Heath Rezabek continues his experiment in possible futures, science fiction with a collaborative bent exploring the archives that may one day preserve the story of our world and the sometimes mysterious processes that may bring them into being.
by Heath Rezabek
This is the fifth installment in a continuing series of speculative fiction here on Centauri Dreams. Feedback from prior installments helps shape the themes and direction of subsequent entries, but the purpose and focus of these pieces is to explore a timeline (or timelines) in which comprehensive, resilient archives of Earth’s biological, scientific, and cultural record — deep archives for deep time — are developed through unexpected means.
Woven Light (I) – Vessel Haven http://www.centauri-dreams.org/?p=29669
Woven Light (II) – Adamantine http://www.centauri-dreams.org/?p=29897
Woven Light (III) – Augmented Dreamstate http://www.centauri-dreams.org/?p=30128
Woven Light (IV) – Proteaa http://www.centauri-dreams.org/?p=30352
Woven Light (V) – Lesson Arcs
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In my last installment, we launched the Centauri Dreams Vessel Survey, beginning community curation of a core booklist embodying Centauri Dreams‘ themes and influences. I discussed my work with the Long Now Foundation, showcasing their work and discussing my pending trip to be present for the opening of The Interval. We will return to both of these topics in a future installment. This week, however, I’ll continue the speculative fiction arc of Woven Light here on Centauri Dreams.
2013 was a tremendous year of change and evolution for the Vessel project; in the span of that year, the Vessel proposal moved from being a conference presentation to a published proceedings paper. After joining Icarus Interstellar to help organize the first Starship Congress, the Vessel project was summarized and presented at the event. A monograph version of that session should ultimately find its way to the JBIS special issue on SC2013.
At that conference, I met Paul Gilster, and introduced him to Nick Nielsen: There began a collaboration which continues today. Perhaps the biggest advancement of all, for me, was the opportunity to serve as an Intern with the Long Now Foundation as they began the community curation process for their Manual for Civilization collection. Although this Internship is drawing to a close, the effort has planted seeds that will continue to sprout for years to come.
With clarity can sometimes come a contradictory confusion. Even as progress on the Vessel proposal assured me that this effort had much in store, I soon discovered a large complication: To make progress on the practical proposal — the Vessel Open Framework, a specification document which could help pave the way for a unified approach to very long term archives — I realized I would need time and a team. Neither of these things are easily secured. My time remains split between these efforts and my livelihood.
Sometimes, however, help comes in unexpected forms. In this case, my conflicted feelings on how to proceed with the Vessel proposal led to a rediscovery of fiction as a vehicle for evoking and envisioning possibilities that remain unreachable in reality. My work on the Woven Light story arc continues, and if anything, is picking up steam.
Likewise, with this realization has come another shift in my perspective. While I continue to feel that a practical proposal for scalable, widespread archival efforts of all kinds is necessary, I have also come to realize that equally important is the collective role of storytellers as living archives of potent possibilities. One path forwards with Woven Light is to create a kind of fiction which can be approached from many directions, including by those inspired enough by it to try their hand at its themes and scenarios themselves.
Should humanity fail in its task in the short term, and Vessel Archives (or their like) not be constructed or created in time to forestall scattered cultural collapse or stagnation, it becomes crucially important that the stories with which humanity is left retain a trace of incentive towards rebuilding. Some would say that our advancements will soon outpace our challenges. Others would say that cases of permanent stagnation and flawed realization are already underway, in nations around the world which struggle against tides of poverty or political despair.
Where, then, is the wellspring of inspiration needed to renew a belief in the possible? Even as I continue to work at the Vessel proposal as a practical deliverable, I am working more and more on a way of storytelling which above all else plants seeds of potential in the gaps between what we can foresee and what we collectively doubt is possible.
It was a surprise, in writing, to find Thea Ramer revising the first sections of Woven Light in response to the entreaty that her robots and starships were never going to make it far in the fictional world of her present-day (an alternate-timeline 1990s), which was in turn a response to the overarching suspicion of previous comments. The resurgent myth which emerged at that point is going somewhere — Vaachez descends into the bazaar in search of a guide and map to even deeper passages, and not all in the storyline is as it seems.
As we move forwards, the number of timelines at work may begin to collapse and merge a bit — and other, unexpected ones may open up. With silence in the comments, I forge ahead sounding out the way based on the echoes already at work in the world of the story. Always, of course, comment is welcomed — it’s no longer expected: All of us, perhaps, are in unexplored territory.
One thing I do foresee is that the Vessel Open Framework will begin to unfold again, from within the world of the fiction. I take as an inspiration the experience I had in 1991 when, well after the original TV series of Star Trek: The Next Generation had ended, I encountered the ST:TNG Technical Manual, by Sternbach and Okuda. Though this kind of metafictional resource had been published before, something about the depth of thought and description in this work inspired me towards a new kind of fiction, one in which the only limits are those of our own vision, deduction, and imagination. 
