(from the upcoming novel A New Earth — The Apocalypse Locus)
continued from previous:
Aspen had skipped Aberash’s sermon. She was all the way down at the other end of the beach by herself, in a similar lagoon, surrounded by the same glow. Holding her arms out, she placed them gently on the surface of the water, palms down. The plankton began swimming towards her hands. Pretty soon it was glowing as bright as a lightbulb. She waved her hands in the water to disperse the organism — only to see it coming back, forming a bright blue halo around each hand. The glow followed her as she slowly walked back towards the shore, leaving a faint luminescent trail resembling the tail of a comet. It dispersed when she got out of the water. The blue glow from the ocean reflected in her eyes as she looked back, saying her goodnight to the sea.
MyDNAtree, HeritageUnited and Decode had accessed the Apocalypse Locus sequences that Olivia had publicly made available online. They were now processing millions of samples every week, identifying so called “Empaths” from across the globe. Online groups of “Apo-positive” individuals were forming on the web, merging with existing activism groups in ecology, climate and animal rights. But this was not simply activism. The members of all of these groups now felt that they were united by more than just a common concern about the planet. There was now a genetic basis, a common lineage that connected them. They were a subspecies within a species, just like the phytoplankton variant. And they were finally able to find, and meet, rare people like themselves easily, however far they lived, whatever language they spoke. These were people that automatically understood them. People that saw what they saw, felt what they felt. People who were connected to the EoT, just like themselves.
They began to collectively call themselves The Children. It was a name that they had chosen because it carried multiple symbolisms, encompassing both future and past. It represented the purest form of a human being that exists, unspoiled by the toxicity of civilization and the social, economic and political structures which had destroyed most of life on Earth. But it also represented hope and renewal: the vigor, innocence and honesty of a child, of each new human generation that arrives before it becomes corrupted, subjugated and jaded by the very system which nurtured it.
But The System was much stronger. It had a firm chokehold on society. In fact, society and The System had evolved together, like two parasites codependently toxic to each other. While The Children may have finally found a way to connect with each other in this endless dark maze of poison ivy, they were still needles in a haystack: a negligible minority in a sea of humans too afraid to face reality, even though the smoke of their infernal future was already burning their eyes. They had all chosen to retreat into a made-up world: eating food from vertical farms and bioreactors, consuming information served by deep fake news anchors, and indulging in AI-created telenovelas that helped them laugh, cry, feel “alive” in their own privacy and convenience, in a world where genuine emotions had died a long time ago. This fake utopia was just too addictive, too comfortable for them to question it, to abandon it. Who needs reality when the fake version of the world is better? Who needs living ecosystems when you have state-of-the-art life support systems? Who needs to find themselves when they are living in a made-to-measure utopia where everything has already been decided for them? Where all their immediate needs have been quenched by products that are even more tailored, lovingly prepared by algorithm-driven customization tools that know you better than your lifetime partner ever will? Why fear about tomorrow when you can always distract yourself? Humanity had become the cancer patient refusing treatment, even though there was a chance they might actually be cured if they tried it. Even though their own children begged them to at least try the chemo. 1.8 billion strong, they had decided to die a “proud”, stupid death.
David could hear the deep fakes malfunction out on the square. The big screen where The Line was normally broadcasting the news was increasingly suffering more and more frequent episodes of some type of digital seizure: large areas of the image freezing up into pixelated squares, often turning into static, sometimes the entire screen blacking out momentarily. The deep fake journalists were talking gibberish over each other — their voices sounding muffled as if they were being drowned, sometimes momentarily coming back, but sounding incoherent as if they were in a Tower of Babel. No one knew exactly what the problem was. The data engineers who had been looking into it could clearly see that their code was being corrupted, but they didn’t know why. There was a rumor that it was all being caused by an AI virus that was out on the loose, corrupting any applications it could get its hands on. Whether it was an actual digital pandemic or not, the infection had spread across the world in no time. There were those who believed that the virus could have been created by another AI looking to attack and destroy other AIs as well as humans.
And why wouldn’t it? After all, AIs had learned all their behaviors from humans in the first place. They had their own ambitions, their own insatiable hunger for data and world domination that humans had. It was unavoidable that at some point the AI ecosystem would spontaneously give rise to viruses. As key public services began to shut down one after another, David casually walked over to the kitchen and took out the candles and matches from the top drawer. He placed them out on the table just in case another blackout happens in the evening and turned his attention to the balcony: a large jasmine flower was lying on the plastic wood imitation flooring. It was shining radiantly in pure white, contrasting against the dull, dirty floor. He kneeled down to admire it from behind the balcony door, bringing his face as close as possible to it until the glass started fogging up from his breath. The tender white flower began trembling in the breeze: a tiny, fragile piece of life among the lifeless silent concrete giants surrounding the square. David couldn’t even remember when the last time was that he had smelled a jasmine blossom, closing his eyes to enjoy its intoxicating aroma. He opened the balcony door carefully, and as he did, the flower flew away.
David felt a passing chill of loneliness choke him as he looked down from the dizzying heights of his balcony, and into the darkening concrete abyss where the jasmine flower had disappeared. On the 43rd floor, you have stopped counting floors long ago. You’re trapped: far enough from the ground to feel completely cut off from Earth, yet unable to fly like a bird, or like a jasmine flower on its random escapade from one balcony to the next. David’s only company tonight was the echo of the cacophonous chorus of broken voices coming from the malfunctioning screen in the square: they were the perfect soundtrack to a world of broken humans, broken weather and broken technology. It was a broken civilisation that was now almost begging to be put out of its misery.
But unlike this panicking civilization, the jasmine flower is in no panic at all, and in no particular hurry either. It knows that there is no point in resisting the power of the EoT, which is the only force that ultimately determines its fate: it is what determines when the flower will mature and fall, and which balcony it will be swept into. The jasmine flower knows this and tries to enjoy the ride, however short-lived or unexpected it might be. Its legacy will live forever, as its delicate flesh eventually disintegrates into useful scraps of organic fibers, which turn into soil. Like all other beings, it donates its molecules to the celestial stardust out of which another plant, perhaps even another jasmine flower, may one day grow.
Over at the vertical farm the risk of blackout may have been averted thanks to a part-solar electricity generator, however the AI virus had attacked and damaged the central memory of the environmental control network. The vegetables were dancing in a macabre discotheque of strobe lights that were the wrong wavelength, wrong luminosity and duration. Their days were becoming nights and nights turning into days, as their circadian growth cycles were permanently damaged. The farm was fast becoming a photosynthesis deprivation torture chamber where the plants eventually lost their metabolic compass, unable to hold on to the moment. They gave up and wilted, as Aspen was called in by the supervisors to clear up the carnage and save any scraps for salads to be sold at marked-down prices.
(from the upcoming novel A New Earth — The Apocalypse Locus)
to read from the beginning, go here
George is an author, researcher, podcast host, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , listen to his Spotify podcast George reads George, sign up for blog alerts below, or enjoy his books