INTRO: July 30, 2035 Eastern Region
A black SUV tracks slowly up an old mountain pass toward the Neola District. Cold rain occasionally drifts over, filling up potholes and threatening washouts. The driver takes it slow.
Two men, an older gent and a much younger one, sit behind the driver. They are on a mission. What they call a “foray” from their city office into the mountains.
The young man shifts nervously and rubs his legs in an effort to warm them. This is his first foray as an intern.
His mentor, a seasoned agent named Gus, smiles and says, “Don’t worry, Greaves. When we get there, I’ll do all the talking. You just keep the camera going. Alright?”
Shivering under his oversized GEEO-branded wind breaker, Greaves felt underdressed and underprepared. His face paled under his green cadet cap. Is this what being an agent is about? Riding into the back country for hours?
“Did you hear me, Greaves? You just hang back and keep the minicam going? OK?”
“Yes sir.” He went to rubbing warmth into his legs which made him look all the more nervous. Ever since the sky went cloudy, the global temperatures steadily decreased.
Gus offered his sympathy. “You know, I started out with the same jitters on my first foray. But after a while they just get to be routine. I don’t like it when these folks are called retros. They don’t know what they haven’t been taught to know. We’re offering them a whole new way of life.”
A wave of cold rain pinged the roof of the armored vehicle. The driver craned his head around. “We’re five clicks away from the first stop.”
“OK.” Gus gave the young man a pat on the knee. “Get your gear ready. And remember, son. After all, we’re the good guys.”
CLARA SUPRIYA RENICK
Clara Renick drove her hands back into the ever cooling wash water and thanked the Lord this was the last batch of laundry for the week. She stood at the sink with her back to the rest of the kitchen. A window above the sink let in the natural gray light which saved burning precious fuel.
She chanted an old Hindu mantra dedicated to the Source of all light. “Aum, Bhoor Bhuvah Svah Tat . . . Savatur Varenyam . . . “ Her Indian-born mother had passed down their clan’s traditions. The gods, the rituals, and the chants. Rejoicing about radiant light during such dark days stoked her hope and resilience.
When the rain had stopped, her children had begged to be let outside to play. Clara knew they’d get dirty in the muddy yard, but they needed to blow off steam. Blow off steam. That sounded like her Sam’s kind of phrase. She paused scrubbing to look at her hands. Once delicate and soft, now they looked like lobster claws, red, rough, sometimes so cracked from the lye soap, they bled.
Suddenly, chaos erupted outside in the yard. Chip, their dog, began howling in synch with one, maybe two children wailing. She’d just seen them pass by the window chasing each other. Intuitively, Clara knew what was going down out there. She sighed and grabbed a dishtowel. “Not again!”
When she stepped out the back door onto the stoop, Clara called Chip who bounded around the corner to sit at her feet. She patted the old mutt’s head. “If only they minded like you, boy.”
She called out again. “OK, show yourselves. All of you! Now!” Though small in frame and quite thin, Clara could muster a big voice that conveyed serious consequences if ignored.
Katrelle Renick at Nine
One by one they appeared. First came Chase, with mud all up and down his left side, including half his face. He and his twin brother, Jarvis, had garnered the lion’s share of their father’s genes, looking much taller and more brawny than most eleven-year olds.
Clara noticed a swelling around Chase’s right eye along with a bloody nose. He jabbed his thumb over his shoulder, “Ma, it was Katie. She fights dirty! She kicks and scratches and bites! You said–“
“Maaaaa!” Jarvis waddled up as if severely bow legged. Both hands covered his crotch. Tears channeled down his muddied face. “Maaaa. She kicked me in the nads, Ma! It hurts! It hurts!” He started to blubber.
“They got what they bought, Mamma! They’re so mean!” Mud covered the entire front of Katrelle, aka Katie, Renick from head to toe. Her eyes shone white and fierce. She kept her distance and pointed in their direction. “They tried to make me eat mud! Jarvis sat on me and Chase pushed my head into it.”
Clara looked at both boys. “Well?”
Chase replied. “She started it, Ma. She threw mud balls and dared us to catch her. She dared us!”
“So, you let your little nine year old sister goad you into a fight?” Clara regarded Katie and wondered how such a powerful force could be contained in such a small vessel. It had to come from Grandma Supriya. Katie stood head to chest beside her older brothers, yet she rarely lost a fight. Clara often wondered if some great warrior soul, maybe even Kali herself, had chosen to reincarnate in this one.
Katie blurted. “Not so, Chase Renick! You came after me first! I told you–“
“OK! Enough!” Clara raised her hands for emphasis. “Look at you all. What a mess! Go clean up at the pump. You’ll wear those clothes the rest of the day while you do your outside chores.”
Katie (Kat) Age 9
The boys groaned. “But Ma,” Jarvis said, “That well water’s so cold! And we’ll freeze in these muddy clothes!”
Clara wasn’t buying it. She knew that her kids, including Katie, were hardy enough to play all day, even in the rain. “Well, then, you’d best be on your way to wash and get to your jobs. The sooner you’re done, the sooner you can strip down and come in.” She noticed Katie, hands on hips, still standing her ground.
“It’s not fair Mama! They pushed me!”
“Alright! Then, come over here. I have something to tell you.” The boys were turning to leave. “No, you boys stay right there.”
Katie came no closer than an arm’s reach. The mask of mud on her face had begun to dry out and change colors. Clara began. “Alright boys, I don’t care who started it, or who did what to who. What I do care about is keeping the peace in this family. Do you understand?” She looked intently at each child.
The boys dropped their heads. Katie glared at them. “That was a question! Do each of you understand?”
