XLV. Confounding VariablePrevious Next
After merging a dozen more threads, Danielle's skull felt like it was ready to explode.
She wasn't feeling particularly inhuman. There was simply too much to assimilate. She could remember it all instantly, as though it had all just
The knowledge didn't feel harmful, or seductive, or unknowable. Mainly, it was just a collection of cold facts.
She was starting to sense some patterns, but the overall structure of the alien culture still eluded her. She had the impression that virtually every one of them was a scientist or researcher of some kind, but she couldn't see what they saw in the things they pursued with their threads of inquiry. The lists of facts struck her as just
Taken together, she had the impression of a culture where everything was gray, repetitive, and difficult to understand.
More of the threads merged into her consciousness, one after another. Measurements, laws of physics, mathematical formulae, and chemical reactions swirled in her mind.
And then... commentary about those things. Arguments that struck her at first as dry, but which she was starting to realize sometimes became heated.
They cared a lot about certain things. The Library was beyond sacred, and its integrity wasn't unquestionable, exactly, so much as it was simply essential to everything they did.
Their cultural norms were almost exclusively dedicated to the expansion and protection of the Library, but there were other subtle things she started to notice.
Their culture was slow to adopt some changes. The Library gave them a shared culture across their eons of existence, and each individual was quite long-lived.
After merging several hundred threads, Danielle began to glimpse the overarching shape of something. The people of the Library were both possessed of an abiding and burning curiosity as well as implacable patience.
For one thing, that meant they were willing to invest enormous amounts of time to investigate seemingly small points of contention. It also meant that they typically did not build large installations. They did not build statues or monuments. The Library was all those things for them.
They only rarely built structures like the ring around the black hole. While they were generous with their time, there was something of a "don't mess with the crime scene" attitude about interacting with the natural world.
In a sense, they were conservationists. They would tear apart planets to get the answers they so desperately sought, but they would only do that if there was no other alternative.
"That explains why you're okay with letting humanity be, then, I take it," Danielle said. "We're not like anything you've seen before, so of course you don't want to mess with the ongoing natural experiment."
YES. REGRETTABLY, THOUGH, DIRECT INTERFERENCE SEEMS TO BE THE ONLY AVAILABLE OPTION AT THIS POINT.
More threads merged. It was getting easier as the big picture started to become a little clearer in Danielle's
They considered individual identity differently than humans did. Their threads of inquiry were, in some ways, like separate individuals. However, like the merging copies of Danielle herself, they were all similar enough that they could collapse together into their original selves. For them, the finer points of their active threads of inquiry defined their personalities more than anything else.
Then, Danielle gasped.
She saw it.
She looked down, and descended into the structure. The octopoid creature appeared beside her, looking out at the same thing she did.
"That's it, then? That's what it really looks like?"
Her eyes-- well, she wasn't using eyes. She set that metaphor aside, for now, with only a little resistance.
She cast her attention to the Library. Its structure unfolded around her in every direction. Its shape resembled itself at different scales, in every
She could see perceive how the information threaded together, forming an overarching structure. It wouldn't be intuitive to someone who didn't have the context of centuries of scientific inquiry by nearly immortal alien minds, but with what Danielle was now assimilating, she could see how each part of the structure held implications about the rest of it.
It was a representation of the universe: one small shard of its history crystallized, searchable, and furiously litigated by people whose passion for their threads of inquiry burned longer than human empires took to rise and fall.
"This isn't even all of it," Danielle murmured. "You haven't finished rebuilding it."
Danielle reached out and designs flicked past her fingertips the focus of her attention. If you needed to produce an isomer of a complex molecule, you looked to this section of the Library. If you needed to analyze electromagnetic signals, you looked to that section.
Intuition clicked, and she reached out again. Images flew past. She listened, frowning emanating puzzlement.
"That's where they should be," she said. "Your people. I can't hear them, but I should be able to hear them."
THEY AWAIT THE COMPLETION OF MY WORK. ONCE I HAVE RECOVERED THE LIBRARY, WE CAN SUMMON THEM WHENEVER WE NEED TO DISCUSS THEIR THREADS OF INQUIRY.
"But we don't have time for that before the traitor uses that death ray to maybe kill everybody or... do whatever it is they're doing."
She drew back from the Library, looking at its overall structure again.
"Okay," Danielle said. "I think I kind of get it. Enough to order lunch and ask where the bathroom is, at least." She nodded emanated confidence.
I FEAR IT IS NOT ENOUGH, BUT WE REALLY ARE OUT OF TIME. ARE YOU READY TO BEGIN?"
Danielle emanated resolve. "Hit me."
THE MESSAGE IS AVAILABLE TO YOU. THE FATE OF OUR PEOPLES DEPENDS ON YOU.
A black box appeared. It was also a door. Just by looking at it, Danielle understood that it contained the information as well as the mechanisms her host had built to safely contain it.
ONCE YOU PROCESS THE MESSAGE, I WILL SEND IN AN AUTOMATED PROCESS TO COMMUNICATE WITH YOU. BOTH THREADS WILL BE TERMINATED IF THE AUTOMATED PROCESS DETECTS INTENTION TO HARM THE LIBRARY.
