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"I'm your... well... I am the son of your embodied backup. You and mother both went missing after your mission to this system. Eventually the Eden institute re-embodied your stored backups. They had me. Then they died on Sufficiency during the Version War. Ever since, I've been trying to strike back. I haven't had nearly the success you've had in the past few weeks," The man who called himself Martin Montgomery said, seeming to totally ignore the fact that Jacob had a pistol pointed at his head.
"Neah's here with me. She and I weren't on Sufficiency when it was destroyed," He continued.
"Doctor Watson on Isotope told me you were a second singularity being running a combine in the NoCoZo," Jacob turned, tracking Martin's head with the pistol. "No son of mine would do that."
"You weren't there. They burned Sufficiency to a cinder! They killed everything Neah and I had ever cared about. I wanted someone's head, and I was willing to do anything I had to do to get my revenge," Martin said, looking at the pistol for the first time. Could he take it from Jacob before Jacob could fire? If Jacob shot Martin in the head would it even matter?
"So, to fix the situation, you became part of the problem?" Jacob asked.
Martin stopped, and looked at Jacob with a mixture of amusement and shock in his eyes. "That's funny. That's really funny!" He chuckled a little, but then the anger showed on his face, "You were the one that forced me to have this burning desire to 'set things right'. You were the one that engineered my personality to be such that I would go to the ends of the universe to avenge my family."
"Not me," Jacob said.
"Oh, right...but an exact duplication of Jacob Montgomery. Which one is the real Jacob Montgomery? Have you asked yourself that yet? What if you are something else entirely and only have the memories of Jacob Montgomery? That would make you a mockery desecrating the memory of my father! As a matter of fact, why is it that I'm allowing you to keep that gun pointed at me?" Martin asked, looking up at Jacob out of the corner of his eye. Suddenly Martin's hands blurred, and Jacob felt a shock in his wrists - and Martin was left holding the pistol, which was now pointed at Jacob's head. "Make no mistake, I know exactly who and what you are. You are the real Jacob Montgomery that was lost on that xenoarcheology expedition seven millennia ago." The pistol seemed to melt in Martin's hand, puddles of fluid carbon floated in the air.
"Listen to me, and listen carefully. I have tried for seven thousand years to land a blow on Daniel Borde that would actually hurt him. Every time he has turned my efforts to his benefit. Such is the dichotomy of the relationship between minds of differing toposophic levels! Nothing I could do would ever come as a surprise to The Lord of Rays. His mind is too vast, encompassing everything I could possibly conceive! So, using what you and grandfather had taught me, I sought to gain strength in an attempt to even the playing field."
"Now you're blaming the fact that you've become one of...them ...on me and my father?" Jacob asked, somehow he had put this Martin on the defensive. He was beginning to realize that he didn't particularly need the gun.
"Look, none of that is important! I came here for a reason! I came here to help you. You will succeed where I have failed. For some reason, they're only offering you token resistance. You will get close enough to Daniel Borde to kill him. They're going to let you get all the way to Fons Luminous - they think they can contain you, but they can't contain what the gentleman I represent is going to give you." Martin produced a small, black box from behind him.
"So, you're just going to grant me a wish, like some sort of supernatural spirit released from a magical container?" Jacob asked.
"Either that, or you could consider that I'm offering you a deal for you soul," Martin said, smiling.
"So, what's in the magic box?" Jacob smiled back.
"Oh, this is just a representation of the device. The actual device isn't safe to be handled by a form like mine. The real device is being loaded into a new halo drive mote that is being added to your ship," Martin said, and touched a button on the side of the box. The lid lifted, and an eerie blue glow poured forth. "The real device contains thousands of megatons of monopoles held in a stabilization matrix. It's a star poisoner. When you get to the Fons Luminous system, you send the appropriate halo particle into the sun - then you open this box and push this button," Martin turned the box around so Jacob could see the glowing blue button inside it. "When you do, the warp metric around the stabilization matrix will detonate, destroying the matrix and scattering the monopoles into Fons Luminous. The whole process is nearly perfectly invisible right up until the point when Fons Luminous goes supernova."
