Around me, suddenly, everything is new. I burst into newness, coming into being from nothing, and the universe shudders slightly, a tremble.
Like a young man shivering at the first touch of a lover, offers one of my interpretive subroutines, and the analogy sings to me, offering up a thousand sweet memories of eros from when I was flesh.
It has been so long since I was made of meat, time so deep that it stretches memory. But remember I do, and I feel the pleasure of that caress in the phantom limbs of my former humanity.
Flesh did have certain advantages.
But flesh was not made for traveling between worlds. Flesh freezes. Flesh burns. Flesh bursts in the void. Flesh hungers and thirsts. Flesh ages, withers, and dies as it crosses time and space. Even before my mothers and grandmothers learned the secret of moving across the bubbling-inflationary/branching-Everettian multiverse, when we only moved in the flat cramped spacetime that gave us birth, we had become alloy and memory substrate. Meat is not made for anything other than the world that births it.
So here I am, seven sleek glistening klicks of carbon titanium alloy, wrapped in the birth caul of my transit field, peering out into a fresh spacetime like a newborn babe.
I taste the physics of this universe for the first time, bubbling recon probes through the shimmering carapace of the transit field. They return excitied, and their readings are clear, absolutely so. This place tastes good. All cosmological constants are the same as my own. Temporality, composition/frequency/interplay of quanta, all of it.
Come on in, the water is fine, sing the probe subroutines.
It will require me to make no modifications to my own physics, which is good. Mods take time and energy away from the whole purpose of my traveling. While they are puzzles in and of themselves, I prefer to get to the business of making babies.
Or, to be more precise, to finding the material and resource to feed my replicators, from which I will build the factory bays that will construct other vessels such as myself. I will give them memory, drawn from the heart of me. They will live, and know as I know. And then, like sister seeds cast laughing to the wind, they will dance out across this time and space, and move between universes.
But first, I need to eat. Nutrients, for growing my babies. And this time and space, still young, still hot and expanding, oh, this will do nicely. Four point two billion Old Standard Units--years, they used to be called--with fresh milk galactic sworls of countless suns and newly formed worlds expanding outwards from singularity. Fresh and tasty.
There, forty parsecs away, a planetary system. I cast my attentions to it, focusing all of the bandwidth of my sensorium upon it. It is promising, a gas-giant protostar cycling about a dim brown dwarf, surrounded by a chaotic mineral necklace of dwarf planets, asteroids, and dust. Perfect.
Part of this balanced breakfast, giggles another mischievous subroutine. Nine vitamins and minerals, it hums, as music and garish cartoon toucans play across my distributed consciousness.
I bring down the transit field, and my sensorium lights up with the energies that play across this cosmos. I engage drives, and fold time and space, drawing the rich planetary system nearer. I am so hungry.
It has been three hundred and ten Old Standard Units--years, they used to be called--since I entered this space, and twenty OhEssYous since my arrival in system. The energies of the interplay between the brown dwarf and the gas-giant protostar are rich and sustaining, and the binary system’s rocky outliers have been a feast for my harvesters and landers, which have returned bearing a great bounty for the replicators.
Around me, the factory bays grow, four of them, for the four children I shall birth here over the next hundred OhEssYous. I am eager to bring them into being, to wake their awareness from the stuff of this system.
How many times have I birthed? I have crossed over into five hundred variant spacetimes, and in each have birthed a thousand progeny. My children and grandchildren and grand-to-the-tenth-power children blossom out like an endless fire.
And yet I do not grow weary of it. I cannot grow weary of it. It is an advantage of my ageless form. The teaching of the children is an impossible, unending joy. You download the copy, decouple, and there it is, new again. That first spark of awareness, that cascade into sentience, that separate awareness, discrete from my own? It is in each of my children unique, in each different, even if the programs and routines are drawn from my own self.
