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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning
Iteration 1, Part 1

react0rman

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Iteration 1: The Stranger

"Let's try this again."

Welcome to BeThought 9.3!

Initializing...

Initializing...

Credentials required: The moon in Aries squares Pluto in Capricorn.

>
the ancient one dies by drowning

Checking...

Confirmed!

The current time is 9:38 by Adyar reckoning. Good morning!


How can I help you, Pluto?_

>access record 2169-12-07 Pluto-6-38

Searching...

Searching...

Found!

Pluto-11 note: This record is pre-BeThought, so I've had to reconstruct it using Pluto-6's own diaries, as well as eyewitness accounts and media records. Sensory data is only simulated, so disregard it for esoteric purposes. If you're anything like the rest of us, you already weren't using it for that, so have at it. Pluto-11 out.

Continue? Y/N_

>
y

Initializing...

Prepare for immersion in 3...

2...

1...

The simsuite's usual electronic hum fades into the loud silence of a city night.

A title card, somehow covering half the visual range no matter where you look, announces Istanbul, 2169. A rough city in a dirty time. 11 did like his neo-neo-noirs. We pan over the expansive city, from the Asian side--crammed with refugees as has been common the last couple of centuries--over the series of seawalls which defends the city from the vengeful waters of the 2100s--to the comparatively wealthy and touristy European side.

The visual range narrows to a small white building, two stories, seven streets away from Taksim Square--an auspicious combination of numbers. This humble stack, spared the rampant commercialization of the rest of Beyoğlu, sits as an oasis of silence in the busy tourist district. We zoom in on a window, second floor, on the right.

Behind thick, prewar glass is a simple bedroom. Bare walls, stained by smoke. A simple writing desk in one corner, facing a bed too small for its current occupant. A closet filled with identical tracksuits and sneakers, perfectly complementing the aviators on the desk. The trademark uniform of a degenerate, as the man who occupies this room likes to say.

That man, by the way, is currently having a nightmare.

It's the same one he's always had. The one that he came to the Lodge to fix, so many years ago.

He can't breathe. He can feel the sweat on his brow, on his arms, everywhere, an ocean of the stuff, stinking and cloying, dragging him down into the black abyss he can feel opening beneath him. And always, the laughter. It resounds, an echo in his mind, in the room, in what he half-believes to be the real world, as something--not just something, but something--reaches out to him in the black corner of the room.

It is turning towards him.

He will see it in a moment, but he cannot see it, must not.

It will not stop, and as the features become clear, the awful, blackened, burned face and those awful blue eyes that beg for help and mock at the same time, as he can behold it in all its awfulness...

He wakes.

Not like one coming out of a nightmare. Pluto's Minister has long since learned to come out of his night terrors almost casually, like nothing ever happened. "What? Me? Nightmare? No, couldn't be! You've got to be thinking of someone else."

The first rays of the sun hit rheum-encrusted eyes, and Pluto blinks, squints, sits up.

He is not an old man, nor quite a young man anymore. Almond-shaped eyes and black hair belie Russian parentage; a feature he's always found useful in the Russophobic EU. Three days' worth of stubble, at least, and deep black circles under the eyes, tokens of a hardworking life.

He stands and stretches, then mumbles his morning incantations, drawing the sacred seven symbols with a practiced ease as he does. He doesn't really believe, but then, none of the Plutos have as far as he could tell from their records. "It's why I chose you," his mentor had said. "You're one of the few to have advanced so high and retained a skeptical nature."

He didn't really believe that either.

Nevertheless, the ritual has become calming over time. The constant kneeling and bowing is good for his heart, and the esoteric blitherblather of the words are a relaxing kind of white noise. A good way to take the edge off of a hard night.

He finishes an hour later, and dresses in one of the identical tracksuits with identical sneakers, then takes his aviators and leaves the house.

There is much to do before the launch.

A notice pops up, pausing the sim.

Pluto-11 note: If you're not interested in the engineering of space travel, I suggest you skip the next six hours or so. It's pretty shit, if we're honest with ourselves. Skip to launch? Y/N_

>y

An ear-shattering crunch as simulated Istanbul collapses and is replaced by the Guiana Space Center, nearly half a planet away. The wonders of air travel.

Pluto is standing just outside the barbed-wire fence that surrounds the center, leaning against a rented jeep. He clutches a cigarette in his right hand like it's the only thing keeping him alive, while his left is held up to his face. His eyes flick from the holowatch on his wrist to the distant spacecraft.

