this is not over and I am not dead

Previously

> He's here. He's in the facility right now. I can "hear" him.

>> Who's here?

> Xio. The bad guy. I can feel his mind.
> I'm moving towards the transceiver. Buy me as much time as you can. Whatever it takes.

>> Okay.

Hugh Davies looks like the boy he was five years ago at UKAPL. His intractable hair's still in the same slicked side parting he always used to sport. Black tie, long-sleeved shirt, tucked in. What kind of geek dresses so formally? Something's wrong with his brain, the same thing that was wrong with Ching-Yu Kuang's and Jim Akker's. There's something parasitic and metaphorical wrapped around his brainstem.

It's two o'clock in the morning, local time. Davies' workstation is in the same room as eight black monolithic roaring mainframes and their attendant air conditioners. Orange fibre optic cables, white raised flooring and fluorescent lights. This is not a concrete Soviet installation. It's a shiny advanced supercomputer cluster on the second-to-lowest level of an equally shiny science laboratory centre. What's he doing still up? How can he stand the noise down here?

His screen is mounted on the wall. Once he's done with the IM conversation he closes it and pushes a few buttons to pull up a grid of security camera feeds over the top of his Eka work. A cursory glance reveals nothing out of the ordinary. Almost all of the offices are in complete darkness, except for his machine room, and the basement where the Preonic Transceiver has been located, quietly listening to the repeating Script, for almost all of the 2000s.

He turns away from his screen and scans the room, tensing up. He gets up from his seat and walks over to where he can see down between the machines. There's nobody there, of course. That's to be expected. There's only one way in or out of the room, and that's the card-locked door behind him.

He turns, punches the button for exit and goes through. He turns a few corners and ducks into the men's room. Takes a leak. Washes his hands. Looks in the mirror. Turns around while he dries them on a paper towel, spending a few moments following the invisible patch of air as it moves around the room. "I can see you."

Mitch Calrus decides there's no threat, so he materialises, slowly and carefully. He's wearing heavy cold weather gear with a fluffy hood, and his oxygen tank and mask over the top of that. In his arms is a big black rifle with a scope he doesn't know how to use. He holds it like he dearly wants to drop it. He's got bad trigger discipline.

There's a lot that they could ask one another. Mitch senses from the offset that, whatever Hugh Davies was before he was turned, he's a fanatic now: a man who'll take whatever evidence the universe provides him and adapt or selectively ignore it until it fits his existing, concrete worldview. Whether that's Davies' fault for failing to take a sufficiently sceptical stance against the world when it started changing under his feet or the result of the psychopathic zombie weapon Oul's direct interference with Davies' living thoughts isn't really even relevant. Chances are good that John Zhang (currently detained in Brasilia with a device that could turn a continent inside-out by the time the Imprisoning God wiped him and all his knowledge off the face of the Earth in retaliation) and Andreas Kosogorin (missing; unarmed but equally dangerous) are the same. There's likely no reasoning with them and certainly no rescuing them. Still, a little conversation could prove illuminating.

"So explain to me how you did that," asks Calrus.

"You can't stay phased completely into the fourth dimension without falling through the Earth," says Davies. His voice is weak and low-pitched for his size and doesn't sound like his own. "Your feet have to stay in contact with the real ground. Which means your footsteps make noise."

"Negative. We made eye contact as early as the machine room, and it's the loudest place in the building. You haven't answered my question."

Davies throws the paper towel in the bin and grips the sink behind him with both hands, as if steadying himself. "Have you actually studied the Script at all?"

"No."

"Did you know that it's not all written in Eka? 'Eka' is just the the first part. From the Sanskrit word for 'one'. It switches language deep inside, to 'Dvi'. And then it switches again. The information becomes so densely encoded that it looks random. By the end of it it's written at such a high level as to dwarf simple English, or any other human language. Because the early parts of the Script look like basic mathematical statements and fundamental physical laws and constants and variables, which is fine, when you approach it from such a low perspective as we humans have no choice but to do. But when you start to understand the greater implications and the higher levels... it stops looking like the laws of physics, and it starts to look like the law." Davies' voice changes while he says this. His face stops expressing what he is saying. As if someone else has begun opening and shutting his mouth for him. "Did you know that you can make real things happen just by delivering a sufficiently unambiguous verbal or mental affidavit to the greater Structure?"

