by Mark Ryherd
Published in Voices Future Tense Issue 17 (2011)
My pilgrimage has come to its inevitable end. Although it took longer than I had initially expected, at last I am here. The final leg of the journey was delayed until I could obtain passage on a beamrider that would be making a relatively close approach to my intended destination. The Deepers I had contracted with steadfastly refused to come within a thousand AUs of the primary. I can't blame them for their hesitancy, in light of the rumors circulating on the Known Web about what still remains here after all of these eons.
I was brought out of nanostasis while the primary was just barely distinguishable from the tapestry of background of stars. I spent most of my time reviewing all the preparations I had made. Once I left this ship there would be no turning back, no one to rescue me if events didn't unfold as planned. The only distractions aboard were some fellow passengers, who couldn't be considered by any stretch of the imagination to be great conversationalists. It was a disappointment that after countless stimulating discussions with great philosophers and scientists that I was reduced to engaging in such an insipid alternative.
The day before I left a chance event happened while I monitored the ships progress on external monitors. I was alerted that an occultation of the primary was taking place. Immediately I linked with the ship's visual array, I have been told these can't truly be appreciated until seen in deep ultraviolet wavelengths. Following this I spent hours dwelling on if it was considered a bad omen to leave on.
I was still undecided on its significance as I detached my spaceplane the following day while still well within the oort belt. For weeks I meditated in solitude with no interruption. Ever since the moment I had gazed into the heart of Sacred Geminga I knew what my destiny would be, and couldn't allow the virtue of self-preservation to deter me from my fate. I had to ensure my will was strong now that I was so close. The first time I saw my destination on the ships monitors, just an ochre spec against a stark black backdrop, I was elated. Days passed until even without the use of augmentation I could easily distinguish geographical features. The deceleration drive separated from the spaceplane having served its purpose, and the spaceplane itself prepared for atmospheric entry.
Usually I prefer to take manual control when performing a descent. The chance to feel the ship strain against the forces of nature as the craft reacts to my every command never lost its allure for me. It has always been a point of pride for me that I was a self-taught pilot, no tachydidaxy short cuts for that task. However, this descent was different. Maybe I was losing my nerve, and the reality of it all was finally catching up with me. The turbulence was enough to knock me unconscious briefly. The autopilot system began operating before my overconfidence in my abilities had any real chance to do bodily harm to either the ship or myself.
The spaceplane acted as a shelter against the intense wind on the surface, allowing me to wait in relative comfort until the sandstorm outside abated. Despite this as hours turned into days with the storm showing no signs of letting up, I was overwhelmed by curiosity and took a short walk outside to inspect the external surface of the craft.
When I reentered the ship, I tried the best I could to maintain sterility in the compartment, but a few grains still managed to find their way in. Each particle looked harmless enough; but while I stared the granules aligned into geometric patterns and spread. The movement was so slow I was only convinced that my eyes were not deceiving me after reviewing the logs for the internal surveillance system. A primordial sound escaped my lips as I realized that these were not inert grains of silica but undeniably a most heinous creation. I hastily removed everything that was not essential to life-support from the interior of the ship. Even with this prudent course of action, I was certain the damage had already been done. The floor remained etched where the particles had come to rest, mocking me for my inquisitiveness.
Waiting inside my now spartan quarters for the storm to end allowed me time to reflect on the planet that will soon be my grave. Conver Ky had once been the capital world of the Conver Ambi empire. It had surpassed all other worlds of the Inner Sphere in accumulated wealth, housing the treasure obtained from thousands of controlled systems. As has been the fate throughout history with all great empires, the Conver Ambi eventually found itself eclipsed by upstart rivals. However, proud Conver Ambi refused to simply step aside and become irrelevant. For their hubris to oppose the plans of the newly ascended AI gods, the Conver Ambi was struck down by infighting.
Now six thousand years later, this entire system remains as a vast monument, a sign to those who dare to challenge the will of the gods. With a thought the archailects, could cleanse this entire system of the nanoweapon spores and drifting singularities that plague it. However that is not their will.
They have seen fit to sear into the collective consciousness of all terragenkind a reminder of what befalls those who forget their place in the hierarchy of minds. I weep for the quadrillions of beings who now have access to more freedom than at any time in history, but are now confined by the will of the archailects. Restrained by providence of unknowable AIs, never again will anyone be in control of their own destiny.
Now with the encompassing storm having died down I can make my trek. Each footstep I take is muffled in the crumbling remains of parched earth, but in this desolated environment each step reverberates with near deafening percussion. Long ago impactor weapons colliding at relativistic speeds boiled away the oceans and charred the ground down to the bedrock, turning the atmosphere into a toxic brew. Having never recovered from that ancient war, the entire planet remains enshrouded in a holocaust, beyond the scale of anything that came before it. My climbing remains bearable for now only by wearing an envirosuit, protecting me from these inhospitable conditions.
The ground gives away beneath my feet, and my body has become an unwitting participant in a rockslide. Sky and ground alternate in quick succession until they become an unrecognizable ashen blur. When I finally come to rest I try to assess my condition. My ears detect a high pitch squeal. I can't be sure if this is just a result of being struck on the head or if my suit was losing pressure, though I suspect the later. The enviro suit has basic self-repairing capacity, so either case the solution is to momentarily stay still. This time when I get back on my feet, I take a little more care to where I place my feet, I make my way up the hill side.
On an outcropping I find a place to sit down and catch my breath. I honestly didn't expect a short hike to be this exhausting. Summoning the final reserves of my strength I lift a head that now feels to have suddenly multiplied several times in weight. Looking to the horizon my eyes are greeted by the sight of a landscape turned to slag that stretches out in all directions. The primary is setting fast, and this close to the equator twilight will not last long. I have called too many stars to remember "Home" and it is so strange to know this alien sun is to be the last object I will ever see.
I won't be moving from this spot. I now know my envirosuit is rapidly losing integrity. I can smell the putrid gases now. Soon I will have to switch off portions of my sensory receptor signaling in my nervous system, unless I wish to be overwhelmed and risk passing out. But these impurities won't be my ultimate undoing. Though I can't feel their direct effects yet, I know the disassembler nanites are coursing through me, converting me into nanotech dust. The moment I stepped on to this planet I was exposed. My envirosuit is disintegrating by the second due to them. Having fought unwaveringly, buying me enough time to take this trek, the augments to my immune system are now devastated. Hours ago I silenced the incessant notifications of impending failure.
So accepting the inevitability of my situation I turn my mind to what will be my last thoughts. I summon the words of Tacitus. Tacitus, who in a language now long dead couldn't have written words more relevant to this dead world if he had tried; Auferre trucidare rapere falsis nominibus imperium, atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant
. To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace.
Pax archailecta. The archailects control all within their realm, and with no way to escape beyond their grasp I go now to the only place I know they can't reach me. I do not dread this truth; I welcome the liberty of oblivion.
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