Feodor climbed the summit of the peak overlooking the icy waves towards the land mass that was clearly visible across what had only a day ago seemed a limitless expanse of water. Water, water he couldn't drink, tasted too salty. He had to swim through it; it would get his fur wet, but it had been wet before, and he didn't mind the cold too much. He would have to shake it out; he didn't want it freezing while it was so close to his body. He liked the cold, and he enjoyed the feel of the snow beneath his paws. The rush of the wind through his fur; his fur would get wet while he was swimming. That was all right, as long as he had a full belly, he knew that he could make it. He hadn't eaten in what seemed an eternity. Looking about he saw a stream trickling down the hillside towards the ocean. He lifted his nose to the air, and caught the faint smell of the clear drinking water. There would probably be fish in this one, and that was food.
He lumbered down off his perch, leaving the ocean and the land of freedom behind for a meal. His stomach must be continuously fed.
Dr. Michael Hall walked into Dr. Emmanuel Asgaard's office that afternoon. He was about ready to burst with feverish yearning. There were so many things that he didn't know, so many things that he hoped Asgaard would be able to answer. He carried Dr. Lane Sauer's notes with him, Asgaard might want them back, and besides, he had a translated copy in his workspace anyway. He had gone to look in on the kids just before deciding not to postpone his talk with Asgaard any further. The kids were fine, except now that there were only four young boys. The portly one had been crying pathetically, while the one he had seen brought in had a shocked expression on his face as he stared into the floor as if it weren't even there. The black kid was trying to get some sleep, while the last one looked as pale as a ghost, shaking and shivering, clutching himself spasmodically.
He was of course a bit nervous about his talk with Dr. Asgaard. On the one hand, it was completely unscheduled, and he wasn't sure how Asgaard would take that. From his one meeting with the man, he seemed rather independent, and quite distracted, but competent, and almost fatalistically determined. On a more fundamental level, one that echoed the terrors of the human soul, he feared what the answers to his questions might be. Never before in his life had he been confronted with the hard realities of physical transformation - he had always festered hopes, but they had always seemed so foolish - and they not only scared him but inexorably drew him inward. He could feel his veins straining to reach out of his flesh, yearning for the serum which would make him into a bear; yet at the same time, his mind recoiled from the idea, thinking only of the social rejection, and the possibility that he might completely lose his intellect. Being a scientific man, he prided himself on his rational mind, and the prowess of his mental faculties, yet here when presented with an opportunity that could very possibly take away both of these things he held so dear, he felt in him a desire, nay a passion to claim the call towards animalism. In fact, he could feel the cold touch of the syringe through the fabric of his shirt. He had placed the syringe, with the needlepoint safely covered of course, inside his shirt pocket, for a reason he did not consciously wish to admit.
Yet at the same time, he couldn't stand not knowing what lay behind all of this scientific research. Obviously, this virus was designed for a higher purpose; the transformation into a bear was not the reason in itself, but only the result. The reason behind it was something that he wished to know. There was no way that he could let himself go without knowing what this new society was. He could not sleep another night if he wasn't informed about the EVENT. He needed to know about thee things, or he was certain that he would go crazy. Of course, he accepted the fact that just knowing the answers to these questions might very well make him crazy. Then again, Asgaard might not even know. That thought gave him a slight feeling of relief, and a surge of irritation. No matter how much he feared these answers, he had to know them. He simply had to know them.
As he entered Dr. Asgaard's office, he saw that Dr. Simpson was also in there. To Hall, Simpson was almost as bad as Harris was, as both of them were quite rigid, and mostly devoid of personality. Also, neither took orders from anybody it seemed except Asgaard and Morgenstern. Just which one of them did they serve? At the moment it looked as if Simpson served Asgaard, whom he was retrieving a small drinking glass filled with a golden liquid. Asgaard took a sip of it, and then looked up to see Hall entered unannounced. Asgaard turned to face Simpson and said, "I think we shall have to discuss that bit of matter at a later time."
"What bit of matter?" Hall asked.
Simpson shrugged, "Just the transport of the stage four victims to a preserve where they won't be able to cause any damage to the human populations."
"Stage four victims?" Hall asked. "I thought there were only three stages to this disease."
Asgaard cleared his throat. "Well, just recently we realized that there was a fourth stage. It would not have been in Dr. Sauer's notes, which I see you have returned with."
"I'm finished with these." Hall set them on Asgaard's desk.
