Elementary Science #3: Mind over Machin Shin

Good morning, class, and welcome back to Elementary Science. I trust you all enjoyed your holiday?

Today, we'll discuss the Ways. Created during the Breaking by male Aes Sedai, in gratitude for the Ogier granting them sanctuary in the stedding, the Ways allow travellers to shorten their journeys by cutting through a space where the laws of physics differ.

In effect, through another universe. Distance within the Ways is not the same as without; in a few days you can cross from Saldaea to Tear, walking along bridges and islands that float with no visible means of support. And time passes much faster in the universe of the Ways, for travellers inside can look back through the Waygate and see their companions moving at a dreamlike pace. This raises a number of questions. Is Wayspace controlled by the same Wheel as the outer world, and if so, how can time pass at a different rate in each? Is it a kind of large, and unusually stable, vacuole? Furthermore, if space works differently, how is it that humans, and other forms of life, can survive within, without their component atoms twisting to obey new laws of physics? This point will be returned to later in the class.

But while the Ways are matter for much debate when they work as they should, they are even more interesting when they don't. I speak, of course, of Machin Shin.

Precisely what the Black Wind is is unclear. The prevailing theory is that it is due to the slow corruption of the Ways, which were made with tainted saidin. Some believe it to be related to Mashadar, the evil of Shadar Logoth, which perhaps slowly seeped through the Waygate there and changed its nature in the new universe. Whichever theory is correct, it seems clear that Machin Shin cannot survive outside the Ways.

The first theory has interesting implications. If Wayspace itself can be corrupted by saidin, then it must have been created by those Aes Sedai; that is, they created their own universe rather than simply opening portals to an existing one. Otherwise, it should only be the Waygates that are affected, not the space between.

And I agree with this theory. The taint, in human minds, causes madness. And Machin Shin is nothing if not mad.

It seems to me that what controls the Ways, what keeps them going and occasionally takes tracks the designers didn't intend, is mind. The madness affecting the minds of the makers was absorbed into their creation, causing the slow corruption, and giving rise to Machin Shin, which preys on the mind of its victims. And it may be that, in the same way as Skimming-space, (see the previous essay, Schrúdinger's SkimSpace) the imagination of the makers of the Waygates created a place in which life could survive. 'Normal' reality may hold in the vicinity of the bridges, even while they cut through an abnormal one.

In fact, Wayspace may be Skimspace, or at least one reality of it. There are several similarities: the alteration of space and time, the blackness surrounding the bridges/platforms, and the Earth-normal gravity and atmosphere despite the very unEarthlike appearance. Wayspace then would be a permanently open Skimming reality, its properties determined by the minds of the Aes Sedai who opened it. And with the taint already beginning to affect them, albeit unconsciously, those properties included a slowly increasing madness.

If this is the case, cleansing saidin may or may not return the Ways to their original condition. Certainly the taint would be gone, but the taint in itself does not cause the corruption. Rather it was the minds of the creators that did so, the taint being only the indirect cause.

There surely is a way to drive off or destroy Machin Shin, on the principle of fighting fire with fire. There is a level of insanity which even the Black Wind would fear. Namely, that in the minds of Shadar the Asha'man and Shani Aes Sedai of the Red Ajah.

But that's just cruel.

On a slightly different tack, an extremely powerful mind, given the malleability of Skimspace, ought to be able to overwhelm the original settings and reset Wayspace to a more comfortable reality without Machin Shin. Unfortunately, there are very few minds quite that powerful, or to look at it another way quite so self-confident; and that means we're back with Shani and Shadar. And possibly with another episode of Long Live Insanity, if I ever get around to it.

In the absence of the odd couple, however, it is uncertain how, or whether, the Ways can be restored; and on that note we end this Elementary Science class. Dismissed!

Raina's Hold / Raina's Library / Raina's Library - Essays