"You saw me in four dimensions because you asked to be able to see?"

Hugh Davies doubles over, holding his stomach. He whirls around and vomits into the sink. When he looks up and meets Mitch's gaze in the mirror something multi-tentacled and neon blue and four-dimensional has begun crawling out of his eyes. He gurgles.

"Did you know Paul Klick killed close to a million people with nothing but an empty copper box and his mind?"

Mitch Calrus backs away, clanking against the tiled far wall of the room, forgetting that he can just phase through it and forgetting to ask his next question, "What did Zykov tell you?"

Davies answers it anyway. "He didn't tell me anything, but I still know it. If I kill you, he'll take all of us up there with him when he goes home."

"You've been lied to," Mitch begins. But Davies turns and staggers forward with superlight beginning to crackle from his digits, leaving strobing ultraviolet trails in the air. Whatever it is he's building inside his brain need not even be directly dangerous; the backlash when the universe takes exception will surely be enough to kill them both. Maybe that's exactly what Davies is trying to do. Gaming the system. Performing an illegal scientific act in order to leverage the violent response for his own (species') indirect benefit. God on your side...

Mitch Calrus gathers his nerve and moves forward to meet Davies, who is not much more than a lurching automaton now. He holds on to his gun with one hand, but points it down and away. With the other, he reaches forward into Davies' coruscating mind and brushes its surface. Davies drops, switched off like a light bulb, while Calrus recoils, shaking his stinging hand. "Dyaa!"

Davies' mind's interior was hot enough to the touch to burn his fingertips.

*

Every time a forbidden science is discovered, anybody with active involvement in the utilisation of that science suffers. Depending on the scale of the incursion, the unfortunate inventor may simply lose his memories, or the technology may inexplicably run out of control and destroy thousands of uninvolved people besides. As time has passed, the punishments for perceived attempts to probe or step beyond the limits of the cell in which Alef is suspended have increased, and the list of technologies now permanently gone from the universe has lengthened.

But even from the very beginning, even before Mike Murphy's discovery of the underlying axioms of the whole Structure, faster-than-light communication using signals sent through the "ambient layer" of the universe was disabled.

Why?

Who discovered the ambient neutrality, abused it, and caused it to be locked out? Were they punished for this?

What messages could have been sent in the small time during which they could be sent? To whom, to where in the universe, were they sent?

Was there a response?

*

Trafalgar Square has a thousand people in it, which is is sparse for daylight hours on a stinking hot Bank Holiday Monday. All four faces of the base of Nelson's Column are occupied, three dozen bored teenagers slouched on the huge stone steps in black jeans, bright T-shirts and interestingly stylish hair, photographing tourists photographing them, falling off skateboards, and exposing everybody around them to snatches of bad, tinny music from mobile phones. Big red buses, black cabs and white vans crawl past them anticlockwise; snakes of French high school students are dragged to and through the National Gallery; visibly worse-for-wear Monopoly Pub Crawlers in red custom t-shirts file towards their nineteenth destination of the day; Londoners of every age and nationality go about their business.

A tall, skinny Australian nineteen-year-old bundled up in a weighty pink hoodie approaches the cluster and says "'Scuse me. I'm going to climb up."

It's not actually a difficult climb if you have tools, some sort of climbing experience, the right shoes and so on. But it's not for amateurs. It's the kind of dangerous climb that kids try out every day, and nobody bothers to berate them for trying it because none of them get high enough to fall far enough to hurt themselves.

The teens shuffle aside very slightly, giving Arika McClure enough room to plant a foot on the lowest decorative outcrop and reach up to grab the bottom of the bronze frieze. She grunts a little - they can see that her feet have nothing substantial to push against so she tries to give the impression that she is actually hauling herself upwards with her hands and upper body strength alone. Within a few seconds, before anybody has realised what is happening, she has scaled to the broad square overhang and is hoisting herself up around it in a manoeuvre which any professional climber would instantly recognise as technically impossible. And then she's high enough off the ground that nobody can easily see that she's faking it.

The difficult part is making it look difficult.

Some of the kids on the steps act impressed, some dismissive, but none of them take their eyes off her. Another sixty seconds and the whole square is slowing down to watch, including a few police officers. By the time she's halfway up, there are two dozen phone cameras trained on her. Comments waft upwards: "Hey, cool!" "Go go go!" "It's been done..." "What are you trying to prove?" "Nobody cares!" "It's a publicity stunt." "I can see the wires." "She's hot!" "Do a flip!"

