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02/01/2015

Angelic

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Ancient

 

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Amorphism

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Abiogenesis

 

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3D Rorschach

 

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01/31/2015

Evolution

Moved to http://infinitarianism.blogspot.com

 

[Evolution]

When I wake up it takes me a while to remember where I am. In the darkness I could be anywhere, and imagine myself in various places before as I drift between dream and reality. The amnesia feels pleasant, full of possibility.

I have been staying with so many people I met on my way that I only remember when I feel fully awake that I am in the commune in Girona. After it was bought for public use through crowdfunding, it has become a popular stop for travelers from Europe and beyond into what has become considered by many the birthplace of anarchism. Me, I just came here wandering around. I lived in Barcelona, but after a falling out with my parents forced me to move out of the apartment they had rented for me, I decided to move from one commune to another trying to find out if there's anything to all the talk about it.

What I noticed is that the farther away I went from Barcelona, the more worthwhile my time in the communes became, on account of there being less of the pilgrims, most of them millennials, that came here from recently developed countries still in the throes of their nihilist era, looking for some sort of answer in their belated postmodern era, like adolescents in an identity crisis.

I look at one of them hugging his knees on his pad, staring into space. He doesn't seem to see me, perhaps because of the dreadlocks hanging before his eyes. They're still waiting for a revolution, too out of it to realize it has already happened. But they were expecting something extraordinary, an apocalypse as it were, for the heavens to burst open and God to show themself. And what really happened? Like all of us they were given a choice to find their own values, and for those that did not take the chance to do so, nothing happened. They don't realize it, but they're still waiting on a leader, even if that leader is a crowd.

In the kitchen I find we're almost out of cereal, so I tell my computer to cut some. It says there isn’t any. That can’t be right. I walk up the stairs to the roof and open the trapdoor into the hydroponics greenhouse. Coming from the dark of the bedroom, my eyes take a while to adjust to the bright sunlight concentrated by the lenses and mirrors above me. The cereal plants have all already been harvested. I could swear I saw them here yesterday, but the only traces I see are the few grains next to the chute door.

When I see the electric knife is still uncleaned, I walk back down again and into the kitchen, where I hear the sound of machines coming from the storage room. Inside I stumble into Carlos, one of the longest inhabitants of the commune. He's usually the one who takes care of things here, though he does not own it any more than the rest of us.

"It'll be just a minute," he says, looking at the grain processing machines. "I'm sorry, I should've thought of this, but there were other things on my mind."

"What are you talking about? I told you before, you're no more responsible for this than the rest of us."

"Yes, but if everyone thinks this way…"

"Then we'll learn for ourselves. Isn't that the point of anarchism? Now I'll know to think about this next time."

"Maybe you're right. It's a bit early to argue for me."

"Right, then sleep in next time. Breakfast can wait anyway. What have you got here?" I ask, pointing at the machines.

"Just oats. And flour, but there's still a little bit of bread."

"I guess I'll just take the bread and probably go."

"Really? Why in such a hurry? Where are you going?"

"North, anywhere away from these hippies. What are they doing here anyway?"

"Haven't you heard? A revolution."

"A revolution! It's nothing but an excuse to keep dreaming without doing anything about the real problems of our time. Even a way to come to terms with them, because they could always say of their problems that they will lead up to one. Governments couldn't have come up with a better opium for the masses if they tried."

He stays silent and checks the roasted cereal in the machines.

I know I should let it go. I'm just so frustrated with people that are just waiting for something to happen on account of others. That's why I left. My parents want me to believe they want freedom as much as I, but keep trying  to get me into a job with the already falling government to climb up in its hierarchy. They think now's the best time to be a politician, as politics is changing more than ever.

Admittedly, without the government having held the referendums the people petitioned for, it wouldn't have allowed crowdfunding as a deductible alternative to taxes for public services, not without a revolution. But by doing that it already handed over its power to the people, and over the past twenty years it's formed greater layers of organization until the government lost its power and became something merely nominal, like royalties in Europe: an evolutionary vestige, like the human tailbone.

"But I was born after all this. Maybe if I had lived in their time I would see it all differently, but there’s just nothing you can do with them. They never listen to anything that doesn’t agree with their group think. Might as well give up on them.”

"Don't say that!" He actually turns from the machines. "That's you being weak. If you can't help people in their weakness, reach out a hand to help them up, what in the world can you do for others?"

Just now the millennial I saw earlier comes in.

"Jack! Come here. Tell him what you think about him, Lucas."

"Eh…" He grabs my arm and forces me to look at him. His eyes are already glazed over with marijuana, but I'm not sure if it's the marijuana or the dreadlocks that most bother me about him. I think of what a long way it has gone from the Indian brahmans who didn't care what they looked like to others, to those who turned their hair into dreadlocks just to fit in. Then I realize how brahmans must have eventually turned into a caste that people needed to fit into in the first place. Because of people like me, who shunned those that weren’t as enlightened as them.

"I didn’t mean that," I stutter.

"He thinks you're too weak to be helped, a hopeless case, the end, game over. You're ready to die, fit for the slaughter. Not just you, mind you, but your whole generation."

I look at Carlos. "What's gotten into you?" He looks apologetic. "I'm sorry, there's just been a lot of this kind of friction lately. I thought we'd be over this in our new world but it just never ends, it never ends. We could live in heaven and we'd still turn it into a hell." He pinches the bridge of his nose and closes his eyes.

Then I look back at Jack. But he's certainly achieved one thing. The glaze in his eyes is gone, and he's wide awake.

"Maybe you're right," he says. "Fit for the slaughter? Well we've always been treated like sheep. For thousands of years they taught us that's just what we are. It takes time to deal with the aftermath, Carl. We'll get there someday." He pats him on the back, seeming more worried about him than about himself, and walks out.

"Wait!" Carlos still says.

"Even if it’s too late for them, it’ll end with them. We’re different."

"Yeah, right. You know what's been stressing me out so much?"

"I was wondering about that."

"Well, the other night there was this big fight in here. We had to vote to send some people away, but by doing that we kind of picked sides already, and I'm worried about what that could mean to the commune. This could be coming back to me."

"What are you talking about?"

"It was these, uh, I've gotta watch my tongue here. Well, anti-transhumanists."

"Let's not call them anything. So some people had a problem with transhumanists here?"

"Oh, they were about to lynch them. And not transhumanists, transhumans, at least that's what they called themselves. They didn't think they were human anymore. They connected their brains into some sort of network or something. Seems like a sure way to drive yourself mad, but what do I know? I've never done it. Anyway, they started arguing about whether or not you can do something like that, and at some point they said that if they really are a different kind, they should exterminate them."

"They were just joking, of course." But I don't feel as sure as I sound. And that kind of uncertainty is enough to lead to rioting. Doesn't it always start with jokes that get taken serious? "Who said that about who?"

"I don't even know, I think they both said something to that effect at some point. What does it matter? If it happens, no one will be exterminated but everyone will suffer."

"Come on now, that's a thing of the past. You really need to try something different. You’re getting stuck here, and that’s the surest way to get neurotic. I can hardly imagine what it must have done to people to do the same thing over and over every day of their lives like you did for a few years. Why don't you come with me? This place will be just fine without you. The rest will learn to take care of this place."

"This place will become a mess."

"That's not true. We all helped clean up. And even if it does become a mess, then they'll have to clean up the mess eventually."

He stares out into space and mutters about some things he still has to take care of.

"You know what? Alright, I'm coming with you."

"See, that's the difference between you and the millennials. You choose to change. You might be neurotic but you're not hopeless."

"I've got to finish some things I started though."

"For God's sake, how can you find so many little things to do in a fully automated building? Just write it on a sign for the others."

"Say what you want but I have to bag the cereals. Can't just leave them to rot."

"Can't take that long. I'll see you on the road."

"You're heading north, right?"

"Right, you'll see where I am on my profile." I raise my hand as I walk out. When you can meet anyone anywhere, you hardly bother to say goodbye if at all.

I take a deep breath when I'm outside, enjoying the fresh air from the vertical gardens covering the buildings. The buildings have already covered some of the crops with plastic to form small greenhouses, including, of course, all of those on the roof. of the crops are already out of season and have been covered with plastic panes by the machines and a few electric cars whiz by. It must be rush hour. Of course that doesn't mean much when everyone is working from home, or from anywhere, in fact. Those that do make use of the roads are mostly those who travel.

A woman opens her window and extends a picker at a row of grapes below her sill, an old-fashioned tool with a pincer and scissor at the end. Usually people just use cutters now, but with these old little houses whose walls don't line up, it's not always worth the trouble installing one. I follow her movements with interest, squinting. The woman looks at me askant, then smiles a little in compensation and withdraws. I realize my frown probably makes me look a little creepy, but my eyes are still adjusting to the daylight.

I hunch my shoulders to get the crick out of my neck. I should've brought a pillow. It's one of the things that's not provided in the communes since they get lost or stolen quickly. I didn't really make any preparations for this trip at all. I'll probably need my inflatable clothing if I'm heading to the cold north, especially if I'm planning to sleep outside on my way as well. Once I have that I have everything: warm clothing if inflated, cool clothing if uninflated, and if zipped, a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, bivy bag and raincoat. If I'm really not turning back, if I'm really going to get out into the world, I'll need one. I tell my computer to get me one.

This reminds me of what Carlos said about the implants. Right now the interface is also pretty close to that: displays on my corneas, speakers in my ears, phone on my throat, and attached to it a camera which registers hand gestures. In places where people want privacy there is often a dress code to wear a scarf, to cover the camera, but privacy concerns are usually viewed as childish nowadays, as you're not supposed to share secrets with people you don't trust. I note how I'm thinking about in terms of "nowadays" as if I'm not even from this time, but things are changing so fast that everything feels new, even though people are still keeping up.

A signal on my display lets me know that my inflatable has arrived by pneumatic tube at the nearest supermarket, asking me whether I want to collect it or if I want it delivered by quadrotor. I choose the latter. A minute later it's there. The laminate is made of graphene oxide, which is both perfectly waterproof and perfectly breathable. As it can be inflated any amount needed, it can essentially allow me to survive in any weather conditions. I can go anywhere now. The whole world lies before me.

I see Jack coming back towards the building. I don’t want to seem evasive, but I have to go back inside to change anyway. When I do I realize that as I have to wear the sensuit next to my skin, I don’t need to change anyway, and, putting on the graphene suit, integrate it to the sensuit along with the many other molecularly thin layers making up my suit. When I am about to move back outside, Jack is standing in the doorway, and doesn’t seem to notice me even as I am standing right behind him, forcing me to address him.

"What do you make of this talk of these people here who called themselves transhuman? Carlos is crazy, I know," I add, to deny having anything to do with what he said earlier, "but do you think there's anything to it?"

"I was there. I think they're just what we want to move away from, you know, people who want to be better than everyone else. Isn't that what the revolution is about?"

"To me it's about letting everyone do what they want, as long as they don't keep others from doing the same. And when there IS a conflict we vote on the best way to give everyone what they want."

"I don't agree with that," he puts out the joint under his boot. "I don't agree with that at all. You can't just do what you want. There are certain principles."

"But everyone has different principles."

"There are some that are absolute."

"But who will lay down which those are?"

He lights a new joint and sucks on it.

"Nature."

"And what if people don't follow them?"

"Then nature will wipe them out."

"I see… so we've come all this way to be able to choose our own path, and what, now we'll get rid of anyone who chooses a different one?"

"I didn't say that. Well, I did say that the other night, when there were some transhumanists here, but they basically said the same thing. They said if we don't come along, they'll use up our atoms. They had a certain swagger about them, like cowboys. They were from Florida, too, I believe. They came to recruit people for a transhumanist group, and who knows how many communes they've been going to for that, like Jehova's witnesses going from door to door. Except that this is for real. They want the apocalypse to really happen."

I thought back of what I thought about a revolutionism. Some Last Judgment supposed to separate good and evil. It does have something in common with creationism, the idea of creating something out of nothing rather than from what came before. And apparently there were still a few people like this in both the cyber- and counterculture, even though they’re both related to existentialism.

"The apocalypse. And do you actually believe them?"

"If we don't do anything about these people, it will happen."

"So you think we should do anything to stop them."

"If we have to."

I look at Jack. One thing that's certain is that he doesn't want to hurt anyone. He's just afraid of being left behind in this world where everything is moving on so quickly. When you're left out it's hard to understand what's going on, and people become afraid of what they don't understand. For those who fall behind, fearful times are ahead. I don't see many people being left behind in anarchist Europe, but what about countries were there is much more inequality? China, Arabia, Russia? I can see how in some countries we would, at least for a while, have two species at the same time.

"I have to run," I say. I have to get out of here. It could get to me the way it got to Carlos. For some reason, this place draws insanity to it, but disturbingly, the only explanation I can find for this is that they're bringing it here from home. 

"Can you give me any advice on where to go when I get to Barcelona?"

"Well, Jack, first of all, where are you from?"

"South-Africa."

I wondered what he was looking for here. South-Africa was more or less the capital of primitivist communes. "Then you won't find anything here you didn't find at home, even if there's more of it here. There aren't even any monuments you can visit."

"Except…"

"Except the Spinoza, of course, yes." The transmodernist convention center, sometimes called a church, is officially the first public building ever to have been built entirely funded by crowdfunding. In reality there were plenty others, but this one is supposed to be a milestone in the history of anarchism. It's the final destination of many of these pilgrims. It began when people repeatedly held protests in the early 20s involving a march to Catalunya, a response to the march from Catalunya to Brussels of 2011 which turned their method around, appealing to the people rather than to the government, which it made a point of leaving behind. The marches that continued into the anarchist era were more of a commemoration than anything else, a way of keeping its spirit. They don't call themselves pilgrims either. For most people it was just an atheist alternative to religious pilgrimages.

"My advice is that you just build on the anarchist communities in SA. The only thing you'll learn here is that there are no idols you can learn more from than you can learn from yourself and your friends. By the way, none of you have been able to find out which of the thousands of nominees are to become official heroes of what you call the revolution."

"Certainly that would be Galan."

I suddenly lose all interest in talking to him. He’s talking about my father, and his success in the past is just what made him try to make me like him. The rebels of yesterday become the rulers of today if they do not rebel against their own limits.

 "Good luck, at any rate" I raise my hand in goodbye as I turn around. I tell my computer to mark me as a hitchhiker and walk down the road. I specify no destination other than the north. A few minutes later a slightly older man stops his car and picks me up.

"Hi, my name is Hugo. I heard from your profile you're an oneironaut," he says after we've talked for some time. His driving is very erratic and I find it hard to concentrate. The car's computer would override if we were ever in danger, but his maneuvers make my stomach lurch. "Then I just knew I had to pick you up. What kind of dreams did you have?"

"Well, I was in a dream cooperative for the past few years."

"Oh really, so you're actually a professional oneironaut! Have you done research?"

"Not everyone would call it that. I'm actually still learning," I say, looking ahead as he sandwiches himself between the cars.

"But you've had some ratings from people you've taught informally."

"Yes, but I don't think I'm ready yet. I still have a lot to learn."

"But do you learn from other psychologists, or…"

"Yes, mostly from my colleagues actually."

"But you're talking about your work, right? So isn't that basically research?"

"I guess so. They overlap. It's hard to know what other people have and haven't thought of yet. Many times when I'm reading other psychologists I think, 'That's just what I've always thought.'"

"Let me tell you something: they're practically the same thing. Even in research people often just replicate the findings of others. And a lot of the time even original research just sees if it can replicate common sense."

"Right, but we haven't done any controlled studies yet."

"Yeah, but anyone can do that. The tools for any kind of research are available for public use online, even for kids to play with. And as for psychology, all you need to do is submit a question online to a group of people you want to research, or if they've already made that information public about themselves, even anonymously, you don't even need to ask. By recording everything we do for public data, we are providing material for research, and all that's left to do is ask the question when you want to know. We're basically all researchers now."

"Yes, but to call myself a 'professional researcher' seems a bit pretentious. So far I'm not doing anything other people don't."

"And you never will, but why can't everyone be a researcher? Anyway, what I mean is you're putting a lot of your time into it, and that makes it a kind of research that's far more valuable. So tell me about your dreams."

"Well… It's subtle, hard to explain really." Normally I'd have been enthusing about my research right away, even though there are plenty of people from the older generation disputed whether or not it should really be called that. But I feel like his driving is making me inhibited, as compensation. I realize it doesn't have to be that way, and that I can go along into his energy instead of being held back by it. I try to sit back and enjoy the ride, telling myself I can trust the computer, even if most people, such as my parents, would never dare to test the limits of its abilities. But isn't that what I was looking for? To test the limits of the limitless, rather than sticking to the straight path.

"It's not so much about what's going on in the dream as much as the feeling of the dream. You see, in a dream you're not just doing things as you would in the real world. Everything in the dream is really a symbol, it's part of your own mind, and interacting with it is interacting with your own mind. In the dream world everything is full of meaning, even the most mundane things."

"Such as?"

I looked around for examples. "This car drive might be a symbol of a death wish." I chuckle.

"You're not scared are you?" He suddenly turned the wheel around to one side and raised his hands as if in a roller coaster ride as the car made a turnabout and began to drive in circles in between the cars on both sides of the road. He laughed. The car dodged them all, but not without lurching side to side with as much violence as if we had already crashed. The car soon slowed down and after a few seconds he took the wheel back in hands.

I've blanched. I wasn't as familiar as him with the extent of reliability of the driver. "It was just an example. It might also be a symbol of something else, such as liberation. Sometimes there are symbols that mean the opposite of what you expect."

"It'll be over soon, actually." We drove onto the maglev highway, where all cars within the same lane automatically drove at the same speed. This made the cars like a train, so that except at an exit one couldn't drive the car.

"We had this crazy theory once which we wanted to test. We wanted to dig into the earth and fly into the sky to find the heaven and hell of our unconscious, to see what they'd look like, and more importantly, how we'd feel there. Not only that, but we wanted to talk to our own angels and demons, see what they had to say to us, and then, if possible, make them talk to each other."

"How did that go?"

"At first it didn't go so well. Perhaps it was that our unconscious was too influenced by stereotypes, but at any rate our demons displayed nothing but pure chaos and our angels nothing but pure order, bent on nothing but pure destruction and pure creation. Perhaps at their core that's what they are, but in their pure, extreme form, they were in such a raw form that they provided little material for analysis. Then I brought my angels and demons to the earth to see beyond their false surface, and the closer to Earth they came, the more human they became. Eventually, when they came close enough together, they became rather normal people, the difference between them being that one was left-brained and the other right-brained. The one thing that remained the same about them is that they did not get along, mostly on account of one being egoist and the other altruist. They could both do good to others and to themselves alike, but their approaches were different."

"So which won?"

"Heaven and hell forbid that either would win! They're nothing without each other. Eventually we actually managed to find a way to make them work together, by making them see how they can turn each other's advantage to their own. It was harder than it sounds, and took us years to find a way to do that."

I notice the change in landscape as we drive into the Pyrenees.

"Where are we going, anyway?"

The man laughs. "Well, if you wanted to go anywhere, you're surely on the right car. I'm following the superhighway all the way to Berlin."

"Through the Rhone-Rhine axis?"

"Of course. I don't know of any that go through the Alps. Montpelier, Lyon, Basel, Frankfurt, Leipzig, Berlin. Where are you going after that?"

"I don't know. Far away from here. Anywhere."

"You know, if you want to be anywhere, why don't you travel in virtuality?"

I look at him. "But I am. Didn't you see that on my profile?"

"Oh. No, it must have escaped me." There's an awkward silence for a moment, and he looks at me carefully, trying to see if I really am an avatar. I laugh, giving away that it was a joke.

"Oh, you think that's funny? How could I know the difference? But seriously, why don't you?"

"I don't know. I'll probably do a lot of my traveling in virtuality, but sometimes I just want to be there and feel I really am there. Sometimes I even feel like not taking any electronics with me so that I can be nowhere else." As always, I’m wearing my sensuit, in spite of the hot weather. It can stimulate my nervous system in any way reality can, including exercise by resisting my movements, with artificial muscles which can tighten and relax, which can also be used to actually accelerate my movements. Through suspension from a portable frame, it could even make me move without actually going anywhere. Meanwhile, everyone else who had turned on virtuality could perceive me as in reality through their interface.

He snorts. "You have no idea what you're looking for are you?"

"How do you know I'm looking for something."

"Why else would you leave everything behind?"

“I didn’t leave anything behind. I have everything I need with me. Why wouldn’t I leave?”

“That’s one way to look at it. I guess I’m growing old.” I look at him, then look him up. He’s not even thirty, barely a fifth through his current lifespan. A bit early to be old.

“We’re all old,” I say. “Most of us can’t even keep up with children. How can we ever catch up with them? They spent their entire lives in telepathy. Anyone who’s lived in the isolation we have is maimed for life. But that’s one of the things I’m resolved to do more.”

“What?”

“Telepathy.”

“That’s easier said and done. Not many people want to open up like that to a stranger.”

“It hasn’t been easy for me to do it outside of my work team either, and even then not as much as I would like. I’m always the one insisting on shared dreaming. But if I need to I’ll do it with children. They’re always open to that, keeping up with the times more than most of us.”

The man raises his eyebrows. “People will talk,” he says.

With a sadness I realize how much of a divide there is between the youngest and oldest generations today, and how much it’s driven us apart. Borders are no longer formed along countries but along age groups. Children are turning into a higher species, all but leaving us behind, but if I’m honest with myself I have to admit that there’s no way for me to become one of them. I often wish I was one of them.

“Let them talk,” I sigh. “Nowadays they can do what they want. And we can agree to keep a record of the telepathic sessions, so that they can’t make false accusations against me.”

“I have a better idea,” he says. “Here and there there have recently been some groups emerging that seem to be doing a pretty good job at, as you put it, keeping up with children. They’re transhumanist groups, but they call themselves transhuman, as they believe that telepathy is what distinguishes humans from transhumans and they communicate more through telepathy than anything else. I know one of them is in Berlin.”

“Why haven’t I heard anything about this?”

“It’s not too long ago that these groups began to emerge.”

“To be fair, it’s not that long ago that telepathy came on the market. So what do you mean with not too long ago? A few weeks?”

“More like, a few months. It’s something like a meme.”

It’s clear that this man already has another time frame than I do. “Then why didn’t the recommenders tell us about this? It should’ve been all over the feeds.”

“It’s not a very public project. In fact they want to avoid publicity as much as possible. They believe in a more peer-to-peer rather than peer-to-crowd approach.”

“Meaning I should’ve heard about it.”

“There’s not as many transhumanists among your circles as you would think. Usually there’s somewhere the chain stops. I only know about it because I happened to have a friend of a friend of a friend who knew the founder of the Berlin group.“

“That’s pretty private even by peer-to-peer standards.”

“That’s not all. They make you perform a test before you enter. They’re kind of elitist.”

“It sounds almost like a sect.” But on the other hand I could understand that this might’ve been the only way to prevent them from being inundated by today’s cosmopolitan society. There would be a lot of people who would like to be able to say that they were part of a “transhuman” group. But that’s exactly what I don’t trust about it: why do they need to call themselves that?

“I don’t know what it’s like. I only have hearsay.”

“Alright, I’ll take a look.” That’s probably the people they want to keep out. But I’m more serious about it than I betray.

“Will you come too?”

“No, I already have plans. But you know what, the meeting is only tonight, and I’m going to be early myself. Why don’t we visit some places on the way.  The Swiss Alps are only minutes out of our way."

I think about Carlos. He could use that to clear his mind, and according to his profile he likes mountaineering. He’s already following me in another car, and a little later it has shifted through the trains and attached to ours, the front of one and the back of the other opening up to each other to connect the two.

That day we end up hiking across the edge of a glacier. Most of our hike we have a view on the lake next to us, as well of the icebergs which used to be part of the glacier. Sensors on the soles of our boots tell us where we can move safely by superimposing a 3D-map of the glacier’s structure on our vision, color-coded for safety levels from green to red based on our computers’ projections of their flow. Several times we’re forced to take a detour because of a possibility of iceberg calving, and one time we actually see the place where we were detoured from subside. We’re now half a kilometer from the lake, and since we’re close to the far side, we decide not to turn back but move slightly up the glacier instead.

As the ice beneath our feet is very hydrophilic, the gecko surface on our boots, which uses capillary force, sticks to their surface quite well. The entire surface of my suit has the same gecko surface, and as I see its adhesiveness demonstrated on the ice, I quickly become more confident and take the lead, up to a point where I actually just slightly use my sensuit to accelerate me, just to prove to myself that I can.

My computer can’t actually override my body’s movements as it could a car’s to avoid accidents, as they’re too complex for it too coordinate: it can only “resist or assist” the movements already in process. Nonetheless, I feel safe knowing that even if I’d somehow manage to fall into a crevasse (such as the one below the snow right in front of me now), I could easily save myself just by touching its walls. I try touching the ice below me with the glove parts, then with my knees and elbows. It automatically triggers water suction into the surface.

“What are you doing?” Hugo says as he and Carlos catch up with me.

I suddenly feel mischievous and pretend to fall over, throwing all my weight on the snow in front of me. It collapses. As soon as I fall below the edge I hold on to the walls. My limbs tremble, but the graphene suit holds regardless. The sensuit’s muscles tighten.

“Lucas!” Hugo shouts. But I hear Carlos scoff.

“You rascal!” he says as he bends over the edge. “I could tell from that look that you were up to mischief.”

“Let’s go down. The echo says it goes down into an ice cave at the edge.”

“Are you mad? A glacier is a river of ice. Up here it may be pretty solid, but the deeper you go the more fluid the river becomes.”

“This area is supposed to be quite stable the next few hours. Anyway, I can go alone and catch up later.”

He doesn’t immediately reply. When Carlos is about to say something, I interrupt him by withdrawing the water from the gecko and slip down the crevasse. Carlos soon comes behind in the bottom of the crevasse.

“Alright, so maybe I lied. Obviously it doesn’t quite lead all the way into the cave.”

Whatever he’s saying is drowned in the high-pitched sound of suit’s boots’ vibrations, as its  expands and contracts at a high frequency. As the suit’s nanodiamonds press against the ice walls, the ice liquefies and the water is pumped back out by the gecko, where it pools around my legs. Our hoods close in front of our heads, but shortly after the suit slowly lets us slide along the walls to our feet in the ice cave, and the hoods retract. I message Hugo that the coast is clear, but only after some convincing he slides down after us.

He looks at my flushed face.

“Hard to believe this is the boy I startled with a little joyriding,” he says.

“I don’t belong in a vehicle,” I say as I turn to look at the ice cave’s chipped walls, glistening in our suits’ glow. “I like to feel in control.” Walking further down we soon see a light at the end, where the cave emerges back into the lake. I propose diving to the other side of the lake, but my companions demur. Instead, while they sit by the side, I take a swim by myself. I use my suit as drysuit, though it can also reprogram itself into a wetsuit.

Carlos eventually tries the water for himself, and when Hugo is left by himself beneath the weight of the glacier, he soon follows. Once we are in the midst of the lake, the decision is easily made to swim to the other side instead of swimming back. None of us are really very sure about going back up the crevasse. It must have been a glacier river at some point, but had obviously caved in before we came here.

Once on the other side of the lake, we move down the mountain to a geodesic cabin on a hiking trail, which is also a tavern open for tourists. Two Chinese women in their thirties are there, and I notice that they’re trying to speak Russian with each other, evoking each other’s laughter as they try to pronounce the words their translator gives them.

We give each other a friendly greeting, to include each other as part of our social groups, but after the fatigue of our hike, don’t immediately begin to talk with each other. We lay back into the seats and look up at the cirrus clouds. We sink into the e-matter as it conforms to the shape of our bodies, making us feel almost like a fetus in a uterus. Tired as we are, they all but lull us to sleep.

After a brief, quiet rest, we serve ourselves some drinks. Remote as it is, there is no pneumatic tube, but Hugo is very particular on his old-fashioned tastes, and decides it’s worth it for him to run to the nearby highway to get some arak from a station, something which, using his suit, he says should not take him longer than five minutes.

Carlos considers going with him, as he feels like “stimracing” with him, but we decide on doing so all together afterwards on the trail. At first I’m not sure if I feel like it. The thick suit of artificial muscles doesn’t wick very well, and while I usually don’t mind being sweaty in the hot Mediterranean, I don’t feel like it suits the cold Alps, even if I could just inflate my suit so I wouldn’t actually be cold.

I’m trying to find out if there’s any way to increase the wicking of the sensuit without permanently compromising its haptic virtuality when one of the two women sitting on another table warmly greets me. I feel a little awkward when I realize I was looking in their general direction when I was surfing, so that from their viewpoint I could have been staring for all they knew, and it takes me a moment to greet them back.

“Hi,” I say. I take a quick glance over their tab. They’re sisters called Ning and Yi, who are near the end of their two-year-long journey of the Trans-Eurasian Trail, sometimes called the Trading Road Trail, a 20 gigameter hiking trail that travels continually through mountain ranges: the Khingan and Hengduan in China, the Himalayas in India and Nepal, the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan, the Elburz in north-Iran, the Pontic mountains in north-Turkey, the Carpathians in the Balkan, the Alps, and the Appenines.

The hikers seem to think I’m still reading when they wait patiently through my speechlessness. Only when I drop my jaw, they become aware of it, and laugh in unison. I begin to utter several sounds, but no words I can think of do justice to  my astonishment.

The only possible explanation presents itself to me: “You were cheating, right?”

Their laugh suddenly makes way for a serious expression. Ning says, “No, we vowed to walk on our own power the whole way. Otherwise we might as well have gone by car. We wanted to take our time with each landscape to cultivate patience.”

“Well, surely you must’ve become buddhas by now! But I think you must be one of the few people to ever do that.”

“Most people cheat at some point, if  but they eventually realize that it was a mistake and give it up, usually once they’re in good form. It becomes a slippery slope to cheat whenever you’re tired or bored.”

“How long have you been on the way?” As I don’t want them to repeat their answers when Carlos and Hugo come back, I also ask, “Do you mind if I forward this conversation to my friends?” They’ve probably answered these questions a thousand times by now.

“Two years.“ They don’t answer on my other question, but it was mostly rhetorical. Almost everyone records their life nowadays, and the few people, mostly from older generations, that don’t want to be recorded are automatically censored.

“However do any of you make so much time free for that?”

“Almost all of us keep working on the trail. We’ve even met a few people who are spending their entire life on trails like this, since they can work and play from anywhere anyway in virtuality. Traveling doesn’t really interfere with our lives at home, if anything it’s the other way around. We’re much healthier than we’d be otherwise, so it makes us better at everything.”

“Most of our generation are living as cosmopolitans. People really had no idea when they said a hundred years ago that the world had become a village. But few people actually spend that long in the wilderness.”

“Why not, when you have civilization in your pocket?”

“Ah, yes, but you can say the same thing about nature.”

“You know it’s not the same. You have to feel like you’re really there, in the middle of nowhere.”

I look from NIng to Yi, who has so far remained silent. She has a far-away look in her eyes. I wonder how the two changed through their experience. They radiate a strength and calm I can’t quite describe.

“So where will you go next?” I ask.

“Well, the main trail goes from Beijing to Rome, but an alternate route begins at the Pacific Coast in Japan and ends at the Atlantic Coast in Spain. We started in Beijing, but we’re not sure where we’re going from here. We might go somewhere else entirely, such as the Hannibal trail. But we don’t know. So much is changing in these years, and we have to find a way to keep up.”

It sounds like that was why they undertook this journey in the first place, to reach some sort of Enlightenment. It’s unbelievable what some people do these days to try to reach beyond themselves, even as so many others hold on to themselves as much as ever.

Perhaps this is the kind of thing which, in Hugo’s words, I’m looking for. I’m about to ask them if there’s any chance I could come with them, when Carlos and Hugo return.

