ANNOUNCER: This is the final part of a three part series. If you haven’t listened to the first two episodes, you are advised to do so before proceeding.
REPORTER: Many years ago, shortly after the Update, a town by the name of Victoria was established. Founded by former businessmen, government officials, and anyone else who did not wish to partake in the new system the Program ushered, Victoria grew and prospered. Instrumental in its success was a man now known as Professor, a scientist who spent years analyzing the part of the Program’s code that calculates individuals’ credit scores, which he and his colleagues called the White Algorithm. Their research allowed Victoria’s residents to game the system, risking to take society down the same ruinous path it was on before the Program appeared. Professor ultimately realized his mistake and reported the unfair practices to the Program, which is when a gig to poison Victoria’s water system was issued. There were only three survivors of the resulting calamity: the man who presumably carried out the poisoning, and Professor with his young son. This is when they all moved to Neumat, a nearby town at the edge of the desert, where Professor continued to study the White Algorithm, and the other man married the town teacher. Almost a decade later, I arrived to Neumat as well, to write an article about the mysterious disappearances of children that occurred here two years ago. The first one to vanish was Sara, the seven year-old daughter of Teacher and her mysterious husband. Sara’s disappearance was followed by those of Maria and Becky, daughters of Neumat’s Mayor. The last child to vanish was Simon, Professor’s then eight year-old son - the one he saved as an infant from the destruction of Victoria. The person who got blamed for the children’s disappearances was Jakob, a socially awkward comic book artist who published a graphic novel depicting Neumat’s children bound and tortured. After recognizing their children’s faces in the comic book, Neumat’s residents lowered Jakob’s credit score to zero, expecting the Program to issue a firing gig and eliminate him from the community. The gig however never materialized, which led townsfolk to conclude Jakob was under the protection of the White Algorithm. Then they took matters in their own hands and lynched Jakob on the old oak tree in front of Professor’s house. This might have been the end to the story - a tragic end, but an end nonetheless. However, two weeks after Jakob’s mother buried her son, another shock reverberated throughout this small desert town. One by one, the missing children returned to Neumat. The first one to appear was the first to vanish - Teacher’s daughter, Sara.
TEACHER: It had been 82 days since Sara went missing… 82 days since I saw my little Popcorn.
REPORTER (LIVE): Popcorn?
TEACHER: That was a nickname I had for her back then. That kid was crazy about popcorn! She would stare at the microwave while they were being made like she was watching a cartoon, mesmerized with all the popping happening inside the paper bag! And when the bell would finally ding she’d clap her hands and squeal with delight! You just don’t see that kind of unsullied happiness in adults. Well, if we don’t count my ex-husband when he’d see a bottle of moonshine!
REPORTER (LIVE): [laughs] So was his nickname Moonshine then?
TEACHER: [laughs] No, but that’s a huge wasted opportunity there! [sighs] Almost makes me sorry the son of the bitch passed away.
REPORTER (LIVE): But he was alive while the ordeal with Sara was happening, right?
TEACHER: He was, but it’s not like you’d be able to tell honestly. He was no support whatsoever. So you can imagine my surprise when on day 82 he knocked on my door holding Sara in his arms. I literally screamed with joy. Guess I was wrong when I said there’s no pure happiness in adults.
REPORTER (LIVE): How did your ex-husband take it?
TEACHER: He was crying. Or what passes as crying in men like him - his eyes were glassy and red. I never saw him like that before. It was obvious he was shook up by the experience as well.
REPORTER (LIVE): What did he tell you?
TEACHER: I asked him where had he found Sara. He said he hadn’t, that Sara found him. That he was working outside his cabin when he saw her approaching calmly from the desert.
REPORTER (LIVE): And what did you think of it?
TEACHER: My dear, I was suspicious of the story the moment he said he was working! [laughs] But I didn’t ask him anything else about it. You have to understand, I was overjoyed to have Sara in my arms again - I wasn’t thinking logically. Obvious questions, like you know, where had Sara been for 82 days and nights didn’t even occur to me until later. However, there was one thing I noticed even back in the moment.
REPORTER (LIVE): What was that?
TEACHER: It was Sara’s clothes.
REPORTER (LIVE): What about them?
TEACHER: Well, they were clean and tidy - definitely not like something she had worn for 82 days straight. Heck, they even smelled fresh! And that wasn’t the strangest part...
REPORTER (LIVE): What was even stranger than that?
