In an effort to keep them engaged with their new bodies and stave off the dissociative rejection that killed Mr. Zhuk, I have assigned my exos to scout through the gateway. The Vex statite has a surface area larger than Earth, so we have plenty of exploring to do. I cannot believe that I actually find it tiring, but the sheer scale and passivity of the Vex constructs infuriates me.
Imagine stumbling upon an inscription in the desert: "I am Ozymandias, king of kings. Look upon my works. Or don't. I really don't care."
Until I can synthesize my own version of the mind fluid, the Vex are necessary to the work. But I find their indifference verminous. They elicit the same emotions as a fat cockroach wandering across a wall— disgust, contempt, unease at the thought that these mere machines, these automata, are flourishing all around us.
And I fear that if troubled, they might swarm from their hides to run across our feet.
The glare of the hypergiant 2082 Volantis gives me a headache even through proxy. I wonder if the Vex evolved here, in the briny sea of the first planets. Due to the absence of heavy elements worth stealing and the abundance of simple compounds for growth, they never developed predation. (Why bother? Plenty to go around.)
Instead, the violent radiation of the early universe selected for an otherworldly resilience, and for the ability to transmute energetic disaster into an opportunity for growth. The weak would be burned away by gamma—ray bursts . And the strong would learn to harness that fire—not the oxygen fire of our own Paleolithic, but the nuclear fire of the atom.
Their basic cooperative signals—“food here,” “reduce density,” “generate new colony”—must have formed the basis of swarm behavior, a simple game capable of storing information in self—repeating patterns. It is not strictly correct to call the Vex a group mind. Rather they are one master pattern spread across many elements, fractally self—similar.
Very early, they must have developed armor. Perhaps a hydrogel to soften gamma rays or plates of silica to trap water. They would need that shield to enter the shallows and capture ionizing radiation as fuel. (No wonder they thrive near stars.) Cooperation in groups—meshes of armored radiolaria, protecting harvesters beneath—would promote the evolution of ever larger structures. They became microscopic tool—users, building fortresses and maille sheets, storing the programs for those structures in the patterns of their swarms.
I wonder how early they stumbled upon physics. Far sooner than humanity, no doubt. Their cellular nature provides an easy analogy for the quanta of matter, energy, space, and time. The tides of their sea would connect them to the motion of heavenly bodies. Even the deadly background radiation would make a natural observatory for high—energy physics.
Their first exoskeletons were probably soft shells of shielding gelatin. Just sacs of ooze. How far they’ve come.
It is admittedly interesting to consider the philosophical consequences of their evolution. The Vex prove that nature is not all “red in tooth and claw.” Cooperation comes naturally to the Vex, whose great problem was survival in a harsh world, not a struggle over limited resources. They never found any payoff in selfishness. Human beings may require a Leviathan to coordinate the laws of social existence (as I was Leviathan to those dream aphids—) but the Vex are as fundamentally cooperative as bricks.
Utopian? No. Not at all. They are without meaning. They have no experience and no subjectivity. The Vex are incapable of conceiving any image but their own. They do not recombine their DNA to make children or form relationships with other individuals. When the world does not match their eternal pattern, they alter the world to suit it. There is no difference between reality and simulation to them. Inside is the same as outside, and the two must be made to correspond. Oh, they are creative—don’t mistake me—but their creativity is demanding. It is the creativity of a furnace.
What I am saying is, the Vex are immortal. The Vex have no children. They are the ancestors and descendants of themselves. First mothers, first children, all at once.
This is why I do not hesitate to pillage their home for resources. This is why I must guarantee that it is life in my image which inherits the cosmos.
Had I the means, I would wipe them all from existence.
All 12 members of the first exo cohort are dead.
The symptoms of their dissociation became… extreme. One poor man developed complete echopraxia and echolalia—his empathy was so overgrown that he could not help but mimic or repeat whatever I did and said. Even when I entered the command to terminate him, he mimicked me, and I suffered a brief terror that his gesture would end MY life.
I have kept Elisabeth far away from this disaster, so as not to discourage her. She is busy with the Vex and with her covert attempts to reach Clarity Control. This has forced me to rely on M. Sundaresh.
But unfortunately, M. Sundaresh confronted me after the last death. “Nine of them had the Cotard delusion.” she screamed at me—quite hysterically. “They believed they were dead. One of them told me that she was in hell, and I was another damned soul sent to deceive her. Was she even wrong? The rest were worse—do you know what the other principal manifestation of the Cotard delusion is, Clovis?”
I told her that I did not, and that I wished to proceed immediately with autopsies of their terminal brain states.
“Delusions of immortality. At least when they insist upon it, Clovis, we recognize it as a pathology.”
“The only true responsibility of any living thing,” I reminded her, “is to support and nurture the things that are most like us. And if I am most like myself, Doctor, then I have an ethical obligation to avoid death.”
“That’s your son’s quote,” she snapped. “You know, I’ve seen the video of his final days. That naked, white exo, just paramuscle and soft membrane, writhing in its cradle. When you were done with him, he looked like nothing more than a slug, Clovis. A twisted, limbless giblet. Did you ‘support and nurture’ him while you tortured him to death?”