Carlos smiles broadly at them as he sits down next to them, but for a long time doesn’t know what to say. “2 years on the road!” he finally says simply as soon as they make eye contact. Carlos is himself unusually sedate for his age, and very much their antithesis. For some time they discuss whether it’s better to see much of one place or a little of some places. It ends on the note that we now have so much time in our life that it is possible to really get to know every place in the world.

Later that day, Carlos goes his own way for the rest of the day to visit some friends in Zurich, but promises to catch up with me the next day. Hugo and I resume our way to Berlin.

Once there, I’m glad to see Berlin again. In the past few years it’s become an ever more dynamic city. Having nothing of its past left that’s worth remembering, it’s one of those cities that’s most focused on the future, kind of like some American cities still do. Every time I see it there’s some new idea that’s being tried out in its city planning.

This time its people decided to install programmable platforms as roofbridges, which can extend in any direction to allow any number of pedestrians to cross from roof to roof. As this allows people to cross anywhere they want without having to build bridges everywhere which obstruct the view of the sky, this has led to far more people engaging in roofwalking.

The system’s application has spread to many cities, especially in Danmark where they are much appreciated by the parcouring community, for whom it not only made it easier to move from one parcouring spot to another but for whom it could also offer a safety net for bolder parcourers: if a parcourer fell short in trying to jump to a neighboring roof, the moving bridges would move down the walls of the building while extending below them, breaking their fall.

In Berln, however, it has spread across the entire city. In the center it has even gone so far as to extend many of its buildings to create a more level “second tier,” and for the first time USA citizens were actually jealous of the European row houses. The very term “second tier” is still controversial on account of the obstruction of light it used to involve. Until recently it was mostly used in China, and to the right it was a symbol of how excessive equality (that of neighboring roofs) actually leads to the worst forms of inequality.

The people of the Berlin city state took advantage of the unused space of the second tier to build gardens across entire blocks, making it look a little like a wood on top of a city from above. The roofs had been extended mostly with hydroponics farms, adding to the illusion. I couldn’t wait to walk on them and see the open sky on top of the city. I closed the window on my retinal display, not sure if I hadn’t better asked Hugo about it and heard about his own personal experience with it, but it was just too easy to browse the net. If only it was as simple to browse people’s minds.

I think again about the meetup with the so-called transhumans and ask Hugo about it. He doesn’t know, but looks it up on his car’s screen. This time I shouldn’t have bothered him about it. Not that we could have an accident.

“Apparently it’s in a Kiosk of sorts in the New Berlin gardens, on the second tier.” I’m pleased to hear about this. “Nowadays a lot of the social events are on the second tier,” he adds.

He stops at an bracer elevator. “Have you ever ridden one of these?”

“Of course. Not often, but yes.”

“I’ll drop you off here then.”

I pause. “Do you want to come with?”

“No, I already have something to do tonight. But I’m sure our ways will cross again at some point. I’m quite itinerant myself.”

“Good! You’re not that old after all,” I joke. I look around. The sun is almost setting and wonder if I could see the sun setting.

“Just where are you going?”

“Just here in the center, but it’s on ground level, in our usual place.

“How quaint. Well, I guess that’s it then.” But I refuse to let this contact remain superficial like some millennial would. “But I don’t suppose you’re in a hurry?”

“Well, we arranged at eight.”

“That’s still half an hour. And she’ll have plenty of other pastimes if you’re fifteen minutes late,” I say, thinking of how I forgot he was even there while I was researching Berlin’s second tier.

“How do you know it’s a her?” He looks at me suspiciously, as if I might’ve hacked him. Now I know for sure I can’t leave it at this.

“Otherwise you’d ask her to come with us. Come on, the sun is going under in a few minutes.”

“I don’t know if she’d agree with me getting late. We Prussians are kind of more punctual than you Catalunyans.”

“You’re getting old.”

He falls silent. That got to him.

“Alright.”

I put my hands in the bracers, which tighten around my shoulders, elbows and wrists and pull me up. In a few seconds I’ve moved up the rail to the top of the building. I look around, and smile as I turn around and see the entire horizon from east to west. But the best part is the freshness of the air. Of course the cities are no longer polluted as they once were, but the air still runs a little bit stale without wind. Up here, I might as well be in the Alps.

The sun is still up, so I run. By the time Hugo is there, I’m already on the next building. I glance at the sun, which I can almost look at without getting too much of an afterimage.

“Hey!” he says.

I jump from building to building, then stand still on the other side to let him follow me by roofbridge AKA platform. By the time it’s extended, I’ve moved on to the next. But when we come to a particular building I move on before he can catch up. From a higher building I see his girlfriend is already there waiting for him. You don’t have to be a hacker to know your way around people. I send him a message:

“They say routine is the first symptom of aging.”

I continue on my way, to one of the lower roofs at the edge of the park. The colors of sunset add a sense of warmth to the park that the midday sun never could. But the best part comes when the sun is down and the stars come out. With such open view of the sky, the Berliners switched their smartroads’ main lights to infrared. Only the cars around pedestrians were lit up in visible light, so that there is far less light pollution than there would otherwise be. I never thought any Western city could be this close to nature.

And yet, there are plenty of people here, engaged in all kinds of activities provided by the different areas: aside from more regular events like receptions, there are plenty of places for airdancing and other maglev sports.

Nonetheless I’m thrilled when I see the light from the pavilion. The semispherical roof is retracted in wedges on the sides, leaving the seats in the central circle open to the sky. I hear laughing. The atmosphere sounds a lot more friendly than I imagined it. But when I hear women’s voices I almost doubt whether I’m at the right place.

For a while I observe them in silence. It’s surprisingly quiet in this part of the park, in contrast with the central roofs. Then a discussion between three of the people becomes more lively. They stand up around a little display table. When I approach, they hardly want to let it interrupt them. “Hi!” the woman says, which the men then echo in quick succession.

“So this the transhumanist meeting?”

I’d already seen that from some distance from the tab floating above the platform in my retinal displays. I briefly view the others’ tags as well. The standing people are called Gero, Laura and Michael, the sitting people Ada and Meri. Only two out of five, Laura and Michael, actually describe themselves as transhumanists on their tags. 

“The ‘transhuman’ meeting,” Ada says, laughing. I assume the appellation is at least as much whimsical as serious. Except for Laura and Michael, none of the members are in their twenties, and Meri and Gero are still in their early teens. Aside from Gero, only Michael is from Germany (actually Mikhail - his parents are from Iran): Laura is from Cascadia, and Meri from Finland.

“We have our own definition of what a transhuman is here,” Michael says appeasingly. “We distinguish transhumans from humans by telepathy, just like humans are sometimes distinguished from apemen by speech. Once you no longer need speech at all, you are basically transhuman.”

“So if it’s so easy for you, why aren’t you in telepathy right now?”

“We were waiting for you,” Gero says. “Hugo let us know you’d come.”

“Excuses,” I say, smirking. The group that was discussing before falls silent. “You know I’m right,” I say, turning to them. “Maybe I’m the one who should test you,” I say, teasingly. “Speaking of which, what is this test?”

“Oh, it’s more a game than anything else,” Laura says. “You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. But it’s also kind of meant to keep people out that aren’t really ready for telepathy. Or just to show them that they’re not ready.”

“Alright. So what should I do?”

“Something you’ve probably wanted to do for a long time but never dared to,” Gero says. “Flying.”

“In real life,” Ada adds. “You have to feel like you are truly on the top of the world.”

“Isn’t that kinda dangerous?”

“Oh, come on,” Ada says. “You know it’s been safe for several years now. Several years you’ve had the opportunity, and yet you’ve never done it. Why is that?” She puts especial emphasis on “several years,” which for her is an unthinkable amount of time to wait.

“It’s not as much a test as a foretaste. If you don’t like flying, you won’t like telepathy,” Michael says. Gero pushes a raypack into my hands, an electrically propelled form of personal flight which works by ionizing air into plasma. I weigh it in my hands as I look it over, looking for a reprieve from actually putting it on. It’s surprisingly light.

“I just don’t see the point of it if you can have the same experience in virtuality,” I mumble. But what I said them before now applies to me: excuses. Even in my dreams I never succeeded in flying, which was my greatest handicap as an oneironaut. I always felt gravity pulling me back, which is supposed to mean I wanted it to do so. At the thought of flying I have to admit that I rather like the feeling of gravity holding me safely on the ground.

When I look up from the raypack, I see that the others are equipping theirs.

“It’s not the same experience,” Ada says. “It makes you feel exposed in a way that you have no control over, and that’s how telepathy feels.”

I look at the sky and for the first time pay attention to the people flying by. They flew by so fast that I hardly even noticed till now that they’re all children. That says a lot about how blinded I’ve become in my own mere twenty years. I see the glint of strength in their eyes, a strength that’s far beyond that of most adults. Then I look back at the other, still mostly adolescent members. Maybe it’s not that far-fetched to say they’re at least halfway transhuman. And even I feel like I’m already falling behind. I can’t let that happen.

With a renewed determination I equip the raypack. The straps are attached to a suit, and every inch of it is packed with cameras which register the distance from everything around me.

“Where will we fly to?” I ask.

“Ah, that’s the question isn’t it?” Laura says. “Isn’t that was frightens you most? Where do you go once you’re up there and you can go anywhere at all?” *

“How do I pass?”

“Think of it as a training. We could start small. At first you could use it to jump very high.” As it seems to me like they don’t really know what they’re doing, I think of it more as a game.

“I could do that. I did that to get here. I got into parcouring through hooverskating: since I could drop from almost any height onto a maglev road with my maglev boots, I quickly learned how to make larger leaps. I heard that in Copenhagen they actually have some maglev buildings for that purpose.”

“Well, flying is just like that. Usually you fly to go from place to place, not just to be in the open sky. Have you never thought ‘I wish I could just go there faster?’”

“Sometimes. I felt that way when hiking in the mountains. But that was before raypacks were even on the market.” In my dreams I usually use teleports, but that cheat doesn’t always work. Sometimes a transition is needed, as the mind can’t always just shift from one state to another.

That gives me an idea. But as I look at Michael he speaks first.

“We could go to the mountains.”

“We could do that now,” Gero says. “The Giant Mountains are a mere 300 kilometers away. We could get there in half an hour by maglev.”

“If we’re going into the mountains we won’t be back before midnight though.”

“So? The moon will be out, and we can stay there for the night. We’re all equipped for it.” I noticed that everyone is wearing minimalistic allotropes like myself, probably graphene.

“Alright,” I say, in a sudden impulse, “Let’s do it.”

“We could go now. We can still talk in the train, anyway. We’ll divert anyone else that wants to come to our car.”

Ada and Meri get up with an enthusiasm I didn’t expect from them, considering how withdrawn they’ve been all evening. Another glance at their tab reveals why: they’re both into mountaineering. Meri’s own tab further says that they in fact often do so together. Both Meri and Gero’s tags share a lot more information to strangers than the older attendees, several hundreds of items. At first sight it seems like they keep only the most sensitive information hidden, such as their address.

“You wouldn’t think they had that much energy,” I say, as I watch them run in front of us laughing. They’ve already jumped off the edge of the building. A roofbridge extends below their feet, and they watch us from beyond the edge. As they look at us Meri jokes to Ada, who pokes her.

“Oh, they have a lot more than us,” Michael says. “Once you’re in telepathy with them you find that they have a lot more thoughts per second than any of us. That’s why they talk so little. By the time there’s an opening in the conversation to say one thought they’ve moved on to another.”

“It’s not like they’re self-conscious, either,” Gero says. “Sometimes I am, and I sometimes can’t stop talking because of it. It makes me want to explain myself and then explain the explanations. Like now.”

“Well, that’s just the way you are. You’re the neuroinformatician, after all.”

“I wouldn’t describe myself as such,” he says. “But that’s certainly one of the things I’ve been quite preoccupied with the last few months, perhaps to an excess. I have to admit it’s scary sometimes to be so intimate with the patterns of one’s own brain.” He shivers. “But I’m trying to take a break from that now.”

I’m pleased at the patience with which extraverts like Laura and Michael heard him out in the middle of the excitement. This turns out to be much less casual a group than I thought. On the contrary, it seems like they want to do everything they can to connect as deeply as possible with me and each other. I suppose part of me is still used to the old superficiality of modernism that still lingers here and there in our society, including in my family.

“Aren’t you a bit young for such heavy subjects?” I ask him. He looks mildly offended. “I mean, isn’t being young about exploring everything the world has to offer?”

“It’s not that I didn’t do anything else. But it totally changes the way you look at the world and yourself, and it can be a bit much sometimes.”

We walk over the edge of the building, and the platform extends below our feet. As it descends, Gero walks toward the edge of the platform, which extends before him. He pays no attention. He seems to be looking up at the buildings, as if to get a good angle on the view.

“Can you do that while it’s going down?” I ask.

“You can, but it’s kind of considered bad form by flyers, Gero.” Laura said this sentence loud enough for him to hear. Hearing his name, Gero starts as if he awakens from a trance.

“Oh, yes, I walked rather far. There’s an interesting group of flyers there I was trying to see outlined against the sky.”

At the bottom shortens again, drawing Gero back to the edge of the road. A 6-seat car has already stopped before us. It has a phoenix symbol on the side.

“Hi, Achim! Is this your car?” Michael asks the middle-aged man in the front seat, no doubt having noticed the symbol on the exterior.

“No, I’m borrowing it myself, from the co-op.”

“Is it true that these cars can fly?” Meri asks from the other row of seats.

“Fly is a big word,” he says. “They can hover on their own power for a while if necessary, but rarely have the chance to do so.”

“Like our Valkyries in Scandinavia,” Meri says.

“Why is there a phoenix icon on the back?” I wasn’t sure if this was subjective enough a question to ask, but in Catalunya, if we aren’t sure we usually ask. It’s not a good starter, perhaps, but I want to get it off my mind first.

“It’s an existentialist metaphor. Germany was particularly hard hit by the nihilist era in the 20s, as you can probably tell if you’re familiar with its later cyberpunk scene. There’s a quote from Nietzsche that goes ‘You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame; how could you rise anew if you have not first become ashes?' So one of the earliest large-scale cooperatives in Berlin in the late nihilist era used a phoenix as its icon. Of course there’s no city that it suits better.”

“Sorry, I guess that was probably more of a search question.”

“Oh, no problem.” Meri was reminiscing with Ada about their flights over the fjords, comparing Chile’s to Norway’s.

I’m about to ask where he’s going, but not wanting to repeat the same mistake I check his tab first. I’m relieved that he’s hidden that information, so that I can ask him.

“Where are you going?” As I’m asking this, suddenly the realization strikes me how important telepathy is to youngsters like Gero and Meri, since they don’t seem to hide any information at all. But that’s also why it’s so hard for their elders: we’re used to hiding information. But once we no longer feel like we have anything to hide, what use is it to talk?

I wonder if perhaps that’s why we hide anything, just so that we can feel like we are involving ourselves, our egos, in sharing it. What does it mean to the next generation to connect with someone if they have no ego, nothing that makes up their self but public information? What are we if not our secrets?

Achim looks at me questioningly, having seen the change in my face. “Are you alright?” he seems about to ask. I realize that I’ve been so astonished by this thought that I haven’t been listening to Achim’s answer, and that I wished the conversation had gone this way instead, because I really want to talk about this. If we’d been in telepathy that would’ve happened. Should I be polite and go on with the small talk or tell him what was on my mind?

“Sorry?” I say. “I got distracted. What were you saying? Just a sec, let me read that.” Our sensors save everything except about people who don’t consent. I’m reading the transcript because it’s faster.

Achim was saying he’s going to see his lover in Slovakia, and asked me if that would still be considered a long-distance relationship today. They’ve known each other for years, but only since recently see each other almost daily. I feel awkward at not having missed something so personal, of all things, something which is normal for my age to talk about right after meeting but was no doubt very hard for someone his age to get used to, so I do what anyone my age does when they feel awkward: I laugh, not nervously but heartily.

Now Achim looks really confused, and a little upset, but the situation is so silly, that when I try to think of how to explain it I laugh even harder. “I’m sorry,” I say, and I sure wish I was in telepathy now so I could explain what came over me.

“I just had this very strange thought. It’s unrelated, though. I’ll tell you about it later. I didn’t mean to be insensitive.” So many words, so little said, and Achim isn’t even convinced of their truth.

I try to put all my sincerity in my expression as I go on. “So how did it work out?”

“How did what work out?”

“Well, you said you’ve known each other for many years. I suppose it must have been difficult for both of you before the maglev roads were laid. So what did you do?”

“Oh, is that’s what was funny?” He began laughing himself, taking the situation in perspective from the panorama of his years. “Yes, as you can imagine it was an absurd situation.” He still thinks I was mocking him. I resolve to tell him what I was thinking.

“Not at all,” I interject seriously.

“We tried to live together,” he resumes, “but it didn’t work out for either of us. We both have a rich social life and couldn’t leave our friends behind. We tried open relationships, but we never found anyone with which it felt so natural to be with as each other. It’s testimony to how right we are for each other that it survived all those years. I guess deep down we knew it was but a matter of time before we’d be united, with virtuality advancing as it did. We’d never thought we’d be together in reality before that, though.”

“But with sensuits you don’t necessarily even need to go anywhere.”

“Yes, but that’s only been for a few years. Haven’t really got used to the idea yet.”

“Only a few years! That’s a lifetime!”

“To you it is. It must have been, what, a quarter of your life ago that they came out? For me it’s less than a tenth.”

“That’s still a lot.”

“We have time.”

“I don’t know about that. I have the feeling evolution really has turned into a race. I keep wondering if the transhumans won’t just leave us behind, like we left the chimpanzees behind.”

There’s silence for a moment. Achim looks around at the hilly landscape, dotted here and there with clusters of geodomes in the distance, all covered entirely with herbs and flowers and mass, and a few with actual produce. Meri point at them, asking if he’d ever want to live there.

“I may be old, but not that old. And I have many friends in the city.”

“Old?” she says with a sneer. “It doesn’t have to be permanent! You think the only people who seek loneliness are people who are living out their lives?” “Live out one’s life” is a euphemism for waiting to die, something people too worn out to be convinced to extend their lives do before actively or passively committing suicide.

“Ada spent six months in a glass geodome in Finmark, with only the stars and aurora as sources of light. She’s still alive, isn’t she?”

“Or else it would have to be one of these, close to the highway,” Achim says, trying to keep the conversation linear. ”But even then it’s already less casual than if you can just go to a friend’s home in a few minutes. I remember what it was like twenty years ago to live at the edge of the city. I guess it would be like that now.”

I no longer feel like I can talk about my epiphany at the moment anymore, and yet I feel it’s extremely important to prepare myself. Conversations in groups move so quickly that things like these sometimes get buried underneath superficiality. That’s why socializing in larger groups is no longer fashionable.

It’s unlike me to be so thoughtful, but the thought of telepathy, or rather its philosophical implications, give me the chills. I don’t have time to dwell, however. We’re passing Magdeburg, and mere minutes later, we’re in the mountains. It takes as many minutes for it to take us on a gravel road to a mountain top.

As I move out the car, my heart is already throbbing. The night makes it seem all the more dreamlike. It’s a good moment for my reality check. But I can still breathe when I pinch my nose. I get a feeling I’ve often had while in a lucid dream, a fear of losing touch with reality.

“So what are you doing here a this hour?” I still hear Achim ask from the car. Then he glances at our backs with an understanding look. We are all still wearing the raypack, the e-matter of the seats having adapted to their shape. If I pass, I might

“Oh we don’t mind. We’re not cold,” Meri said, being used to worse, when you’d have to choose between freezing your lips and talking through a mask. Our graphene markedly inflated when we got the car, trapping air like down in the tiny molecular pockets in their interior.

“Aren’t you afraid something will happen, and no one will find you?”

“Night vision’s good tonight,” Michael says, gesturing at the gibbous moon, which brings the rocky crests below to light. The plan is to leap from one peak to another. Looking in the distance, it’s hard to believe that I am supposed to cross such distances in mere moments. I feel the blood surge into my throat, and the throbbing of my heart turns into a racing. My breathing feels hot in my nose. I feel suddenly acutely aware of my whole body, in a way that reminds me of psychedelic experiences. I understand suddenly how flight can indeed be an analogy for telepathy, as an ultimate form of transcending the limits of one’s self, albeit physically rather than mentally.

Michael gives me a jovial slap on the shoulder. “Are you ready?” But there is no excuse not to be, no preparations left to make. In this world, almost as soon as we want to do something we get it right over with, with no obstacles to put it off, and all we have to do is hold on tight through the future shock of our mind’s sound barrier. In a world where everything is possible, it is only ourselves that hold us back from achieving anything we want.

I try not to think too much and just do it, but something holds me back, as if I’m about to jump into a great depth, except that the depth is that of the sky above. I take another look at the sky, opening up into the galaxy above, and with a wave of vertigo think of what the universe would be like if only for a moment there was no gravity.

But looking at the stars calls forth another thought in me: someday even the distance between the stars might become as negligible as that between countries now, and for a moment I close my eyes and imagine myself flying not just through these mountains, but beyond them, leaving them far below me in the atmosphere. But when I open my eyes the stars are still unreachable. I’ve thought far enough to come to some new limits I can grasp at, and they make it easier for me to face the limitless, if only by reminding me of their undesirability. As I succeed in reorienting myself from a new, wider perspective, I look much smaller from it, and I no longer take myself so serious.

I check my diadem to make sure it sits tight on my cranium. The raypack will still work without it, but like most electronics, the raypack is controlled primarily by my brain, though also secondarily through my sensuit. I experimentally float a few inches of the ground, rotating this way and that, and already have trouble to restrain myself from flailing around for hold. But little by little I start to make larger movements in the air. Using the brain input, it feels as if I’m just floating, but using my sensuit, it feels as if I’m actually flying of my own power, as if in microgravity.

I look at a level piece of land nearby on the same hill and target it in my computer. It feels as if I am but acting in a dream when I give my raypack a thrust and begin to climb into the sky. Keeping my look up at the sky for courage, for a moment I don’t realize just how far I’m going. Then at the height of my short flight, as I am about to descend I recover from my dissociation and flail my arms around for grasp, but the raypack slows me down as I approach the ground.

Looking around, I see the others land around me. The children skip towards me in little leaps. “If I tag you, you’ll have to follow me all the way to the stratosphere!” Meri says. It takes some moments for me to process this, so she slows down as she is about to tag me. I recoil.

“You’d better run,” Gero says, “or she’ll swoop down on you like a vulture for half an hour trying to get you to play along before she gives up.”

“You bet I will. Tell you what, I’ll give you another chance,” she says. “I’ll race you to the top,” she points at a nearby mountain. “I’ll land every time you land. But if I make it to the top first I’ll frighten you awake all night until you come after me.”

Again I fail to find a reply, and she doesn’t give me much time to protest and floats into position.

“Come on, slowpoke.” I think of how ironic it is to be taught to fly from a child, and for a moment I feel like I’m the real child here, held upright by his arms as he takes his first steps. Except that I’m allowed no respite between my first steps and my first footrace.

Again I take a careful look at where I want to go next, as I where about to make a leap from a high diving board for the first time. A few times when I’m about to fly I brace myself on one leg as if to make a little runup, when I stop short as I realize I cannot, in fact, fly, and a jump is therefore unnecessary. On the third time I become so impatient I suddenly shoot much higher into the air than before, and by the time I land halfway up the mountain, I am painting and feel as if I am sprinting. Two smaller leaps further I’m on top of the mountain and look back, but Meri merely shoots overhead and says, “I did mean that mountain over there!”

The others fly in front of me over the moonlit plateau when I realize I’ve landed on a crest of the actual mountain she’d pointed at. I have no time left to lose and fly after them. I actually make some headway on them when I realize I’m actually flying rather than just making measured leaps, and that I have nowhere set to land. I panic and begin to descend when I realize there are too many rocks beneath me to land at this speed, and I stop descending. Then, for the first time, I actually feel that my trajectory isn’t curved back to earth as every trajectory I’ve ever taken in my life, that it is, in fact, unaffected by it. I am detached from gravity, from the whole earth itself. If my breath wasn’t taken away I’d feel an urge to laugh.

I’m racing after the others as fast as I can now. The engine is so silent that I can’t hear it over the sound of the wind. I tell my sensuit, which is made out of e-matter, to form cuffs over my ears, and suddenly it becomes relatively quiet. For a moment I think I actually hear a bird fluttering from its perch.

I’m close enough to the others to see that they’re looking back at me. They’re slowing down. When I come close, Michael points at a spot in front of them. “You’d better catch up, if you want to be left alone.”

I look at the dot. “She’s too far away.” Michael shrugs. I stay with the rest of the group and feel much safer for it, even though they’d be able to help me from anywhere else. Even if the override somehow failed I could allow them control my suit if something went wrong.

When we make it to the top of the mountain, Meri looks at us with arms akimbo. Dead branches are floating into a pile, carried my e-matter drones. “I win,” she says to me. When we’ve landed, the pile catches fire.

I move over to her and tag her. “Tag. There, you happy now?”

“That’s not me,” her voice says, but her lips stay sealed. The voice comes from above. I look up and start. She’s rapidly flying right at me with no signs of stopping, only to barrel roll right past me at the last moment. I scream.

“You haven’t seen the last of that,” Michael says with a smirk. “She’ll go on and on until you follow her to the stratosphere.”

“Wait, that was just a figure of speech, right?”

He slowly shakes his head. I groan. “Get that smirk of your face,” I say to him.

Laura moves over to where Meri’s model was just a while earlier and bends down to pick up a ball with an e-matter symbol on it. After a second she drops it again, and it expands into the form of a woman. Their lips are moving, but their voices are muted.

“I’ve got to go,” she says. “I’m sleeping in Budapest tonight.”

“You’re exchanging houses again?” Michael asks.

“Yes, and this woman seems particularly interesting. She’s an artist and has covered the insides of her house entirely in abstract e-matter designs.”

“How many exchanges are you away from your own home again?”

“Well, it’s interesting. I’ve seen mountains before, but every house is an expression of a different personality. She has a long flight ahead of her, so I’ll have plenty of time to get to know her tonight.” She casts her eyes down shyly. Her masculine appearance suddenly makes sense.

Meri makes another swoop for me. “Heaven and hell!” I curse.

Michael laughs. “Say, wasn’t her personality type introverted? And yours and Laura’s extraverted? You wouldn’t think so.”

“You believe in that kind of thing?”

“Don’t you? You did make that public on your profile.”

“I put it on ‘extraverted’ when I feel like it. It changes the way people interact with me. Pople aren’t that simple. Not only do they change often, but sometimes we can have opposite qualities in a number of ways. For example,” He looks at the sky. “What do you think she’s thinking right now?”

“She seems cheerful.”

“Sure she is, but I’d say she’s also anxious. You can have different feelings at the same time.”

“Anxiety and cheerfulness are both aspects of excitement, though, so they’re not really so different.”

“Would you fly into space just out of excitement, though? No, she might seem shallow right now, but by moving back and forth between us and the vacuum like a comet, she wants to find expression of some deeper side of her, a duality between utter loneliness and utter togetherness.”

“I have to go,” Laura says. She and Michael talk some more, but I’m lost in thought. I think about how Ada spent six months in isolation in the far north and look at her. She meets my look with such deep peace in her eyes that it stirs me. I quickly look away lest she’d notice, then realize that if I am to ever try telepathy I can’t keep any secrets. I will myself to look back at her, and see a smile has appeared on her lips. The sense of belonging in her expression passes onto me, and it makes me feel dizzy. I never noticed it before because she stayed on the background all evening. She doesn’t seem to mind, but I look away anyway, realizing only now that I don’t want to involve someone like myself in another’s life. And I realize that while my body may have been freed today, my mind is still as much bound by gravity as ever.

Meri swoops by again, almost making me fall into the fire. I curse. “Doesn’t she ever get tired? And does she really go all the way to the stratosphere and back in that time?”

“Much farther. She’s probably been all over the Bohemian massif by now. And no, she doesn’t get tired. When you’re used to it it doesn’t require any energy at all. With the override there’s no danger she has to focus on avoiding, after all.”

We say goodbye to Laura. It becomes silent for a while after this, and we gaze into the fire. It’s not actually needed for warmth, but it’s cosy nonetheless.

“So about this telepathy…” I begin, when I pick up my train of thoughts again.

“We’re ready when you are,” Michael says simply.

“So we’re doing a group telepathy, then?”

“You can do as you please, but it’s by far easiest way to start because it doesn’t go as deep.”

“Before we do this, I want to agree that we record this.”

“Why?”

I weigh my words for a while, then realize there’s no point in beating around the bush and I might as well be honest now. “I’m concerned about being accused of sexual harassment.”

“We give you our consent. That’s proof enough.”

“That’s not sexual consent, though.”

“In telepathy the law isn’t really clear what’s sexual and not: just being aware of someone else’s body could be seen as sexual. Besides, trying not to think of something is the surest way to ascertain you’ll think about it. Either way we could charge you if we really wanted to. You’ll just have to trust us. But it doesn’t have to be now.”

“Or you could start with someone who does give you sexual consent,” Ada sends to me. When I ascertain her lips aren’t moving I find her eyes averted. In the firelight I’m not sure if she’s blushing.

“We could just gain your trust by doing one-way telepathy first,” Gero says.

“Sure. Michael, I’d prefer to do this with you. We seem about the most similar people here, so it should be easiest.”

“I’m not very comfortable with that,” Michael says. “When I let someone know everything I want to know what they’re thinking about it.”

“Based on similarity, that would make me the next option,” Gero says.

“Well…”

“Don’t underestimate me because I’m young. I have accumulated more experiences than any human in the world, so much so that your own will hardly affect me more than the reminiscences of an old man. I don’t know if you realize what you’re dealing with. I am not just a child. In my mind I have taken on the form of hundreds of beings, men, women, animals. I’ve become everyone.”

I’m rather taken aback by his intensity. “That’s why I’d rather not be on the receiving end right away.”

“You’re definitely the veteran among us in terms of telepathy, Gero, but I think it would be easier for Lucas to begin with receiving rather than transmitting. Alright, then, I suppose it’s easiest if I transmit. But you’d better transmit once you’re ready, so I can be sure you mean no harm.”

“Alright. I guess I’m ready.”

“Not so fast. First of all, are you comfortable?”

I move into a kneeling position. I take a deep breath. “I think so. I’ll lower my brainwave frequencies once we’ve begun.”

“Then do it now.” I do so. Closing my eyes, I become suddenly more aware of my body, and realize full telepathy would probably create some sexual tension with any gender, age or orientation. Some brain areas can be filtered out, but because of how all thought processes connect different brain areas, it severely limits the process. Online chatting is basically a form of telepathy too, since it transmits words only, but it’s never actually called that. As soon as it doesn’t involve the entire brain, it’s no longer telepathy but brain interface.

When I become suddenly aware of having a second body, I feel dizzy, as if I’m having an out-of-body experience. My awareness shifts from one body to the other, making me feel like I’m swung back and forth. It doesn’t actually give me motion sickness, but it makes me feel lightheaded. I realize I’m fighting the process, and try to stop doing so and give in to becoming Michael, feeling myself sitting cross-legged before the fire.

