THE TIME IS NOW
by Anne K. Edwards
Dr. Ned Granville scanned the message just handed to him by the trembling messenger who dripped water that formed a puddle in the middle of his living room floor.
“Sit. Sit.” Without looking up, he flipped a freckled hand at the young man. “This will take me a few minutes to digest.”
Carola Granville, Ned’s wife, brought in a tray of hot coffee and sandwiches. Without speaking, she set it on the table and poured a cup for each man. Then she cleaned up the puddle and left them.
“You probably haven’t eaten for quite a while. Help yourself to the sandwiches.” Ned raised his grey eyes to look at the man. “You said Dr. Davidson asked you to bring this to me immediately?”
“Yes, Sir. He said it was of the utmost urgency and secrecy. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going.”
“You’ll be missed by now.” Ned said thoughtfully. He smoothed the paper and laid it on the small table beside his chair. It was a warning of immediate danger the boy had brought.
“Yes, Sir. Security will be looking for me. I’m supposed to be writing programs for a new weapons system they’re trying to develop and no one else is trained in the language yet.”
Running a hand over his face, Ned frowned. “How is it that only you know the language for such a project? I’d have thought they’d be sure to have a backup.”
“They did. I was the backup. The main programmer disappeared last month. John Kern was his name. It’s rumored that he was kidnapped by one of the enemy governments. I was working with him and learned Thismortran as he developed it so I was the logical choice to fill his spot. My defection will bring things to a halt unless they can find a replacement.”
Ned grinned. “They’ll have to start over on the programming.” The anti-science leaders of the nation were beginning to realize just what they had done to themselves.
“That’s the idea, Sir. I destroyed most of the records before I left. I don’t want to be responsible for helping kill millions if they ever get this new robot bomb built. And they are planning to do just that. They want revenge for the killing of the Reverend Cleotis Evans, ambassador to the Greater East.”
“So suddenly science is important again?” Ned growled.
The visitor nodded. “They’re looking for anyone who can do higher math, chemistry, programming, and all the other sciences.”
“They drove us out, closed the labs and forced us into the unskilled labor force decades ago. And now we’re useful again. Hypocrites.” Ned shook his head, eying the young man. “What is your name, by the way?”
“Sorry I didn’t introduce myself, Sir. I’m Jake James.”
“Ah! You’re the son of Dr. Mayra James. I’ve heard her speak of you. She will want to see you.”
“She’s here? Mother’s here?” Jake couldn’t hide his astonishment.
“Yes. We brought her here a few months ago. So is John Kern.” Ned watched Jake closely.
Jake let out a low whistle. “I don’t know how you managed it, Sir, but this is the best news I could ever have.”
“When you met the man who brought you here, had anyone told you what we are doing?”
Shaking his head, Jake said, “No, Sir. I’ve heard the rumors that have been circulating for years about a group that bribe prison officials and guards to let them visit the camps and after their visits, some scientist or engineer is found to be missing. Security checks the families and finds them gone too. They have no idea where you’re at.”
“Yet,” Ned said, exhaling sharply. “This message,” he tapped the paper, “says they’ve found the general area of our enclave.”
Jake looked puzzled. “Why now?”
“The end of the world is coming. One of our astronomers discovered a sunspot bigger than the sun itself and it’s heading toward the earth’s orbit. This one is different in that it is also a wall of fire. It will reach earth in three days. He sent a coded warning to others so they can prepare.” Ned said. “You’ll have to excuse me now. I have to confer with our leaders. We’ll have to get ready to leave.”
“But, Sir, where can you go if this is true?”
Ned ran a hand through his thinning brown hair. “The same place we’re planning to go before this news came. It just means going a few days earlier.”
Jake got to his feet, nearly upsetting the remaining coffee in his cup. “Can I go with you? If my mother is here, I don’t want to lose her again.”
“Of course, you can. We've allowed for extra people.” Ned pressed a buzzer on a hand set he took out of a drawer in the table. “I’ll have someone escort you to your mother’s quarters.”
Jake smiled and sat again, impatience on his face.
Ned turned his attention to the voice that came from the hand set. “Attlee, get the group leaders together in the main room. Tell Gregory to put all crews on standby.”
A sense of excitement filled Ned. This was what all the work and planning was about. The big move would soon be underway.
Leader Elect Dolman Graillor hit the table to emphasize the seriousness of the problem the nation faced.
