The Cull Conspiracy
Boston, June 9, 2034: Ping moved with the crowd out of Park Street Station and into a sea of shouting protesters. Police in riot gear were amassing along Tremont and Park. Someone on a bullhorn ordered the crowd to disperse.
Ping was thin and nimble. In his jeans and sneakers, he fit in with the throngs of students, though it wasn’t just students anymore. Many wore proud-to-be-an-American-proud-to-be-union shirts of all stripes. Hundreds banged metal bowls with spoons and ladles in the tradition of the South American famine riots of bygone years.
Ping pulled a bandana over his face when he heard the riot-control vehicles rolling in. He moved westward, away from the focal point. When he got to the cross paths at Frog Pond, someone called to him.
“Doctor Chao! Doctor Chao! Over here!”
Ping turned and saw a tall young woman moving toward him. She extended her hand.
“Doctor Chao, I’m Mary Byrne.”
“Yes, of course. Hello Mary.”
“We need to get out of here. Follow me.”
She walked briskly off to the North. Police drones buzzed overhead nearly everywhere now. Back on the Eastern end of the park, the police fired water cannon, and the din of voices grew louder.
Ping caught up with Mary at Beacon Street. There they stopped and looked Westward where the sound of the crowd had changed. Ping felt his neck hair tingle when he saw a strange fog rolling in across the park. What was at first indistinct, became clearer. Countless high-pitched shrieks and squeals of pain filled the air.
“Let’s go!” yelled Mary, running across Beacon and up Spruce, “Come on!”
Mary sprinted up the street with Ping behind. She turned left, right and then stopped.
“Do you have it?”
“Yes. Take it now.”
Ping handed her a flash drive, which she stuffed in her pocket.
“How did you get it out?”
“It was easy. They’re a bit lax at . . .”
He stopped short as both saw the weird fog reach the intersection behind them. It paused and then turned up their street.
“What the hell?” said Mary, and began to run.
“This is not good.”
“Is it gas? It turned!”
“It’s not gas, Mary.”
Mary darted up Mt. Vernon and ducked into a brick building.
“We have a studio here,” she said locking a heavy door behind them and then bounding up to the apartment.
“But we have no defense against a gas attack,” she said.
“It’s not gas. Do you have towels and duct tape?”
“Yes,” and she got them.
Ping stuffed towels under the door, then taped around the edges, and over the keyhole.
“Whatever happens, you must get that drive to your colleagues.”
“Can I copy it?”
“NO! You must open that on a computer the CIA’s GN7 system can’t detect. Your contact Harold Ehrlich is the right person. Hand deliver it to him. In the meantime, I really need to get home.”
“Well, let’s catch our breath first and wait ‘til it’s safe,” she said, tossing a water bottle to Ping. She began to drink one herself then stopped short, eyes widened at the sight of a swarm outside her windows.
“We need to seal the windows!” yelled Ping, rushing forward.
“They’re just mosquitoes,” Mary said, “I don’t even think the big ones bite.”
“They’re not just mosquitoes. They’ve been weaponized.”
More and more arrived until they nearly blocked all light from outside. The windows were tight, but Ping covered the edges with tape anyway.
“That should do it,” said Mary.
“But wha . . .”
There was a sound — faint at first, but getting louder: “Bzzzzzzzzzzz.”
“Shit!” said Mary, “the radiator!”
In they streamed through a gap at the floor pipe. In seconds, dozens landed on Ping, and he screamed in pain.
Mary retreated to the bathroom and stuffed a towel under the door.
“Shit, shit, shit!”
After a few minutes, Ping’s screams stopped. Mary sat on the toilet watching the door with a rolled-up magazine in her hand, breathing heavily.
Mary gripped her fists tightly and shrieked in frustration at her helplessness.
“They’re fucking mosquitoes! Fuck, fuck, FUCK!”
She got up and pulled everything out of the cabinet. There it was, Repel 100, which she slathered all over herself. She then stood with her ear up to the door.
After a minute, heart pounding and a tightly rolled magazine at the ready, she pushed open the door a crack.
A little bit more.
