The Golden Age Ep. 05: The Peers Ponder Futurity

Excerpts from THE GOLDEN AGE, my debut novel from 2001. Arkhaven Comics is also reprinting such excerpts.

Volume I: The Golden Age
Prologue: Celebrations of the Immortals
Episode 05: The Peers Ponder Futurity

The other six Peers, each with different thinking-speed and thinking-processes, absorbed or pored over examined over 92 hundred projections of the effect of the next Transcendence on the upcoming Millennium, either directly, or (for those without permanent mental augmentations on staff), through auxiliary minds.

A gap in Helion’s memory edited out this wait, and brought his time and time-sense current to the next point in the conversation. To him, there was no pause. It may have been hours, or merely seconds, later.

The undisputed informal leader of the Peers, Orpheus Myriad Avernus,  was not physically present, there or anywhere.  He was the eldest and wealthiest of the Seven.  He presented himself to Helion’s senses as a dark-haired, pale-skinned youth, whose face had a haunting lack of expression, but with eyes unblinking, inward-looking, deeply self-absorbed.  He wore a long black Plutonian thermal-cape of a style so quaint and so far out of fashion that, only during a masquerade, would it pass without comment.  The wide neck-piece rose almost to his ears, and the paudrons extended past his shoulders, making his head seem small and child-like.

Orpheus spoke in a very soft voice: “We applaud the sentiment expressed by our newest peer.  When conditions are optimal, any change, by definition, is decay.  And Helion knows, all too well, how chaos, disloyalty, and recklessness can be found within our own households and holdings, and even within the hearts of those nearest to us.”

For a moment, no one spoke.  All eyes were fixed on Helion.  An embarrassed silence hung over the room.

Gannis (or one of him) was physically present in the library-chamber in Aurelian House where the meeting was ‘actually’ taking place.  Gannis was disguised as character from First Mental Structure mythology, in robes of sky-blue and white, crowned in rays, and with a lightning-bolt for a scepter.  He held the copyright on a rather striking face: black-bearded, with deep set eyes spaced far apart, beneath a wide and kingly brow. An eagle and a she-eagle were perched on his chair-back, one over either shoulder.  Gannis’ eyes were as bright and fierce as those of his pets, but his voice was an agreeable, cheerful boom.

He now spoke to break the tension: “Elder Orpheus!  Here you are opening old wounds.  Helion has Phaethon well under control; why bring up an episode we all agreed to forget?  I thought we were not going to speak any more on it.”

Orpheus spoke softly, as if he were talking only to himself, without moving his eyes: “We did not speak on that subject.  Except we note that Helion has good reason, now, to display uncompromising zeal in the defense of tradition and orthodoxy.”

Orpheus was a member of the small, ancient, peculiar school called the Aeonites.  Their practice was to record an unchanging idealized version of themselves into permanent computer space. This template, at regular intervals,  created an emanation or eidolon of itself, which came to life. New eidolons absorbed the information any prior active or living eidolons had acquired since the time the template was absorbed, but rejected any changes of personality, philosophy, or basic values.  Members of this school were frozen and unalterable.

It was only by the narrowest margins that the Curia determined Aeonite legal status to be that of self-aware entities, rather than ghosts or recordings.  Public opinion did not necessarily agree.

(Helion, watching with part of his multiple mind on another channel, saw that Orpheus had no sensorium in operation.  Orpheus saw no room at all; the dialog was merely text; face-expressions and nonverbal signs appeared in frames nearby, like the faces on playing cards.  There was no other extension or background in Orpheus’ scene.  Everything else was black.  Helion, disturbed, lowered the attention-value of that view, and paid attention to his own version of the scene.)

***  *** ***

For a moment, Phaethon was silent, caught in a spell of wonder.  He should have been repelled, but he was not.  It all sounded as splendid and strange as anything one of his wife’s deep-dreamscape dramas might portray.

The Neptunian was speaking: “Even now, I have called my surface-to-orbit pinnace down from Cernous Roc, my vessel.  A partial-vacuum generator is among the capabilities in my base-layer which grants me flight, and my subsurface fluids can sustain your life-cycles in suspension till the mid-air rendezvous is accomplished.  Retrieve your true body from its crypt — I assume it is nearby, for the material housings of Rhadamanth mansion are not far away.  Wake, come here, then step within the circle of my arms; put your face into the surface-substance of my body; it will part before you and flow around you, bonding cell with cell, to encase you in a protective vacuole.”

Phaethon spoke softly: “But… but… I would need several years, at least, to set my affairs in order, and to create and educate a partial-duplicate of me to see to my duties in my absence.  In any case I could not leave before the festival before the Final Transcendence in December.”

“No.  You must come without any delay whatsoever.  If you send a message, or even a signal, the labyrinth may close again, and, this time, any loose stones be bricked over!”

Leave immediately?  Phaethon imagined his wife, giddy on imagination-amplifiers, emerging from her pseudomnesia womb, eagerly seeking him out to talk about her dream-victories, all her newly-made computer-generated friends and wonders.

