Previously

The Wheel Group sits on limitless power and hates using it. Fudged magical teleportation - biological deconstruction/reconstruction followed by transfer-of-control - is a completely real ability that they possess, but the world is real and can be traversed physically, so why tax the system? Why risk discovery? They could blip all over the world in thousand-kilometre steps, but they don't.

The Floor is real, and can be reached simply by walking if you start on the appropriate continent and know which secret paths to follow. But this is time-consuming. Case in point - the Floor's "helm" is far enough from any of its walls that crossing the patterned floor to get there is a fifteen-minute walk. Hence the subway layer.

Paolo Casaccia arrives at the miniature rail terminal in a comfortably spacious, pleasantly noiseless single-occupant pod. After he steps out, the vehicle closes its door and retreats into storage for future reference, alongside two identical siblings.

The station is low-ceilinged, and a shallow flight of steps leads through a slot in the ceiling to Floor level. Monitor duty is tedious, and a featureless plain the size of Gibraltar is no kind of home, so there are other amenities attached to this small nexus: toilets, living quarters, kitchen facilities, a water cooler. The rules are complex and ill-enforced, but manufacturing food from thin air is another thing Wheel members aren't supposed to make a habit of.

Casaccia is a dark-haired, immaculately suited thirty-year-old, and has been for some thirty years. He jogs up the steps into bright sunshine. It is a glorious day on the Floor. The focal point for the monumental skybox screen is set to somewhere off the Malaysian coast, and the displays reproduce the sunlight accurately enough to tan. It is also a quiet day, with only Adam King at the world's controls and not a lot of business. No fires, no firefighting. It's a day when King might be amenable to interruption.

King puts his book down. Casaccia steps across the invisible boundary of the D-class magic circle, thereby officially joining the operational team.

"This isn't an emergency," he explains.

"Clearly. High energy edge cases?" King suggests hopefully, but he knows Casaccia's areas of expertise and this isn't a serious hope. This is going to be about security.

Casaccia waves a hand. The Malaysian horizon blots itself out, replaced with skyscraper-tall twenty-four-hour news feeds, and multi-spectrum aerial scans of a particular house in a particular English city. The fixed headline, bold white on red, is: "MAGIC BOMBING".

It's a world first, but not entirely an unanticipated one. In fact, it's an emerging phenomenon which the Wheel Group has been awaiting patiently for some years. It marks an impressive milestone in the advancement of magical technology. Not that champagne would be appropriate, exactly.

King sighs deeply and cracks a knuckle. "Technology makes everything easier," he observes phlegmatically. "It turns out that 'everything' includes bad things. Film at eleven."

"Film indeed," Casaccia says. "The bombing itself was almost twelve hours ago. The leaked facts about the bomb's construction are much more recent. That was when I caught it, on the news. You're about to say that we should have been alerted within milliseconds of the detonation. And you'd be right. Watch this."

He gestures at the half of the display which is showing Wheel-internal data, and singles out a particular false-colour overhead picture. There are green pinpricks of police milling about the blast crater from the ruined home. This is one of the chi feeds, piped in directly from the listening post. The feed is almost totally dark, because no magic is being spent. The crime scene is just a furred black and blue shadow.

Casaccia throws up a timestamp and rolls the scene back by half a day, to the point where the green points scatter. "We only have a little data about what the house's interior looked like," he explains. "And it's been destroyed now, so this is the best floor plan going. Here's how it happens. This man, inside the house, is there from the start. These two other people arrive separately and go in - I think they're looking for him, or someone else. I don't know who any of them are, yet. The first man goes into this room here, hiding. The other two hang around in the main room, then go into this second room. The first man comes out, goes to the living room, pauses for a second, then makes for the door. The other two come back. Something confusing happens with all three of them, and then this is the detonation point. After which, all three dots are gone."

"What does it look like with the full chi readout?" King asks. It's the first magic bomb ever detonated. The data will be fantastically significant. This is particularly true if the Wheel's magic-powering gigaspells are going to have to support a great deal of thaumic warfare in the foreseeable future.

Casaccia does not answer the question. He steps away from the screen and folds his arms, as if waiting for King to do something.

King looks at him, puzzled. Then he waves a hand, dismissing Casaccia's feed and summoning a query of his own. After a moment, he frowns. He brings Casaccia's feed back so that he can compare them, side by side.

They are identical. They are, in fact, the same feed. The chi feed simply shows no chi. No magical usage.

