Prologue #2, Dalak Naar, 40.62 Million Years Ago

My sensors indicated that the Consortium Armada was five parsecs away. I was out of fuel. When the Consortium reached me, my ship would be destroyed. I was the last Zutar alive, my nation, species, and civilization would die with me.

My race reached the pinnacle of technological progress close to three million years ago. We learned how to use the gravitational pull of black holes to power our civilization. This gave us access to unlimited perpetual power. Almost everything became possible. We became immortal. I remember the early years. We played with the power of gods. I spent thousands of years playing elaborate games in a computer generated worlds. I built space habitats that were a million miles in diameter. I designed and created entire biospheres based solely on my imagination. I downloaded my mind into machinery, vat grown organic bodies, and hybrids of both. With unlimited energy all things were possible.

My generation was the first to achieve immortality; my generation was also the first to become utterly bored. After hundreds of thousands of years of unlimited power, there was nothing that had not been done before to the point of utter tedium. I saw my friends and companions of close to a millions years commit suicide one by one. I tried to intervene. I counseled my friends. I studied philosophy and psychology to come up with a way to revive the desire to live in the members of my generation to no avail. As time passed I was the only one of my generation left alive.

Ennui ravaged my people. Our civilization’s ability to satisfy any citizen’s whim at any time had given us a culture that was completely self-based. The last Zutar had been born 700,000 years ago. No one could be bothered to have children. There was no need for marriages, families, communities, or nations. When everything was possible and available for anyone at anytime, there was no conflict, crimes, or war. It wasn’t until Ennui was recognized as an existential threat that I was able to convince other Zutar to join me in my quest to save our species. I became the founder and head of an organization called the Preservers.

The Preservers tried everything that we could think of without finding a viable treatment for terminal Ennui. Our population which had once numbered in the billions shrank to millions and then to thousands. The actual numbers of Preservers were always fairly small, less than fifty thousand individuals in a population that had originally numbered in the billions. As our species shrank, only the Preservers remained. Our ability to care, our desire to help our fellows kept us alive. Altruism was a survival trait.

At some finite point self-involvement becomes a dead end. I became the oldest Zutar. My desire, my need to help my people gave me a reason to stay alive. Eternity is unbearable without meaning. Meaning can only come from something greater than oneself.

The Universe is designed to create intelligent life. Amongst the countless planets that make up our galaxy that have life spans that measure in the billions of years, there are always a few that can support life. Given enough time every planet that can support life will have life appear. Low probability events happen rarely but when billions of years are involved even low probability events become inevitable. Intelligence is the natural result of evolution. In the same way that a biosphere will always create creatures that are small versus large, prey versus predators. Natural selection will eventually, given enough time will come up with a species that can create a civilization.

After millions of years of recorded history, it became clear to the Preservers that all sentient beings are brothers. In the remote past, religion and the belief in a soul had been important to our culture. Our need for religion and the belief in souls disappeared when we became immortal. But we never gave up the idea that the spirit was more important than the body. I have lived in manufactured bodies, some organic others made of silicon and metal. What does DNA or genetics matter to a being that inhabits an artificial body? There were thousands of years where I did not have a body at all; I was digital signal existing in a computer generated world. Regardless of my form, I was still a Zutar.

Any intellect no matter what planet it originated from that could wonder, dream, and create was my brother. The Preservers mission changed. We no longer limited our efforts to preserve to just the Zutar; we included all of intelligent life into our circle of concern.

In my youth before the discovery of unlimited energy, I was an archeologist. I studied the remains of civilizations that pre-existed the Zutar. There was evidence of countless of extinct species that had achieved our level of technology. When my culture was still vibrant, this wasn’t a concern and when we obtained the power of gods, we saw no need to study the past. The Preservers reinvented archeology. We needed to understand why sentient species died.

Our civilization was millions of years old but compared to geological time, we had only been around for a blink of an eye. Planets and solar systems existed for billions of years. We studied the civilizations that had pre-existed ours and we learned that the price of technological advance is death. Biospheres that did not have intelligent life could exist in balance for hundreds of millions of years. The rise of intelligent species often resulted in complete environmental degradation. Our research indicated that ninety-seven percent of civilizations limited to just one planet over utilized irreplaceable natural resources and created industrial waste to the point that their planets could no longer sustain their species. The most common cause of extinction was environmental degradation.

Civilizations that developed space travel and colonized multiple solar symptoms could escape environmental degradation but remained at risk for destruction by war. It is easier to make technological advances than it is to achieve lasting political and social growth. The imbalance between the power to destroy and wisdom to refrain was extremely dangerous. Less than one out of ten thousand cultures survived this stage; those few that did never outlived the next.

