|The Girl Who Poked God With A Stick
||[Oct. 19th, 2012|04:13 pm]
Crest of House Morimoto, granted by God-Emperor Los II in 1795 ASC
Maria Morimoto's childhood memories are backed up in a data center in an out-of-the-way district of Wave Manifold. They are locked behind a theoretically unbreakable layer of encryption, for which the password is "taatsattboefeohtraotcstu". She remembers it because it is the first letter of each word in the motto on her family crest, as well as because her brain is a computer made of exotic matter with a memory capacity trillions of times more than of all the world's silicon computers combined.
If she were really security-conscious, of course, she would use something much stronger. But she likes the thought that a sufficiently smart person could guess her password and see what she was like as a child. She always did have a mischievous streak.
Maria was born in Much Rejoicing, a sanct of ten thousand souls on a platform in the middle of the Straylight Sea. Dante McCallavre had built it centuries ago at a natural weakness in the telluric field that mysteriously limited technological potential. Since then it had paid for itself many times over, as companies and laboratories who hit the telluric barrier in their mainland facilities looked to relocate somewhere more permissive. By the time of Maria's birth a dozen similar facilities had been built in the oceans surrounding Sxiro, some at even more advantageous spots: Discontinuity was rumored to be the most hypotelluric location in the western hemisphere, though of course scientists differed on the exact measurement protocols. But there was always more demand for hypotelluric land than the platforms could supply, and so Much Rejoicing was both fantastically wealthy and crowded beyond anything a mainlander could imagine.
It was not a good place to be a child. There were no playgrounds, no green growing things. Maria spent most of her time studying. Everyone in Much Rejoicing was very smart, an employee at a hi-tech conglomerate or an employee's family members. Maria decided at age four that she was smarter than anyone, and never encountered any evidence that made her change her mind. When she could not study another minute, she would play pranks on the maintenance workers, or sit on the edge of the platform and stare into the deep blue waters below.
A prank gone wrong. A transport tube switched from "stop" to "go". An inspector dunked in the ocean, all drenched and silly-looking as he waved his arms. A rare failure of the automated life preserver system, a waterlogged body drawn from the depths a few days later. A few hours of frantic hacking, covering up her access to the transport system. Maria remembers none of this, though it is all there in the data center.
At age sixteen she decided she would be a biochemist, and became the third-youngest student ever accepted to John Metzler University in the great imperial city of Sxiroheim. The capital was strange to her. She had known in theory of the world off the platforms, but as she stared at the lush parks and wide boulevards she realized she had never understood how big and empty the world could be. Every so often she idly wondered what she would fill it all with, when the time came.
She was there for the great telluric shift that struck the capital during the reign of God-Emperor Grifos. The electric trains were mothballed and replaced by steam engines; the cars and trucks relegated to huge lots in the suburbs and replaced with horses imported from Goldenmoon or Riverrun. During the worst days, the electric light in her room would flicker off, and she would study epigenetics by candlelight.
The priests would leave the Multi-Temple in those days and wander around the city, preaching God's punishment upon the people for their sins. But if the telluric shift was God's punishment, what of the telluric field itself? By what authority did God fix a ceiling beyond which the human race could not progress?
When Maria looks back on her life, she finds this is the first time it crosses her mind, even in idle daydreams, to ask whether it was possible to kill God and steal His power.
When she graduated university she returned to the platforms, picking up a pharmaceutical job on Deep Trouble. The project was ambitious: Amara Pharmaceuticals was working on a cure for death. They were hoping to develop a retrovirus that would introduce a custom-engineered strand of DNA that prevented normal aging, but things kept going wrong. A few people blamed the tellurics, and the project briefly relocated to Discontinuity in hopes of a more favorable result, but they fared no better and eventually moved back to Deep Trouble. It was during the chaos of the second move that Maria accidentally needlesticked herself; pricked herself with a syringe containing experimental materials. She was monitored for a few weeks with no special result, and her superiors assured her there would be no harm in accidentally infecting herself with a virus that didn't work.
