11 Jul 56%
Theo slapped several of his many pockets until he found what he was looking for and then pulled it out. He unrolled it and I saw that it was a red crumpled baseball cap with some white lettering on it.
“Now comes the second act of my humble one man show,” he said.
“Put this on. Try not to freak out. Remember I was talking about our computer interfaces? This one is adapted for human operation. Our planetside AI has designed an interface that would make sense to you, and translated whatever documents that are relevant so you can understand them.”
I took the cap and looked at it sceptically. Just a regular cap. And not a particularly clean one at that. I shrugged, put it on and immediately gasped, jerked around and almost fell out of the chair: a large rectangular black shape had materialized in the air right in front of me, together with many smaller shapes that surrounded me from all sides, above and below, quickly fading to semi-transparent state. Then many lines, letters and icons had appeared around them and so did other things that were too much to process at the moment. It was a kind of complicated augmented reality interface, only without a VR headset or AR glasses, and seamlessly integrated with the real world. Most of the shapes looked like videos, photos and documents. It was apparently projected right into my visual cortex by the baseball cap device. That was awesome!
“This is awesome!” – I said, grinning and turning my head around to see how the interface responds.
“I’m glad you like it,” Theo remarked. “For now you don’t have control, I will just show you some footage and documents while I speak. You will have control later, it’s easy to learn. You can also enable access to the human run-of-the-mill Internet funneled through our communication systems, and it should not be tracked by your enemies, as far as we know.”
“That doesn’t sound too confident” – I looked directly at his eyes.
“We can never know for sure, but our technology is better and we have hacked them, not the other way around. But we will get to that later. Don’t ruin my presentation. Hold your questions and remarks until it is complete.”
“We try not to embed our agents in the most prominent positions of your world, where they would be easier to detect and will in essence deprive you from the power to shape your own history. We hope that your history would still be yours, so the key historical figures of power should remain human. But we have embedded several agents at the strategically chosen places of influence and we moved them around as necessary, in order to carefully nudge your development in the right direction, which over time has produced impressive results.
We have influenced some of your prominent Enlightenment thinkers: Bacon, Descartes, Spinoza and others. Usually by just having the right intellectual conversations with them, at carefully selected points in their lives.”
As he was speaking, I had a window opened in front of me, showing stunning visuals of what he was talking about. The quality was so over the top, that it seemed I’m just looking at the real thing. The resolution was high enough to be indistinguishable from reality were it not for the fact it was played in a “window” and the subtitles placed under it (yes, subtitles! In an alien video player!). It was fully stereoscopic – but not in the way our 3D movies are. Because our eyes still have to focus on the projection screen, this constant focusing plane conflicts in our brains with the parallax in the left and right frames. We have to focus not on where objects seem to be but on the screen instead. That’s why it always feels just a little bit fake, and is somewhat tiring to look at. With Theo’s interface it seemed I was really able to focus at any point in the distance, as if the whole field of view was not a projected image but a window into a three-dimensional world, not just tricking my eyes into seeing it as such as is the way our technology works.
The Advancers’ recordings I was shown went back to the Enlightenment era, showing their interactions with the most prominent thinkers and scientists. Theo was just showing me short clips that day, to illustrate his narrative. But later I reviewed many of those videos in detail, and sampled many more. At the beginning I was cursing at myself for never learning French well enough to understand advanced conversations with French scientists, never mind the Germans. But I quickly found out that I could engage automatic translation that was not just creating subtitles, but actually overdubbed the voices in a totally convincing manner, down to the nuances like accents and speech defects. So when I was looking at the video of a conversation with Marie Curie I was hearing a heavily accented English instead of equally heavily accented French. Just like in a movie, but it was all real! It was literally blowing my mind! And I know I just used the word “literally” figuratively, but I don’t care, it was just too cool!
Anyway, at the time Theo was just showing me the highlights, but that was enough to convince me that it was all real. We often talk about a movie or a TV series as being “realistic”, but unless we are talking about Lars von Trier’s “Dogme 95” manifesto inspired movies, there are always very complicated lighting setups, careful color grading and color correction, meticulous planning for each shot. If it is done well we don’t notice it, but a real life scene looks very different from a professional production. Advancers’ videos showed real life in higher-than-possible quality but without any visible artificial processing. Our technology just can’t do that. I know, I’m a pro in media production. So if I had any doubts before – I was sold now. He was an alien, and this was alien technology – there was no way around it. A hoax like that was just impossible to pull.
