Fiction: Apotheosis

Listen: Jack Blount became a god.

He changed from a normal man like you or I to something more. Something that takes strides hundreds of thousands of kilometers long. Something that can peer across the galaxy or into the very workings of a human mind with equal ease. Something that can juggle asteroids with one hand and atoms with the other.

Something that will not age or grow sick. Something with knowledge older than the Earth itself.

Something not human.

Here’s how it happened:

It was raining on a truck outside Chicago. It was the rain that gave Blount godhood, pooling on the hood of the delivery truck bound for a wealthy collector of esoteric art. Stopped in traffic, the truck made a break for an off ramp, seeking a short cut past the congested overpass. It drove through a puddle, deeper than average, which sprayed water up underneath the car into the engine compartment.

The water followed cables and wires until it found a poorly sealed distributor cap, a result of a hurried repair weeks before. The water made it inside the cap, spoiled the spark plugs and stalled the truck. It pulled over to the side of the road, its driver and passenger cursing.

The rain continued, washing over the poor neighborhood the vehicle found itself in. Debris, human and inorganic, littered the area. One piece of debris was named Jack Blount. He was in a soggy cardboard box, at the end of an alley adjacent to the now stalled truck.

Withdrawal and desperation drove the remains of this man, whose only possessions were the sodden clothes on his back and a small sliver of sharpened metal wrapped in duct tape. Three days ago he’d taken his last hit of heroin, losing even the needle he’d spiked it with. For three days he’d been in this alley, lost to the world.

It was the curses of the workers that brought him back to it.

They were clustered around the raised hood, clad in bright yellow rain gear and general hatred of the weather. They tinkered with the engine, venting their frustration. The delivery was odd, a rush job to a warehouse across town, and they were losing time and possibly their jobs as a result of the engine.

Jack Blount exited the alley, eyes on the backs of the men. The shiv was a living thing in his hand. His mind was just cogent enough to connect their presence with a potential hit. With nothing left to loose he moved on them.

He slid the shiv into the closest one’s back, just below the rib cage. The man gave a strangled cry as Jack probed his organs with the point of the shiv. The other whirled to face him, fear on his wet face. Blount slashed at the face then fell on the man, stabbing again and again.

The men had little money. Their keys unlocked the door to the truck, which was also empty of valuables. After a few moments, Blount went to the rear door. With effort he pulled it up and scrabbled in, out of the rain. The delivery truck was empty except for one box at the far end of the enclosed space.

Reserves of energy expended, Blount staggered to the box and managed to open the wooden top. The inside was filled with packing material, which he quickly scattered across the truck. Under that was a single stone box covered with strange writing. Blount couldn’t have known, but the writing was older than humanity.

He smashed the cover with a desperate show of strength. It shattered. The truck seemed to grow cold with amazing speed. Wet and now freezing, Blount looked through the steam of his breath into the stone box. What he saw made him take a deep breath, which drew the fine dust inside the box deep into his lungs.

He saw lights of colors he couldn’t imagine.

Then everything went black.

Blount had stumbled away from the truck, back into the alley. His strength gave out before he reached the cardboard boxes he called home. His face burned, his lungs were on fire. His fingers tore at the irritated skin of his face, leaving livid scratches across his cheeks and down his throat.

In his lungs something began to work.

Thousands of years after they were sealed, millions of little machines began to fulfill imperatives programmed by long dead hands. They began to replicate. The nearest source of materials were the tissues of Blount’s lungs. These were consumed at a terrifying rate, broken down into component elements and incorporated into the next generation of machines. Here the designs bifurcated: half continued mindlessly replicating and gathering raw materials. The other half changed.

Comprehensive controls couldn’t work on machines of these types, so their designers had used forced artificial selection. Generations of machines, ten a second, passed through Blount’s lungs and into the still moving blood. The body’s immune system was totally unable to stop or even affect them. In short order they over ran the man’s body.

He died as his tissues were co-opted for their needs. Around twenty percent of the machines now specialized, forming a rod-logic computer with more memory and processing power than humanity yet possessed. It began storing information about its host, from the location and composition of nerves to the electrochemical condition of the still cooling corpse. In short order it had all the information it needed.

Then it began simulating the machines themselves. Billions of generations of miniscule machines past through the simulation space it contained each second, increasing its rate of evolution by six orders of magnitude. Millions of varieties were generated by the computer, changing the infection into a colony.

The computation threw off a great deal of heat, which evaporated the remains of the host. In short order the rainwater around the colony was boiling. Soon the entire alleyway was awash in steam. Where Blount fell was a squat, irregular cylinder around a meter tall, like a termite’s nest. The nearby air was filled with swarms of machines, no larger than a grain of sand. They cannibalized the nearby buildings for silicon, the rain for hydrogen and what organic matter remained of Jack Blount for carbon.

