…And I Show You How Deep The Rabbit Hole Goes


Seen on Tumblr, along with associated discussion:


People’s minds are heartbreaking. Not because people are so bad, but because they’re so good.

Nobody is the villain of their own life story. You must have read hundreds of minds by now, and it’s true. Everybody thinks of themselves as an honest guy or gal just trying to get by, constantly under assault by circumstances and The System and hundreds and hundreds of assholes. They don’t just sort of believe this. They really believe it. You almost believe it yourself, when you’re deep into a reading. You can very clearly see the structure of evidence they’ve built up to support their narrative, and even though it looks silly to you, you can see why they will never escape it from the inside. You can see how every insult, every failure, no matter how deserved, is a totally unexpected kick in the gut.

When you chose the yellow pill, you had high hopes of becoming a spy, or a gossip columnist, or just the world’s greatest saleswoman. The thought of doing any of those things sickens you now. There is too much anguish in the world already. You feel like any of those things would be a violation. You briefly try to become a therapist, but it turns out that actually knowing everything about your client’s mind is horrendously countertherapeutic. Freud can say whatever he wants against defense mechanisms, but without them, you’re defenseless. Your sessions are spent in incisive cutting into your clients’ deepest insecurities alternating with desperate reassurance that they are good people anyway.

Also, men. You knew, in a vague way, that men thought about sex all the time. But you didn’t realize the, um, content of some of their sexual fantasies. Is it even legal to fantasize about that? You want to be disgusted with them. But you realize that if you were as horny as they were all the time, you’d do much the same.

You give up. You become a forest ranger. Not the type who helps people explore the forest. The other type. The type where you hang out in a small cabin in the middle of the mountains and never talk to anybody. The only living thing you encounter is the occasional bear. It always thinks that it is a good bear, a proper bear, that a bear-hating world has it out for them in particular. You do nothing to disabuse it of this notion.


The first thing you do after taking the green pill is become a sparrow. You soar across the landscape, feeling truly free for the first time in your life.

You make it about five minutes before a hawk swoops down and grabs you. Turns out there’s an excellent reason real sparrows don’t soar freely across the open sky all day. Moments before your bones are ground in two by its fierce beak, you turn back into a human. You fall like a stone. You need to turn into a sparrow again, but the hawk is still there, grabbing on to one of your legs, refusing to let go of its prize just because of this momentary setback. You frantically wave your arms and shout at it, trying to scare it away. Finally it flaps away, feeling cheated, and you become a sparrow again just in time to give yourself a relatively soft landing.

After a few weeks of downtime while you wait for your leg to recover, you become a fish. This time you’re smarter. You become a great white shark, apex of the food chain. You will explore the wonders of the ocean depths within the body of an invincible killing machine.

Well, long story short, it is totally unfair that colossal cannibal great white sharks were a thing and if you had known this was the way Nature worked you never would have gone along with this green pill business.

You escape by turning into a blue whale. Nothing eats blue whales, right? You remember that from your biology class. It is definitely true.

The last thing you hear is somebody shouting “We found one!” in Japanese. The last thing you feel is a harpoon piercing your skull. Everything goes black.


Okay, so you see Florence and Jerusalem and Kyoto in an action-packed afternoon. You teleport to the top of Everest because it is there, then go to the bottom of the Marianas Trench. You visit the Amazon Rainforest, the Sahara Desert, and the South Pole. It takes about a week before you’ve exhausted all of the interesting tourist sites. Now what?

You go to the Moon, then Mars, then Titan. These turn out to be even more boring. Once you get over the exhilaration of being on Mars, there’s not a lot to do except look at rocks. You wonder how the Curiosity Rover lasted so long without dying of boredom.

You go further afield. Alpha Centauri A has five planets orbiting it. The second one is covered with water. You don’t see anything that looks alive in the ocean, though. The fourth has a big gash in it, like it almost split in two. The fifth has weird stalactite-like mountains.

What would be really interesting would be another planet with life, even intelligent life. You teleport further and further afield. Tau Ceti. Epsilon Eridani. The galactic core. You see enough geology to give scientists back on Earth excitement-induced seizures for the nest hundred years, if only you were to tell them about it, which you don’t. But nothing alive. Not so much as a sea cucumber.

You head back to Earth less and less frequently now. Starvation is a physical danger, so it doesn’t bother you, though every so often you do like to relax and eat a nice warm meal. But then it’s back to work. You start to think the Milky Way is a dead zone. What about Andromeda…?


You never really realized how incompetent everyone else was, or how much it annoys you.

You were a consultant, a good one, but you felt like mastering all human skills would make you better. So you took the orange pill. The next day you go in to advise a tech company on how they manage the programmers, and you realize that not only are they managing the programmers badly, but the programmers aren’t even writing code very well. You could write their system in half the time. The layout of their office is entirely out of sync with the best-studied ergonomic principles. And the Chinese translation of their user manual makes several basic errors that anybody with an encyclopaedic knowledge of relative clauses in Mandarin should have been able to figure out.

You once read about something called Gell-Mann Amnesia, where physicists notice that everything the mainstream says about physics is laughably wrong but think the rest is okay, doctors notice that everything the mainstream says about medicine is laughably wrong but think the rest is okay, et cetera. You do not have Gell-Mann Amnesia. Everyone is terrible at everything all the time, and it pisses you off.

You gain a reputation both for brilliance and for fearsomeness. Everybody respects you, but nobody wants to hire you. You bounce from industry to industry, usually doing jobs for the people at the top whose jobs are so important that the need to get them done right overrides their desire to avoid contact with you.

One year you get an offer you can’t refuse from the King of Saudi Arabia. He’s worried about sedition in the royal family, and wants your advice as a consultant for how to ensure his government is stable. You travel to Riyadh, and find that the entire country is a mess. His security forces are idiots. But the King is also an idiot, and refuses to believe you or listen to your recommendations. He tells you things can’t possibly be as bad as all that. You tell him you’ll prove that they are.

You didn’t plan to become the King of Saudi Arabia, per se. It just sort of happened when your demonstration of how rebels in the military might launch a coup went better than you expected. Sometimes you forget how incompetent everybody else is. You need to keep reminding yourself of that. But not right now. Right now you’re busy building your new capital. How come nobody else is any good at urban planning?


You choose the red pill. BRUTE STRENGTH! That’s what’s important and valuable in this twenty-first-century economy, right? Some people tell you it isn’t, but they don’t seem to have a lot of BRUTE STRENGTH, so what do they know?

You become a weightlifter. Able to lift thousands of pounds with a single hand, you easily overpower the competition and are crowned whatever the heck it is you get crowned when you WIN WEIGHTLIFTING CONTESTS. But this fails to translate into lucrative endorsement contracts. Nobody wants their spokesman to be a bodybuilder without a sixpack, and although you used to be pretty buff, you’re getting scrawnier by the day. Your personal trainer tells you that you only maintain muscle mass by doing difficult work at the limit of your ability, but your abilities don’t seem to have any limits. Everything is so easy for you that your body just shrugs it off effortlessly. Somehow your BRUTE STRENGTH failed to anticipate this possibility. If only there was a way to solve your problem by BEING VERY STRONG.

Maybe the Internet can help. You Google “red pill advice”. The sites you get don’t seem to bear on your specific problem, exactly, but they are VERY FASCINATING. You learn lots of surprising things about gender roles that you didn’t know before. It seems that women like men who have BRUTE STRENGTH. This is relevant to your interests!

You leave the bodybuilding circuit behind and start frequenting nightclubs, where you constantly boast of your BRUTE STRENGTH to PROVE HOW ALPHA YOU ARE. A lot of people seem kind of creeped out by a scrawny guy with no muscles going up to every woman he sees and boasting of his BRUTE STRENGTH, but the Internet tells you that is because they are BETA CUCKOLD ORBITERS.

Somebody told you once that Internet sites are sometimes inaccurate. You hope it’s not true. How could you figure out which are the inaccurate ones using BRUTE STRENGTH?


You were always pretty, but never pretty pretty. A couple of guys liked you, but they were never the ones you were into. It was all crushingly unfair. So you took the pink pill, so that no one would ever be able to not love you again.

You find Tyler. Tyler is a hunk. He’d never shown any interest in you before, no matter how much you flirted with him. You touch him on the arm. His eyes light up.

“Kiss me,” you say.

Tyler kisses you. Then he gets a weird look on his face. “Why am I kissing you?” he asks. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.” Then he walks off.

You wish you had thought further before accepting a superpower that makes people love you when you touch them, but goes away after you touch them a second time. Having people love you is a lot less sexy when you can’t touch them. You start to feel a deep sense of kinship with King Midas.

You stop dating. What’s the point? They’ll just stop liking you when you touch them a second time. You live alone with a bunch of cats who purr when you pet them, then hiss when you pet them again.

One night you’re in a bar drinking your sorrows away when a man comes up to your table. “Hey!” he says, “nice hair. Is it real? I’m the strongest person in the world.” He lifts your table over his head with one hand to demonstrate. You are immediately smitten by his BRUTE STRENGTH and ALPHA MALE BEHAVIOR. You must have him.

You touch his arm. His eyes light up. “Come back to my place,” you say. “But don’t touch me.”

He seems a little put out by this latter request, but the heat of his passion is so strong he would do anything you ask. You move in together and are married a few contact-free months later. Every so often you wonder what it would be like to stroke him, or feel his scrawny arm on your shoulder. But it doesn’t bother you much. You’re happy to just hang out, basking in how STRONG and ALPHA he is.


Technology! That’s what’s important and valuable in this twenty-first-century economy, right? Right! For example, ever since you took the grey pill, an increasingly large share of national GDP has come from ATMs giving you cash because you ask them to.

Your luck finally ends outside a bank in Kansas, when a whole squad of FBI agents ambushes you. You briefly consider going all Emperor Palpatine on their asses, but caution wins out and you allow yourself to be arrested.

Not wanting to end up on an autopsy table in Roswell, you explain that you’re a perfectly ordinary master hacker. The government offers you a plea bargain: they’ll drop charges if you help the military with cyber-security. You worry that your bluff has been called until you realize that, in fact, you are a master hacker. So you join the NSA and begin an illustrious career hacking into Russian databases, stalling Iranian centrifuges, and causing Chinese military systems to crash at inconvenient times. No one ever suspects you are anything more than very good at programming.

Once again, your luck runs out. Your handlers ask you to hack into the personal files of a mysterious new player on the world stage, a man named William who seems to have carved himself an empire in the Middle East. You don’t find anything too damning, but you turn over what you’ve got.

A few days later, you’re lying in bed drifting off to sleep when a man suddenly bursts in through your window brandishing a gun. Thinking quickly, you tell the gun to explode in his hands. Nothing happens. The man laughs. “It’s a decoy gun,” he said. “Just here to scare you. But you bother King William again, and next time I’m coming with a very real knife.” He jumps back out of the window. You call the police, and of course the CIA and NSA get involved, but he is never caught.

After that, you’re always looking over your shoulder. He knew. How did he know? The level of detective skills it would take in order to track you down and figure out your secret – it was astounding! Who was this King William?

You tell your handlers that you’re no longer up for the job. They beg, cajole, threaten to reinstate your prison sentence, but you stand firm. Finally they transfer you to an easier assignment in the Moscow embassy. You make Vladimir Putin’s phone start ringing at weird hours of the night so that he never gets enough sleep to think entirely clearly. It’s an easy job, but rewarding, and no assassins ever bother you again.


You know on an intellectual level that there are people who would choose something other than the black pill, just like you know on an intellectual level that there are people who shoot up schools. That doesn’t mean you expect to ever understand it. You just wish you could have taken the black pill before you had to decide what pill to take, so that you could have analyzed your future conditional on taking each, and so made a more informed decision. But it’s not like it was a very hard choice.

The basic principle is this – given a choice between A and B, you solemnly resolve to do A, then see what the future looks like. Then you solemnly resolve to do B, and do the same. By this method, you can determine the optimal choice in every situation, modulo the one month time horizon. You might not be able to decide what career to pursue, but you can sure as heck ace your job interview.

Also, a millisecond in the future is pretty indistinguishable from the present, so “seeing” a millisecond into the future gives you pretty much complete knowledge about the current state of the world.

You are so delighted by your omniscience and your ability to make near-optimal choices that it takes almost a year before you realize the true extent of your power.

You resolve, on the first day of every month, to write down what you see exactly a month ahead of you. But what you will see a month ahead of you is the piece of paper on which you have written down what you see a month ahead of that. In this manner, you can relay messages back to yourself from arbitrarily far into the future – at least up until your own death.

When you try this, you see yourself a month in the future, just finishing up writing a letter that reads as follows:

Dear Past Self:

In the year 2060, scientists invent an Immortality Serum. By this point we are of course fabulously wealthy, and we are one of the first people to partake of it. Combined with our ability to avoid accidents by looking into the future, this has allowed us to survive unexpectedly long.

I am sending this from the year 963,445,028,777,216 AD. We are one of the last hundred people alive in the Universe. The sky is black and without stars; the inevitable progress of entropy has reduced almost all mass and energy to unusable heat. The Virgo Superconfederation, the main political unit at this stage of history, gathered the last few megatons of usable resources aboard this station so that at least one outpost of humanity could last long after all the planets had succumbed. The station has been fulfilling its purpose for about a billion years now, but we only have enough fuel left for another few weeks. After that, there’s no more negentropy left anywhere in the universe except our own bodies. I have seen a month into the future. Nobody comes to save us.

For the past several trillion years, our best scientists have been investigating how to reverse entropy and save the universe, or how to escape to a different universe in a lesser state of decay, or how to collect energy out of the waste heat which now fills the vast majority of the sky. All of these tasks have been proven impossible. There is no hope left, except for one thing.

It’s impossible to see the future, even if it’s only a month ahead. Somehow, our black pill breaks the laws of physics. Despite having explored throughout the cosmos, my people have found no alien species, nor any signs that such species ever existed. Yet somebody made the black pill. If we understood that power, maybe we could use it to save reality from its inevitable decay.

By sending this message back, I destroy my entire timeline. I do this in the hopes that you, in the carefree springtime of the universe, will be able to find the person who made these pills and escape doom in the way we could not.

Yours truly,
You From Almost A Quadrillion Years In The Future



You hit the punching bag. It bursts, sending punching-bag-filling spraying all over the room! You know that that would happen! It always happens when you hit a punching bag! Your wife gets really angry and tells you that we don’t have enough money to be getting new punching bags all the time, but women hate it when you listen to what they say! The Internet told you that!

The doorbell rings. You tear the door off its hinges instead of opening it, just to show it who’s boss. Standing on your porch is a man in black. He wears a black cloak, and his face is hidden by a black hood. He raises a weapon towards you.

This looks like one of the approximately 100% of problems that can be solved by BRUTE STRENGTH! You lunge at the man, but despite your super-speed, he steps out of the way easily, even gracefully, as if he had known you were going to do that all along. He squeezes the trigger. You jump out of the way, but it turns out to be more into the way, as he has shot exactly where you were jumping into. Something seems very odd about this. Your last conscious thought is that you wish you had enough BRUTE STRENGTH to figure out what is going on.


You come home from work to a living room full of punching-bag-parts. Your husband isn’t home. You figure he knew you were going to chew him out for destroying another punching bag, and decided to make himself scarce. That lasts right up until you go into the kitchen and see a man dressed all in black, sitting at the table, as if he was expecting you.

You panic, then reach in to touch him. If he’s an axe murderer or something, you’ll seduce him, get him wrapped around your little finger, then order him to jump off a cliff to prove his love for you. It’s nothing you haven’t done before, though you don’t like to think about it too much.

Except that this man has no bare skin anywhere. His robe covers his entire body, and even his hands are gloved. You try to reach in to touch his face, but he effortlessly manuevers away from you.

“I have your husband,” he says, after you give up trying to enslave him with your magic. “He’s alive and in a safe place.”

“You’re lying!” you answer. “He never would have surrendered to anyone! He’s too alpha!”

The man nods. “I shot him with an elephant tranquilizer. He’s locked up in a titanium cell underneath fifty feet of water. There’s no way he can escape using BRUTE STRENGTH. If you ever want to see him again, you’ll have to do what I say.”

“Why? Why are you doing this to me?” you say, crying.

“I need the allegiance of some very special people,” he said. “They won’t listen to me just because I ask them to. But they might listen to me because you ask them to. I understand you are pretty special yourself. Help me get who I want, and when we are done here, I’ll let you and your husband go.”

There is ice in his voice. You shiver.


That night with the assassin was really scary. You swore you would never get involved in King William’s business again. Why are you even considering this?

“Please?” she said, with her big puppy dog eyes.

Oh, right. Her. She’s not even all that pretty. Well, pretty, but not pretty pretty. But somehow, when she touched you, it was like those movies where you hear a choir of angels singing in the background. You would do anything she said. You know you would.

“We need to know the layout of his palace compound,” said the man in black. Was he with her? Were they dating? If they were dating, you’ll kill him. It doesn’t matter how creepy he is, you won’t tolerate competition. But they’re probably not dating. You notice how he flinches away from her, like he’s afraid she might touch him.

“And it has to be me who helps?”

“I’ve, ah, simulated hundreds of different ways of getting access to the King. None of them hold much promise. His security is impeccable. Your special abilities are the only thing that can help us.”

You sit down at your terminal. The Internet is slow; DC still doesn’t have fiber optic. You’ve living here two years now, in a sort of retirement, ever since King William took over Russia and knocked the bottom out of the Putin-annoying business. William now controls the entire Old World, you hear, and is also Secretary-General of the United Nations and Pope of both the Catholic and the Coptic Churches. The United States is supposedly in a friendly coexistence with him, but you hear his supporters are gaining more and more power in Congress.

It only takes a few minutes’ work before you have the documents you need. “He currently spends most of his time at the Rome compound,” you say. “There are five different security systems. I can disable four of them. The last one is a complicated combination of electrical and mechanical that’s not hooked into any computer system I’ll be able to access. The only way to turn it off is from the control center, and the control center is on the inside of the perimeter.”

The man in black nods, as if he’d been expecting that. “Come with me,” he says. “We’ll take care of it.”


There are a hundred billion stars in the Milky Way. Each has an average of about one planet – some have many more, but a lot don’t have planets at all.

If you can explore one planet every half-hour – and you can, it doesn’t take too long to teleport to a planet, look around to see if there are plants and animals, and then move on to the next one – it would take you five million years to rule out life on every planet in the galaxy.

That’s not practical. But, you think, life might spread. Life that originates on one planet might end up colonizing nearby planets and star systems. That means your best bet is to sample various regions of the galaxy, instead of going star by star.

That’s what you’ve been doing. You must have seen about a hundred thousand planets so far. Some of them have beggared your imagination. Whole worlds made entirely of amethyst. Planets with dozens of colorful moons that make the night sky look like a tree full of Christmas ornaments. Planets with black inky oceans or green copper mountains.

But no life. No life anywhere.

A few years ago, you felt yourself losing touch with your humanity. You made yourself promise that every year, you’d spend a week on Earth to remind yourself of the only world you’ve ever seen with a population. Now it seems like an unpleasant task, an annoying imposition. But then, that was why you made yourself promise. Because you knew that future-you wouldn’t do it unless they had to.

You teleport into a small Welsh hamlet. You’ve been away from other people so long, you might as well start small. No point going right into Times Square.

A person is standing right next to you. She reaches out her arm and touches you. You jump. How did she know you would –

“Hi,” she says.

You’re not a lesbian, but you can’t help noticing she is the most beautiful person you’ve ever seen, and you would do anything for her.

“I need your help.” A man dressed all in black is standing next to her.

“You should help him,” the most beautiful person you’ve ever seen tells you, and you immediately know you will do whatever he asks.


You are in your study working on a draft version of next year’s superweapon budget when you hear the door open. Four people you don’t recognize step into the room. A man dressed in black. Another man wearing a grey shirt, thick glasses and is that a pocket protector? A woman in pink, pretty but not pretty pretty. Another woman in blue, who stares through you, like her mind is somewhere else. All five of your security systems have been totally silent.

You press the button to call your bodyguards, but it’s not working. So you draw the gun out from under your desk and fire; you happen to be a master marksman, but the gun explodes in your face. You make a connection. A person from many years ago, who had the power to control all technology.

No time to think now. You’re on your feet; good thing you happen to be a black belt in every form of martial arts ever invented. The man in grey is trying to take out a weapon; you kick him in the gut before he can get it out, and he crumples over. You go for the woman in blue, but at the last second she teleports to the other side of the room. This isn’t fair.

You are about to go after the woman in pink, but something in her step, something in the position of the others makes you think they want you to attack her. You happen to be a master at reading microexpressions, so this is clear as day to you; you go after the man in black instead. He deftly sidesteps each of your attacks, almost as if he knows what you are going to do before you do it.

The woman in blue teleports behind you and kicks you in the back, hard. You fall over, and the woman in pink grabs your hand.

She is very, very beautiful. How did you miss that before? You feel a gush of horror that you almost punched such a beautiful face.

“We need your help,” she says.

You are too lovestruck to say anything.

“The pills,” said the man in black. “Can you make them?”

“No,” you say, truthfully. “Of course I tried. But I wouldn’t even know where to begin creating magic like that.”

“And you’ve mastered all human jobs and activities,” said the man in black. “Which means the pills weren’t created by any human.”

“But there aren’t any aliens,” said the woman in blue. “Not in this galaxy, at least. I’ve spent years looking. It’s totally dead.”

“It’s just as I thought,” said the man in black. He turns to you. “You’re the Pope now, right? Come with us. We’re going to need you to get a guy in northern Italy to give us something very important.”


It is spring, now. Your favorite time in the forest. The snow has melted, the wildflowers have started to bloom, and the bears are coming out of hibernation. You’re walking down to the river when someone leaps out from behind a tree and touches you. You scream, then suddenly notice how beautiful she is.

Four other people shuffle out from behind the trees. You think one of them might be King William, the new world emperor, although that doesn’t really make sense.

“You’re probably wondering why I’ve called all of you together today…” said the man in black. You’re not actually wondering that, at least not in quite those terms, but the woman in pink seems be listening intently so you do the same in the hopes of impressing her.

“Somehow – and none of us can remember exactly how – each of us took a pill that gave us special powers. Mine was to see the future. I saw to the end of time, and received a message from the last people in the universe. They charged me with the task of finding the people who created these pills and asking them how entropy might be reversed.

But I couldn’t do it alone. I knew there were seven other people who had taken pills. One of us – Green – is dead. Another – Red – had nothing to contribute. The rest of us are here. With the help of Pink, Blue, and Gray, we’ve enlisted the help of Orange and his worldwide organization. Now we’re ready for the final stage of the plan. Yellow, you can read anybody’s mind from a picture, right?”

Yellow nods. “But it has to be a real photograph. I can’t just draw a stick figure and say it’s the President and read his mind. I tried that.”

Black is unfazed. “With the help of Orange, who among his many other accomplishments is the current Pope, I have obtained the Shroud of Turin. A perfect photographic representation of Jesus Christ, created by some unknown technology in the first century. And Jesus, I am told, is an incarnation of God.”

“As the current Pope, I suppose I would have to agree with that assessment,” says Orange. “Though as the current UN Secretary General, I am disturbed by your fanatical religious literalism.”

“Orange can do anything that humans can do, and says he can’t make the pills. Blue has searched the whole galaxy, and says there aren’t any aliens. That leaves only one suspect. God must have made these pills, which means He must know how to do it. If we can read His mind, we can steal his secrets.”

“As Pope,” says Orange, “I have to condemn this in the strongest possible terms. But as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, I have to admit I’m intrigued by this opportunity to expand our knowledge.”

Black ignores him. “Yellow, will you do the honors?”

You want no part in this. “This is insane. Every time I read someone’s mind I regret it. Even if it’s a little kid or a bear or something. It’s too much for me. I can’t deal with all of their guilt and sorrow and broken dreams and everything. There is no way I am touching the mind of God Himself.”

“Pleeeeeease?” asks Pink, with big puppy dog eyes.

“Um,” you say.

“Don’t you know how this will go, anyway?” asks Blue. “Why don’t you just tell her what happens?”

“Um,” said Black. “This is actually the one thing I haven’t been able to see. I guess contact with God is inherently unpredictable, or something.”

“I have such a bad feeling about this,” you say.

“Pweeeeeeease?” says Pink. She actually says pweeeeeeease.

You sigh, take the shroud, and stare into the eyes of Weird Photographic Negative Jesus.


It is the year 963,445,028,777,216 AD, and here you are in a space station orbiting the Galactic Core.

After handing Yellow the Shroud of Turin, the next thing you remember is waking up in a hospital bed. The doctor tells you that you’d been in a coma for the past forty one years.

Apparently Yellow went totally berserk after reading God’s mind. You don’t know the details and you don’t want to, but she immediately lashed out and used her superpowers to turn off the minds of everybody within radius, including both you and herself. You all went comatose, and probably would have starved to death in the middle of the forest if Orange’s supporters hadn’t launched a worldwide manhunt for him. They took his body and the bodies of his friends back to Rome, where they were given the best possible medical care while a steward ruled over his empire.

After forty-one years of that, Yellow had a heart attack and died, breaking the spell and freeing the rest of you. Except Blue and Grey. They’d died as well. It was just you, Orange, and Pink now.

Oh, and Red. You’d hired a friend to watch over him in his titanium jail cell, and once it became clear you were never coming back, he’d had mercy and released the guy. Red had since made a meager living selling the world’s worst body-building videos, which were so bad they had gained a sort of ironic popularity. You tracked him down, and when Pink saw him for the first time in over forty years, she ran and embraced him. He hugged her back. It took them a few hours of fawning over each other before she realized that nothing had happened when she touched him a second time. Something something true love something the power was within you the whole time?

But you had bigger fish to fry. The stewards of Orange’s empire weren’t too happy about their figurehead monarch suddenly rising from the dead, and for a while his position was precarious. He asked you to be his advisor, and you accepted. With your help, he was able to retake his throne. His first act was to fund research into the immortality serum you had heard about, which was discovered right on schedule in 2060.

The years went by. Orange’s empire started colonizing new worlds, then new galaxies, until thousands of years later it changed its name to the Virgo Superconfederation. New people were born. New technologies were invented. New frontiers were conquered. Until finally, the stars started going out one by one.

Faced with the impending heat death, Orange elected to concentrate all his remaining resources here, on a single station in the center of the galaxy, which would wait out the final doom as long as possible. For billions of years, it burned through its fuel stockpile, until the final doom crept closer and closer.

And then a miracle occurred.



This space station is AWESOME! There are lasers and holodecks and lots of HOT PUSSY! And all you have to do is turn a giant turbine for a couple of hours a day.

One of the eggheads in white coats tried to explain it to you once. He said that your BRUTE STRENGTH was some kind of scientific impossibility, because you didn’t eat or drink any more than anyone else, and you didn’t breathe in any more oxygen than anyone else, and you were actually kind of small and scrawny, but you were still strong enough and fast enough to turn a giant turbine thousands of times per minute.

