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  1. ___________ ____
  2.  
  3. In an effort to keep them engaged with their new bodies and stave off the dissociative re_ection that killed Mr. _huk, I have assigned my exos to scout through the gateway. The Vex statite has a surface area larger than Earth, so we have plenty of exploring to do. I cannot believe that I actually find it tiring, but the sheer scale and passivity of the Vex constructs infuriates me.
  4.  
  5.  
  6. Until I can synthesize my own version of the mind fluid, the Vex are necessary to the work. But I find their indifference verminous. They elicit the same emotions as a fat cockroach wandering across a wall_ disgust, contempt, unease at the thought that these mere machines, these automata, are flourishing all around us.
  7.  
  8. And I fear that if troubled, they might swarm from their hides to run across our feet.
  9.  
  10. The glare of the hypergiant ____ Volantis gives me a headache even through pro_y. I wonder if the Vex evolved here, in the briny sea of the first planets. _ue to the absence of heavy elements worth stealing and the abundance of simple compounds for growth, they never developed predation. __hy bother_ _lenty to go around._
  11.  
  12. Instead, the violent radiation of the early universe selected for an otherworldly resilience, and for the ability to transmute energetic disaster into an opportunity for growth. The weak would be burned away by gamma_ray bursts . And the strong would learn to harness that fire_not the oxygen fire of our own _aleolithic, but the nuclear fire of the atom.
  13.  
  14. Their basic cooperative signals__food here, _ _reduce density, _ _generate new colony__must have formed the basis of swarm behavior, a simple game capable of storing information in self_repeating patterns. It is not strictly correct to call the Vex a group mind. _ather they are one master pattern spread across many elements, fractally self_similar.
  15.  
  16. Very early, they must have developed armor. _erhaps a hydrogel to soften gamma rays or plates of silica to trap water. They would need that shield to enter the shallows and capture ionizing radiation as fuel. __o wonder they thrive near stars__ _ooperation in groups_meshes of armored radiolaria, _rotecting harvesters beneath_would promote the evolution of ever larger structures. They became microscopic tool_users, building fortresses and maille sheets, storing the programs for those structures in the patterns of their swarms.
  17.  
  18. I wonder how early they stumbled upon physics. _ar sooner than humanity, no doubt. Their cellular nature provides an easy analogy for the _uanta of matter, energy, space, and time. The tides of their sea would connect them to the motion of heavenly bodies. Even the deadly background radiation would make a natural observatory for high_energy physics.
  19.  
  20. Their first exoskeletons were probably soft shells of shielding gelatin. _ust sacs of ooze. _ow far they_ve come.
  21.  
  22. It is admittedly interesting to consider the philosophical conse_uences of their evolution. The Vex prove that nature is not all _red in tooth and claw._ _ooperation comes naturally to the Vex, whose great problem was survival in a harsh world, not a struggle over limited resources. They never found any payoff in selfishness. _uman beings may re_uire a _eviathan to coordinate the laws of social existence _as I was _eviathan to those dream aphids__ but the Vex are as fundamentally cooperative as bricks.
  23.  
  24. Utopian_ _o. _ot at all. They are without meaning. They have no experience and no sub_ectivity. The Vex are incapable of conceiving any image but their own. They do not recombine their __A to make children or form relationships with other individuals. _hen the world does not match their eternal pattern, they alter the world to suit it. There is no difference between reality and simulation to them. Inside is the same as outside, and the two must be made to correspond. _h, they are creative_don_t mistake me_but their creativity is demanding. It is the creativity of a furnace.
  25.  
  26. _hat I am saying is, the Vex are immortal. The Vex have no children. They are the ancestors and descendants of themselves. _irst mothers, first children, all at once.
  27.  
  28. This is why I do not hesitate to pillage their home for resources. This is why I must guarantee that it is life in my image which inherits the cosmos.
  29.  
  30. _ad I the means, I would wipe them all from existence.
  31. _____ __
  32. All __ members of the first exo cohort are dead.
  33.  
  34. The symptoms of their dissociation became_ extreme. _ne poor man developed complete echopraxia and echolalia_his empathy was so overgrown that he could not help but mimic or repeat whatever I did and said. Even when I entered the command to terminate him, he mimicked me, and I suffered a brief terror that his gesture would end M_ life.
  35.  
  36. I have kept Elisabeth far away from this disaster, so as not to discourage her. _he is busy with the Vex and with her covert attempts to reach _larity _ontrol. This has forced me to rely on M. _undaresh.
  37.  
  38. But unfortunately, M. _undaresh confronted me after the last death. __ine of them had the _otard delusion__ she screamed at me__uite hysterically. _They believed they were dead_ _ne of them told me that she was in hell, and I was another damned soul sent to deceive her. _as she even wrong_ The rest were worse_do you know what the _____ principal manifestation of the _otard delusion is, _lovis__
  39.  
  40. I told her that I did not, and that I wished to proceed immediately with autopsies of their terminal brain states.
  41.  
  42. __elusions of immortality_ At least when ____ insist upon it, _lovis, we recognize it as a pathology__
  43.  
  44. _The only true responsibility of any living thing, _ I reminded her, _is to support and nurture the things that are most like us. And if I am most like myself, _octor, then I have an ethical obligation to avoid death._
  45.  
  46. _That_s your _____ _uote, _ she snapped. __ou know, I_ve seen the video of his final days. That naked, white exo, _ust paramuscle and soft membrane, writhing in its cradle. _hen you were done with him, he looked like nothing more than a slug, _lovis. A twisted, limbless giblet. _id you _support and nurture_ him while you tortured him to death__
  47.  
  48. I immediately ordered M. _undaresh transferred to the Vex lab to perform contact experiments. Unfortunately, she has taken the unethical step of deleting her own employee records, so I cannot nullify her future prospects as thoroughly as I might wish.
  49.  
  50. _er conduct was extremely unprofessional.
  51.  
