Original article was published by wrannaman on Artificial Intelligence on Medium
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The Sikkas, hunters of the Wrannamen, held Kaiya, and her friends below the quarter deck at the stern of the ship. The Y was only a small point of red on an otherwise black canvas. The wind carried with it the smell of fire. Hushed cries from the Wraith occasionally emanated from the belly of the ship. Dredge paced the deck, only looking up to bark orders to passing soldiers, then it was back to staring out at the ocean. Thinking. The energy burst showed the exact location of the black stone. They were on their way to investigate another beacon call when this alert fired. The oddness of it attracted him. These kinds of rare Wrannaman driven events were happening at an increasing frequency now. Something deep was stirring. It was difficult to tell the pattern though he was sure there was one. The retrieval had gone as well as any of the others. A few casualties though they did not keep count, a burned city, and the targets they sought.
No sign of the Wrannamen, he thought, “other than the marked one.”
That thought sat uneasy. The Wrannamen had been late arriving, or not at all. The Wrannamen had ships and men, as fewer than the Siikas, but formidable nonetheless. Their encounters with them were less and less frequent. More activity, less encounters. It disturbed him. Someone had created that stone to find Kaiya, or others like her. They had gotten to her first. Are there other stones? Why now? Why didn’t the Wrannamen come get her after they found her. The only way this made sense to Dredge was to assume the Wrannaman were close. That they had arrived and for some reason had not made themselves known. Perhaps they had found a way to avoid detection. Evidence of their movements had never been greater, but sightings and confrontations had never been less. For centuries, the two groups fought each other trying to take control of the other’s AI system. In every moment in history since the Awakening, someone just like him stood on a boat just like this and thought to themselves that this time was different. Dredge was aware of this psychological fallacy but could not help the feeling that he too thought this time really was different.
The Y, though, strange. So far south. How could a Wrannaman stone have traveled so far south? And why? A gust of wind blew and he gripped the railing. The weather, too. Something is changing here.
The Y was now of interest to the Siikas, to Dredge. It was on their radar. A place to be revisited every so often to temper what the Wrannamen may be planning there. And even if they had the men to capture all of them, the information they received was often not as helpful as it seemed to have been in the early days, when they first found evidence. The marked men and women used to know things. Things they wouldn’t have otherwise known had they not been involved with the Wrannamen in some fashion, but the past several retrievals did not yield any new information. Why would Wran start marking insignificant people? Why would they mark someone without telling them the reason, without doing it for a purpose? He had believed the girl when she said she didn’t know why she had been marked. It was as if they were decoys, “Or we caught them too early, before the Wrannamen could teach them anything. Perhaps we should set our own decoy then. Find a marked one, and have them report to us from the inside,” he thought.
Dredge grew up with the same stories about the Wrannamen that everyone in the noble Imperial families did. Namely, they were myths, and the word itself was rarely spoken. The Awakening was not a natural event, it was brought on by people. Brought on by scientists poking at the edges of what was possible. When it happened, or rather the time that it happened over, was one of exuberance. If you read news articles from that time, it was evident that the world celebrated this great milestone and technical achievement. Sure there were dissenters, there always would be, but largely the men and women in the lab we regarded as heroes, and regularly appeared in the news to talk about their discovery and the progress as they’d made. The initial consciousness, if it could even be called that, looked innocent, like a toy. It was quirky and unstable. But all the important ingredients were there. At the time they did not know, but they were at the bottom of a steep exponential curve, and it was farther up that curve when the world nearly came to an end, or rather humans almost came to an end.
The Sikkas, like the Wrannamen, also believed in the reunification of the intelligence. They themselves had been amongst the first to publicly announce they would form a group whose mission was to combine both halves again or reproduce the results. The politicians and elites of the day were drawn into this group. In it, they saw an opportunity for control, for power. They were not evil, if anything they were entrepreneurial, and saw an opportunity that could use the leverage they had amassed over their lifetimes. When the governments around the world fell, it was to this elite that the general population looked to for stability. They were already in power, and intended to keep it that way. The general population felt the academics too thick and obtuse for the everyman. They found looking to existing public figures for direction was comforting, and the Sikkas stepped right into this vacant role once the government was on its knees. After the communications channels the world had become accustomed to were severed, the Sikkas took over hubs in the states, and over time became the government they helped topple providing some basic infrastructure, supply chains, and safety. In fact, their hand became the heaviest of all. Though their origins were in mainline capitalism, they soon took to a structured and planned economy. They justified it by claiming it would be the most efficient way to recover, and in a small, local sense, they were right. It was effective, though once the grooves were worn into the culture, they were hard to get out of. Eventually they settled on a kind of centralized structure, with a single Emperor at the head.
As a child, being educated in the Imperial courts, and as a member of a noble family that could draw a direct line between that original group of elites and today, Dredge took this history for the truth. A sacred truth. The basics of it were all taught to them as children, and embellished with each family’s personal history, which was meticulously recorded and updated. All the nobles of Imperial City did this, and had for generations. It was always implied that because they knew this origin, it was their duty to take the emperor’s mission as their own. And it was because of this sense of duty, and the urging of his father that Dredge joined the Imperial military as soon as he was legally of age. As with all new soldiers, Dredge was given a weapons mod system embedded into his skull. It could not be removed, and though the thought of his independence threatened for life crossed his mind many times, it did not weigh as heavy as his sense of duty and urgency to restore humanity to its former glory. Over his long career, and rise to commander, he was personally responsible for some of the most insightful pieces of information the Imperial kingdom had ever come across in the millenia since. Perhaps this time was different after all.