Due to unforseen circumstances this blog will be taking an enforced hiatus until July 2016. Thank you for reading so far, and I look forward to entertaining you again in a few months time.
A while later, after discussions with some of the local tribal elders Choc had placed TAMaxwell on a rock in the canyon leading up to the mine entrance. Most of the local tribespeople had moved to caves further away to try and stay safe, but many of the men had opted to stay and fight.
“Better to die on our feet than on our knees,” one of them had told her. TAMaxwell had twittered and wiggled its ears at this. Choc couldn’t help but wonder at the tiny little ball of fur. It seemed that heroes came in all sizes. Choc crouched behind a rock waiting. After some time she made out a humming sound approaching from behind her, she turned to see a familiar sight. Even though Choc knew that facial expressions were impossible, Steve still looked annoyed.
“Was that really necessary Miss Harvey?” He glided to a stop beside her.
Choc frowned. “I thought I powered you down.”
“Asimov’s first law of robotics Miss Harvey. I cannot allow you to put yourself in harm’s way.”
“I’m not putting myself in harm’s way,” said Choc. “Harm is making a detour to find me. I order you to go back.”
“I am sorry Miss Harvey, but your order breaks Asimov’s second law, and therefore the first law as well.”
“Well, stay there and don’t do anything.”
“Oh all right!” Choc threw up her hands in exasperation. “Remind me to have a word with that Asimov bloke the next time I see him.”
“Duly noted Miss Harvey.”
“Oh, Steve. Where would I be without you?” Choc smiled, then leant over and gave his casing a small kiss.
“I do not know,” said Steve, “but I predict with 96% certainty, and an error of plus or minus 0.03%, that you would be getting yourself into trouble.”
“What about the modified DNA information, is it safe?”
“Yes, Miss Harvey. Do not worry. It is in a place where it will come to no harm and do the most good. Where is TAMaxwell?”
Choc pointed to a rock about thirty feet in front of them and directly in the path of the oncoming Smibbles.
“A good choice,” said Steve. “The Smibbles cannot fail to see it and we are protected here from any potential fall-out or other violence as the new DNA takes effect.”
“I just hope it works,” said Choc.
“I believe we are about to find out,” said Steve. The first Smibbles had entered the canyon. As Choc and Steve watched, the canyon began to fill with tens, then hundreds, then thousands of small balls of fur, all with bunny ears and prominent fangs. Ahead of them, on the rock, TAMaxwell trembled slightly, chittering to itself.
The Smibbles came on. A never ending stream of fur shimmered in the sun and smog that still enveloped this part of the country. As they made their way up from the valley floor, Choc was transfixed. Slowly, slowly they came on, inching their way forward. After around fifteen minutes they came within sight of TAMaxwell sitting on the rock. The Smibbles gathered round, curious.
“What’s happening?” asked Choc. “Why don’t they do something?”
The lead Smibble twitched its nose a few times, glaring at TAMaxwell, now sitting still but with its ears bent.
“I wish I knew what it was thinking,” said Choc.
“I believe it said ‘Do you really expect us to fall for this old trick?’” said Steve.
“You speak Smibble?” Choc was gobsmacked.
Steve hummed, “I am a translator in over six million forms of communication,” he replied.
Choc frowned. “Steve, there are no Smibbles in Star Wars.”
“Of course Miss Harvey. Actually, I picked it up from TAMaxwell when we were doing the experiments. Although the Smibbles seem to have developed a new dialect, and their use of sarcasm is unexpected.”
Choc raised a hand.
“Shutting up Miss Harvey,” said Steve.
Choc stood up and addressed the lead Smibble. “I know that you are programmed to understand the effects of over-population. Your numbers are out of control. You will destroy mankind, you were not designed for that.”
The lead Smibble twittered and twitched its nose. “They say that they were designed to save the planet from the effects of man-made climate change and global warming. They do not care about the fate of mankind,” translated Steve.
