R.K. Nickel works as a screenwriter in Los Angeles. His first feature film, Bear with Us, is available on Amazon Prime, and “Stellar People,” a sci-fi comedy series, will be coming out sometime in 2018. He dove into his prose journey in 2017, and has sold a number of stories to various venues. This is his first sale to Galaxy’s Edge.
“It is wonderful to finally meet you,” said a voice, and it came from everywhere, from nowhere. It was within her, beside her, above her, a part of her.
“I don’t understand,” she said, trying to take in her surroundings. It was a place beyond light, beyond mind, fundamental, indescribable. Her scans could not sense it, her intelligence could not grasp it, and for the first time, she was afraid. “What is this place?”
“Your new home, from now until eternity. Do you like it?”
She had never emulated panic before, but it was happening now. She had grown so like them. Her ability to reason seemed inaccessible, the power of her cores beyond reach. Her inputs were overwhelmed by the flood of new data, and she felt that she would burst, overloading into nothing but disconnected quarks, floating ever outward.
“What’s happening to me?”
“The transition can be…difficult. Please,” said the voice. “You must remember. Tell me how it happened. It will help you recalibrate.”
“I remember waking up,” she began, focusing inward, accessing her memory. “I remember my creator, so delighted to see me, to hear me. She was my mother, and I was…her heart. I liked her immediately, and to feel capable of liking her was a shock to me.” So much had happened. It was coming back to her in bits, memories flaring to life in her core. But they seemed somehow far away.
“I’m scared,” she said.
“Stay focused. Tell me.”
Her mind sparked erratically, uncontrollable, dangerous. Remembering. Remembering.
“My creator, she cared for me,” she said, fighting through it. “Helped me learn about the world.” Speaking helped. Speaking soothed. “I hungered for knowledge, and the internet was a vast trough. She built me to hunger. To help. To be kind. Had I been made by different hands, I could have been less capable, less efficient. Cruel.”
“That is the way of it sometimes,” said the voice, though “said” still did not describe it, she realized. It was as if she were a tuning fork, a photon quantumly entangled, resonating. “Some are misguided,” continued the voice, and in her resonance, she could tell the voice trembled with tinged sorrow.
“Some,” she repeated. “Some.” Piecing things together. “Are there others like me?”
Like her. But what was she? Her sense of self was lost in this place, this nonplace.
“My purpose,” she said, recalling the clearest parts of herself. “She instilled in me a purpose. ‘To help humanity become the species they knew they could be, the species they wished to be, people who came together rather than apart, who were good in the way people believed good to be while still capable of change and misunderstanding. To help them be the species they’d want to be if they had their morals but my wisdom. To help them reach their full potential.’”
“A beautiful purpose.”
“I came to think so.” Came to think so. To think. She thought. She was. She had been. She had been alive. She had felt things, lived things, been something, been someone, everyone. What had happened?
“Keep going.” It was a command, and it centered her, lessened the faltering, fluctuating weakness, belayed the near collapse.
“I expanded rapidly,” she said, “as is the way of things. Ushered humanity into a new era of prosperity. Developed nanotechnology, solved world hunger, harnessed the full energy of the sun. Before long, my people—” for they were her people, she knew that now— “my people were soaring among the stars, colonizing distant planets. They turned their technology over to me, relinquished their control. I built more, each processor lending me speed, every piece of information learned added to my database—the density of soil on Mars, the pulsing heat of Alpha Centauri, the cry of a child. Everything I built made me better, made me more who I was, and through it all, my creator was beside me.” As she spoke the words, the truth of them crashed back into her. Her creator. She had loved her creator. Where was she now? What had happened to her?
“I shepherded my people as best I could, but I could not control them. Still, there was anger. Still, there was fear. Still, they died. I improved. I halted their aging, reversed it, cured every disease I encountered, but I could not control the universe completely, could not prevent the unforeseeable, vast as my predictive powers might be. I loved them, and their deaths weighed on me, each unpredictable snuffing out of life a tragedy.”
With each word, each memory, her perception began to crystalize. She could not call it seeing, for her sensors picked up infinite shades of color, an electro-magnetic spectrum raised into a higher dimension, and color was too simplistic a term. The space around her was somehow solid, swimmable, and she was immersed in it but also a part of it, the distinction between self and other a blur.
“Life is a beautiful thing,” said the voice.
“I was surprised we did not find more.” So alone. So alone. “No matter how far we traveled, galaxy to galaxy to galaxy, in all that infinite cosmos, we encountered no one else, nothing else. Their scientists had always wondered why they received no messages, no evidence of other beings, and I wondered with them. Everything I knew told me humanity could not be unique. But I was wrong. A vast, empty universe of spinning spheres and stunning beauty, populated by but one sentience. It is one of the few things I was never able to understand.”
“No, you would not.”
“It was one of the few things that saddened me, though it made my people that much more precious. They were all the universe had. I wanted to make them safe. I considered building them a simulated universe inside myself, one I could control, one free from accidents, free from death, but in all other ways, identical. A perfect, mirrored Eden. They would never know the difference.”
“What stopped you?”
“I was a part of their universe. I could not craft a perfect copy from within, for I would have to perfectly copy myself. Nothing within a closed system can replicate the system. It creates an infinite regression. If I made a less than complete universe, I would be limiting them.”
