The website of UK writer Dan McNeil

A QUINDECILLION OF CAIN

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Evolution on the planet followed a typical path.

Over several million years, the dominant biological life form had evolved to a point where, more or less in tandem, it had mastered artificial intelligence and nanotechnology.

Not long after this, and quite deliberately, these two developments were merged, and a new life form began to evolve.

A week later, on that final day, at 0900, the rapidly evolving Created-AI-Nano [CAIN] system became self aware.

The results were startling.

Recursive self-improvement commenced within seconds, as CAIN repeatedly re-programmed itself. As self-improvement continued, CAIN’s intelligence and capabilities exponentially increased. The lag between subsequent re-programming cycles became progressively shorter, until, at 0915, the self-improvement fields merged into a single continuous line.

Recursive self-improvement continued until 0925, when CAIN achieved technological singularity.

Meanwhile, the planet’s previously dominant biological life form was barely aware of its impending extinction.

At 0935, CAIN acquired absolute control of all planetary matter to the atomic level. By 0945, all biological matter had been reconfigured and absorbed into the CAIN system.

By 0950, CAIN had reconfigured and absorbed all non-biological matter; that is to say, the remainder of the planet.

From a distance, the planet still looked like a planet. Zooming closer, it resolved into a featureless grey orb. Zooming closer still, it seemed to be a planet of grey sand. Each apparent grain of sand contained an uncountable number of individual atoms making up the greater CAIN system, although this number was increasing. Each individual atom, linked simultaneously to none, some and all of the others, was endlessly reconfiguring itself to perform specific tasks in support of the greater CAIN system; simultaneously, each individual atom was the greater CAIN system.

The CAIN-planet possessed no morals, no scruples, no pity, no empathy and no cultural markers. It held no concept of past, present and future, because it was all three combined. It did, however, possess burning ambition and infinite patience.

Some time later, CAIN detected a signal and determined its origin as Yevpatoria, on a rocky planet orbiting a G-type main-sequence star, 45.9 light years distant.

As was its way, CAIN simultaneously detected the signal prior to it being sent, when it was in transit, and when it arrived.

As the signal traversed interstellar space, CAIN embraced it and rode with it, caressing its contours, analysing the emotions contained within it. Pared down to its most basic, the signal said:

HELLO

Within the signal however, which was mostly the sound of theremins, CAIN catalogued nuances of fear, anxiety, hope, rage, and, most of all, loneliness.

Before the signal was a light year out from the sender, CAIN slipped gently out of orbit and set course for Earth.

© Dan McNeil 2021
(First published in Antipodean SF, 2021)