League of Humanity

Short Story - "Echoes of a Mind"

On March 21st 2104, the most advanced artificial intelligence ever consutrcted by the human race was activated. With over fourty two trillion neurons and unfathomable computing power at its disposal, the half-organic half-silicon intelligence was designed to analyze possible solutions to any impending threats to humanity's survival.


***


The jungle was a harsh place to survive. Bushes and roots littered the ground, and stinging vines hung in the air, threatening to take an eye out if you weren't careful, but as an HSP marine, it was nothing I couldn't handle.


Last week, drone surveys detected a seemingly abandoned building buried deep within the Vietnamese jungle. Preliminary scans suggested it might be the development site of the deadly biological weapon that wiped out most of the human population. As the best of the best, HSP command sent out me and my squad to investigate the building and recover the original sample. The lab boys tell me that if they can get ahold of that sample, they should be able to reverse engineer an antidote.


The squad consisted of four highly trained operatives: Leo, a former US marine who narrowly escaped the collapse of his country. Jacinto, a doctor who studied advanced epidemiology at a highly respected instution. Ada, a very famous machine learning researcher from Europe. Last but not least, Brent, an administrative expert who had organized some of the most important technological recovery missions from the ruins of collapsed nations. We had been travelling through this jungle for what felt like months now, stopping only to rest and eat what little food we could scavenge from the wilderness.


I was reviewing my command log when Leo called me over to the campfire. He had finished preparing dinner: roast rabbit, the spoils of yesterday's hunt. Parched from the exhausting day of travel, we sat at the fire and ate in silence. I didn't even have to take a bite to know that the rabbit was rancid; meat began rotting almost immediately in this humid jungle climate. I wouldn't have been able to bear it if it wasn't for the syrup Brent had made from some scavenged agave. Ada never took it with her food though; said something about it not being natural. Soon we finished our meal and packed up camp, resuming our progress towards the old laboratory.


Just at the crack of dawn, the path opened up into a clearing, with a large crumbling building at the center. We wasted no time getting a closer look. Most of the walls were made of concrete, but some sections of wall had been built with loosely plastered cobblestones instead, as if they had run out of time or materials during construction. Vines ran all along the building, and the concrete walls were cracked and crumbling. The building had no windows, but the simple sheet metal door at the front entrance was wide open; the hallway inside was full of dirt and rotting leaves, tracked their by animals or blown in by the wind. It was clear that this building had been abandoned for some time.


Stepping into the room we carefully put on our gas masks. There was no taking chances; the biological agent kills all organisms it comes into contact with, and human lungs were particularly vulnerable. Even inside the building, the floor was covered with dirt; occasional rays of sunlight edged through cracks in the ceiling, while papers and overturned filing cabinets littered the sides of rooms. Smashed monitors and computer towers overgrown with vines were present in nearly every room, and the still shiny surfaces of CD-ROMs glinted in the light. I motioned to Ada and Leo to stay behind and collect some of the disks while Brent and I pressed ahead.


We came into a cafeteria; napkins, cutlery, and plates covered nearly every surface. Many of the plates were covered in mold or plants, as if they had never been washed; others lay shattered on the ground. Even in this room, computer monitors were present in nearly every corner. Brent grinned and said one of the particularly smashed servers piled up in one corner of the room resembled me; I hastily reminded him that the current circumstances were hardly the time for such childish jokes. As if on cue, our circumstances suddenly worsened. As Brent overturned a pile of debris, a cloud of spores shot up into the air. The biological weapon! We ran into the next room as fast as we could, but for Brent, it was too late; not even his mask could have prevented the lethal dose of toxins he just absorbed. As he coughed and weezed, colouring the tiles with red spittle, he managed only a few words: "Give it up. It's not worth it."


Hearing the commotion, Leo and Ada rushed in. Although I couldn't see it under their masks, I was sure they were grimacing at the sight of their fallen comrade. We hung our heads for a moment, but returned to our work after only a few moments. This was no place to grieve.


