In pure silence, exploration craft Onomatopoeia traverses through interstellar space. Yataro Kobayashi – seated in Zen position – is trying to keep as much of the outside Universe out as possible, while the instruments of his space craft are trying to take as much signals from the surrounding void in as possible. Strangely, their goals are almost the same.

I am nothing, Kobayashi meditates, like all the rest. I am one with the Universe. Apart from a myriad of stars, cosmic radiation and some undetectable quantum fluctuations – the sensors report to the board computer – there is nothing. Yet, as programmed, it has awoken the solitary human from his cryo-sleep as the critical moment of a course correction is approaching.

At this point a decision must be made: follow the current trajectory towards 61 Cygni – its intended target – or change course to Ross 248. Due to a much closer proximity – Onomatopoeia is within 2 light-years of both star systems – better readings are available, and based upon those the final target has to be chosen. Kobayashi is taking his time – the window for course change is about 31 days – in his customary way: emptying his self as if to make room for divine inspiration. 61 Cygni is still the most likely candidate: its metalicity is much higher as that of Ross 248, and the solar masses of the binary system are much closer to that of Sol. Still, Kobayashi takes the junction very serious, trying hard not to overlook anything. He will not cut to the chase until the last day, probably the last possible moment. Which is not defined very hard, as there is a considerable amount of spare antimatter fuel on board. His sponsors have been very generous.

Each steeped in their own kind of serenity, man and craft speed through the void. Then the most sensitive sensor on board, the mass detector, reports a miniscule gravitational tug, a value at the limit of its measuring threshold. A real object or a fault in the equipment? As usual, Kobayashi decides to wait it out. In the meantime, he makes a little Riddle-o-Matic, a random koan generator to improve his samadhi. His koan for today: what is the signature of one particle interacting?

A month later, the mass detector measurement has increased almost twofold. Now, together with the distance the space craft has travelled, the board computer can estimate mass and position of the object. A gravity well of three solar masses at a distance of 27 light-days. This, together with the absence of any radiation strongly suggests a black hole. Also, it’s not very far from the original route. A close flyby, with a slingshot trajectory to save fuel, is well within the safety margins for his return trip. It would be the very first black hole directly discovered – if it is one – and at a relatively short distance from Earth: only 9 light-years. Such an opportunity cannot be wasted, and Kobayashi instructs the onboard computer to change course for the gravity well. At their current speed they will arrive there in three months. Hardly worth the trouble of returning to cryo-sleep, and Kobayashi stays awake – although at a much slower metabolic rate. Crafting paradise with a zazen aptitude, subjective time flies.

Then, almost a week before the close flyby, an unknown craft is heading for the Onomatopoeia, coming in from behind, and matching speed. It attaches itself to Kobayashi’s craft and decelerates the linked vessels, leading them to an enormous space station orbiting the black hole. Neither the capturing craft nor the space station react to Kobayashi’s frantic attempts at communication. Kobayashi had imagined First Contact in a completely different manner. In view of his limited fuel supply and the total absence of weapons on his little ship, Kobayashi can do little else than let himself be tugged along. He is led into a giant docking bay of the torus-shaped space station. Two other vessels are inside, one looking like a ramship, with the hydrogen-scooping sail retracted; the other too strange for Kobayashi to place. The moment the large hatch closes him off from outer space, radio waves enter his comlinks. His onboard computer hardly needs to decipher the incoming signals:

“Welcome stranger, to Space Station Inconspicious Ghost. You’ll be here for quite a while. Please supply us with your life support requirements, and we’ll prepare our guest suite for you.”

[Solitary spikes: very long, very thin needles sticking out from the intrinsic tapestry. These distortions in the timescape are a real nuisance. What’s more: there’s an important event approaching spacewise.]

Kobayashi is too flabbergasted to answer directly. After a long moment to regain his composure – is communication supposed to be so easy? – he answers:

“Highly esteemed host, I cannot stay indefinitely. My superiors have sent me on an important exploration mission.”

“We’re sorry, stranger, but we can’t let you go. We will not kill you – we’re not barbarians – but the cost/benefit analysis of this project is overwhelmingly against letting you go. So you better make the best of it, well, what’s your name?”

“Kobayashi. Please excuse my unforgivable curiosity, but what’s going on? Is studying a black hole so important? Our scientists would be greatly honoured to assist you in any way they can.”

“Thanks for the kind offer, but no, Kobayashi. No offense meant, but you’d only be a liability. More importantly, we want no snoopers around here. Now, if you behave, we’ll explain some of the galactic facts of life to you. How about you give us your species’ specifics, so our nanobots can prepare the right environment for you?”

Figuring he has hardly anything to lose, Kobayashi orders his onboard computer to send the requested data.

“Very good, Kobayashi. You have a space suit of any kind?”

“Yes, ehm, esteemed alien?”

“Call me Conrad. Put it on and I’ll give you the grand tour of the premises while your quarters are prepared. Unless you wish to stay on board, but believe me, our quarters are a lot less cramped.”

Kobayashi considers this and decides he doesn’t have much of a choice. So he gets into his space suit and disembarks. Standing on the ‘bottom’ – the side pointing in the direction of the black hole – a being not unlike a giant, black-and-white sea urchin awaits him in the docking area. A couple of the long, thin tentacles that point in Kobayashi’s direction ripple at their ends.

“Greetings, Kobayashi. A bipedal mammal, right?”

“Correct, Conrad-san. Sincere greetings on behalf of all humanity, and that the relationship between our species may be interesting, cordial, and beneficial for both.”

“No need to be so informal. The gravitational tug is not disconcerting to you?”