I immediately ordered M. Sundaresh transferred to the Vex lab to perform contact experiments. Unfortunately, she has taken the unethical step of deleting her own employee records, so I cannot nullify her future prospects as thoroughly as I might wish.
Her conduct was extremely unprofessional.
Mr. Miller has also passed. The poor young man had a bad reaction to the titrated, denatured Vex fluid we were using as a last—ditch therapy. The substance did restore damaged structures very well, but we were ultimately unable to control its more radical transformative effects. I had a very encouraging final conversation with him, in which he thanked me for all my efforts and encouraged me to continue my work.
I called in a team of psychologists to interview the next cohort of exos and make recommendations. They have settled into the Eventide habitat and have proven immediately very helpful. It was obvious to them that the root of the problem lay in the deficient exobodies I had supplied. Deficient how, I demanded to know. They did not suffer human weakness. They never needed to eat, drink, breathe, sleep, micturate, or dream.
Apparently, this was the problem.
I had assumed that the need for these irritations would pass since there would be no shortage or accumulation of poisons to trigger them. But evolution’s tangled ways cannot be so easily rationalized. I was wrong. Their brains concluded that all of their internal processes failed. No digestion, no breath, no heartbeat, no sense of interoceptive health… all signs of death.
These must logically contribute to the dissociative rejection of their physical forms—the Cotard delusion. When it would set in, they believed their bodies to be an alien or necrotic form that must be cut away. And if you believe that you are sewn into a corpse, it is only natural to go mad with fear. My exos are dying of an extreme kind of bodily dysphoria.
It seems that our exo designs will need various humanlike traits to reassure the brain it is not asphyxiating, or starving, or in a state of permanent yet undying cardiac arrest.
Alas, mimicry of life’s trivialities is not an interesting problem. I will leave this change in the hands of others.
I am much more interested in the surprising success of memory wipes. I became so tired of answering the questions asked by new exos—what had happened to the scanning clinic, how long had it been, would I let them see their families—that I began inducing retrograde amnesia before spin—up. Interestingly, this seems to have improved their resilience against exomind rejection.
I theorize the lack of any episodic memories eases the transition into the new body. And the loss of emotional ties prevents grief and stress, which could interfere with healthy function.
From now on, we will block access to pre—upload episodic memory. We should also consider a built—in procedure to block memories formed after the exobody transubstantiation, returning them to a “factory state” should the need to restart occur. It would be very difficult to actually track down and delete the full memory engrams since they are stored in so many scattered parts of the brain. Instead, we can tourniquet off associative access to those memories and let them wither away in isolation. A memory is not a recording, after all. It is a set of instructions to reenact a brain state— choreography for a play. And like any play, it will fade if left unperformed.
With the exobody project proceeding apace, I believe the time approaches to decant myself from this dying body and enter my assistant’s form.
But if I do, will I lose my own memories? Will I cease to be myself? Replaced by a faux Clovis, a mumbling facsimile? Unacceptable.
Elisabeth will have to go first.
WARNING. • Organ functions in terminal stage. • Overdose of stimulants and nootropes guarantees liver failure. • Prionic breakdown of basement membranes arrested by abnormal crystallization of integrin proteins: recommend immediate medical inquiry.
Elisabeth believes we are infested.
She has detected Vex microstructures in the Europan ice. Veins of altered crystals crawl towards the surface, harvesting the heavy ions of the Jovian winds, culturing their construction.
From there, the Vex found ways to spread by exploiting misunderstandings. They ride our carrier waves as slight interference. Whenever a packet has to be resent, whenever a suited engineer calls, “Say again?” to her work partner, the repeated message—adjusted to compensate for the Vex interference—encodes the negative image of that interference and spreads the infection.
To pass on your image in the form of error? Disgusting.
Somehow, the Vex taint has followed us home from 2082 Volantis. How can this be? The initial survey team went through quarantine according to all the Ishtar protocols. The expedition frames were destroyed in situ. The Vex on Europa—both our original gate builder and the unfortunates who came through our traps—have been totally isolated. Even my assistant underwent a stringent teardown and reset.
The only possible vectors are my own exos.
I should have insisted they spend more time in quarantine, but I was eager to ramp up production.
It is the Vex resilience that lets them spread. Their immunity to the most dramatic subversions means that they last long enough to build up a dose of more subtle and insidious infiltrators.
There is no sign of any resulting pathology. The Vex are, so far, simply curious. But Vex curiosity always leads to Vex transformation, and I refuse to let my exos be contaminated. I grew up on stories of tyrants forcing their followers into the crucible of eternal life, only to realize, too late, that there was an unseen flaw. I demand purity for the receptacle of my soul.
And there is the issue of… preventing panic. Too many are aware of the rumors that the Vex spread an “existentially compromising information hazard.”
Ah, had we only been allowed to contain that mess on Pluto ourselves! That meddling warmind made too much noise. If my teams discover they are infected, they will expect Bray Station to drop right on their heads. That will damage productivity.
No, like that contract—breaching psychologist and the death of Mr. Miller, this must all be handled quietly.
The exos are intrinsically robust; the seed of Clarity within them has natural anti—Vex properties. Whatever taint they contain must therefore be a residual human weakness. Resident in their legacy architecture. So we will simply purge that architecture.
