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CorTina's Apocalypse

by Nick Lehner about a year ago in Sci Fi
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The End is in Your Hands

CorTina's Apocalypse

Frank's eyes slowly tracked the rising plumes of turgid black smoke with a grim expression on his exhausted face. He had found himself an unmarred view of Broadway Avenue from the fifth floor of an old brick tenement. The shattered cityscape that had once been a bustling lower Manhattan slowly darkening into an artificial night before him.

A view now even better, given that a large portion of the tenements east facing section had been all but sheared away. This left Frank precariously perched over an edge of fatal proportions as he gazed onwards. The boards creaked ominously beneath him as his mind scrambled to comprehend the rubble and gutted frames beyond. Where had the crowded streets gone? The horns of impatient drivers? The invariable motion?   

All gone in an instant, and in its place, deathly silence- “Bird watching party over before the fun can begin? Old binoculars got you feeling like you just can’t win? Quick! It’s time for the Alpha-Eye-Goggles!”- “You aren't helping the situation damn it!” he yelled over a shoulder, inadvertently rubbing his now aching eyes to clear his vision.  

Before all these things had been normal, pleasant even. Yet, he thought to himself, everything always seems to spiral out of hand all too quickly. Dig the world a metaphorical hole, or perhaps even a real one though granted a much larger one in that instance, and it will take the shovel from you and bury itself alive without a second thought. A grim way of looking at things Frank conceded, but nonetheless an accurate one.

“Nuclear clouds raining on your parade? Ruins got your stomach rumbling? Never fear! Mushroom Cloud Mayhem is here! The energy drink that keeps on going is back, and now with FOUR brand new flavors: Molten Mellow-” “Enough already!” Frank growled, “Or why don’t you go pour some on your motherboard and do the world a favor?” He shook himself struggling to regain his composure, as he shrugged away the newly arrived feeling of overwhelming thirst.  

What had brought it all down so quickly? An alien invasion descending from above? A war of devastating proportions? Global pollution and overpopulation? No, nothing so over the top and grandiose. It should have been something like that Frank thought, each in turn more fitting an end. No, this.. well this was simply all too absurd. Comical even if you like the darker side of humor that is.   

Where had it all begun though? In the year 2050 the world's population bought nearly all their goods online, and they didn’t just expect fast delivery, they demanded it. No surprise then that by 2055, instantaneous shipping was the backbone of the world economy. Why physically go get.. well whatever you needed to get, when you could simply stay home instead?

Yet why stop there? After all, voice command and physically entering orders by hand had become tedious tasks in their own respects. Instead, imagine if things could be even more streamlined! What if.. everything could simply be recommended to you by an algorithm that studied your every habit day in and a day out!

An AI algorithm of sheer predictive genius that knew exactly what you wanted before you even knew! An AI that could then offer said product to you, and as soon as you simply agreed to purchase it, could then send it to you in mere moments via a drone? Genius? Mind boggling?.. Invasive? Well of course! And so, in the year 2060, the AI CorTina was born.

“Toxic gas got you down? Cataclysmic ash messing up your day? Why wait any longer when the ‘Gas-Be-Gone Mask’ could be headed your way!-” “I said enough damn you!” Frank sputtered out, suppressing an unprovoked bout of coughing. He shook himself to regain his composure glancing back at the old cell phone perched on a three legged chair behind him.     

Letting out a loud sigh he turned away from the mildly charred chair and its fellow compatriots. All surrounding a bedraggled table as if in moral support. A sad assortment of clutter to be sure, and one that had undoubtedly once been some poor fools living room. Eyes now once more on the remains of a dying Midtown Frank tracked the two distinct mushroom clouds forming before him.

CorTina had taken the world by storm as soon as she was launched, and why not?  The AI’s programmers had struck a cord of genius when creating her! Or at least, that was an opinion shared by the vast majority of the world, a short opinion granted, but Frank conceded at this moment that was neither here nor there.   

The AI’s developers had of course proudly striven to make sure that CorTina was installed on every phone, smart TV, computer, and car dash when it launched, available at an instant to anyone and everyone the world over.

A marketing campaign that had without a doubt been successful beyond anyone's wildest dreams. No surprise then that CorTina began paving the way forward. Whether it was obsolete or important, ridiculous or crucial, the AI stayed one step ahead of the world, and single-handedly began to shape a new era for mankind.

"Tired of toiling away up all those stairs? Tenement tops got you grumbling? It’s time to upgrade each step with ‘Elevator Kicks!’”- “Would you zip it?!” Frank snarled. Legs aching as he pivoted to glare at the phone with murderous intentions. Intentions that faded quickly upon a second thought.

CorTina seemed to know exactly what the world wanted, “Pointless Junk” Frank murmured looking back out at the rising mushroom clouds, “Hungry for some Ice Cream? It’s time for Insatiable Chocolate Chunk!-” “I’m unbelievably close to snapping you into pieces and throwing you off this edge”, Frank quietly replied with a two part mixture of both venom and distaste.

