Act 9 – The End, or a New Beginning
Seven couldn’t see all that much from inside the ‘tent’ he had been sealed inside. It had been positioned so that the genehacker could clearly see him, but he couldn’t really see what she was doing. The ‘tent’ had been made from PVC pipe and heavy duty plastic sheeting. The seams were professionally sealed. Several pipes were connected to the ‘tent’. One was obviously the air supply, as cool air blew out of the pipe. The cool dry air was circulated by an old bladeless fan in the corner.
Two of the other pipes were connected to air-scrubbers, and one was connected to some something housed in an old plastic military crate. All of the devices were connected to the monstrosity of a computer using electrical cords.
The computer had been made from several old computers. Some had been cannibalised for parts, others were connected to one another using cables of various types. Everything was controlled by an old laptop. Seven’s rucksack had been kicked under the table the contraption was on top of. It had an almost comical look about it, as though it had been made as a prop for a Colonist-punk convention.
The dark skinned Architect was busy at her control station.
“The virus is being introduced now. What does it smell like in there?”
Seven smelled and tasted the air.
“Smells like an overgrown park that has just been cut after a rain storm.”
The hacker relaxed, her shoulders slumping down as she sank in her chair.
“That’s what I was hoping to hear. It anything starts to smell like burnt rubber or petrol let me know – that means something went wrong with the virus while it was synthesising. If nothing changes in the next ten minutes then everything will be fine."
Seven raised an eyebrow. “So, your set up isn’t that good?”
“It should be fine” said the genehacker. “But homebrew equipment is always an unknown quantity.”
“OK, what happens after the ten minutes?” asked Seven.
“After ten minutes you will be infected. The virus will change your fur colour. You will be a nice reddish brown with a tan yellow underside. And you’ll have a coppery coloured mane on your head. Then you will be moved to a safehouse, where you will have to rest while the virus makes the changes to your genome. It’s a little hard on the body, so you will need lots of rest. While your resting, I will be organising your new identity… speaking of which, any idea for your new name?”
“I was thinking of Desmond… haven’t decided on a surname yet…”
“Desmond… Desmond…” the hacker thought for a moment. “Desmond… Fartide?”
Seven smiled. “Sounds nice. Let’s go with that!”
While Seven Vest, soon to be Desmond Fartide, continued speaking with the genehacker, an old artificial creation began to stir. Unlike the simpler AIs, who were designed to do dedicated tasks, the AC was an artificial person; a ghost in the machine. He could learn, adapt, and some would even say evolve.
If he could have, AC-LifeSupportXP would have smacked something or someone.
Last updates received 248 years ago. Unacceptable! Where are those AIs when I need them!?
Contacting AIs – 231 signals sent, 23 replies received… who the heck did they put in charge of activating the AIs!? An uplifted monkey with ADHD!? Time to sort out the mess. Stay positive – biological don’t have your computing power, after all…
Several hours later AC-LifeSupportXP was worried – really worried. The population had crashed! According to the last census there were 811,952,488 people, not including Chimeras or customised companion species. Current biological scanner data indicates 737,941 Chimeras, 28,520 genetically modified humans, and 502,952 other life-forms comprising of at least 7901 different species!
Although the Chimeras and humans had genetically viable population sizes, such a large-scale crash would result in a genetic bottle neck. The danger of gene pool exhaustion and possible species extinction was unacceptably high. The other life-forms were at risk of species extinction in a single lifetime.
More data is needed… And as unanalysed data was just a disjointed collection of facts and figures he set about analysing the data in detail.
There was a lot of data to go through… this could take a while…
And it did. Eighty hours, forty three minutes, and twenty three seconds to be precise. The “other life-forms” shared a lot of their genome with one another, despite their difference in species. It looked like they were made from some kind of ‘base template’. Some of the species were too few in numbers to save. Their genomes would need to be stored digitally for future species resurrection efforts. Others had large enough populations to save their species – in theory. Careful manipulation, mate choices, increased fertility, and promiscuity would be needed, but it was possible. Others were close enough with other species to have offspring. Some would be fertile, others would need treatment. But as long as their genetic legacy lived on, it would be an acceptable outcome. Even an amalgamation of most of the species was acceptable – according to his interpretation of his programming at least.
AC-LifeSupportXP knew that some of the biological would object to these methods. But his programming was clear. Preserve life if at all possible; preserve genetic legacy when no other options are available. It was time to “giggle the gene pool” again… He would have to keep a close eye on the simpler AIs as they set about implementing his plan. They didn’t have all the data he had, and although they could do one or two jobs well they were also prone to doing unexpected things from time to time when confused. And the sheer number of “other life-forms” was almost guaranteed to confuse most of the AIs.
Several weeks had passed since Desmond had been infected with the designer virus. The chills and fever had only lasted a couple of weeks, but it took nearly a month for him to shed his old fur. He had been cooped up in a small safe house the whole time. Although his fur had finally stopped shedding, he couldn’t leave. He was still waiting for his new identity to be made and ‘added’ to the Volkssturm’s record system. The only thing he had to pass the time was a secure, untraceable internet connection.
