While the tribe stood around the nightly campfire telling stories, and listening to them, a man dressed in elegant dark azure blue metacloth uniform popular in ranks of the 2130s Polymath Champion’s League suddenly and unceremoniously materialized without prior notice. Confusion and mild annoyance ensued, but was quickly replaced by concern as the visitor’s broadcast feelings of disorientation, confusion, and finally panic rose. The chief mentor contacted the visitor via the Sol Traditional telepathy protocol: “You are not in danger. Please calm down. Breathe slowly. The atmosphere is fine for your morphology.” What she didn’t add was a final insertion: “or at least it should be.”
It was the following message that the visitor reacted unfavourably to:
You have been temporarily disconnected from wisenet. Please refrain from reconnection attempts for the next 256 (standard) days.
Slowly, the visitor took note of being contacted in Traditional, a protocol he was quite familiar with, but the sudden feeling of loss and disorientation was so overwhelming that any messages from the outside simply didn’t have enough weight to have any significant effect.
Events like these were rare, but not unheard of. For finding out what was going on, the tribespeople asked their shaman to contact the habitat spirit in the hope that she knew the reason for this irregular appearance. It turned out that this event was part of the Andromeda educational exchange program. Spontaneous transfers were an intended part of this program. Access to further information about this case was put under confidentiality level C13, which none of the tribespeople possessed. The visitor would have to tell them more by himself.
After about half a minute, the effects of the regulator of the visitor kicked in, which forced him into a calm, relaxed, and dazed feel-good state. The regulator strongly encouraged him to respond to the communication efforts of the chief mentor. Long after the secretary symbiont of the visitor has sent out generic excuses to the tribe in his stead, he replied obediently to the contact attempts in Sol Traditional:
“I am sorry for causing you this inconvenience. I haven’t been prepared for this situation adequately, which has put plunged me into a state of psychological shock. This is quite an emergency situation for me. Can you please grant me a temporary status as guest here?”
That kind of reply seemed to follow a widespread standard script applied to weird situations, but it seemed reasonable enough. Even though the circumstances of the appearance of the visitor were far from clear, it would be nearly unthinkable to deny his request for being accepted as guest. After all, the Solans pride themselves on living the values of hospitality and tolerance. An indefinite guest status within the tribe was granted quickly.
“Thank you very much! I’m suffering from sudden withdrawal of wiseguidance. I meekly beg for your assistance with this issue. As I said, I haven’t been adequately prepared for this situation.”
Apparently the rejection of wiseguidance is a part of the Andromeda educational program. What other reason could it possibly have? After all, the wise are everywhere and guide those who subscribe to their guidance, at least under regular circumstances. This circumstance was obviously irregular, but it’s widely known that wiseguided persons often go through a period of guidance withdrawal for educational purposes. Usually, they are trained in advance for that situation. It seems that this poor visitor has been suddenly pushed into cold water, so to speak. What reasons the wise had for retracting their guidance so suddenly was quite mysterious indeed. Yet, that was not the most urgent question. It was much more pressing to find out how to offer support for the visitor. None of the tribesmen have been confronted with a similar situation. This called for something that the unguided were supposed to be good at: Improvising.
This task fell into the responsibility of the chief mentor. She was the one with the most experience at helping people with their psychological issues. But nothing had prepared her for something like this. So, a generic approach seemed to be the most appropriate for the beginning:
“Focus on your breath. Inhale very slowly. Then exhale for half as long. Then repeat. There is no acute danger. Whatever you have to deal with now is best approached from a state of conscious calmness.”
After a few slow breaths the visitor’s mind has become slightly less chaotic. That effect came partially from the conscious slow breathing, and partially from the chemicals and subroutines released by his regulator. The whole attention of the tribe lay now on the chief mentor and the visitor. Was that attention helpful? None of the tribespeople was sure about that. What emotions should they radiate to those two? It seemed clear that concern, confusion, and helplessness weren’t the best options. Compassion also felt problematic. Love would probably be too confusing. After a lot of hesitation the most resolute tribespeople settled on a general feeling of benevolence (what could be wrong about that). Most of the others joined in. Some decided not to send out emotions, but shifted into the debate layer instead.