I am thankful in the extreme to Paul Gilster, for his constant encouragement and support of this effort, a form of serialized fiction perhaps not seen before on Centauri Dreams, but now belonging thoroughly to it. I am grateful for his patience as I work my way towards a myth of possible futures that somehow includes as many possibilities as we can foresee, and asks us as readers to choose between them. Which will we accept or reject? Which will we create through our vision, or our blind spots?
Even for me, there is only one way to know, and that is to follow the work where it goes.
 Okuda, M and Sternbach, R. Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual (Pocket Books, 1991).
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[Image 1 - ‘Manuscript: The Tracer Guild Book 1 by Thea Ramer.’ Adaptation of photography CC BY-SA Cory Doctorow ]
1994. Thea Ramer continues her work on a novel that will be called The Tracer Guild. It will be her only published work, and will reflect but a sliver of the world she is to sketch out between now and its publication in December, 1996. These two years will be spent, for her, in a frenzy of creation, drawing upon notes she has been reworking for several years already.
The Tracer Guild — planned as the first of a series — goes so confidently astray as to float the working titles of six more planned volumes. It enjoys a brief period of uptake, before becoming overwhelmed by the market. After its publication, exhausted and bemused, Thea will put aside the work, only to return many years later, by another route entirely. And she will go through many changes.
For one, she will determine to pick up her scientific pursuits again, and return to academia. This will ultimately result in her team’s development of hologlyphic syntax, and from its hologlyphic origins, the synthetic mind called Avatamsaka.
For another, she will bear a son. His name will be Aben.
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[Image 2 - ‘CU Boulder: Resilience, Remembrance, and the Future of Humanity Symposium 2024.’ Adaptation of photography CC BY-SA devnulled 2010 ]
2023. Aben Ramer returns to Denver from the Playa, prepared to dedicate his energy to a community knowledge and resiliency center, and grassroots version of specification document known as the Vessel Open Framework. The next year, a chance meeting at a conference at CU-Boulder introduces him to Professor of Computational Psychology, Dr, Jota Kaasura.
Resilience, Remembrance, and the Future of Humanity. Symposium 2024.
Lunch Keynote: From Active Imagination to Synthetic Minds: Preserving Ancestral Symbology through Jungian Design Discovery in a Computational Matrix.
After the talk, by the side of the stage as the audience mills towards afternoon, Aben reaches the presenter. Records show him young and eager, an anxious spark in his eyes. Recovered from video, this transcript remains:
Ramer: Doctor — Dr. Kaasura, I wanted to thank you. I’d never thought about it quite that way — the synthesis […unclear…] meaning through visualization — thanks for painting the picture. Oh — I’m Aben.
Kaasura: Yes, thank you. Call me Jota. I appreciated your question, ah.., Aben.
Ramer: Thanks. Ok, well so, you also mentioned that your team was seeking volunteers for the Thematic Sampling phase of input. I’ve practiced Active Imagination before, just a little, and I’d love to participate. I’m in Denver, so getting to CU’s not a problem.
Kaasura: Ah! You have? Well, excellent! It’ll be a bit yet as we gather applications. Here’s the lab’s card. We can certainly explore the possibilities. We’ll take your application and history, and we’ll go from there.
Ramer: Great. Great!
Kaasura: Out of curiosity, how did you run across Active Imagination?
Ramer: My mother used to use it for creative inspiration. She was a writer, years back — she’s actually in AI research as well, now — holography, holographic syntax. Dr. Thea Ramer?
Kaasura (brightening): Ah! Yes, yes, I know her work. Small world! She’s — didn’t she break some new ground, so to speak, in New York last year?
Ramer: Well, yes, that’s — yeah, I guess it was a breakthrough, really. But after what happened, she’s actually on sabbatical now. She says she’s not sure if she’ll return to it. I’m not quite clear on why. But she’s writing it up, so there’s time. She’s here, in fact! Well, not here-here. She was’t up for the conference, too soon she says. But she’s staying with me in Denver. We’re going through her old fiction, her drafts, trying to catalog.
Kaasura: (…) Interesting. Yes, you know, I’d actually love the chance to speak with her, if the chance comes up. Holographic syntax holds great promise. It’d be a shame for her to let it go. I mean, work goes on, always, of course, but sometimes there’s a spark, and it’s always worth perking up when that’s so. Something worth doing, there.
Ramer: Yeah. I’ll tell her. She’ll appreciate it. Maybe we can set something up. I mean she’s right here, really… Too near for a miss, right?
