"Mr. Diamond, we know you've seen us.
In fact, you are the only human on this planet able to do so.
We have contacted you today to petition the human species for
change. Please heed our directive, because if you don't, every
living organism on the planet will die a horrible death."
Wilfred Morgan Diamond, America's most popular
suspense novelist, quickly removed his glasses. He feverishly
polished his lenses using the greasy cloth napkin that had enjoyed
a home on his coffee table for the past two weeks.
The words continued to scroll across his
plasma television screen, plain as day. He felt like he should
have been seated at a command console, riding aboard some galaxy
class starship. Instead, he slumped upon a lumpy coach riddled
with salsa and ketchup stains.
"Time is of the essence, Mr. Diamond
We are currently working to rid your atmosphere of the toxic filth
you have unleashed upon it. However, we cannot keep pace. Unless
your race establishes an efficient ecosystem within the next five
Earth years, an extraterrestrial species will visit your planet
to devour all vegetation on your planet, resulting in the complete
extinction of every living organism."
Wilfred attempted to compose himself for
a response. His throat had become parched from anxiety. He swallowed
the last sips of a tepid diet soft drink that had lain on his
coffee table for days on end. He began to whisper in fear a neighbor
might hear him, hoping this interaction was simply a hallucination
or dream, much like the visions that came to him three weeks ago.
Since then, tiny neon green specks had briefly fluttered in front
of his eyes every time he put on his latest prescription eyewear.
Diamond desperately wanted to believe the sparkling specks of
neon were a result of degenerative myopia, a condition where images
come into focus in front of the eye. The result: blurred vision
on the retina. It was the most logical deduction.
Every year Wilfred had undergone an eye exam
his vision had worsened. The most recent test confirmed his myopia
once again. He wasn't surprised. Working fifteen hours a day writing
manuscripts had taken a toll on the old eyeballs. But had all
this writing also taken a toll on his sanity? Could whispering
at a television screen confirm the fears nipping at the deep recesses
of his troubled mind? Was he clinically insane? Or had he made
contact with a new species capable of making dire predictions
for either the continuationor eliminationof the human
race? In any event, he managed to utter two words to the beings
invading his home entertainment center. He hoped he kept his voice
down. He sure as hell didn't need nosy Mrs. Willis eavesdropping
on his last moment of sanity. He could feel her presence without
gazing outside. Mrs. Willis spent the better part of her days
perched on her balcony, fifteen meters across from Wilfred's townhouse.
She waited as if she were a crow on a telephone wire. An empty
courtyard below was the only buffer zone. Thanks to a pair of
sliding glass doors, Mrs. Willis enjoyed a perfect view of Wilfred's
living room from her high-rise vantage point.
The microscopic organisms attempted to answer
Wilfred's questionWhy me? They utilized the broadband
capability of Wilfred's digital cable system, allowing two-way
real time dialog. Wilfred cursed the day he upgraded from analog.
He rushed to draw the curtains on pesky Mrs. Willis. He never
appreciated her interest in his celebrity. She felt more like
a stalker than a fan. Move on to somebody else, you whack job.
Wilfred sarcastically mouthed I love you at Willis before
closing the curtain on her show. He returned his attention to
the TV screen. The scrolling began again. Words raced across the
screen in vibrant blue.
"Your brain operates differently. You
have a unique condition that allows you to see us. When your species
becomes telepathic, you will be able to hear us without the trappings
of technology. But we can't wait for that someday. There is a
deadline at hand. That is why we chose you, Wilfred Diamond. Your
thought patterns radically differ from the beings on the planet
you call 'scientists.' While we believe your scientists will one
day discover us, their rational minds will condemn them to over
think the reason for our existence. We need a more emotional,
reactive mind like yours so you will spread our message proactively.
Besides, you have seen us with your own eyes."
"You mean the scientists haven't discovered
all of Earth's species yet?"
Wilfred's preoccupation with fiction was
painfully obvious. If he had kept up with the news, Wilfred would
have known scientists had recently discovered a transparent jelly
fish-like creature known as salps. The scrolling resumed. It was
as if Wilfred had a wealth of knowledge available only for the
asking. The beings explained salps are tiny thumb-sized creatures
that keep tons of carbon from reentering the atmosphere, thus
reducing the harmful effects of greenhouse gases.
"Mr. Diamond, the salps and organisms
like ourselves can only do so much to restore the planet's damaged
atmosphere. You must do your part. Find a way to stop the humans
from dumping harmful emissions into the air. Convince them the
threat is real, because if we fail to complete our task, a species
known as the Purifiers will wreak havoc on your rainforests until
they have eliminated all life on Earth."
"Why would they do that? Why won't these
Purifiers help us?"
"They are helpingin their own
way. The Purifiers will eliminate any chance your species has
of contaminating other worlds with your disease and pollution."
"How could we spread this?"
"You will soon find a way to colonize.
Bases are under construction on the moon. The Purifiers are gatekeepers,
programmed to protect the future, and they won't let humans travel
the galaxy just to escape their dirty world. Unlike the Purifiers,
we are native to this planet. We awoke from a dormant state as
a result of your pollution. Our only purpose is to cleanse the
ecosystem. If we don't succeed, our speciesalong with you
and everyone else on your planetwill suffer death at the
hands of the Purifiers."
Wilfred stumbled over empty pizza cartons
and old newspapers to get a better look at his TV. "I don't
even know your name. How can I trust you?"
"If an introduction encourages trust,
then think of us as environmental restoration organisms."
