Monday, April 21, 2008

The Den

Dark, angry clouds gathered along the horizon. In the distance, spider webs of lightning erupted from the purplish bank and spread like gnarled fingers, reaching for the ground below. Thunderheads gathered and swirled overhead before releasing a torrential downpour.

That’s precisely the scenario Dr. Chad Gardner envisioned and expected. Many years had passed since his very public humiliation in regards to his predicting worldwide drought. His study met with considerable skepticism by the elite in his field and although he made a concerted effort to set his bitterness aside, the ridicule embedded itself deep in his soul and festered there.

As a senior meteorology professor at the university he dedicated years of his life to advanced studies of accelerated climate change, but even he underestimated the timeline. Within five years of completing the study, major portions of the world had been without rain for nearly three months. Bewildered citizens watched helplessly as their lush lawns were quickly consumed, transformed into baked, brittle graveyards of clay. The severity of the drought was unprecedented, but soon the unfolding of unfathomable events complicated matters. The procurement and processing of oil came to a grinding halt at the hands of several suspicious explosions in the Middle East. Massive and uncontrollable fires greedily consumed the precious commodity as quickly as it spewed from the ground. Some believed this a fitting punishment, a reckoning brought on by years of unregulated profiteering, but little doubt remains that this countries veracious consumption and irresponsible dependence upon oil contributed greatly to the present day anarchy. Across the expanses of the country panic ruled the minds of the masses, and soon rioters flooded the streets of major cities, brandishing weapons as they forcibly collected food and water. Certainly nothing will be gained by pinning the blame on one particular group, and whether this catastrophe resulted from man’s misuse and abuse of the environment seems irrelevant now.

Daytime temperatures soar to a hundred and fifty degrees and the relentless sun scorches everything in view. Dust storms as commonplace as rain showers once had been sweep the barren land, cloaking everything with a thick layer of filth.

Few were fully prepared for such a disaster, but Dr Gardner and his team of his colleagues had established a self-sufficient under-ground community, equipped with a functioning greenhouse, fresh air filtration systems, and very large underground fuel storage tanks. This haven quickly became know as the ‘den’. In addition to providing a safe alternative living area the group had made significant progress in developing a plan to reverse the disastrous chain of events. The plan involved what some referred to as ‘flimsy’ scientific data. ‘Cloud seeding’ has existed for decades. The process involved dispersing silver oxide, delivered by plane or missiles. Once released in the proper amount and into the appropriate clouds, the moisture that existed in the clouds initially was frozen. Other molecules then could accumulate more easily on their frozen counterparts, hence speeding up the rain process and also enhancing rain volumes. His team believed they had improved the technology, and if the first experiment was an indication, quite successfully; nearly three tenths of ‘liquid gold’ had fallen within a twenty-five mile radius.

Many of Dr. Gardner’s colleagues had become suspicious of his activities. For over a week he routinely left the confines of the den each evening. When confronted he claimed only to be working on the expansion of the project.

Dr. John Stein, one of his closest friends from the university, peered at him curiously over his glasses, “Enough is enough. Come on Chad, what are you up to?”

“Shhhhh, John. Keep your voice down or the others will hear.”

Doctor Gardner motioned for him to follow. He walked towards a secluded room and quickly closed the door as he gestured for Dr. Stein to take a seat.

“John, you’re my closest friend and I suppose you should know the details of the matter at hand. As you know, I believe we’ve perfected the ‘cloud seeding’ process and recently I’ve begun shop the market for potential buyers. As you may well have guessed it’s getting ugly aboveground. To put it mildly, our government is getting nervous regarding the chaotic situation since the oil fires. I’ve taken the liberty upon myself to contact, shall we say, a very high-ranking government official about our potential solution.”

“Who gave you permission to ‘shop’ this technology, anyhow? Are you proposing blackmailing our own government?”

“This was my third meeting with them and truthfully I had hoped for a change of heart, but our government remains uninterested. The exact phrase directly from the commander-in-chief was, “We aren’t interested in a hair-brain’ scheme’ by a renegade meteorologist”. Come on, John, you were there at the conference when I presented the data from my project and they laughed me off the stage—don’t you remember how they called me a fool to my face, a disgrace to my profession, calling for my resignation!”

“Yes, yes John, sadly I do remember.”

“As I was leaving the meeting with the president and his advisors, a limousine pulled along side me as I heard a familiar voice call my name.”

“This whole thing is crazy. Let me guess, it was the CIA.”

“No John it wasn’t our government. The man in the car was King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, whom I had spoken with some time ago.”

