Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Race Against Extinction

 “It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself.” 
Rachel Carson

While some people around this poor misbegotten planet, mostly stupid Americans, still want to debate the facts about human-induced climate change, there are a few groups trying to limit the overall damage our species is causing. One group at the Australian Institute of Marine Science are using the National Sea Simulator to manually breed enhanced corals that can survive in an ocean damaged by the effects of climate change.

Their chief worry is the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef located just off the northeast coast of Queensland, for the geographically impaired that is one of the states of making up the Commonwealth of Australia. The Great Barrier Reef is quite frankly the largest living thing on Earth. It stretches 2300 kilometers long and is made up of thousands of reefs and hundreds of islands made up of over 600 types of hard and soft coral. The number of species that are connected to that ecosystem is probably incalculable ranging from various jellyfish and other mollusks to cephalopods, along with all manner of sharks, and marine mammals.

Despite it obvious importance to the health of the planet over the last twenty-seven years half of the coral cover has died from various reasons with climate change being one of the chief factors in its destruction. However over the next five years the scientists working at the National Sea Simulator are going breed corals that can withstand the stress caused by warmer temperatures and increased oceanic acidity.

Using several of the thirty-three tanks at the facility they will alter the salinity, temperature, and pH in the water to see which of the coral test subjects can adapt to the changing environment. A few of the tanks will even be setup to simulate the oceanic conditions we will almost certainly face at the end of the twenty-first century. The specimens most tolerate the worsening conditions will then be crossbreed with others down the years to further strength them, a process called “Assisted Evolution.”

It goes without saying that some are troubled with the idea of breeding “supercorals” that just might overrun the unaltered native species. Yeah, there are plenty of examples of humans, with the best intentions, totally screwing things up beyond all recognition. But the fact remains that climate change will more than likely wipe out the vast majority of the world's coral reefs, even if our species magically woke up tomorrow morning and ended all use of fossil fuels. Not only has the proverbial bus left the freaking station but the bridges of commonsense have been long burned.

Not to sound alarmist, but realizing that is how this will come off, those fighting to mitigated climate change are now just trying to prevent a global holocaust with the human species a possible victim of its own shortsightedness. So I have no trouble with a few decent people trying to save one of the living wonders of the planet. This is now not just a race against reef extinction but of Homo sapiens as well. 

At 135,000 square miles, the Great Barrier Reef reigns as the world's largest living structure. Located off the northeastern coast of Australia, it houses more than 600 species of coral and thousands of other types of marine animals, too. Yet the reef's future looks bleak. In the 27 years from 1985 to 2012, half of its coral cover vanished. A significant proportion of the loss is attributable to climate change, which has strengthened destructive tropical cyclones and made surrounding waters warmer and more acidic. Conservation efforts alone, including protected zones and water-quality improvements, will not do the job. To further combat coral loss, marine biologists at a new research facility in Australia, called the National Sea Simulator (above), have devised a more radical approach: they are manually breeding supercorals capable of living in the increasingly inhospitable sea.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Dispatches from the Twilight War--Parts One through Four

The phone started ringing a few minutes after two o'clock in the morning. Jack Harper immediately woke up but just stared at the landline phone silently cursing the old girlfriend whose suggestion it had been to add a 24/7 emergency contact number on both his website and yellow page listing. She had been a blond television reporter working at one of the local Denver stations. Despite being an excellent television journalist most of her colleagues at the station thought her ability to draw viewers came from her piercing green eyes and superbly athletic body. This conspiracy of small-minded and jealous people lead to her being assigned light, human interest stories that did nothing for her career. Jack never admitted to anyone, including himself, but their relationship for him had long moved beyond her obvious physical qualities and talents between the sheets.

It still hurt that they had parted ways after she received a lucrative job offer at a television station down in sunny Miami. She left Jack and cold and snowy Denver behind so fast it caused the windchill factor to drop an extra ten degrees that winter morning.

For the two years after she had driven off to pursue her career while enjoying colorful drinks and tropical breezes the only phone calls Jack got were from cranks trying to be funny and more than a few drunks who for some reason thought the number was for a taxi service. Several times Jack thought about having the line removed but only while busy doing other things, and of course during those idle moments the task completely escaped his mind.

After ten rings the answering machine picked up and played the message Jack had recorded telling the caller to leave their name and number and that he would get back to them shortly. Jack continued to look at the compact device sitting on his nightstand with a combination of indifference and slight irritation waiting for the caller to say something. Even though the line remained open allowing him to hear background noises that suggested a major highway was nearby the caller said nothing. Just before Jack was about to hit the button that would sever the connection the caller spoke.

“Hello...Mr. Harper you don't know me but my name is Carol Briggs and I found your number in the phone book and I desperately need your help.” After years of being a private investigator Jack could tell this Carol was scared and probably alone. After making the first statement she fell silent again creating an eerie state of tension with Jack unconsciously moving closer to the phone. Something inside Jack's mind loudly whispered to him that this woman was indeed in great danger.

“My family,” she began again, “went missing eight days ago and now I know someone is after me. For reasons I can't explain over the phone I don't trust the police so I ran but I need help. Please pick up, I know my life is in danger.”

Without really thinking about it Jack snatched the remote phone off the main answering machine portion of the device. “Yeah, this is Jack Harper. Where are you now?” He asked while creating a mental checklist of things to bring to meet this woman.

“Thank God,” Carol Briggs said breathlessly. “I'm at an abandoned gas station off Interstate 25 near Heritage Hills.” She then went on to tell Jack the number of the exit she took to leave the interstate.
“Please tell me you're talking from a pay phone.” Jack said accepting the woman's statement that she was being followed and that her life was in danger.

“Yes, and I've parked my car behind the station.”

“Great, I'm on the way but it will take me close to an hour to get to your location. Now this is going to sound crazy and I know it's cold but I want you to find another place to hide nearby. I'll be driving a blue Mustang and I'll blink my lights after I pull into the parking area. Don't expose yourself until I get out of the car.”


To Carol, the truck stop diner Jack brought her to was like something from the family vacations she and her siblings suffered through as children. Instead of her family going to such places like Disney World or other huge theme parks her father and mother took their three children on long road trips exploring every cheesy roadside attraction and state park they encountered. Likewise, they would invariably stop at seedy little diners to eat while mom and dad sat together plotting some new course towards another bizarre but boring destination. Carol could still feel the childhood resentment at being hauled around hundreds of back roads, but now as an adult she actually missed those times.

Several minutes passed before the waitress showed up to serve some much needed coffee and to take their order. For whatever reason the waitress seemed intent in engaging Carol in small talk despite the fact it should have been clear to a blind person that she clearly didn't want to be bothered with idle conversation. This allowed Jack a moment to ponder the differences between the two women. 

The waitress looked like a true long-time food service warrior. Jack figured she was in her mid-forties and given the ease she poured his coffee without spilling a drop while listening to Carol give her food order she had probably worked here for at least a decade. A wide but lackluster smile totally devoid of feeling along with tired and haunted eyes all but confirmed her life had been a long, weary struggle.

On the other hand, Carol Briggs basic appearance, if you discounted the recent turn of events, screamed mindless but ultimately an unremarkable and mundane suburban life. She was in her mid to late thirties and had the soft hands and nails of someone who used various household rubber gloves for working in a flower garden to washing dishes. While the waitress had the look of someone used to long struggles Carol's eyes couldn't contain the look of utter and unbelievable shock at the recent events that had befallen her. Carol's clothes also spoke volumes about her lifestyle. They could have come from any number of slightly upper end department stores nominally catering to white suburban dwellers who wanted to look unique but yet not exceed neighborhood standards of decorum. When you added everything up Carol was one of those decent, pleasant but not highly educated individuals whose exposure to strange and tragic events came strictly from a television drama.

“Now, tell me why I left my warm bed in the middle of the night and raced down a good portion of Colorado and why you drove all the way from Colorado Springs to call me” Jack said smiling as he grabbed the mug of coffee the waitress had just filled.

