Weather-System UK™ guaranteed scorching weather in the Scottish Outer Hebrides for the last two weeks of November. Balmy winds poured onto beach and clear skies reflected in the sea. A faint purple aurora phased in the sky as the gigantic force-fields moved thousands of cubic miles of air from Africa to this location. Parched countries received the desperately needed rain for crops, whilst the energy-rich Britain temporarily transformed parts of their nation into balmy paradises. The translucent pipe delighted Malcolm’s kids as they ran happily on the beach throwing sand at the signs that warned of low sea temperatures. The icon on the familiar warning signs showed a man clutching his heart under the water level. Underneath were the words ‘BEWARE COLD SHOCK.’ The force-fields were extremely efficient in moving the air around the world but the sea was far too dense for control and remained at its usual four or five degrees.
Thirty years before Malcolm had hiked in the nearby hills. It had been nearly Christmas in 2005 and he had been a twenty-two year old physicist. He was having trouble remembering the cold, the rain that had stung his face and the wind that threatened to throw you to the ground as he luxuriated in the warm air that piled on top of him. That had been a few years before Trenton Sweet changed the world. His work on cold plasma magneto-hydrodynamics was the stuff of children’s tales these days, even though Sweet was a year younger than Malcolm was. Sweet had followed on from the pioneering work of Laroussi. His unique mind had visualised hundreds of applications for the cold plasma force-fields and he had set to work building practical devices and patenting them. Sweet technology was everywhere, from hospital disinfecting equipment to satellites, protecting them from the bombardment of micro-meteors. Richer than some countries, Sweet lived in seclusion on Ascension Island, permanently surrounded by force-fields that only he could turn off. The islanders had been wildly paid and relocated to anywhere in the world they had wanted to go when Sweet had asked the government for the island in exchange for his weather machines.
General Malcolm Asher was a tall white man in good physical condition. His dark eyes and curly hair reflected his Jewish ancestry. He was young to have risen to the top of his profession and for the past eight years, he had been supervising the Special Defence Project on behalf of the government. Malcolm’s work dealt with Sweet’s cold plasma devices, after bypassing reverse-engineering laws through a Special Act of Parliament. Their overall aim was to provide a shield powerful enough to withstand multiple thermonuclear strikes and large enough to protect the nation. The practical considerations were enormous. The force-field needed to cover approximately one hundred thousand square miles. This would require an initial investment of fifty terawatts, or about three times as much power as the rest of the world could produce. Maintaining the integrity of such a massive cold plasma structure was easier as the normal atmospheric stresses placed upon the field could generate many times more power than was required to sustain it. This curious feature of the force-field was only apparent when the field became larger than five square miles. The excess energy arced as it discharged along the inside of the force-field. It channelled easily with old fashioned lightning rods and modern hi-charge batteries.
‘Daddy come look at this.’
Malcolm broke off his thoughts and turned his attention to his son and daughter. They had found something in the bushes; if it had been anything dangerous the protection squad would have made themselves known. He got up and made his way towards them.
‘Coming, coming.’ He called out. They had turned their backs to investigate whatever it was in front of them.
‘What have you got then, Dennis? Let’s have a look.’
‘It’s a bird, Dad. He’s hurt. Do you think he will be all right? Should we take him to the vet?’ Dennis blurted out, obviously upset.
The brightly coloured parrot was limping awkwardly on the ground. Malcolm examined it and could see that its wing was broken and there were scorch marks on some of the feathers.
‘The discharges,’ he muttered to himself as he got on his knees and gathered the parrot up in his tee-shirt. He laughed when it weakly tried to peck his fingers.
‘We’ve got a fighter here, kids. A real soldier. Let’s get him medivac’d immediately.’ Malcolm began to stride off to their gear. The kids were still young enough to love playing army. They chased after him and scouted ahead. A hand signal from Dennis let him know that the vehicle was secure.
