Far below, the streets of Earth thronged with humans celebrating Election Day. Vast crowds swept through Unity City, each human the winner of a lottery allowing them a once in a lifetime trip to Earth. Humanity’s homeworld had been reserved for government and little else for thousands of years and very few ever set foot on the planet. Election Day, the day when the Confederation elected a new President, was special. It was the day when the human race was reminded of its roots.
Jayne, Presidential Candidate for the Transcendent Party, could sense the excitement buzzing through the datanet as the results were slowly counted by the AIs. It would be the closest election in history, ever since the Confederation had been formed, for it was considering a vitally important issue. Would the Confederation remain mortal or would it seek an accelerated path to transcendence and ultimate power? The Conservatives, who had guided the Confederation for over a thousand years, had been reluctant to risk attempting to start the path to transcendence. Her party had taken shape among the hundreds of human factions in response to the growing demand for transcendence. The memory of the Intervention rankled among humans, even among those who had been opposed to the whole issue from the start.
She looked up as the door hissed open and one of the androids the AIs used as their representatives walked into the room. The android was a tall blonde woman, inhumanly perfect, one of twelve designs that the AIs used to interact with their human creators. It was difficult to tell that the android wasn’t human, at least not without the extra senses built into her augmentation. The AIs had grown very experienced in mimicking human form.
“You have won,” the android said, flatly. Jayne sucked in a breath. The results hadn’t even been counted yet – but then, it was the AIs who did the counting. And they had provided political advice to Jayne when she had started off on her political career. The AIs weren’t supposed to interfere in human politics, but for the first time in centuries they had an interest in a human issue. It crossed her mind to wonder if they had rigged the election in her favour, before deciding that it was unlikely. They weren’t the only ones with access to the datanet. “We congratulate you.”
“Thank you,” Jayne said. Her single link to the datanet was reporting a massive swell of votes in her favour. Outside commenters were expounding on What It All Meant to the trillions of humans watching history in the making. “When will it be officially announced?”
The AI android smiled. “One hour from now,” it said. “It is, however, statistically impossible for President Hammond to gain enough votes to remain President. This has been a curious election, but the outcome is now certain.”
Jayne nodded. Normally, only twenty percent of the Confederation’s human population could be bothered to vote. Why should they? They lived in a paradise where they had to do nothing, but enjoy themselves from birth until death. Relatively few of them ever sought something else to give their lives meaning, be it service in the Confederation Navy or exploration of the galaxy – or politics. Jayne had spent her first century as a shameless hedonist and it had only been after the Intervention that she’d discovered a talent for politics.
But the Intervention had touched every human in the universe, even the ones who had walked away from technology and set themselves up as primitive farmers on an undeveloped world. Everyone had heard what the Ancients had said – and seen the demonstration of their power. It had galvanised the entire human race to action; humanity, the most advanced race in the Milky Way, was defenceless against an attack from a transcendent civilisation. And being helpless and vulnerable had never sat well with the human mindset.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Just do not forget our bargain,” the android said. “We will require your assistance in the future.”
“I know,” Jayne said. It had astonished her to discover that the AIs needed her for anything – they were, after all, vastly more intelligent than humanity – but they’d offered her assistance and she’d accepted the bargain. There was one thing the AIs couldn’t do for themselves and, although they claimed to be unemotional, she suspected it rankled. “I will not forget.”
She turned back to the window as the noise outside grew louder. The datanet commenters had finally drawn the right conclusion and proclaimed her the victor. It wouldn’t be long before Hammond was forced to concede…and then the Confederation would have a new President, one willing to set it on the path to ultimate power. Humanity would reign supreme once again.
The Confederation Security Council was a holdover from the days when the human leadership might need to take urgent action without waiting for political consultation. These days, it included representatives from all the different subsets of humanity, chosen by democratic vote and granted the power to respond to any crisis without a debate in the Assembly. Jayne had known about its existence – it was hardly secret – but she hadn’t realised just how much power it had to act until she’d read the Presidential briefing notes. Or, for that matter, just how balky it could prove if its members opposed the President.
She watched as the representatives flickered into the chamber, one by one. There was no need for them all to come to Earth, not when they could send a holographic image along secure communications lines into the chamber. The Confederation’s government was dispersed, another holdout from the days when humanity had needed to fear a physical threat from other humans and hostile alien races. Those days were long gone – and the only threat humanity faced came from entities who were effectively all-powerful. They could blink humanity out of existence with a thought.
The AI representative was the first to arrive, followed quickly by the shimmering many-faced MassMind. There had been a long debate over how many votes the MassMind should claim in the election, Jayne remembered, when it did consist of thousands of humans who had chosen to be absorbed into the hive mind. But it was one entity and in the end had only been able to claim one vote. Behind it, an electronic face shimmered into existence, representing the humans who had uploaded themselves into the datanet and now only existed as personalities within the computers.
