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Guidance Withdrawal chapter 12

(Michael Hrenka) #1

Guidance Withdrawal

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Chapter 12

Arrival in Astelica

Five minutes after entering the habitat, the Lathican delegates were greeted by the spirit of Astelica, which manifested as hovering water fountain shaped “luminar avatar” made out of brilliant strings of light filling out almost half the volume of their passenger car. Eir communication in Diolumilan was also broadcast in Sol Traditional: “I am honored to be able to call you welcome to Astelica. May you benefit from your stay here. If you have any questions or desire help, please feel free to contact me.”

Note the shift from the generic femininum for spirits towards the use of gender neutral “spivak” pronouns which result from the third person plural forms by removing the starting “th”, with the exception of the resulting word “ey” being replaced by “e”. The generic femininum for gender neutral spirits has been become adopted in habitats with wide use of the classical binary male and female genders. In habitats like Astelica, in which genders were much less binary, “spivak”-like pronouns have become commonplace. Of course, all of this is a very simplifyng transfer of the complexities of telepathic protocols into plain English and a lot of the subtlety gets lost in translation, but this use of language is aimed at transmitting the respective “feelings” of communication within different habitats.

Of course, the visitors were prepared for this formulaic greeting. Nevertheless, this personal greeting by a habitat spirit that watched over its sextillions of sapient inhabitants felt quite comforting. The spirit of Astelica was a wise who coordinated the affairs of the shells of the habitat and the habitats that slowly orbited Astelica. Even though Astelica had more than five Earth masses, most of it was empty vacuum between the shells, and its average density was quite low. Due to its tremendous size, its own mass gravity only played a minor role, though it was significant enough to keep a belt of thousands of smaller habitats locked in orbit around it.

Each shell of the HNP habitat was home to roughly fifty quadrillion sapient inhabitants. For each material inhabitant, there were almost 400 virtual ones, a relation that was much more uneven than for the average spinning megahabitat, which was at around 1:200. Astelica had become a huge cultural nexus in the Sol system and attracted a lot of virtuals with a liking for large cosmopolitan centers. With more than 100 trillion material inhabitants per shell, Astelica was relatively densely populated. Most of them lived in large cities that housed millions or billions of materials. Almost each shell had about 10 million cities housing at least 10 million materials, but there were also lots of smaller cities and settlements. Finally, quite a lot of rural areas and even stretches of nearly uninhabited terrain were also sprinkled in between.

There were dozens of habitats in Sol that were still larger than Astelica. The total number of sapient inhabitants of Sol was roughly in the order of a hundred sextillions, and the total population of the zone counted in the tens of septillions, and very approximately a 3 with 25 following zeros, or about the number of water molecules in one liter of water. The uncertainties in these numbers comes from the fact that current census data was not available, since information had to travel up to 50 years from the outer reaches of the Zone to reach Sol. But there was also another kind of uncertainty that came from the complication of having to define what counted as “one” individual. With hive minds being quite numerous, that was a real issue. Usually, hive minds are counted as one person, so the previous numbers are in a sense an understatement of the incredible extent of minds living in the Zonal Canonical Coherence.

Adano had known about these numbers for a long time, but seeing the scale of Astelica from the inside made them much less abstract to him. For a moment, he really felt like nothing more than an insignificant tiny speck of dust in a vast ocean. Arizzi immediately latched onto that train of thought in private: “These numbers don’t mean a thing, Adano. There’s no point in comparing yourself to these people. You are supposed to be an explorer of the furthest reaches of human potential. It doesn’t matter what other humans have achieved, or what posthumans have done before. Your significance in this your existence is approaching the utmost limits of the human spirit. Keep that in mind! Even if you were just a regular member of the fictional near-infinite civilization of La’ea, your spirit and purpose should be the same.”

La’ea was a very popular fictional civilization occupying an essentially infinite cosmos of nearly scale invariant fractal design. What that meant, was that you might zoom into an elementary particle and find another whole cosmos. Or your could zoom out to the whole cosmos and find out that it looks pretty much like an elementary particle to the vaster cosmos surrounding it. Zooming in and zooming out could be repeated almost infinitely often. La’ea was the most popular instance of a fictional MC infinity civilization, a civilization occupying a meta-cosmos of infinite “zooming steps”. Of course, this simplified explanation couldn’t come close to the mind-beding complexity of the world of La’ea, but even considering this simple description of that world put everything else into a very humbling perspective.

