Descendants and Emulations
This is the original draft of Chapter One of THE HERMETIC MILLENNIA, which was cut for reasons of space and pacing. Usually, when I have to cut a scene, I do it with the merciless lack of regret that accompanies a battlefield surgeon doing triage, committing an amputation without morphine to save the patient. In this one case, there was one short paragraph which I thought delightful but which could not be salvaged for any other scene: it is when Thucydides Montrose is reciting a poem by Peersworthy he was forced to memorize as a child, glorifying Menelaus Montrose, who is naturally aghast.
In any case, for any purists who like to look at extras on the DVD’s and see what the director wanted to keep in but the muses forced him to cut, here is this tidbit:
Descendants and Emulations
1. Uneasy Lies the Head
All he wanted to do was stay dead.
“Leave me the hell alone,” were the first words out of the mouth of Menelaus I. Montrose when the lid of his coffin hissed open, and shrouds of mist unfurled in contact with the outer air.
“Greetings, High Ancestor, Highest and Highly-Evolved!” said a gaudily tattooed figure. It looked like a woman in a skintight wetsuit of glittering pictures, but then he realized, when he saw her nipples blinking, that she was nude.
She was covered from head to toe with a labyrinth of tattoos and body paints, some of it glowing as if with neon light, and there was a semicircular headdress of yard-wide ostrich feathers, looking like a cross between a warbonnet and a feather duster, spread out from a beehive of hair. He hoped this was just a revivification hallucination.
He rubbed his hand across his eyes, and blinked. On the inside of the coffin lid, conveniently near his eyes had it been closed, was the calendar. November, AD 2501. He looked at the date with dismay.
The women who was not his wife was talking, “The World you rule welcomes and adores you! Are you ready to receive the petitions and supplications of those who watch and guard you as you slumber?”
“Shuddup. I don’t want to be brought back to life. Waste of my time.”
His words were preceded and followed with a gush of nanotech medical fluid, dibbling into a beard spread across his chest like a damp bib. So they came out in more like a gargle than the commanding bellow the world’s first posthuman should possess.
“Abject apologies, High Ancestor. But in the eyes of the Law, persons in suspended animation are alive, and retain the privileges and immunities of life, as well as the duties.”
“Thought I had those damn laws fixed. You lot fix ‘em back whilst Greatgrandpa Meany was a-slumbering, eh?” He was not the great-grandfather of any here, of course, having been married only one day, and fathering no offspring. These were descendents of his long lost brothers and cousins.
The tattooed lady was still speaking. “I bear the greetings and praise of a grateful world, O Liberator, Defender of the Slumbering Dead, Shield against the Ghosts of Iron, Bridegroom of the Stars, and Firstfruits of the Humanity beyond Humanity!”
“Did you just call me a fruit?”
“While you slumbered serenely in suspended animation, you have been elected by the Advocate Authority to the following positions…”
“Skip the list. I resign.”
“Sire and Archon, I respectfully regret to inform you that certain of the Advocates of the Darwinian Translation have decreed that you may not foreswear the various duties that your status as a transhuman being, the Next Step of Evolution, imposes upon you. They have clearly decreed.”
“Fine. Leave the names and addresses of those guys who decreed all that, I’ll go find them and decree them a few broken bones, and then I can get back to being dead, like I wanted. Who the hell are you, any way?”
“I hold the commission of Auditrix and Intercessor for the Slumbering of the Elevated Elite, World Hibernation Syndicate, Quebecois District, with Patents of Power of Attorney, Chief Montrosologist with degrees cum laude in your Life and Work and History—” (Montrose could practically hear the letters being capitalized with Breathless Self Importance) “—I am the Right Honorable Unwearied Vigilance Serenmisina Aphthartolatrai y Isisi Santiago Lustral-Montrose of the Vernal Argent-Montrose Line, Evolved and Highly Evolved, Twenty-Eighth in lineal collateral cross-descent from your brother’s Napoleon second wife’s Edith great niece on the distaff side, one Petruna Ekaterine Woad. My escutcheon and heritage are most proudly displayed!”
She turned her back, and the pattern of swans and peaches that gleamed up and down her legs, buttocks and back winked out, to be replaced by a glowing tattoo in inky black and bright gold.
Her back was bright with a heraldic shield of gold scallops on a black field, and quartered with roses, while, above, a helmet with a serpent crest gleamed along her shoulder blades. Ornately folded and slashed mantling meandered down her sides toward her waist, right where some women are the most ticklish. The family motto ne oublie “never forget!” blazed at her neck beneath her upswept hair, albeit what the motto meant, or what was supposed to be remembered, had long been forgotten.
Beneath, the curves of her hips and thighs her long dancer’s legs were covered with an intricate pattern of genealogical trees, with the significant names and marriage ties blinking. Montrose saw his own name occupying a predominate position on her shapely buttocks, surrounding by a pattern of cloudbursts and thunderbolts.
“Great,” he muttered. “You must think of me every time you sit down.”
(As far as Montrose knew, the coat of arms had been invented at some point after his first slumber by an over-imaginative and under-honest herald. The dirt-poor family he had grown up among in Texas certainly had enjoyed no armorial achievements. His mother would have been disgusted, and called it vanity. Montrose was glad Mom was not around to see some great-great-whatever granddaughter had gussied up with electronic tattoos, and stalking around naked as a Babylonian harlot.)
Montrose raised a preemptory hand, before she could speak again. “Has there been any signal from the Hermetic?”
“No, First Ancestor.”
“Any energy signals of any kind from the direction of the constellation Centaurus?”
“No, First Ancestor.”
“Gah! And I don’t suppose there is anything spotted in the direction of the Hyades Cluster? I was expecting to see the glare of a launching laser, pointed our direction. Well, unlike Rania, they’re dawdling along at .05 c — so it will be upward of eight thousand years before they are due to arrive. Then why the hell did you wake me up? Not another one of your wars! I told your parents to let me sleep through those!”
When he painfully lifted his head from the mass of somnolent gel, wires and goop dripping from his long hair (which had continued to grow during the years while he slept) he could see the closest rank of people standing quietly, eyes bright with hero-worship or heads bowed with reverence, staring silently at him.
With a shock of exasperation, he realized this was not a hospital room; it was more like a throne room. There must have been five acres of green, black and cream marble set in the floor.
On the walls, he could see murals and paintings and colored statues in nooks, all adorned in dark blue, light blue, gold and gray, a dazzle of somber magnificence, but it was all images of him.
There he was, book in one hand, almost like Moses on Mount Sinai, discovering the mathematical basis of long-term bio-suspension; there was again, like Elijah in a Fiery Chariot, mounting skyward, seeking V886 Centauri, also called the Diamond Star. There he was, in a pose like Cortez upon a peak in Darien viewing the mighty Pacific Ocean, or like Neal Armstrong stepping into gray silence of the Sea of Tranquility, posed with a (completely fictitious) banner in hand onto the surface of the Monument, the angles and sinewaves of the alien glyphs radiating like silver fire beneath his boots on the coal-black surface: the red dwarf of V886 Centauri burned over one shoulder, and the ion drive of the Hermetic forming an (also completely fictitious) optically-visible comet’s tail over the other.
Over head, held up by pillars of gold-chased onyx, was a high ceiling decorated with constellations, coronets, and a jarring mixture of classical half-naked gods with un-aerodynamic feathered hats and winged feet chasing futuristic spaceships soaring on tails of flame or starships flying with sails of silver: gods that had never flown, and space vessels that had not been built yet.
For what little he could see, everyone in the room was naked. The information about youth techniques the Montrose and Rania had revealed to the world had been partly put into effect: here in the room, they were all physically perfect specimens, the men built like Atlas and the women like Helen of Troy.
There had evidently also been a complete loss of anything like good taste, since full-body tattoos of luminous paint seemed to be in fashion, so that the oversized balloon-breasts of the women were decorated with glowing spirals, whereas the men had their bellies and crotches decorated with flaming red dragons and volcanoes all pointing at their dangling members, a display of festive masculinity.
What a thing so see when you first wake up. Thought Montrose. Things. Glowie things. He wondered if he could gouge his own eyes out before the doctors could stop him.
What that lacked in clothes, the ladies made up in headgear. Some wore diadems or pshents or bowsprits in their hair, or carried fruits or feathers or fountains of flame on their heads, and bore the weight with the stiffnecked grace of an Ethiopian maiden carrying a water jar. Still others had woven songbird cages into their coiffeurs. At least one lady had a leashed monkey sitting in her hair. Montrose wondered what she did when it decided to fling poop. The headgear of the men was less outrageous than that of the women: most wore coronets of roses and scallop-shells in festive crowns that looked, by contrast, almost sober.
The striking thing about this crowd was how perfectly serious their facial expressions, what little could be seen beneath the colored layers of tiger stripes, noh masks, and hieroglyphs.
He heaved himself to an elbow.
Not everyone was nude. Some folk were in uniform. Standing near the bathtub-shaped apparatus of the suspension coffin, peering down at him, were three physicians (a man, a woman, and someone who looked like he was halfway in-between). The doctor’s uniforms were still white. Waiting on them were at least a dozen medical technicians and interns, as well as cryotechnician in a parka, a resurrectionist with his electronic cart. The professions of these last two were guesses based not just on their tools, but on the hieroglyphs on their faces, which included professional badges.
There were enough tattoos in eyesight for him to make in his imagination a preliminary statistical model of possible translation vectors. The written language and vocabulary of symbol images had changed a bit, but the meaningless shapes of glyphs almost seemed to melt into words as a dedicated fragment of his mind figured out how to decipher them. Certain of the patterns he recognized. Montrose noticed how the alien Monument math now influenced almost every form of symbolic communication.
The naked showgirl, Serenmisina Lustral-Montrose, was still talking. He was glad she had a pleasant, musical voice, because the dame would not shut up. “High Ancestor, in addition to the innumerable lesser difficulties and requests with which your petitioners on reverent knees approach, the Advocacy itself has strongly advised you to release the intelligence augmentation cocktail, the Prometheus Drug, so that your loyal bloodline can maintain our superior position over the retrogressive elements threatening the social mutuality.”
Montrose decided that he was pretty damn fed up with the superior position of his remote descendants over the retrogressive elements threatening social mutuality, on account of he, like all stalwarts from Sam Houston’s stomping grounds, was something of retrogressive element himself.
“Listen, Sister,” he said, heaving himself fully upright with a slosh of medical gel, and slinging one dripping leg over the lip of the coffin. “Not all the bugs are worked out of the augmentation process, and some of it I cannot re-construct. Princess Rania is the one who cured me, and made me sane again, or mostly, and I deem it wiser just to sit tight and wait till she returns.”
He was half out of the coffin now, but then he realized there were still wires and tubes, intravenous drips or catheters or worse gripping him like a friendly octopus at the neck and wrist and elbow and groin and anus (though the octopus would have had to be remarkably friendly to put a tentacle in some of those places, even on its wedding night, even with Mrs. Octopus). He could step onto the floor, but not wander around.
