John Decker woke gradually, but at a certain point unease gripped him as the new reality came flooding back to him. The world was now run by Them. They were all sweet and friendly and said they would take care of him and the others who weren't part of Them. They would just read their minds to figure out what they needed.
His job had disappeared, but what he needed would now be provided without regard to money. He could pay at a restaurant if he really wanted to, the waitress would tell him politely, but it wasn't necessary. On the other hand, the meat was rapidly disappearing from the menus and the stores. He could have half a pound of hamburger, he was told, but no more. No, it didn't matter how much he was willing to pay -- oh yeah money didn't matter -- that was just all he could have. He could do what he wanted, hang out with whoever he wanted, but most of his friends were now part of Them, and it gave him the creeps to talk with them, with their calm smiles. He spoke with his few buddies that weren't Them, but they were as confused as he was.
John trudged to the bathroom, took a leak and then went back to bed, since there wasn't any compelling reason to do anything.
So, he thought, They can read my mind. They're reading it all the time. I want a good fuck, he thought. I want a hot young thing to appear next to me in bed. I want to feel her up for about ten seconds, plunge my cock into her pussy and come. So, take that, all of You who are listening in. Can you do that for me?
His fantasy made his cock swell a little. Maybe he'd jerk off later, but for now he would just relax.
He woke with a start as he heard his apartment door latch turn. His heart pounded. A home invasion! They was supposed to prevent things like that -- and who had a key? Calm footsteps came down the hall, and a woman appeared in his bedroom door.
The windbreaker came off to reveal her to be quite attractive -- not a bombshell by any means, but plenty attractive. She had full breasts, and her bare thighs showing under her short tan dress were most alluring.
"Still interested?" she asked sweetly.
"Um, yeah!" he said.
She kicked off her shoes and pulled off her dress to reveal that she was wearing no underwear of any kind. His cock surged to life looking at her. Was she really going to let him do just what he wanted? Surely she'd want some foreplay, some conversation, and there'd be questions about the future?
"No," she said with a smile as she lay down on the bed. "Take me whenever you want. No strings attached."
As in a dream, he rolled over onto her, and she guided his cock to her wet opening. He shoved in, and his stiff organ slid to the hilt. He hadn't gotten laid in a long time. He thrust in and out. Should he be adjusting his angle for her pleasure, holding back until she was satisfied? That wasn't what she'd implied. And, he realized with a brief surge of anger, she was one of Them. The majority who made him feel so inferior. Well, fuck Them. Or at least he could fuck the one of Them lying beneath him. His strokes got fast and hard, almost vicious, as he rammed home as deep as he could. Within seconds his orgasm was upon him and he splatted cum deep in her pussy as his cock kept surging back and forth. Satisfied, he pulled out and flopped onto his back.
As he emerged from his own pleasure, he thought of the woman next to him. Was she going to leave? Did he want her to leave? Not right away, he decided. He'd like it if she'd snuggle against him -- and she did.
But a minute later he'd had enough, and without saying a word the young woman rose and started dressing.
How had she gotten in, anyway? She hadn't broken down the door.
"Master keys," she said. "We all know where to get master keys when we need them. You don't need to lock your door any more, you know -- though you can if you want."
He still wasn't sure he liked Them and how They now ran the world, but if They provided high-quality pussy whenever he wanted some, that certainly was an advantage.
"So what was that like for you? You surely didn't come. What's in it for you?"
"I was really glad to make you happy," she said. "I felt it directly, remember."
"And so did all the rest of You?"
She shrugged. "I suppose. We were all happy for you."
He felt a surge of shame, as if he had been caught with his pants down.
"Oh, don't worry about it. We're all in the same boat, you know. Millions and millions of Us, and of You. Sex is beautiful, you know."
He thought but didn't say: Even when accompanied by anger? Even when you feel like dominating and degrading the other? Even when you revel in going for your own pleasure and to hell with the other person?
