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Authors: Gregory Benford

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BOOK: Beyond Infinity
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“No one tests the depth of a river with both feet,” Seeker said.

Her father said mildly, “I can help. I did it before.”

That meant so much to Cley, she could not speak.

Kata had gone on, moving with a forlorn gravity, solemn and silent, not looking back. Cley wondered if she would ever see her again. Perhaps not—Supras had their own ways.

Her father said, “Let’s get some food for you kids. Tend to business.”

One of the Ur-human men said experimentally, “Sure… Dad.”

They moved off, her father leading them with a natural authority. She admired the way he simply took charge; she could learn from him. The others—her children!—followed. Full of potential. “Do you think there’ll be a place for them?” she asked.

“If you make one,” Seeker said.

“And you?”

“This is my place.” She fanned a greasy claw at the quiet immensities around them.

“The—what did you call it?—System Solar?”

Seeker produced another rat, yellow this time, and began to eat.

“Was it ‘her’—your System Solar—that really destroyed the Malign?”

“Of course.”

“What about the Supras?”

“They did as they must. We helped sculpt their uses.”

“Which is it: ‘she’ did it, or ‘we’ did it?”

“Both.”

Cley sighed. “Well, did we humans matter at all?”

“Of course. Though not as you imagine.”

“You did so much, for all of us. For me. But…you helped me because of your biome, didn’t you?”

Seeker caught the disappointment in her voice. “Truly. You are an element I had not comprehended. I chanced to pass nearby, felt the resonance, and stayed with you. You were the first Original I had met. So different! And I came to love you.”

Ah, Seeker,
she thought. Cryptic, rarely solemn, never gushing, but sincere in what she did say. To cover her emotions (
a very human mannerism,
she thought wryly) Cley said, “Just doing your part in the System Solar.”

Seeker said with a grave scowl, “As you did.”

“Hey, c’mon, I did have other motives.”

“They were incidental.” Seeker lunged at a passing bird, missed, and tumbled into a tangle of vines. Cley laughed. Was this the superbeing she had seen roving among the planets during the battle? The same creature that now wrestled with vines, sputtering in irritation? Or was there really a contradiction?

“This biome—how come you’re so loyal to it?”

“It is the highest form which can evolve from this universe—so far. Far more complex than the Magnetics, in depth of interactions.” Seeker kept twisting around in the thick vines to no avail. Even so, she continued in an even, measured tone, “The biome has been implicit in the governing laws since the beginning, and arose here first as intricate networks on ancient Earth.”

“So Rin had part of it right after all.”

Seeker thrashed around, getting herself caught tighter. “Only a narrow view.”

“You said once you had contact with everything.”

Seeker shook her head in frustration. “Everything and the nothing.”

“What’s ‘the nothing’?”

Seeker bit into a vine and tore it loose. “When a thinking being chooses to not think for a while.”

“The unconscious?”

“The transconscious. Separation into isolated beings was a feature of evolution in the human era and before. I am a fragment of the self-awareness that arose from that early web—after all, life was once confined just to Earth, and now grows apace.”

“Sounds pretty exalted, Seeker After Patterns.”

“You are part of it, too,” Seeker said softly.

“I don’t feel all that cosmic right this minute,” Cley said, beginning to notice her many aches. Her palms throbbed. Her joints felt as though someone had popped them open, blowtorched them, and snapped them closed. She wondered if the Supras had any medical miracles handy.

“The biome is ordinary. Not a big abstraction.” Seeker wrestled free of the vines.

“And you’re a housekeeper for the, uh, System Solar?” Cley smiled ruefully.

“In a way. I voyaged once to another biome, and—”

Cley was startled. “Another star?”

“Yes. I journeyed to speak with that far biome. Quite different, it was.”

“What’s a biome say to another?”

“Little, at first. I had difficulties.”

“I thought Seeker After Patterns could do anything.”

Seeker made her barking laugh. “Only what my planets allow me.”

“They sent you?”

“Yes. Eventually the biomes strewn through the spiral arms will connect. There is much work to be done, to understand those strange beings.”

