The Study of Anglophysics

I.

Dear Dr. McCord:

Seven years ago, our re­search staff read with in­ter­est your work on Berkeleyan ideal­ism. We were par­tic­u­larly fas­ci­nated by your seem­ingly out­ra­geous claim that it might be pos­si­ble for in­di­vi­d­u­als to imag­ine men­tal wor­lds so strongly that they would take on a re­al­ity of their own.

At the time, as our lab­o­ra­tory had an in­ter­est in novel solu­tions to the over­pop­u­la­tion prob­lem, we em­barked upon a test pro­ject to see whether a par­allel world could be imaged and then colonized by cit­i­zens from our own di­men­sion. Us­ing ad­vanced sci­ence you could not pos­si­bly com­pre­hend, we came up with a prac­ti­cal im­ple­men­ta­tion of your idea. Dr. Michael Ad­well, whom I be­lieve you met dur­ing your time in Oxford, vol­un­teered to en­ter the de­vice we had con­structed as our first re­search sub­ject. We very briefly imaged an al­ter­nate world based on the con­tents of Dr. Ad­well’s mind be­fore the good doc­tor un­for­tu­nately had a grand mal seizure. He was dis­con­nected from the de­vice and rushed to the hos­pi­tal, where he passed away sev­eral hours later.

Two years ago we re­vis­ited some of our calcu­la­tions on the pro­ject and de­ter­mined, to our sur­prise, that the world Dr. Ad­well had cre­ated might still ex­ist in some sense; that it had some­how man­aged to sus­tain it­self sep­a­rate from the doc­tor’s men­tal ac­tivity. We worked fev­er­ishly to con­struct a de­vice that might let us in­ter­act with his imaged world. Six months ago we suc­ceeded. The com­pu­ta­tional de­mands of the ma­chine were im­mense, but af­ter throw­ing the re­main­der of our bud­get for the year at the Ky­oto Su­per­com­put­ing Lab­o­ra­tory, we were able to rent enough pro­cess­ing power to trans­late my­self and Dr. Lach­lan Fairchild into the imaged world, which we dubbed “Ad­wellia” af­ter our late col­league. Our su­pe­ri­ors in­formed us that when the next fis­cal year rol­led around in four months, there would be enough money in the bud­get to trans­late us back home.

II.

On first ar­rival, Ad­wellia seemed much like home. We landed on the shores of a small lake in what seemed to be a wooded area. Since it was get­ting dark, we soon set to pitch­ing camp for the night. Our first un­pleas­ant sur­prise was that the kerosene heater we had brought with us wouldn’t work, leav­ing us cold and dis­heart­ened. Lach­lan col­lected some logs to build a fire, but our matches didn’t seem to work ei­ther. I re­mem­bered the sev­enth page of your pa­per, where you had posited that an imaged world would run on the same physics of our own world, since it would be bound by the ex­pec­ta­tions of the imager. Dr. Ad­well had cer­tainly un­der­stood enough chem­istry to know that matches should start fires, but it seemed one of our most ba­sic pre­dic­tions had already failed.

I will not say whether we were more mo­ti­vated by cu­ri­os­ity or by the bit­ter cold, but we tried dozens of differ­ent branches – small, large, young and green, old and rot­ting – and ev­ery­thing from dous­ing them in kerosene to the old-fash­ioned method of rub­bing sticks to­gether to cre­ate fric­tion.

Fi­nally, I suc­ceeded in get­ting some branches from an old fir tree to al­ight. In re­lief, the two of us hud­dled close to the fire. But our cu­ri­os­ity was only height­ened when we found the area near the fire to be un­mis­take­ably colder than the sur­round­ing air. Here our chill over­came our sci­en­tific spirit, and we de­cided to deal with the prob­lem in the morn­ing. We got into our too-thin ther­mal sleep­ing bags and passed a mis­er­able and freez­ing night.

When we awoke, the fire had gone out, and in its place stood a pile of hats – twenty of them, to be pre­cise. I would have called them fe­do­ras, al­though Lach­lan said the par­tic­u­lar style was more pop­u­larly known as a Hom­burg. We de­bated tak­ing the hats, but we had been thor­oughly spooked. In­stead we picked up our camp and jour­neyed south, where it looked like the wood was be­gin­ning to thin out.

Around mid­day we spot­ted smoke, and dared to hope we were com­ing upon a set­tle­ment. By evening our guess was con­firmed, and we saw a village of con­i­cal adobe huts. We pre­pared to ges­ture our re­quest to trade trin­kets for lodg­ing to the in­hab­itants – who were far too dark skinned to be Euro­pean but who did not quite pat­tern-match to my mem­o­ries of any par­tic­u­lar hu­man race. Imag­ine our sur­prise when we found they spoke English – though with abom­inable gram­mar. The head­man in­tro­duced him­self as Somon, and was all too happy to ac­cept our trin­kets in ex­change for a nice warm hut to spend the night in.

We en­deav­ored to learn more about these peo­ple in the morn­ing, but by this time were tired enough to call it a night. We could not help in­spect­ing the heat­ing mechanism in our room, which seemed to be a mud bowl in which sheaves of wheat, small rocks, and lit­tle mud figurines that looked like peo­ple had been placed. To­tally ab­sent any visi­ble mechanism, the setup was emit­ting heat – and what was more, a ball set in a track along the edge of the bowl moved con­tin­u­ously around in what seemed to all the world to be per­pet­ual mo­tion, mak­ing an an­noy­ing crack­ling sound as it passed over lit­tle leaves set in the rim. We had only a lit­tle time to ex­change the­o­ries be­fore fal­ling into a deep sleep.

The next morn­ing, the bowl was no longer warm, the ball had stopped mov­ing, and the ob­jects within had ap­par­ently trans­mo­grified into a mi­ni­a­ture wheelbar­row. This was strange magic.

The villagers were already were already up and about, so we found Somon and tried to get some bet­ter con­ver­sa­tion in.

“We are sci­en­tists,” we told him “from far away, look­ing to gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of how things work here.”

“Here in Mog­o­naw?” asked Somon, us­ing what we later found was the name of the village. “Not well.” He smiled, show­ing very pearly teeth.

“We were hop­ing to set up a lab­o­ra­tory – a few metal huts and a big ma­chine – maybe on the out­skirts of town. We would pay you for food, maybe for help with cer­tain things. We have many tools to trade, and lots of gold and metal.” Not ex­actly true – what we had was a portable nanofac­tory, trans­lated in with us as an eas­ier al­ter­na­tive to bring­ing sup­plies. But we could get tools or trans­mute el­e­ments pretty quickly.