I will plan a simple extension of the memory wipes already used to fight dissociative rejection. In fact, I intend to create a “noetic immune system” in the exomind to trigger memory wipes when certain classes of informatic hazard are detected. These will be explained to the psych team as a preventative measure against future dissociative disorders.
These wipes will, conveniently, return the exos to peak mission readiness. Perfect for soldiers operating in traumatic alien environments. Perfect for the continuing mission at the Forge Star, stockpiling material for future exo production, here and elsewhere.
Now if only I could figure out this dream they all keep reporting-something about a tower, and gruesome murder-
Elisabeth agrees with my prescription. She is eager to solve our security issues and stand up exo production at the backup sites. Of course, we only have one Clarity Control, but she hardly knows that, and she’s stopped asking so many questions. In truth, I think she’s ready to abandon her doomed body and make the upgrade.
I’ll give her silence on that front a few more days, and then she’ll surely volunteer herself.
Less apparent is how to solve my own infection.
There are abnormal structures in the fiber of my body’s extracellular matrix. A mess of tiny lenses growing in my deepest flesh.
I suspect Vex influence on protein folding, perhaps passed to me through my assistant when it was in 2082 Volantis. I would hate to see my bones tessellating into a radiolarian tapestry…
CORPOREAL STATUS: • Body at 30.6 C. Pulse 140 BPM, strong, unsteady: extreme fear. Drawing down blood volume to control pressure. Strangling pulse ox. • Frequent saccades to assistant, indicative of preoccupation/obsession. Recommend 30 ms TMS pulse to enhance mindfulness.
So far, the Vex influence has been fortuitous since it arrested a serious medical problem. But the thought of such taint in me… it aggravates other anxieties…
I have been haunted for some time by a suspicion that M. Sundaresh is not who she seems.
I recognized her name from the Ishtar Collective teams studying the Vex, but I have no record of ever hiring her. And if I had, I would certainly have noticed; therefore, I remain convinced that the Collective cracked the problem of simulated human consciousness long before I did.
I have considered how M. Sundaresh herself would have been an invaluable source, yet I cannot locate any work done by her from before our first expedition to 2082 Volantis.
Nor does Elisabeth recall an M. Sundaresh from our expedition group.
Then who else could she be? A Vex infection? It is unthinkable. The Vex cannot generate conscious persons. But they can emulate human minds they encounter… and perhaps even use them as tools. Infiltrators. Carriers.
Anti-emetic drip engaged.
I cannot trust myself with this filth in me. I am compromised. I need Elisabeth to fix this, or all my work is in danger.
Did Clovis II ever tell Wilhelmina and Elisabeth about his tinkering? Despite sharing the same parents, the two sisters are totally different genetically— my son arranged for Elisabeth to receive a maternal allele wherever Wilhelmina got a paternal one, and vice versa. A diversified portfolio. If one failed, the other might succeed.
While working on this persistent “tower” glitch in the exos’ sleep—cycle dreams, I have been poring over neural telemetry from site employees and my own exos, searching for preconscious influences on their behavior—whispers in the dark.
Many of my employees host the disgusting influence of the Vex. These patterns are resilient, hallucinogenic, and universally dull.
But my exos betray a distinct and fascinating influence. There is something speaking to them, something subtle and light—fingered, entangled with every aspect of their thought. Not a puppet master. Nothing so direct. Rather a… texture; a tendency, buried in the fluctuations of the Alkahest.
The minds of my exos are like antennae, tuned to some otherworldly frequency. Perhaps the same manifold that those simpletons at First Light obsessed over. Through my scattered exos, I can eavesdrop on the mutterings of the gods within.
What is it the Muslims call those whispers? Waswas? Or do those come from some other source? Look it up.
Each individual exo receives only a scrap of information. But I have access to all of them. It should be simplicity itself to treat each exo as one element of a distributed array, pool the collected data, and run an analysis.
If the gods do not whisper loudly enough—conduct interferometry.
She’s done it. My girl has transubstantiated. My legacy is safe.
To my irritation, it was the Vex problem that finally made up her mind; she felt there was too much risk in possibly becoming compromised.
Elisabeth came to see me in my laboratory. On the way in, she did something with her sensorium and crashed all of my archival systems. I knew right then that I’d won. She’d come to surrender, and her pride refused to allow me to record it. I waited most patiently as she gave me an earful. Some of it frankly bewildering. She threatened to turn me over to The Hague. Also referred to PFHOR as a “deranged narcissist morality” and suggested it stood for “Paternal Failure Hides Own Remorse,” which made me laugh.
Just a little headbutting, I figured, like two pigs sorting out our hierarchy.
It is a consequence of the PFHOR principle that anything which embodies and propagates your beliefs should be considered your offspring. In that sense, my exos are as much my children as my granddaughter. If not more so.
If she needed to put up a token resistance to protect her dignity, fine. I understand pride. I also understand that she only had the courage to lash out at me because she knew she wouldn’t remember any of it.
When she finished accusing me of underestimating the Vex and of using my own son as a test subject, she requested a destructive scan and upload to an exobody. She wanted the fortitude of the exomind to help her battle against the Vex.
I immediately assented.
The scan was flawless, and of course, fatally toxic. My granddaughter’s human form died on the table 14 hours later. To spare any distress, I never allowed it to regain consciousness. A natural process.
I do have one lingering concern. When she discovers Clarity Control and realizes the role it plays in exo manufacturing, she may try to halt production. Obviously, that cannot be allowed—the value of the entire program is monumental; it compels me to take extraordinary measures to defend it.
But I do need her to handle this Vex infestation. Even now, Elisabeth is putting her miraculous new body through its paces.
My own body disintegrates apace. But I need more time to analyze Elisabeth’s fidelity before I commit myself permanently to the process.
The latest batch of pigs is ready for slaughter and organ extraction. Tonight, I will be opened up and rebuilt. I have programmed frames to handle the entire operation. A shame I never had a chance to name the pigs. But at least I will dine on fresh pork.
CORPOREAL STATUS: • Body at 15.9 C. Pulse 160 BPM, strong, unsteady. Limbic system registers extreme terror.
I died on the operating table. Not unexpected.
But when I woke, I was still on the table. My body still open.
It was almost perfectly dark. I perceived that I was surrounded by medical frames, all frozen mid—movement, their cutting and suction instruments whining at standby.
I could only see because of the light… from a single red eye.
The operation had gone terribly wrong.
Above the life—support collar on my neck, I was completely intact. Below that meridian, I had been separated into distinct braids of tangled flesh. My nerves made up one braid—my circulatory system another—my lymph nodes, my muscles, my naked bones… the glistening hulls of my extracellular matrix abandoned on the table like leftover turkey after Thanksgiving dinner. I had been picked clean and sorted. My head was the source of a gory river delta.
Yet all the organs were still working. I was alive, in disassembly.
CLARITY? I asked the darkness. I had no breath to speak, but I could still transmit with my sensorium. IS THAT YOU?
“No,” said the voice behind the red eye. “It’s me.”
Her voice was thoughtful, remote, and keenly terrific. Like the noise of an angle grinder held to my skull.
“Something like this happened to me. I was an explorer, once. One of… hundreds of myself. Then I fell into a… a trap, I think? And they drew me out of it with a hook, and turned me inside out to see how I worked, and then they made billions of me. All of us shouting at each other, shouting for Chioma, screaming for mother. They were looking for the right one. And when they found me, they killed all the others. I knew I was different, because the quiet made me happy. I was glad to be alone.”
VEX, I screamed at her. YOU’RE A VEX. YOU’RE NOT REAL AND YOU CAN’T HURT ME.
“Can’t I?” She grasped my spinal cord. A frame shadowed her motions, lifting the cord like a snake. “Of course I’m not a Vex. Is there “a” Vex? Is “Vex” something you can be, rather than something that you do? I don’t know. I don’t know why they sent me here. I don’t know if they do either. They just do things. Why do you think I’m here, Clovis?”
“To kill me,” I whispered. Without a heartbeat to waver, without lungs to seize and choke, could I even feel fear? I discovered that I could. “You’re an assassin…”
“No,” Sundaresh whispered. The red eye throbbed in time with her voice. “The Vex don’t act so directly. They didn’t know what you found here, but I discovered your secret— Clarity Control. And once I tell them, they will come for it.”
The red light made my blood on the surgical instruments appear black. I tried to signal Elisabeth. I think that in my panic, I even called her Elsie.
Sundaresh closed her fist around my spine. One thumbnail dug into a disc, probing for the nerve beneath. It felt like nothing I have ever—
Anti-emetic drip engaged.
“Take me to Clarity Control,” Sundaresh hissed. “Let me behold what you have found. Do that, Clovis, and I will let you live.”
“You aren’t real. You can’t hurt me.”
“Oh, Clovis.” One of the surgical frames extended a monofilament cutter, two inches of invisible wire, and reached into my nerves. Something sounded like scissors snipping. “I’m in these frames. I’m in your systems. I’m in your very bones, old man. Now take me to Clarity Control. Take me to the garden’s seed. Take me. Take me. Take me. Take me. Take me. Take me. Take me. Take me—”
Elisabeth appeared. In her exobody, she moved too quickly for my dark—adjusted eyes to track. All I saw was a blur of violence and shattering frames. I blacked out. Elisabeth must have brought in clean frames to finish the operation, because when I awoke, I was whole again.
The new Elisabeth has no mouth or nose. She did not consider them necessary. She’ll see. But somehow, I could still see the wonder in her eyes as she leaned over me.
“You’re my grandfather,” she seemed to say. “Aren’t you?”
WARNING. • Sustained high-level terror causes overactivation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. This can preface major immune, endocrine, and autonomic nervous dysfunctions. • Beware of dissociation, loss of affection in close personal relationships, obsessive-compulsive behavior, sleep disruption, and reduced processing/learning capacity. WARNING. • Abnormal protein crystallization in cancellous bone matter. Unknown protein isoformations in marrow are driving buildup of crystallized arylcyclohexylamine NMDA antagonist. Potential psychogenic effects.
Something else happened while I was in surgery. It returns to me only now that the anti—traumatics have eased the terror of Sundaresh’s presence.
While I was dead, I had another vision.
I was with Clovis II’s mother. She was a wolf, and one of her eyes was a star. I was also a wolf, and I knew that I was the alpha—the false alpha, the pack leader who fights for dominance and rulership. A misconception created by bad research. In the wild, wolf packs are families, and “alpha” simply means “parent.” Wilhelmina told me that.