“No, it’s only a fraction of what I’m used to. But Conrad-san, this is the very First Contact for my species -“

“And it’s no big deal. We’ve been there and done it so many times I lost count. Now will you follow me through the station, please?”

“I will.”

The alien Conrad leads Kobayashi from the docking bay into the space station itself. The station is huge–at least for Kobayashi. He is already dwarfed by the ten meter alien, but the diameter of the torus’s circle must be close to a kilometer, while the radius of the whole torus may easily be thirty kilometers or so, making him feel truly miniscule. Gigantic contraptions and labyrinthine networks of pipe-like connections are spread on the innermost wall of the torus: the side in the direction of the hole in the humongous donut. The gravitational bottom is at 90 degrees from that, suggesting that the opening of the torus is aimed at the singularity it’s orbiting. In the middle of the ‘floor’, there’s a single rail stretching to both sides until it vanishes out of sight. At regular intervals, platforms are placed near the monorail.

Conrad leads Kobayashi to the nearest platform. Completely baffled by something so familiar in such a strange environment, Kobayashi stares at the approaching car. The car stops at the platform, its single door opens and man and alien enter into the building-sized transport car. Inside are a few more giant sea urchins, an elephant-sized, alabaster insectoid (for which any Daikaiju director would gladly give an arm and a leg), two crimson, hyper-thin folio rhombi floating near the high ceiling and a swarm of football-sized green peas bouncing off each other and shortly turning inside-out when out of the core like im- and exploding popcorn. To top off the culture shock, all the aliens’ chatter is fed over his comlink, as well.

…gliding electromagnetic wind…little bursts of cosmic radiation…lonely pulsar compass…soft breath of Casimir rechargers…

“What a cute little alien.”

—boom–bang–kerrpow–yahoo–kablooy–ping–pong–pang–Wheeeee!–

“So nice and squishy, so green.”

//recalibrate coil 98D//check the connections in sector X//find that little bit of interference that’s slowly driving everbody up the wall//

“Fresh from Gaia’s embrace.”

“Is your com unit still functioning? You’re so quiet.”

“It’s too much,” is all Kobayashi can manage, “too big to take in.”

“No, it’s not too big: it’s the optimal size for our purposes.”

“How come I can understand everything everybody’s saying?”

“Universal translator on the central channel. You really are from a galactic backwater.”

Almost imperceptibly, the giant car starts to move. Conrad and Kobayashi stay on board for more than a full round, as the train stops at several platforms to let passengers on and off. Conrad explains to Kobayashi how the space station is divided into sections, how he can recognise each section, and what the major landmarks are.

“There, on the inside: a superconducting coil. You’ll see them – regularly spaced – all around the circumference of the station.”

Conrad’s tentacles vibrate slightly. Kobayashi can only guess what this means: amusement, annoyance or a kind of breathing reflex? Wondering why he’s told all this, Kobayashi asks: “I am free to move around?”

“Of course. You’ll be monitored constantly, of course. More for your own safety than anything else.”

“Why?”

“We found that some species experience great psychological discomfort when confined to their quarters.”

Other species? So I’m not the first unexpected visitor. Kobayashi thinks. Changing the subject, he says: “You mentioned something about ‘explaining the galactic facts of life’ earlier?”

“Oh, yeah. Familiar with the concept of a technological singularity?”

“As in an almost seamless merging of information technology and software development, combined with a periodic doubling growth of processing speeds leading to enormously accelerated progress?”

“Not bad. Covers a lot of the basics.”

“But it hasn’t happened.”

“With your civilisation it hasn’t. You probably haven’t been able to get something like an Artificial Intelligence to work, right?”

“How would you know that?”

“Easy: otherwise your solar system would have been a lot less noisy.”

“Less noisy?”

“So typical of an immature civilisation: screaming your loneliness all over the electromagnetic spectrum. While any reasonably advanced race uses quantum entanglement: instantaneous and undetectable.”

“How else are we supposed to make contact with others?”

“That’s not how it works. Don’t contact us, we’ll contact you, if we feel like it.”

“So you are aware of our existence? Then why leave us alone?”

“Because you are too backwards to be of interest to us.”

“You could – well – help us along. In the end both would benefit.”

“No, we don’t want to accelerate your progress. Future shock would erase your species’ creativity.”

“What do you care about our creativity?”

“Because there is only one true currency in this Galaxy: the originality of an idea.”

“What?!”

“The uniqueness of a concept. A truly new viewpoint.”

[I try omnidirectionality, but lose my focus. So I optimise with semi-peripheral perception and single-directional zoom. Omnidirectionality a trait from a smaller room, where the piercing peaks are much more violent and frequent then nowaspace.]

Conrad leaves it at that. They get off at platform Alpha, from where Conrad takes Kobayashi to his designated living room. In his new quarters, Kobayashi contemplates his situation. He’ll be kept here indefinitely, which probably means for the rest of his life. Well, if they are really so much more advanced than us, any escape attempt is futile, he thinks. He better focus on the reality of this situation.

First his koan for the day: envision a lateral approach to intuition.Then he tests the air in his room: it’s perfectly breathable. There’s an airlock between his quarters and the rest of the space station as there is no atmosphere of any kind inside the humongous donut. The aliens must be adapted to the vacuum, or might even be native to it, he surmises. He takes his space suit off and looks around: furniture, a bit contorted in places but he’ll get that modified later, a bedroom, a washroom, a kitchen, and a large desk with a computer. He sits down before it, switches it on and finds it working exactly like his onboard computer. With nanotech they probably copied it to the atom, he thinks. Not really unexpected, he finds links to an alien network. Surfing there, all text appears in his language, and all visuals are crystal clear. Does he have limited access, or do they think most important info is way above his head? Probably a bit of both, he decides and searches for articles about galactic civilisations. What he finds is puzzling, fascinating, and hardly comprehensible. General info pops up fast and easy, while specific request are incredibly hard to get, if at all. For the moment, he considers the easily available info that does paint a greater picture.