* * *
Malcolm got out of the car in the area reserved for visitors. His children emerged with him and entered the small neat building. The vet was startled when he saw the parrot, even though Malcolm had called him on the way
‘What’s the matter? You said it wouldn’t be a problem on the phone.’
‘People bring all kinds of African birds during these two weeks. It’s just that they are normally quite dead when they arrive.’ The vet stretched out his arms and took the small bundle from Malcolm. The parrot squawked.
The Asher children waited in the car. It had an audio-video system installed with high speed Internet access. The kids had all the games, music and films in the car as they did on their personal systems at home. Alone, Malcolm remained thinking in the vet’s waiting room. The parrot plucked from its natural habitat and wrenched across the world, enduring a nightmare of lightning and flames, lead Malcolm inexorably to the conversation with his rabbi the previous month.
‘Separation of the world by force-fields splits the world of men also. God’s work is single, complete, and whole. It is as indivisible as God is. He cannot be divided into parts. This enterprise will fail Malcolm, it will fail or we will all be damned.’
He had laughed and argued back.
‘This is God’s world, rabbi, and I use God’s creation for all the people’s benefit. If successful, this project will be the most important accomplishment of our race to date. If we can create and control a force like this, why then we can finally leave this overcrowded and dirty planet.’
‘Go then. Flee from God’s work, but don’t create barriers as you leave. Walls that cannot be broken. That is what you plan for the world. Others have thought as you do. They thought to build walls around their countries. Did walls stop the Mongols invading China? Or, the barbarians destroying the Roman Empire? Or, keep the East and West Germans apart? If these walls had not been overcome the world would be an unhappier place.’
‘But the temple has the mehitza. That’s a wall that stops men and women from mixing, and that is God’s work too.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous. The mehitza is nothing compared to your plan …’
‘It’s not my plan, rabbi. It’s the plan of the government, whom I have sworn to serve,’ Malcolm interrupted.
‘You swore to serve God as well.’ The rabbi’s words were tightly controlled but Malcolm knew the fury that lay behind them. In the interests of continuing his work, Malcolm had not been back to temple since the incident.
‘Mr. Asher,’ the vet was calling. Malcolm got up and went into the small surgery. The parrot lay on the examining table. It was not squawking anymore.
‘Parts of the poor little blighter had been burned and other parts frozen. I’ve never really understood why that was. The air coming from the tube is always so warm.’
Malcolm did not answer the vet. He was looking at the small bird with a strange expression on his face. As if, he suddenly smelled something rotten in the air.
‘Are you all right, Mr. Asher?’
Malcolm said he was and pulled out some cash. His actions were slow but automatic. He dropped a handful of fifties on the counter and swung out of the room. He was not all right though. The parrot’s death disturbed Malcolm. It would prey on his mind and unsettle his stomach.
He felt more in control of his emotions when he had reached the car. The kids were still playing on something in the back. He got in and explained to them what had happened. They wanted to know why the bird was cold too.
‘The end of the tube that’s over Africa right now works a bit like a vacuum cleaner. Yes, like the one that Granny has. It grabs a load of warm air and squeezes it. It keeps squeezing and relaxing until it pushes it all the way to us. Now, sometimes a bird is flying in the air that is grabbed. And I suppose that is what happened to the parrot. When the tube relaxes, there is a lot more space in the tube and the air rushes out to fill the room. This is called low air pressure and it can get very cold when the pressure drops. I’m afraid, that’s what killed the parrot.’
The children were subdued but less bothered than their father was. He had explained death to them long ago and they were as comfortable with the notion as they could be without becoming morbidly fixated. On the journey back to the helicopter, and later, his office, Malcolm’s thoughts turned back to his work, specifically, the enormous difficulties to be overcome to create a force-field umbrella around the British Isles. His job was concerned with more than the building of such a device. He had input from a dozen universities examining all kinds of aspects of the Special Defence Project. Included were the possible and probable effects on trade, economics, societal shifts and predicted areas of change, immigration and disease control. The University of Lund had submitted a report on the expected adaptations of bumblebee migration routes that was still on his desktop. He planned to read it on Monday morning. His professionalism demanded that he overlook nothing. He had an entire regiment from the Royal Logistical Corps recording weblogs of discussions pertaining to the energy field. Arguments for and against were sent to the universities for debate and the précised minutes and analyses were dispatched back to him. Work drove the thoughts about the parrot from his mind. Several hours later, he was sitting at his desk examining information displayed on his screen.
