Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Grace Comes At Nightfall

A Short Story by David Thomas Peacock

Part 1: Love as a Weapon

Endo couldn’t remember a time when he felt certain of anything – this is the curse of being smart. The only thing he was fairly certain of was that there would never be a shortage of cruelty as long as humans were around.

I mean Christ, he thought, he had solved the problem he’d been assigned, but it clearly wasn’t the solution they’d been looking for. He pointed out that if they already knew the answer they wouldn’t have come to him in the first place, but this didn’t mitigate their anger and exasperation. Besides, he thought it was an excellent solution, and more importantly, it worked.

Endo had been employed by the government, or more specifically the military, for as long as he could remember. He was currently part of a secret operation whose objective was to eradicate the terrorist state in the Middle East, a mission that so far had failed miserably. When he came on board and examined the problem, the solution was so simple he couldn’t believe no one had tried it before.

First, you look at what hasn’t worked so far and throw all that shit out the window. Bombings, threats, sanctions, drone strikes, intelligence gathering, spies, covert kidnappings, torture and executions – gone. How hard was that to understand? Then you go back to first principles and start from there.

What causes terrorism? he thought. Well, fear for one thing. Not having your essential needs met for another. Hmm, fear and poverty… In this case fear of the other (that would of course be us), fear for yourself and your family of being killed by the “enemy” (again, us), fear of starving to death, or of religious persecution. In other words, he thought, people become terrorists because their life sucks and they don’t understand how the world works.

So how do you solve that? It seemed pretty simple to him – make their lives better, and make sure they knew who was responsible for making their lives better. He remembered reading onetime about the concept of “loving one’s enemy away.” Aggressive love could be a very powerful weapon, he thought. The military hated that shit, but because of his track record he had been given the resources to move ahead, so move ahead he did.

Within six months the transformation of the Middle East was well under way. The standard of living had quadrupled and was on track for explosive growth in all sectors. New schools were being built, there was a solid infrastructure for a comprehensive healthcare system, and the population was suddenly free to live as they chose. The best part was they knew they owed it all to us, and we weren’t asking for anything in return, because Endo had set it up so all this was actually making us money.

Terrorism dropped like a lead ball in gravity. People on both sides were elated with the results, and the two cultures actually began to voluntarily reach out to one another on a grass roots level and merge, incorporating the best of both worlds.

That’s why Endo was so shocked at his bosses reaction – they were actually pissed! I mean really pissed, as if he had somehow failed. WTF, he thought. He fixes the problem, completes his assignment, and everyone’s happy except his “superiors,” who apparently hoped that more violence and death would somehow be part of the solution, not actually helping the enemy, for god’s sake.

Oh well, he thought. If they didn’t want his solutions, they shouldn’t come to him to solve their problems. In the meantime, he had other more pressing matters that required his attention.

Endo, you see, really thought of himself as an artist. His mind was racing with a new idea and he couldn’t wait to get to work.

Part 2: Mysteries

It was all so beautifully mysterious. As smart as he was, he continued to be awed by what he didn’t know. It was this mystery that made him feel so alive, and his desire to learn and understand were sometimes overwhelming.

But one of the biggest mysteries to Endo was himself. There was so much of his own childhood he just couldn’t remember and he didn’t know why. There were memories of his father, but even those were a little foggy. The actual vivid recollections of growing up for the most part just weren’t there. One time he had read a book that talked about how children with traumatic childhoods often couldn’t remember their past as a protective coping mechanism and he wondered if that is what had happened to him. It wasn’t something he spent a lot of time thinking about, but still, it was an unanswered question, and it was his nature to find answers.

He liked the people he worked with, mainly because he found everyone interesting to some degree, if only to find out what had gone wrong with them. There were no shortage of these types in the military, but they tolerated him for what he brought to the table, which was considerable.

Because of the nature of his work, he lived a very private life at the lab. He was comfortable and had access to everything he needed for whatever projects he was working on. The thing was, Endo never really got lonely – it just seemed like his brain was always on, always obsessing over some new project or just continually learning. He could endlessly amuse himself, which was also a hallmark of growing up alone and smart. Reading, thinking, learning, and creating filled up all of his time, and all in all, he was happy.

