Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Machines of Shiloh 16


"Self is an emergent quality.  Sapience, Intelligence and Conscience are internal hierarchies of that concept- they derive from self, not the other way around."
Catherine 97801A
Ethics of Autogov

CHARON
Weird.  Someone new in Kensha's dreamweaving.  I wasn't expecting that.

Note that my place in her dreamweaving was always strange for me.  I had to partition a part of my conscious self in order to participate.  Even describing this to you involves me having to turn into something others can comprehend.  But I loved playing in the dream, even if Kensha still was borrowing heavily from much older materials.

"Ah.  The Heartwood."  I observed.  "Who's the new player?"

"A new friend."  Kensha said from her perch above us.  "And yes, Charon, you broke character."

I rolled my eyes at Kensha. "Oh c'mon.  Give me a break.  We just started."

"We should introduce your characters," Kensha suggested.  "Li, do you mind starting?"

Li's character nodded.  Her character had pale white skin, with vibrant red hair filled with flowers and vines.  Her clothes were a long woolen dress, clearly homespun with celtic patterns running through it.  In one hand she held a long shaft of oaken wood, while her other hand rested on her animal companion, a huge white tiger.  With pointed ears, her dark purple eyes glittered, her cheeks covered in pictographic tattooes that looked more akin to cats and runes.

"I am Aurora, Druid of the Heartwood.  And this beautiful creature is Meryl."  She scratched behind the tiger's ears.  The large tiger purred in response.  It sounded pleased.

"Well, I am our leader and a master of illusions and divinations.  You can call me Syren Nightseer."  Poro nodded.  Zher character looked like a skinny man, his beard streaked with white.  He wore a robe of bright blue, emblazoned with the red silhouette of a dragon.  Behind a pair of dark glasses glinted in pink light of the Heartwood.  Arcane power seemed to flow from the items on his belt, a collection of wands and rings that jingled as Syren moved.

I sighed.

"C'mon Charon."  Li pressed me.

"I'm Garok."  I crossed my arms.  My belt had three or four daggers, each made of black metal.  Half the size of the rest of the team, my bracers and armor shared the same black theme.  I wore a three-pointed black velvet hat, my eyes a piercing green eyes.  Garok was a cunning force for justice, ignoring whatever he needed to get things done.

"Ok..."  The new person's character said.  "Um... how do I do this?"

"Just say your character's name is all.  Then you play that character... we'll go from there."  Kensha told her from her invisible position.

"I'm... uh, Hanael Stormsword.  Paladin of the Order of the Vengeance."  She looked human, but shorter than the rest of us.  She wore fullplate armor that was covered by a dark blue tunic.  Her hair was back in a ponytail.  An silver battleaxe hung from her belt, its hilt covered in gold.  Her belt, her pauldrons and boots all were emblazoned with a symbol of a storm and a lightning bolt striking down.  A white cape fluttered from behind her.

"A paladin?"  I asked, feeling annoyed.

"Oh c'mon."  Aurora bent down to poke me in the shoulder.  "You are always complaining about being the only muscle around here, Garok.  Hanael came recommended to us anyway."

"The Heartshields welcomes any who'd help protect our woods."  Syren offered his hand to Hanael.  Hanael took it, still looking a bit nervous.

"This is nice and all, but we still need to check out the Tavern."  I said.  "We left it during that chase, but we still don't know if it survived that fire or not."

"Fire?"  Hanael echoed.

"Yeah."  Aurora rubbed her tiger's head.  "We had to leave in a hurry.  The Tavern is like our main headquarters.  We don't know if Penny or the others are alright or not."

"How was the fire started?"  Hanel asked, her face looking concerned.

"We don't know.  Someone other than the Deathwalkers must've had something to do with it."  I explained.  "It forced us to confront the big bad, but he admitted he had nothing to do with the fire."

"He wasn't lying about that."  Syren agreed.  "But the Deathwalkers could've been involved.  Nothing discounts that."

"Uh... Deathwalkers?"  Hanael asked.  "Who are these Deathwalkers?"

"We don't know."  Aurora said.  "Decay is what they bring.  They are monsters of the highest order.  They just destroy."

