Gehenna Incident, The

The artificial detonation of an entire cluster

The Gehenna incident
Image from Anders Sandberg
The ruins of Admntop on Grudat, a few years after being reached by the first blast from the Gehenna cluster in 8030. Although the initial blasts did not directly wipe out surface life on Grudat, they destroyed the ozone layer and nearly doubled the total energy input. The inhabitants retreated to underground habitats as the surface was seared, eventually abandoning it altogether.

Extremely ambitious megascale metric engineering project attempted by the archailect Verifex in 7981 AT in the M50 cluster in Monoceros, 3030 ly from Sol
Over the course of the eighth millennium, the rogue archailect known as Verifex forged an empire out of the various vec and splice clades scattered throughout Puppis, Canis Major, and Monoceros. Under eir guidance, systems from M41 to NGC 2353 were bound together in a coherent whole by the Lirantiq Nexus. The Empire of the Truth-Builder seemed destined to ascend to the grandeur of the Sephirotics. Alas, it was not to be.

Perhaps due to the integration of eir own nexus with that of the Terragens at large, and consequent interaction with minds of the fifth toposophic and above, as the eighth millennium drew to a close Verifex seems to have grown increasingly interested in the prospects of ascension. Contact with em and eir avatars decreased steadily during the seventy-eighth and seventy-ninth centuries, and what few conversations there were often regarded toposophology, eschatology, and a variety of other esoterica. It is possible that eir plans grew more grandiose with time, as the final transmissions prior to the incident declared M50 to be "the Sanctum Sanctorum" and "the gateway to the Omega Point," but given Verifex's tendency towards flamboyance, it is equally possible that such messages were merely poetic hyperbole.

M 50
Image from Ole Nielsen (CC BY-SA 2.5)
The open cluster M 50 in Monoceros
By the eightieth century AT, many godwatchers in the region were able to identify a wide variety of megastructures in Verifex's domain. No fewer than thirteen Weylforges were in operation near the heart of the cluster, apparently mass-producing comm-gauge type wormholes. A number of grazer wormholes were also deployed to gather mass for the grand megastructures that would make up the core of the Truth-Builder's new brain. At twenty light-years across and containing more than eighty stars, the M50 cluster provided more than adequate resources for rapid development.

The first sign that something had gone wrong came on Hippocrates 3, 7981. On that day, all traffic into the M50 cluster was put on indefinite hold. Several grapeships that were scheduled to be relayed through the cluster were rerouted, and the few sophonts living there permanently were evacuated, emptying M50 of all modosophont life by the beginning of Imhotep. Immediately thereafter, the minds in charge of the star gates linking to M50 began to close their wormholes. By Jung, M50 was completely cut off from the rest of the galaxy. It is estimated that these measures saved some four billion lives, but at the time, it seemed like nothing more than an inconvenience to the denizens of Verifex's empire.

Around the same time, nearly all of Verifex's drones and low-level avatars simultaneously went mad. Some seem to have deleted themselves, or self-destructed. Others spouted hundreds of zettabytes of incomprehensible gibberish. But perhaps the most terrifying were those who remained coherent. They said next to nothing, giving only the simple - but firm - order to leave. Those avatars who remained active within a hundred light years of the cluster began one of the largest forced evacuations in Terragen history. The emigration programs started in the densest population centers, and worked their way outwards. Tens of billions of sophonts were forcibly uploaded, often destructively, and transmitted (sometimes in multiple copies sent to multiple destinations) as far as possible by means of the Lightways. Those few avatars who responded when asked why they were doing this said simply, "We have lost control."

The magnitude of the resulting panic cannot be overstated. Some feared that Verifex had suffered some manner of blight or perversion. Others railed against eir cruelty, calling out to the Sephirotics at large to address the blatant disregard for sentient rights these forced migrations represented. Amidst it all, the question "why?" loomed large in the minds of Verifex's subjects, but no sign of an answer was forthcoming... until the godwatchers of Kolmo reported unusual emissions from M50 in 8015. First, a marked release of radiation consistent with a series of comm-gauge wormholes imploding. Then, within hours, warnings to flee or seek shelter were broadcast across all frequencies in a myriad of languages. In the weeks and months that followed, many of the local megastructures and metric devices showed signs of deterioration and failure. And finally, the event that would shape the future of the Terragen Sphere - an explosion hundreds of times more powerful than a supernova.