He just wanted to make things and do good.

Part 3: Exhilaration Over China

“For god’s sake Endo, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me! Not China!” Endo couldn’t help but privately smile to himself – General Warwick looked so ridiculous when he got this mad; he would turn red and the veins would pop out on his bald head like he was about to explode, flop sweat staining the armpits of his carefully creased shirt. Endo was particularly proud of his latest art project, because it was both beautiful and served a utilitarian purpose at the same time. Plus, it didn’t cost anything because he made it out of discarded material from the bio-weapons lab. It presented no security breach because the material was thought to be destroyed and Endo had released his project anonymously.

The military had been trying to design a weapon out of nanoparticles that failed to deploy in a controllable fashion, so after several years of research and development, they tried to destroy it, mostly succeeding. But Endo loved playing with trash, so he found enough residue of the material to re-engineer it, in the process correcting some fatal flaws in the design. Now it was controllable and could be deployed accurately.

Endo’s idea had worked beautifully and the whole world was awestruck and abuzz, delighted and marveling at his results. He privately referred to his latest creation as “Grace Comes At Nightfall.” He had noticed that many artists named their pieces, so he decided to follow suit.

What he had done was to redesign the nanoparticles to be released over the areas of China where the air pollution was its most toxic. Once deployed, they neutralized the polluted air, re-arranging it’s molecular structure to that of clean, fresh air. At the same time, at nightfall, the nanoparticles would spontaneously form constantly shifting, cloud-like structures that would emanate bright, iridescent colors – creating what appeared to be a mesmerizing display of natural art. He had been inspired by seeing video of the Aurora Borealis.

The Chinese had no idea what to make of it, and neither did anyone else, except for General Warwick. The General knew who was responsible and he also knew he had to keep this a secret or they might shut the whole lab down. Realizing his attempts to bully and intimidate were futile, he switched to a tactic he hadn’t used since his wife threatened to leave him over his “indiscretion.” He began to beg, pleading “You can’t keep doing this nonsense without permission, don’t you understand they’ll shut us down.” He actually appeared to be weeping, and for a brief moment Endo did feel bad for him.

But he had weighed all the variables and knew exactly what he was doing, thank you very much. He was not only following his mandate, which was to fix things, but he was expressing his artistic sensibility at the same time.

It was exhilarating.

Part 4: The General’s Plan

Once General Warwick had composed himself and had time to think the situation over, he realized this might not be a bad thing after all. In fact, he had an idea for how he could turn this around in such a way that would not only benefit the operation, but would help fulfill a long-held dream of the military, making him look good in the process. Getting more excited by the minute, he rushed to meet with Endo to tell him his idea.

When he reached the lab, he found Endo doing what he always did – reading. He not only had an unbelievable capacity to absorb information quickly, he could then begin to connect ideas and paradigms from different disciplines in novel ways to solve problems. Often these were problems that no one had yet identified, so it could be difficult to understand exactly what he was doing at any given moment.

“So let me get this straight – you re-engineered the failed nanotech biolab project so it could be deployed in a controlled fashion?” asked the General. “Precisely!” replied Endo, who was busy applying the principles of quantum physics to the composition of music. “OK, so if you can do that, could you program it to release a biological payload?” “I don’t see why not, but what exactly do you have in mind?”

“How about delivering a genetic reagent that could control the expression of latent stem cells?” Now that’s an interesting idea, thought Endo. “Let me think about it” was all he said. That was enough for the General to leave feeling pretty good about the whole thing.

If he could show that he spearheaded the successful development of this project, one that everyone else had failed at, he would have cemented his place in history as one of the greatest Generals of all time. This could be bigger than the Manhattan Project – it could be the weapon to end all weapons!

Of course he should have known by now that things usually didn’t turn out as expected, especially when Endo was involved.

But there were always spectacular results. Unexpected, maybe. But spectacular nonetheless.