"You were able to understand them?" Simpson seemed surprised.
"Of course, I knew the code that Sauer used when writing down his notes. Remember we spent all that time researching the effects the Yaounde virus can have for our Science News article. In that time I learned his code. It took me some time to translate the whole thing, but I managed. A very astute code though, he translated everything into Spanish first, then, rearranged all the letters. A pain to crack I'd imagine." From the look Simpson had, he could tell that they had tried, and failed.
"So what did you find?" Asgaard asked, taking another sip form his drink.
"Well, I know that this virus these kids have come down with will eventually turn them into a bear."
"Very clever of you. I trust that you can synthesize the virus again if we need it?" Asgaard asked.
Hall thought for a moment of showing them the syringe he held in his pocket. However, even as he brought his hand up to reach for it, he decided against it. Still he needed to say something, "Of course I can synthesize it. I only need a little more time. I do have several questions though. Things are bugging me, and I'm afraid that if you want me to do any more work for you, you're going to have to tell me the answers."
"Or what are you going to do?" Simpson asked, not appreciating the threat.
"I'll...." Hall paused. He couldn't claim to destroy his own work, because he told them how to crack the code in Sauer's notes, making it quite easy to figure out. However, he didn't have to make a serious threat. "Blow a hole in the wall of the second stage holding pen. I have it set to a timer, if I don't press this button," he pointed at the bulge in his shirt where the syringe was, "then it will blow automatically. If I press the button down here," he pointed at the opposite end of the syringe, hoping the layered clothing was enough to obscure the general shape of the syringe, "then it blows anyway. Don't even bother trying to warn anybody," he stared at Simpson who looked as if he were ready to jump for the door, "if anybody leaves this room, I blow it."
"How do we know that you are telling the truth?" Asgaard asked, idly sipping his drink.
"Can you afford to take the chance that I'm not. Face it, there are chemicals in the labs that will detonate powerful enough to blow holes in those walls, I am a biochemist, I know how to build bombs. I wouldn't recommend taking the chance."
"Simpson, let's answer his questions." Asgaard replied simply.
"Emmanuel!" Simpson seemed outraged.
"No, I'm not taking the chance that he could be telling the truth." Asgaard glared at Simpson, who promptly backed down. Asgaard turned back to face Hall, who kept his hand against his pocket, as if that would ensure that he would get answers. "So what questions do you have?"
"First off, what is the real purpose behind turning these poor kids into bears?" Hall asked.
"A mistake." Asgaard replied. "They were never meant to be infected with the virus."
"Then how did they become infected?" Hall asked.
"Emmanuel!" Simpson seemed about to burst with frustration.
"We are answering his questions, I suppose we might as well as be honest with ourselves as well as him." Asgaard mused. "The reason that those kids have the virus is because Dr. Lane Sauer gave it to them. A completely unauthorized use of the virus that we had developed."
"Why did you develop it?"
"Because we had to."
"I don't understand that, explain that to me."
"Do you know what the phrase 'astronomical event' means?" Asgaard got a distant look on his face, and Simpson began muttering darkly to himself. "In another five years, an object not quite as large as the moon will pass through this solar system, very close to earth in fact. Our astronomers have determined that the gravitational forces involved are going to upset the orbit of the Earth itself. Our revolution about the sun will take about three or four days longer, I can never remember the exact number, and the average temperature about the globe will drop from about ten to twenty degrees centigrade. Do you know what that means?"
Hall's face had gone white. "Ice age." he said, too startled to say anything else.
"Exactly. A perpetual ice age. The glaciers are expected to reach down as far as Missouri maybe even Arkansas or Texas. Europe will be completely under ice, as well as most of the Asian continent north of the Caspian and Aral Seas. The Antarctic ice shelves will nearly engulf Australia, and will reach at the very least, the southern boundaries of Brazil or Bolivia. What isn't covered in ice will be much like Southern Canada, with the possible exception of the deserts in Africa, Arabia, and Mexico. I'm not a climatoligist, so I can't say for sure the extent of it all, but I can guarantee you this, almost every remnant of the human civilization will be destroyed. The entire ecosystem of the world will be suddenly turned on its head, and very little will survive. The only things that will survive are creatures more suited to a winter environment, as most of the animals won't have enough time to migrate to the slightly warmer climate in the tropics."
"You’re talking about the extinction of most of life on Earth!" Hall said, his mouth agape, and his hand no longer on his shirt pocket.
