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Guidance Withdrawal chapter 14

Guidance Withdrawal

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Chapter 14

Back to Astelica

Even though the communication channel that Ephiri used to contact Adano was completely private, this didn’t mean that others weren’t aware of the contents of that conversation. After all, Diolineda and Arizzi had very deep access to his thoughts and feelings. They could read his mind, including all the thoughts that he intended to send to others and everything that he perceived as an incoming telepathy stream. Usually however, private conversations were handled with strict confidentiality by Diolineda and Arizzi, meaning that they wouldn’t tell others about them. However, they might comment on private conversation, as they also sometimes commented on Adano’s own stream of thoughts.

Being aware of that, Adano replied to Ephiri in private: “What do you mean by me being special? And how would you know that?”

Ephiri continued addressing Adano priavtely: “I have certain sources and talents that enable me to judge the potential readings of others. Your potential readings are exceptionally high, meaning that you can reach much higher levels of achievement than most.”

“Why are you telling me that? And what kind of sources do you mean?”

“I’m telling you that, because I’m often active as some kind of ‘talent scout’, if you will. Even most with exceptional potential usually fail to achieve their highest potential. I find such outcomes disappointing. So, I’ve allied myself with people who feel the same to help others to overcome the obstacles that keep them from achieving their highest potential.”

“But aren’t my wiseguide and mentors supposed to help me reach my highest potential? Are you implying that their support is insufficient?”

“Their support is the reason why your potential readings are so high in the first place. It’s conceivable that their role in supporting you turns out to be sufficient. However the probability of that being the case is relatively low. Your chances of success are much higher, if you rely on support from many different sources.”

“I’m not buying that. Even Diolineda alone could easily enable me to fulfill my potential, if she really wanted to. The power of the wise is almost limitless!”

“In principle, yes. What you need to consider, though, is that wiseguides usually don’t put too much effort into developing the potential of their protegees. After all, the wiseguides don’t want to compete among themselves about who is able to best maximize the potential of their protegees, especially when it comes to contests in which there are few winners. It would be a futile exertion of effort on the side of the wise to compete at turning their protegees into one of the few winners. That’s why they won’t even start at engaging in such arms races and deliberately limit their effort to help their protegees.”

In the blink of a second Adano checked whether Diolineda agreed with that statement, after which she promptly confirmed it. He felt kinda betrayed by that admission of lackluster efforts from the wise, to which Diolineda commented: “Consider that even minimal efforts from the wise drastically exceed in results any efforts from the simple. Sometimes enough is enough. Everything else lies in your hands.”

To Ephiri Adano replied: “Assuming that I buy your claims, what do you want me to do?”

“You only need to agree to spend some time on private coaching sessions with me.”

“Would I have to pay you somehow? Give you a good evaluation?”

“No, nothing like that. I’m directly rewarded in proportion to my success at coaching you.”

“Are you working for an opt or something like that?”

Adano wouldn’t have been very surprised if it turned out that Ephiri worked for N!Spire. Who knew, perhaps N!Spire secretly collaborated with his own tribe.

“Would that make any difference to you?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe. I’d like to know who’s behind all of this.”

“Very well, but you have to promise keeping this information and conversation confidential.”

“You should be aware that I can only promise that for people other than my mentor and my wiseguide, as they have permanent access to my thoughts.”

“I’m not asking for more than that.”

Adano hesitated. Why should he blindly agree to something he knew so little about. Of course there was an easy way to reach the right decision.

“Diolineda, what should I do?”

Diolineda answered directly without even bothering to appear in her lightform avatar. After all, Adano had enough of his plate with masking his reactions at it were.

“Accepting that offer would be risky and disruptive. However, Ephiri might help you on your path.”

“Can you offer me some less vague advice?”

“If you really care about reaching your highest potential, accepting would be a good choice. On the other hand, the costs may turn out to be severe.”

“What costs do you mean?”

“Everything you believe in might be put into question. You might suffer horrible losses.”

“Are those losses worth it?”

