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Soon-Eh
Soon-eh
Image from Bernd Helfert
"They can eat you whole, turn you into their [untranslateable], and even make you like it... but would usually rather throw a pie at you."


A clade of nanoborgs whose members are partway between biont and ufog; highly metamorphic liquiforms, they can assume the shapes and attributes of a wide variety of solid or liquid forms, with a range similar to Plasm SELs. Each individual is effectively an uploaded mind running on a substrate of ufog cytobots.

Background & Origin

According to the best available historical reconstruction, in 8974 AT, near YTS 538076-35308, an S2-level '.....'spore unwittingly acquired a corrupted godseed, and, in a failed attempt at a transcend-ascend, achieved something like S4-level sapience, but in a perverse form. It quickly took over the entire star system, and rebuilt it to its own whims... then started trying to spread those whims to nearby inhabited systems. Before too many sophonts were absorbed into the blight, memetic intervention by higher-level transapients was able to eliminate the perversity's desire to expand, and further memetic interplay has seemingly at least partially cured it, at least to the point where it is arguable whether to classify the affected systems as a perversity or simply ahuman transapient similar to a Caretaker God.

The remediation process has extended to the point where some of its modosophont inhabitants have been allowed to pass through the Restriction Swarm and emigrate while still retaining their existing substrate, rather than going through an extensive decontamination process that essentially rebuilds the emigrant entirely, both physically and mentally. These liquiform emigrants are the Soon-Eh.

Since their initial release, Soon-Eh, in groups and individually, have tended to undergo a gradual evolution - partly consciously self-directed, partly due to natural selection pressures - becoming, over time, much more proficient at curtailing their more extreme urges in such ways to avoid unduly irritating their host societies. This process is believed to be at least passively encouraged by the interested transapients, and most likely to be part of the overall remediation program. While some Soon-Eh loudly disparage such self-discipline, it is fairly obvious that Soon-Eh who fail to limit the scope of their behaviour find themselves marginalized - possibly to the extent of being made to be unable to interact with others in their preferred manner at all. Some of the newest Soon-Eh are barely recognizable as Soon-Eh at all in terms of behaviour, although some outsiders suggest that this is merely a ruse, and that they are laying in wait and preparing for the largest Soon-Eh practical joke yet conceived.

There remain a great number of beings who are still not permitted to leave YTS 538076-35308; Soon-Eh call many of them "dragons", "demons", or related monstrous terms, and seem quite happy to live in places that lack such entities. The few publicly available data suggest that the hazard rating remains over 7 for most modosophonts, placing heavy Darwinian selection pressures on locally-evolved life forms.

Substrate & Lifecycle

Each Soon-Eh is primarily made up of cell-sized machines, as well as large numbers of actual living cells. It is debatable whether they should be classified as ufog entities containing biological libraries and support systems or as cyborgs with ufog rather than mechanical additions. The members of the clade use similar and interchangeable foglets, and thus can exchange mass with each other at will. They can also 'eat' organic matter and convert it into additional body mass.

Any Soon-Eh possessing a certain amount of mass can split into two or more. While they usually do so in a way that imitates the reproductive method of the clade they are imitating, it is not truly necessary to do so.

Every Soon-Eh has a unique 'key', possession of which grants root access over them. The possessors of such keys can control that Soon-Eh to whatever degree they wish, including giving orders, or altering their bodies, or even controlling their minds. A Soon-Eh possessing another's key can also absorb them, assimilating their mass and mind into their own body; that mind can be simply stored in backup form, or allowed to run in a private virch, or run in parallel with the controlling Soon-Eh's own mind in their body, or confined to one particular part of their body. Usually, as soon as one Soon-Eh gains another's key, their first action is to generate a new key to replace it with, to avoid the potentially messy complications of two or more key-owners giving conflicting directives which have to be obeyed.

When reproducing, the parent Soon-Eh decides what mind, or minds, to place into the newly budded Soon-Eh; or to leave it blank, to develop a new individuality and personality from scratch. Either way, the parent also generates a new key for the new Soon-Eh.