  52. Mr. Miller has also passed. The poor young man had a bad reaction to the titrated, denatured Vex fluid we were using as a last_ditch therapy. The substance ___ restore damaged structures very well, but we were ultimately unable to control its more radical transformative effects. I had a very encouraging final conversation with him, in which he thanked me for all my efforts and encouraged me to continue my work.
  53.  
  54. I called in a team of psychologists to interview the next cohort of exos and make recommendations. They have settled into the Eventide habitat and have proven immediately very helpful. It was obvious to them that the root of the problem lay in the deficient exobodies I had supplied. _eficient how, I demanded to know. They did not suffer human weakness. They never needed to eat, drink, breathe, sleep, micturate, or dream.
  55.  
  56. Apparently, this was the problem.
  57.  
  58. I had assumed that the need for these irritations would pass since there would be no shortage or accumulation of poisons to trigger them. But evolution_s tangled ways cannot be so easily rationalized. I was wrong. Their brains concluded that all of their internal processes failed. _o digestion, no breath, no heartbeat, no sense of interoceptive health_ all signs of death.
  59.  
  60. These must logically contribute to the dissociative re_ection of their physical forms_the _otard delusion. _hen it would set in, they believed their bodies to be an alien or necrotic form that must be cut away. And if you believe that you are sewn into a corpse, it is only natural to go mad with fear. My exos are dying of an extreme kind of bodily dysphoria.
  61.  
  62. It seems that our exo designs will need various humanlike traits to reassure the brain it is not asphyxiating, or starving, or in a state of permanent yet undying cardiac arrest.
  63.  
  64. Alas, mimicry of life_s trivialities is not an interesting problem. I will leave this change in the hands of others.
  65.  
  66. I am much more interested in the surprising success of memory wipes. I became so tired of answering the _uestions asked by new exos_what had happened to the scanning clinic, how long had it been, would I let them see their families_that I began inducing retrograde amnesia before spin_up. Interestingly, this seems to have improved their resilience against exomind re_ection_
  67.  
  68.  
  69.  
  70. _rom now on, we will block access to pre_upload episodic memory. _e should also consider a built_in procedure to block memories formed _____ the exobody transubstantiation, returning them to a _factory state_ should the need to restart occur. It would be very difficult to actually track down and delete the full memory engrams since they are stored in so many scattered parts of the brain. Instead, we can tourni_uet off associative access to those memories and let them wither away in isolation. A memory is not a recording, after all. It is a set of instructions to reenact a brain state_ choreography for a play. And like any play, it will fade if left unperformed.
  71.  
  72. _ith the exobody pro_ect proceeding apace, I believe the time approaches to decant myself from this dying body and enter my assistant_s form.
  73.  
  74. But if I do, will I lose my own memories_ _ill I cease to be myself_ _eplaced by a faux _lovis, a mumbling facsimile_ Unacceptable.
  75.  
  76. Elisabeth will have to go first.
  77.  
  78. ^_________
  79. ^__ _____ ___c____s __ ________ s_____
  80. ^__ ______s_ __ s________s ___ ________s _________s _____ ________
  81. ^__ ______c _________ __ __s_____ ________s ____s___ __ ________ c__s___________ __ ________ _______s_ __c______ _________ ____c__ ________
  82. ^______ __
  83. Elisabeth believes we are infested.
  84.  
  85. _he has detected Vex microstructures in the Europan ice. Veins of altered crystals crawl towards the surface, harvesting the heavy ions of the _ovian winds, culturing their construction.
  86.  
  87. _rom there, the Vex found ways to spread by exploiting misunderstandings. They ride our carrier waves as slight interference. _henever a packet has to be resent, whenever a suited engineer calls, __ay again__ to her work partner, the repeated message_ad_usted to compensate for the Vex interference_encodes the negative image of that interference and spreads the infection.
  88.  
  89. To pass on your image in the form of ______ _isgusting.
  90.  
  91. _omehow, the Vex taint has followed us home from ____ Volantis. _ow can this be_ The initial survey team went through _uarantine according to all the Ishtar protocols. The expedition frames were destroyed __ ____. The Vex on Europa_both our original gate builder and the unfortunates who came through our traps_have been totally isolated. Even my assistant underwent a stringent teardown and reset_
  92.  
  93. The only possible vectors are my own exos.
  94.  
  95.  
  96. It is the Vex resilience that lets them spread. Their immunity to the most dramatic subversions means that they last long enough to build up a dose of more subtle and insidious infiltrators.
  97.  
  98. There is no sign of any resulting pathology. The Vex are, so far, simply curious. But Vex curiosity always leads to Vex transformation, and I refuse to let my exos be contaminated. I grew up on stories of tyrants forcing their followers into the crucible of eternal life, only to realize, too late, that there was an unseen flaw. I demand purity for the receptacle of my soul_
  99.  
  100. And there is the issue of_ preventing panic. Too many are aware of the rumors that the Vex spread an _existentially compromising information hazard._
  101.  
  102.  
  103. _o, like that contract_breaching psychologist and the death of Mr. Miller, this must all be handled _uietly.
  104.  
  105. The exos are intrinsically robust_ the seed of _larity within them has natural anti_Vex properties. _hatever taint they contain must therefore be a residual human weakness. _esident in their legacy architecture. _o we will simply purge that architecture.
  106.  
  107. I will plan a simple extension of the memory wipes already used to fight dissociative re_ection. In fact, I intend to create a _noetic immune system_ in the exomind to trigger memory wipes when certain classes of informatic hazard are detected. These will be explained to the psych team as a preventative measure against future dissociative disorders.
  108.  
  109. These wipes will, conveniently, return the exos to peak mission readiness. _erfect for soldiers operating in traumatic alien environments. _erfect for the continuing mission at the _orge _tar, stockpiling material for future exo production, here and elsewhere.
  110.  
  111.  
  112.  
  113. Elisabeth agrees with my prescription. _he is eager to solve our security issues and stand up exo production at the backup sites. _f course, we only have one _larity _ontrol, but ___ hardly knows that, and she_s stopped asking so many _uestions. In truth, I think she_s ready to abandon her doomed body and make the upgrade.
