Last Thursdayism

Previously

In 19390, Triton's last layers of sacrificial armour are boiling away at a rate of hundreds of metres per second. In the next few minutes, the heat will reach the computation fleck at the ship's core and start to destroy it. When that happens, no matter what else has happened, the operation will be over, and the war will be over.

They have Ra's brain laid out in front of them, vivisected and still operating. The machine has been successfully attacked and subdued. In the lower three thorns, Virtual human civilisation has been frozen indefinitely. Nobody is left who could pass further judgement on them.

As for the fourth thorn, it will obey one further command, ever, and Ashburne is the only person who can deliver that command. Ra will unthread her thought processes to determine what it is she's truly asking for, and deliver that result, and then permanently disable its raw public interface.

But none of the crew are in a position to handle this decision rationally. None of them have even fully processed the magnitude of what just happened. The plan was to reassemble the worldring, restore Actual Humanity from cold storage, go home and resume life. But after the Battle of Neptune, there's nobody to restore. There is no plan. There is no "go home". Triton and its crew are in freefall, severed from their purpose.

Triton's clean Ra node is far too busy and underpowered to run time-compressed simulacra for this purpose, meaning the discussion continues urgently in real time. Ashburne surfs the crew's internal communications, flicking from one member to another. "Declarator," she says, selecting one at random, "what do you want to happen next?"

"The Virtuals have to pay," the woman says. "We're real! We matter. We hold the reins, we'll show them you don't fuck with the people who hold the reins--"

"Pay how? What would you do?"

"Shut Ra down. Exterminate them all."

"That would be a war crime," Ashburne says. "We'd be war criminals. It would be genocide."

The woman holds Ashburne's gaze. "They aren't people," she tells her. "They don't exist. They aren't human."

Ashburne switches to a different crewperson's image. "Intercessor, what should we do?"

There's black horror in this man's eyes. "We've got to roll everything back," he says. "We've got make it so that Ra can't act unilaterally anymore."

This is just the original plan. The man hasn't understood the truth yet. He's toying with the facts, weighing the prospect of accepting them against the option of just cracking up. "Roll back to when?" Ashburne asks.

"To right before this happened."

"Rebuild the worldring, and then inhabit sixty thousand empty Earths, just the two hundred of us?"

"...I don't know--"

Ashburne cuts him off, switching over again.

"What would you do?"

"Start everything over," this woman says. "Purify Earth-1 and start it all over."

"From when?"

She's coherent. "The beginning of time. Year negative ten thousand. Or negative a hundred thousand. Go into the scientific record. Throw all our technology away. We'll repopulate the world with fire and the wheel. We'll create something new with our own hands."

Ashburne nods and switches again, to a glowering, despairing man, his hands covering the lower part of his face, pulling down at the skin around raw eyes. "What do you want?"

"I want..." The man reaches outside the camera's field of view and produces a physical photograph, actual coloured ink on paper. The photo was taken at a picnic on the exterior of a habitat over the north pole of Saturn. There are eight people gathered, all different ages. All unrecoverable.

The man just presses the photo against the screen, until Ashburne switches away. There's nothing to say to him. What he wants isn't something he can have.

Switch, switch, switch to three crew members in a row who only want oblivion: in death, or psychoactive chemicals.

Switch to another man-- he looks like a boy of twenty, but it's impossible to judge age from appearance in this era-- with his eyes closed. "And you?"

He flinches, but says nothing.

"Intercessor, I asked you a question."

The boy's eyes open and he glares sidelong at Ashburne, head trembling. "I can't tell you what I want."

Ashburne hesitates for a second, and is about to switch again, but--

"I want you dead," the boy says, "and then I want to upload myself into a world where none of this ever happened." He bites his tongue. Ashburne has the right to summarily execute him - or even erase him - for the first statement alone. The second is textbook treason. But the boy can't stop himself from plunging on. "The Virtuals won. The Virtuals were right. Reality's been burnt to the ground, and even now it can still get worse. But they can have anything they want. How is this better than that?"

Ashburne's expression is placid, neutral.

"Do you regret asking me, yet?" the boy shouts, loudly enough that Ashburne can hear it in reality as well as through the internal link.

Ashburne leaves him. She's about to ask "And you?" to the next person, but the boy hasn't stopped talking. He's audible throughout the ship, now, an echoing rant. Other heated discussions drop out in his favour.

"You lost us the war. You trusted radically malformed intel. You were supposed to save lives and you failed as completely as anybody could ever fail. Mandator, whatever happens after this, you need to die."

Ashburne summons the boy's image back, which silences him. She waits a second, making sure that she has everybody's attention. She makes a show of physically reaching for a button, so that everybody who is paying attention can see it. The boy leaves the ship, leaving behind an empty seat and a coil of humid air.

And a shared thought: He can't have been the only one.

"We're out of time," Ashburne announces. "We have no consensus. In any case, it would be tactless to build anything now. It's too soon. There must be a period of mourning.

"Ra, leave the Solar System as it is. Then, a year from now, when we come together again, we'll build a world which can't ever go this far wrong. And, Ra... give us the tools we'll need."

The command is given. Ra reaches into Ashburne's mind and carefully unwinds her words and intentions into a workable reality. It gives them all a curt acknowledgement, and peacefully abstracts itself away.

*

In 19391, the war is over, so it wouldn't be right to call what Watson's wearing a "warsuit". The suit is a perfect piece of equipment, protecting and maintaining him so well that sometimes he forgets about it for weeks at a time. Every now and then he'll catch his reflection in a particularly clear piece of glass, and stop. That's right, he'll tell himself, after staring for a puzzled moment at the unfamiliar man in the transparent helmet. I have skin. And that's its colour.

Watson is following the beacon home, completing the final leg of a fifteen-thousand-klick round trip. The reincarnation point, where he and everybody else started, is in the foothills of a parched mountain range on the edge of a desert. The twenty-first century called this country Kazakhstan.

What he's seen on his journey is this: planet Earth One was ruined in the war, and the only thing that's happened since then is that the temperature has dropped like a stone. Oceans are crusting over with ice. The ground is bare rock and wind-smoothed ice and, in the desert, a carpet of broken glass. There's no ecosystem, and no life above extremophile bacteria, unless you count the denatured Ra listeners. The atmosphere has been almost completely stripped, and is hardly breathable, and is radioactive. Every night and day there are the most spectacular meteor showers, laying waste to anything not already flattened by the detonations of the neighbouring Earths.

Up in the sky hangs a bitter, dim orange Sun, still clouded with Matrioshka brain matter. "Leave the Solar System as it is," Ashburne had said. At night, sometimes, Watson tries to find Neptune, but he never can. He knows it's still out there. So must be all the pieces of Neso Habitat, their orbit not likely to decay anytime soon.

Not that he wants to go back.

Watson reaches the top of a scorched ridge, now only four or five klicks from the beacon. From here he can see the whole way there, down a deep pass. He knows he's early, but he can see that he's not the first to arrive. There's a rough accumulation of large boxes there, and another man in an identical suit is sitting on one of them, doing nothing.

