It is an open question to the greater scientific literature: what is the universe made of? What lurks between the pockets of habitable space that breach-powered ships traverse instantaneously? Could there be something beyond even this? What phenomenon created the branes in their initial configuration, and what defined their initial local constants? Far from resolving the mysteries of quantum mechanics discovered on Earth during the asymptotic phase of the Holocene, these questions have added to the list of unanswered problems throughout the achingly long stretches of human existence as they have travelled across the greater universe.
A handful of great minds have asserted knowledge of the true answer, and have spoken unconvincingly of a presence that sounds suspiciously like an echo of Deism which sculpted the universe out of pure thought with the intention of better understanding the terms under which consciousness arises. This exclusive club rather troublingly includes both Tetragnostica
, who were slow to agree on anything. A key clue to what generated this strange consensus might be found in the Thaumatic Manipulator Field.
Centred on the cluster of branes known as the Ksreskézaian Expanse, the TMF network is a collection of deep-space probes that have been suspended in the interbrane medium through unknown means. Each probe resembles a fine silver net of a triangular weave, centred around a single prokaryon-like bulge about four feet in diameter, with dendrite-like growths extending from the net's fringe. It is believed they may have reproductive capacity, similar to the self-replicating ships of the Telai
The mechanism of these probes is completely obscure, and their existence and location has only been determined accidentally through collisions with transiting vehicles. The probes are arranged in a simple fractal pattern around the branes, leaving plenty of large, circular apertures for travel between them. Visitors to the Expanse and the other branes which have TMF probes surrounding them are informed of acceptable and safe travel trajectories, mostly by buoys of Lyrisclensian construction.
The TMF network's primary purpose is to facilitate the manipulation of the surrounding world. Commands to the TMF infrastructure, known as haspai
in Lilitic, provide a well-versed operator with the means to alter the physical parameters and behaviour of focused regions of matter, energy and space-time. The knowledge required for successful operation of the TMF network is predominantly a matter of understanding, applying, and expressing adjustments to quantum mechanics equations, although every culture which has used the TMF network successfully has also developed a set of programs for accomplishing more idiomatic tasks, like the manipulation of genetic material.
Instructions to the TMF array are primarily expressed in written form, although it is the movement of the stylus that is significant, not the writing itself. Certain motions by a handful of minerals including quantum spin liquids are known to activate a TMF response. Various custom pens which permit writing in the air (by leaving a glowing trail) and the automated writing of haspina by machines have been developed, and are widely used in Thet.
The instructions themselves take on a distinctive form that is a combination of very complex and specific runes, and what can clearly be identified as a form of mathematical notation not unlike our own. Programs can be defined using arbitrary symbols, however, and so usually reflect the culture that defined them. Most theories support the idea that the core instruction set is the written language of the inventors of the TMF, although some Lyrisclensiae have asserted that these runes are in fact derived from a universal system of philosophical characters that could only be invented by an omniscient mind.
Origin and History
It is generally presumed that the TMF network was constructed by an ancient civilization that long pre-dated the evolution of the Tletkettoyi, Hogedep, Ksreskézai, Khúsak, Peseneyi, and even the humans, but there is conflicting evidence for its age. The growth rate on the nets surrounding the probes that have been captured suggest they are far older than the current configuration of the Expanse (i.e. they pre-date its disintegration), but the probes themselves are clearly positioned in a manner that encompasses the branes' current shapes. No mechanism has been put forward for how the could have rearranged themselves given this limitation.
The possibility that the Tletkettoyi
had influence over this has been advanced as one of the possible explanations for why they were disinterested in the outside world, but no clues specific to the TMF grid have ever emerged.
In 67891 LKY, the Hogedep
found a way to overload the TMF network and shut it down temporarily, causing damage to many nodes that took centuries to fully recover. During the actual attack, the nodes emitted massive amounts of electromagnetic radiation across the spectrum, resulting in spectacular light patterns visible from all of the branes in the expanse. The result of this shutdown, the well-known Ksreskézaian Holocaust
, led to the weakening of several branes, including Thet and Ksreskéza (which soon collapsed entirely), and destroyed several civilizations within the Expanse which were heavily dependent on the TMF network or who has co-evolved in the vicinity of quantum spin liquids, including the Tletkettoyi
A number of organisations have since pledged intent to maintain the TMF infrastructure, including the Thessian Planar Sentry and the Lyrisclensian Continuing Council, both located in Thet in different eras.
The Scream of Chaos
While the mechanism of the TMF probes is unknown, it is possible with some care to step through the memory of the machine, similar to investigating the node weights in a restricted Boltzmann neural network. The landscape inside each probe is sufficiently massive that a given node generally corresponds to a single moment in the probe's history.
In 3247 IKY, Tetragnostica
was stepping through the history of one probe in just such a way, trying to answer fundamental questions about the nature of magic (this pre-dated her first jump past the Shattering, and hence her preoccupation with Thet's future.) She discovered that a large number of older nodes seemed to carry weights from an additional program sequence that had been muddled together with the others, and through signal processing was able to extract the overlaid spell in its original form of invocation. Even before the processing was fully finished, the fragmentary key-spell triggered an exploit in her thaumatic computer, and activated on its own.
What she found was a beast that the Tletkettoyi had long ago chained up: a mesmerizing, persistent, meaningless spell that verged on bacterial in its complexity and voraciousness. It hung in the air before her, like a fractal of twisted clocks, made of blackish energy, and then shot off into the night sky. Its function, like all bacteria, was to consume and replicate, though unlike its biological analogues it devoured anentropy, leaving matter less organized the longer it remained; first it generated imperfections in crystals, then crumbled polymers, and so on, until even the quantum states of leptons had degraded to a lower energy. It was a thing of pure chaos, and it had come from the Nothingness between branes.
When Tetragnostica learned of the Shattering catastrophe a few years later, she immediately assumed it was the final result of the Scream, but could never link the two, and indeed eventually found that no link was necessary to explain the events of the Shattering. The Scream did not resurface until much later, when it granted its powers to Venakoa Illera