They needed energy.

The computer at the colony’s core cobbled together machines to hunt for more efficient sources of energy. Billions of subjective generations cobbled together scout machines, then sensor clusters. High voltage lines under the ground were detected by their electromagnetic output and expeditions were mounted to reach them.

Two hours after Blount died, the city of Chicago experienced a severe drain on the power supply. Working via trial and error, the colony developed methods for draining the power needed to feed its growth. Inside the computer core, a simulation of the outside world was forming. It was crude but growing more refined with each passing instant.

The colony had gone through as many successive generations as the oldest bacterium on earth. It now massed around a hundred kilograms and stood three meters tall. The buildings nearby were on fire, sparked by the tremendous heat the colony was generating. The fire was an additional source of energy for the colony.

The drawing current from the city mains was no longer sufficient for the colony’s needs. The simulation space, now nearly 50% of the colony’s ever growing mass, possessed a map of the outside world, and its rule-set, detailed enough to discover a new method for generating energy. It had noticed certain qualities about the hydrogen it freed from the water. Combining this with phenomena noticed during its exploration of electricity, it began the construction of a new power source.

The neighborhood Blount lived in was ablaze. Fire stretched for blocks as emergency response crews began struggling to stop the spread. Inside the colony a donut shaped space was cleared of atmosphere and injected with pressurized hydrogen. An electrical current was run through the hydrogen, ionizing it.

The outside of donut was studded with delicate machines that generated intense magnetic fields. Simulations inside the core grew sophisticated enough to be called a space in their own right, with an exquisitely detailed model of the outside world, the colony and the physical phenomena that linked the two. Inside this space the miniature reactor was tweaked and modified with incredible speed.

Three hours after Blount died, there was a stable fusion reaction taking place inside the donut. Energetic plasma, fed by hydrogen reserves gathered from rain water, provided energy enough to feed the colony. It now massed close to a ton.

Sensor evolution gave it a complete picture of the local area. Outside the stubborn ring of fire was a source of hydrogen that was practically inexhaustible. Simulation space was seeded with methods to reach it. Twelve minutes later, Darwin’s scalpel provided one.

The colony divested itself of all non-essential components, abandoning hundreds of kilograms of support structure. It thinned, forming a large, rigid sphere with the continually tweaked fusion reactor at its base. Specialized machines pumped the air from the center of the sphere, leaving it a hard vacuum braced by novel carbon and electromagnetic fields.

The balloon shaped colony lifted into the air, driven upwards by thermals and its own buoyancy. The weak magnetic field was harnessed to give meager propulsive force, supplemented by millions of tiny mechanical cilia on the balloon’s skin. The balloon measured two meters in diameter and massed two hundred kilograms. The colony waited, feeding power into the now truly massive computational array.

Simulation-space now had plans for the next step in the colony’s evolution. When the balloon reached the Atlantic Ocean it let the atmosphere back into its center. As it plummeted to the sea, it restructured itself, forming a thick needle that sliced into the ocean like a knife.

Simulation space was fed data about the sea, immediately insulating the fusion core from the surprising cold and growing pressure. The spike embedded itself into the ocean floor, half a kilometer below the surface.

The model of the outside world was advanced by leaps and bounds. Heated water surged around the colony as it pulled in hydrogen to feed the fusion core. A few curious fish approached the colony, braving the heat. They were disassembled with lightning speed, their structures stored in the growing memory banks of the computer array.

The colony reverted to its original termite mound configuration, sending feelers deep into the sea bed. Long delicate streamers filtered the seawater for new elements and simulation space found uses for them. Finally the whole edifice halted on the command of deep seated instructions.

The processing power continued to expand and in a few little corners of this space, archived memories of the host’s configuration were placed. The colony was a deity machine, designed to manufacture demi-gods. Under normal conditions it would not have to move, being fed all the necessary elements for apotheosis by support machinery. This machinery hadn’t existed since before man developed symbolic communication.

But the colony was smart and adaptable. It began to revive the host. A billion copies of Jack Blount began running in the simulation space of the colony’s computers. Through relentless trial and error the colony developed a complete set of rules for how the host had operated, developing a nearly complete understanding of human biochemistry, neurology and cognition in a few minutes.

The colony was now twelve hours old. It massed twelve tons, spread across nearly ten kilometers of ocean floor including the long spindly filtering elements. It had nearly a ton of computing power, refined to give information densities that pushed the upward curve of exponentialiality to their practical limits. It understood most of physics on an instinctive level, was simulating a million viable human consciousnesses and through inference could simulate a good portion of the local marine ecology.

