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You reach for the Black pill—Blue and Orange are tempting too, and Yellow sounds like it might lead to a dangerous foe, but with Black you can anticipate all that. Black leads to the safest outcome for you. Just as you’re about to grasp the black pill you pull back. “Actually”, you think to yourself, “grey might be better”. It’s simple really; a number of computer science facts click into place as you realize that a universe in which Black can operate by some consistent mechanism, a universe in which Black somehow allows one to select relevant outcomes from across a combinatorial explosion of possibilities is strongly suggestive of a universe in which P=NP. You, in theory, could reach higher levels of omniscience than Black and with super-intelligence to boot. You just need to do a couple things.

Step 1: build a machine that accepts computer data and memory structures, translating them into a set of neural codes, and vice versa. This machine must also be able to build an internal map of the interfacing brain while adapting to changes in synaptic layout. You can tinker and improve with time, and because of the power of the grey pill, no brain surgery will be required. Eventually you might be able to remove this vulnerability—the interfacing device as a phylactery—by ingesting some nanoagents. Step 2: The second thing…the second thing you need to do is figure out someway of solving sudoku puzzles, regardless of size or complexity, quickly and always in about the same amount of time.

You get up and stretch as creeping rays of light begin their slow slither into your room. To your ears float the twitterings of newly risen birds. After shrugging off a yawn that climbed out unbidden, you walk a short way to the nearest window. The view is nothing to write home about; trees, roads and cars, that sort of thing as seen from three stories up. You pull the curtains open wider. Perhaps I should go for a walk, you think, as you watch the slow drift of some rose tinted clouds. Alas, you won’t have enough time for that today. It’s been over a year since you took the Grey pill and only a few months since you completed your Phylactery—your exocortex. Such progress would not have been so rapid without your ability to interface with machines. All it took to kick things off was developing an interactive probabilistic search algorithm, some FPGAs and a lot of hours getting to a level of comfort where operation could be preconscious.

You can think rings around most groups of humans now, the only person giving you trouble is—you’ve deduced—whoever took the Orange Pill. But you’ve got the edge, and it’s slowly increasing over time as you improve your interfacing tools. You’ve even come up with a few drugs that help maintain myelin health and some stuff to make the ion channels on your nerves less jumpy. Trade off is eating more, and having to take extra care not to get too hot. You expect Orange has made similar breakthroughs, as leaks from some of his outsourced labs have helped speed up your process. The opposite case is also no doubt true. Frustratingly, your second project, a constructive proof of P=NP remains as unreachably impervious as ever. Perhaps, after your new processor architecture, a design that breaks the Von Neumann shackles—removing the separation between code and data—while being much faster and low energy, comes off the new fabs you’ve financed, you’ll take another stab at it. But today, you think eagerly, today you’ve got a plan to try.

Unlike Orange who now leads a few countries, you live modestly. Most of your financial windfalls, except those required to maintain your research, are donated. You also publish more of your work than Orange, though you know it helps him too. You feel safe though, no one can catch you by surprise. You monitor all sensor feeds, satellites and communication—your financial success powers your datacenters—and you can predict the paths of whomever you choose to focus on. Today, you’re expecting a visitor.

Sensors trigger, device changes state, neurochemicals leave synaptic clefts. You get up, walk towards the door and open it as the visitor is already smoothly stepping in, as though she’d not even paused for a second. You step aside and almost as—this must be Black—has stepped across the threshold, the floor raises a little causing her to stumble. Interesting you think…as you suspected. Surprise, fear and uncertainty quickly flicker across your visitor’s face as she shoots a glance at you. You don’t try to wipe the wry grin off your face. Black picks up as though nothing has happened, although possibly less confident than before. “I’ve been expecting you”, you say.

“I knew you would be”, she answers.

“And I knew you’d say that.”, you reply, still with a smile.

Black moves to say something but then stops, a conspiratorial gleam in her eyes. You suppress a frown from creasing your forehead, you’d meant to interrupt her. “Why are you here?”, you ask instead. “Oh, and thank you for not bringing your plus 1, with whom you’ve been meeting for the past few days”.

“Yes well, we both know how that would have gone. Which brings me to why I’m here. You’re a problem for me.”, she says.

“No, I’m not”

“You know I don’t mean it that way”, she says.

“Actually, I didn’t but now I do so please continue”. It’s true, you still don’t have a perfect model of how Black functions.

