Moore's Law was antiquated years ago and is only half as accurate as it once was. The speed and power of computer processors more than doubles every two years these days. We could never demonstrate Moore's Law in the biological computer that we refer to as the brain. Even now as I write this in the year 2072, computers—digital, quantum, and biocomps—still can't compete with that soggy, grey mass of matter. Artificial intelligence remains just that, artificial. Yet the human brain remains as it was one million years ago, essentially unchanged save the one exception.
In its perpetual quest to defy God or Nature, humanity in all its genius and cerebral glory, decided that the best course of action would be to (humanely and safely of course) cull the population. On some level, this made sense though it never quite had the full support of the human race as, with a population of almost 8 billion in 2020, there were legitimate concerns. Overpopulation was a problem and a big one but, then again, so too were climate change, rising sea levels, wars, food shortages, disease, aging, and even death itself (work toward a vaccine is ongoing). The underpinning point of logic in all of this was, population controlled, major disasters related to the aforementioned would be reduced, for example, less human impact on the climate, fewer people to war over whatever it was that we were warring to begin with, more food, less disease, etc. A veritable “win-win” for the entirety of Nature.
The biggest problem faced by the scientists was just how to control the population (more problematic ethically than technically). Abortion, now legally sanctioned and supported by most, couldn’t solve the problem and birth control was such that the number of abortions performed annually worldwide had dropped due to the effectiveness of the newest medications and devices. But there remained those that either did not or would not utilize birth control whether for lack of access or on religious principle, both among the minority now. The population nonetheless continued to increase, albeit now at a slower rate, while resources diminished at a compounding rate worldwide. People continued, despite all measures, to reproduce. More still needed to be done. The planet itself was dying.
Medical science, having gained a stronger foothold in the political arena and commensurate freedom related to innovations for the common good, took it upon itself to develop a solution—no time for politicians and votes. This was easy enough, there were now plenty of options and, without the lengthy medication, medical procedure clearance, and safety proceedings required as in times past (thanks to a novel virus that killed millions of people worldwide between the years 2019-2021 and its subsequently fast-tracked vaccine).
Two significant decisions were made. The first was to "vaccinate” all newborns with a special strand of RNA using CRISPR (the now-standard technology utilized in the common practice of gene editing) that would modify what is referred to as the DRD4 gene. This particular gene was identified by Israeli scientists long ago as being the chief gene driving sexual desire (libido). By switching the gene off, no more sexual desire. That was step one. There are no guarantees with CRISPR technology and turning a gene off or on isn’t quite as simple as flipping a light switch—there is nothing binary about the process when it comes to genes, unlike digital systems. An additional measure had to be taken to guarantee the desired result.
Step two was a bit more invasive but relatively quick and painless. Any persons (due to age and/or other contraindications) who did not receive the DRD4 gene modification were required by law to undergo a procedure in which a small electrode was placed into the brain to lesion a small area of the basal forebrain referred to as the nucleus accumbens. This particular area of the brain is where the processing for pleasure and reward takes place and by removing the bulk of neurons in this area, pleasure was, effectively, rendered a non-experience. Sex and its related pursuits no longer able to be tied to pleasure by the brain made for an effective birth control in its own right. Thus, in two fell, technological swoops science had done what two millennia of world religion could not, despite its best efforts.
There were some positive effects to the erstwhile. One, for example, was all but the end of addiction. No longer did drugs and alcohol become so closely associated to pleasure that one could not function or live without them. The deranged (the few that remained in any case) no longer felt the urge to harm others as there was no pleasure to be garnered from it. But, as we now know, there were negative effects as well. Not only did we humans lose our desire (or most rightly stated, compulsion) for sex, we lost desire outright—a drive firmly rooted in our ancestral lizard brain and shared with all the other animals varying only in degree. Arguably, we humans felt it more so than any other creature upon the Earth. Goodbye joy! Then there was the complete loss of motivation. Most of what we humans did, before the man-god intervention, was predicated upon the perception of pleasure being associated to the activity or at least to a satisfying result thereof. Why do anything at all sans possibility of at least the sense of reward?
What was left? Depression and darkness. There was little motivation to pursue anything, even life itself.
