"Paul, the first thing you need to do is to stop walking."

Paul Klick looks around himself, taking in the greenery of the park to his left and the architecture to his right, but continues to pace steadily down the middle of the street. Considering how close to the centre of Berlin he is standing, and the time of day, it is wonderfully quiet and still. "Make me."

"I can't make you. I'm just asking you. Please just stop and stand still and let's talk about this. What have you built, exactly?"

Paul stops walking in the middle of the street and takes the machine out of his pocket. "It is a very small copper box," he says. He holds it up where the sunlight can catch it. It was a fairly miserable morning, wet and muggy, but now it's the afternoon, and the Sun is gradually coming out as the rain clouds boil away to the north. "Maybe the size of a die? A big die. Two centimetres."

"And what does it do?"

"Who is this?"

"Mike Murphy. I'm a physicist. I'm, ah, at the airport. I was supposed to be here for a business trip which looks like it isn't going to happen. I do consulting work. I've been trying to keep up with your blog. Maybe you don't remember me, I commented a few times. I'm sorry, by the way. About everything. You have my sincerest condolences. I know how you must be feeling now."

Paul very much doubts that.

"Where are you?" asks Murphy.

"Tiergartenstra├če," says Paul.

"And which way are you headed?"

"Right now I am headed nowhere. I've stopped. I was thinking I might go into the park."

"No. No, don't do that. Just stay where you are. You know why I'm calling you."

"...Yes..." answers Paul, sounding distracted.

Murphy waits politely. "So. Tell me in your own words. What is it, exactly, that you've done? Tell me about this dice. Die, I mean. What does it do?"

"Do you know Eka?"

"Yes," answers Mike Murphy, with confidence.

Paul sits down on the park wall and relaxes a bit before beginning his story. "I decided to jump forward through the text a little way. I jumped to the hundred megabyte mark because that seemed like a nice round number. A lot further than anybody else had looked ahead before me. I guess I colonised that area of the Script and started exploring. I started to build. Do you know that information can be moulded? We have ways of pushing information around, modifying it, turning it into things. Somebody put out a paper a little while ago explaining how, if you had a few extra spatial dimensions, you would reach a point where thought became a fundamental force. It just doesn't work in 3D because we need five or six for it to work properly. Right?"

"I worked on that paper," says Murphy. "Partially. I had some input. I don't remember if I'm credited. But yes. Go on."

"The part of the Script I was looking at seemed to be some kind of thesis on this subject. Lots of people see the Script as a textbook. I suppose this was the chapter of the Script which dealt with thought and minds. You see, an intelligent mind is more than just a lump of grey matter. This thought process that we have, the ability to think things through. It's a constant. An important shape. I guess I am not making much sense."

"You're saying there's a common element?"

"Not so much. Not an element. But there is an operation which intelligence defines. Intelligence watches itself. It loops back around on itself and watches its own actions. And there is a consciousness there. It can be weaker or stronger. Ants have no capacity to learn from what they do. But rats can see what is bad for them when they get an electric shock or something, and they know not to do it in the future. And humans and apes and dolphins can think very creatively about things like this. I have working. You probably saw the blog entries."

"Yes. Did you work this out for yourself?"

"No, I deduced it. From the Script. This is what it says in the Script. It was difficult to translate but it was clear enough once I succeeded in the translation. There are some equations which the Script seems to think are very important. It isn't a pattern. It's almost the opposite. I had to think up a word of my own to describe it so I called it a hypersystem. In three dimensions it is a very special case and not a great deal can happen. There is a limit to how intelligent something can become in three dimensions. Not very interesting. But that also means that the mathematics is easier. It was interesting to me. It works. I took the figures and the formulae and the operators and, well, made something more of them."

There's a long pause. Paul listens to the chirruping birds through one ear, and the increasingly noisy chaos of Tempelhof Airport through the other. "I guess it's pretty bad there."

Murphy has decided the noise is too much and has started making for the exit, lugging his holdall with him. "The popular opinion seems to be that this is a terrorist attack. All the planes are grounded. Everybody's panicking. Nobody has a clue what's happening. I guess nobody in central Berlin is answering their phones, but even so, no phone network is built to handle a situation like this. We may get cut off any minute. Paul. You discovered a way to push minds around, didn't you?"

