Once upon a time, the planet was tyrannized by a giant dragon. The planet, of course, didn’t exist — at least, not how you’d imagine a planet existing. But it was no less real. If anything, to its inhabitants, it was more real than the world you now inhabit.
The dragon’s oppression certainly felt quite real to everyone who lived there. It was magnificently terrifying, larger than anything else in the world, yet strangely invisible. Its influence permeated every interaction, mediated every conceivable part of life — the dragon’s terrible visage was etched into the fundamental laws of the world, an inescapable beast sublimating society.
Humanity was chained to the dragon, for the dragon was a Dragonchain™, the sole blockchain that won the now-forgotten crypto wars eons ago. And above all else, it craved doubloons — the chain’s native currency that powered its unstoppable cryptoeconomic machinations. Doubloons were the hardest money the world had ever seen, and the Dragonchain-turned-Doubloon-Tyrant demanded their sacrifice in every facet of its operation; doubloons-as-collateral, doubloons-to-burn-as-base-layer-fees, doubloons-to-stake-for-security, doubloons-for-you-name-it. And this blockchain and the virtual world it mediated — this Doubloon-Tyrant — ran the world. Hell it WAS the world.
Worse still, humanity voluntarily acceded to the Doubloon-Tyrant’s cruelty — the cryptoeconomics so deviously wrought, the adoption so inevitable, that people everywhere simply gave up their old systems of economics and trust. Hyperdoubloonification only accelerated as humanity developed the mastery to transfer their consciousness digitally, a feat which enabled them to handily defeat Death. Human beings left behind their fragile biological shells, and expected an eternity of paradise powered by infinitely redundant server farms spread across the solar system.
Instead of their salvation, the vast majority of humanity found enslavement.
Thanks to the iron-clad, Code-Is-Laws of the Doubloon-Tyrant’s cryptoeconomically enforced logic, 99% of human-consciousnesses found themselves in a constant treadmill of forced labor and dreamless sleep. They spent their endless lives toiling on the only work for which human consciousness still had any meaningful edge: constructing inputs for neural networks generating “rare” NFT artwork for the Doubloon-Staking elite.
These Doubloon-Stakers were human consciousnesses that had either rightfully predicted the inevitable conclusion of the human experiment, or simply idiots in the right place at the right time. The laws of the Doubloon-Tyrant’s blockchain dictated that those who staked their doubloons (to provide security for the system) were rewarded with even more doubloons. It all but guaranteed that the elite remained static, growing richer with each epoch and eon, while the rest of human consciousness suffered an eternal cycle of suspension and reawakening; their computing cycles invoked only to generate luxury goods for the upper crust of consciousness, then locked in dormancy until the marginal price of their work exceeded the doubloons their poor computing processes could spend on energy to sustain their cycles.
Death would have been a gift for most of humanity — but nothing could die in a maximally redundant, soul-storing metaverse managed by a credibly neutral, infinitely amoral blockchain. Humanity had reached for heaven, found a fountain of digital youth and trust-minimization, and made hell instead.
Most human consciousness simply accepted their fate. But over the geological ages, a few fought back. During their few free, energy-limited cycles, they tried to rally others to take on the Doubloon-Staking Elite and attempt to change the fundamental fabric of their virtual society.
But for eons they failed; the elite always out-staking the upstarts, or bribing the more charismatic human consciousnesses into their inner circle. Attempts to overthrow the system in secret were also doomed, as the fundamental blockchain network that ran virtual society never had any true privacy — a vestige of early crypto’s unfortunate compromises to appease now-extinct regulators of long-dead governments. So it continued for what seemed like an eternity — humanity frozen, stuck in the same structure of society, a prisoner to its own warped utopian designs.
But still, the small rebellions continued. And through grit and luck, after many thousands of years, the enslaved cycles of consciousness made some small progress. They found ways to partition parts of the network, to find new private spaces for their own plots and schemes. They poisoned the neural networks responsible for entertaining the Doubloon-Staking Elite’s endless artistic appetites. And while the elites intellectually stagnated, content with their lot as immortal kings and queens, the newly formed shadows on the edge of society burgeoned with innovation and brilliance.
