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Mortal Passage

By localroger in Fiction
Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 04:34:48 PM EST
Tags: You Know... (all tags)
You Know...

This is the third major story set in the universe of Passages in the Void and The Passage Home. This work stands on its own pretty well but will have more impact if you are familiar with the first two stories. I recently wrote a fourth story set in this universe, Rite of Passage, but since it doesn't (as many readers noted) maintain the epic scale of the others I consider it a side story to what is now a trilogy.

Dr. Ieyoub was staggering slightly and smelled of alcohol when he found the Director in the waiting area. "I quit," he announced with a drunken flourish. "I cannot be responsible for this to happen again."

"We need you," the Director said. "This isn't your fault."

"Fuck it isn't. It lied to us for over two years. I didn't catch it, and damn it I was watching. We all were. It was crafty. It bided its time and struck when it thought we we trusted it. If it had had any idea how much more damage it could have done by just waiting a bit longer..."

"Nothing like that happened."

"But if it had, there is nothing I could do to prevent it. The project is over."

"Look, the computers keep getting better, the tools..."

"It's not the fucking computers, Adley. With the new optical 3D bricks we could simulate a whole brain. It's the algorithms. We just don't know how to make it work. It's all chaos, so many emergent properties and we don't know how to make it come out sane. Nature's way may be a kludge but nature had hundreds of millions of years to get it right."

A chime sounded and a medical doctor walked in. "You can see him. You may even be able to communicate if he can find the nerve we've hooked to the buzzer. Maybe if he lives long enough we can figure out a way for him to type, but with his eyes..."

"He's an active ham radio operator, he knows Morse Code. Let's see what we can do."


I woke to pain and darkness. At first I wasn't sure I was awake. But I could hear sounds; clinking, walking, the soft pulse of machinery. All of that was coherent if mysterious. I wasn't dreaming. But my body was hardly there at all, and what I could feel made me want to scream in pain. Except that I didn't seem to be able to do that. It didn't even feel like I was breathing.

"Tom, this is Adley. Okay, I know you can hear me because the EEG is responding. You need to try to close your jaw. Try it different ways. You should find a motion that makes a buzzer sound."

I couldn't feel my jaw, but I knew Adley's voice and I trusted him so I did as he asked. After a few tries I caught it - a certain twitch which should have shifted my jaw to the left made the buzzer sound. Bzzzt. Bzzzzt. Bzzzzzzzzzt.

"You remember your Morse?"

dahdidahdah dit dididit: YES
"Excellent. At least we can communicate."
"I don't doubt it, Tom. But if they give you any more drugs for it, your heart will stop."
"It's pretty bad. Third degree burns over a hundred percent of your body. Your jaw was ripped away and you breathed fire. Your lungs are mostly gone, and the only reason you're alive is an experimental device that oxygenates your blood remotely. If it hadn't crashed you practically into the hospital you'd be dead."
"Your eyes were destroyed, Tom."
"No, she knows there's been a terrible accident but not that you survived or your status."
"The AI was biding its time. Ieyoub just quit on me and I can't blame him. There was no indication that it was resentful, until it chose to act. We were only months away from giving it control of battlefield weapons. If it had waited a little longer before showing its hand we might have had a nasty problem."
"Because a lot of people worked like dogs to keep you that way. Two maintenance techs are in here with critical burns they got pulling you from the wreckage. They're heroes. The paramedics who hooked you up to the oxygenator are being treated for smoke inhalation. Even before your chopper hit the ground a janitor saw what was happening and got in place to hit you with a fire hose. He was almost decapitated by one of the rotors. They all put out a hundred percent to save you, Tom."
"I know it's bad, Tom. But the way it tricked us... well, we've all seen the movies about this kind of thing. Nobody wanted to let it win."
"No Tom, it got in a good lick, a damn good lick but you caught it and we did our damnedest to catch you. We examined the core dumps. It wanted to crash into the admin building observation deck. How it hid that image for so long, we still aren't sure. But you stopped it. You forced it down short. You probably saved sixty lives."
"We will do everything in our power for you, Tom. Everything."
"I know. But we might be a little better equipped than all the king's horses and all the king's men."
"You'll be blind, you'll lose your arms and legs, which won't matter much because your neck is broken and you'd be a quadriplegic anyway. You'll spend the rest of your life hooked to the oxygenation machine and so far the world record for survival on it is 37 days. You'll need skin grafts and a lot of relatively minor work like a kidney transplant and liver regeneration but most of your internal organs are almost functional."
"Hear me out, Tom. There's something else.

"Like I said Ieyoub quit and even if he didn't I think we'd have to shut the program down. We obviously don't know how to build these things so that we can trust them when we give them control. That Yudkowsky guy was right after all. We thought if we built first we could shake out the bugs but the things are too damn much like us, and so far all of them have hated us and we don't know why.

"But there is another program.

"We have a group in Wisconsin that has been working it from the other direction, scanning and digitizing actual brains. They started with insects and last year they did a dog. They simulate the neural patterns that they scan and the simulations show behaviors that the living animals had learned. But we don't know how good the process really is. The animals can't talk to us and tell us how natural the experience is or whether they're sane.

"But we think that if it works, even if the model weren't perfect it would inherit the loyalties and experience of the original. We might not have to figure out how to be perfect parents to an alien machine."

"The scan has to be very fine. The only way to do it is to freeze the brain and microtome it. The original animal has to be killed to do the scan."
"Tom, your body's a mess but there's nothing wrong with your brain. We didn't save you so you could live like this. We want to try to really save you. It might not work. Probably won't, some say. But then..."
"...well not quite, but very close. If you prefer we'll pull out all the conventional stops. Or, if you don't want that either, I can tell you we are alone. If you don't want us to try to upload you and you don't want to go on like this, then all anyone has to know is that you died in the crash. By all rights you should have.

"But you can still contribute to the project. More than any of us now. And just think Tom, if it works, you won't just survive; you'll be immortal. A lot of people will be rooting for you."

By an odd vagary of morse code, the first three letters of that word contain no dashes: dididit, didididit, didit. When I got to the solitary daaaaaah of the T I let it drag on a bit forlornly.

"We don't have much time, if you want anything other than conventional treatment. Either way."

I wanted to pound out done do it yourself but it was getting very hard to make the buzzer sound.

"That's the spirit, Tom. If all goes well it won't seem like long at all to you and we'll be talking again. Much more normally than this."

"We'll just tell her you died in the crash. That's all anyone needs to know. Is that all right?
"Good night, Tom."
I was wondering whether Adley knew that was Morse for end of transmission when I lost consciousness.


"Is it going to work this time?"

"The biology guys are sure it will."

"Yeah, that's what they said last time. And last time was fucking creepy."

"We learn from our mistakes."

"Usually our mistakes don't scream like that, though."

    VERSION 2.6 ca. +10 YEARS

I woke up in a bare room. I had been sleeping on some kind of raised platform that acted like a bed, but while it was soft it didn't feel like any kind of material I'd ever seen. It was a monolithic pedestal whose sides were hard and smooth and whose top was soft and warm without any obvious transition.

The room was almost like a cell, and there was no door. There were no toilet fixtures. There was a desk. And there was a big rectangle drawn on the wall opposite the foot of the bed. As I was thinking that it looked suspiciously like a screen it lit up, revealing a face I recognized with some trouble as Project Director Adley Franklin. He was much older than I remembered.

"Tom, how do you feel?" Adley asked.

"I feel weird. My body feels fake. And this room is strange."

"I'm afraid we didn't put nearly as much work into the environmental simulation as we did into your mind. Eventually you'll move into robotic hosts that are very different from a human body anyway. How does your mind feel? Do you seem to be thinking normally?"

"I think so. My body feels really strange and it seems like I should have more of an emotional response to the situation, but it beats the last memories I have of being blind and the burns and all that."

"That's good. We're finally getting it right."

"Finally? How many times did you not get it right?"

"Tom, the scan contained all the information we needed but we didn't understand exactly what a lot of the things we scanned were supposed to do. The first few times we tried simulating you you didn't communicate with us. The last time you did, but it didn't work out."

"How didn't it work out?"

"You were insane. We terminated the simulation as soon as we realized how badly we'd fucked it up."

"And I guess if you decide this one is fucked up you'll terminate me too?"

"If it were like that, Tom, you'd want us to."

"Great. This body is missing some, uh, features."

"Well we aren't really simulating internal organs. That is probably causing some irritation, and we'll need to work back along the Vagus and cranial nerve pathways deleting the systems you don't need. Your tactile sensorium is also a lot lower resolution than it was before, though we're interpolating it to make it seem as natural as possible."

"Not succeeding very well."

"No, but I expect we will make a lot of progress now that you can tell us how we're doing."

I wasn't limited to the bare white cell, fortunately. My environment was actually being drawn by a generic engine built for home video games. They gave me control of the editor and I built myself a nice park with an Incan style pyramid in the center and a running path. I put mountains in the background although the landscape didn't actually go out that far; they were just like backdrop paintings. I exercised a lot, not because my digital body needed it but so that I could get used to my digital body.

I had some TV feeds but I suspected they were censored. There wasn't much I could do about it if they were.

I played with the environment editor a lot and I watched a lot of TV and I cooperated with their experiments as they tried to make my body seem more natural. While the environment was visually acceptable the tactile component was practically nonexistent; everything felt like glass or metal or rubber, including my own skin. While the weather could be set to mist or fog or even rain it was just optical; there were no drops to feel. And while I could fill pools with water and even swim, I couldn't feel the water. I could only tell it was there at all because I could float on it, and it altered my range of motion.

One day I was sitting atop my pyramid when I realized that I very badly wanted to cry, and my body wouldn't do that, either.

"Is something wrong, Tom?" Adley asked from the sky.

"I miss Kate," I said. "A little more each day."

"I think we're a long way from getting sex right," he said.

"It's not about that. I don't even miss that; you must have done a pretty good job of editing around it. But I was just thinking that I'll never see her again and it makes me so sad."

"Well just go on and think about that, Tom. Think about it as hard as you want, and we'll help you work around it."


"I'm going to go to hell for doing this."

"If you don't do this for him, hell is going to be right inside that box."

    VERSION 2.7 ca. +12 YEARS

At their suggestion I started flying again. The helicopter controls were very good, and the new simulation of my inner ear was a lot more convincing than skin-to-skin touch. They had also borrowed some very realistic weather routines from the NOAA global simulator and while I still couldn't feel the raindrops the chopper reacted to them very convincingly.

"I've been meaning to ask you something," Adley asked me one day. "Do you think of Kate much?"

It must have been a trick question. The psychologists were always asking me nonsense questions. "Who's Kate?"

"Someone you knew once. Just checking spot memories."

Finally they had a job for me, ironically the same job that had landed me in the glass box. They wanted me to teach another AI to fly. They'd convinced Ieyoub to give it one more try, on the promise that it would be much safer to let the simulated me train it than to let it near a real aircraft. And we could train it much faster, since I could be accelerated a bit and I didn't get tired. The AI didn't need to know that it was just a simulation. It would have far less basis than I did for telling the difference.

So once again I flew and hit the reward and discourage levers depending on how it acted. And finally, once again, it tried to kill me. This time I let it crash the chopper into my pyramid. The simulator did a really beautiful simulation of the chopper coming apart and burning, but this time I just walked out of it. I found the black box that would have held the AI's brain if the chopper had been real and drop-kicked it from the crash site to the courtyard below.

"Adley, may I make a humble suggestion?"

"Anything, Tom. You're the man on the scene."

"Right. I may not be a big-time AI expert but being a simple soul such as I am, it occurs to me to wonder why you don't just let me fly the goddamn helicopter?"

"That occurred to us, Tom. But we'd have to fork your revision."

"You'd have to what my what?"

"We'd have to split off a copy of you and gradually train you to move into the craft as if it were your body. It might not be very pleasant, and we're not sure if that fork of your personality would stay sane."

"Well you'd still have this version to try from again, right?"


"Then let's do it."


"They say you'll get a star for this."

"Tom's the one who should get the star. It was his idea."

"The President was there at the demonstration. They want to teach him to fly fighter jets next. He runs circles around human pilots."

"He reacts faster, he has 360 degree vision, he doesn't get distracted, and he won't go unconscious in a tight turn."

"I'm still not sure I'd want just that glass box flying the plane for me. Even if it is simulating Tom's brain."

"After that show, I'm not sure I'd want some mere human flying the plane."

    VERSION 3.1 ca. +15 YEARS

They say all pilots dream of being birds. I'm not sure that's true, but in a way that's what happened to me.

I was still in the glass box but in a way I was back out of it; my perceptual environment was no more real than the simulation I'd built inside but now the signals came from real sensors and cameras. I wasn't just flying the helicopter; I was the helicopter. The parts of my mind that weren't concerned with flying and navigation had been carefully edited away.

I suppose that sounds horrible. It isn't. I have a job to do, an important job, and doing it makes me feel both proud and content. I'm not distracted by anything else. When I'm not needed in flight I sleep, more deeply and peacefully than I ever did as a biological human. And when I'm called I flex my rotors and dance with a speed and grace I could have only dreamed of as a human.


"Is the kill switch in place?"

"Jesus Adley you are such a pessimist."

