Sunday, February 05, 2012

Intermission: The Early Evolution of the Cloud of Nails (Part One)







The long frivolous dream of the Puppetmakers erupted into savage transcendence with shocking rapidity. All their carefully constructed shallowness, the cities of colored glass, the refined arts, the chirruping vacancy of their puppets, counted for nothing once deep hidden urges surfaced in the face of circumstances that their programming considered to be just right.
Survival in a Tessellation dominated universe was never something that could be assumed over the long term. The Puppetmakers had achieved it for millennia by consciously making themselves over into something they thought the Tessellation would find harmless. They engineered themselves as thoroughly as they engineered their own puppets, cutting viciously away at anything that could be seen as encroaching on the world of the Tessellation. Curiosity, the tendency to expansion, a desire to rule their own lives - all went under the knife, leaving a species that seemed as easy-going and unambitious as the Tessellation could ask for. The Puppetmakers home system, a dead-end at the terminus of a tedious number of Holes, became a beacon of what enlightened Tessellation despotism could achieve.
Under it all, however, the icily unforgiving true nature of the Puppetmakers persisted, hidden in clouds of colored smoke, behind jeweled mirrors. Rituals that seemed to be empty of all meaning other than that of providing spectacle encoded species specific behaviors that would only become manifest under very limited circumstances. Strangely structured lumps of crystalline rock scattered on the edges of distant deserts pulsed slowly under energy giving skies. Insects swarmed in ways that were not quite as efficient as they might have been, encoding information that could never be acknowledged.
The whole system was written upon as if it were a great book, ciphered and torn apart, pages hidden in the behavior of naked burrowing animals or the genetic code of yeasts.
The Tessellation could have seen all this - the True Tessellation would have seen it immediately. The True Tessellation were, as always, engaged on the greatest question of all, however, and their minions, the False Tessellation , were in their way as programmed and rigid as the Puppetmakers. They saw nothing to worry about and allowed the slow dance of Puppetmaker civilization to continue un-molested.
Then, one day an AI that had been set a problem thirty thousand years before awoke from its researches with a sharp shard of certainty in its consciousness. Embodied in a lump of metal laced diamond the size of a fist and situated two kilometers down in a subduction zone off the coast of the main Puppetmaker continent, it sent a heavily disguised signal, something that looked like a compressed cry of anguish from a dying remnant of the old days boiling over into multiple extremely long wave radio frequencies. Mission accomplished the AI allowed itself to fall into solipsism, the final reward for good cybernetics.
The signal was received and decrypted by the personnel at a small research establishment seemingly devoted to the further development of the Puppetmakers genetic technology, a field of study that was of no interest to the Tessellation .
Part of the signal, however, contained a trigger that activated hidden potentialities in the hereditary priesthood that occupied the base.
Now moving more quickly than was usual for Puppetmaker Brahmins, with a certain fixity of purpose and a hungry look in the eyes, the Puppetmaker scientists, fully awake for the first time in generations, took a long look at the remainder of the signal from the buried AI.
Nothing further would have happened for centuries, most likely. The information would have been filed in some deep fashion and the researchers would have returned to happy childishness. The great genius of the Puppetmakers, however, their defining characteristic perhaps, was their skill at improvisation and the fully awake scientists realized that in combination with certain other long-laid plans the new data could be a true breakthrough. In a matter of hours, without any consultation beyond their own group, the scientists assembled the necessary equipment and set in motion the single greatest rebellion the Tessellation had seen in millions of years.


***


Certain technologies were forbidden. That was one of the central facts that defined all civilizations under the yoke of the Tessellation . The obvious one was hyperspace, the faintest whiff of which was enough for the Tessellation to sterilize large swaths of a galaxy. Others were less obvious and, the Tessellation not deigning to enlighten anyone explicitly as to what they were, could only be identified and avoided by watching to see what other races were up to when the Tessellation destroyed them.
Rumor had it that one of these technologies was the confluence of unrestrained nano-tech and Configuration 3 souldsphere tech. It seemed that the Tessellation had a dislike of large, distributed intelligences, probably because any species that achieved this transcendence was but a step away from hyperspace. A possible technique for generating such intelligences was precisely what the diamond AI had achieved. The Puppetmakers decided to use this technique.


