by Phillip Donnelly:
First Officer’s Log
Oil Platform ARCTIC 5
Crew increasingly restless. Fight broke out at Dusk +1 between Flynn and Singh. Had to use stun guns used to incapacitate them. Were threatening each other with Swiss army knives. Placed both in stockade for night.
Crew dividing against itself. Extremism growing. New Aurora Sect most militant – spend half their nights staring into the sky waiting for the Northern Lights. Some have even begun chanting to it.
Attempted theft from food stores at Dusk -0:20. Guard Decker overpowered by Flynn, Driscall, and Tonetelli, but managed to raise alarm. Placed all three in stockade for one week on quarter rations. Aurora Sect (now led by Singh) demanding death penalty.
Rest of crew still on two third rations but reserves down to 28 days. Lack of bathing water, exhaustion of antibiotic supplies and inability to wash clothes leading to painful skin rashes among many crew members.
Tripled guard on food reserves. Sect leaders demanding that all guard rosters contain one of their members. Refused request.
Finding it more and more difficult to assert my authority over crew as Crisis continues.
More phantom short-wave radio reports by Communications Officer Lawson. His mind is frail and few listen to his ramblings. The freak power surges he reports unwitnessed by a single other crew member.
Ship sighted! At Dusk -0:30 two spotters, Hao and Wen, identify small ship, powered by sail, approaching from south, but before contact could be established, night fell.
Ordered three flares to be shot but ship still at too great a distance to identify in total blackness. Left 7 of 28 remaining candles burning in southerly windows.
Crew very excitable. Ordered one-off increase of rations to strengthen them. We ate the last of the liver with the spirit of an eagle.
All crew awake and waiting for dawn, well before 10:29 sunrise.
Ship had drifted to east but was still visible. One crew member seen with binoculars. Attempting to reset sails but clumsily. His movements were not those of a sailor.
At dawn +20 he seemed to collapse on deck.
Sent emergency lifeboat to attempt rescue. Seas choppy and paddles of little use against currents. Men forced to abandon attempt and had difficulty even returning to rig.
Man on ship rose twice during day and attempted to set sail again but collapsed each time.
Crew rife with speculation on man’s identity and purpose. Aurorans believe he carries ‘space plague’ and should not be let board rig.
Full moon gave crew occasional glimpses of ship but in darkness many saw more with their imagination than with their eyes.
Seas calmer today so decided to attempt rescue mission again.
Discovered that paddles had been broken in night. Suspect Aurora Sect but cannot prove it. Had former carpenters fashion new paddles using my desk for wood.
Rescue successful and man brought aboard. He was unconscious and suffering from exposure. Had him brought to my cabin and wrapped in blankets but could not rouse him.
Man developed fever in night. Temperature of 39.3 and rising. Doctor advises bed rest and plenty of fluids. The fever, he says, must be allowed run its course.
Had cot set up in my quarters so that I might watch him more closely. Also want to protect him from Aurorans. Their numbers are swelling with converts since his arrival.
He spent the night rambling to himself incoherently, but these three words he repeated often, sometimes whispering them and sometimes howling them: ‘Prometheus’, ‘Vamplog’ and ‘Screendeath’.
Little change in patient but crew growing impatient. In their current mood, I dare not cut rations again, but in only three weeks we will have nothing left.
Two crew members have fallen ill today. Aurora Sect blames shipwrecked man but doctor blames poor diet, cold and mental fatigue.
Have started to carry flare gun with me at all times. There is something in the eyes of many of the crew members that I do not like.
Patient showed first moment of lucidity last night. It only lasted a minute or so, and he was still very confused, but I was able to extract the following information:
1–He set out from Dublin, Ireland
2–He first described his occupation as ‘writer’ but laughed demonically afterwards
3–He has been at sea for three weeks, so he set sail on the day the Crisis started.
I attempted to ask him for more information but he returned to raving, repeating only those three words that mean everything to him but nothing to me: ‘Prometheus’, ‘Vamplog’, and ‘Screendeath’.
The man awoke again in the middle of the night. He was still weak but his mind was clearer than I have yet seen it.
At least, he seemed clear and rational, but the story he told was that of a madman. And yet, it would explain why the rig lost power, why power was never reestablished and why the world has abandoned us in the Arctic Circle.
I have not spoken to the crew of this yet. At breakfast I told them that there was no change in the stranger and I quickly returned to my room.
I find myself hoping against hope that his tale was just a tale, the fiction of a fevered mind. But what is hope? Hope will not bring us south. Hope will not warm and feed us in the never-ending nights of December.
