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Further adventures in World-Building

Those of you who read this blag may recall Back in November that I had a little word-building seed I wanted to plant, about billionaire conservative religious nutters leaving Earth on Arks and coming back all… gribbly.

Those of you who don’t (and if you’re not reading then why the heck am I even writing this bit?) can find it right here:

So that seed has, it turns out, been growing in the wet soil of my brain matter, its new shoots tickling the odd neuron here, the odd synapse there. I wanted, I realised, a way to explain the weird world I’d described. Well, explain is probably the wrong word. More “figure out a way to hand wave it all away”, really. After many nights staring at the ceiling in the dark, wondering what it was I wanted to make “sense” of, I came to the conclusion that what I wanted was a way of linking magic into the proto-setting I’d got here. “Just invent a new magic system, how hard can it be?” I thought to myself, future CiarĂ¡n laughing bitterly but as yet unheard.

Back when I studied it, I really quite enjoyed the more unusual and less immediately practical mathematics areas. Basic geometry, sure, handy for thinking about angles, but I can’t exactly apply hyperdimensional polytopes to a game of pool or soccer in the same way.

“He sees his opening, he shoots, he… JESUS CHRIST WHAT THE HELL IS THAT”

Now, some time last year I had jotted down a little idea that amused me. It was about how many viruses have a little protein shell that often resembles a a simple symmetrical shape, like a 12- or 20-sided die. And I suddenly remembered the gif above (I have a small folder of hypercube gifs like this, I find them really soothing to watch), and wondered: What if virus, but hypercube?

The idea was pretty simple, sort of. Definitely simple if you’ve studied microbiology. But for the uninitiated: One of the most basic processes of life is the translation of DNA to proteins. That accounts for a HUGE amount of how a living thing actually functions from moment to moment. DNA is a code for a string of amino acids, which fold into various shapes to form larger proteins. And with proteins, the shapes they fold into are as important or moreso than the individual amino acids that make them up. So, why not explore what might happen if proteins folded into MORE than the usual three dimensions?

I read a lot of science fiction, and I have a few physicist friends, and pop-culture often references it, so I was familiar with the ideas Einstein put forward that space is 4-dimensional, with time being the 4th. And there are fields of research in both physics and maths that talk about more dimensions than that. My last maths lecturer often told us it was a common joke in his department that all you had to do to imagine 13 dimensions was to start by imagining there were n dimensions, and then let n=13. Mathematicians are odd people.

So originally I thought I’d write a little story about the world’s first tesseract virus, which contained more dimensions than the ones we’re familiar with. I even sought some criticism on the SCP forums, which was honestly invaluable and excellent. And I would have developed it further as an SCP thing, but that Ark story just kept coming back to me, and I wondered if I might be able to marry the two.

And one very late night (it was definitely closer to 7am) it struck me. And then I sort of forgot it for a few days because you know what trying to remember things when you half dreamed them is like. It came back to me slowly over the next few days, and I started scribbling, and slowly an idea I really liked took shape.

I dunno if I’ll develop this little world of mine further. I’d certainly like to, but don’t let the bible fool you, world building takes an absolute FUCKtonne of work and time. The below is, I suppose, the equivalent of the start of the “Magic” chapter of any RPG rulebook. Or Psyker powers, or whatever you want to call it. Maybe it’ll develop into an RPG setting. Maybe this is the last I’ll ever write about it.

Either way, it was enjoyable.

Magic? Don’t be daft. No such thing. Oh sure, the Arkborn are horrifying monstrosities that can turn you to ash with a flick of the… well, the ones that still *have* wrists might flick them. And yes, you’ve seen humans seemingly create fire out of nothing, or move impossibly fast, or even fly. But it’s not magic. For the full story you need to go back two generations, not that there’s much left of either. But as far as we can establish, it goes a bit like this…

So… dimensions. Your average human is kinda 3.5-D; They can freely manipulate 3 dimensions and have an intuitive understanding of Time, but they’re stuck going in the same one second per second direction as everyone else. Other dimensions exist, but we are wholly unaware of them except as abstract theoretical concepts demanded by our best physics models.

With me so far? Good, because it gets weird.

Towards the end of the 21st century, physicists managed to create a physical hypercube, a shape related to a cube the same way a cube is related to a square. It only lasted for a few trillionths of a second and drank several hydrogen bombs worth of energy, but it paved the way for an explosion in technological advancement. Can you believe our computers used to be flat wafers of 2-dimensional circuitry? It’s not the electronics we’re about here, though, it’s the squishy sciences. Some decades after CERN 2, molecular biologists successfully created a “hyperprotein”, a string of amino acids folded into 5 dimensions. Medicine was revolutionised overnight; Gene therapy became orders of magnitude more precise and powerful, drugs too large to cross the blood-brain barrier could be attached to a small hyperprotein which tucked them into a pocket of spacetime until they crossed the barrier and could release the drug into the body’s 3-D space.