"That makes no sense."  Hanael responded automatically.  "No one just destroys or does that sort of thing without a reason."

I blinked.  "You're a paladin, don't you just want to smash their faces in?"

Hanael bit her lower lip.  "I don't want to be mindless about it.  Evil can be redeemed, can't it?"

All of the Heartshields paused.  The three of us were surprised.  Previous Paladins we'd run into had been bigots of one sort or another.  "Sure, I guess."

Hanael nodded.  "Lets make sure the Tavern is safe.  I want to learn about why the Deathwalkers do what they do."

"Because they're nihilists?"  Aurora supplied.  I nodded in agreement.

"I remember the village they left in ruins."  Syren added.  "They just like to see things burn to the ground."

"That doesn't make sense though.  Nihilism can't be their own goal, I mean, just causing suffering without just cause makes no sense to me."  Hanael walked in front, taking the lead.  "I mean, everyone has a set of beliefs they follow.  They just aren't sharing it, if we can figure out what they are trying to do, the big picture, maybe we can try to convince them otherwise."

"Otherwise?"  I asked.  Garok was starting to get curious about this Paladin.

"Yeah.  I want to offer redemption.  Everyone deserves a second chance, don't they?"  Hanael asked with a smile.  "I grew up in family that always strived to find ways to save souls, not damn them because we had the hand on the sword."

KENSHA
So Sam's character really made things interesting.  Heartwood was always a small place.  The Heartshields protected it, and there was my ongoing plot.  I never thought about making the Deathwalkers about anything more than just... well, lunatics with a destruction streak.

I cut the dream immediately to the Tavern.  The tavern had no name, because it was the only Tavern in the whole of the Heartwood.  The Tavern with No Name would've been neat, but none of the players had ever noticed that.  It was intact, although a large portion of the roof had blackened.

I took on the role of the main non-player character for the Tavern, Penny.  A waif of a woman, she was the same height as Garok, although she kept her arcane past a secret from the party.  Penny had dark chocolate skin and curly blond hair.  She walked with a limp of the Tavern as the party arrived.

"Oh.  You guys made it back."  Penny winced in pain as I spoke through her.

"Penny!"  Garok rushed up to her.  "Are you-"

Penny interrupted him, blood splurting out of her mouth in a cough.  "I'm fine.  Just a bit of ash is all..."

"Deathwalkers."  Garok growled, shaking his fist.

Aurora started to sniff the air, look for tracks.  Syren's eyes glowed as he prepared a spell.  Hanael on the other hand, bent down and grasped Penny's face.

"Please feel no pain."  Hanael said, using her touch to heal the wounded halfling.  "Take on this blessing of the light."

Penny's wound sealed.  Having the NPC smile, I looked through her eyes up at Samuel's character.  "Thanks.  That feels a lot better."

"What happened?"  Hanael asked.

"Deathwalkers drove away my customers.  They appeared after the Heartshields had to flee..."  Penny said.  I let go of control, letting the NPC act on her own.  "It..."

"Ah.  Why didn't they leave you for dead?"  Hanael asked.

"Um.  I don't know, they just fled after the building was on fire."  Penny shrugged.  I paused for a moment.  I slid into Penny's information and added a bit to that.  Enough to let things continue the direction Samuel as going.  "They just seemed glad by it burning.  Something about birth out of death."

"That's more than I've ever heard them say."  Garok observed.  "Yeah.  But they didn't take people with them?  Why not?"

"Because they are more than just nihilists then."  Hanael pointed out.

"I've got a trail on them."  Aurora reported.  "We can follow them back to wherever they came from.  Its a easy trail to follow."

"How so?"  Syren asked.  The wizard walked outside of the Tavern, to see what Aurora was pointing out.

I smiled.  Aurora pointed at a trail of ash going through the Heartwood behind the Tavern.  There was smoke far off in the distance, now if they squinted hard enough.  Cherry trees in the distance were on fire.

"I see.  We best trail them back."  Syren said.

"Are you going to be okay if we leave?"  Hanael asked Penny.  "Do you want us to stay?"