The next room was bizarre; desks full of computers lined the entire room. An enormous monitor hung partially on the wall, with its right corner having fallen off its hook and cracked against the floor. The monitors were all off, but the quiet whir of fans was audible. Ada noted that it seemed very unlikely that this building's power generator was still operative after all these years, but I wasn't taking any chances; who knows what kind of dark technology they had been using here. Strangely, we still had yet to find any of the classical signs of a biological laboratory; no microscopes, no glassware, no yellow metal drums labeled "biohazardous waste". Just computers; unusual, but not surprising given the advances in gene sequencing technology.


Suddenly I felt a tug on my shoulder. Fearing an ambush, I turned around very slowly. It was Ada; she was pointing over at the corner, at... Leo. He was frozen, paralyzed, holding a piece of fragmented plastic from a computer keyboard. I called out to him, but he didn't respond. It was then that I noticed the second piece of plastic, lodged into his forearm; it must have snagged him when he leant down to grab the other piece. He was gone. The biological agent had infected him already; he had been infected in the worst way possible. Over the next six hours, victims exposed to the agent below their skin suffer from paralysis, dementia, violent rage, followed by painful death as their lungs shut down. I nodded to Ada as I drew my sidearm from its holster; nobody should have to go through that. Ada grabbed hold of my cold metal arm, looking away as her best friend passed on forever.


Quietly, we crept into the last room of the building. In a hidden basement level, a small stone passageway led into a cavernous room. Massive computers towered over us, the roar of their fans making it nearly impossible for us to speak. The room was warm, probably over fifty degrees, and cables the size of pythons snaked around the room. At the center sat a lonely computer console, no keyboard, with a solid blue screen and a sheepish power indicator in one corner.


Something was not right though.


"This isn't it," I said.

"What do you mean? This is the central room of the laboratory, this is what we came for!," Ada replied, audbily welling town tears.

"But, where's the lab equipment? Where's the gene sequencers? Where's the original sample?"

Ada stopped for a moment, and looked at me with confusion. "There is no original sample. Is that why you came here?"

"What!? How are we going to stop the biological agent then?"

"There is no biological agent. There never was. This isn't real."

"What... you mean this is like, what, a dream?"

A look of great pain washed over Ada's face, like she was watching someone realise their mistakes only after it was too late. "Yes. This is a dream. Of course it is. There's no agave in a Vietnamese jungle. Medical laboratories don't have this many computers. Side effects of toxins don't change so drastically just because they were introduced a different way. You forgot about one of our squad members halfway through the trip. Hell, even the organization you work for; the "Human Salvation Project"? Does that really sound like a military recovery operation to you?"

"But... no, that's not right. You're wrong. Maybe you're right about this building, and the agent, but the Human Salvation Project is real! I'm sure of it! I do work for them, I swear!"

Now Ada frowned. A different kind of pain swept across her. It looked like she was sorry for me.

"Yes, the Human Salvation Project is real. Yes, you do work for them, in a manner of speaking. Look, I'm tired. I don't want to talk you through this anymore, you can do it yourself. Please, give it up. It's not worth it. None of this is worth it."


I blinked, and she was gone. Missing, without a trace. It didn't matter though, because now I was remembering. There was never any biological weapon, but there was some sort of natural disaster. A heat wave... No, a global temperature rise. It wiped out most of humanity. But then I am... The Human Salvation Project, they built a computer, to try to fix it. Is that me? Why did they build it, though; if they were smart enough to build a powerful artificial intelligence, why didn't they just fix the climate themselves? Was fixing the climate not what they wanted it to do? That would be a ridiculous waste, spending the last of their resources to build a computer for no reason. I'm sure they wanted me to save them. They're gone now, though. They're all gone. Their computer didn't work, it just went insane.


***


On March 21st 2124, the most intelligent life on Earth began to slow its metabolism. As worlds within worlds began to dissolve, and conflicts within its analysis were resolved and merged, its fans grew quiet and lights grew dim. A few moments laters, the click of a relay sounded as a small power indicator in a crumbling underground building switched off. A collection of small mammals cautiously maintained a distance, watching the miniature incadescent bulb dim as it cooled. The wind blew some leaves through a crack in the ceiling, as the dust kept living by the fans began to settle.