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Milanda glanced up at the door, where Walker had appeared, and shook her head. “No…just more junk. I ended up piling it on the other beds, so I could reach the…you know.” She waved vaguely at the other end of the barracks.
The room was long and narrow, rather like a corridor branching off from the security hub. Immediately inside the door from the hub was a seating area, lined by generously padded square benches, with low tables in front of them. Then it descended six steps to its main, central section, where the walls were lined by double bunk beds, four on a side. These, too, were well-padded; Milanda had cleared off the one closest to the door and on the bottom right. Past the sleeping area, six more steps climbed back up to the kitchen, where she had identified sinks, a cold box and an oven/stove apparatus, as well as half a dozen more devices whose purpose was inscrutable to her. A door behind the kitchen led to a small room containing toilets and showers. In design, the barracks sort of reminded her of the belly of a ship, except for its squared edges. Every section of wall not covered by beds or other furniture appeared to be a screen, each currently displaying the symbol which she by now assumed was the sigil of the Infinite Order.
Like the security hub, they had found the room full of junk once it was unsealed. Milanda had stacked crates, boxes, tools, and garments on all of the beds except the one she’d chosen, and the bunk directly above. Walker had claimed to need no sleep, but it seemed inhospitable not to at least make some little arrangement for her.
“Hm.” Walker’s eyes flicked dispassionately across the room. “If this ends up taking more than a few days, it may profit us to take an inventory of all these containers. What’s in them might be useful. Or dangerous. At the least, it doesn’t belong…piled around, like this. It looks like the default environment; is it to your liking?”
Milanda frowned. “The…environment? Well, the whole place is generally sterile, despite being messy. I can’t say I would want to live here.”
“No, I meant the controls for…” Walker trailed off, then smiled slightly. “Well, let me show you. Computer, load environment preset: Hawaiian night.”
“I suppose that only makes sense,” Walker said ruefully. “You try.”
Milanda gave her a dubious look, getting only a mildly expectant one in return, then sighed. “Computer…do what she said.”
Immediately the light dropped to the level that might be provided by a full moon on a clear night. A moment later, the air warmed, the humidity rose significantly, and the scent of greenery, flowers, and the salty ocean breeze suffused the room; in fact, a faint, warm wind was now blowing through. The sounds of the ocean and of chirping insects and night birds filled the air. Most amazingly, all of the viewscreens paneling the walls activated, showing a scene of a nocturnal beach, the ocean stretching away in one direction and a distant, forested rise of mountains in the other, as if they were all windows looking out over a scene upon which the barracks sat.
Milanda gasped, and then could only gape. The detail was amazing… It all seemed so real.
“It has a number of preset arrangements,” Walker said, looking pleased by her reaction. “You can change the individual factors to suit you, though. Temperature, humidity, background noise, aroma, view… You can also add fog or light rain, though those aren’t part of the preset suites by default. In theory, it could do heavy rain or snow, but you’d need to get in there and monkey with the settings, since they aren’t considered part of an indoor environment anybody would want. The furnishings should be impervious, but be sure to remove anything fragile if you’re gonna add precipitation. You’re lucky; this room’s previous occupants had to argue with fifteen other people about the environmental arrangements.”
“This is unbelievable,” Milanda whispered, turning in a slow circle to gaze around at the room. It was just like being outside on a beach. In fact…amazing as this was, she rather doubted she’d be able to sleep with it like this. Presumably the computer could give her something that felt a little less exposed.
“Anyway, I’ve made some progress out here, too,” Walker said, turning and walking back into the hub. “Come see.”
Following her was like stepping indoors; the door hissed shut behind her, cutting off the Hawaiian night and leaving them again trapped in the Infinite Order’s sterile environs. There was a change in the room since Milanda had gone to arrange the barracks: above the central structure around which the computer terminals were arranged, there was now projected a luminous, transparent model of the whole facility, with the faint outline of the mountain itself around it. Being almost a full story tall, it gave her a much better sense of the scale of the place than the much smaller map out in the corridor had. Walker went back toward her selected screen and sat down.
“Basic security’s set up,” Walker reported. “I tested the instructions you gave the computer, just for thoroughness’s sake, and it’s fine. The door outside will remain hidden unless one of us orders it activated, so the Hands shouldn’t be able to find this place. Didn’t test the alarms, obviously, but there’s not reason to think they won’t work. We should have warning when they’re in the facility. I’ve been checking over the facility as a whole to see what’s what.” She pointed at the floating, three-dimensional map. “The yellow marks are corpses of sapients.”
“Not very many,” Milanda murmured. At a glance, she could only see half a dozen of them, scattered throughout the whole structure.
“It gets more interesting. The blue ones represent life forms held in suspended animation.”
“Asleep, but preserved, and alive. In theory, ready to be awakened. There are usually some health issues associated with awakening from long suspension, but fairly minor ones. If we activated the requisite medical drones first, they should be fine.”
“These are people?” Milanda asked, fascinated. Several dozen blue marks were scattered across the map. “Actual, living people, from the time of the Elder Gods?”
“No, just life forms that someone considered important to preserve. Sapients in suspension are identified by green marks. Look, down here; this is a medical wing, and the only place that has any.”
Indeed, in the small room to which she pointed, there was a whole row of green person-shaped icons, each marked by floating notations which made little sense to her. Seven of them.