She smiled. "Yes, even then."
And then she left, just like he hoped she would.
It could have happened during the shootout of a World Cup final. It could have been in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded in the World Series. But it actually happened at the end of the Superbowl, on February 2nd, 2014.
A 13-yard pass to Wes Welker had positioned the Patriots at the four-yard-line of the Packers. There were two seconds left on the game clock and the Packers led by score of 21 to 17. Barring a penalty on the defense, it would be the last play of the game. The Patriots took their final timeout, and then the Packers took theirs. Tom Brady began his snap count from the shotgun as millions around the world held their breaths.
Then the strangest thing happened. Tom Brady never barked out the final word, and the ball was never snapped. The noise level in the stadium plummeted instantly. All of the players slowly got up from their positions. About a quarter of them looked around anxiously, waiting for an explanation. The other three-quarters just stood there. One of the television announcers asked what was going on, but the others didn't answer. The play clock continued counting down from six to zero, six of the longest seconds in human history.
The theory was that at that moment, more people were concentrating on one single thing with more intensity than at any prior moment in history. It caused a snowballing reaction so that 73.46 percent of the world population became mind-readers -- of the entirety of humanity. Reading the minds of millions upon millions of people was an astonishing experience, fueled by the fact that those millions of minds were equally startled. A person thought about the thoughts they got from another, and the original thought with commentary was in turn read by others. The incredible complexity quickly reached some sort of stable order, as asymptotes were reached in thousands of dimensions. The brains of the 73.46 percent then formed in a loose sense a single mind, the Mind of the majority.
Playing football seemed pointless. The other 26.54 percent of the population in the stadium and throughout the world were left wondering what the heck was going on as their fellows pretty much just stopped whatever they were doing and stared off into space.
No one understood why some people were in the majority and some were not. It seemed to be totally random and fixed for all time. If you became a mind-reader at that crucial moment, you were one forever. If you didn't, you never would be.
Not a single accidental death could be attributed to the merge. Every car stopped safely, the belayers didn't let their climbers plummet to their deaths, no doctor wandered away during emergency surgery. Where common sense might have failed, mind-reading worked. For instance, one mother was momentarily paralyzed by the flood of new thoughts, but her mental experience also included the sight of her toddler toddling rapidly towards the street. She herself was too flabbergasted by the events in her mind to make the necessary connection, but a dozen minds picked up what she was seeing, and she in turn picked up the urgent conclusion of the others that she must intercept her daughter before she toddled into the path of a car driven by one of the unaffected minority.
Huge areas of human endeavor were instantly irrelevant. There was no need for money, as the Mind would now allocate resources directly. There was no longer a market for anything. Lawyers had no role to play, as disputes were quickly resolved by the Mind considering the facts of every issue. Politicians had no place.
The majority read not just each other's minds, but the minds of the minority as well. To the majority they were open books.
Most military bases were shut down, as the Mind knew the mind and intentions of every soldier. But a few squads remained active to deal with the occasional small unit dominated by members of the minority who might think there was a power vacuum.
Lovers instantly knew who had been cheating. Fathers learned which of their offspring were really someone else's. Stolen property could be readily recovered by following a chain of successive owners. Relatives of missing children knew instantly whether the child had run away or been kidnapped, and then knew whether he or she was now living or dead.
Throughout the world, some people's minds held secrets of danger and continuing injustice that needed rectification. Hundreds of people being held against their will were detected, located and freed.
Their captors were wrongdoers, but they were just one small subset of the people holding truly ugly secrets in their hearts. What would become of them in a world where there were no more secrets? This was handled by the new Mind in two distinct phases. One was to make sure that no one got hurt any more, and the second was to consider justice for past crimes.
Among those people presenting a future danger were of course two sorts: the majority and the minority.
