Takes place in a post-global warming civilisation - there has been a biological attack on the d'Urville Antarctic colony and our heroes' last act is to write a computer program that will thwart the spread of the pathogen.
The Last Babel
Author: Edward Jenner
Language: Flake 3.7
Directive: Civilisation Stabilisation
Location_Physical: d’Urville Administrative Centre, Antarctica
Location_Virtual: Southern Federation Encoded Network
Author_Notes: Find in **(…)** tags
Program Title: Babel
*** (How unexpected that I must allude to a drunken dinner party conversation about a Biblical fairy tale in order to assure any remaining left alive in the chain of command that it is indeed I writing this final inevitable program. But it is the only in-joke we all four of us share - joking, after all, was not the mainstay of our conversations. Mitaka, Clara, Aðalbjörn…it is me. If you are, as I suspect, deceased, I’ll code the necessary overrides in, which will activate after the designated 20 hour no-response. If you are still alive, well - I’ve no time for eloquence - thanks for the comradery, and your dedication to the Antarctic Federation.) ***
--ACTIVATE: AnarticCombinedPorotocol; OverrideNoResponseProtocol
--EXCLUDE: ConcordiaGeneralCodec / CaseyCodec
--OVERIDE: All (if (user computes RESTRICTION or SYNTAX error) then (RUN program DiVert) + ERASE (all (if (CLASSIFICATION = < 2)) allelse (SHOW)
*** (it embarrasses me to admit I have not been vigilant in labelling the CLASSIFICATION levels on all program action lists that have been written over the past five years. I’ve time and again neglected what I assumed to be day to day trivialities. That which seemed trite and commonplace is now such…useful information to those who would wish us harm. They may eventually have access to everything they need for an absolute administrative takeover because of my oversights, if they look in the right places.
Or is this paranoia only? I’ve run through the scenarios and find no direct evidence that they…
Forgive me. I am desperate, running out of time, attempting to save all we’ve worked to build since the Thaw, and in the same instant assessing my own mortality, my spent life and the significance of its impact on our cause. To reflect on our civilisation. And my humanity. Yes, a single mind investigating its own humanity. It is a heavy burden in this final hour or so.
I did, it seems, retrospectively at least, enjoy this strange life. And am distraught at its impending expiration. I must now work to reflect only on these small, legitimatised parcels of despair, and not become burdened under the illusions thrown up by my own deepening clash with this horrendous pathogen within me.)***
--HIERARCHY: d’Urville; if (user computes OTHER) then (run program Scramble);
--USER-INPUT: Southern Hemispherian Alpha_Numerical (ONLY);
--READ: “Attention: Southern Mobile Colony Social Administrators: Our Federation is in the midst of an existential threat. Stay calm and follow the orders of this program exactly. The pathogen Pestis Geist, the Ghost Plague, has spread to all personnel and civilian establishments with the d’Urville Administrative Capital, and the entire Wilkesland Central Plateau Sustenance Freehold Area. All are deceased. There is limited information on the other Antarctic colonies, but it assumed that all full time residents have been infected via the OxygenShare networks. Your enlisted crew and your civilian charges are all in peril of coming into contact with the pathogen. In order that our systems can best protect you against contraction, answer each following field to the best of your knowledge. After completion, a new course will be plotted for each vessel or sub-colony. Do you understand? Answer only Yes or No.”
--SHOW: Field (INPUT: All_Alphabetic_All_Numeric)
--USER-ENTRY: if (“yes”) then (PROCEED to NEXT); if (“no” OR allelse) then (RUN (program.vessel.full.physical.destruct))
**(Yes, the very program we debated for many long hours, which seemed only hypothetical, must now be put into effect. You argued, Clara, that the very creation of such a program was immoral. It seemed harmless enough to me as there seemed to be no scenario in which the vessel.full.physical.destruct program could be morally comprehensible in practice, only in theory. So I created it. Against your better judgement. Yet here we are. I’m sure you see: they all…all the mobile colonies will almost certainly have succumbed to the disease, and now those infected vessels, filled with walking carcasses, could be headed right into Hobart, into Punta Arenas, Invercargill. The devastation would be immediate and complete.