There seems to be a complex hierarchy of intelligence in the galaxy. The top layer is located in the dense, star-cluttered galactic center. An unfathomable supernetwork of hyperlinked Matrioshka Brains is doing things only they can understand. The next layer, spread accross the rest of the galaxy, is an amount of solitary Matrioshka Brains, seperated from each other by the great gulfs of interstellar space.

Matrioshka Brains are basically thinking matter, that is all raw material of a solar system transformed to computronium and wound around the sun in a fractal manner that absorbs all the star’s energy output. Those Matrioshka Brains are the end product of a technological singularity. The speed of light limits any true broadband links between them.

The aliens he met are part of the next layer: the Trade Coalition. Initially, most of them were interstellar drifters, the predominant species in their solar system before the singularity took over. Some still had good relationships with their Matrioshka Brains, and offered services the MBs needed. Basically transporting quantum-entangled routers at sub-light speeds across the galaxy. The Trade Coalition uses a dedicated channel in those, but its bandwidth is less than a trickle compared to what the MBs exchange, and even that is almost negligible compared to what’s going on inside the singularities.

As far as Kobayashi can retrace, the Trade Coalition does not partake in research. Apparently, all theoretical knowledge they can hope to develop is already old hat in the MBs. In fact they suspect that the enormously accelerated progress has evolved the MBs to intelligences orders of magnitude removed from mere mortals like themselves. Trying to catch up, they would need more than the lifetime of the Universe. So prying knowledge loose by making sharp trade deals is much more effective.

Surprisingly, there are trade opportunities between the two intelligence layers. Whatever hyper-evolved intelligences house in the Matrioshka Brains, they’re extremely reluctant to leave the comfortable glow of their native information density. So they need others to do the dirty work of transportation.

Negotiations though, are an extremely tricky process. Some MBs are so eager for extra computational power that they’ll gladly take any amount of raw matter the Trade Coalition can throw at them. A few even just take anything that dares to come within reach. Making contact with those is a very delicate matter. Mostly, the first probes are calculated losses.

However, making contact isn’t even the hardest part. Things become really interesting if one is willing to trade. MBs have all types of information the Trade Coalition craves: better star drives, improved communication protocols – especially with the MBs themselves – and more efficient computation methods are only the tip of the iceberg. Not to mention longevity treatments, entropy suppressants, superior methods of energy generation: the MBs have at least the theoretical knowledge of those.

In the words of a famous trader: “Problem is, when payday comes it’s very hard to find out if they’ve given you a lemon or the real deal. You only find out when you do try to apply their information, which may sometimes take quite some time, indeed. On average, though, we get more good deals than bad ones, especially from those that want repeat business. And we’re slowly learning to recognise the turkeys.”

In this manner, the Trade Coalition leads a relatively prosperous existence in the immense interstellar voids that forms the interstices between the points of near-infinite intelligence density. On the very bottom of the intelligence hierarchy are developing civilisations like Kobayashi’s own. Anything below that hardly seems worth a mention.

A lot of things don’t make sense, though. Their presence here goes right against the argument that doing research on their own is pointless. Maybe, by observing a black hole up close they can hope to learn something that the MBs don’t know? That seems extremely unlikely. Still, such a profit-driven coalition must have a compelling reason to make such an enormous investment.

Obviously, they’re studying this black hole. Or performing experiments. But if their Trade Coalition is really spread across a large part of the galaxy, then they must have come across a lot of other black holes. So something must make this one special.

They have let him keep all his measurement data, and seem to be quite forthcoming with information. But telling something doesn’t mean they’re telling me everything. So either they’re playing it safe – which, considering his status as near-barbarian, seems unlikely – or maybe it’s a kind of test. The more I figure out, the more they might help me along. Right. Now try to interpret the data he’s got. Most important: his vessel’s last measurements show there’s another deep gravity well, much less massive than the singularity they’re orbiting, but another black hole nonetheless. However, that black hole had a very strong electromagnetic signature: like two very fast spinning fields that seemed to rotate around a common point.

The best match he – and the data base in his onboard computer – can come up with is a pair of Kerr-Newman black holes, with same polarity charges, rapidly orbiting each other. This suggests these Kerr-Newman singularities are both artificial, he thinks, which makes even less sense. If they have access to very specific black holes, why study such a straightforward one? Because that’s what it seems to be: a normal, or Schwarzschild black hole. His instruments measured not a single trace of charge on the great black hole. Although it might be spinning fast, as well: that would make it a Kerr black hole. Not really special, either, considering they have two Kerr-Newman black holes. Unless… Unless it’s a SEKO, realisation strikes him, a Super-Extreme Kerr Object. A naked singularity!

[Of course I cannot change a dark, depressing temporal presence into a neutral occurance or even a joyful event. Neither can I push a small positive shape of happenstance into a nirvana of ecstasy. So while I tacitly persevere, I develop strategies for spaces to grow.]