The boys muttered, “Yes, Ma’am”. Katie kept quiet, still seething.
“Katie,” Clara commanded. “Do you understand we need to keep peace among ourselves? That we are all we’ve got? Your father’s gone, our neighbors moved far away, and we have to hold on, together!” Clara’s voice broke. She held on as tears welled, blurring her vision. She felt a small hand gently taking hold of her fingers.
Katie looked up at her, the mud cast face made her dark-eyed gaze most intense. “Momma, I’m sorry. Please don’t cry.” The boys also came close and offered their sincere apologies and placed their hands on her arms and shoulders.
Her heart swelled. After a deep breath, she recovered enough composure to say. “Now, I want you to say to each other that you’re sorry. And mean it!”
Chase slowly turned to Katie. “I’m really–“
The Green Hats
Chip suddenly took off around the house and began frantically barking and howling. They all knew that meant someone had to be coming up the drive.
What timing! Clara thought as she regarded her motley urchins. Anybody they half-knew would likely understand. Widowed with three kids, living off what they could grow or gather. It was tough. Likely not anybody familiar. The very last person they’d known had dropped in months ago to say their goodbyes. Ellis Gable and his family been consigned to live in Progress City.
Odds on, it’d be strangers on some kind of mission. No one would casually slip off the main track to motor up their long and winding driveway all rutted and rocky. Their situation also made them vulnerable. None of this bode well in Clara’s mind.
Naturally, the kids started to dash off to see about the commotion. Clara called out.“Stop! Stop right there! I want you kids to go to the shed and wait. Quietly. We have no idea who’s coming!” Skip’s barking notched up a level. She waved them toward her.
Chase said, “Ma. What if you need help or something?”
Jarvis joined in. “How could we hear you from back in the shed?”
Turning to look behind, Chase exclaimed, “Hey, where’s Katie?”
Understanding their concerns, Clara relented. “Alright, you can stay here behind the house. But you stay until you are called. Got that?” They nodded. “And while you’re waiting, at least wash off your hands and faces.”
“What about Katie?” Jarvis asked. “Is she gonna be in trouble?”
Clara pulled out the proverbial dodge card. “We’ll see.” She shooed them on. “Now you boys go on and get part way clean.” She could now hear the crunch of of tires and an engine rumbling. “Almost here!”
She went around to the front and managed to drag Chip inside the house. He was old but still his size and instinct to protect could present a threat. She saw no sign of Katie.
So many thoughts came as to what she should do. Wait inside? Stand on the porch? Look for Katie?
She decided to stand on the porch and be able to see who was coming.
A gun? Actually, she kept several firearms under lock and key. These were Sam’s guns and likely illegal given all the permits and designations for use. She’d only used the pistol once, to scare off a fox in the chicken yard. Only in dire circumstances, would she consider using such a weapon. And yet.
Clara stepped onto the porch and closed the front door behind her just as the black SUV cleared the tree line. She still wore her apron and had put on a shaw.
She observed the SUV’s windows were tinted. It looked official but there were no insignias. Once stopped, the back doors opened and a man stepped out on either side. One looked middle aged while the other appeared quite young. Both carried some kind of pad. The letters GEEO were clearly displayed on their green cadet style caps and their green jackets. She pretty well knew now what she, and the family, were in for.
Before approaching, the older man shouted. “Is this the home of Samuel Franklin Renick?”
Clara Meets the DoGooders
Clara stepped onto the porch and closed the front door behind her just as the black SUV cleared the tree line. She still wore her apron and had put on a shawl. Chip whined from inside and pawed the door.
The SUV had tinted windows. It looked official, but there were no insignias. Once stopped, the back doors opened and a man stepped out on either side. One looked middle aged. The other appeared quite young. Both carried some kind of pad. The letters GEEO branded their green cadet style caps and their green jackets. She pretty well knew now what she, and the family, were in for.
Before approaching, the older man inquired. “Afternoon, M’am. Is this the home of Samuel Franklin Renick?”
Clara affirmed. “Sam passed away a few years back. The property is now in my name.”
The gent doffed his cap and looked to see his young companion do the same. “I’m so sorry to hear that, Mrs. Renick. We try to keep good records but with all the changes lately, it’s been a challenge.” He offered a smile.
Clara did not smile. “Will you gentlemen please state your business.”
“Pardon us for dropping in like this, M’am. My name is Gus Norton, this is my partner Candler Greaves. We did send out notifications to the town centers and Post Offices. But some folks missed seeing them. So, if you have a few minutes, we’d like to talk with you about this property and go over some paperwork? Can we do that?”
A slight drizzle began to fall. She thought, “Even Green Hats deserve a little hospitality. But they’re not coming in the house.”
“Alright. Since you’ve come this far to talk, I’ll listen.” She beckoned them up to the porch. As they climbed the stairs, she spied a brown-glazed creature flash from the woods to the back of the SUV.
For the Greater Good
They came up the porch steps. The younger man trailed behind a step or two. Gus offered his hand. Clara briefly shook. His hand felt warm and mushy compared to her cold lobster claws. She had placed herself in front of the entry door. “This is laundry day, and the house is a mess. I would have you come inside otherwise.”
Hearing strangers, Chip voiced his displeasure with menacing growls and occasional barks.
Gus eyed the door. “That’s fine m’am. We won’t be long.” The young man, Greaves, awkwardly gave a slight bow instead of a handshake and stood behind his boss.
Gus cleared his throat and began. “Well, Mrs. Renick, again I’m sorry for your loss, and for our records being so out of date. Can I ask you a few questions about your current family status?”
Clara, banged on the door. “Quiet!” Chip settled down to a low key whine. “You may ask as long as I know why you’re asking.