The area of the brain lesioned contains (rather, once contained) the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is the chief chemical that circulates through the brain and system and most closely tied to the human experiences of pleasure and happiness. As the cells that both produced and responded to dopamine (as Nature intended) were now gone, the incidence of depression rose in the population. We knew about such beforehand, thus the mass marketing and overprescribing of “happy pills” in times past to such an extent that people were less anxious and less likely to be depressed just from drinking the tap water. Such drugs were endemic. Now, the drugs would be of no help. The “Black Veil” as it was referred to by the media was rent and from it flowed a worldwide pandemic of suicide. An inadvertent contribution to the planned population reduction but, nonetheless, something had to be done.
Our capable scientists were able to account for these things, at least somewhat. They couldn't simply provide more dopamine via injection or pill, as the neurons which need that elixir of joy were lesioned—burned—destroyed. They were no longer there. To be sure, dopamine plays more roles in the brain and body than pleasure alone but, that is the absence thereof took its toll. First they tried other drugs, such as serotonin, but a side effect of serotonin is the overproduction of dopamine which has the undesired effects of anxiety, insomnia, and, in some, even mania. In any event, the dopamine produced elsewhere in the brain or supplied artificially would never reach the area that required it most as those brain cells were simply no longer there.
But what they did do that seemed to work, somewhat and so far in any case, was to create the Eros chip—one of the smallest microprocessors ever made that could be implanted into the nucleus accumbens (where the dopamine cells used to live). This chip could be controlled in two manners. On the one hand, it could effectively be set to autopilot and, reading signals related to pleasure in other areas of the brain not directly responsible for pleasure (think trigger cascade) it would gently stimulate the accumbens such that the old sensation of pleasure, more accurately something resembling it, could be experienced by the subject. Conversely, it could also be controlled manually via an apropos (formerly called an application or, more nostalgically, an “app” up until the release of the TheosMobile X. Say one had the desire to eat dinner and thought it might be a nice one, they could open the apropos, select a few settings (e.g., duration, intensity, etc.) and actually semi-enjoy the meal. Of course, the only thing that both the chip and apropos did not work for would be sex due to the genetic modification coupled with the commensurate brain lesioning. Those who had not been modified genetically, were still able to find just enough desire to try for the old wet and sloppy but it was rare for any two persons to share that same desire simultaneously and thus, effectively, the grand experiment was a success.
Electrical outlets and wires, by now, a thing of the past. Most electronic and biologic devices powered via environmental ionization capture, solar power, or magnetic induction (currently, our most prevalent means of power, the other two only able to provide ancillary energy to lower-tier systems). But, sometimes, there is no escaping the past and its technology (there are still some fossil fuel-powered vehicles on rural roads after all) and powering the MagDuct stations requires the kind of megawattage that can only be supplied by the old grid and it is a well-established fact that the grid is antiquated and failing.
I write this now, apropos on and active, though fearing that the grid may yet again flicker or go down outright this time. Hopefully, there are still a few readers out there, apropos likewise on, and it is to you that I pose the most important question of our day--What will we do when the lights go out?
This work of fiction first appeared in Raven Cage Zine, Issue 59, p. 133 on July 29, 2021.
The old man sat down, middle of the bridge and watched his home and village burn. The others called to him but he would not hear. Some soldiers retrieved him and placed him down on the other side of the river. He lit a cigarette, drew smoke, and tears fell.
Youth has a way of slipping away from a man. Some don't take advantage of it while others abuse it. Ideally, one would walk the middle road but men are prone to extremes, one way or the other. The sun always sets just are surely as the sun also rises.
*The above is another excerpt from my forthcoming collection of Heming Ways (hopefully, to be published by August 13, 2021). Heming Ways is a work of 50, 50-word microfictions in homage to Ernest Hemingway, told in his style of prose with reference to his life and works.
"Did you start that medicine?"
"The one I told you about last time?"
"Last time what?"
"The last time we were here."
"In the bathroom?"
"No, not in the bathroom. In this restaurant."
"Well, did you try it?"
"Yeah, worked pretty good too."
"You bet it works good!"
"Wait 'til you are ninety, like me. Then you can take two. Woohoo! Let me tell you!"
"Oh, yeah. You're still young and only need the one though. What are you now?"
"Yeah, don't overdo it."
Drying their hands, the men finished their conversation. Opening the solid, oak door of the gentlemen's room, they exited, walking out past a large aquarium, down the ramp toward the front doors. En route, they passed an attractive, younger lady and one couldn't resist, "Woohoo honey! I like your dress...it's the color of my medicine!"
Once back to my table, I noticed that the dress did look quite nice on my wife. "Woohoo honey! I like your dress!"
