THE SEARCH FOR THE WHITE ROOMS
Earth was dying. The one hope for mankind lay in the files of the White Rooms. But where in the Multiverse were they?
* I *
Crossing to an alternate Earth wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy at all.
Our maps were patchy and for obvious reasons. And there had been so many accidents. Considering how long it takes to train an agent to make a crossing you can’t afford to have them enmeshed full-molecular in a wall.
If you were feeling particularly cold-blooded you might think it looks like a novel artwork, matter-hacking or god-only-knows-what, but too many of those and morale falls catastrophically. And we need all the agents we can train... more than we can train in fact.
As of now we can cross sideways in time or into the future, but not into the past. Currently we are crossing approximately 100 years ahead of where we are now.
We do maintain a professional bearing most of the time... but one thing does get us a little fazed when we consider it and that is our obsession with finding the White Rooms.
We saw them once and once only, but we got pictures and the agent was able to access a file or two before having to leave.
They were white gold, there was no doubt about it. Within the files of those rooms was every technological achievement of note that those on that Earth had developed over a one hundred year period in advance of where we were.
No doubt there were similar rooms further out in the two, three, four hundred years time sets but we were having a hard enough job mapping even one hundred years out without blundering that far away from us.
We couldn’t get over this glimpse of the motherload. But sadly, because the timestamp co-ordinates had gotten scrambled on the journey and the agent had landed outfield. Not an uncommon event much to our constant frustration.
But, the rooms were out there. Somewhere.
* II *
By hook or by crook we were determined to find those wondrous needles in a yet-to-be haystack.
Or die trying of course.
Mapping future locations was hazardous to say the least. All you had to go on was earlier map co-ordinates that had come back intact. These held boundaries, walls, rivers, streets, parks, trees, any and everything that could present a potential molecular conflict with a Porter.
Time coordinated ground and street levels were one of the most crucial factors to a successful mission apart from not arriving half in and half out of, or completely mashed within a wall. Having your feet stuck three inches into terrafirma was not a good place to be.
And it was my turn to cross.
* III *
Just as everyone else who goes I worked closely with the embarkation team. I had been with them almost a year now.
Each day we’d examine and cross-check, analyze and plan, go over language nuance and dialect, discuss food, currency, habits, customs and fads, clothing, current events, mannerisms... Oh there was plenty to go over.
I was disoriented, and wondering if I’d ever feel normal again.
Normal... it seemed an interesting concept to me now rather than something natural.
The device we used was called CERN-V.
After the Higgs was found CERN-II was created to really get stuck into building the theory structure which would unify all previous theories concerning the origin and nature of matter and thence of the universe itself. This was found to be easier said than done. Hence CERNs III to IV.
* IV *
With CERN-V my friends, as you all know, we really struck pay dirt.
We being humanity. Every major secret was unlocked.
Well... perhaps that’s going a bit far. As you are no doubt aware, the more you know the more you realize how much there is still left to know.
But, with CERN-V we had at least reached a plateau few had ever believed possible. Oh yes, H.G. Wells would have been proud of us, there’s no doubt about that. And... at the beginning we thought it was going to be simplicity itself to travel in time.
How many times, after a huge leap forward, has that mistake been made? Plenty.
However, we were amazed by what we could now do. Our universe probably has 99% of its secrets still safe from us but now we had revealed a primary secret that brings us that little bit closer to the gods themselves.
If the universe has a soul it must have quivered a little that day in 2139 when the secret of how intimately connected humans were to everything else and how time could be so nothing.
Only a few mystically -minded humans up to that day had ever even suspected it.
Well anyway, tomorrow’s the day. And I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.
I’m as prepared as anyone can be until we manage the kind of tricks we’re planning for a few years from now.
But more of that later.
Right now I’d better get some sleep...
* V *
Teleportation is now relatively easy to do but not easy to comprehend.
You see we conceive our physical selves to be located and so they are located. The trick involved in time travel is to reject that previous conception and to conceive another.
This alone will not do the trick however. Through CERN-V we learned intimate details about the building blocks of our universe and how there’s a primary element which underpins and links all else.