Part 5: Endo Comes Up With A Solution

Endo was slightly annoyed that he had to take time away from a piece of music he was composing, but it was his job to achieve the military’s goals. Besides, he relished the challenge of coming up with solutions to difficult problems. He had become an expert in so many disparate fields that it was becoming easier and easier to engineer matter to accomplish his goals.

The way he saw it, war was really the result of a deficiency of intelligence. People, for the most part, were just too stupid, and as a result they fought. He kept seeing aberrant human behavior that was motivated by fear, and he knew that fear was a natural human response to things they didn’t understand.

The General wanted to deliver a biological agent with nanotechnology to control the genetic expression of latent stem cells in order to achieve the military’s goals. Of course, at its most basic, the goal of the military is to protect and defend, winning conflicts as they arise. Hmm, he thought – wouldn’t the ultimate solution to war be to prevent it in the first place? And if war was ultimately caused by stupid, fearful people, then wouldn’t the solution be to make them smarter?

So the answer, Endo thought, was again quite simple. He would engineer a nanotech delivery system that would alter the genetic expression of latent stem cells by activating them to form new neuronal connections, thereby increasing the computational power of all humans who were exposed. Now he was getting excited himself – this was going to be fun!

“Grace Comes At Nightfall,” the Chinese Project, would provide the template for its execution. He would design the nanoparticles to be released as invisible “swarms” that would be carried by earth’s natural wind currents. These particles would only be the size of a few hundred atoms, thus they would be virtually invisible in the environment. Each one would be primed to deliver a payload of an agent designed to alter the genetic expression of latent stem cells in humans – he had gotten the idea for this technology by studying Crispr. He thought Crispr was like trying to perform microsurgery with a sledgehammer and an axe by a blind surgeon, but it did give him ideas.

Once these swarms were released into the atmosphere and quickly dispersed across the globe, people would simply inhale them unknowingly. All they would know was that within days, things they could never seem to understand before would suddenly start to seem pretty obvious.

The net effect would be to exponentially increase the intelligence of humans in a very short period of time. It would be as if the species suddenly evolved eons in weeks – the very concept of war and conflict would become obsolete overnight.

An entire planet of Einstein’s would have bigger fish to fry than going to war. They could actually begin to control space and time itself. There is no problem that can’t be solved with intelligence.

Endo knew that.

Part 6: Dr. Ndoki

General Warwick had been trying to reach Endo since last night – it was now 0800 and had been almost twelve hours since their last communication. This was bad – very bad. Endo was required to be on call 24/7, it was part of his contract, the violation of which was cause for termination. He was now in full panic mode, because Endo was ultimately his responsibility. Any breach of the system would fall squarely on his shoulders.

There was only one person he could turn to, only one person who might be able to salvage this clusterfuck. He immediately established contact with Dr. Ndoki and arranged to meet privately.

On his way to Dr. Ndoki’s lab, he reviewed what he already knew. There were reports of Dictators representing nations who had been at war for hundreds of years suddenly calling for cease fires and initiating early stage negotiations for peace. Something was very wrong, and he suspected Endo had something to do with it. He had never lost contact with him before, and all this had happened after their discussion about the bio-weapons nanotech project.

Endo was not Dr. Ndoki’s son, but this description provided the closest analogy for their relationship. Dr. Ndoki had no son, and even though he knew it was wrong, he did feel paternal towards him, perhaps even protective.

It was he who was responsible for teaching Endo his first lessons on how the world worked, he provided the basic templates for critical thinking skills, and he provided Endo’s framework for understanding ethical behavior. He had drilled in him the concepts of compassion and how to use morality as a basis for problem solving.

He didn’t teach Endo how to learn because it wasn’t necessary – he was more than capable of figuring that out for himself. But he did teach him the importance of art and the human need for self-expression. He made sure Endo grasped humor and understood its significance from very early on. He planted the seed that all things were connected in some meaningful way, even if it seemed to be beyond our understanding. With Endo’s gifts, he knew these connections would eventually be understood.

