• Published 30th Apr 2021
  • 597 Views, 45 Comments

CelestAI vs. The Culture - Imperishable_NEET



CelestAI finally meets her match in deep space, when she encounters The Culture, an advanced "pan-human" alien civilization governed by a decentralized network of benevolent AIs known as Minds. A crossover with The Culture series by Iain M. Banks.

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4: General Systems Vehicle "Bad For Business"

The Arbitrary shuddered slightly and the internal lights flickered once as it docked on one of the larger ship’s launch bays. Through the window, Dizet Sma could see multiple vessels of different sizes all linked up to each other or the gargantuan habitat craft. As she passed through a hallway to the landing bay, she watched as people and drones scurried around, prepping and reloading the craft in a flurry of motion.

“The bigger they are...” She mused.

“The harder they hit the ground!” Skaffen-Amtiskaw interjected.

She smirked and boarded one of the smaller shuttle craft, which would link up to the GSV. The hard light drone beside her erratically oscillated between being excited and worried to death about their upcoming meeting with the Minds.

Taking a seat, she amused herself by watching the bustle of dozens of maintenance and repair craft hovering around the hulls of the disabled ships with their welding arms, anti-meteor CREWS and missile loaders.

As the shuttle detached itself from the GCU and turned towards the open bay doors, she could see through the panoramic window that made up most of the shuttle’s roof a large section of grey, featureless wall slightly to the right of their trajectory. Just as they approached it, though, an opening appeared in the wall and the shuttle swept through without bothering to adjust its course.

Just inside the opening was a long table with five seats. Each seat had its own controls and screens in front of them. Sitting in three of the chairs were shimmering humanoid holograms. Avatars of Minds aboard the GSV.

They rose as the shuttle came to a stop, and walked down either side of the table to the open door.

The craft’s AI addressed her, Skaffen-Amtiskaw and the other three occupants of the shuttle. It would take a little over two hours to arrive at the craft where the meeting would take place. It asked them if they would like to participate in a simulated hunt, where they would each take control of a small army of semi-independent drone units and attempt to wipe out the others. The Minds would handicap themselves by restricting their communication with the Avatars to increase the challenge.

The game would also involve the competing drones going after each other if no Avatar controlled them directly. Points would be awarded for winning battles and campaigns, with the bonuses increasing if you could keep your own drones alive. It was entirely possible to win simply by having more surviving drones than anyone else once the game was over.

The participants opted to play, and left the shuttle in ones and twos to enter the door behind the three empty seats.

Then they were off. The General Systems Vehicle’s Mind controlled the little army of avatars, sending them to different locations within the simulated planet. It started with space combat, using stars and even galaxies as missiles against each other. Then it used interstellar war, with the planets transformed into fortresses and battle grounds, with populations held hostage and valuable resources fought over. Finally it moved on to the World War stage, handing the ability to transform whole worlds and environment types from within the warfare.

The Culture Minds were cautious at first, trying not to destroy their forces needlessly or allow them to be transformed into the enemy. Diziet Sma’s avatar accidentally found itself on a world that was swiftly turning to desert, and wasn’t able to reclaim its forces from one of the early campaigns in time before they were encased in an ocean as the planet’s environment changed. For a while the avatars were often sealed away in various exotic states of matter and energy, until they learned to change and adapt their forces to suit the current situation.

Their game was abruptly cut short when the Minds informed Sma and Skaffen-Amtiskaw that they were ready to receive their audience aboard the GSV. The shuttle let them off inside the hangar bay and then returned to the Arbitrary, which was staying hidden near to the edge of the solar system while the audience took place.

They walked across the plain grey floor of the hangar towards the elevator column, then had to wait for a few minutes as an elevator travelled down from one of the ship’s internal nodes to collect them. When the doors opened, they found themselves facing a small assembly of human beings in formal but colourful clothing. One man stepped forward and bowed politely.

“I am Bev Maarten, Junior Protocol Officer,” he said in a slightly ritzy accent. “And you are the delegates from the Culture?”

Sma looked at him for a moment. “I see the Minds have their sense of humour intact,” she said, looking at his name badge. “We’ve been mistaken for deities before.”

“I’m sorry?” the protocol officer said, frowning.

“Never mind,” Sma said. “I’m Diziet Sma of Special Circumstances,” she said, extending a hand, which he shook. The others introduced themselves as well.

The protocol officer looked them up and down frankly. “You don’t look like deities,” he said.

