He'll be back

End of Days
by Lawrence Pratt ©2015

As always, Daniel arrived at work about thirty minutes before the rest of his team. This gave him time to go over any messages that arrived since their last shift and gave him first pick of the morning goodies that were always delivered hot and fresh.

Daniel led a committee that reviewed and analyzed environmental reports from dozens of field observers. Based on these reports, he and his five staff members determined any level of intervention that might be needed to maintain balance in a given sector. They also evaluated how events in an area under scrutiny might affect nearby environments over the short and long term.

For quite some time, the routine flow of field reports had indicated no unusual problems or concerns in any of the sectors under observation. This morning, the team's streak of good fortune ran out.

Daniel opened his files for the morning review and there it was - a red-flagged submission from Adam, one of their field observers. The item was innocuously titled "Issue - Sector 391" but Daniel knew this area's unstable history. He also knew his team was in for a demanding day dealing with Adam's findings.

Sector 391 was a source of chronic concern but had never required direct intervention. Besides, Adam was near the end of an extended tour and some team members had expressed opinions that his reports lacked objectivity. All this was aggravated because lately Adam and Daniel had begun to have issues between them that bordered on insubordination on Adam's part. Their most recent voice communication did not go well.

"Adam," Daniel began with as much patience as he could muster, "we're having some concerns about the contents of your reports."

"Yeah, how?" Adam replied, a surly tone in his voice.

"Primarily, your recommendation for military intervention in the sector. You know that exceeds our existing procedures, protocols, and resources."

"Well," Adam continued, "we have to do something before it's too late for all of us," his voice now taking on a note of pleading.

"I understand," Daniel said, "and we'll do something soon." He could tell Adam was in the throes of isolation sickness and needed to be recalled at the earliest possible time. "In the meantime, I need you to open your medical kit and activate the stress packet. Understand?"

"There's nothing wrong with me," Adam said. "I'm perfectly fine."

"As your team lead, I'm ordering you to activate the stress packet," Daniel instructed. "The matter is not up for discussion."

"You bastard, I thought you were my friend," Adam replied.

"I am and keeping you safe until you're home is the best thing I can do as a friend," Daniel continued.

"I'll see what I can do," Adam said. "Sector observer out."

With that, the communication ended.

Like Adam, a given percentage of the agency's personnel preferred being away from staff work and were allowed extra tours on a restricted basis. Too much field time affected a team member's objectivity as well as the ability to work effectively with the team lead and peers back home. This was the situation with Adam and senior management would have to rethink existing policies regarding extended field time.

Turning his attention to the issue at hand, Daniel reviewed Adam's report. It was obvious that the days of keeping their distance from Sector 391 were over. He then called up the archives on the region and began a bit of in-depth historical research before the rest of the team arrived.

Area files went back thousands of years, and while early reports were often sketchy, overall analysis revealed 391 to be dominated by a variety of tribes that had been in constant competition and often outright warfare for as long as records were available. While the tribes had made some progress in the rudimentary arts and sciences, the majority of their collective energies were usually turned towards the development of increasingly destructive weapons and levels of violence. The sector was dominated by a never-ending cycle of everything from minor border conflicts to major wars. Tribes and alliances of tribes continuously attempted to attain the alpha position without any lasting stability within the sector.

Unfortunately, confrontations weren't limited to high- level conflict. Even within their own tribes, the indigenous peoples seemed to find endless ways to exploit and abuse their own.

Out of the corner of his eye, Daniel noticed Ruth saunter in with her usual cup of "go-juice" in hand. The day was officially under way and he shut down the files. Once the rest of the team arrived, the remainder of the day would be spent deciding how to deal with the events in the sector. Daniel was not optimistic about the likely outcome.

Dealing with Adam would be his personal burden to bear.

He felt the need for another round of comfort food and grabbed his second pastry just before the rest of his team arrived and cleaned out the tray.

