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The NanoTech Network

Science-Fiction Novel by Alexander Lazarevich


Copyright by Alexander Lazarevich, 1997, 1998.
This text is hereby made available for non-commercial use only. You may copy this text and freely distribute it, provided that: 1) no money is charged or received in the process by neither you nor any third party; 2) no alterations are made to the text.
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The intent of this notice is to anticipate possible accusations against me that I am trying to create a distorted notion about historical characters, both still alive and dead, by ascribing to them the words they never actually said. I hereby state that the text following after this notice is a product of my imagination. The words that I put into the mouths of historical characters of the past or the present only represent my idea of what these characters might have said, had they found themselves in the imaginary situation described in the following text. To the best of my knowledge they never actually said these words.

As far as I know, the events described in this text did not take place in reality. However, the latter statement should not be construed to mean that the events described hereinafter could not have happen in reality, or that they will never occur in the future.

The author



Part One: Cyborg-Bacteria

1.1. Dissemination. May 15, 1997, 11:35 AM, Moscow subway

Around noon, as usual, the subway car was full of foreign tourists. A group of American high-school students, maps of Moscow subway in their hands, were unsuccessfully trying to pronounce the Russian names of the stations written on the map in English transcription. Closer to the door there stood an elderly Japanese couple, video cameras and other high-tech gadgets hanging from their necks.

A middle-aged man, who looked like a Russian, and who did not at all look like he was suffering from a cold, suddenly sneezed, bespattering the Americans with his saliva. “Excuse me” said he in English with a strong Russian accent, and started getting through to the door. At the door he sneezed once again, this time bespattering the Japanese. Apparently he did not know any Japanese, so he just excused himself in Russian. The train arrived at the station, he got off, and was forever lost in the crowd…

The next day, 2:50 PM, Moscow International Airport “Sheremetievo”

An elderly Japanese couple, who dropped by a duty-free souvenir shop to buy a Russian nested doll before leaving Moscow, approached the salesgirl to pay for the souvenir. When proffering his credit card to the salesgirl, the Japanese man unexpectedly, even for himself, sneezed. So unexpectedly, in fact, that he did not even have time to cover his mouth with his hand. Extremely embarrassed, he started jabbering rapidly in his own tongue, hurriedly bowing. The salesgirl impatiently waved her hand, meaning “That’s OK”…

The Japanese couple flew out to their Japan, without even suspecting what other souvenir, besides the nested doll, they were carrying from Moscow…

Same place, an hour later.

The salesgirl in the duty-free shop suddenly sneezed. She had not felt any symptoms of an incipient cold, not a hint of a headache. She just had suddenly wanted to sneeze, without any apparent reason. “Probably some kind of allergy” - thought she, while aloud she apologized to an Arab-looking customer, whom she seemed to had bespattered. After the Arab came a Latin-American, then came an African, and after the African came a Chinese. All the world was coming. Everybody was going home, to hundreds of countries on all the continents. Each of them was to take along some invisible souvenirs and to become the sources of dissemination in their own respective countries…

1.2. Detection June 25, 1997. Center for Communicable Decease Control, Atlanta, USA

- “It’s hard to say now who was the first to spot them. It might have been that schoolgirl during a biology class who was looking through a microscope and suddenly asked her teacher: what’s this? And the teacher could not answer. In appearance they are not very different from conventional bacteria, but at high magnification, or rather, at a relatively high magnification, the highest magnification a conventional school microscope is capable of, if you look very carefully you could see some particles inside that have regular geometric shapes.”

The deputy director for science of the center for communicable disease control put the first of the photographs on the director's desk. At first glance there was nothing extraordinary about them. The usual assortment of all kinds of bacteria that one can see wherever one points one's microscope. Some of the bacteria were marked with a felt pen circles, and inside those one could indeed see some rectangles and geometrically perfect spheres that were interconnected by some strings and pipes.

-"The teacher contacted us. At almost the same time we were also contacted by some lab assistants who had been doing some routine medical analyses and also noticed something unusual. It is worth noting here that they all live in different states, hundreds of miles from each other. They have mailed us some samples. But I'm afraid, they were too late."

-"How do you mean, too late?" The anxiety in the director's voice increased.

The deputy director for science took one more photograph out of his folder, and hesitated for a moment, as if not daring to put it on the director's desk. After a momentary pause he said:

-"This photograph was taken this morning. It has nothing to do with the samples that we received. We just took some water out of tap, out of the city water works, and took a picture through a microscope."

He went silent and put the picture on the desk. The director gingerly took the picture in his hands. He had braced himself for the worst. But what he saw was a shock to him. Almost a third of all the bacteria in the picture had been marked with a felt pen by somebody's slightly shaking hand.