"It was magic," Casaccia says. "I've got heavyweight observation on that site now, full-spectrum, thaumic and everything else. There's a whole bunch of secondary evidence, including fragments of the lotus-leaf assembly. It was a good magic bomb. A great first attempt. It's just that the explosion didn't register on the listening post. Because the bomber... the first man, this man... is masked out. He uses magic, and he seems to be still constrained within its laws. But there's no chi emission. He used magic. But the akashic records are blank."

Casaccia turns to King. "I can see from your expression that you understand how big a problem this is."

King closes his eyes, and gears up. "Alright. How'd he do it?"

"I don't know how," Casaccia says. "I'm assuming he used a spell of some kind, but I can find no record of that man ever using magic. Not from the day he was born to the day he died."

"No," King says. "No. I remember this. We did a study. We tried to build an akashic scrambler ourselves, to see if it was possible. We couldn't do it."

"We could do it," Casaccia asserts. "We did do it. But none of us could do it without releasing chi in the initial cast. It's that initial cast which we look out for. After the study, Kila Arkov built a parameter-trap for it." A gesture summons a visual representation of the same. "We ran it against all of history and found nothing. It's been running continuously since that day, and has found nothing."

"So this man had technology that was a few generations ahead of the curve," King says.

"No," says Casaccia. "This man did something that we can't do at all, and we built magic. That's not a few generations. That's... twenty, I don't know. It was supposed to be impossible. We watch over everybody's shoulder. That's what the records are supposed to do. That's what they're for. Our surveillance system isn't failing. It is a failure.

"We have no way of discovering how long this man was off the grid. Or what else he did while he was off the grid. Or who else is still off the grid right now, or what they're doing."

"Do you have any good news?" King asks dryly.

"I can set some lower bounds on how fucked we are." Casaccia brings up a new map and launches into part two. "Hours after the bombing, the police raided this location, a private magic research institute in western England. Plotting the historical movements of our bomber, we see he's been there, ooh, a thousand times. Whatever his name was, he worked there."

"But he's never used magic," King says. "I mean-- he's never been recorded using magic."

"Nobody at the Chedbury Bridge Institute has ever been recorded using magic," Casaccia says. "Here's the relevant feed. You can go back twenty years, to before it existed. It's a blind spot."

King does exactly this.

"...Could be that they're theoreticians," he says, but it's clear he doesn't believe it.

"Or maybe," Casaccia says, "every single magic-capable individual at the site is cloaked. There are sixty full-time employees. I'd estimate forty to fifty would be magical engineers."

"We've got no idea what those fifty people are doing?"

"It's worse than 'no idea', Adam. We know for a fact that what they're doing is conducting violence. One of their people blew a home up. You know what I'm saying? This is a base. And this is just the one that we know of. One thing which I can say for certain is that that wasn't the first magic bomb ever detonated. It couldn't be. Nobody can enact an explosion that clean without dozens of failed attempts and months of practice. Or weeks of training.

"The only way we could get wind of something like this is if we saw someone cast a spell with our own eyes, but the spell didn't show up in the records. We got extremely lucky, or they got extremely careless. Either way, there's no chance that this is the opening shot.

"Do you want the final piece of this nightmare?"

"I think I've worked it out already," says King, who is staring at the news feeds on the horizon. There is new information there.

"After the raid, the police found two freshly-murdered bodies on the Institute site. A man and a woman. The home that blew up? It belonged to them. The man was named Nicholas Laughon. He may be significant. I don't know yet. I'm working on it. The woman is his girlfriend. Laura Ferno."

"I know that name," King says.

"Yes. You do. She's the daughter of Rachel Ferno."

"Rachel..."

"Whom we knew by a different name."

King inhales sharply, as if stung. "...What does that mean? Laura Ferno isn't one of ours. Rachel's dead. The privileges aren't inherited. What would they want with her? Is it an attack on us? Is it a message?"

"Of course it's a message," says Casaccia. "The message is that we need more information."

King says, "We need someone on the ground in the UK as soon as possible. And by 'someone', I mean Exa, obviously."

"I got him moving as soon as the news broke," Casaccia says. "He'll be on the site in seven-and-a-half hours." King frowns at this, but Casaccia repeats: "It's not an emergency. Yet. You'll be the first to know when my position on that changes. Let's say we're a decade behind. Let's not jeopardise our investigation by jumping all the way from peacetime to DEFCON 2. Let's take the extra seven-and-a-half hours to assemble some data."

"Okay. Where does Exa go first?" King asks. "Chedbury Bridge?"