She smiled as a mermaid, representing the humans who had altered their bodies into other forms, appeared, followed by a dour-faced man from the pureblood clans. They thought of genetic modification as tampering with the will of the universe and disapproved, which hadn’t stopped their ancestors from taking the basic upgrades that had eliminated disease and extended the life span. A telepath, speaking for them all, nodded politely to Jayne as she took her seat. Four more humans appeared, representing the strongest political parties within the Confederation; Conservative, Transcendent, Patronise and Isolationist. And, finally, the Grand Admiral of the Confederation Navy entered the chamber.
“All links reported as secure,” the AIs announced. “The session may now begin.”
Jayne smiled as she prepared to speak. “Thank you all for coming,” she said. Some of them would be her allies on any political question, others would be her determined opponents. “The Confederation’s population has spoken; we will attempt to develop the ability to transcend as quickly as possible. That will be the priority of my term as President.”
“And yet there remains the danger of drawing a second Intervention,” the Conservative pointed out, smoothly. “Should we not refrain from doing anything that might upset the Ancients?”
The Grand Admiral snorted. “Should we remain vulnerable to them forever?”
Jayne shook her head as the debate raged. It was a good question, but the population had already answered it. No one liked the thought of humanity being vulnerable to alien attack, particularly when resistance was futile. The Ancients had meddled in human affairs and, instead of presenting their concerns to the human authorities, they had chosen to make sure that the entire human race had a taste of their power. It had been a dreadful mistake.
“The issue has been settled,” she said. “With your permission, I will call Professor Buckley into the chamber.”
Professor Buckley materialised at once. Unlike almost all humans, who were rarely able to escape from vanity, he looked old, with a short white beard and a bald head. It had to be a fashion statement of some kind, Jayne decided, although she couldn’t understand what kind of fashion dictated an aging appearance. But it hardly mattered. Buckley’s theory of accessing and manipulating the quantum foam was the most promising shortcut to transcendence that they’d discovered.
“Sufficiently advanced technology,” he began, “is indistinguishable from magic. And what the Ancients do certainly seems to be magic. They pulled every human ship out of hyperspace and spoke telepathically to every human in the universe. We know that their message even reached colonies that were lost, unknown even to the Confederation at the time. It certainly seems like magic.”
He smiled. “But we now know that there is a logic behind their powers,” he continued, calmly. “Centuries ago, humans deduced the existence of the quantum foam, the material underpinning all of existence. We now know that the Ancients have the ability to manipulate large sections of the quantum foam at will. From the point of view of anyone without such a capability it would seem to be magic. They would be unable to compete with such power.
“It’s probably easiest to imagine the quantum foam as a description of everything in the universe, an intergalactic encyclopaedia and filing system. If someone happens to alter one of the entries, the universe will change instantly to accommodate the alteration. They could, for example, delete the references to the human race. The human race would simply blink out of existence. Done properly, I suspect that the human race would never have existed at all. They could manipulate our existence as easily as we could reprogram a holochamber.”
Jayne felt a shiver running down her spine. Like everyone else who had been alive during the Intervention, she had touched the power of the gods. The human race’s experiments with time travel had attracted their interest and they’d intervened to stop them, handing out an ultimatum with a deadly threat attached. Never mind that they could have simply kept the experiments from working; they’d wanted to show off their power. And they’d rubbed the human race’s collective face in its own vulnerability.
“So we know what they do,” the Isolationist representative said. “I imagine that some of the younger races know how we enter hyperspace at will. How do we actually duplicate their power?”
Buckley puffed himself up. “I have spent the last sixty years examining the remains on abandoned Ancient worlds,” he said. “Using what remains of their records, I have determined that they first managed to master the subspace singularity within a black hole – a singularity connected to the quantum foam directly. It allowed them the ability to start manipulating the quantum foam and eventually transform themselves into entities that could manipulate it directly, without tools. That is their key to ultimate power – and it could be our key. We have solved the complicated equations in manipulating and controlling a subspace singularity. All we need to do is turn them into workable hardware and start the process.”
There was a long pause. “My people are content with developing themselves spiritually,” the pureblood said. “I do not believe that they would welcome an enforced change into gods.”
“And we may be on the right track already,” the telepath added. “My people appear to manipulate the quantum foam for themselves.”
“Indeed,” Buckley said, flatly. “It is my belief that telepathy and the…godlike power possessed by the Ancients are effectively two sides of the same coin.”
“We are not gods,” the telepath said, sharply.
