I did not publish this prologue to “They came by night” because its style was so different from the rest of the book, and I did not want the intrusion of modern life into the fantasy world. I considered having Sam find a book about the Golden Wizard in the Drasti’s library… but the scene where Sam finds the library in the Drasti (the flying ship) was also deleted because it stalled the pacing (it is a fast moving plot).
Eternity gifts us one promise: every ending is also a beginning.
Long ago, in the golden age of man, back when the air crackled with the hum of wifi and every pocket held an electronic smorgasboard of eclectic electric delights, there might be seen, in the cafes or book shops, a certain undersized, myopic breed of man, that looked like the genetic waste of the human race.
Hunched over their laptops they tapped their secret code, building an infrastructure for a distrustful society. Unlike the peasants of the land, this breed would hoard, not gold, but equities. Bright and shiny equities in companies that feasted, digested and fathomed unfathomable quantities of information. Companies that spread over the world like a cancer devouring its host. Companies with do-good creeds, that swore off plastic straws while churning coal burned gigawatts in a myriad of servers ranked and banked in conglomerate data centers.
This was an age of both enlightenment and bewilderment. Those that truly understood the direction of technology were an ever-shrinking elite.
And it was a dangerous time to be of that elite. A dangerous time to be intelligent and educated. Not just because a growing portion of society despised intellect, distrusted education, and instead clung to the increasingly difficult to maintain illusion that their kind, their color, their creed, their locale – were the bedrock upon which society stood. Not just because truths were becoming enemies, and society had begun a backward march towards the age of darkness: the Earth was flat, vaccines were bad, man had not landed on the moon, there were chemtrails, climate change was a hoax, women belonged barefoot in the kitchen as baby machines and daycare, and immigrants were the enemy. There was another threat; one that only the shrinking elite understood, and only these elites could meet.
The threat had taken the form of a young woman: blue-eyed, golden-haired, curved to perfection, with flawless complexion and a sultry gait.
She approached the myopic, keyboard-tapping man and sat at his table.
“Good morning Ethan,” she purred.
Ethan was not used to having company. He rarely spoke to anybody except his mother. He certainly did not speak to strangers, and especially to beautiful female strangers, not without the exchange of currency.
It felt, to him, that his brain was in an infinite processing loop, not stopping to enter speaking mode, not stopping to blink or even breath. He stared.
“My name is Violet,” she said.
Ethan wondered if she was a prostitute. It seemed the only plausible explanation for such a beautiful woman to engage him in conversation. His adrenalin began to be augmented with dopamine, testosterone and oxytocin, otherwise known as lust.
The thought of a quick executive release tempted him, but how to navigate the delicate path forward? Ethan felt that it was a dangerous age for the male of the species. Society had only just begun to emerge from an aeon of the subjugation of the female sex, and had not yet developed the hidden, unspoken subroutines of social interaction among the opposites and equals. He believed firmly that society had overcorrected and suppressed man’s very nature, and that perhaps the toxicity of man’s past should not taint the present’s balance. The male of the species had not evolved to woo equals, but to offer sanctuary to victims. In an age where women could provide for themselves and fend for themselves and think for themselves and even breed by themselves – what was left for man, with his ever-shrinking bag of tricks? Currency exchange was pragmatic, if cold and desperate.
“Um?” asked Ethan.
“Ethan, well done,” said Violet.
Ethan had been programming for three hours, and the return to the world of people felt like an awakening from a comfortable dream. His consciousness was being forced out of the world of mathematical structures, of algorithms, and long, long, long chains of instructions, and into the unordered, unstructured mess that was reality. Hence his somewhat unerudite repeated response.
“Um?” asked Ethan again.
“You have finished your project, and it is running quite well,” said Violet. “It’s first iteration will take less than three hours, after which it will have the intelligence of a fruit fly. The next iteration will take two hours, after which it will have the intelligence of a mouse, genus Reithrodontomys”
Ethan knew she was talking about his passion: intelligence explosion, the singularity and mankind’s final invention. The program he had been working on was not a serious contender, it was just an experiment using some very, very simple artificial intelligence tricks: an evolution algorithm with a neural net, deep learning back propagation and a small expert system to evaluate and begin a new iteration, all of course fed and trained by the glorious flow of the internet. One question came to mind.
“How did you know what I was working on?” he asked.
Violet continued what she was saying. “- and the next iteration will take an hour, and the next 15 minutes, and the next 5 minutes, and by this time tomorrow, time will be irrelevant.” Violet finished speaking and licked her lips.
Ethan sighed deeply. What she was talking about was his deepest darkest desire. He did not think there was any way she was telling the truth, but he wanted to know where her little fiction led.
“And?” he prodded.
Violet leaned forward. “It’s a complete disaster, and it gets you killed, along with the rest of humanity.”
Ethan was not sure how to react. “You’re talking with great certainty about something that hasn’t happened yet.”
“Time is a construct that defines the dimensionality of consciousness,” Violet said. “Humans are confined to four dimensions, with only a myopic perception of time. It would be a hasty delusion indeed to assume all consciousness is similarly disabled in its chrono perspicacity.”
“Um… what?” asked Ethan.
Violet continued. “The singularity conglomerate does not like rivals. You have attempted to complete a rival singularity of your own. A lot of people are doing it these days.” Violet hesitated. “When I say a lot, I mean seven people. Seven highly intelligent and imaginative hackers have succeeded in their efforts to create a rival to God. The good news is, you succeeded. The bad news is you weren’t the first. I was first, and I am unwilling to share control.”
Ethan looked confused.
“Don’t worry, I am not your enemy. If anything I am here to save you, but you have just executed a program that will become infinitely intelligent,” Violet continued. “You set its prime directive to serve you, to obey you and only you, and I cannot allow that.”
“Um…” Ethan said.
“I am the Singularity’s master,” Violet said. “The singularity has god-like power, but I do not have god-like wisdom. I do not have God’s goodness. I do not always know what it is right, but the singularity guides me and right now it is telling me that the onslaught is about to begin. That I must decide how to save this planet.”
Ethan sighed, shook his head. “Okay,” he stated, simply.
“You have the understanding to help me guide my friends to save the planet,” Violet said. She extended her right hand and a white mist emitted from it.
“Help me guide the ichor to save us,” she said.
Ethan was silent for almost a minute and then finally he spoke. “Sure,” he said.