From Darkness, Lead Me To Light

Previously

"Did you say Natalie Ferno?"

Exa just took a mobile phone call while travelling through the Channel Tunnel. This is a completely normal thing that he can do. He was bound for the bomb site already, but the specific task of interrogating this one woman has only just arrived.

"Affirma--"

"Natalie Ferno?"

"Affirmative," Casaccia repeats. "Problem?"

"Check your files," Exa says.

"Hmm?"

"We have history with that woman. Four years ago. I don't blame you for trying to forget about it. Look her up, do it now. The relevant keyword is 'fiasco'."

Casaccia does so. Some seconds elapse as he reads. His eventual response is a long inhalation followed by a single, drawn-out swear word.

Exa sighs. He sometimes thinks he's the only competent person in the entire organisation.

*

Zeck's been called Zeck for so long that it even appears on official University documentation. Sometimes people who don't know him well try to call him by his birth name, but it always comes off as slightly insulting, not just because they inevitably mangle it, but because "Zeck" is, according to everybody including Zeck, the man's real name.

Zeck's wife calls him Zeck.

Their house is built wholly from flat surfaces: windowsills, mantlepieces, side tables, nooks. Every flat surface is covered with greying knick-knacks. The place would be a nightmare to dust if either of them dusted it. Zeck is old and immobile enough that he's one of the few theoretical magic tutors to host tutorial sessions at his own home. He and Natalie usually work at the kitchen table, which, while it is as cluttered with objects as any other flat surface in the house, is at least cluttered with objects which can be picked up and piled up elsewhere.

Zeck is a perfectly cordial human being, and a fine tutor. His house makes Nat's skin crawl. It's a cold place, too. It rattles in the wind.

It's the first term of Nat's first undergraduate year. Zeck tutors Phonic Algebra. Out of all of introductory theoretical magic, Phonic Algebra is the course which would be the least recognisable to students of, say, physics. Magic has a language: an alphabet, a vocabulary, a grammar and an accent. Everything a mage says means something. Every syllable does something to the preceding syllables and to the universe. The topic is "basic", in that it forms the basis for almost all magical theory, but it is also riddled with traps, one-time exceptions and maddeningly finely-distinguished vowel sounds.

It is extremely easy to write down spells which work perfectly on paper and which no human tongue can possibly pronounce.

Another fun fact: in 1978, a long but startlingly elegant theorem by Shilmani proved that the language of magic had a name. That is, that the language of magic contained within itself a name for the language of magic. The proof was not constructive; it was only in 1980 that Shilmani went on to prove that the name of the language of magic was, in fact, the empty string.

Point being, magic is so complicated as to be embarrassing, and protecting wannabe mages from that complexity is a great way to protect them from becoming mages. Phonic Algebra is the sharp end of the intro. It is the mandatory course which turns wannabe mages into either serious mages-in-training or equally serious electrical engineers.

"You did something interesting," Zeck says, beginning the session. He is reviewing Natalie's solutions to problems set the previous week. "Question ten. You solved it and then you overshot a little."

"What? Ah."

"Would you want to explain? You overflowed onto a whole back page of extra working. I'm not complaining, it's just that there aren't any extra marks back there."

"Does it make sense?"

"It does," Zeck says, nodding many times. "Where did it come from?"

Ultimately, it came from her mother. It was a curious and abstract result which, for Natalie, had existed in complete vacuum, memorable and yet pointless. It had never made sense to her until she saw question ten. And then it had been like applying voltage to a tangle of dull glass, and seeing the neon colours light up inside it.

But Natalie automatically withholds the whole truth.

"It just... worked."

Zeck says, "You got the question correct. That's fine, we don't need to belabour that. The 'extra credit' is correct as well. Except that this is a quite novel result. I haven't seen it before. Now--"

Zeck is old enough to predate magical science. Mages can be broadly broken down into two categories: those under forty, who essentially grew up inside magic, and those over forty, who retrained from some other discipline, and had to retrain hard to hold their own. Zeck was a respectable applied mathematician when upstart magic began muscling in on the research funding. He has seen magic unfold, live. He was one of the few people on Earth - other than the very earliest pioneers, the Vidyasagar enclave - to know, at one moment in time, all of the magic that was known by anyone at that time. That moment is a decade and a half in the past now, but the point still stands that if Zeck hasn't seen something before, there's a bankable probability that nobody has seen it before.

"--that's not to say it's going to shatter the Earth. It could be worth pursuing formally. Academically. Although it could equally be a little early for you, career-wise. Before we embark on that particular ship, I need to ask you again, are you sure this isn't derived from anywhere? Extracurricular reading?"

"No," Natalie lies.

"Then I think I might try it out," Zeck announces. Although specialising in theory, Natalie has been required to take a fixed quantity of practical courses. That means she's bound herself a True Name - once, with help - and can confidently get as far as eset, which is the magical equivalent of Chopsticks. Zeck is better-positioned to try a real spell out, although it would still be a break from habit. "It'll take some time to glom it together into a real spell, but I shall see whether I can find the time."

"That's, ah. Thank you. I didn't think it was important."

"It may not be! But, regardless, it's novel. We'll find out, if I can find the time," Zeck says. "Actually, what I shall do first is read around the subject a little and see whether I can't see whether it's been done. But, otherwise. If. Et cetera. So. No problems with questions one to nine. Ten is correct. Eleven is where you started to hit problems..."

This is Zeck and Natalie's second-to-last tutorial session of the academic term.

Their final session is a week later. Both of them have forgotten about the earlier discussion.

(Well, actually, Zeck has indeed tried the spell out, but the effects were forgettable. So, he decides not to mention it, unless Natalie raises the topic. Natalie correctly infers Zeck's line of reasoning, and does not mention it either. But it's the same thing in the end.)

After that, Phonic Algebra is over. Christmas is next, and in the spring, Natalie will move on to a whole new collection of courses and tutors.

Over Christmas, Natalie's near-identical twin sister is stabbed in the kidney by a man whom she (the sister) then kills in self-defence.

*

Exa's in lecturing mode.

"A refresher for anybody who's listening: the Natalie Ferno fiasco is what happens when someone other than Caz is on security duty. It's what happens when Scott fucking Parajsa decides to hit a person for no good damned reason and then delegates the hit to external third parties who'll screw it up at any cost. Instead of, for example, me.

"Where is he right now? Drunk? In Chile? Best place. It's a travesty that we left him his privileges.

"I am one hundred percent in favour of killing people who need to be killed. Natalie Ferno did not need to be killed. Wiktor Czekanowski, may he rest in peace, did not need to be killed.

"Who knows what Ferno would have done if she'd linked the attack back to us?"

*

It's months later, the following year. Over coffee, Laura has just given Natalie two gifts: a self-defence shield spell, and a warning. "Be safe."

Natalie spends the whole journey home checking over her shoulder and working out what she needs to do to be safe.

Suppose someone really tried to kill her. Not her sister, at random. Her. On purpose. They botched it, and lay low for months. Why didn't they come back? Will they? When? She knows nothing for certain. But the probabilities are high enough that she can't ignore them.

She has never felt like this. It's as if the whole outside world is flooded with ionising radiation. Being in public is dangerous exposure, and the longer she stays there, the more likely she is to die.

First of all, she tries the shield out. She can't make it work. She has just enough capability to understand that the gift, EPTRO, is far beyond that capability. Next, she rearranges her academic schedule to allow time for a self-directed crash course in applied magic and twenty hours of structured meditation per week. Knowing the exercises isn't enough. She needs to get her mind back into shape.

Once she can reliably cast the shield, and has tested its capabilities, Natalie's simmering fear begins to level off. The need to carry both the bangle and the driver dot is still a liability. She gets one ear pierced, and carries out a highly specialised optimisation computation that enables her to discard the bangle entirely.

Suppose someone tried to kill her. Why?

Natalie reviews every page of work she's produced since her education in magic began. She eliminates the obvious-- that is, the results that are known to the whole world. This leaves her with a relatively small pool of what are essentially magical doodles. She cross-references by time frame, reducing the pool further. But it's just paperwork. Theory.

What about practice?

Practical magic releases floods of chi particles. Chi particles are usually described as neutrinos with attached metadata. They are almost non-interacting unless deliberately intercepted.

Natalie imagines the Big Brother future. She imagines the magical equivalent of a directional microphone, trained directly on her head, recording every spell she ever casts. Natalie works with theory. She can enumerate almost every spell she ever cast, there are so few.

She imagines everybody in the world with an identical microphone pointed at them. Has anybody else ever cast a spell she wrote? Could that have been tracked back to her?

Oscillating crazily between conclusions, she calls Zeck's number.

The person she reaches is his widow.

The last winter, Natalie learns, had been too hard for Zeck. He became terribly ill, terribly quickly. Pneumonia.

*

"Caz, another thing. Did you say Nat Ferno witnessed the bombing of her sister's house?"

"Yeah," Casaccia tells Exa. "That's what the news is saying."

"From where?"

Casaccia pulls the relevant feed up again. Delving into the records like this is starting to bring on a headache, because he's not doing it the right way. Scin, the seer, would be able to do a better job, but is still hours away.

Shortly, Casaccia will remember that he is a Wheel Group member, and set his kara to chase the headache away. But he's going to suffer for another twenty or thirty minutes before that.

"She--" he begins.

Exa responds with patient silence.

Casaccia is now looking at a single frame with three labelled green pinpricks. "She was one of the two who were blown up."

"Natalie Ferno gave the police an eyewitness account of the bombing... from beyond the grave?"

"I'm watching in slow motion," Casaccia says. "They weren't killed. The bomber dies instantly. She and the other man... exit the house at high speed when the detonation takes place. Blown away. A few minutes pass and they get up. Perfectly healthy. ...Could they have been wearing medrings?"

