Premiered 9/9/9 (9 September 2009)
The continuation of The Myth and Legend of D'PTah, an original novel by Dan Sewell Ward.
Final Report -- Resolution
Mikhail Arthanius Duenki had to laugh... uproariously so. This really was just too good to be true... just too wildly crazy. But it was true. Of this Duenki was certain. He would never have doubted, even for a moment, the incredible news, the stunning reassurance of there occasionally being justice in this, their very small parcel of the universe. His certainty stemmed on the one hand from realizing that Gilbert's humor did not have the imagination for such a monstrously ironic revelation. Then there was the convincing evidence of Gilbert Meshga's broad smile, grin, and sprawled figure on the couch – as if the latter's world had recently acquired its own sweet delectable nectar. It was true; it was joyous; and it was going to really, really, really piss off some establishment, control freak, and anal retentive(s)... and hopefully, in at least a dozen different ways. No sooner had Duenki finally accepted all the crap that had gone on before... and had vowed to move on... things had suddenly improved. Life really was good! It was also funny as hell.
When Duenki had collapsed onto Gil's easy chair, and his laughter had subsided to leaving only a huge grin and tears streaking down his face, he asked, “How the hell did they manage it?”
“Simon, bless his ornery soul with all of heaven's wonders -- that gentleman of singular integrity and brilliance... had managed with the physically courageous and apparently very enthusiastic cooperation of our dear departed friend, Freddie, to not only find and isolate the critical bronze sheets, but had secreted them off the Myricon site into a very private location known only to the two of them. Simon, always thinking -- you really got to love him for it -- had also taken the precaution of leaving a letter with his executor to be delivered unopened and in total confidence to me... or in the event I was unavailable... to you. The letter told me everything, including what he had done, his apologies for any miscreant behavior on his part, his assurances of his doing only what he thought best, and then precise directions on our accessing his stash – said "stash" which now appears to be the final five segments of the Myricon narrative.”
“The guy's a genius,” Duenki exclaimed! “I'll readily admit to that. Clearly, he has combined pragmatism with courage in their truest forms."
"The best part is that after getting slammed on authorizing those earlier reports, he pretended to knuckle under, to acquiesce to all their barn carpeting... when in fact he was sand-bagging them in the best traditions of archaeology. He became a "Fifth Column" operative... one with courage, intelligence, and cunning. He just kept smiling, but had already begun to go underground (so to speak). In every respect, he took the hero's journey, the unheralded patriot... striking one more blow for freedom."
"One thing is for certain: his legacy will live on. Plus which I really liked the guy, even if I didn't know him all that well. He was such an authentic individual. My respect for Professor Simon Galiworthy is, I must say at this juncture, enormously increased.”
“And don't forget Freddie. The guy really stuck his neck out as well. I could have been angry enough to have him cashiered and blacklisted. He was taking his own chances.”
“Freddie the Slow I did know. Or at least I thought I did. Appropriate honors there as well. Perhaps even a name change to 'Freddie the Bold'.”
“The astounding part is that they did it right under the noses of Monsieur Xytol, that blaggart Dimutri, and in fact, Ms. Anna Shamhat as well.”
Duenki's smiled waned ever so slightly. Gil picked up on the departure of unbridled merriment, and added, “I understand about your feelings for... Anna. But I would like for the immediate future to not include her in our confidence. Once we have completed the translations and readied them for transmission to the world... then we can revisit the issue. Okay?”
Duenki thought for only a brief moment. “Okay. I think we will still need her contacts, but for the moment... fine. Makes sense to avoid any unnecessary risk.”
“And clearly, she has no contribution to make until we've done our thing. But once we have everything ready to go, and with multiple copies in secure locations... then it might be a different story.”
“True,” Duenki conceded, and regained his smile.
“We do have a lot to do, by the way. We appear to have all of the five segments, and of these a couple are in relatively poor condition. That much was obvious at first glance. There also seems to be some narratives less directly related to the overall narrative. Not sure what that's about.”
“Only five, not the by now routine... nine segments?”
“Only five. Hopefully, it will be enough. The last segment does have an unusual backing cover so that it seems likely to be the final pages.”
For a moment Duenki and Gil felt very good, knowing that there was a lot of work ahead of them, but both were enthusiastic to begin the process. Then Duenki began chuckling. When Gil inquired with a quizzical smile, Dookie said, “I can't wait to see the expressions of their faces. Those bastards, the limiters of truth, are going to have an albatross... and I'm going to witness it."
Gil joined Duenki in the laughter, before noting, “My friend, I think I've finally made you the conspiracy theorist I had always hoped for you.”
Duenki disagreed with a smile. “Not a theorist, I dare say. Perhaps instead, a full fledged conspiracy practitioner.”
After an intense month of working harder than likely they had ever done before, Doctors Meshga and Duenki had completed their tasks. It began as:
Final Report – The Perl Discontinuity
The authors of the previous Interim Reports from the astounding Myricon archaeological find have joined together to provide what is believed to be last five segments of the final narrative of the Regency annals -- those portions of the ancient history prior to their ultimate conversion to that of the Legend of D'PTah. These five segments may be legitimately construed to be a final wrap for this great epic. They are being presented at this time and in this manner for the reason that this is the only way to keep faith with the process of truth... even if this manner violates all the covenants. The primary consideration here is the quest to regain the power of truth and miraculously return to the state whereby Truth Will Out... even if perhaps truth may primarily be seeking its own.
The first segment has been tentatively entitled, “Sanctuary”, a title which will hopefully become obviously appropriate. The first partial segment is believed to have been generated within the Regency's Inner Circle, and for the first time clearly delineates the “far greater threat”... that was previously described as being “literally on the horizon.”
