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Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Sci-fi · #2033660
Ever hear about the ghost in the machine? Lawrence put them there. They were once people.
Lawrence jumped as the phone shrieked. It wasn't his mobile, which he kept on vibrate. It was the government line into his home, the one that always needed to be heard, whatever the hour or the circumstance. Lawrence wondered if this time, he could just not hear the ringing. Maybe he could just turn in and have a relaxing evening. It was a useless fantasy, the green grass on an imaginary other side. In reality, there was no choice, no other option. Lawrence answered.

"This is going to be a long day. Come as fast as possible, cancel everything. Double pay."

Goddamn, this was gonna be a bad one.

"Collect the latest econ data on your way. We need these sims to be as accurate and as fast as we can make them. No Spielberg antics this time."

Click. Beep. Silence.

Lawrence noted the time, 0317 local. He was lucky. Shanghai was commuting home, the data wouldn't be so volatile and the sims would be less, well... Lawrence decided not to pursue that thought. He'd seen enough on the sims, and today would be a usual day of horrors. He stuffed caffeine tablets into his pocket as he left, and made a note to request those sleeping pills before the day was done. That was all the time he could waste. Lawrence hurried out the door, turning the lights off.

A moment of utter dark.

The headlights of his car blinked on as he approached and entered. The twin lances of white kept Lawrence alert as he sped to HQ. The headquarters themselves were largely underground with more space to support the huge computer mainframes Lawrence's work needed, but the entrance told you all you needed to know. It was blank and nondescript. There was no architectural intent, merely the function and utility. It was a building that had no anchor in the past, and no harbour in the future.

Lawrence fumbled with his access card and clock-in card as he bustled into the equally plain office. Most people were already there, not at their desks, but gathered around Mr. Myosotis' desk at the front. Myosotis himself was sat on his desk, waiting, motionless. The last few workers rushed in, and he began to move. It always occurred to Lawrence that Myosotis was like an automaton, doing exactly what was needed when it was needed, and motionless when functionless. Myosotis did nothing unless it needed to be done. Now, with his abrupt telephone voice, he spoke.

"The Levant Caliphate has bioengineered a virus that is airborne, waterborne and easily transmissable between humans, with a seemingly random fatality rate. We don't know most details, what we do know is on your screens. They threaten to spread it in our major cities and over our crop fields, in effect holding us all to ransom. If this happens, an unknown number of people will die, the economic fallout will be unpredictable, and the long-term consequences unfathomable. This is why we called all of you in. You will all be running full economic sims until we know exactly how to proceed. You have been subdivided into your usual groups, each group has a set of parameters to sample, begin."

He fell motionless as he concluded conveying information. Everybody else stood still, rapidly churning over the information. They had worked on trade wars, stock market supports, agriculture, even the odd military conflicts. In each of these the data was known and available, and there were few options to simulate. In this one, there were uncountable possibilities. More uncomfortably, this simulation run had consequences like nobody had dealt with before. As always, there was the fear. What if it transpired that the optimal solution was mass suicide? What if every simulation run ended with everybody dead? What if the sims were wrong, and real-life catastrophe ensued? These possibilities were unlikely, but the cold, hard maths didn't rule it out. Failure was always a very real future.

Stunned, everybody started milling around, finding their group leaders, discussing strategies, coordinating their efforts. Everybody's voices sounded pretty normal, but Lawrence could hear the undertone of fear in everyone. All were professionals, none were prepared to be executors.

Details worked out, Lawrence sat down to face his screen. He took a caffeine tablet, taking it with difficulty down a dry throat. His nightmares were about to recur. He began to command the computer.

>prepare full_earth_sim
>upload snapshot 034912_05_12_2019

He gradually set his parameters, and then it was time for the final command.


Lawrence's shaking fingers pressed \ by mistake. More deliberately, backspace, then enter.

The screen turns black.

The screen lit up with a Google Earth type view. It was Manhatten, Lawrence's designated area. Dozens of metrics were displayed beside it - births, deaths, crimes, weather, money, sickness, marriages, health, and so much more. The entire city was spread out before him like a set of Lego. Lawrence took a moment to survey the city. As in the real world above, it was four in the morning. Dark. Peaceful. The stats were ticking along quite normally, the error bars tidily staying low. Even the cloud sims were still accurate for a few minutes. But it wasn't Lawrence's job to stare.

He multiplied the rate of time by millions, reaching the designated time. It was a winter afternoon, crisp but clear. With a single click, Lawrence dropped the virus bomb.

The deaths soared as the other stats crashed. The blurring lights of traffic dimmed, then vanished. The lights of buildings dimmed, then gave a bright flash of light, before vanishing also. Lawrence didn't want to know what that flash was. It was his job to know. Rewinding back, he relived the night of riots, rapes, murders and fires as Manhattan fell from grace and became a dead city.

Lawrence logged his findings. Sim 1, complete catastrophe within three months. He added more details, and then it was time for the next sim.

The New Yorkers lasted a month longer this time, but still the city burned.

On the third run, everyone died in a matter of weeks.

On the fourth, the city lasted, but a terrorist attack struck in the eighth month. Lawrence had to report the buildings destroyed, study the damages, record the deaths.

On the eighteenth he accidentally saw a man jump to his death.

On the eighty-third a tornado swept through and bodies rained over the city.

On the two hundred and eleventh run the virus mutated, bloating people up like grotesque balloons. That one required close study, he'd need to show it to the science simulators at a later date. He wouldn't want to see those horrific, dead faces again though.

On the vast majority of runs, everybody died within a year. Sometimes he saw the same people die again and again, only to wake up again on the next run.

Wake up. Die. Black. Wake up.

Million by million, Lawrence birthed consciousness after consciousness.

Million by million, he killed every last one.
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