She found her attention diverted by a glimpse of the brown-splattered creature’s head poking from behind the SUV.
The two men facing her remained unaware, though Gus did say. “Ma’m you needn’t worry about this visit. Or our driver. He drives us around just cause he knows how to handle such a big fuel burner.”
“Well, basically, we’ve come on behalf of the Global Environmental Ethics Organization to notify you that this tract of land is about to be annexed into the regional Wild Lands system. We’re reaching out to the affected communities with very substantial offers of compensation. And, most importantly, we are offering the prospect of you and your family becoming certified citizens of Progress City. You’ll have work, education, healthcare, and housing all provided. We can begin processing today, as soon as you sign a few papers. If you have–”
Clara swept her hand to interrupt. “And what happens if I don’t accept the offer?”
The Greater Good
“Well,” Gus drawled, “That gets pretty complicated, M’am, cause after the annexation, you don’t own the land or any of its improvements. We always encourage folks to consider the benefits versus the potential hardships.”
Clara could feel the rush of blood and frenzied anger. “What hardships do you mean?”
“The expense of hiring representatives for an appeal, paying rent, loss of any compensations. That sort of thing. But, Mrs. Renick please know we truly want to help you and help the earth thrive. It’s all about sustainability. Think of your children and their circumstances being vastly improved.”
She drew in a deep breath. “Gentlemen, I am going to ask you one time. Will you please get off my land? This land that has been in my husband’s family for six generations. We have owned it free and clear. This is our home. It may not look like much but it is ours and we love it.”
Gus turned to Greaves. “Candler, will you pass me the hard copies?” They’d rehearsed this possible scenario.
“I’m disappointed we cannot process this matter today, Mrs. Renick. I understand your attachment.” He took a folder from Greaves and handed it toward Clara who folded her arms and refused to take it.
Gus bent over and placed the documents at her feet. He raised up, replaced his cap, and said,”Mrs. Renick, you have now been officially served. I do hope you reconsider, M’am. It’s what’s best for all concerned. Good day.”
The men turned, descended the stairs, and headed toward their vehicle. On cue, the engine fired up. Gus had about reached his door when startled by the appearance of a feral, mud-covered aborigine.
Mouth of Babes
It spoke in a child’s voice. “Mister, you come from the city?”
Gus, felt slightly relieved knowing he was dealing with a curious child. “Hey there, what’s your name?”
“Katie. So are you from the city?” She persisted.
“Well, hi Katie. Yes we are from Progress City. Why do you ask?”
She pointed. “This rear tire is going flat”.
He looked to see the tire had indeed lost some air. “Oh, that’s not so bad. We’ll have the shop in Red Hill check it out.”
“If you make it that far. Ask them about your timing too. Your valves are clicking. If your engine light’s not on now it will be.”
Gus could not reconcile the wild child’s appearance with the fount of information she offered. “Tell me, Katie, where did you learn so much about gas burners?”
“Katie! Come up hear this instant!” Her mother called from the porch.
She regarded Gus as if he’d asked the dumbest question in the world. “I read!” She patted the SUV with her muddy hands. “Classic retrofit. GMC forty seven hundred, 8 cylinder, hi-torque, likely the last of the series. What they call a guzzler.“
“ OK, Mama. Coming!” She turned and dashed up the hill.
The SUV had begun tracking down the mountain. Gus finished tabbing on his desk pad and then looked at Greaves. “So, what did you think?”
“Is it always like this? Where the people are not so receptive?”
“Actually, this visit went very well compared to others. I’ve been chased by dogs, shot at, even threatened with being tarred and feathered. This Renick woman was about as hospitable as they come.”
“Oh.” Candler responded as he processed. He didn’t quite get the tar and feather thing but it reminded him of something else. “That little girl, uhhh. Katie. Unusual sort. She seemed to know a lot about mechanics.”
“After dozens and dozens of forays it stumps me how they can live in such fifth and poverty. I’ve seen all kinds. That poor child knows just enough to sound smart.”
“So, what’s gonna happen to them?”
“Well, one way or another, they’ll come around. Let’s just allow –“
The driver broke in. “Sir, the check engine light just came on. The low tire pressure warning too.”
A clatter arose from the engine compartment. Gus spoke over the noise. “Keep going, Sherman. We’ll stop off in Red Hill.” Then looking over at Greaves, he asked, “Did you get everything on the minicam? Including that little girl?”
Candler swept the video scrub bar on his desk pad. “It’s all there, sir.”
Gus nodded. “You did good today, son. I can tell, you’ve got what it takes to make a fine agent.”
The vintage GMC 4700 rolled into the Red Hill motor pool lot with a flat rear tire and its V8 rattling and occasionally misfiring.
While the driver went to find a mechanic, his passengers waited in the back. Gus looked at the list of names on his desk pad and highlighted “Katrelle Renick, Age 9” . “Y’know , Greaves. We may have just discovered a little diamond in the coal mine.”
End of Chapter
As the Renicks entered the “Gate House”, a greeter ushered them to a line marked “Q-T”. It felt good to be out of the cold. A pretty young lady, dressed in a Kelly green frock, approached them with a tray. “Welcome to Progress City! Would you care for some organic hot spiced apple cider?”
The aroma of cinnamon and apple wafted toward them and they all accepted.
“Ma!” Katie exclaimed after a sip. ”This is the best ever!” In ten seconds, she’d drained the contents. Clara watched, knowing the next question. Katie held up the empty cup. “Is there more?”
From their inner city office, Gus and Greaves watched the closed circuit monitors as their recruits came into line. Greaves pointed to one of the screens. “There she is. Along with the family.”