Carol took a sip of her own coffee savoring its almost Herculean strength letting its warmth invade her body. “Like I said in the car, I was scared. Eight days ago I leave the hospital where I work and return home to find my family missing.”

“You said the house was in perfect order?” Jack asked purposely interrupting her train of thought.

“Yes, at first I just thought that Michael, my husband, must have cleaned up but it was early evening and he and my son would have, should have actually, been long home. When I couldn't reach Michael on his cell, I phoned his work to see if he was on a service call and decided to take our son, Paul, with him. He's a copier technician and occasionally has to go repair some client's equipment after normal business hours. They're usually pretty routine, so once and awhile he'll take Paul for a little father and son outing.”

“And your husband's employer told you he wasn't on a service call.” Jack said repeating the rushed story she had told him as they sped south on Interstate 25.

“Yes, so I called several friends and neighbors searching for them. No one had seen them since Michael left to take Paul to school that morning. By this time I was getting scared, so I called the police but they immediately told me there was nothing they could do until the next day.”

“Now tell me again what made you think you were in danger and that the police couldn't be trusted?”

“The next morning two police detectives show up at my door asking questions about my husband. They were in plain clothes but presented badges and official looking identification so I let them in figuring someone decided to look into his and my son's disappearance early. They asked simple questions about whether my husband might have been having an affair, suffered from mental health issues, or had an enemy who might want to hurt him or our son. A few of the questions irritated me but none of them seemed out of bounds. Things became weird when the one who called himself Barnes received a phone call on his cell. The call was brief but something was said that caused Barnes to tell his partner, Wilson, they had to leave immediately. They didn't ask for my husband or son's picture nor did they leave me a business card, say when they would return, or even give me a phone number so I could call them. As I am opening the front door to let them out Wilson asks his partner if they should go ahead and take me.”

“Take you?” Jack repeats looking at Carol. “Could they have meant to the police station?”

Carol takes a deep breath staring down into her coffee. “I don't think so,” she says, “there was a strange look on this Wilson's face that scared me. More to the point, Barnes was beginning to nod his head yes and was reaching for something under his sports coat when several of my neighbors walk up on my front steps. They were there to see if I needed anything and probably to learn something about Michael and Paul. This Barnes and Wilson then run out the house covering their face with their hands and get in their car and drive away.”

As he listened to her story, Jack begins to feel the hairs on the back of his neck standing up. “You told me in the car that you then called the cops and reported the incident with them telling you that they hadn't sent anyone to your house?”

“Yes, they said since twenty-four hours hadn't really passed yet they weren't going to send anyone till that evening. By this time I am beyond terrified, so I ask a few of my neighbors to stay with me. After that, three further events begin to suggest that I have fallen into a surreal nightmare. The first being the arrival of Mrs. Carter to my house, she's an old widow woman who lives at the end of my street. The neighborhood grapevine being what it is, she had heard what was going on and came down to tell me she saw Michael talking with a man the day before in the parking lot of the shopping mall close to our house. She then told me this unknown man showed Michael something that flashed and seemed to stun him for a moment. Michael apparently quickly recovered because about a minute of so later Mrs. Carter said my husband and son were willingly leaving with the man in his car. Just seconds after that she sees Michael's car leaving the parking lot but not the person driving it. Mrs. Carter admitted the encounter looked strange but it all happened so fast and no one seemed in distress she didn't think anything of it until she heard neither had returned home.”

“Tell me about the second thing that pushed you over the edge to call me.” Jack said finding himself actually perplexed.

“When the police finally arrive at my house to gather information on Michael and Paul they show up in force. I am interviewed for several hours and asked hundreds of questions with a team combing through my house as if they were searching for drugs. During all this one of the police technicians hooked the digital answering machine up to a laptop and started retrieving deleted messages. One of them was a person who didn't give a name but wanted to meet Michael and me in the shopping mall parking lot the next morning and that we had to bring Paul. Just as soon as the person stopped talking a high pitched noise started blaring from the answering machine speaker that sounded like cats being tortured. It was so bad it gave everyone nearby a headache.”

“And you said this message was addressed to Michael and you?”

“Yes, but there was staffing issues at the hospital and I had to go in early. The answering machine time stamp had the message being recorded thirty minutes after I left the house.”

Jack didn't know what to make of the answering machine but the third item Carol mentioned in the car was the one that worried him. “Tell me about the man who showed up at the hospital.”

“I had walked down to the cafeteria to grab some breakfast when my cell phone rings. It one of my friends on the floor I was working, she said a strange man had just left the nurse's station asking for me. She described him as this amazingly good looking but a hulking and intimidating figure. When asked his name I was told he said Joaquin Weiss. I go back up to meet him and while he is pleasant and friendly claiming to be a long lost friend of my husband's he gave me the creeps. There were a lot of people on the floor then and I could tell it bothered him. He soon left and I largely forgot about the event, a nurse is always busy at work, but I saw him again a couple of days after Michael and Paul disappeared. I was at the grocery store and I caught him staring at me. I dropped everything and ran to my car. When I pulled out into the street I had to stop momentarily because of traffic, it was then I glanced over and saw this figure come running out of one of the grocery store side doors. This person was sprinting towards my car inhumanly fast.”

Carol stops for a moment as the memory of events begin to overwhelm her. “ I didn't know what to do, the police didn't seem trustworthy and this strange man seemed like something from a bad spy movie. So I drove until I believed myself far enough away to be safe for a couple of minutes. It was then I looked for a pay phone. I began searching through the phone book when I stumbled across your listing. Something compelled me to call even though the advertisement seemed cheesy.”
Jack is quiet for several second, so much Carol begins to think she might have offended the man.

“Describe this Joaquin Weiss to me,” Jack said suddenly and looking agitated.

“He looked a little younger than me and was at least six-foot, four inches, with a muscular body, the type an Olympic athlete might have after years of training. He wore his brown hair like someone in the military, short but with style. The face was chiseled and intense, like an evil Brad Pitt.”
Jack just stared out towards the diner entrance for a moment and began slowly reaching for his pistol concealed underneath his jacket. “That man just entered the building,” he said to Carol, “get ready to run.”

Part Two**

Because of the nearby and constantly busy interstate the diner was crowded despite the ungodly early morning hour so Jack didn't want to pull out his pistol. Luckily, Carol's back was facing her stalker so this Joaquin Weiss didn't immediately notice her as he scanned everyone in the dining area. This allowed Jack to tell Carol to carefully stand up without exposing her face and then maneuver her towards a rear exit.

“Lean heavily on me like you're tired or sick,” he whispered to Carol. A further piece of luck had the diner's restrooms situated down a short hall that had a ninety-degree turn with two other doors, one an emergency exit and the other leading to a store room with yet another door leading outside. That is where Jack and Carol's luck ran out. Both had door latches with automatic alarms that would sound if a key wasn't used to deactivate them first. And as expected, there was never an employee around when you desperately needed one.

Stymied for a moment not wanting to trigger either alarm, Jack tried to look casually around the corner to find out what Joaquin was doing. Sure enough, he was coming straight towards them with only a couple of waitresses and customers walking around to slow him down. For a second Jack was overwhelmed with the utter certainty that this was a very bad man and that if Carol fell into her hands a immense amount of poop would massively impact a huge fan affecting far more people than seemed believable.

“He's coming towards us, right,” Carol said leaning up again the wall trembling.

“Yeah,” Jack said ignoring the question as to how Joaquin found them in the first place,” but I don't want to go through those doors just yet. He's probably got backup covering every exit. I want to give his people something else to think about for a few seconds.”