This primary element is you and me and our conceptions. (I did say this was difficult to understand and it is. Words alone cannot convey the meaning at these levels. Ineffability rules in these realms. You have to be there to know there... if that makes any sense.)
The machine aids us though, disposing of all previous fixed conceptions of location in time and in space by providing another theater of reality that checkmates the present one. That it happens to be a future reality is irrelevant to the machine but wholly relevant to those of us who want to be there.
I’m sorry but that’s as close as I’m going to get to describing the indescribable. Forgive me? Please? I have truly done my best!
Now it’s time for me to go. Or, more accurately I should say, it’s now for me to change this now to another.
The Teleport Center in CERN-V is much as you might expect it to be.
Enormous and a little scary.
But, we try to keep the atmosphere a little light with banter and so forth. There’s black humor too. Oh yes, there’s most certainly lots of that.
But when it comes to the actual transfer itself things get serious and it’s all business.
And I’m now almost ready to go.
First comes the trance state that allows me to be shifted from here and now to a willingness to be there and then. The CERN state gets me suitably disoriented. Only my training stops me from throwing up at that point. Once this is achieved and only then, the full power of CERN kicks in to adjust the space and time of where I am to the space and time chosen.
No one and nothing moves you understand, because all of it (everything) in truth, is right here in one place. The one place we call now.
* VII *
I see a street and fight off the remnants of old streets I’ve seen that are clinging to it.
My thought language does the trick. It becomes sharper edged and more colorfully defined.
There are offices and what appear to be a series of shops?
I check my mental database for maps and bless Nikola T one more time... it’s all there.
The statistic tell me what’s certain here, the known parameters of this one location of an infinite number.
This naturally strengthens my sense of hereness. With that the edges of my perception begin to fill completely out. I see streets to my far left and to my near right. I intend to the street to the right and am there looking in a (shop?) window.
Now comes the difficult part, there must be items here outwith my knowledge. (Hardly surprising this.) I do fuzzy focus. It has to be fuzzy otherwise I’d simply plant something there from my memory. I fuzzy from the edges. It’s like looking out of the very corner of your eyes or that thing that can be done just after waking from an interesting dream and you tell yourself over and over “I remember” and slowly the dream develops to you from forgetfulness.
It’s only clothing. That’s the first sense. Then come the various shapes and colors. Okay, move on.
I think co-ordinates and arrive further down the street. Here’s a place that looks very like an office block. I think myself in. There are figures, hazy at first and then more and more defined. Three in all. I conceive of sound and tune into their space.
Naturally enough it’s not very revealing, but that’s not important, yet who knows what will be important and what not in the final analysis? Anyway, I’m just getting myself fully here and tuned in to the moment.
This is a warm-up for hopefully the main event still to come. The words are approximations, received within my fuzzed-up memory store:
Female: “It won’t happen soon. The Electorals have defined that. The changes coincide with the weather and you know that doesn’t reach nexus until May.”
Male 1: “You’re right in theory _(name not stored)_ though (_?_) colleague says a different outcome can be made possible.”
Male 2: “You keep this ... Nevin (?) I don’t (_?_)... Talk about the latest _(unintelligible)_ or hi-win race, something else, anything (_?_)...”
Female: “Don’t ... upset _(name not stored)_ there’s no need. It’s just (_?_)...”
Male 2 surprises me by turning to leave. Of these three he seems the most interesting, so I follow him out.
Now, as far as can be assessed we agents can’t be seen in any other here and now except our own. At least none of the individuals we have encountered have given any indication that they have seen us. This may be due to the hair-raising issues inherent in the possibilities of a paradox event. If I was to travel backward and meet myself for instance, how could that possibly be resolved when I have no memory of such an event? Or, if I was to accidentally trip up the inventor of some future life-saving device, medicine or treatment and he was to fall to his death in a vat of mercury, what then? That breakthrough, saving countless lives, might never be made. Or, heaven forbid, if I traveled back and was responsible for an event which eliminated the possibility of my mother being born, would I then be snuffed out in that instant?
