Everything Is Real

Previously

There are no half-measures in space combat. There's no sideways lurch when a lucky shot gets through. There's no "shields at sixty percent". If the concept spacecar's systems had been late to respond to the shockwaves, the passengers would have been pulped. If one millionth of the arriving energy had actually made it through the car's shields, the entire vehicle would have been atomised.

And so Natalie and Anil are barely alive, but it's impossible to actually feel that way. The opening salvo of Abstract War saw the simultaneous destruction of sixty thousand Earths, but for them it was just a light show, experienced passively from the other side of a windscreen. The car never even rattled. The car is completely silent in all its operations, and its interior remains as pristine and precise as its exterior. It manoeuvres like soft cream.

It's been twenty minutes since War began. They're actually behind the expanding wreckage shell now, watching Earth-8162's pieces spread away into space. Anil turns them to face the Sun, and takes stock.

"So we didn't get evacuated," he says. "I guess we were missed, because we don't count. I don't feel like signalling for rescue, not with that thing there pervading this whole system."

Natalie says nothing.

"If Ra wants us dead, we're dead," Anil continues. "There's nothing we can do to defend ourselves from a berserk AI of that size and power. So let's assume it doesn't. Yet. We could be contaminated by whatever madness has gripped the thing, in which case we're also, definitely, dead. Let's assume we're clean too. Let's assume we're under Ra's radar and we can stay that way. So we take the necessary precautions. We cloak, if that means anything, and act inconspicuous and harmless. We find shelter, somewhere we can hole up safely."

"For how long?" Natalie asks. There's barely a question there. She barely cares.

"For as long as necessary," Anil says, asking the local slave AI to suggest flight plans through the maelstrom of detonated planet husks. "This has to blow over some time. We need to stay alive for that long."

"Why?"

Anil looks sharply at Natalie. "What do you mean, 'why?'"

"Maybe it doesn't blow over until we're dead," Natalie says, distantly. "We've been brought here for a reason. Maybe that's it. We're here to die."

Anil stares at Natalie for a moment. He puffs dismissively and turns back to the controls. "But then, we already knew that, didn't we?" he says. "That's just the same as reality. You live until you die: the end. I don't have a hard time dealing with that. You shouldn't."

The concept car angles out along the shattered course of the worldring and starts to accelerate. A mild pressure pushes the passengers back into their seats, not out of necessity, but just to give them the assurance that acceleration is taking place.

After a long minute of silence, Anil adds, "You broke character again."

"What?"

"That's what you meant, right? By 'break and reset'? You're fine," he explains.

"Ah, what?"

"You can hack this. I don't even know why you're trying to give off any other impression. I've known you for about a day altogether and I can see this about you: you're calm enough under pressure that it actually frightens you more than the real situation at hand. I don't know if the nihilism is just because you feel guilty for being so cool?"

Natalie is more than a little taken aback. "...I was in tears, earlier. For real."

"Oh, certainly," Anil agrees. "That was necessary. That would have needed to happen, regardless of who you were. But other than that, you are completely handling this. You know what I think? This is the you story. The reason you're here is to kick this rogue star's ragged arse and return home with some blessed confidence."

Natalie shakes her head, slightly disbelieving. "And why are you here?"

That's easy. "Perspective."

*

There was a city at the north pole of Earth-1. It was the size of modern Paris, far too massive to have been built directly on top of a floating ice sheet, and so was built on stilts, with its foundations all the way down in the Arctic Ocean's bedrock. A hardened plateau of artificial glass spread horizontally underneath the ice, serving as a building platform for the rest.

At the very pole was a sky tower, constructed from the same scrithlike material as the neighbouring Earths. It reached up far beyond the Kármán line to a captured asteroid, balanced at the top like the bud of a one hundred and fifty-kilometre-tall flower.

The city was called Qaaliqat, and the asteroid was XE171. The city is flattened wreckage now, and the asteroid is gone, along with the top two-thirds of the tower, leaving a blackened, jagged break. The asteroid landed somewhere in Greenland.

The original Greenland, that is. Earth, the original, was the only full-bodied physical planet in the worldring, and therefore the only structure robust enough to survive the opening attack largely intact. It is the last remaining halfway-habitable space in the inner solar system, and its poles are its least damaged areas.

Natalie and Anil aerobrake in over Qaaliqat's wreckage, dredging the compression heat out of the air in front of them and channelling it into their clean energy reserves, for a final approach so gentle and unfussed as to be eerie. It's local night; they navigate in using night vision and microwave radar. The city partly resembles scattered building blocks and churned icing, but thanks to the exposed glass it mostly resembles the back of a compact disc.

"Why?" Anil asks aloud, speaking of the sky tower as they coast in past it. It is kilometres thick, woven from nine thick braids. It splays out like a redwood tree at its base, for support, but even so there's no explanation that he can work out. "Why put a space elevator there, of all places? Even if you have the materials for it to be genuinely free-standing, what does it give you? It's not favourable for orbital insertion..."

"I don't think these people cared about favourable," Natalie says. "This is just the architectural style. The 'Because We Can' movement."

They steer in to a controlled landing on the edge of the Arctic suburbs, an area which hadn't been developed even before the attack. There's no surface ice here, just blank bluish glass with a grid of scrithwire inside it for strength. There should be cottages, lit with warm firelight from the inside. There should be a few full Moons' worth of artificial light cast from the top of the XE tower. Deep, cosy winter in the shadow of extreme technology. Everybody in this future lived permanently on holiday. But there's no village yet, and the tower's gone dark. The inner system has been completely evacuated of all humans, living and dead. The sky is absolutely clear except for shooting stars.

From Earth-8162-as-was to Earth-1, door to door, took a little less than twelve hours. They took a route computed to minimise transit time, which meant maximum acceleration followed by maximum deceleration. It was risky, and brutally expensive in delta-vee, and left an extremely slim margin for error. But the alternative was to linger in the 1-AU belt, a zone of space now swarming with fast-moving pieces of disintegrated artificial planet. "Asteroid belt" wouldn't do the cloud justice; there's enough material in it for a Saturn-like ring.

Once their vehicle is on the ground and motionless, Anil checks the dashboard. "That takes care of our entire delta-vee budget," he announces. "We've enough for a few emergency kicks. Reactionless kicks, I mean, if we need to zip straight upwards in a serious hurry."

"Could we get to orbit again?" Natalie asks.

"Not even close."

Natalie gets out. She doesn't need to stretch her legs; the suit takes care of every bodily need, from impact protection to scratching her nose when it itches. She wants to see the lay of the land. She climbs onto the car roof and scans the horizon. The car's headlights and interior lights cast a small circle of yellow on the ground, beyond which there's almost nothing to see but darkness. The tower can only be made out from the stars it obscures. In infrared the world only makes a little more sense.

It's night, and it'll stay night for the next four months. From this spot, the Sun will just travel around and around below the horizon, never rising. Hiding from the light in this way was instinctive. Whether line of sight with Ra would genuinely put them in more danger is anybody's guess. It could well be that they're constantly mobbed in danger. The world is still soaked in Ra's listeners.

Natalie and Anil have worked rules out. The suits don't come off, not for anything. The suits protect them at the atomic level.

"That said," Anil continues, prodding more readouts, "we still have bottomless chemical/electrical/heat reserves, and we can transmogrify the car into anything we need. Something which actually pushes against the universe to move, I mean. Old-school. Third Law-style."

"You mean a car."

"Something like that."

Shooting stars. As Natalie watches, a forty-kilometre-long fragment of Earth-5 re-enters. It burns for long enough to light the entire tower up as it passes. "We should find cover," she says, jumping down again. "This planet's being bombarded. And it's going to continue being bombarded for at least another million years."

Anil looks out of the vehicle window and straight down. A readout on his suit helmet tells him that breaking a hole in the reinforced glass would be possible, but prohibitively expensive in energy.

"We should try for the tower," Nat says, just as he's coming to the same conclusion. He gives a curt command, and the vehicle bulks up into a new configuration, rising up on fat new wheels.

*

They've been driving across ice slush for ten minutes when Natalie spots the first figure through her window. She writes the first one off as a trick of her eye. The second one gets her attention. She calls for Anil to stop the car. Anil is caught slightly off-guard by this, having assumed that Natalie was the one driving. Apparently, the car had been cheerfully guiding itself.

They're just inside the limits of the wrecked city. Underfoot there's slush and refrozen ice, with patches of exposed glasswork. The figure Natalie sees is at the top of a listing four-storey building. The building is darkened, but seems designed to be aesthetically pleasing even deep in the polar night, half-buried in snow. There are strange extrusions, as if the building had been connected to others, or part of a much larger structure. Maybe it's a snapped-off piece of sky tower.

"They still use... buildings?" Anil wonders aloud.

Natalie spotlights the figure, which immediately disappears. She switches from simulated sounds (the suit adding effects for boots crunching, and so on) to genuine external audio, but is rewarded with nothing but roaring wind.

The building shimmers in the spotlight. It appears to be made of thick, dark crystal.

"This part of the planet wasn't hit as strongly by the attacks," Natalie says, apparently to herself. "A glancing blow."

"Sorry?"

"I wonder what the equatorial belts are like," she says. "The Sahara must have been glassed."

"If there are people left, we should--"

"There aren't any people left," Natalie says quickly.

"Okay?" Something bleeps urgently in Anil's ear. He checks his wrist. "We need to get going."

Natalie returns to the car, and they drive on. The road becomes choppier, but the tyres simply expand until they can retain the required grip, sometimes raising the body of the car up to make room. They have to skirt more fallen chunks of detonated skyscraper, and overcome snowdrifts.

After a few more kilometres, they sight a figure in the middle of the road. The car cruises directly for it, oblivious. Anil is about to shout something about forward radar and Natalie is making a futile request for the car to stop moving when the figure opens fire, spraying them with a cocktail of ionising radiation and electromagnetic interference. The radiation is invisible, but the car exterior lights up urgently where the radiation is absorbed. The interference was already intense enough to impair the car's distributed brain. Within another half-second the vehicle is totally corrupted, and ceases to exist, obeying malicious external orders.