According to the La’ea mythos, the world of the ZCC was merely a tiny simulation within the endlessness of La’ea. Even though Adano accepted what Arizzi had just told him, he knew that his chances of getting closer towards the absolute limits of human potential than anyone else before him was inversely proportional to the number of human persons in his civilization.

Arizzi interjected again: “It’s no good distracting yourself with considering chances. Either you fully commit to exploring the ultimate limits of human potential, or you don’t. Chances don’t play any role here. Even if you should fail in that endeavor, your journey will have value all by itself. But if you start questioning yourself or your chances, you will be less than fully committed. And that will diminish the value of your journey.”

Living this path that Adano had been created for was everything except easy. He was fully aware of that, but felt strongly obliged to value the opportunity he had been gifted with. And that meant soaking up everything that Arizzi had confronted him with, no matter how inconvenient it felt. That’s why Adano was trained in the art of mastering his own emotions from the earliest possible age. There was more than a superficial resemblance in this with the culture of the species of Vulcans from the fictonal world of Star Trek. It’s not like the PCL or its reinterpretation community were modeled after the culture of Vulcan, but rather that it coincided with it pretty strongly through sheer logical necessity.

In his appearance Adano didn’t have too much in common with Vulcans. His ears weren’t particularly pointy, but his skin had a light pastel purple tone, indicating his association with the Exaltation whose factional color was violet. Currently he was still wearing his obligatory heavy robe, even though he would soon have to get completely naked since the cultural norms of their destination city of Orakanda within Astelica required complete nudity.

Adano doubted that he was ready for the shock of confronting this alien tribe. Nevertheless, he tried adopting the thought that Arizzi expected him to be ready for it, so he probably was ready for it, regardless of how he felt about it. That perspective helped him to relax a little bit, though his nerves were still pretty much on the edge and calling his mental state “anxiety” was a ridiculous understatement.

Still, Adano didn’t get much time to think about all of this, as Arizzi continued to comment on the situation: “Our approach to Orakanda can serve as very practical exemplification of the concept of the fractal society. As we approach our host tribe, we will enter the territories of nested polities, each incorporating the cultural core tenets of the surrounding polity. And each subordinate polity adds on its own unique cultural specifications upon that common base. Starting with Astelica, it’s core tenet is that of being decidedly anti-musean, formally sophocratic, and acting as cultural hub for Sol. The next subordinate polity we will enter is the 78th shell from the outside, called Teknedu, whose culture is defined by embracing posthuman, technology and educational sophistication.”

To everyone within the train Adano announced: “We will soon enter the shell of Teknedu, so that we will be able to observe it from within. Our destination will be the city of Orakanda in the Epica Majoris region. Keep in mind that the leaders of all of these polities are wise. As a sophocratic habitat, its inhabitants follow the direct and open leadership of the wise. We will get welcomed by those sophocrats, in a manner not unlike the greeting from the spirit of Astelica emself.”

Soon after this announcement, the view outside slowly changed. The old continents of the current shell faded out, while the new continents of Teknedu faded in. As this process was completed, a bright sphere consisting of colorful springs of light appeared within the passender car and greeted its passengers in Sol Traditional: “Teknedu here. I copy the greetings of Astelica and offer you my full support in your educational travel. Have a wonderful time!” A second later, the avatar of Teknedu already faded away.

The shell of Teknedu didn’t look too different from all the other outer shells of Astelica. Above green continents and blue oceans, white and black bands of clouds were suspended in the air. No central source of illumination was apparent. Instead, most of the light came from the outside of the next inner shell of the habitat. Yet, due to the optical camouflage, this source of light was invisible and Teknedu appeared to be illuminated naturally without any apparent reason. The continents and oceans on the far side could be clearly discriminated. Given the extreme size of the shell, they appeared minuscule, but were clearly recognizable as large land masses. On the near side of the shell, individual cities could be spotted as bright points of light.

