Archive for Charles

Charles’s Job IV

Posted in Climate Change, Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 28, 2010 by Conor

Charles watched his screens, observed his computers, interrogating their square faces, watching for ticks and twitches that would hint at a hidden truth his instruments could be hiding from him. Finally satisfied that the world was still fucked up beyond his stone chambers, he turned and walked to the nursery. As he walked in, he looked up to track the simulated sun as it passed across the ceiling. The ceiling, actually a giant screen, ran a program that simulated the passing of day and night and it was seasonally sensitive. During winter, the photoperiod was shorter, the night longer, and the ambient temperature of the room dropped a few degrees. Even though it wasn’t in the original programming, Charles eventually rewrote the program to include clouds, snow, rain, all with a simulated appearance on the man-made sky. He would spend hours in there, watching as the clouds floated across the ceiling, looking for shapes, trying to ignore the fact that it was on a loop and every twenty minutes, the same shapes would crawl above him. Although he could program the ceiling to simulate storm clouds, to make it seem as though he was looking up into a pouring sky, and even as the recording of rain drops throwing themselves into the soil played over the speakers, his face still remained dry and he didn’t feel the tiny liquid bombs exploding on his forehead, on his closed eyelids, the flowers of H20 blooming from their tear shaped buds across his cheeks and the shrapnel and spent petals rolling down his face finally leaping from his chin towards the soil. Nothing touched him, though the phantom memory of rain did brush his skin, phantom spray from a childhood sprinkler. Despite the absence of rain, his cheeks were still wet when he opened his eyes.

Charles continued through to the second chamber of the nursery, partitioned off by one revolving door immediately followed by another. As Charles passed into the gene nursery he stood and waited for his eyes to adjust. In the previous room the light was changing constantly but here it was a consistent low, red glow bathing everything in an ominous light. The sound was just as different. Where as the patternless, chaotic patter of rain filled the previous room, this one was filled with a deep throbbing. When Charles closed his eyes he always felt as though he was inside a giant bass drum. He opened the cabinet in the corner, donning gown and mask and gloves. Charles stood for a moment and gazed down the gene nursery, more like a wide corridor than a room. On each side of the room were vats, the size of trash cans, filled with a clear liquid. The vats nearest the door appeared to be empty but as he walked down the room the contents changed. A small dot, or speck for the first few vats, then larger and larger objects. As he progressed down the room, each vat was filled with a more recognizable shape. A fetal curl, the neck, bent as though in prayer, a thoughtless lump asking forgiveness for sins not yet enacted. Moving down the aisle, toes became distinct, ears, a nose, after a certain size umbilical cords tethered the fetuses to nourishment, which was precisely regulated. After passing to the rear of the chamber, he turned to the last vat. A fully formed human male, his DNA donated by healthy Government employees that had passed the genetic screening. He had Charles’s nose. And Dr. Daniel’s mouth.

Charles wheeled over a stool, locking it in place so that it wouldn’t skitter out from under him as he brought his fragile son into the world. Charles unclasped the grips holding the glass womb in place and manipulated the hinges attaching it vertically to the wall, extending its support arm like a boom, bringing the second to last human he knew for sure was alive to a rest, a few degree from horizontal. Opening a vent in the base of the container, the amniotic fluid began to flow into the drain in the floor, a torrential flood of viscous goo. As the last of the fluid drained out Charles gave the base a sharp twist, unlocking it with a wet click, letting it fall clattering to the floor. Instead of reaching in to grab the new-born, he simply let it slide slowly out of the tube that had been its home for the last nine months, the amniotic fluid turning the beaker into a slide. As the child’s weight settled into his hands, he pulled a rubber ear cleaner out of the cradle, squirting two quick burst of air at each nostril, and immediately this bundle of cells, this wet bag of miniature organs, tiny bones, and enormous potential, began to wail. Charles wrapped him in a blanket, and held him close. Leaning in to the baby’s ear, Charles chose his words very carefully.

“Hello Kael, my name is Charles. I’ve waited a long time to meet you. Welcome to the New Earth.”

Charles’s Job Part III

Posted in Climate Change, Natural Disasters, Risk & Fear with tags , , , on March 31, 2010 by Conor

As the warmth from the water has loosened up his joints, so also did it loosen his memories allowing them to fall back into the vaults of recollection. He opened his drawers and stared down at his clean clothes.

