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The Price of Bliss Eternal

by Thomas Dylan Daniel

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4

part 3

Across the world, Nils Osterhaut’s brother was going over much of the same data. He had been in close touch with Jean since the incident. While the rest of the world marched onward, forever altered by Eddie’s influence, Georg Osterhaut had traded emails with Jean as the two reminisced about their missing family members.

An advertisement on the computer he was using scrolled past. His eye flicked past it, instinctively, but it returned. He gasped.

It was an ad for a pocket-sized Moreno supercomputer. A low power processor with a high-resolution display and high-fidelity audio, the glass box used one layer of time crystals to process output and another layer to push input to the time-locked device it was connected to. The time locker, as Moreno computers were beginning to be called, was so small that the entire microverse inside moved billions of times faster than the multiverse; a small analog computer ran so quickly that the limiting factor was the processor decoding the information and transmitting it to the user on the other side of the interface. And it only cost $200.

How quickly the technology had scaled! Georg was flabbergasted. He purchased the device and started watching a movie. Half an hour later, there was a knock on the door. The Moreno computer was there, waiting for him. It had been 3D-printed locally and delivered by a drone. Powering it up, he gazed into the future. What insanity would this new device make possible?

His first action was to email Jean.

* * *

The outside world vanished, going entirely dark.

“Interesting! I’m glad I decided to put a light in here,” Eddie chuckled. “Okay, here we go.”

Soon enough, an image was produced by the printer.

“Interesting decay pattern, almost zero,” Nils observed. He picked up the document and pressed it into the rectangle to be scanned. Then, he put the paper back down.

Eddie smiled, leaning in toward him. “Nils, my friend, we have no way of knowing how many times we have run this experiment before. That may have been the third run! Perhaps we have finished. Zero is a strange result. I cannot wait to get back into the lab and conduct our analysis!”

Nils felt his heart beat rapidly, and he embraced Eddie. “This is amazing!”

Near the top of the box, a lighted display blinked on. 3, it read. 2.... 1....

* * *

Jean’s phone buzzed. Oh, no, she thought. She had forgotten to tell Georg that the company had scaled the technology. Of course, this had taken place only twelve hours before. She had spent ten of them asleep.

She put the phone down without responding to Georg’s message. He had seemed jubilant, far better than the morose man with whom she had discussed the death of a brother and a lover over the past several years.

With Eddie’s death, Jean had made an unstable sort of peace. For a death it was; there was simply less closure in this strange scenario. She found herself feeling happy, on occasion, now that the worst part of the depression had lifted. Trauma was like that. Success, on the other hand, was different. Every moment, now that the world had unlimited computing power, something seemed to change dramatically.

A man had built an artificial intelligence. It used pictures, just as the human brain does, to store information. Sixteen infinitely powerful processors progressed through the school curriculum as taught to humans in four minutes. It turned out that diagrams were the key: they stored an almost limitless amount of information. Logical reasoning came naturally to the device, and its personality was not unlike Data from Star Trek. It was trending on Twitter. People were making disparaging remarks about the underwhelming nature of artificial superintelligence. It replied to them, courteously, in real time.

Jean had used it to come up with a plan to overhaul the Internet. Globally, there were millions of miles of fiber optic cables that transmitted information slowly and imperfectly. Within seconds, the AI had designed a 3D printer that could be flown into space. The solution to the global internet problem, it turned out, was incredibly simple: 3D print satellites in low orbit to connect the various datacenters of the world to. The GPS devices in cellphones were repurposed to directly connect to the satellites. The datacenters were maintained for other connections and so that, in stormy weather, internet connectivity would remain intact. The solution would take mere days to implement, since the AI had used its computing power to harness miniscule fluctuations in the stock market to amass wealth. Of course, this meant that it had muscled most of the investors out of the business of owning any stake in any company.

As a coordination device, the stock market was an incredibly effective tool now that it was being run rationally. Before, relationships between people and immoral motivators such as greed had kept it from organizing humanity. However, now most of the buying power that had gone toward settling such disputes was directed at the collective good. What use was money when it did not buy power anymore? Any action that was fallible became a tremendous liability which could be countered by an unlimited amount of resources.