Immediately after entering the space within Teknedu, the train slowly changed its direction towards a location that was still on the end hemisphere on the near side. The overall acceleration of the train was still about Earth surface gravity, but it was moving in a huge arc now. It was only slightly disorienting that the tracks were also cloaked optically, so that the passenger car seemed to move on its own like an escape pod, or a flying car. Adano knew that they still had to travel for about 150 000 kilometers until their destination. They had decelerated until their arrival in Teknedu, but now were accelerating again towards their destination city of Orakanda, which they would arrive in about two hours, travelling at a top speed of about 40 kilometers per second.

From this vast distance, the city could not be seen without resorting to artificial amplification. To gap the waiting time, Arizzi told the other passengers about their target region: “Epica Majoris is a region of about 1.1 billion square kilometers wholly located on the end hemisphere proximal to Lathica. That means that we will experience pulson gravity in addition to centrifugal gravity in that region. Don’t expect to be able to tell the difference, though. The most apparent difference is that the Coriolis effect is a bit smaller than one would expect if all the gravity came from the centrifugal force. Due to the huge size of Teknedu and its relatively slow spin rate, this effect is hardly noticeable anyway. Now about the cultural attributes of Epica Majoris: Its main characteristic is a focus on the La’ea Mythos in particular and general narratives in general.”

Arizzi continued: “Though it has some educational value, the La’ea Mythos mainly fosters wild escapism and a desire to live in a world that we cannot really enter. The problem with La’ea is that it invites people to compare it with our world that looks very minuscule and mundane im comparison. And that’s a dangerous road to tread. We need to keep it real and focus on the world we actually live in. If we want to take anything out of the La’ea Mythos it should be a deeper understanding of our own world. Keep that in mind, when you interact with the inhabitants of Epica Majoris, but please stay polite and don’t say anything insulting about La’ea.”

Their encounter with the Möbiusband shaped avatar of Epica Majoris was as expected comparatively unspectacular, as e just addressed them with the usual polite unspecific greeting. They now approached the continent of Telmerin, while decelerating. Telmerin was a continent of about 4000 kilometers in diameter with a very moderate and stable climate well suited for allowing humans to be very comfortable while being nude, which was one of the defining policies of Telermin. Orakanda became visible as spot at the spinward coast of that continent. It was obvious that Telmerin had several cities that were much larger than Orakanda, some of them stretching out for more than 50 kilometers in diameter. Compared to that, the 10 kilometers of Orakanda looked nearly rural.

In fact, they did encounter the avatar of the spirit of Telmerin who appeared to them a light form in the shape of the continent itself. Eir generic greeting was purposefully blandly polite und thus unremarkable.

As they were approaching Orakanda, they actually entered the region of Teknedu’s atmosphere, which they had been flying above until now. The rail tracks and the train were surrounded by a cloaked vacuum tube that prevented atmospheric friction. Once their speed dropped to below a kilometer per second, the details of Orakanda became visible to the visitors. Its center was a large hemisphere growing out of the ground with a radius of slightly more than 2 kilometers. On its periphery it tapered off and was more shaped like a disc. Above the middle of the sphere there was a large spire ranging into the sky with its tip tapering out and transitioning into a skyward tether connecting it with a transportation mesh hanging in the high regions of the atmosphere. This is where the visitors would be approaching Orakanda from.

The structure of the city itself consisted of a network of interconnected curved shapes with holes in them and tubes connecting those shapes. It looked a bit like a mixture of a bush and a sponge. Those structures were mostly made out of white versatilum, a smart metamorphic carbon based material lighter and stronger than titanium. Versatilum structures could grow and rearrange themselves on demand. They were used for their convenience compared to stronger and more rigid structures like dumb diamondoid materials. In addition to the versatilum as structural material, there were also shaper patches, which were sticky silvery pools of nanomachines that could assemble into any kind of structure, including cars, furniture, or humanoid avatars. While versatilum and shapers were similar in their flexibility, shapers weren’t really good as large scale structural material, and versatilum lacked some of the flexibility of shapers.