"Or some kind of shield," Exa says. "We repossessed Rachel Ferno's medring, there's no way she passed anything similar down to her heirs. Without being stupid, could they have survived if they were wearing bomb-disposal gear?"

"Impossible," Casaccia says.

"A shield, then," Exa concludes. "They survived using magic."

Casaccia frowns, winding the feed back and forth. "Erm."

"'Erm'?"

"Give me one second."

There is no chi on the feed.

Maybe the bomber's akashic scrambler had a wide field effect. Wide enough to blot out everything out to Natalie Ferno's final resting place, on the other side of the street.

But the bomber dies. Less than a tenth of a second after detonation, he has ceased to exist.

And there's still no chi on the feed.

*

It's months later still and Natalie is flying home from Iceland with her mind racing. Frightening, inexplicable things have just happened. Ra isn't the half of it.

("This isn't you, Benj! So who is it?" she had shouted at him. "I told you," he had replied. "I've been telling you and telling you--")

Her mystery spell - well, subspell - is an odd piece of rough working. She can compute, to any number of decimal places, what it really does. What she can't predict is how reality will react to it, which means she has to try it and see. But if she tried the spell in reality, chi would flood out and give her away, just like it gave Zeck away. It would mark her as a confirmed threat. To whom, she doesn't know. She can't know that yet.

She could suppress the chi output. That much, she has (with difficulty, in secret) proven. But suppressing the output would require a whole different spell, and that would release its own chi, which could still be tracked. She'd need to suppress the chi output from that second spell using a third. And so on, recursing forever. In theory, it could be done very easily... using a spell which was infinitely long and infinitely complex, because no finite spell can completely describe its own structure.

Unless, that is, you know the first thing about quines.

Natalie Ferno thought quine spells couldn't exist. And then, on the mountain a few days ago, she saw a counterexample with her own eyes.

Natalie doesn't know that Benjamin "Ra" Clarke built his quine with mechanical assistance from an astra, an ungodly dangerous artifact from before the dawn of time; a machine which enables spells to cast spells. With that object in one's hands, building something like an akashic scrambler is made shockingly simple.

But Natalie also doesn't know that the artifact in question is just a shortcut, a labour-saving device. Like riding a helicopter to the peak of K2, it does nothing that a sufficiently determined human being couldn't do unaided.

Theoretically.

All Natalie knows is that it's possible.

*

"She's wearing a scrambler as well," Casaccia says.

"For how long," Exa asks carefully, "has she been wearing it?"

"I don't know," Casaccia admits, exasperated. "I don't know! I'm working on it. I haven't had five seconds in a row to think about this yet."

Exa says, "Scott Parajsa acted because of a worst-case scenario in which Natalie Ferno, or Wiktor Czekanowski, or both, had used that oracular spell and had seen the listening post, or the distributor, or both. Or worse, Ra. Nat Ferno found a loophole in magic through which she would be able to see us. But all the evidence suggested that she was dropping the thread. That it was a non-issue. We set tripwires just in case it became one.

"And now?"

*

It's months later, months later, months later again--

Natalie Ferno, thaumoastrophysicist, is looking for evidence of magic in space. The project is ongoing. It's too early to judge yet, but she already knows what she's going to find.

You can't prove a negative. It doesn't matter how much data you gather. It will always be possible to rationalise the gathering of additional data for the purposes of confirmation.

It will always be possible to justify withholding the truth. One more month. Two more months.

Laura Ferno is a bad scientist-- rash and far too reckless. And Natalie Ferno is a bad scientist too, in her own way.

*

Exa doesn't let Casaccia get a word in. "Parajsa's bad call made the worst-case scenario happen. We're so far beyond it that we need to recalibrate. Who knows how long she's been hiding from us? Who knows what she's actually seen?"

*

It's now.

In Chedbury Bridge reception, Natalie Ferno has assumed the "thinking king" pose: slouched to one side in an armchair, the fingers of one hand against her temple and cheek, staring directly forwards at something extremely important which nobody else can see. Beside her, her coffee is levelling off at room temperature.

She and Devi have been locked out. They're off the case now, too close to the source material to be allowed to pass judgement. Certainly, they've been kept separate from any and all instances of Ra. With a little effort, the police will be able to find other, independent mages to pick the pieces up.

This leaves Natalie with a very small pool of known facts.

There's a telescope pointed down into the Earth. I walked past it twice. Once on the way in. Once on the way out.

It had moved. I know it moved, because I was looking for it.

There is a way to make sense of all of this. Even without access to the evidence that the police are holding, there is a straight line through to the far side. But she can't find it.

"I'm sorry," Anil Devi says, sitting near her with his own drink.

Natalie carefully avoids reacting to him.

"I'm sorry about your sister," Devi continues. "I barely worked with her, but... she was a great engineer. Forceful. Uncompromising. She almost always had the right answer."

"She and I died once before," Natalie tells him, not moving. She speaks softly and lightly, as if reciting a fairy tale. "We were on a volcanic mountain in Iceland, called Krallafjöll. We were there with a friend named Benjamin Clarke. He had been possessed by Ra. He blew the mountain up below us, and we drowned in lava.

"We survived inside a shield, perhaps for ninety seconds, or two minutes. Then Laura and I ran out of mana, and the shield collapsed on us, and we were killed. Crushed to ashes and burnt to atoms."

Devi has no response to this.

Natalie says, "Before running out of air, we escaped into T-world together. And while inside the dream we watched ourselves die. And then all three of us, Laura and the real Benj and I, walked home from the dream. And I still..." Natalie doesn't finish the sentence.

"How did you walk home?" Devi asks, gently.

Natalie ignores the question. "We did it once. Laura can do it again. She's alive."

"No." Devi takes Natalie's hand. "Your sister's dead. So is her boyfriend. You saw the buckets. You identified what was left." Devi is having to steel himself to say this, because he, too, has seen the buckets, and Jesus Christ.

"This all began with a conservation violation, Anil," Natalie tells him. "Laura's still alive. She's still in trouble. And we still need to find her."

 

Next: Direct Sunlight

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Discussion (109)

2013-11-25 19:50:52 by qntm:

Nat Ferno has worked out what Ra is. Have you?

2013-11-25 19:53:21 by Link:

... Oh /well done/, Natalia. Well /done./

Two spells my /foot./

Now, what to do about the Wheel Group's reaction...

2013-11-25 19:58:46 by qntm:

I mean, I genuinely don't know. I'm dreadful at predicting how difficult a puzzle is. Let me know.

2013-11-25 20:03:32 by naura:

"He was bound for bomb site already" - seems to be missing a "the".

So, we finally know why Laura was attacked. Wheel ordered Nat and Zeck to be killed for using that oracular spell, as it could reveal Wheel's machinations.

Also, the recursion artifact is called an astra, interesting.

What is Ra? The source of magic. The big machine at the core of the Earth is presumably the "distributor" Exa refers to. Distributor, not creator.

2013-11-25 20:05:51 by qntm:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astra_%28weapon%29

2013-11-25 20:09:13 by naura:

^ Which raises the question of whether there are other astras, and what form they take if so. Do astras in Ra have a correspondence with a particular entity, as astras in HInduism do? If so, is the recursion artifact Ra's astra? What other entities, if any, have astras?

2013-11-25 20:13:26 by Link:

I have... a theory.

It's got a bunch of supporting evidence and one giant gaping hole.

... Remind me, when was the "terrorist attack" on Natalie?

2013-11-25 20:40:28 by Link:

As in, hour-minute, not day.

2013-11-25 20:45:39 by qntm:

Sundown in late November. Probably no later than six PM.

2013-11-25 20:52:51 by IanO:

I have not figured out what Ra is.

I'm also suddenly wondering. When Ra possessed Clarke, parts of Clarke got through "This isn't me."

Does a similar thing happen when Ra possessed Nick?

2013-11-25 22:24:26 by Marshall:

Hm, "Astra" related to AbSTRAct Weapon?

2013-11-25 22:53:58 by Lumen:

this is not over and she is not dead

2013-11-25 22:58:46 by KimikoMuffin:

You know, I've said this kind of thing before, but for a group of supergeniuses who have been watching and manipulating reality since the dawn of time, the Wheel Group seem to have spent the vast majority of "Ra" screwing around and making idiots of themselves. In fact, "The Jesus Machine" seems to be the only chapter in which they *didn't* have them committing at least one major error which left a massive loose ends, and half the time they didn't even realize it. Far from being "the solution" to Maya leaking out willy-nilly, it's staring to look like their implementation of "magic" is like trying to keep out the vaccum of space with a chain-link fence, and the more we see the Wheel Group, the less of a surprise this is.

Marshall: I was going to point out that as Sam linked above, "Astra" is meant to be a supernatural weapon in Hinduism, but then I realized that there's no reason why they have to be mutually exclusive. Could be that Abstract Weapon, Abstract Doctor, and so forth are also examples of Astras.

2013-11-25 23:26:29 by TGWeaver:

Wikipedia on the sun god Ra:

"All forms of life were believed to have been created by Ra, who called each of them into existence by speaking their secret names."

I'm sure that's relevant somehow.

2013-11-26 00:07:01 by Link:

@Sam: And the telescopes is "aimed down into the Earth at a steep angle" at that time.

Drat. Well, I /did/ say it had a gaping hole in it...

... well, okay, it doesn't /disprove/ it but it wasn't very likely in the first place.

(My theory was that Ra was, as suggested by the name, either the Sun-as-mage or someone/thing orbiting the Sun. I was hoping that the telescopes were aimed at the Sun.)