While a casual visitor would likely see their tasks as routine and mundane - if not outright boring - the team's decisions often meant survival or extinction for a given species. For this reason, it was not a task the group took lightly or considered close to being routine.

In addition to Daniel and Ruth, the current on-site team consisted of Barbara, Robert, James, and Eve. Each member brought a different level of expertise ranging from a sociologist to an actuarial.

Daniel began the session with an overview of the present situation. The current alpha tribe was engaged in a variety of acts that, based on observations in other sectors, were symptomatic of an area about to undergo a catastrophic species-induced collapse. Ruth, the group historian, posed the first question to get the discussion rolling and opinions flying.

"So, how long can we expect the current alpha group to remain in its dominant position?" she posed. "My thinking is that if there's a strong possibility that another tribe or alliance will soon assume the alpha role, the dynamics of the environment will likely change enough to preclude the need for intervention."

"Unfortunately," Daniel replied, "this single group has been dominant for quite some time. While there are indications of fundamental weaknesses in its economic and political structure that are eating away at its dominance, these are unlikely to be severe enough for a new tribe or even a large alliance to assume alpha status before disaster strikes. Worse, it can be expected that these weaknesses will cause the current alpha to strike out in an attempt to displace growing domestic discontent. This will delay an evolutionary transfer of power elsewhere in the area and increase the dangers to the sector when the current alpha collapses. As things stand today, that may not happen until those living in nearby sectors are at risk."

Eve, the actuarial, joined in.

"As the resident bean counter," she began with a bit of self-effacing humor, "from what I've read about the sector's history and given this latest report, despite his all too frequent inflammatory comments, Adam's assessment is right on the money. While we may not always agree with his style, all of Adam's information has always been technically accurate. But maybe you social types can tell me how and why the alpha tribe has been permitted to achieve this position. It's my understanding that this region has a collective council with members from each tribe, and this council is supposed to keep all this from happening."

"These tribes talk endlessly about noble goals but are completely unable to achieve them except for the shortest periods of time," replied Robert, the group sociologist. "They seem almost genetically predisposed to endless conflict between tribes as well as within tribes. Long term consensus and cooperation are just not achievable with these groups," he concluded with a tone of exasperation.

Even at this early stage of the discussion, Robert's inclination towards intervention seemed obvious and this brought James, the group's biologist, into the discussion.

"I think Robert may be on to something regarding a genetic predisposition towards violence," he commented. "When we look at the history of the tribes in that sector, the most dominant trait is a nearly endless pattern of aggression ranging from abuse within families to war between tribes and alliances of tribes. Add to this history an increasing population competing for decreasing resources and the future is pretty bleak. Right now the alpha tribe accounts for about five percent of the sector's total population but consumes a fifth of its natural resources. Other tribes are beginning to chafe at this imbalance and violent competition for resources has been taking place for some time as all tribes are constantly trying to increase their standard of living and access to material possessions.

"In addition to pending social disaster," James continued, "the sector's physical environment seems to have passed the breaking point and the ecosystem is no longer sustainable. What amazes me is that these tribes have endured as long as they have, let alone increased their population and technology level over time. It's a repetitive cycle of advances and setbacks with no real positive evolution in their overall social structure and mental processes. I've never seen a supposedly advanced group endure under such circumstances," he concluded with a grim shake of his head.

"It may be that their inherent violence drives advances in technology and not the other way around," offered Barbara, the resident technology expert and the one most knowledgeable regarding changes in conflict among cultures. "Virtually all such advances in this area have occurred during or been vastly accelerated by outbreaks of war. These advances are then used to inflict even more brutality against a greater number of people in a shorter amount of time. In essence, they're always looking for more efficient ways to kill or subjugate one another. It's absolutely mind boggling that they haven't invented or stumbled upon a weapon that would simply kill everyone in the entire sector."

