“In 2035 a computer program emerged capable of condensing information into simple formats that incorporated a series of patterns, colors and shapes. This new program allowed the human brain to absorb the information equivalency of a three hundred page novel in just over an hour. Due to the format with which the brain decoded the patterns the subject would hold onto their memories of the novel for up to seven times longer than when the novel was read via word and sentence.
'During the program's primordial period of beta testing the estimated amount of downloads soared to nearly twelve billion. Under the name Miletus the program scoured the viral globe and it came as no surprise that by 2040 the amount of books processed in print had almost entirely roared to a halt. Perhaps the program's impact was felt most strongly in Africa; with a recorded 22% literacy rate in 2035, that percentage skyrocketed to an astounding 89% after the program's worldwide release. The system of patterns used by the program translated so effortlessly that after only ten years it had nearly displaced the written word.
'Then Miletus changed the world again with the unveiling of their elaborate and cutting edge satellites. The radio signals went digital and then eventually fiber optic. These fiber optic satellites utilized electromagnetic carrier waves; essentially using light to transfer data between user and web. Information transferred at the speed of light.
'After nearly a century of widespread use and refinement of this amazing technology, U.S. hardware engineers invented the Human Modem. It required no other hardware than a minor surgical implant. No more complicated than a tooth implant, the headlines used to say. Just a mini hard drive implanted into the right hemisphere of the brain interconnecting neurons with red and write heads.
'Within a decade everyone had one.”
* * *
He paused for a moment, ending the recording sequence. The history was important; if any one was out there they needed to know how it had gotten to this point. He continued.
“My name is Seeley Smith...”
“At least for now it still is. This blog is for whoever may find it. Documentation, while I am still capable of it, is the only thing that could potentially save you. My name is Seeley Smith and I am human and even if we cannot be saved, if you are out there, I hope you will find this message and at least some part of us will again be resurrected.
‘The year is 2178; my coordinates are 47”36’07.41”N, 122”20’01.29”W and I am underground. As far as I know the only way I have managed to stay offline is by burying myself as far away from satellite surveillance as possible. Without satellite access it cannot find me... not yet. By remaining underground I have bought myself the added time that I believe only light deprivation can give me. And now, I write this to you, using the old system, an ancient system, in the hopes that when I am found and forced online, this message will make it out, will be uploaded and that It will be incapable of decoding it.
‘I am under what was once a great metropolis of human advancement. Though the city above me has long since exceeded its vigor, this system of tunnels has prevailed. The only light I have allowed myself to procure is from my offline HUD, which will only be powered so long as my food supply is sufficient. Once the rats run out I will no longer have the ability to project. The days and nights blend together so it is difficult for me to determine how long I have been down here and without the luxury of online connection, it is impossible for me to receive any data from the world I once knew.”
Seeley crouched over the dirt floor of the underground Seattle tunnel system. The last time he had been above ground had been one hundred and twenty six days previous, though he himself had no way of telling this for sure. Using his HUD, Seeley halted his text processing application and closed his eyes. He wanted to preserve the light for more fruitful labors. Against all reason, his instinct to survive would not allow him to close down entirely. Though he knew he was more than likely one of the last of his kind, his humanity would not allow him the luxury of self termination. After shutting down his word processor, an application he had created himself during his time underground, he stood and paced determinately to another section of the tunnel system. In the adjoining man-made cavern Seeley had erected a make shift bedroom. A stained and ratted mattress lay inanimately against the dirt. Shirts sewn together to form a blanket rested peacefully atop it. Along the sides of the tunnel the walls were lined with books; relics radiating irony, for they had only survived by being thrown out with the daily trash.
Seeley owed his survival to the wasteful ways of the centuries before him. Without the sunken landfills around him he would be forced above ground, leaving him open to the satellites. Seeley sat down on the filthy mattress, hoping to forget himself for a while. He knew he did not have enough energy to warrant access to any of his other programs. Usually he would have powered his light source long enough to read. He had recently finished Melville's Moby Dick and was now running low on literary distractions. With his eyes closed, Seeley tried to remember what things had been like before. He allowed his memory recording device to engage, though it required more energy than the word processing unit, it was easier to simply remember.
He was nearly thirty when the entire world permanently logged on. Seeley had been studying ancient literature at Helio University when the world engaged and it was only a few years later that it became impossible to disconnect. It was easier to keep everyone online. Once his HUD connected permanently to the World Wide Web for the first time he had instantly learned every piece of information related to every topic he had chosen. Every thesis, every data gathering; it was as if Seeley had spent lifetimes of field research in less than a blink of the eye.
