“Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele” Annotations

Warning: contains spoilers

Page numbers are for the version appearing in Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman. The original page numbers from the December 2000 Analog are given in parentheses/italics.

 

Scene 1

 p. 1 (p. 92)

Cybele (pronounced “sib-uh-lee”) was the mother goddess of the Phrygians, a kingdom in Anatolia to the east of Troy. The ancient Greeks somewhat conflated her with the Earth goddess Gaia. The name is also used for 65 Cybele, a mid-sized Sol system asteroid discovered in 1861.

The original story gave the date heading as “Anno Cybelei,” by rough analogy with “Anno Domini.” Just before this book went to press, while writing these annotations, I realized that as a feminine deity, Cybele would have a feminine genitive form in Latin. The Latin Lexicon site provided the proper form of “Cybeleae.” This was the last edit made before publication.

 

Scene 3

 p. 5-6 (p. 94-95)

The Discover Magazine article that introduced me to auxons can be read here: http://discovermagazine.com/1995/oct/robotbuildthysel569

The concept of evolutionary algorithms being used in robot and software design is also one I learned about from science magazines (in print and on TV), but I’m not sure exactly where. There’s a 1998 Discover article about them at http://discovermagazine.com/1998/jun/evolvingaconscio1453/, but I think that’s after my subscription lapsed.

“Lamarckian” evolution is the old, discredited notion that organisms can pass on traits acquired through life experience, rather than through genetic mutation. The textbook example is that proto-giraffes straining their necks to reach high branches would grow slightly longer necks that their offspring would inherit. Although it’s somewhat unfair that Jean-Baptiste Lamarck is remembered only for the one big thing he got wrong, because he actually laid a lot of the foundations for the modern science of biology, and he was the first to codify the idea that some form of natural evolution existed, even if he hadn’t quite sorted out the specifics.

 

Scene 4

 p. 6 (p. 95)

At the time I wrote this story, it was still generally assumed that exoplanetary systems would have a spacing and distribution similar to Sol’s, so the fifth planet of a star would probably be somewhat further out than Earth’s. Even putting it at just half again Earth’s orbital distance seemed like cramming the worlds in a bit tightly. Of course, now we know that many star systems have multiple planets packed in very close to their stars, for instance, the famous TRAPPIST-1 system with seven known planets all within 1/5 the orbital radius of Mercury.

Then again, the working assumption behind “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide” and “Wild Cybers of Cybele” is that Cybele was favored for colonization because it was the most Earthlike planet yet discovered. So it follows that it would be part of a fairly Sol-like planetary system.

 

Scene 7

p. 11 (p. 98)

“eventually they’d figure out that animal corpses are rich in the carbon and other elements they need for replication and fuel”: The “and fuel” part is new to this edition. Since the original story’s publication, I’ve learned about the possibility of robots burning organic matter as a fuel source. See the links in my Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder Annotations, Ch. 10. If anything, this would make the auxons even more of a threat to Cybele’s organic life than I’d assumed, since they wouldn’t just be outcompeting with them for territory and fighting for survival, but eating their food sources or eating them. However, I didn’t want to rewrite the story any more than I had to, so I’ve assumed that Cybeline auxons haven’t made that particular evolutionary leap yet. The story establishes that the auxons only prey on organic life for repair material rather than fuel, and that it’s an inferior material source compared to other auxons. Presumably their existing energy sources (probably solar, thermal, and piezoelectric) are sufficient without the need to evolve chemical furnaces (“stomachs”).

The Anansi expedition was named for the African spider/trickster deity, just as Arachne was named for the Greek mythological character who was turned into a spider as punishment for her hubris. At the time, I assumed that both ships were the same kind of “spinning web” ramship design, but the historical appendix of Among the Wild Cybers retcons Anansi and its sister ships into sublight warp cage vessels based on the principle stumbled upon in “The Weight of Silence.” Yet the name can still be rationalized as an homage to the presumed-lost Arachne. Also, one myth about Anansi involved his attempt to hoard all the world’s wisdom in a pot, which perhaps could be seen as a symbolic analogy for a warp cage bringing thinking beings to Cybele for the first time.

 

Scene 8

p. 12 (p. 99)

“Eleroo,” of course, is a portmanteau of “elephant” (for the trunks) and “kangaroo” (for the megalopod build and locomotion).

 

Scene 10

p. 20 (p. 104)

Attis was the consort of Cybele in Phrygian mythology and its Greco-Roman offshoot cults. Thus, presumably the planet Attis is Cybele’s nearest neighbor. I don’t recall whether I intended it to be the fourth planet or the sixth.