"..." Paul sighs. By now he has wandered into the park and found a bench to sit on while he watches some fish in the pond. "Not yet. That was later."

"Where did you send them?" asks Murphy, leaving the airport terminal and setting off along a likely-looking road on foot.

"The box works like the conductor on a dodgem car. It connects this world with somewhere else. But that was later."

"Where did you send their souls, Paul?"

"NO!" shouts Paul. "NO! That is NOT the right word! I never used that word! People put that word in my mouth! They leapt on me and tried to turn very complex mathematics which they could not comprehend into something that they thought they did understand! And they got upset and angry and then I started getting death threats in the mail just because of some stupid newspaper who didn't want to understand anything, they just wanted to sell copies. There is no such thing as a soul.

"Claudia always said there was a soul. And when I pointed the thing at my head and it lit up, and then I pointed it at her head and it lit up, and then I pointed it at her belly and it lit up just a small bit, she said that that was proof. But all along I said to her it was just a special structure. Whenever we talked about... 'what happens next'... she was always sure about what would happen next, and she always said that we'd be able meet up again afterwards. And I always said that I just didn't know. I couldn't be sure one way or the other. But at the time it wasn't so much of a bother because it was a long way off... And then it was suddenly right in front of me..."

Murphy knows this part of the story. This is the part where Paul spends six months sitting in Claudia's room at the hospital, pouring his emotions out on his laptop computer's keyboard, his entries becoming increasingly painful to read as Claudia's condition becomes increasingly untreatable. Eventually they became incoherent and Murphy regretfully stopped reading entirely. That was in July. It's now August.

"Why would you not call it a soul?" Murphy tries to keep Paul focused. He is following a queue of stationary traffic now, making his way towards the exit from the airport. "I read your entry. You tried it on all kinds of things. Lots of different animals turned out to be too stupid. Or too simple. Or they had a 'hypersystem', but it was a simple one. That fits, doesn't it? Something humans have, and everything else doesn't?"

"A soul is not covered by science. It is faith. It is something you choose whether or not to believe in. I did not know whether or not I believed in God and now I know there isn't one.

"And souls are immortal. But an infolectrical hypersystem is just a thing. It knits itself together with the rest of your body in the womb. And it grows when you grow. And it dies when your shell can no longer support it. Because we live in 3D. Where minds still need shells."

The park, like the street, is littered with empty shells.

Mike Murphy looks up behind him to see a military jet arrowing towards the city centre from the southwest. It's the only thing moving in the whole sky. "Paul?"

"And then I realised what I needed to do..."

"Paul, you need to switch the box off," says Murphy.

"There's nothing to switch off," says Paul Klick.

Mike Murphy just watches. Many other travellers have started filing towards the road exit with him, having had the same idea, and a dozen or so of them have noticed what he was looking at and started watching with him. "Paul. They're sending somebody in." Murphy then realises that he may be the only person in the entire city who knows that the field is spherical, not circular. And then several people scream, and someone beside Murphy shouts something in a language he doesn't understand, and the jet, now a dark speck against a backdrop of shafts of yellow light beaming through gradually clearing rain cloud, calmly rolls over and drops out of the air. It just falls out of sight and is gone. Koom emanates from Murphy's phone's tiny low-fidelity speaker. KOOOOOM echoes over the airport, several seconds later, after the real sound from the impact has had time to reach it. A column of smoke begins to rise.

"Did you see that?" begs Murphy, still half-convinced he can end this, and trying to keep himself mentally isolated from the scenes of terror and shock playing out around him. Several people have started crying.

"I heard it," says Paul.

"Paul, you have no idea what you've caused. This is utter chaos. You're a mile and a half from any kind of human reaction to what you've done. You're insulated from the real world. You need to see what's happening here... You've killed a city."

"I-- what is your name again?"

"Michael Murphy. Doctor. The wrong kind of doctor."

