"What is observed is changed by the act of observing. But I think it was more than that." Gray nodded to the Star of David. "Why this? A symbol of prayer?"

Lisa shook her head.

"What is prayer but a focus of the mind, a focus of consciousness…and if consciousness is a quantum phenomenon, then prayer is a quantum phenomenon."

Lisa understood. "And like all quantum phenomena, it will and must measure and influence the result."

"In other words…" Gray waited.

Lisa stood. "Prayer works."

"That's what Hugo discovered, that's what he hid in his books. Something frighteningly disturbing but too beautiful to let die."

Monk leaned on the console next to Lisa. "Are you saying he willed that baby to be perfect?"

Gray nodded. "When Hugo entered the chamber with the baby, he prayed for perfection, a concentrated and focused thought, selfless and pure. Human consciousness, in the form of prayer, acts as a perfect quantum-measuring tool. Under the Bell, the pure quantum potential in the boy was measured, swayed by Hugo's focus and will, and as a result, all the variables settled into perfect place. A perfect roll of the genetic dice."

Lisa turned. "Then perhaps we can do the same to reverse the quantum damage in Painter. To save him before it's too late."

A new voice intruded, coming from Marcia, who still nursed Painter on the floor. "You'd better hurry."

3:32 p.m.

Monk and Gray rushed Painter into the blast chamber, slung in a tarp.

"Put him close to the Bell," Lisa directed.

As they obeyed, she called out final instructions to the others. The Bell was already spinning, its two shells revolving in opposite directions. She remembered Gunther's description of it. A Mixmaster. That pretty much described it. A soft glow also shone from its outer ceramic shell.

She sank to her knees next to Painter, checking vitals, the few that remained.

"I can stay with you," Gray said at her shoulder.

"No. I think more than one quantum computer might interfere with the results."

"Too many cooks in the kitchen," Monk agreed.

"Then let me stay," Gray said.

Lisa shook her head. "We'll only get one shot at this. If it takes focus and will to heal Painter, it might be best if the mind directing that focus was a medical doctor."

Gray sighed, little convinced.

"You did your job, Gray. Gave us an answer. Gave us hope." She stared up at him. "Let me do mine."

He nodded and stepped away.

Monk leaned down to her. "Just be careful what you wish for," he said, his words fraught with levels of meaning. He was not so much the dumb oaf he pretended. He pecked her on the cheek.

The pair left.

Marcia called from the console. "Pulse in one minute."

She twisted around. "Raise the blast shield."

As the gears ground below her, Lisa leaned over Painter. His skin had a bluish hue—then again maybe it was just the Bell's glow. Either way, he was moments from expiration. His lips were cracked, his breathing much too shallow, his heartbeat sounded more murmur than beat. Even his hair. The roots had gone snow-white. He was failing at an exponential rate.

The blast shield rose around her, closing them off from the rest of the group. Voices beyond, hushed already, grew muffled then ended as the shield locked into the roof.

Alone, with no one looking, Lisa leaned over Painter, resting her forehead against his chest. She didn't need to focus her will in some meditative verve. It was said there were no atheists in a foxhole. It was certainly the case here. But she didn't know what God to ask for succor at this moment.

Lisa remembered Anna's discussion of evolution and intelligent design. The woman had insisted it was quantum measurements that ultimately collapsed potential into reality. Amino acids formed the first replicating protein because life was the better quantum-measuring device. And if you extrapolated that further, consciousness, which was an even greater quantum-measuring device than life alone, evolved for the same reason. One more link in the evolutionary chain. She pictured it.


But what lay beyond consciousness? If the future dictated the past through quantum measurements, what desired consciousness to form? What better quantum-measuring tool lay further in the future, dictating the present? How far into the future did this chain go? And what lay at its end?



Lisa remembered one other cryptic statement from Anna, when Lisa had confronted her about God's role in all this. While quantum evolution seemed to remove the hand of God from sudden beneficial mutations, Anna's last words on the matter had been you're looking at it the wrong way, in the wrong direction. Lisa had attributed the cryptic statement to the woman's exhaustion. But maybe Anna had pondered the same question. What did lie at the end of evolution? Was it merely some perfect and incorruptible quantum-measuring device?

And if so, was that God?

She had no answer as she leaned over Painter. All she knew was that she wanted him to live. She might hide from the others exactly how deeply she felt for him—maybe even from herself—but she could hide it no longer.

She opened her heart, allowed her vulnerability to shine.

As the Bell hummed and its glow swelled, she let go.

Maybe that's what had been missing in her life all along, why men seemed to fade from her, why she ran. So no one would see what could be harmed so easily. She hid her vulnerability behind an armor of professionalism and casual dalliance. She hid her heart. No wonder she was alone on a mountaintop when Painter stumbled into her life.

No longer.

She lifted her head, shifted over, and kissed Painter softly on his lips, putting into action what she had sought to hide.

She closed her eyes as the last seconds counted down. She opened her heart, willing the man a future, wishing him to be healthy, hale, and whole, and mostly praying for more time with him.

Was that the ultimate function of the Bell? To open a quantum conduit to that great quantum-measuring tool that lay at the end of evolution, a personal connection to that final designer.

Lisa knew what she had to do. She let go of the scientist inside, let go of her own self. Her goal was beyond consciousness, beyond prayer.

It was simply belief.

In the purity of that moment, the Bell burst with a blinding light, joining them together, turning reality into pure potential.

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