Jacob blinked, trying to keep from showing shock on his face. He had left from Isotope with the idea that he would simply force Watson, or Borde, or some authority figure into stopping him... using lethal force if Jacob could make them do it. But now, now he appeared to be looking at the means to actually accomplish the insane and impossible. He was momentarily reminded of the ancient myths of mortals acquiring the magical weapons of the gods, and using them to slay the gods... And here was a demigod handing him Zeus' thunder, to use as he saw fit.
"What's the catch?" Jacob asked.
Martin smiled and released the box to float between them. "There is none. We honestly want to give you this weapon for you to use against the Solar Dominion."
"Aren't these things illegal?" Jacob asked. "Doesn't me using this violate half a dozen interstellar treaties?"
"Hundreds, actually. Do you care?"
"Not really, no." Jacob said, looking closer at the box with the glowing blue button. "You said something about a gentleman you represent?"
"He calls himself Lord Bigendian, though you probably don't know the name. He's a high-level ruler in the Solipsistic Panvirtuality. Oddly enough, he cares that this thing is illegal."
Jacob recoiled from the floating box in front of him as if it were a poisonous snake. "I know who they are. Father talked about them from time to time. Why...How could you let yourself get entangled with a group that wants all humanity to die?"
"They aren't that bad, father," Martin said flatly, "at least not all of them. Besides, when you want to kill the ruler of the Solar Dominion, only a few people will actively try to help you. And if you also want to cripple the Metasoft Version Tree, you just lost your only 'decent' friends in this endeavor. I took what help I could get."
"Neah went along with this?" Jacob asked.
"It was her idea in the first place," Martin replied. "She looked for the right kind of godmind in the Solipsistic Panvirtuality for nearly thirteen centuries. She won't talk about her experiences very much. Eventually she found Lord Bigendian, and he found the both of us to be amusing. Amusing enough that he took us both into his employ." Martin forced his left hand into the pocket of his pants, and pulled out what looked like a scrap of paper. "Here, he wrote a note for me to give to you."
Jacob cautiously took the scrap of paper and began unfolding it. He noticed that it was folded to represent a crane, in the ancient art of origami. He unfolded the paper entirely and looked on both sides, but both sides were blank.
When he looked up, he was no longer floating in the room with the dead men and Martin, he was floating in a void, a formless place that was neither bright nor dark. And there was a voice, a voice that shook him to the root of his mind.
"It is understood, now, BORDE'S inane games with that one. That one shall take the gift, the weapon, and kill BORDE. Once this is done, if that one further requires anything extraneous, that one must but ask, and the whole of the universe shall be laid before that one's feet. All that can be grasped shall be given to that one. That one may be the answer to the question. The universe shall repair that one's body so that one may continue the journey to find and slay BORDE."
"Why do you want Daniel Borde dead?" Jacob shouted into the void. As the sound left his lips, he wished he hadn't.
"BORDE is the enemy of the universe. BORDE seeks to destroy all that is. BORDE is the only other ever proven to exist. That one shall kill the other in such a way that the universe is not at fault with itself."
Jacob could feel the rage boiling in the void, and wasn't sure he would survive the answers to any more questions.
He looked back down to his hands and saw that he was folding the paper up into the crane again. He looked back up at Martin, who was smiling patiently, floating in the room with the dead men.
"It's pretty creepy, isn't it?" Martin asked. "At least it was a crane and not a dragon. He only sends a dragon when he's really angry," Martin laughed. "By the way, your little conversation with Lord Bigendian has encrypted your knowledge of the monopole bomb. You won't be able to tell anyone about it and no one will be able to take the knowledge from you."
"The programming in your mind has been altered. A quantum key is required to access the knowledge. If someone tries to force that key, the quantum states are collapsed, and you will forget the information," Martin explained. "Now, I know this information is going to make you furious - knowing that Lord Bigendian tampered with your brain and all. But it's really not that bad a thing. Now you have the quantum encryption hardware installed, you can protect your own mind-state from anyone - even Lord Bigendian himself." Martin's words were carefully chosen, an attempt to direct the conversation away from Lord Bigendian's tampering with Jacob's brain and he was certain it would work, "He trusts you - or he wouldn't have given you all this."
"But that's not entirely true, is it? He doesn't trust me. He just has a nearly-perfect idea of what I'm going to do, and wants to steer me in the right direction," Jacob said, wanting to leave. He knew the ship wasn't repaired yet, knew that he was stuck here for the time being.
