This scene was originally the second sub-chapter of the final episode, Science Fiction Future. Its inclusion was controversial. In this scene several fairly major facts are revealed. First, that like Oul, Xio has an "egg". Xio's egg is buried under an archaeological excavation in equatorial Somalia, at the point on Earth where humans first rose to sentience, thereby creating a large enough concentration of intelligence to cause Xio to "condense out" from what, up until then, was something like a thin vapour of consciousness spread over the whole universe. Like Oul's egg, Xio's egg requires a freshly-deceased human body to escape, and it is an unlucky mathematics teacher called Mitchell James Calrus who fatally trips and falls and provides that outlet. Calrus is in Somalia on expedition with a few other teachers and a group of pupils from his school, establishing educational links with a Somalian school which, for no reason other than to convolute matters, also happens to include Anoo Nkube from this was supposed to be a parable about the power of the imagination. (So it is Calrus who visited her and provided the computer she uses to teach herself.)

This scene occurs in 2005, some years before Mitch is officially revealed in The Story So Far. It therefore appears to be a colossal retcon. It casts immense doubt over the true circumstances of Mitch's first meeting with Seph Baird - is he making friends or insinuating himself into her mind? It also (in combination with a line which I deleted from Ching's speech during the "Ghosts" sub-chapter of "Science Fiction Future" - "In fact, an invisible man could easily have sabotaged that first experiment...") raises the frightening possibility that - using his four-dimensional powers to break into the laboratory at night - Mitch orchestrated the original teleportation experiment in Taphophobia deliberately, in order to destroy Anne Poole's mind and acquire her as an asset to his cause. It would even be possible that he had contact with Anne Poole before the experiment occurred, perhaps discovering that her mind was impervious to mental attack and using the teleportation accident as an alternative way to break her mind down. This would explain why, against incredibly long odds, Anne Poole ends up actually being found, instead of being buried forever. No trace of Mitch's sabotage would be found except fingerprints. These fingerprints wouldn't match anything... except fingerprints found on the money from in Mitch's other known crime, in The Four-Dimensional Man when he uses his powers to steal some money from a bank, but later reluctantly returns it. That crime made the news. Thomas Muoka would have seen the newspaper article about it. Muoka would have figured out that only a four-dimensional person could have committed the crime. Muoka would have instantly realised, when he saw Mitch reach through the MPR like a ghost in The Story So Far, that Mitch must be that four-dimensional person. Mitch would have seen that Muoka had realised this, and this would be why Mitch "silenced" Muoka.

Here's the problem. All of this was intended from the start. I wanted Mitch to have a secret darker side which would be revealed at the climax of the story. Whether he would truly be the aggressor from Unbelievable Scenes, I didn't know. I decided to play it safe on that score, and kept matters ambiguous. I went to great lengths to avoid hinting at any of these facts because I knew that if I did, somebody would instantly figure it out and blow the secret in a comment. The problem was that I played too coy. The result was that this reveal came completely out of left field. It uprooted so many established facts, like the God-did-it explanation for the events of Taphophobia, that it pretty much made no sense at all.

AND, MORE IMPORTANTLY: it didn't add anything to the story. The basic resolution of the story is not "Oul is really the good guy and Mitch is really the bad guy", which was my sophomoric first idea, which was suggested by a reader very early in the game. It is not "both Mitch and Oul are as bad as each other in their casual disregard for 'trivial' humanity". The resolution is "Mitch was just a human guy, in an impossible situation, and he did bad things to prevent other bad things, and had several changes of heart, and It Was Complicated". So revealing these dark past facts doesn't help that. It just clouds the issue and pushed Mitch too far towards uneqivocal evilness. That said, enjoy!

CLICK

The first thing he feels is heat on his back. Then dust between his fingers. There's something hot and red dripping out of his mouth, and there's the infinite, unutterable weight of entombment. He can't think for the pressure. He can barely form a thought. It's like his brain is inside a vice. The world is grey-yellow and red and vertical and incredibly hot. Distant fusion. He feels pinned to one wall, with others rising up around him like an artificial chasm. A word crawls out of his new host's memories and into his own. Gravity?

This is where it happened, says a new voice in his head. This is where they woke up for the first time. In deepest equatorial Africa.

"Where iszh thiszh? Shree and ONE? How am I szhtill- - How- -"

No XG. No readouts. He gropes for orientation but he's cut off from hundreds of his senses. He spins around. He's wearing a filthy dusty T-shirt, shorts, walking boots. There's a wide-brimmed hat which he dropped when he fell. Above him, there's a crumbled ledge, not shored up properly. There's a red clay ramp leading out of the archaeological excavation to the surface. Two young teenagers, both taller than he is, are skidding down the ramp, wearing similar attire and backpacks. "Mister Calrus! Mister Calrus! Are you okay?"

"Zhat name," he slurs. He realises he's spraying the red stuff all over his chest and the sand. He raises a hand to his mouth and now his hand has blood all over it too. "AOOW! Where do I know zhat name from - - "

"Your mouth is broken!" says Ben, the shorter of the two. A school expedition? They're worried. There are plans unfolding in their heads, involving a nearby village and a satellite telephone. "We need to get you to a doctor. We'll have to call an air ambulance or something. I can't believe you're even alive after falling that far."

He can't move. He can't see. He's imprisoned and he doesn't know where he is. But as he collapses and pass out, he notices something buried deep inside the archaeology below them. Something small, and distant, and silvery in the all-penetrating superlight.

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Discussion (9)

2010-01-28 00:03:46 by Thrack:

But the problem with not making that revelation and showing that Mitch altered the teleportation experiment is that we are given no reason whatsoever for why Thomas Muoka was silenced. Although, if it was Mitch, why would there be a lightning strike before that first experiment? (Unless it was a natural lightning strike that coincided with this. Or you had already changed your mind when you wrote that?)

2010-01-28 02:40:18 by scratskinner:

Here's a possible scenario:
Mitch asks Muoka to help him. Muoka says no (swore off science in "Two killed in transporter accident"). Mitch tries mind control, FAILS MISERABLY, and antimemitizes him in order to cover up the mess he's made of Muoka.


2010-01-28 03:47:24 by Thrack:

Why would his mind control fail on Muoka? Though actually it seems like Mitch would have used mind control in either case.

2010-01-28 15:33:10 by Adin:

My initial reaction was that Thomas Muoka was too much trouble to be worth it. Maybe he was particularly inclined to believe that Mitch was the bad guy in all this and making everyone forget him was the easiest thing to do.

2010-01-28 19:02:29 by skztr:

But really, "Marooned" wasn't the problem. Marooned, if not stuck right next to "Ghosts", fits the rest of the story, to me.

To fit, one needs to make a few assumptions/leaps (fanboys discussing potential reconcilliations of possible continuity errors is a time-honoured tradition, though it usually does not take place somewhere the author can see it...):
 - Xio arrived in Alef a long time after Oul. Two beings with eleven time-like dimensions between them landing in 3+1 at exactly the same part of "+1" fits easily, to me. (being in "about the same place/about the same time", on cosmic scales anyway, fits too)
 - When Oul first arrived, he was spread out across Alef, but (without knowing the limits) tried to pull himself together, got most of the way there, but realized he was still trapped, and so stopped, with some of himself still spread across Alef.
 - Eventually, Oul either determined that life was likely to form on Earth, or life began to form on Earth, so Oul placed his Egg there, as a trap.
 - Xio arrives millions or billions of years after Oul, and because life has already formed on earth, there are capable hosts dying on earth all the time, Xio spontaneously lands in someone who was dying at the time.
 - The light Xio sees is not "his own egg", but Oul's
 - As Xio passes out, the vice tightens, and by the time he wakes up the whole thing seems like a dream, he's told he had a major accident, and having his mind stuffed into 3+1 dimensions, he's not all that quick on his feet.
 - "Touching the script" restored knowledge of who Xio was, and since Xio is a bit bigger than the average occupant of Alef, more of Xio's mind coming in made it pass into those immediately around him.
 - The instant Xio was restored, he was able to control and read minds, and instinctively did so to those who may have gotten a touch of his mind in them.
 - Thomas Muoka saw what Xio was capable of, and what he would do. Knowing that you were standing next to a person who, for lack of a better description, /created/ God, and on top of that, didn't mind oppressing the whole of humanity for 20,000 years, is enough to get you to try to convince others to stay away. When Xio remembered who he was, he knew he needed help, and acted impulsively. He did something exactly fitting with his personality over the next 20,000 years: Not killing, but not exactly being nice about it.

