Sunday, December 30, 2012

Second Hand Inheritance

 (Author's Note: This is a little post-Mayan Doomsday fun based on a National Geographic Channel special entitled "Evacuate Earth." Certain aspects of the show have been changed just for fun and because the show's assumptions were stupid.)  

Out of all the crew and passengers aboard the United Earth Ship Pathfinder it was the captain herself who precisely expressed the unspoken thoughts of everyone as it entered orbit around the fourth planet in the Tau Ceti star system.

“Oh my God,” she said while viewing the world that by default had become the new home for the small remnant of humanity left alive, “we actually made it.” History excused Captain Elizabeth Lin Dunn for her less than profound statement for the sheer fact that since the old Christian calendar year of 2042 the human race had been facing near certain extinction.

The nightmare began when several swarms of house-sized meteors crashed into various locations on the Earth. Most impacted in remote regions causing no deaths or destruction but the few exceptions were enough to send science teams in all the old nations scrambling for answers. Needless to say after eighteen months of scanning the skies the results they found condemned the entire human race. The various governments, paralyzed and dumbfounded by the sheer enormity of what they found, tried to keep the information classified but after several suicides by prominent astronomers’ word finally leaked out forcing an official announcement.

By mutual agreement, the leaders of the major countries went on both radio and television to jointly announce that in one-hundred and twenty years a rogue neutron star of approximately three solar masses would pass through the solar system. The gravitational disruption was certain to throw every planet in the Solar System into wild new orbits, if not destroy them outright.

At first, the general population across the planet refused to believe the news. Some thought it a first world ploy to scam the undeveloped nations for their resources. Many suspicious types in the richer countries thought it was a conspiracy to establish a one-world government. While the national governments went silent with indecision and the majority of the world’s population refused to believe how dire the situation several teams of scientists and engineers scrambled to come up with some means to deny the oncoming interstellar rogue a complete victory.

Within a year the scientists and engineers purposed the Horizon Project, a plan to build an interstellar ark to take some of humanity and as many other terrestrial lifeforms as possible to another world. Despite their sincere efforts, the members that came up with the project were laughed at and ridiculed from every quarter.  For two years humanity tried to forget about the strange swarm of meteors of 2042 but like the myths of gods becoming angry over human petulance the universe would not allow the arrogance of the naked primates to stand for long.

In 2045, several observatories and soon after that scores of amateur astronomers detected a swarm of six large comets beyond Saturn headed for the inner solar system. By sheer chance Jupiter was in the proper orbital position to take the hits by four of the comets with one impacting its giant moon Europa destroying it and creating a new, massive ring system. The sixth comet, far enough away from the rest was thrown off its intended course, continued into the inner solar system, and back out into the darkness. After that scare, everyone was far more receptive to the Horizon Project.

Horizon drew heavily on an idea first developed back in the 1960’s on a spaceship design that used nuclear bombs like a putt-putt motor to propel itself thru space. A hypothetical spaceship would expel a nuclear device behind it; have it exploded at some safe distance away, with the blast hitting a pusher plate on the ship. The idea was very workable but Cold War tensions at that time ultimately killed the any chance at seeing giant space ships cruising the solar system in the twentieth century. As the project died, a famous scientist at the time remarked that if you upscale the design such a ship could reach a significant percentage of the speed of light.

For the desperate early days of the Horizon Project after the comet scare it was found that even working with test data from the 1960’s much practical engineering research still needed to be done. For that reason, it was decided to build a smaller ship before the giant ark. The smaller ship would still be equipped with everything needed to restart humanity but its main purpose would be to allow enough practical knowledge to be build the main vessel.

Fifty years after the decision was made the Pathfinder left the solar system for Tau Ceti with the main ark still under construction. Our destination was actually discovered in 2012 but at the time, there were huge questions as to whether it was even a rocky, terrestrial type planet. Further observations from space-based telescopes in the mid-2020’s refined our knowledge until it was certain an earth-type planet with a oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere and an average planetary temperature that would allow water to exist in a liquid form. The exoplanet team for the Horizon Project knew of other possible candidates but uncertainties about them made Tau Ceti Four the best bet for a desperate species.

While the Pathfinder itself was a seven kilometer long ship with the humans living in a rotating sphere six hundred meters in diameter which recreated a very earth-like environment. For two-hundred fifteen years we traveled the immense distance to our new home hoping for the best. It was a tough go for the first ten years, major issues with untried systems kept the crew struggling to prevent total disaster. At least our efforts prevented the Ark from having similar calamities when it finally launched fifteen years before the neutron star arrived.