Watson walks down towards him, crunching glass underfoot. He's a few klicks closer by the time the man sees him and waves.

The boxes are metallic red, ranging from half-metre cubes up to one the size of a Stonehenge megalith. There are around twenty of them, haphazardly scattered, some piled up or stood on one end. They weren't there when he set out a year ago. Curious.

"How are you?" Watson asks the man. Both of them have shed their wartime designations, and the man hasn't named himself again yet, but a few days from now he'll start to call himself Adam King. King is Ashburne's former second. Watson would have saluted, if this was still the war.

In response, King just nods. "You?"

Watson reflects. "I'm ready for the next part. I walked across two continents and I said all the words I had to say. There are two things I know after a year of meditation. One: we can't fight the war again. And: we've got to build something next. I don't particularly care what, but we can't just leave it at this."

King nods again, staring into the distance. "I know what. I've got a pretty clear idea of what I want to build."

"It's got to be something that feels like winning," Watson says.

"I've got it all worked out."

Watson regards King for a while, mulling over the post-war power structure. In Ashburne's absence, King would be running the war, if this was still the war. But it isn't.

He kicks the box that King is sitting on. "What are these?"

"These are the tools," King says. "Remember? I suppose Ra gave them to Ashburne. And Ashburne left them here for us."

"Should we open them?"

"Let's wait until everybody's here who's going to be here. You're a few days early."

A beat. What's left of the air whips past them.

"...How many people do you think are going to come back?"

King says, "Not everybody. Not by a long shot."

"Where's Ashburne? Is she coming back?"

"No."

On the ridge where Watson was, another figure appears. It's not Ashburne. Watson raises his arm. "Did she tell you that?"

"No."

*

In 19391, a man calling himself Scintillator is surfing an X-class flare over the Sun's thirtieth parallel, towing a star-shakingly powerful piece of equipment called bhārīvastra. He is a living ship, buoyed by fields of darkness, using the astra to alter gravity in his favour.

Above and beyond him is the final collection of abandoned, charred Dyson statites. They are two-dimensional graphene computers, averaging two thousand square kilometres each, floating on solar radiation like leaves on wind. The Group has recovered all the needed mass to recreate Triton, Psamathe and the rest. The colossal cloud of dust and unprocessed worldring wreckage has been swept away. These eight are surplus. Scin doesn't need to save and reconstitute them, he can just kill them.

Even in this actinic environment, Scin's energy shows up as a brilliant white point, as fine as a scalpel tip. He accelerates at the first statite from below, targeting its delicately curled edges. He tracks through each of the statites in an efficient flourish, cutting away significant pieces of crust. One by one, the gigantic structures list sideways, lose lift, lose altitude, and start the long fall into the fire below.

Scin feeds them extra gravitational mass, so that they fall faster. With extra senses, he can see their systems frying from the edges inwards, ceasing to process. There's even a detectable wisp of magic smoke.

Those are the last eight. The face of the Sun has been wiped clean, so that it shines. Scin has lived in this environment of plasma and magnetic flux for months, and his brain has adapted, changing into something wild and instinctive, preying on the wandering statites like a hawk. But it's over now. He can go home, and walk on the ground.

Scin rustles his fields and uses the astra again, negating all of his gravitational mass. He shoots out along a tangent away from the Sun, towards Earth-1.

*

In 19391, the whole crust of the world is being torn up in squares, flipped and relaid. Fresh rock and replenished fossil fuels are topped with half-destroyed rainforest and national parks, all conforming to the most accurate available historical and scientific record. "Flat", the man operating the strata machine, is one of the fourteen who survived through unimaginable luck; combatant mind-states beamed to Triton directly out of the closing microseconds of the Battle of Neptune.

There's a zigzag advancing over the face of the Earth, like mismatched colours on satellite photographs. Behind the line, cities are rising.

Historical figures are being resurrected from guesswork, famed quotations and the multidimensional physical fingerprints they left on their world. Where the records run out and lack clarity, the human drivers of the engines tell the engines to choose what works. Hyper-advanced narrative astras are procedurally generating people in their billions - all frozen mid-step or mid-dream, and waiting to be animated. Waiting for a certain particular clock tick.

Kilometres below the Western Australian desert, in a deep black bunker, Adam King is working at the controls of Metaph, the forge of new physics.

"We have to judge the difficulty curve of Seventies science," he says to himself. In English, because he's chosen his new name and language now. "If it's too easy, the technology explodes, and we run into anthropic principle exposure. If it's too hard, they drop the thing. Alath menaremba baltakrilakta cho malatha."

He rubs a painful eye and yawns. He fidgets with the unfamiliar ring at his wrist. "Something you can build a society on. Something... attainable. We'll need to shepherd them, to begin with. We'll need to be able to track everything. Damn, how do you work this thing?"

*

In 19391, which is also 1969, there's an invisible penthouse above the East River, a castle in the sky with a council of wizards, and King is speaking to them:

"I don't want to waste too much time. So I'll use as few words as I can.

"We came within minutes of extinction. To survive, we had to travel through Hell itself. But through Hell we travelled. And, thank God, home we came. Survivors.

"Magic is our victory. We have proved it to be perfect. It'll stand forever. I don't want to call our accomplishment - your accomplishment - a miracle, because that would deny you the credit that you deserve. It was work. Nothing but work.

"Trillions died because the power existed to kill them. Magic is a more disciplined power. To use it requires dedication, and character. And who knows what they'll build on top of it? I, for one, can't wait to see.

"So thank God. And thank you all. And: to the beginning."

*

Now:

"Demigods drifting over the face of a formless Earth. World-shaping tools from before the dawn of time, provided by a literal sun god. This," Anil Devi remarks, "is a pretty decent crack at some creation mythology."

"You hesitated," Adam King explains to Natalie. "You're sceptical. You have more questions. Which is fine, but we're on a clock. We want this resolved or on its way toward resolution within the next thirty real-time seconds. So we're here, at two thousand times normal speed, just for as long as it takes to convince you."

They're ghosts again. The three of them are standing behind the simulacrum of Adam King as he eats at the head of the Wheel Group's dining table. He and the hundred and twenty or so other simulacra have begun their own conversations, historically irrelevant ones which the "real" King has kindly tuned out.

Nat takes in this last scene in the historical montage. Rich carpet with interlocking golden and red spiral patterns. Dark wooden furniture, silver cutlery. A glass window so huge that it could be mistaken for the sky. A view of the skyline of the city of New York which, strictly, shouldn't be possible.

Nat is too exhausted to be dazzled anymore.

"The Virtuals--"

"Still frozen," King says. "They can stay frozen for a billion years for all I care. It's better than what they deserve."

"You each walked the Earth alone for a year," Natalie says. "And then, you all came back together--"

"Not all," King corrects her. "Not by a long shot."

"What happened to the others?"

King studies the city skyline, as an alternative to meeting Natalie's eyes. "They left the Group. A lot of them, let's say, left the world entirely. One way or another. For one reason or another."

"Which left everybody in this room. You invented magic and you invented Anil's and my world from scratch. You reset the whole solar system back to the 1970s to make the story fit."

