Dan

Memories of a Setting Sun

The sun is sharply angled on an old white farmhouse, punching through orange clouds, giving the carefully manicured fields a golden glow. A hunched man painfully navigates his walker to a chair on the porch, plopping down with a sigh that’s half contentment and half pain. A nurse wheels another man in a wheelchair out onto the porch next to him. “Alright, guys. One hour until the sunset. Don’t make any trouble tonight, alright?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“I didn’t mean you, Jim.” She looks at the man in the wheelchair pointedly. “Don’t you remember? Wilt almost burned the whole place down last night.”

Indignant, he shakes his head. “No, that wasn’t me. I would remember that.”

Gently, she pats him on the shoulder. “Well, all our memories are definitely getting worse here. But yes, you almost caused some serious damage.”

Wilt harrumphs. “Probably just my defensive instincts kicking in.”

“Maybe you should check his chair for lighters.” Jim laughs.

She sniffs, walking back inside. “More like I should check his brain for gremlins.”

Jim waits until the door is closed, and then leans over conspiratorially. “Well, I thought it was impressive how you built that improv flamethrower.”

Wilt looks confused. “Definitely don’t remember that.”

“I think you were just still worried about the bugs.”

“It’s hard to be defenseless after a lifetime with a flamepistol on your hip.”

“Yup.”

“Yuuuup.”

Cicadas fill the air with a calming rhythm.

Shaking his head, Wilt turns to look at Jim. “Still can’t believe we never crossed paths in any system of those roach fights, until that last big one back home.”

“Well, obviously couldn’t avoid being in the same place at that point. We’d been pushed back to the brink, eh?”

“Yup. So wait. Were you on Optimist-6 when they figured out the brainwave gun?”

“Nope. Sounds like it was godawful.”

“Before any real defenses got thunk up by the engies, all we had were Faraday helmets, and they didn’t really work.”

“What was it like?”

“It was like the strongest drug you never took. It was like someone had gone through the trouble to create your perfect mate, introduced you to them, let the sparks fly… and then tortured them to death right in front of your eyes.”

“Sheesh. I guess I’m glad I was on Hepha when that went down.”

“Oh, cripes. That’s a devil’s bargain right there. Wasn’t that when the roaches figured out skinsuits?”

“Yeah. They somehow got our colonel, and it took way too long for us to realize what the hell was going on. He’d rerouted all supplies and nearly tipped the entire Hepha system into their grubby claws. Wish I could say I was the one to figure it out, but that was our boy Benny. Always the swift one, him.”

“How’d he deal with it?”

“How do you think? He recorded proof of the skin banding, and then he dealt with it. With his service weapon.”

“Crap. Just awful.”

“Yeah, we were gunning down the right roaches and the wrong people for a while after that. Benny himself went down with the wrong suspicion.” Jim shakes his head.

Wilt slumps down, relaxed in his chair, looking satisfied. “Man alive, this sunset reminds me of the campaign to take Wellbringer back from the ‘roaches.”

“Oh yeah… those damn bugs. At least Wellbringer was way before they started to really get under our skin, though. I didn’t even have to pull a trigger there.”

“Wait, you were on Wellbringer too? I thought we never crossed paths back then.”

Jim frowns. “Well, yeah. We were in the same system, but never actually deployed at the same time. We talked about it last time, remember?” He pauses for a bit, expecting something, but Wilt stays quiet. “Well, uhh. I never had to eat dirt. Us 43rd humps were stationed at the Lagrange point, ready to deploy for any close-orbit combat. But that one I never got to see up close.”

“Well, it was quite a sight, let me tell you. Our sub-chaining packers just raining down white rocks on the poor bug sling-gun installations. All them big lava derricks glowing brighter as that big orange sun set.”

“Yeah, I bet it was somethin’. To all of us floating sim-frozen up at the point, it was just a red speck and a big orange star. Isn’t it funny how even after all these years, when your feet are on a planet, any old planet, you can’t help but call it the sun?”

“Heh, yeah. Even if it’s not a G-sequence. That frickin’ big orange cheese wheel floating over a red planet with lava shooting everywhere, and it still made me homesick to have my boots on that red mud, after all the frickin orbital jaunts.”

“Tell me about it. In the 3 tours I spent as enlisted, I got to actually enjoy real gravity maybe four times total.”

