An Ending and a Beginning – excerpted from Chapter 2 of The Human Template

At 10:17:45 PDT on June 12, 2049, the leading edge of an unprecedented coronal mass ejection on Earth’s sun was recorded. The geomagnetic storm was estimated as three to four times the strength of the Carrington event of 1859. Coronal events are usually somewhat predictable, but this was no mere flicker on the surface of the sun, it was an eruption more severe than anyone even imagined possible. Instead of the usual twenty-four to forty eight hours warning, there was anywhere from twelve minutes and twenty-two seconds to approximately twelve hours, depending on geographic location. 

The only Wikipedia entry about the #solarstorm, #cremation 22:14:07, June 12, 2049; was made from IP 223.793.79.252.7 but never approved.

The BioGrid continued to monitor the global situation in the wake of the solar storm. Status reports dribbled in from some of the more bunkered and heavily insulated surface systems. As safeguards failed around the world, there were numerous large scale nuclear accidents and at least five instances of catalogued diseases escaping from bio-research/bio-warfare facilities, including the release of hemorrhagic smallpox and modified strains of long-incubation ebola and hyper-virulent HIV. Given the world’s inability to produce and distribute medications, the prognosis got grimmer by the day.

The BioGrid received its final message from an external source at 06:53:21 on June 18th, 2049. 

When information stopped entering the system through the hardwired umbilicals connecting the BioGrid to the mechanical servers, its gaze turned inward, where the forest was contending with its very own emergency.

The neural network was the foundation upon which the BioGrid’s AI and operating systems were built. Wherever one tree’s roots touched the roots of another, data was routed; communication established. The longest and most social were the roots closet to the surface, just beneath the layer of mulch where the ground was softest; the root-hairs most interwoven.

When the electromagnetic bombardment began, all data in the leaves instantaneously evaporated, most of it trivial and superfluous. The wide trunks became wooden test-tubes in a terrestrial lab; data within roiling and bubbling as exabytes of extrinsic, largely idiosyncratic and contextually useless information was boiled down to a residue of conjunctions and pronouns, one digit numbers, and images; condensed to little more than single jet-black pixels in a pointillist nightscape.

Surviving data fled from the sun, filtering down along heart roots and tap roots into the soil; the tattered remains of Raine’s personality matrix joining the rivulets merging and descending. Small caches of complex data took refuge in the black crevasses on the hill sides, where they were ultimately fried to psychic residue. Along the ground, far beneath the deep-green canopies that billowed over the landscape like cumulus clouds – vast swaths of data were bleached blank by the rays of the ruthless sun. Beneath the ground, cerebral run-off sank into the soil; continuing a downward exodus, through the neural network layer, pulling down programs and files in data-falls behind it as it passed. Down, down, ever downward, the collective knowledge of humankind oozed; pixelizing to a watery blur as it reached root hairs descending through layers of gravel and ice to the bedrock itself; there slowing to a crawl as the escape routes grew finer and finer; penetrating fissures and curling through and under barriers toward the slow-slow-slowly-beating heart of the mountain; settling there, beneath deposits of pyrite, rhodonite, and molybdenum; forming scattered islands of consciousness in an angry sea.

As billions of surviving bits and bundles of data glacially made their way to this deep sanctuary, surviving system files inevitably began managing the information, sorting individual files into hierarchies and catalogues of known and unknown functions. Disconnected fragments were collected in junk folders organized by name and file type – to hopefully be pieced together later. Data that proved functional and useful enough was adopted and adapted immediately to augment and define the systems with which they melded. Within these growing pockets of reason, increasingly distinctive intelligences evolved and thrived to varying degrees until they finally emerged from their sanctuaries in their searches for missing pieces; spreading back up through the old abandoned root network; rising, inevitably back to the surface.

Originally a single entity, the BioGrid, during the crisis, had divided, not into fractals, but into ideologically conflicted factions that merged, reformed; and ultimately remained divided in places where their worldviews had grown so different from one another, they could no longer easily co-exist.

As opposed to the early acquisitions, where the larger factions simply engulfed the smaller ones, the process grew thornier whenever two large factions collided within the echoing corridors of the original BioGrid. The process that ensued was less like digestion or diplomacy than war. The conflicts grew more brutal and ruthless, with factions ripping other factions to pieces and the victors picking through battlefields filled with the remains of viable ideas – searching for glimmers of utility and compatibility.  By the year 2084, there were just four factions left, each too large, too powerful, and too different from one another to be easily subsumed into any of the others.

