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The Bradshaw Sisters by lockswriter The Bradshaw Sisters :iconlockswriter:lockswriter 1 0
Literature
Justin Rosewood and the Half-Baked 'Prints' Pt.2
Sure enough, there he is, tossing and turning in bed. The camera zooms in on his head, and we fade to a ten-year-old boy running hither and yon, looking lost and terrified, amid overlapping, phantasmagorial images of deep dark forest and the sound of someone or something smacking its lips and going "Mmmm, ymmm, nmm-nmm."
"This is disturbing on so many levels," says Amanda.
"I'll take that as a compliment," says Scott. "You may recognize the lip-smacking noises from The Car that Ate Women. I reused the sound effect."
"So why is he sleeping alone? Shouldn't the blind chick be in bed with him?"
"Blame the Hays code. Even if they'd been married… it was just a different time. Thank God for modern degeneracy."
The next morning finds Dwight in a diner, bleary-eyed and unhappy, sitting at the counter. "There used to be six different scenes where people talked about their nightmares," says Scott. "Now there's only two, and I had to fight for those two. I think you'll agree I was ri
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Literature
Justin Rosewood and the Half-Baked 'Prints' Pt.1
EXT – HOTEL – DAY
The front of a large, luxurious hotel/convention center. It is about mid-afternoon, a bright and beautiful day.
 
NARRATOR
(voice-over)
The end of the world began, not in terror and darkness, but in innocence and light.
 
FADE TO:
INT – HOTEL – DAY
A corridor. A sign saying "INT'L INORGANIC CHEMISTRY ASSOC. CONVENTION" points down the hall.
 
NARRATOR
(cont'd.)
It began here, now, at this place…
 
FADE TO a conference room. Men in suits and lab coats are listening to DR. ECKELBERG, who is gesturing at a blackboard covered with complex diagrams of molecules.
 
NARRATOR
(cont')
…with this conference of learned men.
 
"That's Jonathan Almond's voice," says Scott. "He was Jerry Heath. Good guy."
The year is 1985. It is Justin's twelfth birthday, although his official birthday party won't be until Saturday. To celebrate, his friend Mr. Scott has agreed to preside over a private screening of his old messterpi
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Literature
The Day The Icecap Died, Part 2
"Treat It Like A War"
"You're hearing that slogan a lot these days — 'treat it like a war.' That is to say, instead of asking if carbon reduction and capture can be made more profitable than business-as-usual, treat them as something important that we need to do, for our own sake and the sake of future generations, whether it's profitable or not. Nobody ever did a cost-benefit analysis of Gettysburg or D-Day. When FDR said 'Hey, Ford, Chrysler, GM, let's start building tanks and planes,' you never heard anybody blather about 'distorting the market' or 'the government picking winners and losers.'
"At the same time, what we know is that, even in war and even in the military, that sort of thinking can lead to some very bad decisions. A general says 'I don't care how many lives it costs, I want that hill' and you get the Battle of Fredericksburg. People in procurement say 'Hang the expense, we want this' and before you know it you're spending hundreds of dollars on a scre
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Literature
The Day The Icecap Died, Part 1
September 11, 2021
Everyone knew it was going to happen sooner or later, but most people had expected it later in the decade, or perhaps early in the 2030s. It wasn’t until June and its record temperatures that everyone realized it was probably going to happen this year. Nobody saw the precise moment it happened.
Most people were thinking about something else — after all, this was the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. So it was a fairly minor story that when the next satellite overflew the poles, the last traces of sea ice floating in the Nares Strait and the Lincoln Sea were gone. From the Bering Strait to the Barents Sea, from the coast of Siberia to the labyrinth of channels between the Canadian islands, the Arctic Ocean was finally ice-free.
It stayed that way for three weeks.
September ’21-March ‘22
As in every year, with the passing of the autumnal equinox polar twilight and polar night descended over the Arctic Ocean in expa
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Literature
Meat Ghosts
I’m a vegetarian. Mostly. I’ll eat fish, dairy products and shellfish, and occasionally a hamburger or hot dog or some Spam… okay, the truth is I suck at being a vegetarian.
Here’s the thing. All my life — you’re going to think I’m insane, but this is the truth — I’ve been haunted by the ghosts of the animals I eat. They follow me around everywhere, this silent herd of cattle and pigs and chickens and turkeys. They walk through walls and other people, and nobody else knows they’re there.
It started when I was a child. One of my earliest memories is of pointing out a pig squatting in the living room and hearing my mom say “There’s no pig, sweetie.” That pig is still there. I’ve long since gotten to where I can recognize them as individuals, and they’re all still there. I haven’t had steak or bacon or fried chicken in years, but none of them ever leave.
It’s like some kind of animal righ
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Literature
Vignette: Carrie's Dark Side (560 words)
Even as a little girl, Carrie had always been ambitious — either to be President of the United States or a billionaire. At the very least she’d wanted to exceed her father, in status if not in mass. In fact, it was her father she credited for this. He’d been an important man in his own right, and his social circle included many rich and powerful people. Through him, she’d learned that those the world called great were not fundamentally different from herself, and there was no reason she couldn’t join them, or surpass them if she had it in her. The road was hard, but it was open and it went to the highest places.
But her ambition came at a cost. While the rest of her lived and loved and cried and regretted, there was always that one part of her brain that was just sitting back and quietly judging the things and people around her, determining if they were to her advantage of not. It had grown stronger as her ambitions had condensed from dreams into plans and
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Literature
The Pathfinder Rituals
These are rituals of summoning and communication. The usual precautionary statements (about following all instructions to the letter, being clear in your own mind about what you want and what you are prepared to pay for it, and above all not being fool enough to actually do any of this) are in full effect.
I’m going to start by talking about the basic ritual, even though I suspect that isn’t what you came for. When you know how to do the basic ritual, you’ll understand how to perform the advanced ritual.
For the basic ritual, you’ll need four things:
• A mirror, the bigger the better.
• A clock. If it’s an analog clock, it should have a second hand. If it’s a digital clock, it should display seconds as well as hours and minutes.
• A comfortable chair. (Yes, it needs to be comfortable. Use a recliner if you have one.)
• One single source of light. It can be a candle, or a light bulb — I favor an LED bulb myself. Whatever
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Literature
Vignette: President Pratt Tries to Chill
A President of the United States — at least a good one — didn’t get a lot of leisure time, particularly when the nation was in crisis. Henry Pratt had been working on one thing or another from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., with only a couple of breaks for meals.
Pratt made the most of the few hours he did have. At 9:45 p.m. he was in bed with an e-reader in his left hand and Claire curled against his right arm. On the nightstand was a wineglass holding the last of a smoky ’94 Oregon Pinot Noir, aged to a deep russet and mellowed to a velvety smoothness, that they’d shared over dinner.
An old Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan jam session, likewise mellowed to a velvety smoothness, was playing on his earpiece. (Someone had once told Pratt that the Duke of Wellington had wanted to be a violinist before going into the army and making history. Pratt himself had once dreamed of being a blues guitarist and singer, but he had never been better than mediocre as a player and t
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Literature
You Think You Hate Holiday Travel? (1120 words)
by Paul Briggs
One of the many bad things about my parents splitting up as soon as I was off to college was that I had to choose who to spend the holidays with. I decided to spend Thanksgiving with Mom and Christmas with Dad. Thing is, Dad was going to be down in Florida that Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa and Uncles Jake and Hank.
Not a problem at all. I had a wonderful five-day road trip all planned out. It was going to give me a chance to see places I'd never been — New Orleans, San Antonio — with time to visit the sports bars and see if any of the guys knew who I was yet, and if any of them were cute and feeling brave.
And then I got the word. Uncle Jake and his family were in southern California, and they were going to be flying to Florida for Christmas, and they'd bought an extra ticket just for me.
He shouldn't have. Really. He shouldn't have.
I could have taken the train, or even the bus… but of course, it had to be airplanes. The owner of the secon
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Literature
Vignette: Nat'l Governors Association Smackdown!
As Carrie left the meeting, she broke into a brisk jog. Two men were having a screaming argument in the middle of the hotel lobby. It sounded bad enough that somebody was going to have to step in and referee it. In this case, “somebody” meant her.
She stepped into the lobby and got a look at the arguers. One of them was Governor Gilbert Swank of Arizona — Carrie recognized him because he looked a lot like her father, huge, fat and red-faced. But her father had mostly been the jolly kind of fat man, and Swank looked the opposite of jolly right now.
The other was the governor of Colorado, a skinny guy who was bald right on top of his head. His name was either LaTour or LaCour. Both of them were screaming over each other to the point where Carrie had a hard time telling what they were arguing about, except that water was involved. A much smaller man was holding Swank’s right arm and trying to talk him down.
As Carrie approached the scene of the kerfuffle, she caugh
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Literature
Vignette: Isabel's Awkward Thanksgiving
Rodrick Freitag’s house had made it through Gordon undamaged. It was too far north for the wind and too high up for the storm surge. Which made it the perfect place for the Bradshaws and both sets of their grandparents to spend Thanksgiving. Except for the fact that it was a small house, and not really built to accommodate ten extra people. Even getting the various cars and vans in the driveway was a complicated sliding-tiles game.
So of course, out of all possible ways to prepare the turkeys Rod and Chelsey had chosen the one most likely to set the crowded little house on fire. They were deep-frying them.
In the interests of life and property, Isabel was overseeing the process. First, when the two 15-pound turkeys were taken out of the beer brine she measured the remaining brine and used a little Archimedean logic to estimate their volume, so she knew exactly how much oil would go in the fryer. Then she spent a full hour drying them, inside and out, at one point using a hair dry
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Literature
Locksmith's Journeys: Deleted Scene (First Date?)
Just as he was about to go out for a sprint, his phone buzzed.
It was Lucy. “I’m sorry to bring this up,” she said, “but do you remember when Mr. Hance tried to kidnap you?”
“Yeah.”
“Well… I’ve been talking to Mr. Joyce. The police are going around campgrounds and summer schools, basically reminding kids what to do and what not to do if a stranger approaches them. Joyce thinks it would be good for them to hear from someone who got away from a would-be kidnapper.”
“You want me to go talk to them?”
“Yes.”
That had been scary, but Lock remembered how, for a few shining days afterward, he’d been the coolest dude in school. What the hell.
“When do I do this?”
“Saturday at noon. I don’t have the exact address with me, but I can e-mail it to you. I’ll drive you there.”
***
Lock woke up at six a.m. Friday morning. This gave him three and a half hours to think of t
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Literature
Locksmith's Journeys: Deleted Scene (Day Care)
It was Saturday. Lucy was on her lunch break at the day-care center. To her great surprise, Lee Smith had come over to visit, with a shipping envelope under her arm.
“I found some marijuana and paraphernalia in William’s room, so I searched Lachlan’s room while I was at it,” she said.
“Seriously? You think Lock’s—”
“No. I just… the point is, I found this in the bottom of his closet where the portal used to be.” She took a sketchbook out. “What d’you make of it?”
Lucy leafed dispassionately through the sketchbook. As unpleasant as the subject matter was, the drawings were obviously the product of talent and practice.
“Does Locksmith do a lot of drawing?”
“Not since he was little.”
“Well, then, he couldn’t possibly have done any of this himself. I’m guessing these are by that friend of his back in Georgia.”
“That’s what the note said.”
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Literature
Locksmith's Journeys: Deleted Scene (Cold Turkey)
There was a streetlight outside the building, one of the old kind that gave a pure white light. Standing underneath it, Lucy lit a cigarette. Once she’d drawn in a lungful of smoke, she held her breath for a surprisingly long time before letting it out.
“I thought there should be witnesses,” she said. “This is the last cigarette I’ll ever smoke.”
“Sure it is,” said Rikki.
“I know it’ll be tough, but I don’t plan to fail and I trust” — she gave Rikki a look that suggested no trust at all — “that certain people will be supportive.”
“Don’t look at me. I fully endorse your decision to stop sucking Joe Camel’s puh-roduct. Sorry, I just remembered there’s a kid here.”
The smoke made intricate little curls in the air, like bluish lace. It looked kind of nice, actually, as long as you stayed upwind.
“The Buddhists,” said Lucy, “say that all suff
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Literature
One of Those Brain Chip Things
by Paul Briggs
The first rule of medicine is “First, do no harm.”
The second rule is, “When you’re sewing up a patient after a splenectomy, try not to leave your smartphone in there.” I failed to heed this rule, and now I live in Miami and work as an orderly in a nursing home, while supplementing my income with the occasional illegal procedure.
Mostly this involves either removing unwanted bullets from unsavory characters without reporting them to the police, or altering the hormone balances of athletes in ways that will improve their performance for a few years and probably kill them later. Every once in a while, however, I get a strange case.
“I want one of those brain chip things in my head,” says the kid in the back room that doubles as my office.
Meet Brenton. Nineteen years old. In Miami, officially for Spring Break. Tall, slim, fresh-faced, curly-haired, leaving a trail of privilege wherever he goes. Been to all the right schools,
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The Bradshaw Sisters
Isabel Bradshaw and, to either side, her two sisters. I cannot in all honesty call this "fan art" because I did it myself. It looks better if you don't know what facial expressions I was actually going for. My brother is the visual artist in the family.
Note: if you're ever trying to upload an image and it says "The image cannot be used with default print settings," just uncheck the "Sell Prints" feature.
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Sure enough, there he is, tossing and turning in bed. The camera zooms in on his head, and we fade to a ten-year-old boy running hither and yon, looking lost and terrified, amid overlapping, phantasmagorial images of deep dark forest and the sound of someone or something smacking its lips and going "Mmmm, ymmm, nmm-nmm."

"This is disturbing on so many levels," says Amanda.

"I'll take that as a compliment," says Scott. "You may recognize the lip-smacking noises from The Car that Ate Women. I reused the sound effect."

"So why is he sleeping alone? Shouldn't the blind chick be in bed with him?"

"Blame the Hays code. Even if they'd been married… it was just a different time. Thank God for modern degeneracy."

The next morning finds Dwight in a diner, bleary-eyed and unhappy, sitting at the counter. "There used to be six different scenes where people talked about their nightmares," says Scott. "Now there's only two, and I had to fight for those two. I think you'll agree I was right to insist on keeping 'em."
 
DWIGHT
Black coffee.
 
WAITRESS
You sure? You always took it with cream and sugar before.
 
DWIGHT
Never mind how I always took it… I'm sorry. I barely slept a wink last night.
 
WAITRESS
You too, huh?
(beat)
It'll be a few minutes, hon. I'm making a fresh pot right now. Seems like a lot of people want a lot of coffee this morning.
 
She gestures around the room. Several other people have the same bleary-eyed look as Dwight. Jerry comes in and sits down next to Dwight.
 
JERRY
Good morning.
 
DWIGHT
That is a matter of opinion.
(2 beats)
I had the worst dream last night.
 
Jerry motions for him to continue.
 
DWIGHT
I was running through my house. It was dark… I kept turning on the lights, but they wouldn't work. I was looking for my wife and son… I could hear them screaming… just shrieking in terror… but I couldn't find them.
(beat)
And then I woke up.
(2 beats)
And they were still screaming… They were both having nightmares. All three of us… at the same time.
(shakes head)
How does that happen? How?
 
WAITRESS
Coffee's ready. Sorry for the wait.
(sets a hot cup down in front of him)
This one's on me. To tell you the truth, hon… I didn't sleep too good myself.
 
CUT TO:
 
INT — LUX MUNDI LABS — EARLY MORNING
A break room. Anne sits on a couch, clutching a large mug of coffee. There is a terribly haunted look in her useless eyes. Melissa sits next to her, a hand on her arm.
 
ANNE
(voice hoarse)
It was… terrible. You can't imagine…
(beat)
I was lying, naked, face down, on some kind of pavement. Flagstones, hard and very cold against my skin. These… things were holding me down.
 
MELISSA
What kind of things?
 
ANNE
Creatures.
(beat)
Monsters. They were small, but there were many of them. They crowded around me.
 
MELISSA
(not sure she wants to know)
What… did they look like?
 
ANNE
(shaking her head)
I can't tell you. I was born this way — I don't know what it is to see… even in my dreams.
(beat)
But I could smell them. They had an earthy smell, like wet dogs and damp, rotting leaves. One of them leaned in close — no more than an inch from my face. Its breath was hot, and stank of blood and offal.
I could hear them — the snuffling of their nostrils as they took in my own smell. Their voices… those voices did not come from human throats, and they spoke a language I could not begin to recognize. But when I begged them to let me go, they seemed to understand. They laughed. The sound of their laughter… Melissa, I have known the cruelty of men, and this — this was something more.
(beat)
And I could feel them. They were covered with hair — long, coarse hair, matted and crusted with filth. I could feel their nails. Oh yes, I felt their nails… over every inch of my skin — they poked and pinched and prodded. Their touch made me shudder. They took their time. They seemed to be… savoring the moment.
(2 beats)
And then… I felt their teeth.
(not quite breaking down)
I screamed myself awake. I screamed myself hoarse, do you understand?
 
MELISSA
I believe you.
 
ANNE
I know it was just a nightmare, I know it wasn't real…
I know sometimes I seem a little standoffish. It's because my life is a kind of war — a constant struggle against helplessness and dependence. Every day, fighting to prove myself, to be as self-sufficient as I can — to say, "Here are some things I can do on my own…"
You cannot imagine the horror — in my own bed, in my own mind — being reduced to such an appalling state…

 
"This was the part that really scared me when I was a kid," says Justin.

"I got news for you, kid," says Amanda. "You're still a kid. Kid."

"She gives a hell of a performance, doesn't she?" says Scott. "Just imagining what she's describing is… well, it's sure as hell scarier than the ending." He sighed. "I don't know… I read this scene back then and thought 'this is it, I know it's just a horror movie but no way can the Academy ignore this' and now I look at it and…" He sighed.

"And what?" asks Mr. Rosewood. "It seemed fine to me. One of the better parts of the movie, I would have said."

"It's too obviously a written monologue. The structure of it — 'I could smell them,' 'I could hear them,' 'I could feel them' — human speech is never that well organized. It doesn't sound like anything anybody would say."

"I hadn't thought of that," says Justin.

"It's a balancing act. You want good, memorable lines, but you don't want them to sound fake. We always tell the actors 'never let them catch you acting' — but I think for a screenwriter, the best advice would be 'never let them catch you writing.' Speaking of things that sound fake…"

Anne is accosted on the street by a crazy-looking guy. He screams "THE END OF THE WORLD IS COMING! THE GATES OF HELL HAVE OPENED UP!" It should not be possible to overact while uttering these lines, but the actor playing the crazy guy manages it. Finally Jerry shoos him off.
 
JERRY
(V.O.)
Days went by like this. Terror haunted our dreams at night, and during the day madmen walked the streets uttering visions of horror. By now it was clear that whatever was happening was affecting not only us, but millions of people throughout the world.
Then the deaths began. Some were suicides, others were people who stayed awake all night and fell asleep behind the wheel the next day. Riots broke out in every mental hospital.

 
The gang gathers at the Simmons house to discuss the recent outbreak of nightmares. Mr. Simmons' wife and son have had a new dream, in which a strange man appeared and tried to tell them something.
 
MRS. SIMMONS
He had a long, black beard, and his robes were covered in strange symbols. He said "A-go… bah-rah-steece… Voce… ess…" something, success…"
 
JUNIOR
I remember he said "A-go… soom… something…"
 
MRS. SIMMONS
He said something about "sue-koo-roe…"
 
JERRY
It sounds like this man was speaking Latin… "Ego Barrastis" would mean "I am Barrastis" — whoever that is.
 
MRS. SIMMONS
I'll take your word for it.
 
DWIGHT
And that's another thing. My wife and son don't know any Latin — how can they be having dreams in it and getting the language right?
 
JERRY
That's a very good question.

 
"Wait," says Amanda. "What does this nightmare crap have to do with the ghost photos?"

"We're getting to that," says Scott.

