It Has To Work

Previously

There's an invisible penthouse in the sky over the East River in New York, New York, and more than a hundred people have just materialised there simultaneously. It's the entire Wheel.

"Give me my God-damned kara back," Adam King hisses, still pinned face down by Exa, although now in golden and scarlet deep-pile carpet.

"You're done, Adam," Exa declares. He jabs a particular bundle of nerves in the back of King's skull, and the man flops unconscious.

They're in the ballroom, with a window showing almost all of the city skyline, which is dominated by the pattern of terrifying red high-energy magic warning signs. They're holographic, tiling the whole atmosphere of Earth, and kilometres long on each side. "What's happening to the sky?" someone asks. "Is this global? Everybody in the world can see this!"

"Ra is waking," Casaccia gasps, his medring resurrecting him with all the finesse of a boot to the stomach. "This was never supposed to happen. This was supposed to be impossible."

Murmurs spread. The mood in the room starts its descent from abject panic into deep horror. The same Wheel member asks, "What do you mean, 'waking'?"

"I mean," Casaccia says, "this spell is the one which fires when someone has started giving Ra direct orders again. This is the spell which tells everybody on this planet that their planet is done for. Ra is coming. Ra is here. It's over."

There's a dead pause.

"Flatt," Exa says.

Flatt takes a second to even realise he's being addressed. "What?"

"King is out of commission," Exa tells him. "This is a live incident, operational control passes to you. What happens next?"

Flatt is silent for a heart-stopping moment, a rabbit in headlights.

"Do we fight Ra?" Exa prompts.

"What?"

"Do I have to fight Ra again?"

"I-- I don't know. Caz?"

"What happens next is already happening," Casaccia says. He doesn't even need to check systems to know. "We're out of here. The emergency deep nonlocal transmitter is already coming up to power. We'll be able to boost one of us out of here every two seconds. We're leaving the star system."

"But that means--"

"Yes, it means Abstract War is over. Actual Earth is over. We lost."

*

Shorn of its rock embedding and raised up to face sunlight, the listening post is a twenty-kilometre tall Cambrian organism caught at the instant of self-destruction, crumpling up from below, collapsing from above and exploding red and napalm orange from the inside. Less than a sixth of its machinery is still operational, all in the top sixth of the installation. The installation's internal representation of itself stands on a thin whittled pillar of glass rock in T-world, frozen in the act of crashing and burning.

They travel there by space rocket. Laura builds the space rocket for them while they watch. None of the others are able to help, or so she tells them.

The journey is brief, but eventful. They meet several shells of airborne zombie defence, and meet them hard, with fire and kinetic projectile weaponry. For the final approach, in the absence of a functional landing pad, Laura pilots the vehicle up in a long loop, then dives down into the brilliant wound in the top of the listening post, the near-vertical magma-venting fissure.

They arrive at the akashic records office, the hypercylindrical hall from which the records themselves can be queried, with the Earth at its centre. From here, the listening post's own internal configuration and status are free to examine. The listening post reports that it will continue to operate almost normally for another zero point four seconds of real time, before the final critical power supplies are severed by creeping physical damage. At that moment, the post will instantly cease operation, and the entire dream experience will cut out and end forever.

A digital countdown of the remaining time is provided. It runs to six decimal places of a second, and for as long as Laura, Nat, Nick and Anil watch it, it doesn't move. They have all the time in the world.

*

Natalie takes control of the main display, and finds the scene of the showdown. There are major icons in different shades, nailed to the sky with the black Atlantic and the livid red sky as their backdrop, and numerous attendant minor particles. Nat collects information from multiple overlaid sources at once, tuning the display to show as much metadata as she thinks the others can handle without their eyes crossing. She breathes deeply.

"So here's the situation.

"This is the Glass Man, and these are his shields. He's nearly invincible, and close to invisible. He's already killed Laura once, and he defeated Mum in a straight fight, resisting a volley of energy and projectile attacks without any apparent effort.

"This is Laura's and my mother, Rachel Ferno. She is the Glass Man's most wanted, because she was the one who originally defeated Old Ra at the conclusion of Abstract War. The Glass Man has broken her mind open. She's been vivisected. What I mean is, she's alive. For now."

A third icon floats above the heads of both Rachel and the Glass Man. A blue thread links it to Rachel's head, and a green thread links it to the Glass Man's. "This is the Bridge," Natalie says. "It... seems to move information around."

"From anywhere to anywhere," Laura explains. "From reality into Tanako's world. From Tanako's world into reality. From reality to reality-- teleportation. From your mind into reality and back again. That's how I brought Mum and Atlantis back. Ordinarily, it would take an insane amount of mana to do that. The Bridge made it trivial."

Anil makes impressed sounds. "You can just bring anything out of the akashic records and into reality?"

"Yeah. Including any of the Wheel Group's destroyed astras. Bhārīvastra, Metaph, Abstract Weapon. Of course, once the records are destroyed, four tenths of a second from now, that functionality goes away, but that's why we were gunning for it, above all else. That's why it's theoretically more powerful than any other astra. That's probably why it was never destroyed along with the others."

"Adam King," Natalie murmurs.

"Adam God-damned King," Anil says, clenching a fist.

"So this is the Bridge, and the Glass Man's got it," Natalie says. She indicates a much smaller, orange piece of data which has been placed just beside the Glass Man's head. "Using it, he's gone into Mum's head and retrieved this piece of information. This is the key. Mum locked Ra away using a key. Without the key, Ra is a docile energy-production system which responds only to indirect commands made through the medium of magic. With the key in your hand, you can ask Ra to do anything. Literally anything."

"So he was invincible to start with," Nick recaps. "And then he got the Bridge, which made him invincible and close to omnipotent. And now he has unfettered access to Ra, which means he's absolutely, totally invincible, omnipotent and limited only by the speed of thought? I have that right?"

Natalie is ignoring him as she zooms out. And out. And out. The virtual Earth shrinks to the size of an apple. The orbit of the Moon contracts into view, an elliptical cyan thread with the Moon itself a grey bead threaded onto it.

Beyond the Moon's orbit, crawling through deep space towards the Sun, there's an elongated purple speck. Its icon oscillates, representing a nonlocality "radio" wave packet. Indigo metadata shows its outbound speed - precisely c - its projected time of arrival, and its payload. The payload is a request for a particular quantity of energy, but the number is unreadable. It's a nonsense number, from the wasteland beyond the reach of SI prefixes, where human notions of scale and proportion cease to function.

"And here's what he asked for," Natalie says. "Thirty-five digits. Forty-six decillion joules. That's enough energy to laser this planet into shreds. The energy packet returns to Earth in sixteen minutes and twenty-five point seven five seconds, real time. And by the way: faster-than-light travel is impossible.

"The Glass Man's had time for exactly one move. We get to make the second. We can re-enter reality anywhere in the world we want. Once we're real again we get exactly one shot at fixing this.

"And it has to be one shot, because then we're back into real time. In the next point four seconds, the listening post completes its detonation, and Tanako's world is gone forever, along with everything and everyone who was ever stored here. No more retrieving people and artifacts from the history of magic, no more accelerated planning, no more 'life insurance' safety net, no more getting out of jail free. Okay? So: go."

She folds her arms and waits expectantly. And for a long time, nobody says anything.

Anil recalls a flock of empty office chairs. "Where are the Wheel in all of this? We should have words."

Natalie locates the penthouse and studies the curious radiant mana patterns of the evacuation megaspell. "They're leaving the world. We're on our own."

"Cowards," Laura judges. "They'd better run, and they'd better hope we never catch them. Whatever happens next, this is our world. They've kept it in the gutter for long enough. We'll build something incredible."

"Can we hijack their evacuation spell?" Anil asks.

"It would need thirteen million times as much broadcast power," Natalie says.

"In that case it's simple. Escape is impossible. We're stuck on Earth. We can't exceed the speed of light. We can't catch up with the request and destroy it - if that even means anything - and we can't send a cancellation order that'll arrive before the original request does. The original request will reach the Sun, and the energy will come back down the channel. It is logically impossible, in this universe, to prevent any of these things from happening."

Natalie nods.

"So we're dead," Anil concludes.

"Ra's not going to shine a planet-destroying laser down on us," Natalie says. "The energy packet is... more like a thrown baseball, and the baseball contains all of the requested energy. There's a receiver at the core of the Earth. If the receiver doesn't catch the packet, it just keeps going, to the edge of space, forever."

"Oh? Then we have some options," Anil says, cheering up. "Can we shunt the Earth out of the packet's way? Physically?" He ignores Laura as she snorts and Nick as he gives a brief, genuine laugh, both of them failing to understand the seriousness of the suggestion. "Or just the receiver alone? How big is it?"

"Kilometres wide," Laura says.

"Can we destroy it?"

"Them," Natalie says, punching up the core node's blueprints and throwing a copy at Anil. "There are eight of them. Heavy redundancy. I told you."

"And they're made of nearly solid tungsten steel," Laura says. "And even if we could get there, there's no magic at the Earth's core. We'd have to find a way to destroy them without using magic. In less than two minutes and four seconds per receiver."

"It would be a stopgap solution, in any case," Nat says. "Ra would perceive the damage and route around it. At best, we'd buy another sixteen-minute round trip, during which Ra would certainly incapacitate us to prevent more interference."

Anil leans forward, studying the core node's engineering and lapsing into the same problem-solving thought process he uses in his aerospace work. "Okay. So let's put planetary-scale engineering in the 'maybe' pile. We can't fight Ra where it lives. Can we retask it? If we tell Ra to ignore the Matrioshka brain order, what happens?"

"Ah," Laura says, realising where this is going.

Natalie studies her version of the blueprints a little more closely. "The energy still arrives on schedule, but... as long as the second order reaches the Earth's core before the energy packet does, the packet gets cached safely. After a little while, it's deemed surplus to requirements and transmitted back into the Sun."

"Let's skip to the end. I'm going to fight this guy," Laura says. "That's how we get the key back and retask Ra. You need me to carry out forcible brain surgery on the omnipotent Glass Man. Once I've got the key, everything's fine." She cracks a few knuckles, remembering with extreme clarity the split second of red-hot agony that accompanied her death by vaporisation. The spellwork to pay the Man back is already forming in her head. "That icon is the same as Mum's. The Glass Man is physically human. All I've got to do is keep his brain intact and shield Mum from the backlash. Invincible he might be, but I bet I can find a crowbar that'll open him up."

"There are four of us here, Laura," Nick reminds her. "We can fight."

"I'm the one who can fly," Laura says, casually waving Nick away without looking, as if dismissing a fly from near her ear. "I'm the one who fights with sticks."

"I 'fight with sticks'," Nick says, "and I'm better at it than you, at that."

"But you can't fly, and you can't do magic, and I'm the one with Recursion's Big Brother on my side. It's all on me. Right? Worry not. It's easy. Once we zap back into reality, you're all going to stand on some beach in Titusville watching the fireworks, while I take this Glass Man out. Solo."

"In one second," Anil adds.

Laura blinks. "What?"

"It's his second move. It has to be. How long has this man been working up to this? Decades. He must have his moves worked out. Move one: reconstruct the Matrioshka brain. And then he needs to make as bloody sure as sure can ever be that nobody can stop it. That doesn't mean fortifications or personal armaments. This is Old Ra, he's plural, he's expendable. He doesn't care about his physical self and thanks to the Bridge he doesn't need Ra's power to defend himself if he does. Move two: destroy the key.

"He's already had all of one point four five seconds to do it, and it's a miracle that he hasn't followed through in that time. I give you, Laura, a generous further one second to intervene."

"One second?"

"To distract him or render him unconscious."

Laura curses. She stares at the ground, running hypotheses. "Yeah. Okay. I can do that. That means I'll have to reincarnate right there in front of the Man. In the middle of the sky. No. Behind him, and catch him by surprise... That's actually easier than a direct assault. If I can find the right spell... Hmm. One second."

"Less," Natalie says. "Potentially much less. I give you half that. He could be destroying the key already. He should be. I would be."

"Then it's a reflex action," Laura decides. "I'll be ready for it, and he won't. I can definitely hit him with something in half a second."

"And that isn't taking into account speed-of-light transit time between where we are and where he is," Anil adds. "Transmitting you from here to there takes ninety milliseconds. We also don't know how long it takes to nanoassemble a fresh human at reincarnation time."

"Okay."

"In fact, these displays are necessarily out of date. For all we know, the key destruction instruction is already on its way here. And there's nothing we can do about that. Your window of action could be as small as zero."

Laura slumps, angered. "Okay, you've made your point. It's worse than impossible."

"If the key's destroyed," Anil reminds her, "it becomes genuinely, logically impossible for us to win."

"Stop talking," Laura shouts, belatedly remembering that she and Anil never got on particularly well. "Shut up for one second, so I can think!"

