You sure? You always took it with cream and sugar before.
Never mind how I always took it… I'm sorry. I barely slept a wink last night.
You too, huh?
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.
That is a matter of opinion.
I had the worst dream last night.
Jerry motions for him to continue.
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.
And then I woke up.
And they were still screaming… They were both having nightmares. All three of us… at the same time.
How does that happen? How?
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.
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.
It was… terrible. You can't imagine…
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.
What kind of things?
Monsters. They were small, but there were many of them. They crowded around me.
(not sure she wants to know)
What… did they look like?
(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.
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.
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.
And then… I felt their teeth.
(not quite breaking down)
I screamed myself awake. I screamed myself hoarse, do you understand?
I believe you.
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…
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.
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…"
I remember he said "A-go… soom… something…"
He said something about "sue-koo-roe…"
It sounds like this man was speaking Latin… "Ego Barrastis" would mean "I am Barrastis" — whoever that is.
I'll take your word for it.
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?
That's a very good question.
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.
An attack by whom? Or what?
I wish I knew.
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.
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.
At this point I'm ready to try anything.
The situation continues to deteriorate. Suicides, accidents… outbreaks of general madness… I don't know how much more we can take.
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.
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.
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.
I agree. But until some other dead people start coming forward, it looks like we're stuck with him.
(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…
Then all we need is a lip-reader who knows Latin and we're set.
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.
(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.
I am Barrastis. I have come… to help you.
Barrastis, where are the nightmares coming from? And speak slowly, so the interpreter can keep up.
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?
(quickly, speaking over the interpreter)
Gaslight and electricity.
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.
Suppose we want to counterstrike their counterstrike. How do we get at them?
No mortal weapon… can harm a spirit. If you would give them battle… you must first bring them to… your own plane of existence.
How do we do that?
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.
Well, Mr. President, if these really are your orders I will obey them, of course… but I do have some questions.
All right, let's hear them.
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.
I think if we knew the answer to that question, we would know a great deal more than we do now.
My second question is, do we trust him?
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.
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?
Still no word.
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?
It says here "he who would challenge the demons must face them with bare chest, weapon in hand."
(unbuttoning his shirt)
The Army-Navy Club better never hear about this.
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!
Nothing happened, sir.
I can see that!
But something did happen.
(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.
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.
We followed these crazy instructions to the letter!
I can see that you did, but I'm afraid you were lied to. The circle is perfect, but inverted… with mathematical precision.
What does that mean?
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.
You mean they could be anywhere?
Anywhere it's midnight or later.
The movie cuts to the Simmons place. Mrs. Simmons is talking to Junior in his bedroom.
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!
Oh my God what's wrong?
There's something in there. I was working and… something just appeared in there with me.
You just had a nightmare.
I was wide awake!
Nobody should be working this late.
(showing a bite mark on her arm)
The "nightmare" bit me!
The phone rings. Anne picks it up.
Anne! Listen to me! Something terrible is happening!
You've got to get out of there! I'll come pick you up!
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.
Don't worry about me — just keep running!
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.
EXT – HOTEL – DAY
The front of a large, luxurious hotel/convention center. It is about mid-afternoon, a bright and beautiful day.
The end of the world began, not in terror and darkness, but in innocence and light.
INT – HOTEL – DAY
A corridor. A sign saying "INT'L INORGANIC CHEMISTRY ASSOC. CONVENTION" points down the hall.
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.
…with this conference of learned men.
(whose voice reveals him to be the narrator)
Dr. Eckelberg? I'm Dr. Gerald Heath. That was an excellent talk you just gave.
He has some kind of accent. It doesn't matter what kind. German, Yiddish, Russian, Swedish, French… whatever the actor is good at.
You mentioned a chemical you had discovered that oxidizes instantly when exposed to light. Tell me, does it change visibly – change color, for example?
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?
I'm a research scientist with Lux Mundi.
I have heard of your company. It makes photographic film, yes?
Yes. Of course, we're always on the lookout for new photoreactive chemicals.
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.
Of course, for this very reason you must be careful to prepare the formula in absolute darkness.
That won't be a problem. I've been blessed with a very good darkroom assistant.
I'm sorry! I forgot! Miss Martine, are you all right?
(getting up, not looking directly at Melissa)
But, Melissa… this is the third time you've left something out of place for me to trip over.
I'm not doing it on purpose, I swear. I just… keep forgetting exactly where things are supposed to be.
I'm sorry, Miss Martine. I've never worked for anybody who's… who's…
I think the word you're looking for is "blind."
I can manage well enough, as long as everything is exactly where it should be.
Well… you win some, you lose some.
There was never any guarantee that this was going to work.
I followed the formula exactly. Something may have gone wrong when I adapted it to a photo emulsion.
I'm sure it wasn't your fault.
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?
I want to be certain before I have to write this off as a loss.
Anyway, this is the last… hmmm.
In this one… am I seeing things, or can you make out details?
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…
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?
There's already one. I had enough chemicals on hand to make two… so I did, just in case.
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.
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.
So who's this guy?
I don't know. I'm certain I was alone down there… and I can't say I recognize his face, either.
What would he be doing in a pitch-dark basement in the middle of the night?
