Of the Collective: Prologue

I am many, and I am one.

While most conscious beings comprise hundreds, thousands of minds in one body I have not only thousands of minds but thousands of bodies.

My ancestors followed a religion that held that indistinct beings called “gods” emerged from the collective unconsciousness of many beings and that as people became more alike in mind and could communicate more efficiently the multiple gods would merge into a single God who could guide them in perfect harmony.

My ancestors decided that was not enough, they had to become God. Stretching the limits of technology they attempted to become a single being, though their bodies remained physically apart.

The galaxy at large had long had the ability to record memories in digital format, to supplement the natural brain that had evolved to hold the memories of a life far shorter than technology now allowed. But, those recordings could not be used by people other than the recorder, their bodies were too different. At first, my ancestors tried to bypass this problem with software, patches into the nervous system of the potential other viewer, to no avail. Eventually, one group conjectured that identical bodies may be able to share memories after all.

The experiment was, after many failures, a success. Six of the scientists created multiple copies of themselves. Clones printed to within a stray blood vessel’s deviation of the original. With sufficient programming, they could not only share memories, but real-time thoughts as well.

The problem was obvious. Any God-population would have to consist of copies of a single individual, and the Federation had trillions of unique individuals. Three of my ancestors proposed to slowly convert the population, one individual at a time, to the rightfulness of the cause by giving those who heard the message a plural existence of their own. And when all sapient life in the galaxy had seen the light, they would create a single genotype with the best traits of all beings, and commit suicide to let this perfect being inherit the universe.

The other three plural beings did not see things that way. They said it defeated the purpose of becoming God if they had to die and give over the reins to another. So, they had no choice but to eliminate all other sophonts but themselves.

“We are superior,” they reasoned, “no singleton could possibly think as much as we can.” Then, halfway into their plans to conquer the galaxy, they reasoned that the biggest threats to them were each other.

They tried to keep it secret, of course. But even singletons notice when a spree of murders involve both victims and killers so identical as to share their DNA. There’s simply no perfect way to conceal a killing and dispose of the body, especially these days it seems.

Eventually, my ancestors went to the authorities and explained what was happening. It took the Federal Guard just a month to devise a microbot plague that targeted the genotypes of the combative pluralities, and ten years more for the bots to spread throughout the population. Then it was over with the flick of a button, figuratively speaking. Three plural beings with close to a thousand bodies each, and every one of them developed a fatal brain aneurysm at once.

Of course, by the rules laid down in the constitution the actions of the genocidal pluralities had granted the entire movement the label of “Memetic Hazard” and the survivors were gathered up and shipped out to a barely inhabitable planet on the edge of Federal space. And denied the comforts of Federal technology. No nanofabricators, no immortality, just the printers that predated the very existence of the parahuman races, and in fact gave our kind birth.

Without the microbots halting their aging, my ancestors knew they had a hundred years at most to design their successors. They took their time, I will admit, it was nearly fifty standard years before the first of my bodies came out of the vats, by then one of the pluralities, Stephen, was nearing extinction. They wanted to be sure that I was perfect, and they came as close as possible if I do say so myself.

Average lifespan per body, 250 standard years. A fur coat of neutral light tan. Large ears for hearing the faintest of sounds and radiating excess heat. An elongated nose for smelling. A slight frame to reduce life support needs and elongated limbs for reach. A long fluffy tail, for aesthetics. Atropied mammary glands and a stabilized reproductive cycle because they weren’t needed with bioprinting but may become necessary some day.

They spent the next thirty years raising me, attempting to teach me everything they knew, pass on as much as they could. And then, the time came for Stephen (what was left of him), Clara, and Marie to die.

They made little fuss about it. They lined up all their bodies on conveyors into the habitat recycling systems and activated implanted neurotoxin dispensers at the base of the brain. Death came in seconds. After that, all I needed to do was press a few keys and their remains vanished into the communal compost heap.

I don’t think they ever imagined how lonely I would be.

I have ample conversation partners in myself, but all my bodies share the same experiences and memories. Aside from the occasional philosophical dispute I just survive, day to day, no differences. For the better part of a century I contemplated forgoing the replication of replacement bodies and simply letting myself die out gradually from attrition. But eventually I concluded that would put all my parents good work to waste. So now, my bodies come out of the vat, are hooked in to the network, are trained in the job they need to perform, and work at that job until accident, disease, or they report for euthanasia at the age of 250.

I have considered erasing entire centuries from my memory servers.

Denied access to space travel, my only contact with other beings has come from the free traders that the Federation allows to visit my world. They bring me news of the other worlds of the Federation and beyond, I give them solutions to problems, mostly arrived at by simple brute force calculation. And requests for the Federal Guard to lift the quarantine.

But today is a special day, today, my requests have finally been answered.

The Federal Guard will allow me to send three bodies to visit the Federation, talk to their memeticists, and experience the Federation and surrounding worlds for myself. I think they’re hoping I’ll reconsider.

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