On the train to Astelica
Adano couldn’t await getting out of the reach of Lathica. Now that he was on a train ride to Astelica, any locally enforced manipulations of his mind would be lifted, that is, if there were any. The choice of transport was of course fully in line with the idea of “slow culture”. Actually, it wouldn’t have been possible without the initiative of the Museans to create rail lines between all the habitats in one habitat ring. From a technological or even economic point of view, this choice didn’t make much sense. Containers pushed around by the pulson grid were a superior means of transportation in nearly any way. An advantage of the train network was that its technology was much simpler, which was an important point for the simple who didn’t want to rely on the pulson grid that the complex had under their own control, as was most of space traffic control. A simple train network was much easier to control for the simple, so they have built one. Train passenger cars were self-sustaining pressurized containers with customizable interior. Adano, Arizzi, Kathatus, and Valeria had a whole passenger car for themselves that was accelerating with slightly more than Earth’s surface gravity acceleration. It was this acceleration that keep them fixed to the ground in the empty vastness of space. Actually, the whole train merely consisted of the passenger car and four attached flexible arms that wrapped themselves around the four superconducting rails that accelerated the train.
On the inside, the cubic passenger car with a side length of six meters was usually set to a puristic panoramic view of space. All walls and the ground were transparent, except for a fine hexagonal dark blue mesh that made it possible to tell the dimensions and borders of the passenger car. Seats, tables, walls, or other pieces of inventory were usually absent, but would grow out of the ground on demand. Daytime was simulated by artificially increasing the brightness of the dim and distant sun. At night, the brightness was merely returned to normal.
Even before the train ride, Adano had confronted Arizzi about the strange fact that their tribe seemed to erase the memories of their visitors on departure. Arizzi explained that this was to discourage visitors from interfering with Adano’s early training. So, it actually was about him! His training regime seemed to warrant extraordinary measures. Arizzi claimed this was a special procedure sometimes used for “hardcore elite training”. Interestingly, Diolineda verified that claim.
Now that they were away from Lathica, Adano consulted the Pedias, the curated knowledge archives of the metanet, about this “hardcore elite training” or simply “HE training” regime for new PCL reinterpretation community recruits. This was actually in line with grade 3 to grade 4 elite training of the original PCL members. What happened to him wasn’t particular to his person, but merely an often used procedure for the training of the high elite of the PCL reinterpretation community. Of course, this information wasn’t new to him, but getting the same information outside of Lathica and its potential censorship mechanisms made him confident that this was actually the truth. That this was such a surprise for him was merely due to him not having had expected that the tribe would actually go so far as to make use of the more optional precise specifics of his training regime – like erasing the memories of strangers! Apparently his current excursion to Astelica was part of a training exercise labeled as “adverse culture confrontation training”. Even though he knew what this was all about, it still felt very scary, since his very first visit of a different habitat would confront him with a culture that would be happy about his own culture disappearing completely. Yeah, but what else to expect from a HE trainee of the PCLRC?
What disturbed him about this HE thing was that in addition to the controlled environmental exposure, he wasn’t allowed to make contact with other HE trainees. The justification for that was pretty brutal. If a HE trainee found the performance of another trainee lacking, this could be seen as excuse for adjusting one’s own performance downwards. Without perceiving the performance of the others, the only safe assumption was that they mastered all challenges perfectly. Adano tried accessing the success statistics of HE training, and actually got the relevant numbers, but every time he tried to contemplate them, he couldn’t go on to think about what they meant and lost track of them. He simply couldn’t keep the numbers in his mind, no matter how intently he tried to stare at them. Diolineda commented on this: “Your are affected by an information forgetfulness veil that erases the data from your mind as soon as it enters it. Some information about the HE training is classified for you. No matter how hard you try, you cannot circumvent that veil. It’s not bound to Lathica, but your own mind. It’s part of the terms of contract of your training and your noetic implants enforce that forgetfulness veil on you. Circumventing it by force would invalidate your contract.”