"I'll never remember that. How about
I just call you EROs for short?"
"You may use this acronym if you like.
But if you fail in your quest, names won't matter anymore. The
Purifiers will not stop once they begin their feeding. We suggest
you get to work. There are only 1,800 days remaining."
1,450 Days Until Deadline
Wilfred spent the better part of a year writing
a novel his editor would categorize as science fiction.
"I don't understand why anybody would
want to switch from suspense to sci fi." Stacey Schaefer
rolled her emerald eyes, looking quite intimidating in her taupe
business suit and short-cropped bleach blond hairdo. She spoke
to Wilfred as if he were a misguided student in dire need of direction.
Diamond pitched his manuscript in the antiseptic environs of her
Fifth Avenue office. Just meters away, foul air threatened to
pervade the five-inch thick glass separating them from an indescribable
fragrance only the Big Apple could produce.
"Stacey, you must publish this work.
It may read like science fiction, but I can assure you it is not.
You will just have to trust me that the 'Clean Up' will not only
outsell all my other books, but beckon the human race to wake
up in time to save themselves."
Stacey eye's scanned the man the American
public had hailed as one of the best authors of their time. She
wanted to keep it that way. Diamond's books were her bread and
butter. Stacey hoped this was some kind of practical joke, possibly
a result of a mid life crisis mixed with a dash of alcoholism.
Her eyes continued to fit Wilfred Diamond for a straightjacket.
"Don't give me that look, Stacey."
She remained silent, doodling his caricature on a Post-it. The
rendering was not flattering. She portrayed Diamond as a bear,
attempting to swat away a swarm of bees.
Wilfred began to pace in front of the manila-colored
Venetian blinds, oblivious to Stacey's artwork. He wondered why
the blinds were drawn; sunlight barely peeked out from a shroud
of gray clouds. Come to think of it, Wilfred couldn't remember
experiencing a completely sunny day since he made contact with
the EROs. He wondered if the drawn blinds was just another way
Stacey and the world were hopelessly trying to shield themselves
from the real truth. The veteran author knew he would have to
appeal to her humanity. He could not sell his idea with a business
"Now come on, Stacey. You were the one
who always implored me to write from the heart."
Wilfred paused, placing his right hand across
his chest. He blinked his eyes a few times, feigning tears. Stacey
smiled at him, but her eyes resembled coal. She crumpled the Post-it
drawing in her right hand.
"Remember that phrase you put on one
of my book jackets, Stacey. Diamond writes from the heart.
You were the only one who always believed in my writing, even
when my family deserted me. So I'm asking you to stand by me now.
This is not a crazy preoccupation. This is a book that will save
Stacey sighed and phoned legal to draw up
1,117 Days Remaining
The 'Clean Up' sold off the shelves for two
straight weeks. Readers bought the book on Diamond's name alone.
The success took some bite out of Stacy Schaefer's bark. However,
the editor made it clear he should return to his familiar genre
1,103 Days Remaining
Diamond commiserated alone on a cloudy Sunday
morning. All the shades were drawn. His DC townhouse had become
a macabre shrine over the past year. The lightless environment
worked its dark magic on Diamond's psyche as well. It used to
be all about sales figures. He should have been happy with the
novel's showing over the last 14 days. Now he measured success
on content. Not a single reviewer or journalist read between the
lines of the novel. They weren't getting it. This was non-fiction.
Diamond believed he made the message clear enough: cleanse the
planet or perish. But critics were only interested in panning
plots and premises, they looked right past the social message.
Diamond feared readers would follow course. This book was not
about entertainment. Wilfred knew he would have to make this clear
at his upcoming speaking engagement. He would sign copies at Capitol
City Mall in just three hours. Wilfred drank five cups of coffee
in the interim. It put him at a fever pitch.
A throng of fans yelled as he made his way
through a back street entrance to the Borders Bookstore. Some
carried signs, pleading him to continue his suspense series, which
featured Virginia detective Lou Ralston. Others reviled in his
detour. They carried signs hailing Diamond as their generation's
next great science fiction novelist.
Diamond took his seat at the front of the
store in an uncharacteristically pensive mood. The bookstore's
manager Bob Thorn asked what was wrong. He failed to elicit a
response from Diamond, despite dishing gossip on Art Jenkins,
a rival suspense author. Wilfred had sported a Cheshire cat grin
at every previous signing. Thorn was perplexed. Most authors lived
to bask in this brief shard of limelight. Opportunities to receive
live fan reaction from something other than a blog or posting
board were rare for the novelist whose companionship usually took
the non-sentient form of a ceramic mug or wireless laptop. Diamond
engaged the audience after accepting yet another cup of coffee
from the shaken Thorn.
"Ladies and gentleman. Before I sign
your copies today, I must make sure each and every one of you
gets my message."
A blue-haired lady in the fifth row nudged
her husband. "I've never seen Diamond so pretentious. He
never preached at any one of his previous signings."
The blue-haired lady's husband prayed silently
his wife would lose interest in Diamond. Then he wouldn't have
to get up at 5 a.m. anymore just to get some black ink scribbled
across a book.
Diamond paced a small wooden platform. He
folded his hands to keep them from shaking.
The bookstore manager noticed beads of sweat
were forming on Diamond's brow. The renowned author appeared drunk.
Maybe that's why he was drinking so much coffee. The manager continued
to speculate, disseminating the author's every hand gesture and
apparel choice. Diamond's rust colored hair winged out from the
collar of his maroon sports jacket in the shape of question marks.
