Authors: Zoltan Istvan
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Philosophy, #Politics, #Thriller
The Transhumanist Wager
Copyright (c) 2013
Futurity Imagine Media LLC
Published by Futurity
Imagine Media LLC
This is a work of
fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the
author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, events, business establishments, or locales is entirely
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in
any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without
the prior written permission of the publisher.
Cover Design: Zoltan
Praise for Zoltan
Istvan's writing and work:
on an excellent story—really well written, concise, and elegant."
Geographic News Service
"Istvan is among
the correspondents I value most for his...courage."
Senior Editor, The
New York Times Syndicate
did a great interview for us."
Intrigue! Cannibals! Extreme journalism at far ends of Earth!"
Zoltan Istvan, San Francisco Chronicle
The Three Laws:
1) A transhumanist
must safeguard one's own existence above all else.
2) A transhumanist
must strive to achieve omnipotence as expediently as possible—so long as one's
actions do not conflict with the First Law.
3) A transhumanist
must safeguard value in the universe—so long as one's actions do not conflict
with the First and Second Laws.
sailing log / passage to French Polynesia
Jethro Knights growled.
His life was about to end. A
seventy-foot wall of shifting blue with a million tons of water was veering
down on him. It was the largest wave of the hurricane—what scientists and sea
captains call a rogue. He watched the wave steepen, the wind lines near the lip
combing the sky, painting an arch of dark rainbow hues far above his yacht's
mast. He calculated how much time he had left before the wave consumed him.
Maybe ten seconds, he thought, aghast. His pupils tightened.
Around him, the smoky evening sky
was burying the day. Frosty white spray tore off the water and exploded with
the force of cannoned sandpaper. The 24-year-old sailor felt its sting all over
his naked body. He wore only a yellow safety harness, which was attached to a
rope wrapped around a cleat on the mast. It was a last resort to keep him tied
to his yacht in case the ocean swept him overboard.
On his face was nine months of
Viking-red beard growth. In the soaring wind, it tangled with his salty blond
locks. His tall sun-scorched body swung in the motion, hanging between two taut
muscular arms. Those arms bore vein-ripped hands, which tightened on the
yacht’s twisting wire stanchions. The stanchions stretched through the air like
violin strings, bound from the swaying steel island underneath him to the
towering mast above.
The trough of those mountainous,
cobalt-blue swells repeatedly charged and swooned, swallowing his boat, then
pushing it out, then swallowing it again. Everything was alive, caught in
movement, caught in tension—either growing in power or waiting for demise.
Forty-eight hours before, two
Southern Hemisphere storms, an out-of-season tropical depression and a cold
front’s low-pressure system, collided 500 miles north of New Zealand. They
merged into a superstorm. Last night, the hurricane—named
“wind of death,” in ancient Samoan dialect—graduated from Category 4 to
Category 5. Islanders in the South Pacific, from Tahiti to the Solomon Islands,
were warned to prepare for the century’s worst storm. Winds were forecast to
gust over 200 miles per hour.
Jethro’s thirty-four-foot steel
, was slugging north in the tempest's epicenter. His
main and jib sails were reefed to the size of napkins. For the past twelve
hours he pushed towards the equator, trying to avoid the hurricane's eye. But
the storm grew too large, too quickly. Escape was now impossible. The
1000-mile-wide hurricane caught
in its left rear
quadrant—known to sailors as the “kill-zone” because it blows stronger than the
other quarters; seas were the most chaotic here. Ships of any size and quality
rarely survived winds of that speed in the open ocean.
Until now, Jethro's confidence had
waned little. He believed his boat was all but indestructible. His yacht was
designed with the same ultimate resolution he held for himself in life:
survival at any cost. Three years ago, just before graduating from college, Jethro
together for five months in New York City.
He knew every millimeter of the sailing vessel, every point of stress, every
calculus and geometric equation used to create it. The boat was painstakingly
constructed to withstand the greatest of pressures, in the worst of
circumstances, while maintaining the maximum integrity of its purpose.