Backup is called for. The police start clearing people away from the base of the Column in case she falls. Arika tries to pace herself, but it's like trying to run the hundred metres at the pace of a snail. As long as she stays effectively weightless, pulling herself upwards with her fingertips and toes is absolutely effortless-- and admitting that she has weight and yielding even slightly to the pull of gravity is dizzying. She looks down. Then she gulps and looks straight ahead at the granite. She resists the temptation to just turn around and wave. It would break the illusion too soon.

Completely unplanned and accidentally, she loses a shoe. It bounces off one of the lions guarding the Column and into the crowd, which goes wild.

Bright pink means everybody can see her as she reaches the trickier second overhang and hoists herself onto the platform next to the statue of Nelson. She "rests" briefly, wind whipping her hair and clothes, and considers climbing up to the top of the huge statue itself, but rejects the idea - there's no easy way to perch on his hat. And then she just sits there, on the edge of the huge drop, and enjoys the view while she waits for the crowd to gather.

One hour is about long enough. There are a few television cameras and mobile broadcast units visible, and a sizeable police presence waiting for her to descend. She'd expected a police helicopter to come and buzz her but that hasn't happened - maybe they think it'd distract her and make her fall. Meanwhile most of the kids who originally saw her start to climb are no longer visible, presumably either hustled away for questioning or simply having grown bored and drifted elsewhere.

When her watch beeps she gets up and walks to the corner of the plinth where she reckons the largest number of people will be able to see her. On an impulse, she kicks her other shoe into the crowd. It takes a long time to fall all the way. At street level, someone is bellowing at her through a megaphone. She tries to imagine how many people are watching her live right now, and how many more will watch the recording before the end of history, and shivers. Millions? Would billions be hyperbolic? Is she really about to revolutionise the world as profoundly as she hopes?

Cue the Strauss...

Arika McClure holds her arms out, as if to maintain her balance, and takes a step out into thin air. And then a second.

She sinks slowly, almost to street level, then suddenly rockets up and around the square, through the trees, behind the pillars at the National Gallery entrance, over the fountains, and then back and around and around the Column. She stops above the police cordon near her landing point, where it can be clearly seen that she has no supporting wires or magic up her sleeve, and rotates, swivels and flips freely in the air, as if suspended in invisible gimbals. She stops and raises her hands and drinks in the applause. Nobody has any idea what they've really just seen, but they know it was cool.

Finally, she deigns to step down onto the Earth and face the reporters' microphones.

"Who are you?" "What's your name?" "How did you do that?" "What's the trick?" "Are you a superhero?" "What's your reason for doing this?" "What do you want?"

Arika McClure doesn't bother to explain that there's no trick. The huge quantity of footage that was just shot will easily establish that. She doesn't tell them how she's superhumanly strong, because that'll scare them, or who she is, because that'll come out in time, or her reasoning, because that's easy enough to deduce once you know her life story. Besides all of that, she's realised she only has a few seconds before she's put under arrest.

"I want to join the Coastguard," she announces.

All in all, that seems to get the world's attention.

*

There's a man at a booth in a coffee shop in the city and he's obviously on something. It's seven fifteen in the morning and he's been staring at the condiment rack in front of him for almost an hour and a half. He's not shaking, rocking, mumbling, or blinking. He has a large coffee. It's full. Stone cold. The man is a heavily bearded fifty-something, and the clothes, the briefcase and the eccentricity of his hair suggest an academic. He has an unobtrusive hearing aid in his left ear.

Thirteen point seven billion years ago, at the instant of the Big Bang, there was a junction point in spacetime, a point where time ran sideways and the laws of physics of the conventional universe had not yet coalesced. If Mitch "Xio" Calrus - who is, as far as Kosogorin is aware, the greatest evil in the universe and the enemy of all intelligent thought - wanted to escape his cell, he could simply travel back to the point where they (the cell, and time) came into existence, slipping out of the trap just before it closed. This cannot be allowed to happen. Therefore, Andreas Kosogorin is taking the liberty of closing that exit route. Time in Alef is about to become one-way.