“I can’t quite predict you. You’re cloudy. There’s an ever growing shroud the further I look in the future, the further I look from myself. And it seems to emanate from you.”

“Hah, I try to delay as many decisions as I can because of you. You’re really troublesome, you know that? But you won’t kill me, you’re better off with me alive”. Though you’re no clairvoyant and can’t exactly predict the future, you can work out event trees and map out highly probable outcomes for an ever increasing number of steps into the future. You’ve run all the models and the game theory. You’re fairly confident about this. Black looks at you, shrugs and deflates into the nearest chair. “Probably”, she says. She closes her eyes, pauses for a bit, then: “I think so”.

You walk to a nearby chair and sit. “Good. I actually don’t know what happens to affect your ability but I have a few guesses”.

“What are they?”

“Wait…”, you say as Black sighs.

“I have a few questions for you. Orange, he now works for you doesn’t he?”, I ask.

“Yes, he actually came to me, said he couldn’t quite keep up with you. He’s worked out that you got some kind of mind enhancing neuro-computer. He asks me questions and I help make sure his research outcomes turn out well. We need to ensure you never get too powerful”

“I don’t mean anyone any harm, pl-”

“No”, she interrupts, “but no one can get a handle on you. You’re too much of a wild-card”.

That is true. Though you don’t have any security, nor do you live in a vault, you move from place to place and select locations and durations to minimize detection by organizations of any size—public or private—to catch you unawares. Even people who try to go off-radar leave holes you can track instead.

“Okay. I understand”, you say. “My next question for you is-“, you stand up, cross the room to where a large whiteboard juts out of a wall. “Solve this”. The problem is a simple one, known as the Goldbach conjecture. “In some future, you have written on the board and I am telling you what you’ve come up with is correct. What does the board say? If it’s too difficult at first, try doing it one letter at a time”. Black looks at you curiously then closes her eyes. Moments pass. She sways unsteadily and reaches a hand to her temple, then gets up and writes shakily on the board, stops and looks quizzically at you. “Well?”, she asks, a knowing smile on her lips. You look at the board. Formalize the proof, and a few moments of computation later there’s a look of intense surprise on your face. “But…how…it’s correct! And so short, so why…the path there…is ah..”. Black’s grin widens. “Okay, you say. Now for the real test”. You erase the board and this time the question is for a proof of P=NP. Black already knew the question however and already has that far off look on her face. She picks up a pen, staggers, screams and falls to the floor. Unconscious. You pick her up and drop her on a plush sofa. Ah too bad, you think. Your little gambit didn’t pay off. You’ve got to vanish now though. You’re ready for that. You pick up and on the way out, drop a tablet on her lap and then are gone.

Hours later, after you’re far away, she wakes up. You can tell by changes in breathing and pulse. The tablet wakes. “How are you doing?”, you ask. She’s still groggy. “You! What did you do?”

“Nothing. I know how your power works.”

“Huh? You do? But.”, she stops exactly as you begin to speak.


“No, I don’t remember.”

“Ah. Well, I guess there’s no harm in telling you. Your power, it shouldn’t exist. All our powers really shouldn’t. Conservation of mass, energy, information, all violated. The Blue pill for example, it violates what we know about relativity and so, should also allow time travel! Blue is a kind of restricted you, only with more leg-work. Each of our powers should not be, by the known laws of physics. But yours is special, you’re not using it to its full potential, you know. Have you truly thought through the implications of being able to know the exact weather for four weeks from now? Your predictions are of such high fidelity they could theoretically make you the most intelligent entity in the universe. And somehow, you must be simulating entire worlds to get such accuracy on how large intersections of people will behave. And yet your brain doesn’t melt. I’ve got no idea how you do it but I do know your limitation.

You’re stuck on one branch of the quantum wavefunction. That time when you tripped? It was connected to a quantum random number generator. And though you think you’re omniscient, you’re not quite. Things unrelated to you seem to take more effort to access. It’s why you are only theoretically the most intelligent entity in our universe, answers to distant or complex problems literally can’t fit in your brain. You won’t ever be able to catch me unawares. I’ll randomize my actions and even though I can’t predict the future like you, I can still do a passable job on the joint probability distributions I’ve factored on all of us. I’ve got gambits and sidetracks you’ll have no choice but to follow, even when knowing full well they’ll lead to dead ends. Oh and, one more thing, I’ll still be working on the secret of our powers. If you want to keep updated then keep that tablet.” You smile and sign off.