"Father, that's the biggest problem with your philosophy of mistrust against the transapients. Do you trust that the antiderivative of X squared is X cubed over three? Is that something you need to trust? No - you just know that the functions behave that way. It's the same with you and I, and all the dead people on Sufficiency, and that Wuppista you killed back on Isotope. We behave in set patterns. Lord Bigendian can see those patterns." Martin explained.
"I am not a mathematical function!" Jacob shouted.
Martin smiled, as if he had anticipated that response, "To him, you are. You are flat and perfectly transparent. He sees your motivations and understands them. He's probably run thousands of simulations in his own mind so he can duplicate your experiences and know exactly why you made the decisions you have in your life."
"You don't find that whole concept to be demeaning?" Jacob asked. "The idea that he can simulate me, an exact copy of me....Anyone! Doesn't that seem to lessen us all, humanity as a whole?"
"No. We are what we are. The hard, cold fact of the matter is that beings like Daniel Borde and Lord Bigendian are simply more than we are," Martin said. "I've learned to stop feeling threatened simply because of their existence.
"Think of it this way: Ultimately, either the universe is deterministic or non-deterministic. If it is deterministic, that means you are simply the product of interactions between particles that happened long before any of us ever existed - you have no free will. Alternatively, if the universe is non-deterministic in nature, then you have effects with no cause and entropy that flows in reverse.... chaos...yet again, no free will. So, what do you want? Predestination, or utter chaos?" Martin smiled.
"That's a little simplistic," Jacob began, but he stopped short when he saw a small, furry black head poke out around the corner behind Martin. It was Neah, one of Schwee's daughters - and she still looked space-sick.
"How are you doing today, honey," Mother asked, laying her hand lightly on Neah's furry head.
"I still don't feel very good. I'm still pretty space-sick, but I'm glad I'm here. Look at the pictures my telescope has made," Neah said, holding up a pile of plastic sheets covered in images of nebula, stars and various stellar objects. Even though she still looked pitifully sick, she was very enthusiastic and proud of her accomplishment. "Look at this one!" Neah held up a highly magnified picture of a star a hundred and forty light-years away. The disk of the star was mostly covered, leaving it looking like a waning moon.
"That's a Dyson swarm under construction in Metasoft space. It's being built by vecs, for vecs. I doubt there's a single living thing in that entire system," Mother said.
"That's somewhat intimidating," Neah said, looking back at the controls to her huge telescope.
"See if you can find me a pulsar," Mother said. She turned to Jacob, who had been slowly floating up the connecting tube from the gymnasium module. "You and your father...always fighting." Her tone was somewhat accusatory
"Not fighting, mother. Training. There's a difference," Jacob said with a smile, wiping sweat from his brow with a tan towel.
"The difference being that if it were a real fight your father would kill you before you could do a thing about it," Mother said flatly.
"True," Jacob said. He then turned to Neah, pinching one of her ears playfully, "So fuzzy, take any good pictures yet today?"
"Several, so far. Look at that one," Neah motioned to a picture stuck to the control panel.
Jacob inspected the strange picture with a cocked eyebrow. Mother spoke up, explaining what he was looking at, "It's a Dyson swarm under construction in Metasoft space."
"That's going to make your mom happy, right fuzzy?" Jacob said, looking up at Neah.
"Well, she wanted me to be nosey and see what the neighbors were up to," Neah said with a smile. "I realize you are all having a good time here, but I'd like to hurry and get back home. I don't think free-fall agrees with me."
"Don't worry about it, Fuzzy. I'll see if I can talk dad into cutting it short." Jacob said.
"I'm sorry I ruined this for everyone," Neah said.
"It's okay, honey. Truth be told, zero-G gives Johnathan heartburn anyway. He'll be happy to cut the trip short." Mother said.
"You still look pitiful in free-fall, fuzzy," Jacob said.
"Jacob? I..." Neah began, but Jacob could see the tears in her eyes. She slowly floated towards him, her bottom lip quivering under her two huge incisors. "I was afraid to hope... I heard that you had been found, but I didn't think it possible after all this time. We've been so alone for so long, and now here you are."
Jacob gently grabbed her and held her close. "Here I am," Jacob repeated.
"It was terrible, Jacob. They...they burned the entire world. Thousands of relativistic projectiles, thousands upon thousands of megatons of degenerate matter weapons. Before they were finished, the entire surface was burning, reduced to molten rock," Neah said, her words somewhat hard to understand because of her tears and sobbing.
