It begins working when the scientist is not expecting it. It records eight silent seconds of him in his home, interacting with his wife.
He is laughing and joking with her. We can’t see her at first; only that he is happy, and talking to some unseen person. Then she dips into the recording area and says something. He listens. They joke some more. Then he steals a kiss. The recording ends.
The initial playback happens in real-time, as expected, and in glowing, ethereal miniature on the scientist’s desk. What the scientist did not anticipate is that his particular use of quantum feedback would create infinitely many more copies of this same image. They repeat themselves fractally, in space and in time. The real-time image was only a base case: A few moments later, a double-size copy will play back at the same location. Then a four half-sized copies, two of them mirror images. Then eight sixteen-sized copies, some mirror images, some playing backwards, arranged in a cube.
The process is out of control. It is not harmful; it is only made of light. But once it has started, it will play out until the end. It is now a natural phenomenon.
These images appear all over the region near the scientist’s lab; they become like a weather phenomenon. Some of these events are very short-lived and localized. Others play out in the immensity of the sky; partially submerged in mountains, illuminating cloud banks, silently stretching high out of the stratosphere into low orbit, glowing against the twilight.
The fractal nature of these events give them a kind of poetic symmetry; a beginning, a middle, and an end; sometimes with a bright, triumphant climax— maybe an unusually large, single, clear apparition, or perhaps a rapid, accelerating explosion of symmetrical, replicating copies. When in sight of a specter, human activity tends to pause.
As time progresses, the phenomenon becomes less localized. As it evolves, it becomes more warped and complex— the copies are no longer simple reflections and translations of the original; they are bent into strange, warping coordinate systems. Some are unrecognizable. Some copies have their colors compressed into shimmering, pure spectral slices of the rainbow.
While many forms are too complex to analyze, some statistical predictions can be made about the frequency and location of appearances. Overall, it can be seen that the specters are getting larger and less frequent. After about one and a half years, humanity will have to wait five years for a single appearance. Then 10 years. Then 20. After a sufficient time, the time between occurrences will be longer than the predicted age of the universe, and the event will be over.
This eight seconds of beauty becomes first overfamiliar, and then an icon. Some come to believe it is the single most beautiful thing ever created by man.