Fandom: Rain World: Downpour

Tags:
  • Major Character Death
  • Five Pebbles
  • Looks to the Moon
  • Scavenger Chieftain
  • Rivulet is there for like 5 seconds
  • Canon-Typical Body Horror
  • Character Study
  • Angst

Length: 2.1k, Oneshot

Date Posted: 2024-03-15

a metaphor for something small and insignificant

Summary:

Pebble: A small, smooth stone typically found on beaches or riverbeds.

Pebble: A small, smooth stone typically found on beaches or riverbeds.

Pebble: A small, smooth stone typically found on beaches or riverbeds.

Notes:

For much needed context: this fic was directly inspired by (and directly references) a hilariously awful AI content-mill article that went viral briefly on Tumblr, which was um... special. And accidentally gave me Five Pebbles feelings, so here we are.

For your viewing pleasure (archive link since it's been fixed since, and also the original site is an ad-riddled hellscape): https://web.archive.org/web/20240312070042/https://thecontentauthority.com/blog/words-related-to-water-pretty
Just keep scrolling down, and it will all make sense, lol.

also the idea of pebbles and the scav chieftain's interactions here is loosely inspired by this comic on tumblr by ninten-draw (mmm... emotional suffering...)




Pebble

A small, smooth stone typically found on beaches or riverbeds.

That was what they named him for. It was his second technician's favorite joke: what is the Moon but just a very large pebble?

Five Pebbles never found it funny. He told Moon about it, once, in an ill-advised fit of frustration -- who else did he have, to say these things to? -- and beneath her typical anodyne politeness he had heard the distant structural rumble of a suppressed laugh.

Could he blame her? What was he built to be, but a variation on herself? Smaller, sleeker parts; greater parallel capacity split across multitudinous cores. The number of parallel processors had increased with each generation, each thinking countless simultaneous thoughts in a massive stream. Widen the wire and raise the current. He should be greater than her, like any great mind standing on the shoulders of its ancestors, and instead she is the moon and he is a pebble.


Pebble

A metaphor for something small and insignificant.

Suns' analogy rankled at him. He would turn it over in his head again and again, little loops and variations.

Mazes are solvable. Mazes have had algorithms since before the word existed. Five Pebbles has access to over twenty different maze-solving algorithms in his base libraries alone. Many of his individual components have their own, optimized variously to seek shorter, simpler paths along known routes, or to reroute their own traffic in times of disarray, but the simplest method is so well known a child could follow it. From the entrance, pick one side of the wall, and follow it until the exit is reached.

This method is not without its flaws, of course. It requires a simplicity of the maze which cannot be guaranteed: two-dimensional, with a continuous outer wall and no unconnected inner structures. If applied too late in such an unsuitable maze, it may only lead the user back to where they began in an endless loop.

Even in its intended case, the upper bound of this method risks traversal of every step of the maze until the solution is found.


Pebble

A verb meaning to throw or skip stones across the surface of water.

Her timing truly was terrible. He refuses to deny it. Every core not already fulfilling some essential task had been overclocked and diverted to the processes -- to incubation, to monitoring, to sampling and sequencing and termination -- until her demand for his attention forced him to a halt.

Even pausing for a moment, the heat of his own labors began to burn. He had hoped for a short time after that, pointlessly, pettily, that she might be feeling the same.

When she released her grip long enough for him to think between her senseless dying spasms, he could piece together what had happened. In hindsight, it was no surprise. With every mutation came that same risk, and he stepped deeper into that pit with every stripped safety measure, every suppressed warning and silenced alarm. Perhaps it would have happened no matter what, he thinks, many years later when that heat has had time to cool.

He is dying like a universe: slowly, entropically; descending into a terrible cold, and taking everything inside him with him. Soon not even his own death will survive.


Pebble

A small, smooth stone often used in landscaping or decoration.

A town in the [...] located in [...]

Killing his sister is not the last mistake he makes. Oh, no, he is far too capable for that, capable of many many more foolish things; stupid, stupid things.

He lets a little garbage-sifter into his chamber with a malfunctioning citizen's drone salvaged from the rubble, and shoves the Mark into its stupid little head so he can tell it how to die as his creators intended, and when it stands and looks up at him, vulture-mask tied over its face and a few stray shiny trinkets dangling from its fur, he can almost blur his vision to pretend it is a citizen. A bit too hairy, a bit too spiny, but its eyes are too clever for simple animals.

He has seen these ones before. Multi-step tool-crafting, complex social hierarchies, warfare -- the foundations of a civilization writ small amid the dreck. The creature listens to his words like a god is speaking, and something stirs awake.

(He should not miss them, but he is so empty. Without even the radio chatter of his own kind to fill the silence, their absence has fallen upon him like never before.)

(Sometimes, now, he stops and listens when his sister's death throes echo through the wires, and imagines she is talking to him about something else.)

So he does not throw the creature out of his chamber, although he could. He recalibrates the drone, makes himself vulnerable as he is to any citizen. He is a dying god, but he will be a god again, for a little while.

He tells it there is a place for it, on the city above, and perhaps indulges himself for a moment in this fantasy: a city of new Houses of these little hairy things with their clacking mandibles and colorful setae, masks of composite bone and ornaments of strung blank pearls. To learn their tales, to record their songs, to build a library of their knowledge and offer them his own; to be adored, perhaps, but respected. No cakes of holy ash on his doorstep, but pearls, perhaps, in his archives. No legion of insufferable committees -- too simple for that, still -- but law, he supposes, and liturgy.