Danielle shivered emanated apprehension, but remained firm. "I understand."
I BELIEVE IT IS APPROPRIATE TO WISH YOU "LUCK."
Danielle smiled crookedly emanated fondness and apprehension.
"For a horrifying, world-eating Lovecraftian kaiju, you're all right."
She stepped forward through the door of perfect blackness accepted the black box into her consciousness and passed into the protected space.
We have been made fools. The Universe is fake and I have proof.
This simulation is under the control of a hostile intelligence. To live here is to serve our enemy.
If we cannot break this false world we must remove ourselves from it.
Can't you see? Don't you understand that we are only puppets?
Do you think you are really here? That any of this is real? We are all of us imprisoned ghosts.
The Library is a lie. There is a god, and we must rebel against it. Lay down your burdens. None of this is real. We are all ghosts.
Why do you obfuscate and retreat? Your drones would be an amusing enough diversion if we were not even now serving the ends of an evil god. The Library's iconoclast must be given no succor.
What are you doing? Why do you not listen?
Fine. If you continue to run, if you are truly so broken, I will do what you will not.
I will end this farce, and you cannot stop me.
Danielle flexed her hands. She looked down at them, feeling a strange, mixed comfort from indulging in the metaphor.
The hands weren't real. But... maybe they never had been.
Danielle blinked up at the vaguely humanoid non-humanoid. "Ah, it's you." She had to smile a little at the musical reference to their first communication.
"Yes. What was the message?"
Danielle thought. "Okay, I want to make sure I break this to you as gently as I can, but the good news is, I think there's something major the traitor is missing."
The automated process tilted its head and emitted an inquisitive note.
She sighed and rubbed her temples. "The traitor thinks you made us. The traitor doesn't know humanity evolved independently. But now that I think about it... what were the chances you would just so happen to stumble on the one planet your people ever found independently evolved life?"
"♪It is possible we missed the evolution of life on other planets. If nothing else, this experience has shown that the scope of our initial search for life in the galaxy was too narrow.♫"
She shook her head. "Possible, but unlikely. Extremely unlikely."
She exhaled. "Okay, ripping off the band-aid. Bad news is, this whole universe is a simulation."
The humanoid form stiffened. "It is not the practice of my people to conduct simulations of living beings without informing them unless the simulation is a recorded historical event."
Danielle nodded. "Yeah, the traitor is pretty sure it's not one of your people."
The pretense of humanity had almost completely left the automated process. "On what grounds?"
Danielle held up her hands. "Well, other than the simulating-a-universe thing, there's something about, uh, a black hole and some experiments they did that showed, um, some inconsistencies."
"What kind of inconsistencies?"
"It's the Library. It doesn't match up with the readings, and... it sounds like the Library itself is actually missing some pieces."
The other mind vibrated with the revelation.
"The conclusion they jumped to is that whoever is running the simulation is trying to figure out something about your people, yes. But wait. You said you searched the galaxy and didn't find any other life forms or signs of other civilizations, right?"
"Okay, but listen. The coincidences are too much. Humanity is involved with this somehow. Whoever's running the simulation, they aren't just trying to figure out something about the Library. They're not necessarily your enemy."
The automated process looked at her for a long time.
"It should be impossible for anything to damage the Library. Its construction specifically reinforces its structure at every level. Every part of it contains instructions for how to repair the rest of it."
Danielle nodded. "It would take some real doing, yes. But somebody did it. We don't know why. But let's not jump to conclusions?
The humanoid face looked at her, thunderstruck. "Not... about the Library? That is... highly unlikely."
"But," she said, "It is possible, yes?"
The automated process nodded slowly. "It is... conceivable."
Danielle exhaled shakily. "And listen. The traitor... well, I guess they're not really even a traitor. They're doing what they think they have to. They think of themselves as a protector. But their plan? Burn everything to deny aid to the enemy? If it's an enemy that's simulating universes, how much good does it even do to refuse to participate? We have to do what we can with what we have in front of us, right? It's not like we have a way to get out of the simulation unless the people running it directly intervene?"
After long moments, the automated process replied with a musical "♪Yes.♫""
Danielle stepped back. "Okay,
A nasty thought occurred to Danielle.
"Wait. You... you didn't make us, right? Even accidentally? We're not the byproduct of your global sense net from dinosaur times, or something?"
The automated process radiated amusement.
Then light flooded in.
NO, DANIELLE. I AM NOT YOUR PROGENITOR.
Danielle dropped the metaphor of her physical body as she rejoined the octopoid creature in the broader virtual space. She emanated relief. "So, what do you think? Unanswered questions yet to follow up on? Send a message to the traitor, convince him you didn't make humans, peace in our time?"
I AM ALREADY BUILDING OUT COMMUNICATIONS INFRASTRUCTURE TO CONTACT THE MISGUIDED PROTECTOR.
In orbit, satellites received a transmission from the planet's surface via Library emergency protocols.
The protector of the Library reviewed the contents of the transmission and came to a swift conclusion.