The tavernkeeper shook her head.  I took control of her voice for a moment.  "Go, Heartshields.  I'll have rooms waiting for you.  Lady Paladin, you've already helped me a great deal."

Hanael nodded.  And with that, the Heartshields made their way down the trail of ash.

SAM
I had trouble sitting still.  The room looked nice.  But still.  Roosevelt had still thrown me for a loop with its towers of glass, crystal, neon and greenery.  I did find the Psych's office.

It was a room above a waterfall.  Except, the waterfall flowed up.

"Wow."  I observed.

"Its a nice view, isn't it?" A voice said.

A woman in a pair of jeans and a plaid shirt stood next to me.  Her eyes glowed neon blue, but her hair was dark brown.  A ruby clung to the center of her forehead.  The ruby blinked ever once and awhile, which threw me off.  So did her height.  She towered over me, her body willowy, pale white and covered in freckles.  That reminded me of my mother more than anything else.   A Duster, a martian.  This Psych was a Martian.

"Hi."  She practically kneeled to talk with me.  "I'm Psych Whisperer."

"Oh.  I'm, uh, Sam."  I avoided her eyes.  "I... uh, was told I should try talking with a Psych."

"Oh?"  Whisperer waved a hand to a nearby couch.  She sat in a nearby chair that was sized large enough for her to sit comfortably in.  "Sam, I did review your data on the Metanet.  Very little.  It said you were a native of Shiloh."

I nodded.

"Ah."  Whisperer pointed at the window.  A holo of Shiloh appeared on the floor below us.  "Your mother did some interesting work there before her death.  I can listen, that's my job mostly.  That's what we Psychs do.  We listen and try to help those who talk with us."

"Oh- I don't know what to talk about."  I felt like I was wasting her time.  So far everything here had been so... difficult.  "Some... I guess a new friend, told me I needed to talk with a Psych.  That I might have issues.  I don't know... I just, I'm trying to be someone new I think."

Whisperer nodded.  "Someone new?  So is that why you left Shiloh?  To be new?"

"Well... My mother had augmented me.  That isn't someone my- I mean, the mayor tolerates very much.  I had to leave."  I shrugged, my eyes wandered to the upside down flow of water outside.

"That doesn't explain it all, Sam."  Whisperer pointed at the map of Shiloh.  "You are avoiding looking at this map.  Sam, did they do anything to you?"

I tried to fight back tears.  I began to spill out most of the story, starting with watching my father die in front of me.  I was all over the place.  But each part I told undid another knot in my stomach.  More and more came out.  With each knot I undid, more and more sobs came with it.

"So you came here asking yourself who you are."  Whisperer understood.  I could feel it.  Her sympathy made this easier.  Something about her made this easier to explain, so much so than just sitting there stewing over it.  "Do you know who you are?"

"I..."  I blushed.  "My father said I was his daughter."

Whisperer nodded.  "So... you- do you not identify with your body's assigned sex?"

I blinked.  "What?"

"Ah.  This is one of the disservices being raised in Shiloh.  Ada Malkav eschewed a great deal of different views on humanity, including ideas on sexuality."  Whisperer waved a hand, and the image of the holo below changed.  Two humans came into view instead, a man and a woman.  "See these two?"

"Yeah.  A man and a woman."

"Sam, you already assigned them genders."  Historical flat images of all kinds floated around.  Images of people of different kinds.  Protests in streets.  Picketers.  Other images included persons posing, men, women and... others.  "The Old Nations on Earth spent centuries struggling with that concept.  The culture that comprised them prized a binary idea of gender.  Progressives for centuries failed to make them recognize anything different.

"But when they began to deport those they deemed 'unsafe' for Earth's culture, colonies developed their own ideas on that matter.  On Earth, you wouldn't be allowed to use genehacks to cosmetically change yourself to match what you self-identify as.  But out here, we accepted those who did.  We didn't care.  Autogov doesn't care what you want to be.  It wants to help you be what you want to be."

I tried to wrap my mind around that.  The old me feared autogov.  It feared autogov and those who lived under its rule.  I had just stories Gaius had told me about this place, of how it reward laziness.  "Um..."