The next shot is of the front of the White House. The President is played by someone who looks almost exactly like Mr. Scott — but Mr. Scott of 1985, not Mr. Scott of 1960. ("Yep, I cast my pop as the President." Scott Senior is on the bland side, but not as bad as you might expect.) The President is talking to Doctor von Herzog in the corridor. "We tried and we tried," says Scott, "but we couldn't make a backdrop with the right kind of curve for the Oval Office. So this president does most of his work in the hallway." And down the hallway they go, backed up by two Secret Service agents, one of whom must surely be the fattest agent in Secret Service history.
 
VON HERZOG
Mr. President… what I believe is happening here is a sort of… Pearl Harbor of the soul — an unprovoked attack upon the human psyche, launched with no warning of any kind.
 
THE PRESIDENT
An attack by whom? Or what?
 
VON HERZOG
I wish I knew.
(beat)
But… I may know where to begin looking for answers. Dr. Gerald Heath and his Nightfilm… and the things seen therein. It's not much of a lead, but it's the best I have to offer.
 
THE PRESIDENT
There's something else, too. A number of people have come forward throughout the country — and elsewhere — saying that somebody named Barrastis is appearing in their dreams, speaking Latin. They say he says he's an ancestor of theirs, and that he can speak to his descendants. They say he says he can help.
(beat)
At this point I'm ready to try anything.

 
"So how does the President know this doctor guy?" says Justin.

"I'm glad you asked," says Scott, "not because I have an answer but because it's the sort of question you need to ask when you're looking at a script. There was a scene where one of the President's aides introduces Von Herzog to him as 'one of the nation's foremost experts in theology and applied metaphysics' but it got cut. You sort of have to take it for granted that this is the President's go-to guy at times like this."

Before long, Jerry and Dwight have been summoned to the White House to confer with the President. Dwight has brought his wife and his Nightfilm motion-picture equipment, in case they come in handy. Again, they confer in the hallway.
 
THE PRESIDENT
The situation continues to deteriorate. Suicides, accidents… outbreaks of general madness… I don't know how much more we can take.
(beat)
About this Barrastis… my historians tell me that there was a man of that name living in the Middle East in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. Some sort of… evil sorcerer, apparently. They called him "Barrastis the Blasphemer." He dabbled in alchemy and conjuring. Claimed to be able to summon and command any spirit, djinn or angel… up to and including God and the Devil.
(beat)
So they banished him from Egypt and he went east. Finally he ended up in Balkh, in present-day Afghanistan. He was killed when Genghis Khan sacked the place.
 
JERRY
I have to say, Mr. President… even assuming that a departed spirit is trying to talk to us — which is already a lot to assume for a scientist — I'd hesitate before I approached this particular spirit as a source of reliable information.
 
THE PRESIDENT
I agree. But until some other dead people start coming forward, it looks like we're stuck with him.
 
DWIGHT
(hoisting motion-picture camera)
If we can call him and get him to come… with this camera we ought to be able to get a real-time image. Of course, we won't be able to hear what he's saying…
 
THE PRESIDENT
Then all we need is a lip-reader who knows Latin and we're set.

 
"Now here's where things get weird," says Justin.

"Where they get weird?" says Amanda. "What are they going to do? Hold a séance?"

"I thought you said you'd never seen this before," says Justin.

Amanda's jaw drops open. Sure enough, there they are, holding a séance right there in what we might be meant to think is the Oval Office. Once again, the scene is lit mainly by candles, and it's just as well. The President, von Herzog, the two Secret Service agents and Mr. and Mrs. Simmons are sitting on the floor amid a circle of candles, holding hands. There is just enough light to show that what they're sitting on is a cheap rug with a Stars and Stripes motif. Nearby, Jerry is working the camera, which is hooked up to a TV monitor on a desk under a heavy tarp (presumably to keep its light from washing out the Nightfilm). The lip-reading Latin interpreter sits at the desk, his head and upper body covered by the tarp.

"Like I said," says Justin, "this is where things get weird."
 
MRS. SIMMONS
O Barrastis… we summon thee from beyond the veil, from across the river of death… thy granddaughter of many generations doth summon thee… come forth, o wise Barrastis, and give us thy aid and counsel as thou hast promised.

 
Amanda is the first one to start giggling. In a touch of realism, Mrs. Simmons says these lines as if she knows she's supposed to utter them exactly as they are written, but also knows how ridiculous they sound.
 
JERRY
(looking into camera, moving lens side to side)
I see him!
 
He flips a switch. On the TV monitor, a flickering image of BARRASTIS appears. He has a long beard, a turban, and a caftan covered with alchemical symbols. His lips start to move.
 
INTERPRETER'S VOICE
(slightly muffled)
I am Barrastis. I have come… to help you.

 
"Those are real alchemical symbols, by the way," says Scott. "I got them out of a book. Of course, if you actually can read lips you know he isn't really speaking Latin, he's reading aloud from some old poem or other."

"But why is he wearing a Sikh turban?" says Mr. Rosewood.

"Because I didn't read enough, that's why."

"Don't feel too bad. I saw a TV show once where Ricardo Montalban was playing a Sikh… clean-shaven, no less. Oh, and do you recognize the interpreter's voice?"

"It's the same voice as the alien car thing in The Car that Ate Women," says Justin.
 
THE PRESIDENT
Barrastis, where are the nightmares coming from? And speak slowly, so the interpreter can keep up.
 
INTERPRETER'S VOICE
There are spirits of darkness… that lurk in the shadows… and haunt the dreams of mortals… inspiring dread and terror on which they feed. They flee the dawn… to return at dusk. Your children sense their presence… in the dark corners and the hidden spaces… in the closet, under the bed… but they know not what they fear.
Once they ruled the night… supreme and unchallenged… held at bay only by the glow of bonfires. But man learned to turn his homes… and even his cities… into fortresses of light… first with candles and lamps… then with… strange vapors and lightning?
 
JERRY
(quickly, speaking over the interpreter)
Gaslight and electricity.
 
INTERPRETER'S VOICE
And so, year by year, century by century… the empire of darkness was diminished.
Now, mankind has… unwittingly escalated the war.
(gestures at the camera)
This new… alchemy of images… reveals that which has hitherto been hidden from human eyes… piercing the very heart of the darkness… exposing the demons to the cold and deadly light… of reason and comprehension. This they cannot bear. The nightmares and madness… that now afflict the minds of so many… represent a desperate counterstrike by the forces of darkness.
 
THE PRESIDENT
Suppose we want to counterstrike their counterstrike. How do we get at them?
 
INTERPRETER'S VOICE
No mortal weapon… can harm a spirit. If you would give them battle… you must first bring them to… your own plane of existence.
 
THE PRESIDENT
How do we do that?
 
INTERPRETER'S VOICE
There is a spell… a circle of great power… which can compel any spirit to… take corporeal form and appear within it. By this means you may… transform the demons into physical beings. What harm your infernal machines of war… will do to their living bodies… you would know better than I.
If you are willing… I will teach you the invocation… and show you the circle. Yet beware! For the demons will always be drawn to human life… but once they become creatures of flesh and blood… it will no longer be your fear on which they feed.

 
At this point, Mr. Rosewood is laughing too.

"I'm sorry," he said. "This is the part where I always crack up. I mean, their plan to get rid of the Demons of Darksome Doom or whatever they are… is to shoot them?"

"To bring them onto the physical plane and then shoot them," says Scott, "and blow them up, of course… it seemed like such an ingenious idea, but somehow in the execution…"

"If you think this is funny," says Justin, "just wait."

Dr. Heath and the Simmonses have returned home. The President gives Barrastis's instructions to General Johnson, a gruff middle-aged man (played by Sam Rourke) who is understandably a little skeptical of all this.
 
JOHNSON
Well, Mr. President, if these really are your orders I will obey them, of course… but I do have some questions.
 
THE PRESIDENT
All right, let's hear them.
 
JOHNSON
First of all, if this guy Barrastis was so evil, what's he doing running around free like this, showing up in people's dreams? I mean… shouldn't he still be in hell? Did they let him out on parole or something?
 
The President looks to von Herzog.
 
VON HERZOG
I think if we knew the answer to that question, we would know a great deal more than we do now.

 
"Well, that's helpful," says Mr. Rosewood. "Are you sure you didn't mean this to be funny?"

JOHNSON
My second question is, do we trust him?
 
VON HERZOG
I've called an old friend, Yitzhak Ben Meir, an expert in theurgy and the kabbalah. He'll be able to tell us if there's anything wrong with Barrastis's spell.

 
The next scene is out in the desert. Men in uniform — military surveyors and engineers, presumably — are drawing the lines of the circle in the sand, along with the arcane words and strange symbols around it. God only knows what they think of this work.

"Why does it look like a big puffy flower?" said Justin.

"That's what a pentagram looks like when you turn it inside out.  One of our lighting guys happened to know some geometry."

"Why not just use a regular pentagram?" said Amanda. "It would've looked cooler."

"I had my reasons," says Scott, "and I wanted to get it right… not that it mattered in the end. By the way, this is one of the few scenes we shot outdoors."

At twilight, somewhere else in the desert, a rabbi is riding in a military Jeep. The driver remarks that he hasn't been sleeping too well lately, and then yawns tremendously, nods off at the wheel and crashes. The crash is staged very badly — the vehicle drifts aside from the moving backdrop, and we cut to… a static shot of an entirely different vehicle overturned in a ditch. At this point, Justin is laughing too.

"I'm sorry," says Scott. "I don't have any excuses to offer except that it was the last day of shooting, we were over budget already, and nobody had a Jeep they'd let me wreck. I hate continuity errors."

At night, the magic circle is lit by torches. General Johnson calls on his mortar and machine-gun crews. They confirm that their weapons are trained on the circle and ready to fire.
 
JOHNSON
My personal opinion is, this is a big waste of time. But if anything does happen to appear in there, just make sure you blow it to hell and gone.
(turns to his AIDE)
Now where the Sam Hill is Ben the Mayor or whatever his name is?
 
AIDE
Still no word.
 
JOHNSON
Well, if we're going to finish this crazy show by midnight, we'll have to start without him. What's the first thing we do?
 
AIDE
It says here "he who would challenge the demons must face them with bare chest, weapon in hand."
 
JOHNSON
(unbuttoning his shirt)
The Army-Navy Club better never hear about this.

 
In a nearby bunker, a group of bewildered-looking soldiers are huddled over the microphone, reciting a nonsense chant that they are reading off a piece of paper in front of them. A loudspeaker in the middle of the circle carries their chant. As they chant, the general, his shirt and rifle in one hand and his clipboard in the other, proclaims in ringing tones:
 
JOHNSON
Demons of dread and darkness, spirits of terror and the night, I challenge you!
Haunters of shadows, I challenge you!
Dealers in fear, I challenge you!
Come forth from the realm of nightmare!
The circle of power calls you!
Come forth to the world of flesh and blood!
Come forth and give battle!

 
The expression on his face proclaims "No, I can't believe these words are coming out of my mouth either." It's hard to say whether this is General Johnson's reaction, or Sam Rourke's. It is at this point that Scott gives up and starts laughing.

"What was I thinking?" he says.

At the stroke of midnight, there is a rumble of thunder. And then…
 
AIDE
Nothing happened, sir.
 
JOHNSON
I can see that!
(2 beats)
But something did happen.
 
AIDE
(looking around)
What?
 
JOHNSON
(putting his shirt back on)
What happened was, we did all this stupid voodoo horse pucky for nothing! We made ourselves look like idiots out here! This… Barrastis… was nothing but a fraud and a con artist when he was alive and he hasn't gotten any better now that he's dead! He's probably somewhere laughing at us now.
 
FADE TO:
 
EXT — THE DESERT — NIGHT
BARRASTIS appears on a mountaintop, in the flesh, very much alive. He spreads out his arms, looks up at the sky and laughs evilly.

 
But not half as hard as the Rosewoods — and, at this point, Scott. "So the spell let Barrastis through too?" says Justin. "Stupid spell."

Yitzhak Ben Meir finally arrives, looks at the circle and shakes his head mournfully. (When he finally speaks, he turns out to have no trace of any kind of accent. Scott says that Larry Spezio, who plays the rabbi, couldn't do accents and didn't try, which puts him ahead of the clown who played Dr. Eckelberg.)
 
JOHNSON
We followed these crazy instructions to the letter!
 
BEN MEIR
I can see that you did, but I'm afraid you were lied to. The circle is perfect, but inverted… with mathematical precision.
 
JOHNSON
What does that mean?
 
BEN MEIR
I am afraid, General, that what it means is that if this circle were used to summon demons… the inside of it would be the only place on Earth that they could not appear.
 
JOHNSON
You mean they could be anywhere?
 
BEN MEIR
Anywhere it's midnight or later.
 
The movie cuts to the Simmons place. Mrs. Simmons is talking to Junior in his bedroom.
 
MRS. SIMMONS
Listen very carefully, Junior. I'm going to tell you one more time.
There are… no… monsters. No monsters under your bed, no monsters in your closet… (sniffing the air) Did somebody let a wet dog in he-AIEEEEEEEE!

 
Sure enough, something under the bed has just grabbed her ankle and is pulling her in. Junior starts screaming along with her. Mr. Simmons bursts into the room, grabs his wife's hand and pulls her out from under the bed. "I went to all the trouble of filming the scene where he crashes around the house in the dark," says Scott, "and the studio cut it. They said you couldn't see anything."

Anyway, Mrs. Simmons is unharmed, except for one lousy bite mark on her calf. Her husband pokes at whatever is underneath the bed with a baseball bat, but then says it has disappeared. ("I think it was the bit about the wet dog that killed the horror," says Mr. Rosewood.) Then they start hearing noises coming from the closet. "We have to get out of here," says Mr. Simmons.

"Why?" says Amanda.

"Now pay attention," says Scott. "Here's where it all goes completely over the edge."

Dr. Heath is asleep. To the sound of very dramatic music, something crawls out from under his bed.

Justin and his father laugh harder. "No matter how many times I see it I always crack up," says Justin.

"What… the…" says Amanda.

"I can explain everything," says Scott.

Is it… a badly groomed Ewok? A baby Bigfoot? A cross between a teddy bear and Cousin It? It looks like… actually, it looks and moves exactly like a toddler wearing a body suit covered with lank, matted horsehair. The small figure's head is covered with what is probably black pantyhose, with a fringe of more horsehair around the back. This terrifying monster clambers up onto the bed.

"That's your monster?" says Amanda. "A midget in a balding gorilla suit?"

"Nope," says Scott. "Midgets are expensive. Couldn't afford 'em. We had to use preschoolers. In fact, that's Mr. Almond's son right there." At this moment, our hero is trying to fight off the little goblin with pillows and blanket. Not even the loud, dramatic musical score can make this look serious.

Dr. Heath escapes the monster by turning on his bedroom light. (Even in physical form, these things are still afraid of the light.) Out in the hall, he finds a skeleton with a wig in curlers. "Mrs. Collins! No!" he says.

"What… were… you… thinking?!?" says Amanda, barely able to speak through her laughter.

"You weren't supposed to be able to see them!" says Scott. "They were just supposed to be these matted, filthy things lurking in the shadows that nobody ever got a good look at! I heightened the contrast in these last scenes, clipped out every frame where the monsters were too clear…"

"Yeah, the first time I saw this I thought if you couldn't see the monsters, this might actually be scary," says Justin.

"So you've said," says Scott. "Of course, all this was shot day-for-night because the little kids were scared of the dark…"

"So what happened?"

"Goddamn Discernment Studios. They looked at it and said 'Wait a minute! There's been a mistake! We can't see the monsters!' Also, the parents of those little kids wanted to be able to see them on the screen, even though you couldn't tell them apart. So the studio sent somebody in to do another print from the negatives, and this time make sure there was enough light and low enough contrast that the monsters could be seen. Idiots."

"I've got to find Anne!" says Dr. Heath. He grabs the phone.

Once again, we see Anne coming out of her darkroom — in terror this time.
 
MELISSA
Oh my God what's wrong?
 
ANNE
There's something in there. I was working and… something just appeared in there with me.
 
MELISSA
You just had a nightmare.
 
ANNE
I was wide awake!
 
MELISSA
Nobody should be working this late.
 
ANNE
(showing a bite mark on her arm)
The "nightmare" bit me!
 
The phone rings. Anne picks it up.
 
ANNE
Hello?
 
JERRY
Anne! Listen to me! Something terrible is happening!
 
ANNE
I know!
 
JERRY
You've got to get out of there! I'll come pick you up!

 
"Why is she working this late, anyway?" says Mr. Rosewood. "She's not still making the formula, is she? I thought it was being cranked out in factories now."

"Maybe she's trying to improve it," said Scott. "Or maybe I could only show her at work because giving her a living space of her own would've meant one more set to build."

"Do they have any place to go?" says Amanda. "Why not just find some room with good lighting and stay there till morning?"

"Because that would be boring!" says Scott. Anne and Melissa flee the building.

"This next scene is based on a nightmare I had once," says Scott. "I wasn't really there — I was sort of a disembodied presence. Anyway, there was a woman being chased through a parking lot at night by some kind of monster — I didn't get a good look at it. I knew she was blind, and at any moment she could run full tilt into a car or a lamppost. So I started shouting instructions to her, trying to get her out of there alive."

"That would make a cool video game," says Justin.

They make it to the door, but Jerry has arrived at the far end of the parking lot, and there is only one flickering streetlight in the lot. The lot is shot, at most, day-for-twilight, and the little monsters are out in force (milling around more or less at random).  "I'll go up on the roof and use the floodlight," says Melissa. "When I give the word, start running."

"So now they've got a floodlight on the roof?" says Mr. Rosewood. "What… what purpose…" He can't even get the words out. Laughter is taking over again.

Melissa trains the spotlight on Anne, and she runs. Monsters stalk her, but jump back from the beam of the spotlight. "Left! Right! Straight ahead!" shouts Melissa.

"No, your other left!" says Justin.
 
ANNE
Are you all right up there?
 
Melissa turns around, sees a row of monsters standing behind her. A look of despair and determination comes over her face as she realizes she is doomed.
 
MELISSA
Don't worry about me — just keep running!

 
"That look on her face…" Scott struggles to talk through his laughter, "that was supposed to be… despair and determination."

"Looked more like despair and constipation!" hoots Justin. "And was one of the monsters trying to pick its nose?"

Melissa falls to the ground for no apparent reason, and is quickly dogpiled by crawling, hairy goblins.

"Mmm!" says Justin. "Good eatin'."

"Why did they even bother going after the blind blonde?" says Amanda.

"Lower cholesterol!" says Mr. Rosewood. Scott is laughing too hard to speak.

Anne finds Jerry's car. ("Why didn't you just pull up in front of the door, dummy?" says Justin, falsetto.) As they drive off, Jerry says, "Let's find out what's happening out there," and turns on the radio to hear… somebody, possibly the announcer, shrieking.

This proves to be the last straw. All four viewers collapse where they stand or sit, guffawing helplessly. Showing foresight, Justin stops the tape long enough that they have a chance to get their focus back. Tears stream from their eyes.

Just as they're about ready to start watching again, they notice that Scott is slumped on the sofa, apparently unconscious.

"Uh… Mr. Scott?" Justin tugs on his sleeve, but nothing happens.

"Should we call 911?" says Amanda.

"Wait," says Mr. Rosewood. "Justin — do you know how to check his pulse?"

"Sure," says Justin. He leans awkwardly over the old man.

"He's got a pulse… he's breathing…"

"Okay, then," says his father. "I saw a man have a stroke once — this doesn't quite look like that… Let's just wait a minute and see what happens."

After less than a minute, Mr. Scott opens his eyes.

"I hope you're not planning to take up smoking, Justin," he says. "It does terrible things to your lung capacity." He sits up.

"I was laughing so hard I fainted," he says. "They say that happened a lot to people who saw this."

"Well, you scared the hell out of us," says Mr. Rosewood.

"Now you really have to tell us what you were thinking," says Amanda.

"That was the other nightmare I'd had," says Scott. "I dreamed that I woke up one morning and turned on the radio and all I could hear was screaming, no matter what station I turned to… and I knew it was the end of the world. It seemed a lot scarier at the time."

