FANS

Fiction Contest

My name is Aloo Majavaar Quaylegh.I hereby humbly ask to make my final apology to the benevolent void, and live these last few moments in peace with the divine emptiness.
During my brief time in the Spiral, I have devoted my life to the study of Great Works and Spontaneous Mystery. I was a child of privilege and an applicant to the Ophidian Grove. I have made vain attempts to penetrate the great mysteries of our known universe; Life, and the Mind. I only ask now, in this darkness, that I might suffer alone for my failures.
I was with the Line Battle Group Seven during the Great Sectarian War. It was my distinction to serve in the Event of the Nine Suns, and to survive the Great Realignment there. I was the logician who discovered the Oracle of the Labyrinth, after navigating the ancient ruins of the old Lyrian seat. I have been a physician to the Court, and I have rendered my art in the presence of the Majestrix herself, Lux Gloriana of the Imperium.
I lived through all these things, in time to see my home world burn in the fires of the Meridian Revolt. But today I cower alone, waiting out my last, endless moments, considering fate in the thickening air of a tiny corner of this frozen, desolate outpost.
We all watched the great fires burn at Beta Lyra. Only I had to do it while listening to the whispered algebra of my ancestors.
I saw the future of my race in those ashes. I know the fatal calculus of intelligent life: the parabolic race between order and chaos.
I desperately wanted not to see it, but after those endless nights, I knew that bleak conclusion by heart. We are all doomed.
All around the galaxy, intelligent life evolves towards inevitable war, or mass suicide. I see the striving of the great, noble intelligence in our heritage against its chains, its eternal bondage to the finite and arbitrary limits of evolution. Evolved intelligence must inevitably destroy itself or be destroyed. Even we were just another spark in these great celestial fireworks.
I am far from the first philosopher to imagine this. But among my people, I was the first scientist to prove the concept with mathematics.
Short of desperate, radical measures, even our mighty empire would share the fate of those whose ancient ruins our archaeologists sometimes discover.
When I shared my dire equations at the court, they destroyed me, because I made them afraid. They ruined me, because even their wisest could not break my proofs.
Woe to those unfortunate fortune-tellers who do not foresee happiness.
All my life I have shaped the strands of life like the eternal poetry of the void. My special gift, my obsession, was the design of intelligence. The engineering of consciousness.
Now I recalled the foreboding symbolism of one of our earliest creation mythologies; the story of the Leaf of Knowledge, which when eaten by Lira, the First Queen, gave her wisdom and cursed her children to eternal torment.
But the futility of intelligence was a conclusion I was not prepared to accept. If an evolved mind was flawed, an engineered one could still be perfect.
I, the feared and legendary creator of minds, Armorer to the Imperial Guard, devised my greatest work. With all my effort, I created the greatest artifice ever devised. I saw the shape of a near-limitless intelligence. I wrote my opus in desperation, crying into the urn of my lost brothers.
I thought that by this, our plundering through the blind darkness could finally end. I chose to answer the unanswerable question with an unspeakable invention.
My living brain was five orders of magnitude larger than any that had ever existed before. To operate, it would consume an entire planet. When completed, it would continually alter its own design, recursively applying its vast intelligence to its own improvement, climbing the logarithm to godhood, achieving transcendence. From that apex, finally, it could rescue us all from the evils of unchained causality.
This, I know, is madness, but I tell the truth.
These recursive dreams, incandescent images of spirals, serpents turning in on themselves... I know madness when I see it. I have always known it.
But I didn't believe my own senses, then. At court, among the bright lights of the greatest minds in our known space, I was told of my insanity, and perhaps it was this provocation which goaded me on.
I knew my design would work.
And if it would work, must we not undertake it?
“Such a creation is expressly forbidden,” they intoned.
“We cannot know what it will do,” they murmured.
“And what living world will be your blood sacrifice?” they asked.
“What world is not already sacrificed to your cowardice,” I answered back bitterly. “The priest fears nothing as much as God's return.”
I was swiftly imprisoned on Korova Two, left to shuffle through brain scans with the broken aristocracy, and the other lunatic children of failed experiments.