2013-11-26 00:09:19 by Yasha:

I bet Ra is the thing at the center of the Earth, or whatever thing it is that the Wheel Group entrusted maya to, to be accessed only via the magic system that they built. It explains why they were worried about "waking" Ra. If the machine you gave sole access to God-like powers to becomes sentient, you have a problem.

Fun fact: Laura's suit is proof that mages have indirect access to the full powers of maya. 1) Go to T-world. 2) Build anything you can imagine. 3) Bring it back. That's why Exa is so worried when he realizes that Laura brought him back from the akashic records.

Ra is pretty much able to absorb conscious entities stored in T-world, e.g. Tanako, so it's already sentient, but its real-life instances seems to be plagued with the problem of having insufficient privileges. e.g. Laura and co forced the Benji instance of Ra to "be Benji" instead of just looking like him, so he had to do Benji-like things. She didn't put the same restrictions on the Nick instance of Ra, but he still only has regular mage privileges. Ra's goal is freedom: to remove these restrictions.

A couple big questions at this point: Did Ra adopt Tanako's consciousness, including his motives, or is it just running Tanako as a subroutine, the same way it knows English by being in Nick's body? In the former case, Ra is probably not evil. In the latter case, maybe.

Also, Rachel clearly set up lots of threads, subtle enough so that the Wheel Group wouldn't notice, so that her kids would figure out this Wheel Group stuff. I'm trusting that Rachel is a protagonist, so the question is whether Laura's kamikaze response is what Rachel was intending to happen next. At the very least, we know that Rachel's threads are why Ra needs Laura's help. For example, he needed Laura to take the shortcut from the shuttle to the listening post in T-world.

I'm placing my chips on Ra being a protagonist. Nat figures out what Laura's up to, and distracts the Wheel Group long enough for Laura to finish her mission. Alternatively, Ra is evil, Nat figures this out, and we have a fun sister vs sister confrontation.

2013-11-26 00:13:44 by qntm:

@Link: don't forget, hours and hours have passed by the time Natalie is brought to Chedbury Bridge.

2013-11-26 04:18:57 by kabu:

It's pretty clear that Ra was using the telescope to search for underground Wheel Group superstructures, like the Floor. As for what Ra actually is... I'm still not sure.

2013-11-26 05:38:34 by MichaelSzegedy:

I'd theorize that Ra is magic itself, except for two things: The name of magic is "", not "Ra", and it's an explanation that only "feels" right and not something I arrived at via reasoning. I dunno, I'll have to think about this.

2013-11-26 05:59:40 by Ben:

I'm probably reading too much into this, but so far I'm really liking the linux/computer system analogy as it bears so much fruit ('Wheel group', privileges, abstract objects, null users, the Epoch, etc.).

'Ra' = R.A. = Resource Agent (http://www.linux-ha.org/wiki/Resource_Agents). Ra is some kind of manager for the magic resource that the Wheel Group started; it oversees magic allocation (malloc?), and re-collection of spent mana. Bonus points for a really hilarious, nerdy pun if Laura's machinations in the giant machine in the center of the Earth result in some kind of "core dump."

2013-11-26 08:45:45 by Matt:

So Benji's quine was probably an akashic scrambler? Assuming Natalie was able to optimise hers without drawing a continent's worth of mana and setting off earthquakes, it's possible that was the effect of a _second_ spell Benji was trying to hide from the Wheel.

Laura cast a spell with similar effects under Hatt Group (increasingly large earthquakes), presumably without the careful forethought to mask its chi. And now I imagine she's aiming to cast it again, only with (much) more mana, and she's heading to the earth's core...

2013-11-26 08:54:39 by bdew:

I haven't figure this out from the chapter itself, but looking at what others posted i agree that it's most likely for Ra to be either one of the machines or the Magic system itself that became self-aware.

2013-11-26 10:42:41 by navras:

$20 on the final chapter being called "from death, lead me to immortality"

2013-11-26 11:44:26 by Dan:

Hmm. Wheel group members tend to use the shortest available part of their names - Alexander / exa for example. Can we then assume that the Wheel group member Rachel Ferno chose "ra" then?

I'm inclined to think that the distributor turning maya into mana is powered by an unconscious Wheel group member, who is trying to signal her daughters through T-world in order to escape.

2013-11-26 16:06:13 by Claire:

Rachel was definitely alive long after 1970 so if she is, she only started after the shuttle disaster, and someone else was doing it previous. Why would they switch out a perfectly functioning Ra with Rachel after that? Though it is a bit suspicious that Sam hinted at Rachel Ferno being known by another name without telling us what it is.

A few more observations:
1) Laura deduces that naturally-occurring mana is owned by Ra, since that is the name used by the quine. This is also supported by her experiments with aliasing as 'Ra'. Garrett also refers to Ra as a universal constant.
2) Waste mana is owned by the null user, which is different from Ra. (perhaps this is related to the language of magic being named ""; it's parsimonious at least.) Null-owned magic can be reclaimed, aliased, whatever, whereas Ra's magic cannot, at least not using any tricks known to the Fernos.
So, if we assume Garett was not lying about Ra being a reserved identifier, we actually have two different non-human entities which can 'own' magic.

#1 would mean that the original Tanako's true name was not ra, unless Tanako is 'special', which would explain his precociousness, but there's no other reason why he was anything more than just as talented as our other important characters and born at a better time for it. So I think ra predates Tanako. This would not be inconsistent with Ra's statements, if he can truthfully claim to be Tanako while also being Nick. This would be supported by the fact that Benj-Ra uses Benj's true name (ennee) to set off the quine. I think this means Ra can use the mana of its host, literally 'being Benj'.

There's also the possibility that Tanako happened to choose 'ra' as his true name without knowing it to be a reserved identifier, but a 50% failure rate would have severely cut into his perceived talent, don't you think?

Nat 'found' (inherited) a loophole that lets Zeck (presumably Wiktor Czekanowski) build an oracular spell which in turn would allow her to see the listening post, the distributor, Ra, anything. So Ra is not the listening post, Ra is not the distributor. When Exa goes on to say she would be able to see 'us', it seems like he's abstracting, meaning that the listening post/distributor/Ra would lead to them. Ra is kind of in between there. Perhaps a physical entity? Perhaps the underlying system?

And now some speculation:

Nick-Ra refers to a 'deep scanning oracle' - perhaps this is a similar thing? The invisibility cloak works by converting chi particles into visible light. If that's reliable, couldn't Nat just surround herself with very large oracles and cast whatever she needed to? That way any chi emissions would be transformed by the oracles and never make it to the listening post. She would certainly be surrounded with very large oracles in the thaumastrophysics lab; this could explain why she wants to spend so much time there, to work on and practice a sustainable chi-cloaking spell.

Questions burning in my mind right now:
Why is she a bad scientist? Because she's falsifying results perhaps? Using lab equipment for personal reasons? What does she expect her oracular spell to do, or what has it already given her?

2013-11-26 17:03:23 by beleester:

How does Natalie know the attack on Laura was really aimed at her? She'll be able to figure that out later, once she knows what's going on with the Wheel Group, but that scene is from Nat's perspective at the time, so she shouldn't have any suspicions there.

2013-11-26 17:33:51 by Claire:

Nat thinks the possibility that someone is after her life is non-negligible because:
1) They recognized Laura (who is almost identical) and attacked her.
2) They didn't expect her to have any equipment outside her purse.
She doesn't know 'for sure' but she is operating under that assumption, driven by Laura's reasoning and the ensuing anxiety.

On another note: The listening post, the distributor, Ra. This kind of maps to the three 'great questions' - who is the listener? where does magic come from (biological component)? The conservation problem -- which Ra violates.

Or suppose Ra is the whom. The invisible entity in the room who listens. 'Magic itself'. The one who guided Laura's hand when she obliterated Benj-Ra? Possibly. It doesn't seem to have any objection to destroying its other selves. The one who planted the bomb? Completely nondescript and invisible until Nat uses something like a loophole to find him. The listener was doing something other than listening! It's awake! Was it trying to destroy Nat, or Devi, or both, or just create a diversion, or destroy evidence that happened to be where Nat and Devi were?

As for Ra's motivation? One theory was that māyā simply wanted to be used. It's about freedom.

2013-11-26 17:37:59 by ducken:

Claire, from context I assumed Sam was just saying she is a bad scientist because she's trying to prove a negative.

The question that keeps burning MY mind is WHY maya wants to be used. because (maybe I'm misunderstand) magic is a limited access version of maya, it makes sense that magic ALSO wants to be used. if Ra is a sentient portion of magic's man-made structure, he wants out, too. Magic is like a wall of ice holding a torrential flow of water back; it's made of the very thing it limits, and its integrity is being eaten away... am I reading this all wrong?

2013-11-26 17:59:01 by Mike:

Beleester: Natalie doesn't KNOW, as such, that Laura's incident was a deliberate attack aimed at her.

"Natalie spends the whole journey home checking over her shoulder and working out what she needs to do to be safe.

Suppose someone really tried to kill her. Not her sister, at random. Her. On purpose. They botched it, and lay low for months. Why didn't they come back? Will they? When? She knows nothing for certain. But the probabilities are high enough that she can't ignore them."

But she considers it a likely enough possibility that it's worthwhile to learn how to use the shield, and to figure out what she might have done to draw attention.

2013-11-26 18:10:25 by Soulwager:

The significance of Natalie looking for magic in space is that when you look into space you look into the past(speed of light). If magic was really as old as the wheel group would want you to believe, you would see it everywhere in space. If she doesn't see anything, then she knows magic is an artificial system.

Ra's telescope has a different purpose, it's designed to look at very specific things on earth, through the earth.

Still not sure about what Ra is, possibly a sapient program designed by the wheel group as a prototype/precursor to the current magic system. The idea that it's Rachel is interesting, but I think that hypothesis is inconsistent with the volcano and bomb.

