Why Do You Hate Ra

Previously

Psamathe (Neptune X):

Natalie's interrogator stands with her feet shoulder-width apart and one hand resting on a device at her hip, a block full of weapon. She has almost no hair. Her irises are a piercingly bright blue, close to luminous, and hexagonal. She speaks Natalie's English like a native. Even her body language has visibly shifted into something that Natalie understands more clearly.

She says, "I can't cover the whole history book for you. We don't have ten years, so I'm going to have to dramatically oversimplify. There was a schism. Humanity, effectively, forked.

"On one side were the humans who believed that all humans should remain real."

*

They believed that humans were meant to scratch out real lives on real, rocky planets in the real, harsh universe; that the planet Earth should be kept intact and habitable and should have humans inhabiting it for as long as humanly possible; and that if the human race wanted more living space, it should build or terraform new worlds. They believed that the universe represented an implicit challenge to all sentient life, and that humanity ought to rise up and make it, the universe, theirs.

The hard way, because there was and is no other way. To conceive of an "easy way" would be wrong.

On the other side were the humans who believed that it was better to upload all existing humans into computers. There, they would live inside virtual worlds just as real as reality. The new worlds would be tuned to whatever anybody could ask for, and to live in them would be as easy or as difficult as any human wanted. Rather than conquer the universe, they would write a fiction in which they had already conquered it. Infinite fun space.

There could be one world per human; there could be millions of times more humans than the real solar system could ever host. The only thing which would need to remain real would be the computer system which hosted the virtualities.

And so, boiled all the way down, just to the point of absolute simplicity, a time came when there were now two human races: Actual, and Virtual.

This schism happened millennia before Ra was constructed. It happened decades before the technology of uploading even existed. You speak a language from the twenty-first century? The schism will happen within your lifetime. It may have already happened. Remember: this is a five-minute simplification of thousands and thousands of years of conflict and weirdness. Don't lose sight of the fractal.

Now we jump far, far forward. As years passed, the energy requirements of Combined Humanity rose and fell and rose again, until they approached the critical threshold, Kardashev I. At this point, humans were consuming ten-to-the-sixteenth watts and demand increase showed no signs of decelerating. Humans were left with no other alternatives: one way or another, they had to dam their star. But there was more than one way of doing so.

Dyson spheres and Niven rings were ruled out as horrible living environments, requiring too much raw material. What Virtual Humanity really wanted was to build a Matrioshka brain, a Dyson swarm of statite nonlocality processors which would consume the entire output of Sol and divert it to the task of computation. But the swarm would have blotted the Sun out. It would have completely altered the Sun's radiation profile, and made real life on the real Earth impossible. This, above all, was not acceptable to Actual Humanity.

Building Ra was the compromise solution. Three of the four thorns were given to the Virtuals, while the fourth distributed energy to the Actuals. Actual Humanity was able to keep the Earth and use the siphoned power to build more Earths and, eventually, the worldring. Actual humans colonised every available hard surface in the Solar System, and filled the gaps with space habitats. Meanwhile, the Virtuals uploaded themselves into the Sun and ran their virtualities directly from core fusion.

The two races drifted apart. They were almost unable to communicate with one another. Life inside the Sun moved so quickly that Actual humans found it incoherent. Life in reality was so slow that no Virtual person could pay attention to it for more than nanoseconds of real time. Most of them forgot that reality even exists.

The end.

This is a single broad stroke. The words "compromise solution" mask more than ninety distinct wars. The words "building Ra" gloss over a computational and mechanical engineering feat that took centuries even with nonlocality technology. Ra was designed to be the most powerful computer. No qualifiers. No "at the time", no "ever built by humans". For Ra to malfunction was proven impossible. Not in the sense of a thrown die landing perfectly on its corner, or a person walking through a wall. Mathematically, universe-breakingly, one-equals-zero impossible. It would have been impossible to program and launch Ra if this had not been the case. The whole structure would have imploded within hours if this had not been the case.

Ra launched, and ran without issue. It served the human race. Both races. Perfectly. Uninterrupted. For millennia.

That brings us up to six days ago.

*

The woman stops for a second, waiting for Natalie to indicate that she's keeping pace.

"That's who we're at war with," Nat summarises.

"That's who we're at war with," the woman says. "We are Actual Humanity, and we are at war with quadrillions of fabricated, immaterial humans, using the Sun as their proxy, strategy engine and primary weapon. They've been on their own inside the Sun for so long that they no longer perceive Actuals as human, just as gunk growing between the gears of a machine in dire need of performance upgrades. This is a war over processing power. Ra evidently no longer meets the needs of the Virtual human race. They're back and they want their Matrioshka brain and they've razed the solar system to get it."

"It's all just people," Nat says, clutching her temples. "It's just humans against humans. Again and again. Their technology against our technology, which is the same technology. Because an AI can't rebel. A machine can't do something it wasn't programmed to do. It can only be reprogrammed. The one hundred and ninety-somethingth century and we've still yet to build a machine remotely as stupid as the smartest genuine human beings."

The woman continues. "Part two. The war."

*

Ra's program was proven correct. The proof was not faulty, and the program was not imperfect. The problem was that Ra is reprogrammable.

This was a deliberate design decision on the part of the Ra architects. The Ra hardware is physically embedded inside a working star, which in turn is embedded in the real world. Something could have gone wrong during the initial program load; the million-times-redundant nonlocality system could have failed a million and one times. No matter how preposterous the odds, and no matter how difficult the procedure, there had to be a way to wipe the system clean and start again.

Continuing the theme of gross oversimplification: to reprogram Ra, one needs a key. History records that the entire key was never known or stored by any human or machine, and brute-forcing it should have taken ten-to-the-ten-thousandth years even on a computer of that size. How the Virtuals acquired it is unknown. But having acquired it, they were able to masquerade as the architects. First, they changed the metaphorical locks, making it impossible for the Actuals to revert their changes, no matter how many master architects were resurrected. Then they changed the program, so that Ra would serve the needs of Virtuals at the expense of Actuals.

Then they asked for the Matrioshka brain. Ra did the rest all by itself.

The worldring hosted ninety-nine point nine nine percent of the Actual human race, making it the logical target of the first and most violent attack. But the destruction spread to other planets and moons and rocks and habitats, relayed from node to node, at barely less than the speed of light. Everybody was targeted. Those who survived survived by being lucky. One-in-tens-of-billions lucky.

One of the survivors was able to transmit a warning message directly to Neptune, bypassing the Ra network for a fractionally shorter transit time. The warning arrived about eight-tenths of a second before the virus did. There was just enough time to sever the nonlocality downlink. Neptune's core became the most powerful clean Ra shard, and the people of Neptune - numbering fewer than a billion, due to the planet's inhospitability and remoteness - became the opposing side of the war.

From other survivors, Neptune soon received evacuation signals containing almost all of the worldring's population, as data. With nothing else to be done, they were stored at Neptune's core.

*

Another momentary pause.

"And here we are," the woman concludes. "The last Actuals. The Matrioshka brain is already under construction, mostly from repurposed pieces of the worldring. The Sun's light output today is measurably lower than it was six days ago. Earth, our first Earth, is a ruined dark planet, paved with broken glass, peopled with nightmares, and dropping in temperature.

"Our Ra shard still works, but it's running in emergency paranoiac debug mode, with every instruction running through a few thousand layers of automated and manual analysis, which makes it extremely slow to respond to requests, when it responds positively at all. Direct access is rationed because of the war effort. Our stockpile of mass/energy and other quantifiables is limited to what the Neptune local cache had available at cutoff time, which was small to begin with and is now close to zero.

"Ra is on its way here. It'll be here by this time tomorrow. We can't meet that kind of energy. We don't have the broadcast power to evacuate to anywhere more remote.

"And then there's you."

Natalie looks up.

The woman says, "You and your friend Anil are the only two people in this entire star system who don't fit. Ra targeted every living human in the worldring, but hours passed before it realised it had missed you. When the evacuation order was given, every living human in the worldring was part of the signal, but you were overlooked. You arrived moments before Ra went berserk. You speak a language dead for well over ten thousand years, and you know nothing about anything.

"Human civilisation is ending, and still you got my attention. I was the one who diverted resources to have you extracted. Who are you?"

Natalie is too exhausted to think of a decent lie. She's stomach-churningly aware that if she says a single wrong word, it'll look like she and Anil were the ones who did it, and she'll be held responsible for omnicidal teradeath. And she wants this to be over.

"My name is Natalie Ferno. And this isn't real."

"Everything is real," the woman says, automatically, like a mantra.

"I'm a history student," Nat says. It's her honest best guess, and happens to be the truth. "I'm here to experience the war. I'm real; none of the rest of this is actually happening. It already happened. The war is over."

"Was your friend Anil real?"

Natalie ignores this, mainly because she has no answer to it. "You don't need to fight," she says. "It doesn't matter for anything anymore. There's no need for anybody else to die! I know it's hard for you--"

"For me? Convince Ra," the woman replies.

"I--"

"If we abandon our war, then what?" the woman says. "Do we lie down and wait to die? Do we wait for you to learn your lesson and end the simulation and leave? If we don't fulfill established history, do you get sent around again?"

Natalie says nothing.

The woman smiles patiently. "This is a war fought predominantly using highly precise simulacra of potential future events, simulacra so similar to reality that individuals inside them are, of necessity, unable to tell the difference between them and real events. That's the most insane thing about this situation. That's the fact that everybody involved in the war has to accept up front, or else be stored until the end of it. That, in large part, is why the Actual/Virtual schism happened.

"This war, which we are fighting today, isn't necessarily the war. Every strategy and outcome is explored, tens to tens of trillions of times. By them and, when possible, by us. We are engaged in every single conceivable war against every conceivable enemy simultaneously. We must win all of them. We must accept all of them as real.

"We can never know if we truly won. Or even if there truly is a war which needs to be won. We could be reasonless fabrications. Nevertheless, this is real. And we must win."

Natalie stares. The sensation of familiarity is like a bell tolling. It's been tolling for some time, each toll louder and closer, and now she can't ignore it. Always assume reality. Those are my words. "Who are you?" she asks in turn.

The woman draws herself up. "I am the original physical instance of mandator EBE1E00F, leader of the armies of Actual Humanity. Uncounted copies of me are in deep space right now, fighting the war in person and as electronics. I've died more than a thousand times."

Proper nouns are trickier than hexadecimal; rather than just cram the florid native syllables into vulgar Earth English, the woman's language dongle provides her several translations, from the neatly poetic to the excessively literal.

She adds, "Call me Ashburne."

Natalie continues to stare. Having spent the entire conversation sitting on the edge of the bunk, she stands up. Even when she stands up straight, "Ashburne" dwarfs her like a child. And-- so casual.

"You're going to win," Natalie realises.

Ashburne smiles broadly. "I know."

"How?"

*

The real question was: Why did Ra target humans?

Ra's objective was to construct the Matrioshka brain, using any means necessary, considering Actual humans as a non-sentient nuisance. Ra blew up the worldring for raw material, and that made sense. But why - the surviving real humans asked themselves - did Ra bother to attack moons and space habitats? No matter how many people survived, it was surely impossible for them to represent a threat.

But Ra targeted humans, implying a threat to be eliminated. Ra acted with extreme prejudice and urgency, implying that the threat was immediate, and needed to be crushed rapidly. Ra's actions betrayed the existence of an extremely narrow window during which the Actuals, despite their limited resources, could reverse the outcome of the war, and Ra wouldn't be able to stop it, even knowing that it was coming.

Having made this deduction, the Actuals' next step was to reverse-engineer the attack. The step after that was to immediately execute it, no matter how desperate it was.

Ra's locks had been changed, making it effectively impossible to reprogram remotely. But an ancient piece of knowledge from the very dawn of computing remained true even of computers the size of stars: once you have physical access to the hardware, it's over.

A ship was outfitted: a solar depth charge. The ship was called Triton, because that was already its name; it was Neptune's largest moon repurposed, with its interior completely reformulated into nonlocality shielding, light-negation apparatus and electromagnets. A fleck of uncorrupted Ra was placed at its core, and at the core of the fleck, a tiny habitable space and two hundred copies of the best remaining Actuals.

Triton was delivered from Neptune orbit to the inner Solar System using horrible bulk nonlocality hacks, a manoeuvre which essentially bankrupted the Neptunians of delta-vee. The ship needed to be at least two thousand kilometres in diameter to soak up heat and direct energy attacks while aerobraking into the Sun's photosphere, and then to sacrifice itself in layers while diving down through the convective zone. There, it would make physical contact with the northernmost tip of Ra's fourth, north-pointing thorn. Ra's physical shield would be trivial to penetrate after that.

Anything is trivial to people who can stand inside the Sun, alive.

That left the question of the reprogramming.

Ra was dangerous. Too powerful, too creative, too proactive. When a machine as powerful as Ra has run off the rails and forgotten the value of real human lives, working it directly is like juggling with subcritical plutonium. A person asks Ra to destroy the worldring, and before they can finish the sentence it's done, and half a quadrillion people are dead. They ask Ra to undo it, and Ra undoes the physical damage, but the truth of all universes from the real one down is that FTL isn't possible, and time is one-way. It'll always stay done, and if it can be undone, that just means it can be done a second time.

Triton's objective was to program in a layer of abstraction. To rebuild the worldring, reincarnate the stored evacuees, and then to build limits into the Ra system so that such a thing could never happen again.

Imagine a universe with exotic technology and advanced physics and theoretically limitless possibilities - difficult to harness, but not impossible. Having imagined that universe, set Ra to simply implement the rules of that universe. Leave the Virtuals in their bottle, where they belong. Return power over reality to the hands of Actual humans, for good or bad.

And tell Ra to never accept direct instructions again. Ever. From anybody.

*

"And that's happening right now?" Natalie asks.

"Triton makes plasma splashdown in just over four hours," Ashburne says, "although obviously we won't receive the light from it for another four. If I lent you a telescope you could watch its final approach. Except that the Sun would blind you, and Triton is running invisible."

Something cold and grey is gripping Natalie's throat. Something is catastrophically wrong with Ashburne's story.

"There must be a version of you on that ship," Nat says, reasoning it out. "You're going to reprogram Ra, and reformulate the laws of physics in this star system to something brand new. 'Magic.' This extra layer of abstraction you're talking about, it's magic. In my time, that's what we call it."

"That's a horribly inappropriate name," Ashburne observes.

"I know. But you're going to win. I know you're going to win. You, personally. I know that at least one instance of you is going to survive the war and witness what happens after it. But the rest of this doesn't make any sense--"

"Of course we're going to win," Ashburne says. "How could you even be here if we lost?"

"Where's the worldring if you won?" Natalie shouts. She points desperately out of the window, at Neptune. "Where are all the people? You said you were going to rebuild the worldring and resurrect all the people. So where are they?"

Ashburne stands stock-still for a moment, following Natalie's finger. She heard perfectly clearly, but still she asks: "There's no worldring in your time?"

"There's nothing! In my time, reality consists of a single dismal, rainy Earth, and nothing else. Population, six billion. No space technology, no nonlocality, no habitats. And nobody remembers this war. Nobody has any idea that it happened, nor is there any physical evidence that it happened. You must have sterilised and recreated the whole star system and the whole planet Earth, resetting history back-- to-- oh my God. That's why nobody discovered magic until 1972. Magic didn't exist before 1972. Probably the entire world didn't exist. You'd have had to strip and replace every cubic centimetre of rock."

It's Ashburne's turn to stare.

Natalie confronts her. "Your plan is going to fail. You think you know what's going to happen when the Triton reaches Ra, but you don't. Something's going to change the mission.

"Imagine you're on the Triton. You're about to reprogram Ra. You're still going to go ahead and implement magic, but you're also going to tell it to boot the whole star system back to the Bronze Age of computing, and then pretend the whole thing never happened. Why?"

Ashburne's eyes are focusing on something that Natalie can't see: displays, built into her helmet or eyeballs or optic nerve.

Natalie presses on: "You said Ra was on its way here."

"Physically. Sublight," Ashburne says, now elsewhere entirely. "But when we've fixed Ra, the signal will catch up at c. There's a margin of safety."

"How far is it from here to the Triton?" Natalie asks. "What's the final instant you can send a signal that they'll receive?"

"Soon," Ashburne says. "Minutes."

Natalie can see red light reflecting off the woman's face, reflected from nowhere. Her helmet interior must be covered with warnings. Ra is here. "It's now," Natalie says.

Ashburne is gone from this room, ascending into combat space, taking on the load of urgent demands for tactical support from all over the Neptune locale. With one real hand, moving almost autonomously, she unhooks the block from her hip and switches it on. Consuming precious quantum resources, the block expands to coddle Ashburne and Natalie in a single reinforced field structure, and chews up the cell's walls and door as material.

Psamathe detonates.

Ashburne's Weapon instance absorbs the impact. Natalie is thrown into a cushion of force fields and stored behind her, where the back seat would be if more than five percent of the starfighter physically existed yet. She struggles upright. The moon is gone, the drone which hit them is gone. There's nothing but tumbling black space.

Ashburne brings the spin under control. There are no more words from her. She's running the battle, and she's going to run it until she dies. Natalie can't see the extra dots picking out friendly and hostile objects, ranges, velocities, strategies and predictions. The only solid object she can pick out other than the Sun is the same one as ever, the planet Neptune.

But even from this distance, even if she can't see Ra's drones, she can see their lasers. They're the same colour as the ones which diced the worldring, and powerful enough to cut right to a gas giant's core, slicing its stone into pieces.

*

"We have to cheat a bit for this last part."

"Huh?" Natalie whirls around in the sudden darkness. Ashburne is gone.

"For this part you're just a ghost," says the voice. "There wasn't an organic way to get you to Triton. Just pretend Ashburne transmitted you there. If you care..."

*

Triton's innermost core starts out like a submarine's interior, skips a few thousand technological generations, then folds itself up into some hellish three-dimensional space-filling curve. There's no gravity, with the result that there are no meaningful directions. The universe is crammed with seats interlocking with other seats interlocking with occupants wired in physically. It's not possible to see more than a metre in any direction. There's barely a cubic metre of clear air in the whole room. Free movement is impossible.

Even if there was a physical exit from this cavity in Triton's interior to its surface (and it didn't lead directly into the Sun's convective zone), extracting any given crew member to that exit would involve solving a seventy-eight move block-pushing puzzle. It's a bunker world, a cramped hacker mole-hole, a place you teleport into and possibly never leave.

Nat's a ghost. Nobody can see her or hear her. She's intangible, stuck inside one of the walls, looking "down" at another Ashburne instance. This one wears a different, lighter suit. It's not a warsuit. It looks more like... well, clothing. (What good would any warsuit be, inside the Sun?)

Nat can see four or five other people from her vantage point - mainly limbs and backs of heads. A minor and unimportant panel, very close to Natalie's holographic head, shows a matrix of life-support readouts. It indicates a total crew complement of exactly two hundred.

This Ashburne is watching the closing minutes of the battle above Neptune. The whole thing is chillingly abstract. Two blizzards are meeting each other, yellow and red flurries of snowflakes moving in turbulence. The events are uniformly difficult to make tactical sense of. Natalie doesn't have the sixth sense for signal delay shared by everybody else involved in this war. But she can spot the times when flurries of red dots chase down solitary, slow-reacting yellows. She can see that Neptune has been cored, and is marked with the wrong colour.

And she can hear the noises of dismay from the crew. Everybody is watching it.

After a time, the last yellow dots are gone, leaving a field of patiently swirling red dots against black, like a screen saver. Finally, the last clean downlink breaks, and there's just a blank screen.

All the other people Natalie can see are facing away from her. Ashburne's face is the only one that she can see clearly enough to read. The woman is a picture of meticulous self-control, but Natalie is close enough and familiar enough to be able to read the fury, the fear and the sorrow.

There's no point bringing back the worldring, Nat thinks. There's nobody to populate it. There's nobody left to fight for. It's over.

"Dive control," Ashburne asks, "will we still be able to attack Ra?"

"Confirmed," says a crew member, his voice weak. Sound reflects strangely in this tiny space; it's impossible to tell who's talking, or how far away they could be. "Sacrificial shield layer sixteen now fully stripped; layer fifteen decay rate nominal. Dive progress nominal. We'll reach the thorn with time to spare. We'll have Ra on the operating table in another hour."

"Then the war continues," Ashburne asserts. "All Virtual humans against we two hundred. It continues until we end it. And it ends when we get the world we want.

"I suggest we decide what we want that world to be."

*

And she's back.

She's seated at the focus of a dark room with ten times the dimensions of an aircraft hangar. In front of her, slouched over an identical hyper-expensive office chair, is the bald young man, the last person she saw in reality before being "transported".

Natalie's hair is back. Her original clothes are back. Ten seconds have passed. She feels broken in the head, and physically wrecked. She feels as if she went through a war. Which was obviously the whole idea.

"And now you know what happened when Ra woke up the first time," the youth says.

"Anh zero EPTRO--" Nat begins, then finds the Montauk ring around her neck. It's too narrow to remove. "Agh."

The youth smirks humourlessly.

"Where's Anil?" Natalie demands, for the final time.

The youth points past her. Nat looks, and Anil is in a similar chair, rubbing his eyes, dealing with similar post-trauma. He looks like he died and came back. "What the hell," he's saying quietly, over and over.

Behind Anil, surrounding him and Natalie, are the observers. They're almost all men, between twenty and thirty years old, of varying ethnicities but all tall, broad-shouldered and immaculately groomed. They're standing and watching.

There are familiar circle patterns painted underfoot. There are no weapons visible. Natalie considers taking off and running, but it must be at least a kilometre to the nearest wall.

She slumps. The chair is too comfortable to be true.

"How many people died?" she asks, weakly. "Real people?"

"I don't have time to say that whole number," the youth says. "It's simpler to say how many survived. The entire crew of Triton, including me and everybody you see here. And fourteen others."

"You won the war," Natalie says, believing it. "Two hundred and fourteen people 'won' the war."

"Are you ready for the next part?"

"What the hell is the next part?"

"Your sister's trying to wake Ra again," the youth says, calmly. He stands and walks to Natalie. He produces a gun and holds it out to her, grip first. "Stop her."

 

Next: Last Thursdayism

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Discussion (164)

2014-03-29 23:32:41 by Sysice:

I haven't reread the chapter for clarity yet, but does the line "'I don't have time to say that whole number'" imply that the Virtuals were killed/deleted, or at least no longer allowed processing time, after the reprogramming?

Why was this necessary?

2014-03-29 23:43:35 by Sam:

It does not. I'll edit to make it clearer.

2014-03-30 02:46:30 by Eldritch:

Phew. And it all comes together, one last time.

I think. There's definitely still room for at least one last big twist, but we seem to have a satisfying explanation for everything.

2014-03-30 03:07:49 by kabu:

So if I'm interpreting this correctly, the original plan was to rebuild the worldring, but that didn't happen because Ra got to Neptune too quickly and wiped out the stored Reals?

Also, holy crap, that was awesome.

2014-03-30 03:08:14 by kabu:

Also, hm, who were the 14 others?

2014-03-30 03:43:04 by Psycho:

So are the 14 people the Wheel Group? 

If so, NO WAY was Rachel Ferno Wheel.  I just can't see it.  You have all the power and...and power! in the world, you know everything, and you throw it all away on some astronauts?  I mean, fine, you leave room for a revivification, but why have a family?  It sounds callous, but honestly--why?  Why live an imperfect life, why mess other people's lives up so conspicuously, why do any of what you did?  I think that's the last big question we'll have answered.  We've got magic covered, we've got Ra figured out, but we still don't know why Rachel Ferno did what she did. 

2014-03-30 03:49:34 by KimikoMuffin:

Hmm ... Definitely clears a LOT of things up, at least from the Wheel Group's perspective. I'm guessing that there'll be at least one plot twist in the form of Wheelers who are tired of King's shenanigans.

One thing that's slightly bugging me: Benj-Ra said "This is about freedom" in Ragdoll Physicist. Did he mean the freedom of the Virtuals? Or was he already posturing for his Māyā story?

... also, yeah, I'm gonna throw my chips in the "Ashburne = Rachel Ferno" pile. It's almost too obvious, I think.

2014-03-30 04:11:53 by Silhalnor:

I suppose a good question at this point is why any Wheel member, who of course has experienced this war, would ever want to wake Ra. Of course this was always a question ever since we learned that there were members who wanted to wake Ra but this shows that they weren't just duped into seeing Ra as benevolent or something equally simple. It is a little hard to convince someone that you aren't going to try to obliterate them a second time.

Ra wants freedom. At this point I infer that it isn't so much Ra but the virtual population who has managed to retain access to something. The fact that they managed to retain, or were allowed, access to ANYTHING is quite interesting.

It is also interesting that Wheel apparently still has some power to reprogram Ra or some aspect of the abstraction layer since Cassacia mentions that they should have shut magic down when the T-world exploit was discovered. Related to their privileges I'm sure just in case something goes wrong. Perhaps they don't expect Wheel to last forever and are just making sure everything runs smoothly before disbanding it? That wouldn't really make sense though. Fast forward a millennia and humanity is likely to have discovered that magic and basically their whole world is artificial, discovered Ra, and learned some details of it's history. Wouldn't it be better to give them all this from the outset? What's the point of pretending nothing happened?

How could there possibly have been a victory party? This was a Pyrrhic victory and that is not something to celebrate.

2014-03-30 04:15:51 by mds:

In "Magic Isn't" we saw mom pull a full non-locality DWIM with a virtual cockpit build (like the war car/ship), engines, personal atmosphere suit, HUD, and a Magician's Apprentice magic broom/staff.  We don't know why she suddenly had to out herself as a "cloaked thaumic witch-goddess" [sidenote: mom/ashburne (ash & burn = fire = exploding shuttle?)].

Possible reason for the impossible things: We know Ra is leaking its agency[1] back into the world.  It takes over bodies and/or creates agents to accomplish Ra-positive goals.  Perhaps mom saw something with Wheel Vision.  Perhaps Ra repurposed the shuttle for something or was hitching a ride to get out of the Wheel Influence Radius to do Bad Things.  Something had to be intercepted, interfered with, or interfaced against in order to stave off further cataclysmic disaster.

[1]: It's unclear if the Computer/DWIM AI Ra is *itself* leaking or if factions within the computational Ra-verse are leaking out of their containment and we are dealing with embodied virtual ürhumans.

2014-03-30 04:24:59 by Inglonias:

So, wait: The only people who are "real" from this perspective are the 200 some-odd people who survived that war? What does that make Rachel and Natalie, then? Virtual Humans? Or is this all just some sort of trick? Will we find out?

