Followers

Sunday, 26 August 2012

PERMANENTLY SWITCHED OFF



The telegates completed their meeting right on time. It was always on time. It was very well choreographed. It had to be. Otherwise the scheduling would be thrown out and there would be complaints.

Outside in the city streets nothing moved. Why should it? These days most people wondered why they paid so much in taxes to keep the streets maintained. They had become an anachronism.

‘See me, see me in the screen?
Do you hear, hear what I mean?
I’m lost, lost on the line
When, oh when will you be mine?’



(Tri-V Top Ten Hit. ‘Oh, Ho-De-Ho!’ by Gil Glitterhorn. 265,167,453 votes @ 21.42 12/13/2165)
 

I sat, in my room, in my usual black, pondering my next move. I ran my favorite gizmo through the fingers of my right hand as I did so. This was a losing battle I thought. Still, what choice did I have? I chuckled bitterly… "choice". They told us we had "unlimited" choice, five thousand networks and that didn’t count the indies, alternates and rebels. "Rebels"… pah! Some rebels those, using the methods of their enemies to subvert them. Some chance!
No, this would take something more than words, the situation was so far gone and so much damage had been done already. The time for words was over.

‘Bang, bang me again the way you do
Suck, suck and chew, chew
You are, you are my little ho-de-ho
Oh at Christmas I luv you so!’

I grimaced at the sound of the latest Christmas pap hit emanating through the wall of my room at me. My resolve was strengthened even more. It didn’t matter what happened to me now, I no longer wished to live within this poor soap opera of a life. I would make my useless gesture, aim my blow against an empire of garbage and leave.

But how? How to do it?

Despite the mindless garbage tinkling disgustingly from the next room an idea began to form. I would have to first infiltrate The Hub.

~
I queued a little longer than usual for the port. Christmas fever was hitting harder each and every day now. People were clucking like chickens about it down in the trans cabin. The excited gabbling and the wild colors of the season’s clothing would have driven me completely crazy but for my full sound blockers and pitch black shades.


I saw the bleep rather than heard it, stepped inside and keyed my co-ordinates.

Hub Reception was designed to inspire awe, I guess it had been modelled after some great gothic medieval cathedral. Except it was all in the new Supa-Day-Glo colors the ad folk were so excited about these days. ‘It Sells Better Than Smells’ was their slogan. (‘Smell-O had been the ad gimmick which preceded it I should tell you, just in case you have been living underground or in your wardrobe for the past couple of years. Sorry, I’m afraid sarcasm is now all I have left of my previously mordant wit.)

I strode to the desk where the carefully chosen chicklet with the bright red hair languorously posed as a receptionist. "Whassis?" she enquired in a carefully judged and well-honed simulacra of boredom. I explained I was seeking employment in this great and noble establishment. "Fillaform" she drawled pushing a garish pink slab of plastic at me. She then pointed vaguely in a generally rightward direction her arm dipping immediately as if the effort was all too much for her. Which it probably was. Too bad they eliminated the need for remotes back in the twentytwenties, she could have used the exercise…

She was indicating the all too familiar datapoints. They were conveniently located, most people couldn’t walk too far these days so this was vital.

I sat within the mold and opened the pad she’d given me placing my palm upon it. I opted for the Op-Sec option where they could take the first level of data from me. If this piqued their interest sufficiently then they’d probably ask me for Mid-Sec later. Op-Sec would provide the basic information they needed to see whether a slot could be found for me in their programming. In other words, if they’d consider giving me a job.

You might think I’d be a little worried about showing my inner feelings but no, I knew my enemy well, hadn’t I studied them since birth? I knew the operational parameters of the datapoint like some people used to know the Holy Bible. Remember that? It was one of those book things. No? Maybe you saw the Holo of it on Tri-V? Yes, that’s the one, they premiered that "revolutionary" ‘V-RealSex’ ad during the sixth break, the one where everyone felt that overwhelming compulsion to buy ‘Channel 6’ perfume when their groins got lit up with that certain sound vibe the ‘Sellem Ad Agency’ had perfected? Okay, you got it now. That used to be what’s called a book, it sold millions, hundreds of millions. Well, I knew the book on the datapoints and I knew how to trick them.

~
The job offer emerged on the gizmo the next day. 12 2 2. Prog Progger. Good hours and yes, their software was working well, they’d spotted my chief talent. I was going to help with the master program. Not at first of course. They weren’t THAT stupid.
 

Hey, I shouldn’t have said that word, ‘stupid’, that really sets me off. Stupidity has become an industry. Really. Now, I’m assuming if you’ve read this far you’re NOT stupid okay? Somehow you’ve been living in a virtual cave like me, a troglodyte and have escaped all the "schooling" they are so insistent on. At first you think they may have made a mistake there, demanding you learn and making it a punishable offense not to. But you soon realize where it fits within this wonderful world we’re living in.

Things had got ‘way out of hand back in the Twentytwenties. The ratio of controlled events to uncontrolled got right out of kilter. At least that’s how it seemed to the powers-that-be. Earlier, right back in ye olde days of the Nineteens it hadn’t mattered. People had pretty much done what they wanted in those days. Informed by almost random upbringing and exposure to all kinds of diverse ideas and concepts. They had been pretty much independent spirits and it showed. The world had been a beautifully chaotic and kaleidoscopic miasma of independent activity. You could never know what crazy creativity and endeavor would burst onto the world next.

But, with the years, as the power of the individual rose to a point where it became a danger to the state and military technology became accessible to greater and greater numbers of individuals, this free and easy individualism came to be seen as a real threat.

The balance of the controlled to the uncontrolled had to be re-jigged. And it was. Partly through greater powers for the state, though this was just the short term solution. Long term the solution was education. And within education, the adult part of it, was the media. Here was the chance to homogenize the population and thereby significantly increase predictability. It was a variant of the technique employed by the super ancient Romans. ‘Bread and Circuses’ remember? No? Oh, go look it up!

Anyway, I was in. Stage one of my plan was accomplished. The next day I’d start work at the Hub. And start work on Stage two.


~
At 12 I arrived punctually (it was a virtual crime to do otherwise) and was shown to dept. P1. The first hour was the usual claptrap of rules and regs, health and safety, times for this, that and the other. The second hour was spent getting settled in Training. My mentor would be Jay Reith but I’d not be seeing much of him, mainly I’d be plugged into the comp and learn the ropes that way. Not that I was learning much. As I say, I’d already done my homework. I knew almost every line of hot-code I was seeing in my minds-eye from the beginning of that session to its end.


At 2 I went home. It had been a long day.

People were no longer used to work. They got tired. 12 2 2 was exceptionally short but the standard norm wasn’t much longer, more like 10 2 4. I however had entered into the elite world of the media circus. Ha ha. That’s an archaic term but I still like it ‘cause it fits so well. You just need to keep in mind the Ringmaster. And his whip.

~
Okay, this wasn’t going to be a sophisticated operation. I wasn’t going to be able to disrupt the main program, they’d long ironed out any kinks in the fail safe and foolproof security system which guarded that. I’d have to do this another way.
~
Stupidity had reached monumental proportions. People found it hard to think. Anything. But, that didn’t mean the people in power were the same. Hadn’t it ever been so? Well okay, politicians weren’t the brightest sparks on the plug, we knew that. But then they were no longer in power, were they?



Remember how they used to call those truly in power the media moguls? No? (Sigh) Okay, well they did. Again, I like this early stuff because there’s always a grain of truth in it. The term ‘mogul’ came from an ancient power structure called ‘The Moghul Empire’ These Moghuls controlled a population of some 120 million people and all this ‘way back between the Fifteenhundreds to Eightennhundreds. You see now why they used the term?

Anyway, they weren’t stupid. They hadn’t gotten into this position of power by being stupid. By being viciously ruthless yes. But stupid? No.

So, they had most aspects which could harm them firmly covered. Hadn’t they spent billions on the aspect of data vulnerability alone? Of course they had. But there was one thing which they didn’t have complete control over.

The recalcitrant and dangerous few who had been protected by their parents from programming, who had retained the ability to think for themselves and to formulate new and radical ideas.