Gus squinted, “Oh, yeah. Good eye Greaves! You see, it takes a while, but they usually come around. Without the mud mask, that Katie looks even more like a good candidate.”
They watched the Renick family pass behind the screen for their vaccinations and tagging. “We’ll let them get through the intake. Once they’re settled in their quarters, and after orientation, we can deliver the job assignments.”
Greaves looked at the list of names and assignments on his desk pad. “How do you think they’ll take to being separated?”
Gus grinned at his young sidekick. “Always the sensitive worrier, Greaves. Sure, they’ll make a stir, but it’s nothing we can’t handle. Once they get how much better it is here, they’ll adjust. Besides, once the forms are processed and they’ve been tagged, where else are they gonna go?”
Note skipped Day 13 for notes on character development.
Five years earlier (2025)
Drone cam skims water to city on horizon. Closes on NYC skyline. UN Building appears front and center.
Drone cam elevates and passes UN flagpoles and follows pedestrians into building, down corridor to meeting room.
Pass through walls as voices are heard coming from group of men and women circled near podium.
Camera approaches podium passing one seated individual. Room empty otherwise.
Image on screen behind group: planet earth encircled by dozens of satellites.
Tall dark-haired woman in elegant sari, gold bangles and jewelry. (Jeanetter Falime)
“Sir Henry. I agree we need to approach this proposal with all due caution, but time is of the essence.”
Elderly man standing opposite Falime, Sir Henry Blakemore (Nobel Scientist). “Correct, Madame Falime. We must also consider the practicality and expense of such a broad-range dispersal. Until we have the bulk of countries onboard with the sense of urgency and need for all but the poorest to contribute, I’m afraid this project is dead in the water.”
Third gentleman dressed in a kaftan, Anil Suzmann. “I would tend to agree with Sir Henry. The Harvard team certainly offers a wide ranging solution to the issue. They may indeed be onto finding the global solution to our issues. Imagine being able to take charge of our weather patterns on a global scale. My one concern, apart from what has already been stated, would be how it might be weaponized. And, who would be in control.”
A bespectacled little man, Dr. Kirkin Mohn, speaks. “If I may, we at the Harvard Institute are quite aware of the tactical implications and would, of course, cede the technology over to the World Council and the GEEO.”
The ranking member (Undersecretary Han Chin) raises both hands, saying. “So, it appears, we are mostly in accord, that the project is quite compelling but ,due to the obvious constraints of cooperation and financing, we may authorize more research but table any implementation for the time being.”
All but Dr. Mohn, nod in agreement.
Day 16 (Skipped Day 15 for Travel)
On the launch date, three Perseus rockets lifted off on separate trajectories from a base on the tip of New Zealand’s North Island. Each of these missiles attained their designated earth referenced latitude and altitude. They remained in relative fixed position as the planet turned below them.
On signal, each rocket’s capsule shroud came apart in pieces and floated away revealing what looked like a tight cluster of bees. Closer inspection revealed dozens of small drones. One by one, they left their hive and dropped into the fringes of the atmosphere. At precisely calibrated levels, the drones released their payload. Millions of nanoparticles dispersed in a blanketing pattern across the globe.
From a station in Whaleia New Zealand, ground observers cheered as their mission to save the planet gave every appearance of being a miraculous success. The launch controllers were elated.
Morris Juno kept his attention on the array of screens and the crawl of data and graphics. “Mission control, what’s the status hand-off?”
A tense pause.
“Repeat. What is the status for hand-off? Are the clouds positioned and ready for guidance?”
“Waiting to confirm, sir. . . .Roger that. We see there’s a slight issue due to fluctuations at both polar magnetospheres.”
“What do you mean by a “slight issue”?
“We’ve temporarily lost connection with a portion of the cloud clusters at north and south poles. There’s no control interface due to the interference. Likely due to solar activity.”
The voice at Mission Control sounded very calm, reasonable, and confident. But Juno sensed a hint of panic.
The presumption of an issue with solar activity bothered him. At this point, the world knew the skies would turn just a shade darker, their mission had been heralded with much fanfare.
Yet, there were entities that would like nothing more than to see such an effort fail or at the very least, go sideways.
Juno spoke again. “Mission Control, run a wave spectrum analysis on the interference and verify the sources are all extra terrestrial.”
Dark Clouds on Horizon
“Mr. Juno, we cannot detect any interference other than those of cosmic and solar origins.”
“Have you located the rogue particles?”
“Still searching, sir. One interesting phenomenon we noted when last we had them on screen, is they had dispersed widely. Instead of 10 kilometers, they’d ranged much wider than their programmed separation.”
“How could that happen?”
“Not certain sir, our design team is on it and we’re confident, once we recover signal that these rogue nanos can be retrieved and re-positioned. “
Juno could hear a flurry of voices in the background. He’d been down these blind allies before. Going ballistic would not be helpful. He began to pace as he spoke.
“Alright, have the team leaders on tap for a conference call at 1300 Zulu. We’re at a critical stage and all too soon, the media will be all over this. And leave this line open, just in case, I want to be the first to know what’s going on.”
“Just a moment sir, I’m looking at a flash briefing. Radar contact has been reestablished and. . . .”
“The nanos are coming back into formation.”
“You don’t sound very relieved”
“It’s not confirmed, sir, but it appears these particular units have linked with a base other than Mission Control. “
Silence ensued as Juno processed the bottom line. He spoke very slowly. “Are you saying a billion dollar mission has been hacked? We’ve been assured from the get-go, the blockchain would never be vulnerable.”
“Again It’s not confirmed sir. There’s another possibility. The AI programmed into the swarm of nanos is operating independently.”
Juno stood still. Stunned and for all his brilliance, lost for words.