After all the celebrations the over six-thousand people aboard the Pathfinder looked down on the planet, they traveled so far to make home and were greatly disappointed. After two centuries of living comfortably in an artificial habitat, to them Tau Ceti Four was a cold and desolate place with nothing but bleak, windblown continents and oceans empty of life except for single cell plants and animals.

The population of Pathfinder was so disillusioned that barely a Earth year after arrival there was open talk of just staying onboard and building factories on the largest of Tau Ceti Four’s two moons and constructing a whole series of habitats similar to the twenty-four kilometer long Ark carrying the greater mass of surviving humans and terrestrial plants and animals. Along with synthetic reality helmets with millions of recorded hours of Earth’s lost wildernesses and cities to experience and explore in a total sensory immersion people could live out their years in peace and security.    

That was eleven Earth years ago and for the most part everyone is just waiting for the arrival of the Ark in thirty-three years before making any decision. My parents, Nadir and Lydia Chopra, were part of the dissenting group, mainly anyone in the life sciences divisions, wanting a chance to shape Tau Ceti Four into a real planetary home for humanity.

This group of a little over a thousand people picked a spot near the equator on one of Tau Ceti Four’s continents to establish New Jericho. My parents named me Aaron and I was sixteen when they and my three younger siblings set foot on the surface of the planet our group had unofficially named “Haven.”  I immediately hated the place just for the simple fact that my parents had taken me away for my friends and activities that could only be done on the ship. To make matters worse, life for the first few years was very hard as the group built the town and the basic infrastructure to support a proto-civilization.

My father was killed barely a year later during the building of the aqueduct that would supply fresh water to the town. I had hoped my mother would chose to return to Pathfinder but his death only made her more determined to stay. When the basic framework for New Jericho, including a wall surrounding the entire town, was completed, the settlers began their real job trying to adapt Haven to imported terrestrial life like grasses and trees.

As the years passed my mother’s insane devotion to Haven slowly began to rub off on my siblings and me. Since they were younger, it was easier for my brother and two sisters to adapt but it took meeting my future wife, Ruth Campbell, before I became committed to life on our glorified mudball. Following my parents footsteps I became a botanist with a secondary degree in fresh water ecosystems. Our progress in seeding any terrestrial life on Haven was exceedingly slow, and where it took root every one of us “grounders”, as the people still living on the ship liked to call us, took a very parental attitude in its care and further development. That is why I received a call in the middle of one of Haven’s long nights.

“Hey Aaron,” the voice of my boss Akemi Satou said from my communicator.“Got some very bad news, just received a data burst from the relay station out in Apple Valley, looks like there was a huge seismic event. At first light, I need you to take one of the buggies over there and find out how bad things are.”

“Yeah no problem Akemi,” I said wiping the sleep from my eyes while glancing over at my sleeping wife and baby son. We’re three Haven weeks from a scheduled visit anyway so I’ll load up and go ahead and do the full inspection.”

“Good man,” Akemi said, “if the situation turns out to be a total disaster call me on the comm and we will bring the entire seeding team out there to help pick up the pieces.”

After hanging up on Akemi I laid back down in bed and felt a huge wave of disappointment wash over me. My mom had led the team that did the first several waves preparation and actual seeding of Apple Valley making it one of our few huge successes. Ringed by ancient, weathered mountains the valley itself was protected from that region’s harsh spring and fall winds and with the dependable Apple River running down the middle the valley was always well watered. In the springtime, the valley was covered with grass and wildflowers and even had a collection of healthy young oak and pine trees.

The idea of most if not all of that destroyed was more than enough to prevent me from sleeping so after kissing my small family goodbye I left our small cottage and began walking over to the science buildings. Within an hour, I had a buggy loaded up with both camping supplies and test equipment in case the damage to Apple Valley was minor. Driving through the town’s main gate and watching its walls disappear behind me I had to laugh at the silliness of us humans. With absolutely no Haven lifeforms bigger than an amoeba-like animal, we still felt insecure enough to enclose New Jericho inside high security walls. To me it seemed a huge and stupid waste of resources and time but even now with the town council making plans to expand the perimeter to provide more living and working space its sort of amazing we humans were intelligent enough to escape or doomed home solar system. At least we Grounders could easily expand, those living on the Pathfinder and the Ark had to live within tightly confined boundaries inside their closed system habitats. 

