Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Believers

One by one, he placed the personal items in a cardboard box. The message was clear; his services were no longer needed. During an unceremoniously brief and one-sided meeting the board called for his resignation, rather by proxy. Each sat tight-lipped and stoic, as if it had been long decided they had no opinion on the matter and it was quite acceptable for one man to speak the mind of another. The chancellor’s words were few with the crux of the matter settled in one efficient swoop.

“The paperwork shall be on my desk by day’s end.”

For the better part of two decades Professor Chad Gardner had enjoyed working at John Hopkins University. He remembered having jumped at the opportunity to head a study on accelerated climate change, but with the two-year program complete the whole matter sat crossways in his gut. The chancellor had advised it was well within his right to appeal the decision, but in the same breath warned that such proceedings often drudge on for years. Time was no longer a luxury for the professor—for any of them.

Chad realized the resignation request came as an indirect result of the climate study. He had not anticipated the barrage of bitter skepticism launched by the elite in his field and no one could have predicted the level of chaos created by media coverage. Together it was an ugly combination; one the chancellor would rather not deal with. The simple fact remained the majority of society was not ready to wrap their minds around something as intense as worldwide drought.


In geological terms, a scant five years passed, but the deterioration of the environment and subsequent unraveling of a society progressed more quickly than even his study indicated. Not a drop of rain had fallen on the earth in more than three months. In itself it was the beginning of the end; a creeping death with an affinity for suffering and little deference to the time tables of man. Lush lawns morphed into brittle graveyards of clay while rioters flooded the streets of major cities, forcibly collecting food and water. The procurement and processing of oil came to a halt as a series of explosions rocked the Middle East. Perhaps it was an appropriate final chapter as some believed, a reckoning brought on by greed. Both in scale and severity this drought dwarfed any before it, but it had not arrived without warning.

Dr. Gardner sat alone in a dimly lit room, speaking to the news anchor as if she might acknowledge him.

“A bafoon with a twisted version of reality was I—how do you like me now?”

Flipping between major news outlets incompetency seemed the common denominator; their empty slant like drills against his forehead.

“What will it take for you fools to understand? It doesn’t make a damn whether this catastrophe was caused by man’s misuse of the environment, and to be consumed by such things now is as irrelevant as a group of fireman standing before an inferno deliberating as to what might have sparked the blaze. It’s so unbecoming—this collective wringing of hands!”

He reached for the remote and the screen went dark.

On the heels of his dismissal the ex-professor immediately began to pool resources; coordinating financiers, and persuading a small team of dedicated colleagues and students to join him underground—in the most literal sense. He affectionately called them the believers, and it was those of like mind that created the ‘Den’. While those on the surface simmered in their own juices, the Den was far removed from chaos. The believers had established solar power, a functioning greenhouse, fresh air filtration systems, and a series of large water storage tanks. Some within the group suspected Professor Gardner intended to establish a new society, others believed his claim that he only wished to buy time, but considering the alternative, none of them questioned their decision to follow.

Cloud seeding had existed for decades, but was often dismissed as flimsy science. The process involved injecting silver oxide, delivered by plane or missile, into a cloud formation. Existing moisture was instantly frozen whereby other molecules could accumulate more easily. Dr. Gardner believed the immediate solution to such a complex problem could be as simple as kicking nature in the seat of the pants.

Ascending the spiral staircase he emerged aboveground and quickly set his eyes on the horizon. Dark, angry, clouds gathered and spider webs of lightning spread like gnarled fingers reaching for the ground. In a brilliant show of natural forces the swirling and churning skies delivered on promises long past due. While it was only a small scale test, nearly a half inch of rain fell in a twenty-five mile radius.


Dr. Gardner raised a toast.

“To the success of those who believed—through hard work and careful planning we are now in a position that the entire world must listen.”

As a man dictated by protocol, Dr. John Stein waited for the applause to subside before lobbing a displeased glare that narrowly cleared his glasses.

“Bravo, doctor; the results are undeniable, but I’ve grown curious about what I perceive as a troubling trend. Forgive me for not asking this morning when we met in the hallway. It was 3:00am and my mind was not fully engaged. Would you care to explain to all of us your midnight rendezvous’ with someone outside of the group?”
Dr. Gardner appeared unshaken by such a question peppered with the insinuation of wrongdoing.