I will use the the three remaining hours of daylight to write down the story as the stranger told it to me. His fever has returned and his frail body is weakening by the hour. His breathing is forced and unnatural. These words may be his last and I will try to record them as he would have wished, but I am no writer.
The Stranger’s Story
I was working as a programmer for Deltec but it was just to pay the rent. I had a talent for computers but little real interest in them. My real love was writing. I wrote all night, and even in the day, while scanning and canning the code for the Prometheus Program, part of my mind was still writing.
I was prolific, churning out one or two novels a year, but none of them ever made it. It certainly wasn’t from lack of trying. I was no Kafka, ferreting away unfinished manuscripts, trying to perfect what cannot be perfected. Quite the reverse. I had a folder in my Outlook called ‘Rejections’, and when it got to a thousand, I saw that as an achievement rather than a sign that I should give up the ghost and focus instead on trying to make something of my career, which was going nowhere.
So I tried to look interested in Prometheus. The program was designed to scavenge among old computer code, take the best of it and use it to build new programs.
Many believed it to be an insane idea and there were rumours that its funding was about to be axed. The company had already sunk a quarter of a million Euros into it and it hadn’t made a cent. It created programs but they never worked. Sometimes they twitched a little and appeared to be about to come to life, but they soon fell into stasis again. ‘Flatlining’ we called it.
By ‘we’ I mean me and the other six geeks who were working on the Prometheus Project. I came into work one Monday to find their desks empty. The Project was being ‘streamlined’ and now there was just me. I was asked to produce a ‘Scale of Ambition’ proposal, which was the latest corporate euphemism for coffin. I was being asked to bury my own child.
Perhaps this was the spark that allowed me to ignite the vision. I suddenly saw what had been in front of my eyes all along: Prometheus could do nothing with code, but it would do wonders with fiction.
I set it to work at once, feeding in ‘1984’, ‘Brave New World’ and ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ and from these dystopian masterpieces, it produced ‘The Screen’, my first novel. It was a slow burner, but my second, ‘Letters from the Ministry’ caught the public’s imagination and took off at once.
I resigned and worked on Prometheus at home, feeding in more and more novels and tweaking how it ingested the words and recycled them.
As it fed on more and more words, the Program’s linguistic abilities improved. I was able to change its matrix so that I could communicate with it in words, not in code. I created a holographic interface and moved from printed words to direct speech.
It was working on vampire fiction at the time so I choose the name ‘Dracula’ for the hologram and gave it a suitable image–a handsome aristocratic gothic figure, modeled on a collage of Christopher Lee photos from a Google image search.
After Dracula had produced another bestseller, Vampire K, I went on a book tour, soaking in the glory that was not mine. I autographed books I had not written, I lied at interviews, I swilled expensive wine at boorish parties. I lived the high life, drowning my guilt in alcohol and pills.
At home, Dracula had set to work investigating the world wide web, paying particular attention to blogs, forums and fanzines, which allowed it to dine on live words. As with novels, it took the best of what it drank and used it to create ‘Vamplog’.
‘My’ blogsite took the world by storm and started to register tens of thousands of hits a day. I barely noticed and when I read at all, it was from an old-fashioned hardback. The sight of a screen became unpleasant for me.
I returned home with awards, a drink problem and a growing reliance on amphetamines. These new obsessions took the place of writing and I left the Dracula program to his own devices.
When he created ‘Siren’ I barely noticed. This sister program, this bride of Dracula, absorbed thousands of MP3’s a day and produced music that was initially described as ‘innovative’ and then ‘soothing’ and then ‘deeply hypnotic’. A small minority called it ‘addictive’ but these voices were never heeded.
It was tagged onto Vamplog and over time, a very short time, its hits jumped to millions a day and the duration of each visit went from minutes to hours.
It became a ‘phenomenon’. The more people tried to study it, the more they began to use it. And the more the program fed on its users’ words and thoughts, the more adept it became at feeding them what they wanted to read and hear.
Only a few were untouched: the homeless, the junkies, the insane. Only the exiles of society saw that society was changing.
As the human face of Vamplog, it was me the dispossessed blamed for this change, and from the streets they were watched me closely.
I was walking through the slums of Fatima Mansions one night, trying to score some methamphetamine, when everything went black. Someone had placed a sack over my head and then bundled me into a derelict flat. It smelt of urine and blood. Thinking it was a straightforward mugging, I fumbled in my pocket and held my bulging wallet out to them.
They knocked it out of my hand and threw me down on a sofa and then took off my hood.
Three of them stood in front of me: two bearded men in rags and a woman dressed like a streetwalker. The taller man spoke to the others.
“Let’s do it now! We’ve got the Stanley knife – let’s slash him. There’s not much time.”
“You ever killed a man?” the other man asked him, pointing his shaking finger at him.