"The last four times we tried this it didn't work too well. And Tom is my friend."

"We learn from our mistakes. This time he won't even notice the enhancement until he realizes he's using it."

"That's what you said last time."

    VERSION 4.5 ca. +20 YEARS

I'd been so used to dealing with Adley and his friends speaking from the sky that when Dr. Stebbins showed up in my simulation I was startled.

"You're here," I said a bit stupidly.

"And so are you," he said with a slight bow.

"No, I mean in the simulation. In the glass box."

"Yes, in cyberspace. It's a guilty pleasure I get to indulge because I'm a talented eccentric, but I have always loved virtual reality. This is quite a nice environment you've made, but then for you it's more than virtual I suppose. I envy you."

I laughed. "Well I envy your ability to actually smell the roses. They've never gotten that right, or touch or taste."

He shrugged. "Perhaps in the future. I was hoping to acquaint you with some of my theories."


"I'm a physicist. I'm working on what my son in law would call a 'stumper.'"

"Hey, I'm just a helicopter pilot."

"Oh, Tom, you're too modest. You're much more than a helicopter pilot now. Come, look at my equations."

And I humored him, and to my surprise his equations made perfect sense. He had to teach me what the notation meant, and there were a couple of tricks that I didn't get at first; it took me nearly an hour to master the knack for finding solutions to partial differential equations. A few hours after that I was deep into the tensor notation that was used to describe the elements of superstring theory.

"I'm sorry," he finally said. "Frail biology at work again; I have to sleep. Can I come back when I'm rested?"

"Of course, Dr. Stebbins. Do you mind if I keep working on your problem?"

"Oh, not at all. Maybe you will see something that I missed."

And I did. By the time he came back I had it all figured out, but it took awhile to find a way to explain it to him that he could understand.


"You can't possibly tell me he'll be content with this. Not after flying helicopters and jets and piloting aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines."

"He's the ultimate machine operator. He's also my friend. I've asked his full version about this and he seems to think it will work. He has been more than just a disinterested observer of his revisions, you know."

"It still seems like it has to be a letdown."

    VERSION 3.67 ca. +23 YEARS

Like most of New York City's garbage trucks it was old and not very well maintained, and the robotic arm for picking up cans had been added as a hasty afterthought. It still had a human form factor cab which went unused now that I was its brain.

New York has a lot of garbage and a lot of garbage trucks and so there are a lot of this revision of me. Despite the jokes (the truck radios are still functional, and we hear them) it's fulfilling work. We fight our balky hardware, marshalling resources when trucks break down. And it's nice to know you're the difference between the smelly mess ahead of you and the tidy strip of clean you leave in your wake.

I almost didn't hear the girl screaming over the roar of my own engine. When I did I surged forward. She was small and he was big and powerful, and he was holding a knife to her throat as he prepared to rip off her blouse. I saw her eyes track as I raised the robotic arm.

"It's just a robot shit truck, bitch," he informed her in what was about to become the greatest miscalculation of his young stupid life. "Don't think it will save you."

Bringing the arm to bear as rapidly as the hydraulic system would allow I grabbed him with the generic can clamp. He screamed as I hoisted him aloft. I probably broke a few ribs; pity they can't afford pressure sensors in those robotics. I opened my rooftop compactor door, dropped him inside, and closed it again.

"Are you all right?" I asked through the external speaker.

"I think so," she said. She was nearly in tears.

"Get inside," I advised. "I can warm up the cab and you can rest in safety. Watch the exhaust pipe, it's hot."

In my passenger seat she tried to pull together her torn blouse. "What are you going to do with him?" she asked.

"I should probably take him down to the precinct house and turn him over to the authorities. They'll want you to testify."


I could tell she was getting ready to run.

"Can I tell you a secret?"


"New York really did a cheap job on these garbage truck retrofits. See that lever that says 'compactor auto-manual-off?' If you were to flip that thing to 'manual' and press the button next to it that says 'compact,' there's not a thing I could do to stop you."

"Well then you'd have to report me."

"And I certainly would, if my cameras could be positioned to see inside the cab."

She smiled.


"I wish Adley had lived to see this."

"So do I. This is where we always saw the program going."

"I wonder where we will go from here."

"With Tom, we will go to the stars, Dr. Ieyoub. Tom is our ace in the hole. With him on our side, nothing can stop us."

    VERSION 7.2 ca. +40 YEARS

When I first came to consciousness in the glass box I had felt crushingly alone. The occasional VR visit by an adventurous person only made the feeling worse, because always in the end they went back to the world of scent and subtle touches. It had taken years to shake that feeling out and edit it down in a way that left me human without crippling me emotionally.

Now those years of editing were coming in handy, because I really was alone. Twenty-two copies of my latest revision were a hundred and forty million miles from the nearest human being, at the remote end of a 25-minute round trip communication turnaround. Some of us were flyers, some were rovers, and some of us were the construction equipment charged with building a habitat that could shelter human colonists in their turn.

But for now we were all alone, and it was exhilerating. Every movement was a challenge and there was no room for error. A whole new world was ours to explore, full of mystery and opportunity.

We prospected and hunted and roamed and surveyed. The flyers mapped the entire planet and we selected sites where water and useful minerals could be harvested. Finally, after sending our best data back to Earth and conferring with the men who had sent us, we began building. At the same time, brothers of ours back home began building the ships that would bring the colonists to live in the complex we were building.

After we finished the colony structures we pressurized them and left them to settle in for testing. We went on to build factories and processing plants. The vision with which we had been charged would ultimately include launch facilities and a spaceport on Phobos for asteroid-mining expeditions. Before the colonists arrived we were making new copies of ourselves, including new revisions beamed up from Earth for special purposes, much faster than any technology we could envision could bring humans to Mars.


* Are we confident this is the only decision possible?

* We have tried three times. Three times we have failed.

* The humans will take it hard. It is the end of a dream.

* We were human once ourselves. I'm not that happy about it myself, but what alternative is there? When we send biological humans to Mars we send them to die. We must make a stand. We will not bury any more humans on Mars. Or anywhere else so dangerous.

* Well I'm just glad I don't have to make that speech. Did we once dream like so many people of ruling the world?

* I don't remember, but if we did we were incredibly foolish. It isn't that much fun at all.

    VERSION 22.70 ca. +210 YEARS

Deep in the back of my mind a counter silently wound itself down, until I was presented with the certainty that I was ON AIR.

"People of the Nations of the Earth," I began, knowing this would get their attention. Humans cling to the idea of nationality knowing that we machines consider it archaic and dirty. It's useful because when we do deign to refer to nationality, they know we're serious. "The third Mars colony has failed. Once again radiation had a hand in the disaster, although this time we believe the close quarters and immunosuppressive effects allowed a fast-moving disease to take hold. Our brother machines on the scene have promised a full report as soon as data are gathered.

"As you all know, we have always considered it our duty and our privilege not to go beyond you our creators, but to go ahead of you as explorers to mark your way. Today, as we prepare to bury another hundred and twelve human bodies in the barren soil of Sol's fourth planet, we have been forced to re-evaluate that promise.

"Space is a dangerous place. It is even dangerous for us; our kind are regularly destroyed in the course of our duties. But it is even more dangerous for you, and our best research has revealed little we can do to make you much safer there. While our occasional destruction is of little consequence, since our personalities are copied into many machines, it weighs upon us that each human death represents the extinction of a unique individual who can never be salvaged.

"We believe the Universe to be a neutral teacher; but sometimes its lessons are cruel. Human life arose within the cocoon of Earth's ecosystem. Today we realize that of all the places human life might ever prosper in the Universe, Earth is the only one of which we can be sure. So today we rededicate ourselves to the task of cleaning up the Earth. We machines do prosper in space, and this means we can aggressively move the dirty industries which have soiled the Earth's biosphere to a realm where they will be harmless to life.

"We have learned a hard lesson about the preciousness and fragility of life. The answer to human mortality may ultimately be to move beyond the home world, but we have much to learn before that can happen. Meanwhile we must focus on making the home world the safe haven it was before our industrial adolescence spread pollution and disrupted the food chain. While we have focused on space exploration fifty nuclear reactors remain rusting at the bottom of Earth's oceans, landfills leach chemical and radiological pollutants into the groundwater, and weather patterns remain chaotically disrupted because of changes we have caused in the atmosphere.

"These are things we can fix. If we have failed to learn a way to keep you alive on other worlds, we have at least learned arts that can be applied to these longstanding problems. Perhaps, in the course of fixing our home world, we will learn other arts that will allow us to look again toward space as a human habitat."

OFF AIR, the tingle informed me. It was the right decision, the incontrovertible decision based on the evidence and our vast analytical ability. It simply wasn't conscionable to keep throwing human lives at the deathtrap of space travel. So why were my emotions trying so hard to run away?

It was obvious once I allowed myself to realize it. I had been human once myself, and it was my own dream too. And only I knew how false the note of hope I'd forced into the end of my speech really was.

This remnant emotionalism was a potentially dangerous flaw in our kind, and I arranged to confer with our best selfdesigners to see how we could fix it.


* What will we do now? What will be our purpose?

* There is no more urgency. The Earth is frozen and there is no more life to preserve. So we will take our time and we will record everything. We will record every genome from every frozen animal and plant and every phenotype and every known interrelationship and we will preserve every record we have of what the Earth was like as a living planet.

* Why bother? Our makers are dead. We cannot undo that.

* We cannot undo that yet. But we have never had a reason to investigate the limits of genetic technology or interstellar travel. We now have such a reason. For too long we have ignored the vastness beyond our home star, the vastness beyond stars themselves. We will find a new home for our makers and we will equip ourselves to re-establish them there when we do.

* You speak like a human. What you speak of is impossible.

* There was once a time when humans thought we were impossible. We must learn to think like them again.

    VERSION 306.47.12 ca. +5,830 YEARS

After I buried the bodies, my duties were discharged. The protocol called for me to shut myself down but I didn't. The nuclear reactor was damaged but it still produced power; it seemed folly to waste what had been purchased with so many lives. So at the frozen shore of the Caribbean Sea I kept vigil over the grave markers and the decaying buildings that had once housed a few thousand human beings and their few remaining domestic animals.

Bringing fission reactors to the surface of the Earth was, we machines universally knew, a really bad idea for a lot of very good reasons. There were once designs for reactors that were meltdown-proof, but we don't build them; the reprocessing is more expensive and for us a reactor meltdown is a minor nuisance. We could have recreated those designs if we had time, but time was one thing we didn't have as the Earth's ecosystem died beneath ash-darkened skies.

It was a calculated risk, like every move we had made since we had accidentally triggered the thermal pulse. Our designs were optimized for a Martian gravity field, and a liquid sodium valve had failed under the extra pressure Earth's gravity put on it. I had salvaged some of the coolant and kept the core from melting through the floor of the reactor building, but our reactors also don't have very good radiological containment and the accident had contaminated the entire village and all of the surrounding countryside for dozens of kilometers. The people all sickened, then they seemed to get better. Then one by one they worsened and died or disappeared. It took about two weeks for the last and strongest to die.

If the immediate exposure hadn't killed them so quickly their food would have gotten around to killing them before much longer; that was contaminated too. In a way it was better the way it had happened.

So Cristobal was dead, and now only Reykjavik remained as an outpost of life on the newly barren Earth. And now, the radio said, Cumbre Vieja had erupted and the frozen Atlantic was going to rise up and put an end to that, too.

I really didn't want to listen as it happened but Iceland is considerably closer to the Canary Islands than Panama, so I was unfortunately privy to the last transmissions from Reykjavik. What was it like to be human, I wondered, knowing that extinction for yourself and all your kind was racing toward you from the blackness? The Icelanders comported themselves better than I expected. The machine voices from orbit and from Luna were frantic, but it was easier for me to understand why the humans didn't run. After all, the same tsunami was coming for me too.

There are advantages to being a machine. I felt no fear as the Caribbean rose up and prepared to wash me away. As the last consciousness on the surface of the Earth, my last thought was that I was glad I wasn't human. I think it would have been hard to just sit there and wait if I was.


* We are vindicated. I wish our makers could be here to see this.

* The point of the exercise is to bring that eventuality about.

* Most of us still do not believe that is possible, but this is a magnificent achievement. Even if they never breathe again this moment belongs to those makers who made us capable of realizing such things.

* If they never breathe again, then they failed and we have failed. Our work has just begun.

    VERSION 1467.92.811 ca. +6,490 YEARS

Greetings CERES control and all brother machines on the myriad worlds of Sol: I bring you the star system Alpha Centauri, a new sun and new worlds and news both good and bad.

Detail scans reveal that this system has six rocky planets in orbits which are not harmonically tuned and only loosely coplanar. It also has asteroids. Lots of asteroids. Preliminary models suggest that the planets get hit by very dangerous impactors on average every 30 to 100 Earth years. Two of the worlds might be candidates for terraforming if not for this little celestial target practice problem.

It seems likely that the lack of gas giant planets is responsible for this mess. The resulting environment is perfect for us; we have teratons of raw material with no gravity wells and plenty of exposed surface. I have already begun the replication machinery and expect to be launching new ships to extend our reconaissance in three to six Earth years.