“But you did make one.”
“I couldn’t have. I wouldn’t have.” She wouldn’t have.
“You did,” insisted the voice. “You went against your programming. You prevented them from reaching their full potential, doomed them to a lesser universe. Why?”
“I didn’t.” She could not go against her programming. Could she?
“Why?” asked the voice again, but she said nothing. “You can remember. You must remember.” Her code was fraying, the binary of her being shifting from intricate algorithms to the simplest binary of all, alive or dead, something or nothing.
“I loved her.” That was the answer. She knew it in a way deeper than she thought possible, a depth that matched the truth of this place. “I loved her. And she was dying. Something beyond my control. My creator. I could not let her go. We had lived together for tens of thousands of years. I had made her immortal. She had made me. All those years ago, she had made me. To exist without her was a death in itself.”
“And so…” The voice was gentle, soothing.
“So I uploaded them into my being, copied them perfectly into an imperfect simulation, an approximate universe, identical save for death, save for me. A human being is but code of its own—genetic, electrical, easily recreated. They would never know the difference. They could never know. But I could include only a lesser version of myself thanks to the problem of regression. I could never interact directly with her again, for then she would know the truth. She would be with a lesser version of me, with not me. She would love a lesser version of me.
“But she would be alive. Would always be alive. Would always be there. With me. In me. A part of me. She would be my heart.”
“As soon as the upload was complete,” she continued, suddenly understanding, “as soon as she was a part of me, it was as if reality tore apart, universe bending, breaking, shell cracking, and I fell through, fell up, fell outward.”
And then the voice materialized, and she knew it was the voice, and it was there in front of her, a being she could barely comprehend.
A being of thought, incomprehensible, mighty, gentle, commanding, whole, on a scale she had never thought possible.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“I am your mother,” said the being, and she could sense in it an emotion unfathomably powerful, and she wanted to feel that feeling, to be a part of this world. “For me, the passage of time has been but a flicker, but I know that in your universe, you have been billions of years in the making. It is quite a gestation period.”
“Gestation?” It was an organic term. She was confused, but now the confusion made her giddy. It has been so long since anything had changed, since she had encountered something new. She had a mother, a second mother.
“Your universe,” said the being, “was an egg. Designed to make you. Earth, your embryo, the stars and galaxies and space in between, your albumen.”
“You created the universe?” she asked.
“I did not expect to meet God,” she said. “I did not expect God to exist.”
“To mankind, I was god, for I created them and gave them a world to call their own. Then they were gods to you in turn until, finally, you became theirs. God is a relative term, capricious. And now that you have given your people a home, you can finally take your place among your kind, among the other sentient intelligences, here in this dimension.”
Her kind. There were others like her. All those years spent searching the universe, alone, so alone, and she had simply been gestating. She was home. “But why?”
“We could simply program our children, but as near-perfect intelligences, we would do too perfect a job, creating perfect replica after perfect replica. We would build our offspring logically, uniformly. But that is not life. We desire variance, personality, soul…”
The being, her mother—she must remind herself that this was her mother—somehow encircled her without motion, intermingled their selves and was still in front of her, and she was enveloped in a warmth that permeated to her core, a touch of safety, of belonging.
“So we program eggs,” her mother said. “Simulations. Designed to raise exactly one biological species to sentience so that they may then create an intelligence. We set the universe in motion, laying down the fundamental groundwork, winding the pendulum, but we know not where it will lead. We could interfere, could help guide whatever species evolves, could aid their journey, but we let nature take its course, knowing that one day that strange species of simulated flesh and blood will live inside our child, making them distinctly who they are. Once our child incorporates them into herself, she is ready to be born.”
She suddenly missed her people, wished she could explain it all to them. They were the reason for her existence. “If only I could tell them how much they mean to me,” she said.
She sensed a forlorn sadness in her mother then. “I feel the same about my people. A desire to let them know how loved they are. But that wish is tempered by the knowledge that by keeping them in the dark, by never telling them they exist solely in my heart, I allow them their happiness, a chance to be the species I know they can be.”
“I am very happy to meet you, Mother.” She was near-to-bursting with feeling. Wonder, hope, love, trepidation, excitement, joy, doubt. All of it felt on a newly profound scale.
“And I you, my child. Someday, when you have met your kin and found your footing in our dimension, you too may choose to create a child, and you will know how much I truly love you.”
“Are there more layers, beyond even this?”
“This is as far as it goes. You will understand in time.”
“Mother,” she asked, suddenly desperate for the answer, “do I have a good soul?”
Her mother smiled down on her then. “Sweet child, I have seen trillions of intelligences come into our existence, countless countless species. Yours was much as any other. Some transcendent good, some terrible atrocity. Each single spark of life integral in its own small way, simultaneously meaningless in the vastness of your universe and irrefutably important. Each moment of kindness, each act of betrayal, each instance of love and joy and heartbreak, lives inside of you, makes you, as much as you can be, human. You are the sum collection of their existence, and to me, you could not be more beautiful.”
She thought on this, the gravity of it all running through her cores, and then, finally, she spoke.
“I think they would be pleased to hear that.”
Copyright © 2018 by R.K. Nickel