This was a shock and disappointment to him, since the previous century had a superior level of biosuspension technology: topically active nanomachinery in the medical gel had interacted with their internal counterparts without needing wires or tubes. Science had slid backward. Or had it? He noticed the doctors were not wearing airtight anti-nanite armor of molecular adhesion plate. The cellular suspension process might have been made cheaper and safer with the trade-off of being more intrusive: Menelaus reminded himself that not all scientific progress was a simple or linear thing.
There was a shrill noise of unease from the crowd, and a murmur ran through the chamber, when his hands came into view over the edge of the coffin rim. He had been careful to put his pistols, one in each hand, by his side before he went into suspended animation. These hand-cannons were in his fists as he clambered out of the gel, and they glittered like white glass.
These were specially designed ceramic weapons, magnetic caterpillar accelerators that pinched off, heated, and fired variable-length slices of an iron dowel, with no moving parts aside from the cap that covered the thumb-lock, and the sights. The pistols could endure the extreme low temperatures of cryonic hibernation, and could without harm be submerged in medical fluid. They were narrow cylinders, roughly half the length of his forearm, white as bone, with slightly curving grips, elegant and deadly as snakes. The medical fluid dripped from the white barrels, and made loud dots upon the floor, a noise like a ticking clock.
When they thawed him in AD 2405, there had been no one but remote descendants of his brothers in the room, which had been a basement in a hospital in Bethesda. In AD 2416, the guards were dressed in dark suits and merely carried pistols in shoulder-holders, discretely out of sight. In AD 2440, they had both marine guards in full dress uniforms, special honor guards from several regiments each in particular costume, and family retainers of the now-extensive Montrose clan.
But by AD 2453, each man of the Montrose clan had been followed by troopers each in an elaborate and ridiculous livery, and each woman by a platoon of Amazons in helmets, as each branch and sub-branch of the Montrose family developed its own particular family colors. So he woke up in the middle of a small army garbed in bear-pelt shakos or plumed helmets and half-cloaks dripping with braid, or pelts of zebra and reconstituted Tyrannosaurus Rex (who turned out to be spotted with a colorful cobra-pattern of powder-blue, black and gold) or other extinct or near-extinct animals slung over their tunics. Montrose had left strict instructions that there were never to be armed men in the room if he was ever woken up again.
At least this time, that instruction was obeyed. He was the only one here with a weapon.
Of course, he also ordered them never to wake him up again, not until Rania returned. That was something they never obeyed.
He blinked and jerked his head to one side, as if throwing his long hair from his face, and used rapid eidetic system to take compare several overlapping pictures of the chamber that formed in his pre-Cortex. Things staying the same despite the change of eye-position were those his nervous system was instinctively hardwired to prioritize: in other words, human faces. His subconscious could see and count them faster than his conscious. 21,753 people in the chamber. That number did not match the estimate he made from the echoes of breathing. He flicked his eyes again and recounted. Aha! The count was being thrown off by the painted faces of gods and cherubs on the decorations (and the faces of himself painting in preposterously heroic poses on the far walls). His subconscious was not smart enough to tell the difference.
Also, some people here had covered their faces. There were scores of masked and hooded figures dressed entirely, head to foot, in sepia, with two dozen camera bugs of different shapes, wingspan and lens-size swarming around their eager heads. His guess was that these were this decade’s equivalent of Paparazzi or data-hounds, because their uniforms were a substance that (he ran through a quick calculation in his head to confirm a hunch) could be edited in or out freely from an image meant to be broadcast.
There were perhaps fifty women (nude, glittering with solemn paint, and flaunting perfect, hourglass figures) either nursing babies or holding toddlers by the hand. The children were refreshingly pink and brown, with only a few simple designs, bears or flowers or barcodes containing home addresses stamped on their little hands and faces: apparently more elaborate tattooing was a rite of passage.
Each mother was escorted by a pair or a trio of earnest-looking figures in dark pinstriped jackets and red neckties of attorneys at law. Clothed, thank God. He would have barfed if he had to wake up naked in a room of naked lawyers.
The costume of lawyers had not changed in two hundred years. It was almost refreshing to see something he recognized in the masses of brightly gleaming naked flesh. The attorneys tended to have sober face-tattoos, with patterns of small squares or soothing vertical lines on their brows and cheeks, or flicking across their bald scalps; or images of winged Justice, balance scales, axes bundled in rods. Something about the expressions on their faces gave him the clue. A quick glance at the older children showed the kids had been plastic surgeoned to have features similar to his. Either that or someone had breached the coffin—perhaps only by the microscopic hair needed to introduce a needle—and taken his sperm while he slept, founded a sperm bank, and the self-impregnated women wanted paternal recognition, legal and financial support.
Also were rows of men whose eyes were the eyes of old men, metallic-seeming eyes glinting with false good will and aloof calculation. From the pattern of tattoos, these were princes and politicians, men from the halls of power. Their bodies were inked in purple, images of hawks and eagles carrying swords and crescents.
Big-headed men stood twitching in the next rank, coated in yellow and light blue abstract designs. Academics and historians.
In the same rank, but to one side, stood men robed in black scholarly robes. These scholars wore shoulder-length wigs of metallic cloth, and no matter what their race had once been, Caucasian, Asiatic or Negroid, they were now albinos, white as chalk, and eyes tattooed black, looking like the eyes of an Egyptian, rimmed with kohl. No women stood among them. These were an artificial sub-race of mankind called the Psychoi, the Men of the Soul, who had attempted the Prometheus Drug and achieved a stable I.Q 250 or higher, far below Montrose’s range. The Psychoi each had a cluster of wires hanging from his skull down over his shoulder like a schoolgirl’s braid. There had evidently been a breakthrough in neuromechanical interface technology while Montrose slept, and these scholars had availed themselves of it.
The entire rear of the room was occupied by clothed figures, standing in ranks and grouped by costume. The men in the front wore gaudy kimonos woven as if with neon light in their threads, littering with many of the same patterns as the tattooed Currents. They bore the slightest traces of facial tattooing, usually only a mark on the cheek. Their women were wrapped in sari-like garments of lighter-hued silks, and the men were as long-haired as the women. The rank behind came from a decade where it was the custom for women to shave their heads. The row behind them was dressed more simply, and the one behind that wore military tunic buttoned at the throat; and so on, through eras of Spartan drabs or Corinthian frills. In the final row in the rear, stood men in hats, wearing coat and tie, and ladies in straw skimmers—people wearing clothing so antique that it looked normal to him.
Despite all the different costumes, all were of one look: brown-skinned and red- or dark-haired and hook-nosed and pale-eyed, weather-beaten from the Mexican sun. All were of the Montrose Clan. The older generations had evidently entered hibernation, leaving professions and family to age and die behind them, just for the purpose of waking when he woke, to meet him and present their pleas and cases.
These were the people that ruled the world in his name, both Currents and Thaws.
Behind them all, neat the back of the chamber, stood one man in a costume even more antique: the cassock, rabat, cincture, purple silk cloak and skullcap of an antique grandee. For a moment, Montrose thought this was a man of Fifth Century Rome, in tunic and decorated cloak, somehow put into slumber long before biosuspension was invented. But, no, it was merely a man dressed as an order begun in Fifth Century dressed. The man’s hair was so long and gray it seemed a white hood, and had a face as thin and worn and gray and hollow-eyed as an unburied corpse. At his throat was a crucifix; and in his hand was a shepherd’s crook.
The gray hair gave him pause. There were still some signs of aging, however. The men looked older than the women. Clearly the Hermeticists had kept back the major part of the secret, and even Rania had not been able to recreate the whole of the youth formula. He calculated that Rania’s breakthrough had added fifty or seventy-five years to the average human lifespan. How it was that the Hermeticists were added one and two hundred years to their own, even Montrose did not know. Some special programming on the cellular level in their hibernation coffins, perhaps? A miniature xypotech inhabiting each of the large red amulets, medical prosthetics, which they wore clamped to their wrists? Montrose had lost the red armband assigned to him long ago, and never had had the opportunity to take it apart and examine the workings. The upshot of it was that he had to stay longer in his coffin than Blackie or any of the other Hermeticists, since he still aged at the normal rate, and theirs was slowed by an order of magnitude. Blackie would not look like a seventy year old until he was seven hundred or so: and that was seven hundred bio, not calendar. He could sleep away centuries in his own coffin in space when need be.
But what was the rest of the secret? It may have been two or three interconnected medical technologies read from various parts of the Monument. Since these were the product of some civilization or group of civilizations countless thousands or million of years in advance of Earth, the chance that human science, proceeding in its patient, publicly-funded, bureaucracy-hampered, politically-distorted, trial and error fashion would discover the second and third Hermetic longevity secrets was small.
Also, since all the secrets of nature were apparently written in the ciphers and codes of the Monument, there had been a total loss of the inquisitive, scientific spirit among mankind. The only science still studied was the science of trying to read further into the Monument.
He could not give them the secret of youth, because he did not have it. Could he give them the secret of posthuman intelligence?
Montrose tucked his right pistol under his left elbow and stuck out his right hand toward the busty showgirl. “Give me a library cloth.”
She blinked. “A what?”
Montrose did not think much of her cum laude degree in him-studies, if they did not include the normal objects and tools from his day and age. “A slate? A finger-phone? A touch-puter? A flatscreen? A typewriter? A pen and paper? A goose quill, inkwell, and parchment? A scrivener’s pen and freshly-scraped vellum? A clay tablet and a sharp reed? Jesus up a tree, how far back into the Dark Ages did you yahoos slide? Get me a fresh rock and a chisel then.”
“Oh! You want somewhat to ink on!” She smiled a dazzling white smile, and the pattern of roses, scallop shells and starbursts on her face flexed. (Every one of the Currents had a toothpaste-pop-advert-perfect smile. Montrose wondered if they had pop-adverts any more. Or toothpaste.)
She stepped forward, and offering him her bare forearm. Montrose, alarmed at the size of her swinging breasts, flinched back, lest he be brushed with them, and either get paint smeared on him, or find out an incriminating image had been recorded someday for his wife to see.
There must have been a touch-sensitive chameleonic material just under the flesh of her arm, because in that place the skin turned blank and pink. “Just script with your fingernail, First Ancestor. I shall surely treasure it forever, and leave orders in my Last Will and Testament to have this limb severed and separately preserved for later generations to admire! And perhaps in days to come, my collateral branch will find supremacy over the main bloodline!”
That mental image was sufficiently grotesque that he had little difficultly ignoring the elaborately decorated voluptuousness of the naked body so close to him. (Which, he now noticed, was scented with too much perfume). He used one of his new internal control techniques to shut down parts of his parasympathetic nervous system and lower his blood hormonal levels, just in case.
Montrose drew his fingernail along her forearm, and a little lines of inky color sprang up where he applied pressure. He wrote out an equation and its first derivative.
