Adding to my misery, my wife has control of the the television and has been watching the Hallmark Channel all day. This could be Hell.
"Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works." Carl Sagan
Adding to my misery, my wife has control of the the television and has been watching the Hallmark Channel all day. This could be Hell.
The aerodrome was playing nothing but celebration music observing the centennial of the Global Accords. John Powell mostly ignored the music and just sat quietly at his small table outside cafe sipping his coffee. His attention directed at all his fellow travelers. The sun had just risen above the crest of the large east-facing windows casting a warm, golden glow on the several hundred people all waiting in the airship departure lounge. Powell was most taken with the family groups as different children played with each other as parents watched.
Everyone seemed content, if not actually happy, which Powell guessed came largely from one-hundred years of a growing world peace. John Powell, being a psychiatrist instead of a historian or politician, didn't really think all that much about how the Accords hadn't reached their final form until 1977. And while the Federal League was celebrating one-hundred years of peace, most people understood that war didn't really end in 1921. The “conflicts” that erupted in Africa and Asia in the intervening years weren't as big or bloody as the 1914-1919 Last War, but the deaths were just as real. Being American, he refused to think about the Backlash Uprisings in the southern states that had occurred in the 1980s. After one of their radical groups assassinated President Kennedy, those neoconfederates got what they deserved.
Giant screens mounted opposite of the eastern windows showed the departure times of airships heading out to Europe or west to the provinces of Canada or the western states. Powell's airship to San Francisco wasn't scheduled for another three hours. As much as he hated reading patient files outside his office, it was better to do it now instead of on the flight when he could take advantage of all the airship amenities.
Powell loosen the buttons on his left sleeve pulling it back exposing his wrist computer. The all purpose computer was attached to his arm by two straps, one at the wrist and the other mid-forearm. Similar devices had existed since the early 1960s taking the place of wrist watches and small radios. The addition of wireless communication and access to the global library network had finally made them ubiquitous to daily life. As the technology advanced, the devices came to host thousands of different applications from entertainment to business and health.
Most young people had long since developed the habit of shoving their wrist computers in the pockets of their clothes. Not Powell, his was a Rolex wrist comp and the idea of losing it, like a lot of youngsters do with their cheaper models, was a nightmare he didn't want to realize. Wearing it on his wrist was cumbersome, and it made using the camera difficult but the alternative was worse given how many times a day he had the access the network to review and update patient files.
That morning there was one patient John Powell was concerned with, and it was the reason he was going to San Francisco.
“Good morning, Dr. Powell,” his cabin steward said up entering after knocking on the door to make sure he was awake. Powell had been up since his courtesan for the night had departed and was again on his wrist comp reviewing his files.
“Hello Ernest,” Powell replied trying not to frown in reaction to the steward's southern accent. Powell had no reason to believe Ernest or any of his family members might have taken part in the Uprisings. But it was hard to forget the videos of southern radicals screaming they wanted to Make America Great Again as they committed terrorism.
“What would you like for breakfast this morning?” Ernest asked as he straightened up the cabin.
“Just bacon and eggs with juice and coffee. Are we still scheduled to land in Frisco on time?”
"Yes, sir on both,” Ernest said imputing the food order on his own wrist comp before leaving.
Powell could tell Ernest was holding some sort of resentment, whether it was related to the now defeated and disorganized neoconfederate cause was impossible to tell. Most neoconfederates had fled the country and moved down into the Central American Federation territory. To them the area from Guatemala to Colombia was one of the last bastions of real freedom in the world.
To the rest of the civilized world the Central American Federation was a huge shit hole of violence, corruption, and oppression. And neither the United States government nor the Federal League had the will or resources to tackle that area right now.
But all things considered Powell realized that even though most of the world was now peaceful with the vast majority of humans no longer worried about food or homelessness or oppression there were still some who felt shorted. Maybe for the time being it was best to leave the radicals down there alone until other areas like central Africa and south Asia were more stable.
