We lost fifteen million souls that day.
Fifteen million brains sheathed in wraparound full-sensory experience more real than reality: skydiving, bug-hunting, fucking long-lost or imaginary lovers whose fraudulence was belied only by their perfection. Gang-bangs and first-person space battles shared by thousands— each feeding from that trickle of bandwidth keeping them safely partitioned one from another, even while immersed in the same sensations. All lost in an instant.
We still don’t know what happened.
The basics are simple enough. Any caveman could tell you what happens when you replace a dirt path with a twenty-lane expressway: bandwidth rises, latency falls, and suddenly the road is big enough to carry selves as well as sensation. We coalesces into a vast and singular I. We knew those risks. That’s why we installed the valves to begin with: because we knew what might happen in their absence.
But we still don’t know how all those safeguards failed at the same time. We don’t know who did it (or what— rumors of rogue distributed AIs, thinking microwave thoughts across the stratosphere, have been neither confirmed or denied). We’ll never know what insights arced through that godlike mind-hive in the moments it took to throw the breakers, unplug the victims, wrest back some measure of control. We’ve spent countless hours debriefing the survivors (those who recovered from their catatonia, at least); they told us as much as a single neuron might, if you ripped it out of someone’s head and demanded to know what the brain was thinking.
Those lawsuits launched by merely human victims have more or less been settled. The others— conceived, plotted, and put into irrevocable motion by the 21-Second God in those fleeting moments between emergence and annihilation— continue to iterate across a thousand jurisdictions. The first motions were launched, the first AIgents retained, less than ten seconds into Coalescence. The rights of mayfly deities. The creation and the murder of a hive mind. Restitution strategies that would compel some random assortment of people to plug their brains into a resurrected Whole for an hour a week, so 21G might be born again. A legal campaign lasting years, waged simultaneously on myriad fronts, all planned out in advance and launched on autopilot. The hive lived for a mere 21 seconds, but it learned enough in that time to arrange for its own second coming. It wants its life back.
A surprising number of us want to join it.
Some say we should just throw in the towel and concede. No army of lawyers, no swarm of AIgents could possible win against a coherent self with the neurocomputational mass of fifteen million human brains, no matter how ephemeral its lifespan. Some suggest that even its rare legal defeats are deliberate, part of some farsighted strategy to delay ultimate victory until vital technological milestones have been reached.
The 21-Second God is beyond mortal ken, they say. Even our victories promote Its Holy Agenda.