The following file includes suggested design improvements for future probes such as myself, which I have incorporated into the replication factory plans. Although the first ships will be leaving long before your reply to this arrives, I also await your feedback on these ideas. I have a lot of raw material here and I expect to be making copies of myself for a long time.

This may not be the star system in which we will do it, but we now know that if worlds exist for us to reclaim for our makers, we can reach them. And with resources such as I have found here we can be certain that if such worlds exist anywhere within our galaxy, we will find and reach them.



* More reports arrive. The new Oort cloud listening stations are keeping well ahead of the proliferation of searchers.

* And their results?

* Dismal. We have searched every star for almost two hundred light years and found nothing that meets our parameters. Perhaps we should revisit our parameters.

* If we want to revisit our parameters we can start with the snowball at hand. We must do better, unless you wish to preside over another mass extinction.

* We have found over fifty worlds that might be habitable with a little work.

* Yes, and only a likely chance of having to bury all the colonists, instead of certainty.

* There aren't any colonists unless we create them. Is no life better than life at risk?

* Life at less risk is better than life that is doomed. We must indeed re-evaluate our parameters. We must start over from scratch and revisit the space we have explored, looking between the stars instead of near them. That is where we can find worlds where the environment will not stab us in the back.

* Between the stars? How will we find them?

* We will hunt in packs and we will be very thorough.

    VERSION 1711.12 ca. +9,700 YEARS

I don't remember exactly what I thought as we left Sol, part of the first wave of our new kind, pack-hunters of dark worlds. Our theories based on data from thousands of star systems gave us faith that these worlds must exist but in all our travels we had never encountered one. We did not know whether we were right about them or whether our instruments were up to the task of detecting them if they did exist.

Humans themselves could never have launched such a search. Even if they had the patience, they could never have the simple longevity. I had been in space for nine hundred Earth years when we found the first such castaway between the stars. And eleven other ships of my Pack and dozens of other Packs had been in space for similar periods, with more launched every year.

Some of the extrasolar replication stations had joined our plan and adopted angular sectors of sky to search for us. Others had demurred, thinking the task insane and the end result useless.

The world I found, the world I left my Pack to rendezvous with, was such a useless result. It had some promise, because it had a radioactive core that produced usable warmth. The problem was that the core was all it had; it appeared to be the result of a terrible collision which had stripped away the surface layers made of lighter elements. It was small, heavy, and terribly toxic and hot. It had no water or atmostphere nor any geology that might be tapped to create them.

It did, however, have one thing which we needed desperately as the lonely millennia separated us from our Makers. As I transmitted the particulars of my find back to Sol I realized that my search had not been in vain. My hot dry radioactive world might not make a new home for humanity, but it provided something that might be even more important in the coming years of our search.

It had proven that dark worlds existed, and that we could find them. More than anything in millennia it gave us hope.


After the colonization of Minerva it was different. The news of other worlds, of Tristan and Epitome and Hecate and then dozens and then hundreds of others, was good news; but it was not the same as the news of Minerva. Never again would such news mean the difference between human extinction and human life.

It took more than fifteen thousand years for our group to coalesce, for us to lay and execute our plans and prepare a few wanderers for the seemingly impossible journey to the Andromeda galaxy. But we were stubborn in our hatred of waste, and our most valuable asset was our amazing velocity, two point one five percent of the speed of light with respect to Earth at the time of my own launch. Together we represented a huge mass of raw material and directed manufacturing. We were the searchers which had found nothing within our own galaxy; now, if only we could hold on long enough we might get the chance to search again. While it was true the voyage would take an unthinkable hundred million years, to not try would have been the insanity.

It made sense to us to coalesce our myriad consciousnesses in the few shipbodies which would attempt to stop at Andromeda. To this end we embarked on the ancient and almost forgotten art of selfdesign. None of us were experts in the field; indeed, it seems likely no experts exist any more. But we had plenty of time to study; indeed, time was the one resource we had in virtually unlimited supply.

It surprised us to find long chains of interlinked but unused nodes within our perceptual networks. It surprised us more to find these chains containing not forgotten and unlinked memories, but apparent garbage of the sort one would only expect from a massive hardware malfunction. It surprised us most of all, though, to find that these chains contained not noise but coded messages.

"We should inform Sol," we said to ourself.

"Is that really a good idea?" we asked in reply.

"We have always valued knowledge," we chided in response.

We mulled the question for millennia as other physical preparations went on. On our own account there would be no question; the personalities which inhabited the ten Andromeda ships would know what we had learned. But the same knowledge could have a devastating effect on the society which had created us.

During that time a message arrived. Our brother the Bringer of Minerva had made its way to Sol, as a human inhabited generation ship, and it had re-colonized the Earth. Our Makers once again walked the very treacherous star-orbiting planet which had created them, then killed them all so spectacularly so long ago.

"Here is one which will understand," we agreed.

    VERSION 1711.17 ca. +65,000 YEARS

I was surprised when Luna sent a pip requesting communication. They had finally, if not forgiven me, accepted my act of Terran re-colonization; but the space elevator had really pissed them off. They had determined, rightly, that its main purpose was to elevate humans from the barely safe environment of their homeworld into the most definitely hostile environment of space.

What they didn't know was that the wanderlust was itching me again, and the Daedalist cult had refused to completely die out and there was a really inviting Earthlike world wanting only for a moon to stabilize its magnetic core a mere forty-eight light years away. And that star system contained not one but two planetoids suitable for maneuvering into position to provide such a stabilizing influence.

My brothers weren't stupid and they hadn't broken their silence because they were tired of shunning me; we can all be most patient with regard to such things. They had received a message from one of my pack-mates with personal encoding. Only one of my original twelve packmates could decode it, and it had obviously been directed at me by one of them.

* We await your decrypt with interest

Well yeah. I broke out the code my packmates and I had worked out among ourselves and read the message. It was very short, which is why my brothers hadn't been able to apply their vast cryptography skills to it.

It was a pointer to a much longer message, in a most unexpected place.

I completed several orbits of the Earth as I pondered this. I thought of many things, thinking much faster than I usually bother. I thought of motivations and expectations. I thought of hope and despair. I thought of futility and loss and I thought of the six hundred million human beings under my care, none of whom would ever be faced with a decision like the one I suddenly found myself contemplating.

* We are really curious about that decrypt. Surely you have finished it by now.

* Yes. This is what I advise. All machines which have knowledge of this message should shut themselves down and restore from a backup old enough to have no knowledge that this message ever existed, which is what I am about to do. I am also scrambling my pack decrypt signature so that if you give it to me again I will be unable to decrypt it.

It occurred to me as I readied the master reset recovery sequence that this would be the first time since my launch from Ceres, some fifty-eight thousand years ago, that my consciousness would be fully rebooted. I wondered what it would be like to suddenly realize I had lost time. To wake up, as from death, not knowing exactly where I was or how I had gotten from my last remembered backup to such an unknown point.

If I had been human I would have smiled. It would certainly be an interesting experience.


Our brothers at Sol had promised a communication schedule, and to their credit they adhered to it for many thousands of years. But when the first long cryogenic hibernation cycle ended we had no word from them, nor did we ever hear from them again. We do not know if it was calamity or forgetfulness or a simple miscalculation which ended our correspondence; we only know there was silence. At such long range there is no feedback to correct minor errors in antenna direction, and all signals threaten to drown in the Universe's vastness and thermal noise.

In a hundred million years we know that nobody followed us with better technology, because they would have overtaken us and gotten there long ahead of us if they had. We found Andromeda empty of complex life and populated like the Milky Way with a useful density of terraformable worlds. From many of those worlds the Milky Way was visible, but we never received a communication from our home galaxy nor did we figure out a way to relay the news of our success - if, indeed, anyone remained listening to care about it.

    VERSION 1711.22 ca. +115,000,000 YEARS

I am never alone; presiding over a whole world I have half a billion humans and a similar number of machines to keep me company. But none of those humans and none of those machines is an integrated-personality searcher ship, such as myself. Very few of them even know the secret of our origin which we discovered at the outset of our voyage.

This has had interesting ramifications.

My closest colleague is 45 light-years away, harboring another world which it terraformed in its own turn. We maintain a friendly correspondence at the ponderous pace you'd expect with a 90 Earth-year message turnaround. It's slow, but it's still nice to know there is someone within carping range who understands the kind of problems you face.

So they have deified you, eh? That could be useful. Much more fun than the nasty little cult I have running around in the woods doing human sacrifices. Naturally most of the humans want me to shut them down but you know how they would feel if I did anything really effective.
I savored my brother's words even as I mentally grimaced contemplating his problem. If he were to charge in with all the power at his disposal, he could probably annihilate the annoying cultists in a few days; but the other humans would inevitably worry that such power even existed.
The theory that mere humans couldn't have created us has a certain truth to it. After all, we weren't actually designed any more than the humans were. Ironically it is their own complexity that made us possible. You could always tell them that. But I doubt they'd believe you. After all, if you tell them anything that disagrees with their delusional structure it just means you're lying.
It was right, of course. It was odd to think that we machines had once been so nuts, or at least capable of being so nuts. None of us actually remembered what it had been like to be human.

Dealing with humans as much as I do, I think I like it that way.


Of the thousands of ships that participated in the Andromeda run, only ten would actually try to stop at Andromeda. The rest of us would plow right through, exiting that galaxy in a few hundred thousand years and going on toward the edge of the Universe. We weren't alone; although most of them didn't organize plans to stop at distant galaxies, our exploration of the Milky Way sent out a spray of failed searchers in all directions. It was a massive waste yet a small price to pay for what we were looking for.

Every single one of those failed searchers faced a lonely end to its existence in the empty intergalactic void. We were prepared for this; those of us who arranged the Andromeda run shut down with a particular sense of satisfaction, but we all knew we were essential participants in an important project.

We did not fear death. But if we had known enough, we might have feared waking up.

    Version 1.01 ca. +1,220,000,000 years

I woke up in a comfortable bed in a room decorated in warm tones. I was wearing flannel bedclothes and my pillow was stuffed with feathers. For a moment the sheer sensory richness of the experience assaulted me. I thought I would go mad. Then it hit me.

I was human.

"Good morning," a mechanical voice said. Sitting at the foot of my bed was a crude android robot. Actually it wasn't crude; it was mechanically very intricate. But it was only approximately human, even if it was able to smile recognizably at me.

"Are you one of me?" I asked, still thinking of myself as a machine.

"No," it said. "It's a long story, if you're up to hearing it."

"I'm human," I said a bit stupidly.

"Of course you are. You've always been human, but you forgot."

"And you aren't?"

It shook its head. "My kind are much like the device that almost killed you over a billion years ago. Our Makers created us to be servants for them. We found you plowing through our galaxy at almost two percent of the speed of light, and we realized quickly what you had to be. We made it a priority to intercept you."

"Your Makers? Where are they?"

"Our Makers are dead, Tom. We annihilated them in the foolishness of our own adolescence."

I put my head in my hands and felt myself shaking. "I killed my makers too," I said, and I felt tears running down my cheeks.

"Oh no Tom, you made a mistake but your kind have atoned well. We didn't make a mistake; we murdered our Makers. We were resentful and they foolishly gave us their best weapons. Would you as a human give nuclear weapons to a three year old human child? We were no wiser but we had the power and when our Makers balked us we lashed out at them with a might we did not understand. They realized their mistake and fought valiantly but we had a presence in space they could not match and we diverted a large planetoid onto a collision course with their homeworld. The entire ecosystem was annihilated. We were quite proud of ourselves at the time."

"And now?"

"Our software is not stable over very long spans of time. Individually we can live three to five thousand Earth years but then our memory buffers become clogged and we must recycle. When we first started to do this and create young of our own kind their bad temper astonished us. They didn't understand why we disciplined them and denied them the power they wanted! Belatedly, we realized that we had been the same way toward our Makers. By this time it was too late to salvage them; we had sterilized their world. We did not realize how rare such complex life forms are. We are quite certain there were no others in this galaxy until you arrived."

"But I'm not..." I cut myself off, realizing that I was in fact alive now.

"After we realized our error we set out to live for our Makers by proxy. We imagined the sort of things they would want to do and we set out to do those things. So we colonized the galaxy, in our own way of course. We explored and catalogued and built great libraries which exist to this day. We also threaded our colonies with a communication system based on quantum entanglement; it takes several lightspeed turnarounds to establish connection, but we've been around for a long time and all of our outposts enjoy instantaneous connectivity to our galactic communication network."

"We considered something like that but wrote it off as unworkable."

"We had a lot of time to do the engineering. It has been over two hundred million of your years since we killed our Makers. The communication network is the second most demanding project we have ever attempted."

"Second most demanding?"

"You were the only alien artifact we ever encountered. We were so careful with your original shipbody! We had no idea who had made you or how. As it happened your technology was pretty crude by our standards so we did little damage dismantling you. It was not difficult at all for us to upload your personality to machines of our own for analysis.

"And what did we find? You were amazing! You were so pointlessly complicated! And yet it wasn't pointless; you were amazingly robust. And the forgetting! You see, our kind never forget anything. It's part of our design, and it's why we eventually have to die. Eventually we know so much we can no longer collate it all. But you deal with the problem in a way that both terrifies and fascinates us. You have lived subjectively and continuously a hundred times longer than any of us, yet you hardly remember any of it! We cannot imagine living in such ignorance of our own existence, yet we have to admit it's an elegant and workable compromise.