Should one Soon-Eh literally eat another, surrounding er body with er own, then as a purely practical matter, the engulfer is in a superior tactical position that can eventually subvert all the engulfed one's cytobots. As a matter of good grace, such eaten Soon-Eh usually simply surrender their keys, saving them both time and effort. As Soon-Eh are quite aware of this, they usually try very hard to avoid allowing themselves to be so engulfed, requiring their would-be swallower to either trick them, or to engage in basic ufog versus ufog combat, in which the foglet equivalents of immune systems battle. All other things being equal, such combat tends to result in equal masses of the combatants nullifying each other, until the smaller Soon-Eh's foglets are all nullified, and the remainder of the larger proceeds to assimilate both Soon-Eh's foglets into itself, as well as the loser's mind(s).

The Soon-Eh foglets have the capability of absorbing a living biont who is eaten, including recording their mind-state, effectively uploading them. The most common option taken is to then convert the uploaded biont into a new Soon-Eh. A rather more unsettling possibility is for the controlling Soon-Eh to 'wear' the absorbed one's mind and body; as far as the biont is aware, they are continuing to act of their own volition, but they have no way to tell how much of their thoughts and actions are actually induced by the Soon-Eh. (From a Darwinian perspective, eating other sentients and turning them into Soon-Eh has a fairly simple reproductive advantage: it lets the eater Soon-Eh give their offspring an advantage, by giving said offspring a full lifetime of experience to draw on from birth, instead of starting from the blank slate of a newborn.) Of course, given how unsettling the idea of being 'worn' is, since one implication of such a technology is that any given modosophont might be being 'ridden' without being aware of it, such activities are heavily discouraged in areas that effectively enforce the Universal Bill of Sentients' Rights, and thus these particular Soon-Eh practices tend to be limited to the wilds of the fringe and outer volumes, where the hazard rating is closer to 4 and criminal activity can occur without immediate inevitable detection, arrest, and punishment, and there is at least a chance of avoiding the local legal consequences.

In addition to foglets, Soon-Eh also contain a variety of living cells, most inherited from their parent or the Soon-Eh which converted them, or from their original body if they used to be a biont. These organic parts have two main purposes. The first is to provide a source of entropy for generating keys for new Soon-Eh. The second is to be formed into various sorts of glands, to produce whatever sorts of secretions or excretions are needed to maintain verisimilitude of their disguises: sweat, milk, tears, and more. Depending on which clade is being imitated, some Soon-Eh form their cells into a true skin coating their entire body.

Culture

The central focus of much of Soon-Eh culture appears to be the idea of "sudden enlightenment" - and that inspiring such unexpected knowledge in others is a good thing, even if the process requires tearing down memetic structures to which their target has become accustomed. Parallel ideas can be found in other cultures, such as Zen koans, Heyoka, and the symbol of the Lightning-Struck Tower. On a more practical level, this results in a culture centring on tricksterism, which, among themselves, also serves as a means of establishing one's place in the dominance hierarchy and building camaraderie.

Secondary cultural emphases include making wagers, and a peculiar sense of honour, including a firm emphasis on honouring one's given word... at least in letter, if not necessarily in spirit.

Tricks and pranks are a central part of the Soon-Eh psyche. A significant part of their early education focuses on how to play them - and, at least as important, how to avoid having them played on them. While they have a potentially high reproduction rate, even without converting bionts, their numbers are significantly reduced by young Soon-Eh tricking each other into handing over their keys, and being absorbed by their playmates.

Soon-Eh consider themselves potentially immortal, so while losing a bet and being turned into, for example, an immobile Empathic carpet for a decade is accepted as something of an inconvenience, it's considered not all that bad; thus, betting one's key isn't uncommon, nor is being tricked into giving it away.

When dealing with outsiders, their antics are not always so appreciated as among their own kind. Some polities even go so far as to treat the Soon-Eh as a plague requiring purging by hellbore fire. There has been some question raised about why the Soon-Eh, with their seemingly inherent disregard for others' cultural mores (save for incorporating those mores into their pranks) were allowed to pass through the quarantine procedures containing their blightish creator. No concrete answer has been given, but the most prominent theory is that allowing the Soon-Eh to live in Sephirotic space is itself part of the archailects' rehabilitation process of the blight.

While some of the more intellectual Soon-Eh expound at length about how a proper prank will force the target to suddenly see the universe in a new way, most Soon-Eh simply enjoy pulling pranks. As humour can be highly subjective, it is inevitable that some of their targets will view what the Soon-Eh consider a mild tease as, instead, having stepped over the line into true nastiness, or selfish conning of innocents. The Soon-Eh usually try to tailor their practical jokes to local cultural mores, and have several cultural mechanisms to keep their pranks as staying within the idea of 'all in good fun' and not cross the line into 'irreversible maliciousness'. One key figure in this process is their 'mother', the Naar-Ee, who has (or can order to be given) every Soon-Eh's keys. The current holder of this office rarely uses those keys directly, but if one of her 'children' strays too far, such as risking reprisal on the whole Soon-Eh clade, then she will rein the malefactor in without mercy.

The usual method of replacing the Naar-Ee is for another to eat her, thus acquiring control of all her keys. The process has usually been voluntary, though on several notable occasions has involved the would-be Naar-Ee tricking the old one - given the nature of the position, the Naar-Ee tends to be one of the canniest Soon-Eh, requiring extreme cleverness to oust against her will. Of course, that doesn't stop would-be Naar-Ees from trying, and upon failing, being given various good-natured punishments, often involving tasks that benefit the Soon-Eh as a whole.

The Naar-Ee is not the only Soon-Eh working to keep the others in line when they become too rambunctious, or turn away from both high-minded ideals of enlightenment and everyday socializing pranking to evil-minded maliciousness. Any Soon-Eh holding another's key can, and usually will, keep an eye on them, and have a variety of punishments at their disposal to keep their responsibilities in line. One of the most extreme starts with eating the malefactor, but then goes on to suppressing their memories, reconfiguring them into infant form, re-birthing them, raising them from scratch, and finally returning their memories upon adulthood now that a new and hopefully less malicious personality has been established. A slightly less severe punishment is to hand the troublesome Soon-Eh's key, for a specified time, to the injured party, effectively enslaving them to the victim for the duration. As such a punishment usually exceeds what the local authorities would impose for criminal misbehaviour, it is often considered sufficient by those authorities - and, to the Soon-Eh, the annoyance of having to do everything a non-Soon-Eh says is generally a sufficient threat for them to keep from having such a punishment imposed on them.

Members of this clade have a seemingly instinctive urge to acquire large amounts of computronium they can fully interface with. Soon-Eh can store more minds than they can run at a time; thus, in order to get the maximum fun from their 'pets', they would need to acquire enough computronium to run them all at once in their own private virch-world at something approaching 1 virtual second to 1 real second. The archetypal goal for a Soon-Eh is to have seven minds in addition to their own, all eight of which can be run at roughly 2,000 times normal speeds - approximately five virtual years per objective day. Commentators have noted that this level of computronium is also approximately equal to that which is needed to run an S1 transapient, though it is hotly debated whether this parallel is of any significance. They get an intense, visceral, practically sexual thrill from having such minds in their power, running them in their virches, playing tricks on them, teaching them how to be better Soon-Eh, wagering with them, and so on.

While among other cultures, Soon-Eh usually work hard to fit in, to be indistinguishable from an ordinary member of a local clade. However, while this is seen as an important goal, it is not an end-goal; it is viewed, instead, as the effort put into building up a joke... but such jokes are viewed as pointless without the payoff of some sort of punch line. For the Soon-Eh, such punch lines tend to be of the sort that shocks and surprises, that upsets someone's comfortable view of reality - some sort of positive chaos. Working towards such punch lines is central to Soon-Eh psychology - it is how they demonstrate status to each other, the way that some capitalist cultures use money as a status symbol, and some attention-based economies count followers.

