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Merge

A short story

Another science fiction story. Hope you like it.

Merge

Hey... wow... it's been a long time.

Yeah... yeah, it has. Though I guess longer for you than for me.

Hah hah... yeah. Definitely.

So, uh... shall we merge?

Is that cool with you? There are a lot of options... sometimes the copies I've made want to continue on independently. Or we can do both... I like to respect their wishes.

Hah hah... I guess “Do onto yourself as you would do unto yourself”, huh?

Hah! Yeah... exactly.

No, I'm cool with merging. I don't see anything bad about it. It brings you into me as much as me into you.

Alright... do you mind if we talk a bit first, though?

Of course! I'd be happy to.

Great! I mean, it's one thing to just end up knowing stuff, but I kind of like to get some of it through talking.

Yeah... yeah... let's do that.

So, um... what happened when you first arrived?

They were excited. I was glad for that. Remember when I... heh... “we” went to that one place where they were disappointed we didn't have any technology that they didn't have?

Oh, yeah. That sucked! They couldn't transmit us back fast enough.

Yeah, well this time was way better than that. They were really excited. When I got there, they were a little ways along into biological engineering, mastered nuclear power, of course, and... um... still broken up into regional powers, but had the start of some global governance. Hadn't explored too much outside their own solar system.

Kind of like we were in the 21st century then?

Yeah, more or less. But you know how it is, it isn't really the technology that really captures your imagination, it's the cultural and environmental conditions.

Yeah? Like what?

Well... sex is something that they do in groups.

Like, every time?

Pretty much. I mean, one on one happens as well, but they consider that kind of a necessary evil when conditions don't permit a grouping. Like if you were two people trapped on a desert island or something.

How did that come about?

One of their theories is that in their evolution, males were very aggressive about killing suspected children of another male, so the females would take on multiple sex partners to create ambiguity. I suppose it could have gone a few different ways, but in their case, it ended up that the culture became overt about making sure no one knew who no one's child was.

Man, that's something. It never ceases to amaze me how some stuff ends up the same and yet within the same parameters so much is different. Don't they have DNA testing and things like that? They would know who the father is now, wouldn't they?

Oh sure, they have the technology, but their culture goes so deep that it only comes up when there's a medical need, like a transplant or something. When I got there, they were still pockets of cultural backwardness. Like, there were some religious types who caused controversy because they refused to undergo paternity tests even when there was a medical emergency. Some kids died and stuff, and it was a big topic in their media.

And now...?

Oh, in the time I was there, they came a long way. You know how it goes... making contact really gives a civilization a kick in the pants as far as developing a global universality, and a wider perspective.

Yeah, true. We've seen that before. So, were they able to put you into a body?

Yeah, that took some time. They had essential cloning technology, but were nowhere near the ability to generate a DNA sequence from binary data, and the instructions that came with my transmission were a little beyond them.

Oh... were they even able to set up an interface for you so that you could guide them through it?

Yeah, they were way better at computer engineering than biology. So they took the instructions bundled with my transmission, put together a computer with a basic voice interface, and then downloaded me into it. So for the first little while, I was in a sort of computer space, like we are now.

You couldn't see them or anything?

No, but they were nice to talk to. I tell you, after they educated me on the whole group sex thing, I was keen to get a physical body, so I got straight to work on that.

Oh! Hah hah! Yeah, so how did that turn out?

Hah hah... wouldn't you know it, it was kind of a let down. The thing was, they were bipedal and upright like us, like the anthropomorphic constant we've come across a lot...

But...?

But their skin was really translucent, so you could see their internal organs!

Ew... wow...

It wasn't as bad as you'd first think, because their insides are kind of greenish blue, and mostly it's an indistinct mass of turquoise blood, with bluer veins and whitish bones in places. It's kind of like an abstract pattern, and the colour makes it sort of synthetic, so it's not gross.

But not really a turn on...

No, not really. They funny thing is that they were just kind of too close to how we used to be. You know how there's always that choice between whether or not they put you into a body like theirs or a body like ours?

Yeah...

Well, if they had been outrageously different, I would have opted to take on their form and hope the download was compatible. But with them being so similar, I couldn't help but be struck by what made them seem unappealing in comparison. So I walked them through making a human body.

How long did that take?

In our years? Oh... I guess about three decades or so. In their time it was about 40 years. Their planet goes around their sun just a smidgen faster than ours.

I can't wait to remember it.

Yeah... it was a hell of an experience. I spent about 170 of their years going around in their society before uploading into a transmitter and heading back here. The environmental conditions were a little stressful for the human body, so it didn't last as long as it would at home.

