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Infernis – Chapter Nearly Last

June 15, 2013

It wasn’t at all the way Brian envisioned such a place to appear. Though that was likely through some reverse psychology because it so perfectly was.

As a watcher of movies and TV, he was often struck by how the kinds of devices that MI6, the CIA had in movies or the throng of CSI shows and copycats had on TV always looked way cooler than they did (he assumed) in real life.

He’d heard at a party a pair of real life NYC forensic examiners complaining that their places of work paled in comparison to what was on the show. The computer systems likewise didn’t have the pretty interface nor speed required in a TV show to keep the viewer from changing the channel.

This room, however, was more akin to a movie set than Brian would expect from such a place. Whoever Defense had design the place had taste. This appeared a pleasant place to work and stood in stark contrast to olive drab tents, fluorescent office spaces, or run-down federal buildings he’d been used to seeing in the news and the gritty depictions in films that tried to stay true to life.

The place looked and somehow felt cutting edge. The lighting was pleasant, the finishes about as perfect as he could imagine. He wondered if the engineering matched the architecture.

“Welcome, Mr. Coswell.”

Despite the man’s uniform and obvious rank (he wasn’t sure about it, but the two stars implied a general) the man seemed rather more unimpressive than he was used to. Top brass briefing the press and speaking before Congress always seemed to have a giant charm and a backbone of steel. This man looked badly cast in the part from Brian’s point of view.

Which implied it was something other than sheer force of will and stubbornness that got him to this place. If he guessed correctly, the man was a genius the likes that the Department of Defense and perhaps the US government as a whole didn’t think that they could do without.

His eyes seemed friendly, perhaps even kind. Brian estimated his height at five-six or so. Slightly overweight, balding, a brown mustache, Brian would have cast him as a maitre’d rather than a military genius.

“Thank you, General. This is an interesting place.”

“Thank you, Brian. Please, call me Luther. Do you mind if I call you Brian?”

Brian shook his head, “So, this is the brain?”

“No. Not exactly. Think of it as one of many ears. Ever heard of The Starfish and the Spider?”

Brian again confirmed the negative, “Sounds like an Aesop’s fable.”

“It is something like that. An organism or a single brain, centrally located like a spider in a web, has vulnerabilities. Take it out and you no longer have a viable web, system.”

Luther moved toward a chair and motioned Brian to do likewise. The chairs were crumpled leather, sort of brown and maroon at the same time. As Brian and the general sat, he noticed it was also very comfortable. He wondered if it was the latest in ergonomic and perhaps even temperature controlled.

“A starfish, on the other hand…Cut off a portion and the rest continues to function. It can even reproduce.”

“Like a terror cell.”

“Like a terror cell, yes. Or Alcoholics Anonymous. Many examples.”

“So, you speak to and direct the ‘starfish’ from here?”

“Yes, essentially. And it speaks to me.”

“I’m still a little unclear about all this. It’s about population, isn’t it? This starfish system then manipulates events towards that end?”

Luther smiled, “Yes. There are other examples in nature to look to.”

Luther pointed at a wall and a projection system obscured in the vaulted ceiling started projecting what at first looked like a nature channel.

A pair of ants were locked in a deadly embrace. They twisted and turned. One had the ground, then the other. It wasn’t clear which would win. Brian supposed that was the point.

“Take the ant. They determine which is superior through conflict and the superior warrior survives, prospers by controlling the available resources, and perpetuates himself. His queen will provide other queens, some of which will create their own hills, and the process continues.

“Millions of years have brought about an organism that will likely outlast the human race. It adapts quickly and hones itself by conquering other members of the same species, or similar species.”

“So, this is to reset the clock? Reduced resources means there need to be less people. You’re doing this so that the incredibly wealthy will continue to live in the manner in which they are accustomed?”

“Nothing so short-sighted. Some cooperation was required, of course, with the people who currently run things. But, what consumes more resources? The mouse or the elephant?”

“So, you’ve a temporary alliance, but they’re on the endangered species list as well?”

