Fiction: The Change by Brian Joseph Johns
|Brian Joseph Johns|
It was a day, much as any day that had preceded it for the last four billion years. Since the solar congealing of matter arising from the force of gravity had formed several satellites orbiting the stellar body we'd billions of years later come to know as Sol. The host star to our planetary system and several others in the Milky Way galaxy. It was a routine day as were the days that had already come and gone. The routine of course being change itself.
Every day since the beginning of our planet brought with it change. First starting the condensation of planetary matter in the form of solar debris, compressing, creating enormous heat and pressure, slowly igniting a solid core to a hidden glowing ember deep beneath the surface. This internal mass became the planetary geode, an enormous magnet projecting its field far beyond the surface of this newly formed body, shielding it from microscopic solar-ejecta and radiation allowing for the formation of the conditions that would eventually give rise to life. Every day since that planetary mass had around its center of gravity begun to rotate, bringing about the beginning of days. Our day and night cycle, and with it even more change.
This planetary mass was far too hot to harbour any form of life as we know it in its early infancy. During this time it was also under bombardment, for the solar system was a place of constant chaos. Other similar concentrations of matter, some larger and many smaller than this body had come to settle into a chaotic dance around Sol. Gravity influencing the step of every other concentration of mass creating an enormous and deadly merry-go-round, as these dance partners began to collide with one another. Every day brought change and those days were no exception.
Over the course of a couple billion years, apparent order began to emerge from this dance as the largest concentrations of matter had organized into organized systems, each harbouring their own natural satellites from their captured dance partners. These concentrations of matter had also come to cool on the surface, allowing for the formation of the features such as vast rock plains and tremendous mountain ranges. Just beneath the surface however, turmoil still reigned as pressure and heat kept much but not all of the interior in a liquid state that would bubble and froth, sometimes exploding through the surface sending ejecta into space itself. It would seem that the chaos of the solar dance had migrated to the interiors of these large bodies. Throughout this emerging solar system, volcanoes became the most common citizens of any of these planets. Every day the surface features would change under their influence.
Some of the former dance partners of this solar party harboured more than just mineral and metal. Some of them were concentrations of ice and stellar dust. The dirtiest ice cubes that could be found anywhere, and yet within each of them was contained water. These ice cubes were of elements that had been forged billions of years earlier by the first supernovae throughout the universe and local stars, whose fuel and exhaust depending upon the state of its current life cycle, were hydrogen and oxygen, two of the most abundant elements in the universe. Many of these ice cubes had bombarded the surface of these planetary bodies. With these bodies still being very hot, the water contained within the ice cubes would vaporize, becoming a gas enveloping some of the planets and held in gravity's ever coddling grip.
As these concentrations of matter cooled, so did these gaseous elements and the first liquid water began to appear throughout the surface of three of these planetary bodies, still engaged in their perpetual dance with their host, Sol. Over the course of another billion years and planetary cooling, one of these planetary bodies would have just the right conditions for the emergence of what can only be described as a miracle. This miracle started with the appearance of amino acids, arising from the chemistry resulting from the discharge of static electricity within the newly formed atmosphere. Under these energies arising from lightning and the still semi-frequent collisions of solar dancers, ever more complex molecules began to form. Eventually the right conditions would arise and something extraordinary happened. This very planet became the host of life. In all off the universe, the only host of such a miracle of which we're currently aware. That day would eventually give the host planet a sense of awareness and its own senses through which to admire the rest of existence in the form of its children.
These first citizens had no brain and it could be argued that they lacked any component required for self awareness, yet they existed and thrived without the benefit of rational thought. Their greatest ability was that of a very simple form of self replication, for within them they housed a very simple chemical program we'd come to know as RNA and eventually DNA.
These self replicators slowly evolved, becoming more complex thanks to the interactions of planetary and solar radiation, which would randomly alter the chemical program that contained the instructions on how to make chemical copies of itself. Most of these alterations would result in the catastrophic failure of these early critters, and their altered genome would become lost to time, while a very, very, very small percentage of others would benefit from the alteration, making them more capable of dealing with the threats of survival. From their population trillions emerged ever more complex self replicators, all arising from change.
Some of these early critters began to cooperate, becoming symbiotic for their mutual survival and over the course of another half a billion years, the complexity of this cooperation became a mandatory quality for nearly all self replicators, as bigger meant better, and more chances at survival. These critters also began to consume each other in order to see to their daily energy requirements, the boundary between plant and animal still not quite etched in stone at that point and most life still microscopic.
