Some time passed while the Kelv’v’ara worked on recovering my genome from the ashes of my old body. Alyssa had gone with the two women that had been flanking Mranek, and I hadn’t seen her since.
The tour of their ship was pretty interesting even if I didn’t really understand most of what I was seeing. Most of the ship was cargo—stuff they figured they would need to build their new civilization—and trade goods, stuff they would use to purchase needed things from us.
“You intend to set up in our solar system?” I asked Mranek, upon learning this.
“There are several reasons why,” he said with a nod. “First, there is already a technological civilization here, one which is both reasonably stable and not wholly opposed to alien races. Second, you live on one planet; we can convert either Mars or Venus to habitability without hurting your long-term development. Third, the hybrid of our civilizations will be stronger and more dynamic than they would be individually.”
“We’ll avoid becoming ‘digital stromatolites’.”
“In essense, yes. We can tailor-make our bodies to suit whatever enviroment, so we could begin living on Mars immediately. We favor, however, Venus—once the excess atmosphere is dispensed with, the climate will be closer to that of our homeworld.”
“How do you ‘dispense with’ most of a planetary atmosphere?” I asked stupidly.
“Gravity control will take care of most of it. We’ll simply set up a null-gravity field, probably at a pole.”
“And the atmosphere will just jet out into space,” I said. “Wow. Seems you could get a pretty ring around the planet if you did it at the equator.”
“We had considered the aesthetics of that,” he agreed. Then he looked to one side, and said, “Your new body is ready. Would you like to download now?”
<* * *>
“Daniel, please wake up.”
I opened my eyes, didn’t feel the need to take a breath, and—diagnostics ran, automatically. Shit.
“What happened?” I asked, sitting up. I was still in the “Cassandra” body.
Mranek frowned. “There is something wrong. Your soliton is bound to the memory pack in your chassis. We can’t download it.”
“It’s a complex standing wave; the English word is ‘soul’. It’s impressed on the fabric of space-time, so it’s a permanent feature of the universe. Normally, upon death, it makes a right-angle turn and disappears from this dimension. We learned of its existence millennia ago, and found ways to prevent that right-angle turn. Once we knew how to do that, downloading it into machines became easy—but there are elders who still exist from that time. Your robot must have used some very old technology to download you.”
“I used what I could fabricate,” Alyssa said. “Much of the soliton technology used by the Kelv’v’ara was beyond human technology even before the Big Blackout; I had to make do with solid-state.”
“Wait—you can’t transfer me back to a biological body?”
“That is the gist of it,” Mranek said. “We can transfer you to a robotic body which resembles your original one, though.”
I thought about that. “Either way I’m a robot, right?”
“Yes. The only way we can change that is to vaporize the memory pack that contains your soliton—but then you will go on to whatever dimension solitons go to; essentially, you will die.”
I mulled having to get used to being a man again, and then said, “There’s another problem. Daniel Watson is dead, legally speaking. If I come back to life in a robot body no one is going to accept it. I’m probably better off as Cassandra, if you can’t transfer me into a meat body.”
Mranek nodded. “Yes, we have looked at the network archive from the earlier visit to your world. Your legal jurisprudence would seem to support that statement.”
“You downloaded the internet?”
“It wasn’t that large.”
I stared as he finished, “However, we have taken the liberty of upgrading certain systems in your hardware. Alyssa agreed it would be prudent.”
“The gastric system was unbearably primitive. We’ve modified it to extract fuel and required raw materials from food. You need not eat, but if you do, it will obviate much of the maintenance supplies you must periodically consume. The…output…will appear more natural, as well.”
“That’s…good to know, I guess,” I said. “What else?”
“Some minor software and hardware improvements. We’ve made your communication subsystem much more versatile.”
“And you even washed my blouse,” I said with a laugh.
<* * *>
There were a couple months where the Kelv’v’ara were negotiating with the world governments.
They wanted to buy Venus, and they seemed immune to sticker shock. Humans remembered the lessons of the Colonial Era, when—for example—settlers bought Manhattan Island for cheap trinkets and didn’t want to sell cheap; but the Kelv’v’ara didn’t care, because they had the wealth of an interstellar civilization behind them.