Exactly what happened in the cluster remains unknown, but we can be sure of two things:

First, on Hippocrates 3, 7981, something went very, very wrong with the wormhole network constituting the most vital portions of Verifex's brain. The most recent (10567) cliological simulations from Ain Soph Aur have concluded that the root cause was a Roman configuration in said network. These models indicate that there is an 84.1% probability that Verifex had attempted to ascend two toposophic levels at once, but as a mere S4 was unable to coordinate a system as complicated as a wormhole brain. They also suggest a 3.2% probability that e was attempting to create a time machine - with a 2.9% probability e was attempting to construct a so-called "Buy Time Machine," relying on effects related to time dilation to speed up computation, and an 0.3% probability that e was genuinely trying to receive messages from the future - and a 12.7% probability that e was trying to perform a task that (based on the great difficulty S <1 intellects have had interpreting the report) cannot be adequately described to modosophonts. It is believed that Verifex's psyche was split asunder by this catastrophic event, dramatically reducing eir ability to coordinate the multitude of megascale construction projects going on in M50.

Second, on Kepler 13 of the same year, a fledgling grazer with fully half the mass of Sol collapsed. Left to its own devices, such a wormhole would have released some third of its mass-energy in the form of high energy gamma-range photons. S4 stabilization equipment, of the sort that Verifex employed, ensures that most of that energy instead feeds the black hole remnant of the wormhole, but even with such safeguards in place, the Gehenna Incident blast released two hundred times the ionizing radiation of a Type II supernova, and some fifty times that figure in longer wavelengths. The blast stripped the nearest star to its core and sent it careening through M50 at a speed well in excess of our galaxy's escape velocity. One by one, the atmospheres of the other stars in the cluster were blown away by the radiation pressure of the expanding wavefront, fueling the birth of the Verifex Nebula. All gas in the vicinity was ionised into flaring colours for a thousand years; this beautiful nebula is visible wherever the light it has emitted has reached.

The Orion Federation outpost Mulhouse, 9 ly from the detonation, was the first casualty, with no survivors. At 30 ly almost all the habitats and craft in the Unikorn III system were damaged beyond repair. All that could be done was to attempt to flee and carry the message to Enremdeaorion and the rest of the Galaxy.

The next world to be affected by the incident was Kolmo, an almost uninhabited system undergoing terraforming. Being connected to the Lirantiq Nexus and just 34 lightyears distant from M50 it had made an ideal observation post. The radiation killed all unshielded life in the system and blasted the partially terraformed Kolmo III into an uninhabitable hothouse.

The Emple-Dokcetics, already one of the largest and most influential polities in the Lirantiq region, immediately began to prepare for the coming onslaught. They had already learned much from the Gorca Pleroma and observations of Verifex, and now turned to the task of shielding not just ships but whole planets or systems from the novae. The situation marshaled all the skill and creativity of their culture, from the smallest batuan to the mighty Dokcollective Unconscious itself, merging every resource of body and mind into a single super-organism in the attempt to achieve an efficient shielding method.

The result was one of the most comprehensive hardened backup systems ever devised. The most imposing contribution of the Dokcollective was a suite of efficient magmatter replicator seeds. These could be dropped into the local star and, within a few years of arrival, construct and deploy magmatter meshwork reflectors from five meters to ten thousand kilometers across. Swarms of such mirrors could protect entire planets, provided the seed could be delivered early enough to build them before the blast arrived.

More modest combined systems could provide comparable protection within a fraction of the time. Huge blocks of S2 and S3 designed computronium, encased in a magmatter mesh capable of shielding from all but the most high-energy gamma rays, were used to back up everything from individual sophonts to entire ecosystems. Coupled with exceptionally versatile spore tech designed by the Dokcollective itself, whole biospheres could be rebuilt from the ground up in a matter of decades. This suite of services, being simpler, less expensive, and easier to implement than the grand reflectors, was the most popular option during the Gehenna Incident.

In 8030 the Edwoot system was hit, giving the Emple-Dokcetics a chance to test their new shielding technology. The shields proved effective, saving the infrastructure and swiftly reconstituting the biosphere despite a few failures. Shielding technology was quickly implemented in other Emple-Dokcetic systems, and a massive effort to sell it to other independent systems began. The first system to accept was the baseline colony Xiaoyan. When it was hit in 8036 it survived the onslaught perfectly, becoming the classic sales pitch for Emple-Dokcetic spokesbeings across the galaxy. The nearby system Grudat (ex-Sophic antipoles) that didn't buy the package was devastated, the documentation forming the other half of the sales pitch.

