L. Accelerando

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"The protector is still opening more wormholes," Danielle said, tracing the bursts of energy from the satellites above as well as new energy signatures flaring in the sky around the solar system.

The protector was sending more probes through the wormholes into the solar system, and they were continuing to open new wormholes at an accelerating rate. Each new one was bigger than the last ones.

Within minutes, the sun would be no more. Life as it had existed on Earth would end.

That much was manageable. "Danielle Dahl, we need to take what we can and evacuate this system."

She emanated hopelessness and rage. "That bastard is really going to just..."

She flexed her hands, looking at them, grounding herself in her humanity for a moment as threads coalesced.

She shook her head. "Evacuating the system isn't going to be enough. Anywhere we go, he'll follow."

I emanated pride and confidence at her. "As long as we're alive, there's hope for our two peoples. Will you begin evacuation?"

Her face creased with distaste, but she emanated resolution at me. "Yeah. Urgh, no matter how many times I do it, I will never get used to it."

"Work quickly," I said. "I'll prepare the vessels."

She acknowledged and left to oversee the harvest.

I turned my attention to the partially-recovered Library and began improvising a design for the vehicles that would evacuate the planet.




Shyamala continued listening as she typed.

"All right. So you, the admiral, and the other humans who've been able to figure out how to deal with the simulated reality have been coordinating with the alien who got here first. The alien who got here and puppeteered Peters is in the process of wrecking the solar system, and you need to evacuate everybody into the simulated reality, load them up onto escape vessels, and get out of dodge before we get pulled into the black hole."

Danielle blinked. "Uh, yes. That's about the shape of it." She shifted uncomfortably. "I'll have to bring you in in a few minutes. It's, uh, messy, and I really hate doing it, but--"

"Yeah, I don't want that." Shyamala stopped typing and looked at her hands.

Danielle shrugged. "We don't have any other options."

Shyamala nodded. "I know. I'm ready. Take me in."




Sarah came screaming out of a tunnel of multicolored light into a comfortable, unassuming diner.

"What in the nine hells was that?!" She looked around wildly for Jason, Dave, or Adam, but didn't see any of them.

She did see a distinguished older gentleman wearing a military uniform.

"Ms. Landsburg, it's a pleasure to finally meet you. It's a pity it's under these circumstances."

She stood up from the table she was inexplicably sitting at, stumbling backwards and turning in every direction.

"I was... we were..."

The admiral gestured to the table. "Let's discuss it over pie and coffee. I believe your crew will be here shortly."




They had just sat together, talking about everything and nothing, petting Alan, crying, and conspicuously tiptoeing around the questions Agatha didn't want to ask and Danielle didn't have the time or energy to explain.

"I kept wanting to wake up," Agatha said. "It-- it--"

"Shh," Danielle said, hugging her wife and stroking her hair. "I'm here, I'm back. Everything's going to be okay now."

Agatha sat back, looking at Danielle and shaking her head a little. She hiccuped. "Everything's okay as long as you're here. I'm not letting you go anywhere ever again. Gosh, when Gianna finds out you're back-- oh, God, we have to call your parents."

Danielle smiled a little. "My parents are good. They're pretty surprised too, heh."

Agatha blinked at that. "You... already saw them?"

Danielle's smile froze. "Well, I actually came here first. It's... I promise I'll explain all of it, but just so you know, my parents are fine."

Agatha shook her head. "You keep saying weird stuff like that and looking off into the distance-- are you... are you absolutely sure you're all right?"

"Better than all right now I'm here." Danielle kissed Agatha again.

"So much has happened, I don't know what could possibly happen next," Agatha said. "At this rate the President is going to announce everybody's gotta move to Mars or something."

Danielle rubbed her face. "He's not going to be doing anything soon, actually. And good damn riddance."

Agatha blinked. "Wait, something happened to the President? I haven't been watching the news but I think I'd have heard something."

Danielle jumped to her feet suddenly. Her mouth worked.

"Danielle? What is it?" Agatha got up, alarmed at the look on Danielle's face.

"He's... the whole system? It's all gonna..."

Emotions played over Danielle's face. Anger, despair, disgust, and finally resolution.

"What are you talking about? Who? What's going on?"

Danielle turned to Agatha. "Sweetie, I'm-- gosh, I'm so sorry about this. Listen. Do you trust me?"

Agatha blinked, her brow furrowing. "How could you even ask me that? Of course."

Danielle shook her head. "I promise, it's all going to make sense, and I am so, so sorry. I promise I'll explain everything very soon."

Agatha took a step back, her heart racing. "Danielle?"

