This is for real.

This is a simulation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Fine Structure | On Digital Extremities >

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