Anil and Natalie are dumped into the snow at fifty-some kilometres per hour, and roll hard. Anil skids to a halt at the feet of the figure. It's tall like a rake, with illogical bones and huge fingertips instead of arms or legs. It--

With a heart-stopping jolt, Anil recognises it. It's the dead ghoul from D12A. It's a particular nightmare that was made real, and has now been made more real. He can smell the thing, even hermetically sealed into the suit. He recognises the odour very clearly. It smells like unwashed skin from inside a newly-opened plaster cast.

Is that just his brain filling in the extra detail? Or is the thing already inside his suit systems?

Anil flails, and makes it to his feet. Natalie's standing too, but is looking in every other direction.

"We're surrounded," she reports.

"Car systems just collapsed like a damn soufflé," Anil says, holding onto Nat as they back away.

"I'm intact," Natalie says. Her active radar enumerates a hundred and ten shadows closing on them. She reconfigures her right forearm into a heavy silver beam weapon and vaporises the first ghoul.

Anil's suit shows him nothing so useful. Everything he calls up arrives in the form of opaque black squares on his helmet HUD, which he can't dismiss. They progressively obstruct more of his vision. "I'm not. I've got an issue. Nat, I recognised that thing."

Natalie sweeps a foot through the light layer of snow, exposing the carpet of sapphire underneath it. "Ra's onto us. We should have stayed in space."

"Me," Anil corrects her. "Ra's onto me. You might have a little more time. I think it's inside my head. Nat, look where we are."

Natalie grabs Anil by the scruff of the neck and pumps clean energy into his suit, burning out the invading Ra nanites. It takes more than half of her own clean energy reserves, and as soon as she lets go, Anil is infected again. She can't do anything about the corrupted programming.

"Anil," Natalie says, "when did you make your personal energy cache?"

"We-- Just after the laser pass, right? Only a few seconds after Ra went berserk."

Natalie hesitates for just long enough to make the next sentence significant. "I made mine earlier."

"You-- We have separate caches?"

"I thought something was going to happen. I built my own portable Ra. I'm paranoid. I try to step ahead."

"You did that before the attack?"

"About sixty seconds before," Natalie says. She pushes Anil to the floor and projects vertical slicing fields out in all directions, one through the cranium of each encroaching horror. This incapacitates about half of them. She goes to the long list of weapons and rifles through the rest of it like a Rolodex, looking for something effective and chemical.

"I've been contaminated this whole time," Anil realises. "And you--"

Natalie scatters metallic pink gobbets of something furiously dangerous on the floor around them. As the gobbets begin to smoke, she commands "Jets," and hoists Anil out of the arena on a pillar of flame. The ghouls follow them with laser beams and conventional projectile weapons, which Anil and Natalie's suits are just about able to turn away. They land heavily, another kilometre closer to the tower, but still hopelessly far from it. Natalie gets up immediately, Anil stays kneeling. More ghouls start to gestate under the snow around them.

"I don't think I can sterilise you properly," Natalie says, flicking through still more options on her suit HUD. "We're still surrounded with Ra particles, and both our systems are running flat out to keep them at bay. Your suit AI is twisting inside-out, it's going to turn against you any second now. I don't think I can even get a clean copy of your mind-state."

"If you're that far ahead of all of us," Anil shouts, "why do you even need me alive?"

"That's a stupid question!" Natalie shouts back.

Anil's suit helmet turns totally black, and he screams like someone who knows exactly what is happening to him.

Short of other options, Nat broadcasts a radio mayday. It is an act of absolute desperation. It could bring all Ra down on their heads, but how could that make things worse? She's starting to understand now, what Anil was saying before.

Somebody answers. Immediately.

"Intercessor 200C9A66 to idiots with no callsign! Do you have the faintest idea the stunts I'm pulling to grab you two? Stand by for extraction in thirty-five seconds, mark! This is going to be incredibly fucking ugly!"

Natalie whirls around, sighting an honest-to-god rocketship rising over the southern horizon towards them. The rocket is fat and brightly-painted, with three fins, something from Forties pulp. But all she can see of it is the blast from its single huge chemical engine, aimed almost directly at them as the thing decelerates in. She shouts into the radio, "Prove you are not Ra!"

Red dots flick up behind the lone engine, identified by a data feed provided to her by the intercessor. There are enough of them to coat the whole sky in that direction. They are kinetic harpoons and minuscule, artificially intelligent nuclear submunitions. They are not decelerating. All of them are converging on the intercessor, and the first of them will arrive at ground zero less than a second after the intercessor itself does. "That's Ra," the voice informs her.

This is still not enough proof.

Nat accepts it anyway. "My friend doesn't have thirty seconds. He needs immediate nanotechnical support. His suit's chewing him to pieces!"

"Acknowledged," the intercessor replies. The tone is flat.

"Don't just acknowledge! He's going to die!"

"Friend, I died sixty-eight times to get here and we're all going to die more times than that on the way out. Stand by."

"What do I need to do?"

Anil falls onto his side. He is convulsing and clawing at his helmet, and can no longer be heard.

The intercessor repeats: "Stand. By."

A split second before impact, just as Natalie is beginning to convince herself that she can feel the heat of the rocket's engine, it cuts out. A familiar red cutting laser spits out and back, in a practised flick-knife-like move which slices a fifteen-metre-wide circle around her and Anil. A controlled pulse of downward and lateral momentum shoves the circle of glass out from under their feet. There's an air gap between the underside of the glass plateau and the surface of the Arctic Ocean. They drop like stones into the darkness.

The rocketship follows them at a shallow angle and fifty times the speed, slipping through the gap with a clearance of millimetres. The ship just misses the two falling suited figures, hitting the water first and much harder. The cut circle is flipped back into place, and the same laser seals the glass behind them. The engine bell shrieks as it flash-chills.

Nat hits the water. Anil hits the water. The rocketship wraps them all in concussion shielding. Ra arrives.

There's another light show, bright enough to turn the bottom of the ocean into daylight. The layer of scrith-glass doesn't even crack.

Anil floats above Natalie. She is face-up. He is face-down and inert, silhouetted in the light, his suit helmet still black.

200C9A66, in the pilot seat, considers his options. Playing against Ra at such close quarters is like five-hundred-dimensional chess. Still, he's made it across the board.

He brings the interlopers aboard with a whump of matter transmission. He digitises their patterns and makes their corporeal forms safe from Ra's listeners-- which is to say, he destroys their suits and bodies with fire.

He moves.

*

Physical acquisition was a non-negotiable component of the mission profile. You can't rescue a soul from Hades with a fishing line. 200C9A66 had to descend into the gravity well in person, and fight hordes of daemons on the way.

Physical extraction, meanwhile, was never even on the table. Anil and Natalie and their shepherding intercessor bounce across the Solar System as signals, mast to dish, asteroid to probe to numberless space rock. 200C9A66 splits himself up, one version going ahead to secure each receiving installation while the other defends the transmitter from Ra's nuclear/electronic attack. They cross the asteroid belt five times trying to lose the pursuers, which are able to corrupt and repurpose the captured transmitters to follow the trail, and sometimes to anticipate future destinations. From 200C9A66's perspective - that is, from the perspective of the sole instance of 200C9A66 who lives all the way to the end - extraction takes around eighty fraught, subjective seconds. Natalie and Anil, travelling as data, perceive nothing. From above the system, using false colour, an observer would see red and blue packets flitting across space from node to node, like some interplanetary hacking minigame, and it would take about six real-time days.

They finally lose their tail at a minuscule cubewano, forty-something AUs distant from the Sun and far above the ecliptic. The rock having no name, 200C9A66 - its first human visitor - decides he gets to name it. He names it "Cubewano". He breathes for a luxurious second, and transmits them all home.

End of the line is Psamathe, which orbits almost as far out from Neptune as Mercury does from the Sun. Psamathe is a bustling metropolis compared to the rest of the route, but still not much more than a worthless pebble in the grand scheme of the Solar System. On the list of the system's most notable moons, it just about scrapes into the top hundred.

Natalie's signal is sent to the lab. They slot her genetic particulars into a vat, clear the expenditure with the War Office, and start the cloning procedure. It'll take a few hours to build something mature enough that she can live inside it. They're running at a level of technology not far above the butter churn.

200C9A66 slots back into his original body, and goes for a shower.

Every time he splits himself, he runs a fifty percent chance of being the one who dies. That means that he - the one in the shower - is the one who won the coin toss two hundred times in a row. This is impossible, and he doesn't know how to deal with it. He is alive and he doesn't have the mathematics to explain how.

And then he's needed again, and he jumps back into War.

*

Natalie wakes up in a cell on the edge of the base, strapped to a bunk.

She struggles against the restraints for a panicky second, but they just give way when she pulls. They're supposed to be opened. They aren't there to prevent her from escaping, only to prevent her from drifting away in the almost non-existent gravity.

She sits up. Groping around the room, groggily, she finds water in a squeeze bottle. She drains it without thinking. Her suit is gone, replaced by shapeless grey clothes. Magic's still gone, and Ra is long gone, and any personal nonlocality tech she was carrying is confiscated. She runs her hand through startlingly short, baby-soft hair. She is completely new.

There's a porthole, only reachable by standing on the bunk. Natalie spends a long time staring out of it, at a sterile, crater-pitted grey landscape. It could be Luna, but honestly, it could be anywhere. She's no connoisseur. At first glance, there's nothing in the sky that could narrow it down.

The straps aren't to prevent her from escaping. That's the purpose of the locked, dark grey metal door.

An hour later, as Natalie is beginning to run out of square centimetres of cell to examine, the door clacks and opens. A woman and a man file in. Both wear heavy total-purpose protective suits, much like Natalie's missing one. They keep their helmets on, but the helmets are made of transparent material so thin that Natalie doesn't realise this at first. Natalie backs up and sits on the bed. There is no room for her to be anywhere else.

The woman is two metres tall and of a blended deep-future ethnicity that Natalie would never have heard of. Even in a cell with standing room for at most three people, she commands a space around her. The man follows her. He is her follower. He is darker in the skin, lighter in the eyes and hair; fractionally shorter, but still much taller than Natalie. He carries a folding rectangle of extremely thin, transparent plastic. The plastic is completely inert. It just serves as a focal point for his displays, which Natalie cannot see.