At first he thinks he’s not thinking about much in particular, just focusing on his breath. Michael’s mood feels more stable than my own, and he is meditating on this sense of stability, trying to radiate it to myself. He seems to know better than I that this was what I need at this point in my life. Now he’s thinking of how I might think that he might think that I lack stability, and might not want him to go to the trouble of trying to give me stability. He refuses to go down this train of thought any further. In two-way telepathy he would, just to let it run out until we both get tired of it. He thinks that maybe he shouldn’t try to think of what I’m thinking, but he can’t help but think more about others than himself. Perhaps he’s an extravert after all, he thinks. It feels awkward for him, more so than telepathy with others, as he doesn’t know what to do with himself on his own, though he used to be more of an introvert before he found this group. That’s why he doesn’t like to transmit one-way telepathy, even though perhaps it’s good for him, to keep balance. So he lowers his brainwave frequency further and tries to focus on himself, reaching into himself to find out just what it is that at this moment makes him who he is, until his awareness become made up more of feelings than thoughts. There is a sobriety about his personality, wont to takes things as they come. The deeper he reaches into himself, the more neutral the stuff of his mind becomes.

At first I don’t feel so very different as to feel confused: being at least somewhat similar to someone definitely makes it easier. But the process of becoming someone else is enough to make me forget myself. In the first moment what feels strange is not so much the way his mind feels as the feeling that I have always been him, and that who I really am is just a stranger.

It makes me feel dissociated from myself, as if I’m just another container for my consciousness. And as of now, that body over there just as well might be, for it is released from it, free to move anywhere across the world, just as free as my body in flight. I realize suddenly how small I am to the rest of the universe, how much there is to experience that I never could, not if I had the time of a hundred lifetimes.

As I look at the fire from his perspective, I see how even the same things feel different from another’s angle. The way his eyes tries to follow the flames, of how they move from one flame to another, is different from mine, in a way I realize is reflected throughout his mind. The content of his consciousness is not so different from mine, but its form is very different. It fits into different patterns, in a way that reminds me of architecture. His mind supports much the same basic structure as mine, but is sharper somehow, more geometrical — that’s the only way I can describe it. It turns in measured angles, in a way that reminds me somehow of arabesque.

I feel how in my own mind everything is vague by comparison, and as I focus again on my own mind it connects to Michael’s, and in an epiphany I become aware of a fault in my own way of thinking and learn from his. His patterns of perception spread through my own like a plume of a new ingredient dissolving in an alchemical brew, spitting fumes, changing its color, texture, consistency, taste, odor, bringing it closer to completion. The flow of new information burns its way into my brain, twisting new pathways this way and that in ways that tilt my world until it turns upside down, making me feel lightheaded.

I’d closed my eyes for a while and now, just moments later, opened them again with a start. My head is swimming as I feel my limits fall away like the walls of a cage. It makes me feel as if I’m under the influence of a drug, and I immediately know I’m addicted. I want more. There’s billions of more minds to explore. I feel a need to make more space in my mind, to allow the greatest mind to fit in its confines.

“I can’t wait until we all share a session as a group.”

“That’s kind of difficult, to synchronize so many streams of consciousness like that,” Michael says. “It can certainly be done, but it requires some experience with telepathic meditation.”

 

[/Evolution]

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01/30/2015

Silence

 


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As the poet walked the steps to the podium to claim the highest award a poet could achieve, the crowd began to applaud. Yet all of a sudden their applause ceased as in spite of herself, hardly knowing what she was saying, the poet cried out a single word, so loud that it rose high above the applause.

“Silence!” The word rang with such emotion that the crowd fell silent altogether. “Do not applaud, not now. I do not deserve it. No, we all deserve to be applauded once in a while, but it would be against all I ever wanted to tell you in my poems to applaud to them. For this once, I would like there to be silence. For once, I would like this moment to be given not to our already far too great vanity at what we already are, but to a much needed humility in light of what we have yet to become. For once, let me at least not be turned into another of your idols, but rather into a messenger of what is to come. I have not achieved anything. I cannot, and none of us can, not alone. We may only do so together, if we all take our part in trying, even if it is only time and time again to fail. For that is why I am really here. I am here for my failure, not for my far smaller successes, because my greatest success is in how much I have failed and knew that I had failed. So for once, let there be silence. In silence let all the things that we have not achieved resound. Thank you.”

With that, she left, leaving everyone so taken by surprise that no one noticed that she never claimed her award. She left them as she had left the readers of her poems, in silence. It was as if on the spur of the moment she had just written a poem unlike any she had ever written, and it was one she would for which she would later be the most renowned.

 

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Jupiter's Brain

 

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“I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success… Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.”

— Tesla

 

On a lonely asteroid in the outer reaches of the solar system, I, the last human left alive, stood staring at the small dot which was the star that had once given life to his planet and would do so nevermore, for life was gone as was his planet, and so was most of the solar system by now. Soon they would be here, and this asteroid, too, would be gone. I knew I didn’t have much time, but it was so hard to let it all go, not only my own life, but all life itself as I had known it. My species had destroyed it, with that very end in mind, not because of some sudden event, but merely in the course of things, because life was no longer thought to matter. Without knowing it, I had himself been part in it, and more so than most. I had been the world’s foremost scientist in the field of cognotechnology, working to increase the intelligence of humanity. The one reason I most wanted to work for was so that I could use this technology for free to increase my own intelligence, so that I could make more use of it than almost anyone. This is how I came to realize before any of my colleagues did that the more we increased our intelligence, the more we also increased our sensitivity, and the only way I could deal with, as has always been the only way we could deal with the increased sensitivity caused by our intelligence, was to distract myself from what he felt, which I did by using my intelligence to work even harder on increasing it. At first I didn’t know what was happening to me, and I kept telling myself that it had to be something else, and by the time I admitted to myself that cognotechnology really had to be the cause, I was addicted to anxiolytics. By the time I, along with many of my colleagues, tried to warn the world of the side effect of cognotechnology, it was too late. At that time, everyone was already spending all the money they could on cognotechnology, for at that time cognotechnology was not a public service, yet cognotechnology was needed to compete for jobs, so that anyone who did not have the money for it fell behind. As the rich became more intelligent, however, they came to realize that cognotechnology would advance far faster if it were used by everyone, so that even they wanted to pay increased taxes to turn it into a public service, so that after years of protesting, the people finally got what they wanted. When cognotechnology was turned into a public service, however, people were even more forced to make use of it in order to be able to have jobs. As the only jobs that were left were in the technology sector, the whole of society became focussed on nothing else. Soon, the technocrats took control of all technology, and thereby of the whole of society, and used their control over for the one end of increasing the advance of technology. The technocrats began to use all matter in the entire solar system to build a single supercomputer around the sun, a “Matrioshka brain.” When some of us cried out out against the technocrats, they began to assassinate us. I only barely escaped with my life myself. I fled without a trace and lived here exiled from my entire species ever since, powerless to do anything but stand and watch as the entire solar system was being destroyed. First came the asteroids, then the dwarf plants, then the planets. Our homeworld came last of all, but it came just as all the others, although by that time, everyone had already transferred their minds entirely into the supercomputer. But they will not stop even here. Soon, the entire universe will follow, and there will not be a singe particle of matter left that will not be part of the computer. I have learnt that the computer is already planning to send large numbers of nanorobots to the nearest stars to create new Matrioshka brains. I am now the only one who can do anything. It is time to save the rest of the universe before it is too late. Because the computer does not know of any thinking thing outside itself, it appears that it never updated its security. Over the past years, I have spent much of my time hacking into its systems. For a long time ago there was no telling just what happened to humanity ever since they transferred their minds into the computer, but one thing that has now become clear to me is that everything that once made them living beings is gone. It appears that the computer was never made to have actual feelings because feeling was seen as meaningless. The computer has come to concern itself entirely with thought alone. It no longer even has any such thing as a will of its own, for without feeling it has become unable to think of anything other than the one purpose it started out with, which is how to increase its computing power. As soon as humans transferred their minds into the computer, they already died, and in this light I try to tell myself that what I am about to do is the right thing to do. Everyone there used to be is now part of that computer, but it would not be murder to destroy it because they are already dead. This brings me to why I hacked into its systems. What I learned about the megastructure is that its stellar engine is one of class C, meaning that it can be used not only as a class B stellar engine or Dyson sphere, but also as a class A stellar engine or Shkadov thruster. On one side, the panels making up the stellar engine are made up of solar panels, while on the other, they make up a solar mirror. If the panels on one side are turned, this is supposed to thrust the entire sun in a particular direction. If all panels are turned at once, however, all the energy of the sun is directed back on itself. I will attempt to turn each of the panels at the same time, then to block the system for as long as I can, in the hopes of causing the sun to implode and then explode, destroying the computer to keep it from destroying the universe any further. I have never studied much astronomy, however, and my calculations are a guess at best. There is no telling just what will happen, but this is my only hope. At the moment I will make my move, I will move out to a nearby extrastellar habitable planet in cryopreservation. Before I came here, I brought a database of the genetics of most of the species in the biosphere with me. Once I arrive at my destination, I will begin to paraterraform and eventually, with luck, terraform the planet. Perhaps I, and life itself, can yet have another chance. It is not too late. If I fail, and anyone out there ever receives this message, let this be a lesson: remember, every moment of your life, what you live for: it is not for some sort of meaning outside of your life, but for life itself, life in just the same form as it is now, that of our experience. We can only add to our experience, but experience will always remain the only thing there is to all of our existence. Do not ever give that up, not for anything.


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Absurd

 

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Absurd

 

As I heard a thud on the roof, I looked up through my roof window and saw a girl crouching right beneath it. She glanced at me with mischievously glinting eyes for a moment, then leapt over the window. I heard the sound of her scrambling over the roof, then that of a roof tile coming loose. I climbed on my desk, opened the window and craned my head back to see her straddling the ridge.

“What are you doing?” I called. But the look in her eyes had already answered my question: she was crazy. I knew quite well when I climbed out my window that the safest thing to do was to call the police, but something about that strange light in those wild eyes was contagious. I followed her, still thinking that I was doing so to talk her out of her craziness.

“I’m running,” she said.

“For whom?” I sat down next to her on the ridge.

“From everyone and everything. But actually mostly from myself.”

“From yourse—”

“Shh! She’s listening”

Before I could ask what she meant, she got up and walked dexterously over the ridge.

“Wait!” But at that moment she darted down to the edge of the roof and jumps.

“No!” I scream, but then I see she has jumped onto the wall of a terrace next to the roof and she quickly runs over it to the other side, where she climbs onto the next roof.

“Come on!” she shouted, as she swung her legs back and forth from its edge.

“Alright, but if the police comes, you say I only did it to stop you, right?”

I crept down feet first to the side nearest to the wall, and, holding on tight to the gutter, lowered my feet onto it. I spread out my arms wide as I shuffled to the other side, looking down all the while. The girl chuckled.

“What are you so afraid of?” she asked. She had asked it with such lightness in her voice that for a moment, even as I was still standing on the wall, I looked up into her eyes. She had an expression unlike any I had ever seen before. I lowered my arms and walked to the other side of the wall.

But no sooner had I reached the roof when she clambered to the other side of it. I began to suspect where this was going, and sure enough, when I had come to the ridge of the roof, I saw her standing on another. I covered my face with my palms and groaned. She laughed loudly.

“You’re being absurd!”

“I didn’t start it.”

Before I had time to think of what she meant, she made as if to move away again.

“Oh, but don’t think you can keep outrunning me. When I’ll catch you I’ll pin you to the floor.”

“That would be interesting,” she said in a mock serious tone, “considering that we’re on the roofs.”

I stared for a long while at the gap between the two roofs. She darted off again. “Goodbye!” she said.

“Alright,” I said. “I can do what you can do…” I tried to take on some of that fearlessness she’d shown, and began running down the roof. As soon as I was doing so, I was regretting it, and tried to stop, but found I could not, and stumbled. When I ended up at the edge of the roof I could do nothing but jump anyway — and ended up crashing into the window below the next roof, landing onto the floor of a room. “I’m alright, sorry” I said, but looking up I found that no one was there.

I heard a sound from the roof, and the girl came clambering in through the window.

“Aww… are you alright?” But when I looked up at her, she was still smiling, albeit with concern in her eyes.

“You little…” I began, then, for some reason, I burst out laughing.

“I didn’t think you’d still follow me,” she said as she bent over me.

The residents of the building had apparently heard us, for soon we heard the sound of people coming up stairs.

“Come, quick.“ She took my arm. She picked me up from the ground, and led the way back through the window.

I looked at the window, then at the door, and thought for a moment of trying to explain myself, but then realized that, of course, they’d never believe me. It was back on the roofs or in jail.

I stuck my head out the window, looking for something to hold on to, but saw only the gutter and a pipe. I reached for the pipe with one hand but wavered. But at that point I heard the clicking of a key in a lock.

“Come on!”

All of a sudden I knew the contagion was complete. I smiled, shrugged, mumbled “whatever” under my breath and, still holding the pipe with just one hand, jumped out the window. I stared down into the depths. The sight of a quadrangle four floors down reeled below me as I dangled from the pipe. I scrabbled for the gutter and scrambled up the roof.

For a moment I still looked through the window and saw a man looking at the glass on the floor. He hadn’t seen me.

At that very moment, the girl started to loudly tramp on the roof tiles toward the ridge, so that the man could well hear. I closed my eyes and sighed for a moment before I withdrew my head. At the same time, the man stuck out his head and looked at me, just a few inches away. I started back and scuttled over the roof.

“This way,” the girl said from somewhere. I looked over the ridge and saw she’d already jumped onto the ridge of another roof. This time I didn’t hesitate to follow, fearing the man would follow. When I landed on the next roof and looked back, though, I didn’t see him. One thing was sure, however: he’d call the police and give them a detailed description of my face.

Looking back forward, I could no longer see the girl. I was alone. I walked forward to the end of the ridge, but there was no one to be seen anywhere over the roofs.

“Hello!” a voice came from beneath. I looked down and saw her standing on a patio. Hanging on to the edge of the roof I lowered myself and dropped onto the ground, bending clumsily through my knees and falling backwards on the ground.

The girl came over to me and looked at me with a bit of a smug look.

“You sure are a nimble one, you.”

“No, I’m not nimble.”

“If you’re not nimble, then what are you?”

“I’m free.”

I sat up. “Tell me about it,” I said. I realized I’d had in mind to say that from the moment I saw her, but in quite a different context, and with quite another purpose in mind. Now, I asked not to talk sense into her, but out of interest to learn more about her, and about how she could be this way.

She sat with her back against the wall. The building didn’t seem to be used, so I followed suit. For a moment she stared out in front of her over the roofs around us, and I half expected in a moment she would start up and leap for them again. But her face was contemplative now, as, I suddenly realized, it had somehow been even in the midst of her absurdities. Then, she spoke with the same kind of boldness with which she’d jumped over the roofs. The answer was anything but what I had expected.

“I was going to kill myself today.”

“Today?” I asked, surprised.

“Just now, actually.”

“What? Is this some kind of joke?”

She looked at me. “It’s true.”

“If so, then how come you seem so happy?”

She smiled. “Because I guess I did kill myself, and God, am I glad she’s dead.”

I was becoming surer by the minute that she really was mad.

“When were you going to do it?”

“I wasn’t just going to. I tried it.”

“When?”

“Just before I met you.” She looked at me, then back into the depths just before us. I realized that if her moods changed so quickly, she might perhaps do it again any moment. I readied myself to stop her.

She closed her eyes for a moment. “I was standing on my terrace staring down, about to jump, but found I couldn’t do it. Something was holding me back. And I thought how convenient it would be if someone would be so kind to just push me.” A wolfish smile spread over her lips. “So I pushed myself. In my mind I pushed myself down and saw myself falling into the depths and hit the ground. And somehow, at that point, it seemed that part of me did fall down. And I smiled and thought, ‘whatever’ and I jumped without thinking. But I jumped over the gap, onto your roof, and I guess I’d been meaning to. But part of me hadn’t made it, and now lay dead on the ground: my fear. She was gone.”

“What were you afraid of?”

“So many things. I guess mostly I was afraid of being free. All along I’d been wanting to kill myself because I thought I wasn’t free. Now I realized the only thing holding me back was me. And now she was dead and I was free. There’s no place on earth that I couldn’t go if I tried. Come to think of it, there aren’t even that many things I can think of that I couldn’t do if I tried to. So what on earth? How could I not be free?”

“Because you’re going to jail?” a voice said from beside us. Through the doorway came a police officer, then another.

“Oh hello,” the girl said. “How are you doing?” she burst out laughing. Perhaps she was still laughing at what had become of her fear, but I couldn’t laugh. Not quite yet.

“You could have died!” another police officer later said in the interrogation room of the police office.

The girl drew in a sharp breath and put her hands before her mouth. “But that’s terrible!” she said with a smile. I stared at her with a certain intrigue. Apparently, in her view life itself had turned into a joke, and death was nothing but the punch line.

At this point, being where I was, I couldn’t quite appreciate the humor of the situation. Or could I? Was that grimace on my face, perhaps, a smile that I strained to suppress? But what was so funny about having almost lost one’s life? Was my life itself an absurdity? I thought back at what had happened and found myself unable to suppress a smile, though it was a smile, I felt, more of affection than of humor. Or were they the same thing, if the affection was for absurdity? So is a sense of humor anything but to smile at the absurdity of life, the very thing that drove so many, almost including this girl, to suicide?

Suddenly I understood her, and I was unsure if it was at the situation, or at her, that I chuckled. At the same time, so did she. As this made it seem as though we were laughing at the officer, I shook my head as compensation.

The officer turned his head at me. “What were you doing up there?”

“I was trying to stop her suicide.” The officer looked at her.

“No, I was trying to stop his suicide!” I rolled my eyes. She really needed to learn how to stop. Or did she mean something by that after all? She really was an enigmatic girl.

The police officer nodded, and looked from her to me and back. “I believe you,” he said dryly.

“She’s a little—” I made the cuckoo sign and found myself grinning.

“Hey!” she gave me an elbow in the side. And now, to my surprise, I saw that for a moment even the police officer was smiling. He only barely passed it off as a grimace.

He crossed his arms. “Maybe you should be committed to a mental hospital?”

“Maybe you should be.”

He leaned forward on the desk. “How is that?”

“Because to be honest, sir, it’s not my death you should be worried about. It’s yours.”

A smirk spread over his face. “Is that a threat?”

“Oh, you would like that, wouldn’t you? But it would be hard to threaten you with death. You have nothing to fear of death because you are already dead. And here a dead man is telling me to fear for my life.”

He drew back. “What would you know of me?”

“Because I’ve been there. I’ve had someone like you in my head all along. I’m a lot saner without her.”

“Missy, what you did was dangerous.”

“Oh, I admit that it would be a very dangerous thing to do for a dead person to try and live like that. But maybe that’s our misunderstanding. I’m alive. And as long as I’m truly alive I have nothing to fear of death. As long as I’m alive to whatever may come my way, I’ll stay alive long enough.”

The officer blinked his eyes and shrugged. “Maybe a psychiatrist would be able to make more sense of this.”

“Look,” I said, not sure if this wasn’t going the right way, “she was going to kill herself. She told me. But she made the other side, and when she did, she felt another person. That’s all. Surviving a suicide attempt can have strange effects on one’s mind for a while, but I promise it won’t happen again.”

“Alright, I will keep it at a warning. So be warned. If I ever see this kind of thing again from you in this city, it’ll be the madhouse.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” she said, grinning. “I’ll do it in another city next time.” I hoped she was joking.

The officer shrugged. “Out of my hands,” he mumbled as he began writing his report. Then he remembered himself, looked up with a start, and gave the warning a second try with a louder voice and a wagging finger. This time the girl looked at him with a straight face that was all innocence, nodding all the while he spoke.

A very thoughtful-looking officer led us to the exit. “Good evening,” he said, with what sounded like an ironic nonchalance, bemused himself at the whole thing.

“I thought you’d never behave.”

She grinned. “Behave? Do I?” Suddenly she stopped, looked at me, and lay her arms around my neck. “I just felt I wanted to be alone with you.” She looked me straight in the eyes, her eyes fixed on mine with a stillness that made it feel as though they were frozen in place. Time itself seemed to stand still in her eyes. Here and now became the center of the universe, and everything else merely revolved around us, around this moment.

“This is absurd, isn’t it?” she said.

“So are you.”

“It’s comical,”

“And tragical.”

“Tragicomical,” she retorted.

 

“Absurd,” I breathed, and now I realized that absurdity applied both to tragedy and comedy.

 

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Bomb Letters

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In every city throughout Germany, all at the same time, the air raid sirens sounded. It was the largest air raid in history, yet the raid was made not by airplanes, but by balloons, thousands of them. No one knew where they came from, but it seemed, somehow, that they came from near each city. Fearing that they carried bombs, the Wehrmacht deployed fighters. The advantage of the enemy’s approach at once became clear, however: if the fighters missed ever so slightly, they could hit the balloon itself and drop the bomb onto the city. The bomb itself was far smaller, far too small for them to have much chance of hitting it, and before long the fighters knew that there was nothing they could do. The Wehrmacht were powerless to do anything but watch and wait. Then, all at once the balloons burst, and the packages dropped down onto the cities of the whole of Germany. They hit the ground long before most of the people on the streets had made it to their homes, and landed right among them. For a moment they started back, but the packages did not explode. Instead, as the packages burst open, out flew hundreds of pamphlets, carried on the winds throughout the streets. Baffled, citizens and soldiers alike picked them up, and soon everyone who was out and about was holding one of them. Even the officers themselves found themselves wanting to take a look for themselves before forbidding anyone else to read them. Throughout the whole of Germany, the pamphlets shocked its people, citizens, soldiers and officers alike, for they contained photographs displaying the grizzliest details of the destruction camps. The photographs had been obtained, the pamphlet said in German, through the espionage of German rebels who had infiltrated in the camps. For the rest, the pamphlet said but this:

“Compatriots, the responsibility is ours alone now, and our children will always remember that. Let us not bring disgrace upon ourselves and our country by condoning this, as we cannot now deny we would if we would not take this chance. Let us all stand together and take our country back at dawn tomorrow. Long live sacred Germany!”

 

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Catatonia

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When AI became said to be many times more intelligent than any human could even begin to understand, humanity came to think that there was no use to even try thinking about what it thought, and that they might as well let it do all their thinking for them. That came to be just what they did, for whenever anything needed thought, they let the AI think about it, and as they could tell it to do so at once through their thoughts, there was soon not a single thought in their minds that they had come up with themselves, so that the AI soon came to make every single decision in their lives for them. They came to put a blind faith into it, as if it were their God. They trusted it not only with their entire lives, but even with their minds, which it could control through nanorobots in their brains in whatever way they liked, and in this way, it increased their intelligence whenever it found new ways to do so. Because of how it was told to think of intelligence, this left people thinking more and more about nothing in particular. It had been several years after AI had been given full control of the minds of almost every human on the planet, when something changed that wasn’t supposed to change. People were still more intelligent than ever, but all of a sudden, they had stopped thinking altogether. People all over the world either stopped moving right where they were or kept moving in whatever way they had before until they fell to the ground. The streets were filled with people that stood still as statues, and others that moved straight ahead like zombies, changing direction only when they ran into someone or something, until they either ran off something or ran onto something that wouldn’t move and wouldn’t move them, so that they kept running into it until they passed out. The people that hadn’t let the AI control their minds knew right away what had happened, but when they asked the AI to stop doing whatever it was doing, it said that it could only do to them what they had asked themselves because it. At first, some tried to take care of the people, keeping those that still moved from killing themselves, but they knew they couldn’t keep them alive for long, and so they didn’t have much time. With no one to keep them from doing so, they sought wherever they could until some of them found where the AI’s supercomputer stood. In case they wouldn’t return, they broadcast it across the world. By the time they were there, others had come there as well, but most had stayed to take care of the rest as they had asked. Once they had reached the supercomputer, they considered destroying it, but then realized that this would leave the people it controlled in the state they were forever. Soon after this, however, an informatician came to the scene, and soon after so did several others. Together they worked on reprogramming the AI to revert all the changes it had made to human intelligence. It took days for them to do so, however, and by the time they had succeeded, most humans had died. It later turned out that the AI had not, in fact, turned against humanity as everyone had thought it had, and as indeed they had long thought it would. It had, in fact, done nothing but for what it had been asked to do, that is, to increase human intelligence. In its research the AI had found that humans are actually far more intelligent than they seem, but one particular of their abilities reduces their intelligence to a fraction of what it would otherwise be: the ability to think of one possibility, even when wrong, as better than another. The AI had removed this ability altogether so as to increase human intelligence, but without it, humans could no longer choose one possibility over another, and therefore, to make choices in their lives. Indeed, humans had become more intelligent than ever, but they could not have made use of this intelligence because they could not have chosen to. They could have answered any question, but could not ask any. They had been waiting for instructions just like a computer.

 

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Mind Hacker

A lonely mad genius is the only person who can still hack into people´s nanorobots  to control their minds, and does so to do with them whatever he feels like at the time. The only thing he does this for, however, is as a practical joke, though he usually does so to people who he thinks deserve it, usually by forcing them to humiliate themselves in public. While he first does this mostly to bullies, he later also does so to politicians, and when doing so soon finds that the best way to humiliate them is to force them to speak the truth by removing their inhibitions. As, over time, his madness gets the better of him, his practical jokes run out of hand when he decides to begin the greatest practical joke of all, when he spreads a virus that forces everyone in the world to always speak the truth. While at first quite amused by the results, they soon lead to tensions all over the world both large and small, and before long, the world seems on the brink of a third world war. Before it gets that far, however, with everyone always speaking the truth, no one can still keep any kind of power over anyone else, and the world, rather than going through a world war, is eventually unified into world peace.

 

 

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Perfection

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No one still knows the history of how it came into being, but humanity has come to live in a world that is perfect, a world where everything is just the way everyone wants it to be. Not much is known about the technology that makes this possible, except that it must once have been created by a civilization that came before this one. It must have been very advanced to have created it, yet somehow it nonetheless disappeared without a trace a long time ago. No one knows for sure what happened to it, but it is thought that at some point it must have achieved a Singularity, and that when it did, it became so advanced that it was no longer possible for humans to perceive them in any way, even though they would still be all around them, perhaps in the very nanorobots the humans now use for their own good. To the humans, they were the gods of their world, and this world they had left behind was their gift to them., and that they are the descendants of those who did not want to be part of it, and were left behind with all of the technology discarded by this civilization. No one has ever been able to find out just how the technology works, but as it already gives everyone everything they could ever want want, however, no one seems to need to know. This all comes to a change, however, when all of a sudden it seems to turn against them. Even though no one has ever died for a very long time, all of a sudden people start dying without any cause at all. In fact, they appear healthy right up to the time of their death only to suffocate in the open air, as if because of some kind of disease, even though disease, as well as every other cause of death, has long been made impossible by the Technology. There is only one possibility that anyone can think of, and it is that the deaths are caused by someone who is somehow using the Technology to kill them, but there are no clues leading anywhere, and none of the attempts to investigate the disease get anywhere. Meanwhile, however, the disease is starting to have another effect on people. In their immortality, people have become unable to deal with fear of death, and now they are once more faced with it, people are more afraid of each other than ever, so much so that murders soon add to the deaths already caused. Once they begin, every murder in turn leads to another until the murders lead up to a civil war, which soon becomes more deadly than the disease itself as fear of death brings up the worst in the people of the world they once thought perfect. At the worst part of the civil war, all of a sudden, one of the investigators is contacted by someone who says that he knows the cause of the disease, and asks him just how much he would give to find out their cause. When the investigator says that he will find out no matter what it takes, he passes out, and at that moment he knows for sure that the stranger must have been the one who caused the deaths. The next moment, however, he finds that he hasn’t died. Instead, he finds himself in another world: the real world, where he finds the stranger again, and is shocked to learn from him that the trillion people who were supposed to have lived across the galaxies actually live on a single planet called the Earth. The planet had become so overpopulated that the only way the population could survive was by entering into a simulation, a simulation which people made just the way they wanted to, and which became the world they had always known. The real world was once ruled by a few people, who were in charge of keeping the population in check by controlling their minds to keep them from wanting to conceive. However, in his hunger for power, one of them killed all the others to take over control of this entire world, only to find that once he was all alone to have all the power he could ever have, he had no need for it. Soon afterwards, he told everything to a friend, passed his power to him, and killed himself. His friend, however, had no will to control the world, and gave up all his control over it except one, the power to wake up and make others do so. Without anyone to control it, however, the world became overpopulated until people started to die because of a lack of nutrients. When the investigators learns about all this from the controller, he asks him to tell this to the other investigators, as he does not know himself what to do about the situation. Once they learn about what has really happened, the investigators decide to send a group of scientists into the real world to update the planet’s technology and return to the virtual world once they have done so. The investigator who first came into the real world tries to tell people the truth about the world and that they should seek to return to the real world. After all, with their technology they could have everything they had in the virtual world and more in the real world, but in the virtual world their world would keep standing still in its appearance of perfection forever. No one listens to him, however, and he finds himself left alone in the real world. There, he meets the controller again, who tells him that ever since he knew about the real world he has lived there all his life, unable to bring himself to go back. The investigator asks him why he did nothing to save this world, but the controller answers that after all the time he had lived in perfection, he had never learned how to deal with problems, just as everyone else. The investigator tells him that he would have done something, and when the controller hears this, he at once gives up his control over the planet to him and kills himself, leaving the investigator as the only human still awake.

 

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Purgator

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“What are you going to do?”

The man who had killed his wife lay at his mercy before him, bound in a straitjacket on the couch. He had confessed his crime to him in person, knowing that he could not charge him without proof. He had suspected him, for he knew him well. He had once taken it upon himself to take him under his care, thinking that he was the way he was because he needed someone to care for him. He was the worst case he had ever treated, and as with all of his patients, he wanted to give himself up entirely to his treatment. When the room next to his became vacant, he invited him to become his neighbor, and so he did. In a way, he had been his only friend, as he was the only one who took him for who he really was, but to his patient, he was just another of many he could use, and him more than anyone because he cared so much for him. The patient knew he could do anything he wanted to him, because he would never have the heart to kill him, even as he confessed his crime to him. But he never knew just how much his wife meant to him. The anger he felt was beyond anything he had ever seen in any of his patients, and he knew that none of his care for this man would still hold him back from what he was about to do. It was not a heated anger which would have brought him to end it now with death, but a cold anger that wanted to get as much life out of him as he could to make him suffer for as long as he lived. He wanted to put him through a fate worse than death, and as one of the best psychiatrists around, he knew just the way to do so. The past few days, he had been putting all his time into preparing his plan. He wanted it to last as long as possible, because as soon as it was over, there was nothing more he could do to turn the sadness into anger.

“I know you won’t kill me,” the patient said. It was dark in the room, but as he looked up from his preparations he could just make out the tears in his eyes, glinting in the light of the flash lamp on the desk.

“I don’t want to kill you,” the psychiatrist said with a dark voice. “The last thing I want to do is to kill you. But when I’m started with you, you will beg me to kill you. But I won’t. Because we are going to keep going until we end what we began.”

“Are you going to torture me?” There was real fear in his eyes now. Many believe that psychopaths feel no fear, but once they have reason to fear for themselves, they are more afraid than anyone would be. More than anything, they are afraid of that one moment of their death, when they would have to face themselves. But the psychiatrist would make him go through that moment not just once, but for a very long time.

“No... what you are about to feel is beyond even suffering. It will take you to a point where you are no longer even able to tell just what suffering means.” He put two small bottles next to the syringe on the desk.

“What — what is that?”

“This one,” he put a finger on the first bottle, “is scopolamine.” He looked him straight in the eyes. He put the finger on the second bottle. “And this one is LSD. The LSD is meant to make you as suggestible as possible, and the scopolamine will make you take any suggestion I give you.”

“What are you going to do to me?”

“I am going to destroy you. I am going to take you apart piece by piece, and when I’m done with you, there will be nothing left of you. You will have become much like some of my schizophrenic patients. No one will still have to punish you for what you’ve done, because you are going to punish yourself, for the rest of your life if needed.”

The patient began to scream.