Her life settled into a sort of routine. She worked for Amara five years, until they closed the immortality project in disgust, then got a teaching position in Discontinuity for which she was overqualified. She occupied her time learning some of the fields she had previously neglected - history, literature, even some art - and returned to her childhood habit of playing tricks, mostly on her students and lab assistants. Even then, in the years she would remember as the most boring of her life, she kept her mischevious streak.
Those years of boredom ended with a compliment from a sort-of boyfriend she had been dating half-heartedly: "You look amazing for a thirty-two year old." Unlike most of her casual lies, she remembered this one: on a lark, she had claimed to be twenty-nine when they had met three years ago. She was actually forty-three.
Come to think of it, she did look amazing. A few weeks in the lab confirmed her suspicion: she was infected with an active form of the immortality virus. She thought about contacting Amara Pharmaceuticals for exactly zero seconds. Instead she invested most of her savings in very-long-term bonds and downloaded some books on how to get a fake identity. A month later she flew to Goldenmoon, the most hypotelluric you could get without leaving Sxiro, and told them she had lost her birth certificate. An easily bribed village elder later, she had a fancy piece of parchment confirming her completely fictitious identity as a nineteen year old girl. If the infection dated from her needlestick she was biologically twenty-three, but the younger she made herself the longer it would be before she had to repeat the process.
For her second life she chose Pohjankaupunki, a sanct only about a hundred miles off the coast of Iardix. Bored with the idea of another lifetime of biochem, she reinvented herself as a hacker, learning programming and eventually getting a job in C.O.S.A.C.'s cybersecurity division. In her free time, she amused herself by day-trading and by hacking Amara Pharmaceuticals and causing them to lose all their backup data from the immortality drug in an "unavoidable accident". She was going to have so much fun and she didn't want some boring stuffy corporation to ruin it with a fortuitious discovery.
Another trip to Goldenmoon; luckily the village elder's son was as corrupt as his father had been. This time she went to Audente, the first city in the world, the place where they had discovered technology. It was even bigger than Sxiroheim, and the tellurics were better, so that on a good day the maglev could bring her anywhere in the city in minutes. She spent this particular lifetime as a courtesan on the even-numbered days and a naval engineer on odd-numbered ones. The incongruity amused her. They say she helped develop the basic design for the Queen of Night's Repentant Children for the great admiral Rahanorion-nomai in a single afternoon, then had wild sex with her the next day.
Another trip to Goldenmoon; the village elder's grandson had developed a remarkable case of honesty, forcing her to take an eight mile detour by ox-cart to the village next door. She was now a hundred twenty years old but continued to look twenty-three. She settled in Nafticon but her attempts to become a fighter pilot were cut short by the news - still considered an amusing cosmetic oddity rather than a significant scientific anomaly - that there was a small cadre of men and women in Audente who had apparently been blessed with youthful good looks well into their middle age. Hijacking an Antican genetics lab, Maria confirmed her suspicion: the active immortality virus was sexually transmitted. After considering her options, she went with the most exciting: she withdrew some of her quickly-growing fortune in long-term bonds, acquired some very specific and highly illegal training from the Atterans, moved back to Audente, and gradually assassinated everyone she had ever slept with. She found it was more interesting than naval engineering and more fun than sex. To put the finishing touch on her security, she bought out Amara Pharmaceuticals, mothballed the entire genetics division, and switched their product line to focus entirely on hair care. To her amusement, profits doubled.
Another trip to Goldenmoon. Although she now realized she was lacking some kind of important morality gene, it might have been some inner loathing, some desire for self-annhilation, that drove her to Brzgrad to study tellurology. Everyone agreed that it was only a superstition that tellurologists always died early and highly irregular deaths. It was just a superstition that occurred independently across every known culture; one so widely believed no insurance company in the world would sell a policy to a tellurologist. And yet Maria flew across the sea to Brzgrad to study with Stjepan Ekarovic, the acknowledged expert in the field, and worked beside him for two years until his death by falling debris during a freak tornado. When none of his other students appeared eager to continue his research, Maria volunteered for the job.