"Exactly 1970. Midnight G.M.T., January first. It was a round number. Before the Information Age, right after the peak of the Space Race. Exactly the right place for magic to fit. You see, it wouldn't be right to say that we run your world. We ran it, by which I mean we set it running."

Natalie has a slew of exceedingly obvious follow-up questions, starting with Why?!, but she senses that there's no way to fire them at King right now without coming off as adversarial, which would be equally exceedingly counterproductive. She catches Anil's eye for a moment, imploring him to do the same, hoping that the instruction can just jump straight from her mind into his. Amazingly, it works. Anil gets it.

"What did you call it?" Natalie asks King.

King holds his answer for a long time. He seems distracted by his other self, who has just lit a cigarette. "We called it Abstract War."

"And what happens if Laura wakes Ra up again?"

"Abstract War. Imagine all of what you've been through, again. Except for the part where we won."

Natalie pauses for what she estimates to be a plausible length of time, giving the appearance of thinking it over. She paces over to Anil and gives him a meaningful look. He returns a faintly perplexed smile. She turns back to King.

"Alright. I'll do it. You need me to intercede that desperately, I can hardly refuse. But first, I want to talk to the other one. The one who brought us here." She points at the simulacrum of Watson, who is also at the table, dining on rare steak. "Him."

King agrees, and disappears.

There's a long moment of silence.

"Anil," Natalie says, still watching the gap in the air where King was standing, "drop something on the floor where you're standing. Between your feet." She removes her earring, and does the same.

"Why?"

"I bought us a few seconds. Call it a minimum of two seconds, from his perspective, while he fetches the other one. When he comes back, if he hasn't realised his mistake, we mustn't tip him off. We need to be in the same positions, as if no time passed."

Anil grins, getting it. He does what Natalie suggested, using some pocket change.

"Now," says Nat. "We have at least an hour. Where do you want to start?"

"Where do I want to start? Oh my God." Anil kicks the window, causing a loud bonggg to which none of the simulated people react. "This story is close to unfalsifiable. It's literally the God-damned Omphalos hypothesis. If these people think we're going to believe it, they must be insane.

"But... we've seen teleportation, and advanced simulation. And Ra is a factual object. There's enough circumstantial evidence that I almost do believe it. And that makes me feel insane. And if all of this is true-- then-- they really built magic." Anil claps the simulacrum of King on the shoulders. The simulacrum notices nothing. "He built magic. We just saw him doing it. Alone. This whole thing is his idea; he said he had it 'all worked out'. I bet when the rest of them came back in 19391, they were overruled. Or their ideas were just folded into his.

"It's as if our world is King's sandbox. He took what, by all logic, should have been a hypothetical role-playing scenario - a Virtuality! - and made it concrete in reality, and fabricated billions of breathing people to populate it. It's ghoulish. It means everybody 'born' before 1970 is fake! Including my parents!

"And if that's what really happened, then these people really are insane.

"When you come out on the losing end of a nightmare like Abstract War, the last thing you need is to wander a scorched Earth by yourself, stewing. You need help. You need counselling. I don't care what the human psyche has evolved into by that era. We won't have evolved beyond having problems.

"This man, Adam King? He is not okay."

 

Next: Akheron

Back to Ra
Back to Fiction
Back to Things Of Interest

Facebook Twitter Reddit Email Hacker News StumbleUpon

Discussion (84)

2014-04-26 16:49:15 by Sam:

This one may well go through some minor revisions. I've been staring at it too hard for too long and I released it in a moment of weakness when I really should have given an extra day for perennial editorial powerhouse The Custodian to look it over. Sorry!

The working title here was "Broken Glass Future" but it looks like the word "Broken" has already appeared in a chapter title, something I've been trying to keep to a minimum.

2014-04-26 18:06:56 by Mu:

Yessss.

Ashburne seems to call two different people Intercessor: the man who wants to roll everything back and the boy who she 'gets rid of'. Is that a typo?

Also... hm. King's line about how Ashburne didn't tell him that she's not coming back implies that he killed her, but we 'know' that Ashburne's Rachel, and Rachel was definitely alive after the world restarts. So... what happened? And why would King tell Nat something that implies that *he killed her mom, who she very much knew died several years later*?

(The fact that Nat said things implying she doesn't know Rachel is Ashburne doesn't imply she knows it. How many spells does she know again? ;) )

2014-04-26 18:22:53 by Itai Bar-Natan:

What happened to the boy? It's been stated that the entire crew of Triton survived, and in any case it would have been reckless to kill anybody, no matter how rebellious, when they are one of the last 200 humans known to be alive. In the text they make the distinction between 'execute' and 'erase', so perhaps she 'executed' him while leaving a backup intact.

By now it has been confirmed that the Wheel Group's story and Ra's story contradict each other, seeing as Ra references dates before 1970.

Let's hope the Wheel Group doesn't use 32-bit timestamps. That might make a very damaging Y2K38 bug.

2014-04-26 18:43:39 by John:

King's evasiveness about what happened to the others who didn't stay with the Group is suspicious. He probably deleted quite a few of them. For one reason or another.

2014-04-26 18:55:45 by Black Noise:

Way to portray themselves as sympathetic and not SEELE like.

For a group of Veterans in a war against a strong AI, Wheel sure seem to make a lot of mistakes.

I'll be very disappointed with their operational security if this doesn't turn out to be part of some many layered Newcomb-like security verification process.

2014-04-26 19:02:57 by Mike:

"Intercessor" sounds like it may be a title rather than a name (Ashburne is later called "Mandator" in the same way one might call a military official by their rank).

2014-04-26 20:53:47 by KimikoMuffin:

I'm *already* disappointed with their operational security.

Also, King's speech is slightly different from the one in There Is No Cabal. I mean, I can understand *why* Ra replaced the "trillions died" bit with a "trust" thing. But this indicates that Ra is capable of manipulating the simulated memories. What does this mean for Exa, in particular the one who folloed Laura and Ra out of the simulation? What did King just merge with ... let's call him Alpha Exa? Does Alpha Exa remember the discrepancy?

I also have a hunch that Rachel Ashburne was much of the ame mind as Anil here ...

2014-04-26 20:54:08 by koboldskeep:

He might have deleted the people who disagreed with him, but it's more likely that they simply left the system. People like Scintillator wandering the galaxy at sublight speeds in search of meaning, alien life, or perhaps someplace new to start over.

2014-04-26 21:15:02 by speising:

i'm wondering for a while now, why a culture that was able to create a megastructure inside the sun would need something as crude as ablative shielding?

2014-04-26 21:45:51 by Feep:

There's a difference between what you can build with centuries of engineering effort and active support, and what you can throw together in five minutes on some distant moonbase. (In a cave! With a box of scraps!) Even given nanotech.

2014-04-26 21:52:32 by Mu:

Mike: Good point. I assumed that titles were unique, but there's no actual good reason for them to be.

KimikoMuffin: Just because they're not identical doesn't mean that Ra altered it. Maybe King's the one that's lying. Or maybe both of them are.