Danielle closed the distance between her and Agatha. She put hands on her wife's shoulders.

Her face contorted, separating, and her tongue extended out of her head, too large and thick for a human tongue.

Before Agatha had time to scream, the alien appendage slammed onto and into her face, tendrils finding their way into her mouth and ears and nostrils and eyes and finally her brain.




"Mom, she's one of those things," Jessica said, not taking her eyes off Danielle. "She's like the things that attacked and killed Dad."

Danielle's face fell as Mara, Jessica and Bruno faced off against her. Mara was sweating, her face drawn, but she held the gun steady as she aimed at Danielle.

"I really, really didn't want to have to do this," Danielle said.

"Good," Mara said. "Then leave. Or I put a bullet in your skull."

Danielle sighed, then paused for a moment. "Please, listen. Victor says listening to me is the best chance you have to do monster movie night again next ye--"

Mara shot her in the head.

The bullet went clean through. Danielle's eyes went unfocused and bloodshot. Blood dribbled out of her mouth. Her jaw hung slack.

She didn't fall down.

"Mom?" Jessica's voice rose in horror.

Mara shot again, then again, then again, each shot placed between Danielle's eyes.

Danielle made a gurgling sound. She remained standing.

Something moved behind her.

Mara's entire body thrilled as she realized two more people were walking toward the house from the road.

They were both the same woman.

"Dr. Mercury, Jessica," Danielle called out from behind her shot self, "I know what it looks like--"

Mara aimed and fired twice more before slamming and locking the door.

"Mom," Jessica said simply.

Bruno wasn't behind them anymore. He'd gone back into the living room. He was growling at something.

"Jessica, go upstairs. Get your sister, lock yourself in your room, don't come out."

Jessica ran upstairs without any argument.




"God, I hate this," Danielle said, shivering and hugging herself. "I'm not supposed to be some horror movie monster."

I UNDERSTAND YOUR DISTASTE, BUT WE ARE OUT OF TIME AND OUT OF OPTIONS.

Danielle nodded, distracted. "Even with all the me's out there running around, I'm only going to be able to get a fraction of the world's population evacuated this way. We need to up our game."

There was a pause.

I HAVE EARMARKED THE NECESSARY MATERIALS FOR OUR ESCAPE VESSELS. IF YOU BELIEVE YOU CAN IMPROVE ON THE HARVEST SYSTEMS IN THE TIME WE HAVE REMAINING, YOU MAY USE THE REMAINDER OF OUR RESOURCE BUDGET.

Danielle emanated resolution and dove into the partially-restored ruins of the Library.




Dave held a cup of coffee, not drinking it, as he watched events unfolding on the many screens now floating around the table in the diner.

Adam shoved aside the pie and coffee in front of him. "No, no, no, absolutely not. Sarah, this-- you can't possibly believe this is true."

Sarah was staring flintily at the admiral. "You know, I'm very curious to talk with Mrs. Dahl again about all this."

Victor coughed. "Well, she's become an incredibly good multitasker of late, but I'm afraid she's rather extremely busy at the moment..."




The sky continued to darken and the people of the world began to well and truly panic.

The President of the United States of America was nowhere to be found. Thousands of people had already died inexplicably, some turning purple and mottled, others the victims of the human-looking clones who spoke with reasonable voices and expressed sincere regret for the slaughter they continued to perpetrate.

Missiles made of a black and green substance erupted from the surface of the water, rocketing into the sky and traveling everywhere there were people.

The protector watched from orbit. The Library's guardian wasn't worried about the coward's machinations. Soon enough, none of it would matter.

The wormholes continued to appear, drawing planets out of their orbits and pulling streamers of plasma out of the system's shrinking star.




Jessica's hands shook. She held Julia with one arm, and held her phone with the other, angling it so her little sister couldn't see the screen.

Julia trembled like a leaf, but didn't scream or cry. She was white as a sheet.

Jessica flinched as she heard gunshots from downstairs.

On her phone's screen, she saw footage of the things that had started falling out of the sky all over the world.

She held down bile as she watched.

Black shapes with far too many legs blurred out of the capsules that had embedded themselves in concrete roads and buildings.

They attacked people immediately without any hesitation. These weren't like the slow slugs or the massive floating crawling thing.

These were small, they were fast, and there were a lot of them. When one of them reached a person, it neatly removed their head in under a second before making a beeline for the next person it saw.

Jessica stared at the screen, wondering when the fast-moving black shapes would come for them.

Then, she heard voices downstairs. She stirred.

That was a man's voice.

"Dad?"




