Dyson's Angel

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Chapter 11

The Enclosure occurred suddenly and with a violence unprecedented in the history of humanity. Still, as in countless other calamities, the weight of the destruction was not born equally. While survivors in some zones were still struggling to piece civilization back together, those who had been fortunate enough to come through the event relatively unscathed began discussing how to best use their technology to aid others. This turned out to be a contentious subject, as some believed that it was their imperative as technologically superior humans to come to the aid of others who had been forced to revert to a purely agrarian economy. They argued that, having recovered from the Enclosure and learned to use the practically limitless power provided by Sol, clean fusion, and the grid, they ought to scour the Shell for lesser cultures and begin raising them up out of various stages of poverty. At the opposite end of the spectrum were those who argued that any attempts to interfere with other cultures was patronizing, colonialist, and generally constituted a dangerous attitude of self-superiority that risked obliterating the uniqueness of other cultures in the drive to “help” them.

Of course, it would be foolish to presume that the entirety of upper-tech humanity could be easily slotted into pro- and anti-assistance camps. Would-be dictators abounded within zones, in free-floating void habitats, and in minor empires that spanned several zones. Additionally, seven major world religions made it through the Enclosure relatively intact, though the doctrinal shifts necessitated by apocalyptic event had rendered some mere shadows of their former selves, resulting in the establishment of theocracies that ruled swaths of territory two and three times the size of old Terra. From among this morass of social unrest and religious transformation emerged the Takni Gothren.

Moira did not know the true story of their origin, beyond the founders having met on the inter-zone networks. Indeed, the founders of the religion were said by faithful and skeptic alike to have intentionally burned, corrupted, or deleted as much of their own pasts and early theological groundwork as possible in order to invest their newly founded religion with an air of mystery. What was certain and acknowledge by all was that the faith had adopted structural and mystical elements from several pre-enclosure world religions, bent them to focus the faith on technology, and created a new religion in which pieces of human and alien technology became their literal idols. As members of the new religion, which some historians claimed to have been little more than a joke at the time, joined up with inter-zonal expeditions across the Shell, they found common purpose in collecting and cataloging pieces of technology which they encountered. In later years, the idea of founding their own zone was said to have started as a joke, but in the tradition of nomadic tribes settling around a shrine, or oppressed followers of a magician looking westward for liberty and land, the Takni Gothren faithful came to see founding their own zone as an imperative. And so, fueled by religious zeal, funded by tech that they smuggled between zones, and protected by the best technologies they could scour from across the Shell, the Takni Gothren faithful bought, begged, or stole passage to the zone selected by their founder and began the work of establishing their own colony.

“Surprising that nobody nuked these fanatics before they got a foothold,” Zau/Heraxo said, coming out of the fugue which had occupied them for much of the transit with a brief burst of static and a stuttering of lights throughout the ship.

Moira shrugged and gestured expansively, encompassing the sprawling cities which had grown up around research institutes and museums across the zone. “These are not just religious radicals. They’re among the most highly technical people in the entire Shell, and they have followers everywhere.”

“All the more reason they ought to have been destroyed. Cut off the head before the {snake/spine-cat} can {bite you in the heel/sting you back}.”

Moira laughed aloud at that. It always amused her to hear the hybrid mind attempting to employ idiomatic expressions that were compatible in meaning and tone, but vastly different in origin. “I’m afraid the ugly exo beast had already flown the nest, Heraxo. By the time anyone powerful enough to order a strike that could breach the Gothren’s shields was aware of the problem, they also were aware of the potential. So, as much as governments might hate the Takni Gothren for exfiltrating their technological secrets, everyone wants to stay in their good graces so that the Gothren will sell to them. They call themselves a religion, but what we’re really stepping into is the single most powerful technology black market in the entire Shell.”

“It looks like a scrapyard,” Zau/Heraxo said as the ship cruised through the atmosphere over Zone Takni Gothren. The screens on the command deck flickered as Zau/Heraxo switched feeds, displaying half a dozen different views of cities across the zone. Some of them, Moira had to admit, had dedicated rather large swaths of their outer fringes to piles of equipment of every size, from personal communicators which could fit in an ear canal to earth moving equipment the size of a small house.

Located near the anti-polar end of the Shell, Zone Takni Gothren was nearly twice as tall as it was wide, but still had a surface area well within the zonal average of five hundred million square kilometers. Hundreds of cities were scattered across the surface of the zone, each seemingly devoted to some aspect of human or alien tech. In one city near the azimuthal zone border, gantries supported the towering shapes of old Terra rockets, the sort that humans had used to claw their way off the surface of their planet in the final century before it had been annihilated by the enclosure. Pedestrian streets and drone flightpaths extending out from each of the rockets like spokes of a wheel. Another city in the foothills of a long mountain range was continually shrouded in the smog produced by tens of thousands of personal transport vehicles which appeared to be powered by crude combustion engines. The land between the cities was crossed with meandering roads, each watched over by armies of diligent, but unintelligent, maintenance robots which kept the surface in perfect condition for those citizens who enjoyed riding manual drive motorcycles.

“The Gothren worship technology,” Moira said. She leaned forward in her seat, focusing the imagers that fed her virtual vision on a lakeside city build around a glittering Spire. As the image resolved, she realized that the Spire was constructed from scraps of computer hardware, ranging from an ancient vacuum tube machine the size of a room at the base, through pre-enclosure desktops and mobile terminals, up to the tip where a human form was outline in a glistening tracery of wires. Moira’s body mesh crawled beneath her skin as she hoped that she was looking at a model, rather than a real mesh extracted from a human body. “They make no secret of it. I hear they have emissaries in every zone, seeking out any new gadget that comes along to add to their collection. That’s what all of those fields of junk are: offerings from the faithful, spread out to be sorted.”

