The nano-tycoon paced over the rocky hilltop overlooking his island.
Below him sprawled the great Fabrication Lab, hundreds of intricately designed modules that now manufactured one third of the world's self-maintaining robotics. The constant motion looked exactly like an ant farm. Beyond, was the dark Pacific with towering clouds on the horizon.
As far as he was concerned, human history could be described in a few thousand decision points: A Cro-Magnon band massacring a Neanderthal cave village, Constantine enforcing Christianity, the victory of Windows 95.
He had less than one hour to decide how to spend his fortune.
A hologram of his senior planner in the Mumbai office projected diagrams and spreadsheets. Other Board members watched from their own virtual offices.
"We can reassign 32.59% of production capacity in total if we start right away. The Nanolarity Initiative confirms our help will accelerate their timetable by over ten months."
The tycoon gestured to the sky. "Your final recommendation, please."
The planner said: "Go with Plan B instead."
The Nanolarity Initiative was the largest open-source, globally distributed research program ever. With an unofficial budget in the trillions, it had come to dominate the world economy.
It existed for one reason: to fight the evil at the heart of entropy - failure, decay, annihilation. The lack of time. A war against nature itself, the cruelest opponent of all. Specifically: poverty.
Every Initiative member shared the same absurdly difficult goal: to construct a single "perfect" molecule, a sub-microscopic "string" barely larger than a human cell.
This universal molecule had to fold itself into just the right shape out of uncountable many possible pretzel configurations.
Then it would be able to reproduce itself.
More importantly, it would be able to split and recombine into many slightly different versions, incorporating most atomic elements. These would link into larger structures capable of controlling and improving themselves.
Then they would begin to rebuild the world, ending all material poverty.
Early versions of this molecular machinery would be built right here on his island, if he so chose.
They would be tested and made to compete in a series of elimination rounds, in vast Antarctic ice caves and abandoned mines.
Waiting on Line One was the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who would try to persuade him to do no such thing.
Instead, the spare capacity of his fabulous nano-factory should be used in a much better way: he could make several quadrillion killbots instead.
Actually, tiny biodrones designed to kill parasites, mostly in the water supply but also in the soil and on plants. The latest models could even chase mosquitoes and filter human bloodstreams.
Pilot programs in Malawi, Bangladesh and Bolivia had been astonishingly promising. Despite all the fears and protests, there was almost no danger the bots would harm humans or livestock.
The technology was still too specific, too simple, and the (fully biodegradable) bots only functioned for a few weeks anyway. No doubt nature would soon adapt to the bots, but he was sure he could keep up with natural evolution.
All the predictions agreed: tropical diseases would decline by 50% or more, and agriculture would double in efficiency. The effect would be a vast increase in life expectancy and in the quality of life for the world's poor.
The tycoon realized he could save over a million babies who would otherwise perish in their first year. Another million would never be born at all, if not for him.
Some blamed the Third World for its poverty or considered certain races inferior, but the tycoon had found many useful workers there.
Even better: more humans would be alive once technological immortality finally became possible.
The cost: a full year's delay to this ultimate goal, the molecular breakthrough of human brain scanning and digital reconstruction.
That would happen anyway, but he shouldn't have to wait so long.
He made his decision.
"Fuck it, this world just isn't good enough for me. In fact I hate it here! I only want one thing: my perfect virtual waifu. My decision is: no more delays. We go with Nanolarity."
His Chief Operating Officer just stared as if the video had frozen.
"You have just revealed a clear personal conflict of interest. That means the Board has to make the decision now."
"No doubt that was your intention, but I'm sorry to say the Board is irrevocably deadlocked. You must decide for real."
He studied the two ascending graphs on his planner's whiteboard. So similar, one of them slightly less steep. What interested him was the far right side of the curves. There the acceleration was fantastic. And the difference . . .
Until this moment, he had thought he could compromise his way out as always.
He surveyed his island empire, the automated carts teeming like termites, stacked labyrinths of microscopic assembly lines under polymer shells.
A virtual scene, of course. No humans were allowed on his island anymore, not even him.
He was actually standing motionless in his New York skyscraper mansion, where the stern yet motherly face of the Secretary-General filled the main screen in front of him. She had personally adopted seven Third World infants, and visited hundreds of disaster areas.
Smiling back, he considered smashing the screen. He realized he had absolutely no idea what he was going to say, even as he heard himself speak.
"Secretary Thunberg, in the name of a trillion trillion lifetimes of potential post-human awareness that would otherwise be intolerably delayed, I must turn down your request. The Nanolarity Initiative comes first; even if millions more have to die in the Third World. We'll make up for it in the future many times over. Until then, we can contribute up to 15 percent of our spare capacity to your project, and will try to increase that percentage if possible. I'm very sorry."
"You know we will try to change your mind, and we can't prevent others from organizing boycotts and mass protests."
"This is an extremely painful decision for me, Madame Secretary."
"Not just for you, Mr. Dragos."
He didn't remember ending the conversation, but found himself before his grand penthouse window, almost 200 floors down to Fifth Avenue.
When he pushed his forehead against the glass, he couldn't feel the vibrations from the traffic below.
Time to get back to work. There was not a moment to waste.