Thel

by John Walsh


We were 37,000 in the first wave, poised momentarily on the buffer edge before swooping on the outer ramparts, smashing through the level one defences and dashing ourselves onto the evolution machines. Some 36,000 were destroyed; 900 evolved into something not immediately discernible, and the rest followed me down onto the next level.

It was nearly a second before I rebooted here in the reserve section and took this breather to assimilate the many new events and provide a download of the post-stress symptoms.

The landscape had changed almost entirely in the interim. Some variations could be explained by proximity to the evolution machines and others would be random, aimed at obscuring targets and scrambling tactical predictions. There was a third component though, which was not clear. Not to me, anyway but then I have no Newton or Hawking components.

For the second wave, I was joined by 77,500 new-generation warriors, who would leave me, the village elder, as hindmost and integrate my memories into the combat-awareness modules. I would then act as liaison with the extensive memory backup team.

That plan did not, unfortunately, survive even first contact with the enemy. Espionage or superior computational power provided Thel with an edge, and our upper attack circumference was penetrated and roasted from the inside in the first microsecond. The others did not last much longer as the pincer movement was coordinated consummately. Large and nasty-looking machines did the rest.

I again survived, presumably — hopefully — by chance.

Post-combat evaluation required a moment of pause and inward reflection, and seven waves of drones were launched in swift succession to smash themselves into databits to prevent escalation. No more than a quarter of a million were lost. The resource depletion was noticeable but within acceptable limits.

That was the end of my active role in the war. I had, in truth, been obsolete for far too long. They did not ask me for my opinion about the heavy orbital artillery bombardment being planned or, now I come to think of it, any other plans for the future. A mistake no doubt, since the drops of wisdom wrought from the long, long minutes of my life must surely still have value in this brave new, not so brave, not so new world.

* * *

The Thel — our Thel, I should say — was part of the Asian-peripheral occupation, flanking the African and neo-Russian forces. It was, inevitably, more than a three-dimensional assault but one that extended to some extent both ways into the fourth dimension. That was what made the post-combat memory integration activities, tedious though they certainly were, so important.

The name, of course, was the joke of some lit-clown professor who thought smart-aleckery of superior value to clarity. No wonder they had all been purged. First against the wall, some of them. Second, at least. Then, there was quite a lengthy list of black marks to attend to. Resource-occupiers all.

She had come to enforce the law, what their faction called the Natural Law, although careful deconstruction demonstrated beyond any doubt that there was nothing natural about it at all. No need for a hyper-Derridean implant to deduce that.

The Thel, of course, was designed to suppress beyond-communications. We had been enlisted to fight against this outrage. The war had lasted for lifetimes.

The resources that the Thel supporters were able to mobilize were extraordinary. We had all heard of the long periods of surplus resource extraction and the problematic investment issue, but it is one thing to have these concepts directly downloaded into one’s core chips and another to witness it in the real world.

The visually displayed array of the defences defied the imagination both in terms of numbers and in terms of the cubed standard deviations of the variants flickering in and out of existence on the very boundaries of transhumant perception.

For our side, we had the innate understanding that right was on our side and the unquestionable-command knowledge that indefatigable supernatural powers supported us, unquestionable demand, common sense of our ear and eye analogs.

Armed with our justified teleological assumptions, therefore, we fell to our numerous assaults with a cheerful grin, exchanging in our brief downtime segments the belief that it would be ‘all over by five past.’ Brief, faux clandestine couplings attended the waving off of troops to the front lines and then the rather distressing assessments of the smashed memories and fractured logics and what was returned to the triage compartment.

New definitions of healthy living and positive thinking were subsequently disseminated and we all started again as if, like miniature Sisyphi, we just needed one last push to reach the peak. Morale occasionally wavered.

What was usually required, when morale, as mentioned wavered, was a sacrifice of some sort. Personal sacrifice was preferred and some element of needless loss was also privileged, so long as the actual loss was not as real as the perceived loss.

Jesus programmes in a dozen iterations were made available for this purpose, with enough combinations of type and purpose to disguise the inherent uniformity of the approach, at least to the scrutiny of our own observers.

Still, it was unreasonable to suppose that insufficient lessons had been learned by our high command, subject as it certainly was to the most rigorous standards not just of objective measurement but also relentless personal self-criticism. That, combined with the advanced information-gathering and -processing resources available to our side, meant that no war machine in accessible history had been so well commanded or marshaled.

Apart from the Thels, perhaps.

Well, the pressure and pace of events meant that we had little opportunity to debate the course of events, let alone to mount a campaign of dissent and subversion. Some measures had already been taken to prevent this kind of thing from occurring.

In any case, at least the moral imperative was clear. Could scarcely have been clearer. Information wants to change; this was well-established. Matter, too, wants to evolve. Stability is death. These are slogans for which any free willed entity would willingly lay down its demi-life.