May the Truth in All of its Glory Continue to be Pursued
Mikhail Arthanius Duenki
Gilbert Deuruk Meshga
There has always been acceptable collateral damage, and from the true warrior's perspective, it is simply treated as a fact of life... or perhaps more accurately, a fact of death. But despite decades of seeing warfare at its most inglorious, there can be reached the point where a massive loss of life – even from a safe distance – becomes just too much to encapsulate in a man's mental paradigm. The rationalizations will have reached their limit. It was no longer acceptable to "damn the torpedoes; full steam ahead".
For the epitome of the all powerful warrior, his first official statement in decidedly new surroundings made it clear that his limit had been reached – causing him to strongly advance in the opposite direction. Our first clue as to the depth of the pivoting was contained in the first lines of his report... even as one could almost hear the opening of Mozart's Piano Concerto #20  (in D Minor, K466).
“Sanctuary is being offered to everyone willing to leave any given conflict zone.”
“What has been the response thus far?”
“About what we expected. The problem is being able to keep our end of the deal. There are a lot of conflict zones! And there are just so many ships.”
“It's important that we don't blow our credibility. If they think the offer is bogus, we will end up losing a lot of people that we should have saved.”
For a moment, General Koenig hesitated. He wasn't immediately sure how to approach this. Then when the Regent leaned back and began touching his chin with two fingers as if waiting for the next shoe to drop, Koenig took it as permission to take the next step.
“There's been an incredible amount of ship building and renovation activity in the last several years. And some of the upgrades have been a bit more than strange. Cargo space turned into living quarters, sophisticated weaponry installed on tramp steamers, more than a few luxuries added to older ships with questionable seaworthiness. And yet there seem to be so few ships available for the relief effort. Perhaps if Admiral Sudra could redirect some of the fleet...”
“Always a possibility,” the Regent said. “We'll have to ask the Admiral when he arrives.”
When the Regent turned to him with the unspoken question, Pete quickly replied. “He's on his way. But apparently something important came up on his screen and he had to attend to the matter first.”
"You're keeping up with him on all of these issues, right?"
"Absolutely," Pete replied, encapsulating in his positive assurance all manner of possibilities.
“He's attending to important matters before making this meeting,” General Koenig asked?
“We'll judge the reason for his tardiness after his arrival,” was the simple reply.
When there was no immediate response from anyone else, other than a quick acknowledgment of the Regent's judgment, I took the moment to interject my own question, “What if someone is too scared to leave for sanctuary?”
Koenig was point blank. “Then we can't help them.”
Pete looked at me for my reaction, as if the answer might have seemed a bit too harsh. Then he said, apparently agreeing with Koenig, “It's long been accepted that survival of a species inevitably requires the ability to adapt to changing conditions. Those species which adapt... evolve and prosper; those that don't... become extinct. Even on a single human life scale, the flexible are the most likely to survive; those who cling to the past are much more likely to... not survive. One might even make the argument that the current state of affairs is enormously beneficial to the evolvement of the human race in that the flexible will have the best chance to survive, while the orthodox will have the least chance. Very effective triage.”
“That's a bit brutal.”
“I'm sorry, Sally, but it's the only way to reach a higher goal, i.e., the evolution of the species into something far better. We can not tolerate any sacred cows... None! No one; no how!”
I could see that Pete was being as gentle as he could, but he was also not willing to spin the issue into some politically correct stance; nor, darn him, willing to coddle me. It seems as if he had changed of late... all business and no nonsense. It's as if he had only just recently read the job description of 'Chief of Staff' and taken it to heart... even become ambitious. I had to wonder exactly what was going on here.
Much to my surprise, Joy added her own two bits. "The advantages of the diversity that we have prized, publicly I might add, must also include in the mix sufficient representation from those who are notoriously stable and unchanging... and thus provide a bedrock for the more innovative to launch their projects. The question is inevitably how large should the stable, unchanging representation be in comparison to all other groups. Even answering the question requires flexibility based on stable rationale."
What immediately struck me was that Pete had hardly looked at Joy during her discourse, as if he was already aware of her opinions on the subject. Or vice versa. Among many other activities, they had obviously been talking in depth.
“Do we have any estimates on the numbers refusing to head for sanctuary?”
“I have no reliable figures, but I suspect it's considerably more than half.” General Koenig was stoic, but as to whether or not such collateral damage might be more than just another data point in his strategic calculations, wasn't clear from his answer to the question. But then again, hadn't he asked about 'relief” with respect to civilians? That had to be totally out of character!
“Are they being informed that their relocation carries with it the implication that they are very likely never going to again return to their homes?”
“Absolutely, as per standing orders.”
“And that's caused possibly more than half to reconsider?”
“There's no data on that. We don't know all the reasons for people refusing, and we have not attempted to obtain statistics as to why. Most of what we know is anecdotal. We do know that border control works both ways. Protection can just as easily imply confinement... and at the very least a loss of freedom. As for the actual individual reasons... one might be that many people have never had the option to relocate, period. Now some are reportedly refusing to budge simply because they don't believe that there is a sanctuary; that it's some kind of plot. They figure it's better to stay hunkered down in an area they know... as opposed to risking everything on what might amount to nothing more than some bizarre fantasy or con job.”
“If in a developed country, more than half the population lives within fifty miles of their birth place, then what would you expect in a less developed country? The vast majority of people are simply loath to consider going any great distance from home.” Pete was shaking his head as if to say, se la vie.
“But they know the reality of what being in a war zone implies, don't they?”
“Of course," Pete added. "But as some have already made it real clear: it's home. They're captives of the very idea of home, and having to leave their accumulated baggage is terrifying in and of itself.”
