Previously: “Transported, somehow, from the place where EON-1 was supposed to be, we found ourselves in strange company - and in Unity City. Perhaps now we would finally get some answers...”
Part 37: Questioning Remus
As darkness drew over Unity City, Una and I sat in an electric lit drawing room, opposite Remus – the androgynous and beautiful emissary of the Sky Spiders.
“Questions,” Remus said. “I will answer what I can.”
Una snorted. “And who are we asking?”
Remus looked confused, as if the answer should already be evident. “You're asking me. Remus.”
“And what are you?” Una pressed. “Who do you represent?”
Remus smiled angelically. “I represent myself. I am neither a puppet of, nor a party to the entities you call the Sky Spiders. It would be quite contrary to their intentions if I were.”
I leaned forward. “And what are their intentions?”
“In general, their intentions are as varied and obscure as human intentions. With regard to me, their intentions are merely that I should live and be myself.”
Una scoffed. “And why are you so special? Why do they care about you so much, compared to the millions they've killed?”
Remus shifted uncomfortably. “I am... It is difficult to phrase this. I am not in any way better, but I am among the first altered humans.”
“Altered by the Sky Spiders?” I asked.
“If not better,” Una said, “altered in what way? And why?”
Remus looked down at the plain carpet between us. “We are altered to survive.”
I asked the obvious question. “To survive what?”
Remus looked me straight in the eye. “To survive ourselves.”
Una and I looked at one another. Una touched a gloved hand to her pale earlobe. “I must admit, I find that confusing.”
“Allow me to explain,” Remus said. “You're aware that the Sky Spiders are ancient. They're also extremely well travelled. They've seen a billion worlds, and on those worlds the ruins of a thousand civilisations.”
This was the kind of thing I'd always hoped to find out about. My voice quivered as I asked, “Ruins?”
“Always,” Remus said. “If not immediately, then within mere centuries, no time at all for the Sky Spiders. Seeing this same pattern again and again, they were forced to acknowledge one unpleasant fact: with almost no exceptions save their own, civilisations are inherently self-destructive.”
“You've seen the beginnings of it yourself,” Remus went on. “Machineguns mowing down hundreds; bombs dropping on thousands; the organised, industrialised slaughter of millions. Your capacity for killing humans is increasing exponentially, and you've only just started to scratch the surface. In time you would discover ways to shatter whole cities in an instant, to darken the sky and poison the soil. In an instant!”
Remus' jaw was set tensely. “And all this before you overcome your instincts to compete for resources and territory, before you see clearly through prejudice and superstition. In the time it takes you to learn to never use such weapons, you will have had countless opportunities to send yourselves back to the stone age, or wipe yourselves out utterly.”
Una let out a long sigh. “And you wouldn't ever use weapons like that? You see clearly? You have no base instincts?”
Remus spoke without any pride or arrogance. “Correct.”
“So,” Una said, “you're our replacements? They wipe us out and you step in to carry on where we left off? And somehow that's not the same as us wiping ourselves out?”
“That is a statement with many glaring inaccuracies.”
Una spread her hands in a sarcastic parody of magnanimity. “Do tell.”
“The Sky Spiders did not intentionally wipe out anyone. Although there were numerous unintentional deaths associated with the Sky Spiders' work evaluating and transforming this world, the majority of humans that were killed were engaged in the act of interfering or attacking the Sky Spiders. Futilely, I might add.”
“But understandably, as well,” Una said coldly.
“Yes,” Remus said. “I regret their deaths. I am not a replacement human, I am not in any way distinct from you, except insofar as I am not self-destructive. I would not have had anyone die. But... Forgive me, Viscountess Una, but you come from a family of hunters. You have culled deer because you know that it is necessary for their long term survival, even though this would likely be small comfort to the surviving members of the herd. The Sky Spiders perceive their work with us in the same terms. They are callous in their compassion.”
“If that's true,” Una said, “why are you sending your possessed humans to attack Fortress City?”
Remus looked very uncomfortable. “That is not a question I can answer. All I will say, skirting on the edge of indiscretion, is that if you are concerned about the fate of Fortress City, perhaps that is the place you should look for answers.”
I'll confess, I wasn't interested in Fortress City in that moment. “What else can you tell us,” I asked, “about other civilisations, about the path of technological species and intelligent life?”
Remus smiled. “There was another like you, some time ago. Arrived to seek knowledge, to interface with our analytical machines. We directed this person to our - somewhat misnamed - panopticon. You knew them as EON-3, although as we grew up these past few years, my siblings and I called it 'the Seer'. Not in any mystical sense, merely in the sense of one who sees things.”
Remus seemed to think of something suddenly. “Would you like to meet the Seer, Doctor Peregrine? Perhaps it can finally sate your curiosity.”
I nodded eagerly. Finally, after the Select Committee, after risking my life on three continents, after military work and intellectual drudgery – finally I could sense the chance to dip my fingertips into the knowledge of the Sky Spiders.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Next week: Peregrine finds himself torn between two equal and opposite devotions – an impossible decision on the horizon! Check back in a week's time for the next instalment of Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders!