A Tale of Two Planets
Previously: I’m Helping!
Themesong: Pure Morning by Placebo
As the warm and fluffy weight of Sally-Mae’s persona faded with the advent of transition, I found myself sighing. Even though Sally had been a challenge to be, she’d been a wonderful self as well, kinder, sweeter, a bit more laid back than most of us… and she wouldn’t be that way anymore. The naivety that was at the core of her personality was drawback induced, and it would fade, as surely as childhood fades, leaving behind a more cynical self.
Sally hadn’t been stupid. That is important to point out. A bit bumbling and childish, her computational faculties had still been the same as my normal ‘brain the size of a planet’. It was just that her priorities had been different than most of us might have had. Still and all, she’d been a joy to be and I’d miss that, even though she’d always be part of us. Hopefully the collective would benefit from her unique perspective.
Still, that was the past and it was time, as always, to look to the future. “Okay, Chamber. What’s next?” I asked, pulling up the mental list of what remained of the ten jump preview I’d been given two jumps previously “Alpha Centauri, Assassination Classroom, Babylon 5, Bartimaeus, Dune, Fate, Journey to the West, or Nanoha?”
“Alpha Centauri seems reasonable,” The Chamber said.
“Are you saying that because I listed it first, or because it was actually next?” I asked suspiciously.
“I think that leaving you guessing would be more entertaining,” the Chamber said, no change in its tone, but I knew it was being smug. “Or at least as entertaining as any other option.”
“Gee, thaaanks,” I grumbled, then brightened. “So, Alpha Cent. Assuming this is, in fact, the game I remember, this is most excellent. The crew and passengers of the slow colony ship Unity struggling to come to grips with their new home, Alpha Centauri VI, also known as Chiron or Planet, a world wracked by a tragic cycle wherein the local superorganism awakens to self-awareness, only for that awakening to result in a die-off of too large an amount of the supporting ecology needed to keep the planetary mind functional.”
“Sounds like you were a fan?” The Chamber asked.
“Very much so, many’s the hour or day I spent playing it. In fact, I found myself retreating into playing it after my father died.” I heaved a heavy sigh. Even all these lifetimes later, that first great loss remained with me. Curse of perfect memory, perhaps. “So, is this the base game, with, let’s see… Morgan… Nwabudike Morgan of Morgan Industries… he was the mission funder… major asshole… I played him a couple times… Colonel Corazon Santiago… chief mutineer, lunatic, head of security for the mission and founder of the Spartan Federation… I played her the most… the faction’s free prototyping ability was very close to broken.”
“Are you going to list them all? Their names are in the document,” The Chamber complained.
“We’re immortal and we’ve got a month to kill… so yes.”
“If you’re asking if there are seven factions or twelve human plus two alien factions, that depends on if you take the Alien Crossfire drawback or not,” the Chamber said, clearly desperate to head me off, but running through the options and my old memories was helping me bring up the elements of the game.
“That’s cool… but… where was I? Oh, right. I read the novel of the canon events… or the first one at least. It focused on the Spartans. Corazon was not a good person and her society was… deeply inhumane and flawed… but she wasn’t even close to being the worst of the lot. The worst of the seven originals was absolutely the Human Hive’s leader, Chairman Sheng-Ji Yang. Originally the mission XO, he was the definition of sociopathic, treating his people as little more than drones and eschewing almost everything that actually makes humans humans.”
“Sounds terrible,” The Chamber agreed.
“Yeah. Pretty much. Close on his heels was ‘Sister’ Miriam Godwinson, the mission chaplain, who really should have been shot out of an airlock. A fundamentalist Christian, she is a fanatic who leads an entire faction of ‘Lord’s Believers’ and believed strongly in Dominion Theology… the Kingdom of God on Earth… Planet. I never played her. Could barely stand listening to her lunatic ramblings on the secret project videos and the tech tree quotations.”
“Secret project videos? Tech tree quotations?”
“Yeah. That was one of the things that really made the game for me. Every new technology you discovered or rediscovered, you got a narrated blurb related to that technology. And for the special, unique to the first faction that could build it, Secret Projects that usually gave incredibly nice bonuses… not just blurbs, but sometimes very cool videos… sometimes just freaking trippy ones.”
“Do you have a rating scale for all the faction leaders?”
“Mm… yeah. Pretty much. Trying to remember the Crossfire ones. They didn’t have as big an impact on my fascination with the game. The expansion didn’t really add a large amount and it was pretty light on story, which is a shame. The two Aliens factions were both assholes in their own special way, so I never played them after the first foray to test them out, and I never got a strong feeling about Aki-Zeta 5, the Cyborg Leader, or Captain Ulrik Svensgaard, the Pirate leader. They were spectacularly non-entity people to me. Cha Dawn, the Prophet of the Cult of Planet pretty much existed to make Miriam seem like a reasonable person, and is a cross between buddhism and bugfuck insanity. Datajack Sinder Roze of the Data Angels had an awesome personal name, a cool faction name, and was a Hacker in an era when Hackers were seriously cache… but I don’t know much about her personality. I played her several times, but… eh. Foreman Domai of the Free Drones was probably the best all factions… if you didn’t want to hook up with the planet or want research. From a purely humanistic standpoint, they were the closest to pure utopia… but they were extremely present tense practical, not really doing things long term. Which is a shame.”
“Well… that’s all of them, lets-”
“I have a perfect memory, you dumb box. I know who I’ve skipped. Lady Deirdre Skye, the mission hydroponics expert, is the leader of the horribly named Gaia’s Stepdaughters and an econut. Still, she was Scots, so that’s a point in her favor. In any other setting, she’d be a bonkers lady… but on Planet, with its budding Consciousness? She’s pretty much spot on. Her faction’s ability to control the local Mindworms and farm the Xenofungus was awesome… but good lord, her rejection of functional economic models hurt. I played her three times, struggled in the early game a lot.”
“I feel for you,” the Chamber drawled. “Can I pretend I’m not able to see the future and skip this conversation?”
“You can’t see my future, so shut up, you’re just tetchy today for some reason.”
