Dark, The

Long, unlit section of the Cableville topopolis

A Convocation Castle in the Dark
Image from Steve Bowers
A Convocation Castle in the heart of the Dark. From the centre of the unlit regions, the lighted tube is visible as a distant disk on the horizon, a full degree across; the light from the bottom of the tube passes through tens of thousands of kilometers of atmosphere, so is scattered into invisibility, but the top of the tube can be seen dimly.
The Dark is an unlit portion of Spaghetti, the inner topopolis of Cableville. This unlit section of the tube was originally only 15,000 km long, and was dimly lit by light coming down the tube from the lighted sections. However the Dark has been extended significantly over time, especially since the departure of the transapient known as Holydeveloper, who was responsible for the original construction of these topopoli.

In the current era the Dark is nearly 100,000 km long, and is growing at forty kilometres per year; the region into which it is expanding is very thinly populated. It is thought that, many thousands of years ago, some entity or group of entities asked for the Dark to expand over time; the current AI controller of Cableville (Ultrafun Playling) seems determined to continue with this policy. Nevertheless the Dark is a very small area compared to the megastructure as a whole.

Cableville 2
Image from Steve Bowers
Spaghetti is a tube-like megastructure which loops around the star fifty times,and rotates for centrifugal gravity. It is 500 kilometres in minor radius, so that any inhabitant who wishes to journey around the minor circumference will travel 3141 km in doing so. However a citizen wishing to journey through the entire length of the tube would need to travel more than 13 billion kilometers.

The Ecosystem of the Dark

The climate in the Dark section of the tube is cool, as only a fraction of the heat that falls on the outside of the tube is transmitted directly to the inside surface. However there are many locations where transmitted heat is concentrated into warm water springs, sources of trophic energy that support thermotrophic bacteria and a whole ecosystem that depends upon them.

Several species of fish and arthropod live in the warm lakes that surround the springs, and land animals of unique form scavenge at the edges of these lakes, extending the ecosystem into the cooler desert. Hives of neogen scavengers cultivate bioluminescent saprotrophs in groves which dimly illuminate small areas of the large, dark desert that covers most of the lightless section of the tube.

Most of the rivers which flow from these lakes are endorheic, that is to say, they flow into the desert and disappear. Biotic material carried by these rivers into the desert basins feed slow-growing groves of shrub-like saprophytes, which themselves support a small ecology of browsing and hunting neogens of diverse form.

Modosophont inhabitants of the Dark

Several diverse cultures have moved into the unlit regions. Some Dark-dwellers fish the warm lakes or hunt the scavenging neogens, while others rely on the scattered powerpoints that project through the tube floor at intervals. These powerpoints can be found at various locations throughout the topopolis, bringing power generated by photovoltaic arrays on the outside of the tube to the living surface on the inside; they are especially welcome in the Dark, as this power can be used to synthesise food and other consumables from local materials. The power supply from each power-point is sufficient to support a moderately sized community.

Many of the dark-dwellers are Hermits; generally solitary individuals, many of whom are partially or completely cyborgised in various ways. Vehcyborg Hermits are humans or other modosphonts who have wheels, scrubslug tracks or wheel-legs, and usually room for passengers or cargo. These cyborgs need to top up eir fuelcells at regular intervals at the power-points, and require a certain amount of food as well. Most vehcyborgs are willing to accept passengers in exchange for access to food and/or power; some however are quite well-armed and will attempt to gain access to the power-point by force. These renegades are very much a despised minority who are generally hunted down by other inhabitants of the Dark, especially other Hermits.

Other Dark-dwellers are nearbaseline humans who for various reasons seek refuge in this cool, unlit, deserted region. The fiercely independent Tuckerite clans, a sect of anarchistic free-thinkers, have claimed many of the power-points and maintain small permanent settlements there. But most are empty, and offer a temporary source of life-giving power to travellers and wanderers.

Some powerpoints are tended by small communities of vecs who will assist settlers to make the best use of the energy dispensers. A few of these vecs have decided that they can make better use of the power-points themselves, and guard them jealously, preventing any outsiders from gaining access to the source. No well-informed traveller will approach such a powerpoint.

A limited number of highly prized 'power divination rods' are possessed by various Hermits and leaders of the Tuckerite clans, which allow them to locate dormant powerpoints hidden beneath the desert floor. These rods are highly prized, and sometimes are the reason for conflict.

The Carodigians

One group that has settled in the Dark are the Carodigians, human-derived nearbaseline Mortalists who have removed most of their adaptations and augmentations and live simple, quiet lives in the near-blackness. Their austere settlements are the largest to be found in points are dotted throughout the Dark at regular intervals, and many of the powerpoints are home to communities of rooted or wandering hermits. The largest settlements in the Dark are the austere towns of the Carodig Cadre, near the lightless centre of that region. This group originated in Dyfedd, one of the larger cities in the lighted portion of Spaghetti, as an association of people who found the stresses of life in a high-tech civilisation overwhelming; they became determined to withdraw from this environment altogether, and withdraw to the darkest, most remote regions available, to contemplate life's mysteries in darkness.