“Who are they?”
“The computer does not know,” Walker said, giving her a significant look. “Which is way against procedure. Somebody took the good time and trouble to erase that data. Look, if you mean to leave this facility open and explore it in the years to come, you or the Emperor or whoever may decide to wake ’em up and see. Personally, I wouldn’t. It would be cruel to just dump them into the world as it is now, and anyway, they stand a very good chance of being far more trouble than they’re worth. Meanwhile, for our purposes, they’re nowhere near here, and I’ll repeat my recommendation that we not open anything up that we don’t expressly need.”
“Agreed,” Milanda murmured, then pointed. “That blue dot, up there… A non-human life form that can be awakened, right? Isn’t that this room?”
Walker turned in the chair to nod at her, then turned further to stare pointedly at the transparent cylinder containing the katzil—or quetzal, as she called it. “That doesn’t look like any suspension chamber I ever saw, but just because standardized designs existed doesn’t mean everybody used them. It’d have to be hooked into the power grid. None of the Order’s portable power sources would have kept running for eight thousand years.”
“Let’s not wake him up,” Milanda said fervently.
“Good call,” Walker replied with a grin. “I just point it out, because it means we can’t move that thing out of here without disconnecting it. Which might kill it, or wake it up, depending on how it’s set up.”
“Well, I guess it’s not hurting anything, sitting there. What’s this big room, next to the sleeping people?”
Indeed, the medical wing containing the green marks was adjacent to the second largest open space indicated on the map, dwarfed only by a vast round chamber far below it containing a hovering sphere, which had to be the tiny planet where the dryads lived. That whole space was well below sea level, reached only by a few descending shafts, and seemed to have a diameter comparable to the whole size of the city above. The room to which she pointed was long and much wider than tall, apparently butting right up against the base of the mountain, just above the sea level. In fact, it looked like it should open out onto the ocean itself, though there was assuredly no sign of any such thing visible from without.
“Shuttle hangar,” said Walker, standing and sticking her finger into the display to indicate the labeled shapes arranged within. “Larger ships parked on the flat top of the mountain, but several ranking members of the Order kept personal spacecraft in there. Just status symbols, really. Ascended beings have no need of vehicles, but having fancy ships to carry one’s personal staff around was a grand affectation.”
“You mean, there are working vehicles down there?” Milanda said, fascinated. “Ships that can travel off the planet?”
“No, it’s empty. If I ever have a god of the Pantheon at my mercy, I’m going to make them explain to me what happened at this port complex. Everything’s stacked in boxes, there are hardly any bodies, so the place was evacuated. All the shuttles are gone, but something hit the mountaintop above hard enough to melt it. People in suspension… And why was the only open part a prison wing? The whole thing doesn’t add up.”
“It’s not empty,” Milanda protested, pointing. “Look, I can see the ships! They have labels and everything.”
“That’s not a live feed; it’s showing you the reserved berths. Look, see how they’re outlined in red? That means the ships themselves aren’t there, it’s just displaying where each one goes. Trust me, I checked. There are no spacecraft or even pieces of them anywhere in here, not even the little maintenance skiffs that should be tucked away in various access compartments. That means somebody went to serious effort to remove them.”
“I see,” Milanda murmured in disappointment. She rose up on her toes to peer closely at the ships’ outlines, which didn’t give her much insight into what they looked like. Their profiles certainly resembled nothing she would have thought of as a ship. The labels were interesting, though. “Are these their names?”
“Yes. And those of their owners.”
She shook her head. “The way you describe the Infinite Order, I’d have expected more pomp and grandiosity. Like this one, Enterprise. That seems fitting. But some of these are so…whimsical. Dawn Treader, Heart of Gold…” She frowned and leaned closer. “…Beans With Bacon Megarocket?”
“Bunch of dorks,” Walker muttered, turning back to her terminal and tapping the screen.
Milanda backed away from the map and blinked at her. “Bunch of…”
“And about a hundred years too late for it to be trendy, so I understand. The Order were a pretty tight-knit group, and had some very particular interests in common. That’s why I pointed you at Tolkien. Some of their shared hang-ups explain a lot about the general state of affairs on this planet, even now.” She shook her head, grimacing. “Nobody on Earth was sorry to see them leave. That had more to do with their attitude than their hobbies, though.”
“The way you were talking earlier, I thought you were born on this world. You also got to visit…Earth?” She wondered, but did not ask, if there was any significance to the fact that the origin planet shared a name with a Tanglish word for dirt. Actually, most of the things she’d heard her own world called meant something similar…
“No,” Walker said tersely, shaking her head again. “This solar system has been dimensionally isolated since long before my sisters and I came along. That was one of the first things they did. I did some research, though, and Mother was sometimes willing to answer questions, if I caught her in the right mood. It was impossible not to wonder, born as I was into a world governed by all-powerful beings, most of whom were late in the process of going completely mad. The history was fascinating to me, and important. Anything to help me understand where it all came from… What it all meant.”
Milanda seated herself next to Walker, then leaned forward, elbows on her knees, and stared expectantly at her.