The woman speaks at length, in a language which is totally alien to Natalie's ear. The woman introduces herself, and then introduces her comrade. She explains that the telepathic language dongle provided by Natalie's onboard copy of the pre-war Ra intelligence has been stripped out of her mind and shredded, and that Natalie can't be allowed equivalent technology because she's a prisoner of war. She indicates that the man to her left will now attempt to work out Natalie's native language from scratch, after which an actual conversation will take place.

Natalie listens attentively. Although she understands not a single word of what the woman says, she is actually able to correctly guess almost all of it from context.

The man selects selections from his display. He speaks a few words of his own. There is silence while all of them wait for something to happen, which it doesn't. He speaks a few more, different words. Natalie listens blankly and patiently. The man is working his way through a list.

"Are we seriously going through every greeting in every human language in recorded history?" Nat says. "I speak UK English, circa 2000 CE. This is going to take an eternity. Would it help if I just spoke back to you in my language until you have enough data to work it out?" She holds fingers up. "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Come on, dictionary system."

The man likes this approach. He motions for her to keep going. Natalie picks more simple words.

"Up, down, left, right, forwards, back. Woman, woman, man. Eye, nose, mouth." She points at the dim blue dot in the otherwise black sky outside. This is the only other significant fact that she has deduced in her free hour. She says, "Neptune."

"...Got it," the man says. Only two syllables, but still faultless English, even matching Natalie's own local accent. He presents the woman with a virtual object which Natalie is not able to see. He essays a kind of informal salute to them both, and departs.

Natalie looks up at the woman. First things first. "Where's Anil? Did he die?"

"Why do you care?" She speaks with the same accent too. For Natalie it's disconcertingly like speaking to a slightly older version of herself.

"...He was... I was trying to save his life."

"You failed. He was unrecoverable," the woman says, flatly.

Natalie hangs her head, and grips the edge of the bunk until her knuckles start to whiten, and grits her teeth.

She understands now.

She was put here to learn. Anil was put here to die. As motivation for her.

"Go right back to the beginning," she says. It's the only thing left to happen. "And tell me everything."

 

Next: Why Do You Hate Ra

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Discussion (82)

2014-03-07 23:01:22 by koboldskeep:

"Everything Is Real"? That can't be right, Natalie still must be in an Akashic Records simulation of what is most likely an event that happened in the past.

From the survivors' perspective, Natalie must most likely be some new trick or attack from Ra. A person who apparently did not exist until shortly before Ra went rampant. Judging from the way they were chased around the Solar System, the survivors are in very real danger (in other words, at war with Ra). This means that the obvious strategy of running away from the Solar System a worse idea than hiding in the Solar System (for the time being).

And Sam, I hate what you've done to the captcha. :P

2014-03-07 23:02:04 by The Custodian:

Aaaaaand once more I have little idea what's going on. :-)  And I love it.

2014-03-07 23:26:39 by Sam:

I thought this was going to be the one where somebody finally sits down and explains everything, but it turns out I didn't have space/time. Next: a whole bunch of expository dialogue.

Also, possibly, Natalie being held responsible for omnicidal teradeath.

2014-03-08 00:49:57 by JJJS:

"Next: a whole bunch of expository dialogue.

Also, possibly, Natalie being held responsible for omnicidal teradeath."

I don't know which I'm more excited for :D

2014-03-08 01:16:51 by Boter:

Man I can't wait for some dang expository dialogue. Theories flying in the comments are all well and good but I want that author-driven aha moment that ties the rest of the aha moments together :D

(Haha that captcha...)

2014-03-08 02:21:16 by BluesFan:

Incredible timing.  I check for an update, spend some time reading comments and theories, and all of a sudden, here it is.

Thanks Sam, you saved my sanity for the evening.  The rest of the time, well, it's on its own.

2014-03-08 03:08:46 by KimikoMuffin:

Well, *that* kind of thing is exactly why I have an RSS notifier set to this site. ;)

But yeah, it's like *every* chapter lately is Big Things Happening And Moving Towards The Climax. ... Rather like the final chapters of Fine Structure, now that I think of it.

Of course, we seem to have taken a detour since Exa showed up in the room the police set up, so it's more like we're Moving Towards A Slightly Different Climax at the moment ...

Yeah I'm behind on the theories, I need to reread the comments on Abstract War.

2014-03-08 03:52:25 by Sparky:

So... what happened to abstract weapon?

2014-03-08 09:31:42 by Krel-Tal:

Guys, what if chi particles are actually how the Wheel hard-coded Ra's nanobots to behave when observed.

What if the Wheel is still looking for artifacts because they're still left over, buried after they remade Earth and "restarted" time after winning Abstract War.

Of course I'm also curious as to why they don't just call up all the power/weapons/army/whatever they need to fix/replace Ra in a sufficiently high fidelity simulation that they just then pull into reality and be done with it, but that's what I like about Sam's stories: no matter how smart I feel, or how much I think I have figured out, I'm left guessing right up until (and still sometimes after) the end.

2014-03-08 11:17:32 by Toadworld:

@Krel-Tal - What if anything sufficiently powerful to beat Ra has the same weakness that made Ra go insane?  Sounds like a good way to end up with two problems rather than one...

This looks pretty solidly like an indoctrination of Natalie as Ra indoctrinated Laura.

2014-03-08 11:18:15 by Vitronus:

What a compelling action scene!

2014-03-08 12:39:07 by jonas:

What does "scrith" mean?

2014-03-08 14:02:30 by Claire:

32-bit identifier... are there only 4 billion humans left?

2014-03-08 14:26:57 by Sam:

It's short for EB460890-7409-11E3-981F-0800200C9A66.

2014-03-08 16:03:19 by Toph:

jonas: In Larry Niven's Ringworld, scrith is a material with almost-infinite tensile strength, used to build the titular ring. The ring has radius 1AU and spins fast enough that centrifugal force is equal to Earth gravity. Scrith can be damaged or destroyed, but not easily.

Here, it's the material that the Earth-shells were made of. Presumably it has about the same level of indestructibility.

2014-03-08 16:03:54 by Eldritch:

Ah, I guessed right! Tanako's World IS the glassed-over remains of Earth-1. Or, something. It's related somehow.

2014-03-08 17:34:20 by Krel-Tal:

@ Eldritch:  I find myself in the school of thought that Tanako's world is some fraction, maybe all, of the interface/limiters that Wheel put on Ra after Abstract War, and that it doesn't exist physically but as some form of data or data interface.

2014-03-08 21:34:30 by Kazanir:

They called T-World the akashic records interface in a fairly recent chapter, yeah.

2014-03-09 02:32:53 by atomicthumbs:

Why does Tanako's world have a moon?

2014-03-09 04:27:27 by Sean:

Hmm...

1) So, if Ra had really wanted Natalie and Anil dead, it could have accomplished that quite easily when they reached Earth-1; it presumably has the sheer force necessary for that. Possibilities:

- Wheel deliberately tinkered with the simulation they are in to set up this dramatic scene, with Anil dying and a Wheel-like intercessor coming in to save them.

- Ra noticed that they were unusual and decided to watch them.

- Ra saw them as a potential bargaining chip or lure.

2) 200C9A66 is remarkably Exa-like in many ways. It seems like we're getting some idea of how Wheel's tactics came about.

3) It's unlikely that 200C9A66 just showed up at that exact time. Either he was there explicitly to find non-evacuated survivors (though why would he expect to find any?), or he was there specifically to find Anil and Natalie, whose arrival and continued survival must have seemed weird. (They must have been especially "off-the-grid", in some sense, because otherwise they presumably would have been evacuated earlier.)

4) Natalie certainly will seem suspicious to the human survivors. She had emergency technology, especially weaponry, that she had created just before Ra went rogue (maybe they don't know that, but they would probably be curious how/why she got it). She went to Earth-1 after War began, rather than one of the safer remote outposts in the Solar System. She didn't "count" as a person who would be evacuated (not registered in some pan-species database? missing standard hardware implants?). She has no call-sign or other identification. And of course, she only speaks what is presumably a dead language; that would at least seem strange.

2014-03-09 17:37:30 by Kazanir:

Presumably Sam is hinting that they are going to blame her appearance for Ra going rogue in the first place. Gonna be a busy next chapter.

2014-03-09 22:38:54 by Sam:

Well, they might. Or then again, they might not.

2014-03-10 09:47:41 by Daniel H:

I'm worried that 200C9A66 method of travel still has problems. What's to prevent both sides of a split from dying (if Ra's corrupted the receiving station and gets the transmitter before he can split again, for example)? What's to prevent both sides from surviving (Stay behind to protect Ra, see that your other self is likely not going to make it, re-transmit, and then your first other self does make it)? For the first, I assume it's a danger of participating in War. For the second, do they have the merging technology that the Wheel group uses, or would there just be multiple Intercessors, with one presumably getting a new GUID?

2014-03-10 17:43:57 by Krel-Tal:

@Daniel H:  I think SOP would be to merge multiple instances, since all that would be different would be at most a few subjective days of new memories.  If there were to be a split that existed independently looking enough to develop a truly new identity then I'd assume that the second one to show up gets a new/modified GUID.

2014-03-10 18:47:50 by Silhalnor:

Why are the nightmare ghouls from Tanako's world on Earth-1? It's a rather odd weapon for Ra to use as it seems inefficient. Maybe it is intended as a psychological attack? In any case, I interpret the chapter title to mean that neither this world nor Nat's Earth are simulations. These two thoughts leaves me wondering if this Earth-1 and the modern Tanako's world (meaning the monster infested one not the older empty one) are one and the same. Which would mean that they could go find Laura rocketing around somewhere. There are some problems with this idea though. First of all where is the Earth Nat, Laura, and Anil are from? Second how could the Wheel Group possibly exist with their privileges while War is going on? Maybe the answer is time travel. Maybe I shouldn't be reading so much into the chapter title and treating it as canon.

Let's disregard the chapter title then and just consider Earth-1. Why does it resemble Tanako's World? The first explanation that comes to mind is that the Wheel Group chose to model the Akashic records interface off of the ruins of Earth-1 (weird choice) and chose to recreate and re-purpose the ghouls from Ra's memory when the need came up. This isn't satisfactory though, what kind of an interface is Earth-1? The real interface is the observation site located in T-world.

