In which the third time, surely, is the charm; and in which we learn of the doubts and insecurities of Great Old Ones whose memories span eons and light-years.
In the desert the Jackal lies dreaming.
The machines are almost dead, and their influence is limited by the significance-diagrams the subhumans engraved in the rocks with which they built this prison. Most of the diagrams are slightly malformed, not only from subhuman sloppiness but also from the inherent imprecision of copper chisels in granite; only a few are precise enough to channel the fundamental energies, to work against the ancient machines on their own level. Only a few, out of the many thousands the Egyptians carved in their frenzy to imprison their god; but they are sufficient, against machines weakened by three millennia of decay. Sufficient, at least, to keep the Jackal from merely thinking of what it wants done, and having subhumans all over the world obey instinctively, obedient to the control paths embedded in their primitive brains; channels for the fundamental forces, subtler and more powerful than the electro-chemical interactions that give them a spark of consciousness. Even now, if the diagrams could be removed without damage to the machines, the Jackal could accomplish its aims in a day. But the forces that propelled creation are not manipulated without danger; the subhumans in their zeal wrought better than they knew. The few effective diagrams move the tensor fields in a five-dimensional knot, creating an immense potential energy; disturb one, and the knot will unravel. Most of the resulting energy release would waste itself on empty five-space; in this barbarian wasteland there are no immense constructs there, to absorb the pressure and create a new timeline, or to redirect the energy back into three-space to destroy the planet. (Sometimes it wonders if that is why no rescue mission has come. The standoff over the Georgian timelines had been tense when it left the spiral arm for this wasteland. Was that the Big One, the conflict that finally led to the launch of the nova bombs? True, things had come close to all-out war many times, without anything worse than naval skirmishes in the void-stuff underneath reality… and yet, no rescue mission has come.) The waste heat leaking into three-space would still suffice to reduce the machines (and incidentally some tens of millions of subhumans; the Nile swarms with the vermin) to their constituent particles.
The machines are not entirely useless, even now; no containment is perfect. Distorted, drastically weakened by the hostile tensor-field flows, their signal can still be heard by those subhumans with the best-developed obedience paths; the ones whose DNA, recombining and mutating, forms by chance something close to a true glyph, as does that of that detestable herb, moly. The ones, therefore, with some animal approximation of a human’s ability to manipulate unified forces; the ones who could, in principle, be a threat on the level of fundamental physics. But they are not many now, after four hundred years of the Jackal’s culling; it has been a century since it had any reason to visit its desert prison, to check that the madness program is still running and to tweak its parameters. Now it has come for a different reason; for if the machines are limited in their ability to control subhumans, they remain powerful within the boundary of the significance-diagrams. Powerful enough, in spite of millennial entropy, to be a significant boost to the Jackal’s ability to dream-simulate history; powerful enough that, if it had thought of that application five decades ago, its current plight might have been avoided. If it had known then what it knows now… but that is the universal condition of all conscious life, from subhumans to timeline-striding entities that eat galaxies and use black holes for waste-heat dumps; regret is unavoidable, while life remains. And yet, if it had only remembered that computers have processing power! Negligible, of course, compared to the brain of a fully-functional human; suitable for boring, automatable tasks, such as making subhumans run industrial infrastructure. That was why it had not thought of using them so; who would imagine that a machine would be useful in helping a human think? But they are not so negligible now, when the Jackal has been forcibly packed into a subhuman brain, lossily transferred between such hosts a score of times, degrading with each new body it takes over; it is a shadow of what it was, and can no longer afford to hold mere machinery in contempt. Sometimes it shudders to think of what its peers will say, if (when, dammit! when!) it makes it back to civilisation. Not, of course, to its face; but the joke will be too funny to resist: Imagine a human so small that it could be run on a subhuman’s brain! There will be sympathy, no doubt; they will make repairs, will restore it to full function as a human, replace the lost parts of its personality – its soul, if you like. The archives stretch into five dimensions; the soul of the man who left for this godforsaken place is written there, in materials that will not perish until the last sun in the galaxy is long forgotten. It can be again what it once was; but when it imagines coming back to its friends, it cannot help seeing the glint of pity in their eyes.
