# How could people figure out that parts of the earth are missing?

In my story, there is a villain who has very powerful magic on his side. Basically, he has his own dimension, where he keeps dragging parts of the earth into, piece by piece. It kinda works like the bombs in Super Smash Bros Brawl's Subspace Emissary, with the additional effect of not just concealing the location that is missing from the world, but also making everyone in the rest of the world forget about that location, along with anyone who was unfortunate enough to be at that location when it was pulled into the dimension.

The memory erasure part of the magic is needed to keep most of the world clueless, however, the people of the world should still somehow be able to find out something is wrong. One way I thought of was to make the memory erasure flawed: it removes all references of the location, but not indirect references. Suppose the villain somehow managed to swallow an entire state from the US for example, someone at some point will probably ask "Hey, why does the flag have 50 stars instead of 49?" Similarly, if someone from a football team was pulled into the dimension, someone will ask "Hey, where is player number 4? ... Wait, did we ever have a player number 4? Huh... that's weird..."

So with that setup, are there any other ways humanity might slowly figure out over time that the world is missing pieces, while circumventing the memory erasure somehow? Changes to how the memory erasure works are fine as long as it manages to keep the rest of the world in the dark for a long time.

• Holes in google maps... Commented Aug 26, 2018 at 3:15
• Sounds like the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Remember Me. Commented Aug 26, 2018 at 3:57
• I feel like such "erasures" would necessarily mess up the local curvature/density of space-time. If you know where to look for them, you could find places where measurements "don't add up", resulting in impossible triangles (so long as the universe is assumed to be relatively locally flat). If there is a suspicion that something like this takes place, observing such a phenomena could support the theory. Otherwise, an observer might just assume either their measurements are wrong, or there is some naturally-occurring unique deformity in space-time.
– Itai
Commented Aug 26, 2018 at 11:00
• since it is preventing light transmission through a space it should be visible, even if only a wall of darkness.
– John
Commented Aug 26, 2018 at 14:12
• That's a nice picture of Grimmauld Place. Commented Aug 26, 2018 at 16:45

This is a very good question, you have a couple options here.

People having habits pertaining to the stuff

In your picture, you show a house. When the villain sucks a house into the dimension, people will forget about the house. However, when someone is at work when their house is absorbed and they drive home at the end of the day, they will become very confused. They will say "wait, where do I live?". Then they might go to the city board and say, "Please tell me where I live." The board will give them their address and they will say, "That house doesn't exist." The person will know all of the neighbors on the street, and the house number won't exist.

GPS

With random parts of Earth disappearing, GPS will get really confused. Anyone using a physical map or a GPS will notice that when they pass a certain house, their location jumps to the end of a non-existent street. GPS will also be affected as a whole because all of the points on it will be shifted over by a little, which could have global implications.

There's a traditional solution to this. The most famous example is probably series 5 of the renewed Doctor Who (although they kind of complicated things by having three solutions at once).

Amy's parents are gone, and neither she nor anyone else thinks it's strange that nobody can remember her having parents. But someone from another town, who never met Amy or her parents and therefore weren't made to forget anything, is going to think it's strange that nobody thinks it's strange that Amy has no parents.

The ducks are gone from the duck pond. Nobody remembers ducks ever having been there. Even the old people who used to hang out and feed the ducks don't remember doing so, and somehow just have a different routine now, and nobody wonders why they call it the duck pond when there's no duck. But someone from another town is going to ask.

OK, so far, this is just your solution: second-order effects aren't handled. So, the world will catch on way too fast, and you don't have a story.

But people's brains confabulate, to fill in the gaps in their memory. You can even make the villain's Somebody Else's Problem Field amplifies that tendency. So, if I just ask Amy why it's called the duck pond when it has no ducks, without even pausing to think about it, she tells me it's a stupid old joke from before her time, and now it's tradition, and that's completely believable, so I don't catch on.

But if I ask the same question to Rory, who wasn't around when I asked Amy, he tells me that actually it's named after a guy named Mr Duck. If I ask Jeff, he tells me the town planners intended to have a duck pond, but for some reason never put any ducks in it. And now I notice something odd is going on.

Nobody's going to notice for a while, because really, how often does a new guy come to town, independently ask three different people the same question, notice that they all made up different answers, and decide to investigate.

But it will happen occasionally.

And, unlike the Mandela Effect crackpots, once you start looking around, you're not saying "everyone but me believes the same thing, but I'm not crazy, so reality must be broken"; it's "everyone, including me, believes different, contradictory things, and they can't all be crazy, so reality must be broken". Which is a lot harder to dismiss.

So eventually, the world (or maybe just your heroes) will figure out there's definitely someone screwing with the world, and figure out a workaround to cope with it so they can fight back.

Obviously, your villain doesn't have to have this weakness. You could write a story where his magic takes care of second-order effects, so suddenly everyone remembers the same false cover story. Or you could set it in a universe where (like Doctor Who, and Hitchhiker's Guide), reality is just like that, so noticing the problem doesn't immediately lead you to the villain. But if you want him to have this weakness, it's pretty easy to handle, and it solves your intended goal.