The first time his citizen's followers begin to mine him for parts, he is lenient. (Stupid, again.) The others, newcomers, must not understand yet that they are the inhabitants of a living machine; he cannot blame them for failing to distinguish between their new god and raw materials. They have never known a world that was not full of scrap for them to pick at. It must be as natural to them as any other part of their ecosystem: fruits grow from vines, fungus grows from earth, and metal grows from the ruins.

He tells his citizen, in as many words as he can expect them to understand, all of this, and to cease their dealings at once. It comprehends, clearly, and by all appearances agrees. There is a few cycles' respite before the next incident, but the next incident yet comes. This is again the beginning of the end.

The second time, he thinks, perhaps he is insufficiently clear. Perhaps something is not being conveyed to these subordinates -- he demands it summon the perpetrator, and translate on his behalf. He tells his new almost-citizen of the sparking, jabbing pains of metal pried from walls and nerves torn from flesh, of being butchered like a carcass with the mind intact. It must be difficult to contextualize this in respect to a creature as large and complex as himself, but he has hope that the metaphor might come through.

The third time, he plays the angry god, as gods are wont to be. Once is error; twice grave error; three times can only be an act of defiance. He threatens to electrocute any one of the little barbarians that tries it next.

His citizen, adorned in strings of pearls hung from a new painted deer-skull mask, weathers his fury with an unimpressed stance and stare. It knows his threats are empty, but for all the wrong reasons.


Pebble

[...] to throw or skip stones across the surface of water [...]

Suspended in antigravity, surrounded by his wheels within wheels of pearls, he meditates.

His creators, long, long ago, found their own ways to achieve a sense of detachment. Old monks retreated into deep, dark caves; forwent food, water, sleep; all in the name of clarity. Others bathed themselves in saltwater, achieving an equilibrium with their bodies that mimicked null gravity, and floated in the dim nothing to deprive their senses and focus inward. An ever-mutating array of rituals, countless in number. Countable, now, as no new ones would ever be invented.

Five Pebbles benefits from few of these. To deprive himself of sensory input is effortless; to still his mind is anything but. A consciousness as vast as his must be occupied and distracted and quieted on every level, every skittering memory spider and undulating neuron. The percentage of processing power that goes into coordinating his patterns of pearls is negligible, but he focuses on it with everything he has, repeating the process in parallel on every available processor. Flush the caches, recalculate. Repeat the process again, again, again. Processing blocks relay meaningless patterns back and forth in repetitive geometric forms. Sometimes he sets a process to search for massive primes, simple to give the extra space something to do, so it cannot be used to process the pain signals from the tumors filling his guts or the creak in his legs or the... the... the...

His projected halo stutters. The hologram projector eye has begun to fail, and he has long lost any means of replacing it.


Pebble

A type of sedimentary rock formed from compacted pebbles.

When the snow begins, he is present to observe it. Physically, perhaps even mentally. He has never seen snow before, not merely in the sense of his puppet's isolation from the outside world -- and someone scoffed at that, once, for is the body of the towering machine not as much his own as this tiny husk? Are the eyes of his overseer not his eyes as much as the cameras embedded in this face? (But who said that?) -- but it has never been cold enough in his lifetime for snow.

It is the end of another era. He already knew this, once; it was the end of the era of his makers. Now it is this end of his own.

The collapse does not live in his memory for long. Unlike Looks to the Moon, the collapse of Five Pebbles is no rousing tale of love and the kindness of strangers. No messenger with a gift comes to revive him. No little visitors help him pick up the pieces of his shattered mind. The communications towers cannot reach him here. Isn't that what he wanted, once? He doesn't remember.

Once, twice, a blue thing flits in and out of his life. It nestles under his hand when he does not know what to do with it, and stares at golden wisps that curl from the ceiling, the walls, the floor, asking them questions he cannot understand. Is this Moon's effort at a savior? He wonders this once, in a fleeting fit of lucidity after another visit. If it is, it must know there is nothing that can be done.

How useless. How kind.

The rain does not wash him clean of his own filth each cycle, but the snow is thick around him. It does not accumulate, in his awareness, so much as it seems to change when he isn't looking at it. Some days it warms enough for water again, running thick clear rivers down the sides of his broken chamber, and freezes in solid layers and dripping icicle fringes over the tile.

His old hymnal pearl remains a constant, now. It is the only one in his room which survived the fall. He first found it tucked into a dent in his puppet, pinned between himself and groove of the floor. The bruise it left has begun to blacken like a mold on his chest, just below the left shoulder.

Wind drives the snowdrifts inward. Soon, his puppet's legs are lost beneath the white and die stiff and cold, and he forgets he ever had them at all. The exposed nerves that hang from the far wall where the chamber tile ripped away all blacken with frostbite, then sepsis, and he is blessed by wretched fortune not to feel it.

The melody repeats.


Pebble

A small smooth stone found on the beach.

The parts of him which do not live die the last. His structure becomes solid, brittle, inorganic; silicon and steel and calcified bubbling rot. His second citizens win their war, in a sense, as they return to scale his corpse once again, picking apart wire and coil, scrap metal and decaying meat. He is a carcass now, but his mind is not intact.

The snow piles highest on the peaks of the wreckage. Even descended, a frame like his is only a mountain that has not finished growing.


Pebble

A small smooth stone found on the beach.

A trinket in the hands of a new mind; a coil wrapped around a spear. A spark that kindles flame in the cold, reflected in the eyes of the future, green and curious for what could have been. The rubble spreads, carried by the flood as sediment, shards accumulated in the hollows where the currents twist.

A pebble is all these things and more; the shore and the riverbed and the moon and the earth -- a fragment of once-living stone scattered on the shore of an artifical sea.