Of course Adano did know about those terms, since he agreed to them when he was six years old. Back then, he mostly wanted Arizzi and the others to be proud of him, and not to disappoint them. Yet, somehow he hoped that the increasing distance from Lathica would weaken those bonds that he had accepted in the past.
According to many classification systems, Adano was classified as pinnacle human, the highest possible form of enhanced human being that still counted as “merely human”. Of course, his noetic implants allowed him to interact with the metanet, access all kinds of information at will, and communicate with everymind telepathically. But all of that merely counted as “mild tech uplift”. The real posthumans were so deeply integrated with their noetic implants that they could acquire any kind of desired skill in an instant. And those still counted as “simple”. What distinguished the complex from the simple was their complexity and sophistication. A complex could control the billions of subsystems of a star ship at the same time, while communicating with millions of minds simultaneously. Above the complex were the wise, but not because the wise had a generally higher level of complexity, but merely because they had a complete comprehension of the Proof of the Universal Value System Theorem. Now, even without his noetic implants, Adano was still beyond the level of any human being that had ever existed before the beginning of the Smart Age in which humans started merging with technology in earnest. His genetic optimizations alone put his intelligence slightly above that of any historic human up to the Smart Age. He had an eidetic memory and could remember everything he perceived with incredible detail. Also, he could summon mental images of arbitrary surroundings down to sub-millimeter precision. At least since the Prestige Wars these skills were however seen as trivial and the bare minimum standards of ability that any sensible person should be equipped with. Therefore, compared to “natural” unaugmented humans, his mental maturation process was dramatically accelerated. By the (admittedly low) standards of the Industrial Age, at least according to his mental development, he would have counted as adult ever since he reached the age of four years. As those Industrial Age standards were unacceptably low, Adano reached the level of contractual maturity shortly before he reached the age of six years.
Even before he had considered starting HE training, he was extensively informed about the implications of that choice. He did have a wide range of alternatives. He could have become nearly anything he wanted. But rejecting the opportunity of taking up this HE training would have meant disappointing his whole tribe. It would have meant deviating from the optimal path that had been prepared from him. Despite all of this, he didn’t make this difficult decision on his own. He asked Diolineda for guidance, and she revealed to him that this choice was the right one. And that was enough for Adano back then. Yet, something felt out of place now, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Adano suspected that another veil was responsible for his inability to pinpoint the source of his unease. The rabbit hole might have reached deeper than he expected, but he was too blinded to find out.
Arizzi seemed to be very intent on preparing Adano and Kathatus for the confrontation with the Astelicans: “What you need to understand first and foremost, is that these Anti-Museans you will meet, also see themselves as followers of the Exaltation. But their way of striving for the perfection of character is quite different from the approach of the PCLRC. They use the whole spectrum of technologies that are available. They do not respect the idiosyncrasies of history and want to learn from the Sirians to become the best they can possibly be. Adano, why are they taking the Sirians as their role models?”
Adano was slightly surprised that this voyage turned into a test, but replied obediently: “The Sirians pushed for progress above all and therefore had a competitive advantage that they used to provide the first proof of the Universal Value System Theorem. Since then, the Sirians stand for the triumph of technological and societal maturity. The Anti-Museans adapted the culture of the Sirians, in order to participate in what they see as ‘ultimate culture’.”
Arizzi continued: “That’s a fair answer, Adano, thank you very much. Indeed, the Anti-Museans want to live an ‘ultimate culture’ but here they run into a paradox when they portray themselves as followers of the Exaltation. As you know, the Exaltation wasn’t the V faction that found the Proof. It was the Coherence, which started out as a splinter faction of the Harmony, that came up with the Proof. After Proof, all other V factions mostly joined the Coherence. What was left of their former selves, quickly turned into symbolic communities with vanishing influence among the complex. However, the V factions stood for ideas that were still popular among the simple. Yet, it’s completely false to think that the V factions were grounded on the simple ideas that the simple often associated them with. In the case of the Exaltation the associated idea is that of perfection of character, but that’s not the true core of the Exaltation. To understand this, we need to go back to the genesis of the Exaltation. Can you please elaborate on that, Kathatus?”