-"Do you mean to say "-said director in a constrained voice-"that they are already... everywhere?"

-"They are anywhere you look. If you washed your face and brushed your teeth this morning, I bet your have millions of them in your bloodstream by now. Just as I have in mine as well."

-"Is this dangerous?"

-" We don't now. We have gone through all the epidemiology reports for the last week from all over the country. There don’t seem to be any new unknown diseases, no unusual symptoms. So if we assume it to be an agent for some exotic disease, its incubation period is apparently longer than one week. The only thing it seems to be doing now is just breeding like hell. Although, some data suggest that it may cause sudden fits of sneezing - that seems to be its method of propagation. But no other symptoms. There is, however, one strange fact that transpires from these reports…” - the deputy director for science hesitated for a moment.

-“I’m listening. Go ahead.” -said the Director.

- “It’s unlikely that it has anything to do with these… “things”. Most likely it’s just a coincidence. The mortality rate throughout the population went down. Earlier in the week it dropped just a little, within the normal statistical fluctuation range, but by the end of the week its value plunged far beyond usual statistical variations and continues to go down. There are lots of reports about terminal cancer patients whose condition unexpectedly improved during this week. There was also a steep decline in the number of deaths related to heart attacks and strokes.”

-“A bacteria that does not cause diseases but rather cures them - that’s something new. We’ve got to stop this epidemic before all of us medical folks are out of our jobs” - nervously joked the director.

The deputy director did not even smile at the joke: “The most terrible thing is - and I’ve been saving the worst news for the end - it is that this “thing” just is not a bacteria at all. Or, rather, not quite a bacteria. We have managed to photograph it through an electron microscope. Have a look at this.”

What was shown in the picture looked a little bit like a sparse forest made up of industrial robots in place of trees, photographed from a helicopter. Mechanical manipulator arms, a little cumbersome in appearance, looking as if they were made of thick glass, stuck out here and there from the surface of a great pain.

-“This is a close-up of one of the areas on the surface of this so-called “bacteria”. Just to give you an idea of the scale of this picture, let me point out that the grapple on this manipulator arm is merely several tens of atoms of carbon thick.”

-“But this means that… that…” - the director was momentarily at a loss for words - “This means that this thing is artificial!”

- “In a certain sense it is. The first one was indeed created by somebody, but after that they multiplied by themselves, by making copies of their own selves. They are half bacteria, half self-replicating engineering systems. We nicknamed them cyborg-bacteria. Look at the next picture. This is what they have inside. This here is an ordinary cell nucleus, although the number of chromosomes in it is somewhat higher than one would normally expect to find in a bacteria. But all around the nucleus…”

All around the nucleus, there were strange structures floating in the cell’s cytoplasm, that bore a remote resemblance to some kind of space stations interconnected by a maze of tubing.”

-“But who created them?” - asked the director.

-“No idea. Or, rather, there are several options. The first thing that comes to mind when looking at these photographs is an extraterrestrial invasion. But this option seems to be so implausible that one’s mind involuntarily searches for a different explanation. For example, this could be a new type of weapons - a combination of biological weapons with the latest in nanotechnology, a sort of microscopic time bomb that will come into action as soon as they have sufficiently multiplied. Of course, I use the word “bomb” figuratively. For example, they might suddenly start to produce a toxin. It may well be that we are under an attack launched by a hostile nation, or by terrorists. And there is also the most reassuring option - this thing just inadvertently escaped from some secret lab and it is not meant to be activated.”

“In any case, one thing is clear: we’ve got to keep all this in strictest secrecy.” - said director - “If it turns out that this thing is indeed of an extraterrestrial origin, just imagine the panic that will break out when people learn that they have millions of alien-made robots circulating in their blood streams! But if it’s just a leak from some top-secret lab, once again, the government is not going to pat us on the back for exposing a closely-kept military secret. You’ve got to think up some kind of official hog-wash to feed to that schoolteacher and all the others. In the mean time, I’ll try to contact the military and the CIA.”

1.3. Investigation. July 3, 1997. Nanotechnology lab at MIT, Mass, USA.

- “You know, Professor” - said the plain-clothes man - “what baffles me most is that in your lab, where you have all these microscopes that are, according to my sources, the best in the world, nobody ever noticed the cyborg-bacteria until you were specially notified of their existence.”

-“Nothing baffling, really. If you walk around our facility, you’ll see that we have quite a system here for protecting us against any extraneous contaminants. We are working here on objects that are millionths of a millimeter in size, that is, nanometers, which is comparable to the size of individual atoms. A bacteria, about ten thousand times larger then this and containing billions of atoms is, from our standpoint, a whole mountain that can wreck all our work. It could never, in principle, enter our microscopes. Even the first, the coarsest air filters would screen it out. But when a week ago you told us about them, and asked us to investigate, we let them under our microscopes. What we saw there, nearly cost some of our people their sanity.

