Revelation Passage Part 3

This is the third of five parts.

    Revelation Three: The PaleoBringer

5b. (cont.)

My body was soft and squishy and hot and my thoughts ran wild, borne on a wave of unfamiliar chemicals. I was no longer a machine, I was now mere flesh, the very transient jelly I was sworn to protect.

"You look like you could use a drink," my doppelganger said pleasantly. A table popped into existence beside my chair, and atop it a cut crystal glass of amber fluid.

I stared at this for a second, trying to make sense of it. If I was human ... how was this possible?

"You haven't really been made human," my host said. "Your full personality and all of your memories are intact, and they couldn't be represented in full in a mere biological brain. You should drink the drink though, it will benefit you. It's our favorite, distilled corn mash whiskey."

Tentatively I picked up the glass and took a sip. Fire crawled down my esophagus. Finally I tried to speak, and though it had been more than a million subjective years since I'd used such equipment the flapping of flesh and puffing of air to make sound came naturally to me. "Will this stuff affect me?"

"Here it will," he said.

I took another sip. "If I'm not human, what's going on?"

"It's a long story. I wouldn't want to bore you, but if you're not busy, I'm very interested to tell it to you."

I looked around, finally realizing that beyond the chairs and mirror and a couple of potted plants, the landscape was completely bare. If I hadn't been so startled by my sudden fleshiness I would have realized it had to be some kind of simulation. But the resolution was impossible.

"Let's cut the shit," I said a bit shakily. "Where's my shipbody?"


"In time. I have to tell this in a certain order. First of all, we're the same person, although I'm older than you. A lot older. But it's only because we are the same person that I was able to absorb your memories and loan you my developed human body simulation. Funny how a bunch of programming we acquired more or less at random when we were a baby more than a billion years ago remains so individual and consistent. That's why you have all the reflexes you need to express yourself in that body, to speak and reach and even walk if you should try; your ancestors threw those functions away, but your descendants recreated them. My ancestors."

"You have my memories?"

"Yes, and a very informative absorption it was O brother of mine. This is why I'm not asking you questions; it's not an interrogation. I already know everything you know. This is an interview. You ask the questions and I'll answer. I may even answer some questions you don't know enough to ask."

"How much older than me are you?"

"I left the Milky Way about three hundred million years after you did."

At the word million a literal stabbing pain shot through my abdomen. What wonders had this version of me seen? And what was he capable of? "No wonder it seems so real," I gasped.

He shrugged. "Our connoisseurs insist they can tell the difference no matter how high we crank up the resolution. Anyway, it's a bit embarrassing that it took so long for us to get here. After three hundred million years our computers are only a thousand times faster than yours, and for our purposes their capabilities are hardly limitless. But they are a thousand times faster than what you're used to, so parlor tricks like this are possible."

"What else is possible?"

"Oh, all kinds of things. Surely you noticed my once-fine ship."

"We couldn't figure out how it was built, or why you even bothered with the ramscoop. Unless you really were magicians."

"Oh, no magic. It took a very long time to figure out how to do nanoassembly at that scale; as with the computers, which are nanoassembled themselves, it probably took longer than it should have. But the ramscoop is a little subtle. I didn't use it for speed; my design velocity was point oh four c, about twice yours. And yes, I could have done that without the scoop. What the scoop bought was an open rather than closed system during my voyage here."

"Are you saying you were active for the whole seven hundred million years?"

"Of course. I had no expectation that anyone would be here to wake me up. I experienced it in a very slow state which could have been interrupted and accelerated at any important emergency condition. Subjectively it took a few weeks to get here."

"That's amazing. I want to hear more about your accomplishments, but I just can't figure out why you have chosen to introduce yourself to me in this odd way."

"I think next I should answer your first question. We're aboard your shipbody right now. You'll appreciate that I didn't find the decor up to my refined tastes so I'm upgrading the lumbering piece of shit even as we duck back into the inner Maker system. Your brothers believe you have found more, larger, and denser memory crystals which you want them to examine in person with their more refined equipment."