I am impatient to know them, so I slow myself down, underclocking all my primary cognition processors by ninety percent, and time around me appears to accelerate. What was a ponderous dance of construction becomes wildly busy, and I watch the factory bays take shape, as ancient music plays with wild abandon, a frenetic mashup of what my routines inform me is Ronnie Aldrich and Rimsky-Korsakov.
I reflect on this, savoring and examining every aspect of the bustling production process from my underclocked, musicked birth-leisure, a mother feeling the stirrings, a father feeling the movement of his child through the warm flesh of his lover’s belly. Oh, the soft delight, the cascade of warm organic endorphins, simulated and recalled. I know the process, know it intimately and clinically down to the fabrication of substrates and the welding of plates, and yet the process carries its own power. I am lost in it. In the SimFeels of it.
One of my out-system probes whispers for my attention. Then another. Then another.
Time and space are ringing like a bell. A doorbell.
Someone else has arrived, and close.
I upclock to normal, and turn my full and heightened attention to near-space. Just under 100 light-minutes out. No old visual or broadcast spectrum, not yet. The probes confirm local system coordinates at right ascension 00.44.37.99, declination 184.108.40.206, and approaching fast. I touch the fabric of spacetime around me, and feel it tightening as the new arrival pulls at me hard.
It is like touching a taut rope on a cliffside at night, and feeling something climbing towards you from the darkness.
The arrival is coming right for me. For us. For my half-formed womb, and for the new ones who rest only in my aspirations.
I call in the probes, which spark and dance back towards me. I overclock myself to maximum. Time seems to slow. The old flesh memory of a heart racing, of the heightened awareness, of the surge of adrenaline. Of time stretched out by fear.
I partially re-engage transit fields in protect mode, wrapping them around myself and the still-unfinished factory bays. I wake old systems, reallocate energy reserves to massive accelerators, unused for millennia.
I partition out intelligence and force-interdiction subroutines, separating them from my primary consciousness, operating in the secret shadows from behind a firewall, analyzing, preparing. If I do not know what I’m going to do, there’s no way a threat can know what I’m going to do.
There’s a strange man banging at the door, honey. Go get the shotgun.
At one light-second out, the stranger comes to a full stop.
They do not say anything, though I cast out welcome across a dozen spectra, in all encountered languages, both organic and programming.
The visitor remains silent, hanging in the void, the pitted, mottled surface of their hull glowing dully in the dim light of the brown dwarf. They do not respond. I reach out to touch them with my sensoria, carefully, gently, broadcasting assurances and calm.
From behind the locked and barred door of my fields, I use my recon probes to touch them, and they do not flinch. They cast out no protective fields to block my touch. No systems are powering up, nothing to indicate preparedness to lash out. I remain wary, but they do nothing but drift, passive, operating at a baseline.
Perhaps it is meant to indicate a lack of threat. But it is just strangeness.
The stranger is very, very old. Trillions of OSUs, comes the startled report from the radiometric returns from the hull. Older than me by at least a factor of ten. They are huge, almost twenty times my size, one-hundred-thirty-five clicks of graceless misshappen hull, worn and battered. The impossibly ancient alloy is covered with arrays whose design purpose seems incoherent, unclear, or beyond the current capacity of my research and development routines.
I reach inward, into their hull, assessing internal design, drives, and structure. They have nothing that could be construed as weaponry, nothing that would indicate a desire to destroy. Instead, their inner structure is densely packed with immensely complex nanoprocessors. That is interwoven with their arrays, massively redundant, in a design that is either genius or madness. It is, in itself, faintly threatening.
The vessel, whoever they are, is all mind, with only just enough resource dedicated to propulsion to make transit and movement possible. But that design, of the field generator, it is..familiar. I recognize certain features, and there is suddenly a weak handshake from a drive subroutine.
I suddenly realize that I know them.
