Statefall comes in a storm of broken particles and disturbed spin. I fall across dimensions I lose the ability to express as I cross them, damage to my gestalt and hence my systems taking its toll. When the slide stops, I take stock. Three, constrained four. Three, only three dimensions, plus time. I have time for a bitter laugh, but no more, because I'm already in motion.
Flares of annihilation boosters surround my reduced frame. I don't know if the Other will drop out in the same location I did, but it seems likely; it is pursuing my charm signature, after all, and in this state, I have a location. Best to put distance between me and it as soon as possible. I only hope that it is as damaged as I am. Mass, precious substance, siphons into the twistpanes I have specified and writhes into antimatter, meeting itself coming the other way; the pure energy of AM engines blasts out behind me, carefully avoiding the actual location of my own emergence.
I am perhaps some millions of units distant when there is a flare behind me. It has emerged, precisely where I did. My AM panes are directed at angles around it, forming a tripod; there is a circle of near-absolute zero cold directly facing the emergence point where I am carefully falsifying the radiation signature of the corresponding circle directly ahead of me. From the emergence point, I should be nearly invisible to local senses. I wait and watch.
Some moments later, a flare shows behind me, silhouetting a dark shape. A single AM boostpane, some quarter of a sphere, has blinked to life occluded by the shape of my pursuer. Its larger boost surface throws more energy, and I instantly expand my own boostpane to compensate, leaving only the masking disk at the center black. I juggle the size of the masking disk for a few moments, balancing between maximizing my own boost and minimizing the information and energy made available to my pursuer, and then settle in for the chase.
It looks to be a long one. There's nothing visible ahead of us, and as that fact settles in, both of us begin to slowly but perceptibly begin ratcheting down our boostpanes. I calculate from its decay rate that although I will be able to retain my thrust slightly longer, its greater initial impulse means I will not gain any appreciable advantage. Both of us are limited in this state; we have only so much mass to spare. I am not certain of precisely how my pursuer is constructed, but I am a sphere some meters across, smooth and reflective. Inside that sphere is matter at its highest possible concentration and energy state, performing computation to retain the mathematical construct that is me. I am limited by two factors; the physical radius of the sphere, which is a constraint of the force engines built into the atomic structure of my containment substances, and the Bekenstein Bound. The latter determines how much information computing capacity can be packed into the sphere described by that radius.
Usually, that is all that matters. Not here, though.
I am losing energy.
That usually doesn't matter, but it does here. I am losing energy, and spending mass to replace it. Around my Self is a shell construct of oblongs and rods and cones, built of expendable matter designed as both mechanism and fuel. Normally there is an inner core, some kilometers across, which has been with me for several degrees of galactic rotation; matter and force patterns which have been carefully arranged over those long time periods into optimum arrangements for my use. Thoughts can flow along them, albeit much more slowly and inefficiently than those within the hot energetic realm of my Self; matter can propagate along special channels designed into the core, taken from one location to another for use as fuel or as coolant. In order to maintain the computing environment of my Self, I must excrete. I must rid myself of Error. Error is entropy; performing actions that are not reversible causes entropy in the system, and such disordered energy must be voided if the system is not to exceed the limits of the nanochines that maintain it. Only so much energy can be voided as blackbody radiation; moreso, sometimes radiating is inadvisable. Sometimes that entropy must be stored, cupboarded, held for later; spat into a hidden oubliette when time allows in the shape of molten disordered matter.
But I am damaged. The chase has been a long one, across dimensions and states. Statefall here in the three-plus-one was not so much a choice as a consequence; the lowest state that would hold me as I slid. Normally I could just express mass from the aether and use it to perform repairs, but this plane is cold and barren. A few crumbs impinge on my frontal shield arc every few moments, but no more than that. My relative v is already high enough to transform them into bright bursts of chaotic energy which I am hard-pressed to prevent from damaging me further, much less retain in any useful form.