The individual.


~
There was no way I could get a device through the port. This was part of the port’s prime function, to detect any and all items capable of doing harm. You could not take so much as a pen through the port. But then, what need did anyone have for a pen these days anyway?


No, this would have to be done in situ. (Oh, look it up damn you!)

~
Next day I was at my mold at The Hub bright and... well, not early, that wasn’t allowed either. Everything was scheduled to happen right on time. (Predictability. Gottit?)


I was playing through their test screens as if I was getting something out of it, letting a little smile play on my lips just for the CCTV, acting normal, you know? Another part of my mind was feverishly active however, going over all the options, searching all the possibilities.

Now, there were only a few locations open to me in those first few months so I bided my time. Six months went by, then nine. I began to use what there was of my smarts to please them. I even developed a new tweak to the subliminal messaging service (SMS) which rose selling levels a full 0.001 of a percentage point. Now that may not seem much but the income generated would have kept the average TV sloth in clover for his whole lifetime. Slowly but surely my clearance level rose.

I was now almost two years in and my access to various sites was opening and the trust levels logged to me were expanding.


~
Back home each night I’d lie in silence. I loved the complete blackness I’d arranged for myself there, windows covered in black velvet drapes, even the keyhole covered to blinker any emanating light. Within that darkness the picture book of my mind opened in glorious Technicolor. Only it wasn’t Technicolor, it was 100% natural imagination. I gloried in my difference, my freedom, in my ability to create and to think for myself.

I was on the thousandth floor of the ‘TVPai 1001’ and I was a living anachronism. I lived and breathed the past, the gloriously chaotic and madly uncontrolled, wonderful past. There were a few sounds I indulged in. You could choose from any sound as offered by the WJB, the World Juke Box. All recorded sounds were available there on mini-3, the supra high quality innovation which had replaced mp3. ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’ was the track I played most often…


I imagined the other residents of T-City1’ as it was also called, plugged into their mold to my right and left and in their thousands above and below me, receiving images, sound, smell and taste like sponges. And, thanks to me and those like me, receiving the little messages to provoke a buying spree. I’d tell you about Pavlov’s Dog now but you wouldn’t understand a word of it. Would you?


~
It was getting serious. They’d progressively given me access to stores x-1, 2 and 3. Of course the items requested had to be logged and accounted for within set programs of research. And yes, the programs checking and re-checking for potential lethal combinations were in place. But I was being supremely careful in my requests and had every confidence nothing suspicious had been detected. And never would. Not until it was too late.



~
It had been the mental labor of my lifetime to schedule each request in exactly the right order to fool them. Like those old ‘Star Trek’ shows it was a variant on ‘3-D Chess’. Now surely you know ‘Star Trek’—the only show to survive in any number from ye goode olden days.


I was exhausted. But at last it was done. The parts were assembled.


~
‘Just a normal day. 12 on the dot. But it was not to be a normal day. Not a normal day at all.


I had to work fast. Each detail had been planned, mapped and re-mapped a thousand times in my mind. The build, the route to BC, ‘Broadcasting Center’, every second, was accounted for, every eventuality, question and the potential for error had been scrutinized in my mind for what seemed like forever.

Now I was walking. The device, disguised as a standard comm gizmo in my hand. My heart pumped and sweat emerged from my pores and slathered between my fingers disconcertingly. My newly granted access to ‘BC’ would allow me in if I could get there.

First, I had to get through Level A barrier port. Two scans, three… okay, I was through. Level B included a human. A security guard used his wand on me. "You need that?" he queried, pointing at the black gizmo I held. In Level B the comm was air to air, no need for devices, simply a name spoken would get you through to whoever you wanted. "It’s part of an ad I’m working on." He nodded and I passed through. Levels C, D and E passed without problem.

I was there. BC. I whispered Joe Reith’s name. A robotic-sounding voice spoke back immediately. "Engaged. Re-try in 10." I waited. On the next try I got him. "Hi. I’m here for the lookaround Joe." He responded, "Oh, okay, I’ll be right there."

When he arrived we chatted for a couple then he took me off on my tour. I worked hard on my breathing, keeping it measured and calm. Even so, when I came to speak, once or twice I found my throat narrowing and the words came out strange. Joe glanced at me once or twice but carried on. Who knows what he thought, maybe that I was nervous by being in his exalted presence? Who knows?

It was the main bank I was interested in, the vast supercomputer which housed the main program controlling in minute detail every aspect of the center and its broadcasts. Strangely Joe avoided its mention. My heartbeat increased. It wouldn’t do to mention it, that might raise suspicion in his mind. I waited. Still no mention. I was becoming desperate and I could feel my clothes starting to drip with sweat. Could I hold onto myself through this? It was becoming touch and go.

We were now headed away from where I had guessed the data banks of the main program were kept and towards the studios. This wasn’t right.

Joe stopped and we both stood there for a moment, me looking toward him for direction. The place was well lit, however as we stood additional lights switched on and a camera crew drew up near us.

"We decided to make a little mini-prog of this, I hope you don’t mind." "N-not at all", I stuttered despite my best efforts to control myself. "What’s the script?", "No script. We’ll just wait for your cue." "Sorry, I don’t understand. What cue?" "Don’t you have something for us?" "What do you mean? I… just… I’m just…"

You know you get those feelings? You know something’s happening here and you don’t know what it is? Everything suddenly becomes hyper-real, you find yourself in a moment of clarity brighter and more real than anything you have ever experienced in your whole life?

This was one of those. It was now or never. I didn’t feel sad, I didn’t think of my life, my folks, any of that, I had thought hard about all of that long before. In that one shining exhilarating moment, I simply thought it, "Begin!"


~
Nothing happened. Joe smiled a wan smile, arms folded in front of me.


Everything happened quite quickly after that. Security appeared, I was cuffed and taken here where I’m writing this now. That was several days ago. It’s now 12/14/2167 and I’ve just completed what they asked for. This story.

I have tried and tried, but for the life of me I don’t know why they would want this from me…

You remember how all those old stories finished? On the last page, you remember? No? Not at all? That’s truly sad… It was always the same way and I loved that. Always the very same way, no matter which book you read, as long as it was fiction, it always read...

THE END

It had taken a dedicated team hundreds of man days to cover all the angles. When the idea was first mooted it was dismissed as the epitome of bad taste. But, as others heard of it and saw the plusses involved, the message it could send and the sheer watchability of it, opinions began to change. And then there was the new combination they’d been waiting to test and screen. A combination of Holo and the newly developed C-Inside where the images go direct to the brain of the viewer by-passing every manner of mental filter.

All things having been considered the project finally received authorization.

They had to build a bomb-proof set first of all and carefully construct the robot figures to a degree of accuracy that moved cutting edge to a whole new definition. Then they required a whole new level of environmental and virtual control.

After eighteen months of planning everything was now in place. All they needed to wait for was the man himself.

Constant monitoring showed them that the day had come. Everything was prepared for the pre-shoot. Such a level of reality-v had never before been achieved and the team were highly excited. This day they would make TV history.

Everything went completely to plan. Each step and movement, each expression, brainwave pattern, each word and deed were covered by the most cameras they had ever used for a shoot.

Everything was word perfect. Right down to the last word, "Cut!"


~
The pre-shoot in the can all that was left now was the shooting of the climax. He was brought from his cell five days later, after the storyline was given it’s additional boost by the writing (and editing and re-writing) of what would become, ‘The Terrorist’s Story’.

Everything was set up, everyone was in their millimeter accurate GPS positions and ready to go.


"Action!"

The blast was terrific, combined as it was with a blinding flash and slo-mo panorama of disintegrated body parts, fluids and studio appliances.

Everything was recorded in the minutest detail in Holo, C-Vision, Tri-V and IMAX 3D.

"That’s a wrap!"

The cheers which followed almost raised the rafters, or might have if there had been any rafters to raise.

Champagne ran freely as the teams involved clapped and cheered the successful completion of eighteen months work.

The next day the headlines were full of it.

