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Short Story: Quadune

I’ve written the following shorty story as my entry for the Sapiens Plurum 2020 science fiction contest . Apparently, there were very many entries, and my story wasn’t among the. So, I’ll release my story here.

Note that this story plays in the Coherence universe, at an unspecified time. It’s definitely a far future story.

Quadune

A human with the appearance of a black skinned 25 year old in a silvery overall appeared out of nowhere at the border of the clearing. Edditon looked around to take in his new environment. It looked to him like he was in a forest in the moderate regions of Old Terra. Of course, this wasn’t Old Terra, but Vaquata, a vast topopolis in the Capella star system. Vaquata was placed at a distance of 1.2 billion kilometers from the yellow subgiant Capella Ab. It wound around that host star about twelve times until it closed up on itself. Its total surface area was close to 10 quadrillion square kilometers, which consisted of concentric cylinder shells.

Eddition saw an old man sitting on a large rock near the center of the clearing. A Dumeril’s boa wound around his body and both of their bodies were covered with greenish-white moss that was itself covered with glowing runes that had no meaning for him.

Close to that man was a young neanderthal woman clad from head to toes in silvery mail armor. A falcon sat on the top of her helmet. That falcon was covered by glowing runes similar to those on the moss of the old man. Next to the woman was a large grey wolf. Both groups of beings were each surrounded by an aura of colorful threads of light. These threads were familiar to Edditon. They represented Diolumilan, the language of the perfected, and signified the presence of perfected beings watching, guiding, and protecting.

Edditon was contacted via the Metanet by the group with the woman, the wolf, and the falcon. They each spoke with different voices:

“Unidentified intruder, please identify yourself!” requested the falcon stoically.
“Who are you? Where do you come from?” asked the woman with strong tones of curiosity and mild tones of concern embedded in her Metanet message.
Surprise, shock, concern, bewilderment came from the wolf who growled at him at the same time.
The colors of the Diolumilan aura of that group became more vibrant and occupied the whole spectrum of the colors that Edditon could perceive. From what little he could understand from that ultra complicated language he could recognize: “Welcome to this place. Danger! Whatever will happen is your own fault. Have fun. I like your audacity.”

Meanwhile the old man was just watching what was going on. Edditon opened a metanet channel to all of them and requested an open communication space between them. All of them agreed, much to Edditon’s surprise and satisfaction. Then he introduced himself while radiating curiosity and excitement: “Greetings! I am Edditon from Astelica, Sol. I visit Vaquata as journalist in order to study the cultures of your habitat. I would be honored, if you agreed to an interview with me.”

While the group with the woman was still perplexed by his sudden appearance, the group with the old man answered his call with one single measured telepathic voice: “Hello. Your entrance is unexpected. Please make an appointment the next time. The famed politeness of the Solans really isn’t what it once used to be.”

Edditon fell to his knees and bowed down, apologizing: “I beg for your forgiveness. It wasn’t my intention to bother you. I merely requested a transport directly to Vaquata. The precise location of my arrival was decided by the habitat anima of Vaquata eirself. I just materialized here after 42 light years of transit.”

Now, the falcon contacted him again: *“Intruder Edditon, please open yourself up to deep inspection.” The falcon launched eirself into the air and prepared to land on his head. At the same time, the glowing light halo was still connecting the wolf and the woman. That light halo switched its dominant color to amber – an obvious warning.

Edditon stood up and let the falcon land carefully on his head. His protector symbiont intelligence immediately warned him after the female (as identified by his AI-augmented senses) falcon had landed: “Simultaneous phononic, EM, and particle scans detected. Automatic countermeasures deployed. Likely stratum classification of scanning falcon: Complex. Countermeasures probably insufficient. Suggesting retreat or surrender. Update: Injections of probing nanobots through punctures in the epidermis detected. Preparing defensive nanobots. Requiring permission to attack the intruding nanobots.”