“Is of course,” said Somon, with the delight of some­one who had stum­bled en­tirely by ac­ci­dent into a benefi­cial ar­range­ment. “What will you be need­ing?”

“Well the first thing,” in­ter­rupted Lach­lan, “is we wanted to know how your heat­ing de­vice works. The one with the wheat and the rocks. It was new to us.”

“You not have this in your village?” said Somon, with a frown. “Is not ob­vi­ous?”

“No,” I said. “Where we come from, it’s not ob­vi­ous at all.”

Somon bright­ened. “Your village,” he de­clared “not know true names!” He picked up a rock from the ground. “True name of this is…rock.”

We both nod­ded, mys­tified.

He grabbed a sheaf of wheat from a pass­ing villager, who gave him a glare. “True name,” he said, “is…wheat.”

He said it with the same mys­ti­cal in­to­na­tion with which one of our col­leagues back at the lab­o­ra­tory would an­nounce a par­tic­u­larly earth-shat­ter­ing re­sult.

“Yes, okay,” said Lach­lan, kind of miffed. “I ac­tu­ally think we do know true names of things. It’s the same in our lan­guage.”

Now it was Somon’s turn to be mys­tified. “Then…where is con­fu­sion?”

“The heat­ing de­vice,” said Lach­lan, nar­row­ing his eyes. “How does it work?”

“Is ob­vi­ous!” said Somon, like we were idiots. “Wheat and rock and art be­come work and heat and cart. The work push lit­tle ball around. Then ball make noise, con­tin­u­ing re­ac­tion.”

“But…” I in­ter­jected, be­cause it looked like Lach­lan wanted to grab the head­man and wring his neck “why do the wheat and rock and art be­come work and heat and cart.”

“Is true names” said Somon, and shrugged.

“Holy shit,” said Lach­lan, at ex­actly the in­stant when I re­mained just as con­fused as I had been be­fore. I stared at him.

“Holy shit,” Lach­lan re­peated. “This world fuck­ing runs on ana­grams. English lan­guage ana­grams.”

Wittgen­stein once said that the limits of our lan­guage are the limits of our world. Some say that math­e­mat­ics is the lan­guage of God. Maybe that was why our world ran on math. Well, English had been the lan­guage of Dr. Ad­well. It had been the lens through which he made sense of re­al­ity.

Maybe our hy­poth­e­sis that his imaged world would run on the same physics of our own had been pre­ma­ture.

What if his world ran on English?

“The fire!” said Lach­lan, who as usual was a step ahead of me. “Fir branches and heat. Fir plus heat be­comes fire plus hat. So it re­moved heat from the at­mo­sphere, and cre­ated fire and a hat.”

“Twenty hats,” I re­minded him.

Lach­lan was already deep in thought. “It’s all sto­i­chiom­e­try,” he started say­ing, al­most faster than I could fol­low. “In our world, wa­ter is H20. H-O-H. Here, a fir tree has to be liter­ally made of F-I-R. Twenty six let­ter-el­e­ments, form­ing a near-in­finite amount of word-molecules. Sup­pose we burned three kilo­grams of fir branches…don’t know the mo­lar weight here, but sup­pose each let­ter weighs the same and there’s one mole per kilo­gram, just bear with me. That’s one mole each of F, I, and R. So it must have ab­sorbed some sort of four mole equiv­a­lent amount of heat…what­ever that means…and then spit out three moles of hats and four moles of fire. Three moles of hats in this sys­tem would be three kilo­grams of hats, that would mean each hat weighs 150 grams…it all checks out! Somon! Quick! Show us how you make some­thing else!”

Somon looked at him. The head­man seemed as con­fused as I was, but for differ­ent rea­sons.

“Make…what?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Clothes, tools, any­thing.”

“My daugh­ter Ge­nea live in here,” he said, ges­tur­ing to a hut on the out­skirts of town with some smoke com­ing out of it. “She is weaver.”

The “weaver” ac­tu­ally seemed to be perform­ing some sort of com­pli­cated chem­i­cal re­ac­tion. She was hold­ing beets over a cauldron that was bub­bling up into a prim­i­tive fume hood, then throw­ing them into what seemed like a vat of tar. Water was run­ning out a hole in one side, and on the other, a roll of cloth was get­ting steadily longer.

This time I got it be­fore Lach­lan. “Chlo­rine,” I said. “Chlo­rine plus beets plus tar be­comes cloth plus brine plus tears.”

“That’s not right,” said Lach­lan. “You’re miss­ing an ‘e’”.

“No I’m not,” I said. “It con­sumes twice as much tar as chlo­rine or beets, and pro­duces twice as many tears as brine or cloth.”

“I think,” said Lach­lan, “that we had bet­ter get our lab­o­ra­tory set up sooner rather than later.”

III.

This we did, at record speed. Not want­ing to frighten the villagers – or ex­pose our­selves to pry­ing eyes – we set our­selves a kilo­me­ter south of town, on a cape over­look­ing a great sea. On the head­lands of the cape was a small hill from which you could see for miles, and there we com­pleted the week-or-so’s work of get­ting the nanofac­tory up and run­ning. Its first job was to ex­trude us two alu­minum Quon­set huts, which be­came our homes away from home.

From our lit­tle en­camp­ment the ocean stretched on as far as we could see. I won­dered if there were other con­ti­nents on this world – figur­ing out its size re­ally should have been one of our first pri­ori­ties. But we were too fas­ci­nated by this world’s weird lin­guis­tic el­e­ments and re­ac­tions – an­glo­physics, we dubbed them – to prop­erly in­ves­ti­gate any­thing else.

The first and most ob­vi­ous ques­tion was why ev­ery­thing wasn’t re­act­ing all the time. How come ev­ery time some­one touched a rock, the skin + rock didn’t be­come corks + ink? Just the air alone should have de­stroyed a wide va­ri­ety of ob­jects.

(“Oh, come on,” I told Lach­lan. “The air doesn’t count”. Lach­lan had then gone on to prove me wrong by get­ting the iron tools we had brought to rust, then prov­ing the rust hap­pened faster in moist air, and air that was full of dust par­ti­cles. “AIR plus IRON plus DUST,” he told me “equals RUST plus IONS plus ARID. Things aren’t rust­ing in this world be­cause of ox­i­da­tion. As long as it can suck dust and mois­ture from the air, it’s rust­ing by Crazy Ana­gram Logic.” So the air definitely counted.)

The first thing we dis­cov­ered was that na­ture ab­horred non-words. AIR and DUST wouldn’t re­act on their own to be­come RUST and IA, be­cause IA wasn’t a thing.

“What about AI?” asked Lach­lan. “Why not rust plus an in­tel­li­gent com­puter?”