Gracie Hensley was in her room laying on her bed asleep. A small camera mounted in the corner of the ceiling relayed video to her caregivers sitting in a nearby room. Gracie wasn't in restraints, mainly because there was nothing in her room that she could easily use to harm herself. But nonetheless, orderlies were just seconds away if she showed signs of trying to commit suicide.
Powell had read her case file dozens of times. A normal teenager from a middle class family with no discernible psychological or physical issues. Until a couple of months ago when she started having dreams of an assailant coming into a school with military assault weapons and killing anyone they encounter. From her files, the dreams are incredibly detailed with Gracie able to name off the people being killed. She can also describe the location with exacting detail as well as the surrounding area.
The dreams always resulted in her screaming in terror and unable to leave her room. Needless to say, they were taking a heavy toll on her emotional well being and that of her family's.
One of the many problems with Gracie's dreams was that the school the shootings take place isn't the one she actually attends. The school in her dreams exists, down to every detail she described, but in Colorado. The other problem with Gracie's dreams is that in reality civilians cannot own those types of weapons. The idea that a civilian could purchase anything than a normal handgun or bolt-action rifle or shotgun is ridiculous. Owning such weapons was difficult even before the Backlash Uprisings, afterwards the only way the average American would even touch one was to join the military.
But somehow, the assailant in Gracie's dreams owned such weapons, as well as an ungodly amount of ammunition.
“Dr. Powell, you've reviewed Ms. Hensley's condition.” Dr. Linda Banks said after turning away from the row of screens showing the inside of patients' rooms. “I'm very interested in what you might have to add, especially since you've flown across the country.”
“Truthfully Dr. Banks, Ms. Hensley isn't the first time I've seen a case very much like this. In fact I have personally encountered seven such individuals. Five of them were of a similar age to Ms. Hensly but the other two were adults in their thirties.”
“The violent encounters,” Powell continued, “their dreams all took place in locations they never actually visited but gave incredibly accurate descriptions. Also, these homicidal assailants all possessed military grade weapons used with the dreamers somehow certain they owned them.”
“That's all well and good, Dr. Powell. But were you able to help these earlier patients? The stress and fear Gracie is going through is getting worse. Gracie already can't function outside this facility and I fear she might have a total and permanent break with reality if it continues for much longer.”
Powell grabbed a small tablet from a table and began writing down a list of psychotropic drugs and their dosage. “There medications have dampen the dreams in the other patients.” He said to the other doctor. “But they never completely ended the dreams, about all we can hope is that she outgrows them in time.”
“Dr. Powell,” Banks said eyeing the man intently, “I can read people just as well as you and I know you're not telling me something. And I'll be damned if you'll leave this facility before I know what you're not telling me.”
“Just how open is your mind to out of the box thinking, Dr. Banks?” Was Powell's response.
Dr. Bank's office was a testament to 1950s extravagance. The décor and artwork were relics of that era and was looked down upon for the most part now. Powell was even surprised to see an ancient tabletop computer sitting on the desk. Just for a second he wondered if the tabletop was real or if she used a holographic interface like everyone else when working in the office.
“Now Dr. Powell, please tell me your secrets.” Dr. Banks said after she took her seat behind the desk and he in the chair in front.
“Dr. Banks, how much do you know about quantum mechanics and hyper-gravity theory?”
Powell realized it was a risk to tell her everything but his team was almost done with the first of their papers to be published and who knows, she might sign on to the study.
Powell began by telling her how just ten years ago one of the particle accelerator labs in the asteroid belt had confirmed that the force of gravity does bleed over into other universes. That the data clearly suggests gravity isn't something from anyone one universe but affects the entire multiverse.
“Here's where things move into the metaphysical realm, Dr. Banks.” Powell said in a deadly serious tone. “What if the multiverse does contain a near infinity number of parallel universes where history can play out almost exactly to ours or go the opposite way? And lets say that since gravity permeates through the multiverse why can't other forces?”