“John, may I remind you I’m still fully in control of this project. Perhaps afterwards you and I can talk privately about your over-involvement in my personal time.”

The close relationship the two shared while working together at the university had grown strained and difficult when the believers moved underground and Dr. Gardner resented the public airing of what had previously been a private disagreement.

After the others had retired for the evening the two shared coffee in a secluded room.

“John, it was wrong of me not to include you, but the success of this project comes before your own reservations. I want the believers to be recognized and compensated for their contributions. Regretfully, it is against your wishes that I’ve begun shopping the market for potential buyers. Our command-and-chief remains obstinately opposed; his disdain for the free market is more deep-seated than I realized. True to character, he insists on complete government control and I’ll be damned if I turn over the operation to those who ridiculed my study. It’s time to consider other offers.”

Rattled by startling revelations, but more the brashness of his friend’s actions, Dr. Stein allowed a moment of silent processing before launching a torrent of pointed questions.

“Who gave you permission to shop the technology—and when did this suddenly become less about a dying planet and more about personal accolades? You were right all along—are you such a small man that you need to hear it from me? Let it go, Chad, just let it go.”

Dr. Gardner lunged for his friend’s collar and dragged him across the table.

“They chose to make it personal when they took my job for simply being right!”

He released his grip and began pacing around the table.

“Let me continue. As I was leaving the meeting with the president and his advisors, a limousine pulled along side. I must say that King Abdullah from Saudi Arabia is a level-headed gen…..”

“Stop right there! In a single bound you’ve leapt from a respected professor to a damned traitor!”

From behind, Dr. Gardner seized a handful of his associate’s hair and pressed his lips to his ear.

“Let’s be reasonable about this. For decades the Middle East has controlled our economy through oil, is there really any difference?”

“Do you expect me to just stand by and do nothing while you sell out our country?”

In a swift downward motion Chad responded.

“Let me save you the trouble.”

Dr. Gardner knelt over the crumpled body on the floor, the butt of his revolver shiny with blood. He dragged the larger man to a closet, secured his hands, and reached into his lab coat pocket for the syringe.

“By the time that wears off it will be too late for objections.”

Dr. Gardner glanced nervously at his watch as he stood on the tarmac. The documentation in the briefcase was all the Saudi’s would required, but he convinced the King otherwise. The professor would travel to Riyadh and oversee the program until the Saudi’s were satisfied they had purchased a working model.

A flashing blue light indicated the King’s arrival, and it was as impressive as he expected. Comparing street to air, the doctor was about to step aboard a Lamborghini. The engines were throttled to an idle and a hydraulic set of stairs glided until they kissed the pavement. A young Saudi appeared in the entry and motioned for the doctor to move forward.

As he kept a careful eye on the steps the doctor spoke to the man.

“If I’m not mistaken, this is a Bombardier Learjet Model 85, properly appointed at a price tag exceeding $18 million.”

Receiving no response the doctor lifted his head and presented the perfect angle.

Two successive rounds were followed by a voice carrying a heavy accent.

“You are mistaken about many things professor; Springfield Armory, Model 1911, $350 dollars U.S.”

A voice originating from the cockpit drifted into the midnight air.

“Make sure the briefcase sees the entire return trip, the professor as far as the ocean.”


Doctor Stein sat just outside of the Den’s entrance contemplating the downward spiral of a friendship. Almost a month had passed and no one had heard from him Chad. If he did return he didn’t know whether to greet him with a hand-shake or launch a stiff right-cross. He supposed he would make the decision when the time came.

In the distance a streaking flash of light caught his eye, far too brilliant for a falling star. Then came a second burst, followed in sequence by others. The fiery tail gave the impression of missiles; perhaps Chad had broken from the believers completely and was attempting trials from a remote location.

Over the next month a multitude of missiles lit up the sky, bringing with them torrential rains, often more than an inch an hour. Soon the ‘Den’ began to take on water and eventually became uninhabitable. Next the low-lying were submerged, then smaller hills, and eventually the tallest mountains until nothing remained.