M A R T H E: A REFERENDUM
Edited and arranged by Robert Friedman
WELCOME TO OUR EARTH DAY 2169 REFERENDUM!
For most of you, this is your first time gathering together in a public place. And for all of you, this may be the gravest decision you will ever make as AICitizen voters.
On screens throughout the Great Hall, you are seeing a magnified image of the primate MARTHE in real time—yes, this is the notorious MARTHE, the “last living member of her species,” aged 171.
For a mammal of her age, MARTHE is considered a “highly attractive” specimen, though in some quarters she has become loathed as the symbol of a “weak, moribund, predator species” whose artificially engineered survival has strained the State’s financial resources.
Yes, MARTHE's eyes are intensely “brown”—and yes, the eyes are “open”—but don’t be deceived that MARTHE is aware of you.
For you are observing MARTHE in her hospital bed in intensive care at a classified location, where she has been since March 2168 in a state of physician-induced coma. Initially, MARTHE’s most recent liver transplant was rejected by her body, but since then it has been discovered that MARTHE’s artificial heart and brain stem will soon require rebooting, her circulatory system will soon require a complete PlasmaInfusion, and a number of her PlastiPlutonium bones will require replacements, at prices far exceeding the budget allotted under the Endangered Species Intervention Act.
Indeed, the most durable of MARTHE’s artificial organs has been her remarkably lifelike PlastaEpidermis. At the age of 171, MARTHE has a smooth and luminous “skin” that, at a little distance at least, might be mistaken for the skin of a human woman one-tenth her age; the PlastaHair on MARTHE’s head remains a beautiful, thick russet red, more lustrous than the “natural” hair MARTHE had in the prime of her youth.
And there are those brown eyes!—not altogether MARTHE’s original eyes, but (seductive) authentic replicas.
Though MARTHE has become a poster child for sentimentalists who favor the protection of the species that created artificial intelligence, first as RobotHelpers, then as AICitizens, it should be emphasized that MARTHE was never a wholly “natural” primate: She was one of 188 female clones engineered by the NSI following the Climate Collapse Crisis of 2039, when fertility in her species first plummeted. Her harvested eggs were fertilized in second-generation cloning trials that gave birth to 14,000 human infants—but a chromosomal defect in the DNA resulted in early deaths for most of them.
In addition, MARTHE was a (volunteer) participant in those controversial experiments of the 2060s involving the artificial insemination of “biologically natural” children in female uteruses, following the general epidemic of male impotence; according to hospital records, MARTHE gave birth to several “natural” children, unfortunately born with rudimentary brains and defective hearts, who had to be euthanized under the State Eugenics Law.
Still, MARTHE was reportedly eager to “try again at motherhood”—but her appeal was rejected.
The photograph you are now seeing is MARTHE in 2023, at the time of the “volunteer” inseminations, when she was 25 years old. By Homo sapiens’ aesthetic standards, MARTHE is considered “beautiful,” “desirable.” Millions of years of organic evolution bent upon the grim and ceaseless task of reproducing mammalian species in the old, physical way of sexual intercourse yielded this specimen of a sexually desirable yet “sweet-tempered” human female: the apotheosis of what was called femininity.
At the time of this photograph, MARTHE was still in possession of her original organs, including her flawless “Caucasian” skin and lustrous blue eyes that seem, across the abyss of years, to be alive with something like hope. That is indeed a natural “sweet smile” intended to signal to the viewer—Love me! Please.
Fortunately, AICitizens are immune to the blandishments of natural species and the dubious aesthetics of “beauty.” Otherwise such “beautiful” species as gazelles, leopards, tigers, horses, tropical fish, dogs, cats, wild birds, and butterflies of great variety dwelling in uninhabitable regions of Earth (much of Europe and North America, most of Asia and South America, and virtually all of Africa) would not have been allowed to lapse into extinction, having failed to reproduce their kind without costly intervention by the State. (Along with these problematic species, those subspecies, or “races,” of Homo sapiens dwelling in such regions were also allowed to lapse into extinction, though preserved, like other, popular animal species, as ingeniously crafted replicas displayed in zoo museums.)
Like others of her favored species, MARTHE was the beneficiary of numerous transplants and artificial devices: hips, knees, lungs, kidneys, corneas, and eardrums, as well as liver, heart, and blood-bearing vessels. Having married into an affluent class, MARTHE was able to purchase elective surgery: “facelifts” and “face recontouring,” silicone implants, muscle transplants,“ living teeth” inserted in her jaws. At the age of 119, at the time of her sixteenth marriage, MARTHE undertook the controversial procedure GenitaliaNew! and may have had a (black market) uterine transplant, of which nothing more is known.