After a three-hour night drive, I arrived at the mountains surrounding Apple Valley and made camp on one of the highest plateaus that would give me a near total view of the area after sunrise. As I more or less planned, I arrived at my location with four hours left to Haven’s fifteen terrestrial hour night. Both Haven’s moons were below the horizon leaving the stars an unobstructed stage to show off all their glory. I quickly spotted the wounded Sol and like every human being left alive, the final images of Earth being torn apart by the passing neutron star were burned into my soul.

Both Pathfinder and the Ark were already well out of the solar system but an array of satellites beamed the final pictures to both ships. They were mind numbingly depressing in their scope and were only surpassed by the knowledge nearly two billion people were left alive on the planet at that time in various deep shelters choosing to ride it out to the very end. The end result was the shattered Earth forming a new asteroid belt around the sun as the neutron star passed back out into deep space.

Almost as if on cue, Pathfinder sailed above the horizon bringing me back to the present. The brightest object in the sky I aimed my binoculars on it to see the new, giant photovoltaic solar sails being deployed to increase the ship’s available power. It was common knowledge for both us Grounders and for the Spacers still living on the ship that a schism was developing between the two groups. Such a split went against every promise made on the long voyage to Tau Ceti. During those long and lonely years, we all assured each other that this was Humanity’s chance to be something more than a bunch of squabbling monkeys. That night on the plateau, I drifted off to sleep saying a prayer to an uncaring universe hoping that something would prevent what seemed inevitable.

(Final author's notes: First, this is the end of part one, and yes whether you like it or not there will really be a part two since its almost done and I have a clear idea where I want to take it, unlike a few other stinky pieces I have more or less abandoned. Second, the nuclear pulse drive used on both the fictional Pathfinder and the Ark was actually developed in the 1960's and was called Project Orion. Third, the show had the destination for the fictional survivors as Barnard's Star. In reality it's a freaking low mass red dwarf whose "Goldilocks zone" is to damn close for any real chance for there to be a planet we could hope to live. Adding to the real estate issues, red dwarfs tend to have massive flares, and Barnard had a huge one back in 1998, that would cook any human refuge colony without a nice supply of one-billion sunblock. Okay, nuff said.) 


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Septic Tank Monster that Ate Christmas

Finding any Christmas spirit for me is an increasingly difficult task each year. Many stores in my area now pull out their Santa and other Christmas displays about two weeks before Halloween, which creates a curious dichotomy down some aisles as happy and joyous Christmas stuff shares shelf space with sinister looking masks of bloodthirsty monsters and psychotic aliens. Shortly after that, obnoxious televisions commercials start barraging us with propaganda that associate love and friendship with the buying of largely meaningless crap. Speaking strictly for myself, it all leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. Throw in the unbelievably tragic recent events and my natural cynicism was augmented with a large dose of outright despair.

Not until early Christmas morning itself as my daughter and I sat on the couch watching the movie Polar Express that the clouds of skepticism and gloom lifted to any great degree. This Christmas was suppose to be gloriously simple since my wife and kids were scheduled to leave the next day to go see her mom up in Richmond, Virginia. Christmas dinner was going to be hamburgers cooked on the grill and then we were all suppose to go see Les Misérables, despite excessive moans of disgust from both my teenage son and ten year-old daughter. But Fate’s fickle finger decided to collectively poke us in the eyes and throw everything into a huge tailspin.

It was mid-Christmas morning with your intrepid blogger sitting at the computer desk in the living room with his fingers dancing over his trusty laptop keyboard after having a major breakthrough on a story that had been stuck in a creative rut for several days. My wife was sitting in a nearby chair reading a magazine and my kids were upstairs watching some movie. At some point, my creative nirvana was interrupted when I started hearing a gurgling sound coming from the kid’s bathroom in no way associated with them performing routine dental hygiene.

“Oh Hell,” I said automatically fearing the worst when it comes to all things related with our two-thousand square foot money hole. Walking into the small bathroom all my suspicions were answered when I saw brown water rising up into the tub. A quick flush of the toilet further confirmed the worst with it failing to do its proper operation. Walking across the house to the master bathroom, I found water coming up in both the whirlpool tub and shower stall and that toilet also unable to flush.

