The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men
This is the first paper and pencil I’ve seen in a long time. We’ve finally been allowed to keep some of the salvage items for private use. Now that I have it I’m not quite sure where to begin. All I know is that I have some driving need to write it all out, to somehow try and make sense of what has occurred.
The world is such a mess on so many different levels that if I think about it too hard, too often I either feel like crying or exiting from this existence. Things came undone so fast; not in an instant but it did do it a lot more quickly than most people expected.
It’s like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg, to try and figure out what started the final unraveling, what was the final straw. Terrorist of many types – religious, political, ecological – became very active during a turbulent period when economic pressures were forcing people to focus their resources on fewer causes, fewer priorities. In some of these attacks biological weapons were used. Lucky for the world the effects remained localized and contained. Yes, lots of people died yet at the same time no where near as many as were predicted.
Paris was the worst at almost a million people dead. The second worst was in the US when the DC Metro Area attack had casualties of nearly 600,000. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point of view, the DC attack happened when Congress was on a three day weekend and the President and his family had made an unpublicized trip to Camp David. When things returned to near normal we still had most of our government officials which was in stark contrast to the attacks on other countries.
After the initial shock was over people were just plain furious, as angry at their governments as they were the terrorists. Though no one knew which terrorist group had perpetuated the attacks it was believed it was a single group. The results were so horrific, the outcry so great, it was thought that the group responsible was too afraid of the consequences and didn’t step forward. With no single group to focus their wrath on sentiment turned against government officials. As one good ol’ boy said on an uncensored CNN broadcast – one of those “how did it make you feel” shows – “I don’t know which ijits to blame more but I reckon it's them terrorists. I mean if they were gonna attack our Capitol couldn’t they have managed to time it better and take out them vultures in DC too?!” The clip was quickly erased from publicly accessible archives but it was too late, the clip went viral on YouTube and most file sharing systems and it didn’t matter how many times it was erased, it continued to pop up until the very end.
I guess the world was so focused on trying to find the criminals behind the bio-terrorism, spending so much money focused on scouring the earth for enemies both real and imagined, that they missed a miniscule change in the trajectory of piece of space rock. It took scientists three months to realize what had happened and another three months to prove their calculations to the powers that be. Even then they couldn’t say for absolute certainty where the chunk of rock was going to hit … or even if it would hit at all.
Finally the hobby astronomers with the big honking telescopes spotted what many came to personify as “the beast.” The international outcry wasn’t immediate. Initially it was the stuff of the conspiracy “kooks.” Within weeks however a lot of people began putting two and two together.
The next part of the story only makes sense if I tell a little bit about myself. My name is Emma Chapman. At the time I'm starting the story I was in my junior year at the University of South Florida. I lived on campus not because I wanted to but because frankly I didn’t have any other choice, I had to live where the scholarship money led me. My family was gone nearly three years by that time thanks to an idiot drunk driver that had enough DUIs to paper our living room. Not only did he have no driver’s license he was driving without insurance and his previous life choices didn’t leave anything to sue to obtain. My dad’s small life insurance policy and the sale of their assets barely paid off their debts and put headstones on the three graves. The only reason there weren’t four was because I was selling Girl Scout Cookies; I was one of the older girls acting as a mentor to the Brownies and Juniors, showing them that staying in scouting was a good thing even if you were in highschool.
I had a good friend named Sarah. She was there selling cookies with me at the booth in front of Publix grocery store when the police came to find me. Her parents were both lawyers. I was terrified of being put into foster care, I didn’t have any other family that could afford to take me in, most of them didn’t even live in Florida. Mr. and Mrs. Epstein took on my case pro bono. They helped me to get my legal emancipation and let me live in their home and I was like a sister to Sarah and her brother Moshe.
The situation was just as good as it could have been under the circumstances. That isn’t to say there weren’t bumps. The Epsteins were Messianic Jews and their religious practices were a far piece different from the Southern Baptist upbringing I had had. There was some compromises that I had to make. They weren’t bad compromises, they never went against my core beliefs, but they were still a hard adjustment for me. They kept kosher, followed the Jewish festivals and celebrated Hanukah to honor their Jewish heritage and a very toned down version of Christmas to celebrate their belief in Salvation by Christ alone.
The real difference began with money. The Epsteins had money. Big, big money. Moshe attended an expensive, private all-male highschool run by Jesuit priests and for his sixteenth birthday his parents bought him a classic Corvette. After highschool he was sent on an all-expense paid trip where he got to bum around Europe. Afterwards he attended MIT and immediately became part of a fairly exclusive group led by a powerful and influential professor who taught geophysics.
Sarah and I continued our studies in the IB program at Hillsborough Highschool. Sarah had also gotten a car for her sixteenth birthday, one of those little and horribly expensive hybrid cars. My dad hated that car, not to mention he wasn’t real fond of teenage drivers to begin with and I’d had to learn to drive on the sly with Sarah’s help. My parents’ car was totaled in the accident and the other went back to the bank. That left bumming a ride with Sarah or taking the bus. Either was fine with me and I actually got a bit of a kick out of regaling the Epsteins with some of the sights I would see on the public transportation system. They never knew whether to be horrified or fascinated.