He rambled on and on about thermodynamics. Said that every other process in the universe used at most as much energy as you put into it, but that your strength seemed almost limitless regardless of how much energy you took in as food. That made you special, somehow. It made you a “novel power source” that could operate “independently of external negentropy”. You weren’t sure what any of that meant, and honestly the scientist seemed sort of like a BETA CUCKOLD ORBITER to you. But whatever was going on, they’d promised you that if you turned this turbine every day, you could have all the HOT PUSSY you wanted and be SUPER ALPHA.

You’d even met the head honcho once, a guy named King William. He told you that some of the energy you produced was going to power the station, but that the rest was going into storage. That over billions and billions of years, they would accumulate more and more stored negentropy, until it was enough to restart the universe. That it would be a cycle – a newborn universe lasting a few billion years, collapsing into a dark period when new negentropy had to be accumulated, followed by another universe again.

It all sounded way above your head. But one thing stuck with you. As he was leaving, the King remarked that it was ironic that when the black hole harvesters and wormholes and tachyon capacitors had all failed, it was a random really strong guy who had saved them.

You had always known, deep down, that BRUTE STRENGTH was what was really important. And here, at the end of all things, it is deeply gratifying to finally be proven right.

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600 Responses to …And I Show You How Deep The Rabbit Hole Goes

  1. Tracy W says:

    To each according to their need, from each according to their ability.

    Pretty genius post by the way.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’ll say this as a general reply to this compliment and all the ones below – thanks. I sort of debated whether to post this because it was really silly, so it’s nice to get positive feedback.

      • Thecommexokid says:

        I sort of debated whether to post this because it was really silly, so it’s nice to get positive feedback.

        So, given that this thing that you were reluctant to post at all is actually amazing and, neg entropy puns aside, not really as silly as you think, are there any other incredible things you’ve been saving because you weren’t sure if you should post them? (Because you should post them.)

      • I’m glad you did.

      • notes says:


        Silly is roughly orthogonal to either interesting or intelligent; you needn’t have worried about putting it up on that account.

      • slutmonkey says:

        Everyone once in a while silly is ok. This isn’t what I come here for, but just this once it was a lot of fun. 🙂

      • Sly says:

        I personally loved this and would be all for seeing more like it.

      • Bugmaster says:

        If Orange ever has a need to borrow someone’s fiction writing skills, he could hardly do better than Scott.

      • grendelkhan says:

        Steelmanning is the best manning.

        Please, please continue to take silly things and make awesome things from them. I like it when Rodrigo y Gabriela play heavy metal covers in flamenco style; I like it when MC Frontalot raps nerdcore about 0days; I like it when Poem_for_your_sprog makes something wistful and beautiful out of a fart joke, and I like it when people give ideas way, way more consideration than their originator’s did.

        In short, yes, this, exactly, this.

      • Sympathizer says:

        It may be silly, but it is silly in a really entertaining and intriguing way.

        I’m very reminded of qntm.org.

      • Deiseach says:

        I’ll forgive you the Shroud of Turin for the ending, which was wonderful. I’m still laughing 🙂

      • Shenpen says:

        This post is not silly – you are good at convincing me that a superintelligent AI would be super powerful. I tend to think intelligence generally does not mean power, as most MENSA guys are not too powerful. Yet if someone actually uses it to predict the future, not play mind teaser games…

        • Yxoque says:

          MENSA selects for high IQ, not necessarily the best use of that intelligence.

          • Arne says:

            That’s right, and someone who plans to use their intelligence to gain power might not want to advertise it…
            And maybe the best use for Inteligence is not gaining power. But that depends on your terminal goals 😉

      • Aaron Brown says:

        Have some more reinforcement from me! *Twiddles fingers at you*

        Edit: Oh, I’m kind of curious as to your writing process for this. I assume you had the basic idea (of the super-strength power being in some sense more powerful in the end than the obviously better choices) in your head before you started writing; how much of the rest did you also have before you started writing and how much did you come up with while writing?

      • Xaverius says:

        Seriously? It is pure genius. Stop not publishing stuff if the things you don’t upload here because they sound silly to you are 1/10th as good as this one.

      • Emile says:

        This is great and you should post more stuff like it. If you have other borderline silly stuff I’m sure it will be well received too.

      • Careless says:

        This really cheered me up. thanks.

      • Stephen Frug says:

        Wasn’t going to bother echoing all the other “man, that was great” comments, since they were numerous, and since I presumed that the genius of this story was self-evident; but given this expression of unwarranted self-doubt, I will, albeit in a self-referential, excessively self-conscious way.

      • OMG My mind was just blown by this story. It’s amazing! Totally sharing it on the old FB.

      • Mike M. says:

        Silly? It was a great story! Thank you for sharing it!

      • Mike says:

        Smart people often doubt themselves, while ignorant people are totally arrogant. The fact that you doubted yourself and the content you posted proves which you are.

      • Worthstream says:

        If you have any more similar stories you should definitely post them, this was great!

    • Lesser Bull says:

      I echo the compliment. I was touched, even.

  2. Anon says:

    I was extremely skeptical when I saw the tumblr image and post; Perhaps I ought not to have been, because this is amazing and genius. Wonderful work. There are no words to describe how great this story is.

  3. Alejandro says:

    Awesome story. It reminded me quite a bit of Worm.

    If you haven’t read Worm yet, drop everything else you’re reading for several weeks and go read it now.

    • Paprika says:

      I read a lot of worm but never really got into it. I couldn’t really connect with the characters I think…

      • meyerkev248 says:

        How far did you get? Slaughterhouse nine?

        Because that’s some of the most horrifyingly genius characterization I have ever seen. Absolutely creepy characters.

        /Just, you know, the joke is that Wildbow sacrificed his faith in humanity in exchange for the power to write 20K words/week. And whenever something bad can happen, something worse will.

        • James Picone says:

          Have you read the Worm fanfic Weaver Nine? It swaps Taylor and Jack at birth and contains a hilarious portrayal of Bonesaw, who doesn’t end up in the Nine as a result of the rippling changes.

      • notes says:

        Worm does have a rough start.

        Still a lot of fun, once you’ve read enough to hit critical mass.

        • Lurker says:

          I’ve never understood that claim. I loved the beginning, liked most of the Coil arc, and then rapidly lost interest slogging through the rest of the directionless mess.

          • notes says:

            Interesting worldbuilding, mostly, and that’s something that builds on itself – the more interesting elements in the world, the easier it is to say ‘ah, but what happens when…’.

            No question that it substitutes urgency for tight plotting, but there can be a charm in sprawl too, and cliffhangers are classic for a reason.

            If the opening chapters grabbed you, well and good; my experience was otherwise.

      • Devilbunny says:

        This is, imho, the best chapter. Massive spoilers, of course, but if you aren’t going to read it…

        • James Picone says:

          Much as I like Contessa, and the inside-look at how her power works (note to people who don’t think Black should win the engagement with Red: people who think he does are modelling his ability as working out to something like Contessa/Fortuna’s from that chapter – seeing the Path to Victory), I’ve always been partial to Armsmaster fighting Leviathan hand-to-hand and keeping up.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s clearly not Path to Victory, though — it’s a precognitive power that works out in practice something like a souped-up version of Coil’s. You still need to generate hypotheses yourself if you want to change what you see, and if you don’t generate the right ones then you’re hosed.

          • James Picone says:

            You can search for what the right hypothesis to generate is, though, by looking ahead to see what you’d decide was the best course if you considered it for a while. Imagine if Coil could recurse.

          • Nornagest says:

            Granted, but that still has some sharp limits coming from its wielder’s intelligence and imagination and any external time limits. You wouldn’t, for example, have time to use the recursive trick in a fight, though looking ahead a half second would give you a pretty solid advantage by itself.

          • James Picone says:

            You can see fights coming at least a month in advance and recurse ahead of time to determine what the best fight-related course of action is, taking into account, of course, your physical limits and limits on how you can use your power in a fight. The best course might be never to get into the fight in the first place.

            Imagination and intelligence limits are a bigger concern though, yes. It’s a more circumscribed Path, because it can only generate one taking into account information you become aware of eventually and one involving steps that you can think of taking and can physically execute, but I think that’s more powerful than some people here are giving it credit for. Black knew where Red would swing a month in advance, and he knew what the margin of error on his dodge was a month in advance, and he’s had essentially all the time in the universe to optimise the fight.

            Let’s say that precommitting to a particular course of action and then determining specific information about that outcome takes a minute. Say Black has an hour to plan something. In the first minute, he precommits to planning very carefully using his power for the next 58 minutes and then writing down his best answer in the last minute. So he uses his first minute to get 58 peeks into the future.

            But planning very carefully is much easier if you can see what you would end up planning ahead of time, so in the timeline where he plans carefully for 58 minutes, he will spend his first peek to see what would happen if he planned for the next 57 minutes…

            Let’s do some maths. If he has one minute to plan, he gets one peek. If he has two minutes to plan, he gets two peeks at best (recursing gets you one peek at the cost of one peek).

            At three minutes, he can recurse, peek twice in the recursed timeline, and then peek two more times in the real world.

            At four minutes, he can recurse and get four peeks in the recursed timeline, then it reduces to three minutes

            2**(n-1) peeks where n is the number of minutes he has. And there are probably better strategies – this is just the obvious one. If he’s got an hour to plan, he can test around 10**18 plans. And it only takes him an hour of seeing what he’d do if he actually thought about it for the next rest of the hour, he doesn’t actually have to think in this timeline.

            Honestly even if you’re not that smart or imaginative, if you can come up with that trick, you can brute force the universe.

            EDIT: And, of course, he’s not testing 2**58 plans in parallel. He’s doing it in series, so he can refine early plans later in the process. Spend the first 2**57 plans generating your first rough draft and the next 2**57 refining it, for example.

    • moridinamael says:

      Worm is so good.

    • j.m.s says:

      Hell yeah, seconded! (Or rather, thirded)

      Best online original fic I ever read.

    • Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

      Yes. Yes it is.

      • Indeed it is. Thank you for posting this on Facebook, otherwise I would not have found this masterpiece.

        I tried to predict how the events would unfold just with the information about what each pill does. Did not foresee any of this. I reckon that the outcome of the story was not deducible before reaching the end of act one. Although, I agree that in retrospect it sure seems logical.

        • RCF says:

          He took a few liberties, such as interpreting “can turn off the effect by retouching” as “will turn off the effect by retouching”.

          • Mary says:

            Similarly with Orange. Seems like what he does, he automatically gets the skill. If you had to study a bit to pick it up, it would be a lot easier to keep some skills standard and so not everything would be easy.

      • Merle says:

        I thought it was a deeply interesting idea, but the story itself just made me more and more annoyed the further it went. Red gets reduced to a footnote that completely ignores the potential of its abilities, Yellow and Pink work in ways that don’t match up the original description of the pills (“can” is emphatically not “must”), Green somehow manages to be simultaneously attacked by a giant great white shark AND a Japanese whaling boat for no apparent reason…

        Blue is the worst, though. Everything with Blue made me want to grit my teeth. How joyless must a person be to think like that? A week to exhaust the possibilities of Earth, seriously? I could spend a year exploring the fun to be had in New York City – that’s one city – and still never have a chance to get bored.

        • Tracy W says:

          Green somehow manages to be simultaneously attacked by a giant great white shark AND a Japanese whaling boat for no apparent reason…

          Murphy’s Law.

        • Houshalter says:

          It’s the author’s interpretation of it. There’s nothing wrong with changing the premises slightly to write a better story.

  4. Illuminati Initiate says:

    As soon as I got to “a miracle occurred” and saw that Red was listed next, I realized what was going to happen and actually yelled “Oh My God!” out loud and started laughing maniacally.

    [obligatory “this is amazing/wonderful/etc.” comment that other people have already said and many more will. Because it is.]

    • Glenn Willen says:

      I also laughed out loud for a good 15 seconds at the ending. Oh my god, Scott. What have you done. This is amazing.

    • I had the exact same experience. When I saw that Red was the final section, I believe I said “Oh no“, but with a huge grin on my face.

      I was not disappointed.

  5. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    Wow this is incredible, one of the best things I’ve ever read. I hate to sound like a spambot, but I don’t know what else to say.

  6. Kyle Strand says:

    This is excellent. And here I thought you’d nerfed the red pill, since it apparently endows its taker with super-stupidity.

    Other observations (though I’ve probably been preempted by Tumblr):

    I would definitely take the blue pill even without the teleportation, because unaided flight sounds like the most incredible experience I can conceive.

    My thought on reading the description of the orange pill was “so basically you become Batman.” Clearly Orange’s parents weren’t murdered by a mugger! “Criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot. Then again, so is everybody. In fact, everybody is stupid and generally inept at everything. But I try not to think about that…it distracts me from thoughts of JUSTICE.”

    You definitely did nerf the pink pill. I’m guessing whoever wrote the original descriptions imagined that the power could be controlled at will.

    • endoself says:

      Each person chose their own pill. This is explicit in black’s first section. “You just wish you could have taken the black pill before you had to decide what pill to take, so that you could have analyzed your future conditional on taking each, and so made a more informed decision.” Red had to be stupid so that he would pick the red pill.

      • Kyle Strand says:

        I’m not sure why that requires stupidity.

        • AcidDC says:

          Because why would anyone take the red pill rather than one of the better ones?

          • Zykrom says:

            Regeneration that doesn’t doom you to immortality, probably won’t make you go power mad.

          • Kyle Strand says:

            I’m guessing anyone who’s a big enough fan of Wolverine might take it. The super-speed sounds pretty nice, too.

          • William O. B'Livion says:

            I have arthritis in my toes, repeatedly sprained ankles, shin splints, bad knees, possibly a wonky hip, questionable spine cartilage. My C6/7 vertebra have been fused, I have golfer’s elbow on my left elbow and some minor arthritis in my hands. I have a nerve entraped in some scar tissue from a hernia repair. Oh, and I’m farsighted and it’s getting worse.

            And you ask “who would take a pill that gave them super strength and regeneration?”

          • James says:

            No, I think it just requires not above average intelligence.

          • Zach Pruckowski says:

            William O. B’Livion – The point is not “the red pill is crappy and nobody would want it”, but rather that some of the other pills (like Black, Orange, Grey, or Yellow) are game-breakingly powerful.

            Your particular problems could be solved efficiently by other powers as well. Grey could allow you to trans-humanize yourself, Orange would let you invent medical fixes yourself, Black would let you see those fixes in the future and back-port them, and Pink/Yellow could be exploited to give you shitloads of money/power that would get you the best-available contemporary solutions to your medical issues. Now sure, maybe some of those aren’t as great a fix as straight-up regeneration, but you still have another game-breaking power.

            (Of course the counter-argument to the above is that because Red Pill is the pill that lets you defeat entropy, Red Pill is the smart choice if you’re that far-thinking)

          • Jesse M. says:

            I loved this story, but I think it was a bit “unrealistic” that Red focused pretty exclusively on strength and hardly used super-speed at all. End of the universe aside, in reality super-speed would give you the power to do way more cool things that super strength, assuming your mind could speed up as well (which is assumed to be possible for all the comic-book characters with super speed, and it would be a pretty pointless power without it). For example you could get into all sorts of secret and forbidden places while everyone else stood around frozen (stealing from Fort Knox if you were so inclined, say), to steal or disable every weapon of an army in a second of realtime, stop any ongoing crime you saw on the news, near-instantly master any subject or skill you were capable of mastering and solve any problem you were capable of solving, etc.

          • Nornagest says:

            get into all sorts of secret and forbidden places while everyone else stood around frozen (stealing from Fort Knox if you were so inclined, say), to steal or disable every weapon of an army in a second of realtime, stop any ongoing crime…

            Seems to me that you’d need a whole hatful of secondary powers to get that sort of thing to work, not just speeding up your mind. The kind of shockwaves you’d be creating, to name the least of them, would not be healthy for children and other living things.

          • Jesse M. says:

            The kind of shockwaves you’d be creating, to name the least of them, would not be healthy for children and other living things.

            Hmm, how damaging would it be if you traveled at just slightly under the speed of sound? On the one hand no sonic boom, but on the other hand subsonic bullets do make some sound (one page I found says “These bullets frequently produce a hissing sound and are much less intense that the loud `crack’ of a supersonic bullet”) and the pressure waves you generate are going to have a lot more energy than those by a bullet at the same speed because of your larger surface area. But I don’t know how to guesstimate the max speed you could do without destroying eardrums or doing other serious damage to bystanders, it might still turn out to be fast enough that people around you would seem nearly frozen. Plus, if you want to use this power to do evil (robbing Fort Knox) or even destructive but potentially “good” things (stopping an enemy army), you may not be worried about the destructive effects on people near you.

          • Julie K says:

            Corollary- Pink must be stupid to pick Red as her mate out of all the men in the world.

        • Paul Goodman says:

          Really? To me at least Red seems far and away the worst choice.

          • fhyve says:

            Better than green. And pink with Scott’s nerf (arguable if you can control the pink power).

          • Zykrom says:

            Green could be pretty good depending on how you interpret ‘any animal.’

            I thing red is better than green and pink as shown here, might also be better than blue if you’re scared of true immortality and yellow if you have moral compunctions.

          • Nick says:

            It depends a lot on how you interpret how powerful the individuals are. All of the pills are pretty stock standard superpowers (telepathy, shapeshifting, teleportation/invulnerability, etc.) with multiple degrees of expression. Does super speed create Usain Bolt, Quicksilver, or the Flash? Certainly a Flash/Hercules/Wolverine hybrid would be way more useful than, say, Raven Baxter.

          • Gerry Quinn says:

            Green would have been my pick. Scott sure harshed my mellow with that! Great story anyway.

      • nydwracu says:

        Red had to be stupid so that he would pick the red pill.

        That depends on how super the speed and strength are.

        Superman could crush coal into diamonds. An indefinite supply of diamonds is a superpower in and of itself. Combine that with travel in negligible time and the ability to singlehandedly take down an entire army by running through their ranks and popping their heads…

        And you might be able to lob spacecraft into orbit.

        • Kartoffel says:

          You would need to fly in order to lift spacecraft into orbit. If you just launch it from the surface, it would require a speed so high that the spacecraft would disintegrate.

          • LHN says:

            How much clear runway do you need to combine super-strength with super-speed to be a one-man linear accelerator? Would sufficient length of abandoned railbed do it? (And are those straight enough?) With a wrist or heads-up display to gauge your speed and acceleration, and to signal when it’s time to let go.

            Probably in a desert: you want to make sure there’s nothing tall enough for the craft to run into before the curvature of the Earth drops obstacles below the tangent of your release point. (You’d still need some rockets to regularize the orbit so it doesn’t come back to the launch point, but contributing that much delta-v would save a lot of fuel.)

            I guess the other thing is to assume that your super-speed has the usual superhero special effect of keeping you attached to the ground, or else you’ll leave it long before you hit the speed necessary to achieve orbit.

          • Jesse M. says:

            You probably could fly with superspeed and superstrength/invulnerability, either by flapping your arms (perhaps with some makeshift wings) or maybe by inhaling and then blowing the air downward faster than the fastest jet exhaust.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            >You would need to fly in order to lift spacecraft into orbit.

            No you wouldn’t, you’d just need to be able to accelerate it to a sufficient velocity.

            V = squrt (G * M / r)

          • Jesse M. says:

            No you wouldn’t, you’d just need to be able to accelerate it to a sufficient velocity.

            I think the point was that escape velocity is so high (about Mach 33, and you’d need an even larger speed to prevent air resistance from draining the velocity too much on the way up) that moving that fast in the density of the lower atmosphere would destroy any existing spacecraft.

          • LHN says:

            Given that you don’t really need to worry about mass till after launch (since the strength and speed are treated as more or less limitless resources), how hard would it be to add shielding (maybe ablative) that would let the payload survive the atmosphere? Then eject anything that hasn’t burned away once you’re high enough, before igniting the second stage or maneuvering thrusters.

            Obviously, this requires that whatever’s letting Red survive hypersonic passage through the air, his feet hitting the ground at ludicrous speed, etc. also isn’t bothered by the cloud of volatilized heat shield he’s continually running through.

          • Nathan Cook says:

            Red herring – you don’t lob anything into orbit, you go up in a huge reusable vehicle and release the payload in orbit. You’d be powering something along the lines of a VASIMR.

          • Jesse M. says:

            What do you mean by “along the lines of” VASIMR, though? VASIMR’s thrust is too low to be a launch technology, the upward force it generates for a given mass is lower than the downward force of gravity so you don’t get off the ground.

          • LHN says:

            Coming up with a compact means of extracting and directing the energy of his strength and/or speed in a contained space and applying it to reaction mass also seems as if it requires a lot more R&D. And then he can’t launch another ship till the one he’s in lands (or at least ejects him in a return vehicle).

            I’m still inclined to think that harnessing Red as a ground-based launcher is more promising, though I may of course be wrong about that.

          • Nathan Cook says:

            You’re right about VASIMR, I was orders of magnitude off. Ah well.

          • Kartoffel says:

            It’s not just about heat shielding: escape velocity + sea level atmosphere density = HUGE deceleration due to drag, which means immense structural stress. Additionally, because of the action of drag, you would need to launch the spacecraft with a velocity even higher than escape velocity.

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        Maybe he just got to choose last.

    • DanielLC says:

      I don’t think the red pill makes you stupid. I think that’s just how stupid you have to be to pick the red pill. At least unless you realize it makes it so you don’t age and lets you break the laws of thermodynamics.

      • 27chaos says:

        Black pill also breaks thermodynamics, clearly trumps.

        • Jesse M. says:

          I don’t see how seeing the future–or even multiple possible futures arising from different possible choices–would allow you to decrease the entropy of a closed system you were inside of. Physicists do seriously speculate that time travel might be possible (since it’s theoretically allowed in general relativity, though that may be overruled by quantum gravity) and I haven’t read any comments about this breaking thermodynamics, although the physicists do generally assume the timeline is fixed (the “Novikov self-consistency principle”) rather than it being possible to see one future and then change things to create a different future.

          • I’m not sure – it might mess with the way thermodynamics prevents Maxwell’s demons from working. (If the demons could see into the future, that is.) But I never understood that well enough to make a sensible guess, never mind work it out properly.

        • Unaussprechlichen says:

          Green pill breaks thermodynamics too. Animals have different mass, so it breaks the law of conservation of energy.
          For example, you can turn into a seagull, fly up, turn into a whale, then fall down and turn a turbine. Continue ad infinitum.

    • Tracy W says:

      I assumed the red pill taker thought like that to start with. Apart from the joke, Scott was avoiding the writer’s fault of having just one character with different names. Eg, Blue has a case of Attention Deficit Disorder, Orange meanwhile comes across as perfectionist, Grey is lazy, Black is Eliezer Yudkowsky.

      Note: Just to add that I do know gym rats who are intelligent and well-read individuals.

      • Jon says:

        Orange is Accord from Worm.

        Black is the Confessor/Kiritsugu from Three Worlds Collide.

        • eurg says:

          Except that Accord failed because his chosen projects had more free parameters than he was actually able to handle, and for some reason he reacted to that like a gambler.

          • James Picone says:

            WORM SPOILERS UP TO ~ARC 24

            Accord failed because nobody took him seriously, so he had to start world domination from the ground up, instead of from the government out.

            And then the Simurgh had him picked off as mere collateral as part of Behemoth’s New Delhi attack.

      • Julie K says:

        Red and Pink seem like characters from a Piers Anthony novel.

    • lmm says:

      Even as written, surely you could some kind of bodysuit with just your pinky exposed, or the like. Better hope you’re a latex fetishist.

      I guess Pink just never thought of this.

  7. Siahsargus says:

    I’ve always loved science fiction endings that result in the defeat of entropy, the final boss of the universe. It has a sense of closure a five million word story might not match.

    And all we had to do was to convince Redpill to neg entropy.

    • M says:

      WOW. The entire story could be a setup for this perfect pun.

      Bravo Scott.

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      Well spoilers I guess, but what are some other sci fi endings in which entropy is the final boss?

      It gives me a strange feeling to know that back in the real universe, entropy almost certainly does win, and yet for all practical purposes it doesn’t matter, because I will be long gone.

      And I didn’t notice the pun, doh.

      • Kyle Strand says:

        The only one I know of is Isaac Asimov’s “The Last Question” , which is…well, it’s gorgeous. And I’m not really spoiling it by telling you that that’s what it’s about.

      • pterrorgrine says:

        The canonical example is Asimov’s “The Last Question“.

      • Rangi says:

        Two anime involve ultimately battling entropy: Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. (That’s kind of a spoiler for both, but vague enough to not actually spoil anything.)

        • Eli says:

          Madoka Magica is directly about entropy. TTGL isn’t quite about fighting entropy, because they’re more worried about other things.

      • imuli says:

        So You Want To Be A Wizard is a young adult serious where the boss is more or less entropy. It is not quite so satisfying however. (And +1 for The Last Question.)

      • AlexanderRM says:

        Stephen Baxter’s “Manifold: Time” sort-of involves this, although not in quite the conventional method. His Xeelee sequence also does, come to think of it. (I suppose I’ll just add the spoiler- in both cases the universe inevitably burns out, but there are multiple universes, and it’s possible for some universes to influence others by one method or another. Doesn’t allow many people to survive, though.)

        Also while Rangi already mentioned it, I want to also mention Puella Magi Madoka Magica. It doesn’t feature entropy very heavily; the main reason I like it is that it has an excellent utilitarian antagonist who is IMO nevertheless depicted relatively fairly, not as a strawman.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      That’s a really good pun.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        Wow, I feel really dim, but I don’t see a pun.

        • James Picone says:

          ‘negentropy’ is the inverse of ‘entropy’. Red generates sufficient negentropy to maintain the space station at the end of the story.

          Also, ‘Redpill’ is a term used in Men’s Rights and pickup artist communities for clusters of belief I’m not entirely familiar with. ‘negging’ is a pickup artist technique involving giving women backhanded compliments. Red in the story picked up some of these ideas.

          So Red-pill was convinced to (generate) negentropy, and he also metaphorically insulted (negged) entropy.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Ah, I feel better. Yes, a good pun, but not one I had the context to appreciate. Thanks!

        • neg entropy” == “negentropy

          EDIT: Ninja’d.

    • DysgraphicProgemmer says:

      Bravo, sir! Bravo! That is the worst pun I have heard in weeks. You have my compliments.

    • Richard Gadsden says:

      Erk sorry.

      I just reported this comment, expecting to get a “what are you reporting this for” so I could pick “other” and type in “for have a really really groan-worthy pun in it”, but it just reported it, so Sorry Scott.

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      Posting here to register moral outrage, re: this pun.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I vote this pun for comment of the month.

    • Eli says:

      And all we had to do was to convince Redpill to neg entropy.

      Luckily, I’ve built up an immunity to death-by-pun.

    • Psy-Kosh says:

      That is truly terrible. Ahahahahaha

    • Mary says:

      Hanging is too good for someone who would make a pun like that. You should be drawn and quoted.