We have been working in the field of nanotechnology for the last fifteen years, and we have always considered ourselves the leaders in the field. We did make some things we thought we could be proud of. We were, or we thought we were, the first to produce a few gears where each tooth consisted of only 20 atoms. We have even built a fully functional electric motor less than one micron in size. But what we saw inside the cyborg-bacteria was a real shock to us. This was an entirely different level of technology. Whoever it was who made them, these guys are ahead of us by twenty to twenty five years.”

-“Are you sure that it is only twenty and not a thousand or a million?” - asked the man in plain clothes.

Professor gave him a wry smile: “If you are still thinking in terms of extra-terrestrials, forget it. This thing is of an earthly origin. A significant portion of genes in the nucleus of the cyborg-bacteria are borrowed from common bacteria.”

-“So, you believe that you yourself could make something similar in about twenty years time?”

-“Even earlier than that, if only I had unlimited funding. It is hard to imagine the amount of man-hours of highly-skilled, highly-paid labor invested in the design of this cyborg and the manufacturing of the first model. This work must have involved the efforts of thousands of first-class engineers and scientists. It is incredibly expensive. The costs must be comparable to the costs of Manhattan Project or Apollo Project.”

-“I want to make sure that I got you right: you say that most of the expenses in this business are caused by the labor costs, not the cost of hardware? Are you sure? This could be very important for figuring out who did it - there are some countries in the world where the labor of highly-skilled scientists comes very cheap.”

-“Well, of course the equipment is also expensive. But you need it only in the initial phase, the one that we, by the way, are not through yet. This first phase consists in the development of the first self-replicating micro-robot capable of manipulating individual atoms. As soon as you have it built, this very robot becomes you primary tool. You’ll need virtually no other equipment after that. The only other piece of equipment you’ll still have to use will be your own brains, because you’ll have to know precisely what atom you want moved and where you want it placed. You enter into an entirely new technological ballgame. It’s a technological breakthrough that is beyond comparison to anything in the previous history of mankind. The creation of the first microrobot is the barrier beyond which lies a wonderland. He who has passed this barrier comes into possession of seemingly magic powers that defy all imagination. For example, he can create absolutely new genes by directly manipulating the sequence of amino acids - something which is still impossible for the present-day genetic engineering that has to be content with mere cutting and pasting of fragments of the already existing genes, and what is worse, genes cut only at certain specific locations, rather than at locations chosen at will. Well, coming back to where we started, it looks like somebody on our planet Earth has already passed that barrier, and does things which are unthinkable from the standpoint of conventional technologies.

You asked me the question of whether it was twenty years or one million. To give you a perfectly correct answer I should say that time estimates like this are only applicable to a steady growth phase in the evolution of a technology. They are absolutely irrelevant in the situation of a technological breakthrough of this scale. In a situation like we have here, twenty years are as good as one million. They are past the barrier, while we are still not, they are omnipotent, while we are powerless. Do you know what the mechanical structures inside the cyborg-bacteria are made of? Of diamond! Of course, this could be expected, since the only construction material available to them is carbon. But the very fact that they take carbon dioxide molecules out of the atmosphere, extract from them atoms of carbon that they then put together into a diamond lattice at ambient temperature and pressure, seems to be a miracle from the standpoint of present-day technologies requiring crushing pressures and searing temperatures to create a diamond.”

-“They put diamonds together atom by atom?”

- “Not quite so. Although they do seem to be capable of doing this as well, this would still be a very slow process, while they multiply very fast and need a lot of construction material. The solution their creators have found is absolutely amazing - they put together a gene for producing an enzyme that promotes the assembly of carbon atoms into a diamond lattice. And I suspect that this gene is not the only artificial gene inside the cellular nucleus of the cyborg-bacteria. For all we know, their genes may contain the complete information on the design of both the biological part and the “engineering” part of the cyborg-bacteria. Although we cannot be certain about this yet. The matter is, the engineering part of the cyborg-bacteria includes not only purely mechanical end effectors. In our latest scanning electronic microscope photographs, one can see a structure inside the cell which we provisionally named the “on-board computer”. Have a look at this. See this field in the picture, dotted with a multitude of tiny light and dark specks, located seemingly at random? Each speck is just a few atoms in size. And here you can see a picture of the same field taken just a few seconds later. As you can see, the pattern of the specks in the upper right corner remained the same. We provisionally called this area “ROM”, which stands for the “Read-Only Memory”. But the partern of specks in that other area over there has changed beyond recognition. That is why we provisionally named it “random access memory”. Although, for all we know, this might actually be a microprocessor. Or what I would rather call a “nanoprocessor”.