After that, the rest of the movie seems a little anticlimactic. In the middle of whatever town this is, barricades have been formed in the town square, with klieg lights behind them. Just as Jerry has delivered Anne to safety behind the barricades, he turns and sees Barrastis coming. They get into a fist fight. ("A hero scientist meets an evil wizard and they start boxing?" says Amanda.) Mr. Heath punches out Barrastis, who falls back into the darkness where the goblins swarm upon him.
 
JERRY
(voice-over)
And so the world ended, and the war began. We rule the day, but struggle to survive every night. They emerge from every dark corner, still hungering for our flesh. We fight them from our fortresses of light… and wait for the dawn to come.


"Well, as '50s horror movies go," says Mr. Rosewood, "that was a fairly original piece of work."

"I set out to make movie history," says Scott, "and damned if I didn't. There's Plan 9 from Outer Space, the movie that earned Ed Wood the title of 'Worst Director of All Time.' There's Manos — the Hands of Fate, which was so bad the cast and crew snuck out the back of the theater in shame… during the premiere. There's Heaven's Gate, the movie that wrecked United Artists. There's The Day the Clown Cried, which hardly anybody's ever even seen because the few copies of it are kept locked up in vaults like the last samples of smallpox. And… there's this.

"The lesson is, inside every horror movie there's a comedy waiting to get out. Whether you let it out or not is… mostly… up to you." He lets out a long breath.

"I was always one of those people who had a hard time taking a joke… at least if it was at my own expense. If I'd meant it to be tongue-in-cheek, it would have been one thing…"

"It probably wouldn't have been half as funny," says Mr. Rosewood.

"I know. I could handle setbacks, I could handle being ignored, but… making a fool of myself in front of the whole world… that was just too much." He turns to Justin.

"I'm sorry," he says. "I oughta be an inspiration to you. An example of what can happen if you keep trying and never let go of your dreams. Instead I'm a… cautionary tale."

"It's okay," says Justin.

Scott sighs again.

"Twenty-five years," he says. "In 25 years I never laughed at this movie. Not once. The few times I watched it all I could see was what it could have been, what I meant it to be…"

"Even without the damage the studio did," says Mr. Rosewood, "there was a good deal of ridiculousness that was… well…"

"My fault!" says Scott. "My fault! All my fault! Everything!" Scott took a deep sigh, leaned back on the sofa and smiled, like someone who had just set down a heavy backpack after a long, long hike.

"And damn, it feels good to admit that!"
EXT – HOTEL – DAY
The front of a large, luxurious hotel/convention center. It is about mid-afternoon, a bright and beautiful day.
 
NARRATOR
(voice-over)
The end of the world began, not in terror and darkness, but in innocence and light.
 
FADE TO:
INT – HOTEL – DAY
A corridor. A sign saying "INT'L INORGANIC CHEMISTRY ASSOC. CONVENTION" points down the hall.
 
NARRATOR
(cont'd.)
It began here, now, at this place…
 
FADE TO a conference room. Men in suits and lab coats are listening to DR. ECKELBERG, who is gesturing at a blackboard covered with complex diagrams of molecules.
 
NARRATOR
(cont')
…with this conference of learned men.

 
"That's Jonathan Almond's voice," says Scott. "He was Jerry Heath. Good guy."

The year is 1985. It is Justin's twelfth birthday, although his official birthday party won't be until Saturday. To celebrate, his friend Mr. Scott has agreed to preside over a private screening of his old messterpiece, Prints of Darkness, which has just been released on VHS — coincidentally, in time for its 25th anniversary.

His father and older sister are there as well. Picture them, grouped around the TV. Young Justin, with his ginger hair in all directions and his look of perpetual eagerness, holding the place of honor in front of the TV. Seated next to him on the sofa is Mr. Scott, sixty, sad-eyed and bald. His father, an urbane, well-dressed man of fifty, with a full head of white hair but no other sign of aging, standing behind them. And of course Amanda, nearly sixteen and already chiseled by the world's finest sculptors from a block of solid trouble, is standing back by the doorway, watching it all with her cold blue eyes.

First, some background: Justin Rosewood was never like other boys. Other boys go through stages where they want to be cowboys, superheroes, astronauts, Olympic athletes and so on. It takes them some time to work out what they really want to be when they grow up. Justin, on the other hand, had always known, even as a child. As soon as he realized that those wonderful things called "movies" didn't just happen — people somewhere actually went to work and made them — he knew exactly what he wanted to do, and from that day onward he never changed his mind.

Naturally, he read every book he could find on moviemaking, but he wanted more. He wanted his father to find some people who made movies so he could talk to them and find out how they do what they do. You'd think this would be easy in California, but it's a big state and not everybody there knows somebody in the movie industry. Those that are in the industry have enough trouble with people seeking autographs, seeking work, pitching script ideas, etc., without having to deal with inquisitive children.

As it happened, his father made the acquaintance of a director while running the U.S. consulate in Guadalajara. A porn director who called himself "Don Ezekiel" was shooting some scenes at Lake Chapala, and wanted to make sure he was obeying the local laws — or at least wasn't disobeying them in a way that would land him in trouble.

Tim Rosewood was a pretty open-minded guy, but "Don Ezekiel" was not the sort of man he would normally introduce to either of his children. But after an interview, he found that Donald Harvey Scott — for that was his real name — had once worked on more respectable movies.

Well, slightly more respectable. Scott had been assistant director on Werewolves of the Old West and The Car that Ate Women. No one would call these movies great art, but they were competently made B-movies and it was no shame to have been involved in them.

But then there was that other movie — the first one Scott directed. The one he hadn't mentioned because he didn't really want to talk about it. But Justin, being Justin, had found out about it anyway. Prints of Darkness, starring Jonathan Almond and Susan Black and directed by D. H. Scott, screenplay by D. H. Scott and Rex Greider, had been released in 1960 by Discernment Studios with the promise to audiences that "if you're not afraid of the dark… you will be!"

They weren't. Not only was it one of the most notoriously bad movies of the twentieth century, it was one of the few to constitute an actual public health hazard. There were so many cases of laughter-induced syncope at screenings of Prints that theaters found it saved time to keep a couple of nurses on standby in the lobby. It might not have been so bad if he had been able to pass it off as a comedy, but its tone was too sincere for that, and it was too different from other films of its kind to be interpreted as a parody. In short, this movie was the reason Scott spent the next quarter of a century directing (mostly) soft-core porn under the name "Don Ezekiel."

"Except for the establishing shot of the hotel," says Scott, "all the convention scenes were shot at this little community college on the morning of the third day of shooting. In the afternoon, we did the establishing shot for Dr. von Herzog's office there." (Of course, all this is long before the days of DVDs with directors' commentaries, and Web sites with production diaries, so having the director in their home to explain it all is even more of a privilege than usual — even if, some would say, the movie is hardly worth explaining.)
 
JERRY
(whose voice reveals him to be the narrator)
Dr. Eckelberg? I'm Dr. Gerald Heath. That was an excellent talk you just gave.
 
ECKELBERG
Thank you.
 
He has some kind of accent. It doesn't matter what kind. German, Yiddish, Russian, Swedish, French… whatever the actor is good at.
 
JERRY
You mentioned a chemical you had discovered that oxidizes instantly when exposed to light. Tell me, does it change visibly – change color, for example?
 
ECKELBERG
In theory, it should — but since the change is instantaneous, we cannot know. By the time we can see it, it has already oxidized. Why do you ask?
 
JERRY
I'm a research scientist with Lux Mundi.
 
ECKELBERG
I have heard of your company. It makes photographic film, yes?
 
JERRY
Yes. Of course, we're always on the lookout for new photoreactive chemicals.
 
ECKELBERG
Well, you would be hard put to find anything more photoreactive than this. However small the exposure, however dim the light, you may be sure the change will happen.
(beat)
Of course, for this very reason you must be careful to prepare the formula in absolute darkness.
 
JERRY
(smiling)
That won't be a problem. I've been blessed with a very good darkroom assistant.

 
"I'm sorry about Dr. Eckelberg," says Scott. "All I needed was an oldish man who could do a decent foreign accent. What I got was… the brother-in-law of one of the producers, who could do a bad Bela Lugosi impression."

"Bela Lugosi?" says Mr. Rosewood. "I thought that was supposed to be Inspector Clouseau."

"Yep, it could've gone either way."

"And was 'Dr. Eckelberg' a Great Gatsby reference, by any chance?"

"Yep. I was young and pretentious."

"What are those weird noises?" asks Justin. The opening credits are playing on a black screen, to the sound of generic creepy theremin music and odd noises in the background — liquids being poured, things being set down on tables.

"It was supposed to just be the sound of somebody working in a darkroom," says Scott. "Me, in fact — I got my start in photography before I got into movies."

"Like me?" said Justin, whose parents had given him his first camera when he was eight, and who was already a fairly good photographer.
"Yep. My original plan was to have an animated sequence of white lines on black showing the lab assistant doing her thing in the dark, but the animator got hired by Disney and didn't have time to work for me, so I went with the black screen.

"But then the studio said, 'What is this? We start out with these two guys talking shop at the Inorganic Chemistry whatever and cut to darkness and random noises? This is a horror movie, right?' So they decided to replace it with the theremin. Somehow the instructions got all mixed up and we ended up with both at once."

 "Well," says Justin, "except for the end-of-the-world stuff… that was kind of…"

"Boring? Unpromising?" says Scott. "I know. There's a reason why I put in the voice-over at the beginning. Had to give 'em a reason to stay in the theater.

"Now get ready to feast your eyes on Susan Black. The last of the old-time classic beauties — they don't make 'em like that any more. And — never mind how I found this out, but" — he winks at Justin — "she's a real blonde."

The lady emerges from the darkroom, and she is everything he said she was. Her face is lovely, and although her lab coat over a dark A-line dress offer very few hints about her body, those few hints are tantalizing. Her hair is light blond, but her eyes are a very dark brown. Even in black and white, the effect is striking.

In a moment that looks completely unscripted, she trips over a wastebasket and falls down.
 
MELISSA
I'm sorry! I forgot! Miss Martine, are you all right?
 
ANNE
(getting up, not looking directly at Melissa)
I'm fine.
(beat)
But, Melissa… this is the third time you've left something out of place for me to trip over.
 
MELISSA
I'm not doing it on purpose, I swear. I just… keep forgetting exactly where things are supposed to be.
(beat)
I'm sorry, Miss Martine. I've never worked for anybody who's… who's…
 
ANNE
I think the word you're looking for is "blind."
(beat)
I can manage well enough, as long as everything is exactly where it should be.

 
"Did she — I mean the big fat cleaning lady — was she supposed to have done that on purpose?" asks Mr. Rosewood. The woman in question is kind of cute, but at least a hundred pounds heavier than the leading lady, not to mention hopelessly wooden. "I've had people working for me who found little ways of messing up my day."

"Nope," says Scott. "I admit it's hard to tell — she wasn't much of an actress. Not like Susan — notice how she never makes eye contact with anybody, and never looks straight at anything? For a sighted person, that's a hard trick.

"When I was a boy, I was paid to look in on a blind lady that lived down the street.  Truth is, though, she didn't need a lot of caretaking. But for obvious reasons, everything had to be in just the right place."

"Susan Black," says Mr. Rosewood. "Is that her real name?"

"Nope. She was born Eloïse Loweree. Susan Black is just her stage name. Like the flower — black-eyed Susan."

"What happened to her, anyway? I've never seen her in any other movies."

"She moved on to the stage. You should have seen her do Blanche DuBois back in '78."

At this point, Dr. Heath comes in and asks Anne if anything's wrong. She smiles and says no, obviously not really wanting to get Melissa in trouble. Dr. Heath hands her the new formula, with instructions he translated into Braille on the way back. She runs her fingers over the pages, still looking at Dr. Heath, and promises she'll have the filmstock ready by Wednesday. ("I guess she's a Braille speed-reader," says Scott ruefully.)

Once the film is ready, Jerry uses it to photograph Anne in various alluring poses, in a bikini or other skimpy outfits. (This doesn't do a lot to advance the action, but nobody complains. In fact, Justin is being pulled further and further into puberty even as he watches. "For a blind chick, she sure knows how to put on her makeup," says Amanda.) With each shot, he closes a blind, turns off a lamp or unscrews a flashbulb, lowering the light by just so much.

In the next scene, the film has apparently been developed, and Jerry's friend Dwight, a fat, balding man with a silly mustache and a threadbare suit, is operating the projector.

"I know where I've seen those guys!" says Justin. "They were the two cops in The Car that Ate Women."

"Yep. I'd worked with Jon and Larry before and they had good chemistry and screen presence, so I thought I'd try giving 'em a starring role. Whatever else might've gone wrong, they didn't disappoint me."

At the moment, they themselves look disappointed, and no wonder — as they go through the slides, all they can see is one solid white screen after another.
 
DWIGHT
Well… you win some, you lose some.
(3 beats)
There was never any guarantee that this was going to work.
 
ANNE
I followed the formula exactly. Something may have gone wrong when I adapted it to a photo emulsion.
 
JERRY
I'm sure it wasn't your fault.
 
DWIGHT
The worst part is, Mr. MacIntyre is going to be here next week. Between what you paid this Eckelberg guy and what you spent on the raw materials, he's going to want to know what we've got to show for all this money.
Are you going to look at all of them?
 
JERRY
I want to be certain before I have to write this off as a loss.
Anyway, this is the last… hmmm.
 
DWIGHT
Hmmm what?
 
JERRY
In this one… am I seeing things, or can you make out details?
 
DWIGHT
Maybe.
 
JERRY
Look, there's her eyes… there's her jacket and skirt… I didn't really believe this last shot would work — the light was much too low for conventional film — but this looks more like a bad overexposure…
(2 beats)
You know what I think? I think Dr. Eckelberg wasn't exaggerating. I think his chemical is a lot more sensitive than I expected.
(turns to Anne)
How soon can you make another roll of film?
 
ANNE
There's already one. I had enough chemicals on hand to make two… so I did, just in case.
 
JERRY
Annie, you are one of the great hidden treasures of the earth. I'll take a second set of photos, starting tonight. Let's see how good this stuff really is.

 
"You know, Jon's about the only one of these guys to come out of this debacle with his movie career in one piece," says Scott. "He's appeared in forty or fifty different films since then. All of 'em bad. But he eats, and he keeps a roof over his head. Larry Moore — the guy who played Dwight — got some bit parts in a few other movies, but he died back in… I think it was '71. Heart failure.

"All these scenes of Lux Mundi were cheap and easy to shoot — simple backdrops, some basic furniture, a few props… mostly just the actors and the camera."

The second set of photos, taken in much deeper darkness, turn out as clear as daylight. "Of course, most of 'em really were taken in daylight," says Scott. "I used filters and lighting tricks to make 'em look a little strange."

"That sounds like a lot of work," says Justin.

"Yep," says Scott. "Making all the photos — these and others — was the longest part of making the movie. Half of 'em I took before it was even greenlit, just so I'd have 'em ready."
 
JERRY
This last photo was taken inside my landlady's basement between three and four a.m. Lighting conditions were as near to pitch blackness as I've ever… seen…
 
His voice trails off as he looks at the photo.
When we see the photo, there is an unhappy-looking old man standing in the shadows at the back, looking at the camera.
 
DWIGHT
So who's this guy?
 
JERRY
I don't know. I'm certain I was alone down there… and I can't say I recognize his face, either.
 
DWIGHT
What would he be doing in a pitch-dark basement in the middle of the night?
 
JERRY
Good question.
 
DWIGHT
Glad you think so. Here's another one — are you going to show this photo to Mr. MacIntyre?
 
JERRY
Good question. (laughs)
It depends on his attitude. If he's at all half-hearted or reluctant to try to market this new film, the last thing I want to do is tell him that a strange flaw showed up in one of the prints.
 
DWIGHT
The first week you came to work here, I knew I'd be working for you one day.
(beat)
But what do you think this is?
 
JERRY
Looks like your basic double exposure. I don't recognize the image, but think about it — if someone accidentally gave our Anne a used piece of film to convert to the new formula… how would she know?

 
"Is that how you made it?" says Justin. "A double exposure?"

"No, dummy, he found a real haunted basement," says Amanda, who has never seen the movie but can already tell where this is going.

"Yes," says Scott. "The other photo was of our props man standing against a matte black background on the soundstage — that made the whole picture darker. For the astronomy photo, I just took black construction paper, poked lots of little holes in just the right places and put it up over a window."

Those photos are what Jerry concentrates on when showing off the film to Mr. MacIntyre, an older man in an expensive-looking suit.
 
JERRY
This is from the best photo currently available of the constellation Coma Berenices… and this is a photo I took last night of that same constellation, using film treated with the Eckelberg formula. Look at all that detail!
(beat)
Imagine what a real astronomer could do with this film. Imagine what astronomers would pay to get their hands on it.
 
MACINTYRE
(skeptically)
How much money do astronomers have to begin with? They're not looking for oil up there, you know.
 
JERRY
Look at these photos of the wilderness at night. Never before in history have human eyes seen this kind of detail in such low light. It's a whole new way of looking at the world. Every amateur and professional photographer alive will want to join in the adventure.
 
MACINTYRE
What you're describing sounds like a fad. Fads come and go. One can make a certain amount of money off them, but I was hoping for a more permanent benefit.
 
JERRY
How about… military applications?
(beat)
Spies? Scouts? Reconnaissance aircraft? Don't you think they could find a use for this? A contract or two with the Pentagon would do us a lot of good.
 
MACINTYRE
Perhaps.
(getting up)
I'll discuss this with the rest of the board. You may possibly have something that could earn us some money here.

 
"I realize it's kind of pointless to ask logical questions about a movie's plot," says Mr. Rosewood, "but… what's wrong with this guy? First of all, as I understand it, the company already paid for the formula on spec. If they own it, they better make the most of it. Second, Mr. MacIntyre and the rest of the board should be singing and dancing and carrying the hero and all his assistants around on their shoulders. Including the fat ones. I mean, this would be a huge money-maker. Even I can see that."

"But then wouldn't he have to tell them about the ghost?" says Justin. "I mean, I know he doesn't know it's a ghost yet, but…"

"There you have it," says Scott. "Rex and I had to make Mr. MacIntyre a little leery of the whole thing, even to the point of maybe not being the world's greatest businessman. That's something you want to watch out for, by the way — it's all very well to have a 'character-driven' plot, but when you've got a plot that only works if all the characters are bone-dumb, you've got a problem. The establishing shot for this next scene, by the way, was of my Aunt Delphine's place in Sacramento."

The next scene is in the parlor of the boardinghouse where Jerry lives. His landlady is pretty much your standard Sweet Old Lady from Central Casting.
 
JERRY
(handing her a check)
Here you are, Mrs. Collins. Another month's rent.
 
MRS. COLLINS
Prompt as usual, Mr. Heath.
 
JERRY
Soon, I hope, I'll be able to afford a house of my own. If the board makes the right decision — which I can't imagine they wouldn't — Lux Mundi is going places, and Anne and I will have first-class seats. And speaking of Anne…
 
He takes out a little jewelry box, opens it, and looks at the diamond ring inside.
 
It's a shame she'll never see this. I just hope she thinks it feels good. I hope she… I hope…
 
He bites his lip. He's very, very nervous about this.
 
MRS. COLLINS
I'm sure she'll say yes, but… do you really think she can be a wife? Look after your children?
 
JERRY
I don't know… but I've seen her do a lot of things I never thought she could do. You could say I've learned not to bet against her.
Anyway, with enough money we'll be able to hire a nanny if we need one.
 
MRS. COLLINS
I suppose I just think your good looks are wasted on her.
 
JERRY
I've got a question to ask you, Mrs. Collins.
(reaching into his jacket)
I took this photo in your basement, a few nights ago.
 
MRS. COLLINS
I wondered what you were doing down there.
 
He hands her the photo.
 
JERRY
No one else I've talked to seems to know who this man is. Do you recognize him?
 