Edditon was both outraged and excited about this assault and not only granted his protector to attack the intruding nanobots, but authorized a counterattack on the falcon with his own attack nanobots. Waging a nanocombat against a complex class being was nearly hopeless, since he and his protector were classified as “simple”, the complexity stratum below “complex”. Nevertheless, he wanted to demonstrate some defiance, since he was in an adventurous mood.

Concurrently, he ordered his protector to attack the falcon by using his versatilum overall. From his shoulders thin threads shot up towards the rump of the falcon in the hope that he could conduct a strong current through the threads to incapacitate her.

That plan was only mildly successful, since the threads didn’t penetrate the target far, due to dermal armor that the falcon was protected with – the data from the phononic sensors embedded in the versatilum threads suggested some kind of multilayer graphene armor. The high voltage current could nevertheless be induced in the target, setting her whole coat ablaze in a maelstrom of fire and lightning. While the introduced probing nanobots were quickly overwhelmed by Edditon’s defense nanobots, the counterattack was thwarted by the falcon’s attempt to retreat. Edditon wasn’t satisfied by this result and ordered his protector to capture the attacker. Dozens of thick threads unwound from his clothing and ensnared the falcon before she could take flight properly.

The next problem were the neanderthal and the wolf dashing towards him. In the expectation that they would have dermal armor like the falcon, Edditon let parts of his versatilum overall reconfigure itself into a spike-shaped nanospring-powered dagger and a coil pistol loaded with armor-piercing flechettes. His attackers were faster than expected, however. It took the wolf only a second to bridge the 15 meters that separated them. Edditon’s dagger was finished by then and he tried stabbing the wolf while she (he could infer that from her smell) launched herself at him and made him fall on his back. The blow hit, but the angle was too shallow, so it got deflected by the dermal armor of the wolf. He tried to point his just finished pistol at the wolf, but she bit his wrist, so that he couldn’t control the pistol properly. As a reaction, he instructed his pistol to use its internal actuators to position itself to fire at the wolf, but the neanderthal woman grabbed it before it was in place. She also stomped down on his other wrist and prevented him from using the dagger. Defeated, Edditon signaled: “I surrender.”

He released the falcon who used some kind of replication technology to restore her feathers to their previous glory. Edditon’s own wounds took a couple of seconds to be healed by his internal nanomachinery. Instead of pain, he felt a warm ecstasy as he recovered from the brief fight.

The wolf sent the following feelings: weak, disappointing, boring. Edditon didn’t feel particularly insulted, but was amused about the brashness of this group. He loved his home system Sol, but the pervasive peacefulness and politeness were sometimes too boring for his taste. Despite that sentiment, he asked curiously: “Why did you attack me? This level of aggression was completely unprovoked.” The falcon disagreed: “Open inspection was met with hostile countermeasures. Retaliatory action was justified.” Edditon contested: “Your aggressive inspection was unjustified. I haven’t granted permission for invasive scanning.”

This time, the old man intervened: “Please calm down, everymind. I am sorry, Edditon. The youngsters here can be pretty wild. Don’t take it personally. They embrace any challenge with ruthless aggression. However, I am glad that you aren’t one of those journalists from Sirius. They tend to pulverize our youth pretty thoroughly. Their bodies usually need to be reconstructed from scratch afterwards.”

The woman whispered: “Nice fight! Now, let’s have sex!” Edditon was flabbergasted about that quick and direct invitation. For an enhanced neanderthal she was quite pretty with her long black hair. Although he was interested in the offer, he didn’t want to offend the old man that still sat on his rock. Sending gratitude, he replied: “Thank you, but I would like to finish our conversation first. Also, I’m not familiar with the sexual customs here. Am I expected also to copulate with the wolf or the falcon?” The falcon replied instead of the woman: “I have already evaluated a comprehensive set of physical interactions with your body from my previous scan, so I am not interested. Copulation with my wolf-morph simple component is optional, though. I’ll just browse the metanet while you do your peculiar physical exercise.”

