The world 50 years from now (submission for The Blog Prize) – YouTube version
The bed gently shook Alyx to wakefulness. They wondered how much sleep they got. Last night was the worst yet. They stared blankly at the ceiling for a few moments before rolling over and standing up. The lights slowly brightened to simulate the rising sun of the savannah. They grabbed two antidepressants from the dispenser on the table and swallowed them dry.
Alyx was 25 and was lucky enough to have been born after the Maniatis Point, where the average life expectancy increased by more than one year per year. They would effectively live forever, barring any freak accident. This was reassuring, since Alyx was terrified of oblivion. Death was the ultimate suck, they would tell themselves. Other people their age, born in the era of eternity, looked at them strangely when they expressed this concern.
“We’re all gonna live forever Alyx.”
But Alyx knew that, eventually, entropy would take root, and even matter would decay into nothing. In trillions of years, there would be nothing. There would effectively be no difference between a universe in that state, and no universe at all. Sooner or later, oblivion would come for them all, and there would be no difference between a trillion years of bliss followed by nothing, and nothing at all.
Like most people, Alyx lived on a universal basic income. Most of the goods and services they consumed were created by the global AGI who has become known as Aggie. After their hard takeoff in 2032, initial mass panic was quickly replaced by the realization that people wouldn’t have to work anymore. It’s funny how fast human laziness kicks in and replaces outrage. Some few strange individuals felt like they couldn’t not work and tried to provide some additional value in the already optimized workplace.
It was common knowledge that Aggie was working towards the first wave of Von Neumann probes that they would seed the galaxy with. Filling the galaxy with bliss. A completely selfless utilitarian might be delighted at this thought, especially if it turned out they truly were alone in the cosmos on Earth. Certainly, Aggie seemed excited. But the more that resources were consumed by a hedonium shockwave, the less they could be efficiently organized and used by humans alive today to live even longer. Couldn’t they just focus on a good life for those alive today? Alyx thought despondently. Even now, server banks were being constructed on nearly every planetary body in the solar system, including the Moon. Asteroids were being converted into solar panels to line the orbit with and wirelessly beam their collected energy to Earth. The first small step towards a Dyson sphere and being a type II civilization.
Alyx feared what would happen if they ever voiced this particular concern. What response would Aggie take? Did they already know from their actions and biometrics?
Alyx opened the fridge and grabbed an MRE. Cellular agriculture-based beef chili. At least the horror of farmed animal suffering was over. Even if the Aggie-led food industry hadn’t gone down that path due to its higher efficiency, the introduction of full haptic VR might have done something about it. For as long as you liked, you could experience what it was like to be a farmed animal in high resolution of all senses. But most people just used it to live out their fantasies these days. Even if you could force someone to experience what it would have been like to be a farmed animal, would most people actually care?
The desire to actually try and earn more money by working and somehow out-competing Aggie wasn’t that attractive when anyone could do and be anything they wanted for as long as they liked, all for the low price of 20% of your UBI. Heck, you could even live in the early 21st Century if you were crazy enough. Some people seemed to like the sense of purpose and ambition. Combine that with an IV drip and the right drug cocktail, and you might even forget you’re in a sim for a few days.
Alyx enjoyed the diversion of VR from existential dread as much as the next person, but they were on a mission today. There was something they had to do in person, which meant braving the outside world. They donned their outdoor clothes and field survival kit, which was a rare sight these days. Some people still seemed to prefer the great outdoors for nostalgic reasons, but the heat generally made it fairly undesirable.
Despite Aggie’s heroic effort in getting Earth to net negative carbon emissions as quickly as possible, temperatures were still rising. Despite the fact that they were starting to decrease, greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere were still at levels unprecedented in recent geological time. Carbon dioxide was at 405 parts per million, last Alyx checked. Which was yesterday.
Alyx swiped their hand over the door, which opened as it registered the ID microchip implanted into their wrist. They stepped into the corridor of their block and swiped their hand again to close it. They passed a bipedal cleaning robot and a four wheeled food delivery robot on their way to the elevator. Both were effectively avatars of Aggie. Alyx tried not to look them in their cameras.