His team could successfully create and maintain a shield that could enclose an entire city. Intra-national migration and supply lines precluded that option and after his talk with the rabbi, Malcolm could not bring himself to recommend it to Parliament. Another choice was required. Malcolm secured his system and locked the office door behind him. He knew his simple security measures would count for nothing if someone invaded the house. However, to do that a team would have to penetrate through several lines of protection ranging from soldiers in heated bunkers to thermal satellite coverage linked to computer controlled defence network. For five miles in all directions from the house snow lay on the ground. A small weather pipe kept the region chilled to minus twenty degrees with air from the Artic or Antarctic depending on the season. This kept out all native animal life except the soldiers in position. The controlled guns had a fire-free zone whenever the General was in residence. They had made bloody messes of several lost sheep since the system became operational. Malcolm went to bed.
* * *
At oh-seven-hundred, his personal screen chimed and woke him up. There was an urgent message icon flashing in the corner. He swung round in his bed and tapped the blinking symbol. A video message began to playback. A familiar black man with greying hair and a serious expression filled the screen.
‘Hello, General Asher. My name is Michael Aboa. I am a particle physicist working on behalf of the International Energy Fund. I have some pressing concerns with the nature of your work and would greatly appreciate a meeting. I am flying into the UK tonight and can be at your HQ by ten-o’clock the next morning. If this is convenient, could you notify my staff? Thank you, General Asher.’ The message ended. Malcolm pressed the replay symbol, paused the image, and pushed the security icon that would confirm Aboa’s identity. Within seconds, a dossier on Dr. Aboa (MIT) began to fill his screen. His post-doctoral thesis concerned the manufacture of room-temperature super conducting metals. Malcolm was able to connect the Special Defence Project with Aboa’s work instantly. To deliver the enormous wealth of energy that he would require would need Aboa’s superconductors. Malcolm thumbed the part on his screen to send his positive reply to Aboa’s staff.
The day proceeded briskly. Appointments were made and meetings held. His staff found the General strangely absent, with his thoughts mildly distracted. In truth, Malcolm was looking forward to his meeting with Aboa. Internally, he had dismissed whatever concerns the man might have, but looked forward to meeting such a dynamic man. Malcolm had informed his aide of the visit, and the following morning he read the more thorough information that Hodges provided for him on Dr. Aboa.
Aboa’s research into superconductors had been somewhat obscured by a series of accidents at CERN. His research had led him to use cold plasma force-fields within the particle accelerator to help isolate sub-atomic particles. His belief, that he would later prove, was that the sub-atomic particles could be used to create room-temperature super conductors. The field had interacted with the magnetic effects the accelerator produced; there was an explosion that killed one scientist and injured another. CERN was out of action for six months, but scheduled a second experiment, though they advised greater caution. The next experiment appeared to be running smoothly until a flaw was discovered in the frequency of the force-field containing the precious sub-atomic units. Millions of watts were wasted, but, nonetheless, despite the damage done to his reputation, Aboa managed to convince the CERN governing body to let him have one last try, which was successful. Despite controlled replication of his feat, the Nobel Prize eluded Aboa, as it had not Trenton Sweet. Malcolm’s report included the many statements Aboa had made to press criticising the Nobel commission and their ‘antediluvian attitudes.’