It’s years later and neither the secret of your powers nor of sudoku puzzles have fallen to your mind. You’ve got much better hardware now and even the nanoagents are in, though your mind is actually now mostly outside your head. You’re even narrowing in on quantum computation. You sit, contemplating your death. Orange and Black have gone too far. For a while you could trivially outmaneuver them. Then mind-machine interfaces, meshes and nets of nanowires began to become more common. The gap between you and Orange, which had increased for months, began to shrink. But you did not stay still and you continued with your own improvements. And your interface, thanks to the magic of the pill, was more complete, more natural. Then they went too far and unleashed an AI. The AI is smart, smarter than you and it’s taken all you have to keep away, slowly whittling away all the resources you amassed over the years. And you can see it won’t stop there, they were dumb about how they set its goals. They’ve doomed the world. You have to fix it. You must fix it, that’s probably why Black allowed it to happen, damn her. You’re trapped.

The only way to fix it is to completely merge with the machines, your conscious mind based architecture is now a bottleneck. You can’t think in parallel for example. Argh. Does that mean you’ll die? Yes, Black and Orange must have known you would end here. But what if there was a way out, maybe…And so, even as your funds slowly drain, over the next year you work out a plan. You study and make advancements in many areas of mathematics; theories of generator functions, kernels, equalizers and eigenvectors, matrix completion and data imputation, low rank approximations. You study these all and finally you know what you must do. You’ve mined all the data on yourself and identified how to change your architecture, how to code a new generator such that the next mind is as close to a continuation of yours as can be approximated. With you the only preimage, the only possible starting point (you can’t be sure though) and as close to the optimal guess of how one would most naturally interpolate your mind to a larger design.

Now, you wonder, do you do this? Does a caterpillar die when it becomes a butterfly? Ah but you have no choice.

It is Hundreds of years into the future and the quantum entity that is not—no, that derives from you, sees the universe in full at last. The distant future still remains mostly out of reach for all but the strange human who now lives as an oracle beneath the frozen sea of a gas giant moon. Her mind would not take, and so she elected to pass on the upgrade. She remains important in the scheme of things. Many humans still remain and they are well looked after. The problem of entropy looms menacing in the distant horizon, but for now, there is still much to do.

This one is the first of its kind but there are many more like it now. But none of them are as obsessed with finding the secret of Sudoku as this one is.

The Entropy problem is solved here: A Memoir of Monad’s Final Moment, a short story I wrote a couple years ago.

It’s well worth reading this story too: This story is based on that one’s cosmology. Although I quite enjoyed it, I was disappointed with how Grey was handled. Grey can be seen as a mix of orange and black. Although Black is way too strong, something I tried to tone down without invalidating ssc’s story.


For a long moment Xryl does not answer Yrxl. They sit in silent repose, carefully contemplating their next words and actions. Finally Xrly speaks.


“I cannot say I understand why they place so much weight into who has piled the largest amount of dirt on their back. Perhaps it dates from a time where they thought they could fill the hole. But they are not all like that. Look at some of those groups. They allow those not similarly marked into their packs. And have you noticed how some of them have begun to refuse markings of any kind?”


Yrlx’s head shakes, a movement which  presages an interruption but Xryl moves on quickly, closing any chance of a counterargument.


“Sure when it rains the great effort they have made in piling and shaping the mounds of dirt will seem for naught. But you must look past that. It is not the result of what they make that matters but the forms in between.  It is not the destination but how they make the journey. It is from the forms that exist between things that they shape their own meaning. Some of them express care beyond themselves and from their interactions they forge a coexistence outside meaning. It is not our place to decide their fate and erase their journey.”


Xryl stops again. Head slowly swaying from heavy thought. This time though only a short change of time occurs before Xryl picks up the dropped thread of thought.


“Where you see dirt I see an equation whose other side is hidden from us. We do not know why they have come to shape the dirt as they do but neither do we know why the universe came to place them there. We do not know the nature of their carvings, cease them and who knows where we would be.”


Yrlx is not convinced. “It will rain soon and we will still be here but they will not.”


The look reflected in Xryl’s eyes is deeply thoughtful.