-“And what about these straight lines going all the way across the field?”

-“Our provisional nomenclature for them is “wiring”. These seem to be leads for data input and output.”

-“Wires? Made of metal?”

-“No metals here. Everything made of carbon. Carbon is the most wonderful of all the chemical elements in the periodic table. Put the carbon atoms together in one way - and what you get is a graphite, a soft, electrically conductive material. But re-arrange the atoms in the crystal lattice just a little bit - and you end up with the hardest material in the world, and the best electrical insulator as well. And these are just the two extremes of the whole range of properties. In between, you can find materials with virtually any desired properties, the only thing you need to know is the pattern of the carbon atoms. And here we are talking about an element that can be “mined” directly from the ambient air, that is exactly what all the plant life on Earth does every day - mining carbon from air. This element is the basis for all the living things on Earth, and this explains the ease with which the creators of the cyborg-bacteria were able to combine seemingly incompatible things: live creatures with inanimate matter, organisms with mechanisms. They joined them so seamlessly that we cannot even figure out how they breed: whether they do it by conventional biological cell fission (this would mean that all the information about the cyborg’s mechanical part is stored in the genes), or whether the mechanical part of the daughter cell still has to be completed using mechanical manipulator arms of the mother cell. We have not yet observed the latter, while the former is too hard to believe in.”

The plain-clothes man looked at his watch: “Professor, what you are telling me is terribly fascinating, I would even say, fascinatingly terrible, but I’ve got to catch a plane to Washington - tomorrow morning the President calls a secret meeting to discuss this issue, and I’ve still got to put together an executive summary for that meeting. So, could you please summarize what you have been able to learn during the last two days. We have heard some frightening rumors about the cyborg-bacteria’s power source, and about their ability to communicate with each other. The latter is of special concern to the President. The existence of an unknown global communications network, which is independent of the Internet, and which carries no one knows what kind of data, is a serious potential threat to the United States national security. Do you have anything to say about this?”

- “First a few words about their power supply. Initially we assumed that they extract their energy from organic substances which they take from their environment. Simply speaking, we believed that when they swim in the water they eat, for example, green algae, and when they enter animal or human circulatory system, they feed on nutrients available in the blood. However, even the first rough estimates showed that if they had used as their power source the organic matter from the environment, they would not have been able to breed as fast as is actually the case. We have made an experiment: we put one cyborg-bacteria in a glass of germ-free chemically pure water, containing no organics, and then put the glass into a hermetically sealed box in complete darkness to rule out any possibility of photosynthesis. In one hour’s time the water in the glass was teeming with cyborg-bacteria, while the level of helium in the air inside the box had risen, by a very small amount, at the sensitivity threshold of our instruments, but it did rise, all right. You can tell the President we are almost certain that the source of power used by the cyborg-bacteria is the cold-fusion reaction of hydrogen atoms. Since they extract hydrogen directly from the water they swim in, they have a virtually unlimited power source at their disposal.

We still do not know any details of this process, but we think that there must be some “power plant” inside cyborg-bacteria, which breaks up water into oxygen and hydrogen, then picks up individual hydrogen atoms and brings them into a certain relative position required to trigger off their fusion into atoms of helium. The energy released in the process is then apparently used to build up the organic molecules necessary for the normal operation of the organic part of the cell, to generate electric power for the cyborg’s mechanisms, or maybe that energy is directly transmitted to the mechanisms in the form of mechanical work without intermediate conversion to electrical power - we still don’t know the details. Of the greatest interest here is the cold fusion reaction itself. In the cold fusion, the most important thing is the proper relative positioning of the atoms. If we manage to trace this process, we’ll eventually be able to reproduce it, and our country would get a new environmentally clean power source. But we need additional funds for this research. I would like you to draw the President’s attention to this.”

-“Sure I will,” - nodded the man in plain clothes - “but at the moment the President is mostly concerned about the second issue I mentioned.”

-“I was just getting to that. We have indeed managed to establish that cyborg-bacteria are capable of communicating with each other by sending and receiving narrow-beam infrared pulses.”

-“You mean they communicate with each other using the same infrared rays as an ordinary TV remote control?”