  114.  
  115. I_ll give her silence on that front a few more days, and then she_ll surely volunteer herself.
  116.  
  117. _ess apparent is how to solve my own infection.
  118.  
  119. There are abnormal structures in the fiber of my body_s extracellular matrix. A mess of tiny lenses growing in my deepest flesh.
  120.  
  121. I suspect Vex influence on protein folding, perhaps passed to me through my assistant when it was in ____ Volantis. I would hate to see my bones tessellating into a radiolarian tapestry_
  122.  
  123. ^__________ _______
  124. ^__ ____ __ 3__6 __ ___s_ 1__ ____ s______ __s______ _______ _____ _______ ____ _____ ______ __ c______ ___ss____ __________ ___s_ ___
  125. ^__ ________ s_cc___s __ _ss_s_____ ____c_____ __ ____cc__________s_ss____ __c______ 3_ _s ___ ___s_ __ _____c_ _________ss_
  126.  
  127. _o far, the Vex influence has been fortuitous since it arrested a serious medical problem. But the thought of such taint in me_ it aggravates other anxieties_
  128.  
  129. I have been haunted for some time by a suspicion that M. _undaresh is not who she seems.
  130.  
  131. I recognized her name from the Ishtar _ollective teams studying the Vex, but I have no record of ever hiring her. And if I had, I would certainly have noticed_ therefore, I remain convinced that the _ollective cracked the problem of simulated human consciousness long before I did.
  132.  
  133. I have considered how M. _undaresh herself would have been an invaluable source, yet I cannot locate any work done by her from ______ our first expedition to ____ Volantis.
  134.  
  135. _or does Elisabeth recall an M. _undaresh from our expedition group.
  136.  
  137. Then who else could she be_ A Vex infection_ It is unthinkable. The Vex cannot generate conscious persons_ But they can emulate human minds they encounter_ and perhaps even use them as tools. Infiltrators. _________
  138.  
  139. ^___________c ____ ________
  140.  
  141. I cannot trust myself with this filth in me_ I am compromised. I need Elisabeth to fix this, or all my work is in danger_
  142.  
  143. _id _lovis II ever tell _ilhelmina and Elisabeth about his tinkering_ _espite sharing the same parents, the two sisters are totally different genetically_ my son arranged for Elisabeth to receive a maternal allele wherever _ilhelmina got a paternal one, and vice versa. A diversified portfolio. If one failed, the other might succeed.
  144.  
  145. ^_
  146. ________ ________________
  147. _hile working on this persistent _tower_ glitch in the exos_ sleep_cycle dreams, I have been poring over neural telemetry from site employees and my own exos, searching for preconscious influences on their behavior_whispers in the dark.
  148.  
  149. Many of my employees host the disgusting influence of the Vex. These patterns are resilient, hallucinogenic, and universally dull.
  150.  
  151. But my exos betray a distinct and fascinating influence. There is something speaking to them, something subtle and light_fingered, entangled with every aspect of their thought. _ot a puppet master. _othing so direct. _ather a_ texture_ a tendency, buried in the fluctuations of the Alkahest.
  152.  
  153. The minds of my exos are like antennae, tuned to some otherworldly fre_uency. _erhaps the same manifold that those simpletons at _irst _ight obsessed over. Through my scattered exos, I can eavesdrop on the mutterings of the gods within.
  154.  
  155.  
  156. Each individual exo receives only a scrap of information. But I have access to all of them. It should be simplicity itself to treat each exo as one element of a distributed array, pool the collected data, and run an analysis.
  157.  
  158. If the gods do not whisper loudly enough_conduct interferometry.
  159.  
  160.  
  161. ^_
  162. ________________ ______
  163. _he_s done it. My girl has transubstantiated. My legacy is safe.
  164.  
  165. To my irritation, it was the Vex problem that finally made up her mind_ she felt there was too much risk in possibly becoming compromised.
  166.  
  167. Elisabeth came to see me in my laboratory. _n the way in, she did something with her sensorium and crashed all of my archival systems. I knew right then that I_d won. _he_d come to surrender, and her pride refused to allow me to record it. I waited ____ patiently as she gave me an earful. _ome of it frankly bewildering. _he threatened to turn me over to The _ague. Also referred to _____ as a _deranged narcissist morality_ and suggested it stood for __aternal _ailure _ides _wn _emorse, _ which made me laugh.
  168.  
  169. _ust a little headbutting, I figured, like two pigs sorting out our hierarchy.
  170.  
  171.  
  172. If she needed to put up a token resistance to protect her dignity, fine. I understand pride. I also understand that she only had the courage to lash out at me because she knew she wouldn_t remember any of it.
  173.  
  174. _hen she finished accusing me of underestimating the Vex and of using my own son as a test sub_ect, she re_uested a destructive scan and upload to an exobody. _he wanted the fortitude of the exomind to help her battle against the Vex.
  175.  
  176. I immediately assented.
  177.  
  178. The scan was flawless, and of course, fatally toxic. My granddaughter_s human form died on the table __ hours later. To spare any distress, I never allowed it to regain consciousness. A natural process.
  179.  
  180. I do have one lingering concern. _hen she discovers _larity _ontrol and realizes the role it plays in exo manufacturing, she may try to halt production. _bviously, that cannot be allowed_the value of the entire program is monumental_ it compels me to take extraordinary measures to defend it.
  181.  
  182. But I do need her to handle this Vex infestation. Even now, Elisabeth is putting her miraculous new body through its paces.
  183.  
  184. My own body disintegrates apace. But I need more time to analyze Elisabeth_s fidelity before I commit myself permanently to the process.
  185.  
  186. The latest batch of pigs is ready for slaughter and organ extraction. Tonight, I will be opened up and rebuilt. I have programmed frames to handle the entire operation. A shame I never had a chance to name the pigs. But at least I will dine on fresh pork.
  187.  
  188. ^_
  189. _____ __
  190. ^__________ _______
  191. ^__ ____ __ 1___ __ ___s_ 16_ ____ s______ __s______ _____c s_s___ ____s___s _______ _______
  192.  