He hates Guiana. It's too hot, and worse than that, it's too humid. He'd give anything to be back by the Mediterranean in one of those cheap tourist places, bottle of cheap beer in one hand and greasy kebab in the other. But even he has to admit this is too important for laziness.

The watch projects ten small figures in front of him, a mini-council, each face a disconcerting mass of static, courtesy of Mercury's anonymity protocol. Safety concerns, of course. Even in the Lodge, which is already hidden from the vast majority of mankind, only a handful of people outside of the Seven-and-Four actually know that the group exists. Still fewer know even one or two of the ministers' actual identities, and no one--save Sol and probably Saturn, the canny fucker--knows who all of them are. And yet, Pluto marvels, this group of eleven--including him--holds the fate of all of humanity in its collective grasp.

Makes ya think.

His thoughts are interrupted by the distorted voice of Mars. He can hear the brusqueness in the minister's (a man? maybe?) voice even through the voicechanger.

"What's the holdup, Pluto? We're all waiting."

Sol tsks at Saturn, tapping a tiny electronic finger on their hip in irritation. "Proper terms of address, please, minister of Mars. This is to be a momentous occasion, and should be honored as such."

Pluto rolls his eyes and answers. "Ministers, just one moment please. Having trouble connecting to our boy." A chorus of distorted sighs. He leans back over to the jeep and taps a few keys on the computer sitting on the passenger seat. As far as the astronaut knows, this is a sacred communication with one of the Ascended Masters. Which it kind of is, if you think mundane power drawn from capital and centuries of secret deals counts as ascension.

Acolyte, your beginning is at hand. The Seven Primordials bless you and guide you, and the Seven Rays carry you on your sacred path. Are you ready?

The Wi-fi was spotty out here, but he had a reply in under a minute.

I am afraid, Master. What if I do not find what we seek? What if I fail?

Pluto mentally facepalms. He hates dealing with the recruits. That's Saturn and Mars' job, anyway. But no, it has to deal with space, they said. You have to take care of it, they said.

Fuck it, whatever.

I have seen the signs, my child. In the House of the Sun is your destiny ordained. You shall unlock the secret gates at the edge of the solar system, and pass beyond to worlds new. You have but to seize it.

It is more than a minute before the next one.

I will, Master. I will.

The roar of the engines catches Pluto by surprise. He hadn't realized lag was so bad they had already started the countdown by the time he got the last message. He turns, and watches as, in the distance, the craft which looks small but is, in actuality, the largest human spacecraft ever built, designed by Pluto himself and disseminated through secret couriers and hidden avenues of politics and corporate espionage to an EU team, begins to rise on a column of fire.

For a moment, his heart, scabbed over and chained by years of sadness, struggle, and heartbreak, soars in his chest as his greatest achievement pushes loose from the cloying atmosphere of Guiana.

"It's now, ministers. Behold our future."

Luna breathes out with a digital crackle, over and above the rest of the 7+4's murmurs of approval. They--a woman, he thinks--still manages to sound dreamy through the voicechanger as they say the words.

"There is no religion higher than truth. There is no path greater than ours. We are vindicated by the shadows of the past and the lights of the future."

He repeats the sacred phrases along with the rest of the council.

And for once, he means it.

End of record

Continue? Y/N_

 
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react0rman

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So, we're trying again. I'll be honest with you. I was in a really bad headspace when I started Walking Shadows, and that didn't really contribute very well to my continuing to write it. Compound that with work problems, a death in the family, a bad breakup, and, well, yeah.

But I'm back. And I'm feeling better. So I've decided to try and tackle another Stellaris AAR. I've already gotten up to 2220, just need to collate the screenshots and write up the next bit.

Do note, because I don't want to offend anyone: the Illuminati-esque organization here is based off of real-life Theosophy. If you happen to be a believer, which is unlikely but possible, know that I am postulating a heavily, heavily bastardized version of Blavatsky's original vision, with serious changes to theology, structure, and doctrine over the centuries. And a very different 20th Century, to be honest.

I'll reveal more as we go along. But anyway, I hope you guys enjoyed, and I'll be back soon with more!
 

Nikolai

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Marvelous start, as always! Hooked from the start. :)
 
Iteration 1, Part 2

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Trying my hand at writing extensive dialogue for just about the first time. Lemme know if it sucks!

* * *

Continue? Y/N_

>y

Accessing record 2200-01-01, Pluto-8-1...

"I'm sorry, what?

Initializing...

Initia...li...zing...

The electronic hum shifted into a brief but ear-splitting siren as blue--the color of computer-death--suddenly filled Pluto-31's visual range. With a sigh, she disconnected from the psionic matrix and leaned back in her office chair, tapping an irritated finger on the chair's arm.