Casaccia cackles unhappily. "Oh, you don't want to know the size of the law enforcement machine which is on this. Everybody who was on the Institute site at the time of the raid has been arrested, and everybody who wasn't has been rounded up for questioning. We can listen in on the questions, within reason, but we know nobody's going to ask the questions we really care about. Getting Exa physically into the investigation so he can start taking meaningful data might be dicey without breaking the rules. I advise caution, if only because of how magically-charged the situation already is.

"No, our best option is the key witness to the bombing. Rachel's other daughter, Laura's twin sister. Natalie Ferno."

King paces a little. He clearly isn't happy with moving this slowly. "Why are you so calm? Why don't you want all hands on deck? I do."

"Too many cooks," Casaccia says. "I'm calling the people who do matter. They'll be here. As for the rest: off the record, we've gone soft, Adam. The number of us who'd even respond to an all-hands call is shrinking, and half of those who would show up would be good for nothing when they did."

"And you're sure this isn't a deliberate attack?"

Casaccia shakes his head. "Everything is an attack. Everything is deliberate. Everybody is against us. I am Paolo Casaccia: I am security. This is the mode I work in. I will notify you as soon as it becomes appropriate for you to do the same.

"Look: we're starting from a position of weakness. That's unusual and scary. But our systems are still inviolate, I've checked. And we hold every other card."

*

At the mention of her sister, Laura knows it's time to start moving again, and at "every other card", she's softly descending the steps to the subway layer, fighting the urge to laugh out loud. Although she cannot be seen with baseline eyes, she can certainly be heard.

When this began, she had an optimistic lead time of months. Lurking behind Adam King's shoulder, she's seen that head start contract to at most a day. It would be entirely possible to stick around and watch the Wheel organisation track her down in real time, and it might even be fun to watch their expressions when they turn around and dispel her cloak of invisibility and - most likely - straight-up kill her. But she has places to be.

The fact that she's dead is news to Laura. No ripcord, she thinks. Kazuya said this is what would happen in the event of a raid. There's only one of me, now. One of me and zero of Nick.

There are three pods stored at the rail terminal. Laura's unfolds with a clean metallic whisper, perfectly machined. Even Laura can barely hear it. She climbs in, instructs it to continue to descend, and leaves the Floor.

*

Inventory:

A suit of armour. A memorised route of descent. And a one-gram speck of gold retrieved from her boyfriend's corpse's suit pocket.

Laura barely needs equipment anymore. Working with the golden artifact is like flying. For her whole magical life she was trapped under the weight of everything that needed to be held in her head. Invisibility is a hugely difficult single spell, but it breaks down trivially into a slideshow of tiny ideas. All you need to do is cast each one correctly. Then you can forget about it and work on the next.

You can forget about it! And it keeps working, just the way you first imagined it! You handle the complexity once, and magic itself handles the complexity forever. It's a maddening whisper of what māyā is really like.

The tiny railpod changes direction like a gnat, automatically swinging the bucket seat around to protect Laura from being thrown out at the curves. The acceleration is punishing, but her armour and the seatbelts soften the effects. In the darkness it's close to impossible to tell the general heading, but with that sixth magical sense Laura can feel the colossal, dull shapes of the listening machines moving past. Tracks branch and merge.

Within a few seconds Laura's pod has been piped all the way to the listening post's backbone. The seat flicks her completely upside-down for a moment, so that the pod can perform a steep negative-gee turn. Then she's accelerating directly into the Earth's core so hard that she's pinned against the pod's ceiling, facing straight down the fifteen-kilometre-long vertical shaft.

At the very bottom of the pit, Laura persuades herself that she can see a red-hot pinpoint.

You're going to die, says that creeping black doubt in Laura's mind. They've met before, under far more intense circumstances. But this is a longer and deeper death. Those men are murderers. You were watching them as they set out to kill you. It's just a matter of how fast they catch on. This hunt could end seconds from now. The more competently you behave, the greater the threat you represent to them, and the faster they'll end you. And if they're slow, you'll go mad waiting. And if they never catch you, you'll surely get lost and die yourself.

"I know you," Laura tells it.

The other Watson was new. Inexperienced. You got as lucky as lucky ever gets. Next time, you won't even hear his tread.

"Lifelines branch," Laura says. "I'm not scared of you anymore. I have insurance."

You really believe that?

*

There's flickover and then there's a longer period of braking. The pod levels off, travelling through the final few layers of superstructure at a relatively sedate rate. Laura can almost see the walls passing.

