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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.

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