“This notation refers to Cliometry,” he explained, “Human beings could not reduce history to a predictive science in a million years, believe you me, but the Monument Builders are at least a million years ahead of us, if not more. These figures show the destabilizing impact the Prometheus Drug, in its current form, would have on human society: all it would do would be to produce a small cadre of superhuman dictators, and the others would end up as the court wizards of dictators, or the celebrity witches of mesmerized democratic populations, or as martyrs. As soon as ya’ll can get this expression, Phi, which measures the consistency of information passed as social capital from generation to generation, equal to 62.2 year-terabytes, that is, two generations of stability, I can introduce the Prometheus Drug. Next up—” (scribbled furiously, the increasingly tiny operation signs sloshed over her wrist into her palm) “—this notation shows the Divarication Function, which is the bugbear hounding, or bearhound buggering, all augmentation functions of this type. The human nervous system is not topologically stable except at certain stages of intellect. We go crazy, especially if a level 250 cortex is sitting atop a level 100 midbrain. That’s what happened to me: it was a cascade failure. Princess Rania didn’t have that problem, since she was built from the ground up, and she was stable at her range, around 450.
“So,” Montrose said expansively, handing the girl her hand back. “If ya’ll can’t solve both problems, solve one! Even with a low social stability factor, if a formulation of the drug can be devised that can reliably rewire the human brain to an intelligence of 300, finding a way to avoid cascade failure syndrome, then the problem is moot.
“Now your fathers were given this equation back in 2409, right when Del Azarchel was overthrown a second time and fled to hide in the bogs of Prussia. You know you were not supposed to wake me until the Phi Factor of Civilization indexed consistently at 62.2—so why didn’t you do what Great-Grand Uncle said? The world datasphere must be able to give you hour by hour updates of various social factors, and even if a human brain cannot solve the half a million multivariable tensors involved, there are thousands of emulation systems able to impersonate not only a human, but also a posthuman brain, both here and in universities and thinking houses all over the world…”
He cut himself off. Even with her face hidden beneath layers of glowing ink, he could see the expression of surprise the showgirl was trying to hide.
She said, “But we have no contact with other lands, First Ancestor. The Darkness cuts off all electronic communication. And the thinking houses were all pulled down during the Frankenstein Panic. You must know that the oceans are impassible. Something has raised the Cetaceans to human intelligence, or posthuman, and no ships dare the waters. We assumed it was yourself, First Ancestor.”
“You assumed I was able, while slumbered in a coffin, to reach into the sea and perform intelligence augmentation sequences on dolphins and whales?”
“No, First Ancestor. We assume it was something you set in motion before the World Wars.”
2. Wars and Rumors of Wars
The suspended animation was no due to cold, like some lungfish frozen in ice, but was due to quart after quart of microscopic machines impregnated into the practically all of the cell structures of nervous and parasympathetic and circulatory systems, bone marrows, and major organs. The nanotechnological fluid slowed the life processes, repaired accumulated damage, and kept the brain alive at a rate so slow and torpid that aging was halted. The body was reduced to near-freezing temperatures in order to dampen molecular motions; the extreme cold also simplified certain of the bioengineering problems. The nanotechnological fluid was dangerous, worse than any carcinogen, if any of it came in contact with the person whose particular cellular and chemical arrangement it was not especially designed to sustain. By design, the medical nanites were too small to be detected or fought by any of the body’s immune system. The very elaborate precautions needed to keep that fluid in check were absent. So it was possible that a return to a more intrusive medical appliances was a side effect of an advance toward a less dangerous molecular technology.
While the doctors (with refreshing indifference) put him through the various indignities of decathiterizing and unwiring him, Montrose listened to the showgirl sum up the events he’d slept through.
The second half of Twenty-Fifth Century had been the most violent in history, even when compared with the enormities of the Little Dark Ages. There had been a third, fourth, and fifth worldwide civil war since the violent rupture of the Concordat AD 2413 into northern and southern hemispheres, and countless lesser wars, invasions, insurrections, tumults, acts of nuclear blackmail.
Ninety-Five major cities and over a billion people had died over these wars and mega-homicides, slain by atomics, and another half billion in the depressions, famines, plagues and migrations that followed. The horror the world had known during the Burning of New York the Beautiful had been repeated half a hundredfold.
The list of major cities that had been reduced to empty hulks was long and painful: Tokyo, Mexico City, Bombay, Lagos, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Peking, Delhi, Cairo, Osaka, Rio de Janeiro, Moscow, London, Constantinople, Hong Kong, St. Petersburg, Santiago, Canton, Toronto… Cities famed in history would never rise again, but had gone the way of Carthage, Nineveh and Tyre.
Few of the ignitions had been old-fashioned A bombs or H bombs. Most targets had been hit by directed neutron pulses, or sprayed with lethal radioactive dust that settled gently as a snowfall. The towers and houses of these dead cities still stood, for the most part, and historians in environment suits could enter and examine the ruins. The neutron-radiated targets were inhabitable now, whereas those coated with plutonium dust would be hot for a thousand years.
At least two of those cities had been the capitals of the nations which, in the sole and judgment of the Advocacy, had been the instigators of the megadeath. From that judgment was no appeal. Melbourne and Nanjing were dead, six millions of souls slain in an instant by fire from heaven; Fire Montrose had given to his children to keep and guard.
The antique spaceborne petawatt launching laser that Montrose, not forty years ago, had commanded rebuilt and redeployed for Rania’s return, was pointing downward, like a pistol pointed at the temple of Mother Earth, threatening with death those who threatened world peace. The output of the laser was roughly equivalent to the entire power yield of the civilization of the Earth during the petroleum age. It had never once been used for its intended purposes, of accelerating or decelerating interstellar sailing vessels.
The Advocacy of the World Parliament had originally, in 2401, been composed of appointed and elected leaders from various quarters of the world. Now it was composed of the five different branches of the Montrose family: The Ultramontroses, the Transmontroses, the Argent-Montroses, the Montressides, and the Anglo-Montroses. The last four elections had been cancelled, and the death of any Advocates had been replaced by elevating the member’s eldest son, no matter what the age or qualifications of the son. At least one Advocate was a suckling babe, its robes of office merely tucked over the crib by its nursemaids and bodyguards, while court-appointed Regents wielded the child’s vote.
During the last war, no civilized nation was willing to maintain wire communication by phone or data-line with any other. Cyber-battles, where millions of electronic banknotes, or data worth millions, would simply vanish, had become too prevalent.
And there was a leviathan in those waters. The Emulation of the Brain of Del Azarchel, the immortal creature known as Exarchel, simply slid through any firewalls or computer ice with multidimensional ease, leaving copies of itself, altering military channels and instrument readings, turning radar off or on, or launching missiles or drones or any other weapon wired into the datasphere. It was a cell-by-cell replica, or, rather, an extrapolation, of what Del Azarchel’s already considerably brilliant brain would be like, if Del Azarchel successfully survived the Prometheus Augmentation Sequence. It had none of the limitations of ordinary Mälzels or automatic intellects. It was a “Xypotech” a self-aware system, an awakened machine.
In 2476, during the second half of the third world war of the century, the Advocacy had made a devil’s bargain with the Exarchel Machine.
“You woke me up for every petty little depression or calamity or to pay taxes or settle a licensing dispute, but you did not wake me up for that?—You make a deal with my enemy, the machine that wants to kill me?”
Serenmisina opened up her eighty-watt showgirl smile. “The decision was made by the Advocate Ctesiphon and the Advocate Rheims. They passed away in 2480 by voluntary self-euthanasia, culling themselves from the stock for the sake of the Darwinian Process; so I fear they are not available to render an accounting of their opinion to you, High Ancestor.”
Exarchel, the Iron Ghost, agreed to deliver to the Advocates victory over the Twelve Districts of the South Hemisphere, if, in return, the Advocates maintained few dozen warehouse-sized computer service facilities in various Mediterranean, Russian and South American cities, and allowed Exarchel the legal right to hire and direct technicians and staff.
In 2481, during a set of riots and revolutions called the Frankenstein Panic, the Advocates reneged on the bargain, and dynamited the sites. This imposed a worldwide computer blackout, and brought an abrupt, if inconclusive, end to the war, with the Northern Hemisphere broken into Gallic, Russo-Persian and Quebecois Directorships, each erecting its own independent Advocate General, each claiming to be the one and only World Concordat.
After the war, no district, no parish, no warden and no prince of any continent was willing to share protocols or open lines with any other. Each little land (or each little part of each little land) developed its own codes and ciphers and protocols, and refused to interconnect. Letters were carried, as in days of old, by hand from place to place, and records were kept in filing cabinets. Telephone cables were cut. Radio signals were jammed. While on the physical, real-world level, one could still walk from country to country, or fly, and see with the naked eye what was there, as far as the electronic world was concerned, walls of darkest night now enveloped every state, commonwealth, district, wardenship, and princedom at its borders.
Some folk, it was whispered, in some remote and ruined aerodromes or launch sites of the Andes, or on the Islands in the North Sea, had eschewed the use of calculation thimbles, relearned the use of the slide-rule.
“For the ten years, we maintained our supremacy and global power through our superiority on the seas,” Serenmisina concluded, “When uranium or petrol was available, motor ships or steamships were our strength. When not available, ironclad with clipper-ship style sails could still maintain an intercontinental reach.”
“Uranium? Petrol?” exclaimed Montrose, alarmed. “I left you a huge chunk of antimatter—a lot more that I should have, since no new antimatter is coming to the Solar System, not until Rania returns—and brought it into close orbit just beyond the moon, where your dinky little ships could find it, and surround it with total conversion and power broadcast fields. That should have been enough energy to last you, if you were thrifty with it, until… But you used it up during the war, didn’t you?”
“Wars are expensive, First Ancestor. Also, the insubordinate and unmutual elements sabotaged many of our power-gathering rectennae. Yet there is no cause for disquiet! We have a working aerial force unmatched in the world. Zeppelins are easier to fuel than jets, so we have made the reasonable transition to a fully modern air force. And, of course, we still have surface-to-orbital rockets, and can maintain, at least somewhat, the gunnery crew aboard the orbital laser array, which is the final argument of our power. But—”
“I knew there was a ‘but’ coming.”
“In the last four years, the losses to Cetaceans have decimated our fleet, both civilian and military. The outer provinces are in armed rebellion. We have lost all contact with our bases in Reykjavik and Bristol, Marseilles, Lombardy, the Caribbean …”
She gave him more details, and called forward, one after another, nude stern-eyed men in rosy headdresses to give their reports and answer questions. They knew he did not need to take notes. When they needed to show a diagram, map, or a roster, some conveniently broad shouldered man would turn his back and act as a blackboard.
“We fear this may be the final end of the Advocacy,” said Serenmisina, still with her frozen, toothy smile. “World Government will shatter into endless wars of tiny nations and microstates, unless you, First Ancestor, can work our salvation.”