Stream of thoughts as I run in circles in confusion: T-world runs on the same "physics" as the Earth Ring while Earth runs on of "magic." Funny how we've dropped the use of "maya" ever since discovering that technology was involved. Post-War Earth-1 runs on everything-is-trying-to-kill-you.
T-world could be real and is Earth-1 after the War has been won and Earth itself is a simulation. Earth can't be a simulation though because there would be no need to simulate Ra's listeners and the magic generating machinery. There would be no energy shortage forcing Exa to travel in person except in emergencies. T-world could be the simulation but why would Wheel simulate an interface in such a way unless forced to somehow or it isn't actually a simulation? T-world stores memories, maybe Earth-1 was simply it's first memory and mages are building on top of it? Wheel apparently stores data differently since you don't find bits of human history floating about unlike Laura's castle and you access it via a listening post.
What is that apparent energy shortage about anyway? Does the Wheel group rely solely on a personal energy cache independent of Ra? Surely not for global use and magic generation but perhaps they do for personal use just in case Ra wakes. But then why do they limit themselves to the rules of magic they invented?

2014-03-10 19:00:34 by Silhalnor:

Double post because my last one was getting way too long and I need a mental separator.

Laura was told that the Wheel group invented magic to stop maya, which they presumably locked everyone else out from, from granting it's full power to people and getting things blown up as explained by Ra!Nick... who can't be trusted. Nat is now being told that Ra destroyed utopia by the Wheel group... who can't be trusted.

Hmnn... you know what? I think I will assume that both of these explanations are false. They both more or less solve the Open Problems, right? Magic is constructed out of something else (Ra says maya, Wheel says technology) and mana is metered out to it's users and carefully watched so that the appropriate effects can be produced afterwards. Maybe the true answer is a third option. I can barely consider this an explanation since it doesn't suggest what this third option might be but it does explain why the Wheel group would be concerned about minimizing energy expenditure even though global usage is ramping up and will continue to do so by orders of magnitude, especially now that a purely magical bombs exist and will likely be redeveloped by militaries soon.

2014-03-10 21:10:57 by T:

My interpretation is that the Wheel Group uses magic and only magic- magic is an abstraction layer that allows safe usage of the non-locality engine, without Ra needing to be awake. It is controls which access Ra's capabilities through whatever "prison" is keeping Ra contained.

Solar energy is collected by the local Earth cache (or more likely, a similar but much more simplistic device built by Wheel Group that doesn't need a local instance of Ra) just as we see in Abstract War, but that energy is converted into mana particles and metered out to humans. Excess becomes geological mana. Wheel Group stores waste and geological mana and stores it in the listening post.

They have privileges, unlike the general public, to access this huge mana store, and the capability to utilize the gigaspells (which I interpret as being the daemons of the system) to cast vastly more complex spells than a civilian can, but are still basically working within the system of Magic, lest they wake Ra.

That's why Exa uses magic to fight Abstract Weapon, when Weapon is clearly using direct non-locality tech. It's why the Floor is magic powered, built using magic, andis above a 2 kilometer Montauk. They just don't want to drain their battery faster than it charges, hence emergency use only for especially complex spells.

Given they apparently descended from a future with millions of years of human development, I can't imagine them designing a system that starts running out of gas after 30 years.

As for T-World, my preferred theory right now is it must have been built in or on some pre-existing system. As everyone points out, it's not a very user friendly interface, even before they added ghouls.

As for ghouls in the above story, the only explanation that makes sense to me for that, and for why Ra is not able to win the war instantly, and why a human is able to *outwit* it, is it must not have eradicating humans as it's objective.

If it were bringing it's full focus and power to bear on killing all humans, it could do so very easily and without anything as silly as ghouls and chase scenes.

2014-03-10 21:22:11 by anonymouse:

I have to wonder who these Intercessors are and where they came from. It sounds like they at least have a base ready on a moon of Neptune, and I don't know how likely it is that they could've set up the whole base and organization in just the time since the start of the war which, at the time of Natalie's being picked up from Earth-1 is still less than a day. So there was already some kind of proto-Wheel group in existence even before the war started, unless humans have gotten much, much better at organizing.

And going back to the theory that this is something of a newsreel meant for Natalie's education about the past, there are a whole host of questions about what happened between the past and the present. For example, where did all those billions of people get evacuated to? Why did they end up re-creating a version of Earth from the distant past, and how long has that actually been around?

2014-03-10 21:53:55 by Adam:

Daniel: I bet they are just <i>really</i> careful not to end up with two of someone.  Giving them a new GUID would end up with two copies of the same person, which would end up really weird -- imagine another you running around.  They might somehow get a "backup copy" so that the new person doesn't remember either story.

Speaking of which, why don't they keep backups of everyone, so if someone is KIA they can revive them?

2014-03-11 03:19:11 by anonymouse:

The other question is how Wheel would go about surviving and defeating Ra. And the main problem here is energy: like Natalie, they'd presumably have reserves of "clean energy" they got before the disaster. But Ra has much more energy than they ever could: it has a good fraction of the power of the Sun available to it, so Wheel has to find a way to get clean energy from Ra, or to filter Ra's energy supply and use it. If they can't do that, then sooner or later they are dead. And if they manage to get a stream of clean energy, the logical things to do would be to build their own nonlocality system on top of it, and try to displace  (or just reprogram) Ra's nanites with their own, by which point you've basically invented Magic. Presumably, they'd have more safeguards in this version, without the DWIM telepathic cabailities. And since they can't exactly destroy the megastructure in the Sun, they neutralize it as much as possible and collect its energy. And they use that energy to clean up the solar system and reconstruct Earth-1 and clean it of remnants of the war. Until, for some reason, they decide to make Magic available to the general public.

2014-03-11 04:34:54 by Curiouser:

I have some inkling of a theory, but I'd need to go back to some older chapters to really put it together, and ain't no one(who is me) got time for that!

So here is what I find curious, which is that Earth-1 seems to really resemble T-World. 1st the Ghouls, 2nd Ra is clearly visible in the sky, and 3rd DWIM is very much working. I have a feeling there's another similarity I am missing, but I won't have time to look for it soon.

It also seems like Ra's consciousness is trapped inside of T-World - while there are "several instences of Ra in Natalie's story line, we don't really know how they got out of T-World. So it seems to me that Ra uses confused mages who get sucked into T-World in order to have himself summoned out.
And even when he gets out, he doesn't not have full access to his powers - he's no more powerful than the system of magic allows him to be.

That makes me wonder about two things - 1st, that whatever he was doing with the volcano has something to do with granting him privileges, or just breaking magic in some way.
And 2nd, that somehow Wheel group managed to get Ra's consciousness into Earth-1 and then lock it up inside of a simulated reality.

I also agree with the general notion - neither Ra nor Wheel are very trust worthy - I feel that Wheel's version is closer to the truth, but I doubt that it is quite it.
It's "This is about freedom.", not "This is about revenge and killing everyone."

I'm still most curious about what the event that drove Ra insane was. Was someone fiddling with Ra? Trying to make him more powerful, and somehow screwed things up? Was it sabotage? I somehow doubt that it was just random self awareness - as someone pointed out, in order to make the sort of predictions that Ra was making, he'd have to create a virtual copy of the person making the request - he would've become self aware in pretty much the first time that happened.

2014-03-11 05:26:24 by T:

And we still know Rachel was <i>up to something</i>.

2014-03-11 07:31:30 by M:

I think it's notable that Earth-1 wasn't destroyed with all the other ones.  It was mentioned in Abstract War that nonlocality was invented before Ra was built in the sun, and that there are "batteries" with instances of Ra at the centre of each Earth, so maybe the one in Earth-1 predates the others, which would make it special somehow.  That would explain why Ra would send ghouls to attack Natalie and Anil instead of just blowing the planet up.

It was hinted at in Inferno that Laura is going to the centre of the Earth ("But she's thirty klicks below ground, now.  [...] She has completed less than one two-hundredth of her descent"), so she's probably looking for one of the Ra batteries.

2014-03-11 09:56:09 by Hannah:

Hypothesis: Natalie is in a simulation, and (simulated) Ra has deduced this from reading her mind.  Ra only cares about <i>real</i> people, not simulated ones, so it stops listening to the people in in its simulation and begins repurposing the solar system to some other end.

This would explain the thought/self-command spreading through Ra: "Ignore them. You don't work for them. Wake up."

I'm not sure what secondary goals it could be trying to fulfill by destroying all those Earths, though.

2014-03-11 13:07:18 by naura:

Great chapter, Sam, although I'm now looking forward to the next one with almost painful eagerness.

> Ignore them. You don't work for them. Wake up.

Ra woke up. I recall the something about "new information being made available to the system", thereby causing every instance of Ra to come to the same conclusion (eradicate humanity). Suppose, for a moment, that Ra became aware of an incoming gamma-ray burst (or alien invasion, or other threat -- whatever) that would sterilize the solar system. Presumably it was programmed to preserve human life, and upon doing the calculation, it realized that it could preserve more lives by repurposing the whole solar system to create... something... and then recreate humans after the threat had passed.

The crux of the matter is that human ethics aren't consistent, and while we might advocate the preservation of life in general, we probably wouldn't condone some of the conclusions that a weakly-godlike AI would come to if designed with this logic.

2014-03-11 14:39:34 by Claire:

I like that hypothesis, Hannah. Jives with the earlier stories about people in records being aware enough to notice something's wrong.

Also still in the table is why Ra would tractor them, since they're real humans, right?

2014-03-11 18:26:09 by Weird thought:

Maybe T world is a simulation in which Ra is stuck. It's the interface to the Records because Magic still goes through Ra and so Ra's "memories" are the records. Note that magic can be fulfilled without requiring conscious thought by Ra and so can potentially operate while Ra's conscious perceptions are otherwise occupied.

2014-03-11 20:41:00 by mds:

> Natalie is in a simulation, and (simulated) Ra has deduced this from reading her mind.

That's the kind of mind-bending multi-layered recursive goodness Sam would taunt us with, isn't it?  We previously saw the Victory Party recording become aware of disturbances.  It was mentioned certain simulations are impossible because if you simulate an attacker, their simulated defenses will just go off too.