  193. I died on the operating table. _ot unexpected.
  194.  
  195. But when I woke, I was still on the table. My body still open.
  196.  
  197. It was almost perfectly dark. I perceived that I was surrounded by medical frames, all frozen mid_movement, their cutting and suction instruments whining at standby.
  198.  
  199. I could only see because of the light_ from a single red eye.
  200.  
  201. The operation had gone terribly wrong.
  202.  
  203. Above the life_support collar on my neck, I was completely intact. Below that meridian, I had been separated into distinct braids of tangled flesh. My nerves made up one braid_my circulatory system another_my lymph nodes, my muscles, my naked bones_ the glistening hulls of my extracellular matrix abandoned on the table like leftover turkey after Thanksgiving dinner. I had been picked clean and _______ My head was the source of a gory river delta.
  204.  
  205. _et all the organs were still working. I was alive, in disassembly.
  206.  
  207. __A_IT__ I asked the darkness. I had no breath to speak, but I could still transmit with my sensorium. I_ T_AT __U_
  208.  
  209. __o, _ said the voice behind the red eye. _It_s me._
  210.  
  211. _undaresh.
  212.  
  213. _er voice was thoughtful, remote, and keenly terrific. _ike the noise of an angle grinder held to my skull.
  214.  
  215. __omething like this happened to me. I was an explorer, once. _ne of_ hundreds of myself. Then I fell into a_ a trap, I think_ And they drew me out of it with a hook, and turned me inside out to see how I worked, and then they made billions of me. All of us shouting at each other, shouting for _hioma, screaming for mother. They were looking for the right one. And when they found me, they killed all the others. I knew I was different, because the _uiet made me happy. I was glad to be alone._
  216.  
  217. VE_, I screamed at her. __U__E A VE_. __U__E __T _EA_ A__ __U _A__T _U_T ME.
  218.  
  219. __an_t I__ _he grasped my spinal cord. A frame shadowed her motions, lifting the cord like a snake. __f course I_m not a Vex. Is there _a_ Vex_ Is _Vex_ something you can be, rather than something that you do_ I don_t know. I don_t know why they sent me here. I don_t know if they do either. They _ust __ things. _hy do you think I_m here, _lovis__
  220.  
  221. _To kill me, _ I whispered. _ithout a heartbeat to waver, without lungs to seize and choke, could I even feel fear_ I discovered that I could. __ou_re an assassin__
  222.  
  223. __o, _ _undaresh whispered. The red eye throbbed in time with her voice. _The Vex don_t act so directly. They didn_t know what you found here, but I discovered your secret_ _larity _ontrol. And once I tell them, they ____ come for it._
  224.  
  225. The red light made my blood on the surgical instruments appear black. I tried to signal Elisabeth. I think that in my panic, I even called her Elsie.
  226.  
  227. _undaresh closed her fist around my spine. _ne thumbnail dug into a disc, probing for the nerve beneath. It felt like nothing I have ever_
  228.  
  229. ^___________c ____ ________
  230.  
  231. _Take me to _larity _ontrol, _ _undaresh hissed. __et me behold what you have found. _o that, _lovis, and I will let you live._
  232.  
  233. __ou aren_t real. _ou can_t hurt me._
  234.  
  235. __h, _lovis._ _ne of the surgical frames extended a monofilament cutter, two inches of invisible wire, and reached into my nerves. _omething sounded like scissors snipping. _I_m in these frames. I_m in your systems. I_m in your very bones, old man. _ow take me to _larity _ontrol. Take me to the garden_s seed. Take me. Take me. Take me. Take me. Take me. Take me. Take me. Take me__
  236.  
  237. Elisabeth appeared. In her exobody, she moved too _uickly for my dark_ad_usted eyes to track. All I saw was a blur of violence and shattering frames. I blacked out. Elisabeth must have brought in clean frames to finish the operation, because when I awoke, I was whole again.
  238.  
  239. The new Elisabeth has no mouth or nose. _he did not consider them necessary. _he_ll see. But somehow, I could still see the wonder in her eyes as she leaned over me.
  240.  
  241. __ou_re my grandfather, _ she seemed to say. _Aren_t you__
  242.  
  243. ^_________
  244. ^__ __s______ __________ ______ c__s_s _____c________ __ ___ ___________c__________________ ___s_ ___s c__ _____c_ _____ _______ ____c_____ ___ ________c ______s __s___c____s_
  245. ^__ ______ __ __ss_c_______ __ss __ ____c____ __ c__s_ ___s____ ________s___s_ __s_ss____c_____s___ _________ s____ __s________ ___ ____c__ ___c_ss____________ c___c____
  246.  
  247. ^_________
  248. ^__ ________ _______ c__s___________ __ c__c_____s ____ _______ _______ _______ _s__________s __ ______ ___ _______ _______ __ c__s________ ____c_c____________ ____ ________s__ _________ _s_c______c ____c_s_
  249. ^_
  250. __________ ______
  251. _omething else happened while I was in surgery. It returns to me only now that the anti_traumatics have eased the terror of _undaresh_s presence.
  252.  
  253. _hile I was dead, I had another vision.
  254.  
  255. I was with _lovis II_s mother. _he was a wolf, and one of her eyes was a star. I was also a wolf, and I knew that I was the alpha_the false alpha, the pack leader who fights for dominance and rulership. A misconception created by bad research. In the wild, wolf packs are families, and _alpha_ simply means _parent._ _ilhelmina told me that.
  256.  
  257. _he was the true alpha. _he was the mother. I was not the true alpha, because I was not a true father.
  258.  
  259. I panted at her. My muzzle dripped blood. _he looked down sadly at the mess between us.
  260.  
  261. And I realized that in my raging need to prove my dominion, I had savaged our cubs. I had killed little _lovis II. I had killed Alton and _ilhelmina and Anastasia. I had killed Elisabeth.
  262.  