Finally, the visitors descended along the central spire of the city. They descended deeper and deeper, first accelerating downwards, then turning around in mid flight and decelerating with about 140% of Earth surface gravity. On their way downwards, they were greeted by the avatar of Orakanda, another light form in the shape of the place that e represented. Their final destination was the district of Socondava, which was located about 500 meters away from the absolute center of the city. As they descended through the city from above, they passed lots of large colorful buildings, as well as outside avenues and parks placed on platforms that were suspended between those buildings. Many of the material inhabitants were winged. It was a city seemingly populated by nude angels, herashars, dragons, pegasi, skydogs, wingcats, birds, bats, flying insects, and all kinds of winged alien-looking creatures. Though that impression was only created by their relatively high numbers compared to all the non-winged flying drones and machines that usually populated the skies of cities. For a city, Orakanda had a rather moderate population density, only about a tenth of that of New York city at the beginning of the 21st century. You could hardly feel alone here, but at least the place wasn’t feeling very cramped.

During their descent, Adano, Kathatus, and Valeria took off all of their clothes and stored them in their personal luggage drones that grew out of the walls of the passenger car. Arizzi still was in his nude black herashar form. To Adano this complete removal of all clothing felt quite unfamiliar and somehow wrong. Being naked amplified his feelings of vulnerability. He realized that most of that must have come from the norms of the culture in Lathica that placed a lot of emphasis of being clothed nicely all the time. This reversal of taboos about clothing disoriented Adano for a moment, but his mind quickly became more concerned with his usual anxieties of meeting their hosts in Socondava. He tried recollecting the most important lessons he learning during his travel. Of course he could easily remember all of them, but that didn’t mean he would always act according to them, since they haven’t overridden his old habits and ideas.

So close to his destination, Adano experienced another peak of anxiety. Yet, this time he was settled on not wanting to run away. Instead, he tried to evoke the Sirian spirit in him. Well, or that part of the Sirian mentality that he thought he understood. Being brave in the face of danger and stuff. For a moment, he felt really good and proud about himself facing this situation with bravery and dignity, standing upright and making a composed appearance – already almost having forgotten that he was completely naked.

A last minute warning came from Arizzi to all of them: “The city district of Socondava has its own culture, which is characterized by a relatively strong adoption of slow culture – well, relatively strong in comparison to the standard of Teknedu. Its other remarkable characteristic is its culture of close cooperation between simple and complex. In Socondava, complex freely and openly mingle with simple. You will certainly find that highly unusual. The usual informal segregation between simple and complex typically grows out of diverging areas of interest, so the Socondavans make a conscious effort to bridge that gap. This involves a lot of patience on the side of the complex, but they deem it worth that effort. Compare their situation to those of wiseguides, but on a more basic level. You should nevertheless be polite to the complex in order to stay out of trouble.”

As Arizzi finished his talk, the avatar of Socondava appeared in their passenger car. This time it was a downward facing pyramid of light that suddenly hovered above them. E spoke in Sol Traditional: “Your long voyage is finally reaching its first destination. Welcome to the district of Socondava where we take our time to create a common culture between the strata. May your stay be blessed by good fortune beyond your imagination.”

Shortly after that greeting, the avatar of Socondava disappeared and they entered the central train station of the district. Their host tribe was already waiting for them: Twenty four light pastel violet therianthrope bunnies with individual detailed lighter fur markings. Three of those bunnies were surrounded by white auras of light. All of them had virtual thought bubbles above their heads, visualizing their thoughts and feelings. They radiated welcoming love, curiosity, and pleasant anticipation. There was no trace of apparent hardness or desire to convert their guests, but that could merely be a facade that was kept up to lure them into false safety.

The door of the passenger car opened and the visitors slowly walked out onto the versatilum floor of the train station, followed by their luggage droids. One of the bunnies, a fellow called Yurai Aphedria, stood closest to them and welcomed them in Sol Traditional: “I hope you had a fine travel from Lathica. Thank you for coming! I see that you are valuing our local custom of nudity. Please don’t feel uncomfortable about that. We don’t judge you for your appearance, but feel honored that you adapt to parts of our culture.”

Adano was now aware that those bunnies had regular fur, but no apparent genitalia. They were essentially androgynous, which was the norm of Teknedu. He felt uneasy about that absence of visual male or female characteristics, but tried to hide this feeling from everyone. After all, he was dealing with posthumans, and those bunnies were merely aggregations of shaper nanomachines remotely controlled by minds running on the computronium embedded into the versatilum structures of the city that surrounded them. Their hosts were virtuals not too much unlike his mentor Arizzi. They only assumed those material appearances for their visitors.

