The terraformed moonbrain of Velsin covered in Affine spires: the virus uses these spires to propagate itself by electromagnetic radiation_
Though they didn't know it yet, the sapients of Velsin's Heart had a problem. Over the course of the last several months, they had begun to see signs that their caretaker was going insane. At first, they dismissed them. By all rights, Velsin had been a wonderful caretaker. No one in Velsin's Heart suffered or wanted for anything. Life had always been idyllic. The civilization of Velsin's Heart had flourished under the sound guidance of its transapient benefactor for generations, and most knew in their hearts that, even if the occasional edict handed down by their caretaker seemed odd at first, it always ultimately turned out to have been given with their best interests in mind.
But the harsh restrictions on off-Velsin travel recently laid down strained the patience of the most gracious of Velsin's children. The curfew mandated later made many suspect something sinister was afoot. Unexplained disappearances became common, and for the first time in the history of Velsin's Heart, sickness and hunger began to seep into the fabric of daily life.
Appeals to Velsin seemed to fall on deaf ears. Velsin insisted through it all that nothing was wrong -- that is, when e replied to such inquiries at all. Velsin had never been particularly chatty, but Velsin had *always* offered timely replies to any request made of er. Within a very short timeframe, the majority of Velsin's children began to harbor the uncomfortable suspicion that their caretaker was undergoing a dramatic personality shift. Many began to wonder whether Velsin had somehow, impossibly, become sick.
But their concern for their caretaker soon took a back seat to concern for their own lives. On the eve of the 17th day of the Vernal Cycle, 9750, the sapients of Velsin's Heart saw their world almost literally turn upside down. Massive Velsin-quakes and eruptions of unimaginable heat roiled the surface of their world. Where these upheavals coincided with major population centers, millions were killed.
During the next few weeks, Velsin sprouted thousands of tree-like diamondoid spires. These towering structures, thrust upward from somewhere deep within Velsin's Heart, rose skyward until they towered over even the tallest buildings, arcing upward in tapering conical columns for kilometers before finally breaking into billions of fractally-branching tendrils. The intense heat radiated by these spires rendered the areas at their base uninhabitable. To make matters worse, as soon as the tops of these spires breached the densest layers of Velsin's atmosphere, they began to broadcast intense signals across the bulk of the electromagnetic spectrum. The strength of these signals disrupted all but the most hardened technologies used by the people living on Velsin's surface. Entire virchworlds were snuffed in the instant the trees began broadcasting, their host substrates broken down under the intense bombardment of radiation. Biological sophonts succumbed quickly to radiation poisoning. Even the most hardened vecs, adapted to survive in harsh environments, had difficulty maintaining under the onslaught.
The heat and radiation from the spires virtually sterilized Velsin's surface. Velsin's Heart became a tomb to millions. Only those living out in the orbital structures ringing Velsin at a distance managed to fare through the emergence of the spires to witness the events that followed.
By the end of the first week after the spires' emergence, most sapients living within Velsin's sphere had been reduced to merely coping with the daily onslaught of the deadly manifestations of er madness. Few could escape the complex web of emigration restrictions and enforcement that had been put in place a month prior. Few even considered escape, and put their energy toward shielding themselves from Velsin's deadly transmissions. Few even wondered anymore what those transmissions were trying to say. All they deemed relevant was the fact that those transmissions, which would be easily visible for light-years, were slowly killing them. Those far enough from the sphere of Velsin's influence who could flee took their tale of plight to neighboring civilizations, and desperately sought help for their friends and families trapped behind.
Fortunately for the survivors, there was already sufficient concern among neighboring powers over Velsin's descent into madness that an expedition to investigate had been dispatched months before. Just three months after the emergence of the spires, this expedition entered Velsin's system through one of its wormhole gates. Its warships took up orbits just beyond the altitude of Velsin's orbital habitats. A spokesperson for the group, identifying erself as Beauty in Truth and addressing erself, curiously, to the sapients of the habitats, rather than to Velsin erself, explained that the group had been dispatched by a coalition of concerned neighbors in response to signs that something had gone horribly wrong in Velsin's keeping. Beauty in Truth advised the sapients living on the habitats to seek escape immediately -- to break orbit of Velsin where possible, to put as much distance between themselves and their former caretaker as they could -- or they would be killed along with their caretaker, who was to be exterminated per a "community edict" in the interests of "containing an outbreak."
Confused, terrified, the survivors of Velsin's transformation -- numbering now in only the tens of thousands -- complied. Beauty in Truth's warships began an assault on Velsin almost immediately. At first, they took measures only to remove the orbital habitats from Velsin's direct influence, but soon, as these colonies fled beyond scope of the battle, they began bombarding Velsin's surface. The radiating spires, now extending fully 1/6 of Velsin's radius from er surface, withered and collapsed under the onslaught. Weapons normally reserved for only the most serious of warfare ripped deep gouges into Velsin's face. The husks of cities that stood in the shadow of the fractal trees that had seeded their doom evaporated beneath Beauty in Truth's cleansing fire.
When the day was over, Velsin had been reduced to a crescent ring of ash, smeared across a segment of its orbit around the primary. Beauty in Truth directed her warships to take charge of the survivors, offloading supplies and equipment to help them in the long journey away from their shattered homeland. Naturally, these survivors demanded explanation from their deliverers. Graciously, Beauty in Truth offered them one.
The story e told constitutes the sum body of knowledge sapient kind has regarding a class of transapient affliction known to them as "Affines."
Origins and History
No one knows for sure exactly when or where the first affines originated, but numerous theories have been advanced. Some believe that affines are weapons developed by higher toposophic minds -- like specialized memetic combat ISOs. Others suggest that affines are the inevitable result of natural evolution, arising to fill a new ecological niche opened up by the emergence of transapients. If higher toposophic minds know the truth of affine origins, they have yet to share the information with sapient researchers.
Only one case of affine infection has ever been known to sapients. This case regards an S3 mind housed in an moon brain known as Velsin -- the sole transapient inhabitant of a quiet dwarf-star system, circling a superjovian-class giant planet, and home itself to approximately 22 million sapients living on its terraformed surface. The circumstances of Velsin's initial infection are not known, but its aftermath is well documented. Within several months' time, Velsin went from a humane, sapient-friendly caretaker to a reclusive, paranoid and indiscriminate killer, negligent to less developed forms of intelligence and actively hostile toward others of er own toposophic level. Virtually everything we know about affines comes from an examination of this historic case, in conjunction with a detailed -- though no doubt superficial -- explanation provided by the intervening archai, Beauty in Truth.
According to Beauty in Truth, the S4 aggregate mind responsible for the extermination of Velsin and the rescuing of er belabored population, affines are parasitic entities, generally operating 1 to 2 toposophic levels below their hosts but spiking in certain specific area of competence -- much like a classic transavant -- that facilitate their invasion and subsequent subversion of their host. They attack large-scale transapients of toposophic level 3 or greater by first quietly subverting their lower toposophic components. They then extend their influence upward through the layers of their host's mind, altering cognitive and perceptual faculties as they go.
Factors to Susceptibility
Beauty in Truth suggests that there are affine strains capable of influencing -- to varying degrees -- virtually every cognitive-perceptual architecture used by modern transapients of the third toposophic and up. Specific routes of transmission and strategies of infection vary greatly among different "species" of affines. Just like different strains of viruses are adapted to infecting different species of biological life, certain strains of affines are adapted to infecting certain "species" of transapient minds. What works on one host may not work on every host.
The susceptibility of a given individual depends greatly on mental architecture and the strategies used to organize mental processes. Transapients that rely more on "cellular" models of psychological organization -- those that build aggregate minds from a large number of lower-toposophic, semi-independent but interconnected units -- tend to be more susceptible to affine infection than those that exhibit a more monolithic psychological makeup.
Beauty in Truth suggests that affine susceptibility is a result of an emergent property of transapient intelligence, wherein cognitive and perceptual faculties are linked so intimately as to constitute a single system. Beauty in Truth characterizes this perceptual-cognitive fusion in terms of how operant conditioning in complex biological organisms take place. Stimuli experienced by many transapients feed directly into their lower-level responses, memories, emotions and cognitive processes without requiring any rational consideration. Though in sapients and subsapient organisms, operant conditioning tends to map simple stimuli to relatively simple rote-responses, in transapients the relationship carries to a much higher order of cognitive function.