The general could only look bewildered at the minimal interest of some people to do more than passively await their future. Looking at him, I had to smile that this was the man who had been until very recently under serious surveillance and suspicion as to his intentions. But then, when things had begun to really fall apart, he had first approached Sudra (albeit with great care), and then in one of his regular appointments with the Regency began sharing very detailed and interesting intelligence – some to which even Admiral Sudra had not been privy. The Admiral had in fact been noticeably impressed by his fellow chief. By the act of that sharing, Koenig had completely joined forces with the Regency. This assumed, of course, his actions were not just a covert attempt to undermine the Regency by pretending loyalty. The question was whether or not Koenig was that devious. About the only thing that was certain about him at this point in time was that he was a man of action, and that he would never understand passivity.
After a brief pause, when no one had any reply to Pete's simple statement, Charlotte Joy shook her head and mused, “What is it about 'home' that causes such irrational behavior? They're looking at being blown off the face of the earth, and they're worried about leaving the scene of the crime?”
“Perhaps you're not aware that there is already a major PR campaign against our effort.” General Koenig leaned forward as if he could be more engaged with an enemy he could identify. “There are a lot of important people wanting to discredit the whole idea of sanctuary.”
Pete was shaking his head in agreement with the General. “Orthodox religious leaders are to a man claiming that any alleged sanctuary by the Regency is bogus, that all the problems are due to a lack of righteousness, that the Regent himself cannot be trusted... and furthermore, the people they've known all their lives, their leaders, these are the ones the people should continue to trust. Any time one of these leaders stand to lose power; then they're against whatever might cause the loss. One of the disinformation programs are those showing old tapes of Jews being transported to work camps for the duration of the WWII. Scenes of what look like models of assembly line crematoriums can be very effective.”
“What madness are we talking about...?”
“It is one thing to promise rescue from a war zone,” Pete replied, “and quite another to convince many skeptical people that the supposed rescue is not a sham. The decision is not only to leave home under fire and head for a possible rescue vessel, but whether or not to believe a rescue vessel even exists, or that rescue is actually in the cards to begin with. Maybe the whole thing is a conspiracy. Who do you trust? A Regency under fire, or your own people, your own established leaders, the ones you've known for years? How can we even hope to save such people?”
“But their own people have been lying to them for years.”
“Which you may understand,” Koenig interjected, “but when they don't have the same access to truth that you have... plus which they may not arrive at the same conclusion even if they had. Not everyone works from an intellectual basis. Some... even good soldiers... are more instinctive... and better for it. Meanwhile, the world is awash with enough deceit, misinformation, and outright lies these days to leave anyone wondering who the hell they can believe. Hell! I personally haven't believed you guys a lot of the time.”
“I suspect we were aware of that,” I smiled. “But I would also think that bombs, artillery shells, strafings and the like would be convincing arguments.” Somehow, my sense of going with flow was being challenged with the idea that one did indeed do some paddling when a waterfall was sighted just ahead.
“For one of your intellect, undoubtedly.” Pete replied, his smile genuine, but laced with seriousness. “But many see less in such a logical analysis than in simply being tossed onto the mercies of an unruly sea."
Koenig shrugged his shoulders and added, "Many of these people have lived in war zones for much of their lives. They're practically used to that, while uprooting and heading for an unknown war zone... For the vast majority of people this would require a massive change and a whole new way of thinking about things. You may be willing to go with the flow, letting the drift tides do their damnest, but a lot of people are clinging to even the slightest remnants of stability. When you are promised stability – but with the proviso of a massive shift from what you've always known – what kind of stability is that? Keep in mind that death is extremely stable, requiring no flexibility at all.”
“Yeah well, I think it stinks.”
“Welcome to life.”
The trek to the shoreline from the bleak surroundings of the overhanging cliffs where they had first congregated had been without incident. Despite their worst fears that they might be caught in the open and mistaken for the enemy of whoever was shooting at the time, they had covered the nearly fifty kilometers with not much more than sore feet, blisters, physical exhaustion, and the occasional grumblings between the various families and newly formed factions of mutual support.
The question in Arumin Mustafa's mind was, 'Where the hell were they going? The sea was not exactly a welcome sight in this region. With no fresh water and minimal cover, how long could they last? Was there truly going to be a ship to take them aboard? How many rumors had he heard of it all being some terrible lie? Wasn't he someone with the capacity to discriminate between lies and truth?
Mustafa was considered, in some circles, an intellectual. He had been a young teacher with pretensions to a professorship at a major university – until the world had collided with the future and his prospects had suddenly been truncated. Mustafa had always liked to think of himself as being a unique figure in his community and that therefore he should have been accorded more respect and opportunity.
But then as he glanced around at the smattering of refugees from his former community, he thought perhaps he was not quite as unique as he had initially thought. There was something about a forced march across dangerous territory that allowed one to quietly observe others and in the process sense whether the individuals were of the serf class or perhaps something else all altogether. As it turned out, these other people seemed to be much more like him than he might have thought had he met them on the street. For just a moment, he obliquely wondered if any of his fellow travelers were professors.
As night fell and the nearly full moon began its rise, he looked out to sea, scanning the horizon. Nothing. He felt a sudden queasiness in this stomach. Had the tales he had been told been the scam of which he had been warned? Had he been sold a bill of goods? He grimaced at the thought of being fooled. Then someone to his left, whispered in as loud a whisper as was seemingly permitted by their unspoken understanding of the need for quiet, “There it is. Off to the right; running without lights.”
Mustafa felt a sudden wave of relief. He had not been fooled. Thank goodness! More importantly, the man to whom he had never been properly introduced had in fact been better informed than Mustafa. He was supposedly their contact, the man who would lead them out of harm's way, away from the unofficial but nevertheless very deadly war zone. A lot of trust had been placed in this man, even if the only alternative was submitting oneself to more nightly duals between artillery batteries.
Slowly and by looking intently and following the advice of the leader to look above the horizon, so that the edges of the eye could better collect the black and white image, Mustafa began to be able to see the ship. With just enough moonlight slipping through the spotty cloudiness, he could see that it was a freighter, one complete with loading winches and deck space for containers. For the moment, however, it was mostly black with only the rising moon giving it substance. Mustafa smiled. Freighters were not known for luxurious accommodations, but he would be quite happy to sleep on the deck with the stars as his canopy – just as long as it would be sailing away to comparative safety. Soon they would be sending boats to take them aboard. All that had been risked would soon...