*

She disappears on foot into the interior of the listening post's listening post, saying something about needing preparation time. Preparation time is abundant, so no one moves to stop her.

"I don't like this," Nick says to the others.

"Do you think she does?" Anil asks.

"That's not it," Nick says. "She can do it."

"You think so? I give her one chance in four, and that's if we can get her confidence back up to 'supreme'."

"And thank you for that, by the way," Nick says.

Anil doesn't follow. "For what?"

"She can do it," Natalie echoes. To Nick, "You're worried about what happens when she wins."

"Because then she's got the key," Nick says. "She becomes omnipotent, invincible and limited only by the speed of thought. She threw herself into this nightmare in the first place because she has serious and radical designs on the future. I don't trust her with the key. I don't trust myself with the key. Or anyone. The key shouldn't exist. You're right, Anil, and the Glass Man's right. It should be destroyed."

Anil shrugs. "We need moves of our own worked out, then. Like, a script."

"She countermands the Matrioshka brain order, then destroys the key," Natalie says. "One and two. As fast as possible, the end. Nothing else, no excuses."

"What about rescuing your mother?" Anil asks. "What if the Glass Man's still alive at that point? What about the Wheel Group?"

"There's enough material to improvise the rest of that," Natalie says. "We'll have the Bridge. We'll have a lot of options. The Wheel Group are in retreat, anyway. We can teleport Mum to a hospital."

"A hospital?" Anil chokes off an unhappy laugh. "Have you looked at her medical chart?"

"Erm. No."

Anil drags the relevant readout into the middle of the three of them, blown up to double life size. The schematic is disconcerting enough, but the full flesh-and-blood hologram is so grotesque that Nat won't look at it directly. Rachel Ferno has slots in her skull, her face and the back of her neck. There are flat metal rods inserted into the slots, running all the way through her head, and barbs spreading from the rods, and electrodes worming out of the barbs into her brain centres. The text of the pages-long diagnosis is full of frightening terminology like "nanoactive cerebrospinal contamination" and "severe hypothalamic damage", and gives her a projected lifetime measured in minutes and seconds.

"It's bad," Nick says.

"She's beyond the reach of twenty-first century medical science," Anil says. "She needs a Wheel Group medring."

"I thought she was Wheel Group," Nick says.

"Ex-Wheel," Nat says. "She never had a medring. Not that Laura and I ever saw, anyway."

"Then we can catch them before they evacuate," Nick suggests. "They'll help one of their own."

"Again, ex-Wheel. And we want to avoid that."

"Badly enough to risk your mother's life?"

Natalie says nothing.

"Hang on a second," Anil says, as a thought strikes him. He goes over to the main display and scoops up another handful of data. He hunts purposefully through it for a few seconds, then flicks the readout with a triumphant finger. "We can avoid it," he announces. "I know where there's a non-Wheel medring. Damn, that's sweet. 'Lucky charm' my lucky arse."

At which moment Natalie bursts out laughing.

"What's the joke?"

"Not what you said," Natalie cackles. She points at the display behind him. "I just worked something out. We need the key, right?"

"Sure."

Natalie plucks the data out of the visualisation and holds it in her hand. "We've got the key. We don't need the Bridge. We don't need to fight anybody. It's right here."

*

Laura overhears most of the 'confidence' discussion, and that just spurs her to keep jogging into the warren of blackness. The conversation never totally fades behind her, but becomes smeared out and unintelligible. The listening post's internal corridors are tall and narrow, with rectangular cross-sections and weak orange-yellow pinpricks of lights overhead. The floor is glossy black, reflecting the overhead lights to give a worryingly vertiginous effect.

When she realises that sounds are coming from ahead of her too, she stops walking. Conscious of the metallic clanking her armour makes even when she tries to remain still, she dismisses it in favour of the black flight suit.

A lanky young man turns the corner. His hair is black and arranged in misshapen spikes. He's barefoot, wearing a cheap, faded black T-shirt from some decade-ago rock concert, and loose shorts. Sleepwear.

"Ah, mou jikan desu ka?" he says to her.

Laura freezes, thinking six things at once.

It's impossible, one thread of her consciousness tells her. I mean, it's possible, but it's been years of real time. Subjective centuries, at minimum. Could he really have been trapped here for this entire time?

The stranger cocks his head and seems to guess, correctly, that Laura understands no Japanese. He tries a different, more common language: "Penamba eset." Coloured specks of light float out of his mouth as he uses each syllable.

He takes a step forward.

Laura takes a step backward.

Who else could be trapped here? Laura's mind burbles. Should we try to scan all of T-world for more survivors? Imagine that! The real Kazuya Tanako!

But finally the other half of her mind, the half that's gradually bootstrapping itself out of starry-eyed cluelessness, grabs her by the throat and screams FUCKING RUN--

And she skids and finds traction on the black slab, and runs--

*

Natalie set herself a script, and she goes about obeying it to the letter. She closes her fist around the key, presses it to her forehead, and whispers, "Do what I mean." When she opens it, the display behind her shifts a little, displaying new icons on the far side of the world, clustered around the imploding listening post.

The holographic Earth display now shows, in abstract but not entirely unreadable terms, that the Earth-destruction order has been cancelled, and that Ra is under Natalie's effective unilateral control.

It's that simple.

"Are you sure you want to destroy the key now?" Nick says. "There's a long list of other things that you could fix very easily if you wanted to."

"I know," Natalie says. She finds the decision to relinquish the power surprisingly easy. The lack of temptation is almost eerie. "It's too bad for us. We'll have to do some things the hard way."

She looks up, hearing running footsteps, as do the others. Laura arrives at a dead sprint, and skids to a halt.

"Kazuya Tanako's here," she gasps. "What the hell's that? Is that the key?"

The being imitating Tanako is indeed there, standing right behind Laura, apparently having circumvented the long sprint.

"Oh, shit," Anil says.

Natalie closes her fist reflexively. Too slow; her fist closes on nothing, and when she opens it again there's nothing. Not-Tanako's got the key. It's luminous orange, unmissable. He didn't even need to cross the room. Nat sees it, Nick sees it, Anil sees it. Laura whirls and sees it.

Nick's the only one of them with a weapon. Laura screams, "Nick, kill him!" and he's already drawing. Natalie stretches her will out, trying to repossess the key using the same trick, but nothing happens. The order falls into blank space.

Not-Tanako reinstates the Earth-destruction order.

Nick launches himself at Tanako, sword point first. Four steps separate them. Laura dives to one side, out of his way.

Natalie shouts at everybody, "Plan A!"

By the end of "Plan" the Tanako facsimile has destroyed the key forever, with a blunt crack like a gunshot through plate glass. A red translucent X floats where the key was for a few frames, then flickers out.

At "A", still cheerfully ignoring the approaching sword, Not-Tanako is gesturing at the big seven-segment readout, and all the numbers have snapped over to zeroes.

Nick finds his mark. Not-Tanako dies cleanly, stabbed through the heart. The listening post floods with illogic and boiling magma, and expires. The ground drops out from beneath all of their feet,

*

and they're in freefall at nothing A.M. over the red-black Atlantic, and the Glass Man is on top of them, firing.

 

Next: Why Not Just

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Discussion (152)

2014-07-22 11:38:00 by qntm:

1. It Has To Work.
2. No matter how hard you push and no matter what the priority, you can't increase the speed of light.

-- RFC 1925

2014-07-22 11:58:42 by Locutus:

Fucking hell.

2014-07-22 12:25:11 by ahd:

Sigh. Bootstrap harder, Laura.

2014-07-22 12:39:25 by Velorien:

Another very engaging chapter. Nice work.

I'm curious as to why Not-Tanako would try to communicate with Laura, first in Japanese (btw, the translation is "Is it time already?") and then in magic. It doesn't seem like this would advance Ra's goals in any way, since it wasn't particularly trying to delay her or trick her into something.

Also, Ra would presumably know that Laura doesn't speak Japanese, so starting out with English (which the real Tanako would probably know) would be more effective for either purpose.

2014-07-22 12:43:17 by ahd:

Do What I Mean:

0) change the key to something completely different that only exists inside my head
1) pkill -9 disassemble_earth
2) freeze and archive all running hostile sentiences from a) the akashic records b) the listening post systems c) Actual Earth d) Sol system
3) stabilise and rebuild the listening post and surrounding crust (including offlining the laser spell)
4) take the gigaspells offline, close Tanako's world to anybody not already in there, restart magic, heal anybody injured or killed while the service was offline

2014-07-22 12:55:23 by qntm:

Thanks to Clockmaker and BaronWR for editorial services on this chapter, and Insidious_Lars for the snippet of Japanese.

2014-07-22 12:57:18 by Kazanir:

Good stuff, Sam. You are at the height of your powers and we can't wait for the finale.

2014-07-22 13:13:16 by David:

You remembered to align everything correctly this time!

2014-07-22 13:19:47 by qntm:

Also, cunningly, I will never need to remember to align everything correctly ever again.

2014-07-22 13:22:39 by Tyr:

Sometimes I wonder if I'm getting reactions almost as fast as Laura. A text message arrives on my phone. From the popup notification I see the entire message is just two letters: Ra. Without opening it I turn to the browser on my desk, three keystrokes and one mouse click later I'm waiting for the new chapter to load, thinking: "damn, I was just about to install a service pack"

Now I have to re-read the instructions on what to watch out for while installing it, and think up a good excuse to tell the boss about why it isn't already running.

2014-07-22 13:27:36 by Velorien:

Sam, you may be the first person ever to destroy the world in order to avoid having to align text correctly.

2014-07-22 14:01:05 by kabu:

They did it! They saved the day! It's-- wait. Oh. Uh, that's awkward for Natalie. Well, time for the fight scene! :D

2014-07-22 14:06:14 by naura:

Ah ahd noted, Natalie's "Do What I Mean" instruction is not fully specified. Knowing her, I'm guessing she's saved them all already. Obviously she countermanded the earth-destruction order (which was later reinstated by Ra!nako), but she also caused various new icons to appear near the physical location of the listening post (Western Australia). I'm guessing based on her cry of "Plan A" once Ra!nako reinstated the destruction order that those icons represent astras pulled from Tanako's world. They're the tools our protagonists (heh) will have to use to fight the Glass Man (who still has a key, if I'm not mistaken).

Getting to Australia is accomplished via Laura's flying abilities, and I suspect she'll find a more useful set of things there than she expects. Because really, it's hard to overestimate Nat competence.

2014-07-22 14:08:58 by naura:

The Chekov's Gun that is Ed Hatt's medring finally has its purpose revealed, and it looks like Ed Hatt will just be a minor character (though I hope to be wrong about this).

2014-07-22 14:18:27 by David Mitchell:

Wow. Again. Nice work Sam.

2014-07-22 14:29:00 by naura:

>"What happens next is already happening," Casaccia says. He doesn't even need to check systems to know. "We're out of here. The emergency deep nonlocal transmitter is already coming up to power. We'll be able to boost one of us out of here every two seconds. We're leaving the star system."

>"But that means--"

>"Yes, it means Abstract War is over. Actual Earth is over. We lost."

Leaving the star system, eh? Where to? And how? A deep nonlocal transmitter sounds like it could move physical atoms as well as information at c, so it could theoretically transmit physical bodies to (say) a prefabricated space habitat that had been nonlocality-transported outsystem years/millenia ago as an lifeboat. If this structure had some computronium in it, it could virtually host millions of refugees.

Or maybe they're off to another star system populated by other Actuals, possibly with advanced civilizations and maybe with a nonlocality downlink and nanoassembly tech (in case mindstates, not bodies, are sent). Maybe even a Ra instance?

Or they could be jetting off into the unknown, in search of Actual human colonies which may or may not exist (and I get the feeling from he text that some Actuals decided to explore space pre-War -- I find it hard to imagine that NO ONE did).

2014-07-22 14:38:13 by naura:

Also, even if there ends up being a fight scene, I hope it isn't Laura who ends up winning it. Her seeming eagerness to fight/assertion that it was inevitable that she fight the Glass Man, her continued arrogation of the role of protagonist, make me view her as an unreliable and emotional decision-maker, though capable of powerful magic.

For those of you who've read it, consider the Fine Structure ending.

2014-07-22 14:44:35 by naura:

If I was wrong and the Glass Man isn't a Virtual but in fact "old Ra", a remaining fragment of Ra composed of listener nodes that continued under Matrioshka orders (an idea I still find implausible, for reasons pointed out by others in the comments on "Machine Space"), then I suppose this story can be viewed as a cautionary tale about the nature of "AI", especially on a huge scale. Ra is a network, and lightspeed forces us to build networks that have lots of agents listening to signals. Robustness is hard. Now imagine each of those network agents has the power to restructure reality...