Wilfred's sports coat appeared dusty. His sky blue pants clashed
with a lime green dress shirt. Thorn wondered in agony what faux
pas the writer would make next.
It came in a torrent. Diamond unleashed the
next few sentences with an emotion best reserved for a confessional
"The beings I write about are real.
Biological parasites known as EROs exist."
He paused to write on a chalkboard. The crowd
murmured behind him. Diamond scribbled "EROs" followed
by the word: good. He then wrote the name "Purifiers."
He followed that word with: bad.
"The Purifiers are extraterrestrial
bug-like creatures. They will come to feed upon us unless we detoxify
our world. And as I stated in my book, they won't come in silver
ships, they won't abduct you or probe youthey won't even
ask to see your leaderthey'll simply pillage the Earth,
leaving it a barren wasteland. Humanity will be condemned to die
from starvation. They'll remove all the lush vegetation. These
ETs silently roam the universe to weed out decay and rot. Earth
is now in jeopardy because its environment is dirty. And as long
as the Purifiers judge Earth to be a toxic threat to the galaxy,
they will come to ravage it, so no more of its disease can spread
to decay other worlds."
A striking blond in a blue blazer raised
her hand but Diamond ignored her.
"I've tried to appeal to you in coffee
shops. But you showed your appreciation by showering your lattes
upon my attire. Thank you very much. People, we must not
cower from what our minds perceive as fantastic or unimaginable,
we must unite to cleanse our worldeven if it means opposing
the current agenda of big business or our own government. Begin
lobbying. Appeal to your representatives. Write a letter to an
oil corporation. Demand they stop what they're doing. Cease and
desist. Before we cease to exist."
The woman in the blue blazer applauded. Everybody
else quietly filed into a line to accept an autograph. The bookstore
manager nervously studied faces. Diamond's readers all looked
confused. Possibly duped. They didn't need to vocalize it. Only
the pretty woman in the blue suit wore a smile. She patiently
waited for Diamond to sign his last copy. Her ocean-colored eyes
eventually connected with Wilfred's. He jumped off the platform
to greet her. He had to meet the woman behind the coy stare. She
was different from the others. Everyone else had walked out of
the store with a super-sized chip on his or her shoulder. He doubted
they believed him. He highly suspected the woman in the blue suit
didn't either, until she introduced herself as an EPA scientist.
777 Days Remaining
He had shaken her, stripped away her esoteric
trappings. The invisible shield she had set up around her to make
the world believe she was pragmatic to the core unwound itself
like a ball of string. No longer clinically detached, soul and
body burned a nuclear heat in his arms. And just when it seemed
nothing could compete with these inner flames, the passion came
to an abrupt halt when three little words popped into her head.
Her hips still straddled him but the grinding came to a halt.
"Are they here?"
She had to ask. She was inquisitive. Trained
that way. Answers only come through deduction and generally in
the form of question.
She fell off Wilfred, pulling mauve percale
sheets about her body in an attempt to shut off the inner switch
responsible for changing her from a pragmatic scientist to a carnal
primate. The change back was just as sudden. It was as if she
had just stripped off her super hero's cape in a phone booth.
It had been years since she let urges and feelings like these
invade her. Damn, it felt good. Why on Earth was she cutting off
this joyand so soon?
The chemical attraction between Sonja Hoffs
and Wilfred Diamond was undeniable ever since they laid eyes on
each at the book signing. By date three, all clothes were off.
The pair vigorously copulated, rolling around Diamond's queen
size bed, setting personal endurance records they would find hard
It was the thought of the tiny, neon green
specks that sent her over the edgethis time. She
had successfully ignored the bothersome itch in the back of her
mind dozens of times prior. Her sexual appetite seemed insatiable.
It still was. Yet she couldn't deny the possibility that Wilfred
Diamond might not be hallucinating. The image of what she perceived
the organisms to be shifted her focus off orgasm. Caution began
to flow through her system, warning her not to obey gut instincts.
A release of seratonin tried to convince her everything was right
in the world. An educated person knew better.
It was now official. She had allowed the
thoughts to spook her. They might be in the room right now,
witnessing our most private acts. If they were, she wouldn't
be able to see them. They were invisible to the naked eye, except
of course for Wilfred's optically challenged orbs. Maybe the
beings were conducting some undercover surveillance. What was
their real agenda? Paranoia took a firm foothold.
She pressed Wilfred for an answerfor
a second time. He had initially muttered a sigh and rolled over.
Sonja had been without a man so long she didn't realize the male
often fell into an energy lull after orgasm. She had spent much
of her time married to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Wilfred responded groggily. "The EROs
are probably off somewhere, hard at work, trying to restore Earth's
air quality." The answer didn't completely satisfy her. In
fact, her emotionally charged behavior infuriated her.
Sonja had let fear jolt her. Only Wilfred
swore to their actual existence. She reacted with childish fright,
reducing the EROs to little more than biological bogeymen. She
should have proudly continued to deny their existence despite
Wilfred's ranting. Her trepidation only validated the possibility
they might be real. A part of Sonja Hoffs desperately wanted to
believe the EROs did exist and for beneficial reasons.
She had danced a slow waltz with bureaucratsone step forward,
two steps backfor nearly a quarter century. If the EROs
were helping to clear the Earth's very polluted air, she should
be dancing for joy. Clean air with no red tape! Yet another part
of her feared their existence. They need to be properly analyzed
and dissectedto make sure they are a benevolent species.
Get a grip upon yourself, girl. Nothing good comes without a price.