Before Edditon could make up his mind about that offer, the old man commented: “Ah, yes, the youth of Vaquata only has games on its mind. Violence, sex, drugs, the whole basic sensory satisfaction spectrum. You aren’t obliged to agree to any of that.” Regardless, Edditon promised to accept that offer – including the wolf who also signaled interest – after the current conversation was finished. In addition to his innate sexual interest, he was eager to collect new exotic experiences. A significant part of his audience at home would enjoy a comprehensive recording of his physical and mental sensorium during such activities. The rest could just skip that.

After the group around the woman retreated back to the old man, Edditon immediately composed himself to start his interview: “Well, that was surely wild. Now, could you please introduce yourself?”

The old man was quick to reply: “My short name is Joto of the clearing rock. I am a hermit who settled down here in the wilderness. Often times people from throughout this region contact me to get some council. I only accept appointments on an individual basis, though. It’s not like I am a professional counselor or something.”

After a while the group with the woman managed to synthesize a singular telepathic voice: “My short name is Vengi of Timura. I am on an orientation journey through Vaquata. Nice to meet you.”

Edditon didn’t prepare himself thoroughly for his journey to Vaquata. What he did know was that the main cultural theme of the topopolis were the quadune, group minds consisting of one member of the four complexity strata each: The basic (beings with intelligence below that of classic humans), the simple (beings like him with human to moderately superhuman intelligence), the complex (minds with strongly superhuman intelligence), and the perfected (minds that have reached the pinnacle of intelligence, wisdom, and sophistication). Vaquata was the largest habitat exploring this theme, with a population consisting almost entirely of quadune.

He asked Joto: “What makes this area of Vaquata special? Are the quadune here of a special type?”

Joto answered: “Yes, in this sector of Vaquata the people follow the strange idea of letting each component have an equal level of influence. Apparently, that makes us particularly chaotic and volatile.”

“With components you mean the component minds consisting of one basic, simple, complex, and perfected, each, I assume?”

“Yes, apparently you came almost completely unprepared like so many of your ‘just jump into the next interesting habitat with no prior research’ type of journalist colleagues.”

“True. That’s the best way to shield oneself from any distorting preconceptions.”

“Yes, I know that spiel. You are the third journalist from Astelica who has visited me since I took shelter here.”

“How old are you, if I may ask?”

“I’ve been here for 90 Terran years. And I hope that’s enough information for you. I don’t like going through my whole personal history with you.”

“Ah, but aren’t you Capellans known for your exceptional collaboration?”

That comment made the moss on Joto’s body fly into the air and make a wild swirling dance around the old man and the snake. The light aura around him turned into a poisonous green. Exasperated, Joto shouted: “How dare you challenge me by targeting the honor of our star system? But very well, my genealogy traces back to the founders of Vaquata who themselves were generated to a significant part by the offspring of Chimera.”

“No way! You mean the legendary double agent Chimera of the SA war?”

“Yes, that Chimera, one of the first complex beings. A composite of many wild animals of Old Terra, as well as humans and superintelligences of the resistance. We Vaquatans take pride in this heritage. Vaquata was initially intended to be a habitat for the triune, the union of basics, simple, and complex. After the rise of the perfected, it was re-purposed to explore the theme of the quadune.”

They were interrupted by Vengi: “Please don’t ignore me. I feel excluded. Excluding me is not polite, Solan Edditon.”

This remark made Edditon grin. “You are mistaken, Vengi. Solans don’t follow the theme of politeness, but of hospitality. You are neither my guest, nor are we in Sol.”

“I know. It was still worth a try. By the way: Don’t you feel lonely as singleton? Why are you alone here anyway? Don’t you have colleagues or friends who were willing to accompany you?”

“I am spontaneous and want to be free. Dealing with other people restricts me unnecessarily.”

“I don’t understand. Do you mean to imply that quadune are less free than you simple singleton?”

