Back to Huinesoron’s Webplex

This is an interesting one. The Canon in question, Flatland, came into being around 1884, and is therefore now well into the Public Domain. As a result, it can be found on the Internet (here, for example), so you can all read it and understand what was going on. It goes into more detail about the lives of the Flatlanders, and includes the encounter with Lineland that Agent Lou quoted from.

As to the mission, it was fairly short, but that's because the 'fic was pretty short too. A lot shorter than the report, in fact. In case it wasn't made clear, this 'fic came to the attention of DOGA because it replaces one country, the canonical Lineland, with another one of the same name, but entirely different nature. This, the PPC can't allow. ~Terri Ryan, DOGA Archivist


by stillyellow

I blinked, trying to figure out what was going on. "What just happened?" I asked, deciding to take the direct approach.

Lou looked up from the console. "You got your answers," she said in a suspiciously bland tone. "Don't you remember?"

"No, I..." I frowned and shook my head. I did remember getting the answers I'd wanted, I just hadn't a clue what they were. I had a feeling something very strange was going on. None of this, however, was in my next sentence, which was, "Um."

"Well, there you are, then," Lou said, and peered at the console again. "No, I really can't see a way to do this one."

"Mission?" I asked, walking over. I couldn't quite remember if there'd been a beep. In fact, everything before my blink and question was a bit vague, right back to the end of the last mission. I was probably just tired, though, I decided. This was the PPC, after all.

"Yah," my partner said vaguely. "Flatland. It's a fairly small fandom – only eight 'fics on – but there's already one that counts as a Geographical Aberration."

"Can't say I've heard of it," I replied. "What's it about? And what's the problem?"

She raised an eyebrow. "Gingernut, if I asked you to-"

"What did you call me?"

She waved one hand vaguely. "It's accurate. Anyway. If I asked you to tell me what Lord of the Rings was about, how long would it take you?"

I thought for a moment. "A fantasy saga set in a vaguely-medieval world where many mythical races actually exist, and a group of them end up on a quest to save the world from the Dark Lord. About ten seconds, why?"

Lou sighed. "Right. Well, it's about a world with only two dimensions, one of whose inhabitants gets introduced to the Third Dimension by a Sphere. That's not terribly relevant, though, as 2-D people are easy to kill on their own ground. You just stab a sharp corner into them."

I raised an eyebrow. "So what's the problem? I mean, I can't say being flat appeals to me, but the anime mob must go through it occasionally..."

"It's not just that," Lou corrected me. "Everyone in Flatland is a geometrical shape. The main character in the book, for example, is a Square. Females are lines, males can be anything from isosceles triangles to 'circles', or thousand-sided polygons. The number of sides determines their rank... but this is all irrelevant," she said, coming back to the point, "because the 'fic we've been assigned isn’t in Flatland. It's in Lineland."

I probably looked puzzled. "That'd be a one-dimensional world, I'm guessing," I said. At Lou's nod, I smiled. "And a no-dimensional one would be Dotland."

"Pointland, actually," she said. "The 3-D one is Spaceland, but they never saw anything above that. But, look," she said, opening a page on the console screen. It showed an illustration of a line, broken in various places, with arrows and labels all across it. "This," my partner said, "is Lineland as it is meant to be. Now, suppose you had to kill the King. Where would you go?"

I shrugged. "I guess I'd wait behind one of the men next to him until the time came, then go past him and... oh."

"Exactly. It's 1-D. In Lineland, you can't go past anyone, just as in Flatland you can't go over them. So you'd have to be right next to him all along."

"But he'd see me," I protested. "Anyway, I couldn't do a mission where I took up half the target's field of view. It'd affect the story."

"It's all irrelevant anyway," Lou said – seems she liked that word that day – "because colliding head-on with a Linelander – except a woman, the dots at the end – wouldn't kill him, and that's the only way you'd be able to do it from there. So, you see, it is... impossible."

"Hmm." I squinted at the screen. "What about there?" I said, tapping the image of a square which was positioned above the line. "You said the protagonist was a square, right?"

"Yes, that's him," she confirmed, "he went to visit, and..." Her voice trailed off, and she blinked. "Narto," she exclaimed a moment later, "you are a genius! Just let me find it..." I watched curiously as she scrolled down, and then further down, past a couple more illustrations. Then she found what she was looking for. "Listen to this:

" 'And, as a crowning proof, what do you say to my giving you a touch, just the least touch, in your stomach? It will not seriously injure you, and the slight pain you may suffer cannot be compared with the mental benefit you will receive.

"Before I could utter a word of remonstrance, I felt a shooting pain in my inside, and a demoniacal laugh seemed to issue from within me.

"That's the Sphere talking to the Square," Lou explained. "If that 'least touch' caused such agony..."

"Then," I said, figuring it out, "a complete intersection with a higher-dimensional entity will probably kill off a Line."