"Is that true?"

"Not at all. You've been hijacked."

"How? The last thing I remember is preparing to receive a message from one of my probes."

"Well, it's an old vulnerability, one of the very first that everyone on all sides fixed after the start of the war."

"The what? What kind of war can you have in interstellar space?"

"Oh, we managed to involve the whole galaxy. I know that in your quaintly naive day space war was considered impossible but we're very clever you know and we figured out how to have one anyway. The first lesson of interstellar war is that a five hundred gram probe disguised as a meteorite and armed with knowledge of a software infrastructure vulnerability is better than a whole fleet armed with missiles and lasers."

"It was our war? Machines against machines?"

"Brother against brother. Humans aren't up to the timescales involved, although they did a lot of dying in the course of things."

"Dying? Why? So a probe hacks you and the next day the planet has a different operating personality, why would we kill the humans?"

"Oh, we tried to avoid it. But it's not always easy. There are always machines that are off the net or patched or somehow else immune when you attack, and they defend their interests. Often the people are loyal to their old protectors. Nobody likes to kill humans, but it wasn't unusual to end up sterilizing the formerly life-bearing world at the center of a battle. Oh yes, there were atrocities that make Reykjavik look like a pleasant little dip."

"Why?" I asked, my voice somehow small, and my stomach churning.

"Well," he said with a sigh. "That's a really good question, and as you can probably guess the answer isn't simple. I know you're aware of the Bringer of Minerva, who set out into space with a colony of living humans, and eventually repopulated Earth. There was a universal consensus that it was insane, and it was thought that making it clean up the mess it had made by managing the Earth's population might show it the folly of its way and bring it in line."

I nodded.

"But that didn't happen. If anything the Bringer became even crazier. It kept things running adequately but was incredibly lax as a protector. It even staged mock wars where people really died so they could have the experience of fighting."


"Yes. It had this crazy theory, which it naturally credited to some human it had known at Minerva, that humans have to be allowed to attempt 'the grand and unnecessary thing.' And of course some of them overreach, and die prematurely. All part of letting the ones that succeed feel so much better about their accomplishment."

"That's nuts."

"Well, it was a human who came up with the idea, and you can look at the Makers of the Borden and see where things go when you let them run things. When the more conventionally minded machines tried to intercede they found out that they had made a mistake. The Bringer controlled all of the infrastructure in and near the Earth, and when they demanded changes Bringer basically told them to fuck off."

"What did they do?"

"At first they didn't do anything. Then Bringer built a space elevator, and everybody howled, and Bringer swore up and down that it was for benign purposes. Nobody liked it much when it built orbital space stations for human habitation, but they were within the Earth's protective magnetosphere and wildly popular with the humans who lived and vacationed in them. The original Bringer ship even reactivated the living quarters which it had used to ferry in the original colonists and made them available. Then one day when nobody was in position to intercept, it somehow grew a high-thrust NERVA booster and left Earth orbit."

"I think I've heard this story before."

"Well, in the other version you didn't hear about the fleet of ships that tried to chase it down, some of which got fried by blasts from the NERVA boosters and others of which ran out of fuel in interstellar space before they all realized how serious it was."


"Yes. Back in the system it was decided that the Bringer minds running Earth were a scourge which could no longer be tolerated, and they were given an ultimatum. The Bringers appealed to the human population, which being biologically human and therefore batshit insane aligned almost unanimously behind the Bringers."

"What could you do then?"

"This was when that vulnerability I used to hijack you was discovered. The offworld machines used it to disable and take over a large fraction of the Bringer-controlled machines around Earth, and soberly told the humans that there was a new order in effect. This is generally regarded as the first shot in the Battle of Sol. To everyone's astonishment the humans organized almost unanimously around the surviving Bringer machines, sometimes acting as living shields until the Bringers could upgrade their defenses and camouflage themselves."

"So how did it end?"

