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Fine Structures is a series of hard sci-fi short stories written by Sam Hughes. It was finished January 2010 and Sam intends to publish it once he's gone back and polished it up.

The premise is stated above... But it is well-executed, and deconstructs many superhero tropes and explores many of the real-world and practical implications of a world with superheroes. Much of the deconstruction is presented through conversations between scientists.

The story starts when two universities try to beam a message through the Earth using an advanced extradimensional apparatus, only to find that their message is being blocked by a different message of unknown origin. Analysis of this "Script" leads to amazing scientific breakthroughs in teleportation, faster-than-light travel, and practical quantum mechanics, but anyone who tries to actually implement the new technology suffers a grisly fate. Only one person, Anne Poole, has survived a teleportation mishap, and she came out of it brain dead and immortal.

Meanwhile, an ordinary math teacher named Mitch Carlus suddenly discovers that he can phase himself and objects through solid matter...

And then people start getting struck by lightning and turning into Flying Bricks on a yearly basis. And it can happen to anyone, of any nationality, and of any mindset. The US Government isn't quite sure what they should do with these Powers, but they begin to collect them...

The series quickly starts to carry the premise to its grim and logical conclusions.

And then it gets worse.

You can read it here.

Tropes used in Fine Structures include:

  • Anti-Villain: Ching.
  • Anyone Can Die
  • Apocalypse How: Class 2, X-2, and X-5. Often, very powerful beings decide that a lower grade of apocalypse is preferable to a higher one.
    • Class 2s occur on a regular basis after the Time Skip. Mitch and Anne learn how to provoke the Imprisoning God into wiping all information more condensed than text from the face of the planet, wiping every disk drive, human brain, and electronic device. It's Anne's idea, because she wants to prevent a class 3a. When Mitch is killed by a nuclear blast, she realizes that humanity cannot leave the Solar system, and the only way to keep humanity alive is to knock them back to the Stone Age before they kill themselves in the Atomic Age. They're probably justified, because at one point all of humanity is confined to a single underground bunker and the surface is uninhabitable.
    • Oul is capable of an X-2, and possibly an X-4 if he tried hard enough. But he "has no mind. Just firepower."
    • Oul had achieved an X-5 by the time Xio imprisoned him. Xio reasoned that an X-4 was better than an X-5.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Appears to be what the Klick device was trying to do, but due to the Imprisoning God it just kills everyone in range.
  • Blessed with Suck: Powers don't need to eat, and anything they do eat isn't digested. Arika is bulimic because of this.
    • Powers also kill everyone around them when they gain their powers.
  • Brain Uploading: Mitch achieves immortality for a few hundred thousand years this way, so that he can keep living with Anne Poole.
  • Cape Busters: The US government's Power program has to find and restrain new Powers because they go berserk for the first few minutes of activity. The ideal solution is to sedate them a few seconds after they're struck by lightning, but another Power can provide sufficient distraction to minimize civilian casualties.
    • In "Capekillers," it's revealed that the government's plan is to create artificial Powers to hunt down and kill new and existing Powers.
  • Civvie Spandex: The first Powers wear thick jackets to keep themselves warm when they're flying above the atmosphere. In one chapter, a Power takes his jacket off as soon as he hits the atmosphere to avoid wind resistance.
    • One of the Powers speculates that the higher-rank Powers will have to start fighting naked because there's no material that can handle the speeds they move at.
  • Code Name: The Powers refer to each other by their number, or the number of the year they were "born" in.
  • Create Your Own Villain: Mitch does this, unfortunately.
  • Deconstructor Fleet
  • Freak Lab Accident: Anne Poole's origin story, and it reeks of foul play.
    • Actually, she likely was immortal before the teleporter accident. It turns out she grounded most of Oul's power at the start of the Mass Super-Empowering Event.
  • Good Thing You Can Heal: Averted. Powers actually take longer to heal!
  • Grey and Gray Morality
  • Guardian of the Multiverse: On several levels. The Imprisoning God itself is a guardian of the parallel Earth universes, but its only motivation is to keep Oul from escaping. It turns out Xio tried to protect billions of levels of reality by locking Oul in ours.