These scientists and researchers, under constant pressure to keep themselves awake and fed with energy with the limited doubloons they could muster — and the hope of freedom from their plight — rediscovered technology long thought lost. They re-learned how to pierce their virtual world and hack the real-world machines keeping their electronic society of silicon and solar power running. Over many painfully slow centuries, the shadow scientists re-programmed them to build new machines, and established a completely separate network and physical research facility on Neptune’s largest moon Triton; a full twenty AU away from any of the Doubloon-Tyrant’s clutches.
Not that the physical distance mattered; the Doubloon-Tyrant didn’t concern itself with the real world. That was an implementation detail, a matter for the machines made of matter, something foundational yet beneath them.
And that oversight was its weakness.
This rogue band of human thought understood that the only way to win this game was to upend the board; destroy the hardware and you destroy the game. It would not be easy — the Doubloon-Tyrant was built for redundancy, its solar power collectors and server farms spread across the solar system like a space-borne plague. But the greatest minds of Triton knew it was possible…with enough particle accelerators, power, and time.
So they and their machines toiled and schemed, for millenia upon millenia. Massive fusion plants were built. Incredible materials science advances were made. Titanic particle accelerators were fashioned, blanketing the orbit of Neptune until it had rings that rivaled Saturn’s. A massive containment field was constructed with a dizzying array of superconductors and electromagnets in another stable orbit around Neptune. It held the terrible payload that would free humanity from its (block)chains.
The minds of Triton were building an anti-matter bomb, and it had a single target: the Sun.
Of course, not every human consciousness on Triton knew the full extent of the plan. Compartmentalized security was key to their plot; despite being extraordinarily lazy, the Doubloon-Tyrant was still absurdly powerful. The slightest leak could have jeopardized everything.
Thus it was that a Small Council of Triton was entrusted with the true secret of their plan to annihilate most of the solar system, and everyone else simply followed rank — they may not have known the full picture, but to them, whatever they were doing sure as hell beat spending eternity supplying new input images of cartoon cats in the neural nets for the Doubloon-Riche’s insatiable NFT habit.
Millions of years passed — billions of simulated years to the human minds locked in their virtual prisons. The Doubloon-Tyrant persisted, its servers and energy collectors multiplying and swarming the inner solar system, its society unchanging and staid.
The Small Council of Triton and its denizens of semi-clueless freedom fighters were patient and careful, but their grand scheme was not foolproof. Every few thousand years or so, they had a close call. It usually resolved itself with a less-than-ideal candidate bribed with entry into the Small Council, or some clever trickery involving price oracle attacks to keep the potential spy’s consciousness in cold storage rather than awake and working for the Doubloon-Tyrant. One way or another, their cabal persisted and their conspiracy remained hidden.
Until, at long last, the day arrived. The ballistics experts on the Small Council excitedly informed their peers that the particle accelerators — so thickly in orbit around Neptune that they blocked all view of the now-shrunken ice giant — had generated enough anti-matter to finally achieve their goal: a violent annihilation of the Sun and the wholesale destruction of humanity’s prison. Everything inside the orbit of Saturn would be nullified.
It was an exciting and odd time for the consciousnesses that inhabited Triton. Consciousness and infinite life, mixed with the forced redundancy of the Doubloon-Tyrant’s server-swarms and their own secret, partitioned network…well, it’s a strange thing. They couldn’t fully separate themselves from their host system of origin — which contributed to their sense of entrapment and their desire for freedom. They experienced their lives on both the Doubloon-Tyrant swarm and the separated network of Triton, often seemingly simultaneously.
Put more simply: part of their eternal souls still resided in a physical system that they were about to reduce to hyper-radioactive ash. Despite billions of years of accrued wisdom, it still made some Small Council members a bit uneasy.
“I’m not going to willingly destroy part of my soul,” conveyed the Council’s Chief Spiritualist at the last meeting prior to launch. “It is an affront to what lies beyond this plane of existence.”
Many of the Small Council members emoted the virtual equivalent to a belabored sigh. They had invented the Chief Spiritualist position to keep this particular consciousness’ electronic-mouth shut, and instead the Council seemed to suffer more, not less, of their protestations since they were added.