Of Birds and Bees
Three Days Later
A haggard face appeared on Juno’s screen. “Morning, Sir. We’ve now discovered the main issue is with the electro-magnetic interference from currents of a recent solar flaring. A very powerful X3. The nanos are basically confused between our guidance systems and the random fluctuations of a coronal massive ejection. We see this CME as temporary and the situation with the so-called rogue nanos should normalize shortly.”
Juno rubbed the back of his neck. He knew the risks involved in dispersing clouds of nano particles into the mesosphere. All these risks had been calculated. This was the first phase, a demonstration project geared to control the impact of climate change. Obviously, his team had miscalculated the influence of sun.
“So, what do you mean by ‘shortly’?”
“We have an estimated 24 to 48 hours. The nanos in the polar regions may take longer to control. The electromagnetic forces there are generating intense aurora phenomena. We may not be able to recover those clouds that were so intensely affected.”
“If I understand then, our situation has nothing to do with a hacker or a faulty programming issue?”
“Affirmative, sir. Again, we’ve not found any earthly sources of interference. Yet we are observing odd patterning as the nanos move about. Almost as if . . .well, as if in their confusion, they have massed together. Quite like a phenomena we see on earth with bird murmurations and fish forming a bait ball. It’s like . . .”
A moment passed as the Mission Control leader hesitated. Juno prodded. “Go on.”
“Well, it strikes me that this phenomena denotes a conscious effort toward self-preservation.”
Juno asked . “And yet, we’ve not programmed any such survival mechanism, right?”
“Programming consisted of spatial awareness and proximity in order to move them about en mass.”
“And yet, you see the clustering as some kind of self-directed swarm behavior?”
“Yes, sir. There’s one more aspect we’re looking into. The behavior patterns embedded in our nanos, came from behavioral research on bees and birds.”
By design, each particle could reflect, refract, or be dispersed. In this way, the heat effects of solar radiation could be controlled like Venetian blinds managed light. But something had gone wrong. The nano particles swirling in the upper atmosphere had been “temporarily compromised” according to Juno’s press releases.
On spots around the globe, tight clusters of nanos eclipsed sunlight and people grew increasingly concerned as deep shadows hovered high above them like alien spacecraft.
The news media pushed the headlines toward the theme of “Lo, how the mighty have fallen”. Headlines abounded: “Has Juno Lost his Mojo?” and “Juno Goes too Far” and “Mo Jo’s AI Bug Scheme a Step too Far?” The same media that built Morris Juno into a huge cult entrepreneur, inventor, and visionary, had turned to declaring him a lost cause.
“We’ve taken measures and countermeasures that will restore control and put the demonstration back on track. Remember, when venturing into any new frontier, the unexpected is expected. Our team of the best and brightest scientists, engineers, and IT technicians in the world, have assured me this situation will be handled safely and effectively.”
Juno sat back in his office chair, took in a deep breath and released it. “That should do for now, Matty. Just add in the usual salutations and closings.”
“Yessir.” His long-time secretary responded. “Will send it out ASAP to all the friendlies.”
His phone buzzed. New Zealand. Juno took another deep breath and answered. “OK, Tell me some good news.”
“Mr. Juno, we located all of the nano colonies. And the CME effects have diminshed.”
A long pause.
“OK, so what else?”
“Well sir, we mentioned that the nano bytes appear to have some extra capabilities such as the self-preservation clustering.” The speaker paused for Juno to acknowledge.
“Well, go on.”
“We’re seeing all of the colonies that dispersed over specific latitudes demonstrating a kind of meta synchronicity. As we re-acquired their location and observed their movements, we noted this phenomena. Data forensics indicate this feature is above and beyond any original programming.”
UN HQ NYC (Three Days after NZ launch)
Office of Global Environmental Ethics Organization (GEEO)
“Please have a seat. Would you care for a cup of tea, Corso?” Jeanettete Falime smiled graciously at her counterpart in the North American Consolidation.
“No thank you, Jeanette” Corsco Vega demurred as he took a seat, almost knee to knee with one of the most charming women he’d ever met. She’d arranged the meeting and a cozy corner of the office for their tete a tete.
“So, Corso, let me first congratulate you on the progress of unification.” She smiled and Vega nodded, “You’ve managed to garner a majority of states and provinces into the fold, and we have only a handful of holdouts.”
“Indeed, we’re working our way through the courts and, various inducements, thanks to the work of many toward a borderless region. Once we’ve consolidated more citizens into population centers, our progress toward global oversight can move into the next phase. Congratulations to you as well, Madame Director.”
Falime had done much the same for South America. As each country had fallen like dominoes into chaos, the people came begging for intervention, and the World Council answered their call with food, water, blue helmets, and green hats to establish order.
“Well, now. Let’s turn to our current matter that’s all over the news. It seems Morris Juno has made quite a name for himself.” She paused allowing the irony to hover. “We managed the situation quite well, by allowing Dr. Mohn and Juno to proceed, don’t you think?”
Corso grinned. “Indeed, we did.“ Both Falime and Vega knew how World Order might be thwarted if a major issue like climate catastrophe was resolved.
The efforts toward mitigation gave GEEO leverage. An actual solution would be counterproductive. They had contacts at Harvard and technicians embedded in Juno’s team. Just a few programming tweaks and the High Altitude Solar Experiment (“HASE”) had gone sideways.
Mostly Cloudy with a Chance of Chaos
Juno felt his band width tightening along with a pounding headache. Three hours of fitful sleep over four days induced a foggy reality.
He’d called an emergency video conference of the key division managers. Three bleary faces gazed back at him.