 

BONUS CYBELE MATERIAL

I never had full annotations for this story on my original homepage, but I did have the following supplementary pages of in-universe information:

The planet Cybele

CYBELE (Gamma Leporis V)

The planet graphic above is based on a fractal image generated by the Terranova Screensaver, edited in Photoimpression 2000, and superimposed on a Celestia starscape showing the sky as seen from Gamma Leporis’ habitable zone on the date that “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele” begins.

 

PRIMARY STAR: Gamma Leporis A
Aka: 13 Lep, Gliese 216, Hip 27072

  • Distance from Sol: 29.3 ly
  • Spectral Type: F6 V
  • Age: 2.7 billion years
  • Absolute Magnitude: +3.83
  • Main Sequence life expectancy: 5 billion years

 

Continuously Habitable Zone:

Start of MS lifespan Present (2.7 Gyr) End of MS lifespan (5 Gyr)
Inner radius (AU) 1.24 1.45 2.00
Outer radius (AU) 1.79 2.09 2.89

Companions: 8 terrestrial planets, 4 Jovian planets*, one K2 V star (Gamma Lep B) at 852 AU

*2018 update: Exoplanet searches have ruled out large Jovians within 10 AU of the star, but there could be ones farther out, or smaller Neptune-type ice giants. Statistically speaking, one or more of the 8 “terrestrial” planets are probably superterrestrial, several times more massive than Earth.

CYBELE

  • Orbital semi-major axis: 1.5346 AU (229,573,000 km)
  • Eccentricity: 0.026
  • Year length: 1.735 Earth years
  • Rotation period: 1.34 Earth days (32 hr, 10 min, 28 sec)
  • Local days/year: 472.804

 

  • Radius: 5697 km (0.893 Earth radii)
  • Gravity: 0.784 g (7.68 m/s2)
  • Mass (Earth): 0.625
  • Density (Earth): 0.877

 

Cybele has a relatively thin atmosphere due to its low gravity. The atmosphere contains about 22% oxygen, 76% nitrogen, 2% carbon dioxide and trace gases. The sky is generally an indigo color slightly darker than Earth’s. The climate is temperate, slightly cooler than Earth’s, though with a lower axial tilt giving milder seasons.

In fact, Cybele is currently close to the inner radius of Gamma Leporis’ continuously habitable zone. The planet’s thin atmosphere reduces its greenhouse heating and its relatively high land-to-water ratio increases its albedo, compensating for this. However, the climate is expected to become increasingly warmer over the next few hundred million years and become uninhabitable in less than a billion.

The primary photosynthetic pigment is phytorhodopsin, a purple-red compound. The dominant plant forms include treelike organisms combining attributes of bamboo and ferns. The two main classes of large animal life are arthropods and vertebrates. The vertebrates possess only two limbs, a head and a tail, although some have prehensile tails and mouth parts or have adapted rib extensions into useful appendages. There are several vertebrate orders on land, some resembling reptiles or amphibians while others possess mammal-like traits. The arthropods often resemble Terran crustaceans or insects, but have more advanced internal organs and stronger limbs to support their greater size, and lens-based rather than compound eyes. Since the vertebrates’ lack of limbs keeps them grounded, so far only the arthropods have evolved flight. Many migratory arthropod fliers have evolved magnetic navigational abilities, based on iron-containing magnetolith cells which align with magnetic fields, analogous to the statoliths in the human inner ear which orient with gravity and provide a sense of up and down. This magnetic field sense has been adapted for other uses, including the detection of prey. Many arthropod forms are sedentary, and have evolved elaborate chitin camouflage or defenses.

Cybeline Calendar
There are 472.804 days in a Cybeline year. The calendar is thus 473 days long, consisting of 15 months with 32 days in odd-numbered and 31 days in even-numbered months. The final day of the year is omitted every five years, except in years which are multiples of 250. (Of course, as of “Wild Cybers,” the colony has not yet reached its first “anti-leap day.”) First human planetfall was in October 2242, and the calendar is dated from the preceding winter solstice, or June 25, 2242. Oddly, this first year was retroactively counted as “Year 0.” This was to reflect the fact that the permanent planetary government was not inaugurated until the first day of the first full planetside year (the first winter solstice post-planetfall), on which day a huge celebration was mounted to commemorate the successful establishment of the colony and the overcoming of initial settlement difficulties. Everything before that date was considered preliminary, a “trial run” for the real thing — even though Anansi captain/provisional governor Richard Berdahl and most of his administration retained their posts in the formal election.

 

From the Journals of Safira Kimenye

The other bonus page from my old site was a series of excerpts from Safira’s journals (what we’d now call her blog) in the days leading up to the story—actually leftovers from the first draft, containing some specifics about Cybeline biology and Safira’s activities that didn’t make the final cut. I considered including this material in Among the Wild Cybers, but there wasn’t a good place for it. For this edition, I’ve rephrased some lines in the final two entries so that they don’t overlap too closely with Safira’s description of the same events to Marc on pp. 4-5.