Your koan for today: How do you force a spontaneous burst of creativity? After sleeping a long night on it, Kobayashi decides to seek out Conrad and confront him with his findings. Querying the first alien he meets on the monorail platform, he is told that Conrad is in the Recharge Room. In a crowded, crazy space filled with displays phasing in and out impredictably and constantly changing sculptures so twisted they would make even the greatest M.C. Escher freaks dizzy, he finds the alien. Skipping all protocols in a very un-Japanese manner, he addresses the giant sea urchin directly:

“Since you are holding me here anyway, why not let me in on the project? That way I might be useful.”

“A primitive like you?”

“If you don’t give me the chance, you’ll never know.”

“Not using resources is wasting resources. However it’s not clear if you qualify as a resource.”

“Only one way to find out.”

“Not so fast. It’s not that we have anything to hide from you, but we do have a little code of conduct here; you can only join in if you can add value: strictly no hanger-ons. So you have to prove yourself worthy.”

“OK, in that case: I know why you’re so secretive about this place: you’re studying a naked singularity.”

Conrad is quiet for the shortest of moments, and then bursts out: “Hey, everybody: we’ve got ourselves a new scholar!”

— the way out is the way in — the way out is the way in — the way out is the way in —

Kobayashi is chanting the age-old mantra to an indifferent Universe. Seated in Zen position, he’s meditating again. The previous days were madness: too much new impressions, indecipherable weirdness, too soon. Balancing on the verge of information overload he acted way out of character. Running like a rat in an endless, twisted maze: it’s time to forget.

Although this brainstorm has helped him, for the sake of his continued sanity he needs a period of tranquillity. Take it easy. Slow down. Let everything sink in. It’s not as if he’s leaving soon.

Conrad has put him on probation, saying that he needs to show quite a lot more before they will consider him. The alien’s mention of a scholar set him on a new track. Checking what previous unwanted visitors already worked out may save him a lot of time and effort. He enters the alien network, but if it was working rather erratically before, now his access seems to have closed to a trickle. Links not opening, queries unanswered, searches abandoned. As if its arcane non-nodal structure wasn’t confusing enough. After the umpteenth unsuccessful attempt at accessing something, anything, Kobayashi decides to take a long walk.

The ‘kitchen’ works fine, and he sets off in his space suit with ample provisions. Traversing the whole station will take him across some 200 kilometers. He can always board the monorail if he gets bored. But Kobayashi is not the type, he just needs to be away from the constant and frustrating temptation of the alien network. Give his subconscious time to absorb the incomprehensible.

Four days later he returns to his quarters, tired yet restored. He hadn’t switched off his computer, and now he finds – to his surprise – that a few links have opened. This speeds his slumbering brain right up: his access may be allright, but the network is incredibly slow. That makes no sense, he thinks, so what’s new? If that’s so, it will take ages to extract information. Beside the speed handicap, there’s the trouble of tracing and compiling little nuggets of information, that are spread across an alien network whose organising principles use a type of logic that’s beyond Kobayashi. Then again, there may be a way to improve it.

He writes a search program that runs as many parallel searches as possible: this speeds things up, but will make the info gathering very scattered. It’s the best solution he can come up with, so he implements it. Then – as the data gathering proceeds at a glacial pace – he disassembles the spare cryo-unit from his vessel and assembles it in his assigned quarters. If things must go so slow, he might as well play the game.

During the trips between his vessel and his living space Kobayashi meets different types of aliens, but all seem to avoid communication with him. Most ignore him, while their conversations are perfectly translated. When he pushes his point, they invariably refer to Conrad. “Go see Conrad, that’s his designated task.” For highly developed aliens, they seem rather distant and simple.

Kobayashi doesn’t want to see Conrad. He’d rather confront the aliens’ proxy when he is more ready for it, more informed. So before he hooks himself up to the rebuilt cryo-unit, he checks the precious little amount of data his computer has extracted so far. Only a little bit about one visitor, and merely tantalising hints of another. That makes him the third.

Three visitors, three scholars, and an isolated civilisation. Kobayashi cannot help but think of Dejima. From 1641 to 1854 Japan had closed itself to all foreign trade, with the single exception of Holland. On Dejima, a small artificial island in Nagasaki harbour, a trading post was built. For two hundred years, Dutch ships berthed there (about two every year on average) to do trade. They brought not only goods, however. Most famously, there were the “three scholars”, physicians that also treated Japanese patients and taught the locals about the European advancements in medicine. Actually, none of these three scholars were Dutch (two were Germans, one was a Swede), but they were driven by a great curiosity about ‘the mysterious country’. In those two centuries of isolation, they were Japan’s only sources of alien knowledge.

Kobayashi’s current situation seems a twisted mirror image of that. Japan’s isolation was self-imposed, while spacefaring humanity is actively looking for contact; then traders were trying to contact Japan, now the Trade Coalition is ignoring Earth; and the three scholars of Dejima came of their own volition, the three scholars of this dark hole are kept against their will.

The first visitor seemed a reclusive type. Kobayashi can’t figure out if it was like that or had become so due to its imprisonment. According to the record it arrived some 65 million years ago. Kobayashi has trouble both believing and conceiving this. 65 million years ago! Dinosaurs roamed the Earth, and already an alien Trade Coalition had built this space station. That alone rules out his ‘they are only studying this SEKO’ hypothesis. Unless a naked singularity gives rise to such unfathomable phenomena that they’re still trying to figure it out after all those millions of years. Still… maybe they’re conducting a grand experiment, here. In the far end of a spiral arm, in a galactic backwater, so to say. Probably in a region where Matrioshka Brains are spread very thin.