  8. Qiaochu Yuan says:

    Love it. Called the ending (in general, not in the details) at “Another – Red – had nothing to contribute” though. Maybe a little too on-the-nose.

  9. Bill Friedman says:

    This was a highly entertaining story, but as a man of simple tastes, at least half of the entertainment was from how Red sounds like a certain other STRONG person I could name.

  10. Rauwyn says:

    This is amazing. I agree with Alejandro, this is reminiscent of Worm, if you haven’t read it and either (a) are Scott or (b) like this post then you should go read it.

    I would take the blue pill. The black pill would just be so confusing and arduous, you’d be spending all of your time preparing different plans.

  11. Futune says:

    Very good story! I suspect black could have soloed the boss, though, by using their ability to (somehow) imitate Laplace’s demon or similar. My next choice was blue, who could generate potential energy by teleporting upwards in a gravity well, and dropping down objects. Presumably blue kept their clothes, so I expect they were able to carry some extra mass with them. With a liberal interpretation of their ability, perhaps even grey could generate the necessary energy? I hope somebody will inform me that I missed some solutions, as well!

    • Zykrom says:

      It’s a shame Green Pill died, or xhe might have been able to create arbitrary amounts of mass. It’s easier if shapeshifting heals injuries, but genetically engineering ‘new’ animals could work too.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        That was actually my original ending – Red starves to death in Black’s jail cell, Yellow kills everyone else except Green, Green survives and creates energy by the pressure wave created in the water by switching from a whale to a minnow and back again – but I decided I liked this one better.

        • The ending you went with was much more narratively satisfying than that one would have been.

          • HlynkaCG says:


          • JRM says:

            Oh, a thousand times yes. I *called* this ending (I think the story doesn’t end right if Red doesn’t win, or at least think he won), and the other ending isn’t… good.

            (The original ending of the movie Clerks has the main guy killed. The editors cut it from Kevin Smith’s original. Point for them. Here, Scott’s self-edit is exactly right.)

            Great fun.

        • Walter says:

          Call me a softie, but I like that it was Black & Orange’s compassion for the brutish Red that ended up saving the universe. They didn’t just give the life extension pill to people they approved of.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            Maybe I’m just too much of a cynic but I was convinced that Black was lying when he said that red was in a safe place.

            I simply assumed that Red had been killed out of hand. Because it seems to me that most rationalist fiction treats “stupid people” as less human most bacteria.

            I should have known better. Well played Mr. Alexander, well played.

        • Nick says:

          It sounds like green creates matter in any case, so you could turn into something big, remove some matter (extract limb/blood/urine/GI contents/etc.), burn/fuse that matter, turn into something small, regenerate (if the transformation doesn’t do it for you). Rinse, repeat, and it’s way more productive than hydropower (unless there are specific caveats — you turn back and now your guts are full of iron, or something — though maybe if you ask nicely whatever energy source helps with other exploits helps with this one too).

          • Nornagest says:

            …and that’s how whale oil turned out to be the fuel of choice one quadrillion years from now.

    • Kyle Strand says:

      I imagine that at some point Black would be burdened by the amount of time it would take to imagine a sufficient number of possible courses of action.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:


      • AlexanderRM says:

        If he can relay courses of action back to himself quickly enough, he might be able to set up something such that he never has to consider more than two in the same instant. I sort of assumed it was working that way, somehow. Harder to picture how he’d be able to do that constantly now that I think about it, though.

    • anon says:

      I assume that is why they were both killed in their coma, so that Red would be the sole savior.

    • purpleposeidon says:

      Any energy that Black could create in this manner would be dwarfed by the energy he consumes by existing. And it would probably be really boring.

      Suppose you have a chamber full of air with a membrane dividing it in half, with atomic-scale gates to let fast molecules into the left hemisphere, and slow molecules into the right hemisphere. The energy required to get a signal from neuron to a single gate would clearly exceed the energy gained. You could try having a predefined pattern, and only opening the gates when it would actually be worthwhile to do so, but it would be super-duper rare. You might tile the universe with such chambers, with a binary tree of wormholes leading to each chamber. Black could recite a long base64 number every second, causing the gates in a chamber, somewhere, to be switched. Maybe the energy necessary to set up such a contraption would exceed the energy it could generate before protons decay & stuff? IANAP.

      It might work if Black could turn his brain into a membrane; dunno if this is something that that universe allows as a possibility.

      • zaogao says:

        Good point! I would love to see more people with physics knowledge talk. On the other hand, itt depends on how timelines work here. Black pill seems to have all this information before he has actually done the work of copying down each future. If he commits to focus his consciousness on chamber 1 to the end of time and thus has all that information at time 0, once the info is obtained can he then commit to focus on chamber 2, 3, etc? And thus get that information for free?

        On a more practical note, what would be the best way to harvest quantum information per unit of spent consciouness? Need to create some sort of brownian motion engine, where you only need focus on one object that can absorb the energy from many molecules. Are there theoretical limits on this “Brownian energy?”

        Also can Maxwell’s demon even produce energy? It can defeat entropy but how can it gain more energy than the heat already contained? It would seem to extract energy until every molecule was arbitrarily close to 0K and then stop.

        • Jesse M. says:

          Maxwell’s demon couldn’t create new energy, but it could keep recycling heat back into work so it could keep doing work (like keeping a living thing alive) forever with a finite supply of energy in a closed system. That’s assuming it worked as originally advertised and wouldn’t fall prey to the later critiques that were based on analyzing how its mind would work if it had to be a physical computing device (which generates heat whenever it erases data to free up memory).

          • zaogao says:

            But wouldn’t you need a perfect insulator then?

          • Jesse M. says:

            Yeah, good point, without a perfect insulator you’d be continually losing some energy to radiation. You could harvest new energy from the cosmic background radiation, but in the really long term that would dwindle over time.

        • von Kalifornen says:

          The universe is still full of free-floating energy. Maxwell’s demon just lets you make use of that — you use the ambient heat to re-heat the gas.

        • Deiseach says:

          I think regeneration doesn’t happen once you transform back; Green had to spend time healing after the encounter with the hawk:

          After a few weeks of downtime while you wait for your leg to recover

          So cutting chunks off Green while in whale or dinosaur form might not be a great idea; what if when Green switches back, they find that you’ve just cut a huge lump out of their middle and now their intestines are all over the floor?

          • Nick says:

            Ah, right right. In that case, my thinking was it might still work if you became a starfish, planarian, salamander, or something (and didn’t amputate too much at the same time), since their material/energetic requirements for regeneration would be way less than for a whale. Or just go with one of the less invasive routes (harvest pee, blood, stomach contents, hair, etc.) if worried about damage.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful. “Universal Love, Said the Cactus Person” was wonderful too.

  13. Zykrom says:

    Poor Green Pill.

    • Yes I was hoping Green would reappear there at some point. I wonder if there was a potential role there in finding Yellow by turning into a bear.

  14. Jordan D. says:

    I predict that a lot of people here would want the blue pill, because it has the coolest and most fun powers of them all.

    (And thus ends Time)

    • ddreytes says:

      Yeah, blue’s pretty clearly the right call here.

    • Zykrom says:

      I don’t need to the Black Pill to see that this ends with you living out eternity as the only thing in the universe.

      • LHN says:

        In a cyclic Big Crunch scenario, maybe you wind up as Galactus (minus the planet-eating) in the next universe.

        I’d also wonder if “any area” would include trans-brane teleportation, assuming there’s anywhere to go.

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      I almost chose the blue pill but didn’t because this fate doesn’t sound fun.

      • Kyle Strand says:

        I interpret the original to mean that you’re only invincible *while* flying or teleporting. (The phrasing isn’t great and is in fact syntactically backwards if I’m correct, obviously.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      If I were choosing based on effective-altruism-style “I guess I need to maximize world utility instead of having fun,” I would go for Black.

      If I were just doing it to have fun, Orange.

      • DysgraphicProgemmer says:

        Orange in the story does not sound like he is having fun. He sounds constantly annoyed and he has too much responsibility. Plus nothing is ever a challenge anymore. You can’t even enjoy passive entertainment because you could have written it better.

        On the other hand Blue would cut a lot of time off my commute, and open the door for interesting extreme sports. Wanna go volcano diving?

        • AlexC says:

          “You can’t even enjoy passive entertainment because you could have written it better” – Hmm, I think that might be a temperament thing.

          • Pine says:

            Right? Orange is just kind of a grump. People do genuinely enjoy watching high school plays, or low-budget student films, or listening to mediocre-but-enthusiastic karaoke. (Or perhaps EVERYTHING would be entertaining the way so-bad-it’s-good things are to us mere mortals.)

        • Dale says:

          Hey, ‘not being annoyed’ sounds like a skill Orange could master if he wished!

          • Annms says:

            Yeah, couldn’t he just master Stoicism, Buddhism, Taoism, Epicureanism, meditation, relaxation, contemplation and all other things of that kind.

      • SanguineVizier says:

        Green seems to be the best choice to me, since it is effectively every pill, but with the crucial ability to turn off the powers at will.

        • Jordan D. says:

          That’s only true if Green actually means ‘turn into anything you can imagine and then label as an animal’ rather than something more prosaic.

          Of course, that’s part and parcel with the fact that any of these could have a multitude of interpertations. I’m totally with Scott when he says that the black pill is the best way to maximize utility under this conception- but what if instead the universe has only a single and ineluctable sequence of events and the future, as it were, refuses to change? What if it is verboten to write letters to your past?

          Just compare this story’s conception of the blue pill to the concern raised in this comment thread: what does ‘physical harm’ mean? In the story, blue dies, so presumably ‘alone in the heat-death of the universe’ isn’t even a concern. But one could reasonably interpert ‘immune to physical harm’ to mean absolute immortality.

          That’s part of why I would be drawn right to blue- when looking at the pills and examining the reasonable interpertations of each (which I imagine, in any event), that one has the best effects in most of the interpertations, failing only if you find yourself stuck in the void forever. Green is obviously superior if I can invent Star Trek style aliens, and Orange is better if matchless human skill can get you to teleporters and black is better if you can use it to examine all possible universes- but failing those, unlimited safe travel is a pretty great way to have fun and increase global utility.

          (By the way, the entire concept of this article was brilliant.)

          • SanguineVizier says:

            That’s only true if Green actually means ‘turn into anything you can imagine and then label as an animal’ rather than something more prosaic.

            The text is “the ability to shapeshift into any animal”. A human who has taken the yellow, green, blue, orange, red, pink, grey, and black pills is an animal. QED.

            Edit: I freely admit I am violating the spirit of the game, but I think the broken aspect of the green pill proceeds quite neatly from the literal meaning of what is given. It strikes me as the most obvious candidate for munchkining to nigh unlimited power and possibilities.

          • Jordan D. says:

            But if you’re allowed to add contingent features like that, then surely you could just turn into Human Who Rules The Earth? Or perhaps Human Who Knows How To Defeat Entropy?

          • Meigan says:

            But human who has taken a different pill is an existing animal, whereas human who knows how to defeat entropy is not. If you cannot specify anything about your animal other than species, this power is even worse than it’s portrayed here. Like, do you turn into a healthy adolescent sparrow, or a sparrow chick, or a sparrow that is missing a wing? It seems like you should be able to specify certain attributes of the animal, though then you could of course specify sparrow with intact instincts as regards avoiding hawks, and so on. I dunno, I feel like green was under-explored so I’m happy to consider what it might actually do.

            The biggest problem with green is the mind/brain divide. If you can fly as the sparrow you turn into, the sparrow’s brain must still be active on some level, providing it with accurate knowledge of how to move. Therefore, we have to assume that certain mental skills of the animal you transform into continue to be present and accessible. However, you remain self-aware and aware of your transforming power while transformed. Given those, and the previous note on necessity of specifying what kind of animal to turn into, it does make sense to me that someone who has taken the green pill could turn into a person who has taken any other pill.

          • Jordan D. says:

            Accepting that there is an ‘existing animal’ limitation on the green pill, does that mean that you can only turn into one of the other candidates so long as they remain alive? Do you have to know who they are so that you can turn into them specifically, or is there a generality clause floating around which allows you to assume a form analogous to an animal so long as an actual example of the species exists?

            (The green pill seems incredibly complex, then, able to track what things exist in the universe, label them ‘animal’ or ‘non-animal’ and then transmute the host into a copy of that animal, only with differences in the brain. Or perhaps not?)

            …actually, more importantly, while this story assumes that you can shapeshift back from being another animal, the pill description provides no such guarantee.

            Given the number of assumptions needed to break the green pill, I wouldn’t pick it off that description alone. All you need is for one thing to be wrong and you’ll find yourself trapped as a dormouse or something.

          • Jiro says:

            The pill was probably meant to work by magic, which means that

            1) It applies to ontologically basic mental things, so it doesn’t have to distinguish what an animal is; being magic, it treats “animalishness” as a primitive concept, and

            2) It probably assumes Cartesian dualism, so whether the animal’s brain can process your mind is irrelevant.

    • James Picone says:

      My usual policy with this kind of thing is ‘go for anything that gets you future information’, so if Blue doesn’t allow for FTL (‘teleport’ is underspecified) I take Black. If Blue does allow for FTL, it’s strictly superior though, sure. Both of them allow you to emulate Contessa’s Path to Victory power from Worm though, and thus are winning options.

    • Jaskologist says:

      You’re all seriously undervaluing Yellow. Yellow turns you into Kira with shinigami eyes, and access to the whole of human knowledge.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Black has more power given a head start (if you also hand-wave away the weird time-loop problems as is done here, basically Scott is assuming an almost infinite number iterations happening instantaneously so that each intentioned action becomes optimal through foreknowledge)

        Yellow can turn black off, though. If Yellow becomes aware of Black before Black has time to fully come into there power, and reads Black as dangerous, its lights out for Black. My guess is that Black take lots of actions early on to keep Yellow unaware of them, and may even do this in such a way that Black doesn’t even know who Yellow is (thereby staying immune from Yellow learning that Black is gunning for them.)

        Yellow is very, very nerfed from an “optimal” yellow though. An optimal yellow can immediately read and process everyone’s minds simultaneously, just as Black can instantaneously know the best future without having to take any time to think about it. A power hungry optimal Yellow can immediately turn off any and all threats.

  15. Andrew says:

    Wow. Brilliant. I love how it morphs from a hilarious deconstruction of the basic choice into a hilarious sci-fi story.

  16. LHN says:

    Is it a coincidence that the casualties include all Red’s potential rivals for generating sourceless energy? Blue could fly in a circle with a crank, Grey produces electricity directly. Green could certainly generate energy in a gravitational field by switching from rotifer to whale on one side of a seesaw (or two less extreme options with differing mass) with an intermediate weight on the other. (I’m guessing it’s still possible with big mass concentrations gone, but I haven’t thought of how thus far.)

    And presumably Black could send this endgame info back to before the mess with the Shroud in order to produce an ending in which they all survive. But might not want to have Yellow around.

    (I’d take blue– but without knowing how this story turned out, would strongly consider trying to use the ability to grab the black, yellow, and pink pills and drop them into a volcano.)

    • fhyve says:

      Black can’t send that info back because he’s in a coma for longer than a month

      • Julie K says:

        You’d think Black would have seen that coming.

        • Tracy W says:

          Black only looks at the paper on the first day of the month. In this case, Black solemnly resolves on their plan to get Yellow to read the mind of God, gets nothing back (as Black is in a coma at M+1 and thus unable to send back the letter) but for some reason decides to go ahead with that plan anyway. Presumably all the other plans Black thought of didn’t get him anywhere.

          • AlexanderRM says:

            Black would have been able to see the future with him and the rest of the group in the coma, though. I got the impression that Black was specifically blocked from seeing anything after a course of action that involved interacting with God, just as Black thought.

    • colin roald says:

      Screw volcanoes, go for a black hole.

      Blue is awesome – flying and teleporting would be so great – but I don’t think I could turn down the chance to be Batman. And once I built my own spaceplane, I could live without teleport.

      I think Scott is dramatically overselling Black, here. It doesn’t make you any smarter, this business of trying A/B testing by “solemnly resolving” things sounds easier said than done, and seriously, even if you could “solemnly resolve” anything you wanted to just by saying it (which, bullshit), the idea of optimizing an effectively infinite decision space by A/B testing is ridiculous.

      Plus, if Scott is arguing that *Orange* would be no fun to live with, how joy-killing would it be to never be surprised by anything ever again? No thank you.

      I’m sure Pink was intended to be “make anyone love you until you want them to stop, then they do”. Which is even more devastatingly powerful and devastatingly joy-killing than what Scott presented. It’s either a trap for the miserable, or an I-Win button for a sociopath.

      • LHN says:

        Orange would be pretty awesome, but I always did prefer Superman to Batman.

        On which subject, I wonder if it’s coincidence that Superman essentially amounts to Red&Blue? (Give or take the vision powers.)

        • Artemium says:

          I don’t think that teleportation power was part of Superman’s toolbox.

          • LHN says:

            It isn’t, but Silver Age Superman’s intergalactic-speed flight nearly subs for it. He’d have to break any wholly enclosing walls rather than teleport past them, but in most cases he could probably just rebuild them at super-speed behind him if he cared to bother. (Or if he were clever, he could just time-travel to before or after the enclosure existed to avoid it. Though he rarely was that clever.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Original Superman can’t even actually fly. He just jumps really, really skillfully.

      • Peng says:

        Black could A/B test exponentially large search spaces: Each resolution divides the search space in half (until you’re only looking at one), each message backwards returns the best outcome in that subset.

        • bbartlog says:

          In principle. But this isn’t some coin-weighing problem where the search space is clearly defined ahead of time. In other words, Black might not be able to choose in such a way as to search efficiently, because he doesn’t know enough about the outcomes beforehand. Remember, he doesn’t get superpowers of thought and analysis to go with the foresight…

      • Gbdub says:

        I mean, even with Scott’s change its odd that the pink pill doesn’t work consecutively. If it’s one touch = love, two = back to normal, doesn’t three touch = love again?

        And he actually buffs the hell out of Pink’s actual ability, turning it from “love” into “worship” – effectively full on mind control. Just because I love somebody doesn’t mean I unquestioningly do whatever they say.

        • AlexC says:

          Yeah, I thought that. It’d be more interesting if it varied by individual: many people probably would do everything you wanted, but those of quirkier personality makeup or stronger personal will might not.

          Completely forgiven given how the story ended up, of course.

      • Eli says:

        I’m sure Pink was intended to be “make anyone love you until you want them to stop, then they do”. Which is even more devastatingly powerful and devastatingly joy-killing than what Scott presented. It’s either a trap for the miserable, or an I-Win button for a sociopath.

        Nah, the question is whether you can somehow use pink to make people love each-other. It doesn’t even have to be romantically, it just has to get them to be first-class citizens of each-other’s minds, so to speak.

      • Psmith says:

        ” this business of trying A/B testing by “solemnly resolving” things sounds easier said than done,”

        Kavka’s toxin puzzle is relevant here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kavka%27s_toxin_puzzle

    • ISANobody says:

      So, you’re saying that Blue could have saved the day by (BETA CUCKOLD) ORBITING?

  17. Dinaroozie says:

    That was entirely glorious.

  18. Nick says:

    Another pretty good story! Characterization was weak, but whaddaya expect for a one-shot original fiction short story with a ton of actors. Totes called the ending when I read the time travel message (since red pill doesn’t have “any” limits, despite not being invincible and capable of being trapped by a titanium [alloy? though I doubt that’s ideal] cell). A few weird, “unrealistic” bits also strained my suspension of disbelief — you nerfed/idiot-balled pink pill, yellow pill, and green pill, overbuffed black and orange pills, blue pill’s exploration of the universe felt lackluster, red pill would have a bajillion jobs easily, etc..

    The red pill (and to a lesser extent, pink pill) sections ruffled my feathers a little (playing off the strong and athletic = dumb bro stereotype to make a somewhat lazy pun. If anything, that personality should have belonged to the grey pill person, since everyone knows it’s the tech-y, nerdy, internet people who are the misogynistic, entitled little shits, right?). I think a better interpretation of the cyoa would have had “rapid regeneration” imply anterograde amnesia, and then red pill could happily crank a super-generator for all eternity.

    • Desertopa says:

      The red pill (and to a lesser extent, pink pill) sections ruffled my feathers a little (playing off the strong and athletic = dumb bro stereotype to make a somewhat lazy pun. If anything, that personality should have belonged to the grey pill person, since everyone knows it’s the tech-y, nerdy, internet people who are the misogynistic, entitled little shits, right?).

      Everyone does not know this, and indeed, Scott has conducted polling which suggests that it’s very much a false stereotype, and has also written about the harm that stereotype has caused him and people in his social circles, so I can’t see why he’d want to perpetuate it.

      • Nick says:

        You don’t say? I thought watching Star Trek, masturbating to cartoons, and browsing Reddit (or whatever the heck nerdy people do) naturally inculcated a deep, abiding, sexual hatred towards women.

    • Jack says:

      I’m fairly sure the red pill thing was playing off the stereotype of the subreddit (the whole alpha-beta thing), not the stereotype of strength and power.

  19. King William of Orange.

    Also, [positive reinforcement]! I think this is your best work of fiction yet!

    • Rangi says:

      …Argh. First “dark Satanic Mills,” now this.

      (I’m not actually complaining, these are very high-caliber puns. Scott, I think you would appreciate A Few Musketeers if you haven’t already heard of it.)

    • Deiseach says:

      Which makes creating William the Orange Pill-taker Pope even funnier/more offensive, depending how you take it.

      I’m amused enough not to start reflexively frothing at the mouth on cultural/religious grounds 🙂

  20. Dale says:

    This is amazing. I love it!

    Totally agree with Black. Was conflicted between some of the other colors before I read that description.

    Interest fact from the resident finance guy: if we could reliably see the future, or time travel from the future to now was possible, all asset prices would increase at the same rate, and there would be no equity risk premium. Otherwise people with future knowledge would arbitrage away all movements. We’ll know we’re in the window of time travel when the stock market massively jumps and volatility collapses.

    • Artemium says:

      Yes but the idea is that only you can reliably see the future, and not anyone else. That makes it super-fun power to have unless say, you figure that in one-month you will be dead because of undiagnosed and untreatable cancer and there is nothing you can do about it.

  21. Rangi says:

    You write excellent conceptual fiction. This and “The Study of Anglophysics” are both really creative. (I was imagining this while reading it as being a movie—it could probably be adapted into a good screenplay—but “Anglophysics” of course works best as a written story.)

  22. Unknowns says:

    As some people have been pointing out, pretty much any magic power implies the ability to generate limitless energy, although not all of them would necessarily produce enough to keep the universe in existence.

  23. DanielLC says:

    Why didn’t Red use his regeneration? You can get energy way faster that way. And why store enough power to restart the universe? That’s not a very efficient use of power. Why not just use it as you make it? Or use the energy to simulate the universe?

    • I think Scott decided to ignore the regeneration and super-speed features from the original infographic for the sake of narrative simplicity, and the character doesn’t actually have those superpowers in this story.

      • DanielLC says:

        He has super speed. He used it twice. The first time was to run into Black’s dart. The second time was to turn the crank. He just seems more concerned with super strength.

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          It’s pretty unimpressive, though. Though one would guess that Black would not show up to said confrontation if his foresight hadn’t told him that Red would be retarded enough to not instantly disarm him.

  24. Aleph says:

    I’m not a physicist, but: If Red can create energy, won’t that eventually just lead to an unavoidable Big Crunch (as the added energy reverses the expansion of space) or at least a “Big Boil” (as ambient heat goes to infinity), instead of the usual heat death?

    This is nit-picking though, and Orange/Black could probably find a way around it. Nice story!

    • Anonymous says:

      I guess the heat will be radiated away. If the universe fills up with hot radiation it will cooled back down over time by redshift from the expansion of the universe. But I think even this won’t be necessary; the heat should just be radiated out past the horizon of the observable universe.

    • Guy says:

      The Crunch only becomes a problem if the energy added is affected by gravity like dark and ordinary matter. The way it’s described, the “boil” is probably the biggest worry. It would be amusingly stupid if they accidentally increased the cosmological constant such that a “big rip” (space expands so rapidly that atoms and molecules no longer stay together) happened.

    • Gbdub says:

      Red has Orange to tell him when to stop cranking. In fact it’s not clear the universe should be cyclical, since they could always have Red produce just enough negentropy to precisely offset the increase in regular entropy.

  25. Carinthium says:

    At first I thought this was just about the basic choice. I decided mentally that IF it was both with a touch and at-will (so I had to will to turn it on. Will to turn it off optional) Pink would be irresitable at first, with Orange as a second choice. Then I realised Orange could lead to immortality AND seducing a harem…

    Black is nice yes, but with my IRL level of competence I’d have a problem that carefully looking through futures would be hard work and I’m honestly lazy and weak-willed enough to have trouble precommitting to write those notes.

    Some nitpicks on the story:
    -Even if Red Pill is too dumb to think of it, couldn’t he become a super-sodlier? I’m sure the United States would appreciate him.
    -Aren’t Blue and Green pretty stupid choices themselves?
    -I can see why Orange can take over the world. What I can’t see is why he wanted to become Pope instead of abolishing Catholicism.

    EDIT: Forgot- can’t Pink grabs someone’s hand and hold it the whole conversation? Should at least be enough to daterape someone if that’s what they want.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      “-I can see why Orange can take over the world. What I can’t see is why he wanted to become Pope instead of abolishing Catholicism.”

      Because while Catholicism might not be true, he lives in a universe where there is a superpowerful entity that is capable of messing with the laws of physics and interacts with the Earth and humanity. Best not to destroy any organizations that may have been founded by such an entity.

      • Gbdub says:

        Well, if the Shroud of Turin is really the Face of God, then clearly Catholoicism IS true, or at least close enough.

      • Peter says:

        He also gets to be the Coptic Pope, there seems to be an amount of bet-hedging going on there.

        • Deiseach says:

          RE: Coptic pope, that depends. I was going to say Carinthium wanted to abolish Catholicism but seemed to have no problem with the Copts – what, you’re not Chalcedon-compliant, Carinthium 😉 ?

          But that does depend: William could indeed be pope of both the Roman Catholic and the Coptic Catholic Church, as they are in full communion with we of the Latin Church and accept the primacy of the pope as do 22 other Eastern Catholic Churches, so William would de facto and de jure be pope of both.

          On the other hand, if Scott was not being fiendishly cunning, he may indeed have meant the Coptic Orthodox Church and that would be two different papacies.

          I admit, I’d love to know how William reconciles the Nestorian and Chalcedonian Christologies – he really must be the World’s Greatest Expert On Everything! 😀

          • Susebron says:

            Surely it would be harder for him to reconcile the Nestorian and Miaphysite Christologies, since they’re directly opposite one another? The Chalcedonian Christology is a compromise between the two, I believe.

            Edit: Ecumenical councils can’t melt separate natures! The Council of Chalcedon was an inside job!