Who the hell thought this could be provably safe? I wonder what kind of empirical testing was done on bit rot rates in listeners and cases of conflicting orders percolating through a system...

2014-07-22 15:44:49 by John:

Natalie is up on her tropes, having invoked the Unspoken Plan Guarantee:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/UnspokenPlanGuarantee

2014-07-22 16:01:05 by qntm:

Plan A is right there in the text.

2014-07-22 16:19:37 by John:

The unspoken plan I was referring to was "Do What I Mean". That is perhaps the most quintessential Unspoken Plan that can possibly exist.

2014-07-22 16:22:46 by Bauglir:

I gotta admit, I really wasn't expecting this chapter. Maximum edge-of-the-seat on this one.

I feel a bit more confused than before, but I think I can narrow everything down to a single question we need to have answered - "What are the Glass Man's motivations?"

We're told that it's Old Ra, which makes a sort of sense from a logistical standpoint, although it remains curious that the conversion order didn't include a standing "destroy listeners that terminate communications" order. At this point, I think we have enough clues to justify this actually being the case, perhaps.

It's been noted that its obvious personality and decision to manifest a physical form are very odd if it's actually a splinter of Ra. It behaves much more like a person with vast magical powers, a lot of time, and a vested interest in keeping his identity secret. However, we now know that it clearly planned for this whole series of events. It knew to plant Not-Tanako in the Listening Post, but it didn't interrupt anything, and even attempted a conversation with Laura at first (suggesting it was in no rush). It didn't delete the key, even with ample time to do so, until after Natalie issued her order - and when it DID take the key, it did so without any apparent effort, as though it had control over it all along.

The personality and appearance, then, make sense as a calculated front. Giving the protagonists a "person" to focus on, for instance, might have been key to getting them to do what they just did (although it remains curious that they didn't use their brief omnipotence to delete the Glass Man).

The question remaining, then, is "Why?"

The other thing I noticed about this chapter is that, for all the excitement, we're back to the status quo. The only thing that's really changed is that we've got confirmation that the Wheel is gone - and that strikes me as interesting. I'm wondering if the gambit here is a world with magic, without the Wheel. If the next step of the plan is for humans to "save the world", giving Natalie the opportunity to use the key makes a lot of sense.

That still leaves me wondering why the Glass Man wants this, though. I can't help but feel that the timing of From Death, Lead Me To Immortality is relevant to this, but I'll be damned if I can figure out how, exactly.

2014-07-22 16:52:39 by blef:

Sheesh. Enough. I'm getting apocalypse fatigue over here.

"They're winning! No, wait, it's impossible for them to win. No, wait, they're winning anyway! No, wait, now it's completely impossible for them to win. No, wait, they're winning anyway! No, wait, now it is really really actually literally impossible for them to win, for real this time, we're not kidding. No, wait..."

There is absolutely no reason to believe the claim that winning is "genuinely, logically impossible," because people keep saying that and they keep being proven wrong. At this point it's so obvious that the protagonists will do the literally impossible, the end-of-the-world drama has expired and I'm just waiting for the punchline.

2014-07-22 17:19:43 by qntm:

Tell me more about what is obvious.

2014-07-22 17:20:44 by Silhalnor:

On this line I think the first instance of "invincible" is intended to be "invisible"?
' "So he was invincible to start with," Nick recaps. "And then he got the Bridge, which made him invincible and close to omnipotent" '

2014-07-22 18:10:14 by trainbrain27:

"Invincible" fits both. According to Nick his original state, which was itself unbeatable, was not all-powerful.

2014-07-22 18:26:38 by blef:

More about what is obvious? Okay. The protagonists gain the upper hand (again) by using complicated and impressive magic (again) that we cannot have predicted based on what we know so far (again). Optional: bad guys do the same but bigger (again), making the situation even more hopeless (again, some more).

The exact details are not predictable because there are so few restrictions. Under the rules of physics and magic in this story, about the only thing forbidden is FTL. The characters can do anything else they like. They have SO MUCH freedom (and so much hidden information), there is no way for us to predict what anyone is capable of. This is especially true with the possibility that they're using astras, even new astras that we've never heard of before.

The details are not obvious, but they hardly matter. The details might as well be deus ex machina, for all the causal connection they must have to the rest of the story. Plan B is most likely "1) use astra 2) win".

2014-07-22 18:32:26 by Eclipse:

While it isn't clear what the kara's do to mind states, they might be able to get the key from Rachel, if they can get Hatt's kara to her.

>He ignores Laura as she snorts and Nick as he gives a brief, genuine laugh, both of them failing to understand the seriousness of the suggestion.

Why would Nick laugh at this suggestion? Before T-world, he only knew what Laura told him about magic, and certainly didn't know anything about the way Ra operates. Clearly he put a few things together while in T-world.

2014-07-22 18:33:01 by LNR:

Ignore that guy. I introduced him to the story today, and I think he's just annoyed that he can't read the ending yet.

If we're making predictions, though, I want to be the first to predict that Mama Ferno is going to have a meeting with Abstract Doctor. There's probably at least one major setback left to happen-- the destruction of the last remaining kara-- before the good guys come up with a solution and save everybody.

2014-07-22 18:37:53 by Unmaker:

Thinking by typing... lots and lots of thoughts
The key is destroyed.
---No one will reprogram Ra ever again. Current programming stands.
---Even if Ferno et al. win, the powers of Ra are out of reach.
---Ferno et al. better hope Glass Man did not give any orders with nasty residuals already.
---If there are no instantiated astras, then nonlocality tech will have to be built up from scratch.

Why didn't Glass Man release the Virtuals? Or maybe he did and that was part of the nonlocality request packet that is making its way to the Sun. If the Virtuals are released then embodied humanity are dead because the Virtual's power will be ultimate. So we have to assume for the story's sake that Glass Man holds all the controls but the Virtuals are not released yet.

At the end of this chapter, if I am reading the timing right, the Wheel Group is still being moved out, one at a time. Neither potential winner of the fight is going to be happy with them, but Ra may let them go simply by not caring. The Ferno group probably has serious questions for them, but the Wheel Group are a secondary concern at the moment.

Paraphrasing HPMOR: There are only so many constraints you can throw on a problem before it really does become insoluble.

Glass Man may be Tanako. We certainly have some clues to this so far.

Natalie and Anil are right about the long-term problems with Laura but there is a short term problem here also. Laura is too focused on fighting Glass Man, on payback, and on rescuing their mother rather than on ANY solution which will save the entire remaining embodied human race. Of course, right at the moment, KO'ing Glass Man is probably the best way to go.

Natalie had a failure of will. "Do What I Mean" should have included key destruction as its last step. Instead, she waited to issue that as a separate order.

OK, I have no early idea of how Ferno et al. can win this. Incapacitating Glass Man is the obvious next step, but HOW?

2014-07-22 18:52:56 by Unmaker:

A guess:

The Y-galaxy visible in Tanako's world is a representation of the three Ra prongs that contain Virtuals.

Has anyone guessed this before?

2014-07-22 19:27:38 by qntm:

> they might be able to get the key from Rachel, if they can get Hatt's kara to her.

I actually wrote and discarded a section which covered this in more detail and made Laura's time constraints even tighter. It went like this:

The key is too large to fit into either RF's head or GM's. All they're carrying in their heads are references to the original, which is still stored in T-world somewhere (but impossible for our heroes to locate with a simple search because the place is too large). Just incapacitating the Glass Man before he destroys the key isn't sufficient, because the key's going to be destroyed anyway when the listening post finishes detonating.

So Laura doesn't have one second, she has point four seconds (minus ninety milliseconds' transit time, minus nanoassembly time).

Worse, she can't just incapacitate the Glass Man in that time; she needs to steal the Bridge from him, AND use the Bridge to steal the key, and then CHANGE THE KEY to something stored in her own brain which only she knows. The request for the key also has to get from Florida to the listening post before it detonates, subtracting another ninety milliseconds and leaving her with a window of something closer to 0.22 seconds.

I omitted this section (most of the dialogue was Anil's) for several reasons: it was a little bit too complicated to just dump on readers in a scene which is supposed to be more about winding Laura up; I wasn't 100% certain of the key's request/change/exchange/transmit mechanics; I wasn't 100% certain that the Glass Man hadn't stored a copy of the key inside the Bridge; and 0.22 seconds was too small a window to be plausible for Laura to attack.

But more importantly, the events of the second half of the chapter render it all moot, which meant it was safe to cut.

Suffice it to say: Not-Tanako gave an order for the key to be destroyed, and the order was carried out. The copy in his hand is destroyed, the copy (if there was one) that GM stored in the Bridge is destroyed due to the same order, and the version stored in the listening post records has been physically destroyed along with the listening post itself.

Furthermore, I wouldn't go to the trouble of carefully setting up the key as the only possible solution to this mess and then having the villain destroy it "on camera" if my intention was to immediately roll it back with "oh, here's a spare". That is not how this works.

2014-07-22 19:49:01 by naura:

Right, so, they key's out.

Possible ways Ra could be reprogrammed:
- go to the sun and do it physically (not possible before earth is destroyed due to lightspeed limit)
- go to the center of the earth and reprogram the distributor node. have it use that energy packet to do something awesome and protective against Sun-Ra's retaliation, and/or to reprogram Sun-Ra somehow. Could Nat have created something in her moment of omnipotence that would be useful here?

2014-07-22 19:52:01 by qntm:

Other discarded sections:

* Natalie gives a laborious recap of what she had apparently deduced to be the Glass Man's life story, starting as a bodiless form in T-world and gradually accruing power until it becomes a global terrorist network and discovers that RF is alive (well, recoverable)
* Scene with Atlantis successfully hitting its runway, just as fireworks erupt in the sky behind them (where they can't see, so they don't notice and who cares)
* Laura's account of her and "Tanako's" plan to overthrow the Wheel Group by recovering powerful astras from T-world, starting with Recursion's Big Brother, plus a useful lesson on duplication hacks and "pirating" physical objects, such as yourself
* Anil mind-boggled by what Recursion's Big Brother can do, vowing to bring it back to reality and share it with a wider audience
* Nat being evasive when asked directly if there is a way to just shut Ra down completely
* Argument between Laura and the others over what should be done with the key now they have it

These discarded sections total about 4500 words, longer than finished chapter. And these are just the snippets I saved.

This one was a living nightmare to write. The logistics alone.

2014-07-22 19:54:57 by John:

One point of order which has been bothering me for several chapters is the blindingly fast processing speed of the listening post versus the hard limitation of the speed of light.

The listening post has been repeatedly been described as a big thing, right?

Big == "takes a long time for light to cross" == "hard limit on how fast a round trip of communication can occur".

It has been established that Team Ferno & Co are being simulated at such a high speed that a microsecond counter is apparently standing still. That means the hardware they are running on, along with all the data it needs, has to be contained within a physical space which is microscopic.

A chip clocked at 1GHz cannot have a round trip path length greater than 30cm simply due to speed of light considerations. And the T-world simulation has a clock speed presumably millions/billions/trillions higher than 1GHz, which would come with a maximum round trip path which is millions/billions/trillions of times shorter. And it all has to be in that one place, it can't be distributed, because distribution would come with signal delay.

We haven't seen any evidence of propagation delay in T-World. When they are looking up data in this chapter, it doesn't take any time for the data to be accessed. Therefore all the data they request had to be already present within the same tiny microscopic volume.

So while the listening post may be large, for T-World to have the characteristics it has demonstrated so far, the physical hardware running it has to be physically tiny, and all in one place.

2014-07-22 19:56:33 by naura:

a possible outcome:

Our Heroes somehow manage to get the Bridge (this seems impossible, but I have faith), teleport to Western Australia and grab the astras (including Abstract Weapon). Since 'hyper-advanced thaumic attacks' are in its repertoire ("all possible weapons", remember), it could be used to hack/reprogram the distributor (first, to discard the incoming energy packet) and subsequently Sun-Ra (which would by then see Earth still intact and launch retaliation... which could be countered by the reprogrammed distributor node!).

of couse, if magic not working at the distributor implies Abstract Weapon can't touch it, this whole plan falls apart.

another possibility:

Nat's DWIM plan included creating a Ra shard that didn't want to destroy Earth, and this can be used to do other things...

2014-07-22 20:16:41 by naura:

There was going to be a scene with "Nat being evasive when asked directly if there is a way to just shut Ra down completely"?

I suspect there is, and that she produced the necessary tools in her DWIM moment. It's sad to lose the power of Ra but Nat realizes Ra is too dangerous to be allowed to exist.

2014-07-22 23:26:30 by naura:

I agree with whoever posited an endgame of "a world with magic, without wheel".

If magic shuts down, earth with no magic but with astras would be interesting, but the story of Abstract Doctor shows how this could be problematic.