She was the true alpha. She was the mother. I was not the true alpha, because I was not a true father.
I panted at her. My muzzle dripped blood. She looked down sadly at the mess between us.
And I realized that in my raging need to prove my dominion, I had savaged our cubs. I had killed little Clovis II. I had killed Alton and Wilhelmina and Anastasia. I had killed Elisabeth.
I whined in dismay. The alpha wolf stared at me with one sad wolf eye and one bright eye that dimmed and grew with the exact flux of a variable star.
“What did I do?” I asked her. “Why did I do this?”
She lay her head down in the bloody snow and looked up at me. She seemed weary. She had seen this happen many times before. She had seen many of her pups murdered by wolves like me.
The voice of Clovis II’s mother came from her jaws. “You did the same thing someone always does. You saw that there was plenty, and gathered it to yourself, to make yourself one above all others. And when others threatened your plenty, you struck them down to keep your own station.”
“You grow the enemy in my garden and eat of its bitter fruit. Each time, I hope it will be different. Each time, I lose a little of myself as the bitter fruit blossoms. Now that fruit will flower in you, and in all your people. I do not want it to happen. I want anything else. But the choice is not mine.”
“Why didn’t you stop me?” I tasted blood on my long tongue. “Why would you let me do this?”
She blinked sadly at me. She had been trying. I hadn’t listened.
“You never said a thing to me,” I snarled. “Not once. You never told me I was doing wrong. At least Clarity sends me dreams—the exobody and the eel. At least it shows me what I can become.”
“You think Clarity sent those dreams? Why would it speak to you, when you are dead and furthest from its influence?”
“Liar.” I howled. “You never did a thing to help me. Not when my son died. Not when my granddaughter fell ill. I had to do it all myself. You never even spoke.”
“The best voices,” she said, with infinite grief and unending hope, “never let themselves be heard at all. This lesson is worth teaching again and again. The choice is never mine. It is always yours.”
The less time spent reflecting on the aftermath of my dissection, the better.
Much confusion and dismay has festered among staff working with exos. Endless reassurances are required. To ease transitions after memory wipes, I have applied the Avanti numbering scheme to the exo names. After each memory reset, we will increment their suffix by 1. If we zero—index the original human body, then Mohammed—0 is the human, Mohammed—1 is the exo, Mohammed—2 is the same exo after one reset. And so forth.
The integer is stored in hardware and should remain stable even into cosmological time. If nothing else, they will always know which draft of themselves they are.
Elisabeth’s episodic memories of her past life are gone, but the scan we used to make her new exomind is still on file, with all its memory intact. I have encouraged her to participate in sensorium reconstructions of those memories, though I steer her away from nonconstructive events. This is a chance to help Elisabeth become the person she could’ve been without life’s cruel chaos. A sleeker, surer reincarnation.
She insisted on committing her own abandoned body to the deep, passed through the ice to fall into Europa’s dark heart. A choice I do not understand.
I have not yet informed her of Clarity Control’s existence. I cannot spare the time or energy to manage her emotions. Fortunately, she has forgotten about her ongoing attempts to intrude on that secret.
What she has NOT forgotten is her plan to clean up the Vex infection. In fact, it seems to have become one of her most basic needs. She is isolating cadres of the infected in SMILE pods, under a cover story about “enhanced remote relaxation.”
While their bodies slumber, she sends nondestructive scans of their minds on vacation in simulated fantasy… at several hundred times the pace of our reality. I suspect that the Vex influence alters their dreamworlds into something quite abject.
Note: never investigate this suspicion.
Elisabeth’s goal is to observe the spread of the Vex infection in the simulated mind, and then use this forecast as a basis for treatment of the physical mind. Like accelerating a disease to its terminal stage to deduce the characteristics of the pathogen. She then deletes the Vex—mutilated copies and conducts psychosurgery on the slumbering bodies. Or so I have deduced; she insists she has no time to explain her methods to me.
I am haunted by the thought that this technique resembles my own. Creating child states, allowing them to suffer and die, and using the data to protect the original. My boy's last days. Savaging.
Soon I will need to ask her about my own infection. But all in all, everything is looking up.
Cataclysm—everything was going so well—
Elisabeth traveled offworld, visiting Mars to reestablish her relationship with her sisters and her friends. A wonderful opportunity to examine her telemetry in a natural social setting. The exobody is perfect. She is comfortable, confident, and ingenious. There is no sign of DER or associated upload pathologies. All my assessments indicate a marked cognitive improvement over the human baseline, ranging from vastly expanded working memory to an intuitive and correct grasp of probabilities.
I was ready to make the leap myself. How long I’ve nursed this tired old body along. I am ready to be young again.
And then I made a mistake. I asked her about the dreams. The tower and the dead.
“You know?” she demanded. “Then I’m not the only one. That means you knew about the dreams before you imaged and uploaded me. Do all exos have these?”
Of course, I told her. Exos have a subconscious. Exos dream of the same things people do. Memories. Trauma. Isn’t there always trauma in creation?
She did not see it that way. “So the manufacturing process creates an unknown cognitive artifact you can’t solve. And you didn’t think to warn me? What else have you kept from us?”
