The Army Nestled in Our Shadows

Issue 23 by Paul Smit

The year is 2047.

Steven Herselman and Paul Artin were trailblazers. At least that’s how they’d like to be remembered. They both worked for Intelli Design, the company responsible for the ID-ME.

The ID-ME is an international identification device that is still being made today. Once users have a registered ID-ME they are able to discard their old paper passports. Those attempting to travel on the old system encounter significant resistance when clearing border controls, to the extent that paper passport holders now account for only 4% of international travel. ID-ME’s are registered in accordance with international identification laws and all related data is stored with the Worldwide Central Database (WCD). Much like the International Space Station, the WCD is the child of intergovernmental treaties. Switzerland was chosen to oversee the running of it, due to its long-standing neutral stance during times of war and for its continued commitment to privacy protection. To date, 2.2 billion devices have been manufactured and distributed.

Steven Herselman was the CEO at Intelli Design when the ID-ME was first released in 2019. The device combined a passport with vehicle control, healthcare administration, drone control, and a phone. They weren’t the first to think of it, but they were the first to execute it properly. It revolutionized the world in a way nobody had seen since the iPhone and gave us the second and third trillionaires (the first was Jeff Bezos, from Amazon).

Because of the breadth of services provided by the ID-ME, the first prototypes couldn’t function for more than a few hours without crashing. A new power source had to be designed. But how? “Think out of the box, out of this world,” said Herselman. Each solution demonstrated by a potential supplier failed, with power sources being too big, too unreliable, too expensive, or too complicated. Enter Paul Artin, the infamous biochemical engineer.

Paul had found himself living a quiet life in Canada after his humiliating exit from a startup company that he’d help get off the ground. Once the startup became profitable, shareholders wanted nothing more to do with his experiments. One of them remarked, “You’re a quack, a one-hit wonder that hides behind research in the hopes that none of us will notice you’re blowing our money. Well, we notice!” Paul was forced out. An old friend working in the R&D department of Intelli Design told him about their plight and brought him on board as a consultant. And Paul did what Paul does best: play.

He played with all kinds of bioelectric possibilities, from strapping frogs to circuit boards to making connector points with worms. Successes were short-lived and unpredictable. Says one Intelli Design employee who worked with him, “It was as if Paul barely knew what his goal was. There was a childlike curiosity about him that was difficult to read. He drove everyone nuts with his odd experiments. The other developers thought he was getting away with murder. I’m not sure what his real goal was, but one thing’s for sure: if God is a small bug then Paul’s going to hell.”

None of the history books show this, but it wasn’t in the lab that Paul figured it all out. He was at home and in bed, watching a documentary about nature’s killer plants, when he suddenly saw the way forward. Watching a Venus flytrap shut its jaws on a giant fly, he whooped with delight. The flytrap has sensitive trigger hairs, which generate an electrical signal, essentially telling the plant it’s time to kill. The flytrap’s malevolent display of what nature can do reminded him of an article he’d read years ago, about moss and the electrons that get released when it’s breaking down compounds. That was how the first viable moss circuit was born.

The ingenious design, which combined spore regeneration with strategically placed Nano receptors, ushered in the age of the ID-ME, a custodian for globular human lives. Thanks to nanotechnology, scientists like Paul were able to generate massive amounts of energy through biochemical extraction processes. The costs of Nanotechnology plummeted as facilities were paid off during the early 10’s, and by the time Intelli Design needed it on a large scale for moss circuits, it was no more expensive than cement.

The advent of moss circuits changed the landscape of modern times. One economist referred to them as the marriage of the light bulb to the clouds, held on top of the Burj Khalifa in a dazzling display of influence. Scientists from across the globe salivated at the thought of the potential applications. Politicians endorsed them wholeheartedly for the rapid job creation that would follow. The shockwaves were felt throughout industries and countries.

“At first, we all thought it was great,” said Steven Herselman, now dead. “There was so much less to recycle. The moss part itself, even though the device was small, really took up the most space. We thought we were doing the world a favor. We marketed it as our equivalent to cleaning up the oceans. For the first time, organic was part of something other than a diet. Who knew it would turn out the way it did?”

Moss colonies began to pop up wherever they could be cultivated. Countries with large wetland areas turned to terraforming in the sprint to become dominant forces in the new energy market. National GDP’s that were once anemic began to swell with the income from moss fields. “It was similar to the Bitcoin and marijuana madness we experienced in the late 10’s,” said Herselman. “The only difference is that there was no red tape around it. It was all systems go, for everyone. There were no reservations.”

Then came the sonic spots.