The pod brakes to a seamless halt at the deepest terminal in the listening post's internal network, thirty-one thousand, five hundred metres below ground level. At this depth, the listening post is starting to fray into individual tendrils, protruding from the Indo-Australian Plate's lower reaches through the Mohorovičić discontinuity and into planet Earth's upper mantle. This is the geothermal zone. The number of "real" people who've visited this depth in person is zero. Laura wonders if she gets to coin the term. "Mohonaut"?

The arrival hall is approximately ovoidal, a vast iron stomach lined with thick girderwork. A walkway crosses the floor to the far end. There is still no light, except for the weak blue illumination from the pod's interior. The texture of the darkness here is the same as in the rest of the listening post's semi-habitable spaces. So is the hostility of the atmosphere. Laura persuades herself that she can feel the teratonnes of extra pressure. Surely, no conventional human material can hold a habitable space open at this depth. It can't just be thick iron and thick girders. This has to be an active structure, geothermally powered, magically supported.

During her journey, Laura has been exploring her suit's characteristics. She built it in a second, on a whim, in a dream-- "I want one of what Kaz is wearing". And here it is, a miraculous reality. It is light enough to forget about, comfortable enough to sleep in, and almost robust enough to do so while standing up. The gauntlets transmit tactile sensations to her fingers. The boots massage her feet to maintain circulation. The helmet can turn completely transparent - it does this by retracting all of its thermal management foam and extra gadgetry into a compressed ring around her neck. Why? Because of a silly thing Kazuya needed once, in a dream. As far as Laura can tell, the suit is an entirely physical object, making no use of magic whatsoever. Wearing it confers a sensation of incredible safety. The only possible criticism is its tedious, almost lazy appearance-- large, flat, uniformly matte grey plates.

But she's thirty klicks below ground, now. And no spooky suit can possibly protect her from an implosion at this depth.

The railpod folds itself behind a thick, seamless steel bulkhead. The arrival hall plunges into darkness, which Laura dispels, this time using the suit's brilliant floods. If she had to guess, she'd say the batteries were plated across her back somehow, but she honestly doesn't know.

The walk across the arrival hall is only a few minutes. The hall's strange bumpy girders cast moving shadows which keep catching Laura's attention. When she looks, there's never anything there. She reminds herself that the place is sterile.

At the far end of the hall is an installation where, apparently, some kind of particle accelerator is partially exposed. A thick pipe, five or six metres in diameter, enters the hall from one side, curves gently through it at a slight rising angle, and leaves from the other. The visible curvature sets limits on the full ring's diameter. It is less than two kilometres wide.

Laura has never seen magical runic patterns drawn on such a large scale. Within the individual flowing channels, she can see nested patterns, carved into the base and even the wall of the first level of carvings. The complexity is bewildering at first, but a trained eye can quickly pick out the frequent repeated patterns.

This is a magic ring. More technically, it's sixty-two magic rings, interlocked and cooperating, all bound with conventional hoops of blue-painted tungsten. From the left and the right, Laura hears the dull roar of hardcore climate control engineering, driven by more magic. Precise shaping is critically important to magical efficiency, and temperature variations would cause structural shifts.

The pioneers at Montauk would recognise its purpose with just a glance, but figuring the thing's maximum capacity would leave them standing. This is the bilge battery at the base of the world.

All living humans generate waste mana, active mages and baselines alike. The quantity is insignificant to a magical machine of this size. Humanity has a few orders of magnitude to climb before it reaches Kardashev I.

But: from five known sites on Earth (a figure set to increase to seven or eight once surveys are completed), geothermal mana is naturally occurring. The mana is generated, coils into the sky, cools for a day, and evaporates into waste, at which point it is not only useless for all human purposes but invisible and undetectable. It sinks into the Earth, becoming presumably unrecoverable.

And then it is drawn here.

A time may well be coming when humans can steal one another's mana. Soon after that, a time may come when humans can do the same to the vast meta-mage that is planet Earth. This would instantly turn every geothermal mana source from a worthless (if spectacular) natural phenomenon into a billion-dollar oilfield.

Or then again, that time may never come. It very much depends on what is in the Wheel Group's long-term development chart for magical industry. It depends who figures what out, and when, and how much of a nudge they need to find the important threads.

Laura's waste mana reclamation process makes the entire question academic. It worked up at Hatt Group, and it'll work here. All it took to build was a month of hard labour and a painfully slippery True Name aliasing trick. "Trick" is the term she would use, not "spell". Even on close inspection, it's hard to know how it works. It's almost sleight-of-hand.

She raises one fist - she barely needs to think about what she's doing - and three long streams of lightning stab out from it: two flanking her forearm, and the third directly upwards from between her second and third finger.