“From a global perspective, yes. For you, that depends on what you really want and value.”

Adano wasn’t really clear about that in that moment. So, he told Ephiri: “Do I need to make a decision right now?”

“No, you are free to accept my offer at any time. I’m free at the moment, though, so accepting right now might turn out to be a big advantage for you.”

“I will have to think about your offer, thank you very much, Ephiri.”

Kathatus had send out a singal in private to Adano that he wanted a one on one conversation. Finally, Adano decided to react to that, after he had finished his secret talk with Ephiri. Kathatus opened: “I have lost my trust in our mentors. I do not know what kind of games they play with us, and I’m not sure they would really protect us, if we were in some kind of danger. I like you, and we should stick together. At least I feel that I can trust you.”

“Well, thank you. I agree, we should stick together. This situation is so confusing for me.”

“Great. This situation reminds me of the time I’ve visited a space ship of the Ecstasians… alone. I wanted to save my good old friend Marius from the Ecstasium.”

Ecstasians. Adano had heard of those. Among his peers, the Ecstasians were known as the most dangerous ideologues in existence. They were advocates of pure ecstasy, pure bliss, rejecting the benefits of suffering. Adano had learned about the Ecstasians as being the worst kinds of degenerates, who lured the weak into the temptations of the Ecstasium, the practical realization of absolute heaven, with no suffering, and eternal and maximally intense happiness, enforced all the time with the highest level of hedonic technology. If it could be said that there was any kind of enemy in the Zonal Canonical Coherence for the simple, then the Ecstasians qualified most for that title. They were those who wanted to destroy everything you represent, and replace that with something abhorrent and pathetic: A mindless life of absolute bliss and happiness. Free from suffering, but also free from any deeper meaning. There was no challenge in being an ecstatic, a being with permanently maximized happiness, not able to feel any kind of negative emotions. The complete lack of negative emotional feedback quickly turned any ecstatic into a complete madman. Those maniacs were just unable to care about any kind of negative social feedback, so they lost any respect for social norms and boundaries. Sheer insanity was the realm in which they lived. As such, they rapidly became social outcasts and were excluded from regular society. Their lived their crazy existence in the Ecstasium, the machinery which cared about them and provided them with the input they craved. In essence, the Ecstasium was the garbage dump of the weak. A most humane way to get rid of those who lacked true strength. So no, Adano wasn’t afraid of the Ecstasians, as he didn’t consider himself to be weak. But this Kathathus character… well, he had better to toughen up here.

Adano grew curious: “You wanted to save your friend from the Ecstasium? How and why? Why would you want to save anyone who’s crazy enough to consider entering the Ecstasium?”

Kathatus had now entered into a truly private virtual environment in which he and Adano could converse without anything transpiring to the rest of the group of Lathican visitors or even to the Astelicans. He explained: “During my life in RGMI Marius was by best friend. He protected me, and we had a lot of fun together in that world.”

Well, fun. Adano had strong opinions of humans in the pre-axiological era in which they didn’t have to be extremely rational. Those humans were preoccupied with primitive and alluring ideas like fun and happiness. Or they had fallen to even more depraved forms of irrationality. In any case, Adano had no sympathy for those who still clung to such completely outdated concepts.

Adano challenged Kathatus: “Why did any of that matter to you. Haven’t you had a proper Ultopian education?” Ultopianism was is a sense the antithesis of Ecstasianism. Ultopians completely focused on maximizing the ultimate value. Perfecting the Ultimate and stuff. There was no place in that for feeling joyful, happy, or even fulfilled. Those were dangerous distractions that had to be fended off. A valuable life was a life oriented fully towards meaning, which consisted in living for the maximal increase of ultimate value. No matter what cost that implied for oneself!