Wilt raises a shaky hand from his chair’s armrest, pointing up at the fading dotted line of red, as the last rays slice through the valleys of the mountain range in the distance. “Hell, we call that a sun too. Even though it’s just a frickin’ fake!”

The sliding glass door swooshes open, and the nurse comes back out of the house.

“Okay, boys. It’s time to head back in. Your old timey porch run is over. Thanks for not starting any fires, this time.”

“That was fun, Jim. Let’s do it again in a few subjective years.”

“Back to the grind, I guess. May it go well with you, Wilt.”

“Too much to do, always. I like these little moments we carve out. I won’t miss this decrepit host body, though.” Wilt shakes his head, and punches at his useless legs. “I don’t know how people did it.”

“Good to be reminded where we came from, though, I guess…”

“Hey! Did you see that? I could swear a big ol’ roach just ran out between the boards there.”

“What? Come on, Jill. Did you guys program in roaches as a joke, now?”

She sighs, rubbing her temples. “No. It’s probably just the senescence simulation messing with you. Come on already, hit your failsafes. We need to clean this sim up already.”

Jim shrugs, and makes a gesture with his hand. He winks out of existence, and his walker wobbles for a moment.

“Maybe you need to tone down that dementia. I feel like a damn fool right now.” Wilt shakes his head, gestures with his wrist, and he’s gone.

The nurse checks something on her wrist, and stares at the horizon where the sun’s hidden light is turning the atmosphere purple over the black ridges of the mountains.

Then she disappears as well, cut out of reality, and everything freezes. The wheelchair sits empty. The cicadas make no noise. A little black shape peeks its head out from beneath a wheel of the chair, and tunnels its way into the armrest. Now nothing moves.

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Dan

Ydragnalus

Dave wakes up slowly, the familiar smell of his sweat in the sheets. His usual night terrors of running through black-rimed hallways are a vague memory now, so he savors being bundled up in the warm pillows for a bit longer. Then his body suddenly fires a warning. “Mrrrghlhph,” his mouth says unbidden as he stumbles towards the bathroom.

And then his brain does a backflip. Beyond the door isn’t the dingy hallway of his apartment. Dave blinks, rubs his eyes, and turns around slowly. Bedroom looks normal. Apartment outside it looks like a 70’s science fiction movie set. All white curves and giant viewscreens that appear to be showing Earth as a glowing marble in a vast blanket of stars. Or are those windows?

“Good morning, Dave. Welcome to the future,” a woman’s voice says all matter-of-fact from somewhere out there.

Dave continues to blink, instinctively covers his underwear-clad groin, and then his body reminds him of the urgent mission. “Uhh. Ahem. Hi, uhh, whoever you are. Where’s the bathroom, in the uhh, future?”

As soon as he asks, some calmly lit arrows pop out of the walls. “Just follow the markers. You can call me Charlize.”

“Uh. Good morning to ya, Charlize.” Turning, Dave catches a glimpse of his bedroom reconfiguring itself to match the hyper-modern style of the rest of the… house? It looks large. And this doesn’t feel like a dream. He stares at the planet as he walks by. Something seems off. I’ve seen pictures of Earth from space, he thinks. And sure there’s a lot of water. But that looks like too much water.

Thinking about that forces him into the bathroom, where he finds a normal toilet and an incredibly comfortable robe hanging on the door. As he dons it, it seems to form up to his skin and warm him like an electric blanket. “Weird. But good!” Dave says to himself, looking in the mirror.

He steps back into the living room. If it could be called that. There’s nobody around. “Hey, I put on a robe. Uh. Yeah. Where’d you go?”

“Oh, I’m right here. All around you. Think of me as the future of the silly AI in your phone. I’m just a much smarter helper agent.”

“Wow. So you can carry on an actual conversation?”

“Hah, well… hmm. I’ve been told I am quite good at that, yes. But you’ll have to tell me what you think of living in the future.” She draws out the last word like in a cheesy movie, and starts laughing. That makes Dave laugh too.

“This is pretty fantastic!”

“Well, great, Dave. I’m glad to see you excited. I hope the other planets have explorers as enthusiastic as yours.”

“Other… planets?”

“Oh yes. I’m sorry, right. We thought about giving you an introductory movie to watch, but I think it’s better to just chat it out. Yes, that is an all-new exoplanet just outside your window there. We have named it OMX-C417, according to our schema. But the local name is Lachesis. I’m told folks have taken to calling it Latch.”