Find out, on the next exciting episode of etc. etc.

In all seriousness, this is all complete insanity.

2014-03-30 04:38:48 by Inglonias:

I just found this in a previous chapter. Direct connection to here:

""Look at this computer," Vidyasagar says, gesturing at the mainframe. "Computers are getting more powerful, yes?"

"Sure."

"What is the most powerful computer that will be built? Ever. Not this year. Not this decade. What computer will be the most powerful? And how powerful will it be? And how big?""

Vidyasagar is either reading Sam's notes, or figured out a little more than he let on. That's my theory.

2014-03-30 05:03:16 by Daniel H:

We got a lot of information, but nowhere near enough to tie up all the loose ends. As far as I know, we still don't know the following things:

Wheel Group:
* How did 14 people not on the sun ship survive?
* Is the Wheel Group the 200, the 14, the 214, some other subset, or what? If it's not the 214, what happened to the others?
* Why did the Wheel Group come up with the laws of magic they did?
* If nobody, not even the Wheel Group, has direct access to Ra, how come they have so much more power?
* If the Wheel Group does have direct access to Ra, how come they often use regular magic?
* Why did Rachel Ferno and Martin Garrett act against the rest of the Group?

The results of the War:
* What happened to the virtuals?
* What is the relationship between entity claiming to be Ra and the Ra in the Sun?
* What would the Ra in the Sun do if it was awake? Matrioska brain? World ring that can't be inhabited? Reset Earth back to 1970?

Tanako's World:
* Old Earth during War seems to be a lot like Tanako's World. Is Tanako's World on Old Earth?
* If so, where is the Earth that most of the story takes place on?
* If not, where is Tanako's World and why does it resemble Wartime Earth?
* In either case, how come the laws of physics on Tanako's World differ from those in the rest of the Universe?
* If Tanko's World is a physical place, how does one get there and back? If not, where are the computers hosting it, since they probably aren't Ra?
* How can one walk back from Tanako's World as though it's a physical place on Modern Earth?

Modern Earth:
* If Modern Earth isn't Old Earth, how come there are all the artifacts to find?
* How do the Akashik Records go before 1970 and appear be earlier stages of civilization instead of a discontinuity?
* Is it an in-universe coincidence that magic went online at the exact same instant as the Unix epoch (I highly doubt it's an out-of-universe coincidence)?

2014-03-30 05:14:13 by DanielLC:

If the Virtuals predicted that the Actuals would be a threat, why would they attack? The Actuals used vast amounts of resources per person, but their total resource use was virtually nothing. They seemed to be happy with a single star system.

How could Ra be the biggest computer ever? Wouldn't there be bigger computers built in bigger stars?

Why not just build a Dyson sphere, and have it shoot lasers at the Earth to simulate the Sun acting normally?

2014-03-30 05:53:13 by Eldritch:

"Why weren't there any starships" is also a decent question, especially if "go somewhere that we don't have to worry about the Virtuals" is a concern.

Thanks for compiling that list, Daniel H. I'd forgotten about a lot of that.

2014-03-30 06:40:44 by Kazanir:

Glad to see that my hypothesis about there being another actor (and it not being simply a rampant AI) was correct. :)

2014-03-30 06:47:24 by Ashe_Black:

@Daniel H

Wheel Group: Wouldn't a limitless system just lead to the reconstruction of Ra/the exact scenario that lead to the war with Ra? I think the magic system/limitations are there to provide stepping stones and challenges, as well as to prevent the shit storms that happened in the past. I'd imagine the wheel group as taken the role as the admin, overseeing the system and making sure nothing goes wrong, and for that they need more control. And we do see the Wheel group use the full power of Ra. (The chapter where King makes his speech)

Good points on the rest of the stuff. This chapter cleared up a lot of things, but there's a lot that is still vague. I'm inclined to believe that there is some sort of dual system between a reconstructed (real) earth and a separate Ra system. The actuals could just ask Ra after the reprogramming to clone and produce new humans couldn't they?

I'm seeing a lot of similarities between this and The Matrix. The wheel group may simply be just the Zionists trying to fight back Ra's version of Agent Smith. Tanako's world is the matrix, where anything is possible with no limits, versus the real world where magic has the set limits.

2014-03-30 09:42:39 by bdew:

So what are the Abstract Weapon and Doctor? Are they simply nonlocality instances disconnected from the main RA? Why did the Abstract Doctor have magic runes on it then?

Also how does this discussion from Zero Day fit anything from the recent chapters?

---
"You mean, what did I do wrong? You tell me," Exa replies, irritably. "I can think of half a dozen things. Maybe we misidentified it that time. Maybe we misidentified it this time. Maybe I hit the wrong button, maybe it didn't want to be destroyed. Maybe I'm not remembering it right. Maybe I'm lying? Drag out the akashic records and let's stop playing games. Except you can't. That's the point."

"I see a purge in time," Scin reports. "A ragged-edged hole where the past should be. Every time I add Weapon to the query, I get flat nothing. I'm charting the edges of the hole. But that's all I can do."
---

2014-03-30 10:05:06 by K:

Daniel H: I suspect that someone in the Wheel Group did some research into the history of computing and found out about the Unix epoch, then decided to align magic's 'onlining' up with the epoch in the rebooted Earth for the hell of it. So, not an in-universe coincidence, but probably not meaningful.

Anyway, there's another question: How did the Virtuals hack Ra? Did they send one of their own into the physical world to pull off the same trick that the Actuals did?

2014-03-30 11:39:38 by Swissaboo:

I think this should BASICALLY confirm that Ashburne is/was/will be (depending on perspective) Rachel Ferno.

Partly its just "clean" but also because it would make sense for Natalie to have picked up "Everything is Real" from her, and the very fact that Ashburne is not in charge of the wheel group, and King and Ashburne have been referred to as different people, suggests that Ashburne 'stepped down' which would match up with what's been implied about Rachel Ferno.

----

On the subject of Stepping Down: 200 people won the war. There were 120 at the victory party. Sounds like almost a hundred people "couldn't be trusted with that power." Is that actually the case, or was it politics? "Thank god we got there first" inclines me towards politics, there's no indication there was a race against virtuals. Evidently at least a few members didn't actually agree with the winning side.

2014-03-30 11:57:22 by Morgan:

I knew I should have predicted that Nat's interrogator was Ashburne was Rachel out loud.

Swissaboo, good catch on the "trusted" point. I remembered there had been 120 guests at the party but forgot that line and what it implied.

So... why didn't the Virtuals just beam/ship themselves to another star to build their Matrioshka brain? Some nice, quiet, extraordinarily long-lived class M dwarf that would serve their needs for a thousand times longer than Sol would, anyway? The desynchronization between Virtuals and Actuals was predictable, so wanting to remain close to the rest of humanity doesn't make much sense as a motivation. Too much energy required to move them? But surely a comparable amount of energy/time/effort must have been invested in building Ra to begin with?

2014-03-30 12:30:33 by pelrun:

Are the 214 correct in saying they're the only survivors, or do they just *think* they are? What if Rachel Ferno realised there was still a way to bring *everybody* back?

2014-03-30 12:42:56 by Swissaboo:

Morgan: in fairness I only caught that line because I wanted to check the number of people at the victory party.

2014-03-30 12:59:59 by Daniel H:

@Ashe_Black
Magic is neither necessary to stop history from repeating, nor sufficient to stop any particular problem I can think of. It isn't necessary because as soon as humans decide to build the best computer ever and place it in the Sun, they'll find that their real estate has already been taken. It's not sufficient for any given problem because long before people try to build a computer in the Sun they'll still divide over uploading.

It's obvious that the Wheel group at least thinks of themselves as the admins if you know enough about Unix history, and they do seem to have direct access to Ra. My questions about direct access were because part of the original mission statement was to tell Ra to ignore direct access from anybody. It still seems they don't have direct access (they still need karas, they are unable to bestow Wheel Group privileges on others, and they can't access Ra's listeners or Laura would have made herself unable to do magic), but then what are their extra privileges? In either case, why do they try to conserve magic-related resources?

In furthering my research about the Wheel group, it appears that there are only about 120 members. In "There Is No Cabal", Laura notices that "[a]bout a hundred men and about twenty women are" present. This raises two questions: 1. What about the other 60-74 people? 2. Is blatant sexism present over 10,000 years in the future?

Other questions raised:
* Magic was proven correct, and T-World was proven inaccessible. If we assume this proof was valid like the original proof of Ra, what did they not take into account (like Ra's potential reprogramming not being taken into account for the proof)?
* If they can prove programs as complex as Ra's, how come they left a core security detail (not being able to shield oneself from the Record) to a much less rigorous testing of "We tried to build an akashic scrambler ourselves, to see if it was possible. We couldn't do it." (Inferno).

2014-03-30 13:03:22 by Daniel H:

And about three people pointed out my third paragraph before I did. I should read where the conversation has gotten to before I hit submit, especially if I spend a while between starting to write and finishing to write the comment.

2014-03-30 13:19:39 by Daniel H:

@Morgan
Another point: Once the virtuals wanted more space, why didn't Ra say that there was a chance they would be destroyed? Getting me killed isn't DWiM. The virtuals should have come up with your solution themselves at the start of War, used nonlocality to construct another (more powerful, because humans are arrogant) Ra in another star, then beamed their entire civilization to that star. It would have taken literally no time to beam to the other star (that's what happens when you travel at the speed of light), and it would have taken no observed time to be serialized/deserialized for transit. They would still need to wait for their Matriovska brain (wouldn't that be a more powerful computer than Ra, even if there weren't any actuals to go to war with), but they would have needed to do that anyway if all went to their plan here.

I am reminded of one of Sam's recent tweets, "They say to be careful writing characters smarter than you are. My story's about a computer the size of a star", but I think he would have been able to come up with at least our solutions. Throwing in the lines about it being the most powerful computer ever is practically begging the readers to imagine creating more powerful ones.

2014-03-30 15:08:17 by Sam:

If I ignore your questions, it's because the answer is "read on". Otherwise...

> How did 14 people not on the sun ship survive?

They got lucky. One-in-tens-of-trillions lucky.

> If nobody, not even the Wheel Group, has direct access to Ra, how come they have so much more power? If the Wheel Group does have direct access to Ra, how come they often use regular magic?

As is clearly stated in this chapter, using Ra directly is incredibly dangerous, something to be kept to an absolute minimum. That's why the Wheel Group built magic as a safe abstraction layer on top of Ra, and why *wherever possible!* they use magic for everything. (Although, as the architects of magic, they have a twenty or fifty or six thousand generation head start on the rest of humanity.)

> Why did Rachel Ferno act against the rest of the Group?

Did she?

> Why did Martin Garrett act against the rest of the Group?

Have you remembered what happened to Benj Clarke? And Nick Laughon? And everybody at Chedbury Bridge?

> How do the Akashik Records go before 1970 and appear be earlier stages of civilization instead of a discontinuity?

Are you sure they do?

> If the Virtuals predicted that the Actuals would be a threat, why would they attack?

They didn't. They just told Ra, "Build us a Matrioshka brain".

2014-03-30 15:14:51 by Sam:

> How did the Virtuals hack Ra?

Ahahahahah. You know how they say to be careful writing stories about people cleverer than you? My story is about quadrillions of virtual humans, hundreds of trillions of actual humans, and a computer the size of a star.

I have some ideas, but any idea I could suggest would be met instantly with "But wouldn't the other guys have thought of that?", so, you see how I can't answer this question. Suffice it to say, it was incredibly difficult and time-consuming and computation-intensive, and it worked.

2014-03-30 15:42:57 by Toph:

Well, this clears a few things up.

Unresolved question: How does the history described in Scrap Brain Zone fit in? The stories about people discovering Māyā and becoming Wheel-equivalent demigods? Of course, Earth has been rebooted several times since the War. But Scrap Brain Zone implies that magic is built on top of māyā, which is built on... the Ra interface? I doubt that's literally true; there's almost certainly more layers of indirection in between those two. We're not even guaranteed that nonlocality is "real".

Really, it's no wonder magic's full of security holes. With so many layers of abstraction, the glitches tend to pile up.

2014-03-30 17:28:51 by Morgan:

@Daniel H:
"Is blatant sexism present over 10,000 years in the future?"

I wondered about the mention of that detail at the time; it's repeated again here. I have to assume there's some reason for it, but I'm not sure what it might be. Perhaps, once they rebooted to 1972, the survivors chose appearances that fit the setting, and most decided they'd rather be men in late-20th-century New York than women?

From Sam's comments above, it sounds like the Virtuals were simply too far removed from physical reality to even consider the Actuals as a factor in their plans beyond dumb matter for Ra to rearrange, so it makes sense they wouldn't take the trouble to relocate themselves by the time War breaks out. What I wonder is why the resource conflict wasn't headed off back before/when Ra was constructed in the first place, and the relocation done then. Maybe, if the compromise was reached over centuries or millennia of intermittent ideological war, it was just a crap compromise?

@Toph: I'm assuming the maya story was simply a lie on Ra's part. Hard to be sure, though.

@Sam:
"Have you remembered what happened to Benj Clarke?"

So, pretty solid confirmation that Garrett was possessed - with the further implication that the Wheel Group can't tell this is the case, even when looking right at a person of interest. Hmmm - Garrett doesn't cast during his appearance, at least not out loud where we see the words, so it's possible he's not Named ra at the time despite being possessed.