Kathatus seemed quite eager to answer this question: “Both the Exuberance and the Exaltation were the answers to a problem in mathematical axiology. Mathematical axiology tried formulating a consistent and rational formulation of the ethical theory of utilitarianism that came to grips with the issues raised by General Ontology; particularly issues that could be subsumed under the label of ‘simulation ethics’. The prospect of simulating whole worlds filled with sentient beings, or even the possibility of our own world being such a simulation, opened up quite unprecedented ethical problems that waited to be resolved. The philosophical studies of the K’phlor collective concluded that there are four basic pure answers to the ethical responsibilities towards simulated sentient beings: First, disallow such simulations for ethical reasons, which is the stance that the Heavens adopted. Second, don’t worry about this at all, because there are overriding interests, which was a policy that the Unity adopted. Thirdly, compensate for all the negative utility that was created within such simulations by creating counterbalancing positive utility somewhere else. The Exuberance followed that policy that’s called compensationism. Finally, repair the damage to the values of each individual that suffered from having lived in such a simulated world by providing that individual with a continued existence that was sufficiently good to compensate for all the pain and suffering that it went through. This strategy, that’s generally termed reparationism, was adopted first by the Exaltation, later on by the Balance, and interestingly, finally also the Coherence. As you know, without that strategy put into practice, I would most likely not be with you now.”
Of course, Kathatus alluded to his origin as a simulated sentient being within the simulation with the name of Roma Galtera S233, also called Roma Galtera Marcus Innatus.
Arizzi corrected Kathatus: “That’s not entirely correct, Kathatus. The Balance and the Coherence didn’t completely subscribe to reparationism, but see it as best practice. You can compare that to the enforcement of the Liberty Guidelines by the Coherence. The Liberty Guidelines are best practices, but can be overridden, if the maximization of ultimate value requires it.”
Adano had a question: “I still don’t fully understand why the Coherence allows innocent sentient beings to suffer in simulated worlds, if there is no strict need to gather new information.”
This time, Arizzi let his own wiseguide Diosateza speak for him. For everyone visible, Diosateza appeared above them in the air as large colourful pillar of light. Adano noted that the colours of Diosateza were more muted and less vibrant than those of Diolineda. As for the reasons for that, he had only incoherent guesses. Diosateza elaborated in Diolumilan: “This is due to the canonical strategy for acausal optimization of ultimate value across the world network. A restriction to methods of suffering-free creation of ultimate value merely leads to a local maximum, but not a global maximum of ultimate value created. That’s by the way also the reason why the Heavens suffered such an inglorious demise, even though the intentions and aspirations of the Heavens have been most noble. The truth sometimes hurts. We aren’t sorry for that. That’s just how it is. If you have the desire to comprehend this completely, you need to understand the Proof.”
With having communicated that, Diosateza simply faded out. Arizzi looked at Kathatus and continued: “So far, so good. Could you please explain how the association of the Exaltation with character development has arisen?”
Having been somewhat stunned by the sudden appearance of Diosateza, Kathatus took a few moments to regain his composure and eventually answered: “This has to do with the prospect of living in a simulated world. Such a world might end at any moment. Optimizing the total utility of such a world is difficult due to the fact that you don’t know the end date of that world. Given the prospect of being resurrected after the end of the world, which is suggested by the principle of reparationism, it can be expected that at least parts of oneself get transferred to the superworld after one’s own end, or the end of one’s simulated world. Focusing on character perfection is a goal that is robust to this prospect, while still being very instrumentally useful for almost any kind of goal one can pursue during one’s existence in such a simulated world. Thus, the Exaltation focused on improving the characters of individuals. In contrast, the Exuberance posed that the concept of individual existence was an illusion. The solution of the Exuberance to the problem of possibly being in a simulated world consisted in integrating aggregate utility over all the possible lifespans of one’s own world. Furthermore, the Exuberance used the mathematical technique of renormalization to generate an aggregate utility for the whole world network, or at lest well behaved subnetworks of that. From the wise now we know that both approaches turned out to be imperfect approximations to the canonical solution. But hey, those solutions guided our civilization for almost a whole century.”