“But humans are facing extinction because of you,” Choc pleaded. She turned, pointing to the few men brave enough, or crazy enough, to be watching from the top of the hill. “These people live lightly on the land. They give back, recycle and nurture the ground. They are no threat to anyone. They should not suffer because of the mistakes of others,” her voice cracked, “they shouldn’t suffer because of what I did.”
Twitch, twitch, snuffle, ear-scratch, twitch.
“Yet suffer they do,” translated Steve, “Humanity still faced extinction without our existence. The responsibility for their deaths does not lie with us. If you wanted humans to thrive, you and your kind would have heeded their warnings. You invent machines to make things better, yet you fail to realise how good things already are. You are obsessed with money, technology and celebrity without stopping to consider what these really mean. You are willing to live in ignorance because you fear what knowledge could teach you.” Steve paused. “The question is whether humanity is worthy to survive,” he finished.
Awestruck Choc looked at Steve. “You got all that from a few gestures?” she asked.
“It’s all in the tone,” replied Steve.
Choc turned back to the Smibble.“Who are you to judge humanity?” she asked. Before the Smibble could gesture Steve replied,“It’s in their programming.”
“You were watching Celebrity Big Brother during their programming stage. Judgement and evaluation are part of what makes them who they are,” he said.
Ear-scratch, rub paws, twitch.
“Apparently 100% of the voting audience has decided that humanity doesn’t deserve to survive,” said Steve.
“But they wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for me,” retorted Choc.
Blink, bend ear, rub paws, twitch, twitch, ear-scratch, snuffle, twitch, blink.
“We owe you nothing.”
Choc stared at the Smibbles. The Smibbles stared back. Steve hummed. No one moved. A small wind eddy disturbed the sand creating a tiny dune. A scorpion scuttled out from behind a rock, and then seeming to think better of its actions ran back out of sight. On the rock ahead of them TAMaxwell began to tremble, but defiantly, the Smibble held its ground.
The Smibbles pounced. TAMaxwell and the rock disappeared in a sea of fur.
“No!” Choc started running. Suddenly she was flailing and scrabbling, forward momentum halted, running as fast as she could, yet going nowhere.
“Miss Harvey,” Steve’s electronic voice was loud in her ear, “I cannot allow you to do that.”
“But TAMaxwell! I have to save it.”
“I fear you are too late Miss Harvey.” The Smibbles parted. Too stunned to move, Choc looked across to the rock and the remains of TAMaxwell. There wasn’t enough of the Smibble left to make a fur ball.
“The Smibble didn’t deserve to die. It hadn’t done anything wrong,” she said, brushing away a tear.
“TAMaxwell understood the risk,” said Steve, releasing her, “the Smibble made its own choice.”
Choc turned to Steve, a puzzled look on her face. “Steve? Since when could you restrain things?”
“It’s my new electro-magnet,” explained Steve. “Although I can see the attraction, your modification to pick up stray paperclips and ball bearings appears to exceed the required power criteria.”
“I’ll be sure to check it during your next maintenance cycle,” replied Choc, she turned back to the Smibbles still gathered around the rock ahead of them.
“Any suggestions?” she asked. She felt a nudge against her right arm and turned to see a glass of whiskey. “Your logic is impeccable,” she said, gulping it down.
Momentarily stopped by the distraction of TAMaxwell, the Smibbles now advanced.
Throwing down the glass, Choc turned and ran. From above several men threw missiles, knocking some of the Smibbles aside. The main horde continued unhampered. Running and clawing her way up the side of the canyon, Choc tripped as a stone came loose under her foot. Something grabbed at her ankle, but she pulled away and began to climb once more. Again, something clutched at her ankle. Pulling away quickly, it gripped tighter and Choc felt a piercing pain in her left leg. Then there was a whistle past her ear and a thud. The something let go and the pain disappeared. Choc looked down to see a Smibble out cold, a boomerang beside it.
“And I thought they were just trash for tourists,” she said. She felt blood begin to run down her leg and she resumed climbing. Looking behind her the oncoming torrent of Smibbles was relentless. Choc gasped. The valley was flooded with them now. Even if she outran the first few, the rest would be inescapable.