Andreas Kosogorin was not asked to do what he is about to do. He hasn't even told Mikhail Zykov that he is doing it. He knows in his heart of hearts that Zykov is a good man, sent here from a higher plane to save the world from itself and redeem humanity and lead everybody upwards to a better place where death holds no sting. These are facts that he believes he has come to believe from observing Zykov's genuine devotion to scientific progress, in the Russian Federation and worldwide. That's telepathy: direct and indirect control over the information in someone else's brain.

The truth is that Zykov so fundamentally corrupted his mind that no direct order had to be given. As a result, Zykov is not responsible for Kosogorin's actions. And when the Imprisoning God descends to punish those involved in the oncoming disaster, Zykov will not be touched.

Someone is screaming at him in the background, banging on the cockpit door of his mind: the old Andreas, the one who remembers the days before he met Zykov, when he was still in contact with his beautiful children and grandchildren. Out of the corner of his right eye is a police officer who has caught sight of the one-inch platinum cube on the table in front of him, hidden from the baristas' view behind the salt cellar-- an object which anybody who hasn't been living on Mars for the past nine months would instantly recognise as a Klick Device. Whom the cop is notifying is anybody's guess, but the gist is: "There's nothing to disarm. There's nothing to defuse. He's not responsive. It's not worth the risk of trying to move him or the box."

And as for how much of Manhattan they'll be able to evacuate before Kosogorin's will breaks, and how much of the island (and how many people other than him) - if any - will be caught in the vortex and dumped unceremoniously some seven hundred and thirty-three million years in the past and a million light years from Earth... none of that is really relevant to the story.

*

Calrus checks in with Moxon while stepping down to the lowest floor of the building. "The warm body I saw in the upper basement was Davies. He tried... I think he tried to kill me. Anyway, he's dead. I killed him. ...I don't know how I feel about that. I'm going to try not to think about it until this is over. The last guy in the building has to be Zykov. I'm about to reach the transceiver room. Status intact and loaded. Confidence... five out of ten. Cavalry's ready, right?"

There's a group of contact points in Calrus' right glove. If, for any reason, he fails to eliminate Oul the clean, merciful, personal way, all he has to do is release the gun from his hand for 2.5 seconds, and the signal will go out for two dozen Class VI all-American supermen to swoop in from their assembly points above the cloud layer, pull him bodily out of the building and lay waste to everything left inside it.

"Cavalry's ready," responds Moxon in his earpiece. He, of course, is elsewhere entirely. None of this is officially happening.

Before he reaches the bottom of the stairwell Calrus hears Zykov speaking aloud to him. "That's amusing. You still honestly think you can settle this in a room with a word and a bullet. I've killed you once before, Xio."

Mitch Calrus stops on the last step, trembling despite his safe intangibility. Ahead of him is a dark, red-lit corridor leading into the huge shielded underground space where Zykov's Preonic Transceiver is installed. Zykov's voice is coming from the nest of computers mounted above the focus of the parabolic dish. It resembles the Americans' receiver, he realises. Maybe there are only one or two possible patterns to build a working FTL communicator. Or maybe the Americans stole the design. He creeps forwards.

"You're four-dimensional," states Zykov. There's echo. Other than the faint hum of the receiver there's very little noise down here.

"You're super-strong," replies Calrus. "Enough to kick a reinforced door down. Enough to withstand a conventional bullet." He moves up to the railing which runs around the circumference of the big deep dish, and begins to move around it towards ten o'clock, where a metal catwalk provides access to the crow's nest. The gun in his hands is, of course, not conventional.

"Up until a few weeks ago I had no idea who or where you were," says Zykov. "I was thinking large-scale. Supervillain schemes on the level of 'flip the Earth's poles, blot out the Sun and slay the world'. If I'd gained power a decade earlier I would have started World War III. Because killing everybody on Earth was the only way to be sure. Then I found out who you were, and... I could have chosen to make the plan a great deal simpler." As Calrus circles the dish he realises that Zykov, too, has a gun in his hands, a bulky black pistol.

"But who cares?"

Calrus takes a few steps along the catwalk and raises his rifle. He is not the greatest shot, but he is close enough to confidently eliminate Zykov. There's one catch - if he fires the bullet while phased, the bullet stays phased for a few hundredths of a second before dropping back into three dimensions. That's long enough to pass straight through Zykov at this range. To be sure of a hit, he needs to become visible for just one second, which is conceivably long enough for Zykov, whose firearm skills are a totally unknown quantity, to get the drop on him.