"Exactly!" my partner exclaimed, and without warning grabbed me and pulled me into a crushing hug. I had no time to react, though, as she pulled away almost immediately and started pressing buttons on the console. "Can't be Lines, then, it wouldn't work... Gingernut! How do you fancy being a hexagon?"

I stared at her. "It sounds... uh..."

"Great, hexagon it is. And as for me..."

"You said women were lines," I said quickly, taking advantage of her hesitation. Turning to me, she frowned.

"You're right, I did. Hmm." With a pensive look, she flicked through the manuscript on the screen. "Not sure I want to be a line, though... I suppose... Nar," she said, suddenly, "if I go as a line, we'll both have to be very careful. If a line runs into a polygon head-on, it's instant death, usually for both."

I gulped. "That, er... doesn't sound good. At all."

"No." Frowning down at the screen, she made a decision. "I'll be a pentagon, then. Means neither of us will have sharp enough points to accidentally kill anyone."

"Won't that make the kill rather hard?" I asked. If there's one thing I don't want, it's a difficult killing. Fortunately, Lou shook her head.

"It's... we'll be in direct contact with his insides. If some fourth-dimensional creature manifested itself in your gut, how would you react?"

"Probably by dying," I agreed. "So it'll be up close and personal, like?"

"Something like that," she said distractedly. "Okay, come on," she went on as the portal opened. "And remember... it'll be weird."

It was.

Describing life as a two-dimensional creature is nearly impossible. For a start, you only have one eye, on one of your corners. Bizarrely, this also acts as your mouth, for breathing, talking, and I assume eating, though we weren't there long enough for that. Anyway, this instantly does away with binocular vision, so you can't gauge distance at all well.

That's not the most bizarre thing, though. The real, mind-jarring difference is this: all you see is straight lines. Your eye doesn't have the ability to even consider looking at anything out of the plane you're in. In my specific case, I saw a whole set of lines, spaced randomly over a line that passed over the whole of my vision, all moving at roughly the same speed to the left. Their lengths seemed  to increase to my right, although for some reason they became dimmer in the same direction.

"It's the fog," said Lou's voice from behind me, apparently anticipating my question. "It's blocking some of the brightness, so they seem to fade away as they get further from you. It's one of the ways of working out how many sides someone has, in Flatland, although here, of course, they can only see a single dot."

I turned – that was weird too, because there was little sense of motion. There's a slight pull to what I gather they label south, but other than that I simply saw the array of lines shift nauseatingly, begin to fade to the left instead, and then suddenly be blocked out by a very bright line, presumably close to me. This particular line had an even brighter point on it, right in the centre, which confused me for a few moments before it spoke.

"Yes, you look the same," Lou said. "The eye is the bright spot. You were expecting to see me as a pentagon, I'm guessing?"

I nodded, or rather, I didn't. How could I? I was a hexagon sitting on a plane, with no ability to move up or down. "Er, yes," I said, recovering. "That was stupid of me, though."

"Yep," Lou confirmed, swivelling slightly – or that's how I interpreted the sudden movement of the bright dot along the line – to look obliquely at the Lineland we'd come to see. "Best we get going," she said, a moment later.

"Right," I agreed, turning myself until I thought I was facing it head-on (or eye-on, rather). Then a rather uncomfortable thought struck me. "Lou... how are we going to do this?"

"I already explained," she said from off to my left. "We just push into-"

"Not that. How are we going to see the Words? Or, for that matter, take a charge-list?"

"I... ah. Oh. Huh." There was a slight noise from her direction, and then she laughed. "Turn around, Narto," she suggested.

Doing as she said, I was puzzled. If I'd had a face, I'd have frowned. "Is that another Lineland?" I asked. "It looks different."

"It's no Lineland," my partner said, "it's the Words." I didn't understand what she meant – after all, surely an arrangement of flat lines and dots couldn't be...

"Oh. Of course. Morse code."

"Exactly." Even though she couldn't grin, I could hear that Lou wanted to. "Seems the world's going out of its way to help us here."

"Lucky us," I said, trying to make out what the Words actually said. It had been a long time since I'd studied Morse. "S... o... g... e... t... t... h... i... s..."

"'So get this'," Lou cut in. "'Francis Line lived in lineland, and he liked it there'. First two charges, Nar – having a stupid name, and saying 'he liked it there' when it's all he could possibly know about."

"And what am I meant to do with them?" I asked, baffled. "I don't know what’s happened to my notebook, but..."

"It's probably still in your pack," Lou said. "You need to reach around and... it's kind of hard to explain."

"It's okay, I've got it." Fortunately for the PPC, disguise bodies come with certain instincts built in. They know how to walk, even if they're very different from the Agent's form. If they have wings, they can fly. And if they're a 2-D hexagon about a foot across, they know, and let you know, how to use their equivalent of arms. I pulled out my notepad and pen, and then stared at them. "How do I use these?"

