I realized I was so captivated by Theo’s every word that I forgot to chew on my sandwich.

“You see, what you call a soul is a sort of a projection of a multidimensional being into our three-dimensional reality. That’s why it’s so elusive for your scientific efforts. You just do not understand the Universe well enough yet. The focal point of such projection has to be a sufficiently developed brain. But without such a projection, no matter how complicated and intricate its structure, true conscience would not emerge. All your fears of evil runaway AIs are unfounded, and any attempts to create sentient life by artificial means are doomed to fail.

Putting it simply, our brains act as the hardware on which the software of the soul runs. And as you know, hardware can heavily influence the way the software works. Your personality can be affected by various drugs, physical and psychological trauma, illnesses and aging. As you are born and growing up, your brain “hardware” develops and gradually becomes capable of running more and more complex software routines, and realize its potential to a greater extent. Your hardware is definitely the limiting factor and only allows a narrow and limited execution of the soul software. This can be improved to some extent with learning and life experience. The analogy is incomplete, but you get the idea.”

He crossed his legs, put his hands on the chair’s arm rests and continued.

“But the very inefficiency and unpredictability of hardware and its limiting factors may actually be the whole point. Consider this: even my race with our level of technology and control over matter would seem to an average human as having magical, almost demi-god powers. But the extra-dimensional being would be basically indistinguishable to a human mind from a god. I mean it’s all semantics at this point, because defining god is difficult, even humans with all their religious history have multiple definitions, most of which lack credibility or logical consistency or both. But let’s assume that by god we mean omniscient and omnipotent entity. Riddle me this, what does an omnipotent entity lack?”

“That’s easy,” I thought, “I know that one”. It sounded like the extension of the famous Omnipotence paradox, beaten to death by all kinds of theologists and philosophers since medieval times. So I answered quickly: “It lacks limitation, of course.”

“Precisely!” exclaimed Theo triumphantly, “We know a great deal more about our Universe than you do, and yet even we still have too little knowledge about our souls: why they exist, why they are projected – or project themselves – to our world, and what happens after biological hardware ceases to exist. The leading theory is that our Universe was specifically created for this phenomenon to occur, for the multidimensional beings to inhabit our bodies as hardware and live lives as sentient beings of our Universe, for some unknowable goals of their own. Presumably, they need hard limits of our reality to develop, grow, improve and to advance to the next level of being, whatever that is, but those presumptions are only theoretical at this point. They fit into our understanding of the world the way your string theory fits yours: making sense in a weird twisted way on paper, but eluding experimental proof. There are signs of that being the case in the way our Universe is built. You might have heard that some of your physicists have postulated that our whole Universe might be a simulation. In some sense the ultimate simulation is not a computer program that emulates the reality; it’s the reality itself, created as an experiment. Computer is just a tool, and a hypothetically infinitely powerful civilization would have infinitely powerful tools. It would not need a crutch of a supercomputer to fake a reality, they would experiment with reality itself, creating and designing it as the experiment requires. So if this theory is correct, the only thing that ultimately matters in our universe, is every single convergence of multidimensional being of a soul with the biological hardware of human and other bodies, to create sentient beings of our Universe. You can say that this is as close to a religion as we aliens have, although it would not be the right term: we lack the ritualistic aspect that your religions have, as well as divine revelation in the human sense of the word. Are you with me so far?”

I silently nodded. This was too big and too weird for words… But then I reconsidered.

“Listen, Theo – all that is fine and dandy, and I would love to discuss alien philosophy with you for hours and hours, but I do have some very pressing issues that I was hoping you can shed a light on. Who and why is trying to kill me? And why are you working against them, helping me?”

“Be patient, please. We’re coming to that. I know that it is a lot to absorb, but I’m only telling you what you need to know in order to understand the situation you have found yourself in. So bear with me for a little longer please”.

He waited for my objections, but they weren’t coming, so he continued.

“There is one other axiom that most alien civilizations agree on: if sentient life is destined to mean something, one should not interfere with developing civilizations if at all possible. Every civilization deserves a chance to be the master of its destiny. Some are better at that than others though. 

And here we come to the important part: there is one caveat to that rule. If a civilization manages to cheerfully kill its own population on a large enough scale to threaten a total collapse and creates a credible threat of an extinction level event, it is agreed that the policy of non-interference loses priority and we have to intervene in a massive way, necessarily taking over the historical trajectory of a particular civilization. That has immense dangers on it own merit. You can see in human history what happened when an advanced civilization interfered with a radically less advanced civilization. Incas, Native Americans, Australian aboriginals – it did not end well for any of them. Weaker civilizations either die or assimilate and dissipate into the stronger invaders. They often lose their way of life, the meaning of their existence, abandon their native culture – and this can happen on a much larger scale as well. 

Humanity was studied, carefully considered and deemed overall deserving to let it develop, making its own mistakes and triumphs, without interference. Generally, you give yourself too much credit for your destructive effect on the environment. With your rapidly improving technology the harm you do to yourselves and your planet has quickly leveled off and started diminishing, the way it usually does. Our projections – and we are much better with those than you are – show that the tendency for declining environmental impact, eradication of poverty and most deadly diseases and overall reduction of violence will continue and you’re generally in a much better state than you think. Unless you approach self-extermination, the loss of sentient life during the ages of your development is considered to be a lesser evil than an emergency takeover of your civilization. 

But not everyone agrees with that assertion. You see, I represent a faction that deems the loss of sentient life over the course of human history too great to let it continue. 

