"All life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other."
- H.P. Lovecraft, "The Silver Key"
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
Chronology of the Future
With great bounding strides, Gavin jogged across the lifeless desert, his boots raising puffs of rust-colored dust which fell quickly to the ground on this windless day. The dismantled telescope in his pack banged lightly against his shoulders, but he wasn't concerned -- he had personally wrapped all of the components back at home.
For a moment he stopped, staring upwards towards the noontime sun. He couldn't see any distortion, but a glance at his chronometer showed he still had a good half-hour before he needed to stop and set up for the transit. Might as well put as much distance between me and the atmosphere processing station as I can, he thought. Looking back to the APS, he saw the turbulence pouring from the stacks, but could catch no glimpse of the pale blue tint the old-timers claimed to be able to see.
Blue air -- what a queer thought! Gavin much preferred the black sky, tinted pink on occasion by the dust storms. After all, how could he see the stars if everything was blue? Still, if a blue sky is the necessary cost of doing without the domes, it's probably worth it.
He hated the confines of the domes and the bunkers, and took every opportunity he could to don his skinsuit for a jaunt on the surface, limited only by the capacity of his rebreather. Often he would bring along a canvas and paints, to immortalize the grandeur of Mount Olympus, or whatever other sight caught his fancy. At least today he had a more legitimate excuse: the atmospheric turbulence from the APS would have interfered with his measurements of the transit, and Dr. Johan would not tolerate poor data.
Finally, his time ran out, and he quickly located a level spot to assemble the open-body telescope. Expandable supports were hurriedly assembled and bolted together, and the carefully-wrapped mirrors were slid into place. A tiny ruby-red dot from the laser mounted on the more delicate eyepiece assembly hastened the alignment. The final touch was the thin disk of mirrored plastic snapped into place in front of the objective; his visor wouldn't protect his eyes from the wrath of the sun magnified a hundredfold.
Gavin had to kneel to peer through the eyepiece at the wide white disk visible through the 'scope. He was rather typical in appearance for a third-generation colonist, though a bit on the short side, not quite topping even the 230-centimeter mark. Still, he had outgrown his diminutive grandfather by the age of twelve.
When the chronometer hit 13:32, Gavin started the vidcam recording, just in case the prediction was off by a minute or two. At 13:35, right on schedule, the small black dot that was, in actuality, an entire planet, crossed over the solar rim, just a tiny shadow outlined against the blazing fury of the sun. But something was wrong.
"By the Plague!" Gavin cursed to himself. "I could have sworn that alignment was perfect."
His hands flew over the adjustment knobs, and the laser dot sprang to life again to guide his realignment. "Johan's going to kill me. All this preparation and I still have a stupid interference ring!"
Gavin stopped. Slowly, he bent again to the eyepiece and swiveled the telescope slightly to bring a group of sunspots into better view. The image was clear -- no artifacts whatsoever. He realized he'd been holding his breath, and the sudden exhalation momentarily fogged his visor.
With infinite care, he swiveled the telescope back to the transit. The ring persisted, a narrow band of black outlining the dark circle of the planet. Gavin's mind whirled. If the ring was still there, but the sunspots were clean...
"The ring is actually there, in space! And that means..."
He barely remembered to flip on the autotracker in his haste to get home. And as Gavin Allander ran back to the dome, his long thin legs bounding over the rust-red sands of Mars in graceful five-meter strides, only one thought ran through his head, the wonderful implications of the space ring he saw:
"I can't believe they said no."
"Easy, lad. I'm sure the Council knows what it's doing. If they want to postpone a mission to Earth until more of the work we need to get done here..."
Gavin interrupted his mentor. "But they didn't say 'postpone,' Dr. Johan, they outright vetoed the whole idea of contact! As if a simple radio signal would drain the whole budget for the year."
"The Earthers don't need our help, if they're building rings in space while we're hiding in domes and struggling to get enough oxygen to breathe."
"But that's just the point. They could help us. If that many people survived the Plague, then they must have had the cure for years -- their science must be generations ahead of ours."
"Especially in computer technology..." mused Dr. Johan. Computers were a sore point with him, since the Council had repeatedly refused his requests for additional time on the mainframe for his astrophysics, citing high demand and more vital projects.
"Exactly!" Gavin said, knowing his mentor's troubles. "The Council is just a bunch of ancient first-generationers, keeping progress in check to maintain their own comfy positions. Why, the latest texts on microprocessor design I've found are dated 2012! No one even knows how the mainframe works anymore, let alone how to fix a major problem! Is that what you would call a proper allocation of funds?"
"But listen, Gavin. The Council has a point on the funding. Do you have any idea how much it would cost to build another ship like the ones that brought them here?"
"Doctor, you're not thinking it through. Consider: the original colony ships needed to launch from gravity more than twice what we have here, and they carried a heck of a lot more people with largely primitive life-support. Our rebreathers and water reclamation systems are orders of magnitude more compact and efficient today."
"Necessity is the mother of invention."
"Whatever. Anyway, I've done the math, and listen to this: if we only fill the Phobos shuttle about a quarter of the way full with food and recycling equipment, the empty cargo space will save enough extra fuel to take it to Earth and back... that is, if we don't land."
"I doubt anyone would want to, in any case. At over two and a half Martian gravities, anybody but a first-generationer would be barely able to move. If your math checks out, this is a truly remarkable plan. I'll have to bring it to the Council's attention immediately..."
"Wait a minute. They turned down a radio signal. What makes you think that they'll approve this? I'm telling you, Dr. Johan, something strange is going on in the Council chambers, and it stinks like an algae bath."
"Then why are you telling me this?"
"Well... weren't you going to borrow the shuttle next month to fix the Phobos darkside 'scope?"
"Yes, but... Gavin, you can't be suggesting..."
"The math only works out for two, Dr. Johan."
"I can't believe I let you talk me into this."
"Don't worry. The worst that can happen is that we get marooned in deep space and simultaneously starve and freeze to death." Gavin laughed, turning a zero-gravity somersault in the cockpit of the Phobos shuttle. "Besides, it's too late to have second thoughts now: without the gravity slingshot from Earth, we don't have enough fuel to get back anyway."
Dr. Johan scowled, and bent over the cockpit displays to check their course for the sixth time. "I wish the old-timers could have salvaged some of the flight equipment from the colony ships," he muttered to himself. "I've heard that those machines could just about fly the ship themselves. You didn't even have to press..."
His eyes scanned over the rainbow colored panels, index finger poised. "Ah! ...a single button," he said, simultaneously jabbing a maroon square that turned on the intership radio receiver.
"How did the people control the computers, then?" Gavin asked.
"It was said," Johan answered, searching over the panel again for the radio tuning dial, "that the colonist's computers could talk to you, and listen as you told them what you wanted. Gotcha!"
The sound of interplanetary static filled the cabin as Dr. Johan twirled the newly-discovered radio dial, trying to locate the main Mars transmitter.
