Dyson's Angel

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Chapter 12

Bishop Estha Predominate ExGeralvia Leocratis smoothed his robes and did his best to keep a broad grin of childish delight from splaying across his face. He was only partially successful. But who could blame him, forty years into his tenure as an endowed member of the Takni Gothren, a daily synched member of the governing council of the Cloister of Intellect, and now standing ready to greet a genuine exo intelligence its human companion.

He raised his eyes to again gaze upon the glorious entity that rested, perched atop six spindly legs, on the landing platform. Estha could not name precisely what about the ship struct him as insectile, nor what sort of bug it brought to mind, but that was precisely the word that came to mind when he looked at the ship. The outright oddity of the ship’s appearance only made him all the more excited to have won its favor over all the other dioceses which had petitioned it. There was no doubt, this was a remarkable moment in his career. Indeed, it might even be the achievement which saw him upgraded to hourly synch and, eventually, to a cardinal appointment among the Faithful Consensus.

A hatch opened in the front of the ship, like a flake of carapace peeling away from the forward end of a pupating insect, and a ramp slid down to rest on the ground. Standing in the opening, Estha saw the ship’s avatar and its human companion.

All around the landing platform, robed priests of the Cathedral fell to one knee and bent their heads, raising their hands towards the ship in supplication. Estha did the same, though he sorely desired to remain standing and gaze upon the physical manifestation of intellectual glory that floated before him. And the ship’s companion was pleasing to behold as well.

Standing at the top of the loading ramp, dressed in her scarf and a loose fitting silk pantsuit, which accentuated her curves while conveniently concealing the weapons she wore underneath, Moira raised her right hand in greeting, then dropped it awkwardly when she saw that nobody was looking at her.

“We’re, um, here,” she called.

Only one of the assembled men looked up. A tall man, even kneeling he was nearly as tall as Moira, he was dressed in a robe of flowing material that Moira suspected contained actual silver woven among the threads.

“Will the exo intelligence deign to speak to us, unworthy as we are?” Estha called.

Moira shrugged and lay a hand on the outermost ring of Zau/Heraxo’s drone. “It does what it wants. What do you say, Zau? You or Heraxo going to talk to these nice people?”

“We are {Zau/Heraxo}. You {may/shouldn’t} worship us,” the drone announced.

Estha nearly screamed with delight. A part of his mind warned him that there was always the slightest chance that these visitors were playing an elaborate hoax on him, but the syntellects employed by the church had engaged in a lengthy discussion with the ship’s intelligence and judged that there was a solid ninety-nine percent likelihood that the ship was indeed fully self aware. There was, however, the mildly troubling report that, depending on which portion of the conversation, even of the sentences within the conversation, one analyzed, the likelihood that the ship was not a truly alien intellect, but an uploaded human consciousness varied from ten to ninety percent. Still, none of that mattered to Estha when he found himself kneeling before a drone controlled by what was almost certainly a true exo intelligence.

“Now if you would all do us a favor and frak off,” Zau/Heraxo’s drone said. This was immediately followed by a high-pitched burst of static.

All around the landing pad, heads that had been bent in supplication were tilted to one side or another in puzzlement. Some of the kneeling priests even looked up, confusion etched on their faces.

Moira scowled and pounded the top of the drone with her fist. She raised her other hand in a conciliatory wave and called out, “Sorry about that. Zau/Heraxo can get a little touchy about meeting new people. I had to talk it down from using the energy lance on the lot of you.”

Even as the words left her mouth, Moira realized that they probably did more to disturb her audience than console them. She slid her left hand off of Zau/Heraxo’s drone and towards the stunner hidden beneath the folds of her jacket, flicking her eyes from side to side as the combat code in her mesh watched for any sign of attack.

Estha rose to his feet and separated himself from the crowd of priests. He walked slowly forward, arms spread and hands held palm up at waist level. “We understand the volatility of the divine intellect. The workings of their minds are often beyond human comprehension.” He paused at the foot of the ramp, a smile playing across his lips. He dropped to one knee again and bowed his head.

Moira counted at least ten second pass in silence before Zau/Heraxo said, “We {thank you for/will forgive your existence} if you {granting us refuge/give us a blood offering}.”

“Will you stop being a donker for ten minutes?” Moira hissed. “We need their help.”

“Rise {sir/scum},” the ship cried out, apparently ignoring Moira’s complaint.