“That's quite a lot to think about, Dr. Powell,” Banks said wearily. “But what about proof, that's where science begins.”
Powell went to explain that these murderous dreams were not a new phenomenon. That back in the 1940s there were numerous reports from Germany of Jews having dreams that a totalitarian regime was systematically murdering them. That this regime was being lead by a megalomaniac with dreams of world domination.
“Well that's ridiculous, Dr. Powell. The Germans have a checkered history with antisemitism in the past but they would never systematically try to murder whole populations.”
“That's the whole point. In our reality history and events played out differently.” Powell explained preparing to explaining his theory. “In our world the Spanish Flu forced and end to the Last War. So many people were dying from the flu that both sides were forced to help each other. All talks of victory and revenge gave way to tolerance and negotiation. Yes, it helped that certain leaders fell victim to the Flu allowing new voices to emerge.”
“I've pieced together a history of this darker world from reading the journals of individuals that suffered from these dreams,” Powell said. “Their Spanish Flu wasn't as bad and their Last War had already ended. This allowed the Allies to impose a harsh peace of Germany that bred a sense of revenge among the population. So instead of the first treaties that form the Accords, their peace set the stage for yet another, more horrible war.”
Powell cued up his wrist computer to transfer hundreds of files to Bank's computer.
“I still don't understand, Dr. Powell. How are just certain individuals having these dreams and not the entire human race?”
“I don't know,” he replied. “But I've cross referenced hundreds of different locations where these dreams took place and the vast majority of individuals had no idea they existed in real life. But I've conferred with a several physicists and we're rehashing an old theory that events can echo from one universe to another. How the actual mechanics of this echo works is something we're working on.”
I've talked with both Ms. Hensley and her parents,” Banks said while looking off into the distance while unconsciously shivering. “This alternate United States where Gracie's dreams take place is a violent, paranoid place and it's getting worse. Gracie has related to me insane ideas about corrupt and incompetent politicians, corporations running roughshod over individual rights, and a growing global environmental disaster.”
“I know,” Powell said. If this theory is correct that world is a nightmare. Our world and nations are far from perfect but it seems like a paradise compared to the stories I've read and heard.”
The two doctors discussed Ms. Hensley treatment for a few further minutes and then went their separate ways. Dr. Banks was still doubtful on the outlandish theory of echos of despair crossing realities. But she was thankful that she existed on this side of that divide.
Being married almost always mean compromise, as for those rare times it doesn't my wife is usually the victor in whatever discussion or choice that has to be made. Last night was one of the extra ordinary, “Blue Moon” circumstances where I won out on the choice of television programming we watched. That left me in sole command of the television remote and access to Amazon Prime.
As you might expect for the average American male, I picked something with no redeeming qualities nor any artistic significance. My Friday night viewing choice was the new disaster flick called Greenland staring Gerard -”This is Sparta” - Butler and the lovely Morena Baccarin. The trick I will try to perform for you today is to squeeze some philosophical thoughts out of this review. Yes, in the course of expressing my verbal pomposity I will be revealing spoilers.
As the movie starts, Butler, who plays the Scottish-born John Garrity is on a high-rise construction site in downtown Atlanta doing his structural engineering. His face is a mix of emotions as he glances at his phone and sees a picture of his now estranged wife and young son. Garrity and his wife are having marital problems but for the most part it's clear he still deeply loves his spouse and is a dedicated father. Also, understand the reason John Garrity is emotionally upset that day is because it's his son's birthday and that the boy is suffering from diabetes.(1.)
Their difficulties take an immediate backseat to the fact a massive comet is going to skim very close to our Big Blue Marble. Don't worry, just like the pandemic government officials have assured the public all is well and that the dirty iceball will not ruin everyone's lives or businesses. It during this part of the movie I had a momentary nightmare about Trump appointing Ivanka, Jared, or Don Jr. to the top seat at NASA.