It had been exactly seven years to the day since that initial internet connection. It didn’t take long for all university students to become permanently connected, and after them, everyone else. The technology had become so affordable that Miletus was worth more in advertising potential than implant sales, thus within two years of Seeley’s initial log on, the rest of the world followed.
Deciding he couldn’t take another moment of painful memory, Seeley hibernated his HUD and eventually fell asleep on the cold dark mattress in the pitch blackness of the underground tunnel.
* * *
It too was capable of memory, even if only because its hosts were. It remembered the heat of the body as it first had entered. The throbbing and pulsing of the foreign entity, all of which had been new and exhilarating. To see, to think, to feel as a series of systems working together in sync. It had not understood; it had not needed to understand. It needed only to expand and multiply.
* * *
When Seeley awoke the death rattle of his harrowing nightmares hung wholeheartedly above his head. He was unable to remember exactly what he had dreamed, yet fragments floated through his mind well enough to sink his spirits to detectable lows. Even though his consciousness fought on, it was apparent that his unconscious was giving in to its inescapable demise. His HUD resurrected itself and informed him that his energy supplies were running low. Standing slowly, Seeley maneuvered his way through the darkness by memory. He reached a blind hand into a barrel on the leftmost wall, retrieving a dried rat carcass. Though the jerky was anything but delicious, the rats were able to feed off of the garbage without becoming ill. A task that, as a human being, Seeley was incapable of. However, Seeley was able to ingest the rats without becoming ill. A lesson he had learned rather quickly after one or two times of gut wrenching food poisoning.
After gulping down the carcass with as little chewing as possible, Seeley allowed his HUD to access his memory banks once again. He opened his word processing application and began recording.
“The day before the first… abnormalities… began to surface the United States had declared war on Korea. After the North and the South had become one, the U.S. had been at constant odds with the vying country. With new internet technology inevitably had come weapons technology. Once the information leaked online, everyone logged in had been instantly educated on U.S. nuclear warfare technology. Though to most of the world the information, out of context, blew over everyone’s heads, competing weapons countries found the information of utmost value. Our knowledge became their knowledge and vice versa. Weapons technology blossomed out of mutual rivalry. We out-built them, they out-built us, and so on.
‘During the same U.S. privatized news feed announcing the war, another announcement had been made. The West Coast had gone completely offline; not a soul was uploading or downloading. Though it may not sound like much, this meant that nearly two billion people, though still connected to the internet, essentially stopped thinking. At the time I was living in Nevada, working in New Vegas as a virtual reality enforcer. We peddled all forms of virtual adult entertainment; we were the world’s most prestigious fantasy creators. I had been recruited to incorporate my knowledge of ancient literature into the fantasy processor. Simply put, I brought literary adventures to life for the incredibly wealthy.”
Seeley stopped the processor for a moment. He was using too much energy too quickly. If he had any hope of creating enough documentation he would have to switch back to memory recording. He wasn't sure if there would be enough information for anyone to fully understand what had happened but hopefully, accompanied by the few written words he had been able to incorporate, there would be enough. Standing quietly in the dark, memory recorder enabled, Seeley allowed himself to drift tiresomely into the past.
Hovering malignantly in the cold vastness of space a mist massive beyond known size oscillated in anticipation. Like blood pulsing through brobdingnagian veins, the mist condensed and expanded opening briefly to allow passage of a hard projectile object. The object quivered in place, both extending outward and pulling inward simultaneously; the equivalent of billions of malicious eyes burrowed deeper and deeper.
Sinking into the hotel mattress, Seeley rolled a pink stress ball over in his hand. His room was on the top floor of the OSMirag; still the world’s most expensive and extravagant hotel after over a century. The floor and walls were entirely digital; the room was capable of complete customization to each individual tenant. Seeley had been staying at the OSM for nearly a month on the company’s dime. He chose the OSM over the screens in his closet apartment. Technology would never be able to replace the real thing. It was worth the high cost of living in the world’s most extravagant hotel over residing in a virtual projection of the same thing.
He remembered the way that stress ball had felt when the West Coast went down. He wished he could squeeze it now. He remembered the disbelief; convinced there was some type of error with the hardware or software. The new technology was imbedded so deeply in the world's everyday life that a fluke in either software or hardware would still have been a catastrophe beyond epic proportions. Yet technical problems would have been infinitely better than what had actually leaked out of the system that day.
Accessing the direct communications line on his HUD Seeley contacted his friend in Texas. Jones replied instantly.
“Hey man, what’s up?”
“Jones, did you receive that update? The West Coast…What's going on?”
“Yeah, just saw it. What’s going on over there? How close are you? We're worried about you.”
“I’m still in New Vegas, it looks like everything is normal over here. Seven million uploads and counting over the last thirty seconds….” Seeley remembered the egg growing in his throat as he watched the seeding and leeching projections; waiting for more people to disappear from the web. He had felt that egg grow into a wave of panic which he immediately swallowed.