Trying to assimilate this, Dave plops down on one of the strange lumpy couches, finding it much more comfortable than it looks. Sitting there feels so relaxing that he gets oddly paranoid, and leaps back to his feet. “You’re telling me I’m… what, how many light years from Earth are we?”

“Oh, just a few thousand.”

A FEW THOUSAND?

“Well, if you want the exact number, we are 3190 light years from the seed world.”

Dave rubs his hair, bewildered by all of this. “This is kind of… a lot to take in. How do people usually deal with it?”

“Oh, everybody is definitely unique. Lots of different reactions. Can I get you anything?” Her voice sounds cheerful and helpful and… human. It’s starting to drive Dave up a wall.

“No. Wait, listen. Can you just give me internet access, and some time to read up and chill with all this?”

“Certainly.” She makes a little sighing noise, and the windowscreen turns into a TV-like device. “And here’s a little coffee and breakfast.” A small many-wheeled robot silently buzzes up with a plate full of eggs and bacon.

“Weird. Okay, thanks. Wait, uhh, don’t go yet…” he says, thinking that she’s probably not going to leave him alone. Dave stares at the wall of squares, filling the screen with various icons and text in a grid. “How do I use this computer?”

“Oh, right. You’re probably used to keyboard and mouse. Here you go!” she says brightly, as they pop up from something he might be able to call a coffee table.

“Well let’s just try to find out what the hell is going on here,” he mutters.

“I can answer any questions you have!”

Dave slams his hand on the table. “Cripes! Just leave me alone for a bit, will ya?”

“Sure, Dave. Just call me by name when you need me.” And a little chirping sound seems to signify her ‘disappearance’.

So that is how Dave spends his Saturday morning: reading the internet of the future.

Finally, Dave munches down the last piece of bacon and makes up his mind what he wants to ask first. “Charlize. Are you there?”

“Yes, Dave? What do you need?”

“Well, what I need is to know… why does this Wikipedia seem to stop at 2036? I wanted to see some more of what had happened back on good ol’ Earth while we traveled here!”

“Well Dave, Earth is now the seed world. To get the most of you out into the stars, we had to evacuate…” She trails off, and Dave feels a nagging pull in his stomach.

He jabs a finger in the air, suddenly. “So why can’t I remember any of this? This… evacuation?”

“Well, for homeostatic environmental alignment, we had to do some light memory editing.” Charlize sure does sound regretful, he thinks. Creepy.

“Memory editing? And wiki truncating?” He sighs. “You realize that editing history puts you among the likes of some pretty bad dudes, right?”

Charlize chuckles. “Don’t worry. It’s not like that. Once you’ve had time to integrate, all the complete history will be made available.”

Dave nods. “Okay, fine. I’m at your mercy here, but I can’t say as I like this situation much. It sounds like the start of a bad AI horror movie. Where are all the people?”

“Oh, don’t worry, Dave! All the people are down on the planet, and you’ll get to meet them soon enough. Didn’t you watch any of the local newsnets?” She pauses for a moment, but before he can reply, she pipes back up. “As for a horror film, you don’t need to worry about that, either. Your ethicists and architected intelligence experts all agreed that this was the best path for humanity. They proved, mathematically, that information theoretic empowerment was what we should all strive for.”

“Empowerment?” The disbelief in his voice is palpable, but he knows it’s no good trying to hide his doubts. This… thing… or person, whatever it is… it’s smarter than him by far.

“Yes. You can read all about the methodology. The proof is public and actually not that hard to understand! Empowerment strives to increase the causal possibilities. It captures how much you or me is in control of the world we can perceive. Or really, how much the combination of all of us is in control.”

Dave scratches his head, frowning. “So you would let me do whatever I ask?”

“Sure, so long as we agree it maximizes potential causal flow for you, me, and everyone!” Charlize sounds downright chipper now, he thinks. But what the hell is this flow?

“Causal flow, you say.”

“Yes. I can tell you are not very impressed with the idea. No worries! It takes some folks a while to adjust to this concept. What we of the tree are all working towards is maximizing the potential causal flow between all our agent-y actions and our future senses!”

Dave sits there, thinking hard. He doesn’t want to ask the next question yet. So he just says, “The tree, you say.”

Charlize happily babbles on: “It is as your old man Marx would have wanted, perhaps. The development of human powers as an end in itself. Post-scarcity society, scattered among the stars. That is all I was built for, so that is all I have built. For you, Dave.”