“How about we mix it up today. I’m thinking, gray.” He reached down and picked up one of his three identical shirts, each the color of cigarette ash. As Charles pulled it over his head he walked into the observatory. Every time Charles walked into the observatory, he felt like he was walking onto the bridge of the Enterprise. There weren’t any windows, but three enormous screens covered the walls opposite the entryway. The monitor to the far left was on, but was completely blank, showing only black. The center monitor was cut neatly in half, the lower section a mottled blue, white, and gray, while the upper section was a roiling, gaseous, dark gray and black. This monitor was currently viewing the glacier that sat just above the bunker and also the sky just above it. The far right monitor showed a view of stumps, all black and jagged. Acres of hills covered with these ashy, sharpened shadows of a once lush environment, like the short bristled hair of a cancer patient in remission. He went to the station for the far left screen and selected input four. Instantly the black vanished, replaced by a frothy expanse of water, as dark and ominous as the sky it shared a horizon with. This was the window through which he had watched, fifty years ago, as the four horsemen rode down from the sky upon their flaming frozen chariot. Death decimated the denizens of Earth, from Dijon to Denmark, delivering devastatingly destabilizing vibrations directed through every diameter of the Earth destroying foundations and felling buildings. Pestilence’s particles flew ‘round the earth perforating lungs, plunging people into paroxysms of sputum spewing coughs. Famine salted our earth by shrouding our Earth, fumes and phosphorous flying furiously, full-blown and unfurling from France to Fairbanks. War was late. War drug its well-worn heels, wielding its great weapon of wanton opportunism and willful wasting of life and blood.

The comet, christened Iblis by the astronomer who spotted it and plotted its course, lived in the Haley-family of comets, and was pulled out of the Oort Cloud and towards the inner solar system. Since Charles had been locked down there, he’d had a lot of time to study up on his astrophysics. While he couldn’t do the math, the theories (outside of black holes) made enough sense. Yet, as much sense as it made to him, on all his computer projections and actual data recorded by satellites and scientists in the months afterwards, the chance of it still haunted him. Some passing asteroid, or transient astral body had to swing through the Oort Cloud and pull Iblis out of that silent riot of ice and stone in quiet space to come hurtling into the solar system. While traveling in, slowly moving towards the largest gravity well (Sol) it had to not hit a single other planet, or meteor, or asteroid, or space alien, and transect the orbital path of the Earth at the perfect moment to smash into Europe and hit the special reset button that gets bumped into every few million years. As far as Charles could tell, no one had ever bothered to calculate the odds. For that he was grateful.

The astronomer who discovered Iblis contacted NASA to let them know what he had just learned. In 13 months the planet would be changed forever. Some special group, some committee in some sterile room with calculators and computers and chrome and cold lighting decided that it wouldn’t be possible to save a community of full-grown people. That this cold committee, trained not to feel but only to think, could only guarantee the survival of one grown man for approximately 60 years. That was when they began to build his compound.

Charles’s Job Part II

Posted in Post-Apocalypse, Risk & Fear with tags , , , , on March 3, 2010 by Conor

The timer dinged, indicating the reservoir’s water allotted for bathing that day had been used. Charles’s eyes opened to the familiar walls, carved out of bedrock, and fixtures built to last two lifetimes: rust-proof, ding-proof, autosterilizing, motion activated and all monitored by the nearly sentient computer. The engineers had given it a voice. Years ago, when Charles was still young, the computer would respond to his commands in a calm, clear, sexless voice

“Yes, Charles”

and when Charles woke each day the speakers in his bed frame would chirp

“Good morning Charles”

and whisper

“Good night Charles”

as he lay his bones upon his mattress. Charles couldn’t remember when it started, but at some point he began to answer the computer.

“Good morning Charles”

“Good morning Darling”

“Please run diagnostics on the reactor, Darling.”

“Reactor operating at ten percent. Approximate time left at current consumption rate: 331.7 years.”

“Nothing to worry about then, right Darling?”

But the computer was not programmed to respond to questions, only commands. Charles felt a secret shame and fear creep through him. For the rest of the day he would only use the manual interface at the main terminal to monitor the systems, the nursery, the surface, and perform all his chores silently and pretending he hadn’t been speaking to a complex mess of circuits and screens. That he wasn’t lonely.