Once clear of other people Joaquin's pace picked up and he stepped into the short, straight segment of the hallway. Jack then suddenly turned the corner and fired two rounds into their pursuer's chest then one into his right leg just above the kneecap. A head shot would have been ideal but somehow Jack knew their stalker's reflexes wouldn't have allowed him to raise his weapon up enough to cleanly fire off the round. Jack settled for possibly fatal chest wounds and if that didn't work the slug going through Joaquin's leg would prevent him from running for a good while.

Both doors offering escape for Carol and Jack were the heavily reinforced type made of steel and it was Jack's hope that whoever was working with Joaquin would dash to the front entrance to find out what had happened instead of trying to beat down a huge chunk of metal. After the shots, the diner itself dissolved into a state of chaos with patrons running for the most obvious door. Carol herself was shaking life a leaf ready to bolt with only Jack's firmly holding onto her arm preventing a premature exit.

Glancing down at Joaquin, Jack saw the man-thing writhing in pain on the floor with blood seeping around his wounds. But one thing was clear, it wasn't dying, if anything he was trying to stand up and probably would have if his right knee and upper leg was in anyway capable.

“One-Mississippi,!” Jack yelled, pushing Carol towards the rear stockroom door.

After busting through the door the only thing that greeted them was the cold early morning air and just a hint of light coming from the eastern horizon.

Old habit had Jack park his Mustang in the rear of the diner parking lot, and it served him well allowing the two quick access to the car. Unfortunately a clean getaway wasn't possible, as Jack opened the driver's side door he heard the pounding of footsteps coming towards him. Working only on years of training and instinct he turned, raised his pistol, and fired at the person coming towards them. Jack had time to register the sight of his round going through the skull of a hulking blond, Nordic type throwing him backward. The massive creature fell to the ground and it was immediately clear that at least he would never get up again.

“Where did you learn to shoot like that?” Carol asked as Jack quickly settled into the driver's seat, started the car, and drove away.

“I'm former FBI, didn't you see that mentioned on my phone book listing?” Jack said while accelerating out of the parking lot and towards the interstate.
Carol didn't answer because she had turned around in the passenger seat and was trying to see if anyone was following them. “How did they find me? Carol asked more to herself than Jack but the question was valid.

“You said your first encounter with Joaquin was on the hospital floor you worked and then at the grocery store you shopped? Jack asked back. “Any chance he tagged you with some sort of tracking device, like dropping something in your pocketbook?”

Carol turned around in the seat and looked back at Jack as if he said the most astonishing thing imaginable. “When I introduced myself I first put my food next my pocketbook.” She went silent after that staring off into the space realizing how she had exposed herself.

Jack could tell she was starting to go into shock. “Hey, stay with me now!” He said reaching over and grabbing her shoulder. “I'm assuming we've skipped the interview part and that you have decided  to hire me.”

Carol turned to look at him without saying anything, she was a totally lost soul who understood she had become involved in something she couldn't begin to comprehend. “What are we going to do? I have no money beyond what I have with me, how am I going to pay you?”

Jack just grimaced as he began to slow down the car. “First thing, and you're probably not going to like this, we have to lose the pocketbook and everything in it except you identification and pictures of your family. As for the second question, that Joaquin has seen me, I'm just as involved in whatever this is as you, so money is not an issue now.”

After slowing down, Jack stopped the car on the side of the interstate pleased that for the moment traffic was non existent. Carol willingly handed over the pocketbook except for the items he said she could keep. He quickly left the car and threw the purse off into an empty field and was back in the car and heading south again in less than a minute.

“Where are we going now?” Carol asked more than a little nervous now after realizing that while people were apparently out to capture or kill her, she now was depending on a complete stranger for her safety and to help find the answers as to why this was happening.

“I have a friend of a friend who owns a cabin high in the mountains, it's about as far off the grid it can be and still have power. We'll be safe there for at least a few days. From there we will begin to play forty questions to try and find out why this is going on. Needless to say you'll have to be patient and completely honest with everything I ask you because I will be getting very personal.”

Carol looked over at Jack and nodded, it was the first time she really examined the man who had already done so much for her. He appeared to be in his mid-forties and could best be described as your average American male. Her best guess was that he was a few inches over six-feet with sandy blond hair that was beginning to thin. And while he was obviously fit, it was clear middle-age was slowly encroaching on him. It was slightly disconcerted to Carol that her possible savior didn't readily fit the mold of the standard movie action hero.

“You said you're former FBI, tell me why you left the bureau.” Carol asked not sure she wanted him to answer honestly.

“Nothing really spectacular or scandalous,” Jack said, “my marriage went to hell and not long after that I was reassigned to a department that investigated white collar crime. The only thing more boring and depressing than listening to continuous wiretaps of Wall Street bastards bragging about the super model they're about to bang or the newest yacht they've purchased is how they get away with robbing billions from the government or small-time investors. In that line of work you quickly realize most of those expensively dressed and styled leeches don't view anyone but their own kind as human beings deserving of respect. To them the middle and working classes are at best a resource like iron, timber, or any other commodity to be used then tossed away.”

“So you became a private investigator?” Carol said more to herself than Jack, subconsciously happy that his departure wasn't for some moral failing or corruption. Seconds later Carol leans over towards the passenger side car door resting her head on the window and falls fast asleep.

Jack looked over at Carol and almost decided to wake her back up, but didn't. For the briefest moment he actually considered dropping Carol off at some bus stop leaving to her to her own devices. Whatever was going on here was totally out of his league. His usual cases involved divorces stained in bad blood, running surveillance on possible corrupt business partners, insurance fraud, child custody, and the occasional missing person. He had no idea how to deal with indestructible, human-looking monsters that for some reason wanted to capture a suburban housewife and mother.

While in the FBI, Jack had heard rumors of two agents who specialized in bizarre cases but he never believed the incredible stories. But deep down he knew it was impossible for him to abandon Carol, despite her outwardly placid suburban demeanor there was something about her that didn't make sense. More to the point, surreal and quite dangerous events were going on behind the scenes of normal life and people in power were apparently doing their best to hide it from a distracted and incurious population. If one thing constantly drove Jack, it was mysteries and one of the biggest had landed firmly in his lap.

Part Three***

Despite the bitter cold of the early Colorado morning, Jack Harper sat outside on the porch of the cabin he and Carol Briggs had taken refuge two days before after fleeing the roadside diner and the human-looking monsters that were pursuing them. Next him was a table where two legals pad lay containing all the information about Carol and her family that he had gathered after long drawn out hours of questioning the woman. Just a few inches after that was his pistol, fully loaded, with a round in the chamber and the safety off.

After arriving at the cabin Jack started interviewing Carol about her husband working on the theory that he was hiding something in his past that including human-looking creatures with incredible strength and stamina. But after hours of intense questioning Jack was dealing with the disturbing possibility that Michael Briggs was just the suburban living, copier technician, middle class guy she claimed. This prompted Jack to change tactics and start reviewing Carol's life for anomalies that might suggest she or someone in her family might have a hidden past.

There was one relatively minor inconsistency both Carol and her husband shared, neither had any close family members. Carol did have siblings but had not seen or talked to any of them since their parents had passed away in a car crash about ten years before. Supposedly there was some extreme bad blood concerning the disposition of her parents' estate resulting in Carol and her siblings all taking legal action against the others. As for her husband, Michael spent his childhood being raised by his maternal grandparents who had long since passed away. Neither instance was that out of the ordinary, Jack himself didn't have any close family. But in Carol and Michael's case, he couldn't help but feel it was all a little too convenient as far as past histories were concerned, hence the reason he was now keeping his pistol within easy reach. Carol Briggs continued to have that “deer caught in the headlights” look of someone barely dealing with the both the tragic and surreal aspects of recent events but Jack was now harboring a nagging suspicion about his middle class client.

Jack knew this particular case had long since passed the point were he should have punted it to a person in actual authority, something inside him couldn't quite yet allow him to take that course of action. While Jack had expended everything he could do while hiding in a cabin on the side of a heavily wooded mountain, he had contacts who could do more.