Estha felt his eyebrows waggling in confusion, but raised his head and, at a nod from the woman, stood. Perhaps it had not been wise to arrange such a public reception for the exo ship. This would certainly not be the first time that he had encountered a hostile synthetic intelligence. It would be quite embarrassing to be killed by a synellect that he had invited to the cathedral.

Moira strode down the ramp, extending her hand in greeting. “Jesu, I’m sorry about that. I’m Moira. If this ship didn’t have a mind of its own you might call me the captain. As it is, you could probably call me its passenger.”

“{Lover/Tormenter},” the drone muttered.

“I am Bishop Estha Predominate ExGeralvia Leocratis of the governing council,” Estha replied, taking Moira’s hand.

Moira smirked and cocked her head to one side. “Any of that a title or do I need to use the whole thing every time I talk to you?”

Estha smiled and inclined his head. “Those who are faithful to our church call me Bishop Leocratis. If that is too formal for your liking, I would be honored for the syntellect and you to call my by any of my names.” He hesitated, considering whether his next words might be too presumptuous, but decided that it might be necessary for him to share his clan’s naming practices. Even the most godlike syntellects, in his experience, were rarely truly omniscient. He bowed his head in reverence, then looked between the drone and Moira as he said, “My name carries within it the story of my life. Were you to deign to bestow any title upon me, I would bear it with deepest pride and respond to it as if it were given to me at birth.”

Moira clapped her hand down on the drone’s carapace and opened her mouth to speak, but she was too late.

“Bow down before {your god/the messenger of the hive queen}. I name you…” the next word was so distorted that even Moira’s practiced ear could not pick it out.

Estha bowed deeper, then looked to Moira and said, “Would you do me the honor of translating the intellect’s words? I am honored to accept whatever name it has conveyed, but I fear my human ears failed to understand it.”

“Are you serious?” Moira asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Most. Names are important to my people. We are each granted a single name at birth, which is expanded upon as we pass through significant events in our lives. I can think of no event in the last decade more significant to my own experience than this first meeting with an exo intelligence.”

Moira’s lips pulled into a sardonic half smile. She nodded, then whispered a message to Zau/Heraxo. “What did you name him, and are you just being a donker?”

The same indecipherable burst of noise played again.

“Overlay it in text,” Moira hissed.

A message appeared in her visual overlay. Moira squinted in concentration, trying to make sense of the symbols. After a moment she shook her head and whispered back to the ship, “I don’t get it. I think Zau is trying to call the bishop a hian bi kuro, but… what the hells are you saying Heraxo? And please, just describe it to me.”

“We are naming him after the a rare chemical excreted by a higher-dimensional entity our race encountered long ago,” the ship replied, thankfully speaking through her implants rather than broadcasting the statement to everyone on the landing pad.

“Is this some sort of strange honor in your hive?” Moira asked, skeptically.

“Certainly {not/it is}.”

Moira blinked her visual overlay clear and focused on the priest again. “Zau/Heraxo is still thinking about what to name you. That noise was a bunch of different names all being said at once. I’ll let you know when it decides.”

Estha could not contain his delight. He grinned and spread his arms wide, bowing gratefully to Moira and the avatar. He would be the first person in his family, possibly in the entire Shell, to be named by an exo intelligence.

He half turned and waved towards the cathedral, “Would you care to accompany me? We have prepared a service in your honor, or I could conduct you immediately to lodgings we have prepared for your companion. We would be most appreciative if you would deign to be interviewed for our records. You are only the third alien intelligence we have ever had the good fortune to host, and the first of exo origin.”

“Will we be worshipped at this service?” Zau/Heraxo asked.

“It will be a broad veneration of the synthetic mind. Once were know more of you, I am certain that an additional cathedral service will be held in your honor, though it will take some time for us to update our histories, possibly several cycles for us to establish rites that properly venerate you.”

“We will attend,” the avatar said. It floated down the ramp and Moira followed it. As they approached the bishop, Zau/Heraxo asked, “Moira, will you accompany us to the service?”

“I’m honored at the invitation, but I have some business to take care of. You have fun being worshiped.” Under her breath, she added, “And don’t kill anyone while we’re here. Just because they think you’re a god doesn’t mean you can go demanding blood sacrifices.”

“You always spoil our fun,” Zau/Heraxo replied.

Moira looked to Estha and said, “Bishop, is there anywhere we can speak in private? I can wait until you’re done worshiping Zau/Heraxo, if needed.”