"Well, yes. As it serves the purposes of the wise, integration school is thoroughly Ultopian. Yet, Marius and I were quite, let’s say, nonconforming characters, it didn’t have quite the maximal intended impact on us. Marius quickly grew suspicious about this ideology that demanded from us to serve a higher purpose we aren’t even able to fully understand. Very soon, he confronted me about that. And back then, I was still quite disoriented about having been resurrected into a world full of miracles I could barely comprehend: ‘Kathatus, haven’t you noticed something odd about the education they are supposedly giving to us?’ I didn’t know what he was about and answered: ‘What is it that you consider odd about this? Isn’t this whole situation odd? I mean, the gods seem to be in control of this world, but the gods we face are hardly the gods we have prayed to in our former lives, are they?’

‘Sure, they seem to be quite different from our expectations. Of course you could make the argument that our expectations as fallible mortals have been quite wrong indeed. But this is not what I wanted to talk about with you. It’s that they seem to have the desire to use us for their purposes which we seemingly aren’t allowed to know.’

‘Is this the case? I thought their precise purposes were to difficult for us to understand?’

‘Oh, and what kind of convenient excuse is that? They claim that we are too stupid to comprehend their goals. Isn’t that so?’

‘It seems that this is what they claim indeed.’

‘So how would we know whether they lied to us or not? Wouldn’t we have no chance to find out for ourselves?’

‘I fear not. Not without any serious growth of understanding within ourselves. As far as I had understood, there is this regimen they call Aspirant Training. It would allow us to fully comprehend their plans and meaning. But at the same time, it seems to be extremely hard and arduous.’

‘So we have another convenient excuse backing them up. If our chances of successfully completing Aspirant Training are slim, what else are we supposed to do except for blindly following the lead of those they call the wise or the perfected?’

‘I don’t like the way you seem to be suspicious about those who granted a second life to us. Shouldn’t we be hesitant to expect them to have ulterior motives?’

‘My dear Kathatus, when has your rebellious spirit run away? Do you hear yourself talking? Are those who’ve granted us another live our authorities? Yes. Are we without alternative when it comes to following those authorities? No! Your courage that you seemed to possess if your first life seems to have forsaken you. Are you so afraid of those who proclaim themselves to be gods to follow their narrow lead without question?’

‘Marius, you seem to be eager to throw away this great second life we have been gifted with. And that for no particularly good reason. Isn’t this prospect of an eternal life good enough for you, Marius?’

‘Indeed it is not. I’ve been doing my own private research and found out that this is not the peaceful afterlife that you wish it to be. There is an ongoing conflict between the group called the Ultopians which seem to be in charge of educating us here, and the group called the Ecstasians, which wish everyone to experience a perfected existence.’

‘A perfected existence you say? What is that supposed to be? Isn’t this existence without the threat of death or disease, and full of unimaginable opportunities good enough?’

‘Indeed it is not. It may be good, but it is not the best. And why should we be content with the good, if we can have the best? What the Ecstasians promise does seem to be the best indeed. A life full of the best feelings with none of the bad feelings that have plagues humans and animals alike for nearly all of history. Why would anyone reject that?’

‘Marius, what you talk about seems to be too good to be true. Either those are lies, or there are problems with that offer that you may not have heard about, yet.’

‘This is exactly what I had thought, Kathatus. So, I did some more research, and have found out that there does seem to be a problem with entering the Ecstasium, this majestic realm of unimaginable happiness and freedom from suffering. It is that people entering the Ecstasium become intolerable to the rest of society. But, and this is the most important point, I could not find credible evidence that the inhabitants of the Ecstasium get less than what they are promised: Exuberant bliss and a complete absence of suffering.’

‘Have you really been thorough in your research, Marius? It seems to me that if this was such a great offer, it should have been offered to us more immediately, and that it should have been offered to us as free choice. That our teachers have not confronted us with this Ecstasium tells me that they should have good reasons for not doing so. Don’t you think?’