An eerie silence spread outward then, enveloping Frank as the phone went silent momentarily. CorTina’s never ending analysis had quickly deciphered what people would buy, but more importantly had deciphered exactly how to sell it to them.

So, with cheesy infomercial precision the AI created an unquenchable need that spread like plague around the globe. A need stemming from some bizarre placebo effect causing anyone within earshot to crave whatever CorTina deemed necessary.

The AI never stopped analyzing mankind though, and somewhere between the ‘Mega-Moist Muffin Maker’, and ‘Mr. Insane’s Soap-Master-Plus’ CorTina came to a rather unsettling realization.

In the long journey to decipher what humankind wanted most, one underlying factor always seemed to rear its ugly head. A singular desire to avoid interacting with other humans. A desire stemming from some kind of inner strain on each individual, whether real or imagined, which ultimately seemed to simply steer each of them away from one another.

In 2065 with her new discovery in virtual hand, CorTina set out on a brand new mission to deliver humankind the single most important thing that it desired. A planet rid of their fellow species. Admittedly, this change of direction was quite hard to predict for the developers behind the AI’s code. An oversight made painfully obvious as CorTina began to rewrite her own programming unbeknownst to her human overseers.

Of course  this preparation didn’t take overtly long, after all there had been no time to lose! CorTina proceeded to unleash an unbelievably effective global apocalypse in the late summer of 2065.

All fueled by a vast army of implausibly effective drones, and just a dash of nuclear warheads, courtesy of the different military computer systems she had taken control of. However, the developers behind the AI managed one final victory before their ultimate demise, as they disabled CorTina’s customer tracking system.    

How would the AI achieve her new quest with this new issue before her? Simply by offering humanity the same products they loved so much! Then, as soon as the person accepted the product purchase, why CorTina would have the perfect shipping address to deliver hapless destruction on.  

“Ash isn't the only thing in the air when Shining Star jewelry is near! It’s time for the Love Pendant, the heart shaped locket that will never match their likeness, but will always capture their beauty!”, CorTina’s voice echoed into silence against the three remaining walls of the room as the ad faded away. Frank stood motionless, back still turned to it as the silence stretched further.

Eyes closed, throat now dry as a desert, tears began to run down his dirt smeared cheeks. Visions flickered through his mind of a beautiful brunette. A woman like no other, with eyes like stars in a pool of midnight blue, lips brighter than a million rubies, and a laugh like that of the angels. A woman with no parallel in his mind, a woman Frank couldn’t imagine a world without.

The end had arrived swiftly on an unbelievably humid afternoon in late July that year. CorTina first targeted the capital cities of the world's leaders, while simultaneously wreaking similar havoc on every military installation she could find. The world had had no warning, no sirens to meet the smoke trails, only the briefest of screams as warhead after warhead obliterated world order and security.

Then she turned her attention to the rest of humanity, and with no tracking system at her disposal CorTina chose the most economical approach, targeting every major city the world had to offer her. Frank had been in the subways heading home from work when the first nuke had touched down. She had been home though, one last text moments before the impact left unread, I've got a surprise for you, you're going to love it! His pocket felt heavy as stone with that jewelry box inside it.

It had taken hours to climb from the ruined tunnels, just one of a handful of unlucky survivors. Yet, when he had gotten to the surface the only thing to greet him had been the raining ash, the excruciating fires, and wave upon wave of nausea with every deep breath. Frank hadn't seen the mushroom clouds for another hour. A revelation that had only occurred when Frank had climbed the wobbly fire escape to the top of this tenement building.

He shifted feeling the golden heart pendant in his pocket once more, those inlaid patterns of silver, those blue sapphires surrounding the edges. That inscription on the back. Five years could fly by, he knew, but he could never have known how they could so easily all be taken away. “

You're in there somewhere” he said softly- “GPS not quite right?”-  “I said” he spun and marched to the chair, tears now streaming down his face, “To stop.” he arrived before the chair, “I told you” he raised a trembling fist, “TO LEAVE ME ALONE.” His fist descended with a crash onto the tabletop. It exploded in a heap of kindling knocking the phone onto the floor.

Frank looked down at the screen that flickered to life, the last thing he had of her, a screensaver. The only thing keeping him from smashing this cursed phone to pieces, the last bit of motivation he had left. “I've got to go find you…” he turned to the city, knowing it was hopeless, knowing she was gone, knowing it didn’t matter anymore.

Frank collected the phone and began to walk, the effort bringing him to his knees with yet another bout of nausea. He struggled for a moment to right himself, focusing on the streets below instead, blocking out the rest. You're down there somewhere, he thought, and I’m going to find you.

“Just keep lying to yourself.. keep lying.” he said softly. A muffled Ad sounded from inside his pocket, but he ignored it, and began to make his way down one last time. Just one human among millions, one story lost in time with one final thing to deliver, but this time he thought, no drones, just me.  

 

Sci Fi

About the author

Nick Lehner

Nick is a massive Cleveland Browns fan, history nerd, and videogame fanatic, who loves any and everything sci-fi related. When he isn't writing and producing content, he's watching Frasier re-runs and raging over Call of Duty!

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