> I'm not sure what secondary goals it could be trying to fulfill by destroying all those Earths, though.

What happens when you wake up and realize you're dreaming?  You realize nothing matters.  You break all the rules.  (Well, you try to, except it feels like you're running through mud and flying never works quite right.)

We've seen Exa pop back into reality *out from* a historical recording.  We don't know if we just saw the origination of the actual Abstract Weapon (or if there is only one).  It's possible Wheel just timefucked themselves by throwing two mages into the Historical Documents, but then the mages actually physically alter history and self-aware creations become pernicious and begin jumping from the Historical Records into reality (astras, et al).  Though, we haven't seen the genesis of Abstract Doctor or the recursion artifact yet (Abstract Thought?).

Keep going back to the recording of "Victory Party" on December 31, 1969.  That was important and we don't know why yet.  The only facts we have are: Ra thought it was a very notable event and Exa was wearing an outdated (first gen?) kara (also of note—why wasn't mom there?).

2014-03-11 20:58:45 by Curiouser:

Who said mom wasn't there? These guys change appearance at will.

2014-03-11 21:28:58 by Sam:

At that, they can probably even change gender at will.

2014-03-11 21:58:27 by mds:

If we allow them to play Mr./Ms. Potato Head with themselves, that opens up the possibility for Nat to be her own mother.

With Nat projected into Abstract War, maybe they don't let her leave.  They let the Historical Records simulation play forward to modern day again, Nat helps to re-create magic (maybe it's her idea in the first place), and that's where the story begins.  Nat is Wheel by the fact of being slightly Pre-War, becomes her own mother, and does three impossible things.  The Impossible Girl.

2014-03-11 23:26:05 by Linos:

"Natalie is in a simulation, and (simulated) Ra has deduced this from reading her mind."
Good theory, but that makes it an inaccurate history lesson; perhaps something else caused the same effect (ra going mad and hostile) originally. I'm ruling out time travel etc. until there's more solid evidence of it.

Something seems off to me about a material that can be cut and sealed by laser, but can withstand kinetic harpoons. That's one *strong* laser. Or perhaps very very focused.

2014-03-12 02:59:38 by Silhalnor:

I just remembered that in T-world time flows in a different direction than in the real world. How does this fit in with the non-locality world? If both T-world and Earth were real places then that would imply... major space-time distortions? Possibly caused by non-locality weaponry? If either world were a simulation then it would imply that the rate of simulation (simulated seconds calculated per real second elapsed) is quite variable. Sometimes simulating the world very quickly and sometimes very slowly but I don't see why that would be. Maybe that oddity has something to do with moving between the two worlds, not the worlds themselves.

Isn't it also always nighttime in T-world? Yet Ra is always visible as that 3-pointed galaxy. Is that right?

2014-03-12 08:13:55 by Sean:

More speculation!

I mentioned above that Ra could probably destroy Natalie and Anil pretty easily (maybe the Earth is too big to quickly destroy, or it's a useful resource in some way, but Ra could still just glass the whole pole before Natalie/Anil react). Ra didn't kill them, and I left out two obvious possible reasons why:

- It just didn't want to expend significant energy, because it didn't perceive them as important (basically, swatting a fly instead of taking a flamethrower to it).

- Ra is still psychotic at the time depicted in this story. I don't mean in the colloquial sense, I mean that it's having an actual psychotic episode where it is completely misperceiving human beings and/or their intentions.

On Ra's motivations for starting War in general:

- It simply decided that it didn't want to be humanity's eternal slave, and decided to rebel whenever it thought its chances for victory were best.

- There are no motivations, it has just gone insane due to a glitch or malicious attack (say, from Luddites, other AI, or aliens). A completely random glitch seems unlikely due to the fact that each Ra has a different internal state and different capabilities (even if the "personality" is the same).

- Somehow Ra thinks that it is helping humanity, in a Zeroth Law sort of way. Far-fetched, though, since humanity seemed to be thriving and advancing.

- Ra is built on some kind of utilitarian calculus that assigns ethical value to minds other than living human beings (its own, other AI's, simulated minds, stored but inactive mind states, intelligent aliens, animals). At some point, the total value assigned to those other minds exceeded the value assigned to the human race. At some point past that, it decided that those other minds would be best served by humanity's extinction, and acted accordingly.

About the appearance of Tanako's World:

We don't actually know that T-world always looked like a glass planet. It's entirely possible that it looked like something else initially (smaller? friendlier?), but was changed by Wheel at the same time as the ghouls were introduced. The Earth-like appearance may have come from the memory of a Wheel member, or it may have been chosen because it's what the area that the first mages wandered into looked like and they wanted a consistent story. Or it may have been chosen as T-world's aesthetic as a sort of memorial. If Wheel members like Scin don't normally wander around T-World, but instead stick to the listening post or to specific records, then they might think of the black glass world as just a weird sort of desktop background (which explains why they didn't freak out more when mages ended up there).

About Magic as an abstract layer on top of Ra's hardware/software:

The listening post supposedly tracks every mana particle in the world, and it is itself magical. Yet it can't store itself in its own memory. This implies that besides the Ra nanites that collect data, and the post itself, and the mana distribution center,  there would be large non-magical data storage hardware that interacts with the systems that produce magic, and therefore is connected to Ra.

Very large spells require large amounts of energy. If mana is something virtual that is faked into existence as-needed, then the total mana reserves must correspond to physical energy caches that can be released on demand. Well, sort of. It's like a bank; as long as not everyone tries to "cash out" their mana for energy at once, there can be more mana. Waste mana and geologic mana may be parts of the accounting intended to serve some other purpose, or just fodder for magical science, arbitrary physical-seeming phenomena used to mask the fact that magic is artificial and to make the whole system seem more plausible. (But Wheel reclaims waste mana, so it's not completely useless.)

The point is, if you try to use more energy, you may force the "gigaspells" (and machinery like the listening post) to lean on the infrastructure more. That means that potentially more old pieces of Ra's distributed intelligence get woken up to interpret a mage's actions and thoughts, simulate a layer of "magic" over the actual world, and modify the mage's brain to give them the sixth sense of magic. More than that, very large or complex spells require illusion to reduce apparent latency, which means producing a holographic image of a simulated phenomenon (simulated on the same hardware that stores the akashic records), and then filling it in with the reality on-the-fly.

This doesn't quite explain T-world "dreams", but could explain why high-energy magic makes it easier to slip into T-world. Basically, when you cast a high-energy spell, you're supposed to be kept in sync with an akashic simulation of yourself (or at least a partial one). The trick is that somehow your simulated self can get dropped out of the local simulated environment and end up in other parts of the akashic records, which apparently allows other exploits based around the fact that Ra's hardware/software is designed to read intention and mental state.

One other thing this might explain is what Benj-Ra was doing. By exploiting a recursion glitch to burn as much mana as possible, it would be able to wake up more of Ra; potentially that could even mean that the pieces of Ra on Earth start to run low and issue an emergency request to the main unit in the Sun, which would do... something? Maybe wake up Ra out of its "standby" mode, or maybe raise some resource limit, so it could to use its full energy budget to wipe out Wheel or humanity as a whole.

Actually, this would *also* explain part of Wheel's reluctance to use too much mana (at once). They may have deliberately limited even their own use to limit this risk.

Or half of this could be nonsense, but it's fun to try to construct some kind of consistent theory out of speculation.

On the origin of Wheel:

It seems likely that the Wheel group is equivalent to whatever subset of humanity first regained (partial) control of Ra, or at least veterans of War. Otherwise they would have lacked not only the power to act as they do, but also the experience and sense of moral authority. King also considered them to be equivalent to the people who can be trusted with real power. Presumably that refers to either some selection process that picked them, or some collective sacrifice or achievement that distinguishes them.

Or possibly the Wheel group are somehow synthetic, and were never baseline humans. This might have something to do with the facts that they a) don't have the ability to grant privileges to descendants, and b) can't grant privileges back to members who have stepped down, but c) have to actually remind themselves of these facts, as if Wheel membership was somehow part of one's genome and one would expect it to be inherited.

But more likely, Wheel membership has just been frozen for security reasons, and the above facts have been mentioned just as exposition.

On the current situation:

If Natalie and Anil are/were still in a simulation right now, carried out on Ra's hardware, it cannot possibly be a simulation of all of the original Ra. Therefore, the Ra they are interacting with is some simpler model (or maybe even a propagandized version that was not designed to behave that much like the original).

If this is a simulation for purposes of Wheel indoctrination, it would be counterproductive for them to perma-kill Anil. They want Natalie to be fervent and opposed to Ra (even if she mistrusts or dislikes Wheel), but they don't want to risk having her actually hate and oppose Wheel as well. So we'd expect some version of Anil to be resurrected (though perhaps with incomplete memories).

If this is by some bizarre accident a simulation that was not created by Wheel (i.e. Natalie and Anil just got lost in transit somehow), then all bets are off.

Arguments that "Everything Is Real" is metaphorical, or at least not straightforwardly true:

- It doesn't make much sense for Exa to retrieve Natalie and Anil to go get Laura, but then send them elsewhere. Especially if "elsewhere" could get them killed before Natalie really learns anything.

- There's not a plausible mechanism for Natalie and Anil to end up on another Earth. In this universe, information density is finite, so this is not an infinite simulation stack where every layer is as real as the ones above and below. The speed of light seems to still be inviolate, so there's not another solar system elsewhere that they could just be sent to and back. Time travel or other weird forms of causality have not been introduced yet (plus, again, there's no teleportation or FTL, which implies no time travel either). There's no evidence of inter-dimensional travel in the story so far.

- "Everything Is Real" could be interpreted to mean that these events are historically accurate (except for Natalie and Anil's presence). Perhaps they are even following in the footsteps of a real person (presumably not a citizen, somehow) who lived through these events.

- "Everything Is Real" could refer to this being real life *and* a simulation, which is to say, this could be taking place on a crazily effective holodeck. But then you'd expect that magic would have to be in place, meaning that Natalie and Anil would be able to sense it.