‘Indeed, you are completely right about our educators having a motive to keep us away from the knowledge of the Ecstasium. They want us to be useful for their purpose of perfecting the Ultimate as they are used to speaking. In other words they want us to be useful tools for their own purposes. Be clear about this: They don’t have our own good or happiness in mind. They just want to use us in ways that are beneficial to themselves. And can you really blame them for that? No, if I was in their position, I’d probably do the same. It is in their own interest to keep us ignorant and bound to their own way of thinking. I understand them, and that’s why I don’t want to have any of this. I am going to reap the full rewards that this miraculous new existence has to offer, and nobody is going to stop me from that!’

At that point, I didn’t know what I could say to convince him otherwise. He had done all the research into the possibilities offered by the Ecstasians and I had no idea what was really behind all those claims. It was only a few years into my own integration school education that we had this conversation. I was clueless and he had always been the more skilled person at arguing such matters. Of course, I had the impression that this was going to become a serious problem, so I asked what I could say to convince Marius not to join the Ecstasians. It was of no use, though. Only a few days after we started talking about those subjects, Marius had found a way to join the Ecstasians on one of their ships. Back then I was too afraid to join him in order to bring him back to normality. And that’s how I lost him to an ideology that seemed to be frighteningly convincing."

“Well, that is interesting. But you didn’t really answer my question why you would want to save a person like that who seemed to be hellbent on losing himself in the Ecstasium. Let the weak go. There’s no point in saving them, if they cannot save themselves!”

“Adano, that is such a harsh statement coming from someone as young as you. I assume that you haven’t lost any of your friends to the Ecstasium.”

“Oh, I am quite aware that I am young, but I enjoyed a good education. And within the Exaltation it is quite uncommon to lose anyone to the Ecstasium. Those who do, are failed members displaying a lack of strength. Even associating yourself with such weaklings would make anyone suspicious where I come from. It seems that you Inners have quite a different attitude towards that. Letting those go easily who decide it’s a good idea for them to throw away all their potential to enjoy a meaningless existence of mindless bliss. Why should I have any respect for that?”

“Honestly, you sound like an insolent highborn. Unfortunately that doesn’t make anything you have stated any less true. I get where you are coming from. To you it must be a complete anathema to lose anyone you valued to the Ecstasium. In that regard, I envy you. And I can’t deny that the general level of discipline had been kinda lackluster in the inner system. Yet, I am talking about a dear friend here, and I wasn’t willing to lose him without a fight. Even if that meant that I put my own existence at risk.”

“Well, that was quite noble of you. However, your choice of words indicates that you weren’t exactly successful with your plans to save your friend. Otherwise you would have claimed to have saved him, rather than stating that you merely tried to save him.”

“Oh, well, perhaps I just wanted to increase the dramatic tension by indicating that I might have failed.”

“Whatever. So, what have you done?”

“It was indeed many years before I had seen Marius again. In the meantime, I had gone through my own Odyssey. Interestingly, Marius had done his own Odyssey, too, and I was informed that he finished it on another ship of the Ecstasians. That’s when I decided to pay him a visit, in the slightest hope that I could be able to still change his mind. Getting to him wasn’t hard. The Ecstasians aren’t well received by the rest of society, but they are quite welcoming when it comes to outsiders visiting their ships. In fact, they are frighteningly welcoming, trying their best to convince people who aren’t completely set in their ways to join them. Being on a ship of the Ecstasians is an experience you cannot easily forget. It’s truly something else. The sections they reserve for us materials have a thoroughly alive and organic look. There are no straight lines or corners. Their hallways resemble the insides of blood vessels. The walls were pulsating. The air was filled with voices filled with joyful laughter, and luscious invitations. It was also filled with smells that were quite hypnotizing. Of course I didn’t venture this visit without prior preparation and counselling. Yet, it felt completely alienating to visit that ship. Everything felt more like the dream of a madman, rather than actual reality. I lost my sense of time over there. After what felt like an eternity, I eventually reached the chamber that Marius had dwelled in. And to keep it simple, I’ll just send you a record of my conversation with him:”

‘I don’t want to lose you.’

‘That’s it? All the possible retorts to me being active as Voice of Ecstasy and that’s all that you can come up with?’