"Well," Daniel interjected, "from Adam's report, it looks like they are coming close to that threshold. However, they may first achieve a breakout from their isolated area and pose a significant danger to others. If happens, their social traits could infect others like a virus."

"Do you think they could reach us?" Robert asked.

"It would take a significant amount of time," Daniel replied, "but given the various histories of all the tribes, without intervention it seems inevitable that they will eventually pose a threat to our society. Since they're in a constant state of conflict within their own sector, it's logical to conclude that they will carry these violent traits wherever they go."

This comment was met with a somber silence.

"Well, before voting for intervention," Ruth remarked, breaking the silence, "maybe we should do a little brainstorming. My biggest concern is, are things really that bad?"

Robert was the first to address her concerns.

"Based on our information," he answered, "the alpha tribe is now acting in a manner that can only be described as dysfunctional if not outright psychotic. It's been a long time since a major tribe has acted so irrationally and the last time it occurred, it resulted in the most destructive level of warfare that's ever occurred in the sector. We chose not to intervene at that time because none of the tribes possessed weapons that could threaten others outside of their environment. That's changed. Some time ago we did intervene in another sector with conditions that mirror those now present in 391, so there is a precedent if we decide to act."

With this comment, all attention was focused on Barbara.

"Robert's right," she concurred, "and the alpha tribe is the leader in the possession and development of weaponry. Our latest data indicates that they are spending more of their resources on instruments of war than all other groups combined. Through alliances based on intimidation and corruption, they have also managed to deploy more military forces into outlying areas than all other tribes as well. It's a very ominous set of circumstances."

"How can they possibly afford that level of expenditures?" James asked.

"Technically, they can't," Eve chimed in. "The tribe is functionally bankrupt yet continues to go further into debt by borrowing from its allies and, ironically, potential future adversaries. The tribe's financial incompetence is absolutely staggering. They're pouring borrowed money into conflicts where they ousted existing leaders and are now dealing with local insurgencies. It never ends."

"It gets more bizarre," Barbara added. "It seems the leadership of the alpha tribe has instituted a formal policy of what they call 'pre-emptive attack' and are using the policy to wage war at any level of their choosing without warning or even the need to prove that they're in imminent danger."

"Am I the only one who thinks this whole situation is completely insane?" Ruth asked. "By invoking a policy of pre- emption, they provide a rationale for others to take the same action against them."

"No, you're not alone," James quipped. "I'll vote for insanity."

"Unfortunately," Daniel concluded with a fatalistic tone, "a verdict of insanity is not an option - only intervention or non-intervention."

Discussion of the issues at hand continued for some time with the group edging ever closer towards consensus.

"Well," Robert said with an air of finality, "I think we've heard enough regarding current circumstances and we have a thorough history of the sector. It's time we decided. I move that we intervene in Sector 391 and that such intervention require termination of all the sector's tribes."

The committee remained silent as each of the other members pondered whether or not to second Robert's motion. While he had made his sentiments clear early on, the fact that no one quickly objected to Robert's motion spoke volumes regarding their pessimism about the future of the tribes in the sector.

"I second the motion," Eve offered.

"The motion has been made and seconded," Daniel confirmed. "Are there any other comments or questions before we take a formal vote?"

"Are we sure that intervention can be carried out effectively without impacting any other species in the sector?" James asked.

"Not a problem," Barbara replied, "our ability to specifically target a given species within a geographical area has been in place for a long time. Through breathing and the ingestion of food and water, in short order the eggs carried within living females of the target species will be rendered sterile and their uteruses made unable to support future pregnancies. We avoid outright murder by allowing pregnant females to carry their unborn children to full term. However, upon their birth females in utero would grow to maturity without any viable eggs or the ability to provide a womb suitable to nurture future generations."

"Will we need to get approval from senior management?" Robert asked.

"No," Daniel replied, "the population total of all the tribes is under ten billion and that's within our charter for us to act independently." He glanced around the table and seemed confident that the group would be in agreement. "Anything else?" he asked. The group remained silent. "All right. Those in favor of intervention and extermination through sterilization?"