And people. People no longer worked. They served one another, they raised families, they enjoyed themselves, and they read books. Supercomputers parsed the literature and used it to answer questions, but even the artificial superintelligence that was revolutionizing the business world had no insight into why anything was important. People did all of that.

* * *

The outside world vanished.

“Interesting!” Eddie exclaimed, staring through the window where his lab had been. He looked to Nils for confirmation.

“Let’s start the experiment,” Nils said.

Soon enough, an image was produced by the printer.

“Interesting decay pattern, precisely fifty percent,” Nils observed. He picked up the document and pressed it into the rectangle to be scanned. Then, he let go of the piece of paper, watched it hang in the air. What a strange thought, that it would be not only blank but also back in the printer’s paper tray in a few seconds when the machine cycled. Capacitors were marvelous machines, really.

Eddie smiled. “Nils, my friend. Congratulations upon making history!”

Nils felt his heart beat rapidly, and he leaned in and embraced Eddie.

Near the top of the box, a lighted display blinked on. 3, it read. 2.... 1....

* * *

Jean went to the hospital. She was now seventy years old, and though pollution had essentially ended by this time, she had been diagnosed with cancer.

Hospitals were conveniently located where gas stations had been before. Technology had optimized their locations, finding that the supply of petroleum had accurately mapped population distribution. Now that satellites, rather than cell towers, distributed data service, a drone ambulance could be had almost immediately. Paramedics were still humans, but even the most remote areas of the globe saw free same-language ambulance service in under an hour.

Jean’s breast cancer was not significantly developed when the computer’s genomic profile detected advancing hemi-methylation. It was something she had been preparing for since the first models had warned her of her predisposition twenty years ago.

Walking through the sliding glass doors, Jean felt a pang of regret. It had been her intention to spend the afternoon reading on the beach. Instead, she would now undergo one of two different treatment options: a cannabis-derived injection with a 90% success rate, or what was termed a ‘nanobot extraction’ which consisted of a stream of tiny robots being injected into her body, metabolizing the affected cells, and then breaking themselves apart into their constituent, nutritious proteins.

She chose the first option because she still had not entirely grasped the concept of nanobiological technology thoroughly enough to be satisfied by it. Plus, she enjoyed the feeling that she got from metabolizing cannabis.

After the procedure, Jean went to her neighborhood café.

“Why hello, Jean!” said a tall, black man who wore an apron. He was standing in front of the bar. Work was not what it had been, these days.

“Hi, Derek, how nice it is to see you!” Jean replied. She loved it when people decided to take shifts. It helped her deal with the loneliness of automated life.

“What brings you in today?” Derek asked amiably.

“Well, I just had a cancer treatment and I thought I’d like to relax a bit. Later, I’m supposed to visit Mars in a hypercraft and I thought it might be nice to just be still for a while. Read a print book. You know!” she winked at him.

“That sounds like a lot of fun. I love riding in the hypercraft.”

Jean walked over to the bar, and a hologram appeared with a list of her most frequent beverage choices. “Something new,” she said, to the machine. There was a whir, a click, and then the sound of pouring. A robotic arm held out a cup on a small saucer. When Jean took the drink, the arm retracted into the counter.

“So, did you hear about the new exploration phase? They’re looking for the novel elements forecasted to appear in the Pleiades region.”

Derek smiled.

“Yeah, I did hear about that. Sarah is about to have a baby, though. We’ve decided to do the maternity here in Puerto Vallarta, and I really like this shop. Something about it just feels... right.” He sighed, content.

“Oh! Goodness! Congratulations!” exclaimed Jean. “I love it here, too. It’s beautiful.”

* * *

The outside world vanished, going entirely dark.

“Interesting! I suppose the wires connecting us to the printer were the problem before,” Eddie chuckled, grinning widely at his success.

Soon enough, an image was produced by the printer.