“Son of a Bitch,” I groaned feeling all my hard earned warm and fuzzy Christmas spirit evaporating like an insane Frosty the Snowman on vacation in the tropics. At first, I just assumed that our septic tank was filled and that until someone could come and pump it out my family and I were metaphorically shit out of luck while in actuality we were suffering from an overabundance of the substance. If my reaction was understated my wife’s verged on outright panic. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated her response since trying to get someone to come pump out a septic tank on a normal day is tough enough, needing that same service on Christmas Day is exponentially worse. I could write a lot more about how this situation was far more messed up than what I am saying at this moment but you simply do not want to know.

So, with no working bathrooms and absolutely no prospect of them being repaired until the next day my wife and kids packed up and left early for Richmond. Of course, that left me the responsibility to deal with getting everything fixed and to take care of my own bodily functions until then. I did make a few phone calls while the wife and kids packed just on the very slim chance I could get someone to my house that day but all efforts were an utter failure. By the time the wife and kids got on the road two hours later I had to run out myself to find someplace open to take care of what you might expect. To say I was disgusted would be an understatement but there was nothing I could do but institute the old army saying of: “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.”

It was a cold, smelly comfort but with the house quiet, I tried to return to my writing. It was then Fate intervened once again, as I sat typing I once again heard a strange sound coming from the kid’s bathroom. The sound was the same gurgling but in a lower tone.

“Ah what fresh Hell comes my way now?” I said to the house while I got up to investigate. For reasons I cannot explain I soon learned that all the standing water in the bathtubs and the shower stall had drained out and both toilets were now operational. While I was very happy with this new state of affairs, it still left the question as to why the stoppage had occurred in the first place. As the afternoon progressed, I tested several theories but was unable to recreate the condition.

Figuring an ounce of prevention might be better than a pound of cure so first thing this morning I ran to the nearest hardware place and bought several things that were suppose to help clean out my obviously troubled septic system. The end result was amazing in its subtle irony. After pouring a drain cleaner in all the bathroom drains the directions said to run hot water immediately afterwards for about five minutes. No problem, I had a few other minor chores to do during that time and when I returned instead of all that water quickly flowing down my newly clean drains I had standing water in them again. Not only that, the toilets were once again out of operation putting me back at square one.

I sit here now waiting for the plumber to come and hopefully do their expensive magic and set everything back the way it should be. To say this Christmas has stunk would be much too easy, but whatever way it will be remembered it is sure to go down in the history books.

***Update- The plumber left about twenty minutes and after clearing the pipe, he said it looks like we have some type of root in our sewer line. What that ultimately means will be answered when the guys with the camera system designed to scout out such places arrives. Damn!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On The Events Last Friday

It was a hot summer’s day at Fort Bliss, Texas during my basic training in 1984 when the drill sergeants herded the other trainees and me into the old building serving as the place for our instruction on the fundamentals of combat first aid. If I remember correctly, it was rather late in the afternoon and after a horrendous session where Drill Sergeant Bogen and Garcia smoked the hell out of us with a couple of hundred push-ups and the same amount of mountain climber exercises for some stupid transgression. Because of the heat and activity, all of us trainees were slightly nauseous and ready for the forthcoming period where all we were supposed to do was sit at desks and listen to the army medic acting as an instructor and watch a slideshow.

As much as I was personally ready to sit at my desk and go into my patented daze which even the toughest and smartest DI’s could not tell if I was awake and paying attention or asleep with my eyes open the material we had to watch kept my full attention. The slideshow turned out to be pictures of human bodied suffering from various wounds by assault rifles including the M-16A1.

To avoid all the gory details I will simply write that most assault rifles, and specifically the M-16 and ALL its derivative models use rounds designed to fragment inside body tissue producing massive wounds. The pictures I saw that day were both horrendous and terrifying. The wounds they showed had more in common with what comes out of a slaughter house meat grinder than human beings whether they were friend or foe. Even for a bunch of guys who for weeks had been indoctrinated in the glories of being a soldier the pictures of massive gaping wounds was enough to not only wake us up but turn our already raw stomachs. 

Simply put modern assault weapons are meant to serious maim more than kill. This produces a side “benefit” of forcing another trooper to provide care resulting in two people rendered combat ineffective. When you combine the destructive power of modern assault weapons with their enormous rate of fire for soldiers in a combat situation it makes them highly effective.