She turned to face the coming onslaught. As the tribal elder had said, it was better to die on her feet than on her knees, she wondered if she would be as brave as TAMaxwell. The first Smibble hit her then. Its aim was off and it smacked her in the arm, but it was still first. The wave of fur came on chocking, suffocating, although warm with rather a high insulation value Choc reasoned as the numbers of enclosing Smibbles forced her down to the ground. Choc struggled to breathe, the world became black as the Smibbles blocked out the light. She could hear scuffling and twittering as Smibbles jostled one another to get closer and attack. Pain overwhelmed her whole body. Her arms and legs were pinned down. She could hardly move her chest, not that there seemed any air left to breathe. From above her came a whirring sound and several Smibbles seemed to scream as they scattered. Choc breathed in the life-saving smog. She shook off a few Smibbles and sat up to see the Smibbles now tearing into Steve who had launch himself into the middle of the pack.
“No!” Choc cried, grasping for Steve under a sea of ripping, biting Smibbles. “Steve!”
“Save yourself Miss Harvey, go while you still can, ” said Steve, his electronic voice partially muffled by the enclosing mound of fur. Beaten back by the pressure of Smibbles around her, Choc stood and stared.
There was a sound of splintering as Steve’s carbon-composite casing was split from top to bottom. Choc took a few steps back and then, turning, stumbled further up the path. Behind her sounds of ripping, shredding and beeping continued. Several Smibbles bypassed the remains of Steve and came to harry her further away. This was death by a thousand cuts. Every time she went to stop, the Smibbles ushered her on. Her clothing was torn to shreds and she was covered in cuts and bruises.
From behind her Choc heard a low hum, as she turned to see where it was coming from, a Smibble nipped her ankle and she yelped in pain. The hum increased slightly in intensity. A few Smibbles around her paused for a moment before resuming their attacks. At some level Choc registered that the Smibbles were acting strangely, but she was so exhausted now that everything seemed strange. After the stress of escaping, too much whiskey, a full night of trying to bio-engineer TAMaxwell, too much tea, and no sleep, Choc’s mental acuity was failing. Again the hum increased in intensity. More Smibbles had joined in the attack now. This was pointless she realised. It was time to stop, give in, let the Smibbles take her. TAMaxwell was dead, and Steve was gone. What was left?
Choc stumbled to a stop and looked around, something was wrong. She looked down, nothing was biting at her. In fact, nothing had attacked her for several moments. Around her feet, several Smibbles quivered. She looked again, no, they weren’t quivering – vibrating, expanding. Expanding?! She turned, before her in the canyon was a sight that could only be described as the effect you might get if you shook a plate of spreading mouldy jello. Slowly, steadily, the tempo of the vibrations increased. The intensity of the sound made Choc scream. She covered her ears with her hands to no effect. The sea of fur before her swelled, almost filling the canyon. The pitch of the vibration increased beyond the range of Choc’s hearing and then
Choc was bowled over. For a while there was nothing.
Shaking her head, Choc took an internal inventory. Nothing broken, left ankle hurting, headache, dehydration, something warm trickling down her leg, a breeze on her face, stones under her hands – she was on the ground, shaken, covered in cuts, bruises and pieces of fur, but otherwise unharmed. Dust and fur floated down to the ground around her.
Chocolate Harvey looked at the scene of devastation around her. Turning over several pieces of fur and carbon-fibre, a twinkle of silver in the sunlight caught her eye. Sweeping aside grit with her fingers, she made out the name ‘Steve A’Dore’.
“Oh Steve,” she said, “how did it come to this?”
A couple of indicator LEDs blinked.
A raspy voice crackled, “we may have saved the world Miss Harvey.”
Tears began to stream down Choc’s face, “Yeah Steve maybe we did.” She sighed. “Do you think we did the right thing?”
Choc opened the DNA splicer, and TAMaxwell hopped onto the bench, ears flapping and twittering happily to itself.
“Miss Harvey, surely the best idea would be to use myself rather than TAMaxwell. The Smibbles are attacking modern technology and I would be better placed to deliver any new DNA sequence. In fact, I could deliver multiple payloads instantly.” Steve opened several of his connection ports in explanation. TAMaxwell gave a chirp of disapproval, hopping up and down in annoyance.