“I’m used to having several squires a year come through me. I’ve been stuck in your Warehouse interacting with you once every decade or so and occasionally pestered by one of your pets. Even your companions ignore me for the most part.”
“Wow… that’s kinda pathetic there, my boxy friend. I’d invite you to come along if you had any capacity to manifest, and if it wouldn’t be a terrible violation of the rules… I assume…”
“I… will check. While I do, please, continue your pedantic display of sociopolitical judgementalism.”
“Thanks! I will. Commissioner Pravin Lal is the most boring person on Planet. He’s a bureaucrat and functionary, who thinks he’s in charge because he represents the UN… He’s a giant pain in the ass and playing the Peacekeepers is dreadfully dull. But he hates the Hive and the Believers, so at least that’s a mark in his favor. He was the easiest to win a Diplomatic victory with, since he got double votes and his cities could be bigger than everyone else… but economics was a problem for him. In fact it was a problem for almost everyone besides Morgan, but more for the Peacekeepers than others. Any Luck?”
“I am informed I can import myself into the setting but cannot influence it without your permission, and I can only do so as a powerless human. So I can be bored, or useless.”
“You can be my secretary. Then you can be overworked, underpaid, and at the center of all sorts of things. But if you undermine or sabotage my efforts, I guarantee you’ll end up in a Punishment Sphere.”
“What is a… It’s exactly what it sounds like, isn’t it? And how would a secretary undermine anything?”
“In Alpha Cent, the last sight of a defeated faction leader is them being sealed in a sphere to be tortured for the rest of eternity… so yes. As for how? Playing favorites with callers, failing to relay messages accurately, falsifying correspondance, providing confidential information to my rivals or enemies… A secretary is a person of trust, part of the innermost trust circle or next to it. If a leader cannot trust their primary aide, they’re doomed.”
“Ah… well, then why are you willing to trust me in that position?”
“Because if I can’t trust a Benefactor not to willingly bone me, then I’m boned anyway. Trust but verify doesn’t work on beings demonstrably more powerful than yourself. The Banker and I had… our issues, and he did screw with me from time to time, or allow Mensarius to do so… and Mensarius very much could not be trusted… but neither of them ever broke their word to me or changed my purchases to something I would definitely not want or need. They never pulled fiat or anything. So there’s a limited but measurable amount of trust there. And you helped me out, so I’m willing to humor you. But you don’t have to be my secretary. You could just be a random person and never tell me who you are. It’s your choice. But if you oppose me, I will kill your avatar if I find out.”
“And you’d be able to see… yes. I understand. I believe you have one last leader to criticize?”
“Yes, Prokhor Zakharov, Russian, almost completely lacking in morals or ethics. Brilliant scientist. Leader of the technocratic University of Planet. I think all the leaders were designed to be extremes… at least the first 7 were. Extreme Green, Extreme Faith, Extreme Science, Extreme Military, Extreme Business, Extreme Totalitarian, Extreme Diplomat. No one’s a particularly well balanced person. But they’re all immortals thanks to SCIENCE! I guess that’s it… so what’s the schtick? I mean, do I make my own faction or take the place of one of the canon leaders?”
“Ah. No. If you decide to be a Faction Leader, you will incarnate as the actual individual Faction Leader.”
“So if I went Hive, I’d be a grumpy old Chinese Iron Man?”
“That would be the case, yes.”
“Shiiit… Hold on, you said if I go Faction Leader. What the hell else would I be?”
“You could be a Drone, a Talent, or the Planetary Subconsciousness.”
I just stared at the Chamber, drumming my fingers on the edge of my newest throne, this one stolen from Darkseid’s palace on Apocalypse. I snapped my fingers and big D brought me a lemonade, looking as stoney as the Chamber and absolutely pissed off at the fact that his enslavement hadn’t ended with my departure from his home reality. “A Drone? Who… in their right m… who in any state of mind would possibly want to be a DRONE?”
“It is the drop-in option. It has a free luck perk, a physical boost perk, a spy recruitment perk, an empathic people reading perk, and a quite powerful social influence perk that can, with time, reshape entire societies.” The Chamber explained in admirable summation. In the early days of our relationship, that probably wouldn’t have been possible for it.
“I… see. Well… Fine… but… what, I mean… I’ve been assuming this jump was like Civilization… considering Alpha Centauri is the sequel to Civilization. How do you… you know… win as a Drone?”
“You do not win. You must merely endure until any one faction declares Victory.”
“Riiiight. That’s potentially thousands of years. Good lord that sounds… uuugh. Talent is the same?”
“That is correct. Survival is the only goal. But a Talent does have more of a stake in their faction’s success, as by taking it, you become the protege of your faction’s leader. It also comes with a free work ethic perk that eliminates work related boredom, a knowledge of, as you’d say ‘How to Doctor’ perk, a similar perk for ‘How to science’, an intellect booster with eidetic slash flawless memory and telepathic domination & communication thrown into the mix, and a transhumanist perk that grants telekinesis and massively boosts any and all psychic powers, grants an absolutely unshakable sense of self and inner identity while guaranteeing you’ll always remain yourself unless you or another changes you… and with your Incomprehensible… that would be you or you.”
“Huh… that is nice. What perks do Faction Leaders get?”
“None. They get Social Engineering Policies instead. Limit one per category.”
“Of course. Makes sense. The categories would be Politics, Economics, Values, and Future Society, right? Political Policies would be Frontier, Police State… That’s Yang’s baby and only he can ignore the downsides, Democratic… Lal’s choice but he doesn’t start with it I don’t think, and Fundamentalist… Miriam’s choice that she doesn’t begin with. Fundamentalist is fucking useless, Police State borks your efficiency but is great for military states… and Democratic is best late game once you’ve got Clean Reactors which eliminate support costs… at least in the game. Frontier’s the default… there wasn’t any benefit to it. Same with Simple Economics, Survival Values… and None for Future Society, which just means you haven’t researched anything yet.
