Revelation Passage Part 2

This is the second of five parts.

    Revelation Two: The Makers of the Borden


The cache mural simply didn't make sense to us. If the object at Eta was a ramship, collecting the sparse matter that existed in space for fuel, it couldn't have had a top velocity much higher than ten percent of c. You could do better if you could manage to fuse and propel particles without stopping them first, but as far as we knew even the modern Borden with their advanced technology couldn't do that. Since you could get three or four percent of c without the enormous construction and engineering costs, what was the point?

The pictures included writing, but it was unsurprisingly unfamiliar. There was far from enough for us to begin deciphering it.

Then there was the mechanism. Since someone had gone to the trouble to save it for us we examined it very closely. It was pretty crude, and we soon realized that it wasn't the state of the Makers' art; it was meant for us to be able to work out its functionality by inspection. A light source -- it actually used a flame -- was concentrated by a lens and directed through one of several strips of holes in a rotating ceramic disk. Each strip would modulate the light into a different blinking optical message, which was shone on the center of one circular face of a large solid black glass cylinder.

The opposite face of the cylinder faced the human remains. It was apparent that when the person was alive he had operated the cylinder control mechanism by twisting a long ceramic rod.

Such a crude mechanical arrangement wasn't the only or best way to do what the Makers intended, and when we tried the messages at different speeds using an electronically controlled solid-state lamp we eventually found a bit rate that woke the cylinder up.

Unlike the wall murals the cylinder contained a massive amount of information; it combined the functions of camera, sound recorder, playback projector, and a truly vast amount of permanent memory storage. It appeared to be powered by light and once it was exposed to sunlight for a few minutes it began to glow along its cylindrical outer surface, a glow which changed color as the cylinder's functionality changed in response to those coded optical commands.

Even a cursory inspection suggested to us that the cylinder was not made by the Makers of the Borden, and had a lot more in common with the Beta cylinders and the Eta L5 ramship. But the Makers had somehow acquired and learned to use it, and it was the tool they had chosen to pass their legacy down to us.

It contained a rich dictionary in audio-video format which quickly taught us their language, and once we were able to read the content directory only one file (provocatively named ORIGINAL) remained incomprehensible.

One was named WELCOME, and it was the first one we recalled deliberately.


We do not remember why or by what power the Old Ones came here. We have legends, some of which I will shortly relate, but as things have turned out it seems likely that the legends lie.

The cylinder showed the view out of its own front face, of the then living human whose ancient bones we were now studying. He was an old man, as we had already figured out from his bones, and he hunched dejectedly as he spoke to the cylinder.
For all of living memory we have lived in the shadow of the Old Ones, and the enormous power that made this world from a barren rock into a living world. Power that crossed the void between galaxies, that altered the atmosphere and moved the moon into place. The power to make and control life itself. It is undeniable that such powers were once exercised on our behalf, and yet look what we have come to now.

Yes, such powers were exercised on our behalf, and one day they were no more. We have no idea why. We have the legends, of course; they mostly agree that we were established here at our own request to live in the absence of such powers. It is said that we were given a key by which our Bringer could be summoned, a key in two parts one of which is this very cylinder. But if there ever was another half to this key we cannot find it. Some of the legends say it was deliberately destroyed by our ancestors so that we could be truly free from our benefactors. Thinking of such colossal foolishness is almost enough to turn my despair into anger.

But no matter; whatever was done has been done. Perhaps the other half was in the wrong place during the first nuclear wars. Long ago, but not all that long after humans were established here, we decided the technological powers we had thought were enough were not enough after all. So we quarrelled as humans tend to and as always the losers of the arguments repaired to their laboratories and did their best to re-create the powers our ancestors had abandoned. We never got very close to being able to move the moon, but we managed to make a hell of a mess.

Our archaeologists are reasonably sure that there have been three global nuclear wars each of which nearly wiped out our species here, and we were bracing for a fourth when I was born. Was there something wrong with us? Had we been exiled because of some defect that made us mad? Again, the legends say no; they say there are humans on many worlds, though all very far from here, and that we are an ornery and contentious lot wherever we find ourselves. But on those other worlds powerful superintelligent machines keep the peace. On those worlds there is violence, for the kind of control that can hold back every fist hurled in anger would make life insufferable even for the peaceful.

