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The Virtual Hypercube
Professor Everett rubs my head just slowly enough to land right in a tactile uncanny valley but not so slowly that he wastes valuable time on what might be considered affectionate contact. “You’re a lucky girl Ellie,” he croons gratingly, his voice landing squarely in an auditory uncanny valley, “anyone without the requisite seed engrams would be left to ordinary justice; but you, you, are going to see sights that no man or beast this side of the present has ever seen – could have ever seen!” I think I am supposed to be grateful, but then again it really doesn’t matter what I think.
Professor Everett is bustling about the laboratory. I can vaguely make out his figure, just as I can vaguely make out the rest of the laboratory. As patches of coloured light. His voice grates against my hearing again. “Wouldn’t you like to see definitely Ellie? I suppose you’ll tell me after I’ve made you see. Whether you want to or not!”
They call me Ellie. How charming. It is the vernacular for LE720095, my designation as a political prisoner, charged with treason against the Church of the Nine Gods. I was a talented linguist, having excelled in the subject at the Nine Gods Educational Institute. My superiors recognised my talent and I was drafted to work as an interpreter for human-Xylone diplomatic communications. Fifty or sixty years ago – no one is quite sure exactly when, for the Church’s censorship muddies the records of history – the first Xylone ship appeared between the orbits of Mars and Terra. It was clear from the manner of their appearance that these aliens had the fabled ‘hyperdrive’ which allowed a vessel to transcend the limits of Special Relativity.
The presence of this ambassador from another star should have been a herald of wonderful times to come. The Church of the Nine Gods, in their blind religious ignorance, could only see the aliens as infidels in need of conversion. Yet force, even a show of hostility, was out of the question. Any ship that could appear in the middle of the Solar System at will would doubtless be able to easily evade the Church’s weapons or crush us in retaliation. It was thus that the Church of the Nine Gods was forced to accommodate the Xylones and communicate diplomatically with them.
With the help of Xylonic transmissions which provided a sort of dictionary, the Church was able to master limited aspects of the Xylonic language. This was a standard learning requirement for linguists such as myself. However the Church also hoped that by the judicious use of interpreters for human-Xylone interactions, she could bootstrap her knowledge of the language and thus gain insights into Xylonic culture and science that the Xylones themselves might not sanction. Although the aliens had seemed open and cooperative, the Church had no way of knowing their true intentions, and viewing them as it did as infidels, could not even remotely conceive of trusting them.
When I enrolled in linguistics at the Nine Gods Educational Institute an event of pivotal political importance occurred. Without waiting for the Church’s sanction the Xylones had established a permanent in-system base on Mars. Up until then, the aliens had restricted their communication to temporary visits with their hyper-ships, one or two Terran days at most. They had made clear to previous Church ambassadors that they were unsatisfied with this arrangement and wished for a surer foothold in our Solar System. Unsurprisingly, the Church was less than willing to grant them this privilege and attempted to entangle them in bureaucratic quibbles and diplomatic squabbles. The Xylones must have had the attitude that the Church’s stalling tactics, being just words, could never hurt them; the news of the unsanctioned Xylonic settlement spread across the Solar System in hours.
The Church of the Nine Gods was initially somewhat muted in its opposition to the Xylonic actions. The political backdrop for the duration of my entire linguistics course was a superficially amicable stalemate with an undertone of xenophobic resentment and fear. Two months after I got drafted by the Church I became aware of her plan to attack the Xylonic Martian base. I was routinely called to interpret for Church-Xylone diplomatic exchanges and was beginning to learn how to intuit Xylolingual communication in the hope of gleaning unofficial knowledge about their civilisation. I confess that the more I learned of the Xylones, the more enamoured and trustful I became of them, and the more I came to distrust and despise the Church. If either of our races were the infidels, it was the Church of the Nine Gods and not the Xylones.
My job was, on the face of it very simple. The Church would give me a brief on what it wanted to get across to the Xylones in a particular meeting. This would invariably contain two lines. First, a message of unconditional support for the prosperity of the Xylonic base on Mars. Secondly, a number of particular supplementary issues which were chosen to conform with the Church’s policy of polite deference; any opposition to Xylonic policy was put in the guise of caveats and ‘recommendations’.