Arizzi agreed: “Quite correct, Kathatus. Thank you very much. Let me add that while the Exaltation doesn’t completely deny the idea that isolated individual existence is an illusion, it poses that it’s at the very least a useful illusion, such as the idea of free will. Furthermore, the robustness of character qualities in the face of a worldly demise is an idea to goes back at least to the ancient philosopher Socrates. In some sense, the Exaltation combined the ethical schools of utilitarianism and virtue ethics. With such an ancient genealogy, the Exaltation was much more readily accepted by the humans at the beginning of the 22nd century than the cold calculations that were offered by the Exuberance.”
After a brief pause, Arizzi continued: “Now, let’s come back to the difference between the PCLRC and the Anti-Museans we are going to visit. Both us of claim to uphold the spirit of the Exaltation, yet they don’t invest into the process of character perfection, but rely on downloading already perfected character components, on demand. The Astelicans have little fear of losing themselves. They rather define themselves as perfect versions of the persons they are required to be in their current circumstances.”
To Adano this sounded pretty extreme and severe. So, he wondered loudly: “If those Astelicans have such radical and self-transcending views, how are we supposed to be able to defend the PCLRC against them?”
Arizzi merely retorted: “Well, that’s the challenge that you are now faced with. It’s time for you to think about how to live up to it.”
For the next days, Adano and Kathatus feverishly tried coming up with strategies together to face the Astelicans in argument by attacking the premises of their culture; just to get ripped apart by the impeccable logic of Arizzi and Valeria who played the devil’s advocate.
Eventually, Kathatus joked into the round: “Well, if we have no chance of winning, we might just as well join the Astelicans. After all, they don’t seem to do anything wrong.”
Valeria commented cynically: “The Astelicans will be very happy to accept followers of the Exaltation who will give up at the first instance when things become difficult. They will replace your feeble character with an optimally gritty personality that won’t fear frustrating challenges. Well done, there won’t be anything left of you, except for embarrassing memories!”
Adano was exasperated about this harsh remark and thought for himself: “This is insane! How can our mentors be so cruel to us? Shouldn’t they be helpful and inspiring? Instead, they make it look like our challenge is impossible to master.” After a second he forwarded this thought to Kathatus and Diolineda. Unfortunately, Diolineda remained silent this time.
Kathatus admitted to Adano: “I haven’t been so severely humiliated since Integration School. Isn’t it madness to send us out to such a challenging mission so early in our training? What were they thinking?” To Valeria, audible to all, Kathatus asked: “What is the exact purpose of this mission? What is our objective?”
Now Valeria was smiling and beaming brightly: “Very good that you ask that question. So very good! This is not about converting the Astelicans. The mission merely consists in interacting with the Astelicans in a way that represents our tribe fairly, and enduring the whole 60 day stay without getting converted.”
Surprised, Kathatus asked for clarification: “What? We are merely supposed to resist conversion? We don’t have to convince them about anything?”
Valeria agreed: “Right. The only thing that you should convince them about, is that we are decent people who have the right to exist. At least for now.”
Now Adano was stumped and addressed Valeria: “Wait a minute. Does this mean that we’ve been on the completely wrong track by trying to attack the Astelicans? Instead we should have focused on defending our own tribe? Why haven’t you told us that earlier?”