"In case you hadn't guessed it yet. The whole thing about the Script, and the science? I have been systematically blocking off your escape routes. I have been building a trap around you.

"This is not over, and I am not dead."

Zykov shoots himself.

Next: Postmortal

Back to Fine Structure
Back to Fiction
Back to Things Of Interest

Facebook Twitter Reddit Email Hacker News StumbleUpon

Discussion (44)

2009-06-09 13:52:47 by Andrew:

So what now? He infests a new body? And Manhattan takes a trip to the past? Hey wait, I LIVE there!

An excellent chapter, as per usual.

2009-06-09 14:59:38 by Baughn:

Bye, Andrew. Have fun.

This explained quite a lot, really. I'm looking forward to the next one.

2009-06-09 16:11:55 by Kochier:

So I'm guessing it's someone in Manhattan in the past that sends the first FTL signals that get blocked. And in the future Mitch is trying to escape by analyzing the script before anyone else can, so it can't be blocked off. I wonder why Oul would try trapping Mitch though, isn't he trapping himself as well then?

2009-06-09 16:19:41 by Coy:

Things are winding down. I expect it to start getting even more exciting.

2009-06-09 17:01:30 by YarKramer:

I think Oul is still trying to do what he was originally doing when all this started: to kill Xio. Whether there's anything *rational* behind that is anyone's guess.

Hmm. The answers-to-questions ratio seems to be increasing. I think we might be winding down, as well ...

2009-06-09 18:53:08 by Sam:

Apologies for the delay on this one. I don't know if this was what you'd call proper writer's block but it took me weeks of just walking around turning the story over in my head to figure out what angle to approach this from. Originally I was just going to have Mitch enter the bunker, beat Zykov and leave with the new question of who sent the first FTL message and where it was sent. There was going to be a bit where Mitch actually tries to shoot Zykov while phased, fails (for the reason given above), Zykov shoots him in the clavicle in return and then a big superhuman fight ensues between the American supermen and Yelena Yefremova, but believe it or not I couldn't get excited about the idea and it didn't feel credible that Mitch wouldn't have tested out his kill shot in training beforehand. So I changed it and added the little bits and pieces here and there.

This is pretty much the conclusion of Arika McClure's story. She's killed or been involved with the deaths of 223 people; operating in the Coastguard as effectively a highly mobile helicopter, she can start to save lives and eventually get back into the "black", as it were. I don't have any specific plans for her to reappear; meanwhile, superhumans are an incontrivertible public fact now.

The scene with Kosogorin also held me up. It was impossible for me to get it to a place where I actually liked what was happening, so in the end I conceded that it had been over a month since the last chapter and just put out what I'd written. As it is I think it lacks drama.

Yes, a lot of loose ends are being tied up, and I hope to finish the whole thing by the end of the year. I'm disappointed that people think it's winding down, though, I was kind of going for "accelerating to an explosive finish", but oh well.

2009-06-09 22:35:12 by scratskinner:

Is the Eka script a result of the message that was sent via FTL?
What routes of escape remain for Xio (and Oul)? And what was Davies doing?

2009-06-10 07:45:32 by Kochier:

"She's killed or been involved with the deaths of 223 people"

I was just wondering, do you keep stat sheets of all of your characters? Like what time they live, when they die, how many people they've killed, what powers they have, kind of like a D&D character sheet I guess.

And I don't feel like it's winding down the way you are taking it, I think people can just see that the end is coming, and it is very exciting.

2009-06-10 16:26:30 by Daniel:

How come Mitch doesn't need a pressure suit? If anyone else suddenly went into zero pressure, they'd get the bends and their eyes and spit would boil.

Couldn't he tilt the gun so the bullet would pass through the 3-plane that Zykov is in?

2009-06-10 17:59:10 by Boter:

Andrew: You live in the past? Awesome. What's it like there?

Sam: I liked the bit with Kosogorin... reminded me of that earlier incident, along with what Davies said. (Forget the title of that one, I'll have to look around.) I don't get the feeling that it's winding down, and I think the thing keping it from "accelerating to an explosive finale" is that they're still being released rather slowly. I can feel the stakes ramping up with each consecutive story, but with the time between them coming out, "accelerating" isn't quite the right word, but maybe "intensifying" is.