WORLD EXCLUSIVE! DON’T MISS IT! 10 B4 10 SAT 12/25!

LIVE FOOTAGE OF FOILED PLOT CARNAGE!

IN HOLO AND ** ALL NEW ** C-VISION!

After the broadcast the plaudits started to come in. The words were music to the ears of those who had organized the event. It was "A Triumph" (Global Star), "A Milestone In Broadcasting" (The Syndicate), "A Supreme Achievement" (Pod News), "Devastatingly Good TV!" (Murdoch Media).

And a short memo came in from the SCS, the State Control Authority, too. It read simply, "Good work".

As the pre-cast blurb had said: "He had come to destroy the heart of our world, our access to knowledge and our lifeline to the universe. And he had only succeeded in destroying himself."

And, not communicated in any blurb or ad, not broadcast to the billions of mindless sponges out there in medialand, but given wide internal coverage, he had unwittingly moved the methods and abilities of media to a whole new level of control.

He had lived and died, and in the words of the abiding god of this new world, he had had his fifteen minutes of fame.

Now it was the turn of Gil Glitterhorn...

‘See me, see me in the screen?
Do you hear, hear what I mean?
I’m lost, lost on the line
When, oh when will you be mine?
 
Bang, bang me again the way you do
Suck, suck and chew, chew
You are, you are my little ho-de-ho
Oh at Christmas I luv you so!’

[REPEAT]


Full Year Tri-V Top Ten Hit!!! ‘Oh, Ho-De-Ho!’ by Gil Glitterhorn. 5,174,238,234,265,167,453 votes @ 00.01 01/01/2167)
 

Allan Edward Tierney's Website


Saturday, 25 August 2012

MORE THAN ENOUGH



We’d been drifting down through Ergo’s dust for a couple of months and I had already had more than enough time to think things over. I was pretty sure non-existence was the best option. Not that I was depressed, I was not. Nor was I at the end of my tether through exposure to some emotional turmoil. No, I had simply had enough. My life before hadn’t been too bad when compared to that of some friends of mine. No drug or sex addictions, no guilty conscience continually nagging at me due to crimes I’d committed. No. I’d just had enough. And enough was enough.

I had to admit I was still finding interest in this trip so the time for my exit was not yet. No, not just yet. I’d wander down the corridor from my cabin and enjoy the thick pile carpets and nice velvety feel of the armchairs in the forward lounge. It was just . . . somehow it all felt a little too far away. I could feel the textures and enjoy them in a way but somehow that enjoyment seemed second-hand rather than first. I can’t really explain it, it was like a filter had grown between me and everything I saw and touched. Had I lived too long? It’s possible. I knew that back home several generations had already come and gone. And that the old place had no longer been visible in the aft lounge, even through the viewer, long before we’d reached Ergo. Had that done it? No longer to be able to even see the vague smear near the tiny sparkling light of our own sun?

My story wasn’t unique. I knew that. For all its wonders life could burn the interest out of some people and it seemed to have done just this with me. I suppose that was a large part of the reason why I’d put myself in line for this trip. It was a one way ticket. At least for the humans. The data would go back and plenty of it. But we? We would never return.

Maybe I’d be shaken out of my melancholia by the others. I didn’t think so. But I needed something to keep my spirits up and this would have to do.

There were only a few days to go before they’d come out of sleep and join me in the lounge. I could only hope they wouldn’t make me feel worse rather than better. Oh my god. I was a hopeless case. This I told myself each and every day.

~
Ergo was older than Earth by some half a billion years. It was much bigger too. Some three times the size of Earth. She looked even bigger due to the thousand mile dust field which surrounded her. The dust didn’t stop light reaching the surface however as she was within a binary system and her two suns burnt their hydrogen much closer to Ergo than our own sun did to Earth. That’s why we were here. Ergo was special. A life-bearing world had not been found despite a thousand and more years of searching. Ergo, as unlikely as her dust shield made her, was the strongest candidate by far. For the dust was indeed a shield and the vortices within that shield created a protective atmosphere against all the debris that had perhaps wiped out life elsewhere. Not that any of the traces we had found had been wiped out in any short time span. By the best estimates this had taken something in the order of a billion years. Those traces had been intriguing. Tiny flakes of metal. Now and then a tiny flake bearing a symbol. It wasn’t much. It wasn’t very much at all. But it was everything. We were not alone.

~
The dust was interminable. At least it seemed to to me by the third month. We couldn’t go through in any other way. It was too dangerous. The stuff had to float against us and pass us by, not hit us as a projectile where our combined speeds could instigate collapse. Our recognition systems moved us gently from the orbit of larger objects and steered us well clear from the vortices of course. Thankfully these, like the Great Eye of Jupiter held their position in predictable locations. The smaller ones did move but our systems were up to the job of moving us out of their way. But slowly. Everything slowly.

~
I lay in my bed and gazed at my ceiling viewer. These days I preferred off world topics. Somehow I felt sick when I viewed anything of Earth. A sad, strange, lonely sickness. A feeling like I was looking at something and someones who I had not one single thing in common with. That shouldn’t have been the case of course wasn’t I human too. Hadn’t I lived on Earth? And quite normally with all the usual desires, interests, tasks and material goods? I was sure I had. Hadn’t I?

Sometimes you question yourself so much that you completely run out of answers, in fact you no longer get answers back from that place where you look most often for them. From your mind. Was I suffering from sensory deprivation? Maybe. But the training had been thorough back at the lab, I’d spent the requisite number of hours in the tank and with the shrink, hadn’t I? But then how foolproof are these things and just how expert are the experts. They probably go back home each night like the rest of us happy to have got through another day not screwing up and having got away with the semi-professional scamshow they were running. Or had I become too cynical. What was too cynical by the way? I don’t know what you’ve been exposed to in your life but I’m assuming you’ve seen an average amount of the stuff that goes on day in and day out. Tell me, how do you avoid becoming cynical? Take drugs? Get religion? Hypnosis? Stop looking? But forget that, it’s just another series of questions I need to stop asking myself. If I erect a fence called "You’re too cynical" I’d never ask myself another question. Then I really would start to go mad even sooner than through having so many questions without answers that I live in a permanent fog of confusion. As I said, I’ve had enough.

~
I’ve always found it helps when I feel like this to arise from the comfortable and comforting bed or couch I’m lazing in and start walking. Looking and not thinking really helps. Unfortunately I can’t quite get off on corridors, cubicles, cabins and multicolored artworks the way I used to. And from the lounge all I see is orange clouds of swirling dust. I need some company. Fast!

~
Ergo rotated slower than Earth and in an eccentric orbit due to its twin suns. One of Ergo’s suns was eating the other due to a gravitational imbalance. This was from a human’s standpoint a slow process. However around six thousand million tons a second were transferring and I wouldn’t call that slow exactly. But if you stood on a rock orbiting Ergo for about twenty million years you’d not notice much difference in those suns. They’d both look about the same size and that thin bridge of mistiness would look just as thin and misty at the beginning of that time and at the end. You’d have to be a little patient and wait a further three thousand five hundred million years to begin to see some changes. Even then they’d not be that spectacular, there’d be a slight thickening and a slight reddening of the bridge.

Ergo was mysterious because of its covering of dust, But the telltale composite spectrums told us the elements of life were present. It doesn’t mean there was life there, but certainly the elements certainly were. We’d find out if we survived. A lot hung on this. Because Earth was dying.

~
It was one of the good reasons why I’d left. I’d had plenty of bad and quite a few mediocre reasons for leaving but this was a good one. She was observably dying. Oh there were some folks who pooh-poohed this. Yes, there still were a few of those kind! Unbelievable, isn’t it? Now they could have been on drugs, have found religion, taken up self-hypnosis or stopped looking. Or a combination of these. But, anyone with just a hint of sensitivity and not blinded by hedonistic greed, lust or psychosis could see it. I mean, when you wake in the morning, open a window and find the air in the room is not one whit changed you should know that something somewhere is very wrong. And if you get the fear and start running down the stairs, jump in your transport and high-tail it as fast as you can to the edges of your city, get out and still find no change in that air . . . well then you start to choke with that fear that entered your lungs, heart, brain and tissue instead of the good air you once on a time still recalled as being a natural part of your life. So, I really HAD to get out of there. Yes, I’m one truly screwed up son-of-a-bitch. But you know? I hide it well.