2014-04-26 22:06:58 by IanO:

Can someone explain the whole "dropping-something-gives-us-one-hour" thing?

I understand the simulation is running accelerated time, so King leaving the simulation for 2 seconds gives them an hour, but why did they have to drop something?

OH WAIT it's so they know exactly where they were standing. Derp. Clever!

2014-04-26 22:59:29 by John:

I think the "where we are standing" thing is a red herring that Nat is placing deliberately. She used her earring to "mark her place". You know, the EPTRO earring which generates force fields. I think what she's actually doing is laying a trap.

2014-04-26 23:53:33 by Matt:

It's because the sim they're in is running 2000 times faster than the real world.  Nat asks King to bring in Exa, betting that he won't realise they'll be able to talk to each other and plan for 4000 seconds (assuming it takes 2 seconds to fetch Exa from the real world.) King would notice if Nat and Anil suddenly jumped around, so they mark where they were standing.  When King comes back in they'll be standing on the markers, pretending only two seconds have passed for them as well.

2014-04-27 00:47:11 by Tolly:

On the other hand, what's to stop him from freezing it or slowing the simulation down? Other than human error. Actually, that's rather plausible on second thought.
<br/>After all, it seems as though the most powerful intellect in existence* is being used to carry out the heavy lifting for (admittably incredible) tasks without actually being consulted on the wisdom of whether or not those tasks are a good idea. <br/>A lot of people argue about freedom of choice and self-determination and such, but still!  Couldn't you simply ask it to determine a handful of  Greatest Good scenarios for rebuilding humanity and then choose one for it to carry out? Of course, I'm being idealistic here, I like to think people are fundamentally good. What's more likely here is King playing god without regard for reason or ethics.
<br/><br/>* Assuming humanity is the first time the infinitesmally small probability of sapient self-sustaining intelligence emerging has manifested for this universe, anyway.

2014-04-27 01:23:56 by Alan:

Isn't Anil 10+ years older than Nat? That would make him "fake", and she slapped him in the face with it.

2014-04-27 04:31:58 by Sean:

I really liked this story. The last one was kind of a relief in that it explained a lot of long-standing questions, but ended up too "tidy" and too distant from the present state of things.

@Mu: I can't really figure out what King is thinking about Rachel Ferno as Ashburne (assuming that they are the same; that hasn't been confirmed, just strongly hinted at, of course). Maybe he was expecting Natalie to bring her up, and he had some planned explanation that he hasn't used (yet). Maybe he was just playing unedited tape and didn't realize what it implied. Maybe it's the case that he didn't actually do anything to Ashburne, and she "retired" to live as Rachel Ferno on her own.

@KimikoMuffin: I also wondered about the Exa that came from a simulation Ra had interfered with...

@John: They are in a simulation, so it's not clear that a magic earring would work (if they even loaded it into the simulation with Natalie). On the other hand, it's not right-indented T-World text, so maybe it's a kind of simulation where magic works.

@Alan: Judging by the lack of end-quotes, the entire monologue at the end is from Anil, and he doesn't call himself "fake", so I'm guessing that he was born after 1970.

2014-04-27 06:34:42 by Sysice:

So the Reals essentially killed quadrillions* of Virtuals and made any chance of resurrection necessarily destroy the Real's existing culture.
Dammit guys, you had one job.

Similarly to Fine Structure, I'm really enjoying this story because it's very fun to try and figure out exactly what's happening, although in Fine Structure it was more due to the "frantic complexity" of the setting, and in Ra it's more due to the fact that everybody is lying to everybody, all the time.

*I don't remember if the actual number has been said to be this high, but allow me my drama.

2014-04-27 09:11:20 by MichaelSzegedy:

The paranoid response to people complaining about operational security: who's to say they didn't purposely leave the simulation running to observe Nat's and Anil's private reactions?

2014-04-27 10:16:49 by Alan:

Sean, read "Bare Metal" again. It takes place in 1986, and it says that, "Anil Devi was burnt along the waist and forearms", at some point prior to that date.

Now if that accident happened in 1986, and if Devi was born in 1970, he would be 16..ish. If it happened any earlier,  or if he was born any later than 1970, he would be pretty dang young to be working for Hatt instead of going to (magic) school.

Laura was 14 in 1993 when the shuttle exploded, so she was born in 1979. If Anil was 16 in 1986,  he is 7 years older than the sisters. But more seems likely.

2014-04-27 10:37:30 by Sam:

Devi was indeed just a teenager at the time of the accident in 1986. He was working for Hatt as part of an accelerated apprenticeship thing. He's not significantly older than Natalie and Laura, and he was definitely born after 1970.

(I lost track of dates.)

2014-04-27 10:42:30 by Alan:

It also occurs to me that Ra must have had sleeper agents right from the launch date and/or people like Garrett got started against the Wheel pretty early, as it was strongly suggested that Garrett became involved in the Hatt Group to pursue Ra friendly goals.

I'm also amused at the idea that King's plans were coming undone less than 10 years after his ascension.

One further thing: Why hasn't someone mentioned a parallel between Ed Hatt and Red Hat?

2014-04-27 13:26:40 by Kazanir:

If the Virtuals are frozen, and Ra is permanently abstracted beneath the Wheel's access layer, and most of the functions of magic are taken care of by the denatured Ra listeners (i.e. mana) and the listening post/distributor (i.e. Ra core node)...

Then who is the other actor? What intellect is driving all of these possessed humans Named "ra" if Ra itself is a machine and the Virtuals are off?

And what the hell was Rachel Ferno up to?

2014-04-27 15:16:39 by Morgan:

I wonder if the "coherent" woman who answers Ashburne is of any significance. Her plan sounds close enough to what actually happened for her to be relevant, but different enough that she's probably not King.

The fact that King's speech here differs from the one Laura saw means we can't trust not just what our protagonists have been told, but even what they've seen for themselves. That makes things more difficult.

So the astras are the tools Ra gave Ashburne and which the Wheel Group used to build magic and reset the world. That makes some sense - Ra created them to access itself indirectly, and then King extended those protocols to make the even more restricted system of magic, explaining why they appear to operate on the rules of a system they predate. But why, then, would the Wheel Group lose track of any of them? Did some (former?) members get careless with the ones they'd been assigned after they were done using them for their intended purposes?

@Mu: King may be implying he killed Ashburne, but he may also just be arrogant enough to think he knows her intentions even though she hasn't told him, inferring them from what she's done and what she left behind for the others to find.

@koboldskeep: Scintillator is Scin, a member in good standing of the Wheel Group, who fills the role of The Past.

2014-04-27 15:28:05 by Toph:

If Rachel Ferno was really Ashburne, she knew people hated her. And maybe King actually intended to kill her, rather than just wishing she was dead. She needed a way to escape him.

So she got herself killed. To Laura and Nat, it looked like she was trying to save the shuttle. To King, it looked like she was committing suicide out of guilt at failing to save the Reals and/or horror at the new world she'd created. What she was actually doing was saving a backup of herself to the akashic records, a backup that King didn't suspect existed so one he wouldn't be able to purge if he tried to permakill her, and one which would potentially allow her to be brought back later.