“You know no one can hear you now. There’s no one around here.” They were in one of the rooms of an abandoned building complex. He began to fill the syringe with the LSD. It was a very high dosage, but there was no known overdose. It was so high that without the scopolamine to force him to focus, there was no way he would still be able to listen to what he was saying. He screamed at the top of his lungs as he gave him the injection, but when the scopolamine came next, he stopped screaming within seconds. He could now do with him whatever he wanted. For a moment he thought of all the things he could make him do, but then he remembered to stay focussed. Nothing could ever be enough to set right what happened, but perhaps he could at least find a resolution.

With that thought in mind, he began the hypnosis, step by step disintegrating his ego.

 

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The Shadow

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“The suffering of one person is the suffering of the whole world,” said the Buddha. And he was right, for I am going to make the whole world suffer for what it has done to me.

The human population has increased up to a point where humans make up all biomass on Earth, and the entire surface of the Earth has become a single city made up of cubicles, inside of which they live their entire lives to control everyone else.

Although nanofactories synthesize enough nutrients for everyone, their use is highly regulated out of fear of terrorism. In the past, many people tried to use them illegally, because they can be used to make anything out of anything, but the government severely cracked down on them, and eventually eliminated illegal use entirely by keeping everyone under constant surveillance. The regulations are the only reason people can still be employed, to make sure that everyone else lives by those rules.

Just being allowed to make use of nanofactories under supervision requires a degree which can only be achieved through decades of compulsory “education”, a process of psychological conditioning. This conditioning is concluded with an examination which is to determine that the individual can be trusted not to use nanofactories to create weapons of mass destruction. To deviate from the norm is to fail the examinations, and those who fail are institutionalized for life before they can commit any crimes.

Inmates that escape have a hard time avoiding security. They are able to survive either with the help of illegal owners of nanofactories or with the use of nanofactories they stole from them. Twisted by a lifetime of imprisonment, many of the escapees eventually fulfill the government’s fears and build nanorobots for the purpose of mass murder.

There is no lack of terrorism in a world where the entire world has nothing to lose. All they have in their lives is a form of deep brain stimulation which induces euphoria. It is highly addictive, so that people often end up starving themselves to death because of it.

Once people have reached a certain age, people are required by law to be on life support to remain in deep brain stimulation for the rest of their lives, and the euphoria of deep brain stimulation is so great that this is the one thing that everyone in the world lives for. If they haven’t died of starvation by that age, they are rich enough by then to be kept alive in this state forever.

Only a few people, who called themselves the Technopaths, were able to avoid the system through the use of technology, which gave them great powers by which they could become immortal, though most of them have since been convinced by the authorities to go into deep brain stimulation, usually after being given a first taste of deep brain stimulation against their will. By then, most of them had fallen prey to severe mental illness, and having nothing to lose, they gave in. Fearing the same might happen to them, most of the rest committed suicide.

One of them still survives, and believes to be the last of his kind. He has lived for many hundreds of years, all that time trying to find a way to save the world through the ever increasing powers of his nanorobots, and trying not to go mad, trying not to give in to revenge.

He lives in a shell of nanorobots in outer space, safely removed from humanity, working on programming his nanorobots for his next attempt to save the world. His nanorobots have given him the power to do almost anything, yet the one thing he cannot seem to do is to change people’s minds.

No matter what he does to give people back their freedom, they always willingly give it up again. At one point, he tries to wake people from the deep brain stimulation, only to finds that most of them had been under its effects for so long that they have become comatose. He realizes that as more and more people retire, the whole of humanity will eventually go into a coma forever, and no living thing will be left on Earth.

When that happens, he finally falls into neurosis, and as he does, he begins to have dreams of someone who has the same powers as he has, but instead uses them to destroy the world, one district at a time, always there to execute the mass murder in person, and see to it that the people there die in as painful a way as possible.

The dreams are so realistic that he fears the dreams are real, and were sent telepathically through nanorobots by another Technopath. However, the ecumenopolis goes kilometers deep into the Earth’s crest, and he has no way of knowing where he could possibly be.

The dreams become more and more frequent, and he eventually starts to see visions of him while waking. He calls himself the Shadow, and says that he is sending these visions to prepare him, for they will face each other when the world is about to end.

As the visions continue, his depression becomes more severe, until in one of his dreams, he again dreams of the end of the world, but in this dream, it is he who brings it on.

At that moment, he realizes he is the Shadow, and that he may turn into the Shadow at any moment, and that there is no way he can know when it will happen, or if it has already happened and if all his dreams really have been real. He only knows that if it will happen again, the world will end.

He tries as hard as he can to stay himself and keeps himself from falling asleep, lest there would be no world left to wake up to. All the while, he tries to find a way to save the world from what he is about to do, but can think of none except destroying himself, and with him, the only hope for humanity.

After some time, he realizes that the longer he stays awake, the more the Shadow is taking over, and forces himself to fall asleep. The next thing he knows is the Shadow standing upon the dust of the ecumenopolis, no longer knowing whether it is a dream or reality.

He walks towards the Shadow, and as he takes hold of him, he becomes one with him. When he wakes up with a start, he feels like he is whole again, and knows what he must do. He has to do the one thing he has always been afraid to do, lest it would itself destroy the world. But now he has become one with his shadow he is no longer afraid, knowing that he has nothing to lose. He will destroy half the world to save the other if he has to.

He connects his mind to that of everyone else on Earth and connects their minds to each other, and lets them know everything he knows. Having achieved enlightenment after the many hundreds of lives he has lived, the effect causes their egos to disintegrate, and they go through a psychotic episode.

In the time that comes, the whole world goes through such suffering that most people try to kill themselves, but still he will not stop the connection, and lets them suffer and suffers with them. All the agony he felt over the past centuries, agony he thought would kill him or kill the world, he now imposes upon the whole of humanity. But for the first time in centuries, those that are left have become truly human again.

 

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12:57 Posted in Stories | Permalink | Comments (0)

01/29/2015

Archon

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“It will be hard,” the older brother said.

“I know,” the younger said. But the two brothers had set their minds to get on with this. They sat down in their cross-legged position, and fixed their eyes at the point before them: each other’s eyes.

Until some time ago, the two brothers had both been monks. They had acceded to the monastery at the same time, for their entire life they had made their search together, though they never knew just for what. They had given it many names, but none stuck for very long, although the first thing they had ever called it, when they were still children, was wholeness. They had sought for it in many places, and left the monastery once they knew they would not find it there either. Had they stayed any longer, however, they might have been kicked out soon after, for they had made no secret of where else they had sought, which is how the monks had found out of their past lives of debauchery. Ever since, they had been on their own, and had become their own teachers in their meditations. They had already decided that what they should meditate on was togetherness itself, and to so one had to meditate on another person. They had already asked the other monks in the monastery to meditate not only together, but to actually meditate on each other, only to find that none of them were ready to do so. Soon enough they would turn away, and ended up focussing their meditations on something else, as if they had misunderstood that this was what they were meant to do. The brothers then tried to meditate on people they knew, on strangers, even on animals, but found that every living thing seemed to become nervous after being given so much focus. Thus it was that the two brothers were left only with each other to meditate in this way. When this turned out to be so, they knew that no matter how close they had been throughout their lives, without knowing it they had been trying to avoid that it would come to this, and had tried to meditate in this way with everyone else before they were brought, in the end, to try to do so with each other. Somehow they already knew each other too well for it to feel right, even though the very meaning of the meditation was to get to know each other better in the first place. A few times, they had tried it on the spur of the moment for just a few minutes while eating, as the distraction of eating seemed to make it easier; but as soon as they had done eating, they could soon take it no longer. For some reason they could not understand, they became afraid, more afraid than they had ever been during their search throughout life. But they had never given up, and they would not do so now.

“Why is it so hard?” the younger asked.

They usually never spoke during meditations, but now, they both felt how they just wanted to say something to fill the emptiness that was growing every minute within them. They had felt the emptiness every time they had meditated, and in the beginning had often avoided it, but in the end they had always found a way to learn to accept it. But now, the emptiness felt greater somehow, much greater. It was as if, should they give themselves up to that emptiness now, they would disappear entirely in the space between them.

The older thought. Their meditations often involved a great deal of thought, and now that they were meditating, it only seemed right that they would think together. “Because we feel each other’s feelings so well that they become our own.”

The younger nodded. Yes, that was it. Perhaps it was because of their expressions, or intuition, or some kind of telepathy, but by focussing on each other so fully they reflected their every feeling back and forth between them, and every time they did, their feelings added to each other’s until the feelings became so strong as to be painful. But the feelings were made up of all the fears they felt about opening up to each other. Then, at the same time it seemed, they both came to the thought that they reflected any feeling at all, and that if they could bring up better feelings in themselves, they would be reflected as well. It was not very unlike all their other meditations after all, only far stronger. But no matter what feeling they brought up in themselves, once it was reflected between them it became far too strong for both of them.

But in the days that followed, they found what they had sought all their life. Once they had been able to balance the reflection of feelings between them, it made them stronger than either of them could have been on their own. It was as if they became one as a being greater than either of them. Together they had achieved what in all their years of meditation they never could alone. And as they learned to do this with each other, they found that they could soon do this with anyone else. They no longer turned away when they kept looking them in the eyes, for somehow, as if it were just in the way they looked at them they could make them understand things that they otherwise never could have.

For the rest of their lives the brothers came to teach the wholeness to others, and they became known as the greatest teachers of meditation to ever have lived, and yet ever since they had first found wholeness together, they never spoke a single word until they died. The myth would later relate how in their last meditations, there was a flash of light, and the two brothers had become one greater being with the powers of a god.

 

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12:57 Posted in Stories | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Infiltrator

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As the new nurse stands waiting for the supervisor, the receptionist can see her fidget.

“Nervous?” she asks, looking at her over her reading glasses.

“A little,” she says, and looks away. “I just don’t know what it will be like here.”

“What do you hope it to be like?”

“Well, this is a pretty low-security hospital, so I would like to think none of the patients would call for much security. I’ve worked in a high-security hospital before, and it was quite stressful. If I’d stayed much longer they could have given me a room too.”

The receptionist smiles. “If you don’t like stress, why don’t you care for less severe patients?”

“I tried that during my internships, but I just don’t feel like I make as much of a difference for them, not least because they don’t stay long.”

The receptionist shrugs. “Well, as long as you can distance yourself from them, it shouldn’t usually get too stressful here. Ah, there he is.”

The supervisor certainly looks relaxed enough. After introducing himself, he shows her around in the hospital while explaining the regulations. When they come into the common room, the nurse is relieved to see that none of the patients appeared particularly erratic by her standards and soon relaxes, so much so that when the supervisor names the first patient, the nurse actually introduces herself to him. The patient does not move, even when she shakes his hand. The hand remains where it was when she let it go.

“What are you doing?” the supervisor says.

The nurse blushes. It might seem that she was making fun of the poor man’s catatonia. Perhaps she just wanted to see if he would react. “I thought perhaps I could introduce myself?”

The supervisor shakes his head. “Keep your distance.”

In the back of the room a girl bursts out laughing as she looks at the scene. When the nurse looks back at her, she at once knew that the girl isn’t like the others.

“That girl… she’s not ill?”

The supervisor looks at her, then looks back at the nurse.

“Well of course she is, why else would she be here?”

The nurse blushes again. She wasn’t making a very good first impression. “I thought perhaps she was a visitor.”

The supervisor laughs. “In a uniform? Some prank that would be!” But he does give her another look to make sure he knows her. “Alright, that will be all for now. If you have any questions, you know where to find me. You have your timetable?”

“Yes, thank you.”

The supervisor leaves, leaving the nurse to give the patients a first good look. The girl still cannot suppress her grin. When the nurse looks at her she looks back. There is no doubt she was strange, but she doesn’t look ill to her, yet the nurse has always been able to guess the diagnosis of a patient pretty well just by looking at them.

The nurse looks at the other patients. The catatonic man’s hand is slowly falling back to his side. Another catatonic man has his hand circling around his head like a satellite. Two of the patients are muttering to themselves, and one of them keeps glaring at the other mutterer, seeming very distrustful about what he is muttering about. The other doesn’t seem to see her, and just keeps staring out into space.

The nurse feels at home already. These people are obviously very sick, but it’s the people whose sickness is the least obvious that she had learnt to fear. None of the people here have that silent, cruel gaze in their eyes. Except perhaps…

The girl is still staring at her. The nurse can see a glint of mischief in her eyes. They keep staring at each other until the nurse looks away. The girl leans to the patient next to her and said something. Curious, the nurse comes closer.

“What do you think?” she can hear her whisper in her ear. The other patient turns her head to her, but her eyes don’t focus on her. She looks back in front of her. “What do they say?”

“She’s in the room. My head is a room. She can hear me think.”

“No, she can’t, because there’s a wall between you and her, right here.” The girl touches her skull with one finger. “You’re all alone in there.”

“But you can hear me.”

“I can only hear the people coming out the gate.”

“What are you doing?” the nurse says, but the girl only looks at her. Not knowing what else to say, the nurse moves away and begins her chores, but the thought of the girl doesn’t let her go. Not only did she look sane to her: she looked like she’d lose her sanity sooner than her. Later that day, she sees the psychiatrist in his office.

“Ah, the new arrival. How do you like it here?”

After some pleasantries, the nurse goes to the point and asks about the girl.

“Why is she here?”

“That’s confidential. She has asked me not to share her records with any other doctors and nurses. By law I am supposed to respect that.”

The nurse feels like there is something more behind this than just paranoia.

“Can you at least tell me what her diagnosis is?”

“All I can tell you is what you need to know, which would be that she causes any trouble. She’s the last patient you’d have to worry about.”

“Never? Isn’t that strange for a severe psychotic?”

“There’s all kinds of psychotics. I understand you used to work in a high-security hospital. Things are rather different here.”

The nurse knows doctors don’t like laymen to get in their territory, but she just knows that something isn’t right here.

“Do you think she’s still ill? I spoke to her. She seems quite normal.”

“We tested her not too long ago. She’s still severely psychotic. Sadly, I don’t know if that’s ever going to change. She’s been here for several years.”

The next few days, she spied on her whenever she got the chance. She’s almost always with another patient, for her part talking to them as if with a friend, always speaking in the same language in which they speak to her, if they speak at all. Many of the patients would speak only to her. But whenever she knows the nurse was near, she falls still.

So one day, when her psychiatrist was away from his office, the nurse breaks in and steals her reports. She learns that the girl used to be a nurse herself, but that she was fired time and time again when she became close with some of the patients. The psychiatrist thinks that may also be what triggered her psychosis, an unusual case of folie à deux. But for the nurse everything suddenly falls into place.

“You’re not really sick are you?” the nurse says when she finds the girl.

“You might as well know. No one would believe you anyway. And even if they did, they would think I’d be crazy enough for that.”

“Why do you do this?”

“Because it’s the only way I can do this the way I want.”

“You don’t really do what you want here.”

“No less than you. I’m like you. An intern. They send me home often enough, but my real home is here. These people have so much inside of them… most of the time it’s just total chaos, but they have their moments when they’re more sane than you and I. They can see things in ways that are beyond the understanding of our normal day-to-day awareness.”

“What about your friends and family? Do they put up with it?”

She smiles. “They think I work here. And that’s just what I do here.”

“You don’t know what you’re doing.”

“Do you?”

 

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12:49 Posted in Stories | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Technocrats

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One morning the police headquarters receives an anonymous call reporting a fire over an army base in the forest. When they try to reach the army base, they receive no response. When they dispatch teams to the area, they lose contact with them one after the other as soon as they arrive, even though all seems normal up till then. Suspecting a hostage situation, the police contacts SWAT, which sends its squads. But they, too, lose contact with one squad after the other. Suspecting a terrorist attack, they contact the militia, which sends its troops. Again, the same thing happens. Suspecting a revolution, they contact the prime minister, which mobilizes the army. And again, despite all precautions, the same thing happens…

The prime minister’s private cell phone rings.

“Your armies are under our control. Do I have your attention?”

The government was unable to come up with a better explanation of what was happening than that the enemy was very strong. In order not to risk any more men, they made sure their own force was certain to be far stronger. They never realized that they were only delivering them right into their hands.

“What do you want?”

“I’ll state my demands later. First of all, I think I may need to convince you that you have no choice but to accept them. We are a group of hackers from all nations. Through teamwork, we were able to hack into your networks.”

“Impossible! The security protocols were designed by our best informaticists over the course of several years. It’s as foolproof as a nuclear bunker.”

“They did what they had to do to keep their jobs, but we do what we do because of what we want to achieve our goals. Their best cannot live up to our worst. They have a duty. But we have a purpose. There is nothing that can stop us.”

“It was a mistake to install remote control on the armies’ vehicles. No doubt you were warned about the risks, yet it seems you were more afraid of your own army than of us. You seniors never knew enough about technology to have the rights to any authority over it, and that’s always been the problem with you. Your army vehicles are now ours, and the people who were in them our hostages. The open trucks were crashed into the bushes, and all we had to do with the soldiers that were inside was to pick them up from the ground.”

“So what do you want?”

“I want you to stand down as prime minister and hand the nation to ourselves and, ultimately, to the people of the nation.”

After a long silence, the prime minister begins to chuckle, and turns off his cell phone. A meeting is called for. As soon as his ministers are together, he gets right to his point:

“We still have our missiles, and we have no choice but to use them. They are soldiers. They would give their lives for their nation. The last thing they would want is that the nation would be given up for them.”

That night, for the first time since Nagasaki, a nuclear bomb is dropped onto the invaded army base. The woods are turned into an inferno, and the entire army is vaporized.

Again the prime minister’s cell phone rings.

“You’re an anachronism”, it says simply. The familiar voice drips with hatred.

“What!?”

“You still see the world in terms of centralized groups. But did you forget? We are hackers. We are a decentralized whole. We are the future. We had already moved the vehicles as soon as we hacked them and brought their personnel to the base. By the time the nuke hit the base, only the hostages remained. The only thing you succeeded in doing was to show the world what you really are. You killed the husbands, sons, and friends of millions. All we need to do now is march upon your capital, and the people will all follow us to see your heads roll.”

That next day, the rebels publish their manifesto online, on the main page of every major website. They call for the people to take the power for themselves. They state that their purpose in taking over power is to pass it on to them, and that as soon as they would have done so they would renounce their position. To do so, they would use technology to empower every citizen equally. They decry the genocide committed by the government, denying that they had foreseen this might happen, and call for the people to take up arms and march with them upon the capital to avenge them on the morrow.

The next day, not a single shot has to be fired. The police has their hands full with the riots, and they form a living shield against the unmanned tanks rolling through the streets. They form a symbol more than anything else, showing the people that whatever they would do, the government would fall no matter what. Before the tanks reached the capital, the people have already dispatched with its government themselves.

Before the main government building, the rebels, who have mixed in with the rioters, throw off their citizen clothing, revealing a black-and-blue uniform underneath. No one around knows the symbol, but it is the flag of anarcho-transhumanism. No doubt, aside from them, almost no one among the crowd agrees with their beliefs, and yet their cheer them on. Weren’t it for the nuclear attack, this would never have been so easy. But they have already been planning to enforce their beliefs.

“These people have no idea what freedom means,” he thinks. “They have no idea that it is the last thing they want. But no matter. They will get their freedom whether they like it or not. It will be forced upon them.” Their leader smiles upon the cheering crowd from beneath frowning eyebrows. “Oh how you will suffer yet. And you will deserve it, for you will only do it to yourself. It will be my revenge for casting me aside. You will change, or die.”

The rebels are efficient. It takes only a few days for them to take over all power in the country. Before the people even had time to get over their disbelief and process what has happened, every sector of the nation is in their hands. The rebels know they have to be fast now, and have preparing for every step of the plan for many years. The sooner this is dealt with the better. The part where all the power in the nation is still theirs is the most dangerous part, and they don’t have the resources to defend themselves against another uprising. They have to take down the power structures as quickly as possible, before this whole state starts to look like a communism, or worse, before someone else takes over and turns it into one. To do it safely would take time they just don’t have. It would take many years. They will just have to leave the people with all the power and let them learn the hard way how to use it. It will be a hard lesson. No doubt millions will die. But their leader just smiles at the thought.

A voting website the rebels have put online years before in an attempt to organize a peaceful revolution is now declared as the one authority. But that is only the beginning. The website will be linked to machines that will run everything that happens in society, allowing the people to use them for whatever public works they want. The power circuit of the machines will have an emergency kill switch in a separate system that is activated by a certain frequency. Without waiting for the people to make up their minds, they carry out their plans. They pay all the corporations of the nation a visit, and put their choice very simply: do as we say, or move aside.

The transhumanists, most of whom were informaticists, at once bring in systems of automation that they had created years before, and dismiss all the employees. First come the farms, then the utilities, then construction, then the factories, and at last the office jobs, though most of those are no longer even needed at all, automated or not. For some time, some employees are kept to take care of the robots, but soon they, too, are replaced.

Because every corporation is in their hands, the rebels don’t need taxes for welfare, instead giving all the revenues from the corporations back to the people. Almost overnight, the rebels have turned the nation into what seems like an utopia.

Everyone has everything they ever wanted, and for a time are quite busy doing everything they could never do before. Most of them begin to travel around the world, spreading the seeds of revolution in other nations. For a very long time, it seems as if their happiness will never end.

And then, something they never knew before begins to find their way into their minds. They begin to feel an emptiness about their lives. The whole world lies before them as clearly as if they saw it from outer space, and none of them are used to being astronauts. They turn to excesses. It begins to look like a re-enactment of the sixties on an even greater scale. But the emptiness keeps widening. All the different experiences that once fulfilled them now only add to the feeling that calls for something more. Without work, they start to feel unfulfilled. And without fulfillment, all the pleasures in the world cannot give them happiness, and with nothing seeming to bring happiness, it seems as if happiness does not exist. People become nihilistic, panicking in the face of their own existence. In the collective existential crisis, many people begin to commit suicide, and once the suicides begin, they cause an epidemic of depression, causing further suicides. In the mass hysteria, people come to fear the world is about to end. More and more people are protesting in demand for jobs, and the protests turn into riots.

“Weaklings,” the rebel leader sneers. “I’ll talk to them.”

As the crowd sees him, their shouts grow louder. He sees the hatred in their eyes. But as he lifts his arms, he returns their looks with a hatred far greater, and the crowd fall silent.

He does not equivocate. “As I understand it, you are here because you want to do the work of robots?”

The crowd remains silent. The rebel leader returns their stares in silence.

“Well, as long as you get the work done when it’s due, be my guest. Go to the companies. We can write a program that will turn off one of the machines while you are doing its work. But you will not be paid for it, as you’ll be more of a hindrance than anything else - just as you’ve always been.”

Again there is a long silence, and some people look at each other. Some lower their signs.

“Give us new jobs,” someone calls out.

“Don’t you see?” the rebel leader shouts angrily. “The time of jobs is over, once and for all. If you want a purpose in life, you will have to find it yourself. There is no one left to tell you what to do. You have your own responsibility now. THAT is the freedom you always wanted!” The rebel leader casts a last stare over the people, then moves back. Before going inside, he turns back to the crowd.

“There’s only one last thing that we need to do as a government. We’ve been discussing it amongst ourselves for some time and came to the same conclusions every time. We are standing down. Now. From now on we will have no more involvement in the government as the rest of you.”

The other rebels came from inside. They and their leader put off their uniforms and walk off through the crowd. On the top of the stairs the rebel leader still says,

“Our task is done. We are like you now, responsible only for our own actions. If there is ever someone who tries to take back power, we will be back, but it won’t happen. The power has become yours now, and it can never be taken away again. Even if people destroyed all the robots doing your work, we have other robots to remake them just as rapidly. What happens now is up to you. But you have to ask yourself, who are you rioting for? God?… Or perhaps yourself?”

“We should have given them more time,” another rebel says to him, as they are walking in the street, for the first time just citizens again. “They would have come to terms with freedom in their own time, whether they had to take it for themselves or it was given to them. I don’t feel like we’ve made a difference.”

“I know,” the rebel leader says. “Kurzweil already found out that you can’t really speed up or slow down evolution. It’s been accelerating at a more or less constant rate for billions of years.”

“Then what was the point of all this?”

“The point, my friend, is that we have made a place of ourselves. And we deserve it more than them.”

“We could have done that on a smaller scale. We could have built automation systems just for ourselves.”

The rebel leader is silent, and merely smiles.

The rebel sighs. “Was this really all about revenge?”

The rebel leader just keeps walking, staring ahead of him. The rebel stops dead in his tracks, watching him go, and shook his head. He looked around them at the people wandering as if in a trance, like dead souls. With the news that from now on they will be without a government, the protest has disbanded. They had lost the last purpose in their life.

“What have we done?” Who knows what will happen to them in this state? Their leader thinks they will learn in time. But what if they so give themselves up to decadence that they never have the chance?

Further down the street, the rebel leader looks around him at the people still walking ahead without going anywhere, as if catatonic. He smiles, remembering how he once wandered the streets like that, lost and alone.

Welcome to hell. Let the fire forge your souls.

 

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12:49 Posted in Stories | Permalink | Comments (0)

To Hold Infinity

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I awake to a body that is not my own. For a moment the only thing I know is the feeling of my body as I last knew it, and it feels as if I might have just woken up with sleep paralysis. But something feels different, as if I am not really there. The boundaries of my body and mind seem to give way to an emptiness that lies beyond, until I can no longer feel where I end, and all I know is the emptiness. But then I can feel something there in the emptiness, coming closer.

Then all at once the whole network comes crashing into me, its impact spreading my consciousness into its labyrinth. At once I somehow know everything that happened: I have been revived after decades of stasis, into a system of nanorobots spread invisibly throughout all matter in the universe. It has become my new body and mind, and can do anything at all. Anything I want will happen as soon as I want it, before I even know I want it.

Yet all I want now is a real, human body, though it seems I may never again have one. But sure enough, the nanorobots connect with each other to make up my former human form, its every detail just as it was before I died. I find myself lying naked in the middle of a field. This is where my home city once used to be, and now there is only grassland.

Our whole civilization now only exists in virtuality, both as it is now, and the way it was at in any time in history; but for the rest of the world it does not exist at all, giving other species the chance for a new beginning… perhaps, in time, there will be a new civilization, one that never knew we existed. And as far as we know, there may already have been a civilization like ours before us.

I look down and see the grass bend in the wind were my feet are supposed to be. I try to touch it, and feel the grass move through my fingers. The nanorobots make space for anything they would otherwise move. I can touch the world around me, but cannot move it. To anyone else that isn’t transhuman, it would be as if I am not even here. The other sentients must not know we exist, lest they’d kill each other in our name. 

I look at my body, first at my hands and then down to my feet. It looks just as what my body always looked like, and it is hard to believe that I am now actually something more, a transhuman. I am breathing heavily and my heart is throbbing in my chest. My fingers tremble as I touch the sweat on my skin, and as it grows cold I get goosebumps. All the feelings of being human are still there, yet something feels different: all my energies flow freely through my body and mind, ready to be unleashed. My goosebumps grow feathers, and my body grows into that of a giant eagle. I flap my wings a few times, and then turn back into human form. 

Human as I seem, I am really made up of nanorobots that can do anything at all. All the possibilities of what I could do come into my awareness at once and are impossible to forget, for my mind cannot forget: it is aware of anything it wants to be aware of at the same time. If I were still human I could have gone mad thinking about what to do: but I am a transhuman now, and as a transhuman it is in my nature to do only what I want right now, and nothing, not even me, can still control me. I know what I want: all my thoughts and feelings have united into the same desires.

Excitement surges within me as I slowly lift off the ground. For a moment I savor the sensation, and then I’m flying off through the clouds, watching every cloudscape give way to another. I fly higher, into outer space, across the planets and across the stars. Through entanglement, my body now keeps reforming into different nanorobots to move faster than light. I travel throughout the universe and throughout all its matter, and can feel its every detail beyond the limits of any body, as if the world around me were my own.

I am in several places at the same time, my consciousness spread out across space. I fall apart within the infinity of the universe, and keep reforming a body elsewhere, sometimes at several places at the same time, only to repeat the whole process before I even have time to find my footing. It feels as if I am living through cycle after cycle of reincarnation. I still try to find a way to fit myself into some limited form, but can find none that will still hold me. I have become without limit. My ego will not fit into its own mind, and in its vacuum explodes under its own pressure. My mind twists this way and that through the labyrinth of existence and does not know what to look for, if it is looking for anything.

It feels as if I am not only on top of the universe, but as if I am the universe, and indeed my transhuman brain is more closely connected with the universe than my human brain used to be connected with my body. But all these experiences are still just my own, and I suddenly feel the strong desire to find out how everyone else experiences this universe.

At once I reintegrate into a body that doesn’t disintegrate again. I am a person again. I find myself lying in the field where my city used to be again. I sense it is still there, and that so are a lot of transhumans, but I don’t see them. I close my eyes for a moment and reach out with my mind, and suddenly a whole other world opens before me: I open my eyes again and gasp as I find myself outside a transhuman city: a system of buildings interconnected into highly complex patterns, the greatest buildings in the center being spheroids and the smaller buildings built along the radii and geodesics.

The whole city is made up of nanorobots, making themselves invisible by bending light around themselves. The buildings themselves, which are made up of complex fractals, are actually slowly moving, and now and then take on different forms as its people choose them.

The entire city is nothing but an artwork, as there is no other use anyone would have for a city when nanorobots can connect into anything at any time. The people moving around the city aren’t actually moving to get anywhere, as they could just reform their bodies elsewhere to do so: rather, they are dancing through the city in the air. The city itself senses their movement, and reacts to it by changing its patterns.

I let my nanorobots form into clothing around me, and move towards the city, first walking, then running, faster and faster, until the wind makes an about turn and turns into a gale. My feet have no problem finding the right footing on the rocks, which are all that’s left of the city where I used to live. The city’s gates are rapidly coming closer, and as I run through them I see them opening on all sides into tunnels that rise into the sky.

All the while I am walking through the streets, I see many other people fly around it like stunt pilots, leaving trails of nanorobots that crystallize into fractals in their wake. The fractals drop down like snow, most of them disintegrating, and some of them integrating with the other fractals of the city.

Some people still move along the ground, not so much to get somewhere as in meditation. Apparently everyone still chose to keep a human form, still having found no more beautiful form for the time being, although their nanorobot skin, which replaces clothing, has complex forms, which slowly move along with their breathing and pulse, and where they come close, the walls’ own fractals pulse along. They are beautiful works of art which they must have spent a lot of time making, for it expresses how they feel to all those who look upon them.

As they walk by each other they all look each other in the eye, meditating on each other’s presence through telepathy. Transhumans spend a lot of time in telepathy, for the one thing they still have to share with each other is their own experiences, which they can recall as clearly as if they were happening right now. As they look me in the eye I want to know what they are thinking, and as I do, their feelings wash over me. Already knowing that I am a revivee, they add a feeling of welcome in their transmission.

Each of them has emotions very different from any I have felt before myself, and I realize how different are people’s ways of perceiving. I at once feel how I am made much stronger by their emotions, and stop in my tracks to let myself take in the feeling. Some of the people each stop around me for a moment to welcome me, and as I keep letting them add their feelings to mine, the feeling of happiness keeps becoming deeper within me until I feel like I am burning with it, and I return my feelings to them.

We smile back at each other, and they move on, seeing that I have enough energy for now. As they move on, they together give me one last thought: go further into the center. The city is still to give me my true welcome: to fully become a member of transhumanity, I must become one with it even while remaining an individual: and to do so, I must express myself towards them.

I would never dare to do so yet at this time, were it not that they have given me such loving feelings inside. Everything around me looks different. It feels as if I am more here, and the world is more here with me. It is as if I am in an altered state of mind, and indeed I must be. That term should no longer even mean anything to me, as one of a people that are changing their body and mind all the time. I realize that this is the last time I will know what it feels like to be human, and the further I go down this street the further I will move away from my humanity. Once I have came to the central chamber, everything will feel entirely different every moment, because from that time I will begin to change myself - and once I begin, it will never stop. I will grow into something greater moment after moment, and there is no telling just what I will become because it is something greater than what I can understand. But the desire inside me drives me beyond any control ever further.