At the time, my an­swer was “Shut up! The world might hear you!” I would later learn this was not nearly as funny as I thought.

But at the time, we made quick progress. Sim­ple ma­te­ri­als and short words seemed to be most sta­ble, with com­pli­cated or ab­stract con­cepts rarely form­ing spon­ta­neously – which, at least, an­swered our AI prob­lem. And re­ac­tions usu­ally wouldn’t hap­pen at all with­out sound, which seemed to play the same role in this world that heat did in our own. Lach­lan had sus­pected this al­most from the be­gin­ning – that the crack­ling leaves un­der­neath the ball had pro­vided the sound-en­ergy to con­tinue fuel­ing the re­ac­tion that kept us warm that first night. But it wasn’t un­til we heard the ca­cophony of a village fes­ti­val that we knew we were on the right track.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING??!” I had yel­led at Somon, over the din of drums and cym­bals and scream­ing villagers.

“MAKING BEER!!!” Somon an­swered.

It had turned out that the villagers used pee and bran to pro­duce beer and pans, but that the re­ac­tion went un­pleas­antly slowly un­less they shouted it along. The shout­ing was, of course, egged on by the beer they had already pro­duced, which sort of made it an au­to­cat­alytic re­ac­tion if you squinted. They offered us some of their beer, but even though I knew things worked differ­ently here my stan­dards were a lit­tle too high to drink beer liter­ally made of pee and so we re­turned to the lab. On our trip back, Lach­lan pointed out that all of the villagers’ iron tools had been care­fully taken in­side dur­ing the fes­ti­val, so that the noise would not cause them to rust.

Our next big dis­cov­ery was a week later. I woke up at 7 AM with Lach­lan pound­ing on the door of my alu­minum hut.

“OMAR!” he was shout­ing. “TAKE A LOOK AT THIS!”

Sit­ting on his palm was a one inch tall man, naked and hair­less, look­ing ter­rified. He looked like he would have run off if there was any­where to run to.

“What in the…?”

“I found a vol­canic vent, up in the hills to the west. There was a source of methane. I broke it down into HEAT and MEN. But there wasn’t enough MEN to form some­one full sized. So I got this.”

“Lach­lan, you’ve got to help him!”

Lach­lan gave a grunt, as if an­noyed to be re­minded of the eth­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions of his work. “How?”

“Can you speak lan­guage?” I asked the lit­tle man on Lach­lan’s palm.

In re­sponse, the man screamed. I took that as a no.

So I dragged Lach­lan down to the village, where I woke up an an­noyed Somon. “Somon,” I said. “We found a way to break methane into…”

Somon’s eyes went wide. Then he got an­gry. “No methane!” he said. “Is taboo! Will…”

He saw the ho­muncu­lus in Lach­lan’s palm. With a deft mo­tion bely­ing his age, he yanked the lit­tle crea­ture away from Lach­lan and snapped its neck. I gasped. Lach­lan looked an­noyed.

“Is TABOO!” shouted Somon, with an anger I hadn’t seen in him be­fore. “Th­ese things! Not men! No speech! No mind! Must not make! Lit­tle man is taboo! Methane is taboo! If you make lit­tle man, no longer stay with us!”

I calmed him down, promised we wouldn’t be do­ing any more ex­per­i­ments with methane, said we were new here, didn’t know what we were do­ing. I asked him for more ad­vice, asked him about any other taboos. He seemed ir­ri­tated, as­sumed we should know what they were, seemed to think less of us with each ques­tion in­di­cat­ing our ig­no­rance. Fi­nally we gave up and made the long trek back to our lab­o­ra­tory.

Our next few weeks of ex­per­i­ments were less bloody, but still ex­cit­ing. Sup­pose we took a mop and the guts of an an­i­mal, and shouted at them un­til MOP + GUT re­acted to POT + be­come GUM. Would the pot be the cook­ing im­ple­ment, or would it be mar­ijuana? For that mat­ter, why shouldn’t it be a top, the child’s toy? Why shouldn’t the gum form a mug, fit to drink coffee from?

In our first ex­per­i­ment, we sur­rounded our ap­para­tus with pans and food, and were un­sur­prised to find we ended up with cook­ing im­ple­ments. We re­peated the ex­per­i­ment, but this time sur­round­ing the ap­para­tus with bongs, to­bacco, and other drug para­pher­na­lia – this time we got mar­ijuana. We wanted to get a playful child to see if we could pro­duce tops, but news of our work with methane had got­ten out and spooked the villagers, and they were un­der­stand­ably un­will­ing to let us bor­row one of their chil­dren.

The third ex­per­i­ment was in my opinion the key to this en­tire pro­cess. This time we sur­rounded the ap­para­tus with pans and food, but both Lach­lan and I con­cen­trated very very hard on mar­ijuana, and talked about mar­ijuana with each other while the loud­speaker the nanofac­tory had ex­truded blasted sound at the re­ac­tants, and sure enough, we got mar­ijuana.

Some­how our ex­pec­ta­tions were guid­ing the physics in a way that the let­ters them­selves couldn’t. I started to won­der what had be­come of poor Dr. Ad­well. Was the god of this world a deist, who had cre­ated it shortly be­fore dy­ing in a hos­pi­tal ICU in a very differ­ent planet? Or was he in some sense still here, still ac­tively guid­ing things?

The re­ac­tion that rusted iron started to seem more and more sus­pi­cious. What about that ARID? In our ex­per­i­ments, mak­ing ad­jec­tives had been al­most im­pos­si­ble, re­quiring more sound catal­y­sis than any noun we had en­coun­tered so far. But ARID seemed to form of its own ac­cord. What if Ad­well some­how re­mem­bered that iron was sup­posed to rust, and priv­ileged that re­ac­tion as the sort of thing that ought to go on? What if the rea­son ev­ery­thing didn’t im­plode upon it­self was Ad­well en­sur­ing that ev­ery­thing in his imaged world hap­pened ac­cord­ing to some plan?

Then our proof that we could al­ter our re­sults through con­cen­tra­tion and care­ful prim­ing would take on a whole new mean­ing.

Did re­mind­ing God what chem­i­cal re­ac­tion we wanted change ex­per­i­men­tal re­sults?

IV.

“We’re go­ing about this half-ass­edly,” Lach­lan told me one morn­ing our sixth week in Ad­wellia. “All of this look­ing for clever ana­grams is tak­ing up too much of our time, de­lay­ing us in supremely great work. We need to do this an­a­lyt­i­cally. Get a bot­tle of As, a bot­tle of Bs, so we can cre­ate what­ever the hell we want.”