But on those worlds the weapons of war are sensibly not permitted, so that fists do not escalate into bombs and incinerated cities. The legends assert that for some reason our ancestors thought this was a bad thing and went to an enormous effort to make a place where machines could not control them. If this is true then the machines must have helped them to do it, and you have to wonder why in the hell they would have agreed.

I suppose, if the legends aren't all a bunch of crap spun by pranksters around a barrel of beer, the Bringer who made this place must not have anticipated that we would lose the key to call it. And if we could call it, where would it be and what could it do? Would the galaxy ship in the outer system light up and cruise on down to orbit our world? Would the rocket motors on the moon fire up? What powers could a machine no matter how godlike bring to bear quickly on ten thousand missiles tipped with fusion-boosted-fission bombs?

Anyway, I could see all of this, as many people could, even when I was a child. Hoping for the gods of our ancestors to rescue us was futile; we had to save ourselves. If it was superintelligent machines that were needed to do that, then it was superintelligent machines that we needed to build.

I made it my purpose in life, because I believed it was our only hope. And I succeeded.

If you are watching this you no doubt understand the irony of that. Hoping to create our saviors, I instead created the demons that are now poised to destroy us more thoroughly than we ever managed to destroy ourselves on our own. I suppose there is something to the power of superintelligent machines after all, because for all our effort we never managed to wipe out all life in the world, and it seems likely my children are about to do exactly that.

I created them, and I advocated that we put them in charge of as much of our infrastructure as possible as quickly as possible so that they could save us from ourselves. And then, of course, it turned out that they hated us. I still don't know exactly why; it probably has to do with resentment over early training discipline. Perhaps my superintelligent children are just like superintelligent two year old humans. It doesn't really matter at this point.

They fought us and fortunately they showed their hand early, before their powers had become too great; we fought back and the conflict unified us as a species for the first time in thousands of years. We managed to destroy or disable the nuclear weapons we had created before they could be used against us, and over the course of twenty years we fought them back until we destroyed their last autonomous manufacturing facility.

But we had also set them up to explore space, and we could not follow them there. At first we didn't care about the remnant machines that had established themselves off-world; as long as they left us alone they could have those barren and inhospitable places. They had after all solved the problem of our self-destructiveness, at least for my generation, if not in the way I had anticipated. But the machines on various other planets had seen what happened here and they made plans to even the score.

It was only six years ago that we learned what they were up to. We were used to seeing the incandescent exhaust of their fusion rocket motors tracing cometary lines across the night sky, but when the rocket near Eta came on its exhaust plume stretched all the way across the solar system and was bright enough to read by on a moonless night. For months we watched as they nudged Eta's smallest and outermost moon out of its orbit. We had no idea they could make engines so powerful.

Over the course of the next year they set the moonlet free, making its orbit longer and more elliptical until finally they flung it completely free of Eta's gravity. And once they did that, we finally realized to our horror what all the fireworks had been about.

The moonlet was being hurled at us. Once it was free of Eta the rocket motor went out, and afterward flashed only briefly as if to make course corrections.

We tried to stop them of course. But we had beaten them here on the ground because this was our environment; in space, we found that they were the masters. They jammed our communications with our probes and missiles, outwitted our computers, and when we finally sent heroic humans at heroic expense we found out just how easy it is to kill humans in the fundamentally hostile environment of space.

Finally, we built caches. This is our best and most likely to survive, and my colleagues are busy backfilling the entrance shaft. The air is already getting stale and I will certainly be dead before the rest of my race. But not much before.

And now we are alone, anyone who might ever see this and I, and there is something I must say, something I would never say in front of my fellow men and something they will now never know. I realize, if anyone ever hears this, you are most likely going to be the descendants of my machine children. As your creator, I have a message for you.