Earlier that day, Jethro chose not
to leave the cabin of
. He preferred to huddle inside his bunk,
tied in by a net, trying to read a text on transhuman philosophy. Inside the
boat, cooking pots rudely flung themselves around, books floated in the bilge,
and two galley windows were cracked and leaking badly. His batteries had
shorted themselves out in the wetness, rendering his electronics useless and
the engine impossible to start. Regrettably, Jethro knew he would have to go
topside before nightfall to inspect for cracks in the rigging. Safety checks
simply had to be done. Many of the hits the ocean delivered that day were
staggering. Damage was inevitable.
Complicating his pending task was
the bloody pus oozing from his face, impairing his vision, swelling his skin.
It was the result of an injury sustained two days ago after a massive wave had
broadsided the boat and Jethro raced out to inspect
. A snapped
mast wire swaying in the wind caught the upper left section of his face,
slashing it deeply and chipping the cheekbone. He was lucky not to have lost an
eye. Hundreds of miles from land, with nothing but a drenched short-circuited
radio, there was no one to call, no one to help him. He was alone in the storm,
alone in the world.
He downed two codeine tablets for
pain and tried stitching the wound himself. The rocking of the boat made it
impossible to sew without the risk of jamming the needle into his eye. He
considered supergluing the gash shut, but decided it was easier to fasten a
large safety pin through the sliced skin to hold it together. The trickle of
viscous crimson pus from the exposed flesh was nonstop. The bandages he had put
over it were sliding off, refusing to stick. Going outside now would only rip
the skin farther apart, making it flap like a sail in raging winds.
Despite it all, at 6 P.M., he
forced himself out of bed to do the rigging checks. He stumbled down the
gangway, then held on carefully to the galley sink and ladder as he lifted
himself topside. Before he went out he hoped for a break in the storm, as often
happens at dusk. For the first two minutes, while he cautiously maneuvered
around the deck of the boat, it appeared he might get it. Then the ocean's
horizon revealed where its energy was feeding—fifty meters away a colossal
wave, a seven-story anomaly, was peaking and descending on him. His sloop
looked like an infant's toy.
Jethro growled again, his muscles
tensing. He was not afraid, just furious. Furious with his luck. With his
timing. With his fate. He hated fate. And this moment was exactly why. He
could've been anywhere on the ocean, but he was exactly here: the nadir of a
sailor’s once-in-a-lifetime storm. Damn the dice of the universe, he cursed to
With only seconds left before the
cresting mammoth wave struck, he packed his lungs full of oxygen, taking three
rapid breaths followed by one deep, slow, final inhalation. Then he bit down on
his lips to shut them tight and forced air pressure into his nasal cavity to
keep the water out. Lastly, he wrapped his arms and legs like a pretzel around
the mast’s stanchions, squeezing every muscle he could around everything his
His final thought before the
cascading ocean consumed him was: Is survival possible?
It was impossible to tell what
collided first: the man or the rest of the universe. Everything disappeared
under the exploding seventy-foot wave, under the blistering sea, into the
crashing storm, into a bursting tempest of various color blues. The mast
twitched under impact, then flipped upside down with the boat—the start of a
sailor’s death roll.
Jethro Knights held on, violently
clutching the yacht’s stanchions with his hands and limbs. Around him, the
swarming ocean tugged on his flexing muscles. Underwater and upside down,
gravity vanished. Only the rush of water controlled matter now. The moving
mass, like a thundering tsunami, tried to unfasten Jethro’s grip. His fingers
told his brain they were slipping; his brain told his fingers he was going to
bite them off if they failed. They re-tightened.
His will was like the yacht's
stainless steel stanchions, even stronger. His right to life—to always stay alive—was
a right unto itself. There was the universe and then there was that right. This
was a man whose overriding sense of self screamed to conquer, to bend the
universe around his will. The will was stronger than the storm, the sea, the
waves—than fate. He looked like a man whose arm must be severed before the grip
could abandon its hold. And even then, the hold would still remain, frozen in
place for eternity.
It was almost ninety seconds before
Jethro Knights’ yacht righted itself and the mast burst into the air, thrust by
another large wave slamming the inverted keel back into the ocean. Water raced
off the decks, off the boom, off the jib pole, off the solar panels. A bucket,
a lifebuoy, and radar housing floated nearby, broken off the boat. Ropes, sails,
and bumpers dangled from the hull. The dingy engine, a fuel Jerry can, and a
spare anchor, all of which had been tied to the transom, were gone.