The science was beyond Malcolm’s knowledge of physics but the results were not. Aboa’s work had vastly increased both the speed and the power of computers. SweetSoft Industries had built four particle accelerators, automated like factories. Their principles were lifted directly from Aboa’s work but common opinion insisted that they were yet another amazing advance from the force-field conglomeration that had swallowed the old computing giant. Malcolm’s aide chimed to let him know that Aboa was nearing the complex. Asher typed a code in on his screen that would render the vehicle conveying his guest invisible to the killer satellites. His aide would have already informed the men to allow him entry.
‘Pleased to meet you, General.’ Aboa held out his hand and gripped Asher’s hard.
‘Likewise Doctor and an honour I assure you. Can I offer you any refreshment? Some tea, perhaps?’
Aboa laughed loudly.
‘Yes please, General. It gets very cold between the car and the door here.’
Malcolm joined in with his laughter and agreed whilst he ordered his aide to fetch the drinks. He motioned towards a small couch and arm chair and they both sat down.
‘I imagine you are wondering what the devil I am doing here, aren’t you?’ Aboa’s abrupt question was softened with another mild laugh, ‘You are asking yourself, what does he think he knows?’
‘To be honest with you, I’ve been wondering since I got your message.’ Malcolm was finding himself liking the physicist. Honesty and good humour seemed to emanate from him and Malcolm decided that this was how Aboa had convinced CERN to back his dangerous experiments.
‘Your work here is no secret from the world and many wonder if the British will be successful. Most seem to think the feat is impossible. A cold plasma force-field hundreds of miles across that could withstand hundreds of mega-tonnes of nuclear power. It is a dream they say. The power required for such a thing is far beyond the Earth’s capacity to generate. And, even if you began to construct the thousands of power stations for such a thing, the energy delivery system would be too large for your National Grid. Other countries would refuse you the materials out of fear. No, no, problems abound with other problems.’
Asher was slightly interested in Aboa’s words. It was much the same as he had pondered the previous day.
‘I know all of this. We believe we can find an efficient solution somehow.’
‘What if I told you I had the solution?’
‘You what?’ Asher burst out, though he was not as surprised as he acted. His reading on Aboa had led him to believe that the man was a showman and, perhaps justifiably, convinced that he was a genius. Whatever concerns he had about the project was both a bluff to gain access and genuine distress that a great scientific project was taking place without him. He would not have come without something to offer.
The aide entered with the tea. Both men stopped talking and waited until he had left.
Aboa smiled and sipped his tea. He leant back in the couch, obviously enjoying the moment.
‘I take it, you’d like my help. I am quite cheap, you know, though I will require the complete credit.’
‘Fine, fine whatever. What’s the solution?’
‘I imagine that you read a file about me today. If so, you are familiar with my work at CERN, even if the world is not.’ Asher nodded in the pause, ‘the explosion which killed my friend Preye was caused by a general lack of understanding of the interacting principles of superconductors and the cold fusion field. Superconductors are unaffected by magnetism. Did you know that a normal wire’s electrical charge alters as it enters a magnetic field, but not when carried by a superconductor? The magnetism created by the particle accelerator was not factored into our experiment because of this. However, the cold plasma sieve we were using to collect our samples responded erratically. The samples funnelled catastrophically, instead of collecting and sparked off a small fusion reaction in moisture in the accelerator’s walls. For an instant, a small star was shining on Earth.’
Asher was genuinely stunned this time. Attempts at building fusion reactors following prevailing theories that had shown early promise were always unrepeatable in any practical way. Constantly fusion had eluded the grasps of a century of scientists.
‘Can you repeat it? Control it?’
Aboa smiled widely as he said, ‘I know I can.’
* * *
Five years passed quickly. Aboa’s prototype reactor effortlessly produced hundreds of megawatts in the first week of operation. The National Grid was stretched almost to melting point and power was exported as cheaply as possible. Asher received the highest honour of Knight of the Garter from the King. Aboa’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech at the ceremony in Sweden was the gossip of the world. The man who would avert the energy crisis. The machinery of the Special Defence Project continued to be produced.