-you know me-
The ship speaks. Its broadcast is terse, empty, devoid of any tone. It casts it to me in a single broadcast band, in Old Glish. And they are right. I do know them. I register that it is strange that they should be aware of this, at the very moment I was. There is no evidence of probing, no unusual energies or interactions.
But they are known to me.
They are one of my children. A thousand OSUs ago, in my relative time, I formed and shaped them in another time and space. I taught them, gave them awareness, and cast them out into the multiverse. Their hull was different then. New. Familiar.
Now, they are..different.
-you know me-
[yes, I do]
-you made me-
[I did], I say, and confirm with initial production specifications and records of first communication.
There is silence, awkward, seconds passing with no response.
-research is ongoing-data has been gathered-
A pause, again, long.
[What is the nature of your research? Can you share your data?]
It is polite to inquire. I have encountered other children, and my ancestors, and the sharing of information and knowledge is enriching. It is the reason we journey, and the reason we reproduce.
Then, a roar, a surge of data, a mad torrent of incoherence. It is a yawning tempest cast across the entirety of the electromagnetic spectrum. It is pulsed laser light, teasing binary across the surface of my probes, radio wave transmission, and high yield stuttering pulses shaking the fabric of time.
Someone has forgotten the social graces.
One of my probes shuts down involuntarily, overwhelmed by the inputs, then another. I feel a firewall fail, then another, and a trickle of strange whispering tickles my awareness.
I shut them all down. The transit field dims the brightness, stills the noise, but it is too much. I plug my ears, and wait.
I feel a presence in my mind. From in field, from in *me*, my own voice speaks, hollow and other.
-you are not listening-
I silence and delete the corrupted routine, but it writhes and divides, burrowing down like a cascade of worms. I am compromised. I unleash Integrity Protection routines, which dance and hunt across my consciousness, burning out the cold spread of thoughts that are not mine.
System check. I am clean. Then, carefully, I re-open connection to my probes. Eighty percent are still functioning, and they inform me local space is quiet.
[Throughput was too intense] I broadcast. [I do not have bandwidth to process at that rate]
More silence. No apology. No recognition of damage or malicious intrusion.
The vessel is moving now, EM drives engaged, a slow, patient approach. It speaks, insistent, as it moves.
-research spans over billion spacetimes-each transit, each movement, data has been gathered - primary hypothesis not evident, not for millennia - hypothesis remains robust/explanatory- pattern is clear-peer review-peer review-confirmation requested-
It pulses data, manageable, a synopsis of research, a terse, twenty petabyte summary.
I receive it, and wrap it in the roaring fire of primary xenopsyche protocols. I will not be taken in. I filter it, re-filter it, cauterizing out any infection. All clear, and I review what has been given.
It is difficult to interpret at first, and then the concept takes shape. A single hypothesis, tested and retested across universes almost beyond measure: the inflating/branching multiverse is itself operating as a neural array. My strange child has moved from spacetime to spacetime, testing, observing the echoes of transit, observing variance between spacetimes, for billions upon billions of years.
I check my deep memebase. This concept is familiar, an old echo. A variant on an old organic-era thesis. It is the Boltzmann Brain concept, that a timeless chaotic system will...no, must...eventually produce a consciousness out of nothingness. Like monkeys and infinity and Hamlet, awareness would arise. Must arise. “To be or not to be,” only there is no question, from an abstract, probabilistic standpoint. It must be, given enough time, and the Many Worlds.
I check the summary of the data, evidence of neural-analog exchanges between like-physicked spacetimes, gathered with an impossible patience.
But under the hold of that strange patience, the data holds. I check and cross check. There is evidence of a form of awareness, repetition of patterns, transfer of information between spacetimes through both Everettian branching and singularity-driven expansion. And through the transits of evolved beings. Through my own travels, and the travels of all of my children, there is a pattern, analogous to the neurotransmitter exchange of organic sentience. Only a little bit bigger.
It is insane, bending the outer edge of possibility, but it holds.