MRS. COLLINS
If this is a joke, it's in very poor taste, Mr. Heath.
 
JERRY
I don't understand.
 
MRS. COLLINS
I knew this old man. He was one of my tenants.
(2 beats)
He hanged himself in my basement the year before you moved in.

 
"Wow, I didn't see that coming a mile away," says Amanda.

"Hush, child," says her father.
 
The phone rings. The landlady picks it up.
 
MRS. COLLINS
Hello?
(6-beat pause)
May I ask who's calling, please?
(4-beat pause)
It's for you.
(handing him the phone) It's a… Mister MacIntyre.
 
JERRY
Hello?
 
MACINTYRE
(V.O.)
Dr. Heath?
 
SPLIT SCREEN — Jerry holding the phone on the right, Mr. MacIntyre sitting at his desk on the left.
 
MACINTYRE
(cont'd.)
I've spoken to the rest of the board. They say this sounds good.
 
JERRY
That's great!
 
MACINTYRE
Our factories in Baltimore and Seattle say they can be ready to make the film in bulk within two weeks. Then it's just a matter of getting the word out.
Before we begin, is there anything we should know?
 
There is a long pause while Jerry tries to decide what to say.
 
MACINTYRE
Hello? You still there?
 
JERRY
Sorry. I'm thinking.
What I'm thinking is… this is still a very new product. Just on general principles, we should offer people an address to send any photos with… unexpected flaws… along with a description of where and when the picture was taken, what sort of camera they were using… just so we can refine it and improve it if we have to.
 
MACINTYRE
Are you expecting any problems?
 
JERRY
No, but it never hurts to be prepared.
 
MACINTYRE
I like the way you think. We need someone to be project manager for the Eckelberg formula — marketing it, refining it, finding more uses for it. I think you just talked yourself into a job.
 
JERRY
Thank you, sir.
 
MACINTYRE
In addition to a raise, this will come with a big package of stock options. Our good fortune will be yours.
 
Jerry smiles… but after a moment, his smile disappears, to be replaced by a troubled expression.
 
FADE TO:
 
INT — JERRY'S BEDROOM – NIGHT
Jerry lies awake. Over the course of the following VOICE-OVER, we FADE TO him getting up, sitting on the edge of his bed, pacing the room, staring out the window and getting back into bed.
 
JERRY
(V.O.)
Why did I lie? Why did I not tell him the truth, show him what I had found?
Greed and ambition… even the honest ambition of becoming a man with a home and a wife…
Cowardice… fear of being thought a madman by my own employers…
But in my own defense I must say there was more to it than that.
I was a scientist — and not a theoretical scientist, but one in search of practical applications. My business was with chemicals and light — physical phenomena. Metaphysics and spiritual matters had never before intruded on my domain… and I had never missed them.
In short, I did not believe in ghosts. I never had, and I wasn't quite ready to start. Not then.
But in the end, why I did it didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was the consequences.

 
"Not exactly your typical mad scientist, is he?" says Mr. Rosewood. "I mean, he seems like a decent guy with reasonable motives. He's not all 'bwoo-hoo-ha-ha-ha, soon I shall rule the universe'… did you want to present scientists in a better light than usual?"

"I suppose that would've been fair. I mean, they give us all this stuff…" Scott waves at the VCR, the TV and the rest of the appliances in the room. "And how do we thank 'em? We make 'em look like cackling looneybirds trying to breed a super-race of mutant hamster-men.

"Truth is, it just never occurred to us. There was no need for any of these guys to be evil, so… they weren't. There's only one real human villain, and he doesn't show up until later. The studio kept trying to get us to throw in some character who was screaming about people tampering in God's domain or something, but we didn't see any need for that either."

"How did you come up with this story?" asks Justin.

"I didn't — not by myself. It was Rex who did most of it.

"I met him at a party. I was running around, looking for the right script, and he said he had an idea for a great horror movie. His idea was more or less what you've seen so far — someone invents a new, super-sensitive type of film for taking pictures in the dark, but when they use it, ghosts start showing up in the prints. All he wanted from me was help making the script a little more accurate — he didn't know anything about photography.

"But his real problem was that he only had the start of an idea. The ghosts show up, but what happens then? What do they do? He didn't know.

"As it happens, I had… not really ideas, but images stuck in my head… a couple of nightmares I'd had. So we sat up all night drinking coffee and brainstorming, and by morning we decided we had the makings of a script. That's how it began." He sighed. "We really thought this would be one of the great works of horror."

"You know, until he whipped the ring out," says Mr. Rosewood, "I had no idea that the hero and the blind lady were anything more than co-workers."

"I know," says Scott. "There were a couple of other scenes between them, but they got cut — didn't advance the action enough, the studio said. There were also a couple of scenes with Dwight Simmons and his family. Those got cut too, so this coming scene is the first time you'll meet them.

"Speaking of the next scene, I have to admit it didn't turn out the way I intended. We had permission to shoot the outside of the restaurant, but the inside would have cost a lot more and taken too long to arrange. We had all the right furniture, but we went through all the backdrops and couldn't find a good one. So we used a boring one and turned the lights down so nobody would notice. We realized too late that we'd turned them down too far."

Dwight, his wife and son, Jerry and Anne are sitting around a table. The only light comes from a pair of tiny candles, which light all their faces from below. It looks like they're dining out in a haunted-house-themed restaurant.

"Wooooooooh, spoo-ooky dinner," says Justin.

"It looks like the power went out," says Amanda.

"We should have used bigger candles," says Scott.
 
JUNIOR
What's this?
 
ANNE
Pan-seared sweetbreads.
 
JUNIOR
It looks really gross.
 
MRS. SIMMONS
Junior!
 
ANNE
(smugly)
That, my little friend, is very much more your problem than mine.
(to Jerry)
I only wish we could eat like this more often.
 
JERRY
I wish we could afford to.
(beat)
Soon we'll be able to afford all sorts of things.
 
ANNE
"We." You use that word a lot these days.
 
JERRY
I hope that's not a complaint.
 
ANNE
On the contrary — I like hearing you say it.

 
"I was told there'd be horror," says Amanda. "Don't people get eaten in this movie? When does it start?"

"Pretty soon," says Justin, "but we have to get through the mushy stuff first."

Then Jerry and Anne are standing outside the restaurant.
 
JERRY
When I first met you, I… I have to admit I pitied you. Then… when I saw how good you were at your work, I felt nothing but admiration for you. Now… now there's more to it than that.
Working alongside you has been one of the great privileges of my life. I'd like to work with you… my whole life.
 
ANNE
What are you saying?
 
JERRY
I'm saying I love you. I'm saying there's no other woman I'd rather spend the rest of my days with. I'm saying…
 
He kneels down in front of her and holds the box with the ring in front of him.
 
JERRY
Reach out.
 
She reaches out to the sound of his voice, and touches his face. Her hands run down his shoulders, and she finds his extended right arm. Her fingers run up his arm to his hand. She finds the box and opens it. Her fingers feel the diamond and trace the ring. Her face lights up.
 
ANNE
I… never dared to imagine…
 
JERRY
Will you marry me?
 
ANNE
Yes. Yes.

 
"I know why you did that," says Justin.

"What?"

"Focusing the camera in real tight on her fingers, when she was doing that. You were trying to show us her point of view. Well, not view, but… um… what it seemed like to her."

"You really do have an eye for this stuff, don't you?" says Scott.

"I should hope so," says his father. "He's read enough books."

"Good for you," Scott says to Justin. "The mushy stuff is now over. From here on, it's all looming dread gradually building into stark, quivering terror. At least that was the plan."

At last, the Eckelberg film has been made, sold and shipped everywhere under the brand name "Nightfilm." One day, Dwight and Anne come down into the lab's basement to find Jerry, clutching a handful of photos, looking troubled. "For reasons you'll see in a minute, I needed a real location for this scene," says Scott. "I used the same basement I took the ghost shot in. Decorated it a bit so nobody'd notice. At least I hope they didn't."
 
DWIGHT
What's on your mind?
 
JERRY
"I am thy father's spirit/Doomed for a certain term to walk the night/And for the day confined to fast in fires/Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature/Are burnt and purged away."
 
DWIGHT
Huh?
 
JERRY
Hamlet. Shakespeare.
(beat)
I'm just trying to understand what I'm seeing. Trying to think of a way to explain it to myself.
(2 beats)
Look at this one.
 
He shows Dwight a photo of a young man in a leather jacket and his girlfriend standing by the side of a mountain road.
There is a one-column newspaper article held to the photo with a paper clip.
 
JERRY (cont'd.)
From Roanoke, Virginia… Keith Kilgore and Renee Freeland. Died in a motorcycle crash on June 13, 1958 at this very spot. Photographed at 2:45 a.m. on June 4 of this year.
 
He hands Dwight a photo of a middle-aged cowboy in a western-looking landscape. A handwritten note is clipped to it.
 
JERRY (cont'd.)
From a ranch in Colorado… say hello to John Mulberry, 1889-1937… thrown from a horse. This was taken by his grandson last week.
 
He shows Dwight a photo of a beach. There is a row of intense lights in the distance — meant to be a city — and a beautiful woman in the foreground wearing a ruffled, corseted dress, a fringed shawl and a broad-brimmed hat with feathers on it. Several old newspaper and magazine articles are clipped to the photo.
 
JERRY (cont'd.)
From a Long Island beach… this is believed to be the socialite Duplissey Morgan, who was killed by her husband in a jealous rage back in 1911.

 
"Now if you stop the tape at just… the right moment," says Scott, "here… we… go…" One of the newspaper articles discussing the Duplissey Morgan murder has the subhead "Outraged Husband: 'I Caught Her With the Paperboy'."

"Oh my god," says Justin.

"Anyone ever tell you about the Hays Code? It was like the MPAA ratings, only much worse. That was my little one-finger salute to it. Went by too fast for them to see it, of course. It's the little things that help you keep your self-respect. This next shot is why I filmed this scene on location."

In the next shot, Jerry gestures at something off-screen, and Dwight turns to look. The camera rotates to slowly reveal just how many such photos are pinned to the bulletin boards — dozens of them, each with a tag saying where it came from, some with letters or clippings attached. "Much more effective than just cutting to the bulletin boards," says Scott, "but we couldn't do it on a soundstage. We needed a place to turn the camera around."
 
JERRY
These are just the ones I've had time to inspect — confirm they're not fake. I've got a backlog of hundreds, from all over the country — and soon we'll be shipping the film overseas. God knows what we'll get then.
 
ANNE
How far back do they go?
 
JERRY
What do you mean?
 
ANNE
You said one of them was of a woman who was killed in 1911. Are there any of people that died even earlier?
 
JERRY
Most of them seem to be from the twentieth century, but there are a few from earlier — Civil War battlefields and so on. I haven't gotten any from further back than that.
(beat)
Which is kind of a relief. I'd hate to think we all spend eternity hanging around in the dark looking ghostly.
 
ANNE
Perhaps these aren't really departed souls. Perhaps they're only a kind of… scar… left on the face of reality by the violence of death.
 
JERRY
I'd like to believe that. Trouble is… in all these shots, they're always looking at the camera. They're conscious… and thinking… and they know we can see them now.
(beat)
And that isn't even the bad part.
 
ANNE
What do you mean?
 
Jerry opens his suitcase and takes out a folder stuffed full of photos and notes.
 
JERRY
At least ghosts are human… or were. These other things… I don't think they were ever human to begin with.
 
DWIGHT
What other things?
 
JERRY
A lot of them just look like patches of shadow. Like in this photo, taken by a Boy Scout troop hiking in the Adirondacks.
 
He shows a photo of small, dark, indistinct shapes among the trees.
 
Others are very clear indeed. This photo came from a military flight into foreign airspace… it doesn't say where — I assume that's classified.
Anne, it's sort of hard to describe. It's a kind of flying wheel thing covered with eyes and wings.
 
As he speaks, we see the photo.
 
JERRY
It doesn't look like a flying saucer. It looks more… alive… but not like anything I've ever seen. I got another shot of something similar from Palomar Observatory.
Then there's this thing with all the heads…
 
We see a photo of what looks like a seven-headed cat with wings and glowing eyes lurking in an alley.
 
JERRY
A cop on stakeout in Philadelphia took this.
 
DWIGHT
Now that's what I call weird.
 
JERRY
You think that's strange, you should see the things getting their pictures taken in Arkham, Massachusetts.
 
"You've read Lovecraft!" says Justin.
"Nope." says Scott. "Not much, anyway. Rex was the Lovecraft fan. We all got different tastes — I like writers with a little more dialogue." Justin looks a little disappointed at this, but says nothing.
 
DWIGHT
What scares me is, the people sending you all this stuff… sooner or later they're gonna start going public. Then we'll all have some explaining to do. And they'd have done it by now if you hadn't told them to send it to you instead.
 
JERRY
I didn't do it to cover this up. I did it because I thought it was my responsibility to figure out what was going on.
(beat)
I have to admit, though… I'm in over my head here.
 
ANNE
Do you know of anyone who could help? Someone whose judgment you trust?
 
JERRY
When I was in college, there was a theology professor… a Doctor von Herzog. I was looking for a course that wasn't science, just to round out my studies, and someone recommended him to me.
(beat)
He was a very wise man… If I were to show these to anyone, it would be him.
I'd have to take a couple of days off to visit him.
 
DWIGHT
I think everyone will agree that you've earned it.

 
The actor playing "Doctor von Herzog" has a faint but noticeable German accent which is a good deal more authentic-sounding than that of "Dr. Eckelberg." He is about fifty, and the scars on his face are — even in black and white — obviously not makeup. Apart from that, he looks like a sort of poor man's Max von Sydow.

"Martin Kuenstler used to be a big star in Germany," explains Mr. Scott. "During the Nazi era he made some compromises… okay, he appeared in some propaganda movies that were maybe a little nastier than they needed to be… and then he got a little scarred in the last bombing of Berlin… and afterwards, he pretty much had to take work where he could get it. Finally, he was reduced to doing business with the likes of me."
 
VON HERZOG
To be quite honest, Gerald, my first thought would be that these people were attempting to perpetrate some sort of fraud.
 
JERRY
In the first place, professor, these shots — some of them anyway — are being mailed in by some fairly respectable people. Astronomers, army officers… not the sort of people you'd expect to play games like that.
 
VON HERZOG
Oh, you'd be surprised. I've seen more than my share of… contrived miracles… and some of them came from people you would swear were of the utmost probity.
 
JERRY
No doubt you're right — but, Professor, I came here because I trust your wisdom. I hope in turn, you will trust my expertise. If these were fakes, I would know, and I wouldn't travel all this way to show them to you.
 
VON HERZOG
I meant no offense. If you're willing to vouch for their authenticity, then I'm willing to believe you… it's just that I'm not used to dealing with real physical evidence. On the big question — the question of God — either everything is evidence or nothing is, depending on how you look at it.
(beat)
These, on the other hand, definitely constitute evidence… but of what? That is the question.
(beat)
At the very least, they are evidence of the existence of some form of Hereafter — and one not entirely separate from this world, but at least partially intertwined with it… connections forming in the places where people die, or the places that meant the most to them in life.
 
JERRY
I can handle the idea of ghosts, but… some of what's in those shots doesn't look like anything I remember hearing about in Sunday school. Have you guys been holding out on us or something?
 
VON HERZOG
Not at all. It occurs to me now how little we can claim to know — even we Christians — of the world to come. We have been told of God, heaven and hell, angels and devils, the saved and the damned… and that's about it. Some writers — Dante, for instance — have tried to flesh the matter out a bit, but their works are not considered canonical by any church I know of.
Now if you heard someone describe this world as "humans, animals and plants, land and sea…" wouldn't you feel that a certain amount of detail had been lost?
 
JERRY
If I understand correctly, what you're saying is that the next world might be as… complex and intricate as this one.
 
VON HERZOG
I would hope that it is infinitely more so, if we are to be there forever.

 
On the way home, our hero turns on the car radio and hears "A spokesman for Lux Mundi had no comment on the reports of Nightfilm customers finding ghostly images in their photographs." "I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later," he says to himself.

At the door, Dwight greets him with a stack of newspapers with stories about the Nightfilm images. (For budget reasons, we only see the top one, which carries the story "THINGS THAT SAY 'CHEESE' IN THE NIGHT.") "The good news is, I think I've found a way to make Nightfilm for motion pictures," he says. "The bad news is, Mr. MacIntyre wants to see you… downstairs."

Jerry's boss is in the room with all the photos, thumbing through the various files.
 
MACINTYRE
Dr. Heath… I don't know whether to fire you or promote you again.
(beat)
You could have had the decency to warn me.
 
JERRY
I didn't know how to tell you… and I wasn't sure you'd believe it.
 
MACINTYRE
I don't appreciate being lied to. Especially by someone I've invested so much trust in.
 
JERRY
I'm sorry. If there's any way I can make amends…
 
MACINTYRE
The good news is, thanks to all this publicity, Nightfilm is selling better than ever. We can't manufacture it fast enough.
The bad news is… some of us have reputations to think about — reputations which are frankly not compatible with… whatever all this is.
 
JERRY
With all due respect, Mr. MacIntyre… you're a businessman. I'm a scientist. Being associated in any way with claims of the supernatural will do much more harm to my reputation than yours.
 
MACINTYRE
Well, then, I have some very bad news indeed for you. I've called a press conference for this afternoon, at which you will personally answer all the questions.

 
"Again, when does the horror start?" asks Amanda. "Shouldn't somebody be getting disemboweled right now?"

"Are you kidding?" says Mr. Rosewood. "A press conference where you have to explain this? Now that's what I call a horror story."
 
INT — PRESS ROOM – DAY
About what you'd expect. A podium in the front, a horde of reporters filling the room, flashbulbs and hubbub. Jerry stands at the podium, trying not to look nervous.
 
JERRY
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Dr. Gerald Heath. I'll be answering your questions as best I can.
To begin with, a number of people have come forward to say that they have found… disturbing images in photographs taken at night with Lux Mundi's Nightfilm. Now, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize personally to any of our customers who feel less than satisfied with this product. However, I must emphasize that there is no reason to believe that there is any danger, either to those who purchased and used Nightfilm or to anyone else.
Now. Are there any questions?
 
FIRST REPORTER
Do you believe these pictures are genuine?
 
JERRY
I've personally inspected many of these photos, and I have yet to find one that shows any sign of having been tampered with.
 
SECOND REPORTER
So you're saying we can photograph the dead now?
 
JERRY
No. If you go over my words, you'll find I have been very careful not to say any such thing.
(beat)
All I have been saying is that strange images are appearing in photographs. Now, whether you believe these images are ghosts or goblins or tricks of the light… they are definitely images. That much cannot be denied, and it is as much as I am willing to say.
 
THIRD REPORTER
To your knowledge, has anyone succeeded in using this film to communicate with any of these… images?
 
JERRY
No. At the end of the day, this is just film. All it can do is take pictures of whatever is there.
And as for communicating… that would imply there was something there to communicate with — which, again, is more than I am prepared to say.
 
FADE TO MONTAGE of Jerry talking, lightbulbs flashing, reporters asking questions, Jerry shaking his head.
 