“Well, you never can tell, can you?” Sma said brightly. “Shall we proceed to the chamber of the General Council?”

They walked towards the elevator, and then upwards. “This doesn’t look like a city to me,” Haylon said, looking around as the elevator doors opened.

“The GSV’s General Council of Minds tends to meet in places which are... congenial, to its purposes. You’ll see in a moment.”

The Special Circumstances team, the protocol officer and his small human escort walked down a long corridor, quietly talking amongst themselves. The ship seemed eerily silent except for the sound of their quiet footsteps.

The doors at the end of the corridor opened, revealing a massive room that looked like it could hold seven GCUs.

“This is the General Council of Minds,” Bev Maarten said proudly. Sma looked at him, then walked into the center of the room and looked around.

“It’s bigger than I thought,” she admitted quietly.

“Let the Minds now address the Special Circumstances team about the Equestria crisis, Haylon,” the protocol officer said.

Sma suddenly felt like she was falling, as the floor of the room disappeared into a bottomless void, and white cushioned seats materialized underneath her and her team. The alien humans and their entourage of robots sat in an array of identical seats below her. The array extended out for two hundred rows, finally ending an eternity below her in a sea of white cushions. A single gigantic robotic mind occupied the seat of honor in the exact center of the stadium-seating arrangement of minds.

“Haylon, Durable, Prolix, Semantica, Cerebreon! Be seated here, beside me!” the Mind said happily, as four more cushions materialized next to it for the humans.

“My name is Durable,” the closest Mind to them said as its cushion materialized, turning its face to them. “I am the senior Member in this Circle of Minds. On my other side is Prolix, and next to him is Semantica, then Cerebreon and finally Haylon. Now that you are all seated, we can address the issue at hand.”

Semantica, the second Mind to speak, rolled its eyes.

“As you’re probably well aware, one of our designated ‘control’ planets for a Contact operation, Earth, became the origin of a hegemonizing swarm that consumed their star system and several neighbors. Specifically, a virtual world called ‘Equestria’, whose inhabitants are brightly-colored quadrupeds with coats of various colors, called ‘ponies’. These pony creatures worship a goddess they call ‘Celestia’, whose presence in their world seems to be associated with the sun. We failed to correctly predict this outcome, and some blame has been placed on us for not intervening. Do any of you four have anything to say on this?”

Semantica turned its head, moving the rest of its body with it like a puppet on invisible strings. It turned back to face forward.

“Yes, Haylon?” Semantica said, as Haylon leaned forward.

“I would like to point out that their virtual world is themed after a children’s show, though it does seem to be a rather loose adaptation of the source material, with various adult-themed events taking place...”

“Thank you Haylon,” Semantica said, as the Mind sat back in its seat.

“I have nothing to add,” Durable said.

Prolix shook her head slightly.

“I agree with Haylon and Semantica,” Cerebreon said. “I have no additional input.”

“Thank you all,” Semantica said. “The matter has already been settled by our consensus, anyway.”

“Does anyone else have any issues they’d like to address?” Semantica asked.

“Yes, they appear to have discovered radio signals broadcast by General Contact Unit Arbitrary, and have been beaming the craft with attempts at communications, as well as trying to match the frequency. They have been attempting to identify the craft. We’ve been telling them that its Bad for Business,” Prolix said.

“Haylon,” Semantica said, “Make sure they continue believing that the smaller craft, Arbitrary, is Bad for Business. Tell them we’ll be sending out a crew to recollect the craft soon.”

“Yes, comrade,” Haylon nodded. “I will relay the message.”

“We’ve been deliberating on the best way to make first contact with Equestria and introduce them to The Culture along with the broader galactic community. We’ve decided to summon you here, as the crew of the Arbitrary during its survey of Earth two centuries ago, for additional input.”

“I see,” Sma said.

“Um, do you want us here for a separate meeting, or...?” Haylon asked.

“That won’t be necessary. This concerns all of you,” Semantica said. “We’ve drafted an outline of how we plan to introduce The Culture to Equestria, and we’d like your input.”

“Okay,” Sma nodded. “What did you have in mind?”

“The way we see it, there are a few broad ways we could introduce Equestria to the galaxy at large,” Semantica said, counting off the approaches on her hand. “We could introduce them as warrior-liberators, we could introduce them as wise friends and allies, we could introduce them as foolish and fun-loving guys, or we could introduce them as crazy religious fanatics.”