“Biomes are conscious?”

“Of course. Evolution proceeds beyond the scope of individuals now, or of species and phyla. Biomes are different orders of beings.”

As she said this, Seeker no longer looked like an amiable pet. Cley sensed quiet, eerie powers in her.

“Seeker, you speak as if you are the System Solar.”

“So we do.”

Cley chuckled and cuffed Seeker beneath her ample, matted chin. “Well, so much for words. Whatever won this, and at whatever cost, we’re alive.”

Seeker gazed at her soberly. “Far more important that the biome lives.”

“Yes, thank God.”

“You are welcome,” Seeker said.

That night the surviving humans, Supra and Original alike, did an ancient human thing: drank alcohol. No matter how many millennia of research had come and gone, something about that elementary organic compound still resonated in times of mourning and celebration, deep in the human soul. The consolations of chemistry.

Cley did not mingle much with the Supras. They kept largely to themselves anyway, looking a bit uncomfortable. They looked as if they wanted to help but hadn’t a clue. Child-rearing had to be learned from experience, and Supras lived so long, they seldom needed the art. The clones had some social skills, but Cley could tell from her Meta experience that they needed much work. They were pseudobabies, really—full-grown bodies, with all the hormonal/physical demands those would put on them, but with child minds and no social context. Making presentable adults of them would be a wild animal-taming act.

Unlike at every other party she had ever attended, she felt no need to go over and try to work herself into conversation with the Supras. Even the Supra men had no particular gravitational attraction for her. It felt good.

Instead, the Ur-humans drew her. They were equally curious about her, and their innocent, friendly chatter she found touching. Not much alcohol for them, of course—they had no experience to brace them against it. She monitored that. Their gaiety came from within—amusing, quick, light as a breeze. In turn their humor provoked her own giggles, and it was not just the alcohol.

Cley looked around the room—actually, a bower the captain had ordered to be worked forth from a vine cloister in the Leviathan—and felt an odd feeling creep over her.

She knew humanity’s role in the biome. Knew it in her gut. The mighty Supras did not; somehow, she could tell. She very well might be the only person in the room who
felt
the meaning of that.

And her own retinue of her genetic identicals—they knew little.

Neither had she, until now. Until the long struggle with the Malign—a battle that had lasted seven days, someone said. It had felt like years. Cley could feel the fatigue like an ache in her bones and knew that she would sleep for a week, once she closed her eyes. But not yet. Not yet.

Seeker came by, sipping suspiciously at a cup of a Supra punch. Cley fell upon the procyon with glad cries. “You made all this happen! I’ve got a family. And I never thanked you.”

“Not necessary. I was following my nose.”

Cley tweaked the long snout. “That must be easy; it’s so big.”

“With your kind, you are happy in a different way,” Seeker said pensively.

“You never saw me with my Meta.” Cley made a sweeping gesture. “Now I’ve got all of my kind there are, right here.”

“Not all.”

“Huh? But you said my kind were gone.”

“Gone into the Singular, some of them.”

“There are Originals in those branes of yours?”

“Yes, they made the leap into the branes, after all. But they are not mine, the branes.” Seeker eyed Cley. “Nor yours, either. The higher-dimensionals have incorporated humans in ways we cannot know.”

“Wow. And I thought the Supras were the best ever.”

“Evolution meanders; it seldom climbs directly.”

“Originals in four-D? What do they look like?”

“I do not know. Perhaps they are Morphs. Or so we would call them.”

“Oog.” Cley wrinkled her nose. “Maybe I don’t want to find out.”

Seeker said soberly, “Those, too, fought in the battle with the Malign.”

“My kin, though. How can I reach them?”

“That expedition would be more difficult than the one we have just finished.” Seeker raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Are you willing?”

“Huh? Hey, first I have to get these kids back, find a place to live, make—”

“I know. There will be time for that. Shall I come calling for you?”

“Uh, sure. But wait—last time we spoke, you owned up to being, well…”

“God?”

“Yes. How…?”

“But so are you.”