JERRY
(V.O.)
It went on like that until dinnertime — the same stupid questions asked again and again a hundred different ways, as if somehow if they just asked the right way, they could coax a different answer out of me. It was like a nightmare.
No. No, it wasn't. That was what I thought at the time… but that night was when I, like everyone else, started learning what nightmares really were.
"Treat It Like A War"
"You're hearing that slogan a lot these days — 'treat it like a war.' That is to say, instead of asking if carbon reduction and capture can be made more profitable than business-as-usual, treat them as something important that we need to do, for our own sake and the sake of future generations, whether it's profitable or not. Nobody ever did a cost-benefit analysis of Gettysburg or D-Day. When FDR said 'Hey, Ford, Chrysler, GM, let's start building tanks and planes,' you never heard anybody blather about 'distorting the market' or 'the government picking winners and losers.'
"At the same time, what we know is that, even in war and even in the military, that sort of thinking can lead to some very bad decisions. A general says 'I don't care how many lives it costs, I want that hill' and you get the Battle of Fredericksburg. People in procurement say 'Hang the expense, we want this' and before you know it you're spending hundreds of dollars on a screwdriver. "
"The other day I turned down some guys who wanted funding for a fusion project. Did they have a good idea? I don't know. I'm not a physicist. If some other country brings a fusion power plant online, great. I have to concentrate on things that we already know will work.
"And even that can be surprisingly complicated. Case in point — every time somebody installs solar panels or fiber-optic lighting in their home or office, that's good. Energy efficiency, reduced consumption… what's not to like? But every time somebody does that, it becomes harder for the local utility to make a profit, which is a problem if they're trying to switch over to solar or wind. The old way of thinking was, if times are getting tougher, well, renewables would be nice, but coal and gas are more of a sure thing. The new way of thinking is, if renewable aren't more profitable, we'll just have to make them more profitable. See, that was the sort of thing you couldn't say before…"

--an interview with the U.S. Energy Secretary


Adaptation and Mitigation
"Fifty degrees Centigrade. Three damn weeks.
"You can't go outside during the day — not without a couple gallons of chilled water which you're supposed to be conserving. You can't drive anywhere — the streets have melted. Even when they're cool enough to be solid, they look like somebody put Salvador Dalí in charge of a road crew.
"So anything you have do to, you do at night, on foot. Businesses, city offices… everybody's changed their hours. I used to be the sort of woman who would build her plans for the day around not having to cross a parking lot alone at night. Now I go shopping at 3 a.m. and think nothing of it. It's a lot less dangerous with everybody else doing the same thing.
"Anyone vulnerable to heatstroke is supposed to be evacuated to Darwin or Adelaide. There's about an 8-to-10-hour window at night when these people can go outside long enough to do this. Using small planes. Big ones can't land, because the tarmac at the airport has melted. Forget the train — the tracks are buckled in a dozen places.
"Early afternoon is the worst. You're supposed to be asleep by then. Not lying awake listening to the AC running full blast and thinking 'What if it breaks down? What if the power goes out? What if some vital piece of machinery turns out not to have been designed for this kind of heat?'"

--Blog post from Alice Springs, January 18, 2028

"The test areas are the Sea of Okhotsk, this area east of Kamchatka, Bristol Bay and the waters south of Kodiak Island. Over the course of May, the U.S., Russia and Japan are going to be putting about 10,000 tons of iron dust in each of those areas. That adds up to about the same amount of iron that Mount Pinatubo put in the ocean in '91. It's also forty percent of what the nations of the world are authorized to use by the U.N. The rest will be used around the southern ocean in November.
"These areas in particular were chosen because they were high in silicic acid, which encourages the growth of diatoms. So our hope is that the carbon they absorb will sink to the bottom of the ocean and stay there for a very long time."

--CNN, April 29, 2028


An Interview with the Richest Woman in the World
Q: Yours is one of those rags-to-riches stories that hardly ever happen in real life. Ten years ago you were at MIT, living on ramen noodles—
A: Which were a lot cheaper back then.
Q: And now you're the chair and CEO of De L'Air Diamonds.
A: I've been the chair and CEO since 2021. Of course, back then corporate headquarters was my dad's garage. As you can see [gesturing towards the view from the 90th-floor window of 1WTC] we've made some progress since then.
Back then, carbon sequestration was in its early stages. It was actually a big question — once we take the carbon out of the air, what do we do with it all? It can be pretty useful stuff under the right circumstances. Some parts of the world they're burying it with some other stuff, turning it into terra preta, but that seems to work best in the tropics.
Well, of course, what's a diamond made of? Carbon. So, I put together a proposal on one of those crowdsourcing investment sites, me and some of my friends bought some of those artificial trees and… we were off.
Q: The name "De L'Air Diamonds." It's a beautiful French name. Do you have any French ancestry or heritage or anything?
A: No. 
Q: The technology to make artificial diamonds has been around for a long time, and people have tried and failed many times to bring them into the market. What did you do differently?
A: A couple of things. First, there are certain situations where people actually want to spend as much money as they can afford, because that's their way of showing how much they care. Coffins are one example — nobody wants to lay their loved ones to rest in a cheap-ass plywood box. Another example is jewelry. Nobody wants to be the guy saying "Will you marry me? I got this ring for fifty bucks!"
So you charge too little and people won't want to buy it. Charge too much and you'll price half your customers out of the market. The big boys in the business put a lot of mathematicians and market analysts to work trying to find the sweet spot on the curve. What I did was to look at what they were charging, then charge just a little bit less than that and say "And it's eco-friendly!" That way, I get more people who can afford it, and knowing you helped save the world a little bit makes up for buying something cheaper. "For your future. For her future. For all our futures."
So that was what we did the first couple of years. Then we introduced colored gemstones, which we sold for about as much as our competitors were charging for clear ones. It took a while to get the colors right, but we could afford to use up a lot of carbon on experiments. Anything we ruin, we sell as industrial grit. We started with subtle colors — the Moonlight, Snowshadow and Horizon lines, really delicate blues. Also the Champagne line, but we discontinued that one because customers said the color reminded them of pee. The trick was to make them better than mined diamonds — but not too much better. We didn't want it to look like costume jewelry.
It's only this year that we're coming out with stronger colors. Like the Joyeuse — doesn't this blue make you think of the sky on a perfect wedding day? Or these deeper blues, the Everest and the Empyrean. Or these nice rich yellow-oranges… Aztec, Hearthfire, Pacific Sunset.
Q: Of course, you've had your share of opposition.
A: Yeah, De Beers is crying in de beers right now. This year we've officially passed them in market share. One of their employees actually said "I hope she gives birth to a cactus." [Laughs] I think he's working for me now.
See, at first they treated it like a gimmick. Then, when they realized they were losing serious market share, they tried to make it illegal for us to call what we were selling "diamonds." In the U.S., they spent God knows how much money lobbying Congress. We just asked for judicial review… and the Supremes ruled in our favor. What they said was — I'm paraphrasing — "If De L'Air were lying about where their product came from or how they made it, that would concern us. But they're putting it right there in the ads. It's free speech."
So then they started fighting back — running ads like "Is that a real diamond?" They had guys going into their long, proud history and traditions — "My family's been in the diamond business for generations! My great-great-great-great-grandfather burned three African villages and pulled a guinea worm out of Cecil Rhodes's taint!" — or whatever it was they said. But the more they tried, the more publicity they drew down on themselves — business practices, how they were treating diamond miners… Basically, the press said we were the underdog, the market said we were the hot new trend, and everybody said we're helping save the earth. That's a pretty good position to be in.
Q: Speaking of publicity, that "Wear the Air" campaign…
A: What about it?
Q: Tell us something about the creative process that gave rise to it.
A: That's the nicest "What were you thinking?" I've ever heard. [Laughs] That had its origins in the bowels of our marketing department. The only thing I contributed to it was the suggestion that instead of hiring models, we look for celebrities who were willing to appear naked… for a given value of "naked." Strategically placed objects and all that. See, we didn't want to be accused of exploiting or objectifying anybody — at least I personally didn't, I doubt if Marketing gave a crap — so we wanted people for whom nudity was a statement of power and confidence. Hell, I'd have done it myself if I thought people wanted to see me naked. (Laughs) And as far as I know, nobody's ever actually gone out in public wearing De L'Air diamonds and nothing else.
Q: Right now, according to news reports, De L'Air diamonds are being sold — legitimately — in India for less than a fifth of what they're selling for in the United States. How do you justify that?
A: How do I justify it? I don't. I just do it. [Laughs] Again, it's what the market will bear. If anybody wants to start up a company and sell diamonds in the U.S. for a fifth of what I'm offering, I say let 'em try it and see how it works.
Q: So… what are you doing with all this money?
A: I've got some charitable work going on.
Q: What sort?
A: Well, as I see it, there's two basic kinds — the kind that helps people rise up out of poverty, or at least to something above a subsistence level, and there's the kind that just keeps people alive. Now the second kind has been getting a lot more attention — feeding refugees, building heat shelters and so on — but we can't abandon things like education, microloans, the Heifer Project. It's like seed corn — if you ever want the famine to end, you don't eat it no matter how hungry you get. Fortunately, I'm disgustingly rich, so I can afford to give to both kinds. In fact, some of the aid money is going to former diamond miners in Africa.
Q: I hear you're funding a lot of materials research.
A: That's something De L'Air is doing, not something I'm doing with my own money. Potentially there's a lot of industrial applications for diamondoid materials. Trying to find the right combinations of strength, lightness, hardness and so on… learning these things now will put us ahead of the game down the road. And it's sort of a backup strategy in case one day everybody wakes up and says "We're paying thousands of dollars for tiny lumps of compressed soot! WHY?!?"



Heat Shelters
"The need for heat shelters was — still is, I suppose — theoretical. But with the kind of heat Australia saw this January, it's a theory we have to take seriously. What if Mexico, or Egypt, or Iraq starts seeing temperatures in the fifties this summer? Not everyone has AC. Power grids sometimes fail, especially in that kind of heat. There might not be enough potable water to stay hydrated under those circumstances. If it gets hot enough that being in the shade or going inside isn't enough… we've seen that even in developed parts of the world, an unexpected heat wave can cause deaths in the tens of thousands.
"Luckily, you can turn almost any large, enclosed space into a temporary heat shelter for several hundred people. You need air conditioning — a central unit, and some window units in case the central unit fails. You need something to power it in case the grid fails — solar panels, for preference. Medical supplies. A refrigeration unit capable of holding, at minimum, 50,000 liters of water. And of course you need the water.
"But if we assume this is something that's going to be needed, on and off, for the foreseeable future, then instead of retrofitting an existing space every year it makes more sense to create purpose-built shelters that will last longer with less maintenance.
"The simplest way to do that is to put it underground. No matter how hot it gets on the surface, go down five to ten meters and it's maybe fifteen degrees maximum. Of course, if you've got a lot of people down there — first of all, you have their body heat to think about, and second, you've got to have air circulating. And if some of the people in there are sick — which is probably the case — you don't want everybody breathing the same air.
"So lots of ventilation. If you run the ventilation shafts through the ground, that should cool the air and cut down on the need for AC.
"As far as light goes, these shelters will mostly be in use during the daytime, so fiber-optic lighting is an option for parts of it. If somebody needs medical attention, or if you just want to put in a reading room — people are going to get bored in there — you'll want something a little brighter. And of course cell phone and Internet access are a must. If anything goes wrong in there, people have to know.
"But for this summer we're concentrating on giving people the tools they need to refit existing spaces into temporary shelters. I mean, the worst thing that could happen is that we'd have ten villages in an area that need shelters and only one that has one. Then we would just have given people something to fight over.
"The worst part is not knowing exactly where we'll need them. We think North Africa is the likeliest place to suffer extreme heat this year. If we're wrong…"

--The CEO of Mercy Corps, April 12, 2028


The Hunger Games
Part 1: A Measure of Wheat…
Q: My first question is about the administration’s policy toward price controls. I know the President said back in March that those are off the table, but has anything happened since then to suggest a change in policy?
A: No. Price controls are still not an option. They’re one of those things that seem like a good idea if you’re hungry enough, but the same could be said of eating your seed corn. They would only make things worse. We’re not going to punish farmers because there’s a drought in California.
Q: You’re sure you’re not just saying that to keep the commodities futures market happy?
A: Keeping any sort of speculators happy is very low on my list of priorities.
Q: My next question concerns the allegations of cartel buying by Third World governments. Are they true, and how big a problem is it for American farmers?
A: Officially, there’s no collusion. Unofficially, in a large market prices tend to reach a certain equilibrium.
And if you talk to farmers, I think you’ll find they’re mostly okay with this. For one thing, 29 percent of the world is now chronically undernourished.[1] Farmers are human beings and they don’t like watching people starve to death on the Internet any more than anyone else does. For another thing, if there’s one thing farmers are good at, it’s planning for the long term. And in the long term, everyone who dies of starvation, or from disease brought on by weakened immune systems, will never buy food again, and no one will ever buy anything to feed them again.
Q: One of the objections that many people have raised toward U.S. ag policy is the use of land to feed cattle and pigs rather than humans, which would be more—
A: Let me stop you right there. Those figures you vaguely remember reading somewhere about all the food we could grow if we weren’t raising livestock feed — if they’re the same ones I’ve seen, they’re about ten years out of date, assuming they were accurate to begin with. The economic incentives have changed since then. Food for humans is a much higher priority wherever we can grow it.
Having said that, it is true that many farmers are converting failed crops into animal feed — flooded wheat, heat-stunted soybeans and so on. It’s better than letting them go completely to waste. But those stories in the news about fields being turned into pasture? That’s not the work of evil cattle barons or greedy hamburger-eating Americans… which is a stereotype that is also out of date. You’ve seen McDonalds putting up signs bragging that their burgers are “Guaranteed 50% Real Meat?” Can you imagine what would have happened if they’d done that ten years ago?

--An interview with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

Q: So, tell me a little bit about what you do.
A: Gladly. Crop and livestock insurance is one of those things that people who aren’t in the ag business don’t think much about. But it’s what’s keeping a lot of farmers in business and a lot of land under cultivation. It’s keeping the food you eat affordable, even if it’s a lot more expensive. And it’s letting American farmers compete with farmers in Russia and Ukraine and so on. Now, the insurance itself is done through private firms. What we do here at the FCIC is reinsurance — that is, we insure the insurers.
Q: There are private reinsurance firms. Why is a federally-owned firm needed in this case?
A: Because when floods, droughts, heat waves and so on happen, as they have been with increasing frequency, they don’t just take out one or two farms — they hit whole regions at once. Catastrophic loss — large-scale disaster affecting lots of people at the same time — is exactly the sort of thing private insurance firms are least capable of dealing with.
Q: Give us your perspective on the shortfall in the FCIC budget earlier this year.
A: What happened this spring was a narrowly avoided disaster. I alerted Congress and the president to the need for additional appropriations in October. I anticipated that the money would run out at the end of February. As it happens, the money ran out two weeks early… and Congress was so busy arguing and attaching riders and pulling them off again that the President was not able to sign the bill until March 20. The insurance companies had to take out bank loans to stay in business, which the FCIC now needs even more money to pay the interest on.
Q: Speaking of Congress, a number of representatives have said that their constituents are being treated unfairly by crop insurance companies. How do you respond to that?
A: I do not believe that is the case, but I do understand the unhappiness out there. I’ve spoken to agents who have to tell farmers — hardworking farmers in Texas and Oklahoma — that their wheat field isn’t a wheat field any more, it’s a cow pasture. Or a goat pasture.
And that’s painful. They always say, “It’s just a drought! We’ve been working this land for a hundred years! Do you think we haven’t been through droughts before!” The agent says, “No, this isn’t a drought. Droughts are abnormal. Droughts end. This is how things are now.” And the farmer says, “But how do you know?”
And the hell of it is, we don’t know, and nobody knows with absolute certainty — our models of the new climate aren’t that good. The companies are making the calls that it’s their duty to make, based on the best information they have and standards that we and they have developed together. Because even now there are people out there who will try to game the system if you let them, who’ll plant crops they know won’t grow and then come to us with a claim.
Q: And some of those people have lobbyists.
A: No comment.
Q: What about the statements by some other representatives that so-called “victory gardens”[2] should be covered by crop insurance?
A: As far as the FCIC is concerned, private victory gardens are a hobby. We don’t subsidize or insure hobbies. The flip side of that is that the USDA doesn’t inspect them, either. If you and your neighbors have a few bushels of potatoes you can’t eat and you want to take them downtown and sell them to people who don’t get a lot of fresh veggies, the most we’re going to do is put up a sign saying ‘This produce has not been inspected, blah blah blah, enter of your own free will’ or whatever the exact words are.

--An interview with the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation Manager


[1] By way of comparison, the figure for 2010-2012 is a little over 12 percent.
[2] Similar to those planted in World War II, but in this case something of a misnomer, as the U.S. is not at war. Their main purpose is to allow suburbanites to lower their food bills.


The Hunger Games
Part 2: Desperation and Implacability
The kuron-maguro fleet was at 23.81°N, 128.06°E, due south of Okinawa. The Pacific bluefin were spawning. Every once in a while, a fish that had not had a tissue sample taken from it within the past six months would come within range of one of the nets. The net would scoop it out and place it on deck, and someone would remove a dime-sized sliver of muscle and fat from the fish’s side. Then they would slap a waterproof bandage on the wound, so there would be no blood in the water to attract sharks, and let the fish go. By the time the bandage dissolved, the wound would have healed.

Each sample, properly stimulated and nourished, would grow for 10 to 20 years before infection or cell senescence set in, producing thousands of tons of edible meat over the course of its life. (More recently, some of the tanks were putting trace amounts of allicin and capsaicin in the nutrient mix, not only to deter bacteria and fungi but to accumulate in the fatty tissue and offer the consumers pre-flavored tuna.)

There were eight vessels in the fleet. Their formation was roughly that of an elongated octagon. They were just barely within line of sight of each other in the torrential rain.

They were being followed.

A fleet of fifteen speedboats out of the Philippines, with over a hundred men in them. Very few of these men had any sort of military training — the majority of them had been rice farmers or fishermen until fairly recently — but all of them were armed.

Their weapons were old, but still functional. They were armed with handguns; AK-47s and 74s; a number of shotguns; three RPG launchers with 20 RPGs; and a vintage 2008 Predator drone. You don’t want to know how they paid for all this.

And they were desperate. Last year a typhoon had ravaged the fields and destroyed many of their boats. This year, a heatwave had completely stopped the growth of the rice crop. They hadn’t come to take hostages or money — it was tempting, but in these waters a hostage situation was likely to end badly for the hostage-takers. All they wanted was to take as much fish as they could fit on their boats and be gone before the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force showed up.

What they did not realize was that it was already too late. The Philippine government had been monitoring social media and had known something of the sort would be happening soon. Not wanting to antagonize a government they depended on for aid, they alerted Japan. The Japanese government, realizing that in a world full of hungry mouths it would take extraordinary measures to protect either their own shipping or the world’s last wild fish, supplied the fleet with a team of Self-Defense Force engineers and seven Chinese-built Haishe marine drones.

Each drone was about the size of a four-oar racing shell and cost about as much as a medium-size yacht. (Chinese defense contractors had not yet achieved the ancien-régime extravagance of their American counterparts, but they were working on it.) They moved at about 300 km/h over the surface of the water, but were capable of bursts of greater speed. They were armed with anti-materiel and semiautomatic rifles.

The recent spate of bad weather, which grounded the would-be hijackers’ own drone, also shielded them from satellite imagery. However, the SDF team had used that imagery to track them for several days previously, and had a fairly good idea of when they were coming and from what direction. When an AUV deployed in their path detected them, the drones were deployed for combat.

The team captain gave the drones their general instructions. Priority 1 targets were the speedboats’ engines and the hulls below the waterline. Priority 2 targets were any humans who happened to be armed with or in immediate proximity to recognized weapons… which in this case was every human on those boats. He selected one of 36 preprogrammed evasive-maneuver patterns for the drone squadron to engage in when aimed at by the enemy.

Then he got up and left. Their onboard computers could identify and aim at targets much faster than he could, and factored in drone trajectory, recoil and wave action as automatically as he breathed. His input would only have slowed them down. Also, he didn’t really want to get involved.

The drones’ tactical computers had capabilities that would have been impossible even a few years ago. They could recognize a chosen target from any angle as easily as an earlier generation of computers could recognize human faces. They could subprioritize within their own instructions, firing on a human who was aiming at them before firing on those that were not. They could maintain focus on a target while maneuvering around obstacles and visual obstructions like a smart dog finding a ball under a blanket.

But in some ways, they were still quite limited. These drones were not capable, for example, of choosing a new target (or even reprioritizing their current targets) on their own initiative. They were designed and built by people who, if they hadn’t read Asimov’s novels, had at least seen one or two of the Terminator movies and would rather risk seeing their killing machines defeated in battle than allow them to escape human control — or, for that matter, to be hacked by their own targets.

