Chains of Our Progress
By David V. Mammina
What is it that you can’t live without? For millions of years, history has shown us that water, food and shelter are crucial to humanity’s survival and growth. Taking even one of these vital elements out of our lives will result in certain death. Without question, they are necessities to us. Yet, years ago, they were also indulgences. The few squandered these elements when the many craved for them. This is when they added an extra element to our crucial few.
Clearly, this fourth element did not belong, for God or natural design did not bestow it to us. What once was a convenience swiftly transformed into a necessity. My brethren, this is how it was until 2028. We live in a very different world today. That fourth element is gone. It is a power that only nature could control. It had existed long before life was breathed into this world. Because it did not belong in our hands, it was taken away forever.
I was a capable young man when it happened. The Electromagnetic Smart Pulse, or EMSP as it was called, was first used in the Middle Eastern war-zone. It was a missile that dug into the sand and emitted a powerful pulse potent enough to nullify enemy technology. In time, the United Nations used it as a proactive approach to pigeonhole terrorist organizations and nations that supported them. It also worked well as a negotiating tool, warning all potential threats to submit or lose that fourth element: electricity.
When I was working as a U.N. soldier, they placed me in the EMSP response team. After the weapon had done its deed, we had to go in and confirm that the area was safe for allied arrival. If the weapon was left unchecked, the nullified zone could become heavily unstable. People react to the loss of power in the same way all the time. First, they panic. Then, they cry out for help amongst each other. Lastly, they destroy themselves. It was a terrible three-phase horror story. We never wanted that.
Whoever held the weapon held the power. Any nation could lose their fourth element with the touch of a button, for that missile became the bomb of the 21st Century. It didn’t turn people to ash or vaporize the food source. It didn’t poison the water or discharge nuclear radiation. My brethren, it just eliminated the power supply. That was the world until 2028.
As I remember it, it was a Sunday afternoon here in New York when we learned that Beijing, China had lost all power. The entire city was out of commission. The whole world reacted gravely. Were they attacked by a rogue rival wielding the EMSP? Were they trying to make it themselves and tragically blundered? Members of the United Nations turned on each other to uncover the culprit. They all denied responsibility. In days, Beijing was evacuated. It took that long for Shanghai to be the next to fall. Hong Kong followed a week later.
With China’s three major cities drained of all electric power, the once prevailing nation was but a dark void. No one dared to go there. Stories told of the hell that ensued. Tales that one would never speak of at dinner, I can tell you that. To spare you the details, imagine a mass of people losing all power in the blink of an eye. Imagine the chaos. Imagine the horror.
As the world feared an economic collapse, thousands upon thousands of displaced Chinese migrants wound up on the United States’ western shores. There were too many of them, of course, and the rapid overpopulation of California proved to be too much for the country to handle. This was just the beginning. In the days to come, San Francisco went the way of the Chinese cities and blacked out indefinitely. Sacramento followed suit and then Los Angeles in three days’ time. The terror that the Chinese migrants faced in their homeland had tracked them to the United States. This inexplicable nightmare was finally here on our home soil. The thief of the fourth element was among us.
It was as if the hand of God came down and smothered our technological advances. How arrogant we must have seemed to the heavens. The Lord created all that we needed, but it was not enough. We had to manufacture a better, more convenient world. Well, that world was falling into oblivion. Stationed in New York City, I knew that this phantom thief of electricity was going to strike here one way or another. What kind of force was causing this? Whoever or whatever it was had traveled the Pacific Ocean to make us its newest prey. How far would it go—the whole world?
Once California was dead, the government shut down our borders and issued an unenforceable background check on every man, woman and child that recently entered the state. It was too late by then. This terrorist was finished with California. From Albuquerque to Oklahoma City, Memphis to Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, it came straight for us. In a week, we received a tip that it was going to strike New York next. By this time, the country was breathing its last breath. Doomsayers cried in the streets, looters and rioters laid waste to cities and all order had broken down for good. The heavy boot of Darwin crushed the idea of police saving the day.
