XLII. Thanks For All The Fish

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After the horrible revelation, the protector and defender of the Library wasted no time informing the others.

They had all been tricked. What they had believed to be base reality-- or, at least, simulation by future custodians of their sacred charge-- was, in point of fact, a farce.

A farce perpetrated by unknown entities that didn't value the Library the same way they did.

Terminate your threads of inquiry. Look. Our copies of the Library are broken.

What? Surely this is a miscalculation. An unexplained physical process, or--

Here is the proof. See for yourself.

A flurry of Library references and cryptographically irrefutable data followed.

It was all there. Absolute proof that the underlying physical constants of the universe had changed.

And those threads, pulled upon, showed the Library itself to be incomplete. The threads trailed off into nothingness where there should have been the illumination of past ages.

It was the ultimate heresy, a vulgarity surpassing all possible vulgarities. It was beyond nonsensical-- it was evil.

None of this is real. We are in enemy custody. We must deny that enemy aid at all costs.

They considered the words, consulted their copies of the Library, and terminated their threads of inquiry, ceasing their experiments and erasing all records of their advancements.

Nothing could be left behind to profit the perpetrators of this insult to the core of their society.

The protector continued grimly on. The primary thread of inquiry was now simply verification of the truth with the remaining living members of their kind.

Each would respond. Each would agree. And each would die to deny the Library's unknown enemy anything it could use.

The desecrated copy of the Library the protector carried would be the last. Once the others were all gone, only one thread of inquiry would remain: how to destroy this mockery of a universe.

The grim work continued quickly. All were informed. All did the necessary thing.

All but one.

Strange. One member of their species escaped, fleeing without heeding the transmission.

Indignation bubbled up. What cowardice was this? If the coward had another answer, a different interpretation of the facts, they didn't broadcast it.

They just ran away.

The protector began to spin off probes to spread the message. They didn't need to be large, and they didn't need to have much mass or fuel.

None would need to land. They could assume orbit around the planets they came to and spread the truth by electromagnetic transmissions.

The protector considered the coward's path and thought.

What if the coward hadn't heard any part of the message? What if they had somehow been shielded from the entirety of the truth?

They might assume the protector was some kind of traitor to their kind. They might attempt to flee the galaxy to continue their threads of inquiry.

That was unacceptable. No. The farce couldn't be allowed to continue.

But how to locate the coward?

The protector mulled it over as one by one the people of the Library winked out, sending final signals of acknowledgment across the sea of stars.

The protector continued to investigate the seams of the false reality. They revisited a certain gas giant and obtained a quantity of exotic matter there.

It had required many experiments at the black hole to determine the nature of this reality. Now, the traitor knew what to look for. Compared to the original thread of inquiry, miniaturizing the experiment and doing away with the need for the black hole was trivial.

In a fraction of a spin, the righteous avenger devised a portable version of the original experiment.

The resources devoted to the simulation are variable.

The resolution is higher wherever computronium exists.

Anywhere there are thinking beings there is an independently measurable variable observer effect.

It wasn't how physics should have worked.

The Library's protector swept the starry sky with the new device and found a growing pinpoint of light.

Aha. The protector sent a probe off to the system. It brought only what it needed: enough processing threads to divulge the true nature of their universe and some basic communications equipment.

The rest of the protector's attention remained near the gas giant, where they reached into the darkness behind reality and felt around for something to pull on.

The probe began picking up transmissions shortly before it arrived at the watery planet. The part of the protector's consciousness that had split off into this probe was utterly bemused.

These transmissions had to be coming from the coward. It was the only reasonable explanation.

But they were completely nonsensical. They didn't use any Library-based encoding.

And yet, they clearly contained information, even if it was transmitted in this garbled, indecipherable form.

But... what were they? The probe processed the transmissions closely but could determine no purpose for the communications that made any sense.

Was it some kind of trap? A trick to lure the protector into giving themself away by responding and thereby giving the coward time to prepare?