Note: The Wheel Group had the option of discarding their post-singularity tech and just living with 1970s technology plus magic. The fact that they didn't suggests that their motives weren't as altruistic as they thought. They did what they thought was best for humanity, but they didn't really have to live with the consequences of that decision. They wanted to be unaging and immortal, like everyone in the 194th century, but they didn't consider that the 5 billion freshly-created humans were just as deserving of it.

2014-04-27 17:41:59 by Sean:

Just thinking, the "Jesus Machine" is the only old artifact that we know actually operates on magic, and we don't really know that it's an astra, even though we've been calling it "Abstract Doctor". So it could be a one-off prototype created by Wheel, not one of the astras that apparently were created by Ra.

2014-04-27 18:33:35 by jonas:

Wait a minute.  If Mu is right in that Rachel and Ashbourne is the same person, then Rachel would be his first name and Ashbourne his original last name, making him the person with RA initials that Sam has prophecied in a comment a few episodes ago! 

2014-04-27 19:44:01 by Morgan:

@jonas: that's one of the reasons people have been suspecting Ashburne would be Rachel since before she made an appearance under that name (as far as we know).

@Sean: Sam identified Abstract Doctor by name in a comment on "Zero Day", so it seems pretty safe to bet it's an astra. I suppose it's possible the Wheel Group started making new non-astra "Abstract Things" after the inception of magic or as part of its development before it went live, but that seems unnecessarily complicated. There's also the underground machinery powering magic, which several people were questioning on the assumption that it was created more directly by Ra after War.

2014-04-28 01:07:44 by CitrusBolt:

Assuming the listening post was activated shortly before the victory party, was Nat's whole history lesson penciled together?

2014-04-28 01:51:08 by NubileDryer:

If modern Wheel has the capacity to enter simulation that runs at 2000x normal speed, what prevented them from doing that the moment Ra was subdued, so Ashburne could get a decent consensus? What is the point of creating the astras?

I'm assuming here that Wheel hasn't had any major computational breakthroughs since Abstract War, but that seems reasonable considering Ra is crippled.

2014-04-28 02:33:19 by Curiouser:

@NubileDryer: they were running on a burning Ra fragment. Current simulation is using the actual sun god.

On a completely unrelated note: people have been asking why hasn't humanity left for the stars. I think it's safe to assume some have, and we are dealing with the boring folks left behind.
Maybe once this story is done I'll write a fan fiction about that group :P

2014-04-28 16:18:00 by NubileDryer:

@Curiouser Right, they clearly couldn't have used much simulation say, in the Battle of Neptune, because the actual Ra was haywire. But once they reached the sun, had Ra under control, and were just figuring out what to do?

2014-04-28 17:33:23 by skztr:

"Couldn't you simply ask it to determine a handful of  Greatest Good scenarios for rebuilding humanity and then choose one for it to carry out?"

I don't think so, mostly because this isn't "I don't know, Timmy...", and because no matter how much power they have, P != NP. ie: Ra is fast, but Ra is not wise. Ra is dumb. The best way Ra has to determine a handful of "Greatest Good" scenarios is to iterate through a bunch of simulations: First, do nothing. As people are dying, scan their thoughts to see what ideas they come up with. Try out each of those ideas. Attempt several trillion iterations, using genetic algorithms, until the simulations tend towards one answer.

As for "Why didn't they just enter a simulation as soon as they took over Ra, to give them extra time to think?": Because they already had a plan, and that plan failed. They were coming up with new ideas in real-time, and the best idea in real-time (especially to an Actual) is "give us more real time to think", not "give us more simulated time to think, while our ship burns around us". As Ra scanned Ashburne's thoughts and determined what was meant, it is both definite that simulated time was attempted, and definite that the simulations which Ra carried out *count* as simulated time to think.

There is the oddity of Abstract Doctor seeming to work on Magic. There are several possibilities: a) "Magic" operates on some of the same principles as Ra, so of course an Astra looks like complex Magic. ie: Magic is a strict subset of what Ra does, no new rules.  b) Abstract Doctor was specifically built to continue to operate when Magic was implemented full-scale, because it was so important. ie: There were simulations of Magic being implemented, and in many of those simulations, people needed to be resurrected *without* wanting to resort to using Ra directly, so one of the tools created was "A resurrection machine that we can continue to use without utilising Ra directly", and it working within the confines of Magic was an implicit requirement. c) it wasn't really magic runes, it just looked like magic runes to a non-specialist  d) Everyone is still wrong

2014-04-28 17:45:56 by anonymouse:

Well, if nothing else, this confirms the suspicions that King is suffering from a potentially terminal case of hubris, starting with the name and continuing through the "I've got it all worked out" and "provably impregnable" bits. Also, in this version of the narrative, King assumes that Ashburne isn't coming back, and starts consolidating his power. Yet we know that she was at the victory party, but King was still the leader at that time. I kind of wonder what happened between those two, between the Triton and the Space Shuttle incident.

2014-04-28 20:37:29 by T:

@Morgan

Since Flatt mentions objects "washing up from space", my assumption remains that there are additional, uncounted, pre-shutdown non-locality artifacts floating around in space and buried in Earth after the reconstruction, in addition to the astras created post-war.

2014-04-28 23:02:56 by Alan:

Ashburne came up with a plan when she asked for a year to think. It involved her disappearing("You need to die")and  machinery showing up for King et al to do whatever the hell they were going to do.

I think she realized she was herding feral cats. The point of asking everyone what they wanted to do next was to get a handle on their characters and motivations. Grief maddened boy wasn't going to be rational at all, so she disintegrated him.

She knew damn well there would be a power struggle  and/or a fight amongst the survivors. If she were in charge, the dissidents would be gunning for her, and King would be the first guy after her head.

"He can't have been the only one", after all. So she vanished herself.

She gave them a year to cool their heads so they would get along. King somewhat suggested that he thinned the ranks a little, for one reason or another.

The machinery showed up after they scattered. They rejoined, rebuilt. Perhaps Ashburne slipped herself into the new population, or she took one of the red machines for her own purposes, leaving the rest for the rebuilders.

2014-04-29 01:14:38 by atomicthumbs:

>Devi was indeed just a teenager at the time of the accident in 1986. He was working for Hatt as part of an accelerated apprenticeship thing.

A sorcerer's apprentice, then?

*ducks*

2014-04-29 01:19:49 by atomicthumbs:

as for the nature of astras/abstract *: it seems to me that they're a combination of pre-magic leftovers, stuff created as tools by Ra and no longer needed, and debugging equipment.

2014-04-29 02:53:17 by wfn:

> as for the nature of astras/abstract *: it seems to me that they're a combination of pre-magic leftovers, stuff created as tools by Ra and no longer needed, and debugging equipment.

Hm, iirc pre-magic (maya) stuff should no longer work, right? That kind of direct interface was disabled, I think?

fwiw, after reading the "Jesus Machine," I remember personally wishing/hoping for some (convoluted, in this case) explanation involving an ancient civilization (probably of indoeuropean origin) with ancient, archaic (from "modern" (actual extra-story, but also "supermodern" intra-story) western civilization lore's perspective) machinery. I did get that kind of vibe when first reading about the Abstract Doctor.