“Hey Jack,” Carol said after cracking open the front door, “you want some breakfast?”

Jack knew Carol was puttering around the small kitchen so he didn't react suddenly. “Yeah that would be great,” he said. Since coming to the cabin Carol had alternated between becoming totally distraught, fearful of what had become of her husband and son to being consumed in any activity she could find. Which usually meant cooking meals or cleaning the cabin.

The cabin itself was exactly as Jack expected, it was less a survivalist hideaway but more than a simple retreat for someone wanting to get away from the city. The actual owner lived in Denver and made his living as an investment banker who fancied himself as a bit of a master playboy. Jack knew the guy used the place mainly for seclusion for both professional and personal reasons. The former being the times he needed to review financial data and the later so he could entertain the latest in a series of married women he liked to seduce. The small sanctuary was isolated on the side of a heavily-wooded mountain and boasted a plentiful supply of canned goods, dried meats, and a private well. Despite the amenities favoring those inclined to leave civilization behind it was still attached to the local electrical grid which allowed the banker to access the internet.

Thirty-minutes later Jack is back inside and sitting on the couch gulping down a plate full of re-hydrated scrambled eggs watching the television. By this time the morning news is on and both Jack and Carol found it quite disturbing. Not for the news items they reported but for the things they barely or didn't mention at all. The restaurant Jack and Carol shot their way out of two days before had long since been forgotten. Given the number of people that were in the building it would have been impossible for the news services not to learn of it, but the official story reported on the news was that it was a gang-related shooting involving a bad drug deal.

The basic report was vague but hat details the news agencies did report strongly suggested that someone with influence was doing their best to cover everything up with a huge pile of disinformation. Even more disturbing was that Carol's disappearance, occurring after that of her husband and son had never been mentioned on the television news or newspapers. All this told Jack was that before he could turn Carol over to some authority he would have to find one that could be trusted.

“What are we going to do Jack?” Carol asked from the small kitchen where she was eating her breakfast.

“I've got some feelers out with people who can help us.” Jack said leaving out the part that these feelers was a computer hacker acquaintance that was delving far deeper into Carol and her husband's past than he could personally hope to accomplish. Jack watched Carol's carefully crafted brave face quickly begin to crumble to the point she excused herself and retreated to the cabin's small bedroom. Jack thought to himself that if she was willfully hiding something linking her to the creatures her despair was the best acting job he had ever seen.

With Carol in the bedroom Jack took a few moments to clean everything up and think. The thing that scared him most of all was the memory of the security cameras looking over the parking lot of the restaurant they had to flee. Any decent investigator could do much to find their quarry with that little bit of information. The fact that Jack and Carol were dealing with some sort of super-human only meant they would have to move that much sooner.

This raised the question as to what he would do if in fact Carol was somehow connected to the creatures that were certainly looking for him now just as much as his client. The creature going by the name Joaquin Weiss, he had shot twice in the stomach and once in the knee, didn't seem the type that would easily bury the hatchet. After Jack shot Joaquin and watched it fall to the floor of the restaurant it looked at him with a hate that was all consuming. It was only the severity of the bullet wounds that prevented Joaquin from standing up and killing Jack right there.

As Jack put the last dish away he heard a beeping noise coming from one of the pockets of leather jacket. He immediately knew it was his the special encrypted satellite cell phone he used for calls he wanted to make sure were heard only between him and the caller, in this case the computer hacker looking into Carol's family. He moved swiftly and quietly snatching up the jacket and going outside before answering the call.

“Yeah this is Jack Harper,” he said, “what have you got for me Roy?”

Roy Hernandez was a thirty-something computer geek who desperately wanted to go back in time and live like the hippies of the 1960's. The few times Jack had actually been face to face with Roy it was clear that while the man was certainly a computer genius he was also dealing with several severely loose screws in his head. Besides his long hair and unkempt beard the guy wore only raggedy tie-dye t-shirts and cut off blue jeans. Adding to the persona was the overwhelming smell of marijuana that hung over him like a cloud. These traits all added up to a guy who while possessing a master's degree from MIT was extremely paranoid of all authority figures. Roy's appearance, demeanor, and opinions about authority figures seemed so over the top that Jack actually considered the possibility that it was all an act meant to make him easy to disappear into the background static of the rest of humanity if the need to arose.

“Jack,” Roy said, “I'm not sure what you've gotten yourself into this time but this woman Carol Briggs is probably very bad news. I snooped around the usual sites like birth records, educational history, the IRS, and even the Colorado DMV and it all looked normal for both her and her husband. But then on a whim I backtracked and looked at the code surrounding those records. Jack up until eight years ago this Carol Briggs you're involved with nor her husband existed.”

“Wait a minute Roy,” Jack said wanting him to confirm what he thought Roy had just stated. “Tell me that again slowly so I fully understand.”

Roy signed heavily, “Jack old buddy, the records I found are fully authorized by the various agencies and they go back to the birth dates you gave me. But someone inserted them into the databases just over eight years ago, what I'm saying is prior to that Carol and Michael Briggs must have dropped out of the sky.”

“Are we talking witness relocation and new identities created by some federal agency?” Jack asked.
“Here's the real puzzle Jack, I can't honestly answer that. I've played around in all the federal databases that do that sort of thing so I know how the DEA, CIA, ATF, or even your FBI create new identities. Whoever did these used a completely different method, if fact I've got to skip town now because I believe they noticed me poking around.”

Roy stopped briefly to catch his breath. “Jack I'm not only skipping town, I'll being changing my own identity so don't try and contact me again. I'd advice you to disappear as well, this whole situation sticks like shit with a bad case of gangrene.” Immediately after that the line was cut leaving Jack's worst fears confirmed. 

Part Four***

“Just what in the hell have I gotten myself involved with,” Jack said out loud to no one but the trees. For the first time since receiving the early morning phone call from Carol, he was now feeling all the possible available courses of action had been narrowed down to none. Jack had long since conceded to himself that one of his worst flaws was an innate stubbornness that bordered on the extreme. It was this flaw that had ultimately created a massive chasm between him and his former boss in the FBI who had become close to a father figure for him.

To Jack, he seemed programmed to solve mysteries and when one fell into his lap he naturally wanted to ride it to the end. And the strange circumstances surrounding Carol Briggs only made his desire to find out what the hell was going on that much stronger. Despite it all, Jack was now faced with the certainty that his innocent-looking and visibly terrified client was in fact hiding something that could ultimately endanger millions of innocent people. He knew it was time to quickly build a bridge with the only person he knew he could trust. It still took him a couple of minutes to build up the nerve to dial the long unused number on the satellite phone.

“Mitch,” Jack said when the call was answered, “I've gotten involved in a very strange case and I need your help. Something very bizarre is going on and a lot of peoples live will ultimately be at risk.”


Carol was still in the bedroom when he came back into the cabin. Part of Jack wanted to burst into the room and demand answers to why her current identity magically popped into existence just eight years ago and why she was being chanced by enhanced humans. But Jack knew the better course of action was to play along with her act and see where it took them both, especially since Mitch had promised that the he would mobilize the needed personnel and resources to take over.

Even with this knowledge, it was difficult for Jack to do nothing except wait for the proverbial cavalry to come to the rescue. With no other choice, he fell down on the cabin's couch with every intention to catch a nap. A couple of seconds later his other cell phone rang three times and then stopped.

The nearest town to the cabin Jack and Carol were hiding was a minuscule one stop-light place called Decker. Once a mining town that could boast ten high class brothels during the 1880's during its mining town heyday, Decker's claim to fame was now that an accident at the Colorado Topographical Office had left it off all state maps for several years. This bureaucratic accident made the place difficult find for anyone who didn't already know of its existence. All told, that was probably why the owner of the cabin, and several other individuals, had built their special hideaways among the mountains.

