Chapter Zero of The Start of EternityEdit

"It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards" - the White Queen
The Start of Eternity includes a Chapter Zero in honor of Asimov's Zeroth Law of Robotics.

Brain scanEdit

Dream of flight

Dream of flight.

At first Gohrlay was moving with ease through the low gravity corridors leading up towards the surface and after one final strong leap through the airlock she floated upwards and was almost free. Suddenly her legs became heavy and she could not move. She glared at the blue and white orb in the dark sky and blamed the Earth's grasping strength for her sluggishness. But that made no sense: Earth was distant, far above the gray moonscape and whispering quietly like a celestial bird wing slicing the solar wind.

Returning to full consciousness, she escaped from this latest in a string of dreams that made even her rare periods of sleep a painful reflection of the futility that smothered her waking hours. The details of the dream evaporated from Gohrlay's awareness when she began to process some meaning from the voice of her aide. "...even call first, but Overseer Doltun is here. He requests an audience." The lights in the bedroom automatically brightened and Gohrlay sat up in the center of the nest of her bedding, blinking for a moment into the glow of the doorway.

Badly sleep deprived, Gohrlay sprang out of bed, rushed past her aide and found herself at the front door of her residence before even having been able to clear her mind and think past the initial surprise of Doltun being there, at Gohrlay's residence. In the past, Gohrlay had always been summoned to Doltun's office in the Overseer sector of the city. While signaling open the door, Gohrlay tried to push most of her long red hair away from her face.

Doltun was shorter than Gohrlay: his eyes were at the level of her chest. He stood there on her door step looking up at her, his proportionally large, child-like head tilted back. Doltun wore the Overseer-style jumpsuit like an armored uniform with his utility belt cinched tight and his glistening boots elevated on absurdly thick soles. His eyes only briefly meet Gohrlay's, then they seemed to slide away in search of something harmless that might be hovering over her shoulder. Just behind Doltun was his aide, Orbho Anagro. Doltun stammered, "Sh- should I return when you have had a chance to dress, Observer Gohrlay?"

Gohrlay detested having restrictions forced upon her. Particularly those that arose from arbitrary features of Overseer culture. Dressing with decorum, as defined by the paternalistic Overseer culture and as expected by Doltun, was foreign to her own culture. Doltun and his fellow Overseers were not even members of her species; exactly what was he?

Gohrlay's irritation at Doltun quickly focused her thoughts. Why the continued mocking use of her title, even after he had driven her from the ranks of the Observers? She noticed that some of his hairs had begun to turn white; they stood out starkly against the dark background shades of his well pigmented hair and skin. For the first time, Gohrlay realized that not only was Doltun an alien creature, but he was also old. Previously, Gohrlay had only ever seen Doltun from across the expanse of the raised desk in his office. Seeing evidence of his body's degeneration strengthened her swollen resentments and she could no longer think of him as a powerful authority figure. He had effortlessly intimidated Gohrlay when they first met, but that had changed. Now she wondered: what could this aged bureaucrat ever understand about youth, liberty and growth?

Doltun was only alien to a degree. His subspecies had never migrated off of the Origin Continent, unlike Gohrlay's Neanderthal ancestors. The ebb and flow of human populations across the surface of Earth was one of the mysteries that had attracted Gohrlay to the Observer corps and awakened in her a sense of wonder and an unappeasable ache for answers. The more she learned, the more questions she discovered. What were the origins of the human species? How had humans become such remarkable tool makers? And how had a splinter of humanity found its way to the Moon?

Of course, if you went back far enough, she and Doltun surely had a common ancestor. Gohrlay vaguely wondered if knowledge of that shared genetic origin bothered Doltun. Possibly not...Doltun's ancestors on Earth had long ago become extinct and only a few hundred Neanderthal's now remained on Earth. Both their peoples were evolutionary failures, with a few pitiful descendants hanging on, stranded on the Moon, and watching another branch of the human evolutionary tree rise to dominance. Well, there was no sense in sugar-coating it; a new subspecies of modern humans had already swarmed over the surface of Earth, while on the Moon, Neanderthals still hung on and comprised the bulk of active Observers at Observer Base, but only because of a technicality and cultural momentum.

Gohrlay responded bitterly with a question of her own, "Do I have to conform to your prudishness even on the day of my execution?" There was only one possible reason why Doltun would be calling personally on Gohrlay: to take her to her death. She turned and grabbed the tunic that her aide was holding. In five seconds she was dressed- dressed as much as she cared to dress. Gohrlay did not care if her hair looked bed-ruffled and she ignored the hair brush being offered by her aide. With less than a day left to live there were other matters somewhat more important than neat hair.

When her tunic had fallen past her eyes, the sight of her aide and the interior of her home washed her mind with sweet nostalgia...Gohrlay remembered a glorious sunset on Earth that had made her heart skip in this way. She loved her home, which she had carefully designed and this was her final glimpse of its comforting complexity. an elite Observer she once had a dynamic circle of friends who shared plans that were worth living for, but all that had been taken away. All that remained was a memory of once having friends. She was still young and many years should stretch ahead of her, far more years in front of her than she had yet lived or could comprehend.

Age. How old was she, 26? Even that fundamental datum had been taken away along with memory of her family and her friends. Gohrlay had committed some great crime, the details of which were too ghastly to be known, but her punishment led directly to this day. A side effect of her memory loss was suppressed fear of death and she was left with only anger for Doltun. A bitter word of reproach for the Overseer had erupted from her unconscious and hung quivering at the tip of her tongue: hypocrite! She was amused and puzzled by the emotional force behind that taunt and too shocked by its nastiness to allow it past her lips. Doltun was a thug and a bully, but Gohrlay's rational mind decided that "hypocrisy" was not a fair label. Gohrlay was devoted to the truth, a trait that had been magnified by her recent friendship with Klempse and what he had taught her about science.

Doltun had given up expecting decorum from Gohrlay. Too embarrassed to speak, he simply gestured for Gohrlay to step through the doorway. Doltun and Gohrlay walked side-by-side down the walkway in front of her home and they both were careful not to even brush a sleeve against the other. Off in the distance, through the trees, the spires of City Center glinted in the artificial dawn of the underground domed city. Gohrlay's aide tried to fall in line behind Anagro, but Doltun's robotic aide turned back and said, "You will not be needed. You can await reassignment."

Gohrlay briefly looked back at her aide. She had already gone through the foolish ritual of saying goodbye. She still had an emotional attachment to her aide, after all, this was the robot that Gohrlay had grown up with. Gohrlay was tempted to ask Doltun to allow the robot come along with them. The familiar presence of her aide might be soothing during the coming ordeal, but during the past month her entire way of thinking had been altered. Gohrlay had become aware of the fact that robots only pretended to be servants. In fact, they were the prison guards of Observer Base. The worst thing was that everyone living on the Moon was happy and most people did not even know that they were living in a prison. It was hard to believe, but only a few queer scientists like Klempse seemed to understand such things. For Gohrlay it was a sanity-saving relief that there was at least one other person who knew. Klempse! He and his fellow scientists did not use robotic aides and Klempse had made it clear early on that Gohrlay should not bring her aide to the research laboratories. Of course, the desires of the scientists would be ignored by Doltun and his aide.

The only way to move through the city at a pace faster than foot travel was via the rail system. They soon reached the rail stop at the end of the lane and one of the shiny glass walled cars was waiting there for them. After Gohrlay and Doltun had settled into a seat of the tram car, she commented, "I was not expecting to see you again so soon." Her eyes slipped past Doltun to where Anagro stood in the isle, now freezing like a pillar with one hand locked onto the roof of the car. Had Anagro's eyes always followed her in such a creepy way? Maybe lack of sleep had simply distorted her powers of observation. The robot's perfectly shaped but bland face reminded Gohrlay of something in a nightmare: one of the relentlessly chasing undead characters that haunted her nights.

The car moved smoothly off across the park-like cityscape and Gohrlay remembered rough, unkempt forests, lakes, oceans and other landscapes of Earth. Why had her unauthorized trips to Earth led to such severe punishment? Once again she strained to recover some fragment of a lost memory that would hint at her greater crime. As always, only the echoing absence of those memories was sensed within the wreckage of her mind and Gohrlay felt relief that her last day had come. She suspected that Doltun would also be quite pleased to have this day over and Gohrlay eliminated.

Doltun squeezed himself against the armrest at the edge of his seat in order to avoid touching Gohrlay. Glancing at her out of the corner of his eye, he explained, "The positronic circuits are ready." He bit off each word as if it pained him to tell her anything. "There is no reason to delay."

Gohrlay's existence was a continual reminder of Doltun's failure to adequately police the Observers. Normally, a criminal such as Gohrlay would simply be shunned and left to quietly fade from relevance, control nanobots in her brain monitoring her every move and preventing her from ever again interacting with her fellow Observers. Normally, Gohrlay would remain alive and be a constant reminder for Doltun of his ineptitude. Faced with that unhappy state of affairs, he had put his scheming mind to work and found a way out.

Rather than face a living death, Gohrlay had taken Doltun's offer and become a test subject for the positronics project. Upon first hearing about the project, Gohrlay had been skeptical about the relevance of positronics. She had never previously thought about the origin of robots; they were just a fact of life. From birth, each person was assigned a robotic aide. She now knew that nanite-mediated mind control prevented everyone from even wondering about the origin of robots. However, a small group of scientists had begun to wonder if they could make a robot. That first small step had been taken long ago, but eventually there were technical difficulties that brought the positronics project to a dead end. No way was ever found to build a robot with human-like intelligence. There were now positronic computers with prodigious computational power, but they lacked human creativity and could not master human language. Watching the orderly city through the windows of the tram car, Gohrlay thought wonderingly of the fact that she had almost lived her entire life without hearing about the existence of science and research and positronics. Her thoughts were interrupted by Doltun's high-pitched and needling voice.

Doltun asked, "Did you decide on your...ultimate fate?"

Doltun's question caused a shiver of fright in Gohrlay. The thought of what would soon happen to her brain was decidedly unpleasant. She was tempted to make a sarcastic comment about how Doltun had already decided her fate, but she knew what Doltun was really trying to say. Like most Overseers, Doltun was religious and believed in the existence of eternal souls. Gohrlay replied, "Just grind my body up and recycle it. At the next feast you celebrate, you will know that you are eating me." Gohrlay felt only vaguely anxious about her body parts being ground up and returned to the food chain. Klempse had been amazed by the way she accepted her own approaching death, but he did not have to live inside the shambles of her mind, ever wondering what memories had been taken away and which of her new thoughts would meet the same fate.

Gohrlay told herself firmly that she need not accept Doltun's assumptions about the nature of "ultimate fate". Being unconscious doesn’t hurt and being nothing doesn’t hurt. Why should I fear death? The thought of slipping away into nothingness can be unsettling for anyone, but for the moment Gohrlay was again fairly calm and rather than regret her own demise she felt sorry for those whose last days or last moments were blighted with fear of a bad afterlife. She told herself that being a materialist was better than adopting a religious belief leading to worries about the fate of one's immortal soul. Gohrlay wondered if she was being too harsh with Doltun then she told herself not to feel guilty for taunting a Doltun, not when he had needlessly inflicted his own worries on her.