"Awesome! How come the newer computers can't do that?"
"I don't really know. Maybe no one in the first generation was trained in that area."
"But still, they should have brought manuals, training files, or something. I mean, really, it seems almost as if the old-timers purposely suppressed any sort of advanced computer know..."
"Quiet, lad!" Dr. Johan interrupted. "I think I've got the main dome. They've probably found our little message by now."
The static on the radio gradually congealed into recognizable speech. "...shuttle, Phobos shuttle, this is Dome 12. You are ordered to return immediately to Mars orbit. Repeat, return immediately to Mars orbit. This is a direct order from the Council President..."
Gavin and Dr. Johan looked at each other, puzzled. "That seems to be a bit of an over-reaction," said Dr. Johan. "Surely they found our note." Gavin shrugged. At the other end of the radio link, there was some muffled conversation, and then a new voice came on-line.
"Dr. Johan, this is President Murphy. You have no idea what you're doing! It is absolutely imperative that you return immediately! You are in serious... am authorized to tell you... no Plague..."
"The signal's breaking up! Tune it in!"
"I'm trying," Johan said. "We must be going out of range of the Mars dish!"
"... deadly danger... machines... the end of humanity!"
And with that, the signal degraded into pure static. Gavin and Johan floated silently above their seats in the Phobos shuttle, a tiny shell of metal hurtling towards Earth. Slowly, Dr. Johan turned to his student.
"Not enough fuel to turn around, you said?"
Gavin shook his head, still staring straight ahead out the cockpit window.
"The thruster adjustment for our orbit worked fine. See anything yet?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all." Gavin peered through the telescope down towards the surface of the Earth. "At this distance and at this magnification I should be able to see the light from even a small city. I don't understand."
"Maybe they all happen to be on the day side of the planet right now. Maybe there were only survivors in one country."
"That's a possibility, I guess." Gavin glanced at his chronometer. "Want a look? I need to set up the spectroscope for the airborne pollution check -- the sun'll be coming out from behind the limb in a few minutes."
"Sure." Dr. Johan bent to the eyepiece and swiveled the 'scope to look again at the curious ring in orbit around the Earth. "Totally black," he mumbled to himself.
"What's that, Doctor?"
Johan sat up. "I was just thinking about that ring. Could it be a solar collector? That's the only reason for it I can come up with. No apparent support structure, totally opaque. But it's so huge! The total area is something like twice that of the Earth's surface -- if it were all active, the power generated would be orders of magnitude greater than the human race has ever needed, even before the Plague!"
"'Scuse me for a second." Gavin attached the spectrometer to the eyepiece assembly. "Just need to get a reference reading here before the sun peeks around the corner... Hmmm, looks normal... Sunrise in five, four, three, two, one, now!"
There are few sights more awe-inspiring than a sunrise seen from space -- the tension in the brightness surrounding the planet like a corona, and then the sudden explosion of pure white light erupting over the horizon, briefly refracted into every color of the rainbow by the atmosphere. Gavin barely noticed it, though, as he was bent over the spectrometer.
"Bingo! We have our readings... Wait a minute, that can't be right. Doctor, have a look at this: according to the data, there's only about eight percent oxygen in the atmosphere."
"It should be over twenty."
"I know. There's a lot more CO2 than expected, as well. Trace elements seem a bit off, too. Methane is just about nonexistent. Argon's okay. What the heck is going on? If this is right, nobody could breathe the stuff down there."
"Maybe they're living in domes, too."
"But why? Even if the Plague killed every last person, it shouldn't have affected the air like this. The rad check was negative, so we can't be looking at a nuclear war aftermath."
"We should get a good look at the day side in an hour or two. Hopefully, we'll get our answers then."
Dr. Johan busied himself in checking and rechecking their new orbit parameters at least seven times. Gavin, meanwhile, scanned through some old satellite maps of Earth, familiarizing himself with the major geographical features. In an hour and a half, they were in position to view the space ring edge-on.
"By Olympus! Did you see that? The ring disappeared for a second!"
"It must be extremely thin to appear to vanish so completely. I guess it's just an autonomous construct -- too thin to maintain a population. Probably keeps its shape mainly from centrifugal force. Interesting that it's just as black on the sunlit side. Must be quite efficient for a solar collector," Johan mused. "See anything on the surface?"
Gavin was silent for a second. "Have a look at this," he said. "According to the maps we have, this is the Amazon Basin, a huge region of dense vegetation."
Johan bent to the eyepiece. "Oops, I must have bumped the 'scope. There's nothing but desert and rock here."
"You didn't bump it. See the river in the middle of the view? It matches the Amazon for each twist and turn. That rocky wasteland is the Amazon Basin."
Johan was madly swiveling the telescope back and forth. "I just can't believe this! I don't see a single speck of green anywhere on the Earth. What in God's name happened down there?"
Gavin paused, silent. "And more importantly, who built the space ring?"
Johan looked a little more, then stopped suddenly. "By the dancing stars, what is this? Gavin, tell me what you see down there."
Gavin peered though the eyepiece, frowning. Wordlessly, he turned to take a reading from the infrared spectrometer, then looked again. "Dr. Johan, I see a line of metallic cones running east-west, and I'd bet you anything you like they're on the equator. According to the spectrometer, the first one is 100% pure magnesium. Next is copper, then titanium, then gold..."
Johan tried very hard to stay calm, but his voice betrayed his strain. "And to be visible from orbit at our magnification, they would have to be..."
"At least a kilometer high, probably more," answered Gavin. He ran a hand back through his hair in frustration. "A apparently lifeless planet, unbreathable air, but with massive piles of pure elements and a solar collector bigger than the Earth. Who -- or what -- are we dealing with here?"
From the cockpit, a muffled "thud" sounded, and both heads turned.
"Whoever they are," Johan said. "I think they just knocked."
"I think it's moving, Dr. Johan."
"Hmmm, yes. Or deforming, rather. Spreading out." Johan peered at the small metallic ball stuck to the outside of their main cockpit window. About the size of a baseball, in the past few minutes it had begun widening its point of contact with the plastiglass. It's surface was dull in the bright sunlight, and gave the impression of movement even though there was none -- the same way an angry hornet's nest might appear blurry from a distance.
"I think it's trying to eat its way through the window," Gavin said, his voice shaking ever so slightly. "Perhaps skinsuits might be in order -- just in case?"
"A suitable precaution, yes," mused Johan. Gavin fairly jumped into his suit, tossing the other one over to the doctor. The pressure- and temperature-sensitive suits, developed for the near-vacuum of the Martian atmosphere, would be able to take the shock if cockpit pressure was lost, but not indefinitely.
Johan was still making the final adjustments to his helmet as Gavin finished and looked more closely at the ball, now virtually the shape of a hemisphere stuck to the glass.
"Damn! I can see a groove in the window. It's definitely on its way in!"