Most aliens, like me, are virtually immortal. If you think about it, it’s unavoidable. As soon as your technology allows this, humanity will become immortal too. In a way, it’s the holy grail of science and technology for every civilization. It is an irresistible temptation without significant ill effects. It is so universal that we often judge the technological level of a civilization by its capability for immortality. Some races choose to live simple lives and be close to nature, refusing most technological benefits, but none can refuse immortality without having a deeply pathological society. 

You might wonder why I look human. It’s not the way we normally look, although it’s not that far off from our native body type. Even in your primitive society people sometimes use surgery and other rather barbaric methods to alter their appearance to their desires. With our level of technology we can wish ourselves to look like anything we want, and it just happens. This is not an instantaneous process, and not as simple as it sounds, but fast and simple enough. We have such control over our biological hardware on the cellular level and beyond, that it’s not very easy to kill us. And obviously we do not die of natural causes. 

On top of that, as our understanding of the soul-body symbiosis is very advanced, albeit not complete yet, we have a kind of a virtually indestructible ‘black box’ that preserves the soul in the event of a body death, or rather it preserves the soul’s point of connection with our world for a while, sending a subspace beacon signal so the poor being that just happened to suffer a biological death could be eventually rescued and its body regrown so the soul can reconnect.”

“Are you saying that you are not just immortal but invincible too?” I asked, stunned by the implications of what he was saying.

“Not quite. We are essentially immortal in the biological sense, that is true. As we have full control over our bodies at the molecular level, and can reshape and readjust them as we wish, ageing and disease do not pose a problem for us. At some point in our lives, we may eventually decide to let our souls transcend to a higher realm when we feel ready. But that is optional and usually does not happen until we are thousands of your years old. 

Our bodies can still die – in an accident, or by a killer’s hand, for instance. That would be an unacceptable loss for an otherwise immortal being. So we have developed a technology that does not let a soul go in the event of a body death, when it would otherwise discorporate. In the unfortunate event of my death the ‘black box’ device in my head would keep my soul connected to this reality for quite a while. Obviously, it is not black nor is it a box. It does not even entirely exist in our dimension. Partially it extends into the higher realm. The technology is so unorthodox that even I do not pretend to fully understand it. So let’s just keep calling it the black box. As most human metaphors go, it is easy, convenient and completely incorrect, but it does the job. 

The device is built to be detectable, so it can be found and retrieved. It is very small though, and due to the energy source limitations it is only detectable within a relatively small area, around the size of a large human megapolis, or maybe a tiny state like Monaco or Luxembourg. A new body can then be grown and reconnected to the lonely soul. The process is neither easy nor fast. And it is predicated on the fact of the body death and its approximate location being known. 

The very nature of the physics involved makes shielding or isolating a black box impossible. You cannot build a Faraday cage for something that transcends our dimension. As a result murder is not something that happens in advanced alien societies – not only we appreciate life more than you do, but the murder victim cannot be prevented from identifying the killer after the revival process.  

All this does not seem very relevant to you at the moment, but what you should remember is that the ‘black box’ is the most exotic and artificial piece of technology that we have in our bodies, and its energy signature is easily detectable – just not by humans. Hold that thought, we will get back to it later. Having said that, I don’t just appear human – I would check out on most scans your science has as a perfectly normal male specimen. My ability to levitate beer cans does not register on MRI scans. So what I am saying is that we can become almost human, at least biologically if not psychologically – so we can relate to humanity’s fate to some degree. But, being virtually immortal, some of us just can’t stomach billions of humans dying natural deaths for countless  generations, not to speak of wars and crime. Knowing humans on a personal level, seeing this has become unbearable. Almost physically unbearable – our conscience affects us much more than you, down to the biological level. So a small group of us has decided to take action and diminish such a colossal loss of life.”

At that moment I burped, having gulped the beer carelessly, and being too engulfed by Theo’s story. That was rather anticlimactic. Theo looked at me with a clear disapproval, if not disappointment. Still, he continued.

“We have decided to try and subtly influence your development so you could reach the level of technology necessary to stop all this meaningless loss of life hundreds of years earlier than you would otherwise have.”

Theo paused, looking at me doubtfully for a few seconds, as if deciding if he should trust me with what he was about to say. Then he sighed – I assume he thought that it was too late to back down. So he decided to continue.

“The best translation of what we call ourselves is ‘The Advancers’.”

  • Konstantin Medvedev
    Posted at 13:19h, 05 July Reply

    The chapter is very condensed from my point of view.
    I feel that some pieces (Theo’s monologues) are too long and have very high concentration of the philosophy.
    I would add a bit more Art’s internal thoughts, some more body actions (you have one-two already).

    For example, how you would feel yourself if I would say that I am immortal? Not a simple feeling. Not everyday somebody says that. It is not simple a fact about an alien, but a trigger that brings sort of reaction in any human. Curiosity? Skepticism? Excitement?

    It was really hard to read the chapter in one go because of the complexity and concentration of the matter. Though may be because I was trying to find logical mistakes (my applause, clean).

    • roman
      Posted at 23:15h, 11 July Reply

      Will definitely think about that upon the next editing round. I am struggling with this part because of the densely packed narrative. A lot of information to convey there. One possibility is to expand this and next few chapters into a flashback into the past illustrating all that information (and more to come), but that would break the first person narrative. So it’s a dilemma I am thinking of…

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