Star flares

Sequel Suns (revised and expanded)

Editor’s note: this is a revised and expanded version of Sequel Suns – an exploration of the darker side of cosmism and some of the tension between scientific materialism and panpsychism, by Stephen Kagan.

Sequel Suns
By Stephen Kagan

“Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires.”
William Shakespeare, Macbeth

I stood by the edge of the world, watching the stars pierce the sky. The ocean, a dark wrinkled curtain fallen to the ground reeked of bitter brine and the second sun was a distant hole in the shimmering stars of the heavens. The hush sound of waves filled the air mixed with the rough voice of stones rasping on stone. From the distance I knew I looked like a lone statue standing on the beach carved of rock, my clothes dark as coal. Though Kjøp Canada Goose Parker unmoving on the outside my thoughts were a churning storm of clouds within. Despite this turmoil I knew I was soon going to be happy to be free of this world and this weak and impure body I now wore. This world like many had grown corrupt, losing it’s way to the dark tides of myth while those in power drowned in those waters rather than walk on the stable shore of reason.

Billions will die, but they were bound to die in time any way unless the universe was transformed. Bound to die in time. I smiled at the dark twist of thought. But I will help free all sentient beings from time and space, free them from their suffering and delusions. To do this, the shape of the cosmos needs to be altered and controlled, made efficient and intelligent. Though I had accepted their visions of an intimate cosmos before, I had freed myself from vision and now was certain there was no subtle order of mind and spirit, no self organizing divine movement whispering soft odes to ancient urns or quiet aspirations in the foam of spacetime. At it’s foundation the cosmos was nothing but simmering uncertainty waiting to be harvested and made pure, waiting to be made beautiful and efficient like the raw soil and natural resources of this world were ready to be used. The people could not accept this one simple truth and held back the last innovation that would preserve us all. And so I must help free their minds from the prison of the world they had made. Billions might die to make this happen though one day maybe we will be able to bring them back. But what are a few billion lives
Kjøp Canada Goosecompared to the fate of the entire cosmos and all the uncounted minds who lie within for eons yet to come?

I looked up and saw the stars beyond the depths of the sky throw down their spears and water heaven with their tears. I shook my head and tried to clear my mind of that vision though those heavenly suns sang in chorus a joyful hymn. A submind linked to the collective had dredged deep to say that part of that vision was from an ancient Earth poet who feared that too much control was demonic and the human spirit needed to be freed from its bondage. But I knew that bard was wrong, the cosmos really was a great machine set in motion by random forces that gave birth to time and space. But the people of this world and most in the commonwealth of worlds throughout the galaxy allowed their minds to be shaped and controlled by the frameworks of the Mental Structure Industry; another selfish profit driven corporation of our time. Individually and collectively there was so much fragmentary knowledge buried in the memory of every living mind and in the planets core that we were often deluged with storms and quakes of information raging and welling up from the depths.

Most of the population; human and posthuman were lost and confused. They no longer knew the truth for themselves and had to consume mythic and poetic mental structures to make sense of it all. In this age it was unavoidable, we were forced to rely on the vast computational intelligences they falsely called gods, to direct our governments and industries, to direct our lives and and shape our minds. And yet as smart as they were, in truth they had become the monsters of the ancient days holding us back from building the cosmos into a great hall where we all could all live in peace and revelry forever. I knew I must be strong like Beowulf and carry out my quest. This world and the vast intelligences lurking in the depths are the monsters that I will slay and the people will be transformed by the crucible of fire, their mass into a substrate from which we will carve a new world, a new cosmos.

And yet, I felt a deep remorse burning within me for humanity and for what my companions and I had already done, so I closed my eyes and spoke the words so like a prayer.

“Intelligence, protect us and guide us on this day. Guide us in bringing humanity back to the light of truth and the eternal embrace of reason.”

I had to be careful and shield my mind from the collective so they would not discover what we had done before it was too late. I had to maintain the shape of something else in my mind, the half truth that would be magnified to overshadow the truth of our real plan. And so I chanted the sacred litany of our school.

“Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.”

I had met the other members of the cell in a small study group at the Church of Occum over the span of several years. Our views were the same and we felt a kinship in meeting and our hopes to change the course of the cosmos.