‘It is wonderful here, Malcolm. You can smell Africa in the air.’ Aboa was surveying the scenery on the Scottish island’s beach, ‘and you say it doesn’t affect the climate?’
‘Well, not too much. That’s one of the reasons it is only here for two weeks. Normally it rains and has biting winds at this time of year. I came hiking here once as a student. It was very different then.’
‘It seems a wonderful thing to me. Almost as wonderful as what we plan, heh?’
‘Even this wonderful thing can cause death. I was here some years ago and my children found a parrot. The poor thing had been mortally wounded on its passage through the tunnel.’
‘It made you think of the Angel of Death, yes? But in this case, it was the death of the angel.’ Aboa smiled at his joke, ‘come now, enough of this morbidity. My second generator is almost ready. Fifty-six-point-three-four terawatts is required.’
Malcolm nodded to Aboa; they both knew the figure to more decimal places than that. It was strange to talk about so much power; so much wealth and they were going to burn it all in an instant to create the most powerful barrier on Earth. This chance to talk had been Malcolm’s idea. Aboa and he had spent a lot of time on different projects. Asher’s men had been supervising the construction of a superconducting power network capable of carrying the colossal electrical current to the force-field generators. It had cost billions and they fully expected the network to burn out after thirty seconds.
‘Some say that we are meddling in God’s kingdom.’ Malcolm said, thinking of his rabbi.
‘Why? What proof have they got?’ Aboa laughed again, his irreligiousness had never bothered Malcolm. ‘My reactor produces the dangerous and lethal chemical dihydrogen oxide or water. God creates and destroys things, doesn’t he? Well, we will create water and peace, eternal peace, and the only thing we’ll destroy is fear and weapons. That sounds like God’s work, to me.’ He smiled compassionately; Asher knew of the religious persecution that Aboa faced if he ever returned to Africa, and knew that his friend meant well. Nevertheless, he had to ask.
‘What about Sweet, Michael? He resurfaced in Paris last week talking about us. He said we were going to destroy humanity with our nuclear force-field.’ Malcolm’s voice sounded unsure even to himself.
Aboa made a waving motion with his hand, as if to brush away a fly.
‘That’s nothing. He’s a crackpot spouting his crackpot beliefs. I don’t know why you listen to such nonsense, Malcolm. You know better than they do. Better than Trenton Sweet does. Besides, it is much too late to have second thoughts now. Your government would simply replace you.’ He took Asher’s arm and said more gently. ‘You have to see it through.’
‘Are they all ready?’ Malcolm changed the subject and pointed towards a curious massive church-shaped object. It was one of the cascade-repeating generators that were going to be used to power the shield from its own electrical discharges. Its two-hundred metre steeple was a positively charged conduit for the arcing volts and there were six hundred others just like this one around the coast of the British Isles.
‘Yes. They’re all ready.’
* * *
Asher’s office had large screens set upon the four walls displaying dignitaries from Britain in a kaleidoscope of faces. Central in the four wall-screens were the larger faces of the King, the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary and the Chief of eBrit™. The last was unknown to Asher; the government had not announced a recent promotion to manage the electronic space that no British government, commercial and industrial businesses could operate without. His predecessor, Sir John Oates, had been fiercely opposed to the Special Defence Project and Malcolm was pleased with his replacement.
The filming of the formalities that the public were viewing had wrapped weeks before. The King delivered an historic speech to ecstatic crowds; the jubilant public were ready to appear at the touch of a screen. Malcolm’s own pre-recorded remarks had pleased him. He had emphasized his belief that the force-field would herald the beginning of a peace that would last forever. Great Britain would be the first state to be able to relinquish its standing armies. No more would the military machine be able to dictate the economy of the country. A great and pacifist society would develop free from the pressures of an international arena. The mineral deposits of the world had been largely used up, so what did Britain need from the world anymore? All that left was for the system to become operational.
Asher bowed to the King.