- “Not quite so. The frequency range they use lies a little bit lower than the one used in the IR remote controls. The cyborg-bacteria’s range is closer to microwave radiation. But the principal differences lie, firstly, in modulation. The data throughput of an ordinary remote control is negligibly low because is uses a very primitive method of carrier-wave modulation. But in fact, the electromagnetic waves of such high frequency are capable of carrying huge amounts of data, and as far as we could see, the cyborg-bacterias use this capability to the fullest extent possible. We are talking here about tens of megabytes, or maybe even gigabytes per second. Secondly, they have a very narrow beam radiation pattern. Although individual bacteria also use omnidirectional radiation to communicate with their closest neighbors at the distances of up to a few millimeters, the strength of such signal is very low and it cannot be used for communications at a long range of, say, tens of meters. For long-range communications, groups of neighboring bacteria cooperate with each other to create, for the time of a long-range communications session, a sort of phased antenna array with a pencil-beam radiation pattern. In other words they radiate in a very narrow beam, where the signal strength decreases with the distance ever so slightly. In this way one group of cyborg-bacteria may communicate with another at distances of up to hundreds of feet.”

- “But a hundred feet is not very much.”

- “It is more than enough.”

- “Enough for what?”

- “Enough for any cyborg-bacteria located at any point on Earth to be able to communicate with any other cyborg-bacteria located at any other point on the globe, even at a distance of tens of thousands of miles. You’ve got to understand that by now the cyborg-bacteria have spread all over the Earth. Wherever you might happen to be, with a possible exception of a desert, you will always be able to find within a hundred feet range from you either some living thing, or a pond, or at least a puddle. If those cyborg-bacteria that live inside you, wanted for some reason to communicate with their cousins in Europe, the only thing they would need to do would be to call the cyborg-bacteria that live inside that water faucet over there in this room. Those would pass on their message to other bacteria living further down along the water-pipe, those other ones would pass the message to still other ones, and so on, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. And the ocean is teeming with these bacteria, so from there on the message would be traveling very fast.”

- “Are you certain that such things are actually happening?”

- “Of course, this is just a speculation, but a very plausible one. Judge for yourself: the capacity of random access memory per one cyborg-bacteria is estimated at hundreds of megabytes. A glass of water contains at least several hundred thousand cyborg-bacteria, which means that cyborg-bacteria in just one glass of water can hold in their memories the whole Library of Congress. And their memories do hold something, and it seems that a considerable portion of those memories differ from one bacteria to another. So, where do all these data in their memories come from? The only possible answer at the moment is that all the cyborg-bacteria are joined together in a single global data network with a continuous data traffic. To verify this hypothesis we staged the following experiment: a single cyborg-bacteria was left alone to multiply in a container shielded from infrared and microwave radiation. The container housed an electron microscope that was taking pictures of the newly formed bacteria. In this case, where we cut all the external data links, the contents of the random access memory inside all the new cyborg-bacteria turned out to be the same. At least the pattern of light and dark specks in all of these pictures is the same.”

The man in plain clothes glanced at his notepad: “Well, to make sure I understood everything that you’ve just told me, let me summarize. So. At this very moment, all over the world there have spread microscopic self-replicating devices (so-called cyborg-bacterria), capable of living in the water and in the human and animal blood streams. They are an advanced product of nanotechnology and genetic engineering. Their origin: unknown, presumably - a country with cheap but highly-skilled workforce. Their purpose: unknown. Material: carbon in all its forms -diamond, graphite, fullerins. The source of material: carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Power source: cold nuclear fusion. Fuel: hydrogen from water. They exchange data using narrow-beam electromagnetic radiation in a range between microwave and infrared radiation. The content of the data being exchanged is…” - the man in plain clothes shot an inquiring look at the Professor.

- “Unknown.” - responded the latter. And after a short silence, added: “You left out one more item - micro-robotic arms on the cyborg-bacteria outer surface. We have not yet seen them in action, but there must be a reason for their existence. And this may hold the key to the secret of cyborg-bacteria. For now they are just multiplying and waiting for something. But sooner or later a time will come when a signal passes throughout this whole global network, a signal for them to do some job. What kind of job - we don’t know, who will issue the signal - we don’t know either. But something of this kind must eventually happen, otherwise, what we see now just doesn’t make any sense at all.”

1.4. The President holds council. July 4, 1997. Electromagnetically shielded room for secret meetings, White House, Washington D.C.

The President: ”Gentlemen, I’m perfectly aware that on holiday everybody would rather be at home, but today the United States are facing a crisis of such proportions that it dwarfs into insignificance even the Carribean missiles crisis of 1992. Over the last few days we have been observing an absolutely incomprehensible phenomenon, which potentially poses a tremendous threat to the national security of the United States. My understanding is that CIA Director has something to say on the subject.”

CIA Director: “Central Intelligence Agency’s experts have done a study reviewing all kinds of hypotheses about the cyborg-bacteria’s origins and their possible impact on the US national security. What I’m going to give you now is a summary of their report.

