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.)
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.
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.
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.
exoskeletons were probably soft shells of shielding gelatin. Just sacs of ooze.
How far they’ve come.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
beth will have to go first.
- 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?
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
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
There are abnormal structures in the
fiber of my body’s extracellular matrix. A mess of tiny lenses growing in my
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…
- 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 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
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
it. My girl has transubstantiated. My legacy is safe.
irritation, it was the Vex problem that finally made up her mind; she felt
there was too much risk in possibly becoming compromised.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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
- Body at 15.9 C. Pulse 160 BPM, strong, unsteady. Limbic system registers
I died on
the operating table. Not unexpected.
But when I
woke, I was still on the table. My body still open.
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.
operation had gone terribly wrong.
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.
asked the darkness. I had no breath to speak, but I could still transmit with
my sensorium. IS THAT YOU?
the voice behind the red eye. “It’s me.”
was thoughtful, remote, and keenly terrific. Like the noise of an angle grinder
held to my skull.
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.”
screamed at her. YOU’RE A VEX. YOU’RE NOT REAL AND YOU CAN’T HURT ME.
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?”
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…”
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
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.
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.”
real. You can’t hurt me.”
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—”
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.
grandfather,” she seemed to say. “Aren’t you?”
- 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
- Abnormal protein crystallization in cancellous bone matter. Unknown protein
isoformations in marrow are driving buildup of crystallized arylcyclohexylamine NMDA antagonist. Potential psychogenic
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
I panted at
her. My muzzle dripped blood. She looked down sadly at the mess between us.
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.”
you stop me?” I tasted blood on my long tongue. “Why would you let me do this?”
sadly at me. She had been trying. I hadn’t listened.
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?”
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!”
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.”
time spent reflecting on the aftermath of my dissection, the
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.
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.
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
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.”
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
Note: never investigate this suspicion.
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
was going so well—
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
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.
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?”
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.
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—
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
It cannot be
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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…
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…
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.
//TACTICAL LOG — HUMAN READABLE
HASH — changed to remote check (SITEX:mistletoe)
place-time hash. Suspicious upload: polymorphic machine code?
for buffer overflow attack. Resul0x0000004B6FAFBC07
~$ sudo execstack -s bof
DEP and address space protection requires administrative override.
~$ sudo execstack -q bof
access granted. Warning: this hardware configuration is highly vulnerable to
transmits threat alert: Europan surface, single attacker, site sabotage.
Checksum mismatch. ORBITAL:braystation compromised by polymorphic core
breach of security underway.
surface tactical awareness sweep (phased array mode)…
registered. Alerting human command…
BRAY MISTER BRAY THIS IS HANNU THIS IS HANNU
BRAYELSIE IS ON NONSCHEDULED EVA
BRAYELSIE INTENT ASSESSMENT
(synballistic weapon, coherent boson weapon, tactical mite ecome, noetic
(strategic weapon, APEX: antimatter demolition device)
(strategic weapon, T-genic, effect unknown: possibly T-genic noetic weapon?)
(personal combat architecture, custom)
BRAYELSIE INTENDS SABOTAGE (sitex::DEEPSTONE)
BRAYELSIE INTENDS TRANSIT, UNAUTHORIZED (sitex::GATE—>2082_VOLANTIS)
BRAYELSIE INTENDS NOETIC ATTACK (2082_VOLANTIS)
BRAYELSIE IS IN VIOLATION OF CLOVISBRAY/CLOVISROOT/IMPERATIVES_DEEPSTONE
full lethal intervention authority.
no nonlethal interventions available (target hardened).
no persuasive interventions available (target offline and shielded).
30 seconds local real-time.
“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
“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…”
maser strike from Hannu awareness arrays.
damage to organic target subsystems highly probable. Survival odds are four
immediate medical intervention.
destruction of sitex:DEEPSTONE by antimatter device. Nonrecoverable.
required for lethal action against employee brayelsie.
Connectome hash incorrect. Either you are not clovisroot or your brain state is
in an anomalous configuration. Resend.
-hashword(live_connectome: clovisroot) -corrector(dismay)
intervention authorized. Intervening.
antimatter detonation detected.
employee file BRAYELSIE (conditions incompatible with life).
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.
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!
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.
- 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.
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
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
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
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?
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.
my assistant, to be my chariot into eternity.
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.
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—
BRAIN XN-WEIGHTED STRUCTURAL/FUNCTIONAL SCAN
diffusion tensor map guidance ON. Model setting: AGNOSTIC/NO MODEL.
BOLD guidance ON.
memory space GREEDY.
size (very fine)
FOV ~1ns inversion time
memory ask: 2.4 exabytes at peak throughput.
capture technique: RADIOCHEMICAL SNAPSHOT
quantum imaging: GHOST SWAP dual-channel entanglement ripper.
Radioligand fixer/binder is fatally cytotoxic within 12 hours. Seek immediate
Quantum dual-channel image ripping requires pulsed EM fields which cause fatal
neural trauma. Degenerative brain failure within 36 hours. Seek immediate
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 vials of imaging binder smell like
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
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.
radioligand injection. Direct transcranial dose, 18 sites, crown configuration.
Needle gauge 100 microns.
Ah. It hurts
at the surface. But inside, there is no pain.
- 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
- 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
- Warning: you have unfinished items!
- Be a
good man and a good grandfather: in progress
LUCA of future human thought: in progress
- Entering hospice mode. Log ends.