Silence

 

Here’s the final piece I wrote for my Creative Writing elective that I took this past semester. Naturally, my scientific instinct took over and I wrote a short story about a futuristic alternative reality where the earth is running out of nuclear power resources. Enjoy!

by Jordan Pennells

Today the sky was a perfect sapphire-blue, blemished only by delivery drones whirring throughout the city. Paul Wesley sat on the rooftop of his company’s building, overlooking the Metropolitan Menagerie that housed a range of exotic animals: cows, ducks, pigs. The species that we had gorged to the brink of extinction. Affluent people were known to pay extortionate amounts per slice of natural bacon; it had become the caviar of the 22nd century. Nonetheless, Paul greatly enjoyed beholding the forest of high-rise buildings encircling the lush Menagerie below.

Contradicting the cloudless skyline, a fine droplet of rain tickled the tip of Paul’s nose, causing an involuntary twitch that merged into a head tilt as he puzzled over the strange meteorological condition. He looked up to see a blanket of mist drifting over the landscape below, accompanied by an obtrusively pleasant scent of Jasmine. However, without a moment for concern, a vibrant rainbow began to emerge across the sky. The thought of his daughter’s joy upon seeing this sight eased his confusion and sent him back from lunch with a smile on his face.

Paul returned to his floor to be accosted by his flabbergasted assistant, sweating from the mix of literally running around the office, and the swirl of anxiety and confusion that was represented in her face.

“Looked everywhere for you! The President… for you” she choked out, handing over the phone.

A hush grew over the office floor, with all eyes fixed on their CEO, and not a byte of work being performed.

“Mr Presid–”

“Mr Wesley, we have a situation. I’ve been told you are the number one Cyber security expert in the country, so you were my first point of call. Normally I’d say that we would silence you if this information got out, but right now public approval is the least of our concerns!”

Without giving Paul a second for deliberation, the President jumped into the brief.

“We both know the issues our race faced transitioning to nuclear power once our fossil fuel stores dwindled.”

Paul cast his mind back to the fit his mother had when he was 10 and the local council decided the erect a nuclear power station in the quaint bay that his family had lived in their entire life. But now everyone adored their nuclear plant, the heart of each city that allowed them to continue their exorbitant lifestyles. But as with fossil fuel, the government was being lambasted for their apparent lack of action towards addressing the dwindling rare earth elements essential for the nuclear power process.

As the President’s spiel started, Paul saw a breaking news graphic flash upon the television screen in the corner of the room. The newsreader appeared, and her captioned report seemed to paraphrase the President’s brief in real time.

“Early in my presidency, I had a team of mechatronic engineers design a fleet of intergalactic robots, capable of not only traversing the universe planet to planet, harvesting their mineral elements, but also of self-replication to become completely self-sufficient in outer space. They were programmed with limited internet connectivity, allowing us to monitor and command them from Earth. Mimicking bees, we designed the robots to mark their next planetary harvest with a scent to attract and mobilise the fleet. But our control system has been infiltrated, hacked, and Earth has been targeted as the next harvested planet. We need your help!”

Before the gravity of the situation began to sink in, before doubts began to creep up, Paul steeled himself for the task he never thought his whole life had been working towards.

“Sir, that’s a lot of pressure for one person… But lucky for all of us, I am that one person”, to which Paul proceeded to hang up on the President.

Without needing a second to think, Paul was marshalling his wide eyed employees that were momentarily frozen in the wake of the breaking news.  While people were madly scurrying like ants hundreds of meters below, living out their dark pre-apocalyptic fantasies, Paul had mobilised his team to begin computationally evaluating encryption keys, breaking down firewalls and trying to locate the IP source. The team’s first breakthrough had uncovered that the culprit had ingeniously re-routed the hacking address to the White House to cover his tracks.

Within an hour, Paul’s throat had grown hoarse from voicing instructions. One of his team had broken out into excruciating forearm cramps and others were muttering to themselves through the rapid-fire din of fingers drumming against keys. The sun set and rose without so much as an acknowledgement from his team as they stared at their perpetually backlit computer screens.

Eventually, and with one final click, the crisis had been averted.

The President must have had a close eye on the situation, because word quickly spread to the media. The prominent headline on the screen read: ‘Presidentially-enlisted team of experts averts AI doomsday’. Euphoria reigned over the country.

Without a chance to call his wife and daughter and adorn them with the love and appreciation that this day had reaffirmed within him, Paul took the President’s debrief call from his now much calmer assistant.

“Well done Mr. Wesley, exceptional work indeed! Let me tell you this. Before today, my government’s approval rating was dismal, we were never going to make it to another term. We needed to shake something up. And boy did it work! We’re heroes, public approval is already skyrocketing. Now here’s the ultimatum. You did amazing work today, and as such we’re offering you a position as Head of Cybersecurity at the White House. Choose not to take our offer, choose to take the details of what happened today public. We will silence you. Your choice, Mr. Wesley.”

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