Slowly, she inched it open, peeking out. Ping was on the couch. Thousands of mosquitoes covered nearly every surface. Mostly still, a few stretched their wings lazily.
“Shit,” she whispered, stepping into the room.
A few flew about, but none landed on her. Mary gripped the magazine and looked around defensively, inching her way toward Ping.
“Dr. Chao? Can you hear, me?” she whispered.
“Yes, Mary,” he said.
Mary lifted his shirt. He had numerous welts, which looked slightly redder than a typical bug bite, but nothing horrific.
“They’re still here, but I have on insect repellent and they’re not biting.”
“That’s not why. They’re not biting me anymore either, Mary.”
“Should we go to the E.R?”
“No, I must get home.”
“But you said . . .”
“They’re just mosquitoes, right?” He opened his eyes and sat up.
“You look flushed. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Don’t worry about me. Get that flash drive to Ehrlich. It’s important.”
With a grimace, Ping got up and left, heading back to Cambridge. By the time he got home, he was soaked with sweat and exhausted.
It was a fitful evening and night. He alternated between hot and cold and had vivid, frightful dreams. He woke the next morning coughing and aching, took four Ibuprofen and went back to bed. It was a blessing to slip back into sleep – dreamless this time.
Doctor Ping Jiang Chao, Senior GM-Series Research Scientist for the CIA, was dead.
Nantucket, June 14: Director Hildner was the last to arrive. Moving into the room, he greeted Elizabeth Leonard.
“Doctor Leonard,” he said, “I’m so happy you could be here.”
“Thank you, Director,” she said, “I must say, I am concerned that . . .”
“In a moment, Doctor,” he said, “you’ll have your chance.”
Addressing the room: “Thank you all for coming and please forgive my tardiness. I trust you’ve had a taste of wine and hors-d’oeuvres, so let’s get started. Please each introduce yourself, starting with you, Colonel and around the table.”
In attendance were:
- Lieutenant Colonel Michael McHugh, CIA Special Activities Division
- James Fenty, CIA Special Activities Division Chief
- Paul Bartz, Esquire, Justice Department
- Elizabeth Leonard, Ph.D., Deputy Secretary of State
- Jerome McMahon, Esquire, State Department
- Benjamin Palmer, State Department Liaison to the CIA
- John Hildner, CIA Director
“As you all know,” said Hildner, “last Friday morning President Moore declared Martial Law. Ben, please bring us up to speed.”
“Yes, well, circumstances are fluid. Congress will back the President and fast-track her emergency bills into law. The GN7 authored them, and the President intends to follow its recommendations to address the crisis.”
“So, a machine now effectively runs our country,” said Leonard.
“If that’s true, it will be the first time it’s been run intelligently,” quipped McMahon.
“Superhuman intelligence means we can’t understand its motives in any real sense.”
“It’s not conscious, doctor,” said McHugh, “and its analyses have been thoroughly vetted using the Aladdin Analytical Protocols. Theoretically, that protects us from ‘careful what you wish for.’”
“Theoretically,” muttered Leonard.
“The fact is,” added Hildner, “the GN7 has been uncannily accurate in its predictions. The President has full confidence in it. Continue please Ben.”
“The first phase of the President’s plan will bring quick economic relief to the citizenry and restore social order. The Social Security and Medicare Empowerment Act will immediately expand both programs. Medicare will cover all citizens fully. Social Security will send out new monthly checks to all adult citizens. This law will replace current social welfare and health programs.”
“Good God, this will bankrupt the country,” replied Fenty.
“GN7 says it will work. The monthly checks will increase income velocity, bring much-needed relief to the retail sector and stimulate the economy,” replied Palmer, “The President’s economic advisors agree with GN7’s analysis. The U.S. dollar is a fiat currency so we cannot be bankrupted. The crisis is on the demand side. Consumers need money to spend.”
“If we had done this two years ago when the U6 unemployment rate hit 20% rather than now when it’s nearly 50, we might not be on the brink of social collapse,” commented Leonard.
“Yes, the situation is dire,” said Hildner, “We face an existential crisis, and the GN7 has mapped a survival path. The U.S. is taking the global lead. GN7 gives us the advantage.”