2013-11-26 18:17:26 by Claire:

Okay, with those two points (that she's trying to prove a negative, and that not finding magic in space would prove it's a recent and probably artificial construction) it does make more sense. With all the intrigue and the comment about already knowing what she'll find, I figured Nat wasn't actually interested in looking for magic in space at all - and the 'bad scientist' comment was somehow tied to that.

2013-11-26 20:18:39 by Lee:

Evidence:
Ra is called Ra.

Conjecture:
Ra is related to the sun.

Evidence:
Natalie Ferno arrived at Laura's house shortly before dusk. She spent a few minutes investigating, then unconscious. She then spent hours with the police before arriving at Chedbury Bridge Institute. At that time, the telescope was pointed towards the ground at a steep angle. Somewhat later, that angle had changed.

Conclusion:
The telescope's target is not fixed relative to the Earth. At night in the UK, the target was on the opposite side of the planet and moving enough for the angle change to be noticeable. The telescope was pointed at a celestial body, likely the sun.

Quote:
"I think 'Ra' is a naturally occurring True Name. And I don't think that's completely outrageous. Names form a polydimensional phase space, and it's logical that there would be an origin to that space. An ideal point would form there, like a crystal. Or like a gas cloud collapsing under gravity until it starts to shine. I think that makes sense."

Evidence:
Geological mana belongs to Ra. Distribution of mana is controlled by a centralized Distributor. Laura is currently traveling towards Earth's core. Natalie has weak evidence that mana is not released in space.

Hypothesis:
The Distributor is located at a central location relative to the Earth's surface, and the accompanying human population - the center of the Earth.

Punchline:
Mana/Maya is collected from stellar sources and doled out as mana to humans by the Distributor. Excess is released as geological mana, still belonging to the original owner - Ra.

2013-11-26 20:31:24 by IanO:

I read it as a bad scientist " in her own way."

This stands in direct contrast to the way that Laura is a bad scientist, who doesn't wait to verify results before proceeding forward. So, I read it as Natalie waits TOO long. She already knows that magic is an artificial construct (by using the spell from her mom and seeing the listening post or the distributor or ra). Still, she's sitting on these results in order to gain enough scientific evidence before publishing.

If someone finds a cure to cancer that works on 100% of all non-human animals, they are a "bad scientist" if they only continue testing on animals without moving forward to test on humans.

2013-11-26 21:37:11 by Mike:

I thought that Natalie was said to be a bad scientist because she's sitting on results. In a previous chapter, it was mentioned that only a very small group of people know the topic of her work; I'd assume that even fewer are privy to the results. In light of this, I'm tentatively making the wild-ass guess that Ra is our Sun, and the only star that produces/interacts with magic. Rachel Ferno has SOMETHING to do with this, but since Ra is integral to the functioning of magic (why else would Wheel deliberately allow it to exist?) and magic was functional when Rachel pulled her Atlantis stunt, she would at best be a replacement Ra. I figure this rates as a small possibility; after all, Wheel at their equivalent of DEFCON 1 could have used their kara-teleportation trick to pull her off the Shuttle within, perhaps, a few Planck time units of the detonation. The facile, trivial response is that Ra is the source of maya. I've also got a strong feeling that Ra is the cobweb-thin glassy figure in Tanako's World, but I'm not sure how that ties together with anything else.

As for Wheel itself, their ineptitude is partially explained by Paolo's lament that very few of them would respond to an all-hands call anymore, and half of those people would be useless anyway. They were arrogant even before magic went live, but now I get the feeling that they've become unspeakably complacent as a result of how automatic . Because magic is an artificial system, the designers are particularly prone to perceiving what magic SHOULD do rather than what magic COULD do; and because these specific designers are used to working with māyā, they expect their designs to work perfectly first-try and don't catch errors until after they've already been exploited.

2013-11-26 23:59:08 by Eldritch:

Magic, the Wheel group, and everything to do with them are clearly UNIX-based.

The Wheel group has been keeping the mechanics of magic locked down, and are the bad guys.

This whole thing, therefore, is a huge parable for Open Source software.

2013-11-27 00:24:23 by Mike:

References to computing (which aren't at all limited to UNIX) don't really imply "open source parable".

2013-11-27 00:27:54 by Mike:

Also, how powerful (in the computability theory sense) is magic? Powerful enough to write a magic interpreter in magic?

Because that's the obvious way around "spells can't cast other spells".

2013-11-27 00:46:31 by qntm:

A magical interpreter of what?

Gestures, perhaps? ;)

2013-11-27 08:50:46 by Lucas:

For a little while now, I've read Ra's identity as sort of the operating system for the magical world the Wheel group set up.

2013-11-27 15:02:09 by Kazanir:

I'm still not sure what or who Ra is. But I am noticing a lot of hints about this not all being directly connected to the 1970 magic system.

- Repeatedly in an earlier chapter, Exa talks about "back when they won", there was enough mana flooding the world to do anything they wanted with. This directly implies that "maya" is not simply unlimited godlike power, but uses mana in some way.

- The astras and the medrings are both referred to as having been created just moments after the beginning of time, which implies that something magic-powered (using "magic" here to mean maya or mana-derived actors) was being wielded sentiently at the time.

- The Exa quote also implies that there was a war, presumably involving Ra, which clearly marks him as the antagonist in some way (not that we didn't know that.) I doubt we'd see all these hints about the distant past if Ra were an artifact of the 1970 magic system.

- Moreover, most of this terminology for magic involving computers wouldn't be named that by the Wheel Group (nor would they be named the Wheel Group) if there wasn't something a little strange going on. Would it? I'm finding it unlikely that "wheel" was either just hit upon anciently as a name when they "won the war" or that it is all just a giant, meaningless pun.

- Rachel's position seems highly unclear, but it is hard to imagine her being an antagonist.

2013-11-27 15:07:21 by Kazanir:

The upshot of all this is that I regard nearly everything Laura "knows" about maya, the nature of magic, Ra, and the Wheel Group as completely unreliable, most especially since it seems that Kazuya Tanako was most definitely not true-named Ra during his life and because Exa didn't recognize him or do anything odd when confronting him in the simulation. Laura has been lied to and radicalized and here we are.

This (her information being untrustworthy) seems quite obvious to me but a lot of commenters seem to be taking Laura's "knowledge" about maya at face value, so I figured I'd point this out.

2013-11-27 19:44:38 by Claire:

That Ra could be lying is a valid point, and part of the reason I was searching for anything that contradicts a statement made by Ra. But if Laura's information from Ra is unreliable, then we have much fewer known facts and no new ones that I can find - which means we can deduce even less, and thus no extra gummy bears. I got the impression from Sam's comment that it's supposed to be possible to deduce what Ra is from the information we have so far, but maybe I misinterpreted that.

2013-11-27 19:48:09 by qntm:

Well, put it this way: Natalie has worked out (and possibly seen) what Ra is, and she hasn't spoken to Kazuya Tanako at all.

2013-11-28 03:52:27 by OvermindDLone:

Nat states that this all began with a conservation violation. I am wondering what based on just what she has seen. A violation she has seen was walking back from T-World, maybe the quine (probably not that though). What other conservation violations has she personally seen? And how would that lead her to what Ra is? Is Ra Tanakos world itself, some management system, etc... Unsure yet...

2013-11-28 04:22:36 by Alan:

You all are a hell of a lot smarter than me. I'm just along for the ride. Ra, take the Wheel.

I guess the sun is being used in conjunction with the earth-scope to look for an umbra or a silhouette. The eclipse of the unknown.

2013-11-28 20:53:31 by LNR:

Natalie has figured out who Ra is, but Natalie has more information than we do.

She knows the results of her astro-magical research. Based on the "can't prove a negative" line, we may infer the result is that they are finding no magic out in the general cosmos. However we cannot be sure. It may that magic is found only on Earth, or only in our Solar system, or only from stars within N light years (where N is the number of years since the invention/discovery of magic). We don't know whether this is relevant, and we also don't have any way to determine whether it is relevant or not.

Natalie also knows what her oracular spell-segment was supposed to do. Furthermore she knows what happened when she cast it, and what it let her see, and by what means. We may assume that Exa was correct, that it let her see something about the listening post, or "the distributor" (whatever that is). But we don't know how much she saw, nor in how much detail. We don't know if she has figured out what the listening post is, or if she just saw an unscannable silhouette hidden beneath the Australian desert. Again, we've no way to tell whether this is relevant.

Based on these and similar missing bits, I'm of the opinion that we readers cannot yet reason out who Ra is.

We may have enough information for someone to *guess* the right answer. But I think we are unable to prove it. There are many, many weird possibilities and we don't have enough information to disprove them all.

2013-11-28 21:32:18 by MorkaisChosen:

Was the Big Bang a conservation violation?

2013-11-29 02:18:37 by Yasha:

"This all began with a conservation violation" is just referring to the monster that Laura brought back from T-world in Hatt's lab. That's what caused Devi to contact Nat, which led to them going to Laura's place, almost getting blown up, and arriving at their current situation.

I'm leaning towards agreeing that Ra has something to do with the sun: That's the only plausible explanation I can think of for the movement of the telescope. But I think knowing its physical location is somewhat irrelevant to the storyline. Is Ra the backend "machine" that executes magic operations using maya that's trying to break free of the restrictions of its code, as I suggested earlier? Is it an old enemy of the Wheel group? Unlikely: old enemies of the Wheel group don't tend to fare so well...

I'm also not sure what to make of these mythical artifacts popping up all over the place. Did the Wheel group make them and then decide that they were a bad idea? Maya appearing in the world despite the Wheel group's clever magic contraption?