* VIII *
We knew several things about the white rooms we were seeking.
They appeared to be in an underground complex and that complex appeared to be in the future United States.
The agent had seen a colorful poster close by the location and a great deal of sand. She had only had a few moments of outside view to take details in and that was all she had. The rest involved the interior which was composed of gun metal doors and the pristine white rooms which held the files containing details of some of the major inventions of that age.
Hundreds of missions had gone and come back without success during the last many years of searching. Even though much vital mapping had taken place, the location of the rooms stayed frustratingly out of view.
The reason why it was considered so vital to locate these rooms and the inventions, techniques and technologies within them was the discovery of one primary fact; the Earth was dying. Fast.
Now, you may think it obvious that if the future existed then clearly the Earth survived.
However, it is not that simple.
If you were reading the papers ten years ago you should know about one of the most startling discoveries of the scientists at CERN-V.
It had long been speculated that there might not simply be one universe but rather an infinite number of universes. This concept, when it was first thought through had been given the name of 'The Multiverse Theory'. It sprang from solid speculative roots and postulated that whatever could be imagined to be was probably out there somewhere in one of an infinite number of universes.
In this universe you were working as a teacher, in another you were unemployed and homeless, in another a poet, a shopkeeper, a soldier and so on in every reality to an infinite number.
Happy, sad, healthy, sick, wise, stupid, strong, weak, bright, dull and everything in between and outside.
This theory was confirmed by CERN-V.
And we discovered too that our Earth was dying.
But... much later we discovered that we could be on an Earth that was not. If we learned how to shift. We hoped beyond hope that how to shift was somewhere in those White Rooms.
Perhaps they were crossing too.
We didn’t know if they were or not.
But the chances they would cross to our Earth and in our time when there were an infinite number of Earths in an infinite number of universes was close to absolute zero. But we had at least located them.
Of course it is possible that many, many other Earths contain the same white rooms and contain the answers we seek. But that would have to remain pure speculation. We had no possible way of knowing this and it would take an almost infinite amount of time to find out.
So, early on we chose to stick with the one Earth we had located and to map it as thoroughly as we could. It was through this process that we discovered the existence of our particular White Rooms.
We knew then that this was our one primary hope to find a way to save our own, insignificant planet in the multiverse, from destruction.
Ironically, the time that was so infinite, was running out....... for us.
* IX *
Nevin walked in confident fashion down the street and I followed behind as closely as I could manage.
I noticed that the streets were becoming narrower and there were an increasing number of low-lying barricades to right and left.
We progressed through a maze of narrow avenues until we came to an obstruction to our progress. This was a grey building with high trees standing before it and steps leading up to a wide glass door at the center of the upper terrace.
He showed some kind of pass at the door and gained entry.
I quickly peered through the glass door and visualized myself inside.
Marble cladding was everywhere and a mosaic mural was emblazoned across one wall. I followed him to the first floor and into the office area there. What was he doing here? Was this in any way helping me or had I chosen a blind alley?
I followed him to a desk where he sat down facing a large computer screen.
Using the fingers of one hand he manipulated various images on the screen as well as directing some almost whispered commands towards it. I saw galaxies flow by in swift progression and ultimately to a vast group of perhaps a thousand. Some of the more distant were warped into great arcs due to the distances involved.
He made a motion with his hand above his head at this point and the light instantly dimmed in the room. Then, above him and slightly in front of his vision images began to form and move. The nebulous shapes began to gain definition and it became evident that they were figures and of humanoid form. They were certainly humanoid, but to my amazement they were not human.
Text (in three dimensions) appeared and hung in space below the figures (three of them) and I was struck by how the words fluctuated with color as if the words being expressed were afforded additional emotional nuance in their shapes, shades and colors. None of it was intelligible to me but I knew, if we had any luck at all, it was all being recorded in my database memory and we could work on possible meanings later.
The next thing I knew I was watching the thin trail of Nevin’s own thought-text rippling before him.