But he would not be there.  Impatient, then angry, then frantic, she would seek among the images on the promenade, or in the feast-cities, ballrooms, or game-halls, seeing a thousand costumes, all in masks.  The location-channel was disenabled during masquerade.  It would be eight months or more before her fears could be confirmed.  Till then, she would not know if he  was no longer in this world, rather than merely hiding or ignoring her.

The thought sobered him.  He laughed.  “I’m quite sorry, my dear sir, but you must realize what a ridiculous offer you are extending — ”

And he stopped.  Because it was beyond ridiculous.  Go to Neptune?

Neptune was the farthest outpost of civilization, and, with two notable exceptions, the farthest any colony of humanity had ever reached:  The actual last outpost of the Golden Oecumene was at 500 AUs, at the focal point of the gravity lens created by Sol.  Here, elements of the Porphyrogen Composition mass-mind had created an artificial ice-planet for themselves, and for the other visitors and staff of the Cosmic Observatory Effort.   Beyond that, the nearer stars were barren of life.  But at Cygnus X1, a small colony founded to study the effects of the singularity there had discovered a source of infinite energy, and, with that wealth, had expanded to a mighty civilization. Yet the distance was so far, the costs of travel so very great, that all communication with that society were lost; for that reason, it was known as  the Silent Oecumene.

Neptune was unthinkably closer even than the nearest star, and yet was still unthinkably remote.  Even ships with fairly high fuel-mass-to-payload ratios required very long times to make the journey, months, sometimes years.

Ridiculous?  The thought was impossible.

***  *** ***

In the palace:

“Come!” said Gannis heartily, slapping the table-top with his palm. “Helion has spent more computer time than any of us — millions of seconds for one study alone — to extrapolate which visions the Aurelian-mind may present during the December Transcendence.  His devotion is beyond question.

“His dream is a grand one, I admit! Cease the motions of society, and freeze it into its present state! (Fortunate for us, when the waves freezes, those of us now at the crest will be at the tip of the iceberg forever after.)  And yet—your pardon friend Helion—allow me to introduce a note of caution. The Hortator College is a group of  populist moralizers; their pinch-nostriled squint-eyed over-zealousness—Hah? Is that what we need more of? Or less of? Augmenting their power will increase their power over us, even over we Seven Peers. What then, eh? What egalitarian nonsense will we be forced to stomach then? And I speak not just for myself, but for all of me when I say that!”

Gannis’ view of the room was the same as Helion’s, but his sense of humor required him to introduce a slight difference.  In Gannis’ view, every object had two shadows, a dark black and a faint gray, for he had placed a second, smaller sun, a mere pinpoint of dazzling brightness, rising in the East.

Orpheus said in his cold, soft whisper of a voice: “Peer Gannis perhaps has cause to fear any close inquiry into the recent events. It is a fine coincidence that he earned so much advantage by the Hortator’s most recent deliberations.”

Gannis should have looked angry at the accusation, but instead he threw wide his arms and laughed. “I am complimented that you think me cunning enough to have arranged these recent debacles! Not so. I fear that mere dumb luck has saved the Jovian Engineering Effort once again. Do you recall when bad investments by my over-self brought me to such penury, that I was asked to leave my peerage behind? Why, yes, you surely must, for it was you yourself who ask me to depart.”

Gannis turned to the others, and continued: ” And you wanted to have no more to do with funny, dumb, lovable, affable old Gannis, did you, my Peers? But then my other selves made back our fortune with the establishment of the Jupiter Equatorial Grand Collider.  We did not predict the existence of the continent of stabile trans-adamantine elements beyond atomic number 900; in fact, the standard model predicted against it.

“Chrysadmantium! What could not be done with this wonder-metal? It elevated me back to my due position—others were enticed to dreams more wild, perhaps.

“I am better for my days of loss. More generous. Generous to the point of folly! I am as free with my advise as I am with my  bounty. Is it my fault my advise was ignored? Is it my fault the wealth I spent so freely returned to me? This is the reward of fate, who cherishes the magnanimous. Clever lawyers merely help the process…

“But for all my generosity, good Helion, I cannot see what more I can do for the College of Hortators. The contracts and covenants we make with all of our clients provide that anyone shunned by the College of Hortators, we also must shun. For my clients, this means they can enter no structures, ships or space-elevators made from my super-metal; for the customers of Vafnir, this means no power; of the Eleemosynary Composition, no understanding; of Ao Aoen, no dreams; of Orpheus, no life. What more is wanted?”

Helion answered: “Nebuchednezzar Sophotech, who had been advising the College, has sequestered himself. The College presently has little or no sophotechnology at its command; that can be remedied. If they had sufficient computer time resources, the Hortators could be omnipresent, omniscient: We, my Peers, who are the wealthiest entities ever to live, have no lack of resources to donate.”

Grannis made an expansive gesture.

“But why spend so much?  Dangerous matters have been resolved…”

Helion said darkly, “There are still those who would overthrow all we have built and done.  Do you gentlemen have the word ‘enemy’ in your archives?”