All six members indicated their agreement.

"That's it," Daniel declared. "I'll take care of the forms this afternoon and we'll convene just before shift end to confirm everything's in order. After that, I'll notify Adam and he can begin his work right away. Let's break for lunch."

Shortly after the lunch hour, Daniel began the electronic filing of the authorization that would initiate events in Sector 391. It had been a long time since he had completed one of these and took great care to make sure everything was properly documented although there were only three boxes that were absolutely critical.

In the Sector Number block he entered "391" and triple- checked his entry; there would be hell to pay if intervention occurred in the wrong sector because of a typo.

He highlighted the Species Sterilization box as the method of intervention. He then entered "Homo sapiens" as the targeted species.

The humans who populated the planet they called Earth were about to see their end of days as a viable species.

Daniel again double- and triple-checked his work. A short time later, the team gathered for the last time. At the end of the day, the group would be broken up, put on extended sabbatical, and its members reassigned.

"Okay," Daniel began, "let's get started. The form's complete and I'm ready to give Adam his orders. I'll pass the reader around and everyone needs to review and verbally approve or reject the elimination order."

The review was completed in less than five minutes without dissent. The final die for the future of the human race had been cast. The last team member approved the order and passed the reader to Daniel who reviewed the approvals, nodded, and forwarded the order to Adam across the cosmos.

"It's done," he remarked.

"So, what happens from here?" Eve asked.

Daniel nodded to Barbara.

"In about a year," Barbara said, "the human population will begin an irreversible decline to extinction. When the population reaches a sufficiently low count and won't be aware of our presence," the techie continued, "special teams will be sent to begin retrieving artifacts and items of historical note. Enough material will be salvaged to build a very credible museum regarding human history through the ages. However, we will leave out everything related to war and violence so any visitors to the museum aren't exposed to cultural contamination. When the last human is gone and our archeological efforts are complete, we send in the 'crunchers'."

"What, in the name of the universe," asked Ruth, "are crunchers?"

"Crunchers," James explained, "are specially bred microbes that eat and digest processed materials and break them down to their elemental contents. On Earth, the crunchers will go after things such as concrete, asphalt, and other processed building materials. Not to mention their damnable plastic. In less than five Earth revolutions around its sun, everything built by the human race will be reduced to piles elemental dust. Their great cities will soon resemble coastal dunes until the waste is scattered by wind and water to be absorbed by the planet."

"Any ideas on how humans will react as their population declines?" Daniel posed.

"It won't be pretty," Robert remarked. "At first, science will prevail as their best medical minds attempt to find the cause of mass sterilization. Once they've determined that all females are functionally sterile, they'll attempt to find a cure that's doomed to fail. Next they'll attempt reproduction with eggs currently frozen in laboratories across the planet by bringing fertilized eggs to maturity in lab settings or using the wombs of living animals. Both options will also fail.

"As science increasingly proves unable to solve the problem," Robert continued, "the more advanced tribes will turn to their established faiths and call upon their supreme deity to intervene. Hope, faith, and prayer - the ultimate trifecta of human emotional waste and delusion. Since we proved eons ago that no such supreme being exists, their prayers will go unanswered. Less advanced tribes will begin persecuting individuals and minority groups as targets to blame. Humans call such activities 'witch hunts'. The area known as Africa will become even more of a source of such violence than it already is."

"When it comes to blaming others," Ruth added, "large neighboring tribes that have existed in states of animosity and recurrent war will turn against each other. We anticipate that the first such conflict will occur between the tribes known as India and Pakistan. The so-called Korean peninsula will also be at high risk."

A grim silence settled over the team as the unasked question lingered in the air - had they made the right decision?