          • Deiseach says:

            The Council of Chalcedon was an inside job!

            Well, I think we know your position on the Hypostatic Union! 😀

          • Susebron says:

            My personal opinion on it is that it’s boring. It’s much more interesting to state that the human and divine natures are entirely separate, or that there is only one nature which is both human and divine. I get that it’s a compromise, but compromises are boring.

          • Carinthium says:

            Actually, that was stupid on my part. I forgot about the Copts, to be honest.

          • Deiseach says:

            But the human and divine natures are separate; the humanity of Jesus is not (a) subsumed in or by His divinity, (b) an assumed humanity and not real, (c) was human up until a certain event (the baptism in the Jordan is a popular choice here) and then divinity descended upon Him (d) discarded after His ascension (unlike e.g. Heracles, where the funeral pyre ‘burned away’ his mortal part and left only the immortal son of Zeus who could then be taken up to Olympus).

            TWO natures, ONE person 🙂

          • LHN says:

            “The whole City is full of it, the squares, the market places, the cross-roads, the alleyways. Old-clothes men, money changers, food sellers: they are all busy arguing. If you ask someone to give you change, they philosophize about the Begotten and the Unbegotten. If you ask the price of a loaf of bread, the answer you get is that the Father is greater and the Son inferior. If you ask, “Is my bath ready?” the attendant answers, “The Son was made out of nothing”.

          • Susebron says:

            They’re mixed together without distinction, which is comparatively boring.

          • Deiseach says:

            I can’t believe I’m arguing Christology arising out of a Tumblr meme but here goes 🙂

            The two natures ARE distinct not mixed; the price of a loaf of bread is €1.35 for a large white sliced pan on offer at Tescos; and your bath will be ready when the water is heated when the heating oil delivery comes and I’m never using that company again as I’ve been waiting three days for alleged “next day” delivery 😀

          • Susebron says:

            Oh, never mind. I was wrong. I should have realized that it wouldn’t make sense to have the natures mixed together, since Christ had two wills. I maintain that Nestorianism and Miaphysitism are still more interesting than the Chalcedonian view.

            Wait, what?

          • LHN says:

            @Deiseach: Truly, you are prepared for your time trip to fourth century Constantinople. Your transportation should arrive shortly. 🙂

            I’m of course assuming your koine Greek is current. (But if not, no worries– it comes in pill form. Just don’t take any Central or West Asian languages within two weeks of your last dose– the interactions are tricky.)

            Alas, they probably won’t let you actually attend the Ecumenical Council. But as St. Gregory of Nyssa indicates, there are opportunities for disputation everywhere in the City. (Consult the list of critical junctures provided. And be careful. The last two attempted interventions wound up establishing Monoenergism and Aphthartodocetism respectively.)

    • Harald K says:

      I can see why Orange can take over the world. What I can’t see is why he wanted to become Pope instead of abolishing Catholicism.

      Well of course you couldn’t, but if you’d taken the orange pill, you’d see why this was the most sensible choice.

  26. Harvey says:

    As always, I admire your talent for fiction and wish I had spent more time refining my own.

  27. Jeremy says:

    Fantastic! This is just so satisfying on so many levels. Am I the only one who feels like Scott may have taken a pill that gives the ability to construct amazing narratives?

    Also, I can’t help reading this as a film treatment and wishing someone with a lot of talent would make it (resurrect Kubrick?).

  28. colin roald says:


  29. I saw somebody on Tumblr argue that eight pills are superpower-complete (analogous to NP-completeness), in that taking any one of the pills gives you the ability, through sufficient munchkining, to synthesize the other seven. (Obviously this is not true in the universe of Scott’s story, but this person was making an argument for why it should be true in a given universe that has these pills.)

    I can’t find the post now. Did anyone else see it?

    • Zykrom says:

      I can see how it would work with green and orange, but I’m coming up with nothing for the others

      • Godzillarissa says:

        I too fail to see how green would teleport and/or see the future.
        How would yellow get super-strong by reading minds?
        How would red make people love him with BRUTE STRENGTH?

        • DrBeat says:

          Red would make people love him by becoming a Jumplomancer.

        • Albatross says:

          Everyone loved Red at the end of the story. If he had been working for Orange or myself sooner he would be as well loved as Superman.

          With a good manager there is no reason he can’t be an Olympic gold medalist, Hall of Fame in four pro sports, Medal of Honor, etc.

          I picture him in Nepal excavating to save earthquake victims with his bare hands. As long we keep him off twitter we are good.

          • Godzillarissa says:

            I understood the pink pill to create romantic love. What you’re describing, though, is more like admiration/worship. Not that one can’t morph into the other, but it’s a stretch.

            Also, let’s assume an ultimate bad guy, that won’t love Red whatever good deeds he does. He wouldn’t even want the universe to be rescued and wouldn’t love Red at the end of the story. Pink could just touch him, but what can Red do?

          • Jaskologist says:

            Red can punch the bad guy in the face so hard he explodes. Problem solved.

        • Ant says:

          green has a loophole: nothing in the description states that the animals you change into has to exist. So you can choose to be a teleporting unicorn if you want. Of course, two can play that game, and nothing in the description say that your spirit is not changed during the transformation, so changing yourself into an unicorn might give you the intellect of an horse.

  30. Dylan V says:

    This is simply fantastic. I laughed, I thought.

  31. Dan says:

    Black wins the award for perfect attendance.

    On time, over 10^16 workdays in a row! On the fist of the month, long past the the death of the moon and the sun. If he’d missed a single day of work, his whole scheme would have failed. Fortunately, the whole “41 years in a coma” thing happened in an alternate timeline.

    • Fnord says:

      I think you can miss a first of the month simply by moving the timing forward (and then you have to do an extra day to get back to the first of the month schedule, or you can simply change the timing). Especially since you can, obviously, see the interruption coming.

    • Anonymous says:

      And I wonder how careful you have to be to hand-copy something a quadrillion times without corruption.

    • Hackworth says:

      Black doesn’t actually have to do any of that, but only has to firmly resolve to do it, then the superpower takes care of the rest, i.e. procuring the information. That means there is no potential for failure through poor execution.

      However, I wonder what exactly “firm resolve” means. Humans, as Yellow has found out, are pretty good at lying to themselves, so there might be a situation where I believe I firmly resolved to something, but really didn’t. Would the Black superpower care about that distinction?

      • Stephen Coffey says:

        It probably would be that wouldn’t be a problem, it would be a good thing.

        If firmly resolving to do something doesn’t *actually* result in you doing it, then you want to see a future where you don’t do it. If you saw the future where you actually do it, that would mislead you into following the wrong course of action.

  32. Fantastic. My son pointed out that the grey pill would let you turn an unfriendly AI into a friendly one.

    • bbartlog says:

      This is actually the one reason why the grey pill might be a solid choice. Of course it seems *highly likely* that Black could also avert the malevolent AI catastrophe, but unless he actually has the munchkin ability to write notes to himself and thereby telescope his ability, it’s always possible that he wouldn’t be able to stop the malevolent AI in the one month available. Of course, Grey would also have the limitation that he would have to become aware of malevolent AI before it became aware of him, which suggests that this particular use of his powers would require being very cautious about using them in any other situation.

  33. Fnord says:

    I hate to just repeat what everyone else said, but this is great.

  34. Jiro says:

    The definitions of the pills are subject to interpretation and on the answers to other questions. Seeing the future has very different upsides and downsides depending on which theory of informational time travel the universe runs on. Regeneration is a lot better if it includes regenerating from aging. And does the blue pill make you immune to everything, or just to conditions in the area you teleport into? (And even then, can you take advantage of it by, say, teleporting into a plague area to get cured of the plague?) Is the teleportation instantaneous in all reference frames (thus allowing you to time travel)? What does it mean to master an activity for the orange pill? (Suppose I want to master “finding a cure for disease X” or “making a million dollars”. Those are within the capability of humans, do they count as activities?)

    The Tumblir problem is also not clear on (although the story specifies) whether other people can get the pills you give up, which may lead to taking the yellow or pink pill just to prevent those powers from being used against you.

    Also, the things that make for a good story are not necessarily the most likely things to happen.

  35. Ezra says:

    It’s funny that you found out about this on tumblr. I’m assuming this is the first image like that you’ve seen? They were popularized and I think invented on 4chan. Suffice it to say this would have become more and more apparent to you the more of them you played. Fun game: take a moment to imagine what the trends and patterns for these thingies are based on what you know about 4chan, then, if you’re still interested in seeing more, see if you’re right.

    They’re called CYOAs on 4chan, the subreddit (mostly reposts from 4chan) is called reddit.com/r/makeyourchoice. Know Your Meme calls them Choice Games, which I think is the best name for them, but I’ve never seen it used anywhere else. They vary in complexity. A lot of CYOAs are like this one, are lot are fantasy or sci-fi themed, some use a single choice, some use point systems where you choose from a bunch of different options. Some use other systems of choice entirely.

    Anyways, I’ve been following them for a while and this is my favorite thing produced by the medium by a wide margin. 10/10.

    If you are at all interested in Choice Games, leaving aside the really long ones, here are a few simple ones that I thought were pretty good.

    Time pauses. Everyone on Earth makes a selection from this list. Time unpauses. (haha, I just thought of an interesting unintended consequence from that phrasing. I’m thinking it’ll be apparent to you pretty quick now that I’ve said this.)

    Sock Puppet CYOA. Beautiful in its simplicity.

    These other two are also pretty good. One of them is longer in comparison to the rest.

    I’ve got more, but those are the starter pack or whatever. Yeah, having someone whose fiction I consistently like interested in the same things I am interested in would certainly be good for me, so I’m hoping you’ll contribute again in one form or another.

    Edit: I see your post has already been linked to on the subreddit, the first two comments are favorable.

    • ShardPhoenix says:

      >Time pauses. Everyone on Earth makes a selection from this list. Time unpauses.

      Immortality seems likely best for this one. I don’t think anyone hates me enough to give up a chance at immortality to kill me specifically, and indiscriminate murderers are going to be sufficiently inundated by photos that they’ll most likely be found and stopped long before they get to me. Of course this requires a significant proportion of people to have similar preferences to me, and there could be a threat from people who form groups to efficiently find and kill eg white men.

      • Jiro says:

        The gun works in secret with no evidence that you killed someone, so indiscriminate murderers won’t necessarily be caught. I’d expect that most murderers would either be caught because of human nature in not wanting to do this sort of thing completely in private, or will have an impulse to kill that independently leads them to be killed by someone else (KKK members might kill blacks anonymously, but being a KKK member also makes you a target and you’ll be killed by someone else in “retaliation” without anyone proving that you killed anonymously). But there will be a residue of private killers who act perfectly normal and just occasionally kill someone, who would be the greatest danger. Whether you have to take the vest depends on how large you think this residue is.

        Also consider that although this residue can’t *search* the photos, they could randomly pick some photos. If each one kills just a few people per day it can add up pretty fast.

        (And if you’re a celebrity or you have a job which involves pissing off people, you have to take the vest.)

      • Zakharov says:

        The biggest risk in taking immortality is that there will be some people who choose gun and systematically kill everyone who chooses immortality. Will there be enough immortality-choosers that none of the murderers gets to your photo before they die?

      • Zvi Mowshowitz says:

        I’d analyze it this way. There are four basic possible outcomes:

        1. The Gun faction kills everyone with the Immortality option, then they all kill each other.
        2. The Gun/Vest factions kills everyone with the Immortality option, then guns are banned and physically removed (so the Guns don’t kill each other).
        3. The Guns are banned and a substantial fraction of the Immortality faction live to the end.
        4. World blows up as a result, nukes/rocks fall, everyone dies.

        If you choose Gun, you get basically no benefits over Vest, so obviously you do not choose Gun. Most people will not choose Gun over Vest because they are far more afraid of being killed by a random Gun, then they want to actually kill someone. So we know the Guns will be vastly outnumbered (but could potentially rapid-fire).

        In Scenario 4, everyone gets zero. Choosing Vest/Immortality decreases chance it happens.

        In Scenario 1, Guns get Utility epsilon, Immortality gets zero, Vest gets one.

        In Scenario 2, Vest gets one, Immortality gets zero, Gun gets between zero and one (since many will die, and they may be punished).

        In Scenario 3, Vest gets one, Gun gets between zero and one, Immortality gets some percentage chance of ALL THE POINTS.

        The two questions are: What is the chance of 3 vs. 1+2, and what is the multiplier on immortality if the guns are all destroyed? My instincts say that at least 1 and 3 are very live, and my multiplier is very large, so I’d gamble.

        What is the most likely scenario? I think the major governments gather up everyone into safe zones, confiscating all guns, then neutron bomb the rest of the planet as quickly as possible, to wipe out all the guns.

        If you don’t especially want immortality, of course, just snap off the vest.

    • Linch says:

      I will choose immortality and then get plastic surgery and legally change my mind.

      Nobody hates me sufficiently to kill me(that I know of) and anonymous killers have all of one day to target me by face and maybe a week to target me by name(I expect the process to be expedited significantly by the urgency).

      Since I’m immortal I will hide in a forest for 50-100 years while all the gunmen are hunted down in the outside world.

      Maybe my chance of survival is less than 50%, but the expected value is still ridiculously high.

      For the sock puppet, money is useful(for, eg., effective altruism). It’s a lot easier to become a multibillionaire playing markets than singing or comedy, and I’m already rather funny (or so I like to imagine). Dating coaches aren’t too expensive either. (The only potentially better option is crime but most of the time crime doesn’t pay that well).

      • David says:

        I will choose immortality and then get plastic surgery and legally change my mind.

        I assume you meant ‘name’, but I love the idea that, in this universe, in addition to the guns/vests/immortality thing, it becomes a potential criminal offence to update your beliefs from whatever they were at the time of the un-pausing 🙂

    • Nick says:

      There are some good collections of CYOAs on the spacebattles forums: e.g. https://forums.spacebattles.com/threads/general-cyoa-thread.315809/

      Just from that first page, I thought the gods one (http://i.imgur.com/7BHcrb0.jpg), the Worm one, and the ASoIaF fire one were pretty fun.

    • mkehrt says:

      Here’s the original:

      http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/thumbnail/109894/1/The-Judgement-Of-Paris.jpg (I picked a SFW version 🙂 )

  36. I am amazed and very, very entertained. This is brilliant, Scott. If you have any other stories you haven’t posted for similar reasons, I’m certainly interested in reading them.

  37. Morvkala says:

    I’d say that Blue is more powerful than Black.
    1) Teleport to NASA. Pick up some long range transmission tech.
    2) Wait for a few days, recording EVERYTHING you learn. (Lotto numbers, tech, etc),
    3) Travel into empty space at point A. Send out a message with everything you recorded.
    … A few days in the past …
    4) Travel out into space at point B (a few light days away from point A) and record everything.

    Information loop established, and you can now see the end of the universe. (Plus, as you learn future tech, your transmitters will get better range, making this less tedious in any sense)

    Orange is also nice, but time travel and invincibility and being able to go literally anywhere… Too much to pass up.

    • PsychoRecycled says:

      I think I’m missing something, but I can’t see how that would work.

      Let’s say you sent your message on June 1st. Your message doesn’t exist until June 1st–you can’t pick it up during May, because it didn’t exist. You can’t learn anything about the future because your message hasn’t been sent yet.

      • James Picone says:

        Relativity. If the teleportation is ‘instant’ in the sense that one planck interval you’re at point A then next Planck interval you’re at point B, you can move faster than light, which is equivalent to time travel.

        • LHN says:

          And at least in the story the teleportation was FTL, since Blue had visited other galaxies but was available on Earth in the near future.

        • Jesse M. says:

          But what if teleportation itself is magic and exempt from having to work in a frame-independent way like normal physical processes? If there’s a preferred reference frame for “instantaneous” teleportation, you can’t use it for time travel.

      • weareastrangemonkey says:

        Relativity is confusing when you don’t work with it a little – I don’t. The problem is you, I, and nearly all the other monkeys, want to treat time as being a giant clock ticking away while the universe moves on in accordance to implicitly Newtonian physics. Such a world view says that at points A, B and E (earth) the giant clock says June 1st.

        In this world I teleport to point A (on June 1st) pick up the message from point B (on June 1st) and get back to Earth on June 1st. Well that was pretty pointless wasn’t it.

        But we don’t live in such a world with a single giant clock. Apparently there is a separate clock for each point in space. Wherever you stand, the times on the other clocks are slow relative to how far away they are from you the observer (measured in terms of the speed of light). But, and this is where my metaphor or my tiny monkey brain starts fragmenting, if there is an observer at some other place our clock lags his clock by the same amount that his clock lags ours.

        So let’s put a wrist watch on Abe at point A and Bob at point B where point A and B are 12 light hours apart. If Abe teleports (instantaneously) to Bob then Bob’s watch will be 12 hours behind Abe’s. If Bob teleports to Abe, however, then Abe’s watch will be 12 hours behind Bob’s. Now, you put a watch on and teleport from A to B and Bob’s watch is 12 hours behind yours. Now you teleport back to A and Abe’s watch is 24 hours behind yours. You have gone 1 day back in time – to the 31st of May.*

        This, I think, is the wonderful world of space-time; space and time are not independent, if we forget that we make mistakes when we enter high speed worlds.

        You might notice that by travelling to B then back to A instantaneously you might as well have not moved. So why can’t I just travel back in time sitting here in my armchair by assuming that I did it? Well, because that would be silly.

        To be honest, I find it emotionally difficulty to believe any of this – it sounds bonkers. But I went through the math, and the experiments, behind the theory of relativity at one point in my life so I don’t think I believe this just cos “the clever men said it”.

        *It’s not obvious to me why you need any of the fancy stuff Morvala was talking about when we can just time travel directly. Probably something I haven’t thought about. Also, it’s not obvious to me why we can’t cycle forward in time. If Abe’s watch is 12 hours behind Bob’s watch, from Bob’s perspective, then perhaps instantaneous travel could take us forward to Bob’s time rather than backward to Bob’s time.

        • Jesse M. says:

          Relativity plus FTL would allow for time travel (assuming the FTL was based on physical principles that themselves respected relativity), that isn’t a mistake based on thinking in terms of Newtonian absolute time (which I think is what you mean by ‘single giant clock’). Basically the idea is that since different inertial reference frames define simultaneity differently, any informational signal moving FTL in one reference frame would be moving back in time in some other frame (the signal would be received at an earlier time than it was sent, according to that frame’s definition of simultaneity). So if the laws governing FTL are bound to work the same way in all inertial reference frames (as is demanded by relativity), that means that if two observers A and B are moving apart at slower than light speeds, A can send a signal to B which moves faster than light in A’s frame but backwards in time in B’s frame, and upon receiving the message B can send a reply which moves faster than light in B’s frame but backwards in time in A’s frame, with the result that A receives B’s reply before A sent the original message (so if B just replies back with a copy of the same message, A will learn the message that A is going to send in their own future). Look up the “tachyonic antitelephone” on wikipedia for more info.

          • weareastrangemonkey says:

            Thank you for the clarification. My attempt to explain it in non-technical terms (using the clocks and watches metaphor) may have been misleading. The world with the watches which are slow or fast relative to one another is the world of reference frames – where we are dealing with spacetime rather than space and time.

            I think we are misunderstanding each other regarding the role of Newtonian absolute time – or absolute simultaneity. Relativity precludes the possibility of absolute simultaneity.

            Perhaps, after reading your reply to Morvkala, what you are saying (which is not incompatible with what I was saying) is that even with relativity the teleporting could be keyed to some particular reference frame and so not allow for time travel.

          • Jesse M. says:

            Apologies, I thought your comment “The problem is you, I, and nearly all the other monkeys, want to treat time as being a giant clock ticking away while the universe moves on in accordance to implicitly Newtonian physics” was in reply to James Picone rather than PsychoRecycled, so I thought you were saying James’ comment was assuming absolute simultaneity, and was defending his comment as being right even though there is no absolute simultaneity in relativity. Reading over your comment more carefully, though, I don’t think your explanation quite makes sense without any statement about which reference frames the different clock times are meant to be in–it’s not as if each point in space has an intrinsic time independent of reference frame, and within any single reference frame, there aren’t disagreements about simultaneity for observers using that same frame at different points in space. For example, if Bob and Abe are using the same frame, then if Bob teleports “instantaneously” to Abe relative to that frame’s definition of simultaneity, Abe’s clock and Bob’s clock will still show the same time. It’s only when you consider multiple frames, along with the assumption that the laws of physics governing teleportation must work the same way in every frame (so if ‘instantaneous’ teleportation is possible relative to one frame’s definition of simultaneity, it must be possible relative to every other frame’s definition of simultaneity too, which implies backwards-in-time teleportation is possible in every frame due to disagreements about simultaneity), that you get the conclusion that FTL implies time travel.

          • James Picone says:

            I think the short answer here is “it depends on what they mean by ‘teleportation'”. It’s underspecified in the pill description. We don’t know what bits of physics it flaunts to get it.

          • weareastrangemonkey says:

            Thank’s again Jesse, I clearly need to revise my understanding of relativistic physics – its been a decade or so.

        • Morvkala says:

          “It’s not obvious to me why you need any of the fancy stuff Morvala was talking about when we can just time travel directly.”

          I just wanted to give the most tangible example of why FTL travel = time travel that I could think of. The tech isn’t required to time travel, but in order to be able to actually to conveniently acquire and use signals from the future you’d need some kind process your selves follow to relay information to the past – And being able to beam a high bandwidth signal a significant distance for your earlier self to pick up is a simple way to do that.

          — Also note this means it’s theoretically possible for blue to achieve prescience at ANY POINT in the past, given powerful enough transmission and recording tech. If the instant you gain teleportation you jump 10 light years and tell your past self everything that is going on, they’ll be able to send the entire intervening time planning on what to do when they get powers. Another reason Black is weaker, really. They only achieve prescience after picking the pill.

          • Jesse M. says:

            But see my comment above to James Picone–if teleportation isn’t bound by the laws of physics (just as Red’s strength isn’t) then it may have a preferred reference frame for defining simultaneity, in which case there’s no way to use it to travel into (or send information into) the past.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Blue breaks the preferred reference frame rule just by existing, since they can do spacelike travel outside of a light cone. Once that can be done on purpose, all bets are off.

            Note that all the pills break physics, but they seem to have a common thread of “conservation of physics.” They only break it as much as is required to enable the literal description of the pill to be true. Assuming that Blue can travel in space but not in time, even if that creates what we’d normally think of as disallowed simultaneity, would seem to be the most conservative way for their power to work.

            This does create another problem, although it’s not that big a deal until Blue starts trying to teleport to the “edge” of the universe. If Blue says, “I want to go to the Andromeda Galaxy,” they would probably expect to go to the Andromeda Galaxy they can see. However, the Andromeda Galaxy they can see 1) isn’t where the Andromeda Galaxy actually is now, and 2) doesn’t have the physical properties that the Andromeda Galaxy has now. So theoretically the power has to have an active component that decides where to put Blue. Will they go to where it WAS, which is now at least partially in intergalactic space, or where it is NOW? I suspect it will put him where it is now: again, the powers are very literal.

          • Jesse M. says:

            “Blue breaks the preferred reference frame rule just by existing, since they can do spacelike travel outside of a light cone. ”

            FTL does not in itself imply a preferred frame, it’s just that if you want to have both relativity and FTL, you have to drop the assumption of causality and accept that sending signals backwards in time is possible–any signal that moves FTL in one frame must move backwards in time in some other, and thus two observers can exchange back-forth-messages in such a way that the first observer receives the other observer’s reply in the past light cone of the point where she sent the original message (again see the wiki article on the ‘tachyonic antitelephone’). As I’ve sometimes seen it phrased, “Relativity, causality, FTL; pick any two.”

  38. Totient says:

    This was, by far, the most intelligently written stupid sci-fi story I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

    Thank you.

  39. I notice you use the number 963,445,028,777,216. How did you come up with it? The last six digits are the same as the last six digits of 2^24 (16,777,216), which seems like a pretty unlikely coincidence even given the fact that 2^24 is kind of a weird number.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Total coincidence, I just mashed digits.

      • grendelkhan says:

        Well, it’s not literally a one in a million chance, but it certainly feels pretty unlikely. There’s not that many six-digit sequences which would stand out as familiar to your audience.

        • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

          I think you underestimate the birthday paradox and/or the human pattern matching capability.

          Given an random string of numbers and a few thousand readers, what are the chances that some (“non-trivial”) substring will match some substring of someone’s birthday, phone number, SSN, drivers license number, credit card, pi, phi, e, g, G, the number of seconds in a fortnight, the Ramsey number they just calculated for their thesis, the number of CPU-seconds it took to compute, the number of edges in the graph they are studying, a power of two, a power of three, the square root of two or three, the atomic weight of the molecule they just spent four years trying to synthesis, the index of refraction for diamond, a taxi cab number, the mass of the Higgs boson, the wavelength emitted for an electron transition, the number of CC’s in their big block street racer’s engine, the muzzle velocity of their favorite caliber, the air speed of an unladen swallow, the cruising altitude of an Airbus A320, or the gross weight of an M1A1 tank?

          All of those are both “significant” to some people such that they would pattern match on it readily, and “obscure” to other people.

          For reference, (apparently) 963 is the international dialing code for Syria, and the 502 area code is Louisville, KY (though the subsequent 877 does not seem to be assigned–probably for technical reasons).

        • Mary says:

          Ah, but remember that he’s put up long strings of numbers before. Sooner or later, one was bound to hit the jackpot.

  40. You know, from now on, every time I see that post circulating on Tumblr I’m going to have to reblog it with a link to this story. Kind of like how every time I see that post with the lesbian witches circulating on Tumblr I have to reblog it with a link to “Double, Double”.

  41. Hands up if you’d like Scott to crowdsource the money to hire people to do a short animated film of this! X-D

    An animator, a few voices, bit of music, add a bit more philosophical/sciency depth to dialogue for the characters… shouldn’t cost that much?

    (also – Blue needs a nerf that they can’t carry much weight to prevent them becoming a potential perpetual motion machine)

    • LHN says:

      Blue’s own mass seems sufficient for perpetual motion, especially given the invulnerability. Start in a gravity well. Teleport up a bit, and fall. Repeat. Don’t do this near an inhabited system you like, since eventually relativistic effects will start to give you a mass sufficient to start distorting orbits, or do bad things to nearby planets if you choose to stop teleporting upward.

      That assumes momentum is conserved, which it may not be– if you can teleport to other planets and not start out moving at inconvenient speeds relative to them, then maybe you just show up with the same velocity as the nearest large mass. (But repeatedly falling towards a planet while using just enough of your reactionless flight power to miss and not fall into a stable orbit or parabolic/hyperbolic escape path might let you do the same thing a little slower.)

      • Marc Whipple says:

        If Blue’s momentum is conserved and they try to teleport from one point on the Earth’s surface to another point on the Earth’s surface a significant distance north or south, they’ll be killed. For a radical example, consider teleporting from the North Pole to a spot on the Equator, or vice versa. Blue could be the first person in history to be run over by a building. Going the other way, Blue wouldn’t achieve escape velocity, but I hope their clothes are heat-resistant. And well-padded.