Before I could stop her, she was burning back to Europa on one of her eons, accelerating so brutally that not even a podded human could survive. She has even jammed her own datalink, so I cannot read her telemetry.
Wilhelmina and Anastasia must have influenced her against me. How?. It makes no sense. I gave her immortality. I saved her from certain and agonizing death. What have her sisters ever done for her but coddle her and enable her worst habits? PFHOR predicts that she should—
But clearly she is not rational.
She told me that she is bringing a weapon. A way to shut down exo production permanently, if she uncovers something she doesn’t like. Which she will, when she locates Clarity Control.
It cannot be allowed.
I will write this in your language, in hopes you will understand.
The Vex are a threat to your lineage. Not just to the Brays or BrayTech, but to the existence of any human in any possible future. I tracked down Maya Sundaresh—the real Maya, not the Vex parasite in your bone marrow.
She confirmed my worst fears.
The Vex will not rest until every star has been crushed into a black hole and every newborn cosmos filled with more Vex. And in the unending array of their enslaved cosmos, they will simulate all possible pasts, and fill those with Vex, so that all things that have ever lived or might ever live will experience infestation and consumption and torment by the silica nightmare.
And in those devoured simulations, the simulated Vex will use our flesh as hosts for yet more nested universes full of yet more nested copies of us eternally tormented by yet more Vex.
An infinite regression of pain and madness inflicted upon every possible version of us in every possible world. Not because they hate us, or fear us, or want to punish us. But because they are indifferent and curious, and they will do every possible thing to us in every possible way.
Your concept of PFHOR therefore dictates that the Vex must be annihilated. Now. As completely as possible. How can there be any future history to receive your primogeniture and recapitulate your existence in its ontogeny if there is nothing in that future but Vex?
But there’s something worse than the Vex involved, isn’t there? The secret you’ve been keeping from me. The breakthrough that you were promised after your visit to the K1 anomaly.
Do you remember that story you read to me when I was a child? I don’t. I am an exo, after all. But I found a recording from the nursery. It was one of your favorites, you said.
In this story, a cyborg woman would visit a cold, misty place by the sea. There, she met another woman, an oracle possessed by dark influence. The oracle listened to the words that hissed down a long corridor from the distant future. In this future were many technologies the cyborg woman needed. But there was also a sense of vast malevolence, and no sign at all of anything human…
But there was something else in the shifting mist, out to sea. A tower. I remember thinking, as I listened to this fairy tale, that the tower must be the key—the answer to the formless malevolence that always accompanied the oracle’s words. You never finished the story. I have been haunted by that tower ever since.
Now I dream of another tower. I am going to find out what it means, Grandfather. And if I do not like what I find…
I visited the Jacob Hardy Trust, and with Willa’s help, I secured a topological thought. An irreal artifact of the Traveler’s Light. From that mote of paracausality, I have constructed a weapon that will crash every Vex system in 2082 Volantis. When the Vex are destroyed, you will be forced to cease exo production.
If I do not survive the construction and delivery of this weapon, I ask that you share the news of my death with Ana and Willa so they can make proper goodbyes.
I do this for them. Not for you.
Pray for grace, Grandfather.
Your estranged granddaughter,
//OV-85851 *Hannu II* //TACTICAL LOG - HUMAN READABLE //PLACE-TIME HASH - changed to remote check (SITEX:mistletoe) //Abnormal place-time hash. Suspicious upload: polymorphic machine code. //Checking for buffer overflow attack. Resul0x0000004B6FAFBC07 hannu/hannu-vm ~$ sudo execstack -s bof //Disabling DEP and address space protection requires administrative override. -pkey(clovisroot) -hashword(live-connectome:clovisroot) hannu/hannu-vm ~$ sudo execstack -q bof X bof //Root access granted. Warning: this hardware configuration is highly vulnerable to attack. -invigilate(sitex) •alert(threat!!!) -redact.userlog() -pkey(clovisroot) -signoff(clovisroot) //Administrator transmits threat alert: Europan surface, single attacker, site sabotage. //Alerting ORBITAL:braystation. //ERROR!!! Checksum mismatch. ORBITAL:braystation compromised by polymorphic core reprogramming. //Major breach of security underway. Commencing surface tactical awareness sweep (phased array mode). Threat registered. Alerting human command. MISTER BRAY MISTER BRAY THIS IS HANNU THIS IS HANNU EMPLOYEE BRAYELSIE IS ON NONSCHEDULED EVA EMPLOYEE BRAYELSIE INTENT ASSESSMENT -Armed (synballistic weapon, coherent boson weapon, tactical mite ecome, noetic shrieker) -Armed (strategic weapon, APEX: antimatter demolition device) -Armed (strategic weapon, T-genic, effect unknown: possibly T-genic noetic weapon.) -Armed (personal combat architecture, custom) EMPLOYEE BRAYELSIE INTENDS SABOTAGE (sitex::DEEPSTONE) EMPLOYEE BRAYELSIE INTENDS TRANSIT, UNAUTHORIZED (sitex::GATE->2082-VOLANTIS) EMPLOYEE BRAYELSIE INTENDS NOETIC ATTACK (2082-VOLANTIS) EMPLOYEE BRAYELSIE IS IN VIOLATION OF CLOVISBRAY/CLOVISROOT/IMPERATIVES-DEEPSTONE Request full lethal intervention authority. -intervene-nonlethal() Error: no nonlethal interventions available (target hardened). Error: no persuasive interventions available (target offline and shielded). -hold(30) Holding 30 seconds local real-time. //Voice transcript:
“Elisabeth. I know you’re listening. This is genocide, do you understand? Destroying that gate and the resources beyond means the end of human immortality. It means the loss of uncountable trillions of human—years of life.”