 

To offer insight on Cybele’s life forms, both native and auxonic, we offer these excerpts from the journals of naturalist Safira Kimenye, recorded and uploaded during her legendary sojourn among the wild cybers of Cybele.

CybeleNet Transcript
Domain: Science/Nature (Crosslinks: Politics, Ethics, Adventure)
Sitename: “Safira In the Mist”
Subsite: \safira.kimenye\journal
Recorded: 6/13/04 Anno Cybeleae (31 Oct 2250 Solsys Equivalent Date) 28:36 Cybele Mean Time

Hi, everyone. Sorry to have been out of touch for a while, but we broke camp unexpectedly after a hunter-drone attack. The loggers are learning, more quickly than I would’ve hoped, about the danger from my fellow humans and their machines. They may not directly grasp the concept that our location was surely being beamed to the authorities even as the drones attacked; but they’ve learned that when the drones find them, they have to move, and fast.

It took longer for the resupply team and myself to find each other, what with the obvious complications. I want to thank, once again, all of you who’ve volunteered your effort and resources to keep me and my scattered colleagues resupplied and to keep Cybele informed about our work out here. And thanks to all of you who’ve offered your moral support… which is just as valuable to me, believe me. There are times when I feel we’re all alone out here, and it strengthens me so much to know so many of you are with us in spirit. Keep pressuring the council, folks.

cn\sitm\safira.kimenye\journal: 10/13/04 AC (4 Nov 2250 SED) 20:11 CMT

During today’s foraging, the loggers ran afoul of a group of burrowers gathering their own foliage. I’ve been expecting this since I discovered the burrowers using ferns to camouflage their warren entrances. I didn’t really see them; since they don’t need air and can dig through most anything, they rarely come up from underground. The first sign of their presence was when we noticed some redferns and polegrass stalks being sucked into the ground. I wonder if they use the polegrass to brace their tunnels. Anyway, it made me laugh, because it looked just like those cartoons of gophers yanking garden vegetables underground.

The loggers weren’t amused, though, since they need the polegrass too, and the redferns contain high concentrations of some useful trace elements. There was a brief tussle, with the loggers trying to use their cutting arms to dig out their subterranean relatives; but the burrowers got away clean. Well, as clean as you can get when you live in dirt and stone. Don’t tell the loggers, but I was rooting for… um, pardon the pun… for the burrowers to escape. It bodes well for their ability to survive the hunter-drones.

Meanwhile, the forest continues to offer new surprises. This place really drives home how short-sighted I was to assume that two-limbed species would be stuck on the ground; there are plenty of arboreal vertebrates here. Several tail-draggers here can rear up on their strong tails, freeing their legs for grasping the bamboo-fern stalks. One sprightly little hopper I saw this morning made a mighty leap and grasped a lateral stalk with a prehensile proboscis. From there on it depended as much on its trunk and tail for propulsion as on its spindly legs.

Sadly, though, my deft-nosed friend had the misfortune of climbing onto a crabtree. It was a grisly but fascinating sight: the chitinous fruit-lure waving ever so subtly, enough to catch the prey’s interest without revealing the presence of the puppeteer; then the fern-stalks snapping shut like a Venus’s flytrap around the poor thing. I didn’t believe they could hold it — they looked so fragile. So real, and the perfect shade of phytorhodopsin purple. And yet they’re strong enough to confine a monkey-sized animal and crush it slowly but surely to death. All these months in the wilds of a planet so rich in arthropods, and I’m still surprised by the versatility of chitin.

Yes, of course I wanted to help the poor creature. I’m not the caricatured heartless scientist that some of my critics make me out to be. But predators have as much right to live as prey. You can’t fault an animal for surviving.

cn\sitm\safira.kimenye\journal: 13/13/04 AC (8 Nov 2250 SED) 10:17 CMT

Cold morning today. My kingdom for a hotspring to bathe in, instead of that frigid stream. And it’s still early autumn! Ohh, sometimes I really miss Earth’s hot summers… sometimes I wish Cybele had a stronger greenhouse effect. (chuckles) Then again, I remember some summer days back home in Kenya when I wished Earth had less of one. Well, at least I got my wish for a planet with gentler gravity. And I should count myself lucky — a few hundred million years from now, things will be getting plenty hot indeed.

Sad, to see such a young, fresh biosphere and know it has such a short future. To know that it has almost no chance of evolving native sapient forms. But then, it’s a prejudice to assume that a biosphere without sapience is a failure. And who knows — the auxons evolve so much faster that they might very well evolve sapience someday — if there’s a survival need for it, of course. Personally, I’d rather study species that simply follow Darwin’s theories than ones that can formulate them. There’s a purity to their lives, no matter how long they last.

