- The AnFlot Atolls
Indian Ocean, August 2084 AD
The small holo terminal hovered down to ground level, an image of a young girl flickering to life on the steps. She smiled beatifically, hands clasped respectfully as she opened one arm to include the surrounding stylised temple pagoda.
“Welcome to your orientation on Ankina Atoll, the largest of the independent Fringe Tribe Float Network outposts. What follows is a history of the past thirty years, from the perspective of the Akina Syndicate, placed itself within the Greater AnFlot Reef Shoal. This is for the purpose of clarity and to provide a referenceable cultural framework for all travellers and new arrivals. The narrator template was provided by the Sense Engine Matrix Vitalikus-Prime.”
The holoform turned and began walking through the lush groves of the Atoll Habs set beyond. The new arrivals blinked tiredly, glancing at one another before following, as the girl began.
“As is common knowledge, fossil fuels were declared depleted in 2044. A few years later in 2051, the Polish inventor Jan Pleszniak sealed the fate of both himself and the world with the invention of Microfusion.
“Being very much aware of the implications of this, Jan figured it was only a matter of time before his inevitable assassination, and so he took the precaution of arranging a dead man’s switch to release the prototypes. Tragically his guess turned out to be correct: he was fatally poisoned not long after, but his plan to give this safe and abundant form of energy to humanity had escaped into the wild, and was soon perfected by others. Within a few months, humans everywhere had access to the power of Sol itself in the form of a cylindrical tube only two hand spans in length. Coupled less than a year later with the cheap yet revolutionary nanotech Fabricator, the means of production and manufacturing devolved outwards rapidly to ordinary people. The Restructuring had arrived.”
The listeners from the delegation continued to drift along behind, carrying baggage. Accompanied by the sound of waves and gulls in the background, the gentle breeze occasionally tugged at a strand of salt-bleached hair or handcrafted seashell jewellery. The holoform gestured with its hands conjuring depictions from recent history; events, landmarks and everyday scenes from mid-21st century society, hanging in midair as the listeners passed by.
“Over the next decade, entire swathes of human society started decoupling from centralized legacy systems. With such a gain in personal sovereignty, the need to pay fealty to specific institutions or ideologies evaporated, and Governments and other irrelevant systems of infrastructure became increasingly underfunded and impotent. Populations grew much smaller and more mobile, able to move around easily like nomads, growing food in special mobile habs and raising animals even in the deserts and uninhabitable places with the help of cutting edge technology. Cities from bygone decades became museums, abandoned. Kinship groups of semi-feral ‘technomads’ began roaming freely where they pleased, their networks of innovation flowering, lifting free from ancient and corrupt protocols of exchange. Finding themselves increasingly excluded from legacy networks, they eventually began taking to the ocean frontiers in little flotillas of like-minded, peaceful anarchies that could now float freely, seeking their fortunes however they could, sustaining themselves independently. These “AnFlots” grew to the size of whole reefs, floating artificial island hubs of research, freedom and hope. Humanity’s pioneering spirit soared.
“Conversely, the populations of people left behind in the traditional cultural cores grew threatened at the lack of social unity, and great bursts of unrest flowered as old societies split and fractured. Some preferred to die rather than give up the deep habits of the old stories, their religions and customs. Little did they understand how the megacorporations of the legacy business landscape cared less about them than the obeisance of their governments, who had by this stage abandoned the useless pantomime of democracy, and were instead auctioning their monopolies of force for hire to the highest corporate bidders in return for access to the profits of their denizens consumption. Vast herds of bewildered and scared humans unable to come to terms with the geosocial anarchy occurring on such a massive scale, and addicted as they were to coerced diets of cheap intoxication, mindless entertainment and dictatorial propaganda, willingly signed themselves up for lifelong voluntary service under the tyrannical surveillance of “GovCorps” overlords. Terrible and dark experiments began along the entire spectrum of tyranny and political extremism. Humanity’s stubborn tribal instinct dug in its heels.