The mental state of each minority criminal was evaluated. Most could simply be told that they mustn't do anything bad again, and they behaved themselves, knowing that they had no further secrets and detection of their wrongdoing would be instant and certain. Criminals of the majority knew all that without being told. Some few of the minority were locked up.
Then there was the other question. How to dispense justice? The effect of merging minds was to instill in each member of the majority a sort of Kantian morality sometimes known as the categorical imperative: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law". You and I may have to puzzle a while to figure out what that means, but to the members of the majority its meaning and wisdom were self-evident. While the pleasure and pain that their own body felt was more vivid than what they read from other minds, no one could act without being aware of the consequences of their action on all other minds.
In this situation, the minds of those in the majority who had caused great harm to others were filled with immense remorse, a significant punishment in itself.
The fate of members of the majority hinged not on their pasts, but their present and future. As part of the new Mind, they lacked the ordinary individual's will to survive at almost any cost. The collective Mind would continue whether they were part of it or not. In evaluating any individual's fate, the Mind -- and thus the individual too -- evaluated what contribution that individual could make to the whole.
Some cases were easy and resulted in dramatic action within minutes or even seconds of the merging. On cancer wards, intensive care units and hospices, the minority saw strange sights: nurses' aides disconnecting life support equipment and nurses giving lethal doses of something in the morphine family to put patients out of their misery. The terminally ill of the majority who were in pain and despair wished to cease their existence at once. Any final goodbyes and deathbed disclosures were handled instantly through mind-reading, and then they were free to go.
The world was also full of those who function but who are fundamentally dead inside. They have nothing but pain, despair and dullness in their present or future and little ability to contribute to the welfare of others. What kept them going before was only the instinct for self-preservation. In the merge they could experience life in its wondrous complexity, but they lost any strong desire to experience it themselves; that it was experienced was all that mattered. If they and the Mind saw that in the future they would serve only to drag the collective down, not lift it up, then they no longer wished to live. Of course, the mere fact of having a member of the minority emotionally dependent on a person gave him or her a purpose in life. All told, 11% of the majority decided to die, dispatching themselves in an orderly, unobtrusive fashion, little by little over the course of months.
Paradoxically, some who might have wished themselves dead before now had a positive role to play, and the Mind concluded they should keep living. These were people whose minds and hearts remained strong but were isolated by blindness, deafness, and paralysis. With a direct thought connection, they were isolated no more.
The Mind instantly knew that habitat destruction and global warming needed to be addressed. Greenhouse gas emissions dropped sharply as air conditioners fell silent in most places, and much commuting, business travel, and traveling for pleasure ceased. In many US neighborhoods, 80% of the dwellings were soon abandoned, unheated and unlit, as households with members of the majority combined. Since minds were merged, there was little need for physical privacy either.
There was still plenty of tedious, unpleasant work to be done. This was taken on by members of the majority who might not have too much in the way of enthusiasm or creativity to bring to the world, but were capable of getting things done. It was good if such work could be undertaken by those who didn't experience the world too keenly, whose awareness of the unpleasant jobs they were doing was somewhat muted. These people knew they did necessary work so that others who would have minded it more didn't have to do it. If they labored in the mines 12 hours a day, they were not in the least upset to read the minds of others frolicking in idleness -- supporting more creative and lively parts of the Mind was why they did it.
But getting the routine work of the world done was a comparatively simple matter. Vast realms of human endeavor pertaining to competition and the prevention of cheating were no longer necessary. Those of the majority who continued working did so with perfect information and a strong motivation. There was no temptation to slack off, since they all worked for the common good. In any case, everyone in the majority would know if they deviated from what was best for all. With people from the majority working with unprecedented efficiency, there was no real need for anyone in the minority to work at all.
The human imagination had frequently contemplated the emergence of a unified Mind, and the common conclusion was that the new Mind would have no use for any minds that didn't merge with the rest, as in Arthur C. Clarke's classic "Childhood's End". The Mind might even take pleasure in degrading or torturing the pitiful creatures whose thoughts were limited to what arose within their own tiny skulls.