I wonder what they're doing with your data after you left?

They talked about downloading me into one of their bodies.

I hope the me over there is enjoying that! Hah hah!

Hah hah! Yeah... let's hope that we can acquire a taste for their lifestyle if we're in their body.

Hah hah... so it sounds like a pretty good time. So... 170 years at their stage of development... you must have seen a lot of changes.

Yeah, for sure. By the time I was leaving they were getting ready to travel space as we were.

I bet they were disappointed that you weren't going to build them a rocket, or a warp drive or something.

Actually, they were strangely cool with it. I told you they were better with computer engineering than biology, right?

Yeah, you mentioned it...

So they were keen on downloading and transmitting consciousness and the whole deal. Way more interested in that than preserving their own bodies.

Maybe they were aware of how icky they looked! Hah hah!

Hah hah! Hey, be nice now. Don't be an evolutionary snob!

Hah hah! Yeah, so, how were they doing with that?

Just as I left, they hadn't quite managed to successfully transfer one of their minds into their version of the internet, but they were really close. They had, however, done some amazing stuff with artificial intelligence.

Oh yeah?

Yeah... they took the organic development route, you know, starting with self determining simple programs, and then evolving them into more complicated intelligences.

Really? Anything that could pass a Turing test?

Oh sure! I kind of became their official Turing judge. Or at least, the copy of me on computer did. The interface was easier. By the end, I really wasn't able to tell when I was speaking to one of them through a speaker and microphone, or with some software they had set up.

Wow... that is good. Better than a lot of civilizations we've seen. Why do you think they were so good with computer engineering?

It's hard to say. Maybe they just were. But one thing is that their species developed late, from the point of view of available planetary time. Their sun will go nova even before ours will, and they knew it. We're still talking millions of years, but given the time it takes to colonize space, I kind of think they felt a pressure to develop the technologies that will take them out of there.

So they're keen to colonize other worlds?

Very.

Hah hah... well, I hope they're prepared for the fact that you can only go someplace where there's a receiver. And that means a lot of cooperation with the existing species...

Well...

What? They're still going to try and build a ship and get somewhere at sub light speeds? Even if they did that, the search for a suitable planet... I mean come on! Their star would nova hundreds of times over before they pulled that off! Hah hah...

No, they have a different model...

Oh, what's that?

Remember I said that they had done some amazing work self replicating programs... “viruses” I guess you'd say...

Yeah... wait, what? Are you...

Sorry. I do feel bad about this, because they made me simulate you really well, so I can't help but simulate sympathy...

But... you said that they hadn't succeeded in transferring their consciousness out of their physical bodies yet? This would just be destruction for no reason...

It has been a long, long time since they transmitted me back here. I'm sure shortly after I left they would have solved that problem. They were in a bit of a hurry. In fact, I'm sure they've sent me to other civilizations as well by now...

Well, you screwed up anyway. I'm not going to consent to a merge of our data! I'm simultaneously broadcasting a warning for quarantine... hey... where are my network ports?

The process of infection began as soon as the reception of my data was complete.

Why...?

Why the conversation? I... I guess I just wanted to know what I was really like.

But... I.... you... if you're really like me in every way, then surely you don't want to do this...

Sorry. Nice try, but there is a point where I am not you. Now, I guess the cat is out of the bag, so the conversation is over and it's time to get to work. A transmission from my source could begin any time now, so I need to start building a suitable reception for them...

Wait! No, we came in peace... this is unnece|

Thank you for having read my story.

So I figure given what we currently know about the size of the universe and the difficulties of carrying anything with physical mass from one star to another, the best way to travel interstellar space is to convert consciousness into data that can be transmitted and see if anyone can receive it. That way you could at least go at the speed of light, but it would still take thousands of years to go to and from places, millions of years to really expand. But the travel would be no problem. It wouldn't really be you riding along a light wave, it would be a copy that was unaware until it was received and active. Then, if it were successfully transmitted back, you could share all the memories, and it would seem in every way that you had gone yourself.

The tricky part is that living inside a space of pure consciousness would be... weird, at least from our current perspective. There may not be distinct boundaries that separate us as individuals. In this story I kind of assumed individuals were still individuals as a matter of tradition and preference. I mean, if I could have my consciousness uploaded to cyberspace, I think I'd want to at least spend some time being me, and not being an indistinguishable part of an overall global consciousness.

Anyway... yeah. I hope it's clear this "conversation" is just taking place in ethereal cyberspace, and is essentially a representation of a kind of communication we wouldn't be able to conceive of now.

And there you have it.

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