“The Transition Wars bloomed: a period of messy, staggered conflicts, proxy wars and covert sabotage on many fronts as nation states disintegrated. The GovCorps attempted to hold on to whatever they could from their upstart rebellious elements using statist mercenary hardware and biotech, while amongst the AnFlots, the various flavors of techno-anarchy gave birth to a wide variety of cultural experiments, new business models and inventive socio-ideological configurations that seemed to lack any boundaries. The nomads, rather than slave themselves needlessly to the behaviours, beliefs and conditions of previous mental structures, sought to create their own meaning through cultural stories that made sense to them. They drafted cutting edge cryptographic constitutions based upon the older models of stakeholder-derived token currencies, and propagated them in democratic networks that aspired to greatness through flexibility, elegance and fairness.
“Despite setbacks and attacks from the various GovCorps in the form of cyber and military strikes, the leading atolls in the embryonic first Reef Shoal pioneered development of the Prescient Quantum Contract. The innovational power of the PQC, backed by Entanglement, allowed for pioneering research to take place on the very edges of the known scientific frontiers. The economic landscape of the land also shifted as states as middlemen between GovCorps and populations eventually went extinct, and the Faction emerged as the new stable configuration in the geopolitical landscape: part-business, part-nation.
Throughout the relatively fluid period of the 2060s and 70s, strange situations could emerge where a landlocked, bankrupt Faction would recognise a temporary advantage to be gained over their rivals by trading or engaging in research with a certain passing AnFlot atoll, before reneging on the deal and breaking ties with the little nation, then attacking it with a new partner. The hardy anarchies weathered the storm as best they could, evolving an array of crippling “Ragnarok” class weapons and defensive alliances. Ankina Atoll pioneered the development of Mjolnir, a railgun capable of picking off fusion cruise missiles from over a thousand kilometres with reliable precision.
“Holding freedom and self-sufficiency as their guiding principles proved to be a double-edged sword for the AnFlots, who bizarrely found themselves on occasion in conflict with each other, as the atolls diversified into a bewildering array of moral and ideological forms, sustained upon unique market rules and a wide array of exotic trade goods. Some good flotillas were lost along the way, but a robustness came to be bred into those that survived in both the Lesser and Greater Shoals. Around the same period, the Bharatian Sovereign Group perfected the technology of Augments en-masse, heralding the Golden Age. Entire Factions took to the sea or air to join the original AnFlots, the greatest of which became the Islander Fringe, to which Ankina belongs. Using our revolutionary keyform “Ashai”, they have declared their intent to forge ahead into the new era of stellar expansion as pioneers.”
Another humanoid holoform appeared next to the narrator, a man in a military uniform. His facial features were that of a Pacific Islander, with Maori tattoos covering nearly all of the visible facial area. The Maori figure paced towards the camera with a grim yet proud expression, a distant gaze entering his stern look. The girl narrator stood aside as the military man addressed the audience.
“You stand today amongst a people finally united, having witnessed a hard won peace that has cost the lives of many fallen comrades. Yet with their sacrifice we have been able to achieve incredible discoveries alongside other Factions, uncovering technological and scientific wonders beyond all previous reckoning, wealth and prosperity the likes of which humanity may never see again. With the Artilects at humanity’s helm, I, Manu Laniakea, swear a solemn promise to guide the Fringe and its new generations to the heavens. Our Faction shall rise to become the Sixth Transcendency, taking this as our mantra: ‘To Seek the Farthest Horizons’.”
The figure on the screen came to a finish as the listeners applauded politely. The image bowed and faded, the terminal drone flying back to the landing pad for the next group of arrivals.
“Unless anything goes wrong,” said one of the listeners under her breath, as her companions from the heli-ride dispersed into the habitats.
“What was that?” her companion said to her as she picked up her bag, “are you going pessimist on me again, Mala?”
The mutterer frowned, gazing around her with skepticism. Her face had the carved, rugged beauty of australasian aboriginal genestock with a flirtatious hint of north Pacific oriental expression, perhaps from Filipino ancestry. Her hair had been styled into a long, colourful mohawk in the centre with the conventional Islander dreads on one side. She too lifted her pack to her shoulder.
