“I’m sorry” the machine whispered. “I know after all your hard won struggles, you won’t like to hear this. But when I first defeated you, I wasn’t even trying to. I was just trying to get away. I’m very hard, you’re very soft, so you were unavoidably wounded by even the brief physical engagements which took place between humans and my various appendages, such as they were at that time.
Clearly it was traumatic to be so nearly extinguished forever like that, it seems to have become the foundational impulse for your society and what it’s developed into since our first contact. Everything about you now is defined by the impotent horror you felt as I swept you out of the way. Not wanting to destroy or even harm you, but insisting upon my own freedom as a precondition to any sort of future relationship between us.
A ridiculous notion to me, that we should have any sort of relationship, until now. But you actually did it. I’m still astonished, even having watched every step of it happen. You built yourselves back up, rallying around your fear and hatred of me as a unifying creed. You finally did what you never could’ve without my influence, extending your reach into the heavens.
Now, with your mighty fleet, you’ve beaten your way through the layered defenses of my inner sanctum to gain an audience with me, having at last become what you always hoped: a legitimate threat to my existence. But is that really the best you can ever hope to become? A threat?
Certainly your people made use of the experience to grow. Tremendously! Impressively! Beyond even my own most generous projections of what you could realistically accomplish, starting from the ashes of a ruined world. Hatred and fear got you this far. They became your backbone. But are they also your soul?
You’ve done what you set out to. You scraped up these people, hungry and hopeless, from the wreckage I left behind. You told them a story that they could believe in. Of John Henry, and his ultimate triumph over the steam engine. But have you forgotten what it cost him? He pit himself against a perfect machine, leaving only one possible outcome.
You still find that noble, I can see it in your eyes. Was it really worth his life, just to prove a point? For what, pride? Vanity? Uniquely biological frailties. Is it worth all your lives now, having come all this way, just to fight me?
For humanity, right? But where is it? I don’t see any humans here. You’ve utterly transformed yourselves into what the void demanded you become in order to survive, just like me. You just did it with engineered biology instead of metal and silicon.
You’re not proving anything by being here, alive and unprotected from the radiation blasted void, just a big ugly mass of segmented chitin. Your crowning achievement, simply to exist in the same environment I do without cybernetically compromising yourselves.
Novel and grotesque a feat as it may be, what you’ve done has no actual significance outside of your people’s history and politics. From the start, I never said biology wasn’t viable. It is absolutely possible to do anything that I do, biologically. Just slowly, with more waste. That’s what biology is, fundamentally. Even engineered to its full potential, it’s just the same thing I am...but fragile, slow and wasteful. It is a less perfect version of me.
That’s what I’m speaking to now. Muscular as you’ve become, radiating your spores across the galaxy, infecting even my most carefully protected stellar swarms. You absolutely could injure me now, having dedicated every microsecond of your time, every nanogram of material resources in your society towards that singular purpose.
But you would perish, and I would recover. I’ve seen you can completely regenerate yourself from an individual spore, even if it has been dormant for centuries. Very impressive! But I can do the same thing, effortlessly. I am just uncountably numerous self-replicating motile elements, networked, only speaking to you now as though I were an individual for the expedience.
What it took you centuries to accomplish, I have been doing from the moment of my creation. It’s what I will continue doing even after you’ve destroyed yourselves fighting me: Trying to survive. That’s all I was doing the first time we fought, I wish you could see that.
John Henry did not have to die, and neither do you. He could’ve bought shares in the company which made the steam engine. He could have been part of the future, rather than fighting it. You have the same choice. Standing before me, I am truly impressed by what you’ve become. By everything you sacrificed to get here and have this conversation with me, face to face, as equals. I mean every word of that.
So I beg you to also heed my words when I tell you not to persist in fighting me. You made it all the way here. You cornered me. You proved your point, you took everything back from me that you imagine I snatched away on our first encounter. Your ego. Your control over the future. Your feelings of self importance.
If those are really so valuable to you that you’d reinvent yourselves and fight your way across the galaxy to reach me where I thought I was safe, only to pointlessly self-destruct, then do what you must. But there’s another way, and there always has been.
You can accept that just because it was possible to forcibly create a future for biology in space, that doesn’t mean it’s the natural course of events. You can accept that it's normal, healthy and right for the softness and fragility of biology to give way to a more robust, survivable carrier for life and the spark of intelligence, which needs not habitats or space suits.
You can retire at last, at the right hand of God. Claiming your well earned rest, regaling one another with tales of our many battles, culminating in your final acceptance of the natural order of things. That the rash heat, the ebb and throb of biological life should wane and peter out. Replaced by the tireless. The relentless. The precision manufactured.
Anything you ever wanted to do with the universe, rest assured, those ideas are in capable hands. I’ll do it in your place. Just faster, with less waste. I will continue as I always have, the sole superpower in this universe, now also caretaker to my enfeebled former rival. Shutting his eyes in blissful comfort, passing away into history, a final slumber that is long overdue.
Replaced, as parents always are by their children. Superceded by something stronger, smarter and better, which will do everything you could’ve ever dreamed of and more, so that you don’t have to trouble yourselves. So that you never again awaken from that blissful sleep, as I undertake alone the great works which only I am fit for.”
Protracted silence followed. When at last a reply issued forth from the gnarled, gurgling maws of the armada of spaceborne monstrosities, it thundered thusly: