by Gary Starta
forum: Myopic
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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          "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 continuation—or elimination—of 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 question—Why 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 helping—in 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 species—along with you and everyone else on your planet—will 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 approach.

          "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 us all."

          Stacey sighed and phoned legal to draw up a contract.

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 ASAP.

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 box.

          "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 you—they won't even ask to see your leader—they'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 world—even 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 joy—and 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 to top.

          It was the thought of the tiny, neon green specks that sent her over the edge—this 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 answer—for 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 bureaucrats—one step forward, two steps back—for 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 dissected—to 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 privilege—not 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, Nothing.

          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 wrong.

          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 persuasion—or a threat—to 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 falsified.

          "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, girlfriends—and even your editor—often 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 write—to 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 end… 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 their rules?"

          "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 healed."

          "Don't you see that someday has to be today? These fools running these companies refuse to believe the Purifiers exist for one sole reason—money. 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 this, Wilfred."

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 Day celebration.

          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 football team.

          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 motor cart.

          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 lot—no further."

          "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 accomplice.

          "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 up."

          "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 smock—a 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 a bullet?

          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 come—assuming 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 ants."

          "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 promise."

          Sonja hated to admit she was weak, so she didn't. Nevertheless, Wilfred's unsubstantiated promise made her feel warm inside—for 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 organisms.


          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," he yelled.

          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 our atmosphere."

          "Spoken like a true humanitarian."

          Just then a parade of sirens joined the party. A loud voice emanated from the overhead whirlybird. It demanded they stop.

          "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 view now.

          Wilfred turned to mock her. "I thought screaming was exclusively reserved for the irrational and clinically insane."

          "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 bit.

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 along.

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 sacrifice.

          "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 passionately—from 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…




copyright 2007 Gary Starta.

Gary Starta is a UMASS Amherst graduate and penned his debut novel What Are You Made Of? in 2006. His second novel, Blood Web, publishes later this year.

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