As I mentioned …. I found myself in something of a state of shock to land in this round of the competition, a destination I have never before visited.
The challenge this time was 1500 words/ sci-fi/ a repairman/ a promotion.
Read it only if you are bored. I doubt that there will be a 4th round to report on.
The Ziusundra Project
My prison cell faces South, and the sunlight travels at a constant speed across the back wall from right to left. Likewise, this pattern travels up and down the wall following the changing seasons. The battery on my timepiece failed 47 years ago but it is now possible, by means of a series of carefully drawn lines upon the wall, and by fastidiously cross checking the data day to day and year to year, to keep note of the time to an accuracy of plus or minus 26 minutes. It took me almost 15 years to get the system right. Time well spent. And time is a valuable commodity. One should cherish every moment.
Solitarily confinement, despite the hype, is not a fate worse than death.
Not that I always thought this way. 70 years ago, I was the angry young repairman at the Carlton Hotel. My days were spent replacing lightbulbs and clearing blocked drains. At night I turned my ire towards the computer, scanning the web for someone to blame. The Compulsory Euthanasia Bill, as you would recall, was first introduced in 2036 and I calculated the odds of selection (after excluding ‘Essential Public Servants’ and ‘Economically Essential Individuals’) to be 1 in 327,432. But I held strong suspicions regarding the ‘independently scrupulous’ nature of the selection process. Sure enough, my name was drawn in the ballot of January 2037. Why was I to pay the price for exponential population growth? I’d only had sex 3 times.
Instead of accepting the standard offer of free accommodation at the National Pre-Departure Luxury Resort and Spa for that last year, I chose instead to remain in my dingy room under the Carlton staircase where I doubled down on my diatribe of anti-establishment hatred via any chatroom from which I had not yet been banned, and continued my investigations into the dark figures that held the reins of power. In the space of about 8 months I became an expert on Marxist philosophy, alien spacecraft and do-it-yourself explosives. I found out who killed JFK.
But I was not, as they insisted at my trial, a conspiracy theorist. 97.4% of all conspiracy theories are false. I was only looking for the other 2.6%.
And that’s how I stumbled upon the Ziusudra Project.
It was well hidden. But not well enough. References to the Project and to its founder, Dr Gordon Todd, date back to 1997 when a small research facility was established on the outskirts of Adelaide to investigate the possibilities of cell regeneration technology. Originally Todd Laboratories, the name was changed following the appearance of a paper entitled ‘The Ziusudra Imperative’ which outlined the potential of ‘extended existence’. Shortly after that the government assumed full control, citing as justification, ‘vital medical research funding’. There is little else to be found in any public domain. A report in one obscure online science journal in 2027 reported ‘reclusive Professor Gordon Todd’ as being in ‘surprisingly rude health’ and another, in 2032, noting a patent application from ‘Todd Industries’ for a ‘Tithonus’ machine. I tracked down an Adelaide University photograph of the 1992 football squad where a young man in the front row with flowing golden hair is identified as G. Todd (capt).
I knew that I was being watched, of course. I just didn’t think that they cared anymore. I was surprised, then, when a man in dark sunglasses burst through my door one morning and pointed a gun at me.
“Somebody wants to meet you,” he said.
I was driven, blindfolded, for what I would retrospectively estimate to be 4 hours and 27 minutes before stopping. Marched across a concrete parking lot and down 2 sets of stairs I found myself, when the blindfold was removed, facing an antique mahogany desk behind which sat a youngish man in casual clothes, and a baseball hat concealing a mop of curly blonde hair. He grinned broadly at me, stood and extended his hand. Instinctively I shook it. “Hello Mr Williams,’ he said, “I’m Dr Gordon Todd”
It was a lot to absorb, all in one go, but my host was giving me little time for that. He directed my armed captor to leave and beckoned me to sit. “Sorry about all the theatrics. Lionel loves the cloak and dagger stuff, but I find it a bit passé, don’t you?”
I nodded. What else was I to do?
“Anyway,” he continued, “It’s not a kidnap. I’d like to offer you a job.”
“I already have a job,” I informed him, “I’m the Carlton Hotel repairman,”
“Yes,” he nodded, “the repairman. But it seems that you are also something of an explosives enthusiast and that you have a remarkable eye for detail. You harbour a strong distrust of the government as well as a fanatical sense of social justice that borders on outright paranoia. And you have passion. That’s why you’re here.”
“I’m a just a repairman.”
“Yes,” he repeated, “and I need something repaired. So, as of today you are the Ziusudra Project Manager of Pyrotechnic Repairs. Congratulations. Quite the promotion, eh?”
There was no longer a gun pointing at me, but I assumed that declining the offer was not an option.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked after a pause.
“I want you to detonate a bomb and destroy this building, myself and all my research. Absolutely. Unequivocally. Without a trace.”
“Oh.” I said. “Why?”
“You know what we do here, Vincent. May I call you Vincent? You know what we have achieved.”
The truth is that I knew little. My own research had been far from comprehensive. I looked back at him blankly and he sighed.
“Vincent,” he murmured, “I expected more. Well, at the very least you’d know that our research is primarily in the area of epigenetics within which it is common knowledge that by regulating telomere length one may extend the life of cells beyond their natural use-by-date and, theoretically, indefinitely.”
“Scientifically speaking, the best we can do is a sort of bio-indefinite mortality. Certain worms and jellyfish have been doing it for …. well … forever. It’s taken us a while longer.”
“Can you prove it?” I asked.
He removed his cap and grinned youthfully at me again. The proof was sitting right in front of me, of course.
“It’s actually ridiculously easy,” he told me, “the whole process takes less than 40 minutes.”
“Now,” the doctor continued, “here at Ziusudra I work for the government. Hence my dilemma. Let me ask you a question. Why would our government be enthusiastically embracing Compulsory Euthanasia whilst simultaneously sponsoring research into immortality? Why would they be pushing a cheap and nasty solution to the population problem whilst spending trillions on a project to potentially make that problem a whole lot worse?”
“Because they’re dickheads?”
“Vincent. You need to concentrate. We don’t have much time. I’ve told you already that its only indefinite mortality. It’ll save you from disease and it will grow you some new organs. But it won’t save you from nuclear war and it won’t save you from starvation. If we give everyone this treatment, then we are back to square one. Everything falls apart eventually. The world is about to eat itself, Vincent. The best that we can hope for is that a few of us might remain at the end to rebuild.”
“And you don’t think the government should be the ones doing the rebuilding?”
“Do you?” he asked.
I didn’t. And what did I have to lose?
Exactly 46 minutes later we stood at the entrance and he handed me the remote control.
I really wasn’t much of a repair man. In the end I didn’t even make a bomb. Dr Todd had done it all for me. “Dicyanoacetylene,” he explained, pointing to bottles of clear liquid strategically positioned around the building, “burns at almost 5000 degrees Celsius. There’ll be nothing left. Nothing.” He gave out one last sigh before he turned away. “Make sure you are well clear before you set it off.”
I was 31.6 kilometres away when I pushed the button and saw the horizon light up.
The police had me an hour later. Based almost entirely upon my browsing history I was branded as a treasonous psychopath, a communist terrorist and a national traitor. It was a fair cop. And it was all part of the plan.
The timer on my cell is set for release in 17 years. They gave up on my lethal injections around the turn of the century. It was 23 years and 4 months ago that they last asked me if I knew anything of the whereabouts of Dr Todd. I’ve seen nobody since. It is a sweetly humane irony that they left me locked up with enough rehydratable food in here to last for my full 85-year sentence.
Dr Todd would be 133 years old now.
So, I’ll still be a relatively young man when I get out.