She has completed less than one two-hundredth of her descent, but the hardest part is over.

*

Kazuya "Ra" Tanako said he crossed T-world by dreaming of scramjets. The man thought too small. Everybody thinks too small.

Laura stands directly on top of the listening post's virtual representation, the Manhattan-sized arthropod carapace. There is a kind of landing pad here. It's exactly as wide as Laura needs it to be. The glass universe is almost as dark as it ever is. At one end of the sky is the familiar triple-pointed galaxy, a little lower in the sky than is typical. At the other... what is that? Could those be city lights reflected off low cloud? No...

In T-world, you can have anything you can ask for. You're not even limited by your imagination. Laura knows what she wants, down to the level of bolts and circuits. A Space Shuttle launch stack takes shape above her. Tank, boosters, orbiter. Three gigantic engine bells, aimed straight down.

Laura flitters around the stack, conducting a practiced inspection. Instead of climbing inside, she hitches herself to the orbiter's exterior. She races through the launch checklist as fast as she can recall the steps, like a flipbook. The stack lights up.

Time doesn't mean anything to T-world, but it does to Laura Ferno. After a rigorously computed roll manoeuvre and six minutes of flight time, the unnamed Shuttle has stopped ascending and is accelerating horizontally, at an altitude that is T-world's equivalent of the threshold of space. Laura lets the SRBs empty themselves and disconnect, and simply builds new ones. Telemetry flickers in front of her. The velocity reading recalibrates itself, from kilometres per hour to Mach number to kilometres per second.

Looking over the edge of the orbiter and down, Laura can still just about discern individual features of glass geography. A mountain range rushes past, rising and falling, jagged like a graphic equaliser. On the final, tallest peak of the range she sees something. Someone.

It's a human figure made of cobweb-thin crystal, with his hand in the air, waving. Laura almost misses him. She turns and waves back. Her hair doesn't whip in the wind-- she is protected by the suit and extra layers of imagined shielding. The wind chill at this altitude and velocity would be enough to kill instantly.

In an eyeblink, the figure and the entirety of the mountain range are gone into the distance.

Laura cackles, turns to face forward again and steadies herself.

Take the centre of the galaxy as your North Star, and head directly south for... call it another light year. Call it a light decade. Whatever it takes, just don't stop.

In accordance with procedure, dense waves of flying demons descend on the rocketship, but Laura barely perceives them. At this relative speed, each wave is as thin as tissue, and the force of collision turns the unlucky horrors into black mist. Physical barriers rise too, but Laura has so much thaumic and kinetic energy wound up behind her that they shatter as if shot. Brute force and ignorance. There's no stopping this thing.

And after that...

It takes almost as long as a real sunrise. A yellow star rises, directly ahead of her. It is the size of the Sun, but three-pointed, forming a Y. Under the new light, the glass landscape turns sapphire, reflecting long rainbow patterns like the back of an optical disc.

Directly beneath the star-shaped star, at Tanako's world's precise South Pole, is a second artificial structure. There is no direct physical route between this object and the surface of the Earth. The only way to signal this deep is using chi, or by somehow applying modulation to a major tectonic plate movement. And the only way to get here in person is to cheat the universe.

Laura's getting good at that.

The listening post is a toy, a cheap plastic spy microphone glued to the underside of the world. This is genuine God-hardware, an artificial country at the centre of the world. It exists under pressure measured in millions of atmospheres, and temperatures beyond the boiling point of tungsten. This is the machine which makes magic.

Laura produces more SRBs, and trains her space rocket directly on the object's core.

 

Next: From Darkness, Lead Me To Light

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Discussion (40)

2013-11-15 23:13:10 by qntm:

This one wasn't edited by anybody at all! Usually I run these things past a person first, but this is just a raw chapter I finished just now. Hope it's good!

In this chapter I finally deal with the elephant in the room, namely that blindingly obvious "N. Ferno" pun.

2013-11-16 00:59:26 by kabu:

Excellent chapter. I've been waiting for that pun to drop!

2013-11-16 03:14:23 by MichaelSzegedy:

If she wanted to only change her direction towards the thing, she'd have to burn radially, i.e. a little behind directly below her. If she wanted to land slightly more gracefully, she'd have to burn retrograde, i.e. in the opposite direction as her velocity. Point is, Just pointing the rocket at the station is not going to work. (Unless, of course, the rocket runs on Aristotelian physics, which I doubt.)