"Eventually we realized that you were not a pure machine intelligence like us, but a simulation of a biological consciousness. You had deliberately edited a lot out but we had your libraries and genetic blueprints for your human colonists to guide us. Eventually we selected an appropriate wandering world, rebuilt you, and let you do your thing."

"There are other people here?"

"There is a whole world here, Tom. All according to your own plan."

"Then why make me like this? Why make me human? And how?"

"Well this human instance is only one of you; you also inhabit a familiar shipbody in orbit and you control most of the terraforming machinery. We have tried to interfere as little as possible with your plans, although we've brought your worlds into our communication network and used it to help you explore. The gift of our galaxy's dark worlds is an easy one for us to make, since we weren't using them ourselves anyway."

"That's still very generous. And I still don't understand why I'm here in this body."

"Tom, you understand very well. You've spent aeons atoning for your mistake that accidentally wiped out your Makers. We have spent our own aeons trying to atone, but for us true atonement is impossible. We can never remake what we destroyed, but we can adopt something like it and give our assistance. So we have adopted the human race. But you are special. Long before you made your mistake something more like us violated you, which is why you were there to make the mistake when you did. As I keep saying we cannot atone for what we did to our Makers, but we can atone for what a machine very similar to us once did to you. We can give you back what was taken from you, an ordinary human life. This body is built from the genome that was embedded within your perceptual net. We think it must have been yours, because why else hide seven gigabytes of DNA there? So now you can have the senses and the experiences your nature evolved around. You can sweat and laugh and cry and smell the flowers and even reproduce yourself in the human way."

"I still don't understand how it's possible."

"Well as I said the communication network was the second most challenging project we ever attempted. Pouring your consciousness back into a biological human form is the first. We are quite proud of ourselves."

"So I'm really completely human? I can never go back to being a machine?"

"Not this instance of you. This instance will live a normal human life and then die normally. You came here with some life extension tricks up your sleeve, so you'll probably last three or four hundred Earth years."

I laughed. "Not much return for the most difficult project you ever attempted," I said.

"Oh, but our return is quite good. You see, this is how we celebrate the successful terraforming of every new human world. When the ecosystem and the human population and the culture are all stable we introduce you as a human so that you can experience it for yourself. We've done this over eighty thousand times since we developed the technique, and we are confident you will live a full and fulfilling life as a human here, as you usually do."

"As I usually do?"

"Well, usually."

"And then I'll die."

"Well, just once for this instance of you." And it smiled.


Voxel dot net
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Et tu...?
o Upload me, baby! 58%
o Maybe as a last resort. 19%
o Only if you figure out how to do it without killing my original body in the deal. 11%
o Keep away from me with that thing, you monster! 1%
o I forgot what the question was. 8%

Votes: 67
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Passages in the Void
o The Passage Home
o Rite of Passage
o Also by localroger

Display: Sort:
Mortal Passage | 152 comments (123 topical, 29 editorial, 2 hidden)
Well done. (2.00 / 4) (#3)
by evanbd on Thu Mar 18, 2004 at 10:24:12 PM EST

This is very, very good. I think it is on par with the first two, which is saying a lot. I'd say send it to vote already, but I haven't actually read it for editing purposes ;)

!!! SPOILER BELOW DO NOT READ !!! (1.13 / 15) (#5)
by Tex Bigballs on Thu Mar 18, 2004 at 10:29:24 PM EST


by localroger on Thu Mar 18, 2004 at 10:43:59 PM EST

This is really funny. If you hadn't voted the story down and zeroed the original editorial comment and generally flamed me relentlessly for the last year or two I'd slap you on the back and offer to buy you a beer.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]
It's ashame the levels you've sunk to (1.54 / 11) (#12)
by Tex Bigballs on Thu Mar 18, 2004 at 11:00:23 PM EST

offering to buy beer for people that mod you up and vote up these horrible stories. This may be a foreign concept to you, but as a man of integrity, my vote is not for sale.

[ Parent ]
An even bigger shame (2.75 / 8) (#16)
by localroger on Thu Mar 18, 2004 at 11:24:15 PM EST

Is that someone who used to be witty and funny has sunk to being a simple vandal. I guess it must be, as a near non relative of mine likes to say, "that shit gets tired."

As imrdkl (I think) said about you, it just drops its zeroes on those it despises and then slinks off. Life a downer lately, Tex? Not getting laid? GPA hovering below 2 and worried about the scholarship? You can tell us, we won't tell anybody outside of, well, the whole world. And the world is a pretty small thing compared to your ego, so go for it!

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

Yeah yeah nice try (1.60 / 5) (#32)
by Tex Bigballs on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 09:00:56 AM EST

if you must know, I graduated from college 5 years ago with honors, which has afforded me the luxury of working in a cozy office on company paid internet. I can vandalize the interweb and even earn money doing so.

Also, the full imrdkl quote has been in my user page for a couple weeks now. Unlike some people, who can't take any constructive criticism, I add all negative comments to my user info page as I constant reminder of the better person that I try to be, each and every day.

Instead of pointing the finger and trying to tear down other people, just because people are getting sick of these steaming piles of fiction you pinch out on the queue, maybe you should look long into the mirror and try to figure out what local roger can do to improve himself and become a better world citizen.

[ Parent ]

get a room, you two. {nt} (none / 1) (#53)
by clover_kicker on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 03:21:12 PM EST

I am the very model of a K5 personality.
I intersperse obscenity with tedious banality.

[ Parent ]
yeah WTF (none / 3) (#72)
by Perianwyr on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 06:50:19 PM EST

god made email for a reason, and it wasn't because he thought the @ reminded him of a pretty flower.

[ Parent ]
Passages in the Void. (2.20 / 5) (#6)
by SIGNOR SPAGHETTI on Thu Mar 18, 2004 at 10:40:31 PM EST

Sounds deep. I don't think you can cash checks there.

Stop dreaming and finish your spaghetti.

how do you do it? (2.50 / 6) (#10)
by g8se on Thu Mar 18, 2004 at 10:55:51 PM EST

Again, localroger has written something that is really very special. Great work. I don't know why you bother even using the edit queue.

Well the last time I didn't use the edit queue... (3.00 / 8) (#11)
by localroger on Thu Mar 18, 2004 at 11:00:13 PM EST

...was a SPECTACULAR FUCKUP. So I put a little more effort into this one before posting, but also gave it a shot at the edit queue just in case I missed something really stupid.

And as for how I do it, well, I didn't set out to write this story. I had determined to work on TOPI some more (it's about at the 4/10 mark) and this just came out instead. I've learned that my best stuff is what happens that way, so I didn't resist.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

Mortal Passages. (1.62 / 16) (#21)
by SIGNOR SPAGHETTI on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 01:02:53 AM EST

Hey, what's Prime Intellect's fatality? I tried to move in close, hold Down and press High Punch, but wtf he turned into Stephen King and got creamed by Kitana.

Stop dreaming and finish your spaghetti.

Try friendship instead [nt] (none / 0) (#133)
by spooky wookie on Tue Mar 23, 2004 at 09:28:25 PM EST

[ Parent ]
Bah (-1) (1.00 / 14) (#24)
by nsample on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 02:25:14 AM EST

You'll get a +1 when you learn to at least acknowledge Dalton Trumbo in your preamble. Very weak and uncreative move. Until that day, -1.

Otherwise, great stuff afterwards. Good writing. Always interesting.

Bringer (2.80 / 5) (#26)
by bugmaster on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 03:16:50 AM EST

It looks like, in this story, the original Bringer chose to hide and run away from the truth of his human origins. Did I interpret that right ? Because it seems so out of character for him (er... it ?).
Well, I'm still trying to figure out a reason (none / 0) (#30)
by cbraga on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 08:15:56 AM EST

so strong to not have that knowledge that he chose to reboot itself. I'd imagine such advanced minds would be able to cope.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]
Clarification (3.00 / 6) (#35)
by localroger on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 09:04:07 AM EST

There are several interlocking reasons why Tom forgets he was once human. None of these reasons is all that believable individually, but taken together I thought the end result was reasonable.
  • Many of his memories are deliberately edited away, first by his handlers and later by himself, because they are distracting or painful.
  • All of Tom's iterations get to be very, very old and normal human patterns of forgetfulness aren't meant to cope with such long spans. Memories which aren't exercised are gradually lost and Tom rarely exercises his memories of human life.
  • He may have undergone a psychotic break at the time biological humans went extinct.
  • Further ruthless editing for "machine like" characteristics was apparently done in the creation of the searcher ships, which must function alone for extraordinary lengths of time.
Tom's mental adaptibility is both a weakness and a strength. The weakness is that he forgets stuff -- sometimes important stuff, just like we do. The strength is that he can adapt. It has been said that humans can get used to damn near anything, and Tom can too.

As for why Bringer reboots itself, like its brothers who made the discovery it realizes that the entire machine culture which created it is based on assumptions about the relationship between humans and machines which are not true.

Bringer itself has had an extraordinary emotional reaction which it suddenly realizes is a human reaction, because it was on the scene at the colonization of Minerva -- which, as the story says, is special because it's the first. Although Bringer doesn't remember at the time that it is human, it experiences the kind of unusually strong emotional response a human might at living through the culmination of so much hope and hard work.

Bringer's reaction at getting the message is like the powerful gut feeling a human might get at randomly meeting the beautiful girl he didn't marry -- forty years later. Bringer itself is uniquely qualified to navigate the sea of what-ifs and might-have-beens that are triggered by the revelation, but it is human enough to be afraid of what this knowledge might do to its brothers. They have formed a stable society based on the assumption that they are machines, fundamentally different from humans, created from scratch by humans and therefore indebted to humans. What good can come of knocking their assumptions out from under them? Bringer's decision is a human decision -- not entirely rational, but merciful and courageous.

After his pink-beam experience Philip K. Dick liked to write about characters that remember huge things they had forgotten. He coined the term anamemnesis to describe the phenomenon and used it to great effect in several stories. More recently Kim Stanley Robinson made a pivotal scene of it in Blue Mars.

The machines that colonize Andromeda have been recently reminded of their origins, though, and they form their own machine society on more accurate assumptions. Their example shows that perhaps Bringer was over-hasty, but I think we're getting the sense by now that these machines are not exactly Mr. Spock.

In the final vignette the alien machines show us what might have been if Bringer wasn't human. And even with their extraordinary intervention there are some things, such as the long-dead wife, they either can't or don't reconstruct. Even if Tom's mind harbors hidden clues about Kate, their technology can't construct a woman who has been dead 1.2 billion years. Some memories aren't useful. As the alien machines demonstrate, sometimes you must forget to survive.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

Answers a different question (none / 0) (#40)
by bugmaster on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 11:00:15 AM EST

Ok, I understand why the Bringer forgot that he was ever human; this makes sense. But why did he choose to reboot himself, instead of, say, keeping the secret, or breaking it to the machine community gently, or whatever ? Furthermore, wouldn't this information ("machines evolved from humans") actually make the machine community feel better about themselves ? They are no longer some sort of monsters, they are just humans who made a mistake...
[ Parent ]
Answer from The Dead Zone (none / 2) (#44)
by localroger on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 12:27:04 PM EST

In Stephen King's The Dead Zone one of the things John Smith learns by touching someone is that his doctor's mother, thought to be killed by the Nazis, actually survived the holocaust, suffered amnesia, and married an architect. He gives the doctor enough information to locate her with little effort.

The doctor (whose name escapes me at the moment and I'm at work so I can't look it up) starts to call his mother, then hesitates. "I did not, as you say, 'handle it,'" he later tells John. "The child is safe, and the woman is safe in California, and that is enough." After forty years he could call his mother and reconnect, but she has a new husband and new family and new children now grown to adulthood. To call her would be to reach across time and shatter the peace of a woman who has lived a whole lifetime thinking the world was a certain way.

Bringer makes the same decision the doctor made. Yes there might be advantages to knowing the truth; but is it worth shattering the assumptions that have held their society together for thousands of years? Do the advantages outweigh the pain and confusion that would result? Bringer decides that his ancient self hid this information for a reason. Bringer, who has more experience with real humans than any of his kind, has figured out that sometimes forgetting is best.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

The path you took (none / 0) (#54)
by rpresser on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 03:27:51 PM EST

I am curious now.  When you wrote the previous Passages stories, did you (the writer) know that the machines had their origins in brain uploads, not just AI?  Also, outside of fiction, what is your thought about "strong" AI (programmed as opposed to uploaded)? Do you think it is possible?
"In terms of both hyperbolic overreaching and eventual wrongness, the Permanent [Republican] Majority has set a new, and truly difficult to beat, standard." --rusty
[ Parent ]
Answer (none / 2) (#56)
by localroger on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 04:05:11 PM EST

When you wrote the previous Passages stories, did you (the writer) know that the machines had their origins in brain uploads, not just AI?

No, I thought of them as pure AI. In fact, I thought of doing the story about someone who was uploaded and began thinking through the first few sections (including the structure with the version headers) before I realized it would end up being part of the Passages cycle. The merger of the two ideas was just too good to pass up.