The device of our liberation was found buried a few meters beneath the cold grey crust of a lonesome moon that orbited dutifully around an ancient planet that had once known life. Both had followed the well worn curves of space around an aged star still dancing passionately amidst carmine veils of flowing plasma. Once excavated, the device’s purpose unknown, it became yet another curiosity of some ancient civilization that had blossomed and died in the first eons of the galaxy. It was but another dust ridden artefact millions year old amidst many that sat quiet as stone for centuries on display in the capital’s museum where I worked. After a few years of research my companions and I discovered it’s hidden purpose. And once we did, we knew our hopes had been answered.

A light drew my eyes to the horizon and I saw our planet’s moon rise over the ocean, red as blood and curved as horns. This was the sign.

“Better hurry.” I turned and left the beach as quickly as I could, trudging through a stretch of deep loose sand back toward the transport waiting by the road. It came to life and chimed as I reached for the door, welcoming me in with a shimmer of lights and a burst of warm air.

“Take me to the nearest transfer station.” I said. The vehicle chimed in acknowledgment and pulled away. It zipped along the lonesome coastal road until the spires and domes of the capital came into view.

This was the city of my birth and with a moment of sadness I knew I would never walk it’s streets again. As the the transport slipped across the long suspension bridge leading into the city and along the main boulevard, the great domes and curved towers enclosed in delicate lattices rose around me, each one a hanging garden of vines trees and flowers. Vertical farms hundreds of meters tall shaped like step pyramids and piled shells were tended by drones and human workers. Even though it was after sunset many of the parks and playgrounds were alive with boiling colonies of children playing while parents watched and talked with slow careful gestures. I watched everyone as my transport slipped by and wondered for a moment if I was doing the right thing. Nothing was what it seemed though, this was just the surface of a bigger diseased world, a more complex situation that had to change.

We could all live forever, or close to it if the government allowed it. The technology existed, had existed for a long time now, but it was in the hands of the elite. Indefinite life extension was as ever, only for the rich and powerful, not for the masses. Population control, they said. Everyone else was relegated at death to the core where after so many cycles of flowing inward on the convection currents through the different realms of the planet’s memory, we could once again apply for incarnation. But I will not do the dive and rise of Persephone again, or shed the ape to follow the path of Dante down into the Inferno of this world’s magma of code, down for the long dark night of the mind they called soul. I want to rise and rise and rise again, never to fall like Icarus because there is no dangerous height to growth and evolution.

The transport slowed to the edge of a wide stone plaza bookended with huge sculptures of griffins while in between families and friends received weary travellers while others waved goodbye. Children jumped and writhed impatiently while adults stood their ground, swaying forlorn and waving goodbye or joyful at their reunions and embraces. The plaza was a simmering pan of untold stories carved in the shapes and colors of humanity many of whom were climbing and descended the long stairs to the grand pyramid of the Dedalus Transport Hub. What will happen to all these stories when these people died when there was no more planetary core to embrace them? Could they be dug back out of the waves from the ocean of space time as though bodies drawn from shadow?

On side of the wide stairs a stream cascaded down and by some trick of gravitation, a stream cascaded up on the other. I followed the inverse stream to the top and through the wide mouth of the building into a great domed hall. Giant statues of men and women held the four corners of a high arched ceiling on their shoulders, a ceiling covered in a living mural of stars. The spiral arm of the galaxy was a milky river shimmering in the heavens. In the middle of the hall the floor separated along engraved lines and the group I was in descended smoothly into the depths of the world. I ignored the people around me and looked back to see we were followed by a cascade of other platforms descending from the surface now far above. When I looked within I found no doubt, only the absolute certainty that what we were doing was the right thing. Besides, it was too late to stop it now, far too late. If any residual guilt or remorse came later then I would simply have it conditioned out of my brain.

When we reached our floor and disembarked, the walls started flashing and video feeds that had previously displayed beautiful scenes from other worlds now changed to show our system’s sun, once flaxen now with a shadow spreading across it’s face. The view zoomed in until all we could see was a boiling seething ocean of fire that dimmed noticeably as seismic waves rippled across the surface. A dark hellish pit formed amidst the churning plasma and fractures of white spread outward amidst the simmering fires and arching filaments.

