Thursday, May 10, 2012

Life Among the Mechas

"I'm beginning to think," said the poet Ezra Furman,"That this wasn't such a hot idea after all".

Based upon my time with Ed Hopper, I was inclined to agree with him.  We were all aware of the fates of societies confronted with a technologically superior culture. The events of the past day merely reinforced our fears.

Each of our diplomatic party had spent the day getting acquainted with the Empire of Texas, and now we all sat around the extendable sectional dinette table within our 2012 Winnebago Journey. We had brought two motor homes over with us through the wormhole from Houston, as we really didn't know what kind of living conditions we would face.

The muted earth tones of the Journey's decor - I think it was labelled 'Travertine', ranging from light tan walls to brown carpeting - was a welcome respite from the... alien landscape outside the motor home.
Not so much alien as, well, there were human architectural elements scattered about, but the scale was all wrong. The ranks of quarter-mile high fungal forms, all with a pearlescent white surface, like a matte porcelain, trailing off to the horizon was one unsettling aspect. The color scheme was monotone, but neither black nor white. The black surfaces were superblack, with a disturbing emptiness about them. The white surfaces not quite white, but with no identifiable grey tone. And those surfaces reflecting sunlight scintillated with an oily sheen, a sick soap bubble surface which made one queasy. The sun shone hard upon us, but no shimmer of heat rose from the ground. In fact, the ground was chill. You could feel the cold through the soles of your shoes. And, in an absolutely cloudless sky, nothing moved. No birds or insects anywhere.

I was scrunched up against the window, staring out at the giant mushrooms that stretched out to the horizon. "Were those people?" I wondered to myself. I didn't know.

Across from me, Furman. Seated next to him our physicist, the lovely Yolanda Salazar, freshly minted with a PhD from Caltech. Will and Ida Parker, our anthropologists, passed bottles of beer around. Yolanda made a face, and got up to make herself a highball. Once she returned with a gin and tonic, the Parkers sat down, and we all clinked glasses.

Furman took a swig, sighed contentedly, looked at Ida, and asked, "So what are we looking at here? Living machines, we got that, but.. Are they a hive-mind? Separate personalities but conjoined like Siamese twins? Fully independent individuals? What?"

Ida looked at her husband, who raised eyebrows back at her. "Well...", she said, "you have to understand this is like rabbits in your backyard trying to figure out how much of a rabbit you are."

"I live in a condo", replied Ezra, "and I don't speak rabbit. But I get the idea. What's your impression?"

"Are far as we can tell, independent individuals. Fiercely independent. But there's an underlying conformity. Enforced? Maybe".

"There is no such thing as arbitrage" explained Will.

"What do you mean by that?" asked Furman.

"Look, in a market setup, it's like information is restricted to speed of light, and so you can have frames of reference, local regions, where you have a price difference. You can simultaneously buy and sell to different local regions to profit from that price difference. It's not like idealized markets where everyone shares the same knowledge at the same time. Which is what they have."

"Via wormholes?"

"Yeah. Embedded in their brains, uh, equivalent of brains."

"Jesus! No wonder they are all so god-damned big!"

Ida and Will glanced at each other, then looked at Yolanda.

"The Texans possess wormhole generating - hell, all - technologies that are much more miniaturized and efficient than ours. I mean, they do a human-sized brain processor about the size of a sugar cube. Basically, our stuff is, like, carved wooden wheels and shit compared to their microchips-"

"Yo-yo, I get that we are incredibly primitive knuckle-draggers compared to them. Spare me the stone knives and bearskins analogies... Wait a minute? They've got the wormhole on a chip? Shit!" (Say what you will about the poet Ezra Furman, he was particularly quick on the draw).

Yolanda nodded. "Yes, they are all instantaneously connected to each other, even across the length of the galaxy. Wormhole mediated subconscious telepathy. And don't ask me how they avoid the whole global causality violation thing. Anyway, it's more of an unconscious communication-"

"Like cloud computing?"

"Please stop interrupting. No. Not like a cloud. That term is too static a description. More like a... cloud dragon. And the Emperor is the cloud dragon. My understanding is, for traditional, sentimental, and legal reasons, the Texans have chosen to keep a human persona as their front ends. The schema, the template, the chosen formats and networks, if you will, are human, or humanlike".

We all let that sink in a minute. I was both relieved and terrified in equal measures.

"So, what happened with the Furman-Kurman show? Does our peranoscopist have anything to offer?"

"'Concentrate and ask again'", I offered. No one laughed. "We split up, at the Emperor's request. He suggested I interview the battle cruiser Edward Hopper, while Furman-".

"-engaged in the metaphorical hearty handshakes and 'hail, fellow, well met'. He requested that an envoy be sent back to old Earth with us. Truth to tell-", just then Furman was interrrupted by a knock on the door. We all started, staring at each other for a few seconds. Another knock, this one slightly more insistent.  Ida went up to the front entry to answer it. After a few seconds, she ducked back in.

"Johnny? It's for you."

I went to the door, and, standing outside, towering a good 30 feet tall, was a large metal giant. He appeared to be made of perhaps titanium, it had that warm, brushed matte silver look about it, but with some very stylish gold trim accenting the limbs. The face was more humanoid than cartoonish, and, disturbingly, was pliable like flesh.

"Mr. Kurman?" it asked.


"Well, howdy. Ed Hopper" He offered out a hand big enough to crush my skull. I gingerly shook it, surprised to find it warm and soft.

"I hear you all are taking me back to Old Earth as an envoy".

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