TEACHER: All the clothes she was wearing - her white shoes, her light blue dress, even her glasses - all of them were found in the desert shortly after she disappeared. And there she was, standing in front of me, wearing identical garments!
REPORTER: Sara’s disappearance, absence, and return were all a mystery. However, that didn’t stop news of her emergence spreading through Neumat like greased lightning. The town quickly divided into two camps - those that wanted to cross-examine Sara immediately and get as many details out of her while her memory was still fresh, and those that wanted to give the child some space to process whatever occured. With Maria and Beckie still missing, it’s not hard to guess on which side Mayor was.
MAYOR: I was at Teacher’s house. Or rather in front of it, as she didn’t let anybody in. Her husband had gone back to his cabin so she was alone with Sara. She spent the first 24 hours mostly sleeping. Teacher would come out from time to time and chat with us folks on the porch. There were probably twenty to thirty people on her porch at all times, dying to get any news. Between us, I’ve found Teacher to be irresponsible, or at least insensitive. What about us whose children were still missing? We needed Sara to tell us what happened to her so we could find out what happened to everybody!
REPORTER: However, before the good people of Neumat could settle their misaligned incentives, the matter got resolved by itself. Two days later, Maria and Beckie returned home.
MAYOR: I have to confess, after Sara returned, I felt envious of Teacher for getting her child back. I’m not proud of it, but I just couldn’t help myself. I was consumed by a strange mix of anger and self-pity. I wasn’t even able to sleep. Black thoughts consumed me. I was using sleeping pills those nights and waking up later than usual. So when I walked downstairs into the kitchen, I almost fainted - Maria and Beckie were at the table!
REPORTER (LIVE): What did you do?
MAYOR: Well I screamed and rushed to hug them. I’m telling you, I almost had a heart attack! Which would have been hilarious, to get the kids back only for them to lose their mother! [laughs]
REPORTER (LIVE): Where was your husband during this time?
MAYOR: Well actually, he was the one who’d found them first. He said he had tried to wake me up but of course the pills had knocked me out so he wasn’t able to. So he went over to Doctor’s house to come and check up on the girls. You see, he was worried.
REPORTER (LIVE): Why was he worried?
MAYOR: Well, it didn’t take me long to figure out why. And to understand why Teacher hadn’t let us see Sara… It was because the children, they were…
REPORTER (LIVE): They were what?
MAYOR: They were just... Silent!
REPORTER (LIVE): Silent?
MAYOR: I- I don’t know if they didn’t want to speak or were unable. I just know they wouldn’t say a single word! It was as if their voices had been taken.
REPORTER: Soon, Doctor came and examined Maria and Beckie. He conducted extensive tests but couldn’t find anything wrong with them. And by that I mean anything wrong with them.
MAYOR: Beckie was allergic to peanuts. And I am talking seriously allergic. So you can imagine my terror when I found her munching on peanuts a few days after her return!
REPORTER (LIVE): Oh no!
MAYOR: At first I panicked; then I realized half the bag was already gone and that she was perfectly fine. She munched through those peanuts like they were… well, peanuts!
REPORTER (LIVE): How do you explain it?
MAYOR: I don’t.
REPORTER (LIVE): You don’t have any theories?
MAYOR: None whatsoever. It's like someone returned our children, but better.
REPORTER: On the psychological level it was equally difficult to say what happened with the children. I wasn’t able to interview them since their parents are now rather protective of them - understandably, having in mind what they went through. Besides, they told me, speaking to the children wouldn’t do me any good, as none of them remember what happened. When they eventually regained their power of speech, their accounts were confused. I was able to track down recordings taken a couple of weeks after their return. The children were interviewed separately, but I edited the tapes into a single montage for easier comprehension. Even so, their stories are ambiguous.
SHERIFF: Could you say your name for the recording?
MARIA: My name is Maria.
SHERIFF: How old are you Maria?
SHERIFF: Could you please tell me your name and age?
SARA: I’m Sara and I’m seven.
SHERIFF: Hello sweetie. Could you tell me your name?
BECKIE: I'm Rebecca.
SHERIFF: And how old are you?
BECKIE: I’m five.
SHERIFF: Beckie, can you remember where you were for the past few months?
BECKIE: I don’t know.
SHERIFF: So, you cannot remember what you were doing before your father found you?
SHERIFF: Were you in the desert?
BECKIE: Yes, in snow desert.