Unfortunately, we have an extremely surreal situation in America where fools living under delusional ideas of patriotism or manhood and others suffering from apocalyptic paranoia have created a market for such weapons among civilians. I write surreal because I cannot go to a drug store and buy a full-strength sinus medicine without having to show my identification and some record of my purchase being made.

Of course, this is because criminals have in the past bought mass quantities to make highly addictive methamphetamine. But you can buy all the ammunition for any pistol or rifle you want and talented right-wing media types and fancy lawyers will proclaim it a right protected under the Second Amendment. I will not even begin to write about how all sorts of professionals working with much safer equipment than a weapon have to go through periodic recertification and evaluation. Somehow, a weapon of mass killing is thought of along the same lines as a computer or microwave oven.

As anyone can guess, I am writing this over the terrible events that happened in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday when an insane individual using a Bushmaster assault weapon his mother legally bought slaughtered twenty children and seven adults. The Bushmaster is a civilian version of the M-16 family of weapons and with the high capacity, thirty-round magazines the assailant used he turned those children and adults into pictures of carnage I remember from my basic training days.

As the days since that massacre have passed whole collections of misguided idiots and paranoid fools have come out of the woodwork screaming about how unfair or wrong it would be to ban their favorite adult play toys. The misguided idiots wrap themselves up in the American flag crying about their Constitutional rights even as the blood of those children lay drying in their classroom floors while those who believe in black helicopters and rampaging zombie hordes huddle in their bunkers with their precious firearms waiting for some doomsday.

The funny and disgusting thing for me in all this is that at one time I bought into all the mass hysteria over civilian assault weapons and the “right” to own one for protection. Time and more constructive interests like SCUBA diving and surfing took me and my money away from that insanity. Still though since I was raised in the southern gun culture where it is a religion in every since of the word I generally ignored those who continued with the crazed pursuit even though they often irritated the Hell out of me with their zealotry. This included several close family members who have now effectively disowned me.

Like many others, the events in Newtown have shattered my casual indifference and I will join or work with any group that seeks to ban further civilian purchase of assault weapons and the outright elimination of high capacity magazines that allows such rapid-fire carnage. Rabid Second Amendment types will of course whine about their rights and how the purposed assault weapons ban will leave those weapons only in the hands of nasty criminals. That would be a valid point if the Newtown massacre and the ones before that were the result of someone using an illegally procured weapon.

For the possible, but very few right-wing types who read my crap I am not talking about repealing the Second Amendment, I own a semi-automatic pistol and a small caliber rifle that I keep hidden along with my tiny amount of ammo, which is in a separate location. A total ban on all civilian ownership of firearms is both impossible and wrong; countless millions of responsible adults hunt and own a weapon for protection. I say again, I am all for the Second Amendment as I am all for free speech which is protected under the First Amendment but like everyone knows no one has the right to yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater. I believe the same thing about the Second Amendment, while responsible adults have a right to own a pistol or rifle military grade firearms DO NOT belong in the hands of civilians under any circumstance and I will work to see them banned. I cannot deal with seeing any more pictures of slaughtered innocent children because of the fears and delusions of a few.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A South Carolina Second Coming?

"South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum."

You had to figure that since Newty Gingrich was delusional enough to crawl out from under his rock and seek the presidential nomination for the Republican Party in the last election that others with questionable morals but a consuming need for political power would soon follow. Well, word is leaking out here in South Carolina that none other the Appalachian Trail walker himself, former governor Mark Sanford, is interested in returning to the highest elected office in the Palmetto State.

Not sure how many out there remember this but to recap just a few years ago good old boy Mark Sanford who was our governor at that time along with being “happily” married became involved with an Argentine lady. As with any illicit affair, it had its issues but theirs had the extra special problem of logistics in that his mistress actually lived in Argentina. Proving that a male’s small head can, and usually does, overwhelm the larger the good governor dropped everything one day, told most everyone around him he was going hiking in North Carolina, and caught an airplane headed way, way down south for some hot-blooded Latin love.

Most people would correctly guess a serving governor, even one of South Carolina, cannot just disappear for several days without it being noticed and that was the case with the Palmetto Lover Boy. Questions started swirling like a Kansas tornado in springtime and eventually the extramarital cat got out of the bag with the governor making a strange but tearful speech after he returned about how he had been a bad boy. Of course, with a state filled with sanctimonious type all sorts of cries for impeachment were heard but they eventually died away since the end of Sanford’s second term was rapidly approaching at that time.