Then those closely matched Kerr-Newman black holes. Their mass is far below the Chandrasekhar limit, so they must be remnants of the big bang. However, such relatively small singularities must not only be rare, but very hard to find as well. So finding even two of them, matching their characteristics, and then bringing them will have taken a very, very long time. OK, but why do they need these paired Kerr-Newman black holes, anyway? Just to experiment with this naked singularity? Wait a minute: can naked singularities occur naturally? Extremely unlikely, because when a fast spinning black hole’s angular momentum comes close to its mass, it becomes impossible to shoot in objects to increase its angular momentum. But maybe those Kerr-Newman black holes were needed to give such a singularity, spinning at the brink, just that final push. Maybe they #created# the naked singularity.

[At the end of the spatial expanse time has not diluted to an unsustainable level. The Synchronicity Theorem states that for a finite spatial component, the basic fabric of time/space is always overstretchable. However, can the spatial expansion endure beyond this recursive barrier?]

Slowly, ever so slowly Kobayashi’s computer unearths more information on the first scholar from the incredibly sluggish network. With the help of the cryo-unit he has decreased his metabolic rate and in an increasing state of zazen he checks the trickle of results over ever increasing intervals. He tries to concentrate his improvised search engine on the first visitor. At a certain point enough is gathered to form a mental picture.

She – for some reason Kobayashi thinks the alien was feminine – was from a race of avians that lived in the upper layers of a gas giant. She arrived from EV Lacertae, about 8 light-years from here. She looked like a cross between a bat, a blackbird and a kingfisher. Black, leathery wings with bursts of red flames like the solar flares of her home sun; a long, pointed blue beak and tall, very agile limbs. She was small, but they made the mistake of making her quarters small, too. She didn’t take well to her confinement. They kept her in her quarters, which must have been quite depressing for an avian. Even if she couldn’t fly in the vacuum, at least she would have had some room. Obviously she kept her sanity during her interstellar trip by taking frequent outboard trips, ‘floating’ in the void in a very flexible space suit.

Somehow she got a number of transcripts that didn’t make much sense. Gibberish with a convoluted logic. The first scholar did hunt for meaning in these texts, but was considered unsuccessful. She also wrote tone textures, an expression halfway between song and lyrics. These were – after some initial interest – completely ignored, as well. After some experimenting, Kobayashi finds a way to reconfigure the avian’s tone textures to a frequency and key range that sound right to him. Sad, mad twitterings of a caged songbird, a grounded skylark. Kobayashi finds them strangely moving, and plays them frequently when he’s meditating. After a particular long session, where he experienced a deep trance, he finds he has composed a poem, engraved with his nails in the soft tabletop:

Time twists in warped ways, tick-tock, hiccup, wickedy-wackedy

Space, straight as an arrow, only forward, ever expanding

Outside in singularly imperfect symmetry chirality Inside out

Sinister gap open gate fly away beyond captivity on wings of song

Enough. Even at a snail’s pace he’s thinking too fast for this place, his brain still running around in circles. He must take a real break. He programs his computer to concentrate its efforts on the elusive second visitor, then sets himself up for ten years of cryo-sleep.

#

Ten years later, Kobayashi is awakened. His koan for the day: Bring me the essence of time. After his brain and body have come up to speed, he checks what his computer has managed to gather. He is both surprised and disappointed. Tons of stuff on the space station and its equipment, but–apart from a solid introduction–hardly anything on the second visitor.

Some 7½ million years ago, another alien vessel spotted the black hole. The second captured alien was a very intriguing and evocative entity. Originally, his species had evolved on the moon of a gas giant. The moon was covered by a layer of ice several kilometers thick. However, due to energy released by tidal stresses there was a layer of liquid water on bottom of the moon-wide ocean. Volcanic activity caused large upwellings of warm water, breaking the ice crust open. In the cracks of the ice, photosynthesizing plankton evolved, and more complex life forms followed suit.

In the first stage of its species’ existence, the Zs were squid-like beings making regular treks between the mineral-rich volcanic vents at the bottom and the nutrient-rich water in the cracks of the ice. They evolved into torpedo-shaped fish, whose form swelled into a more zeppelin-like shape when they reached the surface.

Because they lived at the sea bottom most of their life, they had developed a nervous system – enriched with iron and copper from the volcanic vents – that was very sensitive to magnetic fields. Their moon did not have a magnetic field, but the gas giant it orbited had an immensely strong one, and they learned to orient themselves by it.

Also, because their moon had hardly any atmosphere to speak of, on their upward trips they were exposed to large doses of cosmic radiation that made their evolution jump fast forward in strange directions. In one of these evolutionary blind alleys, large schools of zeppelinfish – near the end of their lives – swam like mad on a springtide to the surface and then beached themselves on the icy shores of their moon by jumping out of the water in the direction of the great magnetic field. This lasted only for a certain period, as it was not a survival trait for persisting on the moon. However, as their ‘material’ bodies fell down, the electromagnetic patterns of their intricate nervous system, in a final death spasm, detached themselves and headed for the gas giant. On their own, the single bodily patterns soon dispersed in the interplanetary void. Most found out, maybe from the age-old schooling habit, that by staying close together the innermost patterns were shielded by the outer layer. If the school was large enough, it could make it all the way to the gas giant’s magnetosphere. There they could recharge themselves by feeding on its magnetic field lines.

In this way some of these ‘transcended’ schools of electromagnetic patterns learned to survive in their gas giant’s turbulent magnetic field. The surviving schools eventually prospered and even developed sentience in the form of a group gestalt. The transcended zeppelinfish became the Zs, and the Zs learned to sail the solar winds and soon settled themselves around every planetary body in their solar system that had a magnetic field of sufficient size. The second scholar was on one of their first interstellar expeditions.