SHERIFF: But Beckie, there’s no snow in the desert.
BECKIE: Yes, it was all snow.
SHERIFF: Do you remember what were you eating? Was there nice food, Beckie?
BECKIE: No food.
SHERIFF: Sara, can you remember what you were doing before your father found you?
SHERIFF: Do you remember being in the desert?
SHERIFF: Was there anything to eat there?
SHERIFF: What was it you ate, Sara?
SHERIFF: Popcorn? Really? Just popcorn?
SHERIFF: Can you tell me where you were before you came back to your house?
MARIA: High up there.
SHERIFF: High up there? Was that what you said?
SHERIFF: Where? Where’s there Maria?
MARIA: In the open.
SHERIFF: What do you remember seeing in the open Maria?
MARIA: Bright light.
SHERIFF: Was Beckie with you in the light?
SHERIFF: Was anyone else with you there?
MARIA: (...) Yes.
SHERIFF: Was there a man?
SHERIFF: Did the man have a beard Maria?
SHERIFF: How was the man dressed?
MARIA: He had a white dress.
SHERIFF: The man with the beard was wearing a white dress?
SHERIFF: What did the man in the white dress want?
MARIA: I don’t know.
SHERIFF: Who was with you in the light, Beckie?
BECKIE: Man with beard.
SHERIFF: Was he wearing a white dress?
SHERIFF: Who was the man Beckie?
BECKIE: I don’t know.
SHERIFF: What can you tell us about him?
BECKIE: He didn’t have a nose.
SHERIFF: Was there anyone with you in the desert?
SARA: Yes, a man.
SHERIFF: Did he have a beard?
SHERIFF: How did the man look?
SARA: He was blue.
SHERIFF: Blue? He was dressed in blue?
SARA: No, he had blue skin.
SHERIFF: Blue like your dress Sara?
SHERIFF: Did the man talk to you? Did he say anything?
SHERIFF: What did he say?
SARA: I don’t know.
SHERIFF: Did the man hurt you? (...) DID THE MAN HURT YOU?
REPORTER: The voice you heard in the recordings belongs to Neumat’s Sheriff, who declined to be interviewed on tape. He did however allow me to relay our conversation. He stressed that the children underwent a severely traumatic event, making them not exactly reliable witnesses. He also shared a dreadful statistic - that in 80% of cases involving missing or hurt children, it is their immediate family members who turn out to be ultimately responsible. He then drew my attention to the fact that it was always the fathers who found the children - with the word found clearly said with a whip of uncertainty, as in “how can you find something you’ve never lost?”
There was however at least one thing we did know for certain: Jakob did in fact have a beard. But then again, he didn't have blue skin and he did have a nose. Besides, if it was indeed Jakob who kidnapped the children, how was it possible they survived on their own for almost two weeks after his death? When I posed this question to their mothers, their answers were... inconclusive.
TEACHER: Naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about the person responsible for this my dear. And I just cannot think of anybody else but Jakob as the culprit. I mean, if there’s a culprit at all...
REPORTER (LIVE): What do you mean, if there is a culprit?
TEACHER: Well, what if... What if there was no culprit? What if Sara and the other children somehow travelled through time? What it they entered at one point and then simply came out 82 days later? There it is, now you’re looking at me and thinking I’m crazy!
REPORTER (LIVE): I don’t think you’re crazy!
TEACHER: Yes you do my dear. And I don’t blame you. But if you’d lived in Neumat for as long as I have, and seen things I have, you wouldn’t be quick to discard any possibility.
REPORTER (LIVE): What do you mean?
TEACHER: Well, there are… Rumours.
REPORTER (LIVE): What kind of rumours?
TEACHER: Rumours of men living deep in the desert without any contact with society... Men who aren’t users of the Program. Men whose skin... Is blue.
REPORTER (LIVE): Blue?
TEACHER: Some say this is because of toxic substances they were exposed to in the desert. Others say that these men are not men at all, but beings that have come from the sky!
REPORTER: Mayor’s conclusion was even more concise:
MAYOR: Yes, I’m sure Jakob kidnapped our children. I’m just not sure who saved them. But whoever it was, wasn’t from this world.
REPORTER: Unsurprisingly, out-of-this-world theories did not sit well with Neumat’s down-to-earth couple - Engineer and Philosopher were equally succinct with their rebuttal.