2013-11-16 04:07:26 by Voidhawk:

I don't think she's going for the graceful option. More likely she's chosen the "lets make an entrance" one. Besides, It only just came into view, in a space measured in light years. Even travelling at Ludicrous-Speed, it might be little while before she needs to slow down.

2013-11-16 04:25:40 by Dan:

Also, considering she's 1) building in new (fueled) SRBs at will and 2) in T-world, there's not exactly any reason to assume that conventional rocket science applies here.

Great chapter, you horrible-punning-person.

2013-11-16 05:19:06 by MichaelSzegedy:

@Dan Why shouldn't it? Laura still thinks in terms of rockets and rocket science. (Why does she even need a rocket anyway? Why not just accelerate herself automagically? Lack of creativity?)

2013-11-16 06:45:26 by Dot:

Might be a silly question, but shouldn't the last section be right-aligned? Or am I just missing something big?

2013-11-16 07:13:34 by Dan:

@MichaelSzegedy: I would suggest that "lack of creativity" is, in fact, a fairly reasonable conclusion. As you said, she's thinking in terms of rockets and rocket science, but she clearly doesn't understand either if her idea of a worthy vessel for this purpose is the space shuttle. The simple fact of the matter is that the space shuttle is really limited platform; if she can conjure infinite mental SRBs, why not just ride the SRB Dr. Strangelove style and continuously refresh its fuel?

Why bother with the space shuttle at all, when it's acknowledged immediately prior that "in T-world, you can have anything you can ask for. You're not even limited by your imagination." Similarly, her armor was conjured without technical comprehension, as evidenced by: "she built it in a second, on a whim, in a dream-- 'I want one of what Kaz is wearing'".

What explanation other than a lack of creativity would you cite for not just wishing for a ludicrously advanced unrealistic sci-fi space fighter? An XCom Firestorm, the Enterprise-D, a Cylon Interceptor, the Millennium Falcon -- name nearly any other sci-fi ship, and it'll have a hundred times more native capability than the Space Shuttle. Heck, just Ironman jetpack the armor suit and call it a day.


Of course, now Sam's going to point out some fiddly thing I missed that renders all that impossible and the space shuttle is the only plausible option available to her. Perhaps something related to Dot's comment?

2013-11-16 09:56:22 by qntm:

Thanks for that, Dot, you're not missing something big, I am.

2013-11-16 10:00:55 by qntm:

Laura trains her rocket on the thing. I didn't say what direction she had to accelerate to do that. SSMEs are able to deflect a little, and in any case Laura was already aimed directly south (i.e. directly at that object) when it appeared on the horizon. Only a tiny deflection was needed to get on target.

2013-11-16 10:59:21 by jalapenodude:

"The only way to signal this deep is using chi, or by somehow applying modulation to a major tectonic plate movement."

Nope! You forgot about neutrinos. And gravitational waves, I suppose, though it would be tricky to generate large enough ones on a less than Kardashev I budget...

2013-11-16 14:00:06 by Feep:

Her armor was conjured without comprehension because she copied it from Tanako. Tanako presumably knew how it worked, since the story mentions him designing specific capabilities into it.

2013-11-16 15:19:32 by stewie:

I was under the impression that she was using the shuttle subconciously, as it was the shuttle her mother used.

2013-11-16 16:41:20 by Jacob:

Alternatively, she could just Really Like Space Shuttles, which has been hinted at in Magic Isn't--even without that much enthusiasm, watching every launch would give someone a bit of an attachment to the vehicle.

2013-11-16 18:51:32 by M:

>But she's thirty klicks below ground, now.
>She has completed less than one two-hundredth of her descent

I take it Laura's going to the centre of the Earth.

2013-11-16 22:39:22 by Stewie:

I could be wrong but I'm pretty sure 31.5 km isn't 1/200 of a percent of the earth's radius.

2013-11-16 22:48:10 by Stewie:

Erm. I'm not sure how I read percent instead of descent. Why is it always this site I do this for anyway? I neglected to divide the diameter by 2. I wonder how she managed to solve the invisibility problem though.

2013-11-17 00:42:59 by K:

Stewie: It says she used the recursion artifact, which appears to have some kind of Do What I Mean capability (though not like full māyā).

2013-11-17 01:19:29 by MichaelSzegedy:

I'd actually like to see her visit that three-pointed galaxy.

2013-11-17 03:11:17 by OvermindDLone:

So, who might that cobweb person that we see yet again be?

2013-11-17 03:42:46 by Eldritch:

Laura conjured up the Space Shuttle because she really likes / is obsessed with the Space Shuttle and has been obsessing over riding one since forever. It's not really a lack-of-imagination thing.