While essentially lost to the greater mass of people living in Colorado, Decker the main hub of activity for the fifty or so permanent residents of the village was the grocery/ hardware store. The proprietor of that store had long since made it his occupation to keep track of everyone that walked through his door. Something he saw as a civic service while everyone else considered it borderline obnoxious.

With the store's central location, Jack quickly figured that anyone looking for him or Carol would stop by there first so he gave the owner a hundred bucks to call him if strangers came by looking for them. Jack's actual instructions to the overly curious businessman and self-described civic hero was to tell whomever came by asking of them about them the location of the cabin. Once they were safely away he was then supposed to call Jack's regular cellphone three times and then forget about the whole thing.

“Carol!” Jack yelled jumping up from the couch and walking over to the bedroom door. “Time to move now!” He said beating on the door, then barging in to find setting up in bed with her patented expression of full-fledged fear mixed with a heavy dose of panic.

Jack didn't take three steps after turning around before his cell phone started chiming again. Bile rose up in his stomach while an overwhelming and instinctive sense of dread ran down his spine. He looked down at the phone in his hand, his facial expression not to dissimilar from one a person might have if they had just found out if he or she had mistakenly picked up a highly radioactive object. Jack's first thought was that the old buzzard must have jumped the gun and called with Joaquin and his super monkeys still in the store.

“Oh God, they found us.” Carol said scrambling off the bed and grabbing her shoes.

The phone eventually stopped chiming only to restart a second later. Left with no choice, and dealing with the idea that he was a trapped rat, Jack answered the call.

“Hello,” Jack said, “I figure this has to be the infamous Joaquin Weiss.”

The first response was a slow chuckle. “Yes Mr. Harper, you have guessed correctly. I must admit I am rather impressed with your ability to avoid my capture as well as your shooting. It took me far longer to uncover your trail than I ever expected. As for your shooting, you have no idea of the pain I went through as my body repaired itself.”

“Well you know, the FBI has quite the training program for its agents.” Jack said hoping his voice sounded far more confident than he felt. “Enough of the chitchat, just what do you want Weiss?” Jack asked while motioning Carol to hurry up and get ready to leave.

“Oh please Mr. Harper, Joaquin said in dismay, “you already know that. I want Carol Briggs, and the sooner I safely have her the easier your death will be.”

“You'll have to catch us first you mutant bastard!” Jack didn't give Weiss time to respond by ending the call and tossing the cell phone into the garbage. “We've got to go now, Carol!” he yelled.

As the two ran out of the small cabin to the car, Jack figured he and Carol still had a better than even chance to escape since there was only one road to their location coming from the town of Decker. There were two other roadways down the mountain both leading to separate highways. Once out on the open road d moving Jack would then contact his old boss again and figure out a new plan.

The two ran out of the cabin towards the car. By this time the sky was a serene pale blue accompanied with a bright, seemingly overactive sun that provided no real warmth. The mountain air was bitterly cold and still, to Jack it felt as if Death was nearby waiting to announce itself. As these thoughts went through his head, Carol had already jumped in the car and was waiting as Jack just stood by the driver's side door.

“You are good, Mr. Harper,” a voice from behind Jack said.

“Please tell me you didn't kill the old man at the grocery store.” Jack said slowly turning to face Joaquin and several of his cohorts emerging from the woods beyond the cabin. “I told him to tell anyone looking for us exactly where we were at, hurting him would have served no purpose.”

“Come now Mr Harper, is it now you finally underestimate us mutants.” Joaquin said walking up to stand in front of Jack examining him as if he was looking at a curious new form of bacteria. “That simple man did exactly as you asked, he told us where you and Mrs. Briggs were located but from facial expressions I easily discerned he was hiding additional instructions you gave him. A normal human wouldn't have noticed the tiny facial ticks and the slight smell of fear he produced but for me it was enough. As for killing him, no he isn't dead but I did have to teach him a lesson.”

Jack quickly turned and glanced down at Carol, who looked almost catatonic sitting in the passenger seat with three of Joaquin's men standing next her door. “Well now,” Jack said looking back at Joaquin, “I know I'm dead but could you at least tell me Carol's connection to you guys. I'm curious, just call it a human fault.” Jack finished implying his interest was something Joaquin might not understand because he wasn't the same.

Jack saw the enhanced human smile, seemingly getting the insult. That was when Joaquin punched him in the head, after that everything went black.


The place Joaquin and his minions were using as their headquarters was a small operating room. Jack didn't remember much of the ride down the mountain and then the trip to what he believed was Denver but he had to admit to himself that using an operating room for a torture chamber didn't require much in the way of a redesign. Jack had his hands tied together with a piece of rope that was secured to a support beam above one of the tiles making up the drop ceiling. Jack had just enough of his feet on the floor so he could stand as long as he concentrated on just that one thing. Joaquin had used Jack's arms being tied above his head and out of the way to afflict several hours worth of carefully placed blows on his torso and legs. After such intense beatings there wasn't a spot on his body that didn't scream in pain.

Proving that Carol meant something important to the fifteen or so genetically enhanced humans Jack was able to count, she was strapped to an exam table and appeared to be sedated. What bothered him the most however was the strange looking helmet they had placed on her head that had numerous thin fiber-optic wires leading off to what looked to be a normal laptop. Given the position Joaquin had Jack tied up he was able to see the screen and recognized what appeared to be EEG wave pattern which was certainly Carol's. The laptop screen also showed Carol's EKG and several other bio-metric readings that were totally unknown to him. Whatever the ultimate purpose was for the helmet and elaborate software, Jack was positive the result would not be good for anyone.

“Well Mr. Harper,” one of Joaquin's lieutenants said coming back into the operating room. “Weiss will be quite happy you're awake. I believe he wants one more session with you before he ends your life. Who knows, you might even be conscious when Mother awakens, I'm sure she will like to see you put down.”

Jack just grunted something close to a “fuck you” as the Hispanic looking female creature walked by and checked on the readings scrolling across the laptop. Everyone of the human-creatures had quickly left the O.R. a few hours before after receiving some sort of important news. As soon as they left, Jack desperately yanked at the ropes that bound him but they refused to give even a centimeter.

With nothing to do but hang around, Jack noticed one curious detail about these monsters. This was not some racist Caucasian wet-dream come to life. The augments came in an assorted ethnic variety running from Northern and Southern European, to African, to Asian, and even Australian Aborigine. The one unifying belief Jack noticed was that to them anyone not sharing their genetic enhancements were less than human. Another factor that he also saw was that they were all extremely arrogant, to the point he easily overheard several conversations as various ones left and entered the room concerning how thing would be better off if they themselves were running the show. The most mysterious thing though was that they all loved, or feared, some leader who wasn't on site.

Apparently things were coming to a head because the Hispanic augment quickly ran out of the room after reviewing the readings on the laptop. The entire group soon followed back in, including Joaquin who looked over at Jack with a smugness that suggested he wouldn't not be breathing in a few minutes.

“It's almost time Mr. Harper,” Joaquin said, “Mother will soon be returned to us and our plans will finally be back on track. I've decided that she deserves to meet you in person. I imagine she may even want to inflict the killing blow since you held up her reunion with her children.”

Seconds ticked by like some frozen glacier patiently marching towards the sea. One of the augments administered a couple of shots to Carol's arm while the others stood around her clearly worshiping the woman on the table. It totally escaped Jack as to how a terrified middle-class housewife could have genetically enhanced, psychotic children but that was knowledge he expected to never find out.

When Carol finally opened her eyes and looked at all the people standing around her the response was not fear but one of joy. The creatures in turn cheered and hurried to release the straps that held her to the operating table. That's when the explosions began with heavily armed men in extensive body armor emerging from both ceiling and newly opened holes in the walls. By chance, one of the explosions sent a piece of shrapnel through the ropes that held Jack allowing him to fall to the floor. The blackness that engulfed him was actually a welcomed relief.