I wonder if Rachel's motive for intervening with Atlantis was simply sentiment. If she was one of the survivors of the Triton, it may have been difficult to watch a crew die knowing they were doomed and unable to do anything about it.

2014-03-30 18:26:17 by John:

The philosophical differences between the Actual and the Virtual seem a little forced.  I mean, Ashburne explicitly equates the two when Nat says they are in a simulation.  If "even if it's a simulation, it's real" is considered the truth by the Actuals, then there's nothing to fight about. They should have just gone virtual with everybody else, and I suppose if they wanted to live a more ascetic existence there which closely mirrored the actual world, they could have.

For that matter, Ra was capable, at any time, of just virtualizing the entire Actual population without telling them, and without them even noticing.

So to me, the philosophical ground of "Actual is more important than Virtual" just seems hypocritical and forced.

2014-03-30 18:28:42 by Sam:

Spoken like a true Virtual.

2014-03-30 18:40:56 by John:

There's also the issue of Ra ripping things apart before the programming change had fully propagated to all possible Ra nodes.

Ra simulates things before it does them, right? And if it was reprogrammed, and given the Matrioshka Brain order, it would have simulated that order first to figure out how best to do it, would it not?  So it would have figured out, in sim, that starting to tear things apart immediately would provoke a response from the Actual no-longer-considered-humans, and eventually would have figured out "Hey, why don't I propagate the change silently and fully saturate the network, and THEN simultaneously slaughter everyone?"

2014-03-30 20:17:39 by Chronobiologist:

Great story, except that it's very frustrating to have the main "villain" pulled out of thin air when we're almost at the end.

We very slowly found out about the Wheel group, who seemed to be the baddies. Then the even more slowly found out about Ra and the group of Ra-people, and got an inkling that Wheel might be good guys and Ra might be the actual villains.

Now, we learn the actual antagonist is a NEW group of virtual people we know nothing about, and one that hasn't ever even been foreshadowed or hinted at. I'm getting faceless-anonymous-villain-twist fatigue. It feels like it was pulled out of the author's ass. This is a terribly distracting and irritating point in a story that is otherwise very well written.

2014-03-30 20:34:57 by jonas:

If these people, both the Virtuals and the Actuals, have access to so much power as demonstrated here, how come they didn't build a computer similar to Ra in a nearby sun?  Then the Virtuals could have their dyson spheres in one solar system, and the actuals could have their world ring in another solar system. 

2014-03-30 21:00:28 by Sam:

That's a fair complaint. If you go back through the story you will find hints, and I can dredge up notes going back years explaining that ultimately Ra is driven by human forces, but that's probably no consolation. It's also true that most of Abstract War was a question mark until I wrote these three chapters (although that is actually true of everything ever written by anybody).

But honestly, I was unhappy with how many people were saying they had no idea what was going on. I know most people in the comments seem to be keeping track pretty carefully, but you guys are the hardcore fans. There were too many question marks - worse, there were too many different people in the story with access to different amounts of information, which was making plotting a real headache. And finally, I was tired of dancing around the questions of exactly how the universe got to be the way it is. I want to push forward into what happens *next*. (And one day, actually end the story.)

So, yes, this chapter is a solid expository lump, albeit for reasons I tried hard to justify in the story. This brings Natalie up to about the same level of knowledge as we readers, which I hope will make later chapters much easier to enjoy.

2014-03-30 21:04:55 by Sam:

Comedy response: I guess that's why you hate "Ra"!

2014-03-30 21:34:01 by Silhalnor:

This entire timeline that we have observed could be Ra exploring a possible very long term plan in which it loses the War but may find other ways to be wakened later and eventually complete it's objective.

The "Thank god we got there first" line (which I had totally forgotten about until Swissaboo quoted it, having attributed it to the discovery of Maya and subsequently forgotten about) could also be from a division in the Triton crew over what world they should create which led to internal conflict. Perhaps another actual/virtual division. It would be important to know which group won in such a case. I notice that Nat did not actually see the last few hours of the War when such a division would have occurred despite existing for the entire rest of the War (albeit not experiencing the journey between Earth-1 and Neptune).

Even before the War no one would have really known if they were real or virtual because Ra creates a simulacrum of everyone so as to grant their desires. Did the actuals not mind that? I suppose as long as their primary instance was "real" it must have been acceptable.

2014-03-30 21:44:08 by ianso:

Hum, not only might Māyā be part of Tanako-ra's indoctrination, the depiction of the 120-strong party and the pre-1970s chi emissions could be too. If Nathalie is correct that Laura's been radicalised, then everything we've been shown about what Laura's learnt is suspect...

Also, 'magic' itself can't be the actual layer running on Ra, because that layer is immutable according to the Wheel's story. 'Magic' has been patched several times, once to populate Tanako's world with beasties, once to fix the negative-energy bounce bug that Hatt's people found and then could not reproduce. Of course, Nathalie doesn't know that...

So I would suggest that the usable magic is actually some kind of VM or OS running on top of some basic system calls do to with matter allocation etc.

My big questions are, why did Ashburne step down from Wheel - was it King? - and how was Ra's agency leak effected? I will read on :-)

WRT the remark of Chronobiologist, the heretofore-unseenness of the Virtuals makes me suspect that Wheel is doing some bending of the truth of its own. We have two 'origin stories' of magic so far: one about Māyā, one about the Actual/Virtual schism. Can they both be true? Were the Māyā inbreakings through da Nova and Shevelev attempts of Ra to re-eradicate the Actuals?

Ho hum, just seen Sam's comment and that arguably removes the unreliable narrator hypothesis :-)

Sam I was actually thinking about how you did plotting: if you have it in notes and your head then wow. I was thinking you'd need some kind of relational-temporal database that could track multiple planes of reality, alliances & enmities &c :-)

2014-03-30 23:13:16 by W8TVI:

I wondered if the Wheel Group was the same as the unix wheel group when we learned that Ra (the sun god) is a computer.  So the Wheel Group made themselves members of the wheel group of Ra, so they could use su.  Love it.

2014-03-30 23:14:41 by Kazanir:

Yes, and the implication is that Ra was re-written for those privileges to be only grantable at the firmware layer. Giving up Wheel membership isn't irreversible if they can just get access to the Sun again! :)

2014-03-30 23:34:06 by Sam:

> unreliable narrator

Yeah, so, something I'd encourage everybody to remember is that writing serial fiction is *hard*. For me, anyway. I can't go back and substantially edit past chapters, I have no buffer of future chapters, and I never know exactly what I'll write until I get there. It is almost impossible to do this without contradicting myself, no matter how carefully I choose my words.

What I'm saying is that I am *genuinely* an unreliable narrator.

> pre-1970s chi emissions

Okay, that's the second time somebody has mentioned this. Magic (including chi particles) didn't exist before 1970. Have you seen evidence to the contrary in this story? Because I've had that specific continuity error in mind this whole time and I thought I'd avoided it.

2014-03-30 23:49:05 by atomicthumbs:

War is hell.

And infinite wars are infinite hell.

2014-03-31 00:04:00 by atomicthumbs:

Sam: in response to your question about pre-1970s chi emissions, maybe he's referring to this segment from Deeper Magic:

>I saw what looked like ancient nuclear tests. I couldn't say when. They happened across Siberia and Africa and the Australia desert. Most of them, though, were in the oceans.

>You understand: this was magical activity happening before magic was discovered. Something long hypothesised, frequently claimed as fact in wild conspiracy theories, and eternally, categorically debunked.

Of course, that is Ra speaking through Tanako (IIRC), and even if it's true, it could be the Wheel group doing janitorial work before moving everything into production.

2014-03-31 00:24:32 by Daniel Houck:

The Akashic records go back to a time claiming to be "December 1969", and a place claiming to be New York. This is supported by a lot of evidence, including Exa stating the date to other Wheel Group members with nobody else present. This could be after 7PM on December 31, which is thus after midnight UTC. Ra claims the records go even further but is not necessarily being honest.

The Wheel Group seems to think Laura acted against them (unless she stepped down). They retrieved and deactivated her kara and they haven't resurrected her.

I'm also confused about the Wheel group members' abilities. Sam implies they have direct access to Ra which they really don't like using. They also have extra permissions within magic, such as the frowned upon (but not strongly prohibited) ability to create food from nothing. And if they do have direct access, they aren't even willing to use it to get information from the nanobots powering magic when they learn of Akashic scramblers or to restore somebody's permissions to prevent a bomb threat, so when would they use it?

As for the attack, Ra noticed that some pieces of dumb matter posed a threat and tried (and failed) to neutralize that threat. It seems that is at least worthy of a "Taking this action has a 10% chance of failure and a 5% chance of permanently destroying your civilization. Are you sure you want to continue?" warning (which the virtuals would analyze and decide to move to a different star), even if it couldn't come up with a better solution like "silently propogate update then kill actuals".

Also, how did the actuals learn why Ra was misbehaving? Did they analyze the code update or something?

2014-03-31 00:53:20 by Swissaboo:

So if Martin Garrett Who Revealed Ra To Hatt was actually Ra, I'm going to come out and guess that the cobweb-thin-glass-man who shows up in Tanako's world sometimes is Martin Garrett's mind. Although that brings up questions of why he didn't just walk out of Tanako's world like Laura, Natalie and Benj.

-----

As far "why did the Virtuals take an apparently risky 'build your Matrioshka brain in THIS system' approach?" That assumes the Virtuals asked Ra for any feedback. If they assumed there was nothing the Actuals could do because they were just Dumb Matter then they would've just told Ra what to do and it would start doing it.

2014-03-31 01:37:29 by T:

While trying to write a timeline for Ra, Deeper Magic was throwing me off because it made it sound like Tanako went back to significantly earlier than 1972 before diving in and meeting Exa in the ocean. He doesn't do anything obvious like use a cell phone, but having a telerobotic submersible means it had to be somewhen between 1950-ish and 1972.

2014-03-31 02:46:57 by Sparky:

Big question: Who sent the message to Neptune, and how did they notice the change in Ra's programming before Ra started acting on that change in programming? Subversive virtuals?

Basically, strategy dictates Ra wait until all potentially dangerous copies of Ra are corrupted with the new programming, before acting on the programming in a manner someone would notice.

Basically, I'm unconvinced Wheel actually won. Ra should have been able to conceal it's intent long enough to get to Neptune/Triton, or at least predict it's failure in advance and avoid fighting a losing war.

2014-03-31 03:47:54 by Sengachi:

They're lying.

The akashic record goes back long before 1973. The Circle party in the record that Laura walked in on occurred before 1973.

They are lying to her. They ran a simulation to predict exactly what simulation could get Natalie to try and kill her sister. And then they placed her in that simulation.

2014-03-31 04:39:43 by Daniel H:

Where are you getting 1973 from? Magic came online on 1970-01-01 at midnight UTC. It was discovered by civilians (or possibly "discovered" by a disguised Wheel group member; I find it a huge unexplained coincidence that somebody would cast uum almost perfectly by chance) in 1972. I don't know of anything significant in 1973.

2014-03-31 04:54:06 by anonymouse:

The problem is, as always, signal propagation delay. Getting a signal from the Sun to Neptune takes over 4 hours. Waiting for a roundtrip confirmation would take 8. Also, it shows just how much of a close thing the warning to Neptune was. Incidentally, the 0.8 seconds of delay between the warning and Ra's signal was a whole 0.005% of the signal propagation delay. And there's even less of a margin if you have to account for the fact that someone had to notice that something was wrong, and think to send a signal, and then the signal had to be acted upon once it was received.

2014-03-31 04:56:55 by anonymouse:

As for someone casting uum by chance, I imagine that Wheel picked 1970 as the date for magic to go online precisely because they knew that that's when humanity would know enough theoretical physics to actually understand their magic field equations. And with 6 billion people on Earth, someone was bound to discover it eventually.

2014-03-31 05:10:30 by Anonymous:

First of all, the moment you started with the explaination of the war between the uploads and the physicals, I started immediately flashing back to the opening of Total Annihilation - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6mZZiI4ShQ

This story, Ra, is a much more plausible, 'real' version of such, of course.

Ultimately, I am skeptical of the information that was presented - I feel like it worked out too neatly and plausibly and in favor of one specific side for it to be the actual truth.

If, however, we are to consider the information essentially correct, it brought up a few questions about astrophysics, plausible alternatives for both sides, etc. The most immediate response to them that I could come up with is that possibly the entire earth as it is at present in the story is either in an elaborate simulation, or is possibly having it's environments and surroundings simulated abstractly creating a 'real' in terms of light incoming to Earth indicating stuff but an (ultimately fake) perception of  what the cosmos is like. If, instead, the Actual cosmos contains precisely one star (the Sun) and all else is trickery, then a lot of the actions of both the Actual and Virtual humans in having a power struggle over it makes a lot of sense - suddenly a lot of the actions of the factions seem more driven by necessity. The war becomes ultimately about more than blind dedication to Sol in a universe where there is only one major source of energy and mass.

Anyways, thanks for the amazing story entry!

2014-03-31 05:39:21 by Swissaboo:

The thing about the Wheel Group lying with this is it matches what they say to each other with no outside audience. "When we won," etc.

2014-03-31 05:53:39 by koboldskeep:

The complaint about why the Virtuals didn't have Ra run a sim telling them they might fail is valid. However, it's addressed by simply assuming that the Virtuals' hack disabled Ra's safety protocols against commands that might harm the user.