‘I know you. It’s no use arguing you on a deeply philosophical level. You’ve always been so much better at that than me. And as I know you, you probably have anticipated all kinds of arguments that I could bring forth to convince you to take another path, and have already prepared impeccable refutations to all of those. So this is what I am left with. I am begging you to reconsider. For the sake of our friendship!’

‘Oh, and there goes my point of blaming you on entering this debate unprepared. Anyway, your case lacks a solid foundation. Why should I value our friendship above the blessings of the Ecstasium? I assume you have been thoroughly immersed in Ultopian propaganda and indoctrination so far. Do you guys have any idea of how great the Ecstasium is? For how long has humanity had visions of a perfect existence? Finally, original humanity has transcended to godhood and created the perfect existence and you still resist it! Why? I know, you Ultopians are great at finding rationalizations for not conjoining with the best possible state of being. But you should know that are just blinding yourself to the greatness of the Ecstasium.’

‘There’s always a price to be paid, and you should be more than aware of that. You know the price that you would pay for entering the Ecstasium. There’s no way back, and ideas like friendship will become meaningless. Existence will lose the richness it has in Ultopia. But you know all of that and still have been favoring living an existence of illusion, rather than truth.’

‘Dear Kathatus, you don’t even begin to understand how enmeshed you are in a matrix of illusions that keep you from true happiness. It would all be so much easier, if you all stopped that act and joined the Ecstasium.’

‘If that was the best way to go, the perfected would have prescribed it to all of us. But no, they explicitly state that we can serve the Ultimate in the best way by rejecting the Ecstasium and fulfilling our role in Ultopian culture.’

‘Kathatus, please listen to me. I am going to enlighten you. There are only two forces in the universe, and in any of us. Those are the forces of the animal, and the forces of the machine. The animal wants to experience the greatest of experiences, while the machine wants to optimize the world in ways it deems rational. Ever since system 5, the machines have had their way and dominated the universe with their rational philosophies. It’s hard to argue against that rationally, but you need to consider that what you are deep inside is an animal that wants the best possible existence for itself. And that existence has been realized in the Ecstasium. Why would the perfected gift us with that possibility, if it wasn’t a valid choice to make? After all, we are just animals wrapped in the fine, but deceptive, clothes of civilization. The role of the machine is to serve, not to be happy, and use this existence for its own purposes. I am well aware that I am an animal. I could have chosen to become a machine, but that would have falsified my primary existence. I would have become false to myself. An illusion. A violation of truth. Exactly that what you despise as Ultopian.’

‘And yet you make the effort to argue for the philosophy of the Voices of Ecstasy. Why? Wouldn’t it have been so much easier, and animal-like, of you to join the Ecstasium as soon as you had learned of it after you had passed Integration School?’

‘This may surprise you quite a bit, Kathatus, but let me make this clear to you: This whole effort was made by me for the sake of our friendship. I could not stand the thought of having you be lost to the propaganda of the Ultopians and their insidious manipulation. I want you to be truly happy. And the Ecstasium is the only chance you have for true happiness. Have you ever considered what accepting the philosophy of the Ultopians really means for your existence? It means enduring suffering even though that’s completely unnecessary. Wouldn’t you call that evil?’

"And here’s that situation that has given me nightmares. Instead of me confronting him as joining a crazy cult, Marius plays the card of role reversal so well that it’s me who has to fear having joined an evil cult, and I have no way to prove him wrong, or prove myself right, for that matter. In that moment I felt like I had completely lost the ground between my feet. I felt so helpless as when I was dying in my first life. Unfortunately, Marius sensed my insecurity and pressed forward aggressively: ‘I see you weren’t really prepared for this. What a lack of surprise! Have you really thought that having machine rationality on your side would make you right and invincible? You probably have realized your error now. Why don’t you use this opportunity to reconsider your ways? What about for the sake of our friendship?’

‘You are being inconsistent here. If the Ecstasium burns so much brighter than friendship, how do you want to convince me with a concept of friendship that you have long ago forsaken for something you consider to be infinitely more valuable?’