Jack's sudden return to consciousness was prompted by a nightmare. Like most dreams, once Jack realized he was awake it immediately evaporated leaving little hint that it ever existed except for a sinking feeling of dread. For one fleeting moment though, Jack lay in his hospital bed with the insane idea that he was a different person. As he took stock of his surroundings even that minuscule remnant disappeared leaving him feeling slightly confused and, strangely, ashamed.

Jack was able to lift his head and look around and was more than a little surprised to realize he was in just a basic inpatient suite and not some intensive care ward. Given the beating Joaquin Weiss had inflicted on him the bigger surprise was that he was not dead.

“Good to see you return to the land of the living.” Mitch Lawson said standing in the doorway of his room.

“How the hell did you find me after Joaquin and his crew took us from the cabin, Mitch?” Jack said spurting out the first question that came to his mind.”

“Once you hung up, I immediately called some friends at the Bureau to hijack the GPS function on your satellite cell. Since secrecy is their byword, we ran on the assumption that Joaquin and his crew would gather up all your belongings.”

“Okay, that sort of makes sense, my next question is why am I alive?” Jack said though his voice broke twice because of his injuries.

“Well, that's a fine way to say hello after so many years.” Lawson said walking over to a chair and taking a seat. “As for your question, what can I say? You know Joaquin wanted to make you pay for shooting him. He tortured you for over eighteen hours making sure never to inflict too much on your body. I have to admit his technique was a quite bit more advanced than what those bastard Russians developed. They're more than the acknowledged experts, to them torture is as natural as water is wet but Weiss is a freaking Rembrandt, makes those CIA boys down in Gitmo and the other black sites look like sad amateurs.”

Lawson had the unfortunate duty once in the early 1990's to work with the Russians. It had been during the early post-Soviet period when their country was prostrate and trying to reorganize. Mitch had found that they proudly proclaimed themselves “realists” on how the world worked. That by itself was all well and good to Mitch, but what bothered him was the extremity of their professed realism. It didn't take Mitch long to understand their viewpoint came from a barely concealed anger at having so utterly lost the Cold War that they longed for some way to make the United States pay for the collapse of their beloved empire. It was his experience that such realists could rationalize any number of crimes and atrocities because it served some higher purpose directly related to them. After reporting his findings to his superiors Mitch quickly sought reassignment and prayed to a god he didn't really believe exist that he would never have to interact with anyone like that again.

“Okay,” Jack said, “I'm alive because I was a science experiment in modern forms of torture. Please tell me what the hell I got myself involved with and don't give me any national security bullshit.”

That was when Mitch Lawson began to tell the story that challenged Jacks perceptions of the world. It all started in the mid 1960's when a collection of biologists formed a secret group dedicated to the advancement of the human species. Their idea was to create a new form of human with enhanced intelligence and physical attributes and then have these augments dispersed throughout the rest of the species uplifting everyone. This group approached several national governments but with the memory of extremely racist eugenic experiments performed all over the Western world still reverberating through the collective consciousness they all declined.

This group then approached several billionaires and even corporations that were far more receptive. The infusion of an unlimited amount of cash did much not only for the ultimate goals but kick-started the entire bio-tech industry creating a whole spectrum of new drugs, disease-resistant crops, and even therapies for inherited disorders that genuinely helped billions across the world.

Even though their initial efforts were actually beneficial the leaders of the Eugenics movement soon saw how their work could be twisted. The first problem came as the second generation of researchers took over for the founding scientists. Their chief concern was not for humanity but how the real goal might serve the people and corporations supplying the money. Whatever the case, it was during the late 1980's the first generation of augments were born. The betas, as they came to be called, grew to adulthood quickly while immediately showing signs of significantly enhanced intelligence. Their other enhancement soon became apparent to the scientists overseeing their development. It was a dangerously level or ambition and utter disdain of “normal humans.” So much that the betas escaped the laboratory after killing off their parents and stealing billions from the project's backers.

Almost immediately the betas began a two-pronged attack on the rest of humanity during the 1990's by continuing the research on the ultimate super humans and promoting unrest and even wars all over the planet in an attempt to destroy civilization. Their reasoning being that once the “alphas” were born they would pickup all the shattered pieces.

Normal humans and their governments soon understood the nature of the threat and secretly worked together to defeat the human-looking monsters running roughshod over the planet. The results were mixed, most of the betas were eventually captured or eliminated. That left a couple of thousand of young alphas running wild and they proved to be far harder to capture until someone from American intelligence came up with a plan.

“So you're telling me Carol Briggs is a beta!” Jack exclaimed to Mitch who just sat back in his chair and smiled. “I understand her identity and that or her husband was created just eight years ago but the woman was terrified of her own shadow.”

“Once Carol and her associated were captured,” Mitch said, “we imprinted a new personality on them all and set them up among the general population. The idea being that they would be extensively watched as we waited for the alphas to come find their creators. See Jack, even above taking control of the planet the alphas wanted their parents back, and we used that to our advantage.”

“How did you imprint a new personality on Carol and the other betas?” Jack asked.

"We used a monstrous piece of technology developed during the Cold War. Who makes a better spy than someone who has no idea there is a whole other personality inside their  mind working for the enemy? Truthfully Jack, I shouldn't mention this but there is a great deal of technology kept secret from the world because the general population and hell, our lawmakers just couldn't handle the implications if they knew it existed.”

“What is Carol's real name and what did she do for the project?” Jack asked changing the conversation after becoming overwhelmed at how his understanding of reality was meaningless.

“Carol's real name is not important,” Mitch said, “she will be wiped again and placed back into society. You helped capture over two dozen of the alphas and we have strong leads on over a hundred more. To make a long story short, they are now a very endangered species.”

“No matter,” Jack said shaking his head, “I want to see Carol. I want to look the real person in the eye.”

“You deserve that much,” Mitch admitted, “I'll see what I can so.”

It took four days but when Jack was finally released from what turned out to be a secret section of an Air Force hospital Mitch Lawson drove him to the building on base that houses what he termed were “special guests” of the government.

While Mitch was able to arrange a method for Jack to see the person who once answered to the name Carol Briggs, he would be limited to seeing her from the other side of a two-way mirror. Harper wasn't happy about the strings that higher-ups had attached but in the end it didn't really matter.

The woman he knew as Carol Briggs was currently in an interrogation room with shackles confining her hands to the top of a steel table bolted to the floor. While he couldn't see her feet, it was a certainty they were being restrained as well. The two agents in the room with her kept asking questions concerning the location of the funds her comrades used to finance their various ventures. The agents also asked about where Joaquin Weiss might run since he was the only one of the alphas to escape capture.

Jack watched as “Carol” thrashed about promising that her children would make sure the people holding her captive would be killed slowly and painfully. The timid and overwhelmed woman who had first called him in the middle of the night was totally gone. With her normal personality restored it was clear she was a monster who would have slit the throats of babies without a moments hesitation if it advanced her agenda.

After sitting in the room for a hour watching Carol do everything but spin her head a full 360 degrees Jack had enough. “Okay I'm done Mitch, when can I leave and go home?”


Mitch Lawson watched Jack Harper drive off with mixed feelings. Despite his past history, the guy had gone way above what anyone would consider their duty. Lawson was almost sad that he couldn't truly call the individual known as Jack Harper a friend. An incoming text message on Lawson's cell phone returned his thought to things he could change for the better. The brief message told him to report for debriefing immediately. Knowing the nature of the person who sent it, the message was a rather terse way of reminding him exactly who was the final authority on everything he and many others hoped to accomplish.

Minutes later Mitch was allowed to enter a highly secured room deep in a building that was supposed to house only employees of the United States Department of the Interior. The room was a little to dark for his liking but he remained silent and took a seat at the large oval conference table.

“Just what does Jack Harper now know Mr. Lawson?” Asked the blond woman with penetrating green eyes who while never formally named the leader of the group leading the fight against the alphas, that was the general assumption of everyone up to the various national heads of state belonging to the loose alliance fighting them. What was never mentioned was that she was a beta herself, who turned on both her people and the children they created.