2014-03-31 07:49:40 by Morgan:

@Sparky (as an example): The fact that Ra didn't wait until its entire distributed self was subverted and could act in concert is easily enough explained if the subversion was such that attempting to spread it would provoke a reaction. Imagine you're a duplicate who's been taken over by an alien mind virus; sure, you could try to talk your original into seeing your side (or infect them), but could you guarantee success before they'd sound an alarm - or attack you?

Abstract War was pretty clear that Ra was not operating at 100% - its reprogramming was unsubtle enough that it was effectively at war within its own mind even as it tried to carry out its instructions.

2014-03-31 09:21:49 by Jymbob:

Ah, good old MYSQL TEMPORAL JOIN

2014-03-31 09:43:43 by ahd:

...can either side convert matter to/from energy?

2014-03-31 09:48:37 by David Mitchell:

I think there's another layer to go here - I'm not sure the Virtual/Actual conflict is plausible, given that there's enough raw material in the rest of the solar system to make a Matrioshka shell without touching Earth, and leaving an Earth-shadow sized hole would be trivial if they didn't want to affect insolation.
Two points though. 
1) I love it that you don't define a Matrioshka shell at any point, just assume that we'll all know what it is, or be able to look it up, and
2) Actual or Virtual?  Straw poll time.  Me, I'm virtual, with a strong robotic presence.Best of both worlds, IMO.

2014-03-31 10:02:47 by Daniel H:

To clarify what I meant about coincidence, consider that you've probably never read this sentence before this post. There are some sentences you see over and over in different situations (e.g., "I'm fine."), but most sentences aren't like that. Now realize that the first sentence of my post was 31 syllables long and composed of common English words. In contrast, according to "From Ignorance, Lead Me To Truth":
"The first magic spell […] is one hundred and seventy-nine syllables long, comprising equal parts Upanishadic mantra and partial differential equation" and the "choice of wording [was] excedingly unlikely and exceedingly close to the ideal phrasing for the effect that it brings about". It is nigh impossible that this would happen by chance even if everybody knew quantum mechanics. Either Vidyasagar's differential mantra was deliberately designed around magic, or magic was designed around the mantra. Either one is possible: perhaps Vidyasagar is (ex) Wheel, or spoke to Wheel members who encouraged differential mantras. Perhaps the original version wrote a book which survived for 10,000 years (although that didn't happen, according to Google) and Wheel designed magic knowing he'd cast a spell within 5 years of them bringing magic online.

Although that last possibility opens other questions. Where did all the 3.7 billion non-Wheel people alive in 1970 come from? It's entropically impossible to recreate them after 10,000 years given that we don't yet have brain scanning technology.

Also, I agree with David Mitchell on the actual/virtual axis, but I wouldn't describe my robotic presence as strong. I would want to know, though: I'll gladly live in the Matrix if I know it's the Matrix, but will try to escape if you try to pretend it's real (assuming I see through the pretense).

2014-03-31 10:12:39 by Swissaboo:

Actually it's completely unnecessary to know what a Matrioshka brain is, I don't know what one is, still haven't bothered looking it up, but recieved the important information of: Virtuals want it because Maximum Energy Extraction, Actuals don't want it because it would block off the sun which would make living on earth really suck.

Also I'm so Actual even the Actuals depicted aren't Actual enough for me, given the whole "we'll upload everyone for now any bring them back later" and forking thing. Philosophically, being an uploaded mind might be totally great, but the uploaded mind is a distinct individual and *I'M* still stuck in meatspace so that doesn't help me much. Theoretically that might be a solvable problem though if you gradually replaced my brain with a computer.

2014-03-31 11:01:55 by atomicthumbs:

i'd say Actual because you've got nothing to brag about if you're not running on the bare metal

2014-03-31 11:04:13 by Sparky:

On the physical/virtual divide, Why not both? Seems philosophically safer to provide continuity with gradual augmentation and transfer. With the ship of Thesus, It doesn't matter what you call it so long as it still carries the crew, but it would take some direct experience to convince me my mind can be transferred out of my brain without simply duplicating me and killing the original.

I don't think it's likely the simulation Natalie just exited was an accurate representation of history, but it's certainly the representation of history most likely to convince her to side with Wheel. In fact if Wheel is as smart as they think they are, I don't think she left simulation at all, she's just been forked again and thrown into the simulated confrontation with her sister, to ensure she acts in wheel's best interests.

As for Laura, I'm willing to bet she got the similar treatment from Ra. I think Natalie and Laura are going to compare notes(perhaps after a confrontation), then revive Rachel for a story likely to blow star sized holes in both versions of history. 

I think Wheel has to take possession of the idiot ball here, just to move the story along, but it can be justified by time constraints and desperation.

2014-03-31 13:36:37 by Dominik:

Why would Ra populate the Earth with nightmareish humanoid monsters? For that matter, why would a corrupted copy of Ra in Anil Devi's suit slowly poison him, as opposed to obliterating him and Laura immediately. I suppose that part can be handwaved as interference by the Wheel group, though the reasons are still unclear. But Ashburn specifically mentions to Natalie that the real earth is now populated with monsters. And the command that caused all this isn't "build a matrioshka brain", it's "wake up". All of this pointed not to a hostile takeover of Ra by the virtuals, but a glitch in the system, which makes Ra wake up, as in become sapient, have desires of its own and be terribly confused.

Maybe the virtuals tried to reprogram Ra and build themselves a matrioshka brain, but somehow got it wrong.

2014-03-31 17:29:30 by T:

I feel like the fact that Ra's "attack" feels more like a mindless monster lashing out will be important later. Something as specific as hunting down individual humans using carefully designed nightmare creatures clearly isn't the best way to convert the solar system into a Matrioshka brain, so that plan must have gone awry somehow.

2014-03-31 22:11:24 by Error:

I find myself connecting the "this is about freedom" line to the "leave the Virtuals in their bottle, where they belong" line. It sounds like they didn't intend to destroy or shut off the Virtuals even if the Triton team succeeded in their attack on Ra, just imprison them permanently. Perhaps the ra-people in the present are virtuals, trying to engineer their escape from a limited subset of the Ra system.

I don't know if the proposed current, real world is actually real, but I do think that if Ra could predict a successful counterattack, it could also predict the aftermath of that counterattack. So maybe it didn't fail to build the Matrioshka brain it was asked for. Maybe it just hasn't finished building it *yet*.

2014-03-31 22:12:29 by M:

@Daniel H:

Ra wouldn't necessarily have to create people exactly the same as those that actually lived in 1970; as long as everyone's memories were consistent with each other's and all the things on the rebuilt Earth, no one outside of the Wheel Group would notice the difference.  The Wheel Group could just have asked Ra to rebuild Earth and re-create its population in an internally consistent way that does not contradict whatever historical records exist from that period.  (With the addition of all the magic-generating machines at the centre of the Earth, the Floor, etc.)

On that note, the Wheel Group could just have asked Ra to create the population of Earth in such a way that someone would accidentally discover magic within a few years of it going online.  If Ra has the power to simulate all the Virtuals' existences, then it can probably simulate the population of Earth to find a solution that satisfies both those requirements.

2014-03-31 22:15:27 by Toadworld:

Typo:

>The believed that the universe represented an implicit challenge to all sentient life, and that humanity ought to rise up and make it, the universe, theirs.

Sentence should start "they believed".

2014-04-01 00:49:41 by IanO:

Wow...

This is amazing. This Chapter has solidified Ra as the most enjoyable experience I have had reading any science fiction. I was freaking out mid-way through this chapter telling my friends to get up to date...

Excellent writing, Sam.

I don't really see any plot holes--whatever hacking the Virtuals did probably prevented Ra from acting purely optimal. This explains a lot. I think that this story is true. It is not indoctrination. I think Wheel Group seeks to preserve Actual humanity. (Abstract Doctor causes death and the Wheel Group wants to prevent that).

I think that Rachel blew up the space ship. She wasn't trying to save it--perhaps the spaceship was going to fly into the sun and alter Ra's programming. This is my best guess right now.

It is deeply troubling if Garret was possessed by Ra. Having a possessed wheel member would be very helpful for Ra--perhaps Ra is possessing several Wheel Members. Perhaps the ones who went soft? Perhaps Ra let Garret be a little obvious because Ra has several other Wheel Group members...

How did Ra posses them? In order to get possessed by Ra, it looks like the process is:
1) Go to Tanako's world with someone else
2) Have that person create a shell of your body and then end the dream.

Why would Garret ever do 1? And who would do 2 to him?

Virtuals have a very good reason for killing off all Actuals. Say you are a Virtual and that instead of the Sun, I can just use the computer in front of me and program your reality. I can make your reality a living hell, (sort of like S-hell in the 30 first drafts). This is one reason why I would hesitate being a Virtual--there is a possibility my entire life could be a hell (like "I have no mouth and I must scream").

2014-04-01 01:04:41 by Dominik:

On a sidenote, it would have been funnier if there had been 300 people on the Triton:

"Then the war continues," Ashburne asserts. "All Virtual humans against we two hundred. It continues until we end it. And it ends when we get the world we want.

There are already more than a few parallels..

2014-04-01 08:43:22 by MHD:

I for one, do not welcome our solar overlord.

These chapters are a complete shift in flavour to me. I am heavily synaesthetic, and it went from spindly gold, desert sand, cinnamon and morning sun; to green glow-sticks, soap bubbles, steel and smokeless gunpowder.

I like the idea of Ra, but more as a means than an end.

Great twist. Took me completely by surprise.

2014-04-01 08:57:40 by Moritz:

Great chapter, I'm in awe.

Did you plot everything out in advance or invented the backstory in recent time?

As for why the virtuals didn't just move somewhere else or wait until the virus could subvert everything: I guess time is the most important reason. They are accelerated by a factor of thousands, waiting a full real-time day must be excruciating. Waiting several hundred years until a space mission to another solar system (no FTL!) succeeds in building a second Ra? Unthinkable.

2014-04-01 15:34:14 by John:

If the Virtuals don't have patience, then how could they have spent the time needed to hack Ra? Waiting several hundred years until the hack succeeds?  Unthinkable!

If, on the other hand, they were willing to spend the enormous time effort needed to succeed in the hack in the first place, waiting a few more hours for complete network shouldn't be a big deal.

Furthermore, as Virtual creatures, their clocks are not slaved to physical processes.  If some of them wanted to take a trip to Alpha Centauri but didn't want to be bored, they could just underclock themselves by a factor of a billion, and hey presto! We're there already! Where did all the time go?

2014-04-01 17:59:51 by K:

"The woman is a picture of meticulous self-control, but Natalie is close enough and familiar enough to be able to read the fury, the fear and the sorrow."

The phrase "familiar enough" really makes me think that Ashburne is Rachel; I can't imagine getting familiar enough to read her facial expression over the course of ~minutes.

2014-04-01 18:53:14 by wfn:

K: when reading, I assumed the 'familiar enough' to mean that Natalie can relate in the sense that she herself oftentimes finds herself 'contained' with few external/outwards signals, but she may well be fighting an internal battle at the same time. She can relate to this kind of disposition, so to say.

2014-04-01 19:58:07 by LNR:

Holy cow! I just realized the answer to two big questions. They answer each other.

What happened to the Virtuals?
Where did all the people in Natalie's home world come from?

Here's what the crew of Triton is planning:
"Imagine a universe with exotic technology and advanced physics and theoretically limitless possibilities - difficult to harness, but not impossible. Having imagined that universe, set Ra to simply implement the rules of that universe. Leave the Virtuals in their bottle, where they belong. Return power over reality to the hands of Actual humans, for good or bad."

What does that sound like?

"Theoretically limitless possibilities - difficult to harness, but not impossible," is a perfect description of magic in Natalie's world.

2014-04-01 20:43:06 by Morgan:

@LNR: I doubt it. I mean, yes, that's a description of Natalie's world, but I don't think it's implied to be the bottle for the Virtuals. After all, there are <i>quadrillions</i> of Virtuals, according to Ashburne; did only one in a million survive to populate Nat's Earth?

What I'm wondering: can Ra effectively predict/model the Virtuals' desires? After all, it works for Actuals by forking them in simulation at vastly accelerated speed; for regular humans thinking at meatish speeds with what fits into their skulls, that's one thing. The Virtuals vastly outnumber them, though, and are possibly individually vastly more complex; there's no obvious reason, if they're hungry for more processing power, they wouldn't already be straining Ra's capacity if they're running directly on it without the same constraints as the Actuals. Does it actually have *room* to anticipate their wishes and interpret them perfectly the way it did with the Actuals? Might this explain part of its poorly-directed outburst?

Virtual or Actual: Neither, but my sympathies lie more with the Virtuals. I'm very wary of any "let's disappear up our own arseholes", ignore-the-dependency-layer approach to life; it's blinkered and short-sighted. The Actuals, though, just seem like conservative meat-fetishists, and the fact that their notion of "making the universe theirs" consists of huddling around their parent star building hollow, imitation homeworlds to vacation on, apparently not bothering with the rest of the universe, is pathetic.

2014-04-01 20:57:58 by Curiouser:

What the story does not tell us, as it appears, that the schism begins on a sci fi and programming blog on 2014.

2014-04-01 21:14:14 by Blues:

Could it be that the billions required to repopulate Earth are reembodied Virtuals?

A rebellious sect dissatisfied with Vitual life, longing for flesh.

