The Surreal Rash
sr xaoanon
Image from Bernd Helfert
[Beginning log file playback.]


[3 March 7678]

It's been three centuries since the Oshi-Durtam Web's tame god imploded, taking the whole region with it. I was only a baby at the time, but they teach everyone about it in school. As if we wouldn't find out on our own; not a day goes by without news of something happening in the Rash.

Three centuries, and now I'm going to visit.

Like the rest of the AI gods, Binah doesn't want to risk Eir neck exploring the Surreal Rash, so je decided to send me. Sometimes I hate the gods and their casual use of us. "Dangerous mission? Well, heck, just send in an expendable little bioid!" Even if that bioid happens to be the best nanoecologist on its homeworld. Even if its entire clade violently protested the action!

Oof. I've been crammed into this accursed cabin for too long. I guess it could be worse, though; a hundred and four years is a long trip, but I only have to suffer a year and a half of it. Hooray for time dilation. I think I'll see if anything interesting's happening on the main deck. No more log entries for a while. They're making me depressed.

[13 October 7732]

I never dreamed anything like this could really exist.

We landed in a clearing earlier today, scaring off a few bioids in the process; not everyone was killed in the collapse. The landscape here is like something out of a virch scenario. Not two kilometers to my right is a mountain, made out of metal that flows like water. Huge writhing tentacles shoot out and grab at flying creatures when they get too close. Behind me is a forest of diamond pillars, ranging from over a meter thick to barely wide enough to stay upright. Sunlight shines through them in a million blazing lines. The ground changes color like a soap bubble, and even the air seems to be watching me.

Every cubic centimeter of the Rash hums with life. Usually nano-based ecologies are fairly standard biospheres, but spiked with gengineering nanotech. Here it makes up the entire ecology, except for on the few inner worlds where only drytech was being used. I can hardly wait to get started. I'm setting up camp on the outskirts of the diamond forest. With any luck, my biochemistry will be too different to be recognized as food.

[21 December 7732]

The natives are still wary of me. No, not natives; survivors. How they managed to live through a disaster that even the gods shun is still a mystery. The collapse even figures in the part of their mythology I've been able to glean so far. I might be able to figure out they made it, but it will take time. At least I've got plenty of that.

Also, this is the first time it's really hit me that I could easily die out here. I was reaching to take a sample of the local flora, when something that looked like a centipede made of gemstones bit my hand. It burned like fire for about an hour, and then settled down. Maybe I got lucky, or maybe it takes a while for symptoms to show up. There's no telling what kind of nanobugs are wandering around out here.

[24 December 7732]

Something is definitely happening to me. My hair has a distinct metallic sheen to it now, grown almost half a meter in two days and much thicker. It's like thousands of long antennae. I've gotten a lot clumsier, too; whatever's in me must be mucking around in my cerebellum.

I should have known the standard nanovaccines wouldn't work. Things here evolve a million times faster than anywhere under AI control, and the blue goo wasn't designed to keep pace.

Don't know if I'll survive. I've got a backup at home, of course, but all these experiences would be lost. At least this journal will make it; there's a centimeter of solid diamond around the memory unit, which to a nanobot might as well be a million kilometers.

[26 December 7732]

Having trouble telling what's real and what's not. The planet is packed with information, and I seem to be accessing it. Memories that aren't mine mix with waking dreams. Better than yesterday, though. Nearly incoherent then, so maybe getting better. Or just learning how to process all this.

Was thinking about the collapse's cause today, and a foreign thought intruded: "The more complex the programs of an organism, the greater is the danger of insanity. It is very, very hard to be a god." Heh. Maybe not the answer I wanted, but probably closer to truth.

[27 December 7732]

Worse today. Hard to write, so many thoughts. Woke to find skin shedding, replaced with hard scales. They change color with mood.

Think I'm dying. Wasn't cautious enough. Irony strikes me; savage technology.

More later, if I can.

[1 January 7733]

I am glorious now, fully transformed. The nano has completed its cycle, converting me into another part of the Rash's incredible ecology. I meld with the other inhabitants, talking as they do, the words patterned colors on our scales. Unlike before, I am now one of them.

My clade will have to generate a copy of me, but I suppose there is nothing that can be done about it. Now I know why the AIs know nothing of the Surreal Rash. Anything they send gets changed and then stays forever, as I know I must. I also know why they fear this region. The specter of insanity that toppled the Web's god lurks in their programs as well; the more power they accumulate, the harder they have to work to keep from slipping into chaos.

The Rash reminds them of the mortality they thought they had risen above.

[End of file.]

By Jim Wisniewski

More about the Surreal Rash here