Identity erasure

Image from Steve Bowers

...the gods howled with wrath and Mung leapt forward to make the sign of Mung against Althazar the King. But the gods laid their hands upon his shoulder saying:
    'Slay him not, for it is not enough that Althazar shall die, who hath made the faces of the gods like the faces of men, but he must never have been'
    Then said the gods:
    'Spake we of Althazar, a king?'
    And the gods said:
    'Nay, we spake not.' And the gods said:
    'Dreamed we of one Althazar?' And the gods said:
    'Nay, we dreamed not.'
    But in the royal palace of Runazar, Althazar, passing suddenly out of the remembrance of the gods, became no longer a thing that was or ever had been.

— Alfred, Lord Dunsany, "The King That Was Not" (Industrial Age fable)

When the first complete and self-contained virtual worlds were created, a new more complete kind of murder became possible: complete erasure, or Vanishment. Not only would the person vanish, but all traces of that person in the environment, all records of that person, and all of the memories of that person held by others. Whoever or whatever holds the full administrative codes of a virtual world can ensure a complete disappearance of this kind, and with the advent of memory-editing technologies later in history it also became possible to do something similar in highly controlled non-virtual environments if there were few external connections and the practice of memory editing was universal and centralized. Whatever the setting may be the most sophisticated interventions of this kind do not even leave any suggestive discontinuities or inconsistencies; the Vanishment is completely seamless, and can only be detected by reference to external records, assuming that any exist. By definition a completely successful Vanishment will not be detected, especially if the agents of the Vanishment also erase their own memory of the victim, so the many documented Vanishments are partial cases, not entirely successful. The number and prevalence of successful and therefore undocumented Vanishments is a matter of speculation.

It is widely believed that the first Vanishments took place in the chaos of the Technocalypse within the early ai and upload communities and that it was sometimes associated with instances of subsumption. The practice persisted in some of the more repressive, isolated computronium banks during the barbarous years of Solsys' Dark Ages, and the custom spread to some cultures of vecs, and even some human and provolve cultures, though the primitive memory-editing technology of the time was not reliable enough to make Vanishments so entirely successful for real life bionts even in the most tightly controlled societies. By their nature most of these instances are not well documented. However with the rise of the Federation of Sophonts and the promulgation of the Universal Bill of Sentients' Rights by the First Federation's diplomat-missionaries many cases came to light both in Solsys and in the interstellar colonies.

As more polities became aligned with the Federation, the practice became less and less common. Vanishment was not allowed within any Federation polity and Federation influence against the practice was strong in adjacent territories as well, but Vanishment was never entirely extinguished. Later, as the power and influence of the Federation declined, Vanishment returned even within nominal Federation territories as a penalty for a variety of crimes, especially as an internal practice of some of the more powerful Houses and Megacorps. Advances in biont memory-editing and the increasing use of angelnet/demon-net technologies made Vanishments much more successful than they had been in earlier eras.

Since late Federation times the prevalence of Vanishment has waxed and waned, becoming more common in unsettled times such as the Version War and less common when large swaths of the Terragen Sphere have been at peace. In the Current Era, coercive Vanishment is not openly practised by any society within the Civilized Galaxy. In particular it is believed by most serious scholars to be rare to nonexistent within Sephirotic realms, aside from some grey-area cases, mostly in the NoCoZo, that are well characterised in the Sentient's Rights Protocols. These typically involve voluntary entry into regions where Vanishment known to be prevalent, or the erasure of willing scions under contractual non-disclosure agreements. Rarer still, though still widespread even in the Civilized Galaxy at large, is voluntary Vanishment by individuals who wish to end not only their lives but any record or memory that they ever existed. By its nature this form of Vanishment is impractical in all but the most closed and tight-knit of polities. Cultures and polities that cooperate in this extreme form of self-extinction are regarded with some suspicion by most of the rest of the Civilized Galaxy.

Vanishment as a kind of execution or ultimate banishment rather than an elaborate suicide or a business or sporting decision is still found in many places, especially along the Periphery or in isolated backwaters, or in various isolated bottle-worlds not well connected to the outside world. The practices of the Ahuman and Antihuman AIs are not well known, but as various as they are they must surely include some equivalent. Some persons and organizations from the Civilized Galaxy have made it their business to end such practices wherever and whenever they can, across the entire Terragen Sphere. Negentropists are especially likely to take action against Vanishment wherever they become aware of it.

There are those who assert that the true extent of Vanishment within the Terragen Sphere is unknowable. If one of the Archailects were to choose to carry out a Vanishment within eir domains then even another archailect might be completely unaware of the fact. Likewise any transapient or group of transapients might Vanish individuals of a lower toposophic. Conspiracy theorists often assert that persons, habs or planets, interplanetary or interstellar polities, or even entire meta-empires have been Vanished in the past, either by transapient forces or by cabals of Deletionist organizations. For a fact, it is not at all uncommon to find records of someone or something in one region that are not found in other regions, but whether this is happenstance or a plan is difficult to prove. Some of the so-called Quiet Zones are thought to be associated with past Vanishments but this has never been proven.

Some speculators in the field of xenopaleontology have linked the phenomenon of Vanishment to the Fermi Paradox, to the Dawn Hunters, to various Muuh legends, and to the notorious absence of high-energy civilization emissions counterspinward of the Terragen Sphere. Information from various transapients on these topics is inconsistent and often difficult to understand, and when a representative of the Meistersinger fleet was questioned regarding Vanishments and their relation to the Fermi Paradox there was no response.

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Text by Stephen Inniss
Initially published on 19 March 2013.