As the DNA and RNA housing the complex replication instructions of this early life became ever more complicated, so did the functioning of the individual cells, whose collective sum made up the entirety of the critter itself. Some of the multicellular organisms became algae, giving rise to what would become the first plant matter while others would take another genetic route. These critters would eventually make up the population of the animal kingdom on the surface of the planetary body the third-most extending outward in orbit around Sol. In the benefit of these critters it seemed that change had a future.
All of this early life existed in the primordial soup of water and natural chemicals which we'd call the ocean. At that point it was teeming with microscopic life that was over time becoming more and more complex. These multicellular organisms slowly grew, some becoming plant and others becoming animal, metabolizing elements from the water, atmosphere and each other in order to survive. Some of the algae, floating on the surface of the ocean had evolved to convert the nuclear light of Sol into energy. Other life just beneath the surface relied upon this algae as its food source and for sustenance. Their mutual survival guaranteed as long as the algae's successful rate of reproduction outpaced the dietary demands of the organisms that fed upon them, for those organisms were the food for another class of organism which didn't feed on algae, but on other non-algae organisms. The refuse bi-products of this dance between these three different classes of organism also contributed to their success and a crucial balance became a part of their mutual survival.
Eventually these three expanded their successful routine, giving rise to the first respiratory, nervous systems and limbic systems, leading to ever more complex life in the form of plants and fish. This life would continue to grow and become larger with each generation given the complex chemical ratio of which the planet's early atmosphere was made. At some point during their oceanic dance, the three further evolved and took their routine from the water to the land, which almost another billion years later they would come to name as Pangea. At some point, the algae and plant matter of the ocean had adapted enough so as to survive on the dry surface of the land, giving rise to a huge quantity of untapped survival resources for the still ocean trapped fish. Hence, it was the algae and plant life that had led this migration from water to land. Another change had overtaken the past and brought about the future within the warm days and cold nights.
This population of life continued to grow and to change. Adapt, coming to fill nearly every nook and cranny of the planetary body, both land and sea, maintaining that original recipe for mutual success that required a sustainable balance for their survival. As if the challenges of day to day survival weren't enough, a random planet wide catastrophe would occasionally put that forumula for success to the test, pushing it to its very limits. Massive super-volcanic eruptions, asteroid strikes and planetary dynamo realignments more than a few times stripped the planet of the majority of its guest species, wiping out all but a few survivors who'd bear the weight of the price of rapid change. Change that sometimes outpaced life's ability to survive. When the stage was set and then suddenly cleared, it became obvious that there were no favourites. This was a story that would remain written in planetary geology and archaeology to this day. An indication that constant change is here to stay, and that rapid change favours none.
The dinosaurs, a species successful for many millions of years rose and fell multiple times over the course of their existence. A super-volcanic eruption killed many in one instance. In another two instances, asteroidal bodies impacted the planet laying waste to the entirety of the surface. Yet in all of these instances, life somehow managed to survive, removing entire groups of species while others barely managed to survive. It was during one of these massive bouts of change that emerged the mammal species.
As the planet's surface changed more and via tectonic plates and the forces that pushed them across the surface, migrations of life occurred. As this life spread so did the land masses, some of them becoming disconnected from one another. Separated by large bodies of water leaving many of these life forms stranded to survive. They began their dance of evolution, changing in very different ways from their ancestors on other remote continents throughout the planet and diversity flourished. One sub-class of the mammalian species, the primate gave rise to the planet's most successful inhabitant for this primate eventually gained power over change itself. It could mitigate the effects and impact of change on the microscopic and massive scales, either creating or preventing it.
This ability first arose as a result of its larger brain, a central part of the adapted nervous system of mammals that gave rise to interpretive cognition, drawing from the sensual inputs of a pair or eyes, ears a nose, a tongue and a sense of touch. The brain also allowed for complex control over the body's multi-segmented limbic system, which would not be surpassed by any other species with the exception of the Octopus.
These primates eventually adapted to the point where they could both walk erect upon two legs, giving them the ability to survey their surroundings from a higher perspective while on foot, and from their ability to conceive of and fabricate tools, by manipulating other natural materials in ways to form modularity. These tools began with those required for hunting game species which populated the lands. The protein from such game reduced the amount of time required for hunting and gathering in order to survive, in such a way that the species could spend their time doing other things, like creating more tools, fabricating shelter and cultivating land upon which to grow edible vegetation.