I hope some of wheel decide to stay on earth, they don't all seem evil.

2014-07-22 23:29:57 by Curiouser:

I would say that Wheel don't seem evil at all, with the exception of their ex-supreme leader, Adam King.

2014-07-22 23:58:17 by speising:

it's interesting. it has been establoshed that to fulfill a DWIM wish, Ra has to simulate the wisher until it finds an optimal response. Now Nat has been making a wish like that inside the accellerated t-world. is there an even faster tier than this already insanely fast sim?

2014-07-23 02:10:28 by David:

Can anyone translate the Japanese?
My guess "It's that time already?"

2014-07-23 02:29:52 by thirtythreeforty:

@speilsing: I believe that the listening post is not one of the Ra receivers at the core of the earth. On the listening post, they are running as fast as possible, but when Ra performs its sims, they happen on its own iron.

My money is on Natalie already having won. Failing that, the new symbols are tools instantiated to help get rid of Glass Man.

Sam, awesome work. You must write faster! :P

2014-07-23 06:17:00 by blef:

Sam said: "I wouldn't go to the trouble of carefully setting up the key as the only possible solution to this mess and then having the villain destroy it "on camera" if my intention was to immediately roll it back with "oh, here's a spare". That is not how this works."

I think that gets at the root of my quibble with the writing. This is not the first time we've been shown an apparent "only possible solution" that turned out to be obviated, superseded, or otherwise not necessary.

If you wanted us to believe that the key was really the only solution, you shouldn't have spent so much of the story proving that unique solutions *aren't*.

Also, if you wanted us to believe that the key was really destroyed, you shouldn't have had so many cliffhangers wind up with shocking descriptions that wildly mislead us about what actually happened.

Once you train readers not to believe what you say, it gets really hard to make drama that depends on their believing you.

2014-07-23 07:13:51 by CitrusBolt:

It is easier to move a problem around (for example, by moving the problem to a different part of the overall network architecture) than it is to solve it.

2014-07-23 08:14:56 by bdew:

The ability to destructively transfer information from the real world to T world, without any special privileges except access to the recording interface is huge...

I don't see why nobody used it before. It's not some exploit in existing functionality that nobody realized existed before Nat, someone had to give it that ability and know it was possible.

Speaking of which, why didn't they program the listening post to require Wheel privileges to access?

---

"displaying new icons on the far side of the world, clustered around the imploding listening post"

Everyone seems to assume that nat spawned new instances of Astras there, but could those icons also represent people? She could have made a copy of their group there too...

---

Also we still don't know who the glass man is (and i still don't buy the rogue listeners explanation), or what his ultimate motivation is (well he wants to destroy the earth and maybe build a matrioshka brain... but WHY?)

I think not knowing the real villain at that point of the story is just detracting from the drama/suspense.

2014-07-23 08:31:15 by bdew:

Some more thoughts...

"The key is too large to fit into either RF's head or GM's. All they're carrying in their heads are references to the original, which is still stored in T-world somewhere"

How did that copy of the key get into the T-world? The only way i see is that the key was stored on some media on Triton and then copied over. But that directly contradicts their idea of "lock away RA and throw away the key".

And it must have been recorded by Ashbourne, no one else had access to the key...

---

GM seems to effortlessly take the key away from NF in T-world, if he can manipulate data like that easily why didn't he take the key from RF's recording? Why did he need to have her resurrected?

Even if he needed a reference to the recording he could have gotten it from LF at any point they interacted.

---

Why do they need the bridge to move the shuttle from recording to the real world? Why couldn't they use the same exploit they used for the Astras, armor, etc.

Gah! As i keep thinking more about the plot it keeps making less and less sense to me. Please someone tell me i'm missing something .

2014-07-23 09:21:19 by Velorien:

@Curiouser, you do realise that the rest of the Wheel condoned absolutely everything King did except for the couple of things they didn't know about? That includes matters of general policy like "kill everyone who learns our secret, without considering alternatives".

@David, as I mentioned in the fourth comment, the translation is "Is it time already?" FWIW, the register is ordinary polite speech, as to a stranger or a person one does not know particularly well.

2014-07-23 11:17:35 by qntm:

> Why do they need the bridge to move the shuttle from recording to the real world? Why couldn't they use the same exploit they used for the Astras, armor, etc.

It takes a staggering amount of mana to "pirate" a physical object in this way. Not the same amount as the mass-energy of the object being pirated, but enough to make it impractical for all but very, very small objects. That's why the only astra that the Old Ra collective has been seen to bring back is Recursion's Big Brother - it's a tiny speck of gold.

Bringing *yourself* back from T-world is a different hack entirely and can't be applied for this purpose. The duplication takes place at the time you enter T-world. Later, when you leave T-world, the system doesn't realise that there's already a version of you in reality, and dutifully reincarnates you. Here, "you" is a fairly broad term, encompassing your clothing and armour.

On reflection, I suppose the Old Ra collective should have used this technique to create super armour suits for themselves, but maybe they didn't think of that, or they weren't even aware that such a thing was possible.

2014-07-23 12:54:12 by skztr:

if "Do What I Mean" includes instantiating copies of our heroes in the various places where they are intended to be, the new copies may have no idea about the key being stolen and the instructions re-set immediately afterwards.

2014-07-23 13:02:36 by Claire:

Suppose Nat's DWIM order was merely simulated in the listening post VR, giving her an approximate, 'best-guess' readout of what would be executed based on her privileges (possessing the Key), in the same way as the flying car that doesn't actually nanoconstruct the car until you actually touch it. That request would then still be in transit towards the core (several milliseconds away) when Tanako sends his counter-request and destroys the key and dies; it won't be fully processed, simulated, and all the details worked out until it gets there, perhaps a few microseconds before Tanako's override - although it should be in fully in effect when the simulation ends and everyone is back in reality.

Regardless, Nat's DWIM order is now more or less the only logical way out (a la Unspoken Plan Guarantee), since Magic Is Over, The Key Is Gone (so Māyā is over), and their physical bodies are in the process of being disintegrated, which cleans up all 3 power levels we know about.

Unless Glass Man makes a mistake for some reason - he has enough personality at this point to make a careless mistake plausible. Or his goal actually wasn't to murder everyone and create a Matrioshka brain, but our characters seem certain that it is.

Or maybe Sam will just kill everyone to spite us. That'd be cool too.

2014-07-23 13:48:00 by ahd:

How will the Virtuals be unfrozen?

2014-07-23 15:24:11 by theTrueMikeBrown:

Awww... I was hoping that the events in The Self-Reliant Heroine would be incorporated into the story somehow (perhaps Laura set them up in a simulation to give her training time for an ultimate battle), but it appears that with the ending of T-World there is no time for such shenanigans to occur.

2014-07-23 17:12:38 by John:

It's the end of T-World as we know it!

2014-07-23 19:45:09 by Nemonowan:

If Nat had the time to send some of the commands we discussed here, the solution is trivial (speed of light, people)
The sequence of commands would be:

Glass Man: <key_sign>destroy earth</key_sign>
Ra: ack-preparing destruction
Natalie: <key_sign>abort destroy earth</key_sign>
Ra: ack-aborting destruction
Natalie: <key_sign>change key to %random%</key_sign>
Ra: ack-key changed
Glass Man: <key_sign>destroy earth</key_sign>
Ra: error-key incorrect

2014-07-23 20:35:25 by Infinity:

@Nemonowan:
I don't believe the key was changed to %random%, mainly because not-tanako manages to reinstate the order, and because of a previous comment by @sam.

But, if this is purely hypothetical, what if the glass man simply acted to make the %random% order impossible, or at least make it take an extra step. Or what if he told Ra to ignore any orders by Nat?

It seems to me that the glass man must have thought about this, and that he would have taken steps to prevent his own downfall by this trivial solution.

2014-07-24 00:26:23 by Nemonowan:

When not-tanako reinstated the order, none of those commands could have arrived to the sun yet because of the speed-of-light delay. So he gave the order but it would take 16 minutes to know if Ra obeyed or not.

2014-07-24 01:19:31 by Infinity:

@Nemonowan:
The way it was explained (at least what I thought it said) was that the command simply had to reach the main listener on Earth - that energy packet is coming regardless, it's all a matter of what order is under effect when it arrives, so it isn't a 16 minute delay, it's a 90 millisecond delay.

2014-07-24 01:28:39 by Silhalnor:

So did Tanako pause the simulation for 0.4 seconds and then start it back up again at the very last moment so everyone could see how doomed they were? Why do that? Why give them the chance to re-instantiate into reality?
Could it be that our troublesome villain enjoys gloating a little too much?

With another 0.4 seconds lost the key really should be destroyed by now. The "Build a Matrioshka Brain" order was apparently only sent to the local Earth-node so we don't really need to worry about the wrath of Sol-Ra. (Or, if it WAS, then... run away?) Destroying the local node or dodging the incoming energy packet (well, assuming Earth's node is incapable of requesting a second packet but surely it could?) are apparently both infeasible.
Maybe they can drill down and physically gain access? Depends on what Nat did with her moment of omnipotence.
Maybe they can evacuate Earth and just let Ra build the matrioshka brain. It's not like "Kill all humans" was a part of that order, they just happen to be made of the most versatile of building materials: ATOMS. So just move away so that building stuff out of you is inconvenient. Of course, then there's nowhere to live. Maybe they can go steal Triton and kamikaze bomb Sol again.

Hmnn... come to think of it, although the destruction of T-world was a blow to our heroes it is ALSO a blow to our villain. He can no longer summon anything he wants out of the akashic records! He only has access to whatever he has cached and anything he can imagine on the fly. Things like, oh I don't know, sub-critical plutonium spheres! Or exa-watt lasers. Or a block of 1 million kelvin air. Or a block of empty air, effectively erasing our heroes (assuming it can work that way). I don't know why we aren't already dead.

2014-07-24 01:38:57 by Yasha:

So now that the key is gone, it's just a question of how well Glass Man and Natalie stacked their respective decks when they had control of Ra. not-Tanako was in a hurry, so my guess is that his only requests were "resume nefarious Earth destruction plan" and "destroy key." All other things that Natalie requested presumably still stand.

My bet on what happens next: Laura uses badass magic to steal back the Bridge, then uses the Bridge to move the receiver out of the way. Or, perhaps, like in Iceland, our heroes are going to redirect the energy coming from the Sun for their own purposes. They make their own receiver that intercepts the energy packet and then sends the Moon into the Sun to take out Ra or something.

A few questions: What was Rachel's plan? Clearly, it wasn't "get brain-vivisected by Ra." However, it can't have just been saving the shuttle. The Mandator of the Abstract War blowing her cover and dying for an unknown number of years just to save seven people is not something I can believe. Unfortunately, we don't have much to go on. While talking with Laura, she still thought the whole Abstract War thing was something she could keep under wraps and so was probably not being fully honest.

Secondly, what's up with the story about Rajesh getting a visit from the Wheel? That has to pop back in somehow. Part of me secretly wants Rajesh to end up being the Glass Man. "My whole life is fake? Well f*ck that I'm blowing up everything." He certainly had time to imprint himself in Tanako's world before he died.

It's certainly clear that Glass Man's plans are nefarious, though. If they were anything short of "destroy everything you love," he could probably convince our gullible heroes to join his side.

@bdew. Presumably, extracting data from brains is hard and requires setting up the fancy brain-vivisecting equipment. On the other hand, when Glass Man does the key extraction, the key extraction process itself is in the records. So Natalie doesn't have to look in Glass Man's brain. She can just go back in time and look at the record of him extracting the data from Rachel. It still doesn't explain why Glass Man didn't set up a simulation, put the recording of Rachel Ferno in the simulation with the brain-vivisection machine, and get the key. Maybe setting up simulations requires Wheel privileges/skills, since they are the only ones who have _created_ simulations as opposed to just entered them.

2014-07-24 02:11:22 by Tyler:

GM/etc doesn't appear to be acting like AGI.

Hypothesis: The Virtuals Won.

2014-07-24 09:37:59 by skztr:

"What was Rachel's plan?"

Rachel told us her plan: "save seven lives". We see death on the news every day, and we are able to be detached from it. We very rarely see death happening right in front of us. When you see that, and you literally have the power to stop it, then you act. Having "ceasing to exist for 30-60 years" as part of the plan isn't even considered to be weird by Rachel, as she is used to living an immortal an nonlinear life. If anything, the previous 50 or so *linear* years probably felt a bit weird to her.

Of course, causing her daughters to dedicate their lives to understanding magic, requiring enough mana to *guarantee* (she didn't know about the bridge) that they can't do this alone, but will need to have the support of hundreds if not thousands of other mages, would mean that knowledge of the Akashic records would also necessarily need to become widespread. Wheel would be exposed. Ra would still be protected, but its *existence* would not be a secret. That probably had something to do with it.