“Giles Garrett talked before he died. The message he received and passed on was about a danger that threatens the entire world. A huge sunspot has formed and will send a wall of fire toward the earth in three days. When it passes, the oceans will boil and huge amounts of water will be lost into space, the world’s atmosphere will be burned off. Whatever part of the earth is facing the sun when this fire passes will be reduced to ashes. The rest will be worthless.”
A white-haired man with a complexion to match swallowed hard and asked, “How can you be sure this Garrett told the truth?”
“The inquisitors are very thorough. And his records made it pretty clear that he knew what he was talking about. It’s lucky the message was intercepted when he passed it along and traced to him.”
“We got rid of all the scientists,” someone protested. “How did he escape?”
“He didn’t escape. He worked as a butler in the Presidential Palace.”
“So we can’t be sure...”
“Yes, we can. I had the old sky scopes reactivated immediately and their photos show the spot clearly. It’s bigger than the surface of the sun.” Graillor blotted his face.
“Who’s running the sky scopes?” the white haired man asked.
“A few of the old astronomers are still alive and were pulled out of their present jobs to verify what Garrett learned. They weren't told what they were to find.”
“Did they?” The Reverend Edgar Hoclit asked.
Everyone began to talk at once, panic in their raised voices. Demands were made that something be done, underground shelters be opened, that their families be assembled in safe spots.
Graillor knew none of those things would work. There was no time. The few deep refuges had been sealed decades ago. The religionists were sure they’d never be needed once scientific research was stopped per a worldwide treaty. “I’ve got the army searching for a hidden enclave of scientists. Rumor has it they’ve been building a place of safety for the last several years, a place where nothing that happens on earth could touch them.” He wondered briefly how that was possible.
Increasing demands, each more strident and urgent than the others, were made that the army step up the search. They only had three days.
“I’ve heard they’ve been hiding somewhere out west. In the Rockies, I think,” said the youngest man in the room.
“Yes, Reverend Hoclit, I’ve heard that same rumor and that is where the army is centering its search. They’re using triangulation equipment.”
“Is that the best we’ve got?” the minister stood and leaned toward the Leader Elect.
“Yes, it is,” Graillor said. “When we shut down the labs and forbade scientific research, we also cut funding for all programs that were underway at the time. We lost the satellites because the men who built and repaired them were among those we sent to the camps. Most of them are dead now. Forty years is a long time.”
“So the only people who can help us are scientists?” Hoclit cast a despairing look around the table at the tight-lipped men.
Graillor nodded. “It appears that way.”
Someone snorted at the question.
“What do you think? And they have no tools to work with. Everything was burned. The libraries were purged of science references. Every private collection has been purified also.”
“We’ll lose our lives if we don’t find that refuge,” Hoclit declared.
Graillor nodded. The antiscience group suddenly found itself in a hole.
He gave a mental shrug of indifference. All that mattered was finding his own safety and this bunch of idiots who’d brought him to power in their sweeping declaration that science was evil would be meeting their maker sooner than they thought. Why weren’t they pleased with the idea? They had always said meeting their maker was the reward for all faithful.
He turned with a sneer and walked out of the room. The generals were waiting.
“We’ve been picking up radio signals from outside,” Morrisey Danoff declared. His thin body was rigid with anger.
Ned Granville raised a calming hand. “We’ve known they’d try to find us sooner or later.”
“Sure. They intend to eliminate us too.”
“Now, Morrie. You know that’s not the case now. They’ll be in a panic to make us help them.”
“Or take over the enclave. They’ll think it’ll be safe from what’s coming.”
“There is that, but we both know it won’t be safe here either. And there’s no way those people can get here in three days. The army might, but that would be all. There aren’t any planes so they’ll be forced to travel by land. The few trains are old coal burners taken from museums and they are slow and break down.”
“They’ve set civilization back three hundred years. They’ve let education lapse except for the next generation of fools who are very carefully chosen. They insist that everyone learn not to think for themselves and accept only what the religionists or politicos tell them. That’s the truth of why they hate science. It means people ask questions and they can’t have that.”
“Don’t worry, Morrie. Where we’re going, none of them are coming.”
“I want it written in the new laws that no religion is permitted when we get there,” Morrie snapped. He got to his feet.
Ned smiled bitterly. “It isn’t God who’s responsible for them. They are men who decided they knew better than God and set themselves above him. One day people will realize knowledge comes from God and the misuse of it is the evil. God made man to ask questions, to enlarge his scope of things, to understand. That’s how we make ourselves worthy of him, using his gifts.”