"For those of you who are now questioning our decision," Daniel said, "keep in mind that any violent actions humans take against one another simply validates how limited they are in positive problem solving capabilities and how correct we are to ensure they don't venture outside their sector. And don't forget that our actions will save planet Earth from irreversible environmental damage. Now, let's say our final goodbyes as a team and prepare for our sabbaticals and reassignments."

As these words left his lips, Daniel caught a wry smile pass across James' face.

"So, James," he asked, "why the smile?"

"One of my future assignment requests will be a post- intervention observation and analysis of Earth. I'm especially interested to see how the bears and great cats re-establish their domains. An industrial-free planet is what nature intended." #

Although the order had been transmitted, Daniel still had loose ends to tie up. He would soon undergo a psyche evaluation with an emphasis on the recent demands he faced as team lead. At the end of his sabbatical, Daniel would be reassigned to light field duty or maybe a research position for a while. But tonight, he'd enter a private world of chemically-induced escape. Eliminating an entire species was not something one endured easily.

Daniel reflected on the severity of the task at hand. For too long the humans of Earth had failed to come remotely close to realizing their magnificent potential and Daniel's culture couldn't risk them moving out of their solar system. Their short-lived and superficial celebrations of peace were always smothered by their eternal and deep embrace of violence and war.

So much promise and so many failures. #

Across the galaxy, Adam received his orders. He would begin his task shortly then return from the field when the job was done. It was time and when he returned home Adam knew he had amends to make. He would also undergo a psych profile and analysis followed by mandatory sabbatical before being reassigned to a staff position. It was standard procedure.

Adam went about his work without hesitation or emotion. He eased his craft into Earth's atmosphere on the dark side of the planet and began a routine flight path that belied the seriousness of his work. Circumnavigating Earth around its poles at about forty thousand feet and shifting three degrees of longitude with each pass, Daniel disbursed the chemicals approved for the intervention.

Adam didn't share any reservations others in the group may have had in this matter. For too long Adam had observed the endless violence of the destructive species he was about to help eradicate. He had a much more personal and frequently reinforced view of Homo sapiens. Never in all his field work had Adam encountered such a destructive, deceitful, and untrustworthy species dominated by materialistic selfishness. The one thing he found most contemptible about humans was the annual celebration by the alpha tribe's dominant religion that paid homage to "peace on Earth and goodwill towards men" while the entire species barely paused in its endless pursuit of self destruction. These hypocritical religious platitudes also seemed to coincide with an orgy of gluttony and materialistic indulgence that Adam found to be almost as repulsive as the endless violence humans inflicted upon one another.

Adam noted that this blatantly phony religious fervor was compounded by the alpha tribe honoring and proclaiming its trust in their chosen deity on their currency while spending more money on arms and militarism than any other nation on the planet. The ultimate goal of the alpha tribe seemed to be nothing more than the ever-increasing accumulation of materialistic possessions. Its members were completely indifferent to how much harm they caused to other humans as well as the Earth's life-giving environment in endless attempts to satisfy their voracious appetites.

Appetites that were never truly satisfied.

Then, Adam reflected, there was all that nonsense about "creationis" and "intelligent design" that the alpha tribe's major religious sects tried to fob off on anyone they could influence or intimidate. While no one knew the true origin of life anywhere in the universe, from Adam's vantage point over the years, when it came to life on Earth the influence of any intelligent design stopped with the evolution of the many species of dolphins. No higher form of intelligence would want any association with the creation of Homo sapiens and its seemingly endless faults. Unless, of course, the appearance of humans was a cosmic experiment gone horribly wrong.

His only thought was "good riddance" to such a shallow and selfish bunch.

Adam looked forward to the future of an Earth without humans and personally harbored a special wish for the successful expansion of the species referred to as "orca". He was truly in awe of these magnificent creatures with their intelligence, grace, beauty, and power. Without humans to sully the great seas that covered most of the planet, future dominance of the globe by orcas would be the logical progress of evolution.

