The Entropy Masters

This is a very short story. It came, in part, from a dream I had. I thought it might be a good fit for a column called Probability Zero in Analog. They declined, so you get to enjoy it here!

(copyright 2019. all rights reserved)

A Tale of Entropy

“The sharp planes and acute angles of his face, brushed by the light from the window in the door of the shop, made him appear as an ancient chiaroscuro.”

“What’s that?” a cherub faced boy whispered.

“Shhh!” the little girl next to him, ever so much older and wiser, admonished. Then, relenting, whispered back, “It’s an old kind of painting.”

“… oh… ” he replied.

The Storyteller, without a change in timber or tone, smiling at the exchange as if he had not been interrupted at the very beginning of the tale, continued. “A gust chased The Architect into the shop, tugging at the rolls of paper under his arm and swirling a lone, brown leaf along in his wake. The small brass bell tinkled as he entered. An ancient and shriveled man sat behind the counter. He peeked over the top of the spectacles perched on the end of his over-long nose, obscuring some of the creases in his face, and asked, ‘May I help you?’ The Architect glanced about the shop, first over his left shoulder, then his right, turning his face—but not his eyes, which still roved—on the gnomish fellow, who must surely be The Accountant. He said, ‘I need to see… Them.’

“The bespectacled man squinted, his lips wrinkling, forming even deeper crevices, a veritable valley forming between his deep-set eyes, and asked, ‘Them?’ Nonplussed, The Architect hurriedly whispered, ‘Yes, yes. Them. You know, the… Entropy Masters.’ The Accountant—for that is indeed who the gnomish man was—asked, ‘Are you quite sure you don’t have an incorrect address?’ The Architect looked about again, uncertain for only a moment, then said, ‘I think not. This is the Entropy Bank is it not? Of course it is,’ he reassured himself. The gnomish Accountant nodded to himself, hopped down off his stool, and waddled over to the wall. A wall where—but a moment before, The Architect was quite sure— there had been no door. He pulled on the brass doorknob, motioning The Architect in.”

The Storyteller paused a moment, letting his eyes sweep across his small crowd, taking in the rapt expressions on their tiny faces, then went on. “He followed The Accountant down the hallway to a gilded door at the far end. The Accountant held up one finger, then opened the door but a crack. The hallway filled with golden light as The Accountant poked his head through the gap and said softly, ‘Someone to see you.’ The Architect heard only a murmur in response from beyond the door. The Accountant said, ‘No, I don’t know what about.’ More murmurs followed, and then, ‘He didn’t give a name.’ After a moment, The Accountant withdrew his head from the crack, shrugged as if to say ‘Who knows their Ways?’ and gestured The Architect through the door.

“The Room Beyond was larger than The Architect had imagined. Seated behind tall podiums—the better to look down upon appellants—were The Entropy Masters. From here they heard all requests, listened to all pleas, and handed down their dictates. Theirs was the job of protecting the savings in The Entropy Bank. And, as all of you know, Entropy runs Everything. “Nothing can come to Be without it. Lacking Entropy, Things, once made, would always remain, unchanged, and how dull and cluttered would that be? And from whence would we steal the energy, great or small, whenever we made something of substance and order? The setting was, by design, imposing, and most supplicants, having reached this room, were unable to speak. But not so this man with the sharp features, cunning eyes, and the certainty of righteousness. He would be Heard.

“The Master in the center, his podium but a hairsbreadth higher than the others, asked, ‘What do you seek?’ The Architect replied, ‘I wish to make a withdrawal.’ The Master replied, ‘For what Purpose?’ The Architect, his voice calm and certain, responded, ‘A Great Work.’ The Master in the center looked at the others, most of whom seemed doubtful, for everyone believes their work is a great work. By this time, most things had already been done, so very few works could be called great anymore. The Master was ready to deny the request, but the man added, ‘I have my plans with me.’ So the Entropy Master relented with a gruff, ‘Well, let us see them then…’

“It took only a moment for these august judges to see that this project, indeed, had a few novel elements. The most notable was that most of the Entropy would be returned over time. The very nature of the plan demanded it, was driven by it. It was a complex plan, and difficult to follow in some places, but the plan covered most of the questions The Entropy Masters would normally ask. The plan was not perfect, but that, also, was part of its beauty. It would consume a great deal of the Stores in the Bank, as is required any time one pulls Form from Chaos. The examination, and the discussion about it, took little more than an epoch, perhaps one of the swiftest they had done. In the end, The Entropy Masters agreed to the release of funds, sizeable though it was.

“The Accountant was summoned, and the paperwork begun—taking little more than another epoch—and ending with the question, ‘In what name shall I mark this withdrawal?’ The Architect responded, ‘Verbum. I am called Verbum.’ The Accountant dutifully noted it, and had The Architect put his chop to the contract. He withdrew the funds into a wooden box, and handed them over.”

“The Architect swiftly left the Bank, carrying the box to the place he had prepared for his great work. He moved as quickly as he dared, the box already feeling grainy in his hands, the forces inside wearing away at the container, objecting to being constrained. He wasted little time in preparation, rapidly laying out his tools and plans then carefully yet swiftly gathering his thoughts, and beginning.

“’Fiat Lux!‘ he thundered. And then there was light.”