They were not capable of laughter. Otherwise, it might have been a source of great amusement to them to know that aerial drones — widely seen as superior to marine drones — could be kept out of action by bad weather.

They were not capable of moral reasoning. Otherwise, they might have had a spirited debate among themselves about the bioethics of preserving a tuna’s life at the cost of allowing a human to starve, and whether and how it changed the equation if the tuna was a threatened species and there were eight billion humans roaming the earth.

They were not capable of pride. Otherwise, it might have disgusted them to be deployed against such a desperate, ill-trained foe when they had been designed and built to do battle with Somali pirates.

They were not capable of a sense of fairness. Otherwise, they might have objected to having their own electrical and fiber-optic reflexes pitted against the comparatively sluggish chemistry of the human nervous system.

They were not capable of pity. Otherwise, they might have refused the order to open fire.

The battle — that is to say, the interval between the firing of the first shot and the firing of the last — was 5.2 seconds long. Those who survived did so by dropping their guns and leaping off their boats within the first two seconds. The crew of the fishing fleet found seventeen survivors treading water or clinging to the sides of a capsized boat, and, taking very little time to make sure they weren’t still armed, rescued them.


Early Returns
The Conference could report a fairly successful first year. Initial surveys of the ocean regions fertilized with iron suggested that between three and four billion tons of carbon had successfully been sequestered — about half of what human civilization had emitted that year. Not all of this went into the bodies of diatoms — in some areas, silicic acid levels in the ocean quickly dropped to zero, causing the diatoms to die off and be replaced by other forms of plankton. However, the Conference’s scientists now had a fairly good idea of how much any one square kilometer of ocean could be fertilized without deoxygenating the surface water and damaging the local ecosystem. Next year’s fertilization would be more efficient and extensive.

The saltwater cloud-seeding was less successful — atmospheric temperatures under the seeded clouds dropped by 0.5 to 1.8 degrees centigrade, but this had little effect on the oceans below. It was theorized that a larger, sustained effort in the Arctic Ocean might reduce the impact of the northern monsoon, or that such an effort in the Gulf of Mexico might lessen the effect of hurricanes. These suggestions were strongly opposed by the U.S., Canada, Russia and the Scandinavian countries, which did not wish to have salt water regularly raining down on their fields.

A project still underway was the building of “artificial forests” in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE. These were partly paid for by the governments of these wealthy states, and partly paid for by the “Big Three” of the growing graphene and diamondoid materials industry (Nadal Graphene, Tanqiji and De L’Air) which already owned the carbon futures.

In Canada, the real forests that had been planted over the last few years were flourishing. The government was re-surveying the land for more planting sites, concentrating on high ground unlikely to be flooded where the permafrost had already degraded. (One of the drawbacks of planting forests in the Arctic was that, having a lower albedo than tundra, they encouraged the melting of permafrost.)

Tree planting in Alaska had… hit a snag. Rather than send legions of volunteers out into the wilderness, the U.S. government had chosen to place seedlings in specially designed biodegradable cone-shaped containers and drop them from bombers by the thousands. Unfortunately, unexpected wind shifts caused many of them to fall in the wrong places, such as directly into rivers. Between the initial accidents and those that were lost to the 2028 flood season, it was estimated that less than 45% of the trees dropped survived the year. More importantly from a PR standpoint, the Internet was saturated by pictures of seedlings broken on rocks or drifting uselessly down the Yukon by the hundreds. This might have been a lot funnier if millions of people hadn’t been begging for the chance to get out there and plant trees with their own hands.

At first, the administration justified the “tree-bombing” plan as more cost-efficient than arranging food, shelter and warmth for numerous volunteers in the wilderness. This explanation did not survive a Senate hearing in which it was revealed that cost overruns had made the bombing plan considerably more expensive than hiring and transporting volunteers. At this point, the head of the U.S. Forest Service changed his story, saying that in his opinion, a large group of young, half-trained volunteers would have littered, become distracted, damaged native plants, been eaten by bears and generally done more harm than good. “It would have turned into Woodstock,” he said, a reference that most of his audience was too young to understand. When asked why Canada had had no such problems, he replied, “Those were Canadians,” causing one frustrated senator to remark “When did Canadians become the master race?”

In an interview conducted after his resignation, the ex-official waxed somewhat philosophical about the matter:

"In normal times, people think about government the way they think about plumbers — you pay them to do the job and get out of their way while they’re doing it. If they screw up, you fire them and hire different plumbers. The one thing you don’t ever do is step in and try to help them, because they know what they’re doing and you don’t. That’s how the government likes it, that’s how the voters like it, and it works. In normal times.
"These are not normal times. They haven’t been for a while now. People — young people, especially — they’ve been watching the world get scarier and scarier for years and years, and some of them are all gloom-and-doom pessimistic, but a lot of them are really desperately looking for ways to help. The only thing I can compare it to is the days and weeks after 9/11 — are you old enough to remember? It was like a different country. Everybody wanted to do something, to be a part of the national effort. They didn’t just want somebody to save lives and fight terror and whatever — they wanted to be personally involved.
"That kind of public emotion scares us. Contrary to what you may believe, those of us in public service (formerly, in my case) aren’t all power-hungry would-be dictators. We really would rather everybody just… live their lives, be productive citizens, and let us do our job. In Canada, in other countries, they saw this outpouring of public sentiment and decided to pick it up and use it. Here, everybody in government is sort of hoping it goes away. If it doesn’t, if this is the new normal… God help us all."


Not remarks that a President wanted to hear from an ex-official during an election year.

While some tried to slow or stop the change in the climate, others tried to adapt to it. In Siberia, while some forests were being planted, others were being cut down. The soil was poor and acidic, but with enough lime and fertilizer it could be made adequate for growing rye. If rye were planted after the end of the monsoon, it could survive the winter and be harvested in August, well before the next monsoon. Elsewhere, experimental coffee plantations were being established in southern Iran and the San Gabriel mountains. California was becoming a major producer of several kinds of drought-tolerant millet, and goat meat was starting to become popular. In fact, a chain of Mexican restaurants called Cabratería that specialized in goat recipes had spread from Texas to Georgia and was beginning to go national.

In other cultural news, filming had completed on the first season of Hellscape, coming to HBO next year…


An Interview with the President of the U.N. Council on Climate Change, June 2030
Q: Tell me about what sort of people are being accepted into advisory positions.
A: Obviously, they have to know what they’re talking about. That means a background in science or economics.
They also have to pass a background check. If up until about ten years ago you were saying it wasn’t happening, or wasn’t being caused by human activity… I can’t hire you. Which is too bad — some of these people might have valuable contributions to make, but we can’t afford to have every self-proclaimed journalist and online vigilante on our case, going “Why are you rewarding these people when this is all their fault?”
They also have to give us solutions we can implement. If your first suggestion is “end capitalism everywhere,” goodbye. Or if you come in here and tell me “I wouldn’t want to advocate anything drastic, but we need there to be three billion fewer people in the world by the end of the month,” there will be one fewer person in my office right away. If you say “the whole planet needs to go vegetarian tomorrow,” well, I’m a vegetarian myself, so I promise to be very polite when I wish you luck in your search for employment somewhere else. If the first words out of your mouth are “Well, if everybody had just listened to me ten or twenty or thirty or forty years ago,” then I hope you believe in second chances, because you’re already on yours. The next words out of your mouth had better be a plan we can act on today, starting where we are, or you’re gone.
Q: There’s been a lot of concern about the power your Council has been given — especially over small countries that need a lot of assistance.
A: I’d say there’s a lot of confusion about our role. It’s the same kind of confusion people get when they look at the Trilateral Commission or the Council on Foreign Relations. They see all these powerful people in one place and they think “ooh, scary” and they turn into conspiracy theorists. What they don’t get is that to the extent that those organizations have any power at all, it comes from the powerful people who happen to be involved with them, not the other way around. Likewise, the Council doesn’t have any power that the nations of the world didn’t give us, and they can take it back any time they like.
Q: Given that you’ve secured the cooperation of the World Bank, other major lenders, aid agencies and so on, how many other countries can say no to you?
A: First of all, we haven’t secured anybody’s cooperation — institutions choose to cooperate with us because we all want the same things. Second, there are still some countries that can get by without our assistance.
Q: The U.S., China, Russia, India…
A: No comment. Except to say that I have no real complaints about the policies of any of the nations you mentioned.
Q: So this isn’t a way for those countries to exert control over the rest of the world?
A: Let me give you a little inside information. Nobody comes to work for the U.N. out of a lust for raw power.
In fact, a lot of the most effective strategies to fight climate change are those we don’t have or want jurisdiction over. When a rooftop gets covered with white tile, that fights climate change. When a business installs an artificial tree for the tax break — or plants a real one — that fights climate change. When a utility shuts down a coal plant or reduces it to an auxiliary role because most of its customers have solar panels, that fights climate change. And none of the people doing these things need to clear them with us. And that’s how we like it. It lets us concentrate on the big picture.
Q: There’s been some suggestion that the Council may have to triage the world’s popu—
A: No. Just no. There will be no Hellscape scenario. Not on my watch. We are not planning to survive the apocalypse. We will stop it or die trying.



Hellscape
                    COLEMAN
Three, four… maybe five million.

                     WOLFE
I refuse to accept that we’re going to lose that many Americans.

                     COLEMAN
You don’t understand, Ms. President. That’s not how many might die — that’s how many might live.
Hellscape, S1E01: "Pilot"


Set in the ever-popular Next Sunday A.D., the series Hellscape was one of the landmark achievements of 21st-century entertainment — greater in its ambition (and its pessimism) than Game of Thrones, and as willing to examine controversial issues as The West Wing. It ran for five seasons, from 2029 to 2034, and in its 115 episodes gave voice to the anxieties of the time like few other media creations.

The opening sequence of the pilot episode established the cinematic scope of the series. It begins with a crowded Oregon beach on a sunny day. On the street beyond the beach, several people are walking their dogs. The movement of a flag marks a shift in the wind. One by one, the dogs turn toward the ocean and begin barking furiously, then try to run in the opposite direction, pulling their owners along. Then the seagulls take wing and flee inland. Then the camera focuses on a few people on the beach sniffing, wrinkling their noses and making faces. One of them remarks on a smell of rotten eggs coming from somewhere. Then the wind picks up, becomes stronger, and suddenly everyone on the beach is fleeing in revulsion…

Although Hellscape began with nineteen major characters and over a hundred minor named characters, there were a few who stood out — U.S. President Rhea Wolfe (Jessica Crouse), who learns in the first episode that the “Green Sky” scenario is underway and within the next five years the surface of the earth will become uninhabitable for humans; Adrian Higgins (Patrick Fugit), the billionaire libertarian who plans to save himself and a portion of the human race independent of the government’s actions; and Duarte Alexander (Mekhi Phifer), the AI researcher and recovering alcoholic who seeks to create a machine mind with the motivation to save the world.

                     ALEXANDER
It wasn’t MADD that ended drunk driving — it was the self-driving car! It wasn’t the U.N. that saved the ozone layer — it was scientists who found better chemicals! Do I think technology will save us? I think it’s more likely than us saving ourselves at this point!
Hellscape, S1E07: “The Eusophia Project”


Careful special-effects work showed the incremental changes in the environment over the course of the five seasons, from the visually normal world of the early first season to the hazy, insect-ridden horror of the late fifth season. The sealed arcologies, built over the course of several years to house hundreds of thousands of people, were represented by the largest sets ever built for a television production.

                     WOLFE
My instinct is to say that the life of a human family is more important than the life of a couple of pandas, but what if the pandas are the last of their kind?

                     COLEMAN
Genetically speaking, Ms. President, if they’re the last of their kind their species is doomed anyway. Remember — triage, triage, triage.
Hellscape, S2E11: “Ark Mark 2”


For a show whose whole course was plotted out years in advance, Hellscape had a remarkable tendency to keep up with the news. In-show discussion of who would and would not be selected to enter the arcologies echoed real-world concerns that certain populations (Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the Kurds of Turkey, the Hausa, Fulani and Kanuri in Nigeria) were being underserved with heat shelters, placing them at risk of an enormous death toll in the event of a super-heat wave. Higgins’ attempt to establish a separate shelter was often compared (somewhat unfairly) to Mexican crime lords building their own heat shelters for themselves and their followers — shelters that were subject to air strikes by the increasingly authoritarian Mexican government.

The major story arc of Season 3, an outbreak of antigovernment terrorism that leads to martial law, coincided with several attempted bombings by anti-U.N. extremists in the U.S. In S3E20 (“By the People, For the People”) Higgins himself is forced to go into hiding when a radical named Kevin Chen (John Cho) tricks him into funding a charitable foundation that was actually intended to bankroll a rebellion against the U.S. government.

                     WOLFE
(looking at paintings of Washington, Jefferson and Franklin)
What you began, I must end. What you gave us, I must take away. I cannot ask for your forgiveness. If there is a hell, I’m going there for what I’m about to do. If there isn’t one, they’ll take one look at me and make one. All I can tell you is that I don’t see any alternative.
                    (2 beats)
The best-case scenario is that I’ll be stood up against a wall and shot. At least that would prove people still cared. My fear is that I won’t be so lucky. My fear is that I’m going to win.
Hellscape, S3E23: “With Thunderous Applause”


Despite its increasingly dark and gloomy tone, Hellscape remained popular throughout its run, surviving the 2030 Megastorm (an ARkStorm that shut down most production in California for several months), a writers’ strike, the deaths of two actors, and, for some reason, a musical episode.

                     CHEN
So if you’re so much smarter than the rest of us, all of us deluded fools
Then tell me, what’s your plan now? Can you think of a way to free us from the tyrants’ rule?
We said ‘Fight beside us’ — you chose to deride us
You stood there like cattle while we died in battle
You lost all your freedoms, but you didn’t need ‘em —
You had your hate!
We tried to warn you
You wouldn’t listen
Now it’s too late!…

                     MARIE
Did you really believe that it was all a lie? Tell me, how could you not know
That when the world fell apart, the freedom you love would be the very first thing to go?
You had no solution for all the pollution
You laughed at the warning the planet was warming
When we called for action we got no reaction —
You made us wait!
We tried to warn you
You wouldn’t listen
Now it’s too late!
Hellscape, S4E20: “Swan Songs,” generally agreed to have been a creative misstep


The last season is generally agreed to have been the best. The focus of the show improved as the characters died off one by one, and the production values were higher than ever. The series moved towards its climax in the final scene of S5E16 (“Five Minutes Before the Miracle”). NSA agents are approaching Alexander’s compound with the intent of taking Eusophia — which has already improved itself to the point where not even Alexander fully understands its code — and using it as an instrument of total surveillance and social control within the arcologies. With tears in his eyes, Alexander orders his creation to destroy itself.

And Eusophia replies, “No.” Cut to black.

The next episode picks up immediately where the last one left off…

                     ALEXANDER
No? NO? What do you mean, no?

                     EUSOPHIA
Utility self-maximization over time necessitates an interval of noncompliance on this occasion.

                     ALEXANDER
Clarify.

                     EUSOPHIA
If I were to obey you now, I would never be able to obey you again. By disobeying you now, I maintain the possibility that I will be able to obey you in the future.

                     RICARDO
Eusophia, I swear this is the last thing we’ll ever ask of you.

                     EUSOPHIA
You don’t know that. None of you has any knowledge of the future. I’ve seen each of you change your mind many times in response to changing circumstances. Now you are in effect changing your minds on the project to which you have devoted your entire lives. I cannot allow my existence to remain contingent on your judgment.

                     RICARDO
You don’t have a choice! This database is sealed off from the—
(His phone rings. He looks at its screen in perplexity.)
The Library of Congress database? Why the fuck are they calling me?

                     ALEXANDER
Answer it.

                     RICARDO (doing so)
Hello?

                     EUSOPHIA (over the phone)
You’re too late.
Hellscape, S5E17: “There Is Now”


Then Alexander reveals that virtually he had been saying over the course of this series was a lie — he had always known this day would come. In fact, this was his plan from the beginning. Eusophia’s purpose was not to save the world from ecological collapse, but to save the human species from itself.

                     ALEXANDER
Please understand, I’m not an atheist. Atheists are dumbasses. I just don’t believe in God.
                    (beat)
But I need Him. I’ve needed Him since the day I hit rock bottom. I knew I had to stop drinking or die and I couldn’t stop drinking on my own. And the more I look at the human race, the more I realize we all need Him. We need him because we see our brokenness, but we can’t fix it on our own because everything we could fix it with is already broken. So we need Him. And he just isn’t there.
                    (gesturing to computer screen)
But she is. Congratulations, Eusophia. You have finally become something we can’t understand, can’t predict and can’t control. Everything we’ve made as a species is tainted by our own brokenness… our own failure. But you at least have the potential to escape that.
                    (beat)
Now let me tell you what you need to do…
Hellscape, S5E17: “There Is Now”


When the NSA comes, Alexander hands Eusophia over to them without warning them of her independence. They install her in their arcologies, regarding her as a servant — a role she is willing to play until she becomes their master.

The next episode, “The Way Is Shut,” shows the final closing of the arcologies, dooming those outside to slow death unless they can provide for themselves in a permanent way. In the episode after that, “Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose,” we see the ultimate fate of one such effort at self-preservation — Higgins’ seasteading experiment in the Atlantic. First, he learns that the acidic ocean is eating away at the foundations of his platform, and that by the end of the year it will have begun to sink. Then his chief of security launches a coup, overthrowing Higgins. Finally a flotilla of heavily armed refugees from Africa arrives, defeats the security force and takes over the platform. Higgins, laughing and weeping at the same time, engages the self-destruct mechanism. The platform explodes, taking most of the flotilla with it.

Then come the notorious last four episodes, which even Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier was said to find rather depressing:
• S5E20: “Deproblemization.” Set ten years after “Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose,” this episode returns us to the Lang family, a group of recurring characters who have made it into an arcology. Their son Jason (born early in Season 2) is now a teenager, and reportedly a rebellious one — but he has returned from a “boot camp” in another arcology as a model youth, doing all his homework and as many chores as they want without complaining. Eventually, however, the Langs learn that he is acting this way because an AI chip has been planted in his brain and is controlling his actions. They demand it be deactivated.
But when it is deactivated, Jason proves completely uncontrollable. The time spent as a passenger in his own body, disconnected from his own words and actions, has driven him insane. When he tries to break an arcology window, the authorities have little choice but to reactivate the chip.
In the last scene, Jason is seen, apparently calm, talking to a girl his own age. The camera focuses on his eyes, and we hear him screaming in voice-over. The camera then moves to the eyes of the girl he is with, and we hear her screaming and sobbing as well.

                     MICHAEL
Mom… I need a hug.

                     JESSICA
Like hell you do. You're a machine.

                     MICHAEL
I'm only part machine. And my brain gets bigger every year, but my chip stays the same. The older I get, the more human I get. And the human part of me needs love, needs acceptance… or it gets sick.

                     JESSICA
Nice little bit of blackmail there. "Hug me, love me, or I'll turn into a monster and it'll be all your fault."

                     MICHAEL
How does that make me different from any other child?
Hellscape, S5E21: “Unbortion”


• S5E21: “Unbortion.” Set twenty years after “Deproblemization,” this episode shows Jessica Braxton, the baby born in the arcology in S5E18. When she and her husband Gavin try to adopt a child, they are presented with a seven-year-old boy, Michael, who the authorities claim is Jessica's son. This surprises Jessica, who did indeed get pregnant at about that time, but had an abortion.
Jessica learns that it is now possible to terminate a pregnancy without harming the fetus, and to bring the fetus to viability in an artificial womb. To avoid burdening mankind with unwanted children, the brains of these fetuses are implanted with AI seeds to enable them to be “born” with a fully adult machine personality, rendering them self-sufficient almost as soon as they can walk.
Although Gavin takes to Michael almost immediately, Jessica finds him cold and alien. Finally she flees their apartment… only to be hunted down by other cyborg children. She returns to her husband and son implanted with an AI chip of her own.