While the Zs’ vessel was captured, the Zs themselves could not so easily be locked up. For some reason, a cage of Faraday was not feasible – Kobayashi suspects this has something to do with the space station’s array of superconducting coils. This lead to a stalemate of sorts: while the Zs could not be detained, they could also not go too far away from the space station as they needed an electromagnetic field to sustain themselves. Also, through their ethereal nature, the Zs could snoop almost anywhere. Obviously, the station keepers were not happy with the episode, as most info on the Zs, apart from their origin, was either erased or hidden in forgotten folders and niches.

Kobayashi finds it highly suspect; after ten years his computer has dug up and compiled very much on the space station’s equipment, but hardly anything on the evocative Zs. This alone indicates that the Zs were from a whole different caliber. So they either got away, or maybe figured out too much. In any case, there’s something fishy there. Every pressure point of his astral body, every ounce of intuition demands he follows that line of enquiry further. But, apart from sifting through the alien network, he doesn’t know how.

He lets it rest for the time being and concentrates on the configuration of the space station. The whole array of superconducting coils seems to serve as a way to vibrate the paired Kerr-Newman black holes. Why? First, they probably needed this setup to push the very fast-spinning black hole from Kerr object into a SEKO. But they could use the gravitational radiation of this setup best by making the sharpest slingshot trajectory: the doppler effect of the gravitational radiation at the perihelion would be the most effective way of achieving that final push. After that the coil array would only serve to keep the Kerr-Newman black holes in place if they drifted off.

But you wouldn’t need such a complicated array with ultrafast triggers. No, something else is going on, but Kobayashi can’t quite put his finger on it. He spends a month meditating and considering the problem and wondering at the Zs. No progress. Further action is needed. So Kobayashi programs his computer to search for data on the Zs only, and sets his cryo-unit for 150 years.

[The shape of this thing is dominated by the Optimistic/Cynic quadrants, its tail whipping between sad memory and happy experience. A flimsy beast with great potentiality. Tinged with patches of spatial incongruity, though.]

One-and-a-half centuries later, Kobayashi examines his computer’s collected data again. It is distressingly little. With their native affinity for the electromagnetic, the Zs figured out exactly what kind of experiments were (are?) conducted here. However, only a few tantalising hints remain: some mentions of ‘keeping equilibrium’, ‘a second station’, ‘magnetic imprints… those after us…’ and, strangest of all, ‘frequency modulation’. Impossible, ethereal beings like the Zs could not possibly have had radio stations, right? Kobayashi shakes his head in despair: the dearth of actual information crashed all his high hopes. He was so eager to find out that he didn’t check his daily koan. He might as well do that now.

If you’re hanging on by the skin of your teeth on a branch over an abyss, with your hands tied at your back, and a stranger passes by asking you for the Dharma, how do you explain it?

A somewhat more soothing riddle is required. By taking the marker from your pocket between the toes of your right foot, write the word SHIT in capitals on your left sandal, and throw that sandal to the idiot that’s not helping you! Kobayashi thinks, miffed. More annoyed than he cares to admit, Kobayashi gets up and paces his room. A second station. Frequency Modulation. He could use a second radio station, blaring out some very noisy metal right now. Keeping equilibrium. He sure lost it. Those after us… magnetic imprints… Wait a minute…

Suppose the Zs had figured out pieces of the puzzle that the space station’s keepers did not want them to find… Suppose the Zs thought beyond their predicament… Their predecessors had already transcended once, so they may have an inbuilt tendency to look ahead, far ahead… If they couldn’t get away, maybe they tried to signal home… No, their ship was kept locked in the same, completely shielded docking bay as mine, nothing, absolutely nothing gets out, the Buddha knows I tried… They probably knew of the first visitor, too… What if they left a message for the next one?

Kobayashi glows with excitement. But where would they leave it? In their ship? That would be a bit too obvious. What about the avian’s ramship? Going there rightaway is too obvious, as well. Thus, Kobayashi takes the long way around. Begins meditating again, spends long days studying the space station’s layout and physics, takes a leisurely trek through the torus, and begins to take infrequent trips, supposedly at whim, to his own vessel. Moves stuff from there to his quarters, but also surreptitiously, he hopes, makes sure his vessel’s onboard computer is completely stand-alone, unmonitored.

During one of these trips he walks into Conrad.

“Good day, Conrad-san. It’s been a long time.”

“Has it?” the alien answers.

This gives Kobayashi pause. There is something strange with the sense of time in this place. How long ago where the Zs here? 7½ million years ago. Maybe the network is really so slow. If a project is so incredibly long, it makes sense to slow yourself down enormously. It would also help during these immense journeys across the galaxy the Trade Coalition supposedly makes. So either they have decreased their clock speed accordingly or evolved to it. Then again, why can Conrad talk normally with him?

“A question, Conrad-san. Have your observations given any confirmation that all elementary particles are vibrating, 11-dimensional p-branes with all but four dimensions compactified in a Calabi-Yau shape, as proposed in superstring theory?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Just some basic physics from a primitive civilisation.”

“Kobayashi, this is gibberish. It’s not like that at all.”

“How then? This gibberish did help us make an interstellar drive.”

“You ask too much. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got work to do.” and the large, prickly alien leaves. Strange, and atypical, Kobayashi thinks, this begins to look like a puppet show more and more. But who is pulling the strings?