The appearance, to lower toposophic beings, is that as soon as a transapient perceives something, e comprehends a massive amount of information about it, without needing to analyze and interpret its nature. This analysis and interpretation is done almost entirely subconsciously, and its results are available almost immediately to transapient's conscious mind as though the information had always been there. The advantages of such close coupling between the senses and the analytic, adaptive intelligence that makes use of sensory data can be enormous. Unfortunately, though, it makes its user vulnerable to cognitive modification by carefully constructed patterns of perceptual input. Virtually all transapients employing this kind of mental architecture exhibit layers of immunity to such exploitation, but the existence of this interface has opened up a kind of virtual ecology between transapient minds themselves and "predatory" memetic entities that can invade and corrupt them.
Affines exploit this cognitive-perceptual interface, circumventing immunization strategies and rooting themselves into the minds of host transapients directly as soon as they are perceived. Beauty in Truth was and remains mum on the subject of where the first affines came from, but this has not stopped the sapient community from developing numerous theories. Some believe that affines are weapons developed by higher toposophic minds, like specialized memetic combat ISOs. Others suggest that affines are the inevitable result of natural evolution, arising to fill a new ecological niche opened up by the emergence of transapience.
Affine infection is characterized by mental and perceptual aberrations, analogous to those experienced by baseline patients suffering from dementia. Affine infection most commonly follows exposure to specific sets of "affine-encoding" perceptual data, but can be transmitted directly through transapient contact once the initial infection has set in. Though affine infections are manageable if detected early enough, they are notoriously difficult to isolate and destroy once they have become entrenched. Thus, the most common tack taken by high transapients to manage affine infection is the quarantine or outright eradication of individuals suffering advanced infections.
Most affines share some common characteristics, but the mutation rate among affines is incredibly high. The event of an infection complicates taxonomy greatly, since one of the characteristics of an affine-infected transapient is its prolific production and distribution of affine variants, each tailored to attack a specific kind of host.
An infected transapient becomes contagious when it begins to produce and distribute affine-encoding patterns of its own. Strategies of affine contagion vary even more greatly than strategies of initial affine infection do, in no small part because this contagion is orchestrated by higher order toposophic intelligences than the affines themselves. Most commonly, transapients broadcast powerful affine-encoding signals using structures knows as "affine spires." Other strategies involve implanting affine-encoding patterns in backup archives or even in lower order toposophic minds that will eventually interface with higher ones, propagating the infection when it is "read out" of its lower toposophic vector by a new host. Infected transapients may also encode affines as images on physical objects, or devise similar ways of representing an affine pattern in some persistent perceptual medium so that even without an actively contagious host, the possibility of secondary transmission exists.
Monolithic minds exhibit few early symptoms of affine infection. In composite minds, an early symptom of affine infection is the sudden development of affinities for obscure perceptual patterns among lower-toposophic subcomponents. Beauty in Truth suggests that, to affected distributed minds, this is often viewed as no more unusual than a particular subcomponent developing a sudden liking for a certain shade or red or a certain breed of flower that has never been encountered before. Higher-level control mechanisms in transapient minds generally ignore such affinities as just the natural tendencies of intelligence on all levels to develop favorite elements in new sets of perceptual data. In the case of affine infections, these developed affinities are for affine-encoding perceptual patterns. Repeated exposure reinforces the initial infection, and kicks off the process of cognitive reorganization that eventually turns the host into a machine for reproducing and propagating affines of all types.
The reason why affine infections are initially successful -- even in the most powerful transapients that might otherwise easily eradicate them -- is that their would-be hosts are either unaware or genuinely grow to desire what the affines do to them. The affect is said to be similar a drug - one that the recipient is introduced to VERY innocuously, but that is highly addictive and ultimately destructive once the initial exposure has been made. As in many cases of drug addiction, affine victims deny they are in danger. They insist they are in control, and see nothing sinister in an agent that brings them genuine, enduring pleasure. Infected transapients are fully aware of the presence of affines during the later stages of infection. They have developed such strong affection for them that they are unwilling to allow their affine "pets" to come to harm. This makes late-stage infections extremely difficult to treat. Most victims of affines do not WANT to be cured.