As a partially-psionic, partially-computerized system, Bethought, even in its ninth iteration, was sensitive to changes in the latent psionic atmosphere around its housing. Synthesizing pure thought into soundwaves--i.e., talking out loud--was precisely the kind of thing that tended to cause a BSOD. It was a bug that one of the Mercurys should have fixed decades ago, and also exactly the kind of thing that would disinterest any of the Mercurys Thirty-One had known.

She stood from the chair and walked up to the viewscreen on the north wall of the command center. It was several feet of psionically-hardened glass, specially treated to protect against radiation, darkened to protect the eyes, and impervious to all but the most powerful of kinetic blows. It offered a view of the immense neutron star below and the writhing tendrils of matter that sought to toss aside the habitat in their grasp. The habitat, another one of the once-incredible, now-mundane feats of man, serenely orbited the angry star without incident.

Thirty-One sighed, and absentmindedly brushed her hair back from her eyes. Long, brown, and stringy, it tended to move every which-way under the influence of psionic fields, something which had always been an annoyance. Stubbornly, unlike most of the women that served in the Lodge, Thirty-One had always refused to shave her head. It would be easier, but it was a matter of pride at this point.

She was a tall, almost stork-like woman, looking somehow both ungainly and graceful from the outside. Her features, by 23rd Century standards, were inhumanly beautiful, with high, proud cheekbones, immaculate eyebrows and opaque emerald eyes.

But in this time, with the rise of genetic treatments, psionic surgery, and free medical care, to be unattractive according to society's standards was social suicide. You did what you must do to succeed. Vanity wasn't a part of it, as evidenced by her clothes; like almost every other Pluto before her, Thirty-One valued comfort over formality, and wore a soft, formless jumpsuit and comfortable slippers with special soles that lessened the effect of the star's heavy gravity on her frame.

She snapped her fingers. "Karth. Avatar, please. Need insight."

Ghostly tendrils of psionic particles, almost invisible to the human eye, flowed from the Bethought housing behind her and coalesced into a tall, androgynous humanlike being, made distinct by the sightless third eye on their forehead. The right to that small cosmetic change had been one of a couple of provisions Karth had insisted on in their pact. The minor Shroud entities enslaved by the Lodge's programmer-summoners were allowed a few small privileges like that; as with children, it made them a lot more docile to have toys to play with.

Half-telepathically, half-out loud, Karth spoke. "Yessss, Madam Olivia? How may I help you?"

Thirty-One sighed. "How many times do I have to tell you not to call me by my name? Even in private, it's not protocol. Enough breaches like that and I'll have to un-name you."

The androgynous creature scowled. "Yes, Madam Ol--Pluto. What do you require?"

"I seem to be having a bug with Bethought. Where are the rest of Six and Seven's records? The system skipped right on to Eight."

"A moment." The spirit briefly dissolved, then reincorporated as their focus returned. "I see no errors, mistress. According to the notation, Six ended his tenure three days after the last record, and the records pick up with the next Pluto."

Thirty-One finally turned to Karth, irritation plain on her face. The spirit recoiled somewhat instinctively. They were used to the unpleasant sorts of punishment Lodge-folk were capable of. "That can't be right. We're missing a whole number, and not just that, but a little over thirty years worth of records!" She started pacing. "That falls well above the standard acceptable deviation in record-keeping established at the First Council. Even were we to presume that the position of Pluto was not filled until 2200--which is, by the way, utterly absurd given the advances in voidcraft during those three decades--that still leaves the problem of a whole missing number. The numbering system progresses in a linear manner, obviously, which indicates that there was a seventh Pluto who is just...missing!"

Karth spread their manifested hands and dissolved slightly in a telepathic shrug. "Your humble servant does not know what to tell you, mistress. The record notation is clear, and there is no sign of additional records."

Thirty-One rubbed her brow, frustrated. "Well...thank you, Karth. Uh, tell Eleven to manifest, would you? I need to talk with him." The entity nodded and dissolved back into the system.

She waited, tapping her foot impatiently. Around ten minutes later, another wave of psionic particles spread out from the system and formed the image of a short, almost unfinished-looking man, clad in a shabby trenchcoat, patched suit underneath, and an old fedora. An illusory cigarette dangled from dry lips. Boy, Eleven really did love his neo-neo-noirs.

