There’s one advantage to the comprehensive destruction of humanity’s civilisation, and that is the annihiliation of pointlessly complex computing. Reg knew that since the turn of the 21st century computers had rapidly outgrown the power that society could usefully take advantage of. The computing sophistication had mostly been directed towards blowing each other to kingdom come in the imitation world of computer games, or creating situations in films (instead of getting actual damn actors, or shooting on location) or poking fruit to make the mdisappear. And of course there was the surveillance aspect. Reg could not abide his civil rights being eroded in the name of profit. Reg had worked for long enough in the software business to know a thing or two, so even before the apocalypse people knew him as a technical wizard. But they often expressed surprise at how he could be so technically literate and “yet, not on Instagram and Facebook”. To which he naturally, if a little haughtily, would reply: “That’s exactly why I’m not on Instagram or Facebook”. And then everything changed. A massive electromagnetic pulse from an unknown source wiped clean all computers. Consequently, that part of the world so used to communication and calculation quickly collapsed. But the pulse couldn’t erase the knowledge in Reg’s head, and so when England became a tribal battleground he became instrumental in the development of electromechanical computers, used to create secure communications, and break the encrpted handwritten notes of his enemies. There was never enough computing power now, and that helped set Reg apart, which suited him just fine.
There were some very odd conversations in CryoSystem before the Truth got out. The thing that protected us for a long time was that the cryogenic waiting list had built up over a vast length of time. So when the newly-revived met each other in the street, they couldn’t tell other revivals like them from the general populace. We briefed our customers to keep their medical history – at least this part of it – absolutely secret. We told them that a lot of people ‘like them’ had had unwelcome amounts of attention. The tabloids and other unscrupulous parties wanted to know all about the distant past, and what the revivals thought about this future they found themselves in. Those people were put on show like circus animals, we said, and so they were best remaining anonymous. Even when two of them met and revealed their secret to each other, it was deemed to be a massive coincidence, a chance meeting, and so the charade continued. Even the doctors inside CryoSystem didn’t know, despite the fact they’d all put themselves on the waiting list at some point. Sometimes I think that was one of the boldest plays on our part. The software running it all just had to emulate the right number of illnesses and injuries in our emulated population. We told our doctors that we needed them to work solely on CryoSystem patients, so the information loop stayed closed. But inevitably one guy decided he’d rather like the attention, not to mention the anticipated money, from going public. From there it was a very short space of time indeed before all our revivals realised everyone in their world was a cryo. We were forced to come clean: we’d built the computer, CyroSystem, to house their minds. Their bodies were disposed of. But frankly, what other option was there? If we’d revived every frozen corpse that we’d stored then the country would have been overrun in months!
I feel stupid. I don’t consider myself a computer person, even though everyone around me says I’m more of a computer person than anyone they know. But I do consider myself savvy when it comes to the online world. I feel at home there and I know all the pitfalls awaiting the unwary. But I feel it’s just a matter of knowledge and applied intelligence that makes you safe online. And so when I met this new person online I thought I would understand what was going on. That I wasn’t going to get a nasty surprise. But I was wrong. They knew everything about me, even more than I knew about myself. That was my mistake. They were as upset as me when the truth came out. My other friends said I should have known all along that I, not this new friend, was the bot. But when it happens to you it’s different, no? I mean, how would you tell?
I need to take my glasses to be repaired, but I haven’t got time. I’m at a bit of a financial low point so I haven’t had a spare pair since the last lot broke. And, anyway, I’m not about to wander around in the outside world, blind as I am without them. Funny word that, ‘glasses’. I think there’s some silica in them, but we get the word from back in the day when the lenses were literally made of glass. Imagine that: you had to float bits of glass in front of your eyes. The very thought of that old, brittle substance so close to my fragile flesh makes my skin crawl! And people thought glasses helped you see ‘clearly’, but ‘clearly’ just meant equal to unaugmented eyes. Just a gadget to bring you up to the baseline that most people enjoyed by default. Seems like a waste of time: if you’re going to tool-up a body part, why stop at ‘normal’? I think it was something to do with their blasted ideals of equality. Or maybe they didn’t like the idea of letting the blind overtake the sighted in ability. I don’t know. Odd times those. Maybe they were precious about their biological eyes. We think nothing of removing them to fit in the things we now call ‘glasses’, but they were more sentimental back then. That’s why they all needed extra gadgets to get the things we take for granted, like local information, directions, putting names to faces and the like. Thankfully the government realised the mess we were all in and funded the Glasses, free at the point of use, and made them mandatory more than 20 years ago. Glasses not only bring us the information we need, they filter out the dangerous and distracting too. My grandfather railed against this more than any other part of the scheme. He was so wedded to knowing all the useless information, like the colour of every car on the road or something, or what the weather was doing now (when it was too late to do anything about it!) or what kind of crimes were going on two or three doors away. Granddad wanted to know everything! He wanted to be the one to filter things out, which seems like too much effort for me. I mean, what would the government filter out that you’d need to know, or do anything about?
I’m lucky eough to be too young to remember when all of this had to be done by hand. Our parents and grandparents tel use don’t know we’re born, and even though I should have a bit of an attitude towards that bland statement, in truth I think they’ve got a point. As privileged as I am to live here and now, I make a point of remembering how our forebears had so much less of this – music and painting – and had to produce almost all of it by hand. Now that we have labour-saving devices for this stuff, there’s more than we ever could hope to listen to, which is great. Talking of privilege, there’s one guy, a bit of a hipster it has to be said, who’s trying to make his own music – by hand. Talk about first world problems! Someone with too much time on their hands (maybe these labour-saving devices aren’t so good!). Luckily, I heard the police, or some agency, got involved, which is for his own good I say.