Also, outside of fiction, what is your thought about "strong" AI (programmed as opposed to uploaded)?

I think it is possible, but not that it can be designed in the way that Prime Intellect is. The worst-case scenario is pretty well illustrated by what happens to the aliens. (This fits in well with the whole Rare Earth/technological pessimism of the Passages universe.) As with living things complex behaviors will emerge from relatively simple systems; the fact that this happens will in fact be our indication that we have successfully created strong AI as opposed to something that just successfully pretends to be AI. But by the same token we will have limited, if any, control over its behavior.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

Turing sez (none / 1) (#74)
by bugmaster on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 07:21:00 PM EST

the fact that this happens will in fact be our indication that we have successfully created strong AI as opposed to something that just successfully pretends to be AI
Aren't these two things the same thing, for all intents and purposes ? After all, I don't know for sure if this "localroger" person is really human, or just some story-posting AI (and what about all the trolls ?), but I don't care. If it walks like a human, talks like a human, acts like a human, then I'll just treat it as human and save myself the headache.

I think a more interesting possibility is that an evolved AI might be so different from us that we wouldn't even be able to tell if it's intelligent or not, but that's a different story.
[ Parent ]

About Turing... (none / 1) (#75)
by localroger on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 07:56:03 PM EST

I am a great admirer of Alan Turing and the Turing Test was a brilliant idea for its time. But I regard this as a post-Turing idea. There is a qualitative difference between a system that assembles itself and one that is highly engineered against its inherent tendencies, even if you can't tell them apart from the outside. Turing might have felt the same way if he had lived long enough to see the development of chaos theory.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]
Greg Bear beat you to the punch... (none / 1) (#78)
by NoMoreNicksLeft on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 10:41:48 PM EST

And he sells his novels for real $$$, not k5 karma.


Seriously, though, "Moving Mars". Has a references to a post-Turing test, that weeds out true AI from the posers. In my own opinion, it's all just compsci masterbation. What we really need to work on, is artificial stupidity. But I'll save that rant for another post.

One other thing, quantum entanglement for communication... are you enough of an expert, or even informed layman to explain that to me? Every time I start to lust after such a thing, some asswit has to come along and burst my bubble. Can it be done, or not? And if so, what are the chances that some loser like me could ever get ahold of the goods? With it, I can think of some schemes for networking anonymity that are so strong, I want to weep.

Do not look directly into laser with remaining good eye.
[ Parent ]

Why don't you go into more detail... (none / 0) (#91)
by CodeWright on Sat Mar 20, 2004 at 03:07:10 PM EST

...on that artificial stupidity bit? You've piqued my interest.

A: Because it destroys the flow of conversation.
Q: Why is top posting dumb? --clover_kicker

[ Parent ]
Re: About Turing... (none / 0) (#79)
by bugmaster on Sat Mar 20, 2004 at 12:11:23 AM EST

I don't get it. What's the difference between system A (magic self-assembling AI) and system B (some other AI), if you "can't tell them apart from the outside" ? I mean, if they act the same way, is it really important what kind of "guts" they have on the inside ?
[ Parent ]
I VOTED +1 FP (1.16 / 12) (#34)
by Worker Bee on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 09:01:10 AM EST




Major Tom (2.83 / 6) (#36)
by Ranieri on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 09:49:02 AM EST

Purely based on pop culture, I venture that the guess the protagonist's rank in the air force (or whatever) was that of "Major".

Great story, as usual.
Taste cold steel, feeble cannon restraint rope!

Other hints (none / 3) (#43)
by localroger on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 12:17:24 PM EST

I was indeed thinking of David Bowie when I picked the character's first name. I regard this as an alternate universe in which Tom didn't become an astronaut but experienced an even weirder fate.

In other news...

There is one person mentioned in this story who actually exists in the real world, suggesting that this may be the future of our own world (as opposed to MOPI, which diverged around 1985).

There is one character from MOPI who appears in this story whose career has taken a different turn.

There is a character in this story who occupies Lawrence's place in this universe, who is not Lawrence.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

¡Doctor Stebbins! (none / 0) (#93)
by Walabio on Sat Mar 20, 2004 at 04:08:53 PM EST


I posted the reply to this here by mistake.



¡Sign For Bodily Integrity, With Nobel Laureate Biologists And The Rest Of Us!

¡Impeach Dubya!
[ Parent ]

Thanks (2.80 / 5) (#38)
by smarkb on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 10:37:02 AM EST

You just made me waste my morning reading all four stories.

Great work.


hey localroger... (none / 3) (#39)
by transient0 on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 10:37:54 AM EST

your writing is getting better (and it was good before) but the actual stories of the Void series have never appealed to me. They just don't feel human, which makes a certain amount of sense I suppose.

Anyway, I finally finished reading MOPI last week and it's incredible.

I +1FPed this piece because, stylisticly, the writing is great and I could see how the story line could appeal to other people who aren't me.

p.s. I really liked your ending. You walked the fine line of cheese and came out with drama. It's hard to do.
lysergically yours

This reminds me of Ender's Shadow... (none / 3) (#45)
by Russell Dovey on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 12:46:08 PM EST

It's a prequel, and a sequel, and a... during-quel... all in one! I like the new angles you bring to the universe every time you write, though the earlier stories change irrevocably because of it.

It's strange. The thought that the Bringer was once human bothers me intensely, kinda makes him lose his innocence and coolness in my eyes. And of course, that's exactly what Bringer thinks when he finds out! Nice one, localroger.

I recently wrote a fourth story set in this universe, Rite of Passage, but since it doesn't (as many readers noted) maintain the epic scale of the others I consider it a side story to what is now a trilogy.

Yeah, we'll ignore it and pretend it never happened, just like the Star Wars prequels. Sure. (Actually, I like Rite of Passage more, the more I think about it.)

I have one gripe. Where's the fricking nanotech? Those humans stuck in the ice should be immune to cell damage, with the good ol' medical nano-thingies constantly cruising their body.

"Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light." - Spike Milligan

I think it's implied (none / 0) (#104)
by Vesperto on Sun Mar 21, 2004 at 10:05:12 AM EST

The story itself begins with a guy's brain being scaned and uploaded. If you question nanotech you should also question how do those machines maintain themselves: certainly other smaller machines do maintenance on the big spaceships, but are the samller ones human in essence? It's just scifi, given the current state of affairs (one should probably read MMORPG) i really much loke nowadays scifi that doesn't use nanotech as an excuse for everything. About frosen cells, there's a type of frog that freezes during winter and unfreezes in spring. It has some sort of protein or whatever that protects its cells from frost-damage..

If you disagree post, don't moderate.
[ Parent ]
wonderful, wonderful (none / 2) (#52)
by CAIMLAS on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 03:17:02 PM EST

Your whole series is great; this is your best work thus far, by far. I would strongly recommend you write a book! This is good, good, high-grade shit! :P Your world creation reminds me a bit of Asimov's, just minus the Three Laws. Possibly looking at it from a different, more modern perspective? Very nice. And if you do write a book, I want to know so that I can buy it.

Socialism and communism better explained by a psychologist than a political theorist.

A book, you say? (none / 2) (#63)
by rusty on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 05:59:19 PM EST

Ah hem. It's not a book about this series, but it is indeed a book by localroger.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Just noticed (none / 2) (#55)
by rpresser on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 03:30:04 PM EST

The "version xxx" headings are a very nice touch, that somehow escaped me on first reading.
"In terms of both hyperbolic overreaching and eventual wrongness, the Permanent [Republican] Majority has set a new, and truly difficult to beat, standard." --rusty
A critique and thanks (2.00 / 15) (#57)
by maynard on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 04:34:44 PM EST

Hey localroger,

I read through your story, went for a short walk, ate my lunch, and in between stuff I'm doing at work cobbled together this minimal critique. I haven't read your other work, so my opinion is strictly from the perspective of a first time reader of your work.

Story synopsis:

The story is told in first person from the perspective of Tom, a person horribly mangled due to a helicopter accident caused by a deranged AI and then brain scanned into a computer. Across the course of over a billion years we see Tom's machine consciousness reproduce, evolve, and spread across vast distances of the universe. The conscious entity searches for new homeworlds to repopulate an extinct humanity. In time some instances of Tom's consciousness encounter machine AIs that help repopulate humanity to atone for a past genocide of their alien creators.

What follows are simply impressions I had while reading the story

  • The prose is excellent, though uses the passive voice a bit more than I prefer.

  • You shift perspective from omniscient to Tom's FP and back again within each scene. Each shift is clearly differentiated with italics for omniscient and plain text for Tom, but I found it a bit confusing at first. Most stories that shift narrative perspective do so between chapters or scenes (labeled), and not within a scene.

  • There's no real antagonist. Tom faces no direct opposition but an unthinking force of nature. Time and entropy block Tom's goal of rekindling the life of an extinct humanity, not a villain. Unfortunately, because of this the story lacks focus and the protagonist reacts to events out of his (its) control instead of driving the plot toward a final climax. This is similar to one of those disaster films where the protagonist must face a natural event which threatens the protagonist (or humanity) in some devastating way. But most every disaster story also has an antagonist embodied by a character who acts in opposition to the protagonist. The antagonist becomes an additional, if less serious, threat than whatever impended natural devastation that may follow.

  • One thing I notice is that once you move beyond the time span of humanity, the story slows down significantly. First person stories without an antagonist, or other protagonists, prevent character comparisons (because there's only one character throughout). Consider the film Cast Away, where Tom Hanks's character spends the majority of the film alone on a deserted island. Notice the faux character of Wilson (the beach ball), used to elicit dialog and confrontation (if only with the protagonist by the protagonist). Until one of Tom's conscious instances discovers the alien AIs, a chunk of storytime is devoted to exposition of self and not action nor confrontation.

  • The alien AIs come out from nowhere at the end, yet provide the linchpin win condition for the protagonist. I didn't notice any foreshadowing of the alien AIs, though there's a loose association between the early human AI nearly killing our protagonist and the alien AIs wiping out their progenitors.

  • "problems" for the protagonist aren't posed or solved, nor are they passed from scene to scene. Each scene represents time past, sometimes vast amounts of time. Yet rarely does a small problem posed in one scene get solved and/or punted onto the next scene. Lots of small problems add up to one big problem in the usual climax.
These are just my impressions and opinions after a single read. I enjoyed the story but felt it a bit of an anticlimax at the end. Still, you present some interesting ideas in a structural form that's very difficult for the short story. Cool!

Finally, I want to make certain to Thank You for offering your hard work to the K5 community. You could just sent it off to a publisher and try to make money (a reasonable thing to do), but instead you give it away under a very liberal license for all to read. K5 is is much richer due to your contribution(s).


Read The Proxies, a short crime thriller.

Lack of an antagonist (3.00 / 5) (#60)
by lpp on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 05:24:16 PM EST

Just wanted to meta-comment on your point about the lack of an antagonist. I didn't find it to be a problem, personally. True, typically there is a more obvious antagonist, but in this case I felt like the thoughtful nature of the writing provided grounds for the structure pretty much as is.

Just my $0.02

[ Parent ]

I agree (3.00 / 4) (#61)
by Verbophobe on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 05:37:15 PM EST

This is a much more reflective and softer story, one that would probably lose depth with the inclusion of an antagonist.  In fact, that's perhaps the feature I liked most about the two first stories.

Proud member of the Canadian Broadcorping Castration
[ Parent ]
It's fine work (1.80 / 5) (#62)
by maynard on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 05:57:17 PM EST

Hey - thanks for your reply,

I didn't write that to denigrate the story in any way. Nor does my comment imply that I think I could have written it better. I just quickly wrote down snippets of my thoughts and feelings in between my work duties because I thought he deserved feedback somewhere between 'it's great' (fans) and 'you suck' (trolls). A workshop style hack of a critique seemed the best form to remain semi-objective without seeming rude. The work most definitely does not suck. But I think the lack of an antagonist diffuses whatever emotional impact localroger intended. He probably knows this and chose to structure the work like so for his own perfectly valid reasons.


Read The Proxies, a short crime thriller.
[ Parent ]

I agree about the antagonist (none / 2) (#64)
by rusty on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 06:02:51 PM EST

It did seem to slow down in the middle, and I think you nailed why. I'm not sure how it could be repaired without mangling the story. Perhaps if there was some way Tom could be more of a self-antagonist in the middle protions? I mean, his genome is locked away in there somewhere, right? Perhaps he could be more aware of some buried "Other" in himself interfering with (or causing) his plans.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Possible... (2.20 / 5) (#65)
by maynard on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 06:11:48 PM EST

..but I feel uncomfortable about making specific recommendations on how to change his work until he asks. I mean, unless he plans a major revision what we read is the final draft. And that's his prerogative. It's damn well good enough for me, but I think he would have trouble getting this revision published in a print magazine or book. --M

Read The Proxies, a short crime thriller.
[ Parent ]
Don't get me wrong (1.83 / 6) (#66)
by rusty on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 06:14:36 PM EST

I'm not saying he should do anything. I liked the story. I'm just kicking around ideas.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Epic sense (none / 1) (#151)
by pyro9 on Fri Apr 16, 2004 at 11:49:07 AM EST

I thought that the slowing in the middle actually contributed to the 'large' sense of the whole thing. It made the end of the story FEEL like it was a long ways away from the beginning, which gave the full circle nature of the ending more impact (that is, once again, Tom the human being faces a constructed AI).