Conscious breathing pulled the attention of the visitor away from his main issue: Not being in direct contact with the wise anymore. Nevertheless, the redirection of attention didn’t work perfectly. A part of his mind was still struggling with making sense of the new situation. A maximum of self-control would be needed to master this challenge. Even though he was scarcely prepared for acting on his own decisions, all his intense training should help him to adapt to the new situation quickly. Or would it? Those intense feelings of loneliness, silence, loss, and being deserted were very pressing, and didn’t make thinking clearly any easier. If his regulator didn’t intervene, the visitor would have felt broken, hurt, and sick all over. Proceeding from this current state was an unprecedented challenge for him. He never had to make hard decisions on his own, since he was guided by the wise all his life. Now that he had to make decisions without that virtually infallible guidance, there was the real danger of making severe mistakes. Even worse: Not doing anything could also be a huge mistake. He had to resolve this dilemma as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile a controversy has started in the debate layer, triggered by Danisho’s suspicion: “This situation feels dubious. It’s not very plausible that the wise desert a guided person without sufficient prior preparation. I think our visitor isn’t telling the truth. There’s probably something else going on. Maybe he’s playing Direct with us.”
Direct was the name of a popular, yet quite controversial game, in which players have the secret mission to direct the attention of certain target individuals or groups to a specific entity, often themselves. Of course, Direct players won’t admit that they are playing that game. Due to its disruptive nature, there have been many attempts to ban the Direct game, but the general agreement has been that it sharpens the minds of everyone involved, so it’s mostly tolerated, albeit not generally appreciated.
Sapestris disagreed with Danisho’s conclusion: “Wouldn’t such a strategy be too obvious for being a promising Direct strategy? My guess is that the visitor is indeed a special case, and requires our support. Why else would he have been allowed to materialize in our midst, violating the standard teleport protocol? And even if that wasn’t true, it would still be better to play along and support him, because it’s the right thing to do, since we can’t know whether he’s misleading us or not.”
Danisho was unconvinced: “Don’t you think that he might expect us to think like this? Because he’s counting on us coming to that conclusion, his behaviour would still be a viable Direct strategy.”
Quickly Sapestris interrupted him: “Maybe, but how do you explain the violation of the standard teleport protocol? This totally smells like some kind of involvement of the complex is going on. Why would the complex get involved in a simple Direct game?”
After a few seconds Danisho replied: “Well, the complex are probably involved somehow, but it’s still more likely that there’s a different explanation than his story being completely true. I never heard about a wiseguided person being left alone that way – at least not in Sol. Such events should be extraordinarily rare, if they happen at all. It’s still most reasonable to assume that something else is going on.”
Sapestris concluded the discussion: “Well, that may be the case, but my point still stands that it would be rude to confront our visitor with our doubts. It’s our duty to be respectful hosts.”
After having sorted his thoughts a little bit, the visitor came to the conclusion to apply one of the most popular and successful strategies to his new situation: Treating it as a game. So, his first task was to learn about the setting and rules of this game. Having been accepted as a guest to this tribe obliged him to tell them a little bit more about himself: “I am Adano Rahec Tessel-Jirac genin Sol Gautama 27 Lathica, lastly situated ibid as novice of the local Polymath Champion’s League reinterpretation community. Pleased to meet you.”
Chief Modi took over the conversation in a slow and soothing tone: “Welcome to Sol Artemis 43 Arratan and our tribe. We offer you all the support we can provide for mastering your current challenge. If you could elaborate on the circumstances of your arrival, we might arrive at a satisfying solution.”
“I just finished my morning exercise regime and was suddenly relocated unscheduled and without warning. I can’t find a plausible reason for why this has happened. There aren’t any obvious irregularities I can attribute this to.”
“What about your relation to your guide? Was there anything about the quality of your relationship that was out of the ordinary?”
“I had an excellent relation with my wise guide. It’s completely unfathomable to me why she would desert me that sudden.”
“The ways of the wise are indeed often unfathomable for us simple. They always have perfect reasons to do what they do. Sadly for us, the impression that we can comprehend those reasons is a deceptive illusion. Everything is as it should be. Let’s just play along and make the best out of this situation we are able to.”
“What is the best you – or we – are able to make out of this? And would I know that it is the actually the best without the feedback of my guide? How am I supposed to decide what to do, when I face the risk that my decision turns out to be not optimal?”
