Back to Arratan
Adano went through the motions of being introduced to most of the tribe members. In fact, he simply let his assistant take control of his body and communication with the outer world, while he was brooding about the reason why we was here. If he was here after all. There was this nagging feeling of surrealness when you would expect to wake up from a strange nightmare that didn’t seem to make any sense. That didn’t happen, though. He failed to wake up from the situation in which he was thrown. Wishing for all of this being a dream couldn’t make it so.
Had he been betrayed? By whom? And why? For what? There must have been something he didn’t know, something which has been hidden from him. A conspiracy. No! Thinking like that was dangerous. There be dragons! He needed actual evidence. If he could gain it somehow, which didn’t look likely right now. What he had were his memories. He could scan them for anomalies. Suspicious anomalies in his life that would point to something … special. Was he something special after all? Arizzi often tried to make him feel special, but that was his job, after all. Why he? Why not anyone else? Had the wise played dice with his life? Would they even do something like that? Certainly didn’t seem like it. What would Diolineda say, if she was here? Mental static. That question didn’t even seem to make sense in this situation.
Perhaps the solution could be found deeper in his past. Before his generation in Lathica. Who was he after all? A fresh learner mind developed from DNA coded by the wise, adopted by his tribe, because they wanted to have youngsters amidst them? Nobody in his tribe had a closer connection to him than Arizzi. He should have asked him more about their past. Was Arizzi hired by his tribe, or was his tribe actually hired by Arizzi? Arizzi may be the most unusual element of his past. Why had he trained for so long? It didn’t seem reasonable. Training for 10000 subjective days would have been way more than enough for being qualified as elite personal mentor, even without direct skill and knowledge injections, but Arizzi claimed to have spent more than 230000 subjective days on his training. That always seemed excessive. It was general knowledge that many virtuals honed their art for a century or two, perhaps even three, but why more than six? Most moved on to different fields and passions. Arizzi must have had a deep obsession about becoming the best possible simple elite mentor he could be. Was it by accident that he had gotten such an exceptional mentor? Or was there more to it?
What if the answer actually didn’t lie in his past, but in his present? Who were those Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan really? There should be a reason why he had ended up here. Adano decided to confront chief Modi, after the last introductions had been made: “Chief Modi, do you have an idea why of all places in the Sol system I was sent to you?”
Chief Modi twisted his long pointy silver beard with his fingers, almost closing his eyes for some kind of thoughtful trance, from which he emerged almost half a minute later: “There is probably a specific reason for that, but I doubt that it’s wise to reveal it to you at this stage. All I can say is that we might need you, and you might need us. If I am right about my suspicion, then the rules might have changed. Please do not worry too much about this. If you decide to stay with us, you will be introduced to our secrets in time.”
“Well, that was ominous. Thanks, I guess.”
Getting more specific information out of those Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan would be difficult, if their chief was so reluctant to share his knowledge and suspicions. For that reason, Adano reviewed the introductions his assistant had gone through in his stead. Overall, the tribe seemed to match the looks of a mid-to-late 21st century high fantasy role-playing group, except that it seemed to be a bit overpowered by having two western dragons, the green dragon shaman Zathinax and the red dragon warrior Chahezla (at least it was plausible that she was a warrior, since she wore holographic plate armor – as a dragon). Were they really playing Quest in their default morphs, or would they be using different game morphs? In any case, they were using holographic tents into which some of the tribe members already retreated. Adano couldn’t notice any telltale signs of what kind of force field technology was used by the holograms. Most likely it was some kind of ethereal technology: Subatomic, virtually undetectable, incredibly efficient, and almost incomprehensibly advanced. Arratan wasn’t one of those habitats that was purist about only using simple technologies.