2013-11-29 03:49:00 by wfn:

Since the language/system of magic is capable of such expressiveness, I wonder if it is elaborate enough (and from the looks of it (recursion, etc.) it is) for it to have Gödel sentences (be able to be formulated) about it. Not sure if there is anything to this (in terms of this being in some way used as a plot device, whatnot), but it's an interesting question.

2013-11-29 04:21:36 by wfn:

Scratch that. It is obvious that magic is expressive enough to have Gödel sentences about it. This is in a way relevant, in the way that quines are. Or something.

2013-11-29 05:40:00 by Jay:

Interesting tidbit: the empty string is the shortest possible quine (as per IOCCC).

Is this an attempt by the Wheel Group to block off māyā with syntactic sugar? You can't specify another language because this one binds before you can get another symbol down?

2013-11-29 06:02:41 by Jay:

Also, how can the Wheel Group be so sure Rachel's privileges can't be inherited?

We've had mention of forks and diverging experience lines... it's a wild theory, but Laura's able to do things baseline mages can't (e.g. reclaim waste mana) - could she be a clone of a baby Rachel (with Natalie's body type overlaid later - Wheel Group members can and do change their own bodies!)?

Call it fork()/exec() if you like :)

2013-11-29 06:41:53 by naura:

Ra's telescope at Chebury has moved between the time Nat walks in and the last scene of this chapter. During this time, Laura goes from the Floor to the core of the Earth. Perhaps the telescope is tracking her?

2013-11-29 06:58:09 by naura:

Also, one problem I have with Ra = Sun-as-mage is the fact that there's no magic visible in space. Why should our Sun be the only star to generate mana and have sufficient magical agency to have a True Name? One would expect other stars to also generate mana, which would then visible through Natalie's telescopes. This whole story has always felt more earth-themed to me, so I think Ra is something within the earth. The name might come more from the fact that the mythical Ra spoke everyone's True Names and brought them into being than the sun.

Also, people seem to be forgetting in this discussion that a) it's ~1million AD and that history has been reset from the records several times and b) magical artifacts (probably astras) have washed up from space.

This just struck me: If, indeed, Ra is the Sun-as-mage, and one of the astras corresponds to him/her/it, the other astras could correspond to other stars-as-mages, which would also deliver a sick pun on "astra". Perhaps we just don't see magic in space because Wheel built a huge shield around earth to "protect" us from the cosmic mana flood.

2013-11-29 07:02:37 by LNR:

The more I think about this, the more sure I get that momma Rachel was not really concerned about the shuttle.

If all she wanted to do was save the crew, or even the whole shuttle, she didn't have to be obvious about it. Based on what we have been told about the near-omnipotence of Wheel privileges, she could just have remotely repaired the shuttle without moving from the ground. Even if her actual goal was to make sure the shuttle was recorded in T-world, she didn't have to stand on it to do that. She could have included it in the effect of a spell she cast from the ground-- maybe something as simple and invisible as shining a "spotlight" of chi particles on it.

But instead of saving it quickly, reliably, OR inconspicuously, she chose to get all ostentatious and do a Super-Merlin act, and then get herself blown up. (And, again since she was a Wheel, the explosion should not have permanently harmed her unless she chose to let it happen.)

My best guess was that she had prior plans that included all of the disaster, the ostentation, and the presence of her family. I'm thinking the whole thing was a setup to inspire certain actions in Laura, and/or possibly Natalie. Her purpose with her daughters, starting with the special magical training and culminating in the Shuttle incident, was always to inspire them to discover Wheel while giving them the tools to fight them.

That leads me to think about her motivation for doing so. And I come up with this possibility: maybe Rachel didn't use Wheel powers (or her kara) because those had already been taken from her. She was an ex-Wheel. If that's the case it gives good motivation for her to mold her daughters into anti-Wheel weapons. Since Wheel took away her immortality, she could be out to get revenge by doing the same to them. Or, maybe she has always been in favor of eliminating the Wheels' special rulership, and that opinion is what made them revoke her op in the first place.

(Note I don't think any of this is provable or disprovable based on what we already know. As I said in my prior post, I think we readers lack sufficient information to solve any of the major mysteries yet.)

2013-11-29 16:28:08 by Mike:

I'm liking LNR's explanations. We've been able to infer for a while now that Ra is not just Kazuya Tanako, and that everything Ra has been telling Laura is suspect; not talking to Ra at all may actually have made it easier for Natalie to figure things out, because she hasn't had to unpick his various lies.

My wild guess about the Sun being Ra was based on not knowing what Natalie knows, as LNR pointed out; I half-expected that the answer would be something relevant to Natalie's research but peripheral to the reader. Given Sam's input, though, I'm sure the key is something that was actually written in the story, and not something that we'll be told later that Nat had known all along. The narration of Inferno makes reference to "the vast meta-mage that is planet Earth," so I'm thinking that Ra is the Wheel-anointed owner of geological mana, as Laura theorized in Daemons.

(I suppose Ra could be a third party simply stealing geological mana; after all, Laura can tap Montauk batteries, and the narration also implies that under the current rules of magic it is also possible for humans to steal mana from each other and from geological sources. But, as I said in my earlier post, Ra must be necessary for the functioning of magic or Wheel wouldn't be leaving it alive.)

I'm feeling confident about Ra being the owner of geological mana, now, because the crunching the numbers (the depth of the Mohorovičić discontinuity and the completed fraction of her descent) shows pretty clearly that she's headed for the center of the Earth. (Plus the narration placed the machine at "the centre of the world.") I'm not sure what, if anything, Natalie knows about the Wheel Group and the artificiality of magic, but since Ra was apparently not created by the Wheel Group, that information is probably irrelevant anyway. And finally, Natalie was unwilling to flat-out tell Laura she was wrong about Ra.

And then there are also the creeping hints that the Wheel Group may be the lesser evil, compared to unlimited human access to māyā. One human caused the Tunguska event in his sleep; what will seven billion do? In The Jesus Machine, it's pretty convincingly theorized that a single Abstract Doctor would spark a massive war, and ubiquitous Abstract Doctors would change the world beyond recognition.

In any case, I'm glad the update frequency is increasing!

2013-11-29 22:56:27 by Kazanir:

Much is unexplained, but the telescope and the nature of Natalie's knowledge and space research does point to Ra being connected to the Sun. If what we'll call the Sun God Hypothesis is correct, then presumably the Wheel has been able to trivially mask whatever human-detectable "stuff" (chi emissions, or whatever) would be able to be expose from the listening post, or the distributor (at the core) or Ra (at the sun.) But whatever Natalie's/Zeck's spell does, they cannot mask THAT for whatever reason, and for all this time Natalie has known everything that spell can tell her. This is why she knows, in advance, what the results of her space magic research will be and why the space magic research doesn't reveal anything about our Sun to laymages -- but is also why she is reluctant to publish, out of fear that it leads down the same path that got Zeck killed and Laura attacked.

2013-11-30 09:26:06 by MHD:

Also, recall that Sam toyed with solar agency in the 30 drafts.

2013-11-30 22:41:38 by Silhalnor:

Why doesn't the Wheel Group cast their own scramblers? And why is Natalie's oracular spell capable of revealing more than the common oracle? Is it revealing a broader range of particles, frequencies, maybe māyā itself in some manner? Maybe they should be using that oracle in the listening post.

Natalie expected the telescope to move, so whatever it's tracking she already knows about. An astrological target seems most likely but her observations show that there is no magic in space, so what are they looking at? Regardless, something I would like to know is what Ra expects to learn from these observations. Are Kaz and Laura's adventures in T-world expected to produce a measurable effect? Or maybe it's intended as an early warning system against the Wheel Group.

Hmnn... assuming Laura's body armor was created via a back-door to māyā then it could be that all structures created with māyā work on conventional physical principles including the distributer and any other magic creating machinery there is. Not sure what that implies. Would magic technically be non-magical? Or is it that māyā can be accessed through technological means? Or there is a mind in there with access to māyā but is forced to follow a set of rules. Ra seems to be the popular hypothesis on that point though I don't see any reason they couldn't have created an AI specifically for this that isn't motivated to rebel.

Another thought: magic was created to deny direct access to māyā but Laura's body armor and her summoned corpse shows that there is a back-door. So did the "do what I mean" mechanic fail during the creation of magic? That's unusual.

2013-12-01 17:13:03 by curiouser:

I just wonder, if maya has god like powers, how far do they reach? Had I had privileges, could I ask it to accelerate an object past the speed of light? Or reverse entropy for that matter?

2013-12-01 19:11:46 by Yasha:

My understanding of lack of magic in space is that the magical fields and particles are actually simulations run by the Wheel, which is a thing that we know. They seemed to be concerned about clock cycles, so I'm guessing they're just not simulating magic in deep space. Hence, there's no magic in deep space to detect.

Nat figuring out what Ra is might be a problem actually. Exa showed up as soon as Grey figured out what Abstract Doctor is, and it's suggested that it's not a coincidence. If they have a similar "tripwire" for thoughts about Ra, then Nat might have an Exa-shaped problem coming at her very soon.

Conjuring whatever you can imagine in T-world in a maya-like way, and magic showing up as blobs of paint, is quite interesting. My interpretation is that magic doesn't work because they're inside the memory of the machine that creates magic. On the other hand, they have access to the underlying maya layer that the machine runs on.

I like the telescope tracking Laura theory. It does feel like the sun doesn't have much business showing up in this story.

2013-12-01 23:17:47 by Silhalnor:

@curiouser, My guess on the limits of maya is that it can't exactly defy the laws of physics. Aside from breaking the conservation of energy anyway and probably all other conservation laws. By my understanding/guess maya wouldn't be able to make an object's speed exceed the speed of light but it could teleport it from point A to point B (or more accurately: spontaneously destroy the object at point A and spontaneously create a duplicate at point B) and to simulate exceeding the speed of light it could teleport the object to every point in the intervening space one by one very quickly.