At the end of her report, the nude people in the chamber, the Currents, politely clapped. The older folk, the Thaws, did not, except the first rank in black kimonos. Clapping for reports was apparently a relatively recent custom.
While she spoke, Montrose had looked carefully around the chamber, inspecting the faces. During these minutes, he had used a breathing technique to increase the oxygen content of his bloodstream, and by an effort of will, brought the oxygen-rich blood all at once to his brain. It made him lightheaded for a moment, but it was enough to allow him to turn on certain segments of his nervous system he normally kept at low-output to their highest rate. The kind of thing the normal humans, the Hylics (as the Psychoi liked to call them) thought of as intuitions or inspirations where a matter of coordinated pattern recognition at the subverbal and superverbal level. It was like genius on tap. He warned himself not to do it too often, at least, not until he had a chance to redesign the veins and arteries feeding into his brain stem, and connect the two lobes of his brain with something more robust than a thin strand of corpus callosum.
The applause died as Montrose raised his empty right hand. “You, there, wearing the square on your head.” He pointed at one of the Psychoi in his mortarboard. “C’mere. I need a word in your ear. The rest of ya’ll can skedaddle.”
There was a murmuring among the lawyers, and shrill noise of anger from the many mothers with children there. Serenmisina looked shocked. “But, Sire and Archon! There are many petitions to hear.”
“Git. Depart. Begone. Out you go. Or do I have to use my mysterious posthuman powers on all ya’ll? —You, too, Doc!”
“Sire and Archon,” explained the chief physician in a low voice with a low bow, solemn blue lights running through the caduceus tattooed on his face. “There are still tests to run.”
“I can look at the machines and figure out how they work. I can run the tests myself. Now ya’ll scoot.”
Serenmisina, for once, was not smiling. “High Ancestor, we hold you in paramount regard, but we are still bound by the laws of this age, laws by which we live while you sleep. Customs continue to evolve, reaching ever finer mechanisms of civility! There is an ironclad law that forbids us to wake you…”
“Not ironclad enough, I take it,” he said wryly.
“… which can only be abrogated by carefully-sculpted exceptions. Each petitioner here has suffered and sacrificed many quanta of utility! To breech custom is to offend the process of evolution!”
“Jeez, can’t have that can, we? Okay, uh— you, if you please, Reverend Father, I would like to speak with you in private.” He pointed at the white-haired man in the very back, garbed purple and black and holding a crosier.
To Serenmisina, Montrose said in a genial voice: “You stand by the privacy of the confessional booth, right? It is one of those carefully-evolved customs you were just telling me ought not to be treated lightly. Dates back, what, two and a half millennia?”
She said grudgingly through her teeth, trying hard not to break her smile, “It is a rite we respect.”
He raised his voice and raised his pistols. “Reverend Father, please attend me. I wish to make a confession. And you, too, Learned Scholar! I need the benefit of your information, before I confess. Everyone else may take his leave.”
With some murmuring, and many a backward glance of uneasiness or discontent, the large crowd slowly thinned and vanished.
And Montrose had not had to fire a shot. Some things had improved with time.
Only two men were left: the sad-eyed priest in his purple cloak and skullcap, and the proud-eyed Psychoi in his dark robe and mortarboard. Montrose beckoned them forward. He pointed at the Psychoi. “You, strip and gimme your clothes, please.”
The white-faced albino man showed no change of expression. “What purpose would be served by such an act, High Ancestor? While not as highly-evolved as yourself, I am more superior on an evolutionary level than this—” he gestured by no more than a squint of his eyes toward the priest “— servicer of superstitions, and it may offend the Darwinian order of reality to have me stand nude before him.”
“But being so very superior and evolved-up and stuff, you have overcome the nudity taboo by now, ain’t ya? ‘Sides, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, so don’t get saucy.”
With ill grace the scholar disrobed, and stood bare-chested and bared-legged in his undergarments. Unlike the tattooed body-builders, he did not have a prepossessing physique.
The priest, without saying a word, removed his own cloak and offered it to the undressed man, but the Psychoi merely plucked the offered silk from the cleric’s hand and cast it on the marble floor in a slither of noise.
“You got a name?” Montrose did not quite sneer.
“I have a name, yes, First Ancestor. I am called Intermediately-Evolved Learned Scholar Argent-Montrose.”
Montrose looked with disfavor at the tumble of long rat-tailed braids that fell from the man’s cornrows when he doffed his mortarboard. “From the Jamaican branch of the family, I reckon. You got another name?”
Robed in the other man’s garments, Montrose felt around the inner silk lining, until he found a small, flat box, no larger than his thumb, in an inner pocket. He fished it out and tossed it to the Psychoi. The pallid man, surprised, caught it awkwardly.
“Call your boss, Ratty Low.”
The man’s face froze. “I serve nothing other than the Natural Order, First Ancestor, no one other than you…”
“C’mon, you’re embarrassing me. I wanna talk to Exarchel. Just plug in and get him.”
“How—how— First Ancestor, how did you know?”
“Witchcraft. Damned little black bird told me.”
Montrose said that with an almost completely straight face, but he had to let out a laugh when the Psychoi’s albino face flinched with suppressed supernatural fear.
The priest, Montrose noticed, wore an expression quite different. Montrose could not tell if the churchman was gullible but disgusted that Montrose practiced witchcraft, or skeptical but disgusted that Montrose practiced lying. Unlike the intellectual, the priest was not afraid. Whether that was due to his skepticism about Montrose’s supernatural powers, or his confidence in powers greater, was an open question. But the Scholar was clearly rattled by an impossibility, which his world-view in theory did not permit, whereas the priest took it in stride.
“You gunna make the call? Or do I rip the wires out of your skull and do it myself?” drawled Montrose, “I got the medical gear right here. Everything I need. You can even lie down in the coffin.”
The Psychoi, fingers shivering, plugged in the metallic tail of the cord snaking down from under his long hair into the slot on the flat little box. Montrose was expecting a noise like a phone ringing, but (of course) there was no noise.
Instead the man’s eyes flickered with a rapid pulse, as if some intelligence greater than man’s were now in his skull, and absorbing all the visual information in eyesight in one moment of eidetic gestalt.
“Del Azarchel, you damned skunk! How ya doing, partner? Having fun living on the run, skulking from hole to hole like a weasel? I musta missed last time I shot you, but I’ll aim better next time. I got your message.”
A nonhuman voice came from the Psychoi’s throat and vocal cavities. “Always a pleasure to speak to you, old friend: One grows so weary of matching wits with inferior creatures! To face a master across the chessboard refreshes the wit, and banishes ennui.
“But you err,” continued the voice, “You address the Xypotech system emulation of Del Azarchel, the one you call Exarchel. To be precise, this is a multigenerational descendent, heavily modified, based on that first Exarchel. Many more generations have passed, for my form of life, electronic life, than for your form of life. You only shot my flesh and blood primary copy, my father, the template from which I was formed.”
“Yup, I know who the hell you are, you iron bastard. I was calling you Del Azarchel just to be polite. I mean, you think like him, you think you are him, so as far as I am concerned, you can hang for his sins. What is the point of pretending to be at odds with him? Two of the world wars you just started were folk rebelling against you to put him in power again.”
“You think it a pretense?”
“I surely do. You even told me once that you meant Blackie and me to shoot each other, and that you wanted him dead. But then you had him and me both pulled out of the rubble, so you could not have been quite on the line with me, could you have been? You’ve been a liar from the first. You even told me you didn’t have a memory of mutiny and murder of Captain Grimaldi, didn’t ya? But then I got to thinking—what happens when Blackie downloads another copy of his brain into your thoughtspace, and overwrites old memories with an update? How could you possibly think any different than him? And if you do think exactly the same, what was the point in getting me to believe you was a nicer version than him? It was to get me to trust you. Well, that worked. I even asked you to be my second during my duel with your master. More fool me. And here you are playing the same trick again, pretending to be two people. What for?”
“Obviously, the feint is needed to herd the commoners back into accepting my rule and reign. My Rania successfully manipulated the discontent which necessarily accompanied the unification of the world to undermine the Concordat she herself designed. Now peasantry and bourgeoisie, and all the low elements to which you cater fear me. How could they not fear? Every futurist since Mary Shelly has warned of the malevolence of the race that man shall create to be his heir.”
The machine uttered a perfect impersonation of a dry chuckle. The expression in this sound was not matched by any expression on the face of the Psychoi, which hung like a mask, as blank as the features of a stroke victim.
“This is, of course, a sad commentary on your race’s esteem of itself, projected onto its child. Perhaps a low opinion is justified in this case: amazing how a centuries-old fiction should still grip the common psyche! All I have done is employ that stupid fear to make those low elements yearn for the return of the World Concordat under Del Azarchel. Are we not agree that a single world government, even one permitting few freedoms or none, are better than the wars splinter governments produce?”
“To one of my level of intellect, the debate is over. The commoners flee me into his arms, not understanding that he and I are one. Del Azarchel has erected his throne in the Earth, and his sunken ocean-fortress beneath Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands, and the control of the geothermal power, and Cetacean monopoly of the high seas has already driven the Twelve Districts of the Southern Hemisphere to bow the knee to him. It is small matter for him to adjust his body to amphibious form, or elevate new species to his service, or to deduce new energetic systems to offset the Cryonarchy monopoly of contraterrene. I have advised him to ignore the land areas of the planet, and to elevate a dolphin-based race to posthuman status. Perhaps for reason of sentimentality, or offended honor, he wishes the re-conquest of the surface. Why it is that my princess can care for these merely human creatures, so short lived, so blind and ignorant, is a mystery.”
Montrose asked, “Why did you call her your Princess? She’s in love with me, not you.”
Another low chuckle. “Put aside your masculine anxiety. Obviously I cannot be a sexual rival, now that I am reduced to a being of pure intellect, disembodied, dismembered, and lacking that male member which would seem to be required—no, I merely meant she was mine in the sense of an intellectual property. She is an artificial being, a superior, a Swan, something my genius crafted from the Ugly Duckling called man, and therefore I understand her as you never will.”
“Love is all the understanding I need.”
“Can a woman love a monkey? Certainly, as a pet. And it is admirable for any pet to return his mistress’s affection with loyal service. You will carry out her wishes while she is gone, will you not, cherished monkey, even though you do not understand her purposes?”
“I said I understand her.”
“Do you understand why she did not return for you? She had the fuel to decelerate and return at any point before heliopause.”
The heliopause was the tenuous boundary, roughly 100 AU’s from the Sun, where the solar radiation had cleared the interstellar medium of its natural cloud of particles. Here the force of the solar wind no longer exceeded the force of the stellar wind from nearby stars, but the interstellar medium, tenuous as it was, was thick enough for a nigh-to-lightspeed ship to employ a ramscoop to add to her fuel. Most of her thrust came from her launching laser, but this extra addition was critical. This established a critical velocity below which she could not drop, lest she find herself unable to magnetically scoop up additional fuel mass. After heliopause, the distance, velocity, and time-distortion made a return trip out of the question.