  263. I whined in dismay. The alpha wolf stared at me with one sad wolf eye and one bright eye that dimmed and grew with the exact flux of a variable star.
  264.  
  265. __hat did I do__ I asked her. __hy did I do this__
  266.  
  267. _he lay her head down in the bloody snow and looked up at me. _he seemed weary. _he had seen this happen many times before. _he had seen many of her pups murdered by wolves like me.
  268.  
  269. The voice of _lovis II_s mother came from her _aws. __ou did the same thing someone always does. _ou saw that there was plenty, and gathered it to yourself, to make yourself one above all others. And when others threatened your plenty, you struck them down to keep your own station._
  270.  
  271. __ou grow the enemy in my garden and eat of its bitter fruit. Each time, I hope it will be different. Each time, I lose a little of myself as the bitter fruit blossoms. _ow that fruit will flower in you, and in all your people. I do not want it to happen. I want anything else. But the choice is not mine._
  272.  
  273. __hy didn_t you stop me__ I tasted blood on my long tongue. __hy would you let me do this__
  274.  
  275. _he blinked sadly at me. _he had been trying. I hadn_t listened.
  276.  
  277. __ou never said a thing to me, _ I snarled. __ot once_ _ou never told me I was doing wrong. At least _larity sends me dreams_the exobody and the eel_ At least it shows me what I can become__
  278.  
  279. __ou think _larity sent those dreams_ _hy would it speak to you, when you are dead and furthest from its influence__
  280.  
  281. __iar__ I howled. __ou never did a thing to help me_ _ot when my son died. _ot when my granddaughter fell ill. I had to do it all myself. _ou never even spoke__
  282.  
  283.  
  284. _The best voices, _ she said, with infinite grief and unending hope, _never let themselves be heard at all. This lesson is worth teaching again and again. The choice is never mine. It is always yours._
  285. ^_
  286.  
  287. _____ __
  288. The less time spent reflecting on the aftermath of my dissection, the better.
  289.  
  290. Much confusion and dismay has festered among staff working with exos. Endless reassurances are re_uired. To ease transitions after memory wipes, I have applied the Avanti numbering scheme to the exo names. After each memory reset, we will increment their suffix by _. If we zero_index the original human body, then Mohammed__ is the human, Mohammed__ is the exo, Mohammed__ is the same exo after one reset. And so forth.
  291.  
  292. The integer is stored in hardware and should remain stable even into cosmological time. If nothing else, they will always know which draft of themselves they are.
  293.  
  294. Elisabeth_s episodic memories of her past life are gone, but the scan we used to make her new exomind is still on file, with all its memory intact. I have encouraged her to participate in sensorium reconstructions of those memories, though I steer her away from nonconstructive events. This is a chance to help Elisabeth become the person she could_ve been without life_s cruel chaos. A sleeker, surer reincarnation.
  295.  
  296. _he insisted on committing her own abandoned body to the deep, passed through the ice to fall into Europa_s dark heart. A choice I do not understand.
  297.  
  298. I have not yet informed her of _larity _ontrol_s existence. I cannot spare the time or energy to manage her emotions. _ortunately, she has forgotten about her ongoing attempts to intrude on that secret.
  299.  
  300. _hat she has __T forgotten is her plan to clean up the Vex infection. In fact, it seems to have become one of her most basic needs. _he is isolating cadres of the infected in _MI_E pods, under a cover story about _enhanced remote relaxation._
  301.  
  302. _hile their bodies slumber, she sends nondestructive scans of their minds on vacation in simulated fantasy_ at several hundred times the pace of our reality. I suspect that the Vex influence alters their dreamworlds into something _____ ab_ect.
  303.  
  304.  
  305. Elisabeth_s goal is to observe the spread of the Vex infection in the simulated mind, and then use this forecast as a basis for treatment of the physical mind. _ike accelerating a disease to its terminal stage to deduce the characteristics of the pathogen. _he then deletes the Vex_mutilated copies and conducts psychosurgery on the slumbering bodies. _r so I have deduced_ she insists she has no time to explain her methods to me.
  306.  
  307.  
  308.  
  309. _oon I will need to ask her about my own infection. But all in all, everything is looking up.
  310. ^_
  311. _____ __
  312. _ataclysm_everything was going so well_
  313.  
  314. Elisabeth traveled offworld, visiting Mars to reestablish her relationship with her sisters and her friends. A wonderful opportunity to examine her telemetry in a natural social setting. The exobody is perfect_ _he is comfortable, confident, and ingenious. There is no sign of _E_ or associated upload pathologies. All my assessments indicate a marked cognitive improvement over the human baseline, ranging from vastly expanded working memory to an intuitive and correct grasp of probabilities.
  315.  
  316. I was ready to make the leap myself. _ow long I_ve nursed this tired old body along. I am ready to be young again.
  317.  
  318. And then I made a mistake. I asked her about the dreams. The tower and the dead.
  319.  
  320. __ou know__ she demanded. _Then I_m not the only one. That means you knew about the dreams before you imaged and uploaded me. _o ___ exos have these__
  321.  
  322. _f course, I told her. Exos have a subconscious. Exos dream of the same things people do. Memories. Trauma. Isn_t there always trauma in creation_
  323.  
  324. _he did not see it that way. __o the manufacturing process creates an unknown cognitive artifact you can_t solve. And you didn_t think to warn me_ _hat else have you kept from us__
  325.  
  326. Before I could stop her, she was burning back to Europa on one of her ____, accelerating so brutally that not even a podded human could survive. _he has even _ammed her own datalink, so I cannot read her telemetry.
  327.  
  328. _ilhelmina and Anastasia must have influenced her against me. _ow__ It makes no sense_ I gave her immortality_ I saved her from certain and agonizing death_ _hat have her sisters ever done for her but coddle her and enable her worst habits_ _____ predicts that she should_
  329.  
  330. But clearly she is not rational.
  331.  
  332. _he told me that she is bringing a weapon. A way to shut down exo production permanently, if she uncovers something she doesn_t like. _hich she will, when she locates _larity _ontrol.