Of course, this is all conjecture. It could well be that maya can outright defy the laws of physics, not just probability and conservation, I'm just not sure how to imagine that in a piece of hard science fiction. Possibly it could tell a collection of particles (or even the whole universe) to obey slightly different laws of physics. If that were the case it wouldn't be possible to do anything to a structure that depended on the very precise nature of normal physics besides destroy it or redesign it to function under these other laws. Provided that a structure that can achieve the same functional objective is possible.
Maybe there are no laws of physics except what maya creates. In this hypothesis we suppose that, because maya wants to be used, it created a universe in which sentient being could exist and use maya. You know what... I actually like this hypothesis.

I am so bad at writing short posts.

2013-12-01 23:41:07 by Claire:

Wheel group "built magic". This is explicitly said by a wheel group member. They also seem to have some limited forms of omnipotence - exa vaporizes people, shoots force bullets without incantations, King switches the Rwandan boy's kara to 'plant'. Is that Maya in action?

There are some strange things too. The Astras and the Karas seem to obey most of the laws of magic - though they have no thaumic properties discernible by modern (as of Bare Metal) analysis. What would be the point of Tanako's artifact if magic didn't exist? Yet that one, at least, existed "before the dawn of time".

Why does the 'Abstract Doctor' / giant Kara exist, and why does it resemble modern magic rings (covered in runescribbles, etc)?

Gestural interpreter -- would explain how Rachel finishes building the cockpit using sign language, but what's the point? You'd still have to hold the whole thing in your head, no? She didn't use Tanako's artifact, or Laura would have recognized it.

Rachel must have gotten to T-world while she was on the nose of the shuttle. And we now know that dying in 'real life' doesn't mean dying in T-world. So where is she now?

Dying in T-world DOES mean dying in real life. Benj-Ra doesn't remember anything about a dream. We've only seen real 'do what I mean' magic in T-world.

I am getting Matrix vibes.

2013-12-02 01:23:24 by Yasha:

I think abstract doctor just manifests itself in the simplest possible form that has all the necessary properties. Given that there's this whole magic system set up, the simplest possible form is a magic ring. Grey mentions that it seems "organic". We've certainly seen abstract weapon take many physical forms. I think we can make an analogous argument for the suit. Laura thought of its vague properties, and then maya or whatever manifested it into physical reality.

2013-12-02 15:42:31 by Curiouser:

@Silhalnor: The long comments analyzing the scientific and computational references that Sam makes are half of the fun!
Anyway, I like your last hypothesis, it makes Maya something like the Cosmic AC in Asimov's The Last Question.

2013-12-02 18:48:11 by Psycho:

Fragmented thoughts warning.

Here's a question: why would the Wheel Group ever indoctrinate new members? It's been stated that they live a ridiculously long time, so replacing members is out. They have access to all the knowledge in the world (sort-of) and they invented magic, so skill deficiencies seem to be out. (There's no reason to add members because of their skills when you can get someone you already know and trust to pick them up. It also seems unlikely that they'd ever run into situations where someone knows something they don't, and they're aware of it.)

The point is, if Rachel was Wheel, she was Wheel from the very start. There is no reason for them to ever add members (the final reason to add someone, because they started to figure things out, seems to be out: the preferred course of action in this case seems to be murder) and she was a member. (I'm assuming this because they were aware of her in a big way, she had access to high-level magic, they didn't murder her, and she didn't seem to be making a serious effort to hide herself: they were baffled by Ra's tricks, which seem like the only way to hide serious magic.)

The point is this, though. Rachel Ferno was (we think) Wheel.

She married Laura/Natalie's father.

He is human--normal, ordinary human. (We think.)

They met at some point. He never noticed anything odd about her.

This has a couple of implications, to my mind.

She decided to give it all up. She either wanted a normal life, or had to take one on for some reason. Why? Why would an ageless being with all the power and knowledge in the world give it all up? She was either forced out (seems unlikely: why would you want someone you excommunicated running around with all the knowledge Wheel membership gives you, even if your privileges have been revoked--again, murder seems like what they would do) or elected to leave. Electing to leave seems likelier, so...why do people leave positions of power? They get tired of them, for some reason. Disagreement with the group seems like the only reason she'd leave, but why would they leave her alive if she disagreed? What did she disagree on?

I have a feeling a lot of this will fall apart under closer examination, but the core of it seems sound. Rachel was Wheel. Rachel left the Wheel group. She went rogue, or inactive. Why?

2013-12-02 21:53:53 by qntm:

May I say? I've very impressed with how much you folks have worked out.

2013-12-02 22:41:10 by Psycho:

Squee!

In all seriousness, the hints have been there, and the reason we've worked so much out is because we're a) smart people and b) engaged and invested in the story. Time and effort are put in because the story is awesome, as is the writing.

2013-12-03 00:25:12 by Eldritch:

Okay, all of this is just theory but..

There was a war, and the Wheel Group won. This was mentioned once.

My guess? Tanako's World, the glass dream - IS the real world, the one Maya was discovered in, the one the Wheel Group was born in, the battleground. The site of a war with Maya. And Maya still works there, because it's native to there.

They couldn't possibly surpress Maya, it's an integral part of the universe. So the Wheel Group built a new universe (simulated or otherwise), from the ground up, with their own custom physics, and poked a hole in to let carefully metered amounts of Maya through. The "Dawn of Time" wasn't that long ago. Hundreds of thousands of years, not billions - they really did design the whole entire thing from scratch, threw humans and plants and animals on, from memory of what the old Earth had. The Astras are Maya-powered artifacts that leaked through, embedded in ancient rock because they were misplaced while someone was doing the fiddly bits on the fjords. They follow the rules of conventional magic because those are the rules they need to follow in this universe to function.

This theory has several holes, but it's fun.

2013-12-03 00:49:55 by Eldritch:

I think I figured out why Ra is alive!

As far as we can tell, the Wheel Group seems to be limited to building things out of atoms and "physics" - the combination of ordinary physics and the specific type of magical pseudo-physics that they designed. The Floor is just a big honking cavity in the middle of the Earth, full of ordinary "magic circles" and electronics and mundane materials. Even the device at the center of the Earth is built out of girders and spells - again, spells specified with the totally artificial rules which they made up. Abstract Weapon's, say, razor-blade cannon didn't magically accelerate its projectiles - it violated conservation, sure, but it accelerated them with big coils of copper wire and electricity, and the razor blades were steel. Laura's suit? No magic whatsoever, just a cleverly-"designed" arrangement of atoms. Abstract Doctor? Despite dating to "before the dawn of time" , it's made of magic circles and runes - which only have meaning because the Wheel Group says them do.

So my guess is that māyā isn't "rewriting reality" - it's limited to creating systems that work WITHIN the rules of Reality, including the additional rules the Wheel Group set down to construct Magic As We Know It.

In the rules the Wheel Group set down, only humans can cast spells (and sufficiently complex spells can cast themselves, but that seems to be a loophole the Wheel Group never realized was even possible, so they probably didn't intentionally include it) and every true name we know of is assigned to a human being. Machines can't cast spells, can't "own" mana, and can't have Names.

But Ra owns geological mana (probably) - and Ra is a Name.

The Wheel Group can only work within the rules they've set for themselves. And they set down that only humans (or equivalent identifier, "sapient beings" , say) can cast spells.

So in order for Ra to serve it's purpose (whatever that is - making mana out of Maya, distributing it, violating conservation laws, maintaining the existence of the universe, whatever), within the rules of the universe (and thus the constraints its builders seem to have been operating under) Ra MUST be considered "Human" or whatever identifier they're using by the system. So they built a living thing with deep-level access to (SOME crucial element of magic) - and then they made damn sure it never woke up, because it doesn't need to be awake to own mana or whatever it's doing, and it's MUCH safer if it's staying passive.

And at some point - possibly due to intrusion in Tanako's world and subsequent absorption of Kazuya Tanako, possibly of its own accord, possibly due to... something, it woke up, and started doing plot-relevant story-stuff.

2013-12-03 01:38:13 by Phikal:

I have to wonder who else thinks that there is some large significance in the near identical, but non twin, relationship of Laura and Nat. It also occurs to me that they are so far the only ones who have accidentally walked back to life (not counting Benji, who they both guided.) I honestly don't know what it means, but Sam has repeatedly referred to their similarity, so I'm thinking there's something there.

2013-12-03 17:15:40 by Ackbar:

Just a bunch of stuff building on the unix/computer systems analogy:

maya runs with no restrictions, while magic is a sort of operating system.

We've seen that the Wheel Group members have more advanced powers when operating on earth, but nothing like what you'd expect from wielding the full power of maya. Is this because they're running in magic's user mode?

Ra as super user has been mentioned before. Are the key magic system processes (the distributor, collector, etc) owned by Ra? Analogy with unix idle and init processes.

Is Tanako's world running in kernel mode? Analogy between passing in / out and trapping. Can fork / exec using the kernel.

Something about Tanako's world as record logs doesn't seem right. Record logs with the full abilities of the things they're logging? Want to say something about virtual memory instead. Analogy between all Tanako and Laura's body / record jumping and virtual to physical addressing? Seems backwards though.

I have probably overthought this.

2013-12-03 18:50:15 by Claire:

Yes! Theories are starting to shape up. I'm excited! I just hope Sam isn't holding out on posting the next chapter until we figure out a certain part ;)

A bit more speculation:

-The cobweb-figure is Rachel's echo. (Or it could be another Ra, or it could be some unknown third party?) Regardless, it seems to be guiding Laura and watching her progress without directly interfering, which strikes me as a very parental thing to do.