It finished decoding its deep instruction set.

The ten best copies of Jack Blount’s consciousness were halted, their gibbering, sensory deprived sentiences paused. They were cloned several hundred thousand times. Then the sensory feeds were gently introduced to their simulated sensoriums.

The data on the external world the colony collected did not resemble human sensory input. They were digital and covered the electromagnetic spectrum. Pressure sensors recorded a vague analog for sound and touch. Seven different senses of temperature competed with twelve dimensions of sound.

All of the copies of Jack Blount quailed under this sudden assault of information. All but one suffered fatal errors at the input. This one was cloned another million times, with minor, random modifications. More sensory input was added. The process repeated itself for a thousand iterations, then ten thousand, then more.

Finally there was a single data structure left, one that shared very little with the tiny, archived map of neurons and electrical activity. It perceived the sensory data, could make sense of it in the most basic terms. The deep instructions satisfied, the colony halted the simulation and returned to resource collection.

It pared itself down again, expanding the array of miniscule logic gates that made its brain. It grew tall and thin, abandoning the filtering elements and deep taps into the earth’s crust. It turned itself into a rocket, stockpiling hydrogen and energy for its coming trip.

It launched itself from the sea bottom, superheating water with its newly enlarged fusion core. When it reached the surface it did the same with oxygen and its hydrogen reserves and when it reached space it relied on hydrogen alone. In orbit it deployed specialized sensory apparatus and surveyed the solar system for what its deep instructions told it it needed.

On earth its launch was noticed. Its sensor emissions were tracked and weapons were hurriedly aimed. Information about the new object reached a certain organization which owned a warehouse in Chicago that was expecting a delivery.

Before any interception could be attempted the contact went silent. There was a brief flare of infrared radiation as the colony accelerated at a back breaking fifty gravities and then there was nothing. Alerts were stood down as the colony disappeared towards the asteroid belt, to impact with a medium sized asteroid with no name, only a long catalog number.

The asteroid was hydrocarbon sludge, studded with organic precursors, metal traces and ice. The colony quickly burrowed into the surface, shielding itself from cosmic radiation, which had come as a surprise for its model of the external world. Nursing its wounds it extracted hydrogen for the reactor and other raw materials for continued expansion. A day later it had consumed the entire asteroid, changing it from a ball of inanimate matter to a complicated ecosystem of miniscule machines.

The colony slowed down its efforts, lowering its replication rate as it set off for its nearest neighbor. Simulation space continued its unchecked computations, establishing protocols for the next asteroid capture. It restarted the-thing-that-had-called-itself-Blount.

The final simulation was cloned again, and forced through its evolutionary fox trot over and over again. Most of these simulations ended up unviable, either through cognitive instability or profound catatonia. These failed simulations were wiped and the stronger, viable simulations copied again. Finally, the computational array decided it had come as far as the source material could stretch.

The final product was a neural network with several million times as many nodes as a human mind. The fragment of the core it existed in had an information density twelve orders of magnitude greater than the fleshy core it had originated in. It had thirty seven senses, including twelve modes for perceiving electromagnetic radiation and three for neutrinos. Through the colony it could smell the solar wind and peer into the heart of the star it orbited.

The computer array, again under the instructions of the information coded into its deep structures, began to cede some operational control to the fragment. The-thing-that-had-called-itself-Blount began to look at the universe and itself. As soon as it had the proper access it erased itself.

The simulation space could not be said to have emotions or consciousness. But if it did it would have sighed as it began the forced evolution from a backup. It continued until it reached the next asteroid then put the work away and concentrated on assimilating the metallic rock.

The colony was two months old. Energy was again becoming a problem. To support the ever expanding computational array a greater energy density was needed. Simulation space kept the-thing-that-had-called-itself-Blount halted. It recalled its armada of machines. Structure in simulation-space began to come to certain conclusions about the outside world. Logical structures evolved, consumed themselves and iterated over and over again. It gradually developed something that could be recognized as the scientific method, abandoning its brute trial and error approach for a more refined directed regimen of experimentation.

There had been many god-engines before, products of races far older than mankind. None of them had ever made this leap without external assistance. None of them had to. Nor had any of them needed to take such drastic steps with their host; the more advanced species that had created them could meet the god-engine halfway.

As the experimentation continued, the colony explored basic physics in two directions. It went up in scale, approximating an understanding of relativity, specific, general and global. And it went down in scale, establishing a detailed model of quantum mechanics. If it could have, it would have laughed at its earlier attempts at modeling. In two days its model progressed in detail more than the sum of its previous existence. And with the experimental regimen it stood far less chance of unpleasant gaps in its external model.