The Carodigians have opted for a relatively lowtech lifestyle, with no netlinks, no mechanical transport, no virtual reality entertainments and dim artificial lighting. They eat fish which they catch in the lakes and a selection of tailored fungi gathered or cultivated in the Dark. They supplement this diet with simple vat-grown food created using technology developed in the early Interplanetary age, and cook without spices, which are seen as 'frivolous'. They weave their own plain clothing from fibres extracted from plant-like organisms found in the local ecology. Carodigians are strictly monogamous, and do not use life-extension or back-up technologies. They have minor adaptations to living in low-light conditions, but are very close to the ancient human baseline norm.

Young Carodigians are given the option of leaving the Carodig Cadre and making their way to outside world, many thousands of kilometers away in the lighted parts of the topopolis and beyond; but since the Carodigians possess no motorised transport themselves, these emigres must walk from power-point to power-point, or barter food or news with the Hermit-cars for transportation. They often find themselves relying on the goodwill of other Dark-dwellers who already have colonised these energy oases.

Many who set off soon return; many others fail to make it all the way to the Lighted tube, and become victims of the migrant bands, or become wanderers in the dark themselves. A few have managed to obtain power divination rods, and possess the ability to open new oases in the deep desert.

The Carodigians are generally welcoming to wanders and hermits of all sorts, and many different groups and individuals make their way to the Cadre heartlands. Not all come with good intentions, and the Carodigians have learned to defend themselves from unwanted intruders. But the greatest challenge to face the Carodig culture came from a group of wanderers who seemed at first to be entirely open and friendly towards them.

The coming of the Convocation

In 8666 AT a new group of wanders arrived at the main Carodigian settlement of Agavenny, calling themselves the Convocation. These were human in appearance, but exceptionally strong, and under their leader, Herrik Thane quickly built a large dwelling-place at the edge of the town.

The Convocation used no artificial light at all, and seemed to prefer to live entirely in the dark. They were eager to assist the Carodigs in many ways, making light work of the most difficult tasks; but they behaved in ways that were alien and disturbing to the elders of the Carodig Cadre. No-one from the main settlement was ever allowed to pass within the walls of the Convocation structure, which came to be called the Castle; but the Convocation were otherwise friendly, indeed almost seductively so.

In time, certain of the Carodigians were stricken by a mild illness, which Herrik Thane claimed to recognise, and promised to treat; these sufferers were taken into the Castle, but came back changed, strangely remote and even more desirous of the darkness than before. On occasion these victims displayed extraordinary strength and resistance to harm; doctors from Agavenny who examined them found that they had almost no pulse. Soon there were as many Carodigians affected by this strange alteration as there were members of the Convocation community; in due course the victims chose to move into the Castle as well.

The Convocation and their new recruits began to move more freely among the Carodigian faithful, ever more openly seductive in their behaviour, driving wedges between husband and wife, parent and child. Many more of Agavenny's citizens went to live in the lightless structure at the edge of town. Eventually the Cadre leader, Gildan Sterm, assembled a force of townspeople and confronted Thane at the gate of his fortress, accusing the Convocation of memetic subversion, or worse, an attack using some sort of behaviour-modifying virus. In fact the Convocation are vampires, drawn to the mortalist Carodigs because of their Mortalist beliefs. The Convocation are effectively immortal, and capable of transferring this immortality to their 'victims', as well as a number of other associated traits. Once the Convocation had enough 'recruits', they moved on, but not before partially dismantling their castle.

The Convocation have been encountered on many occasions by other inhabitants of the Dark, sometimes infecting all the members of a small community of poorly-protected humans, or leaving only a few unchanged remnants behind; often they use their seductive nature to persuade a group to willingly join them in their indefinitely extended, sensuous lifestyle. The Convocation are no longer a complete mystery to the rest of mind-kind; they have occasionally been contacted and studied by sophontologists and even given some account of themselves in interviews (treatises have been written on the subject, some of them of disputed accuracy).

In recent centuries reports have emerged of vampire individuals and clans moving into the lighted sections of the tube, active mostly or exclusively by tubenight when the diffuser is dimmed to simulate planetary nightfall. Often these clans have been invited by certain thrill-seeking inhabitants of the topopolis, who are alleged to use vampires for entertainment purposes.
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Development Notes
Text by Steve Bowers
Initially published on 23 February 2013.

Fiction about The Dark

From the Shadows