Whisperer smiled.  "I'm not asking you to throw away everything.  Its ok to want to reinvent yourself, Sam.  But you can't just kill yourself and walk away from all that easily.  You need help."

"I guess..."

"Well, yes.  That's why its good you came to me.  Sam, if you identify as a woman and not a man, we can fix that.  There are regimens for developing into whatever state you want to be, male, androgyne, hermaphrodite, female or any other form of intersex.  Gene hacks allow for great deal, even with a mature body."  The holos of the man and woman shifted.  They changed from man to woman, woman to man.  Animated, they changed back and forth.

I watched the animating morph.  I could change?  The thought never occurred to me.  To make myself physically a woman.  To look like I felt inside.

"Oh.  I..."  I shook my head with disbelief.  "I'm sorry, I've spent so long... forced to not..."

Whisperer nodded.  "Yes, this is a lot to take in for a first session, I know that.  I'm mentioning it as a option.  If you really identify different than your assigned sex, you need to embrace that first before we do anything else.  Try it out."

"Try it out?"  I repeated.

"Yeah.  Dress as a girl, make friends as a girl."  Whisperer smiled.  "Those in Roosevelt won't ask questions."

"I suppose..."  I shook my head.  "I... I'm living at a friend's, but I don't... you know, have anyway other way to meet people and all that..."

"That's the other thing.  You need to reach out to Roosevelt.  It'll be hard, but whatever it is you want to do, we can accommodate to that.  We can figure out what works best for you.  The city might also decide to assign you some classes or uploads to study."  Whisperer pointed to a series of data streams.  "You're an unknown quantity in a lot of ways.  It might sound hard, but really you might enjoy it.  You can learn to recreate yourself, one step at time."

I nodded.  That sounded like fun.

Maybe the best way to start was to make that character that I'd been working on with, Hanael.  I could start there.  I also wanted to spend more time with Kensha, too.  I felt like I owed her an explanation too.  I think.

"So."  Whisperer continued.  "We aren't done yet.  Lets talk over how to do this nice and slow..."

Nightland Central Archives: Nightland.Wiki.Archives/Psychs

The most obscure observation of early spacers was a odd mutation, that at first, suggested a supernatural ability thought to be discounted before.  But the existence of this ability was proven to have a natural origin, in mutated brain structure known as the psychothalmus.  Proto-psychothalmus can be found in several large mammals, including most humans.

When active, the psychothalmus enables the subject to have a sense that seems somewhat clairvoyant.  But research suggests that it grants a insight into quantum probabilities.  How remains a unexplained mystery.  It allows subjects to predict events to a statistical significance.  It manifests most often as a form of clairvoyance: the subject can sense things at further distances.  This includes over lightseconds, through solid objects, or in ways that can only be confirmed later on.

So the best explanation remains that it must be some sort of predictive insight.  Attempts to duplicate the effect in laboratory has always failed.  Often this is attributed to a disparity involving the observer effect, while others claim it is due to being unable to confirm the basic mechanic involved.

Those possessing these insights are often referred to these days as Psychs.  Most Psychs also have other insights as well; most psychologists and psychiatrists also tend to be Psychs as well, suggesting a link between the Psychothalmus and studies into the human brain.  Not all Psychs also act as therapists, and not all therapists are Psychs.  But it isn't a uncommon occurrence.

Psychs are a accepted and growing number throughout the System.  Insights of theirs can also be applied to emotional and moral situations as well, suggesting possible quantum variances to be found within metaphysical areas as well.

Historically Psychs were persecuted in all the Old Nations, as their Treaty of Unification made all Psychs considered non-humans.  Deported, Psychs would find themselves pressed into the shadowy intrigue-filled conflicts between colonies, serving as spies or agents for powers in the System.  Or they would turn to psychoactive drugs, trying to null their second sight to keep them from seeing so much.

Autogov would employ Psychs, even using them to advise ill electronic minds.  The advent of evolving heuristics has made Psychs useful for mental issues among both kinds of minds.  Some Psychs do strive to explore areas outside of therapy, but the stereotype still weighs down on them.

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