First, a few words about the possible origins. Our experts have reviewed all the four regions in the world, that had sufficient scientific and industrial potential for developing a nanotechnological system of this kind: Western Europe, Japan, China, and the former Soviet Union. Western Europe and Japan were dismissed by our experts almost immediately: the costs and manpower required for the development of such system are so great, that they are virtually impossible to hide in a democracy. If they had tried to conduct such work in secret from us, it would have become known to our intelligence before long. Then our experts considered China, but in the end they had to dismiss this possibility as well, because under the current conditions it would be difficult to imagine a political rationale for such an action. The current Chinese leadership builds its relations with the West on a pragmatic basis. Provoking the West by putting it under a threat is not consistent with the current Chinese interests. So we are left with the only option: the former Soviet Union.”

- “You mean, it was done by Russia?” - exclaimed the President.

- “Russia?” - the CIA director made a wry face - “Who said anything about Russia? Russia is a country with collapsed economy, dying science, and disintegrating educational system. Russia is in principle incapable of doing anything in the field of high technologies. But the former Soviet Union was something absolutely different. In that country anything was possible.

In the Soviet Union of the 1970-ies, science was officially proclaimed to be “a productive force of the society”. The Kremlin rulers regarded science as a possible solution to all their problems and were pouring into it inordinate amounts of money received from oil sales. During that period, fundamental research in the USSR enjoyed better funding than anywhere else in the world at any time in history. They built up a tremendous scientific infrastructure, something beyond any comparison - thousands of research institutions, millions of scientists, most of them working under strictest security.

The Soviet Union have never published any scientific papers on the subject of nanotechnology. Of course, to explain this fact one could assume that they never did any research on that subject at all. It could be assumed, but it is very hard to believe. A country that played the role of a superpower just could not afford to ignore nanotechnological research, since its military ramifications are too important. Our agency has some circumstantial evidence that in 1983 a western company, that was suspected of acting as a front for KGB, smuggled out of Japan a consignment of equipment banned from export to socialist countries. This equipment included scanning tunneling microscopes. I think I should explain here that a scanning tunneling microscope is an instrument which not only allows to observe individual atoms, but also allows to manipulate individual atoms, putting them together into almost any desired configuration. This is the principal tool used for building up nanotechnological devices. So we are almost sure that the Soviets did work on nanotechnology, and that Russia has inherited from the Soviet Union some fairly advanced projects.”

- “Is this supposed to means that we do indeed deal here with a hostile act of the Russian government?” - asked the President.

- “Hostile acts towards us are just as bad for the best interests of the Russian government as for the best interests of any other country. What we believe we have to deal with here is an act committed without the knowledge of the Russian government. In simple terms this means that we are dealing with conspirators or terrorists. With the sort of chaos reigning in today’s Russia, it is no problem to sneak materials out of a secret lab. That could be done by anyone. And this is especially true of a nanotechnological lab working on products that can hardly be seen under a microscope.

After the dissolution of USSR in 1991, the power in Russia was seized by a government that absolutely does not care about scientific research. The only thing they want is to sell raw materials to the West and live in the same way as, say, Arabian sheiks live on their petrodollars. We encourage this, since we see here a double advantage to us: on the one hand, our economy gets access to a new source of raw materials and a new market for our products, and on the other hand, in a few year’s time, when Russia completely loses its intellectual potential, it will never again be able to regain its power and become a dangerous military adversary to us, and we will be able to live free of the nuclear war fears. But there is always a fly in the ointment. In this case it’s the problem of what we are supposed to do with this huge Soviet scientific infrastructure, with all those millions of scientists, for whom there is no use under the new policy. The money that used to be spent on their salaries nowadays is spent on buying Mercedes-Benz cars for the newly rich New Russians. The salaries in the research institutions are delayed for months, but still these people don’t quit their jobs - many of the scientists consider it beneath their dignity to hawk matches in the streets. This is a whole multimillion army of hungry, angry and highly skilled specialists. One could expect anything from them.”

- “Like selling nuclear secrets to Iraq” - said President.

- “Or stealing cyborg-bacteria from a secret military lab and spreading them all over the world” - added CIA Director.

- “What kind of threat could these cyborg-bacteria pose to us?” - asked the President.

- “I was just getting to the section of the report that analyzes potential threats to our security. Once, in the past, we did a feasibility study on the use of nanotechnological systems for intelligence and sabotage purposes. First, a few words about sabotage. Theoretically speaking, the cyborg-bacteria that already live inside everyone of us, can kill any one of us at any moment they might choose. And they could do it in thousands of ways.”

- “Can they manufacture poisons?” - asked the President.