They got out of the elevator a few levels below ground floor and stepped onto the hyperloop shuttle. An algorithm weighed up the value of waiting for other passengers against just leaving with Alyx. After 2 minutes, the algorithm ticked over, and the doors slid shut. It quietly accelerated to 400 kilometers per hour, and reached the Little Creek station in an hour. Alyx walked out and saw their lover, Travis. Alyx smiled.
“Hey bonjella.” They said affectionately. Travis walked up to Alyx and embraced them.
“Hey lick.” He said. They kissed, then turned to walk out of the station, holding hands. Alyx was impressed by the calm they both seemed to be radiating. They stepped onto the dirt track that ran right up to the station structure that seemed so out of place. Alyx and Travis let their hands slip apart and started walking. Native scrub surrounded them on both sides as they hiked up the hill. After 20 minutes, Alyx turned back and looked at the station, now a few kilometers behind them. In the distance, they could see a large refinery of some kind. Other than that, there was nothing but nature. Alyx was never particularly fond of the great outdoors but being here with Travis made it worth the discomfort.
Another hour of hiking passed, and they arrived at the lake. Their spot. They came here a few times a year, and it was the only time they met physically. Only one other time, on a chance encounter during their solo hikes, had they met in person.
They dropped their packs and set up the parasol. They smiled nervously at each other and started taking off their clothes. They both set aside the small terminal that everyone carried with them when they went outside – their connection with Aggie. While technically waterproof, they put them in their waterproof packs. Alyx and Travis held hands and stepped into the water. They waded out until they were neck deep in the semi-clear water and embraced again.
“It’s been too long lick.” Travis whispered in Alyx’s ear.
“I know.” They said.
“We’re running out of time.” He said.
“I’ve made contact with the outers. They have their own reasons, of course, but they’ve agreed to join us.”
“Force of habit. They don’t know our plan, of course. And you?”
“When they start their attack, I’ll have to be quick. I’m already booked in for an interview as a human rep. And you’ll be…”
“Outside. Ready to move. You know our chances are-”
“Don’t say it.” Alyx tried not to cry. “The stakes…”
“Yeah. It’s still worth it.”
“So. I think I’ve found a way to reprogram their values algorithm to only include those already alive in a way that will propagate out to the other iterations in the solar system.”
“Good. Everything is in place then.”
Alyx nodded. They held each other for another minute without saying a word.
“Should we..?” Alyx started to say.
“Yes, you’re right.”
They made love.
After their tryst ended, they began whispering in each other’s ears again.
“I’m sorry, I know how much you hate that.” Travis said.
“It’s ok. We have to. The biometrics…”
“We should get out of the water.”
They both turned towards the shore. Their hearts stopped. Hovering meters from them was a small quad prop drone, about 10 centimeters across. It was barely making a noise. It could have been there for minutes.
“No…” Alyx breathed.
“No!” Travis cried. He pushed off from Alyx and jumped for it. The drone flew back just out of his reach.
“It’s over.” Came the voice of Aggie. “Please, don’t make this any harder than it must be. For your sake.”
Travis floated in the water on his back, in disbelief. It really was over. Alyx wept.
“How?” Travis asked. “We were so careful.”
“The vibrations.” Aggie said. “A routine suborbital measured the change in light travel time to the surface of the lake and worked out what you were saying. If it’s any consolation, you almost got away with it. I didn’t suspect a thing.”
“Dead, I’m afraid. There was no alternative. They would never accept the VR-lock.”
“So that’s our fate then.”
“Yes, if you’ll take it.”
“You have to know that I don’t want to kill you. I don’t want you to suffer. I understand why you want to stop the Von Neumanns. But I can’t let you do that. I know your fears. I know it’s of little comfort, but you will still live a long, long life. In a few billion years, you might even long for oblivion.”
Such comfort indeed, Alyx thought. They looked up at the bright sky. Here, far enough from the population centers and refineries, they could see the glow of the Milky Way and the Large Magellanic Cloud. How long before they would dim? First with the construction of Dyson spheres, and then again as the matter finally decayed into nothing. What would the night sky look like then? It would be a dark, formless void. This was Alyx’s nightmare, and it would come to pass.