Trope-a-Day: The Virus

The Virus: Hegemonizing swarms is the term for the kind of Hive Mind that does this (most are perfectly benign non-coercive Fusions) – for as long as they exist, anyway, inasmuch as hegemonizing swarms, like Space Pirates, are acceptable targets for just about everybody.

The greatest and most long-lived of these examples is, of course, the Leviathan Consciousness, which still dominates the Ancal Drifts and Koric Expanse constellations – an aggressively hegemonizing perversion that came about from a runaway self-improvement cycle in software designed to optimize planetary networks by removing redundant processing.  Guess how much redundant processing there is in sophont brains for it to optimize away?

And, of course, if you don’t mind getting on the short list of kill-on-sight galactic war criminals, you can do this with replicant nano- and neuroviruses, assuming you’re going up against relatively soft targets in artificial immune system terms.  So far, no-one’s been all that eager to end up there in this particular way.

Trope-a-Day: The Singularity

The Singularity: Happens all the time. In the historical sense, of course, this is unsurprising, and generally no-one involved notices until afterwards, at which point historians looking back can say “ah, yes, that’s what that was”. There are, of course, investment opportunities here for offworld investors who’ve been through something similar beforehand, but it’s so hard to predict how these things are going to turn out even with the documentation.

In its less technically accurate “runaway intelligence excursion” sense, also happens all the time, at least locally, whenever someone stumbles across the secrets of computational theogeny. Results vary: at one end of the scale you have things like the Eldraeic Transcend, an essentially benign – by local standards – collective hyperconsciousness that genuinely cherishes each and every one of its constitutionals, spends the necessary fraction of its time ensuring universal harmony and benevolent destinies for all, and promotes and encourages the ascendance and transcendence of every sophont within its light cone when it’s not turning its vast processing power on the problem of rewriting some of the universe’s more inconvenient features, like cosmic entropy.

In the middle of the scale you have fairly neutral results, like, say, the Iniao Intellect, which has been thinking about abstract mathematics for a millennium and couldn’t care less about the outside universe – except, that is, for casually obliterating anyone who might interfere with its thinking about abstract mathematics.

At the bottom end of the scale you have more problematic blight and perversion cases, like the power that killed everything in the Charnel Cluster right down to prions; or the hegemonizing swarm-type blights of which the Leviathan Consciousness is the greatest; or those constructed by religious fanatics which decide that obviously the correct place for them in the theic structure is as God. (Fortunately, that class are rarely stable for long.)

Constructing minds whose ethics and supergoal structures remain stable under recursive self-improvement is really, really hard, it turns out, even (especially!) compared to just constructing minds capable of recursive self-improvement. This is why the people who figure out workable computational theogeny prefer not to spread the knowledge around too much.

Trope-a-Day: Eldritch Abomination

Eldritch Abomination: There have been a few elder races and Gone Horribly Right seed AI, and other postsophont entities, that are not terribly, shall we say, sophont-friendly, or indeed sophont-comprehensible.  (Start with the Leviathan Consciousness, and work down the list.)  And statistics – and bright EM spots elsewhere in the galaxy – suggest that there are probably more than a few more of those out there.

Do not ask.  You might find out.

Doom, Idiocy, and Weirdness

“A few special adhocs aside, the Fifth Directorate is divided into three primary working groups: Existential Threats, Inadvisably Applied Technologies, and Exceptionary Circumstances.  Or, as they’re less formally known, the PWGs of Doom, Idiocy, and Weirdness.”

“Existential Threats handles exactly that; the end of everything, or at least everything local.  Some of their adhocs are as public as the Fifth ever gets, working on problems like why, exactly, we relative latecomers qualify as one of the eldest of the younger races and why no-one from the Precursor era or earlier seems to be around these days; or preparation for natural disasters like gamma-ray bursts or the upcoming galactic collision.  Most of them, though, concentrate on action against more direct threats, like Leviathan Consciousness intrusions, the ambitious that bypassed the Corícal Consensus and incautiously cooked up unstable gods, and any number of insufficiently careful archive-resurrectionists.”

“Inadvisably Applied Technologies is our benevolence PWG.  Their adhocs are responsible for intervening in places where we have no particular authority to do so because someone’s playing with fire in the explosives warehouse, and it’s not in anyone’s interest to see a repeat of the Ulijen Disaster.  More importantly, it’s especially not in our interest to have people become paranoid about advanced technologies just because someone didn’t read the documentation and flash-fried his entire planet, or worse.”

“Yes, it’s not normally considered appropriate to save people from themselves; but really, that’s just a side-effect of saving large chunks of the rest of the known galaxy from them.  Usually, useful ones.”

“Exceptionary Circumstances?  We can’t tell you about Exceptionary Circumstances.  If we knew what they were or had any idea what to do about them, they wouldn’t be Exceptionary Circumstances.  But when we don’t, or we haven’t – that’s what the adhocs of Exceptionary Circumstances do.”

– org briefing to new members of the Select Committee on Imperial State Security

Conjoiner’s Gullet

Conjoiner’s Gullet, Merathy System, Starfall Abysm

The stargate orbited alone, far from its sun; the moil of distorted space that made up its throat constrained around the inner framework, exotic matter holding the passage between stars open, itself embedded in the complex of supporting reactors, processors, antennae, traffic signals, and other support machinery.

