Anne and Thomas transited from Jovian to Lunar orbit in a years long slow sleep. Their weaponry and other dubious tech was removed or downgraded. Their brain augments were present but still empty. However, the mesh of Holes within their skulls, between them and across the system, allowed them to restore what had been taken from the last back-up.
The Holes were the reason for their traveling as cargo, rather than simply stepping across to Luna. Pass a hole though another Hole and both would disappear in a cloud of hard radiation. Pass Anne or Thomas through a Hole and their entirely artificial mentalities would vanish, followed shortly by their biological brains.
It was probable that their soul-spheres would survive. The question was, how far would their soul-sphere back-ups even make sense, given the highly distributed and non-local nature of their psyches.
Jenkins was drip-feeding them the original contents of their optical networks. However, by the time they boarded the Slowship Bulk Carrier 49 they had already retrieved most of their data and routines from backups all-over the system.
3Council had had enough and requested aid from 5Council. 5Council responded immediately with an as yet untested Configuration7 intervention team.
Sarah and John were 9 seconds from rupturing the dome when a silvered sphere segment 2 meters tall appeared 5 meters to their left. Without hesitating they turned some firepower against it only to have all the radiation beams scattered in all directions and the material weapons stop dead and explode in mid-air. The sphere vanished and revealed for a fraction of a second a two-drone in front, one human behind setup. One of the drones threw a black cube toward John and Sarah and again the sphere appeared, this time 50 centimeters from Sarah.
The couple instinctively re-targeted on the sphere and ceased fire. The sphere vanished again and they resumed fire, too late this time. The 5Council team moved 2 meters closer under the terrific fire, one drone threw another black cube which reached within centimeters of Sarah and everything changed.
Bulk Carrier 49 finally reached Luna and offloaded cargo and supercargo to 1Dome spaceport, a small dome well away from the big 5. Anne and Tomas checked into the only hotel in the dome and spent two days recovering from their own, very special, version of spacelag. As usual, after an extended period shut down, they had an important decision to make.
"How far this time?" asked Anne.
"You choose," said Thomas.
"If you let me choose I'll take it all you know."
“I'm OK with that, just as long as I get a full update.
Then began the process of decanting John's personality into storage as Anne took control of the higher functions of his body. The process was a comforting one for the twins. They’d shared so much on every possible level that they couldn't be separated in any realistic way.
John and Sarah transited instantly (subjectively) to the centre of a level floor in a moderately sized dome. The intervention team were in the same position relative to the couple, still the subject of tremendous levels of firepower.
Then the team moved backwards as the couples material attack components were taken out by radiation beams. A savage EMP followed by stuttering magnetic fields of less intensity killed their more vulnerable weapons.
Once all their systems had been taken out or were exhausted, including the AM traps, each of which was now enclosed in a small shiny sphere, they were restrained by heavily armored guards.
From behind them they heard footsteps and then into view came the unbelievably ancient entity that called itself Alex.
Anne and Thomas, one consciousness in two bodies, fulfilled their pointless schedule, improvising their way from designated point to designated point. They gawked at unimpressive buildings and pretended to be awed by dull symphonies.
None of it would have got out of the planning phase in the Cylinders.
One highlight was meeting one of the other teams, one with a “more tightly constrained program” according to Jenkins.
It happened as planned, on the riverwalk in 3Dome, just short of the Hole to 2Dome.
The dapper young man wore a crisp white shirt under a satin vest, deep blue jeans and dusty black cowboy boots. He had an angular face, corn-flower blue eyes and salt and pepper hair, cut short.
The skin crawled and split along his cheeks revealing a writhing darkness within.
The young man’s cheeks closed as Anne and Thomas sat down.
“How do you deal with excess heat?” she asked.
“Am I talking to Anne or Thomas?” he asked with a smirk.
“Both. Neither. Answer my question.”
By asking that question the young man had indicated that the security in the area was acceptable.
