This is a short story that's about a decade or so old. In it, the protagonist is helping to quarantine an area to stop a nano-machine intelligent swarm from breaking out. The "reveal" is that they've already broken out, and that the protagonist is just a simulacrum of the original protagonist. The kicker is that the nano-machine swarm decides to "sink" and become the substrate for a "real" world which it would run without anyone in the world knowing it. However, in doing so it finds it is itself being run by a yet deeper level of construct.

I think that this was in a anthology.

  • This sounds very familiar to me - I think I read it about 2016 or so. If it's the one I'm thinking of, there are three (or so) competing types of swarms that the hero (and electronically cloned versions of him) are resisting. I think I read it in electronic form, having found it free on the author's website (if I'm recalling correctly, the story was recommended by Rudy Rucker, Cory Doctorow or Charles Stross on their blog).
    – Andrew
    Feb 18, 2022 at 0:30
  • I think this is previously answered here scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/204291/… - at least it's the one I was thinking of in the comment above
    – Andrew
    Feb 25, 2022 at 20:22

1 Answer 1


"True Names" by Cory Doctorow and Benjamin Rosenbaum, discussed in this thread Novella where two vast digital civilizations simulate each other

It's collected in an anthology called "Fast Forward II" - and involves resistance to a nanotechnology outbreak called "Demiurge" only to find out that the people resisting are already inside Demiurge

How do we know, friends, that we are alive inside a real Beebe and not traitors to Beebe living in a faux-Beebe inside a blob of captive matter within the dark mass of the Demiurge? (How? How? they cried, and she shook her head sadly.)

and at the end of the story, it's learned that it goes even deeper.

“Oh. Well.” Paquette squinted. “It’s rather odd. The numbers seemed to imply that we were in emulation … but not in Beebe, nor in Demiurge. In something else, with characteristics that were exceedingly odd. So perhaps … well, research is continuing. We don’t really know what > it means.”

Brobdignag’s tale:

Look, chuckles, don’t believe everything you read.

“Simple, uniform, asentient, voracious”—well, so is your Mama

Hydrogen. “Doesn’t evolve,” “replication flawless over a googol iterations”— well, like all propaganda, it’s true as far as it goes. Those little engines— void-eating, gravity-spinning, durable, expanding through the territory of known space—those aren’t us. They’re just what we’re made of.

That’s right: we arise in all that complex flocking logic.

Do we prefer this substrate? Not necessarily. Do we wonder what things were like before the universe was refashioned for our kind? Sure we do. And we read and reconstruct the void-emanations, painstakingly re-creating the thoughts of the intelligences that came before. And, as we grow and complexify, we’ve even begun to spin them out in emulation.

That’s why Paquette can’t quite figure out who’s emulating her. We are! It’s a bit of a blind spot of hers. That signature in the Lemma: that’s us waving hello. Hi Paquette! It’s Brobdignag!

  • This hits the topic but isn't the story. The story I am thinking of ends with the nano-machine deciding to sink into being the substrate of Earth only to find that there is already one there. Same idea though, so thanks! Jun 3, 2022 at 17:47
  • I see. Hope someone can identify the story you are looking for.
    – Andrew
    Jun 3, 2022 at 18:30

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