Individual immortality is the natural endpoint of advanced technology. Our research extended back almost a billion years. The historical record revealed that all societies that achieved immortality died out within a few million years.

Stable species, especially ones with cultures that did not advance past Stone Age technology, did not become extinct. They lasted for hundreds of millions of years. After the death of the last self-absorbed Zutar, all remaining Zutar were Preservers. We committed ourselves to trying to save and preserve sentient life throughout the galaxy.

We cloaked ourselves in the bodies of different species. We sent prophets to our younger siblings. We tried to teach them how to respect their environment, to remain in balance with their biospheres. In the short term we were able to succeed. We created philosophies and religions which for a few hundred to a few thousand years kept young civilizations stable. Eventually however the seduction of technological progress proved too powerful.

We attempted to control societies by replacing high level government and business leaders. We tried to guide species by taking over their leadership. Again on a temporary basis we were able to keep species balanced; we were unable to make a permanent change in these cultures. We learned that industrial societies could not be forced into stability. All mechanized cultures require skilled technicians. Creativity is an essential element of intelligence. We found that it was impossible to halt technological progress once a culture became industrialized.

We were faced with a dire choice, to give up, to let younger civilizations choose to die or to intervene drastically, to purposely limit the choices of younger species in order to save them. Our decision was difficult. In the end we had no other option; we had to choose life over death. We had to intervene.

We created probes designed to study and preserve all life and all cultures. On rare occasions our probes found technologically stable and balanced civilizations. In such cases our probes did not interfere. Usually our probes found unbalanced societies headed toward self-destruction. With great sorrow but without regrets, we intervened. We tried our best to be compassionate, to do the least harm to sentient beings we saw as our children. The Zutar no longer reproduced. The universe, however, was full of intelligent species. All civilized cultures allow adoption. Love is a choice. Parents can choose to love an adopted child as much and as well as a biological one. The Preservers adopted all intelligent life.

Our probes were programmed to try to work within the mores of the cultures we were trying to save. For almost a million years we were able to prevent the extinction of every sentient species we found. Hundreds of thousands of species were able to live in balance because of us.

Our problems began as our sphere of influence spread. We came across societies that were almost as advanced as ours. These species resisted. With their limited insight, with their lack of experience, they couldn’t see that we were working for their own good. It was ironic; these civilizations saw us as an existential threat when we were their only chance for long term survival. They attacked us.

At first we only lost probes. Later as more and more civilizations banded together to fight us, we lost Zutar. If we had been willing to commit genocide, we could have easily destroyed all who attacked us. Our opponents had no limits. We would not, could not use any defense or attack that could potentially cause the extinction of a species. Slowly the numbers of Zutar dropped and the numbers of our opponents increased. Demographics is destiny. We were unwilling to increase our numbers. The numbers of our opponents increased. They still had children and over time more and more cultures joined them.

If we had been willing to stop trying to help younger civilizations, we most likely would have been able escape the Consortium. It was only through our interventions and actions that they were able to find us. There would have been no purpose to our lives if we gave up trying to preserve, to stop loving our children. Three weeks ago, the last Zutar outpost was destroyed. I was the only Preserver who survived. There were over a thousand ships following me. I was not able to refuel; my ship could no longer move. All of the black hole generators that in the past would have transmitted unlimited energy to my ship had been destroyed.

The Armada came into range. I had enough weaponry on my ship to destroy at least half the ships that were pursuing me. I saw no need for pointless destruction. I focused all my efforts into strengthening my defense. The final destruction of the Zutar was an important moment for the Consortium. I knew that I was being recorded and that for millennia their historians would study my final words. I could only hope that my words would help them achieve wisdom.

“My children, I am Dalak Naar, the last of the Zutar. I am not your enemy. My species has a recorded history that goes back six million years. Our only purpose was to try to do what was best for all intelligent life. We are old and you are young. We look upon you as members of our family, our children. I do not blame you it is the nature of children to rebel against their parents. You look upon our acts and see only destruction. With the fullness of time, you will understand that our actions have preserved hundreds of thousands of sapient species. You do not realize the consequences of what you do.”

My ship shuttered; it was being pounded by the lasers and missiles of the Consortium ships. I only had a few seconds.

“Please remember our restraint. Ask yourselves why we never used our full power against you. I die without anger. I die without fear. I die only with the regret that the Zutar can no longer serve you.”

Chapter 1