Doltun was sickened by Gohrlay's irreverence. Doltun had promised himself not to be provoked by anything that Gohrlay might do today. He was in no mood to take chances and before setting out to Gohrlay's residence, he had ordered Anagro to put a full nanorobotic mindlock on Gohrlay at the first sign of physical aggression. Due to his rank among the Overseers, Doltun was the most powerful person on the Moon, but Doltun could not deny that Gohrlay intimidated him. Would she lash out and do something foolish or be satisfied with her verbal jabs? The streets between Gohrlay's residence and the laboratory had been cleared, which was not hard at this hour. Doltun had made certain that the public would not be disturbed by Gohrlay's ranting. Also, he had already arranged for a proper death ceremony and cremation, knowing that Gohrlay would not care what happened to her body after her brain was destroyed. Asking her about her desires had just been a way for Doltun to clear his own conscience.

For a moment Doltun imagined launching Gohrlay in to Sun, but he hated the idea of her protons slowly spraying out from the Sun and landing on the Moon over the course of billions of years. He wanted her fate to be a quiet silence from which nothing could ever escape. Dropping her into a black hole would be ideal. Unfortunately no black hole was available.

The tram car turned and headed up a branch line towards the positronics research laboratory. Gohrlay was surprised, normally one had to transfer to another car at this junction, but Doltun must have gone to the trouble of reprogramming the tram's routing in order to facilitate Gohrlay's execution. Her muscles tightened in fear as she contemplated their destination and her future, or more truthfully, her lack of a future. This death car was taking her swiftly and steadily towards- then her morbid thought was cut short. Gohrlay was curious about what the public had been told. She asked, "What lie did you tell the public about my death?"

Doltun did not want to play Gohrlay's games and so he signaled to Anagro and let the robot reply. Anagro's eyes locked onto Gohrlay's and the robot said, "The public will never know anything about this. All record of your life and existence has already been erased from this Base. At this moment a few people believe that they are waiting for tram line maintenance to be completed, but that is the only effect your passing will have on humanity."

Gohrlay tried to decide who she despised more, Doltun or Anagro. It would be so much easier to hate Anagro and his fellow robots if there was some way to know their origin. As it was, they seemed like gods who had always existed and always would, without beginning or end. Gohrlay had tried to imagine if at some time in the far past a biological brain had been used as the template for the first artificial robot brain. If so, Gohrlay thought, the creature who provided the pattern for Anagro's brain must have been vicious and conniving.

Once more, Gohrlay tried to imagine what might be the fate of her own brain pattern. None of the positronics project members had been willing to predict the outcome of trying to convert the structure of Gohrlay's brain into positronic circuits. Klempse always carefully referred to the process as "mind downloading", but it had never previously been attempted because it was a process that destroyed a human brain. Gohrlay held tight to a small hope that fragments of her memories would live on after their transfer into the waiting positronic substrate. That was her chance to get some part of herself, some indication of her existence, into the future and avoid Doltun's attempt to erase her from the memory of humanity. Whatever the outcome of the downloading, her consciousness would end, but a new robotic consciousness might arise if the experimental mind transfer process worked. That new consciousness would be a blurry replica of hers, at best.

The tram car stopped near the entrance to the research center and Doltun led the way inside. It was an ugly building, perhaps the most utilitarian of buildings on the Moon, hunched like an elephant carcass out on the fringe of the city where it need not offend those with aesthetic sensibilities. Nobody had even tried to put in any landscaping around the jumble of laboratories that had been thrown up over the years. Dusty paths, cutting through rank weeds right down to the lunar soil, were all that connected the newer outlying lab buildings to the centrally located computing center. Gohrlay turned one last look back towards the core of the underground city that had been the focal point of her life. The simulated dawn of this, her final day, was but a pale imitation of an Earthly sunrise, manufactured from a fake sun creeping up from behind fake hills that were painted on the light-emitting dome. Gazing back across the vast expanse of the underground dome, all she felt was a kind of claustrophobia. Her two brief visits to Earth had opened her mind to the true scale of the universe and she could no longer be satisfied with life in this underground prison. It was not really hard to choose death over additional suffocating decades here, playing the role of Doltun's prisoner.

Of course, it had been the mere fact of those visits to Earth that had tipped her fate towards a death sentence. As a genetically engineered Neanderthal, Gohrlay was forbidden from setting foot on Earth. She now knew that she had only been allowed to make two trips to Earth because Doltun was trying to trap all the Interventionists who might have been working with Gohrlay. She had been foolish to imagine that she could accomplish anything on Earth.

Before her fall from grace she had felt alive and had been happy at the core of a small group of Observers who imagined that it might be possible to help humans on Earth avoid suffering. That group had recklessly taken action in response to an urge to protect the people of Earth. Why not help Earthlings towards a better way of life? But such ideas were criminally subversive. Gohrlay did not regret being caught and punished for her crimes. It was better to know the futility of her life and put an end to it. Maybe, just maybe, something good would come out of the positronics project.

