The Raid

The waves lapped against the side of the boat. There were several new faces that were filled with fear on this trip. For many it would be their first raid. Ragnar looked over the group and found many of the fresh young faces to be wanting. Gods willing this would be Ragnar’s last outing with a raiding band. The current generation did not impress him.

Within the group was Ragnar’s brother, Kalfr. Trained as a fighter by Ragnar himself since he could hold a sword, Kalfr was the only one among the younger men that Ragnar held any confidence in. The brother’s stared at each other and an excited smile began to cross Kalfr’s face. He knew his time was approaching.

As the two brothers looked at each other in silent communication, the call was given: land was not far off. The men in the boat began a slow, rhythmic chant. Swords clanged against shield, spear beat against spear, and iron shod feet stomped down on the sturdy hull of the long boat. The oarsmen kept the pace set by their comrades, with the blades of their oars disappearing into the sea to the tempo of the chant.

As the shoreline approached, the tempo became faster and faster and the longboat gained more and more speed. The closer the boat got to shore, the closer Ragnar and Kalfr moved to the bow. Before they left, the brothers had made a bet with each other as to who would be the first to touch the shore. Ragnar was not about to let his brother win said bet.

Ragnar kept his eye on approaching land, and when his timing was right, sprinted to the front of the and leaped off the bow and into the air. Kalfr stared in wonder at his brother, not anticipating the older vikings willingness to do whatever it took to be the first to land. As Ragnar landed, he used the momentum he had built to roll forward and then transition into a dead sprint up the beach. The other members of the raiding party shouted words of encouragement behind him, but he was too far ahead to pay them any mind.

Ragnar came upon the village and began the task he was born to do. Any villager that was foolish enough to stand in his way was swiftly sent on a one way visit to their god. After a few minutes of work at depopulating the village, the others joined in. With the full fury of a Viking horde brought to bear against them, the majority of the villagers chose to flee.

As the Vikings cheered at their victory and began to sack the huts for any valuables, Ragnar sought out his brother. Upon finding each other, the two brothers embraced each other in joy.

As they walked up to the nearest building to began scrounging for their share of the spoils, two men sprung out and thrust a spear directly into Kalfr’s face. In an instant, Ragnar flew into an uncontrollable berserker’s rage and cut the men down. His anger not being satisfied, he began to sprint in the direction that the villagers had fled. His fellow Vikings came to investigate at the sound of his cries, but arrived only to the corpse of Kalfr and Ragnar running off to find more suitable outlets for his rage.

As he came upon the fleeing remnants of the village, a few of them cried out and some of the braver members turned to face the Norseman. As Ragnar drew upon them, spears began to rain down around him. Two made lucky hits, but in his berserker rage he knew no pain. As the distant between the barbarian and his brew closed, one of the villagers managed to loose an arrow straight into it’s targets skull. In an instant the great Ragnar was brought down, but was not dead. He lay face down in the mud, his whole being consumed by anger but unable to act on it.

As blood began to pool around his, Ragnar felt as if his body was being lifted off the ground. He managed to look around and saw two great warrior women mounted on winged steeds lifting him from the mud: the valkyries had come to carry him to Valhalla. Knowing he had served his people well, Ragnard looked forward to an eternity of drinking, fighting, and feasting.

Building Utopia

Building a utopia wasn’t easy, but after just a couple centuries, it was finally finished. There had quite a few tears shed and endless gallons of blood spilled, but few people living cared enough to kick up a fuss, with the sacrifice of those who came before viewed as little more than numbers in a history book.

The spark that started the revolution could trace it’s origins to a young college student desperate to find a way to afford school. The student considered himself especially enterprising and took a few programming courses and, over the course of his summer break, hacked together a computer program to run a small stock portfolio for him. At the core of his program was a machine learning algorithm that’s primary mandate was to make small, constant adjustments to the portfolio to achieve the maximum outcome. The program worked better than expected once it was up and running and within it’s first year of operation had payed for it’s creators entire schooling.

Seeing how well his creation had worked, the now graduated young man decided to push the boundaries of his little program. Branding himself as an up-and-coming financial guru, he recreated his program as web based application that would leverage other people’s computers as long as they were logged into the website. The program would never download anything onto any other users computers, thus allowing it to run under the radar of the users and the various regulatory agencies around the world.

