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The Theme of Free Will


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Today I thought I would make a thread with less focus on lore, and more on a specific theme that I believe permeated the Aether story between Black Ops 3 and 4, that being the theme of Free will.


Free will is defined as "the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one's own discretion." It allows us to make choices, good and bad, that can affect ourselves and those around us. All of human history is made up of choices based on free will.


Interestingly, Dr. Monty goes out of his way in Revelations to tell us that it was, in fact, HIS idea to give us free will:



Doctor Monty: You see the thing is, I meant to stay on the sidelines, not really supposed to get involved. Free-will and all that stuff. Oh, that was my idea, by the way. However, I do see stuff now and then that makes me go, "Wooo-ooh, that's not good! I really should do something!" But the thing is, all I can really do is give things a little nudge! Sow a seed, plant an idea, see what grows, see what sticks.


If Monty desired to, he could wipe us all out, clear the playing field and repopulate the earth with subservient beings. In the scope of the wider multiverse, humans are just "worthless beings" to the Keepers. We're always there in the middle of conflicts between them and the Apothicons, simple cannon fodder. Monty, however, has a bit of a soft spot for us.



"M is interested in these worthless beings all his work will be undone"


Don't get me wrong, he still believes we are a dangerous, savage child race. But to him, we are worthy of free-will. We are the ultimate result of seeding the multiverse with life many eons ago. However, we are still a thorn in his, and the rest of the Keepers' sides.


Let's examine what differentiates the Apothicons and Keepers, aside from appearances. The Apothicons were once a part of the Keeper race, before experimenting with the Dark Aether, not unlike what humanity is doing currently in the story. They were the more ambitious of their kind, choosing to indulge in the fruit born from the Dark Aether, while their opponents, later known as the Order of the Keepers, fought against this idea, choosing to guard the powers contained in the Dark Aether from being used by anyone. The Order of the Keepers literally brought Order to the multiverse. They catalogued their entire history within the Kronorium, and sought to contain their enemies beneath creation to maintain the peace. While the Keepers are order, the Apothicons are chaos, exercising their inherent free will to acquire power and spread their influence.


That brings us to humanity. It's a common trope in science-fiction to portray humans as being special in some way, compared to alien races: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HumansAreSpecial . This makes sense, as this media is written by and for humans, and is meant to reflect our understanding of ourselves. What makes us special typically is our emotionality, our boldness and cunning, our unpredictability, our luck. We are inherently chaotic and individualistic, which can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. The Apothicons LOVE this about us. We can be manipulated in the pursuit of power, just as they were when they first encountered the Dark Aether. 


Keepers, on the other hand, see no use for such chaos. The Order of the Keepers is built upon maintaining structure and uses a purely logical approach in their methods. They changed their language from the more ancient one the Apothicons use, to a language based on their number system. They created the cycle, which keeps the Apothicons from controlling Agartha and wiping out the Keepers, while allowing for the suffering of beings across the multiverse. From a logical standpoint, this makes sense: The cycle may allow for this suffering, but in the end, the Keepers, humanity, and all other races in the multiverse will continue to exist. They created the Kronorium, a book that literally tells the past, present, and future. It is the written destiny of all things.


Circling back to humanity, our free will is what gives us our cunning, our unpredictability. The Apothicons knew this better than anyone, which is why they used us in their plan to end the cycle. The Shadowman created a trap that can only be sprung by pure chance, by the choices of humans. Mob of the Dead trapped four mobsters in an endless cycle, where the Weasel always dies, and the cycle continues, allowing for their blood to be used by Richtofen and ensures all goes according to the Kronorium. The Shadowman's gambit, however, was that things would not go as planned, and they didn't. Eventually, after who knows how long, the Weasel prevailed. The cycle broke, and the trap was sprung. Primis was trapped inside the Alcatraz pocket dimension, and Richtofen's blood could be used to open a gateway, giving the Apothicons freedom.


Let's examine an interaction between Primis Richtofen and Primis Nikolai: 


(Primis) Nikolai: Are you really going to observe from sidelines, Richtofen? Are you really going to let me decide how we move forward?

(Primis) Richtofen: Well, it’s not really you doing the deciding, is it, Nikolai? It’s pretty much all down to the Kronorium. 

(Primis) Nikolai: Though book tells me what will happen if events play out as intended, it is my choice what to do with that information.

(Primis) Richtofen: Ooh, look at you, Nikolai! Getting all power-hungry und maybe a little too big for your britches?