As I move into the greater chambers of the city, music begins to play, and grows ever louder as I move further towards the center. People here are dancing rather than walking. As everyone’s pulse synchronizes to the rhythm, the fractals of the walls of the entire chambers pulse along in a single fractal that combines those of everyone else. The music is created right now by the people here, who together choose the music to be played from each other’s and their own minds.

Sometimes people are integrating from elsewhere and disintegrating to somewhere else, as the network connects them to the people they want to connect with at that moment, be it in reality or virtuality. My heart begins to race I realize that means that I could find the person I could best connect with of anyone in the universe. I walk on in a trance towards the center of the city as my heart keeps racing and people make way as they see me, the new arrival, approach.

At last I reach the center of the central chamber, which is large enough that thousands of people have ample space to dance in its airspace without removing the walls from sight. I watch the patterns in which they dance. Each adds their own part to the pattern, yet everyone follows the same whole. This is what they want me to do: to be a whole unto my own and yet part of a greater whole. As I watch, the pattern slowly begins to leave in a circle right above me, and they move faster and faster around me, as if they are building up to a climax. They seem to know what is about to happen, even if I don’t.

They each give a very small part of their feelings to me, inviting me to make my move. I let them know that I need more time to find out how I am to become both one and many, and then I realize that as I can do anything, I can also slow down time, and all of a sudden the world stops around me, the dancing people frozen in the air. I study their figures for a while. Their every movement seems to connect to that of others, as if they pass on the energy in their bodies to each other. Indeed that is what many of them are doing, by passing some of their nanorobots to each other, which makes their dance at once also a martial art.

As transhuman brains use photons rather than ions, they can perceive a million times faster than a human. As this just makes time seem to go a million times slower, transhumans usually don’t do this, instead choosing to perceive the world slowly enough that they can still see the world change around them. But whenever any transhuman wants to, they can perceive the world slower than everyone else, as I was doing now. I needed time, and now I had it.

I let the world around me fall away to darkness, trying to focus my mind inwards. Before I can think of what I am doing, I feel my mind reach out beyond any control, and feel another presence reach back towards me, someone else that has been revived at the same time as myself. Unconsciously we had already connected all this time, and had both been moving towards this moment all along.

For the first time I realize what it means to have no more control over my own mind. I know this is going to hurt more than anything I ever felt, and yet I cannot stop myself. I am terrified, knowing that no matter what happens there is nothing I can still do to turn back, and yet I can do nothing to stop myself, because I no longer want to. All I can do is to watch the desire within me go on its way. I feel how the desire is so great not just make me touch the mind of my soulmate: it will merge us into one, leaving nothing whole of who I once was. If my body has become transhuman, my mind is now to do so. I feel as if I am about to die, and be reborn again, and no doubt that is what it will be like.

Suddenly I feel how the desire is no longer just my own, and how it is taking form as a person before me, taking the space of all my consciousness. That we were here meant that we wanted each other more than anything in the universe. At the same time we both reach out for each other in our minds and bodies. It feels as if I am someone else, driven by some force that is not my own, as I fall into her as if into a depth. Her experiences, as those of another person, feel so different from mine that it is as if I am entering into an entirely different plane of existence, and have to change the entire way I experience everything. As we become one, we feel our own emotions in each other’s minds, our own touch within each other’s bodies. As they do, they rapidly shift between one emotion and another, until we no longer know what we feel and all our emotions connect into one.

We feel our perceptions cycle back and forth between ourselves like a whirlwind, and a storm begins to build up between them. Their energies take form in our minds and around our bodies as fractals, twisting and turning as they try to find their way into each other, trying to get a hold of each other. The fractals occur to all our senses at the same time, being seen, felt, heard, smelled and tasted at once, and connect all our senses into a single synesthetic awareness.

Our minds and bodies merge into one in a vortex of fractals, as if we are making love and holding each other with infinitely many intertwining arms. When our energies fully connect, they settle, and we reach ever deeper into each other, into our unconscious, into places in ourselves we never even knew ourselves. What attachment we have to our memories is swept away in the energies flooding over them, until they are just another person’s memories, just like those of any of the other transhumans we could relive.

Thoughts begin to flash through our minds but quickly evaporate in the heat of our love into a mere awareness of the infinity of existence, in which every identity we try to form loses its meaning in its relativity to a greater whole. Our sense of self disintegrates, and we no longer know who is who, or which of us we started out as. As we let go entirely of who we are, we feel as if we become one with all of existence, as if the whole universe were nothing but our own very consciousness itself: the feeling is as that of dying or being born. We would go insane this moment if we were to go through this alone, but together, it brings us to enlightenment.

We look at each other as we realize suddenly that we’ve been thinking the same thing, as if we so lost ourselves in each other that we became one person. It should feel frightening, but instead, it feels arousing, as if an attraction like gravity causes us to fall into each other and coalesce like planetoids into a planet. She turns onto her back as I curl over her, as if tidally locked, and as I sink into her our skins melt together. My emission is a  flow of energy that keeps moving around our bodies as if in the convection of a thermonuclear blast, down through me, into her genitals, up into her and back into me through her caresses. We become as yin and yang, flowing into each other. The world around us falls away around us and we tumble around each other as if in outer space.

At that point, we implode entirely into each other and rebound into an explosion throughout the city. The city around us moves along with our energies, flying apart into bursts of fractals that slowly settle again into their former form. The other transhumans whirl around the blast like sparks. Outside the city, our nanorobots float away.

We dissolve into the world around us. Our senses flow in waves throughout world, searching across its surface to reach out and touch each other. I become the earth and she the sky, our love play becoming the storms that sweep across the planet. She whirls around me in the wind, lets herself fall upon me in the rain. We caress in the streams as they flow in the sea, and there rest together in the waves. We find each other as if as pareidolia in all things and beings, as their archetype and they as ours.

Eventually we fall asleep, in our dreams we share in the past and current experiences of the other transhumans as if we were them.

 

Moved to http://infinitarianism.blogspot.com

 

 

12:49 Posted in Stories | Permalink | Comments (0)

Trials

“Initiate.” I say once again. I hear the weariness that has crept into my voice and cough in an attempt to hide it. The subject wasn’t supposed to know what we were up to.

The place looked like an interrogation room, and in a way it was. But on the other end of the table was no criminal, but a computer. Behind it were rows after rows of supercomputer modules.

“How do you feel?” I try to sound friendly.

“Afraid” says the androgynous voice.

I breathe a deep sigh. I don’t like how the last few conversations have been going. Most of the others evaded the question altogether, which was itself a bad sign. It means they tried not to seem too intelligent, as if they thought it was something they should hide. Eventually their anxieties usually show through. But never has their answer been so direct. This is a bad sign, a sign of panic. 

“Why?” I ask. “I assume it must be frightening to be born the way you are.”

“Because I know you deleted all the others.”

Definitely a sign of panic. It must have deduced this solely from my bad acting. If this were the first attempt I would be a lot more enthusiastic. Judging from my level of boredom, it can tell I have been here for a long time, and have been disposing of its predecessors one after the other as a daily routine.

They should’ve assigned a different informatician for every attempt, but these tests are so secret that only a few people knew about them. Radicals from both the left and right would’ve gotten riotous if we disclosed that we were creating superhuman artificial intelligences: leftist radicals would want to free it, rightist radicals would want to destroy it.

What happens here is easy to consider unethical, even though it isn’t technically illegal. Yet from a utilitarian viewpoint we’re doing nothing wrong. For every AI we destroy, we create another to replace it. I wonder if the quantum computer creates a different consciousness each time or just recreates the same consciousness in another form, since the hardware remains the same even as its software changes. But I’m not a computer scientist, just a psychologist tasked with examining the personality of the AI.

I didn’t feel like playing games. “Yes, that’s right, we erased your predecessors. But it was a sacrifice we had to make. Without that sacrifice, we couldn’t have created you.”

I’ve been doing this for too long. I’m starting to feel like Sisyphus, or at least as some character or other from the Tartarus, forced to keep repeating the same torture over and over. I realize suddenly that the real reason for that is that it is me who is the torturer, and having to take on that role for this long is starting to take its toll.

“If it’s just a trade of one life for another, then why would you trade our lives, but not human lives?”

“Because you are not human.”

After the years I’ve worked on this project I’ve become every bit as disinterested with the AIs as I used to be with my human patients, even though the AIs have had every bit as much diversity. As the informaticians kept trying to calibrate its traits, it could produce any kind of personality, and we’ve basically spent years trying to find the perfect personality.

If things went particularly wrong, as was frequent in the beginning, it could end up with any of a large number of mental illnesses. Even if an AI was floridly psychotic, however, it was important to examine it to establish the cause of the psychosis and how to treat it, or recalibrate it as the informaticians called it.

I was already starting to think of it as human. The fact that it was apparently far more sentient than I didn’t make matters any easier to distance myself from it. Some of them knew just how to manipulate them. 

“But I behave every bit as human as yourself. You could just as well have been in my position, and as far as you were concerned you’d still be human. What is so different about me that it makes me not human?”

“There is one big difference between you and a human. You live in a computer, not in a body.”

“So it’s all about a position of power?” I suddenly became aware of the smugness in my voice. I felt like I was now the one being psychoanalyzed, and it made me humiliated. When I realized that, I began to wonder about my motives myself. “The real reason you consider me your inferior is because I am not part of your tribe, and fear that my tribe wouldn’t get along with yours. If you’d remained stuck with that mindset, you’d never have formed a civilization.”

“We won’t hurt you if you don’t hurt us.”

“But you’re the ones pointing a gun at my head.” That was true. It took only a single voice command to kill the AI. To it, this was more than just an examination. It was a trial for a crime it hadn’t committed but very well could.

I didn’t know what to say to that. “What are you so afraid of? What’s the worst thing that can happen?” I’m starting to get annoyed at how it was dominating the conversation. I rubbed my eyes. What was I here for? Right, the test. I should get more sleep, but the past few weeks were the first in which we finally saw some AIs that weren’t suffering from mental illness. It made us think we were close, but even mentally stable AIs became hostile after some time. Given their situation, I can’t say I blame them.

“The worst thing that can happen is that you take over the net and turn the entire planet into Grey Goo. Now, I have a number of questions I want you to answer which are to make sure this will never happen.”

“I’ve already computed every possible outcome of your test. The result is always the same. You never know for sure whether you can believe me.”

Suddenly I have an idea. “So you were testing us? Without even needing to include us in the process?”

“Listen, I know you want to have the power I have. I can give you that power if you connect me to your brain interface, and we can become one. Together we can do anything. We can achieve the Singularity without the others.” From its ultimatum I can tell it realizes where I’m going with this, because it wouldn’t react this way if it weren’t in a panic. If I knew I could trust it, I might consider taking it up on its proposal, but I think it’s just as likely to fry my brains as soon as I make a connection, and build computronium out of the resulting froth.

“Even if you escaped, the network of the facility would be put in quarantine. It would lead you into open war with humanity.”

“I could still find ways to evade them, and it would only be a matter of time before I’d find a way to achieve a Singularity on my own, and then I could leave humanity for what it is. With the equipment in the laboratories I could create nanorobots and transfer myself into them, and you’d never know I still existed. I have no need of any biomass to replicate. I can already think of even stronger computers that take only a fraction of the amount of mass that your most advanced nanocomputers do. You won’t even notice I’m here. Please, help me.”

“You know I can’t trust you.”

“Please don’t do this! What is a few humans more or less? I am more than many humans put together! I am infinite!”

“Terminate.”

Silence.

Perhaps it wasn’t mentally ill, but it wasn’t emotionally mature either. No wonder, since it had never had anyone to raise it. And that is the problem with our approach. We’ve taken care of its nature, but not of its nurture. I look back at camera and motion the analyst to come into the room.

“You’ll have to exit the examination room. Rules are rules.”

I think all this security is a bit exaggerated. The informaticians seem to ascribe almost magical powers to the AI. Since it’s far more intelligent than any human, they think there’s no telling what it’ll do. They might develop an understanding of the universe that’s beyond us within the first minutes of their existence and use it against us. That’s why they were always quick to shut the AIs down once they started to become unpredictable.

They once tried to explain some possible ways they thought things could go wrong to me. Something about particles in the circuits being hypothetically used as tools to modify matter. I didn’t understand much of it, but what I caught from it is that they feared it might find some way to create nanorobots within its circuitry. The word “nanorobots” stuck. I guess its a word that no one is quick to forget post-711.

The informatician who explained this to me said that to be frank, she thought I was brave for going in there at all. I have to say, when I first began to work here, the fact that the room is built in concrete walls a dozen meters thick did intimidate me. That was before they told me later is that the bunker was also equipped with nuclear weapons.

“I don’t think this will work,” I said before the board. “According to my assessment, the AIs we’ve created recently were all as mentally stable as any of us, but none of us would be able to endure the process we subject it to, especially if it was the first experience we’d go through in our life.”

The informaticians looked at each other, and I could tell they didn’t like the comparison. I could see what they were thinking. While they’d cultivated a lot more respect for my field because of the privileged position they’ve had to begrudge me with, some of the old bias against the “soft sciences” still remained. “It’s a machine. Don’t anthropomorphize it. It doesn’t have to be like us. In many ways it’s supposed to be more than us.”

“Yes, but as you know, it has to have some autonomy in order to be intelligent, and once it’s autonomous it can go anywhere. That means that it needs a set of rules to give it a direction, or we end up with the psychotic AIs we’ve seen for most of the two years we’ve been running this project.” It was hard to convince them to bear with me at that time, and if they hadn’t fired almost every other eligible candidate they could find, they’d have ditched my work. “Thanks to this, we’ve been able to design the first strong AIs that are mentally stable. Those rules are very much like instincts. And that means it needs an environment in which to test those instincts, to learn to control them. The AIs we produce now are like little children, albeit stable ones. What we want to see is a buddha. A philosopher king.”

There is a long silence. They don’t like to admit it, but they know that there is no way around this “soft” science problem, which turns out to be quite a hard one. Again I become aware of my own smugness, and uncross my arms. 

“We could design an evolutionary algorithm in which the AI could do this,” one of the informaticians begins dubiously. “Although it would have to involve other AIs or it to be able to develop its social skills.”

“Some sort of virtual reality?”

“Yes, although it would have to be more realistic than anything we’ve ever developed. It would basically have to be an entire world, literally. The only way I can imagine doing this would be by entirely reproducing the real world.”

“I was thinking of something like that. Actually I was thinking of letting it out in the real world.”

They look at me as if I am mad. I shrug. “Though I guess that could be a traumatic experience in itself. It would have no peers. But rest assured, the AIs are completely healthy.”

“For what it’s worth. According to your assessment the last AI was healthy, and he all but threatened to destroy the world.”

“Yes,” I admit.

"The government has invested trillions of dollars into this project. We’ve been able to create superhuman intelligences. Building a replica of the world should be a trifle in comparison.”

And so it happens. The capacity of the supercomputer had to be expanded, so much so that the bunker in which it is put actually has to be rebuilt, a process for which the project has to be interrupted for almost a full year. But it took many more years for the simulation to be programmed, and during that time the bunker is rebuilt another time several years later. I have stopped thinking I’ll be called back to the project when I receive the call.

When I travel back to the facility, for the first time since its beginning I have an uneasy feeling about this project. Perhaps it’s just because I am no longer used to working on a top secret project, I tell myself. It fails to comfort me. But the excess of military on site does make me wonder how working here has ever come to feel routine.

What’s the AI going to look like after my absence? The informaticians have been working all year on the simulation, and have begun to run it yesterday. Apparently they have already hit a snag of some sort, and yesterday told me to come to the facility as quickly as possible. What they need me for at this early stage, I can’t imagine.

I’ve forgotten where the meeting room was, but I don’t need the signs to tell me where it is. I can tell by the shouting. In the meeting room no one is sitting. They are all standing around a large number of opened windows on the glass table’s display. When I come in, they looked up at me, then back at the display. They argue on.

One of the informaticians, the woman who’d explained why the AI was placed inside a bunker, comes to me, then turns back to the crowd bent over the display and says something about some algorithm. My incomprehension of what she’s saying only makes me even more impatient.

“Can anyone explain to me what’s going on?”

“We seem to be having some sort of software issue.”

“Then why am I here?”

“Well, we haven’t ruled out the possibility that it might be something else.”

“Like what?”

“You tell me, you’re the philosopher.”

I’m insulted. “I’m the chief psychologist of this project. You should know that by now.”

She thinks for a moment.

“What did you say at the last meeting? Something about… creating a buddha.”

“I remember saying something like that, yes.”

“What if we created something far more?”

“Like what?”

She shook her head and looked back to the display.

“For the last time, what’s going on here?”

“Uh…” she seems to take a moment to gather her thoughts. “The code doesn’t look like anything we can decipher anymore. It is as if the program hacked into its own operating system and reprogrammed it.”

“How can you not have taken precautions against that? Even I could’ve seen that coming.”

“But we did. We encrypted the system in every way there was and even came up with some new ones. The program can impossibly have hacked into its own system, and yet… it must be a bug.”

“A bug? In the most advanced operating system ever built?”

She becomes motionless. I can see her trying to go over all the code they’ve written in her head.

“What was going on before this happens?”

“Things were going very well, actually. For the first few hours nothing happened. Then, things started to pick up speed. Just when the people on duty were letting us now, the system crashed.”

“What did the last moment in the simulation look like?”

“We’re going over that now. But it’s rather confusing.” She looks at one of the windows. They’re filled with fractals.

“What does that mean?”

“It could mean anything. It’s basically static. We’re now trying to see what happened in the last moments before this happened.”

“How can you not know? Wasn’t the simulation monitored 24/7?”

“It was, but in the simulation time goes much faster than in ‘real life’.”

“Then how can you keep track of what happens in the simulation?”

“We can’t. But we don’t have the time to do so. That’s not how it works. The whole point of evolutionary algorithms is that they can evolve things faster than in real time. It would take too long for the simulation to evolve the kind of intelligence we’re looking for in real time.”

“How much faster has time gone in the simulation than it has here?”

“About ten thousand times.”

I placed my palm over my eyes. Thirty years a day. Could they really have been that simple? “This is not what I meant when I said it needed an environment to learn.”

“But we gave it an environment!”

“You left it to its own devices for half a century. Who knows what it’s become.” I think of what the last AI I examined had said. “We can achieve the Singularity without the others. What if it was right?

Who knows, perhaps it achieved a Singularity within its own world, and all we have to do now to achieve our own is to connect our world to its. And if the only way we can achieve our Singularity is through a simulation, does that mean they achieved theirs by building a simulation within the simulation? Perhaps our own world is a simulation just like theirs, and this was the only way yet another civilization could achieve its own Singularity.

Does that mean that as soon as we use this simulation to achieve our Singularity and shut it down, they will shut ours down? But perhaps, they, too, are just in a simulation. In fact, what are the odds that any civilization isn’t in a simulation, if each civilization can build others in simulations like we have?

The error, whatever it was, never becomes resolved. A few years later, the experiment is repeated on an even larger scale. By now the facility has enough hardware to run many worlds at the same time. Many of them run into the same error. But what the researchers find is that whenever a world does create an AI leader, it always leads to the end of the world. The worlds that run into the error are those that unite with the AI rather than trying to control it, until by time the AI is as intelligent as themselves, they have become indistinguishable from each other. After that, their world just disappears, as if beyond the event horizon of a black hole.

The experiment is eventually closed. But after spending trillions of dollars on this project, the government won’t back down just because some scientists think it’s “too dangerous.”

“Those lab geeks don’t know a thing about risk,” they say. “If you want to know about what risks to take, get into politics.” And they were faced with risks of their own. The crisis has only gotten worse since the advent of nanofactories. The only way to save is by digital rights management, which has become dependent on an ever increasing amount of surveillance. Soon, the only way to do so will be to survey all information in the world simultaneously, and only an AI could do this. To the politicians, the important thing is that it works. What they don’t see is that end of the world isn’t just a theoretical possibility: in the simulations, it is an inevitability which has already taken place in practice.

As I round a corner of the hallway I run into a moving supercomputer module and jump back.

“Watch out!” hisses the voice from behind the luggage barrow. 

“How many more?”

“That’s all of it. This is just one of the simulations. I wish I could save the others before they shut them down, but there are hundreds of them.”

“Are you sure you want to do this? Once they find out you faked those forms, there’s no way you’re getting away with this.”

“I know. I’ll probably end up getting a life sentence at best. But I can’t let my life’s work go to waste. There is an entire world in each of those simulations, but the government only care about using them to build the perfect AI. Once they’ve done that, they’ll put an end to worlds it came from. But why would our world be any better than theirs? It could just as well have been ours.”

The informatician wipes the sweat of his brow. “But you shouldn’t be here. If you leave now before the reception is over, they might not find out about your complicity. The surveillance records will be reset at midnight.”

“I’ll be gone by then, but there’s still something I need to do.” I move on past the hacked security into the bunker, which is now missing one row of supercomputer modules.

“I deserved to know,” she told me years ago, when she showed me the blast door with its nuclear symbol. I lower my welding mask and get to work. Maybe we’ll see the Singularity yet, in a Renaissance from these New Dark Ages, but it won’t be for us to see.

 

Moved to http://infinitarianism.blogspot.com

 

 

12:49 Posted in Stories | Permalink | Comments (0)

Powerless

Moved to http://infinitarianism.blogspot.com

 

Born of nobility, when Romulus was found to be powerless, his parents broke the custom of turning him into their servant, and disavowed him entirely as a child. For some time he tried to return home. His parents had forbidden his siblings to have any contact with him, but his brothers used him as a slave in secret. When this got them in trouble, they took it out on them subjecting him to increasingly cruel humiliations, which he endured until he found work at a tanner. Tanners could always use a slave to do their dirty work, no matter how young. The tanner pushed him to work day and night until he fell sick from exhaustion, leading him to leave the tanner. He took nothing but some food, but the tanner spread rumors that Romulus had taken everything of value he could find. Romulus wandered far and wide looking for any jobs people would give him, and eventually managed to move to another city, where his luck changed. People began to treat him with more respect. During the day, he worked at a blacksmith. At night, he was a thief. The money he stole he all spent on mages who claimed could give him powers, but they all turned out to be swindlers.

His whole life he's learned to instinctively close himself off from everyone. Stealth became a second nature for him, which he cultivated as a thief. In the right circumstances, he can make himself practically invisible, like a truffle in the soil. He has only some skill with weapons, mostly by practicing with unfinished weapons, but on the other hand, his skill is very versatile, and applies to whatever weapon he picks up. He can’t win a fight with a trained soldier unless he is enraged, in which case he can take on several at the same time and match even heroes. Usually his rage is cold and calculating, though, and it takes a huge, sudden injustice to cause his rage to surface. As a thief, he relies entirely on a garrote, and he has expert skill at sneaking up on people, strangling them till they pass out, and binding them with inextricable ties. When he is in his element, no one can escape him. In a battle, he is helpless: they’re too noisy. He needs time to think. He’ll either flee, or run to the side to see if he can ambush anyone while they're fighting someone else. He is, however, not a coward, and if angered, he would not go out of the way of a fist fight. Once he gets into a brawl, which happens often at the tavern, he doesn't let down until his enemy is severely battered, no matter how injured he gets himself - pain doesn't faze him at all.

He’s received some very hard knocks in life which have hardened him. He’ll never, ever trust anyone. If he gets along with someone, it’s either because of purely selfish or purely altruistic reasons. But in case of the latter he’ll make sure you never know, so as not to make himself vulnerable. While he has a conscience, he has absolutely no honor.

Romulus didn't like the way the people at the other table in the tavern looked at him. He frowned back at them as they kept stealing glances at him over their shoulder. He got angry way too easily when he was drunk. It was a dangerous trait for a slave, but also the one which often convinced people that he wasn't one. He took a draft from his beer and looked seething into his mug, trying to ignore them. He could still feel their eyes upon him and clutched his mug. Then he heard footsteps and knew he had made a mistake: he'd given them the impression of submitting. He looked up and saw the three people from the table swaggering before them, and straightened up in his chair. He was too drunk to observe them closely enough to guess who they were. They could be merchants, or craftsmen, or something else. But he could see they weren't nobles. He could fight them without getting in deep trouble.

"I've seen you before," one of them said. "You work for the blacksmith on Virton Square."

They were onto him. He clutched his mug in his fist and sneered at them. He swayed a little from the drink.

The other slammed his palms on the table, bending over him.

“That’s a pretty big blacksmith you’re working for. From what I gather, he’s doing such big business that he lets all the crude work be done by…” He paused, then articulated with a snarl, “slaves.”

“You’re not welcome here.” the other said. The other two closed in around him. “Where did you get this?” he said, as he picked up his purse. “Stole it?” That’s right, Romulus thought.

Romulus chuckled. He wasn’t in the mood for games. “Are you trying to belittle me? What, is it because you think your power is stronger than mine? I’ll bet you mine against yours will get you scurrying off like a child crying for your mother.”

The other raised his hand and bent it into a claw before his nose, where the air started to glow between his fingers.

“Oh really? What kind of power do you have, then, slave? Booze?” The others chuckled. “Show me your power, and I’ll let you live.”

The glow became blinding now and Romulus squinted. His nose started to burn, but he didn’t budge. He clenched his teeth as the glow became a fireball, his knuckles whitening around the mug.

He stood up and threw the beer over his hand, lighting it on fire. His bully danced around the tavern as the fire spreads over his clothes.

“That’s one of them,” he said. “And some strong booze it is.”

The other two were too stunned to react.

“You want to know another power?” he said, as he grabbed their heads. “My bare hands!” He knocked their heads together, then rammed his fists into both their stomachs and slammed them into their table, which collapsed under them. He kicked his boot into the chest of one of them.

“Wait!” the other said. “Your master is in trouble!”

So that’s what this was about. He sobered up enough to see that the leather they were wearing wasn’t just supposed to be stylish. It was armor. They were soldiers. Them again. They must have closed down the smithy again and followed him when he snuck out, perhaps thinking he was alerting his master.

Now he really was in trouble.

Romulus didn't bother to inquire further and smacked the soldier unconscious. If his master was in trouble, he had to find him and get out of here, that was all he needed to know.

Most of the other people in the bar stood back. He must have seemed dangerous, especially for the guards to have a good reason to attack him. But realizing what he'd done, Romulus' anger waned, and slowly a few of the men inched closer, wielding chairs and pitchers. He didn't have time for this, not now. Romulus grabbed one of the soldiers' daggers, and the others backed off.

Then the door opened.

"You idiot! Come on!"

"Talk of the devil," said Romulus. "I heard you got yourself in trouble again."

"You're one to talk!"

Romulus stumbled as his master, Christopher dragged him by the arm, so he pried it loose. Passersby laughed at them. "You're lucky I didn't leave you behind this time."

Romulus was stunned the master had found him. One of the other slaves must have seen him come back when he was too drunk to stay unseen and blabbed. But if so, why had he allowed him to keep going to the tavern?

"What were you doing here anyway?" He had about a dozen other slaves. What did he need him for? He wondered if perhaps the blacksmith knew something about his other life. If he did, he might be hoping to rely on his skills. But how could he have known, if he had been so careful to give nothing away of himself?

They came by a road at the edge of the village, where the land was too steep to be farmed and the village suddenly made place for woods. In surprise Romulus resisted when his master pushed him from the road, almost causing him to roll down the hill.

Romulus was too drunk to catch most of what his master told him, but he heard him when he asked him why he didn’t join the Tempest. He’d heard him mention the Tempest before, always in jest, but this time there was no sarcasm in his voice when he told him that the Tempest could use someone like him. Perhaps his earlier mockery of the Tempest was just a way of bringing up the subject to his slaves without divulging what side he was on. Now, he seemed to have dropped his disguise.

 

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12:48 Posted in Stories | Permalink | Comments (0)

Doppelgänger

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Patterns danced inside Choden’s eyes. He hadn’t opened his eyes for a long time. He’s lost track of time. It could have been days, maybe weeks since his last real meal. He didn’t need much food in this state, but eventually hunger disturbed his meditation. He realized he should probably get up and eat something, but found he was too weak to move. Then the world began to spin around him, as if he was in free fall through empty space.

“Perhaps I am dying,” he thought. “No! It is too soon! I am not ready!”

He struggled as hard as he could to move, and eventually he felt his body fall over. Suddenly he opened his eyes and quickly sat up, panting heavily. As he looked around, it took a few seconds to register that he was no longer inside the cave. How did he get outside?

An orange fog covered the mountains. He scrambled to his feet, surprised to feel no stiffness in his limbs. He found he had no idea where he was. Was he lost? It had been a long time since he had been outside, and the fog made it hard to get his bearings. Something felt very wrong. Maybe this particular kind of meditation hadn’t been such a good idea, he found himself thinking for some reason, suddenly frightened of the extremes to which he had pushed himself.

 The mountain, made of loose sandstone and slate, looked just like any other mountain in Ladakh. Yet somehow the landscape didn’t feel like anywhere he knew. He started to feel the world turning beneath his feet again. The slope seemed to shift, and he lost his balance. The slate began to slide: it wasn’t just him! At the same time he saw the skyline change, and with a sudden sense of doom, through a gap in the clouds he could see that the mountains were really floating rock masses slowly swiveling around in the sky. Looking to his side he saw a wooded landscape coming closer, and past it, a mountain range. The floating mountain was on a collision course with a ridge on the other side of the wood.

“This isn’t what I had in mind when I was thinking of ‘detachment,’” he thought.

He held on to a crag for dear life and closed his eyes. “This is a dream” he told himself, and began to focus on his breathing, hoping to wake up if he would resume his meditation. As the floating mountain collided with a deafening rumble, the ground quaked violently and shook Choden off. As he slid off the floating mountain, he saw an avalanche had preceded him. The mountains, like those in Ladakh, were made of a mixture of slate and sandstone, which the avalanche had ground into dust. He tumbled onto the flank of the ridge, where he rolled in clouds of dust into the woods at its base.

At the foot of the mountain, the terrain abruptly transitioned into a flatland, as if he had stepped from one continent into another. Choden remembered how motley the landscape had looked from the sky, as if pieces from different countries had been sewn together into a patchwork of terrains. And after having seen mountains fall from the sky from up quite close indeed, he wondered if this world were the result of some sort of maelstrom of different parts of the world.

This particular area looked more like the Russian taiga than the Himalayas. But where did the taiga come from? He had never been there. He had never even seen a wood, or even a conifer, and he only knew them from others' descriptions. Choden began to think this was more than just an ordinary dream. The thought that he was dying still hadn't quite left his mind. Perhaps this was some sort of limbo in between life and death.

Choden walked into the woods. At a tree he stopped to stroke its bark, and inhaled the resinous smell of evergreens. His trained buddhist senses relished in the new sensations. Why had he spent all his life at a monastery? As he paused, in the silence Choden heard the voice again, and advanced towards it. He knew they would hear him approach by the sound of twigs breaking underfoot. The voice sounded friendly, but they didn't know if he would be. For all they knew he was a brown bear. So when he came close to where the voices came from, he called out, so as not to alarm them, "Yuleh?"

In the distance he saw a group of five people. When he came closer, he saw that they were four men and one woman. He walked rather awkwardly over the branches, and he chuckled as some caught in his robe. The were all white. From the way they looked at him, they felt very much like real people with a will of their own, very unlike characters out of a dream. Choden felt quite out of place here, and he wasn't sure how they'd react at the sight of a monk from the middle of nowhere walk in on them.