This proved eas­ier said than done. We got the nanofac­tory to ex­trude us a very com­plex ap­para­tus, a cen­trifuge, and what we took to call­ing the “sonic ray” – a ma­chine that made deaf­en­ing noise along a very nar­row arc and which could cat­alyze re­ac­tions much faster than shout­ing or drum­ming. It turned out to be the key to mak­ing far more com­plex prod­ucts than we had pre­vi­ously at­tempted. But our first use was a plain and sim­ple failure.

We had de­cided to start with gran­ite, which we would break down into tin, rags, and the let­ter E. We would then cen­trifuge the de­cay prod­ucts, with the three-let­ter tin and rags go­ing one way and the pure E go­ing an­other.

Na­ture, re­mem­ber, ab­hors non-words. No sooner had we forced some E into a test tube than the tube it­self trans­formed in a great ex­plo­sion to gelatin and a tiny, near-micro­scopic don­key. E + GLASS = GEL and ASS. We couldn’t say we couldn’t have seen it com­ing. It could have been worse – I was just glad that Dr. Ad­well’s as­cended mind’s first as­so­ci­a­tion with the lat­ter word was “don­key”.

We tried the ex­per­i­ment again with a zinc vial – zinc be­cause it was im­plau­si­ble that there was an ZINC + E ana­gram lurk­ing out there – and ended up with a mat of eels. Through this whole time, we had been de­bat­ing the prob­lem of am­bi­guity – who was to say that our gran­ite was GRANITE rather than ROCK or even STONE – and the an­swer seemed to be that Dr. Ad­well – or who­ever was watch­ing Up­stairs – was mostly sym­pa­thetic to our efforts. Well, the sym­pa­thy ended when we started try­ing to iso­late sin­gle let­ters. ZINC be­came METAL and thence EEL MATs.

Our effort with mud was even worse. We put a lot of time into mak­ing sure the mud we got was very cla­si­cally mud – not ooze, not muck, cer­tainly not dirt. And there was no good way MUD + E was be­com­ing any­thing. We turned on the de­vice.

The Es dis­ap­peared. Se­ri­ously. Gran­ite went into the cen­trifuge, tin came out, but there was no sign of an E any­where, and rather fewer rags than usual.

“This is re­ally weird,” I said.

“Thanks, Ein­stein!” said Lach­lan. “I never would have figured that out with­out YOUR FUCKING COMMENTARY.”

I should have told him to calm down, but the ex­per­i­ment had up­set me too. “Well it wasn’t MY BRIGHT IDEA to try to ISOLATE ALL THE LETTERS,” I said. “WHICH REMINDS ME! IF YOU THINK I’M GOING THROUGH THIS TWENTY FIVE MORE TIMES, YOU CAN GO FUCK YOURSELF!”

Lach­lan swung at me, miss­ing by an inch. I kicked him, right in the knee, and he fell into the ex­per­i­men­tal ap­para­tus, knock­ing the whole thing over. Both of us went down with it. For a sec­ond, the sonic death ray shot straight at us – EEEEEIEEEEEIEEEEIEEEIE! and then its safety kicked in and it turned off. We sat there, stunned, bruised, in pain.

“Rage,” said Lach­lan. “GRANITE be­comes TIN plus RAGE. Holy fuck, we cre­ated an emo­tion.”

It had hap­pened be­fore, sort of. The wheat and rock and art, they had come to­gether to pro­duce work, which was an ab­stract con­cept. But it was still in the do­main of physics. “Work” seemed like the sort of thing that could come out of chem­i­cal re­ac­tions, kind of like heat. But rage? This was some­thing re­ally new.

That night, we made the short trek into the village and asked Somon what he thought.

“Rarely,” he said. “Some­times, when fes­ti­val is very loud, strange things hap­pen. Should avoid. Very bad. This is taboo.”

The next week, I knew some­thing was up. Lach­lan was miss­ing our daily de­briefings, not get­ting any work done. Fi­nally I broke the most im­por­tant un­writ­ten rule of our lit­tle com­mu­nity. I went into his alu­minum hut with­out knock­ing.

There he was, sit­ting with a blissed out look on his face. Beside his bed sat a mi­ni­a­ture ver­sion of our ex­per­i­men­tal ap­para­tus, com­plete with its own sonic death ray – he must have pri­vately or­dered it from the nanofac­tory, then deleted the records. It was re­act­ing lit­tle tchotchkes from the village – dolls, balls, play swords – with our glass spec­i­men jars. Tar was stream­ing into the waste bin.

I turned off the sonic ray. Lach­lan awoke with a start. He seemed about as an­gry as he’d been the time we ac­ci­den­tally pro­duced rage from gran­ite, but this time I knew he had a less no­ble rea­son.

“What the fuck are you do­ing, barg­ing in here like this?”

“You’ve got­ten your­self ad­dicted,” I said. “Ad­dicted to joy.”

Lach­lan didn’t deny it, as his TOY + JAR → JOY + TAR re­ac­tor was right there.

“Look,” he said. “It’s been two months now, stuck in this stupid world. It’s go­ing to be an­other two be­fore the lab brings us back home. The villagers are crazy, physics runs on English, and the nanofac­tory can’t pro­duce any en­ter­tain­ment that’s re­motely en­ter­tain­ing. The let­ter iso­la­tion pro­ject is a failure, you no offense are one of the most bor­ing peo­ple I’ve ever met, and when I try to get some of the village women to look at me they mur­mur some­thing about taboos and give me the cold shoulder. Give me a break here, Omar!”

“Lach,” I said. “You’re ne­glect­ing your work. We still haven’t got­ten any­where near the bot­tom of an­glo­physics, let alone figured out the most ba­sic stuff about this world like how big it is. You sit­ting here bliss­ing out on raw lin­guis­tic joy isn’t some­thing we can af­ford right now.”

“Fuck you,” said Lach­lan, but he didn’t protest as I picked up his mini-ap­para­tus and brought it to the nanofac­tory’s dis­assem­bler chute, nor as I re­pro­grammed the nanofac­tory to make sure all its records would be pub­lic from now on.

V.

A week af­ter that in­ci­dent I fi­nally got the nanofac­tory, with great creak­ing and protest­ing, to ex­trude a small air­craft so I could ex­plore the sur­round­ing area. The villagers were delighted, hav­ing never seen any­thing similar, and sev­eral of them de­manded rides – in­creas­ing our pop­u­lar­ity a lit­tle af­ter the methane de­ba­cle. When we were done ap­peas­ing the na­tives, I took off and started map­ping Ad­wellia.

