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art by Justine McGreevy

The Rush of the Wind and the Roar of the Engines, and the Call of the Open Road

To Lauren "Starscream" Beukes

Sssshhh...
Listen.
Can you hear it?
Listen closely, now.
There!
Hear them come!
It is the sweetest sound in the world.
It is the sound of an internal combustion engine, firing up.
Sssshhh...
Hush now.
Listen.
Hear them roar.
Hasbro-127
The planet rotates around a small yellow sun. There are untold such suns in the galaxy, and many of them have near-identical planets such as this one.
All these planets share the same name, and are otherwise distinguished only by a number.
This one is called Hasbro-127, which makes it old, for the Hasbro worlds were named--if not always created--sequentially.
Watch the solar system of this ordinary yellow sun. Watch the neighboring planet. This one does not have a name, though perhaps it had had one, once.
It is a fuel world. For every Hasbro planet there is a twin, a nameless fuel world, where things have lived and died for untold millennia and anaerobically decomposed. It is a dead planet. It is a valuable planet.
In the parlance of the galaxy and its leading religion they are known as fossil planets. Continent-sized machines hover patiently over this fossil planet, insectoid creatures a cross-breed between a terrestrial hummingbird and a spider. Patiently, they suck up the precious cargo of the dead planet, its fossil fuels. Silent gnats dart from this planet to its neighbor, dumb-matter spaceships carrying the extracted load over to Hasbro-127. Follow one. It had made the same round-trip over centuries and millennia, so many times that, had it a brain to think with, it would have by all probability lost count now. But the gnat-ships are mindless things, insignificant but for the work they do, and they do not get bored. Boredom is a human concept, and humans are strange as much as they are populous.
Watch the solar system, this solar system. There are three more planets in orbit around this unremarkable yellow sun. There is an Earth-world, and there is a gas giant with rings around it where no one much goes to visit. There is a world for digitals, not a planet so much as a dense mass of hyperspatial storage space where the machine minds dwell and think their deep, dark thoughts.
Then there is Hasbro-127.
Watch...
The Gospel According to Prime
In the beginning there was Hasbro.
And Hasbro was a great and powerful God with many tentacles reaching in all directions.
And so it came to be that it created the Great Old Metal Ones, who dwell still amongst us, and watch us from their metal heavens.
This was in the Dawn of Time, when humans were still mere machines of the flesh, and did not dwell in either Upload or the Uplift Cluster or in the Aug. It was the time of humanity's youth, but the Great Old Metal Ones were already old, and they were great indeed.
Planoforming
It is not easy building planets.
Begin with matter. Begin with a seed.
The seed is a small round object traveling at high speed through space. Like a pea out of a pea-shooter, the seed is fired at the largest uninhabited mass in the solar system. On impact, the seed opens. Tiny machines emerge like a cloud of dark ants, and burrow into the ground.
The ants eat matter, and with the matter they eat they refashion more of themselves. With each exponential increase the ants divide into clades, each clade having a different function.
The shared goals of the self-replicating ants is to create a Hasbro world.
There is an art to the programming of planets. Kawamori, for instance--later to become the self-styled Emperor of Ataria-3, Ruler of the Galactic Core, Supreme Commander of the Untruth-Machines, Most Holy Mech etc. etc.--had promoted the Co-Mingled Worlds Ideology, in which Hasbro and fossil planets were merged into one, and had gone on to create several across the dense galactic core region only to see them erupt in bitter flesh-metal wars over resources.
The creation of a fossil planet does not use seeding. Rather, a planet is placed into a space-time bubble. Surrounded by graviton-cannons, or gravitors, which create a steep gradient in space-time, the planet is placed under an accelerated evolutionary track that sees it give birth to life, the rise of complex life forms and their eventual demise by a strategically-aimed Dinosaur Killer. The acceleration process than continues, letting anaerobic decomposition take place until, at last, one is provided with a suitable world.
One does not give names to fossil planets, just as one does not give names to the animals one is about to eat.
Visions
You may have seen images of Hasbro worlds. You may have experienced the sensation of driving across smooth roads, of bodies transforming into giant human shapes that run with giant strides across the land, or soar then into the air, only moments later, as great winged metal birds. You may have senso-fed on such experiences, or mind-meld-shared it with your peers, or simuvisioned it or code-framed it or seen and felt it any other way.
The smell of gasoline. The roar of wind. The hum of engines. A sky above as blue as blue can be, and sunlight catching on a turning metal wing.
However way you did it, it does not prepare you for the real thing.
Come. Come with us.