2009-06-10 18:00:58 by Boter:

Also, Sam, what are your thoughts for a compilation of all of this when you're done? If you have no plans, I'd at least like a timeline of when things were released so I can print something up on my own (as I'd want to see how things are read continuous; I imagine there'd be a bit less going back and saying, "Wait, what happened there again?" It'd be a bit easier to read continuously, I think).

2009-06-10 20:41:35 by Cray:

Could the ftl transmission have anything to do with the entitys shown in astronomer's loss?
They appear to have been around for a lot longer than humans, judging from their dialogue with the astronomer.

2009-06-10 21:49:46 by pozorvlak:

I'd assumed that The Astronomer's Loss was the final, and most dramatic, cutting off of an escape route for Mitch - the Universe gets cut down to nothing but our Solar System.

Note that we still don't know what Anne Poole is doing in 11970, or how she recovered her mind, or how she became immortal. Does Oul possess her empty shell? I can't see Oul and Mitch/Xio patching it up and working together, though.

Also, I think the infobomb in the 1970- arc is Oul's Egg.

2009-06-10 22:00:39 by AndrewFL:

Ho..ly..crap.

That was insane!

Worth the wait man.

2009-06-10 22:02:49 by ratherdashing:

So...is the title in reference to a character or you? haha

2009-06-11 01:26:58 by kabu:

I thought Kosogorin and Zhang sounded familiar, so I went back and found this from On Digital Extremities, the very second story. The original public paper on FTL communication:

P. Hood, A. Kosogorin, M.X. Murphy & J. Zhang's Generating Waveforms in Ambient Neutrality (2002)

So, I wonder what's going to happen to P. Hood?

2009-06-11 02:29:26 by Imbenarion:

Always worth the wait.

2009-06-11 02:57:00 by mhyee:

@kabu,

I think P. Hood is the Philip Hood that died/was killed in "Two killed in 'transporter accident.'"

2009-06-11 03:59:04 by kabu:

@ mhyee
Whoops, missed that.

I like the way Zykov's telepathy works - suggestion and manipulation rather than communication. And what was Davies going to do...

And this story says that Ching has the same sort of brain that Akker and Klick and Davies had, though presumably to a slightly lesser degree. Is it possible that he could give himself informational powers?

2009-06-11 06:11:13 by cray:

I just reread the story so far section(the main fine structure page, not the individual story) and it seems that the 1970- supercomputer is calculating something unrelated to the memetic weapon.

Hugh Havies says "you can make real things happen just by delivering a sufficiently unambiguous verbal or mental affidavit to the greater structure?": could the computer be calculating something to request the destruction of oul? Anne and Mitchell doubtlessly have some serious hardware behind them so any small scale(relative) command might have been calculated thousands of years before, even by a human brain, but how long would it take to design something to change things higher up in the stack? It still seems to be a possiblity since the ability to do this has'nt dissapeared with paul klick's channel cube.

2009-06-11 15:16:32 by Sam:

Kochier: I do have some fairly extensive notes as to where the story is going next and a few notes about the nature of the various characters, but not as many as you'd think. Most of my notes are actually the existing chapters themselves - the fact that Arika has killed 223 people comes from "Capekiller" when she reaches 222 and "There Was No Leak" in which Ching blames her for the death of Jason Chilton. For most of the notes that *aren't* explicitly mentioned in the story, I do actually use the stories as trigger points (almost mnemonics) for them. For example, the line "If there was anything of him left to ask, he would say he wasn't dead yet" in the story "Mike Murphy" is a signal that Murphy is (was) actually a reasonably devout Christian who, among other beliefs, would never allow a life support system to be turned off if he could avoid it.

A cast list appendix may arise once Fine Structure is completed.

Daniel: for the reason why Mitch doesn't need a pressure suit to survive while phased, see the comments for "'Verse Chorus".

Boter: Among my notes there is a rough timeline of events. Most of the events of the story from "Taphophobia" up to "this is not over..." are in approximately real time, but obviously some of them wander a little. A full timeline will also come out as an appendix once Fine Structure is completed. I won't release those appendices beforehand, because frankly if they are necessary to understand the story, I am not doing a good enough job of telling it.