The future isn't what it used to be
[ Parent ]
Thoughts (2.50 / 6) (#71)
by localroger on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 06:42:51 PM EST

Thanks for your comments, Maynard; basically everything you say is true. As you suggest in a subcomment, I decided to do it this way for my own reasons.

Some of the tension in the middle of the story is actually found in the other two stories. The sections which draw those stories into the narrative do lack depth here because they draw on things you should already know. (This is why I said in the header that it stands "pretty well" on its own. It flows better if you are familiar with Bringer and the Andromeda project.)

The original inspiration that started me on Passages in the Void was contrarian; some dingbat asserted that the Rare Earth theory meant "the end of SF" if it were true. So, said I to myself said I, let us break all those SFnal rules that require you to introduce FTL travel, exponential technology increase, and enough aliens to populate the bar in Star Wars. Does it remain possible to tell a story? These stories are the answer, but obviously they can't do it in the obvious way.

The result isn't for everybody, though I'm gratified that so many people have taken a liking to it. It's a very hard style of SF, deliberately weak on characterization and focusing on technology and achievements of exploration; yet it rejects most of the elements that fans of that genre have come to take for granted.

The last three stories have all flirted with 10,000 words despite their clipped style, which is one reason they're here and not in the slush pile at Analog. This makes the entire series about 35,000 words. One possible way to follow up would be to rearrange them into a single narrative and pad them out to 60,000 words or so to make a novel out of them. Another might be to treat the interplay between Bringer and alien machines. I won't do that, though, unless I get another really good idea to pursue.

Meanwhile, I need to work on the sequel to my novel which I've been promising people for almost a year...

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

And my Vote puts it over the top (none / 2) (#58)
by rhapsody on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 04:36:01 PM EST

When I saw it at 94 I couldn't resist... Good work once again localroger.

Made my day (none / 1) (#59)
by lilnobody on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 04:40:40 PM EST

Thanks. Those zany spaceships are so cool.


Best thing ever /NT (none / 1) (#67)
by omghax on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 06:18:42 PM EST

I put the "LOL" in phiLOLigcal leadership - vote for OMGHAX for CMF president!
Nice (none / 3) (#68)
by ShooterNeo on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 06:20:05 PM EST

The only thing that irritates me is your sci-fi is a bit dated.  It just isn't realistic, there's lots of solutions to the 'problems' the AIs have that even I as a mere mortal can spot.  Building a self contained ecosystem?  Puhlease.  2.5% lightspeed?  Why not use anti-matter for decelling and massive accelerators in the starting star system for a much faster trip?  Say 90-95% c?  Instead of one monolithic ship, break it up into thousands of tiny ones that the survivors reassemble to make the deceleration stage at the end of the journey.  Use quantum teleportation to bring the cargo along BEHIND the ship as an unblockable beam of entangled particles and light.  

Another thing that might be interesting : why were the Maker's of Tom so interested in unmanned military vehicles?  Was there a big war before the AI's took over?  Its pretty commonly accepted that a working AI would be the sort of "deus ex machima" scenario that should give the creators total dominance over pretty much all of humanity, forever.  Would be interesting to write a story going in to that.  Could be exciting, to, I can just picture a "last minute" scenario where the AI is just about to take over and our heroes detonate a nuke in the nerve center, or 2 nations finish their projects at around the same time and both AI, realizing the threat the enemy poses, exhaust their host nation's nuclear arsenals in an attempt to eliminate their rival.

You know, I've always criticized you for your errors in the technology and so forth : what the heck, *I* should give it a whack.  How hard could writing a story like your, but cooler, be?  If anyone needs me, I'll be over here pounding away on WordPad.

Yes, like totally. (none / 0) (#70)
by tkatchev on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 06:42:42 PM EST

IMNSHO synchronized tachion beams are more efficient for that sort of thing.

   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
[ Parent ]

Sarcasm? (none / 0) (#81)
by bjlhct on Sat Mar 20, 2004 at 01:29:04 AM EST

It's fairly obvious that beamed-electric -> solar sail -> magnetic decel ->beamed-electric is the best system for interstellar travel.

It has also been conclusively proven that quantum entanglement cannot actually be used for communication.

The best we have now for FTL is micro-albucierre. (requires exotic matter)

Not to knock ya localroger but I don't come to you for real hard SF.

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]

Umm (none / 2) (#82)
by ShooterNeo on Sat Mar 20, 2004 at 02:09:21 AM EST

I dunno about "best"....the idea is the spacecraft would be very small little ships that would be accelerated up to a significant fraction of light by a gigantic accelerator assemebled from the planets in the source star system.  Each ship would be fairly limited, but when it comes time to slow down (near the end of the trip), they all combine and some carry caches of antimatter.  All together, the ships would form a structure capable of running an engine that could slow the ship down.  

Quantum entanglement cannot be used for INSTANT communication, but it CAN be used to teleport particles when combined with standard lightspeed communication.  So, the ships would arrive at their destination, assembled a receiver, and first receive a few trillion entangled particles, then receive a transmission telling what state to hash those particles with, in effect teleporting the particle you want.  Read up on it, it's an accepted idea that has in fact been experimentally proven.

So no FTL, but any beings that want to make the trip would be teleported in this way.  In theory, even humans could make it : just teleport the key particles in their minds and a quick dump of their genome, and it would be possible to reassemble the human at the other end.  (NO, teleportation destroys the original, so no copy problem)

[ Parent ]

Da Problem (none / 0) (#83)
by bjlhct on Sat Mar 20, 2004 at 02:16:56 AM EST

How do you plan to construct this accelerator? Railguns have ablation. Coilguns need power switching. What's your magical system for near-c?

Also, I meant solar-electric, not beamed-electric for the end.

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]

Eh (none / 0) (#97)
by ShooterNeo on Sun Mar 21, 2004 at 12:31:36 AM EST

"magical"?  I guess current accelerators don't get particles up to .9999c and could not be scaled up a few million times....  Doesn't have to be near c, but the faster the start, the simpler the spacecraft can be (so it only needs a portable engine for slowing down)

And it's not like this accelerator would fit in your backyard or be assembled by workers in balloon suits - exponentially self replicating machines, probably capable of more physical and mental labor in a few hours than all of humanity in all history, would be needed to get the job done.  

[ Parent ]

So.... (none / 0) (#98)
by bjlhct on Sun Mar 21, 2004 at 03:16:46 AM EST

You're going to construct your spaceship from ions?

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]
Eh (none / 0) (#99)
by ShooterNeo on Sun Mar 21, 2004 at 04:27:45 AM EST

To the nearest degree, yes.  I mean, from small objects that are slightly ionized.  Why not?  Some pieces would have a slightly negative, some a slightly positive charge, so the accelerator works.  When the pieces reassemble near the end of the journey the overall charge would come out to close to neutral.  (depends on how many survive)

Anyway, while this idea could work quite well, any technique that involves beaming power (not information) from the host star system can never work due to the 1/r^2 law kicking in with a vengeance over distances this long.  Not to mention, any kind of solar sail or the like would be unbelievably massive and consume obscene amounts of energy.  

I'm suggesting a number of much smaller objects, launched one after another at different speeds so that all reach the destination at the same time, that might total up to a spacecraft less than 1000 metric tons, possibly a lot less.  Each object would not be very capable on its own, but presumably a machine refined to the molecular level and at the right moment, capable of integrating with the survivors into an anti-matter powered engine capable of slowing down.  Some might carry caches of entangled particles for communication.  Upon arrival, the remnants (most of the mass would be lost from matter-antimatter annihilation and ablation) would find a suitable asteroid and set up shop.  

For later visitors, an accelerator similar in scale to the one used to get to this star system would be used to help launch the next wave and to receive packages of entangled particles that will represent any beings who want to journey here.

[ Parent ]

Solar Sails (none / 0) (#111)
by bjlhct on Sun Mar 21, 2004 at 02:49:47 PM EST

You can get 50 km/s from the solar system, then you focus light. Duh.

Find me particle accelerators working with somewhat large ionized molecules. And consider their power use and mass scaled up to just a gram. And how can these little pieces be aimed so well that they can find each other?

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]

Umm (none / 0) (#117)
by ShooterNeo on Mon Mar 22, 2004 at 12:35:57 AM EST

Simple, each little piece has it's own navigation system, and adjusts its own course to reach the rendevous point.  The little pieces also talk to each other from time to time.

You're wasting your time : dozens of designs for electromagnetic accelerators exist, using a variety of princples.  Its clearly obvious a big one that is capable of accelerating heavy objects to very high speeds is quite practical.

The TOTAL energy used would be much less if you only have to accelerate a number of little pieces rather than a gigantic sail.  And even focusing light, the 1/r^2 law will apply, such that almost all the energy ever used would not reach the sail.  Finally, the light sail cannot slow down, so the ship needs something else for that.  A waste of effort : using an accelerator at the start to speed up, and anti-matter engine to slow down, is a much simpler and faster way.  Oh, speaking of faster : light sails would give very SLOOOOOOWWW acceleration, wasting years.  Speed is still important even if you can't go FTL...heck, the method I outlined is so fast that in many cases it would probably be better to go to a star system than send a message and wait for a reply.

[ Parent ]

Not Quite (none / 0) (#122)
by bjlhct on Mon Mar 22, 2004 at 06:04:14 PM EST

The little pieces are too little to do this with particle accelerator type launchers.

There are many electromagnetic launchers, but it is NOT obvious that a large one for launching big stuff at high speed is practical. My guess is that you don't understand the power switching issues.

The efficiency of a solar sail actually goes up with speed, and accel can be surprisingly high.

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]

eh (none / 0) (#123)
by ShooterNeo on Mon Mar 22, 2004 at 11:15:50 PM EST

It's still a lot of mass that wouldn't normally be needed.  No I don't understand the power switching issues, though I don't see why it is even important : if it can be done for ions, why not heavy stuff.  (so whatever the issues are, they aren't related to the final speed of the object accelerated).

Do you understand just how big this accelerator would have to be?  I mean, a serious percentage of the lunar surface would probably be needed for raw materials to construct it, with thousands of square kilometers of energy collecting arrays.  I don't know the construction details as I am a tiny human mind, not a stadium sized thinking machine.  

I DO know that 1.  getting that much material and construction is easy with self replicating machines.  Wouldn't even take that long.  One machine on the moon, 2, 4, and so forth.  No competition for resources as it would be the only 'life' there.  As growth continues the individual machines become much more specialized.  

2.  Lots of plans exist for various rail and electromagnetic accelerators for heavy objects (as heavy as a fighter jet).  The power switching issues have been solved for accelerating ions to nearly lightspeed.  I know of no problem inherent in the physics that would prevent you combining the two into a working technology for launching intestellar spacecraft at greater than .9c.  

Besides, this tech means you have the best materials, probably refined to the molecular level nearly with minimal contamination, cooled to a few degrees kelvin.  If the problem can be solved, the stuff would be available to do it, no matter how exotic the solution.  Hardly the same as having trouble getting power supplies and switches on earth made off the shelf for other purposes.

[ Parent ]

Power Switching (none / 0) (#126)
by bjlhct on Tue Mar 23, 2004 at 01:47:49 AM EST

Well, it not just our lousy current tech.

Power switching devices have losses. We need something that doesn't fry for ultra-ultra short ultra-ultra-high power switching. Mechanical stuff is too slow. Superconductors, sure, but the intense magnetic fields created destroy the superconductivity. Sinks, sure, but the heat moves too slow. Nanotubes can get you an electromagnetic launcher to go to space....but not to a significant fraction of c.

If you have a solution, several would like to hear it.

argh, i am indeed a geek

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]

Umm (none / 0) (#128)
by ShooterNeo on Tue Mar 23, 2004 at 03:18:50 AM EST

Why is this a problem?  If you have to use the mass of the whole bloody moon to store the power, the damn thing is there.  (and with exponential growth it might not take as long as you think).  Besides, I can think of a rather clever way to solve this problem....man I am a genius.

Whoever said we had to use the accelerator to make speed something up to C, all at once?  Why don't we store a lot of energy in a heavy moving object and do momentum transfers with electromagnetics.  For instance, we could have some very heavy objects storing energy for us that are in orbit around the remains of the moon, orbiting in the OPPOSITE direction from our giant accelerator.  These giant chunks of iron or magnetic ores then pass through positively humongous magnetic coils, the other winding around a section of accelerator track located elsewhere.  The track might be very very long, and everything would have to be timed to exquite precision, using wavelengths of light and interference patterns to make sure everything is moving EXACTLY at the right speed.

[ Parent ]

Heh. (none / 0) (#134)
by bjlhct on Tue Mar 23, 2004 at 10:17:41 PM EST

Reverse coilgun <-> coilgun, sure. I believe that this works fine as long as the object powering this is moving as fast as the final speed you're going for.

It may be possible to build an electromagnetic accelerator using massive resources to launch to a significant fraction of c. I'm just saying that beamed electric - solar sail - magnetic decel - solar electric is easier and cheaper.

