Monday, January 27, 2014

Scenes From the Axis Mundi

This is part three of my Axis Mundi posts.  If you haven't read them, this post isn't going to make a lot of sense.
Basically, the Axis Mundi is an 8000 year old colony ship carrying the last of humanity on a voyage that will probably never end, because the AIs and the humans that run the place are all damaged/insane/amnesiac.  Huge expansions of culture, technology, and especially religion.  The AIs style themselves as roman gods (according to their names).  The foremost of these AIs is Apollo, who has invented matter-cloning technology during the voyage and has been cloning generations of cryo-sleeped dudes, who wake and serve, never suspecting that anything is wrong.

This is what the Axis Mundi sounds like.

Don't click on those other fucking youtube videos.  I don't even know why I wrote them down.  This is the one you are looking for.

Themes of the Axis Mundi

  • Everything is old.  And the eons have made things strange.
  • Everything is grotty.  Absolutely everything has been reused hundreds of times, in hundreds of ways.  If it looks clean, neatly designed, or fashionable, it isn't part of the Axis Mundi.
  • More cultures and technologies have sprung up in the Axis Mundi's 8000 year history than in the entirety of the Earth's. More languages, more music, more stories.  All of it lost to the churning eons of cannibalism and recycling.  Nothing is preserved, except as data (and even that is rare).
  • Everyone is religious.  There are no atheists in the house of God.
  • Everything is a lie, because the truths have been forgotten.
  • Between century long mining/expansion ventures and inter-ship metallo-cannibalism, the Axis Mundi has grown beyond anyone's reckoning.
  • The world is the ship, and the ship is unknown.
  • Identity is a naive concept.
  • Everyone is human.
  • No one is human.

A sealed shrine, full of ultraviolet lights and hard vacuum.  Inside are 33 autonomous androids in various stages of decay.  Some are completely defunct, others still hum with intelligence (mostly by scavenging pieces from their fallen brethren).  They simultaneously bow aftwards, towards Mecca, exactly once every 4.8 hours, as they repeat the same call to prayer that they have been for the last six hundred years.  Despite their monotonous regularity, they are fully responsive and "sane".  They will do whatever it takes to ensure that their vigil is not interrupted.

Put your head up to the bulkhead at the junction between transept A-22 and Ventilation Access FA9, and you can hear it sifting through the seams.  Everything thinks it is a recording.  No one knows what inimitable reserves of faith that can exist within a positronic brain, nor would they understand them if they did.

The call to prayer has never been uttered with such conviction and peerless belief.  The 33 most devout Muslims in the universe have be refining their prayers every year.  And although a layman will never hear the difference, they have improved their song each year, making it sweeter and more beautiful.

Under nine red neon lights, an eight-legged robot detaches it's armor plating.  It submerges its now-naked midsection in a shallow vat of sterile gel, where it will give birth to a healthy baby girl.  Another robot uses telescoping manipulators to pluck the baby girl from the pink slime while a gantry-mounted servitor severs and cauterizes the umbilical cord.

Over the next nine hours, the baby girl will be disassembled.  Limbs will be excised and discarded.  Gastrointestinal system will be reprocessed into nutrient juices.  Replacing the entire pulmonary system--heart, lungs--is tricky, but it must be done.  What's left would fit in a peanut butter jar--just the central nervous system and reproductive organs.  And finally, once the neurons are married to their electrocouples and the brains arteries are meshed with the dialysis pumps, she is sealed inside a metal chassis of her own.  It's all rubber knobs and training wheels.  Babies are so clumsy.

Across the wireless, another robot exchanges endorphin signals with his wife.  As he helps her reattach her chainguns, he tells her how much he loves her, and proud he feels, as a father.

She barely hears him.  She is exhausted.  With her shallow blood reservoir, the transfusions feel cool in her veins.  She just wants to go home, cycle her exhaust ports, and watch How I Met Your Mother until she falls asleep.

The jokes in that sitcom, now 8000 years old, do not go over her head.  She has been fortunate to have access to the full body of human television history.  She someday hopes to watch all of it before her eventual death.  Although she would never use the term herself, she is a scholar of the subject.

But when she returns back through the airlock into the two chambered quarters she shares with her husband, she will not watch another cultural vestige of the 21st century.  She will prepare a room for her baby.  And when her child is returned from her interface implantation, the room must be perfect.

