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My Buddy, the Transcendent

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sisko:
This short story was written by Pericles. It brings up more of the feelings and thoughts of people living on Chiron than most SMAC fiction does. These particular people are members of the UoP and work as a probe team/spies: 


Part 1
He really wasn't all that different to look at. In full organic with no skin, he was only 2 metres 10 tall. He was entirely hairless, or in other words, normal. He had implant sockets in the usual places: on each side of his head, just forward and above the ears, and one on the back of his neck. In other words, average. He had all the standard number of fingers and toes. In this respect, he was even more ordinary than me. My baseline DNA codes for seven fingers, not that it really matters. I almost always wear a skin. Sheathing fragile organics in a skin of antimatter plate is always a good idea. The mind/machine interface-controlled robotic coating is stronger, faster, smarter, and more dextrous than bare organics. Except in organic training or organic entertainment, who uses flesh and fingers anymore?

I remember when he was first introduced to us. We had just lost one of our best infectors. Staph had been separated from us during a botched extrication in Fundie territory. Although she had succeeded in introducing a flaw in their new Chaos guns, unbeknownst to her, they had backinfected her. We had infected the outlocks and had escaped that little hellhole. We had even commandeered a speeder and psi-covered our way through the checkpoints to the ocean. We thought we were out, we thought we had survived. We signalled for extrication.
Then her beacon started squawking on all bands. Not even the most religion blinded Fundie could miss that. Her communications net had been infected and the virus had seized control of her whole unit. I realized that I was looking at a dead person. In moments, missiles would rain down on her. We spent twelve seconds trying to regain control, but the viral agent was far too sophisticated for that. She couldn't get out of her skin. She couldn't move. We couldn't carry her or the missiles would hit us. We left her there.

All she had volitional control over was her jaw, the only part of the body not linked into her skin's mind/machine interface. That would be enough. One quick bite on one certain tooth would inject a lethal poison, and she would be free. None of us had any illusions over her survival. If she survived the missiles, the Fundies would capture her. Capture meant torture and death. We had no illusions about the fate of a University of Planet Probe Team member captured by the Lord's Believers.

******************************************
Part 2
After we finally returned to University Base, and uploaded our memories, we were introduced to our new infector. A transcendent. By the name of Emer.
I had never met a transcendent before. Even here in University Base, they were rare. Most of them worked in the labs. I had never heard of one in the military, let alone in covert ops.
Xenophon, our scarred old team leader, said, "Emer. What's your rate?"
The transcendent replied, "I'm mostly here as an infector."
"What do you mean, mostly?"
"I have a primary skill rating in infection, quantum and singularity mechanics, psi mastery, leadership, survival . . . "
"Wait. You have a primary rate in all of those?" This was unheard of. No human, even with the best mind/machine interface, could have more than two primary rates.
"Yes."
"All!"
"Yes."
"How could you possibly have . . . Oh yes, that transcendence, penultimate stage of evolution thing."
"Yes, that transcendence thing," Emer smiled, "It's good for parlour tricks in the bar." We all laughed. Even Zenophon smiled. Maybe this Emer would work out well.

******************************************
Part 3
Shortly after our first meeting, we got our next assignment. It is a sensitive one. We are to go to Gaia's High Garden and investigate the progress our pact partners are making in transcendent genetic patterning and training techniques. Officially, according to their updates, they are ten to fifteen years away from creating their first usable individual. Unofficially, though they cannot create transcendents yet, they may have found a different, better and more humane way of developing them. In the long run, if it works, this new method of theirs will create more and better transcendents then our system will ever be able to. Our job is to find out whether they have a different method, and if possible, how they are doing it.

Our current methods are crude. Officially, all we hear about are our successes. Profiles of successful transcendents are on all the networks. However, rumours of the failures are just as prevalent. Horror stories about nerve-stapled lobotomised transcendents in psi-punishment spheres have leaked out. And, I just found out that it is true. Part of the briefing we downloaded into our brains contained certain details about our transcendent creation program. It is ugly. Though the successful results are wonderful people, like Emer, the costs are high and horrific. For example, the training starts with a death. Generated DNA is injected into a newly fertilized zygote, after the host zygote's original DNA is excised. The first victim is the original DNA.

Then the zygotes are subjected to an intense psi field. Although they start as genetic copies, the field quickly distorts them in unpredictable ways. Most die immediately. Others mutate. One four week old embryo became a powerful psi emitter, as powerful and mindless as a mindworm boil. It killed five researchers and thousands of embryos in seconds, just before it was mechanically terminated. Only one zygote in one hundred thousand survives to the six-week stage.

