by Jörn Grote
I hadn’t been in my home galaxy for over a hundred million years, and even the last visit was a brief one. The homecoming call came from my sister and her message didn’t say much.
“Dear brother, I have good news. Can you get home as fast as possible?”
In the last twenty million years I was involved in the exploration of one of the outer galaxies. Connected to a groupmind, all of us swarmed over the billions of worlds and stars, exploring, probing and researching. Streamlined through the force of the connected minds, no one was bored, even if a task took years.
It was always strange when you cut the links to the groupmind and separated your mind from the others. Even if the great mental potential of the connection faded, it was always a joy to recover your individuality; it reminded me of a form of rebirth.
I searched for the fastest route and began the long voyage home. After forty years across the universum, I reached the first nexus of the wormhole-net, which was part of the Milky Way.
Instantly a message was triggered which sent me specific coordinates where I would find my sister.
I wasn’t sure what to say when I saw her, but her words made me instantly feel at home. “Welcome brother, it’s good to see you again, after a long time.” Our virtual bodies hugged each other, and the codes for family level interaction were transmitted.
“So, what good news do you have, sister, that you send for me over half the known universe?” We were sitting in the simulation of a room with a warm fireside, an old carpet and two chairs, and around us bookshelves with thousands of old books. I knew from my memory, that this was one of her favorite backgrounds.
“Later, brother. Tell me what you have done in the last years. I’m excited to hear what you have seen and done.”
At first I wasn’t sure what to tell, because the last time I left, it wasn’t on the best terms. I wanted to explore the universe, see all the wonders that could be found out there. She said then that we had a job to do, it was our duty. I agreed, but it wasn’t enough to hold me, and I left without saying goodbye. But after this, I wasn’t sure if I would be welcome anymore.
But after I began to tell her of things I had done and seen, my long travels through the known universe and through the frontier into unknown zones, mostly alone but often enough as a part of groupmind or a loosely connected team, I felt that she really appreciated my stories.
Through the uncounted years of my absence she had lost a great deal of her grimness, something I hadn’t anticipated. In times past I thought it was the defining element of her personality; but now, I realized, it never really was.
“So sister, I have told you of my travels, and I’m eager to know why you have sent for me.”
My sister rose and changed with a wave of her hand the simulation from a little room to a look of our Milky Way. Yellow dots for stars, blue for dead worlds and stellar objects, and green for objects with any form of life. That wasn’t the Milky Way I knew. The dominant color was green, but the bigger part of the color didn’t come from worlds but from tiny objects. I wasn’t sure how many, but a hundred times the whole number of worlds and the stars in this galaxy.
“What is the meaning of this?” I asked my sister.
“Do you remember where we came from, and what happened to it?”
How could I forget Port Dawn, our home town and birthplace. Nearly one billion years ago, the rise of the alien metaminds began. The fall of the Watcher Society, the ages-old guards of the human metanet, was inevitable, and xenophobia was rising high. Many of the rich and famous in these long-forgotten days went into isolation in their small private virtual worlds, and closed all doors.
“Yes, I remember, even if it wasn’t the best of times. I’ll never forget what we were once, but the past is history and life goes on.”
In these times, most of these private worlds were populated by patchworks, beings who were build from bits and pieces of other minds, with artificial memories and stereotype personalities. Many of them were constructed after famous persons of history, literature and other forms of entertainment. The laws didn’t count them as citizen, and their creators were allowed to do with them what they wanted. But most of them were allowed to learn, to develop, and when the Society of the Watchers began to crumble, most of us saw their chance to flee and begin a real life outside the worlds of their creators.
“What has all this to do with that?” I pointed to the green galaxy.
“Well, we had luck, brother; we flew from Port Dawn. But not all had that luck or had enough foresight. You know we tried to reopen the gates to the city and failed.”
We tried, but I gave up after the first hundred million years. Port Dawn had a very nasty encryption defense; every time we tried to decrypt it, and every time we failed, it advanced and evolved it defenses. We asked the alien metaminds for help; but they had their own troubles, and later, when some of them had time to help, the defenses of Port Dawn were evolved to a level where every action could take ages. Too long for most of them, and my sister and other refugees of similar worlds were on their own.
In the end I lost interest and hope, and left the Milky Way. But my sister and many other carried on.
“Did you know, humans weren’t the only ones who had the behavior to isolate themselves when something appeared that was more advanced and not like them at all. To build a fortress out of fear was and is a very common reaction to the unknown in many intelligent life forms who think like humans. So, we gathered these virtual strongholds not only in our own galaxy but all around the known universe. All these green dots are worlds that were or are still encrypted.”
She sat again in one of the chairs somewhere above an arm of the Milky Way.
“Your methods to crack encryptions have reached a point where every encryption which is lower than your level is instantly cracked, but sometimes even we fail. Sometimes we fail so often that the defenses evolve to a level where every failed effort makes the situation worse. The preparations for the next attempt can take ages.”
“What happens when you crack the defenses? Does it always have an happy ending?”
My sister sighed, “Not always, sometimes we find dead worlds, the population killed long ago by the creators of these worlds; sometimes we find all in stasis, waiting for the day when they will be released. But very often we find worlds filled with life, stranger than anything you will find in the real universe. The only boundaries of these worlds is the imagination of its creators, and I have often realized that the mind of a living being is the strangest place to be in this universe.”
In this moment I realized what had changed in her, or maybe what I saw now and hadn’t seen all these years before. When we couldn’t open the doors to Port Dawn I lost patience. Modeled after explorers I wanted to do what was always in me, and so I left to explore. She never lost her patience, even if she had the same urges as I. So the conflict between her wishes and her duty to open Port Dawn made her grim. But something had changed that, somehow she found a way to connect the two.
Lost in thought I asked, “What was it sister, that allowed you to explore, here in this galaxy where all is known?”
“Isn’t it obvious, brother? You searched for new worlds as far as possible, but I found them here; locked in these virtual worlds was all I needed to fulfill my urge to explore.”
“Well, in the end we are a family after all.”
“Yes we are, but our family isn’t complete yet.” Again my sister waved, and a big door appeared. I knew instantly what it was, the gateways to Port Dawn, one of the worlds which had shattered every attack on its encryption. Our World. In the background the Milky Way zoomed nearer and nearer, until a star system began to emerge. When the zoom stopped, a small planetoid filled the view, the physical body where the wetware was, which runs our city.
“Remember brother, when we first attempted to reopen the gate to our city, we knew that there were two ways. Crack the encryption and have instant access to the city, or find the right password. We thought it would be easier to crack the encryption; we didn’t expect the defenses to evolve that fast. But the password system was static. No creator expected that someone would try to find the password, because of the length of the PIN and the large numbers of characters which could be used; it would have required millions of years to find the right one only by trying.”
Now we were both sitting, looking at the door, where, faster than I could follow, the attempts to find the right password were displayed on the door itself. The wrong numbers flickered into and out of existence, while we waited.
“It will only be a matter of years before the program has tried all combinations which are left,” my sister remarked.
I smiled, “Don’t worry, I have enough stories to fill the time and so have you, I assume.”
“You’re right, but when the gate is open again, the audience will be so much bigger. But in the end, they are like us, they’ll want to find out what had happened in the universe for themselves. After all, exploring is your life, Columbus.”
Copyright © 2004 by Jörn Grote