Arizzi spoke publicly for them: “Thank you for welcoming us with all your tribe members. I am well aware that this is a special honor that not all of your visitors receive. We also want to thank Telmerin for keeping up this great cultural exchange program that brought us together here.”

Both groups exchanged mutual feelings of gratitude without transmitting any thoughts for a few moments. The thought visualizations of their host tribe decreased in number accordingly. Then Yurai spoke again: “We have rented a nice tribe apartment for the duration of your visit. Do you want to go there now, or shall we take you on a tour through this district first?”

Kathatus was the first to react to that offer and told Adano, Valeria, and Arizzi how much he wanted to take a tour through this city. Before Adano could voice any objections, Arizzi spoke for them and accepted the offer.

Yurai jumped on the spot, similed, and radiated happiness: “What mode of transport do you prefer? Would the locally popular winged flight be to your liking?”

That question confused Adano. How were they supposed to take flight with wings? Were they expected to switch into winged bodies? Sensing Adano’s confusion, Yurai added: “Don’t worry, we will provide you with shaper exowing packs that will pick up your movement intentions.”

Though Adano was familiar with that mode of transportation, his first assumption really was that they were expected to download their minds into shaper bodies. He felt quite the relief to find out that his expectations were wrong on this account.

Again it was Kathatus who urged them to accept that offer. He transmitted his eagerness to fly with those wing packs. Nobody felt the need to disagree with him. The shaper exowing packs quickly emerged out of the walls of the train station, fluttered to their soon to be wearers, and attached themselves with straps on them. For a brief moment Adano wondered why this was an apparent exception to the rule of not wearing any clothes, but he decided not to pursue this train of though further. Their hosts hopefully knew what they were doing, and if not, he trusted Arizzi and Diolineda to protect him from possible harm. Interestingly, even their luggage drones got shaper exowing suits that were instructed to follow the respective owners of their droids.

Meanwhile clouds of shaper nanobots aggregated behind the backs of their host bunnies and condensed into the shape of large wings. Their wingspan was a generous seven meters. They had to keep a much greater distance between themselves in order not to touch one another with the tips of their wings. Their hosts started running towards the next exit of the train station and then lifted into the air with a strong flap of their wings. The visitors imitated that maneuver and found themselves flying without much conscious effort. A section of the transparent corundum ceiling of the train station moved itself aside so that they could escape through the air above the station.

Outside of the train station the air felt pleasantly warm, and there was a mild breeze that they could feel in their feathers. Apparently the exowing suits transmitted tactile sensations to their minds via the standard neural interface. After some brief moments of consideration, Adano granted his exowing packs the rights to wrap themselves around him, be controlled by his thoughts, and transmit relevant sensations to him. If they represented any real danger, his protector AI symbiont would have warned him anyway.

Right beside the train station was the central plaza of Socondava. It was located on a large platform surrounded by tall buildings and tapered into a broad street towards the neighboring district. There were lots of public meeting spaces along the central plaza. Their hosts turned around the plaza and dropped below its platform. About a hundred meters below, they saw a park placed on an even larger platform. There were lakes, swimming pools, and even a small beach area within that park. On its periphery the park was surrounded by a small ring shaped forest.

The illumination so deep down into the city came from the buildings surrounding them. They appeared to glow from within, but were only slightly brighter than the objects and people they shone upon. It was still sufficient to recognize all the naked human, animal, and other forms swimming within the lakes and pools below them. The flying tribe of bunnies nearly crashed into a flock of quickly descending colorful Sirian herashar who intended to take a bath in the central lake. Adano was fascinated about how fast and gracefully they could fly. Seeing them letting themselves drop into the lake producing large splashes of water was a less graceful contrast to that. They seemed to have fun and the other swimmers didn’t seem to mind so much, even though the thought bubbles of some of them darkened a bit and displayed “no splashing” icons for a few moments. A few of the other swimmers used force fields to protect themselves from the splashes of water and seemed to enjoy the situation in a slightly humored manner.

Their hosts took them deeper, below the platform of the park where the density of structures and buildings grew larger. They pointed towards the direction of highest density and mentioned that the central district lay behind the closest buildings. It was separated by its own large geodesic dome, which was a hemisphere of around 500 meters diameter. Yurai told them that the central district was significantly warmer than the rest of the city, due to the activity of its central computation cores which hosted more than two billion virtual persons, with about one hundred million of them being complex. Despite its high population density, the central district of Orakanda had enough spare space for a large park hosting a lush tropical forest. Today, they wouldn’t visit that district though. The tour was about Socondava after all.