"With difficulty," Lou admitted. "I suppose... check to see if the notebook moves when you push it." I tried, and was surprised to find that it didn't. I could, though, with a little effort, cause the front 'page' – a thin black line in front of me, barely brighter than the Words behind it – to flip around behind. I reported this to Lou, who said, "Great. Now try writing on it – in Morse, I guess – and see what happens."

What happened was that a portion of the line became brighter where I ran the pen over it. Painfully slowly, I wrote a very summarised version of the first two charges – I'd be among the first to condemn textspeak, but 'Stpd nm' is a lot easier for me to write than 'stupid name' – and turned the page. Getting the notepad out of the way of the Words was another tricky task, but I discovered that tapping sharply on either end dislodged it from its fixed position for a few seconds. "Right," I said at last. "Now what?"

"Back to the Words, I guess," said Lou. She'd obviously been reading ahead, because after only a few seconds, she sighed. "Nothing much actually happens in this story. We get a brief description of Lineland, which is completely different to the version in the original. Then another Lineland somehow makes a nuclear missile, despite that requiring them to work in at least one dimension they can't even conceive of, and sends it off to blow up this one, which they've learnt about through some unexplained and impossible method. Then... well, a bit more exposition, really."

I rolled my eye, or at least wobbled my apex from side to side slightly, which is almost the same. "So, what, I write a charge list from the Words, then we go over and read it to this Francis, kill him... and then what?"

"Then we hope the Linelands disappear. If not, we torch them."

I had no eyebrows to raise. "Torch them? With what?"

"I brought a flamethrower," my partner said cheerfully. "Haven't a clue how it'll work here, but I'm sure it will."

"Marvellous," I said, jotting down another charge – 'Nrlstc scl strctr' – as I continued my trawl through the Words. At least it's short, I thought thankfully.

When I came to the third 'So get this', I checked how much of the Words was left, and guessing it at only a single sentence, I turned to Lou. I'd almost managed to forget how strange she looked, but of course, that came rushing back. "Right," I said, moving over to her, "that's about it."

"Good," she said distractedly, gazing at Lineland. "Off... we go, then." Off we went.

The Line was further away than it appeared, and the lack of any real depth-perception meant we only knew we were there when the two remaining visible lines suddenly vanished. I backed up quickly, hoping neither of them would collide with me, and turned to look at Lou. "So which one are we after?" I asked.

"How would I know?" Lou asked, sounding disgruntled. Then, with shocking speed, she moved back into the Lineland, forcing the line to our right to stop suddenly or hit her. "Hi," she said in a cheerful tone. "Do you know a Francis Line?"

"I'm Francis Line," the line said, sounding uncertain. "How did you get here? Are you one of those Magicians?"

"Something like that," she replied, then turned to look at me. "Take it away, Gingernut."

"Why must you call me that?" I asked plaintively, but I pulled out my notepad and began reading it back. "Francis Line, as Agents of the Protectors of the Plot Continuum, we charge you with the following: Having a stupid name. Possessing impossible knowledge of the universe outside your own dimension. Creating-"

"What is this?" Francis exclaimed. "I hear a voice from my insides – what are you doing, Magician?"

"You'd do better to listen to that voice," Lou said wryly. "Go on, Nar."

"Creating an unrealistic social structure," I said. "Contemplating circles while on a line. Causing missiles to be created in more dimensions than a Lineland can access. Failing to correctly understand the concept of dimensionally-restricted life at all. Claiming to have a king when the social structure precludes it. Last and foremost, ignoring the clear description of Lineland in favour of your own version."

"For all these crimes," Lou said, "you are sentenced to death. Narto, if you please?"

It was a very horrible death. Inserting yourself into someone's innards is an automatically disgusting process, and doing it from a direction they can't even comprehend is somehow worse. Francis screamed as my point touched him, and tried to lunge forward at Lou, still thinking she was the cause of his pain. Unfortunately for him, this only exacerbated his problem, pulling his front away from his back just as I made another push. With a final scream, he tore clean in two, both halves disintegrating into specks of light that spread out along the line – the Lineland equivalent of glitter.

Looking left and right, I found that the rest of the lines had vanished with his death. Lou and I were left alone, without even the Words for company. "Good job," Lou said, turning to face me, "I think it's time we were getting home. I just hope the Remote Activator still works here..."

The blue line appearing in front of us – a welcome change from the monochrome we'd been seeing – proved that it did. Lou went through first, and I followed. When I reached the Response Centre, I staggered. If the shift to 2-D was tough, the one back to 'normality' was even worse. Suddenly, I wasn't just resting on the ground. I had limbs to balance, objects rushing towards and away from me as I turned my head, and so, with very little fuss, I fell over backwards.