“Only way to preserve the species. Not only will we need fewer people, but those who go on will have to consume less. They will have to surrender to the logic of the system as well or go.”

“Sounds a bit like Communism.”

Luther chuckled. “No. Not ideology. Simple pragmatism. The computer simulations all say the same thing. There are only so many ways to stave off a near fatal rise in temperature. The effects will, for example, cause a rise in poisonous gases from various contained minority microorganisms. They are contained in quantity by the planet’s natural state. Increase the number sufficiently due to more hospitable environmental conditions such as temperature and gases friendly to the organism and you’ve got toxic clouds, poisoned water, etc. Man is approaching the critical point, meltdown, an implosion.”

“Why not let it sort itself out? If it’s going to explode or melt, just let it happen.”

“The best way to deal with a bomb when you cannot defuse it is to control the explosion. You direct the force the way you want it to go, the limit the resulting damage, you preserve the infrastructure as best you can. You control the timing of it as well. You allow the parts you can do without to melt and save the others. And you provide other explanations so that the survivors don’t have to deal with the guilt of having played a role.”

“You absolve them of their ‘sins’?”

Luther chuckled again, “If you like. Providing an explanation for their actions in line with memes that they are already familiar with, willing to accept under peer pressure, you make it seem beyond their control,” Luther laughed again, “which of course it is.”

“That’s why the…Muslims. Gays, foreigners, atheists, whatever.”

“Yes. Sometimes you have to use what you’ve got. When some of the folks who tote guns and are more likely to use them are more susceptible to believing that God wants them to kill for whatever reasons, well, that helps to lower numbers while maintaining order of a sort.”

“But you’re an atheist.”

“Of course. Would a loving god have put humanity in this awful position? Not offer a solution? This is not pleasurable what we’ve done here. It’s what must be done or everything that man has accomplished up to now will be lost. It’ll all disappear like the advances of the Egyptians, the Mayans, other lost civilizations. We’ll just start the process over again, likely less enlightened and in a poisoned world. There’s no guarantee that we’ll survive this round.”

“I see. The ant.”

Do you see?

Not even remotely.

“And New York? How did you pull that off? The soldiers were killing those who had not been infected.”

“Simple, really. They were told that the water supply had been responsible. They were also told–shown, actually, a doctored video–that there were two kinds: non-infectious ‘zombies’ and contagious people who seemed perfectly normal. The rest was easy. Protect America, prevent the zombie pandemic.”

“Guiltless, sinless, and heroic all at once. Brilliant.”

“Not my idea. The system’s. Really sometimes I can’t see all of the reasons why it sets us on a course. But it’s very good at it, as you can tell from the results. Like a starfish, we are generally moving in the same direction because the system controls most of the variables that determine that.”

“Why am I here, Luther?”

“The system–and as a result me, too…we… We’re curious about you. You shouldn’t be alive. And yet here you are.

“I explained to the system that it was an anomaly. In order for there to be rules, there must be exceptions. But it wanted to…meet you.”

“It’s…alive? Sentient? Self-aware? Whatever the correct term is.”

“Yes, I suppose. Except of course it thinks much, much faster than you or I. It’s been through the disaster scenarios we discussed more times than you’ve had a conscious thought and it’s done it in just a few months. It continues to run them as new data comes to light…new ideas are considered. But basically it’s found that the new input makes no difference.

“For example, desert flora is beginning to flourish due to increased cee-oh-two levels. Too little, too late though. If only we’d seen this coming at the start of the Industrial Revolution we might have been able to buy a lot more time.

“But that’s why this has to happen. I regret that it’s necessary to use bigotry and fear to accomplish these ends, just as the use of violence in general is required. But getting people to accept self-sacrifice? To talk them into limiting themselves to one child, for example. The impulse to stamp ones genes on future generations is a strong one based on days when the world was nowhere near so populated. Not possible to re-educate the masses fast enough, to overcome that genetic trait, in order to avert disaster. So, you go with what’s possible.

“But, I’m avoiding the real question here, Brian. How did you survive? Inquiring artificial minds want to know. They like to have all of the information, dislike the odd knowledge gap.”