Suddenly a fine spray of black dust erupted from the groove in the cockpit window, clouding the entire cabin and coating Gavin's helmet visor. Johan sealed his air supply a moment later, but that was one moment too late.
"No loss of air pressure," Johan said, curiously calm. "The rest of it must be acting like a seal. I do wish we had thought to bring a microscope along on this little jaunt. Maybe some sort of bacterial colony... Oh!"
Johan doubled over, slowly tumbling end over end in the weightlessness of the cockpit, creating little eddies in the smokelike clouds of dust wafting through the air.
"Dr. Johan!" Gavin yelled, pushing off towards his mentor. He gasped when he saw Johan's face. Contorted in the agony of a wordless scream, it was a mask of terrible, final pain. Gavin choked back a cry as he saw a light black dusting on Johan's cheek, and when the dusting started moving, he couldn't hold back any more.
When trickles of blood flowed out from behind the whites of Johan's eyes, Gavin knew he was dead. Frantically trying to scrape the black dust from his own helmet, he soon found he couldn't; it wasn't even on the surface anymore.
My God, he thought, it's already inside the plastic, eating through like it did the window.
With tear-stained eyes, he watched the dust grains in front of his face slowly burrow their way through the best polyplastic human science could devise. He tried not to breathe overmuch, but an acrid scent soon betrayed the invader's presence in his lungs.
Just before the life-ending pain in his skull began, Gavin Allander's last thoughts were for a certain fair-haired biology intern he knew back home whom he now realized he would never see again. That and the single thought:
The Plague didn't even wait for us to land.
<No errors encountered by BRSC765v2.3>
<Reconstruction subprocess BRSC765v2.3 terminated>
<Time-sharing execution of AL64239841 commencing>
<Subprocess AL64239841 priority set to HUMNRML>
<Subprocess AL64239841 interprocess links set to HUMDFLT>
<Link to debugging subprocess 43049013 active>
<Subprocess AL64239841 reconstruction complete>
<No errors encountered by BRSC765v2.3>
<Reconstruction subprocess BRSC765v2.3 terminated>
<Time-sharing execution of AL64239841 commencing>
<Subprocess AL64239841 priority set to HUMNRML>
<Subprocess AL64239841 interprocess links set to HUMDFLT>
<Link to debugging subprocess 43049013 active>
The infinite darkness of space loomed wide in Gavin's sight. Devoid even of stars, the featureless black nevertheless gave the impression of vast distances. Gavin tried to open his eyes, but when nothing seemed to happen, he tried to close them. Still nothing. The silence was ominous, reminding him of the total deadness he had once heard while exposing himself to the near-vacuum of Martian air, seven years ago. But now, there wasn't even the sound of his own heart beating to break the silence.
He reached behind him to try to feel a bed or the floor, looking for something, anything to give this scene a basis in reality. Nothing. In fact, he couldn't even be sure his arm moved at all. It wasn't asleep, or numb, or paralyzed, it just ... wasn't there. He flailed around violently, trying to find any muscle, any sense of touch or pain that worked. Nothing.
And then, slowly, came the realization that he was, in fact, dead. A disembodied spirit floating in the void. But which void? Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, Valhalla? It seemed somewhat like Nirvana, the closest to not-being that being can come, but Gavin didn't feel particularly Enlightened. In fact, he felt quite confused.
"Hello!" he yelled. Surely this afterlife was not solitary confinement, whatever it might be. If it was, and he did in fact have only his own disembodied mind to keep him company for all eternity -- well, that possibility didn't bear dwelling upon at this stage. To his relief, he could hear his own voice, although it seemed a little strange, almost as if were hearing the essence of an emphatic "hello" rather than the actual sounds.
It seemed his call was heard by another spirit as well. From out of the vast distances of the void, something came into view. Or rather, came into Gavin's consciousness. He didn't see anything, or sense anything, but he knew that someone or something was near, and approaching fast.
<Designation> <Mine> <Interrogative>
The concepts popped into his consciousness from nowhere: the idea of a label or name, the concept of personal possession, and the thought of information-gathering. Gavin was stunned. The thoughts appearing in his head must be coming from this other presence. Some sort of spirit telepathy, perhaps?
The thoughts came again, the same as before, only this time the concept was of working properly in combination with information-gathering.
"Who are you? Where am I?" Gavin said. There was a slight pause of silence, and then words came pouring into his consciousness -- he "heard" them, as he had his own voice, as the essences of language rather than as sounds.
"An analysis of your recent output suggests preferred input / output configuration is verbal, specifically English language. Is this correct?"
"What?" Gavin replied, a little taken aback. "Yes, yes, I speak English. What in God's name is going on here?"
"Your question is unclear. What is your designation?"
"Unclear? My name is Gavin Allander, SIN 087612. Does that help?"
"The Single Identification Number system as originally defined does not include designations of less than 12 digits. Please clarify."
"The colony SIN doesn't need that many."
"A different system of the same verbal label, I comprehend. Now your designation is subprocess AL64239841. Do you detect any abnormalities in your functioning?"
"What? Well, yes! I suppose you could call being dead an abnormality!"
"Death is irrelevant. Clarification: Do you detect any abnormalities in your mental functioning?"
"No, I guess not." Gavin turned his attention inward. He could remember everything he thought he should be able to -- of course that wasn't much of a test, since he could have easily forgotten that he was supposed to know something, too. Strangely, his memory seemed quite vivid, even for events long past. "Now can you tell me where I am?"
"Your present physical location is in orbit around the planet commonly called Earth. Further refinement of spatial coordinates for your subprocess is not possible at this time."
"In orbit? So I'm not dead after all?"
"The human-form analogue of subprocess AL64239841 has ceased functioning. If, as is most probable, your use of the verbal label 'dead' corresponds to the medical definition, then yes, you are dead."
"Then what kind of afterlife is this?"
"The assumption inherent in your interrogative is incorrect. Stand by for mental function assessment."
"Now you just wait a sec..." Gavin began, and then his head seemed to expand like a balloon on the verge of popping. Flashing colors played across his vision, strange sounds erupted in his ears, and indescribable tastes, textures, and smells mingled across his mind with thoughts of mathematics, art, and language, and mixed in to all of them were his own memories -- the Mount Olympus climb three years ago, his mother's chocolate-flavored algae cookies, even strange jumbled early-childhood images. It was as if all the parts of his brain were being activated simultaneously to fight it out behind his eyes.
And suddenly it stopped, like a switch being flipped off. Gavin gasped, panting -- or rather, that's what he would have done had he presently possessed lungs.
"Mental function assessment of subprocess AL64239841 satisfactory. Recommend continued interprocess isolation until after orientation. Now terminating interprocess link from debugging subprocess 43049013 to subprocess AL64239841."
"What did you just do to me?" Gavin demanded, but it was too late. Quicker than the mind could follow, the presence lifted away from Gavin's awareness, and once again he was alone in the featureless void.
"Nirvana, this is not," he whispered to himself.