With Mark Sanford’s political obituary being read by all pundits the forlorn guy sneaked out of office with his tail between his legs. Really no one should have felt sorry for the guy, the only exception being Rush Limbaugh who lamented he could have been the Republican JFK(See footnote at bottom), because he was back down in Argentina just a few weeks later.     

Now I am not sure how Sanford plans on returning to political life, he has already served two full terms but down here, but laws and the state constitution have always been very pliable things subject to quick change when they become inconvenient. Plus, from what little research I have done there is a chance that former governors may be limited to two consecutive terms allowing them to return after a short stint away from the state house. I swear, I started reading South Carolina’s state Constitution to find out for sure about the details but after five minutes I developed a huge headache that was well on its way to becoming a cerebral aneurysm. So there you have all the ugly, but passionate details of the soap opera that is Mark Sanford.   

Part of me wants to write that South Carolina is well on its way to becoming yet again the joke of the United States but I just do not know. Polls here suggest lover boy has a huge uphill climb before we see the political Second Coming of Mark Sanford and him basking in the glow of electoral victory. But it all boils back down to that curious delusional white haired, former Speaker of the House who unceremoniously dumped two wives during his political career and promoted his mistress to wife number three but yet felt compelled to declare himself morally upright enough to be the savior of Western Civilization and be taken seriously by his party and the press. Therefore, you have to admit Mark Sanford returning to power ain’t such a long shot after all.

(***FOOTNOTE: When I heard Limbaugh whine about how Sanford could have been their JFK it seemed obvious to me that historical irony was another fine nuance of life that escapes his dim mental capacity.) 

From Fits News:

Mark Sanford Mulls (Another) Gubernatorial Bid in 2014

 Despite a very poor showing in recent statewide polling, former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford continues to plot a political comeback.  In fact it’s looking increasingly like the “Love Guv” – who was almost run out of office in 2009 due to complications stemming from an extramarital affair – has his eye on his old digs.
One source tells FITS that Sanford recently told a small group of supporters that he is “ninety percent” committed to running for governor – the office he held from 2003-2011.
Obviously Sanford faces an uphill climb.  According to a new Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey released this week, fifty-three percent of South Carolina voters have a negative opinion of him compared to just 30 percent who view him in a favorable light.  Among Republicans, 44 percent view him unfavorably compared to 39 percent who have a favorable impression.

“His prospects for a comeback to electoral office don’t look very bright,” PPP’s pollsters noted.
While Sanford’s numbers are abysmal, rumors about a possible comeback persist.
Why?  Because money talks … literally.
According to the latest filings at the S.C. State Ethics Commission, Sanford’s gubernatorial account (yes, the one from 2006) is sitting on $1.1 million – more than enough cash to embark on an image reclamation tour.  Various political groups affiliated with Sanford have another $200,000 squirreled away.
That’s more than enough money to be competitive …
And for all his faults as a candidate and executive, Sanford is a money-raising machine – with one helluva Rolodex.
He’s also gotten engaged to his former mistress – removing some of the stigma associated with his indiscretion.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Under the Weather

One of the problems with this strange little age we find ourselves living in is that being slightly sick is no excuse for anything. Caught a "minor" bug about a week ago and while I can deal with the headache and occasional chills anything involving higher brain functions takes too much effort. I am already working with a deficit of functional brain cells, so any illness puts me further in the black.

This has not stopped me from going to work at night or dealing with my wife's revised Honey-Do list over the weekend. In a way this minor bug is worse than the actual flu which I took a shot for about a month ago. If I was bedridden feeling like a zombie at least I could enjoy some serious couch time while watching countless hours of DVD movies and eating all sorts of snack crap. Right now I am dragging my butt to work finishing up my monthly duties before everyone flies off in different direction for Christmas. It is the same here at the house with my wife wanting two hallways and the foyer painted before she and the kids head off to Richmond, Virginia to see her family.

Dragonwife plans on leaving the day after Christmas and I aim to sleep at least 18 hours once they drive off. After that my duties will be reduced to feeding and walking the dogs and going down to Charleston at least once for a bar crawl. Crappy fiction and semi-psychotic rants should return at that point. Enjoy some Buffett till then.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Final Peace on Earth

 (Author's note: Excuse the typos, did this in a hurry and will correct later.)