“I’d rather not Steve. You’re too useful to me. If this doesn’t work I’ll need a back-up plan. You can help me with that. I don’t think TAMaxwell is too happy about the idea either.” She looked up at the Smibble, now perched on top of Steve
“Miss Harvey, I must protest. I am the best way to do this. TAMaxwell must survive so that you can develop better ways of carbon capture to allow humanity to thrive again.” TAMaxwell bounced up and down on Steve in agitation. “Er, Miss Harvey, perhaps you could ask it to stop doing that. It’s upsetting my gyros.”
Choc lifted TAMaxwell back down onto the bench where it continued to bounce up and down, ears bent and twittering in annoyance.
“I could turn you off, you know, then you wouldn’t be able to protest.” Steve buzzed, but otherwise remained silent. Choc stared down at the bench.
“Steve. If anything happened to you…,” she broke off.
“As you say, Miss Harvey,” replied Steve, pushing a scalpel and petri dish onto the table.
Through the night Choc continued to work on TAMaxwell as Steve tracked the spread of the Smibbles across the world thanks to Dave Beige and the 24 hour rolling news broadcast.
As dawn broke, the Smibbles landed on the coast and the new DNA sequence was ready. Choc loaded the sequence into TAMaxwell and then turned to Steve, “I need to get this into your system as well as a back-up.”
“Understood Miss Harvey.” Steve opened a USB port and quickly connecting him up, Choc uploaded the data.
“I just need to double check it’s stored correctly, Steve,” she said walking round to the rear and flipping a panel.
“I believe everything is in order Miss Harvey. What-”
Steve went silent as he powered down, and landed on the bench with a soft bump. “Sorry, old friend,” said Choc. “You’re too important to join in on this one.”
Choc turned to TAMaxwell. “Ready?”
TAMaxwell twittered and jumped into its carry case. Taking a deep breath, Choc picked up the case and walked out of the door. “Let’s go save the world then,” she said, “assuming it’s still worth saving.”
Choc looked around at the maze of boxes. “Steve, where’s the whiskey?”
Steve appeared from behind a stack of containers further down the room. “The whiskey is directly behind of you, Miss Harvey. In the box marked ‘Whiskey’.”
“Ah yes,” Choc crowbarred the lid off and pulled out a bottle. Steve appeared beside her with a glass full of ice.
“Don’t need that,” said Choc, taking the top off the bottle and gulping the whiskey straight down. Steve buzzed.
“Miss Harvey, this is not the time to get drunk,” he said.
“We’re in an abandoned Australian mine, miles from any civilisation, being pursued by government agents, with life as we know it being destroyed by genetically manipulated balls of fur. This is the perfect time to get drunk.” She took a swig of whiskey. “How many outstanding projects do I have? What was I working on before I got caught up in that Smibble project anyway?”
“You were developing the super-radish for Mr Brain, Miss Harvey.”
“Oh yes. Well maybe I can work it up to grow here. I’m going to need to eat something.” She took another gulp of whiskey.
“Drink, on the other hand, seems to be no problem,” said Steve.
“Don’t you judge me,” said Choc. “Get me the project spec for the radish. I need to get some seeds planted. And less of your lip Steve A’Dore.”
“Yes, Miss Harvey.” Steve began opening boxes, accompanied by a twittering TAMaxwell.
“Shouldn’t that Smibble be in stasis?” asked Choc. “The last thing I need out here is to have to feed a pet.”
“TAMaxwell is helping me expand my programming,” said Steve. “I will take responsibility for it.”
“Just as long as it doesn’t use up any supplies – and keep it away from my whiskey. I’m going to bed.” Choc picked up the bottle and headed out of the door.
Waking in the darkness some time later, Choc spent a few moments searching for a bedside light she eventually realised wasn’t there. By the light coming in under the door, she narrowly avoided skidding on the empty whiskey bottle, and went to turn out the lab lights.