Pozorvlak: I don't believe an explanation is needed for how Anne Poole regained her mind. A human baby builds a new mind from scratch in a matter of years, so it's unthinkable that Anne wouldn't have managed the same after ten millennia. Whether there is any continuity between the original Anne and the new one, is another question entirely.

2009-06-11 17:52:07 by Boter:

Sam: Any confusin stems from entries being rather far apart, not from the entries themselves; re-reading a few entries (chapters?) always brings me up to speed so that the current one makes perfect sense... or at least, as much sense as it should. A timeline at the "back of the book" would be a cool appendix, though.

"Also, I think the infobomb in the 1970- arc is Oul's Egg."

I don't think so... I too think that the 1970- supercomputer is doing something big, and the infobomb is doing its stated purpose to keep humanity back from destroying itself, but I think that the technology was backward engineered from Oul's Egg - perhaps to the extent that it's a part of the Structure that can't be changed.

2009-06-11 20:48:44 by BrightMikal:

I'm having difficulty understanding the conversation at the start, rather who says what.

Obviously, it's Zykov and Davies, which is which?

If Zykov is A, then it sounds like Davies is ordering Zykov around, which doesn't sound right.
But given that Zykov is meant to be telepathic, this fits.

If Zykov is B, then Davies is detecting Xio, which raises the question why Zykov can't.
Davies' Brain and Zykov bossing him around makes sense though.

Could you clarify please?

2009-06-11 21:17:47 by Sam:

The lines with one chevron, >, are from Zykov.

The lines with two chevrons, >>, are from Davies.

2009-06-12 05:24:40 by Ian:

Honestly, Akira and Kosogorin's parts in this section are the most interesting to me. Not because of a lack of anything on your part in the other parts, Sam, but rather simply because those are the types of things to gather my interest.

Needless to say, I've been waiting with bated breath for this part, and the sigh of relief is all too brief after reading it. I await the next part and full explanations. You've got a good 79,215 words down (including titles and your name), and after you're finished, I hope you edit and get it published. Believe me, I'd buy it.

Thanks for another part, Sam.

2009-06-12 11:56:38 by PeteBoyRocket:

Aw damn it! hurry up with the next chapter!

haha! Loving this, keep it up!

2009-06-12 18:43:32 by Boter:

I'd buy it, too. I just hope that if you get a publisher for it, they're okay with keeping it online as well. (Cafepress self-publishing is a last-minute possibility.)

2009-06-12 21:22:53 by Fjord:

Part of the appeal of this format, for me, is that when a previous event gets referenced it's incredibly easy to find. You can do that with HTML and a browser. Because Sam usually takes an extra moment to link to the chapter he's referencing, I am thus better able to comprehend the implications of what follows the reference. (Thanks, Sam!) That gets lost in a hardcopy. Footnotes are possible, I guess, but they're also great ways to break the illusion.

Though I suppose that that's less of an issue when you aren't constrained to a one-chapter-per-month-or-thereabouts delay.

Of course, I'd buy the hardcopy anyway...

... And now I'm imagining The Warden saying NO on paper... One page per character. Hah.

2009-06-12 23:22:16 by Dmytry:

I'm always half-expecting some unexpected story flip - whereby bad guy turns out to be good and good guy turns out to be evil. Or both turn out to be gray (or gay, for that matter - like SM love story from higher dimensions). I guess black and white works tho - it is always unexpected that nothing expected unexpected happens.

2009-06-13 22:10:14 by Isaac:

What? Not only is teleportation canceled out, but now time travel? This universe is going to get really boring real quick...

2009-06-13 23:58:36 by Boter:

Dmytry, I don't think we'll see a perspective switch like that. Oul has killed people directly, Xio hasn't (so far as we know); by this world's standards, there's a definite good/bad dichotomy here.

2009-06-14 04:14:10 by Lucas:

I risk repeating every comment preceding mine, but bravo. After some minor editing, this story is absolutely a candidate for publishing, to me and many other fans at least.
I originally stumbled across this site while trying to find out the exact amount of power the stars must have had ("geocide") but Fine Structure has turned out to be a goldmine of fiction. Excelent work.
Just an idea, but an email notification that the next installment is available would be a nice thing to read in the morning. Set something of the sort up, and I'll be the first to sign up.

2009-06-14 04:28:04 by woolworthstripleone:

From the end of On Digital Extremities:

"He thinks, and I agree with him, that the symbol means money. And we think the whole message is saying we need to buy a more expensive broadband package."