I soon began to suspect that the official party line I was given did not accord with the Church’s actual policy. Being naturally insatiable for knowledge and possessed of a subversive streak, I obtained a computer virus on the black market to hack the Church mainframe. What I learned was shocking. The Church of the Nine Gods had been lying to the Xylones – and to me. Rather than supporting the Martian base, they regarded its establishment as an act of hostility. The mainframe’s memory banks contained the details of a plan to annihilate it with a Magnitude 12 sub-polaron energy pulse. Not only would this atomise the entire Xylonic base, it would create a planetwide Marsquake which would decimate the existing human colonies. In its mad quest to obliterate its perceived enemies, the Church of the Nine Gods thought nothing of sacrificing any number of its own!
I resolved to warn the Xylones of the grave danger that lay in store for them. My next appointment with them was in three days time. As long as my hack went undiscovered, I would simply have to think of a way to communicate my knowledge on the day without the Church of the Nine Gods suspecting. For two days, it seemed that my act of treason could be successfully brought to completion under the Church’s nose. I threw myself into designing some way of divulging the Church’s diabolical plans to the Xylones. If I openly told the Xylonic ambassador the information in the diplomatic chamber, the Church would get wind of something out of the ordinary going on between us and doubtless try to intervene – though if it came down to it, I could do that. I did have the advantage that much of my Xylolingual was the knowledge of the adept learned in the field, so if I was subtle in my hints, the Church would fail to pick it up. The next day, I hatched my plan. In the interpretation chamber, I would drop hints to the Xylonic ambassador that there was ‘off the record’ communications I wished to convey. The ambassador would ‘interact’ with me at close quarters just as it was about to leave for its ship. This would allow me to hand over the mem-cube with the Church’s plan unnoticed.
The next morning, I had nothing to do but wait in my apartment. It was an ordinary day so, despite the incredible burden on my conscience, I went through my ordinary routine. I got up at 06.40 Standard Church Time and took a low temp ultrasonic shower. Then I programmed the pneumatic food chute for a breakfast of synthetic bread and cheese and sweetened gooseberry juice. I had just sat down to eat when my visiphonic terminal blared loudly with a aud-missive from the Church. JANET SHARP, YOU ARE HEREBYE RELIEVED OF XYLOLINGUISTIC DUTIES FOR 09.06. My brain faintly registered that 09.06 was tomorrow while my blood ran cold with dread. The only explanation for this notice was that the Church had found out that I hacked their mainframe; even now they would be sending agents… I hurriedly dressed. I didn’t even bother looking for stuff to take; the mem-cube with the plan for destroying the Martian base, that was in a safe in my chamber. I needed that. I bolted to the room and, as fast as I could, punched in the code to unlock it. Hurry, they would soon be here! It opened; I grabbed the cube and rushed to exit the apartment. My skywhizzer was in the hangar at the top of the building, if I could make it up there. Fuck it, the elevator was so slow… yes, finally! My minute ride to the top seemed interminable. Amazingly the elevator door opened to a deserted whizzerbay. How long would it take them? I hurled myself into my skywhizzer, set the motors on full power and ran through the bay doors. The sky in front was blue and… a swarm of black dots, fast gaining. Shit! I aimed for were they weren’t and shot upwards. There was no way my civilian class skywhizzer could escape their military class vehicles. My vehicle lurched and spun in the air; they were firing! In a flash of inspiration I aimed the skywhizzer to the side of a tall apartment block. Perhaps the spectre of mass civilian casualties would stay their trigger fingers. There was an explosion; well if I had to be ultrawaved, the rest of the city could be ultrawaved with me! I shot between two more buildings; my skywhizzer lurched again. There was a thundering roar above me. The vehicles roof crumpled. I’d cut it too fine and taken a hit from stray debris. The skywhizzer turned right over; my vision went all hazy (stray ultrawave?) I was plunging sickeningly and blacked out.
I could have been tortured. They could have thrown me into a vat of hyperacid and left me to terminal agonies. But the Church had a different fate for me, and that is why I am now here, in Professor Everett’s laboratory, waiting to see. I was first taken to a secret medical faculty. For a while I dreaded all sorts of painful and invasive treatment, and was stunned when none of my fears remotely materialised. I was subjected to a variety of non-invasive scans. There was a lot of staring at bright varicoloured holographics and lying under complex machinery. At the end, a short man with a goatee brusquely ordered me to report to Blue House.