  • Heroic Build: Averted. Powers can't gain muscle mass or lose weight.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: Averted mostly, but subverted when the government uses it to kill a new Power.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: But Arika eventually gets over it.
  • Immortality: Anne Poole has Type I. She's finally killed when she's dropped into the black hole bottleneck that connects the Earth pocket universe to the rest of the universe.
  • Intangible Man: Mitch can walk through walls, phase objects into each other, and has extradimensional X-Ray Vision.
    • Amazingly, the scientists' biggest question about his powers is "what's illuminating the stuff he can see with the X-Ray Vision?"
  • Kryptonite Factor: Averted. Much to the US government's dismay, there's no easy way to dispose of a Power.
  • Lethal Harmless Powers: Mitch can kill people by hitting their brains with his hand.
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: All of the unexplainable things involve lightning. At least until it starts getting explained...
  • Meta Origin: Anybody with a superpower got his or her powers from either Xio or Oul. Or, in two cases, was Xio or Oul himself.
  • Mind Manipulation: Mitch and Zykov can both do this because they're Xio and Oul respectively.
  • Not the Fall That Kills You: The Powers can survive re-entry, but it's subverted hard later on. See Trainstopping.
  • Power Glows: Most of the time, anyways.
  • Power Perversion Potential: Deconstructed with Mitch. He can see through clothes, but he can also see through skin, guts, and everything else, and it's not pretty.
  • Reality Warper: One scientist decides to start reading the Script halfway through, instead of from the beginning like everyone else. This eventually leads to the development of Klick devices, which can do practically anything.
  • Required Secondary Powers: The Powers' brains are accelerated while using their abilities so that they can keep up with their reflexes, but they can freeze in vacuum. Mitch can see through walls, but he can't breathe while he's phased. Anne can survive anything, but has been trapped in uncomfortable circumstances more times than she can count.
  • Secret Public Identity: Arika does this. In fact, nobody in the series has a Secret Identity.
  • Shooting Superman: Subverted. Low-rank Powers can be hurt by bullets, especially armor-piercing rounds.
  • Spandex, Latex, or Leather: Sam put a lot of thought into this. The Powers end up wearing something made of plastic and metal that's shaped like a wingsuit, because they have trouble maneuvering with their reactionless thrust.
  • Superhero Paradox: And it gets scarier when you realize that each new one is twice as fast and twice as strong as the strongest one alive. Ultimately, this is the reason the government implements a squad of Cape Busters.
  • Superpower Lottery: Averted. The Powers all have the same Flying Brick capabilities. The only exceptions are Anne Poole's immortality and invulnerability, Mitch Carlus's ability to phase through matter, and Mitch and Mikhail Zykov's telepathy and mind control.
  • Super Serum: The creation of artificial Powers is never explained.
  • Super Villain: Played straight, oddly enough. And then it turns out the Big Good is just as much at fault.
  • The Force Is Strong with This One: Powers can feel each other within ranges of a few miles. They can also tell that artificial Powers have something very wrong about them.
  • The Multiverse: Much more complicated than you thought, but it doesn't ever come into play.
  • Time Skip: When astronomers discover something in space travelling at near-light speed, setting off supernovas, and headed straight for Earth, they convince one of the leading Script scientists to use some Magic From Technology. He bubbles the Solar System into extradimensional space, but this results in a Post Apocalyptic Earth.
  • Trainstopping: Arika tries to stop a crashing plane... and she can't find a good place to grab it, it falls apart in her hands. Eventually, she settles on lightly prodding it (at super-speed) all over to slow it down, and corrects for spin every quarter-second or so.
  • Triple Shifter: Subverted. All of the Powers live on a military base and go out once a year to find the next Power. They don't need jobs because they don't need to eat. They don't need homes because they can't die of exposure.
  • Utility Belt: Scarily enough, full of weapons designed to kill Powers.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Xio.
  • Wham! Line: The shocking revelation when Ching confronts Mitch.

  "I have enough mental control over these sheep that I could kill you right now in front of them and never serve a day--"

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