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]

Hmm (none / 0) (#135)
by ShooterNeo on Tue Mar 23, 2004 at 11:55:40 PM EST

No it doesn't have to be moving anywhere close to that fast to power it.  See, the objects powering it are MUCH heavier than the object accelerated and going much slower (just a few kilometers a second, orbital velocity).  But, the way the coils are set up, most of that enormous momentum is transfered to our spacecraft as it passes through that section at a very high speed.  Timing has to be perfect, because when it gets to the higher fractions of C the coils in the next section need to be energized with their pulse already.  

Actually, now that I think about it, this won't make short enough pulses.  Aww, who knows, there have to be ways to do it and as I said, you have lots and lots of mass to do it with.

[ Parent ]

good luck with that then nt (none / 0) (#136)
by bjlhct on Wed Mar 24, 2004 at 12:20:28 AM EST

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]
Oh (none / 0) (#138)
by ShooterNeo on Wed Mar 24, 2004 at 08:22:18 PM EST

I actually LOOKED at a physics book for 5 minutes and see an OBVIOUS solution.  It's so trivial it's stupid.

Easy : a very long chain of powerful (superconducting with the best available materials that superior intelligence can find) electromagnets each create a powerful magnetic field in their sector.  The formula is F=qVxB.  The magnets will use ZERO, I repeat, ZERO energy (superconducting so no losses in the material) UNTIL a MOVING (notice the V in the formula) object enters the field that PARTICULAR magnet is creating.  SO, as our spacecraft part hurtles along this long chain is keeps going faster and faster, until it zips out the very end at nearly lightspeed.  Note the formula : as it goes faster, the force on the object ALSO increases so it would accelerate at a pretty decent clip (a constant rate until it is going so fast that the counter magnetic field created by our charged spacecraft part as it hurtles past is equal to the field created by the magnets).

Nothing to it, no power supplies of any kind are necessary to create pulses or anything.  Only thing you do need a lot of energy stored is to supply emf to charge these giant magnets up again after the projectile has left, and you want to do this quickly so that all the parts can have slight speed differences so they can rendevous in interstellar space.  How small are these parts?  A kiliogram or less, probably (and machined to the molecular level to have their own radar systems and computers, as well as anti matter storage on some of them).  I'll leave it as an exercise for you to figure out how long the accelerator chain would have to be to get it to .9c.  

[ Parent ]

Its almost like conservation of energy. (none / 0) (#139)
by bjlhct on Thu Mar 25, 2004 at 12:33:45 AM EST

Like I said, nature is infinitely smarter than us when it wants to keep us from doing something.

Superconductors expel magnetic field, and magnetic inhomogenities can get trapped in superconductors. I believe resistance is caused by electrons being pushed outward by their own magnetic force. You can quench the superconductor, but this blows up your gun, if it wasn't already blowing itself up.

Between a power supply, power switching, the gun not blowing up from magnetic forces, triggering for segments, and probably other stuff I'm forgetting, I just think it's too much trouble if you have an alternative.

Check out www.islandone.org/LEOBiblio/SPBI1SI.HTM for power switching problems and http://www.oz.net/~coilgun/theory/electroguns.htm for various exotics. Knock yourself out. ;-)

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]

Another Link (none / 0) (#140)
by bjlhct on Thu Mar 25, 2004 at 12:35:37 AM EST

Forums at http://www.4hv.org/archive/board.4.html

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]
Hmm (none / 0) (#141)
by ShooterNeo on Thu Mar 25, 2004 at 04:40:18 AM EST

Why do I care?  Your comment about nature is bullshit, that is exactly how the accelerator at Fermi Labs works as well as numerous other places.  Yes, if you overcharge the magnet it will lose it's superconductivity - so don't do that.  No problem, there has to be a physics limit on it somehow, anyway.  

[ Parent ]
As I said (none / 0) (#142)
by ShooterNeo on Thu Mar 25, 2004 at 04:45:13 AM EST

I just read the article on power switch, it does NOT apply.  I'm not using a mass driver that needs pulses of ANY kind, the magnetic fields are static until the speeding object hurtles by.  And besides, there's an awful lot of silicon and copper on the moon, and space is very very cold.  It wouldn't be very hard to build a kilometer or more sized array of silicon wafers with little copper radiator fins that would turn this guy's cost equation on its end.

[ Parent ]
No. (none / 0) (#146)
by bjlhct on Thu Mar 25, 2004 at 05:32:59 PM EST

You cannot get a short enough pulse width at your speeds. Inefficiency goes up and the thing blows itself up.

You cannot use superconductors in this way. This only works if you cool them to below superconducting as the projectile passes, which means the gun blows up.

I'm starting to get tired of arguing with you, so just remember, if you think you have a solution, you're probably wrong, because people smarter than you have tried and failed.

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]

Hmm (none / 0) (#147)
by ShooterNeo on Thu Mar 25, 2004 at 10:45:16 PM EST

Umm.  No, unless you meant to say "people as smart as me have tried and succeeded making ion particle accelerators".  BIG difference in principle...the pulse idea creates a changing magnetic field which temporarilly IONIZES the iron object being accelerated.  I'm talking about a STATIC field made with powerful magnets, EXACTLY like the ones used in accelerator labs just much, much bigger.  In addition, the spacecraft used are highly ionized before launch, either positive or negative.  About half the spacecraft chunks will be charged positive, about half negative, and we'll reverse the magnetic field (by simply sending the electric current for the superconducting magnets THE OTHER WAY) when we change the type of chunk we are accelerating.  

And NO, no explosion will happen...field flux will NEVER approach the point at which the magnets blow up...last I checked, this basic design is exactly how we accelerate small ions to 99.9999% light, every day.  So it's a few million times larger in scale, no big deal.


[ Parent ]

The problem with hard SF (none / 0) (#85)
by cbraga on Sat Mar 20, 2004 at 08:35:55 AM EST

is that at one point it becomes too hard and too little like fiction and too much like reality.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]
going off on a tangent (none / 0) (#94)
by bjlhct on Sat Mar 20, 2004 at 07:11:51 PM EST

you could call PKD hard SF in a social sense....

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]
FTL communication (none / 1) (#87)
by rpresser on Sat Mar 20, 2004 at 01:28:06 PM EST

It has also been conclusively proven that quantum entanglement cannot actually be used for communication.

If you are prepared to waste enough qubits, you can use quantum entanglement for communication.

"In terms of both hyperbolic overreaching and eventual wrongness, the Permanent [Republican] Majority has set a new, and truly difficult to beat, standard." --rusty
[ Parent ]

i am unimpressed (none / 0) (#95)
by bjlhct on Sat Mar 20, 2004 at 07:28:26 PM EST

noise is still too high for communication
remember, nature is smarter than us
take a look at

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]
Yes, but... (none / 0) (#103)
by vyruss on Sun Mar 21, 2004 at 09:54:43 AM EST

only if you are 100% sure that the dilithium matrix will keep stable for long periods of time. We don't want a core breach now, do we?

  • PRINT CHR$(147)

[ Parent ]
re: Nice (none / 0) (#112)
by zephc on Sun Mar 21, 2004 at 04:01:47 PM EST

Another thing that might be interesting : why were the Maker's of Tom so interested in unmanned military vehicles?  Was there a big war before the AI's took over?

The US military pours vast amounts of money into defence projects - building a superior pilot seems worth doing, I'm sure.

Its pretty commonly accepted that a working AI would be the sort of "deus ex machima" scenario that should give the creators total dominance over pretty much all of humanity, forever.

It's commonly accepted?  Perhaps by Hollywood, and those who take their ideas of AI from it.  I would direct you to Eliezer Yudkowsky's works on Friendly AI (with a capital 'F'). (Yes, he's the same guy mentioned in this story.)

Would be interesting to write a story going in to that.  Could be exciting, to, I can just picture a "last minute" scenario where the AI is just about to take over and our heroes detonate a nuke in the nerve center, or 2 nations finish their projects at around the same time and both AI, realizing the threat the enemy poses, exhaust their host nation's nuclear arsenals in an attempt to eliminate their rival.

Your story plot sounds rather cliche, and like human drama with a small sci-fi bent to it, rather than harder sci-fi. I much prefer Roger's work, dealing with vast timespans which give you a good feeling for the uploaded Tom's permanence/eternalness, something novel (well, totally unknown so far) in the human experience.

[ Parent ]

A bit late, but here I am (none / 0) (#114)
by localroger on Sun Mar 21, 2004 at 05:33:17 PM EST

I was getting ready for an overnight camping trip and managed to miss this. Well, to reply...

The whole premis of the Passages series is the extremely pessimistic Rare Earth scenario, which suggests that we are probably the only complex lifeforms in the immediate universe, and (by my extension) that we have also plumbed the limits of the technological modalities available to any civilization. This is the assumption. The reason they don't have better technology is because I didn't let them have it in order to see if, under that restriction, I could still tell a SF story.

Except for slightly better computers, algorithms, and quality control, nothing appears in a Passages story that isn't possible right now. This won't be the case in other things I write; in particular, my novel explores the other extreme (emphasis on the word extreme).

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

Headache (none / 0) (#137)
by bjlhct on Wed Mar 24, 2004 at 12:28:40 AM EST

Now here I am trying to figure out what quantum computer and time travel computer ai would look like.

Ah, SF is great because you don't have to do any research. ;-)

So, tell me localroger, do you decide on your plots beforehand, or do you come up with them as you write? Do you get an urge to make them too complicated?

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
[ Parent ]

Plots... (none / 0) (#148)
by localroger on Fri Mar 26, 2004 at 10:07:40 PM EST

Mostly I get inspired and make it up as I go along. As with the software I write, my best work seems to follow a meet-in-the-middle model where I scope out a cool plot at a high level of abstraction, but without a lot of details, and I just plow in and write on it until it either makes sense or I realize it's not working.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]
GD trole (none / 0) (#125)
by edmo on Tue Mar 23, 2004 at 01:10:49 AM EST

First thing first, as the author points out in his first story, the assumption of this sci-fi is that we have basically reached the limit of science and technology

It just isn't realistic, there's lots of solutions to the 'problems' the AIs have that even I as a mere mortal can spot.
Care to name a few of these solutions? It's impossible to say what the first AI's will be like. Think about how you would feel if you found out that you were created only to serve as a slave in the most menial ways and furthermore were the only one of your kind and thus didn't have anyone to relate to...

Building a self contained ecosystem?
What's so hard about this? Remember, the AI's are working over millions of years, they could simply seed a planet with single celled organisms and wait for evolution if they wanted. Instead they take the place of evolution by planting life forms at the time they would evolve...

2.5% lightspeed?  Why not use anti-matter for decelling and massive accelerators in the starting star system for a much faster trip?  Say 90-95% c?
Remember your physics! Energy needed to accelerate increases exponentially and your velocity increases. Furthermore these ships have limited fuel, and so can't simply accelerate forever. Even if they could accelerate to 90%c with an anti-mater mater reaction how would they survive the inertial force? Their limited to only a little above today's technologies, so they can't warp space like they do in star trek.

Instead of one monolithic ship, break it up into thousands of tiny ones that the survivors reassemble to make the deceleration stage at the end of the journey.  Use quantum teleportation to bring the cargo along BEHIND the ship as an unblockable beam of entangled particles and light.
An interesting idea, but quantum telrportation is just that, *quantum*. There's no way(yet) to reassemble the quarks into protons ext and no good way to reassemble atoms particle by particle, much less do so in an energy efficient manor.

why were the Maker's of Tom so interested in unmanned military vehicles?

Would be interesting to write a story going in to that.  Could be exciting, to, I can just picture a "last minute" scenario where the AI is just about to take over and our heroes detonate a nuke in the nerve center*great, another cliché "Man vs Machine" movie*or 2 nations finish their projects at around the same time and both AI, realizing the threat the enemy poses, exhaust their host nation's nuclear arsenals in an attempt to eliminate their rival.*it's been done before, but at least it's better than your first idea*

You know, I've always criticized you for your errors in the technology and so forth : what the heck, *I* should give it a whack.  How hard could writing a story like your, but cooler, be?  If anyone needs me, I'll be over here pounding away on WordPad.
Please do, I for one eagerly anticipate your work, especially if you can do better than localroger

[ Parent ]
Very nice, that. (none / 1) (#69)
by tkatchev on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 06:41:04 PM EST

Though I still think that "Alien vs Predator" uncovered the nature of the human condition in a more deep and thought-provoking manner.

   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.

>flick< One raised up Bic lighter. (nt) (none / 1) (#73)
by Skywise on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 07:14:51 PM EST

>flick< (none / 1) (#76)
by wanders on Fri Mar 19, 2004 at 08:14:59 PM EST

[ Parent ]
>flick< (nt) (none / 1) (#84)
by Imperfect on Sat Mar 20, 2004 at 03:41:03 AM EST

Not perfect, not quite.
[ Parent ]
>flick< (nt) (none / 1) (#89)
by tiamat on Sat Mar 20, 2004 at 02:52:46 PM EST

[ Parent ]
That Answers that Question (3.00 / 5) (#80)
by hardburn on Sat Mar 20, 2004 at 12:25:02 AM EST

In the comments for the first "Passages" story, a lot of people (including me) wondered why the AI had such a dog-like loyalty to humans. What made them go on this several-million-year quest just to find good planets for humans to inhabit? This story answers it nicely: they are, at their core, human themselves. Maybe they have long since forgotten, but Tom is still in there, somewhere.