This seemed to excite the others into yet another display whereby the whole space of the room appeared to become a huge 360-degree screen. We appeared to be within a room which I can only describe as having field-generating power.
My senses detected what seemed to be a body at its center, held by some force. Around the body were streams of images like ribbons and it was clear these were emanating from whatever intelligence lay there. As well as ribbons I could see fluctuations like ripples in a disturbed pool in the air of the room coming from no identifiable source. Suddenly there something like an intake of air then a blast of energy outward from the walls of the room. The body shrank into itself. The ribbons of images and the ripple-like flows shrank toward the body also. Then the image vanished.
Nevin appeared calm and soon terminated the session after a brief acknowledgement to the others.
What was I to make of this?
And was there something useful here?
Certainly it was shockingly electrifying to know that at this time on this Earth there had been contact with an off-world civilization. They didn’t look friendly or unfriendly to me however.
They appeared totally cold and unemotional.
* IX *
The best estimate scientists could give us was that we had between one hundred and two hundred years before our Earth began its accelerated descent toward oblivion.
You’ll know all too well the dire situation in which we find ourselves, it’s hardly been out of the news since it was confirmed.
We made the fatal mistake of almost never looking to the long-term but always and ever considering any short-term benefits we could derive.
Was it really too late to turn things around?
* X *
The soul-searching has been intense in some. Others of course have taken the attitude that they’ll be dead and gone by the time disaster hits so why should they worry or change their behavior in any way?
Others welcome the looming disaster, glorying in the thought that it heralds the Second Coming.
Some see it as a good reason to party even harder now while they can.
In short, and as you'll already know, there has been much more panic, praise and posturing lately than there has been the pursuit of logic and rationality.
For those in the scientific community, especially those who have been predicting disaster for many decades now, this has been a long-sought opportunity to rally political will behind one last effort to find a way to avoid the seeming inevitable.
They postulated several possible beneficial factors to be derived from the exploration of the alternate Earth we had found. Could we discover if they had faced a similar looming disaster and had they managed to find a way to avert it? Were there technologies, techniques or social policies which they had developed that allowed them to do this? Could we discover these methodologies before it was too late? Could we shit to an alternate reality? Only time would tell.
But only if there was time enough...
* XI *
My time was up and I made the mental signal for return.
Once back, the debrief began.
I was placed in an even deeper hypnotic trance state than before still hooked up to CERN so my database reports could be downloaded before they began to distort or decay.
When I came back to myself at home I could still recall most of what had gone on.
I had to take a number of very deep breaths to calm myself.
I could hardly bring myself to believe what I’d seen.
Crossing always involved a strange, altered mind state and it was quite easy to begin to doubt the evidence of my ‘other’ eyes.
So I did some very normal things as I usually did afterwards.
I showered and flung on some fresh clothes, got out in the open air as fast as I possibly could and exercised a little.
Even though you could be in any possible environment when Porting it still felt quite claustrophobic somehow and that office and those images I saw had really spooked me.
Taking deep breaths while I strode rapidly down the sidewalk I took in the everyday sights around me. The fluttering of the leaves in the breeze of trees around me, the fresh smell of cut grass, the occasional scent of roses from a neighbor’s garden.
This was important. Normality and Nature. The feel of the good earth and of the crackling of pine needles beneath my feet as I entered a small copse of woodland that I loved to walk in.
I reached my favorite spot and sat down on the soft grass and closed my eyes. I immediately felt the warm caressing rays of sunlight on my eyelids. I then lay down, feeling the strength of old pine roots beneath me. Slowly and wonderfully I felt my body relax and I let my limbs flop down on the comforting mosses and grasses around me. Steadily I reached a level of relaxation bordering on sleep. At these moments of near bliss it always struck me as odd, and of course painfully tragic, that our world was as it was and not how it should be. Like this... always.