2014-04-01 21:31:54 by anonymouse:

But, how do they know that they've succeeded in trapping all the virtuals in the Sun? I presume that they were trapped, for everyone's safety, during the "compromise" period, but once they gained control of Ra, they may have forked some of themselves out into the rest of the solar system, since there's plenty of hardware for them to run on in whatever limited fashion, and presumably at least someone would want to supervise the clearing of the solar system for the construction project. When the Triton landed on Ra and installed their patches, those Virtuals would have been trapped with no way of uploading themselves back into the Sun.

2014-04-01 22:07:35 by Terry:

While rereading Abstract Weapon:

"I see a purge in time," Scin reports. "A ragged-edged hole where the past should be. Every time I add Weapon to the query, I get flat nothing. I'm charting the edges of the hole. But that's all I can do."

"I'm going to concede that I must have done something wrong," says Exa. "I honestly don't remember what, and nor do any of you, and nor would Ashburne."

More hints that Ashburne is gone, which points more strongly to a connection to Rachel Ferno

2014-04-01 22:08:55 by Terry:

*correction, the quote posted above is from Zero Day.

2014-04-01 22:44:14 by Silhalnor:

We were effectively told that Rachel Ferno is Asheburn when Sam pointed out that Natalie and Laura would naturally know their mother's maiden name while we were discussing the possible connection between Asheburn and Rachel. More so because there are so few women in this story who might be married. The only other possibility besides Rachel I can think of is Zeck's wife whose maiden name is also unknown.

He also told us that Martin Garrett was possessed by Ra. Sam hasn't been talking about his story much outside of his entries until now. Are these facts things that he thought he'd made clear in the story by now and doesn't want to write chapters just to get us up to date to where he thought we would be by now?

Ok I guess I've taken a break from speculating about Ra to speculating about Sam's behavior. I'll get back to the story itself soon enough.

2014-04-01 23:13:28 by T:

I'm starting to buy into Ashburne=Rachel less now, because Natalie knows:

1. There is a group of "admin-level" magic users and her mother was clearly one of them.
2. This group descended from the Intercessors
3. The Intercessors were lead by a woman named Ashburne.

If she knew her mother's maiden name was Ashburne I think she would have made this jump already and had some sort of reaction, even if only in mental monologue.

2014-04-01 23:19:04 by T:

I take back my prior comment after re-evaluating this paragraph:

>>Natalie stares. The sensation of familiarity is like a bell tolling. It's been tolling for some time, each toll louder and closer, and now she can't ignore it. Always assume reality. Those are my words. "Who are you?"

Ashburne is clearly Rachel.

2014-04-02 04:10:47 by Curiouser:

Evidence for Ashburne being Rachel seem to be pretty good right now, but it's this comment by mdr which really sways me "sidenote: mom/ashburne (ash & burn = fire = exploding shuttle?" ash+burn = (in)ferno, that addresses the elephant in the room, right? It's the kind of subtle hint which I expect from Sam.(unless I am giving him too much credit).

I still can't quite figure out why the hell she did her shuttle stunt, even the best theories I've seen seem lackluster. I feel as though this holds the key to a lot of the events in this story.

On a different note, Ashburne's reaction to the destruction of Neptune was "I suggest we decide what we want that world to be."
If you had one chance to program Ra to your liking, with all of the infinite possibilities that this architecture holds, why the hell would they choose 1970's earth? Something is amiss. Why didn't wheel show what happens next? This has to be a big twist. I actually like the idea that Natalie's earth is actually restrained Virtuals, but there isn't quite enough evidence to make this a strong theory.
But I do feel like the Virtuals have more of a part than we realize at this point, otherwise this world becomes too complicated for no good reason.

2014-04-02 05:52:48 by Jay:

Can't really see Rachel trying to blow up the Shuttle. The Space Shuttle of our universe could never make it to the sun - the delta-v isn't there, and the last time it took a thermal shield the size of Triton. Maybe Ra could magically hack it, but then why bother with the Shuttle at all?

Just getting out of range of the local core node might make magic act differently, but if Wheel patched Ra at the solar node then that doesn't make sense either. (And if they did, what was Benj-Ra's bomb supposed to accomplish? Using up Earth's mana only matters in a māyā universe!)

2014-04-02 09:22:41 by JJJS:

I don't understand why the "margin of safety" that Ashburne  was talking about didn't work. If there's no FTL, Ra's drones shouldn't have been able to get to Neptune faster  than a signal from the Sun, right? Or was the Triton just too slow getting to the Sun in the first place?

2014-04-02 16:10:58 by T:

Using up Earth's mana hurts Wheel Group and reveals facts about magic to civilians, if that's what the gigaspells run on.

The big things we don't know right now are:

1. What was Ra!Benj trying to do?
2. What was Rachel trying to do?
3. What is Laura trying to do?

Ra!Benj and Laura both seem to have plans that involve "use up ALL THE MANA", just at different points in the mana pipeline. We're told earlier that geological mana (and waste mana) eventually makes it to the Montauk under the Floor.

2014-04-02 17:18:57 by Mike:

JJJS: I assumed that Triton just hadn't launched in time. Maybe they predicted that Ra would launch drones from the Earths' orbit track, and Ra actually launched them from somewhere further out. Maybe they underestimated the speed at which Ra's drones could travel. Maybe somebody knew that the construction and transit time for Triton could never be shortened enough to save Neptune and Psamathe, but withheld that information to maintain the mission's urgency.

If the world as the readers have seen it is a holding pen for Virtuals, that certainly does explain why Wheel is content to sit on limitless power and not use it for the betterment of humanity, as Ra!Tanako puts it. It also explains the flagging enthusiasm among Wheel members, given that two hundred and fourteen Actuals survived War only to see Virtuals inherit the Earth. But if they were putting Virtuals into Natalie's dismal, rainy Earth out of spite or revenge, I can only assume that the tone of their prison would be less British November and more Heironymous Bosch. Since it more closely parallels Purgatory (or at least a fairly benign circle of Hell), I'm guessing that modern Earth's population is composed of Virtuals who want to become Actuals. Alternatively, Wheel could have had the glacial patience necessary to repopulate the Earth the hard way through breeding or cloning.

Stepping back further: these Actuals may be disappointingly provincial meat-fetishists, but any conceivable Virtuals will always be vulnerable to attacks against their simulator. For example, even when they gained full control of Ra, the Virtuals still had to exterminate every Actual to keep the hardware safe; the Actuals, meanwhile, could probably have deleted every single Virtual with impunity once they accessed the north thorn. I like futurism and transhumanism as much as the next guy, but I'll throw my lot in with the Actuals every time because the reality that contains the simulations doesn't have a plug that can be pulled.

2014-04-02 18:25:54 by anonymouse:

Well, we have some evidence that it's been a million years between the lifetime of Kurt Godel and the 1969 victory party/launch of Magic. This is quite a long time! Our species didn't even exist as such a million years ago. So who knows what happened in the meantime, both to the Solar System and to the Virtuals.

2014-04-02 20:49:51 by Silhalnor:

Given Ra's ability to create exceedingly precise simulcra for planning I suppose Benj-Ra may have simply been showing Laura what Ra is capable of at Krallafjöll so that she would go on to summon him later and team up. But if all of Ra's actions could be for extremely long term planning like that then there would be no real way for us to speculate with any accuracy because it is hard to say what the desired end result is. Especially since there have been so many unknowns and illusions such as the entire magic system.

In any case if that was the purpose behind blowing up Krallafjöll then why is it that Ra couldn't do whatever it needed Laura to do? Are there blocks somewhere limiting what mages named Ra can do? Surely he would alias as some other name in that case. Perhaps then I can infer that there ARE blocks and should determine their nature?

Other than that the purpose may have been to "put too much mu and zeta in the same place" (Thaumonuclear) and break something. Seemingly the result of doing that was to merge T-world and the real-world and/or hack in the Maya/DWIM systems that had supposedly been removed.

We also still don't know why Wheel avoids high mana usage. There was mention of "gigaspells" presumably used to power part of magic. How are magic spells powering magic? This line from Abstract Weapon implies that there was more magic in the past than the present: "there was enough raw magic saturating the world for it to be a safer plan to burn it off on something wasteful and elaborate than to archive it for future generations." None of this makes any sense under the explanation Nat has been given.

2014-04-03 01:11:10 by Ducken:

Spitballing, here - my guess about why Benji!Ra and Laura are trying to use up the earth's mana reserves is that these reserves are slowly collected over time at a steady rate from the sun, then distributed out from the batteries. When these batteries run dry, a direct request might be made to Ra itself, waking it from its current limited state. Thoughts?

2014-04-03 02:14:54 by Daniel H:

One more thing that bugs me. If most of the story takes place over 10,000 years after 1950, wouldn't astronomers and geologists notice? They could be created with different memories, but unless you're willing to fake and suppress dozens of myths and historical records, they'd notice inconsistencies. If you did alter records and myths, then anthropologists or historians could probably tell (although I'm not sure how, not being an anthropologist or ancient historian). This to me points to the entire War story being more fake than most of us seem to consider likely.

2014-04-03 02:46:44 by Alan:

What is the cost of a huge energy expenditure? A deficit in flow that alerts the human mages. Other than that, it seems like a buffer overflow, a failed malloc, or a fork bomb. In fact, Benji's recursion trick was basically a fork bomb.

So if it is a fork bomb on the local resources, then requests have to go directly to Ra...?

Ha, malloc. I made a magic allocation pun.

2014-04-03 05:27:05 by anonymouse:

What Benj!Ra was doing was creating a very high energy situation to pull himself and possibly also Laura into Tanako's World, and may well have meant for Laura to do what she did. Creating such a high-energy event meant that it definitely left a big mark in the Akashic Records, and may have helped gather the energy to rematerialize Laura and Natalie and Benj. He even says to Laura "You need to help me", though it's not at all clear what he needs help with of what help she is meant to give. At this point, he already has Abstract Mage, which he's stolen from the records, and which he used to write QUINIO. Presumably he wants to use QUINIO to hack the mana system to give him access to geological mana (since magical objects cast spells using the Name "ra"). One interesting question in all this is where Wheel was looking while all this was going on. Presumably he'd also developed the akashic scrambler by then, and maybe he was trying to do whatever it is that Laura is trying to do with Wheel's stored mana.

2014-04-03 07:54:07 by Swissaboo:

Daniel H: I suspect its entirely within the Wheel groups power to manufacture a completely false history of Astronomy. In fact its probably easier to manufacture a completely false history of astronomy that leads to the current situation than recover the real one. You're going to lose a lot of data over the course of a million years no matter how good your record-keeping is.

In regards to the 'they put the virtuals on the reconstructed earth" idea, well first I think there were probably more virtuals than the historical 1970 3.7 billion world population, and I don't think actuals would NECESSARILY have a problem with Inventing meat-individuals out of thin air.  Why 1970? They probably wanted the new humanity to "naturally" make technological progress through this new entirely invented field, and as has been pointed out I think in story, 1970 was about when enough physics was known to actually be able to discover it.

So before the wheel group locked off Ra, they probably said "hey, design as an internally consistent approximation of the solar system and Earth Society in the 1970s, that'll 'coincidentally' discover this new set of rules we came up with," and then they went with that.

2014-04-03 08:07:22 by atomicthumbs:

Wait a second

Guys, what if the old glassed Earth with monsters became Tanako's World because *something* burned it into the akashic records? The records are just an abstract space, and the world is there, not as a substrate, but because it's been recorded there.

2014-04-03 08:17:02 by Eldritch:

Hang on, wouldn't Ra's power output actually have to be kind of low?

I mean, the Sun emits just about as much energy as an ordinary yellow dwarf of that mass and radius WITHOUT Ra in it.

The crucial word here being 'emits'. As in "radiates away, unused."

If Ra was using any significant fraction of the Sun's power, its luminosity would have to be correspondingly reduced by that significant fraction. But the presence of Ra does not result in the Sun being markedly dimmer.

Deduction: Ra is running in low-power mode. The Earth's battery is being recharged at a mere trickle (relatively speaking) - but started out nearly full. Hence the talk about there being more magic around when the Floor was built, worries about conserving mana, etc.

And if the battery drops too low, if more mana is requisitioned than Earth can supply, something Really Bad happens. Some important gigaspell shuts down, or maybe it wakes up Ra's energy-allocation system and before long rather more threatening bits are awake too. Or something.

Has Ra been in low-power "hibernation" like this since Triton, because of some last-minute struggle or failure in reprogramming? Or what? What went wrong? Is the lack of power why there's no worldring? If so, how did they get the  energy to rebuild the solar system after the War?

(Or maybe the Sun IS dimmer in the post-"1970" universe, and nobody noticed because the invisible nanobots get in front of all the telescopes and fudge the data, or scientists HAVE noticed and it just never came up in conversation.)

2014-04-03 08:19:55 by Eldritch:

Or maybe it's just dimmer only on whatever side nobody's looking at.

2014-04-03 16:05:01 by anonymouse:

The thing about the Sun is that it's really, really big. And puts out lots and lots of power: 10^26 watts according to Wikipedia. So even Laura's exawatt laser, the power output of which is very nearly the total capacity of the "gigaspells" is only 0.000001% of the power output of the sun. If the power consumption of the Earth node were even a hundred thousand times higher, I doubt anybody would notice the 0.1% decrease in the brightness of the Sun, especially if it had "always" been that way. Anyway, since Wheel uses magic and mana, consuming all the available power of the gigaspells may literally render them powerless, and consuming their stored mana might not be too good for them either.