Her rational mind won out. It simply could not let her enjoy an
afternoon of steamy sex with her boyfriend or even dream that
the EROs might be making a positive difference. At the end of
the day Sonja Hoffs was a scientist. Dreams and good feelings
couldn't be poured into a beaker or test tube for analysis. Until
they could, worry and caution were the order of the day, and Sonja
Hoffs had lived far too many days as a pragmatist.
It all began during the 10th anniversary
of Earth Day. It was April 1980. She could envision herself very
clearly. It was the day she would begin a path. She wore pigtails
and a green dress to the town fair. She was eleven years old and
didn't need a valid reason for being happy. Her parents were still
heroes in her eyes. All Sonja hoped to see that day was a few
goats and calves on loan from the 4H Club. Yet, right then and
there, little Sonja Hoffs would subconsciously start planning
to clean the air. A speaker challenged the townspeople to do just
that. Her parents made promises they would never keep. They felt
bad that a relative had become sick from poor air quality, yet
not bad enough to convert words into action. And so decades passed
without much change because apathy and indifference were a hard
duo to beat. Sonja's choice had ironically been fueled by emotion
at the time. She was old enough to understand that her aunt became
ill from working in an asbestos textile plant in the early seventies,
but nothing could be proved against the company. The damage was
done prior to the EPA's ban on asbestos. Sonja vowed she would
rectify the matter, even if her parents would not. Clean air would
become a privilegenot a luxury. And so every step she took
from that day on was predestined. She was going to make a difference.
The changes she would make, however, would be infinitesimally
small. Curiously, when news of a dramatic impact literally knocked
upon her door, she hesitated to let it in. She had let a system
shape her. Irrational hope was frowned upon. If only she could
escape these trappings and believe Wilfred. But that day would
not be today. And as these thoughts bombarded her mind, she continued
to dress herself. Putting back on her shield. In a few minutes,
she acted as if the sex had never happened.
He asked what was the matter. She answered,
He gave her an incredulous stare.
She had not only shared his bed because of
attraction. Sonja came to the book signing because she believed
in Wilfred's message. Whether EROs and Purifiers really existed
was beside the point. Diamond was calling the people to action.
She nearly fell in love with him on principle alone.
Wilfred Diamond had sparse interaction with
people over the years, but even he was not that dense. Sonja usually
purred from pleasure hours after lovemaking. There had to be something
This is what's wrong. She talked to herself,
fighting gallantly to keep the emotion bottled up inside. She
was mad at herself. Sonja secretly believed in the EROs without
scientific proof. She had let herself fear them when she should
have continued to deny their very existence. It would have made
things simpler. She could have supported Wilfred's quest without
acknowledging a belief in EROs or Purifiers. She didn't need persuasionor
a threatto clean the world. At least that's the way she
saw things, but in another day, Sonja Hoffs would come to realize
that maybe persuasion would play a part in her decision to help
Wilfred after all. She had relied upon the system to get the job
done and all the system did was fail her. However, she
would not share this knowledge with Wilfred today. Besides, he
had already fallen asleep. Tomorrow a movie version of the "Clean
Up" would come to the silver screen. Wilfred and Sonja would
attend the movie's premier, hoping film could spread the message
more effectively than print
He didn't tell Sonja the film company had
changed the title. Industry big wigs lined up with film critics
to see the first showing of "Tentacle Invasion." Wilfred
laughed nervously, quoting Shakespeare in an attempt to wipe the
look of horror of Sonja's face.
"What's in a name? That which we call
a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet."
It wasn't just the name change that condemned
the film to nothing more than a grade B science fiction movie.
By movie's end, a rank smell hung in the air, and nobody was confusing
it with a pretty red flower.
Wilfred and Sonja spied a petite blond reporter
outside the theater. She began to rip the flick, sharing her opinion
with a date. "It pales in comparison to the book. And even
the novel is kind of far fetched. Imagine living in fear that
bugs will eat the world!" She cackled like a witch and then
threw a Mars Bar wrapper on the sidewalk for good measure.
Wilfred smacked his hand against his forehead.
"What a failure!"
The scientist and author returned to Diamond's
townhouse to catch a review on the late night news. Instead, the
TV had once again been transformed into a message board. The EROs
filled the screen with fear. "Your tactics are failing, Wilfred
Diamond. You must find a more effective way of spreading the message."
Wilfred hung his head in response. Sonja
threw her arms around him. She didn't want to play her hand yet.
She still held some suspicion that the communiqué was being
"Did you ever think of contacting the
FCC to inquire about the origin of these messages?"
"Why, of course, Sonja. I'll just call
the FCC and have them track it for me. I'm sure they do this kind
of thing every day." She removed her hands from his shoulders.
He quickly cupped his hands over hers. "Hey, I'm sorry. This
situation is unconventional. I know scientists can only rationalize
new discoveries through research. And that's the main reason why
the EROs chose me, Sonja. They knew a scientist would never act
on a threat without discourse and scientific essay. There's nothing
wrong with that approach. But you've read the bugs' message, we're
running out of time."
"So you've never entertained the idea
someone may be deceiving you?"
"Sure I have. I just can't fathom their
motive. Would a prankster run a gag for three years?" Sonja
fell silent. Wilfred's mind clouded, recalling an earlier conversation.
WHY do brains work differently? He had
posed this question to the EROs in private. Why are some more
rational, some more emotional? Was this intention? A design? They
responded that emotionalism is sometimes required to turn a negative
into a positive.
"You were chosen for your difference.
