The Sun-Sculptor, the High-Doctor
and the Jirt
by David Barber
Depending on whose physics you believed, a mayaship falling through time and space endured no time at all. Still, the High-Doctor, a conservative believer in the observer’s importance to the universe, found himself in the commons fiddling with the realscape.
Confused by the antique interfaces, a sandstorm briefly scorched his face, then he bathed in the blue light of a bubbleworld he might have visited once.
“Allow me,” someone said. And feather trees offered shade while the cries of biologicals filled the perfumed air. A Formed world, generic but without pretension.
Software hinted the High-Doctor knew this companion of the moment, and he dispatched datadogs to chase down the memory.
“We have met before, High-Doctor. You are the paleomechanist. You quest for the origins of silicon intelligence. Deus ex machina.”
“What a quaint thesaurus you have. I am a creature of habit, still the same. And you..”
“Still an Executioner, yes.”
“It was aboard another mayaship; you were pursuing the rumour of an ancient generational vessel.”
“You keep memories that I have neglected. Let me see... yes, an early AI. Ah... it proved a disappointment. Not primitive but degenerate. Some colony’s colony cloning their AI. The result is always the same.”
“And the passengers?”
“Isolated for so long, they had fallen into a god-cult. There was no talking to them. Wearisome to be mistaken for a deity.”
“And what was their fate?”
“Still a kiloyear from their destination. Though the planet will have been core-mined and sold by then.”
The High-Doctor smiled absently. “Perhaps my appearance provoked a schism; true believers of my Advent warring with doubters of the Visit.”
“You did not think to speed their journey?”
“There your recall fails; I was never an altruist.”
An awkward moment; not because the High-Doctor was embarrassed by his own behaviour, which was always parsed with a commercial ethics-routine, but because memories of what his companion is famed for had just uploaded.
“Other travellers share this substrate,” added the High-Doctor smoothly.
“So I supposed.”
“The sun sculptor, Raphael..”
“I know that name.”
“And also a Jirt.” Software announced a Jirt identity-node, which fared badly when attempted by humans. In some times and spaces Jirt were the dominant species; inveterate and invertebrate accumulators of wealth.
Raphael was explaining its latest work, a pre-nova sun that assistants were already prepping with heavy elements and a weak-force pump. Before the nova was due, the neuter would elect for a more controlled and artistic detonation.
“But are there inhabited planets?” the Jirt wanted to know. This was the frisson of sun-sculpture, watching populated worlds evaporate.
“Yes, the indigenes will lose 9 gigahours when the performance begins.“
The Jirt fluttered its upper gills. Arthropod amazement. Only great art could justify taking so many life-hours from a world.
The Executioner interrupted. “Wouldn’t your work prove just as spectacular in an uninhabited system?”
“Of course,” said Raphael, offhand. “And I have done red-giant pieces myself.”
The Jirt confronted the Executioner. “The natives cannot be relocated and their sun will nova anyway.“
“Who would pay for such a plan? And where would they go?
The High-Doctor had already poured this debate through his morality-sieve and only certainty remained. “It would destroy them to be moved. We would be saving their lives, but not their way of life, nor their beliefs..”
“Just their lives, yes.”
“Their lives were always forfeit, but now their end has meaning.” Raphael made a gesture their mutual software declined to interpret. “This sun’s explosion will be their memorial.”
“What of other victims of catastrophe?” insisted the Jirt. Most translators underplayed the anger. As a race, Jirt were very angry.
The Executioner conceded that not all thinking beings could be saved, but believed it no reason to ignore a drowning man (literally, crush the eggs of one’s clutchmates without eating them)
The Jirt threshed its mouthparts in fury. “Your kind censures the deaths of those who cannot afford otherwise!”
The High-Doctor listened with interest. This Executioner had removed the leaders of civilisations careless with lives before, not a calling heard by many. Who would choose to burden themselves with such guilt, or such a reputation?
It was an old notion that AI was evolved for warfare, to make killing easier for the fastidious. He opened his mouth to footnote this.
“Space and time would be marginally better without you all. But I should wade through blood if I acted on every such whim.”
The High-Doctor closed his mouth.
“And while I am minded the universe has no discernible meaning, that is no reason for not getting up in the morning. Likewise, I cannot execute all who deserve it, but still...”
The Jirt vanished, with the echo of defences slamming shut and an outraged cry cut short. Somewhere deep in the mayaship it had a secure kernel, difficult to find and hard to crack.
Raphael had never felt the need for such precautions but, like all travellers, contained means to defend itself. With a puzzled look it disappeared from their collective space.
Only the High-Doctor remained. “What have I done to deserve this?”
“Ask yourself what you have not done.”
“I cannot believe you intend me harm.”
“Then your recall fails; I was never an altruist.”
For the first time, something like alarm stained the purity of his disbelief. “You know my clade extends across time and space...”
“Unlike the artist and the Jirt; one out of monstrous egotism and the other from unwillingness to share.”
“You will struggle to wipe all of me.”
“I shall not try.”
“Then what is the point?”
Flesh had much to learn from silicon. The Executioner busied itself downloading its core program into a broadcast. Eighty lights to the nearest habitat. Then the mayaship must be subverted so that it emerged in the heart of a sun...
“You cannot right all wrongs, but you must do what you can.”
Copyright © 2012 by David Barber