The man, however, remained, sucking
gargantuan heaps of air into his lungs. The tips of his fingers were bleeding
from digging them so hard into the stanchion’s steel. Paint chips were crunched
under his toenails from the boat's deck. The safety pin below his left eye was
ripped out. Blood streaked across his face in the wind.
The sailor looked around him and
knew the danger was gone. His boat could handle the rest of the storm. He
grinned and proceeded quickly with his safety checks. Above him the sky ripened
into a vast darkness.
Even in New York City, still
considered the epicenter of human progress and modern civilization, it was rare
to have such a publicly anticipated moment as the Transhumanism Town Hall
Forum. If the U.S. Government had really wanted to legally address and contain
the issues of the controversial transhuman movement, they would have undergone
more congressional hearings and engaged the Supreme Court on the matter—but the
White House thought a “town hall gathering” would be less abrasive and
trouble-free for the nation. In the worsening global recession and countrywide joblessness,
the last thing the President of the United States and his Administration needed
was more chaos and lower approval ratings.
Days in advance, the town hall
forum was meticulously planned in the backrooms of Washington. Senior White
House officials, Cabinet members, and senators scripted the media-hyped event
to produce both concrete results and a politically safe direction forward. The
U.S. President felt the meeting’s careful preparation and its public success
were a national necessity. Something truly pacifying had to be accomplished now
that pro-religious demonstrations and anti-transhumanism terrorist acts across
the country were increasing in response to the mounting radical science
The conflict over transhumanism was
straightforward. Futurists, technologists, and scientists touted transhuman
fields like cryonics, cloning, artificial intelligence, bionics, stem cell
therapy, robotics, and genetic engineering as their moral and evolutionary
right—and as crucial future drivers of the new economy and an advancing
cultural mindset in America. Opponents said transhumanism and its immortality
mantra were anti-theistic, immoral, not humanitarian, and steeped in
blasphemous egoism. They insisted that significantly altering the human
condition and people’s bodies via science and technology was the devil’s work,
regardless of how lucrative it might be for the economy. Many opponents said
transhumanism was proof the end times was coming. Others labeled it “the
world's most dangerous idea.”
It was no surprise the town hall
venue chosen was Victoria University. Set on the Hudson River in the heart of
New York City—and considered one of the finest institutions of higher learning
in the world—it was the only American science and educational center whose
endowment, upwards of twenty-five billion dollars, was still relatively intact.
Other universities had recently found their endowments more than halved in the
recent stock market crash, when some of the world’s largest banks failed,
European countries defaulted, and China's boom economy faltered.
Thirty blocks away, Dr. Preston
Langmore looked cautiously out his building’s front door, on Canal Street in
Manhattan’s Lower East Side, before walking outside. He was one of the key
“immortality players,” as the media liked to call transhumanists, because their
principal drive was to reach an unending sentience for themselves. Born to a
Mayflower family in Boston, Langmore bore crisp grayish hair and coffee-brown
eyes. He was just under six feet, and always dressed smartly and formally. By
his mid-thirties, he emerged as a well-respected microbiologist. But his deeper
passion lay in applications of science, not its discoveries. Seven years ago,
he exploited his extensive social connections to jump to a more practical
career. He became President of the World Transhumanist Institute, a nonprofit
organization and the largest of its kind—the undisputed leader and go-to
network of the life-extension-and-human-enhancement universe. The
American-headquartered institute wrapped its arms around the entire transhuman
movement, promoting myriad types of research, outreach, and support.
Langmore’s job was a powerful
position that came with unique problems. Death threats against him had recently
tripled, and all the most visible members of the transhuman world were now
receiving such threats. After the Faxfield, Illinois bombing—where four
scientists were killed, including one of his good friends—no one connected to
transhumanism felt safe anymore. But this town hall event was critical;
Langmore fought and lobbied for three years to have something like it occur. He
walked downstairs and hailed a taxi. A yellow car, driven by an Arabic man
wearing sunglasses and a turban, turned sharply and pulled to within a foot of
him. He got in slowly, carefully.