"That's exactly what I am saying." Asgaard replied, taking the time to drink a bit more of his glass. "Just how do you think the dinosaurs died?"
"I always thought that a meteorite crashed down in Mexico somewhere which engulfed the atmosphere with ash."
"That theory is a good one, but there has never been conclusive proof that it was so. There have always been a few nagging questions that abound. Recent analysis points to another theory, which also explains another mystery of science."
"Which one is that?" Hall asked, his hands still shaking. The world would end in a wrenching of massive proportions in only five years. There was no question now as to what the EVENT referred. It was something so enormous that he had never even before conceived of the possibility. Now there was a revelation that something like this could have happened before.
"Why the Moon is a billion years older than the Earth. It is something that ha mystified astronomers for years, but now we have a reasonable answer. The Moon was never a part of Earth, but it in fact originated from outside the Solar System. About 65 million years ago, it passed through this solar system, and was caught in the Earth' gravitational field. At the time, the Earth was closer to the sun, but after the moon was trapped by Earth's gravitational field, it fell back into a larger orbit, and this caused the massive change in temperature that killed off most of life on Earth 65 million years ago."
"And now it's going to happen again." Hall said.
"Yes. That is why we are here. We are trying to preserve as much of humanity as possible."
"By turning them into bears?" Hall asked, confused.
"No, by making them more resilient to the cold. The ursine form was selected because of its proximity to the human form, and because bears are naturally intelligent anyway. Of course, there is the matter of preventing the transformation from going too far. We are pretty sure we know the right time, but we need somebody to concoct the formula that will halt the physical transformation. Once Sauer died, we had no one who could do that for us. That is why you were brought in. We knew that you were the only other living human being who could understand the work as well as Sauer did."
"So this is all to save humanity? To preserve it? Why not just try to make a life in the tropics, I'm sure that it would be possible, and it would be hospitable to humans as they are now." Hall asked curious. He was shaking visibly now. All this was simply more than he could have possibly imagined.
"Are you feeling all right, you look pale?" Asgaard asked.
"I feel like I've just taken a cold shower." Hall smiled grimly. "You know, they just hit you all of a sudden, and you jump, and you never ever get used to it. You know what I'm talking about?"
"I believe I do." Asgaard nods. He then continued, "It is possible that the tropics might be safe to live in for a time, but we don't want to take any chances. This is the best way."
"So is this going to be the new society?" Hall asked.
"In a sense. The new humanity will look like a mix between bears and man. We thinking of calling the species Homo Ursinus or Urso Sapiens, we are not sure which." Asgaard remarked. "I prefer Homo Ursinus, it states that we are still in the same family, just a different species. Urso Sapiens sounds as if we are an off shout of the bear family, which I feel would have been more appropriate if we had tried to turn a bear into a human."
Something was still nagging him, something that hadn't been answered yet. "If you are trying to save humanity, albeit in an odd way - considering the circumstances, I think I see the logic - then why are you having Dr. Salinger create an extra DNA chain that produces a deadly virus during the second stage. That seems counter productive doesn't it?"
Simpson looked as Asgaard questioningly, as if he wasn't sure of the wisdom of revealing this yet. Asgaard ignored the stare, took another drink, and replied, "Unfortunately, in this new society, food is going to be scarce, so we really aren't going to be able to save but maybe one tenth of one percent of the human population, if that. The virus that appears during the second stage will reduce the rest of humanity into pile of organic sludge, which will seep into the ground or into the water. It will of course be a cesspool of microscopic organisms, which will be necessary to replenish as many will be killed by the abrupt change in weather."
"That's cruel!" Hall said in a quavering voice, too horrified to say anything else.
"Unfortunately, the universe is no respecter of life. It gives it, and takes it away with equal callousness. We are doing what only an intelligent species can, trying to save as many of our people as possible."
Hall then looked at the two of them with a curious expression on his face, "Tell me, who is going to be saved? When are you going to tell people about this?"
Simpson harumphed, "We are never going to let this become public knowledge."
"So they are just going to die when it all happens, right?" Hall challenged, raising his hand to his pocket again.
"Of course." Simpson said coldly.
"Only a select few will be saved." Asgaard answered without trace of emotion or regret.
"Those that work for the organization that is overseeing this project. It is our coordinator's goal to save what little of humanity that is possible."
"So, in five year's time, shortly before that celestial body arrives, you'll slip everybody that works for this organization some of the serum, and then sit back and watch." Hall asked, feeling the syringe in his shirt, not so much as a way to a fantasy that he had as a child, but a way to survival.