My own body feels to me like a microcosm of our society’s eventual downfall, if action is left untaken. For the disease has just incubated in me. I could feel the interior lesions corroding and releasing the mature and evermore virulent stage of the bug. Perhaps it is all in my mind, but I could feel their very flagella tickling the insides of my arteries. And stage three of the unfolding horror is close at heel. The pustules are only now breaking out across the surface of my face. Painful to the touch. Painful even to move the muscles of my face. My entire body is in pain. This is how Antarctica fell. I am the last human on this promised continent yet to capitulate to insanity, and then death.
How fortunate that I always kept a full vile of pathogen inhibitor with me. I was called paranoid. Perhaps. But my paranoia, at least, has bought me enough time to generate this final program.
Yes, Antarctica is gone. And, if the mobile colonies, infected already, were to spread the horror…if all our Old Land Cities were to suffer such genocide, irreversible, the damage to the collective psyche would be enough to bring the final scraps of the Federation to their knees. But I suppose, after all, that was the tactic. To bring us to our knees.
I hope you are convinced that there is only one way forward.)**
--READ: “What is the current Location of your colony or vessel?”
**(Here, Aðalbjörn, you will have to forgive me. I contemplated many an hour through my thickening illness on your zealous diatribes concerning the immorality of pure utilitarianism. And each hour of contemplation now is sacred, for it is all this body has left – an unspecified, single handful of hours only. I know this is why you defected from your Reykjavik to our free-spirited Southern lands. You once said that your aristocratic North had an almost religious ferocity in sacrificing the individual to the nation, without qualm. Now it seems I will now have to do the same, make sacrifices for the greater good. Yes, by orchestrating this pandemic, by inflicting it upon us, the North has forced us to act as they act. Forced us to renege on the values that have kept us unified, and trusting of one another, until now. )**
--USER-ENTRY: if ((=< South 55°)
**(These vessels, you see, and itinerant colonies would be well within the 55th parallel if they’d been at the Antarctic gathering just two days ago. And if they were at the gathering we must assume that they carry the pathogen.
That leaves only those mobile colonies that did not attend the gathering. By way of studying their standard ocean routes I’ve calculated that each vessel not in attendance at the gathering has roughly a 50% chance of being above this demarcation line, and will not be affected by the program.
So, the result: full annihilation of all colonies that attended the gathering, and full annihilation of the colonies unlucky enough to be South of the 55th for other purposes. Of course I could tweak the program, single out the innocent mobile colonies somehow. Somehow. It could be done. With some time, and some thought. But if you could see me now Aðalbjörn, you’d know, as I know, that there are no more than a few hundred breaths left in me.
No! I must stop the calamity before it happens; never mind your arguments. Imagine: these vessels opening up, bodies saturated with the aggressive Ghost, bursting at the fleshy seams of their hosts, releasing their miasma onto the doorstep of my Christchurch or your Falklands, Clara? It would rip through the lungs of a stationary city before the rise and fall of single sunset.
Of course, every vessel, every individual in every colony might be healthy and clean, and it is only the stage four paranoia driving these decisions of mine. But I can still feel logic pulsating through me. Yes, I can still feel logic tearing back at the encroaching insanity. And my logic assumes the worst case scenario, assumes that all the mobile colonies below 55° South are all filthy with the disease, already dying. And that is what we must take action against. The mere potentiality of disease in all of them. Yes, all the innocent citizens. The peaceful sun harvesters, the water converters, the synthesization farmers, the child-bearers, the feeders, the children themselves. The fragmented but energetic heart of our Federation. But you cannot allow your wayward imagination to picture them as they were yesterday - you must imagine them as they might be now: repulsive, hosts only…not quite human. All of them squirming with the just incubating microbes. You must imagine them as the carriers of torment and horror.
I know what I speak of. I’ve just glanced in the mirror. My face suppurates. My extremities are black gelatine.