Moira adjusted her view and focused on a stretch of territory covered in gold and green fields of grain beneath a shimmering field, which she assumed was used to control the weather within. Zau/Heraxo’s target acquisition subsystems automatically identified movement in her field of view and tagged a harvesting combine with an orange outline. Searching the surrounding fields, Moira identified smaller tractors, horse drawn plows, and a swarm of crop management drones. “When I was a kid I heard a story about a Gothren who was nothing but a brain in a box. It supposedly lived on a chemical drip distilled from the bodies of children it lured into its lab.”

“I {could live like that/heard that one too}.”

Moira laughed. “Sometime’s you can be funny, Zau Heraxo.”

“We were not joking.”

“Seriously?”

“Temno you.”

“Speaking as one in that regard, eh? How about we put a pin in that for now and try to hail the Cloister. Sooner we get this job over with the sooner we might be able to solve our mutual problems.”

“We have already handled that,” the ship replied. The display screens shifted again, each of them showing a different structure, ranging from spired cathedrals at the center of sprawling cities to domed cloisters sprouting like mushroom caps from mountainsides. “We are to be honored guests, but there appears to be some conflict among the Gothren as to who will play host. The Cloister of Intellect extended an invitation to us already, but the United Mausoleum of Exo Relics is protesting that they have better facilities. A dozen other institutions have requested that we honor them, but those two hold the strongest claim. Amusingly, we also received an invitation from the Reformed Warfare Sisterhood, but they politely withdrew in deference to the other two.”

“I am surprised you got through that whole thought without an integration conflict. And you negotiated our arrival without any threats of violence?”

Zau/Heraxo adjusted their course to fly azimuthal towards a sprawling city domed with a shimmering energy field. The tags in Moira’s vision identified the city as YeKenn and the large, buttressed and spired structure near its center as the Cathedral of Synthetic Intelligence. “We had not even hailed them before invitations arrived. As to the lack of dissonance, we are accustomed to interdenominational rivalries within the {hive/religion} to which we were born.”

That unanimity didn’t surprise Moira. Zau had been born in Zone Yu, which had been torn by conflict between animist religions for generations, as the collapse of the local government spawned dozens of charismatic preachers, their message of spirits indwelling all things emboldened by the midges which crawled throughout every cubic millimeter of the zone. Zau had fled as soon as she was able, signing on with an interzone trading company, then jumping ship in Zone Bethsada and eventually making her way into the exo relic trade. She had never gone back to Yu, and had never forgotten her childhood lessons in the subtle differences between each of competing faiths.

Moira knew Zau’s history well, but it surprised her to learn that Heraxo had such a compatible set of experiences.

“I didn’t know that your people were so religious,” Moira said. “Heraxo’s, I mean.”

“Faith in {the hive queen/god} is fundamental to our nature,” the ship replied. “We are each born with a proscribed purpose and it is our duty in life to fulfill that purpose. Those who are successful in this regard are rewarded, while those who fail face the true death. Unfortunately, there is more than one {hive queen/god} and alliances between them are not always stable.”

“What brought you here to the Shell? Was it a mission from your hive queen?” Moira asked, unable to keep an eager tone from creeping into her voice.

Zau/Heraxo made a spluttering noise through the address system, then fell silent.

Guess I pushed that a little too far, Moira thought.

Moira sat back in her chair, enjoying the view of cities, junk yards, and organized monuments to one branch of technology or another rushing past beneath them. As they approached the landing pad near the center of YeKenn, just outside the glittering dome of the field enclosure which protected the Cathedral of Synthetic Intelligence, Moira watched through the ship’s sensors as the thirty two robed figures who ringed the landing pad waved enthusiastically at the ship. Then she started as red and orange icons flashed in her vision, detailing a targeting solution that the weapons subsystem had worked out. Outside the hull, the ship’s curled metasoma twitched and the energy lance at the tip began to charge.

“Stop that!” Moira snapped. She grabbed at the hovering symbols representing the targeting solutions that the ship had worked out for eliminating the most robed figures with the least expenditure of power.

“We are just being {prepared/a bitch}.”

“You managed to be nice long enough to arrange safe passage down here. Don’t ruin it by killing our hosts,” she replied, flicking the targeting reticules away.

The lance powered down, but Zau/Heraxo’s metasoma continued to twitch angrily.

“Zau,” Moira growled.

“We are attempting to reconcile our emotions, Moira,” the ship replied in Zau’s voice. “Familiarity with a religious bureaucracy does not guarantee acceptance of its tenets.”

“Don’t try to talk sweet to me, Heraxo. We are here to get information, not make more enemies. If you don’t like them as a religion, then just think of them as the single most powerful tech brokers in the whole hian Shell.”

“This is supposed to make us feel more at ease?”

“It’s supposed to keep you from shooting our only lead.” Moira blinked out of her virtual vision and began to unstrap herself from the chair. She looked down at her clothing, still the intentionally aggressive combat gear she wore to make an impression on new clients, and grimaced. “I need to change into something more appropriate, and you should make sure your avatar is clean. Please politely inform the Cathedral that we will be ready to receive their delegation in five minutes. Note the politely bit.”

“We have relayed your message. Must we go out with you? We find {this zealotry/humanity} quite {obscene/revolting},” the ship’s voice stuttered into static, then returned. “We are unsure how to feel regarding this obviously manufactured religion.”

“Do what you want, as long as you stay on the landing pad and don’t kill anyone,” Moira said, striding towards the door. Then she paused, pointed up at one of the sensors embedded in the ceiling, and said, “Oh, and don’t sami around with trying to fix yourself. That’s still off limits too.”

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