“I eat standard human food. I heat it up using my excess heat and then dump it through a Hole into deep space. There’s a similar, more effective system for water.”
“So you can't transit through Holes.”
“No, the slow route for you and I. Religious reasons.”
All three laughed, Anne and Thomas in eerie unison until Anne noticed. The loose assemblage of nano and micro-Holes, the presiding AI of which called itself Al Stevens, played with a glass marble containing a small glittering Hole and smiled. The technicians back in the cylinders that had assembled it referred to it as a demon.
Alex put down the chair he'd been carrying in an ostentatious display of strength and sat on it.
“You caused a lot of damage, mostly to my reputation.
“We knew you were good but we didn't expect you to be fucking stupid. You failed every test of your restraint and escalated all the way to this place, a 5Council experimental testing range. And you still didn't stop.”
“We had no idea of what was going on, but once we saw the Kite we knew we wanted out. Hence the escalation.
“Just so you know, we will escalate again when we have the chance.”
“You won't. Out of curiosity, why haven't you wired that response out?”
“We have now, but we expected to deal with it better if it occurred.'
“An orange kite over a wood in Derbyshire, England, You know its' significance, yes?”
“The time and place of the first Tessellation Converter ship landing. They teach that in school nowadays.”
“Good. Our societies are finally opening up to the Ruin it seems.”
Memories of being shown images of the landings, always in banal locations. Strip malls, airport taxi lanes, cargo ship decks. Not so much hovering over these scenes as brutally superimposed on them.
Primary colored irregular polyhedrons, they looked like children’s toys, even as the facets exploded outwards revealing coils of shiny white that slithered out and began their terrible task of conversion.
Anne met with four other nano-assemblages, one in each dome, each wanting information on how to reach an area of exposed dome as quickly and unobtrusively as possible. Since domes were obsessively protected this proved extremely difficult meaning the demons would have to go active far sooner as they would have liked.
Anne was now in full possession of the memories and skills stolen by Jenkins (downloaded from a variety of Hole linked sources, shipped out decades before to friends out in the Kuiper belt).
The Holes embedded in glass bubbles and possessed by each demon were easily sensed by her but their endpoints and purposes were unknown. The demons just laughed at her when she asked.
Giving up on finding out more about them she concentrated on the mission.
She and the demons traveled across the Lunar surface by bus between domes, like a third of the tourists who had religious or psychological reasons for not using the Holes.
She used these brief transits to think about dome security.
4Dome was the hardest. Who knew what horrors were within that ring of pure white cubes? Anne recommended a pure brute force attack. No nuance or attempts to limit deaths or destruction. Just total conversion. The demon assigned to this done, Al Stevens, seemed to like the idea.
The Earth was converted to a mass of undifferentiated Tessellation construction material down to the mantle. Every so often some incomprehensible artifact would burst from the surface and fly through one of the two Holes the Tessellation had placed in the system.
Sarah and John were brutally cored, their personalities stripped down to a handful of interlocking commands serving one central aim. This minimal core was designed to produce what looked from the outside a genuine, normal person. Interacting with one of them for an hour or two, however, would give a compelling sense of dealing with a zombie.
The central desire revolved around a pattern of six holes and a cross mark etched into all four of their thigh bones.
Punch through the cross mark and Configuration 7 would result.
A final, incomprehensible, insult was the damage done to all the children and subsequent generations after the Ruin. Certain images of the Ruin, most often the orange kite but also sight of the Earth itself, would trigger uncontrollable homicidal rage in the viewer.
Some regarded this as a strange covenant the Tessellation had made with humanity.
Sarah and John no longer had any Hole dependent implants and so they could take a Hole transit to Cylinder3. They knew that each of the other cylinders had its own team, but they didn't care. They made use of their genuine dual citizenship to find one of the low-level jobs (sewage system monitoring) it would always be cheaper to use humans for rather than expensive AI based systems.
They waited for a signal. The first came when Anne and Thomas left for Luna.