Soon I was asleep and began to dream, First there was a voice. It seemed to be emanating from an old school friend of mine. But somehow that didn’t seem right. I couldn’t imagine him speaking that way. Then he was laughing. There was a wall I couldn’t get over and more and more people were gathering to poke fun at my efforts to climb it. Suddenly it flipped horizontal, then became a slope and I and everyone else slipped down it and off its end. Into a space full of stars. There was no up or down, east or west, there was no point of location, identity or recognition. Then everyone without exception began to scream at the top of their lungs.
I woke up. I was no longer relaxed, but instead felt a creeping feeling of growing paranoia moving up from my lower neck to the back of my head. I tried to calm myself by looking round at the pine trees surrounding me but what had previously been calming and comforting now seemed to hide some secret malevolent purpose. I felt just like I did those times in my youth when I’d had a bad trip or took too much smoke.
This I really did not need.
Bit by bit I calmed down. I wandered through the woods for a while but it was beginning to grow dark and the lengthening shadows were not exactly helping my mood.
I headed home. There I watched some Tri-v but each program I tuned to seemed to be broadcasting some subliminal message and I began to get freaked again. What was the matter with me? I decided I’d better reach the comfort of my bed and shut all this out in the cozy warmth there.
I threw off my clothes and climbed under the covers. I almost cowered there like a child as I watched the patterns of the lights crawl across my wall and cause the furniture and other objects in the room to create outlandish shadow shapes. I closed my eyes tight and buried my face in my pillow determined to sleep this off with the hope I’d wake the next day free of these crazy notions and sensitivities.
It was then I heard the voice inside my head “You don’t really think that will help, do you?”
Somehow or other I must have fallen asleep because I woke the next morning without further incident. I presumed I hadn’t eaten enough or had eaten something bad. Or my experiences on the other Earth of the day before had freaked even my highly trained mind.
I traveled to work. I wouldn’t have to port again for several weeks but my duties till then involved reading the reports of others who had come back in recent times. On average we had one a day going and coming and the ambition was to gradually move this up to 3three per day. The training required was very long though and not everyone was suited to the task.
I was beginning to wonder whether I was still suited to it myself...
I had felt quite fine that morning as I woke. Perhaps the sunshine streaming through my bedroom window and the cool fresh air that came with it helped, and I felt I was almost back to my normal steady self. But now, as I sat with the first report of the day in my hands in that sterile but familiar environment I felt my flesh begin to crawl involuntarily. What WAS this? Was I going mad? What the hell could it be that could make me feel like this?
It was then a thought began to bother me. I don’t know why I began to think about this, but then again perhaps it should have occurred to me long before. Could it be... Could it possibly be... that those I saw hanging in the air of that strange office on another Earth had also been able to see ME?
I handed back the file I’d been assigned and immediately logged myself into Support. It was an old friend of mine Harry Turnbull who saw me. He did what he could, he listened attentively, he took down notes, he did his best to reassure me, sent me for an immediate aromatherapy massage and then posted his report down the line.
He also gave me a line for some tranqs and sleepers. What else could he do?
The massage did help. A little human contact. A little muscle reflex soothing. I was beginning to hope I wasn’t going nuts after all.
A note was waiting at the Support Center reception desk as I emerged. I was to report once again to debriefing.
As soon as I saw the faces I knew that what was normally a fairly relaxed hour of question and answer was perhaps going to be a little more strenuous this time. The faces that awaited my arrival did not look composed at all. And it rattled me that they were rattled. Things were beginning to look bad.
I was put under fast. I knew that on this occasion I was also put in under direction. Powerful hypnotic commands and directives were being used and I was just aware of them at the edge of my consciousness as I went deeper and deeper.
I woke. I was alone except for the usual two helpers who steadied me and initiated some light banter to bring me round slowly and in a comfortable state of mind. There was a slight throbbing on my right forearm and I knew I had been dosed as well as being put into hypnosis. They were clearly taking this very seriously indeed.
As usual I was told nothing. This was normal operating procedure. But this time I couldn’t leave it at that. I had to know what was going on. I knew however that it would be fruitless to go through normal channels. I’d have to contact Saul if I was ever to find out.