The thought-in-progress was abruptly interrupted as the guide ordered, in a voice loud enough for all to hear, “Down! Hit the deck!”
Mustafa did as he was told, while the others scurried to do the same. The only person to ignore the order was a mother who had begun to try and cross over several suddenly prone figures in order to reach her small child who had no inkling of what hitting the deck was all about. One man assisted the woman in taking cover by grabbing her foot, effectively tripping her. The effect was to check her flight with a sudden shock and she went down quite abruptly. Meanwhile another woman had raised up and quickly gathered the child in her arms, wrapped it in a blanket and laid down along the child, partially sheltering the youngster with her body.
The sound of fighter jets approaching from behind and off to the right interrupted any further conversations. The jets were flying directly over Mustafa's party, but apparently more intent on moving directly toward the ship. Their intent was intuitively obvious: the jets were attacking their lifeline, the one clear means for Mustafa and his group to escape the ravages of a flurry of pointless wars.
There were four jets, flying in a neat if not classic “V” formation resembling an eagle spreading its wings while going in for the kill. As the two wing aircraft veered slightly to separate from the others and thereby create a smaller target, the lead jet fired off two missiles which had been until then neatly nestled under the wings, alongside four additional but empty missile racks. The pilot was shooting his wad so to speak, and one could almost feel his loudly boasted manliness riding with each missile.
Pilots are a notoriously arrogant bunch, but who can blame them when they often carry deadly weaponry that they can launch with impunity, risking their own lives only by taking the time to photograph their kills in order to prove their heroics to their commanding officers... the latter who had the power to allow or deny them the right to continue to fly and thereby strut about the barnyard. I.e., even fighter jockeys have limits and obligations in order to continue their facade of vast superiority.
The comparatively lowly refugees on the shore watched in abject horror. Their sanctuary was about to be destroyed before their very eyes. This would no doubt be followed by their being strafed in return, along with other amusements, all for the entertainment of the pilots. After they had completed sending the freighter to the bottom of the Mediterranean, they could happily gun down fleeing refugees with essentially zero risk to themselves.
Imagine then the surprise on everyone's face – including especially the pilots' – when the “freighter” responded with the launch of four anti-missile missiles. Simultaneously, two other missiles were launched further aft with the obvious intent of carrying the fight home to the other jets. With characteristic calm the two wing fighters veered sharply and headed for the low level of the ocean, intent upon maximizing their speed in their attempt to exit the war zone with all available haste. Hell, it was time to kick in the after burners and high tail it out of the war zone! Meanwhile, the second in command fighter, still loaded with his allotment of two missiles, took the high road. He began climbing with a vengeance, and then with a beautiful roll and a display of flying prowess, turned his craft in a spiraling flip and began heading in the opposite direction, cutting in his after burners as well so as to gain all possible speed.
The commander, either though inexperience or because he was otherwise too momentarily stunned to react, continued to fly directly toward the freighter. Until two of the anti-missiles claimed their destiny by destroying the deadly missiles he had launched. Suddenly, the other two anti-missiles began looking around for other targets of opportunity – and as it turned out, the only red hot exhaust in the immediate vicinity was the commander's plane. When that logic reached his increasingly befuddled consciousness, the commander reacted. With even greater urgency, but with considerably less flourish, he tried to take the route of his second in command – the pilot who was likely soon to be promoted based on the classic “room at the top”.
The problem with the commander's decision was that the up and roll maneuver tended to dramatically reduce his flying speed, thus allowing just enough time for the anti-missiles to catch their prey. There was also the critical matter of not having acted quickly enough. Hesitation can be deadly.
There was a momentary urge on the part of the ringside, land bound spectators to celebrate, but until the commander had failed to make his getaway and been destroyed in a blazing display of explosive light – and apparently the other fighters had disappeared over the horizon (and thinking they would want to change their shorts prior to making boasts in the officer's club) – there had been the pause of expedient hesitation. Then as the refugees realized the finale was over, the firework display concluded, they fairly leaped to their feet and began celebrating. Cue: Stars and Stripes Forever .
The freighter responded with a signaling light as it came ever closer to shore. The guide had already pulled out his response flashlight and given the go ahead. In the dim moon light, Mustafa decided he could see activity on the main deck, with boats being lifted into position and starting their descent to the water. There were nearly forty in his group, and it seemed evident that there were in fact enough boats.
They were well on their way to safety – just as had been advertised. Arumin Mustafa smiled with perhaps the broadest smile he had enjoyed in years. Then just for a moment – being the thinking man he was – a curious thought wandered into his mind. Did all freighters carry such deadly armament?
“There appears to be numerous reports of otherwise loyal followers moving piecemeal to the sea. They do not appear to be coordinated, but the sheer numbers suggest something is going on.”
The Minister of Internal Affairs made a quick dismissal of the General's remarks, marshaling his arguments more specifically for the benefit of the Acting President. “What General Romas has failed to mention is that we already know why they're on the move. They've been promised sanctuary.”
“Sanctuary?” When the Minister solemnly acknowledged the answer, his boss turned to the commander of his armed forces. “Our people do not need sanctuary. Nor can we afford to lose their services in the defense of our nation.” After a slight pause, “What are we doing about it?”
The General hesitated. “We've already mounted a massive media campaign urging those who have been misled by the Satanic claims to resist the lies of all foreign interests." (The general neglected to add that their fortunes had been derived from the Satanic influence of first world largesse.) We've also set up road blocks and other means to inhibit traffic. The difficulty is that some of these road blocks have been abandoned and the soldiers assigned them have joined those they should have been blocking.”
“We could make examples of the defectors,” the Minister helpfully added.