Wasn’t it something we all did? You find some way to hide it. You get home at night and your hand seems to have a mind of its own, like it is preprogrammed. That bottle of wine was just waiting to be opened. That pack of cigarettes too. And the comforts swallow you and start to work on you so you’d forget . . . (almost) everything. And month by month and year by year you need just a bit more comfort to heal that open wound your day prised open again after the night before. A few glasses while you prepared food. Those didn’t count right? Then a few more with the meal. Then a joint, then another. Then a nice glass of your favorite spirit. And, because it felt so good and felt so right another couple of glasses of wine. After that it was all beginning to numb down nicely. The world even seemed to become interesting again. You might even laugh. That felt nice. The mask had a great big smile all the way across it as your eyes closed to slits and the world stumbled gently away.

~
The others woke and suddenly I was stunned by the unholy noise I heard all around me. My first reaction was to run. Seriously. But I knew the professional image MUST be maintained. So I smiled and said the stuff that creates that illusion. Soon I was almost convinced I meant it.

Thankfully they were tired after their long sleep (it doesn’t sound right, I know but that’s how it was) and I was once again alone.

~
It was only an estimated two more days to emergence. I was keeping it together. Chatting like it was a tennis game. A few words were batted over to me in a string and nothing too hard to bat back. I was keeping things turning over nicely. Nothing to worry about here. Besides what could they do? Apply a mental cosh. Hold me down and slip the straightjacket on? Lock me in irons and throw me in the brig? Possibly. Thankfully making me walk the plank was not an option. But no need to fear. Like I said. I hide it well.

~
On the day itself we all gathered in the forward lounge in a fervor of expectation. (Yes, I was good at faking that too. But this day I didn’t need to.)

We watched as the orangeness diminished and the darkness began. At first this slightly bemused us until told that it was the Ergo equivalent of dusk and that though we were experiencing this dimness we’d never experience night. There was to be no black on Ergo. No black. At all.

Slowly the orange trailed away behind us and, as the screens were washed clean, we started to see some features. I was looking at what I thought was a yellow wall and then had the realization I was looking at Ergo herself. Wow. She. Was. Big. I had thought (cynically or not) that I had lost my sense of wonder. But I knew the darn thing was still in there. Wow. Life was one amazing beast, able to survive at some level, no matter how low, come what may. I was now officially blown away. Greens and Browns started to appear, irregular shapes of light grey and the lightest shade of violet imaginable stretched and streamed in one great streak across the wide horizon now confronting us. And then we saw them. The lights.

~
Just as the wonder that had sprung from me unbidden and unknown now the tears performed the same miraculous trick. I was shaking with life. What was this? I hadn’t felt like this since I was a kid and my father had slapped me across my face. I was shaking completely unable to stop. We clung onto each other and it was clear that we were all going through the same thing. We were shouting, though we hardly heard ourselves. The melee of emotions seemed to completely unhinge us from our senses.

Then came the fear. What was down there? What did we look like up here to whatever was down there? Was there something down there? And if there was, what happens now?

It was my 90th birthday. I suddenly realized my feeling that I had had enough was gone. I was ready for more.

Allan Edward Tierney's Website

Friday, 24 August 2012

BIG G’S FIRST LOVE

 
The goddess sighed as she looked down at her problem planet through a single slitted eye. She could hardly bear to look at the place these days.

What a disappointment they were . . .

Of all her creations they were the first and most precious to her. She had expected them to be the most splendid, the most exalted, the most fine . . .

But this, her first of all, now besmirched the others. They tarnished an otherwise unblemished record.

She held her nose.

Why were they as they were? They had, had so long to prove themselves . . .

Such a smelly, low-minded, low-browed, embittered, greedy and aggressive race.

What did they think they’d gain by all this fighting, killing and reprehensible behavior?

She wasn’t going to make the place any bigger . . . or rounder was she?

Certainly not for them!

G then turned both green eyes upon the unhappy little planet. "Perhaps it’s time I finally gave up on them altogether and simply flushed them away . . ."

Just then D arrived and immediately became aware of the reason for G’s black mood.

"Look, I know what you’re thinking and I agree. They simply aren’t working out, are they? It’s been the talk of the canteen for millennia now. And yes, I’m sure it’s been the reason why you’ve been passed over every time one of those overseer jobs comes up. But look . . . I have an idea."

"These were your first, and like the rest of us, you created your first in your own image, so they’re particularly special to you, I know that, it’s the same with all of us. But you’ve given them time enough now. And more. There’s no use hurting your reputation any more than you already have my dear . . .

Listen . . . I know you can’t bear to lose these, your very first project, so I’ve an idea. Here’s a new design just come up from R&D. It’s kinda puny I know, but then it shouldn’t give you the grief you’ve experienced with these others, now should it?"

"Please . . . just think about it."

"Simply punch in model number Ndn564473902-yxx734635l-str-A if you want to take ’em on board, okay?"

G thought long and hard for near enough the next ten thousand years before making her decision. There were many times when she thought she’d reached the bitter end and was just about to make the change when . . . she gave them just a little longer, just to see if they could change, to see if they might finally learn to be civilized. She really was loathe to kill off those made in her very own image. You only got one chance to do that. With your first. And never again.

In the end she simply gave up, it had been a particularly bad century and well, it just felt like time. She now realized she had been hoping in vain all along. It was hopeless . . . it always had been. They had to go.

She checked back to find the model number D had given her on the last shift and keyed it in.

It was accepted. No one else had taken it up since its design date. Good!

Next came the mods and cons screen. Here she laid down the special parameters for the world according to her wishes. This took some time as once they were entered they could no longer be modified in any way. In this screen she also specified the manner of elimination desired. It seemed clear something dramatic was in order . . .

Some thousand years later it was ready. Every detail was now in place down to the most minute level and each interlocking dynamic and open-ended option was checked and double-checked a hundred times in her modeling program.

G was a sentimental old soul. A stubborn one too. She had decided her beloved ones would not disappear altogether, but would survive in miniature form. They would compose the test for this world by which her experiment would be proven either a success or a failure. If her re-modeled favorites were accepted and nurtured to the degree that they lost all fear of the new model then a truly civilized end was finally assured and it could at last join the others which had so very long ago made the grade. And she might regain the respect of her colleagues and, more important, once more be in line for promotion!

So it was that G completed her re-grading work for Z-5-type world ScccvDkrtd*85645395895578349 and indicated *FINAL COMPLETION*.

She now gazed nervously down at her little ball of trouble and said a prayer.

She knew it would start at any moment and she just hoped she had thought of everything . . .

As she looked down she felt her heart skip a beat. The sweat began to pop along her brow ridge and run down between the ridges of her face, splashing on her green and yellow fore thighs. The pupils in her lime green eyes dilated as she sought to further penetrate the blackness of space and observe closely her first love.

She had given them all of 300 million years. "Surely I gave them time enough . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . didn’t I?"

With a nervous glancing blow G sought to halt the tick that had begun to bother her right eye. As she did so her great green arm swept the enormous volume of records from all the past years into her waste basket.

"My own ones, my own ones . . .", she moaned, as the tears fell as a hot, salty rain upon her claws.

Down below, the jungle heaved. Gigantic plants sought the sun. Vast swamps gurgled and spluttered as they had done for millennia. The air hummed with humidity. From nearby came a crash and a roar . . .

In the pink distance the sky suddenly clouded and swirled blackly and a deafening whooshing sound arose.

And then . . . drawing a dirty grey line across the sky, came it’s cause, an enormous glistening black block of stone.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

THE SEEDS OF CONTENTMENT
 
He was awoken by his recurring nightmare. As usual he was pressing down hard on the sheets with his palms. Why did he do that, he wondered. The nightmare was always the same. In it they were looking into his mind. Cold sweat popped on his brow. He panted, breathless. He looked toward the window. He always did this when he woke. Nothing. Only the sky. A bright blue sky and a few benign white clouds. He knew though that beyond the blue sky and the fluffy white clouds were the satellites. So very many of them. Gently travelling round in silence. A busy silence to be sure. There was so much to do. But cool. They always stayed perfectly cool.