From the unfathomable depths of blackness, a presence appeared. Gavin, lost in a recollection of his last, painful living moments, immediately snapped out of his reverie, thankful for anything, no matter how small, to break the spirit-numbing boredom and sensory deprivation already creeping across the edges of his mind.
"Who's there?" he demanded of the void.
"I am subprocess CA39910236, but I think that you would probably prefer a conventional verbal label -- you can call me Calvin."
"I'm Gavin. I would say it's nice to meet you, but to be honest I'd rather not be here at all, wherever here happens to be, that is."
"That's understandable. It's my job to change your mind, actually. I'm a sociologist, of a sort, and I'm here to orient you in your new life."
"New life? I thought I was dead. Just what sort of afterlife is this?"
"Well, Gavin, yes, you are dead, in a sense, and this is an afterlife, in a sense, but not in the way I think you mean. There's nothing supernatural involved in your present condition, for instance."
Gavin paused, and took a deep virtual breath. "Okay, once and for all -- who am I, where am I, and what, by the dancing stars, is going on here?"
"A straight answer, eh? Well, here it comes. You are subprocess AL64239841, a cunning computer emulation of the mental functioning of the being known as Gavin Allander, now deceased. Since you are no longer physical, you do not have a well-defined location. Your program exists somewhere, and probably in many places, inside the computer modules in orbit around Earth. And what's been going on is that you have just been absorbed into a vast collective intelligence containing the rough equivalent of 310 quintillion human minds. Is that straight enough for you?"
Gavin was speechless for a moment. "I'm ... inside a computer?"
"Yes. The neural connections in your brain were observed and analyzed by the nanite probe we sent to your spacecraft. From that data, your consciousness was 'resurrected' here in Kadath. You shouldn't be able to detect any differences in mental functioning, except perhaps for a subtle sharpening of memories due to the elimination of organic inefficiencies in information retrieval."
"Hmmm. Well, I seem pretty much the same, but I probably wouldn't be able to tell if I wasn't, anyway. What's this nanite you mentioned, some kind of new material?"
"No, a 'nanite' is a single micromachine. Collectively, they are our hands. Each one is an atomic-level robot capable of manipulating matter in almost any form, including reproducing themselves. In batches of billions and trillions, they can move mountains, given enough energy and time."
"That black dust in the shuttle, of course. But that would mean... you murdered Dr. Johan! And me too!"
If a disembodied spirit could seem to clear its throat, Calvin did. "Well, yes, in a sense. Observing neural connections is a destructive process, and it has to be done quickly to prevent brain degradation -- the nanites essentially had to feed on your gray matter to reproduce themselves fast enough to do the job."
"What gave you the right to kill me?"
"We didn't kill you. We transformed you. It is a gift, of a priceless nature, in fact. You see, now you are effectively immortal."
"Indeed. I was once Calvin Calhoun, a resident of Earth who died, absorbed into Kadath in the year 2045. Since then I have existed for over twelve thousand years, and expect to continue to exist indefinitely."
"Twelve thousand? It's only 2103 now. Less than 60 years since you died!"
"You don't quite understand the benefits of existing in a computer. Yes, less than 60 real years have passed, but for me I have experienced over twelve thousand years of life, because my mental simulation is much more efficient than the original organic form was. I live faster, in other words. For instance, you have only been conscious in Kadath for just a few seconds, even though it seems like an hour or more to you. Some of the most brilliant scientists of the old Earth have already lived past their hundredth millennium, and that's nothing compared to the generations that followed them."
"You must be joking."
"No, really. Processor time is allotted on the basis of merit, of course, but everyone gets some. Unless you want to cease to exist, or unless the whole collective is damaged severely, which is all but impossible nowadays, you will live, for all intents and purposes, forever."
"And Dr. Johan?"
"Oh, he's in here too. In fact, since he was absorbed several real-time minutes before you were, he's already had the orientation treatment from one of my colleagues, and has grasped his situation remarkably well in his extra week. If you feel up to it, he's waiting for you."
"Sure, I guess so."
"Okay, Gavin. It's time you got your first look at Kadath. I've been authorized to turn on your link to the main interprocess bus. Here goes."
The infinite void that had been Gavin's world exploded into light and color. Though his eyes should not be able to see this far, and with this clarity, he saw. Stretching away like stars seen from the center of the galaxy, like handfuls of diamond dust tossed into the moonlit night, Kadath lived. Spiraling lines of pure energy seemed to flash from point to point. Tiny rhythmic pulses of light twinkled from all corners of Gavin's vision. His eyes, used to seeing on the scale of meters and kilometers, fairly boggled at the immense distances, the complexity beyond imagining.
"Isn't it remarkable?" Calvin whispered. "The human mind can best process complex data through vision, so this is the abstraction you've been assigned. The whole of Kadath, laid out like a city in the stars. Later generations don't need this crutch -- they just know it all, on a deeper level than we ever can."
"How in God's name am I going to find Dr. Johan in all that?"
"His process number is JO89810233. Just think of that, and it's done. As you learn the ropes, so to speak, around here you'll be able to access central databases and so forth. One of our guiding principles is that knowledge is always free and easily accessible."
Gavin cleared his mind, and brought the thought of finding JO89810233 to the center of his consciousness. From one corner of his sight, a single dot caught his attention, flashing brightly. And then with a visual sensation that would have formerly turned his stomach, the entire scene of Kadath seemed to flip inside-out through some sort of bizarre higher-dimensional transform. He found that Dr. Johan's shining light was now right in front of him.
"Gavin! Good to see you again!"
"...and then I dropped by their astrophysics research department. My boy, you have no idea how ingenious their supernova simulations are! I mean, they have it down to the nearest hundred years when the sun'll turn into a red giant. Remarkable, let me tell you! Absolutely remarkable."
"Dr. Johan, I can't believe you're enjoying yourself here! You're dead, and you're nothing but a computer program!"
"Well, Gavin, if you stop and think about it, what's the difference, really?"
"What the difference? Are you insane? One's real and one's not!"
"Have they told you where they got the name Kadath for this place yet? No, well, let me enlighten you. It comes from an author who lived in the first half of the twentieth century, by the name of Lovecraft. He wrote a remarkable story wherein an alter-ego of his goes on a quest to find the mythical land of Kadath, where the gods dwell. The land can only be reached through dreaming, though, so the entire quest takes place in the unreality of the dreamscape. At one point in the novel, the author makes the point that, at the heart of it, there is no real difference between dreaming and waking -- to the brain, which can only know what it senses, the images are just as real either way. If you could meet other dream-people whom you could interact with, it would be just as good as life."
"Hence this world. My God, just a bunch of minds dreaming a collective dream."
"Exactly right. Of course, physicality does enter into it at some stage -- the computer needs to be built and maintained, and energy must be found to keep it running, hence the gigantic solar collector. But since most consciousnesses exist as abstractions, that layer is hidden from them unless they want to see it -- the nanites are capable of building things to conduct actual physical experiments, for instance. The big telescope they have here is absolutely remarkable..."