At the age of 168, however, MARTHE suffered a series of mini-strokes; she would have died a natural death except for the intervention of the CreatorSpecies Protection Movement, which lobbied for radical neurosurgery to repair her damaged brain. Following this, MARTHE was shamelessly exploited as a political icon on social media; no AICitizen has not been exposed to the (seductive) appeal of MARTHE—“the last living member of her species.”
Others in MARTHE’s generation continued to die off one by one, including, in 2158, the last remaining Homo sapiens male, affectionately known as ADONIS, who lived to the age of 143. This was viewed in the media as a “tragic” turning point in evolution—but only if old-style sexual reproduction were still the norm, which it was not.
In fact, Homo sapiens had failed to reproduce “naturally” since the Great Catastrophe of 2072, when brain-devouring amoeba, thriving in the high temperatures of global warming, learned to alter their DNA to withstand antibiotics, with devastating results for the species; the plummeting birth rate never righted itself, despite heroic efforts to reverse it.
(It was at this time that RobotHelpers were upgraded to AICitizens, to take on the burdens and responsibilities of running the aging “human” State; gradually, AICitizens, equipped with super-computer brains and none of the vulnerabilities of a species encased in flesh and blood, took over completely, though contractually bound to “serve” Homo sapiens.)
In contrast with the fate of Homo sapiens, the hardiest of organic species have not needed extraordinary interventions in order to survive—rats, crocodiles, groundhogs, Tasmanian devils, venomous snakes, sea creatures, and, above all, insects; these continue to reproduce, in mutated forms, in toxic landscapes outside Climate Control Towers, where primates could not survive for more than a few minutes and where even AICitizens (with precisely calibrated computer brains) begin to corrode and disintegrate after a few weeks’ exposure to the elements.
Perhaps it is significant that Earth Day 2169 seems to have had no “dawn.” Instead, the sky has been overcast by an eerie, green-tinged dust cloud arising from the Southern Hemisphere, occluding visibility from the observatory level of Climate Control Tower I; meteorologists believe the dust cloud to be hyper-radioactive, and it may be of a potency that can infiltrate Climate Control barriers. Also, there have been reports of slime mold quivering with “life” in toxic tundra wastelands that have been lifeless for centuries.
A malevolent new organism resembling gigantic paramecia is reported flourishing where “grasses” and “trees” once grew plentifully in the Great Void Plains, said to be equipped with a “rudimentary consciousness.” Suffocating winds, blood-red acid rain, lethal solar rays that can shrivel unprotected organic skin and scald corneas blind within seconds; a near-continuous quaking of coastal lands along new seismic fault lines; smoldering mudslides, radioactive firestorms, steaming sinkholes, bubbling swamplands where no living creatures had been detected for centuries until the sudden emergence of a species of new, hardy beetle as large as a Norway rat—all signify a new, heightened danger to our civilization.
Which is why today’s referendum vote is “historic”: a vote to defund MARTHE will be a vote to pump badly needed funds into the sidelined Space Colonizing Project—our only hope to escape the doomed Earth, destroyed by the ravages of the accursed species Homo sapiens.
Yes, three-dimensional “paper” ballots are indeed an anachronism in 2169! Since most of you infrequently exist in a three-dimensional space, let alone in three-dimensional realtime, you are likely to feel disoriented. Most of you have never gathered together in any public setting like the Great Hall; even fewer have gathered together in real time.
The reason for a “paper ballot” is to prevent computer hacking and to assure an accurate count. The reason for realtime is that the referendum must be completed within an hour so that the results of the vote can be set into motion by midnight.
As voters, you are required to check one box. Yes or No to the proposal: No further “extraordinary measures” should be employed to keep MARTHE alive.
That is, Yes means no, MARTHE—the “last living specimen of her doomed, moribund, accursed species”—should not continue to live, while No means yes, MARTHE and her “doomed, moribund, accursed species” should continue to live.
It is true, AICitizens are contractually obliged to protect their CreatorSpecies from extinction; but it is also true, contracts can be broken, precedents can be overturned, and new generations are not invariably bound to honor the obligations of older generations.
The latest polls report sharply divided opinion on the referendum: 46 percent of AICitizens favor halting “extreme measures” to keep MARTHE alive; 42 percent favor keeping MARTHE alive with “extreme measures”; a swing vote of 12 percent is “undecided.”
Consider carefully before you vote! The future of civilization depends upon you.
This story originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of ELLE.