We seemed to be at the south­ern­most ex­tent of an is­land about three hun­dred miles east to west and twice that north to south. The is­land was mostly forested ex­cept for the bro­ken vol­canic area nearby where we had got­ten the methane and some hills fur­ther north. Four hun­dred miles east of us there seemed to be an­other con­ti­nent or large is­land, but that was about the limit of my range and so I told my­self I would ex­plore the new land an­other day.

The dis­tances al­lowed me to do some ge­om­e­try and calcu­late the size of the world. Ad­wellia ap­peared to be a spher­i­cal planet about the size of the Earth. As far as I could tell it had one sun and one moon, and there were nor­mal stars in the sky. It seemed to get colder fur­ther north and warmer fur­ther south, though I wasn’t able to fly far enough to con­firm it had proper poles and an equa­tor.

By the time I finished these ex­plo­ra­tions, about a week af­ter they be­gan, Lach­lan had de­vel­oped a new ob­ses­sion.

“I can’t solve the let­ter iso­la­tion prob­lem,” he ad­mit­ted. “But some­one else can. Some­one like Ein­stein.”

“Great,” I said, sar­cas­ti­cally. “All we need is…”

Then it hit me. Surely he wasn’t that crazy.

“Yes,” he said. “Why not syn­the­size Ein­stein? Or some other brilli­ant sci­en­tist who’s more cre­ative than we are. I’ve been go­ing through the dic­tio­nary look­ing for proper com­bi­na­tions. It’s not that hard.

This proved op­ti­mistic, but the equa­tion upon which we even­tu­ally set­tled was STONE + TIN + FORT = EINSTEIN + FIRE. The only difficulty was ob­tain­ing the fort, since the villagers here did not seem to be of a mil­i­taris­tic bent, but I had found some ru­ins fur­ther north dur­ing my ex­plo­ra­tions, and one of them did in­deed seem to be an old stone fort, per­haps con­structed by the villagers’ an­ces­tors. I pro­posed we get a party of villagers to help quarry fort ma­te­rial, but Lach­lan ob­jected that they would prob­a­bly just have some stupid taboo about it, so in­stead I landed there with the air­craft and la­bo­ri­ously fer­ried fort parts home in twenty pound in­cre­ments, on my lap.

Once we had enough fort to sto­i­chio­met­ri­cally pro­duce Ein­stein, get­ting the stone and tin was easy. But get­ting the re­ac­tion to work proved im­pos­si­ble. No mat­ter how many physics books we stuck around our ap­para­tus, no mat­ter how hard we con­cen­trated on the great sci­en­tist, the re­ac­tion spat out ab­surd things like ferns, nits, and a toot­ing sound – or forests, nits, and one ton weights, or a nose with a tit in the front, which trust me was re­ally awk­ward and which we threw into the nanofac­tory dis­assem­bler chute as soon as we could, be­lieve you me.

After about thirty tries, Lach­lan an­nounced that the prob­lem was ob­vi­ous. You see, we needed a cap­i­tal E.

I grudg­ingly ad­mit that, even af­ter two months in a world where stone was com­posed of S, T, O, N, and E, the though that there were differ­ent atomic units rep­re­sent­ing low­er­case and cap­i­tal Es seemed ab­surd. But as always, my sense of im­pos­si­bil­ity sur­ren­dered to crazy re­al­ity and I figured that Lach­lan was prob­a­bly right. We needed a cap­i­tal E.

Two days later, Lach­lan showed up at the lab­o­ra­tory with a very sug­ges­tive look­ing sack.

“Lach­lan, what were you just out do­ing?” I said, hop­ing the an­swer was any­thing other than what I knew it was go­ing to be.

“Just grave rob­bin’” he an­swered. “I got us the corpse of a lady named Eder, who died of pneu­mo­nia yes­ter­day. Don’t worry, no one saw me take it.”

“Oh, come on,” I said. “When they find the grave dis­turbed, who are they go­ing to sus­pect? The other villagers, who they have known their whole lives? Or the mys­te­ri­ous strangers on the storm-wracked cape out­side of town who have already vi­o­lated their sa­cred taboos. Lach­lan, you are a fuck­ing idiot.”

“Maybe I am,” said Lach­lan. “But if I’m so stupid, good thing we’ll have Albert fuckin’ Ein­stein around to help provide some brains for this op­er­a­tion.”

The new equa­tion was EDER + TIN + SNAIL = EINSTEIN + LARD.

So God help us, we hired some villagers to col­lect snails for us, and when we had hun­dreds, we poured poor Eder’s bones into the re­ac­tion cham­ber along with the snails and some tin and started the sound.

And Ein­stein started to grow. At first he was tiny, smaller than the methane-men in Lach­lan’s palm had been, no big­ger than the snails that sur­rounded him. But as bones and metal and snails slammed into him, he grew big­ger, all the while scream­ing and cov­er­ing his ears as the sonic ray did its grue­some work. We saw him, child-sized, beat­ing up against the glass wall of the re­ac­tion cham­ber, ever grow­ing, ever scream­ing.

“You’re mad,” I told Lach­lan. “We’ve got to stop this.”

“Maybe I am,” said Lach­lan. “But think! Ein­stein! The great­est sci­en­tist in recorded his­tory! Think what we could do! Revolu­tionize not only our study of Ad­wellia. But we could bring him back with us, get the lab to trans­late him as well as us. We could turn Ad­wellia into a ge­nius fac­tory that would rev­olu­tionize civ­i­liza­tion back on Earth. Omar, this has to be done! The po­ten­tial in an­glo­physics makes a No­bel Prize look like a tee-ball tro­phy.”

When Ein­stein was fully formed, and re­leased from the re­ac­tion cham­ber, he at­tacked us. We sub­dued him, us­ing weapons ex­truded from the nanofac­tory, and kept him in a cell. For three days we tried to talk to him, and he re­sponded by scream­ing word­lessly at us and spit­ting in our faces.

I don’t know whether there was some­thing the­olog­i­cal go­ing on – whether Ein­stein was just a ho­muncu­lus lack­ing a true soul. Or whether it was just very sim­ply that our Ein­stein was psy­cholog­i­cally an in­fant, that no one had taught him so much as lan­guage let alone physics, and that Ad­well or who­ever was up there wasn’t go­ing to as­sume we meant “the smart Ein­stein, who knows lots of stuff” in the way we wanted.

Our Ein­stein was a gi­ant in­fant, not even an in­fant, a fe­tus that should never have been born. On the third day, by mu­tual con­sent, we stuck him in the nanofac­tory dis­assem­bly chute and re­solved never to speak of him again.

VI.

That was the last time I worked to­gether with Lach­lan on any­thing of note. After that we re­treated to our sep­a­rate alu­minum huts, ac­knowl­edg­ing each other only when our paths crossed on the way to the nanofac­tory for some cru­cial part.