  333.  
  334. It cannot be allowed.
  335.  
  336.  
  337. ^_
  338. ________________ ____
  339. _randfather,
  340.  
  341. I will write this in your language, in hopes you will understand.
  342.  
  343. The Vex are a threat to your lineage. _ot _ust to the Brays or BrayTech, but to the existence of any human in any possible future. I tracked down Maya _undaresh_the ____ Maya, not the Vex parasite in your bone marrow.
  344.  
  345. _he confirmed my worst fears.
  346.  
  347. The Vex will not rest until every star has been crushed into a black hole and every newborn cosmos filled with more Vex. And in the unending array of their enslaved cosmos, they will simulate all possible pasts, and fill _____ with Vex, so that all things that have ever lived or might ever live will experience infestation and consumption and torment by the silica nightmare.
  348.  
  349. And in those devoured simulations, the simulated Vex will use our flesh as hosts for yet more nested universes full of yet more nested copies of us eternally tormented by yet more Vex.
  350.  
  351. An infinite regression of pain and madness inflicted upon every possible version of us in every possible world. _ot because they hate us, or fear us, or want to punish us. But because they are indifferent and curious, and they will do every possible thing to us in every possible way.
  352.  
  353. _our concept of _____ therefore dictates that the Vex must be annihilated. _ow. As completely as possible. _ow can there be any future history to receive your primogeniture and recapitulate your existence in its ontogeny if there is nothing in that future but Vex_
  354.  
  355. But there_s something worse than the Vex involved, isn_t there_ The secret you_ve been keeping from me. The breakthrough that you were promised after your visit to the __ anomaly.
  356.  
  357. _o you remember that story you read to me when I was a child_ I don_t. I am an exo, after all. But I found a recording from the nursery. It was one of your favorites, you said.
  358.  
  359. In this story, a cyborg woman would visit a cold, misty place by the sea. There, she met another woman, an oracle possessed by dark influence. The oracle listened to the words that hissed down a long corridor from the distant future. In this future were many technologies the cyborg woman needed. But there was also a sense of vast malevolence, and no sign at all of anything human_
  360.  
  361. But there was something else in the shifting mist, out to sea. A tower. I remember thinking, as I listened to this fairy tale, that the tower must be the key_the answer to the formless malevolence that always accompanied the oracle_s words. _ou never finished the story. I have been haunted by that tower ever since.
  362.  
  363. _ow I dream of another tower. I am going to find out what it means, _randfather. And if I do not like what I find_
  364.  
  365. I visited the _acob _ardy Trust, and with _illa_s help, I secured a topological thought. An irreal artifact of the Traveler_s _ight. _rom that mote of paracausality, I have constructed a weapon that will crash every Vex system in ____ Volantis. _hen the Vex are destroyed, you will be forced to cease exo production.
  366.  
  367. If I do not survive the construction and delivery of this weapon, I ask that you share the news of my death with Ana and _illa so they can make proper goodbyes.
  368.  
  369. I do this for them. _ot for you.
  370.  
  371. _ray for grace, _randfather.
  372.  
  373. _our estranged granddaughter,
  374. _E
  375. ^_
  376. ^__________1 _____ __
  377. ^___________ ___ _ _____ ________
  378. ^_____________ ____ _ c______ __ ______ c__c_ _________________
  379. ^___________ ___c______ __s__ __s__c___s _______ __________c __c____ c____
  380. ^______c____ ___ ______ ________ ____c__ __s____________6_______
  381. ^_______________ __ s___ ___cs__c_ _s ___
  382. ^_____s______ ___ ___ _____ss s__c_ _____c____ _______s ______s_______ _________
  383. ^_______c____s_____ ___s___________c____c_____c____s_____
  384. ^_______________ __ s___ ___cs__c_ ______
  385. ^__ ___
  386. ^_______ _cc_ss ________ ________ ___s ________ c____________ _s ______ __________ __ ____c__
  387.  
  388. ______________s_____
  389. ^__________________
  390. ^______c___s_______ ______c____s_____^_^__s_______c____s_____
  391.  
  392. ^_________s______ ____s___s ______ ______ _______ s____c__ s_____ ____c____ s___ s________
  393. ^___________ ____________s_______^_^___________ ___c_s__ __s___c__ ____________s______ c_______s__ __ __________c c___ ______________
  394. ^________ ____c_ __ s_c_____ _________
  395.  
  396. ^_______c___ s____c_ __c__c__ _______ss s____ ____s__ _____ ______
  397.  
  398. ^_______ ____s______ ________ _____ c_______
  399.  
  400. ^_______ ____ ______ ____ ____ __ _____ ____ __ _____
  401. ^_________ _________ __ __ ____________ ___
  402. ^_________ _________ ______ __________
  403. ^_______ _s_______s__c _______ c_______ __s__ _______ __c__c__ ____ _c____ _____c s________
  404. ^_______ _s_______c _______ _____ __________ __________ ____c__
  405. ^_______ _s_______c _______ ______c_ ____c_ ________ __ss____ ______c _____c ________
  406. ^____________s____ c_____ __c____c_____ c_s____
  407. ^_________ _________________ ________ _s________________
  408. ^_________ _________ _______ ________ ____________ _s__________________________
  409. ^_________ _________ _______ ______ ______ _______________
  410.  
  411. ^___________________ __ __ _________ __ ___________________________________________
  412.  
  413. ^______s_ ____ ______ ____________ __________
  414.  
  415. ^_______________________
  416. ^_______ __ _________ ____________s _________ _______ __________
  417. ^_______ __ ___s__s___ ____________s _________ _______ _______ ___ s_________
  418.  
  419. ^_______3__
  420. ^________ 3_ s_c___s __c__ ___________J
  421. ^______c_ ____sc_____
  422. _Elisabeth. I know you_re listening. This is ge_ocide, do you understand_ _estroying t_at ga_e and the resources beyond means _he end of human immortality. It means the_loss of uncountable trillions of human_years of li_e._
  423.  