In the meantime, Adano’s assistant had useful news to report: “I’ve found out that Arratan has an internet. It seems to be modelled after the Terran internet at the end of the 20th century. If I had to guess, I’d say that it has been optimised for user unfriendliness and uselessness. There are not even search engines! You need to know the actual addresses of data nodes in order to access them. Apparently the Arratanians like their information as opaque as possible. So far, I could only find a central database on general areas of interest. It’s mostly about the statistics of gamers and gaming clans. Not very useful at all, but there should be a lot more information out there in that internet that’s not easily findable.”
“Good job! Having a minimalist internet is slightly better than nothing. And at least some basic metanet functionality still exists here. Imagine how awkward it would be, if we actually had to speak, instead of using Sol Traditional. That would be totally degenerate. I guess we can count ourselves be lucky that the Arratanians don’t go that far with their communication restriction policies.”
Verbal communication would have indeed turned out to be awkward, since Adano had been taught Japanese poetry, but only had a rudimentary understanding of other languages that existed before the 22nd century. Adano let his assistant show him how to navigate the internet of Arratan. At least that might give him an idea how the average Arratanian thought like, and how the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan differed from the generic specimen. Unsurprisingly for an inner system habitat, Arratanians were very fond of games, and not necessarily the most educational ones. In addition to that, they loved mysteries, rumors, and gossip. Conspiracy theories would have fit that general pattern, too, but they appeared to be absent from the most visible layer of the internet, for one reason or another.
While Adano was browsing what was visible of the internet, Shi Xifeng approached him: “We empathize deeply with your situation, Adano Rahec Tessel-Jirac genin Gautama 27 Lathica. It must be hard for you to cope with such a sudden disconnection from your wiseguide. Our tribe has come to the agreement that you may receive guidance from any of us, if you want to. Of course we know that, compared to the guidance from the wise, our help must appear woefully inadequate, yet it’s the best we can offer you. As chief mentor, it is my primary role to provide advice. I would feel honoured, if you ever sought my counsel. For us it is clear that you have no compelling reason to trust any of us. We will try our best to earn your trust. If you have any questions about anything, please feel free to ask me, or any other member of our tribe.”
“I am truly flattered by your offer. Thank you very much! I am really grateful for that. Nevertheless, it has not escaped my attention that your willingness, or ability, to answer my questions has certain limits. I suppose that hasn’t changed in the meanwhile, or has it?”
“Being sparse with the information we reveal to outsiders belongs to the culture of Arratan. Even though your situation is certainly rare and unpleasant, we don’t see it as so critical that it would justify becoming untrue to our way of life. We didn’t come to this conclusion lightly. This has been quite a controversial point in our most recent debate. And there’s still the chance that we will change our minds. Please, we don’t mean to belittle or offend you. We try to help you as much as we can within the rules we have given ourselves. If you were under some kind of acute danger, we would probably make an exception, but despite the tragedy that happened to you, Arratan is a really safe place.”
Naturally, Adano had expected an answer of that kind. Yet, the remark about Arratan being a safe place was paradoxically disconcerting. Even though there were some places in Canonical Coherence space in which you could be killed, the ubiquitous presence of wise-controlled ethereal technology safeguarded one’s data, so that the wise could reconstruct one in the case of a really unexpected death. No, the real danger in this era was losing oneself – changing in a way that seemed highly problematic in some sense. Getting trapped in a highly dysfunctional mental configuration was the worst that could happen to any citizen of the Canonical Coherence. And that’s only one of the reasons why dedicated education and training that should minimize the risk of such an outcome was pretty much common practice for any reasonable citizen.
“What do you mean exactly, when you claim that Arratan is a ‘really safe place’? Why even mention that?”
“Like most habitats in Artemis, Arratan uses ethereal shields which protect all of its inhabitants from physical violence. Also, Arratan has strict policies against noetic manipulation. We won’t try to convince you of any kind of ideology. You might get accepted here, or you might not, but others won’t try to change you aggressively. There are lots of inner system habitats that have much nastier cultures than Arratan.”
The last point was certainly true. Although most habitats in Sol were pretty peaceful, there were also those militant habitats in which you could get messed up physically, or mentally. Usually only those who want to take extreme risks are willing to visit those places. All other people stayed away from them; and would get blazed by warnings about how dangerous those places were, when they tried to approach them.