He dressed and walked down the staircase to the street. Avoiding all eyes he observed the patterns of the sidewalk as he always did. These were very familiar cracks. Very well known to him. This was his morning routine. Invariable. Unsuspicious. He bought his usual pack of cigarettes from the stall. Said his usual words to the grey old man behind the counter then wheeled and walked away. To the park. The green park where he felt the leaves cool him. As cool as the satellites so far above him. Well, not quite as cool as that, they were a few degrees above absolute zero. But yes, he felt cooler here. He sat in the same bench every morning and gazed at the buildings that peeped in above the trees opposite the park. As usual he analyzed the lines, shapes and patterns of their walls. He drew upon his cigarette and things began once more, to slowly make sense.

The light flickered through the trees. All seemed perfectly normal. And the world moved inexorably around its sun. What could be wrong with this scene of apparent normality? He felt the weight of his body against the wooden bench and its roughness with his delicate hands. The trace of a smile graced his lips. Just the slightest trace. He looked around. No one to see him. Good. Quickly he lifted his cigarette to his lips, partly to hide his smile. Now he watched the smoke curl and dance between the transparent motes that moving across his eyes in a merry dance. He half shut his eyes and delighted as ever in the tiny spectrums he found there, all enhanced deliciously within a sparkle of sunlight. I think it’s going to be safe today, he thought.

With time the morning commuters arrived. Grey faced. Ashen. They moved like robots monotonously across the path of his vision. There was not a flicker of emotion in any of them. Not a flicker. Each had dressed that morning as blandly as possible. They looked neither right nor left. Directly from their bus or car they crossed immediately to their next connection and onward to the desk where they’d make the motions of their controlled day.

How many free men were there he wondered. Better still, women. How could he ever know? When no one would ever show. Not even him. Especially him.

No, he’d enjoy these small delights, these little pleasures of the eye and the mind. Quietly. Showing nothing. Well, almost nothing. Those tiny smiles were so dangerous out here in public. There was no knowing when one of them was watching. Watching for something… different.

He closed his eyes and began to engage again in his daily rapture. He must be satisfied with the fact that he had escaped he told himself sharply. At least they were not able to read him so totally as they could the others. He had those underworld denizens to thank. He had removed enough enemies for them. They had then been grateful. And they had known he could kill many more. If. If he was released. Released from the seed.

The seed was planted in 100% of cases by 2190. They had eventually weeded out and eliminated those they had missed in the twenty years time period of The Time Of The Great Solvent. Deep in the soft bone tissue of the forming skull they had implanted every baby from the inception of 'The Time' till now. Right next to the spongy grey matter of the brain and intimately connected to it. At twenty weeks conditions were perfect for the delivery probe. It was a miracle of technology. The tiniest fragment of the most perfectly engineered silicon device Man had ever created. Shoehorned snugly next to the greatest achievement of mother nature, the human brain. It was perfectly placed to both transmit, and to receive.

As far as he knew the underworld scientists had done an impressive job on him in removing all trace of the seed. And he had lived, not something all did he was told. Lived, and was still sane. Or as sane as he would ever be. He presumed the associated identification software had also been re-jigged. No mean feat that. An inside job. Clearly. And about as dangerous and well-paid job as there could be in this new world. Yet he could never be 100% sure. The doubts crept in especially at night. They made him sweat. They made him press his palms down on the sheets. Could they see him? Could they read his thoughts? Were they watching? What would they do to him if they dicovered he was free of their surveillance? He didn't believe they'd merely re-tag him. He'd be made an example of. In the modern equivalent of the ancient practice of sticking heads on town gates.

It had been five years now. Surely they would have located and terminated him by now if they knew? Surely. Tell that to my subconscious mind, he thought. But of course there were so many to monitor, three hundred and twenty five billion and counting. Could it be they had just not scanned his record in the last five years? That was possible. To draw attention to himself he’d have to do something anti-social, something so negative that his difference was scream at them.

He sighed. Always the same thoughts. Always the same fears. What was the good of being free and yet being so very, very alone? But no, there was good in it. Despite his dark thoughts he would always strive to remind himself, despite the loneliness, he was so much happier to be free.

Things had become very bad when it had first been suggested. Very bad. Worse than anyone who had not been through it could ever imagine. The word and deed that has now ceased to exist, ‘crime’ had been everywhere. Everywhere. We were vastly over-populated then and the struggle between us to access, exploit and use our diminishing resources was becoming very ugly. With only a decreasing few having access to the shrinking delights of our world the competition to be one of those few grew ever fiercer. The world's material delights became all that was recognized as objects of desire. Religion, philosophy and delights of the mind were all but dead. The pursuit of emotional satisfactions from such as great art and literature was in terminal decline. The vast majority had become very dull sheep indeed, grazing as they did on ad-embedded pap and pseudo-celeb fantasy crap. The cities had spread from sea to sea, across every piece of spare land. Virtual reality was a comfort for some but not everyone could afford it. There sensations could be wired in to suit your every wish, sunset over pyramids (now in reality surrounded by concrete), swimming in turquoise blue pools (now bubbling with putrid effluent foam), safaris across the veldt (where highways now pumped noxious fumes to the sky). The diminishing few who could afford VR stayed locked tight inside their high penthouse apartments while the street rats roamed the abandoned lower floors of every neighborhood.

It had been bad, but worse was to come. With each passing year and decade the screw tightened and the numbers of the abandoned, impoverished, demented and excluded grew ever larger. The cry began to become a yell, then, in time, a scream. "Something must be done!" The middle elites were especially vocal. Those who were still in uncomfortable proximity to the burgeoning underclass at the bottom of the heap. They knew they’d never reach the upper elite circle of those who still had access to some of the more natural and purer pleasures Earth still offered. Some real trees, some actual beaches, some true earth beneath their feet. It had become completely impossible for the average Joe to afford to experience any of these. And there was only so much time you could spend in virtuality for those who could afford it. You still had to work. To keep the elites supplied. And it was then that the awful reality hit even the VR players. And they complained. Bitterly. Constantly. And increasingly.

By the latter half of 2100 crime was everywhere. Everywhere. You were at risk anytime you stepped out of your electro-bolted door. Only so many could afford the full security delivery services offered by the companies of ex-soldiers, cops and intelligence corp. dropouts that had sprung up. They took you by mesh corridor from your door to armored limo to work, safe and sound. Those who couldn’t afford this had to make do with body armor and an array of heavy weaponry to keep themselves safe. Life, for them, and for those increasing numbers who could not even afford this, became increasingly intolerable.

So, in the end, the howl for something to be done got political.

It had been the most extreme government anyone could remember. Elected on a ticket that promised they would defeat crime using any means necessary. And they were true to their word.

They were clever. At first the surveillance was simply a bank of CCTV on every street in every town, city and suburb across the country. They knew this would be largely ineffective but it had to be shown NOT to work. They then added identity cards to be worn on the lapel at all times. Then an electronic gizmo was added to the cameras that could detect the individual bar code on your card. Crimes were linked up to those who had been in the CCTV zone when it had taken place. Crime did dip a bit for a time. But resourcefulness will out. Necessity being the mother of invention and all that. The crime networks devised methods that allowed them to monkey with the cards. It even became funny for a time when several senators were arrested for some particularly embarrassing crimes. Then it was realized that the crims had successfully engineered counterfeit cards and were laughing at the authorities.

Of course extreme right-wing governments have little sense of humor at the best of times. And these misadventures involving the systems they were had put in place brought them to a white heat. Their final ploy, after a series of increasingly invasive and only partially successful attempts, was the one that really did the trick. It really hit the mark. And the people were ready to accept it. All those who counted that is.