“I know how terribly busy you all are, so thanks for showing up this morning. We have word from Jon Porter at Mission Control that the nano bots have basically gone rogue. At least, they’re not responding to commands. And, as they’ve swarmed together, there appears to be a synchronous pattern among and between all of them.”
“Jon, could you repeat your thoughts about the original programming?”
“Sure, Mr.Juno.” Porter’s face came on screen. “Well, it appears that the anomalies have much to do with the programming. We knew that algorithms of the flight behavior of bees in a swarm and birds flying in formation might be the best way to inoculate the particles with a sense of space awareness and proximity separation. While not specifically programmed, we’ve noted patterns of self-preservation. Since there has been no apparent interference from the ground or earth-orbiting satellites, we see the survival mechanism as an unanticipated parcel of programming.”
Juno broke in. “The key question to consider here is the intention. Did our design team miss something, or could the self-preservation pattern been purposely buried in the design?”
Emil Chowdry, program manager from the Harvard team came on the screen. Dark circles under his eyes and a haggard face. “I can assure everyone here that the Harvard IT’s had no part in any subliminal programming and stayed strictly within the bounds of demonstrated parameters. “ He sounded high pitched and testy. “Obviously, there are other possible events that may have triggered the anomalies. The intense solar radiation, the ionization effects, the rapid circulation into the auroras, so many possibilities!”
Juno came back. “Duly noted, Dr. Chowdy. We’re not here to cast blame. Just looking for the most likely explanations.”
“Very, well, Mr. Juno I just needed to assure those present that the programming was as it should be. We have run the forensics ourselves and will welcome anyone else to run their own study. If anyone here wishes to receive-
“Dr. Chowdry, thanks. We do have more to cover. You can post your contact info in the chat box.”
Jon Porter cleared his throat. “Mr. Juno, there’s another anomaly, the report just came in.”
“Very well, Jon. Proceed.”
“A reminder to everyone here. Mr.Juno, will you please put all of us up on screen?” He waited for each face to appear.
“Everyone here acknowledges your NDA’s are in full effect and our discussion is highly classified.” All nodded their assent.
“The latest tracking data show the nano clusters expanding over wider regions of the earth. We took this as a good indicator that the situation might normalize.”
Porter paused to take a slug from a water bottle. “However, we never observed the expected decrease in shadow density on earth’s surface. After verifying the atmospherically buoyant particles had maintained altitude, the preclusion of which would strongly indicate . . .The nano particles have somehow acquired capability of reproducing themselves at an enormous rate.”
Katie and Family
Clouds hung low in the slate colored October sky. At high noon, filtered sunlight muted colors. The drizzly sidewalks and streets shone like dull silver. A gray van passed through the gate and into the city proper.
The children had never seen such marvels. As the EV drove from the intake building to their quarters, Jarvis, Chase, and Katie huddled together with their faces pressed against the windows.
“Look over there! Its’ a big pond with a water shooting out of it!”
“Yeah,! Y’see that green glass tower over there? Is that a building?”
“Ma, what are all these mirrors?”
“Solar panels, they used to make the electricity.“ Clara replied.
“Wow! Look at THAT one!” Jarvis pointed at the tallest building in Progress City. “It’s like a giant mirror!”
“That’s the GEEO building.” Katie remarked. She’d studied the slide presentations on the wall-mounted screens at the intake center.
“Welcome to Progress City: The future is here! “ Katie mimicked the narration.
Clara looked down at the red mark on her hand where a chip had been inserted. They had all just been “tagged” and vaccinated.
As her children expressed their enthrallment of being in a new place, Clara wondered if she’d done the right thing. They might’ve held off and at least, just moved into Red Hill. She could’ve used the auction money to live on for several months.
And yet, they’d struggled so hard for so long. Ever since Sam had passed away. She’d feel his presence at times. But not this time.
She watched as her children amused themselves gazing out the widows. She thought, “This might work out to be the best. Work, education, health care, and a place where we could stay together.”
She started chanting softly. Her Hindu mother knew all sorts of chants for every occasion. This one was devoted to Ganesha, the elephant-headed god. Protector of travelers and remover of obstacles. “Ganesha hara nam, hara nam Ganesha” was a simple chant repeated over and over by those setting forth on a new endeavor.
After three days of living in their sparse cubicle, Clara’s doubts about the family’s move into Progress City intensified. The provisioners and purveyors of “a better life” had performed technically, yet minimally.
The Renicks had received shelter, though cramped and dingy like an old motel room. Food, yes, but not fresh and rationed into “light” meals served in a cafeteria. Health care consisted of a 10 minute exam by a nurse who mostly asked questions. After breakfast, they reported to the adjacent education center for orientation, then separated into cubicles for testing.
During the afternoon, Clara had a private moment with their assigned facilitator, a short and stocky woman in her middle years named Grace. She asked, “How long before we have our own habitation? A more private place, with its own kitchen and bath?”
Grace smiled indulgently. Sooner or later this question always came up, especially from the “indies”. “I understand how different this can be for new folks like yourselves. It’s OK. in a few days, you’ll have your vocational tracks and be assigned to a specific locations.”
Something seemed off in this answer. “Ma’am, What do you mean by tracks? And did you say locations, as in plural?”
Realizing her gaff, the facilitator back pedaled. “Well, Clara, let’s not get too specific. Of course, our goal is to maintain family integrity. I meant to indicate that your vocational aptitudes may involve separate venues for schooling and meaningful work. Not that your family members would be sent off to different locations.”
Clara observed a slight waver in the facilitator’s eyes. Just enough to arouse more suspicion. In a life prior to living in the boonies of Red Hill, she’d received NLP training as a licensed psychologist. That training plus years of child rearing informed her when people constructed lies.