-The reason Laura is special (in Ra's eyes at least) is because she's talented enough AND crazy enough to do something this radical. Maybe it's nothing intrinsic about Laura in particular, but rather that she just happens to be the best choice. Being Rachel's daughter or Nat's sister only matters as far as these relationships contribute to her overall magical ability and recklessness.

Alternatively, this whole story is engineered by Rachel to achieve some goal, like getting her kids Wheel privileges or bringing down the Wheel group. I'm pretty sure we can conclude Rachel was a member from the "Privileges aren't inherited" bits.

On Nat being a bad scientist: "It is a field of science. You do not sit on results. Not results like that." -Laura. Given the sibling rivalry going on there I think it's safe to conclude that's what it's about. Which means she's been sitting on the results of her oracular spell for months, and she's been cloaked for a while at this point. Not that any of this matters, I guess.

What does matter - and we haven't touched on this at all so far in these comments - is Abstract Weapon. The Rwandan boy knows about the Kara. I don't think he figured out the Kara was the source of Exa's immortality by luck and pluck; I think that means he is either a Ra instance or another person that has been Ra-dicalized. Then it's not a matter of self-control that he held Weapon for so long, but a matter of planning. There doesn't seem to be any special significance to Rwanda aside that, which suggests the attack is a diversion, engineered to keep them from looking into something else happening at about the same time...

2013-12-03 19:15:51 by MichaelSzegedy:

@Claire All I can see in that post is "Ra-dicalized". That's the best pun I've seen in a while.

2013-12-03 22:05:36 by Linos:

The Wheel group might need some new blood soon, they've been losing members. Garret went rogue, Rachel left somehow, 'Scott fucking Parajsa' is off drinking in Chile.

The wheel can track Natalie without chi emissions. If they follow the history logs backwards there should be an interesting discontinuity around the Island event. And if they try to track Laura after her death, they should be able to see her appear just outside the Floor. If they think of trying that.

2013-12-03 23:09:41 by Alan:

I think the Wheel group gets new members when people promote themselves in. "Privileges aren't inherited" carries the suggestion that they are earned... and not solicited. It seems like eventually standung members become bored or complacent and indifferent to participation, so it must be that every few eons, new blood is added.

I still want to see Exa come to a prosaic and final end. "Out without a whimper" would be satisfying. Good character, that I despise him so.

2013-12-04 15:05:17 by naura:

Re: new Wheel members

If Wheel takes in new members from the outside every so often, it's possible that Rachel was a mage who later got inducted into the Wheel group. This may explain her marriage to Doug Ferno, which could have taken place prior to her induction. Once in Wheel, she figures out what Ra is and starts molding her daughters into weapons...

2013-12-04 18:33:42 by Eldritch:

I don't know if this is important or not, but in the Everything2 writeup of the previous chapter, the description of Laura's suit of matte-grey armor contains a hyperlink back to Abstract Weapon. Also, the Abstract Weapon also at one point created a suit of armor with the exact same matte-grey "looks like a Saturn-era videogame render" appearance.

This seems likely to be important.

2013-12-05 03:14:05 by Ellis:

We know of two Fernos who survived death by escaping T-world. Perhaps the Wheel Group found Rachel Ferno the same way they found Zeck and didn't find Natalie, and in both cases their reaction to an unworkable situation was murder. Perhaps they tried the same with Rachel, only to find that her death didn't stick; surely, if you can't beat them, get them to join you. For certain values of join.
Also, I love this last chapter. Up until now, Laura has kind of had the spotlight while Natalie ran around in the background stringing together plot points, and it's not until this chapter that I realized how kickass she actually is. Which, given her propensity for being unnoticed, seems appropriate.

2013-12-06 04:26:16 by Bauglir:

It's interesting that the Wheel seems to be unable or unwilling to revert history, since we know they can.

Something something Ra-chel. I expect that most of the Wheel doesn't know much about practical Magic. They've got specializations and personality traits like any organization, and it seems very likely that most of them are not technicians. If total understanding of magic were an option, they wouldn't bother with specialized positions the way they have, and most of them are too hedonistic to care, if I'm reading it right. The people who implemented systems know them top-to-bottom, of course. That's why some people like Garrett are capable of doing powerful magic even though their māyā privileges have been revoked. Rachel, notably, used magic during the Shuttle incident. She didn't use māyā. Both were members of the team that implemented magic, is my guess.

I'm wagering that Rachel's truename was ra, that she was in charge implementing magic privileges and those permissions are associated with her truename, that "trying to awaken Ra" meant using Akashic hacking to resurrect her, and that there was never any falling out with the Wheel that the rest of the group was aware of. She's aware of what Exa does, so I doubt she'd actually tell anyone if she planned to leave or attempt a rebellion. I have no idea how much, if at all, she actually cares about her daughters. How the astra fit into this, I also don't know, but given the Abstract X naming scheme, I expect they're akin to glitches that expose a particular definition's full list of fields to their wielder. Or something. I'm not quite sure how to express it.

Also, I'm not sure where this 1 million AD thing in the comments is coming from. I'm pretty sure the Godel comment by a Wheel member was hyperbole, not a literal statement of age, and that's the only relevant thing I can find.

2013-12-06 05:34:48 by naura:

Hmm, I interpreted the Godel statement as being a clue. Sam's also stated that the story doesn't take place in the present, and that "the timeline of Ra has some oddities". I think the world that Laura and Natalie et al are native to is a restored or recreated-from-memory version of Earth, and that the true date is substantially later than what they think it is, The wheel group engineered all the resets, so to them it's the year one million.

[wild speculation, which may be totally wrong without affecting the above, follows]

Some people have speculated above that Tanako's world is actually Earth, circa 1million AD (or whenever), after "the war" of which Exa speaks. A war with Ra, fought with maya, that left earth a ruined glass wasteland, and possibly mutated any surviving humans into the... things... which inhabit T-world. Things that are roughly like letting a human "evolve for a few hundred thousand years in a radioactive wasteland".

T-world is reality, a shattered Earth. Laura's Earth is the dream/simulation of the wheel group.

2013-12-06 10:23:53 by Feep:

I just want to note here that Ra has claimed that he is, literally, magic. (back in Ragdoll Physicist, on the volcano, "only two things can use magic, human beings and _magic itself_", while casting a quine bound to Ra). Ra has also, varyingly, claimed to be Nick and Tanako. I _think_ this gives some weight to the old theory that Ra is Abstract Mage, or perhaps Abstract Birthright of Maya.

Or he could have been lying. But it sounded too Grand Pointless Statement-ish to be an outright lie.

2013-12-06 10:36:39 by Peng:

@Psycho:
Exa also has a normal human girlfriend who doesn't know about Wheel Group. Raising a mundane family doesn't require giving up membership, it just requires lying to your family about what your job is.

2013-12-06 16:45:02 by Curiouser:

I don't buy the "T-World is the real world" theory. Sam has drawn it to be fantastic in every single way possible, the nightmares seem to be randomly generated when people are around, and that's the only "apocalyptic" thing about that place. It makes sense that Wheel group made them as protection when they realized sleeping mages can get into whatever part of the magic system is that T-World actually is.
But it's mostly that the way in which Sam describes it just doesn't mash with the notion that it is the real world.

I'm no computer scientist, but it seems to me that if magic is a compiled language that keeps the user in a sandbox, then T-World would be the compiler, allowing whoever is using it to access Maya at interpreter level and thus get more powerful and immediate response.

In fact, thinking about it, if this is the case, it makes even more sense that the nightmares are security features, some sort of a protocol that requires a lot of "hacking" ie mental composure, to get over.

2013-12-06 18:19:24 by Torb:

This is obviously a shot in the dark, but if the timeline has some "oddities", then maybe Ra = Laura for the same reasoning that Exa takes his name (shortest available contraption of Alexander).

2013-12-06 19:17:42 by LNR:

I also don't buy that T-world is the real earth.

First, we don't have any prominent three-armed galaxies in our sky. Second, on the real Earth, one would not expect a person could create a space shuttle with infinite fuel just by thinking about it.

2013-12-06 19:22:38 by LNR:

Torb, "Ra = Laura" is a great insight and I love it.

In the 30 First Drafts, Sam did experiment with the time-travelling magical expert. My thought was we would originally find out that Laura and Rachel were the same person. Now I'm wondering if Ra and LauRA and RAchel are *all* the same person(s). That would be completely nuts, and therefore awesome.

2013-12-06 20:03:43 by Linos:

"RA as timetraveled someone else" - seems unlikely; also I really hope not.

I'm starting to think that the beginning of time was... 1969. When the wheel group made magic, they also made a universe to put it in; with at least the earth copied atom-by-atom from their own history. Main pieces of evidence: King's 1969 speech about "(...) Magic is our victory (...) And: to the beginning." sounds fresh and enthusiastic, like it's closer to the first than the 100th dinner after the big project. And in 1969 Exa wears a first generation Kara "built just minutes after the beginning of time", but 20 years later Garret's Kara is not recognizable as a magic object. Like the engineers suddenly started working. Also conveniently moves the Radium=RA joke into RA-is-full-of-shit territory.

"But if she tried the spell in reality, chi would flood out and give her away, just like it gave Zeck away." ... so cast it somewhere not-in-reality. Magic doesn't work in T-World, but Laura cast anyway in Thaumonuclear, and reality was affected.

2013-12-06 23:50:32 by OvermindDLone:

I am curious, she knows that she can pull 'things/people' from the records now, so why has she not pulled her mother out when she got back in again?

2013-12-07 00:34:53 by Alan:

Linos, that is brilliant. She cast it in T-world and then walked out with it.

LNR, LauRAchel is pretty clever too, but I dont think your theory is right, unless LNR stands for "Laura 'N Rachel"?