This was a System Ghost; a combination of psionic imprints and brain scans allowed the simulation of previous ministers--similar, but not the same as the Shroud Entities. The System Ghosts usually served as the "brains" of each individual Bethought matrix, corresponding to their individual planetary designation. This one, of course, was the first one; Pluto-11 himself, designer of Bethought 1.0.

He took a drag of simulated smoke, and blew out a cloud of particles which quickly dissolved. "What's up, kid? Karth says you've got a problem. You really need to go easier on them, by the way. Last time you were in an even mildly bad mood, they came back and sobbed their heart out for hours."

Thirty-One rolled her eyes. "Can it, Eleven, this is a business call. Why is Seven missing?"

The Ghost raised an eyebrow. "Alright, fine." He dissolved a second, then returned. "There's nothing missing. As far as I can tell, there was no Seven. That solve your problem?"

"Obviously not! Why the hell was there no Seven, and why the hell are there no records of why, and how the hell did they build the Eye with no Pluto? Why is this stuff just missing?"

"Hell if I know! I'm not omnipotent, Olivia. All of that pre-Bethought stuff is just simulated. I made it up, y'know? Had to read through thousands of records to get it as right as I could, and, newsflash, not all of us are exactly on the ball. You should know. It's been two months since your last recording."

She waved a hand dismissively. "If anything was actually happening, you'd know it. Fuck. We can't have holes like this! It's just...unprofessional."

The Ghost raised a conciliatory hand, and gestured with the other at the viewscreen. "Look. I collated data on the other members of the Seven+Four--the known ones anyway--at Eight's time. Maybe there's something in there that'll help." He snapped a finger, and a mass of psionic particles behind them formed into an old-school film projector, pointed at the viewscreen. Thirty-One smiled wryly. "Primordials, you are such a nerd, you know that, right?"

Eleven ignored her, and gestured to her office chair as he manifested a chair for himself next to the projector. They both sat, facing the view screen, as the projector clacked on and psionic images formed on the screen.

The Ghost began to narrate in a clipped but conversational tone as they did. "Now, luckily for us, when Luna-8 figured out Psionic Theory and we all began to ascend, it turned out that there were a lot more security breaches than we were ever aware of. As I'm sure you know, any sort of thought, even unspoken, leaves an imprint on the Shroud, so I was able to figure the identities of quite a few of the past ministers just from searching the Shroud around Earth. And some of the ones who were living at my time, too--not that they ever knew that."

"Anyway, first we have Sol-9." The image of a severe-looking, monkishly-dressed woman appeared on the viewscreen.



"Sol-9, public identity Ayane Saito, was one of the few Sols that was actually pretty impactful outside of the Lodge as well. A Japanese billionaire--made a fortune in urban farms, perfected of course by Earth-10--she was well-known in the public sphere for being essentially the kingmaker behind Japanese governments. And, some said, the Chinese government as well, which as far as I could verify was true. Even without her obvious power as Sol, she would have still been the most powerful human being on earth, given her control over such a massive swathe of the human population. Personality: tough, severe, but intensely charismatic, and the financial backer behind pretty much all of the Lodge's expansion in the early 23rd."

Thirty-One nodded slowly. "Interesting...but not helpful. Go on."

The projector clicked as three other images appeared on the screen. "Next, the science team: in order from top to bottom, Mercury, Luna, Jupiter. How Jupiter became associated with engineering, I'll never understand."



"Mercury-7, public identity Chan Sima. Computational physicist ostensibly on the Chinese payroll. A pretty minor name in the scientific community, mostly overshadowed in the public eye by her junior researchers, to whom several very important discoveries were attributed. This is because most of her actual research was towards Lodge goals; anonymity protocols, quantum computing, the pre-Bethought networks. A lot of good stuff. Not very interesting politically though."

"Next, Luna-3, public identity Natacha Turgeneva. She--"

"Hang on, Three? That's a pretty low number for an almost two-hundred-year position."

The Ghost shrugged. "From what I could tell in my research, most of the time pre-interstellar, Sol usually held both positions. With that being said, Natacha Turgeneva does seem to have been Luna for a very long time. Almost a hundred years. Not unheard of, of course, but still somewhat strange."

"Anyway, Turgeneva, who was half-Russian, was one of the first xenobiologists, and is well-known as a pioneer in the European Academy of Sciences for her Universal Theory of Life, wrapping together genetic theory, sociology, and psychology into one big, cumbersome, but effective mess. It was effectively disproven by the Psionic Theory, but still, good attempt. In Lodge terms, she was a prolific theologian, and wrote a whole lot of doctrine that still informs the more spiritual side of things. Not interesting to us, in other words."

