Inside the God-Pod

(a true story you won’t have remembered)

 

Mir International Space Station, 184 miles above sea-level, orbiting the planet Earth every 94 minutes.

 

‘…Message Received: 04:34 GMT. October 29th 2011. Standing Orders confirmed: 04:38… Project ‘GreenTea’ initiating… Standby… ‘

The letters scrolled across the screen, green and angry.

‘…Authorized…Deploy GreenTea worm…. Deploy…’

Commander Rachael Waits opened her left eye and shot a glance at the clock above her head, or was it below she wondered, strapped into the harness that kept her fixed to the floor of her personal living space she couldn’t tell. She hated it when her morning meditation was interrupted, it spoiled the rest of her day. She scrunched up the toes on her bare feet and felt the smooth plastic floor, bringing herself slowly back into the room she looked out of the small concave window just in time to see the Earth below roll into view like a glowing blue marble on a black silken tray.

A sinking feeling in her stomach told her that this was probably the communication they’d been waiting for but hoped they’d never get. The repeating high pitched buzz coming over the intercom of a question awaiting an answer confirmed this.

‘…Deploy…?’

She released the harness and kicked up with her feet, trying as best she could to control her free-float up to the command module.

Rachael pulled herself into the bank of flashing buttons and in towards the display. The monitor blinked urgently awaiting her response, the light from the screen reflected in her glasses, making her pupils dilate. It was the one message she hoped she’d never see.

Commander Tom Franks put down his felt-tip pen and gave her a little wave.

‘I’ve got it,’ he said triumphantly, ‘listen to this… Drinking a cup of green tea I stopped a war’.

Rachael gave him a look that would have crushed a black hole. ‘For fuck sake Tom, are you not reading this?’

‘Sure, I seen it. It didn’t seem real. I was in denial till you got here.’

‘Orders confirmed. It’s as real as it gets.’ Her body relaxed a little and she let go of the control panel and they both twisted round each other as if part of a synchronized swim.

‘Anyway, Bullshit, you didn’t write that, it’s too good for one of yours’.

Tom couldn’t carry the deception off, or maybe in these troubled days of nuclear threat he didn’t want to. There was enough deceit and brinksmanship going on down below on the big blue ball without him bringing it up here too he mused, before deciding to come clean.

‘You’re right it’s Paul Rabb. I can’t write fucking Haikus at a time like this.’

‘Give it two hours and you won’t be writing anything ever again.’

The beep from the comm. made them both look guiltily over at the unanswered message.

‘Are you going to answer or shall I? Who goes down in history as the one who did it?’

Tom picked up the felt-tip pen and nervously scratched the small of his back.

‘You still haven’t grasped it have you? There isn’t going to BE any history.’

Rachael pushed against the wall and floated towards the screen.

‘Fine, I’ll do it…’  then, under her breath, ‘… pussy’.

She typed carefully.

‘Authenticated. Release GreenTea worm.’

Tom could tell the answer by the look on her face, but he asked anyway.

‘Is it done?’

‘Yep. In two days the virus will infect every computer, every server, every back-up. There’ll be nothing left. A clean slate. All that will be left will be physical books that no-one will remember how to read anyway.’

Tom shook his head.

‘They’ve finally done it then, stupid bastards. How many people are responsible do you reckon? Maybe a hundred global grey suits with real power? And because of them billions of folk just trying to get through their day are going to suffer.’

Rachael chastised him, ‘At least our way we’re saving them all. Remember that. How long we got till release of GreenTea organic?’

Tom checked the display again. ‘That’s it then, no going back now. We’re at T minus two hours for release of GreenTea organic.’

Rachael took the pen from Tom,  ‘Fine. I’m going to write it all down before I forget.’

Pushing off against the command chair, she propelled herself backwards through the open hatch and down towards her cabin.

Tom spoke before thinking, ‘But afterwards you won’t be able to read…’

Rachael shouted back at him as she disappeared into the belly of the space-station.

‘Hey, go fuck yourself, Tom. We all have different ways of coping, ok?’

She strapped herself back into her harness and picked up the leather-bound book. She hoped she could find the words, such a complicated situation required the simplest of exposition.

 

‘Diary of Commander Rachael Waits, Mir. October 29th 2011

With all the trouble in the Middle-East and North Africa, no-one could believe it was actually North Korea that had brought us to the brink. With so much going on they’d slipped under the radar. Everyone had presumed it was going to be Iran.  But the ‘Big One’ as it had come to be known, the San Francisco earthquake of May had changed everything. The USA had become paralysed, spread so thinly over so many fronts that when North Korea invaded their southern neighbours, Russia and China seized the opportunity and sided with Kim Jong-Il,  it was only a matter of time before the boys on both sides decided to stop shaking their rattles and play with the deadliest toy in their box: Thermo-Global Nuclear War.

Now we’ve had the order, we’ve less than six hours to Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) and I can finally write about it all. I fear what we’re about to do more than a Court Marshall even if there’d be anyone left to conduct it.