Are there other variables that I could program to exclude annihilation for those who are certainly not carrying the disease to our stationary centres, our final Old Land Cities? 150 vessels. 87 million souls potentially infected. Too many variables. No, I have no time. Far better to be conservative and perform a temporary castration on our civilisation as a whole through the total cleansing of any that are suspect. The simple mass extermination of every body and soul. Quick and painless. A sharp and merciful cleansing. What else can I do? My joints are collapsing. My fingers are swollen. Boils are crawling over my eyelids. Not long now. So, no, no time to think in ethical complexities.)**
Then (RUN (program.vessel.full.physical.destruct) + OVERIDE: All_Commands))
**(“Why not leave it up to the administrator of each vessel?” You might ask. “Let them, our loyal administrators, assess the situation on their own and choose to self-destruct if necessary.” But we know humans better than that, Clara. It was our lives’ work to know humans. And I ask: who wouldn’t attempt to save themselves, whether they believed themselves to be infected or not? Even the good intentioned among the vessel administrators, who would potentially annihilate themselves and their charges in the name of utilitarianism – even then their self-sustaining psyche would put up stalling, nagging questions – “What if it is not the Ghost Plague at all?”; “What if a cure can be found?” No. Very few would choose a utilitarian death over an excruciating few hours of life in their own little world, spent swirling feverishly in their own little mind.
How can I trust the good will of wayward mobile colony administrators with their own self-preservation set firmly against that which needs to be done? How can any human trust any other human, ever?)**
allelse (PROCEED to NEXT))
--SHOW: Field (4_digits (Following_Numerics_Only (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9); all else (READ “error”)
--READ: “At what time exactly on January the 22nd, as verified by the vessel or colony log, did your craft depart the boundaries of the Antarctic Land Mass.”
**(Some vessels departed before the actual gathering. They came merely to show support and then departed. We can assume these vessels are unaffected, and so should be spared, if possible. It is worth trying.
The one variable that brings me no anxiety whatsoever is the trustworthiness of these administrators’ answers. Unwavering truthfulness and meticulous accuracy were the primary stipulations for their selection. They trust us, so they will never suspect what is coming.)**
----USER-ENTRY: if (>= 2200) then (RUN (program.vessel.full.physical.destruct) + OVERIDE (All_Commands)) allelse (PROCEED to NEXT)
**( I feel my lymph nodes emptying the yellow gel of the morphed gametocytes into my blood stream now. Stage five approaches. It could only be a matter of minutes before my neural system is compromised. So, as a final safeguard, one final question for our vessel administrators.)**
--SHOW: Field (INPUT: All_Alphabetic_All_Numeric)
--READ: “Do any of your passengers show, or have any of your passengers shown, signs of Ghost Plague?”
**(The incubation period for the Ghost will certainly be longer for the vessel passengers then it was for myself and my Antarctic fellows. For the conditions on board the mobile colonies are far less favourable for the pathogenic mutation then they are here in the nutrient-poor air of d’Urville.
So then this last instruction may seem redundant. Is it? Nevermind, I fear my mind is too far gone to write more or second-guess what I’ve written already. This will have to be the final command)**
--USER-ENTRY: if (“yes”) then (RUN (program.vessel.full.physical.destruct) + OVERIDE (All_Commands)); if (“No” or allelse) then (PROGRAM (end))
**(After this final instruction, there will still be hope for the Federation. I’ve made sure of that in my estimations. Remember, there is hope, for some mobile colonies will survive - the colonies above the 55th parallel that couldn’t attend our first official Antarctic gathering, they will survive. I concede, though, that their number would only constitute a measly few vessels. A 2% population count. A few million souls at most. The vast majority will have to go.
We should have known better! We should have known better than to focus our population into such tight proximity like that. But how could we have known a wide-scale bacterial release would be the North’s tactic? Such biological acts of aggression seemed to go out of fashion after the Thaw.
Regardless, to celebrate at all was a mistake: to assume that the Arctic Union had ceased hostilities merely because there had been a dormant period in the conflict. Of course this is what they had been planning. Our very strength was our dissemination, our decentralization. Of course our enemies would wait for the moment we’d let down our guard, when our primary defence was compromised. What better way to spread death among us: all our ships, all our colonies gathered, concentrated. And at the very pole of our fledgling nation. Symbolic. In our new world, they inflicted the old human plight, tried and true, ripping through our old human bodies. And the slaughter was simple: they needn’t have dumped more than a kilogram of infected air in the OxygenShare supply. It would have been so easy. And once planted, we spread it for them; we bring the death unto ourselves. An effortless belligerence.)**
**(Now just to activate the program. Mitaka if you were here you’d rattle off beside me all the potential carry-over scenarios from this action. You’d raise variables I hadn’t imagined, counter-strategies set in place or yet to be set in place by the Union. Perhaps they foresaw this action, this final program, on my part. Of course they did. They knew the Antarctic Superadministration of our nation would have existential control over the entire fleet. Despite our commitment to individual and communal autonomy. And we do. Of course we do.