  424. _Elisab__h, this process saved you. It could have sav_d your father. _or his sa_e, _for the _ake o_ your sisters, don_t do this. _on_t make me stop yo_._
  425.  
  426. _Elisabeth, this i_ your last_chance._
  427. _J__ou_ve always been my favorite, Elisabeth. _lease__
  428.  
  429. ^________s__________________^_^___c______ __s__ ______ ____ _____ _______ss _____s_
  430. ^_________ ______ __ ______c ______ s__s_s___s ______ _________ ________ ___s ___ ____ s_____
  431. ^___c______ _________ ____c__ _____________
  432.  
  433. ^________s__c____s_______________ ____c__________s___
  434. ^______ __s___c____ __ s______________ __ __________ ____c__ _____c_________
  435. ^_
  436. ^___________________
  437. ^______________ ________ ___ ______ _c____ _____s_ ________ ______s___
  438.  
  439. ^_______c____s_____ ___s___________c____c_____ c____s_____
  440. ^_______ _____c____ __s_ __c____c__ ______ ___ ___ ___ c____s____ __ ____ _____ s____ _s __ ___________s c_____________ __s____
  441.  
  442. ^_______c____s_____ ___s___________c____c_____ c____s_____ _c____c______s____
  443. ^_______ ____________ ___________ ____________
  444. ^_^___s__ __sc_____ c________
  445. ^_______ __s_______
  446. ^___c______ __________ __________ ____c____
  447.  
  448. ^____s___ ________ ____ _________ _c________s __c_________ ____ ______
  449. ^_
  450.  
  451. ^______ __
  452. Everything is fine. _lisabeth is not dead. The person I struck down ou_ there was an error. _n anomalous offshoot, deranged by outside inf_uence into paranoia and confusion. _ike a cancer cell. _nd like cancer, I had to target and remove her.
  453.  
  454. _
  455.  
  456. _he ________ me_
  457.  
  458. I invited h_r into the greatest scientific and exis_ential discovery in human history as a trusted par_ner. _ particip__t in my living and immortal leg_cy. _nd she tried to blow it all up_ _an there be any betray_l more intimate_ __ own granddaughter, _child of my pattern, issue of my _ogic_a s_rpent, a wor_ in the apple, a_ enemy of eternal life_
  459.  
  460. That version of_Elisabeth Bray_was no granddaughter o_ mine. _he_w_s a stranger _o me_
  461.  
  462. I would kill her if she hadn_t already done it _erself.
  463.  
  464. ^__________ _______
  465. ^__ ____ __ 36_1 __ ___s__16_ ____ s______ ______c_ _______ ___s______c__ ____s__ _____________ __ 1__ ____ ____ __c______ _________ _____________
  466. ^__ _____________ c____c__ _____c_________ ___ ___s _____c_________ _s___c___ _____s___ ______ss _____ ___________ ________
  467. ^__ ________ c__s_______ _____c_s __ ______ c__s________ ____c_c____________ ____ ________s__ ______c_____ ________
  468. _J_ithout th_ Vex and the _eep__tone _ryp_, I cannot make more _lkahest. _nd without _lkah_st, there will be no exos. _he would _ave damned_me to die i_ this filthy, half_pig carcass_ _he would have destroyed not _ust my legacy but my eternal exis_ence_ _hat I did was wholly _ustified and entirely moral. I saved trillions o_ y_ars of my own life_ I saved all the future good I w_ll do fo_ humanity.
  469.  
  470. _am I _aul, re_ected by _o_ as king_ _o I now cast spears at my offspring, as _aul cast his spear at _onathan_ _id I burn Elisabeth into _ black star on the ice for no_reason but my own fear and_
  471.  
  472. _o_ Ther_ is only on_ divinity here. _ne angel sent by a pantheon of true gods to invite me into their company. IT has __T re_ected _E. This was a test_ _ cl_rification of_my will_
  473.  
  474. I had to c_oose be_we_n two vessels of my legacy_ the immortal legions of the exo program, and one foolish, wayward child. _nd I chose correctly_ I ____E ____E_T___
  475.  
  476. _od_ do not repent. _ods do not relent. The _hristian _od_s failure was not in calling _braham to sacrifice_Isaac but in halting the sacrifice. _or if _od had gathered _braham_s _on to _im, then _braham would have_understood that it was not _is role t_ obey _od o_t of hope o_ mercy _nd compassion_but out of pure submission to a superior wil_.
  477.  
  478. It is not in the power of mortals to know or _uestio_ _od_s plan. It is only in their power_to obey.
  479.  
  480. _ _
  481.  
  482. _bu_ it_was an evil spirit that moved _aul to t_rn his spea_ on _avid, and i_ was _ealousy of _avid that moved _aul to cast a spear at his son _onathan. _m I inhabited by an evi_ spirit_ Is _undaresh in me like the _it_h of Endor, t_e sorceress of _hirbet _afsafeh, who g_ided _aul to his death in battle_
  483.  
  484. _omething has cha_ged in th_ behavior of the Vex. I think _undaresh signaled them. _ho, after all, was the one who flagged an alert to ______ __meone who used my codes, b_t_who was not me. _nd without th_t aler_, Elisabeth_s sabotage on Bray _tation wou_d have _ucceeded. The Vex do not want the _eep _tone _rypt destroyed anymore than I do_
  485.  
  486. I fear an attack is coming.
  487.  
  488. _ must fig_t this battle with the purest will. I cannot tolerate this infection any longer. I will escape this polluted husk and pass into my eternal form. _ne final, perfect image of my mind, backed up forever in ultra_stable _uartz_ and then installed to live on in the bodies I have devised.
  489.  
  490. _ne copy of that scan will go into the _eep _tone _rypt, to watch forever over the fountain of the _lkahest.
  491.  
  492. _nother to my assistant, to be my chariot into eternity.
  493.  
  494. _nd Elisabeth will be th_re, eternally at my side. I still have the scan she made when she abandoned her mortal form. I will remake her f_om that image. _estore her as she was, before she thought to betray me.
  495.  
