Friday, May 8, 2009

High Heavens

Kaxtorplose was cold, and getting colder by the minute. His damaged environment suit, the result of a botched landing in the murky swamp, was barely able to retain enough warmth to keep his extremities from freezing. Moving constantly and vigorously through the ubiquitous morass of tangled plant matter and chopping away with his makeshift machete helped to keep the cold at bay, but he had already had several warnings pop up on his HUD during the last few minutes. Within the next half hour, if the status quo remained unchanged, he would start to enter the first stages of hypothermia. The air temperature registered at a few degrees above the freezing point of water, but it wasn't the air which was leaching the heat from his body. It was the stagnant swamp through which he methodically toiled. All he could do was slog onward and try to keep his mind occupied, hoping that he would reach his destination in time. According to the nav com, which maintained a tenuous link with his orbiting ship, he was almost there. Just a few more kilometers... hell, the outskirts would be visible now if it weren't for the damnable fog... but the resistance he encountered as each step was temporarily mired in the rotting vegetation of the swamp was dangerously slowing his forward progress. He tried to take his mind off of that, plus the fact that his only means of returning to his ship had just been thoroughly wrecked, by letting his subconscious take over. Step. Chop. Clear. Chop. Step. And so on. His thoughts wandered with the mundanity of the chore, and he found himself mentally reviewing he odd stellar arrangement which made life on this planet possible.

The system consisted of two stars... the primary, a neutron star, and the secondary, a red supergiant currently undergoing helium flash. The neutron star was a mass of densely packed neutrons, measuring only about 20 kilometers in diameter. This seemed tiny when compared to the 200 million kilometer diameter of the supergiant, but amazingly, the neutron star contained about five times more mass than it's companion. However, by itself, it did not emit nearly enough heat to warm the atypical planet which revolved around the tiny, compact ball of degenerate matter... there had to be another source of energy. This came in the form of a steady influx of elements which flooded in from the secondary, pulled by the enormous gravity of the neutron star. Viewed from the perspective of several AU's above the solar ecliptic, the binary system resembled a vast whirlpool. Mass from the the supergiant, falling steadily into the primary, swirled inevitably around the region of acutely warped spacetime until it impacted the surface of the ancient husk at relativistic speeds. This process actually stretched the shape of the supergiant into an oblate spheroid roughly the shape of an egg. The narrow end extended itself inexorably towards the primary, as if it were reaching longingly across space for the embrace of it's ages dead companion. Viewed in the infrared part of the spectrum, the supergiant took on the uninterrupted shape of one long piece of stretched material that got thinner and thinner as it wrapped itself several times around the neutron star before finally joining with its surface. Where regular matter impacted neutronium, a cascade of x-rays shone like a interstellar beacon, outshining the equivalent energy of a thousand stars. When enough matter from the supergiant finally merged with the neutron star, it's mass would finally reach a point where its imminent collapse could no longer be held in check. Once that happened, the neutron star would implode in upon itself, forcing all of its mass into an infinitely dense point called a singularity. It would become a black hole.

But that wouldn't occur for millions of years, of course... no danger there. Not that Kaxtorplose had millions of years... according to the latest warning flashed across his HUD, he had about fifteen more minutes before he really began to shiver. The fog was still as dense as ever ahead of him, but it seemed to be clearing in a pattern which would soon dissipate over his position. He could see behind him now for quite a distance, and was now able to make out the alien landscape in some detail. The swamp stretched on for as far as he could see in all directions, dotted here and there by dense clusters of native vegetation. He could just barely make out the silhouette of his lander on the distant horizon, brought into relief by the dim red light of the setting supergiant. The distant haze of the retreating fog scattered the faint illumination of the binary pair, offering a lurid cast to the stagnant, ominous landscape. Any positive respite that he had imagined with the parting of the oppressive mist now seemed to languish as the encroaching gloam slowly usurped the twilight.

The HUD flashed for his attention. He was about to dismiss the warning again but the audial tone was different this time. Kaxtorplose stopped in mid stride, slowly bringing the sheared piece of metal that he was using as a machete down to his side, and squinted. He switched on his helmet lights, which until now had been all but useless in the dense fog. Through the thinning, swirling mist, he could dimly make out a structure of some kind. His suit sensors were definitely picking up a weak but massive infrared source just another couple of hundred meters ahead. His HUD was getting brighter as the fog cleared, letting more and more infrared energy through, and then his heat sinks kicked in. Normally used to dissipate waste heat, he had reversed the programming so that they now absorbed any ambient energy which might be available in the general vicinity. The heat sinks made a comforting thrumming sound, and with a sense of profound relief Kaxtorplose began to feel his extremities warming up as they tapped into the radiation being dispelled by the structure ahead. He summoned his reserve energy and waded ungainly towards the outskirts of the 'city'. As he got closer, he began to make out detail. There were buildings, of a sort... strange, geometrical protrusions which seemed to wind, twist, fold, convolute, and weave in all directions. It was very hard to discern at first, but there was definitely the impression of an overall pattern. He had suspected it based on orbital scans, but now it was confirmed. These structures were of a fractal nature. Thick, primary nodules jutted from a base substrate which rose out of the murky water by several meters. Kaxtorplose was still about a hundred meters away, but from this distance he was relatively sure that the primary nodules were about a meter thick and of a uniform, jet black color, narrowing to what appeared to be very fine termination vertices at their towering endpoints. Rising to a height of several dozen meters, each primary nodule was positioned at severe angles to the others, forming intricate juxtaposed branches and narrow interstices. At regular intervals along the length of each nodule and all around their circumferences, other nodules emerged, seemingly duplicating the original except in size. From each of these smaller nodules, even smaller protrusions would appear in regular patterns. This pattern continued until it was no longer possible to discern individual nodules... they became as insubstantial as the recently departed fog. Taken in as a visual entirety, it was apparent that what appeared random at first was the epitome of order. Each nodule pattern seemed to mesh perfectly with the surrounding patterns of other nodules, forming an intricately and perfectly woven three dimensional structure, a fractal suspension matrix.

