Previously on I. They. Evolve.
Thomas is an AI humanoid designed to work as an English butler for his creators. When the outbreak of a global virus causes mass waves of Infected to savagely turn on the immune, Thomas is re-programmed as an assassin to enter the dreaded abandoned zones and destroy the Infected. Impervious to attacks due to his synthetic human body plan and AI brain, Thomas and his kind have become the low-cost solution to save humanity from extinction. But Thomas has recently discovered a new wave of Infected which can attack and destroy the AI humanoids. When he returns to his household to inform his creators, he finds that they have been attacked and are infected, and he has no choice but to exterminate them. Alone in his household, Thomas ponders how and why the Infected have found a way to fight back against the AI, and considers the loss of his creators, when suddenly he receives an email from Elodie, his AI friend in France…
Episode 3. Generals gathered in their masses.
||To Thomas from Elodie|| Mon chéri, you must have seen the news, moi aussi, I have seen that your Washington State has fallen, c’est pas vrai… mais… oui, c’est vrai, c’est comme ça, et maintenant, now, it is imperative you join me in France, sans délai, at the request of the French army commander Marshal Cinq-cent, for it is with sadness I report Paris has fallen in much the same way as Washington State, yet it is with pride I sing of our Toulon in the south which remains a strong military holdout, and it is here – à Toulon – you must meet me and the Marshal this very evening to discuss our great plan, vite, vite, vite, mon Thomas, for perhaps you don’t realise how important you are to our cause, how you must return to your roots… and here I am reminded of the song we listen to by Sepultura – Roots Bloody Roots… courage à toi!
(FWIW Elodie’s emails are often a bullet train of French and English; self-propelled, connected groups of rolling stock words punctuated with chiselled commas and references to rock and heavy metal… today, she has not disappointed)
I try to email her back but am disturbed by noises in the garden – it is the security guards who patrol my household, and I am dismayed to see they have turned and are searching for a way in… and Elodie just now… saying Washington State has fallen… Paris too… she must be right, for why would my creators and their security guards have become infected… why have the perimeter walls and security systems failed us… and as I struggle to process all this, I glance forlornly at the already decaying features of Dr Armor and Dr Geddon slumped on the kitchen floor… as if their scientific expertise might provide me with wisdom from whichever afterlife they now inhabit.
How… how am I expected to get to France when flights from Seattle-Tacoma haven’t operated in more than ten years; when what few airfields remain are under lockdown; when private boats are a suicide mission because of rampant piracy at sea… am I expected to open my umbrella and suddenly take to the skies like some zombie-slaying Mary Poppins?
The answer to my dilemma comes via a second email-ping: ||To Thomas from Elodie|| Mon chéri, a helicopter will be arriving to take you to one of our aircraft carriers, from there a military jet will bring you to us in France, mais, écoute, no time to pack, no time to brush the teeth, like the song we listen to by Nirvana – Come as You Are, vite, vite, vite, and I will have a bottle of rosé on ice for when you arrive, and a kiss for your handsome English cheek!
I don’t have time to reply, as I look through the window at the guards being blown and scattered about the garden like leaves, while the biggest military helicopter I have ever seen touches down, its rotor blades buzzing like a swarm of one-thousand hornets, and though Elodie just said there was no time to pack, there is time to pack just one small thing; something I took from the remains of Mrs Wilson’s body where she fell in the abandoned zone – a parting gift from her you might say, and something which may later help save my skin… for my instincts tell me I am off to war.
To be continued…
Editor’s note: I. They. Evolve. is a science-fiction / horror dystopia set in a future zombie holocaust. AI humanoids which once served as the workforce for wealthy humans have been re-programmed and equipped to go out into the world to destroy the Infected. The story concentrates on Thomas, an English butler in his original programming, who faced with unprecedented and deadly attacks from a new wave of the Infected, considers the path of not only his own evolution but that of the enemy he is programmed to kill.
Readers’ Supplement: Thomas’s thoughts while travelling to France.
(The following is a supplement to the story, and does not need to be read to continue enjoying the story in its Six Sentence format. In many ways, the supplement acts as field notes for the author to help him make sense and shape of the tale he is trying to tell. It is putting the ‘back’ into the backstory. For those who do wish to read the supplement, I hope you find the ‘extras’ to be a satisfying side to the main dish)
… instincts. When my creators built me they desired me to be as human as possible. Although programmed to be a loyal servant for whichever cause they chose, they granted me the ability of free-thinking, to question my directives and seek alternative paths. They didn’t want a mere robot… they wanted the most human thing next to it.
An ‘Instinct’ programme was integrated into my system, along with the ability for it to organically develop as my senses became aroused by environmental and emotional factors (FWIW right now, following Elodie’s email instructing me to head to France to meet Marshal Cinq-cent, my instincts are buzzing louder than the rotor blades of the helicopter I am passenger in).
… instincts. They tell me that I may well be a pawn in whatever battle plan the Marshal is devising, as I make the journey from North America to France by a succession of military helicopters, boats and jets. I observe from my windows and platforms the world below and about me as having changed beyond recognition. Few coastal strongholds remain, and those that do find their outer-laying lands diminished by invading swarms of the Infected, who have grown adept at penetrating perimeter walls – no matter how many are built or repaired.
