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Biochips with Everything

Adam McGrath

A man who knows how to read sits in a well-lit room and holds a book. The book is normal in all respects and is in a language the man understands. However, the man cannot read the book. Why? It is a simple riddle but a strange thought to cross one's mind. Now of all times, with civilisation falling to pieces the world over. A dyslexic Nero, riddling while Rome burns.

It is midnight now. No, it is a couple of minutes after midnight but what are a couple of minutes between friends? A couple of minutes that will be remembered forever as the end of the world. No, wrong again. Not the end of the world, just the end of the world as we know it. Darkness now, blind and uncertain darkness before the dawn. I like the analogy; darkness beckons for humanity, before a new and glorious dawn.

Some might find it ironic that the ubiquitous biochip, which has ruled our lives for so long, should be such a force for change. Unseen and unnoticed it has been a digital mark of Cain; only now, by its absence, does it become noticeable. I don't find it ironic; I find it apt. By its demise this foul device redeems itself.

One biochip for everything, for everyone. A chip in every arm, a life in every chip. Just as computers freed people from paper, the chip freed us from almost everything else. There was no more need to carry cards or remember codes. People no longer needed keys to open doors or passports to cross borders. As far as was practical or meaningful, and then a distance beyond, all the details of an individual's life could be stored in and read from the biochip in their arm. There would be no more fraud, no more theft, no more mistaken identity and no more lies. All past tense, because the chips are gone now. The biochipped world died a few minutes ago, at midnight. I know it did, I killed it.

I never questioned while I worked, never had doubts about the biochips. Perhaps I should rephrase that. Until I questioned, I worked. As soon as I started questioning, I stopped working. I was stopped from working. Either way, it's academic. It's all academic. The question I asked was academic. I asked whether we could live without the biochip. I questioned whether we needed it. I wondered would we be better off without it. In short, I doubted the faith.

Faith, that word fits as well as any. The dogma of the biochip was all encompassing like a religion. It demanded total acceptance and blind obedience from everyone. Its very nature meant that only its adherents could function and prosper. Non-believers were excluded from society by default. Without a chip there was no way to open a lock, drive a car, access a computer or even use money. All questions were swept before the almighty chip because it represented progress. The relentless march of technology, in which all things are good so long as they are new, made the biochip a god. It controlled all things, and through it all people could be controlled.

When I questioned, that was my answer. I, who as a programmer had been an acolyte of the faith, was now an apostate. When the inquisition of authority came for me they branded my questioning seditious; they might as well have called it heresy, and burned me at the auto-da-fé. Outcast, leper, unclean, all these words come to mind.

They took away my life as sure as killing me, quickly and painlessly yet utterly nonetheless. My key no longer opened doors; rather it made sure they stayed closed against me. My passport no longer allowed me to travel; rather it restricted my movements. My money would no longer allow me to buy certain everyday things. I could only access certain computers; even then, they queried why I wanted to know particular information.

I could have just torn it out of my arm. Easily enough done I'm sure, the chip is only subdermal. Thousands of people every year go to hospital to have their chips replaced after losing them in minor accidents, so I do not imagine it would be so hard to 'accidentally' lose mine. To what end, though? Without the chip I would not have been able to do anything, not even the little I was still allowed to do. Humanity will survive without the chip; society will rebuild itself without the chip. But in the biochip civilisation, a person without a chip cannot survive. A person without a chip has not existed for decades simply because they could not survive.

My work was gone, as was my reputation. From respected pre-eminence in my field to laughing stock, they had seen to that too. My records were changed, my acclaimed past works were proven to be faked. They said I had falsified results, stolen work from others, all manner of heinous crimes. It was a pointless attention to detail. I had spoken out against the fundamentals of society, which was enough. No employer would entertain my applications, no publisher would touch my work, and no university would so much as acknowledge my existence.

You may say I had a lot of spare time on my hands.

It was not easy, what I planned, although I could see no other rational course of action. When I first raised my questions the ideas were entirely hypothetical. I had never seriously considered that the biochip should be disposed of. I took it utterly for granted, as did we all. Only when I saw it work against me did I begin to truly doubt its worth. Double edged sword, two sides of the same coin, all clumsy metaphors but appropriate. Throughout my life I had seen the good in the biochips; now I felt at first hand all that was bad about them.

