A SMALL PROBLEM OF POLARITY
There was something very wrong here Anne thought, peering at the faces passing her as they walked along the corridor.
She had been to this hospital several times now when everything had been routine... but something didn't feel right today. She couldn't quite put her finger on it. Was it something to do with the way the staff were acting toward her, was that it?
Anne was bemused and started to wonder whether it was in fact she who had the problem, that she was beginning to lose her mind. For there was nothing obviously wrong with the scene in front of her. Nurses moved swiftly up and down the corridors, which were just as white and pristine-looking as ever. Once in a while a doctor strode by with his comforting stethoscope swinging on his chest.
It all looked perfectly normal. But what was it that was catching her eye? Something in their demeanor?
Then she realized what had been playing on her nerves.
It was in the interaction between the staff. There was little eye contact, and that which there was held the key to why Anne had been feeling so strange.
Now that she had narrowed down the general source of her disquiet Anne was able to pinpoint the exact reason for it. It was the way they looked at each other. She had seen that look on TV and in movies and on rare occasions in real life where a heated argument had taken place.
They looked at each other with barely concealed hostility, totally dispassionate except for a background aggression she was now sure was there. It was in their eyes...
“Like killers eyes”, Anne thought with a shiver.
~ II ~
Jim had been going to confession since he was a kid. So there were no surprises left for him in the ritual anymore.
Or so he had thought, till now.
As he sat there in what until this moment had seemed to him a pleasant and peaceful shady place, he began to feel uncomfortable.
Was it that the priest was almost totally silent? Or was it the subtle undertones of disdain he thought he detected in his voice on those occasions when he did speak?
Whatever it was that was causing him to be nervous he knew instinctively he was going to do what for him previously, would be unthinkable.
Without saying a word he quickly opened the confessional door, stepped out into the church, ran out of the front entrance and ran down the street as fast as his legs would carry him.
~ III ~
[International Space Station : Military Unit, Space Command]
Diverse systems were registering anomalous changes in demographic patterns.
They had been very pronounced over the previous week.
Now the reports garnered from these observations lay prominently on several desks. These were definitely for viewing only by a very few and those with the highest possible security clearance.
“Do you have even the foggiest idea of what's going on? Bradley demanded of Ricker, his second-in-command.
“It looks extremely odd Sir. We havn't seen anything remotely like this before. We'll crack it. It's only a matter of time. I have a team working on it night and day analyzing these stats.”
“I presume we have people already on the ground?”
“Yes indeed Sir and we hope they'll provide us with some useful information very soon.”
~ IV ~
Jeb Reich had taken a nondescript room in the most rundown area he could find. He’d been fitted with clothes and persona to match. It was hoped that to the casual observer he’d look like any other guy down on his luck, scraping by on welfare.
It was important he had plenty of time to scout this problem. He couldn't have a persona with a job. That would limit the scope of his activity too much. He would need access to places someone in a nice neat suit, collar and tie couldn't go if he was to be successful in this mission.
He was one among many, each knowing only as much as they needed to know.
His target was the City Hospital and that's where he headed.
His ribs ached where they'd made their ‘adjustment’ under anesthesia the night before.
Sometimes he wondered if this job was paid well enough for this sort of thing. But then money wasn't the main reason he did it. He loved the life.
Getting checked in through Emergency was plain sailing and he was directed quickly to the holding area where he used the opportunity to observe everything that was going on.
After about ten minutes he was no wiser. He couldn't see anything particularly unusual. One or two of the nurses appeared to have had a bad night the night before and were perhaps overly brusque with patients. Apart from that he couldn't detect any major change from what he might have expected.
After a wait of some thirty five minutes his name was called.
On shuffling over to the reception desk he was directed down the hall and told to wait in a chair immediately to the right of a white cotton screen. He sat down facing the screen absently wondering what in heaven's name he was doing here and what he could possibly discover.
A few minutes passed before the screen jerked open and a young doctor stepped out.
“In here please”, was all he said. Jeb shuffled in.