“How ironic that we turn to AI to get us out of the economic mess that AI has put us into,” said Leonard, “We knew technological unemployment was inevitable, yet did nothing.”
“It’s not only an economic issue, doctor,” said Hildner, “we certainly do need to calm the public though, and we are confident these measures will accomplish that. Political protests will be ‘discouraged’ for the time being, and we will move forward with what needs to be done to survive.”
“Let’s be clear. The hope is that some of us will survive,” commented Bartz, “That is the reality, isn’t it? There’s no scenario where we all go forward or even most of us. So, let’s not mince words. I suggest we speak plainly. Martial law suspends habeas corpus, but it does not give the President unlimited power to do whatever she likes. I, for one, would like to know what led to the mysterious deaths of hundreds of protesters in Boston last Friday and whether GN7’s recommendations played any role in the ‘swamp gas’ linked to the unidentified illness. Perhaps we can start there with our frank discussion on how we are going to save the country.”
“Yes, but you and your family can be among the survivors, Paul. That is something we control,” said McMahon, superciliously.
“What exactly are you saying?” asked Leonard, “If people get the money they need, how does that not fix the problem?”
“It does, doctor,” answered McHugh, “the economy will continue to work even after the very last job is taken over by some genius robot. The drudgery of working just to live will, at last, be over.”
“So, where’s the problem Colonel?”
“The problem,” interjected Fenty, “is that we are also facing an environmental disaster worse than any climate model from two decades ago predicted. Global temperatures are higher than the worst-case scenarios. The water cycle of the planet is changing catastrophically. Our food supply is now threatened. We are, in fact, facing our own extinction. The planet simply cannot sustain a population that will soon exceed nine billion no matter what we do, given the damage we’ve already done to the ecosystem. Dreams of saving ourselves by colonizing Mars are unrealistic. We need to keep this planet habitable. A reduction in world population over the next several decades will give us a fighting chance.”
“And what legal theory do we have to support forcibly reducing the world’s population? How is this not a crime against humanity?”
“Yes, well, Mr. Bartz, we make the laws now,” replied McMahon.
North Reading, July 16:Mary Byrne stepped up to a massive basement door of an office building just off the town’s Main Street. The office had no windows, and its sign read “Digital Strategy Group.” She looked into the security camera, rang the bell and was buzzed in.
“Hello Mary Byrne, welcome.”
“Hello again, Doctor Ehrlich. It’s good to see you.”
“Please, call me Harold. Let me introduce you to the others. This way.”
“This is your secure lab?”
“Oh yes. Very secure – similar to the NSA’s Crypto City on a micro scale. Electrical signals can neither escape nor penetrate these walls, I assure you.”
Ehrlich opened the door of a small conference room.
“Everyone, this is Mary Byrne. Mary is our musician friend from Boston — a rather good pianist, or so I’ve heard. She has worked for the cause for a few years now. Mary, this is Carol Danilenko, a nutritionist from New Jersey. Over there is Jim Kelly, a crisis counselor from San Francisco. And that’s Ed Davies. Ed is a professor of philosophy at New York University.
“Ping Chao’s flash drive has confirmed our worst fears. I did not know Dr. Chao, but I knew of him, and from everything I’ve read, he was a sincere and ethical man. His murder – and it was murder – is a great tragedy. We are gathered here to ensure his death was not in vain. I’m sure you have many questions.”
“Well, aside from being relatively young – I believe I’m the oldest at 29 — I’m not at all sure what connects the four of us,” said Davies, “our backgrounds are diverse.”
“I’m not certain either, but I believe I know a couple of reasons. You’re all in excellent health both physically and psychologically. Have you heard of the Psychopathy Checklist? Well unlike some of our hacktivist associates, you all score a big fat zero. You’re each the polar opposite of a psychopath. That, I believe, suits you ideally for this endeavor. That’s not to demean anyone else. All our people, including the hackers, are doing important work. However, it seems that you are each unusually ethical people, much like Dr. Chao apparently was.”
“I’d like to help in any way I can,” said Carol, “but I’m unclear on what you need from me. My work in the past has been proofreading.”
