Back in college, I took a weird course–can’t quite remember the title, but it was something like The Physics of Spirituality. I’m not sure what anyone else in the course was expecting, but what we got was a bit of science and a bit of musing on how we would measure the soul, if we were ever able to detect it.
I remember a lot of people dropping the class during the first few weeks. Heh.
I stuck around, and I still have my notebook somewhere, but the only thing I really gained from the class was an idea for the nature of reality in my world–or rather, my multiverse, since that’s what it turned out to be.
The teacher liked to talk about there being more dimensions in time than we could detect, as we only moved linearly in time–through a Length of time, rather than a Width or Depth. His suggestion was that from the point of view of a photon–which by our perception can seem to be in two places at once and is sometimes referred to as a wave-particle because we aren’t exactly sure why it behaves how it behaves–time is not just linear, but three-dimensional, allowing it to pop in and out of our perceived existence while it travels through different depths of time.
Mind you, I’m trying to recall what a peculiar professor said ten years ago, so my recap is probably not accurate.
Anyway, from that lecture, I took away the concept of three-dimensional time and started extrapolating it into a function of a fantasy multiverse–or actually the reason that a multiverse can exist.
In human-perceived reality, there is three-dimensional space (Length, Width and Height/Depth) and one-dimensional time (Length). What we are unable to perceive is Temporal Width–divergent timelines or Probability–and Temporal Height/Depth–alternate realities or Possibility. However, other entities with more advanced temporal senses can perceive and, with effort, move between these dimensions of time.
This means that creatures able to move within Temporal Width or Probability can consciously look sideways into timelines and select which one they prefer to exist in. Thus, if there is a timeline where you get shot and a timeline where the shot misses, you can choose the timeline where the shot misses and simply sidestep there. This is as automatic to those creatures as physically sidestepping an obstacle.
Larger timeline divergences, of course, require larger sidesteps. In the shot/not shot example, the divergence is likely very small–especially if the person firing upon you is not very good or the weapon they’re using is not very accurate. You can do a sidestep like that without incurring much strain. However, if you want to evade something that is extremely Probable, you have to sidestep further–perhaps very far–in order to get out of its Probability, meaning you are likely to injure yourself in the effort to reach the Probability you want, the same way you might injure yourself leaping out of the way of a speeding car. So a temporal traveler who wants to move to a Probability where they avoid a nuclear blast by hiding in a fridge (cough cough) is likely to strain himself–nearly kill himself–with the effort of reaching that slim chance of survival.
After all, jumping over a crack in the sidewalk is easy. Leaping between rooftops is hard, and could kill you. Such is the difference between a small sidestep and a large one.
Regardless, moving through Temporal Width still keeps you in the same reality. You are picking your own Probability instead of it picking you, but you are still moving across a flat plane, just not in a straight line. (Mind you, there exist constantly at your side all the Probabilities in which you failed your sidestep–in which you no longer exist–along with all the other Probabilities that have diverged so far away that the You in them is no longer anywhere near the bullet, or the nuclear blast. If you are a fantastic sidestepper, you can use those divergent Probabilities to teleport. Otherwise they’re just there, perhaps like vague shadows at the edge of your perception, ghosts whom you might have become.)
Moving through Temporal Height/Depth, though, is moving through realities. I called it Possibility because when you move through it, you can encounter anything. A world just a shade away from your original one, except there are zeppelins in the sky? A world populated by green rabbits, where you’re the undisputed king? Both Possible, but one more so that the other–at least from your current baseline Possibility.
Creatures that can move through Temporal Depth are either shapeshifters–adapting to their new Possibility every time they dive–or destroyers, conforming the Possibility to themselves. The dangers inherent in the diving are the same as diving in the sea or ascending a mountain–altitude sickness and the crush of pressure, depending on which way you’re going. While baseline individuals are adapted specifically for their own Possibility, so that movement between them can be a traumatic shock if they go too far, shapeshifters can move in stages between realities, taking it slowly, allowing time to adapt to the local pressures and then keep diving. Destroyers, as fits their name, act more like large rocks falling through layered panes of glass, smashing through one at a time–slower and slower–until finally they come to rest at a certain level of Possible inertia.