“Lie down on the table”.
Jeb held his ribs while painfully raising himself onto the table. The doctor turned away to a small cabinet at the right hand side of the cubicle. Jeb’s hackles were up now. Something didn't feel right here somehow but he was damned if he could figure out what. Was everyone in this place having a bad day or what?
The doctor turned back toward him and casually inserted the syringe in Jeb's arm.
The pain of the needle being thrust casually in his arm was the last sensation Jeb ever had.
~ V ~
[International Space Station : Military Unit, Space Command]
“See, it’s the same damn pattern!
My god, what in Hell is going on down there?”
On the screen in front of them was a map of the city with a scattering of small green lights across it. Slowly but surely green lights were being replaced by red as time went on. On average the lights were changing from green to red at a rate of at least one per 30 minute period.
“Are the computers already on this? I want some results from the data to date. And get it to me fast, will you?”
~ VI ~
The mass killing in Lexington, Virginia was when it finally hit the papers.
Thirty seven people had been wiped out by a group of men in masks with automatic weapons.
Now it could not be contained... it was out in the open and would remain so, come what may.
There had been other similar killings but none with as many victims. The spike in deaths was in recent weeks was unmistakable.
~ VII ~
[International Space Station : Military Unit, Space Command]
“Damn! What’s happening down there!”, Bradley exclaimed.
“Okay... let's see all the data you have as of now and let's get to the bottom of this. The politicians down below will have to keep a lid on it as best they can. I don’t know what kind of cock-and-bull cover story they'll come up with, but they'll think of something.
They'll have to.”
At 20:15 the team were all in place. Each member was there, laptops at the ready, voluminous files placed by their sides.
Bradley: “Okay. What have we got?”
A tall, angular, straight-laced man in a nondescript grey suit rose from his seat at the end of the long meeting table.
“Sir, we have never seen anything like this before, so it has taken some time to even start to get a handle on it.”
“In the first few hours we really didn't know where to start looking for good data. First we looked for further anomalies to the norm based upon those we had already picked up from the sats. As you will appreciate the number of areas within which to seek possible matching data was enormous. Using all the computing power available to us we finally narrowed down our search to approximately fifteen hundred possible anomaly sources. At this point we reached something of a plateau due to the fact that very few solid connections could be found within these data sets. Luckily we were finally able to match some due to one of our staff making a connection from intuition alone.”
“The key factor, when it came right down to it was the varying pattern of bird migration.”
A number of frowns appeared around the table at this point, followed by quizzical expressions and a mass intake of breath as those present, except for the grey man and his staff, made ready to utter a collective note of disbelief.
“Yes, I know, I know... How could bird migration patterns have anything to do with the huge hike in random killings we’re seeing down there? But it does, it does... Let me explain.”
The room settled down and all eyes rested intently on the grey man. His fingers shook slightly as he adjusted the display on his laptop and resumed speaking.
“It began three months ago according to the data we have. Birds migrating north to breed in the temperate zones arrived in much smaller numbers than historic data predicts. MUCH smaller numbers. When we cross-checked with other records, then requested and received the most current data possible from monitoring stations, it was confirmed. What the sats had picked up was a global phenomenon. The birds were simply not reaching destinations that for centuries they had found with seeming ease.”
The grey man paused and looked up at this point.
“Are there any questions?”
“Only one”, hissed Bradley, unable to contain his rising sense of confusion and frustration.
“What the hell has this to do with the mayhem we’re seeing down there!?”
Calming down, he swiftly added, “Please... get to the nub of this, will you? Each moment we fail to act means the death of some poor bastard down there.”
The grey man’s pallor unsurprisingly colored at this intervention. He resumed his discourse hastily.
“Yes Sir. The identification of the anomaly in bird migration patterns was a breakthrough for us because it pointed the way toward the source of the phenomena we are experiencing.”
“This has happened before.”
“The last time it occurred was approximately seven hundred and eighty thousand years ago. The event even has a name, the Brunhes-Matuyama Reversal, named after two eminent scientists, Bernard Brunhes and Motonori Matuyama.”
