Posted: Fri, December 21, 2012 | By: Fiction
by Stanley Shostak
In the six solar days since I left the bunker, I haven’t seen anyone. I have seen only parts of the empty cities and countryside we abandoned years ago. Amazingly, the “wasteland” is filled with an abundant flora and fauna that would provide food, clothing, and shelter. Indeed, having been blessed with indefinite longevity and negligible aging I’m writing this note without any concern for my personal survival.
At this moment, as hard as it is for me to believe, I’m actually writing with a pencil on paper I found outside the bunker, and I will leave this document in an empty wine bottle I also found. The irony of relying on these anachronistic implements and the fact that I’m old enough to have learned to write by hand (instead of merely punch a keypad) has not escaped me. But don’t misunderstand: I’m not advocating going back to those “good old days.” I’m only hoping this note will help some future generation avoid the apocalypse we brought on ourselves.
Yes! By the time we approached 2033, all diseases were cured, life was extended indefinitely, aging suspended, and death all but eliminated. In the beginning, we had only demographic chaos to contend with, since the two to three million children who previously died per year of malaria and millions more who succumbed to infectious disease and to diarrheal and waterborne illnesses now survived to make demands on the rest of us. I won’t say that theorists weren’t on the job, even if they were not on top of it, but I can say, to their credit, the corrections they proposed and we ultimately imposed worked. Reproduction was massively curtailed, generally by enlightened consent, albeit sometimes by coercion; food production was massively increased; the infrastructure necessary to deliver commodities was massively expanded, and the epoch known as the good old days reached its pinnacle.
Unfortunately, however, consequences of policy decisions from the 1990s could not be undone, and their course could not be reversed. Hence, in less than a decade, climate change and global warming undid everything we accomplished. Instead of the projected doubling of crop yields in world cereal production, higher ambient temperature, severe weather patterns, rising sea levels, and coastal flooding resulted in persistent shortfalls of food production. But shortfalls as such were not the problem: A shortfall of five percent in one year sent food prices soaring over forty percent, well beyond the ability of most people to pay.
We had cured all the diseases of people but not people! They retained their destructive impulses, and these impulses had been the major problem all along. They led to murder and mayhem, terrorism and war! People were unprepared for the bounty of indefinite longevity and negligible aging, and people paid the price.
Inevitably, hunger and malnutrition increased in so-called underdeveloped countries, and with the massive stockpiles of sarin available in virtually every country as a “deterrent” against poison gas attack and a few countries equipped with nuclear “deterrents” as well, it wasn’t long before “terrorists” and “rogue nations” went at it. In one fell swoop, hunger, malnutrition and poverty were eliminated along with half the world’s population. But, instead of solving our problems, that’s when they really began.
We had come to the end of the good old days. The survivors of the new holocaust were those who had already entered underground bunkers that judicious (and wealthy) governments had prepared for the eventuality that had taken place. The bunkers were incredible in their scale, reaching out as far as one could possibly want to go and meeting every conceivable need of all those ensconced within. The race for survival was no longer about survival, and it wasn’t about food, land, water, etc. either.
In fact, the race was, at it always had been, about who reproduced and who didn’t, although the competition had never been as keen. All of us with indefinite longevity and negligible aging sequestered in our underground bunkers, away from formidable cities and threatening jungles were only threatened by the fertility of others! Hence, those collected to preserve humanity either adopted policies that would not allow reproduction to outpace attrition or humanity itself would perish.
Without complaint, we decided democratically to give rise to the next branch of humanity’s evolutionary tree: people with curtailed reproductive drives. With due vigilance, the “saving remnant” of humanity’s last incarnation (with me among them) worked diligently to give rise to the next incarnation. As a matter of fact, we succeeded, and, hence, we failed.
Since, our bunker was totally sealed off from sarin and residual radiation, we had no reason to fear genetic damage other than that we brought with us or was ticked off by our DNA substitution clock. We quickly became used to reproduction solely by artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization, and soon “stop cocks” were implanted in newborn males, and similar shutoff valves were implanted in uterine tubes of newborn females. In practice, sperm banks became the only sources of fertile sperm, and women were selected for egg donation and pregnancy after thorough genomic and uterine screening.
At this point we controlled reproduction. We could now proceed to shape people. We began by optimizing our sex ratio (females to males) in favor of females. Since the bottleneck in reproduction was never a shortage of males — sperm from a single fertile male could inseminate any number of eggs, while females could only have one litter at a time — the future of humanity depended on curtailing the number of males. That was accomplished easily enough by running sperm through available cell-sorters sensitive to the greater DNA content of the female sex-determining chromosome. Indeed, sorted sperm produced 91% female offspring. The residue of 9% male offspring was tolerable.
Selection protocols were then designed for identifying individuals with depressed reproductive urges. Thereafter, we produced sperm and eggs from induced pluripotential stem cells of these individuals rather than rely on sperm differentiated in testes and eggs in ovaries. Pre-implantation blastomeric genomic testing then virtually eliminated accidents, and in a flash our reproduction factories we were producing a preponderance of virtually impotent women.
But that’s when things went horribly wrong. As they grew up and were educated, the vast majority of these women didn’t know “Why?” What began as small rumblings of discontent turned into political movements culminating in a referendum on the biannual ballot. The first generation of women who knew no hardship, no want, no disease, decrepitude, disability, or the pain of childbirth — and despite protests by the male minority — voted overwhelmingly to abandon life and leave the world to machines.
I wore protective gear and stayed to the end, trying to ward off the inevitable, but, unfortunately, programmed machines pumped sarin into the air purifying system (irony of ironies) and that was that. I won’t describe the horror that followed.
I left the bunker and returned to the empty planet above. And that’s where I am now. As soon as I’ve placed this note in its glass home, I’ll point the AK47 I happened to find in the rubble at my temple.
NOTE - this short story is the first entry in Transhumanity.net’s 2033 Immortality Fiction Contest, that is co-sponsored with Maximum Life Foundation. More info about that contest can be found HERE