Those few left with some interest in human history and the state of civilization had long since classified the era I was born into as the Age of Fear. Both people and nations based their whole existences on whom or what might be lurking around the corner or hiding in the night ready to cause them harm or take some of their precious possessions.

On an individual level for those that could afford it in the United States this dread took the form of true gated communities complete with twenty-foot high fences around the entire perimeter of paranoid neighborhoods and private guards. For those less fortunate, namely those living in urban settings, survival required some sort of alliance with gangs, which were usually as vicious to those they were suppose to protect as it was to their enemies.

Nations were even worse, by the mid-2030’s the world was a seething mass of complicated alliances and pacts with so many lines drawn in the sand that the smallest ethnic or religious incident regularly threatened to send everyone over the brink. Increasing scarcity of vital resources like oil and fresh water along with massive swings in climate producing an escalating number of destructive super storms only made things worse.

In an attempt to protect their interests and allies, the United States government kept twenty-five aircraft carriers, along with the required support ships, at sea each brimming with sophisticated warplanes ready to launch at a moment’s notice. The Chinese had twenty-three similar vessels and they and the United States Navy played a dangerous game of chicken in the world’s ocean with lesser powers either joining along or nervously watching on the sidelines.

For decades pundits and politicians told us in America we had to be prepared to defend democracy and our freedoms and to do that meant even more weapons, tighter security here at home, and eternal vigilance overseas. But armored tanks, stealthy submarines, and sleek jet fighters cost hundreds of millions if not multiple billions of dollars requiring sacrifice from patriotic citizens who could learn to live without decent roads, schools, or health care.    

As our perpetual war machine readied for new conflicts the masses would mindlessly parade into churches during Christmas and Easter to pray for peace. It was all a grand production fit for the finest stage play. The pastor would stand high on his pulpit in his expensive suit with his arms raised pleading for guidance from God in hopes about bringing goodwill on Earth. The parishioners would sit in the pews with men looking at best somber but more than likely bored with the whole affair while the women just tried to look dignified. Even as a child I could tell the preacher was mouthing the words while the others were just going through the motions and that when they returned home they would continue watching their favorite news outlets and root for the defeat and death of those they were told endangered their way of life.

My family was no different but in many ways my brother Jeffery and I were lucky. Both my mother and father were attorneys employed by an important law firm in Atlanta and were able to keep the illusion of a sane way of life for most of our childhoods. We lived in an exceptionally nice suburb that boasted a community pool and even a park all within the security perimeter. It was not until our teenage years when Jeffery and I began sneaking across a weak spot in the security fence that we realized our way of life was the exception.

The woods on the other side of the security fence fascinated all the neighborhood kids. But it was Jeffery who found the drainage pipe going underneath it that allowed us both to act out our games of being commandos or super spies. Each time we delved deeper into those woods until we came across the collection of dilapidated homes that made up a far different way of life for those that lived in them.

“Thomas,” he whispered as he lay behind a pine tree, “come look at this.” I crawled on my belly through the mass of fallen leaves to stay in my playtime role as a special operations soldier. When I pulled up beside my brother, I got my first glimpse of American squalor. Years later I would realize those ramshackle houses at one time had been decent homes belonging to families like mine. But as conditions in the United States worsen to the point the infrastructure and economy collapsed those who lived there at that moment were not far removed from people living in filthy slums in the most desperate places on the planet.

When Jeffery and I returned home, we asked our grandfather about those people. He had been a congressmen in his younger years and to us he was the wisest person we knew. “They were takers,” he sneered, “all of them wanted special gifts and favors from the government. It was a tough fight and we did things I’m not proud of but after the election of 2016 we took our country back and now they are forced to live by their own means.”

Jeffery accepted our grandfather’s explanation and went up to his room to play his new virtual reality video game. To me, granddad’s answer did not add up but I was in no position to challenge his word or investigate further. Cocooned in our specially protected and privileged world Jeffery and I lived out our childhoods in a pleasant ignorance.

Adulthood brought new challenges and duties, for Jeffery it meant a military career. He achieved his lifelong dream of going into combat and saw action in Central America barely a month out of training. From then on for him, it was one military theater of operation after another and five years later I lost contact with him after he was dropped into Australia to help repel the Indonesian incursion.

My path was very different. My teachers discovered I was something of a math genius and I earned many awards all through elementary and high school resulting in a free ride at the best universities paid for by various military contractors wanting first shot at a new and gifted engineer. My math abilities proved to be everything my teachers and corporate benefactors wanted and after I earned my doctorate, I was hired by one of the largest producers of missile systems in the Western world.