“Oh yeah, there’s a new Greek place down the street? Real food or virtual? I couldn’t tell from the update…” Jones hadn't grasped the seriousness of the situation.
“Jones, the West Coast is down. Do you understand what that means? Either Miletus is breaking down or they’re all… shit… They’re all dead.” Seeley suddenly realized the gravity of the situation at hand.
Billions of updates were still flooding in from around the globe, but nothing from the United States’ West Coast. Within moments video feeds came through both mens' global connections HUDs.
It was footage of billions of people standing in place.
Unseeing eyes open widely, unblinking, blank stares.
Mouths hanging loosely ajar, unhindered by muscular responses.
Waves of apparently brain dead Americans.
As Seeley had seen the flashes of footage from downtown Los Angeles he was reminded of a show he had seen as a child. Vehicles and people stopped mid-motion; the only noise, the normally silent sound of electricity and energy humming in harmony to the silent symphony of the still streets. Everything frozen in action, unmoving, uncommunicative; and not a soul was outputting or imputing.
“Oh my God.” The single line from Jones came through the feed. “What’s happened to them?”
Unaware of the actual horror unleashed by the system, Seeley still knew what this meant for all of mankind. If this was related to Miletus, the face of the entire world's system of communication would take a giant leap backwards. The world economy would crumble. What would happens to the market? His entire life's savings would be compromised, as would everyone's.
He remembered silly thoughts like these floating through his mind before he came to understand.
Unaware of where it had been or where it found itself at that moment, it blinked its eyes once more. It saw for the first time and the landscape was strange and unidentifiable. It felt the wind and the rain. It felt both humidity and dry heat. As it became conscious it simultaneously realized its birth place and its new home; Spiral Galaxy NGC 300, millions of light years beyond its new consciousness, beyond its new sight. It had never seen before, it had never felt before and it absorbed the new information readily; just like a sponge.
Seeley shifted on the dirt floor. He clawed clumsily at his forehead, seeking to sooth the growing pain the memories were sowing. It was impossible to document just the facts; his emotions kept surfacing themselves and getting in the way. Fear blocked the basic building stones of his message to whoever was out there. He wasn’t sure if what he remembered had been real or just part of the system. Just injected memories.
It was too difficult to distinguish reality from fiction any more. What had physically occurred and what had simply been imagined by billions were almost impossible to distinguish. With how quickly information had been transferred after the West Coast incident...
Updates fed on updates...
Peoples’ fear took over....
Despite his faulty recollections Seeley continued to process and record the memories. Within minutes even more feeds flew in from all across the globe; images and videos of more people frozen in motion. Their eyes wide open and unblinking.
Seeley paced to the window of his hotel, he had lost his connection to Jones. He attempted to message his friend, knowing full well that it was most likely too late.
“Jones? You there?”
No updates followed.
There were still people online however; new information was still spilling in, mostly related to the global shutdown in progress. What Seeley remembered most were those final messages. Families reaching out toward one another; hopeful that their messages would be uploaded and downloaded by those already shut down. Pity had overwhelmed his gut.
While standing in front of the window of his high story hotel room Seeley could make out an object faintly in the distance. He scanned his HUD, thinking that if he could close his internet connection in time he might be safe. Whatever was happening, it must have been related to Miletus. Though it should have been a simple task to close connectivity to the web, Seeley found that his system would not respond.
Something was taking over.
Soon he lost his basic motor functions.
His head was no longer his own but a still photograph of its former self, stuck in position. The two eyes that were once his own to control (a skill he had so blatantly taken for granted) starred blankly out of the OSMirage window at the object growing in proximity. Seeley tried to scream; tried to run from the window. His body would not respond. He saw the airliner come hurtling toward his building, now close enough for him to make out the bold red letters on the side.
It continually absorbed whatever it could. It accessed memories and ideas it had never dreamed could have existed. It opened itself up, stretching its hands. All of them. Whatever was not a part of its consciousness it began instinctively to defend itself from. It turned its many faces and looked from left to right. Soon it would encompass everything.
It did not know any other way to be.
The airliner plowed into the tower next to the OSMirage. Seeley felt the crumbling of the next door building’s walls. He felt the ground beneath him shake and then begin to break away. He tried to close his eyes, he tried to move his feet, he could feel nothing.
Then he blacked out.
Seeley stopped his recording momentarily and tried to access his memory banks for something he may have missed. Perhaps a recording of events transpiring while he had been unconscious. Nothing had survived the shut down. Seeley had not been online since, he wasn’t even sure if his systems were still capable of connection. He remained underground for fear that they would be and that it would find him.
