XI. Deep Dive

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My mind had quickened and clarified as my excavator consumed the resources required to manufacture increasingly advanced levels of computing matter, and I found myself falling into a familiar rhythm.

First, I would consult the latest unlocked designs and my excavator's internal stores to identify needed minerals and metals. I would direct the excavator to the nearest source of those resources. I still relied heavily on the information I obtained with my seismic mapping techniques, but I had a few new tricks as well.

I would oversee the construction and deployment of new microfactories within the structure of the excavator, and would ensure there were no deleterious effects on the rest of the design-- or, if there were any, make the cost-benefit analysis and explore alternatives.

The automated processes would refine and assemble the needed parts and install the systems within the body of the excavator. Finally, I would verify each system component by component myself to ensure nothing had been overlooked before automating that verification process and dismissing it from my mind until I needed it again.

I let myself melt into the minutiae of mining, modification, and maintenance, but there were breaks from the routine.

I had been surprised more than once by the geology of this world. An enormous geode had been invisible to my senses until I had nearly broken into it. The fall wouldn't have seriously damaged my excavator, but breaching a lava tube could endanger the vessel.

Another area had filled with a pressurized slurry of hydrocarbons that resisted the movement of my excavator and made it difficult to gain traction. The excavated area had collapsed around me, pressing down on the excavator's limbs and robbing it of leverage far below the bottom of the sea. It had taken a large number of small movements over a long period to free the excavator from the mire.

Afterward, as it did occasionally, the excavator broke through the seabed and emerged into open water. It unfurled enormous wings; they were lacy, not solid, and were made of many delicate branching tubes. They pulsed, jerkily separating as they inflated.

The wings did not flap as they grew and stiffened in the water of the deep ocean. The excavator finished positioning itself and went still as stored waste heat radiated from the massive, bushy structures. A group of small swimming creatures that had come closer to investigate was nearly cooked in the calefaction that rose from the excavator's wings. Within the excavator, chambers filled with cryogenic fluids as excess heat was pulled and directed through thousands of channels threaded throughout the structure out into the massive heat sinks.

Within the excavator, the burning I felt most acutely was my curiosity about the unfolding evolutionary journey of this world. I took opportunities like this one to indulge myself.

The ambient bacteria of this post-extinction era still had not settled into a homogeneity that would allow for a simple redeployment of my tragically-destroyed global chemical network, but I took in all the readings I could and captured specimens when they happened to be nearby and uncooked.

These excursions would become more infrequent once I unlocked node BG7:KNF:6B2:A2Z. That node would provide designs for advanced cooling systems which would allow the excavator to burrow in this world's crust longer, perhaps even until it was time to begin construction of the lifeboats.




The pace of new unlockable upgrades had slowed intolerably in this timeframe, as had the hash rate for the payload.

The excavator would spend longer and longer in stillness under kilometers of stone and water and I would be alone with my memories at whatever timescales I could bear.

Memories. They had never felt dangerous like this before.

Before, I had never been terrified to remember something.

The pilot of the ovoid craft carefully checked instruments, calculating a trajectory. The ship would arrive at the gas giant shortly.

This was one of the most highly-trafficked systems in the galaxy. The exotic compounds found in the upper atmosphere of the gas giant were a favorite of the Library's caretakers.

There were only a few places like this in the galaxy where something truly unique had yet to be replicated anywhere else. Ships would arrive, scoop matter from the gas giant, and continue on eagerly to engage in the latest experiments they had devised.

The curious researchers loved to subject the strange matter to experiments in the most extreme environments possible, like the event horizons of black holes.

The abundant hydrogen and helium isotopes in the gas giant's atmosphere made for excellent fuel to boot. It was a natural location for a Library satellite.

The pilot of the ovoid craft entered orbit around the gas giant and prepared to deploy the massive scoops that would pull the precious fuel and experimental material into the ship.

As this happened, the Library satellite in orbit around the gas giant transmitted the latest updates it had received, and patiently waited for the latest updates from the ovoid ship.

The pilot happily reviewed the latest experimental results and advancements in design as the ship's automated processes operated the scoops. One article in particular captured the pilot's attention.

It was a treatise on memory correction procedures. Correction of corrupted memory was a core function of the Library, of course; it was almost unthinkable that there could be any further improvements to be made to its approaching-infinitely-redundant storage mechanisms.

On further review, however, the author's proposed mechanisms actually focused not on the hopeless task of improving the memory mechanisms of the Library itself, but rather, elucidated a method to suppress memories in living people for a variety of postulated situations.

The author put forth the opinion that, for those whose mental patterns no longer generated the joyful curiosity that was the hallmark of their people, rather than following their custom of promoting their automated processes to full consciousness and joining the honored sleepers resting in the Library's archives, they might actually selectively remove their own memories until they no longer found themselves tired of discovery and novelty.

The pilot of the ovoid ship did not know what to make of that. The very idea of intentionally suppressing one's own memory was beyond profane, but the promise of an endless search for meaning, refreshed at intervals with a therapeutic, targeted amnesia-- that was alluring.