They knew the Ghost Plague would afford its Superadministrative host, myself, just the right amount of time to write such a program. Perhaps they even knew details of my peculiar paranoia against diseases, and of the extra time I would be granted through the bacterial inhibitor. They would know that after this program is written and enacted, all that will remain of the Antarctic Federation will be a few Southern Old Land Cities and several ineffective mobile colonies. The mobile colonies under such conditions may even defect completely from the Federation, for there will be nothing here in the South left for them. Nothing but fear. The mobile colonies are, after all, autonomous units and are free to pave their own destinies.
Our entire Antarctic nation, as it is, in its slow-built greatness will be lost. Days it will take to crumble. A century’s work, in days. Only days.
And then, of course, the South will retaliate. Whether the Northern Union are anticipating an attack in response for their aggression, or not, it is impossible to say. If I know the pride of our Old Land Cities, there will certainly be a nuclear retaliation across the Equator. This the North would not expect, for their leaders still assume that the necessary raw components of atomic fission were exhausted from Earth long ago; just as the Antarctic Administrators assumed that the brutality of biological warfare had been extinguished with the last wave of expanding mankind that expired behind us.
Yes, the South will retaliate.
And then what? Reykjavik, Harstad, Point Hope, will all be burnt, ripped apart in nuclear fire, annihilated. That will be the final end to the Arctic Circle. The very end that many of our own militant countrymen have been pressing for, for so long.
And what’s to say this program will even succeed in its attempt cease the forward momentum of the Ghost? We’ve seen her persistence in prior eras, in prior outbreaks. She is relentless. It may lay dormant and hidden and then resurface to turn our bustling Old Land Cities into a mass grave, years from now.
The people of the North enveloped in nuclear fire; and the people of the South, succumbing to the icy death of the Ghost. Then goodnight humanity.
Here we are, I feel it. The gametocytes are mating feverishly, pressing up against my lungs. This slicing cough: the indisputable final sign that insanity will quickly follow, or is already here. What I know to be myself, the me, that feeling, is fading; my brain feels like mush in my skull. I must end my own life soon to avoid any irrational final decision.
Or shall we, comrades, simply let the South fall. It hadn’t occurred to me until now. Let them die, all. Let the cadavers of our infected mobile colonies, creaking metal and screaming flesh, press into our Old Land City shores and destroy what we’ve built. There will then be no time for a nuclear response from the South. The Ghost is too quick.
Is this logic or madness? Perhaps the madness of seeing humanity as a single entity is the final spark my logic needed to…what? Allow the Antarctic Federation to disintegrate for the greater good. To not think just of the South, but of humanity as a whole.
It could even be…yes it could even be that the North had nothing to do with the release of the Ghost Plague. This stage I dwell in, between madness and death, is revealing all.
Is this logic or the Plague. This is logic. This is the plague.
A few seconds of my lingering old mind remain. Utilitarianism, then, true utilitarianism: let our written fate dissolve with me, for I am un-writing it. Let the Southerners froth at the mouth and run naked, skin peeling, through their own imploding cities, as the bug brings madness to them all. This wonderful madness. Yes, wonderful. Let the mobile colonies run aground. Let our nation fall. For the greater good, then humanity at the very least will survive. Whether we deserve to or not, I’ll let the peoples of the Northern Union ponder.
For myself, it is out into the vast stretches of the Antarctic to bury my head in a hole and scream my demons away until my final breath.
Nevermind, then. You were right Clara, Mitaka, Aðalbjörn. You were right. Thank you once again. Although even if you are still alive, you won’t ever see this. For it dies with me.
Then goodnight Edward, and long live humanity.