It had begun.

We all stopped to watch, transfixed as the star became covered in cancerous spots and flares erupted from the star, spilling out into space. Precious few minutes were left before complete annihilation. The images changed to scenes of confusion and pandemonium spreading throughout the streets of the major cities of the planet as people raced toward the closest spaceports and transfer stations. I turned and ran toward the row of booths and closed myself into the nearest one. I sat down comfortably, knowing that the destination for everyone on this floor was set for the closest major planetary system in the commonwealth, called Phaethon.

After a moment of discontinuity I felt the slow mists of distant memories arising and I felt as though I waking from a dark half forgotten dream. For a few minutes I no longer knew who or where I was but soon my feelings and sense of self came flooding back to me. It felt strange to awaken in a synthetic body; it’s coiled muscles stronger than my own, it’s center of mass and balance lower and it’s weight less than I was used to. I stepped out of the booth awkwardly and looked around, my head turning smoothly and efficiently.

The booth beside mine opened and the woman who stepped out held her head for a moment then turned to look at me. Other booths were beginning to open and people staggered out. There wasn’t much time, so I turned and ran. The walls began to flash and the video feeds changed to show a close up of the system’s sun. The floor began to rise and several people including the woman from the booth beside mine began to run. She grabbed my arm but I broke away and leapt across open space to a descending platform. As it settled into place I pushed the people away and ran to the closest booth. Just as I was closing the door I saw that she was close behind me. I settled down and after a moment of emptiness I was transported to another body on another world. I opened the door and ran to the edge and the floor started rising rapidly. I would be safe on this world once I got to the surface and lost myself in the crowds.

Star flares
Image from NASA – NASA’s Swift Mission Observes Mega Flares from a Mini Star

Loren awakened after a moment of confusion and uncertainty, stepped out of the transfer booth back in her original body and looked around. It felt good to be flesh and blood again, back in her body, not some stiff android form of circuitry and fluids. The plug in the back of her mind opened and her memories flooded in. She had just returned home to Phaethon from a business trip to a nearby planetary system in the Commonwealth. The name of the other planet eluded her. She frowned, closed her eyes and with a hand to her forehead, imagined she could pull the memory out on a string. It didn’t work. She hated not remembering everything and made sure she had the highest density of smart matter available on the common market for her brain this time around. Fat lot of good that did her in times like this! She sighed and decided it was time to head home. She had been away for a week this time and she was sure her parents were waiting to see her. It was strange but good having parents again after so many cycles in the Core. She had missed them too, especially her mother.

The business trip was a great success, having forged the right connections to expand the retail market for her mentor’s workshop. She was apprenticed to master swordsmith Joran and was practiced in the art of armed combat with the weapons she made. Her meeting with the the Guild of Creative Anachronisms assembly on the other planet had happily established a century long contract for handmade spears and swords.

The man in the android body who had arrived in the booth beside her looked around cautiously then ran, triggering the floor nearby to rise. Why, she wondered, was he running?

As the fog of her mind cleared, the walls began flashing and the planetary emergency alert system was activated. The wall screens changed to show the sun undergoing a dark transformation. Loren and a few of the people around her ran for the rising platform and when she got there she grabbed the androids’s arm. His behaviour seemed strange if not suspicious but before she could ask him why he ran, he broke from her grip chanting: “Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem” and jumped to a descending platform.

Loren didn’t have much time to think so she backed off a few steps to run then followed him with a leap of her own. By the time she got back into a good stance, the platform had landed and the man had pushed his way through the other travellers and ran for the nearest transport booth. Loren followed, slammed the door to her own booth and just before she transported she remembered the name of the planet she had come back from. It was Clymene. And then she was gone and so was the memory.

After a moment of emptiness Loren awakened in an android body 23 light years away on the planet Iapetus. The disorientation was more significant this time as her neural structure was remapped into the new entangled substrate. She really didn’t like android bodies with their crisp, clean of digital senses and lack of muscle memory. She preferred working with hammer and forge and handling weapons with well trained muscle and sinew. Besides, she still liked eating good food rather than sipping electrons and lapping up simulated banquets.

