As the video played, Terna stared, transfixed, more than once running trembling fingers through her freshly brushed and unsnarled hair. Horta had turned the volume on but kept it low so as not to wake up the others, and that gave the narrative an ethereal quality making it seem almost as if this were a message from the spirit world.
BuyMort, it said, was first theorized to be a massive multi-universal AI. One so big and powerful that it could plan and plot to rule the multiverse through constraint of trade with its monopoly.
But several factors showed that could not be the case. The actions of the market itself were never intentionally hostile. Sure, it raised the price of food past that which people could afford. But it only did so in response to scarcity, a simple function of supply and demand. BuyMort sectioned off the multiverse into various marketplaces, and estimated supply and demand within those sections to determine the cost at which it would sell such goods.
Or how much they’d add to the price on top of what their affiliates were already charging.
See, BuyMort was a monopoly in that it had no competitors. None big enough or powerful enough to be recognized as one, at any rate. Occasionally some planet, usually newly entered into the system, would try to compete and cling to their old economics and their old ways of life.
And BuyMort would automatically compete with them in their sector, pricing everything below that of their new ‘competitor’. Right up until they fell apart and ceased to exist.
And then they’d price everything back up and continue on as normal.
There was a main narrator in the film, a sort of dogman with glasses, who gestured a lot when he spoke. This man said that his specialty was the study of BuyMort, past and present, and he theorized that BuyMort was simply a completely automated department store with delivery from practically anywhere. And that its spread through the stars might not have been on purpose.
It made Terna rigid with anger. It sounded like these founders, the ones who had released the BuyMort, had done so without any thought to what it might do to the rest of the universe.
The dog man prattled on, talking about how BuyMort allowed companies to exist within their umbrella. These groups were called affiliates, and they were allowed to sell their goods in the BuyMort marketplaces for a fee and a commission. They also received levels based on a number of factors including competency, income, and simple mortie transfers from the affiliate to BuyMort itself.
He brought out a series of graphs showing various affiliates and the rise and fall of many over the centuries. It made Terna feel scared. The BuyMort was more than a demon.
It was a timeless hell into which they’d all been cast. Those graphs, they detailed, in line and numbers, billions of deaths. They showed so many villages like hers being uprooted and cast into flame. She was sure of it.
Her fingers trembled, and Horta reached out to gently place one taloned hand on her leg.
“I can stop it if you wish.”
She was crying. She hadn’t realized it until just then.
“Where are the founders? The ones who let the demon go into the Cosmos?” she asked.
Horta removed his hand from her leg and manipulated the controls, zipping through the video. With a small and contented “Ah, here it is,” he started the video again and settled back into his seat.
On the screen the dogman had set up a 3D holomap, and was using colors, figures and lines to note known expansions and BuyMort Day 1’s. He said that the real problem with tracking BuyMort back to where it started was that its self-replicating probes didn’t just spread across the universe . . .they spread across all of the universes.
They went out, found sentient life, grabbed up asteroids from the solar system and used those asteroids to manufacture a trillion copies of themselves. Then they swarmed the planet, colonizing the minds of every being with the BuyMort app. And all of the leftover probes would set out again, looking for more worlds.
Some of those probes traveled to nearby universes to find untouched copies of planets they had already consumed. Anyplace that wasn’t part of the BuyMort network had to be connected to it manually, via sub-light travel using black and white holes. Each iteration of consumed worlds were found and reached faster, until universes were filled with it, all sapient life members of their consumer base and recipients of their advertising.
Thise who survived, at any rate.
On and on the Buymort went. Infinite. Unstoppable.
“While tracking BuyMort back to its point of origin has so far proven to be an impossible task, there are some clues as to where they could have come from. And none is more interesting, more baffling and, indeed, more frustrating than this one.”
The dogman pointed to a star on his map and it flared purple.
“No one knows what it must have once been called but from the things we can observe the beings here must have been powerfully advanced. The technological marvels of their system put most of what we all use today to shame. And their fall was at least a billion years before our time.”
He straightened his back and cleared his throat.
“The Battle of BuyMort,” he said, his eyes lingering on the star. He reached into it and pulled it into sight, a magnification of a billion times so that all could see the details of which he spoke. The entire solar system was orbital lines filled with cracked rock, electrical arcs dancing through them and jumping from point to point. They could see ghostly hulls floating along the gravity wells, also covered in crackling energy.
“It is the only record we have, physical and by record, of a civilization detecting the probes and then trying to battle them before they had a chance to deploy.”
A massive triangular ship swept by the map’s POV, rotating eternally.
“The very fact that they had the presence of mind to do battle with the probes suggests that this civilization had some prior knowledge of what was coming . . .”
The video zoomed in on the man, letting his puppy-dog eyes dominate the screen.
“I speculate that they may have been some break away republic of those who birthed it. And that the origin of BuyMort, then, must be near to here.”
Terna turned to Horta. “Can we go there?” she asked.
Horta paused the film and faced her. “Long story short, that place there is billions of light years away and in another universe entirely. So, sure, if you got the morties for a portal. Oh, and you saw that electricity. Dude goes on to talk about how they have no idea what that is, but it seems like it worked and killed the probes. But then something happened, some runaway effect, and the civilization killed themselves in the process. And that effect is still happening today. Plenty of scrappers have tried to go in and loot the place. They die lickety-split.”
“The BuyMort is cunning,” Terna said. “One day, I will find a way to go there and survive its evil. And I will find the weakness it has, and use that to destroy it and silence its founders.”
“Sounds like a bold plan,” boomed a voice behind them. The both of them jumped, standing up from their seats. Crawley was there in sweatpants and a white T-shirt. Zell was next to him, wearing the same.
“We just got up to go hit the gym and workout — build some muscle and limber up. Seeing as you are awake, Terna, you feel like joining? Might be good for you. And then we can get to know you better.”
“Not gonna ask me?” Horta asked. The lights in the complex were slowly getting brighter, Terna noticed, and she could make out a lot more detail than before. In this case she was able to see a sly grin riding one side of the grimm’s pale face.
The sort of look that implied an inside joke.
“My fingers are still healing from the last workout session,” Crawley laughed.
“How about you come join us when we go for our run?” Zell asked.
Horta nodded. “Yeah can do. Then I can catch up on all of the new juicy gossip about the new girl.”
“Yes, I’d like to come. I . . . I don’t know what to wear or what we’re going to do. But if it makes me stronger and more agile, I would like to workout with you.”
Zell reached out, putting her hand on the young hobb’s shoulder.
“Oh yeah, we’ll make you into the fittest and strongest hobb lady this side of the Gerig Valley,” she said, smiling.
Terna smiled too. In her head, she was a massive hulk of a woman throttling a room full of aliens, the BuyMort logo on the wall covered in blood behind them.
Her smile widened.