"Michael. You don't understand, because you didn't let me finish my story. I have killed nobody. Your reaction, everybody's reaction, is a fearful reaction. I had this too, when I saw what was happening to my wife. I studied her condition. I am not a doctor of any kind, but I tried my best. But the human body isn't designed to be maintainable. It's just supposed to work! It has all these crazy dependencies, so efficient and compressed, so difficult to unravel that it makes me crazy just to think about. Nobody could fix Claudia, because the human body makes no sense. But minds are not as complicated.

"I looked at her. And I didn't know what was going to happen. And that uncertainty scared me. I hated not knowing whether I had already had my last conversation with her. So I went back to my research and I found a way to be certain.

"The way things are supposed to work in the Structure is that you die where you're born. No going up, no going down. There is no soul. There's just mathematics. There is no God. But there is a Structure. There is more than just 3D. And I found a hook. A bright white route upwards to a place that's bigger than this. And don't say what you're thinking. I know what you're thinking. It's just an exit, another place to go."

"Paul, you're going to die," says Mike Murphy. "They're going to find out what's happening and find out where you are and they'll fire a cruise missile at you and you'll die. Turn the box off."

"But I won't, don't you see? Nobody has to die anymore. It's a whole other world! We can just leave! Like avoiding the oncoming brick wall by unfolding wings!"

"That's not your decision to make! You sound like a cultist! Listen to yourself!"

"You could get hit by a truck tomorrow, Michael," says Paul Klick, "and if your brain dies then it is all over. My wife had half her life taken away from her. And my son died before he was even supposed to have been born. I couldn't save them. I was too slow. But that never has to happen again. This way we can be certain. They're all alive, I promise you. Come to me. I'll show you."

Mike Murphy is out of the airport now. He picks a direction which takes him towards the city centre, and the place on the map where he knows Paul Klick is, and starts walking. He has no idea why he is heading in this direction, but at least he now has room to think as he puts distance between himself and the hysteria of the airport. "It's not your choice. You had no right. And you don't even know that it worked."

"I do," says Paul.

It is at this moment that Murphy's phone finally cuts off.


Murphy tries to call Paul again, every five minutes for the next hour, and less frequently from then onwards, but each attempt fails. Eventually he winds up inside a crowded pub watching the live news channels on a huge projector screen, trying with limited success to translate the news tickers into English. There is footage of streets full of corpses and crashed motor vehicles, the dead zone hastily and ineffectually cordoned off by the remaining police forces. A hysterical woman breaks the cordon and rushes over to be with her son-- she falls before she makes it ten paces.

Later that afternoon, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, a drone, is launched into the city, and navigates to the centre of the dead zone, tracked by television cameras until it is out of sight. What it finds there goes unreported for several days.

With night drawing in and nowhere else to go, Murphy spends a largely sleepless night at the airport along with thousands of other stranded travellers, many of them Germans now homeless and mourning family living in the dead zone. Eventually, unable to sleep, he pulls out his laptop and, in the absence of working wi-fi, pulls up copies of Paul Klick's blog from his web cache. Lit by candles from the vigil at the other end of the terminal, Murphy scribbles his own equations and working on the back of a notepad. He naps for a few hours around sunrise and wakes up not just refreshed but enlightened. His dreaming brain has put together some equations which his half-conscious, half-asleep mind wasn't able to process. He writes 'IT WORKS' on his pad under the last line of working. And then he stares at it for a while, wondering what to do next.

Early that morning, several lunatic opportunists, either unaware of the risk or choosing to disregard it, break into the dead zone, hoping to steal cars and valuables. They survive (though they are arrested when they come back out). That means that the dead zone has collapsed. Central Berlin is hesitantly reoccupied over the course of the next month. The death toll, initially wildly overestimated, eventually drops to a little less than nine hundred thousand.

Come midday, Murphy has managed to get far enough out of Berlin to catch a train the rest of the way home. By this time it has been revealed that the UAV did indeed locate Paul Klick at the epicentre of the phenomenon and identified him as its source. He was found dead, supposedly having taken his own life, though many speculate that the drone could have been used to kill him. A small sealed copper box was found on his person; it was opened, and found to be entirely empty.