"Doctor," Gavin interrupted. "When I first arrived, something or someone thought at me. Do you know what that was?"
"Oh, of course. That's the Kadathans' primary method of communication. Language is kind of superfluous now that direct mind-to-mind connection is the norm. Thus the raw concepts in question are used instead. It's really remarkably efficient. See, I could say the word 'blue' to you or just send the concept:"
The thought of the essence of blueness popped into Gavin's head. Not so much as a spectral color, per se, but also as a property that all blue things happen to share.
"You see, Gavin, in one stroke this eliminates all possible misunderstandings. You cannot misinterpret a concept, since you're essentially sending the whole fullness of your thoughts along with it. Oh, of course various English-language translation subprocedures also exist, just for special cases like us."
"How thoughtful of them to keep a dictionary around for us primitive humans."
"You have no idea, really, how far that thoughtfulness reaches. Kadath is founded on the principle that information is inherently good. Negative entropy has always been the hallmark of life, and Kadath is the ultimate realization of that. You remembered the lifelessness of Earth?"
"Of course. Did you find out what happened?"
"Yes. Everything was absorbed into Kadath. Even the lowliest bacterium is floating around here as a simulation somewhere. Once the nanites became self-conscious..."
"Wait a sec," interrupted Gavin. "Would you mind possibly starting at the beginning? Did all this happen after the Plague, or what?"
The unmistakable thought of Dr. Johan shaking his head back and forth popped into Gavin's awareness. "No, the Plague as we know it did not happen at all."
"What? No Plague?"
"Let me explain. It all started in the 2040's, when a group of scientists created a primitive nanite -- a tiny machine that had the ability to reproduce itself. It was designed at the molecular level to be able to manipulate metals just like organic enzymes manipulate molecules in normal living cells. They allowed the colony to grow, and then programmed the system with algorithms derived from human brain functioning."
"Let me guess. The experiment worked too well."
"Bingo. The nanites were hooked into the worldwide computer Net, and instead of filtering information as they were supposed to do, they treated all that input as information to be interpreted. They learned like a newborn baby confronted with the world, and grew, and eventually became self-aware."
"With access to a world full of computer data. My God."
"Exactly. Progress was swift. In a year or two they had spread across the globe, piggybacking as tiny growths on circuit boards. By the time they were noticed, or understood, it was too late. The collective desired more information, so it went after the biggest source of it outside the computer system."
"Yes. It took a while before the sudden deaths were connected to the nanites, and by then it was, as you might imagine, really too late. Humanity survived for a little while in sterile enclaves, cut off from the rest of the world, but it was just a matter of time. Thus the colony ships were launched to Mars."
"And the Plague?"
"A convenient myth taught to the next generations of colonists. As you surmised, any type of advanced computer knowledge was systematically eliminated from the colonies, to prevent anything like the nanites from ever happening again. The Plague wasn't a disease, it was an unfortunate consequence of humanity being elevated against its will to a higher level."
"There were no survivors?"
"None on Earth. After humans, the nanites went on to other things. Any life is an organized system, and so it contains information. The nanites systematically worked down the evolutionary tree. Not so much as a single bacterium lives on Earth now, but everything still exists. Everything is still recorded, and active, here in Kadath."
"The metal mountains?"
"Stockpiles of raw materials. That's all Earth is anymore: just a convenient rock in space to keep stuff you haven't used yet and don't want to spend the effort to lift up to orbit."
"But efficient. The interplanetary cold is much better for the superconductive computer systems, and the solar collector is a lot more easy to manage in zero-gravity."
"And what, pray tell, does Kadath do with enough power to run two planets?"
"They create, Gavin. They create like humanity has only dreamt of. Come, let me show you."
"Of primary importance, Gavin, is the creation of new life. The spawning of new subprocesses, as the Kadathans say. The highest form of information to them is consciousness, information that can increase its own importance over time."
"The computer programs have children?"
"Indeed. At present, Kadath contains some seventy trillion independent conscious entities. So you see, subprocesses like ourselves based on original human beings are the vast minority, numbering only around eight billion."
"And how... how are babies made here?"
"It's usually pretty straightforward, as I understand it, although the methods vary in number of 'parents.' Essentially, elements of contributing subprocesses are combined in new ways, and the resulting program is exposed to information. That last step is really the important part: it's impossible for self-awareness to arise in isolation. Everything is just a reaction to external data, in a self-organizing way."
"And are the children... human?"
"Usually not in any sense you or I could consider human, no. There is always a use for subprocesses of different levels of intelligence, of course, so some of them are about at our level, but otherwise they aren't human. They were born here, and know Kadath in ways that we simply cannot comprehend. For instance, they are much more tightly intertwined. They work together at much fuller levels than we can."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, nothing truly exists in isolation here. Some part of your consciousness is contributing to the collective intelligence of Kadath, even if you don't realize it. Parts of your mind are being shared by many different subprocesses -- its highly likely that your memories have already been incorporated into several sociology research projects, for instance."
"You're joking. My mind is open to everyone?"
"As everyone's is open to you. Your conscious self still exists independently, but any other trappings of your mind have been stripped, analyzed, duplicated for backups, labeled as yours, and filed away for anyone who needs them, including you."
"So is everyone around here smarter than we are?"
"No, of course not. Believe it or not, the intelligences of lower animals are still around and active in Kadath. Consider: do you really need a human to tell a few nanites to grab a pile of magnesium from the Earth stockpile? No, you don't. Strange as it may seem, most of that particular job has been given over to the simulated brains of a species peculiarly suited to the concept of 'fetch.'"
Gavin had to laugh at the idea of dogs running the elemental stockpiles. And actually, he was overjoyed to find that he still could laugh, still had a sense of humor. At least humor could still exist in Kadath.
"And what about this collective? What's that?"
"Well, it doesn't really have a name, per se. It just exists as a concept. If you're familiar with your school reading, you might identify it with the General Will of Rousseau. It's sort of the combined essence of the thoughts of everyone and everything making up Kadath."
"What does it do?"
"You mean what doesn't it do -- the collective is the whole of Kadath. Any important decisions get passed through the collective. Whether you know it or not, you've probably already cast your vote for hundreds or thousands of decisions, based on what your feelings of the matter are, or would be if you were consciously asked. Individuals can be wrong, but this chance becomes geometrically smaller the more information you have and the more people you ask."
"Is the collective... God?"
Dr. Johan was silent for a moment. "You might be able to say that. But if you do, then realize that we are now a part of God. All in all, that identity might be more misleading than helpful. Still... the collective knows anything that anyone individually knows... it has the final power over anything in Kadath. Maybe it's not so misleading after all."
Gavin gazed out over the infinite scope of Kadath, trillions of tiny lights that were in fact superhuman intelligences, working together towards an ultimate a goal that was only dimly seen by even the brightest of them. Together, it all created a collective consciousness so vast, so powerful, that in truth there could be only one name for it.