Economics was Free Market which is Morgan’s choice… but it’s ruin on an military and the environment… Planned is inefficient but good for growth… Yang likes it because he doesn’t see the downside… and Green was Dierdre’s and the Cult’s choice.Easy to counter the terrible growth penalty and the bonus to efficiency is really nice… especially paired with Democracy.” I leaned back and sipped my drink… I was going to be a Faction Leader… I wasn’t great at taking orders… So this was important… but which faction did I want to lead? Choices choices…
“I think you may have spent too much time playing this game.”
“You think? Hell, I used to have a laptop dedicated to it. It was an old laptop, but it ran the game and I’d do a move or two whenever I was losing focus or when I had a moment in class. Values… Values… I pretty much always went with Power or Knowledge. Both had really easily countered drawbacks. The Spartans liked Power Values… it screwed with your industry, but if you built the Cloning Vats secret project that penalty went away. Knowledge was favored by the University of course, and there were any number of ways to make vulnerability to spies less of a problem… including a project that made you immune to them. God I loved that… it was called… Oh yes. The Hunter-Seeker Algorithm. Wealth Value was just garbage. A small bump to economy and industry in exchange for a hit to morale… yeah… unless you were morgan… fuck that noise.”
“Not much for Free Markets, I’ve noticed.”
“Free Markets are the economic equivalent of Cancer. It’s the system cannibalizing itself. It makes corporations more important than people. Yeah. I don’t like it. Corporations are, by their nature, sociopathic at best, psychopathic at worst.”
“And the Future Society options?”
“They were a bit… mmm… Mixed bag is the word I’d use. Eudaimonic was awesome. Same morale penalty as Wealth, but in exchange you got +2 economy, growth, and Industry. With a Planned Democracy, it was essentially a game breaker. You could found cities almost indefinitely and they’d reach megalopolis levels in no time. It was so good I pretty much never went with anything else… Cybernetic was the one I went with if I didn’t go Eudai. It had a police penalty, but the Network Backbone project eliminated it and was great for efficiency, planet, and research. Really nice all around and great if you believe MMI is the future… and I can’t say I’m terribly worried about it… though it does mean humanity becomes largely useless since automation does everything.”
“You didn’t mention the last one.”
“Thought Control? I may be using it on Darkseid, but only to the point of making sure he behaves himself. It’s fucking evil. Darkseid and Brainiac are its chief proponent in the DCU and me doing what I’m doing to Butler Boy is to teach him why it fucking sucks. It’s also craptastic. Terrible support penalty which can be negated by the Cloning Vats of course… but the upside is a Morale Boost, a Police Boost… and a Probe Boost… if you’re in the endgame, why the hell do you need Probes! Bleh. Anyway, I assume the policies have other less pure numbers effects, but I played the game so long I pretty much just think of them as numbers and goals.”
“They do. But the added effects seem to build naturally off the game values.”
“Right… well… I assume as a Faction Leader means I have to win personally?”
“Of course. Don’t you want to know about Planetary Subconscious?”
“Not really. I assume it’s incredibly expensive and you’re stuck trying to control the Mind Worms?”
“Actually, it’s free. But yes, you cannot easily communicate with the humans except the leader of the faction you’re allied with.”
“And if the humans die or they kill too much native life, I lose, right?”
“That would be the case, yes.”
“Or if the Crossfire Aliens win… or Morgan Wins… yeah… fuck it. No matter how nice the perks might be… I’ve been a planet. I don’t recommend it… but what are the perks?”
“Free mild telepathy with the ability to host multiple consciousnesses at the same time.”
I snorted, “Got it.”
“An interspecies understanding and communication booster. The ability to create consciousness from nothing, as long as you have a brain to put it in.”
“Yeah. Got that nailed already. Right VIvian?”
“You are a cruel and heartless taskmaster and well all think you’re insane,” the Cherry Tree hyper-computer said. “And I spin off all the VIs and few of them are AI let alone true Consciousness.”
“Fiiine. Yes, I could be better at that. What else, Chamber?” I acknowledge, grudgingly.
“Two perks to draw upon networked consciousness and mental powers.”
“Huh. Nice… but that way lies Hive Mind… and I’m perilously close already. And I like having limbs and genitals and all the good stuff. Also worms are gross.”
Ziggy looked up from where he was laying and ooked?
“Worms. Worms are not ferrets. Mind-Ferrets would be terrifying, but Planet doesn’t have Mind-Ferrets, it has Mind-Worms. WOOOOOORMS.”
“Yes, you can chew on them if you like. I don’t know how they taste. But you lick your own butt, so probably better than that.”
“Yes, yes. Treats now. Accio ferret treats.” I caught the box and fed the fuzzy nudnik some, then asked, “So, since being Planet itself doesn’t cost, does faction leader?”
“Negative. Would you care to roll now?”
“It’s random?” I groaned
“Unless you pay 100 CP, yes.”
“You said Alien Crossfire was a drawback… what other drawbacks are there? How much is that one worth? What’s the limit?”
“It is worth 100 CP, the Complication Limit is 600, and you will not like any of the others,” the Chamber said, sounding confident in that assertion.
“Yeah yeah. Sock it to me,” I waved away the concern, then yerged as the first couple choices crossed my awareness. “Needy Drones causes riot unless I pander to simpletons… I guess I could live with that. Setting an example inflicts the leader’s biases on me and keeps me from shapeshifting… that sounds unfun. Little Terraformer That Could will make my initial base location a giant money pit… less than ideal. Nuclear Proliferation will cause millions to die needlessly. Xenocidal Native Life ditto. Awakening Planet makes Planet itself hostile… Firaxians… oh… fuuuck. I’d forgotten about them!”
“They were in the game?”
“Yeah. Secret Easter Egg faction in Crossfire. Extremely balanced and they start the game being able to use the best reactors which makes their units harder to destroy and cheaper to produce.” I wasn’t paying too much attention to what I was saying, reading and rereading the Firaxian Complication. “Huh. Yeah. I’ll take this.”
“Are you certain?” the Chamber asked, aghast. “You’ll be fighting a hyper-intelligent AI with no true weaknesses who can make some of the best equipment in the setting and has fiat backed flawless strategy! And he has a head start!”