I found him creepy. He was creeply. And he thought I was hold­ing back our re­search. Maybe that was true too. In ei­ther case, it was a terse nod, a cou­ple of words, and the tacit ac­knowl­edg­ment that it wasn’t worth re­solv­ing our hos­tility in the month or so we had left be­fore we were trans­ferred back.

I spent that last month try­ing to build on my the­ory that Ad­well’s mind was some­how work­ing be­hind the scenes run­ning ev­ery­thing. The cat­alytic prop­erty of the sound, I the­o­rized, was its abil­ity to get Ad­well’s at­ten­tion. It was a sort of “HEY, GOD, LOOK OVER HERE, WE’RE DOING SCIENCE, BETTER APPLY THE LAWS OF PHYSICS RIGHT AWAY”. I know it sounded bizarre, but my early ex­per­i­ments bore me out. Rapidly flash­ing bright lights seemed to speed re­ac­tions al­most as well as sound. So did – be­cause some­times the sim­plest solu­tion is the best – shout­ing “ADWELL! LOOK OVER HERE!”

With these ad­vances, once again en­tirely new classes of re­ac­tion be­came pos­si­ble. No longer were we limited to the highly re­ac­tive sim­ple ma­te­ri­als with short names. Long strings of words, com­plex ab­strac­tions, even ad­jec­tives came within our reach. It was ex­cit­ing.

But once again, it was Lach­lan who was re­ally push­ing the fron­tiers. One night he started bang­ing on my door: “OMAR!” he shouted. “I DID IT!” When I went out he prac­ti­cally dragged me into his hut, which was nearly piled, floor to ceiling, with pa­pers that turned out, on in­spec­tion, to be var­i­ous IQ tests the nanofac­tory must have been car­ry­ing in its data­banks.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“I couldn’t cre­ate Ein­stein,” he said, refer­ring to the still-fresh de­ba­cle – “so I de­cided to turn my­self into Ein­stein! Look! I’m pro­duc­ing SMART. And it’s work­ing!”

His sonic ray – now only a frac­tion of the power of my own mul­ti­modal­ity para­sonic de­vice – was re­act­ing smoke and carts into coke and, ap­par­ently, smart. A com­pli­cated sys­tem of tubes and cen­trifuges was catch­ing the smart and bind­ing it into a con­tain­ment cham­ber linked to a helmet. Clearly some­one was sup­posed to put it on.

“And you’re say­ing it works?” I asked.

“The IQ tests don’t lie,” said Lach­lan. “I was 152 two weeks ago. Now I’m con­sis­tently get­ting in the 160s.”

Judg­ing by the num­ber of tests, he must have been ob­ses­sively check­ing his num­bers ev­ery hour or so.

“Now,” he said, “I’m go­ing to try that let­ter iso­la­tion thing again.”

I judged by the shouts of rage and frus­tra­tion I heard over the next few days that it wasn’t work­ing.

Two days later, Lach­lan asked me if he could bor­row my ad­vanced para­sonic ray. I re­fused. That evening, it went miss­ing for about three hours be­fore turn­ing up on top of my desk. I no­ticed Lach­lan now had one ex­actly like it.

I sol­diered on. In be­tween my ex­per­i­ments, I played a lit­tle game pre­dict­ing what Lach­lan was try­ing to syn­the­size by the ob­jects he took from the nanofac­tory and the sup­plies he or­dered brought in from the village. One day it was buck­ets of dew, carts full of an­i­mal legs, and an en­tire cage of live minks – my best guess was he was try­ing to get KNOWLEDGE, but I couldn’t get the sto­i­chiom­e­try to line up. Judg­ing from his screams of frus­tra­tion that night, nei­ther could he.

The next week, it was load af­ter load of pota­toes, fence posts, and a tank of min­nows. It took me half an hour to come up with OMNIPOTENCE, even though once I made my­self start think­ing like Lach­lan it was ob­vi­ous.

I started to be­come wor­ried.

One day, three months and two weeks into our mis­sion and only four­teen short days be­fore we hoped the lab­o­ra­tory would re-es­tab­lish con­tact, I went out for a sor­tie with the plane and came back to find a dis­aster area.

Our huts had been smashed open. The nanofac­tory had big dents in its alu­minum cas­ing. In­side, all my lab equip­ment had been bro­ken, my pa­pers thrown on the floor hap­haz­ardly.

I went into Lach­lan’s hut. IQ tests ev­ery­where. He was miss­ing. So was his para­sonic ray. I figured they had grabbed my part­ner in his sleep, be­fore he’d had time to re­sist. In ret­ro­spect we re­ally should have put up some defenses, but we hadn’t ex­pected to need them.

The nanofac­tory was still on­line. It was pretty hard to break – es­pe­cially if, as I sus­pected, the van­dals were villagers armed with clubs and rocks. I told it to ex­trude me some over­whelm­ingly pow­er­ful weaponry. After mak­ing me wait an hour, it gave me a ring that upon threat would in­stan­ta­neously un­fold into a de­vice that gen­er­ated an in­vin­cible bar­rier around the wearer, plus a hand-held mat­ter dis­rup­tor. Thus armed, I walked into the village and found Somon.

I didn’t have to bring up the sub­ject of Lach­lan. “Is evil man!” the head­man told me, as soon as he saw me. “Broke taboos! Created life! Dug up grave! And to­day! To­day was worst! Kid­napped my daugh­ter, Ge­nea! No more okay! Tonight gets beaten! To­mor­row dies!”

Rais­ing my in­vin­ci­bil­ity shield, I wan­dered into the pub­lic square. There, whipped bloody and tied to a post, was Lach­lan.

“You kid­napped the head­man’s daugh­ter?” I asked him. I didn’t even give him the dig­nity of pre­tend­ing to doubt whether it was true.

Lach­lan smiled. “Ge­nea. A perfect name for my re­ac­tion. I could have been a Ge­nius, with a cap­i­tal G.”

I don’t know if it was that smile, or the blood all over him, or the lack of re­morse in his voice, but at that mo­ment, I’d had it with Dr. Lach­lan Fairchild. I low­ered the mat­ter dis­rup­tor.

“You know,” I said. “That is it. I’m not even go­ing to res­cue you. You’re a men­ace.”

“You don’t have a choice,” said Lach­lan. “I have a nuke. Th­ese peo­ple don’t un­der­stand the con­cept, but lucky we’ve got a ge­nius like your­self. Let me go or I blow this en­tire planet sky high.”

“Even if you man­aged to ex­trude a nuke,” I said “which you didn’t, be­cause I checked the nanofac­tory’s pub­lic records be­fore I left – even then, nukes don’t work in this world. Nu­clear fis­sion isn’t an ana­gram of any­thing.”