Perhaps the most important system which was badly affected was Tabridgen, a major wormhole relay point for the Orion Federation.

Verifex Nebula
Image from Steve Bowers
Verifex Nebula as seen from Adhara Treaty region
The Verifex Nebula is a magnificent sight in the sky of nearby systems. It shines with an eerie golden-red light, on many worlds outshining their moons and turning the night into a golden twilight (which often has interesting ecological consequences). The expanding gaseous veils form a pattern that has been described as a sunburst or an expanding fire (some observers have pointed out that it looks much like a map of the Emple-Dokcetic empire). Closer to the nebula (within a few tens of light-years) the light acts as a second sun and covers much of the sky; here life is impossible without constant shielding.

The eventual effects of the Incident remain to be seen. It has been suggested that the Gehenna nebula will continue to expand across several hundred light-years before it is slowed by the interstellar medium. It will then form a bubble with a dense gas wall, which will likely lead to a new burst of star formation. Something similar is believed to have caused the Aquila Rift. Some speculations, especially popular amongst Verifex's few remaining worshipers, suggest that e is actually trying to influence star formation across the entire arm, setting up a chain of detonations, star formations and new detonations in order to reshape a large part of the galaxy or even turn it into a starburst galaxy. This would take hundreds of millions of years, but might be possible for a patient and obsessed mainbrain. Others regard this as mere megalomaniacal speculation and suggest more short-term goals or sheer incompetence.

While eir responsibility for the disaster should not be forgotten, the attempts Verifex made to minimize the impact of eir mistake even while suffering from probable insanity, are equally worth remembering. If Verifex (or Lucifer, as e is now called) had not shut down the wormhole termini and relay systems throughout M50, and evacuated the most vulnerable Lirantiq systems, the destruction caused by the incident would have been far, far worse. Moreover, observations of the cluster subsequent to the explosion of the grazer have indicated that, by Brahe 7982, e had managed to largely put emself back together again, and was taking extensive actions to stabilize or neutralize the most dangerous remaining elements of eir construction projects. Had the largest of eir grazers imploded, the destructive effects would have reached as far as Sol, if not farther. While such signs of attempts at damage control are often brought up by Lucifer's admirers, eir detractors note that self preservation was certainly a factor in play, as Lucifer emself would have been hit the hardest by further destruction within the cluster.

As with many events involving the Archai, modosophonts have engaged in a great deal of speculation regarding the "true causes" of the Gehenna Incident. Many of Lucifer's remaining followers believe that e was the victim of subversion by the existing Sephirotic Archai, who sought to remove a potential competitor. Skeptics point out that the Sixth Singularity Archai could have dealt with a mere S4 far more efficiently and with next to no collateral damage, but such arguments have done little to sway the conviction of true believers on this point. Yet another school of thought claims that the disaster occurred because the Sephirotics actually made a mistake. Adherents of this hypothesis note that Lucifer wasn't the only archailect far from the inner sphere that has ever had the opportunity to cause a disaster of such magnitude. Some speculate that the Sephirotic Archai have put a variety of safeguards in place that somehow guard against the actions of rogue minor gods on the Periphery. If one or more of these safeguards malfunctioned, it could explain how the Gehenna Incident occurred. Such theories have gained relatively little traction in the larger godwatcher community, largely due to the lack of a plausible means of enacting such safeguards.

The region affected by the Gehenna Event is known today as the Hellfire Expansion, as many new groups and factions have moved in to exploit the worlds damaged or evacuated following this event, and also to colonise those worlds which had not yet been claimed.

More than two millennia have passed since the Event occurred, and Verifex/Lucifer has yet to make contact with the rest of the galaxy. E appears to have entered a state of self imposed exile, though whether it is because e is a penitent seeking redemption, or because e is afraid of retribution, is yet unknown. There are, however, rumors that e has begun to extend eir reach to the Terragen sphere at large once again. When e was active, e employed drones woven of magmatter, not unlike gaudy jewelry, a few meters across but massing billions of tons and wielding tremendous power. Alleged sightings of such drones might be a hint that e is preparing to return from exile.

Related Articles
Appears in Topics
Development Notes
Text by Revised by Dave 2019
from an original article by Anders Sandberg some additions by Steve Bowers, Todd Drashner and Adam Getchell
Initially published on 31 October 2001.

Additional Information