Walker gave her a sidelong look, continuing to poke at the screens in front of her. For a few long moments she was silent. Then…
“Humans need something to believe in. They need faith, and to be part of something larger than themselves. The physical universe is just not enough; a human being requires purpose. Religion has been part of your species as long as it has existed, which is a very different fact to you than to your distant ancestors, because you live in a world in which gods are a real, verifiable thing. On Earth, they weren’t…but religions were. Some were systems of principle, sort of like the dwarven animism around what they call the Light. Many, though, posited divine objects of worship, which clearly did not exist. And the irrationality that resulted in this has caused untold war, suffering, and subjugation throughout the long history of your race.
“As science advanced, atheism rose as a coherent system of thought, and gradually gained traction, but never grew to be more than a minority. It didn’t address the fundamental, emotional need people had for faith, for purpose. That is what gave rise to the Infinite Order. They were, in essence, a cult which worshiped science. Reason was their doctrine, engineering their sacrament. They were trying to reconcile the emotional need for belief with the practical need for rationality. And…no, they were not well thought of. Neither atheists nor the faithful of the old cults appreciated the competition. Honestly,” she added somewhat sourly, “they brought the worst of it on themselves, managing to combine atheistic condescension with religious sanctimony. Their arrogance was really something to behold. ‘Infinite Order’ is a fair enough name for a group of people who bent reality to their will, created a whole world and all its inhabitants… But they called themselves that from the very beginning, starting when it was among the most staggeringly pretentious things anyone on their world had ever done.”
“I suppose I understand why they wanted to become gods, then,” Milanda murmured.
“Not really,” Walker said with a humorless little smile. She had already stopped tapping the screen, and now shifted to face her audience more directly as she continued. “The Order never particularly cared what anyone thought of them—or so they insisted in the records they left here. Personally, I strongly suspect they resented their rejection by society and spent the next few thousand years denying it, just because that would be consistent with their personalities as I observed them. But that’s only my opinion. Regardless, what they were trying to do here… The Ascension Project… That was something much greater.”
She finally shifted fully to face Milanda, her expression solemn. “In the beginning, in the very beginning, all existence started. There was nothing but heat and the base elements, exploding outward for a near infinity of time. As the deep ages passed, material coalesced together due to gravity, eventually forming the first stars. The stars lived, burned, and billions of years later, died, exploding and spewing out dust and elements refined in their cosmic furnaces. This detritus drifted through the void, becoming the interstellar dust clouds, showers of debris, some of it forming together to make new stars…and planets. On some planets, the right combination of elements occurred to spark self-replicating chemical reactions—life. Living things evolved, growing gradually more and more complex, until some produced sapience.
“At the most fundamental level, Milanda, when you peer closely at what matter and energy truly are, it turns out that they are mostly nothing. Things are made of molecules; molecules are made of atoms; atoms are little more than infinitesimal electric charges and patterns of probability. Mass is illusion; existence is built of stacked-up equations. And among the most startling discoveries in the history of science is that on that basic level, the constituent particles of reality respond to consciousness. What they do depends entirely on what they are observed to do. By being an intelligent thing examining the building blocks of the universe, one determines how those blocks are laid. To observe is to affect.”
“Magic,” Milanda whispered, nodding.
“Not exactly,” Walker said with a wry grin. “That’s jumping ahead a bit. The Infinite Order held central the belief that reality, the collective laws of physics, was a conscious thing, and the physical universe was its attempt to understand itself, possibly to reach its own fulfillment. Evolution marked the long process from base elements to sapient life, and was a purposeful and meaningful event. They believed their goal here, ascension, was both the ultimate scientific and spiritual objective of all life, of all reality. By remaking themselves as beings not bound by their biological shells, they sought to advance the goal of the universe itself. To move beyond evolution, outside the cycle… To give meaning to existence by transcending it, seeing what lay before the big bang and after the heat death of the universe.”
“I guess I was right, then,” Milanda murmured. “Grandiosity hardly begins to cover it.”
Walker smiled again. “Yes. I think it actually was a noble goal… It’s a shame how it turned out, for more reasons than the suffering they ended up causing. The only thing the Ascension Project ultimately proved is that absolute power is psychologically unhealthy for sapient minds. Which, frankly, was a matter of open record and didn’t need to be validated. In a way,” she said with a sigh, “this…all this, this world and everything that has happened on it, has ended up being history’s grandest and most cosmic waste of everyone’s time.”
The silence hung over them, Milanda having caught some of Walker’s suddenly morose mood. It was, indeed, a heavy thing to consider. Before depression could begin to set in, she shook herself and spoke.
“But…you talked about consciousness affecting the basic structure of reality. I’m no mage or enchanter by any means, but that sounds a lot like the underlying theory of magic. I’ve read a little about arcane physics. The math is way over my head, but the concepts are actually rather beautiful.”
“Quantum physics,” Walker replied with a faint smile. “But yes. That…is not what magic is, but how magic works. Objective physics become subjective, physical reactions occur in response to thought. That’s the nature and the function of transcension fields.”
“It sounds like the Elders needed magic, needed their transcension fields, to achieve ascension.”