He looked up briefly.
With some frustration in his voice Bradley snapped, “Go on, go on!”
“Briefly, both scientists simultaneously discovered that certain rocks which they had been testing for magnetism held a reverse polarity to the magnetic field of the Earth as a whole. This, they postulated was due to Earth's magnetic field completely reversing polarity at irregular intervals.”
There were no questions from the deathly silent room as he continued.
“It is believed that it is the Earth's magnetic field which birds use to guide them to their breeding grounds.”
“If the poles were in the process of reversing this would explain how migration patterns would be as heavily disrupted as we have seen.”
He stopped at this point, letting this sink in.
“Okay”, said Bradley slowly. So these phenomena has something to do with this happening and will stop when it’s complete, is that right?”
“Excellent! So, how long did this reversal event take?”
“Several thousand years Sir.”
The room seemed suddenly to feel colder and to many in the room, to spin somewhat as their minds tried in vain to take in what they had just heard.
“Several... thousand... years?”
“I'm afraid so Sir.”
“But wait...” Bradley's mind was just beginning to catch up and he valiantly held down the fog of rising panic which threatened to engulf it.
“I still don't see what this has to do with the precise problem we're having!”
“I’ll do my best to explain Sir... though I’m afraid this event presents too many unknowns to be comprehensively analyzed, understood and acted upon. We have simply never been in this situation before and as you can appreciate, apart from geological records we have absolutely nothing to go on.”
“However, humans will have experienced it before, that is certain. But as the epoch we are talking of is in the prehistoric period we know nothing of what was experienced then. Nothing except what we have experienced ourselves over the last few weeks and months.”
“So, I take it the change in the Earth's polarity is affecting us humans as well as disrupting these migrating birds?”
“Yes Sir. It seems a reasonable assumption to draw that the change in the magnetic field is affecting normal brainwave patterns in humans, indeed, most probably in all life forms on the planet.”
Even though the thought of what this signified terrified Bradley to his core he managed to get the next few words out in response to what he had heard.
“Thank you, your work and that of your team is much appreciated. And what solution do you have for us?”
This time it was the grey man's turn to look confused and his tentative, stuttering words took some time in coming.
“Yes, a solution man, what have you come up with?”
“I'm afraid...”, his voice petered out,
He needn’t have said any more. Heads spun round looking this way and that and a dozen separate panicky conversations ensued around the table.
Bradley halted this with a simple if faltering, hand gesture.
“Okay. Now...”, and his voice too petered out.
Bradley thought frantically of how to keep a grip on himself and the panic that was now almost out of control within him. The contents of his stomach threatened at any moment to rise into his throat and make him run to the nearest restroom.
“We have to keep calm at all costs and just take this forward one step at a time until we find a way out of this. Does anyone have any suggestions? Anything?”
For several moments there was silence, then a young nondescript man in thick glasses with black rims shakily held his hand up.
“I was wondering... Does the data show any particular pattern to these killings?”
The grey man tapped into his laptop for a few moments to call up displays to complement his response.
“There are some patterns, yes. As far as we can detect any patterns the events seem predominantly to take place near or within certain types of locations. Among these, the most prominent structures are hospitals, churches, police stations, social security offices, nurseries, and nursing homes although other factors could be involved unrelated to the overall spike. Why these structures of all those possible have are related has not been determined.”
The young man pondered this for a few moments.
“I... I believe I may have the answer. And... there is a solution. But...”
Bradley had little faith in what this very junior team member might be going to suggest. Not a nerdy-looking young man such as this. However, this was no time to count anything out.
“It would feel very wrong and it would create a situation where the very foundations of all we know and believe in would be uprooted and thrown into utter disorder. But I can't see any way round it...”. The young man hesitated.
“Please... spit it out. We have no time for long explanations. Tell us your idea and then let us get on with finding a solution to this unholy mess.”
“Well... we'd need to take out all of the institutions just listed.”
“Take out...? What do you mean?”