“Because experiencing the futility of attacking them is the best way to learn that that is the wrong strategy. We could have simply told you that, but in that case, the lecture wouldn’t have been really deeply ingrained. You would still have considered it to be worth a try to attack them, despite us telling you not to.”
Arizzi added: “And now that you’re finally on the right track, let’s focus on painting the PCLRC in a positive light, shall we?”
It was not like Adano didn’t understand why that what Arizzi and Valeria have done with them had been reasonable. He now understood that very well. They simply were right. Still, teaching him that way was so unbearably condescending. It was an inherent nuisance to go through this process. But wait, wasn’t there a flaw in their reasoning? He questioned Arizzi and Valeria: “Isn’t there an asymmetry in this strategy? If those Astelicans are so missionary, why do we allow them to attack us? Why shouldn’t we attack them? Aren’t we implicitly admitting by this that they are right after all?”
Valeria responded: “No, you merely misinterpreted the purpose of this excursion. It’s not about attacking the Astelicans and their ideologies, it’s about defending our own culture. Attacking other cultures without good reasons for doing so, is simply a bad idea. And training is not a sufficiently good reason. Any further questions?”
Neither Adano nor Kathatus had anything on their minds that they wanted to ask. Arizzi now started his inquisition: “You know the game. As always, Valeria and I are advocates of the Astelicans. Let’s begin. This PCL reinterpretation community of yours has no real purpose. The PCL was created to gain prestige for the Exaltation during the Prestige Wars. But the Prestige Wars are long over. What is the PCL reinterpretation community supposed to achieve? It has no real purpose in the canonical era!”
Kathatus immediately answered: “Ah, that’s trivial. Haven’t you gotten the memo that for us simple there’s really nothing to fight for since Proof? The wise gave us the sole mission of perfecting the ultimate, a flowery expression for maximizing ultimate value. Yet, only the wise really know how to do that. They subtly optimize our whole civilization for that purpose. We simple have no real agency in this. It
simply doesn’t matter whether our actions seem purposeful to us, or not! The wise have their strings in everything anyway and control us to a degree we cannot even comprehend. Your objection is therefore invalid!”
Adano was truly astonished about that kind of reply coming from Kathatus. It wasn’t wrong what he said, but wow, the worldview transported by that reply was surely bleak. Wasn’t that perspective the reason why people opted for wiseguidance? So that they could be sure that they contributed to the only meaningful thing left to do? If you think that the wise are so powerful that choosing wiseguidance wasn’t even necessary, what kind of orientation was left for us simple? That was a real mystery to Adano. So, he asked Kathatus in private: “Where do you take your orientation from, if you aren’t wiseguided?”
“I merely follow my own interests.”
“And how do you make sure that these interests are aligned with ultimate value?”
“I don’t need to. The wise do that for me by controlling my environment. Therefore, I can simply ‘follow my heart’, as kitschy as that may sound.”
Somehow Adano admired Kathatus’ attitude. It had some kind of worry-free easiness. That was something that was completely foreign to Adano. Yet, he still had doubts that things could be so simple: “But aren’t there situations in which different interests draw you in different directions? How do you deal with that?”
“In that case I just follow the most important interest, I guess.”
“How do you know which one of your interest is the most important one?”
“Intuition mostly, I think. Sometimes it also requires some reflection to find out what I really care most about.”
“Now it seems to get really complicated. How do you know when you can simply follow your intuition? When do you know that you need further reflection? If you reflect on your interests, how do you do that?”
“I guess I figured that out with experience.”
“Is that experience the reason why you don’t deem it to be necessary for you to follow the wise?”
“At least partially. I’ve rarely thought about this issue very deeply. Please give me some time to reflect on it.”
Meanwhile, Valeria reacted to the reply of Kathatus: “Isn’t that a bit of cheap shot? If you really believe this nihilistic stance, then nothing we do matters anyway, so why should you stick to the unnecessarily hard restrictions of the PCLRC?”