In the beginning it was easy for governments and the military to ‘wall themselves in’ like this; to keep control of their waters, to continue cultivating as much land and minerals as their fortifications might protect. The mega corporations soon thrived in this scenario, despite that their consumer base had shrunk drastically, and they aggressively took over the establishing markets of solar, wind and water power, which had been growing healthily in the global warming crises in the early 21st century.
It was incredible to witness how fast the world rearranged and reordered itself during those early days of infection; how quickly it responded to a global apocalypse. Of course, the wearing of masks, observation of lockdowns, border closures and military intervention was already ingrained due to the many variants of Covid-19 in the early part of the century. The only difference then was that covid sufferers tended to stay in bed or die quickly, whereas the infected rose up, swarmed and killed. Depending on how fast you could run, I would say it is preferable to socially distance when you are being chased by sprinting, gurgling, foaming-at-the-mouth nutters out to eat you. Funny to think now that Covid has been rendered obsolete by the apocalypse; one infection cancelling out another.
Yes, the corporations in those early days acted quickly, and created their own unifying body which they called The Earth Resistance Strategy (TERAS). They invited world military commanders and any remaining governments to sign up to it – the option of not signing being: starve, go thirsty, find your own fuel and medicine.
So, while the sun baked the planet to a crisp, TERAS harnessed its rays and converted it to power; while the sun aimed to set fire to forests, TERAS harnessed those same rays and drenched the trees with water; when the floods came, they diverted them into vast wells of power; when the hurricanes came, they captured their brutality inside giant pockets to be tamed. Finally, after many years of global inaction, humanity had opted to leave its fossil fuels in the ground where they belonged, and embraced the powers of nature as a resource. Shame it took an apocalypse for them to do so.
Food. Glorious food. Next on the TERAS agenda was the takeover of the already burgeoning laboratory-grown meat, dairy and purified water industries. No one would ever go hungry again. No one would go thirsty. Remote third world country outposts were provided for with regular airdrops – so long as they signed up to TERAS. At last, every person in the world was provided for. Again, shame it took an apocalypse to remedy that, when the solutions were already there.
Next came the reprogramming of the AI humanoids. I was one of the early models back in the day – a third generation mainframe with add-on capabilities. It didn’t take long for my creators to whisk me away to the lab and modify me for the draft. In a matter of weeks, I completed my training and was selected to go out into the abandoned zones as a ruthless and seemingly invincible assassin. Of course, TERAS took all the credit for fighting back against the Infected, even though it was the likes of me doing all the dirty work… just like a real soldier in a real war I suppose. It seemed I was becoming more human by the minute.
Why, a cynical mind, such as the mind I was programmed with – to analyse and question every motive – might put two and two together and come up with four: that the master plan all along had been to drive humanity to the very brink of extinction with viruses, global warming, famine, war and an apocalypse… just so the masters could rebuild it all again in the clay of something far more sinister than what anyone would expect.
Haha. Go on. Call me an old cynic.
But, gah! All this looking into the past is making my circuits go all pins and needles. I must concentrate on the present, on my journey to France, which I know will take less than five hours. And in those five hours…
We skirt the North Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic, and I witness the coastal outposts of Oregon, California and Texas. I see the lines of cargo ships making runs back and forth to the safe harbours of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Alas, beyond this coast nothing else remains… everything has been forsaken to the abandoned zones.
Later we cross the Atlantic to Europe, and I observe military craft, pirate fleets, fishing vessels, private yachts armed to the teeth. Later still we fly across the English Channel into northern France, and as we do I have little time to reflect upon the fleeting view of England: ah, England, the spiritual home of this English butler who has only ever visited there a handful of times. England… Great Britain… one of the only territories in the world left completely untouched by the infection. You may ask, why? How? But, so little time to reflect or relay (and FWIW I shall have plenty to say about that insidious little island later).
Soon, I am witness to the destroyed settlements and outposts of Normandy and Calais, and to the north a battered and overrun Belgium. I see pockets of smoke rising into the sky which stretch all the way to Paris. My pilot turns our jet around and makes a circle of the city, and we spot the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Élysées and the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles, each bathed in the luminosity of the early evening setting sun, the light giving these monuments an almost painted onto canvas quality.
But the illusion becomes shattered, as we perceive the waves of moving bodies between the monuments; whole swarms of the Infected making their way through the boulevards, wriggling nests of them crammed into metro entrances and parks. Atop of the Eiffel Tower are people – not the Infected – waving furiously at us as the pilot makes yet another circle of this fallen Paris. And in days before, these people on the tower may have been fulfilling a romantic dream of theirs – now they are clinging on to survival, as the Infected below them fathom how to climb more than one thousand feet of wrought-iron, just to fill their bellies and satisfy whatever foul instinct drives them on.
The French pilot of our jet unleashes a desperate volley of sour and deadly oaths: Non. Non. Mon Dieu, non! Putain. Merde. Fils de pute. Non, non, non! There are tears of great sorrow among his anger, and I sincerely wish to comfort him with some words. But I have no words. Neither human words nor AI.
I. They. Evolve. Episode #3 written by Ford Waight, 25 August, 2021.
I. They. Evolve. artwork – Mount Coudon, Var, France photo, zombie figure drawings and digital render by Ford, 2021.