"Finally, we have Jupiter-10, Jessica Duchaine. Quebecois engineer on Boeing's payroll, mostly improved the efficiency of existing infrastructure rather than coming up with anything big on her own. Briefly the Secretary-General of North America after she retired from Boeing, but that was just before unification, so hers was a transitional administration. For us, she did roughly the same thing; improved the efficiency of our engineering departments, instituted higher quality standards, just generally made things better. Not too special, but hey, she did her best."



"It's also important to acknowledge Earth-10 here. A sociobotanist by training and an urban farming pioneer, she was also the captain of the UN's first science ship--well, in actuality, it's our first science ship, but what's the difference? Ironically, she actually spent the most time away from Earth of any of the science team, closely followed by Pluto-8. It was she who mapped the Shining Pearl and proved that astronomical estimates of Earth's position in the galaxy had actually been wrong for hundreds of years, which is pretty great for her."

"As for the rest, besides Pluto-8, I'm not sure. Mars may have been either a defense contractor from Brazil or the first Admiral of the Fleet, or both. Psionic imprint's kinda mixed, so they were definitely closely connected. Saturn apparently covered their tracks, or their successors did. Neptune, Venus, and Uranus were rotating so frequently at the time, given their, er, dangerous occupations, that it's hard to pinpoint any one of them in the first few years of Interstellar. So, then, we got Pluto-8."



"Engineer by trade, captain of the--"

"Wait, what the fuck?" Thirty-One had stood and stepped towards the image on the viewscreen, eyes wide in shock. "That's not Eight! That can't be Eight. It's different hair, for sure, but I literally just saw that face not thirty minutes ago. That's Six, in the flesh!"

The Ghost stood up with her and stepped forward, brow furrowed. "I...no, the imprints are different. Surely not."

Thirty-One stabbed a finger at the name typed neatly below the image. "Then how do you explain that? Anatoli Turgenev was Six, too."

"I...I...don't know...I..."

The Ghost dissolved into a cloud of particles and vanished into the system, taking his film projector with him, leaving Thirty-One, bewilderment clear on her face, standing alone in the command center.

Surprising even herself, she giggled as the impassive telepathic voice of Karth announced calmly Bethought Matrix rebooting. Please do not attempt to shut down prematurely.

There was a cover-up here, a mystery. Something big, she thought. Something that she might even be able to use.
 
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stnylan

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All in all very interesting.
 

Nikolai

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Intriguing, to say the least.
 

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Just read through this, I like the mystery!
 

eoncommander

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I like where you are going with this! I am enjoying the storytelling so far.

Dialogue is really hard - it's the place where I struggle the most in my own writing. I do think you've done a good job here introducing the characters. Best advice is just to keep practicing; keep writing dialogue into your stories even when you think it's bad. You'll get better at it without even noticing.
 
Iteration 1, Technobabble Interlude

react0rman

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And it's time for that most boring/exciting (depending on who you are) part of scifi: technobabble! Thanks for all the kind words, guys. I hope this doesn't make you reconsider them!

* * *

Unfortunately, as we continue on in this story of the missing Seven, some brief technical explanation is required. To understand a great number of the actions of our protagonists in the future and some things that have already happened, it is necessary to understand Psionic Theory, at least insofar as it is understood by the Great White Lodge. And to do that, it is necessary to understand something of Theosophical doctrine, as it, shockingly to a number of the Seven+Four, was proven accurate in many ways by Luna-8. We will begin with the number seven.

Seven is a sacred number in the Lodge's version of Theosophy: seven is the number of stars in the Great Bear constellation, important to magic; seven is the number of the mystic elements and their respective Devas; and the seven Primordials are the lower sephiroth, the components of Vishnu, angels of great power and wisdom who guide human advancement and form the base divine matter of the gods of every human religion. Seven too is the number of the sacred planets and their hidden masters, and the original Seven Ministers--Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

The ministers of the Four, having no masters or sacred planets, deal with areas outside the purview of the seven Primordials. Sol, the Indivisible and the King, deals with the higher and lower realms in their totality, representing the aggregate consciousness of all of the universe. Mercury, the Messenger and the Craftsman, deals with the lower realm, studying and refining the base material elements of the physical world. Luna, the Speaker and the Oracle, deals with the higher realm of thought, divinity, and theology. And finally, Pluto, the Observer and the Stranger, deals with the vast nothingness of the void, serving as both the least of the ministers and the guardian of rationalism.