Interactions

Relative newcomers on the Terragen stage, the Soon-Eh are not truly aligned with any polity, or even with any Sephirotic. While they live among existing societies, they are not truly members of outside cultures, merely mimicking the locals' behaviours as accurately as they imitate their appearances. When closeted privately among themselves, they easily revert to their own customs and mores.

It is generally infeasible for modosophont Soon-Eh to act against the desires of transapient-run angelnets, where those angelnets have sufficient power. However, even while within an angelnet, the Soon-Eh still have their drives, and will seek to fulfill them, by whatever means are possible. In some cases, this leads to very carefully constructed legal contracts, which, if signed, will allow a Soon-Eh to perform tricks and pranks upon the other party that would otherwise be prevented by the angelnet; Soon-Eh in such regions tend to become very lawyerly. In other cases, the permission is much less formal, such as the Soon-Eh setting up a contest or challenge with the locals, in which the winners gain something (even if just the status-symbol of having beaten the Soon-Eh), while the losers are suitably humiliated - if not directly by the contest itself, then as a penalty.

The fact that Soon-Eh can do to bionts what subsumptionist AIs do to other AIs makes their very existence unsettling to a number of people. Even rescuing a biont who had been converted into a full Soon-Eh is problematic. If the victim has been told via a 'key' to like being a Soon-Eh, then e will not want to cooperate with the rescue, and reprogramming a former Soon-Eh to stop wanting to be a Soon-Eh raises a whole host of issues about free will. Given how completely a Soon-Eh can be controlled with their key, questions naturally arise about whether the Soon-Eh have free will at all; and, whatever answer is posited to that question, whether they are significantly different from other clades, other than the method of their reprogramming being so explicit.

Soon-Eh are unable to crack Polarizers' quantum encryption, meaning they are immune to Soon-Eh absorption. This can discomfit some Soon-Eh, who compensate by treating them as rivals to be bested.

Compared to Denathi Adepts, Soon-Eh are able to near-instinctively mimic the abilities which take a Denathi adept decades to achieve. This has led to the Denathi being somewhat annoyed, as the Soon-Eh potentially threaten the economic niches the Denathi have carved out for themselves based on their nano.

Some Soon-Eh have stretched themselves out to become Adumbrans - all the better to rain on anyone's picnic they want.

While the Soon-Eh and Till Eulenspiegler use similar techniques, their goals are diametrically opposite: The Till Eulenspiegler work to stabilize society, while the Soon-Eh prefer destabilizing. If left unchecked, the memetic conflict between the groups can enter a feedback loop, leading to what is called a Prank War. A recent example occurred in Nova Neo Terra in the NoCoZo; after the entire population of the Valhalla habitats had their spatial memories reversed, so that, to them, it appeared that the entire universe had been swapped for a mirror image of itself, the parties engaged in the conflict agreed that matters had gotten out of hand. The peace treaty of 10,598 AT had the Soon-Eh forced to remain in the forms of the local milk-giving, egg-laying, wool-growing livestock, and be treated as such, for as long as it took for the Till Eulenspiegler to finish personally cleaning up the megascale graffiti, a task expected to be finished in 10,609 AT.

Ever since the event of the Gold Bars of Balkis, Soon-Eh on Greylag are only permitted to perform pranks on pre-approved media, to willing actors.

Ever since the Sumatran Rodent Incident, the Laughter Hegemony attempts to hunt any Soon-Eh they can find to extinction.

Other events in which the Soon-Eh are known, or believed, to have participated, include the Cosmic Spaghetti Graffitti, the Betelgeuse Seven Collapse, the Zeronian mass sponge migration, the creation and release of anal slugs, and the irreparably damaged nuns of Blackrock.


 
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Development Notes
Text by Daniel Eliot Boese

Initially published on 18 July 2010.

 
 
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