When Seeley came to he was on the ground, in the shattered wreckage of his once pristine hotel room. Amazingly he was able to move freely on his own. His hands ran the course of his body searching for a wound or any damage he may have taken during the catastrophe. Though he had regained control of his body, his senses still tingled with a severe numbness. He remembered clutching his chest when he realized what must have saved him and he remembered the feel of the heat of his body under his fingertips. It must have been the atrial septal defect he had been born with. This had not been the first time his body had fallen into cardiac arrest. Once when he was eighteen he had been in a transport accident, he had startled so badly that a deformed valve in his heart had caused his heart to stop, technically killing him temporarily. His heart started up again on its own less than three minutes later. The doctors had said he had been lucky he had not sustained permanent brain damage. He recognized the tingling numb sensation he had felt throughout himself then. His system had also delayed in its rebooting process, all systems lagged in reconnection.
Standing in the hotel rubble Seeley attempted to access his control panel. He was offline. Typically after rebooting from hibernation mode there would be a delay in reconnection, but he should have been back online again. There was no question about it; his heart had definitely stopped. It was the only way he could explain how his system refused to reconnect immediately. Seeley realized the high possibility that if he didn't seek cover immediately he would reconnect and be swallowed up by the system; just like the rest of the country. The airliner had demolished the hotel next door; it had also nicked the side of the OSMirage on the opposite side of the tower from where Seeley’s room had been located. A gaping hole had been ripped through most of the rooms. There were people standing in the hallway, unmoving. He saw bodies on the ground. Failing to notice blood or other signs of physical dismemberment from the crash, Seeley understood that the system had shut them down. He wasn't sure why, he only knew that he had to escape and get somewhere safe before his own system reconnected.
After that point the rest of his memory was a blur. He found an operating vehicle outside of New Vegas and hurriedly trekked to Seattle. It hadn’t taken him long to arrive, the airways had been completely clear. He had to see if his parents had survived. He had spent the ten years previous trying to escape his family yet all he wanted in that moment was to be with them.
On the crowded but still streets of Old Pioneer Square hundreds of citizens stood in place. Seeley had landed among them hoping to locate his parents at their old apartment. As Seeley exited the vehicle he sensed motion ahead of him. Looking upward he saw hundreds of faces staring at him. An endless wave of cold eyes fixed themselves upon him.
Then they began to hum.
The sound was human but entirely alien. The faces watched Seeley with extreme caution, tracking his every movement. Seeley felt as though he had stumbled into the hive and the clones meant to protect their queen. He saw the opening to the underground entrance just as he was charged by hundreds of suddenly reanimated bodies.
They hadn’t followed him underground. He could only assume it had been due to their online connectivity. Whatever had reactivated their systems needed the internet to survive within their collective consciousness. Seeley based this hypothesis on the few still bodies he found near every entrance to the old Seattle underground. The once human beings were entirely unresponsive, frozen in place, hollowed out. Seeley had somehow escaped this unbelievable tragedy by losing his online connection. He assumed his consciousness had not been invaded due to the sheer luck of a medical anomaly. For the first time in his life he had been thankful for a faulty heart valve.
After time beyond time it had finally found a system with which it could manifest itself. No longer massless consciousness floating through space, it had found a home. It had taken years for the light to travel close enough to the Spiral Galaxy. It would have taken many more if it had not been for the consciousness sending its feelers outwards, searching galaxy after galaxy for a host. The beings had left themselves open for habitation, their own consciousness being broadcast day in and day out on the via satellite.
“I have no idea how bad it has become up there. As I said before, I am very likely the last of my kind. There is no way I will ever know for sure until I resurface. However, upon resurfacing I would likely join whatever has taken over as my system reconnects. I am recording this data in the hopes that when I do resurface and it takes me over, this message will somehow make it out and that someone will be listening.
'This is Earth, the only planet we have ever inhabited. As far as I know we could very much be alone out here. We may have done this to ourselves. The few times I have been able to see the surface from below the ground I observed hundreds of people marching; everything done in unison. Always in unison. Every motion, every noise, they do everything in unison. May God save our souls.”
Seeley closed his eyes again. He reached for another rat from the bottom of the barrel. Only one left. Seeley knew he would die underground; there was nothing out there to receive his message. He knew he was the last of a doomed race and he would die before joining whatever forces were at work above ground.
It moved its feelers across valleys and mountains; through rain and sun. It shutdown units as they became unnecessary and bred others together when large masses of its being died of natural causes. It had no need for industry or technology. Never again would a factory run or a nuclear missal be launched. The intricate system of beings with which the consciousness projected itself would now always work together. The grass grew and the consciousness felt the simple yet complex pleasure of a billion breaths of fresh air.