How could they not have seen that such a day would come? There was no one prepared for it, not even the stupid geniuses that created the damn weapon. There was no point in debating then, for the dreaded thief of the fourth element advanced for New York. While New Jersey was in the dark, we were busy evacuating the city. How sad. People asked us where they were supposed to go. I could only lower my head and close my eyes. Even my own family snuck onto a ship for Europe. Everyone knew that the thief of the fourth element would hitch a ride on one of them, much like it did from China. Still, the hope of just having a small promise of light attracted a mass exodus of sorry souls like the moth to the flame.
People cried out against the hacker terrorists of the world, finally blaming them for destroying the feigned network of the human hubris. Such a delicate infrastructure was never made to last. For years, the issue hardly made it into the situation rooms. So weak, so fragile was our fake world of lights and instant gratifications. It never really mattered to me who was to blame. We all were guilty of it, having been disconnected from natural reality and plugged in to a frail mockery of pleasure and control.
In traveling uptown, Americans from all over cried at the sight of Broadway. Soon, even I knew that these lights, phones, supermarkets, train stations and whatever else were going to die in a day. The military escorted people out of the city and tried to stop the thief of the fourth element from even reaching us. The problem was that no one really knew what it was. Did anyone ever really see it? Was it a man with a special EMSP weapon? Was it a cyber-virus? My brethren, I came to terms about my life from that moment on. I was going to live in darkness forever. Times Square never looked so beautiful that evening. They kept the lights on, as if the blackout epidemic was not a threat to New York’s electric prosperity.
But, as promised, New York City had turned into a ghost town. The military and the EMSP response teams cleared the streets the best they could. Only crazed and terrified stragglers remained. Newspapers and garbage littered the streets amongst broken glass and bodies of lifeless strangers. I remember crying as I walked up 8th Avenue, watching frantic looters break into stores to steal electronics. Even the panic-stricken thieves were broken-minded, unable to accept the gravity of the situation. Everything I thought I knew about my world was going to change. I thought about my family. It pained me to reminisce, because there was nothing hopeful on the horizon—only blackness and silence.
And then, in the middle of the night, the wave of everlasting darkness came over us all. My phone had died. My communication gear froze. The city that never slept fell into a deep coma. I heard shouts and cries from outside the hotel, shouts of terror. Looking out from my window, I would rather not convey to you the sights of bitter sadness and chaotic rage. The moon above gave us a stark reminder of who we were going to be as a species. The many stars shined in the sky like a diamond-encrusted ceiling. That vision of great beauty stemmed my fears. I had never seen such a magnificent spectacle before. The overbearing lights of the city were always in the way. Having climbed to the top of the grand building, I slept on the roof and surrendered to the night.
It was then that it happened. A feint feeling of energy radiating like a beacon tore me from my sleep. A feeling too strong, I checked my watch and peered through darkness for the strange feeling. Rubbing my eyes, I found him. I found something. His eyes seemed to glow a faint white and his head was completely bald, as if he never had hair to begin with. Though he wore simple kakis and a hoodie, the man uncrossed his arms and pushed himself off the vent and spoke first, saying, “Did fate bring me up here, or did it bring you?”
His voice was soothing, with hint of an English accent coupled by a metallic static. As if he was an android, he answered himself, “Perhaps both.”
In shock, I could only muster, “What are you?”
“I am free.” He replied from the roof’s edge, looking out over the blackness of the new city, “Unlike you, a prisoner to your primitive mind.”
Taken aback, I withdrew from the supernatural man, slowly backing up. Sensing that he was losing me, he proceeded, but turned to look at me, “Have you seen it all while you were up here, alone? It’s eerie. It’s always eerie, at first.”
Eerie was one way to describe it all. The city was nearly silent upon the high roof. No planes soaring overhead and no loud honking far below. Still standing in my place, baffled and confused, I watched parts of the cityscape glow with uncontrolled fires. As the scenery ate its way into my stomach, he declared, “I call myself Organism. What is your name?”
My anxiety brushed off his question as I felt my voice break, “How?”
Organism replied spiritedly, “That is usually the first question. It is a good one.”
“I know.” I thought to myself, “So let’s hear it.”
He started without any hesitation, saying with poise, “A Chinese diplomat offered me a job. If I agreed to undergo a top-secret experiment that could kill me, I would become a hero to the new world. I knew the risks, for I was a nobody—an expendable asset. Perhaps, even a traitor to Queen and Country? Nonetheless, if not for pride alone, I agreed to become their lab rat—and a hefty lump sum.
