The Coming of the Varr
Mankind has spread throughout the stars and the distances between civilizations are so great that they seldom come into conflict. Within one star cluster, where people have made the tradeoff between the hard radiation of many suns and the relative ease of transport between solar systems, one culture has begun to show the first signs of dissolution. There is great wealth; there is great poverty. There are machines, slaves, bondspeople, and gene-engineered organisms to serve those who can afford to buy.
Litjin Varriel is fortunate in having been born to wealth, and even more so in having discipline and talent, so that his days and nights are full of absorbing things. The years pass and his childhood friends have gone their ways while he has made no others. He is so deeply absorbed in his work and so surrounded by care and ease he scarcely notices. He is a gene-engineer and many of the biological devices that make life so pleasant are his designs. He is wealthy beyond the dreams of people who dream of wealth.
But the time comes when he has matured and would like the companionship of others occasionally. He seeks out old friends to find that even those who are not spoiled by indolence bore him with their insipid lives. Varriel turns to the people he has consulted through the years. They are either as self-absorbed as he was until he began to feel his years or have become little different from his childhood friends who have never done anything but enjoy themselves.
Standing in the great dome of his house, high above the city that covers most of his world, he looks out and what he sees and thinks do not please him. It is in this mood, tempting hubris, that he begins to make a creature to be a companion to himself. He is, by practice and law, limited to using only raw materials, no natural or synthetic gene sequences, although the thing he seeks is humaniform but not human.
Skillful though he is, his first attempts are crude, yet imbued with personality. They amuse him: he keeps them. Gradually he allows them to assist him in his efforts, and, step by step, what he creates becomes intelligent, interesting, and self-willed. Without ever considering the matter, they become his equals, his companions. He can foresee that in the end it may be he who serves their purposes as much they his. He is not so fond of his fellow humans that he regrets this challenge to their complacency.
Yet, though gravely ill, he looks at what he has done and is deeply troubled. There is no place for these creatures on this world or any other he knows. They are not machines or slaves, to be disposed of as part of his estate, nor bondspeople, to be freed to make their own way. By law his genetic creations have no rights. He worries, as it has never occurred to him to worry before, about what has happened and what might happen to all he has created. Most of all he worries about his companions, young in truth and young as a species.
Dying of multiple cancers, not an extraordinary fate because of the intense radiation of the star cluster his world is in, he buys a ship, supplies, and loads the unmen and the few objects he holds dear. In flight, he converts the rest of his property to cash. This does not attract as much attention as he fears, for the Erenine, the hospital he is going to, is renowned quite as much for its expense as for the distinguished names among its patients.
He, himself, his companions, and the hospital are able to buy him time but not health. As he dies, his creations, who have begun to call themselves varr, escape with him to his ship. His life ends among creatures and things he has loved, but the varr's adventures have barely begun. They are beings without rights in control of a valuable ship, possibly a danger and certainly a prize.
A danger, indeed, for they, like their creator, are skilled gene-engineers, and they begin to manipulate their universe. Varriel may have guessed but had avoided knowing that the varr are, in their alien way, more intelligent than humans. Certainly they are equipped to be skillful at governing both people and themselves. They flee successfully into the void beyond the cluster, where their knowledge grows as do their numbers.
In time they are forgotten, for they are long-lived and secretive. One by one people are drawn to them, and soon the humans accompanying the varr outnumber the synthetic aliens themselves. They form a vast fleet, constantly in need of energy, air, water, and food, despite careful recycling. Driven by their dependents' need, the varr begin to terraform worlds at the far edge of the cluster, taking what mankind has never wanted. They build eco-systems for whole worlds and design tailored organisms to do things humanity does by machine. Eventually, the varr achieve a unity of purpose and a level of civilization unknown to Litjin Varriel's world.
But their very success, makes them a reproach and a challenge to human governments. In what may be its finest hour in the history known to them, humanity within the cluster rises to war upon the varr, to exterminate the aliens. They kill by every method known to them, without sparing those humans deluded enough to have taken the varr as leaders, yet they lose. Both empires are damaged by the intense struggle and begin slow declines. The scattered free colonies wink out of existence, one by one, unable to support the long-range ships necessary to bring the freight they need to survive.
It is at this time of change that a carefully tailored varr child is created. Ancient Empires is his story.