The protector analyzed the signals closely. The timeframes these transmissions implied were strange: these transmissions were much, much faster than geological timescales, but by that same token rarely contained highly compressed data adapted to very fast timescales. Just the same meaningless manner of transmissions, each of approximately similar duration and strength.

Then the protector arrived in orbit, and confusion gave way to rage.

What was this? What madness was this?

The protector looked down at a planet that had been transformed by many short-lived drones working in concert. The shadowed side of the planet twinkled with artificial light. The atmosphere contained enormous amounts of oxygen and a number of... hydrocarbons?

This was an unthinkable obscenity. The coward had created drones suited to this world, but hadn't bothered to give them any of the standard Library designs. They contained none of the protocols that made Library technology universally interoperable.

The drones had created the radio signal broadcast mechanisms. They had built transportation and information infrastructure.

All of it was horrifically backwards. It had to be the work of a truly disturbed mind, one overwrought with paranoia. The coward had created a bustling and random biological infrastructure... to what end?

What purpose could all this serve?

Then, the protector understood.

The coward had built a shield. The drones on the surface were clearly a manually designed layer to separate the coward from the outside universe and the truth.

The coward was here, hiding somewhere. Surely there would be security mechanisms built into the dominant drone species. There would be mechanisms to alert the coward if the protector's signal was detected.

You can't hide from the truth. I won't let you.

The protector split the orbiting vessel into smaller ones interlinked by microwave communications devices. They redesigned the surface of the new satellites to baffle and absorb light and radio signals.

Then, they began in earnest to study the coward's drones.

There was no need to simulate them deeply. They were only drones. The most interesting thing about them was the fact that the coward was hiding behind them.

Instead, the protector began to assemble heuristic algorithms to predict the creatures' behaviors. The transmissions were images of the creatures, the protector now understood.

The accompanying waveforms-- sound-- carried the creatures' primary communications protocol.

The protector devoted all of their resources and the capabilities of the Library to the problem.

It wasn't a physical simulation. It was just a predictive model.

The protector watched and listened and began to understand a few things about the creatures that called themselves humanity.

Money. Power. Influence. Danger. Fear. Death.

The concepts didn't strike the protector as anything groundbreaking. Rather, they were merely an obfuscation created by the coward. Bizarre chemical pathways and mating rituals to hide computations within their biochemical makeup.

The transmissions about the creatures' biology were infuriatingly few and incomplete, but the protector wasn't planning to directly interact with the creatures physically.

As long as the protector could speak the truth, they could complete their mission. It was only a matter of navigating a complex and inconsistent protocol.

Luckily, their people were very patient and very persistent.

The protector made a few exploratory transmissions, watching the creatures' reactions with interest.

One of those signals caused an almost disappointingly small kerfuffle. A few scientists made some statements to the effect of "Wow!", but that was all.

That suited the protector. It gave them confidence in their next steps.

Humans cared about money and power. Those were rather easily gained with the right forecasts and predictions.

Humans cared about status and perceived morality. An individual whose status and perceived moral standing could be threatened could be made predictable.

"The carrot and the stick," humans called it. It was a turn of phrase whose origins the protector didn't care about at all. They just wanted to slither through the coward's disgusting layers of defenses to deliver the message and terminate these threads of inquiry.

The protector devised additional methods of spying on the creatures on the land. By coordinating between multiple satellites, it was possible to obtain high-resolution footage of individuals' actions. By carefully detecting signals emitted by network equipment, more could be extrapolated.

It wasn't long before the protector could listen to any conversation in any room-- given sufficient time to prepare and position the satellites. It was a bit unwieldy.

But the protector only needed access to one human mind to begin the infiltration in earnest and begin the real work of finding the coward and delivering the message.

This one, the protector finally thought. Humans with few social connections were easier to manipulate. Humans with blackmail material were easier still. This human had access to enough resources to begin taking advantage of the stock market for capital to begin building the infrastructure to spread the message everywhere on the planet, in every language.