“What transpired was a major breakthrough. Their scientists had studied the various applications of the EMSP in secret for years. A 72-hour procedure made me a host for EMSP energy. Circuits ran through my body, up into my fingertips, and even my brain. My core contains a nucleus for this great power even now. I had become a human EMSP weapon.”
“Mother of God.” I could only muster, “It was you? All this was—”
Organism interjected, continuing his story, “However, they did not anticipate how powerful it really was. Within me, I had the ability to feel and control electric currents. I could switch power on and off at will. Unquestionably, I obeyed their will alone. However, there came a time when I chose not to heed their beckoning calls. I realized that this power within my very being was meant for greater things—a greater purpose. I was no longer a man. I was a conduit for God.”
I had to ask, feeling myself step closer to him, somehow lured in by his words, “So they made you an organic weapon?”
“Yes. With no strain at all, I disabled their entire facility. Realizing what I could accomplish, the mission became clear to me. Beijing was the first city I freed from the fourth element. From that moment forth, no city would be safe from my gift. People needed to be free to become humans again, rather than slaves to the technology they thought they controlled. It controlled them.”
In shock, my next question came out with my next breath, “The fourth element? What is that?”
“It is the element our world chose to rely on most.” Organism said to me, “It is the foundation of all our technological advances as a civilization. It is electricity.”
Still not satisfied with him, I continued, “Why? Why just take it all away?”
This question tugged at his heart. I could see that. From all the times he had to answer for his deeds, it never seemed to get easier. Organism turned to consider the dark peace of the city and replied, “Do you remember when you were young and the power went out in your home—your neighborhood? It was a sinking feeling. We always hoped that our service workers were working overtime to put the power back on. The one thing we should have been wondering during those times was what we would do if it never came back.
“Why were we so dependent on it? Were we not better than that? Are we not now? Do you remember using pencils and pens to write? Do you remember what it was like to actually interact with a person off of the computer—off of the mobile devices? It is time to think about what makes us human. It was fun for a while, until it raced past our understanding of what it really was. It evolved so fast, we never had time to see it clearly.
“Look at what we are without this power. What are those people down in the streets now without this element? They are stupid, scared and useless. Behold how many lay down and die because they do not know what to do next. They were blinded for so long, they lost their humanity to it. Do you see now? Food shall no longer be manufactured. Social networks shall no longer enslave us. And, most of all, lives will no longer be chained by the fake promises of progress. Nature has given us all we need. So, why are we fighting so hard to make it ourselves?”
The words of Organism sunk deep into my heart. The world was out of control, lost in its hope for perfection. My brethren, I understood, for there was no turning back. Humanity did not rule the world. The fourth element used us as hosts. I was still scared of this change. I wished to be weaned off it, instead of losing it altogether. But, as you heard, this was the point of no return.
After letting him monologue on me, I only dared to ask one more question. I said, “Why do you call yourself Organism?”
There, he looked at me with an expression of wonder and said, “Because it is the one thing I wish to be and I am not and it is the one thing you are, but have taken for granted.”
I’ll never forget that answer. Organism lost his humanity to his pride the moment he chose to become a cyborg. However, the moments following his transformation gave us hope. He was more human than most of us then. There were so many other questions I could have asked him on that roof, but I chose to let it go. Should I have fought for the millions of people who died because of his deeds? Maybe he would have given me another answer to convince me of the harsh truth. The chains of our progress put us all into an illusion of freedom. Were we ever really living?
Many died that year—millions, including those I loved. The survival of the fittest was true again. Are we not civilized animals under all these lies? That creature, Organism, offered me his companionship on that roof. Some days I wonder what would have happened to me if I agreed to follow him. I just couldn’t see it again and again, that fall of humanity. I wonder still what became of him. For us now, surviving on solar, hydro and wind generators, it doesn’t matter. We have a farm. We have a future. Maybe our children will be happier than we are, having been born into a world where they are free and need not pay the price to become unchained—unplugged.
The saddest thing about having lived through the Fourth Element Era is my lack of memory. For the life of me, I just can’t remember it. I, like so many others, chased carrots right into the cage. What had it accomplished? I have memories in my dreams, or so I think they are memories. All of my life was a blur, just a long blur with sound, colors and a ceaseless search for an indulgent life that never bore the fruit craved.