“Do we make a distinction between civilians and the military,” the General asked?
“You have military defectors?” The Acting President was suddenly even more concerned.
“One always has defectors in time of war,” the General answered as a matter of fact. “All too often a few of the lemmings wake up and realize their destination.”
For a moment, no one said anything. The Acting President was acting out of his depth and knew it, but as a career politician he also knew he had to appear confident in the face of his inferiors. Drawing himself to his full five foot and six inches height, he ordered, “There is no sanctuary. It doesn't exist. Anyone claiming the contrary is a coward and a traitor. The punishment for treason is well established. There are no mitigating circumstances in this time of crisis. Am I being clear enough?” When the others acknowledged that he was indeed perfectly clear, he smiled.
Sofia had done a lot of growing up in the last few weeks. Only eleven, she nevertheless had become a surrogate mother to a dozen others, the latter ranging in age from six to nine. It's not as if she had shown previously hidden motherly tendencies, but now there were so many children needing guidance, and so few adults to provide it, that the mother of necessity... well... you get the idea. Sofia had simply reached into herself and found the strength to act in the manner she might have assumed her mother would show. Given a good example, such tactics often work like a charm.
It was still not a simple task, the one foisted upon her. She had to share the burden of not enough food, the long days of tramping through the forests, of keeping her flock close to her and on the move, and the occasional times in which they suddenly had to hide themselves. It was hard enough to sleep on the cold and wet ground, especially with her human puppies clustered about her for warmth and comfort. But the unknowing, the uncertainty of where they were going and why they were making such efforts, kept nagging at her with undiminished fury. Only the physical tasks and the resulting exhaustion kept her from thinking too long or too hard.
Sofia had managed to observe -- despite her being constantly tired -- that one of the seven adults seemed to have something which gave their small army of children a sense of direction and purpose. And now she was telling all those who had assumed responsibility for the younger children that they should reach their destination within a day or two, that they must now go on with even less rest, and incredibly... with little or no food. Over and over the woman had to keep saying that they were almost there, and they could not stop now. Just a little bit longer.
They were on the march almost immediately. And within an hour all those with the slightest awareness knew that that had long ago passed the exhaustion level. They were dead tired. And no strains of an orchestral rendition of This Old Man  was likely to encourage and inspire the diminutive troops.
As small groups seemed to collapse on the line of march, the remaining hope in Sofia took its leave. There was, in her mind, no longer any reason to continue. Near the front of the long winding column, she had felt the need to set an example. But now, she could feel herself caving. They simply had to stop. As she sank to one knee, her small brood took the hint immediately and all collapsed onto the ground. This was one of her unspoken directives they were delighted to honor.
After surveying the young ones... and almost smiling... she looked up one last time. In sudden horror, she saw a collection of men appearing out of seemingly nowhere and who were now moving silently toward them. They seemed to be heavily armed and intent upon reaching the children with as little noise as possible, almost like a sneak attack.
'Where were the scouts?' Sofia wondered. 'How did these soldiers get by them? Or were they,' it suddenly hit her, 'already dead?' It was then she saw Sergei, one of the scouts who was a year older than her. He was running alongside the soldiers, two of which looked notably younger, and... apparently sticking with Sergei. Far more importantly, her friend had a big grin on his face.
Approaching Sofia with surprising energy and stamina, he stopped and whispered. “They have something called an “LST”; it's just over the hill after this one.”
Sofia turned then to see one of the soldiers on his knees and bending over one of her charges. With infinite care, he picked the six year old up and held her in his arms. The child responded by coming out of her exhaustion enough to lean back and look at her benefactor. Whatever she saw in his eyes, gave the six year old the sense of calm necessity for her to relax and snuggle in his arms. With her apparent assent, the soldier turned and began scurrying back toward the remaining two hills between them and the LST. Sofia smiled slightly.
“Sofia,” Sergei added, hoping she would accept help from the new arrivals. “This is Deimos and Aiolos. They've come to help us with your kids.”
Sofia looked at the two new arrivals, as if inspecting them for the position of substitute nanny. The one named Deimos had a small pistol, which he quickly stuck in his belt and the proceeded to bend down to gather in one of Sofia's charges. Aiolos, being more aware of the situation, looked to Sofia for permission to engage the children. He was the softer of the two, and Sofia quickly acceded to accepting his help. Then he was carrying one and leading another by the hand. Deimos and Aiolos had come a long way.
Sofia felt a momentary surge of massive relief, the emotional relief that would become physical energy sufficient to carry her just far enough, perhaps even to the point where she could genuinely and completely get a good night's sleep. Maybe a couple of nights of sleep. Maybe even some breakfast.
Self lived in a sea of electromagnetic radiation of varying frequencies, a sea of sufficient three dimensional homogeneity to suggest a total lack of preferred or absolute direction. It was rather like fish in an ocean, where the surrounding medium was so pervasive that the fish could never imagine the medium to even exist. There would in an ocean be the sense of increasing density with depth, and that strange phenomena known as the surface, but Self within its environment had never even encountered as much as those dimensions – not so much as a “surface” and only minimal variations in the density of the EM field's background radiation. There did exist the thinnest of veils of radiation, wisps of gradients, but these occurred with such randomness as to be dismissed out of hand.
Until... at some indefinable time, a... focused... increased intensity of EM radiation began impinging upon Self. There were minor fluctuations in this focus, even a slight movement with respect to Self's surface. There was even, relative to Self's center of gravity, what might have been a consistent direction, one similar to one of the dim lights. This was the same dim light that was becoming increasingly brighter, even if only by the slightest of increases and very slowly at that.
Of course, even the very idea of “focus” was new. Self had no means of really thinking about such things, and accordingly, it's consciousness was loath to waste energy on such matters. It's a common decision by all manner of conscious beings... conservation of energy from another perspective. But sooner rather than later, it would become enormously important to Self. For now... there was no precognition.