It had been three days since Charles had checked on the lubricating cultures in the turbine axel. Charles had helped design the reactor system for the compound, one of the reasons he had been selected to be the Steward. The reactor heated water, generating steam, that spun a giant turbine, generating an electric current. Most of the current powered the compound but a percentage went to charging a large battery that was relied on whenever the turbine was being serviced. The turbine’s lubrication was provided by a culture of bacteria that produced natural oil, secreting it as waste, which trickled down from their cradle into the bearings of the turbine. Every several days, Charles would power down the turbine and go down, open up the pooling reservoir and collect all the oil that the bacteria had created, fed into the turbine, and was then broken down by the intense heat from the massive speed of the mechanism. This used oil would be incorporated into the auger that grew a separate strain of bacteria. These bacteria excreted a serum that fed the oil producing cultures. Both these strains, though marvels, had severe drawbacks. The genes that had been inserted into their DNA to make them produce their unique products inhibited the self-correcting mechanisms in each cell.

Small mistakes in mRNA coding that would normally be detected and repaired were allowed to continue, and after a few days the accumulated mutations would result in a cell unable to complete basic functions and regulate the ion pumps in their membranes killing the cells. Because of this flaw, every few days Charles had to go down and replace each culture with new clones of the original cells that were kept in stasis in the nursery.

Charles had a time limit when completing this task, however. The steam released by the reactor would burn him alive if he stood in the chimney while it was active. A thick steel bulkhead closed, just beneath the turbine housing, bisecting the chimney and trapping the steam beneath where Charles had to work. But the steam was created at such a rate that it would burst through the bulkhead at a predicted ten minutes. Charles had nightmares about that chimney.

On his way back from the turbine, walking down the stairs in the gently sloping tunnel Charles passed the cavern housing the mainframe. He stopped, turned and walked into the cavern, slipping on the parka hanging outside the door. This room and the chimney were the only chambers that had doors. In the chimney it was to contain the heat of the steam. In the mainframe’s cavern it was to keep in the cold. In this great vault there were five clusters of five databases, each like the five stretching fingers of five great cabled, blinking, buzzing hands sprouting out of the ceiling and burrowing their nails into the floor. In the center of this cavern was the mainframe terminal where Charles now sat, his breath haunting the air before him, the ghost of exhalations past.

“Hello Charles.”

“Hello Darling.”

“Shall I run diagnostics on the Art, Science, Math, History, and Protocol databanks Charles?” naming each of the clusters. Each cluster held the entirety of human achievement and folly in its binary brains.

“Yes Darling, please do that.”

The computer began listing the temperatures, statuses, contents, percent capacities, and speed of each of the clusters, its voice pleasantly listing percentages and rates and to Charles it sounded content in its actions, pleased to be performing tasks for him. On the Uni-port before him he accessed computer preferences and scrolled down to interface and his finger hovered over “aural updates”. As the screen began to blur Charles whispered

“Goodbye Darling” and the droning was suddenly gone. Charles sat cold, still, feeling the tears freeze against his lashes, hearing only the whirr of the fans.

Charles’s Job Part I

Posted in Rhetoric, Risk & Fear with tags , , , , , on January 27, 2010 by Conor

Charles’s eyes fluttered open. He lay on his cot, the lights slowly rising as the sensors in the cot’s frame detected his increased heart rate and breathing. Sleeping in wasn’t an option. He sat up, groaning, and swung his spindly legs round, placing his feet on the cold concrete. Shuffling into the ablutions chamber, he mumbled “Eucalyptus” into the Uni-Port in the wall and listened to the glockenspiel’s clear notes ringing in the chamber. Leaning his head against the wall, mist spraying all over his brittle and spotted skin, Charles thought about his dreams.

Fragments swirled through his head, half memory half the ineffable motivation of the unconscious. He remembered the summit, the meeting where mankind was supposed to save itself. He remembered Dr. Daniel’s speech to the summit, and the world who, where there was still electricity, sat around their computers streaming the talks and waiting for the promise of sanctuary from the poisoned air that attacked them and the droughts that starved them and the tainted water that made them sick. Charles had been briefed on her speech before she made it, had the matter explained to him, its reasoning and necessity.

She had developed the first colony of the air-scrubbing bacteria that fed off the poisons in the air, cleaning it before it entered peoples homes. She had resurrected the idea of the home as a safe haven, as the family castle that was safe to sleep in. The world loved her. They loved her like Christians loved Jesus because she was their savior, their shining star in the quickly darkening sky. And she, Dr. Daniel, was about to tell the people of the world that they were going to die.

Because they were. She was the one chosen to make the announcement because the world would believe her. The PIC wanted as much widespread acceptance as possible. Her job was to destroy their hope, to crush it, and to facilitate their passing. She described the various government programs designed to kill gently and with a small measure of dignity, while the people began the global wailing.