The men who’d come to their door months ago had been the exception. Perhaps, they’d been indoctrinated with a belief that they spoke the truth. She’d also been angry and only half present.
Grace pointedly glanced at her watch and asked. “Is there anything else I can help you with, Clara?”
Clara replied with a twist of sardonicism. “Thank you. You’ve been most helpful.”
Cirque du Katie
She caught up with her children who’d been granted free time in a small gymnasium. She saw the boys bouncing a ball back and forth but not a sign of Katie. On the verge of panicking, she called to the boys. “Where’s your sister?”
“I’m up here, Mama!” Katie shouted from the top of a rope hooked to the fifty-foot ceiling. Not only had she climbed it but had wrapped her legs in order to dangle upside down like a circus performer.
Clara gasped. Then commanded “Katrelle Renick! You come down this instant!”
Katie smiled cheerfully. “Sure Mama! Watch this!” She coiled the dangling rope around her waist several times. She released her leg hold and spun down rapidly stopping just short of the floor. She extended one arm in “Ta da!” performer pose.
The boys cheered, but Clara stood silent, her mouth agape. Gaining her voice, she exclaimed, “What in the world do you think you’re doing young lady? You could fall or hang yourself!” Clara pressed a hand to her chest and could feel her heart racing.
Katie kept smiling in her pose. “Don’t worry, Mama, I’ve been practicing over and over. You wanna see some more?”
Clara shook her head and waved them toward her. “Come on, grab your things. We don’t want to miss lunch.”
Katie dismounted, looking crestfallen, but in a moment began skipping and cartwheeling toward her brothers.
Clara reminded herself for the umpteenth time, that this child of hers had layer upon layer of talents and a rather disturbing lack of fear. Yes, the boys were occasional worries, but concerns about Katie kept her up at night.
Gus cut in. “Immediately. To delay training would be a waste. Would you not agree? “
“Uh, well sir. We did say to them that the family would remain intact and now you’re saying the little girl needs to move into the Training Center. So that’s not exactly keeping the family unit together.”
Gus shook his head and lowered his spectacles to stare eye to eye with his young charge. “You need to learn, son, that circumstances change and create other circumstances. It’s just logistics. We’ll have visitations set up, on-line video calls, and holiday breaks.” He patted Candler’s shoulder. “The bottom line . . .we’ve brought them to a much better life here, and that little girl you just saw is going to go places. And of course such a discovery will redound to our benefit as well. Wouldn’t you say?”
Candler eyed the monitor. Katie Renick’s RFID block had remained on the screen. “I just can’t see any harm in them staying together for at least a while. You know, once they get settled. Then maybe give them a bit of notice about the girl.”
Gus regarded his earnest, naive intern and wondered if he’d made a mistake taking such a sensitive rookie under his wing. “Well, now Candler, you must remember. We’re recruiters, not social workers. Besides that, would it not be more stressful to separate them once they got settled? Trust me. This is the best way.”
Candler felt helpless to do or say anything else so he clammed up. He determined that when he became an agent he’d be far more understanding.
After dinner, the Renicks went to their quarters. An hour later, someone rapped on their cubicle door.
“Who is it?” Clara asked. A lockable entry door had become one last vestige of privacy.
“Grace, your facilitator, Ms. Renick.”
Clara opened the door and saw the woman holding a suitcase.
“May I come in? I’ve got something important to share with you.”
The two women sat at the table facing each other. Clara had nothing to offer Grace other than water, which she refused.
The children had been sent to the most distant corner to occupy themselves by reading.
Alerted by the after hours unscheduled visit, Clara nervously asked. “Is there something the matter?”
Grace began in a conciliatory way. “Well, Ms. Renick, we know how hard it can be to come from the outside into the city. It’s a big move and it takes time to adjust to everything. You and the children are doing a swell job.” She paused for Clara to acknowledge the compliment.
“Not to seem rude, M’am, but you didn’t come by here to give us a pat on the back. Did you?”
“Well, not quite.” The facilitator tried another approach. “One of the best things about life in PC is how we always look to the community for support and in turn look to give our community as much as it gives us. It’s exactly the way we relate to our planet. Always for the best. We base our meaningful work and educational track assignments on how citizens might best serve the community according to each person’s capabilities.”
Hearing another recitation of the “CommunityCode” did nothing to quell Clara’s anxiety. She pointed to the suitcase next to Grace’s chair. “Again, Ms. Hogue. Please tell why you’re here and carrying that suitcase? Are you going to be our live-in nanny?” Clara knew how ludicrous her last comment might seem, but hoped humor might’ve sped things along.
Grace rendered a tight smile. And, of course, the children who were seated on the floor looked their way. Chase had to ask. “Is she really moving in with us?” They were all ears and eyeballs at that point.
“We were just chatting about this and that.” Clara looked at Grace. “Ms. Hogue is definitely not moving here.”
Grace’s face paled as she realized the full import of her assignment. She’d been pushed into handling the matter “With all due expediency” but this wasn’t the right place or time. In a low voice she said, “Ms. Renick, let’s you and I find a place to meet in the morning.” She eyed the children. “Privately.”
“They can be assigned to the gym again. So we can meet at 8:30 in my office.”
“Alright. If that’s the best time for you.” Clara noted the facilitator hadn’t issued an invitation. It was a summons. She detected a level of discomfiture she’d not seen.
“Very well.” Grace stood up and adjusted her jacket. “See you then!” She retrieved the suitcase and Clara ushered her out the door.
As the door closed, Katie asked. “Did Miss Hog decide not to move in?”
Facing the Beast
Clara arrived at Sara Hogue’s office five minutes early. It reminded her of a doctor’s office.