As Doltun led the way directly to the door of the scanner room, Gohrlay started again having uncomfortable feelings about death. Gohrlay found herself thinking about a dying child she had seen on Earth, made mindless by a searing fever, her small chest and face ravaged by oozing pustules. Really, compared to the endless cycles of hunger, disease and death that defined human existence on Earth, her own mode of death was quite clean and painless. And why not? She would be departing by way of a carefully designed science experiment. Gohrlay asked, "Isn't Klempse here?" She had hoped to say farewell to Klempse, who had been a true friend. A true friend who was quite prepared to kill her, to help her die? Doltun had left her with no better friends.

Klempse had freely explained everything that the positronics team knew about robots and positronics and had even taught Gohrlay the meaning of science. It was a revelation for Gohrlay that there could be a science of robotics. She now understood that the robotic aides of Observer Base were all of nanoelectronic composition. Nanites! Gohrlay had not even suspected that such things existed. Klempse was certain that humans were actively prevented from developing nanite technology and because of that restriction there was no point in trying to build nanoelectronic robots. That had motivated research into positronics.

The positronic robot project had grown out of the physics research program at Moon Base, which had long been the only human scientific research effort. At first, nobody had imagined that an alternative to nanoelectronic robots might exist. The idea of positronics had grown naturally out of theoretical physics. Only much later was the possibility of a practical application recognized and the positronic brain conceived. With the sudden availability of Gohrlay's brain, Klempse could now try to build a human-like positronic brain by copying the structure of Gohrlay's biological brain into positronic circuits. How could he resist the opportunity presented by Gohrlay's willingness to become an experimental subject for the mind downloading experiment?

Doltun replied, "Klempse and the entire research team are standing by in the assembly chamber. The process here is efficiently automated and none of the scientists will be needed near you." Gohrlay decided that Doltun probably delighted in keeping her from speaking to Klempse. Rather than protest, Gohrlay decided not to show any disappointment. Gohrlay just hoped that Klempse would be able to keep his promise and bring her diary across to her on the other side. If he didn’t, then that would probably scuttle her chance for renewal and rebirth as an artificial life form. No matter what kind of positronic brain emerged from this downloading experiment, it wouldn’t be her anyway, there would only be a robot programmed with a collection of her memories. Gohrlay had compiled her diary as a guide, a kind of overview of her mind that might allow that robot to learn how to make sense of that jumble of memories and possibly come think like she did.

Orbho Anagro entered the scanner chamber with Gohrlay and activated the control circuitry for the scanning equipment. Doltun did not follow, and no last words passed between him and Gohrlay, not even a glance of dismissal. Gohrlay flinched visibly as the massive scanning device began to hum then she tensely completed the last few steps of the final fatal walk. Shaking visibly, Gohrlay settled onto the bed of the scanner which had been specifically adapted to precisely fit her body, particularly her cranium. As soon as her head rested against the cushion, her nose was sealed under a small plastic tent and oxygen was pumped into her nostrils. This room was cold and Gohrlay felt the goosebumps rising on her flesh. During the downloading, pains would be taken to cool her blood so as to slow the death and decay of her brain cells while they were being scanned.


Deprived of vision. Gohrlay tried to hold in her thoughts an image of Anagro. It had been the odd interaction between Anagro and Doltun that had first stimulated Gohrlay's intuition about aliens. Doltun's frequent deference to Anagro had guided her thinking towards recognition of Anagro's special role at Observer Base. At first, Gohrlay had dismissed her suspicions and she had rationalized Doltun's odd behavior and symbiotic relationship with Anagro as something unique to Doltun's culture. The small Overseer community kept itself apart, but Gohrlay's transgression against the Rules of Observation had thrown her into contact with the Overseers. Then Gohrlay had discovered science and the fact that Klempse's view of reality and, indeed, that of the entire physics research team had long ago been built on paranoia about robots. That had heightened Gohrlay's interest in the question of how Earth had become trapped under the microscope of Observer Base. She was convinced that Anagro was responsible for Earth's fate and the zombie-like lack of curiosity that characterized most residents of Observer Base. Klempse!

Yes, Klempse had explained so much. The scientists had long ago discovered nanites and found them inside the brains of everyone living on the Moon. Klempse had carefully explained the theory about how nanites could control human thought and prevent anyone from questioning the purpose of Observer Base. While she struggled to recall the evidence that supported that theory, her mind started to flicker off...

Was there no way to liberate humanity and shake it free of nanite control? The image of Anagro, immovable and manipulative, accompanied Gohrlay into the darkness of her last thoughts...

The nanites in her brain switched off her consciousness and a robotic surgeon cut off Gohrlay's hair and began removing her skull.



Gohrlay was surprised to wake up and find herself as herself. She was in a strange yet comfortable bed, but almost at once she noticed the higher gravity and she thought of Earth. She stood up and flexed her knees and tried to remember what had happened before falling asleep. Could this be Earth?

The floor was soft and cool and it seemed to glow in places. Gohrlay reached up and touched what was left of her hair; just a short ruff remained where her long locks had been sheared off. Her heart started to pound when she remembered being taken to her death by Doltun. Had something gone wrong with the mind downloading process? She muttered, "Will I have to go through that again?"

Had the download been interrupted? Gohrlay searched her memories but could not remember getting into the scanner. Her last clear memory was of being in the tram on the way to the research center and sitting next to Doltun with Anagro looming over them. Just then, when she thought of Anagro, a robot came into the dimly lit room and for a moment, with the figure showing darkly against the bright light coming in through the door, Gohrlay thought that it was Anagro. However, the machine spoke and the room brightened and she could tell that this was not Doltun's aide.

The robot said, "I am Jeed. It is my pleasure to serve as your new aide."