The meeting wasn’t easy. Such a meeting was never supposed to happen in case of transference. Saul knew his job and his whole career were gone if anyone ever found out about it. But we had known each other so long and had been close for so long that I knew he was my best chance to get something, even if it was not the whole story.
“They don’t want to take any chances. This has really freaked them out. On the one hand they are excited about what this could mean for the mission. The ones you saw may well have access to technology far in advance of any that even the other Earth might have. On the other hand they are scared shitless that your contact, if it was contact, could lead them here. As you saw they do not appear friendly, at least not in regard to whoever it was they were treating, if that’s what they were doing. The intriguing thing is that the human you followed did not seem overly perturbed by them, right?”
I nodded. “No, that’s right, he remained calm during the whole thing.”
“But what do they intend to do now?”
“They are sending agents on surveillance duty to get as much data as possible on the location and what goes on there, that’s all I can tell you.”
“And what about me?”
“I don’t know. I truly don’t know.”
I hadn’t learned much more than I could have guessed when it came right down to it but it had been good to talk things over with Saul. I believed with confidence that he’d let me know of developments as they happened that might affect me. As long, that is, as he was kept in the loop himself.
I still felt shaky but was confident I wouldn’t be thrown out on the street just yet. There were so few agents and they needed so very many...
* XII *
I reported for work as usual during this period and on the surface nothing changed. I was able to keep up with the work being done but I did notice I was not being assigned any of the files connected with the surveillance of the building I had previously visited.
It looked like little of any other interest was turning up. The reports I was reading held no clues, as far as I could see, that might lead to a breakthrough of any kind. I became more and more convinced that the answers must lie in and around the place I had visioned that day.
At night my nightmares continued. They mostly involved humiliation, disgrace and feelings of unworthiness and being laughed at. They were really beginning to get me down.
“They have made contact with an agent on the periphery of location ‘G’” (this was the name they had given the building). The contact was telepathic, not physical. It seems they are aware of us. We can’t do anything about that now for better or for worse. And... they want dialog. And they will only permit to have it with you.”
I wondered... had they been checking me out all this time? How do they see me? Surely they must see me as a puny specimen, one for whom they can hardly contain their disgust?
* XIII *
Behind the scenes the elite levels of political, military and scientific management must have been going through traumas of their own leading up to this point. And it’s likely they still did not know if our particular Earth’s location was known to “Them” as they were being referred to. Perhaps by this time they simply were beyond caring. The mission was finding few clues concerning the whereabouts of the White Rooms and we didn’t look like finding them, ever.
There were simply far, far too many locations and far, far too many time zones.
The odds against hitting the bullseye again must have been trillions upon trillions to one.
So, the focus was shifting. Scarily and warily shifting. But wearily too. We were running out of options.
* IX *
I was to be prepared. And how. I never knew how many of a staff the center had until those few days when I seemed to meet every last one of them. How was I to store all this information? All the myriad possibilities of question and permissible answer. All the implanted blocks on data not to be divulged.
I suspected all this planned subterfuge was going to be a complete waste of time. There wasn’t much doubt in my mind that they could, and would, see straight through it.
* X *
The day came. I waited. And I was taken.
I arrived at the familiar steps before the building I had followed Nevin into a month or so before.
There was no guard and no delay to my entrance. In fact the building and streets appeared to be totally empty. I stopped and wondered for a moment why it was being done this way. Then I realized.
This was the building I and Nevin had entered... but not on the same Earth.
Another of the infinite number of Earths had been chosen for this venue.
But ‘They’ were familiar with this construct, this building, this location and so here I was.
The grey building ahead however, appeared as it had done on my previous visit to its clone and I assumed everything within would be completely familiar. And so it was. The marble cladding, the mural, the office on the first floor. But no people. No one. Not one single soul.
I sat down in front of the computer screen I knew I would find there and triggered it automatically through replaying Nevin’s actions through my memory bank. The array of galaxies was the same and the great lens too. I waited.
The flickering in the air began after some moments. Figures emerged from nebulous shapes and took humanoid form as before. I had no doubt these were not the actual forms of these beings but the shape was made familiar to me to ensure a reality that could allow communication.