(Primis) Nikolai: I know why you and book chose me, Richtofen. I am only one among us who knows for sure he has a soul.

(Primis) Richtofen: Well, maybe souls are overrated, Nikolai. Look at me: I’ve not had mine for a very long time, und I’m positively delightful!

(Primis) Nikolai: Though Kronorium showed me all of my past and future, it did not tell me everything of yours.

(Primis) Richtofen: Jaaa, quite the headscratcher, isn’t it, Nikolai? Just wait until you start wrestling with the unpredictabilities of freewill!

(Primis) Nikolai: I am aware of complications, but I will not waver from this path. There will be no more cheating. No more deceit, Richtofen.

(Primis) Richtofen: Certainly not from me, Nikolai. I’ve been around the block far too many times to try and wriggle out of our big finale now.


This entire conversation is the key to understanding the theme of free will in the Aether story. Primis Richtofen acted as a pawn of the Keepers, like Ultimis Richtofen to the Apothicons, unintentionally keeping the cycle going forever. Richtofen is a doctor, a man of science. Nikolai, on the other hand, is a soldier. Their solutions to problems could not be more different.


Given a multiverse full of suffering, and a book with all the knowledge to set things right, Richtofen followed the logical path. He followed the rules set before him, met his destiny. You are trained as a scientist to follow procedures, as deviating could be catastrophic in an uncontrolled environment. He struggled in wrestling with the unpredictability of free will in his allies.


When Nikolai is given the same circumstances, he sees an endless war that cannot be won without sacrifice. As a soldier, he is trained to give his own life for others. To give up his own innocence in the protection of others'. This is why he was the right man to break the cycle.


The Shadowman's gambit goes even further, I believe. There are hints here and there that the cycle has been broken before, and Nikolai has failed in his mission. In one future, perhaps Primis and Ultimis confronted Monty in Agartha, failing as the cycle is reset. Avogadro, who has peered into Agartha, claims to have seen a future where he kills them:


“What did you see in the Kronorium? Did you see me kill you?”


“Do they know where you are leading them, Nikolai? Do they know what awaits them?”


“Nikolai Belinski. Have you seen your future? I have.”

I don't believe he is lying. I believe he is seeing the future as it is being written and re-written with every choice made by Nikolai and his allies.


Despite all the odds against them, and despite the destiny written for Nikolai within the Kronorium, Nikolai prevailed. Not through brute strength, not through power, but through his humanity, his free will. He chose not to follow the Kronorium to the letter, carving his own path, and making the ultimate sacrifice. The future that he created was messy, but it was a future where humanity would live on and persevere through whatever challenges faced them. Even if the forces once leading the Apothicons still linger on, and humanity will inevitably repeat the mistakes the Keepers made long ago, our ingenuity will triumph above all else so long as we have a choice.

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An excellent analysis, Rad, as always. Man, makes me do a psychological reflection upon my own life, haha. 


Are you familiar with the theory of Schrödinger's cat applied on quantum theory? It argues the fact that the cat in the box is both dead and alive as long as we dont see it, but upon opening the box and perceiving the cat the wave function collapses into either one of the states. The "many worlds" theory builts upon this by saying that both the alive and dead states of the cat persist after the box is opened, but these are decoherent from each other. In other words, when the box is opened, the observer and the possibly-dead cat split into an observer looking at a box with a dead cat, and an observer looking at a box with a live cat.


If we consider that the whole Multiverse was a loop, and "Free Will" was merely determined by "Fate", certain decisions/states (e.g. the state of the living cat) would dominate. Monty needs the cat for Takeo to slice its tail off so the Cycle could continue-->the cat must live-->so the decoherent dead cat does not exist? Not necaserily, I think, upon looking at your Avogadro quotes. Clearly events can also happen in different ways, and even in a cyclic multiverse there are universes where the free will of mankind has allowed a broad variety of outcomes. For instance, the music trailers of each of the Black Ops III maps showed us that Primis do not always succeed in terminating their Ultimis counterparts, but sometimes it are the Ultimis counterparts that kill Primis. We can even consider the theory of "every game in canon", in which even a universe where our characters wield an Olympia and die in round 1 (duh) is canon. As long as there is one universe in which the events occur appropriately, the Cycle will continue. Thus, humans have some degree of free will, I guess? The cat can live and die simultaneous, no matter what Monty wants.


P.S. Interesting article about the Humans are Special

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