- “Sure they can, but that’s not the best way - poisons are easily detectable during post-mortem. The perfect way would be to induce a heart or asthma attack - in that case everything would have appeared as death from natural causes. To succeed in this, the cyborg-bacteria should be capable of finding those nervous fibers in the body that control the heart beat or the diaphragm muscles, hooking up to these fibers and feeding into these fibers electrical pulses of very low voltage, which cannot do any harm by themselves, but these would be control pulses that commanding the heart or the lungs to stop working. And the “on-board computer” of each of those bacteria we have to deal with now, appears to be powerful enough to accomplish such a task.

Some of our experts even think it to be too powerful for such a task. They suspect that cyborg-bacteria are designed not for sabotage, but for intelligence-gathering activities. A tremendous traffic of data is being continuously exchanged between these bacteria, but we still don’t know what kind of data this is. We can only make guesses. For example, we could assume that the cyborg-bacteria that live (this is only an example) inside you, Mister President, have tapped into the nerve fiber that goes from your ear to your brain. All the sounds that you hear are converted by your ear into a sequence of nerve pulses that are further sent into the brain. The bacteria that have tapped into your nerve fiber in the same way as an eavesdropping device might tap into a phone line, intercept these pulses, convert them into infrared radiation that is transmitted to another group of bacteria located a few dozen feet from you, those other bacteria pass it on to yet another group, and so on. Almost immediately, the information about what is being spoken in this room arrives in Moscow.”

- “The chief of my security service has assured my that the walls of this special conference room won’t let any radiation out.” - said the President.

- “The total data storage capacity of all the cyborg-bacteria that currently live in your body is such that they could easily store several hours of conversation and transmit it as soon as you leave this room. Or I leave this room. Or any of those present here. We have very good reasons to believe that by this very moment the cyborg-bacteria already inhabit every human being on Earth.”

- “And as soon as these pulses arrive in Moscow they will be decoded on a computer and the sound will be restored?”

- “That wouldn’t be the most efficient method. There is a much simpler way to do this. Since these bacteria already live inside everyone on Earth anyway, we could safely assume that they also live inside those who might be eavesdropping on us in Moscow. We could also assume that one of the cyborg-bacteria has hooked up to his auditory nerve in the same way as it did to yours, the only difference being that your bacteria is recording electrical pulses coming from your ear, while his bacteria is reproducing these pulses, inducing them in his auditory nerve. From the standpoint of his brain these pulses are indistinguishable from the ones coming from his own ear. Thus, however quiet it might be in his room, he will distinctly hear every word we are saying now in this room.

But as I have already mentioned, all of these are just conjectures. For all we know, the purpose of the cyborg-bacteria may not be limited to eavesdropping. There is still one more possibility, which at first glance might seem absolutely wild. But if we keep in mind how far ahead of us are the developers of this system, we should admit that there is nothing that is totally impossible. This other possibility I’m referring to is the possibility of gaining total control over other peoples’ bodies, gaining control not only of the nerve fibers that go to the heart, lungs or brain, but of all the nerve fibers in the body and turning a human being into a remotely controlled puppet.

Just as in the case of eavesdropping through cyborg-bacteria, where your ear becomes, in a way, the ear of that other man, the eavesdropper, one could also make your arms, legs, throat, the whole of your body into the arms, legs and throat of that other man. Let’s imagine that his brain sends a command to move his arm. These commands are issued into the nerve fiber that goes from his brain to his arm. Half way to the arm these nerve pulses are intercepted by a cyborg-bacteria, and are eventually transmitted to a cyborg-bacteria that lives on your nerve fibers going from your brain to your arm and are fed into these fibers. For all that your arm knows, these pulses might have come from your own brain, and so your arm obeys the command. Add to this the possibility that cyborg-bacteria may suppress the signals that come from your own brain, and what we have here is that the control over your body is completely transferred to somebody else. You may well imagine what vistas of new opportunities may open up for espionage or sabotage, if a spy takes control over the President’s body.”

Everybody in the room fell silent and looked at the President. After a short pause, the President said:

- “Or over the body of the CIA Director.”

- “Under the circumstances, nobody can be above suspicion.” - replied the CIA Director.

- “Do you seriously believe that all you’ve just described is really possible?”

- “It’s our experts who allow for such a possibility, and I see no reason why I should not trust them. Cyborg-bacteria in themselves are so fantastic, that we can safely assume their purpose to be absolutely fantastic as well. As I have already mentioned, we are most likely dealing here with terrorists from among disgruntled former Soviet scientists. If this is indeed the case, then, within the nearest future, they are going to put cyborg-bacteria to work, making them do something that will be supposed to scare the whole world. Don’t ask me what they are going to do, I don’t know. In view of the awesome capabilities of the cyborg-bacteria, they might do absolutely anything. And after that demonstration of their power, they’ll make their demands known to us. And if the public gets scared enough, we may have to accept their terms.”