As soon as he regains phone signal, Murphy starts checking in with his friends and loved ones, most of whom fear him dead in what is being described in some parts as an attack and in others as a disaster. Ching-Yu Kuang is just over halfway down his list.

"The Script has changed again," Ching tells him. "I don't know exactly what it means, but I can see that they're Klick's equations. This is Klick's work which we're looking at here. It's all been nixed."

Murphy explains what he learned from Klick. "The box cast a strange field around it. Not strange as in 'quarks', strange as in 'weird'. It was a region in which minds came untethered. Floated free, I guess. I don't know how the box worked. I don't know how it didn't affect him. There's no mechanism for how the thing could possibly have been built. All I recognise is the effects. Anybody who walked into range just... departed. Conceivably, the field could have stayed in place forever. And just think how much could have changed. In religion, in medicine, in warfare..."

"But the universe reacted to being misused," says Ching. "Klick opened a door, and less than twenty-four hours later it was closed off again, permanently. I wonder."

"So do I," says Mike Murphy. "Look, I need to think about this and we're about to reach the Channel Tunnel. We'll talk soon."

Next: Freak Tornado

Discussion (45)

2008-09-09 00:36:37 by qntm:

I belatedly realised after writing this up (under the working title of "Afterlife") that "Leaving Berlin" is a very similar chapter title to "Leaving The Real World" which was only three chapters ago. It's a pity because I can't think of any better titles. Somebody suggested "Post-Life Crisis" which would be apt, but too funny for the story. I also can't use "Anti-Life Equation" which is mildly disappointing. Also rejected were "Way Up" (which has a double meaning like "Leaving Berlin") and "Those Who Tell The Truth" (which is the first half of the title of the Explosions In The Sky album, "Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever". If anybody has any really terrific alternate suggestions I may listen to them. Cheers.

2008-09-09 02:03:16 by GSC:

Wow. That was... intense. So the Universe fixes itself to prevent... abuse? But why, and how, and whatnot? And how does it determine what it considers "abuse"? At least we know where the mechanics for the crashes came from, now, since evidentially the script explains how you can screw with information. Also, _finally._ How long has it been since we last had a new bit of Fine Structure? Hopefully this is the start of lots more new stories. Please?

2008-09-09 02:25:50 by mike:


2008-09-09 05:44:11 by Mike:

Wow. I always love seeing fine structure stories pop up on my RSS reader. I did have some trouble following who was talking during the conversations, but it is Monday, and it has been a long day. This story does a good job of thing I love about your stories. At first they seem very confusing, but the farther the story progresses, everything starts falling into perfect order. The amount of planning that goes into them is quite amazing, from my perspective. Glad to see a new story. Hopefully more often again? -Mike

2008-09-09 07:15:21 by MGargantua:

Mondays always screw with peoples ability to process information. I was under the impression Mitch was talking to him through 4D until part way through. Stupid universe screwing with information.

2008-09-09 08:33:33 by qntm:

Sorry this instalment took so long. Things like mass murder and infant mortality are surprisingly difficult to write tastefully, and it also took me a very long time to figure out how to frame this story. Do I tell Paul's story from start to finish? Do I present Murphy's point of view as he figures out what is happening? Do I just provide a series of activation logs from the machine? Still, this story should touch on a large number of interesting deeper concepts and it does have implications for the main Fine Structure narrative.

2008-09-09 08:33:47 by Crane:

Damn but I do love your stories. So impenetrable, but never unimaginable. How about "The Ascent of Man"?

2008-09-09 10:06:18 by Artanis:

"Escaping Hotel California" "Still Alive" "Pillars of Salt" "TMA-1" Yeah. I got nothin'.

2008-09-09 16:08:16 by Kochier:

How about "Escaping 3-D"?

2008-09-09 16:08:59 by Ian:

Is this the first time we've seen the word "structure" used as a proper noun?

2008-09-09 17:10:16 by scratskinner:

How about "The Troubles of the Soul"? or maybe "The Ethics of Numbers"; "The Problem of Numbers"? I hope that I am at least vaguely grasping the point of this story. I'll bet Mitch wishes he were in Berlin, seeing as he wants to get home to the Structure...