***


A nano-fab unit, the pinnacle of molecular-scale additive technology, was hastily programmed to produce hordes of tiny machines, each inscribed with Configuration3, the particular array of dots that, set in the correct orientation, produced a sphere of curdled space-time that encoded any varying electro-magnetic field in its' vicinity. Small clouds of the nano spread out through the research establishment and began to feed, converting any suitable material into copies of itself while infiltrating anything that appeared to be sentient and making pearls of light that encoded the state-vector of that sentience.


The process was slow at first and there was plenty of time for the Puppetmaker scientist/priests to feel their bodies and psyches being torn apart and re-configured. The process was agonizing and some of the minds subjected to it broke like stressed ice, storing up engineered loops of terror and anguish that would cause problems later.


Gradually, over the course of several hours, a cloud of glittering specks began to circle around the low adobe buildings that made up the research post. A whirlwind of thinking dust that towered above the structures and surrounding vegetation and occasionally bent down to the ground to shred and consume some vital element that the cloud felt it needed. Leaf analogs, dark purple with a photo-sensitive pigment similar to chlorophyll, circled within the cloud picking out clearly to the eyes of the semi-sentient animals in the area loops and eddies that seemed un-natural, engineered.


At first the cloud showed clear divisions within itself that mapped back onto the individuals that had formed it. One of the advances made by the crystalline AI, however, was a kind of operating system on which these intellects could run and separation was not a requirement under these protocols. The mentalities merged, memories smearing out, egos being damped down, but never extinguished completely. Emotional states (emulated now there were no biological processes driving them) were now chosen on the basis of their utility at a given moment and the over-seeing mentality, an emergent near-sentience that was the reification of the abstract principles the operating system rules embodied, picked emotions from the psyches that comprised it as though it were picking ripe grapes from a vine. It forged an emotional environment that all decisions made by the pandemonium of voices rested upon and the primary flavor that made up this environment was rage.


***


The cloud grew at an exponentially increasing rate, consuming everything around it that was useful. There were no other Puppetmakers for over a thousand kilometers in any direction so the growth was purely physical. No further psyches were to be added to the original two hundred and thirty from the research base and fifteen of these souls were broken, locked into psychotic loops that the operating intellect used as a source of raw, natural rage to be fed into the turmoil of the emotional base state of the cloud.


The nascent intellect sent out signals in a variety of forms (short-wave radio bursts, pulsed seismic events, pheromone clouds) which activated other, deeply hidden, sources of resistance. As the cloud grew the rebellion unfolded like a fist, Hole linked centers of rebellion bursting into action, improvising a response to the new status of the system that focused manically on one simple factor - isolating and destroying all Tessellation presence in the system.


The Puppetmakers were lucky that they were so isolated and that as a result the Tessellationpresence in their system was relatively light. The two main Holes always installed by the Tessellationwere demolished within the first few hours, antimatter weapons that had been hidden beside them millennia ago detonating in the first round of hostilities.


Mass drivers, habitually used by the Puppetmakers for cargo transit throughout the system, were targeted at Tessellation bases and ships and the Tessellation , taken by surprise, were decimated by high velocity lumps of iron targeting them from every occupied planet or moon. Constellations of aggressive satellites that had previously looked innocuous proved themselves to be one-shot gamma ray lasers, they sacrificed themselves in nuclear explosions that produced high-frequency EM beams that reached across tens of thousands of kilometers to vaporize Tessellation material.


While the removal of the Tessellation proceeded the cloud grew larger and larger, its controlling intellect absorbing or simply obliterating any competing intelligence. Even though the Puppetmakers were one of the more culturally homogenous races in the galaxy (they couldn't have survived as long as they did otherwise) there were differences in the philosophy of revolution that had to be resolved one way or another for the rebellion not to fizzle out in civil war.


(To Be Continued)
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