Admiral Sudra's arrival was without the usual fanfare. There were no polite announcements, no unobtrusive knocking on the door, no hesitant opening to inquire; just the Admiral walking into the meeting as if it was his own personal office. Such lack of protocol was often a trait of the bearer of bad news – as if such mundane matters as courtesy were no longer important when it came to reporting news.
He was followed close on his heels by Gabe. Both wore stern expressions, without any hint of apology for being late or for violating protocol. I immediately tried to exchange eye contact with Gabe – my way of obtaining advance intelligence, even if only by seconds. When his gaze appeared to never falter from the business at hand, I tried reading his expression. It became immediately obvious that he had on his professional poker face. I was not going to be able to read anything from the posture of this deadly serious, disciplined warrior. This was a surprise to me – as if our mutual camaraderie of late had suddenly been put on hold.
The Regent, however, maintained his cool, smiling slightly, making nothing of the atypical entry. “Good morning, Admiral. Colonel.” When both came to attention at the edge of our small circle, he added, “Don't tell me. Let me guess. More bad news?”
Admiral Sudra, looking him straight in the eyes, said, “I'm afraid the worst of our fears.”
This seemed to cause the Regent a momentary hesitation. “Something fall into the ocean I don't know about?”
“Not yet. But it's inevitable.”
“I know it's inevitable. So unless you now have a specific date...”
“Within what degree of accuracy?”
For just a moment, the Admiral seemed to relax from his ramrod posture, taking a deep preparatory breath. “About as accurate as celestial mechanics will allow.”
“Would you like the report in secret?”
“No, I think not,” the Regent answered. “There has perhaps been enough secrecy. If what you're saying is true, then secrecy concerns may have suddenly become terminal. Is it... the anomaly?”
“Aye, Sir. It's real. Quite large, potentially unstable, and will almost certainly pass close enough to be the trigger. It had been hoped it might give us a wider berth... But it's not going to.”
The Regency let out a heavy sigh.
Koenig was the first to throw respectful caution to the winds and ask, “What's the anomaly?”
When the Admiral had received a nod from the Regent, he answered. “The anomaly was a blip in the heavens which we've now identified as an extremely large comet, making a very close approach to the Earth. It will be approaching from the underside of the earth, with its closest encounter to any land mass – as far as we can calculate – being the south pole. The principal effect will almost certainly be to break the ice shelf – all of the ice shelves -- off the continental mass. This will allow the Antarctica continent itself to literally rise up after being relieved of the enormous weight of the accumulated ice. Both shifts will cause a major raising of the sea level around the entire globe by as much as 300 feet or more. There is also the very real possibility that the comet will break up, adding even more water, possibly in huge chunks falling onto the surface of the planet. It will be a massive flood and deluge, and I see no rainbows anywhere.” Sudra hesitated for a moment, before adding, perhaps to somehow lighten the mood, “Some of the astronomers – instead of using the name of the three initial discoverers, Anderson, Webb and Ernst -- have begun calling it, 'AWE Bringer'. I suspect that tells us a lot about what to expect.”
There was a heavy silence, until the Regent broke it. “Have a seat, Admiral, Colonel.” As they joined our circle, the Regent looked around, gauging us all, allowing us to respond however we might.
It was Charlotte Joy who took the first opportunity to voice her bewilderment, “On top of everything else, we're about to be hit by a comet?” For a woman who seemed routinely precognitive, this news was far and away beyond anything about which she might have known. Apparently, her intuition could go just so far. I was actually struck by the degree to which she was displaying the most shock of anyone in the room.
“We don't expect a direct hit,” the Admiral answered calmly. “It may suffer a slight change in trajectory in the next several months – it's already indicated a certain instability as if it's coming apart – but we don't expect a direct collision with the Earth. Celestial mechanics can be fairly accurate in that regard. On the other hand, it will almost certainly trigger the Antarctic ice shelves to fall into the ocean. We don't expect it to directly effect the northern regions, specifically Greenland, but there the situation is so precarious that it wouldn't take much to cause a domino effect. You can't have a massive dislocation at the South Pole without effecting the northern latitudes. In that case, the extra dislocations would just add to the rise in sea level." For a moment, the Admiral took a long sigh. "Furthermore, we don't expect the rise to be gentle, as it will likely come in the form of sudden huge waves, even in most cases, tsunamis.”
“And you're saying, the comet may break up as well? How can that be? What's in space near enough to make a difference?”
“A comet can break up, even in deep space. Most comets are composed of ice, and this one appears, based on refractory analysis, to be notably non-spherical, which is likely caused by numerous fault lines connecting the jagged edges to the central core. As it encounters differential heating, the comet can heat up pockets of gas and cause explosions that rip the comet into pieces. As for being in deep space, we've seen the corona of a comet in deep space for no obvious reason suddenly expand to be larger than the sun's diameter. Remember Comet Holmes?”
“This is unbelievable," was the general consensus! Koenig looked as if he had just learned of a counter attack on his most exposed flank. It was a very quieting moment for him. I... inexplicably... was finding myself more interested in recording the emotions of others than feeling my own. But, of course, my time would come. Intuitively, I knew there was a Waterloo for me just around the corner.
“The theory is that in the process of the comet forming by way of the gravitational attraction between its parts, it failed to encounter any other major objects, the latter which would have tended to eliminate some of the rough edges. Objects in deep space are not necessarily homogeneous. You also never know what an errant comet might encounter. If an object had never had a close encounter with a star, one that would cause a degree of melting on the surface of the comet to the point where it would be more spherical, the result would be something highly irregular, complete with fissures and jagged edges. There's simply not enough internal gravity to make it spherical without outside influence. In this case, the Earth may be the comet's first close approach to anything truly massive, and the near miss will very likely cause a fair amount of destruction to it. In falling apart, pieces of it may fall into the Earth's sphere of gravitational attraction. We need only recall the break up of Comet Shoemaker-Levy when it neared Jupiter, and long before it was close enough to make its final, multiple hit of the planet on the second time around.”