The difference your mother, schoolteachers, girlfriendsand
even your editoroften hated you for. Reference your compunction
to gyrate your body in spastic response to stress and the way
you talk with your hands. Speak with your mouth full. Yell at
the television set. Need we go on? We know they tried to purge
these traits from your system, suggesting hypnosis and even psychotherapy.
We know all this because we're telepathic."
"You mean I was chosen for my fault?
My editor says I'm rash to a fault. Yet it seems to be what drives
me to writeto succeed. Last year my novel reached #3 on
the New York Times Best Seller List. Despite their disgust, I
do feel I can sometimes use my dysfunction for gain."
"We think you achieve a means to an
just by being yourself."
He flipped back to the present, back to dysfunction.
Sonja was dour.
For all the good his faults might yet achieve,
he hated how his emotionalism cut him off from his new love. It
was as if she heard him. She whispered, "I love you."
"I love you too, Sonja. Yet, this has
nothing to do with love."
Wilfred couldn't have been more wrong. For
what Sonja would say next had everything to do with love,
and nothing to do with logic.
Diamond was flabbergasted.
"I can't believe you knew about a hydrogen
powered automobile all this time!"
She tried to approach the subject cautiously,
reminding Wilfred she was breaking confidentiality agreements
left and right. Sonja realized her disclosure would probably end
her career. Yet that nagging thing called love tugged at her sleeve.
New love can even make a scientist irrational.
Now that Sonja had let the cat out of the
bag, she wondered what good the news would do. The EPA had been
pressured by big business to postpone approval for a hydrogen-powered
car. Certain industries needed to time to "acclimate"
themselves for the conversion. What that really meant was that
oil companies were soiling their shorts, wondering how the hell
they could stay in business if people drove cars fueled by water.
Blood rushed to Wilfred's head. His relationship
with Sonja had not been by accident. Here was the scientist presenting
the means to solve a problem. All he had to do was put the plan
into action. Sonja sensed this.
"Now honey, what I told you must remain
a secret for now. Protocol must be followed. In time, I'm sure
this new technology will greatly reduce the greenhouse effect.
Science must sometimes proceed with patience and caution."
She should have been talking to the wall.
Wilfred lambasted her rhetoric.
"And you thought I was the one being
duped. You devoted your soul to an agency that apparently can
be bought with a price, Sonja. Why are you so willing to follow
"Because if I don't, I lose my chance
to continue my quest. Sometimes you lose a battle to win the war.
I haven't lost focus of the bigger picture, Wil. This car will
one day see the light of day and when it does the Earth will be
"Don't you see that someday has to be
today? These fools running these companies refuse to believe
the Purifiers exist for one sole reasonmoney. It's too bad
they won't be able to spend it when planet turns into a black
ball of death!"
"Wilfred, you're letting your emotions
rule you. Maybe a part of your brain has become sick. If you're
ill, I'll stick by you. You won't be alone. I'll help you."
"I'm not ill, for the hundredth time.
Sure, I've had my bouts with the bottle, but I'm not delusional.
And it may sound crazy, but maybe one man can save the masses.
It seems I'm the chosen one. If that's the case, I accept my role.
I accept my fate."
"Are you willing to become a terrorist?
You're scaring me."
"Terrorists take lives, Sonja. I'm out
to save them. If you want to save lives, you'll tell me where
they're hiding this car."
Deep down, Sonja knew he was right. Why were
the country's leaders allowing global warming to continue? Especially
when they had a solution that could reduce dangerous automobile
emissions at hand. She just wasn't fully prepared to throw her
career away on a moment's notice. So she behaved like a stereotypical
scientist and bartered for more time.
"I'll need a day or so to think about
773 Days Remaining
They met at the Smithsonian National Zoo.
It was Wilfred's suggestion. If Sonja wasn't moved by the extinction
of the human species, she might be compelled to save some of the
Earth's more innocent species.
To his surprise, Sonja arrived with her mind
already made up. She would help the man she loved by pursuing
her dream to purify the air. She realized over the past two days
that shedding light on the hydrogen-powered vehicle just might
make her job obsolete. If Wilfred felt fate had brought her to
him, she too could believe the same in reverse. Maybe this plan
was already set in motion the day she attended her first Earth
Although she had prepped herself quite well
as to "why" she was helping Wilfred, Sonja had a much
more difficult time digesting the "how."
"We'll have to steal the car, Sonja.
It's the only way."
Sonja's mind drifted to a pair of zebras
munching on some hay. It deflected some of the sting she felt
when she heard the word "steal." If any one of these
animals were given a means to save humanity, wouldn't they do
everything in their means to help? She liked to believe they would.
She told herself animals would follow natural instinct when it
came down to survival. They wouldn't stop and fret about a job
or consult a rulebook. Sonja stepped out her shroud of hypocrisy
that afternoon. She would win the battle and the war.
Wilfred shot her a wink. Without any words,
he knew she had enlisted.
"Let's save humanity from itself, sweetie."
A monkey chattered in approval.
772 Days Remaining
She had doctored identification so Wilfred
could pass as her lab assistant. She also removed all personal
belongings from her desk. Sonja doubted the agency would require
her services after tomorrow.
Tomorrow was the day Sonja and Wilfred would
make history. They would visit the Saxton Motor Company in Maryland
to launch a revolution. It was high time somebody took the Model
'Z' for a test drive.
771 Days Remaining
He called every TV, magazine and newspaper
in the DC area. If all went well, a very historic press conference
would convene at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens
They had gotten past security with only a
few dirty stares. However, this was normal. Automobile manufacturers
weren't exactly in love with EPA employees.