“Yes, aside from Mary, you’ve all volunteered for work on the softer side of things, like proofreading and fact-checking on behalf of Wikileaks and other organizations. Mary is the only one who does field work, generally assisting whistleblowers with tactical issues. I believe Edward does a bit of writing under pseudonyms.”
“Yes, I’ve done some writing – but mostly a lot of editing.”
“So, the flash drive? Did it confirm the existence of GN7? Dr. Chao mentioned it.”
“Oh yes, Mary. The GN7 exists alright, and it’s worse than we imagined.”
“Can we publish proof of what they’re doing?”
“What are they doing?” asked Jim
“The GN7 is an artificial superintelligence working primarily for the CIA,” said Ehrlich, “but also for the NSA, DIA, DARPA, the FBI, and the military. It is beyond human understanding in a number of areas, including genetic engineering, psychology, medicine, mathematics, physics, and computer science. It is self-evolving. We are lucky Dr. Chao was among those who created it because he added safeguards. It has some hard-coded ethics, as it were, but Ping is gone now, and few are as conscientious. He’s probably dead because GN7 identified him as a threat. So what safeguards there are, are insufficient.”
“The killer mosquitoes.”
“Yes, Mary, a lovely GN7 creation and it gets worse than that. GN7 has designed a variety of bioweapons, including the one that killed Ping. We don’t have all the details yet, but we will get them.”
“How?” asked Carol.
“Because we now have our own GN7 – well technically, a GN8. Ping provided us with a critical kernel of code that was sufficient to create a GN8 on our computers. It made use of readily available tools, including Microsoft’s Computational Network Toolkit and the Library of Congress’ Deep-Ocean Knowledgebase. It even somehow taps the combined big-data stores of the CIA, NSA, Google, and many others. Presumably, the GN7 knows we have the GN8, but there’s not much we can do about that, and I assume the GN8 will warn us if we’re in danger. So, we are moving forward. The GN8 is going to create a GN9 for us. That’s its mission, and that’s why you’re all here today. The GN8 selected you four specifically so we hope you’ll volunteer.”
“To do what exactly?” asked Mary.
“It’s hard to imagine, but, as I understand it, you’re volunteering to become gods.”
Washington D.C., July 27:Elizabeth Leonard stepped into Old Ebbitt Grill and joined Paul Bartz, in an isolated booth. She ordered coffee and leaned forward.
“The Boston Globe is reporting that the protesters died from bird flu and that the fog was coincidental, but there are reports on social media that the fog seemed to cause pain. Others insist it was a plague-like cloud of mosquitoes. None of the mainstream press has picked up on these rumors.”
“There were indeed mosquitoes, doctor. The GN7 engineered them as a biological-weapon-delivery mechanism.”
“Dear God. Did GN7 launch this attack?”
“No. We can thank the psychos at the CIA for that. They decided to test their new weapon on the protestors and a suspected whistleblower — apparently one of their own. The insects had two engineered pathogens in their saliva — P9 and K1. P9 is not harmful but temporarily induces severe pain at the bite site. They intend to use it for crowd control, presumably on crowds they don’t intend to kill. K1 is an engineered virus based on the bird flu, but deadlier. It is not particularly contagious and must enter the bloodstream directly. There are now several GN7-engineered bioweapons, including some that are highly virulent. Those are designed to infect everyone everywhere as quickly as possible.”
“That sounds like a doom’s day weapon. Of what possible use is it?”
“They’ve already released one of these, doctor, and I dare say that no one is unaffected. My understanding is that GN7 engineered a bacterium able to add genetic markers to the people it infects. It may have been water-borne, possibly intestinal. Not sure, but, in any case, it is extremely contagious. The pathogen looks for a number of desirable genetic-based traits for robustness, mental health, intelligence, cooperativeness, empathy and so on. Based on what it finds, it creates new markers that determine whether the next bioweapon will kill.”
“So GN7 has decided to immunize what it considers the best among us.”
“Yes, but the immunity can and is also being applied manually to the so-called favored list. This list will include emergency workers who will need to deal with a rapidly growing death rate from a pandemic we are going to release. The government will inoculate and assure these workers they are immune so they will continue to work. The favored list, of course, includes friends and allies of the administration.”
