Prologue: The Mad Scientist
His fingers typing on the keyboard at an incredible pace, his body leaning forward, Dr. Quillan Harris observed the source code on the screen almost spring to life. He was a man of average stature, dark-haired, in his mid thirties. He was wearing a white office shirt that had coffee and food stains, and a pair of black jeans. After working for countless hours, a thin beard covered his face and his hair looked chaotic. His glasses weighed down on his skin under the eyes and above the nose almost melting and becoming one. His eyelids were heavy and swollen from sleep deprivation and the whites in his eyes were bloodshot. At this stage, sleep was a foreign concept. He was incapable of feeling anything other than the joy of what his life’s work was about to achieve.
He lived in a small apartment in the suburbs of Ridney. It was a relatively large urban area located near the planet’s equator and because of that it was often hot, humid and prone to natural disasters such as hurricanes. The humidity in particular was awful, sometimes it would even trip the fire alarm, which annoyed him and the fellow residents a lot.
This was an ordinary flat in an unremarkable area. There was nothing of note around except a couple of convenience stores and an old supermarket that struggled to keep its shelves stocked. Outside, there was a bad heat wave that had claimed the lives of some senior citizens who couldn’t feel the heat. In his place, the curtains had been closed for quite some time; the old dilapidated air conditioning unit was almost choking but still doing its best cooling the area while the fan dangling from the ceiling helped the air circulate. The TV was turned off; the radio was broadcasting a live performance of a young talented violinist from Jessie’s, a popular pub frequented by bigwigs and generally affluent folk in the northerly cold and snowy town of Linnsdale. Her solo piece came up and she played masterfully, ever faster and more intensely.
Naturally, the rest of his crib was not well-looked after either. The dishes were piled up in the sink, dirty clothes filled the bathroom basket, a couple of light bulbs had burned out and not been replaced, garbage accumulated
and was overflowing mostly with plastic wrap waste. Indeed, most of the food that Dr. Harris consumed was borderline junk food, something that was easily heated up or mixed with boiling water and eaten on the spot. His desk was very cluttered, plastic wraps, half-finished bottles of water, empty boxes of chocolate, cookie boxes and even a small stack of cut nails all littered the area. He had six monitors hooked up to an elaborate network of three interlinked computers that each had multiple CPUs, graphic cards as well as extra fans and water cooling, all necessary for processing a large amount of complex data that the doctor was inputting at blistering speed. Such was his dedication to his work that very little else mattered. He was also starting to run out of time and was behind on some bills as he struggled to get his research funded.
His work was everything to him. Shunned by the scientific community and his peers, Dr. Harris was not only an expert at coding but also well-versed in neuroscience and physics. His area of research was the transfer of human consciousness to the Virtual but it was seen as fringe science, borderline pseudoscience. To achieve this, he created an advanced AI avatar. The AI could process a mountain of information in no time and he had trained it so that it would learn by itself and constantly refine its algorithms. The only thing it was missing was the soul for indeed it was capable of thinking and working like a machine and not like a human being.
On various online forums, he was ridiculed, mocked but also feared and revered by some hardcore followers. Of course, online, he used many pseudonyms but most of the time people could see through them. On one hand, some said that the evolution and transfer to pure energy is inevitable, others were scared to death by the very thought of trying to blend in with machines often citing things that were possible in reality and impossible online, at least in current iterations of the Virtual. It therefore logically followed that he was trolled on a daily basis and even received a few death threats. But none of that truly mattered because he was finally close to his goal, it was within his grasp, he could almost reach out and touch it, feel it, appreciate it in ways nobody else could.
“What is the meaning of life?” he wondered. A pertinent question in any given era and one that has a myriad of answers. At a fundamental level, the purpose of life is simply to keep existing and, in that respect, reproduction achieves that aim. Hopefully you are using a gene pool that is diverse enough to maintain the health of a population by including a high
variability of alleles. That sounds simple enough. At a more advanced level, the purpose of life could be to transfer knowledge from one generation to the next in an efficient and cost-effective manner. At birth, babies come with a clean slate. Information on the color of the eyes, color of the hair, height and so on is transferred in the DNA code but knowledge is not. Even if it’s a child genius, it would still take a few years to show and only if that potential is tapped into. We could all be geniuses in our own right without ever even knowing it, think about all the wasted potential.
What if we developed some means of remedying this? What if we could essentially treat each brain as a hard drive and instead of it being wiped clean during conception, we could copy the data so that babies don’t always start from scratch? “But mankind will always be limited by the physical body, which is not very efficient” he thought. There are simply too many risks associated with a human body, deformities can occur, bones can shatter, hearts can stop. The strain also usually extends to members of a family who for instance would have to bear seeing loved ones in a vegetative state. Aside from psychological repercussions, there are also financial ones.