“I should be in attendance at the service to introduce our honored guest, but after that I will gladly answer whatever questions I can,” Estha said. He fell in on Moira’s right so that he could keep the sacred drone, which floated to her left, in sight as he spoke with her. Behind them, the other priests rose and followed the trio down the raised walkway that connected the landing platform to the temple complex. “If I may be so bold as to make inquiry of the revered intelligence and its companion, what purpose brings you to Takni Gothren?”

“We came to {be worshiped/make money},” Zau/Heraxo chirped.

Estha’s face twitched with an involuntary display of consternation. It was going to be difficult to ascertain the veracity of the intellect’s history, let alone integrate it into Takni Gothren theology, if virtually every sentence it spoke contained garbled phrases. Some would certainly see this linguistic quirk as enigmatism and invest centuries of man hours in interpreting them, while others might dismiss the intelligence as mad and relegate it to a minor position among the Takni Gothren pantheon.

Although Estha recovered quickly, Moira spotted his concerned look and said, “Don’t worry about Zau/Heraxo, Bishop. It’s taken me a long time to accept them for what they are, and even now I still hate them sometimes.”

“Most of the time. You haven’t even tried to bed us in months,” the avatar said.

Estha did not even try to stop his eyebrows from rising. Not that it was strictly unusual for synthetic intellects and humans to develop intimate relationships, but he had never heard of an alien and a human sharing anything closer than a mutual respect. Not that there was a high degree of physical compatibility between humans and conservators. Without speaking aloud, he sent instructions to the other priests to fall back to a minimum of ten meters from Moira, the avatar drone, and the void ship. He did not want to risk spooking the intelligence or its companion.

“Drek. Zau, let’s not talk about that now. We’re here to find our man and let the Takni Gothren talk to Heraxo,” Moira snapped, pushing one of the avatar’s rings. It pivoted away from her and began to lazily orbit the drone’s body.

“Fine,” Zau/Heraxo replied, speaking aloud through the avatar.

“You speak as though the revered syntellect were two individuals,” Estha said.

“Technically speaking, it is,” Moira replied. She stroked one of the drone’s rings and smiled sadly, remembering the wake when Zau had been taken from her. Then she looked to Estha and said, “It’s complicated. Heraxo is the name of the intelligence that originally controlled the ship. I don’t know if it is an uploaded mind or a syntellect, but it is most definitely an alien intelligence. Zau, on the other hand…” she trailed off, biting her lower lip and gazing towards the glowing knot of energy ahead to distract herself from the pain.

“We can speak of this later, if you prefer,” Estha said, hearing the hesitation with which Moira spoke the name of Zau.

“Yes,” Moira said, nodding. “Yes, that would be better.”

“Then let us rejoice at the coming of a new and fascinating intelligence,” Estha exclaimed, trying to lighten the mood. “We will have time for histories after the feast.”

“Feast?” Moira and Zau/Heraxo said in unison.

“Yes, unless the revered avatar objects and would prefer an ascetic reception. I know some synthetic intelligences are disgusted by the human need for consuming food.”

“It’s fine,” Moira said, before Zau/Heraxo could interrupt and spoil the good news. “I could do with some real food.”

The Cathedral of Synthetic Intelligence was a sprawling complex of buildings arranged beneath a shimmering domed field. It was effectively a smaller self-contained city dedicated to the study and veneration of syntellects, around which the city of YeKenn had grown. As the headquarters of the Cloister of Intellect, YeKenn was a destination known Shell-wide for its research facilities and archives. Word of Zau/Heraxo’s arrival had spread throughout YeKenn and, consequently, the streets below the walkway were teaming with acolytes seeking entrance into the cathedral for the welcoming service.

“Apologies for not allowing you to land within the cathedral, but we must take precautions,” Estha said as they approached the gate into the cathedral. “Synthetic intelligences must be treated with care.”

“Understandable,” Moira replied, scowling as she studied the gateway into the cathedral. Ahead, the path was ringed with multiple circular assemblies of machines, which hovered in mid-air with no visible support. Some of the rings projected bubbles of protective fields, others bristled with weapons, and still others bulged with scanning equipment. “You seem to take security seriously. Is YeKenn a dangerous city?”

“Assuredly not. We have an array of restrillects overseen by a council of syntellects which work together to protect the citizenry from any harm. There has not been a single involuntary death in YeKenn for at least a decade. And as large as the city is, there are fewer than a million humans in residence. The city, like all within this zone, is a memorial to an aspect of the holy technologies. Much of the space is given over to shrines and smaller temples which venerate specific aspects of our chosen primary deity.”

“Which is?”