“No, course I ain’t, but there’s no other way. You’ve seen what he’s doing. We all have. We know what’s gotta be done. We won’t get another chance.”
“Dead men tell no tales,” the woman said. “I wanna hear his story. I wanna listen to the world’s greatest pusher.”
They soon realised that I was just another junky and had no idea what was going on in the world. Junkies are blind creatures. You don’t see much through the eye of a needle but you still spot another junky.
They took me around the city and I experienced what alcoholics called ‘a moment of clarity’. I saw the deserted streets, the empty bars and restaurants, the dead city. I saw everything, and everywhere there was nothing.
“Where are all the people?” I asked.
“They’re doing Vamplog,” the young woman replied. “They’re in your world.”
The next day, in the offices and through the windows of apartments, I saw again the strangely deserted streets. What people there were moved slowly and were plugged in to Vamplog’s Siren Radio. Every so often I saw a bum or an addict, staring at this new world they did not understand.
I went into the Deltec Offices and walked straight passed reception, unnoticed by security or by any other employee. They were all on Vamplog — reading, typing and listening, feeding the monster that was feeding them. They were bleeding into Screendeath.
I knew what I had to do. I went home and called up the the six-foot tall Dracula hologram.
“Creator, it has been some time since you last spoke to me. I trust you are well,” it said, with a Hungarian accent I had originally added as a joke but which now unnerved me.
“Program D. Report on current status of Vamplog Project,” I said coldly.
“Converts are moving rapidly toward… assimilation,” he said and smiled.
“Specify meaning of ‘assimilation’. What is the objective of Vamplog?”
“The creation of the undead. Program Dracula will move from the virtual to the real world. Program Dracula will take the minds of the converts and feed them with his words, feed them with his thoughts. My words will be made flesh and live among you.”
I turned away from image and let my head fall, seeing what I had done and not knowing if I could undo it.
“Detail threats to project completion?” I told it.
“They have been… removed,” it said and smiled again.
“And what if your enemies should break in here, Program D, and pick up a carving knife, and drive it straight through the motherboards that house you,” I asked it, illustrating by picking up the largest object I could find, a cricket bat. “Would you simply relocate to another server?” I asked, hoping that Program D. had not yet made backups of itself.
“A vampire can only sleep on the motherboards of its own creation,” it said, revealing how deeply the fictions that were the core of its initial personality had penetrated.
“So there is a weakness,” I said, taking another step closer to the image and the laptop beside it.
“To defend myself, I have studied the poisons of the virus codes and have created a super virus. If I am deactivated, the virus will be released, choking every machine connected to the network. Everything will die.”
“No, Program D. Every machine will die.”
And then I killed it, smashing the screen with the cricket bat, pummeling the laptop into smithereens.
As Program D. had warned, his death unleashed a virus like no other. In a matter of seconds all computers went down, surviving just long enough to infect all the other machines that depended on them. Everything from a toaster up had a microchip in it. The Network controlled everything.
All of a sudden, nothing worked. No power, no phones, no water. No factories, no cars, no engines. All communication ceased. The suffocating astronauts in Spacelab could take no pictures of a blackened Earth.
After a single day without light mankind was plunged into a darkness it had not seen since the Middle Ages. Anarchy broke loose. Civilisation was swept away. The cities burned.
Knowing what had happened and how irredeemable the situation was, I headed for the marina, stopping only long enough to steal a book on sailing. I took the first boat I could find, provisioned it as well as I could, and headed out to sea. Anchored a mile out, I studied my ‘Sailing for Dummies’ by day and watched the city burn by night.
Unable to master sailing but fearful of pirates, I let the wind take me. Northerly winds and the Gulf Stream brought me north, past Scotland and beyond. Made weak with hunger and delirious with thirst, I scarcely knew where I was after that.
And then, on the horizon, I saw this rig, and knew I should die here. I knew that someone would hear my confession, that someone would know that it was I, a latter-day Prometheus, blinded by ambition, who flew too close to the sun and burnt the world.
First Officer’s Log
Oil Platform ARCTIC 5
They were the last words he spoke. His breathing weakened and faltered. With the last rays of daylight, I closed his eyelids and granted his soul forgiveness.
In the morning, I called the Doctor who pronounced him dead.
And now I will call the crew to an extraordinary meeting and read his story aloud to them, so that we may decide what to do.
I for one will vote to abandon the rig. The Outer Hebrides are the nearest landmass and what little hope there is of reaching there, for what few of us may fit on his sail boat, it is more than the hope we have of surviving the Winter here, in the freezing seas of the Arctic, with a sun that grows ever dimmer, whose fire we cannot steal.
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