Then comes the slow part. We still cannot find a way to make a transcendent from a vat. All transcendents have been implanted and "born," such an archaic word, from an organic human, often a female. The organic human acts as a host for the developing transcendent. I know the notion is bizarre. It is so, well, organic. I know that the Gaians do it, but it seems so inefficient. It also can interfere with the host's work. Nonetheless, it appears that the low-level psi emissions of the "mother" (that is the old word for a female host) are necessary to give the larval, sorry, the embryonic form the psychic stability to survive. The only positive factor is that the survival rate is high, though not as high as with non-transcendent control groups. More than eighty percent of the implanted embryos survive to be "born."

After "birth," the process continues. Special children's creches are used. Unfortunately, the process is no more reliable in this stage. Half the junior transcendents die or go permanently insane over the next seven years. Apparently, many "mothers" become quite upset.

In the final twenty-five to thirty years of training, most survive. Unfortunately, many are unable to master their powerful psi abilities and become profoundly sociopathic. Sociopathic transcendents are incredibly dangerous, and these are the ones that get nerve-stapled. I acknowledge the necessity of such an action. However, watching a fellow human writhe in a psi- punishment sphere in the vain hope that negative reinforcement might teach them something, is very difficult.

I accept that I will soon be a genetic relic, and that transcendent humans are the next stage in our evolution. But I feel sorry for the poor individuals crippled on the wheel of progress. Transcendents may bring our species to a new level, but the broken people crippled and ruined in the creation process are a high price to pay.

I wanted to ask Emer what he thought about all of this, but I didn't dare. Unpredictable spontaneous manifestations of sociopathic behavior were supposed to be impossible, and Emer seemed so stable and serene, but I didn't want to have my brain melted.


******************************************
Part 4
So, we are off to Gaia's High Garden. We all got new skins before we left and they are weird. The skin totally envelops your whole organic body, but is only five to fifteen millimetres thick. It is a bit uncomfortable when the skin coats the inside of your mouth and throat. It feels like a worm is crawling down to your stomach. But it's worth it. To any kind of standard scan, it reflects the appearance of an ordinary human body. You just look a tiny bit taller and thicker. It has stimulated eyes, ears, neural ports, and hair; everything that you see on a normal organic. You even wear clothes over it. It is amazing what the fractal engineers did with this one. But, the skin also contains a two-millimetre layer of flexible antimatter plate, hoverjets, a miniaturized quantum power source, and a tiny quantum laser. If necessary, in combat mode, you can fly, shoot, and fight.

In stealth mode, the physical abilities are auto-governed to organic human parameters. That is so you don't accidently lift a fifty-tonne hovertank. No flying, no quantum beams erupting from your finger. Such things tend to blow your cover.

We travelled in pairs. Emer and I were travelling as Planet neural-net specialists going to a conference in Gaia's High Garden. My training in emergency and theoretical medicine as well as survival and extrication techniques meant that I could at least fake an understanding of such things. Emer did not have that problem. Not only did he have a full understanding of indigenous life form sentience, he could communicate with it. Every once in a while, he would zone out, and stare into space. When he returned, he would always try to explain to me what he had experienced. But, even when he would do a direct upload to my brain, I still would not fully understand. He is a super guy, but he doesn't really live in the same world as the rest of us.

As we rode toward the border, I reflected on the hazards of the mission. Missions in Gaian (and Peacekeeper territory) were different. Normally, if we were caught, in say the Hive, we would be tortured and executed. However, as we are already in a state of war, little would change on the diplomatic front. This time, we would merely be interrogated and deported. But in this case, the diplomatic consequences would be far more severe. It is even possible that our pact could be renounced. Though the personal consequences are minor, the overall consequences to the University would be severe. In some ways, infiltrating the Gaians is more dangerous than infiltrating the Hive.
The mag-lev car approached Gaian customs. The first test was about to begin.


******************************************
Part 5
I admit it. I like Gaian customs. Or at least the buildings. Take this one for example. You step out of the tube car into what the old Earthers could only call a cathedral. The roof is high, extending one hundred metres or more over your head. Huge living wooden beams emerge from the floor, form the walls and curve upwards forming a huge vaulted ceiling. The macabre say that it looks like a rib cage, seen from the inside looking out. Between the ribs along the walls is a thick layer of vegetation, the home of thousands of singing birds. Above, and you can't help but stare, are holograms between the wooden ribs. The images are breathtakingly beautiful, some of Old Earth, but more of the wonders of Chiron. Visions of a rare double sunrise, with the moons high in the opalescent sky. Mirages of the mists rising off the Geothermal Shallows in the early morning. The stark beauty of the Sandy Desert by moonlight, with delicate wind blown dunes undulating over the sandy vastness. And my personal favourite, the unblinking glowing Eye of Planet at night, from orbit. It is amazing sometimes, to see what the human mind is capable of.