ENGINEER: “Aliens abduct a group of children - local pedophile gets blamed for it!” Sounds like a plot line from one of Jakob’s comics!
REPORTER (LIVE): You mean Chrono-terrestrials?
ENGINEER: Yeah, that’s the one.
PHILOSOPHER: I would just like to point out that Jakob was a purported pedophile - don’t forget that it wasn’t proven he ever had any kind of indecent contact with the children. Mademoiselle, you need to take a step back from the supernatural. We had this discussion when it came to “white algorithm”. No matter how much we’d like to blame someone else, there are simply no suspects other than good old humans.
ENGINEER: Or rather bad old humans! [chuckles]
REPORTER (LIVE): I’m not saying I disagree, I’d just like to hear why?
PHILOSOPHER: Okay, well let’s say extraterrestrials exist. And they not only live close enough to visit us...
ENGINEER: …Which is already a problem based on what we know about distances in space.
PHILOSOPHER: …But they also coexist with us in our time.
ENGINEER: …Also unlikely if we think of billions of years the universe existed and will still exist.
PHILOSOPHER: ...But just as a thought experiment, let’s say there’s a civilisation in Andromeda, which is basically in our cosmic backyard, and that this civilisation is roughly at the same stage of development as us during the short few thousand years we could be considered peers. Even if both of these extremely improbable conditions were true, it’s doubtful that aliens would share the same sense of what is morally right as us.
REPORTER (LIVE): Why?
PHILOSOPHER: Because we’re prone to underestimate how radically different their biological experience would most probably be. Well let’s say they evolved on a planet on which it was possible to derive all the biological energy necessary for intelligent life from photosynthesis, or some source of radiation, or from some natural process we haven’t even encountered yet.
ENGINEER: Actually we don’t even need to go that far. Let’s simply say they evolved on a planet without predators, or that they were able to regenerate, meaning they don’t experience aging and death. Wouldn’t you say that the ethical textbook of beings that never experienced hunger, pain, or fear would be written quite differently from ours?
REPORTER (LIVE): I suppose it would.
ENGINEER: Likewise, the very fact that the Program apparently makes complex moral choices makes it unlikely to have sprung from AI. I mean in case of artificial intelligence we are talking about an entity that doesn’t even share any of our senses! To presuppose that an entity this foreign to our experience would share our ethics, or even have a notion of ethics, is nothing but a common anthropomorphic fallacy.
REPORTER (LIVE): How do you account for unexplained parts of this story - the dual set of clothes, or seemingly miraculous disappearing allergy?
PHILOSOPHER: Madamosselle, remember Occam's razor. What's more likely - that Teacher forgot Sara had an identical dress, or that Maria wasn't allergic to peanuts at all, or that extraterrestrials or time travellers abducted them?
ENGINEER: Besides, if I may remark, you might be focusing too much on the wrong question.
REPORTER: Wrong question?
ENGINEER: When something as disastrous like your child disappearing wrecks your life, the question tormenting you afterwards isn't what or who or how... The question that haunts you is - why?
REPORTER: Engineer and Philosopher were right - it’s not possible to get the right answers if you don’t pose the right questions. I’ve spent hours and hours trying to figure out what the White Algorithm was trying to optimize, whereas I should have asked myself something much more fundamental: was there a White Algorithm at all? Which made me realize the question that occupied my mind upon talking with Teacher and Mayor was also pointless. What I was asking myself then was did the mothers get their real kids back; what I should have wondered was - if they haven't, would they even want to know? Particularly because the question was sadly not a rhetorical one. One child never found the way home from the desert. Professor’s son Simon never returned.
REPORTER (LIVE): Professor, can we talk about the days following the girls’ return? What was your state of mind when they came back?
PROFESSOR: I felt what everybody else did - relief. Not only because they were home and safe, but also because this meant the White Algorithm was regaining equilibrium.
REPORTER (LIVE): So that’s what you think? The disappearances were - aberrations?
PROFESSOR: I wouldn’t call them aberrations. Just like any other piece of software, the Program is simply doing what it was programmed to do. What we perceive as aberrations are simply parts of the code we still don’t understand.
REPORTER (LIVE): So you’re saying that the disappearances of Sara, Maria, and Beckie were legitimate - even if we cannot comprehend their exact purpose?
PROFESSOR: Just so. There are however occurrences that were never part of the White Algorithm’s instructions to begin with...
REPORTER (LIVE): What are you saying?