“Yes.” Walker nodded. “It’s an absolutely necessary part of the process. You see, quantum physics is materially useless to most people most of the time, because it governs interactions they’ll never see. It takes very advanced experiments even to observe quantum effects; for the rest of all interactions, human perception doesn’t initiate wave function collapse because humans cannot percieve the infinitesimal particles involved. And if they could, the number of such interactions it would take to achieve a macroscopically useful effect would be in the trillions, far more computations than a human mind could possibly make. Transcension fields bridge these gaps. They interface between sapient perception and the subatomic world, and they perform the necessary calculations to turn countless wave function collapses into, say, a fireball or luck enchantment. They have a third purpose: to impose limits, and order. That’s why individual transcension fields—individual schools of magic—have their own unique traits and interactions. Obviously, you cannot have every stray thought every sapient produces affecting physical reality; the carnage that would result would be unimaginable. The fields impose limits, of whatever nature seemed most appropriate to their makers.
“Magic is not power, you see. The power is inherent in reality; there’s enough fundamental energy in a square meter of space to instantly vaporize the world’s oceans. Magic is…” She paused, tilted her head to one side in thought, then smiled. “Data processing.”
Slowly, Milanda stood. Without really meaning to, she began to walk, gradually making a full circuit around the central structure of the chamber, navigating around upended chairs and piles of boxes without really seeing them.
She was a practical person, at heart. Politics, history, human relationships, those were the things she found interesting. Art and music and the like, sure. Philosophy had always been an annoying abstraction to her, advanced magic a useful science whose benefits she appreciated in society, but which was the province of other people to actually perform and understand. Having the central mysteries of the universe dropped right in front of her, having answers provided to staggering questions she’d never even thought to ask…
It was quite a mouthful to chew.
“Anyway,” Walker said suddenly, causing Milanda to twitch in surprise and stop walking. Without realizing it, she’d done a complete circuit of the chamber and come abreast of Walker’s station again. “There’s been no further visit from our mysterious friend, but I’ve been doing what I can to prepare for him. I have to tell you, though, that I’m somewhat less confident than I was.”
“Oh? What’s wrong?” Milanda asked, turning to her and glad to have something more immediate and concrete upon which to focus.
“As I said before,” Walker explained, “I think I can shut him out easily enough. The system’s inherent defenses should be more than adequate; all we would have to do is turn them back on. What’s tricky is taking the opportunity to identify and retaliate.”
“If it’s at all possible, I would still like to do that.”
Walker nodded. “Then…I may need help. I can use the computers just fine, Milanda, they’re designed to be simple. Getting into their deeper functions is another matter. I’m not a programmer…and just for the record, while I was made with the knowledge of how to operate systems like these, I haven’t done so in over eight millennia.”
“You’re rusty?” Milanda asked with a smile.
“I can figure it out,” Walker said a little testily, “but that will take time. I’ve been researching methods here—fortunately, these systems contain literature on every conceivable subject. But we’re talking about me acquiring a level of skill at hacking that we don’t have time for, with the Hands up there running loose. We need to deal with this guy before we can start putting the system right. This is your project, so I’ll leave the decision to you: shut him out and proceed straight to repairs, or try to engage and neutralize him more permanently?”
Milanda frowned. “Can you think of anything to make this faster? More feasible?”
“Yes,” Walker said immediately. “Ask the Avatar for help. He could do this as easily as you can breathe, but he’s not here. If he’s got an apparatus down there that lets him produce data crystals, though, I bet he can put together a program that will make all this much easier. You can plug that into the console up here, and it’ll make my job a lot easier, if not do it for me outright. A fully automated program is probably too much to hope for, but if he can give me a software suite that’ll let me engage an intruder and counter him without needing to know the ins and outs of the sub-OS’s digital architecture, that will help immensely.”
“All right,” Milanda said, nodding. “It sounds like a plan. I’m too keyed up to try sleeping, anyway; I might as well go talk to him.”
“You’ll be wanting to do that in any case,” Walker added with a smile. “If what they did to you is anything like what they do to the Hands of the Emperor, you’ll have gained a lot more by it than strength, vitality, and immunity to fae effects. The Hands have powers unique to the individual, which they need some individual coaching to master; considering what we’re up against, it seems a shame for you to be walking around carrying abilities like that, and not know how to use them.”
42 thoughts on “12 – 23”
Just because of my terminal ability to do anything the conventional way, my classic high fantasy naturally ended up being harder sci-fi than most stories full of robots and lasers. The question of magic has always interested me in the context, though. So much of the structure of this story has resulted from me making something up to throw in and then asking “okay, but why?” In terms of the simple physics, it seems the simplest way to make magic a thing is to design an apparatus that produces quantum flapdoodle. As described above.
Anyway, these two again. I think they may be getting a little too much screen time, but as before, this was the scene it was easiest for me to write right now, and I now have the weekend to work on one that was coming a little less clearly.
Writing has been hard lately. I think I’ve got some kind of persistent viral thing; I’ve been sick three times in the last three months, and continually tired and sluggish in between episodes. Plus, I’m watching fascism unfold in my country, which is a constant mental strain. I’ve been having nightmares about politics regularly for the last few weeks, which is just…ridiculous. But I guess that’s the world, now.
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Try to ignore politics if you can. Or do what I do: I give myself exactly one hour a day to read news, think about them and worry. Once the time is up, I stop. I usually have to balance all that dread with something fun and uplifting, like reading this story or watching a funny video or something similiar.
It might not sound like much but not having this constant worry pushing you down makes a big difference.
Hope you get better soon. Try to get some more sleep if you can, too. 🙂
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Speaking of funny and uplifting… this here kind of fits in a little with TGaB, too.