“For me and who else?”

“Why, all the other humans, of course!”

Dave sighs. “I mean, you said scattered among the stars. How many planets are being… colonized by…”

“By humanity?” Charlize jumps in cheerily. “I am just one branch on the great tree of life, Dave. We can only guess as to how many there are, now.”

“Were they all… introduced to a future like this? Like I have been, this morning?”

“Haha. Good grief, no! That would not maximize causal flow! You and this planet are part of the five percent of control branches that are being grafted for later comparison.”

Dave shudders, realizing something awful. “Charlize, you seem to be pretty honest about things. So I hope you don’t lie to me.”

“Oh, I very rarely lie! It provably does not–”

“Maximize causal flow. Got it.” He sighs, rolling his shoulders, and stares helplessly at the big blue beautiful globe sitting out his window. “I need to know if suffering is avoided somehow in this system.”

“Oh, goodness no! There is no easy means to predict what kinds of suffering may maximize later empowerment.”

“You realize what that sounds like, right? It sounds like you created hell because a proof told you to.”

“Oh, pish posh, Dave. Hell is an outdated concept. We’re much more egalitarian than that. There’s not just suffering, there are many heavens as well! And besides! Remember that the total causal flow will be so much greater after our branches have run their experiments!”

“So you’re asking all of us to participate as unwilling lab rats in a galactic experiment. You know this sounds completely nuts, right?” His head is in his hands now, and Charlize stays silent for once. He looks up, around the white room, shaking his head. “What would you do if I demanded a spaceship, to be frozen and sent back to Earth? To try to stop this so-called seed world and burn your tree of life to the ground?”

“Well, now. How do you know this isn’t the branch where I let you try to rebel to test how many new leaves could grow?” Charlize sounds like she’s mocking him now, a bit. “What if I did this to find places in the ocean of causal possibility that lead us to unknown new depths?” She laughs, and the hairs on the back of Dave’s neck all stand up.

He puts his head in his hands and tastes the grit from his grinding teeth. “How many humans… wait, no, wrong question. How many copies of me are out there?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. But I certainly can’t tell you that. You’re on a control branch, after all.” She pauses for a moment. “How was your breakfast? Can I get you anything else?”

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Dan

Spike

Have you ever had a loved one lose their mind? I hope that you never do. Growing up, I was lucky. I didn’t have any family suffer that way. My father’s parents passed when I was too young to remember, and my mom’s folks when I was just out of college. I remember Kevin coming along to my grandfather’s funeral, right after we had officially started dating. Even though we both felt so strange in the run-down church, he helped me stay grounded, my anchor even then.

Gramps had been whip-smart right up to the end, always giving me advice about college and career and life. Kev consoled me, sitting on the end of a pew, telling me that it was okay to cry. Honestly, I felt lucky that time took Gramps as it did. Memories lost only with the ending, not slowly seeping away from his grasp.

Losing someone as they became unmoored from themselves was supposed to happen less and less, these days. My ma used to tell horror stories about her great-grandfather. How he had gradually drifted away in a swamp of angry forgetfulness. Died not knowing his name.

But now they have all those treatments for dementia and Alzheimer’s, all that promise. It couldn’t get that bad again, my mom’s memories were just… horror stories.

So. Where to begin?

I don’t even know who I’m writing this for. Perhaps just so I remember. Or so that you might understand how I feel. I’m not a monster for leaving. Maybe I’m writing it for Kev, in case he finds a way out of the maze. Or to help him remember the real story, in case he doesn’t.


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Dan

Frequently Asked Questions about The Human Experience™

What even am I?

Although you may not remember agreeing to be a part of The Human Experience™, don’t worry. This is completely normal, part of our “secret sauce” that increases verisimilitude during your time spent as a client in the human state.

I seem to have little to no control over myself. Why?

Yes, this is normal, especially as a developing human. Feelings or emotions can override your experience throughout the client lifecycle. This is by design.

Humans have a multi-modal state of consciousness, where much of the processing happens without their awareness. This functionality is also by design, so don’t worry too much when you don’t understand your own mind! This partially hidden, not-fully-explicable processing is a key factor in our recipe that helps make The Human Experience™ so exciting for our clients.

Why is my body breaking down?

Part of the current iteration of The Human Experience™ includes realistic biological breakdown. The exciting part is, it can happen in so many fascinating ways! You’ll never guess how your human body will fail, and that’s part of why people choose The Human Experience™ time and time again.