“Oh, I see, but so far I only have your word for that. Can you provide any proof to those claims?”
“The first one is simple. Please stand still.”
Suddenly Shi Xifeng rushed directly towards Adano like a pouncing tiger. He tried evading by quickly sidestepping to the left. Adano saw her hand quickly moving towards his right shoulder and tried to deflect the blow with his right arm. Just when Shi’s hand was about to connect with Adano’s arm, it was suddenly reflected into the opposite direction by an invisible force. Adano had felt nothing, while Shi tried to regain her balance after her thwarted attack. Both of them were silent for a moment, and Adano simply stared exasperated at Shi with lowered eyebrows.
“What? That was a quick, harmless, and effective demonstration. And now you have one problem less. You know that you are physically safe.”
“You may be right about that, but it still felt wrong.”
“Getting attacked always feels wrong. A less realistic demonstration would have been less convincing.”
“Whatever. Now what about this protection against noetic manipulation? Will you try to screw with my mind next to show me that such an attempt would lead to failure?”
“No. You could simply check the local internet for logs about such efforts leading to the ban of the offenders from Arratan.”
Immediately Shi Xifeng transmitted instructions on how to access the local internet, together with addresses for the moderation logs of Arratan. After checking a few log entries that described bans of citizens of Arratan for diverse noetic offenses, Adano was assured that Arratan takes the usual peace rules seriously. That wasn’t a guarantee that he was effectively protected, too, or that the same rules applied to him, but testing that out would have been problematic. Getting banned from Arratan might be a quick way to leave this place, but going that path would be bad for his reputation, so he dismissed the thought for now, but made an internal note that this option may be valuable at some unspecified time in the future.
“What’s the fastest regular way to leave Arratan?”
“Taking a vac train to the hub on the next endcap. Directions to the next train station are visible in the infrastructure info layer of the Machinium realm.”
“Oh, this is a multi-realm habitat? Huh, I should have guessed that much.”
Realms were presentations of a habitat, like different channels of your environment you could choose from. The world had different features and people, depending on the realm you were currently in. In other words: You could only be in one realm at once, and could only see the people who were in the same realm, even if different realms shared the same physical space. There was a lot of sophisticated automation that ensured that the complications stemming from this parallel use of space were kept to a minimum. Each habitat with multiple realms had its own rules for switching between realms. Sometimes the rules were even specific to the realm you were currently in.
“What’s the realm we are currently in?”
“It’s the Mevara realm, a high medieval fantasy environment. Getting to the Machinium realm from here directly is difficult. But…”
Adano inquired while Shi was still about to finish her message: “And I guess there’s no way to access the info layer of the Machininum realm from this Mevara realm, or is there? Would I need to use the internet or magic for that?”
“… why are in you in such a hurry to leave Arratan already? Try seeing your current situation as the greatest and most challenging learning experience you’ve ever had. And no, there’s no way to access the Machinium info layer from the outside.”
“Yeah, I get that this is such an amazing learning experience. I’m totally thrilled! But I’d like to keep my options open.”
Of course, Sol Traditional had its means to convey irony in a rather explicit way. And Adano used that to its full degree this time. Awkward silence ensued. Then Shi tried a different approach: “Look, you are trying to find out why the wise have sent you here. Your best chances for that are by sticking with us. If you leave us prematurely, you will lose out of valuable clues.”
“I must concede that your point sounds reasonable. But perhaps important clues are to be found elsewhere. Even if at the moment I don’t know where.”
“Maybe. Still, the highest density of clues is found within the Scintillating Mist Hunters of Arratan. Trust me with that. In any case, you should stay close to us.”
“Do you have any particular reason for binding me to your tribe that I should know about? Reasons that you would be willing to tell me?”
“Yes, we totally love mysteries, and your spontaneous entry here is one of the greatest mysteries we have ever faced.”
“Ah, that’s the way it is.”