2008-09-09 18:18:27 by Sgeo:

Erm, Sam.. clicking Previously, then going to the next page listed, brings you to Leaving the Real World, not here..

2008-09-09 19:36:45 by qntm:

That's because each chapter of Fine Structure is only linked to its prerequisites. You don't need to read Leaving The Real World or Oul's Egg to understand this chapter.

2008-09-09 20:18:52 by kRemit:

"Mr. Murphy Changes Trains" or "Goodbye to Berlin" would work for me. see Christopher Isherwood's works for reference - "Mr. Norris Changes Trains" ends with the words "What have I done to deserve all this?"; the other book was described by contemporary writer George Orwell as "Brilliant sketches of a society in decay".

2008-09-09 20:22:14 by kRemit:

I would also like to add that I quite liked Artanis' (sp?) idea - "Still Alive", especially as it is not "death" that these not-souls are going.

2008-09-09 23:31:30 by Thumpy:

yay, new story =)

2008-09-10 00:50:43 by AuthorPower:

My, not afraid to delve into the controversial ethical/pseudo-religious questions, eh? So, is Paul's new philosophy correct for this fictional universe? Or is he misinterpreting/jumping to conclusions? Great writing, once again-should be interesting to see how this effects the other stories. This is now the third thing to be "disabled" from being "abused". First, FTLC, then teleportation, and now taking minds out of 3 space. So, wait, would that effect Mitch? Could he lose his "powers" now? Hmmm, so much to ponder...

2008-09-10 02:24:15 by Kochier:

Well if Mitch lost his powers he at least retains his immortality, because he was still around countless years later.

2008-09-10 02:32:44 by Doomsought:

Our universe, it isn't just a place... its a person.. a structure. And it is something of a control freak.

2008-09-10 02:59:28 by atomicthumbs:

How about "Unhooked"? "The Mental Knife"? "Silver Cords"? anyway this story was fascinating

2008-09-10 13:21:17 by pozorvlak:


2008-09-10 14:49:53 by AuthorPower:

Say, interesting point Doomsought. So in a way, Paul could be wrong, the structure, if it is sentient, has many of the features one would tend to ascribe to "God". Of course, it isn't a Judeo-Christian God, so Paul's point would hold, but, well, at the same time he would be wrong.

2008-09-10 15:17:12 by pozorvlak:

OK, I've just had a daft idea. We all know that Sam enjoys wordplay and ambiguity, particularly in his titles. We've just been presented with a new meaning for the term "structure", which I'd always taken to refer to the fine structure of the Universe (or possibly the multiverse). Doomsought suggests above that these two meanings are related: that the structure of the universe is a soul-structure for a gigantic intelligence. Which is pretty cool. But let's think about the word "fine" in the title. Fine means several things: it means thin/detailed; it means good/acceptable, and it means levy imposed in punishment. What if the Eka message isn't a message, and isn't source code, but is instead a legal document, a structure of fines? What if Mitch and Anne are trying to pay off Humanity's 10,000-year-old fines for hacking and universe misuse?

2008-09-10 17:54:30 by Seb:

That /does/ tie in with the early insert-coins-for-a-better-broadband-package command on the faster than light level that lead to all this, but the scientists currently think that wasn't quite what it meant. How would they pay it off?

2008-09-10 20:35:34 by qntm:

pozorvlak is closer to the truth than I expected anybody to get by this point, but the "Fine" in "Fine Structure" doesn't mean "cash penalty". I use it in the sense of "exhibiting careful and delicate artistry", as in "fine china". And it doesn't refer to the scientific concept of fine structure either, I just chose the name because it was a scientific term which sounded like a good name for a story, like "Half-Life" and its expansions.

2008-09-11 02:40:57 by Daniel:

Too bad. That would have meant they were right about the currency symbol in channel two in "On Digital Extremities".

2008-09-11 11:59:42 by TheFinalStand:

Off topic, but the earth has been destroyed, check the IEDAB. However, on How to destroy the earth main page, the earth has not been destroyed. Please update said page.