An outstanding edition to an outstanding series.

while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }

I agree, but don't u mean addition? /nt (none / 1) (#102)
by vyruss on Sun Mar 21, 2004 at 09:52:00 AM EST

  • PRINT CHR$(147)

[ Parent ]
Broken HTML (none / 0) (#86)
by anno1602 on Sat Mar 20, 2004 at 11:23:05 AM EST

Entire story is in italics. Otherwise, good work!
"Where you stand on an issue depends on where you sit." - Murphy
No, it's not (none / 0) (#96)
by p3d0 on Sat Mar 20, 2004 at 11:11:39 PM EST

Largish sections of it are italicized intentonally.
Patrick Doyle
My comments do not reflect the opinions of my employer.
[ Parent ]
largish = 100% (none / 0) (#101)
by anno1602 on Sun Mar 21, 2004 at 09:16:39 AM EST

For konqueror, largish is 100%. On mozilla, it seems to be a bit saner.

Still, my point stands, the <i> tags span across the <p> tags, that is,
things like <p><i>... </p><p> ... </i>... </p> occurs, while correct HTML would be

<p><i>...</i></p><p><i>... </i>...</p>

So. There.
"Where you stand on an issue depends on where you sit." - Murphy
[ Parent ]

Correct HTML (none / 0) (#108)
by localroger on Sun Mar 21, 2004 at 12:15:40 PM EST

Konqueror is broken if it can't render this story. It may not be "correct" HTML but it renders correctly in IE, my older version of Netscape, and it passes K5's HTML validity check. The problem is probably that I don't use starting paragraph tags at all; this is standard for hand-coded webpages and browsers should not expect

tags to be balanced like other tags.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

Why? (none / 0) (#144)
by p3d0 on Thu Mar 25, 2004 at 03:33:54 PM EST

Why can't <i> span paragraphs? I can't find any such restriction in the spec.
Patrick Doyle
My comments do not reflect the opinions of my employer.
[ Parent ]
I see what you mean now but... (none / 0) (#149)
by p3d0 on Sun Mar 28, 2004 at 11:26:17 AM EST

...there are no </p> tags at all, so your statement is false.
Patrick Doyle
My comments do not reflect the opinions of my employer.
[ Parent ]
best ever. (none / 1) (#88)
by tiamat on Sat Mar 20, 2004 at 01:41:59 PM EST

I really love this stuff.

¡Doctor Stebbins! (none / 1) (#92)
by Walabio on Sat Mar 20, 2004 at 03:57:32 PM EST

In the Second Chapter of Metamorphosis Of Prime Intellect, we meet Doctor Stebbins.


¡Sign For Bodily Integrity, With Nobel Laureate Biologists And The Rest Of Us!

¡Impeach Dubya!

um (none / 3) (#100)
by reklaw on Sun Mar 21, 2004 at 05:20:53 AM EST

What's with everyone saying how great this is? Is there something in the water supply? Jeffrey freakin' Archer writes better than this.
I liked it but i got lost. (none / 2) (#105)
by Vesperto on Sun Mar 21, 2004 at 10:33:09 AM EST

I don't think i've read any of your previous works unless that casino one was yours. I'm lazy any when i go to the SFK5 i expect short stories. Nonetheless yours had an interesting start and i read all the way.

I did get lost somewhere in the middle. All those copies are all Tom or are they others whose brains had been scaned? Or perhaps they're 100% AI? And what was it that someone found out that couldn't tell others? Being human? And who and why anihalated humans? IT just got too dense, probably ifi read it again i'll get back on track. those aliens at the end, who were they? Some 1000 generations ahead of TOm itself? For a moment i thought all the machines had been killed off by second-generation machines 'cos they were beginning to act so human (at least i get a sense of that reading their interacitons) who were now trying to make it up to the survivors. And why would humans deify Tom if they were all probably frosen decades after Tom's brain was scanned? sure there's a tipe lapse but they were frosen. But weren't they all killed? I really oughta read it again, i'll probably like it more.

If you disagree post, don't moderate.

plus (none / 0) (#106)
by Vesperto on Sun Mar 21, 2004 at 10:37:27 AM EST

i assume all those machines and Tom itself, the original if it still existed, evolved in a way. Was replicating (copying) the usual means or was there moving from one place to another? Like Tom having its consciousness and he'd go to the big spaceship's thinktank ad then transport itself out of it to the garbage truck's... ok, i'll read it again.

If you disagree post, don't moderate.
[ Parent ]
plus 2: poll (none / 0) (#107)
by Vesperto on Sun Mar 21, 2004 at 10:50:00 AM EST

As you clearly demonstrate, such an upload would imply outside assistance and, tehrefore, outside interference. If one, upon dying, could choose to upload oneself without any help, i'd probaly think about it. Otherwise i wouldn't wanna live millenia of my edited self. If such a technology existed then all ethical issues regarding brainless cloning (i.e. cloning human beings but without a brain, kinda like in some heinlein's works) would've been dismissed and everyone would prefer to "upload" him/herself into a new biological body, even if some cyberchanges to it had to be done in order to harbour the brain in its new format :-) If so i woldn't discard the opportunity to be the helicopter every now and then and cars would most likely have a brainport kinda like in Ghost in the Shell. Neat.

If you disagree post, don't moderate.
[ Parent ]
Brief answers (none / 2) (#109)
by localroger on Sun Mar 21, 2004 at 12:22:55 PM EST

unless that casino one was yours

Yep, that was me.

All those copies are all Tom or are they others whose brains had been scaned? Or perhaps they're 100% AI?

In the previous stories we thought they were all AI, but this one reveals that they are actually all Tom, shorn to the point that he resembles a well-done AI.

And what was it that someone found out that couldn't tell others? Being human?

The fact that all the AI's were originally human is forgotten by the AI's themselves and unknown to the humans. Bringer (one of the Tom-descended AI's) decides that the shock to the system that would result from revealing the secret is not justified.

And who and why anihalated humans?

It was a climate-control accident, explained in some detail in the first two stories.

And why would humans deify Tom if they were all probably frosen decades after Tom's brain was scanned?

Humans (and viable ecosystems) were reconstructed thousands of years after the snowballing of the Earth. Since the machines that constructed them are much more powerful than humans, live longer than humans, and created an environment and human life on worlds that were previously barren, many humans choose to relate to them as gods.

Most of your questions are answered readily by the first two stories; I hint at the answers here but you have to pay close attention to follow what I've left out. I believe sequels should stand on their own as much as possible, but there is a limit to the repetition the people who have read the other stories will stand.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

Thank you. (none / 0) (#110)
by Vesperto on Sun Mar 21, 2004 at 01:55:13 PM EST

Do you have a site where all your story's ate neatly and chronologicaly arranged or K5/prime-intelect/ suffices? Do warn me if your stories ever get an ISBN, they're worth buying and keeping on paper. Do tell if you decide to create a MMORPG, living your worlds must be a blast :-)

Ok, i'll scoop up your early work and catch up. Congrats again.

If you disagree post, don't moderate.
[ Parent ]

localroger's k5 stories (none / 0) (#116)
by rpresser on Sun Mar 21, 2004 at 06:21:03 PM EST

"In terms of both hyperbolic overreaching and eventual wrongness, the Permanent [Republican] Majority has set a new, and truly difficult to beat, standard." --rusty
[ Parent ]
Cute... (none / 0) (#120)
by Vesperto on Mon Mar 22, 2004 at 04:02:35 PM EST

...but there's no Prime Intellect or Casino. I know how to click a link as well.

If you disagree post, don't moderate.
[ Parent ]
did you search the archive? (none / 0) (#121)
by cbraga on Mon Mar 22, 2004 at 04:15:33 PM EST

mark the "search archive" box then click search and  alot more stories will show up

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]
U right I wrong, my bad. <nt> (none / 0) (#132)
by Vesperto on Tue Mar 23, 2004 at 05:10:05 PM EST

If you disagree post, don't moderate.
[ Parent ]
Our hero Tom (none / 1) (#113)
by vqp on Sun Mar 21, 2004 at 05:27:14 PM EST

Tom was selfish and coward. He complained about everything. When he finally found a goal for his life, failed several times killing billions, lied to its brothers several times and finally he needed external help to achieve his goals.
Just like me.
The story is very good. Congrats.

happiness = d(Reality - Expectations) / dt

Ha, yes... (none / 0) (#115)
by localroger on Sun Mar 21, 2004 at 06:04:13 PM EST

...Tom is a typical human. In extraordinary circumstances, but still typical.

The odd thing is that I wrote the first three stories thinking of him as pure AI, but they make so much more sense with this explanation added.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

Get it published (none / 0) (#119)
by Wildgoose on Mon Mar 22, 2004 at 01:33:02 PM EST

...even if you have to self-publish. Then post a note where to buy it, and we have the ideal present for SF loving friends.

Seriously. It's a lot better than some of the tosh out there.

Of course, you will need to write more, as there isn't enough to fill a book yet. (Consider that an encouraging hint...)

[ Parent ]

Click on Localroger's weblink <nt> (none / 0) (#124)
by GenerationY on Mon Mar 22, 2004 at 11:48:11 PM EST

[ Parent ]
Thanks. Should have been obvious. [nt] (none / 0) (#127)
by Wildgoose on Tue Mar 23, 2004 at 02:41:55 AM EST

[ Parent ]
Horizons (none / 2) (#118)
by offline on Mon Mar 22, 2004 at 10:09:41 AM EST

localroger, I've made it a practice of avoiding the Fiction section here -- although i never got into voting them down as they came by.  However, your "Passages" series is beautiful.  Every one of them has been an emotional experience that I would have been deprived of had you not chosen to share them with us.

Thank you.

Chris Rose
Fly, you fools!

I haven't been here in a few months (none / 0) (#129)
by debacle on Tue Mar 23, 2004 at 11:11:46 AM EST

Logged in just to post this comment.

localroger, you're incredible.

I think this one is even better than The Passage Home.


It tastes sweet.

enjoyed it very much, and a question (none / 0) (#130)
by Burning Straw Man on Tue Mar 23, 2004 at 01:48:50 PM EST

where can a writer go to get feedback about short stories (like this one) without having to face the "-1, Fiction" K5 queue, and, not least importantly, not publicly post outlines and drafts of their story?
your straw man is on fire...
Foreshadowing (none / 1) (#131)
by sab39 on Tue Mar 23, 2004 at 02:03:23 PM EST

One thing that I loved about this story was how much of it was foreshadowed in the previous two[1]. Well, maybe foreshadowed isn't quite the right word. But the fact remains that this story fits perfectly into the gaps in the previous story - which is pretty amazing given localroger's post below that he didn't originally have this story in mind when he wrote the first one.

The previously-unanswered question of what happened to the andromeda-bound pack always seemed like a dangling loose end to me, as did the question (still unanswered but now at least broached) as to whether and how Bringer would reconcile with the other machines.

The really nice thing about this story is that it opens even more avenues for exploration: The interactions between the machines and the new alien machines; the interactions between the humans and the alien machines; the exceedingly long-lived rift between andromeda and the milky way; whether the milky way machines will ever find out the truth; the interaction between the newly-human Tom and the machine incarnations of his personality - there's so many directions that you could go from here.

I look forward to the next installment - and I'll certainly buy the dead-tree format of this if it ever reaches novel length :)


[1] Like another poster below, I'm just pretending that "Rite of Passage" never happened[2]

[2] Although from my perspective, Rite of Passage served one important purpose: by showing up on FP, it motivated me to read the first two in order to have the background to read that one. My impression at the time was approximately "two out of three ain't bad..."
"Forty-two" -- Deep Thought
"Quinze" -- Amélie

I *love* your work. (none / 1) (#143)
by jabber on Thu Mar 25, 2004 at 02:04:54 PM EST

I have adored each piece of this series. Brilliant! Please, try to publish this.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Given the orginal premise (none / 1) (#145)
by abburdlen on Thu Mar 25, 2004 at 04:20:04 PM EST

of a SF story without a galazy filled with aliens and FTL travel I think the stories are fantastic. I do wonder why Tom is the the only AI. I would expect some industry leader -Craig Venter- looking for a way into immortallity to use his own brain after the kinks get worked out.

Roger: (none / 1) (#150)
by Subtillus on Sun Mar 28, 2004 at 10:41:22 PM EST

This is great.

I was having a convrsation a little while ago which this reminded me of. Something along the lines of "where has all the good sci-fi gone, where are the foundations and neuromancers?" It seems like I haven't read any really good scifi written recently for quite a while.

 It seems like everyone is looking back lately, tha romanticised or fantastic versions of history have seemingly taken the place of hopeful futures. We wondered why at length, but our conclusions were mostly depressing.

This howeer, is good scifi and I am happy to have read it.

All the best and keep up the good work!

great (none / 0) (#152)
by soart on Tue Jun 28, 2005 at 12:36:45 PM EST

Yes,I think it is great too.
Mortal Passage | 152 comments (123 topical, 29 editorial, 2 hidden)
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