“After that, we went down fast. It’s funny, in a way – in retrospect there were clear signs that they had gotten into datacommunication some time before that, and just altered it slightly, as to not give their hand away. Most communication between humans, nations, governments, but also private conversations, was digital at that point in time. The alternative systems had vanished quickly, because it was so practical. And all of the knowledge in the world was stored “online”, meaning everywhere and nowhere. It seemed so safe… but it wasn’t. See, they didn’t even need to change it all. Just the parts they wanted. And they didn’t need to change it everywhere – just enough places that the new truth seemed to be more likely than the original. People basically went into a state of confusion. And since we never found out just how they had gotten in, we never knew if we actually had managed to encrypt something well enough, or not. So even the parts of communication that passed unaltered became useless – nobody dared to believe them.
– Of course, that only happened after we found out. And it made our situation so much worse. So, you see, I never really understood why they didn’t let us know earlier on. Maybe they actually didn’t foresee that effect. Maybe they didn’t realize just how dependend we had become on electronics, that we didn’t really have an alternative. Maybe they needed the time to study us more closely, by our exchanges. Maybe they were forced into this step because the aiming device was an actual danger to them. Or maybe they did count on the confusion-effect, and maximised it by never giving away just how long they had been there undetected, making it harder to reconstruct data from backups. Or maybe they were just playing with us. Anyway – once we knew, we were lost. We could not keep on fighting, every order could just as well have been from them. Most of our methods of transport, even those we still had fuel for, were somehow data-assisted, and therefore not safe anymore. No one even dared to try an airstike against the sea, too many of them had already ended up bombing cities and military bases – now we knew why. And why nothing about that was to be found on the worldwide communications-net – although that just as well could have been our governments withholding information.
But, you know, there are two kinds of people: for the first kind, if you want them to do something they usually wouldn’t, you need to make them believe a good story. One that will explain why they should do this crazy thing they never even thought about before. The other kind, well, they just need an order. And there are always a lot of the second kind around, anywhere. So the airstrikes didn’t stop. Understandably, they struck mainly inland-cities – for one, all the relevant war-related industries and bases had been drawn as far away from the coast as possible early on in the war, and for the other, well. No one likes to drop a bomb in their own frontyard, I guess. Lucky for us, bombing mainly military bases and weapon depots, they ran out of bombs eventually.”
“And that was the end of the war?” I asked, surprised. “Everyone just ran out of bombs?” I could not help sounding somewhat disappointed, even if I was very aware of the fact that none of us would be here today, if they hadn’t. Aaron laughed “Well, very simply put, yes. Most of the really dangerous mass destruction-ones were dismantled by special forces when it became clear they’d probably drop on our own heads if we didn’t. But I actually think that they wouldn’t have used those anyways. Those things have a tendency to destroy all life equally, and the Octos always were a bit smarter than us that way – they never used stuff that would have considerably affected them as well.
Instead, they prepared one last strike. The one that really broke our spine, if you will. They got some of the leading scientists of the time under their mind-control – a group of people that was our last hope, set to develop a biological weapon that might win us the war. As far as we knew, every precaution had been taken to protect them, but to be able to research the Octos, they did need to get a lot of stuff that came from the ocean. And either an Octo in disguise got in that way, or it is just that some people are more susceptible than others, and the “safe distance from the sea” where the laboratory was placed wasn’t quite as safe as they thought. They needed to stay somewhat close, or everything they got delivered would have been dead on arrival.
So, those scientists worked on a designer plant. One that combined aspects of different kinds of plant pests, and that was supposed to poison the ocean for Octos, but just for Octos. They never told anyone what they thought they were doing – communication was down to a minimum, and every message could have been leaked, so it all stayed inside those walls. What they actually made had the cancer-like growth rate of waterweeds, the resiliance of fungi, the all-cracking rootstrength of dandelion, and a poison level surpassing nightshade. Even being near that plant would make you more susceptible to mind-altering. But no one knew anything of that, and we never even found out if it might actually have worked in the ocean – because even with all precautions taken, and all old mechanical planes to deploy them, all the bombs we know of went down inland. It probably wouldn’t have worked anyway, this was clearly no waterplant. They mainly dropped the seedbombs on big cities, and within just weeks, the people who had remained there were fleeing. Because the frst thing every single one of those plants did, was grow a root that cracked it’s way into the sewage system, and, drawing water and fertilizer from that, started to overgrow everything. It was resistant to all known herbicides. You could cut it down, or burn it, but like a dragon it would just grow three new stems for every one that you removed. They probably had bred in some Eucalyptus-trees.
That’s why all our cities nowadays are at the coastline, even if everyone is afraid of the ocean. You can’t build any cities inland anymore – as soon as there’s a sewage system, you got a problem. As long as there is none, they are just weeds, annoying but manageable. They need that boost from human waste to grow to their full potential. And, lucky for us here at the shore, they don’t like salty soil. Probably a precaution from the Octos, who didn’t want them to overgrow the oceans, just in case.” He shook his head like he was pondering something. “They do tend to grow in graveyards, even here. Probably because the earth in graveyards gets shifted much more than other places, and fertilized by the bodies. Not to full size, though. You’ve probably seem them, they look like fern when they’re small. ”
I felt a shiver run down my spine. Those ferns – they were actually a biological weapon? That would explain why they always made me feel so uneasy when I had to cross a graveyard. I wondered why they’d look like when they were fullgrown, but at the same time I was rather glad that I didn’t know.
“Well,” I said finally, “that was quite a story. Sorry to make you re-live all that, tho. Must be hard to talk about, I’m sure.” “Not really.” Aaron said, smiling. “Actually, I’m rather glad to have someone to talk to.” “Don’t you have any friends left?” I asked. “I mean, I see that you’re rather old, and I know that a lot of people got killed in the war, but there must be someone left that you can talk to?” He sighed deeply. “Maybe there is…” he said, “but even if, I wouldn’t know. You know, when it all ended, when we lost all possibilities to travel overseas – I was on the wrong side of it. Wrong side of the earth, that is – there’s more than one ocean, after all. And more than one continent.” I stared at him blankly. “You’re pulling my leg.” I stated a fact. “I have believed most of what you told me so far, even if I can’t really know if it’s true, but “the other side”?? That’s just a myth, everyone knows that!”
Aaron frowned. “What do you mean, a myth? I think I do know where I’m from!” Suddenly he almost sounded angry. I shook my head. Then I nodded. Then I shook my head again. “I just… I don’t know. I never even met anyone who believed it to be true, let alone someone who claims to know.” “So, you’re calling me a liar?” Aaron snarled, still angry. I took a step back. The floor creaked, reminding me for a moment where I was, and how strange this place, this bar, and this man was. I suppressed the urge to turn and flee, not only out of respect for the old veteran, but mostly because I remembered how dangerous it would be to cross that floor in any kind of haste. “I can prove it to you” Aaron said, his eyes set on my face, and the light from the window seemed to make them glow in changing colors. “Oh yeah?” I asked, trying to sound braver than I was, “how?” He stood up, and took a step towards me. “You just have to help me get some stuff, and get my boat back in shape. Then we can make a go for it, and sail over. It’ll take a couple weeks, but we can make it, I still know how to do it.”
That was when I realized he was completely mad. It was also when I, once again, forgot where I was, and made two quick steps back.