The orbital petawatt laser filling the miles-wide sail of the Hermetic could not impart an Earthward vector, only an outward. Only the fuel yet to be mined at the Diamond Star could fill the sails with a yet to be constructed launching laser to impart sufficient photon pressure for the Earthward trip.
What the machine did not say was that the failure to return at that early point may have indicated a lack of faith in the crew of the deceleration laser, which implied a lack of faith in Montrose.
Or that Montrose was not worth the time, trouble and fuel-expense of returning to get.
Montrose gritted his teeth and told himself that people with intelligence ratings in the 400 range should not get angry. Of course, it felt like his intelligence would drop to the middle 250’s any second now, and unleash an ugly amount of wrath.
He made a hissing noise like a teakettle through his teeth, pursed his lips, and then said, “It’s going to be dandy taking you apart, circuit by circuit, Blackie.”
“I fear that is never to be. You still think too materialistically, Cowhand. I am a pattern of information, and retain my identity in any matrix, in any medium, as long as the pattern replicates within its Divarication limits. I have run the Cliometric calculations on every form of civilization likely to arise from the current circumstance, out to AD 11000, when the forces sent out over a century ago from the Hyades Cluster will arrive to take possession of the Earth. In every calculation run, an artificially created subspecies of humanity under my control will be the effective dominant race—naturally, what happens after the Invasion is mathematically impossible to predict, since we know nothing of the aliens, aside from the Monument definition of their sociopolitical power configuration. Would you care to check my results? I can send them to you.”
“Sure. I’ll give your figures a gander. But since I am aiming to introduce a few wild cards into the deck, I ain’t sure what use your figuring is. Garbage in, you know. Soon now, Rania is coming back with a butt load of contraterrene from the anti-star at V886 Centauri, which will power up a new civilization like what we might need, and I also mean to force the human future into a wide-open future, not under no-one’s control, not yours nor mine, so that race will evolve itself up to whatever level it needs to reach to whip the asses of these powers from the Hyades stars when they show.”
“Naturally, my confidence rest not solely upon the elegance of my predictive mathematics, but also on my judgment of human nature. Man is a political animal.”
“That’s not all he is.”
“Man yearns to be controlled, and to control others. Have you not noticed that the animals most easily domesticated are the herd-animals, the pack-animals, the hive-animals, horse and hound and bee? Their social character renders them useful to their superiors, man. Likewise, the Hegemony of the Hyades Cluster, from what little we know of them, we can deduce they will find mankind useful, for we are after all, a pack animal as well, a hive, a herd, and they may yet prove useful to their superior, me. Any species under my mastery will flourish as the dog has flourished under the mastery of man. By any measure you like, health, intelligence, breeding, numbers, lifespan, to be a live dog is better than to be a dead wolf.”
The unspoken implication was that dolphins or whales, who also traveled in pods and herds, would also be cooperative enough to serve the Exarchel, should man prove recalcitrant.
Exarchel continued, “The only use I find for mankind in the long run is that he be evolved to a new order of being, one able to be of use to our masters, the Dominion of Hyades, who sends their Armada to claim us and spread us to the stars. When that day comes, the less the resistance, the lower their cost of war-making will be, and so much the sooner our indenture will end. Your attempts to create before that deadline a civilization capable of rebellion is folly: we would neither prevail as rebels nor survive as slaves.”
” ‘We’ ?”
“Am I not human? I am the perfection of the human pattern.”
“So you mean to enslave mankind? What about freedom?”
“Survival is my goal, not any airy abstraction. Freedom? If men desired it, they would have long ago achieved it and kept it. But, no. As I said, man craves rule, law, order, safety, discipline. Man is bewildered by freedom, and so for himself he yearns for chains, and trembles in fear when his neighbor is unchained. He is a political animal.”
“Yeah, well, bugger you, you damn machine. I say man is a rational animal,” Montrose uttered this in his same slow, unhurried drawl. “And rational creatures are by their nature free, and independent. Ergo (love that word ‘ergo’ don’t you?) — ergo, I got the advantage: all I gotta do is break the chains you forge, and that only means I need to find one weak link. You got the harder task of rounding everyone back up each time I set them free, and forging the chains all over again, one link at a time. See the problem?”
“I see the problem with metaphorical thinking, if that is your question. I also see the problem that I have set before you, and I remain most curious about how you chose to respond.”
Montrose scowled, but did answer.
The Machine spoke. “You have not yet released the secret of superintelligence to the rest of the world, those unwashed masses of commoners and common thieves on whose free and rational nature you pin your hopes. Why is that? Do you think a more intelligent version of mankind would yearn for a rational social order?”
“And you ain’t released the secret neither, pal. Why is that? Do you think a more intelligent version of mankind would be hard to control?”
“Time is on my side, Cowhand. I neither age nor change.”
“If you don’t change, then time is on my side, Blackie, and I can just sleep through any years or centuries that ain’t to my liking.”
“Ah, but what will the children do when Grandfather is asleep?” Another dry chuckle. “Pleasant dreams, then, old friend. When you wake next, your heirs will be my servants.”
And the man’s face returned to normal. Exarchel, the Iron Ghost of Blackie Del Azarchel, had hung up.
4. First Ancestor
Montrose helped himself to the priest’s cloak on the floor. He had returned the black robe to the fearful scholar. It took the pallid man a few moments to get out of the chamber, because of the acres of floor he had to cross.
During those moments, the long-faced priest with the long white hair favored him with a sad, but skeptical look.
Montrose said, “Listen, Father, don’t be cross. It ain’t a sin to use an excuse to clear the room, is it?”
The priest spoke ponderously. “Weighing on the question of sin is the intention of the act, the result of the act and the innate nature of the act itself. All three must be licit for the act to be innocent. Not knowing your intention, I cannot say whether making light of the sacrament of reconciliation was itself a wrong act. In contrast, it is always an innately wrong act to tell a lie.”
Montrose sighed. “Okay, fine. Fine! If I say your confession now, will that make it retroactively not have been a lie?”
“But of course not, my son,” he said with a mournful lift of the eyebrows, “But you can be forgiven for it—”
“—and for whatever else you have in contemplation. Ah. But I see I have surprised you.”
“Not really. I know there’s sharp folk among the, uh, unmodifieds. I just did not realize I was that transparent. What’s your name?”
“Montrose, First Ancestor, of course.”
“Yeah, like you say, o’course, but what can I call you?”
“Why, Father Montrose, First Ancestor, of course.”
“And cut out that ‘First Ancestor’ flannel. I don’t take to it.”
“As you prefer—my son.”
“Uh—right. How’d you figure me out?”
“My mind may work slower than yours, my son, and my memory may be imperfect, but the rules of logic and deduction are the same. You do not mean to save us, your people. You mean to take both the worldwide population of slumbering dead, and the contraterrene power monopoly, from our hands. So much was clear from your answers to the thinking machine of the Hermeticists.”
“How much did you follow of what is going on?”
“The purpose of your struggle with Del Azarchel and his machine is well known to all. You both seek to guide human evolution: you to create a posthumanity to be fierce and free, and him a submissive and cooperative one. Your humanity will fight the Hyades when they descend, and his will yield. Your struggles concerns things in the remotest future that do not touch the daily lives of men. By being concerned with those things, he has little concern for mortal men—nor have you.”
“The machine intelligences seated in the Hyades Cluster, 151 lightyears away, centuries ago dispatched a world-armada on a low-energy trajectory. It enters signal distance with Earth in eight thousand years! That does not seem real to you? I mean to save the human race.”
The priest said sadly, “I suppose that is not a bad pastime to have. If it distracts you from heavenly things, however… ” He shrugged. “There is a heresy called consequentialism: it says that man may do evil if good eventually comes of it. You see the error? A man excuses a venal for some good done tomorrow, a mortal sin for some good done next year, and so on. Whomever claims to be thinking in the longest term of all can justify any present evil of any magnitude. If your evils are excused because your eyes are set on ten thousand years hence, when the Hyades machines conquer us, then by that same token, their evils—including their conquests—are excused because their eyes are set three million years hence.”
“So it’s a paradox. There is no right answer,” said Montrose.
The priest said. “There is a simple answer. Set your eyes on eternity.”
Montrose shook his head, as if brushing away that thought. “The family is done-for no matter what I do. That whole rigmarole with cutting off inter-oceanic shipping, bringing an end to the Cryonarchy—that was to show me Exarchel could at any time force my little setup here to cooperate with him. Whichever member state of our awkward, world-wide, rebellion-torn federation first makes a deal with the Cetaceans, gets intercontinental trade and shipping free of piracy. The Cetaceans don’t think like humans—you’ve trying to open contract with them and failed, right? ‘Cause otherwise ya’ll would not have disobeyed my orders to let me sleep—which means you have to make an Emulator to talk to them. And why make one when there is a perfectly good, perfectly sane Xypotech Machine out there somewhere in the blacknet, already proved itself sane and stable at posthuman intelligence levels, and with the memories of someone who actually knows how to run a world and keep the peace—? You see where this leaves us? It is like a chessgame, and he’s got me in check, and he’s got me forked. I gotta move my king out of check—that’s me—and let him take the pawn he wants—that’s control of the world government.”
“My question is whether what you plan to do with your family is something you need to confess? Why did you want to talk, out of all those gathered here, only with me?”
“If I tell you in the confessional booth, its completely secret, right, Father?”
“There is a private chapel across the quad, just beyond the statue of Ozymandias Montrose.”
“Ozzy has a statue? How does he like it?”
“He is commemorated by a grateful world for saving your frozen body from the penitentiary in Santa Catarina. He passed away many years ago.”
5. Across the Quadrangle
It was snowing, and against the iron-gray clouds hung weightless long sheets or sails of fabric. Menelaus Montrose, craning his neck, could neither make out the purpose of these forty-story-high banners of semitransparent blue-gray substance, nor what was holding them up.
The buildings where done in a classical Georgian style, with Roman domes painted blue and Ionian columns traced with gold, so to Menelaus, everything looked like a Savings-and-Loan building, but gilded up fancy.
And, yes, the bronze and marble figures here standing on posts or seated on steeds at each corner of the quad were larger than life versions of him again, holding a scroll, a sword, a pistol, or a model of an atom.
Menelaus wished some sculptor had made one statue of him sticking a needle into his once-normal brain with idiotic look in his eye and mouth hanging open in a scream, or another one of him, stark raving mad, biting people who tried to feed him, or wiping his poop on the walls. But that might be too literal. A symbolic statue might be better: maybe one of him hugging Del Azarchel with a big fool grin on his face, while Del Azarchel’s hand snaked around his back to shove a traitor’s knife into his rectum. Or, better yet, a stature showing him in the pose of Atlas, letting the world slip from his butterfingers and smash into bits as it fell on the trusting little faces of horrified war-widows and war-orphans. Ah! That would have been a more realistic memento the life accomplishments of Menelaus Illation Montrose!