At this point the chief mentor Shi Xifeng continued the exchange: “Have you ever considered why the wise allow us unguided to live our lives the way we do, even though we don’t know whether our decisions are ‘optimal’ or not?”
“Isn’t that an obvious consequence of the Liberty Guidelines that the wise respect?”
“Indeed, but why do the wise respect the Liberty Guidelines?”
“Obviously because it’s optimal to respect the Liberty Guidelines. The wise certainly have the power, at least by now, to disrespect them, if that action really turned out to be optimal.”
“Right. So, in a higher sense it’s optimal for the wise to allow people to make apparently ‘suboptimal’ decisions. In other words, the highest degree of perfections requires apparent imperfections of a lower degree.”
“But I don’t want to participate in suboptimal actions, even if they somehow contribute to a higher level of optimality, which is merely a high level abstraction for me.”
“You agreed to follow the lifestyle of the wiseguided. It’s customary for the wiseguided to go through a period of ‘guidance independence’. Are you aware of the reasons for this general institution?”
“It’s a part of the general educational principle of ‘contrast experiences’. By being immersed in unfamiliar circumstances, people learn to understand and value their own and other cultures. Since education is one of the dominant values of the Canonical Coherence, contrast experience programmes are established universally even in the face of valid counterarguments against them. The ‘guidance independence’ programmes are no exception to that rule.”
“Yes. You seem to have a firm grasp of the abstract legitimation of those programmes. But your personal unwillingness to experience them on your own indicates that you haven’t internalised the conclusions of those rationales on an emotional level. That’s not surprising if you haven’t had to spend much thought on the ‘guidance independence’ periods.”
“Ok, you got me there. I really haven’t reflected much on the ‘guidance independence’ period, even though I knew I would be subjected to that sooner or later. I deferred thinking about that period until it actually came close. In my cultural environment people go through this period in their 30s or 40s. Since I am only 20 years old, it never seemed necessary for me to go through the motions of seriously thinking about the ‘guidance independence’ period any time soon.”
“And now you have been forced to go through this experience way before you had reason to prepare yourself for it. Additionally, you have been teleported at the same time to this location. There doesn’t seem to be any apparent explanation for any of this. Perhaps it would be the best to interpret this situation as some kind of extremely rare surprise test. Do you happen to be familiar with the stories of the chosen from the Epsilon Indi system?”
“Aren’t most of those stories rumors and confabulations spread by the Epsilon Indis to boost immigration to their system?”
“Yes, indeed, but the confabulations and rumors surround a substantial fraction of verified stories. There are indeed billions of chosen from Epsilon Indi, even though trillions merely proclaim to be chosen, in the hope that others buy their stories without being backed by solid evidence.”
Adano wanted to check those claims, but apparently Arratan had a rather restrictive metanet policy. You could neither contact the spirit of Arratan (or her subagents), nor communicate with the outside world without special legitimation. Adano told his secretary that gaining that legitimation is an urgent priority task. For now, Adano would have to gather information the old fashioned way: By talking with people.
“Are you sure about that?”
“Yes, I checked the reports from the most reliable sources. And Epsilon Indi isn’t the only system like that. The systems HR 1614, HR 1925, and HR 9038, and a couple of smaller systems have high numbers of chosen, too. Most people never hear about those, because Epsilon Indi is much closer, and definitely more vocal about their stories.”
“Fascinating. Are there any stories that resemble my situation?”
“Yes, there have been multiple verified events in which wiseguided persons were suddenly disconnected, even very young ones. And spontaneous teleportation to different habitats happened even more frequently. I don’t recall any case that combines both, but then I’ve only explored 200 verified cases of chosen ones. In all likelihood, there have been thousands, if not millions of cases like yours.”
“Oh, that does sound comforting. But this is Sol! The wise don’t do crazy stuff like that in our system. Your comparison may be charming, but it’s invalid. There must be some other explanation!”
“Why do you reject the explanation I offer?”
“It’s absurd! Why should the wise choose me, of all persons in Sol? I’m not nearly special enough to be chosen.”
“Most of the verified chosen have stated similar objections at first. There is no simple pattern by which the wise choose their candidates. It is claimed that there is an elaborate system for their choices, but even most complex aren’t smart enough to comprehend it. For all practical purposes it looks totally random to us.”