This movement allows basically every universe to be a layer of a greater multiverse. Somewhere in the vast depths of time is a layer corresponding to your world, to my world, to that place with the green rabbits. Movement between these realities is Possible but not Probable–it’s never as automatic as a sidestep, it’s an endeavor that needs to be prepared-for like any great ascension (or descent).
On my story world, there are creatures that were once capable of Possibility Diving–movement through Temporal Depth. They did so only under great duress, and in order to dive far and fast they had to protect themselves in a type of cocoon. When they reached the furthest depth they could stand, they shifted to adapt to it and found themselves no longer the ethereal energy-beings they had been, but physical creatures tied to material bodies. They have become so entrapped in these bodies that they can no longer dive–they can go no deeper, and have become all but trapped by the pressure–but they retain the ability to see Probability. What they use it for is not always sidestepping, though; as they are multi-dimensional beings, they have some limited control over their other Probable selves, and can unfold between Temporal Widths in order to access the power of those selves and regain some semblance of their higher form.
These are my so-called wraiths.
There are other entities that can tap into Temporal Width for similar effects–notably the world’s native spirits, which infuse their followers with a multi-dimensionality that allows them to skinchange by switching between one Probability where they are human and one where they are nonhuman. This is not done by the follower, though it is activated by the follower’s will; since each follower is imbued with a piece of the parent spirit, it is more like a finger requesting of its owner to be moved across a table, and the owner obligingly moving. Easy for the owner–impossible for the finger alone. Nor is it a painless process for the follower–especially when moving from full human to full nonhuman, as that encompasses a long sidestep through all the intermediate phases of the change–but it’s quick.
Some magic on my world also affects Probability–mostly the magic of teleportation, portals and scrying, as all of those involve co-location. Through the manipulation of Temporal Width, practitioners of those arts make a temporary fold in Probability to join two vastly separated points into one. Think of it like moving along a latitude line: in terms of the world, the point where you are now is constantly moving. In two hours, the point where you were will be two hours to the west. (More or less.) In Temporal Width, the point where you are and the point that will be in this spot two hours from now are just a step away from each other, easily crossed.
Of course, moving between Possibilities that are not so clear–as in moving between longitudes or at diagonals–are not nearly so easy. Thus while you could potentially teleport yourself endlessly along a latitude line without much effort, you would need to fold Probability by a much greater effort to cross a Temporal Width to where your destination would be at the point where you are now. Teleports, therefore, are of limited use, while portals–which are physical structures, either makeshift or permanent, that channel more energy than a mage can handle at one time–are required to move through more complex distances.
Portal technology is based around a sandwich of temporal folding. The first layer is the time/space coordinates you are currently at. The middle layer is all of the Probability you have to cross. The third layer is the time/space coordinates of your destination, with the linear time component preferably being as close to your start time as possible. Longer distances require more Probability folding and thus a larger potential gap between your linear entrance and linear exit. Badly-made portals can strand a mage through an endless crossing, or bring them through before they left–or long, long after.
Not sure how much sense this makes to anyone just reading it. This is me writing it out off the top of my head; I have other write-ups of some of the concepts elsewhere, but I didn’t refer to them.
Anyway. This stuff underpins a lot of the reality…I should say the paradigm of my stories, but very little is explicitly stated. I’m just at the point in book 2 when some of the wraiths unfold into a higher Temporal-Width form, and I should be getting to a point where I discuss parts of the nature of magic soon.
But then again, as important as magic is to the story, the main character is someone who understands none of it, just uses what he can access. How much of this will ever be explained, I don’t know. But this rough version shall remain here for anyone who is randomly interested.