25 Aug 2012

Stryker #5, At the End of Eternity – Chapter 23

Posted by joncooper

“This morning Miles invited me over to his place for breakfast. I was quite shocked to get the invitation; I thought he would never reveal the secret location of his underground bunker. I was even more surprised when I looked up the location on a map and saw how close it was to the outskirts of Tikal. The city was practically built on his front doorstep! All those times he took an hour to drive home must have been a ruse to fool the unwary. Anyway, while I was there I had a chance to talk with a man from Earth named Monroe Araiza. He was a fascinating person. His account of the current strife in Adrasta was riveting. I sincerely hope that Amy is able to stop Evan Maldonado. Given that she was able to terraform Mars it ought to be child’s play for her, but the situation may be more complicated than that. In a way I’m glad that she’s the one that’s dealing with it instead of me. I’d much rather tackle an engineering problem than a people problem.”
–Noel Lawson
July 14, 7243


Amy and the Sentinel were standing at the base of Falcon Ridge. It was a warm and humid day, but the sky was dark and overcast. The air was still. It’s going to rain today, she thought. I can feel it. Not that it matters, I guess.

Alex was busy eating his breakfast – a bowl of dog food. He had long ago learned how to use the nanites in his bloodstream to materialize food, and every morning he fed himself. When Amy first saw what he was fixing she explained to him that he could have anything he wanted. Alex, though, insisted on eating the exact same food he had eaten back in the 19th century. He was a creature of habit and saw no reason to change. So Amy backed off and let him handle it. The food was perfectly healthy and well-balanced; eating it wasn’t going to harm him. She was just surprised that he wasn’t using his powers to create something tastier. She didn’t know if it was discipline or a simple lack of imagination.

Amy looked to the horizon. Even though the crater that was left behind by the neutron bomb was beyond the line of sight, its effects were not. The radiation that the weapon had released when it was detonated had contaminated the plain, and the grass was starting to die. It was a depressing sight. By now the radiation should have decayed into harmlessness, but the cellular structure of the grass was still decimated. It simply had taken a while for that to kill the grass. Death had claimed it from within long before that was visible from the outside.

“One day I’m going to replant the forest that Maldonado destroyed,” Amy commented. “I can’t stand having that big black crater there. It’s ugly.”

“That does seem like a good idea,” the Sentinel agreed. “However, I would recommend waiting until after you have completed your negotiations with Adrasta. They have proven to be quite hostile.”

“Boy, have they ever! What is it with those people? Why are they all homicidal maniacs? When we started all this I really thought that they could be saved. I thought that they would make the right decision and it would all work out. But now – well, now I think that the city is doomed. I just don’t see how it can be saved. They are too fond of murder and too eager to kill others for the sake of their own convenience. There’s nothing left in them but hate.”

“All you can do is give them a choice. What they do with that choice is up to them. You are simply here to make the offer.”

“I guess,” Amy said. “Anyway, how are things going with you? Have you found a cure for the adults yet?”

“Indeed I have. In my simulations the cure has proven to be effective 100% of the time. The cure itself is a bit more specific than the cure for the children, however. Each dose that we administer will have to be tailored to that person’s specific abnormalities and level of development. While we can cure all of them, it will not be possible to create a single antidote and mass-distribute it.”

“Didn’t the cure for the children have the same problem?” Amy asked. “But we were still able to create a single antidote for them.”

“Yes and no. The cure did have to be customized for each child, but the changes were fairly minor. I was able to design the nanites so that they could analyze the child and change their configuration accordingly. Since the cure could change itself to match the disease, a single dose could cure anybody. Adults, though, are significantly more challenging to cure. The amount of variation between them is more than the nanites can handle on their own. They simply don’t have the necessary processing power. I’ll need to use the network to create a tailored cure for each one of them.”

Amy thought for a moment. “In that case, we should probably just administer the cure ourselves. I was kind of hoping that we could get Adrasta involved, but I think that would just slow things down. Besides, I doubt they’d be willing to help us anyway. Things will go much faster if we handle it. I bet once you’ve manufactured the cure we can distribute it in a matter of days.”

The Sentinel nodded. “The exact amount of time will vary between persons. In some cases a person may be cured in only three days, while others may take up to eight. It just depends on their age and on how much damage has been done to them. It should also be noted that when they are cured their minds will be almost entirely blank. They will be like adult toddlers. Someone will have to care for them for a number of years, as they will essentially recapitulate childhood.”

“So, basically, you’re saying that when we’re done everyone on this planet is going to be a child. Wow. Well, the Stewards can handle it, I think. Can you install one on this planet? Ten million people is a lot, but they were built to serve billions, right? So they should be up to this.”

“There are actually 34,186,972 tribal peoples on this planet,” the Sentinel said. “The council estimated a population of ten million but their figures are quite erroneous. I am surprised you did not count them myself.”

“Sorry,” Amy said. “I just heard the number ‘ten million’ so many times that I came to believe it myself. You’re right, of course. But – wow! And the general wants to kill them all with just 153 bombs?”

