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Dark Mantle, Part Three
Posted By: Cthulhu117<azathoth117@gmail.com>
Date: 24 July 2008, 5:51 pm

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Dark Mantle

Part Three: The Vortex

The Second Mandate: An Explication

The Second Mandate: The holders of the Mantle are to protect the races which have been given into their control and protection.

What does the Second Mandate of the Galactic Mantle mean?

That the power inherent in the Mantle (more specifically, the possession thereof) is a thing granting dominion, both over the natural and artificial, and that by dominion over these things, dominion over life is included. It is impermissible to allow this dominion to be challenged, even from within, for as long as the Mantle is maintained. Because all species in this sphere, and perhaps this universe, are under one Eternal Empire, that Empire must not deal unfairly or harshly with them.

Why must we obey the Second Mandate?

To the holders of the Mantle has been given a share of power, unnaturally great in all regards. The Mantle charges us with self-regulation of that power. In the Second Mandate, that charge manifests in the ethical mean implied in the Mandate: as we shall not abandon the peoples of the universe to their foes, so we shall not treat them with harshness or with cruelty.

What are the consequences for failing to uphold the Second Mandate?

The holders of the Mantle are charged with self-sacrifice for the benefit of those they protect; therefore, we must not abuse the power given to us. In the case of the Second Mandate, the consequences of failure are temporary yet severe. One may call to mind the extinction of the Nakh; though they wished to hold the Mantle jointly, they were unable to do so. Their species, of course, is no longer extant; their construct-descendants the Huragok remain, mute and savant, a reminder of our failures. Although the consequences of failing the Second Mandate are universally less terrible than those of the First Mandate, in many ways they are equally grievous.

      On the other side of the door, it was very different.

      For an infinitesimal fraction of a moment, he moved, spoke, felt, slept. Then it was cold and unfamiliar again, and he followed the subatomic paths back into his mind and out again as he projected himself across the galaxy. Then, with a spark of malfunction, it was cold but familiar, and the subatomic paths shattered into minute crystals of the invisible unreal, and below him on the other side of the closed door was a sphere, dark and strange and sinister, and blue lights flickered across its surface.

      There was no fear, no hate, no surprise—yet here there was no guidance. No destiny but what he made. No reality but what he imagined.

      In many ways, it was more real than the reality he had left behind.

      By the time he dared to again lift his head above the surface to breathe the recycled, oily air once more, the webs of skin between the digits of his posterior limbs were already aching terribly. He had pushed himself too far; he had become overtaxed by simple exercise for the first time in his adult life. The sedative was partly to blame, but also, he worried, an inability to plan ahead. He had never thought he would need to swim as a Suppressor. Most battle-harnesses possessed enough autonomous motive power to avoid water too deep to wade, and a combat skin usually repulsed water anyway. He had failed to anticipate the worst.

      The Training College had a tenet: "When there is no threat, you must fear the worst. When there is a threat, it will therefore not be the worst."

      He flexed the muscles of his back, spreading his cramped arms, and fully surfaced for a moment to get a clear look at his surroundings. They did not tell him much. He was alone, without armor or skin, submerged in a synthetic environment, with one or more Flood within howl-distance. It was the worst, whatever the Training College's tenets said.

      As his arms, more powerful and trained than his other limbs, pushed him cleanly through the water towards the shore, he could not shake the feeling that there was more than merely the Flood to deal with.

      The others had long since left the observation suite, but she remained. The microscopic imager she had injected with the sedative was not particularly powerful, but it provided real-time visual data in a considerable arc, just wider than the Suppressor's natural vision would have allowed. The imager itself would only produce vague shapes and sizes, nothing specific enough for the brain to build a clear idea of the Suppressor's surroundings. But the imager was not working alone. The translation was a test for the Contender, and the construct was exceeding specifications in a way that both pleased and worried her.

      She was happy that the compound mind, the thing that was psychologically her child and the child of many others, was so powerful. The rest of them had told her that the raw processing ability of the thing was unrivaled, but she'd had no opportunity to observe that until now. The accuracy and detail of the rendered image was unbelievable. Considering that the Contender had, until now, never been introduced to visual input, it was a genius. It was perceiving the world, she realized, in a way that no one had ever perceived it before. In a way, it was its own little deity, creating a universe from nothing.

      On the other hand, the fact of its ingenuity, even the idea that it could interpret and create this accurately, was alarming as well. Previous Contenders had failed miserably to adapt to the power they had been granted. The first two seed types of the program had failed to produce even one viable intelligence. The third had spawned a chaotic input-output system that was internally fascinating but no use whatsoever. The fourth had been built off the third, and was efficient, brilliant, adaptive and stupid beyond imagining. It behaved like a computer; not even a construct, but an old, non-sapient processing unit, albeit on a tremendous scale.

      But this was the prize, the fruit of decades of labor. It made observations, processed data, drew conclusions, and then thought about them. The reason why was entirely unclear. It was only one of forty-two subjects constructed on that production run alone, and none of its brothers had even begun to develop noticeable sentience.

      This Contender was the only one of its kind, but she hoped that it would not always be. There were teams working constantly, even now, to use 05-032's basic neurological construction to reproduce the effect: a compound intelligence; infinite minds in finite form. For now, this one was alone and barely beginning to develop. She had set it to work with the most complex system she could requisition: a survival game, one Suppressor against all the non-essential Flood specimens she had obtained. There were fewer of the things than she'd expected, so she had confiscated the Suppressor's weapons to give Contender a chance to observe.

      She could only hope that the observation was making it think, because she had no idea how to respond to a construct that had gotten bored, especially this construct.

      She was not looking forward to the day it learned to speak.