Neural Oscillation is the rhythmic neural activity in the central nervous system. In the years since the turn of the century, the advances in brain imaging allowed scientists to understand the exact function of neural oscillation to a higher degree than ever before. What they couldn’t figure out was how to protect the brains neural oscillation from outside disturbances. Neural Oscillation Disruption (NOD) was the term coined for when the frequency of a human’s brainwaves became permanently disturbed. It showed up on images as giant blobs of growth, and many called them sonic spots. The initial disruptions for those affected were infrequent, causing momentary jolts, reflex malfunction or short-term memory loss. But by the mid-twenties the initial users of the ID-ME were all suffering from severe NOD. Some became too terrified to drive, and others suffered the sudden loss of use of certain limbs, the effects akin to paralysis. The number of deaths rose sharply throughout the thirties as spore cancer began to mutate faster than it could be cured. The death count reached epic proportions towards the end of that decade. Class actions were settled long after all the claimants were dead.

Slowly but surely the darling creation of the twenty-first century became the blight that would define it. The moss colonies were no longer the saving grace of employment markets; they were the vessels for slavery. Reports of harsh and immoral treatment surfaced. When the terraforming processes began, thousands of workers were shipped in and paid minimum wage. The largest moss colonies were found in the “emerging markets,” where workers lived in makeshift compounds and unsanitary conditions. Their lives were lobbed into chaos once the terraforming process was complete, because from that point it was cheaper to use drones and other machinery to harvest the moss. The humans were cast aside by the contractors and left to navigate the fallout on their own. The cesspools of sexual and substance abuse that formed overnight were reminiscent of the mines in the early twentieth century. Children were mired in this turmoil before they could even fathom a different life.

It wasn’t until two high-profile deaths that public sentiment really started to turn. The first was Hillary Clinton, in 2027. Mrs. Clinton had famously won the presidential election in 2020, when nobody ever thought she would run for office again. An old meme of Mrs. Clinton sitting on a military aircraft texting whilst wearing dark sunglasses was reborn, only this time she was holding an ID-ME. The captions ranged from, “Running the world, still,” to, “Diamonds are forever. So am I.” When the New York Times ran the big story on sonic spots they used her final brain scan for the front-page picture.

The second death to make airwaves was that of Paul Artin. Shortly before his death in 2029 he wrote an open letter which decried the use of the ID-ME, but claimed that the ID-ME was just the tip of the iceberg, and that mankind’s hypocrisy —not him—was the real engine behind the sonic spots. An excerpt from that letter:

“I’m sorry for my role in the original power source. Once we realized what was happening I did everything I could to help expedite the development of the new power unit. Had I known it would unfold the way it did, I would have disappeared into obscurity along with my name.

What you must know is that my initial involvement was driven by curiosity. Yes, the first ID-ME power source was derived from my experiments and discovery, but its application, and the barbaric industry that grew out of it, were not of my design. All I ever wanted was to be a pioneer, to be a human that drove the world and not one who leeched off it. My intentions were clean.

The counterfeit morality of the enraged world, however, was not so clean. I proffer that this bloodbath was filled by the intention of every person who bought an ID-ME. You bought it to streamline your life, to cut down on car key fobs, phones, passports, and drone command pads. You’ll say that you just wanted a simpler life. But that’s not true. You wanted more control so that you could ultimately consume more. The collective avarice finally turned on itself, like a snake eating its own tail.

The truth is this: the appetite of mankind is insatiable and the ID-ME was created to help you with your digestion.

By now you have heard of my sonic spots. Some will say that justice is served. But I assure you it’s not only on me that justice is served. All those who were wealthy enough to afford an ID-ME because they wanted to clear the airport faster than everyone else, or because they wanted to command their drones instead of paying humans, they will also pay. The top echelons of society will be wiped out, not only the matriarchs and patriarchs, but their offspring too. The void in society will be a chasm so vast that for the first time in in the last millennium there will be a genuine chance for a new world to rise up. But while the chance will be genuine, the prospects are dim. That’s because evil moves within the bones of mankind. When we step forward, it does too. The dark, immoral side of humanity constantly evolves while it lies nestled in the shadows of good people. It cultivates an intelligence of its own, taking its time in reaching consensus on which form to show itself. It has shown itself. It is you.

Embedded in the self-righteous arguments leveled at my very existence are the breeding grounds for what transpired. We may have turned a blind eye to the suffering of the world, but it was staring at us regardless, burying its forsaken gaze into our lives, looking for a way in. I didn’t kill those three hundred million people alone.

Yes, I am dying and will be gone soon. I don’t fear death. Maybe it’s high time that we all leave, that we fly from this world.

This was our war. You were the soldiers.”

About the Author

Paul Smit

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I write because I want to contribute to the fantasy of the human condition, because I think if you’re not part of that contribution that you’ll be lost to the world. We’re nothing without interpretation. I started my first book when I moved to New York, in 2012. I started my third, a few weeks ago. In 2011, I was a contributor to The Ground’s Ear (QuickFox Publishing). I have studied at Gotham Writers’ Workshop and completed a six-week course on writing for the art world with the Sotheby’s Institute of Fine Art. I currently reside in Long Island City, New York.