• If you're going to draw upon Doctor Who here, how about using the "trap streets" idea in Series 9 Episode 10 of New Who? That's even more directly relevant to this question. Commented Aug 26, 2018 at 16:48
• @Randal'Thor Doctor Who has actually touched on this issue, and related ones, many times—especially in the Moffat era, and in the wilderness-era novels that (despite his protestations) heavily influenced him. But, while the trap streets fits the question a bit more closely (in that it's geography being removed, rather than events/people/ducks), it doesn't really give an answer (people in general never do discover the trap streets, and that's actually a good thing), so I don't think it's all that helpful here. Commented Aug 26, 2018 at 17:01

I think that schedules would play a big role in people figuring it out quickly. For example, 10 of Bill's friends get together at Bill's house every Monday evening for beer and competitive knitting. 3 of his friends are pedantic schedulers, 4 of them depend on google maps so much that it predicts where they're going to go each Monday, and the rest of them have regularly refused appointments on Monday evening to make sure they don't miss out on any of that yarn action.

The week that Bill's house disappears, 3 of his friends go to the address and bump into each other. It's a significantly odd coincidence that they all made the same mistake, had the same wrong address with the same imaginary person written onto their calendar with the same time and date. These three would figure it out pretty quickly.

The 4 who depend heavily on google maps will get an update about the traffic on the way to Bill's house on that day. Maybe one of them will check his phone history and find that he had navigated to that area regularly.

At least one in the ten might stumble onto their group chat, wherein they talked about the meeting each week with simple messages like "still meeting at Bill's this week?", and "You bet! Remember, no tie dye yarn. I'm talking about you, Fred!". If I were that person, I'd put something in the chat, and be like "Hey, does anyone know what we were talking about all this time?"

The rest of them might just be momentarily confused about why they don't know where they're gonna meet for knitting.

In any case, that's just Bill's house. If this was happening often, there's a solid chance people will figure out that something's going on within a few weeks.

It would take a couple weeks of house stealing for someone to catch on, maybe months if people are careless. Basically, people will notice missing numbers while looking for adresses. Phones will have contacts for people you don't remember, and conversations that you don't remember having. Hell, maybe you remember having the conversation, you just don't remember who you were having it with. Mandella theory enthusiasts would probably catch on quickly, and social media platforms where people are likely to mention strange happening like missing street numbers, like 4chan or imgur would probably be flooded with similar cases soon after someone started posting about it.

• ...and phone companies will keep providing services and sending bills to locations that don't exist. Perhaps the letter carrier might notice this first: "Why do I have so many misaddressed utility bills, and why did my rounds go so much more quickly today?" Commented Aug 26, 2018 at 2:04
• @user535733 And if a power line or sewer gets cut as a side effect of the pocket dimentions, people would notice it reeeaaaally quickly. Commented Aug 26, 2018 at 2:07
• Maybe sooner. Will no one think of the children!? What about all the children who suddenly have no home to go to and no parents? Commented Aug 26, 2018 at 3:03

Each element on Earth has a myriad of relationships with its surrounding. Even though one can take hide that element, all the relationships will have a broken link, which will point to something missing.

I.e. for a house think of all the supplies it gets: electricity, gas, water. You might remove the house, but the lines will still be there, the databases of the companies providing the above to the use will still maintain a record, whoever used to visit that house will keep the memory of that.

All in all, this is not going to happen slowly. Unless it is some very remote location. What might take slightly longer is the realization that this is happening worldwide, but again it's just a matter of waiting the right spot to disappear. Think of the White House, for example, or the Big Ben or the Golden Temple.

## They can’t if the villain doesn't abuse their power

If they just make a few houses far apart from each other disappear, it would be difficult to notice. The disappearances would be more noticeable if the power was abused or overused.
If the villain “steals” all the schools in a city, someone will note that something is wrong because there aren’t any schools for all the children of the city. Or imagine they steal the half of the houses in a city, Urban Planning will (or at least should) note that the ratio between commercial (shopping), industrial (workshops) and residential (houses) zones is wrong, since there are too many places to work but few people to fill those jobs.

The same can be applied to other things: “The tectonic plate stops suddenly right here, but there should be here a whole continent here!”, “Our country doesn’t have any capital, how does it operate without leadership?”, “Why there are missing house numbers on this street? Shouldn’t Urban Planing fix that?”, “It seems to me or we don't have any bank, jewellery, gold shop nor a fashion shop in the city?”, “I thought America was colonized by people, why aren’t there any buildings or humans here?”

• @elemtilas, edited! Commented Aug 26, 2018 at 17:44

I think you do have the right setting, using inderect references.

You could think of your setting as somehow manipulating parallel universes : Your villain turns the whole universe (present, past and future) from a universe with 3 houses into one with 2 houses. There was always 2 houses in that road, that street is numbered "..., 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, ...", nobody lives in number 13 because it never existed, and the road has always been mapped with those numbers.

Of course, the question is "Why does the villain not choose to turn into a street with number 13, reordering every numbering?" The answer could be simply that he cannot. Maybe it's too hard to think of all the changes needed, or even not possible due to some limitation in his magic.

But, let's assume your villain is an actual genius. He knows he can't control all indirect references, but he still want to remove some parts. What can he do to avoid detection?

Well, let's take house number 13. Why did he choose that house? Because there are many places where number 13 is already missing. Yes, they are missing because he made it so, but people still think it is normal. How many ships were totally lost? I guess the list could go on on stuff already "missing" on our real world, without raising actual suspicion of an evil mastermind, except for some crazy conspiracy theorists.

So... Your villain does exist in our timeline, and some people did figure it out, but everyone think they are conspiracy theorists. Or maybe there is no villain, and they are just mad people!

I think it could make for a great fantastic setting.

My thought is that it will be people who "see" the world differently who will notice issues first, for example someone with OCD might notice that the number of steps from their front door to their local mall changed, or the blind would equally notice changes in distances or routes that they follow routinely. Neither knows that X has disappeared, they don't care, they just know that their world has been disrupted in some strange way.