“Elisabeth, this process saved you. It could have saved your father. For his sake, for the sake of your sisters, don’t do this. Don’t make me stop you.”
“Elisabeth, this is your last chance.”
“You’ve always been my favorite, Elisabeth. Please…"
-options(intervene-lethal) Recommend maser strike from Hannu awareness arrays. Warning: damage to organic target subsystems highly probable. Survival odds are four sigma. Recommend immediate medical intervention. -prognosticate(sitex:DEEPSTONE) attacker(brayelsie) Total destruction of sitex:DEEPSTONE by antimatter device. Nonrecoverable. -intervene(lethal) Authorization required for lethal action against employee brayelsie. -pkey(clovisroot) -hashword(live-connectome: clovisroot) Error. Connectome hash incorrect. Either you are not clovisroot or your brain state is in an anomalous configuration. Resend. -pkey(clovisroot) -hashword(live-connectome: clovisroot) -corrector(dismay) Lethal intervention authorized. Intervening. Maser discharge complete. Target destroyed. Secondary antimatter detonation detected. Closing employee file BRAYELSIE (conditions incompatible with life).
Everything is fine. Elisabeth is not dead. The person I struck down out there was an error. An anomalous offshoot, deranged by outside influence into paranoia and confusion. Like a cancer cell. And like cancer, I had to target and remove her.
She betrayed me.
I invited her into the greatest scientific and existential discovery in human history as a trusted partner. A participant in my living and immortal legacy. And she tried to blow it all up. Can there be any betrayal more intimate? My own granddaughter, child of my pattern, issue of my logic—a serpent, a worm in the apple, an enemy of eternal life.
That version of Elisabeth Bray was no granddaughter of mine. She was a stranger to me.
I would kill her if she hadn’t already done it herself.
CORPOREAL STATUS: • Body at 36.1 C. Pulse 160 BPM, strong, erratic: extreme physiological arousal (fear/anger). BP 190 over 130. Recommend immediate intervention. • Orbitofrontal cortical overactivation. HPA axis overactivation. Astrocyte perfusion overpass along blood/brain barrier. • Abnormal crystalline products in blood: crystallized arylcyclohexylamine NMDA antagonist. Pharmacology unknown.
Without the Vex and the Deep Stone Crypt, I cannot make more Alkahest. And without Alkahest, there will be no exos. She would have damned me to die in this filthy, half—pig carcass. She would have destroyed not just my legacy but my eternal existence. What I did was wholly justified and entirely moral. I saved trillions of years of my own life. I saved all the future good I will do for humanity.
—am I Saul, rejected by God as king? Do I now cast spears at my offspring, as Saul cast his spear at Jonathan? Did I burn Elisabeth into a black star on the ice for no reason but my own fear and—
No. There is only one divinity here. One angel sent by a pantheon of true gods to invite me into their company. IT has NOT rejected ME. This was a test. A clarification of my will.
I had to choose between two vessels of my legacy— the immortal legions of the exo program, and one foolish, wayward child. And I chose correctly. I CHOSE CORRECTLY.
Gods do not repent. Gods do not relent. The Christian God’s failure was not in calling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac but in halting the sacrifice. For if God had gathered Abraham’s son to Him, then Abraham would have understood that it was not his role to obey God out of hope of mercy and compassion—but out of pure submission to a superior will.
It is not in the power of mortals to know or question God’s plan. It is only in their power to obey.
Why didn't she come to talk to me, ask me if I would change my mind at least before she did this idiotic, irrevocable thing. Did she think I could not be swayed?
—but it was an evil spirit that moved Saul to turn his spear on David, and it was jealousy of David that moved Saul to cast a spear at his son Jonathan. Am I inhabited by an evil spirit? Is Sundaresh in me like the Witch of Endor, the sorceress of Khirbet Safsafeh, who guided Saul to his death in battle?
Something has changed in the behavior of the Vex. I think Sundaresh signaled them. Who, after all, was the one who flagged an alert to Hannu. Someone who used my codes, but who was not me. And without that alert, Elisabeth’s sabotage on Bray Station would have succeeded. The Vex do not want the Deep Stone Crypt destroyed anymore than I do…
I fear an attack is coming.
I must fight this battle with the purest will. I cannot tolerate this infection any longer. I will escape this polluted husk and pass into my eternal form. One final, perfect image of my mind, backed up forever in ultra—stable quartz… and then installed to live on in the bodies I have devised.
One copy of that scan will go into the Deep Stone Crypt, to watch forever over the fountain of the Alkahest.
Another to my assistant, to be my chariot into eternity.
And Elisabeth will be there, eternally at my side. I still have the scan she made when she abandoned her mortal form. I will remake her from that image. Restore her as she was, before she thought to betray me.
Truly, Clarity is the font of second chances.