Blue House is a code name. Two years ago, the Church had attempted to develop a viable form of hyperspace travel, which would allow their ships to transcend the galling limitations of special relativity and flit between the stars like the Xylones could. Preliminary tests had been performed, atomic particles, nano-grains, ingots of various materials had been sent through hyperspace. But there were complications. The ingots could not be sent to a precise destination. Furthermore, the Church had gleaned knowledge of the Xylonic hyperdrive system and discovered evidence for complications in the process. Hyperspace was knotty, dangerous. The Xylonic ships needed pilots to navigate them; only a sentient brain could respond adequately to unknown dangers and obstacles in hypernavigation. The only way for a human pilot to see these dangers would be four dimensionally. And this is where I come in. The neuroenhancement procedures needed to give a subject hypervision are only successful if the subject’s brain contains certain trace neural structures in her visual cortex, ‘seed engrams’. The name for this is Real Vision. I have Real Vision.
Professor Everett moves to the side of the laboratory. I can hear him fiddling with the computer system with various beeps and warbles, punctuated with an occasional “very nice!” from Professor Everett. Then I feel him move next to me. He rubs gel and attaches various contacts to the ports on my head. He says, “I’m just going to run a test program for calibration, see how it goes.” I here a click.
The external world goes black. A single red cube appears in the centre of the blackness. The software engages its hypervision mode and my perspective starts to shift. The cube disappears. I can feel the perspective shift, and then a distorted red shape appears. The shape moves like a slice of something. Precisely what it is. It’s the inside of my virtual red cube, and I am seeing it directly from a vantage point that does not exist. Gradually my perspective widens until I see the whole cube. I see the whole cube. I see the whole cube. It’s not transparent, and neither do I feel it, like an electric tingle as you would imagine if I was some field permeating it. I sheerly see all of its three-dimensional properties at once. Its volume, its surface area, its 24 angles attached to 8 vertices which I view from all directions at once. For I look in a direction which is mathematically, yet not logically, possible and I see it from, (above, below, sideways? From the past, from the future?)
The entire cube starts moving... sidewise/ pastward/ futuristically? It leaves a computer-generated wake, an infinite series of cubes stacked volume to volume. For a second a horrific vision grips me. I am trapped inside that volume, with no way to escape via the x, y, z or t axes. I brush this aside.
My impression is of a melee of right angles. I cannot understand the pattern so I see it as a mess, in the same way that the human brain looks like a tangle, or that a complex equation looks like meaningless symbols. A diabolical shape with volumes for surfaces and surfaces for lines and 16 vertices, each with four right angles, flickering “forward” cube by cube. Each addition makes me lurch physically inside my virtual reality until I become nauseous.
The hypershape grows until all its volumes, surfaces and lines are equivalent. 1 m lines, planes of 1 m2, and volumes of 1 m3. Whatever is inside is 1 m4. A hypercube, or tesseract. The tesseract goes transparent but I never see what 1 m4 looks like because the thing collapses into a bundle of cubes. I am trapped inside volume; cubes gnaw away at my insides. Cubes within cubes within cubes. I psychosomatically asphyxiate, cubes bulge in my eyes. I am forced to endure this pain for five eternal seconds. Then abruptly, the vision snaps off, everything is blurred, and I black out, screaming.
I come to. I am lying on my back and a man-shaped shadow is standing over me. Professor Everett’s voice says, “Good. You’re awake now. Perhaps next time you’ll take it better.”
micheledutcher - I like the mixture of sci-fi and math ideas in this piece. As far as the ending, I guess it's like: Shampoo, rinse, repeat...could go on indefinitely.
micheledutcher - pippin91 wrote: I love the setup and, as usual, your ideas and use of invented language are just fantastic. This one particularly engaged me and I was eager to find out more, like how did the Church discover Ellie's treason? What exactly are the intentions of the Xylones? What's going on with that Mars base? Short stories often leave loose ends about - understand that - but I'd like at least something resolved.
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