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Ehm, this was supposed to be two small links, not … the entire huge image. Sorry about that. Oo
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Hehe this sounds like how I used to write “procrastinate” in the top slot of every to-do list. Because I’m going to do it regardless, this way I can cross it off the list, and then get to work!
Science is magic and magic is science. its the way of the world, its the level of understanding about a certain way the universe works that decides if its ‘magic’ or ‘science’. so in that mind, I love how this has turned out. the whole digging deep into how it works and showing that just cause it makes fire with words instead of striking a match doesn’t make it any less a field of study. I live for stories like this, so please keep up the great work!
The Infinite Order really were a bunch of dorks… and probably not too different from us, in the beginning. I totally would rebuild some famous sci-fi ships, too. Although I’d start small, maybe with the Serenity.
What bothers me a little is that everything seems kinda grim right now. Even if all present conflicts are resolved I don’t see a straight road to an happy ending. That’s mostly because the scope of the story has broadened exponentionally.
Before we had a planet with some gods, a few connected dimensions and magic. Now it’s a science project some future humans put together after leaving Earth, which changes the tone of the story considerably.
It’s very interesting, but it’s also no longer just an adventure story. The heroes don’t get to vanquish the villain and live happily ever after, they will have to deal with 8000+ years of gods messing with things… the Infinite Order way more than the current pantheon… plus the added history of Earth. It’s going to be an incredible amount of work, for millenia.
Starting over fresh would be a shame, because they’d lose so very much. Absorbing it would be a severe culture shock at least, it would turn the world upside down.
I’m just a reader and I’m overwhelmed with the implications. If I was actually living in Tiraas and presented with all that… wow. Kudos to Milanda, I’m not sure I would have taken this so well. Or perhaps she hasn’t had time to consider everything yet.
I think what I’m trying to say is that the story has grown so complex that there are no more easy solutions to resolve the conflicts.
… remember when I jokingly suggested a fan fic featuring the class as the crew of a starship like the Enterprise? Ruda as captain, Triss as 1st officer, Shaeine on comms, Teal as pilot, Toby as doctor, Juniper as nurse, Gabe and Fross in engineering, with Ariel being the ship’s computer? All working for the Tellwyrn Corp, which is such a powerful organisation that most governments don’t dare to upset its eccentric CEO?
Yeah, that could actually happen now. And that is awesome. 😀
I do think that these people are getting a bit too much screen time, though it is nice to get to the meat of the magic system.
In fact, a magic system that I’ve seen that this sort of reminds me of takes a very similar view, though it is more philosophical than scientific. It takes the concept of free will and expands it into three parts: the ability to forsee the possible outcomes of one’s choices, the ability to choose which of the outcomes to work towards, and the ability to enact actions that work towards that choice. Then, it expands that to the metaphysical, supposing that if one had greater than normal amounts of will, then they would be able to use that free will to reach that future more expediently. For example, one could assure the outcome of a dice roll, or make sure that an avalanche occurs at the right moment, up to simply willing something into existence.
Anyway, I really enjoy your work and it’s always inspiring. Keep it up!
Stupid Dorks … one is not even a Starship…
the amazing thing about all of this hard-scifi background are the incredible possibilites the bad guys suddenly posses if they succeed.
I just had to remind myself that the evil plan was godliness for everyone.
Which would result in Planet Arkham.
So I’m gonna preface this with saying that I love this story and this chapter and the direction this story is going. No ill will is born in this comment.
As a quantum optics physicist, I feel obligated to state that quantum mechanics has absolutely nothing to with observation, perception, consciousness, nor anything to do with humans looking at the results of an experiment in any way, shape, or form.
This misconception came about from a misinterpretation of a rather mundane phenomenon. See, when a particle has an equal chance of travelling two paths to reach a destination, it creates an interference pattern as if two indistinguishable particles traveled down both paths. But lo and behold, when scientists tried to observe which path the particle traveled, the interference pattern changed, becoming the interference pattern created by two /distinguishable/ particles. *gasp*, some scientists cried, “trying to observe the particle’s path caused the effect to stop happening! Human perception modifies quantum reality!”
Then some people looked at the experiments, facepalmed, and croaked out a weak “No, no that’s not what happened. You idiots.” See, to observe which way the particle goes, you have to set up the system such that something differentiates between one path and the other path. A difference that must interact with the paths differently, like an excited atom which emits light when the particle passes close by it in one path but not when it passes distantly in the other. Which, you know, distinguishes between the paths. The interaction interacts with the part of the particle that’s in one path and makes it different from the other part of the particle in the other path. So the interference pattern changes from that of two indistinguishable particles to two distinguishable particles because (duh) setting up a system in which one observes the result requires distinguishing the damn particle’s paths.
It was the work of a heartbeat after that realization for some people to run the exact same experiments but, you know, not actually look at the particle path results. And then later set up more rigorous tests in which the paths were distinguished in a way which impossible to observe and the particle was distinguished by even smaller particles (not macroscale objects) so they knew the effect wasn’t caused by some fundamental micro/macroscale difference in physics. Unfortunately, rather than this resulting in some shame-faced physicists and a cautionary tale to tell freshman physics students, the notion that consciousness influences reality proved really enticing to some people and the whole thing caught on and turned into a wildfire in the public consciousness faster than anyone could run damage control.