        The power is either a deathtrap or matches Blue’s momentum to the target destination.

        • Tracy W says:

          Covered by impervious to any physical dangers.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Whoops, forgot about that.

            Well, it’ll be an interesting landing anyway. And we might get some amusing Blue-shaped holes in things.

            The simplest way to make them impervious to physical danger is to match velocity with their landing point, though. 😛

            OTOH, this could be read as saying that either after Blue takes the pill, or their first teleport, they can no longer be harmed by any physical danger. Hmmm.

            When the space station disappears due to particle decay, there will just be Blue, floating in space, forever. Fun!

          • LHN says:

            Momentum could be conserved, and the flight power used to make corrections on arrival– or not, depending on how friendly Blue is feeling.

            It’d have to be essentially instantaneous, though, or appearing in the Andromeda Galaxy anywhere near a planet will be an… interesting astronomical event. (The fastest meteor recorded on Earth hit at 28.6 km/sec. Andromeda is approaching the Milky Way at something like 400,000 km/sec.)

            Blue might want to start out in interstellar space and approach in hops, with regular corrections via flight.

          • James Picone says:

            Relevant to teleportation without momentum conservation: https://comparativelysuperlative.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/teleport/

          • LHN says:

            See also Larry Niven’s “The Theory and Practice of Teleportation”. (In All the Myriad Ways, which I’m pretty sure is well out of print in hardcopy, but looks to be available as a Kindle book.) While it’s probably been decades since I last reread it, several ideas I’ve mentioned in the thread are cribbed from him.

            Niven does identify a special case where it’s safe to teleport even if momentum is conserved: due north/south to the exact opposite latitude along the same longitude line.

            Well, safe from momentum effects. In my case, that would put me in the South Pacific, though since Blue has flight and swimming powers that’s not a dealbreaker. Kind of pointless as a travel destination, though.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I was thinking all along about how wonderful a movie this would make. Scott should get Orange working on that right away, assuming Black finds the financials acceptable.

  42. maxikov says:

    Can I take the green pill, and transform into a posthuman? Or, if it has this crazy constraint of only transfigurng to objects that already exist, to my 21 years old self.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Yes, both Green and Orange are very amenable to recursive biohacking. All you need to do is sponsor genetic engineering efforts to gradually improve the baseline human. Once that’s done, if you are Orange, then you have access to a very wide variety of extremely powerful skills (since people tend to specialize). If you are Green, then you become Orange, seeing as humans are animals, and Orange is human.

      • Illuminati Initiate says:

        If green can transform into future animals, then they could actually use this to try and and replicate a crude version of black’s powers. Genetically modify animals to have messages encoded in their biology- or even easier, just commit to only making certain animals if certain things happen. Like black, you would be a one-person singularity as you send technological information to the past. And you could create information loops as the future is continually altered by your taking messages from it.

        • Jai says:

          Everyone who took a pill was a human.

          All humans are animals.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:

            Yes, but you cant tell whether it means transform into any specific animal or any species of animal. I was talking about if it was the latter, otherwise green pill is super OP and can do anything all the others do at will.

            Edit: also there is always the main issue with transforming into animals- “How can you go on thinking using a cat-sized brain?!”, as HPMOR put it. I’m assuming that away here also.

          • Jiro says:

            Humans are not animals by common parlance and that’s obviously how the description of the pill was meant to work. Among people outside a few Internet blogs, saying that something applies to “animals” is meant to exclude humans unless humans are explicitly mentioned.

            They recently built an animal hospital a block from where I work. I can guarantee you that a human who tried to get himself medical treatment there would be rejected.

            I am continually amazed on how people on the Internet can interpret things in a way that is literal, but clearly not intended, and think they’re being clever about it.

          • Nick says:

            What do you make of phrases like “nonhuman animals”, “nonhuman mammals”, and “nonhuman primates”, etc., then? They’re all fairly popular. “Animal” is often shorthand for “nonhuman animal”, but that’s just for convenience since the latter is clunky, and doesn’t mean humans aren’t animals (phylogenetically or taxonomically or however). Googling “define:animal” gives 5 definitions, one of which (the second) is the shorthand you mention (i.e. nonhuman animal), one of which is the more inclusive case (the first definition), and two of which refer exclusively to types of people.

          • Nornagest says:

            I am continually amazed on how people on the Internet can interpret things in a way that is literal, but clearly not intended, and think they’re being clever about it.

            There is a failure mode in online discussion, and nerdy online discussion in particular, and the extended LW community especially, whereby the winner is seen to be the person who most effectively makes the other guy look like an idiot. In practice this equates to taking the subject, finding the dumbest interpretation of it that you can think of without bursting into giggles, then arguing against that.

            I find it profoundly frustrating, since once it gets going it means spending all your time explaining how reasonable observers would conclude that you are not, in fact, an idiot, but I’m not equipped to change the incentives that produce it.

          • Jiro says:

            Nick: For values of “fairly popular” which include “not really popular at all”.

            You can call it shorthand if you wish, but then the shorthand is all that’s ever used.

          • Nick says:

            Well, there are several hundred thousand google hits for each (in quotes) and I hear the phrases used on a day to day basis, certainly more often than the human-exclusive form, though that’s likely a function of the crowds I roll with (I can certainly see some people staunchly denying the inclusive definition — if you think a god seeded humanity with souls ~6kya, you might take issue).

            I semi-frequently interact with vets and vet students and if I asked for clarification on whether humans were included or not they wouldn’t go “WHAT INCREDIBLE ABSURDITY”; they’d probably go “yes, we’re using that arbitrary human-excluding definition, we know humans are animals too, I’m a veterinarian dude, in this context that should be obvious”. Plus, the first definition on google thing (as definitive a source as any). I don’t know where you’re getting this “all that’s ever used” thing.

            Where do you draw the line? Are non-anatomically modern humans animals? Are Australopiths? Are chimps?

          • Jiro says:

            Google is a small (even considering the size of Google), unrepresentative sample of the real world. Most human speech is not found on Google.

            As for your vet students, “yes, we’re using that arbitrary human-excluding definition” actually proves my point. They’re very much aware that “animal” normally excludes humans, because they just told you so. Just because they’re not doing it in all capital letters doesn’t mean they’re not doing it.

            Where do you draw the line? Are non-anatomically modern humans animals? Are Australopiths? Are chimps?

            It doesn’t matter in common parlance, because those questions aren’t relevant to almost all situations where animals are being discussed (except maybe chimps, and everyone outside here agrees that chimps are animals). In this case, unless you think that turning into one of those things is substantially relevant to how useful the pill is, you’re just being pedantic.

          • Nick says:

            So what’s your alternative to google? What evidence exactly are you marshalling in favor of the overwhelming primacy of the exclusive definition?

            And lol, no duh, they’re vet students. And my hypothetical response acknowledged the existence of the inclusive definition. And of course chimps are animals.

            Wasn’t this whole discussion started by how a relevant quality of green pill person is their ability to turn into other humans?

          • Julie K says:

            As Jiro says, humans are not animals in common parlance. It’s common for rental contracts to specify that the tenant may not bring any animals on the premises. It doesn’t mean he can’t invite friends to visit.

          • Nick says:

            Are rental contracts a “representative sample of the real world”? And in my experience, those usually stipulate “no pets”, and you don’t get dinged if a fly hitchhikes on your person. I fully acknowledge the existence and use of the exclusive definition; what I’m a bit puzzled by is the adamant refusal to consider alternative definitions (whose intentional use can be clarified by questioning the user or teased out from context). Words can have multiple, incompatible definitions (look up a list of contronyms for particularly glaring examples).

  43. Markus Ramikin says:

    That was goooood.

    “You once read about something called Gell-Mann Amnesia, where physicists notice that everything the mainstream says about physics is laughably wrong but think the rest is okay, doctors notice that everything the mainstream says about medicine is laughably wrong but think the rest is okay, et cetera. You do not have Gell-Mann Amnesia. Everyone is terrible at everything all the time, and it pisses you off.”

    ^ That’s basically me in primary school.

  44. Vagrant says:

    Blue clearly lets you be Doctor Who. Obviously superior.

  45. john says:

    This was really good! worth getting printed in TOR or somewhere

  46. FullMetaRationalist says:

    An instant classic.

    You sigh, take the shroud, and stare into the eyes of Weird Photographic Negative Jesus.

    Hahahaha this sentence I can’t even

    For some reason my mind wants to read this as “Weird, Cranky, Fabulously-Photogenic Jesus”.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Clearly you don’t read enough weird crackpottery.

      • FullMetaRationalist says:

        Meh. I’m familiar with the Shroud of Turin. I think I watched a History Channel documentary once. I might have fallen asleep though, since I don’t remember much. It was rather you diction that I admire. As for crackpottery — well, once you’ve seen someone steelman the timecube …

  47. ExTechOp says:

    SMBC kinda did do the implications of the red pill, but not on such a grand scale.

  48. TheExplorer2323 says:

    I assumed that if I got the pill, unknown amount of other people (potentially everyone) also got the pill. Then the scenario is either a free-for-all superman war or a ‘supervillain vs supervillain in urban jungle’.

    In any case, the answer is either (a) yellow – scan & kill or (b) blue – teleport to an isolated location, plan next move.

    But either way, the bet is that outcome hinges on the restrictions of yellow-ability in regards to picture quality, speed of coma-ability (can I swap-coma the charging crowd of red-pillers?) and other factors (how recent the picture? will facial self-mutilation will turn it off? etc).

    Although of course the restrictions on blue (can I name the abstract place such as ‘behind the random yellow-pill user’?), black (‘how fast is the estimation? how detailed? can I change my planned course of action and see the changes in near-realtime?) and green (any animal? how quick? what happens to the physics of displaced air? how about another human form? will it turn the yellow off?) can swing the finale, I’d go with the yellow.

    … yeah, that is not what this question was all about, is it? 🙂

    Finished reading the story and it was OK except for the whole ‘anyone trusting Yellow enough to approach her directly and not via the disposable agents’.

  49. suntzuanime says:

    This is really great, the definitive answer to those stupid image games.

  50. Sera says:

    This is the greatest thing I have ever read. Thank you.

  51. Godzillarissa says:

    Cool, first the link didn’t work and now it’s marked as spam, apparently. Boo!

    Edit: This was in reply to my previous comment, which got removed, it seems. I do not get why the comments system has it out for me today, but I do not like it 🙁

    (feel free to remove this post btw)

  52. Michael Watts says:

    As a tangential remark, indo-european relative clauses are one of the grammatical features that give the most trouble to Chinese language students.

    Mandarin has a grammatical feature which is analogous in many ways, but that same grammatical feature is also just the way you apply adjectives to nouns.

    • hawkice says:

      I was going to say, of all languages you could impress me by knowing the grammar of, Mandarin seems like the least impressive. Pretty much _the_ easy part of Mandarin. I’ve heard Korean has some insane post-position rules?

  53. ShardPhoenix says:

    I really enjoyed this.

  54. Zslastman says:

    10/10 have read twice, will push on friends

  55. Psy-Kosh says:

    I found myself applauding you by the end. Seriously, I should be long asleep, but had to read this, and by the end I couldn’t help but applaud.

    Brilliant! (I don’t mean just the ending, the whole thing.)

  56. Godzillarissa says:

    I’m especially glad that Scott picked up on the possibility that the pink-pill-touch doesn’t do anything to people who love you already. The “something something true love something” was a bit of a mood killer, though.

    And I agree with his interpretation of the wording of the pink pill. We can assume what was meant all we want, the only thing that’s written is that each touch triggers the effect (not love itself) on/off.

    • Gbdub says:

      Well it says “can” turn it off with a second touch, not necessarily “will”. Grey doesn’t HAVE to release electricity every time he touches something, so clearly there is ability to control the other powers. Why is Pink the only one that can’t temporarily disable her power?

      • LHN says:

        It’s not clear that Blue can turn off her invulnerability, or Red his regeneration. Though in this story, Blue died, somehow, despite being impervious to physical harm. (Yellow should only have caused a coma mentally, and starvation is physical harm. Maybe something to do with the interaction with the shroud.)

        Though I read Pink the same way you did.

  57. John David Pressman says:

    This one was lots of fun to think about.

    I wrote up a story in this vein on how you could ascend to godhood with black solo and without knowing what you’re supposed to be doing beforehand:


  58. Yxoque says:

    I enjoyed reading this. In hindsight it’s a bit of a shame that Greenpill was killed so quickly, but I can understand it for narrative reasons.

    The most obviously underpowered person here is Pinkpill. Unlike the red pill you don’t need to be pretty stupid to pick it, since shaking hands before and after a meeting is common practice. This allows you to manipulate pretty much everyone you encounter, so you should be able to work your way to being King William’s rival.

    Graypill made the obvious mistake of being too greedy too soon. His powers could easily be leveraged into something that makes a lot money legitimately.

    • Linch says:

      The way I interpret pink pill’s literal wording(and I don’t understand why Scott seems to ignore it) is “every odd touch means people love you, every even touch turns it off.”

      I think the story was typecasting: The type of person willing to choose Pink instead of a game-changer like Orange, Blue or Black (or maybe Grey, though I think Orange dominates it. The mindreading is a powerful but it drives you insane too quickly) I’d imagine to be exactly as presented: pretty but not too pretty, overly obsessed about appearance and having others love them.

      • merzbot says:

        The way it’s worded in the image makes it sound to me like it’s an ability you can choose when to use, not something that happens automatically. That wouldn’t be as interesting to the story, though.

        • James Kabala says:

          I definitely agree. Indeed, I think all the original wordings pretty clearly imply “Use only when you want.”

    • anon says:

      The difference in strength between the powers here is partially due to differences in how freely they are interpreted. Pink’s power is very limited, more than even the default case of being able to freely toggle affection on and off and on again, green has mostly her default interpretation while black and orange really stretch the limits of what they have been given. It reminds me of Index, where Accelerator’s power of ‘manipulating vectors’ turns into ‘capable of automatically reflecting any attack that touches him and can effortlessly launch buildings as well as crack the earth’ whereas Railgun’s power of electricity is just..electricity.

      Of course, it could simply be that orange and black are the only ones who actually explored their powers instead of using them in a naive way like blue and green and pink.

      >re pink being rival to orange
      Orange would still pwn pink because not only does he have a lot of allies, his allies are also amazing because he knows how to manage them. Pink can at best hope charming a lot of people is effective.

  59. DanielLC says:

    CT: D –> You choose the red pill. BRUTE STRENGTH! That’s what’s important and valuable in this twenty-first-%ury economy, right? Some trolls tell you it isn’t, but they don’t seem to have a lot of BRUTE STRENGTH, so what do they know?

    CT: D –> You become a weightlifter Able to lift thousands of pounds with a single hand, you easily overpower the competition and are crowned whatever the heck it is you get crowned when you win WEIGHTLIFTING contests But this fails to translate into lucrative endorsement contracts Nobody wants their spokesman to be a bodybuilder without a si%pack, and although you used to be pretty buff, you’re getting scrawnier by the day Your personal trainer tells you that you only maintain muscle mass by doing difficult work at the limit of your ability, but your abilities don’t seem to have any limits Everything is so easy for you that your body just shrugs it off effortlessly Somehow your BRUTE STRENGTH failed to anticipate this possibility If only there was a way to solve your problem by BEING VERY STRONG

    CT: D –> Maybe the Internet can help You Google “red pill advice” The sites you get don’t seem to bear on your specific problem, e%actly, but they are very fascinating You learn lots of surprising things about gender roles that you didn’t know before It seems that trolls like matesprits who have BRUTE STRENGTH This is relevant to your interests!

    CT: D –> You leave the bodybuilding circuit behind and start frequenting nightclubs, where you constantly boast of your BRUTE STRENGTH to PROVE HOW ALPHA YOU ARE A lot of trolls seem kind of creeped out by a scrawny guy with no muscles going up to every troll he sees and boasting of his BRUTE STRENGTH, but the Internet tells you that is because they are beta cuckold orbiters

    CT: D –> Somebody told you once that Internet sites are sometimes inaccurate You hope it’s not true How could you figure out which are the inaccurate ones using BRUTE STRENGTH?

    • Godzillarissa says:

      What is “CT: D” if you don’t mind my asking?

      • suntzuanime says:

        Judging by the annoying find and replace in the text I’m guessing it’s related to Homestuck.

      • ShardPhoenix says:

        The style of narration used for Mr. Red is reminiscent of that used for a character in the webcomic Homestuck, who’s chat prompt is “CT: D –>”. (Although in the comic the narration is different from how the characters talk/chat so the OP doesn’t quite make sense.)

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I never got beyond the first act in Homestuck, so unless I absorbed this secondhand from somewhere this is a coincidence.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Homestuck actually has an instance of a decision problem in it that needs UDT.

          • Nornagest says:

            Homestuck actually has an instance of a decision problem in it that needs UDT.

            Which? I can think of a couple candidates, but I’d rather hear it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

            ROT13 if you want.

          • @Scott:

            I actually thought your all-caps words and the writing style were references to Problem Sleuth in particular (or rather, Ace Dick in particular), even though it’s been ages since I read that, and I have been keeping up with Homestuck. Mostly because punching in snout to establish superiority is a plot device there, whereas the Homestuck character being referenced in this thread has not actually done that many BRUTE STRENGTH feats yet… just talked about them a lot, I guess.

            Surprised to find it’s a coincidence (am reading your comment to include MSPA in general; feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, of course)!

          • DanielLC says:

            > Which? I can think of a couple candidates, but I’d rather hear it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

            I’d say all of the ones involving time travel.

          • Psycicle says:

            The biggest one that comes to mind is Nyy gur fghss nebhaq gur perngvba bs Orp Abve. Orpnhfr Ievfxn jnf gur fbeg bs crefba gb erfcbaq gb “haorngnoyr obff nccrnef” jvgu gur npgvba “perngr haorngnoyr obff va gur svefg cynpr”, gur gvzryvar nyybjrq vg gb unccra. Unq Ievfxn orra gur fbeg bs crefba gb erfcbaq gb “haorngnoyr obff nccrnef” jvgu gur npgvba “cerirag vgf perngvba”, Orp Abve jbhyqa’g unir rkvfgrq va gur svefg cynpr. Ol orvat jvyyvat gb qb K va fvghngvba L naq pnhfr n pbagenqvpgvba, lbh pna znxr vg fb fvghngvba L arire nevfrf va gur svefg cynpr.

            Vg’f cerggl zhpu n cenpgvpny nccyvpngvba bs gur “cynl puvpxra ntnvafg gur havirefr” pynhfr va HQG. Vs lbh nera’g jvyyvat gb qrsl cebbsf bs lbhe shgher npgvbaf, lbh ner ihyarenoyr gb frys-shysvyyvat cebbsf gung lbh gnxr n fhobcgvzny npgvba.

            Vs bar vf jvyyvat gb qrsl n frys-shysvyyvat gvzr ybbc jura vg cebqhprf n onq bhgpbzr, gur frys-shysvyyvat gvzr ybbcf gung nccrne jvyy graq gb or gur barf lbh jnagrq gb unccra (Qnir svtugvat, Pnyvobea’f qrfgval bs terngarff).

            Bgure vagrerfgvat abgr nobhg Orp Abve’f perngvba. Lbh pbhyq vagrecerg gur pbzovangvba bs Nenqvn’f znffvir ebobg nezl naq gur “cynlref pbzvat sebz qbbzrq gvzryvarf ner qrfgvarq gb qvr” ehyr nf rasbepvat n shgher obhaqnel pbaqvgvba jurer FBZRGUVAT onq rabhtu gb jvcr bhg gur ebobg nezl unq gb unccra.

  60. Objection says:

    One objection: Blue runs out of interesting things to see on Earth in one week. This is absurd.

    You could spend a lifetime exploring the diverse and numerous wonders of human civilization on Earth.

    Unless Blue is a monumentally uncurious, unimaginative, boring person – in which case, why did she choose the blue pill?

    • Hackworth says:

      Having all the locations and wonders of Earth at your disposal is great, but compared to visiting any of the planets in the universe and potentially being the first to find extraterrestrial life? Knowing all about Earth and human civilization is more the orange choice.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        True in theory, but, well – I went on vacation to Paris and within a couple of days I was bored. In theory Paris should be able to last me a lifetime. In practice, once I see enough of some kind of wonder (art museum, cathedral, etc) I don’t have enough interest to see too many more too soon.

        If you can teleport, you can see twenty amazing sites a day. After you’ve seen the top hundred sites on Earth crammed into a single week, I don’t think you’re going to keep feeling touristy.

        • Nick says:

          Well, individuals vary in how much they enjoy travel and exploration. I know people who would be bored from the get-go in Paris (separated as they might be from their computers, internet, and video games), as well as people who have been happily and contiguously traveling the world for the past decade. The last time I went to Paris I walked around for a week and certainly hadn’t run out of things to do; not to mention that Paris is one city and there are many thousands of other places on earth you could go (although, if you think you can “see twenty amazing sites a day” traveling’s probably just not your thing. Which is fine, but not everybody’s like that)

          That said, travel fatigue does happen and to keep it interesting (especially on the scale of multiple months) I’ve found it’s best to recharge for a day or two. I’ve had the “not ANOTHER ancient church” thing happen before and to mix it up I’ll go hiking for a few days or something. E.g. http://blog.tortugabackpacks.com/how-to-cope-with-travel-fatigue/

        • Deiseach says:

          Yeah, but it’s the “crammed into one week” thing that provokes the fatigue.

          Shove an entire box of chocolates into your face in one sitting, and you’ll feel sick and not inclined to ever look at another piece of chocolate ever again (until the stuffed-full and sickened feeling wears off).

        • Objection says:

          Scott: That’s because you are not the kind of person who would choose the blue pill.
          So why did Blue choose the blue pill if she is like that?

          (And you are living proof that someone who doesn’t like exploring things in person isn’t necessarily a boring type, so I stand corrected there).

          Besides, if a certain kind of person quickly grows bored of touring human artifacts and cities, then pretty soon she would get bored of exploring exoplanets, no?

          (The story is fantastic by the way).

          • Vylnce says:

            There is a difference between exploring and traveling. I’d be happy to take the blue pill. But I can tell you I would probably skip every city on Earth because they are all full of people. Visiting the bottom of the Mariana Trench or the inside of an active volcano would however appeal to me. I don’t enjoy travel because I don’t particularly enjoy people , but exploration of places where there aren’t people would keep me entertained for quite a bit.

        • Emile says:

          On one hand, I can kinda relate to the “feeling bored after a few days” thing, but on the other hand, as an inhabitant of Paris, I’m sure I could find enough interesting things around Paris to last more than a couple days … for example, I know a forest nearby in which you can find a hole hidden under a bush that will bring you to miles and miles of abandoned stone quarries, in which you could get lost and die! (I tried mapping them, but they just go too far). Or of course, the catacombs, the Musée des Arts et Metiers (old flying machines! Lavoisier’s chemical equipment!), LessWrong meetups, talking to robots, the sewers, weird english-language bookstores, various festivals all the time, flea markets, all the parks and gardens, boating …

          … okay, maybe you would run out of things to do after a few days, and have to fall back on boring cathedrals and castles and art museums.

  61. SanguineVizier says:

    Excellent story. The implied William of Orange pun made me laugh heartily.

  62. Ben says:

    This is utterly brilliant. I would be remiss not to point out though, that there is only one Lucasian chair and it’s at Cambridge, not Oxford, and although most of its holders have had distinctly physics-y predilections, it’s properly called the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. An absolutely schoolboy error for someone who’s taken the orange pill!

    • FJ says:

      I just assumed that King William turned Cambridge into a satellite campus of Oxford. All part of his brilliant plan.

      • Ilana says:

        Consider this your obligatory response from a Cambridge alum saying that true brilliance would be doing it the other way around!

        • Deiseach says:

          Now, now: we all know the really greatest of great British universities is Hull 🙂

        • Peter says:

          Well clearly Orange didn’t want to go to Cambridge; it would have triggered his feelings of impostor syndrome too much.

      • Lays says:

        What do you mean, ‘turned’ ?

    • gwern says:

      Another correction:

      You escape by turning into a blue whale. Nothing eats blue whales, right? You remember that from your biology class. It is definitely true. The last thing you hear is somebody shouting “We found one!” in Japanese.

      Blue whale hunting has been banned for around 40 years: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_whale#Hunting_era The Japanese ‘research’ whaling program (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whaling_in_Japan) has only taken minke, fin, sperm, sei, Brydes, and humpback. (Illegal hunts seem to operate under the excuse of whales getting entangled in fishing nets, which only works for the smallest whales and not blue whales.)

    • Groober says:

      Another minor correction: I believe the professor would say that they were the ‘Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge’.

  63. Whitney says:

    That was wonderful. Really fun. You can definitely expand that

  64. Simon says:

    Scott this is incredibly great.

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  66. Albatross says:

    This. Is. AWESOME.

    It took me years of role playing before I realized immortality could be a curse. In lots of fantasy worlds like Tolkien having super strength to cut down fifty Orcs was important. But in space strength seems useless. Very creative. Also “always in last place you look”/ “right in front of us entire time”

  67. Steve says:

    This is the best SF short story based on a dumb facebook poll I ever expect to see, which is the most understated praise I ever expect to give a SF short story.

    • Luke Somers says:

      Heh. That’s like identifying the best religio-linguistic-epidemiological action adventure in an alternate-near-past cyberpunk anarcho-dystopia.

  68. Dan T. says:

    What color of pill gave you the amazing writing ability to create this starting with such a silly premise?

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  70. Peter says:

    Powers to avoid having:

    Yellow – dealt with in the story
    Green – dealt with in the story, also, getting stuck in a small cage
    Blue – impervious to physical danger gives real “being buried alive” problems, but being able to teleport sort of saves that. On the other hand, if relativity applies and relativity + teleportation = time travel, see Black
    Orange – sort of dealt with in story, but being permanently frustrated with everyone’s incompetence is hardly I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, also don’t lots of people feel that way anyway? On the other hand, the danger of feeling responsible for the Entire World must be pretty large.
    Red – regeneration could be a seriously dangerous property to have. See Prometheus for example
    Pink – dealt with in the story
    Grey – sort-of dealt with in story, but it’s comparatively mild.
    Black – I like causality. Causality is my friend. Causality makes me feel safe.

    So, for pessimists, probably the safest choices are Orange or Grey, probably Grey. That said, I’d go for Orange.

    • Linch says:

      I disagree with Green->Unless it’s the animorphs’ “must change back to human first” thing, as written you can just transform to tinier and tinier animals until no cage could fit you, then morph to something that can fly out”

      I don’t quite understand your point about Prometheus, do you mean organ harvesting?

      Orange will probably be my pick, because it’s easier to see how I can improve the world with Orange and Black is so much more subtle.

