This is for real.

This is a simulation.

It's like billion-voice music. The cities here are woven from constantly singing superstrings. The trees and rivers are wondrous creations in colours I could recall the words for but choose not to, created from fabrics there are no words for. There are birds, I notice, which seem, like the rest of their world, to be made of sound. The people here are beautiful - I reach forward and pick a handful of their uncountably many minds, along with a little art, and a little language. I could see it all, given precisely one eternity, but I have a Planck heartbeat.

Then it's over, Heaven number seventy-nine dopplering into our wake, torn bodily from its extradimensional moorings, fine structure bucking, scattering and shattering. Out here on the edge, every creation is built from other Creations and "freedom" is twenty-five times freer. The Parenthetical Heavens - 1,024 in all - are just a fragile collection of blurry points at the tip of a coloured corkscrewing spark which marks one lane of a route arcing through the dark gap between two unimaginably greater Totalities, and as we tumble off the crowded night-lit highway we hurtle through all two ex ten of them in an eyeblink. I scrabble to save what I can of them, firing the recovered shards back through the comlink so quickly they barely touch my hands, but I don't look back.

At one point it was thought that it would be a good idea to shut off pain, replacing it, perhaps, with some sort of warning message. Then it was discovered that pain was the warning message, and to remove it carried the danger of apparent invulnerability. The best that could be done was to make the message less... distracting. But I'm at one oh nine XG and my entire physical manifestation is going nuclear. Every half-imaginary needle in my mind is jammed firmly at the far end of critical and the alarms are punching right through my filters. It's about dimension. One degree of freedom over your opponent and there is no contest, none at all, and mine fell five to be here. My people play with waveforms during infancy, we can literally alter odds in our favour - but where this thing comes from, my home and the entire cosmos it sits in is a tiny, shiny circle in space that you could crush between your fingers. If the adversary had any mind, any intelligent thought at all, it would have been over in microseconds. But it has no mind. Just firepower.

We decelerate as we fall off the highway and coast through Upsilon layer's mantle, my cloud of secondary defensive units finally matching pace again, darting around and clearing sentient structures out of the suburban chasms ahead of us, transmitting them to safe havens in higher and lower layers. It roars, uncaring, and engages me with blackened tendrils from every angle, levelling nearby scenery, but as the evacuated sphere expands around us I am able to cut looser with my counter-attacks, showing our surroundings equal disregard. Local space becomes a calculated maelstrom, and for a moment I even manage to get the upper hand. But continuous epileptic warnings remind me that at eighty-eight and rapidly falling, I'm not winning. I'm stalling, and as the very bedrock underneath me starts resonating wildly with each attack, beginning to panic.

Finally, authorisation, long since dispatched all the way up the chain of command, hammers back down at me like a lightning bolt. A path clears in my mind, ringed with green lights only I can see. I grab the enemy by four of its tails and begin to accelerate. Ancient fail-safes begin to protest. Subquantum pressure seals whine. Secondary and tertiary confimations barely beat us to the boundary locks which erupt, part and slam closed as we approach the border. All it has is black-hot rage and a ferocious desire for survival and more lividly brandished firepower than my entire civilisation combined. But I have Tactical. And I have permission.

There's an echoing scream as the edge of my universe is torn violently aside. Darkness opens up in every direction, roars at our defiance and wrenches us viciously home. We fall, disconnected from our senses. We don't feel or see the gap close behind us and Upsilon recede. For a fraction of a second there is absolute silent peace. All the panic leaves me. The "zone" leaves me. Even the alarms are momentarily silenced.

That instant buys me composure. I close down, re-establish and pull everything back up from square one, rebuild and recover and discard the extraneous, shedding the load. Combat instinct primes itself and re-launches. I gain my focus fractionally before it does, and see vertices in space - projections of things I can't perceive unaided - tumble dreamily past me in fractal constellations, growing clearer and denser as we plummet. Below, rock-solid core approaches, but I have a better idea.

Fractionally. I manage to block its instinctive wake-up attack, then pick a point on the wall and dive for it, my last instruction bolting invisibly home to Control. My trail is caught and it races after me, livid, hungry. I push my tolerances, twist and reach out, there's a crack, monstrous patterns of power shear away above and behind us, and, on every horizon, flame explodes on cue and races in—

I have the foreknowledge to go limp as we rebound off a nameless Flatland, and a second time off the descending containment locks. It flails and tries to escape in every conceivable direction simultaneously, but hits only cold unyielding prison wall. I try to relax, circles of minor devastation buoying me to rest, while all but one of my internal alarms spit, glitch and finally dim to numb static.


Crippled. Flattened. Dismembered and disarmed, cut off from civilisation. Utterly unfamiliar terrain - it can't fight in three-plus-one dimensions. I stagger upright, palely illuminated by distant fusion, and lurch towards it - it howls in pain and scrabbles at the ground, trying to retreat.

A hair-fine beam - my last ergs. It collapses and so, at length, do I.