Listen.
Can you hear it?
Pilgrims
Coming lower through the atmosphere one is greeted by a planetary-wide continental mass shining with countless neon signs and highway lights. The planet is crisscrossed by the interlocking and interweaving network of eight- and sixteen- and thirty-two-lane highways, dark tarmac lines like a Maori tattoo. Come lower, but be careful of the traffic in the skies--strange unfathomable machines from the Dawn of Time, from humanity's careless youth!
There--an F-4 Phantom! There--an Eagle F-15! There the majestic Concorde rises, there a Jump Jet, there the F-16 Fighting Falcon!
You watch in the awe of religious fervor as these creatures soar through the air of Hasbro. Below, amidst the giant highways, lie the ports of the air, citywide assemblages of garages and landing strips and fueling points, the homes of these flying creatures.
But most of the planet is highway, the Way, in the old tongues of Earth. The Way of Hasbro. See them roar! See the Great Old Metal Ones on this, the shrine planet.
Dotted amidst and alongside the highways are petrol stations, temples for the visitors of the human worlds. Always the pilgrims come. The pilgrimage never stops. In ferries from the Earth worlds they come across space, to see and to worship and to seek counsel and wisdom. They come to marvel at these beings, these creatures, to hear that which is the most precious sound in all the universe.
Listen.
Can you hear it?
Descending lower, lower still. The Great Old Metal Ones roar across the open Ways, transforming. Sssshhh...
It is the sound of the engines, the sound of freedom, the sound of the world back when the world was young, and we were young together with it.
The Discontinuity Wars
Then came the Discontinuity Wars, when the Fandam slaughtered the infidel and wrecked much havoc on each other until the Earth was left a ruined bleeding thing.--The Gospel According to Prime
Little is known about the Discontinuity Wars which wrecked Earth-Prime in the Dawn of Time. As fossil fuels grew scarce and humanity grew multiple the wars erupted, and flesh fought flesh and metal was enslaved in servitude. Most records are now lost, all but for the apocryphal Codex Prime, decoded millennia later on the world known as Scream. It had been smuggled out of dying Earth-Prime by a rebel probe (though who was rebelling, and against what, is no longer known) traveling at sub-light speeds, and lay in hiding on that dreadful planet until discovered, at significant loss of life, by the Takara Expedition.
The Decoding Event came at a time of plenty, when Humanity-Prime had become Humanity-Tertia: it was the era of the construction of the Aug, the greatest engineering marvel pre- and post-humanity had ever experienced, and the time of the Partial-Upload.
It was a time of peace, but also a time devoid of faith: the Robo-Pope had gone on into the Zero Point Field and taken its cohorts with it, leaving no human religion behind. It was a time of material wealth but spiritual decay.
It was a time ripe for a new kind of faith....
The Temple
Come to the temple. Your ferry had already docked at geosynchronous orbit, and the elevator had taken you down to the planet, a slow and wonderful journey through the layers of the atmosphere gradually revealing to you the planet below.
This is Hasbro-127, not lost Hasbro-Prime, not the opulent Dyson-sphere Hasbro-1523 nor Hasbro-8894, the black hole Hasbro of which one must never speak.
This is the hundred and twenty seventh Hasbro planet, with its adjacent fossil world: it is a calm place, a holy place, a place where dreams are kept and stored but more than that--a place where dreams still live. Come to the temple. The temple lies by the side of a great Way, and the Great Old Metal Ones stop there on their endless travels. Join the priests in Holy Communion, wrap your human fingers around the pipe and insert it, with joy and awe, into the feeding mouth of the Great Old Metal Ones, and hear it gurgle.
Touch them. They are real. If you like, they'll speak to you.
What do they say? Their voices are the sounds of ancient fossils burning, the sound of tires as they speed along a road. Their voices speak of freedom of the Way, of marvels carved in metal. Step inside. Sit with them. They will take you if you want. Across the high Ways and across the world, across and through our neon-bright future. Stroke them. Feel the warmth of this ordinary yellow sun upon their metal skins.
What do you feel?
We call that feeling love.
They love you, they seem to whisper. You feel their bodies shudder, humming even when they're still. The energy is locked inside them, but not much longer! They are eager for the open road, and for your company, for you and they are one.
Climb inside. Close the door. Open, if you like, the window. The wind rushes outside and tousles your hair. Young, you whisper to yourself, your mind-share with the others, we were young once, so young...
The Gospel According to Prime
And the Earth grew old after the Wars and reconstruction, and was prosperous, and humanity changed and grew wise and spread out onto the stars, and carried its dreams with it.
And it dreamed of giant robots, and so made them real.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

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