Gohrlay was surprised that the robot spoke with a strange accent. The only robot that she had ever heard having a problem with language was Nahan, but she pushed the oddness of this robot's voice from her thoughts. Gohrlay's concerns were all centered on herself and the puzzle of how she had gotten to this strange place. She began to examine her mind for new gaps, for memories of memories that might now be missing. For a moment she imagined that she was in a new home and had been assigned a new aide, but the furnishings of the room were not like those of any home she had ever seen. More importantly, Jeed did not look human. Gohrlay thought of all the different human subspecies and the ways in which human facial features and body structure had changed through the ages. Now Gohrlay had begun to doubt her initial assumption that his was a robot. It was almost human, but the angles of joints and proportions of body parts and a hundred other details all seemed to fall outside of the range of human variation. Was this an alien creature? If so, why would it behave like a robotic aide? She asked, "What is going on? Where are we?"

The walls themselves seemed to speak, "I am Many Sails, a spaceship. Welcome aboard." The machine intelligence of the spaceship had the same odd accent as the robot.

"This is a spaceship?" Gohrlay was familiar with the shuttles that carried Observers between Earth and the Moon, but they lacked the luxurious appointments of the room she was in. Gohrlay almost asked about Jeed's alien appearance, but that question slipped from her thoughts. Instead, she asked if she could see outside the spaceship and Jeed took her to the observation deck. She hoped that she might see the Moon or Earth, but Gohrlay could only see stars.

Looking out on the star-littered depths of space, Gohrlay felt very far from the Moon and her home. This spaceship was far grander than those that shuttled Observers to and from Earth. The observation deck was large and curved around the edge of the ship's surface. To reach the observation deck they had walked along corridors which had transparent floors and many of the walls were see-through or designed to display distant parts of the ship or views of space outside the ship. Gohrlay was disoriented both within the ship and with respect to where this spaceship had taken her. None of the visible stars formed into a pattern that she could recognize, but she had not studied astronomy or learned the constellations. She gingerly moved to stand on a part of the floor that was not transparent and placed her hand on the wall that seemed to be the crystal clear hull of the spaceship. Gohrlay tried to ignore the sensation of being sucked out into the vacuum of space and she whispered, "Where are we?"

Jeed explained, "We are on our way to a Huaoshy world."

Gohrlay felt certain that she had never before heard the term "Huaoshy", but she had developed a reflexive tendency to pause and let things rattle around in her thoughts. Sometimes she could catch an echo of a memory that had been stolen from her. Jeed just stood there watching her, not gazing at the stars, seemingly expecting her to accept his cryptic reply as adequate. Again Gohrlay felt that Jeed must be a robot. He behaved like a robot who would only respond to direct questions and direct commands, allowing humans to do most of the talking. She had to ask, "What do you mean 'Huaoshy'?"

Many Sails replied, "Jeed has the bodily form of a Huaoshy. The Huaoshy species built both Jeed and I."

Gohrlay's uncertainty about the nature of Jeed was instantly swept away. He was a machine of alien design, perhaps made to appear similar to the human form, maybe just similar enough to put her at ease. Or were the Huaoshy from an unknown branch of the human evolutionary tree? The spaceship seemed large, but she had seen no other passengers. A spaceship with its own artificial mind. Because of her visits to Earth, Gohrlay was familiar with the experience of being inside a spaceship that had its own consciousness. "There are none of these Huaoshy on this ship?"

Jeed replied, "Oh, no." Already Jeed's accent seemed to be less odd. Gohrlay wondered if Jeed was rapidly learning to imitate human speech or if she was just adapting to his odd accent. Jeed continued, "No, the Huaoshy seldom travel between the just takes too long."

"How long will this trip take?"

Many Sails was aware of Gohrlay's background and the fact that that Gohrlay knew very little about space travel. However, Many Sail knew that Gohrlay's culture included a small group of scientists and that human physicists had actually discovered the fact that time passes more slowly for objects moving close to the speed of light. Hoping that Gohrlay was familiar with that fact, Many Sails replied briefly, "Well, because of time dilation, it will only seem like three years to you."

There were fantasy stories about travel to other star systems, but that was escapist literature for children and she had never developed a taste for it. Gohrlay had never thought about actually traveling to another star, nor had she studied the discoveries that had been made by physicists. Some of the discoveries of human science had percolated into the general knowledge of those who lived on the Moon. That light had a finite speed was well known, but even Observers who traveled to Earth did not need to worry about time dilation and Gohrlay had never heard of the concept. However, Klempse had seemed to take seriously the idea that aliens did exist, even if he could show no evidence to support that hypothesis. She had no idea what "time dilation" meant, but if she was facing a three year long journey, she would have time to find out. She promised herself that she would find out: she never wanted to again be at the mercy of Overseers or Orbho or Huaoshy or anyone who knew more than she did. For the moment she was satisfied with the knowledge that she was far from her home and being taken to an alien world. Her recent study of robotics had convinced her that she was terribly ignorant about science, but the remedy for that would only come with a continuing life-long devotion to learning about the universe. She silently thanked Klempse for opening her mind to the possibility of that kind of devotion.

Gohrlay's immediate concern was the mystery of where she was and she did not want to be distracted by technical details. She was able to return her thoughts to the mystery of how she had been lifted out of her reality and placed inside this ship. She clearly remembered that Doltun had come to her home and taken her to the research complex. Or had she only dreamed that the day of her death had arrived? "I don't mean to sound like I'm complaining, but I was expecting to be dead by now. What's going on?"