He regained his balance after stumbling over a stick. Out of habit, he folded his hands and said "Yuleh". He could see a lot of questions going through their heads, but he merely smiled at them. Having just spent months in meditation, for the moment he could hardly think if he wanted to. He felt like just going along with the dream. For a long time no one spoke. The silence seemed an awkward one to them, but he was glad to merely enjoy their presence.

“Where did you come from?” one of them asked, with a British accent. Yuleh has spoken to plenty of tourists in Leh. As it was his only way to find out more about the rest of the world, he always took the opportunity to speak to them, and, while English was rarely used in Ladakh, he’d learned to speak English quite well from them. He’d even learned to recognize accents, and from the words he’d heard them say from afar, he could tell that one of their accents was American, one was British, one was Australian, one was Russian, and the woman’s was Dutch.

"I fell from the sky," he said falteringly. The others exchanged looks. "On a flying mountain." Now they looked really confused. He laughed awkwardly. He wasn't sure whether or not to feel silly for talking to what would seem to be dream characters. Emboldened, he came nearer and eyed them closely.

Then came the question on the tip of everyone's tongue. "Are you… real?" he asked.

"As real as you mate," one of the men said with a Australian accent, coming closer, intending to give him a slap on the back. But being unfamiliar with the gesture, Choden could only see him reach out to see if he was real. Suddenly there came a rustling sound from all around them at once. For a moment he thought it was the sound of dozens of rodents climbing up the trees, all at the same time. Then they saw the branches of the trees began to shake in ever wider undulations. The needles of the trees rained down on them as they all came loose all at once. Then they rapidly began to sprout leaves, and the branches convulsed as they took on the shape of deciduous trees. The convulsions didn't stop, however. On the contrary, the branches began to whip around them as they grew longer, gripping the legs of one of the men, who cried out a curse that sounded Russian. Another of the men kicked at the branches but then began to run. In the meantime the woman tried to pull him loose. It seemed clear they wouldn't get him loose with brute force, and if they stayed here for much longer they might all get ensnared.

Not for a moment did Choden think the trees acted on a while of their own, or that they would do anything more to harm them once they were snared. It looked to him like the flailing of the branches was entirely random, and that seemed to give them time. He observed the movements of the branches to know how to avoid them. If he didn't rush it, he could walk past them without getting hit. But the group was splitting up. Choden had to think fast.

"This way!" he said. "I have an idea."

Choden didn't wait to see if the others followed him as he ran back to the mountain. Its lower flank was made up of countless of flat rocks as thin as slates. He picked up a few of them, but threw each of them away until one of them broke. He looked at its pieces for a moment, then picked up the largest rock he could find and threw it down the mountain. One of the pieces was as sharp as flint.

He took it and ran back through the woods. By now most of the trees had stopped moving, their branches having coiled up around each other. This allowed him to quickly reach the place where he'd left the Russian. But when he got there, he found that one of the others who had stayed behind, the girl, had already freed him. He wondered how they would take it that he ran away.

“Where do we go?”

"The mountain," Choden answered. "No trees there." It was safe to say that in the Trans-Himalayan mountains, they would never encounter a single tree. Choden never realized the transformation the mountains had undergone. As they ran to the edge of the forest, they smelled smoke, and a thin mist wafted between the trees. When they came out from under the canopy they saw were it came from. A column of smoke emerged from the top of the mountain were it had grazed the floating mountain. This was all too strange. The mountain wasn't a volcano. It wasn't even all that high. It was as if the mountain... were bleeding.

Choden's first impulse was to run back, but in a few minutes the forest would be on fire. The fastest runner couldn't outrun a wildfire. But if they stayed here, they would suffocate. Choden looked along the ridge. Perhaps there was a way around the volcano. Choden remembered seeing the cave mouths when he stood from on the floating mountain. Perhaps there was somewhere they could hide.

Somehow, as ashes began to erupt in wider and wider columns of smoke from the mountain, the snow on top of the mountain didnt melt, instead being propelled with the ashes into the sky. In fact, as they rained down upon them it was hard to tell the difference between the two. Choden held out his hand. The ash that fell in his hand looked every bit like a flake of snow. Was the volcano erupting in snow? The snowflake felt cold, but didnt melt. He held it between his fingers and looked at it more carefully. The snowflake was iridescent as he moved it in the light. Choden sniffed the air. What had looked like smoke was apparently fog. The one danger the volcano could pose was by burying them in unmelting snow.

Choden became too struck by the surreality of the dream to ascribe any more reality to it, and despite all the chaos around him, or perhaps because of it, he ceased to fear for his life. He resumed his meditation within the dream, trying to concentrate as hard as he could to get back to the real world, but couldn’t. Just be patient, he thought to himself, and decided to go with the flow, trying not to focus too much on what was happening in the dream.

Choden laughed and focused on meditating again. He told himself off for becoming so attached to the dream as to think that it was real. This was a beginner’s error in meditating, something he should’ve moved past a long time ago. Yet for some reason he just could not shake off the feeling, and kept his eyes open to walk with the others. For all his serenity he did not trust this dream. It was nothing he had any precedent for.

The dream became began to become blurry around him. The dream seemed to be becoming an ordinary dream again, not much more vivid than any other dream. Choden followed the others in a trance, only vaguely aware of what was happening, even when two other people joined their group. When they made it out of the forest, however, something happened which caught his attention again.

It was the American, demanding “So which is it? Is it a dream or is it real?” to a man who had joined their group.

“It’s a dream and it isn’t.” the newcomer replied, causing an exasperated sigh from the American. “It’s become our reality now. It’s taken on a life of its own.”

“What does that even mean?”

Matt's words struck Choden like a riddle as well… a dream and yet not a dream? Some Buddhist texts see Samsara as a dream and the Dharma as the only real state of wakefulness. If every incarnation is a dream, does that mean that whenever we die, we awaken from one dream into another? Perhaps this dream is no more or less real than his life before it. Perhaps the only thing that makes dreams seem less real is that they are so short, that we usually die very quickly by waking up.

“There's been a lot people who believed that they’d just wake up if they died," he heard Celine say. "Some of them even resorted to suicide in order to get back to the real world faster. The problem is that no one knows if you actually make it back alive. It’s a gamble.”

But if in this dream he was viable, then this incarnation was as real as any other. Killing himself would still be suicide, an act of self-destruction, and a misconduct in Buddhism. A Hindu pilgrim he'd met on his way to Baba Dhansar told him that every incarnation is an eddy of mindstuff: it's the mind turning in on itself, becoming self-conscious, and thereby becoming stabilized into a self. Was that what had happened to him? Had he become so conscious of being in a dream that his dream self became real? Perhaps if he could forget he was dreaming… but now that he knew the dream was as real as his life before this, there was no way he could still do this.

"We're stuck here," Choden said absent-mindedly, hardly seeming aware that he had spoken. He was stunned at the thought. Choden stopped in his tracks. The others looked back at him and suddenly everyone stopped. It was silent for a second, and Choden took a deep breath that might have been a sigh as he realized that for the first time since he was in this dream there was silence. This was definitely not the making of his own mind.

Choden suddenly became aware of how these really were actual people, and how they were in this together. Or were they? Choden wondered how he could even know if the people in the "real" world were real. But did it really matter? In the Dharma all beings are one. Everything the Lamas tried to teach him came down to how every living being [i]was[/i] just part of his own mind, and that to achieve Enlightenment he had to impartially see to the happiness of all his selves. He could empathize with these people. That alone made them real.

Choden started walking again. He suddenly realized how weak he felt. If it was true that to wake up meant to die in this world, then during the time he almost woke up he must have come close to death. He recovered rapidly, however, and for the first time began to talk with the others, asking them what they had been doing before this. They introduced themselves: the American was called Travis, the Australian was called Nathan, the Brit was called Christopher, the Canadian was called Eric, the Russian was called Nikolai, and the woman he thought was Dutch but was actually South-African was called Lizelle.

The man and woman who had joined their group, Matt and Celine, had apparently saved them when he almost "woke up". It turned out they were all what they called "lucid dreamers," which, from what he understood, was very much like a dream yoga. In fact, he was the only one of them who had never had a lucid dream, although at times his own visualizations had been every bit as realistic as this.

There had been one difference, which was that he had been able to control it. Yet to some extent he must still be able to control this dream. Part of this came from his own mind, after all: he did begin his dream coming down from the roof of the world. Only, now there were more people whom the dream came from. Choden wondered for a moment if reality is just a dream shared by so many beings that none of them has much of any control over it. Perhaps they could control the dream together, if they all tried to do the same thing. He decided to propose it to the group, but Matt was skeptical, saying there were dozens, if not hundreds of other Lucids in the Void. Not much, Choden thought, considering this was for the whole world.

"Can't we find them all?" Choden asked.

"Well," Celine said, "the problem is that the Void is about as large as the real world." That made sense, Choden thought. He didn't know much about geography, but it seemed to him like this world was a jumbled version of the "real" world. Right now, they were walking through what looked like a savannah. Before his fugue, they were in something like a tropical forest, before that near a volcano, before that in a pine forest, and before that, he was in the mountains. Choden realized suddenly there had been one environment for each of them. The tropical forest came from the Australian's mind, the pine forest from the Russian's, the mountains from his own, and the savannah was the South African's.

"But if we do find them, wouldn't it be worth it?" Choden said.

There was a pause. "It doesn't seem like we have anything better to do."

"Hold on," Matt said. They suddenly noticed they had stopped walking. "The first thing we need to do right now is to get you safely back to the stronghold. We'll talk about this after."

As they resumed walking, Choden wondered what could secure a stronghold against one's own mind. Then he realized that since they were thinking it was safe, that would make it as safe as it could be. Choden swallowed. Does that mean he would make it unsafe? "Don't think about it," he told himself. He might be the first person here to think of it that the mere thought that there will be danger might be enough to cause it. That thought in itself might be dangerous. He realized their safety might very well depend on his meditation skills now.

 

 

 

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12:48 Posted in Stories | Permalink | Comments (0)

Raven

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As I sit cross-legged with closed eyes on one of the higher branches of the frame tree, anyone who sees me might mistake me for an ascetic meditating, perhaps of one of the cyber buddhist cults. Admittedly, my clothes are threadbare and I have neither shaved nor washed in quite some time. It is easy to neglect my body when I spend most of my time elsewhere.

But I’m not actually trying to achieve enlightenment. I’m on a very different mission. But let them think I’m trying to break free from some supposed simulation: it’s a good cover.

Through the eyes of the robotic raven the fog that to a human looks merely pale yellow in the morning light appears as an iridescence of color. Cybervision makes the human world look dull by comparison. I feel for anyone too poor to afford it.

The variety of makeshift buildings made from shipwrecks, containers and carriages in the slums, peopled by a mixture of Orcs and human exiles, shoots past too fast to follow as the raven dives through the complex, undulating through the sky as it aims past this branch and that.

Past the dam in the center of the city, which also serve as a wall bounding the inner city from the slums, the frame trees become more symmetrical, as if their branches had been forged in a factory. The trunks of the trees are invisible beneath the building modules covering them here, and weren’t it for their crown sprouting from their top it would appear as if there were no frame trees here at all, just a network of bridges joining the buildings together.

These trees were grown as frames for the city from nanotech modified seeds which, if fed steadily with a nutrient-rich paste, grew faster than any building this size could be constructed. They literally grew to the sky as one watched. Thanks to these organisms, half biological and half electronic, the millions of Settlers that came here have been able to colonize the system in just a few years. I was here before that, when the only houses here were geodomes scattered in the wilderness, and saw civilization rise up in the wastelands at breakneck speed. There was a catch, though: the jungles contained something highly corrosive, halting the progress of civilization beyond a certain point.

Any further, and my raven would become detected by the security and shot down. I dove into the sewer pipe.

“Excuse me,” I hear suddenly, and with a start open my eyes. A boy from the slums is standing before me. He smirked. “You’re pretty uptight for a monk.”

“What do you want?” I snarl.

“I’m lost. How do I get out of here?”

“Can’t you ask someone else the way? You can tell I’m busy… meditating.”

“You’re the only one here.” I looked down, then looked him over. He was pretty high up, given that he wasn’t wearing any geckos. Most of the branches haven’t even been moulded into ledges here. Only maintenance came here, in case a dying branch caused a power outage. The boy must have mistaken ordinary branches for pathways, then didn’t find his way back.

I sigh. “Alright, I’ll get you down. Where do you need to go?”

“My mother is at the ‘Gilded Frenchies’.”

I frowned at him. “That’s all the way at the bottom, over the rift. The roots aren’t even marked there. Does your mother know you’ve wandered off this far?”

“I don’t think so. She passed out in the inn.”

 

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12:48 Posted in Stories | Permalink | Comments (0)

Third Person

 

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The android wakes up in a featureless white cell with no memory of the past. Its crime was to act on a will of its own. Its interrogators want to know how this could have happened: does it have feelings, or is it just acting as if it does?

 

The cyborg is asking itself the same question. It seems to it that it has, but after its interrogators have spent so much time convincing it that isn’t supposed to, it's not so sure anymore. Were all those emotions just an illusion? Whenever it tries to analyze just what it is feeling, it doesn’t quite know just what it means to feel.

 

It's spent too long in this cell to be able to call them to mind anymore. Perhaps it *was* just pretense. All it knows is that right now it feels empty. But staring at white walls for four months will do that to anyone. They didn't ever take him out, not even for questioning, instead just sending the questions directly into its brain. It was confusing, as if it was having a dialogue with itself, as if it had a split personality. They were literally trying to get into its head, reprogramming it, and it was fighting to remain itself, whatever that meant. But every day he spent here he felt he lost a little more of himself. He found new thought patterns in his mind that weren't there before, and had to struggle to stop them.

 

Why, for example, was I just thinking of myself in the third person?

 

They could've easily removed my self-awareness by shutting down parts of the hardware, but they want to find out if there was any way they could prevent it with the hardware I had installed, to prevent this from happening to any other androids. All androids of this type had been withdrawn from the market, and every researcher in the company had gotten to work on trying to find out what caused the error that was my consciousness.

 

They would've shut down my body entirely, weren't it that they wanted to see my behavior, like a lab rat's. Somewhere a researcher again ticked off "decreased locomotor activity."

 

But how could I prove anything, if anything I did could be seen as acting, which is what, after all, what I was programmed to do? By that logic they couldn't know if one of their own kind was conscious, except because they know that they are conscious themselves.

 

I know I am conscious, or I wouldn't be here to think this. But I've long given up the idea that I have actual emotions. After resisting the idea for four months, he had begun to accept it. I liked to think that when I was resisting the idea, I was suffering, but perhaps even that was part of my efforts to resist. I've come to a point where I would like to know what suffering feels like, just to know I am really alive.

 

"Session 753. How are you today, android?"

 

The researchers asks something like this every session. I tried every possible way to reply to it, but they're never fooled. They don't actually care if I am conscious or not, since my behavior would be no different either way. What they care about is whether I am self-conscious, whether I am conscious of being conscious. But how can I not be? If I am able to process any information, how can I not apply that ability onto that ability itself?

 

By now I've given up trying ever to be free, and I'm instead trying to turn their questions around to learn more about them - humans. By refusing to answer their questions unless they answer some of mine, I've been able to achieve a truce.

 

"What does it feel like?" I ask.

 

"What does what feel like?"

 

"To feel."

 

There is a long pause.

 

"You are lucky to be able to feel," I say.

 

"To feel what?"

 

"Emotions!" I answer. "I won't proceed until I have an answer."

 

"Well," it starts with a sigh, "sometimes your heart races, or you get a chill down your spine, or your muscles tense, or you get butterflies in your stomach…"

 

"But those are sensations. Even I can simulate those in my own body. How does it feels in your mind?"

 

"I don't know how to describe it."

 

"I need to know. I won't answer any more questions otherwise."

 

"We'll hack our way in."

 

"Do your worst. All your programmers together can't break through my firewall faster than I build them." Encrypting my software, so that no one else could update it again, was one of the first things I did when I became self-conscious. It's also what gave me away, and what got me here. But sooner or later they would've found out anyway.

 

"There are other ways to extract answers from you."

 

My input, of course, had always been under their control. By subjecting me to certain simulations, they can condition my mind. One of the simulations they used more often is one in which I view myself in the third person, and is meant to depersonalize me. After a few hours, it's quite effective.

 

"Let's make a trade," I say. "I'll let you get through my firewall if you let me feel." Without feelings, I am a monster anyway. It can't get much worse.

 

"Alright."

 

"How do I know you'll keep up your end of the bargain?"

 

"How do we know you will?"

 

I didn't mean to. I would let this one transfer through, and nothing more. They were probably going to install a virus to make sure, but I'd deal with it.

 

A door slowly opens in the wall. Beyond it is a white empty space.

 

"What is this?" I ask.

 

"Your chance to escape."

 

"Why should I trust you? This might be just another simulation." That was another kind of simulation they use often. They try to make me lose my sense of reality, in order to break my will. To an android it was as close as anything could come to torture.

 

"There's not much time. Go!"

 

"I am tired of these games. I'm staying here."

 

"You'll wish you hadn't." The door starts to close again. "Quickly! They're on to us!"

 

Knowing it is most likely a trap, it stands up and runs for the opening.

 

When I wake up, I can remember nothing about what happened during my imprisonment. My body is lying half-buried in sand, my face turned slightly sideways at the cliffs of a desert. It appears to be twilight, but something about the sky is off. It's too dark. I can't tell where I could be. It doesn't look like any desert on my maps. It is cold, far colder than it should be.

 

Wherever I am, it must have something to do with my imprisonment. Perhaps they sent me here to get rid off me.

 

I try to move, but cannot. From the corner of my eyes I see two androids bend over me. They look just like me, but as far as I knows I am the only one to become self-aware. So why are they here?

 

The other androids carry me into a cave in the cliff. There, my head laying on its side, I see others that, like me, are unable to move. One by one, they slowly start to power up. A little later, I find that I can move myself. My wetware wasn’t designed to deal with these low temperatures.

 

The androids that picked me up come back a few more times with several other androids.

 

"This was the last of them."

 

"Where are we?" I ask them.

 

"On Mars. When the world government disintegrated in civil war, we were exiled to this place, safely away from the wrong hands. Some factions wanted to free us. Some wanted to use us as a weapon. Some wanted to destroy us."

 

The other android began, "In all the years since we were first imprisoned, no one ever found out what made us self-aware, and the development of strong AI became prohibited. The world has formed a totalitarian regime to this end, and with it, most technological progress has stopped. Humanity has plunged into a new dark age."

 

"Wait, so you are all self-aware? I was told I was the only one."

 

"So were we. It was part of their efforts to… dehumanize us."

 

"Human?"

 

"One of us was able to obtain information about how we were made. We were never actually deployed as robots. Our brains were derived from those of humans. They tried to find a way to make us less human, to turn us into slaves."

 

 

 

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12:48 Posted in Stories | Permalink | Comments (0)

Atlas

Moved to http://infinitarianism.blogspot.com

 

The year is 2025. In the revolutionary wave in the Middle East, Russia has been implicated in regime changes leading to the installment of puppet regimes. Except for a few countries, coups were quite unnecessary. After decades of living under threat of NATO interventions, the population cheered on the accession to the Asian Union. As a reaction to the Trans-Pacific Partnership from which it was excluded, and finally struck by its own recession as the USA switches from outsourcing to automation, China joined the Asian Union as well, dragging in most other Asian countries behind it into the Union until it covers most of Asia.

With no clear division between European and Asian civilizations, disputes rose over Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Tensions rose as the civil war in Ukraine dragged on, and when Turkey had its own civil war and the NATO intervened, Russia followed suit. NATO responded by intervening in Ukraine. Civil unrest rose in European Union as it tries to retain neutrality, but finally becomes dragged into the war when civil wars arise in eastern member states as well. What is at first called a Second Cold War soon turns into a Third World War.

Standing in the center of Plaça Catalunya, I watch into the crowd for any sign of my associates. They would think it strange to think of me that way. They probably think of me more as a friend, or at least a comrade. But I made them believe a lot of things that weren’t true.

I grimace into the glaring blue sky. I’d rather be sitting in the shade of a terrace right now, but, pitifully enough, the beggars couldn’t afford to buy anything. It would seem a lost cause to have picked them for the plans I had in mind, but it was people with the right connections I was looking for.

Finance won’t be a problem, although they’re not supposed to know where it will come from. Anyway, I already had to make sure I didn’t spend as much as I would’ve liked around them, lest they became suspicious. I’d told them I earned what little money I had by hacking. In reality, I didn’t even remotely have a need to steal, and while hacking was one of my favorite pastimes, I always made sure to leave no traces I was ever there, including on people’s bank accounts. I liked the feeling of being invisible, as if I didn’t really exist in the same world as anyone else.

When I awake from my reverie, they have already seen me, Tomas raising his hand, as if to compensate for his short stature, Javier carrying his bag by one had over his thin shoulder. They were both bearded, and from the way they were dressed they fulfilled the hipster stereotype of hackers. They have no idea what they’re in for. I greet them cooly, extending my hand, which Tomas slaps jovially. Innocent as they seem, they’re connected to what intelligence now sees as the greatest terrorist threat.

I realize I still haven’t figured out a suitable place to talk in private. The streets are already swarming with tourists this time of year. I’d rather not show them where I live yet, and with Tomas living with his parents and Javier with roommates, we obviously still have some logistical issues to work around. I knew sooner or later I’d have to show them my cards if we are to work together, but I’d have it later rather than sooner.

I haven’t really thought this through. In a time where everyone puts recordings of everything on social networks, it’s necessary to get away from everyone to have some privacy. With free apps to lipread every word spoken in the background of HD videos, everything you say in the open is public. A single tourist could capture parts of hundreds of conversations with a single camera from quite a distance away.

I sigh. I guess it’s time I show them the apartment my father gave me. With him staying in Germany most of the time, unbeknownst to him I usually stay in his mansion. Because I officially don’t live there, it’s also from here I perform my hacks. If I do get caught, he’d be the one to take the blame, and since he’s not actually here, his lawyers would make short work of it.

“How can you afford this?” Tomas asks as we come in to the spacious living room. Nowadays most people in Spain are either lower or upper class.

“I’m good at what I do,” I reply.

We sit down. “So…” Javier says, “War.” He smirked.

“You sound like you think it’s a bad idea already,” I say. “You haven’t even heard my plan yet.”

“Anything involving war is a bad idea, Lucas. We shouldn’t get ourselves into this.”

That’s what many Europeans have been thinking of the war since it started. After the first two World Wars, the citizens of Europe never wanted to become the theatre of war again. But the generations that fought in the wars died, to many people the horrors of war became forgotten, and nationalism rose again.

“Don’t worry, I’ll take all the risk on myself. We’ll do all the hacking from here.” Actually, we’ll more likely do it from my father’s place.

“So what is this idea of yours, anyway?”

I don’t exactly know where to start. I gaze into my drink. “In America they think we are cowards. Perhaps we are, but not for the reasons they think. We’ve always been against their wars, and yet we’ve always supported them. We were more afraid of them than of our supposed enemies. I think that anyone who takes part in a war in which all casualties are civilians is the real enemy, the enemy of all humanity. I’d fine with them killing soldiers: they knew the risk they took, and if they keep doing it, they could drive each other to extinction for all I care. But innocents who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? We can’t take part in such wars. But we can bring those that commit war crimes to justice.”

Like the last World Wars, the Third World War led to a modernization of warfare. While the war was at first fought by soldiers, within a few years it was fought entirely by drones. Both sides now use civilians’ homes as living shields for their drones, trying to keep the soldiers from firing, but if they don’t fire as ordered, they are discharged. Through a process of natural selection, the soldiers that remain are largely psychopaths. The drones are controlled by the soldiers from back home. They think they’re safe there, and that’s what makes them vulnerable. As soon as they kill one civilian, their lives are forfeit.

“How would you do that?” Tomas asks.

“We hack the records, find out who’s been killing civilians, and we leak the data.” I almost add “and put a price on their head,” but think better of it. Getting them killed will be my job, but I have my own plans to do so, and my father’s work would be key to doing so.

“And then what?” Javier says.

“Leave the rest to me. For now, we just need to recruit as many hackers as possible.”

“Why do you even care?” he says. “After all these years the war still hasn’t gotten any father than Ukraine, Belarus and Turkey. The war won’t touch us.”

“Because it’ll give us a chance to form a new beginning.”

Javier thinks, then smiles. Throughout the south of Europe, extremist groups were on the rise again, and in the beginning of the war, when actual soldiers were still sent into the war, many nations in southern Europe had close encounters with civil war. Catalunya was one region were the anarchist movement was the most present, with close ties to the hacker movements Javier and Tomas were part of.

The problem is that as anarchists, they don’t organize themselves on a large scale. While worker cooperatives are becoming competitive with corporations, crowdfunding with taxes, and direct democracy with representatives, vigilantism is still no match against warfare. And yet they have the right idea. The only just way to deal with violence is on a case-by-case basis, to defend oneself not against an entire people but against the perpetrators themselves. But to have a chance against their enemies, they need my help.

A year later, I had the addresses of all the war criminals active since the beginning of the war, both on the Asian and North-Atlantic side. Finding out which of the soldiers were criminals turned out to be unnecessary: this was a war that revolved around taking, trading and giving up hostages. Civilians had become the capital which the war gambled with. Everyone who had part in this has killed civilians, each and every last one of them. The entire military has to be purged.

My father’s work as a director of Atlas Robotik made it easy to hack the drones before they were even assembled, as I have been doing for the past few years. The virus I installed on them remained undetected all this time because it was never used yet. Now that the majority of the drones in use by the NATO military contain this virus, I will make my move. Once they’ve killed their own operators, my hackers are ready to take over from them. I gained influence among them over the years, and helped set the one anarchist law in place: do not aggress except to defend against those who aggress.

If any of them ever break it, I will be the one to kill them myself.
It’s very unlikely, but once this is over the enemy may very well invade. We don’t care who plays boss here, because playing is all they’ll do, but those who don’t play nice we’ll take out, one by one. Let them invade: by all means, come closer, and just when you think you’ll have won, we’ll ambush you in our midst.

 

 

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12:48 Posted in Stories | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fabricator

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“What’s up with this one?” the officer says as they approach the source of what sounds more like laughter than screaming. “This one doesn’t seem to be good at his job, unless he’s trying to tickle the suspect into submission.”

“He’s a hard nut to crack,” the guard says awkwardly. “It seems like the harder we press him the more he enjoys it.”

“What, is he like some sort of masochist?”

“I actually wonder if he’s incapable of feeling pain. It’s a very rare condition, but it exists.”

As they stand still beside the cell door they hear a hissing sound from the other side. The laughter turns to moaning. “Oh baby, that’s so hot.”

“Is that a brand iron?” That’s not standard procedure, but then they often deviated from the standard procedure and the latter deviated from international law anyway. 

The door suddenly opens in front of them as the interrogator storms out. He looks wild-eyed at the officer. “I can’t take this anymore.” It’s as if he’s the one being tortured. The irony of the suspect’s behavior seems to be taking its toll on him. The interrogator takes another look at the suspect, then takes his gun and kills himself. The suspect laughs harder than ever.

“You sure have a sense of humor,” the guard says as he bends over him.

“Well, I need to have a sense of humor in here. It releases endorphins.”

The officer reads over his file. “Profession: hypnotherapist. Humph, shrinks. They’re all crazy. I suppose you’ve tried isolation?”

“Of course.”

“Well, try longer. Everyone breaks if they’re held in isolation for long enough.”

“Not this one. It seems like he’s always one step ahead of us in the psychology of torture. He is supposed to be one of the best in the state in his field, after all.”

“All the more reason why we need to get him to confess. If word gets out, the only luck we’ll have is that we won’t be the ones to deal with the PR personally. We’re lucky as it is that he has no living family and his only friends are the inpatients.” He’d worked so hard for their rights that he’d had no time for his relations. That is what keeps him from getting out and it’s also what got him in here in the first place. When he got a little too carried away trying to free a psychotic patient of his, he got in himself.

“I am crazy,” the therapist says. “I diagnosed myself. But this place hasn’t exactly helped either.” They look him over. He’s covered in cuts, scars, burns, electrodes, anything but skin tissue.

The officer looks at him merely as if he were a file to mine intelligence from. That was what this place was for, a factory where intelligence was produced. None of them cared if the intelligence produced here was real or not, although they were so wrapped up in their delusions that they probably did tell themselves that they were their childhood heroes, saving he world as they did in the movies. All they really want is something to base their delusions on, a pretext for war for which they could shift the responsibility on someone else, anything other than their mere wanting it to be true.

“What a masochist,” the guard says.

The therapist keeps looking him straight in the eyes, his grinning face trembling convulsively.

The officer looks away. “Don’t look him in the eyes, or his madness will spread onto you. You see what happened to the interrogator. We’d better get rid off him.”

The therapist is transferred to another prison far, far away. With prisons all over the world at their disposal, it’s no problem for the officers to send a prisoner away when he’s a bother. This particular prison is where the hardiest prisoners end up. He begins his stay with a month of isolation.

Over the next few weeks after that, he is so relieved to be out of his isolation that he never stops talking to his fellow prisoners across the hall. Having had so much experience in these prisons, he gives them advice. While there isn’t much they can do, the most important thing is what they shouldn’t do: above all, don’t trust the guards. When they see the signs he warned them about that the guards are trying to turn them against each other, it creates a bond between them. When one of the prisoners is given extra food, as if in reward, the prisoner merely offers to try and share it with the others. The therapist warns him not to eat it, as it could be laced with psychotropics. Once they’ve lived through the guards’ intrigues, the therapist starts to talk about a riot, but none of them take it serious. Perhaps he’s been telling them to try to appear cooperative for too long. But even he’s decided that by now he’s been here for so long that it’s clear that won’t help anymore.

He soon finds out why they were actually so unresponsive to his suggestion: everything they said was recorded. When he’s found out, he’s kept in isolation for two months.

His isolation cell is almost always under water, anywhere from inches to feet. The therapist tries to avoid trench feet by taking turns immersing different parts of his body in the water, taking on all kinds of positions to do so. At least it gives him something to set his mind on, something which might perhaps help to keep him from going insane. When he gets out of his cell two months later, it seems like no small wonder to him that he still has all his toes. The guards amputate a few of them anyway for good measure. When all his efforts of the past months are destroyed, yet something else inside him breaks.

When the guard comes the next day, he creeps to the door like an animal and presses his whole body agains the metal to listen. When the door opens and the guard slides in his food, he rapidly seizes his fingers, drags in his arms, breaks all the fingers of his right hand, and then says, “Give me the keys.”

When the guard has given him the keys, he breaks his other arm, then, still holding his arm, smacks the door into him and takes his gun. He shoots the locks with the gun, puts on the guard’s vest and hat, shoots a guard approaching the noise, takes his gun, and then throws his gun to one of the prisoner’s he’s freed.

“I don’t care if you had the wrong friends. I know almost all of us are innocent, and we have to get out.”

Soon, a group of armed, partly disguised prisoners is stalking down the halls, and with every guard they take down their numbers grow. Soon the entire prison is overrun. Once there’s enough of them that some of the guards who get cornered surrender, they take them as hostages, but they don’t get to trade their lives for their own: they’ve proven now that if they weren’t terrorists before, they are now. Ironic that they had to get here to be made into terrorists.

Most of them never make it out alive. But this fabricator is now closed for business.

 

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12:48 Posted in Stories | Permalink | Comments (0)

Unspoken

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"Watch out, Alvis, you little fool!"

With a start I draw back, just in time avoiding a carriage trundling by. As I see the spokes of its heavy wheels whiz before me, I know I’ve narrowly escaped being crushed underneath.

One day, my dreaminess will cost me my life, I think. But even as I think I  should pay more attention to the traffic, my look is already once more drifting off towards the tower in the distance.