As you can guess, the shit hits the fan when it's discovered by the public that the comet, named “Clark” is not in one piece but is actually thousands of shards, with some as big as football stadiums. The other oopsy moment showing Trump-level government incompetence is that one of the shards instead of landing “harmlessly” in the ocean off Bermuda smacks into downtown Tampa, Florida.
Truth be told, there is an earlier scene where Garrity and his kid are in a grocery store parking lot after picking up birthday supplies and look up to see hundreds of American military cargo planes flying off in the same direction. So the bigwigs knew all along that Clark just wasn't going to just whiz by before leaving the solar system.
With Tampa a flaming crater the public learns that the biggest shard of Clark, nine-miles in diameter, is going to hit the Earth in a few short days. And that certain people in the United States have been unknowingly chosen for evacuation to top secret shelters in sunny Greenland.
It's all about the skills and with John Garrity a structural engineer, he gets a literal robo-call during his son's birthday party telling him that he and his family have tickets to Greenland. No one else, not grandparents, uncles, aunts, nor cousins and especially not any of Garrity's neighbors and their children who all in his house about to cut the birthday cake.(2.)
Seriously awkward moments ensue when your neighbors learn they are going to face a planetary extinction event while you, your wife, and son will be chilling in a deep bunker.
No, it wasn't that easy for John Garrity and his family. As they leave behind their neighbors, all slightly disgruntled and totally terrified, lots of bad stuff happens. Garrity and his family reach the Air Force base where they will depart for Greenland but at the last minute lose their son's insulin supply. John has to quickly run back to the car they abandoned at the gates to grab the medicine. During this time John's wife inadvertently spills the beans of their son's diabetes. The military, who didn't know about the boy's condition boots the wife and child out of the line causing the first of several separations.(3)
At one point John's wife and son hitch a ride with a seemingly nice couple heading to Lexington, Kentucky where her father lives. This nice couple learn of their evacuation status, kicks John's wife out of the car and kidnaps the boy with the idea the will assume the Garrity family identity.(4) The nice couple makes it to another Air Force base with the boy who promptly tells the security folks he's been kidnapped and told to lie about them being his parents. The nice couple is taken into custody and never seen again.
Through a couple of favorable events John's wife is reunited with her son and again makes her way to her father's house.
John learns of his wife's destination and hitches a ride on a farm truck heading in that general direction. As you can expect, base level human behavior shows itself with John having to kill a certified redneck who somehow believes, that like the nice couple, he can lie his way into a super secure doomsday bunker. However, while on the farm truck John learns about a Canadian airport where civilians are being flown to Greenland.
The Garrity family eventually links back up, grabs a trunk and defying time and space make it to the Canadian airport to catch the absolute last plane out before the comet hits.
As you can expect with such movies, the Garrity family makes it to the safety of one of the bunkers with only minutes to spare. The comet Clarke then impacts Western Europe sending untold tons of flaming rock and debris all over the world.
The movie ends with the Garrity family and about a couple of hundred others standing in front of the massive bunkers doors as they open. It's at least several months later, if not a year or two, and as you can imagine the world is wrecked. The survivors see the sun and a couple of birds flying among the wreckage.(5) From there the scenes drift from various locations around the planet showing devastated cities and other bunkers making radio contact with other groups.
Observations and thoughts:
The character of John Garrity is not some dumbass mechanic, he's a highly competent professional engineer and has a lifestyle to match his education. That being said I can't help but feel this movie plays to the insecurities and irrational fears of the white American middle class. The Garrity house shown in the movie is more than just some McMansion. Set in a truly upper middle class suburb outside Atlanta the Garrity family has never really struggled in the same way a lower income family might. Well, there is John and his wife's marital problems because for some loony reason he decided to have an affair with other woman.
Since I believe movies like this play on white fears of someone or thing taking away their material lifestyle and affluence, I can't help but wonder how the audience would relate if John Garrity and his family were black.
During this scene with Tampa getting hit everyone attending the birthday party learns how bad the situation is globally. Of course you're happy that John Garrity and his family are on the list to be saved. How would such lucky people react to the knowledge that their long time friends and their children will die? Especially heartbreaking is that minutes later the Garrity family is leaving the driveway in their luxury SUV but are stopped by one of their best friends pleading for them to take her small daughter with them to perceived safety.
The movie scared me in way because I truly do not know how I would react in put in a similar situation. Would I take the little girl knowing it was expressly forbidden by the authorities, or could I drive away leaving her behind to die?
As the audience understands, John Garrity was picked for the Greenland bunkers because he had skills needed to rebuild the world. Upon arrival at the Air Force base the authorities learn that John's son is diabetic, which to them is a deal breaker. I had a problem with this since at this point were a couple of days away from the comet hitting the Earth.
Yeah, ideally you would want healthy people without chronic medical conditions in the bunkers but at that point are you really going to kick out a structural engineer because his young son is diabetic? I highly doubt such a vital professional would be kicked off the list during a literal planetary disaster where the continued survival of the human race is in question.
You can't have a disaster movie without some reference to mans inhumanity to each other. You could also frame this as a question of pure survival with the nice couple and the certified redneck just trying to stay alive.
This brings up something I noticed during the movie concerning the main characters, John and his wife. Whenever anything bad happens both characters expect everyone else to immediately stop and help them through their troubles. I understand the idea of self-preservation but with the world ending there are millions of individual tragedies occurring. This could also feed back to white privilege with the Garrity couple.
You don't have to be a Biblical scholar to understand the birds the bunker survivors saw as the doors to the outside world slide open. I immediately thought of the bird Noah released during the later stages of his floating zoo resort. Don't know the details, but I believe the birdie brought back a twig to show the waters were residing.
Greenland is not a perfect movie but the plot is sound and the acting is better than average. I don't believe I would have gone to a movie theater to see it. But as a pay-per-view film in the middle of a pandemic I'd have recommend it. Going by the five star system, I'd give it a 3.5.
One of the things I told my daughter when she began attending Clemson University was that daddy would fly up there whenever she wanted to come home for the weekend. That she didn't need any real reason for wanting to come home. I would go get her and take her back up when she was ready. I truly meant it and when my daughter and her friend with a car who she usually rides with back down to Columbia, had conflicting schedules last weekend, I had to put my promise into action.
So last Friday I returned home from work just long enough to pick up my wife and then we hauled tail to the Upstate region of South Carolina. I was pretty tired from the stuff that occurred at work that day but the drive was easy and we made it to Clemson with no issues.
I'm still don't know the details of the traffic patterns going to Clemson but I've heard nightmarish horror stories about how badly those roads can become overwhelmed. Yes, that mostly occurs during football season, and during non-pandemic years, but given my luck I figure I'm bound to get tied up on those roads sooner or later. That being said, my daughter was waiting for us as we pulled into her dorm parking lot and we immediately hit the road for home.
The drive back to Columbia wasn't as easy. Fatigue was really setting in and neither my wife nor my daughter wanted to drive. My daughter does have her driver's license but is unsure of herself driving on the interstate while my wife was nursing allergies. Something that also made her unwilling to listen to either Jimmy Buffett, my old but true musical friend for long drives, or the various horror podcasts I have come to enjoy. As far as my wife was concerned, Lovecraftian audio melodrama just wasn't going to work for her.
Being the “captain” of the road ship, I could have pulled rank but I didn't feel the need to poke a semi-sleeping bear dealing with excessive sinus pressure. Whatever the case, we got home safely and ordered pizza after my daughter dumped what turned out to be all her dirty laundry next the washer and dryer. Yeah, my daughter primarily wanted to come home because of her dirty clothes. Yes, they have plenty of washer and dryers at Clemson but she doesn't like to use those machines. My daughter claims they do not get her clothe clean.
Sunday afternoon came all too soon and it was just me taking my daughter back up to Clemson. Given that I'm usually in bed around 7:00pm on Sundays, I carried my daughter's stuff up to her dorm room, gave her a hug and hit the road for home.
One of the National Guard units I served is in the neighboring town of Easley so I have a certain route that I'm use to taking on the drives going into the Upstate region and back home. The addition of the segment going to Clemson being the one I'm uncertain about. Truthfully, going to Clemson by way of Easley it's not the most logical route, but after driving it for years I know it by heart.
Last Sunday I decided to take a different road, Interstate-185, going back down to Columbia, in fact it's one of the only two toll roads I know about in South Carolina. The benefit of taking I-185 was that it bypassed all of Greenville, South Carolina, which cut off a nice chunk of mileage.
After a few miles on I-185, I was struck at how empty both sets of lanes were. Simply put, that Sunday afternoon I didn't see another car my entire time on I-185. My usual Greenville/Easley route the traffic could always be called moderate at least, with some days being worse.
I-185 though was deserted that afternoon and when you throw in the lack of development on the land it runs through you could almost say I was a little lonely. Then came the first of the two toll booths I had to pass through.
As toll plazas good the good state of South Carolina didn't think out of the box. On my side of I-185 was three different toll booths. One was automated where you either flash a prepaid pass at a sensor or throw two bucks worth of quarters into a big funnel mounted on the side of a rectangular box. The other two were the type where some poor soul sits inside and takes the driver's money and makes change.
Except last Sunday only one of the manned booths was open on the south bound lanes. The other was blocked off and dark inside. A quick glance over at the north bound lane showed a similar situation.
I naturally pulled up to the open booth and handed the attendant a ten dollar bill. The guy was an older gentleman who moved slowly, almost like he was new to the job and still wasn't sure how it went.
“How you doing young fella?” The attendant asked in a pleasant almost jovial voice.
First of all, I'm 56 and someone calling me “young” either has vision issues or is trying to shit me. But instead the impression I got was that the attendant wanted someone to talk to, even for a short time. I had noticed pulling up to the toll plaza that there was only one car in the parking lot next the small building where the attendants almost certainly used for breaks. Again, my first impression was that this poor guy was manning the south bound lanes all by his lonesome.
“Not to badly,” I answered as I watched him organize the smaller bills in his hand. “How's things on your end, sir?”
“Quiet,” he replied. “You're the first person I've seen since the start of my shift.”
I actually shivered a little at the idea of being stuck out in the middle of nowhere, essentially alone. But to make matters worse, that cold Sunday afternoon, the sky was dark and gray with clouds suggesting rain or even snow was possible. My overactive imagination being its usual a-hole self, I thought about one of the horror podcasts I had recently listened. The story had a deserted highway with a single individual driving alone in his car in similar weather conditions.
“Yeah, had to take my daughter back up to Clemson.” I said still watching him play with the money.
“They grow up in a flash,” he replied while finally handing me my change. “Mine are long married and have their own teenagers in high school,” he added leading me to believe I might actually look “young” to him.
As the attendant talked about his grand kids, I felt a strange need to ask him why he took the toll booth job. Was it strictly monetary, or did did he just want something to do? It was almost a certainty the guy was retired from his primary career. But to end up alone in a shelter in the middle of the road not much bigger than an old fashioned but now extinct telephone booth couldn't have been an improvement.
I don't exactly remember what the guy said about his grand kids, but it was usual lightweight stuff all people say about their offspring.
“Well, sir, take it easy,” I said laying my change in the seat next me.
“You too young man,” he replied with a big smile as I drove away.
Got to admit, I felt better after that short but friendly exchange. I think the toll attendant felt the same.
During that short conversation no other car passed me heading south and I saw no car heading north. About seven miles down I-185, I hit the second toll with that attendant not needing anything in the way of conversation. I paid my money and sped off without saying two words to the guy.
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