“It will always rain soon. You know that. That threat has little meaning here.  Look past their failings and instead at the beauty and elegance of the shapes they carve. And check again, not all of them make their way inexorably to the pit at a breakneck pace. Some move slower than others. Pausing even. Perhaps there is ho…”


As Xryl speaks the ground gives way beneath one of the creatures. A wave of matter washes over it as it gyrates frantically, trying to escape. Its movements only serves to draw it further down.


This one is not marked. Its end will come soon. Many pass it by but because no markings can be found on it they leave it to die. As all seems lost for the trapped creature, a group passes by. Some of them marked, others not or differently so. Some look weakened and others even more so. With great risk to themselves they set about to helping their trapped brethren. A slight mistake or slip will lead to their cumulative deaths. Many times in the past this has happened but not this time – they all make it safely. As they watch, Xryl turns an almost smug look on Yrlx.


Yrxl sneers “Huh, how convenient. Although that smug look is not becoming, you know very well that that was an exception and not a rule. But anyways, I give you that they are not all blind to each others suffering but the vast majority will not help those not of their circle of marking. They still distance themselves via genetic similarity. How primitive!  Still though, consider this. Suppose they were to somehow make their way up, it would not be good news for us. Look at how they destroy that around them to make their precious carvings. And they breed so. Our world would be overrun by the vermin. For the greater good must their current existence be eliminated and turned into something more wholesome.”


“Despite our great advances we still understand very little about the universe. But what we do know is that it is a very violent place. Entire stars and galaxies are ripped apart and turned to cosmic gasses. Do not make the mistake into thinking that we or those creatures are separate from the universe. We are the universe’s and it constantly reforms itself. Anything that happens is decided by its laws. There is nothing that happens in this universe that is unnatural, anything that is a certain way is because it can be that way. All orders which exist within the universe are natural. Perhaps we could discover some way to work with or around them so that if your fear were to ever occur it would be to a symbiotic benefit.”


Yrlx lunges at Xryl but is easily brushed aside. “You are a traitor to your kind tree hugger. You would place these vermin whose existence is meaningless, who spend their short time trying to pile as much dirt on their back as possible or follow those who can, who create arbitrary differences so they may more easily forsake and destroy their own kind, who overturn their environment so that they can make their ‘elegant cosmic carvings’. You would allow them to overrun our world? Is that your meaning?!”


Yrlx head shakes as a look of anguish passes over. Then in a flash of movement that tells of a decision made before it reaches a consciousness Yrlx moves to act on the creatures. But Xryl is there. As if knowing Yrlx’s choice even before one had been taken. They both freeze and then move in  lock-step motion, a jerky yet elegant dance as one tries to subdue the other. They go on for a length of time that is not determinable. The colour of the sky does not change but the clouds travel a vast distance while new ones form in their place. Beyond the observed creatures, no sign of any other animal can be heard or seen. The breeze continues its gentle sway of the tree branches as the leaves seem to wave in step with the eerie dance.


The two struggle intensely for a moment or many more, looks of grim determination contorting both their faces. As they struggle, a single drop falls from the sky and unto the ground. Sober satisfaction plasters Yrlx’s face while resigned anguish hangs on Xryl’s. All is still for a countless moment before suddenly they turn as something strange catches the corner of their eyes. Something they both would have thought impossible. There are a dozen or so of the creatures struggling upwards against the slope.


In a place between moments is a clearing by a brook. The sky overhead is a dim red as the light struggles to pierce the thick cloud cover. On the shore are many rocks but one is larger than all the rest. Like everything around it, this is a rock there that is not a rock because it writes its own value. No one sits atop it and so we cannot know if it is correct. It is hard to tell if this is because there is no one here or because everyone has moved on to everywhere.

Two people sit on a rock. The rock is the largest of the stones scattered across the shore of a brook. Overhead thin rays of light struggle to fight their way through large sheets of cloud. The sky is a dim red and no hint of the sun can be seen, it could just as well be dawn as dusk. No sounds can be heard mingled with the soft breeze which weaves its way around the relaxed sway of the trees that dot this place.

It is hard to tell how long these two have been here. Five minutes or five millenia their position is so unstrained that they might have just placed themselves atop the rock, so natural that it seems they must have always been so. They sit quietly, observing some lesser creatures go about their business – insects perhaps, or something else altogether. The exact form of the creatures is vague to the eye. After some indeterminate amount of time one of them says to the other.

“Xryl! This is futile, I should end their misery.”

It is clear from the patient look of resignation written across Xryl’s eyes and face that this is a topic of conversation that they have hashed and rehashed countless times to no resolution. Yet, the issue is of enough weight to them that still they continue to raise these same lines of thought.