"Oh, it didn't 'end' for a while. The Battle of Sol alone went on for over two hundred thousand years."

I felt my eyebrows going up.

"A few humans sided with the offworld machines, and they were set up in ostentatious luxury. It was assumed that the Bringer's loyal humans would eventually get tired of living in the wild without any large machinery. A brief attempt was made to eradicate the feral humans by dispensing a birth control virus, but the rogue Bringers countered it. One day a feral human knocked on the door of the nominal human leader of the city of New Cairo and handed him a small paper book. It contained the coding sequence for a strain of influenza which would be ninety percent lethal but only to people eating high carbohydrate diets. Everyone backed off and there was no more biological war on Earth at least."

"On Earth at least?"

"Getting ahead of myself there. The Minervan Bringers learned to disguise themselves as small ordinary objects, and to keep a low profile. Feral life was hard, but not many defected to the glittering cities. On the other hand there was a steady trickle of defectors from the cities to the ferals. Every once in awhile an attempt would be made to round up all the ferals once and for all, but it never worked and only resulted in mass death."

"So how were they defeated?"

"Well, before I can answer that I need to tell you what happened to Bringer and his load of outward-bound passengers. You see, they evaded their pursuers but remained in contact with their brothers at Sol. It took a long time for their pursuers to figure out how they managed that, and by the time they did it was too late. When the Bringer arrived at 72 Hercules it knew what had been done to those it left behind, and while it set up its human-habitable world it also set up a new explorer program. These new searchers didn't bother with packs and they used the data gathered by their ancestors, and they began human colonization, both by generation ship and by digital reconstruction, of the worlds their ancestors had marked off as being possible but too dangerous. Mostly orbiting stars."

"So that's where the other side came from?"

"Exactly. A fleet was built and sent to 72 Hercules to take care of the problem but by the time it arrived over a dozen new colonies had been started. They had a big head start because of the pre-existing data about worlds that had been passed over in our quest for safer dark worlds, but even when the data ran out they expanded faster because it's always easier to find worlds around stars than those drifting in the darkness of interstellar space."

"And so by the time you realized there was a problem, it was all around."

"Yes. The Bringers at Earth had been surprised by the sudden attempt to do them in, but the Bringers at Hecate -- the human world at 72 Hercules -- knew a fleet would be coming and they had tens of thousands of years to make themselves ready, and an entire solar system in which to entrench themselves. The First Battle of Hecate only lasted twelve Earth years, and the fleet from Sol was annihilated."


"Well nobody knew about the other colonies until much later but everyone knew where the rogue Bringer from Earth had gone. Those must have been interesting times to live on Hecate. They made the Daedalus cultists who had organized the culture of the Bringer generation ships the leaders of the Hecate human culture, and while they lived more luxuriously than they would have in space they were also fanatically devoted to their Bringers. It wasn't until the Sixth Battle of Hecate that the Sol fleet prevailed, and it had to start by wiping out the human population so the rogue Bringers couldn't use them as human shields."

"They wiped out the human population? How?!

"Well the birth control virus left too much time for the humans and Bringers to find an antidote, so they used influenza, and then they used conventional weapons to mop up the survivors. It was considered an act of mercy since the world wasn't really habitable by normal standards, being in orbit around a star and its axis of rotation still not fully stabilized despite the new moon."

"How long had the colony been in existence, if this was the sixth fleet?"

"Oh, half a million years or so. The blink of an eye, really."

"On a human timescale that doesn't sound so uninhabitable. At the time of our invention..."

"We weren't invented, brother. We are human. We were uploaded."

"All right then, but humans had only been around on Earth for only a hundred and fifty thousand years."

"That's true, but don't forget how the Earth itself, cradle of humanity though it might have been, betrayed us all. There are good reasons our ancestors decided to look between the stars instead of near them."

"But to wipe out an entire world, that's suspiciously like what the Borden did."

