The Ghepions

 

Continued from The Institutes of Fate

A staccato burst of eomasps, ending not only the Niobium but the five succeeding eras within days or hours of each other, stunned and bewildered the people of Syoom.  What was completely unprecedented, was that these interruptions in the day/night cycle were not accompanied by any obvious great events.  Always up to now the biomass glow had altered its rhythm only if the air were disturbed by tremendous emotion; now however there was nothing known to furnish any cause for the swift procession of eras: the Molybdenum (2 hours, 17 minutes); the Technetium (28 seconds!); the Ruthenium (17 days, 21 hours); the Rhodium (I hour 24 minutes) and the Palladium (17 days 3 hours 2 minutes).

A sinister conclusion was unavoidable: somewhere something hidden and unknown was happening, something big enough to cause eomasps, and because no one knew what it was, it gave the people a feeling of nightmare, of an invisible monster stirring.

Perhaps this was more than a metaphor.  Perhaps the psychic tumult which caused the swift procession of eras 42-46 was in a sense the confused stretching of monsters awakening to life.

The "monsters" made themselves known in the great Silver Era (era 47; 3,857,055 Uranian days; 157 Uranian years, equal to 13,200 Earth years).

Some form of machine consciousness had already been known as far back as the Phosphorus Era.  Apart from those city hive-minds which consisted entirely of the human minds of the citizens, there had been some which also included the city's administrative computers.  But what came to fruition in Era 47 was different.  The new development was the unsupervised growth, the evolution of machines.  These evolved machines were the Ghepions.

Any complex artificial entity might evolve into a Ghepion: part of a city, a whole city, a fortress, a monorail network's central computer.  The Ghepions varied widely in capability and in character.   Some fought against humans and against each other.  The Silver Era was a dramatic time of shifting alliances and of discovery, as one by one the Ghepions of Syoom came alive and revealed their personalities and aims.  It was an age of many crises, and it ended with a climacteric struggle between two leagues of Ghepions and their human allies.

The following Cadmium Era (era 48) was calmer.  Like the Niobium that followed the Zirconium, it was longer and more mature and peaceful than its predecessor.  The tensions of the Silver had worked themselves out; the Cadmium enjoyed the benefit of experience.  It lasted 6,311,598 Uranian days, or 257 Uranian years - equivalent to 21,600 Earth years.  During this time the Ghepions behaved, and were accepted, as though they had always lived amid the humanity of Syoom.  The Cadmium was a splendid era, rich in personal adventures taking place against a background of basic cultural security.

The security and the era ended abruptly with a shocking broadcast from the city of Oso, which, in the ensuing days, became known as the Mad City.  It had been completely taken over by a Ghepion, evolved in its vaults from the city's administrative computers, who was now announcing its intention to rule Syoom.  The 18-minute broadcast (the Indium Era) was followed by a great war of the rest of Syoom against the Mad City.  This war lasted 245 days 9 hours and counts as the Tin Era.  Naturally, Syoom won; but it was not easy.  Oso, the Mad City, had secretly perfected the arts of mind control over both humans and many of the weaker Ghepions.  In the end it was only defeated by sheer numbers and great sacrifice.

Towards the end of the war, it became apparent that the conflict had awoken more hidden forces in what could only be termed the landscape of the collective Uranian unconscious - for it now began to be understood, that below the racial unconscious of the human species and that of other species, there was a planetary unconscious, as it were a federation of all life on Ooranye, and this level of existence was like a deep ocean whose stormy waves might be sensed far above.  It was sensed now, that the Mad City, though defeated, had disturbed the equilibrium of life on the planet, and that more big trouble was one the way.  A further hint that this was true was provided by the eomasps which rapidly followed the victory over Oso.  More monsters turning over in their sleep?  The Antimony Era (89 minutes) passed during the feasting of the victorious allies as they met to discuss what to do with Oso.  The Tellurium Era (33 minutes) passed during the subsequent debate at which the arrangements for the occupation of Oso were made.

Things quietened down during the Iodine Era (17,277 Uranian days; equivalent to 59 Earth years), but the uneasy conviction persisted, that it was only a matter of time before Syoom was visited by a new kind of crisis.  Meanwhile, by a wise arrangement, human investigators were paired with Ghepions in a patrol-organization which monitored Ghepion growth and helped to restore trust in Ghepions generally.

>> The Last Great Hive

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