“I’ve heard that before, Ned, but God doesn’t stop the destruction of his gifts.”
“That’s our responsibility.”
Morrie shook his head. “Almost everyone is ready. They are loading now.”
“I sent Carola ahead with the others. I’ll be along as soon as I set the timers and make sure the gates are sealed.”
General Dwain Swupe put the radio down. “Damn static. Can’t hear half of what the Leader Elect says.” He leaned forward in his seat to tap his driver on the shoulder. “Get us there quickly. Our leaders want these people captured now that we know where they are.”
The driver nodded obediently and put his foot down on the gas pedal gingerly and shifted into a higher gear.
The general watched the scenery pass as the road climbed. These bastards had gone to ground in a damned inconvenient spot. The area they’d chosen would make a head-on attack impossible. The few rockets they had were known to blow up in the faces of the men who fired them. The mixture of fuel and explosive was largely guesswork. In the forty two years since he’d gone to officers school, things had gone downhill fast. He had a hazy memory of a busy laboratory near his boyhood home, of computers, planes and talk of flying to Mars. All that had vanished under the new leadership that took power after the third world war.
He’d played the game of politics well and advanced, knowing that one day the enemies of science and free thought would step back too far in time. Had the time come for him to consider eliminating them and taking the reins of power? It would mean a blood purge and suppression of the radical ideals.
Yes, once he had the scientists in his control, he’d use them to rebuild the weapons that would ensure his power.
“Sir,” cried his driver. “We’ve arrived.” He stopped the vehicle.
Looking through the windshield’s wavy glass, the general stared at the heavy concrete wall that towered above the road. Somewhere in the face of it was a gate. Had to be.
He turned to his aide who had remained silent during the drive. Just the way it should be. A man liked to be alone with his thoughts.
“Captain Drew, take some men and search for the entrance. Let me know when you find it, but don’t blow it up.”
The captain was a loyal religionist and the general knew he reported all activities at headquarters to the religious radicals who held power with Graillor as their willing pawn. One had to tell the captain every step to take or he’d stop functioning. Like a damned robot. Programmed never to question. Just the sort of man the new government loved.
Of course, those radicals will be the first to demand any safety to be found if that sunspot really was coming. And the general thought it probably was. They were like a hive of hornets someone had stirred with a stick. The radio was alive with their demands for action until he shut it off. When he had news, he’d tell them.
A shout interrupted his musings.
He turned to look at the figures running toward him.
“We have to get out of here!” the captain shouted and jumped into the rear seat beside the general. “The gate is wired and there’s a blinking screen above it that says in exactly thirty seconds, this whole wall will explode.”
“Driver, get us out of here!” the general shouted as the man was already turning the vehicle around.
Behind them, above them, under them, the earth roared and shook. The driver could barely keep the vehicle on the road. Around them rocks tumbled and trees toppled onto the road. Then there was a high-pitched wailing of sirens as the horrific scream of mountainous motors somewhere within the mountain filled the air.
An overturned truck of troopers stopped the general’s car. He climbed out, cursing and ordering the men to move it or right it so he could get away.
Screams from several men who pointed at the sky made him look up. Above them, huge rockets capable of carrying hundreds were lifting off. The scientists! They were leaving earth, escaping the destruction.
General Swupe’s rage took over. “Fire rockets at them. I want them brought down.”
He counted thirty ships in all. By the time the rockets were ready, the ships were beyond range and the firing was a futile act of satisfaction. He could tell the Leader Elect he tried.
Leader Elect Graillor and the few members of the council who remained stared in horror at the pictures taken by the old sky scopes. The sunspot was beginning its journey toward earth’s orbit and if calculations were right, the hottest part would strike the American continents in two days.
He read the transcript of the general’s radioed report of the space ships aloud to the two religionists who sat with their heads in their hands. Then he asked, “Is this what you meant when you said the earth would be destroyed by fire the next time?”
They raised their heads to stare at him in dawning horror. Thirty space ships had been built in secret by men with no funds, but men with all the destroyed knowledge at their disposal.
Graillor couldn’t resist a parting shot. “Think how many of us could have been saved if we’d funded those ships, ” he said, wanting them to feel the depth of his anger.
Then he went into his office and locked the door. He opened the hidden drawer and took out the old pistol his father had bequeathed him with the warning, “You never know when you might need it.” It was oiled and loaded.
He hesitated only a moment. How many others would take this way out? Then he pulled the trigger.