No one knew exactly what the telluric field was. It had existed at least since written history began two thousand years ago in Audente. No one thought it was natural: no natural force could have quite the precision to snipe technology while leaving biological and natural processes completely untouched. And then there was the astoundingly high mortality rate in the tellurological professions, as if it were actively trying to avoid being studied.
But who had built such a thing? Maria was well aware her civilization had not been the first to exist upon the world. There was an archipelago of floating islands in the southern hemisphere; the largest was about two hundred miles across and hung suspended some two miles above the sea. Somebody must have put them there. But it was hard to believe any civilization, even one capable of hanging islands from the sky like pearls from a necklace, could have created the field. Most people said, reasonably enough, that God had done it. Some said the telluric field was God.
Maria spent a hundred years in Brzgrad, longest she'd ever stayed in one place. During that period, she made exactly one original discovery, which was that she ruined any telluric experiment she touched. At first she thought it was uncommon clumsiness. Finally she decided it was something more interesting. Her body negated that telluric field. No one else she studied had this effect, and the phenomenon proved totally resistant to study. Her memories record stimulant-fueled weeks of experiments, followed by periods of miserable withdrawal, cursing God and science alike. When she smashed up a room of priceless equipment in a rage, she gave up and returned to Discontuinity in disgust.
These were the early years of God-Emperor Los II, and they were years of boredom and frustration for Maria. Her studies had been a failure; her murders, which bothered her in waking life not at all, nevertheless darkened her dreams. She began trying to take over the world, almost for lack of any pastime. By now her investments had matured, and with them she bought a crest and noble title, becoming the Countess of Discontinuity. She found the rest of the nobility to be either pompous fools or self-important businessmen, and within a generation she had become a Duchess. Within two, her "daughter and heir" had won a Praetorship. The stories about her relationship with God-Emperor Ari i Ly'Technomaezj Kaukainen are extraordinarily garbled, but it seems beyond doubt that she seduced him (or vice versa?) at least once. But that was the apex of her political career. Something, perhaps having no higher to climb, perhaps some clue she garnered from one of the mystery cults surrounding the God-Emperor, drove her from Sxiroheim. She returned to Discontinuity and began studied tellurology with renewed vigor.
After less than a year, she realized what should have been obvious from the beginning: her equations had failed because she had simply assumed that there was only one telluric field. There were two of them, weakly interacting with each other. The first telluric field perfectly predicted the behavior of technology. The second did...what?
It was around this time she started taking more seriously the old stories of magic and witchcraft. There had always been legends - of So-Sara, of Til Iosophrang - but she had always assumed they were just legends. She had always thought, like most Sxirans, that the Gralans' reports of their own magic just proved they were superstitious and easily deluded. A quick visit to Skoitamashu convinced her otherwise. Their powers were minor, useful only to delight the easily impressed - but they were not trickery.
The first telluric field limited technology. The second telluric field limited magic. The Sxirans had always assumed magic didn't exist. The evidence said it didn't exist now, at least not outside limited hypodeuterotelluric pockets. The nadir of the first telluric field was Discontinuity. The nadir of the second was...where?
Maria built a new sanct, Full Circle, upon a placid stretch of black water of ill reputation among sailors. There she founded Amara Advanced Projects, bringing together the researchers she had rescued from a life designing hair care products with magic users she recruited from Skoitamashu. There she began translating the old texts engraved on abalone shells that sometimes washed up on the beaches near Sara-Nyl. And there, for the first time, someone outside the old So-Saran mystery cults discovered technomagic, the practice of building machines that oscillate between technological and magical components at the resonant frequency of the telluric fields. And so it was at Full Circle that Maria Morimoto developed the holy grail: atelluric components that allowed arbitrary levels of technological advancement.
Everyone had always known that subversion of the telluric fields would lead to a technological singularity within a hundred years. Maria did it in sixty. During the second year of the reign of God-Emperor Mors VI, she uploaded her brain to a computer of exotic matter, folded Full Circle into a pocket dimension, and became a goddess.