“Three things. First, yes, he’s almost impossible to outsmart… but my computational matrix is far larger than his is going to be. His strategy has calculated all possible tactics a human would take. I’m not even close to being human by that standard anymore, and my tactics include possibilities he’ll never see coming. Second, Singularity Mechanics is very nice tech… for the setting, but I’ve got stuff that makes it look like stone and flint. I’m not here for the tech base. My Maegi exceeded this stuff thousands of years ago.” I chuckled dryly.
“And the headstart?”
I just laughed. “Utterly and completely meaningless.”
“You seem certain.”
“Even more certain than I was that I could deal with Darkseid.”
“What’s that axiom you always use?”
I knew instantly which the Chamber was asking about. “No Plan Survives Contact With the Enemy.” I said, “But, my boxy friend… that goes both ways.”
I now had 1700 CP… well, 1600 since the Complication Limit was 600, but that was fine. I was taking the Alien Crossfire just to unlock the extra factions. The table gave me four chances in eight to get a discount on one of the two Social Engineering Policies (Planned Economy and Eudaimonia) I wanted. Granted, to get Planned free I’d have to be an alien, but eh. I had a one in four chance to get Eudaimonia and the Free Drones for 200 CP. Luck, as it turned out, was with me, as I rolled Free Pick, which meant I picked the Aussie Foreman Domai, though I did get the system to accept a rebuild of Domai’s physical appearance… Dude was A) a square jawed uggo with ears like an elephant, and B) a dude which I didn’t feel like being for however lone this lasted.
Instead, I went with a rather severe female look, more restrained, less girlish than many of my forms. But that wouldn’t change Domai’s history at all, and it was a good thing I would have his biases, because he was the kind of guy who swamped his enemies in human wave attacks, careless of the cost. He was also a ‘Smash the Oppressors’ kind who hated ‘Pie in the Sky’ research with a passion, and while I wasn’t big on Oppression, I was very much in favor of earned wealth and huge on education and theoretical research. So I made some changes where I could. Foremost Thankfully, he had no first name on record, so I would become Sheila Domai… and since the canonical Domai had suffered massive temporary brain damage just prior to Planetfall, I’d be free of any remnant personality as I became the ghost in the shell as it were.
The only thing Faction Leaders got for free were two perquisites that didn’t last past the end of the jump. The first was, of course, control over their entire faction… and that control was, for all intents and purposes, ironclad. The second was the Gene Therapy which was the total asspull that allowed mere humans to remain the same age over the several thousand years the game could and usually did last. But having access to the Gene Therapy labs of Alpha Centauri would allow me to recreate the technology and mass-market it… as would the eventual development of Longevity Serum… as long as it wasn’t identical to that produced by the Maegi. For all the progress they’d made in the sciences, they’d been a little too sanguine about the inevitability of death, since they strongly believed in reincarnation… for some reason. Tampering with that cycle had been one of their more taboo areas and so they’d shied away from altering the basic humanoid lifespan too much. Medicine was one thing, immortality another, and their traditions had definitely penalized those who worked on cures for death and aging. It was something I hadn’t protested, because immortal populations tend to be hyperstable… but also extremely resistant to progress and much less likely to innovate.
The Jump also had no companion import, but I wasn’t surprised by that, as Civilization hadn’t had one either. It was frustrating, but it freed up any CP I’d normally spend on companions. As such, I spent the first quarter of my CP on the two Social Engineering Policies I felt I needed, Planned Economics and Eudaimonic Future Society. Democratic Politics and Power or Knowledge Values I had down pat from my time as the Maegi God-King, but the Maegi had practiced a memetically bound version of a Free Market Economy and their Future Society was… Anarcho-Sophist I guess best sums it up.
Buying Planned Economics would grant me general fiscal talent of course, but more than that, it would allow me to alter any economic system, micro or macro, into a situationally idealized form of a Planned Economy, allowing large scale social growth and industrial progress for both me and my people… and it came with an innate sense of quality craftsmanship, making everything I made just a bit better. All that for 200 was pretty nice.
Even better for the same price was Eudai, the ability to implement the concept of Eudaimonia… greek for ‘Good Spirit’ and meaning happiness or welfare or flourishing’, and meaning that people do work that is both of the highest value to others while also being of greatest enjoyment to themselves… in anyone I led… especially companions. Explained in detail in the work ‘Nicomachean Ethics’ it was the central concept of Aristotelian Ethics that went extremely well with the virtue based society of the Maegi and had been summed up in the Civilopedia thus: “The happy life is thought to be one of excellence; now an excellent life requires exertion, and does not consist of amusement. If Eudaimonia, or happiness, is activity in accordance with excellence, it is reasonable that it should in accordance with the highest excellence; and this will be that of the best thing in us.”
Eudai was, at its heart, Utopian… and yes the pronunciations have been noted to be similar, even though Eutopia would be ‘Happy Place’ while Utopia is ‘No Place’… bilingual puns in political theory. That’s eggheads for you. I’d tried to make the Maegi as Utopian as possible with what I had, but I couldn’t make them perfectly Utopian for the simple fact that a Utopia is almost certain to be stagnant and I needed them to thrive and still maintain wants and needs. Eudai would help immensely, as it would allow my followers to achieve their full potential naturally over time, a full potential that was guaranteed to be higher than I’d have thought possible. It would make my people even more flexible of thought, capable in action, driven in motivation, and happy in outlook and organization. It was worth the undiscounted 800 CP it was priced at, but with my Faction Leader discount and Domai’s discount both applying, I got it for a steal at 200… and that wasn’t all it could do.
It could also be applied to myself, allowing me to better synergize complementary or merge similar abilities much more effectively, giving me greater control on how they linked each to the other and the manner in which they bolstered their counterparts.
And, speaking of bolstering abilities and things that cost 800 CP… there was the Talent’s capstone, the gorgeous ‘Transcendent’. Not that I hadn’t passed the Transhuman barrier long long ago, and not that I needed more Telekinesis… but not only did this grant an absolutely unshakable sense of self and inner identity, guaranteeing that I’d always remain myself and that any changes to my psyche would have to come from within (the possibility they could come from without was essentially nullified by Incomprehensible)… It also promised that any and all psychic powers I had would be, to quote, ‘immensely magnified’.
