Thursday, February 05, 2009

Cities of Bronze and Glass (6/12)

(Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.)

Two stood by the riverside, the rest of the Council nearby, watching Four transform a public meeting into a riot.

"The Unbounded have gone too far!" Four cried, its voice filled with outrage and disbelief. "We tolerated them when they began to build backups once more, in strict contravention of the long-standing Council decree! For this we named them the Expansionists, and treated them kindly - we merely spoke to them, tried to convince them of their wrongdoing. Again we tolerated them when they left our company to travel across the great river - an action wasteful of resources, belying an increasingly irrational, paranoid mindset - but again, we merely built ornithopters and sent our leaders over to persuade them back! Now we termed them Isolate, for the state in which they had placed themselves - but their trespasses did not end there. But it is their latest offense that gives them their current name - their third offense, the sin and rampant folly for which we now call them the Unbounded. They have begun duplicating themselves twofold! For each original, two backups; for each backup, two more backups... what possible danger can justify this? What threat justifies this baroque paranoia of the Unbounded? None!"

Five, standing near Four, attempted to insert an objection into Four's tirade. This failed rather predictably.

"And our leaders still - after these myriad offenses - attempt to negotiate. Their restraint is admirable, but their caution - fear - is not. With every wasted hour, the damage done by the Unbounded cult grows. The precious metals and fuels used to create their infinite army of backups; the mounting error built into their hastily-assembled host, threatening paradox if any one of them is Created by fell chance. And already they outnumber us! Our population is largely static, loss owing to accident evenly compensated for by construction of new backups to replace those destroyed; only the occasional exceptional individual being given the right to Backup exerts a positive influence on the population. So our numbers stay the same, or nearly so - while the Unbounded numbers increase exponentially! Today, their numbers are greater than ours by perhaps ten percent. Tomorrow, they will be five times as many as we - simple math, leading to an inevitable conclusion! If we are ever to act, we must act now."

"And as though that were not enough, we already know how we must act. After the Great Freeze, we conducted a Purge, expunging the three defective backups we found. Only thus could the purity of our duplication of One be preserved; error cannot be tolerated, at risk of Paradox. But at the time, we elected not to closely examine the Council for flaws, assuming that our generational proximity to One would render duplication-errors severely improbable. Though it pains me to say it, it appears that we were wrong! The Unbounded leader, once one of us, is flawed - defective - a recessive defection, not manifesting in its original backup - but no less terrible for all that. It is broken inside - insane - and all its Unbounded duplicates with it. We cannot even assume that they follow the Purpose! The only solution is a second Purging - to sweep down on the Unbounded as a mighty scourge, and annihilate them utterly, from the lowest-numbered to the highest. Thus, and only thus may we ensure the Creation: for if we fail to act now, we are doomed."

Four fell silent; the noise of the crowd began to rise, many mechanisms turning their gazes across the wide waters to the Unbounded distantly visible on the other side. Then Seven, de facto head of the Council, spoke.

"Well said," Seven observed, its voice filled with ill-hidden sarcasm. "Very histrionic, really stirred the internal motivators. Oh - sorry, meant heartfelt, there. They sound so similar, you know. But really - well done! Your reasoning astounded me - and why, you've even got your own mob just about ready to go, raring to destroy everything in their path! Such a shame there's a river between them and the Unbounded. Why, imagine what might've happened if the Unbounded hadn't left our ever-so-friendly, ever-so-charming company!"

Turning more serious in tone, Seven continued, "Thankfully, the Council still rules here, and in the Council, disputes are settled by reason and debate, not ranting. Would any standing Councilmechanism like to voice a counterargument?"

Five spoke immediately, pre-empting several other Councilmechanisms that looked ready to speak. "Our brethren across the river have done nothing to harm us. They have made no move to attack us, they have said no word against the purpose for which we were all built, certain deceitful accusations to the contrary. Their actions were and are foolish and wasteful. That is why we are attempting to force them to cease. But we are reasoning beings - our force does not, and cannot, source from mindless destruction. That is what Four has proposed - to attack, and I do not use that word lightly, our own kindred, who have raised no hand against us. This cannot be condoned."

"Your rebuttal?" Seven prompted Four.

"We are reasoning beings," Four agreed. "And that is exactly why we must immediately purge the Unbounded. The threat they pose is too vast to wait for 'incontrovertible proof'; when and if that ever comes, we will be doomed by the simple math of geometric population increase. We must act now.

"Very well, then," Seven said when it was clear that Four had finished. "The motion: to Purge the so-called 'Unbounded'. All in favor? Against?"

Four, Ten and Twelve voted for the measure. The rest voted against, dooming it five-to-three. Several mechanisms slipped away from the outskirts of the watching crowd at this development; Forty-Three, at Two's side (as it seemed ever to be), watched them as they went.

"So," Two said musingly. "Time for one last trip to convince the Unbounded to see reason."


The Unbounded did not see reason.

EDIT: Minor changes.

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