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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 the size of large birds scattered from the Liani’s belly, depositing surveillance dust throughout the atmosphere. The planet-wide coverage informed the ship of what had happened in the ten gigaseconds since its last visit.
The controlling multiplex extelligence 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. That 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, evidence of a localised omniphage. But there was no cause, no likely probability chain that could lead to such a change.
The remnants of planetary sensor arrays must have flagged the Liani’s presence to the remaining inhabitants. Thousands of requests for safe passage off-world flooded the incoming channels. People sick of the fighting, scared and running for their lives. Memetic contagion meant that several would be looking to spread conflict to other worlds, but exposure to the self-rectifying cultural memes aboard the worldship would render their need for war obsolete.
Asylum request packets were acknowledged. Docking arms descended for those lucky few with access to suborbital aircraft—or the means to create them. Those without were fetched by automated lifeboats spun from the worldship’s maker-engines, coherent-matter beams crossed in a floating sea of Bose-Einstein condensate to produce a bulbous curved thing with enough space to fit a hundred people.
Meera rushed to be aboard one of the lifeboats when it landed in what used to be a park just down the street from her apartment. The seats were still cold from its creation. She had barely sat down when the outer doors closed. Aerogel crash-foam insulated her and the other passengers from the rigours of high acceleration. She caught a whiff of chloroform before passing out.
She awoke in an enormous 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. In reaction to their regaining consciousness, 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 in the city in the sky. More utility fog coalesced into terminals below the screens and the internal bandwidth opened up, connecting everyone in the room with implants. There was another entity present in the shared communication-space, some kind of weakly-superhuman intelligence that represented the Asylum.
Meera queried it, transferring sensorium 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.
Jacobson’s World 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 thoughts inert. Make you-am home.
Already some of the others had interfaced with the utility fog, forming rough shelters and assembling 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 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 already congregating in one corner. The ambassadors’ 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, in some cases mixed with a number of stimulants, and several periodically inhaled the carcinogen-laden smoke of dried tobacco, burning in a paper tube.
They-am interprets present through input filter set before moment of maximum change.
Unknown. Pattern info-mining underway.
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. The idea of regressing back before the Singularity was alien to her, more so that they would take on the role of people who would predict the oncoming change. Whatever had prompted their change had made 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. No further contagion.
So that’s what was to become of her home planet. Turned into a world for combat-evolutionists to test their theories, hardening themselves and their descendants through gigaseconds of warfare, evolving into something far from human. Meera was surprisingly detached about this revelation, memetic suppressors must be preventing her from any major breakdowns at the thought of her home world.
More windows. This next set showed a room full of enhanciles, bodies riddled with gross electromechanical augmentation. Some sported weapons, but the general sense was of people trying to build better bodies than the ones they were born with. If they had been born with their biological components, Meera thought. She’d seen a few documentaries about enhancile colonies, and all of them had shown adapted foetuses. Especially useful for ophidian tails or hazardous environment adaptation, apparently.
: Why are enhanciles in the Asylum?
They-am autoidentify “Extropian Communists". Increase they-am life-experience with Stalin, Lenin politics. Nation-state mindplague strict quarantine.
: Extropian communists?
Workers launched homeworld revolution. Extropian bodymods make success. Expand nation-state influence, primitive resource-allocation algorithm for-to increase experience range.
Nanotechnological fabrication and free software had done away with a lot of the problems of resource allocation but had caused a good number more. The superhuman intelligences dancing around the matrioshka brain of what used to be humanity’s home system were running and constantly tweaking one method, but it took heavy augmentation just to comprehend the basics. To think that simple capitalism or communism could be viable was very dangerous indeed. Worse was building a government around a flawed algorithm, perpetuating the myth of the nation-state. Meera had seen what that particular memeplex alone had done to her planet.
: Is everyone here a carrier of thoughtplagues?
Yes. Hence Asylum. Trained ambassadors, purged seekers => worldship main population. They-am no longer asylum.
One corridor lead to a flat slab, with no windows in sight. The green dot that had been her guide flashed. Not a good idea to go any further.
You-am here for reason. Route contagion memeplex-carriers local. No intervention. No ambassadors.
: You’ve not locked off nation-statists or combat survivalists. What’s so bad about these?
Unsealed memeplexes have possible rational causes. These irrational and highly contagious. Currently: Religious sectists, Scientologists, autocannibals, others. If breach, subset ambassador must stop spread. Weapons available on-demand.
: Wait, we’re a police force now?
If breach, subset ambassador must stop spread. Else jettison Asylum. Cannot spread. Research only.
There were more windows after that revelation. Every one held a new peculiarity. Hedonistic hippy-tribes that hewed to a doctrine of infinite love, some with a genetic splice to re-set their gender. Willing regressions back to pre-Industrial Revolution, even pre-Roman Empire technological levels. One chamber full of water, adapted humans living there rather than re-adapt to breathing air. Meera did her best to remember what she saw, almost overflowing her internal sensorium with data to be shared between the other ambassadors
: What will happen to us?
You-am screened for thought-plague, subsets purged, ambassador offered integration worldship main population. Remainder transferred to compatible world.
She and her other ambassadors had a lot to discuss about the future of their refugees.
Stew Wilson is a writer, game designer, computational demonologist, and mathematician.
This blog covers his professional writing and game design work.
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