Kaasura: Right. Right. Good way to put it! Well, there’s my card — I do have to go, but we’ll look forward to –
Ramer: Absolutely. Thank you. I really appreciate what you’re doing, and especially why you’re doing it. Thanks for sharing that.
Kaasura: Well, thanks for such an interesting question. The unexpected ones are the best, aren’t they?
Ramer: I’ll bet they are. Great. See you soon!
Kaasura: Yes. See you soon.
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[Image 3 - ‘Proteaa: Dyson Eggs, Living Archives’ (Detail) Heath Rezabek. Adaptation of photography CC BY-SA Wikimedia. ]
Timeframe Unknown. A reflective, refractive sphere, brimming with a maelstrom of living matter, drifts through endless night, tracing the edge of gravity’s embrace. Though utterly alone, it is not lonely, as the Protean cells which form its very quanta are entangled with many other such vessels, peer civilizations spiraling in affinity. True entanglement is a strange thing. Most of these entangled peers are smaller than itself. Most do not share the same origin. Most do not share the same gravity (which means locality, or galaxy), or space, or time.
Some, though not all, have sails; and all such sails stream ancient light.
At least one of these bears passengers, deep in stasis, living — ponderously, glacially, but metabolically living — archives.
At least one of these living archives bears the name of Ramer.
And each Ramer contains the rest.
How did this come to be?
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[Image 4 - ‘Pendulum: Lesson Arc’. Adaptation of photography CC BY John Morgan 2013. ]
It was possible to become lost in here.
This much was well known, and all were taught the telltale signs of probability sickness early on. Vaarea Ramer did well in her lesson arcs, the small worlds adrift in fog on which she had learned to discern Realia from its echoes and shadows and subcreations.
She tracked the arc of the pendulum, swinging, swinging above an ancient pool, reflecting a blinding blue sky with each pass. Ancient, it seemed. Swinging, she felt. It was easy, seeing such a simple scene, to believe it grounded and absolute.
But she stood upon a sort of observation deck, and between her and the pool lay a gap too wide to leap, filled with fog. And beside her stood her family’s Mentor, Tuavaadha, nodding behind her veil.
~Yes, Vaarea. The pendulum would stop in time, if we waited here long enough. But there is much more to do, and even I might become bored waiting so long as that.~
Vaarea lifted her eyes, scanning the clouds for signs of anything but stasis. Her thoughts felt like a sound she heard, unspeaking, though she was the one projecting. She was used to this by now. ~What else is there to do?~
~After the Pendulum Pool comes the Grotto; at least for you. And all of your line, stretching back and back, have found it more interesting a place to be.~ Tuavaadha smiled, she knew without seeing.
And of course, she knew that she was being nudged, poked and tested, gently but inevitably. Vaarea felt a familiar irritation, which resolved itself in its familiar way into a motion of the hand. Lifting from her sash a small shard of smooth stone, she rubbed it twice with her thumb, and felt its weight shift to signal that a beacon had been placed. She’d be back, she was sure.
~As sure as your father. As sure as your son.~ Tuavaadha strode forwards, holding out her palm. A Mentor’s palm seems as wide as night, when it’s open, thought Vaarea.
She placed the stone there, and waited for the blink. But this time was different. To her right, out of eyeshot, she felt something shift and slide, and turned to see a panel of the observation platform falling away. Underneath, familiar lines of woven light interlaced and parted, indexing the scene and retracing the Voronoi frame around them.
~What about the Grotto?~ she quested, following Tuavaadha below.
~We’ll get there, impatience. We just can’t from here.~
Vaa stopped, furrowed. ~Since when can’t we get to one pattern from another?~
~Since the time it was woven that way, which means everfore.~
They were moving now, wisdom bodies flowing past the index lattice, passing pods where her peers slept and drifted, suspended in the weave.
~How far, then?~
~A different lattice?~
~A different loom.~
A different loom! Now surely there was no reason they couldn’t trace a thread from one pattern to any other while remaining in the same loom. Unless by design, but why?
~Security, for one part,~ rang Tuavaadha. ~But only one part. There is something to the journey, sometimes. Something worth doing. You should know this better than most, being spun as you have from the thread of all Ramers.~
The Ghemaai were not prone to resentment, but an ancestor of Vaarea’s might have felt something sharper at the reminder that great choices had been made for her, long before her, which as far as she knew she could not unchoose. But she knew that she was also here, and alive, and flowing starwards with them all, in a way she could not be had different choices been made. And she had her vows, and they were resilient.
~So what is this, then? This Grotto we can’t reach from anywhere?~
~Anywhere else~ adjusted Tuavaadha. ~The Grotto is a family weave. ~ They were passing, now, lightflows that would have led them off towards the flowing cores, or the gathering cores, or the sinking cores; but none of these did they follow.