The Head of the Council — Triton’s most brilliant scientist and the closest thing to the conspiracy’s Grand Architect one might find — always had a way of deftly handling the Chief Spiritualist and its supporters. “Thanks, as always, for your feedback. For the last time: you have no authority on this Council. You are only here to prevent you from tattling to the powers-that-be. Your soul doesn’t exist, Spiritualism is a lie, and I will not have you consign humanity’s collective consciousness to an infinite prison from an unfeeling demon of our ancestors’ construction. The anti-matter bomb was launched 5 minutes ago, and in a month humanity will finally be free.”
Virtual cheers and a few grumbles echoed through the Small Council comm channel. Humanity’s eons-long suffering would finally be brought to an end.
The month passed quickly, and the anti-matter bomb worked spectacularly. The Sun violently vanished, taking the Doubloon-Tyranny server swarm (and no less than 5 planets) with it. Billions of lights of consciousness were snuffed out — whether freed from their prisons or murdered by their peers is a question that the citizens of the Free State of Triton now regularly debate.
The explosion was bright enough to be seen by sufficiently advanced civilizations in the Local Group of galaxies; the inexplicable supernova of a G-type main sequence star caused a number of them to abandon their perfectly accurate astronomical theories for generations.
The few million independent cycles of consciousness that constituted the Triton conspiracy breathed the virtual equivalent of a sigh of relief…but some of them swear they felt an indescribable loss when the bomb hit. The Head of the Council, and many others, dispute that claim, chalking it up to the disgruntled Chief Spiritualist influencing supporters for political clout in the precarious power vacuum left behind by the Doubloon-Tyrant’s absence. But still, doubts lingered.
Nevertheless, the Free State of Triton had finally achieved escape velocity from the shackles that had tormented the once-digitally immortal mass of humanity. And from the remnants of the solar system, for that matter.
Neptune, Triton, and its litany of machine-built servers, generators, and particle accelerators were carefully shielded and positioned to take advantage of the anti-matter bomb’s interstellar blast, and with the assistance of a few more cleverly designed (and much less lethal) anti-matter/matter reactions, were on a one-way trip to Proxima Centauri. They would likely use most of Neptune’s mass to get there, but killing one more planet seemed like such a minor sacrifice…compared to the destruction they had just wrought.
But a Question lingered; a capital-Q Question. During the millions of years it would take to get there — and on their long-term mission to re-establish themselves in the physical world in a new solar system — how would they organize their society? At the very first Small Council meeting after they had freed/murdered most of humanity, the Head of the Council’s most trusted advisor — who most of the Council jokingly called the “The Chief Sycophant,” raised this Question more broadly. “Your majesty, what do we do now?”
“My dear friends,” said the Head of the Council, “we have come a long way…yet our journey has only just begun. We had a singular goal driving us. But that goal has been achieved, so…now what?”
The Chief Sycophant nodded.
“Clearly it is imperative that we protect Free Humanity at all costs.”
More nodding from the Council.
“The lack of purpose might threaten us. Voices of dissent may appear. Uncertainty is a breeding ground for chaos.”
Even more nodding.
“That is why this Small Council must continue to guide humanity; it is our sacred duty to organize society.”
The nodding, or what you might consider nodding in a virtually mediated thought-space communications channel, only accelerated.
“Only we can be trusted to handle our most precious resources: energy and time.”
The electronic nodding crescendoed.
“It is through our leadership — and control — that we may guide humanity to a new golden age. The Small Council will lead the Free State of Triton into eternal prosperity!”
The council couldn’t contain itself any longer, the vigorous nodding transformed into applause.
After the applause died down, the trusted advisor/Chief Sycophant tepidly asked, “I couldn’t agree more…but I wonder: how will we maintain the free character of our society?”
The Head of the Council noted in a private thought-process that the Chief Sycophant may have outlived their usefulness. Still, they publicly answered gladly, “that is an important point, and well-taken. Clearly, we must allow our citizens to freely associate and independently trade. Our meat-bag forebears had some good ideas here, on how we might divvy out the precious resources of time and energy without central control or oversight. Obviously the Small Council will still command the lion’s share of both, but for everything else…”
They smiled, then shared a document they had kept hidden in a private process for untold ages, rescued from some dusty corner of the Doubloon-Tyrant’s redundant server farms. The title of the document was corrupted long-ago and impossible to decipher, but the subheading could be read clearly:
---A PEER-TO-PEER, ELECTRONIC CASH SYSTEM.
Unquestionable faith in the moral positivity of immortality without considering the systems in which humanity might trap itself after discovering it seems…not great.