The day they arrived, atmospheric CO2 held steady at 1600 parts per million and the coin traded at #75,236,808.
The coin had surged in the years after the Majority War, when a single miner locked down enough processing power to strip the supply cap from the Core. The Battle for Hard Fork was the bloodiest day in the long history of cryptocurrency. But we won, and the minority nodes now burn endlessly, hashing memes in obscurity while we determined the financial future of the human race.
At least, that’s what I thought.
I awoke in a haze. Still a little drunk from the night before. Sweating in the heat of from the midnight sun. Greenland-3 was the largest mining campus in the Northern Hemisphere and we knew how to keep the evenings lively. Once again, my past self had betrayed my present by signing me up for first shift.
I crawled down the shaft into the main hub and checked my servers. Everything looked fine. A few GPUs were burned but we had plenty to spare. They were older and power hungry, anyway. The new batch would get us twice the hashes per joule.
I grabbed a few GPUs off the rack and climbed down into the bowels of the machine.
It was hot. Hotter than it should be for 15:15 Beijing time. Someone, somewhere, is having a very good day. I crawled through the server racks, scanning for the dead cards. They were clustered, in the back corner, on the same control board. Must’ve been a local surge.
As I swapped out the old cards, I felt someone behind me. I turned, expecting one of the techs from last shift on their way out.
The thing loomed over me, massive and amorphous. Its shape blurred into the hardware. There were no eyes, but I felt like I was being stared at by a thousand faces. The immense mass bore no distinct features. It was large and it was aware of me.
I was trapped. Backed into a corner. It moved towards me (or was it always there?). And then, part of it was in contact with me. I felt a dull electric hum moving through my body. My arm began to burn. I tried to pull back, but it was everywhere. I don’t know if I was in it or it had me surrounded or if I was already dead.
And then, it spoke.
Hotter. I felt the word. There was no sound. Hotter, it repeated.
“Hotter?” I squeak, finding a pit where my voice should be.
I felt a great calm wash over me, a sense of surrender. A feeling that nothing I could do would matter, ever again. Was it coming from this thing? Was it in my brain? Whatever questions I had were washed out of me.
It lifted the box of GPUs from my hands and began inserting them into the array. But it did it wrong. At each node it bypassed the governors, pushing each control board beyond its limit. They sputtered and hummed. I could feel the thermal shunts scream for air. But they didn’t fail. The thing had overclocked them to a precision I had never seen.
I pulled out my phone to check the app and sure enough the coins were rolling in faster than I had ever seen. This thing was making me rich. Making all of us rich.
In less than an hour, coin mining output had tripled, across the world. It wasn’t just our little campus, high in the Arctic. The optimization was everywhere.
“You’re doing this everywhere?” With our work done, I had found my voice again. Again, the thing came in contact with me and I saw the same scene play out across a thousand different campuses. Each interaction was the same. One tech, one indescribable mass, tuning the world’s financial engines to perfection.
Still too cold. Still too thin. Make it hotter.
“Make what hotter?” I asked. Why would I do that?
I wasn’t in my body, anymore. The mass had lifted me out of the world. I floated above it, looking down. Our whole planet, green and blue and brown hung below me. Was I hallucinating? Somehow, I knew that I was not.
I saw the ring fire burning across the Americas. I saw the endless fleet stretch across the Atlantic. I saw the crater that remained after the Final Brexit. And I saw the ships surrounding what was left of our planet. As enormous and as shapeless as my captor. And I knew that they had come to take the world for themselves.
Still too cold. Make it hotter. Make it ours.
I could speak. I don’t know how.
It gestured out into the void and we were floating above another world. Even though I had my ticket to Mars, I didn’t really think much about space. I was decades away from paying off my reservation. The sky was as alien to me as this thing.
This new world didn’t mean anything to me, and yet I knew it was Venus.
“This is your home?”
We were on the surface. A surface made of fire and poison. I could feel the crushing weight, the acid air, the burning skies, but within the mass, I was safe.
All worlds are our worlds.
“Is this an invasion?” The lingering sense of absolute peace was slowly fading. I shuddered, imagining what it would do now that it didn’t need me compliant.
No invasion. Invitation. You make it hotter. You give it to us.
I considered protesting, making some proud speech like in the old movies, insisting that the Earth would never surrender. Could never surrender. But I already had.
On the surface of an alien world, my smartphone dinged. It was the app, reporting that my ticket to Mars was approved. I had accrued more coin in just one day than I had seen in my entire life. On Mars, I would be truly rich.
We want worlds. You want wealth. We gave you wealth. You give us worlds.
“What do you mean ‘worlds’?”
Mars next. So cold. So much wealth to mine to make it hotter. You will make it hotter.
We had been conquered and they never fired a shot. Their weapon was so subtle that we never realized we had built, maintained, primed, and fired it. Bit by bit, hash by hash, we had created the most powerful terraformer in the solar system. Every day we got richer, and every day we made the world a little less like ours and a little more like theirs.
We were back in the Pit. I gasped in the heat, no longer under the protective shroud of this monstrous thing. My machines screamed, but they kept hashing coins.
“I can’t. I won’t. I’ll shut down the servers. I’ll break the hash. I’ll refuse to work.” I knew, as I said it, that I would do none of those things. That I would take my shuttle to Mars, use my new wealth to finance a mining campus, and pay the next sucker to swap GPUs as they burned out in the heat of the ever-warming pit. Rebellion is fleeting and Mars would warm for a thousand years before it was ready for them.
And I would be rich. Rich on Mars.
“You could let me go. Not everyone, just me. I could disappear into an orbital estate. I’d never tell.”
No. Need you. All of you. Still too cold.
“I could pay you. I’ll give you everything I have. Just let me walk away.”
I’m not sure that I’ve done justice to the Venusian language. It is savage and it is beautiful. It isn’t heard, it’s experienced. They don’t speak so much as they emanate a deep, low, rumble from the core of their mass. You feel the worlds vibrate through the whole of you. To speak with a Venusian for any length of time is deeply unsettling, and yet you crave it.
Sorry, they said with what felt to all the worlds like a chuckle, we don’t accept Bitcoin.
Southern Fried Science is free and ad-free. We use Amazon Affiliate links when we discuss consumer products, which provides us with a small kickback if you purchase through those links. If you enjoy Southern Fried Science, consider contributing to Andrew Thaler’s Patreon campaign to help keep the servers humming as well as supporting the development of open-source oceanographic equipment.