by Stewart Wilson
Winter Fiction Blowout Week III
This was a bugger to write. The setting begged the bad pun, but I was interrupted one too many times and the ending probably needs a hell of a lot of work. Sleep first, though.
The worldship Liani hung in sublunar orbit above Jacobson's World, one stop on its three hundred year tour of the Fifth Colony worlds. A constant stream of small asteroids drifted towards it along a gravity track established by the ship's curved space generator, supplying the massive craft with rare minerals. A cluster of infovores scattered from the Liani's belly, depositing surveillance pods throughout the atmosphere. The planetwide coverage informed the ship of what had happened in the ten gigaseconds since it's last visit.
The controlling intelligence multiplex was shocked at what it saw.
When last it had visited, Jacobson's World had been a productive part of the Fifth Colony. It produced more than it consumed, sending the surplus to feed and power the nascent He3 mines in low orbit around the system's only gas giant. The culture was stable, the people were educated and intelligent. It hadn't lasted.
Three hundred years was a long time at the start of C21. By the time the worldship was engineered, a massive construction nearly one hundred kilometres long forged around an tiny artificial dwarf star, three hundred years was a lifespan. To the multiplex that oversaw the behemoth, ten gigaseconds was not even that. Assuming the ship remained stable, they could exist into the teraseconds and beyond.
Inside one lifetime, Jacobson's World had gone insane. The communal groups that had made up the planetary political structure had balkanised, declaring wars and alliances with others almost at random. Viral combat memes had been deployed alongside every weapon that a nanotechnological maker could come up with.. One continent sported a perfectly circular sea of grey goo. But there was no cause, no probability chain that could make the change.
The remnants of sensor arrays must have flagged the Liani's presence to the planet. A hundred requests for safe passage offworld flooded the incoming channels. People sick of the fighting, scared and running for their lives. More than a few would be looking to spread conflict to other worlds, but exposure to the culture aboard the worldship would soon render such thoughts obsolete.
Asylum request packets were acknowledged. Docking arms descended for those lucky enough to be aboard lifeboats. Those who could not were fetched by automated rescue craft. Meera rushed to be aboard one of the latter when it landed in what used to be a park just down the street from her apartment. Crash-foam insulated her and the other passengers from the rigors of high acceleration. She caught the scent of chloroform before passing out.
She awoke in a humongous white room along with all the others who had managed to escape the fighting. A sign projected in mid-air in front of her proclaimed “Welcome to the Asylum”. The others were rousing around her, and screens coalesced above them. Looking around, she couldn't see any of the others from the rescue boat in the sea of faces. Her statistical coprocessor estimated over a million people in this room, all from Jacobson's World. A mix of tribes and political factions in the war, all seeking asylum from the city in the sky. Utility fog coalesced into terminals and the internal bandwidth opened up, offering a connection between everyone in the room with implants. There was another entity present in the shared communication-space, some kind of expert system that represented the Asylum.
Meera queried it, transferring sensoriam logs of life on the planet in exchange for it's attention.
: Where are we? The Liani Worldship asylum. : What is this place? A holding area for dangerous infoplagues. : EXPN Jacobson's World is infested with thought-plague source of violence. You-am sought asylum from thought-plague. Possibility thought-plague some you-am. : Parse error. Your grammar engine is malfunctioning. Translation of multiplex intelligence threads into simplex grammar nontrivial. Rephrase: Some you-am may inhabit thought-plague. Thought-plague release dangerous in worldship => quarantine : This is.. an insane asylum? True. Segregation worldship from thought-plagues : What is the next phase of integration? You-am demonstrate adaptive cognition, fast learning. You-am now subset ambassador. Subset ambassador investigation of asylum in one kilosecond. : What do we do until then? Foglets provide shelter, nutrition, physical need. Violent actions not possible. Make you am home.
Already some of the others had interfaced with the utility fog, forming rough shelters and conjuring food from the terminals. The smell of cooked chicken overrode Meera's wonder and confusion at the place her and her fellow refugees found themselves in.
* * *
The ambient light lifted. Morning in the asylum. Meera awoke, dissolving the simple bedding and summoning up a simple breakfast. Her implants were interfacing with the foglets surprisingly well, likely the controlling intelligence had worked out a better interface while she slept. A handful of other people were congregating at one corner. The ambassadors's day out.
A channel blinked for her attention.
Ambassador you-am split into discrete units, assimilate information at point of return. : How will we know where to go? Channel allows constant link with Asyum. Asylum guide you-am. : Fair enough.
A green dot in her vision steered Meera through a hole in the wall, and off along one of many corridors lined with windows. Peering in one, she saw people sat at a table. A number of them wore long coats, even though the environmental controls stopped them from being cold. Nearly all were consuming some form of dilute ethyl alcohol, and several periodically inhaled the carcinogen-laden smoke of dried tobacco, burning in a paper tube.
Pre-singularity futurists. They-am interprets present through input filter set before moment of maximum change : Why? Unknown. They-am harmless but data-source.
She spent some time watching these strange people argue about Moore's Law and the Fermi Paradox while they poisoned their bodies and dulled their minds. Whatever possessed them was a strange thing, making them throwbacks to an age where augmentation was dangerous and man had barely started exploring the true nature of consciousness.
Supressing a shudder, Meera moved to the next window. People in varying styles of armour lay unconscious on the floor, weapons dissolving back to fog.
: What's going on? They-am survivalists, fight for-to evolve. Am offering asylum on Jacobson's World. They-am adapted to localised ideosphere.
More windows. Meera saw extropian communists, enhanced bodies slaved to minds that still regarded a nation-state as a thing of power; hedonistic hippy-tribes with genes spliced to change gender at whim; even a small group of scientologists kept under heavy security. She did her best to remember what she saw, committing a lot to her internal sensorium for safekeeping to be shared with the other ambassadors
: What will happen to us? You am screened for thought-plague, general set offered asylum on compatable world. Ambassador subset offered integration to Asylum multiplex intelligence.
She and her other ambassadors had a lot of thinking to do.