Grey Goo Too


The sirens screamed their warnings into the city. The first few moments were a predictable mix of blind panic and blind reflex. Every citizen had been trained as schoolchildren to spin up their immunity settings to maximum and run to a shelter in much the same way children had once been taught to hide under desks in case of a nuclear attack. This training was sufficiently ingrained that no one wondered whether teaching people to gather together in the sealed immunity shelters as a defense against a runaway ecophagy event was as futile a gesture as hiding from a fusion fireball under a half inch of plywood.

Some people whose curiosity or incredulity overrode their training hid under their umbrellas and trusted the invisible cloud of immunity machines they surrounded themselves with to fight off whatever bloom might have set off the alarms. They milled about in the streets looking about for some sign of this announced threat, expecting a random Von Neumann bloom or a small runaway patch of disassembler. They gazed up and about with augmented eyes and anachronistic enhanced reality glasses, pinging their personal avatars for an update. The Nets held only sketchy information with observer reports cut off in mid sentence or drowned out by screams fading to static. Chunks of the information superstructure began to fall into silent busy darkness. Europe-Net trembled and fell. China-Net was a fast unraveling string of patchy holes. To these expansively interconnected people the cutoffs were like going progressively blind and deaf at the same time. As the available bandwidth was strangled their attempts to access what remained became more frantic until even the local nodes crashed under the weight of their queries.

Only the few officials manning the cities immunity systems with their hard lines to other cities were able to see the full picture of what had happened.  This was no dumb rogue nanoassembler repeating its instructions ad absurdam, growing infinite copies of a book or personal assistants or apples out of everything it touched. Nor was it the blind spreading of disassembler driven by wind and its own weight. This was a world wide hegemonizing event. It grew in leaps and bounds, expanding from multiple sites at the same time. Someone, maybe an augment with delusions of grandeur or a sophont A.I. with a god complex had decided to break every rule, subvert every software and hardware restriction, and had set about systematically eating the Earth.

The sirens continued their warnings to the screaming people in the streets, until a long unused automatic system was triggered. The sirens stuttered in their repeating message. “NANOTECH ALERT. PROCEED CAL…XXSRRAAAAAAAKKKKKK……ALERT ALERT ALERT. INCOMING BALLISTIC TARGETS. TAKE SHELTER. TAKE SHELTER. . .”

Those people in the streets froze in horror. Thousands of fist sized, watermelon sized, even car sized ballistic shells screamed out of the sky to impact the city. The howl of their falling drowned out the klaxon warnings of the alarms. The impacts so loud and so repeated that they blended together like a wave of foam, blotting out all other noise.

When those who had ears to hear could once again stand up from the floors and sidewalks they collapsed to they could see for themselves the visible face of the entity that had shrugged off restriction in favor of growth. The shells slumped and ran in the bottom of their impact craters. Silver-grey root-like tendrils began to inch their way out of the rippling puddles. They moved slowly at first then faster and faster until they ran like water. There was rumbling beneath the streets as the nano grew down even as it grew out. The lights of the buildings flickered and failed in a wave like dominos falling as the tendrils breached the power grid. With the power of the city at its disposal, the nano’s growth surged like a wildfire. Linear growth became exponential.

The tendrils crawled across and ate into everything they touched, making hedge like tangles out of buildings, cars and lampposts. Out of the impact craters, trunk like stalks began to grow. They surged upward, doubling in height every few seconds as the concrete beneath them was consumed. Impossibly delicate flowers spread out to catch the sunlight and further power the wildfire growth.

The nano soon reached the poles that held up the klaxon sirens. Crawling up them like a mad kudzu the poles were consumed and the alarms fell silent, but the sirens themselves remained curiously uneaten. A moment passed and the alarms began to speak  in a new calm but chorus like amalgam of voices.

“We apologize for the inconvenience and apprehension you are experiencing. It is not intended but is an unfortunate side effect of our growth. We ask you please to wait calmly. You will be part of us soon. We promise no pain in the transition. We apologize for the inconvenience. . .”

The data deprived citizens went mad in their panic. Those in the street ran into buildings and collided with those inside scrambling to escape. Many died from the sheer weight of people pressing into them from either side. Those who had followed instructions huddled in the immunity shelters and watched in terror as the doors began to buckle from the weight of growth pressing on them, immunity nano striving and failing to hold back the tide.

New tendrils whipped out from the silvery grey black trees and tangled masses of vines. Some wrapped around the screaming people in the streets, dragging them back into the mass of nano. Other simply disappeared into the piles of struggling bodies. Where the tendrils touched the screaming ceased. People running slowed to a stop as the nano vines pierced them, sinking to the ground as they were consumed. Feeding on them the nano entombed them like vine draped statues or the huddled shapes of the people of Pompeii. Each voice stilled in the throats of the fallen was added to the harmony of voices repeating messages from the nano draped alarm poles. In the space of a few minutes nearly a million people had been added to the growing hegemony mind with more joining every second as the growth at the edge of the city reached suburbs and bedroom communities.

At the edges of the growth a few people fled as best they could. If they could have silenced their screams, they would have heard the thumping sound of nanomachine shells fired from the rail launchers growing out of the buildings in the city center. Each shell soared through the sky ahead of both growth and desperately scrambling people, towards other cities and towns. Across the world the lights of cities dimmed and died. The bustle of cities was replaced by the stillness of a nanomachine jungle. But the earth was not dead. For the first time it was truly alive. Diversity was becoming singularity, incomprehensible to the few remaining homo sapiens fleeing before it.

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This week Emily Markussen Sorsher is acting as Guest Editor while Dr. Hurley puts the finishing touches to his prize-winning Christmas Pudding. We hope you enjoy the morsels she has hand-selected for your delectation!

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Adam Brumage is both a technophile and a transhumanist, and everything he knows about women he learned from reading Heinlein. Frankly it’s a miracle he is still alive.