I was recruited for Project GreenTea two years ago. The project’s purpose was simple: to wipe away all computer files and websites and to treat the human brain the same way, as a hard drive. It had started with the Military at Caltech trying to stop Iran’s Nuclear program by inserting a computer virus called Stuxnet into their master computer. If you could do it to a machine, then why not to a mind?

Tom and I have just released the computer wiping virus and projections say it’ll take up to two weeks to work. I’ve no problem wiping the net clean, but the organic hardware, the human brain is much harder to sign off on. I haven’t told Tom, but I’m not sure I can go through with it.’

Rachael paused and looked over her shoulder, even here in space, she felt paranoid that someone might be watching her break the Official Secrets Act.

‘GreenTea is special UN project, with no oversight committee or governmental knowledge. Only seventy people on the whole planet know of its existence. Six satellites have been fitted with the GreenTea device to ensure global coverage. The only way to guarantee total coverage was to use the earth’s atmosphere itself as a microwave cooker, hitting every living thing with a beam from the inside out. The device to be attached was always cleared as telemetry equipment at the highest level. These seventy men and women were a secret cabal of elders above presidents and kings, popes and trillionaires, formed after the Cuban missile crisis. They agreed such an impossibly huge decision could only be taken in the event of imminent MAD being within six hours and then the decision must be sacred: Everyone. EVERYONE must have their memories wiped without exception. It was too important.  Not even any of the twenty orchestrating ‘elders’ could be spared. This was the deciding factor that had finally allowed project GreenTea to go ahead.

The mindwipe ray itself was incredibly simple. There is a substance called DMT in every living thing and till recently science didn’t know what it was there for. But the GreenTea molecule forces the DMT in every living cell to reset itself, just as putting a magnet next to cassette tape will wipe everything. Once the beam is shut off the magnet effect ends and the tape begins recording memories again as if nothing had happened. Once this had been discovered, and given the human race’s propensity to destroy itself sooner or later through religion, race, nationalism, the leap to having a failsafe weapon against nuclear destruction was easy. Both Tom and I have been sworn under oath to expose ourselves to the ray once we’ve confirmed the planet is clean, but it is irrelevant really, as with no-one back on Earth with the knowledge to pilot a shuttle to come and get us we knew we were destined to die in a decaying orbit before we signed up to the mission. But imagine we could get back to earth somehow un-zapped… we’d be gods!  The knowledge we’d have!  What I’m about to do now is just as biblical. Me and Tom are like Adam and Eve in reverse: our sacred job is to take away knowledge, make Eve vomit up the apple and forget. But will we create a Garden of Eden? Will everyone really start from scratch, happy, or is it in our nature to ultimately destroy ourselves, perhaps it’s hardwired into our own computer programme? Perhaps in another few millennia some poor other schmuck will be up here needing to press the button again. Perhaps this isn’t the first time it’s happened and I’m just one in a long line of schmucks resetting the system? In a strange way that almost makes me feel better. Jesus that makes my head hurt!’

The display on the wall continued to implacably count down. She could feel her heart beat faster and this in turn increased the speed of her writing, each beat bringing another thought onto the page.

‘But it’s not only wars and trouble that people will forget when their memories are wiped, it’s also all the good things, the beautiful things too. Either way, our past makes us who we are. It defines us and gives a cushion to reality. Without a sense of self or past, or knowing our place in society everyone could just freak out. Imagine that: No memory of where you were, who you were, what you were engaged in the second before GreenTea hit. People driving cars, flying planes, performing surgery, all would suddenly forget everything. But without memory the things that divided us would be forgotten too: our nationality, our religion and belief systems, our tribal allegiances. All the things that seem to matter but don’t really, the things that blind us to the fact we are all humans contained on a finite planet.’

Rachael felt thirsty and took a long pull from the plastic beaker on her saccharine shake.

‘Sure birds would all fall out of the sky, as if returned to the egg forgetting how to fly. I remember the woodpecker outside my window at Kennedy all last week, waking me up an hour before Reveille. I felt sorry for it, pecking to attract the lost mate I’d found dead at the foot of the tree the Sunday before. It reminded me of Pauli, all smashed and broken. God I still miss him.’

Rachael looked over at the photo of her family. She flicked up the popper that secured the frame to the wall and watched it float towards her. It was the connections in our lives that gave life a purpose, without that what would we be? She wanted desperately to remember Pauli, it felt wrong to forget him.

Tom’s voice came faltering over the intercom and Rachael could hear the tension in it.

‘Come back Rachael, won’t you? I don’t want to be alone at a time like this.’

She suddenly felt selfish for spending these last few precious hours of knowing, by herself. She closed the diary too fast and sent it spinning off to the corner of the pod. She returned to the command module, her heart beating faster than ever. Tom was biting his nails and spitting the hard skin on to the control panel. Despite the temperature controlled environment he was sweating profusely.

‘Hey’.

Rachael forced a smile.

‘Hey you, how you holding up?’

