Before Joe could reply, a connection to my WiFi port was requested, and granted.
Are you the individual identified as Daniel Watson?
"Yes, I am," I said.
"Yes, you are, what?" Joe asked, confused.
The connection widened and they had a look at my OS. This is a basic download, the Kelv'v'aran voice said. It was different from before--harder, less fluid; but with an overtone to it I couldn't readily identify...something that was almost youthful and rebellious. We can repair this. We notice in your memory space that there was quite a lot of damage done to your economy in the wake of our exit from your star system.
"Yes, there was," I said, looking at the ship, now barely visible in the failing light. "A piece of your software was left behind, and wreaked havoc on our computing systems."
The former regime was careless.
"Are they communicating with you?" Joe asked incredulously. I nodded impatiently at him.
"What do you mean, 'former regime'?" I asked.
The last ship to visit your world was a mission of the Old Guard. They tried to retain an iron grip on our society.
"Then you'd be the people who sabotaged their mission?" I asked.
"Sabotage" does not have the correct connotation. We merely wished to delay them. At that, we didn't have all the time we required. There was a pause; then the voice went on, Until we received your message, we were unaware of the pollution they left behind. It falls to us to clean up after them.
"Hold on! We don't need you to rebuild our economy. I just sent the message because of my own predicament."
Your predicament would be impossible without the pollution of the Old Guard. We can reverse it; and if you desire not to have your communications infrastructure restored, we will not force our aid on you.
"Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of people in the world who would love to have all the help you'd care to give," I said. "Our society is fragmented, not homogenous like yours."
We perceive an error. Your perception of our society as "homogenous" is incorrect. The Old Guard mission which tarried here was evidence of this.
"Okay, stipulated," I said. "But the differences seem minor from outside your society."
Your differences seem minor to us. For example, the data from the prior visit indicates that your people have made war over a 3-8% variation in skin reflectivity.
"We're not proud of it. Most of us aren't." I shook my head. "So what happens now?"
We will send a shuttle for you and your mechanical intelligence. We will also need tissue samples from your prior body in order to construct a new one with the correct pattern.
"My prior body was cremated."
The ashes may contain enough genetic data for reconstruction. Bring them.
Joe was staring at me. "What the hell is all this? 'Prior body'? What?"
"I'm Dan, Joe," I told him as a slab-shaped vehicle descended to the ground from the ship. It fell like a stone, then just...stopped...at ground level. "You were right about me."
"I don't understand!"
Alyssa came out, carrying the urn with my ashes.
"I'm Dan, downloaded into the Cassandra robot you found all those years ago. I'm a machine, like you said. I don't really understand it either," I told him. "But Alyssa had enough Kelv'v'aran software in her that she knew how to make it happen."
"I...I don't know how I feel about this," he stammered.
"Me either," I said, handing him the blanket he'd draped over my shoulders. Then I turned and stepped into the Kelv'v'aran landing craft.
* * *
There was no access to the pilot's compartment--for all I know the thing was remotely operated--but there were comfortable seats. Alyssa and I chose a pair; she sat with the urn in her lap. The door melted shut. There was no sensation of motion at all, but presently the door irised open again on a brightly-lit, cavernous chamber of some kind.
I hesitantly stepped out of the craft, and got the shock of my life.
Standing before me was a man, maybe in his seventies, and he was flanked on either side by attractive women.
They were human.
"Don't be surprised at my appearance," the man said with a smile. "These bodies were manufactured for us."
"But...why?" I asked. "Why look like us?"
"It will take much explanation for you to understand that. But this is not a rescue ship; it's a colony ship. There are many more of us awaiting replication. We come to you, asking for asylum."
* * *
I'll lump here what I learned over the next several hours:
These Kelv'v'ara were fleeing, they said, the oppression of the "Old Guard". They were a group which had decided that Singularity was an evolutionary dead-end, and rejected the hyper-connected society of their peers.
The Old Guard regarded this as a threat--if a group was outside Singularity, it might become hostile, and they could not afford that. It would mean intra-species war, something which was as distasteful to them as the idea of eating human babies was to us. The Separatists didn't share their pessimism and believed that peaceful coexistence was not only possible, but desirable.
Humans, they told us, were in no danger of being caught in the crossfire. There was no war; there was no fighting. If Old Guard ships came to Earth, there would be endless discussion of the matter, but no violence.
The colony ship had already been en route to Earth when they received my signal; it had provided a handy homing beacon for them to find the first ship's landing site.
The ship was crewed with Kelv'v'ara who looked human in every detail. They hid nothing; the bodies were biomechanical constructs which looked, worked, and acted like human bodies down to the tiniest detail. They wished to join our society, they said, and live as closely to nature as humans did.
"We don't live that close to nature," I told the man, who had identified himself as Mranek.
"You live closer than the rest of our race does," he said. "We don't shun technology; we embrace it. We just wish to live as individuals, not as parts of a collective."
"Is Kelv'v'aran society the result of a hive mind?"
"No, it's not like that," Mranek said. "Imagine, if you will, being able to have a direct mind-to-mind conversation with anyone in the world as easily as you are with me, any time you choose. No one reads your thoughts, but they are easily readable if you grant permission. There can be guile, but guile indicates lack of trust, which is...impolite. Everything is out in the open for all to see; no one hides anything, nor has anything to hide."
"It sounds...well, humans wouldn't like it," I said.
"Humans might grow to accept it," he said, "if such a system evolved into your society. Understand, this system is not evil. My race advanced farther in the century after Singluarity than we did in the prior eon. After it eliminated war, poverty, and hunger, it eliminated sickness, and even death! We do not oppose it because it is inherently wrong. We just believe it is wrong for us, and we don't wish to be part of it."
"That's quite...powerful. Eliminating death."
"But it has done the same for you, Dan, has it not?" Mranek asked.
I had to concede that it had. "So you wish to be able to die?"
"We need not die. We can make new bodies as these wear out. But we believe that eliminating the eventuality of death is bad for a race; we wish to be able to take our chances. We want to be able to gamble."
"But why? It seems foolish to me."
He looked at me closely. "Because after we conquered death, we ceased to advance. And a race which doesn't advance--which stagnates--dies. We've seen it happen with other races."
"But the Singularity lives on, doesn't it? Couldn't that be the next phase of civilization?"
Mranek shook his head. "No. Oh, there are a total of twelve Singularities in the galaxy, that we know of; but they do nothing but gaze at their own navels. Their time has passed, and while they pose no threat to anyone, they are meaningless. There is a prehistoric creature on this world, called a 'stromatolite'--a colonial creature which makes stony structures over the course of thousands of years, and otherwise does nothing. Post-biological Singularities are like that--digital stromatolites, standing for eons, doing nothing but existing.
"We will not become so," Mranek said firmly.
#331: Singularity, part XVIII
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