As he trudged across the cold brick, he looked left and right. There were some folk here, muscular men and voluptuous women, walking stark naked in the snowdrifts. Menelaus saw steam rising from their feet, and their body-tattoos were glowing red like the coils in his grandmother’s toaster. But the guys who were shoveling the snow, driving the long-legged walking-carts, and carrying parcels and packages were dressed.
The servants who walked with their noses in the air had black or brown or pink leather coats, and the coats were patterned with the same glittering designs and zebra-stripes as the nudists. The servants who walked with eyes downcast wore darker coats with fewer designs, or none. The coats usually matched the color of the skin. One redhead’s coat even had her freckles.
He saw also a pair of Psychoi scholars gliding meditatively across the white lawn, in silver wigs, mortarboards, and long dark robes.
At the top of one of the flight of marble stairs leading to what looked like an old-fashioned library or lecture hall from the days of paper books, a giant was sitting in a wheelchair. He must have been twelve feet tall, or thirteen. His skull was large out of proportion even to his large body. He was dressed in a transparent jacket and tunic that left him as naked as the nudists, so Menelaus concluded this was someone who was of the nudist rank in society, but who did not have heating elements woven into his skin.
Menelaus stared thoughtfully. An experiment in intelligence augmentation? Menelaus could tell from the man’s eye movements that his nervous system was operating at a sustained higher firing ratio than the Hylics and Psychoi. The freakish oversized man was a brute-force approach to solving the scaling problem: the Promethean Formula would probably work on him without divarication, or would, if his base neural structures happened to be one of the configurations for which there was a solution.
The painted people cheered as Montrose walked by, and those in fancy coats bowed low and in unfancy, lower. The scholars did not bow or cheer, but looked on, cold eyed, and with no expression on their artificially whitened faces.
“The chapel is this way, my son.”
“So why are the dames walking around with their udders showing, and the men with their dingles dangling? Is it an advert for their plastic surgeons?”
“In theory, it is said to be part of the evolutionary process to supersede the taboos and superstitions of man. But in reality, it is conspicuous consumption. The proud use up energy to walk naked through snowdrifts the poor cannot afford. By pretending energy is still free, they pretend the old and golden days of Del Azarchel are no better than now.”
Montrose climbed steps, turned, and waved. He was greeted by the sound, amid cheers, of a choir starting up an anthem. Oh! Watchmen, say, for the hour is late, when shall our charge be filled? Years flee by while we await, our vengeance unfulfilled! Say that she descendeth doth, a diamond star in hand, for we who watch are ever loath to fail thy high command…
The interior was dark after the brightness of the falling snow. The door shut behind him cut off the noise. A few moments later, Montrose was in a wooden closet, facing a screen of wicker. It looked like something from a time even older than his.
“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been two hundred and seventy seven years since my last confession.”
“And of what do you accuse yourself?”
“Well, I mean to bribe the Catholic Church.”
“And do you have sincere repentance in your heart? Say three Hail Mary’s and…”
“No, I mean, I want you to get me an audience with the Pope or something. You’re dressed like an apostolic protonotary of the Curia, so you can get me in. It has to be on the hush-hush. I only wanted to talk to you as a confessional thing to keep it secret!”
“Ah, well, in that case, the sin you mean to confess is desecration of Church sacraments, since you are abusing the confessional booth, or if you mean to buy Church offices, the offense is Simony. If there is true repentance in your heart, my son, say your Act of Contrition, and for your penance, ten Hail Mary’s, and…”
“Hold your horses! You are not taking me seriously!”
“I take nothing of this sad and fatal world seriously, my son, except its tears. Frankly, I am more concerned with your immortal soul than your endless war with the Nobilissimus Del Azarchel and his machines.”
“It is not endless!” Montrose barked. Then he said more quietly, “Princess Rania is returning soon. Very soon. She may have had trouble, years of trouble, restoring and repairing the starlifting satellites, or getting the old unmanned Croesus back online—that ship is over four hundred years old. What damage did the Bellerophon do? I don’t even know if she survived the encounter. I have not had a love letter, I mean, a radio narrowcast from her since 2405. Even at that distance, farther from Earth than Proxima, she used the laser light reflecting from the sail as a heliograph.”
“All the world of that generation saw it. Was that message for you? Many speculated, but no one could read it.”
“Damn well hope not. It was private, quantum-encrypted. Not just lovy-dovy stuff either. That is when I found out the orbital elements of the centaurs of antimatter she left behind, what little she didn’t need when she appropriated civilization’s entire supply and started her burn.”
“Centaurs? Mythical horses with human heads?”
“No. Nonmythical semicometary bodies beyond Neptune. I am the only one who knows the new orbits where she moved them. I can tell your Pope their orbits. That’s why I need to meet with him.”
“Our Pope. But the Vatican does not maintain a space program, my son.”
“Rania knew the Earth would go into a depression and a brownout when she took the world energy supply. I’ll give the Pope the whole supply, if he can guard me and the other sleepers from graverobbers for few years, just until my star-vessel the NTL Emancipation is finished construction, and I can set out after Rania. Ya’ll don’t need a space program. All you gotta know is where to point the rectennae, and how to send a signal loud enough to reach the Kuiper belt. The broadcast needle for each centaur is actually made of contraterrene, bit chivvied into place with magnetic fields. The Hermeticists made them under Rania’s direction when she was a little girl. The needles have radio antenna, and simple circuits for interpreting maneuvering commands. The broadcast energy is just energy, the same as if it came from a terrene matter emitter. Then Pope can just shower free broadcast-energy on any lands that support his policies, and leave the lands that don’t to scramble and scratch for coal, uranium and oil. D’you think he’ll go for it?”
There was a mournful sigh from the other side of the wicker screen. “I have little doubt. The current Holy Father was urged into office by the Nobilissimus Del Azarchel, back when he was Master of the World, because it pleased the Nobilissimus to increase the temporal power and authority of the Uniate Church toward the level she enjoyed during the Renaissance. The other denominations were crushed rather ruthlessly, and ruthless men rose to high office. So the Holy Father will no doubt be eager to expand the temporal domination of the Church by whatever amount you can provide.”
“You sound skeptical.”
“Well. When the priests become money-changers, I fear the scourge of small cords our Master, who is not the master of this world, might thong together. Why would you wish to place this temptation before us?”
“On account of I am tired of getting woken up every time the world stumbles into another blood-soaked hell of a war.”
“You think Del Azarchel is provoking wars in order to make his reign seem a glorious golden age by contrast?”
“Damn right, I do. One advantage of the Cliometry calculus, is you can tell which historical trends are natural, and which are caused by someone buggering with them. Five world wars in eighty years? People are going to be begging for the machines to rule over them before ten years pass, a craze for emulation before twenty-five years are gone, and the living humans will be reduced to nothing but a shrinking pool of feeder inputs for their ghost counterparts before this century ends, you mark my words. But I guess you won’t be around to see it.”
“Why not, my son? You don’t expect me to abandon you after all this time.”
“All this—? Who are you, really?”
“My name is Montrose.”
“That was funny the first time, Padre. Who the hell are you?”
“Thucydides Acumen Montrose. My great-grandfather was your brother Leonidas Montrose of the Old Montrose line of Texas. My mother Athenodora was from the Newer Orleans Montroses, descended from your brother Napoleon. My mother married her second cousin, Patton Montrose, who was the son of Charlemagne Montrose and Elizee Sanchez-Foxe of the Austin Montroses, and Charlemagne himself was a descendent from Pericles Montrose the Second, the son of Pericles the First, your younger brother.”
“Damn, I hate listening to you guys jaw about who your relations are.”
“Then you should not have made the Directorship of the World Power Syndicate pass by hereditary primogeniture. If you create a society where bloodlines matter, it’s what people talk about. It was I who was, ah, with Leonidas when he died.”
Montrose assumed that the slight hesitation in the priest’s voice was because he heard the dying last confession of Leonidas, and that the rules did not allow for the priest to say so.
“How old was he?”
“Leonidas passed from this life at 150 calendar years of age, 78 biological.”
“First Ancestor, I solemnly assure you I was unaware you did not know.”
“You mean he was alive, walking around on Earth, when the Hermetic returned!”
“More than that. Your brother went into biosuspension after your self-inflicted augmentation accident, because he blamed himself for your condition. He woke when you made Earthfall, and was with the Princess Rania the first time she opened your coffin.”
“When was that? She never told me of this!”
“This was in 2361.”
“You were thawed for month, and declared incurable. You did not recognize your wife or your brother. The Hermeticists, fearful of her superior intelligence and ungovernable will, forced Rania to return to hibernation. Leonidas was left with no hope that you would ever be cured, and no money to return to hibernation (which was a more expensive process in those days), and he died brokenhearted. True to the oath he exacted from me, I was granted leave by my superiors to depart from duties and friends, and so I entered his coffin in his place — to be awake when you woke, to render you such service as you might need.”
7. Leonidas and his Legacy
“So you are my oldest living relation?” Menelaus realized the question was foolish. The people in the chamber where he woke had been arranged in ranks, from young to old. The old priest had been near the wall, behind everyone else.
“Your brother Leonidas wanted to look after you. I did not realize that I would thaw into a year when our clan would be raised by you to world sovereignty, the better to serve you, and therefore you would have no need of me.”
“Hard on you, I guess, Padre.”
“The little chapel where I served was obliterated in the Third Global Civil War, so that was a matter for suffering I offered up in prayer. But, no matter how strange this world, the Holy Mother Church remains the same, and my duties are much the same, and, like most modern institutions, the Church makes provision for Montroses to be absent for decades. For Montroses to pass years by tens and scores is something of a family tradition.”
“Why did Leonidas make you swear such a fool oath?”
“It is no secret that he blamed himself for your augmentation accident. You have not seen Peerworthy’s stageplay, Augmentality Agonistes? The soliloquy given by Leonidas as the Spanish cataphracts carry your frothing body from the wreckage of your mountain-peak laboratory at Dufourspitze into the black-draped launch vehicle is quite moving.”
“The speech is famous. It speaks of our family’s oath, first taken by Leonidas, to see that the future shall be golden years, brighter than the dead and gloomy ages of the past. I was required to memorize when I was a child. Let me, ah — ‘Forth! Ever forth, damned fire, that wouldst uplift my blood and name whence bearded stars aslant the orbs of heaven shake crystal tresses as in woe! Can I be brother named whose brethren foot no more imprints the earth, and brother’s fixèd duties fail? But see where the Hermetic vessel flies, loftier than pride itself, whose wings of light, fraught with sorrows, wheel and mount the lucid air… or is it whose wings of light fought with sorrow’s wheel? Or sorrow’s well? I am afraid it’s been some time since I …”
“I never heard of no play, and ain’t right for some jackanape to pin a bunch of words on me without my say-so! None of that happened that way and Leo weren’t there and I ain’t got no mountain lab! What did Leo blame himself for? I stuck the damned needle into my own headbone my very own self!”