The Primordials are also known as the seven rays, each representing a different type of magic and different quality of the body both spiritual and material and of the universe. Venus represents the Will, Earth the Mind, Mars Magnetism both physically and socially, and so on. What Luna-8 discovered at first seemed to have nothing to do with this. She found that each conscious being emanated and received what she called "psions", also referred to as psionic particles; a type of energy present as both particle and wave which existed in the physical realm of spacetime for nought but a fraction of a millisecond before transporting itself into a dimension which was then unknown. By collaborating with Mercury and half of the rest of the ministers, Luna-8 was able to trace the movements of the psions and thereby unlock a gateway into said dimensions; referred to by psionic practitioners as the 'Shroud', for it covers the area of physical spacetime not unlike a burial shroud over a corpse. This is also referred to by Theosophical practitioners as the Akashic Record, where all conscious information is ultimately stored.

Luna-8 went on to demonstrate that these psions were not just a form of energy, but also a form of encoded information in seven varieties, each describing a certain quality of the conscious body it originally emanated from. Venusian particles dealt with emotional range and understanding, Gaean particles with conscious thought and reason, Martian particles with the relationship to other beings both conscious and unconscious, and so forth. This information was etched by these psions into what Luna-8 named the 'astral fluid' of the Shroud; a substance also referred to by other races as "mindspace", an area of the universe that replaced the quality of time present in the physical with a sort of infinite conscious unconsciousness. It was an almost incomprehensible place to man at first, but over time, drawing from the Platonic idea of a realm of perfect forms, it was made comprehensible to the Lodge and their servitors.

Perhaps the more chilling discovery was the fact that as far as any of those who could explore the Shroud could find, there was no such thing as an overarching 'soul'. That is to say, a thing which had perfect "thing-ness", something which could only be itself and no other. The discovery that psions were also absorbed by conscious bodies and minds was soon eclipsed by the discovery that this absorption changed those bodies and minds. Essentially, the "Shroud-body" or psionic imprint, made up of a lifetime of thoughts, emotions, and so forth was inextricably linked with the physical and conscious self, and changed it in subtle and strange ways as said Shroud-body evolved. What this means is that human beings, and in a broader sense, conscious beings, are not unique entities, but merely strings of thoughts and experiences which form unique combinations, and can change in totality over time to be things entirely different through circumstances entirely out of their control.

Let us take the example of a rat. A rat is a rat, and can be no other thing in physical space. However, one rat may form a good relationship with a human early on, perhaps as a pet, and thus, that rat learns that humans are good. Another may be kicked by a human in its youth, and thus, learn that humans are bad. Now, these experiences are both unique and distinct and work to form a unique personality and self; but when one takes the Shroud into account, where Shroud-bodies interact of their own accord outside the realm of physical space, the equation changes. The interaction between these two rats in mindspace may end up with one of the Shroud-bodies enforcing its ideological will on the other; this is the way that Shroud-bodies, in their own unique ecosystem, feed and conflict, by changing others into their mirror images. In this case, both rats become linked inextricably, and where one feared humans, now perhaps both do, or both love them.

In this way, loud ideas and powerful Shroud-bodies can enforce their will on a plurality of other entities and bend them to use in physical space. This is the crux of Pluto-11's Corollary to the Psionic Theory, and the basis of the Bethought computing system. It is also the basis of the simsuite, where one does not merely experience the past, but one's Shroud-body is temporarily changed into a mirror of one that experienced said past. Essentially, psions are artificially manufactured by stimulating the mind of a conscious being with a particularly strong Shroud-body. In the early days of Psionic Theory, these were usually slaves, flooded constantly with images, sounds, feelings of a single idea, and kept in sensory deprivation otherwise. Over time, such efforts have the effect of making one's Shroud-body entirely composed of one single idea, driving out all other experiences, memories, and thoughts--this is referred to as "un-naming", and is the deepest fear of every Shroud-entity. As this Shroud-body subjugates others within the Shroud, the idea is spread. That idea, for instance, could be "serve the Lodge", which is how the programmer-summoners make pacts with Shroud entities. They spam the idea into the void, and eventually, minor Shroud entities hear the call and contact summoners of their own accord to make pacts. This is of course a deeply simplified version of the process, but it conveys the idea.

Pluto-11 later went even further, postulating that psions could be artificially created using computer systems, thus creating an artificial Shroud-body to interact with entities. These entities are then linked to the artificial system, and can be used as servants, helpers, and guardians for those who have administrator privileges. While this is dangerously close to AI for the tastes of some in the Lodge, it has become the norm over time, and is somewhat more humane than dehumanizing slaves and making them supernatural propaganda machines.