So I planned. I wrote the work they would not let me write in my past life, only this time I wrote it the right way. I wrote it in a way that never once relied on biochips. I wrote it with typewriter, with pen and pencil, ink and graphite on wood-pulp paper. I researched it from paper books in old libraries, never once looking into a computer's mind for the answers I sought. I took notes, tangible things that I could hold in my hand or spread out on my floor. Fragile things that I could crumple up in frustration when they did not tell me what I wanted to know; resilient things that I could straighten out when I realised later that they did.

Private things, that I could hide so that only I knew they existed.

I did not tell anybody what I was doing. At best they would have laughed; I do not care to think about what they would have done at worst. In any event I never attempted to publish my work once it was finished, that was no longer the point of the exercise. I merely wanted to be sure in my own mind that I was right. From that it would follow that what I planned to do next was right, even if it would occasion great suffering and pain in itself. Perhaps I will publish eventually, if only to explain and vindicate what I have done.

What did I do? I have no doubt that some will say I brought humanity to its knees; I say I have freed humanity from its shackles. I still had plenty of time on my hands, so I began a new piece of work. I began to plan how to rid us all of the biochips.

This was no longer hypothetical or theoretical but practical, meaningful work. Certainly I could no more afford for others to know my business now than I could my previous work. Less, even, for if the consequences of passive doubt were so strong then how great a retribution would be exacted for my fervently active opposition? The secrecy began to disturb and unnerve me, to the point that I found myself starting at shadows. However, my paranoia served to keep my work hidden and unknown, and my behaviour went unnoticed. I was already the foolish lunatic who had questioned and doubted; any other visible dementia was the height of sanity by comparison.

Indeed, my persecutors had all but forgotten about me. Their restrictions against me still held, eternal punishment for my blasphemous transgression. No longer did they question me though, not seeing anything to question. I had become almost a non person to them, existing only as a name in a supermarket database; name, address, favourite purchases and loyalty points all recorded and updated and sold to marketing concerns with which to target their junk mail. To the Inquisition, I no longer looked at the Internet, or travelled, or bought or even borrowed books. All of which was true, because all of which would have meant using my biochip in some way, leaving a trace of what I was doing. So I was just a name now, on a list I'm sure of people who had fought and lost and been punished and forgotten.

Meanwhile, I worked.

There was no way to sabotage the system. That had been seen to at the beginning, when the biochip was in its infant innocence. Data had to be secure, incorruptible. Unfathomable encryption algorithms protected databases backed up with multiple redundancies. Chips were hardwired with identification codes and DNA readers that rendered their cloning impossible and their misuse equally so. A person's chip would only work in that person's body, fusing irreparably if implanted into someone else. Only with the codes in a person's chip could that person's information be accessed, each chip reader only able to read the codes that would give it the information it needed. It was the perfect symbiosis, a unique identifier key that could not be copied and an indestructible bank of data.

There had been teething troubles, I heard once. Hackers breaking into databases and changing information. The Russian Mafia supposedly did a good line in cloned chips during the early days of the technology, but not since the chips became even remotely as advanced as they are today. As they were until today. That was all long ago, though. All the hacked systems and cloned chips, whether real or rumoured, served as nothing more than tests in the end. The designers learned from each breakdown in the system and prevented its recurrence. There was no way to sabotage the system.

It was simple enough, the solution that finally came to me. My muse was a book, a collection of riddles for children. A boy was reading from it, aloud and loudly, shattering the silence of the library with his brash voice. I ignored him at first, sure that his parents or some guardian would hush him, but not even a librarian appeared to restore peace. Maddened with the frustration of not being able to see the solution to my problems, this din was the final straw. I stormed through the labyrinthine shelves towards the noise, blaming the child in my head for all my inability to find a cure for our collective digital illness.

And then I found him. An innocent, perhaps eight or nine years old. The floor around him was littered with books, pulled freely from their racks and discarded where they lay when finished with. He sat cross-legged, the book of riddles upon his lap, and looked up at me. Carefully, as though reciting a formula, he read out the riddle, enunciating each syllable clearly and precisely. When he had finished, he tilted his head on one side, peering at me questioningly. I snapped the answer at him, so simple and obvious that only an idiot or a child could fail to see it.