Adam chuckled to himself as he went about his task and gazed down on humankind's large cities. He found himself amused at how so many of these petty creatures believed in their imaginary "UFOs" and little aliens that would seize and transport humans to a mother ship for hideous medical experiments. The human species wasn't worth that much effort to Adam and his kind, and any race intelligent enough to reach Earth across the cosmos easily avoided detection and contact. The ability of Adam to pilot his craft undetected at the same altitude flown by commercial airliners proved that point.

Added to the many myths regarding visitors from space that Adam found laughable was the absolutely baseless and nonsensical human presumption of how aliens were supposed to look. Imagined descriptions ranged from the monstrous to the currently popular image of a short, matchstick figure of a creature with an oversized head perched precariously on a much too-thin neck. Of course, one mustn't forget the excessively large, teardrop shaped eyes. What idiocy!

The fact of the matter was that, as the humanoid form was the most practical evolutionary end point for encasing a superior species, Adam's race looked virtually identical to humans. There simply wasn't a way to improve over a body based on bilateral symmetry with upright mobility and opposable fingers and thumbs. Not unexpectedly, like Homo sapiens, Adam and his kind possessed a variety of skin tones and other relatively minor physical traits that had evolved over time for adaptation to different planetary climates. Unlike humans, Adam's species didn't kill and brutalize one another over the color of one's skin.

But humans could never grasp such simple practicality, and throughout the centuries had attributed their supposedly unique and superior physical form to that based on fabricated deities in whose image they assumed themselves to be created. Life forms anywhere else in the universe simply had to be inferior in appearance and utility to that of humans.

The team back home had come to the conclusion that Homo sapiens was suffering from ethnocentric arrogance in the extreme.

Elimination of this species had become a must. #

Adam checked his instruments as he approached the end of his work. The chemicals he had released would be disbursed by high altitude winds and settle to the surface in a few days. The caveats associated with the chemical's use would ensure the cessation of human reproduction. Children already conceived would be a last gasp of the human race.

Human self-centeredness had never imagined that a culture and species superior to theirs could one day do to their entire race what they had only been able to do piecemeal to each other since their ancestors began to walk upright. To borrow from a contemporary human phrase, Adam reflected, they had failed to think outside the box.

Over the coming decades, the human species would die out from natural causes and continued self-destructive violence. After all, Adam reflected, battling it out to the last against others of their own kind would be completely in keeping with the species. Within a hundred revolutions around their sun, Homo sapiens would be little more than a footnote in the biological history of the universe. Any threat they might have posed to others would be gone.

Perhaps Earth's evolutionary process would do a better job the next time it brought forth a supposedly superior species.

The ultimate irony was that their acceptance of pre- emptive war against others of their own kind gave Adam's society the justification to carry out the intervention that would terminate the human race.

His task completed, Adam thought about what his own future held in store. Despite his love of field work, he was looking forward to returning home and some down time. As he preferred to work alone, Adam thought he might put in for a quiet research position or maybe get some retraining as an actuarial. He'd definitely apply for an observer position in about five to ten thousand Earth years in order to see how the planet was faring without human interference and after the crunchers had done their work. Adam knew full well he wouldn't live long enough to witness truly major evolutionary changes on the planet.

Adam also knew that Daniel would soon be entering a self- induced stupor but he really couldn't blame his boss for his vices. Had Daniel personally observed Earth over the past centuries, he wouldn't have been a bit bothered at sterilizing the human race. It was under these circumstances that Adam finished his job with a clear conscience.

As he moved out of the planet's atmosphere and plotted a course for home, Adam forwarded a simple message: "Sector 391; intervention complete."

x x x

This story's title intrigued me. It reflects a moderately successful film from some time ago. (Not my favorite Schwarzenegger flick, but not my least favorite either.) The tale's well enough written to warrant inclusion here and I thought the AR readership might get a kick out of its echo of the Arnold film. Let me know if this worked on our BBS - GM

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