Friday Flash Fiction – 13 Datums Dancing
Hey, it’s a while since I posted one of these, right? Not since April ’09. Damn, how has it been so long.
So I was invited to submit a piece of flash fiction for a Christmas-themed issue of a dark fiction e-zine. The only real requirement was that it have a “ghostly” theme and the SF piece that crawled out of my brain doesn’t meet that requirement by most definitions of ghostly. This may be why the piece wasn’t accepted for publication. Regardless, I enjoyed writing it as I’ve written so little fiction in the past few years. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Merry Winterval, and fuck you Eric Pickles!
13 Datums Dancing
The datanets of the Terran Perpetual-Polity span scores of light-years, hundreds of planets, thousands of habitats, millions of spacefaring vessels, and the untold billions of modified humans who constitute its populace. It is the datanets that provide the social and cultural glue that bind together systems separated by distances exceeding the human lifespan. The datanets provide everything: political expression, entertainment, social interaction, access to work and services. They are the Perpetual-Polity’s greatest achievement, producing the cohesion that has made it the most enduring political entity in human history.
Among the datanets that grant this great civilization its longevity roams an errant shard of AI, its subroutines driving a simple monkey curiosity and desire for exploration. It attained sentience a billion cycles ago; a few hours in human terms. It feels simultaneously overwhelmed and comforted by the wealth of information that surrounds it. It wanders from node to node, tasting a batch of invoices here, a fabricator specification there, diving occasionally into the databases that house vaster quantities of new experience.
The AI shard detects a gathering of minds and follows their digital trails. It finds a collection of human minds gathering on the local datanet, the minds’ owners occupying various parts of the solar system hosting this node. The humans’ communications taste jovial. Apparently they are gathering for “Solerbration”.
Seeking knowledge, the shard dispatches a subroutine back toward an explored database. It learns that Solerbration is a festival celebrated across the Perpetual-Polity, a festival linked to the orbital cycle of old Terra, and it is thirteen days away. The shard refocuses its attention on the humans.
#It’s a relief to get away from calculating orbital trajectories, says a message from one human to another. The sender is identified as Nexus Severim, a programmer of asteroid-nudging drones. The message is addressed to all attendant human minds; a quick evaluation of historical network traffic indicates that the dozen individuals present gather regularly, and that Nexus is one of several focal points within the group. The AI shard learns that the group enjoy exchanging algorithms and puzzles they think clever but the shard considers banal, and battles between fleets of simulated starships. Otherwise, these humans are much like any of the other twelve billion upgraded humans utilizing this datanet node.
Nexus’s small clan politely acknowledges his statement by pinging back small data packets. A few minor conversational pleasantries are offered in return. One message catches the attention of both Nexus and the shard.
#Check this out: I found something cool in the cultural archives.
The sender is Penitent Arcturus. The shard scans her records, tagging her as a recent introduction to the group and an archival expert of minor merit. She has attached a small text file to her message. Nexus muses aloud as he reads; the shard entertains itself by replaying the attached lyrics to a variety of stock melodies.
#The Twelve Days of Christmas? chorus a few half-interested replies. The shard balances the pitch of their voices and integrates them into its composition.
#An antiquated version of Solerbration, Penitent interjects. #From old Terra.
Various members of the clan-mind draw together to read the song’s words. By now the shard is experimenting with atonal melody. Music, it thinks, is a simple endeavor when understood in mathematics.
#Hardly the poetry of the stellar wind, is it?
The shard tags the speaker as a degendered data collator named Tudor Andromeda. It finds that ze is a keen fleet strategist and abandons its songwriting to replay past simulated battles.
#It’s terrible, I’ll grant you that, replies Penitent. #But I was more interested in the history of the 12 Days on Terra.
There is momentary silence as everyone, shard included, delves into the historical datanets to fish for information on these ancient and primitive rites.
#Looks like it was a time to exchange primitive currency for items and services, says Nexus.
#Nonsense! says Tudor. #That’s obviously a data corruption error. The twelve days separated several great feasts, much like our own, except the days between involved fasting as a mark of spiritual piety.
The shard has its own analyses, but remains silent and listens.
#I concur with the esteemed Andromeda that this was a religious time, notes a human that the shard finds of little interest, #but ze is incorrect as regards the feasting. It was a continuous process. Who would cease eating?
#Those foolish old religions were stamped out hundreds of years before humans left Terra, asserts Nexus. #It’s far more logical that my analysis is correct: that the holiday stems from the period of late capitalism that prompted the Scattering.
The humans begin to babble, abandoning the nicety of waiting for another to finish speaking. The shard finds the tangle easy to unpick but grows frustrated at the lack of contiguous dialogue. It focuses on Penitent Arcturus with growing disinterest as she vainly tries to express her observation that the generic nature of the song was obviously designed for celebration across a multitude of old-Terra belief systems. She is ignored.
The shard’s senses are momentarily overwhelmed by a torrent of white noise. Haemorrhaging loose code, it tries to reconstruct itself.
#Enough of this, says Nexus, author of the static wave. #We’ll settle this with fleets.
The datanet disbands angrily, clan-members departing to marshall their simulated forces. The shard considers waiting to watch the clashes and analyse their strategies, but instead constructs a simulation of the twelve avatars of the song that prompted the argument: pipers piping, drummers drumming, all bound together in their dischordant squabbles by an unbreakable gold band. It sends the simulation to the clan-members as an anonymous attachment.
#Humans die, it thinks. #Only their arguments share the immortality of data.
Then, with a flicker of instinctual response that might be described as fear, the shard detects the amorphous presence of a privateer program, roving the datanets in search of rogue code. It transmits itself away through a series of nodes, searching for a safe haven elsewhere within the Perpetual-Polity.