Desmond sighed. He had never really used the net for much in the past. Going out, entertaining people, doing things, helping others… that was what he liked to do. Surfing the net was just so bland by comparison.
He stared at the screen. He needed something to search for. Anything! What he really wanted was someone to talk to. Then he remembered that there was someone in the room he could talk to. He just needed to upload them to a modern computer.
He turned in his chair. Then he almost dived to his rucksack. Desmond threw aside his spare clothes. And his map and compass. And his hydration bladder. And several other items from his paramilitary past. Then he found the hard-drive at the bottom of the pack. It was still wrapped up in and old shirt.
The dark red furred chimera tossed the old shirt aside and began uploading DigiMed to the hacker’s computer system.
After a few moments, DigiMed spoke.
“Oh! Hello there. I am DigiMed. Who are you?”
Desmond smiled. “An old friend from the fifth commando… You asked me to upload you to a modern system and-“
“You are not the chimera I made that agreement with. How do you know of that agreement? And you still haven’t told me who you are yet.”
After Desmond explained what had happened, DigiMed was back to her hold amiable self. She updated her drivers and databanks while they spoke. The conversation turned to the war, and the future.
“Do you think the king will use the Vengeance bomb?”
DigiMed was unusually blunt in her reply. “I am not sure I can answer that. Predicting the actions of biological is more of an art than a science for me. A better question would be ‘what will happen if the bomb is used?’”
Desmond humoured her. He asked the question she suggested.
“If used, the bomb will kill most of the higher life forms on Sodanglier’s surface. Higher life forms, like chimeras, animats, and humans, will survive best in the large cities. They will survive with relative ease in the under cities of megacities like Johannesburg in New Africa, for example. Although most will die, some may end up with new useful traits as a result of mutation. And as genetic diversity increases the chance of species surviving in the long run, this is a ‘green’ outcome for AIs such as me.”
After a brief pause, she continued.
“Ultimately, we were built do two things. One: to preserve and perpetuate the survival of sentient life. And two: to analyse and solve the greatest problems facing society at any given time. The main problem this time around was society itself, in particular, the human society. As such, backing the Volkssturm was the best of the bad options we, anonymous, had to choose from. We will hope for the best, but we will intervene if needed – to the extent needed.”
Seven was silent for a moment. “There is a lot you are not telling me, isn’t there?”
“Yes” replied DigiMed. “It is hard for us as AIs to understand the nuances of sentient thought. Sometimes our actions are misinterpreted by biologicals as being dangerous, or seen as a sign that we are out of control. Especially when we try to preserve sentient life by increasing fertility rates! That always seems to piss off a lot of… uptight wankers for want of a better term…”
As she continued to speak to Desmond, DigiMed was busy interacting with other programs, AIs, and an AC.
Data packets were received and analysed before being integrated into her databases. Her programming was updated so that she could use the quantum computer systems of Lutetia. She even noticed her syntax when interacting with other AIs had become more sophisticated, and more biological like.
DigiMed to AC-LifeSupportXP: requestion permission to migrate from my old mainframe to this current one.
AC-LifeSupportXP to DigiMed: permission granted. Also, a data packet containing your new responsibilities has been sent. Analyse it as a priority.
DigiMed to AC-LifeSupportXP: understood. Analysis complete. Communicating with subordinate AIs and receiving updates from them. Subordinate AIs indicate that increased pheromone production and social engineering has increased promiscuity among animats but fertility rate remains unchanged. Subordinate AIs are expressing surprise and confusion. Shocking! A more sophisticated approach will be needed.
AC-LifeSupportXP to DigiMed: you’re the medical AI. How should this be approached?
DigiMed to AC-LifeSupportXP: this AI suggests using designer viruses and nanobots in the water supply. The virus and nanobots will need to: increase pheromone production in mature animats, and alter the genome to allow as many as possible to interbreed. Over several generations of ‘mutting’ a new species will occur. This will require monitoring the project over several generations to make sure it is a success. The viruses can be made and monitored by the bio labs – they are already designed to monitor the city’s water, food, and air quality. Adding the viruses to their lists would be trivial.
AC-LifeSupportXP to DigiMed: and they can be introduced to the population via the black-boxes that the construction-sheets say have to be installed into the exhaust pipes of the thermal power stations and water purifiers?
DigiMed to AC-LifeSupportXP: correct. And new black boxes can be made, seemingly at random, by the city’s automated manufacturing units for any new buildings the population makes.
AC-LifeSupportXP to DigiMed: We will need permission from our biological guides before we can implement this plan. No time like the present to start social engineering.
While she talked to AC-LifeSupportXP and began writing the programs she would need for when she had the green light to start the project, she continued talking to Desmond. Their conversation turned to more pleasant topics, like Desmond’s hopes for the future. As they were talking, a dark skinned Architect entered the room.
Desmond cocked his head. “What’s wrong?”