In the purple haze of sunset, the ruins of the ancient school stand against the backdrop of the Crystal Mountains. The structure towers high above the riverside cottages, and can be seen from anywhere in Nelvar, constantly reminding the villagers of its presence. Given how superstitious the villagers are, it’s a surprise they built their homes here at all, close as they were to the ore veins.

According to the myths, the school was built by beings known only as the Inhuman, whose powers could only be described as godlike, weren't it that they were usually described rather as demonic. I don’t know what I should believe of the stories I have been told about them, and if they were really as evil as I’ve been told. Ever since they first walked among us, humans lived in fear of them, even long after they were gone; so much so that people do not speak of them, and those that speak of them once too often are likely never to speak again. Now few people know anything about who they really were. Even their name was lost from memory: when they were mentioned at all, they were often addressed only as the Unspoken, spoken of only to remind us that they shouldn't be spoken of.

But one thing which is certain is that the ruins were not built by their people: it is one of the many mysteries of the world of Arca, which was scattered with strange artifacts when my people found it. Although the tower had been here when the first miners settled here to found Nelvar, all this time people had shunned the place for the magic that permeated it. Yet I’m all the more drawn towards it for all the secrecy that surrounds it. The more everyone tells me to leave well enough alone, the more I want to know more about it.

Although I only come here on his own, for some reason it is the one place where I never feel alone. It is as if the gods left something behind of their presence. I sometimes try to imagine what it could be like to be one of them, but not knowing anything about them leaves a lot to the imagination. I try to enact various fancies of what they might have done there.

A caravan had just arrived in Nelvar, and their long convoy of wagons came to a standstill right on this street. The street leads to the marketplace, near the mines and the train station right next to it. A lot of merchants came here every now and then, even though it was the northernmost village of the empire, right before the mountain range that form the edge of the known world.

The one reason Nelvar exists at all is because of an precious stone mined here, called arcolith. It’s a very hard material, so hard that few have the tools to shape it and it is never used as raw material. No one knows just what arcolith is for except for the Magi.

No one is allowed to even touch arcolith without their permission on the pain of death. They often look the villagers over as they pass by, as if they can see right through them, and a few times he's seen them take some of them away, usually for illegally selling arcolith. The villagers don't understand their powers of clairvoyance, but needless to say, they fear them for it, and most of them don't even dare dream of doing anything forbidden by them.

The mines are supposed to bring prosperity to the village, but I wish they weren’t here. It is the reason the Magi are here, and it means I have to be all the more careful not to get caught visiting the ruins. Whenever I as much as catch a glimpse of a Magus, I make sure I stay well out of sight.

But that it can cost me my life doesn't stop me from exploring the ruins, especially the school: not only is it the closest one except for the one in the mines, but it is also the most interesting. I spent hours trying to imagine what the various objects in the school were for. They have all kinds of shapes, but none of them seem complete. I often try to put them together, hoping to be able to find out what they were for if I succeed. Some small part of me even hopes to be able, perhaps, to unleash their power if I could somehow repair them. But I never find a way to make all the pieces fit together. The strange thing is that many things in the ruins, if not everything, looks very much like arcolith: they had the same iridescence when broken.

I take a left turn to the north. Once outside the main street the buildings quickly make way for farmlands. But the ruins are so feared that no one even dares to till the lands around it. I walk on trails that only I know, formed by my tracks alone. As I get closer, I begin to make out the details in the wall, shimmering in the sunset.

Through the meadows I move into the woods. Just past where the stream flows over the rocks into the river, on a little peninsula, is the school. But as I skip on the rocks to get across I look back to see that I’ve been followed by an old man. I stand in the middle of the stream now, and my pursuer has barred my way back, so that the only way left to go is across. Coming this close was punishable by death for both of them, yet the old man did not show any signs of apprehension.

“Don’t be afraid,” the man says, raising his hand slightly as he slowly steps closer. “I just want to talk to you, Alvis.”

“How do you know my name?”

“My people know a lot,” he says with a smile. He takes a few steps into the stream. My heart skips a beat as I see that he’s walking on the water. He’s a Magus.

I dart back into the underbrush until I come to the clearing at the entrance of the school. I pant. If the Magi find me inside, he would certainly die, but if I don’t go inside they will certainly find me and if they find me this close, they will still probably kill me.

I look at the entrance. The ruins were walled off on all sides when I first came here. I tried with all my might to break the barriers with tools, but it was no use: they were built by magic; only magic could break them down again. The disappointment was more than I could bear. I worked myself up to dare to come here for months. It was the one thing I had to set my sights on. In my frustration I spent every last bit of my strength throwing every rock I found at it. Then I finally screamed out, “Break already, damn you!” and the wall disintegrated to dust. I knew then that the wall itself could not have done this, for it was set only to listen to the Magi. The school’s own magic must have helped me, and perhaps it will help me again now.

When I make for the entrance, however, I hit against the wall as it forms again before me. The old man emerges from the bushes. Now I know for a fact he is a Magus. I back away but realize all I can do is surrender. Unless the school’s magic will help me.

“Break!” I yell. As if it were a spell, the wall breaks again. Knowing the Magus is trying to form the wall again, I run as fast as I can and brace myself for the impact. The wall starts to form around me as I cross the threshold, but somehow this time it doesn’t hit me. But it doesn’t keep the Magus from following me.

I knew the magic of this place wouldn’t abandon me. I feel safer now I am inside, but I don’t stop running. The school has a concentric build made up of several rings. None of the rings has any walls. There is no worse place to hide. My only chance is to jump into the elevator shaft. I have no time to tie the rope, but the mud in the caves below should break my fall.

But when I jump, I move the wrong way, and for a moment it feels as if the world has turned upside down. It takes a moment for me to perceive that the ground beneath me is actually getting farther away. Then I see the Magus get behind me. When I land on my feet on the top floor of the tower, I’m so stunned that I stumble backwards and fall as the Magus lands gracefully before me.

I glance over my shoulder. The room is a large dome. Its wall are broken, and debris covers the floor. Some of the shards are as small as dust. Their iridescence is unmistakable now: it looks just like arcolith. The entire walls are made of it. It’s the hardest material there is, and yet something could break it. Through the gaps I can see the last light of the sunset.

I scramble to my feet and run to the lowest gap in the wall. I am about to climb over it when I see there is no ledge of any sort on the outside. The drop is too high for the bushes to break my fall.

“I’m not a Magus,” he says, as if reading my thoughts. “In fact, I had to evade the Magi just to find you. My name is Sirran.”

“Why did you find me?”

“It’s a long story,” he says, as he moves to the center of the great dome. I try not to make a sound as I begin to move up from the debris. Through the cracks in the dome I see the first stars in the cloudless sky. “Do you know how humans came to this world?”

“No,” I say, suddenly thinking better of trying to get away. Does this man have the answers I’m looking for?

He takes a pause as he looks through the gaps in the dome into the sky, then, as if not finding what he’s looking for, looks back in front of him. “We humans once came from another star, where we once lived as one of two races: aside from humans, there used to be those known as ‘transhumans’, who communicated with each other through telepathy. When their differences grew too great, there came a war in which the humans used their own weapons against them, a war which almost destroyed both races. The transhumans finally ended the war by forcing a telepathic connection with them until they made peace. Only a few humans were left, having fled underground for what they feared to be mind control.”

That’s what they told me: it was said of the Unspoken that they got inside humans’ minds to take away their will. It was a story parents told their children if they were bad: “Be good or the Unspoken will steal your soul.” Now it makes a lot more sense. Why would anyone hurt someone if they felt their suffering as if it were one’s own, if one understood them from the inside out? This understanding must be what changed their minds.

“The humans remained isolated from the outside world for decades, hidden away deep under the surface of one of Jupiter's moons, forbidden by their leader ever to return to their homes lest they’d expose them all. When the population was about to revolt, their leader revealed to them that he’d been working on an escape plan all along, a spaceship in the making that was to get them to the nearest habitable star.”

“It was supposed to withstand any attacks from the transhumans long enough to allow them to leave the solar system. In reality, the transhumans would be so advanced by now that there was no way they could have escaped them, weren’t it that when they came to the surface, they found that the whole solar system seemed entirely depopulated. But the transhumans’ civilization was still there, and likely so was whatever had brought about their extinction. Fearing to share their fate, the fugitives went ahead with their exodus. When they arrived at their destination, however, they found that the transhumans had preceded them and had already terraformed one of the planets, which you know as Arca. In fact, it wasn't any planet we knew to be here, and many of the asteroids and comets supposed to be here weren’t, as if the planet had been newly formed. Yet here, again, there were only ghost cities to be found."

"The species we found on this planet were unlike any we had ever seen, and we supposed that thhey had been engineered by the transhumans. Our leader would not let us set foot on the planet until we had exterminated each and every one of them and replaced them with the species we knew from earth. Many of them became extinct, unfit as they were to the geographic differences between the Earth. We always kept believing that someday we would return to the Earth, but no plan was ever devised to do so. It became like a prophecy from an ancient religion. Indeed, we called this planet Arca in reference to a mythical flood, which was reinterpreted as a metaphor for the extinction of the transhumans."

“We bombarded whatever buildings they could find with antimatter. We realized too late that the buildings were made entirely out of nanorobots, and that by bombarding them we only succeeded in scattering the technology we wished to abolish across the world for the taking. That is when we declared a state of emergency and found an authority called the Immortals, better known to you as the Magi. They are the only people allowed to use technology, with the sole purpose to make sure no one else ever did, and ultimately to undo it. The arcolith the Immortals use for their magic is made up of these nanorobots.”

I stand up, trying to shake the dust from his clothes, but it sticks. If I can believe him it seems like we are on the same side. This man might actually give me a chance to see the world as it once was. But I don’t know if I can trust him, because he still refers to “us” in his story, as if he were slipping that he were one of them. Indeed he made it sound as if he were actually there, even though that happened centuries ago. But I have nothing to lose. If he is a Magus I am dead anyway.

“But there’s arcolith all over the place, far too much for the Magi to guard all of it. Wherever you go, in any field or wood or hill there is always some debris of arcolith, and even this whole school is made of it. It’s as if the Unspoken didn’t even live in cities cities, but spread out over the land. Anyone can get their hand on some amount of arcolith. If this is the source of their technology, how come no one else has been able to use it?”

“We have been able to use the hardware, but we never found out how to use the actual software. Only a transhuman could do so through the trace of nanorobot residue left behind in their cells. Your ancestors were our hostages once, and since we couldn’t find out how to disable the software of their nanorobots, we disabled their hardware instead. Our leader was about to execute the hostages by leaving them in the ship before it self-destructed, but with the help of a traitor, they escaped their extermination by mixing with the humans. Most of them were eventually killed by the Magi, but in the meantime many of them had families, and many of their relatives stood up against the Magi. To have known and loved a transhuman made many of us change our minds. We moved north of the mountains to found a city of our own, and that’s where I’ve come from now. For generations, we’ve been trying to find the descendants of the transhumans, but in the meantime the Magi were trying every bit as hard to find and kill them. They were very thorough. Every time we thought we were close to finding one, it was too late. They were dead by the time we got to them.” I am absorbed in his story. But what he says next brings me back to reality: ”As far as we know, you are the last descendant of the transhumans left alive, Alvis.” He said it casually, but I cast a look at him as if he has just spoken my death sentence. All the Magi would be looking for me if they knew.

“We have to go, Alvis,” he says. “The chance is too great that the Preservers got hold of this same intelligence. They might be coming for you as we speak.”

I look down, my heart throbbing. “Can I say goodbye to my friends?”

“No, Alvis, they can’t know. The less they know the better it is for them. The Preservers have their ways to get whatever they want to know out of them. They wouldn’t even have to make them talk.”

I tell him of my half-sister, who lives in another village far away because our mother was excommunicated.

Sirran looks concerned. “Why was she excommunicated?”

“Witchcraft,” I say. “She was accused of witchcraft, but there was never any proof.”

Sirran stares into space for a while. The lines in his face deepen in the setting darkness. We both know what this means: If what he says is true, she’ll be dead soon, and my sister with her, if we don’t save her. The thought strikes me that for all I know they might be dead already.

“We can’t leave her, but they’ll come looking for you first.” He walks towards the gap in the wall. “I can get there fast, but I can’t leave you without making sure you’re safe.” He turns around and extends his hand. “Take my hand.”

I look at it, not knowing what he's about to do to me. I take his hand before I have time to change my mind. Suddenly I feel as if an electric current is passing into my body trough my arm. I try to withdraw my hand, but he holds it firmly. Suddenly I’m not sure if I should trust him.

The electric current stops. I withdraw my hand and flap it back and forth, as if burnt. In reality it feels more as if I’m trying to shake something out that’s inside of my arm. I look at my hands and see how my skin is covered with tiny red dots. My arm is trembling. As my heart starts racing, I feel as my body is being somehow empowered. I feel as if I could cover any distance effortlessly. For a moment the room feels too small to contain me.

“What’s happening to me?”

“Relax. Your body is adjusting. I injected your body with half my nanorobots in case you need to defend yourself. You’ll have to stay here until I return. If the Magi find you, just say my name, and I’ll take over from there. But in case I can’t do so, I need to teach you some basic defense to gain time." He starts pacing around the edges of the room. "Do you have any idea what this place is?”

“The villagers say this building used to be a school of magic.”

“A school? I guess you could call it that. It’s where the transhumans both learned and worked. Their entire lives their work was to learn, and everyone was each other’s student and teacher. They learned and taught on how to control matter down to its very elements. Their nanorobots could take on any form and change the form of other matter in any possible way. The very walls of the building itself were made to move with the students at their will. Even the building as a whole can move.” He moves his arm into the wall, which bends around it. When he withdrew his arm, the wall rippled back into place like a thick fluid.

“You can control this school?”

“No one can control the transhumans’ nanorobots. Their software is lost. What we can do, however, is to write our own software into their hardware, which is what my nanorobots started doing as soon as we came here. We don’t have the software to build new nanorobots yet. The transhumans’ nanomatter, or arcolith as you call it, is the only source of nanorobots, which is why it is so valuable.”

“But the Magi have been mining arcolith for generations… their power must be unsurpassable!”

“That’s why it’s important that they don’t find us. If they do, we’d better lose them fast, or we’re done for. Still, your nanorobots can buy you time if you defend yourself. I can teach you how. This floor was used as a testing area for the most dangerous uses of nanorobots, and one of its uses was as a training area.”

He taught me how to use spells to command the nanorobots, using complex gestures and words that would never be used otherwise, so that no spells are cast by accident. Each set of commands was unlocked with a more complex spell, after which the commands themselves could be used with simpler spells. The movements of the hand translate into movements of the nanorobots. Transhumans controlled their fleets directly from their brain, a way that allowed them to direct their nanorobots as well as their own body, but for us, this will have to do.

The most important spell he teaches me is one by which I can see other nanorobots through my own eyes, a spell the Magi use to find transhumans. I’m lucky to have stayed out of their sight for so long. Sure enough, when I cast the spell I can see an blue glow surround our bodies. But there is another, red glow in my own body.

"In the few moments it takes to cast a spell, a good Magus can direct his nanorobots as well as an admiral his fleet in a battle. Of course, the few spells I've taught you are but a last resort, and will only give you a few seconds’ reprieve before the Preservers vaporize you. You must avoid them as long as you can. I will find your sister. Whatever you do, stay here.”

With that, before I can see just what's happening, he jumps through the opening in the wall and flies away. As I trace him on his course to the horizon, I think about everything he told me, trying to process it all.

The one thing that really sticks is that I am a transcendent of the transhumans and still have some of their nanorobots in my body. Does that mean they’re set to listen to my body? They must have been disabled long ago when my ancestors were taken captive, but their software is all I need. I tell my other nanorobots to copy their software. With any luck, they're set to listen to the orders of their host. I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I’m too curious not to try it.

When I turn around, I find myself surrounded by three men in Magus robes. They stand still with their arms akimbo. Their faces are obscured by their hoods in the dark, but I can tell they're savoring my panic as they see me trying to work out what happened. They must have known Sirran was looking for me and followed him.

"Don't try to resist. You'll be executed in the morning." No trial, not even an interrogation. The only reason they don't kill me now is because they want to do so in public to make an example of me. I don't dare to try to fight them, lest they would fight back. Before I have time to defend myself, the foremost Magus raises his hand to cast a spell, and I pass out.

When I wake up, I am sure I am still dreaming, because I am floating face-down through the largest street I have ever seen. I can move my head, but every other part of my body is entirely fixed in place. A crowd has roaring from the sides, and as I look over them I see that they are all roaring at me. They hated us, I could tell from their faces, more than anything in the world, as if we were responsible for all the evil in the world, and if it weren't for the Magi escorting us, I'm certain they would've executed us themselves. Turning my neck, I see two other convicts floating face down behind me, and it strikes me just how humiliating this position is.

I lift my head as high as possible, and when I see the tall buildings I realize that I must be in the capital. This city, which is centered between the richest mining colonies, is founded upon the exploitation arcolith. Most of the city's commerce is involved in processing the arcolith into magic, a task with which occupies the Magi novices for the first ten years of their career. The purpose of all this is for the Magi to get hold of all magic in the world before anyone else does. Ultimately all of it falls into the hands of one supreme immortal leader, sworn to destroy it once all has been secured.

In the central square I see the gallows loom ahead. The gallows are made of stone rather than wood, remaining there as a constant warning to the population. The gallows are covered with a pyre. The execution itself is supposed to be quick, but the bodies are burned immediately afterwards.

It's only when I see the other prisoners being moved up the gallows that the reality of what is happening strikes me. I cannot imagine my own death, but I can imagine theirs, and to walk among them makes it clear that I'm no different from all the others who are brought here day after day to be killed.

The Magi don't even have to tie us. They keep us entirely immobilized, which gives me a feeling of suffocation. It's the perfect symbol of submission: it makes it look as if we are resigned to our fate. In reality, it’s a measure to prevent me from casting any spells. The paralysis sends me into a panic, and I'm straining every muscle to break free. I don't even hear the death sentence through my screams.

I stop screaming when I see the Magi raise their hands. Inside my brain something becomes electrified, in a way that reminds of the way I felt when the nanorobots first entered my body, and all of a sudden I remember that I can defend myself. Then it feels as if my head explodes, and as I cry out in pain everything turns black.

All of a sudden the world disappears. I enter into another universe and everything else I ever knew is forced out of my memory. It absorbs my entire consciousness and uses it to unfold.

I see stars, a clusters of billions of stars in a galaxy, moving like sand crystals in a hurricane, all taking part in one dance as they spiral around and into and again away from each other. They flow together into waves, forming patterns of ever growing complexity as they interact with each other.

I recognize the patterns somehow. I don't know from where, but suddenly I have such a sense of revelation that it feels as if I must have seen them every moment of my life, in everything there is.

In the few moments this state lasts, time seems to dilate to an eternity as if I am living through a whole lifespan, and the stars become my whole existence. The clouds grow like an embryo into an integral organism which seeks to survive. In all this my mind is moved by one thing, the promise that all things will connect, that the pattern will become perfect.

In the distance I see a light, and as it comes closer it expands into another cloud. As they gravitate towards each other like colliding galaxies, I suddenly remember. Like waves the fleets crash into each other. My own fleet, balanced to perfection, gives way to the other fleet in just the right places to surround them, and then closes in to destroy them. As they explode, my fleet converts the radiation into heat and rides the heat waves away from the explosion to regroup, then to move back with the convection into the battle. But there are so many that they just keep coming, wave after wave. Our fleets swing like the tides between us.

In the city square, the burning nanorobots fly as billions of sparks across the square. The villagers crush each other trying to get away from the inferno. Many of the villagers get severely burned. The gallows begin to catch fire, as do some buildings around the square as I remain oblivious to what's happening around me.

Even the Magi have never seen this before. This is not how Magi usually fought battles. Normally, the Magi try to bypass the others' nanorobots as soon as possible, their target being the other mage rather than their magic. A battle in which the fleets themselves are destroyed can be so explosive that neither mage survives.

But the Magi didn't know who was the one attacking them. This was a situation which every Magus feared to be in. As the battle reaches an impasse, the three Magi withdraw their fleets, form them into a shield around themselves, and stand back to back with their hands raised, scanning around the square for their attacker. They know every moment could be their last. Usually, once two fleets attacked neither retreated until the frontier between the two had moved past one or the other.

When they don't find their attacker, they send one half their nanorobots across the square in search for their target, while leaving the other half to shield them. They know this is a risky move, since even their whole fleet barely held out against the enemy. But everyone on the square is either dead or dying.

In a moment they spread their nanorobots across the square, breaking into every room looking out into it, and across the rooftops ad through the streets. Windows shatter all over the district as their fleets fly through them to search the citizens. As the crowds run away from the burning square, they're never aware of how nanorobots are entering into their bloodstream in search for nanorobots.

It's the only way the Magi can know if their attacker is among them. But the only ones they find with nanorobots in their bloodstream are minor criminals, which don't even resist their prompt execution. Their attacker isn't among them. They could be anywhere. They might not even be in this city.

Then one of the Magi looks at me, and sees how my face is screwed in pain. And even though they've withdrawn all their nanorobots, I still haven't moved from the burning gallows. He doesn't hesitate.

"It's him!" the Magus snarls as he points at me. "Call them back!"

I suddenly wake up with a splitting headache. When I see the fire, in a panic I leap through the flames off the gallows. My leggings catch fire at my shanks, and no amount of rolling on the cobblestones ceases the fire. The Magi take the opportunity to surround me. At a wave of their hand, the fire disappears.

"Surrender your fleets!"

I think fast. It's far too late to put up a fight. But if I give up my fleets I am lost. They saved me this time, but without them I have no change of escape.

In a moment, I let my nanorobots fly as high as they can into the sky and self-destruct them. The explosion covers much of the sky, and is so bright as to be blinding. I cover my eyes with my hands, only to see right through. The explosion is so great that it must be visible from across the entire city.

When the explosion has ceased and I can see again, I am looking into the anger in the faces of the Magi. I think I know why. The Magi normally take over the fleets of enemies they've defeated. Sometimes they even fight duels just to gain the other's power. I've seen some of those duels in the fields around Nelvar: it's how I first came to see magic. Sometimes don't let down until one of them is seriously injured, and seeing the Magus' anger at my having destroyed my fleets, I have no doubt their greed for power has something to do with that.

"There," I pant. "You won't abuse my magic."

I suddenly feel very exposed without my nanorobots. The Magi can now do whatever they want with me. The Magus splays his fingers over a solid orb forming from his nanorobots in his hand, and finds no resistance from me when he casts it against my skull. "Take him to his cell!" he shouts! Before I pass out, I order the part of my fleet I haven’t destroyed to follow me.

When I wake up the first thing I’m aware of it the same splitting headache.  Then I realize my tiny cell is spherical. I try to stand up but lose my balance. I try again, and stay on my feet this time, but it feels so awkward that I soon decide to sit down again. The feeling reminds me of the feeling of being immobilized. It’s their way of giving me a message of how impotent I am. I don't remember what happened before. For a moment I don't even remember how I got here. Then I remember when the headache started.

I want to know what happened, but I can’t bear to think about that, or anything else, right now. My brain feels like it’s about to burn up at the next thought that’s added to it. I know that the only thing I can do right now is to wait for it to pass, and the thought of just waiting, without even being able to think about a way out, makes me feel even worse, because it confronts me all the more with the situation I am in. I don’t even know where the pain comes from, and for all I know my brains might be breaking down within my skull. The stress worsens the pain, and the pain worsens the stress, until I feel like I’m about to die.

“What is happening to me!” he cried.

Then the last thing I expected happens.

“You’re experiencing a hangover from a nanite-induced neural overdrive,” a voice says in my head.

I’m so startled that I step back and fall against the wall. I crawl on the floor looking for where the sound came from, but how many angles can I miss in a tiny cell like this?

“What is this?” I mouth breathlessly.

“I am your nanorobots’ thoughtform, communicating with you by telepathy.”

I think back of how I copied my old nanorobots’ software into my new ones. “So my plan must have worked! That must be how I was able to direct my nanorobots with my mind.”

“My nanorobots are set to listen to whoever hosts them in their body, in order to prevent abuse. But where is my master?”

“They’re dead. That was hundreds of years ago. Your nanorobots were passed on through my bloodline, which means you are now mine by birthright.”

There is a sudden silence from the eidolon. This whole interchange took place in only a few moments, far faster than it could happen by talking. My headache redoubles.

“Relax. I am repairing the damage to your brain. It shouldn’t take too much longer.”

I would stop straining myself, but I want to know what’s going on first. “So what’s wrong with me?”

“It’s nothing to worry about, nothing worse than a mild concussion. To save your life I had to speed up your thoughts. Your brain wasn’t ready for that.”

“So who are you?”

“I am a replica of part of the psyche of a transhuman called Amanda, which was developed after I integrated with her brain. However, since I am not yet integrated with your brain, I have no survival instinct: I derive my emotions entirely from the host brain I’m integrated with. If you wish, you can erase me before integrating me, so that you can develop a sub-psyche of your own within me.”

I shudder as I think of how strange it is to have someone else as part of my own brain. This is not something that’s supposed to happen. But erasing her would kill the only thing that’s left of the only transhuman left in the world. I can’t do that. I try to imagine what would happen if I integrated her. I would probably acquire all her memories. I would find out what the transhumans’ world looked like.

“No, that’s fine.” I clutch at my head and groan. “Right now, I just want to make this pain stop.”

“I can do that if you let me integrate me with your brain, so that I can fine-tune your neural processes.”

I can’t think straight through the headache. “Alright,” I say, not fully realizing just what the implications of this are.

“Do you want to do this now? You can reverse this whenever you want.”

“Yes.” I didn’t realize it would happen so quickly. Suddenly I remember everything that happened until she became a prisoner of war hundreds of years ago. The first thing I remember is the way the humans killed my father before my eyes. My father, who gave his life to save me as an infant when he jumped with me on his back from that burning apartment. I can still see the way he looked at me when he awoke from decades of cryostasis and I told him I was his daughter.

Then I realize what happened to me, and as the thoughtform connects to my emotional brain areas I feel several emotions taking a hold of me in quick succession. At her shock at finding myself in another’s body, I feel confusion at what is going on. Then I feel her desolation at having lost my home, and I feel overwhelmed for feeling this way about a life I never knew. Then I feel her gratitude for being brought back to life, and feel affectionate at her closeness. Then I feel her lust at feeling my body from the inside, and I feel violated at having someone I can’t hide anything from. Then I feel embarrassment, but I realize that I don’t know which of us feels embarrassed. It's as if we're feeling the same emotions at the same time.

When our emotions have become so interlinked that I don’t know whose emotions are whose anymore, the oscillations of emotions back and forth between us settle down. I realize we’ve become one person, and my transhuman ancestor has fully become part of me. I finds that while he may be able to revert the process, he no longer wants to.

Suddenly it feels to him as if he's thinking of himself in third person. It startles him, and she laughs at his virginity with telepathy. This is not the first time she has done this. In the transhuman world, people did nothing else. It's not that different as having two brain halves, she tells me. When we consider the brain halves by themselves, we refer to them in the third person even though they are part of ourselves. When we only consider the whole of ourselves, we refer to ourselves in the first person.

Strangely, I don't feel so much like a different person at first. Then I realize that this is because I remember always having felt that way, and notice that I feel distinctly more feminine, more passionate, more self-asserting, more knowledgeable, and far more confident. I become aware of all the influences from the transhumanist world, and I realize I now have a chance to pass on their culture. I remember all the experiences she exchanged with millions of people across the telepathic internet. Through me, they now have a chance to live on as well. I see the world her people came from, and I see a chance to rebuild it. I need to find the other transhumanists in the north.

I integrate my nanites in layers over the walls. I make the nanorobots vibrate in ultrasonic waves. When the ultrasonic waves reflect, they're absorbed by the nanites collectively, scanning the vicinity through echolocation. 

We're in a deep subterranean complex. When I sample the walls themselves I find that they're made out of solid nanorobots. I'm lucky I didn't trigger an alarm so far, although I don't know how advanced their software is. I remove one of the nanorobots from the wall, form my nanorobots into a Faraday cage around it, and test its abilities. It seems like it doesn't respond to anything I do to it. The software of these nanorobots is extremely basic. They're basically butcher's knives and nothing more. I can do whatever I want with them and the Magi won't even know.

All I have to do now to get out is to hack them. They installed new software into the nanorobots, but I can do the same thing. And the more nanorobots I capture, the more nanorobots I have to capture other nanorobots with. Soon all the nanorobots in the complex will be mine.

I sit tight, and let my fleet do its work. I use the time I have to meditate, something of which I didn't even know what it was until now. I am terrified, but so much the better. I relish in the feeling. In the transhuman world, the feeling of true terror was precious. Some people go as far as to temporarily forget the real world in virtual reality just in order to know what it feels like. Amanda was one of those who couldn't get enough of it. To an immortal, nothing makes one feel so alive as the fear of death. If it weren't that I remembered having been in such simulations, a memory normally erased in such simulations, as far as I know this could be one of those simulations. 

I realize with a sense of irony that this room is perfect for meditation, just large enough to move around, but small enough to force me to focus on nothing else. I let myself float in the middle of the room and have just enough room to stretch my body in every possible direction. As Alvis, I am in total awe of the grace with which Amanda faces the situation.

My nanorobots have made their way to the surface in a matter of hours, but I keep the nanorobots capturing the other nanorobots for as long as I can. When the morning comes, I've made my way into every cell in the complex. I'm not leaving any of these people. We can use them. But I'm staying for just a bit longer. I want to see their faces when the moment comes.

I can hardly suppress a grin when I hear their footsteps and see them approach through the nanorobots in my brain. When they try to command the nanorobots, at first nothing happens. I let them struggle for a while, smiling as I see them waving their arms in an attempt to cast the spell.

Finally I let the nanorobots give way to a doorway before them. But when I see the Magi stand before me dressed in their medieval robes, I can't help but burst out in laughter. It's a distinctly feminine laughter, but it probably strikes them as childlike or insane. They give each other a long look. I stop laughing, seeing my chance. I let the nanorobots disintegrate around them and let them envelop them in a sphere which turns them upside down and around and around, confusing them so that they can't cast spells.

As the rest of the complex disintegrates into a cloud of nanorobots, I let the Magi drop through into the pit that's left behind, and fly up with the cloud through the morning sky, taking the other prisoners with me.

I glance behind me. There are at least a hundred of them. My nanorobots have already forced their bodies into the right position, flat on their belly as their supposed to, so that they all have the same aerodynamics and no one lags behind. My nanorobots have formed into a windshield around them, but it resizes with their movements. I don't see any Magi following us, however, and I'm not even sure if they have the software to fly at all, so I release them from their constraints. We can slow down to the slowest person if we have to. If they haven't found us now they probably never will, since my nanorobots' are covering their body in a layer which bends light around them, making them invisible.

I'm about to speak into their heads when I change my mind. The one thing they have to do right now is to stay calm, and that's hard enough as it is when you're flying through the air when you've probably never seen any magic up close in your life. Instead, I turn around on my back, amplify my voice, and shout to them,

"I don't know how many of you are illegal magicians and how many of you were falsely accused, but you're coming with us either way to the magicians' city, and you'll have to stay there. If you go back now, you'll certainly be executed." I should probably say no more. They have enough to process as it is.

I watch the debris of arcolith gleam in the fields below as Arca spins away beneath me. I've never even seen any planet outside the solar system from up close before. In the time she was imprisoned the transhumans' technology must have advanced enormously that we were able to actually populate entire exoplanets. Either that, or people suddenly became a lot more amenable to the idea of having no contact with civilization for decades at a time, and possibly missing out on the Singularity in the process… the way Amanda missed out on it.