Tuavaadha said nothing, but smiled beneath the quiet; and Vaarea followed. So they went, in silence, weighing the memory of her shardstone, lacing it between her fingers as their footfalls silenced the deck.
Up ahead, in time, they reached a branching, and another, and a last; and there Tuavaadha stopped, as she had many times before, and waited for Vaarea to read the weave before them. It was old, but always the first time it felt fresh to new eyes. In time, Tuavaadha knew, familiarity would bring a kind of slow sorrow more like joy, keen enough to earn a name. But this time was new time.
Vaarea blinked, reaching out to touch the woven pattern of this tale. There at its center was something she’d heard of, but never seen. A cubic lattice the size of her fist was held tilted and sunken in the center of a circular plateau. Leading out from it, threads spun and raveled, and shoots reached up from loamy soil, sheltering the small camp arrayed there. This close to the fabric, she could see that the lattice stood in for a fire.
Vaarea had learned of shelterfires not two lessons prior, and shivered at the glacial cold she thought they’d left behind in a liminal valley beset by frozen seas. Around this fire sat and stood a dozen, maybe fewer, maybe more; a handful huddled – but against what cold she couldn’t see.
These grassy trees seemed city walls for them, golden green and thriving. And their tips brushed at a dusted, starry sky.
She knew better than to trace too long the lines between these diamonds, but she couldn’t help seeing the similarity – a kinship she’d never noticed in these tapestries before – between the lattice at the heart of this little shelterfire, and the splaying array of stardust beyond these trampers’ reach.
These trampers, she guessed, had tramped the path to this pattern here and now. Why so huddled? Why so intent upon the fire, if not for warmth? It shimmered and billowed, a tiny curtain, golden and ghostly above embers.
She wished she could see one in Realia. She wished she could see one patterned here and now.
~But you can, Vaarea Ramer. And you always will be able.~
So reaching out, she brushed it gently with one fingertip. And sometimes, in such places, the slightest touch is enough.
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[Image 5 - ‘Woven Fire’. Adaptation of photography CC BY-SA Mathias Erhart 2009. ]
Aben Ramer sat before the fire, stirring its coals. “I am old, now… But once I was young, like you, and you as well,” he began.
Young eyes looked up, in awe at their elder. They had heard this beginning before, many times; always – every time – it ran on from there differently than the time before. And always – every time – it ran on like a new stream down the same mountain.
As old Aben Ramer spoke, the children gazed and rested, their eyes sifting firelight, and then lost themselves in patterns ever changing, never changed, woven of golden light; and in through its murmuring cracks could be glimpsed the most ancient of archives, finding itself revealed again, deciphered again, read out and comprehended, voiceless and booming.
Up reached Old Ramer’s arms,
and as tall as the shoots far above them he seemed;
and as full seemed the sky as their hearts and their eyes;
and the stars seemed as close as the sparks which there met them;
and as sure seemed the song of Old Ramer as morning.
And in the morning, the children awoke from dreams of a dragonfly in the night, flowing starwards, wings like sails unfurling, ringed about with an arcing bowl of starlight. And among them was a girl, whose name was a new one; they just called her V.
- – -
Vaarea, stunned, hours or years later, stood just as she had before the weave, finger fading from the cubic lattice turned to fire before her. Tuavaadha smiled. ~This place – can I come here?~
~Of course; any time. All you need to do is seek it, awake or asleep, and remember that you’re seeking.~ Tuavaadha paused. ~But it helps to have some methods. In the Grotto, you will learn them.~
~That wasn’t the Grotto?~
~It was, reflected. But emulators are for studies; this place is for dreaming. We can go there tomorrow. Tonight, your assignment is just to ponder one thing, while you rest and you wait.~
Vaarea looked up, still not fully present.
~The fire: Where did it come from? Where is it going? What does it preserve? What does it destroy? Is memory stored there? And if not there, then where?~
Vaarea looked at the lattice, shimmering softly, woven into this meshwork, and closed her eyes to recall true flame, true flame unseen but everthere. She furrowed; she sighed; she looked to her Mentor for more.
~These seem like different questions, but they are not. They are conjoined. Why? For matter–
–is slumbering light~ Vaarea concluded.
Tuavaadha nodded contentedly, as any Mentor would. ~Now rest.~
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[Image 6 - ‘Edits’. CC BY-SA Heath Rezabek 2014. ]
Thea Ramer, digging through old boxes, finds a fraying printout from long before. Old habits: Reading through it, although the time for revision is long gone, she watches herself scratch through a few words, and watches her outbreath as she does so.
If there had been a reason, these crew in theory could have navigated the actual physical spaceframe of Saudade IV.
She writes above:
She writes below:
Thea Reamer closes her eyes, old threads of a story unwinding; and in a blink, she’s far away.
Time shifts and adapts, enfolding again all around her.