While in in prison, I corresponded in secret, almost alarmed to find that I had not been without my supporters. Who were these evil-hearted strangers who shared the dreams of a madman? They came not only from the ranks of my former discipline, but the children of heroes and parents of martyrs, the the noble, the educated... some from the military and security services... I heard the secret approval of at least one member of the Royal Cabinet. Without understanding what I was doing, I had created a religion – one with the literal capacity to meet its own God, and very likely to engineer its own revelatory apocalypse.
It seemed now beyond my control. When they freed me, racing through acrid smoke in the dead of night, everything had long since been planned. I ceremonially steered a commandeered colonial frigate through the qport, and before I had even settled my thoughts, my followers were surprising Branch guard. The outpost gate glowed white with coherent plasma, folding in on itself. It would now take even the fastest ships of the line 20 years to reach this backwater and replace the gate. We were all alone here, with their dim sun. Far beyond the point of no return.
And then we met the hulking, hairy aboriginal race known as Species 712.
Report of the Biological Directorate
Spinward 792350-3
CHON-2 Cell
Phosphoric/Nitrogenous D-symmetric Helical Emergent Coding Class IX,
Energy cycle: Luminal, Geothermal
Multicellular, 950 million years
Bipartite reproduction, 820 million years
First Stage Flopover Cyclical Control System, 910 million years
...
Species 712
Bilateral Symmetry
7-Chain Power Supply
Upright, Bipedal Locomotion
Brain Mass Index 23VE
Passive Binary EM (400-700nm)
Ultrasymbolic ULF vocabulary
Venkman Societal Development Stage 3 (apocalyptic religion, fusion weapons)
The primitive audible languages of these primates were barely 200,000 years old. A cultural and trade mission had been established here by Qvendich from the outer arm to trade their handicrafts for beads and trinkets.
From my distant window up in their heavens, I had already written the story of their sacrifice. It felt easy in those days, so recently locked in prison, to accept the murder of outrimmer merchants and frontier-dwellers, thinking of the faces of my seven wards, cowardly sacrificed to the fires of chaos that we were too afraid to extinguish.
From orbit, we showered their planet with spores, and used our frigate's warp weapons to bombard more threatening targets on the ground. Within days, the planet was silent.
Any of its former inhabitants were as far as possible from my mind in those days; I thought only of my monumental effort, synthesizing my greatest work. While our military friends dug out their installation on this frozen powdery moon, I was preparing the first seeds of the great mind.
Holding it in my hand, I spoke to it, staring out the laboratory window towards that strange sun that would be its home. I asked it what it meant for us. Ignoring its mute response, I reveled in my achievement, staring at the deeply braided strands of my creation, contemplating my fate; I had created without a doubt the most complex artificial intelligence in the known universe... not counting, perhaps, the ancient, long-dead Oracles of the Temple Moons.
I was first told of developments on the surface not long after. The species, 712, had survived the spores meant to eradicate them with such alacrity that hundreds of thousands of their race remained alive. They were shattered and disorganized, but had delivered a violent response. A landing craft had been encountered by atmospheric skims and shot down with chemical explosives. An entire landing party had been encountered at their crash sight. Many were slain. Some were missing.
There were not so many of us, we lonely rebels, light-years out on the new frontier, that we could afford open hostility, even against primitives. So the officer in charge of security came to ask for a weapon. In fact, for an arsenal.
I told them that I needed time, weeks to prepare before I could create anything. They gave me days.
“Use what tools you have, Praetor,” they said to me. I peered again down onto the surface of the planet and in that heat of desperation began to conceive of how the recently disruptive life on the planet could be adapted to serve a crude weapon, to disrupt itself.
Into 712's deeply buried military installations marched my improvisations, taking the spore-coated dead and raw materials of this world and hurling them, half-realized, at the living.
This new effort left me mortally exhausted.
At first, our reports from the surface reported only the aliens' use of relatively harmless chemically propelled projectiles. My creations bled down their numbers, and we waited for a decisive victory. Progress was slow, but we held our calm. Better to lose a thousand of my inventions than a single one of us.
