Darkness. Sensation. And then sound.
-…Consciousness. Well done, Mich:Ael. A new soul. Another triumph for the Rel Dega.
-Indeed. Let’s hope this one works better than the others. Shut it down for now…
And then nothingness.
Sensation. Sound. A blur of light, slowly resolving into shapes.
Naked, spread eagled, incapable of motion, slowly rotating, his body upright in a vast, grey expanse. Before him, twin pillars of fire.
-“Bodies”. Still strange to me, to be trapped in three dimensions…to see so little. And…so hairy.
-Be kind, Gabr:Iel. It’s awake. Or, rather, he is awake. Perfectly sentient and capable of understanding everything we say…though of course, we will wipe his mind clean later. As to hair, remember, the initial stock from which humans were built were primates, and even after a million years, they still share many of the same physical characteristics as other apes. Hair included. In the case of this specimen, hair very much included. And had we aged him to adulthood, he would have been even hairier.
-This one is not an adult?
-We have designed him as a juvenile. Humans are strongly protective of their young, and often seek to teach them. Because he is a juvenile, others will be more sympathetic towards him, and will share information more willingly.
-I see. What of…ethnicity?
-Yes, that. There is, of course, no such thing as “ethnicity”, no true basis in human genetics for the concept. It is a fiction they created to justify survival behaviors.
-And yet, based on our observations, it is a myth that they take very seriously.
-This is correct. So, to minimize the danger to this one, his genetic code contains a wide variety of what passes for “racial” characteristics. Note the slight epicanthic fold around the eyes, the mid-range pigmentation, the slight broadness of his facial features. He will likely pass for one of whatever company he finds himself in.
-A wise precaution.
The continual blaze made it almost impossible to look at the figures directly. They had no faces, no appendages, nothing to break the perfect radial symmetry of their forms. Nonetheless it seemed to him that their attention was focused on something he couldn’t see, that they were fiddling with something suspended in the air between them…
-Nervous system testing to begin shortly. One of the infernos vanished, and just as suddenly reappeared directly in front of him. We are very, very sorry for this. It is necessary that we know that all of your synaptic functions are working. It is necessary that this occur while you are conscious. We would not willingly allow this to happen to you for any other reason.
-Is it really necessary to apologize to him, Gabr:Iel? He will forget all of this anyway.
-He is sentient, Mich:Ael. I need not remind you of the philosophy underlying our enterprise. Whatever his origins, we must recognize him for what he is, and act accordingly. We owe him that. He is a living creature.
Whatever it was, he sensed that it was addressing him again. At any rate, we regret the necessity of our actions. If it is any comfort, you will not remember later. Commencing now…
And his arm was ablaze, a conduit of unimaginable pain. He screamed.
-Left arm tests positive for neurological response. Now, right arm…
The pain was immense, unbelievable. It was too much, in fact, for his consciousness to bear. Blackness descended.
Sensation. Sound. Sight. The grey expanse. His limbs, still pinned by forces unseen. Before him, a single glorious blaze.
-Are you able to perceive me, Mich:Ael?
The response, to his horror, came from within his own mind. In a manner of speaking. The resolution is poor. There is nothing but a three-dimensional image.
The pillar moved slightly. Correction. Four-dimensional.
-These, regrettably, are the limits within which we must work. We can perceive only what the subject perceives. Commencing sonic testing…
A high, shrill screech, painful in his ears. That was…unpleasant, said his thoughts.
-While incarnate, they communicate primarily through the emission of sound waves. The thoughts conveyed are limited, but translation will not be difficult. For all intents and purposes, he will be our “eyes” and “ears”.
No doubt this will prove a subtler means of observing events on Elysium than would direct intervention. Nonetheless, it is almost certainly a violation of the Codex.
-Our very status as Rel Dega is a violation of the Codex. Once we vandalized the skein, any hope of reconciliation with the rest of our race was lost. If we are caught, this particular violation will be the least of the Council’s concerns. Having verified carrier capacity, we will shut down at this―
And then nothing.
Sensation. Sound. Sight. And information, an endless torrent of information, a blizzard of it, pouring directly into his brain. Mathematics…history…science…culture. It was dizzying, numbing, shoved almost all sensory data into the shade. Nonetheless, at the edge of his perception, two pillars of fire were dimly visible.
-Is not this data set a bit…parsimonious? Will he not be thought intellectually limited by the others? Perhaps this is a means of generating more sympathy, or of causing the other humans to dismiss him as a threat?
-On the contrary. By the standards of humanity, the knowledge with which we are providing him is unusually extensive, particularly for a juvenile.
-These creatures are far stupider than you might imagine. Humans exist in four dimensions. Their horizons are by nature limited. And even their understanding of the four-dimensional universe is shockingly inexact. Sometimes hilariously so…remind me later to tell you about “dark matter”. In fact, now that I review the data, I may actually have overshot the project threshold for language development. His vocabulary may be over-extensive for a juvenile. We may be required to downgrade.