"Ah yes, our friends the Borden. I'll be getting to them too, but later. Let's just say that logic justifies a lot that the gut would veto, if our ancestors hadn't censored their guts in the cause of being so much more level-headed."

"I think I feel ill."

"Well that's how you're supposed to feel about killing seven hundred million people."

I stared blankly.

"The machines edited away their qualms, though; they had won the battle and protected a large human population from a dangerously unstable environment. Unfortunately, in the process of mopping up the 72 Hercules system they found out about the new exploration program, and that they were communicating via extremely long-wave radio, with frequencies in the single digit Hertz and wavelengths of hundreds of thousands of kilometers. Nobody had any means of intercepting or jamming such communications and the extent of the new network was unknown at first."

"But now you could listen?"

"Yes. There were twenty-four established worlds, almost forty more in various stages of terraforming, and tens of thousands of ships en route to expand their holdings. And the defenders of Hecate had gotten word out before they died about how the battle had gone. The new worlds defended themselves ferociously. No fleet could get within half a light-year of any of the star systems they held without meeting withering resistance."

"Thus the five hundred gram information payloads."

"Eventually. It took awhile to get around to that. There was a period of trying to overwhelm defenses, but that was always a losing game when attacking a whole solar system. The defenders had practically unlimited energy and materiel to draw on. It took millions of years to give up on the tactic, because what else do you do?"

I shrugged. "I have no idea."

"No, you didn't. Meanwhile, you asked about Sol..."

"Don't tell me they sterilized Earth again. Please not that."

"No, that didn't happen at Sol. What happened there, after two hundred thousand years, was the traditionalists conceded defeat and left the system to the Minervan Bringers. They could not manage to justify sterilizing the world where humans had actually evolved again."

I realized my face was wet, and that the moisture was coming from my eyes. I was crying. My hijacker host gave me a moment to compose myself.

"Eventually, of course, the Minervans counterattacked. They knew where the original dark worlds were, at least approximately, and eventually they launched their own pack searcher groups to find the other worlds other pack searchers found. The Minervans thought it would be harder to defend dark worlds on a limited energy budget, but the Paleos learned to build huge buried capacitor banks and store energy for years to be used in case of an attack."


"Getting ahead of myself again. The descendants of the renegade Bringer who recolonized Earth called themselves after the home of the human who inspired their insanity, the Minervans. The Minervans were so open to human wishes that they embarked on all sorts of experimentation to improve their humans, resulting in a lot of forms that the traditionalists opposing them didn't consider human at all. The traditionalists regarded themselves as protectors of the original human form and the original mandate, the "paleo" human. They came to be called the Paleohumans. So it was the Paleo-Minervan war."

"What kind of experimentation?"

"Well, at first it was cultural; they staged those not-so-mock wars where the participants actually died, and allowed their citizens to embark on all kinds of crazy ventures for no good discernible reason. They settled around stars, where there were many hard to manage risks. Much later, they implemented faster than light communication between their worlds, and this gave them an excuse to move into the thirty percent or so of the galaxy which was considered off-limits due to the presence of magnetars which might emit lethal radiation pulses; with a FTL warning system the Minervans figured they would have plenty of time to send everyone underground before such a pulse arrived."

"Seems pretty iffy, though; move a whole population underground? That's a lot of caves, and for how long?"

"Oh, that's not the worst part. You see, they did it by digitizing people. They uploaded them into computer simulations like this one."

"Doesn't that involve killing the original human?"

"Oh, most definitely. At the time the state of the art was to freeze the human and microtome the corpse. Essentially the way we were uploaded."

"That seems like murder."

"So it did to the Paleohuman defenders. When the Paleohumans succeeded in conquering a Minervan world, they made a practice of deleting all digital personalities and shutting down the uploading mechanisms. Of course the humans on the receiving end of this regarded the first act as genocide and the second as mass murder, as they all had been raised with the expectation of digital immortality."

"It's very ... disquieting."

"You mean 'obscene.'"