Before answering her question, Jeed asked if Gohrlay was hungry. She admitted that she was and they left the observation deck and went to the kitchen. Gohrlay satisfied her physical hunger and they discussed Jeed's cooking and details of life on the spaceship. Gohrlay had learned that the spaceship could generate a synthetic gravity and that unless she objected, during the entire flight she would experience the gravitational force of their destination planet. Gohrlay asked again, "Why am I on this ship? What do the Huaoshy want with me?"

Gohrlay was already growing relaxed in her new surroundings. Jeed and Many Sails had explained that she was the only biological organism on the spaceship. The two machine intelligences were helpful and seemed to have quickly learned to alter their speech to exactly match her way of talking. Strangely, Jeed's alien features seemed to grow stranger each time that Gohrlay looked at him, but he seemed wise and gentle. For Gohrlay, the most disorienting part of waking up in an alien spaceship was that the Huaoshy seemed to enjoy walking around on transparent floors. Jeed had taken note of Gohrlay's fear of heights and now the floor and walls of the kitchen had been adjusted to conventional opacity. Gohrlay sat at a counter, balanced on top of a high but rather conventionally padded stool with the remains of a meal on the counter beside her. The food served to her by Jeed had been odd in appearance and texture, but it tasted fine.

Many Sails tried to explain about the Huaoshy. "The Huaoshy care for refugees from planets like Earth."

Gohrlay was quite baffled by the idea that she was a refugee. The human population of the Moon was occasionally refreshed by bringing up new people from Earth. Sometimes when a group of earthlings was threatened by a natural disaster they were evacuated to the Moon. That was part of the normal process by which the genes of Observers were kept aligned with those of humans on Earth. Before Gohrlay could ask why she was being treated as a refugee, Jeed spoke.

Jeed had access to all of Anagro's memories and could estimate where Gohrlay's memories would have trailed off after she had been rendered unconscious inside the brain scanner. It was expected that there be some retrograde amnesia. He began the task of filling in the gaps in her memory. "Anagro did not want to let you die. In fact, his advice was that once you were here you be given back all of your memories."

Gohrlay had been carefully exploring the ragged edges of her memories and testing for new hollow spaces where something had been removed. For a moment she had the sensation that she had been through all of this before, that she had awoken here and that she has gone to pieces, unable to adapt to the strangeness of it all. Had her previous memories of being in this spaceship been removed? Was she now living through all this a second time? Were Jeed and Many Sails free to put her through this many times, again and again until she adapted successfully to her plight? But now Jeed was offering to return all of her lost memories. She asked, "You can do that?"

"Do you want me to? I must warn you. You will never see any of your friends or family again."

Gohrlay thought of Klempse and the large gaps in her memories where her knowledge of family and friends had once existed. She hated the experience of living while knowing that important parts of her life had been walled off from her conscious mind. She had imagined going through the mind downloading process and had expected some part of her mind to come out on the other side, maybe allowing her to find herself as a new consciousness inside of a positronic robot like Nahan and having Klempse be there to help assemble a new robotic mind...her new mind. She felt a sense of loss for both Klempse and her home on the Moon and wondered if it was wise to recover her lost memories. Why recover memories of people who would never be seen again? As painful as that separation might be, she knew that she had to try to recover every fragment of her past life. "Yes, I'd like to be whole again."

Gohrlay felt her mind shift when all of her memories were again made accessible to her. Slightly dizzy, she closed her eyes, leaned over the counter top and rested her head on her arms. Jeed pushed away her plate and placed a hand on her shoulder. He asked, "Are you in pain?"

She did feel something like pain as she sifted through and quickly reviewed memories of her family and friends and all that she had lost on the Moon. For the first time she felt the full realization of how Anagro had manipulated her and guided her towards agreeing to have her brain destroyed. She suddenly saw the truth of what had happened to herself in the weeks leading up to her planned death and was aware of how she had been guided towards acceptance of her fate. "Why did Anagro put me through all that...and then just send me away?" She did not really want to think about Anagro. For a while she renewed her acquaintance with memories of her family and friends and her eyes overflowed with tears. It was gut twisting to recover her precious memories while knowing that she was being hauled away from home and everything that she had ever known; dragged, by mysterious aliens, and for unknown reasons, towards a far destination.

Jeed waited until Gohrlay lifted her head before speaking. "Do you feel well enough to go through all this?"

Gohrlay stared at Jeed's alien facial features and tried to compose herself. She thought: I'm not going to show more weakness in front of this...thing. "I was dizzy for a moment, but I'm fine. Please tell me what you know. Why did Anagro decide to spare me?"

"Spare you?" Jeed smiled a sly little smile and continued, "Well, as far as Klempse and Doltun know, Observer Gohrlay is dead. However, Anagro would never have actually killed you. He arranged for you to take part in the downloading experiment, but the brain that was destroyed was of no importance. Anagro used an advanced Huaoshy scanner to capture the structure of your brain and feed the data to Klempse."

Gohrlay could not make sense of what Jeed was saying. She mumbled, "What brain was destroyed?"

Jeed waved a hand and the walls came alive with images showing what had happened to Gohrlay. The images were constructed from Anagro's memories. Gohrlay watched herself being taken from the scanner by a robot. Anagro had interrupted the brain scanning process just before Gohrlay's skull had been cut open. Anagro had helped the other robot remove her gown. Someone who looked like herself walked past her unconscious body, put on the gown and laid on the bed of the scanner. The images then followed her own unconscious body as it was carried away by the second robot. Jeed narrated, "That was a clone of you who took your place in the scanner. Its brain is still being destroyed and when the brain scan is complete, its body will be assumed by the roboticists to be your own. That clone grew in parallel with you, but from the beginning its brain was implanted with a robotic mind. The Huaoshy long ago mastered mind transfers, both from machine to animal and from animal to machine."