She will be a good mother.  She has already had wide range IR cameras installed in her anterior sensor array.  She knows that her exoskeleton is getting badly scuffed, but there simply isn't the budget for a new one.  Besides, she's happily married.  Leave that for the girls, the ones who are worried installing long phase meltas because it might scorch the paint.

No, investing in her daughter was the right decision.  She cycles up her IR array, revels in the definition and rapid focusing the eight semi-autonomous targeting computers are capable of.  With her new eyes, she has banished the darkness from her chambers.

Which is good, after all.  The Axis Mundi is a dangerous place, and she must be able to watch over her baby through the dark nights.

<all creatures great and small></all creatures>
Black pillars of flesh flicker with prototypical sentience in the cargo bay, their blind bodies bathed in holy halogen light. Their clouded intelligences barely registering vague discontent.

Across their surfaces flow the sheathe-colonies, congealing and deliquescing as they pump frenzied communciations, distant whispers carried across the superstructure on a quiet tide. A complex ecosystem worn in layers, all membranes, interfaces, and ion-drenched neuroplastics. Friendships are made and betrayals enacted, all within an inch of thickness.

They have heard of fish, and when they speak of the old Earth (in tremulous, mocking tones, pricking at each other's more distal psuedopods—patches of microscopic needles—implying delicacy, tact, and fear) they compare themselves to fish. And in their hot, churning suburb in the bowels of the Axis Mundi, they no longer see themselves to humans. And neither does anyone else. But they are human.

They have sex but no gender. They have 46 chromosomes, but the concept is meaningless to them. They inherit a name from their parent, although this name is a chemical signature. And they bleed, and it is red, red, red as the blood of the Americans and the Romans before them.

And then, news from aft. Fire, blood, death, betrayal, defeat. They circulate the news through the cargo bay, their vulcanized sheets pricking and tingling at each others outrage. Vast forms, that move fantastically through unexplored dimensions of biology and topology. And like a slithering river, rush out into the bulkheads, hunting retribution through the great ship's backwaters and marshes.

The pillars are left to fill the air with their psychic mutters, as alone now as they ever were.

<emotional connectivity></connectivity>

Hundreds of years of graffiti, all of it in your own hand.  Some written in ink, some written in blood.  Curses, pleas, and prayers.  Mostly curses.  With a plasma cutter, you scour the diagesis of your life from that clotted bulkhead.

The next day, Apollo tasks you with replacing that same panel with a new one.  And as you lick the salt from your cheeks, you wonder how many times you have done exactly that.

The paranoia creeps in.  It fills you like a sweater nesting an inch beneath your skin.  Forgotten nightmares mesh your head like needs that never quite touch it.

You can see the graves beneath the plastex corridors.  The corridor lights burn like corpse candles, indefinite and infinite.  You can hear the fat sputtering behind their electric light.  How many people have died here?  Where were they buried?

Beneath your bunk.  You can hear them.

Of course you've died here, too.  You've seen the recordings.  Seen the flicker of recognition across the face of the security team the first time you walked into the cantina.  People you've never met hate you, and hate you for a good reason.

Of course no one is buried here.  There's no space to bury anyone.  Everything is reused.  Everything is recycled.  There is no ecosystem here.  There's no sunshine on the daisies.  Earth is gone, and all the french fries and bagels you remember growing up.  (Of course those are your memories.  Who else's memories would they be?)

No ecosystem.  No life.  Just a blind worm, and ouroboros, gorging itself into a figure eight.

You come to regard your food with a cold hatred.  How many times have you eaten yourself?  A hundred?  A thousand?  A hundred thousand?  Vomitting in zero-g is wretched.  Your stomach bile stings your eyes.  They hose you down like an animal.

You become thin.  Your eyes yellow and your skin thins.  After you finally snap and are gunned down on the Casino deck, your final emotion is frustration.  You were too weak to kill any of the bastards after all.

The doctor who recorded your last moments shakes his head as he closes your eyes.  He came out of cryosleep two weeks ago and doesn't understand.  Your last request is wasted on his uncomprehending ears.  You were shot three times in the lungs and six in the intestines. . .of course they won't bring you back.

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