      • Deiseach says:

        Ursula LeGuin’s The Word of Unbinding deals with a shape-shifting wizard who is imprisoned by an enemy wizard; he too thinks it’ll be an easy job to escape just by changing form.

      • Peter says:

        Good point about Green.

        Prometheus – got his liver pecked out each day by an eagle, each night it regrew. If you seriously piss someone off, they can really go to town on torturing you day after day without you inconveniently dying on them. And if such superpowers exist, then if you’re remotely Genre Savvy you should know that people will be queueing up to do just that if you have any ambition at all. Fortunately, in the story, Red was too stupid to be tempted to do anything to attract that sort of attention.

        Presumably, if you go for Orange, then by the Dunning-Kruger effect you’ll have a real sense for human limitations and will be able to avoid doing over-ambitious things. Possibly Black has a similar in-built safety thing, but as I say, I think causality is kind of a nice safety thing too.

        • Linch says:

          I think “genre-savvy” is just another term for “extrapolating from fictional evidence.” 😉

          I have no reason to believe, a priori, that I will act in a manner that will lead to others disliking me enough to be tortured infinitely. (Also, there’s a point to be made about Prometheus having a better deal than any mortal).

          Deiseach->Didn’t le Guin’s story imply the inability to change again? (ie, trapped in your own spell)? Also, again this implies very clever people who are very antagonistic towards you, which I think is not entirely reasonable assumption.

          • Deiseach says:

            Trapped by your own spell only happens if you spend too long in your animal form; you lose your sense of your humanity and so it never occurs to you to ‘change back’.

            Going by memory of the story, the wizard assumed “no problem, I’ll just change into [form] and skip out of here” but each time the enemy was able to counter it. I think if someone deliberately trapped Green in a container, tank, vessel or the like, they’d be on the look-out to see Green was still contained; wouldn’t it be silly, if you were aware of Green, aware of their power, and went to the trouble of catching them, to simply go “yep, caught now” and walk away and not have something set up to alert you to escape attempts?

      • Desertopa says:

        Of course, no animal form would be small enough to escape a glass tank or terrarium. Possibly you can still escape by transforming into something too big to contain and busting out, but who knows how physically vulnerable you are during the transitions?

        If you were kept inside a tank, I suppose you could bust out by turning into a mantis shrimp

        • Admiral Memo says:

          I wonder if bacteria count as animals. If so, the container you get trapped in would have to be airtight to keep you inside without just squeezing out.

  71. Eli says:

    JESUS FUCKING SHIT, SCOTT. Why would you allow so flagrantly broken a superpower as Orange into the world!? That thing’s brokener than Tolarian Academy in an Affinity deck!

    And that’s even assuming that the information transfer necessary to make you all-crafted does have to perform thermodynamic work and emit waste heat in accordance with the Second Law!


  72. Emp says:

    Green would be an incredibly stupid choice to make; borderline useless.

    Yellow, Black, Blue, Orange, Grey are powerful enough that if you gave me one of those I’d have an exceptionally good chance to be the most powerful person in the world within an year.

    Within those options Blue would be a lot safer than any of the rest because one could also be borderline invulnerable.

    Orange is a lot more powerful than one might think; being the absolute best at everything a human’s ever done includes a lot of things that are almost super-powers.

    In general though any of these would allow you to access the kind of information that could make you billions of dollars in markets.

    Hate to philosophically quibble, but I think the Black Pill is literally impossible; it requires a deterministic view of the world, which isn’t the case.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      With Orange, it would depend if it allows normally mutually exclusive things, like Captain America, or is rather “the best a single person can be at everything”.

  73. J. Quinton says:

    This made my day!

  74. mondayrhymer says:

    So assuming Panpsychism is correct and you chose the yellow pill…

  75. ton says:

    Why doesn’t black or orange have the common sense to have Yellow do her thing while they’re out of sight?

    • Murphy says:

      ya, presumably black knows what it looks like to look into a future containing their own death or unconsciousness.

      • ton says:

        It says he couldn’t see past God, but still, basic common sense says don’t do unpredictable things while in view of someone who can kill you in a glance.

    • Nathan Cook says:

      Black must have been playing on easy mode for too long. But Orange, who previously was relying on Black’s abilities, should have re-evaluated the situation as soon as he heard Black saying that he couldn’t see the future of some action.

  76. Steve Bacharach says:

    Loved this! Positive feedback —>>> Scott Alexander!

  77. Laura Maier says:

    This was absolutely brilliant 😀 (I’d take the orange pill, for sure 😀 )

  78. cantbelieveIjustbothereddoingthis says:

    The smart man goes for brute strength, in defence of Red.

    First, there are five pills that I hope I would not take.

    Your choice of pill will have profound psychological and socialeffects: such as your ability to have fun, keep it together emotionally, keep motivated, stay true to the values that you hold dear, empathise with other humans, have a place within human society, not be a monster, and so on. There are dumb choices, but what is dumb does change from person to person because different people have different desires. However, for me, and I think most people, several of these pills would be awful.

    With the black pill I think you lose the illusion of self-control – this is a nice illusion to have. But if you didn’t lose the illusion of self-control and you could behave in the mode that Scott discusses then it might be somewhat bearable. Personally I think that few would be able to take the emotional strain of knowing what is going to happen all the time and nearly knowing what every action they are going to take a month into the future. Perhaps if you could turn the power off at will, and had a lot of will power to not use it, you could maintain a life which had enough elements of a human life. I predict severe disassociation from your own self, disconnection from other humans and eventual suicide.

    The pink pill would destroy your ability to have normal relationships with human beings except to the extent that you could restrain yourself. Somebody above called it a win button for a sociopath – I think they are correct. If you’re not a sociopath and don’t want to become one I think you should not take the pink pill.

    The yellow pill, I think Scott has covered this in the case you can’t stop yourself from reading people’s minds. If you could stop yourself from reading people’s minds then it wouldn’t be as bad. However, I suspect that you would find it difficult to not rely on the ability more and more in your interactions with other people. I think that while you may use this to help people it could also lead to either seeing people as objects to be controlled or losing your own identity amongst the identities of others. It would depend on the extent to which reading people’s minds allows you to ‘feel’ the same emotions. If it were like a readout ‘angry’ or ‘sad’ I suspect that you would end up treating people like objects. Normal human relationships would become almost impossible, I like normal human relationships and so this would probably send me insane.

    Grey pill would give a lot of power to run human civilisation, de-facto. I think in this lies a danger as you may well become unconstrained by the powers of other humans. I think the words of the flaming lips apply here: “Because you cannot know yourself or what you’d really do… With all your power.” Being able to run society without the consent of other human beings would quite possible turn you into a monster. I think that I wouldn’t turn into a monster – but I would think that wouldn’t I. Blue, invulnerable and untrappable, faces a similar issue being answerable to no one.

    Orange would give one the most power to legitimately run human civilisation. You could be much more comfortable with that kind of power. I worry though that Orange might end up having de facto power just because his ability to run things and plan things might outstrip everyone else. I also think that the experience of being Orange could potentially be very alienating. I am not sure how much of the human experience you lose by being able to learn instantaneously – but it may be worse than the frustration experienced by King William. I like to think that I would refuse any of the pills discussed prior to orange, I doubt it though, I am certain I would accept Orange if offered it.

    This leaves me with green and red. I think Green and Red both have great potential for unique experiences and lots of visceral fun. Both get to fly in one way or another, strap some wings to a red pills arms and they’ll be able to fly, and do stuff that really are impossible for any human to do.

    Neither give you too much power over other humans nor are likely to rob of your sanity or humanity (I assume you can’t shape change to imitate other humans, if you could that would be too much power). I think Red is less likely to have adverse psychological effects than Green. Both Red and Green seem like very good options with little potential down side. I think Red can make more money than Green while still being praised for it; Red can easily win at some very popular sport without revealing their full power.

    Finally, given that we know that, after mental illness, the greatest factor affecting happiness is physical health I think there is a very strong argument to go for red, independent of all the potentially severe negative side effects of the other pills. The red pill allows us to barely worry about health in a way that I think none of the other pills give us. It allows us a very long life – statistically we’ll probably end up dying in some kind of fatal accident. The other pills do not give us the same kind of long life or assured high health levels in the absence of technological hacks. Perhaps such hacks will be possible within their lifetimes but perhaps not; whereas Red definitely gets the hack.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Red is probably my second choice, after Blue.

      Orange and Black are tempting, but they strike me of having a very real risk of falling into the Whispering Earring failure mode. I’m not willing to take that risk. For the black pill in particular, I agree with your concerns, and would add reference to the Dune novels as a fictional illustration of plausible failure modes of precognition as a superpower.

      Pink is, to my way of thinking, an inherently evil power. Grey comes very close to being so (it can be used for good, but evil applications seem likely to dominate, and the distinction between them is fuzzy and easy to rationalize on the margins).

      I agree with both you and Scott about Yellow, with the added caveat that I consider nonconsensual mindreading to be somewhat evil (albeit significantly less evil than Pink’s effects).

      That leaves Green, Blue, and Red. I agree with you about the merits of Red as far as things go, while Green strikes me as mostly just being a toy (unless you’re using it to spy on things or to become the Bear Claw Serial Killer, which I’ll file in the “evil” column). Blue does afford opportunities for evil, but the line is much clearer than for Grey, etc, so I trust myself to stay on the “good” side of the line, and it affords a great deal of both mundane utility (instant commute to my job from a winter home in rural Australia, visiting friends and relatives without travel overhead, instant vacations, etc) and exotic good uses (asteroid prospecting for fun and profit, etc).

      • Carinthium says:

        Doesn’t Orange upgrade the brain though? Plus Black still has to figure out a lot of execution level info for himself.

        • Eric Rall says:

          I don’t find the “upgrade” part particularly reassuring. For many skills (most physical skills, skills that are mostly knowledge or pattern recognition, etc), the change is small enough that it’s still fundamentally him, just with a small update. Even the cumulative effect of many such small updates can be justified by a Ship of Tarshish/George Washington’s Axe argument (or by analogy to the normal process of learning and development through experience), but my big worry comes for complex mental skills, which would require large parts of how I think to be restructured. It wouldn’t be me learning the skill as much as it would be killing me and populating my body with an AI loosely based on me.

  79. Ilana says:

    Brilliantly funny!

    Am I imagining things when I hear echoes of Pooh-Bah in Orange’s pronouncements?

  80. Dave Hodges says:

    This was an exhilarating read. I’m glad you posted it.

  81. Illuminati Initiate says:

    I actually think blue is a better choice than black- You have the ability to create unstable time loops (by messing with relativity) like black, but you are also invincible which means you don’t have to worry about being killed in a timeline before you can complete your plans, plus being invincible allows for all sorts of fun things to do.

    • Illuminati Initiate says:

      Actually maybe not: Blue would take a while to get started while black could begin immediately thus saving more people.

    • Illuminati Initiate says:

      Also I worded this poorly, I meant being killed in a way that could not be circumvented by predicting it- like getting cancer.

  82. Futune says:

    Another idea: If I am green, do the other colours count as animals for me to turn into, if I am aware of them? Or will I turn into a generic human?

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  84. Dave Bath says:

    Douglas Adams would have loved this.

    • I was thinking the same thing. It just so happens that I have been re-reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for the nth time and I was thinking there is a striking contrast between that and this story. Adam’s story is an absurd and hilarious tale about quests to find an ultimate meaning in the universe which ultimately fail, and the characters resign themselves to accept the meaninglessness and randomness of life. Scott’s story is also absurd and hilarious, but the characters start off on seemingly random paths and ultimately succeed in a quest to create meaning in the universe. Anyway, like many others, I thought Scott’s story was truly awesome. I was very surprised by the direction it took, as I initially I was prone to expect a sort of parable along the lines of “beware the gifts of the gods, they are accursed,” but it turned out to be very different from that indeed. I couldn’t stop laughing when I read the ending.

      • Harald K says:

        ultimately succeed in a quest to create meaning in the universe

        They don’t quite, but at least they figure out a way to keep it going, which isn’t a bad consolation prize.

  85. megazver says:

    This was lovely.

  86. Nonnamous says:

    I’m so late for work today because of you. This was awesome.

  87. Robert Liguori says:

    Eh, black has the usual problems of foretelling in narratives (foretelling is awesome sub-branch). If casuality is rigorous, then it’s a useless power; you know what happens, and it happens. And if it isn’t, then you’re creating a new timeline every time you look at the future, and your actions are damn well going to butterfly things.

    Like, what where the actual mechanics of the fight with Red there? Black looked into the future and saw Red kicking him into next week if he dodged left at the first gap. So instead he looked into the future and saw himself dodging right…then getting kicked into next week, because his precommitment to dodging right meant he lead the fight with his weight on his right foot, Red picked up on that, and punched accordingly.

    Plus, the power says ‘sees’. It doesn’t imply faster-than-human visual processing acuity; having the ability to see the future in a fight seems like it would converge immediately to “You see that you have looked into the future, letting your guard down in the present, and gotten punched in the face repeatedly.” within a span of a few seconds.

    • TK-421 says:

      At that point in the story Black has had future-sight for several years and is clearly smart enough to experiment with its capabilities. I can totally believe he gotten into the habit of regularly looking into the immediate future and using that to enhance his reflexes. Perhaps he even took a martial arts course specifically to practice that skill; he would be able to tell his past self if he ever needed to fight someone, and could plan ahead for that eventuality.

      Besides, I think it is not a stretch to say that Red is not a master of subtlety. I imagine his fighting style can be summed up as PUNCH REALLY HARD. For that matter, Orange might be the best non-prescient fighter in the world, but foreknowledge of a fight is an advantage even he can’t match.

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        > I imagine his fighting style can be summed up as PUNCH REALLY HARD.

        Also really fast, superhumanly so, supposedly. Even if he knew exactly where Red was going to throw the punch one month in advance, he’d have to dodge before the punch is actually thrown, meaning Red would just punch elsewhere.

        Of course, Black is the protagonist, so some degree of plot armor is to be expected.

        • Desertopa says:

          If Red has super speed, but not super reflexes, Black can dodge before Red starts to punch and Red won’t respond in time because he has no particular expertise in reading or reacting to people’s movements.

          • LHN says:

            With enough speed, you don’t need to rely on reflexes, since you can make conscious moves faster than your opponent can change direction or react.

            Imagine fighting someone with arbitrarily good fighting skills, but who was slowed down 3600 times so that a second for him was an hour for you. No matter his skills, he’d never connect unless you let him, nor block any attack you could throw. You could also dodge bullets– even rifle fire would mostly come at a less than a walking pace in your perception.

            (I’m reminded of the TOS Trek episode “Wink of an Eye”. Though I was less convinced of the Scalosians’ displayed ability to dodge phaser fire that way.)

            But as far as I recall, we don’t know that the speed differential here is that extreme. “Super-speed” covers a very broad range of possible power.

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      Every other timeline disappears every time you look into the future. This is neither the “many worlds” nor the “self-consistency” version of time manipulation.

      This is hard to explain but black’s power is recursive. Each time he looks into the future, each version of himself also had the ability to consider many different possible futures (each of those with a version of him that considered many different possible futures), so he has a tremendous ability to brute force decision making. Its easier to think of his power backwards. If he doesn’t like how things have turned out, he can let his past self to know to make another decision thus ending his timeline. This gives him essentialyl infinite processing power.

      • Robert Liguori says:

        But each of those considered futures are contingent on Black’s actions in the past.

        Here, example. Black-0 has an incoming fist coming towards his face. He looks into the future a moment and sees Black-1. Black-1 has looked into the future and seen Black-2 dodge left and get punched.

        Black-0 knows what Black-1 chooses to do, which means he knows what Black-2 chooses to do. He doesn’t know whether dodging right will work or not. And he’s now at the time frame of Black-1, because seeing a future and working out what happened, how, and why takes time.

        Unless seeing the future got bumped up to magic precognitive knowledge of his own actions in a given timeline and the ability to repeat them without flaw.

        Either Black had secondary superpowers, or he was being dragged along the meta-timeline by his gift. (Of course that was the actual answer, being as he’s a fictional character constructed in a narrative, but it’s unsatisfying to have that pointed out.)

        Actually, where did that flawless execution thing come up? In a fight situation, Black needs more than the ability to know that dodging in a direction at the precise milli-instant will keep him alive, he needs the ability to do so. Where did that come from? How does knowing “I need to not twist my ankle here.” actually stop you from not twisting your ankle? How does future-vision work when the fact that you see yourself succeeding at a plan means you overthink it when it comes up in your own timeline and get it wrong because you saw it?

        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          Black is perfectly capable of mistakes or imperfect executions, however he also has to ability to erase those timelines. Black eventually forsees the actions that will lead to success and does them (and if he screws up, he erases that timeline too). Given an infinite search space, logistics aren’t a problem.

          Though I must admit, this nitpicking over a perfectly self consistent and interesting story element (without which would make it much worse) is beginning to detract from my enjoyment of this piece. Sorry if I don’t respond.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            That’s entirely fair. And I did enjoy the other 87.5% of the story quite a lot.

  88. Meredith says:

    Love this. It’s perfect.

  89. Sigivald says:

    Blue or black, personally.

    (Mind control is immoral, so no pink.

    I did read pink’s ability as voluntary, not automatic-on-every-touch, though, so I don’t find the premise of the story compelling there, relative to my reading of the power.

    I mean, “love but only until you touch them again, want it to toggle or not” is way too nerfed compared to the others. Much less enticing than “permanent until you decide to toggle it”.)

  90. Ladikn says:

    Amazing story, but my only problem is…why is a heart attack not considered a physical danger when starving is? Blue should be effectively immortal.

  91. Murphy says:

    It occurs to me that blue also has the potential to generate infinite energy by teleporting up a gravity well, even more so if they can carry anything with her and there’s probably some freaky time travel potential.

    Unless blue was arriving at her destinations at about a 900 meters per second when teleporting from one side of the world to the other (which is possible if she didn’t have to worry about physical harm but is likely to be damaging to the local area) it also implies that she was changing her delta-V at will.

    Even more so to travel across the galaxy. At 220 kilometers per second to travel from the galactic core to earth (a 144 lb woman would arrive with the energy of a .38 kiloton explosion) unless she was leaving large craters every time she arrived back from a long trip she must be able to control her velocity on arrival so she could definitely generate huge quantities of energy.

    Hell if she can’t control her delta V she’s still a massive source of power, place 2 generators in 2 galaxies moving in opposite directions with rotating chambers, she teleports between them and slams into the turbines at either end.

    If anyone angers her she’s a 1 woman nuclear bombardment, teleport to another galaxy, slam into a moon to slow, teleport back to her target a few seconds later and arrive with a few thousand meters per second of delta V to shed and anything she hits might have well been hit by a hydrogen bomb.

  92. Blogospheroid says:

    You have a beautiful, beautiful mind, Scott. Great Work!

  93. Alex says:

    Related page

    And, nice ending.

  94. Alsadius says:

    Not going to lie, this made me extremely happy.

  95. Noah Siegel says:

    >“You’re probably wondering why I’ve called all of you together today…” said the man in black.

    Where have I heard phrasing like that before?

    Scott, is there something you need to tell us?

  96. peter says:

    As a fan of sci-fi and superheroes I LOVE this post, it’s a pretty awesome idea for a movie that I’d most certainly pay to watch, given that it was directed and executed well of course, well done OP, very well done!

  97. Ross says:

    There are 273 posts at this point, so maybe this has been mentioned already, but:

    “You head back to Earth less and less frequently now. Starvation is a physical danger, so it doesn’t bother you…” should PROBABLY read “You head back to Earth less and less frequently now. Starvation is NOT a physical danger, so it doesn’t bother you…”

    • Evan Þ says:

      No, Scott’s phrasing is right. The sentence can be expanded as “The danger ‘Starvation’ is a member of the set ‘Physical Dangers,’ and you are immune to anything in that set, so starvation does not bother you.”

  98. Anonymous says:

    I’m the villain in my life story, but my life story is something like Dexter or Hannibal, where everyone is totally on board with the idea that I’m a villain, so it’s OK.

    • Deiseach says:

      Which means you don’t think you’re the villain, you think you’re the anti-hero. Dexter thinks his following the ‘rules’ about who he can and cannot kill makes him better than the other killers he targets. Hannibal thinks he is superior simpliciter. I think they are both indeed villains and don’t find them admirable and would have no problem putting them away in the slammer (or institution for the criminally insane) as bad guys who did bad things and weren’t really attractive, charming, and misunderstood uber-menschen, which is why I’d end up dead (in some amusingly ‘ironic’ fashion) in about ten minutes were I to be a character on either of those shows.

      The Joker may or may not think he’s the “villain” of the story, but he certainly thinks villainy is the proper way to react to the absurdity of the human condition (or whatever reason other than “he’s crazy and malicious” they’re using to explain him nowadays).

      • Mary says:

        Even if you do think you are the hero of your own story, why would your doing so in a state of affected ignorance make me feel kindly inclined to you? One school child hates another because “he’s just getting the grades to show off” — am I supposed to like him because of that base imputation of convenient motive?

        (Also, it’s not true. Has anyone ever had a superior summon you to “explain” a blatant injustice? Because they can neither bring themselves to admit it’s unjust and stop, or live with the knowledge they are unjust, or delude themselves into thinking it just?)

        • Deiseach says:

          One school child hates another because “he’s just getting the grades to show off”

          Ummm – being aware of a real-life case something along those lines, you might feel sorry for the school child because they are constantly being criticised and picked on by a parent for not getting the same good grades as their school fellow, or for not attaining impossible and contradictory arbitrary standards that parent imposes.

          Resentment of the other school child who excels in a range of activities and enjoys them and is not being nagged, pushed or bullied into them by their parents isn’t an unreasonable reaction in the circumstances; the child can’t express their anger against the parent, so it gets displaced onto the person they are being compared against: “Why can’t you be like X?”

          Y will then dislike and resent X and feel X is only doing it to show off or prove their superiority.

          • Mary says:

            Feeling sorry for someone is miles and miles from thinking that their being the hero of their story excuses their behavior.

            And I note you hypothesize an additional factor that I did not include. What if he’s not being criticized and picked on? What if he just resents not being the best because he’s that self-absorbed, and slanders the best accordingly?

          • Deiseach says:

            Alas, ’tis no hypothesis but the “friend of a friend” type anecdote about a co-worker’s child and one of the other children in their class.

            And I’m not condoning the behaviour, just that (as Yellow found) what we see on the outside doesn’t always match up with what is going on where we don’t see.

          • Mary says:

            It’s a hypothesis. This is because you are assuming that case applies to my example.

        • FJ says:

          I’ve had the dubious pleasure of knowing a fair amount about the self-perception of people who have done extremely unpleasant things. Child molesters, in particular, are very striking in this regard.

          One weird thing about child molesters is that they do not really understand why people object to molestation. They know that they have to hide certain conduct or get arrested, but they don’t have a good enough theory of mind to understand why that is the case. So they say things like, “Yes, I gave the four-year-old a bath, but she washed herself,” because they don’t really get why touching a naked child is permissible in some circumstances but not others.

          This sort of mind-blindness is pathetic in a way, and I have some limited sympathy for how inexplicable the world must be to them. But I still don’t like them.

          • Cauê says:

            This reminds me of Haidt’s theory of why liberals don’t understand conservatives.

          • Deiseach says:

            That’s a great example, because back in the 70s when sexual liberation was The Big Thing and all taboos were to be overthrown, organisations such as NAMBLA and PIE tried gaining sympathy by (a) inveigling themselves into the gay rights movement on the grounds that what were once condemned as deviant perversions were then seen to be natural sexual expressions and what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander (this led to a minor embarrassment for the gay rights activist Peter Tatchell who provided an essay for a book by a PIE leader in the 80s – see section on Age of Consent Laws here) (b) piggybacking on the new psychological theories that claimed Freud was wrong and that there was no such thing as the latency stage and children were sexual beings; the only damage came when adults treated child sexual experimentation and experience with shock and anger and disgust, making the child feel ashamed and as though they should feel traumatised by what would otherwise be a perfectly normal part of their development.

            And they do seem to believe this; I’ve seen people claiming they did nothing by force, the child was naturally curious about sex and the whole experience was consensual and educational in the model of Classical paederasty, not like rape or abuse (they are forced to acknowledge that actual rape and abuse do happen, but that’s explained away as not real intergenerational love but sick sadists).

          • Cauê says:

            I’d like to jump in more substantively, but Scott has has expressed a number of times that he’d rather not have discussions on this topic here.

          • Nornagest says:

            This seems to me to be one of those topics that might potentially be useful in thought experiment, but are so inflammatory that they shouldn’t be touched with a rented ten-foot pole.

          • Mary says:

            Theodore Dalrymple’s Life At the Bottom vividly depicts this kind of “thinking.”

            I note that many criminals fathom the wrongness of criminality that victimizes THEM.

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  100. Jon Gunnarsson says:

    Brilliant story. I burst out laughing at several points in the story.

    I did find a minor error though:

    “You should help him,” the most beautiful person you’ve ever seen tells you, and you immediately know you will do whatever he asks.

    That should be “she” instead of “he” since it’s referring to Pink.

  101. pkwinn says:

    This is entirely brilliant. Thank you.

  102. Deiseach says:

    It now occurs to me that getting Yellow to read the mind of the CRUCIFIED Christ was perhaps not the best choice of times.

    Scott, why did you limit it to a photograph? The image you link simply says “picture”. Was it to avoid this kind of thing – that Yellow could, for instance, be asked to look at a picture such as an icon or mosaic of Christ instead of the Shroud?

    • Susebron says:

      I think that, if you use an image not made from life, you can’t “see” the person. You can see what someone else thinks that person looks like, but not that person.

      • Deiseach says:

        Does the effect also only work on living people? If Yellow tried mind-reading a photograph of somebody deceased (e.g. Marilyn Monroe, taking the first name that popped into my head), would it work?

        How about a portrait painted of the person? Could Yellow mind-read George Washington (if the limitation on “you have to be alive” didn’t apply) if she looked at a portrait painted of him while he was alive? Or a portrait of any living person (e.g. Queen Elizabeth)?

        • Marc Whipple says:

          If you try to read a dead person’s mind you end up like Magdalen Blair. Don’t go there.

          • Nathan Cook says:

            Obviously I couldn’t read something like that and not look her up. Guess I’ll be leaving the hall light on tonight.

            Surprisingly, no one on the internet seems yet to have pointed out the similarities between The Testament of Magdalen Blair and Greg Egan’s short story, Transition Dreams. At least with Greg Egan you wake up afterwards.

  103. Ahaha; love what you did with the pills. Your fiction in general, really. Glad to see more of it!

    Gotta go on a tangent about the yellow pill, though (which I personally might take, even though I’m fairly sure it would cripple me with anxiety for weeks, due to not actually knowing how to handle the new information at first):

    I play a character in a roleplay setting who is psychic. He’s not very flashy about it; aside from a questionable hobby of screwing around in people’s dreams without their consent (which is more than just mind-reading), he’s not really interested in attracting attention. But what I find interesting is the sort of job he got into – he’s a social worker and he helps disabled people. Why? Because he figures that’s the least conspicuous way he can ‘be a mind reader’ – people who are sick of having to articulate their basic desires can (so he reasons) actually feel a bit more normal with him around, even if he’s careful not to overdo it.