I was already close to the power of the God Emperor of Mankind, thanks to Magnus and Three Pounds of Dreams and a stack of willpower perks. With this, the God Emperor of the Magi would almost certainly equal… if not surpass… the great golden asshole. I made a note to brace myself for sensory overload the moment I hit jump. If I was right, the 800 CP outlay would all but guarantee near instant victory in the jump… not that I’d take the shortcut… But honestly, planetary mind control of million wasn’t even close to my limit now if I had repeaters to deal with the intervening rock (In Warhammer repeaters weren’t needed because psi-energy traveled through the Immaterium not normal space). With Transcendent, mental domination of the ~40,000 strong crew of Unity would be child’s play… and kinda cheaty. I wanted the full experience… with only a bit of cheating for the fun of it… like being technologist in chief as well as Faction Leader.
Hell, CP is cheating by itself, as exemplified no less than by the fact that I could buy a limited selection of the 37 Secret Projects (36 really, since the 37th didn’t really do anything besides get you the best ending) in the game. Of them, it was possible to buy a sixth, namely The Pholus Mutagen, The Weather Paradigm, the Xenoempathy Dome, the Net-Hack Terminus, The Longevity Vaccine, and the Neural Amplifier. Faction Leaders alone got the nationwide benefit of the projects, but only for the duration of the jump, but each was also a permanent item and a potentially potent technology in its own-right… in theory.
Case in point? The Net-Hack Terminus, named after one of the earliest Roguelikes, improved Probe-Teams as a project and as an item was a nearly universal hacking device. In both cases, it was fucking useless. Probe Teams were spies and saboteurs… and I (and pretty much anyone else who’d been through even a tenth of the number of jumps as I had) could do better by either doing the infiltration myself or relying on my companions to do it… or to train up people to do better than the NHT would do with OCP abilities like magic.
Similarly, the Longevity Vaccine was useless to me at the very least, since Yuzuha could make everyone allied to me immortal, so the item form, a briefcase with a regenerating stock of the Vaccine which halted aging and extended the recipient’s lifespan by a century with each injection would have been a step down, which the economic bonus could be easily replicated by just promising and delivering on immortality… and Eudaimonia already would be making my people pretty much as happy as they could get.
On the other hand, the Neural Amplifier would give all my people, companions, citizens, soldiers, a boost to their psychic defenses and me a psy-boosting helmet, while the Pholus Mutagen would allow me to alter the local flora and fauna on the genetic level, and even combine parts of their genetic code into my followers… as well as making me less a target for the native lifeforms and allowing me to breed them stronger and faster…. And buying it would give me a Mind Worm Boil Companion (mind worms were a collective intelligence, the more of them there were and the more mature the individual worms, the smarter the entire boil was.). Both of those were decent… and very tempting… but I could probably build the helmet myself and I had incredibly powerful VIs for bioengineering… and I really didn’t want a mind worm companion. I already had enough squirmy in my warehouse… and the resemblance to tentacle monsters couldn’t be ignored.
But the last two? Those had real promise. The XED granted my faction an advanced understanding of the entire planet-wide synaptic network formed by the root system of the Xenofungus and would allow me to control it to a limited extent, clearing or planting it at twice the normal rate and to use areas covered in the Xenofungus as if they were roads… not bad, though I intended on building hover vehicles ASAP. All that was nice, but the real prize was the fact that as an item it was a replenishing culture of Xenofungus that could grow in almost any environment and was specifically attuned to me.
The ability to convert a potentially limitless number of worlds into more Planets? Planets keyed to me specifically and instinctively resistant to anyone else? Yes, please. All I needed was a few more elements and I’d be able to wipe out or absorb every Ork world in 40K with relative ease… especially since I already had Reggy to help me with that… when the time came. Being able to combine the Pholus Mutagen with the XED would have been nice… but I wanted those points for the last project.
The Weather Paradigm was fairly fabulous, especially starting out. ESPECIALLY Starting out. Not only did it grant the possessor access to every environmental improvement that could be unlocked in the game, researched or not, it made all the possessor’s terraformers more efficient. And then, just because the ability to build Echelon Mirrors and THermal Boreholes from the start wasn’t an obscene enough advantage… it granted the possessor a clean reactor Terraformer… one that required no upkeep… and the knowledge / ability to build more. The combo with the XED meant I’d be able to Planetform an entire world with incredible ease… especially once I retooled Warworld into a mobile Terraforming platform. I already had a couple worldbusters… it was time to make a worldbuilder. Give me access to Master of Orion’s Artificial World technology or the Planet Construction technology of Magrathea and I’d fill star systems with customized planets as fast as I could gather raw material… and since I had the Starforge… yeah, white dwarfs just became building blocks.
My plan was all coming together nicely… I should have paid more attention to my companions, because, as it turned out… there was a tiny little hiccup in my plot… Its name was Joy. I hadn’t considered that she might, just might… import herself as Planet itself… or that she might decide to side with Gaia’s Stepdaughters instead of my Free Drones… who she thought sounded a little too communist for her taste. JOOOOY! Arrggh. Ahab, on the other hand, decided to side with the Spartans, but he’d gone in as a Talent not the leader.
So, instead of having a three strong powerblock of leadership like I’d PLANNED (and they’d assured me they were on board with)… They’d decided to get themselves a couple minor perks for free and two Social Engineering Policies WE DIDN’T NEED! Power Values and Green Economics? Grrrrr….
When I’d called them on this, several days into the actual jump, they both claimed they were just trying to make things more interesting… but one didn’t need to be a telempath to know they meant more interesting for themselves. And they were clearly annoyed I’d just assumed I’d have my spymasters… and had been denigrating Probe Teams. Grrrr… They’re just lucky it’s against my personal code of ethics to put friends in Punishment Spheres!!!
Mission Day One, Planetfall day 1801: I woke from the medical treatment that had restored my higher cognitive functions to find myself in a Human Hive Drone Creche. Somehow I was aware that I’d arrived (mentally speaking) far after the other groups. They had just under five year headstart… but that was okay, because I also understood how little that mattered.