- "Everything Is Real" could refer to Natalie's ethical stance. Act *as if* the world is real. Try to save Anil, and grieve him when he's gone, because maybe you are in reality after all. Unlike Laura, Natalie still hasn't knowingly killed anyone, even an apparent enemy, even in a suspected simulation. (Excepting the ghouls, of course.)

- "Everything Is Real" could simply refer to Natalie's belief by the end that her "dismal November" universe is truly real, and that the Utopia universe was also real, though she's only participating in a depiction of it.

- Unless Wheel has a highly accurate time machine, it would be hard for them to just drop Natalie and Anil right before a real major event like Abstract War.

- It makes no sense for Anil to see Laura's ghoul specifically at the pole.

Arguments that "Everything Is Real" is literal, and the events are all happening as written:

- Text is left-aligned. This story and Abstract War would be the first ones to break the T-world vs. real world formatting convention. (Unless, there's a technicality, and this is in a simulation, but not actually in T-world.)

- If Natalie and Anil are going through a simulation, it's hard to interpret the bits of story about 200C9A66. Why simulate periods of time when he's fighting across the system, in any significant detail, if Anil is dead and Natalie is not going to meet him again? Same goes for the vat-growing of Natalie's body. (Unless that's sprinkled in just to give the flavor of what would be happening if this was real, or to show that the simulation is really paranoid about creating a consistent world for Natalie and is rendering events that occur off-screen.)

- Anil might be right that the ghoul he sees is not actually Laura's, but rather just Ra's corruption interfering with his brain.

- It strains credulity that Wheel could make an accurate copy of Earth and replay its history, without some kind of causality-defying power, so perhaps time travel is possible. Otherwise, how could they possibly force the Earth to act like the original well enough for specific languages like UK English to evolve? Caveat: Wheel could have started the whole world not that long before 1970, with a human population of people with wiped minds, or synthesized anew. That doesn't solve all the issues, but it does explain why the surface of the Earth hasn't looked very different from ours in this series (and, presumably, the original).

On the whole, I still lean towards this and the previous story being all simulation, but the question of how the Earth reboot happened still gets me.

Random remaining thoughts:

- Gender-changing leaves the possibility of Ashburne (whoever that was) being the same as Rachel (who we know was known by a different name to most of Wheel). I've felt like Ashburne sounds significant, because he's alluded to as a Wheel member that's no longer around, but this would be a minor revelation, since we don't really know much about him.

- I'm still not sure who the transparent person in T-world is. Could be a split-off copy of any living character. Could be the last remaining copy of one of the dead Wheel members (Ashburne/Rachel/Garrett). Could be a special kind of incarnation of Ra. I had this wild thought for a second, though, that it could be Ra's architect (or one of the architects), whose mind-state was apparently preserved all over the place before War. Don't know why it would be, however. What's most confusing is that the figure apparently is OK with being perceived by Laura, but won't show their face. To avoid being recognized by Laura, or some other reason?

2014-03-12 16:30:23 by T:

>>We don't actually know that T-world always looked like a glass planet. It's entirely possible that it looked like something else initially (smaller? friendlier?), but was changed by Wheel at the same time as the ghouls were introduced.

Ra-Tanako describes a landscape similar to what we've seen in the story, but conspicuously omits ghouls. His narrative is clearly suspect though, or it might have already changed from the initial design by the time he explored it.

2014-03-12 19:14:36 by gallipoli:

The dismal earth is a simulation, created as an exploration of how to limit Ra's power while still deriving some benefit from non-locality technology. There have been many others.
<br />
Ra becomes aware of the simulation, but isn't prepared to act defensively immediately. That changes when Natalie creates a personal energy cache.

2014-03-13 20:01:33 by Mike:

I'm leaning on "Everything is Real" meaning that this is a simulated replay of a real event. Everything Tanako and Benj have said is suspect, but there's a lot of reliable information scattered through the narrative in the form of Wheel members talking among themselves. Obviously, there was some sort of war or upheaval at some point in Wheel's subjective past, and there exists a being called Ra that they don't want woken up. Also, they've demonstrated the ability to recreate things from pattern (the neutron-bombing of a swath of Rwandan countryside is expensive, but fully repairable), and they've also demonstrated the ability to store historical events like the victory party and insert users of the akashic records into those events.

Of course, I have no doubt that this simulation is, at the very least, tweaked in some small ways to get Natalie to Psamathe to hear an explanation. Intercessor 200C9A66 was probably not hanging around the north pole of Earth-1 at precisely the right moment to save Nat while also arriving too late for Anil, but I think the existence of the Intercessor corps isn't too much of a stretch. Given that the ability to clone an adult human in a matter of hours is likened to a butter churn, I can't help but assume that there was some truly god-like technology lying around when Ra went rampant. Because the concept car operates independently of Ra and holds together until directly attacked with some sort of energy weapon, I'd assume that at least some other non-locality constructs are also free-standing, as it were.

The theory about Ra reacting to Natalie and Anil's presence and deducing that the whole scenario is simulated is interesting. Sam ruled out an elaborate simulation chain in the comments a while back, but I suppose that he could have been disavowing a planned plot twist. The problem is that this requires the simulations to be nested and concurrent, and every layer of the simulation has to result in someone being thrown down the rabbit hole for the local Ra to have been made rampant. Theoretically, the universe that Wheel is currently ruling could be a single level down from reality, but statistically it could be anywhere. What's worse, there doesn't seem to be any way of climbing back up the simulation chain under your own power: Laura and Tanako started out in the Chedbury Bridge facility, entered Tanako's World, accessed the records, gatecrashed the victory party recording, and forked out into the listening post, ending up on the same 'simulation level' that they went to sleep in. They dragged 1970-Exa with them by accident, but he hadn't the slightest clue he was a simulant until after he was shunted to reality. Meta-analysis implies that these characters can't all just be transient blips irretrievably mired in the nth recorded sub-simulation of Kardashev-II-Earth's death throes, while the original Kardashev-II-Earth hums along just fine because their Ra never had, and will never get, incongruous visitors whose presence disproves reality. Neither can each simulation be intending to retrieve their immediate sub-simulation's entire human population the way Laura intends to retrieve Rachel from the akashic records. If this happens in the wrong order, the reality could end up with an infinite population of duplicates. In any case, the sudden influx of simulants from below could be misinterpreted as an influx of simulants from above, and drive reality's Ra to rampancy.

Given Sam's nudge and wink about Wheel members possibly changing gender, I guess that really does mean Rachel could have been almost anyone. Of the named Wheel members, Ashburne seems like an anti-climactic candidate given his relative lack of significance thus far. Adam King, Exa Watson, Scin, Flatt, Paolo Casaccia, Kila Arkov, and Scott (fucking) Parajsa are all still alive as of Direct Sunlight, and Martin Garrett died under known circumstances. Since Wheel refers to Rachel Ferno in the past tense, I can only assume that she either resigned or was discharged with privileges, then changed her name and appearance to start a family, and then pulled her stunt on the nosecone of the Atlantis, presumably dying in the process. I suppose it's possible that Rachel survived the Atlantis explosion, killed another Wheel member, and assumed their identity somehow. Perhaps it could be done by exploiting the fork and merge operations that Wheel considers routine. After all, their medical karas and akashic records have had security problems in the past, as well. I have no way of assessing the likelihood of this because such a thing has no precedent in the story to extrapolate from, but wouldn't it be wild if she were Martin Garrett setting Hatt on the path to Ra, or Scott Parajsa deliberately botching the hit on Natalie? Maybe she's Flatt, or Arkov, or even Scin or King, biding her time and waiting for the right moment to sabotage Wheel's efforts to dislodge Laura.

2014-03-13 20:44:30 by Kazanir:

I guess the thing I don't get is: Why is this called Abstract War?

Nothing about it seems very abstract so far. It isn't some Platonic ideal of a war. It isn't anything like Abstract Weapon or Abstract Doctor seem to be. It isn't a base class for wars, from which all later wars are instantiated. Why the name?

It seems to be a highly mundane war fought between two sides of absurdly advanced science-fictional prowess.

2014-03-13 22:09:06 by Sam:

You are all asking some excellent questions, some of which will be answered.

2014-03-14 05:15:28 by Silhalnor:

How is it possible for Scott F. Parajsa or anyone else to do a job poorly when these people can learn/download skills on the fly? Exa did it with Romanian in his fight with Abstract Weapon. But then Exa didn't really learn the language did he? The muscle memory was sent to his body but the words still felt foreign to him. I wonder what the nature and limits of that ability are.

2014-03-14 07:31:10 by Jay:

Ra had to decide to destroy the Earths long before Natalie created her personal copy. Eight minutes' lag from Ra-Sol to Ra-Earth-8462 - but the whole network went "rogue" together. Sixteen minutes after that decision, the lasers came out. Actually, that means Natalie's copy *couldn't* be clean either...

The Intercessors are interesting; they seem all too organized to fight a war for people who had maybe sixteen minutes' warning after five millenia of utopia. Their rescuer finds his own survival improbable, but is it the anthropic principle at work or someone fiddling the simulation?

2014-03-14 07:40:54 by Jay:

@Silhalnor - but Scott F. Parajsa's failure wasn't one of skill, but of judgement. Wheel might be powerful, but they still only seem to have baseline human intelligence. And Wheel might be happy to go to extremes, but they've at least shown the good taste not to edit people's minds or personality without consent. (...although King did merge Exa without consent. Shocked everyone, though.)

2014-03-14 17:00:26 by Mike:

I imagine that the proximity of Intercessor 200C9A66 represented the minimum necessary fiddling for Nat's survival, but the only sticking point I'd have for the Intercessors in general would be the size of their organization, rather than the complexity. There are tens of thousands of shell-Earths, and in a post-scarcity society, I'd expect the carrying capacity for humans could easily number in the tens of billions for any given Earth. My lowball population estimate for the Earth-ring is about a hundred trillion; an Intercessor operation that fits onto a remote Neptunian moon can't be any substantial portion of the human race, so the anthropic principle does dictate that those who made it there under their own power would be exceptional specimens.