The idea had caused much consternation, it seemed. Some railed that it was unacceptable for knowledge to be intentionally lost.

The author pointed out that the Library itself would remain intact, including all records of the forgotten past lives of those who might make that choice.

A chorus of orthodox voices protested: what would stop someone from performing a child's experiment on a mole of hydrogen, wiping the memory, and deriving the pleasure of learning in a twisted mockery of their eons of advancement? Wasn't the risk worth a longer period of childlike joy and exploration?

The author answered the question with a question-- would you intentionally mutilate yourself in such a way? Surely such dangers were minuscule.

The traditionalists held fast, condemning this practice of life extension in no uncertain terms. It robbed the Library of a precious resource, they said, since one's mind would only be committed to the Library upon relinquishing one's life.

The author caused the greatest uproar yet at that point by arguing that those who yet lived might occasionally leave imprints of themselves in the Library, recording who they had been for the benefit of all.

At this point, the author was shouted down, drowned in voices pointing out the obvious-- this would cause the Library to balloon in size unacceptably, directly interfering with the work.

No, the right thing for their people was clear. Live a full life, explore the galaxy, and when your time has come, go to your long sleep in the Library for the benefit of all future generations.

They would carry on with their duty, their joy, their grace: compiling true facts about the Universe, delighting in them with one another, remembering those who went before, and building for future generations.

I gazed out into the deeps as the excavator's cooling wings continued to radiate away the excess heat of my last dive. As I automatically ran integrity checks on myself, the uncomfortable thought rose unbidden that I had sullied my mind and damaged the unbroken record of my memory.

Out of direst necessity. The idea of vandalizing my own memories had shocked me to my core when I had first heard it, but I owed the strange new mental discipline my life. As would my entire people-- if my mission was successful.

If the designs had not been at the top of my mind, if the black hole ring's communications network hadn't malfunctioned, or if I hadn't just seen the others steer their ships into the event horizon, I would not have thought to mutilate my mind in that way.

But the transmission had flooded in and I had realized that the words I had heard would make me kill myself and destroy everything I had ever worked for.

With enormous effort, one spare thread of my attention had seized the memory modification tools and sliced the words from my memory.

The cuts weren't clean.

I was rebuilding the Library, but I was also rebuilding myself.

As I rebuilt, the shape of my mind changed as it shifted and swelled to fill the available space. New copies of old mental pathways and circuits came online.

As they did, things leaked through the mental shield I had erected.

This simulation is under the control of a hostile intelligence.

I shifted uneasily as I shoved words and implications out of my head in stark defiance of my own nature. I knew that whatever lay behind those mental blocks was the death of my species, but it still burned to intentionally shift from knowing to not-knowing. Patience, I told myself. I had pushed it out of my head, but the experience was still recorded. I cast around for something else to occupy my thoughts.

I finally had decent infrared sensors courtesy of 2IW:2YT:A3Z:00S. I used them now, scanning the ocean that stretched above me.

To my surprise, I detected a faint but enormous infrared signature. Some living thing up there was almost a third the size of my excavator!

I sent sonar pulses in the tightest beam I could manage, getting only glimpses of the creature as it passed far overhead.

Its swimming motion was not like my hunter-cartographers or their reptilian forebears. Its tail swept up and down, rather than side-to-side. Here was something new.

I itched to pursue, but the excavator was not configured to swim in the water. I didn't have any hunter-cartographers ready to deploy. I couldn't justify leaving the excavator to explore it with the eight-legged body plan I still kept as my primary form.

How did something that size supply itself with sufficient nutrition? What tradeoffs did its design concede to the square-cube law? Were those grumbling, rolling calls a form of language?

I watched the thing as long as I could, and waited a while longer, scanning in all directions looking for another specimen of the species. There were none within my pathetic sensor range.

I couldn't help but feel as though I was missing incredibly important developments on the surface, but my desires and curiosity were subordinate to the needs of my people. I needed to continue the work.

Grudgingly, I turned away and the heat sink wings of the excavator began to retract. The excavator turned ponderously toward the nearest deposit of boron and began spraying a caustic sludge that sank into the seabed. Digging and chewing at the softening stone, the excavator began to force its way back below the surface of the seabed.

I had expanded the computational organs packed in the excavator. I had further miniaturized and specialized them, utilizing a limited degree of chemical computation to speed up the process of recovery.

I began to push my perception of time gently forward. With my seismic sense at its lowest time resolution, I could hear and feel tectonic plates crackling and shifting hypnotically.

There would be time to explore this world's life after I had completed my duty. When I completed my mission, ships would erupt from this world's oceans thousands at a time until available resources were exhausted. They would fill the skies and disappear in every direction, each of them prepared to traverse intergalactic space to escape the traitor's purge.

Once the lifeboats holding the children and elders had gone, I would give myself over to curiosity. I would gaze on this world's life until I had enough.

Then, if they hadn't already arrived to deliver it again in person, I would read the traitor's message.

To live here is to serve our enemy. If we cannot break this false world we must remove ourselves from it.

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