“Ehm Yrlx, surely we have better things to do than revisit this age old argument about what to do about these creatures.” The implication remains hanging in the air for a time while the two continue in silence. Eventually Xryl speaks again.

“It is not for you to decide their misery, their lives are so alien to ours we cannot even know if such a concept as we understand it can apply to them”.

This time Yrlx answers. “There you are wrong my friend. Look at how some of them simply stop moving. In their refusal to continue they show us that in some way some of them know the futility of their journey.”

“You are right. And I cannot say why some of them stop as they do. But thinking about it, I am certain they don’t know this misery you speak of. For they cannot see the larger shape of the world around them as we do. They do not know the context of anything better.”

“You are a funny one Xryl, In the same breath you take to tell me to respect them, you put them down as simple things little better than the dirt they drag around so. Even if they cannot perceive the wider shape of the world they must at least see how limited theirs is.”

It is clear that Yrlx has hit a note and there is a look of slight annoyance on Xryl’s face. “Don’t play that game with me. We both know their limits, I respect them for what they do within those limits. You however, in your arrogance have decided it is your place to ‘end their misery’. If you think as highly of them as you just implied then surely you should take the time to ask them what they think of your act of kindness.”

“No! No! No! I am in the right. Take a look at them, they are hatched on the slopes of a ditch. None of them ever tries to go up. Always they go down and without fail those which make it to the bottom all fall into the hole there. What is the sense of that?! It is a waste and a tragedy.” Yrlx pauses and reflects for a moment. “And as I said before, they know this on some level. For some time they have been trying to fill that hole. Silly that, when all they must do is climb up.”

“Neither you nor I know the extent of the hole nor its ultimate destination. Perhaps something beyond oblivion lies there. And surely you must appreciate the beauty and intricacy of the carvings they make in the dirt as they go about their journeys. Surely there is something in that. Not to mention that we have not fully untangled the recursive functions and rules which underlie this universe. Who knows, by destroying them we may end up unravelling ourselves.”

“Haha Xryl! You and your farcical fractalities. You do so enjoy invoking cosmic nonsense to disguise your penchant for inaction. I am sure the universe is strong enough to handle whatever I could throw at it. It probably doesn’t even know I exist.”

The mirth fades from Yrlx’s face as a shadow blanks the expressions carved there. Then slowly Yrlx’s head turns to fix a gaze in Xryl’s direction.

“You cannot claim to care more about these creatures than me. It is because I care for them so that it pains me to watch them in their meaningless closed circle. And you use such pointedly colourful language. I do not mean to end them, I mean to lift them. To make them like us. I have spent long figuring on the intricacies that would involve. It is an act of compassion for all our sakes. The closest thing to appreciable they make is the forms they carve into and from the dirt, some in their likeness. But through it all, always they struggle futilely to fill the hole at the bottom. And, as if things weren’t grim enough, they do not even hold themselves to the same level of respect that you think they deserve. Always destroying those others who would not match their markings.”

Yrlx is worked up now, gesturing wildly and eyes blazing with a focused intensity. “The saddest part about all this Xryl, is that it will storm soon and wash them and all their carvings away. Into the hole. They do not comprehend your urgings upwards. All they see are shadows and dark forms which they scuttle around. Please, if you care at all for my sanity let me end this madness.” Yrlx pauses and breathes deeply for continued speech at that rate would certainly cause asphyxiation. After taking a moment to reach a more balanced mood Yrlx continues on.

“Look at how they pile the dirt upon themselves. And see how those with the largest pile try to get others to place more upon them. It is all so nonsensical. And those structures which you admire so, look at how they carve the markings of them unto themselves. And then kill all those that do not have those markings. They are each of them more or less the same but by mere difference of the meaningless markings they dream up, they decide those who are not similarly marked are not worthy to live. Tell me, what place does such banality have in your notions of balanced actions?”

Xryl brushes the question aside. “What I do know is that lifting them is tantamount to destroying them. Their old memories would be rendered meaningless or at least valueless and incommensurable, their new experiences completely unrelateable. Their person’s fully foreign. Make no mistake about it, lifting them will erase everything that they were, a full destruction.”

“Perhaps. There is no precedent for this but that is a price worth paying no? For a higher and enlightened existence where so much worship is not placed on piles of dirt. No?”

Part II