I was not at my job a month before I started hearing rumors of super secret projects that guaranteed American victory in all our conflicts. All of that talk of super weapons was highly improper but the corporation we worked for had us living on a secure compound and no matter how hard they tried people cooped up like prisoners eventually started running their mouths to pass the time. Of course I was skeptical about all those rumors, but I did enjoy the fact that all pretenses of hoping for world peace had been dropped, the powers that controlled the country no longer crouched their desire for global dominance in empty, meaningless words.

Global tensions only worsened until it became apparent by every living person on the planet that the fear and paranoia could not go on further for much longer, something had to break. I lived out my life alone and in my office balancing equations and solving design issues on a missile that cost more money than I thought could exist. News about China sinking two American carriers off the coast of Alaska brought me out of my stupor and sent everyone else running with several of my bosses whispering time had finally come for Aurora Glory, a code name for one of those talked about secret weapons projects. Figuring if the world was about to end at least I would be vaporized instantly since I lived on a military base that was a primary target.

Still months passed as both the United States and China danced around each other wanting the other to throw the first real blow. As December approached, I found myself forcibly posted at a forward military base in Poland working on the missile system that was supposed to guard the skies from Russian and Chinese fighters. It was a difficult weapon system to operate and the military technicians had convinced their leadership the contractors should be called into fix the problems.

My third week there the balloon finally went up with all major military powers going to war. The airspace over all of Eastern Europe filled with missiles and jet fighters exploding along with armies battling on the ground. While I was never part of the Aurora Glory project the name alone suggested something extraordinary and the night it was loosen on the world my base was under assault by Russian and Chinese airborne troops.

Even though I was a civilian weapon familiarization was a requirement for everyone and on the second night of the attack I had joined the fighting but found myself separated from my group and taking cover amongst a row of mobile high-voltage transformers and deactivated electrical generators. I stayed low and underneath a huge, trailer-mounted generator looking out towards the runways of the airbase. Unbelievably, another group of transport aircraft were dropping what looked to be a brigade-sized airborne force. Hours before my group had briefly linked up with a squad of infantry troops whose passed the word that an relief force of NATO troops were massing to repel the attack. I had to figure that if they did not arrive on the scene soon they would be too late.

It was then that I noticed a strange grow in the sky and figured NATO leadership in Brussels had decided instead just to nuke the Polish base and call it even. Realizing there was no need to fight the coming blast I crawled out from underneath the generator but kept myself concealed amongst the transformers. The sky continued to brighten until it was a brilliant orange; it was a speculator light display far greater that the natural aurora borealis that had terrified and entertained people since our traveling ancestors left Africa. I could tell from the reduced sound of the fighting that the even the enemy had noticed.

Right when it began to fade that was when I started to feel the squeal inside my head. The pain was so intense I fell down and instinctively huddled against the metal side of a transformer, within seconds I had passed out from the torture. The next morning was bright, sunny, and incredibly, deathly quiet. The silence was damn bizarre and curiosity itself forced me to investigate. It was then as I walked amongst the aftermath of Aurora Glory that I was able to piece together the vague bits of information I had heard over the years about its true nature.

Thousands of soldiers, both enemy and ally, were sprawled on the ground. They were not dead, I could see from the movement in their eyes and shallow breathing they were very much alive but they were totally unable to move in any fashion or even speak. As long as I live I will never forget to utter fear and silent pleading in the eyes of those condemned soldiers.

The laughing boys back in States who whispered about this project said it was the ultimate weapon for use in a small area but as the days went on, I learned that for some reason whether on purpose or by accident, the entire planet had been pulsed. Being a smart boy myself, I was able to figure out that a network of communication satellites my corporation had a part in developing had been fitted with special nuclear-powered devices. Once the decision was made those special devices were trigged it charged the Earth’s own magnetic field to emit a certain frequency of electromagnetic pulse that could short circuit certain critical parts of the human brain.

Why did I come out unharmed? I can only figure that the collection of high-voltage transformers I was in the middle of had diffused the pulse and shielded me. About the time I realized the use of Aurora Glory was planet wide it was Christmas morning and I about lost my mind over the incredible irony. After centuries of empty and hypocritical prayers for peace on Earth the fact that it had finally arrived in such fashion suggested a divinity with a real sense of humor.