And the politicians sold it well. The marketing campaign and then the election called soon after really hit home with a vengeance. Well... who WOULDN’T want an end to ALL crime? That's what they offered, and this time it WOULD be once and for all. And who, by that point, was going to refuse them? What kind of perverted mind could OBJECT to their plan? Surely only a criminal mind. Surely only someone with something to hide. And of the other, law-abiding citizens, who was going to say they DIDN'T want crime to end? And for politicians it was only those who were attracted to political suicide. It was a done deal from the start.

The proposition was simple. A seed would be planted deep in the deep malleable bone of the skull of each fetus, connected intimately to the brain. Just as satellite navigation systems had been developed so successfully early in the 21st century to enable automobiles to be positioned to a few millimeters each and every micro-second so now we would always know where each implanted individual was. 24/7. In this way unsolved crime would cease. How could you commit a crime and get away with it when our friends in the sky had you placed right then, right there where the trajectory of the bullet emerged or where the skull was smashed, wallet lifted or safe cracked?

Perfect. No?

No. Not quite.

They went still further once they'd put the basic system in place.

Why not, since there was no denying who did the crime, have instant justice done as well as instant detection? Why not send a bolt of electricity to the brain of the perpetrator in real time? A small jolt for a small crime. A larger one for a bigger crime. And a terminal bolt for those who it was deemed merited it.

But with time even this was not enough.

The government was wildly popular with the people. They grew more intolerant of any behavior which seemed in any way outlandish or disturbing. The people that mattered voted in droves and eventually all political parties, except those who would never ever stand a chance of being elected, supported the new powers to beat crime.

So it was that full preemptive justice emerged. And why should honest, decent citizens fear it? Surely only those who intended anti-social acts should fear. And we WANTED them to fear. Didn’t we?

The software became ever more sophisticated and once it was uploaded to the satellites they could easily detect the changes in wave form and pattern within individual brains which denoted harmful thoughts. Or more precisely, thoughts which could bring harm to others. So the electric jolts delivered became common for those thoughts, not just for actual crimes.

And so it was that crime was eliminated.

Almost.

In his case the new, ultimate crime, had been committed. He had been set free of the seed. His seed, and more importantly, his record and software connections to it, had been removed. He wondered what unbelievably large payment or inducement could have persuaded the, clearly free, insider to do this. Or, was it an act of purest idealism, in that case there must be others. Perhaps many. Free men like himself. Did they wander like him? Wondering as he did when they might be discovered and pilloried? Did they have the same nightmares? Did they press the sheets with their palms and wake from sleep bathed in sweat as he did?

He would never know.

Any one of those passing by might be a free man. He would never truly know.

For there was one thing they would NEVER do.

They would never look him in the eye.

Allan Edward Tierney's Website

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

IN THE END WE ALL WENT NAKED

It started one sleepy spring morning. There was nothing strange about it. Some of us were sleeping. A cool breeze blew making flower petals flutter, and the sun shone brightly down.

It was later that day that we stumbled when we tried to utter the usual pleasantries. I couldn't say "Good morning" to the milk man. The words fled from my larynx and only "...morning" would come out.

Later, there was another bout of it. As I made it to the office that morning the doorman said quite distinctly, but with a seeming stutter, "Have a ... day". I wanted to give a cheery "Thank you, same to you" as usual but all that came out was "........... you".

Inside was worse. Like gibbering idiot dolls and puppets we danced. It was a mess of embarassingly blushing ineptitude. When the CEO arrived we all ran away. Some surreptitiously spat into the pot plants, lips writhing like snakes, eyes popping.

I got home that night thoroughly shaken and crept in the door as quietly as I could. I caught the eye of my eldest daughter Jenny, she was looking at me strangely out of the corner of her eye. In paroxysms of anxiety I ran upstairs and hid in the bathroom.

Why did I feel this compulsive urge to smack our newborn baby?

Jane, my wife, came to bed late, she had gone for a long walk that evening, I'd heard the door slam twice. All night I felt her knees sharp, and somehow pointedly malevolent in my back.

The next day was worse. Though the sun shone on and the scent of roses wafted down the avenue, making it such a beautiful place to be.

I wanted to stop myself telling Johnny I hated his crying. I held my hand back from raking it across his merry little face. I clawed at my throat to hold back a snarl.

Jane told me I looked like death warmed up. I told her to get her hair done, that it looked like an abandoned haystack.

Joseph, our toddler, kicked me in the shin.

The usual train was bedlam, stifled cries and coughs, idle shouts and vicious murmerings. Someone was screaming at the driver about his excess of freckles. I got off before my usual stop.

The office lot was totally empty. Just the doorman standing some way down the street shouting how he didn't like me. Very loudly.

I wandered off, shielding my eyes from the sunbeams which glared from every shop window up and down the street. A cleaning lady I knew from the nightshift said hello and then promptly stamped on my foot.

When I got home Jane had gone. Jenny was still there though. She walked right up to me and gave me the most lascivious french kiss. All I could do was dumbly stare before racing up the stairwell to my room. I locked the door, closed the blinds and went straight to bed, pulling the covers over my head.

The flowers by the window had all wilted. The sun seemed to have scorched them. Too much sun and no rain had done for them.

I dressed, and it was then I felt it... a strange, unpleasant disgust. My vest felt abrasive, my tie too tight, the jacket was scratchy and seemed to hem me in. And my shoes seemed to squeeze like vices.

I looked out the window and almost jumped back in shock. Mrs Goutcher from next door was standing in her garden half-naked. She was cupping her right breast with her hand and crying.

Now, these months later there's no pain, no anxiety. Everything is starting to make perfect sense. I'm grooming Mrs Goutcher's hair. It's what I am here for. It seems right to be naked. I can't think why, it just is. And there's no need to worry, not ever, not now...

Allan Edward Tierney's Website

Sunday, 19 August 2012

A SMALL PROBLEM OF POLARITY

There was something very wrong here Anne thought, peering at the faces passing her as they walked along the corridor.

She had been to this hospital several times now but something didn’t feel right today. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Was it something to do with the way the staff were acting toward her, was that it?

Anne was bemused and starting wondering whether it was in fact she who had the problem, that she was beginning to lose her mind. For there was nothing obviously wrong with the scene in front of her. Nurses moved swiftly up and down the corridors, which were just as white and pristine-looking as ever. Once in a while a doctor strode by with his comforting stethoscope swinging on his chest.

It all looked perfectly normal. But… what was it that was catching her eye? Something in their demeanor?

Then she realized what had been playing on her nerves. It was in the interaction between the staff. There was little eye contact, and that which there was held the key to why Anne had been feeling so strange. Now that she had narrowed down the general source of her disquiet Anne was able to pinpoint the exact reason for it. It was the way they looked at each other. She had seen that look on TV and in movies and on rare occasions in real life where a heated argument had taken place. They looked at each other with barely concealed hostility, totally dispassionate except for a background aggression she was now sure was there. It was in their eyes...

“Like killers eyes”, Anne thought with a shiver.

~
Jim had been going to confession since he was a kid. So there were no surprises left for him in the ritual anymore.

Or so he had thought, till now. As he sat there in what till now had seemed to him a pleasant and peaceful, shady place, he began to feel uncomfortable.

Was it that the priest was almost totally silent? Or was it the subtle undertones of disdain he thought he detected in his voice on those occasions when he did speak?

Whatever it was that was causing him to be nervous he knew instinctively he was going to do the, for him, unthinkable. Without saying a word he quickly opened the confessional door, stepped out into the church, ran out of the front door and sped down the street as fast as his legs would carry him.

~
The satellites had registered the change in demographic patterns. They had been pronounced over the previous few days. Now the reports garnered from these observations lay prominently on several desks. These were definitely for viewing only by a very few and those with the highest possible security clearance.

“Do you have even the foggiest idea of what’s going on?” Bradley demanded of his second-in-command, Ricker.

“It looks very odd indeed Sir. We havn't seen anything even remotely like this before. We’ll crack it, it’s only a matter of time. I have a team working on it night and day analyzing the stats.”

“I presume we have people already on the ground?”