“Because I want to find out how strong my inner character can be.” But Kathatus didn’t stop there. He added: “What super important stuff are you going to do that gives the existence of your culture meaning?”
Valeria answered: “We show the backwards looking inhabitants of Sol how to live a meaningful existence in the Canonical Era. That’s something that you so far failed to accomplish. You are looking towards the past. We are deeply embedded in the present and are preparing the future for all.”
“What’s so much better about your way to live in the Canonical Era than ours?”
“We don’t get stuck in the arbitrary restrictions of the past. We use all the degrees of freedom that are available to us. We explore all possibilities that are open to us.”
“The restrictions of the past weren’t arbitrary. They emerged out of the natural evolution of civilization. Those restrictions are meaningful, because they are universally understood.”
“So what? If anything, that merely gives your culture more popularity.”
“Yes, and that’s certainly quite valuable. A culture with more people can explore its fractal variations to a much finer granularity. A culture without clear restriction doesn’t have a clear defining framework. Its cultural density will therefore be lower, and it won’t be able to explore each possibility branch as thoroughly as a culture that has a much clearer framework.”
Valeria had to interrupt him: “That was a pretty good answer. It’s interesting that despite what we have discussed previously, you went into the counter-offensive and actually made a strong and valid point. I wouldn’t discourage this strategy. It can be quite potent, indeed. But you should still try to emphasize the unique strengths of the PCLRC a little bit more.”
Arizzi interjected: “I agree. But let’s start step by step. One of the biggest differences between Lathicans and Astelicans is that the first are Museans, while the latter are Anti-Museans. Kathatus, what’s the idea behind Museanism?”
Kathatus recollected: “After the Coherence has taken over matters in their hands and ended the conflict between the V factions, Sol tried to reinvent itself as one among many star systems in the Coherence. Since our civilization started in Sol, associating Sol with the history of civilization seemed quite obvious. The intention of the Museans was to capitalize on this natural association by turning Sol into a living museum of its own history. This didn’t require a coordinated effort on the side of the Museans. They simply worked on their individual ‘museum pieces’. Collectively, those pieces amounted to a vast history theme park spread out across Sol. This attracted many tourists who wanted to experience the history of civilization in various different ways. In order to keep those tourists happy, and not to disturb them too much, Sol also adopted a culture of hospitality. Today, Sol is about as much known for its hospitality than its focus on history.”
Arizzi commented: “So far that’s correct, but the culture of hospitality stemmed to an even larger part from the requirement of Sol to act as hub of the Coherence. Therefore, Sol had to be accommodating to the interests of its guests and the representatives of other star systems. Now, what do you know about the goals of the Anti-Museans, Kathatus?”
“The Anti-Museans accept the culture of hospitality of Sol, but reject using the whole system as museum of the past of civilization. They argue that people can learn about history just as effectively via the metanet archives. They even see the various history themed attractions of Sol as distraction from actual history. The Anti-Museans insist that Sol should focus on its role as center of the Zonal Canonical Coherence. In my humble personal opinion, Sol is doing pretty well in both regards, actually. Its role as center of the ZCC, its attractiveness as museum of the ZCC, and its culture of hospitality seem to work together beautifully.”
Over the next days, Adano and Kathatus learned to explain the value of the culture of the PCLRC in more detail. At the same time, Adano developed a fascination with Sirian culture that the Astelicans based their own culture on. At the midway point at which they briefly became weightless, due to the loss of acceleration of the train while its passenger department rotated by 180°, Adano asked Arizzi: “Could you please, for the sake of immersion, assume the form of a typical Sirian herashar?”