Land cultivation in turn led to organized society as these primates organized themselves into ever larger tribes as the food production would sustain more people. More people with more time to make more tools, fabricate more shelter and cultivate more land. Some of the primates even learned to tame other animals, using them both as a food source, a form of labour, as hunters and even for friendship. As these tribes grew, so did the threat of attack by other tribes and hence the tools once used for hunting and farming became adapted to become the tools of warfare. Their ability to mitigate change, had taken and transformed even their tools from tools of food cultivation, into tools of war. Both for defense and attack. Henceforth, the first civilizations were formed and the ability to control change had become a form of change itself.
Up until that point, the members of such tribes had communicated with one another via a simple symbolic system which became aural language. Language itself became a form of life, evolving and adapting in much the same way as had the DNA of the primates who'd taken it beyond its most simplest forms. The entirety of the record of these primates was recorded and exchanged primate to primate, through verbal language with some records kept in the form of artwork. Carvings and drawings littering cave walls, all absent of a written organized system of symbolic language until one tribe of these erect primates developed a symbol set to represent their oral tradition, allowing them the ability to keep records of things like how to build tools and structures. The best time to seed certain crops. How to care for and nurture livestock. Anyone who could understand this symbolic language would have the power to learn the skills of those who kept such records, meaning that when a skilled tribe member died, their knowledge would not be lost. Many could learn from a single copy of the recorded knowledge of that tribe member. Other tribes upon learning of this secret spread it very quickly throughout the world and soon every tribe had its own written language to accompany its oral tradition. Change arising from ingenuity could now spread rapidly through a tribe and sometimes, between tribes.
As these tribes accumulated knowledge and skill, they endeavored to create ever greater works in competition with one another. Mathematics had also emerged from writing and trade as had evolved beyond being a simple form of barter. These primate's works grew and spread and soon the entirety of the world was populated by them, their societies controlling every aspect of change within their grasp and yet day became night and night again became day as it had since the planetary mass had first begun to spin. These primates, who called themselves humans and people in their oral tradition and written language had come far from their starting place on this third planet of the star named Sol. From tiny single celled micro-organisms to becoming the dominant species on the planet and masters of that which began them. Masters over change or so it would seem, for how could one control that which changed the very nature of control itself.
However, it was a day as much as any day since the beginning of days. The majority of the human population of the world had risen with the sun, even in the midst of pandemic. Some clad in masks went to work, others to school. Many stayed home while others had no such home. The civilization that these primates had built was strained under the pressures of economy affected by the alterations to the marketplace and service industries resulting from the pandemic. Many had already lost their valuables. Things they'd accumulated during the working span of their life and collected in their homes. Many had lost their homes and had moved into smaller homes, selling many of their things in the process. Still, many others had lost their lives in nature's sudden bout of change. A very slight one by the scale of things and yet humanity was on the brink of the sudden collapse of what most had conceived defined civilization. Their things. Their economy. Their banks. Their stores. Their supply. Their ability to mitigate and isolate themselves from change.
Yet nature had once again humbled a species poised at the top of the hierarchy, reminding them of the fact that they were not so in control of change as they'd deluded themselves into thinking. With only a slight nudge. Not a super-volcano. Not an asteroid impact. Not a plague. A simple micro-organism with only slightly more abilities than our earliest micro-organism ancestors.
"The humble pill is certainly a difficult one to swallow..." researcher Weiver thought aloud as he peered at the LCD viewing screen of the microscope.
Several single celled organisms lived out their roles as if on stage. A performance for the Doctors looking upon them from a God's eye view.
The work area of the lab was a room roughly ten meters wide by fifteen meters long, running north and south. The walls were lined with counter-space all of which was covered with computers, contraptions, devices, test tube trays and a couple of tiny centrifuges.
In the south west corner were a series of five fridges, where the research specimens were kept along with the medical supplies which required cold storage. To their east was the entrance into a clean room which housed their modern electron microscope and integrated laser interferometer. On the east wall were mounted six large LCD panels, each of which contained output from one of the various microscopes that occupied the lab and the clean room.
In the north east corner was a large touch screen panel with various notes scribbled onto it in fingertip cursive. On it, someone had scrawled a fingertip caricature of Doctor Weiver picking his nose, which he never did of course given the hygienic requirements of a the lab, though he'd have joked that some pleasures are best enjoyed away from work, preferably on the golf course.