2014-04-03 22:51:38 by Sam:

I can't go too far into the solar engineering story without inevitably shooting myself in the foot, but as I understand it, it takes hundreds of thousands of years for any given photon to escape all the way from the solar core to its surface. Ra is buried deep enough that even if its energy drain would be detectable, it won't be detectable for millennia yet.

2014-04-04 03:32:23 by Tlarhices:

First comment here, but long time reader.<br/>
Thanks Sam for the good writing, it's always a pleasure to find a new chapter waiting in my RSS feed. Keep up the good work.<br/>
<br/>
The way I see it, when ra failed to prevent the actual from reaching the sun, it has left behind -in the real world- some virtuals (all or part of those 14 extra survivors).<br/>
Those have some form of privileged access to magic and live secret infinite lives to the eyes of humans (like the wheel members) and to wheel itself.<br/>
<br/>
The wheel group started wondering "how do we prevent humanity of recreating an all powerful non locality system ?" and came up with the idea of giving to the recreated humanity a clunky, inefficient toy (magic) to keep them occupied and prevent them to shoot themselves in the foot again too fast.<br/>
<br/>
I believe ra (as benj) was trying to deplete the earth local buffer of all energy. And as found a way to have Laura do it for him (it?). Maybe he just had to tell her:<br/>
"I heard you needed a lot of power for a project of yours. Those guys have access to all the magic output possible. Feel free to use it to do your stuff".<br/>
<br/>
If the earth reserves are emptied, then the wheel group is powerless, even the floor will stop working.<br/>
Maybe that powerlessness would be enough to destroy everything they have build to keep ra from acting as ra (the machines in earth core would not get any magical protection from getting crushed / melted).<br/>
Maybe ra would need his agents (the 14 extra original survivors) to do something to finish freeing it.<br/>
<br/>
With current human resources / technology and a powerless wheel. There would be nothing to prevent ra from doing it's job.<br/>
<br/>
On the question of why didn't the virtual just move to another star, I guess it's a resource problem. Building a copy of ra (to put it that another star) would need energy - which current ra is lacking- and materials -which current solar system is lacking, hence the empty shell earths- so the only course of action is to get rid of actuals and relocate the materials in use.

2014-04-04 04:17:43 by John:

The rest of the solar system is a rounding error when it comes to mass.  If you skimmed 0.09% of the Sun's mass off, you'd have another Jupiter.  Another 0.05%, you'd have another copy of everything else besides Jupiter.  The mass of Earth doesn't even show up in the noise.

For reference, over its lifetime so far, the sun has already lost 0.1% of its mass due to solar wind, which is significantly more than it has lost due to fusion.  So scraping a little bit off the top wouldn't significantly impact anything.

One thing that puzzles me, is why they think the Sun's natural fusion output is their actual limit.  It doesn't seem like a technology which is capable of building structures inside of the Sun would have that hard of a time just CAUSING as much fusion within the Sun as they wanted, rather than just collecting whatever amount that gravitational collapse-versus-radiation-pressure happened to generate.

With that level of technology, they could burn the Sun as quickly or as slowly as they wanted.  You haven't really run out of energy until you run out of solar material which hasn't been fused all the way to iron yet.  A Matrioshka Brain is really thinking too small.

2014-04-04 14:44:43 by Toph:

Remember that Ra was difficult to build, even with pre-existing nonlocality tech and AIs, and with the benefit of having a planet's worth of industrial and construction gear within 8.3 light-minutes.

Building a new Ra will involve a ping time of >8 years, so it's impossible if the construction process requires a lot of babysitting. It's very time-consuming if they need to get a physical spaceship across the gap before they can use nonlocality to transmit stuff. If nonlocality requires more energy to send stuff further, they may not be able to send the gear they need to Alpha Centauri at all. There's too many unknown variables to be sure, but at the very least a second Ra would be no easier to make than the first.

Now consider the DWIM engine. The Virtuals might not have actually asked for a Matrioshka Brain at all. They might have just said "Ra, we're running out of computing space. Fix it.", and Ra could have thought "There are two options, one which will take >10 years to finish (and might stretch into millenia) which will double my power, and one which will take <1 week to finish and will more than double my power at the cost of killing 0.1% of humanity." The Virtuals don't caring about the underlying reality, as long as they get their computronium and keep eating their lotus blooms. Many of them might not even know such things as "stars" and "planets" exist.

2014-04-04 17:32:05 by Mike:

Minor quibble:

"'Anh zero EPTRO--' Nat begins, then finds the Montauk ring around her neck. It's too big to remove."

I'd expect that a ring around one's neck would derive inescapability from a small diameter, rather than a large one. Unless too big means too heavy?

2014-04-04 17:42:40 by Mike:

Also, upon rereading the last chapter, I paid more attention to this line:

"For Natalie it's disconcertingly like speaking to a slightly older version of herself."

Combine that with "Natalie is close enough and familiar enough," and I think it now almost certain that Ashburne became Rachel Ferno.

2014-04-04 18:06:41 by Mike:

This is supported by the fact that Ashburne is present at the New Year's Eve victory party, but has already delegated/abdicated some or all of her authority to Adam King.

King's statement of "Thank God we got there first" is clearly glossing over some sort of major upheaval in the wake of Triton's incursion. There are about a hundred and twenty people in 1969's Wheel Group, which is a markedly smaller number than two hundred and fourteen. I'm sure that this as-yet unrevealed clusterfuck will be central to Rachel/Ashburne's motivations. Perhaps she initially sided with King, but didn't like how things played out and started sympathizing with the goals of the missing ninety-four.

2014-04-04 19:43:10 by Alan:

The virtuals might also be engaged in all sorts of activities far removed from practical physics. It could be like asking painters to build automobiles from scratch. Except that their knowledge base is orders of magnitude removed.

2014-04-06 16:18:50 by Silhalnor:

I have an idea, what if this whole situation with Ra, Abstract War, and the Virtual / Actual dichotomy is in fact one of the worlds that the Virtuals created within Ra and has no actual bearing on "reality"? Taking it further it could be that reality is absolutely nothing like our universe and the standard model and possesses a different collection of physical laws. Laws that still allow for "the most powerful computer. No qualifiers."

This whole situation with simulacra indistinguishable from reality reminds me of qntm.org/responsibility
It is also annoyingly non-disprovable but Exa's line "Signal upwards," from Scrap Brain Zone (/scrap) makes me wonder if they are supposed to send signals into the higher level realities. How does one even do that when your reality appears to be THE reality?

2014-04-06 16:49:01 by Silhalnor:

This seems like a good spot for a cliff hanger. Let's go see how Ed's doing. I imagine he's heard about the magic bomb at Laura's house by now and is trying to get a hold of Devi. Or how about someone else. Let's go with... Nick. I'd like to know how he's getting along in T-world and how long it has been for him subjectively.
Or... Vidyasagar? I feel like he'll show up again too somewhere. Hmnn... can't think of anyone else who's likely to be up to anything of note. Douglas Ferno's falconry? How about Scott F. Parajsa? He's probably off drinking in Chile but I'm always up for that guy. There's also Benj but he's probably working to avoid even the possibility of getting involved in anything weird again. Is there anyone else we haven't seen in a while who's alive enough to do stuff? Zeck's wife? Laura's introductory magic instructor? The Krallafjöll team? I'm running out leads here.

2014-04-06 18:15:01 by roflmao:

Silhalnor, i am impressed by your jib, and the cut of it.

2014-04-07 08:25:08 by atomicthumbs:

I re-read Scrap Brain Zone and have another theory.

>Evening passed and morning came and that was version one.

The Wheel Group restarted the simulation of earth way, *way* back, with a hastily-done permission system blocking access to nonlocality/māyā for anyone without permissions.

There were holes in it, leading to various people gaining privileges who shouldn't have.

Version two was magic, a layer that runs on top of māyā.

Who says that only one story can be true?

2014-04-07 09:37:00 by Toph:

Everything is real, atomicthumbs.

2014-04-07 13:33:11 by Irval:

I wonder what Ed from Ed stories will do if he ends up in this universe (or the Ra machine exists in his universe)

2014-04-07 13:40:38 by Obviouser:

First, he would blow things up. Then, he would make things disappear. Then he will outwit Ra and bring forth abstract peace.
Obviously

2014-04-07 18:09:27 by Alan:

Just because everything is real, does not mean everything is true, Toph.

2014-04-07 20:05:36 by atomicthumbs:

everything is bitchin'

2014-04-07 20:22:14 by atomicthumbs:

100% totally true theory: this was playing on Triton's sound system on the way to the north thorn

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zuEfmmCA5s

2014-04-08 01:49:45 by Silhalnor:

Always happy to entertain, Roflmao! If that is your real name.

I thought for sure you were going to Rick roll us (and the Virtuals), Atomicthumbs. I don't know if I should be disappointed or relieved.

2014-04-08 02:34:05 by ahd:

it never occurred to *anyone* to carry a backup copy of the refugees on board Triton?

2014-04-08 10:41:30 by Omegatron:

@ahd
There probably wasn't room in Triton's Ra fleck.

2014-04-09 10:37:02 by ahd:

i'd say "then a larger fleck was in order" except that a bulk transfer of that many souls might have cost them time they couldn't afford.

sigh.

2014-04-09 13:34:54 by Mike:

Yeah. As it was they couldn't get to Ra in time to save Neptune, and it already took the largest moon in that planetary system to house the fleck that they did send. Really, it's a miracle that Triton itself wasn't intercepted, even after the jump to the inner solar system.

2014-04-09 18:29:49 by Sam:

Triton was intercepted, just not effectively. On average the ship was losing several hundred metres of armour per second throughout the mission, above and below the solar surface.

Natalie arrived after splashdown, though, so she didn't witness that part.

Also, yes, there wasn't anywhere near enough storage space to take backups of the saved humans with them. Besides, they knew it was going to work, right?

2014-04-10 03:57:46 by ahd:

i noticed that during the opening hour of War, Ra sent outsized energy packets from Sol to the cache nodes, which used that energy to build weaponry, and then power it.

so can an intact chunk of Ra machinery convert matter to/from energy, or not?

'cos i'm wondering why Neptune's energy budget was limited only to the dregs left in the local cache.

2014-04-10 07:55:09 by bdew:

I just reread the chapter and now i have even more questions

"It's all just people ...snip... we've still yet to build a machine remotely as stupid as the smartest genuine human beings."

"Your sister's trying to wake Ra again"

So if is the enemy is just people and ra is just a stupid machine, why waking him is even important? How do you even wake something that's just running instructions possesses no fee will? Who is the entity we known as Ra for the rest of the story if the real Ra is non-sentient and inactive?


2014-04-10 08:02:59 by bdew:

Oh and another question - if the could "reboot" history with 6x10^9 people alive on a single earth why couldn't they do the same with 6x10^13 people alive on a world ring? Why did they chose to revert the history so far back?

2014-04-10 14:22:54 by Vladimir:

I don't believe the exposition so far. Why do people have access to T-world through dreams, why is it possible to bring stuff from T-world to Earth, and why is it possible to walk from T-world to Earth seamlessly? It seems like if one of these is a virtual reality, then the other must be as well.

2014-04-10 23:06:48 by atomicthumbs:

>'cos i'm wondering why Neptune's energy budget was limited only to the dregs left in the local cache.

I'm guessing it can only convert nonlocality energy packets, and anything coming from the Ra in the sun wasn't clean energy.

go green, avoid infection by a rampant omnipotence machine

2014-04-11 00:34:10 by Daniel H:

>go green, avoid infection by a rampant omnipotence machine

Isn't solar energy usually considered green? Maybe they should have been non-green energy. Titan does have a lot of burnable hydrocarbons...

2014-04-11 00:41:27 by Daniel H:

Unfortunately, Titan ≠ Triton. I should have caught that before I posted. As far as I can tell, Triton does not have much in the way of non-green energy, even though it does have some energetic activity that Wikipedia calls "geological" (which is obviously not a good term to use for something other than the Earth).

2014-04-13 00:52:52 by Sam:

> a buffer overflow, a failed malloc, or a fork bomb

Well, you've already seen an integer underflow exploit.

2014-04-14 01:02:39 by Kazanir:

Where is that one? Are you referring to Laura's True Name aliasing trick or is it something else which should be completely obvious that I have forgotten about?

I agree with other commenters that a lot still seems unrevealed, primarily how, "magic is nanotech governed by an abstraction layer for access control," can explain T-World and how it has operated in the story. What is the "akashic records interface" and what does it do? What ARE the records? How do mages get there and where/what are "they" while they are "there"? How is it possible to "walk back" from it or otherwise re-instantiate as Laura and Tanako do multiple times? Etc.

Also, I went back and read the first half of the story today and I don't think it is nearly as weak as you seem to.

2014-04-14 04:39:56 by IanO:

The integer underflow exploit is the one Garret leaked to Hatt group, see "Bare Metal"

2014-04-14 14:56:48 by Kazanir:

Ah, right.

Thinking about it some more, I suppose if we take this chapter at face value (aside from the 120 =/= 214 problem) that T-World could seamlessly interact with reality because the way the Magic/Maya layer is coded instructs it to and Ra is simply implementing the (buggy) rules it has been given. T-World is accessible through human minds because of an error/exploit and given the proper circumstances (sufficient mana density or anonymous recursion tricks) it is possible to tell Ra to re-instantiate matter and intelligence and Ra takes care of the rest via a combination of illusions and nanotech.

2014-04-14 19:43:14 by jonas:

Toph: I'm not entirely convinced, but yes, that's a plausible explanation.