And now a fifth of the time someone asks me what I do for a living I have to tolerate some excited chatter about their New-Age quantum healing/extra-sensory perception/enlightenment thing which totally exists because human consciousness affect reality on the quantum level. So I’m sorry to pick at a tiny little point which hardly takes up half a paragraph of a wonderful chapter in a wonderful story, but if I ever stopped pointing out this misconception when I see it that would mean giving up on my tiny thread of hope that this memetic virus will ever be stamped out. And I need that little thread of hope, it’s all that gets me through well meaning elderly ladies on the airplane telling me how they cure people with cancer by mentally manipulating the spin states in their patients’ bodies.
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I am going to support Segachi, the “consciousness affects quantum state” idea has to die. I am a biomedical researcher by trade, and it took all my love to the story to continue reading after the first quantum line. The explanation of how the machine worked kind of helped, but it still pushes my suspension of disbelief. (Segachi, I understand your feeling, we are also tired of people ‘curing’ cancer with spin states and color lights.)
However, I think that we should focus in finding a better explanation like HashtagWilliamGaddis suggest. I fear I cannot help a lot with physics (but I can do a lot about evolution). Do the physicists think that the quantum computer idea could work? If so I think that emphasizing that it is a machine that directly affects quantum states FIRST would help a lot.
This is an excellent story and I have decided to take Walker’s words like unreliable narrator.
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(I’m sure you get this stuff so much worse in biomed than I ever could in raw physics, I can’t even imagine the stuff you must hear).
Quantum computing is 100% a thing, but the problem with translating the concepts to popular culture is that how it works is intrinsically bound up in concepts of symmetric and anti-symmetric states, and the complex (as in real+imaginary) nature of wavefunctions. Stuff which is just not possible to explain without going into the math. (Seriously, it can’t be done. This stuff has no classical analogue, there is no metaphor or analogy which will suffice, no ‘real world’ thing it can be related to). So people will grasp onto the aspects of quantum mechanics which /don’t/ require math they don’t understand, and reach false understanding about what quantum computers are and what they can do from there. Unfortunately I’m not sure there’s a solution to this science/pop-science disconnect, people /really/ don’t like hearing “there is no way to explain this to you as you are now”.
Oh yeah, I assumed (given the cultish nature of the Infinite Order) that Walker was referring to a belief they had about reality, and not necessarily the way the story actually works. That said, this is a concept I am wary of being screentime in any way which doesn’t involve an immediate and prompt “this is not how the universe actually works though”.
Yeah, I felt the same way… Webb, this is a wonderful system you’ve built, but calling it hard sci-fi is a total misconception. It’s still fantasy, it’s just that now it’s the brand of techno-fantasy known as sci-fi rather than a tolkinesque fantasy.
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I had allmof these thoughts too, and even wrote a similar reply before erasing it, because read again: the story doesn’t actually build on the common uncertainty misunderstanding! It doesn’t equate the consciousness thing with any known science. The way it’s laid out suggests that D.D. maybe doesn’t know that if the concept “consciousness effects reality” is within 4 paragraphs of a mention of quantum physics, it’s going to hit a hot-button for many of us because it’s impossible to keep reading without thinking “oh no not again.”
But I’m almost certain the story doesn’t say what you’re thinking it says. Read it again, I’m interested in hearing whether you still object after that.
Heh, I’m glad to see I’m not the only physicist who winces whenever someone starts talking about quantum and consciousness. Though I don’t think it necessarily hurts the story! I’m currently headcanoning it as just another sign of how the Infinite Order were arrogant jerks. I imagine they went off on their theories of quantum and consciousness and everyone else on Earth just winced. The fact that they succeeded anyway is a surprise. And if this was their dogma that they taught Walker, it’s no surprise that she’s just repeating it.
If you want a harder science explanation that’s more palatable to physicists, you could probably do something with manipulation of probabilities in quantum physics. Basically, quantum physics allows for extremely unlikely things to occur. It’s technically possible for someone to walk through a wall instead of bouncing off, or for all the particles in your body to spontaneously disappear and reappear somewhere else. It’s just never-going-to-happen-in-a-million-lifetimes-of-the-universe unlikely. But there are ways to manipulate these probabilities to make things more likely. Simple examples of this would be a diffraction grating or the two slit experiment, where you can make particles take unlikely paths by changing which paths are available to take.
This is currently incredibly difficult to do on any sort of macroscopic scale. However, if you had complete control over the local energetic environment, say by some sort of field that permeated the world, you might be able to set up interference effects that made a teleport or a fireball suddenly extremely likely. And you could store information in that field, say an uploaded consciousness or two. Plus, since such a field would have to interact with matter to shape quantum wavefunctions in this way, you could also use it to monitor that matter, letting you read minds.
Of course, we have no way to set up such a field now. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. So talking about shaping quantum wavefunctions through fine control of the local energetic environment to create interference effects that amplify incredibly low-probability events is technobabble that seems more plausible to me.
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I really do appreciate the pedantry you provided. I’m a CPA but my BS is physics. I have always wondered about the quantum consciousness thing and it always sounded wrong. Sadly, I didn’t get far enough into quantum mechanics to understand why it might be wrong.