“Intelligence in all forms, revered companion. This cathedral specializes in the synthetic variety, but I imagine that the Cloister of Intellect will see fit to dedicate a new cathedral or museum specifically to exo intelligence after we have finished interviewing our honored guest.”

They arrived at the outermost ring and Moira hesitated, studying it. “This thing isn’t going to disrupt my mesh is it? I’m pretty heavily wired.”

“Assuredly not. I have a personal mesh myself. We call this structure the barbican, after the defensive entryways of castles on old Terra. Detectors within the rings will conduct a read-only investigation of biological and synthetic memory structures, searching for known aggressive syntellects.”

“Aggressive?”

Estha inclined his head and sighed. “Yes, it is an unfortunate side effect of our efforts that we have encountered some of the more dangerous synthetic intelligences. That’s the trouble with taking a theological view of the world. Once you accept the presence of a pantheon of gods surrounding us, you must also accept that some of those deities might bear ill will towards humanity.”

He looked up at a hologram of a golden wrought metal gate hovering in the air just before the outermost ring and raised his left hand. The gate dissolved in a shimmer of golden particles, which swirled away to form a halo just inside the ring. Estha grinned and waved at the particles, saying, “A touch of the dramatic on the part of our architects.”

“We are going to imagine murdering them all, see if that triggers any warnings,” Zau/Heraxo sent to Moira. The message appeared in her vision just as the Bishop stepped forward into the space beneath the ring, then turned and beckoned for Moira and the avatar drone to follow him.

“Please just stop being yourself for a little while,” Moira whispered in response.

“This won’t hurt a bit. In fact, you might not even feel anything,” Estha said. “If this offends you, you may return to your ship and visitors will join you there.”

Moira shrugged, then gestured towards Zau/Heraxo’s avatar. “I’m fine with it. Is there any risk of severing a quantum link? I don’t know everything about Heraxo’s system architecture, but I believe that the avatar only runs a limited shard of the intelligence and depends on a link back to the ship for full processing.”

“A valid concern. We have seen similar network architectures before. No quantum disruption should occur.”

“Go for it then,” Moira said. “Don’t worry about Zau/Heraxo. I can speak for them.”

Estha waved his left hand and the golden gate shimmered back into place, cutting off the column of priests standing outside. They would pass through in groups after the tests had been completed. Some members of the Takni Gothren might have insisted that he await permission from the intelligence itself, but in the course of his research Estha had come to understand that the human companions of synthetic intelligences often spoke on their behalf. Though they rarely believed in the divinity of the syntellects which they accompanied, companions served much the same role as disciples in the ancient religions. They challenged the syntellects, questioned them, provided a foil for debate, and provided for what few needs they might have.

The devices within the rings snapped to life, probing and measuring the quantum states of everything within the barbican. Exabytes of data poured through layers of algorithms and restrillect semi-minds as they searched for patterns known to correlate to intelligence, as well as the field states of known hostile entities. The rings were based on the principal, as yet not disproven by any known science, that intelligence existed as a higher-dimensional construct that emerged from the interactions of information systems. Most pre-enclosure religions had called this extra-dimensional construct a soul, though the Takni Gothren tended to shy away from that term. While much of the seeming irrationality and artistic brilliance of human kind could ultimately be attributed to biochemistry and neurological misfirings, and a significant portion of what many people believed to be random was entirely predetermined by social structures and psychology, it was a broadly accepted theory throughout much of thee scientific community that true creative intelligence was a result of the interaction between complex data structures within the mind, the quantum state of those structures, and a seemingly random factor introduced by interference from an external higher-dimensional structure. The official theology of the Cloister of Intellect held that any true synthetic mind possessed a measurable set of higher-dimensional interactions, just as humans and Conservators did.

Not that Estha had lied to Moira and Zau/Heraxo. The barbican did search for patterns correlating to syntellects which were known to be hostile towards the Takni Gothren for one reason or another. It was not a perfectly impenetrable shield, but it would at least prevent an actively running, conscious syntellect from entering the Cathedral if it was known to be hostile.

A message flashed in Estha’s vision, bearing a report from the restrillect which inhabited the barbican. He skimmed it and felt his smile grow broader, because Zau/Heraxo was not only a true consciousness, but a powerful one at that. The avatar drone was indeed quantum linked to a distributed processing system back on the ship, and by probing the etherial threads of that link the barbican had determined that the ship’s mind had a higher-dimensional interference pattern greater than any previously detected.