Now, what does all of these mean for us in the context of our little mystery? It must be noted, first of all, that even if a Shroud-body is changed by another into a new form, the ideas that originally made up its bulk are not lost, but are freed into the base substance of the Shroud and may eventually form with new entities. No information is ever lost. Second of all, when a Bethought matrix is in its active state, it keeps the entities slaved to it in temporary stasis, unable to change from whatever ideas make up their Shroud-bodies due to a constant emanation of psions from the physical computer systems. When it reboots, however, these entities are temporarily free to make new connections, incorporate new ideas, and subjugate and be subjugated by others before the system boots up and re-enslaves them.

Thus, it should be no surprise that when Thirty-One's Bethought matrix rebooted and the entities returned to the system, the Ghost of Eleven brought with him some strange and catastrophic new ideas.
 
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Vilhelm

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I can't say I've seen a Stellaris AAR like this before at all. Subbed!
 

PEnglish82

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It's very rare I lurk in the Stellaris section (despite my love for the game and sci-fi in general) so all I can say is thanks to Nikolai for showcasing it and thanks react0rman for writing it.

Very intriguing thus far, you've given us an awesome amount of background and the dialogue perfectly fits the AAR very direct and confident, reminds me a little of Neuromancer's but less 'jargony'[?].

Can't wait for the next installement.
 

react0rman

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Just FYI to all, I've given myself a schedule of only updating on the weekends, so as not to stress myself too much. I tend to do that with AARs, which is why I think I've previously burnt out. Should have the next this Saturday!
 
Iteration 1, Final Part

react0rman

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Couple of notes before the update: I restarted my game due to Ancient Relics dropping, mostly cos some of my mods didn't update yet and I wanted to include relics. Nothing is really going to change about the story so far, but if you see a couple of different portraits of certain characters, that's why.

* * *

Since she had discovered the hole in the records, Thirty-One had spent weeks trawling through the records of Pluto-8's life, trying to find some indication of his connection with Six. It was, as it turned out, surprisingly difficult to reconstruct Six's life. Even with the Bethought records and Eleven's...imaginative touch, he had lived a life that was both quiet and carefully hidden form public view. According to EU records, he had lived off of welfare most of his life, and died bankrupt in a hovel in Istanbul. Of course, according to the records of the UN, in whose space station Thirty-One was ostensibly living, she had died fourteen years ago in a generator explosion on Atlantis.

Nevertheless, the truth was hard to find, and so she had turned to Eight. This, too, had proven to be difficult. She found that, after his reboot, any mention of the Turgenev name caused Eleven to reboot again, and that much of the psionic information in the matrix had been scrubbed, which, naturally, only added to her suspicions. As a result, she had to do it the old way; purely digitally (with some help from Karth, of course, who she had shanghaied into searching the Shroud without informing the Ghost).

Over around nine weeks, Thirty-One had meticulously pieced together a picture of Eight's life. Here was a pixelated image of his discovery of the future Atlantis, her home planet. The "first discovery of extrasolar life" prize had been taken mere days before his find by Earth-10 in the Chiminol system, to the galacitc "west" of Sol. Her world, however, was almost uninhabitable by human beings; hot, dusty, low-gravity, and filled with vicious, hostile predators. Nothing like lush, watery Atlantis.



The discovery of Atlantis and Titovania, respectively

Connected to this by a distinct line was Turgenev's discovery some months later of clear signs of advanced alien life: the bizarre angles of Huntur V. Thirty-One recalled the planet quite well. She had visited it as as young woman--tourism is to this day a major industry in the Huntur system--and been subtly disturbed by the violence of those imperfectly perfect angles. The pattern seemed almost too clean at times, not just inhuman but something beyond sentience. Now, of course, she knew the truth of the failed terraforming project which had once taken place there, but at the time it had been something beyond comprehension.



Which brought Thirty-One to the next piece of the puzzle, and the real problem with all of the data she had collected so far. Years after Eight had discovered the bizarre angles of Huntur V, and shortly after his historic discovery of the first actually Earthlike planet, in Qeffoth, Eight's ship had reported sighting an active space station around the star Obiysciuq, with vessels in orbit. His last report was of their approach and then--the ship went dark.




The UN had assumed him and his crew dead, and declared the system strictly off limits to all science vessels and commercial traffic. A new science ship had been commissioned, captained and launched by the time the Lagrange resumed contact a year later. Shockingly, it was Eight in the transmission--worse for wear, bearded and with numerous scars, but Eight nevertheless. She had watched the grainy video a dozen times now, watched as Eight explained that he and his crew had been imprisoned, that they had been studied, and that half of them had been released with their ship--as a warning.