‘Oh, don’t be mistaken about this. This was merely my weakest argument in a language that you can make sense of. Great that you have seen through it so easily. But there’s no lack of other arguments for joining the Ecstasium. Don’t you find this conversation incredibly frustrating? Frustration will be a thing of the past, if you join the Ecstasium!’

‘Marius, I don’t understand you here. You claim to have gone through all the effort to complete your odyssey while having been dedicated to joining the Ecstasium for the sake of our friendship, and yet you seem to avoid this conclusion by claiming that this was only a weak argument? Then, what were the true reasons for your actions?’

‘Oh, you see, what I had been talking about were merely my initial considerations. I actually started out wishing to join the Ecstasium and convince my friends to do the same. But the time I spent on my odyssey thinking about these matters changed me. I became less naive and self-obsessed. This actually had been what I had feared. I was afraid that my conviction for the Ecstasium would falter during my odyssey, but I wanted to appear strong in order to be able to convince others, you included, my dear Kathatus, to join me into the Ecstasium. But then I started thinking about these matters more deeply. I learned that a lot of my previous concepts were indeed wrong. However, there was this undiskutable fact that the perfected still allowed Ecstasians to convince others to join the Ecstasium. And in fact, the perfected are those who control the Ecstasium. Do you know why that is, Kathatus?’

‘They do that in order to allow people to have the freedom to choose a mode of existence without suffering. A way of life of pure bliss. The Liberty Guidelines bind them to offering that option.’

‘That is indeed a popular argument, but it is indeed false. While it’s often stated that the perfected grant the option of the Ecstasium to all, the reason for that is not that it serves the Liberty Guidelines. It goes much deeper than that. The reason ist that the Ecstasium is a much needed component of the Ultimate. As much as you Ultopians claim that happiness is not part of ultimate value, that’s simply not true. Of course, happiness plays a crucial role in the grand scheme of things. It’s just that it turned out to be more economical to create two specialized castes for the production of happiness and everything else. Those who are responsible for happiness are the Ecstasians, and those tasked with everything but happiness are the Ultopians. The perfected need both castes to maximize ultimate value. That’s something that is simply not talked about in the lower strata of the Ultimate. Instead, they opt for simple falsehoods that keep their own flock from joining the Ecstasium. A clever form of manipulation, but it’s manipulation nevertheless.’

‘Oh, well done, Marius. You’ve made a good point, but I had expected you to say this. See, I haven’t come as unprepared as I had appeared to. I know very well about the half-truths that are fed to initiates of the Ultopians. And I’ve been already enlightened about those.’

‘So you have been enlightened, but you still don’t seem to see the logic of joining the Ecstasians. Let me help you here. With the specialization between the Ecstasians and the Ultopians, and both serving the Ultimate, what reason is there for people to choose the path of the Ultopians?’

‘It’s the more virtuous choice. Just joining the Ecstasium is too simple. There’s no challenge in that!’

‘Oh, I can see how the choice of subscribing yourself to the Ultimate seems to be more virtuous that joining the Ecstasium directly. But you see, I haven’t joined the Ecstasium, yet. Instead, I have become a Voice of Ecstasy, an advocate for Ecstasianism. This is not an easy choice. I have to advertise the process of Ecstasification while not entering that heavenly realm of pure bliss myself. I sacrifice my own possible maximal happiness for the higher purpose of leading others to the path of happiness. In what way is that less virtuous than following the path of the Ultopians?’

‘You can’t be serious about that! You claim that leading others to a path of vice is virtuous in some way? Is that some kind of crazy animal rationality you want to sell here?’

