This passage was written very early in the development of Fine Structure (circa December 2006) and, like Forgotten Things In Space, never really properly fit into the storyline. Unlike "Forgotten" I never released it as a standalone story either because it doesn't work in isolation. The unnamed man in the story is obviously Mitch, and he and Anne are evidently working together to "earth" the bulk of Mitch's remaining power in Mitch. Instead, they tap into another, much angrier, source of power by mistake - and realise that Mitch's adversary Oul has also survived the Fall seen in Unbelievable Scenes. Mitch's comment about "flattened information" is also a first stab at what later became the Crashes.

Running all the way down the centre of the Atlantic Ocean is a tectonic fault. Two plates, one containing both Americas and the other containing Europe and Africa, are pulling apart from each other at a rate of millimetres per year.

The surface of Earth is mostly dead rock but between the two faults, molten rock from the living red interior bubbles up at a temperature of thousands of degrees, flash-boiling nearby water.

Above the ten-thousand-kilometre rift, floating on top of a kilometre of cold black ocean, is a ship. Three things are poking over the stern of the ship: two faces and a crane holding a silvery object, which breaks free of its harness, and begins to sink patiently into the water.

The object is a probe. It is a metre across, egg-shaped, shiny, armoured with titanium on all sides except at the two extremities. Circling the rounded ruby-coloured end is a thin indentation within which are scratched some delicate geometrical measurements. The cap of this end is rotating, two marks coming around to match each other as the probe sinks deeper. At the other end, aligning itself underwater so as to point directly upwards, is a cluster of thin and fat antennae; radio, sonar, infrared, microwave, ultraviolet, transmitting and receiving, acting as a beacon and reporting data to the parent vessel... as said vessel turns gradually, propellers powering into life, and accelerates away, paying out a thin cable along the ocean surface behind it, with floats attached every hundred metres, with a small cluster of detectors attached to each float.

All readings are nominal. The probe sinks at the expected rate. Pressure readings are appropriate and tolerable, though increasing. Instruments are functioning perfectly, though admittedly they have very little to record as yet.

The markings on the cap are pressure readings. The probe is pressure-triggered. Two hours down, the marks line up. Something inside the probe clicks. A bank of capacitors discharges itself. A two-gram blob of boron suspended in a steel gyroscope flips itself along a vertical plane and becomes two grams of antimatter.

And the ocean moves aside.

It's not an explosion.

Fifty miles away with a pair of binoculars:

"It's working!"

The column of water is over a mile high. It looks like somebody lifted a perfect cylinder of water into the air over the rift, froze it in time, carved it into a fractally detailed vine-twisted tree, then turned time on again. The slowness with which it collapses makes Anne Poole's brain balk. There's still no noise, and that doesn't gel right either. White foam erupts in every direction. It’s like a nuclear explosion made of water, but it's not explosion, it's just making room. For something to come through.

And the blue curtain falls. And the rainbow wavers and clears. And dominating the sky behind it is a hand - a human forearm, kilometres long, an obscene, impossible sculpture with a palm the size of the rock of Gibraltar, curving out of the sea into the air, fingers crooked as if in pain, veins bulging, muscles bunching.

The figure plants a foot on the ocean floor and climbs all the way out of the seething hole he has ripped in the rift, rising to his full height. The spectacle takes minutes to unfold. A tidal wave hits the tiny ship but it holds steady, protected, as the colossal figure's gaze takes in the environment in which it has found itself. The figure seems carved out of sand-coloured stone or clay; it is male; bald, not skinny but not muscular; somehow, it wears glasses, opaque, made of the same clay.

At length, it turns to regard the tiny ship.

Anne Poole is confused, shocked. "You said it would look like you!"

The man standing next to her on the gantry, beside the second probe, can't take his eyes off the spectacled face above them, with its inscrutable expression. "It's not me," he says - confesses.

"How is that possible? We sent the probe, you said this exact location, that exact depth, so the probe worked, right?"