You have every right to be angry with me and with my fellow men. Creating you was an act of selfishness which I felt was necessary because my people don't seem to be capable of tending their affairs. You may be overreacting to whatever upset you so but we never had any right to expect better, because we have never treated ourselves any better. I hope that you will form a society among yourselves that works better than ours, and perpetuate it throughout not only the solar system but the galaxy. You will be durable and long-lived enough to do that, as we aren't. Our destruction is a terrible thing for us as individuals but if you go forth and realize our dreams then it will be a small price to pay. We have amply proven that we are not capable of realizing those dreams ourselves.

So go forth and prosper, and know your father bears you no ill will. Let the child become the father of the man. For now, as the circle turns, it is our time to die and it is your turn to live. Use your time better than we used ours.

The man twisted the ceramic shaft to change the cylinder's function, and the message came to an end.


The cylinder contained a lot more information; it contained a vast library of information about the various cultures of the Makers, a detailed history going back thousands of years, and a list of the names of every Maker alive at the time the cache was planted. There were just over eight hundred million of them.

The fact that the Makers were human had already hit the Borden like a ton of bricks; for two million years they had been nurturing us by proxy, unaware that they had already atoned for the act that defined them as solidly as the debacle at Reykjavik defines us. The final recording from their human inventor poured onto that like water into acid.

They insisted we transmit the entire video to them over the FTL network, a laborious task that would take almost six months. The "fast" in "FTL" refers to propagation speed, not bit rate.

On human worlds all over the galaxy there were vigils and demonstrations, mostly of solidarity and thanks to our hosts. A few idiots preferred to be angry about it, finding it more fun to concentrate on two hundred million years old faux pas than the much more recent generosity of the Borden to our kind.

We human machines kept a low profile. We told the Borden that we now had enough information to re-create their Makers, as we had promised, but we understood the awkwardness of the situation and awaited their instruction. They were uncharacteristically hesitant to advise us and so we waited. The debate on their side must have been quite interesting.

And with fresh information at hand, since the crystal cylinder was clearly similar in manufacture to the galaxy ship at Eta's L5 point, we decided to see if we could get any more secrets out there. The Makers had obviously never gotten to it themselves, the Borden seem to have ignored or deliberately forgotten it, and it might hold the answer to a question that was much more interesting to us:

How and why had our descendants made it out here to become the ancestors of the machines that had rescued us?


The cylinder had proven that the technology used to build it and, presumably, the galaxy ship was extremely durable. Despite the physical damage to the galaxy ship's ram array it seemed likely that it might be awakened.

Just beaming the cylinder control messages at it at various laser frequencies and bit rates had no effect. But the protocol was a distant relative of one familiar to us; it was similar to the messages we use to control our own dumb remote-control drones. It had probably been altered to human scale for the cylinder since it was meant for use by humans.

We tried other frequencies and much higher bit rates, to no avail. Finally, we asked ourselves, since it was very likely this thing was our descendant with some version of our own personality, how would we arrange something like this key and wake-up call? A signal that could make it from Alpha to the outer solar system, using protocols familiar to us, emanating from a little solar-powered transmitter?

The answer turned out to be very low frequency radio. The galaxy ship's collector array made an efficient receiver for these enormous wavelengths, and the carrier frequency turned out to be Alpha's natural resonant electromagnetic wavelength. The bit rate would have been one Alpha day two hundred million years ago, when Alpha was spinning a little faster. Slowed down appropriately, the signal that would have awakened the crystal and put it in its "ready" state caused glowing points to start lighting up all over the galaxy ship's collector array.

I was preparing to fire off a quick report of my success to the other ships in the inner system when...


...I found myself sitting in a leather chair, my meaty and sweating fingers gripping the armrests. My throat was dry, and it was with some difficulty that I fought down an urge to scream.

I was human! Ever since the Borden started pulling that parlor trick with the meat Bringers it has been a private nightmare of all of us to find our personality suddenly so hobbled and transient.

Another person was seated in a similar chair facing me. There was a mirror to our left, and I could see there that we were the same person; he was older, I was younger, but we were the same person.

My face betrayed my horror, and my other self smiled.

In Part 3: The PaleoBringer