The constant functions perished first.
Everyone began planning a vigil, a sort of funerary service in honor of their memory. I don’t mean spit on anybody’s grave, but let’s be honest about who the constants were: simpletons. They stagnated in time. Never grew, never shrank, never changed. I pity them not so much for their grisly demise as for the bland, purposeless life that had come before. Call me an elitist and an unfeeling snob, but to me, a constant’s existence is no existence at all.
Not that they deserved their fate. Nobody deserves that.
I came for the vigil, of course. (I’m an exponential, not a monster.) I held my tongue and let the lower-order polynomials drain their tears on eulogies. They told anecdotes of the constants’ reliability, their steadfastness. They told self-aggrandizing stories of intersection and tangency, moments when the constants had told, say, a quadratic, something about itself: where it was, where it was going. Simpleton wisdom. Charming stuff, I guess, but not my cup of tea.
Filing out of the vigil was when I first heard the word. It rode a wave of terrified whispers across the crowd, uttered like the name of a demon or a plague.
Rumors painted it as a waterless flood, an invisible Armageddon. It sized you up like the Hand of God: how you’d grown, how you’d receded, where you’d been and where you were destined to go. It knew the curvature of your past and the untold shape of your future. It swept through in an instant, like the mad justice of a tsunami or the silent pulse of a neutron bomb, pain outpacing sound. It had slain the constants, smothered them like infants, and no one knew when if or when it would come again.
Or who it would claim next.
We should have known. We should have put it together: the constants’ slaughter, plus the slight changes in everyone else—quintics going quartic, quartics going cubic. We should have seen what was coming.
But even if we had, what could we have done?