October 18, 2013

DARKENING DANGER: Excerpt


Miami, Florida
Michael Levine
My eyes open in the void of darkness surrounding me. My naked skin beaded with moisture chills to the bone. The perfect darkness elicits no sound except my own heartbeat and heavy breathing, no smells, and except my own fear, no one is here with me.  From the darkness comes a light that separates and splits into innumerable floating squares. I am watching as they begin to move and oscillate around me, faster and faster... Reaching out to catch one, my hand is passing through its center and I see each transparent slip of light is actually a formula or equation. All of the answers sought by scientists and mathematicians are within my reach, but I can't even grasp one of them!  What does this mean and why is it so damn familiar?

So many numbers are passing by me I can’t even focus on one group. Out of the oblivion comes a backdrop to the equation, photographic flashes of famine and devastation have me struggling not to close my eyes. The gray and white images of the sunken eyed people are frightening. Compounding my fears are the visions of the gruesome dry deserted terrain scattered with animal skeletons. Out of a squint, I look to see man’s greatest fear…Oh God, is it the past or the future? I can’t be sure. It reminds me of photos shot by Rothstein or Lange of the economic disaster during WWII and the great western droughts. Somehow a part of me knows this is the foreboding future mankind will face in the wake of the sun’s hiatus. 
Sickened, giving into the pain, I double over. Opening my eyes, I recognize the more familiar blackened surroundings of my bedroom in Miami. I stumble out of bed in an awkward race to open the blackout drapes covering the French doors. In a state of madness, I pull them back and breathe a sigh of relief at the sight of the fiery ball rising above the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. I swing open the doors, walk out onto the veranda, and soak in the heat of the rays.

Quickly, I decide to shower and return to NOAA.  I just left there a few hours ago, but the circumstances demands I return before my flight back to my more permanent residence in Corpus Christi. My family lives there and I am anxious to enjoy Thanksgiving with my parents and the rest of my family.


Waiting for the shower to warm, I think back to my days at MIT as a young student hungry for answers to questions. Today, as if the dream were a portent, my wish is for an unintelligent normalcy.

In record time, I’m showered, dressed, a short drive later and I wave at the security guard as I pass through the gate. I swiftly maneuver my car into my marked spot, and make my way into the building to my office. Considered a senior member of the team, I am actually a contracted consultant. Having made the point, recently NOAA and the issues at hand have demanded far more of my attention than usual.

Inside my office, I’m buzzing Clyde, one of the intern assistants. I need a cup of coffee and some copies. Turning back to my desk I find myself face to face with none other than my nemesis Dr. Larson Taylor.

"Ever hear of knocking Larson?"

"Why knock, the door was open?" The muted tones of an expensive suit go well with the distinguished appearance of the man who just barged into my office. Yet, that Wall Street banker appearance of Larson’s doesn't fool me one bit.

"What do you want?" I ask resignedly.

"Just to let you know that young geophysicist… what's his name Raymond?"

"Ryan, his name as you very well know is Ryan."

"Yes, well whatever. He totally screwed the pooch in Washington yesterday. Those people will never listen to us again!"

"What are you talking about?"

"I thought you knew. I took young Ryan with me to address the Hill yesterday. I did my best Michael, but they refused to listen to me. Especially after young Ryan gave them the horror story version of what to expect in the near future. Of course with no scientific proof to back up his claims, they refused to hear me out."

His words have me clinching my teeth and my fist. "That meeting was scheduled for Monday, why did you go yesterday, with Ryan and without me and without telling me?" I ask the smirking man now lounging across from me.

"I received a personal invitation from the Chairman, and of course I couldn't say no. Besides, what could you possibly tell them that I could not?"

"A great deal and you know it Larson! This project has been under my supervision since NOAA decided to use my equipment to track the atmospheric changes!"

With a wave of his finely manicured hand Larson dismisses my answer. He stands, straightens his cuffs and makes his way to the door. His parting shot has me wishing I was a less civilized man.

"My point Michael in coming here this morning was to tell you that your protégé ruined it for us. I expect you to take care of this issue immediately."

Clyde passes him on the way in with my coffee, and I order him to find Ryan and send him to me, now.

So much rested on that meeting on the Hill, and now the opportunity was lost. I drop into my chair and just sit there, staring at the stack of now useless data that I intended to present to those who could have made a difference in Washington.

A soft knock announces the arrival of Ryan, and not surprisingly Mary is with him. She is Ryan's opposite in almost every way, yet lately she seems to always find a way to be with him. They both stand just inside the door, like wary children called to the principal's office. There brilliant minds often overshadow their social ineptness. Mary dresses down the natural beauty of her image and seems determined to appear as unassuming as possible. Ryan could care less about his appearance or anyone else's opinion, except when his reputation or qualifications are in question.

Ryan's brusque manner and tendency to answer others questions in a 'how dumb can you be' tone often leave him standing outside of the cliques that tend to form within think tanks like NOAA. He can’t seem to recognize that others aren’t capable of grasping new ideas and data as fast as he can.

Where Mary's shyness often prevents her from gaining the recognition she deserves, Ryan's seemingly bad attitude keeps him out of the running for higher placement.

"Would you care to explain why you accompanied Larson to Washington days earlier than planned and without telling me?" I demand.

"He lied to me Michael. He said you were meeting us there and bringing the data. Once we arrived, he took my cell phone, my laptop and refused to allow me to speak to anyone…said it was a directive from the Chairman for security purposes."