“So, you are saying that I’ve been picked for a special test that I don’t understand for reasons I cannot comprehend?”
“It’s a plausible possibility. Many people would love to be in such a situation.”
“I still find it unconvincing. And I don’t want anything like that to be true. I just wanted a good normal life. I don’t want any of this ‘chosen’ nonsense!”
“Fine. Then let’s look for an explanation that suits you better. Consider that to be your first mission as honored guest of our tribe.”
“I will! Anyway, what kind of tribe is this?”
“We are a section of the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan. We play Quest. You will find out about some of the rest in time.”
Adano expected the introduction to continue. After a few seconds passed, he gesticulated by turning an imaginary crank in the air, in the hope that this would encourage Shi Xifeng to provide more information. Apart from grinning, Shi Xifeng didn’t react to that attempt, so he inquired: “That’s it? Does it belong to your tribe’s policy to keep your description minimal?”
“Absolutely! Descriptions are boring.”
“All right. Could you please help me regain proper metanet access? Arratan isn’t helpful on that front.”
“Ah, I’m sorry. Communication with Arratan and the outer metanet typically is restricted to shamans. Visitors are not exempt from that rule, usually. You will have to address our shaman Zathinax regarding those matters.”
“Oh, that’s how it is. May I talk with Zathinax now?”
“Sure. Just don’t expect that he will grant you any wish.”
At that point, Adano opened a private communication channel to Zanthinax: “Greetings, honoured shaman Zathinax.Shi Xifeng told me that I need to talk with you when I want something from Arratan or the outer metanet. I don’t want to appear rude, but due to the special circumstances of my situation, I would appreciate it very much, if I had direct access. That would make life much easier for both of us.”
“Greetings, honoured guest Adano. I really empathise with your situation, and want to help you as much as I can, but please excuse me if my powers in this regard prove to be limited. Right after you arrived here, I tried to grant you exceptional access privileges, in accordance with your mysterious circumstances, but Arratan told me that she is bound by ‘special directives’ in your case.”
“What? ‘Special directives’? Like direct orders from the wise?”
“Although she didn’t admit that, the current circumstances make this appear very likely. I am sorry. My own will counts nothing for Arratan. And I’m not authorized to communicate with the wise directly. Wiseguided visitors usually do retain their wisenet access even in Arratan. However, Arratan is adamant that there hasn’t been any mistake in your case. Your wisenet access has been revoked a nanosecond before your departure, so your problem has nothing to do with the metanet policy or Arratan.”
If his regulator hadn’t boosted his equanimity to higher levels than ever before, Adano would have had trouble maintaining his composure in light of these news. At this moment, Adano was aware that he would have reacted with a torrent of negative emotions to this revelation. Now he was certain that there was no accident involved. The wise have done this on purpose! And he couldn’t contact them even indirectly. He was sure that putting him into a habitat like Arratan was a deliberate maximisation of his isolation. Even sending a mail to his own tribe might turn out to be extraordinarily difficult.
“Can you at least forward a mail to my own tribe in Lathica?”
“Unfortunately, Arratan asked me not to assist you in communicating with the outer metanet. Also, I was asked not to mention you outside of the confines of this tribe. It seemed to me that Arratan tries not to draw any attention to you. I am feeling very conflicted about this. These constraints make it very difficult to solve your mystery. I could try to help you out anyway, but I can hardly estimate the consequences of ignoring Arratan’s wishes. I’m sorry. For now, I will follow Arratan’s wishes, but I will consider defying her later, if that really appears necessary. My hope is that we’ll be able to resolve this situation in a way that doesn’t cause more harm.”
“So, do you have a plan for solving my mystery?”
Only now Adano fully realized that he was talking with a western red dragon that spanned more than seven meters from head to tail. At least he would have, if he hadn’t shrunk back and bowed his head down dismayed apologetically.
“I am afraid to admit that I and my clan are feverishly trying to devise a good plan. This new ahem … quest … lies a bit outside of our regular expertise. But we are part of the Scintillating Mist Hunters. We can do this!”
Zathinax tried to smile to convey some confidence. Adano merely wondered whether he would feel scared by that gesture, if his emotions worked normally. It didn’t matter. He felt completely lost, even through the warm haze of the soothing neurohacks.