In that moment I realised the answer to my own riddle. Simple and obvious like the riddle in the book.

It took two viruses for what I planned, one organic and one digital, neither of which was particularly inventive or clever in its own right. Nor was either virus harmful, or even of any noticeable effect, in solitude. They would only work in concert, and only when told.

Simplest was the organic virus, elementary biotechnology and virology straight out of a textbook. The genetic sequences were all available retail, plug and play DNA helixes locking together like Lego, synthetic RNA code wrapped in proteins to make the virus. I was Doctor Frankenstein, creating artificial life. This was no monster though, but an angel. My new child was as contagious as Ebola yet as harmless as fresh air.

The digital virus, though easier in concept for myself was far harder in execution. I could not use a computer to write it myself, that would have drawn attention. Instead I was forced to write it as I had written my book, by hand with pencil and paper, reasoning torturous logic in my head as I went. I thought it would take me forever. Once it was written I had to buy programmer time on the black market, individual programmers keying in lines of code as and when I could hoard enough welfare checks to afford them. My meagre savings were already long gone; put it all down to research expenses. Gradually it came together, binary RNA wrapped with middleware proteins to interface with the database systems.

Spreading the viruses took time, but even as patient zero for both my creations I had plenty of time. I infected myself with the organic virus and came suddenly out of my social shell. Any crowded public place I could think of I would go to, bumping and jostling and infecting my way through the masses. Stations and airports especially, to spread my microscopic gospel among unsuspecting pilgrims who would in turn spread the word.

I had to be more careful with my other progeny. I joined emailing lists, welcoming in junk mail and sending off for every competition I could find. Burying myself under an electronic avalanche of data. After a time, I started sending the virus out, buried in the immaterial substance of my virtual post. In my minds eye I could imagine it, looping and slithering through the systems of the world, nesting down in the dark places of computer systems, waiting to be called out for its moment in the light.

My whistle was the one constant for all things, wherever they were. Biochip Time, the universal chronological measurement for all data in the system, would be the marker my children would watch for. Over a year after their birth, after over a year of burrowing and infecting and waiting, Biochip Time would reach a predetermined point. That predetermined point was a few minutes ago, at midnight to be precise.

At midnight, an old test signal was broadcast across the network, prompted by a forgotten subroutine from somewhere in the depths of the system. Every chip reader the world over simultaneously emitted a scanning pulse, a broadband test frequency they had never sung outside of a factory quality-testing lab. Every chip in every arm in every place that civilisation ever reached heard this instruction, and obeyed. They reset.

When a chip resets, the first thing it does is to emit a bioelectric pulse, scanning the DNA around it. The frequency of that pulse is like a siren call for the organic virus, causing it to flock and cluster around the biochip. The virus stimulates nerve endings surrounding the biochip, which in turn emit a pulse of their own. A reset pulse, the same frequency as that emitted by the scanners nanoseconds previously, locking the biochip into an endless loop of constantly resetting itself, unable to be read by the scanners until it has reset. Both are working but the scanners can no longer see the chips; effectively, they are blind.

It is an easily solved problem, in theory. Remove the chips and replace them, fix the scanners so that they can no longer broadcast the reset signal. But who will do this? Even the moon is not far enough away to be beyond the range of the wireless networks, no chip can have escaped. Without the chips, nothing will work. You can tear the chip out of your arm, but the doctors cannot operate surgical equipment to insert a new one, even if they could get into the hospitals. Computer operators cannot get into the system to reset the scanners, or any part of the network.

There have been explosions, signs of death that has already happened and is to come. Cars, no longer responding to drivers they can no longer see, crash and collide and spin out of control. Aircraft in flight believe themselves suddenly unoccupied and shut down, falling gracefully out of the skies. There is chaos and destruction in the city, growing fiercer and wilder with every passing second, but it is a small price to pay. It is an Armageddon, a Revelation, for humanity to emerge from stronger and free.

A man who knows how to read sits in a well-lit room and holds a book. The book is normal in all respects and is in a language the man understands. However, the man cannot read the book. Why? Because he is blind.

 

Adam McGrath

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