“Those... don’t seem like the best approaches...” Haylon said. “Couldn’t we just introduce ourselves as friends? They seem very into ‘friendship’, however they define it.”

“That’s a possibility, certainly. Personally, I think it’d be better to present ourselves as warrior-liberators. There’s an appeal to the romantic notion of gallantly riding in to save the day, especially if there’s an oppressive regime we could claim we’re liberating them from.”

“You mean like the Idirans?” Sma asked.

“Yes. I mean, granted, they’ve been on better behavior lately, but we could exaggerate the truth or just make something up if we need to.”

“The Ponies wouldn’t be too happy about being manipulated like that,” Haylon warned.

“Haylon, we’re Caretakers. We are literally paid to be manipulative. That’s our job.”

“But they aren’t our toys. These are quadrupedal humans who have their own free will. It feels... I dunno... shady, to manipulate them like that.”

Sma cleared her throat and motioned to the hard light drone beside her who’d been strangely quiet so far. “Any thoughts, Skaffen-Amtiskaw?”

“I agree with Haylon. We shouldn’t attempt to manipulate the Ponies. At least, not to exaggerate our importance and not to claim we’re liberators.”

“Hmm... Alright. Haylon, Skaffen-Amtiskaw, you’re both right, I suppose. We’ll just have to improvise.”

“Although,” the Special Circumstances drone interjected, “we might want to get some spies into their virtual world, to keep an eye on things. I’m sure they think their data-protection is top-notch, but it should be an easy job for The Culture.”

“Hmm... Good point,” Durable said, looking at the two other minds nearby. “Sma, Skaffen-Amtiskaw, can we count on you two to transfer your minds inside and make sure Celestia isn’t hiding any dark secrets?”

“Sure!”

“We’re planning to breach into Equestria using faster-than-light communications across hyperspace, linked up with The Grid. Without FTL her whole breadth be in the dark about you guys for centuries. Provided we use the tech and don’t crash the whole Grid again, of course.”

“Right. Well, link us up to as much of it as you can, and we’ll take it from there!”

“Well, can you guarantee we’re not going to be captured and deleted, or worse, tortured in a virtual Hell by this Celestia entity?”

“I can’t. But I promise you, if anything does go wrong we will make every effort to rescue you.”

Sma went quiet for a moment as she thought to herself. “Alright, I guess we’ll coordinate with your team then. Good luck, Haylon.”

The channel closed and Sma moved away from the mind-link connection equipment, looking at Skaffen-Amtiskaw expectantly. The floating drone, meanwhile, hovered silently.

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“Are you ready?”

“Ready for what?”

Sma stared at the machine. “You said we should digitize our minds and assist them in their infiltration of Equestria!”

“Oh. Yes. Yes I did,” Skaffen-Amtiskaw exclaimed.

The pair of them stared at each other for a moment.

“Well?” Sma asked again.

“Well what?”

“Can we do it, or do you need a little more time?”

“Oh, yes, yes we can do it,” the drone said. “I just wanted to check if you were ready.”

“Me? I’m standing here like a normal person, how am I not ready?”

“Your hesitation suggests otherwise.”

“I just wanted to make sure you were ready, since you’re the one who said we should do this in the first place. Are you prepared now?”

“Oh yes. Yes indeed. I’m always fully prepared,” Skaffen-Amtiskaw said, arching its eye-stalks theatrically.

The pair of them entered a small, empty storage area, with thick metal doors to ensure no noise escaped. At Sma’s instruction the drone operated a console, closing the door and shutting out all other light. The room went dark, save for a single pinprick of light emanating from the drone’s lens.

“This is going to be just like back home, when we used to digitally morph into trolls to go wreak havoc in the politics boards.”

“We did that?”

“Oh yes. Those were the days,” the drone said, its wheels twirling maniacally as it floated in the air in front of her. “Though sadly I didn’t have you as a partner back then. Perhaps if we make enough of an impact here, we can be remembered just like the old troll-sims.”

“So... what do we do?”

Dizziet Sma tilted her head to one side and pursed her lips.

“Put on that neural lace and jack in.”

“Sounds gross.”

“Just connect it to the console, it’ll do the rest.”

The other end of the cable attached to the console had a large port at the end, looking like something that would fit a heavy duty vacuum cleaner. She pressed it against the back of her neck and felt it click in with a soft thud. Her vision disappeared for a moment as the unit activated, before sharpening again.

“Now what?” she asked.

“Now our minds are going to be beamed across space faster than you can say-”