“We would need to barrier them, destroy them and everyone within them and hunt down any and all survivors.”
“What! Every hospital, church, police station and nursing home!?”
“I'm afraid so Sir.”
“What in Hell's name are you talking about!?”
“If my theory is correct, with the reversal of the Earth's magnetic field underway, so too is a reversal within the brainwave pattern of all humans and sentient life on the planet. Those who were most impelled to do good, to serve and to help others, bearing in mind that this is in fact alien to the general genetic imperative of self-interest, are now experiencing the full force of a brainwave reversal that is now producing directly opposing characteristics.”
The young man had tended to speak in a somewhat opaque manner, but the impact of his words were powerful nonetheless. The room remained in thoughtful silence for several seconds. The consequences for the whole of humankind of what they had heard, slowly began to sink deep into the mind of everyone present.
After a pause that seemed like an eternity Bradley stared down the table at the speaker.
“What is your name young man?”
“Jeffers Sir, John Jeffers.”
“Mr Jeffers, if you are right, every decent man and woman down there is turning bad.”
“Who exactly do you visualize will do the job of ‘taking out' these institutions and those who work in them?”
“The situation is not quite as bad as it may seem Sir. Bad, but not quite as overwhelmingly bad as we might suppose. If I am right most of the population will experience only minor fluctuations in their brainwave patterns and hence only a small change in their personalities and behavior.”
“Only those with a very developed sense of duty and mission will be affected to the degree that would present a risk to others. It follows therefore that those who have an extremely negative perception of others of their race and who have acted against their interests to their detriment would be similarly affected.”
“Please, can you state what you just said in plain language? Who are we going to use to eliminate the doctors and nurses, the pastors and priests, the police and all the others most severely affected?”
“Logically we will have to use those who we previously condemned as anti-social, murderous and psychopathic, those we have tried and jailed. And any others still roaming the streets.”
“We get the Mafia to shoot up the churches, killing everyone inside?!”, someone shouted. “My God it’s unthinkable!”
“I’m afraid, put bluntly... this is exactly what it amounts to.”
Bradley couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“Getting over the fact that we are about to raid all our hospitals and churches killing every person within those institutions, are you telling me we need to recruit from the very dregs of society in order to do it?”
“I'm afraid so Sir. I see no other way, except to let the situation progress to an ever greater degree, with more and more killings such as we have seen. And it is unclear if there will be increased effects on even more sectors of society as the reversal effect progresses. I suggest we need to act extremely fast.”
“What about the armed forces? Can't we use them?”
“I'm afraid this would have uncertain results Sir. Recruitment to the armed forces depends on choosing men and women with varying motivations. Although the vast majority will certainly have positive intentions, a significant minority will not.”
“The latest data shows there is already a demographic shift in this area. The incidence of suicide within the armed forces has shown a rise in the last few days. Clearly some are tragically conflicted due to changes in their mindset and are choosing to end their own lives rather than risk the harm they know they would do to others. However, others are undoubtably going to experience the full effects of this change and begin turning on their colleagues with increasing regularity. I don't need to over-emphasize the risks involved considering the proximity and accessibility of high-powered weaponry, not excluding those at the highest level of lethality. Armed forces personnel therefore cannot with any confidence be used in this circumstance and it would be my suggestion that they must in fact all be disarmed and imprisoned without delay.”
~ VIII ~
So it was that every effort was made through each channel available to contact and arm all suitable candidates within the criminal fraternity and set them loose upon selected targets across the world.
In addition, to supplement numbers, candidates within the armed forces were given the most powerful screening possible using hastily developed methods to detect their true mindset before also being employed on the task.
Where possible, infrastructure targets were taken out using drones. This was only possible late on once screening of military personnel had been brought to an even higher confidence level.
The struggle was not all one way by any means. Those who had reversed to a mind mode of survival of self above all others that produced the need to destroy those seen as competitors, fought back. Others initially unaffected began to suffer reversal effects. Suicide bombings became commonplace. Each and every conflict ended in a fight to the death. Many civilians died as a result of crossfire.