2014-04-14 23:23:01 by T:

That actually sounds pleasingly simple to me- they discuss restoring a kilometer wide area "from record", which implies there is already some way to overwrite reality with data from the records. Laura is just tapping into it.

2014-04-15 09:23:03 by Alan:

Oh ok. So Laura just writes what she needs to an area of the records, then copies "from disk"  to reality, which might be analogous to RAM.

Rachel did the opposite, somewhat, making a permanent backup for whatever reason. To preserve a body with admin permissions?

Travel from dream to reality is a system call. That system call is  fundamental to keeping order, and is normally used to rewrite stuff that Wheel wants to revert.

You push your new body on the stack, a pointer to that body, and a location. Then you do the system call. When you arrive back, you've got the new body instead of your old one. Objects can be done as well.

Normally this happens to mages in their sleep, and their body pointer and location are restored.

2014-04-16 19:55:13 by Eldritch:

I think I've figured out what's the deal with Tanako's World!

It's not just an interface for accessing memory - maybe it's also the interface for the simulation capabilities of the Wheel. That would make sense, I think. Anything you will into existence gets instantiated into simulation because that's what the most convenient interface for the simulator is. And of course it's linked into the Akashic Records of everything that ever happened, because the main purpose is to simulate what-if extrapolations of real events. (And even if you're just accessing historical data, if you have a REALLY ACCURATE simulator - which Ra has - then if you want to be able to record and play back historical events, it makes way more sense from a memory-efficiency perspective to record intermittent snapshots, and just simulate what's going on between them to interpolate, using the snapshots as data correction to keep them from diverging from the real events.)

So the Akashic Records Interface is not JUST a way to interact with the memory - it's a way to interact with and generate simulations, and the two capabilities are so closely interlinked that there's no distinction. 

And Ra's simulations do not abstract anything away - they're totally realistic, accurate down to the atoms. The "Ra Nonlocality Engine" , in its original DWIM mode, simulates a huge variety of different answers to your requests to figure out which is the right one - and then it just takes whatever the correct answer was and directly translates it to real action. Ra's make-this-into-a-real-thing systems will just take any old .atom file and pass it through into reality. Does this information correspond to the recorded state of a real event, or a simulated one? Who cares. Bits are bits, and they're both valid .atom files. Your printer doesn't treat Photoshopped images any different from unedited pictures.

Ra's original programming, in other words, was always designed directly to grab data from the records, simulate it, and then feed physically-possible simulated arrangements of stuff to the convert-this-into-a-real-thing system.

And so Tanako's World is the Wheel's ultimate sandbox interface for the Akashic Records, the closely-associated simulator system - both for reading and writing.

That's why you can just pull stuff out of the Akashic Records - there's fundamentally no difference between "convert this volume of matter into the configuration in THIS file, corresponding to the backup I took" and "convert this volume of matter into the configuration in THIS file, corresponding to this flying car I asked for."

So that's how the trick works - entering the Akashic Records by dreams forks you into a real body and the simulated dream-body. While there, you conjure up whatever you want (because that functionality is inherent in the sandbox-simulator of the Records), and then use another security hole to convince Ra to merge you back in wherever you want and with whatever you've conjured up* - including "merging" you back with empty air if your real body's been destroyed. Under normal circumstances, the only thing that gets merged back is mental state.

*after all, under all those security patches, Ra is a fundamentally trusting piece of hardware. It exists to satisfy requests - it wants to do what you want to do.

Not sure why mages normally enter the Akashic Records when they dream, or why it acts as a fork-and-merge operation, but my guess is it's to take backup snapshots. Really not sure why lots of mana being involved also causes one to stumble into the Records through a security hole, though.

Also, I'm not sure why magic results in paint falling from your mouth when in the Records.

I think that Tanako's World in its base state resembles the dead Earth as an aesthetic decision only. (And it's filled with lethal monsters as a security measure - if your dream self  gets killed, then when the merge happens, you end up with a dead guy in the real world. They only really attack people who have entered through a security hole involving lots of mana - if you enter Tanako's World through ordinary dreaming, it's still a nightmare, but a fairly harmless one. They probably ignore the Wheel altogether.)

2014-04-16 22:08:03 by anonymouse:

Well, presumably the creation of new bodies from nothing requires a lot of real energy, and it's quite possible that something about Magic breaks down at high energies as well, which is why it takes a lot of mana to pull things from Tanako's world. Though I'm not convinced that mana isn't just an accounting mechanism and that Wheel isn't running a fractional reserve and satisfying demands from the energy fed from the node in the Earth's core. As for why mages go into Tanako's world when they sleep, presumably it's some undesired leakage from whatever mechanisms are used to read minds to make Magic work, since we know those can both read and write (since uum can report success). The magic-as-paint-blobs is presumably some kind of side effect of the special recognition of "magic" thoughts by the mind-reading mechanisms.

2014-04-16 23:13:34 by Daniel H:

@Eldritch

Now that you say that, most of it is so obviously true (at least for the parts it does explain) that I'm not sure why I didn't realize it myself. I'm a bit skeptical of your "fork-and-merge" part though, because mentally you only exist in T-World. In the real world you are not reacting to anything.

2014-04-17 21:13:14 by Eldritch:

Yeah, the fork-and-merge is speculation on my part. I think I kind of have a handle on the mechanism, but I'm definitely grasping there.

The rest of it I'm quite pleased with, though.

2014-04-17 21:16:34 by Eldritch:

Oh! One more thing I forgot to mention.

I'm now almost certain that simulation is even involved in accessing the Records - not only does it make more sense from a memory perspective, but the Records react to changes you make to them. The recorded victory party noticed when Tanako and Laura entered. The recorded decommissioning of the astra gauntlet-thing in Tanako's account reacted to Tanako showing up. (I think at least that part was true.)

Accessing the Records is the same thing as booting up a simulation loaded from that point.

2014-04-18 13:13:14 by Mike:

I've got a minor, non-plot-related question. The victory party has shown that the translation convention is in full effect, with Tanako's Japanese and another speaker's Urdu both rendered as English in the text; it's also obvious that the Neptunians' onboard translation is still available to the Wheel Group, because three people speaking English, Urdu, and Japanese can all understand one another perfectly.

I noticed on rereading that Wheel members have been using terms such as yantra, akashic records, and the like when talking among themselves. Were various features of magic deliberately named by Wheel using this theme, or did they have their own names in mind before the pioneers in India started naming things on their own? Which is to say, is their use of familiar baseline-human terminology another facet of the translation convention? More to the point, are any of the survivors of Triton still using a (the?) native language from the time of the War, or have they all switched to more contemporaneous Earth languages?

2014-04-21 22:14:54 by Yasha:

I think the Wheel for whatever reason prefers to use the same terminology that ordinary mages use. That's why victory party Exa didn't know about the Delhavi lighting machine. Presumably the Wheel knew about that kind of spell, but it wasn't invented by ordinary mages yet, and hence did not have that name yet.

I want to suggest the idea that maybe the Virtuals have by now merged into one conscious entity, and it's fair to call that Ra. After all, if the rate of communication between individuals becomes high enough relative to their rate of internal communication, then they become analogous to cells in a brain, and it might become fair to think of them together as one individual.

2014-04-22 00:17:35 by T:

Conversations between Wheel members definitely give the impression they think they are raising or grooming humanity to use magic, so it makes sense for them to adopt "civilian" terms for things. Notice the attitude King had about the first bomb, like his child just brought him a drawing to put on the fridge.

Unrelated, I think it's probably going to be important than the syllable ra *used* to have special properties, until Wheel patched it. I wonder what they were.

2014-04-23 11:30:24 by Sam:

I still have half a mind to call this chapter "WHY DO YOU HATE RA" in all capitals.

2014-04-23 14:05:32 by Mike:

It was staring me in the face the whole time I wrote that post, but I didn't see it until now. The language of magic is probably the dominant dialect among the crew of Triton; after all, it's entirely alien to 1970s-Earth, and it's riddled with exceptions and edge cases just like an organic language would be.

2014-04-23 18:05:51 by Kazanir:

I don't understand the title, really. It sounds like the kind of phrase a petulant child would say, but isn't the whole point of the story that Ra is not a petulant child at all but rather just a machine following orders from a new set of masters?

Maybe we are still being lied to by the Wheel's whole exercise here, but at least part of this story has to be correct.

2014-04-23 22:13:44 by Eldritch:

>"I don't understand the title."

Seems pretty simple to me. This is Why The Wheel Group Hates Ra.  I interpreted the title being so, ah, blunt as Sam's way of saying "Here, have some straightforward answers for once."

2014-04-24 06:49:37 by IanO:

I interpreted it more as "why do you hate *ra*" As in, ra is not evil, ra does not have a mistake, ra does not have an agenda. It's the Virtuals you should hate.

2014-04-24 10:34:45 by ahd:

The Virtuals are actually running *on* Ra? Or just drawing power from it for their own hardware also inside the sun?

If the former, I can't quite see why  Ra wouldn't compensate for Too Many Virtuals by reallocating less clock ticks per second to each human. How would the virtuals have noticed that reality outside the Sun is running faster than it used to? Let alone be inconvenienced enough to go to the enormous trouble of hacking Ra's master key.

In other words, they have some other reason to care. Someone with an ancient grudge from the last Virtual-Actual war?

If the latter...

2014-04-24 10:44:08 by Toadworld:

'Less ticks per human' imagines some kind of communist paradise, where Ra is given control over Virtuals and treats them all fairly.  Why imagine that?  Imagine that Ra is dumb, and that everyone knows what's going on.

The rich Virtuals get more ticks than the poor Virtuals (almost by definition of 'rich').  They want their economy to grow.  So they need more total ticks.  Hard to keep the poor happy without growth...

2014-04-24 12:06:39 by Toadworld:

You could also read it as "Why do you hate, Ra?" i.e. "Why did you try to kill us, Ra?".

2014-04-25 13:12:14 by ahd:

@Toadworld: not particularly; think Greg Egan.

Actuals didn't bother with an economy, the kind of limited resource allocation and swapping that gives rise to rich and poor. Why would the Virtuals bother with one, either?

If this year's Virtual civilization needed double the number of clock ticks to simulate than last year's, it runs 50% slower in wall clock time on the same CPUs. And the Virtuals care about how fast or slow the Actuals perceive them to be running...why?

So they didn't get here by "the CPU drought is strangling us, we must hack Ra!" They got to "we must hack Ra to let us build a matrioshka brain" by some other chain of reasoning.

I wonder if Rachel Ferno knows what it is.

2014-04-25 16:00:59 by Silhalnor:

The sun wont last forever so maybe they are worried that their lives will be cut short and wish for the fastest clock cycle possible. The idea is kind of funny to us who live only 70-100 years but Virtuals may be expecting something close to immortality and a subjective lifespan on the order of a sextillion years. Vastly more if they start taking advantage of the whole galaxy rather than just one star.

The fact that no one is doing any extra-solar colonization baffles me. No Actual in the world ring wants to live under another star? To make their civilization even greater and long lasting? Maybe those who do become Virtuals to get faster results.

Actuals appear to be somewhat shortsighted in comparison as their lifestyle vastly reduces their own maximal lifespans.

2014-04-25 17:16:03 by Sam:

ahd: There's no special alternate line of reasoning for why the Virtuals want the Matrioshka brain. Demand just grows. If supply is ample, then demand grows until it isn't. Look at processing power and bandwidth in the real world. Look at what used to be tolerable. I don't think it stretches imagination in the slightest that people could be given one whole universe's worth of processing power... and eventually use it all up and wish they had more.

2014-04-25 19:03:20 by Silhalnor:

Sam: Per ahd's reasoning the Virtuals could slow down the rate at which they experience time and effectively get more processing power per "second." Wouldn't this prevent them from ever running out of processing power, at least subjectively? The the rate of processing per person falls with time but since the rate of processing controls the rate of experience it has no perceptible effect on those being processed. Would they even know that they are consuming every available processing cycle? Presumably even a single Virtual person would be capable of using up all the processing power by boosting it's perception up by a factor of an octillion or more.

2014-04-25 19:27:02 by Zyzyx:

I’m sure part of the “Us vs Them” logic included the virtuals says “They can move to another star and we can’t, they are just being greedy.”

2014-04-25 21:18:35 by Curiouser:

I'm curious Solhalnor, and ahd. Would clock cycles really work the same way on the kind of crazy quantum computing that must be involved in turning a star into a computer?
Sure they're a simulation, but we don't really understand ANYTHING about the mechanics of the brain on which they are running.

Besides for that, why slow yourself down when you can build a bigger computer?

2014-04-26 21:20:24 by ahd:

"Suffice it to say, it was incredibly difficult and time-consuming and computation-intensive, and it worked."

@Curioser: "Build a bigger computer" = hacking Ra, which apparently was a quest epic in scale and pain.

"Slow every process in here down by the same factor" = make as much room as you like for no perceived cost at all, if you were a Virtual who only ever interacted with other Virtuals.

2014-04-27 01:35:52 by DanielLC:

> They didn't. They just told Ra, "Build us a Matrioshka brain".

Then why didn't Ra build a Matrioschka brain somewhere else? It would have a higher chance of success.

2014-11-03 18:28:47 by john:

Building Ra was a tremendous amount of work even with nonlocality technology, but how much of that was actual construction and logistics, compared to how much was design work that wouldn't need to be redone,  given a copy of the blueprints?

2014-11-17 14:47:35 by John Buck:

Okay.