But this was in fact far from the case when it actually came to pass.
Thoughtful theologians had often wondered what God's purpose is, from His own point of view. It was fine to say that divine purposes are inscrutable to mere mortals, but that didn't stop people from wondering. What was God trying to do? Science fiction authors had realized that similar questions would beset any new form of superior intelligence.
Some goals were straightforward. Minimizing suffering and making sure everyone's basic needs were met was clear enough.
The attention of the majority could turn immediately to expanding the horizons of human understanding. The endeavor of mathematics surpassed all previous achievements threefold within a matter of days, as the right cross-fertilizations of the right minds happened. Longstanding scientific controversies were instantly resolved as the experts in any field shared their results and thoughts without the intrusion of ego. New experimental programs were initiated. Plans for grand new space-based telescopes and missions to other planets and even star systems were initiated -- the idea of an experiment which would only yield interesting results in a thousand years was entirely sensible. Genome sequencing projects could be started on a stupendous scale. Science budgets increased a hundredfold, with no waste or unnecessary duplication. The way forward in the understanding of the nature of the universe was clear.
The mind could express itself through the arts. Musical composition and performance flourished, as collaboration allowed syntheses never before imagined. Sculpture and painting enjoyed a similar burst of productive and creative activity. Large-scale works were no obstacle -- earth-moving equipment was assembled to create a single sculpture of large portions of the Ural Mountains. While preservation of nature was a high priority, there was room within the dictates of universal morality to also completely reconfigure one of the earth's mountain ranges in the service of human art. Novels, poems, short stories, plays, operas -- all appeared in astonishing quantities.
Some of the artistic creations of the Mind were clearly accessible only to the Mind itself, containing a level of complexity that no individual old-style human could make sense of.
But here an unease crept in. What was the Mind trying to express? A serious limitation on figuring that out was that the Mind came into being in an instant. It was unique, and had no companions. It also had no history, nor were there records of previous Minds whose histories the new Mind could contemplate.
There were no obvious answers, but the Mind cherished and clung to the one version of the past that it had: the minority, the people who still lived in their own heads as humanity always had, whose natures were shaped by millions of years of evolution.
So while the Mind could create art that only it could understand, the audience for much of creative output was now those very same minority humans who were so limited. What would they think when they saw that new painting? Listened to that symphony? What would they think of that new combination of flavors in a new fusion cuisine? The majority's vast intellect could have its own single reaction to anything, but it savored those reactions of the old-style minority humans, each with his or her own unique evaluation, free of the contamination of complete mind-reading. Even contemplating an educated and sensitive minority human reading Shakespeare for the first time was a valuable experience for the Mind.
Even if the Mind had found the individuals of the minority dull and useless, its categorical imperative also imposed obligations on how they should be treated. They were surely sentient, felt pleasure and pain, had their own goals and purposes, and they didn't want to die.
The minds of creatures as advanced as the great apes remained closed to the majority. But the categorical imperative imposed obligations on the treatment of animals as well, obligations in line with the mental capabilities of the creature. For instance, there was nothing wrong with killing animals, since animals are all doomed to die and have no fear of death itself. But there was a great deal wrong with having them live their lives in degraded circumstances that were distressing to their own natures. It was no longer thinkable to engage in factory farming, since moral considerations outweighed economic ones, which is why meat and dairy products became a luxury partaken of sparingly. Animal suffering in the service of scientific research was still practiced when the benefits outweighed the harm and no alternatives were available. Some of the majority who were headed for self-destruction anyway spent the end of their lives enduring painful or dangerous medical experiments -- it was a fitting job for them, the job that they were suited for. It would make no sense to do anything else.
While a significant fraction of the majority were engineering their own deaths for the common good, the individuals of the minority were treated differently. Some who were in intractable pain or despair were assisted in taking their own lives, if that is what they truly wanted. Before the merge, caregivers evaluating a stated desire to die had to consider the possibilities of coercion, fear of imposing on others, and transient despair. The majority Mind could sort out all such possibilities instantly.