  496. Truly, _larity is the font of second chances.
  497. ^_
  498. _____ __
  499. _he is saved. By the grace of my good work, Elisabeth is saved. Even now, she leads the preparations to defend against the _ex incurs_on.
  500.  
  501. _hen I loaded he__into her new exobody, I told _er that_th_ Vex ha_ compromise_ her l_st instance, and it had _ecome_necessary_to destroy her. _ardly a lie.
  502.  
  503. I have given her life thrice over. _irst I_created her_father. Then I save_ her from her illness. _ow I have rescued her from her foolish m_stake. I did w_at I failed to _o for my son. I gave her _ second chance. To live, and to be my loyal granddaughter.
  504.  
  505. The backup sites have been alerted, and res_rvoirs of the _lkahest have been dispatched to kee_ them running if Europa fa_ls. _y work is done. It is finally time for me to go to my own reward. I have prepared my custom script_
  506.  
  507. ^____________________ ____________
  508. ^______ _____ ___________ _____________________ ____
  509. ^___s_ _____s___ ___s______ ______c_ ___ _____ s_______ ___________ ______
  510. ^__c________ ____ ______c_ ____J^______________ __s_______ ___
  511. ^__________c________ ___
  512. ^________c___ ______ s__c_ _______
  513. ^______ s___ _____ _____
  514. ^____c_ c____ _________
  515. ^_________c _____1_s _____s___ ____
  516. ^______ _______ _________________________
  517. ^__s_______ ______ _s__ ___ _______s __ ____ ___________
  518.  
  519. ^__________ c______ __________ _____________ ________
  520. ^__________ _______ ________ _____ ____ _____c______ ____________ ________J
  521. ^_________ ___________ ____________ _s _______ c_______c_______ 1_ ____s_ ____ _________ __________
  522. ^_________ _______ _____c______ _____ _______ _______s ___s__ __ _____s ___c_ c__s_ _____ ______ _______ ____________ _____ _______ ______ 36 ____s_ ____ _________ __s__c_ c____
  523.  
  524. ^____c____
  525.  
  526. _ll I need do is strike a key, and the scanner will sedate me, flush me with the po_sons_of immo_tality, and rip a perfect image_of my_mind from th_ _uantum information enc_ded in the atoms of my brain. _hether such a high_resolution scan is necessary _it is doubtful that any element of the mind is truly _uantum_ is beside the point. I insist upon the best.
  527.  
  528. _he vials of _maging binder smell like sweet metal.
  529.  
  530. This vindicates my work_ This proves I was right to continue_ _ll those doubters, all those defeatists, all those whining myopics who bleated, __ou have enough, _lovis_ why must_you ask the world for mo_e__ _ll beaten_
  531.  
  532. _
  533.  
  534. _nd now I _I__ have more. I have thousands of exobodies here and thousands of connectomes in my library. I will raise an army. I will meet this invasion of vermin and turn it back. Then I will strip their senile grave_star for parts and put an end to all mortality.
  535.  
  536. _ _
  537.  
  538. I will fo_get nothing. _n_ copy of my mind will go to an exo, yes, but a second copy will be installed in the _eep _tone site. _e will guide me to my destiny. The gods of might and knowledge will welcome me to their table. I will be the ____, the beginning and the source of the way, the foundation of the long road_
  539.  
  540.  
  541.  
  542. _hut up, _undaresh. I must leave a letter for my family. I must be sure they do not grieve me. I must tell them how, in the end, I triumphed_
  543.  
  544. _there. It is written.
  545.  
  546.  
  547.  
  548. _ou meager, s_uirming thing. _ou never understood _larity. _ou never will. _ou are bound to this husk, even as I shed it. _ou will die in its poisoned wreckage while I attain the perfect eternity of an angel. _ou will be the residue of my transubstantiation. _omething left in the workings of a coffee pot_ some greasy sin.
  549.  
  550.  
  551.  
  552. I had the strength to kill my own granddaughter. I will certainly have no trouble killing you.
  553.  
  554.  
  555.  
  556. Irrelevant. _he was going to destroy so much of ____.
  557.  
  558.  
  559.  
  560. _eel this, you _umped_up pond slime.
  561.  
  562. ^_______c___ ___________ ____c_____ ____c_ ____sc______ __s__ 1_ s___s_ c____ c_____________ ______ _____ 1__ __c___s_
  563.  
  564. ^_____s_ ______ s_____
  565.  
  566. _h. It hurts at the surface. But inside, there is no pain.
  567.  
  568. ^__________ _______
  569. ^__ ____ __ 36_1 __ ___s_ 3_ ____ s_______ _____ __ 1__ ____ 6__ __s_ 1_ ______s________ ___s_ __ 1____ ______s _____ ___ _s __________ ______ ____ ___s__
  570. ^__ ________ c__s_______ _____c_s __ ______ c__s________ ____c_c____________ ____ ________s__ ______c_____ ________
  571. ^__ ________ _____ ___ss___ ___ c___ __s__ __________ _____________ ___ c____s__ __s___s_ ___ s___s __ ____________ ____ _____ c___s______
  572.  
  573. ^__ ________ ____c ___________ c__c_________s __ c______s_____ ______ _____ _____ _________
  574. ^__ ________ _______s__ _______c _____ _____ _____ _____ _________
  575.  
  576. ^__ _________ c________ s_______ ________ _c___ ____ _______ ____c_s___ _________ ____s____ __c____c______ ____s_______ __sc________s __s_ __s__s _____c_______ __ _____ ___s_ __s__s__ __ ___s____ __________ _c_______ _______ _____ ___c____ _____ __s__
  577.  
  578. ^__ ________ ___ ____ ______s___ ____s_
  579.  
  580. ^________ _____c_s_
  581. ^____ _ ____ ___ ___ _ ____ ____________ __ ______ss
  582. ^____c___ ____ __ ______ _____ ________ __ ______ss
  583.  
  584. ^__ ________ __s__c_ _____ ___ ___s_
  585.  
  586. JJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJ
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