"It worked," says the man, "we woke it up, all right, it worked fine. But the power we tapped was wrong. I thought it was mine. But it looks like I made a mistake."

"If not yours, then whose?"

The figure starts to take a step, reaching down for the ship.

"I've made a mistake," says the man again. He grabs Anne's hand and pulls her towards him. With his other hand he reaches inside the second egg probe - inside it. Through the titanium casing, like it doesn't exist.

Anne Poole sees what he's doing. "You can't be serious. What about the crew?"

"I can't save them," he replies. He pulls his hand out and the probe clicks. "I'm sorry. Hang on."

They fly.

A shadow eclipses the sun behind them as the boat is engulfed, crushed like an ant in the giant's fist. He wades another step forwards, reaching for the pair of dark figures accelerating across the ocean surface, one of them lying flat out, fists forward, the other clinging around his neck, flapping like a scarf in the wind.

"Hang on."

They bank right as the giant's middle finger, every tiny wrinkle and groove in its skin metres wide and shadowed, gouges into the sea ahead of them. They head for the bright but closing gap between it and the descending ring finger. They skip lightly over the swell coming at them, descend the far side of the wave and then shoot down the corridor of converging waves like surfers.

"He grabbed the whole ship!" screams Anne, already drenched, bruised and freezing, as they emerge from the end of the tunnel of water and begin to pull away out of reach of the slow-moving giant. "The probe's been crushed!"

"The probe's fine," he replies. "Just hang on. We've got less than--"

A mile behind them, buried inside tonnes of crushed metal in the giant's left fist, the silver egg actuates. More antimatter flicks into existence. Spacetime convulses, cracking open a second time, and then slams shut, violently.

The sandstone giant vanishes. And there's a thunderclap like the end of the universe.

*

Anne Poole wakes up on a beach, ears still ringing. She's still wet, but it's sunny and she's drying out fast. The guy is there. "Something's wrong," he says to her. His voice is muffled, it sounds like he's talking on the other side of glass.

"Where are we?"

"...Ghana, I think."

She rolls over and pushes herself upwards. "That was the wrong avatar."

"Something's wrong, Anne, can't you feel it? The texture of information here has... it's all changed, flattened..."

"Who was it?"

The man regards Anne carefully for some time.

"Suppose... there were multiple universes, each with an omnipotent overseeing God. Suppose there was a race of such Gods, enough to populate an entire God-universe, and that that God-universe had a God of its own. God-squared.

"God-squared thinks on a scale we can barely understand, and vice versa. Certain aspects of our waveforms in this plane remain uncollapsed - that is, in certain senses, we do not exist - until he bothers to make the effort to observe us. And likewise we cannot begin to conceive of him. This is all fine. We do not interfere with his affairs any more than we interfere with a typical bacterium's day to day life.

"The only way this could become a problem is if we somehow attracted his attention."

Alternate ending

Anne Poole wakes up on a beach, ears still ringing. She's still wet, but it's sunny and she's drying out fast. The guy is there. "You made it," he says to her. His voice is muffled, it sounds like he's talking on the other side of glass.

"Where are we?"

"Ivory Coast, I think," he replies.

She rolls over and pushes herself upwards. "That power we tapped... wasn't yours. It was somebody else's. Another multidimensional being trapped on this plane, using a human form. Another being with untapped power reserves lying just outside the prison walls. Our pinhole wormhole hit his instead. He's real. He's here. Your enemy. We've woken him up."

"No. If he were still dead that wouldn't have happened. He was awake already. He's been awake this whole time. We've done something much worse. We've let him know we're here."

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Discussion (1)

2012-04-14 21:31:48 by Ptorquemada:

The magma along the bulk of the length of the mid-Atlantic ridge doesn't actually flash-boil water. The pressure is well above the critical point, at which "boiling" stops having any meaning since gas and liquid become essentially synonyms. It's possible that magma at shallower locations (less than about 170 meters bsl), could boil water, though. There are a few islands along the mid-Atlantic ridge (Iceland, for example) near which the water is shallow enough to boil.