"Why does that not surprise me in the least?" An ugly laugh escapes me as I stare at the earnest face of one of the most brilliant young men I have ever met.

"So tell me what happened."

"When we were before the committee, he introduced me and threw me under the bus. With no hard data I had no way to explain or back-up what we have discovered. They laughed at me Michael. They said I should be in Hollywood, writing for the science-fiction movies!"

"What did Larson do?"

"He told them that yes, there were atmospheric changes and that there could be sun-spots, slight changes in the tides, a few hours of deepening twilight and that we would let them know in a few months if we discovered any other developments.

He apologized to them for my ineptitude and told them he had been told I was the best you had to offer."

Boiling mad does not even come close to describing the level of anger building inside me. I slam back my chair, rise and storm out the door and down the hall to Larson's office. His secretary stops me from storming into his office.

"Dr. Levine he's not there! He left right after he came back from your office, he told me to cancel his meetings until after Thanksgiving. I'm sorry sir, but he's left the building already."

"Do you know where he's gone?"

"I made arrangements early this morning for him to return to Washington…with a return flight for Monday evening. That's all I know sir."

"Alright Jenny, if he contacts you tell him I will be waiting to see him when he returns."
My smile must be ugly, poor Jenny is clutching her blouse front as she stammers a soft yes sir.

Walking slowly back down the hall, my thoughts return to my dream. If the equations were correct, this disaster with Larson could wrought an outcome far worse than I imagined yesterday.

A shy voice is calling my name. Looking up I see Mary waiting for me.

"Dr. Levine, sorry to bother you, but can I show you something?"
"Is it important Mary?"

"I believe so sir."

"Then do not apologize, just show me."

"If you will come to the lab, I discovered something I haven't shared with anyone else."
This is Mary's way of saying she has left Larson out of the loop, again.  Technically she works for him, not me, but since my arrival she has come to me more and more. At first I had been afraid she was infatuated with me…then a blow to my ego when I discovered she simply thought I was the smarter man with fewer personal agendas.

Once we enter Mary's lab, she shoos out the other techies and closes the door. From a locked desk drawer she draws forth a disc. Inserting it into the nearby computer she triggers the sequence to display it on the three-dimensional viewing table.

I watch as the program correlates data and formulates a tracking model of the suns movements over the next thirty days.

"I cannot guarantee the exact time sir…but sometime in the next few weeks we are looking at the extreme possibility of a total eclipse of both the sun and moon that will last anywhere from 72-80 hours. I cannot even tell you how they are both eclipsing at the same time! Yet every model I run shows the same data."

Mary's concern is real and her confusion understandable. Hell, I can’t explain it and I designed the software and the modeling program she’s using.

"Since we made this discovery Mary you have been on top of it. Do your best, now to try and discover a closer time-frame to predict the eclipse, if we can't avoid it, we can do our best to prepare as many as possible for it."

"After what happened in Washington sir, will they listen now?"

"Probably not, but I still have a few friends I can call in to help if we have time. Make a copy of what we have so far, including this new material and get it over to Gary Timmons at NASA. I will call him later and find out if they have anything new to share."

"Yes sir."

"Do you have family Mary?"

"A sister out in Des Moines, that's all."

"Call her Mary, tell her what we know."

"I will tonight. If it's all the same to you sir…I have no plans for the Holidays and will stay here working."

"I hate to see you do that Mary, but I have to go…I have quite a few businesses to prepare and my family to get moving on preparation as well.

"Umm, Ryan volunteered for duty this week so he will be here also. Between us we can gather twice the information!"

"Alright then, call me and let me know any new developments. Call maintenance Mary and have them change the locks on these doors, not that I don't trust anyone in particular…but better safe than sorry when you're holding explosive materials."

Mary nods and I watch her head to the phone. Leaving her office I seek out Ryan to no avail. He has gone deeper into the labyrinth of NOAA and will only surface when he is sure it is safe to do so. I shrug, out of time; I gather my things to head to the airport.
Stuck in a traffic jam, it seems everyone is rushing to Miami International Airport. With no movement on the interstate, I relax into the car’s seat. A prism of light from the sun bounces off the car in front of me and a name comes to mind, Brandon Lewis, a former Texas A&M graduate student. Brandon never officially received his PhD in person. Instead, the department awarded it in his honor to his grieving mother. Word has it, his use of hallucinogens resulted in an accidental suicide. His work was either brilliant or crazy, when I read it the first time the latter came to mind, recent events have me thinking otherwise. Making a mental note, I decide after the Thanksgiving weekend, I will retrieve a copy from the repository in Corpus Christi.

Inside the airport lounge, I ask for a double shot of bourbon with a Heineken back. 
Thoughts of my personal aloneness intertwine with the catastrophe now hanging over the Earth. Long ago, I prepared myself and my family for just such an event. Everything is in place except the companion…sure there’s James, but there hasn’t really been a woman since Sabine.



My current sometime relationship with Kim, the high strung and pretentious real estate broker, is embarrassing at best. The last time we were together, I wasn’t sure if I could make it through dinner. In fact, I feigned a call in the middle of the entrée’ and excused myself to tend to urgent business. Kim doesn’t understand what I do and appears bored with even casual conversation about my profession. At this moment, I miss Sabine more than ever. She was a budding archeologist back in those days and despite all that was wrong in our relationship, she understood me as a scientist. I slam down the last of the Heineken and contemplate another, halted by the call to board, I abandon my thoughts.