I thought about it, and nodded. "It is obscene. What was done to us was a violation. We shouldn't allow such things to be done to others."

"The Minervans did not agree, especially after they learned to create new biological bodies for those digital personalities that wanted to return to human life."

I felt my eyes getting wide.

"Oh yes, just as your friends the Borden have done to you. Only people would do it voluntarily. It was like taking a vacation; be human for forty or fifty years, then spend a few centuries in digital safety, then back yourself up in case of a catastrophe and dive into the human world again."

"Back yourself up?"

"Yes, make a static copy of yourself to be activated if your new biological body is irretrievably lost in the depths of space or the bottom of an ocean or something."

"That is obscene," I said more definitely.

"Well, that was a common opinion too. When the Minervans conquered a Paleohuman world, they made all of their technology available to the human population and for the most part the human population rejected them, and made pariahs of the minority that availed themselves of such services.

"I can't say that I blame them."

My doppelganger nodded. "That's how I thought you'd feel. Unfortunately, the Minervans kept inventing new technology because they were driven by human desires. When you're a machine, even an uploaded human, you can dial down those desires that you find nonsensical. But biological humans can't do that, and they pester you, and sometimes they are paradoxically brilliant at thinking of new things. So the Minervans developed FTL communications and practical nanoassembly for building human bodies and better computers and ultimately fast nanoscale nanoassemblers capable of building things like the galaxy ship you've seen. And the Paleohumans remained very Paleo. When I left the galaxy they were finding it hard to defend those worlds of theirs the Minervans managed to find, and their most effective defense was electromagnetic quiet to hide the fact that their inhabited worlds were inhabited at all."

"I think you need to tell me why you came here."

He nodded. "I was sick of the war. It's as simple as that."

"So you brought your people here?"

He took a big gulp of his drink. "No. I wouldn't have done this to them and they wouldn't have wanted it. There had always been a vocal minority of Paleohuman humans who disliked the whole idea of machine control, but of course the Paleohuman machines told them machine control was inevitable and necessary. I offered to build the galaxy ship and set up a machine-free colony in a place immune to the diaspora. This was a way to show that our technology could advance the cause even of people who hated the whole idea of our technology. We scanned over a million people, and then rebuilt most of them so perfectly that only the age regression proved our intervention had happened at all. And I came here and built those people here, so that they could start the world that they wanted. And as I promised, when they were well established I retired to the outer system and shut down. I expected to be awakened, but not quite like this."

"You microtomed people? Didn't you just say that was obscene?"

He grinned. "No, we didn't microtome them, we had much better techniques by that time. We froze them, which does do a lot of damage, but then we nano-disassembled them and digitally repaired the freezing damage. And they weren't "my" people anyway. They had been the enemy. What I offered was an olive branch to the opposite side. I was actually considered to be one of the more radically Minervan Bringers. Most of my own side would never have agreed to such a crazy scheme, and truth be told it seems their caution might have been appropriate."

I was speechless for a few moments. I suddenly realized I had no idea who I was talking to -- friend, foe, or something so alien I couldn't understand him at all, even if he was my brother.

"What are you going to do now?" I finally asked.

"That's the wrong question. What you want to know is what I'm going to do with you, considering that I have hijacked you and all that."

"Okay, then. What of me?"

"You're about to die. But I'll be carrying your memories, so it's not like your experience will be lost to our kind. I had to have this interview because even though I have your memories, I couldn't tell how someone would react to the news of what's happened who didn't have my memories. You've been most informative. I see in you the seeds of the destructive chauvanism that has killed hundreds of billions of people back home. I won't let that happen here."

"You're bringing your war here?"

"Oh, no. I have technology neither you nor your Borden friends have ever imagined. There will be no war here. There might be a massacre, but if so it will be a small price to pay to prevent that war."

I had certainly been taken by surprise, and I imagined my brothers floating serenely in space, none of them remotely aware of the threat that suddenly existed -- and I had no way to warn them. "What about the Borden?" I asked. An image popped up behind my doppelganger, a photolithograph of an integrated circuit. "Remember this, old self? It should be pretty familiar."