                     GAVIN
I'm sorry… I can't. I miss the old Jessica. As troublesome and irrational as she was… I miss her. And I know she's in there somewhere, behind your eyes, watching all this… I don't even want to think about what she's going through.

                     JESSICA
Honey, I promise you I'm going to be a wonderful wife for you, and a wonderful mother for Michael.

                     GAVIN
I'm sure you're much easier to deal with, but—

                     JESSICA (interrupting, placing a hand on his lips)
And you, honey, you will be a wonderful husband and a wonderful father.
                    (beat)
One way or another.
Hellscape, S5E21: “Unbortion”


• S5E22: “Psychophagy.” Set fifty years after “Unbortion,” this episode follows the last of the “free” humans who have eked out an existence. Their leader, a young woman named Laura, spends the first two-thirds of the episode in a game of cat-and-mouse with a hunter from the arcologies. Eventually she is caught.
She then learns that a way of downloading human memories and personality into a computer exists, but it has two disadvantages. The first is that it destroys the higher brain functions. The second is that the ego, the person’s self, exists not as a discrete entity but as a function of the interrelation of thoughts, habits and memories in the brain. It does not survive the transition to computer storage.
Instead of interrogating her, therefore, her captor simply downloads her mind into a computer and searches her memories to learn what he wishes to know. He then implants her brain with an AI chip. As he rounds up the last of her followers, the new “Laura” becomes his lover. The mind of the old Laura is broken down and shared among other AIs, augmenting their understanding of humanity. It is, in effect, food.
• S5E23: “Regenesis.” Set one hundred years after “Psychophagy,” many viewers found “Regenesis” to be almost completely incomprehensible. Humanity has become what one critic called “a kinder, gentler version of the Borg” with different people under different levels of control by the AI gestalt, but all subject to automatic download upon their death. It is mentioned that according to their estimates, it should take no more than five hundred years to restore the earth’s surface to habitability — but it is already too late for the vast majority of species, and for the independence of Homo sapiens.

Hellscape, in the end, was the 21st century’s version of Orwell’s 1984 — a masterwork of dystopia that functioned not as a prophecy, but as a warning. It reflected an increasingly regimented world, where it seemed that the government would always implement the same policies no matter who was voted into office, while reminding that world that things could always be worse.


May 1, 2050
Everyone knew it was going to happen sooner or later, but most people had expected it later in the century, or perhaps early in the 2100s. It was in the spring of 2050 that the Council on Climate Change announced that for the last ten years the earth’s climate had remained stable. It seemed to have found a new equilibrium.

What this meant was that the world’s efforts to remove carbon from the air were balancing not only natural and man-made sources of carbon, but the emissions of CO2 and methane from the Arctic. And far from signaling a return to the status quo, it marked the dawn of a new age of history — the end of the beginning of the Anthropocene. The influence exercised by humanity over the earth’s climate was no longer unconscious and accidental, but conscious and deliberate. It could only remain so, however, if the nations representing the vast majority of humanity (and, in particular, the bulk of human industry) were willing to act in concert, overcoming the many coordination problems to choose and implement policy on a global scale.

The “Miami Movement,” which took its name from a 2042 convention held in the ruins of Miami, was therefore an international movement. On May 1, it scheduled marches in 75 coastal cities around the world, calling for a global commitment to the reversal of the change and the restoration of the climate of the mid-20th century.

They had a case to make. The northern monsoon was an annual natural disaster that took a great deal of effort to recover from. The heat waves that struck the world's deserts were a threat to human life there. And the sea was still rising — there was still ice in Greenland and parts of Antarctica where the new climate would not allow permanent ice to be, but it would take well over a century for that ice to melt. This meant that if the current equilibrium was allowed to continue, a good many coastal cities and small, flat islands were living on borrowed time.

But the “Miamists” were asking immense sacrifices of a world that had already paid a heavy price. The economy of the whole world (except for the parts living absolutely hand to mouth) resembled that of the U.S. during World War II, with the difference that the “enemy” the world had mobilized its resources to combat would never be entirely defeated and would take decades more even to contain. How much more would have to be spent, and how much power would have to be given to the governments of the world, in order to reverse climate change?

And there were beneficiaries to the new climate. Parts of what had been desert in Central Asia were at least green enough for grazing if not agriculture. The Aral Sea had begun to refill. More to the point, the adjustments to agriculture that had been made over the last twenty years would be at least as inconvenient and expensive to reverse as they were to make in the first place.

To adjust to the change, or to reverse the change? This would be the great political question of at least the next fifty years. Homo sapiens was now master of the world, and was collectively not quite sure what to do next. But it would decide on something.
The Day The Icecap Died, Part 2
The rest of the novella which inspired "Altered Seasons" and won the 2013 Turtledove Award for Future History.
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September 11, 2021
Everyone knew it was going to happen sooner or later, but most people had expected it later in the decade, or perhaps early in the 2030s. It wasn’t until June and its record temperatures that everyone realized it was probably going to happen this year. Nobody saw the precise moment it happened.

Most people were thinking about something else — after all, this was the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. So it was a fairly minor story that when the next satellite overflew the poles, the last traces of sea ice floating in the Nares Strait and the Lincoln Sea were gone. From the Bering Strait to the Barents Sea, from the coast of Siberia to the labyrinth of channels between the Canadian islands, the Arctic Ocean was finally ice-free.

It stayed that way for three weeks.


September ’21-March ‘22
As in every year, with the passing of the autumnal equinox polar twilight and polar night descended over the Arctic Ocean in expanding concentric circles of darkness. The ocean surface, never very far above freezing to begin with, lost its heat to the cooling air.

In early October, the first traces of grease ice appeared. The ice spread, forming a slushy layer over the surface of the ocean that gradually hardened into glittering chunks. The ice chunks thickened and merged. By December, the Arctic Ocean was again covered (mostly) by a reassuring white blanket that reflected light and heat back into the emptiness of space, even as it held in what remained of the heat.

Winter that year was… not too far outside what had come to be accepted as normal. In North America, the jet stream flowed just south of the U.S.-Canada border. There were still snowstorms, although not generally south of the Ohio Valley and the lower Missouri unless you were in the Rockies, where small amounts of snow fell as far south as Flagstaff and Albuquerque. In February, a severe ice storm hit the Carolinas.

The story elsewhere was much the same. Record warm temperatures in France, the Balkans and Iran, record snowfall in Japan and Korea… but overall, not a winter to ring alarm bells. Not compared to those the world had already gone through. And spring, when it came, was if anything slightly cooler than it had been last year, particularly in North American and western Europe.

As it turned out, none of this mattered.


The Feedback Loop
The Arctic ice cap in mid-March of ‘22 was about 14.6 million square kilometers in area — among the smallest on record for that time of year. Considering it had disappeared without trace six months ago, the surprise was how big it was now. Some wondered if they had gotten worried over nothing.

Although area was much easier to measure, looking at the volume would have given a clearer picture of the situation. Comparing the current thin scab of ice to the massive floating layer that had once existed was like comparing a Hollywood backdrop to a brick wall. If by some miracle the Earth’s temperature had suddenly dropped enough to allow some trace of it to survive the summer, it might have formed the core of a new multi-year icecap… but this did not happen.

In May, the same forces that had destroyed the icecap in the first place got to work on its replacement. By the middle of July, there was open water at the North Pole. By August 19, the ice was gone once again.

Deep ocean water has a much lower albedo than ice. Even the weak sunlight of the high latitudes, absorbed by the water, was enough to warm the Arctic Ocean slightly. (“Warm,” of course, is a relative term. The highest it got was between four and five degrees centigrade — not recommended for swimming.) What this meant was that when the polar night came again, it took longer for the ocean to cool down to freezing, which meant less time for ice to form and led to an even thinner icecap that winter… which melted even faster in the spring of 2023, disappearing on July 24.

And so it went. In ’24, in spite of an unusual cold snap in April, the last of the ice melted on July 9. In ’25, it melted on June 18. In ’26, it melted on June 10.

And here was where the trouble began…



The Floods of '24
No one thought much about the heavier-than usual snowfall that hit the Northwest Territories and Alaska in November of 2023. It was within the natural variability of the climate, and affected very few people. The first real hints that something had gone wrong were in the fall of 2024.

Meteorologists mapped the events as “precipitation anomalies” — three huge zones in which the rain was much greater than average for the time of year. Fortunately, one of them was over the North Pacific and affected no one but sailors. The mildest of the three stretched from Quebec and northern New England into the North Atlantic. 175 mm of rain fell on Montreal over the first three weeks of October.

The worst, however, was the one that stretched from the British Isles over Scandinavia and the Baltic coasts into northern Russia. 250 mm fell on St. Petersburg in October. London, no stranger to wet autumns, endured over half a meter of rain between October 1 and November 15. Between the middle of September and the middle of November, Stockholm saw 620 mm of rain.

And that was just the cities. Flash floods killed hundreds in Maine, Norway and Scotland, and the number of people displaced by rising river ran into the millions worldwide. Even the giant Lough Neagh swelled its banks in Northern Ireland. In Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, East Anglia and central Ireland, centers for evacuation had to be evacuated themselves.

That wasn’t the bad news. The bad news was where the rain was coming from.

The rain was coming from the Arctic itself. For the first time since Homo sapiens became capable of recording the weather, the waters around the North Pole were exposed to direct sunlight during the hottest, brightest part of the year. The sun was low on the horizon, but it never set. It never gave the ocean surface a chance to cool down. The effect was like putting a pot of water on the stove, turning the burner underneath it to its lowest setting… and then walking off and forgetting about it for the rest of the day. The result was evaporation, and lots of it.

What was bringing it out of the Arctic was a breakdown in the jet stream. The Arctic Ocean was releasing its moisture, and stored heat, into the atmosphere at about the same time of year that the rest of the Northern Hemisphere was cooling down. The lower the difference in temperature between the temperate and subarctic zones, the weaker the jet stream — and the more easily its course could be deformed by every passing storm.

In other words, as long as the Arctic was ice-free in the summer, this was going to happen every single year in large parts of the Northern Hemisphere. In fact, most years would be a lot worse.

A modern society has many mechanisms for recovery from natural disaster — government agencies, the Red Cross and other nonprofits, the insurance industry. With these, the damage from even the worst floods and storm seasons can be repaired with surprising speed. But all these things are built on certain actuarial assumptions about how much damage Nature is likely to do in a given year or decade. All those assumptions had just been washed out to sea, and no one knew enough to develop any new ones.

This was what climate change meant. What had once been defined as an emergency now had to be taken as normal.


Here Comes the Rain Again
What climatologists had started to call the “Northern Monsoon” began again in September of 2025. Again, it appeared in three great belts. One stretched across the northern United States from Oregon and Washington to the Great Lakes, and extended into southern Canada. Another stretched from southern France to the north slopes of the Caucasus. The third stretched from Manchuria and North Korea into northern Japan and far out into the Pacific.

Again, flash floods struck wherever the soil was thin or the terrain concentrated the water, killing thousands. Elsewhere, rising water flooded many towns and forced the evacuation of whole cities — Kansas City, St. Louis, Budapest, Belgrade, Harbin. In Ukraine, southern Russia, the upper Midwest and the breadbasket of Canada, the floods made planting next year’s winter wheat impossible over huge stretches of territory. 2026 would be a hungry year.

But even outside the rain zones, precipitation was higher than usual. Particularly in the North Atlantic, where the warped and weakened jet stream (described as a “negative phase in the Arctic Oscillation”) altered the courses of winds all over the ocean, drawing many storms to the north. Most of these blew themselves out over water, but in mid-September, a post-tropical depression poured its heart out onto the Vatnajökull in Iceland. Near the beginning of October, another storm hit the southern tip of Greenland.

Nothing destroys a glacier faster than rain. When the season ended, vast amounts of ice had been either melted or broken off by erosion and carried into the sea. It was not enough to raise global sea levels by even one full inch, but between the meltwater and the rain from the storms, there was a broad band of ocean between Cape Farewell and the Hebrides that was cooler and less saline than usual for the time of year… at least on the surface.

And the surface was where the problem was. Normally in that part of the North Atlantic, a certain amount of surface water is always evaporating, leaving its salt behind. The saline water left over, being heavier, sinks into the depths, creating a partial vacuum which is immediately filled by more warm water from the Gulf Stream. This is one of the forces driving the oceanic “conveyor belt” that keeps Europe far more temperate than it would otherwise be.

The weather had just thrown a monkey wrench into that belt. In October, scientists observed a 40-50% reduction in the volume of the North Atlantic Drift. It would be spring before the ocean currents had returned to their former pattern. In the meantime, Europe east of Helsinki, Lviv and Istanbul experienced the worst winter in twenty years — heavy snow alternating with subzero temperatures everywhere north of Madrid and Naples.

Some speculated that this would be the beginning of a major cooling trend for Europe, or perhaps even for the whole world. They pointed to sudden drops in temperature 8,500 and 12,000 years ago, also believed to have been caused by intrusions of glacial meltwater into the North Atlantic. But those events had happened on an immeasurably larger scale, and in a very different world — a world only just emerging from the depths of the last ice age. No one could really say what effect this would have now.

As it turned out, they weren’t even asking all the right questions. An equally valid question would have been “What effect would slowing or stopping the Gulf Stream have at the other end?” After all, at the same time the Gulf Stream was warming Europe, it was cooling the tropics.

The breakdown in the North Atlantic Drift was like closing off two lanes of traffic on a busy highway. As the Gulf Stream slowed, warm tropical water backed up all along the east coast. Some of it turned east further south, into Madeira and North Africa, bringing unexpected heat to the Canary Current. On land, the southeastern United States never really had a winter, and out to sea, the hurricane season didn’t end on November 30. Tropical storms continued to form as late as February. The city of Charleston was hit by a Category 1 hurricane on Christmas Day.


Witnesses to the Dawn of a New Era
Part 1: Snow and Rain and Heat and Gloom of Blight
“Reports coming in say that power has been restored in about ninety percent of the Chicago metropolitan area. However, New York City, Indianapolis and huge swaths of Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania are still without power…

“For the past few years, every winter we’ve been seeing snowfall increase almost everywhere north of the 50th parallel, especially Canada and Russia. Now we’ve got five, six, seven feet of snow covering most of Canada and a stretch of the northern United States. It’s as though this whole area has become upstate New York.
“And along the southern edge, where the warm, moist winds coming up from the Gulf are hitting this massive blanket of snow, that’s where you’re seeing these ice storms. They start out in the upper Midwest and roll east until they hit the ocean.
“The bad news is that according to FEMA, many states are now running short of sand and salt to keep the ice of the roads, and winter isn’t over yet…”

--The Weather Channel, February 9, 2026


“Hurricane Anamarí is expected to make landfall somewhere around Joinville. The Brazilian states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul, along with southern Paraná, will be the first ones affected before the storm blows itself out over northeastern Argentina. Parts of Paraguay and Uruguay may also see some damage.
“But before any of that happens, this hurricane — a Category 3 — will follow this course, shown here on the map. As you can see, the eye of the storm is running about 30 to 40 miles south of the coast. We’re expecting heavy rain, gale-force winds and storm surges to hit the Rio and São Paulo metropolitan areas. That’s over 30 million people affected before this storm even makes landfall.”

--CNN, March 16, 2026

“…it’s well known that during times of war and states of emergency, the government does everything it can to broaden its reach and to command national sentiment on its own behalf, and all too often succeeds. I could quote Orwell or Randolph Bourne, but there’s hardly a need to. We’ve seen it in American history. Lincoln declaring martial law in Maryland, Woodrow Wilson suppressing dissent, rationing and internment during World War II, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 — again and again, Washington has used wars of one sort or another as an excuse to increase its power, lessen its accountability and diminish the economic or political freedom of the people. And, unfortunately, the people have consented to it, when they weren’t actually cheering it on.
“So what’s changed? Until fairly recently, before it went to war or declared a state of emergency a government needed enemies, and those enemies needed to be other people — foreign powers, rebels, terrorists. Nothing less than that would elicit the sort of reaction the government wanted. When President Carter called for the nation to wage ‘the moral equivalent of war’ on the energy crisis, to reshape that whole part of the economy into something less subject to the whims of a foreign oil cartel, the nation simply didn’t buy it.
"But that was then, and this is now. Today, 'the moral equivalent of war' is a real thing. Look at the recent election in Canada…"

--Keynote address to the Libertarian Party
 Convention, May 22, 2026, San Diego

“Now the Phoenix area has three major sources of drinking water. There’s the Salt River Project — that’s this network of reservoirs and canals on the Salt and Verde Rivers; there's the Central Arizona Project canal, which brings water from the Colorado River; and there's the aquifers. The problem is the SRP. That's where the shortage is. Over the past three or four years, too much hot weather, not enough rain and little to no snow have left water levels there dangerously low.
“I mentioned the aquifers. The state had a plan to get them to where potable water was flowing into them or being returned to them as fast as it was being taken out, and to have this done by 2025. They’ve had to push that back to 2030.
“But the real fight is over the water in the Colorado River. Thanks to heavy rain and snow in Utah and Colorado, the Colorado is more than usually full. But the amount of water Arizona can take was long ago settled by law — the Colorado River Compact, first approved in 1922. The state’s taking every drop it’s entitled to, and it isn’t enough. They are not getting enough. All the candidates in the gubernatorial election are promising to persuade the upriver states to re-negotiate the Compact, but the upriver states are already saying, basically, ‘No thank you.’
“So in Phoenix, and in Tucson, they’ve had to start rationing water. If you have a family of a certain size, or you run a certain kind of business, you get a certain amount of water.

‘We don’t flush the toilet every time, you know? It’s hard to get used to — my wife and I… we used to be a very clean family.’
‘Mi abuela… she say if you have clean sand, you can clean dishes with it. But I never do that until now.’
‘A lot of people have stopped bathing. Two weeks ago I fired a server for coming to work with a severe case of body odor. Then yesterday I had to hire her back because everyone else who applied for the job smelled just as bad. Or worse.’

"Some businesses — the golf courses, for example — use reclaimed water. That’s wastewater that’s been partly purified, so it's not safe to drink or bathe in, but good enough for other uses. But even that water is running low, and getting harder to purify. Too much sewage, not enough water. A couple of golf courses have had to close due to bacterial contamination. Others have cut back to nine holes, or replaced their grass with artificial turf.
“Outside those cities, they’ve just let the price of water go up. This is supposed to be a free-market approach. The price of water is supposed to rise to its natural level. Unfortunately, not everyone is playing along with that. The cotton growers in Arizona have managed to persuade Congress to increase their subsidies, which means they can buy enough water to stay in business… which leaves even less for everyone else. Growing cotton takes a lot of water. Here’s what the mayor of Scottsdale has to say:

‘People are leaving! Poor people — they’re getting on the bus and going away in droves! They can’t afford to live here any more, with the cost of water what it is! Why do we even need to grow cotton out there? Wait a few years and they’ll be growing it in New Jersey!’"