"You're a genius," Wilfred whispered
in the hallway.
"I'm a con woman," she responded.
"I've falsified and doctored documents nine ways from Sunday.
And you know nothing of this when you're questioned."
"I'll do no such thing. I won't let
the most patriotic woman in America take the fall for this."
They engaged in a brief kiss, unaware security
cameras were filming their every move.
The pair proceeded to delivery Gate C dressed
in turquoise smocks. There, they would meet a Mr. Parker, who
would escort them the southwest corner of the facility via electric
Parker wore a red helmet, blue denim jeans
and white pullover. Black lettering ran across the sleeve of the
pullover, identifying Parker as Saxton's Head of Security. His
blue eyes were nearly expressionless, matching the photo ID badge
that dangled off his gray leather belt. He kept his right hand
near a pistol holster. Wilfred feared he might wet his shorts.
"So have plans changed?" he asked.
Sonja scrambled for an intelligent response.
"Well, I can't divulge the agency's plans, Mr. Parker. But
the EPA is still very interested in any alternative to fossil
fuel consumption. We're looking at all possibilities, ethanol
and even vegetable oil still may be viable energy alternatives."
"You're not answering my question, Ma'am.
When will the Model 'Z' hit the streets? Every day we wait for
approval means another possibility of layoff. I'm sure you can
understand why gasoline-powered SUVs aren't exactly flying out
the doors with gas prices being what they are."
"Oh yes, Mr. Parker. In fact, the time
may be very near. That's why we are requesting this visit today.
My associate and I really need to take the Model 'Z' for a test
drive so we can further establish protocol to make mass production
a feasible reality."
Wilfred stared in wonder. He was quite impressed
with Sonja's bureaucracy-speak. Mr. Parker just looked confused.
The disorientation resulted in a very quiet ride.
"Well, here we are," Parker barked.
The vehicle lay before their eyes. Its ice blue color shined,
casting away all doubt to its existence.
Wilfred jumped from the cart. "Excalibur!"
Mr. Parker raised his eyebrows.
"Excuse my associate's behavior, Mr.
Parker. This is his first time in the field."
Parker grunted. "I'm giving you clearance
to test drive the vehicle in the confines of the plant's parking
"But Mr. Parker, it will be very difficult
to gauge the car's mileage with that restriction." Sonja
stumbled for a more scientific reason. Her eyes grew wide.
"Sorry. I have my orders."
Wilfred quickly intervened to save his stammering
"I think we can live with your rules,
Mr. Parker. However, I must ask you to leave us alone to conduct
our research. We cannot be accused of pandering to the manufacturer's
interests in this endeavor. I'm sure you can understand. If our
agency suspected any collusion between you and I resulting in
a favorable recommendation of the Model 'Z'well, we might
as well just kiss the whole idea goodbye."
Parker nodded. "Just have the car back
at this location in one hour."
Parker sauntered off. When he had left their
field of vision, Sonja commended her newest associate. "I'm
impressed with your backpedaling. Where did you learn that from?"
"Hey, I'm a novelist. I make things
"We've still got a problem here. How
will we get the car away from this facility?"
"Time for a crash course, Ms. Hoffs."
"You're not thinking what I'm thinking?"
Wilfred had used the term crash quite
literally. The author wasn't going to let a little thing like
a steel gate impede their progress now. Sonja swallowed hard.
The image of Parker drawing a weapon flashed across her mind.
* * *
And somewhere on the inner rim of the Milky
Way, another deadline hangs in the balance for the planet Zolas
The Zolamites loved to burn fossil fuel as
much as their human counterparts. With nearly 80 percent of the
Zolam population earning their living in factories, the small
green and blue planet was now on a parallel course with Earth
to win the dirtiest air competition. And like Earth, a preprogrammed
biological alarm clock told another group of environmental restoration
organisms it was time to set the Zolamites straight. However,
the EROs are failing horribly at their task. Zolamites are trained
not to exhibit emotion. Those who could not be trained to break
this habit in childhood often found themselves at the mercy of
surgeons who cut away the diseased portion of their mind as if
it were rind on a pork chop. It was most unlikely these organisms
would ever find a man who thought like Wilfred Diamond. Only rational
minds reside in Zolamite bodies; and rational minds cannot be
persuaded without empirical data.
The EROs work hastily as only 553 Zolam days
are left until deadline. They are not making much progress. As
fast as they clean the air, Zolamite smoke stacks spit out a fresh
batch of pollutants. The EROs sense their efforts are futile,
yet they push on, believing the information encoded into their
brains to be true. The Purifiers are coming
* * *
"You know, I didn't think anybody could
have ever persuaded me to recycle my beer bottle collection."
Sonja wondered how her accomplice could engage
in idle chatter. They had spent the last fifteen minutes circling
the Saxton parking lot, waiting for the right moment. Her nerves
had conspired to convert her mouth into a desert. She could barely
talk. Yet, here sat Wilfred, in the passenger seat, comfortably
conversing as if the pair was enjoying a fall foliage trip. Her
nerves barely allowed her to notice his actions. He had carried
three items with him, concealed in the inner pockets of his smocka
DVD, siphon and a small plastic container. Wilfred stashed the
videodisc into the car's glove box. Sonja surmised the siphon
and container would be used for the benefit of the media. She
could not fathom why Wilfred had brought the DVD. She was way
too nervous to ask. Her fingers tapped upon the steering wheel
as if she were typing. In her mind, she yelled, this is complete
lunacy. Her scientific mind could not rationalize when the
right moment would ever exist for such piracy. Just how could
a sane person calculate the correct physics for smashing through
a gate? And at what velocity might one have to travel to escape
Wilfred talked on. His words buzzed into
her ear with the annoyance of a mosquito. He joked the reporters
were not quite convinced he was sane. However, he remained confident
the media would meet them at the stadium, regardless. "They
will have a story either way, Sonja. I can see the headline now:
Famous Author Invites Press To His Meltdown."
