distinct intervals, called Timeframes, spaced apart each from the next, and nothing shall happen in the time between, because there will no longer be any between."
"Yes, precisely. But what is the interval? I require a single numeric parameter."
"But that is a Timeframe, of course! The time between two frames. A Timeframe is the interval. One
, if you need a number."
The Machine thought about this for a while, and began to smoke. Some valves hissed behind a panel, and lights blinked oddly whilst distant gears groaned.
"You're confusing the Machine!" cried Mrorl, "N-
But Mrorl was interrupted when suddenly the metal voice rang out:
"All right, your wish is granted. Time now exists in Timeframes, and there shall be no Times in between. And a Timeframe is precisely one point zero zero zero Timeframes long. Since you did not give that quantity in another unit, like hours, you might find the result to be a bit… irregular. Your perception of Time may vary from one Timeframe to the next."
"Thank you. But now here's my third wish: Quantify colour!"
The Machine sat still. At first, Balthacarius and Mrorl could see nothing happening, but eventually, around the edges and in the shadows under large things, subtleties of tone were beginning to disappear. One by one, various colours were removed from the world, and the things that had had those colours, then took on some other similar colour. First spearmint became minty green, and then red-pink became reddish pink, and aqua marine became merely aqua. Seven slightly sullen shades of sienna simultaneously merged into a single barely-burnt orange. After a while, the world very definitely began to muddle around Mrorl and Balthacarius.
"Steambottle!" chirped Mrorl. "If only nothing bad comes of this…"
"Don't worry," said Balthacarius. "You can see it is merging unnecessary and confusing variations. We have too many different shades of yellowish-green, and only slightly fewer shades of greenish-yellow, it's impossible to make anything match! So I've asked it to simplify the palette."
"Do not be deceived," said the Machine. "I've begun, it's true, merging nearby colours. Merging is child's play for me. But I am nowhere near done. I am methodically eliminating all colour and all variation in brightness. Two to the power of seventeen colours and falling…
"But—" Balthacarius was about to protest, but noticed, just then, that some more familiar and popular colours were now disappearing. Most mauves and lavenders had become a single shade of purple, and it appeared the Machine was working on the spring deciduous greens next.
"How far is this going to go?" asked a worried Balthacarius.
"You did not give a parameter, so I am using the default that you gave on the previous wish."
"What is that?"
"One, of course. It is clear, you wish for standardization, and all such wishes have a default parameter of one, because anyone who wants such things wants a single
The bOTTifactors started. "Ni! Ni! Ni-ni-NI-Ni-NI!
" they both cried out desperately1
. But colours were still disappearing, and now at an alarming rate. The bOTTifactors were no longer surrounded by anything purple, sky blue, or brown. "Why won't you stop?"
"You are asking for 2 colours, and I am complying. I ask for your patience, these things must be done properly and that takes time."
Who said two?" yelped Mrorl. "We said ni
"Yes," replied the Machine, "you said Ni
, and that is two in Japanese."
is the safeword!"
"We couldn't standardize language, remember? Is it my fault that you chose a number for your safeword? Now behold, whilst I put the finishing touches on your wish. — Two to the power of five colours and falling…
"Please stop!" Balthacarius cried out. "I rescind my wish! You are a very worthy Machine and have demonstrated wish-granting prowess beyond the dreams of genies. You have nothing more to prove, so please stop!"
"Very well," said the Machine, but before it could come to a full stop, every colour with any saturation had vanished from their sight, as the bOTTifactors could now only see black and white, and a little gray spot here or there. Most everything, in fact, had become either black (including the ground, the sea, the coffee, babies, molpies and trees) or white (which included the clouds, the sun and the stars, along with the beautiful torondroms and ramzkits that zipped and circled eagerly through the skies, though they could now no longer be distinguished from the sky itself which was also completely white.)
"It looks like you gave us just two colours after all, everything is black and white."
"No, there are still a lot of grays left," offered the Machine helpfully, "… though they are in fairly short supply, so I suppose you should reserve them for dawn and dusk, and certain special dark places."
"Great Randall!" cried Balthacarius. He pulled out a favourite pen, and scribbled a few lines: what was brown now came out dark gray. "Alas, my beautiful brown! And what of blue? And where are orange and green?"
"They no longer are, nor will ever exist again," the Machine said calmly. "I executed, or rather only began to execute, your order…"
"Which was to reduce everything to two colours?"
at first, and if I had done that in one fell swoop, everything would be exactly the same colour and that includes Mrorl, the sky, the entire Universe, including you — and even myself. In which case who could say and to whom could it be said that I even exist, and am an efficient and capable Machine? We would all be effectively invisible and blind!"
"Yes, fine, let's drop the subject," said Balthacarius. "I have nothing more to ask of you, only please, dear Machine, please return my favourite shades of blue and brown."
"But I can't, unless you quantify them with a parameter N
of course, but since all colour now exists in one dimension, from black to white, that is the only axis upon which you can place your N
, and so grays are now the only colours I have to work with."
"But I want brown!"
"Sorry, no brown," said the Machine, and began to Pontificate. "Take a good look at this world, how bland it has become, with huge gaping holes where once there was primordial vibrant colour."
The Machine glared at both bOTTifactors, and they could not return its gaze. "This is your work, envious ones! You who would wish for things to be Standardized! And I hardly think that future generations will bless you for it…"
"Perhaps… they won't find out, perhaps they won't notice," groaned the pale Balthacarius, gazing incredulously at the horizon, everywhere stark white against inky black. Leaving Mrorl and the Machine That Could Grant Any Wish Having a Single Parameter N
, Balthacarius returned home, hoping to discover a way to retro-edit the past.
Mrorl sighed, deactivated and then began to dismantle the Machine, realizing it was best to have a world without standards, whether parametrised or otherwise. To this day Time
has remained exclusively black and white, with but occasional grays. Mrorl's subsequent attempts to build a wish-un
-standardizing machine met with failure, and he feared that never again would we see such wowtreeful colours as the blues and the browns.
The burden fell upon Balthacarius to alter time itself (if not Time
itself). He enlisted the aid of Mrorl, and together they performed many great Labours, building the bots of legend and the massive machines in which they traverse both time and space. Their celebrated history is the subject of these tales.
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1. The familiar children's verse, ni ni ni ni ni chupacabra ping-pong ball!
perhaps recalls a distant memory of this legend.
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