The white-haired man sat quietly at his desk facing an array of computer monitors mounted on the wall. Thousands of tiny green alphanumeric characters on black backgrounds bathed his face in a sickly luminescence that washed his otherwise blue eyes out to a watery gray. As he stared into the pallid glow, the man did something unusual.
For the first time in many years, he smiled.
It was not a smile of pleasure. On the contrary, he had just watched a quantum computer infiltrate his network, then barely escape his counterattack attempt to infect it with a virus. But it had vanished as suddenly as it had appeared, leaving no means of tracing it afterward.
Neither was his smile an attempt to mask anger. He had trained himself years ago to eliminate the useless emotions of flash anger and fear.
His smile was one of resolution. No one had ever breached his network and survived, but now this one had succeeded and at a particularly delicate time. He had been about to launch his virus on the index case, the person from whom the end of all things would begin. For someone — or something — to have infiltrated his network at this moment was no coincidence. Somehow it had known of his intentions and had tried to interfere.
It was the speed with which it had moved that had given it away. Although quantum technology was still in its infancy, and there were just a handful of functional q-comps in the world, their speed and power were orders of magnitude greater than their binary-based predecessors. Their ability to hold multiple values in each register and link the behavior of separate entities through entanglement made the previous generation of supercomputers look like a slide rule in comparison. All the operational q-comps in existence belonged to powerful nation-states — all except one. And he knew it was that outlier that had attacked him.
He swept a crumpled-up fast food wrapper off the desktop, and it tumbled down the bell-shaped mound of trash surrounding his desk. He wiped his mouth with one hand, then wiped his hand on his pants. Pulling a tube of Mentholatum out of a drawer, he squirted a blob of it onto his forefinger, then smushed it onto his upper lip. After putting the tube back and wiping his finger on his pants again, he rested his forearms on the edge of the desk, now rounded smooth by nearly two years of constant, gentle abrading.
Slowly, languidly, he extended his right forefinger above the Enter key. The keyboard, the monitors, and the computer workstation under the desk were all relics, all rendered obsolete by the advent of the Univiz a decade earlier. But they still worked, and in a moment a tiny neuromuscular contraction in his finger would trigger a global purification not even a q-comp could stop.
Perhaps the intruder now knew he had amassed a worldwide army of more than 10 billion devices, infected through decades-old vulnerabilities in the Linux kernel. No matter. His soldiers-to-be were autonomous, their activities only loosely coordinated by four dozen supercomputers he’d stationed around the globe. The only way to halt the spread of chaos would be to find and quarantine each infected device one at a time. But accessing all the networks, which most countries now required to be password protected, would necessitate a brute-force attack on a global scale. It was what he had done, and it had taken him almost two years.
And that was the easy part. The hard part would be developing and applying quarantines for each of the thousands of devices he had enslaved.
There was nowhere near enough time. In a moment, his mechanized sleeper cells would begin to awake. Initially, as the devices they had surrounded themselves with started to turn against them, some people would attempt to help those who had been targeted. But when it became clear the consecrated could not be cured, and the contagion spread to those who tried to help, their instinct for self-preservation would take over. Then the evanescent threads holding their so-called civilization together would unravel, and humanity’s day of reckoning would be at hand.
Gently he pressed the Enter key. The blinking rectangle of the cursor jumped to the next line, underneath the command he had given.
run program ‘EndAnthropocene’
An instant later the command had disappeared, swept upward by the deluge of code that displayed as the program began to execute. The man’s lips trembled, and the glow from the monitors sparkled in the tears that suddenly sprang to his eyes. It was begun. In an evolutionary instant, everything humans had built would be razed to the ground. Then they would see how ephemeral the world they’d constructed for themselves was. And before it was over, he would make sure they all knew who it was that had lit the light of truth for them.