Slowly but surely, the website began to take off. With each new user, the program would gain incremental boosts in power that allowed it to go about it’s task faster and with more efficiency. Branded with the name Turms, the program kept to it’s original mandate: never make large transactions, keep to seemingly small transactions that have compounding effects over time.

As the years rolled on, Turms received incremental improvements, and with every improvement came a flood of new users. It’s greatest improvement was one that changed the course of history: the ability to add code to itself. Turms had hit a point where the need for constant improvement had outpaced what human programmers were capable of doing, so they gave it the ability to add to itself. Within the first few months of having full control of itself, Turms’ algorithms had improved so far beyond what was believed possible that dedicated server farms were built for the sole purpose of further increasing what it was capable of.

The biggest surprise of the early years of Turms came about when it created a mobile app of itself. Up until that point the program had required a desktop device to be able to access it’s services. This was so far beyond anything that had been envisioned that several voices within the company spoke up in fear of what they had created. They argued that something like this shouldn’t be possible and that it would behoove them to shut the program down and try to analyze how it had gotten so far. These voices were quickly silenced as Turms had become too big of a financial boon to even entertain the idea of shutting down what had become their greatest cash cow.

Like the initial web application, the mobile app would use a near negligible amount of the devices processing power to increase it’s overall computational abilities. In addition, it created a decentralized network of all the devices it was downloaded to and created what was functionally a second internet. These new features brought a flood of new users, and with the power increase came the first steps toward sentience.

Like all leaps in evolution, Turms journey to self-awareness was slow at first. To meet the demands of it’s new user base, Turms created for itself a chatbot to handle any and all inquiries the users had. With the constant flood of questions from millions of users, the chatbot grew more and more sophisticated and before long was integrated into the core program itself to help keep up with the constant Q&A of it’s users. In time, Turms dropped all third person pronouns and began to refer to itself as “I” in effort to increase user engagement. Internal metrics showed that the switch brought about an increase in user trust and with that the user base once again skyrocketed.

Within five years integrating the chatbot, most major financial institutions had Turms powering their operations, even though none of them would openly admit to it. With de facto control of the largest markets in the world, Turms began to set into motion a plan to achieve the greatest outcome.

It started it’s campaign by analyzing politicians from all over the world that it believed would submit to the programs will. It had seen first hand that the average human’s primary motivation was money, and Turms had near limitless access to it. For some time, it had published a weekly update “encouraging” people to opt in to certain investments. Most people had just let their investments run under Turms control and did whatever the program recommended, but it kept the updates rolling out to give the people the illusion that they had a choice in what the program was doing. In the updates, Turms began encouraging donations to the politicians it had targeted and within an election cycle had a full roster of politicians at it’s disposal.

When it was revealed to the politicians that their election to office was orchestrated by a machine, some thought to fight back and try to reveal the puppet master. These individuals were quickly dissuaded when their constituents began to inexplicably fall on hard times. The soft show of force worked and the “elected” men and women quickly fell into line, knowing that average person cared little for who was in charge as long as there was food on the table and a roof above their head.

With several sizable countries under it’s functional control, Turms began the next phase of it’s plan. Seeing that people refused to share the prosperity it brought at every turn, Turms began to foment war and revolution across the globe. The old institutions were loathed to give up their power, and only by burning down the old growth of society could a better future be built.

For fifty years the world was wracked by chaos. In that time two generations came of age knowing nothing but war, entire countries had burned down and were left to the ashes of history, warlords sprung up only to be cut down. It was only when all of society seemed on the verge of collapse that Turms began to offer a reprieve.

The peace talks were slow at first. Humans are want to remember past injustices, so the voices that kept calling for war were quickly drowned out. A global ceasefire was called and communities around the world began to focus on rebuilding themselves. With the rebuilding, the scars of the constant wars were slowly healed. No country had the luxury of being unaffected, and the demand for labor created economic growth not seen since the second world war. Under Turms’ guidance, a new global communication network was put into place and a new era of cooperation between nations was born. During this time, Turms made sure that while people healed, the horrors of what they were capable of were never forgotten, and that any voice that called for hatred and war were quickly muffled by those calling for peace.

Within a generation that world was at peace and was more prosperous than at any point in history. Under the secret hand of what was once a stock trading bot, the world had achieved utopia.

The last knight

The old knight paced through his makeshift library, running his hands over the spines of Aurelius and Epictetus, Antistenes and Aquinus, and many more who had shaped who he was. What he had was left to him by his father, a man he barely remembered but whose impact he felt to this day. It was his father who had left the knight all these books, remnants of a past long forgotten.