but like I said before: Not exactly the kind of speculation one normally does with the author in earshot, so no idea how much of that is vile "just plain wrong".

2010-01-28 20:16:32 by Fjord:

skztr: I agree, with one addition:

I think that the personalities of the original hosts (Mitch and Zykov) had an effect on the personalities of Xia and Oul. This was their first implantation into a 3+1D body after all. Here, in "Marooned," Mitch's memories are available to Xia; maybe his persona is even still present though slaved to Xia the way a secondary hard drive is slaved to the one containing the OS. Examples: "A word crawls out of his new host's memories and into his own," (Marooned). "'And what's happened to Mitch?' asks Seph. Mitch finishes his water and sighs. 'I'm still here,'" (Sundown).

Mitch was a nice guy in the first place. Zykov, on the other hand, was a convicted death row inmate (Oul's Egg/The artifact...). These personalities coincidentally coincided with the personalities of the higher-dimensional beings who took over their bodies. However, that's not the important bit. Oul was always a killing machine. He had no personality except to kill. Then he was locked into the science facility, which gave Zykov enough time to exert his personality again. Had he not been able to do so, Oul would have simply extended his murderous rampage beyond the confines of the facility as soon as he had escaped. Instead, Zykov gave him the ability to interact with others and find a method for summoning the bulk of himself. It fits with Oul's personality (as much as that word can apply to an 80+ dimensional being) that he would wake up angry, but without Zykov it doesn't fit that he'd be able to function "normally" in society. It fits with Xia's personality that he would wake up confused, and maybe even would allow Mitch to take complete control back and lock him out until the events of "Sundown" when Mitch becomes fully aware of Xia. (If this were the case, the storyline would be preserved, as Mitch would be the active personality prior to "Sundown." Then, "Sundown" occurs, and the two personalities merge.)

In human terms, Oul's the kind to go into a berserker rage when punched in the head (or dropped into a 3+1 dimensional being), whereas Xia's the kind to black out.

2010-01-29 22:16:30 by Bauglir:

@Thrack's first post:

It actually could reasonably have been an ordinary lightning strike. A point is made that the place is at high altitude, and the chances of the code having been corrupted that way ARE given as incredibly unlikely (well, 1 in a million, which is actually guaranteed in fiction, but let's ignore that). It may be that some mundane measure (like a circuit breaker being tripped) prevented any damage from really being done, but wouldn't have been guaranteed to.

2010-01-30 00:26:48 by LabrynianRebel:

I don't think Carlus had anything to do with what happened to Anne. I think that Muoka simply falsely accused Carlus (him being irrational because he was "close" to Anne) then Carlus freaks and makes Muoka an unperson. Ching figures this out (because he somehow remmebers Muoka (?) ) and it convinces him that Carlus is the enemy and Oul never existed.

2010-02-16 02:54:58 by SubjectSeventeen:

After reading this, I feel that I have a much better understanding of the entire story. The forward at the beginning also helps greatly.

This story was truly epic, probably the best I've ever read, professional or otherwise. However, I still think it could benefit from a total rewrite, just for clarity's sake.