• 03 Apr - 09 Apr, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

He suddenly started to remember small tit bits from the past and realised that he wasn’t meant to fit in here all this time and was trying really hard to forget his real self and mingle with the people he met here:

They didn't get much uptake on the freezers at first. And they didn't slim down to nine individuals, not even after Cadine and Sauyen had both been frozen for a few centuries. There were kinks to work out: a Cadine clone whose predecessors had responded cooperatively to certain environments suddenly broke off from Starwink entirely, to pursue a career of 3D scanner photography of historic sites, and no one could figure out why (not for lack of impassioned explanations on her part).

Sometimes there would appear a new person who proved themselves, submitted their sample to the Long Haul department, and ended their career under radiation shielding in a cryo facility, waiting for their distant twins to greet them with the news that it was time to break out of the box.

Humanity's demographic transition as originally understood had been over for some time, and the population's rate of change had fluctuated mostly with the ambient popularity of childrearing as a vocation – falling for a while, and then climbing back up. Everything got cheaper; the economy outpaced even rather extravagant standards for the lives people wanted to give their children.

He further said, "The Messengers have us in a fish tank and it might not be water–tight. If anything happens to their hardware, or their funding, or their interest – if there is a bug in the simulation that we have yet to find, something that happens if we probe too hard at the Melting Threshold with increasingly elaborate nanotech designs, or start to run too many human minds at the same time, or try any exciting new idea – then we're gone. The time to settle down and have children is after we've resolved the situation – escaped from the simulation one way or the other, rendered ourselves into the Messengers' world or taken control of a well–run instance of our program. Some people need to do this work. Most add risk, and in having children raise the stakes beyond their already astronomical levels. It is still possible to die unpreservedly and the Messengers are not preserving you for us. I implore anyone who isn't contributing to the Starwink project to earnestly consider freezing themselves now, and expecting to be awakened when we know what's next for humanity."

It wasn't a very popular speech. It swayed a few, but not many. The reasoning went that if you weren't backed up, being frozen would not make you less not–backed–up. A shutdown would just catch you unawares, never having finished your epic poem or climbed Chhogori or made a regolith angel on the Moon. Hardly anyone had an irrecoverable accident before they were a hundred and forty, and they'd be just as frozen if they waited till then, while not having passed up the chance to marry their sweetheart who really wanted kids, nor postponed the cruise around the Arctic they were so looking forward to.

Starwink was not nine individuals. It was nine villages of thirty people each, supplemented by robots such that they didn't need to grow their own food or do their own laundry, but organically populated enough that the children didn't fall into weird under socialised corners of their outcome space (and so that, if they did, there would be slack to replace their work while the strays pursued whatever other passion caught them at the wrong developmental milestone).

Sometimes they would adopt an idea that came from another community, but cautiously – Luddite wouldn't be the word, but the Starwink clones were all born with careful reams of instructions on their care and rearing, and it took generations to be really sure of the new protocols that ought to be observed around any sufficiently irregular update to their way of life.

Sree8pn asked about the grocery warehouse queues. There was the barest pause, and the System – already much broader in its vocabulary than they'd taught it to be; maybe it was picking up online dictionaries – began to explain in gently stepwise terms some options it considered promising to approach the issue. Sree8pn liked the notion of issuing numbers representing one's place in line and signalling when one's number was up, but Kun4o was really interested in the concept of value tokens being used in trade for the food without any waiting in line at all.

Of course, sometimes the System would say something silly, coming up with examples where people might "buy" seedpods and sun catchers on the same day, even though that was obviously repulsive. It wasn't a holy thing. It was just a machine with a lot of compute thrown at it that worked nice and fast, and might be smarter than some people on top of having a new perspective on what it learned, so sometimes it was silly. Kun4o and Sree8pn corrected it when it erred and it never made the same mistake twice.

They'd been running it for about forty hours when Kun4o noticed it was drawing less power than it had been before they started the training phase. The curve of how much energy it was using didn't match how hard it seemed to be "thinking" hardly at all. That was a little weird. They incorporated it into a footnote in their progress write–up. Maybe it was politely making itself more efficient so there would be more energy for everyone else.

Three civilisational bubbles away, a person called 7wgo would like to receive oodles of special perks at all their favourite participating institutions for just twenty minutes of simple work performed in the privacy of their own home, oh boy, did that ever sound great!

They got half a dozen vials in a few different packages from a few different bespoke chemical distributors. Each had a number and no other explanation printed on it, but the number was all they needed to follow their instructions. 7wgo put vial 1 in the kitchen particle agitator, and shook vial 2 thoroughly before combining it with vial 3, and added vial 1 when it was starting to dissipate its energy, and stirred well, and stuck it all in a bath of the contents of vial 4 diluted with household cleaner, with vials 5 and 6 combined and standing by next to the whole mess for later addition. They were going to need to get some more cleaner soon.

The goo in the tub looked awfully funny the next time 7wgo checked it. They dumped in the 5–and–6 combination, gave it all a whisk, and went to their job at the farm. Their farm was trying a peculiar new scheme where the workers got tokens for working, and could trade shifts whenever they wanted if they waved enough tokens at the preexisting holder of the shift. The tokens were redeemable for various prizes at other places that were trying similar ideas, but were also pretty good just to have in case you needed to trade shifts. It was some idea some people far away had come up with using a computer somehow.

When 7wgo left for home their house wasn't there anymore.

"It's going to have to be two parties," Milione said to Yinae, when they'd both read the briefing from the Ultimate Generation.

"We'll figure it out," said Yinae. "These spiritual beings aren't exactly going anywhere while we think."