“Just what I was supposed to tell the guy. That there is a secret war being fought against genetically enhanced creatures that look like humans. As far as Jack is concerned he still believes his is just a former FBI agent who through random chance had a desperate woman stumble upon his emergency contact number.”

“The Harper identity has proved quite useful,” the blond woman said. “For the time being we will let him go on living it, although I want surveillance on him upgraded just to be sure. While the leader of the alphas is still on the run and causing trouble, all told there are only about a hundred left alive. After this defeat our best intelligence say they have abandoned the idea of recovering the betas and are concerned only for their own survival.” The blond woman finished before going on to other matters.

What still astounded Mitch was the knowledge that at one time the person known as Jack was not only a beta himself but the mate of the blond woman. That when the blond woman defected to the cause of regular humans she then personally lead the effort to capture him because he was none other than the leader of the entire Eugenics movement. The blond woman then went on to develop the plan where captured betas were given new personalities and then placed in society as bait for the alphas. The best part of her plan to defeat the alphas was the creation of Jack Harper. After installing a new personality, the new Jack Harper also received operations that changed the appearance of his face and body. That way none of the rogue alphas would know that one of their fathers was out to destroy them.

Lawson realized that none of it really mattered as long as the the threat of the alphas was eliminated. That was why he reported to the group some vague intelligence he had uncovered suggesting the alphas were looking for ways of leaving the planet. He had no idea how that information might play out in the coming years but having them anywhere but on Earth seemed like a good idea. 

(Author's note: Yes, this turned into a Star Trek fan fiction story. However due to my changes on how the Eugenics Wars transpired it of course takes place in an alternate universe, but not the damned JJ-verse. I read somewhere that the producers of the Original Series chose the 1990's as the time for the WW3-like Eugenics Wars because to them that was "far in the future."  Well the 90's came and went and the massive history altering conflict never happened leaving a couple of REAL authors to pen novels saying the conflict took place in the shadows. This is just my sad but fun version. 

Originally this was just supposed to be an X-files type of story inspired after a weekend of binge watching X-Files reruns on Netflix. In a couple of places you will see a few hints at Scully and Mulder's existence.) 

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Signal Light of Objectivism

Despite my doubts, long-time residents of the burg I find myself marooned assure me that it was once a pleasant little place. They say it possessed a genuine down home friendliness and character where everyone walking down the clean and neat streets eagerly waved hello to all the people they encountered along their way. I am also told that at one time it was filled with locally owned businesses that actually cared for the community along with providing the best in customer service.

That might have been the case at one time, but what it is now is a congested tumor filled with disgruntled suburbanites addicted to twenty-first century crass consumerism and the delusion that they are escaping the worst aspects of modern urban life. Driving down the main business section you would see nothing but one continuous run of strip malls, fast food joints, and national chain department stores and sit down restaurants. That is, or course, during the early morning or late at night when traffic is unusually light because with the regularity of mindless insects once it is time for the suburbanites to either leave or return to their hive-like neighborhoods you will be grateful for every inch you move down the congested highways.

But the local inhabitants like it this way and get rather upset should anyone suggest things that might contain or at least blunt suburban sprawl. It would not be an overstatement to say that politically speaking the entire county is so staunchly conservative that I am surprised it doesn’t elect a free-market Libertarian to the state legislature. The main reason they don’t is because they have to kowtow to equally plentiful religious right which when pushed might have some issues with the basic libertarian platform that says everything is cool if it makes someone a buck, namely the legalization of certain drugs, gambling, and prostitution. That still doesn’t prevent the occasional sighting of Ayn Rand supporter from appearing in the general population, which is what happened a few weeks back. This appearance precipitated a few basic questions concerning the beliefs of the founder and her movement that pretty much states that it is not only okay to be a douchbag but that it makes you a better human for being a selfish twit. 

See what happened was that both my wife and I refused to make dinner late one afternoon. She was tired from her long day at work with her mental condition made worse by having to navigate the choked roadways to arrive at our own glorious McMansion. The last thing she wanted to do after that experience was to stand over a hot stove.

I on the other hand had just spent a couple of hours coaxing our daughter into doing her homework, something that I contend is actually worse that driving through rush hour traffic. When you throw in the fact that just a few hours later I would heading off to do my usual night-shift routine at work I wasn’t feeling any warm fuzzies about making dinner either. My lovely spouse and I were at an impasse, so we both quickly agreed on me going to pick up Chinese food at one of the take-out restaurants in the middle of town.

A few minutes later I'm in my car driving to the our usual Chinese restaurant to pick-up our order. By this time the worst part of evening rush hour traffic had faded away but that only meant my five mile trip took just thirty minutes. The major holdup was going to be the intersection just before the strip mall where the restaurant was located, it bisected two major highways and while traffic was easing there were still many irritated and careless drivers hellbent on returning home before everyone else. That intersection does have turn lanes and dedicated traffic light turn signals to help assist the rush hour hordes. Now both the lanes and turn lights are nice efforts but in all honesty they are comparable to trying to putting out a raging forest fire with just a couple of buckets of water.

Much to my pleasant surprise, once I pulled into the left-turn lane of the intersection several of the cars ahead of me were able to slide through before the light changed. The only car in front of me was an ultra high end BMW and I figured once the left turn traffic light came back up he would use every one of his mighty German horses to punch through allowing me to pick up the food. Yeah, not only was I was getting rather hungry, as sure as massive bears leave steamy piles of poop in the deep and dark woods I knew was wife even then ready to take a bite out anything close to organic in origin. So, it was going to behoove me get home as quickly as possible with the food before I had to explain to my coworkers that night why a chunk of my butt was missing.

For reasons I can't explain the left-turn signal didn't pop up that time forcing me and Mr. BMW to wait. It was then that I noticed the “Who is John Galt” sticker neatly affixed to the dead center of that guy's rear bumper.

Low and behold that afternoon I had stumbled upon one of the local Ayn Rand supporters. While I automatically despise Rand and anyone who supports her ideas to the point I wouldn't piss on them if they were on fire I do harbor an intense curiosity at their coldblooded view at life. At the heart of her ideas is the basic premise that simple human compassion is misplaced and that the highest form of behavior a person can emulate is selfishness.

Screw the basic principles of the Judo-Christian ethic that we are in fact our brother and sister's keeper, according to her if you see a destitute family on the street that is cold and hungry the best thing you can do is walk on by and ignore their plight. Even if you are rolling in cash and hypothetically speaking, have a carload or warm clothes. According to Ayn and her fictional creation, John Galt, poor people are probably in that situation for a reason. The usual assumption being a combination of laziness and bad choices. Yeah, some people are poor because they have screwed up their lives but Rand's people completely ignore the vagaries of economic fluctuations and even natural disasters.

So in the end Ayn Rand's philosophy boils down to the simple presumption that compassion is wrong, selfishness is a virtue, and screw everyone else as long as I am happy, healthy, and secure. Which is a funny given what almost happened to Mr. BMW at that intersection.

Since the left-turn signal didn't come up that meant traffic flowed normally forcing Mr. BMW to pull further out into the intersection so he could wait for his chance to turn. Oncoming traffic had built up again and I figured that the light would turn red before I had my own chance to turn so unlike Mr. BMW, I didn't follow him into the intersection. Sure enough, the signal light turned yellow and a couple of seconds later, red leaving Mr. BMW sitting in the middle of the crossroads.
 However before he could scoot across a huge pickup truck, a Ford F-350, came barreling through at a fairly high rate of speed, completely ignoring the red light. If in fact Mr. BMW had tried to make the turn his nice car and himself would have been smashed like an aluminum can. Once the truck had passed Mr. BMW made his left turn and drove away unscathed.

