Bewildering Stories

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Green Fields of Mars

by Jörn Grote

The old woman and the little girl were walking hand in hand on the surface of Mars. There was no air and they didn’t carry protection suits, but nonetheless there they were, walking in step with one another.

“That was not like I wanted it, Emily. I dreamed of a second world like Earth. A living world. Look at us! We are the ghost of humanity haunting an unnatural world.”

The little girl stopped her little steps and looked up to the old woman. “But you are alive. We all are. Yes, look at us. When you have been flesh, your mind has been rotting away for twenty years. If we hadn’t joined the upload colony here on Mars, I would never have met you as you really are, never talked to you.”

“But that is not real. That is not living.”

“For me, it is as real as it gets, Granny.”

The old woman knelt and picked up one of the uniform things the surface was made of. “Is this one of these general-purpose-computer-chips you are all talking about?”

“No, Granny, the whole surface up to a hundred meters deep has very few GPC chips, only enough to have a fragile data connection to the satellites. The rest is made of units that can absorb every known form of energy. The light of the sun, the hard radiation of space, all is welcome.”

“What about meteorites and other objects that can destroy the surface?”

“The surface consists of countless absorbing units and is as smart as the rest of Mars. If the satellites detect an incoming object, they — being linked to the surface — calculate where it will crash. The surface units harden then at the calculated point to absorb the impact. The units at this impact point are destroyed, but the kinetic energy will be absorbed by other nearby units and taken for the rest of Mars.”

The little girl looked lost in thought for a moment and then began to smile. She had a very nice smile. “You could say, Granny, that the energy from the explosion will be used by the nanotech to rebuild the units destroyed in the explosion.”

When the old woman saw the smile on the face of the little girl, she couldn’t stop herself from smiling, even if she had wanted to. Suddenly she hugged her. “I like you, Emily, and even if I’m not sure about the whole upload of your minds and the changes on Mars, meeting you is the best thing happening in my life right now.”

With the energy of youth, Emily hugged her granny too. “I know, Granny, I like you, too.” And they began to walk again.

“So, how deep have the nanomachines transformed Mars?”

“Up to twenty kilometers already. We are not sure when the whole of Mars will be changed, but the lower we go, the more problems we have with energy distribution. The GPC chips don’t need much energy, but they do need some.”

“What are they? I’m not sure I’ve heard of them.”

“The predecessors of these chips were researched even before you got Alzheimer’s, Granny. There were projects that did research on PIM or IRAM chips. Processor-in-Memory and the Berkeley Intelligent RAM, they were the pioneers. But there were others. They tried to go new ways. In the old computer architectures, all was divided, mainly memory and processor power.

“But very soon this approach reached the bottlenecks of such structures, and so they tried to make elementary units that were miniature computers in themselves. They were built with memory and processor macros. Later, other parts were added. Every GPC chip alone is a very weak computer. But every GPC chip on Mars connected together makes the biggest and fastest parallel computer known to man.”

“And yet Mars is not fully transformed, right?”

“Right, Granny. And that’s not all. The GPC chip itself is evolving, thanks to nanotech and the research of uploads like us. Mars is not what you hoped for, but Mars is alive in its own way. The first known technosphere.”

“But it’s still not what I wanted. Before I got Alzheimer’s I worked most of my life at the Mars terraforming project. My dream was to change the red of Mars to a green or a blue. But now we have only a uniform gray.”

The young girl could see the grief in the face of the old woman. “That is true, and I can’t do much about that, Granny. But don’t think your dream died; it only changed, like Mars itself. Sometimes old visions of the future make room for new ones, but that doesn’t make them useless. Are the people of ancient Greece useless because they had no spaceships or computers? Without a past, there is no future. Without your old visions of Mars, the new ones would never have gotten so far.”

While she talked to her Granny, the smile on her face was lost for a short time, but now, it was there again. “And Mars can be green for you, Granny.” She snapped her fingers and a program she had written as a present for her Granny was activated.

All over the surface things were growing, trees and flowers and grass. Slowly Mars began to green.

“But that is not real, Emily.”

“Not real? For us, it is real. You can smell it, touch it, even eat the fruits. Yes, all this is only inside of a virtual reality, and the ‘real’ surface of Mars is still gray, but this is your world. And if that is not real enough, than nothing ever will be. When humans flew to the Moon, did they find green fields? The only context of their reality was the tiny, fragile biosphere called Earth; the only context of your reality is this gray Mars. But unlike Earth, it can have any virtual shape we want it to have. Our world is not less, it is more than Earth.”

For a long time the old woman looked at her grandchild. Then she began to smile, joined hands with her and walked through the green fields of Mars.

Copyright © 2004 by Jörn Grote

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