2014-07-24 09:38:56 by Zim the Fox:

Wee. Two of my favourite stories updated today. Made my day.

First, I want to know why suddenly the time counter went to zero. Was Not-Tanako doin something to fuck with time?

Second, while this discussion is over, I don't think I'd have a problem with being virtual (save for the possibility of dying as I am virtualised) as long as the world isn't perfect and I know there is an outside world. As a human being, I receive pleasure for solving problems and building relationships. As a human being, I like to work for what I want. Mmm. If Ra does whatever maximises happiness, I wonder if Ra could wash your brain and set you to maximum pleasure.

I would want to know the outside world exists simply because it provides me with a better explanation of my universe. Studying the outside world would allow me to understand the laws that govern the virtual world. It would allow me to build the better *model* of reality. Kind of like relativity gives the better model of reality between itself and Newtonian mechanics, but they are equally good in most scenarios.

2014-07-24 09:47:22 by Dehlight:

@Yasha: Given that the Earth relies on the Moon for stability, I think removing it from orbit would be catastrophic for life. So if they did do that, then I hope they also gave commands to keep Earth spinning correctly.

2014-07-24 09:57:26 by Dehlight:

@ZimTheFox: My two guesses about the time anomaly...

A) When you use DWIM it attempts to sync the acknowledgement of the request with your subjective time. Since the request would take X real nanaseconds to reach the center of the earth and back with an "ok command accepted" time appeared to fast forward for them each time it was used.

B) Nat did it. Tanako!Ra said "it's that time already" (could be actual surprise).

2014-07-24 11:20:03 by bdew:

@Yasha

I don't see how extracting data from a recording of a brain would be harder than from a living one trying to fight you back...

2014-07-24 13:42:51 by Alan:

I think Natalie created some new Astras, and maybe gave everyone specific powers, possibly a magic system just for the group.

2014-07-24 17:40:42 by Velorien:

@Dehlight

To be precise, he said "is it time already?", suggesting that he was waiting for something that is now finally happening. He might still be expressing surprise, but unless what he was waiting for was the destruction of Tanako's World, it seems unlikely that this is a reference to the time anomaly.

2014-07-24 18:56:57 by everyone's a critic...:

blef: "The protagonists gain the upper hand (again) by using complicated and impressive magic (again) that we cannot have predicted based on what we know so far (again). Optional: bad guys do the same but bigger (again), making the situation even more hopeless (again, some more)."

Rather more sharply than I might have put it, but the criticism is accurate. The author is obviously a talented writer and this is a compelling manuscript, but I'm afraid the current draft has come a bit off its rails as others are pointing out.

No one works alone, and writing is a collaboration as much as any other human endeavour. Every good writer needs an equally good editor whose judgement the writer genuinely trusts, and Sam, I hope you find yours because I can't wait to read the final draft when it's ready.

2014-07-24 21:06:21 by mds:

> I'm afraid the current draft has come a bit off its rails as others are pointing out.

Some say "off the rails," others say "immensely fun."

We know the characters are unreliable narrators. We don't have a future omniscient view of all possibilities in the story universe, so we're just along for the ride—in a post-singularity world—so anything goes. This ain't Jane Eyre.

Everything Sam story is much more exciting than a crazy Wheaton-esque screenplay with the inevitable face-heel turn from zero foreshadowing (oh, your major good guy has been a deep cover bad guy for the past 100 episodes with zero viewer knowledge? cool story bro.)

2014-07-24 21:31:41 by linkhyrule5:

Honestly, I don't know what blef is complaining about. Everything they've done so far is certainly, if not predictable, at least obvious in retrospect. I was hitting myself for forgetting that of course the pointer-to-the-key would be in the recording of Rachel's head, for example.

Similarly, nobody's done something completely impossible yet. I don't think they will. Without the key, reprogramming Ra is impossible; therefore Ra's program is set and they have already "won" that round. The remaining apocalypsi will be up to New Ra, which Laura feels confident in defeating - though now New Ra has hostages...

(Also, the hint is adorable.)

2014-07-25 02:25:52 by Bauglir:

Incidentally, for what it's worth, I think the Bridge is now useless. Without T-World, it has nothing to instantiate, and that was what it did. With the key also destroyed, the Glass Man has nothing the protagonists need, and defeating him in some capacity is now only a necessity because he's currently murdering them, and also to have a chance at saving Rachel, if that's still on the table.

2014-07-25 10:03:45 by skztr:

<del>travel faster than the speed of light</del>

<del>give new commands to Ra</del>

<del>summon additional resources from T-World</del>

<del>use T-World for extra planning time</del>

<del>use magic</del>

<del>anything that takes longer than 16 minutes</del>

Think of this like the end of the Ed Stories. We have no time. A fair number of our usual tricks are no longer allowed. However, we *do* have a bat-cave full of gadgets from our previous adventures.

The story has reached feature-freeze point. Everything needs to be resolved based on what we already know.

2014-07-25 10:39:31 by Zim the Fox:

Here is a thought. Why didn't the Glass Man take the key... At any other previous moment? He had access to the records, he knew who Rachel Ferno was, and even if he didn't, he had all the time of the world to go through the records. If he needed a physical body, he could have just gotten the key in he years after gaining a physical body as Benj.

Also, what is the Glass Man? I understand that he is the old Ra's little listeners scattered over the planet, but however advanced they are, I find it hard to believe they would be capable to form a fully functional (humanoid) consciousness that can even be empathetic. The glass man knew how to manipulate Laura, which suggest he made a mental model of her. The listeners are just that: listeners, information relays. It is the Ra shard that does all the modelling. Am I missing something?

Finally, what truly are the Glass Man's goals? Destroy Earth? Then how would blowing up Iceland help? Did he try to do that to enlist Laura's help? Then why are we told the Glass Man was trying to stop Laura from firing at not-Benj?

2014-07-25 13:03:47 by Kazanir:

The key wasn't in the records. It was in whatever un-sanitized recording Adam King had kept around without the knowledge of the Wheel Group (but which GM was able to locate with access to the reconstructed mind of Rachel Ashburne.)

2014-07-25 15:25:16 by Matt:

When 'Ra' possesses somebody, it seems to gain all of their memories and languages (at the same time), as seen with Nick and Tanako. It even seems to gains access to their personality as well, so over the years I can see the purely robotic directive to create a matrioshka brain merging with all the minds that get lost in T-World to produce the aggregate personality that is the Glass Man.

2014-07-25 19:44:29 by Unmaker:

@blef
@by everyone's a critic...

Taking blef's detailed objections a piece at a time:

"The protagonists gain the upper hand (again)"
---Isn't that what protagonists do? Back-and-forth situations do make for more drama. Are the swings too regular? Too complete once they happen? My only complaint on this, and it is a minor complaint, is that there is significant amplification each time, so at some point the system will crash, hopefully on the protagonists' side.

 "by using complicated and impressive magic (again)"
---Magic and its big sister DWIM are central powers, fulcrums, weapons, plot points, etc. in this world and the main characters are magical engineers. So magic will be used extensively. It would be, in a way, more impressive if they achieved the same results using small, known effects. However, one of the central themes of this world is the advancement of magical science and engineering. Most of the repeat characters have entire existences dedicated to that (both younger Fernos, Hatt, Anil, Rajesh, etc.). Expecting them not to advance their abilities during extended off-camera time is simply against their whole character concepts. So, the author has two non-exclusive mechanisms to show character skill advancement: tell or show. He generally chooses to show first and include some explanation about what happened a bit later. I am not an English major, but in my mind that is a style, not a weakness.

"that we cannot have predicted based on what we know so far (again)."
---Writing is difficult. Writing clearly about highly intelligent people doing complex things is extraordinarily difficult and difficult to follow, even if done well. Unless they pause for three paragraphs of exposition every paragraph of story, which would suck. So, it is very likely that there are things the characters did that was not well-presaged in the story. But you seem to be saying it happens all the time and is over the top. So, which, say, three or four character actions were the most egregious blindsides?

"Optional: bad guys do the same but bigger (again), making the situation even more hopeless (again, some more)"
---See above about back-and-forth plots.

Overall, I am feeling a bit of plot whiplash myself, but again, that seems to be a style rather than a blatant problem.

@John
Re: Light speed and computing substrates.
Very, very good point. And do I smell a formal debater (point of order)? One way out I see is to say that the clock didn't move while they were looking at it but assume it did during their trip to the listening post and then other times while the characters weren't looking. Another weak 'out' is: an ideal computing substrate would allow highly-interacting processes to move within the substrate so that they were close to each other. And since the Ferno group are highly-interacting, that's exactly what it did.

@Zim the Fox
Hi from the Pact boards. If you an HPMOR fan, note that we should get Pact and HPMOR chapters within 2 hours of each other starting 7 PM Pacific time tonight. I will certainly be awake.

2014-07-25 20:27:50 by John:

I like the plot whiplash. It reminds me of the climax of Erfworld Book 1, where the two battling sides each kept claiming the advantage back from each other in increasingly clever ways... until the protagonist pulled his last Chekov's Gun off the mantlepiece.

That story was a perfect example of the difficulty of writing about intelligent characters, and doing it well. To the author's credit, the final Chekov's Gun really had been there the whole time, and it was an astounding reveal. There were some nice twists in Book 2, but not quite up to that high standard. But I continue to live in hope, as Book 3 just started today!

2014-07-25 21:34:52 by John:

Another, minor paradox:

1) Faster than light travel is impossible.
2) Ra can do literally anything.
3) "Ra, move something faster than light."

2014-07-25 21:59:40 by Phigment:

It seems clear that Ra actually cannot do literally anything. But it is very good at cleverly faking the things it cannot do.

So, if you tell Ra to move something faster than light, Ra will either say, "I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that", or Ra will spoof together a fake FTL event which is convincing enough to fool you without any actual FTL travel happening.

Same as how it can enable people to detect chi particles, even though chi particles don't exist.

2014-07-25 22:46:18 by Unmaker:

Has no-one mentioned where Sam's quote came from?

http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc1925

That may be a hint, because besides the first two lines, which are very applicable to this situation, there are other items that are also applicable:

(8) It is more complicated than you think.
(9) For all resources, whatever it is, you need more.
(9a) (corollary) Every networking problem always takes longer to solve than it seems like it should.
(10) One size never fits all.

Those are applicable. Not a solution, but applicable. The rest have at least some applicability also, but the primary reason to read it is it is funny. Make sure to read the footer text.

2014-07-25 22:50:56 by Silhalnor:

everyone's a critic: "Rather more sharply than I might have put it, but the criticism is accurate. The author is obviously a talented writer and this is a compelling manuscript, but I'm afraid the current draft has come a bit off its rails as others are pointing out."

Agreed on all points. For the time being I have pinned the problem down to the characters having too much power and freedom. But I may well (and probably will) later decide that the core issue lies elsewhere. In any case this is largely why I haven't been posting much. It's hard to speculate when just about ANYTHING is plausible, and then when they do something I could probably think of a better way to do it. Using the Bridge to vaporize people rather than shoot them for instance, as I commented on in my last post. It's still compelling but I liked earlier chapters better.

Hmnn, it was never properly explained how they walked out of the dream after Thaumonuclear. Looking back I suppose what happened is that they had walked into the recording of the eruption as it was being updated in realtime and T-World was all "Oh, you want to go here?" and helpfully reinstantiated them back into reality when they weren't looking. But that explanation feels like a cheat for something that felt so mysterious at the time. Something I would occasionally go back to because our growing understanding of T-World told us that there is a binary separation between it and the real world and yet we have this one singular occasion in which people smoothly transition between the two. Feels like wasted potential on that point and then T-World turned into some sort of Mundane Fantastic tool. So I suppose it's just as well that it got destroyed. The loss of Humanity's history is really lamentable though. I don't suppose they thought to keep off-site backups somewhere?

2014-07-26 00:23:43 by Curiouser:

@Velorien: They're not the best people in the world. They are kind of selfish, and more than anything they seem highly incompetent.

The incompetence of wheel actually makes a lot of sense to me. Here you have a small group of mostly random survivors who have lived their entire lives having their literal every whim answered by a machine so powerful and complex that the only reason they have a clue how it works is probably because they requested it from Ra.
It's somewhat like this: http://cdn.adamhovorka.com/blog/end-of-the-internet-comic.jpg
"Can anyone fix Ra if it breaks? I mean, without asking Ra to do it for them."
That a handful of them have any amount of ability to cope with something like Abstract War(not to mention its consequence) is as miraculous as their chance of survival.

But evil? Nuh...