In fact, Arizzi complied with Adano’s request and turned into a herashar, a creature that resembled a winged serpent much more than any human. Arizzi transformed into a black winged feathered serpent with a dragon’s head, two pairs of wings and six other limbs, spanning almost four meters from head to tail end. His long head had now four large eyes, long whiskers, and long ears that had arrays of antennae inside them. In addition to that, his tail also featured two eyes. His four back limbs had three hooves each, while his arms had hands with six thumb-like fingers, each. All these hooves and fingers also featured retractable claws. But his most deadly weapon were the three armored attack tentacles lined with poisonous razor sharp retractable spikes in each front arm and the tail. Those tentacles could be shot out with speeds of almost 100 meters per second, penetrating flesh and pulverizing bones with ease. The herashar was a creature of nightmares: Elegant, fast, deadly, but still beautiful and majestic. Capable of dominating ground, air, water (yes, it also had gills), and space (the wings could be further unfolded to form solar sails), it became the default body configuration of the inhabitants of the Sirius system in the 2140s, some years after the Femto Crisis. This departure from more traditional body configurations symbolized Sirian culture breaking apart completely from the standards that Sol had set so far.
Adano’s heart was pounding quickly and forcefully. Being in a small space with a creature that could kill its three other inhabitants within a fraction of a second with absolute ease made a terrifying and exciting impression on Adano. Of course, he knew that Arizzi wouldn’t actually do something like that. But seeing a herashar from this close distance was an experience that was unavoidably exhilarating in an existential sense. At least, Adano would get desensitized to this body morphology until he arrived at Astelica.
It was very easy for Arizzi to change his form. After all, he was a virtual whose mental processes were generated within the hull of the passenger car. His physical appearance was a mere holographic projection, yet he could still interact with his environment by using force fields. In the early days of these technologies, ultrasonic projectors, electromagnetic fields, and plasma barriers were used to exert forces that gave holograms the feel of ordinary matter. Since the Femto Crisis, however, particle physics has come a long way and allowed the creation of artificial particles with properties tailored for their intended use. Artificial particles that were used to exert a force on an object were generally termed pulsons. When that technology was still new, you needed very special and bulky pulson emitters and absorbers, so that you could get momentum from one location to another. The contemporary pervasive pulson grid however, was so advanced that it allowed for effectively arbitrary projections of impulse and energy. This pulson grid was powerful enough to let your constituent nuclei fly apart in any direction within less than a microsecond. The energies involved in such a process would make nukes look like harmless firecrackers – in fact, the pulson grid could easily contain and absorb the full power of a nuclear blast. Therefore, the use of the pulson grid technology was regulated by the wise. In the case of holograms, nobody really bothered about that, because the use of this technology has become so commonplace that it was taken for granted. For that reason, the train was equipped with pulson grid technology, even though the propulsion of the train worked with old-fashioned electromagnetic fields.
When finally Adano could muster his courage, he asked Arizzi: “So what’s this Sirian culture all about? Why do the Astelicans want to adopt it so badly?”
“The Sirians are incredible proud of having discovered the Proof and having pushed us into the Canonical Era. They claim that without their help, the V factions would have competed pointlessly against one another for decades. Surely, that’s a bit of a hyperbole, as more accurate estimates state that the crystallization of Sirius Zero in 2193 accelerated the Proof by less than ten years. Yet, in retrospect those few years that were gained turned out to be invaluable. The Sirians feared that there would be repercussions from the Cosmics for trying to crystallize Sirius Zero, but they were courageous enough to go ahead anyway. At least since then on, courage became the core value of the Sirians. If the Sirians really want something, they will go for it, no matter the cost or risk.”
“Isn’t that a bit reckless or even suicidal?”
“Well, it could be seen that way, but the Sirians would say that it’s still worth the risk. Better wager everything on one glorious chance than never try it in the first place. In the worst case, a glorious death is still seen as preferable to a timid indefinite existence.”
Adano couldn’t help but admire this kind of attitude, no matter how insane it seemed.
For the final five days of the travel, Adano and Kathatus tried to anticipate all kinds of attacks on the culture of Lathica and how to argue against those. While Adano grew more confident that he could handle the challenge, at the same time he also became increasingly nervous as they approached their destination. He simply didn’t feel prepared enough. This was such a wildly new experience for him that he was sure to need the assistance of Diolineda, who had been remarkably inactive during most of the travel.
Kathatus didn’t really help with this nervousness by saying: “The Astelicans will totally roast us. Heh. But that’s ok. What’s the worst that can happen?”
Adano’s mind went blank. What was he really afraid of? Surely, the Astelicans couldn’t be that dangerous, or otherwise the tribe wouldn’t have sent their most inexperienced members on this voyage, or would they? Or was the tribe actually intent on testing and purging their weakest members? No, that was surely unthinkable!
Astelica wasn’t a modest habitat that could have been created by smart age technology. It was a HNP-type habitat: A Huge Nested Pill. Its outer look was that of a huge floating pill with a length of a million kilometers and a radius of 200 000 kilometers. Beneath its outer shell there were smaller and smaller versions of the same pill-shaped object. All in all, there were more than 400 nested pill-shaped habitats in which surface gravity was created by a mixture or rotation and pulson pressure. At the end caps people were literally pushed down to the ground by pulsons bombarding the atoms they were made of. Of course, this technology was completely safe. It did neither cause genetic mutations nor bit flips.
The train approached one end cap of the huge habitat. They still had about 200 000 kilometers to their actual target destination inside that habitat, which they would reach in less than two hours. While they still had a speed of about 60 kilometers per second they hardly seemed to be moving relative to Astelica. Adano was truly blown away by the sheer size of this habitat. Its total surface area was about five times that of the whole Asgard topopolis that wound itself around the sun. Astelica was built (or rather materialized) in 2217 and clearly violated the general rule of keeping new habitats small and simple.
As they actually entered the habitat, Adano could see a patchwork of continents on the inner hull of the habitat. Interestingly, the inner pills were invisible. Light was actually routed through the habitat in a way that allowed for a clear normal vision of the whole surface of each pill shell. The habitat still projected a view of the habitat onto the walls of the cabin that would create a smooth transition between the views of each pill shell. Otherwise the transition would be disturbingly abrupt, as they would enter a deeper shell.
To Adano, the view of seemingly regular continents seemed to be too normal. Surely, the builders of this colossal habitat could have opted for completely alien landscapes, couldn’t they? This looked all too Earth-like. His assistant AI revealed to him that the inner shells featured more exotic biospheres, but the outer ones were kept Earth-like because that was still pretty much the standard in Sol.
In this extreme vastness, almost a billion kilometers away from Lathica, Adano felt suddenly very lost and alone. He reached out to Kathatus: “Honestly, I feel kinda deserted by our mentors and Diolineda. I’d like to set up a permanent bidirectional feed between us two for our thoughts and feelings. It might help us to keep our sanity here.”
“This comes quite sudden. I feel honored that you are willing to share your intimate thoughts and feelings with me, but the timing seems wrong to me. Exchanging our personal thoughts and feelings at this time would rather disorient us, rather than to stabilize us. Perhaps our travel back to Lathica would be a better time to try this out.”
Right. What was he thinking? Adano for sure knew that these noetic feeds had their downsides, especially at the beginning, and after the phase of excitement faded. His previous experiences with his friends in Lathica have certainly taught him that much. It still kinda stung that Kathatus preferred to keep his distance, especially in this frightening environment.
After this rejection, Diolineda suddenly appeared in Adano’s vision: “You are certainly not alone here. I have not deserted you. There was just no need to help you directly. But now you will move around in a habitat in which its inhabitants may very well manipulate you. Their methods of manipulation may not be obvious to you, and you might not even believe me when I tell you that you are being manipulated. Be careful! I will be by your side, but you need to trust me to stay safe.”
Great! Instead of making him feel secure, this transmission from Diolineda made him feel more mortified than ever. For a brief moment he considered asking to return to Lathica immediately, but that would have been too shameful for him to bear. No, he had to become as courageous as a Sirian. No looking back, march ever on!