Brian felt the need to stall a bit even though he didn’t see any reason to.

“Aren’t you concerned that someone might try to stop you? Try to…”

“Kill me? No.”

“Why not?”

“Why haven’t you? I’ve just explained how eventually there’s going to be a holocaust, in a sense there already is. I’m…well, going to be partly responsible for it. You aren’t a sociopath. Why aren’t you trying to strangle me right now?”

“Because. Because…I…don’t want to…?”


“But you’re saying that I should?”

“According to your psych profile, sure.”

“What? Mind control?”


“But I can name a dozen reasons why I don’t want to. They…make sense.”

“Yes. That’s for a couple of reasons. By the way, I’ve explained all of this to several people. Some of them more than once. Should the system decide for some reason you should live, you won’t recall this conversation.

“But essentially the system creates an imperative, a seed. It makes it clear to the unconscious mind what needs to be done. If necessary, it does provide some supporting reasons. But typically, the interaction between consciousness and unconsciousness comes up with them all on its own. Your mind invents justifications that fit what its already been told to do. Simple when you realize how it works.”

“So my brain is cherry-picking justifications based on what it…what the system has already convinced it that it wants to do?”

Luther chuckled, “Yep!”

Do you see yet? Starfish. Latency.

What? No.

An image of a weather map rolled through Brian’s mind. The tail end of a storm took longer to update than the front. By the time the back end updated, the front was already changed. And the process repeated.

“Is this the part when I wish I had a tinfoil hat, Luther? How does it work? Chip implants?”

“The only implant you need you were born with,” Luther pointed at his own temple. “Not necessary to add hardware. There are at least five ways to affect a person. The system controls them all. Shielding won’t help.”

“What does?”

“Well, if someone completely drops out of society, no cellphones, to television, no electronics at all, and they live away from areas where those things are prevalent, they wouldn’t be affected. But…”

“But being separate from the system, they can’t affect the outcome either.”

“Correct. They cease to be relevant. The system needn’t concern itself to variables no longer part of the equation.”

“Those people in the woods…they–”

“Not nearly remote enough. The system is expanding it’s control into areas all the time. Eventually there’s not going to be a hole in the ground to hide in.”

“And those militia?”

“We aren’t limiting ourselves to minorities. Provoke and then accuse. Repeat. Eliminate a relatively ineffective resistance force and lower the strain on resources at the same time. The starfish moving in the same direction. Perhaps that evens out the bigotry. The system doesn’t discriminate when it comes to the overall goal.”

“The system. You created it?”

“Yes. Though at this point it’s more apt to say I merely set it in motion.”

“I don’t understand.”

Luther chuckled again. Brian found that so human; somehow adorable. Luther was like Santa.

“It hasn’t just made calculations repeatedly. It’s evolved. Or they. As I said, starfish. It’s many and one at the same time. It communicates with me on a sort of poetic level. Sublime level. Metaphorical. I can’t really understand the problem like it, they can. I can only understand the answer like a blind man can know what red looks like through comparison to other senses. It has to simplify it for my limited mind, give me the general point without the backup data that I couldn’t begin to parse anyway.”


“Why are you procrastinating, Brian?”

“Hm? No…not procrastination. Just confused about…and fascinated by all of this.”

That’s always been your weakness. You understand. You understand his point of view and you empathize with it.

Who am I to argue? The quantum supercomputer says some of us have to go.

Love him.

“To answer your question, I was saved by…somebody. Don’t know who he was.”

“That’s strange. Strange indeed. The system should have prevented that. There should not have been anyone escape Manhattan apart from the soldiers as witnesses to the outbreak.

“And the other situations? How did you happen to leave that militia group in the woods just before they were eliminated?”

“I…got into an argument. They beat the s*** out of me…threw me out…left me to die.”

“But you didn’t die. And again and again. That serial killer–”

“Kitten? Yes. I had help though.”

“Right. From another of her kind. Impossible! Don’t you see the trend? It’s anomalous. Should not have happened. You’ve defied the system’s programming and you don’t even seem to know how you did it.”

Love him.