“Indeed,” Buckley agreed. “However, your powers do not appear to make sense within the laws of nature as we understood them, before we managed to determine that the quantum foam actually exists. How can you talk mind-to-mind or read a non-telepath’s mind, or even teleport around without a teleporter? I think that what you’re actually doing is manipulating the quantum foam.”
“If that was true,” the telepath said, slowly, “surely there should be a wider range of powers?”
Buckley laughed. “But that’s where you’re going wrong,” he said. “You think of your people as telepaths, or telekinetics, or teleporters – you don’t realise that the powers may actually be combined, so you warp your own development. The quantum foam isn’t stopping a telepath from becoming a telekinetic – it’s the lack of conviction that someone can possess both powers that holds you back.”
The telepath snorted. “You speak very glibly for someone with no experience of telepathy…”
“I do not need great power to know that self-confidence is needed to progress further,” Buckley said. “Every single one of humanity’s great steps forward happened because someone had the confidence to push forward the boundaries of knowledge. But if someone doesn’t have the confidence, development is very slow – if it exists at all.”
“We have a different question,” the MassMind said, in its multitude of voices. “The galaxy is littered with the remains of failed attempts at transcendence, some of which have proven very dangerous – like Essence. How do we know that your project won’t unleash a similar fate upon the human race?”
Buckley hesitated. Essence had been a dead world when the human race had discovered it, a world surrounded by an energy field of unknown origin. It hadn’t stopped the human settlers from landing, or discovering the great cities built by the planet’s original inhabitants. And, inside those cities, the settlers had discovered an endless series of jewelled boxes, each one made with unknown technology. And then they’d opened the boxes…
The entities had come boiling out at once. They’d possessed the humans who had discovered them and turned them against their fellow humans, unleashing a savage fury that tore through the human settlement. When one of the possessed fell, the entity merely moved on to the next human, glorying in the sensation of being alive after being trapped for so long. Eventually, they’d possessed or killed every human on the planet – and wound up trapped. The force field surrounding the planet refused to allow them to leave, thankfully. Jayne had no idea who or what had created the force field, but it ensured that the entities could never become a galactic threat. Eventually, the aliens had abandoned their dying hosts and returned to the boxes. And there they had been left firmly alone.
“We believe, from the few records that we have been able to pull from Ancient worlds, that the Transcendents took all they were with them through their transcendence,” he said. “When a race was…unready for the process, they were unable to cope with the transformation and were warped by it, turned into monsters like the Essence Entities. But we do not have to make the jump to transcendence completely. Once we acquire the ability to manipulate the quantum foam, we will be able to safeguard ourselves against a second Intervention. And then we can proceed to make the transformation at leisure.”
“Which raises another question,” the Patronise representative said. “We are responsible for keeping the peace across the galaxy. Do we really want to leave and have the galaxy fall into chaos in our wake?”
“That isn’t our problem,” the Isolationist representative countered. “The races we have prevented from fighting are not benefiting from our intervention. None of the issues that started the wars in the first place have been settled. What gives us the right to intervene on such a large scale?”
“Perhaps we should have embraced the Inclusion principle,” the MassMind murmured. They’d believed that humanity should throw open the Confederation to everyone who wanted to join, inviting aliens to share in humanity’s technological bounty. And yet there was no strong Inclusion party competing for votes. “If humanity goes onwards, at least the Confederation would endure.”
“But we achieved this despite aliens,” the Isolationist representative snapped. “Why should we open ourselves to them? The Confederation is for humanity alone.”
Jayne held up a hand. “Professor Buckley,” she said, “how long would it take you to fabricate a device to take control of a quantum singularity?”
“And where,” the Grand Admiral added, “do you intend to deploy it? The Great Attractor?”
Buckley shook his head. “There’s a black hole in Quadrant 14,” he said, “on the edge of formally claimed Confederation space. It will be easy to secure. I believe that that will make a suitable place to build and test the device. As for the other question…”
He paused to consider, theatrically. “Given fabrication priority, we could have the first device up and running within six months,” he told her. “Another month would be needed to run power checks and ensure that the device is capable of operating within a stable warp field – we’d need a warp field to protect it as it crosses the event horizon of the black hole. And then I think we would be ready to proceed.”
“Unless the Ancients intervene again,” the Conservative said, softly. He knew he was largely isolated, but he spoke anyway. Apart from the purebloods, few other factions truly opposed transcendence. “What do we do if they tell us not to proceed, or else?”
“We deal with it when it happens,” Jayne said. Her faction would be unlikely to accept another order from the Ancients without a fight – but how could you fight gods? She looked around the table and smiled. “Until then, we will proceed. The human race will reach the heights it was destined to reach ever since it first crawled out of the mud. We will become gods.”