Some viruses adapted to match our new tools, as they always do. Most famous is Adenovirus Tesseracteae, a variation of the Adenovirus genus responsible for about 5% of cases of the common cold, but there are others. It wasn’t long until we saw human bodies developing hyperproteins. Hypercube viruses hijacking our cellular machinery to replicate might have kickstarted it, or maybe it was deliberately inflicted on the population by the returning Arkborn, but either way the results were varied and deeply unpleasant; the lucky ones would suddenly die from an aneurysm, as part of a tiny capillary in their brains shifted dimensions and became a blockage. Whole or partial organs might “disappear” for a split second, or suddenly exist outside the body, or worse. A rare few were driven mad as hyperprions in their brains caused neural networks to develop across more dimensions than a human was born equipped to deal with. The symptoms were horrendous, and ran from nightmare visions borne of the brain trying to interpret hyperspatial shapes, to the complete loss of perception of linear causality. Between the hrperprion disease and the Arkborn slaughters, millions died, and more prayed for death.

It’s a little ironic that our salvation came from those broken, wretched souls. A handful of that first generation were pregnant when the hyperprion condition took hold. They crossed the placenta easily, working their changes on the developing embryos. To much relief, they were born without complications, and seemed just like any other newborn, something of a blank canvas as the brain began to learn and react to the outside world. It was hypothesised that if a human was born with a multidimensional neural network, they would adapt and grow alongside it, as opposed to the sudden, jarring changes experienced by infected adults. As they grew, they displayed many tendencies and mannerisms that were not unlike their parents, albeit on a far less fatal scale. The scientists and psychologists studying them put it down to their brain cells including dimensions the rest of us aren’t even aware of. It quickly became clear that they also possessed an instinctive awareness of spacetime; with a bare minimum of education, teenagers could solve complex equations that took mathematicians weeks to work out. They could navigate the kinds of advanced geometry that would have taken their parents’ generation decades of study to grasp. Not that they were *smarter* or *superior* in any way; Those that excelled at complex mathematics had no time to become sports stars, just like anyone else. They had tools the rest of us didn’t, is all. Like kids raised with the internet versus their parents who didn’t know what an email was.

It was early adulthood when the serious changes occurred. The hyperprions hadn’t just changed their brains, and with puberty came a slew of modified hormones. Most still performed the expected functions, but a few caused… Well, most people call it an Awakening now. Already possessed of an instinctive understanding of spacetime, puberty brought perception. Their parents’ brains were unequipped to deal with seeing spacetime, but the adolescents welcomed it easily, like an old friend. Well, for the most part. Not everyone made it through puberty. The sudden changes were like what their parents endured, and more than one child simply disappeared, or died of old age over the course of a week, or even disintegrated in a burst of gamma radiation. It was a change of extremes, you either made it through pretty unscathed, or you died, but out of maybe 30 hyperprion children worldwide, 20 were confirmed to make it to adulthood. And now that they could see what they already innately understood, they could manipulate it.

The first generation of Awakened became young adults of extraordinary perception and ability. They could perceive, understand and manipulate reality on its most basic, primal levels. Some conjured fire, some could slow or accelerate regions of spacetime, some altered the gravitational constant of their bodies from moment to moment and, in lay terms, learned to fly. Of all the new phenomena these men and women displayed to the astonished world, by far the strangest thing was that they didn’t fight amongst themselves, didn’t use their powers to bend and break others into submission. What few Arkborn humanity has managed to defeat and bring home for autopsy reveals that the brains of the Arkborn and our Awakened are unnervingly similar. They appear to see reality much in the same way, but where the Arkborn are like demons out of the very worst religious apocalypse scriptures, something in Awakened perception led to a surprising and powerful altruism. Maybe they saw further down the path humanity was walking, and knew fighting the Arkborn was the only choice leading to a better tomorrow. Maybe their parents, blinded and tortured by the hyperprion infection, are a sobering reminder of what the Arkborn used to be, and what the Awakened could become, and they resolved to be better than that. Whatever the case, they are sorely needed lights in a time of unparallelled darkness.

By Sarky

Freelance writing, communist propaganda, and only the very finest in depression-enhanced late night existential dread and self-deprecation.

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