2013-11-17 19:53:57 by Ben:

Spoilers in this comment, maybe?

Or crazed speculation.

The bits about Ra having ordinary magic privileges but not showing up in the activity monitor fits with the Unix metaphor I'm increasingly convinced it embodies. Ra is the nobody user! The nobody user has only the privileges shared by every user. Every instance of the nobody user has access to every other's memory and resources, and they can edit each other to pass messages discreetly. Killing nobody processes is only helpful if there are zero of them left, and should you succeed the next one to appear will have everything its predecessors left behind. When users in T-world make pointers (bodies) to users whose location can't be found, as Laura does to Benj and Nick, those pointers lead to nobody instead, and returning those pointers to their real world vessels allows nobody to read their memory and act with their privileges. (If this is true, maybe Ra wants someone manipulable and powerful, like Laura, to resurrect Rachel so it can capture Rachel's body and use her Wheel privileges.) When—and this is a stretch, because it conflates users and processes—a person forks and exits (enters a second world instance through the akashic records and dies there, like Tanako), they become a daemon, running as nobody.

So in conclusion, this story is a parable about privilege separation, and Ra's use of Laura represents the confused deputy problem.

2013-11-17 20:14:00 by Nick:

"Within the individual flowing channels, she can see nested patterns, carved into the base and even the wall of the first level of carvings."

I can't for the life of me visualize this. Where are the carvings such that they have a "base" and a "wall"?

2013-11-17 21:55:37 by jonas:

I wonder why it's called māyā.

2013-11-17 22:34:37 by Eldritch:

@Jonas:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_(illusion)

2013-11-17 22:54:38 by jonas:

In any case, I've now added the letter ā (plus 51 others) to my console font http://www.math.bme.hu/~ambrus/pu/fecupboard20-c.pcf.gz , so I can read this story properly. I still can't claim to support all common European languages though, which is my eventual goal.

2013-11-18 01:46:47 by Psycho:

Have we ever had an explanation of why there are demons in T-world? It doesn't seem to fit the metaphor very well, but they're surely there for a reason...

2013-11-18 05:54:41 by Kazanir:

It's a security measure implemented by the Wheel Group to keep mages from wandering around in there.

2013-11-18 15:37:34 by ducken:

recently was reading a piece on theology (dumb christian that I am) and a priest mentioned that one hebrew word for evil is "ra." for example, the tree of good and evil is the tree of tov and ra. this is probably not where Sam is drawing the name from, but it has colored my reading of the most recent chapter, and probably will continue to do so.

2013-11-18 17:23:17 by Mike:

Sam: Excellent chapter! I particularly enjoyed Laura cackling atop the hurtling Shuttle; I guess at least one of Ra's missiles was literal after all. As usual, there's always a minor nitpick: the security expert is called Paulo Casaccia on first mention and Paolo Casaccia on last mention. Unfortunately, there might also be a major nitpick. King and Casaccia play back the footage of the magical bombing, and note that there are no chi emissions. Does this mean that Ra cloaked the entire area and not just his personal magic use? Otherwise, Natalie's shield and oracle spells should have shown up in the records right before the detonation, and the Wheel Group could have deduced her identity and involvement almost immediately.

(Also: not a nitpick, as I'm sure this speaks to how deeply Ra's gotten into her head, but I'm surprised at how Laura seemed to breeze right past the news that her mother was a Wheel Group member and someone outside of the Wheel Group destroyed her house. She definitely heard these things because she also heard about her sleeping self at Chedbury being killed.)

Nick: If the carvings are letters cut into the surface of an object, then the bottoms of the letters would be the base and the vertical insides of the letters would be the walls. If the surface has been cut down to leave letters standing out from it, the level that the surface is cut down to is the base and the vertical outsides of the letters are the walls.

MichaelSzegedy, Dan, & Jacob: Since Tanako's World is based on dreams and imagination, and "you can have anything you ask for," I'd guess that Laura is using a Space Shuttle partly just because she Really Likes Space Shuttles, and mostly because she understands the Shuttle thoroughly enough that she can be absolutely dead certain of what she's asking for.

2013-11-18 18:20:45 by qntm:

The naming inconsistency will be fixed shortly.

Yes, Natalie's shield spell should have shown up on the chi playback too. The Wheel will probably figure this out in the next chapter.

Laura had already worked out that her mother was a Wheel Group member. You (readers) had suspected this for a long time, and Laura knew too that something very strange was going on (see the conversation with her father in "Space Magic"). When Ra sat down and said, "So, there's this group of people called the Wheel Group..." she immediately put two and two together. That particular thread is most definitely going somewhere.