Evalutating his options, Adano wondered what would happen, if he actually tried to leave this tribe. Would they follow him and try to get him back? It would probably throw a wrench into their plans. Do the wise count of him doing that? He couldn’t know that, and he also didn’t know why that would even be relevant.
After being sunk into thought for a while, he realized the likely implications of the tribe members using tents: “You follow a natural nocturnal sleep cycle, don’t you?”
“Right, that’s pretty much standard within Artemis.”
Gautama had no such standard. And most inhabitants of Lathica chose not sleep at all, except on rare occasions, or when adapting to other cultural environments. Their genetic alterations and nanobots allowed the Lathicans to quickly adapt to any kind of sleep pattern, including not sleeping at all without suffering from any ill effects.
“In how many standard hours will you wake up from this night’s sleep?”
“Slightly more than six standard hours. We have already prepared a tent with a magically summoned water bed specifically for you, in the assumption that you might to catch some rest after this stressful event that you had to go through. If that’s not to your liking, we could customize a more appropriate sleeping accommodation, if you want to sleep at all.”
“Thanks. That accommodation is fine.”
As distributed symbiont controlling Adano’s neurobiology and its associated nanobots, his regulator could easily and quickly adjust him to the local sleeping habits. Some sleep would also give that regulator a chance to buffer Adano’s nervous system against the negative impacts stemming from his recent traumatic experience of getting disconnected from the wisenet.
After being shown the location of the bed, he crashed into it and immediately fell into a very deep sleep. It was interwoven with heavily fragmented nightmarish dreams. A large fall from the heavens. Being deserted by everyone. Isolated. Without protection. Being attacked, ethereal shields failing. Limbs being torn from his body. Then a large hurricane. Sharp fragments whirling around without destination. Was he one of them, or was he surrounded by them? During all of that he felt a large gaping void within him. It made him feel hollow. Like made out of fragile glass. Were those fragments of glass? Has he shattered? The wind howled furiously. That sound persisted throughout the rest of his dreams. The fragments disintegrated into dust. Suddenly he was immersed in an ocean of blood, while he still heard the wind howling. And there was the beating of his heart. It raced furiously, and chaotically. Was it wounded? It hurt so much. Was it the source of the ocean of blood? No soothing thought or feeling was present to console him. All he experienced was a disturbingly mad cacophony of images, tormenting feelings, and confused thoughts, which seemed to continue forever.
Finally, it ended though. Disoriented to the core, he opened his eyes. Something bright illuminated the world outside of his … tent? Yes, he was in a new place. Arratan. Within the Artemis habitat belt of the inner Sol system. Again, this horrible situation continued to fail at being a nightmare from which he could simply wake up. How did he deserve that? It was not fair! He needed something strong now. A rush of endogenously created euphoria to free his mind. His regulator willingly provided him with a heavenly subjective experience for a while, while his organism still tried to wake up and shake off the tension from those ghastly dream fragments. Fortunately, Adano was hedonically enhanced, which allowed him to experience positive feelings that were more intense and blissful than the summit experiences of classical human beings. For an elongated moment he felt light, elevated, at peace with the cosmos, and embedded in a silky web of pure bliss. All his worries stopped mattering. He wasn’t broken, he was as complete as ever. Confidence was constructed out of nothing. Now it was certain to him that we would eventually find all clues, draw the right conclusions from them, and solve this amazing mystery. And everything would be greater than it has ever been before. Adano’s artificially induced spiritual experience was the perfect counterpoint to his recent nightmares. Time ceased to matter.
And then, for no apparent reason, it was over. It was his regulator who decided that this was enough. Prolonging this experience any longer would provide no further utility. Time to go on with the business of solving his mystery with a clear head. Getting out of the magical water bed was hard. Adano didn’t feel like getting out of it, but he was forced out by an expectant inner drive to find out about everything.
As he stepped out of his tent, he was greeted by the android synth Danisho who didn’t wait long before challenging Adano to a game of Berserk.