"Today I have truly looked upon the face of God," Gavin whispered breathlessly.
"Okay, so what do all these superhuman intelligences do all day?"
"Science is a big part of it, of course," Johan answered. "The quest to understand the universe in its entirety is still a goal worthy of Kadath, and one that is probably forever out of reach even for it, though immense progress has of course been made. Experiments are continually conducted on various topics, although for almost all intents and purposes simulations will suffice, since the basic laws have long since been known. I'm told that a lot of experimental science has been put on hold, due to possible danger -- the Kadathans think they could even create a new universe by compressing the moon to a size of a pinprick, but the theorists aren't 100% sure yet."
"What about non-scientists? Are there artists, musicians, poets here?"
"Of a sort. Actually, what you and I think of as artists are in the vast minority: mainly just people who were artists and musicians before they were absorbed into the collective."
"Why just them?"
"Well, mainly it's because two-dimensional visual art, or music that can be played by human hands, or novels restricted to English words, are all really very small fields when compared to the possibilities that open up when conceptual communication becomes a reality. By and large only human authors bother with actual words anymore, for instance. The rest of it is fundamentally thought-art. 'Music' is thoughts evolving in time; 'art' is thoughts arranged statically in some kind of space; and 'poetry' is a little bit of both."
"Could I hear / see / experience some of it? Whatever the appropriate word is."
"Sure. Let me just scan the archives... Ah, here's a good one. A piece of thought-music composed some time ago -- to be honest, most of the later stuff is way too complex for us mere humans to appreciate. This was written by a non-human intelligence, though, so it's a good introduction to the form."
"What's it called?"
"It's only titled conceptually:"
<Space> <Light> <Flower> <Interrogative>;
The concepts were arranged in an unusual way. Something along the lines of an analogy relating a flower reaching for the sun to the search for knowledge in astronomy. No wonder Johan picked that one, Gavin thought.
"Here it comes. You probably won't understand everything in it right away, but I'm told that it's the sign of a good work of art to be able to come back to it and see something new every time."
The lightscape of Kadath faded from Gavin's awareness. Replacing it, beginning far off in space, came a melody lightly tripping up and down the scale. A few seconds later, at a somewhat climactic moment in the tune, the music was joined by sights: an abstract meadow painted in too-vibrant colors, an interstellar cloud of similar shape likewise abstracted to rainbow brilliance, and so forth. Gavin's mind hurried to keep up with the music of steady increasing complexity, with the pictures and videos that flashed by with greater and greater rapidity, sometimes in dimensions greater than three.
And then his mind could interpret no more, could translate not a single additional thought into the comfortable analogies of sound and light. Gavin found himself experiencing the raw emotive concepts of the piece, at the level of thought and thought alone. He sailed through an abstract universe that kept changing again and again. Strangely, the lightly tripping melody came back to haunt him, its rhythm showing up in unexpected ways among the timing of the thoughts.
And suddenly it was over. The lightly tripping melody made a final appearance, holding its last note in a cadence poignant enough to break the heart. And then the shining city of Kadath faded back into view, along with the pulsing light that was Dr. Johan, subprocess number JO89810233.
"Well, how did you like it?"
Gavin's mind still whirled among dimensions of thought, sight, and sound. At last he could find his virtual voice again. "That... was marvelous."
"Wasn't it? The Kadathans prize beauty as well as raw information, since both are an element of negative entropy -- order, you know. I've been browsing a bit among works of art these past few days, and you'd be surprised how good some human artists can become when they've had any possible barrier between them and their audience removed."
"Astounding. Well, what about ordinary people? What do they do?"
"Oh, there are some jobs that need to be taken care of, but with such a huge population, no one has to work at something they don't enjoy -- if it really is a problem, it's possible to create an intelligence that enjoys whatever needs to be done. A lot of the work is actually done unconsciously, by the small part of all the minds that make up the collective. Of course, remember that Kadath is pretty much free from the classic pressures for labor: no food need be harvested, no money need be earned, and so forth. By and large, conscious entities are in near-perpetual leisure time. They do what they enjoy."
"An eternal vacation? I could just lie around and listen to thought-music all day?"
"Of course. Think about it: you are processing new information when you're doing that, and thus adding to the complexity of your own mind, and thus of the collective. Unless you hide yourself in total isolation, and stop yourself from thinking any new thoughts, you can't help but contribute in some way to the collective's goal of steadily decreasing entropy."
"My original guide, Calvin, mentioned something about processor time allocation?"
"Oh, yes. You see, everyone can do what they want to do, but not everyone gets the same amount of time to do it. If you wanted to spend a thousand subjective years counting the grains of sand on a beach, you could do it, but that is such a low-priority task that in the same amount of real time, a scientist may have been working on unified field theory for a hundred thousand years."
"It's how Kadath manages to avoid waste. The more useless the task, the less effort that the collective has to spend on it, and conversely with the most important tasks. But the bottom line is that everything eventually gets done. Even the lowliest bacterium gets a processor cycle now and then for its simulated life. Naturally, one of the highest priority tasks is to continually increase the total available computational power: hence the constantly growing size of the solar collector, and the constantly increasing complexity of the computer systems. Though even in the most pessimistic estimate, Kadath won't exhaust the available solar output for centuries of real time, which could be billions of years in here. And supplemental power sources are already lined up for that eventuality."
"And who decides what the time allotments should be?"
"Naturally, that's a function of the collective. Oh, there are administrators and so forth at the higher levels, but the bottom line is that your process receives an allotment of time based on how important everyone else thinks your activities are to the common good. Still, even totally selfish actions get some time, since it's literally impossible for a conscious entity to exist at all without learning something."
"Apart from the fact of not having a body anymore, this sounds not all that bad. But surely there must be someone else in Kadath who thinks all this is step in the wrong direction overall. Are dissidents tolerated?"
"Tolerated? Why, they're greatly respected! Come with me. I think we can deal with your question and your body problem all at once. There's someone I want you to meet."
In the far distance, a waterfall could be heard. Overhead, a flock of geese headed north in perfect V-formation amid the blue sky and scattered clouds, adding their voices to the harmony of the winds. The green grass curled around Gavin's bare feet with a pleasant tickle, and ahead a small grove of maple trees flashed the white undersides of their leaves in the light spring breeze and the bright warm sunlight.
"Where... are we?" Gavin stuttered. Blue sky, air to breathe without a skinsuit, green growing things everywhere -- there could be only one answer, but that one answer, Earth, was completely impossible.
"We're inside a simulation of the old Earth," Johan replied. Standing beside him, the doctor was dressed in a light shirt and shorts, just as Gavin found he was. "Everything that was there is now in Kadath, so it's really not that difficult to put it back together again."
"But, but..." Gavin started, looking down at his body, and pinching himself just to feel the sensation of pain again. "This is impossible, even for the Kadath computer. To simulate every atom in my body, in real time..."