Glad you think so. Here's another one — are you going to show this photo to Mr. MacIntyre?
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.
The first week you came to work here, I knew I'd be working for you one day.
But what do you think this is?
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?
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!
Imagine what a real astronomer could do with this film. Imagine what astronomers would pay to get their hands on it.
How much money do astronomers have to begin with? They're not looking for oil up there, you know.
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.
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.
How about… military applications?
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.
I'll discuss this with the rest of the board. You may possibly have something that could earn us some money here.
(handing her a check)
Here you are, Mrs. Collins. Another month's rent.
Prompt as usual, Mr. Heath.
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.
I'm sure she'll say yes, but… do you really think she can be a wife? Look after your children?
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.
I suppose I just think your good looks are wasted on her.
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.
I wondered what you were doing down there.
He hands her the photo.
No one else I've talked to seems to know who this man is. Do you recognize him?
If this is a joke, it's in very poor taste, Mr. Heath.
I don't understand.
I knew this old man. He was one of my tenants.
He hanged himself in my basement the year before you moved in.
May I ask who's calling, please?
It's for you.
(handing him the phone) It's a… Mister MacIntyre.
SPLIT SCREEN — Jerry holding the phone on the right, Mr. MacIntyre sitting at his desk on the left.
I've spoken to the rest of the board. They say this sounds good.
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.
Hello? You still there?
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.
Are you expecting any problems?
No, but it never hurts to be prepared.
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.
Thank you, sir.
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.
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.
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.
It looks really gross.
That, my little friend, is very much more your problem than mine.
I only wish we could eat like this more often.
I wish we could afford to.
Soon we'll be able to afford all sorts of things.
"We." You use that word a lot these days.
I hope that's not a complaint.
On the contrary — I like hearing you say it.
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.
What are you saying?
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.
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.
I… never dared to imagine…
Will you marry me?
What's on your mind?
"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."
I'm just trying to understand what I'm seeing. Trying to think of a way to explain it to myself.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How far back do they go?
What do you mean?
You said one of them was of a woman who was killed in 1911. Are there any of people that died even earlier?
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.
Which is kind of a relief. I'd hate to think we all spend eternity hanging around in the dark looking ghostly.
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.
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.
And that isn't even the bad part.
What do you mean?
Jerry opens his suitcase and takes out a folder stuffed full of photos and notes.
At least ghosts are human… or were. These other things… I don't think they were ever human to begin with.
What other things?
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.
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.
A cop on stakeout in Philadelphia took this.
Now that's what I call weird.
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.
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.
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.
I have to admit, though… I'm in over my head here.
Do you know of anyone who could help? Someone whose judgment you trust?
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.
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.
I think everyone will agree that you've earned it.
To be quite honest, Gerald, my first thought would be that these people were attempting to perpetrate some sort of fraud.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These, on the other hand, definitely constitute evidence… but of what? That is the question.
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.
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?
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?
If I understand correctly, what you're saying is that the next world might be as… complex and intricate as this one.
I would hope that it is infinitely more so, if we are to be there forever.
Dr. Heath… I don't know whether to fire you or promote you again.
You could have had the decency to warn me.
I didn't know how to tell you… and I wasn't sure you'd believe it.
I don't appreciate being lied to. Especially by someone I've invested so much trust in.
I'm sorry. If there's any way I can make amends…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Do you believe these pictures are genuine?
I've personally inspected many of these photos, and I have yet to find one that shows any sign of having been tampered with.
So you're saying we can photograph the dead now?
No. If you go over my words, you'll find I have been very careful not to say any such thing.
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.
To your knowledge, has anyone succeeded in using this film to communicate with any of these… images?
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.
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.
"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…"
"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?'"
"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."
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?
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?!?"
"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…"
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. 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?
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” 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.
"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."
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.
Three, four… maybe five million.
I refuse to accept that we’re going to lose that many Americans.
You don’t understand, Ms. President. That’s not how many might die — that’s how many might live.
Hellscape, S1E01: "Pilot"
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”
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?
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”
(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.
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”
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!…
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
No? NO? What do you mean, no?
Utility self-maximization over time necessitates an interval of noncompliance on this occasion.
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.
Eusophia, I swear this is the last thing we’ll ever ask of you.
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.
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?
RICARDO (doing so)
EUSOPHIA (over the phone)
You’re too late.
Hellscape, S5E17: “There Is Now”
Please understand, I’m not an atheist. Atheists are dumbasses. I just don’t believe in God.
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.
Now let me tell you what you need to do…
Hellscape, S5E17: “There Is Now”
Mom… I need a hug.
Like hell you do. You're a machine.
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.
Nice little bit of blackmail there. "Hug me, love me, or I'll turn into a monster and it'll be all your fault."
How does that make me different from any other child?
Hellscape, S5E21: “Unbortion”
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.
Honey, I promise you I'm going to be a wonderful wife for you, and a wonderful mother for Michael.
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.
One way or another.
Hellscape, S5E21: “Unbortion”
“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…”
“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.”
“…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…"
“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!’"
“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…’”
“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.”
“‘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.”’”
“‘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.’”
“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…”
“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.”
“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.”
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.