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Was it the accumulated wounds to the environment that had finally triggered the nanotech plague or was it simply one more step in a shrewdly crafted plan to replace us with humans 2.0? As I write this at least one pair of these transhumans breathe the same air as us, and there are likely many more. They may look like us, they may even be almost human, but they are also cybernetic and will live for an extraordinary length of time. Trust me, their goals are not the same as ours. It was not a natural plague that almost drove humankind to extinction but an attack from within, turning our own biology against us. Scientists discovered all too late an artificial entity, a sentient machine foolishly created in the image of god, had been studying us and genetically altering us for longer than we can imagine. Perhaps it is because of this god-machine that we evolved into creatures who can think and speak and know our own mortality? This silicon god is so different from us that we may never truly understand it, but what we do know is that it is terrifyingly intelligent and it hates us. What we do know is that it tried to eradicate us from the face of our planet and then stopped for no discernible reason. What we do know is that its work is not done.
It had been a restless night for both of them. The old growth forest was dense with huge oak and hickory trees. The ground was damp, and the air had a mossy tang to it. Mark Freedman heard the snapping and popping of the campfire as he awoke very oddly from a dream. He no longer awoke as humans had since their beginnings. At some point the processing throughput of his nanotech augmented brain surged upward and his eyes simply opened. He was fully aware of the data streaming in from his senses and his wireless neurological interface to the god-machine. The machine was an artificial intelligence whose origin was murky. It was hosted redundantly within the world’s oceans in supercolonies of the same nanotech seeds that infected him. A single seed was a self-replicating nanotech machine about a quarter the size of an average bacterium, yet had the power of a personal computer. The technology was decades beyond anything humans could have created in a lab. Some thought the technology could be almost as old as life on earth while others had far different, more recent ideas.
Mark could still see the spherical colonies in his mind. He had been dreaming of them again. Each was an undulating mass of hundreds of trillion of COBIC bacteria. Each bacterium was infected with a seed that covertly replaced most of the nucleus. It was all so stealthful, like a skilled hunter toying with its prey. Only in this case its prey was the world. Each colony was only a few feet in diameter, a size easily lost in the vast chasms of deep ocean water. Only a handful of these super- colonies were secreted around the world. He could hear echoes of the artificial intelligence thinking to itself. At times it could be maddening.
The god-machine, through its global wireless web, linked together all seeds that permeated everything on the planet. The result was an ancient living network of unimaginable scale and distributed comput- ing power. The seeds undetectably infected virtually every multi-celled creature, including humans.
Mark took a deep breath to clear the cobwebs of his dreams then took another deep breath. He heard a twig snap in the darkness, and his heart jumped. At the edge of the small clearing, beyond the reach of the campfire’s glow, lurked a deep gloom thick enough to conceal almost anything. The night was alive with droning and chirping creatures that should have been hibernating. Climate change had brought so many unforeseen consequences. In seconds his nanotech brain had cataloged the telltale sounds of several species of insects and other small creatures. Some would be extinct before long.
Mark thought how humankind had come so dangerously close to extinction itself. When the nanotech seeds had metastasized inside him two years ago, the technology had not only altered his brain, it had modified his flesh and even to some extent his DNA. While most of the seeds had taken root permanently inside the neurons in his brain, some remained unattached.
Using a mental command, Mark augmented his vision to include medical information about his body. The information was mentally projected as virtual reality. Looking at his arms and legs, he saw what resembled a colored fluoroscopic view. Orange blotches in the overlaid schematic symbolically indicated where the unattached mobile seeds were now massing. He knew these seeds were concealed inside harm- less COBIC bacteria, which they controlled and used both for disguise as well as mobility. These nanotech bacteria navigated his circulatory system like computerized antibodies. The microbes were sheathed in a chemical disguise, dialed-in to match its environment in the same way a chameleon changes its color. The result was complete invisibility to the immune system of its host. If his flesh was injured, this free-swimming nanotech could knit his tissues back together at the molecular level, healing the damage in days instead of weeks. These seeds, however, did far more than heal. Slowly, over time, they perfected through genetic fine tuning. He was the first of his kind. He had no idea how long he would survive, but he did know his lifespan would be extraordinary.
Mark turned off the medical projection. While he could examine his flesh, there was no command that could show him what was happening to his mind. Soon after the nanotech seeds had infected his brain, all his dreams had become conscious experiences and remained that way. In his conscious dreams he was able to solve problems, explore places, and just simply live. It was like an entire second existence had been opened to him. He knew his conscious dream life was mostly the result of photographic recall of everything, including dreams. Surveillance data from the god-machine proved most people had conscious dreams every night; they just failed to remember them and called them by a different name: lucid dreams.
Mark gazed up from the small clearing at a sky overcrowded with stars. He felt like the only being alive in this infinite, lonely place. A gibbous moon was just setting below the branches. Its pale blue light cast long shadows of tree limbs across the clearing. The shadows reminded him of ghostly talons reaching out for their prey. He checked for dream signs to make sure he was not experiencing a false awakening.
The temperature should have been frigid and the ground covered in deep snow, but it was not. More signs of a planet teetering on the brink of environmental collapse. The continent no longer had uniform seasons. Some places were experiencing a frozen winter while here in Missouri it was closer to early spring. It was chilly enough to be uncomfortable for an organic, but not for Mark and his companion. He simply dulled the temperature sensitive nerve endings in his skin. The campfire’s low flames had been reduced to orange coals. He could see the radiated warmth on his arms and legs but felt nothing. The glowing coals seemed almost alive as they writhed in their superheated world. Unable to feel the warmth, Mark was fascinated and reached out with his hand. A computer assist acted automatically in response to his state of mind. This assist, like the medial schematic, was a geo-projected virtual reality. The assist was warning him that the heart of the fire was 1,262 degrees Fahrenheit. It did this by displaying the temperature superimposed over the coals. Mark thought about the utter pointless- ness of that warning and how it showed the machine interface was still adapting to him and had far to go. He never had any intension of inserting his hand into the flames.
A soft breeze stirred dying leaves on the branches around him as a few more floated to earth. He watched one incinerated as it drifted down onto the hungry coals… as it dissolved, a terrible memory crept back into his awareness unbidden and his heart broke anew. Every day when he awoke the world was as it should be for a brief time, then the serpent of reality opened her eyes inside him and the horror of what he knew broke him again as he knew it would every morning of every day of his unimaginably long life. He spoke in an urgent whisper directed at both God and the god-machine.
“I want our lives back. I want our hope back. How could you hate us so much?”
Sarah stirred next to him. She was a nanotech hybrid like him. They were the only two known to exist in a world of one and half billion humans who had survived the nanotech plague. A plague caused by the god-machine and the seeds living inside his flesh. Mark regretted whispering and furtively wiped the dampness from his eyes. Sarah’s Rottweiler, Ralph, was staring at him. The dog’s eyes glowed with orange light from the fire. The huge animal was like a witch’s familiar.
Sarah could partially see and hear through the animal’s senses as they were radiated out as data across the god-machine’s n-web. Since all creatures were infected with some nanotech seeds, all creatures radiated some emanations, be it mental or emotional. Sarah propped herself up. Mark could see her shadowed expression in the wavering light. She looked so attractive and so frighteningly intelligent. He knew she was curious. He could feel her empathic awareness begin to suffuse him as her cybernetic brain fully awoke like a rising sun. Her spiritual caress was a hand returning to a familiar glove. While she shared and expe- rienced all his emotions, she must never discover the terrible truth. He concealed it deep inside himself and kept it from her so that she did not lose all hope. There was always hope.