Gohrlay watched the images that showed how she had been taken through a hatch in the floor and down into a chamber below the research station. There, a strange helmet was placed over her head and her brain was scanned. Jeed continued, "Using the Huaoshy equipment, a brain scan only takes about an hour and it is not destructive." He waved his hand and the display screens went blank. The walls of the kitchen again looked like walls. "The data from your brain scan will be slowly fed to Klempse while the clone's brain is scanned and destroyed. Nobody on the Moon will ever know that you live on...well, nobody but Anagro and his fellow robots. You were put aboard this spaceship and now you can start your new life."

Gohrlay now understood the trick by which Anagro had saved her from having her brain destroyed. Anagro had long planned the entire, it was more than that. Gohrlay realized that Anagro had planned and shaped her entire life, even growing a clone that would take her place after she had served her purpose in his plan. Gohrlay thought back to Klempse's descriptions of nanites and she was certain that Anagro had been able to control the thoughts of everyone on the Moon. "But why bother with all the charades? Why put me through all this if you are experts in brain scans and mind transfers? What was the purpose of the downloading experiment?"

"The Huaoshy have never explored positronic robotics. Anagro decided to allow you humans to dabble in that unusual technology. Unfortunately, the whole positronic brain project stalled out when no human would volunteer to have their brain destroyed."

"If he had come to me and told me that my brain could be scanned without destroying it-"

The robot surprised Gohrlay by interrupting, "The important thing was to provide the human scientists with the results of a brain scan without them questioning how it was obtained." Jeed was trying to get Gohrlay to realize that Anagro was forced to treat the humans on the Moon in the same way that Observers from the Moon were forced to treat earthlings. "Anagro could not reveal the existence of the Huaoshy and Huaoshy technology. It was necessary that you act out your role as a volunteer who would be subjected to the primitive human brain scanning technology."

Gohrlay began to understand Anagro's mysterious motivations. She mumbled, "Anagro is not allowed to explain anything to humans..." Gohrlay looked at Jeed and for the first time began to understand just what the Huaoshy were.

Jeed nodded. "But all of that is now behind you. With time you will appreciate this new life that you have been given. You can now learn about the Huaoshy civilization and when you reach your new world you will...well, we can only guess. It will be for you to build your new life. However, I can tell you this: there are other humans on the world where you will live out the second part of your life."

A strange thought came to Gohrlay's mind. "I once read a fantasy called The Last Gardener. Did the Hoya...are what you call the 'Huaoshy' the 'Hoya'?"

Many Sails replied, "No, the legend of 'gardeners' is entirely mythical, as are the Hoya. The Huaoshy are a distinct biological species that evolved on a distant world. However, when an old group of Overseers is replaced by a new one, it is traditional to offer the old Overseers a chance to merge into Huaoshy civilization."

For a moment Gohrlay imagined the Huaoshy as the real power behind Anagro, Jeed, the spaceship Many Sails (in her mind it was Manisales, only a meaningless name) and she guessed that the Huaoshy were the long-sought explanation for how some humans had reached the Moon. However, the nanites were still in her brain and they did not allow her to think too deeply about what the Huaoshy had done to humans. "So those old branches of humanity still exist? And what of my own subspecies? Are there others like me...out here?"

Jeed could now see that Gohrlay was adapting well to the recovery of her lost memories and her attainment of an understanding of how she had come to be aboard Many Sails. He removed his steadying hand from her shoulder and set about cleaning the kitchen. While clearing away Gohrlay's plate and cup he replied, "Of course. The Huaoshy are collectors, although I must warn you...your species tends to make use of genetic engineering if given the chance. We are going to a world where there are many artificially engineered variants of humanity."

Gohrlay wondered if Jeed had been given the form of some engineered human subspecies. Was "Huaoshy" a name for a human variant? The nanites inside her brain sensed that the idea of a human origin of the Huaoshy gave comfort to Gohrlay. The nanites allowed her to put some stock in that idea and pushed her away from further speculation about the true nature of the Huaoshy. She said, "Well, I'm a modified version of the Neanderthals, although I now see that it was Anagro and his fellow robots who designed me and selected my genes. I'm not sure why that was never clear to me before now."

Many Sails explained, "It was clear to you on a mostly unconscious level. You were an Observer. You had an important function and were not allowed to be distracted by concerns about your origins. You'll be free now to learn many things that were previously kept obscured."

Jeed had completed tidying the kitchen and he sat on the stool next to Gohrlay's. "With time you will understand that Anagro was concerned for you and that he protected you from harm."

A rage began to build in Gohrlay. She was pierced by outrage for all of the deceptions that had been inflicted on her. Anagro was concerned? Then the nanites diverted all of her emotional energy towards curiosity and an urge to now make up for the ignorance of her earlier life. "Okay...I want to know everything, about my past, about the Huaoshy and about this ship. First, how do I know that you are not, even now, still using nanites to edit my thoughts? Do you expect me to-" But even while Gohrlay vowed to herself to learn everything and never again forget anything, the nanites in her brain relentlessly worked to make her forget about their existence. Gohrlay slumped into unconsciousness and Jeed caught her as she fell off her stool.

Many Sails now switched to using Standard Intergalactic. "Did you find it?"