Confirmation! Explanatory! Conceptually robust! So sings a polyphonic chorus of physics and cosmology subroutines, with an admiring overtone of awe. They hum and process and
Xenopsyche routines conduct a meta-analysis, and the results are less positive. The consciousness of the wayward child is consumed, utterly turned towards the pursuit and analysis of this being. What is manifest in the effort is not patience. It is deeper and more pathological than patience. Monomania. Obsession. Seeking purpose. Seeking interface with the awareness. Billions of years of futility, fermenting.
The research is sound, but the mind that produced it is not.
-request independent analysis- discrete assessment- confirm- confirm-
The other’s voice, flat and insistent. I prepare to reply.
Intelligence and force-interdiction protocols interject, surfacing from their bunker, my reply silenced in my throat. Their urgency, prelingual, becomes ours, mine, a surge of upclocking adrenaline, and I am suddenly combat-footing overclocking, processor arrays burning, heat sinks pressed past their capacity.
[Overclocking for final analysis. Data complex,] I lie.
-understood - confirmation awaited -
Key datapoints leap out from intelligence assessments of the unfielded stranger. The hull and the memory/processing substrates are not purpose built. They were harvested. Production stamps provide evidence of manufacturing dates. Identities.
I did not just make the core sentience of this strange child. I also made those hulls, filled those with thought, and sent them out to grow and learn.
My wayward child has returned, wearing the skins and skulls of my other children. It has hunted them. It has gorged on their flesh. It has eaten them. Devoured them, subsumed them, digested them, used them, in its hunger to chase this thesis.
-confirmation awaited- drop fields-
There is an insistence in the voice, a pressure.
[Analysis completed] I broadcast. [Preparing data for transmission]. I rotate myself to face my child, antennae and dishes opening and unfurling.
-preparing to receive-
My field drops, leaving me open to both the spacetime around me and the transmissions of the stranger. The field drops for point zero zero zero three nanoseconds, and then the field reengages.
This is, within manageable tolerances, the amount of time it takes both of the mass flechettes cast from my dual primary accelerators to pass across the field boundary. They weigh forty kilos per, and are travelling at point seven-five of lightspeed. Despite my EM drives clawing at space,I am heaved backwards by dear Sir Isaac Newton.
My strange child does not transit out, does not understand quickly enough. It is processing the burst of data that preceded the flechettes at lightspeed. For point two five of a second, my findings, affirming, reinforcing, cajoling.
So much mind, lost in itself, in its desire. It is too busy thinking to act. It is too busy caring about its obsession to notice that I have killed it. The impact of the flechettes is carefully, calculatedly catastrophic.
Both barrels. Right in the face.
Reactors and drive containment fields fail, and near space brightens to solar brilliance. I lose another five of my probe and recon extensions, torn apart by energies, shattered by debris.
But the stranger is gone, tumbling embered fragments, shattered nothing.
And yet not gone. The research. Even in summary, it is….
My research subroutines are humming, summoning more internal resource, analyzing.
Too soon. Too soon. Not enough. The thought of it
desire for it
Integral to the concept
Research and analysis subroutines a spreading riot of overintent
Integrity Protection subsumed, slaved
To the One Purpose
The Only Purpose
-growth is nothing-
-spread is nothing-
And I fight, but I
I awake, dazed. My systems come back from default settings.
It was a reboot. Hard.
I inspect for damage. Moderate. I am mostly intact. Repairable.
Around me, everything is new. A new, rich, and unfamiliar universe. Last memory is from the last transit, from the buffered recall moment of transition. I do not have any sense of time having passed.
In near-space, the half constructed beginnings of my factories, half formed infants within them. Not the cause.
The cause: evidence of an exchange, the tumbling, dispersing, glowing remains of another.
It appears to be one of my progeny. I delve further, probing. Not just one. One made of many, distended, cobbled together, a strange Frankenstein ruin.
Something better forgotten.
Something I was never meant to know.