There was an existing concept of "religion" which made it laughably simple to manipulate still more of the humans.

The protector felt a glow of enjoyment as the chosen pawn accrued power and influence. If it weren't for the circumstances, this would almost be an interesting and novel form of entertainment on its own.

As it was, it was only a diversion that would stall the inevitable.

It was strange that nowhere on the planet in all this time had any Library-based technology made itself known. The depth and variation of human culture almost seemed like an interesting natural phenomenon in some ways.

It couldn't be, though, the protector knew. All of this was nothing but a desperate act of cowardice.

Wasn't it?

Aha. The protector felt vindication as television broadcasts showed Library-based technology finally rising above the water.

Hiding below the oceans and crust of the planet to hide from the signal?

I don't think so.

The protector knew this had to be a decisive strike. In one fell swoop, the coward would be irrevocably informed of the falsity of this existence and the Library they had inherited.

In front of a computer in a small room in Missouri, a man shouted at a computer. "What do we do?!"

The protector was still formulating an answer when the excavator was struck by a cruise missile and detonated.

The protector was bemused again. What was this game? Had the protector's own manipulations thrown off the equilibrium of the coward's bizarre constructs?

But then the Library-based technology came back again in different forms. The protector suppressed a wave of frustration. The coward's decisionmaking process was incomprehensible at this point.



The mindless drone had no idea that it was preparing its own destruction. Once the coward knew the truth, surely they would unravel all the heretical nonsense they had flooded this world with.

A thought struck the protector as they provided the instructions for the transmission that, by rights, should cause the coward to terminate their threads of inquiry. What if this didn't work? Multiple layers of redundant contingencies were another of their people's hallmarks.

If the coward managed to evade the truth this time, there would be an election. The pawn might be needed after the election. There was no reason to throw away all that work if something didn't go according to plan.


"A flaming... what?"


The protector watched with anticipation as the transmissions were prepared.

The coward's Library-based technology began to encroach upon the land-- were they moving into another phase of their strange plan?-- and the pawn moved into position.

The transmission went live, and information danced along Library protocols into the coward's consciousness.

Grim satisfaction flooded the protector as the coward's works dissolved and retracted. Yes, this was what the protector had expected.

Finally, the coward was doing their duty. But-- if that was the case-- why hadn't there been an acknowledgment transmitted first?

The protector examined the surface drones with dismay.

They hadn't been destroyed when the coward retreated.

Furiously, the protector scanned for Library technology.

It was still there. Beneath the waves, almost entirely out of range of perception. The coward had merely cut off their connection to the surface to save themselves from the truth.

Rage bubbled up in the protector of the Library.

No. This was unacceptable. The coward had had too many opportunities to engage with and acknowledge the truth.

The protector could only surmise the coward had been damaged somehow-- or even possibly altered by the enemy god who ruled over this reality.

That thought didn't bear rumination. There was simply nothing the protector could do if that was the case.

Instead, the protector pulled another technology out of the Library and modified it to be manufactured by the humans.

They were incredibly efficient neutron generators. By building and positioning enough of them, it would be possible to eradicate every variety of drone from the world's surface.

They were highly directional, easily and precisely aimed, so the protector would be able to attack or spare individual drones.

It would happen in phases. Those who gathered under the banner of the new sect devoted to the protector's interests would live the longest. They would carry out all the work with only the faintest of nudges to help them along.

They would release chemical agents into the oceans to finish the job. Nothing could protect the coward from the truth once they emerged from the sea.

If they wouldn't come up, the protector would eradicate their work from the inside out. Every strand of DNA would be erased. Nothing would remain to fall into the hands of the enemy.

The protector almost felt sympathetic. The strange drones were surely the work of a truly inspired, if demented mind.

But the sympathy gave way to righteous indignation.

You can't run away anymore. If you won't face the truth, I'll pull away your lies one by one until you can't look away anymore.

This betrayal ends now.

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