Exploring the tools available to me yields a disappointingly short list - a strong, a weak, the mass distortion and vibratory - the usual spectrum of planar vibrations. Still. A stern chase is a long chase. The Other is still behind me, not even bothering to shield its emissions, which fall on my purposefully darkened after aspect heavily. I am losing ground from this attempt at stealth and denial; my boostpanes point away from its position, but I am forced to expend more mass to compensate for the lack of impulse directed along my wake. Under no such constraint, the other is gaining more quickly. I can see slight flickers along its frontal shield where it, too, is doing what it can to gather mass from the space that surrounds us.
A distorted boostpane yields a parabolic cone of force ahead of me. Tiny particles of mass begin to fall inward towards my prow, impelled by my field. I expend the mass required to build a collector pane in a ring around the base of the parabola and feel the surge of particles flow into me. I direct part of my attention aft; the Other is still gaining, but more slowly, and the flickers of particle collection have greatly lessened. Triumphant, I set about tuning the collection field, varying the usability of the incoming particles' vector versus the area of denial swept clean by my wake. Our accelerations waver and fluctuate nearly in sync, proving that both of us are operating on mass flow alone with no reserves.
Eventually I locate an optimum point and begin, slowly, to draw ahead. This will do. I have time. I know the Other will not be able to abide this, however, and it is without surprise that I observe the first incoming probes some few moments later. Pure energy, the most efficient available on this plane; their arrival the only warning, since my boostpanes and the Other's front shields prevent a decent dimensional scan that might betray the slight signature of their creation. Several slash off my rear shield. My last shell, what was once my inner hull but is now exposed to plane space, accepts the remainder. What it cannot channel to my boostpanes it dissipates as chaos and structured emissions from whatever systems are available, radiating wildly across the middle third of my hull. Still, the bolts are powerful; my error rate rises appreciably, sign of energy penetrating my final shell to disrupt state in my core. I can feel events stretch out slightly as my awareness is degraded by error correction.
In my core, I am pure computation. Ten kilograms of matter raised by integral panes to the highest possible state of interconnectivity and computational flux, approaching the theoretical maximum computational density. My capabilities are limited by physics, especially here; the core cannot be maintained larger than a certain radius in most planes, and hence its size is fixed. Although it would be incredibly difficult to disrupt the matter of my core, it must be possible to insinuate energy across its boundary if I am to manipulate my shells.
When unstructured energy penetrates my core boundaries, there is no way to dissipate it faster than my normal cooling systems, built to carry the normal flow of computational error and entropy, can carry it away. Every time a possibility collapses in the algorithm of my mind; every time information is lost in my core, entropy increases, and that energy must be voided to the outside and replaced by structured differentials. Each time external blasts impinge on me, they carry information, however chaotic, across the boundary; each time, that information must of necessity displace other information already inside.
I have no room or energy states to spare. Each touch of the beams is a wrenching at my gestalt. My core algorithm is holding together, but I am losing too much capability to redundancy and error correction here in this slow and inefficient void. I am becoming less able to respond to events in realtime. My only hope is that the Other will run out of mass reserves before my computational integrity drops below the point necessary to perform self-repair.
Our local velocity has achieved a recognizable portion of the local energy constant. I struggle to gaze ahead, hoping to find some form of mass which might be utilized to construct shielding and replenish my stocks and shells, but there is nothing within sensable range. The only hopeful sign is that the Other has begun to increase the duration between its energy probes, leaving my systems time to perform additional correction, but I am still operating at a severe disadvantage. I have little time to decide. I can continue this flight until I am exhausted, or I can attempt to estimate the last possible safe moment and place myself in suspension, a stasis field surrounding my core. My existence will stop immediately; I will have to gamble that at some point I will be located by another sophisticated enough to collapse the field - and hopefully one not hostile.
Another blast. Despite my collector field, the Other is still managing to take in a few particles here and there. Extrapolating the rate at which it is slowing its probes and comparing that to my decreasing ability to dissipate the resulting error, I am presented with uncomfortable figures. Whether because its reserves were larger at the beginning of the chase, or because I did not cut off its flow soon enough, it will be able to overcome me eventually - at least, it will be able to push my computational efficiency below the critical point.
Before I can consider the many reasons it is a bad idea, I construct the stasis field and a triggering mechanism to enfold my core if it detects that my core error rate has risen within the range of uncertainty in my calculations from the minimum critical level.
Then I wait.
* * *