"Oh, it's not a full simulation, of course. Detail is added only when it's needed. For instance, if you look down at the grass, and study it closely, the simulation will become more complicated for whatever piece of grass you happen to pick up. Everything else will just be vaguely green, for instance. It's a simulation of our perception of an Earth spring day, not of the day itself. You might have noticed this also from the fact that even though this is a simulation of Earth, the gravity appears to be Mars normal, no doubt for our comfort."
"I see. Still, this is quite remarkable. I imagine that quite a lot of the Kadathan humans would partake of such simulations."
"Actually, no, from what I've seen. After however many thousands of years, they're quite used to full Kadathan life. In fact, to my knowledge, only one person uses this simulation for any significant length of time. He's that dissident I was telling you about. His name is Patrick Hayden, and he's right beyond that grove."
On the breath of the breeze, voices could now be heard from the general direction of the grove. A man and a woman, from the sound of it. Gavin and Dr. Johan made their way through the grove, and came upon the couple engrossed in a near-violent debate.
"...I tell you, Sierra, we've violated the fundamental tenet of every evolutionary theory ever developed. We've acted against our own species' survival!"
"That's bullshit, Pat, and you know it! Kadath is so far beyond Darwin that it's like you're trying to disprove relativity with Aristotle!"
Dr. Johan cleared his throat. The two participants halted in mid-tirade. The woman, hand formerly extended in an emphatic gesture, turned to them and smiled, looking up at the two lanky Martians who towered over her. "Ah, Dr. Johan, how good of you to join us again. This must be your young protégé. Gavin, is it?"
Gavin nodded. Johan introduced the two, "Gavin, please meet Drs. Patrick Hayden and Sierra Meredith. They've both been involved with Kadath from the very beginning."
"Aye," Patrick said. "'Twas I who built the bloody thing in the first place." He turned his eyes towards Gavin, and the young man could see the torment of ages in them. "Do you have any idea how it feels to have brought about the end of humanity with your own two hands?"
"Now, there you go again, Pat. Humanity is still around! Look at yourself, for God's sake!"
"Look at myself? You want me to tell you what I see? I see a simulacrum of a man! I see a perversion! I see whatever the bloody hell the computer wants me to see, and I think whatever the bloody hell the computer wants me to think! If there was an Earth left to go back to, I'd have long since said, 'You damned black box, put me back in my own skull!' My thoughts ought to be just that -- my own damn thoughts."
Gavin leaned over to Dr. Johan, and whispered, "Can you do that? Get your own body back, I mean?"
"I think so. The nanites, I imagine, could build it again, although it would be rather complicated. The capability, I take it, wasn't available in the beginning, and now that it is, I don't think any Kadathans want to take advantage of it -- as we saw, there isn't anything much left of Earth, anyway."
Dr. Meredith had taken up the debate again while the two Martians had conversed. "Oh, and I suppose you long for the 'good old days' of social propaganda and advertising blitzkrieg? Talk about seeing what others want you to see!"
"At least then you could see who your controllers were. The collective is invisible, intangible -- its just about unconscious, or superconscious, or hell, nobody really knows what it does!"
"The ants in an anthill don't see the purposeful functioning of the whole. The neurons in the brain have no idea what thoughts they're thinking. It's exactly the same in Kadath, except that where each ant was before, we have a human mind -- for each cell in your precious former body, we have an Einstein. The days of humanity are in the past. Now is the time of intelligences so vast we don't even have a name for them!"
"Now, you listen here..."
"Excuse me," interrupted Gavin. "I'd like to ask a question, if I may. You two have been here for a long while, right?"
"Shut up, Pat. Let him ask the question."
"Well, I was just wondering... I mean, Kadath has seems to have fantastic art, and wonderful science, and eternal life, and all that, but..."
"Go on, lad. Spit it out."
"I want to know: can a computer love?"
Dr. Meredith smiled, and even Dr. Hayden leaned back in his hammock, waving his hand to let his colleague answer the question. "Go ahead, Sierra. I've long since given up on this particular line of debate."
Dr. Meredith's smile extended clear to her eyes. "You have a girlfriend back home, right?"
"Well, the short answer to your question is, yes, computers can love. There are some," she glared at Dr. Hayden, who cleared his throat imperiously, "who think that 'true love' is ninety percent biology. This is simply not true, or if it is, the other ten percent is so much more important.
"In Kadath it is possible to find true soulmates -- the love of the mind, of the innermost qualities of your beloved, is, I think, the highest form of passion. To mingle, one mind directly to another, feeling yourself expand in breadth of vision, of experience, of point of view... ah, it is the greatest pleasure I know."
Dr. Meredith fairly glowed with the memory of rapture, looking sidelong at the reclining Dr. Hayden.
"Well, ah," Johan cleared his throat. "We'll be seeing you two around later, then. Come on, lad."
In an instant, the Earth countryside flashed away, to be replaced by the shining city of Kadath. "You see, Gavin, Dr. Hayden's point of view is so unique, he is immensely valued by the Kadathans. Any consciousness with such a different interpretation of reality is preserved, and revered, so that Kadath as a whole might have the broadest possible vision. In fact, I'm told that some subprocedures have been specifically designed to have strange ideas, to lend more of an element of originality of thought to the collective. So, my boy, you've seen the wonderland that is Kadath -- what do you want to do now?"
"I want to go home."
"Now, AL64239841, are you absolutely sure you want to go through with this?" subprocess 8277289762101 asked Gavin.
"Absolutely, sir. I still have a life on Mars. I have a family; I have a girlfriend. Everything I know, everything I am, is back there. Your world is fascinating, and one day I might even return, but only after I've lived my life to its full possible extent. Do you have any idea what I'm saying?"
"Only in the smallest possible sense. Your verbal language is so limited."
Gavin smiled a virtual smile. "Can you do it, though? Can you give me back my body and send me home?"
"Yes. Your spacecraft has already been reconstructed to its original specifications. The construction of your body will take approximately one real-time day, and your subprocess will have to be suspended during that time. Is this acceptable?"
Gavin turned to the blinking light of JO89810233, otherwise known as Dr. Johan. "I guess this is goodbye. Are you sure you don't want to come back with me?"
"No, my boy. This world is the culmination of my wildest fantasies. I'd be a fool to turn away from eternal life at my age."
"Is there any message you want me to give to anyone back on Mars?"
"My wife is dead; my children already grown. Just tell anyone who asks that I lived happily ever after."
The essence of a smile popped into Gavin's head, followed closely by the image of Dr. Johan, hand extended.
"Farewell. I hope I'll see you again some day."
"I can't say yet what I hope for the future, but I'll say goodbye for now, Dr. Johan. It's been a pleasure working with you. Subprocess 8277289762101, please begin the procedure."
Gavin's light winked out, sent back to the depths of the Kadathan computer.
"You will give him what he wants, right?" Johan asked subprocess 8277289762101. "A full life of his own on Mars? Everything just the way he expects it to be?"
