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THE DREAM OF THE QUEEN SETTRA
The colonists to distant Ir were packed in like dead fish, cloaked in ice, minds left to dream, purely in order to provoke enough cognitive response to prevent decay, madness or brutal retardation on awaking, the timeshock of the deep dreamer.
Left to walk through the virtual world of their Ice Craft the "Queen Settra", minds moving so slowly that to a conscious observer they drifted like ghosts, leaving blotched stains of three-dimensional thought behind them. So slow and uncomprehending were their minds that the clock rate of their virtual world itself could be turned down to significantly below the reality perception rate of base reality - to save both raw power and processing capacity.
Neither need the dream-realm be too real, the colonists, at least while they were awake, knew where they were going and what would happen. Most were soothed and doped into a pleasurable wooze which, it was hoped would last through their slowed circulation systems for the whole length of the journey - ensuring happy dreams for all and being significantly cheaper than a complex overwatch A.I. (or the equally-complex governing systems and fallback modes which would keep such a potential Ellison-machine in check and prevent Mindcrime).
Corners were cut.
For an estimated journey of 500 years, there would have been no problem, but the slow collapse of causality into formless Greyspace, and the apparent disappearance of Ir, hidden in some pocket realm, changed the situation.
The Queen Settra proceeded for a thousand years, and even so the semiregular thawings of command and repair staff kept the ship running. After this however, even the superslow metabolisms of the cargo had bled out every last opiate molecule in their cold blood - the half a million or so minds in the simulation were coming down, together.
A series of accidents and incidents of psychological breakdown, each unique and unexpected, but when taken as a whole, inevitable, cut the layers of sane and functional command staff. The last shift refused to re-enter sleep or to re-enter the simulation and a conflict broke out aboard - a deck was vented and the Queen Settra suffered hull and engine damage before basic functionality was restored by automatic systems and drones.
The ship, already lost and missing its target, now listed on a cosmic axis, heading who-knows-where, but most likely out into the black. The cargo, still sleeping, still unconscious, still within their slow dream realm which, for them was perhaps a few days, a few weeks old, had no way to wake up.
They must have realised, even on a subconscious level, that something was terribly wrong.
As the generators and fallback systems of the Queen Settra began to fail, one by one, over several centuries without oversight, the remaining functional systems executed protocols designed to ensure the survival of as much cargo as possible for as long as possible.
Being classified as cargo, and with no-one with command authority awake to legally re-classify them, they were not allowed to wake up - perhaps reasonably, that would only have wasted resources. The ship could only sustain enough food and environmental stability for a handful of command staff over its projected 500-year journey. Even in their chambers, the cargo would run out of ultraslow intravenous nutrients in a few centuries.
The cargo began to starve.
The para-reality of their sustainment, now their prison, began to glitch and lose detail and continuity as the Queen Settra slowly succumbed to entropy from cosmic rays and micro-impacts.
Still they could not wake up.
Neither could any of them permanently die, at lest not from damage sustained while within the simulation.
At least, not easily.
Even a governing system of sufficient complexity to overwatch the reality-sustainment A.I. would have been nowhere near complex or aware enough to prevent what happened in Queen Settras Dream, for this flowed not from Metal-On-Meat Mindcrime, but Intra-Meat reality collapse.
Crawling, starving with a hunger they could not suppress, maddened with unregulated opiate comedowns, tortured with memories of the bright time days? weeks? Months? before the Queen Settra, and deeply, but entirely unconsciously aware that their world, whatever it was, was doomed, the cargo of the Queen went, individually and as a society, violently insane.
The simplistic, but dangerously undergoverned reality sustainment A.I attempted to provide simulated goods, tools, relationships and experiences which would keep the Cargo happy and stable, fulfilling their hierarchy of needs.
But this was impossible, they were starving to death and trapped within a dream.
They found, at first, subtle ways of subverting the A.I.s locks on weapons and implements of harm, on perverse situations or illegal simulations, and on mutual access and mutual pain.
Pain at least, was stronger than the hunger, and stronger than the fear, and for a lucky few, pain or terror sever enough might trigger a heart-attack of such severity that the Queen Settras auto-systems would be overwhelmed and they might be allowed to die.
If very large numbers of the cargo underwent such attacks, at the same time, the chance of death rose...
This image depicts one fragmentary capture of the Cargo writhing and stumbling through the greying-out collapsing reality of the dying mindcore of the "Queen Settra", projected onto a watch-screen in a base-reality overwatch chamber, itself open to vacuum and holding only a corpse with a self-inflicted suicide wound, the edged of the bullet hole now mummified with centuries of frost.
So now I ask you Scrap, what is this?
|Games Workshop/Louise Sugden|
(It is a Heraldic Beast of New Melniboné)