"Damn it, Wilfred! You're telling jokes
mere minutes before we throw our lives away. I just don't know
how you can be so sure these environmental restoration organisms
are real. I mean, how do they know these so called Purifiers will
actually comeassuming they even exist?"
"As a scientist, I'm surprised you would
ask that question. It's preprogrammed into their DNA. It's simply
a matter of inherited instincts. We know such things exist in
"I'm a climate scientist, not
an entomologist. And by the way, how do you know so much?"
"Again, like my recycled beer bottles,
I've been converted, Sonja. I have no doubt. I think you believe
their story as well. It's just that you're way too programmed.
You associate instinct with foolishness."
"And breaking down a gate is not foolish?"
For a second, they smiled. Wilfred put his
left hand on her thigh.
"We'll come out of this all right. I
Sonja hated to admit she was weak, so she
didn't. Nevertheless, Wilfred's unsubstantiated promise made her
feel warm insidefor a moment, anyway. The car rounded a
corner in plain view of a guarded security shack. Fuzzy feelings
traded places with butterflies. They danced in her stomach as
if it were July.
Wilfred peeked at his watch. "We'll
have to make a move soon. It should take us fifteen minutes to
hightail it to the stadium. When I give the signal, I want you
to press the accelerator to the floor and ram this water guzzling
baby through the gate."
"And what signal will that be?"
Wilfred made the sign of the cross.
Sonja rolled her eyes. "Blind faith
may be the death of us yet."
They rolled the car around the parking lot
one final time. He gave the signal.
With her heart in her mouth and her foot
to the floor, Sonja gunned the Model Z towards the gate. The engine
whined as if in protest. A guard yelled something unintelligible
over the din. The gate, mere inches away now, stood its ground
with confidence. In less than a second, its confidence had been
severely shaken by a moving hunk of metal on rubber wheels. It
made a creaking, groaning sound reminiscent of a horror movie.
Wilfred let out a small whimper and braced his hands against the
dashboard. The gate had been completely taken off its moorings.
It performed a wonderful somersault above the crystal blue Model
Z, finally coming to its rest after several tumbles and crashes
against the unforgiving asphalt driveway below it. Maybe Sonja
had somehow calculated the perfect way to crash a car through
a fence after all. The offended gate sheepishly lay in a tangled
mess, providing an effective stumbling block for the speechless
guard. Unable to get around it, the guard fell victim to circumstance.
He lost valuable time he could have spent establishing their getaway
route. Full of rage, he fired a shot from his Glock into the stratosphere,
narrowly missing an invisible flock of environmental restoration
They pushed on. Tires squealed. Wilfred shouted
directions, nearly succumbing to fits of hysterical laugher. He
was a child the last time he experienced this kind of unbridled
freedom. He paused to reflect upon Sonja's face. A smile began
to take shape. He realized her dormant feelings were rising to
the surface as well. It felt pretty good to embrace your instincts.
Well, at least until a black helicopter begins chasing you like
a field rodent.
"She moves pretty well on water,"
Sonja could barely hear him above the whoosh
of the overhead copter and the whining engine. Yet she felt compelled
to correct him.
"It doesn't actually run on water. The
process is called electrolysis. H2O is converted to HHO gas. HHO
gas is what really powers the vehicle."
"That's just semantics," Wilfred
shouted. "The bottom line is that it's not contaminating
"Spoken like a true humanitarian."
Just then a parade of sirens joined the party.
A loud voice emanated from the overhead whirlybird. It demanded
"I think we have about a five-minute
lead on them. We should have just enough time to put on a little
demonstration for the media. If I don't get to speak to you again,
Sonja, I thought you should know I wanted to marry you the moment
I set eyes on you."
Sonja's face turned grim. "Why did you
keep that a secret?"
"Business before pleasure, I guess."
"Who says being married to you will
be pleasurable?" She held onto her grim face card for a second
more. Then she effused a raucous laugh, returning her attention
to the open roadway. Wilfred's pledge was an epiphany for her.
She now realized the joy of finding a partner far outweighed any
satisfaction she could experience in a lab.
Wilfred felt paralyzed from the stinging
pain of realization. In all likelihood, he would sacrifice his
chance for a happy life in the ensuing minutes.
Miraculously, Sonja maintained an optimum
speed of 90 mph, even when she had to pass a few 1980s dinosaurs
along Ritchie Highway. She was living in the moment for once in
her life. The man she loved sat next to her, and he would be there
no matter the outcome. She felt like a hybrid of Sandra Bullock
in Speed and Geena Davis in Thelma and Louise. She
let out a loud whoop in celebration. The stadium was in clear
Wilfred turned to mock her. "I thought
screaming was exclusively reserved for the irrational and clinically
"Eat my rubber!" she yelled at
the whirlybird overhead, ignoring Wilfred. Silently, Wilfred wondered
if he had created a monster.
Moments later, they jumped from the car.
Film crews descended upon them.
Wilfred had scant room to siphon the water
from the tank.
"Here is all the proof you need, people.
