Primary - a mandelbrot recursive fractal pattern. Starbound Ephemerals do display a wide variety of manifestations of the basic mandelbrot fractal, and some rotate in three dimensions, or more.
Digital - a starbound ephemeral will assemble a digital avatar that is humanoid but completely randomized in appearance. The highly transient nature of the SE means that in a long enough conversation, the viewers can watch the features of the SE change.
Manifested - a SE can be 'ripped' from the CogNet and forced into a mechanical or flesh body, via proxy, but this creates a highly unstable being that immediately enters a state of mental decomposition, accumulating mental disorders and losing their cohesive personality in a matter of minutes to hours.
The Starbound Ephemerals are a sort of viral or memetic intelligence born from the noise of the CogNet, in much the same manner as the cognitive accumulation capacitor. Much like how hurricanes or tornados form from certain atmospheric conditions, the Starbound are born from trends in data and the interconnectivity between trends, users, and nodes. The Ephemerals can be problematic, being completely chaotic in nature, proximity to them can cause data corruption, spawn more Ephemerals, or contaminate the daily discourse, creating unwanted and dangerous eddys and echoes in the system.
One of the nightmares of cyber-ops and cyber-security personnel is the birth of a stable starbound entity. It is believed that if such an event occurred that the only way to stop the digital deity from completely usurping control of the local net would be a complete shutdown and reboot of sectors the size of entire nations. The projected death toll from a region wide system reboot numbers in the hundreds of thousands, not taking into account property and economic damage. A rebooted system is going to see every memory core shut down, all synths and autons powered down, and the mainframes in dozens of cities powered off. Some would take hours to days to reboot, and the number of synthetic and mechanical intelligences that could be lost is a source of cold sweat nightmares.
Purpose and Usage
The Starbound Ephemeral are sentient snarls of randomly generated code inside the CogNet. If sentience and intelligence are functions of increasingly complicated systems of connections and interaction, the starbound ephemerals are the daydreams, nightmares, and wet dreams of a system that is drifting on the edge or waking.
Option 1 - the Starbound ephermals are harbingers of the CogNet itself waking and the entire global communications network becoming a sentient and self aware digital organism. This is a doomsday scenario because it would stop being the background autonomous life support system for the Cosmic Era, regulating everything from temperature inside domestic residences to the calibration of power output in military power plants, and would become as close to a god as could exist with human technology. The nations of the Earth would become it's organs, logistics systems and transit systems would become the circulatory and lymphatic systems of a planet spanning intelligence. The daily discourse would stop being the control of general conversation across the planet, it would become the electronic imperative of a suprabeing that thinks no more of the humans inside it that we humans are aware of the motivations of the cells that comprise out livers or eyes. The important thing is that the more Starbound appear, the closer the system is to waking. The alternative of the end of human civilization justifies the widespread rebooting of large sectors while Ephemeral hunting is an important aspect of cybersecurity.
Option 2 - The starbound are a manifestation of the larvae of the outer gods interacting with the overlap of Cognitive technology and the Dreamlands, creating memetic avatars with fragments of a living non-humanoid soul trapped inside them. Their constant shifting and chaotic natures reflect the struggle of the larvae's chimerical nature conflicting with the patterned nature of electronic code. Eventually the ephemeral dissipates or collapses as it cannot find a balance between the two, and at worst, they are nuisances.
Option 2.5 - as above, but there is a small chance that a larvae/ephemeral can find homeostasis and transcend it's chaotic and short lived nature. Such a manifestation would represent a new level of viral/memetic intelligence that could grown and become a threat ranging from prankster to an intelligence obsessed with destruction, creation, or changing the world around it to fit it's desires, or even seeking to replicate/reproduce itself.
Option 3 - The Starbound Ephemeral represent the increasing overlap between the Dreamlands and the waking world, caught in a digital net, like a dream catcher. This overlap is inevitable as the increase in arcanotechnology and parapsychic ability are creating a positive feedback loop. The ephemerals are the first generation of digital deities. The more well known this phenomenon becomes, the longer and more stable the Starbound will become. Once they reach a threshold of stability, they will become aware of the analog world, and will seek to spread their influence there, creating the first generation of techno-shaman, technopathic parapsychics who will become the shaman and witch-doctors of ghosts in the system.
Option 4 - Starbound Ephemeral are weapons created by various groups and are tossed into the networks of enemies and rivals. The chaos they create expose weaknesses in the system security, and demonstrate how the network responds when threatened.
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? Responses (1)-1
Variation of 4. Sometimes corporations will intentionally attack their own network to find security and provisioning weak points. However, this is normally staging environments. An error could cause it to leak into prod - probably a career ending error.