PROFESSOR: I’m referring to the disappearance of my son. The only reason the Program never returned Simon was because it never took him in the first place. Someone slipped in.
REPORTER (LIVE): What do you mean?
PROFESSOR: Someone used the girls’ disappearances - programmed by the White Algorithm - to kidnap Simon and disguise their own crime!
REPORTER (LIVE): But, who?
PROFESSOR: That I don’t know. Perhaps a random drifter. Perhaps someone local. Between us, I’ve always thought it was suspicious that it was Farmer's dog that found the girls’ clothes both the first and second time around...
REPORTER (LIVE): Which is when Farmer shot him.
PROFESSOR: Farmer or one of his boys. Either way the result is the same - unlike with the girls, we’ve never found any trace of Simon.
REPORTER (LIVE): But Professor, how can you be so sure that it wasn’t the other way around? That the girls’ disappearances were unrelated, and the White Algorithm targeted Simon specifically? Perhaps it got mad for some reason.
PROFESSOR: It's an algorithm! Snippets of code in a compiler! It doesn't have any feelings! It doesn't hold any grudges! And even if it could, why would it? Because I didn’t adore it? Because I was not slavishly devoted to it?
REPORTER (LIVE): Maybe it's not about what you didn't do, but about something you did do?
PROFESSOR: Is that what you think? That the computer is angry because I dared to question its intentions? That I’m paying a price for my hubris? Well if that’s the case, tell me what I should do? Should I pray for my son's return? Should I implore the Program to give me back my child? Because I will do that, I will beg - I’m not too proud to beg if that is what it takes! But what good would it do me? What good did it bring Jakob's mother? Her son was lynched on a tree! And now the poor woman spends days in her house like in a tomb, unwilling or unable to conjure a single critical thought. Is that the way? Is that happiness?! [sighs] I -- I’m sorry my child. I became too excited. And I... I have a confession to make. I lied. I lied when I said the white oak tree in front of the house was struck by lightning. It was me -- me who set it on fire.
REPORTER: Professor’s pain was almost palpable. On the one hand it was doubtful that Simon, now missing for over two years, would ever return. On the other, what was there left to do but hope? My mind raced back to the parable of the forlorn child, a story I first heard from Teacher and which followed me in my thoughts ever since. So to fill the uneasy silence I told Professor about the imaginary society from the parable, a society in which everybody is perfectly happy, but all the bliss and tranquility is contingent upon the sacrifice of a child who is kept in a perpetual state of misery. Everybody knows of this child, but everybody also knows that all their comfort would evaporate in an instant if the poor outcast were freed and treated as equal. Having set up the premise, I was ready to ask Professor the big question.
REPORTER (LIVE): Professor, would you say that… That the society I just described is... Justifiable?
PROFESSOR: My child, did you read the comic?
REPORTER (LIVE): Which comic?
PROFESSOR: The comic Jakob published and which got him lynched.
REPORTER (LIVE): I must admit I haven’t. Honestly, it didn’t occur to me.
PROFESSOR: Well, if you had, you would have realized that what you call “the parable of the forlorn child” is not some kind of metaphorical morality tale; it’s the script of Jakob’s graphic novel!
REPORTER (LIVE): Wait, you’re telling me that the parable is actually a story Jakob wrote?
PROFESSOR: Exactly. Even though it’s not an original story, but an adaptation of a short science-fiction piece written in the 1970s.
REPORTER (LIVE): Which would explain how Teacher knew about it before Jakob published it!
PROFESSOR: Most probably - the original story is quite well known. It’s actually a metaphor about the world before the Program.
REPORTER (LIVE): The world before the Program?
PROFESSOR: Of course. I mean, it’s rather obvious. The miserable child in the story represents third-world countries the developed nations were at best ignoring, and at worst exploiting for their own betterment.
REPORTER (LIVE): But wait, that would mean that Jakob… That he wasn’t a paedophile. That he was simply working on a story which involved tortured children, and that’s why, that’s why he…
PROFESSOR: ...That’s why he drew children in those poses. And that’s why he used our children’s likenesses. He simply needed reference models.
REPORTER (LIVE): And that’s why he got killed.
