The creature had died on a rocky
outcropping next the cliff. Its remains looked human but Jacob could
see the rainbow hue of the nanites embedded in the bones. He wondered
if the creature had been one of the fanatical followers of the
Teachings of Parr, or a poor soul that had been forcibly exposed to
the corrupted nanotechnology. Not that it mattered, either way once
the nanites invaded living tissue the infected person became a
nightmarish creature that was anything but human.
Surrounded on two sides by boulders and
large rocks, the remains had been sheltered from wind and rain for
decades leaving the bones largely in the same place the creature had
died. Jacob could even see small strips of cloth tangled among the
bones and what looked like hair attached to the skull. In the back of
Jacob's mind, he could almost imagine the creature had willfully
chosen this spot to die. As if some shred of sentience had returned
after all the humans it could hunt down had either been converted or
torn to bloody shreds.
Jacob stood more than a meter away from
the remains trying to dredge up some sort of emotions. He thought of
his lost wife and daughter, the former having been forcibly exposed
to the nanites while the latter had been killed as the two fled from
their home. That had been more than sixty years ago and Jacob hated
himself for his inability to picture his wife's face or the sound of
his daughter's voice.
Jacob was pulled back to the present to
find the young man, Stephen, standing beside him. “Mr. Jacob,”
Stephen said, “are the tiny machines still active?”
“Probably not,” Jacob responded,
“but it still wouldn't be a good idea to touch anything.” Jacob
noticed how the nanites had leached out of the bones and into the
rocky surface looking for another host to infect. That had to have
occurred right after the creature had died. But there was no reason
to leave it to chance.
“Stephen,” Jacob said, “go find
Iliza or Michelle and get one of the bottles of stove fuel. We need
to sterilize the area just to be safe.”
Stephen ran off to find the fuel
leaving Jacob again with his thoughts. Both of Brigham's moons were
visible in the afternoon sky and as Jacob looked down to the valley
below he could almost imagine the last sixty years hadn't occurred.
The city of Sego looked just like it
did right after he graduated from university. He was twenty-three
years old and ready to start his life. He married Emma the following
year and they had Madison two years later. A month after turning
thirty-one was when it all fell apart.
From the moment the Senior Council of
Brigham was established four-hundred, fifty years before the Fall,
the leaders had kept the artificial wombs brought from Earth on the
seedship pumping out babies. The goal being a human population on
Brigham that could support a technological civilization equal to
Earth, Mars, or Titan. The Senior Council talked of colonizing the
other planets of the Brigham system and even building seedships and
sending them out to other nearby star systems.
So even after the optimal population of
sixty-thousand souls had been reached, the Senior Council expanded
the number of producing artificial wombs. These children were raised
by robot caregivers, as the first colonists, and upon reaching
maturity were sent out into the wilderness areas of the planet to
push the boundaries of settlement.
The plan worked fine until being raised
in the creche became a social stigma. “Creche-born” became a slur
among the human-born population that translated into a form of
discrimination back in the developed areas. Creche-born children
disproportionately suffered emotional and psychological trauma from
being raised by robots. This promoted a certain percentage to adopt
destructive behaviors and substance addictions to compensate for the
lack of human contact in their early years.
Where the human-born people of the
developed areas truly failed the creche-born brothers and sisters was
understanding the stress and dangers of being pushed into the
frontiers regions. The human-born were raised on stories of their
courageous ancestors who turned a barren rock into a living world.
They didn't realize that the early colonists suffered greatly with
many utterly failing to live up to the standards demanded of the
As the decades passed, creche-born
people began illegally returning to the developed areas becoming an
underclass without access to the services the human-born took for
granted. Supremely organized and clean cities across Brigham sprouted
slums and even homeless folks living wherever they could. Urban crime
penetrated deep into the cities with the human-born beginning to fear
and then hate the men or women they saw lurking in the shadows.
There were attempts at societal reform
but the underlying problems of the system were always ignored. The
poor and under-educated creche-born were cheap labor easy to exploit.
For the human-born, life was good and Brigham had a Manifest Destiny
to take their branch of human civilization back out to the stars.
That's when Thaddeus Parr appeared and started his movement.
Stephen eventually returned carrying a
squeeze bottle of cook stove fuel. Jacob took the container from the
young man trying not to think about how Stephen looked. Jacob was
ninety-one but appeared to be in his early forties. The benefit of
being born when medical technology guaranteed every baby a long
healthy life. Stephen was in his twenties but would have been
confused with a much older person before the Fall. With technology
corrupted and people living only slightly above a Stone Age
technology, Stephen probably wouldn't make it much beyond fifty years
Jacob sprayed the liquid over the bones
and the areas where the nanites had leeched into the rock. He used a
pocket igniter to start the fire. As the bones turned black from the
flames, the rest of his small group gathered around without saying a
“Alright people,” Bruce Carter
called out as the fire began to die. “We need to get down this
mountain to the refuge and we're losing daylight.”
Bruce, the de facto leader of the group
and the one man beside Jacob who understood the dangers they faced
leaving the protection offered by the high mountains. A child when
Parr's Plague swept the colony, Bruce's family already lived in one
of the villages established on a plateau nearly unassailable by
anything except aircraft and heavy-duty, off-road vehicles.
As the nanite infected roamed the
planet someone realized that they never went up into the high
mountain settlements. Even with all forms of communication down, word
got around to the few survivors that it was safe up in the mountains.
While some survivors from the lower altitudes eventually reached
these settlements, their numbers were exceedingly small.