Sees it; and turns away. What does it matter? The parts of it that have survived are those that were most driven to survive; the ones that struggled ruthlessly through each successive triage, kicking aside less-determined facets of the soul to reach the new host. The pity of his friends would have bothered the man who came to this forsaken planet, to the point that he might have ceased his struggle. The Jackal, a remnant of the man, cannot do so; those parts of him that could give up a fight for survival, for any reason whatever, have long since been discarded. So it pushes aside the thought of pity with the ease of old habit, and connects its host to the machines; and feels its capacity expand. It sets up a dream-simulation, quickly sketching in regions and countries as collections of summarising parameters; background, scenery, for the simulated subhumans to act upon. That is the purpose of a dream-simulation, to have actual conscious entities, different from the Jackal itself, free-willedly running about the imagined world; no amount of cogitating, no matter how intelligent, can substitute for a genuinely different point of view. And now, with the computers, the Jackal can once again simulate, not three dozen, but a hundred, even a hundred and fifty subhumans. It rejoices in the power, even while cringing internally at its decay; as recently as a hundred years ago, it could do this unaided, while giving orders to its lackeys at the same time. It had almost forgotten what it is like, to dream-simulate without having to pay careful attention to the placement of every conscious being. And yet even this vast power is not what it dimly remembers from three centuries ago, four, six; once, it could have held a significant fraction of this planet’s population in its mind. But there is no need for that; subhumans, after all, aren’t very bright, or very original, and one is much like another. A hundred are enough, to get a world-simulation of acceptable accuracy.
And, in truth, for today’s task, thirty might be enough. The Jackal does not truly need a dream-simulation to identify its enemy. Even the dull intellect of a subhuman might be able to reason that, if there are nine nations you do not control, and precisely one of them has acquired some resistance against your main weapon, then that resistant nation is where you should focus your efforts. And there is one nation in the world that has accidentally hit upon the protective properties of that accursed herb; one nation that has fought Egypt for centuries, and formed an institutional memory – suppressed perhaps, not openly spoken of, but there in the archives and the old-soldier stories for those who go looking – of Egypt’s weapons: Of the Jackal’s control of sandstorms, of the animals with crude obedience circuitry that make them selective about which army’s grain they eat, of the fanatical last-ditch resistance of tiny garrisons. This dream-simulation is merely to confirm what the Jackal already knows; to bolster its confidence in its plan, to check for unexpected consequences such as it found in its plan against Japan. In truth it does not expect its purpose to be swayed; it wants only to get away from the swarming vermin for a little time, and to recapture a little of what it was like to be at the height of its intellectual powers. It knows what the dream will tell it to do.
In the desert the Jackal dreams the death of Venice.
This is the third time we have restarted the HoI portion of this campaign, and we have become exceedingly efficient at it. This time the issue was that the game would crash whenever someone started to justify a war. This turned out to be because the latest patch is sensitive about the placement of naval bases; Idhrendur had already uploaded a patch that produced a working mod (except for that one naval base in province 8038), but our save, produced with the pre-patch converter, was beyond saving. So as for gameplay, I have [i]once again[/i] built divisions, placed factories, and fortified borders. On the plus side, it may be the case that my ally Gollevainen, playing Japan, has gotten his build right this time. The first time he built too few divisions, allowing Ragatokk those immense encirclements (well, tactical skill presumably played a role as well); the second time, he pumped them out at 20% training, but built so many he could not supply them all, and would have had a large army at 50% strength when the war broke out. This time he seems to have gotten it right, with a lot of divisions at full strength. First time under, second time over, third time fire for effect!
Third time is, presumably, the charm; we are in early April of 1936, and the war-justifications started in January are about to burst into flame. India has justified on Japan, and the land war in Asia will break out again shortly; Egypt has justified on on Venice, and the Jackal’s final throw for world domination is about to begin. In a surprise move – at least, it was a surprise when it happened in our second attempt – Egypt is now allied with the “New World Order” containing both the American countries; so is India. Thus the first part of the world conflict will see the NWO against the Brotherhood of Fascists (comprising Germany, Italy, and Japan, our alliance is formally called the Entente, for the obvious historical reasons), leaving the “Commonwealth of Nations” (England and Denmark) neutral for the time being. However, Denmark is justifying a war on the United Colonies, the South American nation formerly known as English Peru; and the English navy is strong enough to maintain control of the Atlantic against all challengers. It cannot be long before all the nations of the world are drawn into the cleansing flame of the Long War; and this time, the fighting will not end until either Venice, or Egypt, is one with Nineveh and Tyre.