Oh well!

2014-04-29 09:00:52 by atomicthumbs:

>Hm, iirc pre-magic (maya) stuff should no longer work, right? That kind of direct interface was disabled, I think?

well, maybe not *everything* worked via nonlocality.

2014-04-29 10:05:39 by skztr:

Why does everyone seem to think King had people killed? It sounds to me like he was just pointing out the obvious: given a year to themselves, to do whatever they want, with no specific resources other than a suit that keeps them alive, a group of very distressed, sometimes suicidal people are not all going to come back to the meeting place.

As for the speculation of Ashburne's disappearance and perhaps eventual re-appearance, I like the line of reasoning that "what she said" and "what she meant" are no necessarily the same things:

"Ra reaches into Ashburne's mind and carefully unwinds her words and intentions into a workable reality."

ie, she might say "give us the tools we'll need", but she might actually mean "These people are about to revolt. Let me hide out as an observer for a while, and give them the tools they need to do what they want other than killing me or destroying everything"

2014-04-29 13:42:29 by MadcapPomposity:

I'm intrigued by the differences between the victory dinner that King shows to Natalie and Anil and the victory dinner that Laura crashes with "Tanako." My default assumption is that Natalie's view was being tweaked on the fly by Wheel, just because they could, and that Laura's view was correct, because she circumvented Wheel entirely. Also, I'm tentatively guessing that if Exa's original memory of the event differed from the replay that Laura pulled him out of, he would have acted already. Alternatively, there could be multiple copies of the victory dinner in the records, but I'm not sure what kind of simulation scenarios would require that.

Anil rightly calls the artificially repopulated world "ghoulish," and I think that this may have caused a significant schism in Wheel's past that King is glossing over to get Natalie on their side. Natalie watches King claim that Ashburne and many others just aren't coming back after the year of mourning, yet Ashburne is present at the victory dinner that Laura sees. I'm very interested to see how this develops. I'm even more interested to know whether the boy who advocated Virtuality and demanded Ashburne's death was actually erased, or only executed.

2014-04-29 17:41:15 by Mu:

I figured the boy was Exa: both of them are usually described as young, both of them have a tendency to yell at authority figures when things go wrong.

2014-04-29 18:47:38 by Matthew:

I'm obviously missing this because I need to go back and re-read a lot of stuff but: how do we know Asburne was at the victory party? I don't remember that being said and a brief skim-reading of recent chapters doesn't find me the reference....

2014-04-29 18:48:26 by T:

@wfn:

I think a lot of nonlocality artifacts could still work by virtue of being self contained. We saw Natalie and Anil build a self contained micro-Ra in the car; we also have things like the warsuits which don't seem to have an AI nor a need for power from Ra. Although I suppose we don't know whether the warsuits were part of the bundle of astras, or just what they were wearing during the Triton mission.

I think the fact that Exa had to go *looking* for so many artifacts, which ended up in strange places like the ocean floor or Antarctic caves, implies they were more artifacts laying around than just the astras. Presumably the astras would have been easier to account for since they were all in one place, and handed out to the Wheel Group post-war.

2014-04-29 21:35:06 by Morgan:

@Matthew: in Scrap Brain Zone, after Laura leaves the victory party, before Exa follows them out, there's an exchange where King comments that their operation "is provably impregnable" and someone named as Ashburne points out that there's no such thing. I believe it was the second reference to an Ashburne after a mention in Zero Day, and the last until Psamathe.

2014-04-29 23:33:32 by Matthew:

Ok, cool - missed that the first time around.

So we know Ashburne was at the Tanako version of the dinner (since it's mentioned by the narration) but presumably not at the Wheel version or Natalie would have pointed it out (assuming Ashburne hasn't change appearance). Interestingly, Natalie and Anil are in a *simulation* whereas Laura was in the Records. Natalie and Anil are not noticed by the guests the way Laura was and they cannot interact with the surroundings. If Laura was in the Records then why was the Records system running in 1969 before magic was activated (albeit only by a few minutes/seconds)?

Now, there's nothing about the speech in the Tanako version that actually contradicts the Abstract War story. We assumed it was about maya at the time but it could just as easily be referencing the War. So, if the Tanako version *is* the correct version, why did Wheel change their version?
Obviously if King knew Ashburne was there (which he may not have done if she'd changed her appearance) then he might have as-yet-unknown motives for hiding this fact. But why change the speech? Admittedly the Wheel version is more likely to make Natalie trust them but there is presumably something they're trying to hide...

And, obviously, the big question of "why is Ra trying to wake itself up?". If the Virtuals are still frozen then it's not their doing so what is causing it?

There's still a lot of unanswered questions but hopefully in a chapter or two, we'll be back with the main action in the (presumably) "real world" and we'll have enough knowledge to understand at least some of what's going on.

2014-04-30 04:26:05 by anonymouse:

The Tanako version of King's speech sounds much more like there was a conflict among the survivors. "Thank God we got there first" makes "Magic is our victory" sound like it's King's and Wheel's vision of what looks like victory, as opposed to that of the other survivors. And "the world needed to be protected from itself" makes it sound like the schism involved a dispute over what access the new population of Earth should have to Ra's power. Also, the existence of a "narrative astra" means that Wheel can pretty much make up whatever stories they want and generate a plausible simulation of it. And they can pull that simulation into reality, presumably using whatever technology is in the listening post, at least if King's version of the story has any truth. And maybe that's the same mechanism that Laura has used to "steal" things from Tanako's world.

Also, dropping into a time-accelerated simulation to get more time to think? We've seen that one before, in fact from Natalie when she got herself and Laura into T-World to get mroe time to think of how to deal with the volcano. And finally, on a random trivia note: Jan 1, 1970 was in fact a Thursday.

2014-04-30 04:37:32 by Jay:

Why is Ra waking up? Programming a machine which actually uses your subconscious desires would be a literal nightmare!

The Intercessor - the erased/executed/uploaded one - may have gotten his literal wish: Ashburne dead and a world that never knew Abstract War. Did Ashburne subconsciously agree with him?

Equally, if Ashburne was rattled by his accusation that she'd mismanaged everything, or the idea that other people might believe that, she might subconsciously want a do-over, with her the clear hero... and with Ra 'waking' and King playing god-tyrant, it's up to her plans to save the day (assuming Natalie and Laura are components of that plan, which is a bit of a leap, but we're all thinking it, right?)

Or maybe that bit with the execution never happened. Which would say a lot about King, and about whoever's running this 'simulation'.

re: the ring - is it possible that Natalie wants an indicator of when they're *extracted* from the simulation? Change of physical state - if her ring doesn't reappear when /interceding/ with Laura, then she's still simulated and should play to the audience. Sure, pulling her out of sim and putting her back immediately would sort that out... if they thought to.

The other possibility, if the ring stays removed, is that reality is coexistent with simulation (hey, she's walked out of Tanako's world, so... worth checking!)

