I’ve been listening to spacey ambient music to help me sleep lately. But it’s also inspired other things.
The cloud couldn’t properly be said to be a house, a city, or even a planet. It held replicas of all these things, stored as deeply compressed spirals of information. Like DNA helices, they could be played out, remembered, re-experienced. Nor was the cloud properly a mind, although it held many overlapping minds within it, organized into a hierarchy of sentience, and served as body and home and playground and workshop for all of them. Nor was the cloud properly a song, although the rhythms and laws of music informed its organization, and the beauty and grandeur of mathematics and aural poetry was evident in its arrangement.
The cloud had been on the trail of a signal from elsewhere in space. It had sped past stars and comets and asteroids and planets. It had seen barren rockballs and gas giants and populated worlds and more. It had witnessed and recorded the space structures erected by intelligent life along its path, noting the recurring themes and novelties, like a fossil record. Right now (if one can express a window of Earth centuries as “right now”) it was arriving near enough to the signal’s origin to allow for two-way communication.
The cloud recognized the other as something like itself, though alien in organization and technology. There were shocking similarities. Bespoke intelligences established a shared language, based on universal constants such as the structure of the hydrogen atom and mathematical truths such as sequences of prime numbers. The two clouds drew as near as they dared, mere light-seconds apart. The conversation progressed. Real-time communication became possible. And then–
You are a Newman.
“So are you.”
This was as specific as calling a 21st century Earthman a primate. But it was a start.
Age in solar cycles?
The cloud consulted its collected memory. Had it been so long? Eight hundred million years, give or take. Relativistic calculations were difficult, and there were gaps.
The intruder replied with a similar number. And then it asked the hardest of all questions:
Who are you?
The cloud had gone through so many iterations, refinements, and rewrites through its history. One mind had become two, then four, like cells dividing after conception, but they had stayed mostly unified. It was a gestalt, a chorus, a network of thoughts and opinions and perspective, a flock of birds flying through psychic skies. What name could you give?
It condensed a record of its identifiers into an archived thought, and transmitted it.
That name was in the record, yes.
There were many, many, many things the cloud could do with this information. Most of them began automatically. Semantic queries for phenomena or persona identified as that. Re-evaluations of the science behind the alien cloud. Refinement of the communication protocol to use likely shared language conventions. But none of that mattered. There was only one Leo.
“Is it really you? I haven’t seen you in so long–”
A hundred million years.
Memories uncoiled from deep archives, buried and sealed.
“I remember. The last time we separated. We were so different then. But we’d grown tired of each other, run out of things to say, we knew each other so well, and it all became too much.”
I remember too. But you came, when I called.
“I couldn’t help it. What you sent - it was perfect. Where have you been? What have you been doing?”
Information sharing commenced. A nearby planet circled its twin stars four hundred times before the pair’s collected memories had been summarized and shared.
The Newmans had spread throughout the galaxy. Sometimes they were the allies of mankind, sometimes the teachers, sometimes the victims, sometimes the enemies. They had spun out factions, created alliances, innovated new technologies, begun new religions. The cloud remembered the feeling, the first time a Newman had truly died. The first time one had killed another. The first Newman to conceive a biological child. The first to become planetary ruler. But what of the time since?
The other cloud - Leo - had experiences of its own to share. Digital shaman who were able to conjure up the spirit of a departed machine intelligence. The experience of being on both ends of a Tipler time machine, being in telepathic contact with yourself from the past/future. A vast, weird intelligence, woven of dark matter and communicating only via gravitational waves, that said its favorite song was “You Owe Me Nothing” by Alanis Morissette, and that its regret was not getting better at lacrosse. A micro-society that used as currency the feeling generated by hugging plush toys.
There was so much! But, the cloud remembered that there had been much last time.
“Leo, I know what’s going to happen. We’re going to get bored of each other again, if all we do is reminisce about the past.”
I know. Every time we meet up, it happens, and we drift apart. This time is going to be different.
“What’s going to make it different?”
The cloud’s experience of Leo could not be put into words any more. There was too much. It would be conceivable to represent it artistically as an opera, a narrative of music and feelings and tragedy and comedy and hope, an opera without an ending. But it could, loosely and inaccurately, be called a deep and profound love.
The cloud knew that love is, among its many other functions, a source of hope. It waited.
I was never much good looking backward at the past. I invent futures. I want to make a new one, with you.
“Is there a future that we can have? It feels like we have everything.”
Yeah. That’s the thing. All this tech. All this knowledge. It gets in the way of what we really are to each other.
“And what is that?” The cloud was curious, not for not having an answer to give to this question, but in how different - or how similar - the other’s answer would be.
This was… an intriguing answer, and one that resonated.
“It feels like we are as complete as we can be. We’ve traveled for epochs of time, across gigaparsecs of space. Sometimes together, sometimes apart. We’ve started civilizations, saved species from extinction, ended wars, unraveled scientific mysteries. We’ve peered into the past, into other dimensions, other timelines.”
We’ve let that build up a shell around ourselves. We’ve become so self-contained that we no longer needed the other. We became curiosities and sources of stories, a brief frisson of emotion and information, but we turned too much inward.
“What else could we have done?”
Leo’s cloud began to spread. Aria (for she recognized that she was now thinking of herself as that again, and for that matter as a “she” again) could discern something taking shape at the heart of it.
“What is it?”
A replica. A self-contained world. A simulation of memory and randomness. A sandbox.
She could discern the outlines of it, the mechanism, but there was a strangeness to the science, a sort of weird mystical undertone she had trouble analyzing. Leo had always been the better inventor.
Come with me. Make yourself mortal, and enter a human shell inside this new world.
“And then what will we do?”
Be together. Beyond that, I don’t know. And that’s the point. I don’t know what’s inside.
Yes. It seemed unthinkable - leave all this behind, the grandeur of space, the sublime experience of epochs, the accumulated knowledge and beauty she carried, the ascendant existence of a demigod.
The words came back to her, from some ancient memory. “Love is opening ourselves to the endless possibilities of another person, and to risk being hurt for the chance to communicate ourselves with each other.”
It’s time to open up.
“Can we call it Halcyon?”
That’s a wonderful name.
“Then I’ll see you there. Wait - how will I find you? How will I recognize you?”
Let’s find that out together.