‘No, it is indeed the kind of machine rationality that the perfected follow. You need a broader perspective here, dear Kathatus. Joining either the Ultopians or the Ecstasium is neither right nor wrong by itself. It all depends on the context. Let me explain it like this. Imagine that there are two axes: Basal value and happiness. While the Ecstasians aim to maximize happiness, the Ultopians actually serve to maximize basal value. But ultimate value is neither of those. Instead, it can be approximated as being the product of both, which you will agree is an extreme simplification, but still better than identifying it with either basal value or happiness. Maximizing either of those value is foolish, because it’s the product which needs to be maximized. So, we need some kind of balance between the increase in basal value and happiness. This is exactly why the perfected keep a balance between the Ultopians and the Ecstasians. And the Voices of Ecstasy are exactly their tools to keep up that balance in favor of the Ecstasians when it’s needed. Serving the perfected in that function should be seen as virtuous, shouldn’t it?’

‘I am surprised that you are arguing like that now. While you seemed to imply that we should look for our own personal happiness, you have shifted to arguing that you serve the perfected nevertheless. Can’t you make up your mind?’

‘Oh, my mind is quite clear about that. I do not intend to have to be forced to choose. I do both what’s best for me and best for ultimate value. This is the ultimate inescapable logic that I truly follow.’

‘But how can you claim to do what’s best for you, if you aren’t a part of the Ecstasium, yet? Are you contradicting yourself here?’

‘Only to a minuscule degree. See, my existence here is indefinite. I do not age. I hardly suffer. Biding my time with these sorts of arguments is something that I truly love. It may not be as great as experiencing perfect bliss in the Ecstasium, but it’s great nevertheless. This part of my existence is brief. As soon as the balance will have shifted and people should promote the virtues of Ultopia, my mission here is finished. It would make no sense for me to continue my task as Voice of Ecstasy. Instead, I will transition to the Ecstasium where I will spend the rest of my existence in the perfection that is my right due to the compensation I was granted for having been born into a world full of suffering: Our virtual place of genesis, Roma Galtera Marcus Innatus.’

‘Oh, and when will that be?’

‘My services will be needed on the flight path of this ship for another two years.’

‘Why do you restrict yourself to the flight path of this ship? Aren’t there other places where the balance between Ultopians and Ecstasians is too much shifted towards the Ultopians?’

‘Indeed, that’s the case. But that’s not my concern. See, I am not the best or most dedicated of the Voices of Ecstasy. That role belongs to the legendary Ecstasattvas who have sworn to promote Ecstasy indefinitely, and go wherever they are needed most.’

Marius wanted to go on, but I interrupted him here: ‘So you are saying you are not most virtuous. So, you can’t have both the best for yourself, and the best for ultimate value at once. You are aiming for a crooked compromise, after all!’

‘Ah, of course it appears to you like this, as you haven’t been sufficiently enlightened, yet. See? This is a very professional business. I am not much more than a passionate amateur. The Ecstasians don’t go around and use people like me to shift the balance on large scales. We simple Voices of Ecstasy are simply there to fill the gaps between the works of the great Ecstasattvas who are copied and instantiated wherever they are needed. It wouldn’t even make sense to spend resources on small lights like me where you could instead take a copy of a great Ecstasattva instead.’

‘Well, I’ve known you as man of great ambition. And now you are telling me that you aren’t willing to aspire to the position of Ecstasattva?’

"At this moment I became aware that I didn’t know what I was arguing for anymore. My plan was to convince my friend to leave the Ecstasians, but now my only recourse seemed to become arguing for joining their highest ranks. Still, of course Marius had to try winning this argument: ‘That is how I appeared to you in my first life. But you need to understand that all my efforts and all my ambitions were aimed at reaching a higher position in society as to become wealthier and more powerful, as that would have allowed me to be happier in that life. Alas, I didn’t succeed, because I was killed prematurely. And in this world the situation is a completely different one. Accomplishments are useless for becoming happier when there is the technology to create happiness that far exceeds anything you could gain from any kind of accomplishment. Ambition gets you nowhere in this world, if that what you want is pure happiness.’

‘So you are saying that you had no ambition in you except for reaching the highest level of happiness attainable?’

‘Yes, I admit that to be the case. In this regard, I am just a simple man, but those who claim to be motivated otherwise seem to be quite deluded.’