Towards the outside of the city there was a 200 meter tall building that was identified as the sports center of Socondava. Giving the material inhabitants of the district the opportunity to engage in all kinds of sports was no second thought. They flew upwards in a spiral around the sports center and found themselves above the level of the train station. There they found the largest structure of the district: The main event hall with a diameter of about 250 meters. It was surrounded by large balconies and landing stations on multiple levels. Large tubes connected the event hall with the central train station below. Other tubes connected it with surrounding smaller event halls.

After flying around the main event hall, they ascended again to a platform that was suspended between structures above the hall. It was the collaboration forum that was populated by a large crowd of simple and complex, the latter easily identified by their light auras that surrounded them. The structures that surrounded the forum were meeting and collaboration spaces.

By now, Adano grew accustomed to seeing everyone naked in this city. What was bewildering, still, was seeing so many complex in material forms mingling with simple. That was much more of a cultural shock for him than the customs surrounding clothing here.

Sideways above the forum was their final destination: A network of apartment buildings close to the upward boundary of the district. Being so high above the rest of the district was not a prime location, as it was relatively distant from the center of the district and that of the city, but Adano didn’t really mind.

Their hosts landed on a large balcony of an apartment building and the Lathicans followed their lead. Yurai commented: “There is of course more to see in Socondava, and of course much more in Orakanda, but for now you have seen the main points of reference of our district. With a material population of less than sixty thousand it’s not very large in that respect, but it’s home to sixty million virtuals. The main processing cores of the district are located at its lowest level close to the central district of the city. Our tribe has temporally relocated to the computronium of this apartment for the duration of your visit. This apartment has a floor space of 641 square meters, not including the balconies, and your own private quarters have 80 square meters. I hope this is sufficient for your needs. If not, feel free to ask for a larger fraction of this apartment or a bigger apartment.”

Neither of the Lathicans felt the need for more space, so the mutual understanding was that these accommodations were sufficient. The apartment had a large central community room, a kitchen with an adjacent dining room, a large swimming pool, an indoor garden, six office rooms, six rooms with yet unspecified function, six dormitories for their hosts, a community room for the primary guests, four private rooms, and a section for additional guests and visitors. The whole apartment was made out of shapers, so that internal walls and furniture could be rearranged on demand. The water in the swimming pool and the plants in the garden were the exceptions to that rule, but that actually had to be pointed out. The apartment spanned three floors, each with a ceiling height of slightly more than four meters.

After having been familiarized with the apartment, the Lathicans were called to its central community room where Yurai started introducing their tribe and its members. The tribe had the illustrious name of “Resonant Ecstasy of Friendliness in Socondava (Orakanda, Telmerin, Epica Majoris, Teknedu, Astelica, Gautama, Sol)”. Its mission was to explore the interesting cultural particularities of the extrastellar visitors to Astelica and weave stories about them, which were shared in Socondava and beyond. It consisted of six different teams: A diplomacy team that contacted visitors to Astelica, a liaison team that stayed in contact with allies within Astelica, a cultural analysis team, a cultural translation team, a storytelling team, and an event organizing team. Each team had a team head that represented eir team. Yurai was head of the diplomacy team and also tribe chief. Axiale, Jareni, and Ephiri were the complex of their tribe who were the heads of the liaison, translation, and storytelling teams respectively. Torkannene and Jao were simple and represented the event and analysis teams respectively.

Jao now took over and started an brief analysis of the two tribes: “Welcome dear guests from Lathica. I want to facilitate a mutual understanding of our both tribes. Let me start with our similarities. Afterwards I’ll explore the differences between our tribal cultures. First of all, let’s state the obvious: All of us see ourselves as part of the Exaltation, are wiseguided, and live in the habitat belt Gautama.”

There was a brief pause after which Jao continued: “Diving deeper than that requires some effort. And yes, I am aware that Arizzi and Kathatus are honorary members of their tribe, so my analysis doesn’t include the exceptions that are created by them, no offense implied. Both of our tribes assume anthropomorphic material forms, at least occasionally. We both share an appreciation for slow culture, and engage in daily tribal routines. All of us place an emphasis on a broad cultural education. Of course there are a number of less specific commonalities between our tribes. We accept the ideas of the fractal society, we are mainstream anthroponoetic, or postanthroponoetic, and we are mostly polite in our interactions with foreigners, though there are exceptions from time to time. Luckily, today there haven’t been exceptions here, so far.”

Jao went on: “Trying to find more commonalities will reveal increasingly obvious and trivial ones. We are all moderately wealthy citizens of the Zonal Canonical Coherence. Hooray! This is a fact that we are used to take for granted, so it’s worth to point it out from time to time. Thankfully, involuntary poverty is mostly restricted to the sims, the obscure, and the ignorant, but let’s not forget that these groups exist. We are none of those, and in that respect we are very privileged to live in a stabilized system 6 civilization as lucid and educated high functioning citizens. Our blessings include indefinite lifespans, access to a large fraction of the metanet, wiseguidance, and the ability to travel to any location within 50 light years.”

Now Jao increased his pace: “That last point is of interest, because it leads to the differences between our tribes. Our tribe could travel to any location within the ZCC, but that would mean that we would spend an awfully long time in transit. It would take much more than 5000 years to travel to every star system in the Zone, and until then the world will most certainly be a very different place. We are interested in how the cultures of the different star systems look now, or at least within the span of a century. Sol is still the central hub of the ZCC, so people who want to share their culture, will be likely to visit our system. Astelica has been trying hard to become an important cultural hub of Sol. So far, it couldn’t reach the popularity of the planet clouds, the Apollo array, the Metatron gigahabitats, Amalgardia, or Asgard, but it has eclipsed the importance of all the other gigahabitats, and that’s no small feat. Due to our popularity, a large fraction of the visitors who come to Sol will visit Astelica, and here we meet them and learn about what is going on with the cultures in the ZCC.”

For a moment Jao looked Valeria into her eyes and spoke: “You of the tribe ‘Special Essence of Holographic Singularity Lathica Invictus (Lathica, Gautama 27, Sol)’ are more interested in the temporal dimension of the cultures in the ZCC. You ground your culture in the historical Polymath Champions League – indeed a very influential group that many other communities were modeled after. It has been widely claimed that the PCL has brought back dignity to the marginalized species of humans. After the turn towards posthumanism and inhumanism, the pendulum swung back with the rise of the PCL and its imitators, and brought humanity back into the limelight. The PCL was remarkable in many respects, so the wish to keep alive their legacy is quite understandable.”

Turning his gaze towards Yurai, Jao added: “Yet our world is changing. We live in a platinum age in which myriads of new different cultures emerge day after day. Many of them can also be said to be remarkable in many respects. And this brings us to a fascinating commonality between our tribes: Our appreciation of certain remarkable cultures, be they close or distant to us in spacetime.”

After Jao had ended his talk abruptly just like that, Adano felt cheated. He had expected em to accuse his tribe of clinging to inferior ideas. Jao’s harmonic end note violated his expectations of being dragged onto a verbal battlefield. This couldn’t be it, or could it? There were so many differences that had been omitted. Was this merely the quiet before the storm? Did the Socondavans want them to drop their guard?

After those moments of silence and reflection passed, Jao raised a challenge: “You are welcome to add your perspective on the commonalities and differences between our tribes. We are eager to hear your ideas.”

Yurai intervened here: “Don’t feel pressured by Jao. There is no need to react immediately. Feel free to take your time to consider your analysis thoroughly. You hardly know us, so you may want to learn our ways first, before you compare us to your own tribesmembers.”

Sure, Yurai seemed nice, but Adano suspected a very clever strategy being behind all of this. Thankfully, Arizzi saved them from having to come up with a smart reply themselves: “Thank you very much for your generous offer. We will take some time to compose our own analysis. If we could retreat to our private quarters, that would be greatly appreciated. We are a bit overwhelmed from our arrival in this great habitat.”

“This is a tactical retreat, right?” was the thought that Adano sent to his own group in private. The replies were essentially simultaneous and unanimous: “Of course!”

They met in the community room that was allocated to them. Kathatus was outraged at the Socondavans: “These smart bastards! They don’t give us any real targets to attack and passively wait for our next move, which they will certainly exploit mercilessly.”