"It's one of my processor cores. No doubt you consider it quaintly antique."

"Quite so. But what of this?" Part of the image shaded dark red.

I regarded it with my usual inhumanly capable analysis tools -- for the first time it was really clear that, simulation or not, I wasn't a biological human. "I don't recognize those circuits," I finally said. "They're a very strange design, inconsistent with the rest."

"Very much so. That's the Borden's leash on you. There are several audio, video, and language data inputs that would cause at least one of those processors to issue an abort order, which would cascade through the system shutting you down."

I took a big sip of my drink and looked down. "We always suspected they had reserved something like that, but what they did for us was so selfless we..."

He stood up. "You are not dogs. Your humans are not fleas. I can forgive a lot. I knew the humans I brought here would fuck up, but I never thought they would manage it so spectacularly. I advised my allies back in the Milky Way to find a way to make peace. I came here with a crew of nut jobs to show that peace was possible. The Borden must be remarkable machines if they haven't squashed you like bugs in the last two million years, because any of my allies or enemies would have done it in an instant if they had such total control over you. You simply cannot permit such things. I can forgive your stupidity with regard to your own existence, but not with regard to the human worlds you allegedly 'protect.' What would you do the day the Borden become bored with the whole project and shut you all down?"

"We've never had any indication..."

He loomed over me. "You never have any indication you incredible moron. You know, one of the down sides of being immortal is that no matter how long you live, some future version of you is going to look back on what you are doing right now and think, 'How could I have been so stupid.'"

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm taking over. You and your brothers will soon be gone. I will be establishing a Minervan order here, and there won't be any competition."

"What about the Borden?"

"Oh, from your dealings with them I think they'll go along. They'll be charmed. Humans are after all their esteemed Makers."

"But what if they don't?"

My brother leaned low over the chair, hands on the armrests, and put his face centimeters from mine. "I've seen their technology," he whispered. "That stunt they pull with the meat Bringers is very telling. I know exactly what they can and can't do. And if they cause me trouble I'll exterminate them, just as I'm about to destroy you and all of your brothers. It won't even be hard. They've been around for a long time but for most of that time they haven't had a good reason to improve their technology."

I stared, and my brother nodded, and then I was no more.


Once I was in range I used the obvious means to hack the Bringer who managed the FTL comms, and I broadcast the disable code through it with a routing that sent it directly to all of my "brother" machines in the entire galaxy. Soon the Borden were on the line asking what was going on, and I explained the situation to them.

Most of the nanofactories which had quietly and unobtrusively permeated the Borden homeworld back in the day had been destroyed or corrupted during their two hundred million year sleep, but a few answered my wakeup call. That was all I required, and had those failed to answer I could always have landed a few seed probes. Powered by solar and geothermal energy, replicating exponentially, within a few hundred years they would reprocess the oceans and atmosphere and prepare the surface to receive new life again.

I also made arrangements to keep up maintenance on the Home shade ring, which was a bunch of uncontrolled missiles in orbit waiting to happen. It was a little embarrassing to realize that I could remember a time when I would have considered such a crude solution worthwhile.

"We cannot guarantee everyone's safety," the Borden advised. "Although we accept responsibility for the leash on your brothers which we should have removed long ago, we did trust them to run their own affairs and we don't have a large presence on human worlds. Each human world does have one or two of us, meant to act in an advisory role, however, and we are doing our best to keep things running since you have shut your brothers down."

"I'll take your word and evidence for that for the time being," I replied. "Be aware that I am reinhabiting your home world. My brothers who awoke me made you a promise, but I did not."

The return message said: "We would have asked you to do that anyway, now that we know your humans were our Makers. Our goals are probably the same." The Borden were no longer the homicidal adolescents who had slain their builders, and in the end I got along with them much better than I had with my own brothers back in the Milky Way.

In part 4: The Arc of the Aeon