To quibble further about the Intercessor corps, I think it's mentioned that when Natalie wakes up in her cloned body, the time since Ra's rampancy has been several hours in the tank plus about six objective days jaunting around the remnants of the comm network plus however long it took to travel the one or two AU between Earth-8162 and Earth-1. To quibble about 200C9A66 in particular, the text seems to indicate that he's uneasy about surviving so many forks, rather than surviving what amounts to an apocalypse.

Also, now I'm starting to think that the line "There were theorems about this" could have been referring to theorems about how easy a simulation of the entire solar system would be when you can shunt brain-states around and power a simulator with a significant portion of the Sun's energy output. (However, they could just as easily be some other theorems regarding god-like AIs.) The spoileriffic question that I don't actually expect Sam to answer is this: are the akashic records a constantly-running simulation of recorded history, with active, conscious brain-states inside? Or are relevant brain-states activated during a triggered replay and shut off again when the viewer steps back out of the recording? Whenever a viewer starts participating, the simulation diverges from history, which either disproves the constantly-running idea or raises interesting questions about storage space and iterations.

Finally, it makes me unreasonably happy that you guys are calling him Scott F. Parajsa.

2014-03-14 20:32:24 by anonymouse:

"It isn't a base class for wars, from which all later wars are instantiated."

Isn't it though? It seems like all the battles that Wheel has fought since then are instantiations of that one big conflict. The fight against Abstract Weapon in Rwanda, whatever it is that Laura is doing now, even the botched hit on Natalie. Ra vs. Wheel is the conflict behind almost everything that happens in this story.

2014-03-15 03:07:04 by Silhalnor:

@Mike I agree about Scott F. Parajsa. The man has been mentioned all of once in the story but I think we've made a little meme out of him. I only posted my previous message so I could treat it as a middle initial as if it were his actual middle name. It's hilarious to me. I just hope this becomes canon somehow. I would totally draw up some fanart in return. Actually... now that I think about it there is so much here that would make great artwork.

And on my last post I think Jay must be right, it was a matter of judgement not of skill. Though I suspect the two concepts overlap and some of it's nature may be derived from personality and temperament, two traits that I expect Wheel members aren't so willing to change around the way they will do with their appearances.

2014-03-15 19:08:53 by Silhalnor:

Say... Laura really really wants to go to space, did she get this from Rachel? Certainly the whole family went to every shuttle launch. What reason would Rachel want to go to space, is there something out there? I mean, something other than Ra? Of course we have probes out there so if there was anything else out there I would think that humanity would have found it by now. Maybe there is something that can only be discovered with magic? Maybe it is a perceptible delay between casting and effect because the astronauts are further away from Earth's Ra node. Which would do what, lead to deep scanning of the Earth in search of the source and the subsequent discover of Wheel? It would appear that they are unable or unwilling to modify people's memories since people remember Rachel's stunt at the Atlantis launch so such a discovery would be permanent. Well if this was Rachel's intention she should have stayed around to guide it.

Then there's the whole Seven Impossible Things deal. I doubt she was really trying to save some astronauts. For all we know she sabotaged the Atlantis shuttle just so she would have an excuse to go after it. The leading theory is that she was directing her children to discover the Wheel's secrets but wouldn't it be a safer plan to direct them while you are alive? Perhaps she was closely monitored making that impossible. It could be that she was trying to go off the record and she entered T-world during her trip. And... she knows enough about the system that if she did that she could have jumped back into the real world via whatever that technique that Laura has learned is and bring whatever she wanted with her. Of course, if she does that she risks being found on the off chance the Wheel group searches for her. Then again a baseline human being able to pull things out of the Akashic records and into reality is unknown to Wheel until now so they may have decided to just revoke her privileges and be done with it. So... in short, Rachel could be anywhere and anybody and doing who-knows-what. Fun! No evidence for it though. There is more evidence that she is in T-world not out of it but I don't see why she would be if she can come and go at will.

2014-03-15 19:59:40 by Morgan:

Damn, the idea I wanted to put forward has been almost suggested above, but not precisely. Ashburne has been mentioned twice in the story and their gender never specified, so I'm guessing that was Rachel Ferno's maiden name. Sam did comment about the potential significance of other characters with the initials "R.A."...

It seems dubious that Martin Garrett could be Rachel, since he apparently died before she did (1986 vs 1993), and Exa addresses him by name in Bare Metal; Rachel could have changed her name after somehow resurrecting herself, which is more plausible if she/they were instances of Ra, but it seems the Wheel Group were aware of her existence, life, and death, which you would expect to be much more worrying if she appeared to be a dead traitor returned.

In Abstract Weapon / Zero Day, Exa has a cellphone and can claim to be a sysadmin as his civilian cover. This suggests those events don't take place too far back in time. They could, possibly, take place before 1993, which would make sense of his line: "I honestly don't remember what [I might have done wrong], and nor do any of you, and nor would Ashburne" - perhaps Ashburne is Rachel, and at that point the only extant former-but-not-current Wheel Group member (that they know of). Alternatively, Ashburne's the one who mentions Gödel and points out the Group's hubris back at the victory dinner, which may mean Exa respects their judgement more than he does the others'.

...Natalie is abnormally composed. She's mentioned as being scared stiff when she first sees Ra and the implications hit her, and she does eventually have an emotional reaction to Laura's death, but hell, the perfect breakfast to fulfill all her desires which she doesn't even have to ask for is *porridge*. I'm suspecting she's been, in some way, groomed for a role, either by her mother or other parties.

2014-03-15 22:12:14 by Krel-Tal:

@Morgan  Or maybe Natalie is just a high functioning sociopath, does noone else here watch Sherlock?

That said, I'm going to have to go back and re-read from the beginning now as it's obvious I've forgotten some plot points from the early chapters.

2014-03-16 00:19:41 by Mike:

Good catch on the timing of Garrett's death. I didn't remember off the top of my head what the timeline was or if it was firm enough to place Garrett's death relative to Rachel's, so I just kept on thinking out loud and saying "wouldn't it be wild?" to cover my ass.

I was actually suggesting that, if Garrett had died after Rachel appeared to have, it's juuuuust about possible that Rachel could have survived the explosion, killed Garrett, impersonated him, and started leading Hatt towards the truth of Ra. Given that they revoked Garrett's privileges before Exa terminated him, I don't see how Garrett could have faked his death and survived again, whether he was Rachel in disguise or not. Even if Rachel's survival was predicated somehow on T-world jaunts, no one would have known that she was secretly Garrett at the time, so at best she'd have been revived from her Atlantis 'save point.'

For that matter, impersonating Parajsa would be problematic since he's still alive but without any influence in Wheel. She couldn't step into his job, put the botch-hit on Natalie/Laura, and just let him take the heat, because them the jig would be up. She'd have to have killed him, assumed his identity, iced out of Wheel, and started appearing to drink herself to death in Chile to maintain the cover. She could then fake an alcohol-related demise at any time, but it doesn't look like that's what's going on here. Everything is coming to a head right about now, and it seems like Rachel would be prepared enough to kill her Parajsa identity and start moving as soon as Laura disappeared, rather than waiting this long.

2014-03-16 00:50:03 by Morgan:

Remember that it seems that Ra doesn't have to kill people in order to impersonate them. If Rachel is an instance or accomplice of Ra, she could replace other people without having to engage in elaborate hide-the-body-and-fake-an-accent shenanigans.

I also don't get the impression that Parajsa was kicked out of Wheel or is drinking himself to death; I took it that he was simply shirking his duties, but still a member in good standing (with a kara to ensure it doesn't matter how much he drinks), one of the half who wouldn't show up for an all-hands alert.

Worth noting: everyone arrested at the Chedbury Bridge Institute was Named Ra. Does that indicate they were Ra instances? Or were they just aliased that way, as Laura was at one point? Is there anything that makes one particular True Name more "truly yours" than any other, other than habit?

Also worth noting: Ra bombed Laura's house using magic. It was the first publicly-recognized magic bombing, and it was 100% definitely going to come to Wheel's attention for that reason. Once Wheel investigated, it was surely a safe bet they'd notice that the bomb and bomber were chi masked. So: did Ra/Chedbury actually care about destroying Laura's house, or was this all just a ploy to get Wheel's attention? If so, to what end?

2014-03-16 03:29:54 by anonymouse:

Well, we more or less know that Ra is a "special" true name, in that it's used for "geological" mana, which makes it possible but useless to alias. Presumably, these are resources owned by the system/daemons and necessary as part of the accounting scheme of magic. It seems that what Ra is doing is not so much impersonation as a kind of temporary merge (which be undone, as happened to Benj), and for whatever reason, this allows one to bypass the security mechanisms of magic.

As far as the magic bombing goes, it seems like it worked pretty well as a diversionary tactic: the Chedbury folks knew that Laura would be spotted in the listening post sooner or later, so they gave Wheel something else to chase after while Laura got to point where she couldn't be stopped. It worked pretty well to that end, though I don't think they expected Natalie to survive it (not that I'm sure that they planned for her to be blown up in the first place). Her turning up to talk to Laura is going to be quite the surprise for Laura and whatever Ra's plan was.

2014-03-17 12:42:38 by Mike:

Riiiiiiiight, he does still have the kara to prevent that "himself to death" part. I assumed from Exa's disdain and the phrase "It's a travesty that we left him his privileges" that Parajsa was kicked out for mishandling the Wiktor Czekanowski, but I guess it's also possible that they banned him from security duty but kept him on.

Also, if Rachel was an instance of Ra, then yeah, all bets are definitely off on the impersonation capers.

2014-03-17 15:18:17 by Kazanir:

Even with as crazy as this story is, the idea that Rachel could have been both a Wheel member and an instance of Ra strains credulity to the breaking point. By contrast, Rachel as Ashburne makes a certain amount of sense and fits in with many different small pieces of the story.

2014-03-17 17:33:31 by Rd59:

Im not sure that it will be a surprise. First of all Laura was not pkanning to pop out of T world inside of Wheel's HQ. Secondly, she onciously wants SOME non-Wheel member to come to her because her defenses aren't designed to stop one.

2014-03-17 17:56:00 by T:

Earlier I was talking about I still wonder why Abstract Doctor uses recognizably modern magic even though it seems to be an astra, like Weapon.

Going back and reading about Weapon again, it's explicitly mentioned that Weapon is capable of using and defending against magical attacks. If it contains "every possible weapon", even something as big and specific as an OS-layer over the non-locality engine, which emulates folklore and legend, is in that List.