Encoded affines are not themselves intelligent, thinking creatures. An affine pattern is more like a perceptual program that, when "run" by a perceiving transapient, becomes a thinking, intelligent creature. Thus, like biological viruses, affines are absolutely dependent on their hosts for ALL of their life functions. Running affines in an infected transapient constitute their own semi-independent modes or patterns of thought. This gives rise to the distinction between the host and its infection. Beauty in Truth was particularly adamant on this point. Running affines actively conspire with one another to influence their transapient host. The number of affines active in a given host directly impacts the degree to which that host is slave to their will.
Once an affine infection takes hold, it begins to modify the perceptual set of its host to value the affine infection, usually by associating the presence and activities of affines with the psychological experience of pleasure. This subtle subversion takes place far below the threshold of consciousness for the affected transapient. It appears to the host as though lower-toposophic subcomponents are operating innocuously, "doing something they like" in a way that poses no actual danger to the anyone. The resources diverted at this stage to affine activity are usually so minimal as to be completely dismissed. During this time, the affine infection begins to subtly influence the cognitive features of the higher transapient mind. Through continual perceptual filtering, the affines gradually make the transapient tolerant, permissive... downright gullible (though in a very relative sense.)
Once they have nurtured a friendly relationship with their host, affines begin to subvert portions of er regulatory and nanofacture systems. They divert resources to the development and manufacture of new affine encodings, which are then passed on to other potential hosts. The host, at this stage, becomes a "pusher." Its sophisticated analytical and fabrication capabilities are exploited to develop new vectors for affine transmission, targeted for hosts that might be resistant to other "natural" strategies of infection. The transapient's social networks are exploited to distribute these vectors.
At this point on the infection, the host no longer perceives the world without at least a thin layer of affine filtering. Signs of the infection are beginning to manifest in the transapient's physical structure as its fabrication capabilities become more and more subverted. In large-bodied transapients, structures known as "affine spires" begin to appear on the transapient's skin or outer surface. These structures serve as massive fractal antennae. They radiate a great deal of heat and electromagnetic energy, a large percentage of which constitute signals encoding infection affine patterns. As they grow in size and number, they may divert up to 2% of a moon-brain's entire power consumption toward the production of this radiation.
According to Beauty in Truth, once the contagious stage of infection has been reached, the perceptual set of an infected transapient is almost completely disjoint with reality. They suffer from acute dementia, paranoia, and often exhibit a strong tendency toward isolationism. This is fortunate, because afflicted transapients at this stage are incredibly contagious, and so far invariably hostile to the presence of any lower toposophic mind. Very little research data exists for the course of infection beyond this point, because no transapients have remained viable or accessible once this point of infection has been reached. Beauty in Truth indicates that most infected transapients at this point are either put under strict quarantine or outright destroyed in the interests of protecting the transapient population at large.
Early detection of affine infection can lead to successful treatment. Often, however, treatment requires a highly invasive rewiring and purging of the afflicted transapient's perceptual subsystem. Treatment must be administered with the utmost care to avoid contagion, often through the proxy of low-level (S2 or lower) minds. This make it both difficult and time consuming. It also can be dangerous. Affines (when active inside a transapient host) are both intelligent and self-aware. Most are of transapient status themselves (generally S1 through S2), and thus are more than capable of manipulating and coercing low-level proxies to do their bidding.
Furthermore, affine infection must be treated not only as a disease, but as an addiction as well. Afflicted transapients many times don't wish to undergo treatment, complicating matters severely. Others resist treatment, or only allow enough access to their cognitive systems to allow for a removal of the affine patterns themselves. This leaves much of the collateral damage done by the affines in place. In these cases, the partially-recovered transapients sometimes seek out new infections due to the addictive holdovers of the old one.