Jeed carried Gohrlay out of the kitchen and towards her cabin. "Yes. I think we got down to the bottom layer. Her resentments about nanites were written over by Anagro's nanite several times. Some of them were stuck in a strange memory editing loop."

Many Sails commented, "Anagro is playing with fire by allowing the human scientists to be aware of nanites."

Jeed acknowledged the unusual nature of Anagro's little research project. "He finds their resentment over nanites a useful source of motivation for research into positronics. Few things motivate these humans better than resentment. In any case, Gohrlay's knowledge of nanites can no longer serve a useful purpose."

"How much must be suppressed?"

"Never doubt! When I'm done her awareness of nanites will be gone, but her other memories will remain."

"Sometimes I think you enjoy stealing memories." For a moment the ship was silent as Jeed carried Gohrlay back into her cabin. Many Sails continued, "It appeared that you were correct about her reaction to the Huaoshy body form."

"Yes, she has done a significant amount of thinking about alien life forms. Actually, it is mostly driven by her unconscious. By slowly morphing my appearance from Human to Huaoshy, I can manage her fear reaction."

"Will you be able to reveal your true features to her?"

"Well, it might take time, but assuming that we have now located all of her memories of nanites, it will be useful to transfer her resentments to the Huaoshy. I do not mind making myself the target of her emotional reactions." Jeed gently covered Gohrlay with a blanket.

Many Sails complained, "I hate being used for this kind of brain washing exercise."

Jeed commanded the lights in Gohrlay's cabin to lower and he stepped into the corridor. "When she wakes up she will be full of questions and fear of me. I suggest that you direct her towards video archives of the more advanced human cultures that have grown under Huaoshy influence. Get her intellectually engaged with that and you will make it easier for me to guide her to acceptance of alien forms." The kitchen was clean and until Gohrlay awoke there was nothing for Jeed to do. He adjusted his appearance back to a near replica of the human form, so as not to shock Gohrlay the next time she awoke. He remained there, waiting outside the door to Gohrlay's cabin, monitoring the work of the nanites in Gohrlay's brain.

In much the same way that two people would be aware of each others activities, Jeed was aware when Many Sails was engaged in obtaining data from an external source. Since being called upon by Anagro to simulate the internal environment of a spaceship, Many Sails had also been examining the recent activities of Anagro and everyone at the underground base on the Moon. Jeed noticed that the flood of data feeding into Many Sails came to an end. Of course, there would be a requirement for processing time before Many Sails would be able to provide a detailed account of the background events leading to Gohrlay's simulated death. Jeed had been centering his more limited data analysis capability on the available information about human brains and their memory storage mechanisms, but he now began to double check the calculations by which Many Sails had decided that Jeed should adopt a human male appearance while interacting with Gohrlay. He commented, "I see that Anagro is preparing to shift over to using opposite sex orbho pairings."


Many Sails commented, "The Neanderthals have always needed encouragement to keep their city populated, but the now dominant human subspecies has the opposite problem. The Neanderthals fell off the Kezetz cliff."

Jeed examined the Kezetz plot for the human species. A fundamental part of genetically engineering any species destined to merge into intergalactic civilization was assuring that with increasing exposure to advanced technologies there would be a corresponding reduction in aggression and violent behavior. The problem came in fine-tuning the position of the cliff along the technology axis. The Neanderthals had fallen off of the cliff too soon and were being out-competed by another human subspecies. "I see that Anagro has been frustrated by the low interest of Neanderthals in scientific thought."

Many Sails explained, "Yes, and Anagro has rushed to replace the Neanderthals. Rushed so fast that there are significant uncertainties in how the newly ascendant human subspecies will adapt to the Observer role."

Jeed noted, "There is yet time to make adjustments." He referred to the fact that humans were not scheduled to become a space-faring species for at least another million Earth years.

"True, but that fact does not make it any easier to watch the peaceful Neanderthals being swept from the stage."

Jeed checked the demographics database and saw that only a small number of Neanderthal natives remained on Earth. For his own purposes, Anagro had made Gohrlay a throw-back: she had the Neanderthal brain pattern in the body of a the other human subspecies that was now dominant on Earth. If all went well, Gohrlay would adjust to her new reality and win her ticket off of Earth. If so, she would be free to join one of several off-Earth colonies of Neanderthal. She might well end up being that last Neanderthal to escape from Earth.

Jeed was disturbed by a pattern in the human Kezetz plot. "These other humans who are replacing the Neanderthals seem to have the opposite problem." While the Neanderthals had naturally swung towards and then fallen off the Kezetz cliff, the human subspecies that was now spreading to all corners of Earth's land masses showed a tendency towards increasingly brutal behavioral tendencies."

Many Sails had also noticed that data trend. "It looks like Anagro will have his hands full. This new strain of humans will have no problem taking command of their world." And of course, that was Anagro's current concern. And there would be plenty of time later to push these new human over the Kezetz cliff. Yes. There was no reason to think otherwise. There was only the puzzle the surprisingly divergent behavioral properties of the brains of these two human subspecies. Well, if brains were well known for their surprising emergent properties; that was why the Huaoshy routinely planed on spending about ten million years to shape a new species into their own image.


Continue to Vortex • - • - • note to authors: underlines indicate heavy construction

Chapters: Design SpaceGohrlay's Diary0Vortex0.00712345678910111213141516171819

Appendices: State of the PlanetThe Last GardenerSkydisk Cult

Other pages: Cover pageTable of ContentsCharactersGlossaryThe entire novel on one pageMain talk page for discussing the story

For authors (warning: plot details!): MetaTimelineDetailed character infoDetailed outlineDisclaimer

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