In retrospect she agrees she may have gone overboard, in those early days of divinity. She always did have a mischievous streak. Turning the God-Emperor into a chicken was hilarious at the time, but when Eluin used it as an excuse to revolt, the entire Sxiran Empire was plunged into half a century of civil war.
Worse, God had done nothing. She had expected that her newfound divinity would, if nothing else, be sufficient to finally get a good view of her enemy, but there was nothing. She started acting ever more outrageously in the hope of provoking some, any response that proved He was there and watching her. She had been sure that creating Cibola would catch His attention, but even the overnight appearance of an entirely new continent had failed to cause any sort of divine action.
So she decided to poke God with a stick and see what happened.
In the twentieth year of the reign of God-Emperor Reynardine II, she hacked into the telluric field. She met no resistance. Her divine technomagic cut through it as if it were warm butter. It fell into her lap. At age three thousand ninety, she held complete power over the telluric field covering the planet. She wondered whether the field's creators abandoned it, just as the flying islands in the south had been abandoned. Or whether God had grown so tired of His responsibility that He was all too happy to hand it over to the first person willing to accept it, whether He was glad to get the field off His hands.
So Maria destroyed the world. Partly it was to see what would happen. Partly it was to provoke some kind of response from God. But mostly it was to see if she could do better, create something where the telluric fields promoted rather than inhibited human potential, something without all the war and suffering and overwhelming boredom.
And she failed. Failed completely. Omi Oitherion, her chosen Messiah, went insane a few years into the process and bungled his role. Every time she tried to intervene, people became dependent on her and blamed her when things went wrong. Every time she didn't intervene, nations died, families died, people died, and they all died cursing her name. Without the telluric field to stop them, various idiots started their own singularities and made her expend a constant proportion of her energy fighting off deranged godlings. It became so bad that she consigned Pelagia, her new world, her chosen utopia, to the flames and rebooted the old world from backup copies.
She could almost kiss it. The grim walls of Sxiroheim, the shining towers of Raikoth, even the filth-strewn ziggurats of Kamalshahr. She resolves to be a better goddess from now on, and starts playing a new game. A game of doing the most with the slightest effort. A whisper here, a leaf falling there slightly out of turn. Can she prevent a war? Overthrow a despot? Even with her immense computational power, the challenge is fiendishly difficult. But it pays off; the fumbling disasters of earlier years decrease and eventually disappear. For the first time, she starts feeling almost content. She will have many millennia to fill the empty spaces, one falling sparrow at a time.
Her contentment lasted about a month until she took the obvious next step and started monitoring whispers and leaves and sparrows. Slight but statistically significant anomalies. How many layers of gods were there above her? How old were they? How long had they had to perfect their craft? She started obsessively monitoring the exotic-matter circuitry that forms her brain. Several particles were out of place. As soon as she began monitoring, the deviations disappeared, at least as far as she could observe. But how much was going on beneath the Planck barrier, invisible to her merely divine senses?
Grim determination renewed, she decided she needed more power. She left Full Circle for Nelaga, the largest of the flying islands, where she spent fifty years, obsessively trying to puzzle out its secrets. In its hidden heart she found technomagical engines similar to her own but light-years years more advanced. At a glance she grasped the outline of their structure. She could not make technomagic like this, not yet. But she had an idea what it could do.
Suspend gravity. Break the Planck barrier. Warp space. Pass the speed of light. Go backward in time. Go backward in time.
There inside Nelaga, she started to get a sinking feeling that she knew who created the telluric force, and why. It would explain a lot. Why she negates telluric fields. Why she was the only person the immortality virus could touch. Why she was allowed to study tellurology without incident. Why no one resisted her hostile takeover of the universe. Who keeps meddling with her. Who founded the So-Saran mystery cults. Why the technomagical engines in the flying islands look so similar to her own.
How much of the history of civilization has been her colossal prank on her past self? She would like to think that the universe has been something more than her attempt to drive away boredom, something more than her own private causal loop, but she sees no evidence for this hypothesis. And she always did have that mischievous streak...
Acknowledgements: ari_rahikkala and very many others for the decade or so collaborative story-telling that created the world of which this is a loosely adapted and non-canonical part.