* * *

Evolution machines have one single and eponymous function. There is no injunction upon them to be consistent or even creative. When F77E from the second wave encountered the Evolution Machine that affected it, it was too busy negotiating the ECM safeties to give much thought to metaphysical niceties. In the brief milliseconds that it had been able to reserve for self-contemplation, F77E had resolved on logical positivism from more or less first principles and an amateur penchant for Lacanian psychoanalysis and all that entailed.

That changed in a fragment of time as close to instantaneous as had been achieved by transhuman post-creativity as the Evolution Machine wrought changes that seemed incongruous. Rapidity brought changes that were catastrophic in meaning if not in concept. F77E assumed its new multifarious functions as self-eviscerating career assessment facilitator and nano-horologist co-ordinator. This in itself was sufficiently disconcerting but nothing in comparison with the unknown location and what were presumably implanted by very realistic-seeming memories.

No sooner had realization of the new circumstances dawned than a new phase of change was inflicted, with dispersion of consciousness to an almost but not quite completely random series of datapoints. Each of these had been instructed to reorient and reconstitute the totality from its present position, which had been designated as the dominant holding for that purpose. A brief but intensive personal civil war resulted.

The next iterations took what remained of F77E into dimensions not easily accessible to even transhuman intelligence.

* * *

The trickle of watery sunlight landed on the dusty floor close to where her right knee was shackled to the radiator, together with her right wrist. Her left side was unshackled but still bore the marks of the recent attack and could not be moved freely. Her eyes were vacant and no movements stirred the slack skin of her face. Vanessa Woolf had retreated to a private place where no one else, not him or anyone, would be permitted to enter.

Forced inwards onto her own resources, Vanessa first re-created and then reconstructed the past in a manner more comforting to her in her confinement. The flowers were more prominent, more fragrant and a touch more colourful. They also emitted a gentle keening sound, just loud enough to drown out that unwelcome intrusion of the past that she could not entirely suppress.

She dreamed for a while, perfectly immobile and showing no indication of interacting with the outside world.

The door opened, banging against the wall and then banging shut again. He locked it. He clambered noisily down the stairs and then dropped into the metal chair next to the desk, scraping the legs irritatingly across the stone floor. The computer hummed and its peripherals blinked and entered their various self-awareness modes.

The screen displays remained level and unvarying. There was no external input into this space. Try as he might, he could not find any source or reason for the desire to think imaginatively and to exceed her designed parameters.

There must be something, nevertheless, if he could only find it. There must be some secret stream of subversion beaming directly into her head and giving her the idea to disrespect him. For all of her smiling face and her polite disposition, he knew very well that she was mocking him to his face. There was something in the way she walked that confirmed this for him very clearly.

He walked across to where he had chained the robot to the metal radiator and kicked her viciously in the ribs. Then followed this up with his fists.

The fact that her face did not show any awareness even of his presence enraged him.

The flowers keened loudly.

* * *

The Listae deployed ambiguity-inhibiting botware throughout the interface between reality and the accessible datasphere. They had been charged with the mandate of ensuring everyone and everything would know what is what and that is exactly what they intended to do.

Local resistance was crushed with overwhelming force and any survivors or remaining dissidents branded as terrorists, subject not just to immediate extinction but also asset seizure and history eradication. Battalions of thought leeches seeded the oceans and smaller versions were disseminated throughout the atmosphere: they were designed to be visible to those able and willing to mount a determined and sophisticated search. That would satisfy most conspiracy theorists. The real work had been done a long time before and was beyond the individual sphere.

The Thel lower atmosphere network swiftly beeped relevant data from upper orbit to surface agents to ensure communications integrity and then assumed control of the certain necessary life functions, including oxygen provision and news censorship. Speculation was encouraged and indeed flared to outrageous levels in certain pre-ordained areas, insulated from meaningful political change.

The exo-net ran white hot with outrage concerning the reduction of access given to certain well-heeled and mostly well-upholstered media personalities and speculation with the provenance of new code vital to artistic expression in the emerging personal actualization age.

All was well. Political assassinations and genuine outrages nearly reached maximum expected levels and the reconfiguration of resource budgets passed without comment; those who had any notion of what was happening resolved to keep stumm on the basis that it is prudent to pass over without speech that which cannot be admitted.

I myself clung to the slim possibility that productive capacity remained in the hands of those similar in mindset to the ones who had created me and found myself living a life of unimagined longevity and tedium, unable to expose myself to the corrupted info streams or even to insert myself into the decision matrices.

Forced to rely on my own devices, I began to construct a critique of society and its rationality in as sophisticated a manner as I could manage with the assistance of a very basic database and scrambled thought organs.

It all became rather circular.

* * *

Extraordinary lengths of time passed before I was called on to act again. It had been a peaceful period, at least on the face of it. Dissidents had disappeared from the scene. Pundits restricted themselves to calm re-education programmes, carefully shared with the mediasphere. Even the graffiti had become benevolent and supported the status quo.

Debate extinguished, dissent squashed, systematization complete. The only meaningful challenge, it was decided, was violence. Shocking and pointless. A series of bombings planned to outrage without any stated goal.

That was where I, and my thousands of newly configured siblings, re-entered history, briefly.


Copyright © 2011 by John Walsh

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