REPORTER: It took my brain a few moments to process how this changed the entire narrative. How without Jakob as the perpetrator, my whole investigation fell apart. I must admit my first impulse was to reject the thought. So what if he wasn’t a paedophile - it doesn’t mean he’s not guilty. It was still possible that he was the one that kidnapped the children! But then I realized I was making the same mistake the people of Neumat did. It was so much easier to hold someone responsible than to have no one to blame. Knowing how I felt once I found out Jakob wasn’t to blame, I could have only imagined how Jakob’s mother felt. But I didn’t need to imagine it - she told me herself. It was the last conversation I would have with her.
JAKOB’S MOTHER: At first, I wanted to resent everyone around me for what they did. But how could I do that, when I myself had thought Jakob was to blame? The only one I ended up resenting was myself.
REPORTER (LIVE): So you don’t resent the Program itself then?
JAKOB’S MOTHER: The Program? Why would I resent it? It never acted against Jakob. Not when I incorrectly reported my boy. Not when the townspeople lowered his credit score. The Program tried to save Jakob. Just like it saved our entire society. We just have to submit.
REPORTER (LIVE): But how can we submit to it if we don’t understand it? If we don’t know what it does to society?
JAKOB’S MOTHER: Did we understand how the society functioned before the Program?
REPORTER (LIVE): No... Well I…
JAKOB’S MOTHER: So when the Program appeared with its unlimited processing power and helped us sort out our house, what are we to do but to trust it? Everything that happens is programmed. The Program itself is infallible. If something happens that’s not part of the specification, it’s because we didn’t listen to it.
REPORTER (LIVE): But doesn’t that make you wonder more about the Program, not less? How it came to be and how it functions? What is its ultimate purpose?
JAKOB’S MOTHER: I find the idea that we can explain the Program presumptuous. The Program is something bigger than all of us. It’s not possible to break it down into chunks which you can then count, classify, clarify... The only thing that demonstrates is human ego. An individual has no authority against eternity. We are all hands of the Program. All we have to do is follow the code.
REPORTER: I was still obsessed with the wrong questions. Was there any substance to Professor’s hypothesis that someone slipped their crime into legitimate workings of the Program? Perhaps Philosopher and Engineer were onto something when they spoke of elites secretly controlling the Program? What do we do if Teacher and Mayor’s theory about visitors out of this space-time continuum turn out to be less crazy than they appear? Who is the blue man the children spoke of? The more I thought about these questions, the more I had a feeling something wasn’t adding up. And that my assignment in Neumat was still unfinished.
REPORTER (LIVE): Thank you Mayor for agreeing to talk to me again. It’s just that during our last conversation you mentioned something that's been bothering me…
MAYOR: Really? What was that?
REPORTER (LIVE): When we were talking about the town meeting after which… After which Jakob got hurt... You said that - if the town wasn’t careful - Neumat would end up like Victoria. I was wondering how did you know about Victoria?
MAYOR: [sighs] I knew I would regret mentioning it... But if you must know, Teacher told me about it. She told me everything that she’d witnessed.
REPORTER (LIVE): You mean that her ex-husband witnessed?
MAYOR: No, I mean both of them. Teacher lived in Victoria as well.
REPORTER (LIVE): Hello Teacher. I apologize for disturbing you this late.
TEACHER: It’s okay my dear. I’m a night owl anyway. Those early birds can take their worms, I’ll go for a nice dinner! [chuckles] Now, tell me, what can I help you with?
REPORTER (LIVE): There’s no easy way to ask this, and I hope you’ll forgive my bluntness, but - was it you who poisoned the water in Victoria?
TEACHER: [silence] What?
REPORTER (LIVE): I know you lived in Victoria.
TEACHER: Who… Who told you that?
REPORTER (LIVE): Mayor did… Your secret is out.
TEACHER: My secret? My dear, it’s just as much her secret - she was right there with me!
REPORTER (LIVE): She was?
TEACHER: Professor, Mayor, and myself all lived in Victoria. And we all escaped before the poisoning.
REPORTER (LIVE): So which one of you fulfilled the gig?
TEACHER: Gig? What gig?
REPORTER (LIVE): The gig issued to poison Victoria’s water system after Professor reported the practice to the Program!
TEACHER: My dear, no one reported anything and no one fulfilled anything. No gig was ever issued.
REPORTER (LIVE): But Professor… But then how… Who poisoned the water then?
TEACHER: We did. The people of Victoria did.
REPORTER (LIVE): So you’re saying you poisoned yourselves?
TEACHER: Saying it? Yes, I’ll say it, and long have I wanted to say it. Long, long have I known it! Yet I didn’t dare - I didn’t dare to speak!