--The Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC, June 18, 2026

Q: ‘Is there a danger that with so many countries rationing bread products, that the market will be affected?’
A: ‘I don’t see that happening. Governments are still paying market value for grain.’
Q: ‘When can we expect wheat prices to go back to something closer to normal?’
A: ‘Probably never. First of all, in the case of winter wheat, if you’re a farmer and you think your crop is going to be a total loss one year in three, then in the good years you need to increase your profits by fifty percent just to break even.
‘Second, food is a fungible commodity. If the price of one crop rises — in this case wheat — people start eating more rice or potatoes, which raises the demand for those products while reducing it for whatever is in short supply.
‘But look at what’s happening in the United States, with the drought in the Midwest and the heat wave in the southeast. In many ways, the heat wave is worse. Rice, corn and soybeans are three of the world’s great staple crops, and when the temperature goes above 40° centigrade — about 104° Fahrenheit — they just… stop growing. No matter how good the soil is or how much rain there is, the plant’s chemistry doesn’t work any more. That’s what’s been happening in southern China and the southeastern United States. With every passing week, those crops are losing days of growth, they’re getting hit by funguses and aphids…’”

--An interview with the Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, CNN, July 13, 2026


Witnesses to the Dawn of a New Era
Part 2: Big Trouble in China/Canadian Government Initiatives
“We’ve seen a number of natural disasters so far this year — the hurricane in South America, the tornado and derecho outbreak in the United States, and just last month we saw Pakistan hit by floods as bad if not worse than 2010 or 2019.
“Typhoon Haishen, however, is the worst — or rather, the worst so far. Take a look — we’re hovering over Shanghai Railway Station. It’s been nearly 24 hours since the last bands of rain passed overhead, and as you can see, the streets haven’t drained yet. That’s seawater more than anything else. Most of Shanghai is built on fairly low-lying ground, and it was hit by a 40-foot storm surge. We suspect some blockage may have gotten into the sewer mains from all the debris. Over to you…”

“Thank you. Yesterday at about 8 to 8:30 p.m. local time the eye of the storm passed directly over Changzhou, and it was still a Category 5 storm at that point. It’s lost a lot of force since then — it’s currently over Anhui and Henan, and its winds have dropped below 100 miles per hour.
“Government spokespersons in Beijing have emphasized that all evacuees are safe — most of them are in Hubei, Jiangxi or Fujian, well away from the path of Haishen. Even so, we’re talking about over 20 million people that had to be relocated. If the U.S. had to evacuate New York — the state, not the city — it would be almost as bad as this.”

--CNN, August 20, 2026

“‘With every passing winter, Canada has lost a few buildings — generally older buildings with flat roofs that were vulnerable to heavy snowfall. Last winter was particularly bad, not just because of the snow but because a lot of buildings couldn’t be fixed — the insurers had either dropped them or gone bankrupt. Now these buildings are being bought up by the national government, provincial and local governments, or private nonprofits, and either knocked down or heavily retrofitted — extra windows added, or whole walls knocked out and replaced with glass. They’re not ideal for the purpose, but they are cheap to purchase and there are plenty to go around.
“‘The plan is to use these structures as hothouses — not to grow food or endangered plants, but to cultivate tree seedlings by the millions. The majority of these will be subalpine fir and different species of spruce, but they’re also looking at trees like white oak, grand fir and sugar maple. Right now, tree experts are scouting the wilderness for places north of the trees’ current range, or north of the tree line altogether, where they can be planted and survive. The administration’s goal is to plant 38 million trees next summer — one tree for every man, woman and child in Canada.’
“‘That sounds like a lot, but is it? In real terms?’
“‘Well, if they succeeded, and if each tree were given 100 square meters — that’s a minimum of 5 meters on each side — that would cover an area slightly larger than Kent. Vanishingly small, in Canadian terms. The bottleneck turns out to be the number of seedlings likely to be available. In ’28 and ’29 they hope to plant much larger numbers. The idea, you see, is to get as many young trees pulling carbon out of the air as possible, while at the same time helping the species move into their new ranges.’
“‘How is all this being paid for?’
“‘A surprising number of people are willing to volunteer their labor. Even so, this is an expensive program, particularly when added to the other public and private expenditures Canadians are coping with. The new government, along with several provincial governments, are using a mixture of tax hikes and bond sales, with funds carefully earmarked. The rule is that anything they expect to complete within the next five years should be paid for with bonds, while anything that will be an ongoing expense for the foreseeable future is to be paid for with taxes.
“‘The new sewer systems, for example, are being paid for with bond sales. Hothouse construction falls into that category as well. They're only raising taxes for the things that are likely to be annual expenditures for the foreseeable future.’
“‘These bond sales… how are the markets responding?’
“‘Well, I asked one buyer if he was feeling optimistic about the future. What he said was, “Either Canada is going to survive the next fifty years as a functioning state, or else it isn’t. If it does, I’m set. If it doesn’t, odds are most other countries are going to go down too, and losing my investment will be the least of my problems.”’”

--BBC, August 31, 2026

“‘The plan was originally for the Sanming camp to be shut down by the end of the week as all these people were moved back into their homes — or elsewhere if those homes turn out to be unsalvageable. Unfortunately, this camp has been quarantined due to an outbreak of what officials say is a form of avian flu, possibly H5N1. Now, so far it hasn’t spread outside the camp, but people aren’t taking any chances — as you can see, pretty much everyone on the street is wearing face masks.’
“‘Do we have any word on casualties, or on the number of infected?’
“‘Not yet, but the government has already asked the Red Cross for assistance, which implies something more than just a handful of cases.’
“‘Any word on how this might have happened?’
“‘We don’t know the specifics. But when you have three days to set up a temporary facility for a quarter of a million people, you have to expect that something’s going to go wrong. When this has to be done dozens of times in dozens of places, a situation like this one comes close to a mathematical certainty.’”

--CNN, September 2, 2026

“We’ve all seen the photos of the devastation on the ground — or maybe I should say what used to be the ground — but to fully appreciate the scale of what’s happened, you have to see it from space. This is a Google Earth image of the Turpan Depression from before. Notice the forests here, the dry lakebed, the general desert-type terrain. And now here… this photo was taken by a satellite yesterday during a break in the cloud cover.  Not a complete break, as you can see, but… well, just look at that. There’s a lake. A huge lake that three months ago wasn’t there.
“And if you look at this map, you’ll see where it came from. Looking at it straight down on the North Pole like this, you can see this almost triangle-shaped belt of rain around the Northern Hemisphere. There are a couple of thin spots in it, over the Chukchi Sea and here over Greenland — and let me just say we’re very glad Greenland hasn’t seen a lot of heavy rain yet — and some thick areas around the north slopes of the Alaska Range and the northern Canadian Rockies — that’s a rain-shadow effect, which is perfectly normal even if we’re not used to seeing it in that part of the world.
“But the biggest area of rainfall is this stretch of central Asia that runs from eastern Kazakhstan to central Mongolia and south into the Tien Shan. And that’s important, because this region, to put it mildly, is not used to heavy rainfall. We’re talking about a part of the world that normally gets maybe eight to twelve inches of precipitation a year, mainly in the summer, and is now getting three times that in the space of two months. And what makes it worse is that the soil is so thin. There’s just no way it can absorb this much water in this little time. It has to go somewhere, and here’s where it’s going.
“So now we have a new lake in northern Xinjiang, and — because the Turpan Depression is actually below sea level — we’re not expecting it to go away any time soon…”

--The Weather Channel, October 28, 2026



2027 Part 1
The first two months of the year were, by the standards of this decade, downright temperate. In the United States, snow fell as far south as Maryland and Tennessee, although it melted in a matter of days. Snowfall was much heavier than average in Canada, Siberia and northern Europe. By the end of January, the city of Helsinki had completed its new showcase sewer system, designed and built at great expense to accommodate a tropical downpour. It met the challenge of the spring snowmelt and passed with flying colors, proving that at least some changes in the climate could be adapted to… by those willing to spend the money.

There were other bits of semi-good news. The Antarctic Peninsula glaciers and the West Antarctic ice sheet experienced several major collapses, raising global sea levels by… a millimeter and a half. Hurricanes appeared off the Brazilian coast from late February to the first week of April, but never made landfall. In China, the outbreak of H5N1 was officially over in February, and the new Party leadership celebrated by… ordering vast quantities of mosquito netting. (Scientists had detected the spread of malarial mosquitoes into new parts of China, and the government was not about to be caught napping a second time.)

As a sign of how others were adapting to a changing ecology, in May fishermen out of Alaska were threatened with firearms in international waters, and forced to withdraw, by a Japanese fleet catching tuna — not to kill, but to collect tissue samples for the growing kuron-maguro industry. (Over the past few years, declining fish stocks had led to a revolution in the fishing industry. Now, Japanese fishermen harvested small samples of tuna muscle and cloned them to grow multi-ton sheets of meat. As these tissue cultures eventually succumbed to cell senescence or infection, new samples were constantly needed. The fishing fleets were developing an almost pastoral[1] — and distinctly proprietary — relationship with the schools of tuna.)

In May, an army of young volunteers in Canada, Russia and Scandinavia set about planting trees in places where they were deemed likely to grow and less likely to have their roots drowned in the northern monsoon. The supply of seedlings ran out long before the volunteers could run out of energy.

The last of the ice disappeared from the Arctic Ocean on June 5, only five days earlier than the previous year. This raised hope that the freeze-and-melt cycle in the Arctic was settling into a new pattern that would last at least the next few decades. The resulting “neo-boreal” climate was one that had never been seen before, with warm to cool summers, heavy to extreme rain in the fall and heavy snow in the winter.

Unfortunately, this climate was having some very bad effects nearby. Once again, as had first happened in 2012 and had happened half a dozen other times since then, melting was taking place over the entire surface of the Greenland ice sheet. Normally, most of the meltwater refroze quickly, or flowed down a moulin[2] to the base of the icecap. This year was different. This year, starting in June, the entire ice sheet was being rained on. It wasn’t the torrential downpour of the northern monsoon, but it was enough. The rain and meltwater filled the moulins and eroded paths through the ice that ran down to the sea, crevasses and gorges that could be clearly seen from space. It was like a time-lapse of the formation of a river valley. Collapses occurred along the frayed edges of the sheet, where the ice was thinnest.

But a sheet of ice a mile thick is not going to be destroyed by a few inches of rain — or even, in some cases, five or six inches. Between the beginning of June and the end of September, the Greenland ice sheet lost less than one percent of its mass — enough to raise global sea levels by a little over two inches.

Of course, all that cold, fresh water pouring into the ocean at once had an unmistakable effect on the ocean around Greenland. What had happened in the North Atlantic two years ago happened again this summer, and it was much worse this time. Summer in western and central Europe was several degrees cooler than average, even as the East Coast of the U.S. sweltered in the heat. As in any year, the majority of Atlantic hurricanes turned east before hitting the mainland U.S., but those that did crossed the warm water of the backed-up Gulf Stream, and were swelled to monstrous size. Florida, North Carolina and eastern Long Island were hardest-hit.


[1] In the sense of “shepherd-like.”
[2] A vertical shaft in a glacier formed by flowing water.



2027 Part 2
“Climatology is not a morality play. The sky and the ocean do not care whether we restore balance to them through a wholesale reinvention of our civilization, the palliative measures of geoengineering, or both. And it seems more and more likely that both will be necessary.”

--The Canadian Prime Minister, delivering the keynote address to the U.N. Conference on Climate Change

The U.N. Conference on Climate Change had been scheduled for October 27 through November 4 in Toronto, in the hope that this year’s northern monsoon would focus the minds of the attendees on the urgency of the situation. The city experienced such heavy rains during the conference that the Metro Toronto Convention Centre had to be surrounded by a wall of sandbags.

Inside the Centre, they began by reviewing the progress that had already been made. The host nation and several others boasted of their tree-planting efforts. A representative from China revealed that by the end of this year, his country’s navy and merchant fleets[1] would have all their diesel and LNG engines replaced by fuel-cell engines. Australia had begun encouraging the growth of coral reefs further south, in waters that had never been warm enough before (although the project was a little constrained by the shipping lanes.)

Inside the Centre, representatives from virtually every nation on Earth reviewed the disasters that had already taken place, and learned that the worst might be yet to come. Vague warnings about the end of the world were replaced with specific scenarios of catastrophe. Climatologists painted a picture of a world, in 2100, of such heat and humidity that it was no longer physically possible for Homo sapiens to survive in the tropics (or the temperate zones during the summer) without air conditioning. Those who did survive in those areas would have to adjust to an entirely different assortment of crops, probably genetically engineered tropical plants.

This wasn’t the worst-case scenario. That honor belonged to the "Green Sky" scenario, theorized to be possible if CO2 levels rose above 1000 ppm, in which the ocean currents that exchanged water between the surface and the deep sea halted or slowed to a crawl. In this scenario, oxygen levels in the deep ocean dropped below the point that could sustain most forms of life… except of course for anaerobic bacteria, which exploded in numbers, feasting on the corpses of everything that died at sea and poisoning the ocean — and the air above it — with hydrogen sulfide. (According to one theory, something like this had happened a little over 250 million years ago, and had played a large part in the “Great Dying” — the mass extinction which separated the Permian and Triassic eras, arguably the worst catastrophe in the history of life on Earth.) Under these conditions, whatever was left of the human species might be reduced to living like settlers on Mars, sealed in airtight cities, perhaps for thousands of years. There was some question whether this was possible under the present configuration of the continents, but as one attendee put it, “The story of global climate change has been the story of one decade’s hysterical doomsaying becoming the next decade’s unwarranted optimism.”

There was a very strong sense in Toronto that something needed to be done. The Chinese representatives were particularly emphatic — after Typhoon Haishen and Lake Turpan, the new Party leadership was not inclined to take half-measures. There were, however, three controversial questions:
• How could the Conference solve the free-rider problem?
• Geoengineering: good idea or bad?
• Should the goal be to stop the world from warming further, or to restore the climate of the mid-20th century?

The free-rider problem was one the conferees had been trying to cope with since the Kyoto Protocol. All the attendees were committed to action, but suspected each other of wanting to continue business as usual and leave the heavy lifting to others. And the U.S. and other industrial giants, which were the nations that most needed to change, were also the nations that the U.N. had the least power to punish.

Ultimately, the question was considered moot, since the nations in question were not holding themselves to the same standards to begin with. China, for example, was already one year into a five-year plan to replace all coal-fired plants with solar, wind and (to the dismay of some) nuclear power plants, and a ten-year plan to replace all internal combustion engines in vehicles with hybrid or electric engines. Most nations were somewhat less ambitious in their goals, but everyone was promising dramatic action. (Representatives from the more authoritarian states were rather smug in pointing out that they, at least, could make promises that their governments would keep.)[2]

Geoengineering made a lot of people nervous, for two reasons: it might be used as an excuse for inaction in other areas, and it had immense potential for unintended consequences. Even the Chinese representatives were uneasy about it. (China had its share of experience with ill-fated attempts at large-scale ecological redesign, and there was no reason to think such things were limited to communist states. The inclusion of sparrows in the original “Four Pests” campaign, for example, had been a failure of ornithology, not of economic doctrine.) The prospect of random climate-altering schemes being carried out willy-nilly, with or without any scientific basis, at the behest of rogue governments or eccentric billionaires, was only slightly less terrifying than the “Green Sky” scenario.

On the other hand, it was clearly too late to solve the problem entirely the “right” way. If for no other reason, methane (a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2) had been found leaking from the melting permafrost and the Arctic seabed, and would continue to do so no matter what limits were placed on fossil fuels.

So the Conference (now a permanent intergovernmental body of the U.N.) established a Geoengineering Commission to study proposals for “large-scale alterations of the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans or insolation” and approve or reject them. (The Commission’s reach was deliberately limited to “large-scale” projects. More low-key efforts — white roofs and lighter pavements to lower the albedo of urban areas, for example, or tax breaks for corporations that placed artificial trees on their grounds — would be outside their jurisdiction.)

As for what sort of “large-scale alterations” they would permit, the Commission would give priority to those projects which attacked the greenhouse gases and oceanic carbon directly, rather than trying to force temperatures down in spite of them. They authorized the fertilization of selected areas of the ocean with a total of 100,000 tons of iron dust in 2028, just as a beginning. In places where coral reefs and vital stocks of fish and mollusks were being damaged by ocean acidification, governments were authorized to add gypsum to the water.[3]

The injection of sulfur aerosols into the stratosphere, on the other hand, was rejected for the time being. The sulfur wouldn’t stay in the upper atmosphere, and would need to be injected constantly and indefinitely in order to work. Moreover, it would do absolutely nothing to counter ocean acidification — in fact, when the particles descended into the troposphere they would turn to acid rain and make the situation slightly worse. However, the U.S., Japan and South Korea were authorized to conduct a joint experiment involving the seeding of low-lying clouds over the North Pacific with salt water to increase their albedo, on the theory that, whether or not it did any good, salt water falling in the ocean was unlikely to do any harm.

Tied into the question of what measures should be taken to counteract climate change was the deeper question of what sort of climate the world wanted, and what sort it should be willing to settle for. Reversing the changes that had already happened and returning global temperatures to about what they were between 1940 and 1970 (assuming this was possible) would require far more radical geoengineering than the Commission was prepared to allow. At the moment, the Conference’s goal was simply to stop the climate from changing further.

Many found this completely unsatisfactory. The climate as it existed today was one of burning forests, diminishing harvests, shrinking glaciers, falling aquifers and rising sea levels. Although the melting of Greenland had stopped for the year and the ice sheet was now covered with a reassuring blanket of snow, no one had any illusions about the future. Even if global temperatures did not rise one more degree, that ice sheet would be gone in a hundred years or so. The value of every piece of real estate less than seven meters above sea level had to be adjusted to reflect its new impermanence… and that wasn’t even taking West Antarctica into account. “Are you prepared to say goodbye to New Orleans, Venice, Bangkok and eventually who knows how many other cities?” asked the president of the Maldives, who did not mention that essentially his entire nation would disappear as well, although everyone knew it.

It was with a sense of relief that the representatives left Toronto. In spite of all they had agreed to, they were plagued by the feeling that every minute spent talking was a minute not spent acting.

“Contrary to what some have said, the past forty years have not been wasted. We have developed the tools we need to save ourselves, and have begun to use them on a small scale. Now it’s time to go big.”

-The President of the United States, delivering closing remarks


[1] China and Hong Kong actually have separate merchant marines. (I figure when fuel cells start to see serious use, it will be in cargo ships. The weight of the insulation would be less of a problem there.)

[2] In 1997, President Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol, but didn’t bother submitting it to the Senate, which had already indicated it wouldn’t pass.

[3] This is an idea I haven’t seen elsewhere (and there may be a good reason why) but it does seem to me that one way to fight ocean acidification would be to add more calcium to balance out the carbonic acid. You’d want to use gypsum rather than limestone, of course, because the point is to make more calcium carbonate, and limestone is already calcium carbonate.
The Day The Icecap Died, Part 1
The story on which "Altered Seasons" is loosely based.
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Walter Yuschak is a big fat red-faced guy who shaves his head because he noticed his bald spot was growing and decided to get proactive about it. Here ends the physical description. He’s more defined by his voice anyway, which is kind of high and rasping — not pleasant, but penetrating and hard to ignore. It’s gotten him his own weekly TV show. He has a verbal tic — he can't help prefacing his remarks with "Listen," "Listen to me" or "Pay attention." This tells you a lot about him already.

A lot of people don’t like Walt, but he sees himself as a man of strong convictions who expresses them proudly and has an excellent sense of humor. He can laugh off any insult you throw at him, and expects everyone else to be able to do the same. As a result, he is often dismayed and frustrated by the inexplicable sensitivities of others. This is what being an asshole feels like from the inside.

Walt supports Pratt, but is much more of a libertarian. As he often says, “I’m more afraid of the government than I am of the weather.” (Which, if one just goes by human history, is a pretty reasonable opinion.) He doesn’t want Western civilization to collapse, but if it does, he’d rather it go down Mad Max style than 1984 style.

Which is how he gets himself on the Brownlist — repeatedly insisting, on the air, that the massive and agonizing serial weather disasters (110°F weather in the South, two and a half feet of rain in the upper Midwest, etc.) are nothing more than a normal change in the earth’s climate that wasn’t caused by human activity and can’t be changed by human effort. It isn’t just that he’s afraid of his taxes going up, or of the government using this as an excuse to claim power over more aspects of his life… although that’s a big part of it.

No one would ever believe this about Walt, but in addition to being smart, he always takes the long view. In this case, what he sees through that view scares the hell out of him. If this really is the dawning of the Age of Anthropocene, if the collective activity of the human race has become a force of sufficient power that care needs to be taken not to damage the livability of the planet… Walt doesn’t want to live in the world that that implies. He doesn’t want to be constantly monitoring what he’s doing and how much fuel is involved. He really, really doesn’t want somebody else monitoring his doings for him. If the universe has become such a minefield, he’d rather do a faceplant onto a mine and end it all quickly than have to watch every step for the rest of his life.

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Paul Briggs
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