“A metaphor­i­cal nuke,” said Lach­lan. “I mean, I’ve figured out this world’s equiv­a­lent of a nuke. It’s very clever. Without the SMART, I never would have been able to think of it. I’ll…”

My best course was to im­me­di­ately, like split-sec­ond im­me­di­ately, raise the mat­ter dis­rup­tor and shoot Lach­lan. I could do it be­fore he had a chance to re­act, and it would solve the whole damn prob­lem.

In­stead I took the worst course, which was to raise the mat­ter dis­rup­tor, ob­vi­ously in­tend­ing to shoot him, and vac­illate at the last mo­ment be­cause I’d never kil­led any­one be­fore and I wasn’t sure I had it in me and in­stead of find­ing out my brain wanted to sit and pon­der this for thirty sec­onds.

Lach­lan took a ring off his finger and it un­folded it to re­veal his para­sonic ray. Then he fur­rowed his brow in con­cen­tra­tion and it let out a screech.

I shot the mat­ter dis­rup­tor. Man, post, and town square changed into their com­po­nent atoms…let­ters…what­ever.

The villagers ran, scream­ing. Some of them ran away from the ex­plo­sion. Others ran to­wards the ex­plo­sion, try­ing to see what had hap­pened and maybe defend their homes and fam­i­lies. A few ar­rows and stones came to­wards me, caus­ing my ring to near-in­sta­neously un­fold into a weird back­pack-like de­vice that placed it­self on my back and sur­rounded me with a pur­ple glow. The pro­jec­tiles hit my new in­vin­ci­bil­ity shield and fell to the ground lim­ply.

I calmly walked through the car­nage. I was head­ing back a kilo­me­ter south, back to the cape. I was go­ing to ex­trude a larger air­craft, bring the nanofac­tory a few hun­dred miles away, and wait out the last two weeks of ex­ile far away from this mob.

The ground started to shake. I re­al­ized the ex­plo­sion had ended long ago, yet its deaf­en­ing roar had not sub­sided.

I looked back to the town square and my blood turned cold. In the cen­ter of the blast ra­dius, where not even dust should have re­mained, there was Lach­lan’s skull, set in the biggest ric­tus grin I had ever seen.

I raised the mat­ter dis­rup­tor and fired an­other shot. The skull dis­in­te­grated. But Cheshire Cat-like, some­how the grin re­mained, even larger than be­fore, a smile with­out a sub­strate.

This was bad.

I started to run back to the lab. Cracks opened in the ground around me. The roar be­come worse. Was it just me, or was the sea get­ting closer?

Me­taphor­i­cal nukes. A nuke was at the most ba­sic level a chain re­ac­tion. Neu­tron pro­duces en­ergy plus neu­tron. That neu­tron pro­duces en­ergy plus neu­tron. That neu­tron and so on. You end up with a lot of en­ergy.

I could see the re­mains of the looted lab now in front of me. It was on its ele­vated head­land reach­ing into the sea, and I was afraid the ris­ing wa­ter was go­ing to cut it off and turn it into an is­land be­fore I could get to it.

Sound drove chem­i­cal re­ac­tions in this world. Any­thing that could cre­ate sound had the po­ten­tial to be a chain re­ac­tion if the re­ac­tants were com­mon enough. You could get most of the let­ters of “sound” from…oh, that wasn’t good.

The cracks in the GROUND got big­ger as the low-ly­ing GROUND started to sink fur­ther be­neath the waves.

I stared back at the village. It was al­most en­tirely un­der­wa­ter now. Above it was Lach­lan’s dis­em­bod­ied grin, now the size of a skyscraper, hang­ing in the sky.

Sound, ground. Grin. Sin. There. I had it. GROUND + SIN = SOUND + GRIN. The nuke. The ground was es­sen­tially limitless un­til the world was de­stroyed. The more ground was de­stroyed, the more peo­ple died, the more villages sunk un­der the waves. A sin. A re­ac­tion that cre­ated its own re­ac­tants. And sound. Created its own re­ac­tants and its own cat­a­lyst. Leav­ing noth­ing but Lach­lan’s gi­gan­tic triumphant grin, hang­ing in the sky over the world he was de­stroy­ing.

I groaned as a crack in the ground took the air­craft on its field. It teetered for a sec­ond, then fell into the on­rush­ing waves. I ran through an­kle deep wa­ter and at last reached the top of the head­land. There was just a small area of land left, on the high­est ground of the cape, with our two lit­tle par­tially-smashed huts and the bulky dented alu­minum nanofac­tory.

“Ex­trude boat!” I com­manded the nanofac­tory.

“Ex­trud­ing boat,” said the dis­play. “Es­ti­mated cre­ation time with ma­te­rial on hand, two hours.”

“Can­cel! Can­cel can­cel can­cel!” I shouted, but the fac­tory had got­ten into its ex­tru­sion mode and wasn’t listen­ing.

I ran into my hut. Most of my stuff was still bro­ken. There was noth­ing that looked like a good flo­ta­tion de­vice, un­less you counted my mat­tress. My re­ac­tion ap­para­tus, my para­sonic ray, and a few doo­dads.

I grabbed the ray gun and ran out­side. Even on the high ground, there were wavelets lap­ping at my shoes. I had about a minute be­fore I drowned.

“Okay,” I said to my­self. “Time to figure some­thing out. Time to cre­ate a boat.” And there was only one good re­ac­tant on hand.

OCEAN + …no, that wouldn’t work. SEA + …that was even worse. WATER + … I might be able to use wa­ter if I let the re­ac­tion con­sume my bones…WATER + BONE = BOAT + NEWER … no, even with the para­sonic ray I’d never be able to cat­alyze a re­ac­tion that made a com­par­a­tive ad­jec­tive of all things. Maybe if I had an hour to think of some use­ful in­ter­me­di­ates.

Okay, back up. You don’t need a boat. You can use a ship. Ship is…

My brain was in panic mode. It didn’t want to ana­gram SHIP. What it wanted was es­cape.

The cape! The cape could provide es­cape! The cape and the sea! The two things I had! And my para­sonic gun was just strong enough to let me syn­the­size ab­strac­tions. I just needed some­where to put that ex­tra A.

WATER + A = AWARE + T. No, Na­ture ab­hors non-words, T won’t work. WATER + A = RAW TEA. No, ad­jec­tives took for­ever. WAR TEA? I wasn’t sure what would hap­pen if I caused a war at this point, but I bet it wouldn’t be good.

