The meeting of the Extinction Society opened, as always, with the reciting of the foundational formula enunciated by the late Professor Frank Fenner:
Homo sapiens will become extinct within 100 years. It’s an irreversible situation.
A digital recording of the proceedings was uploaded in a continuous loop to the implanted brain chips of all members of the society on Earth, the Moon colonies and on Mars, although the time lag for the latter was some hours.
Bartholomew Schopenhauer, the president, rose from his chair to welcome the members of the executive present. He greeted each of them with a smile that extended only far enough to raise the edges of his mouth, leaving the eyes under the thick, greying, bushy eyebrows still grim and narrow. Even the similitude of a smile disappeared when he greeted the secretary.
“Greetings in the name of Fenner,” he mouthed, between gritted teeth.
Arabella Bonaventura rose from his chair, brought her hands together in a prayerful gesture, bowed his upper body gracefully and replied, “Namaste.”
Then she returned to her chair to the gentle swishing of her long silken robe.
Bartholomew took a deep breath and continued, “How long has it been since we met together…in the same room?”
“About 345 days,” Arabella replied with a gracious smile.
Bartholomew continued, addressing the executive and the wider dissembled membership, represented by a white screen, on top of which was the digital recorder.
“Before we begin, are there any apologies?”
Arabella consulted his palm screen and scanned the thumbnail images of the executive members.
“No, even our Martian delegates are present, having assembled some hours ago.”
She touched her palm screen, scrolled, pressed a few times, and the large white screen revealed the stark image of a red desert landscape. Then the image gave way to a number of members sitting in a similarly glossy boardroom some 225 million kilometres away.
At that moment, proceedings were interrupted by the entrance of a dishevelled figure pushing a shopping trolley laden with shopping bags and lined with blankets. He had a sunburnt, weather beaten face and a straggly grey beard, and over his ragged clothes he wore a patched and holey coat. The supernumerary, Jake had arrived and found himself a chair at the table. This was accompanied by a discreet shuffling of the other members away. Jake was an honourable member of the executive, being the most ecologically pro-active person there, someone who had eliminated the use of electricity entirely from his lifestyle, not to mention running water and even housing. However, no-one could stand his smell.
Bartholomew consulted his own palm screen.
“The first item on the agenda is the addition of the words ‘on Earth’ to our founding statement. This has been proposed by our Martian executive members.”
He then addressed the white screen, “Would you like to speak to this proposal?”
One of the Martian executives rose to speak.
Vidya Mangala was wearing a bright green sari edged in gold with what looked like Sanskrit lettering along the edge. Her midriff, bared by the sari, revealed she was several months pregnant.
“I will be brief,” she began. “The Martian colonies have been in existence for over twenty years and now present a viable alternative abode for human life. The species is thriving here and growing at a remarkable rate. We believe that the danger of extinction is now restricted only to that portion of the population still resident on Earth.”
Bartholomew observed, “Yes, we can see that you personally are contributing to the population growth.”
Vidya’s cheeks showed a spot of red before she continued matter of factly, “Thus, we propose that the addition of the words ‘on Earth’ better reflect the new interplanetary reality of homo sapiens.”
Bartholomew’s face darkened a moment. Then he forced a smile and replied, “Thank you for your insights. However, is it not the case that the Martian colonies are still dependent on Earth for resources and economic support?”
Vidya replied, “The dependence of the Martian colonies on the earthen economy is greatly over-rated, mostly by people on Earth. We are developing the resources of the planet at a growing rate. Terraforming is continuing to the point that in the foreseeable future, foodstuffs will be grown on the surface itself.”
Bartholomew interrupted, “But surely it is obvious that these colonies only appear viable because of the continual investment of considerable capital from Earth.”
Arabella at this point stood up and said, “If I may?”
Bartholomew turned, looked down at her, and then moved aside.
Arabella faced the figure in the immaculate sari on the screen.
“The question concerns the viability of human life on Mars. It is not about the continued relationship of the colonies as economic outliers of a transnational capitalist economy. As we all know, the constant emphasis on growth in this economy, on a finite planet with limited resources, is the underlying cause of the environmental degradation that threatens the existence of humanity.”
Bartholomew snarled, “Have you finished the lecture?”
Arabella replied sharply, “Not quite.” Then she turned to Vidya on the screen and smiled, “I would argue that human life will be more viable on Mars when it is set free from the rapacious earthen economy.”
Vidya smiled back and bowed her head momentarily.
“This is the general feeling on Mars. This is why we suggest that although human life on Earth is endangered, it is not here. I would like to move the motion as already stated.”
Arabella replied, “And I would like to second it.”
As the image of Vidya faded from the screen, Bartholomew said,
“The motion has been seconded. Is there any discussion?”
Jake stood slowly on stiff knees. He coughed as if his insides would come out, and fixed his eyes on the chairman. “It should be noted that the cause of our problem is overpopulation.”
Bartholomew stated coldly, “We are not discussing the causes of the extinction. We are discussing the motion before us.”
