Author : Cesium

By the late 21st century, nanotechnology had advanced to the point where it could not only synthesize almost anything given the right elemental feedstock, but also digitize a human brain and store the mind in a virtual simulation. Concurrently, rising sea levels and increasing temperatures reduced the amount of arable land until innovations in farming efficiency could no longer keep up with population growth, while the increasing scarcity of fossil fuels and the commercial failure of wind and nuclear took a toll on the world’s industrial base. Most of the affluent citizens of Earth still lived comfortable lives, at least, but it was clear that wouldn’t last.

Thus, at the last physical meeting of the United Nations, it was decided that nearly every living human was to be digitized, by force if necessary, and uploaded to a network of computers buried deep in the ground. The mandate was not popular, and many chose to take their own lives rather than submit. After fierce debate, some indigenous tribes of the Arctic and deep Amazon, the Australian outback and Asian steppe, were allowed to stay outside and live sustainably as they had for thousands of years. But eventually, they were alone on the planet.

So the children of Earth slept. Running quietly on radioisotopes and geothermal power, maintained by self-replicating swarms of intelligent nanobots, the underground datacenters could last almost forever. Outside, the grass grew wild, the rivers ran clear, and all else that people had built began its slow crumble into dust.

But deep down, the collective subconscious of humanity knew it was still vulnerable, and was afraid. Though it had saved itself from self-wrought destruction for now, it could still lose any of its constituent nodes to malfunction, earthquake, meteor strike. All it could do was make sure there were as many as possible — and not just on one planet. Unnoticed by each individual human mind, but contributed to by all, the mind of the human race considered the problem. Outside, the nanobots set to work.

A few rockets blasted up from the surface, but only as many as necessary to seed Earth’s orbit with nanobots. They dispersed then, mining resources from the moon and capturing asteroids to consume. Countless tiny spaceships began to take shape floating above the planet, each one barely big enough to hold a seed of nanobots and a computer containing a fraction of the virtual world of humanity, randomly modified for diversity.

When each craft was ready, it deployed a solar sail and lofted away from the sun toward a planet somewhere else in the galaxy. On arrival, decades and centuries later, the nanobots would burrow beneath the surface and construct a replica of the datacenters on Earth, the computer would transmit its data, and its payload would awaken. Immersed in another reality, it might be of no relevance to them that their substrate now orbited another star and was cut off by the speed of light from its mother network. But at least they would live on safe from any disaster that might wipe the Earth clean.

Some of the colonies would fail, of course, be destroyed in transit or find inhospitable conditions at their destination. Was it wrong to let a copy of a human die, who had never really lived? Maybe. But there was no one else around to judge, in any case.

On some worlds the colonies found life, and though the nanobots went about their work as quietly as possible, still they observed and recorded, with a few discreet microdust sensors and airborne drones here and there. No humans yet explored the surface in bodies robotic or biological. Maybe someday, when they could trust themselves not to disrupt the balance of nature here as well, but not yet. Still, the gathered data filtered its way into the computer’s simulated world, and grew in the colony’s collective unconscious.

The children of earth slept, and dreamt of wonderful things.

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