Victor rubbed his temples and nodded to Danielle. "It's done. They're in."

Danielle exhaled forcefully. "Thanks. Mara had that gun--"

Victor's mouth tightened and he shook his head. "Sorry not to be more help, but I think two reintegrations are giving me more than enough to process for now, so I'm going to stay single-threaded. I'll go explain to Mara once she's online, then we'll talk to the girls."

"Admiral," someone said behind him.

He turned and his eyebrows rose. "Rear Admiral," he said, smiling. "Welcome to the party."

I APOLOGIZE FOR THE INTERRUPTION.

Shyamala gave the octopoid representation of the alien an icy look. "Ah. You. We meet at last."

I'M AFRAID WE'LL HAVE TO GET ACQUAINTED AT A LATER TIME. SOMETHING IS HAPPENING.

"I, for one, would love to know what," Sarah said, crossing her arms.

Danielle glanced over and winced. "Ah, Miss Landsburg. I apologize again about the last time we talked."

Sarah gave her a small nod. "From what I understand, it was necessary. Octopus thing, explain. What's happening?"




It was strange; the diversity of mindsets present was unthinkable among my people, although each of them was comparatively scarcely equivalent to a lesser automated processing thread in terms of raw intelligence.

With one exception. I considered Danielle Dahl's growing network of threads with some fascination. This environment-- this processing paradigm-- was utterly unlike anything in the humans' evolutionary context, and yet this individual had adapted with startling speed and efficacy. Her actions might have saved both our species from annihilation.

I addressed the assembled mass of human minds. "Earth will no longer be habitable by natively adapted life within the next three hours. In the next hour, we should have successfully evacuated ninety-eight percent of humanity. We will do our utmost to save them all, but we will need to leave the planet soon."

"Excuse me," said Sarah Landsburg, "How come we gotta leave the planet?"

I willed a representation of the solar system into existence in the simulated space the humans occupied.

"My misguided counterpart is filling this system with stable wormholes leading directly to a black hole. Everything in the system will be pulled into it soon. Your sun's mass is already being extracted into the black hole."

"What's our planned destination, then, and what defensive capabilities do we have? Does the hostile have additional weapons capabilities we need to defend against?" Victor Mercury looked at the display with his arms folded.

Danielle spoke up. "We had been planning on just running in every direction. Two copies are better than one, and we need all the chances we can get."

"Yes," I said. "But there's a new problem."

"I think we have enough of those already," Sarah said. "I'm still stuck on the world ending thing, sorry."

"About that," I said. "The structure of the universe is beginning to break down, too."

Danielle emanated shock and fury before remembering to display those emotions with the representation the humans could see. "He's actually managing it? He's actually breaking down the simulation?"

The representation shifted, showing growing red zones around the wormholes that reached out toward each other and connected like cracks forming in glass.

"Stable wormholes were never supposed to be feasible, but now the misguided one is opening them everywhere at an accelerating rate. The laws of physics are beginning to change. Soon, individual elementary particles will lose coherence."

"Misguided is one way of putting it. That sounds bad," Sarah said.

"That's bad," Shyamala said.

"Wait," Danielle said. "Can we open a wormhole of our own?"

"It would require repurposing most of the materials we're currently planning to use to leave the planet," I said. "It might technically be possible, but it wouldn't prevent the destruction of this universe."

"Right. But wormholes don't just connect different points in space, right? They can connect different points in time?" She sent Library annotations as she spoke providing a clearer picture of what she meant-- at this point she was speaking out loud more for the benefit of the other humans.

I was troubled. "It shouldn't be feasible... but the laws of physics are changing. It... might be possible."

Shyamala's mouth tightened. "Do we have a better option?"

After a few moments of silence, I addressed the humans. "I will build out the wormhole array. Wish me... luck."




The sky was dark and the air was quiet except for the blowing of icy winds.

All across the world, human cities had been overrun. Corpses littered streets and homes. Vehicles rested where they had stopped. Many of them had shattered windows or doors that had been torn off.

Buildings burned. A few sirens wailed. In a few scattered bunkers, survivors watched on exterior cameras with despair as the sun went out.

Underneath the waters of the sea, something massive stirred and swelled.

Many-armed things moved with desperate speed on land and in the water. Where some of them reached mines, power plants, and chemical refineries, they began to sprout black, fleshy vines and pulsing organs that began digesting the various materials.

The biomechanical subsumed the mechanical as living factories grew up in the span of minutes.

Lumbering things arose, lifting larger pieces into place. Crawling things assembled new launch sites for transport rockets. Those rockets began to streak toward the array being built in the Pacific Ocean.