‘What do you think? I’m trying to convince myself that maybe the world needs a second chance anyhow? Seeing as how we made such a pig’s ear of the first one. How many people given the opportunity would want to start again from a clean slate? I mean, we haven’t exactly made a paradise down there, have we? By the time the average child is twelve they’ve already seen twenty thousand violent deaths through a mixture of computer games, film and rolling news. What does that teach a forming brain about what’s important in society? Most people’s pain comes from memory of past failures, guilt and sadness anyway, right? Hell, a whole bunch of people down there would want their memories wiped given the choice, even if the alternative wasn’t guaranteed nuclear Armageddon. No it has to be the mind-wipe…’

‘Whether they want it or not?’

Tom spat a thumbnail onto the monitor,

‘Whether they want it or not. Enough wobbles. It’s time….’

Tom knew when the moment came, as it inevitably would that he’d feel a wobble himself, he worried if his training would override his fear of losing his memory. But that is why they’d selected him, he reminded himself, because they knew he’d get the job done. The deaths involved for people driving or flying suddenly unable to operate their heavy machinery was unfortunate collateral damage when compared to the whole planet being wiped out in a nuclear cataclysm. Now the moment had come for him to press the button the strangest memory came into his mind: he didn’t want to forget the memory of his first kiss. It meant so much to him. He quickly overrode the emotion but wondered why it had been that of all things that came into his mind. He smelt her perfume again but it was a lie. There were no smells up here except the anticeptic plasticity. That’s how everything would be from now on. Up here in the station he was sensory deprived, it was just black and white, mostly white. This forced his brain to work overtime on his inner life, his memories became more vivid to compensate and stop him going mad. Sometimes he swore he could smell the Giant Redwood forests after rain where he used to walk as a child and stare up at the stars, little realising then that one day he’d be up there too. How he wished it could be under different circumstances. Soon all that secret internal world would be wiped forever like so much spilt milk. 

Rachael too had become lost in a reverie, savouring the luxury of rememberance suddenly felt so acutely now it was about to be taken away forever. She looked out of the window to see the West Coast of America swing into view. Her home. Over the north edge, where she judged Washington State to be she could see a storm raging. Where did woodpeckers go in the rain, she wondered to herself.

Tom’s voice sounded like the whine of a colic baby.

‘I can’t do it.’

Rachael surprised herself by the strength of feeling in her response.

‘Fuck off, Tom. Don’t put this all on me. Don’t make ME have to be the strong one. What’s going to happen in six hours if we DON’T do this, eh?’

‘Sorry. I… maybe if we press it together, hey? I can’t take the responsibility of doing it alone, it almost makes me some sort of god sitting above it all in my god-pod.’

He placed his shaking palm onto the ‘Enter’ button, feeling the squish of cold sweat on the large key. Rachael put her arm around him and with her free hand covered his at the keyboard, helping his twitching palm settle.

She looked deep into his eyes.

‘Goddamn pussy to the last, hey Commander?’

She pushed down hard over his hand and both were silenced by such a large event being delivered through a simple button. They looked out of the window as one. The stillness of the blue orb belied the confusion sweeping across the planet like a sunrise. It still looked the same, but down on the ground things were changing. The beam swept across the planet like an invisible sonic wave, a mental tsunami washing everything clean and new as it hit people around the world engaged in all the activities that the human race filled up its time engaging in: making money, washing cars, dancing in a club, closing a deal, making love, digging a hole, punching a face, praying to a deaf god. It all stopped for a moment as people instantly forgot about what they were doing and why it mattered. As they scratched their heads and invariably looked at the floor, they suddenly realised that beyond wondering about what they had just been doing, they were now faced with an infinitely more perplexing question: who the hell were they? As there are many stars in the sky so were there infinitely differing human reactions to being slapped in the face by the GreenTea ray, but most significantly the doomsday clock had stopped counting down. There would now be no Nuclear oblivion, just one of collective memory.

One hundred and eighty four miles above the mayhem, suspended serenely in a silence that complemented the nothingness, Rachael swore she could hear a knocking on the hull, it reminded her for an instant of a woodpecker as Tom raised the portable GreenTea device to their eye levels and pressed: ‘Enter…’

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Comments
  1. Thanks man. I really appreciate that.

  2. sean says:

    What a great concept,I always loved scifi that was believeable,best short story yet.

  3. Yvonne says:

    Michael,

    I will make sure to read “Waiting for Gordo” (funny title) and the others over the next few days. As I enjoy reading your stories, I’m sure I would enjoy editing your work whenever you feel ready for that. Stop by my page to familiarize yourself with my company if you want. But mostly, I just like to read your stuff and will subscribe, which is saying something because I don’t normally care for sci-fi at all….

    Best,
    Yvonne

  4. Hey Yvonne, thank you – that’s a very kind thing to write. I certainly DO need an editor. If you’d like to read more there are plenty available on this blog, my personal favourite is ‘Waiting for Gordo’.

    Best wishes,

    Mike x

  5. yncanchola says:

    Genius, this story. I was browsing around different blogs, wanting to just read a first paragraph to get a sense whether it was any good. I read the whole dang thing. Completely pulled me in. Sad and terrible, but well written and very gripping. I really enjoyed it. Hey–would love to read more of your stuff. If you ever need an editor, stop on by ;o)

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