The fifteenth year of ‘The Good War’ was the hardest ever Mankind had ever fought. And the most bloody.
It seemed to the neutral reverse-unaffected public caught in the middle that the world had gone mad.
Hospitals were seen ablaze. Churches awash with blood. Priests, administrators and scores of parishioners dead. Monasteries, an early target, wiped out. Police stations by the hundreds destroyed. Doctors dragged from their offices and shot in the street like dogs. Nursing homes and social security offices raided and staff sequestered. All in an attempt to end a desperate situation growing ever worse in an attempt to reach some kind of survivable conclusion.
The end of the world seemed surely to have come.
Once all the main infrastructure targets had been hit the task to hunt down and kill those who had escaped the initial carnage began. This task was much more difficult. Myriad cells formed that now fought a guerrilla war against the combined forces of heavily screened members of the military and their ex-mafia, ex-death row, ex-underworld colleagues.
The damage, both psychological and physical, had been enormous and no conclusion was in sight. This fact only served to underpin the will needed to continue the war. Ever more drastic solutions were being contemplated.
Democracy had been necessarily suspended for no one would have voted for this or for anyone who advocated this. Who would have believed this was necessary? And who would have fully understood or believed the reason why? The war was showing no sign of ending. The forces battling each other appeared ever more evenly matched and if anything the reverse-aggressors were now winning.
~ IX ~
Up in the ISS Bradley gazed down at what seemed an unchanged world.
The oceans were the same gorgeous blue and the clouds and their pristine white swirls and eddies in combination with that deep azure never failed to take the breath away. The brown, green and sandy land masses too seemed totally unchanged from this height, orbiting as they were at two hundred and seventeen miles above the Earth's surface.
Here, where the atmosphere was at its weakest they had presided over an Earth which, though it appeared unchanged, had done so, and irrevocably.
Bradley's heart was heavy. The strain of these years at such a level of command had taken their toll.
He had longed for some normality for most of the last twenty three years since the day his world had been literally turned upside down.
He had lost almost everything, his wife, his family, his every connection of substance to the world he looked at so longingly below.
He was heart-weary and felt totally empty. He could hardly remember what normality felt like. He no longer had dreams, only nightmares.
Of course he had not let slip how he was feeling as he was the figure above all others that everyone looked to in this supreme crisis for Mankind now that the president was gone.
He had to appear resolute, calm and in control at each and every moment.
Yet, inside he knew he was falling apart and with the passing of time his ability to suppress the emotional assaults upon him decreased and weakened until he stood there looking at home, at the diverse gem of gold and blue and white he loved so much and to which he had given all but his very life.
At that moment something snapped within him. Tears ran freely down his face. He suddenly resented the fact that all this had been laid on his shoulders. Why had he had to carry it all alone? Why had he had to lose everything, all his past, his present and future? Why??
He turned away in irrational anger. A part of his mind told him in a whisper that he had done the right thing, the selfless thing... that it was the good, the right and the honorable thing.
It was no good. He felt the resentment of his failure in life and all the loss and bitterness rise like a long-suppressed fountain of flaming anger within him. It overtook and consumed him and filled him with a loathing such as he never felt before in his entire life.
He looked down at a planet he felt was no longer worth saving. Let a few thousand years pass and a new world will be born...
He collapsed into the chair by the presidential command console, and reached out.
His pupils now consumed all trace of iris within utter blackness as, with the last ounce of strength in his body, his whole body shaking, he pushed the nuclear button down.
~ X ~
The Brunhes–Matuyama reversal
The Brunhes–Matuyama reversal, named after Bernard Brunhes and Motonori Matuyama, was a geologic event, approximately 781,000 years ago, when the Earth's magnetic field last underwent reversal.
Estimations vary as to the abruptness of the reversal. A 2004 paper estimated that it took place over several thousand years; a 2010 paper estimated that it occurred more quickly, perhaps within a human lifetime; a 2019 paper estimated that the reversal lasted 22,000 years.