John eyes widened, “Whoa, wait a minute. Since when is a foreign king an acquaintance and why would he come here seeking you out? Wait just a second…….for God’s sake, man, assure me that you had nothing to do with those terrible fires in the Middle East!”

“You have to admit the fires did accelerate the opportunity. The king contacted me several years ago expressing interest. Come on John, I’ve given our inept government every opportunity to buy into this program. You know full well that we warned of this radical climate change years ago, but no one wanted to listen. Well they’ll listen now! At first I saw ‘cloud seeding’ as the opportunity to make a little money, but now, more importantly we, have the opportunity to be recognized for my—I mean our hard work. For decades the Middle East has controlled our economy through oil, now they’ll simply control us by other means…….is there really any difference?”

Dr. Stein slammed his fist on the table, “Chad, I’ve known you for almost twenty years and during that course of time you’ve transitioned from a respected professor to a stark-raving mad lunatic. You’re a damn traitor, to the profession and most importantly to your country! This is about our dying planet, not your own personal pride, and I’ll not stand by and watch this happen!”

Dr. Stein slumped onto the table and fell to the hard dirt floor with a thud as the butt of Chad’s revolver struck the bridge of his nose. Dr. Gardner watched momentarily as a stream of blood pooled along the gash before spilling down both sides of his friends face. He removed a syringe from his jacket pocket and carefully injected the unconscious man.

“John, I knew there was a reason I hadn’t included you in the formulation of this plan. You’re just too damn conscientious! I’m sorry I have to do this, but I’ve worked too hard to allow anything or anyone to interfere.”

Dr. Gardner struggled as he drug the much larger man into an out-of-the-way closet and cuffed his hands before locking the door.

“Sweet dreams, John. By the time that wears off my plan will be in full force.”

Dr. Gardner nervously glanced at his watch as he stood on the tarmac, briefcase in hand. He could see the flashing lights of the private jet coming into view. He knew the documents alone would give the Saudi’s a fairly precise plan for implementing the ‘cloud seeding’ program, but he smiled as he considered his salesmanship. He had convinced the king that the extra $150,000 would be worth every penny. Chad would travel to Riyadh and oversee the program until the Saudi’s were satisfied they had purchased a working program and the foreign scientist were adequately trained.

The aircraft halted in front of him and the steps lowered slowly until they met with the ground. Chad noted the contrast of the pure white turbine against the dark-skinned gentleman’s forehead. The cigarette hanging precariously from the corner of his mouth wagged as he motioned for the doctor to move forward. Chad smirked as he toyed with the idea that this must be a smoking flight. He looked up toward the man at the top of the steps and as he did everything went instantly black. Chad never heard the shot ring out; he only felt the hot lead smash into the back of his skull as he tumbled lifelessly down the steps he had just ascended.

The young Saudi made his way to the bottom of the steps and casually pried the dead doctor’s fingers from the handle. He took one last drag on his cigarette, flicked it onto the doctor’s chest and ground the heel of his shoe on the butt.

“You must be more careful of the steps next time—and also who you associate with!”

Doctor Stein sat just outside of the ‘den’s’ entrance enjoying an ever so slight breeze as he sipped a cup of coffee and gazed at the stars. It had been almost a week since anyone had seen his friend. Truthfully if he did return the ‘den’ he hadn’t decided whether he would give him a hard right cross or welcome him back to the ‘den’. A streaking flash of light just to the north caught his eye. Upon closer examination he determined it to be far too brilliant for a falling star. Then came a second burst, followed in sequence by many others. They appeared to missiles; perhaps Chad was attempting another trial from a different location. Within two hours desperately needed rain began to fall. Slowly at first, but the drops increased in size and intensity until his arms glistened with welcomed moisture. The other members of the ‘den’ came to the surface and joined him, dancing in the downpour like young boys.

For the next month a multitude of missiles lit up the sky, bringing with them torrential rains, sometimes more than an inch an hour. Soon the ‘den’ began to take on water and eventually became uninhabitable, next the low-lying areas, then the hills, and eventually the tallest mountains.


Jo Janoski said...

Wow! There's a topic that hits home. I love the twist at the end. Good one!

hfurness said...

Compelling and too close to what we believe might just be real - very well written. thanks

Dan said...

Jo, we've been experiencing an unusually wet early spring, so I thought it would be appropriate to write about drought.

Thanks Harry. It's most likely only a matter of time before mother-nature fights back...and I'm certain who'll win that battle.

Stacey said...

Really well written Dan !