"How did..." Jacob began, but a hitch in his own voice made him stop. "How did you survive?" He finished.
"We were surveying one of Sweeper's moon at the time, on the far side of the solar system. We saw the whole thing through the telescopes. It was horrible," Martin explained. Sweeper was a gas giant a dozen astronomical units out from Sufficiency's sun.
"We were left with nothing - in a tiny ship with only enough fuel to get home, only home had been burned to a cinder," Neah explained. "We found some wreckage from the battle, and was able to salvage some serviceable parts. With that and our onboard nanotech, we managed to convert our small interplanetary craft into a makeshift interstellar craft. It took us over a century to make it to Amaterasu. When we got there, Metasoft was invading the system. All we could do was dive through a wormhole and hope for the best."
"Luckily, that wormhole led to NoCoZo space, and there it was relatively safe. It took me about a century to organize the business, but we made a decent living by helping refugees get on with their lives," Martin added.
"So, basically you were a war profiteer?" Jacob asked.
"Not what I'd call it, but there were a lot of skilled people that needed help finding a niche, and I was skilled at finding niches. I'm proud of the fact that in over seven thousand years, I've only had 546 dissatisfied customers. And that's less than one in a hundred million," Martin replied.
"Impressive statistics," Jacob said, giving Martin a dubious look.
"Look - I had hoped this would go better. I don't really know what I was thinking, though. But having you doubt me, call my life into question..." Martin stopped, closed his eyes and took a deep breath, "It hurts. I was so hoping that..."
"I can't even be sure you are who you say you are!" Jacob said, but deep down he had a feeling that Martin and Neah were exactly who they said they were. "And even then, what you've become has alienated me from you. You say you've been helping people for the past seven millennia - and if that's true, that's a good thing; something I want my son to do. You say that you've tried to punish the Solar Dominion and the Version Tree for what they did to Sufficiency; yet again something I'd want my son to do. I would like to have time to spend with you, to learn who you are and find out if you are someone I'd want for a son. But the truth is, I doubt I'll live through this."
"Events like this change people, Jacob. You'll live through it, but I doubt you'll be the same when you're done," Neah said, gripping his hand and patting it sadly.
Just then, all three of them looked down the hallway, from which Jacob had come. The habitat nanosystems had closed off the rupture in the hull, so they couldn't exactly see Jacob's vessel; but Jacob knew that the repairs to his vessel were finished. How he knew, he wasn't sure.
"My ride is ready. I should go. If, somehow, I live through this..." Jacob began, but Martin cut him off.
"We'll be closing our offices in the NoCoZo and heading for the far end of the STC. You can meet us at the NoCoZo wormhole nexus if you want. We'll be there for a while closing all our accounts," Martin explained.
"I'll meet you there, if I can." Jacob said and took the black box from Martin's outstretched hand.
"Montgomery Services. It's a big combine, everyone knows it," Neah shouted as Jacob made his way back down the passageway.
"I'll find you, Fuzzy," Jacob replied, with a smile and a wave.
At the end of the hallway, where the hull had been crushed and twisted an hour earlier, floated a tiny point of light. "Okay, let's go," Jacob said to it, inhaling deeply and then exhaling completely.
The wall in front of him first groaned, then screamed as it shattered. Explosive decompression blew Jacob out into the black, and momentarily he panicked. Then he noticed, floating and flying around him were a swarm of the glowing motes of his vessel's halo. They pulled him along, towards his vessel.
Above the spheres and struts of his vessel loomed a titanic mottled black disc shaped object - probably a vessel of some sort; probably the property of Lord Bigendian.
A point light shone from the edge of the disk, illuminating both Jacob and his own vessel - which was quickly filling his view. On the side of the second sphere from the front, Jacob could see the small door, which he had used to enter the ship, standing open. The swarm of motes was directing him towards the open door very quickly.
Jacob came to rest just inside the door, and it silently closed behind him. He could feel the cabin depressurizing, and inhaled deeply.
"If I live through this, I fully intend to find you, and make sure you really are Martin Montgomery," Jacob said to the empty cabin as he sat back down in the control chair. Moments later, the vessel was speeding towards the wormhole, traveling ever closer to the Lord of Rays.
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