“I’m not sure about that. Do you experience yourself as free while you have to deal with the different directions that your components pull yourself towards?”

Apparently this remark broke the cohesion of the quadune and Edditon was again confronted by individual replies from Vengi’s components.

“Cohesion is a struggle. Your provocation is not appreciated,” transmitted the falcon.
“I am free! How dare you question that?” complaied the woman.
Trespassing, anger, provocation, disrespect were sent by the wolf.
The light aura presented a mix of amber and blue hues. Blue typically being a signal for being on the right track.

Joto manifested a floating icon that depicted a white shield and threw it to Edditon: “Here, take this icon of peacefulness. It will protect you from being attacked again. You will probably need it. Don’t worry! It’s enforced by the anima of Vaquata eirself.”

Signaling gratitude, Edditon accepted that icon and activated it. Vengi commented with one voice again: “Now you have become boring. I am disappointed.”

Eddition continued interviewing Joto: “What made you decide to become a hermit here?”

“Just take a look at this youngster Vengi. This whole section is a chaotic mess. Many revel in that, but I prefer living at the outer boundary of this organized mayhem. With your adventurous spirit, you would probably enjoy yourself in our villages and cities, however.”

“Interesting. Instead of moving to a more orderly section, you decided to become a hermit. So, you still seem to be enamored with the chaos here.”

The snake started sneaking towards Edditon. He wasn’t sure what that meant, but was eager to find out. This whole adventure was quite exhilarating for him so far, so he was just looking forward to whatever would come next.

“Don’t worry. I just feel like hugging you with my basic component. Although you are a complete – and somewhat irritating – foreigner, I feel close to you.”

The snake slithered up his left leg and then his torso. Apparently, the snake was male. Whether the pattern of all components of a quadune being of the same gender was a local cultural pattern or merely a coincidence wasn’t clear to Edditon. The snake’s embrace was strong, but he could still breathe comfortably.

“I welcome you to Vaquata, Edditon of Astelica, Sol. How long do you plan to stay here anyway?”

“I don’t know. I will leave when I feel satisfied about the knowledge that I can acquire here.”

“Vaquata is vast. You may never feel satisfied.”

“Perhaps. But it’s good to be here, for now. What I am most interested to learn, is how you manage the frustration of your higher components, having to deal with the equal decision making weight of your lower components.”

“With detached stoicism and bemusement. Stupid decisions are made by the basic and simple components all the time. That’s what makes Vaquata, and particularly our section, so entertaining. The resulting drama and dysfunctionality can become a bit much, so the complex and perfected components usually don’t make fixed goals or plans. Those wouldn’t come to fruition anyway.”

Addressing Vengi, Edditon inquired: “Joto called you young, but how old are your exactly and how were you and your components generated?”

With a unified voice she answered: “I’ve been remixed two Terran years ago. Copy remixing is the usual form of quadune generation in this area. Copies of components of other quadune are made and bonded to a new quadune. Individual components in the Terran habitats of Vaquata mostly come from the Biosphere History Reconstruction project and are often about as old as Vaquata itself.”

“Fascinating! Do you allow foreign singletons to be copied and remixed into new quadune?”

“If they are willing and sufficiently compatible, yes. Also, they need to be deemed worthy by the anima of Vaquata. That anima is my perfected component, by the way.”

“What? The mind ruling over all of Vaquata is your perfected component? Is that component shared between many quadune?”

“Yes, a significant portion of the quadune in Vaquata have the habitat anima as perfected component. The reasons for that are … complicated.”

“Intriguing! Are complex components also shared?”

“Yes, my complex component is currently a member of 7397 quadune dispersed in a radius of about 2000 kilometers.”

There were so many interesting questions to be asked, but Edditon had already fallen in love with Vaquata. He decided to make the effort to become a component of a quadune. His audience would be mesmerized if a copy of him as quadune arrived back in Astelica.

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