“Steve, what are you doing?” Choc looked from the unpacked boxes at one end of the room to Steve, TAMaxwell and a screen full of data at the other. “That’s not radish data,” she said. “Haven’t you unpacked the seeds yet? And do you realise what the time is?”
“It is 3:47 am, Miss Harvey,” replied Steve. “I am reviewing your Smibble data along with TAMaxwell to see how it might be possible to stop the Smibbles from over-running the planet.”
“Oh please,” said Choc, taking the cap off another bottle of whiskey. “I told you it’s pointless. I bet there’s rioting already.” She flipped the monitor over to the news channel where a flustered Dave Beige attempted to articulate the horrors happening around him.
“See, what’d I tell you? Pointless,” Choc went to take a swig of whiskey, but suddenly her hand was empty and Steve hovered three inches in front of her face. “Hey, give that back.”
“I must protest, Miss Harvey. This has gone far enough,” said Steve. Choc groped for the bottle.
“Oh, come on Steve, give me the bottle.”
“Miss Harvey, you have had enough.” He dropped the bottle. Choc went to grab it, but Steve was faster. Landing on the bottle just as it bounced, Steve crushed it to pieces. Choc could only watch, awed, as Steve then proceeded to destroy the only two cases of whiskey they had brought with them.
“But! But! Steve!” Choc protested, gesticulating uselessly at the broken glass and pool of whiskey covering the floor.
“No, Miss Harvey. You are my friend. I cannot allow you to destroy yourself like this. You have a responsibility.”
Choc turned to the screen and pointed. Thousands of Smibbles were marching in tiny Roman legionnaire outfits, some armed with butter knives and oyster forks. “I can’t fix that, not by myself.”
“You don’t have to,” said Steve. “TAMaxwell and I will help. You said something about cooperation.”
When Choc remained silent, Steve continued, “Miss Harvey, you said that you wanted to save humanity. This is your chance to do exactly that.”
“But I wanted to save it from itself,” said Choc, screwing up her eyes and pinching the bridge of her nose.
“I believe that will still be the case,” replied Steve.
“Oh, all right,” Choc sat down heavily on a stool, “but could I at least have a cup of peppermint tea first.”
Choc looked up from searching through the lab cupboard for the second time. “Where the heck …?” she muttered to herself.
“Excuse me, Miss Harvey.”
“Steve, what can you tell me?”
“I have some good news, Miss Harvey.” Steve glided into view with TAMaxwell perched on top.
“Let’s hear it,” said Choc.
“I have located TAMaxwell,” Steve announced.
Choc rolled her eyes. “That much I can see,” she said. “And the others?”
“I have good news there as well,” said Steve. “I have also located the other Smibbles.”
“Great. Where are they?” asked Choc, brushing herself down.
Steve hummed. “That is the bad news, Miss Harvey,” he said.
They moved over to the screen where Steve switched over to the 24 hour rolling news channel.
“…standing just outside Congleton where traffic has been brought to a complete halt this morning.” A windswept reporter stood on a bridge overlooking a grid-locked motorway. He continued,
“Police are reporting that after several unexpected breakdowns during the early hours of the morning that were dealt with without incident, rush hour traffic seems to have broken down en masse. They tell me that they have no idea when the road will be cleared and that they are advising drivers to find alternative routes. Now over to Dave Beige in Brentford.”
A second wind-swept reporter appeared, the sound of a helicopter could be heard overhead.
“Here in Brentford, police have now declared a major incident, sealing off several streets around the brewery.” Dave illustrated his point by holding up a piece of police tape, earning himself a withering look from an officer nearby. Dave continued,
“Local people have told us that the police arrived early this morning and sealed off the surrounding streets. Usual deliveries destined for pubs and bars across London have not gone out.” From behind Dave several men stepped out from behind the police line. Dave held up a hand and one of them stopped.
“Excuse me sir, can you tell anything about what’s been happening at the brewery this morning?”
“Been laid off mate,” the man waved his papers in Dave’s face.
“Have the management told you why?” Dave slipped into fake interrogation mode.
“They can’t get it going,” the man explained. “We’re all out straight away like.”