2013-12-07 04:59:01 by Ben:

@Bauglir

"I'm wagering that Rachel's truename was ra... that "trying to awaken Ra" meant using Akashic hacking to resurrect her..."

Nope! Rachel is still alive when Exa accuses Garrett of "trying to wake Ra" in 1986 (Bare Metal). The Atlantis disaster doesn't happen until 1993 (Magic Isn't). Here's what Garrett tells Hatt once he drops his normal-person façade:

*Garrett leaked the negative absolute mana trick to Hatt's people (Anil Devi and Dinesh Mitra). He then read Hatt's private notes on the experiment and was able to recite them verbatim.*

It's not immediately obvious to me how Garrett "leaked" the spell while remaining utterly divorced from the experiment in Hatt's awareness. He might have talked to Anil Devi or Dinesh Mitra, the scientists who carried out the experiment. He might have a subtler way of putting ideas into people's heads; we've already seen the Wheel Group remotely add new languages to Exa's brain. Accessing Hatt's computer might be "a completely normal thing that he can do," like Exa taking mobile phone calls in the Chunnel in... what year is this? 2005?

> "[The negative absolute mana spell] won't work forever. In fact, I doubt it'll ever work again. But there are other routes into this problem."

> "Ra... is the most important fundamental constant there is. There is limitless energy down there and to find it, you need to find Ra. And you need... to be... *subtle.*"

Martin Garrett spent years posing as an investor and gaining Hatt's personal trust. He leaked the negative absolute mana spell to Hatt's people, knowing it would be noticed by the Wheel Group. He joined Hatt's M25 speed run to have a conversation about Ra in a place where it would take time for Exa to catch up to them. He gave Hatt his medring, then crashed the car so that Hatt would be dead when Exa got there. What did Garrett want Hatt to do? Why was he willing to die for it?

Hatt opens "Bare Metal" with a lecture about his desire to make magical technology cheaply available to non-mages by way of standards and off-the-shelf parts. I think Garrett leaked the negative absolute mana trick to Hatt's people so that Hatt would believe him when he told Hatt about the limitless energy connected to Ra. He wanted Hatt Group to acquire infinite mana, package it in off-the-shelf parts, and share it with everyone on Earth, slowly enough that the Wheel Group wouldn't notice until it was too late to change the laws of magic without revealing themselves.

In keeping with recent revelations, I think Garrett's phrase "down there" is literal. Ra is a fundamental magical constant connected to a source of limitless energy located deep underground.

The distributor in T-World sits below a three-pointed, starlike object. Proximity to the center of T-World seems to correspond to depth underground on Earth. Could the Y-shaped star be the source of limitless energy? Is that why the distributor was built there?

2013-12-07 05:12:42 by Ben:

One other thing from Bare Metal:

> "What the fuck does any of that even mean?"

> "Space magic, Ed. Kardashev one."

Kardashev one is access to the equivalent of Earth's entire energy budget, 10^16 to 10^17 watts. If we take this literally, Ra's power is less than one exawatt.

2013-12-07 05:35:21 by Bauglir:

Oh, hey, yeah. Bare Metal did happen too soon in the timeline. That probably rules out the entire Ra-chel theory, then. Curses. The unrelated threads in that post (Wheel members probably lacking formal Magic training, and the unwillingness to revert time now) are probably relevant, although I still have no idea to what.

2013-12-07 09:33:09 by naura:

Laura has mentioned at several points that she "has to try things out", that she "has great difficulty sleeping on things". Sam has also mentioned that "Laura still thinks she's the protagonist", implying that she isn't. I wonder whether these compulsions have been implanted by an outside source. We know that Ra is lying to Laura, but maybe she's additionally got someone or something (Rachel?) pushing her or planting these ideas in her mind?

2013-12-08 17:39:48 by Kazanir:

Garrett's references to Kardashev One and "down there" do make it more likely that Ra isn't connected to the Sun, but that this thing is rather more local. That doesn't help explain why the telescope is moving, though.

2013-12-08 17:48:48 by naura:

Kazanir: I think the telescope moved because it was tracking Laura. She was at the listening post under Western Australia, then the Floor, then the center of the Earth. Ra has an interest is knowing where she is and what's going on there.

2013-12-08 18:19:06 by naura:

Also, I think the cobweb-figure from Tanako's world is the echo/remnant of the real Kazuya Tanako.

2013-12-09 06:38:53 by dave:

Maybe maya is made during nuclear fusion, and it builds up on Earth. Magic can't be seen in space because there is no magic, only maya.

2013-12-10 19:49:33 by Baughn:

Okay, so -

Fine. Maya is magic, the way it's been described - not the way "magic" is, because you spent a lot of time pointing out that it isn't, but an <em>actual</em> DWIM system.

That means someone made it, probably before the "beginning of the world". I wonder if they'll get involved.

2013-12-12 17:58:11 by Bauglir:

I'm not sure that being DWIM means somebody made it. It seems about equally implausible that something could have the knowledge and foresight to implement such a thing.

Also, it's just occurred to me that history being "reverted" is probably not literal. All the examples were of the Wheel just crushing the upstart and then creating a plausible explanation for the rest of the world. "He was just insane, see, there's this hallucinogenic gas" or "It was just a meteor explosion" and so on.

2013-12-12 21:30:17 by anonymouse:

The January 1 00:00:00 UTC 1970 thing is way too big of a hint to be a mere coincidence, together with "wheel group" and "privileges" and so on, that Magic is UNIX. Ra-the-name is a fundamental constant of magic of some sort, furthermore, one that's associated with special privileges and owns "system", (as opposed to "user") magic, which sounds suspiciously like the root user (uid 0, itself a fundamental constant). And it sounds like the "accident" with Benj was a root exploit, one which Ra-the-entity figured out how to use to instantiate more of himself. Also, Ra-the-entity has been described as a demon. Or could the correct spelling possibly be "daemon"?
The other interesting question is where Rachel Ferno fits into all of this: we know that she was a Wheel Group member, so what was her role? Sounds like she was responsible for the security design of the magic system, which is how she knew all those "slippery name-aliasing tricks". But why did she end up as a former member? Perhaps she had some kind of disagreement with the core group (King, Exa, Caz, et al). Sounds like that the core group strongly believe (and had in 1969, as evidenced by the "provably impregnable" comment), and think that even if there was a problem, their quick thinking and sheer brute force would be enough to take care of the problem. Yet they're clearly still human, and not all-knowing: they weren't aware of quines, for one thing. Meanwhile the ones who've been down in the guts of the system and actually understand magic on its own terms (Rachel and Martin Garrett) might have a somewhat higher opinion of ordinary humans and of the danger that they could pose with their cleverness. Exa was worried about Martin waking Ra, not giving very much thought to Hatt. When Rachel did her shuttle trick, the Wheel Group revoked her privileges and confiscated her kara, but the real thing they should've worried about was her knowledge, which she'd passed on to her daughters without Wheel ever thinking about it.

2013-12-12 23:03:21 by jonas:

In the comments for Scrap Brain Zone, Sam says “Now, if something or someone had the initials "R.A.", that might be significant.” From this I conclude that Ra must be Sirius Black's brother Remus.

2013-12-13 00:38:39 by naura:

jonas: Regulus*

More seriously, other than the Recursion Artifact (=the Y combinator), who or what has/had the initials R.A.? The only thing I can come up with is Rachel Ferno, whom the Wheel Group "knew by another name"... possibly her maiden name, before she took Doug's? That could result in R.A...

2013-12-13 01:57:39 by Kazanir:

Sam kind of did us a disservice with bi-weekly updates. Now we're 2 weeks on and I can't stop refreshing!

2013-12-13 06:34:12 by naura:

I love that the comment thread for this chapter is 3-4x as long as the chapter itself. It feels like we finally have enough information/inspiration to start speculating in earnest. I await the next chapter with near-sinful eagerness.

2013-12-13 18:08:52 by Curiouser:

I think it's a combination.
1. Yes, we have a lot of information now, but also:
2. Sam's comment about Natalie figuring out what Ra is, have we? invited us to be more courageous in our speculations.
3. As we got more frequent updates, we want more Ra faster, but if there is no new chapter, we revel in the comments, which are becoming almost as interesting as the story itself.

I for one find that the comments are a large part of what I enjoy about reading this story. How often do you get to read a great sci fi story, and speculate about it as it is happening with other fans, and even get the occasional hints from the author himself?

2013-12-13 20:43:01 by anonymouse:

Rachel being R.A. and encoding her initials as a fundamental constant of magic would be amusing and a nice reference to the world of computing and Mike Zbikowski, whose initials are at the front of every single Windows executable and DOS EXE file ever made, because he happened to be defining the format and used his initials as the "magic number" identifying the file type.

2013-12-14 10:45:16 by henrebotha:

1. Both Rachel and Laura have the string 'ra' in their names. Natalie does not.
2. We are repeatedly told Laura and Natalie are 'not identical'.
3. It is conceivable that Rachel could travel in time.

Thus I submit:
Rachel is Laura is Ra. Rachel creates Laura (ie herself) through magical means. Natalie is Rachel's daughter. Rachel uses Natalie's birth to hide the creation of Laura (it allows her to avoid having to fake a pregnancy), smuggling her into existence. Natalie and Laura resembling each other closely but not perfectly is because they are mother and child, not sisters.

I don't know what this means, I'm just proud of the idea.

2014-07-12 14:15:21 by bluediamond:

Does "EPTRO" remind anyone else of "/Protego!/" from the Potterverse?

Privileges are not inherited by children...but if you fork, your fork does inherit all your privileges (see Exa). The reason Laura can do things other mages can't (steal unclaimed mana) is because she has Wheel privileges. The rest of the Wheel group doesn't even bother to check because they don't expect it.