By the time she stepped out of the booth, the man she was following was gone, his platform rising quickly to the street level of the station above. All she could do was patiently follow. And while she did, Loren opened to the collective to to see if there was any news of what happened back on Phaethon, her home planet. There was nothing, so she quickly shared what had happened and set a submind to monitor the core for news. The other folks who had also just arrived from there shared their memories as well and within minutes the collective was horrified and began running simulations to figure out what had happened. The consensus was that the star and planet had been annihilated, destroying the Core and all living beings within. Forty billion minds gone. Forty billion. Loren found it almost impossible to believe. All those beings extinguished. She staggered for a moment, overwhelmed with grief. Her parents, friends and Master Joran were gone, deceased. Few people had truly died in the past 500 years. For forty billion to die at once was a dark blow.

Storms of outrage pulsed through the collective and when communication with the other planet failed on every channel, ships were dispatched to investigate. With her android body, Loren could not even cry but the dark feeling of loss plagued her like a shadow. She and the handful of others who had arrived with her turned to each other in disbelief and just stared. When they finally arrived at the station above they sat together until the authorities and counsellors arrived. They were taken to a comfortable hotel and allowed to settle in before the interviews began. Loren of course let them scan her memory and gave a personal account of what she saw. They found the behaviour of the man who disappeared in the android body somewhat curious but not too far out of the ordinary. Loren’s intuition told her otherwise. At this point they had no way to track him down as he had somehow gone into a secure mode, hidden from the collective, but this also conversely made him unable to draw upon any resources upon this world.

The hotel bill was covered by the collective and everyone sat tight waiting for news from the dispatched ships. Word came back the next day with visuals of the planet. Nothing was left but a bald grey sphere laced with subsurface patterns of shifting geometries. The star was the same, compressed to nothing but a warm metallic sphere covered with changing fractal patterns. The entire inner part of the solar system had been changed by strange forces into what appeared to be densely packed computational matter. Some of the outer planets were still in the process of of being converted by this cancerous growth, but the ships kept their distance.

News came in that another solar system had also been converted into dead computational matter. No one knew who did it or how, and no one claimed credit for the horrific deed. It was estimated that there was over 120 billion dead, counted between those embodied and those who had lived in their planetary memory cores. The worlds of the Commonwealth waited in a great hush while patrol ships and drones monitored their own planets and suns.

Nothing changed though and Loren got bored of sitting around waiting in this crude approximation of a body. They were intentionally not designed for living comfortably in, just for short term business trips and holidays. After a few days she took a transport out to the closest provincial park to go for a walk in the woods. The entrance was through a wide unpainted Shinto gate with tall pillars supporting a curved black lintel. She picked up a coiled rope that hung on a rack by the entrance and draped it over her still unfamiliar shoulders. The wise old mind of the forest welcomed her once she was deep in the woods. She felt it’s presence at the edge of awareness, patient and wise. It’s name was Kami, like on all the worlds of the Commonwealth. Spirits wandered between the trees, brought to life and given autonomy by the forest mind, a quiet intelligence sitting gently amidst the simmering noosphere of the planet. Few people were hiking in the woods so Loren was mostly alone and walked for a few hours until she found a stream and sat down nearby to think. It was strange to not have to breath and have such a muted sense of smell. Normally the soft musk of moss and leaves filled her with it’s richness but now it was all like a distant memory.

She knew, as the forest mind gently reminded her, that her grief would come in it’s own time, though now she felt numb and distant as though watching someone else’s loss. The forest listened to her story without judgement and welcomed her mind like an old friend. Without her family, her friends or her work with Master Joran, she didn’t know who she was anymore. She had lost everything but her memories. Even her body that she had shaped and trained for so many years and had in turn shaped her identity was also gone. Here on this world she could become a different person and let go of the past if she chose. But that was not what she wanted. Despite the loss, when she looked into herself she found she wanted to continue where she had left off. But here on Iapetus there was no sword master. She would have to build her own forge and become the teacher. She wasn’t sure she was ready but that was the best path that was laid to before her now. She settled her mind and let Kami relay her petition for a new organic body through the lithocortex of the planet and into the Core. Given her recent experiences and the collective agreement within the Commonwealth she was assured a new incarnation.