“Yes indeed Sir and we hope they’ll provide us with some useful information very soon.”

~
Jeb Reich had taken a nondescript room in the most rundown area he could find. He had been fitted with clothes and persona to match. It was hoped to the casual observer he looked like any other guy down on his luck, scraping by on welfare. It was important he had plenty of time to scout this problem. He couldn’t have a persona with a job. That would limit his scope of activity too much. He would need access to places someone in a nice neat suit, collar and tie couldn’t go if he was to be successful in this mission.

He was one among many, each knowing only as much as they needed to know.

His target was the City Hospital and that’s where he headed. His ribs ached where they’d made their “adjustment” under anesthesia the night before. Sometimes he wondered if this job was paid well enough for this sort of thing. But then money wasn’t the main reason he did it. He loved the life.

Getting checked in through Emergency was plain sailing and he was directed quickly to the holding area where he used the opportunity to observe everything that was going on. After about ten minutes he was no wiser. He couldn’t see anything particularly unusual. One or two of the nurses appeared to have had a bad night the night before and were perhaps overly brusque with patients. Apart from that he couldn’t detect any major change from what he might have expected.

After a wait of some thirty five minutes his name was called. On shuffling over to the reception desk he was directed down the hall and told to wait in a chair immediately to the right hand side of a white cotton screen. He sat down facing the screen absently wondering what in heaven’s name he was doing here and what he could possibly find.

A few minutes passed before the screen jerked open and a young doctor stepped out. “In here please”, was all he said. Jeb shuffled in. “Lie down on the table”. Jeb held his ribs while painfully raising himself onto the table. The doctor turned away to a small cabinet at the right hand side of the cubicle. Jeb’s hackles were up now. Something didn’t feel right here somehow but he was damned if he could figure out what. Was everyone in this place having a bad day or what?

The doctor turned back toward him and casually inserted the syringe in Jeb’s arm. The pain of the needle being thrust casually in his arm was the last sensation Jeb ever had.

~
“See, it’s the same damn pattern. My god, what in hell’s going on down there?”

On the screen in front of them was a map of the city with a scattering of small green lights across it. But slowly and surely the green lights were being replaced by red ones. On average the lights were changing from green to red at a rate of at least one per hour and sometimes more.

“Are the computers already on this? I want some results from the data to date, okay? And… get it to me fast, will you?”

~
The mass disappearance at St. Aloysius that Sunday was when it finally hit the papers. Thirty seven people, including the priest, seemed to have simply disappeared into thin air. Now it could not be contained, it was out in the open and would remain so, come what may.

~
“Damn. We don’t need this. Okay, let’s see all the data you have as of now and let’s get to the bottom of this. The politicians down below will have to keep a lid on it as best they can. I don’t know what kind of a cock-and-bull cover story they’ll come up with, but they’ll think of something. They’ll have to.”

At 10:15 they were all in place. Each of the team members was there, laptops at the ready, voluminous files placed by their sides.

Bradley: “Okay. What have we got?”

A tall, angular, straight-laced man in a nondescript grey suit rose from his seat at the end of the long meeting table.

“We have never seen anything like this before Sir so it has taken some time to even start to get a handle on this. In the first few hours we really didn’t know where to look for our data. We looked for further anomalies based upon those already picked up by the sats. As you will appreciate the number of areas within which to seek possible matching data is enormous. Using all the computing power available to us we finally narrowed down our search to approximately fifteen hundred possible anomaly sources. At this point we reached something of a plateau due to the fact that very few connections could be found within these data sets. Luckily we were finally able to match some due to one of our staff making a connection from intuition alone.

The key factor, when it came right down to it was the varying pattern of bird migration.”

A few frowns appeared around the table at this point, followed by quizzical expressions and a mass intake of breath as those present, except for the grey man and his staff, made ready to utter a collective note of disbelief.

“Yes, I know, I know… How could bird migration patterns have anything at all to do with the demographical hike in human disappearances? But it does, it does. Let me explain…”

The room settled down and all eyes rested intently on the grey man. His fingers shook slightly as he adjusted the display on his laptop and resumed speaking.

“It began three months ago according to the data we have. Birds migrating north to breed in the temperate zones arrived in much smaller numbers than historic data predicts. Much smaller numbers. When we cross-checked with other records and requested and received the most current data possible from monitoring stations it was confirmed, this was a global phenomenon. The birds were simply not reaching destinations which for millennia they had found with seeming ease.

The grey man paused and looked up at this point.

“Are there questions?”

“Only one”, hissed Bradley, unable to contain his rising sense of utter confusion. “What the hell has this to do with our disappearances!?”

Calming down, he swiftly added, “Please… get to the nub of this, will you? Each moment we fail to act means the death of some poor bastard down there.”

The grey man’s pallor unsurprisingly colored at this intervention. He resumed his discourse hastily.

“Yes Sir. The identification of the anomaly in bird migration patterns was a
breakthrough for us because it pointed the way toward the source of the phenomena we are experiencing.

This has happened before.

The last time it occurred was approximately seven hundred and eighty thousand years ago. The event even has a name, the Brunhes-Matuyama Reversal, named after two eminent scientists, Bernard Brunhes and Motonori Matuyama.

He looked up briefly.

With some frustration in his voice Bradley snapped, “Go on, go on…”

“Briefly, both scientists simultaneously discovered that rocks which they had been testing for magnetism held a reverse polarity to the magnetic field of the Earth as a whole. This, they postulated was due to Earth’s magnetic field completely reversing polarity at irregular intervals.”

There were no questions from the deathly silent room as he continued.

“It is thought that it is the Earth’s magnetic field which birds use to guide them to their breeding grounds.”

“If the poles were in the process of reversing this would explain how migration patterns would be as heavily disrupted as we have seen.”

He stopped at this point, letting this sink in.

“Okay”, said Bradley slowly. So these phenomena will stop when the reversal is complete, yes?”

“Yes Sir.”

“How long did this last reversal event take then?”

“Several thousand years Sir.”

The room seemed suddenly to feel colder and, to many in the room, to spin somewhat as their minds tried in vain to take in what they had just heard.

“Several…. thousand…. years…?”

“I’m afraid so Sir.”

“But wait…”, Bradley’s mind was just beginning to catch up and clear the fog of rising panic which threatened to engulf it.

“I still don’t see what this has to do with the precise problem we’re having.”

“I’m afraid this element presents too many unknowns to be easily analyzed, understood and acted upon Sir. We have simply never been in this situation and as you can appreciate, apart from geological records we have absolutely nothing to go on. Humans will have experienced this before, that’s certain. But as the epoch we are talking of is in prehistoric time we know nothing of what was experienced then. Nothing except what we have experienced over the last few weeks and months of course.”

“So, the change in the Earth’s polarity is affecting us humans as well as disrupting these migrating birds?”

“Yes Sir. It seems a fairly reasonable conclusion to draw that the change in the magnetic field is affecting normal brainwave patterns in the human race, indeed in all life forms on our planet.”

“I see…”

Even though the thought of what this signified terrified Bradley to his core he managed to get the next few words out in response to what he had heard.

“Thank you, your work and that of your team is very much appreciated. And what solution do you have for us?”

This time it was the grey man’s turn to look confused and his tentative, stuttering words took some time in coming.

“Solution Sir…?”

“Yes, a solution man, what have you come up with?”

“I’m afraid…”

He didn’t have to say any more. Heads spun round looking this way and that and a dozen separate panicky conversations ensued around the table.

Bradley halted this with a simple if faltering, hand gesture.

“Okay. Now…......”

Bradley thought frantically of how to keep a grip on himself and the panic which was beginning to engulf him. The contents of his stomach threatened at any moment to rise into his throat and make him run for the nearest restroom.

“We have to keep calm at all costs and just take this forward step by step. Does anyone have any suggestions on this? Anything…?”

For several moments there was silence, then a young nondescript man in thick glasses with black rims held his hand up shakily.

“I was wondering. Does the data show any particular pattern to these disappearances?”

The grey man tapped into his laptop for a few moments to call up displays to complement his response.