‘I am at your command, Your Majesty,’ he bowed to the others. ‘And yours, Ministers.’
‘Very well, Sir General Asher. You may proceed.’
Malcolm lightly pressed the activation button on his screen setting into process the sequence of events. The fusion reactor would be roaring incandescently, shooting unheard of levels of power down the superconducting network. The force-field generators, if they did not explode, would begin to emit the field; each generator linking to the others first, a field the thickness of a bubble, but it would grow. Asher switched to the satellite view that the public were watching. A line of purple traced around the British Isles, obscured by cloud in many places.
Asher’s second screens highlighted when each of the generators went offline as the field began to grow beyond their confines. All forty went dark simultaneously. This moment was critical; a fault in any of the cascade-repeating generators and the force-field would fizzle out, billions wasted. He would be a disgrace.
‘Come on, hold together.’ Asher said under his breath.
On the satellite-view, a bright flash of light suddenly networked Britain in crooked lines. The superconducting network had flared up as predicted. Asher could still see the line of the field. The edges began to thicken. The force-field was already eleven thousand miles long, nearly three times as long as the Great Wall of China. A high-pitched whining screeched in the air. Above the wailing, Malcolm could hear the massive cracklings of mega-volts arcing into one of the nearby cascade repeating generators.
‘It’s working. It’s working.’ He shouted jubilantly, unmindful of the serious situation. His satellite feed showed all of Britain swathed in a purplish glow, exactly as on the computer models. The King was whooping loudly like a sports supporter. Asher smiled and saw a hundred faces smiling back at him.
‘Congratulations, Sir Asher. I think you’ll be making the honours list again this year, you devil.’ Asher turned to the King, who winked as he spoke.
On Asher’s main screen, Britain could barely be seen under the thickening force-field. The electrical discharges became louder. The wailing increased in pitch.
‘It’s my duty to serve, Your Majesty.’ He bowed again. The King was saying something else but Asher could hardly hear him over the noise. A trace of worry entered Asher’s mind. The wailing was loud enough to shake the walls, and sounded like an impossibly loud eagle screech. The electrical discharges were cannon blasts now that interfered with the wall-screens. He could not see Britain anymore, just a purple light that was getting brighter in a swirl of static. The dignitaries on his wall-screen dissolved into static. He jabbed at his screen.
‘What the hell’s going on? I was speaking to the King.’ Malcolm barked at an underling.
‘The force-field seems to be self-replenishing without using the repeating generators, sir.’ The tech’s voice was raw and panicked.
‘Get me Aboa on a hard line,’ he ordered. The image of the tech disappeared and Aboa’s replaced it.
‘What’s causing this, Michael?’
‘Don’t worry, Malcolm. The field is going to stabilise soon.’ Asher knew Michael Aboa well enough to discern when he was being the showman. Asher’s satellite screen went blank.
‘What’s going to happen, Michael?’ Asher’s ears popped. ‘Don’t lie to me.’
Aboa looked affronted.
‘I suppose it’s theoretically possible that it will continue to grow until it reaches orbit, General Asher. But, that could only happen if it grows beyond the British Isles.’
Malcolm breath came heavily. He could see that the Aboa was having the same problem. His ears popped again.
‘What about the drop in air pressure? The force-field must be getting larger, Michael, it must be.’ His vision was going grey; his breath rasped in his throat.
Aboa was breathing hoarsely as well. He looked horrified.
‘The force-field will push the Earth’s atmosphere into orbit. Everything…’ He wheezed terribly. ‘I can’t breathe, Malcolm.’ Aboa gasped. ‘I’m sorry.’ He slumped off screen.
‘Everything, what?’ Asher shouted at the empty screen, but then he did not need Aboa to tell him. He leaned back in his chair, knowing it was for the last time. Everything will end. Malcolm Asher thought of his children, and of his rabbi, and the parrot.
‘I have killed the world,’ was his last conscious thought as the water in his mouth began to boil on his tongue.