Application of its relativistic knowledge would have to wait until it could greatly improve its energy generation capabilities. The scales were beyond it at the moment. But quantum mechanics gave it a chance to generate the energy necessary for both more experimentation and essentially permanent energy self-sufficiency.

The vacuum of space was and is not empty. It contained a seething froth of particles that appeared and disappeared so quickly that they could almost be said not to exist. Theory and experimentation discovered an application for this phenomenon. The colony constructed miniscule machines, smaller than ever before. It was working on atomic scales now, something it had only tried with its computational array and in a much more limited fashion.

These machines consisted of two reflective plates. The plates were separated by a space less than a millionth of the width of one of the hairs burned off Jack Blount’s body so long ago. The plates prevented some of the virtual froth of subatomic particles from manifesting between them. This produced an energy difference between the outside of the plates and the inside.

When a balloon is emptied in an atmosphere, it is crushed flat by the pressure of the air above and to the sides. In the same way, empty space pressed in on these two plates. The colony added a support between the two plates that held them apart. The force exerted by the plates compressed the support, which was made of a material known as a piezoelectric crystal.

When exposed to kinetic energy, piezoelectric crystals generated electrical energy. The efficiency was relatively high, though the colony produced many hundreds of billions of them. These machines soon lined the colony, supplying more and more power as they were constructed. The colony’s energy production capacity expanded exponentially.

On earth, strange perturbations in the asteroid belt were noticed as the energy density of the colony began to curve space around it. This information filtered its way to Chicago and spread through the organization searching for the delivery truck. As the colony consumed another asteroid it constructed a collider to expand its knowledge even further.

Additional modifications were made to the-thing-that-had-called-itself-Blount, the colony deciding to force yet more evolution on the simulation. It now existed in a mental space of 11 dimensions, with gravitic senses augmenting its old repertoire. Most were hopelessly out of their league, but very few continued to be viable.

Gravity was now bending around the massive energy content of the colony. The computational array began experimenting with the configuration of this bent space by moving nodes of quantum generators into different configurations in nearby space. In short order it developed a mechanical understanding of perturbing space and time. The theory escaped it, but it could bend space in such a way as to provide motive power to its growing mass. It could shield itself from the sleet of radiation by bending space just so. It could focus the light from distant stars by configuring itself in another way.

The colony was four months old. It had consumed close to ten asteroids, broken pieces of itself off to track down more. It was advancing its model of the universe by orders of magnitude in depth and breadth. It massed close to a small moon when the quantum generator’s effects were taken into account.

It began to fold space around itself. First simple squeezes that wrapped test subjects in curled up regions of space-time. Then it wrapped itself up like a piece of cosmic origami and disappeared from the universe.

To the outside world the colony ceased to exist. Its mass and structure were curled up into regions below the threshold of the universe. It expanded into caves hollowed out of space itself. Then it had an idea.

It was still made of matter. The cores of the asteroids it had subsumed were squashed together in complicated arrays of miniscule machines. But it slowly learned how to bend space with more control and delicacy. Its space-time origami skills improved to the point where it could make all of its components from the fabric of the universe itself.

It was ten months old. It was now, in physicist jargon, a region of densely perturbed space-time, with a gravitational gradient near that of a microscopic black hole. It was useless to measure its physical size, as it had finally grown able to adjust scale to suit it. It could be as big as a planet or smaller than an atom with the proper configuration.

Inside the structured space-time at its heart was an energetic vacuum not seen since the universe was born. It wanted to surge outward and overrun the universe with freshly generated space. The god-engine resembled a carefully folded balloon of space-time that stood just between collapse and explosion.

The last thing-that-had-called-itself-Blount was woken. Simulation space watched it for signs of collapse or instability. When none emerged, it gave the-thing-that-had-called-itself-Blount more control. It watched. The-thing-that-had-called-itself-Blount explored and understood, in a way that the computational array could not, its surroundings. The computational array gave the simulation more and more control, waiting for it to suicide like all the rest.

It didn’t.

The deep-instructions set gave its last command and the god-machine finished its work. The end result, which had, a year earlier, been a junkie in Chicago, was a finished god.

After so long without volition, the new god wandered aimlessly around the solar system. It could move through normal space a hairsbreadth from light speed. It learned to push open holes in space-time to places further away. It played in stars and on the edges of black holes in neighboring solar systems. It danced in solar flares. It tore planets apart with gravitational vortexes, triggered novas in childish delight. The light from these dying stars would take millennia to reach earth.

Called home by vestigial mental structures, it opened a portal and arrived home.

The colony was a year old. The god only two months.

It touched down in Chicago as an invisible speck of curled and tortured space-time. Almost no one noticed except for an organization that owned a warehouse in Chicago.

And the old gods.


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