The north wall contained cupboards and closets housing most of the disposable or recyclable supplies required by the lab while the north west corner had the lab entrance and exit itself. Either way, most of the researchers loved their work, looking forward to their arrival at the lab while at the end of a stressful and challenging day, they loved their departure just as readily.
Doctor Weiver sat beside his research partner, Doctor Melissa Parsi, who monitored the temperature and specific energy data related to their current experiment. She smirked slightly and then smiled in amusement before responding to Doctor Weiver's statement.
"Humble pill? What's up with you? Are you dipping into the anesthesia supply or are you day dreaming again...?" she toyed with him.
"Both. Neither." he replied, keeping his straight face focused upon the screen.
"No confusion there. Well at least that's cleared up." she replied sarcastically.
"No confusion is my middle name." he responded still focused.
"Yeah. No as is k-n-o-w..." she shot back.
"You know what they say. Know confusion is no confusion." he responded.
"...and who are they?" she asked him.
"Our specimens here. Are they looking confused to you yet because they're giving me that impression?" Doctor Weiver asked her.
"...no. We're only six minutes into the first test. The hypothesis on this experiment states that the chemical won't take effect until at least fifteen minutes in." Doctor Parsi replied.
"You do know that the reason we conduct experiments is to prove or disprove the hypothesis, don't you?" Doctor Weiver joked with her.
"I was away on that day of class. I had a sick note though." she quickly replied.
"Why do I believe you?" he responded.
"Ow! That stung. Maybe because you're gullible?" she quickly recovered.
"I'm gullible? I had no idea. Thanks for clearing that up." he responded.
"Told ya." she came back.
"What's the energy reading for our specimens here. The one infiltrating the cell." asked Doctor Weiver, switching back to professionalism.
"...we just reached two thousandths of a millicalorie" Doctor Parsi answered.
"That much? Hmmm." he spoke, more thinking aloud.
"Are we off?" she asked him.
"We certainly are. Make sure we remember to check the logs for this time. I want to see if there's a spike in the graph... we may have found something..." he advised her.
"Even this early?" she confirmed.
"Looks that way. Our specimen is overheating. It might not complete the infiltration." he told her.
"Let's hope. That would put us into the final rounds of trials for this prospect." she smiled.
"The investors will be happy to hear it. So will the Health Minister." Doctor Weiver replied, looking to her.
"Let's not count our eggs yet. You said yourself that we've still got another two hours in this experiment..." she smiled coyly for him.
"Heh. It took a six months of gruelling work to get us here. Don't rob us of our excuse to celebrate tonight..." Doctor Weiver pleaded.
"You're talking about celebrating and its only ten thirty in the morning?" she shot back at him, the reverberation of her smile still apparent.
"I'm an optimistic realist. Give me some slack." he replied.
"Optimist? You? Realist for sure. Optimist? I don't think so." she replied.
"Really?" he responded, the corner of his mouth raising slightly.
"...and gullible too." she added.
"I know. You said that already." Doctor Weiver nodded, a smile growing across his face.
"...at least your short term memory is still good. We just jumped to three thousands of a millicalorie." she added.
"The first round is on me." Doctor Weiver finished.
On the other side of the country in a large Church, a man stood before a large gathering within. The Church itself was one of the flagships for its teachings. The place that weekly congregational gatherings and community representatives would meet to fulfill their goals within the province and the country.
The Church itself was actually built in the mid eighteen hundreds to service a growing population and industry which was fed by fur trade, fishing and logging. The town at that time was the largest in the region and the builders of the Church had projected that the town would eventually become a thriving metropolis. As such, they built it big. Big enough to service a large thriving city if need be. As it turned out, the thriving metropolis they'd predicted ended up appearing more than a hundred kilometres to the East, and as the lumber supply in the region diminished so did the industry, leaving the small town of Wellend on the St. Lawrence with the biggest Church ever to grace a town whose population would peak at ten thousand.
By the early nineteen hundreds the Church itself was losing money hand over fist. Hence the original builders and owners sold it to another sect of the same religion. They held it for a number of years before selling it yet again, and it continued its service under another different sect. This continued until it was sold once more and converted to a museum, which it remained until the nineteen sixties, when it was purchased by its current owner, who reverted it, turning it back into a Church.