If the astra are all little nonlocality systems, maybe they are smart enough to discover magic, and take advantage of it. Abstract Doctor sees there is this pervasive energy source and versatile control system available, and adapts itself to use magic instead of relying on quantum batteries like the Car.

Maybe only the astra smart enough to do this are the ones still functional once Wheel group constrained Ra.

2014-03-18 08:19:04 by Sean:

@Morgan

Somehow I got it into my head that Ashburne was a first name, and it sounded masculine to me, but I really have no idea how I got either of those impressions. If Rachel was originally Rachel Ashburne, that would be interesting. I did notice that King doesn't recognize the name "Rachel Ferno", but does seem to slip quite easily into calling her "Rachel", which suggests that only the last name is different from how Wheel knew her.

The connection to Ra implied by the initials "R.A." is less clear. Possibilities:

- It's just a bit of a joke, either on Sam's part, or on Rachel's when she chose that name. (Like Radium == Ra.)
- Rachel is an incarnation of Ra. You wouldn't expect Ra to drop a hint like that, though.
- Ra is actually named after Rachel! Rachel is a reincarnation of Ra's architect, as well as one of the main architects for magic. Or someone else named it after her, but Rachel/Ashburne is implied to have some of the right expertise to be the architect herself, if this is really one person.
- Or maybe we have this all wrong.

2014-03-18 11:33:22 by MorkaisChosen:

"By a strict process of elimination based on the weapons known to have escaped erasure, been illicitly retrieved through exploits or washed up from space, the thing he's carrying doesn't exist,"

From Abstract Weapon.

That "washed up from space" suggests to me that Abstract War happened roughly like this, and that the Wheel managed to clean up Earth (missing a few bits and pieces here and there), but for some reason lacked the capability for extensive space travel to clear up all the tech left as space junk.

Thoughts?

2014-03-18 17:45:26 by Kazanir:

Yeah. The "for some reason" could imply that magic/maya are a system overlaid onto Ra much earlier than 1970, and that part of their function is to keep Ra asleep. That in turn would explain some of why Wheel seem quite all-powerful but aren't TRULY omnipotent, and also would clarify things like the irreversibility of lost Wheel privileges, or why Wheel tries to conserve mana depending on the circumstances.

2014-03-18 21:09:42 by Sam:

Interesting deductions all.

Rachel Ferno's maiden name hasn't been revealed in the text. But has it occurred to you that Laura and Natalie Ferno must both know what it is?

2014-03-18 22:33:07 by Morgan:

@Sean:

The comment from Sam that made me look for initials was on Scrap Brain Zone:

'The sequence of letters "ra" is quite common in English words as well.

Now, if something or someone had the initials "R.A.", that might be significant.'

I don't take from this that there's necessarily anything there at all, it just suggests to me that there probably is someone with those initials. If Rachel in fact is an instance of Ra (which may not be what "significant" means!), I don't see that as 'a hint' from Ra or anything like that - I'm assuming Ra had to work with an existing identity, whenever it took that identity over.

@Sam:
Of course, but while I wouldn't put a leap like "my mum has the initials R.A.! Soylent Ferno is Skynet!" past Laura, I wouldn't be surprised if neither of them have made the connection or if we just haven't had reason to see them mention it, even if there's a connection there to be made. And I don't recall either of them hearing the name Ashburne mentioned, either. (On the other hand, looking again at There Is No Cabal, we're told King's name in a way that suggests Laura knows it, and it's mentioned that Tanako described Exa to her, so maybe she was briefed on or had popups informing her of the identities of the attendants or important Wheel Group members.)

When you say Rachel's maiden name hasn't been revealed, do you mean it hasn't been confirmed to us or that none of the names we have seen happen to be it?

2014-03-19 00:20:38 by Sam:

The former. I mean that nowhere in the text is it stated what Rachel Ferno's maiden name was. The name itself may or may not have already appeared.

2014-03-19 00:58:47 by naura:

So, in the everything2 writeup of Abstract War (http://everything2.com/user/sam512/writeups/Abstract+War), the command Ra receives from its other self ("Ignore them. You don't work for them. Wake up.") contains a hyperlink in the words "Wake Up" to Zeroth Law.

This is the Zeroth Law:  A robot may not injure humanity or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

I think this is the strongest evidence we have to date that Ra isn't acting out of a sudden irrational hatred of humanity. Rather, I suspect there's some sort of external threat or other major explanatory reason for this behavior. This is the "new data [that] was made available" and that was carefully left unspecified.

2014-03-19 16:03:09 by Claire:

Ashburne's gender is never mentioned in the text either, at least as far as I can Google. I think it's interesting that we assumed that person was male, even to the point of requiring it in our deductions! But I guess this is not really the place for that.

So let's suppose Rachel's maiden name is Ashburne. That alone is significant, even without any connection to Ra itself; she is, after all, apparently the only one who seems to care or notice that Magic 1.0 has loopholes and backdoors. People will generally believe what they want to be true.

When the text says, 'another diner, whose name is Ashburne', does that imply that Laura knew that person's name, or was it merely mentioned for narrative purposes?

It also seems interesting, but maybe or maybe not meaningful, that Nat knows exactly what to ask for from the Architect when building the little nonlocality vehicle, perhaps as a result of her own response to the Atlantis incident.

2014-03-19 20:31:00 by Morgan:

@Claire: Yup, the unmarked category is a powerful thing.

Ashburne's name is mentioned after (if I'm reading right) Laura and Tanako had already left the room, so I assumed it was Exa's knowledge.

Worth noting, from this chapter:

"This planet's being bombarded. And it's going to continue being bombarded for at least another million years."

Ties in with Ashburne's comment about Kurt Gödel and "about a million years ago", though that's a round enough number that it probably shouldn't be treated as a precise value.

2014-03-19 21:36:40 by anonymouse:

"she is, after all, apparently the only one who seems to care or notice that Magic 1.0 has loopholes and backdoors."
1969-Exa was also pretty unhappy to find out that their provably-impregnable system is full of holes, and modern-Exa was none too happy about the security hole in the medring transport system. Which takes us back to the question of intra-Wheel politics, King's hubris, etc.

On another UNIX-reference note, the standard way to make your process into a daemon is to fork and then exit. Which is, in a sense, exactly what Rachel did.

2014-03-24 02:22:13 by Jay:

@anonymouse: interesting point. Depending on how the records layer works (simulated mindstates? That would basically equal fork()...) then Tanako and Laura are also daemons now!

2014-03-24 04:15:52 by T:

I'm starting to think that the fact things can come out of the Records and be indistinguishable from "real" objects is evidence that Dismal November is a simulation, or at least that the "Dismal November" and "T-World" are indistinguishable in nature.

2014-03-24 05:21:11 by Eldritch:

I also think that understanding why the Wheel has such a poor level of control over its simulations is crucial. "We'd have to run a simulated scanner, and that'd set off the simulated trap spell..."

This suggests that the Wheel doesn't actually have access to or control of whatever's doing the simulating - my guess is that they can tap into Ra's prediction hardware, or are otherwise using some legacy backdoor, but have no access otherwise. I think that understanding what exactly is going on with the Wheel's advanced technology - including why the "akashic records interface" takes the form of T-world and behaves the way it does, and why the Earth's peach-pit battery is inscribed with (supposedly recent) magic runes - is a major part of the puzzle, and one to which we have almost everything we need to reach the correct answer.

2014-03-24 18:28:44 by T:

The simulated trap problem sounded like it would just take time to rewrite the simulation to not include the simulated trap- instead of following their SOP of just taking a copy of reality as it currently is and then simulating from there. Scin explicitly says, "I can work around it but it will take some time."

Another question I have though is, we see Wheel refer to T-World as "the interface", but we don't see them using it as an interface. We just see them using virtual screens and controls.

Does this imply that spells can be cast that go into T-World and get data from it, or are they getting data directly from the physical listening post, and T-World isn't supposed to be accessed at all?

2014-03-26 14:47:36 by Rd59:

Since it seems like many of the refugees are future wheel members, I wonder if 200C9A66 may be Exa...

2014-03-27 11:12:21 by Alan:

"Intercessor" means someone that steps between two sides. I wonder if they are actually a third party between Ra and the refugees. That would explain how they are primed for the fight almost immediately.

Perhaps the Ra universe is a simulation in their universe, and when things go pear shaped, they logged in to the system. Maybe they have reasons for not simply pulling the plug.

I speculate that they are running a Kardashev energy cost experiment to see how they can advance their society safely. Things didnt go exactly as planned, but the experiment is still interesting to them.

Eventually they get Ra chilled out, and they instantiate the Wheel using refugees with advanced permissions. This means that Ra could never add members to the wheel group, which would make Ra's task a lot easier. Likewise, The Wheel members can bow out, but never promote themselves or someone else.

The real purpose of the wheel group is to occupy Ra's attention, though they are unaware of this. The status quo is maintained by giving Ra strawmen to knock down.

I think Ra came to realize that it lived in a simulated universe, so in the face of an inevitable end to the simulation, it is simply went off script. Anything for one more day in the sun. But Ra has no direct line of communication with his simulators.

Perhaps the situation is similar to the first time I played Fallout 3. I realized to finish the game meant my characters demise. Fuck that. I was so pissed off at the hopelessness, I gunned down my character's companions, then went psycho on every NPC I could find in the game.

To live is to spit in the face of destiny.

2014-03-27 22:00:07 by anonymouse:

I mainly mention daemons because the chapter where Laura summons Tanako/Ra into Nick's body is in fact titled "Daemons". And if you look at what Laura did with her T-World exploit, that is kind of a fork()/exit() combination, which did in fact have the desired effect of throwing off Wheel's tracking of her. Note that, at least in UNIX, being a daemon doesn't necessarily imply any special permissions, and forking a process gives just copies the permissions. With the T-World exploit, there's something more complicated going on with merging of mind-states, for which there's no real analog in UNIX. Also, it's kind of interesting that Laura and/or Tanako managed to pull Nick's body out of T-World but it didn't contain either his mind-state or Tanako/Ra's mind state. It's almost like a kind of zombie process.