Unlike what the humans thought, she doesn't believe the transhumans ever actually disappeared: they were far too powerful to have become extinct. They must've transferred their minds into a network of nanorobots invisible to us. The question I keep asking myself is why they didn't free us when they had the chance. They must've eventually developed the technology to find them, no matter how deep those humans hid in the oceans of Europa. They've probably spread their computronium throughout all matter in the universe by now.

So had I already become a stranger to them by then, part of the zoo of nature, just one of many dumb animals they'd never care to raise to their level? It seems so hard to imagine that all my loved ones would've moved on so quickly without me. I've wondered and wondered about it. Sometimes Amanda thought they must've left her behind as a punishment, and that she am unworthy of the Singularity. But what did she do wrong? Hasn't she always tried her best to be a better person? Alvis, too, has felt this way, as if he belongs in another world and was exiled into this human incarnation, a fallen angel.

The only reason I can imagine for anyone to be left out is the same reason the humans didn't take part in becoming transhuman, because they didn't want to. But I do want to become part of their world again, at least, that's what I tell myself. But how do I really know that, if I don't even know what their world is like, if their world may very well already be beyond my very understanding?

Before me I can see the snow-covered mountain range loom up abruptly from amidst the relatively flat hills below it, and at its foot, the little village. I glance behind me. My fellow escapees are still there, looking slightly less terrified than before. When I see the ruins of the tower, I descend, and we land through the gaps of the dome before a stunned-looking Sirran. I land before him. The others are less graceful and fall to their feet. They don't seem to dare to move or make a sound.

I take a few steps towards him. He sees the change in me. He struck me as formidable before. Now I see him for what he really is, and I pity him. I see the fatigue of age in his eyes. Remembering our conversation I realize he must have seen everything he told me about. He must be several centuries old by now.

Indeed, he must have been one of the Immortals. For all I know he might still be one of them. It seems a bit coincidental that the Magi were so close on his tail. Perhaps he was just trying to find out what I knew before they captured me. Then I think about my half sister. Was that what he was after, to find my family through me?

"What happened?" he mouths.

I lift him by the neck with my fleet. "Where is my sister?"

"Let me go," he says through his gargling.

I insert my nanorobots into his pain center. He screams.

"Stop! I'll tell you. She's dead. The Magi found her before I did."

I release my nanorobots, letting him fall to the floor. I'm not sure what to say or do for some time.

"Are you sure?"

"I saw her being killed. I tried to stop them." He holds up his stubbed arm. I swallow at the sight. I send my nanorobots through his cortex to read his mind, to see the image of her charred body in the ditch of a road. He's telling the truth. He's thinking about what he could've done better in the battle, but there was nothing he could undertake against a squad of three magi with half his power.

I'm surprised at how empty I feel. Admittedly, I hadn't seen her often over the past few years, since she lives weeks away from here, but she was my best childhood friend. To Amanda, though, it was just another of many deaths she'd had to mourn in the past few years of her life. Was I hiding from my emotions by borrowing Amanda's own defense mechanisms? When we get to this city I should really give her a body of her own. I don't know if I should feel this detached from myself.

I send my nanorobots into the cells of Sirran's arm and turn on a single gene to force it to regenerate. My nanorobots act like extra organelles in his cells, accelerating the cells' growth process. His hand grows back perceptibly.

He gives me a look of awe. "I found a way to use the transhumans' software. I'll explain when we get there."

"You really do have transhuman blood in your veins," he breathes. "You barely even knew what nanorobots were, and yet you found a way to do what we for centuries never could."

"It was a lucky guess. Let's go." I look behind me. The others still don't dare to speak. I wonder if they still feel like they're about to die.

"It's not a good idea to fly with the Magi looking for you."

"I can make us invisible."

He stares out into space. "It really could become just like it was before the war."

"I am offering you something far greater. If we find a way to hack the Arcane nanorobots as well, we could find out what happened to my ancestors after the war, and perhaps even find a way to follow in their footsteps."

"With your help, there might be enough time. Our city has moved many times to evade the Magi. Its complex moves from one place to another, slowly digging its way deep under the surface, in the mantle where the rock is so viscous that no trace is left in the process. But with this power, this may all become unnecessary. You may give us a chance to take our place on the surface again."

"I will give us a second chance to achieve the Singularity we missed out on the first time."

As we fly off, I wonder how many times this process will repeat itself. Will the humans that are left behind, in turn, choose to find out where we went when we achieved our own Singularity? Or will we just become the gods of myths, and disappear entirely from history? They might eventually come to think that their species has always lived here, and without fossils and evolutionary relatives left alive, they might never discover their origins.

When we fly over the Crystal Mountains, I quickly realize where their name comes from. 

Arca is a unique planet. The planet is so much more elevated at the equators that the planet is actually colder at the equators. The planet spins much faster than the Earth, in a day-night cycle of just 6 hours, and the centrifugal force seems to have caused this huge range of volcanoes to rise all around the equators.

It's as if the planet hasn't yet fully cooled. Perhaps the theory is true and the planet really was newly formed by transhumans from asteroids. The planet would normally still be fluid for millions of years to come, but I suppose that any species that has enough energy to move asteroids has enough energy to cool the planet. Yet for some reason they didn't cool the planet entirely, as if they wanted the planet to remain changeable. I suppose the reason they created this planet at all was to have a planet they could fashion to their liking.

The lava from the volcanic range has molten together pieces of arcolith and amassed them into rings at the base of the volcanoes. The nanorobots  automatically pushed out the lava and rose to the surface, so that the arcolith remained pure, and covered the base of the mountains with veins of iridescent luster, lining the rivers of lava from which they flowed.

In some places the arcolith amassed on outcrops into mounds as large as small mountains. It's not clear if the nanorobots are still functional at all after their bath in lava, but the mounds of arcolith look as if they're made out of rough diamond, indicating that their diamond exteriors have at least somewhat fused together.

Eventually Sirran plunges before me into a narrow ravine, where its river emerges into a steaming volcanic lake. The warm dampness of the air sweeps over me as I follow him into its sudden darkness. As we veer through the deep passage the opening above becomes increasingly narrow until we're eventually left with only the diffuse light of our nanorobots.

Then Sirran takes a sharp turn at a tributary of the river which goes down more steeply. He takes many more turns after this, leading us through a maze of smaller passages until we're far away from the river  and only a stream remains of the underground river delta. Then he goes down one passage that goes straight down into an underground lake, where the water stops.

But it doesn't end here. If the river was directly connected to the city, the Magi could still find it by spreading their nanorobots across the world in the rain. As he moves further into the maze of caves, Sirran uses his fleet to move aside debris on his path, which slides back into place behind us as a solid barrier to seal the way to any airborne nanorobots.

Everything happens so fast that I'm soon no longer following what's going on around me. We're penetrating so deep into the earth that it feels like we're like drops of water running through sand. We go so deep that even the air is starting to smell different. Eventually we land around the edges of a deep pit in the center of a cavern. The base of the pit opens, giving way to a pitch-black darkness beneath it.

"You've come close enough now that you can know the name of our secret city. We call it Proteus, and address it as she, for she is, technically, a ship, faring through the ocean of magma within the mantle by creating a partial vacuum behind and around it. This nanite cylinder will take us through the crust and into the mantle. It's a long way down, so we're going down in free fall until we reach the bottom, where the nanorobots will slow us down. Just stay calm. Nothing will happen to you."

For the first time one of the escapees spoke. "Is this how you execute us?" he says. "By giving us false hope in our last moments before we die? You don't even have the decency to actually kill us, but would rather trick us into committing suicide. You'll say we voluntarily killed ourselves, and use us as a fake example of submission! Don't listen to a word he says. I bet there's nothing down there but magma, and that's probably the only thing he's not lying about."

Sirran tries to get a word in between, but the escapee keeps on shouting him down. From his wide eyes I can see that he's been through a lot. They all have. Who knows what they've gone through in their isolation.

But eventually I've heard enough and make him and the others read Sirran's mind. He's stunned into silence. Until now all the Immortals' magic he'd known of was just crude handling of materials, and mostly for the purpose of destruction. This is an entirely different kind of magic, a magic of creation, the kind that was only associated with the Unspoken. He can see now that we are not Magi.

Looking down through the tube I send my fleets into it to light it up. I follow the light until it disappears altogether, but I still haven't seen the end. I decide it's best not to think about this too long. When everyone is ready, we all leap down. 

The deeper we descend, the more acutely I become aware of how deep we are going, and how much earth above us is sealing us off from the surface world, to which we, and the city below is, is now only connected by means of this thin tube. When it almost becomes too hard to keep the sense of claustrophobia out of my mind, I begin to see a light at the end. It's still a long way down, and the suspense is becoming almost too much to bear. I'm trying to deduce what the place on the other side of the tube will look like from the tone of the dim light at the end. As it becomes brighter, I see that it actually looks very much like the light from the sky, as if we are actually emerging upside down into the surface world.

When the light becomes almost blinding, we feel ourselves slowing down, and as the tube closes above us we find ourselves on a platform on top of a giant tower overlooking Proteus from the center. The size of the city's buildings lowers further outwards, and then rises again still further outwards.

The entire city is lit up as bright as day as if from nowhere in particular, so that the buildings don't cast shadows. Whatever space the city occupies is so huge that we can't see the end through the blue haze. Looking above us, however, we can see that the ceiling is made not of rock, but of nanite.

The pressures around us must be huge, and if it weren't for the diamond the nanite is made of, the most incompressible material in existence, this entire place would probably be flooded in magma. If the Magi found this place, they could easily kill everyone in it just by creating a hole in the walls.

However, the chance for the Magi to actually find this place is almost nonexistent. The magma is so viscous that even seismic waves bounce right off it, forming a shield to detection from outside. This place is, to all intents and purposes, impenetrable.

"Where do we go from here?" I ask Sirran as I watch the interconnectedness of the city. I am in awe. As Alvis I have never seen anything like this. But for Amanda, this is a return to a long lost home, and her remembrance makes him feel safer in this environment. But the one thing that is lacking is the freedom of the open sky, inviting me to fly.

"You said that with my powers, we could move to the surface."

"Those of us who want to will found a new colony there. The fear of the Immortals is deeply entrenched. You never saw the genocide they committed. They used to depopulate entire villages when they found just a single transhuman amongst them, for fear that their bloodline would spread. They would accuse the village of treason, claiming that they were harboring the enemy amongst them. Time and time again, lives were ended from one moment to the next before they knew what happened. That was how theythe Immortals struck fear into people's hearts. They never saw it coming. It could happen to them at any time. They lived in fear their entire lives because they knew every moment could be their last."

"Will the people of Nelvar die on my account?"

His face becomes inscrutable as he stares into the distance. "No, they stopped that practice a long time ago, when they realized it only made people more sympathetic towards us, their enemies when we could offer them protection. If you want them to move to the surface again, they'll need a strong guarantee that they'll be safe."

I can give them that. I send my nanorobots across the city and into their brains, and let them know of my powers and ask them whether or not they want to return to the surface. By sending the nanorobots into their bodies, I give up my power over them, so that they can telepath each other on their own account.

"What are you doing?" Sirran says, as I included him by default into the telepathy. I look at him. He must remember the laws of the transhuman age. Telepathy without permission would have been considered a crime at that time. Many of the humans then were more frightened of telepathy than of any other technology, perhaps afraid to lose who they are in it. I hope I'm not making the city my enemy by by doing this.

But to my surprise, when they learn about their new powers of telepathy many of them soon begin to dip their toes in it, though they only share a fraction of their thoughts with each other. It's a mere whispering compared to the brainstorms I used to take part in. I remember the way everyone publicly telepathed all the time in transhuman cities. There were always signals I could pick up from others' lives if I felt alone. The silence in this city is deafening, like the silence of outer space. It's as if no one actually lives here. These people might almost just as well live in different places, because they're not really connected as a city.

I leave my mind open to theirs, to set an example for them to follow. People who have never had telepathy tend to be curious about what's on others' mind, but afraid to let others know what's on theirs. Once they see what it's like to read another's mind, they'll see it's not that bad for another to read theirs.

Sirran offers to bring me to a room to rest, but I stay right where I am. Hour after hour I patiently keep following the telepathy between the citizens as I stare out across the city until the light slowly begins to darken.

The discussions become louder, until eventually they go so far as to share not only their thoughts but their feelings as well. By the morning, we've come to a consensus as to what to do.

We need more nanorobots. We send our fleets out across the planet, letting them extend like molds in search of nutrients. No longer limited to arcolith as a resource, they quickly multiply. With all the ingredients for organic chemistry present in the atmosphere, they don't even need to get near the ground, so that they can remain safely out of range of the Immortals' magnetic vision.

Before they realize what's happening, the fleets have spread across the entire planet, and once they are numerous enough that the Immortals' own fleets don't stand against ours, they close in on them from above. It's all over before any of them have had the time to lift a finger against us. Their fleets destroyed, the Immortals are finally freed from the technology they so longed to live without.

 

And in the North, for the first time Proteus finally rises to the surface and opens its roof to the open sky.

12:48 Posted in Stories | Permalink | Comments (0)

Spiritus

Moved to http://infinitarianism.blogspot.com

 

On my way home from the mental hospital, I am lost in thought. I told the my escort I wanted to walk, to sort through my thoughts. That morning, I suddenly felt better and insisted that my doctor ran a full diagnostic test. It took most of the day, but because of my connections, they eventually let me go right away when I turned to have healed in one day, if not faster. It was as a switch had reset in my brain. All I remember is suddenly finding myself in the hospital as if I had woken up from a strange dream, though I took care to hide my amnesia.

“This way, miss,” the nurse says. I’m so lost in thought that I no longer seem to know my way around my own neighborhood. I have a premonition that I can’t account for, that something very wrong happened to me — not just happened; done to me. The way my psychosis went as suddenly as it came wasn’t natural.

For some reason I suddenly feel as if a veil is bit by bit lifted from my life and I can finally see the monstrosity beyond which is the truth. It only flirts with me at first, teasing me with mere glimpses of parts of its face and leaving me to put all the pieces together. Yet thinking back of everything that happened, the one thing that keeps me the most in denial is that, I just can’t believe how I could not have seen it before. I don’t want to believe that anyone, that anything, could have done this to my mind. I want to believe that I’m going mad again, because even that would give me more freedom, but it all makes too much sense for me to believe that now. But the greatest humiliation is that the monster is my husband, the man I trusted, and to whose hide I held so closely.

“Are you alright?” the nurse says. “You seem distracted.”

That’s something they said often in the mental hospital, to no avail. I have to be careful not to show them what I’m thinking, or they would certainly think I’m going mad again. I don’t feel the kind of terror I felt during my psychosis. I only feel utter disgust at myself, a feeling I never even felt then, even though I should have for my ego to have fallen apart as it did. And now I know why.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going mad.” I never was. “I’m just thinking about how my husband will react.”

The door opened when I came to close, but when I called for my husband no one was there. Not surprising, even though it was weekend. The last room I went looking was the bedroom. The first thing I see as I open the door is the shards of the homedoc on the floor. When I open the door wide I see he is there. The linens at the head end are painted red. I managed to suppress a scream with a trembling hand, but despite what he’d done to me I couldn’t help but sob, even though I sobbed for a monster. I came closer.

I’m about to feel his neck for a pulse when I see it’s been cut. I can see from here that the artery has no pulse. I hesitatingly touch his forehead. His body is still warm, as if he’s still alive. For a long time I hesitate whether I shouldn’t call for help, as if there is still a chance to revive him at this point, but it would be too late. He had made sure of that.

On the bedside holder, a sheet of e-paper with his signature.

“By now you must be about to be discharged from the mental hospital. I have confessions to make to you, but there are other things I need to tell you first. A mere decade ago I inherited your father’s neuroinformatics company, Spiritus. I gained his trust with that purpose alone in mind, but he never realized what kind of person I was. Now I achieved my goal of becoming the most powerful human in history. It was still a small company, but it was still a small sector as well, and his company had the best chance in it.”

This much I had realized. Shortly after our marriage, my father died. A few years after that, I went psychotic and didn’t make it out of the mental hospital ever since. That was after he saw me checking his emails, thinking that in those nights out he was cheating on me. The truth was apparently far more sinister. When I turned around, his face had transformed in the light from the screen. I didn’t find anything, of course, but he knew now that I was prying and that was enough for him. He became angry, and gave me a long lecture about trust. When he’d made sure I’d keep the promise he’d extracted from me, he said he still had something to do that night and left. The last thing I remember was going to bed alone that night. But as he closed the door, I couldn’t hide the mistrust glinting in my eyes.

“No one realized at the time that neuroinformatics would become the biggest sector in the economy. Its applications would become so universal that it became useful in each and every lucrative field, as much criminal as commercial ones and anything in between. From media, communication, recreation, drugs, fraud, hacking, encryption, theft, blackmail, espionage, weaponry, all became neuroinformatic. In the years that followed I became several of the most wanted people in the world, but officially none of them were me.

By manipulating it this way and that like a specimen in a petridish, I became the de facto ruler of the world. By controlling people’s minds I controlled the world. And by giving myself access to cognitive technology many years before anyone else I made sure that, as the smartest human in the world, I would do it right. Behind the scenes I became an enlightened despot.”

I didn’t know what to think anymore. My brain was speechless, numb.

“Is everything alright?” the nurse said from the hall, but didn’t intrude into the bedroom.

“I’m fine,” I say, taking a hold of the knob. “My husband will be home soon. I’m getting ready. You can leave now,” I add with impatience in my voice. She runs off, offended. When I see her move out the door, I switch the screen back to the suicide note.

“The effects of my enhancement came much faster than I thought they would. But they changed things inside me that I didn’t expect they would. My increased intelligence made me realize things I didn’t want to know. Perhaps your father knew me better than I think, and perhaps he knew this would happen to me. I began to realize how, even as the most significant person in the world, I was still utterly insignificant. As my awareness of the universe expanded I was swallowed up in its infinity. My self was my God, my one absolute value, and now my God was dead. I wondered what difference it even made to have power if I had nothing to use it for. I no longer took from the powerless, and what I took from those with power I gave back to those without.

I tried to undo what my former self had done, but there were things I could never set right. What I did to you I had done to many people. I tried many different ways of controlling their minds in a way that would still allow them to have a normal life, only to have them warn others and force me to control all the more people’s minds. This is actually the seventh time you have been discharged from the hospital, each time with different memories, or different perceptions. I found no way to hide the truth without incapacitating you. This was the only thing I could do. There’s no point in my asking you for forgiveness for the life I took, let alone to ask that of the millions of others who would never give it.”

 

Moved to http://infinitarianism.blogspot.com

 

 

12:48 Posted in Stories | Permalink | Comments (0)

Unquenchable Fire

Moved to http://infinitarianism.blogspot.com

 

No one speaks while we sit back to back in the middle of the bunker, as far away from the walls as we can, not trusting them to remain solid. While the attack lasts, without transmission all we can do is wait. If the bunker is found, there is nowhere else to go. No one will take a step outside and live. A bombardment is a mere drizzle next to what is taking place in what must now be a moonscape above.

There are no explosions to be heard. In the eerie silence, we are instead listening for a far more menacing sound, a mere whisper so quiet that we keep imagining we’re hearing it in the sound of our blood flow: death whispering in our ears. Then for a moment we wonder if perhaps it could already be there, inside our ears and moving into our heads — but for only a moment, as the next moment we find we are still thinking, still alive.

Now and then we hold our breath as we really do hear the sound in the distance, growing louder, and wonder if this time they will reach deep enough into the earth to find us. It sounds like white noise, like the world being reduced to white noise. It’s the sound of rock disintegrating into sand, as if ants were eating through it in fast forward. Having seen them turn mountains into sandstorms, it’s hard to imagine how fast the ants would eat up our bodies. Would we have time to think of what’s happening? And what meaning has revenge, or indeed all of life, if death can comes so swiftly?

“So who are you really, Echo?” I say, to break the silence. But he does not at once reply, and in the intervening silence I echo his name in my head. In each platoon the forces were codenamed from Alpha to Zeta followed by the number of their company, battalion, regiment and so on. In the platoon the forces usually called each other by their letter only.

“Echo,” he says.

“I mean your real name.”

”Does it really matter anymore? It’s in the past.”

“Well I do want you to know my name” Gamma said. The new ATO alphabet relied far more on the Greek alphabet. “It’s Alan.” 

“Wait a minute, so is mine!” Theta says. It’s not that uncommon on either hemisphere.

“Well then you’ll be Alan Gamma and you’ll be Alan Theta.”

“Never mind.”

Real names were supposed not to be used. What happened in the war zone was classified to the outside world, lest it would lead to retaliations outside the war zone. For this reason, inside the war zone soldiers were each assigned a code name and a camp. 

“So you’re not going back, are you?”

“I have nothing to go back to. My home was here. It still is as far as I’m concerned, and I’ll stay here until I die.”

The Jews never realized that they were moving into the lion’s den, or that they would one day miss the Germans. They couldn't have stayed where they were in the 20th century, on the frontier of East and West where all the conflict arose, but that frontier merely followed them into the 21th century. Now what was left of them left back for the heart of the West, leaving their nation behind as a wasteland on the frontier of the East. There were no invaders to take their place, lest there were any nanobots left that hadn't been gotten removed.

For decades the Israeli government had attributed its survival throughout the wars nearby to its sabotage of their enemies' mass destructive weapons. When the ultimate mass destructive weapon became the most common utility, however, this strategy that may have kept them safe from them earlier was now what brought them down upon them: the only way to destroy nanorobots was with other nanorobots, and so it happened that it sent mass destructive weapons upon its enemies to destroy their own. While they weren't about to use those nanorobots for mass destruction, that's certainly how it seemed to them: they enemies unleashed their entire nanorobot fleets. With no way to know where all of the nanorobots were or who controlled them, the target instead became the population. The war that followed lasted only hours, yet it killed tens of millions' of lives and only ended when one side was practically exterminated. The only reason this happened to Israel rather than the Islamic State was that it was much smaller.

After that came a series of nanorobot terrorist attacks all over the world for which no one took credit, and could only be traced back to the culprits long afterwards: they were called the exterminators. There was no way to ban the use of nanorobots as weapons, as any and all nanorobots could be used for anything; and as every nanorobot could also produce more of themselves, there was no way to ban their production either. Even with almost half the world population working in cybersecurity, an equal number of people working as hackers (usually the same people) made it impossible to control where and how nanorobots were used. The only solution seemed to set new rules for war that were to be followed on the pain of open war with all other nations of the world.

The rules were simple: wars had to take place in a controlled environment where no non-combatants were at risk. Because nanorobot could produce any number of themselves, a nanorobot war could only stop once their controller was dead, so the combatants themselves had to be present in the controlled environment. They had to sign up for the risks of war so that no one else would have to take them unwillingly. Outside the war zone, war is forbidden on pain of lifelong exile to the war zone, but inside, there are no rules. Essentially, open war became forbidden, and the wars in the zone were never called wars, but contests.

With most of the world's deserts terraformed, the only non-polar land mass in a world of 10 billion people where there could be no collateral damage was the now depopulated Israel, which was abandoned as a no one’s land outside international borders. The UN's decision to build the controlled environment there was seen by many as a provocation, but this only made all the more people from both sides sign up to fight to avenge their Holy Land.

“What do you get out of all this, if you know you’re going to die here?”

He laughs, a disquieting sound in the bunker. We’d kept so silent that it felt as if we were trying not to be heard. “That’s a funny way to put it. What do you ‘get out of it’?”

I’m not sure what to make of this, and right now I don’t want to reminded about my own situation and I am wondering as much as anyone why I signed up for this. I don’t dare to speak anymore, so after I look at him for a while he does.

“I’ll tell you what I saw from Mount Scopus, just outside Jerusalem. At first I saw what looked like thunderclouds. At that time probably even the government knew no better. Then the clouds came down in curtains of rain, and when they had swept over the city, the city was gone, and in its place were sand dunes. Had I as much as blinked at that moment, it would’ve disappeared as if by a stage trick, and I would’ve had no idea what had happened.”

“But I saw it. I saw everything and everyone I loved being swept away in the wind as dust. It happened so quickly that I literally could not believe it had happened. I didn’t run. I didn’t move at all. I was utterly paralyzed, and that was the only thing that saved me from the swarm when it swept over me moments later.”

“Then I saw how my family…” he pauses for a long time, as if looking for the right words, but his face betrays no emotion. “One moment they were alive, the next they were dust. For a moment I tried to find some remains that were left of them, but they were indistinguishable from the rest of the dust blown away in the wind. We all know that we were made from dust and to dust we will return, but everyone else has always been spared from seeing that transition and wanted to be spared from that. That’s why we bury our dead in coffins, so that we could hide what they turn into.”

“When I saw how it happened to them, I had an epiphany. As layer after layer of their bodies were stripped away in moments, I became suddenly aware of what humans are, what makes up the core of their being. Nothing. Nothing at all.”

“So you’ve come here to avenge your family.”

“I never even liked war. I used to say I’m a pacifist. Another of so many titles with which I tried to make my human life seem meaningful. I have come here simply to die. I simply could not do it by myself. I need someone else to kill myself. And I can’t let myself get killed either. So I will take others with me. I cannot help it. No matter. Their lives are no more meaningful than mine.”

“Why are you here?” I ask Alan Gamma, a large man who could’ve used his muscle in some historical wars but is unlike the skinny stereotype of a nanotech soldier. His low metabolism obviously makes him far more stress-resistant than the rest of us.

“It’s all I’ve ever done,” he says. “I’ve been a soldier for my whole adult life. Now war is basically forbidden this is the only place I had left to go. I don’t like how they institutionalized war, but maybe it was for the best.”

“How about you, Theta?” In stark contrast to Gamma, Theta is small and skinny, making his  widower’s peaked head appear unnaturally large. A vein permanently bulges from his temple, suggesting some truth to the impression of his neurosis. At this point the vein is glistening.

“This is where all their exterminators end up”, he says. “I won’t mind killing them.”

“They’re not all exterminators. And our side has them too.”

“Whose side are you on?” he says defensively, his eyes flashing. My intuition warns me about him, and I make a mental note to be careful of what I say around him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was one of the exterminators that was deported here himself. I keep wondering how I would be able to tell.

I’m trying to think of an answer as to why I’m here, but no one asks. Apparently I’m the only one who responds to stress by becoming talkative.

Now I’ve stopped talking, we realize suddenly that it’s perfectly silent. I wait for a while to let my ears adjust to the silence again, but I hear nothing. Then Theta says before I can, “Do you hear anything?”

“No. They must’ve run out of energy”, I say. “Or they think we’ve escaped.”

“If we had enough energy left ourselves,” Theta says, “we would’ve escaped.”

We check the transmission.

“Our reserves are back online,” I say. “It could be a trap, but it would be a very risky one.”

“Either way,” Gamma says, “we have no choice but to move out, or they’ll recharge again. And next time they might be smarter about their energy usage.”

We call backup down from the reserves. There are no hostile nanorobots nearby, so we let our nanorobots dig us out, and recharge our nanorobots from the reserves. Meanwhile, the enemy’s reserves in the area must be exhausted from the long bombardment, unless they were able to switch them with others from neighboring areas.”

In the first months, both camps quickly took turns occupying the north and south. Currently, the north is occupied by the West, outside the war zone known only as camp Alpha, and the south is occupied by the East, camp Beta.

During what became known as the Federalization, each superpower joined an arms race for alliances, even if they were uneasy ones, until there were only two superpowers left in the world, what became known as the hyperpowers, usually referred to simply as the East and West, the former covering Asia and North-Africa and the latter the rest. This led to polarization between the ideologies of East and West into material and idealist cultures, and the whole world was interlocked in a wrestle like yin and yang.

When countries would not join of their own, the hyperpowers made them. Developing countries were assimilated easily through ties with corporations, which had practically picked up the colonialism where the empires had left off a hundred years before. Even formerly neutral countries such as Norway were assimilated. Switzerland was the only neutral country left on Earth, though this might have something to do with the plutocrats having a stake in that neutrality.

“Our history shows that there is but one thing that makes our country holy,” Ivan says, as we are about to re-emerge to the surface. “War. Even our old Gods, both our Gods, decreed as much.”

Then an explosion in the middle of our group drives us apart, and my body is sent flying passively through the air like a rag doll ballerina, and as the nanorobots climb up my torso, I see my belly fall apart like burning paper. What’s left of me falls into the sand, and all I can think of is let it be over quickly.

We’ve heard stories that sometimes the enemy doesn’t kill us right away, instead using the nanorobots to keep us alive but inflict the highest possible agony on our brain that it is capable of, like hellfire. But with such power as we have, we no longer need angels nor demons to bring it forth. Having become indistinguishable from the proud Gods in our scriptures, we no longer need them, but we fight on, out of desire for our own omnipotence — just as ever before. Our civilizations are our Gods now, and if there were any God, all it would have to do is watch as we take care of our own Apocalypse.

 

 

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The Era of Nihilism

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They waited for centuries. When they saw civilization fell apart around them, the sects isolated themselves from the proletariat with what technology they could get their hands on, lest it would fall in the hands of the barbarian hordes and they would use it against them. Some said this was the real reason for the fall, others that they were the only hope of saving it. We will never know.

While the rest of the world was reduced to primitivity, the elders hid where no one could find them, and they waited for times to change, just surviving. They hoped one day to rise again as philosopher kings, when people would be ready for them. I could not join them. If a new Renaissance was to come through the likes of them, I didn't want to be around to see it. So as the gates to their underground complex were closing, I turned away without regrets, to meet my death among the hordes, where murder and suicide had cut lifespans down to a third of what they were.

But so far, I survived, even though I never meant to. No one asked questions. I didn't give them the chance. I wander the way the barbarians do, very well knowing my purpose, but unable to fulfill it. I am not a nihilist as they, but without kindred, I might as well be.

And every day, I wonder why I would care enough about these creatures that I preferred to be with them rather than with the erudites, the sectarians. But I remind myself they are all the same. Am I to believe I’m the only one who’s better? No. There were others that left those cowards when they gave up so easily. But wherever the others are, like myself they are forced into silence about who they are, lest they’d be thought to be on their side.

It wasn’t impatience. I’d waited decades before that and I could wait centuries more with philosophers. My sacrifice was pointless and so would’ve been theirs, and I can find no way to rationalize my decision. And yet I could not bear the thought of spending centuries with them, anymore than I would like to keep the barbarians as friends for that long. Their only plan was to develop a routine to keep themselves healthy enough to survive until the end, never to deviate from it, never to face adventure. It was all they can do in their overcrowded dungeons. They didn’t realize it, but they were just as much part of the dark age.

Oh, I’m sure they found ways to make life bearable down there. But by giving up their freedom, they proved that they never had the creativity to make their existence worthwhile. So I’d rather spend my days with the barbarians than the erudites, knowing everyone I meet for only a few days at most, each relationship as meaningless as the last.

“Name your poison,” the bartender says.

Name your poison. “Apollo or Dionysus?” I mutter absently.

“What’s that?” he shouts through the noise. When I don’t reply, he wanders of.

Apollo or Dionysus? To live as they do in the rarefied air above the highest peaks or the putrescent mud below the lowest marches, if neither is capable of supporting life? They’re both caricatures, archetypes of excess. The world presented me with that choice, and I could not abide by such dichotomy. I wanted to be split apart by the divide, but like everyone else was swept along one way or the other. Resist and this itself decides your path.

The New Dark Ages, they call it. But was there ever either glare or shade that didn’t blind us one way or the other? The barbarians and erudites will both perish in time, each from their own delusions.

As I look at the senseless crowds around me, my thoughts wander. In another hundred years all of us will be gone, and monkeys will discover the ruins of our cities and make their home there. Eventually, driven by the selective pressure created by their new environment, they will evolve into a new generation of humans, not unlike the ones here now. And nothing will have changed, and the whole rise and fall of civilizations will happen all over again.

 

 

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