A wave rushed over me and I rose to the top sput­ter­ing and gasp­ing. I still had the para­sonic ray. The wa­ter had al­most cov­ered the huts now. Borne on the re­ced­ing wave came Lach­lan’s stupid piles of IQ tests, now soaked.

CAPE + TEST = ESCAPE + 2*T

On the one hand, Na­ture ab­horred non-words. On the other hand, I couldn’t swim and was about to drown. I con­cen­trated REALLY hard on the re­ac­tion, turned the para­sonic ray to its high­est set­ting, and shot a beam of sound and strobe light and rep­e­ti­tion of the name “Ad­well!” at the pile of tests and the rocky cape be­low.

Noth­ing hap­pened.

The LOW CHARGE light be­gan to flash on my para­sonic ray.

It had been a stupid, des­per­ate gam­bit. I’d already known I didn’t have enough en­ergy to do a re­ac­tion that cre­ated non-words, didn’t know if that was even pos­si­ble with any en­ergy, and I had just drained my para­sonic ray of al­most all its charge I had made a ter­rible er­ror.

“Er­ror!” I shouted. “That’s it! Ad­well! Er­ror!”

CAPE + TEST + 2*ERROR = ESCAPE + 2*TERROR

As I fell un­der the waves, with my last breath and last bit of charge I fired off the para­sonic ray one last time.

It’s not work­ing I thought to my­self. It’s not work­ing and I’m go­ing to die, lost un­der the sea, dead for­ever. I spent half a minute just thrash­ing about in ter­ror be­fore I re­al­ized that meant it was work­ing.

The wa­ter was re­ced­ing! A bub­ble of air was spread­ing away from me in all di­rec­tions as the wa­ter was con­sumed! I was saved! Still ter­rified, but saved!

…then the wa­ter started clos­ing in on me again. I didn’t know what what was hap­pen­ing. I’d done it, hadn’t I? Suc­ceeded in cre­at­ing a re­ac­tion that would get me out?

Suc­cess! That was the prob­lem! If I had suc­ceeded in cre­at­ing a re­ac­tion, then firing the para­sonic ray hadn’t been an er­ror. The re­ac­tion couldn’t take place. The wa­ter closed in on me again. I was go­ing to die.

The wa­ter started to re­cede. If the suc­cess of the re­ac­tion pre­vented me from hav­ing made an er­ror, then the re­ac­tion wouldn’t work, and start­ing the re­ac­tion was an er­ror, and so the re­ac­tion could take place. All this I saw clearly, as in a dream, from within my bub­ble of air.

The air bub­ble un­der the ris­ing seas (sink­ing ground?) reached a size of about twenty me­ters, large enough to cover the cape and the two huts and the nanofac­tory, and then stopped, oc­ca­sion­ally shrink­ing a lit­tle or grow­ing a lit­tle, always seething, start­ing to burn with a weird en­ergy.

From within the an­glo­phys­i­cal ter­ror cloud­ing my mind, I rec­og­nized the prob­lem as a novel ver­sion of the Epi­menides para­dox of self-refer­ence, im­ple­mented on a phys­i­cal sub­strate. If my ini­ti­a­tion of the an­glo­phys­i­cal re­ac­tion had been an ERROR, then I would ESCAPE, and it hadn’t been an ERROR af­ter all. But if my ini­ti­a­tion of the re­ac­tion had not been an ERROR, then I would not ESCAPE, and in fact it would have been an ERROR.

I had a vague mem­ory that I had once dis­cussed Rus­sell’s Para­dox with Dr. Ad­well. I wished I could have re­mem­bered what he said.

The in­ter­face be­tween air and wa­ter be­came tur­bu­lent, started to glow. I saw fan­tas­tic images pro­jected upon it, weird frac­tal ge­ome­tries, strange su­per­sen­sory stim­uli that some­how re­minded me of Love­craft’s refer­ences to the beck­on­ing piping from the void be­hind space. All the while the TERROR grew, and the bub­ble be­gan to vac­illate wildly.

Then there was a great pop, and I thought for a sec­ond my air bub­ble had popped, but more cor­rectly ev­ery­thing had popped, and for a sec­ond the things that were noth­ing like piping sounds be­came un­bear­able. Then I found my­self ly­ing, still ter­rified, on the floor of the trans­la­tion cham­ber of our lab­o­ra­tory, the very same place where I had en­tered Ad­wellia al­most four months be­fore.

VII.

When I had re­cov­ered my senses and de­briefed my col­leagues, I de­vised three the­o­ries for what had hap­pened there, on the cape.

First, that my re­ac­tion had been suc­cess­ful be­yond my wildest dreams, the para­dox had re­solved in my fa­vor, and I had ESCAPED not only to firm ground but to my own home di­men­sion.

Se­cond, that the para­dox had been so con­fus­ing and un­bear­able for poor Ad­well that he had ex­pel­led me from his con­scious­ness, like a man brush­ing a bug off his skin, and hav­ing been kicked from his world I nat­u­rally de­faulted to my own.

And third, that im­ple­ment­ing a para­dox on a phys­i­cal sub­strate was re­ally, re­ally bad and I had de­stroyed Ad­wellia.

This last pos­si­bil­ity ought in the­ory to be testable, but I was in­formed upon my re­turn that the bud­get was tight this year and that the nec­es­sary su­per­com­put­ing re­sources to search for Ad­wellia will not be available for some time.

I have been as­signed to an­other pro­ject, and al­though my su­pe­ri­ors have thanked me for my work in Ad­wellia, I am cer­tain they do not be­lieve a word of my re­port and have writ­ten the en­tire ex­pe­di­tion – and per­haps their de­ci­sion in hiring me – off as a loss. In their place I would not do oth­er­wise.

But from your writ­ings I gather you are a man of un­usual in­tel­lect, and some of your spec­u­la­tions come un­com­fortably close to the truth. I do not know whether you have pur­sued your in­ter­est in Berkeleyan ideal­ism fur­ther, but if you are so gra­cious as to be­lieve my story or at least keep an open mind, I would be in­ter­ested in fur­ther cor­re­spon­dence with you about the im­pli­ca­tions of an­glo­physics for fu­ture imaged wor­lds and how the con­sis­tency of such images might be as­sured against para­doxes of self-refer­ence and other threats to their in­tegrity.

Yours sincerely,
Dr. Omar Reyes, Univer­sity of ________

PS: I hope you will be un­der­stand­ing when I say that I wish to re­strict my fu­ture work in the imaged world field to a purely the­o­ret­i­cal level.

[EDIT: I apol­o­gize to those who have read Univer­sal Fire for this story. As a peace offer­ing, please ac­cept this lovely lamp­shade.]

[EDIT 2: HPMORPod­cast has recorded an au­dio ver­sion.]