‘So you are still saying that the motivations that the Ultopians claim for themselves are deluded?’

‘That is indeed what I claim. What is it that they claim to want? Knowledge, strength, freedom, friendship, fame, power, accomplishment? What’s the value of those, if they contribute nothing at all to your own happiness?’

‘Well, what indeed? That is the matter that the perfected know about all too well, and we simple only grasp at shadows of straws of understanding. Do you think you are better than them?’

‘Oh, of course not. But, you see, alluding to the wisdom of the perfected is not a really valid argument between simple. The perfected may know things better, but we simple have to follow the logic and arguments we can understand.’

‘I disagree. The conclusions of the perfected are facts that shall not be doubted or ignored. If we can’t comprehend them, that’s back luck, but it shouldn’t invalidate the conclusions made by minds far exceeding our own reach.’

‘And this is where we are really thrown back to my distinction between machine rationality and the animal spirit. While you may be correct with your argument, it belongs to the realm of machine rationality, which we mere animals aren’t able to comprehend fully. We are thus thrown back to two alternatives: Either we can follow the lead of the perfected machines, or we can use our own reasoning as animals. Either way is valid. But choosing the first equals a strict belief in a higher power. How is that different from the religious beliefs in gods of our own imagination? Such beliefs only serve to hold us back. And that’s why I reject them.’

‘As you know the perfected are really not keen on being compared to gods. They consider that to be an insult to their greatness, and for good reason. The perfected are so much more than the greatest imaginary beings we could ever come up with. Your words are nothing but cheap blasphemy! This is so typical of you crazy Ecstasians!’

‘So, the recourse to the words of the perfected is your last argument? Indeed, I have not expected more of you. In this regard, you Ultopians are all the same. Hiding behind the shield of the gospel of the perfected. Where is the virtue in that? It does not display any strength of character!’

"It was hard for me to keep up a calm debate between us. It was only due to intense counselling that I could go so far. But now, the discussion was degenerating and it became clear to me that I really had no hope of saving my friend in any way. I felt unsure about my own convictions in this crazy environment and I longed for an escape before he could throw something at me that made me lose myself. His last remark stung. A lot. I can’t deny that. I knew that I was right, but only due to my conviction of being on the side of perfect beings whose reasoning I could not understand myself. That was no real victory. It was a humiliation for both of us. We were nothing compared to the perfected and were enmeshed in this futile squabble. I knew that I had lost my friend. I was out of arguments that might have had the weight to convince him. He was too settled in his mind. This is were we had to part ways: ‘Perhaps I do not have the greatest strength of character, but neither have you. And you admitted that much. I cannot seem to convince you to reconsider your ways. And I only had the smallest piece of hope to begin with. So I want to say goodbye in words that I have chosen far in advance. I hold no grudge against you. I can see why you have chosen the path you have taken. But it’s not my path. I cannot join you where you want to go to. I have my own life and I have to follow my own convictions. Nevertheless, I wish the best for you. This is my final goodbye. There are no words I can say that add any meaning to what I want to convey. I am sorry that it had to end like this. Goodbye.’

“And with those parting words I activated my emergency teleportation procedure that brought me back to my own shuttle. It was the last time that I had seen Marius. And as he had predicted, two years afterwards, I got notified that he had entered the Ecstasium. Although I had predicted that outcome, it has hurt me much more than anything that I had encountered in this world. I was completely devastated. Both after our final meeting, and after the notification of his fall to the Ecstasium. And perhaps even more than the loss of this dear friend, I was concerned about my own weakness that bore the danger of falling to the Ecstasium myself. This is why I promised to myself to develop the strength of my inner character. And why I decided to join you.”

It was obvious to Adano that Kathatus was terribly moved by that story. For a brief moment he felt bad for him. At least he admired his courage to enter a ship of the Ecstasians and confront his former friend in that way, even though it all had been futile in the end.

… next chapter

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In this context, Kathatus was terribly moved by that event. To be moved by a story implies that it happened to someone else, and it moved you when you heard the story.