Joy seemed to pick up the obvious question, "Can we be sure it's made of ice?”
“No. But ice is the most likely composition, again based on intensive analysis of the data.”
“What about the second time around for... the comet? Will its orbit bring it back?” These were good questions, although one that grabbed me was, 'since when was Joy an expert on celestial mechanics?'
“Because of the likelihood of this new one breaking up, there is considerable uncertainty in its future trajectory. We simply can't tell right now. But if it does return, the only real possibility would be one within a few months before it returns again to deep space. But that's very unlikely. It currently has an extremely hyperbolic orbit.”
“Admiral,” the Regency quietly asked, “How close are we to activating ATSAS?”
“There are a few loose ends, but initiating the official round up can be done immediately.”
“Have you been applying the 'criteria for candidates' throughout?”
“Aye, sir. Multiple levels of tests. Should yield a better than 95% assurance rate.”
“Good. You have the green light to initiate the round up. Maximum priority.”
“Ave, sir.” then he hesitated slightly. When the Regent noticed the hesitation and looked expectant, Sudra added, “You should be aware that even with the limited success of granting sanctuary, there are going to be a large portion of individuals on ships who were not screened by any of our methods. We're going to be a bit more loaded than our contingency plans had assumed.”
“Understood. That I think we can deal with. Refugees are often just another form of pioneers and they tend to be the flexible ones.” The Regent then turned to Gabe. “Colonel, I would like you to contact General McIntosh and tell him face to face to launch Petus as soon as possible. This has got to be done before word leaks out. Any amateur astronomers (especially those from down under) will almost certainly be able to see the incoming comet and work out the messy details. Accordingly, we're under a deadline. Admiral, I want the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams to suddenly have some very serious computer problems. I don't want any reports going in to find their way out without first our prior approval.”
“Aye sir,” Admiral replied.
Gabe Yagalone had quickly acknowledged his orders, the first time he had spoken, after which he added, “Should we begin ferrying the ground crews to their remote control locations?”
“Let Mac decide that. If they can be spared just prior to the launch, fine. The sooner everyone is evacuated, Petus launched, and the launch site abandoned, the better.”
As I watched Gabe acknowledge the order, I suddenly found him looking at me. It might have been my imagination, but I almost detected a certain nostalgia in his expression, as if suddenly recognizing that our futures were not likely to be intertwined. We had had our moments, but now... plans had changed.
My reverie was interrupted when Pete suddenly let out an abrupt guffaw, as if suddenly recalling an old joke. When the others looked at him, he explained, “We didn't even get to use the Petus project for a distraction.”
Sudra shrugged. “Why not now? Do the launch, film it extensively from now until then, and then at the appropriate time, replay the tapes as if they're live. Might give us some essential breathing room. I would really prefer to conduct the Round Up as much as possible under the cover of a mass distraction.”
Pete considered this and replied, “We could start to leak it out, and then at the first hint of any news of the comet, go public. Perhaps, Admiral, you and I can spend some one-on-one time to flesh out a few details.”
With the Admiral seemingly in agreement, the Regent addressed the first suggestion. “Let's keep in mind that the most important thing is to keep ATSAS as closely guarded a secret as possible until all the previously identified personnel can be brought aboard.”
“Absolutely. Otherwise,” Pete added, “we're royally fucked.”
The Regent looked at him for a split second. Then he smiled slightly. “There are bright spots on the horizon. Just not enough to save everyone. The evolution of the species is now the new, revised, officially sanctioned goal. There are no fences left standing on which to straddle."
“Looks like you'll be adding another couple of chapters for your history,” Pete said to me, his mischievous grin enough to make the worse calamity imaginable seem mundane. [pardon the pun]
I must admit to not feeling quite as casual as Pete's question might have suggested. In fact, once out of room where I was compelled to be a disinterested recording device, my emotions had begun to rage... and if Pete had ever considered the inadvisability of testing the depths of feelings from a woman with serious PMS and a 357 Magnum with hollow point bullets, he would have hesitated far more in nudging me today. When I turned to him, I suspect he got the first whiff of my mood. Doing his own image of maladroit back pedaling, he smiled apologetically.
“Come on Sally: It's not like it's the end of the...” His voice trailed off as he turned slightly purple. “Well, maybe a little...”
Inexplicably, his expression forced me to make a pivot of my own attitude. I actually laughed, albeit in a macabre fashion, even while shaking my head in disbelief.
Pete's smile returned to some semblance of its former self. “I was about to suggest a great title for the next section of your history. But perhaps not...”
“Oh, tell me anyway,” I answered, trying vainly to maintain a really ticked off expression. “You know as well as I do that I'll go crazy if I don't hear it.”
Pete hesitated, checking me for signs of hidden weaponry. Seeing it was about as clear as it was going to get, he very gently suggested, “Call it 'The Great Cleansing'. Joy had suggested the idea... and hey! She's the expert on public relations, present and future."
I was totally blindsided. “Are you kidding me?”
Pete was never one to let an off-balance victim off the hook. “Not really,” he said. “The Earth is about to get a needed make over and it's going to be done with water again – although mostly salt water this time. It's going to be as an astounding an event as we could ever hope to record. And of course, you are in the cat bird's seat, ready to immortalize these times. You've got to think about it from the perspective of the future historian. They're very likely to see it precisely as a cleansing.”
Then the real agenda came out, one encapsulated with a seemingly rehearsed phrase. “For historical purposes, it's better our ancestors see us as doing some essential house cleaning, as opposed to killing each other off in catastrophic proportions of collateral damage.”
For several moments I looked at him. “There are a few billion people who are about to die in what will undoubtedly be the greatest human catastrophe the world has ever even imagined. And you want to spin it into a... routine spring cleaning?”
