The very pundits who had been paid to deny that climate change was real, until rising ocean levels made that argument too ridiculous for even the most gullible to swallow, then paid more to deny that carbon emissions were a significant factor, were now paid to debate when the tipping point had been passed and to affix blame on the liberals for not doing anything in time while they’d had the power. Meanwhile, their masters bought up every bit of farmland in the United States and Russia that their previous investments had devalued, and CEOs became officers and supervisors of the Farmers United Corporate Conglomerate Ukasery that determined what was grown and set the prices.
Membership in the Church of Latter Day Saints surged until a new edict was passed that each aspirant had to first demonstrate that he was already in possession of a two year supply of food and a four month supply of drinking water. Apparently, hunger of a mundane nature, not a spiritual one, had been at the root of the conversions, for enthusiasm waned.
The new status of wealth was not ocean shore property but elevated land with a water supply. Tilapia values soared as that easy to cultivate fish became the main source of protein worldwide. Gold’s value, to the bafflement of analysts, plummeted.
In India, an example of the turning worm manifested throughout the cities of Delhi and Mumbai as Untouchables became organized. Children mostly orphans, abandoned daughters, young widows who had escaped suttee, and the illegitimate sons and daughters of prostitutes now slipped through the streets under cover of darkness sabotaging cars in the simplest of ways: a handful of shit or sand in the gas tank. News officials tried to keep the story from going public, but it leaked via twitter and blogs, and although some of the posters were hit with startlingly harsh reprisals, the damage was done. The sabotage went viral worldwide. Cars that had locks on the gas tanks were no safer, for it seemed every street brat from Saudi to Cali had acquired lock-picking skills or screwdrivers. Or else they simply gummed up the lock with super glue, discomfiting the drivers even if the engine remained intact a while longer.
Jay Leno took to driving only his alternate fuel cars in public. He converted his showcase garage to a car museum and publicly announced the start-up of a new charity he co-founded with Oprah to provide school teachers with Ford Fusion hybrid cars. He was asked to run for president.
Humanity muddled on. The economic toll was in the trillions in the US alone, with storms, droughts, floods and fires scouring most regions. The areas that went unscathed by nature were so quickly overrun by refugees that they became urban wastelands almost overnight. Carefully cultivated gardens were devoured by human locusts.
Federal agencies and independent companies strove to mitigate nature’s menopause. Along sea coasts dikes were erected; flanking storms caused inland floods. Throughout the Midwest canals were dug to divert floodwaters to drought-struck farmland; toxic run-off borne by the flood waters poisoned the crops until filtration systems were belatedly installed. Hundreds of millions sickened, or lost homes, or lost weight.
And yet, deaths were few. Millions lived off their fat reserves. Millions more scrounged and foraged and learned what was edible. Instead of spraying pesticides, FUCCU hired catchers to catch and sell insects to restaurants. The crunch of carapaces was a welcome alternative to tilapia.
Everybody was hungry, but everybody had an IPod. Twitter replaced news channels worldwide.
One day almost every person on the planet who could read saw the following message, or a culturally-relevant version in the appropriate language: Pray for a miracle.
No mention of any of the culturally specific names for God, no promise, no threat, no blame; just Pray for a miracle.
Some people quietly read, then quietly prayed. The few remaining news services had a field day, and the public response was their idea of a miracle right there. Organizers organized mass pray-ins; fights broke out over what constituted valid prayer, in whose Name.
Three days later, another message was as mysteriously and multi-culturally broadcast: Don’t fight; pray for a miracle. The violence abated. The media debates escalated.
If you would receive a miracle, do three things came the next message, two weeks after the second: Be kind. Plant trees. Send gold to the following charities.
This went beyond strange, but all the designated charities were reputable, and gold was worth less than potatoes. Everything from family heirlooms to brightest bling was sent off in lumpy packages. More significantly, as far as human interactions were concerned, violence subsided even more, except where people, desperate for a miracle, formed vigilante groups that assaulted chronic perpetrators of aggression and reduced them to bleeding puddles of gristle.
Planting trees presented more of a challenge. The corporate farms didn’t care about trees. Niche market growers and heritage seed collectors had to be consulted, and their supplies were quickly exhausted. But the very kids who had spiked the engines of countless cars seemed to have learned in their sleep how to gather the disregarded, spendthrift seeds and acorns that no one had found good to eat, and to trudge to the edge of floodplains and there, amid the ruin and desolation, dig little pockets in the earth and deposit seeds. Not all were for trees, but all were for things that sprouted. Street urchins took turns standing guard over the seedlings.
54 days passed, enough for a veil of green to become visible along the edges of floodplains. Enough time for collected gold to be rendered pure from the moorings of jewelry. Enough time for the surreptitious, simultaneous launching into the sky of seven Dragons that climbed to the ionosphere and seeded the skies.
The day that dawned golden was heralded by another message. Behold! was all it said.
Billions of people, still hungry, still homeless, looked up and saw a golden sky, bright, radiant, shimmering. Some gasped; many cried; a few laughed or smacked their heads and said, “Of course!” When questioned, these nerds eagerly explained gold’s property of reflecting infrared wavelengths. “It’s like the old, expensive office buildings that used to be made the ones will all the windows. The insides got too hot unless the windows were coated with a layer of reflective gold!”
“Do you think it will work?” asked one of the pilots, not necessarily in English, readjusting reluctantly to the heavy, indifferent pull of Earth’s gravity well.
“Do you mean, did we get the shield up in time?” asked the Hacker. “Or do you mean, have enough people changed sufficiently to not squander this second chance we bought them?”
“Yes. Either. Both.”
“Well, we’ll see.”