After the tenth time of running the simulator, of tracing the paths of transistors plotted onto paper that fills the conference walls, I call my engineers and tell them to burn to metal. Only twelve nanometers now. The warren has gone so deep, so much farther than I could have imagined when I was cutting my own masks with a razor and sheets of acetate.
Twelve nanometers and it won’t be enough. We’ve dragged physics along with us, finding ever innovative ways of corralling the unruly electrons flooding our designs and it isn’t enough.
“Where do we go when we hit the UV wall? I have no doubt we can push optical a long way,” he says, his voice clouding the air in our tent. “But at some point we lose and physics wins.”
I pull the sleeping bag around me, unsure how he can take the cold when he’s covered in sweat.
“X-rays,” I say. “Or self assembling structures.” We’re avoiding something very large. Like the engineers we are, it’s easy to lose the elephant by examining the tail. But even I can’t bring myself to think of this as smalltalk. He turns to me when I groan in the dark.
“Did I miss a stone?”
“No, it’s nothing. Just making bad puns in my head.”
I couldn’t stop myself from saying it, but I immediately regret it.
“It can’t be too bad to share. Come on!”
He makes moves for my ribs. Reflexively I punch him. Right in the nose.
“Oh shit! I’m so sorry! Let me see it,” I reach over to my backpack and fumble for the travel towel. In the dark his blood looks like ink cascading down his face. “I had this really annoying uncle. I can’t stand to be tickled. You had no way of knowing. I’m so sorry.”
But he isn’t saying anything. He takes the towel from me and holds it to his face. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s over now, that elephant unnamed.
After the bunnysuits and the packaging, the chemicals so toxic that the Nazis decided not to use them, a young employee brings me the chip. It’s unremarkable, of course. Just another CPU, just another step closer to the grave. Our architecture can’t pull the weight anymore. Corporate will take my design and file it away then go with something from the Israeli plant, or Argentina. Perhaps one of my colleagues in India will win the lottery this time. They’ve been doing very smart things with predictive apportionment. I can’t help feeling that what we really need is a shakeup, begin to really explore Chua’s theory and build GP devices exploring the underused side of his equations. Maybe something from the fertile ground of plasmon research. But I’m tied to the helm of this ship and we don’t get to set the course.
Two days later and he speaks.
“You could have warned me.”
I stop and lean on my walking stick. Shasta looms behind him like a chalkboard full of unreadable equations. The wind rushes all around us, hushing through dense pine forest and tall grass.
“By the way,” I say at last. “I don’t like to be tickled.”
His sigh is lost to the wind. In the bright morning sun I begin to suspect his nose is broken. The wave of shame I feel makes me want to sit down on the path and stop walking.
He looks at me and I cannot read his face. “Ehh. I’ll be alright.”
I look down at my hiking boots and force myself to go on.