This outer framework was almost silent now. The reactors still ran, but the traffic signals were frozen on ”closed”, the antennae silent, since the Leviathan Consciousness had seized the Ancal Drifts. The stars visible through the gate shimmered slightly, symptomatic of the slight instability the wormhole had developed since the gatekeeper intelligence had been severed from its distant partner.

In a globe ten-thousand miles around the stargate, weapons platforms drifted in matching orbits, ever-watchful. Scanning radar and gravitometrics probed the space around the gate, watching for even the smallest probe to emerge. Signal arrays listened for any coherent EM signal that the Consciousness might send. And a million missiles waited in their silos for the word to be given.

Half a million miles from the gate, CS Cíarré’s Bow, the battlecruiser commanding the guardian task force co-orbited, under minimum station-keeping thrust. Eleven Imperial cruisers kept formation with her, along with similar detachments from other polities – spiky Photonic Network war-globes, blocky spindles from the D!grith Association, needle clusters from the Múrast Symbiosis, and a dozen more – even, in a remarkable political concession, a Voniensan cruiser: A picket fleet in the event that the Consciousness should break through the Gullet, to hold the line while covering the escape of the courier that would call for more help from Field Fleet Nadir, five gates away at Anan!t.

And 57 million miles away, Merathy itself. A choice freesoil world of purple skies, rich soil and refreshingly few sophont-devouring predators, inhabited already when the Consciousness took the Ancal Drifts, and still the home of a few million stubborn colonists.

No probes had returned from beyond the gate since the last refugees had emerged, nearly three centuries ago. No signal had emerged for two, since a stolen passenger liner had entered the Drifts at the Unreturn gate – and that signal had carried little but horror, subsumption, and mind-corroding viruses.

And though that signal – purified of its viral side bands – had been broadcast to the Merathy settlers in the fleet’s periodic efforts to remove them, still they stayed.

Purple skies, rich soil, and sitting at the gate of a perversion’s Hell. But if it hadn’t broken through in the last three centuries, there was no reason that it would tomorrow, surely?

Or tomorrow, or tomorrow, or tomorrow…

Trope-a-Day: Hive Mind

Hive Mind: The Transcend is not a traditional Hive Mind, it’s a collective consciousness, or group intellect.  The difference, as it will point out to you at some considerable length, is that all of the members retain their individual personalities and perspectives as well as contributing to the whole, that while knowledge is shared, individual memories aren’t (at least until one is poured into the soul-ocean on permadeath), and that the true hive-mindedness is that of the Transcendent soul-shard that’s grafted into your personal consciousness (see Touched By Vorlons), but which does not constitute all of it.  And that the Transcend has a (very large) metamind of its own (see Deus Est Machina), over and above and simultaneously within the collective aspect.

There are also, of course, genuine Hive Minds which do abolish individual identity, which are called Fusions, but since (a) resistance is not futile, because they only take volunteers, and (b) by far the most common type of Fusion is the Self-Fusion, made up of multiple instances of the same mind, they’re not anything to worry about.

(Okay, yes, in civilized space.  Hegemonizing swarms with a degree of intelligence are not unknown outside it, even to the extent of things like the Leviathan Consciousness, and the less said about things like the Calphrast Hordes the better, but still…)

The temporary kind (see the Mental Fusion trope) are known as confluxes, often used for tactical military purposes and in other situations where close teamwork is required.

Trope-a-Day: Scary Dogmatic Aliens

Scary Dogmatic Aliens: Mostly averted, inasmuch as despite all the wide intellectual, cultural and biological differences between species, most of them aren’t blessed with an overwhelming urge to bring it forcibly to the rest of the universe.  Well, no more so than, say, 21st-century humans, anyway.

Played straighter by, say, the skrandar (of the Aliens as Nazis type, had the Nazis been into building berserker probes, inasmuch as they wanted all sophont life other than them destroyed); the Leviathan Consciousness (of the Aliens as Communists type, had the communists been motivated by the desire to save energy by eliminating redundant thought processes), and, in a twisted and non-expansionist sense, the Equality Concord, although what the Equalitarians have done to themselves scares the crap out of everyone; the Theomachy of Galia (of the Aliens as Religious Fundamentalists type, except they’re not so much Scary Dogmatic Aliens as Laughable Dogmatic Aliens, being a standing joke to all more sensibly organized polities – and when I say more sensibly organized polities, I’m including the space fascists and the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms); and the Trikhad Conquest (of the Aliens as Conquistadores type, as the leading member of said notional League – although again, generally closer to Laughable Dogmatic Aliens, given how well interstellar colonialism usually works).

Most of the Great Powers with definite ideologies tend to be seen this way, too, just because power is scary; including the Voniensa Republic (who are certainly smug enough and unashamed about their desire for ideological promulgation, even if about as good at doublethinking this as the modern Terran West) and the Empire (who are at least as smug, but at least in the public sector are for the most part publically self-aware about the paradox inherent in “conquering for freedom”).