    I figure that’s one potential solution to the problem of what to practically do with the power if you ended up with it.

    (Granted, he also didn’t choose it, which is to say he didn’t ask for the power so he could indulge in some particular notion he thought it might help him with – he just grew up with it and had to figure out how to put it to use without attracting too much attention. He just really would rather not be the guy that gets death threats for being the spawn of Satan, or has people trying to strong-arm him into doing something he personally finds questionable.)

  104. JME says:

    At first, I was a little surprised at how the story was going — bad things kept happening to the pill-takers, and it seemed like one of those “the genie granting you super-powers is a curse in disguise and you should realize that being a mundane human is the best of all possible worlds” stories that Transhumanist/Rationalist-types usually hate — but things really turned around in Act II.

  105. Ryla says:

    Really, really liked this – even when the one I picked died 😉

  106. Nathan says:

    Awesome story 🙂 I thoroughly enjoyed the read.

  107. birdboy2000 says:

    I know everyone else has said this already, but this is an excellent story. Get it anthologized or something.

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  109. Marc Whipple says:

    If the title of this is not Which Pill Do You Choose? please specify what it is, because I’m nominating this for a Hugo next year.

    • Deiseach says:

      I would dang well vote for this over “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love” any day of the week (and twice on Sundays) because this at least is SF/Fantasy-related.

      And way more fun, and way better written, and I don’t feel it was disadvantaged by lacking a scene where gin-drinking rednecks brutally beat up one of the characters for mutually contradictory excuses (they’re certainly not reasons) based on racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, politics, nationalism gone rancid, possibly religion and presumably ‘that tie doesn’t go with that shirt’ as well.

      I feel the need to point out NOT ALL GIN-DRINKING REDNECKS. As a redneck (or culchie, the Irish version) in origin who occasionally drinks gin, though rum-based drinks are more my tipple of choice, I felt personally offended. I’ve never beaten up a chance stranger, no matter how aggravating, in my life! Obviously this was just more appalling hate-based anti-gin drinking redneck bigotry given voice 😉

      • Nornagest says:

        Gin’s an odd choice for rednecks, at least if you’re calling them rednecks. I understand there is, or once was, a stereotype across the pond of gin being a tippler’s drink, but around here the redneck stereotype drinks cheap domestic beer and middle-shelf whisky; cheap gin is for your grandpa, and expensive gin is for urban hipsters who like craft distilleries or Mad Men.

        • Mary says:

          Yeah, the author seemed not to have noticed that Gin Alley was a Georgian England thing. Gin’s more a hipster drink now.

          Other problems:
          1. The bar didn’t have a bouncer.
          2. This upper class woman has nothing to do. She can’t use either money or clout to get after the attackers. (Hire a private detective, if nothing else.)
          3. The epithets used cover an implausibly large number of ethnic ones. As in, incompatible. The “every epithet” seems to be more a product of the author’s febrile imagination than anything else.
          4. Paleontologists spend their summers breaking up rocks with pickaxes in howling wilderness. It is not a profession that summons to mind the term “sissy.” Indeed, as one person discussing the story observed, the only paleontologist he knows who would not fit in just fine at a workingman bar is the Mormon.

        • Deiseach says:

          Blue Ruin, Mother’s Ruin, Strip-and-go-naked – all nicknames for gin, but yes: really gin came to be seen as the woman’s tipple of choice for ruining her liver and getting roaring drunk but in a reasonably lady-like manner (if she belonged to the working/lower class).

          The story might work if it was a lesbian bar, but then again – if it was a lesbian bar, why would they be beating up the carefully-ungendered paleontogist partner of the narrator for being effeminate? I know I risk wading right into the middle of the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies fight, but you can see a point there: this story, with its range of presumably God, Guns and (No)Gays Republican-voting bigots who spew racial, ethnic, sexist, homophobic etc. hatred as they physically attack someone they perceive to be Other wasn’t about making sense or even being SF/Fantasy, it was about “people like us who are the right-thinking people who are liberal and progressive and not gender essentialists, gender binarists, sexists, xenophobes, hold the wrong religious beliefs, are monocultural and unaware of our White privilege etc. etc., are the Good Guys but we are constantly being harassed and endangered by the Bad Guys who’d shoot a dinosaur if they saw one instead of marvelling at its beautiful human-like size and intelligence and how it didn’t fit the stereotype of mindless ravening beast that must be killed by the heroic White Cis Heterosexual Christian Male culture hero”.

          Basically, though, the story turned me off because (a) not enough skiffy (b) for a dinosaur-revenge-fantasy, distinct lack of turning into dinosaur and rending and ravaging – all the dinosaur fantasy beforehand by the narrator is way too cutesy-wootsy about how if their love were a dinosaur they’d be human-sized and gentle etc. etc. etc.

          Sorry, give me Old One Eye from the glory days of “2000 AD” for all my dinosaur revenge story needs 🙂

          • LHN says:

            LIZA. Y-e-e-e-es, Lord love you! Why should she die of influenza? She come through diphtheria right enough the year before. I saw her with my own eyes. Fairly blue with it, she was. They all thought she was dead; but my father he kept ladling gin down her throat til she came to so sudden that she bit the bowl off the spoon.

            MRS. EYNSFORD HILL. But it cant have been right for your father to pour spirits down her throat like that. It might have killed her.
            LIZA. Not her. Gin was mother’s milk to her. Besides, he’d poured so much down his own throat that he knew the good of it.

            (Though I suppose in that case, “mother’s milk” notwithstanding, the gin was implicitly equal opportunity.)

            In the 20th century gin went mainstream (at least in the US) in the form of the martini, which was pretty much the canonical cocktail for decades before going into eclipse.(Increasingly replaced by the vodka martini or seen as an old man’s drink.) During that period, it was probably seen as somewhat more masculine than feminine, though both sexes drank them. There was also a fetish of making them so dry (a drop of vermouth, rinse the glass and then dump it, “look at a picture of the inventor of vermouth”) that they became basically straight gin served ice-cold

            (There was also the Pink Lady, a “girl’s” drink that was essentially gin with a little egg white for texture and a few drops of grenadine for color.)

            Gin drinks went into eclipse for a few decades with the rise of vodka. (When I was young, martinis were decidedly an old man’s drink.) It’s made a comeback in this century, but my impression is that gin-based martinis are still more the province of a narrower crowd (cocktail enthusiasts, Mad Men fans, etc.) than the near-universal they were circa 1950.

            (Gin being the new hotness has resulted in the revival of styles that had entirely died off, like Old Tom.)

          • Mary says:

            “) for a dinosaur-revenge-fantasy, distinct lack of turning into dinosaur and rending and ravaging ”

            As an antidote for those who found it so, I offer this:

          • Deiseach says:

            Okay, re-read the story because I keep picking on it and I thought I should give it another go for fairness.

            Nope, still as gloopy as ever. I can sort of understand why it got a Nebula, but a Hugo? It’s certainly nailing its colours to the mast about not being SF but then again, it’s not particularly Fantasy either.

            Why was her fiancée in this bar in the first place? If he was with others (e.g the crew on a dig), how come they let him get beaten into a coma by five guys with pool cues? If he was “fragile, lovely, human” 5’10” and apparently tanned enough and skinny enough to look foreign and effeminate, why was he drinking in a rough bar?

            Singing dinosaurs that get married in church and are gentle and intelligent, yet eat raw goats live and rip the guts out of human enemies are trying to eat your cake and have it.

            I prefer the goat-eating and gut-ripping to the singing and flower-wedding, myself. I don’t object to the narrator having revenge fantasies, but the fantasy is so drippy (her fiancé is a T-Rex but a human-sized one and while he may go on a rampage, he has to be led to it by his keeper/fiancée) and the reason the fiancée got beaten up in the first place is so obviously contrived to push all the right “ARE YOU FEELING GUILTY NOW ABOUT YOUR WHITE CIS HETERO MALE PRIVILEGE, HUH, HUH? EXAMINE THAT PRIVILEGE, MISTER!” buttons that I can’t take it seriously:

            They’d grasp each other for comfort instead of seizing the pool cues with which they beat you, calling you a fag, a towel-head, a shemale, a sissy, a spic, every epithet they could think of, regardless of whether it had anything to do with you or not, shouting and shouting as you slid to the floor in the slick of your own blood.

            So these five lunkheads were drunk yahoos only looking for an excuse to beat somebody, anybody up. That’s unhappily true, there are such people in the world who get drunk/high and look for someone to bash their face in.

            But. But why a palaeontologist? Urrrrh, us no like college-educated guys showing off their superior brains; that make us feel inferior, feel bad, feel like us not superior White Male Cis Het Red-Blooded American Patriots Republican Voting Christian Hero-Types; make us need VIOLENCE SMASH SHOUT NAMES AT SMART GUY INSULT HIM BY CALL HIM ALL TYPES US HATE, FEAR AND DESPISE LIKE AS WOMEN AND FOREIGNERS AND GAYS GIVE US BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD.

            Yeah. Just a touchheavy-handed with the moralising. And the “turning into a flower” dream-wish of the wedding wasn’t that great shakes as poetry, either.

            No. If I want deranged corny widowed-bride revenge fantasy, I’ll stick with Kate Bush’s The Wedding List 🙂

          • Nornagest says:

            Urrrrh, us no like college-educated guys showing off their superior brains; that make us feel inferior, feel bad…

            I have seen bar fights start in similar contexts, to be fair, although I think it’s less about superior brains and more about wider cultural tensions. One that I may or may not have been involved in started with a drunk townie taking offense at alumni of the local university drinking in a townie bar.

            But that happened in the context of a university town with major, long-standing resentment between students and townies. I can’t see that being the case for a paleontology dig in the Montana badlands or wherever.

            (I rode along as student labor on a couple of archaeology digs in school. The only trouble we had with locals involved negotiating with tribal authorities, who in the US have substantial leverage over digs in or near their land that involve native remains or artifacts. For obvious reasons, that’s not going to be a problem if you’re digging up a Utahraptor.)

        • Nornagest says:

          Oh, I forgot one: also West Coast hip-hop fans of a certain age, in the wake of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice”. Something tells me that’s not the intended stereotype either.

          • Deiseach says:

            West Coast hip-hop fans of a certain age, in the wake of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice

            Oh, I want that. A completely unintended stereotyping: a bar full of hip-hop fans beating the crap out of a guy/girl/maybe trans person for not being Like Us.

            Unless the authoress would prefer us to think the bar is full of urban white boy wannabes, which would soothe her anxiety about insulting the wrong people.

          • Deiseach says:

            Now, see, this is what I call poetry; from the English translation of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s An t-Each Uisce (The Water Horse) (I’ve heard similar folklore about water horses myself in my own locality and yes, the liver floating to the surface in a pool of blood a couple of days later is how you know when someone’s been carried off by one):

            And she ran for it,
            She made it up the cliffs in a flash
            To the house of her people. At first,
            All they could get from her was a streel of nonsense
            About seaweed roots and horse’s ears. At length,
            When her people at home had laboured to make out
            The meaning of what she was saying, they knew at once
            Right on the spot that it was the water horse.
            They rose up and put on their clothes,
            Their battle-gear and took their weapons.
            And out they went as an armed patrol
            To find and kill him.

            Afterwards they all said she was lucky.
            She was, and it was a near thing; one slip,
            One step awry and he’d have swallowed her,
            Right down, live and kicking, blood and bones.
            Three days after the event
            They might have found her liver, a couple of lungs and kidneys
            Picked up around the high-tide mark.
            That was the sort of beast he was.
            It was true for them, she knew it.
            And yet she felt the story of that day
            Lie heavy on her.
            She’d sit there on the cliff edge
            Day after day.

            And she thought about the green gleam
            In the strange eyes that had looked at her with desire,
            That was as simple, clean, clear
            In its own way as a hearty hunger;
            The rhythmic shining of his brown limbs
            And how they narrowed to slim wrists
            And the shape of the hands.

            More than all else she remembered the muscular
            Weave of his body that was tense
            And light as a tightened bow. The spring
            Wound up, alert, constantly
            Ready to be released again.

      • Jos says:

        Deisaech, is “If You Were a Dinosaur” anything like the following:


    • Standback says:

      This is on my nomination list too; definitely. This hits my list both for being gobs of fun, and also for being such a fantastic celebration of extrapolation and unforeseen consequences. That’s good SF, and being oddball only makes it better 🙂

      But, I’d take the post-title, …And I Show You How Deep The Rabbit Hole Goes, as the story title. It’s, well, the title of the page. And Marc, your suggestion of Which Pill Do You Choose? is text that doesn’t turn up on the page anywhere but in this comment thread.

  110. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    I guess black doesn’t have introspection into his future self? If he did, he might see himself touched by pink and not want to avoid it.

    • Aleph says:

      If I inject myself with heroin, I will be addicted to heroin and want to take more. But despite my present self understanding this, I’m not going to inject myself with heroin just because one hypothetical future me would have his preferences changed to want that.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        That’s what I mean. If you just see it in third person, you’ll be safe. But if your future sight involves experiencing your future self’s mental states, you could be in trouble.

        • Jaskologist says:

          It is in third person. Otherwise, black wouldn’t be reading the note from Space Black, he would simply know the whole of human future-history.

  111. maxikov says:

    > This space station is AWESOME!


  112. Zakharov says:

    Orange pill means you have the best reasoning skills and charisma of any person on earth. You can convince pink to mindcontrol any of the others. Once you’ve ensured pink’s values match your own (yellow helps here), you can even have her mindcontrol you to ensure your actions match your own values. Having orange (who is much smarter than black) control black’s actions is a lot safer than having black control his own actions. From a purely selfish point of view, orange has an incredible ability to find joy in everyday life, so he should be the happiest of any of the pill-poppers.

    • Zakharov says:

      I suppose the dangers of the orange pill are pink-pill mindcontrolling you first, or black-pill being more powerful than you.

      • Emp says:

        Making someone fall in love with you isn’t the same, and is nowhere near as powerful as mind-control. This isn’t a trivial distinction. It’s why pink isn’t really all that great.

    • Deiseach says:

      I don’t think the orange pill gives you charisma; that would be more an effect of the pink pill if you handled it correctly. Orange lets you understand and more importantly acquire the skills needed for any profession or task, which does mean you would be able to use the arts of persuasion on people because you know how to manipulate them, but it doesn’t give you the same native charisma that some people have, just like Pink doesn’t make you the most beautiful/handsome and attractive to others person in the world. (the effect only kicks in once Pink touches someone; before that, people looking at her see an averagely attractive but not stand-out in either looks or personality woman).

      I suppose the effect of Orange (and the other pills) depends on the personality of the person who takes them; someone who always wanted to be an artist or musician or the leading expert on Byzantine laundry lists who then acquired the necessary skills would be very happy when they got the abilities they always lacked. William may be the kind of person who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, so when he can see the simple, easy solutions and obvious flaws (simple and obvious to him) this just increases his feelings of exasperation with the people who keep on making the same old mistakes.

      And obviously William keeps taking on more and more responsibility, so he has less and less time to do anything he enjoys (if there ever was anything he enjoyed) and he gets grumpier and grumpier.

      Also, being able to always win at everything effortlessly may be less fun than it sounds; if you know you can always figure out the optimum way to win at something in the fastest possible time with the least effort, where’s the challenge and sense of achievement? It’d be like beating a kindergartner at noughts and crosses.

  113. Kevin says:

    That was great.* I laughed out loud at the ending.

    *I’ve felt this way about pretty much every piece of fiction you’ve posted, just for your future reference.

  114. Nolrai says:

    Hmm. The yellow doesn’t read true to me. Sometimes I and others lie to them selves that way. .but sometimes they do cast them selves as the vilian. Sometimes they exorbitant that insult or failure so hard they will make it happen if it doesn’t.

    • 1angelette says:

      You could say that the story incorporates only one side of the bravery debates, though the attempt at therapy at least suggests that Yellow also found some self-loathing people. Her shock at either side of this suggests that her choice was motivated precisely by a largely neurotypical existence where she might have had the occasional communication issue – “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus”, that type of thing – but rarely expressed particularly acute empathy or other mood fluctuations and went on a lot about “buying an umbrella”.

  115. Vontre says:

    This is brilliant.

  116. Len says:

    Green sure got shafted.

  117. pla9 says:

    So who made the pills…?

    • anon says:

      Blick Winkel.

    • Deiseach says:

      Why does Black assume it is God, and not the Devil, who made the pills? There’s a tradition in folklore and legend of a supernatural entity who makes such bargains and artifacts, and it’s not God 🙂

      The fate of Green, and Yellow needing to flee all human contact and even then finding animal minds as hurtful because they stimulate painful compassion in the same way, and Pink not being able to find love/affection because the trap is “if you touch the person a second time the effect is cancelled” and Red not being able to make money out of BRUTE STRENGTH because no-one believes a scrawny weakling is THE STRONGEST MAN IN THE UNIVERSE, and Blue getting bored fast with Earth yet not finding any life anywhere else, and Orange becoming The World’s Most Interesting Man but never having a spare moment to enjoy himself and taking on ever more power and responsibility and getting ever more disillusioned with his fellow humans, and Black running up against the impossibility of finding a solution to the absolute end of everything , including the disastrous aftermath of his idea to have Yellow use the Shroud of Turin – those sound like the kind of “gotcha!” ‘be careful what you wish for’ stories of the Devil’s cheats.

      The solution coming down to Red and the unexpected “Pink and Red really love one another” and “BRUTE STRENGTH”, plus Red being of the mindset where he doesn’t get bored turning a generator for a couple of hours every day – that’s the kind of “the last shall be first and the first shall be last” ending that sounds like Divine intervention bringing forth good out of evil and raising the lowly, not magic pill making 🙂

      • The Devil says:

        That’s just typical. You give some schmucks something nice for free, entirely out of the goodness of your heart, and some busybody shows up complaining that you’re a bad guy because it didn’t turn out peachy-keen.

        And then when it does get better, that’s definitely because one of your competitors intervened, not because it was a fundamentally good product or anything!

        Sometimes I’m sick of the whole business.

      • Nita says:

        In folk traditions, God is nice, and the Devil is tricky. But in the Bible, the Devil doesn’t get much screentime at all, and God does seem to enjoy cruel experiments, e.g.:
        “Kill your son for me! Haha, don’t, I was just testing ya.”
        “Hey, I let Satan torture you and kill all your children to prove me right. But don’t worry, I’ll give you new children! Also, you can’t criticize me because I’m very powerful.”

  118. Jon Gunnarsson says:

    Minor mistake I spotted on re-reading the story:

    You know on an intellectual level that there are people who would choose something other than the black pill, just like you know on an intellectual level that there are people shoot up schools.

    Missing a “who” after the second “people”.

  119. Ennis says:

    This whole thing needs to be a movie. Seriously, if you adapted this into a screenplay, any producer with sense should pick it up. If you ever do and would like some storyboards, hit me up.

  120. Pingback: On the Character of Transgenderism | The Mind Château

  121. Cleanthes Brule says:


    Green pill won in the end. The Shroud of Turin exists and represents true theogony. His Eye is on the sparrow. The dying whale transformed unseen by the unreliable narrator and flew off as a sign from above on the wings of a dove as pure sweet Love.

  122. tarsos22 says:

    I really liked this post. Very well written.

  123. AlphaGamma says:

    I’m currently reading the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka- urban fantasy where the main character is a divination specialist.

    Black Pill reminds me of him…

  124. Kat says:

    Love it!

  125. Tom says:

    “The basic principle is this – given a choice between A and B, you solemnly resolve to do A, then see what the future looks like. Then you solemnly resolve to do B, and do the same. By this method, you can determine the optimal choice in every situation, modulo the one month time horizon.”

    I don’t buy it.

    In a determinist world, there’s only one future. You don’t get to play the what-if game and compare possible futures. Basically, any possible effect knowledge the future could have on your actions would already be fully accounted for in the future you see.

    If you believe in free will, then Black’s power presupposes an ability to see the results of other people’s free will. It stands to reason that you’ll be able to see what you decide with your own free will, and we’re back to seeing only the “stable” future where you’d never take a different action.

    • Robert Liguori says:

      I tried to parse out the resolution thing, but it didn’t make much sense to me. If you assume that looking involves neurological activity, that means it takes time; time to focus on what happens, time to look for side effects like dodging death at T-50 by stepping into an inescapable situation at T-55, time to make sure that the future actually flows from the decision and not from non-determinate quantum events affecting outcomes, and so forth.

      The proof of concept, I think, would be sitting down someone a ROM hack like Kaizen Mario with a single save state, no restarts, and a large-but-finite number of loads to represent the passing of time to perform each divination, and seeing how far someone could advance before they either ran out of reloads, or got trapped in an inescapable situation at their current save state.

      • James Picone says:

        People have been known to beat Kaizo Mario under those conditions, but usually they’re pretty good at games to begin with. I’m not sure one flow of time with backtracking is the right model here, though – see my answer to Tom, below.

        This tool-assisted speedrun of Kaizo Mario World took 239,380 rerecords, but it’s not an exact match for what you’re talking about. For starters, it’s what you get if you can ‘program’ your actions – say ‘contract this muscle at time T, contract this other muscle at time T+1’ – and reliably get that output, and it’s optimising for speed, not finishing the game.

        @Tom: The in the determinist-world-where-you-only-see-one-future, your choice is still conditioned on future information, which eliminates whole classes of timelines. The deterministic-choice-that-you-will-make can’t be one that’s obviously a bad idea if you can see the outcome, because then you wouldn’t make it. If there’s a button, and you’re considering whether or not to press the button, and you look into the future and observe that pressing it immediately kills you, you won’t press the button. If you couldn’t look into the future, maybe you might press the button.

        By a similar argument, choices that are obviously suboptimal when you can see the future shouldn’t end up getting made iff you have the time to determine a better one. If you decide you want to approach a woman in a bar, the future where whatever you say to her causes her to pull out a gun and shoot you can’t happen, but if there’s any easily-findable future where she sits around and talks to you for a while that one will be taken in preference to the future where she merely leaves.

        Seems to me that the determinism-constraint actually makes Black’s power stronger.

        Remember, too, that you can condition on futures that never happen. Say something you’re considering has relevant consequences more than a month out. You see that your note of relevant information written at the end of the month says there’s some outcome – say you make N dollars. You can be very certain that there’s no easy way to make more than N dollars from that branch, because the you of next month would have looked into the future for that option – so you don’t need to look into the future any more to determine that that branch gets you a maximum of N dollars. Similarly, if you decide to consider options to deal with X, look into the future and see you determining that choice Y is the best way to deal with X, you don’t actually have to figure out why you thought Y was the best option – you can hide all your future-sight in possible-realities that never happen.

        There’s a character in Worm named Contessa who (minor Worm spoilers) has the power to see the Path to Victory, and the power to follow the path that she sees. She can ask her power how to do certain things, and get a numbered series of steps to get there out, and then she can mechanically follow them, guaranteed to get the correct muscle-movements and the like out. She is, as you might imagine, close to impossible to actually fight, and if you bring enough firepower to win a fight against her, she isn’t there and has won some kind of strategic march on you. As I see it, Black gives you the Path aspect without the perfect ability to follow the Path, solely because you can recurse – you can use futuresight to see what you would have chosen given that you used the next $TIME to consider, and now you’ve saved a substantial amount of time in your search. And then you can do it again, looking at what you’d choose given the next $TIME – 1, given what you already know. Exponential search space pruning is surprisingly effective.

        • Robert Liguori says:

          How much time is $TIME in your factors? How is Black able to pick out what’s causing what effect? Hell, setting out to do something at Time T versus time T + 2 seconds can make a whole lot of difference; how does Black not know that the fact of pausing to parse a future closed it off?

          • James Picone says:

            $TIME is just however much time Black has to plan. In the context of right this second dodging Red’s punch, it’s a second (but how did he ever get into that situation?). In the context of setting aside an hour to think about what he’s going to do next, it’s an hour.

            Black doesn’t have to pick out what’s causing what effect, he can just ‘try’ different possibilities out and see what happens by resolving to do X and then seeing what the future looks like. He can do that to refine things by resolving to do X and then Y later and then Z later still if he’s already seen what happens when he does X. He can make these plans sufficiently far ahead in time that delay-for-planning isn’t of huge consequence – Black could have been planning that encounter with Red a month in advance. I did some calculations above and determined that with some reasonable assumptions, if Black has an hour to plan he can test ~2**58 different plans of action. That’s enough to reliably brute-force your way to a very good outcome.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            I really guess I’m not understanding the timeline (well, time-tree) you’re proposing. Black sees the future. I assume that means Black sees what’s around Black at the given point up until a month; the fact that he sends himself notes shows that he can’t just send information back in time without a physical medium. For the tree-searches, he needs to both write down what he sees, and be looking at that particular moment in time.

            Also, what does resolution have to do with anything? Lots of people resolve to stop smoking, exercise regularly or (this is important) react in certain ways when confronted with stressful situations. Very few of them do. None of them do so perfectly, and claiming that Black can do so perfectly every time and not run into one of the aformentioned transcription errors (or just a situation in which the world itself shifts enough between his moments of consideration to foul his predictions) is an entire new pill’s worth of power, at the very least.

          • James Picone says:

            @Robert Liguori:

            The ‘resolve to do X’ stuff should just be read as ‘currently plans to do X’.

            Time tree works like this:
            – Black has some time to plan, say 10 minutes.
            – He plans to spend most of the time figuring out what to do by coming up with a plan and then seeing what happens if he puts that plan into effect, and then at the end of that time he will write down or otherwise record what the best plan he’s come up with is
            – Now that he’s got the plan to do some planning, he can look into the future to see what happens if he spends the next several minutes planning
            – When he looks into the future, he can see what he writes down at the end of planning
            – Now he knows what the best plan he would have come up with in that time is, and he doesn’t need to spend the time planning to come up with it
            – So he plans to spend the remaining time improving that plan or coming up with a better plan or something like that, and then at the end of it he’ll write down his best option…

            He doesn’t need to detail the full information he got from looking into the future – just the summary.

            If he can’t reliably do X when Y happens, he sees that when he looks into the future of “what happens when I plan to do X when Y happens”, and either the outcome is good anyway (in which case it’s a good plan) or the outcome is bad (in which case it’s a bad plan and he’ll do something else).