“There are some patterns, yes The events seem to take place near or within certain types of locations such as hospitals, churches, police stations, social security offices, nurseries, nursing homes, play schools and the like. Why this is so has not been established at this time.

The young man pondered this.

“I believe I may have the answer. And… there is a solution. But…”

Bradley had little faith in what this very junior team member might be going to suggest. Especially a nerdy-looking young man such as this. However, this was no time to count anything out.

“Go on…”

“It would feel very wrong and it would create a situation where the very foundations of all we know and believe in would be uprooted and thrown into utter disorder. But I can’t see any way around it.”

“Please, spit it out. We have no time for long explanations. Tell us your idea and then let us get on with finding the solution to this unholy mess.”

“We’d need to take out all of the institutions just mentioned.”

“Take out? What do you mean?”

“We would need to destroy them and everyone within them and hunt down every last survivor.”

“What! Every hospital, church… police station… nursing home…!!?”

“I’m afraid so Sir.”

“What in hell’s name are you talking about!?”

“If my theory is correct, with the reversal of the earth’s magnetic field being underway, so too is a reversal within the brainwave pattern of all humans and indeed all sentient life on Earth. Those who were impelled by their character to do good, to serve and to help others of their kind, bearing in mind that this is in fact alien to the genetic imperative of self-survival, are now experiencing the full force of a brainwave reversal which is now producing opposing characteristics.”

The young man had tended to speak in a somewhat opaque manner, but the impact of his words were powerful nonetheless, and the room continued in thoughtful silence for several seconds. The fateful consequences if what they heard was true, for all that they had known to this point, and for the whole of humankind, slowly began to sink in.

After this short pause which seemed like an eternity Bradley asked, “What’s your name young man?”

“Jeffers Sir, John Jeffers.”

“Mr Jeffers, if you are right, every decent man and woman down there is turning bad. Who exactly do you visualize will do the job of “taking out” these institutions and those who work in them?”

“The situation is not quite as bad as it may at first appear Sir. Bad, but not quite as overwhelmingly bad as we might suppose. If I am right most of the population will experience only minor fluctuations in their brainwave patterns and hence only a small change in their personalities and behavior. Only those who have a very developed sense of duty and mission will be affected to the degree that would present a risk to others. It follows also therefore that those who had very negative perceptions of others of their race and who may well have acted against them to their detriment would be similarly heavily affected.”

“Please, can you simply state it baldly, who are we going to employ to eliminate the doctors and nurses, the pastors and priests, policemen and women and all the others who will have been affected?”

“Logically we will have to use those who we previously condemned as anti-social, murderous and psychotic, those who we have tried and jailed. And also, the more significant number, those same, unchanged and unaltered by the influence of law and order, who still roam the streets.”

“We get the Mafia to shoot up the churches, killing everyone inside?!” someone shouted.

“I’m afraid, put bluntly, this is about what it amounts to.”

“Getting over the outrageous fact that we are about to raid all our hospitals and churches killing every person in charge of those institutions, are you telling me we need to recruit from the very dregs of society in order to do it?”

“I’m afraid so Sir. I see no other way, except to let the situation progress to an ever greater degree, with more and more disappearances such as we have seen.”

“What about the armed forces? Can’t we use them?”

“I’m afraid this would have uncertain results Sir. Recruitment to the armed forces depends on choosing men and women with varying motivations. Although the vast majority will certainly have positive intentions, a significant minority will not. The data shows there is already a demographic shift in this area. The incidence of suicide within the armed forces has shown a rise in the last few months. Clearly some are tragically conflicted due to changes in their mindset and are choosing to end their own lives rather than risk the harm they know they would do to others. However, others are undoubtedly going to experience the full effects of this change and begin turning on their colleagues with increasing regularity. I don’t need to over-emphasize the risks involved here considering the proximity and accessibility of high-powered weaponry, not excluding those at the highest level of lethality. Armed forces personnel therefore cannot with any confidence be used in this circumstance and it would be my suggestion that they must in fact all be disarmed without delay.”

~
So it was that every effort was made through every channel available to contact and arm all suitable candidates within the criminal fraternity and set them loose upon the
targets in their neighborhood.

In addition, to supplement numbers, candidates within the armed forces were given the most powerful screening possible using hastily developed methods to detect their true mindset before also being employed to the task.

Where possible, infrastructure targets were taken out using stealth weapons. This was only possible late on in ‘The Cull’ as it came to be called once screening of military personnel had been brought to a higher confidence level.

‘The Fight for Sanity’ as it also came to be called was not all one way by any means. Those who had returned to a mind mode which demanded survival of self above all others and which produced the need to destroy those who were seen as competition, fought back. Suicide bombings were common. Each and every conflagration ended in a fight to the death, and many civilians died as a result.

‘The War on Change’, yet another name, which arose in the fifteenth year of the conflict, was the hardest one ever fought. And the most bloody. At first it seemed to the largely unchanged public that the world had now gone completely mad. In the first few years of the twenty first century it had seemed mad enough to those who had seen the ending of the more predictable moral codes of their youth. But this took madness to a whole new level as far as they could see. Hospitals ablaze, churches awash with the blood of their priests, pastors and administrators and many of their parishioners. Police stations wrecked shells where vast numbers of papers and microfiche blew around amongst the unburied still uniformed corpses. Doctors dragged from their surgeries and shot in the street like rabid dogs. Mass raids of SWAT teams on nursing homes and social security offices. The end of the world seemed surely to have come.

Once all the main targets had been eliminated the final task was to hunt down and kill those who had escaped the initial carnage. This task was much more difficult. Myriad cells of ‘The Changed’ had been set up and they now fought a guerrilla war against the combined forces of the heavily screened ex-members of the military combined with their ex-mafia, ex-death row, ex-underworld colleagues.

And, though the damage, both psychological and physical, had been enormous, still the thing had been contained. The sats reported a very gradual, very slow shift back to normal demographic standards. This was the evidence-based backup which underpinned the political will needed to continue the war. Democracy had been necessarily suspended for no one would have voted for this or for anyone who had advocated this. Who would have believed this was necessary? And who would have fully understood or believed the reason why?

~
Up in the ISS Bradley gazed down at what seemed an unchanged world. The oceans were the same gorgeous blue and the clouds and their pristine white swirls and eddies in combination with that deep azure never failed to take the breath away. The brown and sandy land masses too seemed totally unchanged from this height, orbiting as they were at two hundred and seventeen miles above the Earth’s surface.

Here, where the atmosphere was at its weakest they had presided over an Earth which, though it appeared not to have changed, had done so, and irrevocably.

Bradley’s heart was heavy. The strain of these years at such a level of command had taken their toll. He had longed for some normality for most of the last twenty three years since that day his world was turned upside down. He had lost almost everything, his wife, his family, his every connection of substance to the world he looked at so longingly below. He was heart-weary and felt so very empty. He had not felt truly well for so long now he could hardly remember what normality felt like. He no longer had dreams, only nightmares. Of course he had not let slip how he was feeling as he was the figure above all others everyone looked to in this supreme crisis for Mankind. He had to appear resolute, calm and in control at each and every moment. Yet, inside he knew he was falling apart and, with the passing of time his ability to suppress the assaults upon him decreased and weakened until this moment. He stood there looking at home, at the diverse gem of gold and blue and white he loved so much and to which he had given all but his very life.

Something finally snapped within him at that moment as tears ran freely down his face. He suddenly resented the fact that all of this had been laid on his shoulders. Why had he had to carry all of this alone? Why had he had to lose everything, all his past, his present and future? Why?

He turned away in irrational anger. A part of his mind still told him in a whisper that he had done the right thing, the selfless thing, that it was the good, the right, the honorable thing. But it was no good. He felt the resentment of his failure in life, all his loss and bitterness rise like a long-suppressed fountain of flame within him. It overtook and consumed him and filled him with a hatred such as he never felt in his entire life.

He collapsed into the chair at his presidential command console, and reaching out, just as his pupils consumed all trace of iris within utter blackness, with the last ounce of strength in his body, he pushed the button down.

Allan Edward Tierney's Website