REPORTER (LIVE): Speak what?
TEACHER: It was not the Program that poisoned the water system. It was we who did it to ourselves!
REPORTER (LIVE): But why?
TEACHER: Oh I’ll tell you why. We did it out of GREED! After all the maimings, after all the amputations, we wanted more - more credits! So we had an idea. We had an idea to poison ourselves just enough for all of us to fall ill and collect credits for our pains! Soon the plan was put into motion. We got the right chemicals, and in the right amounts. We made sure the mixture would enter the water supply quickly and evenly. But we made a crucial mistake…
REPORTER (LIVE): What mistake?
TEACHER: It was a silly mistake, trivial even… We set the wrong dosage.
REPORTER (LIVE): But… How the hell do you set the wrong dosage?
TEACHER: Oh we did the math! We performed all the calculations. And then double, triple-checked them. It just that we mixed up the units.
REPORTER (LIVE): Units?
TEACHER: Before the metric system got adopted in this part of the world, local units of measurements were used. And those were the units of the containers the chemicals were stored in.
REPORTER (LIVE): Oh no...
TEACHER: We added nearly four times as much chemicals as we should have. Or strictly speaking one man did. It was Professor who was in charge of mixing the chemicals.
REPORTER (LIVE): But he told me that he… That he was the one who reported it! The one who put an end to it to save the world from the old system’s return!
TEACHER: My dear, the sad truth is that we weren’t able to save ourselves from the old system, let alone the whole world. The only reason I am even here is because of my ex-husband. When he heard about the plan to poison the water system he left and took me with him. Much to the anger of everyone else in Victoria. They viewed his walkout as treason and lowered his credit score to zero.
REPORTER (LIVE): So that’s why he was able to live with zero credits - the White Algorithm compensated for that!
TEACHER: Doesn’t make him less of an asshole! But I’ll give him this - it was so much easier to cope with all of this while the son of a bitch was still alive. Now the burden is only on me and Professor. Actually, it’s Professor I pity the most.
REPORTER (LIVE): Why so?
TEACHER: First Victoria, then Simon... It would be enough to break any man. No wonder he's so obsessed with all these morality theories.
REPORTER: Some folk talk about men living in the desert. They say a poison turned their skin blue. I later learned this condition has a name: argyria. The term comes from the ancient Greek word for silver, which would make it a fitting name for an illness afflicting survivors from Victoria. After all, it was their yearning for wealth that poisoned them; first figuratively; then literally. The children mentioned a man without a nose - who more likely to have cut it off for credits than a survivor from Victoria? A survivor who might never have forgotten how Teacher and Mayor fled the town before the calamity. A survivor who might never have forgiven Professor’s mistake.
Some folk talk about algorithms. They augur by gazing down into convoluted protocoles. What is it they are searching for in the no man’s land between a zero and a one? Meaning? Righteousness? Solace? The Program is all about justice - what happens when it’s impossible to say what is just?
PROFESSOR: My child… I -- I made a mistake… A terrible, terrible mistake… Listen child - I… I need you to hear me. There’s a… vested interest behind my work into the White Algorithm. I was analysing it to see… To see if there’s a way to... Redeem myself for my mistakes! I thought... I thought the White Algorithm was after me. But now I finally realize my mistake. The White Algorithm was never after me. I missed one of the crucial parameters! What it follows are GENES! Don’t you see it? Don’t you realize the truth? ALL my calculations make sense now. It’s why Engineer and Philosopher can denounce the Program freely! The Program knows they will never have... Children of their own. And with me being sterile, what interest would it have in an old man like me? What it wanted... Was my son... IT WANTED SIMON ALL ALONG! [sobs] How foolish have I been! Why didn’t I see it? Oh, Simon... Why? WHY? Why…
[The Program main theme]
ANNOUNCER: This episode of the Program was made by nine people: Jane Spence, Ray Kennington, Justin Hay, Daniel Coo, Stephanie Brister, Martha Breen, Jim Carey, Pat Fry, and IMS. Children’s voices by Emma and Hayley So, Olivia Duong, and River Holt. Main music theme by Christien Ledroit. Additional music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions. Visit programaudioseries.com for more details. If you made it this far, it’s likely you find The Program appealing. So it probably makes sense to become a supporter and enjoy the show ad-free from now on. So head over to programaudioseries.com/support or subscribe over Apple Podcasts.