From back when--I guess--that was little more than the punchline of this particular standalone story/joke/node. Are we ever going to see this loose end bear fruit? Was faster-than-light communication closed off simply because we didn't pay our bill, or were Jim and Ching just wrong at that stage?

2009-06-14 05:18:52 by Null:

This could all be over by the end of the year? I'll be sad seeing Fine Structure come to an end. It feels too soon.

2009-06-14 11:07:50 by Sam:

Woolworthstripleone, that was handled in http://qntm.org/story

2009-06-14 11:23:13 by woolworthstripleone:

aha, cheers Sam. There's so much to absorb, I may have to go back and re-read from the beginning. Splendid work!

2009-06-14 19:03:05 by AndrewG:

Fantastic, as always. And please don't worry about it winding down - I think it merely seems to be drawing to a close, but none of the energy's being dumped out of it; it's just harmonising more. I'm waiting for you to jam a stick in it and watch that latent energy in it slam to a halt, somehow - or not. As was said above, not getting the expected unexpected is always unexpected! (Sorry, that sentence maps poorly to a linear statement...)

Also, I look forward to buying this collection of stories in a bound form! Very few tales have fascinated me as much as these!

2009-06-15 02:08:40 by KWD:

I like the way that the names "Xio" and "Oul" are assigned.

Because the name "Xio" sounds darn evil to me, and "Oul" doesn't. Fine Structure avoids stereotypes, and that's good.

I suppose that it would be bad if someone abused something really basic like the strong nuclear force or protons or even matter at all. If "the guardian" had the ability/authorization/guts to do that, and you managed to abuse it, the lock-out could be pretty devastating.

2009-06-15 19:09:15 by Melanion:

@KWD
I don't think that would necessarily happen. Assuming Xio and the warden he put in place really are benevolent (Or at least something that seems like benevolent when viewed from the bottom of the Structure), it wouldn't actively destroy our universe. It would simply remove the person or persons who discovered the technology and alter our universe's source to block it out. After all, in http://qntm.org/index.php?parable it didn't deactivate the matter-energy-info relationship (Which would have almost certainly destroyed our universe), it simply made it impossible for anyone to apply it in an unnatural way.

2009-06-18 18:28:29 by Dmytry:

Well, the absolute good & absolute evil seems a little too one-dimensional even for our 3d world, let alone higher dimensional beings.
Also, btw, as I noticed, its our 'good guy' who tried to escape, and it was bad guy's minion who wants to close timetravel hole to prevent 'good guy' from escaping. Bad guy himself doesn't seem to have tried to escape. Which is slightly at odds with good guy's explanations of how evil bad guy really is.

Other curious thing. The story works as if our universe was limited to earth, and all actions are set on human scale.

2009-06-23 17:50:12 by Andrew:

@Dymytry
The reason the universe in this story is centered around Earth is because (in the story at least ;]) Earth is the only planet in the universe harboring intelligent life, and thus it is the most important planet to beings in the higher dimensions.

2009-06-29 15:35:05 by Sam:

The Mitch/Xio was trying to escape because he believed Oul was dead. Oul, meanwhile, has been trying to kill Xio (and, indeed, all intelligent life in Alef) because he is programmed to wreak the absolute maximum amount of destruction in whatever context/body/universe he finds himself.

Fine Structure is set on Earth because this is where Xio and Oul woke up; this is in turn because human life is the only intelligent life there has ever been anywhere in Alef. This is one of several possible solutions to the Fermi Paradox.

2009-11-18 13:08:04 by Sam:

Working titles for this chapter included

"Knowledge Of Mass Destruction"
"a million exploding suns"
"endworld rising"
"Wait! If you kill me, you won't find out who I'm working for"
"two steps into thin air"
"The true magnitude of the threat"
"Galactus is coming"
"This is not over and I am not dead"
"Eka Dvi"
"Comic book death"

2012-05-27 01:17:37 by Solus:

Just to let you know, I've been imagining Mikhail Zykov as Imran Zakhaev (from Call of Duty 4) the whole time. Imean, they're both bearded, one-armed Russian Big Bads, haha.

...

ಠ_ಠ


(except Zakhaev lost his arm in a failed assassination attempt, rather than getting it stuck in an egg. =P )