But relatively few people are in that position, of course. There are much larger numbers with narrow, despairing negative outlooks and no use to others. As mentioned, members of the majority who were in that position took their own lives, but things were very different for the minority. They kept on living with the approval of the majority and its Mind simply because they were individual humans who desperately did not want to die.
This was no less true of those who had committed terrible crimes. Justice in the new order did not call for revenge. The majority understood that individual humans make mistakes and that they were to a large extent the victims of prior circumstances over which they had no control. Revenge had no appeal to an enlightened Mind. Restitution could be provided directly by the majority itself, with no need for it to come at the expense of a criminal. The other major reason for punishment is to serve as a deterrent. This no longer applied; the majority could read the minds of the minority and intervene directly to prevent future wrongdoing.
Many minority people still wanted to continue with their lives: going to school or to work. But many jobs were totally obsolete, and for others a member of the majority could now do it far more efficiently than they. Consider for instance a schoolteacher. Three-quarters of the class wouldn't need instruction any more, getting what they needed directly from telepathy. The other one-quarter still needed teaching, but how much more efficiently it could be done when the teacher could read the student's mind and know the exact nature of any confusion! Perceptive minority members got the feeling that the majority was humoring them as they attempted to do productive work, and they were right. Most of the minority stopped working, and the majority didn't object.
Instead, the majority tried to nudge the minority individuals into lives that would meet their purposes, while hopefully also appealing to the person's own desires.
One immediate goal was to set aside enclaves all over the world which would be occupied entirely by members of the minority. People would still buy things in stores; go to school and learn the old-fashioned way; gossip, flirt and date; and cheat or be faithful; loaf or work hard; and cry or laugh or sit feeling nothing. They would work at jobs within the context of the enclave. They would talk at great length to try to understand each other a little better. The ability of the majority to listen in on the thoughts in such communities was of great comfort. There were some serious limitations, however: everyone knew they were living in an enclave -- a zoo almost. And everyone who was there volunteered to be there. The two in combination led to a sort of unnatural calmness and lack of dynamic tension. Still, it was far better than nothing.
Knowing the Mind was listening in affected all members of the minority. Knowing their thoughts were no longer private changed those thoughts. But when the majority did nothing to remind them that they were an open book, it was also natural for people to forget -- and fortunate, for the Mind's purposes of preserving whatever they could of pre-merge culture. The majority knew that ugliness between people was part of the human condition; if everyone behaved properly all the time, life could grow dull. Consider spousal abuse. Morality didn't allow a woman of the minority to be abused against her will. But a woman of the majority could join one of the enclaves, informing everyone of her identity but also her determination to behave as much as possible as if she could not read minds. The others would forget. She could decide to put up with abuse so that the violent emotions and behavior of a fair number of men would not forever be lost to the repertoire of human behavior. She freely chose to accept her broken bones and black eyes as the price of preserving the cultural legacy.
On rare occasions a child in one of the enclaves got beaten, but only briefly. Monitors from the majority would sense the potential for anger boiling over. They would come closer and closer to the house as the danger point approached, wanting to avoid intervention if at all possible. But then they would call or knock on the door to remind the abuser that he was being monitored; that was usually all it took.
The majority wanted enclaves of the minority, but they had other goals as well. They wanted minority members not to work at uninspiring jobs but to follow their passion and creativity, and fortunately that's what people are inclined to want to do anyway. One set of passions the Mind followed with keen interest was competitive sports and games. How could the majority play chess when no player could keep his thoughts from his opponent? Two minority members could still play as they always had. Another set of passions the majority encouraged was creativity in the arts by the minority individuals themselves. And they also wanted them to simply enjoy themselves, so that the majority could pick up their joy, unadulterated by co-mixture with the Mind.