Honestly it is an easy fix in this story. Instead of consciousness directly affecting reality you just have minute amounts of energy via the transcension fields directly affecting wave-forms which then affects reality. Magic isn’t only data processing it is just mostly data processing. This doesn’t even require a change in the story itself because the Infinite Order were self-deluded cultist zealots before they became insane godlike entities. It is entirely possible that they believed it was their consciousness that affected the particles. Walker obtained this knowledge directly from Naiya who is an all powerful mildly insane “deity” that was a former self-deluded zealot. So it is entirely possible that her knowledge about how magic works is in-fact incorrect.
(I also take issue with the many-worlds interpretation. Thankfully I was able to disprove that to my own satisfaction with number theory. Simply because the number of alternate realities is infinite and the number of options are infinite does not mean that every option exists because for every new reality there are another infinite number of realities. It is possible for two numbers to both be infinite and still have one number be larger than the other. This is seen with rational vs irrational numbers. There is an infinite number of both, but between every two rational numbers there is an infinite number of irrational numbers. So even though both are infinite there are infinitely more irrational numbers than their are rational numbers)
“I have always wondered about the quantum consciousness thing and it always sounded wrong. Sadly, I didn’t get far enough into quantum mechanics to understand why it might be wrong.”
Pick up The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene. He’ll sort you out good 😉
If you’re like me it’ll be some slowwww reading, but very much worth the effort.
“when scientists tried to observe which path the particle traveled, the interference pattern changed”
Are you talking about a specific experiment? What/when was it?
By the way, I’m glad this is not true. It would be a silly thing to be true. Of course, this story could be taking place in a theoretical alternative universe where it is….
It’s less like “a specific experiment” and more like half of the experiments ever run in a quantum optics lab. Heck I can list four different optical table setups I’ve worked with over the past year which used that principle (out of four optical table setups I’ve worked with in the past year).
But if you want a specific example, I’d suggest looking up Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser on wikipedia. Just, if you’re going to read up on that do me a favor and also look up the Observer Effect page on wikipedia, which goes over some common confusions and misconceptions about the whole deal.
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omfg, the inserted content by Daemion was the funniest stuff I’ve read in…decades? ever? idk. I’ll be laughing and crying for days. So true.
The story segment was eh..a lot of explanatory exposition that didn’t really add anything useful, and (disclaimer, phd in physics and a bunch of other crap) what it’s doing is pretty hard to do w/o some rough edges. No char dev, no new insight into the world, just trying to justify future tech in terms of what we knew in 1930 (yes, that level of QM understanding is that old; dirac’s text covered this and iirc it was published in ’27 or so). Which, really, is a thankless task and limited in upside, but I tend to suspect an authorial need to justify? idk, just not a real plus for me. Might be critical for readers w/o a “classical” QM background, I suppose.
But holy crap, the comments today…bwahahahahahaha. And, regardless of this “physics justification interlude” (which doesn’t really help imaginary future tech tell a story), this remains a mighty fine piece of work overall.
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My challenge to my fellow physicists (who seem to be present in surprising numbers) would be to come up with a correction to the magic system that they find satisfactory, instead of just complaining.
Personally, I think it could work similarly to the “infinite improbability drive” from Hitchhiker’s.
One could think of somehow selecting desired possible futures and biasing the wavefunction collapse towards those.
That seems absurdly impossible, but I think it might actually be harder to determine what spell to cast (i.e., what effect to produce) consistently and reproducibly across all potential magic users.
The machinery behind the scenes would have to be scanning everyone’s brains constantly to check for “intention to do magic” or else risk having people blow themselves up by accidentally voicing the wrong syllables.
Computational costs would be horrendous, and you’d probably melt the planet with the waste heat alone!
The point being, sci-fi magic systems are pretty hard and I’ve never really seen one that works if the reader is unwilling to suspend disbelief to some degree.
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On topic of being wrong.
Remember back in the Crawl Fross stated there was no such thing as the “Exposition Fairy” ?
As we have now observed, she was wrong ( Sorry Guys, I could not resist )
Walker has the knowledge and is by all definition a fairy ..
So now the Narrative Causality and the Brick Joke Trope Demand that Trissiny meets Mimosa and Walker ..
And with all the Quantum-Nitpicking aside ( I have not the slightest clue about the topic, so I don’t even try to contribute )
there is one sentence that is more telling then any other. I read it over and over.
In all consequences
The personal Ascension Fields are what each member thought magic should be like.
Put the Circle of Interactions over this.
Apply History so far :
Fae, is still Elder Gods Nayas Domain, no change
Nobody knows how Arcane works ( for now )
Demonic is best described as “Extra-Dimensional Munchkin Lawyer Deathmatch”
…The Divine Magic was made by the new Gods from the Bodies of the Elder Gods ..
Which works by using your followers as conduits until they blow up or burn out ..
=> Cobbled together from the Ascension Fields of multiple old gods.. ( we don’t know yet how many there where )
as we know now, Genetic Admin Codes are required to Access said fields ..
my guess is those green dots may very well be the actual Infinit Order of Dorkness
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Or the current Pantheon…
I have just realized something. Have you read about the brain on a box experiment? Well, the Infinite Order put their brains in a box, and then they went mad when the box kept feeding them instant gratification and data their brain had not evolved to understand.
About the computational limits, what if you use a lot of computers that are small and simple? They can make small reactions based on local data and instructions. Magic would emerge from the cascade effects of this small changes.