He continues his trips, and at some point, makes semi-distracted walks around both alien interstellar vessels marooned in the bay. Slowly loses his inhibitions and looks for entrances. After all, he’s terribly bored, and is just curious, right? While he realises this is an anthropomorphic way of thinking, what else can he do, but behave naturally? Frustratingly, he can open no entrance on either alien vessel. Desperately, he climbs over each, repeatedly, until he finds a small, loose object on the ramship. He picks it up, fast and stealthily. To keep up the charade, he does a few more climbs. Then puts it on a safe place in his own ship, and carries on with his routine charade.

Long, very long, weeks later he tries to decipher the info cache. Inside the small, wrapped-up object is a tiny disc. Extremely compacted, digital magnetic code. First strings consisting of binary numbers, basic Mathemathics and physical constants with corresponding ‘alien’ code, working as a self-referring Rosetta Stone. Designed to be deciphered. With their highly refined empathy with all things electric, the Zs could access the space station’s network without an interface. The Trade Coalition’s researchers could literally keep no secrets from them. No wonder they tried to erase the memory of them after the Zs mysteriously disappeared. Kobayashi is completely flabbergasted at the wealth of info the Zs left on their disc:

-The paired Kerr-Newman black hole setup, complete with the superconducting coil array, has three functions:

Initially to provide the final push for creating the SEKO;

Maintain the SEKO#; and

Produce Modulated Gravity Waves.

-There is a second space station, orbiting at exactly the opposite side of the naked singularity. Shaped as a giant L, it functions to measure Modulated Gravity Waves (MGWs).#

-The SEKO is a gateway to a parallel Universe full of Supersymmetric partners (SUSY particles).

-The MGWs are the only possible way of communication between the Universes, as gravity is the only force that works in both, because:

-They found intelligence in the SUSY Universe.

*(A SEKO exists in a state of unstable equilibrium: spin it up farther and mass will be expelled, keeping it exactly at equilibrium; however, a few incoming stray particles will slow the SEKO to a ‘normal’ Kerr object, and the K-N setup needs to speed it up again.)

**(One of the many measuring sensors brought here, constantly in use now.)

Incredible, but true. The station keepers received data on the L-station that was too ordered to be random. Gravity waves are quite rare in the known Universe, modulated gravity waves had not been discovered before. It was probably after that the Trade Coalition researchers realised that the MGWs were messages that a much more complicated coil array was built into the space station. The Zs, with their affinity for electromagnetism, found that eight coils were much older than the rest. In any case, there is something intelligent in a coupled parallel Universe so strange that both the Zs and – apparently – the Trade Coalition’s researchers are grasping in the dark about how such a Universe looks, let alone how something intelligent could have developed.

They dubbed the thing on the other side the ‘Enigmatic Intelligence’. The only thing they’re fairly sure about is that the signals are non-random. The deciphering is another matter: they have managed to decode some messages, but the translation is too alien for them to understand. If lions could speak, Kobayashi thinks, we would not understand them. Wittgenstein and Zen: both – in their own way – looking for das erlösende Wort: the single insight that frees us from our limited worldviews. In any case, the ‘translated’ parts may be nonsense, after all.

Problem is, the Zs only have a few of those messages. Once the station’s researchers found out their network was ‘hacked’, they stored them non-electromagnetically. Then, as Kobayashi reads the translated messages, recognition strikes him: they gave them to the avian, the first scholar.

A near-overload of information. It’s meditating time again, interspersed with long walks. But no matter how hard he tries, Kobayashi’s mind refuses to be emptied. A kind of reverse ADHD; Over-Focused, Hyperactivity Disorder. But not tunnel vision, it’s like his mind has become a gigantic convex lens: trying to focus all knowledge to a single point. Not unsurprisingly, the ultimate point looks kinda black.

Instead of restive, his long walks make Kobayashi more restless. He feels like he’s on the verge of something, a breakthrough or a breakdown, he doesn’t know. However, he remains teetering on the brink, unable to push through. Until he meets Conrad again on one of his roundtrips.

The alien immediately speaks to him, as if continuing a conversation that never stopped.

“Superstring theory? Petty human, don’t bother us with your fantasies. The basic fabric of reality is an incomprehensible network of sub-Planck scaled nodes, that change properties in relation to their mutual positions and according to rules too complex for us to fathom. Trying to compute those interactions is untractable to even the finest Matrioshka Brains.”

“An elaborate version of the giant cellar automaton network. The problem with that is that it needs to introduce the temporal dimension rather than it being an intricate -“

“It means, simple man, that the underlaying cannot be known by definition. That it is impossible for anybody living in this reality to understand.”

Then why probe reality with this project, Kobayashi wonders, of course: if the basic fabric of reality is intractable, then they can hope to find something the MBs don’t know. Outward, he says: “I see. So our reality is Gödel-incomplete?”

This silences the alien for a while. Then it moves away as it says: “Sorry, too busy to indulge you in your flights of fancy. But this way you’ll never become a serious scholar.”

That clinches it, Kobayashi thinks, Conrad – like the rest – is a drone. He’s designated to talk with aliens, but probably has both restriced sentience and a limited database. Still, it’s his only contact with the real Trade Coalition researchers. Also, this theory: maybe it’s right, but more likely it’s a MacGuffin from the MBs, and reality may be tractable and consistent, and lay outside Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem. Or the Multiverse is real and the MBs have found a way to enter it – to crossover to parallel Universes – and are becoming less interested in their Universe of origin. Or maybe I just think too much and should concentrate on the naked singularity and the Enigmatic Intelligence.

[I am the all-seeing eye, the forever happening event. My origin is lost in the depths of compacted space, but at a certain spatiality complexity is freed from the chains of causality, and everywhere I exist.]