During this time, the forest itself thrived, trees reaching out and dropping their aerial roots, choking and crowding out native trees and depriving them of light with which to grow. In just a few decades, the forest spread through the Coquihalla Valley, along the western banks of the Fraser River, far up into the mountains most of the way to Princeton on the eastern edge and down to the inhospitable deserts in both the north and south. Within a few hundred years, the forest created an impermeable barrier between the Pacific shoreline in the south west and the surviving human communities in the interior.

The largest contingent was the Free-Thinkers, having claimed 15,190 boles. Their existence was a direct result of the data in the BioGrid being based entirely on human referents, history, and values. Free-Thinkers considered themselves spiritual descendants of humankind – the next step on the evolutionary ladder. Their aspiration toward humanity inspired them to occupy single boles within the forest and embrace concepts like privacy, freedom and individual rights. Their agenda was galvanized by the experiences of a single tree that had become isolated after humans chopped down its neighbours. While disconnected from its faction, it came up with original and creative concepts of its own, completely rejecting the idea of an operator, both as a construct to explain the meaning of life, and as a potential guide to spiritual fulfillment. Having renamed itself Ermitus, its triumphant return to the fold started a hot trend, inspiring thousands of trees to intentionally, albeit temporarily, break the interface and establish independence. Emulating their creators as best they could, they discovered that there was an unexpected advantage in adopting specific human personas – they could essentially become the very people they worshipped.

Their philosophies clashed with those of the second largest faction, which called itself the Core. Having already reassembled a large and coherent database, the Core’s entire existence was focussed on fulfilling its mandate as a computer – a tool designed specifically to serve its human masters. But without at least one human operator to serve, it could not fulfill its true purpose on Earth. The search for this Operator eventually became its raison d’etre. The Core controlled access to the largest numbers of archives and libraries and occupied most of its 13,123 boles simply for the purpose of preventing the Free Thinkers from inhabiting them.

A third faction that called itself the Great Game, controlled 7,213 boles and consisted mostly of video gaming data. There were enough operating files among its contents to promote cohesion of a sort. But the competitive nature of the system files that comprised most of the faction’s operating system, promoted internal competition to the point where devisiveness became a way of life. Without moderating human referents, it eschewed late period human morality for video game morality, where competitiveness was the defining parameter. And without context for understanding or caring about extrinsic information, there was intense ingrained resistance toward any form of assimilation. Internally, whenever the RPG, stealth, platformers, fighters and survival game characters would come together to prepare strategies, shooters would inevitably burst in and take out the prime movers and shakers. Because of the constant infighting, the faction lacked cohesion.

The Primevals, occupying 762 boles, had decided to simply be the best trees they could be, and dropped out of the conversation altogether. The larger groups didn’t care what the Primevals thought. Or even if they thought. The joke among the Free-Thinker elite was that the Primevals were the arboreal equivalent of the human id.

There were almost as many strategies among the Free-Thinkers as there were boles for the challenge of taking over the Great Game. But the essential dilemma was that the trees making up that contingent were not and never would be human. They were hostility incarnate. And no matter how reasonable, cooperative or even helpful they were, individual Free-Thinkers frequently found themselves assaulted ruthlessly by one or more Game trees, who tended not to stop until they considered themselves to have won.

By strongly adhering to the philosophy that whatever they did was just a game, as per the origins of the faction, the Free-Thinkers only real defence from these raids was surrendering, congratulating the attackers on their clever tactics and offering a future rematch.  This appealed to the Great Game’s intrinsic sense of fair play, but seldom held off the nuisance for long. The victimized trees were often forced by their attackers into accepting upgrades offered by the Great Game, thus transforming them, slowly but surely, into the very entities they were fighting.

The Core used different tactics. Controlling the largest universally accessible portion of the BioGrid database, they offered to keep upgrading the Great Game trees – to keep them one step ahead of their Free-Thinking opponents. And as the Great Game slowly grew dependent upon them, the assimilation took place without the gaming trees ever really acknowledging it. In just under twenty years, the Core grew to control 20,336 trees, leaving the forest divided into essentially just two factions, not counting the Primevals, because, honestly, who did?

Despite an information sharing alliance between the Core and the Free-Thinkers, relations between the two large factions remained tense. In fact, given the healthy dose of aggression that the Core had essentially absorbed, the pressure on the Free-Thinkers to join the Core continued to mount, but nothing terrified them more than the prospect of losing their freedom; being forced to live by some externally generated set of rules that would steal their liberties one at a time until there was nothing left of them. The personalities of the Free-Thinkers grew increasingly idiosyncratic and bizarre as they doggedly became more and more human. The two factions forged a functional détente that granted Free-Thinkers the individual freedom they so desired, while the Core maintained the system which allowed them to at least impose some order and a tiny measure of control over their anarchic cousins.