Pete was undaunted, a condition probably due to being buttressed by counter arguments. “What's your point? What, after all, is a world-wide catastrophe but a collection in a very short time frame... a co-inciding if you will... of a vast number of personal epiphanies? Why would we accept so easily millions of people dying every day from all manner of causes, but find it disturbing when there's a single cause? Why be overly concerned about a pandemic of a new disease when malaria was killing off people by the millions on a regular, quite routine basis?”
The idea of millions of epiphanies coincident in time... that did get my attention, at least for the moment. When he kept smiling but not saying anything more, I decided I had to answer. “Are you actually looking forward to this... this apocalypse?”
Pete suddenly looked surprised. “Well, of course,” he replied. “Let's face it: humans have a fascinating love and attachment to the apocalypse.” When my expression suggested I thought he was insane, he continued, “The great advantage of apocalyptic times is that... finally, at long last there will be equal justice for all. Finally! Justice! After so long a time! It's not who you know anymore, it's not your religion, your color, your gender...”
“Don't be utterly absurd,” I interjected, almost angrily (albeit my anger might have been better directed toward the fates for messing with me and my emotions). “You and I may survive simply because of who we know, our position in the government... because we are not orthodox in our philosophies...
“Yeah, well... There is that,” Pete admitted. “But are the ones saved in the ATSAS scenario the lucky ones, or are they the chosen who will be forced to continue the human trek and thereby suffer all the pains and anguish of outrageous fortune – and thus be delayed in their return to paradise?”
“So we're to survive because we're the fittest in terms of carrying on the drama?”
Pete's expression changed to one of bemused chagrin. “Think of it as the Ultimate Lifeboat Strategy – Survival of the Luckiest. Or the unluckiest, depending on your viewpoint.”
"Luck!" I was indignant.
Pete shrugged his shoulders. "Luck is just another developed talent. Expect it, and it's very likely to happen. Insist on it not being available to you... and guess what?"
Suddenly a more likely possibility occurred to me. “You don't think of it as our being 'chosen'? I'm not so sure I'm comfortable with that... to be lucky and thereby be granted immunity from some... serious wrath.”
Pete shrugged, only to become a bit more thoughtful. “Come to think of it, I suppose we are the chosen ones. You don't even have to be Jewish to believe so. By the way, you're not Jewish, are you?”
I had to laugh. “No. Are you?”
“Yes.” Pete looked serious, but when I looked askance, he added, “Russian Jew. I immigrated with my family a long time ago. Where do you think the title of 'Peter the Great' came from?
Pete might have convinced me had his grin not betrayed him.
I was about to turn away, when he said, “Look, Sally, I'm just a little stunned myself. Trying to deal with it, not letting it overpower me... it takes some doing. About the only thing that makes sense is that... well... 'the show must go on'. And who knows? Maybe there is some deep, universal philosophical thought hidden in there somewhere. I will admit we're lucky. But maybe it's a path we chose a very long time ago.”
“The show must go on?” I very nearly laughed in his face, but something told me that maybe, just maybe, Pete had put his finger on the problem. When I looked back at him, trying to gauge his real intentions, he abruptly smiled – in the classic manner of offering a bone to a happily ravenous dog.
“By the way,” he began, knowing he had me, “Hormer was kind enough to release me from an oath I once made. Perhaps you'd like to hear all about it.”
I was thunderstruck, but intrigued. “The... anointing?”
“Something like that,” he readily admitted. Then he frowned. “I just hope I can remember the details. It's been so long.”
“Oh, you'll remember the details,” I said. “We have ways of making you remember.”
I particularly enjoyed the look on his face as he imagined the possibilities. Then he smiled. He had apparently already been introduced to many of the possibilities by Charlotte Joy. “Ah, yes,” he said with far too much reverie... "I am indeed so acquainted."
“So why now, Pete? Does this have anything to do with your plowing Joy's furrow? Has she been the one who's transformed you into... whatever you are now? Is that why you're finally willing to share with me something... possibly very important?”
Pete just looked at me, shaking his head in wonderment. “You women have such a... fanciful way of describing sex. Plowing Joy's furrow. Wow!” Then he shrugged. “Admittedly, the metaphor is about as apt as possible. On the other hand... the reason I'm willing to share... is that Volkov is not going to rip my throat into tiny particles if I do tell you. Is it okay that two gentlemen have agreed to an action, and not one which has been obtained by virtue of female wiles.”
I had to smile. “Fine. Joy is irrelevant here. Now... tell me exactly what happened.”
"Okay," Pete smiled... and then a little wistfully, "Besides... who knows? Perhaps I'll someday be anointed myself." When I looked at him, my face noticeably hardened, he added, "Rather like the reward bestowed upon Sam for his service to Frodo."
When the expectant smile returned to my face, Pete began describing the scene... and with surprising detail. I wondered if he had recorded it somewhere... even letting it run through his mind in recent days.
As for me, I doubt that I will include the details of what I heard that day -- it's that kind of secret. And it must might be wholly inappropriate, all thing considered. But then again, perhaps one day I'll change my mind.
Brutus Rosario was sitting alone in the book shelf enclosed study of his inner sanctum. It had been almost an hour since he had received the news. It was devastating. Never had he imagined in all of his manipulations and casual disregard for the bulk of the human race that in fact there might be some kind of strange cosmic justice lurking in the depths of space. Now, without warning, with all attempts to plan for every eventuality ignored, an intruder into the solar system might end all of the machinations of the past millennia and turn them into the dust from which they had risen.
For a moment, he thought of Amin... obviously, he would not be telling him of the news. As for Goldman... the latter could probably take care of himself. But then again... who really cared?
Then a curious thought hit Brutus. 'Perhaps God really was punishing humanity for its sins. In heaven's name, could that actually be possible?'
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