Jan 21, 2019 7:35 PM
Alex and Glen enter the world from Muse
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Nobody's that curious.

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She spends the next few days setting up the portal outside the vacuum chamber. She knows what she's doing but it's still finicky work. 

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Nobody interrupts her.

The dreams keep coming. She's been wearing her only local outfit for a while now and it's no longer so pretty.

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She keeps recording her dreams. She keeps not being satisfied. 

She tries her favorite instrumental song and the strategy video game again, as benchmarks. 

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The shine's wearing off the song. It's fine, but it'd be better if the performers were more polished and the sound quality were better and that guitarist didn't keep messing up that one thing... The video game's pretty hard to look at.

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She goes to the infectious disease specialist and asks if he'll test her blood again, see if anything has changed.  She mentions the symptoms. She thinks it's fair to say at this point that whatever it is that's happening here has started on her.

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He takes another sample. "Several of the colonizations have progressed," he says. "Of course, since these are mental symptoms it might not tell me much to look at your blood, and I doubt you want me to do a brain biopsy."

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"No. I don't see that ending well. Thank you for checking." 

She makes note of which colonizations have progressed. And then she finishes the portal and directs the other end to the space outside the atmosphere of the empty planet Alex is staying on. 

She establishes communication. It's not the most stable of connections, but they can still communicate. She fills him in and learns that this has been progressing with him as well. He's been dealing with it poorly, especially since he's had less of an idea what's going on. Glen suspects that he would have been part of the 50% who died in the original colonization. 

Alex, like Glen, has safeguards that made exploring new planets with no idea of what they'll find less of a terrible idea. If he dies, his body should reset to full health. The ability does not have infinite potential, but she suspects he'll be one of the 50% who find themselves unable to deal with the changes anyway. She, with some reluctance, suggests he try it. 

He disposes of everything that has touched Muse and does. It works. He stops having unusual dreams and the world no longer seems to horribly ugly.

He returns to the Organization, with a promise to pass on the information Glen has given him to a biologist friend of hers who has the ability to be discreet and set up a safe line of communication.

Glen goes and finds a local hotel to stay in that isn't as horribly ugly as her tent and buys two more sets of local clothes and waits. 

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She has such beautiful dreams.

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Everything Glen has ever created in her life is terribly ugly. 

She knew that at the time, or at least, she new that there was no particular attractiveness to them. The priority was always functionality and cost. It was important that any world who needed to was able to afford and build portals. At the time, it had seemed like a reasonable tradeoff. 

Now? It doesn't. She knows that this is the influence of whatever's infecting her, but that doesn't make it any less terrible. She opens up the old blueprints and finds them difficult to look at. But, she remembers the theory more than well enough to start from scratch. She uses the local computer. The UI on her old one is terribly utilitarian. 

There's no reason the portals can't be beautiful. The math behind them is. She starts again and then discards her work and starts again and discards it. The third time she has something that at least isn't as terrible as her previous attempts and she forces herself to keep working without starting over. She isn't satisfied. 

 

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Five days later The Organization, or rather a small group of colleagues from the Organization who are willing to go against official policy, establish contact. 

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She finds herself immediately and viscerally annoyed. She's busy. This can wait. 

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Alex insists that it, in fact, can't. 

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With great reluctance she puts aside her work. 

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The Organization has dealt with dangerous diseases before. They know how to safely study a disease without opening up risk of further infection. Now that people with relevant experience know what's going on, they can open a portal for her straight into a quarantined room. 

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She finds herself incredibly reluctant to go in. The room on the other side of the portal is hideous and she doesn't want to look at it. She forces herself anyway.

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They scan her brain and analyzer her brain activity while interacting with a variety of beautiful, neutral, and unpleasant stimuli. They have previous brain scans to compare it to and they can repeat the tests with someone in a similar demographic to her who has never been to Muse. 

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Her aesthetic discernment and sensitivity has not been rendered literally superhuman - she cannot detect things under the just-noticeable-difference threshold of a given sense - but tiny details matter, such that she is more motivated to find them and more intensely emotional about what she finds. They will have some trouble finding beautiful enough stimuli unless they import some from Muse or resort to presenting math in a pretty font on a high-res screen, and even then the surroundings can be distracting; but if they manage to find something that looks beautiful to Glen, her brain goes nuts. Neutral stimuli like total darkness cause no interesting reaction except in contrast to negative stimuli.

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The biologists get to work on counteracting all Muse pathogens in lab conditions. 

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They're not terribly hard to kill.

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They infect several artificially created brain-dead humans and then attempt to "cure" them without causing any damage. 

They also attempt to create vaccines for all of the identified muse pathogens. 

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Regrettably, the pathogen dies a bit messily; it takes a few tries to kill it and counteract all the toxins it releases in death at the same time.

The human immune system is deeply confused by Muse microflora and is very difficult to induce to take up arms against it. Sufficient injections of designer antibodies can make progress, but it's hard to be sure if they get everything.

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Two weeks pass. 

Glen spends the time between tests tweaking her portal design, studying the mathematics that determines the layout of universes, and consuming media imported from Muse.

 

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When the vaccine is as good as it's going to get without real testing, Alex volunteers to test it. 

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Glen tears herself away from her work to have a brief but fierce argument with him. 

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