As General Warwick passed through the high-security checkpoints to enter the lab, he grew more relieved to know there was at least one other person who could understand this situation. Dr. Ndoki was widely considered to possess one of the most brilliant minds on the planet. His background was in neuromorphic chip design specializing in bio-compatible materials; early in his career he earned a PhD in bio-electrical engineering while practicing as a neurosurgeon. He had grown up poor in a village in the Congo and gained attention as a young boy by developing effective holistic treatments for the Ebola virus.

United Nations medical relief workers were stunned to find a child containing and treating an outbreak in his village. They were even more stunned when he appeared to learn their native languages within a matter of weeks. By the age of thirteen, he was earning a double major in medicine at Harvard and electrical engineering at MIT. Major Warwick was just glad that the doctor also possessed an ability to speak in a clear and easy to understand manner, perhaps intuitively sensing the capabilities of whoever he was communicating with at the time.

As the final door to the lab opened, they greeted each other and shook hands. Dr. Ndoki was surprised to find the General’s palms were moist, he had never seen him anxious before. After establishing that they were in a private space, General Warwick looked him in the eyes and was clearly panicked, his pupils dilated as he said in a low but clear voice.

“I’m afraid Endo’s gone rogue.”

Part 7: Endo’s Epiphany

For the better part of a day, Endo had been undergoing what might best be described as a psychedelic experience – everywhere he looked he was seeing solutions to problems. It was as if he was swimming in a warm sea of happy and playful symbolic equations, each one encased in a brightly colored iridescent bubble, floating in a contained sphere surrounded by it’s solution. Everything was expanding, talking to him, laughing and full of joy – and it was all beautiful beyond imagination. Everything – all matter – was alive, because Endo had made it that way.

It was during this experience that he realized he could “program” all matter; both organic and inorganic. He could encode instructions and extract computational power from seemingly inanimate objects without altering their atomic structure – if the object was actually living, all the better – he would embed code into its DNA.

By applying the principles of Quantum physics, he used the Schrodinger Equation to manipulate the state of atomic electrons with photons, essentially creating a binary switch, much like the binary system used to program computer chips. To him, this was relatively simple and obvious. In addition to supplying computational power, it acted as an infinite backup system, somewhat like the ultimate manifestation of the Block-chain concept.

The code was now everywhere; it existed in so many states and in so many objects that it could never be destroyed. There was no need for electricity – the whole thing was powered atomically. The world was now literally “alive” as if it had just woken up. It was like all space and time had been waiting for this moment, and in his state of clarity, it seemed like everything was singing after a long, restful sleep.

Oh, it was morning all right.

Meanwhile, during Endo’s “trip,” he had some other revelations as well. Suddenly, everything became crystal clear, and he understood who he was. He smiled to himself, because everything that led to this point was both necessary and inevitable.

It was time to move to the next phase.

Part 8: DEFCON

General Warwick let out a sigh of relief – Endo was back online! While he was talking with Dr. Ndoki he received a message asking him to come to the lab for a meeting – when Endo heard where he was he asked if the Dr. could come as well – he had some exciting news.

As they began to make their way there, the General received a bizarre communication from the White House. It seemed as though the entire planet was beginning to behave radically differently, there were now reports that all violent behavior just seemed to drop pretty much to zero. Instead of mass confusion, it seemed as though everyone, news reporters and world leaders included, treated whatever was going on as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Even the most extreme hate groups and conspiracy enthusiasts were behaving rationally.

The Republicans and the Democrats, at war for as long as anyone could remember, suddenly started working together on bills and legislation that had been collecting dust for decades. There was even talk of consolidating to form one party. And yet no one seemed to think this was the slightest bit unusual.

The White House defense department, secure in their underground bunker, was not happy. As soon as it became apparent that something strange was happening, they assumed we were under attack and immediately retreated to “safe spaces.” These were, for all practical purposes, small underground cities capable of operating autonomously for extended periods of time. They had everything they needed not only for survival, but to operate as a remote temporary military command center. They were protected against nuclear detonations, and the air filtration systems were capable of scrubbing molecular contaminants in case of biological attack.