2014-04-30 09:19:13 by LNR:

I think King isn't giving Natalie the whole story here. The victory speech is tellingly different.

In the other version of his speech, the one Tanako showed, he says, "Thank God we got there first." Got where first? He's not talking about the sun-dive, because they weren't racing anyone else to get there. If he meant that, he would have said, "Thank God we got there in time."

So he's not talking about the victory over the virtuals. He's talking about beating someone else.

I'm thinking that not everybody in Wheel agreed on the plan to make magic. Maybe there was another, smaller war, between survivor factions. Or maybe it was just a doctrinal disagreement, and a race to see who could implement their vision first.

King and his Wheel people won, and made magic, and rule the world. The other faction, the losers, are basically powerless outcasts. I think they (or he/she/it?) are behind the efforts to wake Ra.

If you can't beat them at their own game, change the rules-- or just kick over the table out of spite.

2014-04-30 14:18:25 by anonymouse:

Magic was activated at midnight UTC. But they had their victory dinner in NYC, and midnight UTC is 7 pm Eastern Standard Time, which is more than enough time to have a victory dinner on Dec 31st (NYC time) after Magic had been launched.

2014-04-30 20:47:28 by Eldritch:

@Curiouser

"people have been asking why hasn't humanity left for the stars. I think it's safe to assume some have, and we are dealing with the boring folks left behind."

Just a note here - nothing more than idle speculation. The speed of light is still a limit. It's been maybe forty years since the War, real-time, probably a little less. And physical transport is probably going to be sub-c.

Which means that if there WERE other colonies on other stars, even if they're very generously close, then the earliest plausible time they could arrive should be ... right around now.

(Since Magic Future Nonlocality Technology seems to have no detectable emissions in anything we know how to look for, and forty-ish years of solar astronomy on our own star didn't notice Ra, we can't rule out extrasolar colonies, either.)

(Counterargument against their existence - why would anybody leave the infinite comfort of a functioning Ra? Need more space, pick a spot on the worldring.)

2014-04-30 21:01:02 by Daniel H:

Reasons to leave would include paranoia, a desire to do things oneself, and the bad timing of existing before Ra is functional. Depending on tech level, one might also leave Ra temporarily the same way modern humans go camping. It wouldn't be a weekend trip, but it might still be reasonable.

2014-04-30 22:02:55 by Krel-Tal:

@Eldritch

Didn't Nat tell Anil that she had looked for and not found anything like the Ra superstructure in any other star?  Or was that just an, "I bet if you looked you wouldn't see any others," ?

That said, 'modern' humans (or post-humans, whatever) with fully functional nonlocality tech showing up from another star would be awesome imho.

2014-05-01 16:01:23 by T:

Natalie had not found any evidence of magic after a thorough search (we learn later she was actually secretly looking for more Ra structures), but you can't look at EVERY star, only a random sample, so you can never be 100% sure.

On the other hand, if there ARE any nonlocality colonies out there, they are surely not emitting magic particles, unless whatever is making Ra visible to Natalie's oracle is a side effect of the basic functions.

2014-05-01 17:34:10 by waitasec:

Recall that our RA was redesigned with the magic system and chi/mana/etc. A baseline RA operating in another solar system would not be altered to generate or display any "magic" particles to the end user. Baseline RA has no need for the magic tracking system employed via the waste particles.

2014-05-02 08:54:39 by Eldritch:

@Krel-Tal

As I understand it, Natalie found Ra not through ordinary techniques, but through astrothaumics - magic astronomy. (You can also find it in helioseismographic studies, if you know where to look - but last I checked, we can't even slightly do that to other stars.)

Any other such system anywhere else will almost definitely NOT be in any way related to the artificial "magic" system, so the fact that Natalie failed to find any magical evidence of Ra in other stars should be very much unsurprising, even if the galaxy were littered with Ra's. (It's probably not, though - for one thing, we'd notice an abundance of megastructures.)

2014-05-04 17:18:04 by skztr:

What was Natalie able to detect which wouldn't have been accidentally discovered by every other mage with an Oracle?

Clearly it wasn't a standard oracular spell, but was Natalie observing some otherwise-unknown particle? Or perhaps compensating for the invisibility cloak effect, having recently witnessed such a cloak in action? It sounded at the time as if she was demonstrating an experiment she had previously attempted and observed the results of, but perhaps I mis-read, and she actually had observed the Ra megastructure earlier.

2014-05-05 17:22:29 by T:

After Natalie was given the idea that the assassination was for her, instead of Laura, she went back and tried to think of all the spells she had designed, which was a short list, and thought of this one "novel" oracle spell she designed in class, based on a trick her mom taught her. After finding out the teacher of that class had suddenly died around the same time as Laura's mugging, she decided to pursue it in secret- after first designing and casting an akashic records scrambler on herself -and found Ra.

Ra is either emitting particles which Wheel Group figured civilian mages would never discover, or Ra is behind an invisibility cloak which her spell defeats.

2014-05-05 20:52:46 by K:

T: So what you're saying is...

Local mom discovers this one weird old tip for converting chi band emission. The Wheel Group HATES her!

2014-05-06 01:59:11 by Eldritch:

I'm guessing the invisibility-cloak hypothesis. The device Natalie used to show Ra to Devi is described as a really weird "thaumic signal demuxer." I'm guessing that the invisibility cloak hiding Ra somehow leaves traces of its presence in the signals it passes around itself, and Natalie's oracle somehow separates out those signals and recombines them.

2014-05-06 03:28:18 by Sean:

Hmm. About the seeing Ra thing, I suppose there are really three possibilities.

1) Though magic doesn't happen in interstellar space, it happens throughout the solar system, and Ra is supposed to be cloaked. So indeed Natalie has used her mom's trick to create some kind of anti-cloak oracle spell.

2) Ra wouldn't normally be easy to perceive, even with magic, but Wheel built in some way to monitor it, which is only available to privileged magic users. What Natalie discovered is an exploit that lets her eavesdrop on a channel that's supposed to be private.

3) Natalie's oracle is detecting some "real" (non-magical) particle that's difficult or impossible to detect with the physics of her time. It could be seeing some kind of nonlocality particle. Maybe Ra's listeners have some absurdly effective method to detect neutrinos, and her oracle is picking up on the neutrino signal (but this is a bit of a stretch; the oracle would have to detect something specific that Ra does to the neutrinos, or else the whole sun would be lit up).

In that case, what had Wheel worried was not just that the spell might reveal them, but that it seemed to relate to physics way beyond what they expected anyone to have in the 21st century.

2014-05-06 03:35:56 by Sean:

Oops. The point of that was, only in scenario (3) would Natalie be able to extrapolate her results to other stars.

In cases (1) and (2), she might have evidence that no other nearby stars are hooked into the *same* magic system (which, given the speed of light, would probably be impractical anyway). But she wouldn't be able to say whether or not they have a feature *like* Ra, but on a completely separate network.