Just a few minutes later the traffic lights cycled through allowing me to reach my intended destination and pick up our food and get home before my wife's hunger turned her completely wild. But as I was driving home the thought occurred to me, given Mr. BMW's obvious Rand/Galt-loving philosophy if in fact the truck had hit his car causing him to be gravely injured would I have been wrong to demand some form of payment BEFORE I tried to gave any aid? I mean since compassion is a weakness and Rand clearly states that selfishness is a virtue so Mr. BMW shouldn't have had a problem with me just exercising the very principles he believes in as his broken body bled all over the nice upholstery?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Just when you think it can't get any weirder....

Just when you think things can't get any weirder some new idiot crawls out from under their Medieval rock and starts spouting crazy religious crap.  A government employee in Kentucky gets all holier-than-thou over gay marriage even though her own past history is littered with numerous white trailer-trash moments. A kid in Texas gets arrested for bringing a clock to school because he is Muslim. And now a kid is told he is one of the devil's minions because he writes with his left hand.

OKEMAH, Okla. -- A 4-year-old was allegedly forced by his teacher to write with his right hand, even though he’s left-handed.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 3: Final Convergence

 (Author's note: Doing Flash Fiction Fridays again, link over and read the other great stories.)

When he awoke and looked around, nothing in the room seemed familiar. Scott tried to remain calm and just waited for everything to come into focus. It had been years since the last transition and it always took time for his senses to adjust to how things had changed. Disappointment flooded through his mind as things became clearer. Scott had begun to hope the rift in space he had opened around himself in a foolish attempt to run away from his problems had finally healed letting him finally piece together a new life.

The new room was about the same size as the one he went to sleep in, that at least was a consistent pattern but the furnishings were radically different. The ornate Colonial American style dressing table, Chester drawers and night stands he had come to appreciate had been replaced with brightly colored, ultra modern looking equivalents that while functional seemed sterile and utilitarian. Even the bed he found himself was just a mattress laying on top of a box spring that was only slightly raised above a hardwood floor.

More importantly, Scott realized that from the looks of the disheveled bed sheets he, or more accurately, his counterpart had not slept alone the night before. Experience had long taught Scott that while he was alone he should try to figure out the type of person whose existence he had abruptly assumed.

After climbing out of bed, he quickly searched through the drawers of his nightstand, dresser, and open closet. In the process, he found a wallet with identification saying he was Scott Wilson Phillips of Los Angeles, California. That little bit of information was actually a huge relief, while patterns repeated across contrasting realities, occasionally he would drop into a completely different identity. Since he had the same name in this new existence there was a good chance he wouldn't have to relearn the basics of life and family history.

On a whim, he opened the curtains of the huge window that occupied one full wall of the bedroom and was greeted by bright sunlight and a gleaming city situated next the ocean. Wherever he was it didn't look like his Los Angeles or any of the others he had visited. The buildings he could see were mostly futuristic, organic-looking constructions made up of spheres and pyramidal structures all connected by an elevated mass transit system. On the ground, he could barely see the streets because of all the trees planted alongside. Where there were breaks in the foliage covering the roadway he saw small cars and people riding bikes.

“At least here they seemed to have beaten the problem with smog.” Scott said out loud to himself remembering the overwhelming level of pollution he had to deal with in the last reality.

A sound originating outside the bedroom pulled Scott's attention back to his immediate surroundings. Subconsciously feeling like a trespasser he quietly walked out of the bedroom careful not to make any noise. Just past the bedroom doorway was a small flight of stairs leading down to what looked like a living area with a couch and chairs. Again taking care not to announce his presence Scott slowly descended the stairs listening for any sounds that might give a hint of his current situation.

Reaching the bottom, he saw that the living room had the same utilitarian style as the bedroom above. The furniture was basic but comfortable and there was another huge window looking out at a different section of the city. The amazing view almost pulled Scott towards the window but another sound further off to his left reclaimed his complete attention. Hugging close to a small section of wall on his left he turned the corner and saw her.

“Amanda,” Scott gasped in bewilderment.

The beautiful blond woman, dressed in a loose t-shirt and yoga pants was standing at the kitchen counter buttering a piece of toast quickly turned around after hearing her name. “Hello sleepyhead,” she said rushing over to embrace Scott. “I was beginning to think you weren't going to ever wake up. You tossed and turned all night and there was one time I woke up and you seemed to have disappeared. I just assumed you went to the bathroom, so I turned over and went back to sleep. Just how did you make it to the bathroom without turning on the light?”

Scott just stood there looking into the face of his long dead wife. It was definitely Amanda he thought to himself, although graceful lines now played across her face signifying the fourteen years that had gone by in this reality. When Amanda had died in his reality she had been just twenty-five years old, and at her athletic prime.

“What's wrong Scott?” Amanda asked, “you look like you've seen a ghost.”

Scott longed to tell her the truth about everything but instead he pulled her close not wanting to ever let go. This Amanda's body was just as firm as he remembered his own wife's had been and it didn't take long for her to respond to his burning desire.

“Wait a minute baby,” she said pulling away, “I have hospital rounds this morning and you have some sort of presentation to give to your egghead physics buddies. As much as I would like to play hooky and make love all day we both have responsibilities.”

Scott just nodded sheepishly and let Amanda slip away to eat her breakfast. “You're right,” he said, “there are times I just can't seem to control myself around you.” He hesitated several seconds being careful to phrase his next question so his newly returned wife would not think he was going insane. “Amanda, I have forgotten most of the stuff I'm supposed to do today. Where did I put my schedule keeper?”

“Oh God,” she said in dismay, “you'd forget your own head if it wasn't attached to your neck. Your data planner is on the desk by the couch.

Feeling he had dodged a bullet, Scott walked back into the living room and found what looked to him to be a normal computer tablet laying on the desk. Before he could reach down to pick it up a face appeared on the screen. “Hello Dr. Phillips,” the voice attached to the pleasant but clearly computer-generated face said, “I am ready to assist you today.”

“Please show me my schedule,” Scott said hoping it would be easy to gain access to his counterpart's files.

“What is the password doctor.” The artificial face asked him back.

“Oh not again,” Amanda said from the kitchen, “just use the retina scan override, you'll be all day trying to guess your password.”

The retina scan procedure took only a few seconds and with his computer assistant now believing Scott was his counterpart he had total access to that man's data. A few minutes later Scott had reviewed his counterpart's schedule and was sure he could pass himself off as the other man.

“One word of warning Dr. Phillips,” the tablet said, “until you re-institute protection firewalls, anyone can access the data in my files or listen to incoming calls.”

“That's fine,” Scott said placing the device back on the desk, “I'll take care of that later.” He then ran back upstairs to shower and get ready for the day. Scott could not believe how fate had smiled on him and he decided right then to drop all his research and find a way to make sure he never left this reality.

Twenty minutes later Scott returns to the living room to see Amanda sitting on the couch holding his computer tablet with tears rolling down her eyes. “You lied to me, you bastard!” She screamed at him. “You said there was nothing between you two and I believed it!”

Without another word Amanda handed Scott the tablet after triggering it to play back a recorded video call he received just minutes before.

“Hello Scotty,” a brunette woman said from the screen, “I've made our reservations for the resort down in Acapulco for next month. It starts the day after your wife leaves for the conference in London and ends two days before she get back. I can't wait to see you for lunch today.”

Scott lowered the tablet and looked back at his wife. She now held a small pistol in her hand and was taking aim at the center of his chest. Before he could say anything Amanda pulled the trigger and he fell to the floor feeling the blood flowing out from the chest wound.

As Scott's life slipped away he had time to think of the cosmic joke associated with his existence. It had been his rage at the discovery that his own Amanda was having an affair with another man that caused him to murder her. Overwhelmed with guilt, he later rushed to his laboratory and climbed inside an experimental quantum phase inverter that was supposed to painlessly scramble all his atoms into nothingness, instead it deposited him in an alternate reality.

A few seconds before Scott died he realized this was a fitting but ultimately ironic end to all his journeys.