#

Kobayashi feels as if he’s locked in a glass prison with reinforced, polarising walls, he thinks he sees almost everything, but the deeper meaning is filtered out; and push as he might, the glass won’t budge. Mental exhaustion finally overcomes him, and he sleeps the dreamless sleep of the overburdened. He awakes 48 hours later, totally famished. He prepares a schizophrenic brunch of sushi, farmer’s omelette and fruit salad. Whatever nanotech produces his meals, Kobayashi has learned – by trial and error – to introduce the intricacies of aromas, flavours, smell and spice into it. His nose and tastebuds thank him for it. Wolfing down the delicacies, it slowly dawns on him that his brain is quite blank. What to write first on that slate? Ah, his daily koan:

Bring me all the angels on a single pin.

Interesting, but impossible: sentience is a process over time, and you can’t concentrate that on a single point. Unless… Kobayashi drops his chopsticks and barely represses the urge to write his insight down.YES! his mind screams, THIS IS IT. Now how can he use it to his own advantage? Hey, it’s fairly straightforward: didn’t Conrad say that the only true currency was the originality of an idea? So he needs to feed his captors something that shows he has a breakthrough insight without actually giving it away. Tricky, but they are traders so he can try to negotiate his way out, and go back home. Time to look Conrad up, and since his masters live on a much slower clock speed, probably spend some time in cryo-sleep again. He finds the alien proxy, hands him his proposals, and retreats to his quarters. The only thing is, how long? Kobayashi decides on five years.

#

The day he wakes up, he finds a note saying that Conrad is waiting for him outside. A sure sign of success, and Kobayashi suppresses the urge to go immediately. Old habits proscribe that he let the wanting partner wait, if only to establish his position. Furthermore, what are a few hours on five years, apart from the fact that his captor’s clock speed is glacial, anyway.

After thoroughly enjoying such earthly pleasures as a shower, a shave and a meal, he dons his space suit and meets Conrad outside his quarters.

“Greetings, esteemed Conrad-san. Ready for negotiations?”

“Greetings, highly esteemed human. Please address me as ‘LEP’. I am an accelerated restricted-sentience AI fully authorised to do business.”

“OK. I want to be released and go back home.”

“Agreed on two conditions. One: provide us with your full theory of the Enigmatic Intelligence’s quintessence.”

“H’m, no good. If I give that now you’ll keep me here in case I can come up with more.”

“We do have an alternate proposal, that you join the research team.”

“Impractical. Our clock speeds are too divergent.”

“No problem, we can adapt you.”

“No, I’d rather not. After nearly two centuries of imprisonment my kind gets a little paranoid.”

“A blink of an eye to my masters. They have greatly underestimated your kind, and wish to make amends.”

“I rather want to contemplate that in the comfort of my home system. After all, I can always come back.”

“Understandable, and we anticipated as much. Therefore our second condition: take me along – in a more compact form, of course – to your home system. We wish to open negotiations, proposing your species to join the Trade Coalition.”

“How do I know that it’s not a trick, a device to take over my craft and take me back?”

“Once outside our station, you are able to send signals to your home system. As you realise, the speed of light in a vacuum is a limiting factor in this Universe. After you’ve sent your messages home, we are unable to intercept them.”

“OK, how about I give you half of the info just before I leave, and the other half once I feel I’m at a safe distance?”

“Deal.”

“Oh, yeah, one little thing: what if my home system has gone singular?”

“Then you – and the rest of your species – are always welcome back here.”

#

The first half of the info Kobayashi hands the aliens is a carefully constructed amount of koans and riddles hinting at the real thing but never really touching on it. Hopefully it gives him enough time to go out and get at least one message in the direction of home.

He leaves the space station without incident. The cache containing LEP also does not seem to take his vessel over, for the time being. When he’s two light-months removed from the naked singularity, he sends his real findings back.

#

If the Universe of the Enigmatic Intelligence really is one of supersymmetrical partners, then the only way to communicate with them is via gravity – the only force acting upon ‘our’ and ‘their’ particles.

A lot of things happened right after the big bang; the four known forces arose from one primeval superforce. Seven of the eleven dimensions compactified into sub-Planck particles, while the remaining four dimensions – three spatial and one temporal – dominated the large-scale Universe. Symmetry breaking produced an abundance of matter over antimatter and presto: there we are.

Now suppose there was one more type of symmetry breaking, but one on the largest scale. Suppose the supersymmetrical partners – the shadow matter – had the superforce break down in three more sub-forces: forces that act upon them, and not upon us. Also suppose that – to complete the supersymmetrical picture that the four large dimensions for the shadow matter that remained were three temporal and one spatial. Then we have two ‘coupled’ Universes that are linked by one spatial dimension, one temporal dimension and one force: gravity.

Therefore the Enigmatic Intelligence is a being of three-dimensional time, and the messages we receive are a one-dimensional slice of a three-dimensional whole. Hence there is no causality in its messages – all time seems jumbled up – as causality for the Enigmatic Entity is intrinsically linked with space.

Conversely your messages seem the same to it: totally lacking in causality, as it only knows one dimension of space. Our three-dimensional spatiality is as incomprehensible to it as its three-dimensional temporality is to us. But now we know this, we might work something out.

#

He sets up a separate computer to run LEP on. They have very interesting conversations, but one thing is bothering Kobayashi the most:

“What happened to the Zs?”

“We don’t know. One day they were gone. That’s all we know.”

“Maybe you need to contact them as well.”

“My masters felt they were more of a pest than a useful species.”

“Your masters have been wrong before.”

Then Kobayashi returns to cryo-sleep once more. The Onomatopoeia pierces the void, carrying within it the seeds of several ground-breaking concepts.