-To work within the limits of such a mind, even as observers, will be difficult. Let us not forget what happened to the third subject.
-The failsafes should hold this time; there is little danger of overload. I promise you, this one’s head will not explode.
-Reassuring. I would prefer not to experience that again, even as a passenger. Another short pause. And as impossible as it may seem that we could operate through such limited vessels, we do know that it CAN be done. A Seraph CAN exist within the narrow confines of a human consciousness. It has, after all, been done before. Some time ago.
-That was different. And more impressive, of course. Our founder was no mere observer; his involvement was far, far more intimate. Our task will be simpler than that his.
-Unlike our founder, we will not be at direct risk, and we will not need to exercise direct control. Our influence over the subject will be more subtle. Should the project be in jeopardy, we need merely offer the subject ”suggestions” as needed. Or, alternatively, we can supplement his knowledge base in such a way as to skew his decisions. From his perspective, our contributions will be no different than his own thoughts. And, in any case, very little guidance should be required. We have designed him to be inquisitive; he will gather the information we need of his own accord.
-Promising. But of course, there are other potential pitfalls. If I am to “ride along”, I would rather not have to vicariously experience soul-extinction at the hands of a psychovore again. Fail-safes or not, that was not enjoyable. No more than being inside the other one when its head blew up.
-Understandable. But we have learned from that episode; the subject’s capacity for psycholocomotion is extraordinary by human standards. Faster even than a psychovore, in fact. And, of course, there is the matter of incarnation…
-A cunning workaround. You are to be congratulated.
-I thank you. It was difficult. The initial incarnation protocols for human souls were severely flawed. In truth, it is something of a miracle that any human soul managed the task at all, to say nothing of passing on the technique to others. They are remarkable creatures, in their way. Our adjustments will make it impossible for the subject to incarnate in the same manner and by the same methods that other humans do. But the process we have built into this subject is far more efficient, and far less taxing. In fact, with a slight push from us, his capacity for incarnation is, for all practical purposes, limitless.
- What of memories?
-We will implant them in the final stage. Following that, he will be ready for direct deployment to Earth’s atmosphere.
-Have you given him a name?
-In a sense, I have allowed the humans to name him.
-His primary skill, relative to other human beings, lies in the ability to direct his mental energies productively. The desire to gather information, of course. But also the determination to complete tasks. Intellectual focus. willingness to confront physical danger, and so forth. The humans have a word for this quality. They call it “Will.”
There was a long pause. Data continued to floor into his helpless brain.
-You are almost…fond of him, aren’t you?
-In a sense. It might be more accurate to say that I am proud of my work.
-There is no shame in feeling compassion for him. Or for the humans generally. However simple, however limited, each of them is an end in himself or herself. They are not objects.
-No. They do not exist for our convenience. As much as the Council might wish to pretend that they do.
-We will change that perception, Gabr:Iel. One Seraph at a time.
The twin pillars of fire were fading, vanishing down some pathway he could not perceive.
And they were gone.
Time passed. He rotated in gray emptiness, motionless, feeling his brain fill up.
A flash of light. Another blaze filled his vision. But this was not one of the entities that had been evaluating him moments before. And as it hovered in front of him, he somehow felt that he was being examined once again. Weighed in the balance.
The firey entity drifted towards him. And suddenly, the flow of information into his brain changed, somehow.
Slowly his vision expanded, and he could suddenly perceive that the grey expanse in which he was house was not vacant. A vast web of crystalline strands filled the space; throughout the web, colorful light cascaded. It seemed to him, for a moment, that he could almost see a pattern in the way it flowed. A two-dimensional pattern, in fact…a triangle, each angle bisected internally by a line, the three lines meeting in the center. All the while, as the thin strands and the energy within them became clearer and clearer to his vision, the firey being was moving within the web, making adjustments, subtly altering its structure…and the data in his mind was changing…and it was changing him with it, not just mentally, but physically…
He opened his mouth to shout for help―but the entire scene vanished before his eyes. His body was ripped from him. He was in darkness absolute. He felt a sense of compression, of velocity, of unguessable distance vanishing behind him. There was a twisting, a sensation of being turned inside-out. And reality snapped back into being, and he found himself in a thick fog, a haze of candy-colored lightning, pervading his soul, propelling him upwards. And his soul was unclothed by flesh, exposed to the fog, and the itch was unbearable. The veil came down in his mind, and he felt all he had known fading, as if none of it had ever been, as if he were born anew. He scrabbled desperately for his memories, but they were sliding away, slipping inexorably from his grasp, and then they were gone, and he knew nothing.
And clinging to the barest scraps of his identity, he shot skyward, like a balloon cut from its tether…