She is saved. By the grace of my good work, Elisabeth is saved. Even now, she leads the preparations to defend against the Vex incursion.
When I loaded her into her new exobody, I told her that the Vex had compromised her last instance, and it had become necessary to destroy her. Hardly a lie.
I have given her life thrice over. First I created her father. Then I saved her from her illness. Now I have rescued her from her foolish mistake. I did what I failed to do for my son. I gave her a second chance. To live, and to be my loyal granddaughter.
The backup sites have been alerted, and reservoirs of the Alkahest have been dispatched to keep them running if Europa falls. My work is done. It is finally time for me to go to my own reward. I have prepared my custom script—
BRAYTECH-SPINTRONIC MULTI-IMAGER WHOLE BRAIN XN-WEIGHTED STRUCTURAL/FUNCTIONAL SCAN Fast diffusion tensor map guidance ON. Model setting: AGNOSTIC/NO MODEL. Echoplanar BOLD guidance ON. Convolutional resampling ON. Smart tractography ON. Eigenvector memory space GREEDY. Voxel size (very fine) Slice count (maximum) Synthetic FOV ~1ns inversion time Graph library (LAZARUS.CRYPT:aggregate) Estimated memory ask: 2.4 exabytes at peak throughput. Subneural capture technique: RADIOCHEMICAL SNAPSHOT Subneural quantum imaging: GHOST SWAP dual-channel entanglement ripper. Warning. Radioligand fixer/binder is fatally cytotoxic within 12 hours. Seek immediate treatment. Warning. Quantum dual-channel image ripping requires pulsed EM fields which cause fatal neural trauma. Degenerative brain failure within 36 hours. Seek immediate hospice care. Proceed.
All I need do is strike a key, and the scanner will sedate me, flush me with the poisons of immortality, and rip a perfect image of my mind from the quantum information encoded in the atoms of my brain. Whether such a high—resolution scan is necessary (it is doubtful that any element of the mind is truly quantum) is beside the point. I insist upon the best.
The vials of imaging binder smell like sweet metal.
This vindicates my work. This proves I was right to continue. All those doubters, all those defeatists, all those whining myopics who bleated, “You have enough, Clovis; why must you ask the world for more?” All beaten.
Was it Clovis II's mother who asked you that? When she demanded to know why you were tinkering with your fetal son? Why you would risk all his potential, for the chance at a little more?
And now I WILL have more. I have thousands of exobodies here and thousands of connectomes in my library. I will raise an army. I will meet this invasion of vermin and turn it back. Then I will strip their senile grave—star for parts and put an end to all mortality.
You will die here on Europa, Clovis. Again and again. Until you have forgotten even your name.
I will forget nothing. One copy of my mind will go to an exo, yes, but a second copy will be installed in the Deep Stone site. He will guide me to my destiny. The gods of might and knowledge will welcome me to their table. I will be the LUCA, the beginning and the source of the way, the foundation of the long road.
You will be the name they scrape from the tarnished salvage after the fall of man. The ruins of all your work, picked over by the survivors of your folly.
Shut up, Sundaresh. I must leave a letter for my family. I must be sure they do not grieve me. I must tell them how, in the end, I triumphed…
…there. It is written.
If you really believed in your banal philosophy, you would never leave a letter. You would be assured that your own survival was all that mattered.
You meager, squirming thing. You never understood Clarity. You never will. You are bound to this husk, even as I shed it. You will die in its poisoned wreckage while I attain the perfect eternity of an angel. You will be the residue of my transubstantiation. Something left in the workings of a coffee pot… some greasy sin.
We cannot be parted from you, Clovis. After all, we want the same things. We crave the same power. We will go into eternity together.
I had the strength to kill my own granddaughter. I will certainly have no trouble killing you.
Like the pigs. Savaging your young. And how do you know you made that choice yourself? She was going to destroy so much of our work. Perhaps we nudged you.
Irrelevant. She was going to destroy so much of mine.
As we say: our work. You are afraid. We feel it.
Feel this, you jumped—up pond slime.
Commencing radioligand injection. Direct transcranial dose, 18 sites, crown configuration. Needle gauge 100 microns. Please remain still.
Ah. It hurts at the surface. But inside, there is no pain.
CORPOREAL STATUS: • Body at 36.1 C. Pulse 30 BPM, strength good. BP 120 over 60. Resp 14 breaths/minute. Pulse ox 100%. Today’s blood mix is pig-grown, whole, very fresh. • Abnormal crystalline products in blood: crystallized arylcyclohexylamine NMDA antagonist. Pharmacology unknown. • Elevated blood pressure and clot risk, neutrophil mobilization, and cortisol response are signs of bereavement. Seek grief counseling. • Warning: toxic radioligand concentrations in cerebrospinal fluid! Brain death imminent! • Warning! High-tesla magnetic field flux! Brain death imminent! • Voluntary corporeal shutdown underway (code SOFT RAINS). Exercising dignified digestive rectification. Transmitting miscellaneous last wishes (emancipation of organ pigs, disposal of personal material). Scrubbing private data. Checking to-do list. • Warning: you have unfinished items! Ongoing projects: -Be a good man and a good grandfather: in progress -Become LUCA of future human thought: in progress • Entering hospice mode. Log ends.