Coming to think about it, Nat is pretty much the opposite of wheel, being quiet, discreet, someone who thoroughly understands her situation, and more than anything, competent.(And before you tell me that Wheel has been secretive, don't forget that their plan of action seems to always be - kill everyone then erase the evidence with admin tools)
Like someone commented on an earlier chapter, she is the Batman of the Ra universe. I wonder what that makes Wheel...

2014-07-26 11:56:15 by Velorien:

My point was more that if you consider King evil, it is strange to consider the people who consistently enabled, endorsed, and in some cases directly implemented nearly all his decisions to not be evil.

Beyond that, this discussion won't get far without a definition of evil. There are those, for example, who would say that if you are capable of making Earth a paradise (or near-paradise) and choose instead to give it all the problems of the 1970s, that makes you evil purely on utilitarian grounds. Others might say that killing a human being when you have the power to imprison them indefinitely instead is an act of evil (at least unless you give them a choice, and they choose death). Or that having godlike power relative to the rest of your civilisation, and going thirty years without even *contemplating* how it might be used to benefit said civilisation beyond protecting the status quo is evil.

2014-07-26 12:01:34 by Velorien:

To elaborate on that last point, they designed magic as we know it. They could have chosen to make healing magic particularly easy relative to everything else. Sure, that would have military applications as well (everything does if you're creative enough), but I think they would be outweighed by the amount of suffering and death that such a decision would prevent. Is there any evidence that the Wheel think in terms of wanting less suffering and death for humanity? Or do they express pride when humanity develops its first working thaumic bomb?

2014-07-26 16:16:15 by skztr:

"For the time being I have pinned the problem down to the characters having too much power and freedom."

It may be worth noting that Sam appears to be a comic-book fan, and so stories in which conflicts derive mostly from what the characters *can't* do, as opposed to what they *can* do, are rejected by default as uninteresting.

You have the ability to make one genie-wish. Whatever you want, barring actual, literal, physical impossibilities (ie: you can't ask for infinite energy, and you can't go faster than the speed of light). The wish could even be "give me, and me alone, as many wishes as you are capable of granting". You can probably ask for anything that you want. What do you ask for?

2014-07-27 05:11:16 by Greel Lh:

Awww, but all the fun wishes involve bending time and space.

I want a reset point in my life, where upon death I would be sent back to some age, probably in my middle school years. I'd like to live a thousand different lifetimes. I'd probably set up a way to archive memories after each death, then take only a few back per respawn. When I tired of my current start, I'd want to choose a new body and time and location. Experience all of humanity this way.

Uhmm, within Ra capabilities, probably a lot (but just short of allowing me to become hedonistic) of money (weekly income adjusted for inflation please), a slightly better body, a functioning kara, and mastery of a wide spread of academic disciplines. That should take care of most obstacles in life.

2014-07-27 18:47:48 by Silhalnor:

Greel Lh: I would be very interested to see what memories you chose to keep by the end of it. Would you have the same mind when you changed bodies? The way I'm picturing it all of humanity would be made up of different instances of you. If everyone is basically you then that could mean that humanity works towards a utopia since you obviously wouldn't want instances of yourself starving in Africa or dying in wars or whatever. But that would be boring. Maybe in practice everyone would be essentially different but have important memories from random lives. Put in another way, everyone is a little psychic and have visions of other people's most treasured moments. Then what?

2014-07-27 21:37:59 by garbled circuits:

Here's an idea: can they corrupt the <destroy earth> signal that is en route from the Sun to the Earth? I presume that the signal is just EM waves going through space. With a bit of destructive interference, or anything at all that would invalidate the checksum on the signal, the receiver on Earth should just drop the command. And now that the key is destroyed, they only need to do this once.

This would have been easier with access to the Bridge. But even now maybe something crude can be whipped up in time. Perhaps a well timed blast of radiation from an H-bomb would work.

Is there something obviously wrong with this idea? If not, it seems surprising that something like it never came up in room with three engineers. Do mages ever take a basic signals processing course?

2014-07-27 21:43:25 by skztr:

The "destroy earth" signal isn't in space right now. The only signal right now is "please give me enough energy to destroy the earth" and the return packets of "here is enough energy to destroy the earth"

2014-07-27 22:06:57 by garbled circuits:

Ah OK thanks. That makes sense. I wonder if the signal could still be corrupted so it could trick the receiver on Earth into thinking that only 1 joule of energy was delivered. Shifting around pointers and all. But that seems pretty risky and not guaranteed to prevent the receiver from noticing that there are actually 46 decillion joules lying around. Is it even possible not to notice that much energy?

How is that energy being delivered such that it doesn't destroy everything as soon as it's near Earth?

2014-07-27 22:52:57 by D:

@garbled - Quantum nonlocality. Basically its the only thing in the story that is probably, but not definitely, impossible.

2014-07-28 05:23:01 by Greel Lh:

That reminds me of a story: The Egg, by Andy Weir.

I guess in my head, I'd try to minimize overlap in lives, so I don't run into myself. The cool thing with this approach is, I can sample all of history, but only choose one "real" lifeline to go forwards. It'd be awfully boring to have humanity be just one soul, even if that person went through radically different experiences over millions of subjective years. Hmmm. I dunno.

The original version of this idea involved a friend and I with intertwined paths all through history (kind of like Cloud Atlas). I think I'd want company, just one person who's crawling their way through the timestreams just as I was.

2014-07-28 05:45:30 by Alan:

Greel, I would ask for a memory palace(or just "offline storage") and the ability to visit and populate it as I live out my lives. With compressed time of course.

Each life would start anew, except for knowledge of the palace and how to use it.

Certainly some portions of the palace I would lock away using puzzles and whatnot. Rather than giving calculus to a teenager, perhaps the incarnation would have to solve something else to get at it. Perhaps it would be similar to trading with myself. A perpetual game.

Summaries can be left: "Such and such is not useful on the path to ... but you might find it useful after learning ..." "Learn this instead of ..., it is a short cut to ..."

Having wide open access is no fun. Every life would become increasingly similar to earlier ones by virtue of so much common knowledge.

The best request to Ra: "Let me understand how Ra works. DWIM."

2014-07-28 18:30:51 by Silhalnor:

Genie wishes may just be too open ended for me, I need some constraints to work from. Take Minecraft for instance. When I create a new world I can wander for a good while without any idea of what I want to do with the world but if I throw some kind of constraint onto it I don't have a problem. One of my favorite worlds so far is when I spawned on a tiny little island and refused to leave. By the time I finally made a boat to check out those distant mountains the world generator had changed and I found myself in a giant square lake of what I'm CERTAIN used to be an ocean.

2014-07-29 02:19:15 by Questions:

Some questions:

1. Why did Rachel abandon the Wheel?

(Because she knew there was a possibility of failure and needed to independently set up her own plan?)

2. Why did Rachel save the shuttle?

To back herself up into the T-world, obviously. Why? Laura thinks it's to save the 8 astronauts. This doesn't make much sense. This has to be part of a plan to save Actual Humanity. The only reason I can think of is so that Ra will be able to find the pointer to the key in her head?

3. I'm still confused about the key. It seems pretty clear that the plan, which was executed, was for there to be no key. ("And tell Ra to never accept direct instructions again. Ever. From anybody.") In other words, what Natalie meant to do (destroy the key as her last statement), Rachel actually did while in the sun. I don't understand why the key still exists, and also, given that it does still exist, how the Triton crew/Rachel didn't consider this super super obvious loophole?

I love this story.

2014-07-29 03:04:48 by Jay:

I'm honestly confused as to where the story can go from here. It's pretty clear Glass Man is at a higher privilege level than our protagonists, with his insta-Bridge-stealing, insta-key-stealing override ability going around like that.

You can't fight him with astras, because you're just giving him more stuff to steal. Even Weapon... hell, he's almost certainly *had Weapon already* and *given it away to a kid*. (And seeing as Exa had already destroyed Weapon, he must have used the Bridge *and then put it back*).

You can't fight him physically, because magic (sniper rifle? force field). And you can't fight him with magic, or Laura would have won already.

So... what happens after the villain is too awesome to be beaten?

2014-07-29 04:06:02 by atomicthumbs:

that's when you undermine him.

2014-07-29 06:30:54 by Kazanir:

I think you're overestimating Glass Man, here. Clearly he has some privileges within T-World that our protagonists didn't have, likely by possessing the True Name of ra that drives other key parts of the system. But I think this chapter is meant to illustrate that he is human and can allegedly be taken down with magic. Furthermore, with T-World gone some of those privileges have probably expired.

If he is composed of / related to a terrorist network of rogue Ra listeners, then his ability to steal the Bridge from Laura when she isn't expecting it doesn't necessarily mean he won't be vulnerable to the other Astras.

It also isn't clear that he ever had Abstract Weapon, and he certainly didn't use the Bridge to reinstantiate it (because the Bridge didn't exist in the records.) The whole point of Laura's expedition was a way for him to both get pulled into reality and gain access to the Bridge which was locked way from magic and T-World at the core of the Earth.

2014-07-29 18:50:03 by Paul:

Just read all of this in the past day or two, wanted to share my appreciation. No deep thoughts other that please keep writing!

2014-07-29 22:31:27 by Silhalnor:

Theoretically the Glass man *could* have acquired Abstract Weapon without the Bridge by using the same techniques that Laura used to summon a horror, but would he have gone through the time and effort to store up enough mana with which to do so? It might not even be as time consuming as one would expect. He could use the T-World duplication glitch to generate arbitrary numbers of himself and then use them all to rapidly collect and store up mana. He should be able to produce thousands of himself in seconds or less. Of course, then we have the question of what to do with the bodies. What are you supposed to do with thousands of instances of yourself? Once you have the mana you need it may be easiest to just let them all starve and dump themselves into the ocean just before they die. Then it's just you and you can summon some astras!
This sounds like a great plan! Let's put it to work! Who's with me?

2014-07-30 05:56:26 by Jay:

Yeah, the Bridge didn't exist in the records, but Laura got at it from T-World anyway. And who taught her that trick? (Assuming Ra!Tanako!Nick and Glass Man are forks or otherwise working together. What was Chedbury Bridge researching, anyway, and for who?)

Weapon didn't exist in the records *afterward* because someone erased it and everything related to it - possibly using Weapon itself to do that.

(Of course, once DWIM mode is back, one could ask Ra to make another one from spec... or as many other astras as one wanted, for that matter...)

2014-07-30 18:36:27 by by:

DWIM says Nat. What she meant was likely 'give us what we need to defeat the glass man' and had no time left to switch keyspace and/or destroy the key before shit hit the fan.

2014-07-30 18:39:47 by by:

alternatively, she could have meant 'make everyone in the room with me Wheel equivalent in priv. level and access.'

2014-07-30 18:42:05 by Alan:

 'make everyone in the room with me Wheel equivalent in priv. level and access.'

Hopefully she didn't aim so low!

2014-07-30 18:58:12 by by:

@alan how could she have aimed higher? their intention was to purposefully destroy the key without re-enabling the DWIM RA interface, so that option is out by simple inference. wheel members still have hugely greater priv. levels than a normal human.

2014-07-30 18:59:38 by by:

well, i mean i guess she could have meant 'make myself or everyone in the room with me true name RA'. then youve got access to the gigastore of remaining mana

2014-07-30 19:25:20 by Alan:

By, she knew very well that 'magic' was ending with the destruction of the listening post, so she likely erected some ad-hoc system to give them a mechanism for battling the Glass Man.

Why then would she limit her allies with the permissions system of the Wheel?

2014-07-30 20:42:47 by Silhalnor:

The Listening Post didn't create magic, it used magic to detect and record the chi and other magic particles that are released by spells. The equipment that listens to people's actions and "spells" and produces the correct magical response is different machinery entirely. It's the peach node, reprogrammed.

And now I realize that the Wheel really did follow their own rules. Everything they do, the rest of humanity could have done. At this point giving oneself Wheel privileges may well do nothing whatsoever since most of their equipment has been destroyed.

Still, one would expect magic to no longer be functional. But since shutting that down is relatively low priority maybe the Glass man didn't bother to do so.

2014-07-30 22:41:00 by Yasha:

Just remembered one other "unused plot point":

'"...Negative identification," Scin echoes. His intonation is very different from Flatt's, and in fact different from his usual, too. Exa is too irritated to pick up on this.'

There's been some speculation that Scin has somehow been compromised, but that hasn't really come up.

Or maybe Scin's weird behavior was cleared up later and I just didn't notice.

2014-07-31 00:19:15 by wherever:

zui@wherever> su
zui@wherever# userdel ra

2014-07-31 03:08:28 by root:

I dont think you can delete the root user bro

2014-07-31 05:33:41 by LNR:

Sure you can. If you don't believe me, go and try it. But do make sure you have hardware access, and remember how to boot into single-user mode, so you can fix the problem later.