And the rest of the hall is equally amazing. To actually get to the Customs inspection you walk through a huge expanse of greenery. The entry hall was designed as a formal garden. Flower beds cover the grounds. Marble or pseudo-marble holographic sculptures dot the lawns. Birds are everywhere. Huge fountains sprout up, connected by meandering streams filled with brightly coloured fish. And extending from wall to wall right through the middle of the hall is a waterfall. As you actually enter Customs and are examined, you walk through the waterfall. All of the inspection facilities are hidden under the falls.

The overall effect would be to relax and calm the mind. Except for one major detail. Brooding above the falls, in the centre of the hall, visible from the every corner, is a large black quantum laser turret, bristling with guns.

The meaning is clear, “Welcome to our cities, Enjoy your stay, See how we live in harmony with Planet and each other, And if you cause trouble, we will burn you to ashes.”

They didn't survive and get to where they are by hugging trees.


******************************************
Part 6
Emer and I stroll through the entry hall. He is looking at the flowers. Me, I am walking along getting nervous. Beautiful as the hall is, the quantum turret really makes me jumpy.

As we walk along, I stare at the turret. It is pointing right at me. Will they fire? What about vidsensors? I know there are vidsensors here somewhere. I know they are watching me. I know they know what I am doing here. My heart starts to race. “Stay calm, stay calm,” I say to myself.

We step toward the tube that leads to the inspection area under the falls. The first people from the mag-tube are entering. It looks like a huge mindworm sucking up people as they walk by. One by one, they are walking up and being eaten. The adrenaline starts to flow. “Stay calm, stay calm,” I say to myself.

We step into the jaws of the plexisteel worm. I look over at Emer, probably for the last time. “Goodbye my friend,” I say. He winks. “Bastard,” I think, as my concentration wavers, “Concentrate, concentrate.”

The floor is moving, drawing us inexorably to our deaths. I stare blankly as the grey walls flash by. I can hear the roar of the falls as we are sucked down into the bowels of the worm. Then Emer is gone, shunted down another tube. I am alone.

The tube ends. A blank grey door stands dead ahead. I know that my death lies just beyond this door. I feel like I am about to faint. I stop. “No, you fool, don't look suspicious,” I say to myself. I step toward the door. And it opens.

Inside is a small room, grey walled and lit by a pale blue light. A woman sits behind a wooden desk. She beckons to me to sit down. I step forward in a daze.
"Please sit down, Citizen . . . ?" Her voice trails off expectantly.
"Osler, Citizen Osler," I stammer. I hand her my forged identification. And wait for the guards to appear.
"Thank you." She slides the card into a reader. I sit down and immediately will myself to relax.
"From University Base?"
"Yes, ma'am." I use the archaic form of address.
And suddenly I realize that I will survive this. I will live. I will see the icefields glimmer again in the morning; I will meet my friends again.

"A little nervous, are you Citizen Osler?"
"Yes ma'am, I am, that big gun turret is scary."

I know that I will enjoy debates on the lawns of University Base. I will taste the sweet soporific nectars of the Morgans. I will sleep under a plexidome and watch the Auroras again.

"You are here for a conference?"
"Yes, ma'am, a conference in Planetary neural net activity pattern rationalization and fractal integration."

I think about the glorious banquet table the organizers will undoubtably set. I think about the great discussion we will have.

She looks confused. Not to the untrained eye, that is, but I can tell. She is looking at the record of my heartrate, respiration, blood pressure, sweat gland activity, cerebral-electrical readings, and psi wave interpretations, taken from when I stepped out of the car until now. And none of it makes sense. In the entry hall I was too cool, and in the tube, too tense. When she asked me questions, all of my responses were relaxed and apparently honest. Their computers will undoubtably be confused and consider me to be just another confused excitable untravelled academic. Which is perfect.

She stood up. "Thank you, Citizen Osler, enjoy your stay."
"Thank you ma'am." I walk out the open door and step back into the hall. But this time on the other side of the waterfall. Emer is already there.
"So," he says.
"Yep," I say.

We walk in silence through the garden to the mag-tubes on the other side. A car is waiting and we climb in.

Soon we are headed down the track. Emer turns on our personal security sound and psi wave damper.

I attack immediately. "Why did you wink at me in the tube there? Don't you know I need to be on an emotional rollercoaster to get through their defences? Who trained you? You almost made me laugh, you almost blew my cover," I rant.
"Finished?" he said.
"Yes."
"I could tell that you were getting overwrought; you were overacting. I needed to break your concentration, or it would have been obvious that you were hiding something."
"Really?"
"Yes."

I think about it. He is right. "I'm sorry, you're right, I should . . . "
"Forget it," Emer interrupts, "Have a drink. This Peacecreeper dropfruit is really good. And it's on me."

I do like this guy.




source: "The Chiron Archives" website (now down)

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