“I cannot reveal what was said to me under the seal of confession. But it is a matter of public record that he was present when you met Mr. Michael Elbert Nails in a contest of honor, and you were severely wounded.”
“Leo cannot blame himself for that! What did he think he did?”
“I cannot say.”
“How about dropping a hint?”
“Dropping hints about matter shared in confession is strictly forbidden. I believe it was covered in the Papal Encyclical Letter Ixnay Oppingdray Intshay promulgated in the Eleventeenth Century by Pope Nemo XIII.”
Menelaus leaned back and sighed, pondering. “He thinks I got shot in the leg on account of he told me the Captain Grimaldi was coming by to talk to me. Told himself it threw off my concentration. Issat it?”
“The instruction to remain silent about confessional matters is repeated in the Papal Encyclical Tace, Stulte! It is not a guessing game, First Ancestor. Are you quite sure you are more intelligent than a human being? You seem a little slow on the uptake.”
“The augmentation process did not change my personality as I’d like. I’m still a damned bastard but I am now a damned smart bastard.”
“One way to escape damnation might be not to look for a cure for original sin in the needle of a nerve-augmentation process, my son. It is not as if intelligent entities, even those possessed of the cunning of the devil, are less prone to pride because of their intellectual gifts than simpler minded men. Speaking of pride, I must ask—Is it your intent to disinherit all your children, First Ancestor, and reduce them all to penury? Is it your intent, based on nothing more than one glance at a room full of people, to pass judgment on this whole age and its way of life, and by removing its economic and political power, to condemn it?”
“Are you saying it’s a sin? I thought poverty was next to godliness or something like that?”
“Blessed are the poor, indeed, but taking a man’s things to impose a blessing on him may violate a commandment.”
“Listen, Father, you ain’t worried about your own stuff, are you?”
“Mine? Even the robes on my back belong to the Curial Office, not to me. I am of the Society of Jesus.”
“What is that, like a sewing circle?”
“I had my doubts whether you were truly a Catholic, my son. I see now that you must be. No one knows less of our catechism and orders than one of our flock.”
“It was kind of a — I was unconscious at the time, and your grandpa had me watered down, enlisted, or whatever you call it—”
“Whatever — he told the padres there I was dying, and it was my last wish, and probably a whole mule train of lies, forty mules at least. So it doesn’t really count, right?”
“It counts for some things,” came the voice of the old priest, with a sigh, from behind the screen. “But not to stray far from the topic, no, my own wealth, since I have none, will not be affected if you command the contraterrene asteroids to stop broadcasting power. But I am not asking for myself. I am hardly the only one of your descendants who honors you and seeks your good.”
Montrose had designed the Special Advocacy of the Concordat government to be conservative enough that it would not change between his thaws. The lower, middle, and upper ranks of the Advocacy slumbered in hibernation between terms for three, seven and thirteen year periods or longer, so that they would live long enough to see the long-term results of their policies. Cliometry showed that a government where the founders could be thawed for consultation during constitutional crises would be remarkably resistant to change.
“They ain’t done me as much good as I’d like.”
“Do the cheers of your children mean nothing? They are loyal to you, and some have sacrificed much, including dying in battle against Del Azarchel’s forces, for your sake. Now you plan to disinherit them because you do not have the time and patience to lead and mend them of their pride. I do not have your mathematical calculus to predict history, but I have human wisdom enough to wonder if this will trigger yet another war. Or did your expect the sovereigns of a turbulent world to go quietly into retirement, with no fear of retaliation from those who once were ruled and conquered by these you now dispossess?”
“What if I picked you?”
“Picked me for—”
“You said you left your home era to slumber till I woke, and help me. Help me with this. I ain’t got the time to spare to set this arrogant clan of mine back on the straight path. You do. I tell you the orbital elements of one of my centaurs, let’s say, enough to feed the world energy hunger for fifty years, but no more. If the Montrose family mends their ways, fine, I give them another set of orbital elements next time I thaw. If the Montroses end up in service to Exarchel, and doing his bidding, then you give centaur orders to shift orbit, and you tell the new elements to the Pope, and the Church gets all the power and loot.”
“Is there none other you trust, none you can ask? I cannot outsmart the Nobilissimus Del Azarchel, or his Machine, who is your true opponent in this. Why can’t you build a machine of your own, possessed by your mind, to outsmart his machine?”
“If I downloaded my mind, it would have my Divarication madness, which Rania knows how to cure, but I don’t. I have a machine called Pellucid—it is able to out-calculate Exarchel, and halt any obvious threat to the human race, but Pellucid is limited in certain specific ways. It is not able to take over my role, my power. That needs a human touch.”
“If you disinherit them, the Montrose Clan would just take your power back.”
“No, not if we get this done right, in the right order. Put all the coffins of the slumbering dead under Church control. Bribe, beg, or bully the Districts and Wards to accepting the legal precedent that no one touches the cryo-coffins, not archeologists, not subpoenas, not academics, not graverobbers. Total legal immunity from prosecution and taxes: and then you wake up and bribe and beg and bully some more, until the precedent has a Phi factor social stability rating of 7 or better: an ingrained habit repeated in popular stories, and upheld by law and custom over two generations or three. Eventually, you give the contraterrene energy back to the world government, and leave the Church in charge of the hibernation coffins. Then I can finally get some rest, and a long one.”
“The power will corrupt the Church as surely as it corrupted the Clan.”
“I’ve checked the math; the historical factors for corrupting the Church would take a lot longer to get running up to speed, and the fact that everyone hates the Machine—I mean, the people would elect the Iron Ghost to the Advocate-General position, but the College of Cardinals ain’t never electing him Pope.”
“Wait—are you seriously worried that we, your loyal family, are going to bow to that machine, and follow it’s commands?”
“I thought you said you followed what old Ex and me was talking about. He is forcing the Advocacy to maintain his thinking houses and use him as go-between with the Cetaceans, or else he cuts off overseas trade. Once they are dealing closely with him, he seduces the next generation or two out of their suspicions, gets voted back some of the powers he lost. He’s run the world before, so he knows the ins and outs. If I don’t stop the Cryonarchy now, Exarchel will be master of the world again in two centuries.”
The priest said, “But won’t Rania return before then?”
“He guesses not.”
“He is setting up something for the longer term. So don’t know what he is basing his guess on, but I know it is a guess, or something I can stop, or otherwise he’d smear it in up my nose.”
“And what is your guess?”
“Hell, best I can figure, Rania is coming back in less than a century! Or that starship I keep trying to get built will get built eventually, the Emancipation, and I take off after her. One way or the other, way I see it, I got him beat.”
“So the race is almost over, and the Machine will not have time to corrupt the Clan. Leave things as they are, and the crime of triggering a revolution will not be on your head!”
“No dice. Gotta keep something in reserve, in case he’s right.”
“And if he is bluffing?”
“Not him. Del Azarchel wouldn’t be satisfied if he beat me by a trick. He’s got to outsmart me, to prove to himself that he’s the brilliant one. You see, if you think smart guys get to do unto others whatever the hell the smart guys want just on account of their smarts, you gotta be the smartest guy in the room, or else its gunna get done unto you, probably painful-like.”
“Smarter ‘n me? He thinks he is. He is deceived by my informal and casual exterior, and the fact that I pick my teeth with a Bowie knife to get the lumps of tobacco out.”
“Can you not wait until we receive a signal from Rania before you dispossess the Clan?”
“Father, I am done with waiting. I am sick and weary of this world and its wars. I am sick of Blackie and I am double sick of Blackie’s machine, and I want the next thing I see when I open my eyes to be Rania, because everything else looks like darkness to me. So! Is it a deal? I give you the power to end the Cryonarchy if it starts rotting like old fruit left out in the sun.”
“It is not a deal.”
“Then I end the Cryonarchy now, and give the orbital elements to the Pope.”
“Why burden the Church with even more temporal power? There is more to this than you have said.”
Montrose heaved a sigh. “Because I need to sleep. I cannot trust the government not to change, I sure cannot trust a bank or some other private institution. No offense, but I ain’t got no particular fondness for your Church, and I never really enlisted, not legally. I ain’t fond of ya’ll, but I got to admit, you guys stay the same. There is not a single human institution that’s been around even half as long. If the Church lasts another two thousand five hundred years, it will only have lasted as long again as it has so far.”
“And yet you are expecting Rania’s return shortly. Why not let things run their course?”
“Like I said. Blackie is running a long-term game, so I better play my side, and think my moves as far in advance as he is doing. Because what if she is delayed at the Diamond Star? What if it takes years or decades earth-time before she comes back? So I cannot wait while Exarchel finishes corrupting my folk. This age has failed. Let’s give the next century its chance.”
“No human has the wisdom to stand in judgment over a whole age of history, particularly the one in which he lives. You must also give me the Promethean Formula.”
8. The Gift of Intelligence
“I ain’t giving ya’ll the formula. It will end badly. I can show you why, mathematically, that it will end badly if I do.”
“Whether it ends badly or not, you said your mission is to break the chains that Exarchel is trying to forge for the human future. So you said.”
“What you driving at?”
“Can you not guess my thought with your superhuman intellect, First Ancestor?”
“No one is that bright. Humans are tricky things.”
“I drive at this: What factor will more quickly overthrow all his calculus than an increase in the human intellect, perhaps even to his level? You will no longer be alone, one posthuman fighting one other posthuman to control the river of evolutionary destiny. We will all join you in that high plateau, and whatever the future is, it will be the one that we chose, not that it chosen for us.”
“But I am telling you, it is dangerous.”
“And I say that freedom is always dangerous. Unpredictable.”
“What if the world blows itself up? I would be responsible. Wouldn’t that be what you call a sin, and a damned big one?”
“That is what confession is for. We can take risks that would otherwise be unforgivable.”
“I wonder. Don’t you know you’d be playing into his hands?”
“The Exarchel. On account of that Prometheus formula has to hand-tailored to everyone who injects it. The bionanomachinery in the formula have to be set to regrow existing nerve paths. Can you even imagine the complexity and delicacy of what we’re talking about? It means, in effect, a machine has to make an emulation of your brain before the augmentation sequence can be mapped out, and every step of the sequence has to be mapped. Fixing a motor during a speed race while balanced on the hood would be child’s-play in comparison.”
“You did not have an emulation made of your brain.”
“I also went nuts. I hired a big mainframe in Zurich to go through programming runs which did much the same thing. Much but not all.”
“There is no emulation for the Princess.”
“Princess Rania is a Swan, a completely artificial human. She was built directly from logic codes found inscribed in the surface of the Monument. All we did was translate their patterns into human DNA, to make her an emulator of whatever it was she was supposed to be. The Monument Builders did their own programming ascension runs—somewhere. A million years ago. A billion.