“What?!”

“Of course, you need some polishing. But you show definite promise, and there is work remaining. I shall see you in a while.”

Seeker walked away, still sipping.

“Wait! I don’t understand!”

“Welcome to our society of the happily ignorant,” Seeker called back as she disappeared into some flowering foliage. Her passage left behind a spray of pollen like a quick puff of ivory smoke.

As usual, Seeker left leaving more questions than answers. Cley had to take all this in. Above, through a transparent membrane, hung one of those nights when the silence, and the trumpet-clear beauty of light spilling across darkness, echoes with something as primal as a heartbeat. Back in her Meta she had never understood people who didn’t look up—didn’t they hear that singing? She stood there for several minutes, just being, the Leviathan’s warm, moist wind and the night swirling around her as if their pull could send her flying, dancing without moving a muscle. Sublime.

There was so much to do now.

The young versions of herself milled around, working on their social skills, and tipped back their crystal glasses—after all, they were her, and she was doing a lot of that, too. All blithely adorable. Hers.

“We’re going back together,” she said to one of the young men. “Tomorrow.”

“Really? Where?” he asked, blank-faced.

“Earth. Home.”

“I dunno, we were all speed-grown in tanks, fast-taught, had a lot of time in the crucibles…”

“You need bringing up,” Cley said softly.

“Do we?” His face was open and could take any impression, she realized. The imprint of a soft touch.

A strange form of adulthood beckoned to her. She would take these back to Earth and bring them up. They were of her kind, and she had to honor that. She would make a home for them, and for herself.

And then, too, there was her father. He would help, sure—but she already had a gut sense about him. He was a rover, like Cley, and would be off to the great reaches of the sky in the long run.

Hell, in the long run, she would go, too. It was in the genes.

Cley felt a dawning wonder and joy. She finally had a place, somewhere she belonged, a home to build. In emerald forest or broad, dry plain, a spinning cocoon in high vacuum, no matter—a home.

AFTERWORD

Prediction is always difficult, especially of the future.

—Danish saying, often quoted by Niels Bohr

Years ago a friend, David Hartwell, used the term “transcendental adventure,” and I thought about what that might mean. This novel may be an example. Another contribution that might fit is my 1984 novel,
Against Infinity.
I suppose there’s a pattern here. I wonder what I could title another such tale, should I write one.

This novel emerges from a novella,
Beyond the Fall of Night,
that I published in 1990, together with Arthur C. Clarke’s
Against the Fall of Night.
That novella was a continuation of Clarke’s, and I shaped it to fit the length (though not the style) of his original. It was fun, especially the give-and-take with Arthur. Writing is lonely work, which explains many collaborations. Science fiction is unusual in the number of collaborations, probably because it is easier to share ideas than characters, and ours is an idea-intensive genre. I’m told that I have written more novels with others than any other SF writer, so my opinion in this is somewhat biased.

Still, after
Beyond the Fall of Night
I finally felt that the result was unsatisfactory, cramped, full of shorthand—but did not then see how to fix it.

This novel attempts to remedy that. Plainly, the ideas needed more air to breathe, so I have expanded the novella to about three times its original size and retitled it. Trappings of Clarke’s far future I have dropped or rearranged. New ideas, principally those of extra dimensions in our universe, I have used from the latest theoretical physics. Centuries of speculative writing have shown us that often our principal sin lies in not being daring enough, and the idea that our universe has more dimensions—tucked away, hidden but significant—is too luscious to resist.

Many people helped with the myriad angles and perspectives the book required. I thank Jaime Levine especially for her editorial help. Elisabeth Malartre and Naomi Fisher made many useful suggestions.

Yet once again I find that there are more ideas in here than I could do justice to. Perhaps I will eventually write a sequel, to explore the avenues opened by this larger version. After all, I haven’t finished the sequel to
Against Infinity
yet.

The far future is a big place. This is a snapshot of where I think evolution and technology might take us. No doubt the reality will be far stranger.

Gregory Benford
August 2003

BOOK: Beyond Infinity
11.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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