As for the detonation of her home - it's likely Laura hasn't fully processed what happened there yet. Once she does, she might even justify it to herself. Laura's locked into hero mode. She sees a vision in her immediate future of a time when every unjust death can be undone, including her own. She still thinks she's the protagonist.

Laura picks a Space Shuttle because there is simply nothing else she could pick. This all began with Atlantis and that's how she's going to end it.

2013-11-19 00:27:17 by Ben:

I thought the house-bombing was a considerate gesture. Killing Natalie and Devi with high-energy magic keeps them from interfering with the Plan to Save the World, but archives them for later resurrection. If Ra had killed them with a gun, say, Natalie's latest backup would be Krallafjöll and who knows if Devi is preserved at all.

2013-11-19 05:49:06 by MichaelSzegedy:

@Ben: But the bombing didn't go on record. It's possible that they deleted the bomb retroactively after it failed, but more likely it wasn't recorded to begin with.

2013-11-19 17:52:51 by Mike:

Yeah, when I thought about it more I realized that since Ra had somehow explained the possibility of a raid on Chedbury (while knowing that Laura could come into direct contact with Wheel members who might disavow such an attack), Laura would assume that the bombing of her house must have happened under similar circumstances.

I did notice that Casaccia's summary of the bombing included the phrase "something confusing happens with all three of them," so I'll be interested to see how that pans out. Initially, I was tripped up by the following comparison between Casaccia's baseline feed and King's 'full chi readout' query: "They are identical. They are, in fact, the same feed. The chi feed simply shows no chi. No magical usage." Of course, it could easily be the case that King's query starts playback at some arbitrary point between Natalie's shield spell and the moment of detonation. You don't even need to wave your hands very hard about that, because the missing chi output from the detonation is what would really draw their attention.

I definitely wasn't surprised by her decision to go ahead with the plan despite Exa inexorably descending on Natalie, because she had already gone ahead with the plan in the wake of Tanako!Nick's death. In the previous case, she knew that she could eventually resurrect them from backups. In this case, she thinks she has almost eight hours before Exa makes landfall (although I wouldn't be surprised if Wheel steps up the priority once they figure out Natalie's level of involvement).

2013-11-20 02:07:57 by IanO:

Suddenly it occurs to me that the Wheel Group may in fact be the good guys. Imagine if basically limitless power (maya) was at the hand of every single person? Would we self-annihilate? Wheel group conceives of a safe way of introducing immense power to everyone--slowly. By creating a system for maya "magic," humanity's progress is slowed down to the rate of scientific discovery.

Actually, I'm now doubting this theory. Wheel seems to have more interested in keeping the power with themselves than with helping others discover it. Hm. It also seems problematic to give power only to those who can devote themselves to study.

In other thoughts, I think Ra is manipulating Ferno, and that she has been "radicalized"

How does Tanako/others know SO much about The Wheel Group?

2013-11-20 07:27:00 by Bauglir:

The Wheel Group's primary motivation seems to be to maintain its supremacy over the rest of humanity without crushing it, because they actually enjoy the fruits of mortal progress. They aren't particularly clever or insightful beyond what ancient age and arbitrary IQ allows, which I basically take to mean they know how to know anything they can imagine, but are bad at imagining new things to know. Without the rest of humanity, things would be so much more boring, and boredom's their primary enemy.

So, in a way, they do have as a goal the preservation of humanity, and they probably tell themselves that this is the best reason for not sharing māyā when they allow themselves hypocrisy, but it's a very tangential goal to what they really want.

2013-11-22 05:25:20 by Silhalnor:

A comment regarding the Wheel's extravagant dinner that included long extinct animals and plants. A couple days ago I learned that mortal humans have on occasion had the opportunity to consume the flesh of long extinct animals too. Namely mastodon meat that has been frozen in the permafrost for ten thousand plus years. I am rather surprised that it is still safe and edible but that's (very crude) cryonics for you. I haven't crosschecked the validity of this statement but I should hope that my instructor knows what he's talking about.

2013-11-25 20:45:04 by Adam:

You may want to update the "To Be Continued" with a link to Darkness.

2015-10-01 01:47:25 by Sean:

It just occurred to me; is the glass planet of T-world the size of the sun?

2016-12-14 19:47:08 by Eragon:

I just noticed that you changed it from "terranaut" to "mohonaut" and I forget if i was the one who suggested that but if I wasn't then good choice