- “What kind of terms that might be?” - asked the President.

- “All depends on what kind of people we are dealing with here. If they are just ordinary extortionists, they will demand money for themselves personally. That would be the least painful option for us, since here we are talking about no more that tens of millions of dollars. However, I’m inclined to expect from the Soviet scientists something more idealistic and unselfish, like a demand to change our current policy towards Russia. And that may cost us hundreds of billions of dollars.”

One of the President’s aides, who had been silent up to that moment, suddenly asked to speak.

President’s aid: “Mister President! I have already tried many times in the past to draw your attention to the fact that our current policy towards Russia is potentially very dangerous for the United States, and today we once again had an opportunity to see this for ourselves. But I want once again to draw your attention to the fact that such policy is not only dangerous, it is also amoral. We have always publicly proclaimed that our objective is to create a technologically advanced society, where the advancements of Science will eliminate poverty and disease, and give equal access to education to everyone. But at the same time, in Russia, we support a political regime which destroys the intellectual potential of its own country. Millions of scientists, who could have greatly benefited the whole of mankind , are loosing their jobs and skills.

Today, in the era of global communications, when people of Earth are interlinked via satellite TV and Internet, the policy of double standards quickly becomes evident to the people and undermines their trust in the government. The time is coming when we no longer will be able to afford to form our policies on the basis of transitory political expediencies at the expense of moral principles.”

- “What is your concrete proposal?” - asked the President - “Is it to let Russia build up its intellectual potential? And what if tomorrow the power in Russia will be seized by fascists, and the Russian scientists will develop for them a weapon that’ll make the atom and hydrogen bombs look like baby toys in comparison?”

- “But it is our policies that are pushing Russia towards fascism! Having lost their intellectual and industrial potential, the Russians feel humiliated, and it is the national humiliation that paves the way to fascism.”

President: “We have been through this many times before, so let’s please not start this again. The current regime in Russia! There is just nothing to replace it with. You know as well as I do, that we had to choose the lesser of the evils. So let’s get back down to our today’s problem. What can we do under the circumstances?”

CIA Director: “Not very much. First, we should continue the study of cyborg-bacteria, so as to understand what they are really capable of and be prepared to face it. The most important thing to do is to try and decipher the data they are transmitting. If our guess that all these bacteria are joined into a global network is true, we’ve got to try to “crack the password” and break into the network. We might even be able to try to seize control over the network. If we succeed in this, we will be able to turn this dreadful weapon against its creators. For these purpose we are now putting together a team of programmers and hackers.

Secondly. We’ve got to put pressure on our Russian counterparts. To demand from them all the information on classified projects conducted in the USSR in the field of nanotechnology. To demand from them the names of scientists involved in these projects. In short, it’s high time for us to start looking into this case in earnest. For this purpose we intend to send to Moscow our liaison officer with special powers. I want to ask you Mr. President, to contact Moscow on the hot line and demand from the Russians that they grant him such special powers.”

President: “What do you mean by special powers?”

CIA Director: “Free access to any classified archive, permission to conduct investigation on the Russian soil and so on. Ideally, they should allow him to do whatever he asks and be very cooperative in giving him any assistance he might ask.”

The President: “This may not be easy - lately the Russians have started playing independent, but I’ll do my best. We still have the means to bring pressure to bear. Anything else?”

CIA Director: “For the moment, that seems to be all that we can do. In conclusion I would like to once again stress the need to keep it all secret from the public. Under the circumstances, the general panic is the last thing we want.”


1.5. The autograph July 6, 1997. Nanotechnology lab at MIT, Mass, USA.

Computer monitor displaying in real time the image from electronic microscope. Two researchers looking at the screen.

The first one: “And now let’s try having a high resolution scan of the back wall of this bacteria’s ‘on-board computer’.”

The second one: “It’s a waste of time. Low-res images have clearly shown that there is absolutely nothing there - just a blank wall.”

The first one ( holding a picture to the light): ”Are you sure? And what is this dot here? A photographic artifact? I still want to see this spot under high magnification. “

The second one: “Are you satisfied now? Still no features.”

The first one: ”Stop! Did you see that? Move back a little. Here it is! Increase magnification!”

The second one (looking at the screen): “Wow! Does anybody here read Russian?”

The first one: “I don’t think that will be necessary. There seems to be an English translation here as well.”

Each character was composed of just several dozens of atoms, carefully arranged on a smooth wall surface. But there could be no mistaking - those were indeed characters. The writing on the wall read: “Made in the USSR by Alexei Levshov and a team of his comrades.”

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