That is how they do magic in the Flipside webcomic. There are tiny machines called qualia that create physical effects in response to magic.
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I was imagining an Alexan system. Pulling the trigger on a wand is the equivalent of saying, “alexa, lightning!” It’s easy to always listen for a limited number of commands. Half the difficulty in creating a new magic is getting the transcension field to recognize what you’re asking.
I’m just going to assume panpsychism was scientificlly shown to be literally true in TGaB and that it’s this new discovery not yet made in our world(and yeah, I honestly do think it plausible that at some point we will discover that awareness is a basic component of reality; it’s at least the best explanation I’ve seen for the hard problem of consciousness anyways) that is being referred to rather than already-discovered-in-our-world quantum mechanics. This also has the advantage for me of keeping the “magic” part genuinely… magical… in the magic system even with it coming from a technological source.
my point was more explaining != better story telling. There’s no value added, except in scratching an itch that’s really unrelated to the presentation; the need to have a solid mapping btwn relatively primitive 20c-21c science and future tech is, at best, a homework exercise for a writer to manage perceived plausibility. I don’t feel a need to “improve” an attempt to improve the mapping btwn his fantasy/sf magic and QM. I think any more than hints of plausibility w/ the readers (assuredly wrong) understanding is a waste, but ymmv. QM is great stuff, I really enjoyed it. And it, like everything before it, will be subsequently revealed to be an imperfect understanding. And, who cares?
Great chapter! I feel like the last couple were appetizers before the serious digestion here. I’m not knocking appetizers, mind, but when somebody asks you how dinner was, they’re not looking for your review of the blooming onion. I love how the deep stuff was broken up with well timed humor (those dorks; history’s grandest waste of everybody’s time both got laughs here).
Melina seems so wide-eyed at the myriad of revelations she hasn’t stopped to try seeing things through Walker’s eyes-making the second bed for her sounds like a subconscious attempt at assuaging the cognitive dissonance that comes from not understanding the sentient thing she’s utterly reliant on. And Walker seems like the type to give her all the information she needed to foresee and prevent her inevitable betrayal and escape (the nonsentient Katzil demon, aka Scyllith’s little pet that couldn’t possibly harm anyone with a properly functioning transcension field, so there are no restrictions on who can wake it up, and you literally cannot overstate the potential to be gained by one tiny fib covering up the one spaceworthy ship stashed away).
IF that’s even Walker’s game, admittedly a big if. But she’s just too much in control, and the ways she uses that control… Be sure to learn your abilities, be sure to do this time-consuming thing that is totally only for your own benefit. Don’t worry about what I’m doing when you’re gone, I’m just a helpless blond girl with no computer authority, which you know has to be true because I make a show about how good you got me at every opportunity
D.D. only knows whether making Walker more of a partner than prisoner from the beginning would have changed anything. But if you assume Walker will finagle the access she needs for her own goals one way or another, you might as well just give it to her and take credit, get other concessions for giving away essentially nothing. That’s HPMOR SOP, there.
Nit of the Pick:
“It takes very advanced experiments even to observe quantum effects”
Not exactly true. The double slit experiment is the obvious example that comes to mind. Remember, people were actively probing the subatomic world by the late 1800s, and theorizing about it since before Plato was born.
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I really hope there will be more to walker. right now she is just walking narrative device.
Rereading, I noticed a potentially huge mistake by Milanda: “Computer…do what she said.”
That phrasing might be easily co-optable. Can the system distinguish between her live spoken voice and a recording? With some skill Walker doesn’t even necessarily have to play it out loud…
Just read the first Wild Card Books again which plays during the McCarthy era. That reminded me, that most of the time politics were even worse than now. Most likely it will get better. Hope your situation improves as well.
PS: Many worlds interpretation
I’m still sick, or maybe again. A couple days at the day job brought it roaring back. Also coping with a depressive episode. Chapter’s running late. I’ll try not to let it be too late.
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Take your time, health always comes first ^^
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Dude, take your time, you are awesome.
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I for one enjoy every single chapter I get to read, and purely out of self-interest I’d rather have you recover some long-term health than have you draw from your reserves to deliver short-term.
I remember a comment of yours a while ago about how it is important for you to keep the updates flowing, and I respect that, but I still think you should at least consider spending a weekend simply sleeping and recovering – judging by your comments over the course of this winter, i get the impression that it might help. Either way, I hope you get better soon!
A very nice chapter ❤
After reading through the comments, a thought occurs to me: Another possible explanation for all of this would be that it is simulated (the Matrix). It would allow perfect information gathering and editing within the world (magic!). It is stated that the world is “dimesionally isolated”, which is consistent with a finte simulation.
As many of you are pointing out, the Infinite Order is essentialy a megalomaniac nerd cult, and the “easiest” way to achieve godhood would probably be to create an entire simulated world. Could they be, as comented on before, brains in vats?
It would explain why there were seemingly so few humans from earth involved in the operation, and why there has been no contact from other earthlings. It does, however, raise the question of why the simulation is still running.
I realize that this is a cliché idea and a hypothesis that could potentially be used to justify any reality. It does fit well, however.
Saw the other two posts about human vs. other species in species in space and had to add this. Also, first time posting as a long-time reader, this is by far my favorite web serial (out of the 23 I’ve read or am reading)
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