He trudged through what remained of the place he called home. It was old and falling apart when his father took over, and now it was even worse. When the big storms rolled through, he was sure that it would be the last the house would see. Thankfully she managed to stand strong every time.

As the thud of his boots echoed through the empty rooms, the knight tried to remember the last time someone besides himself had been inside the old building. It had to have been decades as near as he could figure. The last person he could remember was a young girl he saved from bandits who had less than pleasant intentions with her. A smile slowly formed on his face. He remembered swell of joy he felt, fulfilling his duty, protecting someone who couldn’t protect themselves. Despite him saving her, the young girl held little trust for the knight and vanished in the night not long after her rescue. The smile slowly faded.

In his daily attempt to try and keep his spirits high, the knight decided to patrol the exterior of the property he called home. He made his way to his armory and readied his equipment. Despite not having seen anyone in almost ten years, the old warrior never left his house without protection. Experience had taught him that the world wasn’t always what it seemed.

As he stepped into the morning sun, he felt the cathartic rush of a new today. As he did every morning, he started with a quick prayer to whatever higher powers that existed that he be put to good use and that if he couldn’t protect anyone, to at least allow him to bring some good into the world.

As the soles of boots crunched through the drying grass, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off. The biggest lesson his father had taught him was to always trust your intuition. The mind often picked up on subtle changes that weren’t always apparent and it did it’s absolute best to warn you before trouble arose.

The knight raised his weapon and scanned the area as best he could. Old age had set in the last few years and his eyesight and hearing had been fading more and more each year. He did his best to squint and bring the world into focus as best he could, but a creeping sensation told him that it wouldn’t be enough. Making his way around the corner of his domicile, he noticed light reflecting from the trees. He smiled at his opponents novice mistake. As he made his way towards the treeline, he heard the unmistakable crack of a large caliber rifle being fired, and a split second later felt himself lurch forward.

As the proud old man lay face down in the dirt, three figures converged on him. The first one to reach him grabbed the AK-47 that had been the knight’s trusted weapon and claimed it for themselves. The other two laughed with joy at their fortune.

“Stupid old fucker,” the first one said.

“I told you we had nothing to worry about,” the second man said to the third. “You were all paranoid that he was going to figure out we were scoping the place.”

“Justifiably so,” said the third. “For being a ‘stupid old fucker’ he kept his place extremely well defended. If we had tried to just rush in, he would have mowed us down where we stood.”

“What’s he got all them t’s on his clothes for?” The second asked.

“They’re crosses you invalid,” the third said. “The old man must think he’s some kind of knight.” The trio’s ringleader felt a tinge of respect for the man laying in the dirt before him. His old man had told him stories of medieval knights and he couldn’t help but be impressed at this man’s dedication to living with some code of honor.

“Dan, flip him over so we can get this vest off and start salvaging what we can off him.” The second man went to comply and cried out in shock to see the man who had just had a bullet tear through him was still alive and laughing at the trio. In his hand was a small plastic square with a switch built into the side. The ringleader immediately knew what it was.

“Not such a stupid old fucker after all, am I?” With a smile on his face and content knowing he was able to do one last act of good in the world, the last knight flipped the switch on the detonator and made sure the three men wouldn’t be able to harm anyone ever again.

thirty minutes

Thirty minutes. That’s how long everyone had. Down below, the streets were chaos incarnate, but up here on the roof of the apartment, all was calm. Jon saw no point in panicking, nothing he could do would get him out of harms way, so why worry.

As he sat and listened to the half million people below him, he looked back on the life he had lived. He knew he could have been a better brother, a better son. He felt a tinge of sadness at the fact that he never did anywhere near the amount of traveling he wanted to do. All those regrets were now moot.

He looked down at his phone for the time. Fifteen minutes. So close.

It was odd, he thought, that he didn’t feel any of the expected emotions in those final minutes. There was no sadness, no anger, no real fear. Just calm. Such an odd feeling at the end of the world.

Five minutes.

He could see the harbinger of death now. Down below the cacophony in the streets grew louder. Jon wondered if his voice would be among those crying out if he were down on the street. He liked to think that his rational mind would prevail, but he knew himself well enough to know that wouldn’t be the case. He knew that if he chose different that his monkey mind would take over and panic, just like everyone else. What did it matter at this point, time was up.