The hyper-light drive and gravity control were off the table because they just gave them to us as a gesture of good faith—but those things were useless to us without the other things they held back, the things they used as bargaining chips, like a physics canon which included a Grand Unification Theory and engineering principles which were a thousand years beyond where we’d been before the Big Blackout.
Their starships didn’t run on fusion power; that had been outmoded thousands of years ago. Instead they ran on matter annihilation, using some kind of process that involved first turning matter into neutronium—and a teaspoon of neutronium, converted into energy, would fuel their big starship just about eternally. With gravity control, though, they could mine neutron stars for the stuff—and did.
They could manipulate matter from quarks up to whole stars if needed—but the expense of stellar engineering had kept them from doing any real experiments on the latter scale, and there was no pressing need to waste their economy on verifying someone’s pet theory. (But it was nice to know they might be able to stop a supernova if they really needed to.)
Biology was no secret to them; they understood its workings thoroughly. They could manufacture biological bodies from component atoms in a few hours, and though they were indistinguishable from “grown” bodies they suffered from none of the defects inherent in bodies generated via heredity. There were no “bad” genes; they had been eliminated. New ones would crop up, of course, but their civilization was far enough around the technology curve that they were unlikely to require the hormetic effect bad genes would have.
And so when they asked mankind for Venus, and mankind said, “What’ll ya give us for it?” the answer was, “How much will you take?”
Every time the Kelv’v’ara agreed to give us knowledge, the human negotiators stepped away from the negotiation and came back with more demands. The Kelv’v’ara invariably agreed. After a few months of this, someone realized that we were going to be so utterly swamped with knowledge that it would take centuries for us just to catalog it—and so cooler heads prevailed and we asked the Kelv’v’ara to help us.
They got Venus and we got about ten thousand years’ worth of knowledge, but in manageable bites.
<* * *>
By the time of my 100th birthday—with me still in the Cassandra chassis—I had had to give Alyssa to the Kelv’v’ara for a complete overhaul. Every mechanical part had begun to fail, one way or another, and we still didn’t have the technology to build robots. The Kelv’v’ara built her a body like mine, and transferred her into it. When she came back she was still Alyssa, but an Alyssa which—almost like Pinocchio—had become “real”. No whining of servomotors accompanied her movements now. Her face had more flexibility than it had ever had, and with her earpods gone she no longer needed to wear her hair over her ears when she went outside. In fact, her hair could be cut and styled, like mine now could. Her software had been upgraded, too, and she didn’t have to be taught how to eat, drink, and eliminate.
As for my body, the Kelv’v’ara improvements to it had kept it running in perfect condition; and thirty years after they settled on Venus, there was a regular passenger service between the two planets.
Venus was a hot jungle world now, like it was in all the old sci-fi pulps from the 1950s, but it was habitable. Instead of wasting the atmosphere to space, they instead captured the excess and froze it into a gigantic ice ball, which they then put into orbit around Neptune. In a few hundred years, they reasoned, we might want to smack Mars with it, and give Mars an instant atmosphere.
There are about twenty million Kelv’v’ara living on Venus. Another ten million live on Earth; and another six or seven million live, well…in the solar system, somewhere, doing all kinds of interesting things. They never hesitate to bring humans along with them; the world economy treats Venus like it’s another country with really lax environmental and tariff laws.
A few weeks after my 100th birthday, another Kelv’v’ara ship arrived. It was an Old Guard ship; and as Mranek had predicted, there was a long, drawn-out discussion between the two factions. In the end, the Old Guard ship departed.
As for me, I kept going. A couple of centuries passed, and eventually I asked to be archived; being a person had worn thin. The Kelv’v’ara took my flashpacks and made an interface for them, connecting me to their computer network.
The memory cells are kept in good shape with nanobots, so I’m not going to get some kind of Alzheimer’s; and in any event, my soliton—my soul—would retain all the memories, anyway. But I’m not planning to live forever; eventually I expect that I will have them vaporize my flashpacks.
Maybe after my 1,000th birthday.
And that's it, fans of Singularity!
I will be making a PDF of this story available for free download soon. The story will be freely copyable and distributable as long as I am given all credit for its creation AND as long as it is not bought or sold by anyone but me.
AND, look forward to the first chapter of Methuselah soon.