Next: On Digital Extremities

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Discussion (22)

2008-05-03 04:35:45 by Alex:

I never would have thought of linking this to Fine Structure

2008-05-03 04:49:13 by Doog:

I honestly hadn't read this one before now, and it's hurting my brain to even try to understand it by itself, let alone how it's going to add new concepts to FS.

2008-05-03 05:44:08 by Dave:

This is my favorite story of yours. Good to (hopefully) get some larger context to the thing.

2008-05-03 12:52:36 by Val:

I thought science fiction died with Stanisław Lem.
Now I know I was wrong.

2008-05-04 00:44:24 by YarKramer:

Heh. Every time another dimension is added to Fine Structure, there's just something that much more awesome in it ...

2008-05-04 01:08:44 by MGargantua:

Val, theres still Iain Banks. And now we have hughes to bring in the next renaissance, like Arthur C. Clarke before him.

Now today is the kind of day in consider myself to be one of the lucky few who taught themselfs to think outside the box as a wee child. General relitivity and abstract thinking come natural to me. Enjoying this story with the full support of your imagination is quite the experience.

2008-05-04 23:11:38 by Cody:

I just realized (upon reading the notes just posted). Is the guy in this story possibly Mitch Calrus? Him being from another dimension (the 4th?) would explain being able to transit between 3rd and 4th. And "Story So Far" had the quote: "There was a war in Heaven and the debris fell to Earth." before the section where Mitch touches the 4d part of the MPR. If this was the first chapter written, then it would make sense as a starting point!
*goes off to try to figure out the other parts now*

2008-05-05 08:53:05 by Jetman:

At the end, four dimensions is mentioned. "Three plus one dimensions". When "it" tries to escape by expanding into new dimensions, it finds none - it's been cut off. Locked down. Trapped in four dimensions and killed.

I think touching that 4D reflector sent something ricocheting into higher dimensional space, which resulted in this scene - an attack by some malevolent entity suddenly launched into dimensions above the fourth. These guys, the ones who play with waveforms and dimensions from an early age, must be the originators of the Script. Perhaps that's why they blocked access to it - because this is what happens when mistakes are made, or hell, even if communication is used. Maybe the same with teleportation.

2008-05-06 02:54:41 by GameFreak:

I never really got this one.

2008-05-06 18:56:27 by fourd:

"War in heaven" links comfortably with an unnamed, high-firepower low-finesse "adversary".

2008-05-07 05:31:30 by Nathaniel:

Some people seem to be interpreting "three plus one dimensions" as being four spatial dimensions, i.e. a dimension one higher than ours. I thought it was clear that 3 space + 1 time is what is implied: the world we all experience.

2008-05-07 20:49:39 by Mick:

So, the creature is some kind of multi-dimensional monster, and the being (it feels wrong to say person) is possibly Mitch, or possibly the source of the Power.

2008-05-09 09:12:42 by Mike:

I won't comment on who or what any of these beings may or may not be, but then I have the advantage of having glanced at Sam's scratch pads over at E2.

Don't look at me like that. You don't have to make those things public.

2008-05-23 17:50:04 by Restricted:

It seems to me this is about one of the powers down the line, after they've harnessed the full technological implications of channel 3. The guy moves damn fast as evidenced by having a Planck heartbeat and setting a nuclear fire to the atmosphere he crashed through. Also, he said that his go ahead came "all the way down the chain of command" perhaps from numbers 8 and 9?

Anyway, Fine Structure and this story are beyond excellent

2008-06-10 23:03:16 by cory:

i'm curious: Am I the only one who would have preferred this remain a stand-alone story? I love works of fiction like what this story originally was: a brief experience that provides a fleeting glimpse of an "unimaginably greater Totality," to quote the story. The way something that well-done yet that vague sends my imagination racing is far more enjoyable than what it gains from having some kind of context.

2008-06-18 18:05:15 by Doog:

I can agree with you, cory, but I don't know if it's just because I'm not used to reading stories that unfold and get exponentially more complicated over the course of months.

2009-11-19 09:21:49 by qntm:

This story was retroactively incorporated into Fine Structure in May 2008.

2009-11-20 21:31:47 by MrUnimport:

You know, this could almost be Gandalf fighting the Balrog.

2011-09-26 07:10:45 by Chris:

This is what happens when we play with particle accelerators. Those poor beings never knew what hit them.

2015-01-07 02:48:05 by

Great story, loving it.

2015-03-24 08:41:08 by JudgeDeadd:

There's something that's bugged me for a long time now, actually. The pedant in me wishes for an answer.
"One degree of freedom over your opponent and there is no contest, none at all, and mine fell five to be here."
Does the word "mine" here refer to "my opponent", or "[the number of] my degrees of freedom"?

2016-10-01 04:15:37 by KageMCS:

"mine" does refer to "my opponent". It is worded vaguely enough each interpretation seems equally valid, but English can be tricky that way. So yes, our point of view character is dealing with a monster with five degrees of freedom he lacks and more firepower than his entire civilization. Fun.