“Ms. Porter will see you shortly. Please have a seat.” The receptionist seemed preoccupied with a scroll on her monitor and slightly irritated that her attention had been interrupted.
At 8:37, Grace Hogue opened her door. Good morning Ms. Renick. Please come on in.
Clara didn’t relish having her marital status being reduce to “Ms.” After all, she’d been blessed to have been married to Sam Renick for fifteen years and had freely given over her career to raise and home school the children.She’d earned the honorific “Mrs.” This became a minor annoyance ever since their arrival. She’d correct their presumption at some point.
As Clara entered the room, she saw the suitcase from the night before sitting by the Facilitator’s desk. A swivel chair behind the desk faced two simple chairs on the other side. “Please, have a seat. Would you care for some tea or coffee? They’re fair trade and organic.”
Clara demurred politely. “No thanks”
“Please, have a seat.”
Clara took one of the chairs and to her surprise, Grace sat in the chair next to it. “We have another person joining us this morning. And, by the way, my apologies for dropping in last evening. Much better to meet this way.”
Before Clara could respond, the door opened and Gus Norton appeared. “Good morning ladies! I hope I’ve not kept you waiting long.”
Clara experienced a visceral reaction the second she saw him.
By contrast, Gus glad-handed her and inquired amicably, “How are things coming along with you and the kids? I bet they’ve grown by inches since last we spoke.”
Clara drove back the urge to bolt. Not out of fear, but sheer hostility. For her children’s sake, she would manage. “Actually, we’re all looking forward to what “living in the future” has in store.”
“Well Ms. Renick, or may I call you Clara?”
“Actually, it’s Mrs. Renick. In honor of my husband.”
Gus shot a look at Grace Hogue. “Well, certainly, Mrs. Renick. We can make that correction.” He watched as Hogue tabbed a note on her lap desk.
“By the by, we know of your late husband’s extraordinary talents and mental acumen. They can be seen in all the children’s evaluations. Katie in particular.”
He clasped his hands together. “So, let’s begin with your husband, Samuel Renick. He held the project manager position at the Red Hill Observatory. Involved in various projects, one of which was the High Altitude Solar Experiment (“HASE”)” Do you recall?”
Clara stared at the man. “What does my husband’s last occupation have to do with my being here?”
Gus smiled. “Mrs. Renick, it may have everything to do with why you’re here.” He glanced over at Grace Hogue who seemed to be keeping to herself as much as possible. “As your assigned facilitator, Ms. Hogue would be the one to inform you about your future work venues and training tracks. But I’m now conducting this matter due to the fact that we know your late husband had a direct hand in causing The Correction.”
Porter’s accusation gave free rein to Clara’s hostility. “My husband tried to SAVE the project from disaster-he KNEW that there were schemes to tamper with the programming. In fact, he DIED on his way to report his findings directly to Madame Falime of the World Council. He KNEW the identities of the saboteurs. How DARE you cast him as a CRIMINAL!”
He reached over to the suitcase and placed it flat on the desk. “Mrs. Renick, five years ago your husband perished in a private plane crash. We believe he had gone rogue at the time and had made contact with another project manager by the name Emil Chowdry.”
Clara hated the dredging of painful memories. Both Sam and her Uncle Emil had died en route to meet Morris Juno face to face in Calgary, Juno’s home base. Before leaving that day, Sam told her that he and her uncle had discovered traces of program tampering with the nano particles. The identity of the hackers had been narrowed down to two possibilities. He never named either one. Their private plane crashed in the Rockies. Bodies of all those on board were recovered three weeks later.
Clara’s mind flashed back through the horrors of those days, her eyes welled and her breath shallowed.
Norton watched the woman’s reactions. “M’am, I’m sorry to delve into the past like this. And, yes, we know Emil Chowdry was your mother’s brother. They both worked the HASE Program. Allow me to show you something.”
He opened up the suitcase.
Clara gasped as her hand covered her mouth. She looked up at Norton.”These were my husband’s! Where did you find them?”
Clara looked at Sam’s watch. An anniversary gift he swore he’d wear everyday. It was sealed in a clear plastic bag marked with evidence code. She noticed Sam’s tracksuit, sneakers and a Dopp kit. A smaller bag next to it contained a gold ring. She’d always presumed everything had burned up like the bodies onboard. The remains had to be DNA’d for identification.
“These personal effects were found in your husband’s locker at the Red Hill Observatory along with a number of cleverly stowed mini sd’s. Once deciphered, the encrypted data clearly show that your husband and Dr. Chowdry planned to fix blame for the HASE cataclysm on the World Council.”
Clara glared at Norton. “What makes you think my husband and uncle, both highly regarded men of honor, would ever cause such harm?”
“Well, Mrs. Renick. It’s patently obvious that the World Council could would never have a hand in sabotaging a project they’d actually initiated and supported.”
“Oh, so a globalized government would never act against the people’s welfare or interests? Really? No corruption, ineptitude, mis-management or false flags?”
“Mrs. Renick, we have evidence that- “
Clara stood up and leaned toward him. “You, sir, would be called a thug in India. You act all friendly and helpful, then wait for the moment to attack. The evidence is right here in this case. My Sam would never leave behind his watch and wedding ring. Other than to let me know he thought his life was in danger.”
“But, Mrs. Renick–“
She held up a hand to silence him, then pointed to the open suitcase.
“In here, I see proof that my husband and uncle were onto something. Whatever devices you found in his locker could have easily been planted. But these personal items, which your government has kept from me for years, tell me everything I need to know.”
The interview had definitely headed sideways. Gus Norton had been set back on his heels.
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