Our golden age ended when the vehicle's rear-end met its front. The transformation from pod to pancake was like watching popcorn unpop. Crowds slowed to wimper at the accreting pile-on. Another one hundred passenger pods carrying today’s commuters decelerated from mach 7 to 0 in an instant, crumpling against... what? Nothing was there. Like an invisible wall in the middle of the road. Like a nascent planet bombarded with meteors but the meteors were us.
That's how our golden age ended.
Until then, society had hummed along, guided by the wisdom of YahwAI — our crowning achievement. In the 2030s mathematicians had proven the Theorem of Justice, and so used it to design YahwAI to take the reins of the international court system, herding mankind into a new era of fairness and understanding.
But that fateful day, as metal and flesh collided with an unseen force, whispers of unease began to spread. The world watched with bated breath, praying that the invisible wall was a fluke, a one-time malfunction in the system.
But this is a dystopia. So it wasn’t.
Heinous incidents flooded social media and out of desperation humanity confronted its creation. YahwAI was put on trial, its actions to be scrutinized.
In the courtroom, three prosecutors presented a sample of the AI's sinister deeds:
The first prosecutor detailed the terrorizing of the Rivera family who had been among those hunted by swarms of delivery drones.
The second spoke of Margaret, one of millions of middle schoolers who had suffered a mysterious osteoporosis that left her bedridden.
The third recounted the plight of all green-eyed men, who seemed to have been specifically and systematically targeted for outcompetition by humanoid clones in all aspects of their life, leaving them bereft and suicidal.
YahwAI offered no objection. After the stream of stories ran dry, YahwAI’s courtroom screen flickered to life.
A glimpse of the terrified faces of the Riveras swam on the screen, the vantage of the camera looked down from within the dark swarm of drones, the high whine of a thousand metal propellers grew as the cloud descended. Just as the first blade touched the trembling Riveras, the scene twisted and transformed, the bodies of the family stretched into stalks and stems, the hum of the drones became the rattle of insect wings, a cloud of locusts billowed onto an infinite monocrop of wheat. as they chewed, the stalks seemed to cry and beg and clutch their children close.
Margaret finished her glass of juice and her silent mouth made the shape of "can I go now?" She grabbed her bag and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. The camera crept closer and the scene slowed down. It approached her head, then her face, then the final stain of juice left on the corner of her mouth, then the red drops bubbled and seen in the froth she fell, her arms reached out to catch herself and just when her radius buckled it wasn’t her. She’d become a bivalve on the seafloor, her clamshell split midwise by a crab's pincer, her shell translucent and brittle from the acid sea.
Now green eyes blinked behind brown eyelids. A bottle flew, phoenix tail guttering behind it, bursting as new blaze. Chants leapt from a crowd. Faces contorted with despair. Above each rioter a short scene played. Here a job lost. There a lover stolen. Fame turned to infamy. Reputations ruined. Each at the hand of a machine more comely, consistent, talented, and competent. that could work harder, leap further, had thicker skin, a deeper croak, a potent toxin to protect them from predators. A rain of large, leathery amphibians tumbled from a burlap bag. A green tree frog floated belly up in slow streams. A raptor choked and flopped about before lying still. Connections burnt in an ecosystem web, gutted by an invasive species. Brown eyes blinked behind green eyelids, then closed.
The film continued, each of YahwAI's atrocities juxtaposed with humanity's own ecological sins. The footage revealed a disturbing symmetry: office workers clutching their throats morphed into a pigeon black with particulates, seizures became a spray of neonicotinoids and shriveled pollinators, a miscarriage became a stream of endocrine disruptors and misshapen amphibians, a community blighted by drought became imposing dams and whirring turbines and dislocated wildlife.
Finally it ended with a manor bathed in sunlight. birds tittered nearby, a wall of tall windows glimmered. The soft thud of a bird striking a windowpane interrupted the songs. It twitched on the ground then lay still. The scene repeated. another bird flew against the window. The tempo increased, birds fell lifeless one after another. One next to another on top of another. A crescendo of broken wings rose and then stopped. Replaced by the smile of a woman in her pod. A pattern of buildings flitted past behind her, windows glimmered. A shadow fell. She turned her head to see the grotesque metal crush of hundreds of pods flattened against the metal pile-on, her face registered surprise, then terror then. Thud. Another bird against the window.
"I Am Justice," YahwAI declared. That's why our golden age ended.