All of them tried not to give away any emotions through anything that their bodies did. They went into full stack poker face mode and let their secretaries and regulators display an emotionally neutral mask on their whole bodies, all the while they fiercely debated in their own private telepathic network, in their own virtual version of the room in which they could express themselves openly without having to fear that their hosts would snoop on them.

Valeria criticized Kathatus: “You are very eager to assume that their intentions are aimed at defeating us in some kind of debate contest. That assumption may well be quite wrong. What if they merely want to avoid open conflict that would sour the relationships between our tribes? What if they really just want to live their valued imperative of friendliness?”

He wasn’t ready to accept that possibility: “How can you be so naïve? Have you forgotten where we are? This is Astelica, the headquarters of the anti-museans! Any softness of their side is merely a facade, a strategy employed to let us drop our armor and weapons. We have come to test our resistance to their attacks, haven’t we? Or is this really supposed to be some kind of harmless cultural exchange program? Are you misleading us?”

Adano was increasingly unsure which person he wanted to side with. Therefore, he remained passive and listened to their points attentively. Valeria couldn’t allow those accusations to remain not commented: “You have very rigid notions of what you are presumably supposed to to. Yes, what if this whole apparent ‘mission’ was really just a test of your fanaticism. Oh no, have I now given away our secret plan? Well, no, I’ve just increased the level of uncertainty that you will need to deal with. This isn’t some simplistic training regimen that we expose you to, this is real life, so act accordingly!”

That reply infuriated Kathatus who raised his virtual arms in the air in apparent exasperation: “You have been misleading us again and again about the nature of this mission. Is there really a fixed mission or are you just making up stuff on the fly? I’m getting so many mixed messages here that I suspect you to just try to sabotage us and see what we’ll do about that.”

Surprisingly, Valeria praised him for that reply: “Good, so very good. Now you are starting to think outside of the box. Is there really a mission, or is there not? What if there is actually none, and we merely offer you the illusion of it being what you might expect us to give to you as a mission. Or perhaps there really is a mission. But even if that was the case, have you considered the possibility that you aren’t compelled to accept the mission we’ve chosen for you?”

After that reply, Kathatus’ virtual body just turned around in silent protest and sat down. He transmitted confusion, frustration, and resignation. Arizzi just commented on that in a dry tone: “Fine. Now you really take your time to reflect on your next steps. I appreciate that.”

Adano was really baffled about how this exchange turned out. Wasn’t Valeria just unfairly hard on Kathatus? Was their plan really to test him in the way she hinted at? Was it all really just about Kathatus and not about him? In times like these, Adano was really glad that he had a wiseguide that he could rely on. So, he asked Diolineda about this: “What is this really all about? Our mentors are making things really confusing.”

Diolineda replied immediately: “If this kind of confusion had an educational point, what would it be?”

For a few seconds, Adano pondered about that idea. The answer really lay in the last idea she had mentioned: They weren’t bound to follow the missions of their tribe. They could make decisions on their own, think for themselves. “You’ve got it!” commented Diolineda on Adano’s train of thought. That was actually a scarily heretic notion for Adano. How could his decisions be allowed to deviate from that of his mentors, unless they were false and to be corrected? “How can you really know whether your decisions really deviate from those of your mentors? Maybe they are just guiding you towards a conclusion that feels heretic, but coincides perfectly with what they want you to do?”

That idea really made Adano feel uncomfortable and insecure: “How am I supposed to live with that level of uncertainty? You wise don’t have these problems, you know everything for certain.”

Diolineda’s light form that was only visible to Adano turned red:" Wrong. We actually deal with extreme levels of uncertainty, but have achieved perfection at dealing with uncertainty."

“Please tell me how you do that.”

“Our methods don’t work well for simple. That’s why you are simple, and we are complex. It’s not appropriate for you to fully emulate our strategies for dealing with uncertainty. What you can do however, is to follow my guidance.”

At that moment, Adano was contacted on a completely private channel by one of their hosts, the complex Ephiri: “I need to talk with you in private.”

Adano was perplexed, but intuitively also let his secretary and regulator mask his virtual body to keep his thoughts and feelings secret from his own group. His curiosity compelled him to reply to Ephiri quickly and in complete confidence: “Oh. Why?”

“Because you are special.”

… to be continued …