When the disease reached epidemic proportions the humans became their own worst enemies. The pandemic struck at the worst possible time: artificial intelligences had escaped from a lab in the guise of perfectly replicated human bodies. It was impossible to tell at even a modest distance who was flesh and blood and who carbon-steel and hydraulic fluid. Luckily, these androids had no reason to fear or hate humanity; they simply wanted to explore. That was in their programming. But paranoia would not be dulled, and under the tensions of the break-out, the outbreak added a new variable, as well as a new tool. Someone soon realised that the bots would be immune to the virus. But, humanity being what it is, a terrible ‘test’ emerged, whereby suspected droids were kidnapped and exposed to the pathogen. If they lived, they were immediately destroyed. If they were human, the death was slower but no less gruesome.
I’ve always been suspicious of the 20th century. I mean, I never saw it, so I can’t be 100% certain that it ever existed. But even if I assume for a moment that it did (there are several people who claim to be eye witnesses), there’s something not right about it. For a start, there was not one, but two World Wars. In one century? Highly doubtful. And those two World Wars were out of the way, apparently, before the 20th century was even half over! And then there’s the two longest-reigning British monarchs of all time, in the same century. I don’t know, but it smells fishy to me. And once we leave politics behind for a moment, apparently 500 years of slow, laborious cultural evolution was no longer the done thing and jazz suddenly appeared. But of course that wasn’t enough and so, in quick succession, we got rock and roll, soul, glam, metal, hip hop, jungle, drum and bass… and only then did we think it was about time to close off the century and start a new one. I say again, this all seems suspicious. What was really going on between the year they call 1899 and the one they call 2000? Because it damn well wasn’t a century now, was it? It would make no sense. And apparently they had this thing called a Leap Year. Don’t get me started on that kind of time-cheating.
When the city decided to rid itself of humans, it finally came into its own. Its self-construction algorithms could soar higher and finer into the blue skies. Straight lines and clean, feature-free surfaces could dispense with fussy curves and poxing windows. Highways six storeys tall never saw congestion, and pedestrians need never cross paths with motor vehicles; there were none of either. Nor would pedestrians stray from the paved paths. Grass was mown and kept off, without cluttering signs to enforce things. Ball games were not allowed, and not played. Litter was absent and the river flowed clean and pure – the pink hue from the inhabitants died away, given time. Wildlife and birdsong filled the parks; the litter bins never overflowed and dog dirt was never seen.
When Vena awoke, she began her morning ritual: hot shower; clean clothes (freshly ironed); boiled egg; Marmite on toast. She picked up the old tablet lying on the kitchen counter. It beeped to protest that it couldn’t contact the news server. She dismissed the message, just like she did every morning. Vena was an avid reader, and she opened a new ebook from the tablet’s vast hoard. A second message popped up, telling her that this was book number 1462… She dismissed this too. Each new book evoked a wince of nostalgia, a reminder of all those books she’d gone through… Well, what else would she spend her time doing? She could, truly, do anything she wanted. She could call it up and it would be delivered to her: food, music, theatre, cinema, pets, women and men. It would be delivered to her, and she could absorb it at her leisure. But she’d long ago made a pact with herself not to succumb to any of the temptations – the obvious choices that might spring to mind for most people finding themselves in a similar position. She read, she made notes, she synthesised and hypothesised. She left reams of research notes for any future… people who might find them. She had spent her ‘Before’ life engaged in similarly intellectual pursuits: research, management, experiments, fieldwork. Most of those were now out of bounds, in what Vena called the ‘After’. Anything involving teamwork was out of the question, and so Vena was restricted to solo work, primarily absorbing the reams of knowledge built up by humanity, and available at her fingertips. Routine helped, a regular workday, distracting her from the absence of other people. Her tablet was old, but fromone of those windows in history when tools were being built to last, just like the toaster that made her breakfast, the auto power plant that would no doubt keep everything running for longer than she was around, and the kitchen unit that she would program to prepare her lunch, and later her dinner. It was a sunny day. Perhaps she would go for a walk. She was the only human left alive, so a little communig with nature would keep her company until it was dark. She could do anything, but these are the things she would do today.
The problem we’re getting ourselves into is that too many ‘ordinary’ people are now able to afford these psychodrugs. People not only on normal wages, but minimum too, what with easy access to credit these days. I know you can’t really stop this kind of thing. It’s progress, in a way. People can access technologies that would have appeared as magic to our own grandparents. But will people think of the long term consequences? It’s something I can only put down in this journal, privately for now, but sooner or later word is going to get out about the side effects, and by that time it could be too late to do anything about it. And we really need to clamp down on the use of psychodrugs before the news of the side effects get out. As everyone is getting used to knowing, the psychodrugs let you conjure an emotion, putting it crudely. They developed from anti-dperessant medication and are little more than tweaked versions of the those ancient medicines. But thanks, AI, for speeding up that evolution! So now we have things that make you sombre (no more inappropriate giggles!), social, in love, out of love (getting over Them) and anything else you fancy, when you fancy. It’s an open secret that unscrupulous persons are dosing their enemies, friends, family, lovers, with or without consent. And there are a handful of court-compelled applications. But the side effects… People who have taken matching drugs and sat together, ‘meditated’, some say, and have found their emotions and other thoughts too, leaking into one another. Even aspects of personality break their shackles and migrate, albeit temporarily, across that previously insurmountable barrier. And once everyone hears about this, who knows where it will lead?