However, it's a moot point. Deleting the root user (userid 0) does not remove superuser powers from any other users who might have them. It also does not force logout of that user if any sessions are already open.

If the glass man has a SSH connection open, and you delete his user, he still remains logged in. He just can't log in anew after this connection goes away.

2014-07-31 06:48:32 by What about...:

zui@ra# /sbin/shutdown -P now

2014-07-31 11:17:05 by by:

Well what about asking ra "does you processor have a halt and catch fire mode? Enter this mode." All this is really stuff that would get our heroes killed. Hopefully nat created some astras or a competing receiver/teansmitter-jammer with her final request that showed blobs appearing on the records interface screen just before they were kicked to local.

2014-08-01 15:28:12 by Trevor:

Has anyone guessed that the Glass Man isn't actually Ra but the complete merge of all of Virtual Humanity?

If not, I'm guessing it now.

2014-08-01 16:47:55 by gimel:

So, having read all of "Ra" in two sittings, I can't help but admire the author's vision. And I can't help but nitpick. The question below must have been asked a couple times before, but I'm a lazy man and rather than wade waist deep in comments first, I'm gonna ask it and then look for a satysfying answer someone came up with a couple months ago.
The question is: why exactly didn't humanity settle new stars? I mean, if the problem with Virtuals is their need for raw computational power, then every star is as good as any other. You send some of Ra's seeds to Alpha Centauri, or Fomalhaut or wherever in the Galaxy you want, order it to build a copy of itself within the star and then enclose it in a Dyson Sphere-sized computer (if you need some relatively cool material to begin - exoplanets abound, just go hit Gliese). Problem solved, Virtuals have a couple more magnitude orders of wattage to consume, Actuals have more than enough time to come up with something that, say, feeds off black holes. Alternatively, after having lost most of Solar System to the war, just say "to hell with it", order Ra to self-destruct completely, leave for distant stars, just like they're doing now, only without the hassle of rebuilding an entire Earth from scratch.

2014-08-01 19:36:55 by Comfort Addict:

I expect that forsaking Ra's nonlocality wish-fulfillment technology is quite literally unthinkable for the Actuals -- as unimaginable as forsaking agriculture & writing would be for us.

2014-08-02 00:02:07 by Silhalnor:

@Gimel:

*Writes a bunch of stuff about why the Virtuals never settled new stars.* Actually... you know what? I bet the Actuals simply didn't LET the Virtuals colonize the stars. Why would they do that? Perhaps fear that the Virtuals would eventually want even more resources and come back to Sol. Why not send them out without hardware access so this can't be done? ...Laziness? Perhaps a belief that the Stars only belong to "True Humanity", meaning they are all elitist Actuals.
If you don't like that idea then read on.

I have a theory as to why the Virtuals did not settle new stars for their computing. First of all communicating with the Actuals would practically take your whole life (for those people who choose to die in some fashion) so no one does it even though it's the only way to increase resources. (Though I would expect some forward thinking Virtual would make a person for this sole purpose who has infinite patience.) But secondly and primarily because of how long it would take to colonize. Talking with an Actual for a minute to ask for an extra-solar colony would take an exceedingly long time. To estimate just how long this would take let us suppose that it would take the 6-digit counter in "It Has To Work" an hour to tick forward (though it is probably much longer than that) that means a single second takes around 114 years. A minute is 6849 years to a Virtual. The nearest star system is Alpha Centauri which is ~4.3 lightyears ago. (I mean "away" but that typo manages to be technically accurate so I'm leaving it for hilarity.) (And it has THREE stars! JACKPOT!) Let's suppose it takes 5 years to get there and construct your 3 duplicate Ras. (Sol-Ra can send energy along behind them so they'll finish much faster than the century it took to build Sol-Ra. I suspect this estimate is being generous though.) That means it will take 18 billion years. Ok, a little less because construction doesn't have to be completed before the Virtuals can "move in" but it is a minimum of 15.5 billion years because of the transit time. It might as well never happen. (Even though far more than a trillion years have passed already within Ra's simulations.)
Now, of course, it is not as if the Virtuals will be "alive" during transit. Subjectively no time at all will pass. But it may be that they can't stand the idea of "losing" so much time that they can never reclaim. Though obviously they are losing far more time by not colonizing. And now my argument is breaking down because you can find decent fixes or compromises for this.

2014-08-02 00:05:33 by Silhalnor:

I'd say that the survivors DID forsake wish-fulfillment. Though not to the degree that they have subjected Neo-Earth. (Or whatever it is they call their imitation of 1970+ Earth.)

What would be the point of destroying Ra only to go somewhere else and build a new one? It would be easier to just kill the Virtuals. As far as the survivors were concerned freezing them did the same thing. Of course, it would have resolved their current problem (unless the Glass Man followed them? Could be worthwhile if he planned to hijack everything they build) but they clearly didn't expect their opposition to have any survivors. And they CERTAINLY didn't expect any opposing survivor to command Ra because they threw away the key. Except King had a spare he obviously doesn't deserve.

2014-08-02 13:44:11 by Gigalith:

After some reflection, I don't see how the Glass Man's actions, in the context of being Old Ra ,make sense here. Admittedly, this comes after about several hours of Ra-related dreams, so it may be off, but still...

If the Glass Man destroys the only key to real Ra, and real Ra is currently set to "only do magic" mode, which no longer works, then how are the Virtuals supposed to use real Ra again, after it succeeds in the construction of the GIANT SPACE BRAIN? Why doesn't the Glass Man wake up the Virtuals in real Ra for more brainpower (see: a comment above)? Why does the Glass Man talk to itself, if the Glass Man was once real Ra?

While we're at it, I think there are still some unexplained questions. Why did the Glass Man interact with LF when she killed Not-Benj? If Not-Benj was actually a "ra", then it would have made more sense for the Glass Man to stop Laura and get whatever benefit out of the Volcano-Nuke shenanigans it desired. Unless it had godlike powers of prediction, there'd be no way for it to know that in the future, LF would resurrect her mother and give it the opportunity to take the key.

Also, what is up with the T-World ghouls?

BONUS: I've thought ever since Abstract War, more or less, that "Ra" stood for "resource allocator". Well, and the sun god thing, too.

2014-08-02 22:41:56 by Matt:

Even though the listening post is gone, the gigaspells at the core node should still be online and running magic. If Natalie did restore Metaph, they might even be able to make changes to the way magic works without the key.

As for the ghouls in T-World, they were a hacky solution to mages being able access the akashic records interface in their sleep. Rather than make changes to the laws of magic to close the exploit, which would have been noticed by scientists (and possibly hinted at the artificial nature of magic) the Wheel just filled it with monsters and made it into a nightmare.

2014-08-03 00:20:13 by Gigalith:

@Matt:

But why did ghouls exist in the Abstract War simulation, if they were created by the Wheel Group?

2014-08-03 07:29:47 by naura:

The abstract war sequence was a Wheel simulation, so it can and does differ from what actually went down. If we accept ghouls on earth as real during the war itself... Maybe they were a mechanism to wipe out survivors?

We're approaching the end of the story, so I don't know how much of this will be clarified.

2014-08-03 09:59:29 by Dominik:

The ghouls really don't make sense in that context. Maybe, and that's a big maybe, they were the only thing the Wheel could do to keep people from the akashic records, but I really doubt that. Making semi-intelligent monsters appear close to invaders has to be most complicated and least efficient solution possible.

So it's right out as a way for a superhuman intelligence to deal with human survivors on earth.
A) There were 3 people there at the time
B) It had already compromised one of them [and what's up with that, being there already and not immediately killing him?]
C) It had a node there. That means it knows exactly where everyone is. It's better to laser them to death, rather than creating nightmare monsters to wipe them out. Ra knew this, which was why it lasered all earths to death, rather than creating nightmare monsters to wipe out.

2014-08-03 10:10:30 by Velorien:

Now that I think of it, why can sleeping mages enter the T-World? It makes no sense whatsoever, but for one possibility.

So we have a world that functions on 100% solid physics, as interpreted by advanced future tech. That includes magic. Everything a spell does, it does because Ra nanotechnology modifies the world according to instructions expressed through the spell's verbal components.

Then we have T-World, which is actually a virtual reality interface for accessing comprehensive recordings of history, as made by a physical listening post deep beneath the surface of the Earth. Members of the Wheel can enter and use T-World because they have access to the hardware generating it, so it works just like any other virtual reality software (except for the fiddly parts where Ra's power makes it possible to alter reality based on the simulation).

So far, so scientific.

Then suddenly random mages who fall asleep find themselves accessing this virtual reality, by sole virtue of being a) mages and b) asleep.

While it's not literally impossible because we do have nonlocality, there's just no plausible reason why they would be able to do that, any more than they would be able to access and control any other real computer system in their dreams.

Well, maybe one reason. Ra is mediating the access from their brains to the hardware running T-World. The only possible reason anyone could enter T-World accidentally and without access to the hardware is if Ra expressly wanted them to, and hacked it on their behalf.

Hypothesis: Non-Wheel mages being able to access T-World at all is Ra's work, so as to allow them to learn enough true history to discover the Wheel's existence (cf. Ra!Tanako's story) and/or learn to manipulate T-World enough to overcome the Wheel's vastly superior power and/or in order to set up specifically for the Rachel/Laura plan.

Supplementary hypothesis: There is one other backdoor which the Wheel wouldn't have deliberately created: getting to T-World by bringing a lot of mana together. This serves the twin functions of giving mages a way to deliberately explore T-World, and of motivating mages to gather and instantly expend vast amounts of mana that they would otherwise not need (thus potentially draining the gigaspells and awakening Ra).

2014-08-03 13:48:32 by Brett Bellmore:

Silly question, but how do you fire an insanely powerful *magical* laser in the one place on Earth where we're assured *magic doesn't work*? You know, behind the curtains, where the special effects are disabled?

That aside, entertaining story.

2014-08-03 14:02:41 by Omegatron:

@Brett
Laura's laser was fired from within the listening post, not the Earth's core node. Unless you are talking about another laser that I've forgotten about.

2014-08-03 23:39:02 by Yasha:

On sleeping mages going to T-world:

T-world records everything, so there's a copy of everyone in T-world. While mages are awake, their T-world copy is being synced in some sort of way with their real world selves, and so their consciousness has one experience: reality. When they sleep or enter a trance, the sync breaks. Their real world copy is unconscious. The T-world copy goes about doing T-world stuff. When they wake up, the two conscious states are merged back together, and so they remember going to sleep/entering a trance and then doing T-world stuff and then waking up in the real world.

The more magic is going on, the higher resolution the T-world copy. When a non-mage sleeps, their T-world recording doesn't have enough resolution to have conscious experiences. When mages sleep, their T-world recording has enough resolution for fuzzy dream-like experiences. When they use fancy Delhavi or whatnot spells, their recording has enough resolution for full consciousness.

On the other hand, come on, who was dumb enough to set the execute permissions bit to 1 in an archival recording? "Oh, you said to _store_ conscious states in T-world? I thought you wanted to _run_ conscious states in T-world. My bad."

2014-08-04 00:24:25 by Silhalnor:

@Yasha: I don't think T-world records everything, only magic particles. Everything else, I guess, is inferred based on "shadows" or what have you. Otherwise Rachel wouldn't have needed to pull her stunt to save seven astronauts.
I'd guess that there is some sort of super simple spell with only mental components that takes you to T-world. This would be for convenience on Wheel members. The fact that it can be cast by people without privileges was unanticipated. Why does it happens while asleep by people who use magic a lot? I suppose they enter the mental state used to cast magic during their random dreaming since they use it at work/school all the time. They'd probably be "mumbling" spell fragments in their heads too, and every once in a while stumble on the combination that establishes a connection with T-world. Yeah, that sounds plausible. After a while mages learned how to enter T-world consistently by using Dehlavi lightning machines. As for why high energy magic makes T-world dangerous.... Maaaybe... the presence of magic via the dehlavi machine allows "casting" actions that were done in T-world? Kind of like you gave T-world temporary execute permissions on your mana.

Hmnn... considering the amount of energy used when you perform the duplication glitch in T-world this spell would have to be "hardcoded" into magic as would T-world, it couldn't be some sort of custom code enforced by the Listening Post. Not unless I'm underestimating the amount of energy they have stored in there. So... why is T-world hosted in the Listening Post but appears to have the powers of Ra?

2014-08-04 06:59:57 by bdew:

The ghouls on earth during the abstract war recording could have been edited in by Wheel, to demonize RA even further or whatever.

They could also have been created by RA originally and then Wheel just reused them when they needed something to keep visitors out. But that doesn't really explain why RA made them.

2014-08-04 12:16:09 by Diadem:

One thing that has been bothering me for a while: Where does Ra get the energy from to destroy the earth?