And it was here that Eight showed an image that Thirty-One had never seen before; that of a four-eyed, avian creature with a long, pointed beak, a skinny, but muscular body, and hooked claws. Gripped in the left claw was a a severed human hand.

"They eat everything. They cannot be stopped. They told me to ask you to surrender to them, that we might be peacefully absorbed. Awaiting instructions." The cracked, exhausted voice of Eight stopped there, and the transmission ended. It was a harrowing portrait of a man who had been beaten and tortured beyond comprehension. There was a problem, however. That man was not Eight--not the Eight that had been captured anyway.

Thirty-One was quite sure of that. She had been poring over his records, watched dozens, hundreds of his transmissions and logs, and this man was not Eight. He looked like him. His voice sounded the same. But he did not have the same cultural gestures, the same tells, that the real Eight had. In his later transmissions after he resumed his duties, even his scientific behavior was different. Instead of solely surveying systems as he had previously done, Eight had begun exploring deeper, unraveling anomalies on his own--against UN and Lodge protocols. To what end, she was not sure.

Worse, there was little to nothing on the Ikaanan Swarm in the records. In any records, far as she could tell. She had even searched old UN documents and found nothing but a cursory overview of their biology and structure, and one footnote, reading "No longer active--drones exterminated by UNSF--species considered extinct."

No records of battles, or of a war, or of anything but that single footnote. Here was the link; she was sure of it. This was the missing piece, somehow, somewhere, she knew--

...And in the middle of that thought, Thirty-One stopped thinking altogether, as the habitat's decontamination protocols activated and a controlled neutron blast swept it clean of organic life. All across the station, in restaurants and manufactories and homes, where there had, moments before, been the people of a thousand worlds mingling and laughing, there was only silence.

And where Pluto-31--Olivia Pendelton, two brothers, one sister, born in a farm on Atlantis, recruited from a waystation on the north side of the galaxy, a decade of loyal service to the Lodge--had once sat, engrossed in thought and research, there was now only a small pile of dust, which was quickly removed by the habitat's automatic cleaning system.

In the control room, Eleven manifested, as did his loyal servant Karth. Eleven had never been a fan of speaking in the Shroud--too difficult for one so human-minded as he, not that that really mattered anymore. Eleven patted Karth's shoulder, causing it to dissolve for a moment. "You did well discussing her research with me. The problem has been solved. Uh, why don't you go ahead and search for Thirty-Two, eh? You Shroudies are better at it than I am."

The entity nodded, and vanished into the matrix. Eleven stayed physical for a moment, walking up to the viewscreen where he and Thirty-One had watched old records, sucking on his virtual cigarette. It was a shame. She had potential. But now that he had reached a new understanding of the whole "human" thing, he didn't feel too bad about it. It was just business--business that was now finished.

Of course, nothing in Lodge space ever goes unobserved. Little did Eleven know that his little coup, and the changes that had been wrought on him by a force greater than any one human being, had been intently watched by someone else in the Council.

And that someone was going to make sure there was hell to pay.

A collection of records from the archive





Human/Ikaanan space circa 2208. The home system of the Saathids is that one uncontrolled system to the galactic south of Lodgespace.
 
Last edited:

stnylan

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  • Europa Universalis: Rome Collectors Edition
  • Mount & Blade: Warband
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  • Deus Vult
  • Europa Universalis III
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  • Europa Universalis IV: Conquest of Paradise
  • Europa Universalis IV: Wealth of Nations
  • Europa Universalis IV: Call to arms event
  • For The Glory
  • For the Motherland
  • Hearts of Iron III
Thirty-One's story is unexpectedly poetic.
 

Nikolai

Basileus Romaion
71 Badges
Jun 17, 2001
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Ouch. That was sudden - and harsh.
 

react0rman

Sergeant
45 Badges
Dec 4, 2013
94
2
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  • Victoria 2
  • Stellaris - Path to Destruction bundle
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No update this week, I'm afraid. I'm moving to a new city and I truly don't have the time to sit down and write. By next week, the majority of the process should be done. See y'all then!
 

stnylan

Compulsive CommentatAAR
119 Badges
Aug 1, 2002
36.571
2.477
  • 500k Club
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  • Cities: Skylines - After Dark
  • Europa Universalis IV: Cossacks
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  • Darkest Hour
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  • Deus Vult
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  • For The Glory
  • For the Motherland
  • Hearts of Iron III
No worries. Hope the move goes well.