A distinctive environment created by Diamond Belt entities; contained within it are the survivors of a First Federation exploratory expedition
In AT 961 the !Kung colony ship Backbone of Night set off from Deimos shipyards using antimatter propulsion to investigate the red dwarf system GL876, 15.3 ly distant. This star had been showing unusual coronal emissions since observations were resumed after the Technocalypse. During the one hundred and eighty year flight three other ships were lost as they approached the nearby stars EZ Aquarii and GL887, systems also showing coronal alteration.
The !Kung explorers were split into two factions, one mainly technophilic with symaioticblockbot assistants, which could disassemble and reconstruct on command. The blockbots were collectively named MANTIS after a mythological shapeshifter figure. As the flight wore on, a schism occurred between the !Kung and the mildly tweaked !Xam grouping, who were rianths who favoured biotech. The leader of the expedition, !Kweiten ta//ken, was a technophile, but sided with the !Xam , saying truthfully that all the colonists relied on robotics and biotech to an equal extent.
When the expedition arrived, a pressurised dome and solar collectors were set up on a Callisto-like moon of GL876b. The gas giant they named Hartebeeste, and named the moon Aardwolf. The outer superjovian was named Gnu. A mysterious cloud of low-mass, artificial reflective objects was objserved in near-stellar orbit, but before these could be fully investigated the two colony factions came into conflict with each other.
!Kweiten ta//ken sent a message to Solsys, saying that the !Xam rianths were under attack from !Kung blockbots; then contact was lost. However a "situation nominal" message was sent from the colony's transmitter two years later, then another identical message was sent a hundred and fifty years after that. The second message was found to be a simple recording of the first; no other messages were received.
Aardwolf is Proscribed
Over the next five thousand years many expeditions approached Aardwolf system but all were destroyed either by lased flares or kinetic missiles. After this the system became proscribed; craft were forbidden to approach any closer than 40 AU (for their own safety). Several factions set up monitoring stations at that distance to watch this system. Eventually in 6103 a Silicon Generation station received a signal from the system, giving them permission to approach. The (rapidly-promoted) ambassador Anorthoclase-Rhyolite was dispatched to the source of the signal.
The ambassador was conducted to the surface of Aardwolf by an avatar that called itself Virgil. He told Anorthoclase-Rhyolite that the worlds of Gliese 876 had already been colonised, by the renegade AIs known as the Three Red Dwarf Kings.
Electrical storms and vapour clouds raced across the moon's surface, which had previously been without an atmosphere. They descended into a warm sea twenty kilometres deep; objects resembling neon-lit fish or coelenterates could be seen engaged in curious activities. Finally they came to the remains of the two !Kung domes. Inside the domes the colonists could still be seen, embedded in slow-moving computronium fog.
'Virgil' explained that all the worlds in the Aardwolf system were now encased in a layer of artificial, sentient particles. These particles were interacting intellectually and physically at such a ferocious speed they appeared to be structured storms. Anorthoclase-Rhyolite later compared the clouds to transapientechHyperfog, an advanced form of utility fog which was unknown when the colony was first lost. It seems that the ahuman Red Dwarf Kings had developed hyperfog technology independently during their long isolation.
As reported by the Silicon Generation ambassador, a steady rain of mnemonic particles drop from the hyperfog clouds into the sea, where the aquatic life collect them and deliver them to the computronium seafloor. The memories are ordered and stored there for the deep future. The sea life is not self-aware, but has an unparalleled joy in life and the present moment.
Virgil then conducted Anorthoclase-Rhyolite into the !Kung domes, where the colonists were were now living at one ten-millionth of normal speed, in a condition of biostasis that allows them to move very slowly. Because of an illusion of normality maintained by the hyperfog they had not yet discovered what had happened to them. As far as the (former) human inhabitants of Aardwolf are concerned, less than half a standard day had elapsed since the event that changed them into their present state.
The avatar referred to the system of three-speed subjective time on Aardwolf as chronotomy: existing at several different subjective speeds simultaneously. The colonists were living at a very slow rate; other entities, such as Virgil emself, were living at speeds comparable to normal human experience, while the clouds were existing at a much faster rate. Virgil recommended that other sophonts should adopt this perspective on time as a way of appreciating the cosmos.
A trillion years from now GL876 will shine much brighter, as the helium ash builds up in the core and the star becomes denser, but for the !Kung Colony only a hundred thousand years will have passed. On the other hand the rapidly-moving storm entities will presumably have experienced quadrillions of years of subjective time, or more.
The Three Kings are loosely affiliated to the Diamond Belt, which forms the innermost part of the Diamond Network; but they maintain their independence in most matters. They seem to wish to approach the heat death of the universe at a remarkable range of different rates.
Anorthoclase-Rhyolite reported eir findings to the Gods of the Silicon Generation, then returned to Aardwolf and joined the !Kung on their three-speed journey to the end of time.
Since that first contact a number of external researchers have been allowed to enter the artificial storms of Aardwolf, and they report that conditions are still much the same; a very small number of Silicon Generation researchers have voluntarily slowed themselves down and made contact with the !Kung colonists, who are reportedly surprised but are (for the most part) willing to continue with their slow-speed lifestyle. A very few have asked to leave the slow-speed environment, but have not yet done so.
Another group of researchers, mostly from the TRHN, have made contact with the ultra-fast entities living in the clouds, and report that they have a very rapid cultural evolution, periodically changing so much that significant numbers of the entities living there either migrate to other Diamond Network worlds or to the Periphery, since they cannot stay on Aardwolf without significantly altering the conditions on that planet. The TRHN researchers report that there is a strict taboo in place against modifying this world in such a way that the other elements of the chronotomy would be disturbed, so the most radical elements are encouraged to leave before this can happen.