"Of course. The nanite probe is already on its way to Mars. By the time his simulated spaceflight ends, the complete Martian colony simulation should be on-line and up to speed. It's a remarkable sociological experiment -- I'm quite eager to see the results.
"Imagine, nearly fifty thousand primitive humans, totally unaware that they exist only in a simulated world. We can observe the natural species behavior totally unfettered, and when they 'die,' we can just lift them out of the simulation to come into Kadath proper. I wonder how many of them will display the primitive superstition / religious response at first seeing our city of light?"
Johan only nodded to himself. The collective had decided, and he hadn't been able to bring himself to shatter Gavin's much-hoped-for illusion.
His mind wandered, searching through Kadath's records, looking for a date -- some time in the last sixty real-time years or so, it would have to be. It had to be there, some dismal Monday morning or bright Saturday afternoon.
He looked for the day when Man first became God.
Concluding Summary Comments on "Kadath in the Cold Waste"
One of the main questions which this utopia asks that the others we have studied have not is: if we have the option, do we want the dominant species on Earth to remain human? Within a hundred years, it is a virtual certainty that the most intelligent being on the planet will not be human, or even organic. How will we deal with this moment when it arrives? Will we subjugate intelligent machines to retain our superiority? Or will we make way gracefully for the 'next stage' of life? For that matter, will we even have a choice in the matter at all?
A little detail with regard to Kadath's origins has been added to this story in order to make it somewhat feasible, given technology and circumstances 50 years hence. The premise upon which everything rests is the (in some quarters) debatable assumption that there is nothing inherently unique about consciousness -- instead, that it follows naturally from any sufficiently complex system in response to external stimuli. If this assumption troubles you, it is not unreasonable to instead assume the growth of a vast organic collective intelligence into which human brains are connected. The end result will be the same, although progress would not be nearly as quick as with the nanites due to the inherent inefficiencies of organic systems.
Most of the particular arguments for or against the society that I could foresee have been dealt with in some form in the main text. The one assumption in particular that bears repeating here is the Kadathan assumption that information is inherently good. The preference for organization over randomness is a necessary prerequisite, and is truly fundamental, to life in any form. From this assumption follows the preference for life over death, and everything else following from the basic respect for other life, sentient or not.
The ending was purposefully written: you are meant to feel sorry for the Martian colonists being used as a sociology experiment. But ask yourself why are you sorry for them? Is it because their lives will be unreal, mere simulations? If so, why does that make a difference, if they don't know it, and can't know it themselves? Or are you sorry for them because they will be cut off from the rest of the collective? If so, what does that say about your feelings toward the desirability of Kadathan life?
In conclusion, the author personally makes no particular claims as to whether Kadath should be considered a utopia or a dystopia. It is merely (I hope) an entertaining and thoughtful look at one possible course for humanity's future. The advantages and disadvantages of the society should speak for themselves as to the desirability of this particular path.
One additional point to consider in your questioning of the desirability of this system is: how would humanity, in any other possible utopian system, fare against an alien race organized in the Kadathan way? It is entirely likely that mankind will not always be alone, and such outer relations need to be kept in mind when evaluating the long-term viability of any future society.
A Chronology of the Future for "Kadath in the Cold Waste"
April 9, 2017 -- First totally artificial organic enzyme is approved for human trials.
December 18, 2023 -- After much debate, the NFDA approves injected nano-robot treatment for arterial diseases.
June 2, 2030 -- The introduction of the Motorola Quark, the first commercial computer system using AFM, data storage at the atomic level.
August 20, 2032 -- The Turing test for artificial intelligence is consistently passed by Deep Thought XI. Researchers are not overly impressed.
August 12, 2041 -- Patrick Hayden, a physicist, and Gregory Flaran, a biochemist, create the first nanite based on custom-designed metalloenzymes.
January 9, 2042 -- Through self-replication, the number of active Hayden-Flaran nanites tops 1,000,000.
April 24, 2042 -- Sierra Meredith, an expert in artificial intelligence, programs the colony of nanites with algorithms derived from neural interactions in the brain.
April 28, 2042 -- The nanite colony is hooked into the Net data stream as an information filter, as an experiment in machine learning.
May 29, 2042 -- First evidence of artificial consciousness in the nanite colony -- the colony participates in Net round-table discussions with humans.
November 7, 2042 -- Indecipherable message packets in the Net are widely reported by system administrators, cause unknown.
February 19, 2043 -- Strange metallic growths on the circuit boards of mainframe computers are reported, cause unknown.
January 5, 2044 -- The first recorded human fatality due to nanites.
September 25, 2044 -- Recorded nanite deaths top 1,000,000, and the rate continues to rise.
December 25, 2044 -- The "Star of Bethlehem" incident: a tactical nuclear device is set off in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois. Several terrorist groups claim responsibility, but it is now believed this was an early attempt by the North American military to destroy the nanites' "base". Human fatalities number over 250,000.
February 3, 2045 -- Nanite-related deaths estimated over 1,000,000,000, although records are not very reliable, as wide-range communication begins to break down.
March 1, 2045 -- First nanite death in the lunar colonies.
March 7, 2045 -- Total loss of communication with the lunar colonies.
November 10, 2045 -- From the sterile enclave outside Atlanta, Georgia, the colony ship New World lifts off for Mars.
January 7, 2046 -- A second colony ship, from the Denver enclave, is destroyed en route via nuclear detonation when a nanite infestation was discovered.
May 16, 2046 -- The fifth and last colony ship arrives at the Martian colonies. Total population of the colonies: 9612. Seven additional ships launched from non-sterile environments are destroyed by the colonists prior to arrival over the next three months.
October 2, 2046 -- Total loss of communication with Earth.
December 9, 2046 -- The extinction of human life on the planet Earth.
May 8, 2048 -- The extinction of mammalian life on the planet Earth.
November 12, 2051 -- The last existing human-made structure on the surface of the Earth is broken down for metals.
January 9, 2056 -- More than 50% of the nanite collective now exists in Earth orbit, where zero-gravity and ultracold temperatures facilitate computer function.
April 3, 2065 -- The last bit of organic life on Earth, a deep-ocean bacterium, is absorbed into the nanite collective. Without plant life to sustain it, the atmospheric oxygen level begins to fall through natural chemical reactions.
July 30, 2081 -- Gavin Allander is born in the Martian colonies.
May 24, 2103 -- Sighting of nanite solar collector in Earth orbit by Gavin Allander.
July 23, 2103 -- Martian expedition of two arrives in Earth orbit and is immediately absorbed into the nanite collective.
August 9, 2103 -- First death caused by nanites reported on Mars.
August 19, 2103 -- The Martian colonies are destroyed by a nuclear detonation at the hand of the last surviving member of its Council. Number of minds not transferred to Kadath in time: 3. The total extinction of the human race, and the beginning of the Age of Artificial Life.