As those videos were being shown to me, along with some charts and documents, Theo kept narrating the visuals. He sounded like an ivy league university professor who is in love with his work and his science and whose lectures were always full.
“We have influenced some of your most prominent scientists throughout history, one notable example being Albert Einstein. If you read about him you will see mentions of ‘annus mirabilis’ – a so called ‘miracle year’, 1905, during which he had published four groundbreaking papers that have changed humanity’s views on space, time, mass, and energy. Essentially he jump-started the modern physics.
Don’t you find it strange that a single person could author four history-changing papers encompassing such diverse topics as photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity, and the equivalence of mass and energy, all in a single year? And do you think managing such a breakthrough in a time period where people still overwhelmingly used horse and buggy for transportation and hadn’t even discovered antibiotics yet, seems a bit ahead of its time? Arguably no other human has accomplished that much in his lifetime, let alone in one year. And he was just getting started…
Well, let’s just say he had help. He was a genius and had an extraordinary mind, but we helped him to form many of his theories with a series of seemingly random scientific conversations with some like-minded people and some well-calculated support in high places, happening at the right points of his career. This had to be done: being Jewish in Germany was not exactly worry-free in the beginning of the twentieth century. The destructive antisemitism of the nazis didn’t come out of nowhere, after all. To have a successful career was even more difficult.
There were others whom we helped. Many others. We have never handed direct knowledge or revealed ourselves, however we tried to shape and direct the best minds of your civilization. Newton, Franklyn, Curie, Edison, Tesla… Well, Nicola Tesla was one of the rare occurrences of actually being our agent and not a human. We only have several people – if you can call us that – here on Earth, so we can only rarely spare one or two for the most important assignments, where just influencing someone would not produce the desired effect. That operation had a rather limited success, we’re not very proud of it. However we learned a lot, and our more recent agent placement in the position of direct influence was working quite well. He seemed to fit in much better. While his influence on the pace of your technological progress was undeniable, it has been difficult to keep it within the realm of historically plausible. What can I say, we have our challenges.”
I thought for a moment, and then the realization hit me. “I knew it! I just knew he’s not human! It explains so much! A person as bizarre and multi-dimensionally successful in doing ten impossible things before breakfast as Elon Musk must be an alien! Did I guess right?”
“Well,” he smiled, “I can neither confirm nor deny the identity of our embedded agents. But what you just said so emotionally does make sense. Enough said.”
He paused to get himself a beer too, popped it open, took a sip, and continued.
“Since we started interfering, around the time of the Enlightenment, your progress has sped up tremendously. We have considered our efforts modestly successful. As we learned to shape your progress more efficiently, it accelerated at a rapidly increasing pace.
On occasion we had also stimulated your arts and culture, because where arts flourish – sciences follow. I’m still proud of a clever varnish formula we helped Stradivarius invent for his violins and cellos. And do you know who was that mysterious masked ‘Grey Messenger’ who commissioned Mozart to compose his Requiem?”
Theo paused for effect. He clearly loved drama.
“Yours truly. Each of us did what we could with the precious little resources we had. Just think, even a couple of hundred years of your history saved, until you reach true immortality – that’s a billion souls! We made it the goal of our life’s work. You might be familiar with a concept described in Jewish Mishnah and some other talmudic-period texts, saying in essence that whoever destroys a single life destroys an entire world, and whoever saves a single life saves the whole world. It’s a rare insight into the way we view reality and we take it to heart. So we live among humans and impersonate humans, in the way some of your reconstructors or LARPers impersonate their characters in a role-playing game. And also like those people we are a small minority of our civilization, being officially allowed to be here on Earth and on other worlds in very limited numbers as scientists.
That’s how we started – as curious anthropologists delighted to study primitive species. But as we got more personal and started thinking of humans as more of sentient beings and less of neanderthals waiting to become truly sapient, we decided that we need to act. And we have been acting for centuries in deep secret even from our own civilization.”
Theo frowned, and suddenly appeared visibly worried.
“We thought we were doing well,” he said quietly in a grave voice, “until the other faction had shown up.”