Governments were warned about the dangers of autonomous weapons, but those warnings were ignored. Now I find myself, at age 72, sitting on the crowded deck of a rickety wooden boat.
We are off the coast of eastern Australia, travelling north. It is nighttime. Australia, like large parts of the world, is engulfed by flames; it's major cities destroyed by killer robots - AI weapons that went rogue en masse in 2040, a year ago. I divert my gaze from the distant conflagration. I can't recall seeing so many stars. A meteor blazes.
Males and females of all ages are crammed together on the deck. The engine clunks. People sob. Babies wail and nobody talks. We have been travelling for a day. My spot on the boat cost $20,000. On my lap is a small bag containing all my worldly possessions. I was told we were headed to a safe port, but I don't know where.
Even before the AI strikes, Australia was in deep decline due to climate change: endless droughts and other extreme weather events such as super-cyclones and floods. Megafires, rising oceans and acute water scarcity, to name a few more.
A man sitting near me is about my age. He is naked except for an adult nappy. His long body is emaciated, his knees tucked under his chin. I've seldom seen a more pathetic sight. I recognise him. It's Peter Dutton, the former prime minister of Australia. Dutton and I went to high school together in Brisbane. He managed my campaign when I ran for school captain. On his advice, I had promised to weed out undesirables from the school. I garnered one vote and became hugely unpopular. I have no interest in reintroducing myself to him.
Dutton is a universally loathed figure as a one-time Coalition denialist. Other people on the boat have surely recognised him, though no one says anything to him. What would be the point?
On the elevated stern, a middle-aged Chinese captain pilots the boat. A cigarette dangles from his cracked lips. His face is weather-beaten, his shorts and short-sleeved shirt are tattered. On either side of him are two Chinese men - a 40-something who looks like an ugly Jackie Chan, and a 30-something with a hairlip. Both men wear a tattered t-shirt and shorts, their feet bare. All three men are deeply tanned, their dialect Cantonese.
A pod of dolphins appears next to the boat. They gleam under a full moon, then disappear as quickly as they appeared.
The captain starts singing an Elvis song, as is his wont. This time it is Suspicious Minds. His voice is halting and heavily accented and tuneless. A 20-something man, his wavy red hair shoulder length and his face freckled and severely sunburned, says: "Ah, why don't ya shut the f**k up, mate." Fellow refugees urge him to be quiet.
The captain glances at Ugly Jackie Chan, who slings the AK-47 over his shoulder, jumps on to the deck and knees his way through the throng, stopping over Red. He removes the machete from his belt and raises it high in the air. The first blow is probably fatal, but two more are administered. Hairlip aims his weapon at a middle-aged woman who protests, barking at her in Cantonese. Red stays where he lays, his blood eventually finding its way to my feet.
The following morning, the sun peeks over the horizon, illuminating a dead-calm ocean. A pretty boy, aged about 16, complains that he is hungry and thirsty. The woman sitting next to him, presumably his mother, shoulders and shushes him. The captain glances at Ugly Jackie Chan, who slings the AK-47 over his shoulder and charges towards the boy. The woman throws herself over the boy and begs the killer to spare him.
As the machete is raised, I spring up, cock my bum and start farting a rendition of Heartbreak Hotel - utilising a natural talent: superbly harnessed flatulence at will. I won Australia's Got Talent in 2022, farting Bohemian Rhapsody in the final.
As I fart away on that miserable boat, before that miserable audience, Ugly Jackie Chan and Hairlip eye the captain. They look bewildered. The captain stares at me, stunned. He then cackles loudly, slaps his thigh and says: "You very funny man. You do Blue Suede Shoes. Do now!" Hairlip points his gun at me. I start farting the iconic song, followed by Can't Help Falling in Love and Always On My Mind. The captain cackles uncontrollably before singing along to the last part of Always On My Mind.
It is perhaps a unique gift that I have. Certainly, it is a mood enhancer that tears through the captain's malevolence and results in the refugees being fed and receiving water. But now I am at the captain's beck and call, and I duly follow every order to fart an Elvis tune: Burning Love, Hound Dog, Love Me Tender, etc.
Several days later, Australia's human flotsam arrive at a small tumbledown port. The sun blasts us. I am especially exhausted, having given numerous performances. The men standing on the pier are a motley crew of Asians of different nationalities. I disembark. A shirtless little man, Filipino perhaps, stops Dutton as the ex-politician shambles along the pier. Dutton stands severely stooped in his rancid nappy, head bowed. The little Asian gives him the once-over, then barks: "Not you!" He pushes Dutton off the pier. Australia's 31st prime minister flails for a moment, then sinks like a stone.
Mark Bode is an ACM journalist.