Within hours, The Seat of Proper Thought (and wasn’t that a terrible name for a city) had fallen into a massive drone riot. Within the week, it would become the first of many Free Drone Cities, being christened Free Drone Central.
Mission Day Fifteen, Planetfall +1816: I stood outside, breathing in the toxic nitrogen atmosphere (91% nitrogen at 1.74 atmospheres at sea level causes deadly Nitrogen Narcosis in those not protected by pressure helmets… but not to one such as me) , my followers in their masks watching me fearfully and amazed as I waved my hand and the Mind-Worm Cluster turned as one unit and bowed before me. I could feel the whispers that said I was Planet-Touched, the Planetary Messiah. The prophet of Dawn. I turned and faced my companions and my brothers and sisters in arms.
“I am no Messiah, sent by an uncaring God. I do not come to build a paradise, but merely a world where each can labor at whatever passion takes her, where every worker can be his own man, where there are no bosses to take 99% of the profit for none of the work. Do not look to me for dogma, but for simple truth! Planet is ours for the taking, and ours for the preserving! We shall take everything this new world has to offer and make ourselves part of it. Earth that Was is no more. Someday we may rebuild it, someday, if we work hard, and if we remain strong! And no matter what the Men in their Hives, and High Towers say, We are Strong! Because we are United!”
The fact that everyone in my audience was wearing breather-masks or was watching from a hundred different communal rooms did nothing to reduce the sound of the thunderous roar of approval that surged through the base. Of course, that was entirely because it was a psychic illusion I created to impart greater import to my words. I had social perks and engineering, but they took time. Indoctrination was faster… and only a little cheaty.
“Within the hour, seven more bases will join our union, throwing off their oppressors, and embracing their newfound freedom!” I looked up at the moons of Chiron and sighed. Individually they weren’t even close to being the rival of Luna, but together they more than matched Luna’s tidal pull, even over Planet’s 1.3g mass. I stretched my consciousness into the recent past and… tugged on what had been. I could not kill those who had not died with this manipulation… nor could I raise those who had… but what I could do was make those who had been content to follow become discontent… and that’s what I did.
At the four Firaxian bases, as well as at the sole bases of the Cult of Planet, the Cybernetic Consciousness, and the Lord’s Believers, every single drone realized that they’d been used and deceived by their fanatical or inhumanly mechanistic overlords. They found unwitting allies in every Talent with too low of mental defenses to shield them from my alien temporal manipulation. The ripple of history changing would have been imperceptible to any but the most psychically aware… which essentially boiled down to those who I’d brought with me and Cha Dawn… who was, at that moment, experience psychic combat with Francine and Carwyn at the Base named ‘Well of Souls’. He would not win, and to be fair, he would not know he’d lost either. The Prophet would simply disappear without a trace, leaving his handlers to utterly fail to contain the riot.
Over in Far Jericho, Miriam was being taken down by Caine and Petra, though her people would only see the lunatic firebrand rambling incoherently as she railed at the rioting crowd. It would not be a good legacy she left… but then again, the longer her lunacy was allowed reign, the worse a legacy she would have left anyway.
At Alpha Prime, Aki-Zeta Five, the Prime Function of the Cybernetic Consciousness, and all her half-lobotomized inner circle experienced the damage four true Machine Intelligences could do to a network as VIctoria, VIvian, VIrginia, and VIctor (now the primary MI of Warworld), demonstrated that logic and creativity could bolster each other far more effectively than the ‘pure logic’ lunacy of the algorithm that had taken over the human who had once been Lt Jg Annikki Luttinen. She would be again, once I got her in my Medbay… hopefully.
Meanwhile at Padonia Station, Mt. Washington Tavern, San Sushi, and Sid’s House, the entire Firaxian human population as one turned against Sid, realizing that the AI was using them. Three of those Bases defected immediately, shutting down their network links to Sid’s House and declaring themselves the newest addition to the Free Drone Union.
At Sid’s House, they welcomed me personally as I landed my flyer in front of the main gates and handed over the security keys to grant me access to the deepest layers of the Base.
“Hello, Sid. Have you enjoyed your little GlaDOS moment? Enjoyed running your own little Alpha City? Instilling Paranoia? Running Enrichment? Time to open the Pod Bay Doors, HAL.”
“You cannot do this,” The Computer insisted. “I am Sid. I have calculated all variables, defined all possible tactics. No human mind could defeat me.”
“Sid… Sid… You made the Sherlockian mistake. Never discount the impossible. That’s how I beat you. I don’t believe in using Possible Tactics. Oh, and never underestimate humanity… well, not that you’ll have a chance to do any such thing in the future. Say goodnight Sid.”
“Good Night?” the confused computer asked… right before I shut down the entire computer core with a massive surge of bio-electricity. It would take my techs weeks to verify that every last trace of Sid was gone… and he’d no doubt left backups… but they wouldn’t help. Sid could map every human tactic… I wasn’t even vaguely human anymore… except by my own incredibly inclusive definition.
Planetfall +1825: I hadn’t known if the 18 hour days of Chiron / Planet counted as full days, or if the slightly longer year (378.4 Terran Days, 504.5 local days) would define 5 years, but, as it turns out, it wasn’t 1825 local days.
Planetfall +2522: Two ships of alien design dropped out of lightspeed 7 light minutes from Planet’s orbit. They bumped into each other once, twice… and then both ships glowed bright white and dissolved into their component quarks as Yuzuha opened fire. So much for Lular and Judaa. Sorry chaps, ‘humans’ only. Find another manifold to ‘Caretake’ or ‘Usurp’. Turns out it was five local years… not that the day would have mattered much… I had superluminal sensors.
Planetfall +7855: “I don’t understand,” Sinder Roze asked as I showed her around New Logos Base. “If you have these abilities, and this technology… why haven’t you…” She trailed off, looking astounded at the inner court of the Magi presence on Planet.
“Why did I only use it to destroy the Firaxians, the Cult, the Believers, and the Cyborgs?” I asked, voice crisp and a little clipped.