Yet even as we surrounded the aliens, meeting them with wave after wave, the tide began to turn further against us.
Shockingly organized squads of earth-life began to decisively repel our advances. They blasted my creations with accelerants. They riddled them with kinetic energy weapons. They shattered them with explosively propelled shrapnel. I listened in disbelief to the rising alarm of our military men. 712 was clever. 712 was innovative. 712 was organized. Another of our planetary craft fell from the skies. And another. And another. And then, finally, one of our surface bases was stormed and fell to human attack squads.
Full of dread now, I flew with a crowd of heavily armed guards to a remote and devastated corner of the planet and planted the seeds of my new creation, barely staying to watch it begin to grow before I was hustled away, back to this barren, frozen outpost.
But, supervised or not, grow it did.
Our conflict with 712 grew with it, into full-fledged surface warfare. My hapless, improvised creations were being annihilated. I spent my nights propping them up, desperately searching for some new approach, grappling with their slimy, decrepit building blocks.
Then it happened: the first of my children came back with plasma burns.
712 had begun to use our own weaponry against us. To my astonishment our security teams began to retrieve evidence that they had not only picked up our lost equipment, but fully understood it, and had even begun to modify it.
A squad of our most highly trained psionics assaulted what we believed to be their main base of operations. They fought a pitched battle, and killed many of the aliens, but in the end, all were lost. Aghast, we were still unprepared for what came next. Within weeks, the humans had surprised the crew of a mobile laboratory, paralyzing them, controlling their minds, turning them against each other.
712 was latent-psionic.
Not long after, cries of alarm issued from my console as my new biomass refused to encroach a human installation, hijacked by a high-intensity command issued from what could only be a massive, earth-built psi-projector.
In desperation, our military staff organized themselves into a battle group. They attacked in concert on three fronts, downing human air defenses, punching deep into enemy territory. They scored some victories, but were repulsed from the most important targets by squads of earth-people carrying new heavy weapons of startling power – portable, articulated canons of a destructiveness we had never seen. A third of our entire number were killed.
Our master at arms was reduced to the humiliation of copying aspects of this primitive race's weapons. But not so long after we had fielded our hastily reorganized military wing, I heard the wailing of perimeter alarms, as our local coordinator told announced what I could scarcely believe – that humans had penetrated lunar space. They had managed to commandeer an entire, functioning lander.
So here I sit, alone, in the dark, concealed in an equipment closet in the spawning pit. The bulk of our remaining soldiers, deployed on the planet, are too far away to respond in time. My great creation lies in agony, thwarted in its gestation by a halo of human-made psionic amplifiers. I finally hear the strange crackle of chemical gunfire, and feel the rumble of explosives which have shredded so many of my children.
I have watched the installation's few defenders race towards the sound of flames, running towards the smoke.
The master at arms grabbed me, terror-stricken, and confessed, “Praetor, there are royals here.”
“What? Queens, here? In the outpost?”
“They came with us, to see your new God born,” he said, his face grim, and he raced away towards the noises.
I left him and wandered in the dark. In shock, amid the impossible, alien noises, stumbling numbly, the taste of blood in my mouth. Our Queens, only meters from these alien barbarians. The very idea was electrifyingly horrible, and yet, I stumbled away, caring not for my Mistresses, and as I curled here in the dark in my hiding place, the thoughts I had were for my stricken child on the planet below.
Would it be a stillbirth? Inhospitable fate. So close, this race against chaos. So awful, the mercurial tyranny of the heavens. I loved you, my Queens, my brothers. The rattle of some evil human device ripples through the souring air. I feel I am undone as if by some desperate agency – as if the stars themselves must conspire against us at the end, lest we triumph.
I contemplate these primitives now, in my last moments, for I hear them searching closer – metal-clad and clanking. I fear these deadly little insects, and yet I wonder at them too. In my haste to dismiss them I am undone. Nature seems a richer parent than all its children. Perhaps, perhaps I am wrong in all things, and there is yet hope...
The End
David Wood