Jake refused to sit down. “It’s because we can’t control our breeding.” Before Bartholomew could cut in, he blurted out, “I used to have a son once. He used to jump into my arms when I came home from work. He was four when I lost my job. My wife took him away and didn’t say where she was going. I couldn’t track them down. And I never saw him again.”
They were all staring at the dishevelled old man now. It was more words than he had ever spoken at a meeting. He looked like he was about to weep. He was probably in his fifties, but he looked a lot older.
Arabella sprang up and took the old man in her arms, hugging him to her chest until the heaving shoulders relaxed and he was able sit down again, composed.
Then came the vote. This was a simple process with the implanted brain chips. The chairman had only to ask for the ‘Yes’ votes and then the ‘no’ votes and the results would be instantly counted and displayed on the screen. However, they had found that people were suspicious of the results because of their instantaneity, particularly people whose proposal was lost. So, they fell back on a traditional voting method of displaying a black or white card as their vote.
The screen showed overwhelmingly white for yes from the Martian delegates, and most of the other Earth-based delegates also showed white. Only the room where the central committee sat showed significant numbers of black for no, but even here the majority was a ‘Yes’ vote.
Bartholomew announced that the amendment had passed. But he did not sit down. He stood there, brows bristling and face reddening, until he suddenly burst forth:
“So ye think that ye can avoid the coming judgement? Let me tell you that it will come not as a thief in the night, but with the grinding inevitability of a glacier’s flow. And since none of ye have ever seen a glacier because of global warming, let me tell you in words you can understand: the judgement will come like the rising sea that sweeps away your parent’s holiday home; that is swallowing up one island after another in the world’s oceans.”
Arabella stood up and said, “You’re out of order. Please sit down. You are an unreconstructed evangelical. You believe that extinction is the just punishment of a distant god for the wayward behaviour of our species. You want to see homo sapiens extinct.”
Bartholomew rebuffed, “And thou wilt see the species extinct because thou canst do nothing about propagating it.” He grimaced at her, “How do I relate to someone of such indeterminate gender?”
She replied, “Try relating to me as a person.”
Bartholomew continued, “Thou art so insufferable. Thou pretendest to believe in equality, but thou really thinkest that thou art superior because thou art this new third sex. Thou art neither one thing nor the other: an eternal fence-sitter.”
Arabella added, “You are so twentieth century: everything has to be in opposite pairs, male/female, black/white, right/wrong. You can’t relate to anyone except according to your antiquated categories.”
What happened next kept the bloggers busy and the chatrooms abuzz for the rest of the day. Some say that Bartholomew’s eyes flashed red like beacons, others say that he foamed at the mouth. But they all agreed about what he did then: he picked up a floor lamp with a heavy base and a long stem, lifted it up above his head, and hurled it at the screen, instantly ending the communication with the Martian and lunar delegates. Then he jumped on the table, grabbed his shirt with both hands and tore it down the front.
The other delegates quickly moved away from the table and Arabella called for security. The guards came and subdued him, dragging him down from the table while he called out, “I hate, I despise your meetings and your rules of procedure.” They took him out, arms pinned behind his back, muttering about “a den of thieves”. Shaken at the sudden turn of events, the delegates spoke among themselves and left the room.
Finally, only Arabella was left. She sat on the floor amidst the shambles of the room. She contemplated the destruction around her. The smashed light and cracked screen reflected the broken nature of the man who had wrought it. She knew the Fenner Society which they had headed was also broken. The destruction reflected the state of the society from which they had sprung. Human desire had grown from megabytes to gigabytes to terabytes and beyond, but the bits of data had ceased to have any meaning, like items on a Facebook feed. Virtual reality had overcome the real thing.
Suddenly, a voice interrupted her reverie.
“I knew he was angry, but, boy, did he blow!”
She turned around to see Jake sitting on a chair. He was fingering a piece of the broken lamp cover. He glanced at her shyly for a moment, then returned his gaze to the shiny piece of metal.
She smiled momentarily at him and then mused,
“I was just thinking about our species, Homo sapiens. How inappropriate. Homo ignoramus would be better.”
They both sat in silence for a while and then she continued, “So many species gone…one day it will be us as well.”
Jake spoke, “I heard that the last of the elephants in the wild has died.”
“The last of the megafauna, hunted into extinction or condemned to death through the loss of habitat,” she added bitterly.
“Don’t be too sad,” Jake said.
He spoke as if he had a secret to tell and she looked up at him. He continued, looking into her eyes, “Our fellow creatures are tougher than you think. Have you ever seen a water rat?”
She shook her head.
“I do, regularly, from my bed under the bridge. They appear from a burrow just at the edge of the creek, swim through the water and go foraging on the banks. If anybody comes along, they disappear into the water and back into their burrow. Most people don’t even know they exist. I see a lot down there that you don’t see in suburbia.”
She smiled at him.
“One day,” he continued, “when we’re all gone, the elephants of Dubbo will repopulate the red plains.”