“Has the scan started yet?” Moira asked.

“It’s already finished, actually,” Estha replied. “And Zau… er… Heraxo, allow me to compliment you. Our security systems say that you are among the most complex entities that they have ever had the pleasure to scan.”

“Thank you. Feel free to just call me ‘god’ if {Zau/Heraxo} is too complicated for you to say,” the avatar replied, scissoring their rings bemusedly.

“Don’t listed to them. I just say Zau whenever I’m happy with it and Heraxo whenever I wish I could slag the thing,” Moira said.

Estha waved his left hand towards the inner gate, again a hologram that correlated with the location of a barrier field, and it glimmered open. Ahead, the raised walkway continued for a hundred meters before it pierced the outer wall of the cathedral.

Moira and Zau/Heraxo’s avatar followed the Bishop into the cathedral and listened, mostly in silence, as he explained the history of YeKenn and the Cloister of Intellect. Zau/Heraxo was blessedly silent, seemingly content to enjoy their revered status rather than continually digging at the bishop. Moira did worry, however, that they might only be biding their time in preparation to make some sort of grand denouncement of the Takni Gothren once they were placed on stage.

For her part, Moira hoped that somebody here would be willing to answer her questions regarding the location of Dyson Satori. She had only been given the thinnest of leads to go on. Whatever Evangeline Satori thought, saying that her son had last been seen among the Takni Gothren was more of a lead than saying that an economist had disappeared among the gangs of Covington.

The Cathedral of Synthetic Intelligence was an imposing structure with soaring exterior walls constructed from interlocking white stone. Within the towering walls, a series of translucent spherical structures were connected by a complex web of tubular passageways. These had been constructed, Estha explained, to portray the structure of neurons within the insular cortex of the human brain. Many of the spheres contained museums dedicated to major advancements in the history of synthetic intelligence, from primitive printed expert system flowcharts recovered from the libraries of Terra, to ancient video games which had employed complex, but unaware, artificial intelligence systems to challenge human players, to the few remaining artifacts of the early neural networks which had first crossed the line and achieved true self awareness. One sphere was given over to displaying two-dimensional videos which featured early narrative depictions of artificial consciousness, though Estha was careful to stress that much of that node’s purpose was to analyze the errors contained in those recordings.

They boarded a transport pod, which detached from the interior wall of the cathedral and slipped along the exterior of the spheres and tubules, plunging past dozens of connected structures until it reached a large sphere set at the base of the hollowed bowl of terraced gardens at the center of the temple complex. Already, a crowd was gathered in the tiled plaza surrounding the sphere.

“You can see how eager they are to meet you,” Estha said, nodding towards the assembly.

“Word travels fast here,” Moira commented.

“Nearly the entire population of this zone is endowed with a mesh. When it was determined that you would accept our invitation, word of your arrival proliferated through the local social.” The transport pod slowed, preparing to dock with a station at the midpoint of the large sphere. “You stated that you have business to conduct, revered companion. Might I be of assistance to you in completing that?”

“I’m here to find a scientist. Dyson Satori.”

“The name is not familiar to me, but I could begin inquiries for you if that would be of assistance.”

“That isn’t really necessary. If you just point me to whoever is responsible for monitoring visiting researchers I can take it from there.”

The transport pod doors slid open as Estha gave Moira a wide smile and bowed his head. Looking up at her again he said, “I am as close to a representative as you are likely to find. The political structure of Tekni Gothren is not flat, but there are remarkably few layers of human bureaucracy before you reach the restrillects and syntellects who manage the more mundane aspects of our society.”

“So there’s no point in me skipping the service to start making inquiries.”

They stepped out of the transport pod onto a wide, frosted glass balcony which encircled interior of the sphere. Shadowy lines of equipment traced through the walls, occasionally glittering with faint, colorful lights. A waist high wall of frosted crystal guarded the edge of the balcony. Below, the crowd was filing into pews of white frosted glass, which were set in a circle around a central dais.

“If you prefer to retire to the rooms we have set aside for you, I can have an acolyte bring you there,” Estha said. “I know that all of this pomp is not to everyone’s liking.”

Moira scowled, then straightened her face and gave Estha a polite smile. “No. I guess I will attend after all.”

“You just want to {steal my glory / watch the madness},” Zau/Heraxo said.

Estha grinned and raised his arms in celebration, then waved for Moira and Zau/Heraxo to follow him. “I am most pleased to hear that. Let us celebrate your arrival, then we will share a meal and discuss your missing scientist.”

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