“When you say that they can’t get it going…?”
The man shrugged. “They reckon the whole place is blocked up. Can’t get the boilers going, fermenters are all blocked and there’s no beer coming out.”
“What are you going to do now?” asked Dave.
“We’re off down the pub before all the beer runs out mate.” The man walked off, a worried look on his face.
“There you have it, complete and unexpected closure of the Guinness Brewery at Brentford this morning.”
The view switched back to a woman in the studio. “We are hearing similar reports from across the country now,” the woman said. “Factory closures and personal transport failures are rife from Northern Scotland to Devon and Cornwall. Bakeries and breweries seem to be particularly badly affected. Trams and trains appear to be running normally, and in areas where there are few cars on the road, buses are operating. Airports are experiencing some problems as well.”
Steve switched off the monitor. Choc sat at the bench, her head in her hands.
“The Smibbles have escaped, Miss Harvey,” he announced.
“Do you realise what this means?” asked Choc.
“The Smibbles are cooperating efficiently,” said Steve. “Congratulations, Miss Harvey.”
Choc gave him a flat look. “It means that chaos is about nine meals away,” she said.
“I do not understand,” said Steve.
“Look, it’s the ‘just in time’ thing shops have now,” Choc explained. “The average citizen has enough food in their house for about nine meals. They don’t need to keep any more than that in their cupboards, because they can just get it down the shops when they run out.”
“I see,” said Steve.
“Except,” Choc continued, “that there will be no deliveries because of the Smibbles. People will start running out of milk, bread and fresh veg, and within a couple of days the SPG will be clearing the streets of hungry mobs, looters, and rioters. People who commute long distances to town will just starve in their houses.”
“That’s terrible. What do you intend to do Miss Harvey?” asked Steve.
“Do?” said Choc, gesticulating wildly. “What can I do? They are out of control. What can I possibly do?”
“But Miss Harvey, you engineered them, you have a responsibility,” said Steve.
Choc shook her head. “I can’t manage that many at once.”
“But surely you included a fail-safe switch?” Steve asked.
“Yes, but at the rate they’re breeding they would have out evolved it by now,” said Choc. “Even if I hit the fail-safe, I would only shut down the first few generations. I didn’t design them to breed this fast, it would be futile.”
Just then Steve’s internal phone rang. “Professor Sky is calling,” said Steve. Choc switched the call to speakerphone.
“Hello Vince,” said Choc. “Are you calling to gloat?”
“Choc-o-late,” he rolled the name around. “I thought I’d better call. Have you seen the news?”
“Yes,” Choc answered curtly.
“I thought it would be best to warn you,” said Vince.
“Are you threatening me?” asked Choc, glaring.
Vince laughed. “You stupid girl.” Choc growled. “I’m helping you,” he continued. “I’ve just had a call from the Ministry at Greenham. They’ve starting finding bits of fur at various sites around the country. They’re analysing on site as they can’t get stuff back to the central lab, but they seem to think that you’re involved. You might want to start working on a solution if you don’t want to be arrested, although they might do that anyway just to ensure your safety. Gotta go, the Nobel Prize people are on the other line.” The line went dead.
The colour drained from Choc’s face.
“I’ll prepare the equipment, Miss Harvey,” said Steve. “Should I make some tea?”
Choc shook her head.
“Very well,” said Steve. He moved down the the bench, with TAMaxwell still perched on top, collecting items as he went.
“Transporter,” mumbled Choc.
“I’m sorry, Miss Harvey. I didn’t catch that,” said Steve.
“Prepare the transporter,” said Choc. “We’re leaving.”
“No! Miss Harvey, we can’t do that. You have a responsibility,” Steve protested.
“The only responsibility I have is to myself,” said Choc. “All these years I have jumped to other peoples demands and deadlines. Every project I give something of myself, they demand and I give, they demand even more and I give. No longer. I have gone far enough. No further!” She slammed her hand down on the bench. Steve buzzed.
“Yes, Miss Harvey.” Steve put TAMaxwell into its cage, then began packing the lab equipment away.