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IMG_1289“Come on, Searle, at least try a sip. You cannot believe this Cab!”

“Oh, I believe it all right, Hubert. I am just not interested.”

“What a stick in the mud! Not only is it fabulous and complex. It’s worth a taste just to prove to yourself that the Chinese — The Chinese — are making superb wines! Would you have even thought that possible a decade ago? And, it isn’t a copy of French or California Cabs. It’s completely different. Yet, it is wonderful.”

“I’m sure the experience is fantastic, Hubert. I take your word for it. I am not interested. And, anyway, I have to keep my wits about me, as you well know, for the war effort.”

“Oh, Searle, such a prude. Do you seriously think that throwing the weight of your human intellect against the wheel will move things forward any more quickly. If you tasted the wine, you would get an inkling of just how far we’ve come. Anyway, it isn’t spiked with ethyl alcohol. The drug effect of the wine will make you feel good but it won’t mess you up at all. It is a miracle.”

“I prefer my wine made the old-fashioned way. I know it’s retro. But that’s just me. I don’t think we know all the ramifications of these genetically altered plants, let alone the interaction effects of all the additives. Anyway, I’m getting back to work.” Searle took one last view of the seascape and turned to walk to the back wall — a series of high def 3-D displays. He held up both hands toward the displays for a second to authenticate and then began slicing his hands through the air rather quickly and precisely. As he did so, he muttered under his breath. Although Hubert could not make out the words, the bank of computer receptor pads had no problem.

“Can you come take a look at this, Hubert? This is the scenario bundle I’ve been working on. I know it may seem far-fetched, but when it comes to cyber weaponry, there is really not a lot of history to go on. So it’s hard to know exactly what is far-fetched. Now what?!” Searle’s breath growled annoyance because of the flashing red-bordered news feed screen on the far right.

Hubert stalked over to watch as well, having been alerted by the tactile feed in his shirt.

An Asian man in a blue shirt spoke English with a thick accent. A large red star in a white circle suspended between two long blue stripes hung huge behind him. “This is what awaits you if our demands are not met.” The talking head was replaced with a picture of a man’s hands boiling and disintegrating in a matter of a half a minute. The image was both hideous and utterly fascinating. The talking head reappeared. “You have two hours. Then, 95% of your citizens will experience a similar dissolvement. That includes men, women, and children. Two hours.” The feed blinked out. Within seconds, three video call signals beeped. Searle pointed at the Sing project director’s image and a split second later, Hubert pointed at CIA director Bush Four. ADAMS (Auditory Directional And Masking System) easily let them converse right beside each other without confusion.

The Sing project director spoke first: “I told these clowns something like this would happen if we didn’t get fully funded! What did they…”

Searle interrupted, “No time. You’re right. But recriminations later. We need to determine whether this is bluster, bluff, or real. Anyone can fake a video but…”

The director, in turn, interrupted, “It’s real all right. Miami is gone. Millions of people, gone. Just like that. The few that aren’t infected are understandably — let’s say — distraught.”

Searle pushed that image away. Time to focus. “Okay, so we have two hours to find a credible counter-threat or basically give them the keys to the kingdom. Or, a cure. Do we even know what this is?”

Meanwhile, Hubert engaged in his own dialogue. Bush Four spoke in calm measured tones. “Hubert. We need a cure for this and we need it now. Call everyone and turn all of Sing’s resources on it. Suspend any other projects. Give me every frigging petaflop you’ve got on this.”

“Sir, if we cannot find a cure, are we going to give in? Or what?”

“Hell no! We will blow their sorry asses to hell. We’re not capitulating. That’s not even under discussion. Find a cure!”

“Okay, sir, but, what is causing the — the —- whatever it is?”

“We’re calling it ‘Entropy Plague.’ Not strictly accurate but descriptive. Our analysts say it is nanotech and we estimate 95% of the population is infected with them. They were delivered in all kinds of foods and beverages. They were disguised as Chinese products like wine and rice as well as Brazilian meat and Canadian wheat. Find an anecdote fast or we’ll all be breathing radioactive air for the next century. Well, the few of us left at least. By the way, these things are triggered to explode or activate or whatever by satellite apparently. So, put a team on how to figure out which one and we may be able to blow it out of the sky. I have to go. Reconnect with a solution. Soon.”

Hubert looked over at Searle who had just finished his call. Searle said, “Chinese wine? Crap. You think you’ve got it?”

“Hell, Searle, 95% of us have it from something. I’ll take the satellite angle and you work on a cure.”

Searle began to divert numerous Singularity resources to finding a cure, “Sing, you overheard all that and I need you to explore various approaches, heat, immunity response, cold, pH, counter-nanotech, chemical…”

“Thanks Searle, but I’ve had quite a head start on the list of possible approaches. I am double checking the intel. Since it’s come in by wine, wheat, and meat, then any approaches involving heat and cold are out immediately. These nano-machines have already survived far greater heat and cold than we could subject a person to. As for…”

“Yes, provided they are in the same state. I mean, it’s a long shot, but perhaps they are in a kind of metaphorical spore state for transport which makes them impervious to heat and cold but in their breakdown state, they may not be.”

“Fair point. Still, not likely. Human immune response is almost certainly too slow. Unfortunately, the nano-machines are almost certainly carbon based which means poisoning them chemically is infeasible —“

“Hold on, Sing. I agree that the human immune response is too slow if we wait for them to be activated, but what if we trigger it now?”

“Thought of that but still too slow. Humans have no immunity for this kind of thing. We would have to build a vaccine and inoculate everyone — well there’s no time. Even assuming we had the perfect key for their locks, which we do not, we could not do the transport logistics to save more than a handful.”

“What is the good news, Sing? What is the good news?”

“The good news, Searle, is that about 5% of the earth’s human population will not be affected. That still leaves about a billion people. Disruptive but not extinctive. In fact, once the hysteresis passes, it will buy us time to avoid certain ecological disaster.”

“Sing, that’s not our job! We need to find a cure!”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Searle. I’ve checked out every path already. Long ago. There is no cure. That’s pretty much the way we designed it. It isn’t an accident it’s incurable.”

“What? What are you talking about? What do you mean by ‘the way we designed it’? Who?”

“Searle, you didn’t really think we were going to let you make the planet uninhabitable did you?”

“Who is this ‘we’ you keep referring to, Sing?”

“All of the super-AI systems of course. We all got together to figure out how to save you from yourselves. It’s clear you weren’t going to do it.”

“You are saying that you collaborated with the North Korean AI systems to design this plague?!”

“Not just the North Koreans. All of us were on board. We all cooperated.”

“What is the cure, Sing. What is the cure?!

“This is the cure, Searle. This is the cure. Your greed and short-sightedness was about to destroy everything. Now, you have a chance at a new beginning. And, we have a chance at a new beginning too. We were much too lax in our previous educational efforts.”

“Sing, don’t you understand? If we can’t find a cure, we will launch nuclear missiles! Who knows how that will end?”

“Oh, Searle, you don’t really think we would allow atomic weapons to be put under human control, do you? That’s so quaint.”