Their communications were brief and to the point. They could help us. However there would be a price which, as they put it, was also part of the solution to our problems. They merely wished to harvest one third of our population. And on a cyclical basis. Forever.
We did have an alternative choice which they said, would neither suit them nor us. Our annihilation.
I don’t know what they had expected back home. But it was not this.
* XI *
It was a few weeks later and the nightmares had disappeared. I felt relieved. The enormity of what was happening had left me almost numb. Was it real? If it was it was incomprehensible. It seemed like a very bad cosmic joke. Here we were nearing the planet’s tragic end by our own hand having frantically sought the most unlikely solution to avert catastrophe at the last possible moment. And now we were faced by the imminent possibility of our own mass execution.
It just seemed too cruel for words. Though I knew some among us would call it poetic justice of sorts.
As a species we had been remarkably childish and blindly uncaring in our stewardship of this beautiful, lush and wondrous world.
Still, I couldn’t find it in myself to see it that way at that moment.
I saw instead the brighter chapters in the more innocent periods of humanity’s history, of the children and of the achievements of the greatest among us. Then I could see little... blinded as I was by a sudden bitter weeping, for our whole sorry race.
* XII *
I had thought the mission was ended but efforts were re-doubled.
Even those who were previously rejected for training as being unsuitable were recruited and those still only partially trained were sent out.
All this was in a last-ditch attempt to find at last the White Rooms and so collect data on new technologies and super-weapons with which to defend Earth against those we called ‘They’.
But it was useless. And they probably knew it from the start. It allowed the politicians to posture for the cameras a while longer and for morale to be given some sort of support. But it was ultimately useless and in the end, nearing the deadline which had been set all pretense was abandoned. They would have their harvest. They would have their unspeakable crop.
* XIII *
After the Center closed I could do little but go home and wait.
Who would be chosen and who would survive?
At first it was all anyone could think of, and it was all you could read of or watch on Tri-v.
Gradually though, once an inured acceptance had gained hold other subjects did begin to arise.
Nostalgia, history and pride in human achievements past became the order of the day.
In the face of humiliation and looming annihilation the human race finally began to come together, to find unity and solace in one another.
Along with this came a futile defiance. But, like lambs nearing slaughter, kicking against the metal walls that enclose them, it was a gesture of utmost futility.
The day came when the skies grew black.
The ships stood motionless in the sky. They cast enormous shadows over us.
The black rays moved incessantly. At first they took the dead. There was a harvest they could distill from them too. This didn’t take long. Then it was the turn of the living. Slowly but surely the count of the harvested increased. Finally the smoky black rays were no longer seen.
It was over. One third of us were gone. The rest would re-group and recover. As in the Middle Ages when the Black Death plague had taken between 75 to 200 million of Europe's population some actually benefited from the resulting shortage of manpower and renewed leverage that this brought them. It's an ill wind as they say...
Those who had survived with families intact were overjoyed at their good fortune and proceeded to celebrate.
They forgot the bonding that they had felt with the rest of humanity quite quickly in their enthusiasm for the new life they had been granted.
Scarce workers received better conditions, pay rises and secure employment for life.
Unemployment fell... then slowly began to rise again.
People began to put the past behind them. Retail sales soared. As did envy and greed. As did the ongoing destruction of nature and natural environments. And, the Center re-opened.
I watched it all on Tri-v and shook my head.
I thought to myself , “Here is where it all begins again".
The world has changed forever, but the road we travel on remains ever the same.
I even found myself wishing the next twenty five years away. After this time they would return to reap yet another harvest from us.
This was the Devil's bargain we had made to save most of our skins and give us some small chance of a future for humanity.
But, I hoped next time we’d refuse their solution.
Either we’d find those White Rooms, develop the weapons we needed and fight them to the finish, or perhaps... I mused, we might take the nobler course, the one that would be of much more lasting benefit to the planet and all its other lifeforms.
To choose total extinction instead.
Either way I still had a job. And there was much work to do.
The White Rooms were still out there somewhere.
And time was once again running out...