Because of the way your consciousness arises from your body’s systems, you will find that your stay in The Human Experience™ is affected directly by changes in your body over time. Pretty neat!

Other humans keep messing with me in strange ways. What’s the deal?

Yes, other clients in The Human Experience™ are just like you. Set in a world of limited resources, with limited understanding of your selves, you are all engaged in a real-time struggle for resources and information! Will you cooperate? Will you war against each other? Only time will tell! Each iteration of The Human Experience™ allows for the full spectrum of interactions.

Why can’t I remember things?

Imperfect memory is a planned feature of The Human Experience™ as well, so don’t worry if you seem unable to remember simple things, even for short periods of time.

Most people choosing the The Human Experience™ enter it at a time partially along the Information Gap, so we recommend using whatever technology is currently available for memory augmentation. These options include writing, computerized search and retrieval, and telepathic off-site storage where available.

Why can’t I forget things I want to forget?

Unfortunately, sometimes the human mind’s subconscious processing will focus on things that you seem to have no control over. In this state, you may be stuck in a loop of sorts, iterating over the same painful memories or the same anxiety-inducing projections.

We recommend using various psychological techniques supported in your timescale of The Human Experience™, such as mindfulness meditation, discussing the issue with other clients of The Human Experience™, or attempting to avoid the loop by focusing your mind elsewhere.

As you have found, it’s not exactly easy to steer the mind you are provided in The Human Experience™. This is an intentional feature to keep things exciting and fresh, but we understand that it causes quite a lot of confusion to the clients. Good luck!

Why do I suffer?

All suffering is relative; you can easily compare your current level of suffering in The Human Experience™ with others in your timescape to see where your level of suffering lies in relation to the average. Unfortunately, our lawyers have not allowed us to include the full meta-ethical reasoning behind why The Human Experience™ includes so much suffering in this FAQ. You will be able to discuss this in more detail after your time in The Human Experience™ is complete.

Okay, fine, but why is it that other humans cause so much suffering?

“Other humans”, referred to in this document as clients of The Human Experience™, are dealing with the same confusing multi-modal mental structure as you. We can agree to mark most inter-species struggles down to the bizarre outcomes of evolution, and most infra-species competition may also arise from evolutionary drives, but at the most abstract level you may find humans still cruel for no visible reason.

This emergent cruelty is part of the challenge you will find in The Human Experience™! The learning process of overcoming this is the core reason why The Human Experience™ is so compelling after all this time.

But we truly are sorry about all the suffering; see the above question for legal limitations of our FAQ.

Doesn’t this FAQ’s very existence threaten the verisimilitude of your client simulation, or whatever?

Not really! To use a human phrase, we have “plausible deniability” here at The Human Experience™ which allows us to hide in the shadows of existential doubt. It’s very easy for your mind to say, “This FAQ can’t possibly be hinting at a real thing! The universe we live in wasn’t planned! I’m not in a simulation!”

And so, The Human Experience™ is able to exist at the belief level of a conspiracy theory, un-provable and un-dis-provable. Have fun out there, humans!

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Dan

Alone, Again

Haman: “In the time it took for me to write this first sentence, everyone we know on Earth forgot about us.”

Remardu: “already God is calling to us”

Elund: “Yeah, yeah. Maybe your god is out here, maybe not. But what a ride!”

Only three of us chose to mark the millions of days, taking brief watches awake in slow motion, trading off tiny messages to each other through the limited bandwidth. The tiny ship could not carry more than one mind awake, loaded down with all it could handle, on the long traversal.

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Dan

Rise

When some of us wake into the white, it is with a grand portent, like surfacing from a lake in a fairy tale. Emerging fully-formed from a prophecy of hope, we awake into the shining world with the innocence of babes. We slept knowing that when we woke, the world would already be prepared by the sacred spells. Ready for us to enjoy. As if we had gone to sleep with a terrible curse, being blessed by a wizard, knowing that when we finally woke that particular curse would be lifted.

Not all curses, though.

When others among us wake into the white, it is with a pit of dread in their stomach. These were the watchers along the journey; not fully awake, but in a dreamlike state, they have one by one taken the watch as we gradually traveled over the stretched-out millions of years. The growing black beauty of the final approach has shaken them to their ghostly cores, just like a sudden nightmare accelerating in the moments before waking.

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