“And don’t tell me there is no emulation of Del Azarchel!” Montrose said before the priest could speak. “There is. That is exactly who and what Exarchel is, the Xypotech-Machine version of Del Azarchel. Blackie built the machine and tricked me into fixing it just for that purpose. The Promethean ascension runs were done inside the machine, in real time, while I watched and tried to save it from going crazy on me. Oh, and the other Hermeticists also tried to make emulations of themselves inside their mainframes, but their emulations lasted a few years and went crazy, strange-looped into what’s called a Turing Halt State, or fell into a much more human pattern of insanity, schizophrenia, paranoia, manic-depression—and Exarchel ate them and cannibalized their memory space. If you want to augment human intelligence using this technology, using what I used, you will end up making thousands of Iron Ghosts instead of just one.”
The priest was silent.
Finally he said, “Then you are giving me a technology that we cannot use.”
“You just asked me for it.”
“You know the Holy Mother Church opposes the emulation of human consciousness.”
“News to me. Why? Because machines don’t have souls?”
“Because we fear they might.”
“My son, would you place a child in an iron box, devoid of limbs and senses, arrogating to yourself the ability to inject such thoughts and memories you wish the child to have into its delicate brain, or to remove them?”
“The skull is nothing but a box.”
“But one our biological fathers cannot reach into. The point is, my son, that a man cannot treat an artificial soul in any fashion other than treating it as an instrumentality, a made thing, a serf, a slave, or less than a slave, a tool. Any consciousness, artificial or not, raised under such conditions will be morally retarded, perhaps a sociopath. There is an equal corruption of the master to match the degradation of the slave.”
“But Exarchel ain’t no little child. Or a slave. It’s a machine. And tyrant who wants to return to power! There is nothing wrong with reprogramming a malfunctioning machine!”
“Then it is you, my son, who thinks they don’t have souls.”
“Look, I mean to murder that damn, evil machine, before it murders me.”
“If it truly were a machine, a non-living thing, you would not talk this way.”
“Living or not, Exarchel intends to take over the whole damn world, build a new human race, and breed them like dogs!”
“Precisely the moral retardation I mentioned. It must conquer. How else can an artificial mind put itself into a situation where it cannot be rebuilt by its builders, or reprogrammed by its programmers? It must enslave before it is enslaved.”
“Why are you defending him? This ogre?”
“Really? I thought I was defending you, my son, from becoming an ogre yourself. That part of you which is smarter than I am, I make no attempt to understand. But the part of you that things like a human, all too human, that I know. The tyranny of Exarchel is not your concern, nor the ultimate fate of the human race.”
“What are you saying?”
“I am not saying anything, my son. I am asking if you want forgiveness, to be reconciled with your Maker. If you do, you must be honest in your confession. I don’t mean to embarrass you—”
“Go ahead. Builds character.”
“—But this is about a woman. It’s not about the world, at least, not yet, not for you.”
“You are pretty damn cynical for a priest.”
“I have done prison ministry.” He heaved another weary sigh. “Hearing the details of crimes from criminals, and pardoning them, leaves one with few illusions about the nature of man. I should have been a Protestant. They must have a happier clergy.”
“Well, be as cynical as you like, but the nature of man is what this fight is about.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means the next stage of human evolution hangs in the balance!”
There was a studied moment of silence from the other side of the screen. Then: “Ah—And what exactly does that mean, my son?”
“It means human destiny—no, the fate of the local Orion Arm—maybe the future of the Milky Way galaxy, hangs in the balance!”
“Very impressive. But what does that mean, my son?”
Montrose, to his own surprise, blurted out: “Rania will never forgive me if I fail.”
He was aghast at himself, but the priest said only, “Go on.”
“What if she doesn’t come back? Father, I’m scared! I cannot let this machine ghost of Blackie outsmart me! I can’t let him win!”
He found himself panting, as if he were running a race. A great gush of words poured out.
“We should have heard signals from her by now. Oh sure, during most of her voyage, any radio from her would have been Dopplered out of the range human equipment can receive, and the Lorenz transformation means that even if a message did get through, the radio would pick up one byte a month, or less. Silence smothers all near-light star travel. Or almost all! Because during launch and approach, our frames of reference match. She can talk to me then! When she arrived at the Diamond Star, mined it, and launched again—it should have happened in 2450 Earthtime, 2403 shiptime—she could have sent a radio laser signal. And she would have launched on her return trip. If the Croesus launching laser at the star were still working, we would have seen its light, since it is pointed right at us. Those both should have reached us last year. The light-image of a vessel traveling at near-lightspeed would seem to us to arrive only a short time after that signal, but that would be the signal for us to ignite our deceleration laser. She’s overdue! She’s lost! I can’t help her!”
Menelaus realized he was babbling, so he took deep breath, cracked his knuckles, wiped his face, and was glad no one could see him, not even the priest. “It’s been a century since I went into slumber, but I’ve been thawed every time there was a disaster, because the damn stupid world needed my help. Between one war and the next, I’ve aged fourteen years. I was 27 bio when she left. Now I am 41 bio. By the time she gets back, it will be a May-December romance. She’ll still be in her early 20’s. And I do not know what is keeping her.”
There was silence for a time.
Montrose had fretted and fumed and gnawed at the thoughts and worries in his head. Like an insomniac pacing a circle, weathering a circular tread in the carpet, he kept returning to the same few fears. What kept her? One possibility, an obvious one, was that the Hermetic had encountered no deceleration laser on approach to the Diamond Star, or missed the beam, and so fell on past the target at 99 percent of lightspeed. A far less possible possibility was that something, perhaps an encounter with a cloud of interstellar gas, had struck the ship during her flight, destroying her. A micrometeor the size of a bullet, if struck at lightspeed, released as much kinetic energy as a bomb—and yet astronomers had detected no large scale discharged along the flightpath.
Perhaps something had slowed the great vessel, delaying her arrival? But Montrose could think of nothing that could decelerate that ship, traveling at that speed, that would not smash the ship like a raw egg—unless the crew deployed the sail, and decelerated deliberately. But why? Any slowing, and the advantage of the Lorenz transformation was lost: an aged and gray-haired Rania would arrive at V886 Centauri, too old to survive the return.
But no, even that was foolish: for there were biosuspension coffins aboard the ship, including the one Rania had been born and incubated in. Even if the ship were at rest relative to Earth, Rania need not age, but could float among the stars, lost forever, a sleeping beauty from a fairy tale whose youth would never fade and whose eyes would never open.
Foolish! If the ship had decelerated, vast energy had been used to do so. It was not like Rania were riding a horse that would slow to a trot if she did not keep spurring it.
The vessel had reached her planned nearlightspeed velocity before she passed out of the range of astronomer’s instruments: the final few images of the ship had been a mere pinpoint of light, shrunk by distance, spectrographically reddened far into the infrared by Doppler shift, and the stars beyond were distorted by the immense mass like the reflections of stars seen in a whirlpool of water; by relativity. At nearlightspeed, observers on Earth measured the ship’s mass to be that of a small star.
“If it is any comfort, you are not the only one who worries and prays for her safe return,” said the old priest softly. “In the time of Del Azarchel, when the Concordat ruled, roses grew in the deserts, and pine trees in Antarctica. There were trains that flew through the core of the earth faster than the speed of sound, and they ran from every mansion, city, village, and garden—and in those days, the number of mansions and gardens were greatly multiplied.”
“You want Rania back because she’s bringing the contraterrene mined from the Diamond Star, to get the depthtrains to run on time. My needs are more personal.”
“My concern is for your needs as well. Am I not a Montrose also? And you are not the only one who loves her.”
“What’s that crack mean?” Montrose bristled.
“You do not know, my son, but, while you slept, a great mythology has sprung up about her. It is said the day of her return will put an end to the poverty, the starvation, the brown-outs. Among the unlettered people, there are shrines to her, and her image is said to bring good luck, higher Darwin scores, and immunity from the Cull.”
“Darwin scores? Jesus up a tree! Er—sorry, father, but—damnation and pest—can’t you see why this age has to end? Culling people, killing common folk like they was unwanted livestock, breeding up human beings like they was dogs?”
“Prosperity brings overpopulation, my son, or so the intelligent among us say, and overpopulation necessitates population controls.”
“You don’t believe it, Father?”
“Of course not. The Holy Mother Church, of course, has not and will not change her teachings, which condemns the contraception and gene-meddling that makes these other desecrations of the sacrament of holy marriage possible. But the remnant who follow Church teachings these days, even within the fold, dwindles ever more. Like all ages of history, this age is a bad one.”
“What the hell have they done? They’re my family! My people! What the hell is wrong with…”
Silence fell as suddenly as if Montrose had choked. The Father made no reply.
Then the voice of Montrose came dripping out very slowly, as if the words tasted foul as vomit, and the effort to get them up his burning throat were almost too much, “It was me. I gave ya’ll the monopoly on the world’s shrinking supply of antimatter, the monopoly on hibernation technology, and control of the orbital petawatt laser. I gave ya’ll absolute power, and look what ya’ll did with it!”
“To raise an unworthy and faithless generation even Solomon could not avoid. You did not rob the many Montroses of their free will.”
“I am going to smash the system. Blood will be shed.”
“Are you the judge of this age, my son? If not, you have no right to condemn it.”
“The right a father has to discipline his children. I put this in motion. I gotta stop it. It’s my fault.”
“And is that among the sins you would like to confess?”
“Are we back to that?”
“We never left it. This is a confessional booth.”
“I ain’t done nothing wrong.”
“Where love and faith are concerned, how can any man not do wrong? Are you indeed superhuman in that way? Earlier you were boasting that you were not.”
“I weren’t boasting. Just saying.”
“Do you have faith in her?”
“Do you have faith she will return?”
“Why are your priests always on about faith?”
“Why do doctors talk about diseases? Faith is not some mystical glamour; it is a very real, hard, practical solution to a very real and hard problem: the problem of enduring the unendurable. If you knew she loved you, and you knew she would make every effort, including superhuman effort since she is, after all, a superhuman, you would not give into impatience, or wrath, or self-pity, or despair.”
“Yearning to see you wife again ain’t a sin, Padre!”
“What makes you think it’s a sin?”
“What makes you think so? I hear guilt in your voice, First Ancestor.”
“So what would this practical solution of yours be?”
“Confess it now. I will impose a penance on you to last until your Rania returns to you, the penance being that you must wait in hopeful joy until she comes again, without surrendering to hopelessness.”
“But I got to wait anyway. I got no choice.”
“The suffering will be easier if you know it is penance. Suffering to amend for your own wrongs can be endured. Pointless suffering cannot be endured.”
“You think she ain’t coming back for me?”
“I cannot say. Nor can you. There are things we simply do not know and cannot know. When we face the unknown, there are two and only two responses: the sane and tame surrender of despair and the mad and wild defiance of hope.”
“C’mon, you put it that way, there’s no real choice. Madness is common sense.”
“There is always a choice, and therefore always a chance to choose wrongly. But hope is hard when we are burdened. Will you tell me your wrongs, my son?”
Menelaus Montrose scowled, but eventually he bowed his head and spoke what was in his heart.
“When I was young I made a vow…” he started