“Interestingly, that goal is actually achievable. The general has several factors working in his favor. First of all, the tribes are only located in North and South America. The rest of the world is unpopulated. Second, the tribes are not evenly dispersed across the entire hemisphere; they are located in several tight clusters. A small number of bombs can kill a great many people. The final point to keep in mind is that his bombs are enormously powerful – far more powerful than the test weapon he used to eradicate the forest. Each bomb is capable of devastating nearly a thousand square miles. As a side-note, the oversized bombs that the general is designing are actually not very efficient. A large number of small bombs would actually work far better. The general is aware of this but has chosen to use large weapons because he lacks the resources to create and deploy thousands of small weapons in his allotted time frame.”

“Wow! I guess I really haven’t done my homework. I’ve been spending too much time monitoring the people in Adrasta.”

“I would not discount that effort. So far your activities have prevented Maldonado from taking any more lives. That is probably more important than knowing the exact geographical distribution of the tribes.”

Amy nodded. “All right. So we have a cure, it will need to be tailored to each person, and the Stewards can take care of all the new children. How soon can you get things started?”

“I can begin the process immediately, but are you sure that you want to go ahead and start curing them? What about Adrasta?”

“I’ll deal with them tomorrow. They’re going to have a meeting to decide what to do, and I’ll show up and give them a choice. They can stop the genocide and help take care of the cured people, or they can continue to be monsters and get booted from Earth. I see no reason to postpone the cure until after the meeting, especially since it will take several days for the cure to work. Oh – and make sure you install the Steward before you start the cure process. He’s going to be kept pretty busy.”

“All right,” the Sentinel agreed. “I will begin the process immediately.”

“Great! You know, I will be so glad to have all of this behind me. Do you realize that by this time next month we could be done with all of this? I don’t know about you, but I think that will be a good day.”

“Yes it will,” the Sentinel agreed.

* * * * *

In the city of Adrasta, Evan Maldonado was standing in a busy room. Since it would take months to repair the foundations and rebuild his old nuclear lab, the general had obtained space elsewhere and commissioned a new one. His chief nuclear scientist, Ken Ochoa, was supervising the construction process.

“So how long is this going to take?” the general demanded.

Ochoa glanced down at his notes. “Well, first of all, the electrical engineers are working on fabricating another control board. It’s a pretty big project and they won’t have it ready until the middle of next week. Once we get it we’ll need to install it and make sure that it’s fully operational. A lot of wiring will have to be done, of course, but by the time we get the board we should have the rest of the lab set up. In two weeks we should be able to begin processing lithium again. Fortunately, very little lithium was destroyed, and the amount that remains is more than sufficient to build all of the bombs.”

“More delays,” Maldonado grumbled. “This is the worst project I’ve ever been on! It’s nothing but delay after delay after delay. At least Monroe won’t be around to cause any more ‘accidents’. Maybe we can finally get some work done. If we can start processing lithium in two weeks then perhaps we can start the bombing campaign in three. We can finally make some headway.”

Ochoa hesitated. “You know, speaking of Monroe, there’s been a lot of rumors going around Adrasta lately. A man was caught trying to shoot the red-headed savage. Some people say that he was working for you, and you’re trying to cover up a cure.”

“That’s exactly what I’m trying to do! What other choice do I have? Someone has got to step in and stop this cure thing before the public gets in an uproar. Support for the bombing campaign is dwindling rapidly. The last thing we need is for people to lose faith in what we’re doing.”

“So you did hire the sniper?” Ochoa asked, surprised.

“Of course I did! Do you think he hired himself? It worked, though. The boy is gone, Monroe is gone, and the cure is gone. There won’t be anything to talk about in the meeting tomorrow, so all of this will blow over. Then we can get back to work.”

“You murdered Monroe!?” Ochoa exclaimed.

“I sure did! Oh, he had it coming. I’ve been wanting to kill him for years. Let me tell you, it felt good. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Now that that little pipsqueak is gone we can finally have some peace around here.”

“Uh, wow. Ok. But, um, aren’t you afraid of getting arrested?”

“Of course not! I did what had to be done. Besides, don’t you realize that our bombing campaign is going to kill millions upon millions of people? Compared to the total genocide of the savages, killing Monroe Araiza was small potatoes. He’s just one person – a drop in the bucket. If you stacked up all the skeletons of everyone that we’re going to kill, you wouldn’t even notice him. He’s nothing.”

“Oh,” Ochoa said.

“Come on! Put your head together. What did you think we were doing here – baking cookies? The last bomb you built for me was used to kill more than four hundred people. What’s the life of one crabby scribe compared to that?”

“I guess I’d never really thought about it,” Ochoa said uncertainly. “I was just doing my job.”

“Well, you just keep on doing your job. We’re way behind schedule. Leave the council to me. I’ll make sure that no one tries to stop you from making those weapons of mass destruction.”

Ochoa nodded, and the general left the room. The men around him resumed work but he did nothing. He just stood there, staring off into the distance, thinking. What have I done? he asked himself, over and over and over.

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