Still, I could do with the impurity of a heated bath. That stream can be damn cold sometimes. At least I have company to keep me warm. Some of the loggers always come to watch me when I bathe. They’re curious, of course; it’s in their nature. But they prefer to keep a comfortable distance from the water. Some of them have seen better days, and maybe their circuits aren’t as well-insulated as they could be. Also, maybe they’re still getting used to the idea that I’m the same person naked that they’ve learned to recognize with clothes on. Though frankly, I’ve known some men who never quite caught onto that. Still, I hope this broadening of their recognition parameters doesn’t undermine my efforts to teach them wariness of humans in general. It’s not easy to convince them to avoid humans but accept me, when I’m the only example of a human around. Well, at least until tomorrow when Marc gets here. Hopefully someday I’ll get a monograph out of my technique, but for now it needs to remain a trade secret.

Hmm… once Marc arrives, my morning bath should get a lot more interesting. He always had such an endearing puppy-dog crush on me, and such an endearing pair of buns too… but I would’ve felt like a cradle-robber! He’s a man now, though, and that’s the one thing I miss more than a hot bath. I can’t wait to… well, that’s not the sort of thing to talk about in this forum.

Well. Right now, I’m back with the loggers inside their stockade, now that it’s warm enough for the arthropods to be active. And it didn’t take long for them to show up. Even as I speak, there’s a pack of pincer-hounds snapping at the bamboo — you can hear them stridulating behind me, that washboard growl of frustration. They can sense the magnetic fields of dozens of loggers, and they’re eager for prey. They haven’t yet learned there’s nothing edible for them here. Well, except me.

I’m not concerned, though. The loggers have built a remarkably strong structure, a simple but solid network of stalks made even more durable by the coating they secrete. It’s even more remarkable when you consider that the loggers are descended from survey probes, not builders. Their building skills arose purely as a defense mechanism, another example of the marvels evolution can achieve without human guidance.

Wait a minute — there’s a new sound now, a low buzzing or humming sound. Uh-oh! Hang on, I’ll… I’ll be back….

[recording paused]

Had a bit of a scare there. The pincer-hounds’ activity attracted the attention of a… a really big heliraptor. Never seen one that size. Anyway, the stockade wasn’t designed to keep out flying creatures. The heliraptors haven’t tended to prey on their own relatives before. This must be a new subspecies, either recently evolved or new to the area — since it definitely wanted some loggers for lunch. Interestingly, it ignored me completely. Despite generations of wild existence, despite their evolution into predators, their First-Law programming appears intact. Although if the hunting continues to escalate, some auxons might evolve their way out of that programming for survival’s sake. Something the hunters and their supporters should chew on, I think.

Well. The ‘raptor attacked the loggers with great vigor, snatching with fierce talons that appeared diamond-tipped, and firing at them with some kind of laser, which I’d guess mutated from an altimeter beam. But the loggers fought back, with cutter-blades, with bamboo clubs in their grippers, and with rocks which they hurled into the air. They rallied together to protect their weaker members — some of them formed a defensive line around me, bless their sweet neural nets, even though it wasn’t necessary.

I saw some loggers hastily fashioning polegrass stalks into spears which they hurled awkwardly at the heliraptor. Two of the spears managed to snarl its left rotor somewhat, lodging between the blade and the cowling, and it went into a spin. But it managed to adjust its airfoils before it could crash. It limped away over the stockade wall, and it sounds like it’s settled for a rhinostrich as its prey. They don’t provide as good a supply of repair materials as another auxon would have, but on the other hand they can’t put up as effective a fight. It should be able to repair its rotor damage before long. I wonder if the loggers have scared it off for good? Anyway, it looks as if they’re already beginning some new activity — I’d bet it’s a roof-raising.

Meanwhile, Galadriel is making the rounds, checking on the injured. Naturally it’s Bunyan who’s suffered the most, bold and reckless as always, only his sheer bulk and solid construction keeping him alive. The heliraptor’s laser cut his middle right leg clear off, the poor lug. Gala’s starting to digest the leg now; I guess it’s too badly damaged to reattach, so it has to be rebuilt. Yes, Babe is moving in and detaching the leg stump at the socket. Perhaps I’m anthropomorphizing, but Bunyan seems unhappy; he doesn’t like being cheated out of another battle scar.

cn\sitm\safira.kimenye\journal: 13/13/04 AC (8 Nov 2250 SED) 17:43 CMT

I was wrong — it isn’t a roof they’ve built, but a series of tall, sharpened poles. They’re spaced widely enough to allow free movement within the stockade, but theoretically they should impede an aerial attack. I don’t know, though… heliraptors can maneuver quite well. They should be able to circumvent this simple barrier. And then the loggers will develop a more elaborate barrier. Auxons learn extremely quickly from experience. In that way, at least, they’re still true to their original design.

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