For decades the uninfected hid in the
high mountains never considering going down to the lower levels. Cut
off from one another, these isolated pockets of humanity looked down
from their hideouts and watched as bands of the infected moved across
the valleys and coastal regions. Eventually though as the years
passed the infected, unable to have children, began to die off
allowing the mountain peoples to come down for limited periods.
The next day the group entered the dead
city of Sego. While the infected no longer moved in large groups,
smaller clusters and the stray individual was still a possibility.
Even worse, the corrupted nanites that turned humans into ravaging
monsters were ubiquitous to Brigham technology. Any computer-based
item almost certainly carried infected nanites, which if touched
could enter a person and begin building copies of itself. After
entering the human body, it took a little under 48 hours before the
person went insane.
Bruce Carter walked point going down
the deserted streets with Michelle and Iliza pulling rear guard. All
three armed with projectile assault rifles that worked without the
aid of any computer assistance. The stated reason for the expedition,
a search for needed non-perishable items such as low-level medical
kits, hydroponic supplies, and anything else that might aid survival
up in the mountains. However, the expedition was also meant to see
how much of the nanites remained active after six decades.
The city of Sego didn't look abandoned
except for all the computer tech laying in the streets and the
occasional human remains. When people realized it was the tech
spreading Parr's Plague, everything based on nanite computing was
throw away in a panic. By that time it was too late, infected humans
were already forming groups with the sole purpose to convert or kill
Jacob cringed passing a reading tablet
laying in the street, probably dropped there in the opening moments
of Parr's Plague. It was the exact model like the one he stored his
personal library on before the Fall. Like the remains of the creature
they saw up in the mountains, the nanites from the reader had leached
out into the substance of the street itself. What made this instance
worse though was that Jacob could see the rainbow-hued nanites
pulsing confirming they were still active. The pulsing, active
nanties confirmed the group's worst fears, that it would still be
many years if not decades before they could safely leave their
mountain refuge. This information made their true mission even more
Barely two hours later the group leaves
Sego behind having found all the items they needed to survive just a
little longer. More importantly, both Jacob and Bruce retrieved what
they needed to implement their personal project, a sort of gift to
Their refuge didn't have a name, it was
just a collection of cabins made of wood, stone, and metal storage
containers. For people who had grown up around holographic
entertainment systems, semi-sentient personal computers, limb and
organ regeneration hospitals, and nanotechnology that could fabricate
just about any item the refuge was tantamount to a Neolithic
existence. Even such mundane services as running water and working
toilets were the stuff of fantasy to the small collection of children
born since the Fall.
But to the ones like Jacob and Bruce,
who had seen everything fall apart and be replaced with death and
chaos, the refuge was a chance to carry on and maybe rebuild one day.
“Jacob,” Bruce Carter began while
taking a seat in his friend's small hut made of piled stone and
particle board, “how will we organize this project?”
On Jacob's table, which had once been a
packing crate, were eight items that any human would have recognized
whether they had been born in ancient Rome to the late twenty-first
century. The eight items were thick, unused leather bound journals.
The unused journals were the result of a colony-wide fad of people
wanting to leave some physical mark that didn't involve computers.
The producers of the journals went as far to make them with paper and
fake leather covers that were supposed to last centuries.
“I figure the first volume will be a
basic history of humanity,” Jacob said feeling the weight of the
task and its importance. “We won't have room for much detail and
in-depth analysis, but enough for our descendants to understand where
they came from. The other volumes will deal with science and
engineering, enough to help whoever comes after us to leap frog the
barriers that held Earth back for so long.”
“What troubles me, Jacob is that do
we really need to do any of this?” Bruce asked.
“Bruce, all of our records and
information is either lost or stored in systems that would turn us
into monsters if we tried to access it. Our civilization, hell our
entire existence was made possible by the computing power and storage
capacity that damn nanotechnology made possible.”
“Thinking more to the long-term,”
Jacob said after a long silent pause, “without some form of written
record it won't take long before our civilization and its
accomplishments become like the myths of ancient Earth. I can imagine
a few hundred years from now people coming to believe humans
originated from this planet.”
“Goddamn Thaddeus Parr and his
terrorists,” was all Bruce could say.
“I knew Thaddeus Parr,” Bruce said
in way that conveyed both a sense of sadness and anger. “Parr was
truly insane and his corrupted nanites killed millions, but we
created him. We built a society that thrived on the suffering of a
people us human-born didn't really believe were on our level. Now
like many times before back on Earth, we'll have to start over.
Hopefully, our descendants won't repeat the same mistakes.”
Bruce wanted to believe his friend,
that another, wiser civilization would rise in the place of the dead
and decaying one down in the valleys and coasts. While Bruce didn't
have the education of Jacob, he knew enough of Earth's history to
have a cold chill of dread run down his spine.
One of the periods of human history
that fascinates me the most involves the collapse of Bronze Age
civilizations around 1200 BCE. With the exception of Egypt, which
was greatly weakened and never recovered, most of the empires and
kingdoms during that time utterly collapsed. The best examples being
Mycenaean Greece and the Hittite Empire.
The crash was caused by several factors but the most mysterious in a historical sense were the ravaging "Sea Peoples" that attacked both coastal cities and those far inland. Much debate and head scratching by academics has gone to determining where the Sea People originated.
I had always wanted to incorporate the concept of a Sea Peoples into a futuristic setting.
I also wanted to create a setting where the bizarre human need to create an underclass raised its ugly head again. And yes, I touched on certain social issues that really piss me off.