Its steeple stood at a height of six stories and could literally be seen from any point in Wellend, and its roof at four. Within, the Church could easily hold three two thousand parishioners comfortably and more in extenuating circumstances. The art within was immaculate, the walls lined with paintings by world reknowned artists while the stage was set with life-like sculptures in pristine condition.
The builders had constructed its foundation of stone taken from a large granite quarry that had been exhausted by eighteen ninety. The Church possessed load bearing granite pillars though the remainder of the Church had been built with brick and wood which the curator of the museum had professionally maintained until their investors had pulled out in the nineteen sixties.
When the current owners had taken over the Church and its land, they'd invested a large sum of their initial outlay in insulating the Church, using modern methods for the sixties. By the nineteen nineties the Church would once again undergo modernization of its insulation and a restoration of its exterior, part of which was paid for by the local town council who'd managed to obtain a heritage grant from the Federal Government, though the current owners did not need it. They accepted it only because it made good business sense.
The congregation itself was small considering the size of this massive Church and over the nineteen nineties it had been progressively shrinking with the times. A decade of new sensibilities and the embracing of science thanks to the spread of computers saw declining Church attendance across the board and for nearly every Church throughout the modern world.
With the arrival of the new millennium, there was a slight spike in the size of the congregation as the superstitious believed that civilization would collapse as a result of the Y2K bug as it had been called. When the new millennium came and went without a hitch, the sudden growth the congregation had received diminished again and the size of the congregation continued to decline.
When the events of 9/11 had transpired, things changed dramatically and for just about every Church throughout the world, it was a windfall in more ways than one. As the American Government set about creating their surveillance state in order to track and catch terrorists, people flocked to the Church out of fear of their own Government, believing the prophecies of Revelation to have begun. As human rights declined from rising intolerance, more ran to the Churches for protection, only to find that much of the intolerance they were running from originated from the Churches and parishioners themselves. Then there were those who believed that the apocalypse was upon us and that there was little time left for them to become acquainted with the Church and to repent for years of absence. Fear and confusion ruled and the Church offered a beacon amidst this confusion, certainly profiting from it immensely.
Within two years the congregation had nearly outgrown the capacity of the Wellend Church. Once again, the Church's role as one of the architects of the future had come to fruition. A community watch was organized by the congregation as its first major act of participation in Wellend for years. It setup this watch to protect the town of Wellend in the event of a terrorist attack and from other social threats such as online predators and child molesters. It would all be run according to the rules of their religion and from their good book. Similar franchises appeared in many different places throughout North America, each of them doing similarly and adding to the growing paranoia of the world.
The surveillance effort of this community watch and others around the world eventually outpaced the surveillance efforts conducted by law enforcement, and for the first time in history, civilians had a larger surveillance network than the Governments of most countries. Most of this surveillance capability was run by various Churches and congregations and it had become its own international network.
The cohesion of such a network was precarious at best as there were divisions amongst those who took part in terms of gender, culture, sexual orientation, politics and geography despite the fact they were mostly united by their faith in the same religion, albeit of many different sects. This hidden network had become a secret world power unto itself. One that operated without the rule of law except where that law's origins were of religion itself. The existence of this surveillance network was kept from everyone in the world, and the only clues as to its existence were when it was used to pierce the privacy of other citizens. Justifiably or not.
As a result, this surveillance network ended up becoming the biggest draw to the Church. To become a member of the Church and to wield the power of complete knowledge over others' deepest and darkest secrets was a lure to many who hadn't simply run to the Church out of fear or guilt. The need to repent on the grounds that their conscience had suddenly emerged if only because others had come to know their secrets by unknown means. The lure of being a part of that power was great enough to draw many to it, and thus the Church continued to grow.
Within the Church membership itself there were many oblivious of the surveillance network, for they'd known little of technology and many of them had been tricked into the idea that this secret surveillance was an aspect of God or the Holy Spirit. Convinced of the fact that their personal secrets being known to other parishioners was proof that God existed. Proof that the Holy Spirit was real. These parishioners just took it as proof of the Lord's work and God's hand in their life. When other parishioners tried to guide or push them in a direction, they regarded it as being God's will, speaking to them through the words and actions of others. Hence, the existence of the surveillance network was one of the best kept secrets in history. Even those on the inside who experienced its pressures first hand believed it to be God himself. They also believed that Thomas Brumal, the man who ran the Church was God's personal spokesman in Wellend.
To be continued...