2014-05-06 14:41:27 by anonymouse:

Well, among other things, there has to be some way to get the energy that Ra is harvesting to the distributor node in the center of the Earth. Presumably that's something that can be picked up, and the only thing we know of that has the right properties is neutrinos. They move at (very nearly) the speed of light, can carry energy, and can pass through pretty much everything while interacting only very, very weakly. So it may be that these "chi" particles are really just neutrinos, and what Natalie built is a device that can detect some very specific spectrum of neutrino energies. Of course, this could be some new "nonlocality particle" with neutrino-like properties and more capacity for carrying information, but that doesn't really make much difference.

2014-05-06 23:00:38 by IanO:

I'm thinking (hoping) the next chapter will be from the perspective of Ashburne.

We still don't know what Rachel Ferno was trying to do. Do we have the proper hints to figure this out yet, or is something missing?

2014-05-06 23:41:29 by T:

Rachel's motive during Atlantis still feels like a huge gaping plothole to me with no supporting evidence in any direction.

We know she was a very capable magic user, we also know she wasn't a participating Wheel member during the disaster (and probably most or all of Laura's lifetime).

If Ashburne is Rachel, Ra!Tanako, speaking to Laura, says she left sometime after the victory party. Meanwhile, Wheel, speaking to Natalie, says she left before magic was even designed, much less turned on. All we know for sure as readers is she not present in Wheel Group *now*; they talk to about Ashburne in past tense to each other.

Are they trying to throw Natalie off the suspicion that Ashburne is her mother by making it seem like Ashburne wanted nothing to do with magic or Earth HD Remix?

Also: Who is the cobweb man?

2014-05-07 08:21:29 by Daniel H:

@anonymouse

The thing is, chi is extremely uncommon in nature. Remember: it doesn't do anything and it doesn't exist. Neutrinos don't do anything either, but they certainly exist.

It might be related to neutrinos or contain neutrinos, but chi mana can't be just plain neutrinos.

2014-05-07 09:36:04 by Toadworld:

Regarding Ashburne's motivations for Atlantis, I like the comment at 2014-04-28 23:02:56 by Alan.  She needed to die, as the boy said.  Atlantis was a way to die.

2014-05-07 18:47:21 by T:

I'm not sure if we can really say one way or another whether mana particles are fictional, tracked and made to seem as if they were real by Ra whenever a human tries to look at them, or if they are some sort of actual physical particles being *created* by the distributor.

2014-05-07 20:41:31 by anonymouse:

Well, at some point, you need to be able to transfer real energy from the sun to the distributor in the center of the earth and from there to wherever magic is being used. I think it's safe to assume that magic works at night and underground and in enclosed spaces and so on, so that particle has to be able to pass through matter without interacting. The accessibility of these neutrinos from within magic as "chi particles" sounds like something that was put in for debugging purposes when they were getting the system going, and left in because it would be useful to the users of Magic for debugging their own magical systems. But, as these debug interfaces tend to do, it ended up revealing more of the inner machinery of the implementation than its creators intended.

2014-05-08 00:58:43 by Bob:

Am I missing something? If the world "began" in 1970 then why/how did The Wheel Group cover up the Tunguska Event (http://qntm.org/scrap)? Also, if non-locality technology makes FTL possible, then why isn't it possible for everyone's backups to be salvaged by traveling ahead of the signal sent to Neptune carrying the information like in http://qntm.org/transit?

2014-05-08 01:17:48 by naura:

Bob: the events described in Scrap Brain Zone (and the Abstract War sequence) aren't necessarily true, but rather narratives being fed to Laura/Nat for purposes unknown. Thus we don't know whether the Wheel Group did actually cover up Tunguska.

2014-05-08 02:21:41 by Kazanir:

I thought it was explicit that FTL is not possible even with nonlocality mass/energy conversion.

2014-05-08 05:44:21 by ahd:

nonlocality = does not pass through intervening space. quantifiables disappear from point A and reappear at point B with an effective velocity of c. it's point-to-point.

it might be possible to make the nonlocal translocation happen with an effective velocity of less than c, but Word of Sam is no effective velocity FTL.

nothing in this requires a mediating particle. why are we assuming one, again?

2014-05-08 11:44:47 by Daniel H:

@ahd Because everything we know in modern physics says that there is a mediating particle to all interactions, and I think that this is just as strongly supported in physics as the idea that FTL is impossible. This doesn't mean the particle is one that scientists have predicted thus far, but it does mean there probably is one. Also, mana comes in particles, so it seems plausible that nonlocality requires particles.

But I don't see anybody saying there is such a particle except for saying that neutrinos might be that particle. As I've said before, though, neutrinos are everywhere. A bunch of them, mostly from the Sun, are passing through you right now. Chi mana, on the other hand, is extremely rare (in particular, most bands of Chi are not emitted by the Sun), so it cannot be made of neutrinos.

2014-05-08 14:17:43 by Bob:

Thanks guys, that cleared things up for me.

2014-05-08 23:51:12 by T:

Mediating particle or not, Abstract War talks about how each Ra node has to wait for "packets" which travel at lightspeed. Events which seem to happen faster than light are explained as each node predicting the actions of the main Ra node.

2014-05-08 23:56:32 by T:

...and/or predicting the actions of their users.

2014-05-09 03:53:23 by ahd:

also, shields. shields are a thing.

2014-05-09 13:51:21 by MadcapPomposity:

Well, apparently Adam King was working at the controls of "Metaph, the forge of new physics." Clearly mana is an entirely new class of fundamental particles, popping into existence in 1970 when magic goes live. They also appear to be completely distinct from the nanoscale Ra listeners from before War.

2014-05-09 19:15:38 by Eldritch:

I don't think Ra has the power to literally create new physics. I think it's just simulating them and using the power of Ra to simply identify every single situation where the simulated fictional physics of Magic could have impact on the physical world and apply the requisite changes in momentum, energy, and so forth. The nanoscale Ra listeners are what allows Ra to detect all uses of magic.

2014-05-09 21:00:13 by T:

So when you take a big oracle and aim it down at the ground to see flows of geological mana; is the oracle actually interacting with some sort of artificial mana particle to produce the correct visual effect, or is Ra just sensing the oracle, performing the spell, looking up whether there are chi particles hitting the oracle in its simulations, and creating photons on the oracle's surface?

I also doubt Ra has the power to actually change fundamental properties of the entire universe... "forge of new physics" must have been less than literal. It's the machine King used to bootstrap the fundamental gigaspells that run themselves and all of magic, perhaps.

2014-05-09 22:14:04 by Sam:

> Jan 1, 1970 was in fact a Thursday.

You would not believe how early on in planning this story I first looked that fact up. I have a chat log from January 2012  as proof. (That's while I was writing chapter 4, "What You Don't Know".) I got *ridiculously* lucky.

Well, one-in-seven lucky.

2014-05-09 22:35:00 by anonymouse:

Re-reading old chapters is fun when new context gets revealed.
"No science had ever exploded into being in the same way that magic did. Never before had something so radically new and totally unexplored been stumbled upon by a human civilisation so primed with experience and technology to go to work on it. It was like discovering a brand new empty Earth."