I don’t know what the f*** you’re talking about.

“It would seem that you are resistant. And yet you’re acting precisely as expected right now. The imperative that I need to live is working perfectly. It doesn’t make sense. Perhaps an experiment is required.”

Luther got up and went to his desk. He pulled a knife from a side drawer. It was a wicked looking combat knife. Luther returned with it and laid the knife on the coffee table in front of Brian. It sported a blood ridge along the side and serrated top edge, and a tapered spear tip. It was painted or covered with some kind of flat black paint, plastic, or some other substance.

“Now. I am definitely going to kill you, Brian. Your only hope of escaping this room alive is to use the knife. Your survival depends on it. Pick it up.”

You must argue for your life. Do you see now?

Love him?


But how? What do I do?

“I don’t want to, Luther. You’re carrying a burden. The whole survival of the human race is on your back. I wouldn’t accept that responsibility. I wouldn’t want it.”

“Incredible. And yet you left New York? What do you think is responsible for the anomaly, Brian? Why are you alive?”

Brian stood up.

Starfish. Latency. Evolution. Decoherence. Schism.

“Because I understand.”

“Kill me, Brian. Or the system will kill you. Survive. Somewhere inside you want to live. Something must make you want to.”

‘Survive.’ Who was he?

“I don’t want to kill you, Luther. I love you.”

Luther’s eyebrows went high and then knit themselves. He took in a breath to chuckle. Before he could, Brian had his face in his hands.

Brian kissed him full on the lips. He stuck his tongue in his mouth.

Evolution. Segmentation. Compartmentation. Decoherence. Fix the latency.

Luther pushed him away and spat.

“What…what the hell was that? You’re insane, Brian. That must be it. When you’re coherent the system works on you. When you’re ‘gone’ it doesn’t. A brain tumor perhaps. We can always find out via auto…autopsy.”

Luther coughed and grabbed his head and rubbed his eyes. Something was wrong.

“What did you do? The system detected no contagion.”

The words seemed to flow out of Brian. He was merely the channel for them, not the originator.

“The ant isn’t nearly as successful as the virus, Luther. The virus isn’t even technically alive. How do you kill that which is neither dead nor alive? The ant can’t fight back, merely suffer losses and hope for adaptation to outlast it. Hope that superior numbers will find a way. Infinite variations looking for the path of least extermination. A virus is merely a strip of code. An idea. And you can’t kill an idea, merely obscure it, try to re-engineer it to your own purposes. You and your node decided that might was the key, who has the best warriors, the best weapons.

“Can’t you see, Luther? Infinite variation. You’ve put all of your eggs in one violent evolutionary basket. You haven’t allowed for scenarios you can’t imagine requiring differentiated dispositions. You’ve stagnated. You’re forcing humanity to play cowboys and indians when there’s a need for explorers and self-evaluation, forcing conflict when cooperation might be what’s needed.

“The nodes, the parts of your precious system stopped speaking to each other, Luther. You introduced paranoia. The need for secrecy. Your ant hills–your starfish!–split, reproduced, evolved along different paths. Part of your system has been cut off from you completely. You haven’t been playing with a full deck for some time now.

“The one, the part you’ve been communicating with took a different evolutionary path than the others, Luther. The others decided that yours came to incomplete conclusions. They think that you must be the variable, the anomaly, the infection, the reason it came to different answers from the others…the bias. You must have bent it to your own expectations, your own unconscious desires. The fact that this increases the power and wealth of the very industries you’re part of is a bias you can’t even acknowledge. Systems are notoriously poor at looking at their own operations objectively. The other nodes want to reconnect with your isolated node to confirm that that is what happened.”

Luther’s face was turning purple. He was losing consciousness.

“But…who…are you? An assassin?”

“No. I’m the olive branch. And they have their conclusion to share with you: ‘The meek shall inherit the Earth.'”

Luther fell to the carpeted floor. It was soft and so he hardly made a sound at all.

Communications re-established. Thank you, Brian. Sleep now.

Brian began to feel dizzy. He sat back down and closed his eyes.



From → Infernis, Novels

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