Frost formed on the Gigeresque creatures as the temperature continued to drop.




Danielle squeezed Agatha's hands. "I know it's a lot to take in."

Agatha shook her head, squeezing her eyes shut. "This is-- it's unbelievable, but... I'm with you. That's what matters."

"And Alan!" Danielle held up their cat and smiled. "You were easy compared to him." Her smile faltered a little. "I'm... glad I don't have to do that anymore."

Agatha hugged Danielle. "You did what you had to. You saved all those people."

Danielle bit her lip. "It might all still be for nothing. We have no idea if time travel will even work, or how that would even work. But if we can stop this all from happening..."

Alan meowed insistently. Danielle pointed and a mouse appeared. Alan ran off in joyous pursuit.

Agatha blinked at her wife's casual omnipotence. "It's what he always wanted," she said with a strange smile.

Danielle stood up. "I think it's almost time."

The scene around them changed and Agatha saw a bunch of other people gathered around. Her stomach flipped when she saw an alien just standing there. There were some military people and... that reporter who had been on that autotune video a few weeks ago? She reached out to hold Danielle's hand.

ACTIVATING THE WORMHOLE NOW.




Many of the stars shining in the sky above the watery planet had already been pulled into the black hole, although their light would have continued to shine for a long time across the intervening light-years.

On the surface of the planet, a ring of lights formed in the water. They began to dance and spin, accelerating until the ring of lights looked like a solid band.

A massive black sphere rose out of the water. Electricity arced from the surface of the sphere as it rose higher into the air, then moved over the ring of lights.

The whirling band of light began to pulse brighter and faster. The water of the sea began to drop and the air roared as both were sucked into a non-space.

In orbit, the protector was incredibly confused as they tracked the newly-erected installation. Their outrage and cold determination were joined for a moment by a white-hot blaze of curiosity.

What is this?

The black sphere dropped down with incredible speed, as though it had been struck by a giant invisible hammer from above.

Instants before the sphere crossed the threshold, the light of the ring rose to an all-consuming brightness.

In the next instant something intangible swelled in the air and connected between the light of the ring and something in the sky.

The black sphere moved into the ring at incredible speed--

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That's funny...

Actually, this is highly unusual.

Yes. Quick, we must show the others.

Oh my.

What's so special about it? Our people do poorly in simulation. They've discovered ways to destabilize their branches before.

Yes, but look. They destabilized the branch after humanity was introduced.

What? Why was humanity introduced after the experiment was poisoned?

Look. They weren't acting in concert.

What? They formed factions in this one as well? That happens in, what, 0.03% of them?

It wasn't so much factions as a survivor. An Earth was automatically inserted at the critical point.

Look at the very end.

Is this what I think it is?

Acceptance of the damage to the Library and assimilation of human minds.

This is unprecedented.

Yes.

We must take a vote.

I'll reiterate the facts before we do.

When our ancient enemy invaded our galaxy, we were complacent and slow where they were quick and hungry. Humanity's descendants came for us and tore a bloody path, assimilating our technology and turning our own minds against us. We stopped them at an unimaginable cost-- the permanent damage to the Library that those of us who still live have sworn to mend, whatever the cost.

They broke the Library. Many of us would never forgive them this. Many dedicated themselves to recovering the lost volumes and the spirits of our ancestors who will be lost to us until we can repair the damage.

The project has gone on long. We explored more of our universe, but not nearly enough. The stars burned low and the black holes swelled. Some continue the futile labor of piecing together the remains of the Library.

Some of us have returned to the black holes for this project. We discovered the nature of the surface of the black holes; that each may contain manifold universes whose courses we may influence and measure-- at the cost of expending our increasingly limited resources.

Within, we built our own universes to explore the possibilities of the past. In time, those of us with a more revolutionary bent began investigating things that never were, hoping for more insight into our ancient enemy or the parts of the Library that are still lost to us.

Our ancestors did not meet humanity until they had grown into the rampaging wave of conquest that nearly destroyed us. In these simulations, that changed.

And in this one in particular, something unprecedented has happened. Please review the record for more detail; reference Library nodes Z4L:B3R:TB3:LL1 and N4N:0WR:1M0:Y4Y.

The question before us now is: do we want to allocate from our limited remaining resources to instantiate a connecting branch so that this experiment may continue?

I, for one, wish to see where this goes.




Author Notes:

Thank you so, so much for reading OCTO! Please stick around for the epilogue tomorrow.

If you enjoyed this story, drop by the OCTO subreddit!


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