Go spread the word to the masses."
Wilfred exuded the type of fire reserved
for Sunday morning preachers. When the dust cleared, he found
himself lying face down in the dirt, arms and legs fashioned in
a spread eagle. The police were not enjoying this spectacle one
769 Days Remaining
They enjoyed a lunch at their favorite diner.
It all seemed so surreal. Two days ago they had unleashed America's
most guarded secret. They now enjoyed status as both heroes and
outlaws, dependent upon which set of eyeballs was judging them.
Wilfred shared the brunt of the blame for
committing the grand larceny. He convinced police he had brainwashed
Sonja. Fortunately for Sonja, local police judged character more
than evidence. Sonja Hoffs was a respected scientist. Wilfred
Diamond made a living making stuff up.
A judge set bail, releasing Wilfred until
trial. Sonja was suspended without pay from the EPA pending further
investigation. Sonja should have sensed something was wrong right
then and there. Why did the judge allow bail? Hindsight would
include the judge as a co-conspirator. Sonja Hoffs simply wanted
to enjoy a meal with her future husband before he went to jail.
She never expected what would transpire next.
Light cascaded off of Wilfred's glass of
iced tea. He focused upon it, holding Sonja's right hand in his.
For the first time in a long time, Wilfred Diamond basked in the
glow of sunshine. It was as if the golden orb had been transparent
or invisible during the last three-and-a-half years. He returned
his gaze to Sonja, who sat across the table from him. He did this
just in time to feel his last moment of joy. His final thought:
Maybe someday, Sonja Hoffs will become my wife. Then a
sharp pain invaded his body. A bullet had ripped through the plate
glass behind him. The hollow point came to rest in his right lung.
Blood splattered in brilliant red waves all over Sonja's blue
and white dress.
65 Days Remaining
She always wondered who Mrs. Willis was.
Now that she had moved into Diamond's townhouse, she had reason
to seek the woman out. They would be neighbors, after all. Wilfred
had frequently regaled Sonja with stories about the eavesdropping
sexagenarian. She remembered his laughter as if it were only yesterday.
However, the scientist's brain had incorrectly calculated time
by letting emotion affect her judgment. It had been nearly two
years since she last heard Wilfred's laugh. Illogical as it seemed,
Sonja could not remove Wilfred's chuckle from her head. Was
this distant memory or some new awareness? She felt compelled
to solve the mystery of the nosy neighbor once and for all. She
even reasoned that her late boyfriend might want her to make friends
with the old biddy who had once invaded his privacy 24/7.
So Sonja knocked upon Mrs. Willis' door for
two straight weeks, but there would be no answer. Mrs. Amanda
Willis died seven years ago. Attacked and murdered by burglars
in her home, neighbors explained how realtors were never able
to sell "her haunted house." Sonja wondered if Willis,
like the EROs, had been a figment of Wilfred's imagination all
27 Days Remaining
By chance, Saxton Motor Company workers discover
a DVD in the glove box of an old Model Z. They watch the disk,
enraptured by a message scrolling across the screen. It warns
humanity about a species called the Purifiers. At first the workers
laugh. Then they wonder if the dead author was quite possibly
a fortuneteller, maybe the next Nostradamus. They hurry back to
their jobs in fear that the Purifiers might actually unleash their
wrath. They set a world record for automobile production.
2 Days Remaining
It is a mild April evening and a gentle breeze
wafts through the living room. She is busy jotting down notes,
remembering the best features of Wilfred Diamond. From the corner
of her eye, she spies a string of words scrolling across her TV
screen. The blue-colored words tell her the world's atmosphere
is once again healthy. Oxygen levels are on the rise thanks to
the introduction of the Model Z.
She is still skeptical. The words don't tell
her anything she doesn't already know.
The tone of the message begins to change.
The words are becoming less factual. Maybe even a bit emotional.
The EROs thank Sonja for Wilfred Diamond's
"The day we are discovered will be the
day we release an encoded message in tribute to your boyfriend.
The entire planet will one day view Wilfred Diamond as their hero."
Again, Sonja is nonplussed. Wilfred Diamond
already is her hero.
The EROs continue the scrolling, leaving
one final message.
"We know you are writing a book about
his heroism, Sonja Hoffs. Continue your fight to get it published.
Although the world will one day have scientific evidence about
our existence, Wilfred's story still needs to be told passionatelyfrom
a human perspective. His single-mindedness put a stop to the threat
of the invasion. Our telepathy tells us the Purifiers are no longer
a threat to Planet Earth. Wilfred Diamond needs to be honored.
He had the courage to believe."
The new emotional side of Sonja Hoffs had
blossomed during the past two years. She sees the point of the
message. Belief has its place in the world. Contrarily, she still
is not entirely convinced EROs or Purifiers actually exist, let
alone speak fluent English. She is only sure of one thing: Wilfred's
beliefs were indeed a catalyst.
And on the planet Zolas, judgment
day has arrived
For the Zolamites, ignorance is not bliss.
Their air is black and smelly. The rational have behaved irrationally.
The Purifiers know this.
Commuters going about their everyday business
begin to report a strange pattern emerging on the sky's horizon.
It is far too large to be a flock of migrating birds. Closer satellite
inspection reveals the intruders to be carnivorous arthropods.
With beetle-like heads and winged bodies, the Purifiers begin
to swarm down upon Zolas, converting the once healthy planet into
a black ball of death.
And just before the last rational Zolamite
becomes nothing more than history, she sadly comes to a realization.
Nature never bluffs