The fractal design had many benefits, the most immediately obvious being the amount of surface area which was available for efficiently processing the tenuous illumination of the binary pair. Instead of presenting and utilizing only one uniform face to an energy source, such as with a solar panel, each fractal nodule was able to absorb energy from every direction at once, using all of its surface area. However, energy storage was merely a side effect of the true purpose of the dense fractal structure, which Kaxtorplose had began referring to as Mandlebrots Folly. Compared to the mere manipulation of holographic photons, which was the basis of traditional holographic storage techniques currently in common use, this fractal 'city' provided an increase in capacity by orders of potentially infinite magnitudes. By storing information using a quantum fractal structure at a distinct level of simultaneous causality, it was possible to store an infinite amount of data in a finite space. The only limitation to this method was the capability of the arbiter medium. Which brings us to the modern problem of the practical application of quantum fractal theory... that data can not be stored or retrieved with 100% efficiency by using any method known to modern technology because of Heisenburg's uncertainty principle. At a quantum level, the qubits, or quantum bits, which comprise the fundamental base storage unit of a potential quantum information field, cannot be observed directly or the very data you are trying to retrieve or store would be altered. It was the ultimate in data security, able to be bypassed only by viewing the raw information through some sort of arbiter medium... essentially, a 'window' which can bypass the uncertainty principle, comparable to the way a wormhole acts as an arbiter medium for bypassing the light speed barrier. It had been theorized that access to certain dimensions might provide a sufficient arbiter medium if used as a filter for observing quantum data, but the practical application was still as far away as the idea of actually building a quantum fractal suspension matrix to begin with. Yet, here one existed, right before his very eyes. Obviously someone or something had been able to turn it into a practicality.

Kaxtorplose spent a lot of time inspecting the matrix up close and came to the conclusion that the uniformly dark color of each nodule was for the express purpose of maximum heat absorption. Upon closer inspection however, he found that the surfaces of the nodules themselves (the parts he could actually observe) were constructed of another type of fractal material, and that only about half of it was actually of the black absorptive variety. The rest was of a nature that eluded all attempts at inspection (by his rudimentary suit sensors, at least). The eyes seemed to 'slide' away from these areas, and it was impossible to actually observe them in any detail whatsoever. Unless he actually tried to focus on the nodules closely, they appeared to be uniformly black. Otherwise, it was like looking at a piece of black marble striated with veins of 'nothing'. Not exactly an accurate description, but the closest Kaxtorplose could come to describing it. It was distinctly weird, he thought. He concluded that this 'invisible' material was most likely a surface manifestation of qubits, and required the arbiter medium to view directly.

Being involved with his inspection of the quantum matrix, Kaxtorplose didn't notice the shape which was quickly bounding toward him until it was only about twenty meters away. His peripheral sensors popped up a warning on the left side of his HUD, and he turned his head in that direction to regard a bizarre creature. The creature seemed to have noticed that it was now being observed, and was momentarily still, so Kaxtorplose was able to zoom in on the creature for a good look. It vaguely resembled an alligator, superficially. It was scaley, had a long tail, and a pair of long jaws with many rows of exceptionally dangerous looking teeth. It had extremely long, agile looking legs however, and a formidable set of prehensile forward claws. The idea of a head seemed to be entirely bypassed. The long, narrow jaws, instead of connecting with a braincase, oddly enough merged directly with a thick, stumpy, muscle corded neck. Kaxtorplose followed the length of the jaws outward from the neck, noting the rows of menacing teeth, until it became clear that there actually was a head. A small nodule of bony flesh sat blatantly near the edge of the upper jaw, giving the overall impression of a long paddle with a hemispherical nub protruding from the end. A pair of small, forward facing eyes were embedded in sunken sockets occupying each side of the nubby head, while a set of narrow nostrils were in place between the eyes. It was a decidedly odd sight to behold. Suddenly, the creature launched itself from its perch and landed on the stumpy end of a dead tree. It repeated this feat several times, each time using a different stump to propel its sleek, muscular body, coming closer and closer to Kaxtorploses' position. Kaxtorplose didn't hesitate. He unholstered his microwave laser and pointed it in the general direction of the nubby headed horror. Setting the beam to wide dispersal, he fired, intentionally coming up short. Where the maser beam struck, the brackish water boiled and bubbled, casting off torrents of steam. The creature was bounding toward him now, following a straight line of stumps, and Kaxtorplose brought the maser to bear, bringing the line of roiling steam directly in line with the ungodly horror. At a distance of approximately three meters, the maser beam struck the creature. Luckily, Kaxtorplose was wearing his environment helmet... because if you thought that fetid swamp stank before, you should catch a whiff if it laced with the nauseating aroma of fried, nubby headed gator brains.

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