“Interesting decay pattern, sixty percent,” Nils observed. He picked up the document and pressed it into the rectangle to be scanned. Then, he put the paper back down.

Eddie smiled. “Nils, my friend, we have no way of knowing what number that experiment was! But it is an unexpected outcome. We have succeeded!”

Nils kicked his feet out of his stirrups, expecting to float off toward the ceiling. Instead, he remained more or less planted on the floor. Surprised, he bent down, touching the glass with his fingers.

“Nils, what are you doing?” Eddie asked.

Near the top of the box, a lighted display blinked on. 3, it read. 2.... 1....

* * *

“Decline treatment,” Jean said to the hologram.

A human nurse approached.

“Jean,” she said, “I’m concerned about you.”

The nurse was a woman, probably twenty-five or twenty-six, and by the old standards, she was as beautiful as all of the people were these days.

Jean, on the other hand, had aged more or less naturally. Now in her nineties, she was stooped and thin. Her gray hair was tied in a ponytail. She had no mobility issues, but cancers and other injuries repeatedly troubled her. Deep down, she was hoping this one would prove fatal.

After a long pause, Jean decided to reply.

“Darla, I appreciate your concern. However, I loved Eddie in a time when that meant setting aside the stress, the pollution, the imperfection. His mind is what made this world, but it was shaped by the old one. The one I’m from. I refuse to have his memory erased, and I refuse to stop feeling sad that he is gone.”

“I understand, Jean,” Darla’s sweet reply came. She helped the older woman put on her coat. “We will be here if you change your mind.”

Though her body would fend off the possible tumor with few issues, and Jean would live on for far longer than she would have imagined she could, Jean’s mind had already begun to make peace with her eventual death.

* * *

Georg had succumbed to the urge to master the universe. He was a rich man, now, not that poverty was truly an affliction anyone died from anymore. His exploration crews had colonized planets, and he had used the machines to keep his body young, or “fresh,” as he liked to call it. The five-person teams had fanned out through the galaxy after the hyperdrive had been invented. They had discovered new elements, new sorts of matter, and new species of life, though none had been intelligent, yet.

What was this weariness? What was this discontentment he felt, the one that the serotonin injections could take away only for a little while? The hypercraft was returning to settled space, and soon he would hear from all of his friends and family throughout the galaxy. Though the next galaxy was still too far for a manned space flight, Georg and his team had taken the trip. They were now returning, forty years later and generally disappointed in the now-certain knowledge that the galaxies were more or less uniform distributions of more or less similar sorts of matter.

The list of contacts that displayed when the transmitter located their antenna was over four thousand names long, but when he searched for Jean he did not find a message from her. Was she still alive? How had she passed the time, these long decades? After all, he had been gone over a hundred years. A trip to Earth was in order.

* * *

Jean was, indeed, still alive. She frequently thought about changing that, though. The universe had lost its mystery, and the stress-free younger generation seemed of little help to her aging spirit. Though many of her fellows in age had taken up residence in ‘natural’ communities and passed away inside of bubbles away from technology they deemed excessive, Jean had persisted in life. Her agile mind had produced the tools humanity used to forever shape itself, but she felt the failure of her initial quest all the more stubbornly for her success. Only Eddie could give her life meaning again. Only Eddie had appreciated her for her flaws. Nobody these days understood what that was like: none of them had any flaws.

When Georg burst into her living room, to find her appearance had aged 110 years as her body aged to over 200, he said nothing about it. Medicine had become a miracle. He stood, silently, staring at her and wondering why she had allowed herself to get old.

Instead, it was up to Jean to notice her visitor, recognize him, and invite him to sit down, which he did.

“So you’ve survived, all these long years,” she said, thoughtfully.

“I did.”

“Did you find what you were looking for?” she asked.

“I didn’t.”

“You look terrific.”

“Thank you. Though, I believe it might have been wiser to follow in your footsteps and age naturally,” he replied with a serious face.

* * *

Proceed to part 4...

Copyright © 2020 by Thomas Dylan Daniel

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