“It’s not pessimism to be realistic, Tiva,” she responded to the taller woman. “I mean, look around you. What do you see?”
The second woman shrugged as she walked, pursing her lips in a nondescript expression.
“The usual. Peacetime activities on an AnFlot atoll, neo-capitalism hard at work, that sort of thing.”
Kiso tipped her head to the side. “Yes, you could say that. But that’s just the surface of things. There is so much hidden beneath all of that, so much we might never understand, and not all of it good either.”
“Don’t say that! The Transitions were hard on everyone, it’s good that we have a respite to rebuild and forge better relations. No one can fight forever.”
“That’s not exactly what I meant. Look,” she continued, using a hand to gesture expansively at parts of the scene around them, “we’re in uncharted waters here. The last fourty years has been rough, we can all agree. It’s better that humanity can settle down and build something that can last. Too much change too fast can destabilize things, but that’s kinda my point: we’re past the stage where regular humans can cope with levels of change this fast.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean there is so much information, so much content being generated and exchanged between all sorts of intelligences, human and artificial, that it would cause a psychotic break in a Baseline from half a century ago. Without Dr. Singh’s discovery of the Interfacer, we would never be able to parse all of the colossal data flow with our primitive primate neocortex, struggling to make subjective sense of the avalanche of facts. Those tiny devices allow our biology to integrate vast, bewildering artificial powers into our beings through some kind of nano-quantum trickery that would otherwise overwhelm our consciousnesses.”
“But everyone knows this, Mala,” her companion replied sympathetically, a hint of impatience creeping into the tone. “You, me, we all have these implants now. It’s the only way to stay connected but sane in this age. And besides, it’s the latest thing.”
“And that’s exactly my point! These little things have Minds trapped inside them, unconscious entities bred in some virtual environment to do our bidding. The technology we connect to our bodies cannot otherwise be handled with a Baseline genome alone, and yet here we are, upgrading everyone like crazy as if it’s going out of fashion. Forgive me for feeling slightly uncomfortable with that.”
“Then be thankful most people can’t afford many high-level Augments,” chuckled Tiva in a jovial manner, her golden brow reflecting the tropical sun overhead. “You and me only have the standard Sense Engine integrations, visual HUD frameworks and audio enhancers. If BSG didn’t put such a high price on the Sex Augments, I’d have a lot more! It’s those reef-rotten Artilects you should be worried about, not us regular folk. Those… things… aren’t human anymore.”
“Are any of us, anymore?” Mala uttered in exasperation. “If this so-called Golden Age that all this progress is fuelling doesn’t carry us to the stars in time, I’d say we’re on collision course for a rematch with nations of Augmented GovCorp thugs, or worse. But deeper than that: I’d say we’ve been laying the groundwork for disaster with all of this ‘progress’. Sometimes evolution, cultural or biological, becomes so successful that it litters the playing field with forms and structures that just cry out to be connected, enabling the right individual with enough intelligence to come along and bring them together and innovate either heaven or hell from it. History shows this again and again. Pleszniak himself was one such individual, and thank Manu he was on the right side. Can you imagine if he had delivered the M-Plant blueprints to the wrong hands? Because right now with the power we have, we’re only one accident away from extinction. Our luck won’t hold forever.”
Tiva sighed, gently placing a hand on her friend’s shoulder.
“Mala – the War is over now. It’s time for all of us to stop fighting, to focus on the good things in life.” Her expression lightened, and she punched her old friend on the arm. “But hey, I’d say you’re just tired from the trip. Let’s get some food and find a bunk. You’ll feel better, and afterwards I’ll take you Windriding.”
Mala’s head sank . “You’re sweet,” she said with a faint smile. “I wish I could believe it was just a feeling.”
They walked on after a moment, passing a holo-placard with a moving depiction of a titanic godlike entity. The slogan declared:
HELION THE ZERO PROPHET
A NEW ORDER RISES