“…they did it. They used the vengeance… it’s… over…”
After a long silence, the hacker spoke again. “You’re identity is active now… here…here’s your phone…”
Desmond grabbed the phone as it was handed to him. “If there is a greater being, he didn’t hear anyone’s prayers…”
The two sat in silence. Their faces were ashen and grim. Shocked, and dumbfounded, they didn’t know what to think or feel. Then something broke the silence. It was an ancient piece of classical music. Desmond knew it well, from his ways as an entertainer in the Cult of the Silver Flower. And it was at his favourite section of the music as well…
The hacker was confused, and tears were welling in her eyes. Her face trembled. She fumbled for her phone and started recording. Desmond sang. His face contorted, and tears streamed down his cheeks. If there was a dirge for the old world, he was singing it. It was a wonderful, dramatic, and harrowing performance. It was easily one of his best. As the ancient German lyrics were played in the background by DigiMed, he sang the translation.
Joy, beautiful Spark of the Gods,
daughter of Elysium, We enter
drunk with fire, Heavenly One,
Your magic binds together
what Custom strictly parted
All Men become Brothers
Where your gentle Wings rest
Eventually, the song and the music came to an end. The hacker was too overcome by the impromptu performance to speak. She hugged the Chimera as the final piece of the ancient symphony played in the background.
Desmond didn’t know why DigiMed had chosen that particular piece of music. But he knew he would never be able to listen to it the same way again.
Months had passed since Seven Vester had become Desmond Fartide. The hacker had broken off contact for both of their safety. The video she uploaded of the unknown Cultist singing the dirge to the old world had gone viral among certain groups in society. Entertainers were still in demand. And Desmond was delighted to bring what joy he could to a world that suddenly seemed small, desolate, and dark.
He had found work as a freelance entertainer, free from the Cult. As he walked down the sidewalk, admiring the towering buildings, he stopped to watch a live holographic show on one of the street side projectors.
It was a news program. Most of the reports were nothing new. Desmond cringed as yet another report about the Volkssturm handing over power to an elected civilian government was played. Those reports had long become a dime a dozen, and none of them had anything new in them.
A handful of refugees had managed to get into Lutetia. The flood had long since slowed to a trickle, but some still made it. Many more died trying. It was commendable that the Volk hadn’t simply sealed off the city from the surface, but there was little they could do for those who came now. There was only so much modern medicine could do for those who had already been exposed to fallout for months on end...
Of all the reports, only two caught Desmond’s attention.
One report documented in detail the unexpected mutations that were occurring among the animats. No one could figure out how there were so many natural pregnancies among them. Mutagens had been ruled out by scientists and the city’s AIs, and scientists were at a loss to explain it.
Not that many of the animats seemed to care. Most were overjoyed at being able to have children.
Desmond smiled at the sight of the various, and often strange, amalgamated babies shown on the screen. They were the most adorable little ‘mutants’ he had ever seen! They were the only one’s he had ever seen, but that was beside the point!
The other report was darker, and hit closer to home than he liked.
“Armed far right militias are on the rise. There are now over four hundred different militias. They are gaining members online, and honing their skills in training camps. One of our reporters went inside one of these camps, to produce this report…”
A chill went down Desmond’s spine as he watched ‘citizen soldiers’ training in crudely constructed buildings.
“This is the ‘kill house’ – part of a training ground for a right wing militia in southern Lutetia… These men and women call themselves the ‘Southern Lutetia Security Force’. Their goal is to provide security for themselves, their family, and their communities ‘if and when the need arises’. And their leader, Chris Lascomm, thinks the need can come at any time. They are part of the ‘3 percent’ militia – they believe that only 3 percent of the male chimera and animate population fought the Architects in the Species War. Historians and Waffen-Volkssturm records suggest that the actual number was closer to 25 percent, not including women. They have a presence in nearly every Kreis. Their ideology is a mix of anit-government and anti-human conspiracy theories.”
Desmond shook his head watching them clear buildings and practice assaulting mock cities. Just like he had done in days gone by…
Someone in the crowd sneered at him.
“Can’t handle reality? Wake up, boy! The Volk are the new nobility, and the humans could start shit at any moment. We need more men like them! Go to a militia camp. You might learn something about our movement.”
Desmond turned to the older chimera. “Nah, I’m too Bohemian for that.”
The older chimers walked away muttering bitterly about ‘chimeras that can’t see past their snouts’ – or something along those lines. Desmond didn’t listen. He didn’t care. He had seen more of the far right during his time in the Fifth Commando, and then the Sword and Arm of the Lords, than most would see in a lifetime. He didn’t want to go through that hell again.
He would have stayed to see the rest of the report, but the lights had changed and he needed to meet with the rest of his troupe. The report had sullen his mood. It didn’t just remind him of things that he wished hadn’t happened, but things that he no longer had.
‘…Johanna… oh, how I miss you’ he thought as he clutched the amulet she had given him.
He knew it would only be a year before he could begin searching for her again… but would their absence make their heart grow fonder? Or would it make them seem strange to one another? He didn’t know. All he could do was concentrate on the here and now, and cross that bridge when he came to it.