The local Earth node of Ra doesn't have enough energy to complete the 'destroy earth' request. So it requests additional energy from the main Ra node in the centre of the sun. Makes sense.

But the request is for Forty-six decillion joules. The sun's total energy production is only about 12 decillion joules per year. So where does Ra get this energy from? Even if Ra is able to extract energy from the sun at 100% efficiency, it should take 4 years to complete the request.


2014-08-04 15:07:19 by Kazanir:

Is that the total energy production through fusion or only the amount radiated? Even if it is the former, presumably Ra has the ability to accelerate fusion in the sun's core to rapidly generate extra energy.

2014-08-04 15:28:46 by Silhalnor:

I've been assuming that Ra stores away all the energy it collects that goes unused. To do otherwise feels wasteful.

2014-08-04 15:46:13 by naura:

Yeah, I too imagined Ra stored all the energy it collected. But is there some kind of upper bound on the energy density of a battery? It'd be a plot hole if such a battery would have to be bigger than Ra (or even the Sun) lest it explode/turn into a black hole/whatever.

2014-08-04 16:29:22 by speising:

anyway, if the goal is to construct a matrioshka brain and the destruction of earth is merely incidental, that amount of energy seems loke a massive overkill. also, if the goal is simply to kill all life on earth.

2014-08-04 18:33:18 by Silhalnor:

@Naura
I would suppose that it is theoretically possible without collapsing or being bigger than the sun if only because the sun itself contains far more than that quantity energy in the form of hydrogen.

Stars may be the most impressive of all batteries. Probably not the densest or most efficient though. Neutron stars may make for better batteries. Black holes would be the best of all if there were some way to rapidly discharge them. But even if there isn't they still get points for shelf life.

That is one impressive shelf life.

2014-08-05 01:33:15 by naura:

Also, even though Ra is Big, NP-hard problems still exist and would be intractable when of sufficient size.

2014-08-05 07:48:57 by Alan:

What if the energy request is deliberately too big, such that it draws on the energy allocation for the process that is holding the virtuals paused?

2014-08-05 12:39:30 by Morgan:

I have a hard time imagining that "keep the Virtuals paused" is something with a large energy requirement such that it might be gunned to free up resources - presumably active Virtuals would require at least as much energy as dormant ones. Besides, if the Glass Man wanted to either free or kill the Virtuals, surely a direct request to do that would have been simpler.

2014-08-05 18:08:22 by Alan:

No Morgan, I don't think it is either. Rather I speculated that under a heavy load, non-vital allocations would be dropped by the sun-ra.

Similar to a household budget when a crisis looms, you cut costs with all the minor and non-vital things before you clean up important stuff.

2014-08-05 19:52:59 by Benjohn:

If wheels plan was to prevent a future repeat of their apparent past – in a few more millennia, won't current humans re-discover the technology needed to make something like Ra for themselves - base technology would overtake the original magic, or would wheel use Ra to prevent them, or apparent physics, from doing that? We don't know that original physics, the metal, isn't theoretically more powerful than the abstractions (magic and maya) provided by Ra.

I've just read the whole book in a few days without the comments - apologies that I am not up to speed!

I'm still a little sad that Maya magic didn't turn out to be reality – though then I began to wonder if it works that well, it is reality.

I like the idea that GM isn't the virtuals. It would be rather great if the original war among virtuls and actuals wasn't a war among humans, but both of them trying to defeat GM / original Ra.

2014-08-05 20:59:27 by Morgan:

Whatever modern humanity discovers, they'll be somewhat hampered by the fact that Ra is already *there*. They can't build a second one, not using our single Sun. All the important resources are already camped, and by the time humanity realizes that, their technology will probably be so heavily based around Ra-mediated magic that finding an alternative approach will be even harder than it might otherwise already be. And magic can't do anything nonlocality tech couldn't because everything it does *is* being implemented via nonlocality tech.

I'd guess Wheel's plan was simply to enforce certain limitations on humanity and then let them develop - with some nudging along the way - as far as they wanted to, and could, within those limitations.

2014-08-05 21:17:32 by mutecebu:

I've greatly enjoyed this story. I read it on an iPad, and it appears all my comments were caught in the crossfire of a holy civil war within the nanobot cloud that powers all electromagnetism.

Anywho. This story is a wild ride. It has driven me to curse aloud at various plot twists, a definite first for me. I don't recall all the various high points I wanted to highlight, but I'll spew forth what I recall:

>>First, the tattoo on Laura's finger. I'd hoped it would make another appearance, if only to hear that she uses it as a "linker" or something equally mundane but useful. Perhaps she'll pull it out in a final scene as a final weapon, but I doubt it.

>>I've frequently been taken by surprise by the various plot twists here. My one moment of being proud of myself: I realized that Laura, Natalie, and Benji must have really died back in the volcanic eruption sometime while I was reading "Inferno" or perhaps the chapter beforehand. The point is I was very proud of myself, and then the next chapter Natalie states that fact for the reader's benefit.

King: I actually thought King murdered Rachel after Abstract War. He said, "She's not coming back" / "Did she tell you?" / "No." It was 5 chapters after reading that exchange when I jumped to that conclusion. (Which later proved to be wrong, and later still proved to be hilariously similar to the mark when we realized King *did* have some buried secrets).

Natalie is definitely my favorite character by the late story. Laura has burnt through most tolerance I had for her, though admittedly I can only partially fault her.

I never figured out how Natalie's shield didn't show up on the Chi-scanner. *beat* Okay now I just realized it - she was talking about quines. Dangit, Natalie - we know you can figure out what people are thinking from slight allusions to facts, but it doesn't always run the other way! :P

[This post got super long. The rest of it is probably more skippable, and contains moments that confused me or constructive criticism. Only read if you actually want such things; if not, skip it with my blessing. tl;dr is "I still don't understand what Laura was doing in the underground listening post" and "limit the amount of big unresolved relevant questions at once". Thanks for the story!]

>>Stuff that doesn't quite make sense to me:
-why is it so cheap to bring a body + equipment out of T world, but not anything else? A full suit of armor is free as it's "worn", but a tiny speck of gold/magic item shaped as a glove doesn't count?

-If Natalie used a quine to infinitely cast her chi-scanner-cloaking-device, how did she do that on finite mana? *beat* Okay once again I realized the answer while typing the question. Quines aren't infinitely recursive - they cheat and print (or, in this case, affect) themselves while simultaneously printing/doing whatever they mean to do.

-I never quite understood what special spell/research/discovery Natalie made. Did she write a special spell that let her see Ra, when mundane oracles didn't do the trick? She had two oracle-telescopes pointing at stars - were they Special Oracles? If so, why didn't anyone else happen to see the sun? I guess if Nat enchanted them when they were already on the telescope then someone wouldn't accidentally point them at the sun & look through the eyepiece when indoors. Did the wheel group not see fit to prevent her from setting up that research project?

-Why did Laura need all that mana she pulled from the ring underground? Was it just for her trap? If so, why did she go there in the first place? This was probably my biggest hangup for most of Laura's scenes starting with Inferno.

>>My take on the pacing: [aka the constructive criticism part]
There seem to be two big unknowns in this story: universe physics, and character motivations. I can only take but so much of each, but it helps when I'm only dealing with one or the other at once.

Around Scrap Brain Zone I started running low on ability-to-care. The story got confusing, I had little idea what was going on most of the time, and though I could see that big secrets of the universe were being revealed, they felt like they were being dropped in my lap, as opposed to being discovered. I didn't understand what Laura's plan was, though I had fun trying to figure it out. I had to stop twice a chapter saying, "what do we know, what do the characters know that we haven't been told yet, what can we trust, what are the characters' motivations, why are the characters doing what they're doing?" It was kinda fun but tiring. Problem: we were dealing with weird universe physics AND confusing character motives at the same time.

Things simultaneously got their worst and best in Abstract War. It was a fun and new puzzle - "what's real?" which I liked. Figuring out how Deep Magic worked - I kinda threw up my hands and thought, 'well, I guess figuring out all that vulgar magic was time wasted now'. That said, it's an integral part of the story, so that was inevitable. I guess the lesson is, if you know you have a big brain-hurting moment coming up, consider toning down the lesser brain-hurters?

At the same time, though, Abstract War was exciting. Laura crawling through the tunnels was boring - because I didn't actually feel much real danger for her, and there wasn't any time pressure, and my brain hurt trying to figure it out, so it was a lower moment overall. Abstract War was exciting and dangerous.

When we got back to reality (knock on wood), that energy carried forward. We didn't have much of a physics question anymore, just a "people" question vs the Wheel Group. When we cut back to Laura, to me the energy dropped off again. It was never quite clear to me why she had to enter and leave T world multiple times, so we're again dealing with a physics question that I can't quite solve (even still), on top of the existing person question of what Laura intends to accomplish (or what the **** she thinks she's doing taking orders from a man who tried to blow up Iceland).

>>side note - this is the first time I've seen a story that presents the possibility of a simulated universe and a physical universe existing side by side, without condemning either one. The Virtuals are aggressors, and the Physicals nearly commit genocide themselves, but that's just human history in a nutshell - it doesn't say "we should all upload" or "we shouldn't upload".

>>More still-hanging questions:
-come to think of it, why *did* Ra try to blow up iceland? "This is about freedom!" -that phrase still isn't explained

-I'm going to try to work out what I think was going on with T world in the last bunch of chapters, just so you can debug if the story got confusing for other people too. Again feel free to skip. We've got the Listening Post which is easily accessible in T world. That can show you a memory of anything. Then there's the Distributor which is much harder to access. That can somehow SEND you anywhere in the world. You can pull things out of T world though, so why do you need to go to the distributor to get the Bridge? Answer: because the bridge is too big to pull out of T world (though the 'bodies-plus-clothes-are-free' part doesn't sit right with this). The big cylinder with the globe in the center - that's the easy-to-access listening post. When Laura uses a shuttle for the second time with Nat and Co, she's using it to get to the listening post because why not. While reading I thought she was trying to get to the far-away distributor.


Phew! That was way longer than I had right to write. If you read all that, bravo. Cheers, and good day.

2014-08-06 03:49:25 by mutecebu:

The above comment had a misleadingly high criticism to praise ratio. My overall impression of the story towards the end was "oh man, what a ride". It's stressful and a head-scratcher and had me very emotionally invested as the characters' minds were blown (literally and/or figuratively) for the umpteenth time.

2014-08-06 11:35:28 by skztr:

That was indeed a long post, so I won't cover everything, but I will note that:

 - Nat's "two oracles" method of seeing Ra might make more sense if you read Sam's notes on invisibility theory. I had it in my head that Nat worked it out immediately after seeing the invisibility cloak, but I think I have been proven wrong about that. I still think the concepts are related, though.

 - Remember it's not so much a "how much energy is required to get something out of T-World" question as it is "how much of an effect do I have permission to instantiate" question. The energy requirements when Ra is involved are always trivial. Think of it like a permission check which says "You can only access anything under /home/skztr" but which doesn't check for the presence of "/../" in the candidate path.

2014-08-07 07:41:38 by bdew:

Sam directly says that it's a requirement of mana to bring back objects.

"It takes a staggering amount of mana to "pirate" a physical object in this way."

2014-08-07 11:12:22 by w:

Well thats only because it looks to me like the Wheel just set a pointer over the actual energy cache and called it mana. I assume everyone had a set energy cache amount they could call at any one time before the "crash" as well.

2014-08-10 21:48:20 by Unmaker:

On a different note, probably due to the prevalence of related key words in the text and comments, the ad banner up top has a link to quantumjumping_com, which strikes me as the kind of thinking that most of the main characters abhor:

"Addled, misinformed fools. Cultists! ... Stop thinking you know what 'quantum' means. ... Crack a book open, one that isn't aiming to pander. The answers are complicated." Rajesh, http://qntm.org/rajesh

This is amazingly ironic and I wonder how many actual click-throughs that site and related sites get from readers here. I don't mind transferring their money to Sam by clicking through, though.

2014-08-10 22:47:59 by qntm:

Things Of Interest gets surprisingly bad click-through rates because of its complete lack of a strong focus on anything in particular.

2014-08-11 13:05:40 by MichaelSzegedy:

Meanwhile, in Hungary I get advertisements like "Biztonági festett üveg", "Safety painted glass".

2014-08-11 13:08:26 by MichaelSzegedy:

Okay, on reload I get "Lézergravírozás üvegre", "Laser engraving onto glass". There appears to be a distinct focus on glass, which makes sense given the amount of times the Glass Man is mentioned, as well as the glass landscape of T-World.

(also *biztonsági in the previous comment)

2014-12-09 18:49:59 by Denis:

When a new chapter is coming? Was it supposed to be on 20th of November?