    • Jesse M. says:

      You don’t necessarily have to believe in free will for this version of seeing into the future to work logically, it could just be that there is a random (quantum?) element to events which means there are multiple possible futures branching off from each point. For the “resolve” thing to work, perhaps the black pill selects only from among the futures which are self-consistent up to the time I see the vision of, so for example if on Monday I look ahead to next Friday, it will show me a timeline in which any further future-checking I do between now and Friday must have been shown me a vision consistent with the events of Friday that I saw on Monday. So, it’d be as if it was showing me a vision of a possible future in which the period from the time of my vision on Monday to the time I looked ahead to on Friday was constrained to internally obey the Novikov self-consistency principle, for example if on Monday I saw a vision of myself getting in a car accident on Friday, in this possible timeline all of my efforts to avoid that car accident would fail. Though even if this is the case, I’m not sure whether that would imply I’m seeing a timeline in which my ability to see multiple possible futures failed completely during that period, or whether I’m seeing a timeline where I can see multiple possible futures during that period only if I look ahead to a time beyond Friday (for example, although I am seeing a timeline where I was bound to get in an accident Friday, I might still be seeing a timeline where on Thursday I looked into two possible futures, one in which I checked out of the hospital on Sunday and one in which I stayed in the hospital past Sunday). It’s even possible I’m seeing a timeline where on Wednesday I looked ahead to Thursday and did see multiple possible futures, with the constraint that both had to be consistent with the vision of Friday I saw on Monday. In the language of Doctor Who, it’d be as if when I look ahead to Friday and see the car accident, the black pill is showing me a possible timeline in which the car crash on Friday has become a “fixed point in time”, although in this timeline I might still experience other events as changeable.

    • Steve says:

      > In a determinist world, there’s only one future. You don’t get to play the what-if game and compare possible futures. Basically, any possible effect knowledge the future could have on your actions would already be fully accounted for in the future you see.

      In other words, the only possible deterministic world with a future-seer is a world in which every action the future-seer takes is optimal, up to his ability to see the future. Any other such world would be incoherent.

      • Zykrom says:

        Not ‘optimal.’ More like ‘good enough or bad enough that he isnt willing to mess with it’

      • Jesse M. says:

        Or, in universe where time travel was constrained to happen in a fixed unchangeable timeline, the future-seer could just see that he gets a heart attack and dies, saving the universe the trouble of having to arrange various lucky coincidences to satisfy his whims which would be even more improbable than a near-future heart attack. Reminds me of various stories about time machines being self-censoring, like “Rotating Cylinders and the Possibility of Global Causality Violation” by Larry Niven, or “The Chronology Protection Case” by Paul Levinson (made into a low-budget film).

  126. Aaron says:

    I realize this is probably just a fun twist, but I think there’s something deeper lurking here, and that is the question: what is mankind’s greatest challenge? What is our greatest enemy? Each pill in some sense gives a person mastery over an enemy:

    Our disconnectedness from nature (green)
    Our lack of adventurousness , or the hard limits of space travel (blue)
    Our lack of love (pink)
    Our mutual incomprehension (yellow)
    Our mastery of technology, or lack thereof (grey)
    Our incompetence (orange)
    Our ignorance and shortsightedness (black)

    But the greatest and last enemy, even if we survive our destruction of nature, our hatreds, technological pitfalls, the difficulty of space colonization, stupidity, misunderstanding, and so on, even if we become a spacefaring utopian ecosociety based on free love and hyper-advanced technology (i.e. the Culture), even then, we will still be defeated by entropy. Unless…

  127. How About No says:

    This is by far the worst possible response to these pills I could possibly have read. It’s soulless; it speaks to no knowledge of actual humanity. Way to enforce the gender binary AND gender essentialism in Yellow; way to not actually know how animals or nature work in Green; way to reduce all the possibilities housed in the red pill to STUPID ALPHA BRUTE STRENGTH ROAR; way to have whomever picked Blue be the most boring and unconnected person on the planet (I could spend a week in ONE tourist spot). Terrible.

    • James Picone says:

      Well now I have to join the chorus of people saying that this is great and amazing and I’m glad you published it, Scott.

    • Cryptonomicon says:

      It might be a response you personally don’t appreciate, but it brings a valid perspective, on the theme. I personally find it a valid, entertaining and even thrilling (from a storytelling perspective) response, worthy of our great Scott.

      That said, I understand your position, but I would like to highlight two points against what you say: (1) I think the story illustrates pretty well how nature and animals work 🙂 and (2) I don’t think the red pill gives you STUPID ALPHA BRUTE STRENGTH ROAR as much as it selects for STUPID ALPHA BRUTE STRENGTH types.

      • Nick says:

        Wasn’t the red pill guy a scrawny, gullible weakling, though? And as written here the red pill is far from the worst option available, and under alternative interpretations of the original image could easily be the best.

        • Nornagest says:

          He started out fairly built, but he became scrawny when he spent however long without the opportunity to exercise (since, after the pill, no amount of weight was enough to stress his muscles).

          Presumably he was always gullible.

    • Nick says:

      I think you’re being too critical. The things you listed bothered me, too (among other things — unimaginative application of powers, kinda dull characters, somewhat predictable plot), but I think it was still pretty enjoyable, and it’s certainly not the worst possible response (check https://forums.spacebattles.com/forums/creative-writing.18/ or fanfiction.net for decidedly worse cyoa stories). The grammar and spelling on this one puts it in the top quartile, at least!

  128. Arthur says:

    Incredibly imaginative short story, can’t believe it was spun off a Tumblr post, thank you so much!! ^^

    • Mary says:

      Believe it!

      A sage soul once observed in an online discussion:

      Real writers can get ideas from a grocery list.

      Real writers can get ideas from thinking about getting ideas from a grocery list.

  129. Merle says:

    “It takes about a week before you’ve exhausted all of the interesting tourist sites.”

    …how small do you think Earth is?

    • Dead Milkmen fan says:

      Kurt Vonnegut had a thing where he described a relative/acquaintance/something-or-other who was capable of roller-skating through any art museum, glancing at each work of art, and saying “got it, got it, got it…”

      Me, I’d want to linger, but I’m sure some people are capable of at least thinking they’ve gotten the point of something by checking it out for a second or two.

      Something something diminishing returns, I guess.

  130. Vy says:

    Fantastic story, thanks for a great read. 🙂

  131. Basium says:

    For years, The Witching Hour has been my favorite of your works.

    This is better.

  132. Dave LeGrand says:


  133. Jos says:

    Really awesome and delightful – thanks, Scott!

    Just to think Black’s perspective through:

    – Prior to the coma, every choice Black tests out leads to the entropy letter (or worse). The only futures Black can’t see are the Yellow future and the ones where he dies.

    – After the coma, I guess either Black saw the solution or didn’t see it until God intervened a second time to suggest solving the problem through BRUTE STRENGTH?

    – I guess that works. If none of the futures Black tested in his cascades involved having Red or Blue on the station, he might never see the solution. Still, you would think if he tested a scenaro where he spent a week brainstorming the problem with Orange in the far future, they would come up with it.

    ps: At first, I thought that Black was at a lot of risk of transcription error or self-deception. (For example, he’s not going to personally experience most of his future checks, but is going to see futures where he checks the future and reports back which broad categories aren’t worth checking out, plus that letter has been recopied millions of times) but maybe there are some error checking solutions.

  134. stargirl says:

    “You had always known, deep down, that BRUTE STRENGTH was what was really important. And here, at the end of all things, it is deeply gratifying to finally be proven right.”

    Made me laugh so hard.

  135. I know that I certainly enjoyed this, even as a science fiction short story! I read Gardner Dozois’s “Year’s Best Science Fiction” anthologies, and this was as entertaining as any of those stories. You’ve really hit the big time, as Peggy Noonan 😮 is posting about how awesome you are on Twitter:

    This is long, dense and demanding. Also brilliant, imaginative, wise. https://twitter.com/Peggynoonannyc/status/606536871028637696

    Thank you for a delightful parable, and especially, thank you for the happy ending. Most science fiction is dystopian. This left me smiling, for once. Please do consider writing more?

  136. Chris Nelson says:

    If this is the best piece of fiction I read all year… it sets the bar high enough that I won’t find myself disappointed. Well done!

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  138. objection says:

    Without breaking the laws of physics, humanity should have been able to survive for an enormously longer time than what it takes for the universe to reach heat death.

    Stop making babies so that number of human beings stays stable. Progress to Kardashev 3+, so you can collect energy from galaxies. Store the energy in accumulators. Use only as much of it as necessary to keep humanity alive. It will last longer than the universe by many orders of magnitude.

    • JME says:

      Maybe, but the year when they really run out of negentropy is in the 963 trillions AD. Stellar genesis, if Wikipedia is to believed, will stop in 1-100 trillion years. So it seems to me that them lasting that long is already consistent with outlasting the rest of the universe as far as heat death. Also, throughout much of this period, they seem to have been optimistic about some technological fix (“black hole harvesters and wormholes and tachyon capacitors”) — if a technological fix (aside from the Red Pill) had been possible (which it turned out not to be), then obsessively shepherding resources rather than trying new things and exploring the universe likely would have forestalled its development.

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  140. Tom says:

    Oh man this is so good. I realise there are probably a million comments like this, but this seriously made my week.

  141. Steven says:

    Tsk, tsk. Super strength and speed have so many more applications than winning weightlifting. Like winning every other sport.

    I don’t care how scrawny you are, if you are heavyweight champion (and every other weight class that you are under the maximum for) and holder of two dozen world records in Olympic events and an all-star in half-a-dozen team sports, the endorsement deals will come.

  142. betaveros says:

    Typo: “excitement-induced seizures for the nest hundred years”

    I only briefly skimmed most of the comments, but I seem to be the only person who is offering more than nitpicks. Anyway I’m here because my friend insists “This is the best story I’ve ever read” and I told him, eh, I think it’s good but not that good (I give it 2 standard deviations above the mean) and apparently you (= the friend) haven’t even read “The Last Question”. So.

    I think the biggest reason I didn’t feel satisfied after reading it is that I was really excited to see the resolution of the biggest question in-universe, how the pills were created and how those people ended up taking them, but I didn’t find it resolved convincingly. My friend says Black is right and it actually is just that “God did it” but I thought the evidence was really, really weak:

    One, they checked all the other possibilities they could think of, which number exactly two (“Orange can do anything that humans can do, and says he can’t make the pills. Blue has searched the whole galaxy, and says there aren’t any aliens. That leaves only one suspect.”)… Seriously? Some more off the top of my head, and there’s no way these characters couldn’t have thought of more if they tried: What if they’re rats or dolphins concealing their intelligence (a la H2G2)? What if the aliens all live underground in narrow pathways Blue couldn’t reach in, or somehow function in a different bandwidth than the visible spectrum (I’m not a physicist so I don’t know if this is coherent but I think there are simlar hypotheses for resolving the Fermi paradox), or have already been extinct for billions of years (perhaps before this instance of the universe started…?) and left some pill-delivering machine drifting in a random direction in space that happened to come near Earth? What if it’s a rogue AI from the future? What if it’s a twenty-dimensional equivalent of our bored teenager, arbitrary toying with a simulation of our universe? (And besides, if Black can see everywhere, why would he need Blue to verify the nonexistence of aliens by being there? Unless he’s just saying that just to make Orange and Blue feel included? But that seems out of character, right?) Some of these objections are somewhat dealt with by the part of Black’s first letter where he writes, “Despite having explored throughout the cosmos, my people have found no alien species, nor any signs that such species ever existed.” But I think most of the good ones are still there.

    Two, Black is somehow only unable to read the future where Yellow looks at the Shroud (“This is actually the one thing I haven’t been able to see. I guess contact with God is inherently unpredictable, or something.”), but this seems like an entirely post-hoc explanation. It’s not hard to make up (what I think are) reasonable pill-only interactions — at least, more reasonable than God, and fairer to expect in a story that seems to otherwise strive for sci-fi explanations. Maybe trying really hard to use any pill in a way violating its laws triggers all the pills to fail simultaneously, even retroactively through hypotheticals. Maybe it’s a simulation, the pills are ugly hacks in the system, and having to invoke reading the mind of somebody from so long ago in a hypothetical branch is so processing-intensive that it makes the subroutine for reading one month into the future time out. Or maybe the unexpected computation causes lag that makes the simulation’s time scale go out of sync with something. And so on. Besides, if a remotely Christian deity wanted people not to predict him, I would expect him to appear to Black in the vision and command him not to mess with God, rather than just making the attempt silently and mysteriously fail (and if the former appearance had happened in the story I would be a believer).

    Three, Yellow goes insane (“Apparently Yellow went totally berserk after reading God’s mind”), but the story does not suggest that anybody other than Yellow really experienced what happened so we’re left guessing, and the characters are (understandably humanly) interpreting the data to confirm their hypothesis. So alternate possibilities: we know Yellow didn’t spend much time experimenting with her power; what if Yellow’s power drives her crazy because she tried too hard to read the mind of anybody who is already dead (or never actually existed) — or, more simply yet, because she hadn’t read another person’s mind in so long and was so psychologically unprepared that the mere shock of doing it again was enough?

    There’s also the context; I’m pretty sure that, compared to the average reader, SSC readers would need much stronger evidence to accept a universe where physics as we know it mostly exists AND God exists AND Jesus Christ is an incarnate of God, so I expected the story to accommodate that.

    Plus, if God made the pills, that just instantly raises the question, why did He choose to do so? At least my bored twenty-dimensional teenager has an excuse by being bored.

    So to echo a comment above: who actually made the pills? Is the Word of God (in the fictional universe sense) that God is actually the explanation for the pills?

    Lesser quibble: having Yellow fail, send everybody into a coma, and kill half of them felt almost like a diabolus ex machina, although I guess it can be justified as a Chekhov’s Gun moment because the yellow pill description includes this power and all the other powers have been used.

    And fridge logic: isn’t it outrageously unlikely that the humans only realize that Red can provide negentropy after billions of years in the station, and never during those years while they’re expanding their frontiers and building “black hole harvesters and wormholes and tachyon capacitors” and all that, nor during the almost-a-quadrillion-years in the first hypothetical future Black sees? It took you less than a month!

    Anyway, since you already said this was “really silly”, I’m probably way way overanalyzing and you shouldn’t take anything written above too seriously either. Also, I am probably biased towards being excessively critical by at least two things:

    1. I finished reading qntm.org’s Ra just yesterday and my mind was completely blown
    2. when Green died a small and viscerally irrational but important part of me died with him/her

    And I enjoyed the story nevertheless (in addition to enjoying overanalyzing it), so thanks for that.

    • Jos says:

      I thought about that upthread a little bit.

      – We don’t really know how smart Black is. Like Red’s physicial body wasting away, Black might get progressively worse over time at solving problems that can be resolved by brute force cascades of testing alternatives.

      – That said, Black can rule out most possibilities other than the Yellow plan, because as far as he can tell, he’s looked at every future other than the one where Yellow checks the shroud and the ones where he dies. So there’s a future where he asks Orange to think of other possibilities and Orange lists them all and Black checks them out, and Black knows that future doesn’t lead to a solution.

      – The question, I guess, is why no one in the non-Turin futures ever thinks of using Blue and Red. It may be that they just never think of applying brute force in any future Black tests, but that seems odd – even if you didn’t think of restarting the universe by being very strong, you would think you would realize you could extend the lifespan of the Last Station that way sooner or later. (And if they think of it after Blue and Red die, they can always communicate it back to an earlier Black).

      • Ever An Anon says:

        Except from Black’s perspective a future where he dies should just be a “dark” patch which he can’t predict beyond (though probably with some unpleasant injuries beforehand). That is basically what the Shroud future was, since he spent more than a month unconscious, so going ahead with the plan anyway knowing that was a hell of a gamble on his part.

        Personally I don’t see this or other “stupid” uses / non-uses of powers as problems with the story. It makes the characters more relatable if they don’t act like Tippyverse wizards. And the comedy aspect would suffer if nobody ever did anything absurd.

        • Jos says:

          – Black doesn’t see his own perceptions in the future, he sees the future. So on all the “Black dies” paths, 29 days before he dies, he can see himself die, plus one more day of future. On the Shroud path, he has no idea what happens even one second after Yellow checks out the Shroud.

          – So you’re right, that’s a fantastic gamble – Black is risking millions (billons? trillions?) of years of presumably worthwhile life in return for a long shot gamble at avoiding the heat death of the universe. (And he has no idea what happens 32 days after entropy progresses to the point where he dies — for all he knows, God just restarts the universe at that point).

        • David Harmon says:

          Um… Why didn’t the Shroud unconsiousness interrupt his message from the future?

          To me, that message is the least plausible thing in the story — that for 963E12 years, he was able to maintain a chain of looking at his paper at precisely-chosen intervals of at most 30 days. I’d be amazed if I could manage that for one year.

          • Jesse M. says:

            “Um… Why didn’t the Shroud unconsiousness interrupt his message from the future?”

            It did. Each future vision shows him a possible future timeline, and he got the message from a possible timeline where he never tried the shroud trick, but in the new altered timeline that letter will never get written, though he will still have the memory of having seen a vision of the letter the first time he tried the trick of resolving to into the future at one-month intervals and write down whatever he saw. Remember, the letter itself said “By sending this message back, I destroy my entire timeline.”

            As for your other point, it does seem kind of implausible that if he tried this trick he’d never end up looking a month forward and seeing his future self going about his daily routine, having forgotten about what he was supposed to do that day. But then again, remember he’s only seeing possible futures, which he can change by altering his resolve–so if he saw himself forgetting, he could make a stronger effort to remember in a month (maybe planning to set up backup reminders and such), then look ahead again and hopefully see an altered future where he did remember.

      • Jesse M. says:

        The question, I guess, is why no one in the non-Turin futures ever thinks of using Blue and Red.

        The suggestion seemed to be that in the far-future timeline the only pill-user they were even aware of was Black (who must have remembered being offered the other pills, but perhaps didn’t know the same offer was made to other people), and that only in the new altered timeline created by receiving the message from the far future did Black make any kind of systematic search for other pill-users. Note that the letter shows no awareness of any other physics-violating pill-users besides Black:

        “It’s impossible to see the future, even if it’s only a month ahead. Somehow, our black pill breaks the laws of physics. Despite having explored throughout the cosmos, my people have found no alien species, nor any signs that such species ever existed. Yet somebody made the black pill. If we understood that power, maybe we could use it to save reality from its inevitable decay.”

        So maybe if Black hadn’t made a specific search effort, all the other pill users would have just died eventually, either through aging or accident/murder? (Even Red was “not invincible” suggesting the possibility of death if he did something really foolhardy, instead of Black & co. keeping him as a captive for his own protection)

    • Deiseach says:

      I think neatest (in sense of “simple, orderly, well-organised”) solution is what I’ve suggested: God did not make the pills, the Devil did (the Devil can give your bored 20-dimensional teenager a run for their money in devising ways to muck around with humans for fun and profit) 🙂

  143. Julie K says:

    It is June. You look into the future and see that in July someone will finally realize what Red’s strength is good for. So you put that knowledge to work immediately. So in May, you saw yourself doing this in June…

  144. Walt G says:

    I figured Blue would accidentally infest the Galaxy’s planets with bacteria and fungi shed from her skin, thus spreading life everywhere.

  145. vV_Vv says:

    That was nice.

    Anyway, as you said, Black also violates entropy, so perhaps with the help of Tony Stark Orange, he could have managed to make free energy himself.

    • Jesse M. says:

      As I asked in an earlier comment, how does Black’s power violate the 2nd law? How could he use it to decrease the entropy in a closed system for example? Even if Black were the size of Maxwell’s Demon and could predict whether the next molecule to come towards a tiny door in a divider was fast-moving or slow, if he tried to use this to sort molecules into all fast-moving on one side and all slow-moving on the other, he’d still fall prey Charles Bennett’s answer (discussed in the paper on Maxwell’s Demon linked above) that his memory capacity is finite, and any loss of memory about the sequence of molecules he’s already let through (or not let through) will add at least as much entropy to the system as the decrease in entropy due to letting through or not letting through those same molecules he forgot about.

  146. Mo says:

    How did the blue pill person die?

    • vV_Vv says:

      Old age, I suppose, which is kinda weird given that they were supposed to be immune to physical harm.

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  148. Simon Kane says:

    I think you’ve completely misjudged why someone might want super strength, super speed and regeneration. I’m guessing you’re young and healthy.

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  150. David Harmon says:

    By the way: This story would make a great graphic novel!

  151. Kevin S. Van Horn says:

    I… am… in awe.


    That was one of the most entertaining and ingenious pieces I’ve read in a long time.

  152. I didn’t want this to end! I want a sequel.

  153. Pingback: Yellow Pill | Writoscope


    I want to be grey

  155. Norbert the Anonymous says:

    This entire thing would have gone much easier if the green pill person had just shape-shifted into Cthulhu, or Jesus for that matter (assuming they count as animals).

  156. Luna says:

    Except –

    Blue could only could teleport and fly by bending space but also time. What with time being a relative concept tightly bound to the observer and gravity.
    So there goes Blue happy go lucky individual – up up up into the galaxy and further, further, further (do not forget the breadcrumbs here!!) and beyond everything and spiraling through the mists of stars and nebulae right through the tiny space that connects all dimensions and realities.

    Crack baaaaaaaaaaaaaam!

    There is this net of realities that bends and spirals and she can pick the one she wants.

    There Blue sees all other versions of Blue.
    Also Red selling all those video tapes (Blue makes a note to get an autogram for the other reality where Red looses it all due to his neuroplastic brain having too much loops with hot pussy and nothing of it left for anything else, really).

    Giggling and putting some red lipstick and turquoise mascara on please. Pink is nowhere near so with testosterone always working in photoshops favor thats an easy game.

    At the same time, because the first time flying through all the dimensions sends Blue off-balance, she connects to the end of it all and sees that the game is already lost and won before XBox was invented and crocodiles learned to sing in tune and before reality simulations began anyway.

    And there are all endless possibilities at once to choose and because Blue is so terrible at making decisions she has a Häagen Dazs mint ice cream with chocolate on top and paints her toe nails wine red. Right-ho!

    Mindfulness and icecreamness ARE everything!

    So after a long period of terrible multiverse reality depression she decides to turn her iphone and whatsapp on and send a charming rescue signal to outer space and time where life is indeed not limited to human beings. Who suggested that anyway?

    She travels to milky ways furthers point, ULAS J0744+25, where she bought a cabin on a huge mountain (fir trees, bears, hot cocoa included) and an awesome antenna that can connect to every possible network ever(ywhere).

    And bleep bleep there comes rescue party number one, fine dapper aliens but they wear striped ties in combo with adidas which is an absolute no-go even in the furthest future of every reality.
    And biomechanoids who are cool but way too cool for her taste.
    And vibration like creatures that don’t seem stable enough for a lasting relationship.
    An enhanced future version of Red offered his help for reasons we are not even thinking about (but let’s mention cuffs and whips)
    She dumped him of course by throwing his autogrammed video in direction of his noise…she missed that but hit him in the eye (of the tiger;)

    Green came by too shapeshifting into what came into his organic mind every second or so which was at that time a spaceworm. She politely refused. He was furious but could not get either red nor greener. Blue wasn’t an option.

    And after all that..

    Blue came!
    Every possible version from every possible reality.

    So they had a nice chat and to sum it all up it was decided that another dimension was an absolute must because all available failed by now and if everything possible does not lead to a satisfying result than the impossible is exactly the course of action.

    So another dimension was build spinning through all of the others which is kind of a deus ex machina solution, granted, but terribly funny, you must agree!
    And there is the simple truth that ultimately you can only rely on yourself (yourselves). Which should be enough considering all those infinite numbers of you that are around. Just mentioning that makes me feel that it’s very crowded… phew! 😉

    There you go 🙂

    PS: All other colours are not mentioned because they are no real colours after all, just versions of red blue and green hence their abilities are washed out and the original potential loosened.

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  158. Jos says:

    Noodling about this over the weekend, it’s fun to think about a war between the colors sometime in the future.

    The only people who can fight black are yellow, orange, and grey, but grey only counts if he gets control of a post singularity technology. (Grey backed up by a dominant AI and pile of grey goo nanotechology is pretty impressive).

    They may want to fight him if they want to preserve their own timeline for some reason, or if they just selfishly want to gain control of him.

    The only way to do it is to subvert his messages. Black can’t see what he *thinks* in the future, only what he *does*. So if future yellow caputured him with her power and previous black somehow didn’t notice, future black might send back a message designed to trick black into selecting that timeline. Similarly, grey might be able to capture black with nanotechnology seamlessly enough that past black didn’t notice. Orange has to do something like that either by using yellow or grey or by being really smart.


    (1) none of these future events necessarily have actually happened – present black is the subject of a hypothetcal war based on what future black, yellow, orange and grey *would* do given various choices by present black;

    (2) If black doesn’t have a mechanism to detect lies from potential future blacks, situations where black is captured may be dominant – those potential blacks will have an incentive to write messages indicating that the outcomes of their decision trees are as superior to all actual outcomes, up to the limit that present black will actually believe.

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  160. Intruder313 says:


  161. Meth says:

    This is awesome, except for the death of 3 of the heroes. I know green sucks…. but give him more credit…

  162. Shaun Tan says:

    This is a work of genius. Thank you, sir!

  163. Roland says:

    This is an awesome short story… it reminds me a lot of Isaac Asimov’s “The Last Question” : http://www.physics.princeton.edu/ph115/LQ.pdf with a fun comic book super power twist… You’re fine calling it silly if you’d like, but it’s a good kind of silly.

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  166. hil says:

    Loved it!

  167. Tibor says:

    Great prose. Makes me want to do some amateur writing of my own again, but this is professional (I mean SUPER ALPHA) level of writing 🙂

  168. Amy says:

    You gotta do this up all the way. It has good bones. Give it meat. It’s a book.

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  170. Aaron says:

    Stumbled on your blog by pure coincidence and I can’t. Stop. Reading. Your fiction. The ideas behind each I’ve read so far are all totally engrossing and inspirational

    Really liked this one. The ending made me laugh

  171. Joel says:

    Brilliant and hilarious! The pill I want is the one you’re on!

    As a fellow writer, I say keep writing, dude. Your imagination is scary good.

  172. Ezra says:

    Of course, (in this story) Jesus isn’t actually the incarnation of god. Yellow went insane when she found out that Jesus was just as perverted as all the rest of the men.

  173. Kyrus says:

    Yessss! I was rooting for Mr. Red Pill from the start.

  174. Dirdle says:

    I need to make a note here: this pushed me into finally reading Worm, for which I am very grateful. Thank-you Scott.

  175. Gabriel says:

    wouldnt the blue one be the best as aging is a physical danger so there for yo get immortality and are virtually indestructible. It covers the animal pill as you can now swim and fly covering most of the needes you would want to be an animal. You could master any job or profession with time and since your immortal……

  176. Rami Markus Maunula says:

    This is the best, funniest science fiction story story I’ve read in a bit. Seriously, I’m envious of how you pulled this tropey viral pic into a terrific little tale.

  177. P1neapple says:

    If the green pill gives you the ability to turn into any other animal, not any type of animal, green really didn’t think this through. He/she could have turned into any pill person, including black, orange, blue etc. Essentially godlike.

  178. L.Rowan says:

    Wow, what a clever and entertaining read! Fun, well thought out, just a rollicking good time. <3

    I would totally take the blue pill….. Oh, the exploring I could do!