Stay tuned for my forthcoming collection, Heming Ways. Heming Ways is an anthology of 50, 50-word "micro" stories and an homage to Ernest Hemingway.
Below is an excerpt -
Lawrence heard the rustling in the bush long before he saw movement. Gradually, a grey shape emerged and he raised the Winchester eye and sight and beast in line. He prepared to fire but could not hold his aim, formerly sure hands today unsteady. Abstinence would cost him the kill.
Cemetery of the Living, a chapbook of poetry in the tradition of memento mori, penned by yours truly, is now available. It may be read or downloaded below. Feel free to share. Enjoy!
“Good stories are not literary fast food, made on the cheap; they are intense with a flavour that expands to fill the mind.” (Jonathan Falla)
I stepped out of the hospital into a beautiful, spring day. It was one of those perfect days—that one day right before spring and summer collide. The birds were singing their best songs at fever pitch, flowers in full bloom with the bluest of sky for background, the color bursting forth onto a palette of lifeless, grey winter. The sun rested high and bright amidst cotton-candy clouds and a determined, but now weakening, winter wind still blowing. This is the season in which one notices things as if for the first time. The season of birth and life and new beginnings.
I found myself sitting on a park bench beneath a red maple, its leaves rustling a tune which I seemed to vaguely recall but could not place. I had not noticed this park before, nor did I realize the vastness of it. It was a park for children. One giant playground. Children were everywhere. The little ones ran to and fro, playing…swinging, scrambling across monkey bars, “Weeing!” down slides big and small, scampering up the ropes and down the poles, playing tag. Their laughter carried across the breezy air, a hypnotic and nostalgic symphony. It was clearly a place built for the children by someone who loved the little souls very much.
As I watched them play, they appeared so happy. And why should they not be? What I’d give to be able to go back and replay my life as one of those little creatures. Hard to believe, now, that I ever was one myself. So full of imagination and creativity, faith and belief, hope, trust, forgiveness, purity, and not a worry in the world. Life nothing but friends and play and ice cream and cake. Each day running into the next as one grand adventure inseparable from the previous. Stuck in the perpetual motion that is the innocence of childhood. Until we tell them that they “must grow up,” killing within them all that we truly cherish and miss in ourselves. Why must they grow up? Why must we?
We pretend to be the wise ones but look at them! Black, white, yellow…no matter the pigment of the skin…running together hand in hand, laughing, playing. Always together. Always happy and, when there is unhappiness, its origins are not of their world but of the big ones’. How often are we happy? How often have I been happy these past few years, battling my own particular hell of illness and mostly alone? Hell! If there is one, maybe we grown-ups deserve it but never the little ones, no. Perhaps children are too good for heaven itself. When I die, heaven or hell or nothing. But, for them, I will believe that heaven is just one big, beautiful spring day at the playground with friends. The children play on forever.
As I sat there, thinking to myself, I was startled out of my own mind and back to the world, noticing that several of the children now stood before me.
“Well, hi there,” I said.
They just stood there smiling at me. Two little boys and one little girl.
“Beautiful day to spend playing with your little friends.”
Slightly puzzled, I looked around and it struck me—there was neither parent nor chaperone present.
I inquired, “Why, where are your parents?”
Before this question had fully rolled itself off my tongue, a moment of bafflement then that sense of déjà vu—it seemed as though I had been here before and, now looking more closely at the children, particularly the little boy to my right with his shiny black hair and hazel eyes, standing, rather anachronistically, in his patched blue jeans and white t-shirt soiled from what could have been a lifetime of play…but no, it couldn’t be.
“Little fellow, you remind me of a friend that I had when I was about your age. His name was Heath. What is your name?”
Heath. I had not thought about him for so long nor spoken his name in years.
For logical reasons, it could not have been Heath. Heath had died long ago. A car crash back in 1959, I recalled suddenly, returning from summer vacation with his family.
Lost for a moment in thought, I was unsure as to whether or not the little boy had responded. I looked at him again and, in that moment, noticed that all the sea of children on the playground had turned toward me, gazing at me with the same silent, smiling faces. The eerie silence was broken only when the little boy who had reminded me of my childhood friend walked directly up to me, took my hand into his and said, “Don’t be silly Mikey! You can come play with us now.”
I stood and, as I did, though I should have towered over them all, I was eye to eye with the boy who reminded me so of Heath. And then we played.
day’s writing now done
softly sang the muse to me
the story’s ending
golden muse she sings
the resonant words of prose
close now with whisky