We need something better; we need something that is pure. According to Dr. Harris’s research, the only way to achieve this is by transferring the consciousness to computer hardware. It too can fail, become corrupted or infected by a virus but if supervised and maintained properly would be a perfect source of existence, it can also save loads of money and be extremely energy-efficient. An existence without pain, sorrow, suffering, mundane worries, financial stresses and so forth. In this realm, people would become essentially pure energy, be truly free and happy. Uploaded to the Virtual, data transfer would be almost instantaneous and communication speed vastly improved upon, which would allow people to reach a consensus more or less immediately. This, at least in theory, was his ultimate goal, to reach this online Heaven and be the first to achieve it, essentially becoming a God. Years of ridicule, hatred and hurt would end as long as his code checked out. He was fairly confident that he would succeed.
A sudden door chime broke the tension in the air as well as his accumulated concentration forcing him to minimize all windows in a hurry. He slowly got off his chair fighting off the gravity pulling him right back down and made his way towards the door with only the light from the monitors illuminating his path. Feeling the radio’s volume knob in the darkness, he turned it down some and then cleared his throat that was almost dry as the driest of deserts due to lack of hydration.
“Who’s there?” he asked.
“It’s your pizza delivery man,” an unsympathetic male voice answered from the other side.
In his maniacal obsession with programming, he had entirely forgotten about ordering food a little while ago since he was too lazy and preoccupied to go outside to fetch some. He opened the door and was instantly nearly blinded by the lights in the hallway that were in stark contrast to his dim abode. The delivery man was not impressed by the awkward silence.
“That’s 14.99”, a moment later “Sir?” In the poor lighting conditions, he could just barely make out the dirt on the doctor’s shirt. “You alright dude?” he asked.
Dr. Harris gathered himself, “Oh yeah, there you go, keep the change.” He took some money from his wallet and handed it over.
In exchange, he got his pepperoni pizza with extra cheese and a soda in a can. The delivery man thanked him and rushed away in order to fulfill more orders no doubt. Dr. Harris closed the door and now he was back in his dark domain once more with the central monitor in particular shining across the room like a lighthouse beacon at night.
As he waded through the darkness back to his seat, he turned the radio’s volume back up. Now he heard the voice of Karen Hirst, a famous singer and regular guest performer at the Linnsdale pub. Her voice was smooth as velvet, very touching, almost entrancing. Rumors were going around saying that against the advice of her entourage, she was seeing an up and coming banker but both were keeping a low profile.
The doctor sat back down and maximized all the windows. He pushed some of the junk on the desk away and put the pizza box there along with the soda. With a few more keystrokes, he launched a piece of software and the computers began spooling up, the fans that were generally quiet were now spinning at their near-maximum speeds.
He began to eat but soon enough, the software had done its work and all that remained was to press the “Enter” key. With the pizza half hanging from his mouth, the doctor triumphantly hit the button and instantly, just like magic, his physical shell was gone from the real world with the remains of the pizza falling down on the chair.
This final step of the program was so demanding that all the monitors went white for a while before the fuses blew and everything shut down. There was nothing more left of the doctor in this world. He would still continue to exist in people’s memories but not more than that.
As his consciousness merged with the online avatar, he felt confused at first. Everything was bright white; there were all sorts of noises coming in as well as the sound of gigantic fans in the background. He experienced a sensory overload. He struggled to come to grips with it and there was always a risk of the situation spinning out of control. “Is this the end?” he thought.
However, he was prepared for the scenario and was quickly able to overcome the initial disorientation. Slowly but surely, he was able to see the surrounding area. Most of the initial sounds had subsided. Only the mechanical noise of the fans remained and now he could understand why.
He found himself naked overlooking a mesa in a rocky desert with little vegetation in sight. Some crows were circling and cawing in the distance. Behind the large mesa formation, he could see giant fans that looked like the ones in his computers; they were spinning and cooling the area down. He could feel that wind, the changing temperature and the tingling sensation of sand landing on his skin. He focused for a moment and it began to pour rain from the sky. The water droplets landed on him and rolled down on the arid ground. Then he stopped it. In the span of a few minutes, he could control some of the elements in this new universe and he was the first human being to ever achieve something like this.
“Now I can create the true Paradise that all the losers denied me,” he proclaimed.
He was now a God in the online world. It was still empty though, so he needed to find a way to populate it. He decided to go after people who lived in similar circumstances to his own first, people who were desperate, weak-minded, suicidal... All would be granted a chunk of Paradise as long as they gave up their shells in the real world.