Once We Collapse

“You’re different than your profile. Well, I guess that’s not really true. I guess… I’m not really sure what I was expecting? I think I’m just going to leave—”

“Don’t, please. You know, you’re not what I expected either.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t—”

“Your profile is too modest.”

“That’s sweet of you. Thank you… I found yours a bit confusing. I hoped meeting in person would clear things up.”

“Has it?”

“Not at all. Except, well, now I guess I understand why there was no photo. And why you wouldn’t send me one.”

“Am I— Do you find me attractive?”

“I find you very direct.”

“You’re blushing.”

“It’s the wine.”

“So you don’t find me attractive?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Look at me. I mean really look at me. Don’t be shy. What do you see? Describe me.”

“I... I’m not very good with words.”

“Try.”

“You look… your face is… it’s like every face I’ve ever seen, and not seen, in one. Not a fixed shape, but like churning wet clay. No, like a painting that isn’t sure of its subject or style, so it’s phasing through them all, fast. Just when I think I see you, your smile droops into a frown, your eyes morph, your chin softens, your brow sharpens. You’re an oil painting, now a cartoon, now a sketch, now a fractal photo repeating itself down to infinity, now—Your face just keeps on melting. I try to define you, and you change. And your voice… It’s every octave and timbre at once, sweet and vile, inviting and repulsive—”

“You actually have quite a way with words.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—“

“Relax, I’m used to it.”

“Are you even human?”

“I am a Quantor.”

“What the fu—sorry—”

“You apologize a lot.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s cute.”

“Sooo… What’s a Quantor? Besides, you know, the obvious.”

“Are you familiar with the parallelism of universes?”

What?”

“Are you?”

“Pretend I’m not.”

“But you are?”

“But I’m feeling pretty weirded out right now, so pretend I’m not.”

“Sure. This universe, and everything in it, is the result of a particular permutation of physical laws and matter. But it isn’t the only one. There are an infinite number of parallel universes of every possible permutation of every law and every bit and type of matter. Every alternative exists, simultaneously. For the most part, these parallelities don’t interact. But there are exceptions. We Quantors are nexus points. We are all possible versions of ourselves at once, in all possible universes, at the same time, and—”

“That’s uh… Wow. Ummm… That’s not really what I’m looking for right now, so—”

“What this all means, is, simply put, I can be whatever you want.”

“What do you mean?”

            “I can be man or woman, human or other. I can be brilliant or dim, plain or beautiful, gentle or vicious, selfish or considerate, or anything in between. I can submit, or I can dominate. I can be the dream you wish to never wake from, or the nightmare you can’t escape. You define what I am.”

“What, like, now?”

“Of course not.”

“I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“It’s alright. It’s a sensitive subject. You see, once we collapse, that’s what we call it when our body stabilizes, there is no going back. It’s a one-way change. And it’s not just that our body stabilizes. When we collapse, we choose which universe to live out the rest of our life in.”

“That’s intense.”

“Which is why we only collapse when we choose a lifemate.”

“Ah, I see.”

“I don’t think you do.”

“No, I do.”

“What would you make me?”

“I don’t know.”

            “Just tell me what you want—”

“I don’t know what I want—”

“Then what you need—”

“I don’t know! What do you need?”

“Quantors’ needs, like our very being, are infinite, as are our wants. We want everything and nothing. We need everything and nothing. We live and die for everything and nothing. Our joy knows no ceiling, nor our despair any final depth. Our experience is boundless.”

“… I’m sorr— this is just— What you’re asking… I just don’t know.“

“You want to love, don’t you?”

“… I think so.”

“And you want to be loved?”

“Of course.”

“And who do you want to love you?”

“Someone.”

“Yes, but who?”

“A lover.”

“But what will they be? The echo of a past love that once warmed your heart but has since gone cold and hard? The absent embrace of a parent who never approved? Who has died? A root in the past? An anchor in the present? A foreshadow of the future?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you know what their body will be like? Their mind? Their—“

“I don’t know!”

“Calm down—“

You want to know what I want?!”

“You’re making a scene—“

I want to know what I want!”

“Everyone is staring—“

“Maybe they can tell you what I want! Because I sure as fuck don’t know! I used to! Or, at least, I used to think I knew. Obviously, I didn’t. I had it once, I think. But then I threw it away.… I’m sorry I yelled.”

“When was the last time?”

“The last time what?”

“You know.”

“I’m afraid I don’t.”

“The scars, on your wrists.”

“What scars—let go of me!”

“Those. How long has it been?”

“…. A long time.”

“Are you sure?”

“These days I just get drunk and think about it. You must think I’m a nutcase.”

“I don’t.”

“Some first date.”

“I’ve had worse.”

“I doubt that.”

“You’d be surprised.”

“You’ll have to tell me sometime. Maybe on a second date?”

“I’m sorry. That’s not going to happen.”

“I knew it, I blew it again—”

“It’s not you. It’s just not what Quantors do.”

“No second dates? What, just a lot of one-night stands?”

“Quite the opposite, actually. We mate for life or not at all.”

“Okay, that definitely was not in your profile.”

“Nevertheless, there it is.”

“Wait, so you’re a virgin?”

“Our concept is more nuanced, but, to answer your question in vulgar terms, yes, I’ve never made love to anyone.”

“An entire species committed to abstinence.”

“Do you know how painful it is to love?”

“Better than you.”

“Then imagine your deadliest love sickness and your most shattering heartbreak. In our uncollapsed state, for us to escape love sickness is as futile as light attempting to flee a black hole, and to survive heartbreak is as impossible as a planet that tries to survive the annihilation of its star. What you can manage and overcome, we are consumed by. But unlike humans, we cannot escape into death, for, you see, just as we are all of our own possibilities at once, we are as alive as we are already dead.”

“That sounds awful. Is that why you risk love? When you do?”

“What?”

“Your loneliness must be unbearable.”

“You’re starting to understand.”

“…. Your hands are warm.”

“Yours are cold…. Would you be my lifemate?”

“You—you want me?”

“I do.”

“After all that?”

“Because of all that.”

“But you don’t even know me.”

“Not yet.”

“How do you know you want to be with me? What if we aren’t similar enough?”

“Love isn’t about sameness. It’s about new possibility. The possibilities I see in you are beautiful.”

“How do you know I want to be with you?”

“I don’t. That’s why I’m asking.”

“Oh. Good point…. I do.”

“Say the words.”

“I just did.”

“For it to mean what it needs to, you have to say the right thing.”

“What do I have to say?”

“You have to say, ‘I want to be your mate.’”

“I want to be your mate.”

“Then you are.”

“…. So, now what?”

“I’m going to give you what you want.”

“But I still don’t know what I want.”

            “There is another way. I can look inside your mind, into the depths of the shadows of your self-ignorance and fear and find what you want but don’t need, what you need but don’t want, and I can give you what you won’t, what you can’t, give yourself. But be warned, the result can be, at first… unsettling.”

“… Okay. I’m ready.”

            “Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

            “Then close your eyes…. Good. Keep them shut, tight. Now, you’re going to feel a spinning sensation. You’ll feel like vomiting. Don’t. And whatever you do, don’t open your eyes.”

“What if I do?”

“Your language lacks the expression, but, trust me, it’s bad.”

“Okay…. Oh god, I feel— Oh my god—“

            “Fight the urge. It will pass… There. Now. Slowly. Open your eyes. What do you see? What have you made me?”