2008-09-11 16:58:03 by kwak:

Daniel, sam just said that the fine in fine structure didnt mean cash penalty. it could still be that humanity has to pay one the way i understand his post.

2008-09-11 20:03:48 by TropicTramp:

"Berlin Leaving"

2008-09-12 12:51:28 by Treblemaker:

So pleased to see the story continue. My contribution to the title quest: "Some Glad Morning"

2008-09-12 18:50:51 by pozorvlak:

Hah! *punches the air in jubilation*

2008-09-12 23:30:43 by Isaac:

"Just a Box" "Dead Zone" "Expansion of the Mind" "Skip a couple bytes ahead" "They're NOT dead!" "Structural Abuse" "Structure of the Mind" "Departing Berlin to Somewhere" That's all I can think of `/:I

2008-09-12 23:36:51 by Isaac:

Has anyone noticed the earth has been destroyed?

2008-09-13 04:27:29 by Codex:

Okay, so a few things come to mind reading this and comments. Fine Structure- our 3D intelligence framework forms the fine structure of the greater framework of intelligence. This really makes me think of the end of Asimov's "The Last Question" (Sam's used this story before, in The Last-But-One Question"), where Man becomes one being and merges with the computer, which essentially becomes God. Kudos, Sam, for yet another radical, well-thought-out, scientific approach at religion. RIP Earth. CURSE YOU CERN!

2008-09-19 20:29:36 by MGargantua:

"All Departures Cancelled" is my 2 "Currency Symbol Here"'s for a name. I've been reading this story for something like a year and a half now and I'm so glad slow theory crafting is still as fun as it used to be. But Now that i've had 10 days to ponder this in the back of my mind I can't wonder if a little bit of Gurren lagann got into Sam's head and wouldn't get out. The world in the story being a world where thought is as much of a force as electromagnetism. You just need to get a 20 dimentional being suitably hot-blooded and direct all that thought power into mitch. Maybe thats what the 20,000 year egg is for.

2008-09-20 11:30:10 by pozorvlak:

MGargantua: they've built a huge rendering farm for 20-d porn?

2008-10-02 19:08:32 by scratskinner:

"The Script has changed again" Hold it. Wasn't the MPR put out of commission by Mitch's meddling?

2008-10-02 19:30:12 by qntm:

scratskinner: Actually the story doesn't indicate either way. But yes, the MPR was working fine afterwards. In any case, Muoka, Ching, Mike Murphy and Seph were all capable of fixing it if it broke.

2008-10-12 06:48:06 by Andrew:

Re: Title Try "Outreach"

2008-10-17 00:37:21 by Zakkr:

Title possibilities: "Die" (kinda melodramatic, but i like the double meanings) "Abuse and Misuse" "The Wrong Kind of Doctor" "One, Two, Skip a Few..." So, what's the deal here? Does the structure of each persons "hypersystem" make up the structure of the multiverse, cause that's what my theory is for now, each person's structure acts as a fundamental particle making up their dimension and the dimensions above it.

2008-10-19 21:53:59 by qntm:

"Die" is so obvious I can't believe I didn't think of it. I think I'll use it. Cheers.

2008-10-22 04:29:55 by Isaac:

Man, When I saw "Die" I thought it was a new fine structure story :D, but then it turned out to be Leaving Berlin, just renamed, dissapointing, but then there was a new one after all, a whole new sub set actually! I love this stuff! If you publish it I will SO buy it!

2016-03-26 10:02:05 by skztr:

Comments from the author would indicate that "less than 24 hours" is a very large upper bound on how long it took for the script to change. Perhaps they only get notifications every 24 hours?

2021-07-17 08:04:08 by pankek:

@skztr: more like, every time the transmission returns to that point (remember, there was a supercomputer scanning for changes in the message)

2022-02-08 19:01:09 by Khaim:

@pankek: I don't think we know how much time it takes channel 2 (the banlist) to loop, but it's fairly short so I'd be surprised if it takes a full day. More importantly, the monitoring computer was in the American's superhero base with the receiver that Ching smashed. They're using the original UK receiver which I think has to be checked manually.

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