"Well most of us." Asgaard replied, finishing off his drink.
"What do you mean most of us?" Hall asked, not liking the sound of that.
"I won't be alive, since Dr. Simpson here was so good as to poison the drink that I have just finished." Asgaard replied candidly.
Simpson turned to look at the doctor in shock. Obviously, this was not something that had been orchestrated for Hall's benefit.
"Oh come now, Robert, do you think that I wouldn't have tasted the poison in my favorite drink. You must be joking. I noticed the minute that I first sipped it." Asgaard chided the scientist. Hall stared from one to the other, and then at the cup that Asgaard still held in his hand. Why in the world would he poison his superior? Unless of course, Asgaard really wasn't his superior. It was Morgenstern. Morgenstern had been behind the entire affair. He probably had Sauer killed too for trying to sabotage Salinger's work.
"Did you kill Sauer too?" Michael asked.
"Of course not!" Simpson declared.
"That was Harris's job." Asgaard remarked dryly. "Of course you know how they killed him, Harris made a tiny incision in Lane's suit before he entered the second stage holding pen one time. It took only ten minutes for him to dissolve. As you know, the only way not to be killed by it is to be infected with the serum. I imagine that you probably will be killed too, Michael. Once you outlive your usefulness, Morgenstern will have you eliminated, much as he has me."
"Damn you, Emmanuel!" Simpson burst out, no longer able to contain his rage. He slapped the scientist hard against the back of his head. Michael, without thinking, reached inside his shirt pocket, pulled out the syringe, removed the plastic covering over the needle, and then jabbed it into his arm. Simpson looked up and saw what he was doing, and his mouth fell in shock. "What are you doing?"
"Guaranteeing my place in this new society." Hall answered as he injected the contents of the syringe into his arm.
"I thought you said that you hadn't made any formula yet?" Simpson stared dumbly at the now empty syringe.
"I lied. I do that on occasion." Hall replied blandly.
"I hope you have concocted some of the abatement formula as well. You don't want to reach the fourth stage." Asgaard said, straightening his nose out, and eyeing Simpson rather irritatedly.
"What's the fourth stage?" Hall asked, now holding his arm that he had just stuck with the serum.
"Well, since Sauer was killed, nobody here could process anymore of the abatement formula, the one that is used to halt the virus's progress. Anyway, without it, those kids kept on transforming, until they reach what we call the fourth stage. There are six or seven who are now like that."
"So what is the fourth stage?" Hall asked again, this time more annoyed.
"Complete bear, no traces of humanity remain in the creature. They have truly become an animal."
Hall made a mental note to work on that abatement formula immediately. Another thought sprung to mind, "You have drunk poison, are probably going to die, and you don't even seem to care about it, why?"
"I don't want to face the world when it is destroyed. I was going to kill myself anyway, I tried before, they stopped me though."
"That's before you started telling people things they didn't need to know!" Simpson pointed out.
"Oh shut up." Asgaard looked at him with disgust. "Why don't you go lick Morgenstern's shoes some more. That's all you seem capable of."
Simpson then began to move toward Asgaard as if to strangle him, then turned about on his heels, and fled the room. Hall looked at the door that slammed shut behind him, his whole body still trembling at the enormity of the situation. He then noticed that Asgaard was beginning to slump in his chair. "Asgaard!"
"You didn't really plant a bomb did you?" Asgaard asked with a faint smile. Hall shook his head. "I didn't think so. You don't really have to worry, I don't think Morgenstern is stupid enough to have you killed. However, you know that they are going to stuff you into the observation rooms as soon as they realize that you will become a bear as well."
"No they won't, the serum I used was without the benefit of Salinger's research." Hall protested.
"Of course. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm getting sleepy." Asgaard began to crumple on his desk. "I think I'd like to sleep through this ice age. Wake me up when it's over." Then he stopped talking. Hall got up, and shook him cautiously, he woke for one brief moment saying, "I can feel the ice. I can feel it." Then he died. Hall looked at the dead man slouched over his desk, and he began to tremble again. The world was ending in five years; turning them into Homo Ursinus would preserve humanity, while the large bulk of it would be melted down into protoplasm. Plus, he was in a room with the recently deceased. He had also sealed his own fate in one rash act, one that now he couldn't even remember why he had committed it. He ran from the room then, in abject and absolute terror.
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