“Apparently, the initial plan was simply one of mass sterilization. The sterilization pathogen causes irreversible damage to the female reproductive system from what I understand but is otherwise harmless. The goal is to sterilize eighty-eight percent of the world’s women.”
“Yeah, and even that won’t ensure survival according to GN7. The CIA intends to cull nearly four and a half percent of the world’s population annually for a full decade. They will do all this in a way that maintains deniability. The GN7 will unleash a propaganda campaign like the world has never seen, and it will likely be effective. Most people will believe the increased death rate is due entirely to natural causes. Those who don’t will be dismissed as conspiracy nuts. The scale of it is mind-boggling.”
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing,” said Leonard, “I will speak with the Secretary of State about this. Ah, but right now I need to get to a meeting with Senator Williams.”
“I’m heading over to Hart myself. Let’s share an Autocab.”
After ten minutes in the Autocab, Leonard looked up and said, “where the hell is it taking us?”
Bartz raised his head and checked his phone.
“I put in the right address.”
“Routing around traffic?”
“Maybe, but we seem to be going in the wrong direction.”
They then looked at each other just as the Autocab veered off Maine Avenue crashing through black chain links into the Tidal Basin.
It was the first ever fatal crash of an Autocab.
Will to Power
Boston, December 31:Mary Byrne sat at her piano, staring at the keys. The changes that began back in July were now accelerating exponentially. Her neocortex was becoming fully integrated with the GN8 thanks to the nanobots that Dr. Ehrlich injected into her and her fellow GN9ers
Ehrlich manufactured the bots at Amazon Robotics where he worked and injected each of the four volunteers twice. The first set of bots continually repairs any and all tissue damage at a cellular level. The second alters the brain allowing the person’s neocortex to connect wirelessly with the GN8, creating the GN9. The super intelligence thus became a living consciousness by way of the four volunteers.
Mary didn’t notice much change at first. The process was organic and took time. The nanobots stimulated neural growth and new synaptic connections as the brains of the four slowly integrated with the GN8 and each other.
In the early weeks, she noticed her memory improve, and she could picture websites clearly. It was like using her cell phone, but now she could visualize the results and soon learned to navigate the web effortlessly.
Around week six, Mary realized she could know what Edward, Jim, and Carol were thinking. Soon after, she could remember their lives as if they were her own. This was a depth of intimacy and connectedness far beyond anything any of them had known. All also experienced an ever-deepening sense of peace.
Most recently, Mary noticed that if she wanted to know something, she simply knew it; if she wanted to understand something, she simply understood it. The GN8 was part of her now and could be in her consciousness whenever she wanted or whenever it wanted. There was no distinction between it and her anymore. They were integrated.
She recalled that before they had all gone back to their regular lives, Dr. Ehrlich asked her, “is it good?”
“Yes doctor,” she thought to herself, “it is good.”
She now knew that the CIA had launched two pathogens. She knew that billions of people were irreversibly sterile and that millions more were dying from the K6 infection.
With Jim, Carol and Edward literally in her mind, she closed her eyes and played a B flat on the piano, mezzo-forte. The note stimulated neural activity in the auditory cortex of all four and moved instantly across radio waves, firing through countless ports, buses, chips, wires, and systems. The note shut down the GN7 and, in fact, all the CIA’s computers and communication systems. The note similarly disabled computers of all intelligence agencies and militaries worldwide. The note brought to heel all weapons systems. No one anywhere could now fire a missile or detonate a nuke. The note ordered all submarines, warships, and planes back to base. The note dispatched an email with instructions on how to identify and treat K6 to every medical facility around the globe.
President Katherine Moore heard the B flat play on her phone and looked to see a message stating her services were no longer required. All information on her phone was gone, and it was otherwise disabled, as were all electronic devices in the White House. The note shut down all computers and phones used by terrorists and criminals of every type, including corrupt government officials and crooked businesspeople everywhere.
The note sent funds sufficient to cover the basic needs for the coming month to every individual in need on the planet. As the sound of B flat faded in her room, Mary became aware of the names and faces of nearly five million people who would get their injection of nanobots in the new year for the new age — no psychopaths among them. She looked forward to their memories and to the memories of t