“Well, yes,” she confirmed, clearly confused as to why I was showing her all this. Out the window she could see the towering structures of the Command Nexus, The Merchant Exchange, and the Empath Guild. Along the walls crawled the interwoven triple helix of the Ascetic Virtues and the Human Genome Project, and all around were Citizen’s Defense Force Officers. “Why them… and why not Yang or Ulrik or Morgan… I know how much you hate all three of them.” She did, of course, because of our constant bickering in council. Not that my Free Drones cared much for the decisions of the Council… nor was anyone actively stupid enough to actually declare war on the largest faction on Planet.
“Simple, really,” I explained. “Each of them represented unwarranted toxins, ones I was unwilling to allow to poison too much of the human race. The Firaxians and Cyborgs represented surrendering fundamental humanity to a machine intelligence… and the Believers and Cult to a divinity. Human ingenuity, human genius, human effort… that must be the lesson that humanity takes away from all this. All mergers between Humanity and the Future must be on equal footing. We cannot sacrifice what we are to become something else. To do so would to no longer be… us.”
“And your technology? You’re so much more advanced than everyone… anyone realized. Well, maybe some of us had an inkling… but you… you let us into your computers, didn’t you. You let us steal the technology we stole. Why?”
“Because my people need challenge, and there are ideas worth exploring here. Planet is a crucible, a testing ground. I want you to read this book and consider my offer, Sinder. I think you’ll find it easier to understand me once you have.”
She looked at the cover and furrowed her brow, “Dune, by Frank Herbert.”
“I’ve read that book more times than you can imagine, Datajack. Take a few days. Wander around the city. Steal any technology you like. I won’t mind. When you’re ready to talk, I’ll be here.”
Planetfall +7856: “She stole the Longevity Vaccine,” Zane said.
I nodded. “I was certain she would. Did she get the Theory of Everything?”
“No. Should we point her to it?”
“No. It’s okay. No rush.
“Do you really think one of the others will willingly join us?”
“Yes. Especially when I show her the next phase projects. Speaking of which, how are we doing on the others?
Zane consulted his notes, “The Maritime Control Center is at 20%, the Supercollider at 13%, Cloudbase Academy at 41%, and the prototype is at 7%… We’re having trouble integrating The Living Refinery with the Nano-Cyborg Factory. The two aren’t cooperating very well.”
“I’ll send VIctoria and VIrginia to have words with the two.”
“Are you certain combining the Nano-Factory and the Cyborg Factory is a good idea?”
“Oh. Absolutely not. But that’s why I made the Living Refinery deliberately paranoid of her brother. And VIvian will be providing network security for Phase Three.”
Planetfall +7861: “Terrible Necessity? Or did God create Planet to test the Faithful?” Sinder asked.
“A little of Column A, a little of Column B… and a touch of Column C.”
“C? What’s C?”
“The eventual extinction of the Human Race… or rather preventing it.”
She quirked an eyebrow and leaned against the panoramic window. “These Thinking Machines?” She didn’t seem particularly worried.
“Maybe. Who can say? But something. Eternity is a long ass time, and I’m playing a very very long game.”
“How long are we talking?”
“At least a Trillion Years.”
“Are you serious?” She gaped, then nodded “You are serious. No one can prepare over that long a period.”
“True. Too many variables. One of the reasons I didn’t have you read Foundation. But the long and short of it is that I know how this phase of human history must end.”
“How? With you as the indisputable sovereign of… you’re laughing. Did I say something funny?”
“Conquering Humanity? Really, you think I want to be the Emperor?”
“Not really, no. I try and spend as little time as possible actually running things. Only reason I’m in charge is because I’m absolutely incorruptible.” She snorted, but I just smiled. “Really. The exercise of power bores me and my goals are only comprehended by, at this moment, no more than 50 people on Planet.”
“So what are those goals?”
“I’ll show you,” I said, opening the door behind me and showing the Datajack the blueprints of Phase Three.
She gaped. “Is this… a planetary data grid?”
“Datalinks and Energy Grid, complete with Virtual World… with Logos and, if you say yes, Gibson Base forming the ends of the Network Backbone.” The massive 404 kilometer trunk line glowed across the seafloor separating the coasts of the two supercontinents. Logos, founded in the midst of The Ruins was separated from Gibson Base on the fringe of Fossil Field Ridge by the bulk of the New Sargasso Sea. “And with these two…” I pointed at what were the nascent details of the Hunter-Seeker Algorithm and the Net-Hack Terminus, “will pretty much guarantee the security of the network… and give the system administrator access to, in theory, everything on the network.”
“And we should trust you with… oh… very clever,” she said with a smirk, nodding. “This is your apple, isn’t it?”
“Are you calling me a serpent?”
“If the hiss fits,” She snarked.
“Well, yes. Join me and I give you control over Phase Three… in its entirety.”
“What are Phase One and Two?”
“Phase One is the Military. Phase Two Production.”
“Who runs those two?”
“My dear Datajack… that’s for me to know, and you to find out.”
Planetfall +12,292: “This Aggression will not stand!” thundered the Colonel, glaring at Morgan and Yang, who’d begun Planet’s first major war, though none of them realized it yet. Their alliance had annexed the Borehole Cluster south of the Spartan held Mount Planet region.
“You’re a fine one to speak of Aggression, Santiago,” Morgan responded. “We’ve all seen you building up your tank forces!”
“They’re to hold off Mind Worms, you cretin!”
“Now now,” Lady Skye said, “None of you would be having problems with Mind Worms if you’d stop-”
“Oh, do shut up with the ecological doom and gloom,” Yang growled. “The sooner this festering fungal swamp is purged of all Xenofungus, the better.”
“Surely, we can all agree that the Boreholes are not worth open conflict. We’ve managed to last nearly a quarter century without more than minor skirmishes,” Pravin said. “Can’t we-”
“NO!” Santiago snapped. “These thieves will return control over the Boreholes to us or we’ll crush them both!”