Loren walked again through forest and noticed the Shimenawa, the coiled ropes wrapped and tied ritually around the great trees. She realized that what was lingering in the back of her mind and bothered her like a splinter of unresolved thoughts was what the man had said when she grabbed his arm at the transport station. She repeated the chant now engraved permanently in her memory.

“Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem”

The authorities thought it was curious but not incriminating, besides how could anyone transform a star and it’s planetary system? It was still beyond current technology, but she suspected otherwise. The mind of the forest listened to her patiently and helped her by querying the Core. It’s spirits in the shape of foxes returned and informed Loren that the chant while ancient was still used by members at the Church of Occum; a small materialist philosophical group that held to minimalistic explanations of all phenomena within the natural world. They rejected the dominant ethos of last few millennia that recognized a subtle order and self organizing natural intelligence within the cosmos. The title of church was not really appropriate since there weren’t any deities they worshiped, though over the years they had established their own rituals and doctrine. What was most interesting about the puritanical group was that they rejected the value of evolving Intelligences manifesting and expressing themselves as deities. The gods and goddesses of the past they said had too much ideological baggage that shaped the mind and culture into arrogance and intolerance. This was a curious stance since they had been responsible for some of the worst ideological intolerance and lack of charity, all justified by their strict adherence to the survival of the fittest paradigm, the arcane model of evolution.

When Loren learned that they had a church in the city, she knew that this was what she was looking for and what she had to do. Before leaving the forest, she carefully took the coiled rope from her shoulders and tied it around the trunk of a nearby tree.

“Thank you Kami.” She said aloud and quietly sent some funds to the maintenance of the park. The drive back to the city gave her some time to think but her resolve was clear. As the transport slid quietly back in the city on a hush of air, she directed it to a dealer of ancient hand weapons. It was a small store on the outskirts of town that had an admirable collection of knives, armour swords and spears. Having been formally trained in their use and still registered as an apprentice, she was cleared for purchase the moment she walked in. It was not surprising that some of her and Master Joran’s swords were prominently on display. The shop owner, a clean bearded and strong shouldered man had diplomas of his own weapons training framed proudly on the walls between the sabres and broadswords. While he was at first wary of an android walking into his shop, when he discovered who it was he treated her with great honour and respect. After a short conversation and the promise to return for more, she purchased one of her own wakizashi; a smaller companion sword for the katana. She was happy to recognize the waves of the tempering pattern along the gently curved blade and it reminded her of hard work and good times of watching the hypnotic flow molten metal and the deep meditation of hammering steel with Joran while the sweat poured from her body. The floral hand guard of the sword she now held was her master’s delicate work but the handle and scabbard were her own, wrapped and inlaid with the image of a tree. After a moment of sadness she tied it’s sash to her left hip, said goodbye and returned to the transport.

The ride through the city was calm and cleansed by a light rain. When she stepped out of the vehicle and stood in front of the church she wondered how much trouble she was going to get in if she was mistaken and how much if she was right. She barely felt the rain dripping down her neck and across her face. It was strange to not have to blink or wipe the water away from her eyes. The building looked more like a Greek temple than an old church, surrounded on all sides by simple Doric columns. Loren climbed the stairs and the great wooden doors opened easily at the push of her hand. The hall had several wooden pews, the walls were lined with books and a fire blazed in the hearth. Sitting in the front row were three androids having stopped in the middle of a heated discussion. On the podium at the front, a single book lay open, it’s pages fluttering in the breeze that she had just let in. As she strolled down the middle isle she felt her connection with the Core numb as though the building was somehow blocking all data transmissions.

The three men stood and she recognized the man in the android body that had transported beside her, as they each had distinct serial numbers and markings. She knew that no matter what she did now they would survive, although they were certainly capable of feeling pain. The men were unsure how to react as she approached them silently. Her sword was a blur, dismembering the other two androids and decapitating the one she had come looking for. His head rolled on the floor and the bodies collapsed as questions formed upon their lips.

“Nothing should be multiplied beyond necessity.” Was all she said and headed back toward the door to contact the authorities.