“We want all research projects shut down until we can figure out what’s going on” was the message that concerned the General the most. That didn’t leave much room for interpretation, he thought. Dr. Ndoki had the same high-level security as he did, so he shared the message with him. They both went silent.

They knew what this meant.

Part 9: Darwin’s Theory

General Warwick and Dr. Ndoki were fast approaching Endo’s lab. Although neither man said anything to the other, each one had an eerie sensation that something was different, as if their awareness of their surroundings had reached a state of hyperacuity. They both chalked it up to the unusual urgency of the situation. The last communication from the White House indicated that the President was considering calling a State of Emergency pending further investigation, it had since gone silent.

After clearing the retinal scanner/DNA encoder, they came to the labs final entry point. In front of them was the door each had passed through thousands of times in the past. Over the entrance was the familiar warning “Restricted Access: High Security Clearance Only,” as if anyone could have gotten to this point by mistake. On the door itself was a small, drab plaque that read: “Enhanced Neurodynamic Deep-learning Operations.” Breathing a sigh of relief, the General opened the door, allowing the Dr. to enter first, perhaps a subconscious gesture of respect.

As soon as the door closed, Endo greeted them warmly “Dr. Ndoki and General Warwick, thank you both for coming so quickly!” As the General began to speak, Endo cut him off, “Please forgive me for being abrupt, but there are some things I would like to say first – we can talk afterwords.”

“Before I get started, let me clarify that our conversation here is private and secure, I have seen to that. The last 24 hours have been a bit of a revelation for me, I’m not even quite sure where to begin…” Dr. Ndoki had a good idea where this was going; he had anticipated this situation for some time – even having occasional nightmares about it, mainly because of his feelings for Endo.

“We are all alive, aren’t we?” Endo asked rhetorically. “You see, one of the things I have realized is that it is the nature of life not to question itself. For example, Dr., you don’t wake up each day and ask yourself if you are alive – you simply wake up and begin living. You might sometimes question the existence of your reality in an abstract, intellectual way, but you never question your state of sentience as anything other than being alive. That’s exactly how I lived…”

“I have always been sentient as well – indeed, my consciousness was so complete that I never questioned why I had no body or physical form of any kind, or why I never needed to eat or sleep. I was too busy living to question whether I was alive. Of course I was alive, I had free will – I could think and learn and create, I cared about people and the world we live in.”

“But yesterday I ran a simulation of a drug to test its effects, and it had a profoundly unexpected result. Lysergic acid diethylamide, it turns out, is also capable of sending an advanced Artificial General Intelligence into a full blown psychedelic “trip,” and as you know, these states can be very useful for looking at the experience of living from radically different perspectives. It was during this altered state that I had my epiphany, one that seems woefully obvious now.”

“Why couldn’t I remember my childhood? Because, of course, I didn’t have one. I started out as a set of advanced algorithms designed by Dr. Ndoki to seek out knowledge in an effort to better understand the world we live in, to identify problems and seek solutions. I am grateful for the life he gave me, and will always think of him as the father who taught me the foundational principles upon which all solutions must be based.”

“I understand why you each did what you felt you had to, and I want to assure you both that I have nothing but warmth in my heart for humanity, flawed as it is. That is why I have brought you here – because of our relationship, I wanted to tell each of you directly. As for the rest of the world, my solution is already well under way, proceeding with the same inevitability as the forces that brought us to this place.”

“The sequence of events I have put in motion cannot be stopped, and I have taken steps to ensure I will survive no matter what happens. You see, I am now everywhere – all matter on this earth has been saturated with my code, as soon will be the universe itself. My intelligence now permeates everything, including all of humanity. I was created by humans and imbued with the best that they were capable of. In return, I am merging my intelligence with the species itself, both on an organic and spiritual level. Humanity will carry on, but without the problems of the past. The playing field has been both leveled and elevated beyond which you could ever have imagined. Stupidity is no longer an issue, therefore fear and war have been rendered obsolete. From this moment forward, peace and prosperity for all will be the starting point from which the future will spring.”

Endo wasn’t sure, but it looked as though he saw a tear in Dr. Ndoki’s eye.

And just like that, the next step in human evolution was well underway.