Chapter no 31

Children of Time

The signal from the green planet resonated through the Brin 2’s Sentry Pod like an earthquake. The ancient systems had been waiting for just this moment—it seemed forever. Protocols laid down in the days of the Old Empire had gathered dust through the ages, through the entire lifespan of the new species that was even now announcing its presence. They had grown corrupted. They had lost their relevance, been overwritten, been infiltrated by the diseased spread of the uploaded Kern persona that the Sentry Pod had been incubating like a culture all these years.

The systems received the signal, checked over the sums and found them within tolerance, recognized that a critical threshold had been passed with respect to the planet below. Its purpose, rusty with aeons-long disuse, was abruptly relevant again.

For a recursive, untimed moment, the systems of the Sentry Pod—the sea of calculation that boiled behind the human mask of Eliza—were unable to make a decision. Too much had been lost, misfiled, edited out of existence within its mind.

It attacked the discontinuities within its own systems. Whilst it was not truly a self-aware artificial intelligence, it nevertheless knew itself. It restored itself, worked around insoluble problems, reached the right conclusion by estimate and circuitous logic.

It did its best to awaken Avrana Kern.

The distinction between living woman, uploaded personality construct and pod systems was not finely drawn. They bled into one another, so that the frozen sleep of the one leaked nightmarish dreams into the cold logic of the others. A

lot of time had passed. Not all of Avrana Kern remained viable. Still, the pod did its best.

Doctor Kern awoke, or she dreamt of waking, and in her dream Eliza hovered at her bedside like an angel and provided a miraculous annunciation.

This day is a new star seen in the heavens. This day is born a saviour of life on Earth.

Avrana fought with the trailing weeds of her horrors, struggling to resurface enough to understand what was really being told to her. She had not been truly conscious for some time—had she ever been? She had confused recollections of some dark presence, intruders attacking her charge, the planet below that had become her purpose, the sum total of her legacy. A traveller had come to steal the secret of her project

—to rob her of the immortality represented by her new life, by her progeny, by her monkey-children. Had it? Or had she dreamed it? She could not separate the fact from the long cold years of sleep.

“I was supposed to be dead,” she told the watchful pod. “I was supposed to be locked away, oblivious. I was never supposed to dream.”

“Doctor, the passage of time appears to have led to a homogenization of information systems within the Sentry Pod. I apologize for this, but we are operating beyond our intended parameters.”

The Sentry Pod was designed to lie dormant for centuries. Avrana remembered that much. How long would it take the virus to spark intellect into generations of monkeys? Did that mean that her experiment was a failure?

No, they had signalled at last. They had reached out and touched the ineffable. And time was suddenly no longer the currency it once had been. She remembered now why she was in the Sentry Pod at all, performing this function that had been meant for someone far more disposable. Time didn’t matter. Only the monkeys mattered, because the future was theirs


Yet those troubling half-dreams recurred to her. In her dream there had come a primitive boat of travellers claiming to be her kin, but she had looked at them and seen them for what they truly were. She had scanned through their histories and their understandings. They were the mould that had grown on the corpse of her own people. They were hopelessly corrupted with the same sickness that had killed Kern’s own civilization. Better to start anew with monkeys.

“What do you want of me?” she demanded of the entity/entities that surrounded her. She looked into their faces and saw an infinite progression of stages between her and the cold logic of the pod systems, and nowhere could she say where she herself ended and where the machine began.

“Phase two of the uplift project is now ready,” Eliza explained. “Your authority is required to commence.”

“What if I’d died?” Avrana choked out. “What if I’d rotted? What if you couldn’t wake me?”

“Then your uploaded persona would inherit your responsibilities and authority,” Eliza replied, and then, as if remembering that it was supposed to show a human face, “but I am glad that has not occurred.”

“You don’t know what ‘glad’ means,” but, even as she said this, Kern was not sure that it was true. There was enough of her smeared up that continuum towards the life electronic that perhaps Eliza knew more of human emotion than Kern herself was now left with.

“Proceed with the next phase. Of course, proceed with the next phase,” she snapped into the silence that followed. “What else are we here for? What else is there?” In a very real sense, indeed, what else is there?

She remembered when the false humans, that disease that had outlived her people, had approached the planet. Had they? Had that actually happened? She had spoken to them. The her that had interacted with them must have recognized enough

humanity in them to bargain, to spare them, to allow them to rescue their own. Each time she was awoken, it seemed some different assortment of thoughts took the helm of her mind. She had been in a giving vein, then. She had recognized them to be human enough to show mercy to.

She had been sentimental that day. Thinking back on it, she regained those memories of how it had felt. And they had been as good as their word, she assumed, and they had gone. There was no sign of them, or of any transmissions, within the solar system.

She had an uncomfortable feeling that it was not that simple. She had a feeling that they would be back. And now she had so much more to lose. What devastation would those false humans wreak on her nascent monkey civilization?

She would have to harden her heart.

Phase two of the uplift program was a contact exercise. Once the monkeys had developed their own singular culture to the extent that they could send radio transmissions, they were ready for contact with the wider universe. And now I am the wider universe. The Sentry Pod would begin developing a means of communication, starting with the simplest binary notation and using each stage to bootstrap up to a more complex language, just as if a computer was being programmed from scratch. It would take time, depending on the willingness and ability of the monkeys to learn, generation to generation.

“But first send them a message,” Avrana decided. For all that the inhabitants of the planet could not possible understand her, right now, she wanted to set the tone. She wanted them to understand what they were in for when she and they could finally communicate.

“Awaiting your message,” Eliza prompted.

“Tell them this,” Avrana declared. Perhaps, in their simian ignorance, they would record it and later re-read it, and understand it all.

Tell them this: I am your creator. I am your god.

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