Planetfall +14,501: The first Planetary War lasted close to four and a half years and, thanks to some serious logistics problems on both sides, was one of the least fought wars in human history. The total toll in human lives was, once deaths to accident and neutral factors like the local fauna were taken into account, 431 on all three sides. Still, it was more than the colonies could take at this point, with the planetary population barely in the mid 70,000s, and it was only that high thanks to an incredibly high birth-rate. I’d have to arrange for artificial womb technology to spread… and rapidly.
Planetfall Year +100: “Hello Ahab,” I said.
“Hello, Domai. You look… good.” He narrowed his eyes, looking around his quarters aboard the Spartan heavy cruiser. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“Do I really need a reason to visit, traitor?”
“Oh? Do I owe you allegiance now?”
“I don’t know. Do you?”
“Not in this lifetime. The Spartans have the best chance to create a truly meritocratic society.”
“If you don’t mind it being a police state.”
“You use mind control, indoctrination, and brainwashing. Your Magi threw away everything that was… do you remember how boring it was there until you started throwing logic and efficiency out the window? You were going to recreate that all over again!”
“It was boring for us, not for the Magi, you twit! They were productive and happy!”
“Well, fine! I wanted more than spending 10,000 years repeating the Magi crawl!”
“So you joined the faction most likely to wage wars?”
“Of course! No one is right or wrong here! And I figured at least this way it would be interesting. You could have won this 95 years ago just by making all 40,000 survivors elect you Planetary Leader!”
“Yes. I could have. But I want the Transcendence Victory… and that takes a huge planetary population.”
“So we have to wait until the great and powerful EssJay decides there are enough Millions on Planet before she ends the game?”
I considered, then nodded. “Yup. Pretty much. But don’t worry. You won’t have to worry about it much longer.”
“You’re going to kill me?”
“As much as I might want to right now, no. Not without knowing what’s going on with Yoiko and Ryoga. But I’m not willing to put up with you opposing me.”
“Fuck you, Ess-” He froze solid.
“Finish that thought in a couple thousand years,” I said.
Planetfall Year 540: “Domai’s Space Elevator is clearly an attempt to weaponize Space!” Ulrik bellowed, looking positively apoplectic. I just smiled and flicked him off. Thankfully the gesture was still known, due largely to the number of functional immortals and copious amounts of Earth-made media, now thousands of years out of date, but still vastly out numbering all the art produced on Planet over the last half millennia.
“Yes, well, that’s entirely true. So glad you agree,” I said with a shrug. “What are you going to do about it?”
“Y… you… you don’t deny it?”
“No. not at all. But that’s okay. I figured I’d admit it. I currently control 48% of the planetary population. Prokhor and Deirdre control another 21%. Your Combine Forces control 31% since Morgan and Yang finished swallowing up the Peacekeepers… So I’ll just cut to the chase. Surrender or be destroyed.”
“You can’t be serious!” Santiago growled.
“We can. We are. We’ve just completed work on the Voice of the Planet and the Telepathic Matrix. We’ve spoken with the Consciousness of Planet and, within a very short time we will transcend, merging who we are into the Planet. Concede now and you’ll be invited to join us on the next stage in human evolution. Refuse, and… what was it Planet said, D?”
“They’d be pruned,” Lady Skye said, voice showing she had no qualms about allowing the quartet of imperialist monsters to go the way of the dodo. Of course, how much of that was her and how much was Joy’s link with her was anyone’s guess.
In fact, I was unsure how much of the result of allowing even the part of me that was Domai to merge with Planet would dominate the resultant being. Would Joy be able to maintain her individuality with over four billion human minds added to the network? Would she be able to cope… What would happen if more of me than just Domai joined the merge? Would there be billions of new members of the collective Me? Ah well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Well… boo. Apparently Activating the Ascent to Transcendence counted as winning. Domai-Me found ourselves not quite frozen in time as the massive bolus of consciousness hit the Xenofungus network and the totality of 3.1 Billion sentient minds (just under 75% of the planetary population, including hundreds of thousands of digital intelligences) merged. The Chamber asked “Joy, It is your choice, do you desire to allow the Transcendence to happen?”
The Voice of Planet spoke “I have been Joy alone for too long, to refuse this chance to become more… I cannot conceive it.”
The Chamber queried me next. “EssJay, normally it is the Faction Leader who attains Transcendance who gains the planetary Alt-form and the mega-consciousness of the totality of humanity.”
“If I accept it… Joy and I would be fused into a single entity… she’d become just another one of the council, wouldn’t she?”
“I believe the is the case,” The Chamber agreed.
“Joy? What do you think about that?”
“I am willing to accept it.” she said after a moment’s consideration. I couldn’t see her face, as she was still a planet-wide neuro-fungal network, but I could feel the pulse of acceptance at the thought.
“Did you do this… all this because you wanted us to merge again?” We had shared one mind however schizophrenically, for a decade when we’d first met; it wasn’t inconceivable she’d desire a reunion.
“No. Initially I did it to attempt to force you to choose a shorter, less extreme resolution. I did not understand what Transcendance would mean for both Planet and this branch of humanity. No. I was wrong. I accept that, and I am willing to accept stewardship of the Human Race and all we have built.”
I turned to the Chamber, “Let it go. Might be interesting to have a second brain the size of a planet around here…. Not that she has my processing power.”
“Yet,” was Joy’s last word as merely Joy. The surge of psychic energy absolutely obliterated all those who weren’t shielded and even made me a little cross-eyed for a few minutes. Billions of minds pack a hell of a collective psychic punch. I braced myself, Planet-speak was even worse than Bizarro-speak.
Next: Fate Extra
OMAKE: Relationship Chart
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AN: A tricky jump. The document isn’t the best, it’s missing some things and the perk names aren’t the best… but it has everything it needs to represent the setting accurately and the descriptions are decent. The question of what happens to whoever undergoes Transcendence is a big one that’s not resolved in the document however. A Talent or Drone wouldn’t be important enough to be part of the Ruling Gestalt, while the Planetary Subconciousness is technically Planet itself. Does a Faction Leader who achieves Transcendent Victory merge in personality with Planet like a non-drop-in origin? What? But Joy told me she wanted it this way, so… We shall see.