Sarah and I were both immediately accepted into USF, we didn’t even have to go on a waiting list despite the fact that the school had been paring down the number of incoming freshman for several years due to budget constraints. But Sarah went to school on her parents’ dime as her family’s income precluded most of the scholarships. I went to school using a Prepaid College account that paid for room and board, the Bright Futures scholarship, a $1500 per year book scholarship from USF, and a few other merit scholarships that I was able to win. Even with all that I still had to work to be able to afford lab fees and summer coursework. I didn’t have to go to school over the summer but I was fast tracking it. I’d walked in the door with twenty-four credits between dual-enrollment and my IB credits. I didn’t have to take any basic entry-level classes and I was nearly a year ahead of all my friends. I also took early admission and that put me even further ahead. I stayed ahead by taking sixteen to eighteen credits a semester in the fall and spring, nine hours over the summer and cleping out of anything else I could.
So there I was, nineteen years old and a senior in college, I had already taken the GRE the previous semester and got high marks on the first try despite dealing with a bad case of allergies, and praying that my graduate school application was going to be accepted. My degree? Management with a minor in History. I was going to graduate school to get my M.S. in Management. My emphasis was in hotel management and human resources. I wanted to manage a hotel in an historic city. What a crock; Lordy I was young and dumb. On the other hand some of the things I learned has really come in handy the way we’ve been living.
I was snowed under with work between school work and work work; I barely had time for a bathroom break and I liked it that way. Regardless of what people thought I’m not really a Type A personality. It’s more I was a type don’t-want-to-think-about-the-past personality. Thinking about what used to be and what never would be again hurt. I went to see counselors at the school clinic a few times but it seemed they were nearly as messed up as me; as long as I continued to make the Dean’s List every semester they considered me to be a whiner to talk about anything else.
Even with all the work and school and the fact that we were going different directions Sarah and I remained best friends. Her parents still considered me part of the family and included me in everything, wouldn’t let me become too buried in school. Mrs. Epstein was always on me about balance; physical, mental, spiritual, emotional. “For Heaven’s sake Emma, even the Prophets took time out to recharge their batteries and enjoyed a good feast now and then!”
Mr. Epstein, a defense lawyer, told me, “It isn’t where your heels have been Emma, it’s were your toes are pointed.” I guess that is how he slept at night because he sure did have a few skuzzy clients. His opinion was that the legal system in the USA was the best there was and that the Constitution assured a fair trial everyone, not just for those that could afford one. As is apparent, Mrs. Epstein was the realistic one in the family. Mr. Epstein was the idealist that had a bad habit of running into things when his rose colored glasses blinded him.
Moshe … we kept in touch. When I was in middle school I had a crush on him. Everyone but my father thought it was cute but I outgrew it when I realized that numbers were more important to him than people were. Oh, he loved his family but he was one of those people that were so smart that it disconnected him from your normal social interactions. The problem was that Mrs. Epstein began to have … well, I’m not exactly sure what to call it. She developed some really crazy idea that I would be a good wife for Moshe. I was grounded, not dependent on living a very affluent lifestyle (professors aren’t known for making the big bucks), budget conscious and mature for my age. She imagined that I was somehow good for him and she encouraged an attachment to develop between us.
Thing is Moshe wasn’t quite as detached from his mother’s scheming as he pretended to be. He pulled me aside once and explained things. I told him I was aware of what she wanted and just didn’t want to hurt his mother’s feelings. He replied, “Whew! One less thing I have to worry about.”
We laughed about it and let her continue with her subtle … most of the time … encouragement. It kept her off his back about having a social life at school. “I’m happy with my life the way it is. I don’t have time for a social life and don’t really want one. I wish she could understand that,” is what he told me one time when she pushed a little harder than normal. And since I felt the same way we considered our small deception harmless so long as we never carried it too far or lied about things in any way.
So Moshe and I were close, just not for the reason most people assumed. Then out of the blue Moshe stopped returning my phone calls and my emails. It’s not that it had never happened before but it had never lasted for weeks, certainly never without an explanation afterwards. Then when he did start returning calls and emails … his mother threatened to come up to the school to find out what was wrong … he seemed distracted, distant. I cut him some slack, I knew what it was like to try and do and be everything with a course load like we both carried. Looking back it wouldn’t have done any good if I had known what was going on.
During the same time period Sarah had been begging and pleading with me to go on a mission trip with her fellowship group. Their latest trip was to the Dominican Republic over Spring Break under the auspices of this group called SCORE. The group used sports – especially baseball and soccer – as an evangelizing tool. Both Sarah and I had played softball in highschool and even before that I played in a girls’ league at our local Little League park. I continued to play on occasion when I got to college and did what I could to keep in shape but mostly because I couldn’t afford to get sick rather than a real love of the game.
It just so happened that her group had earned a surplus on their fund raisers and was offering a partial scholarship on the cost of going. The Epsteins gave me the rest of the money as a Christmas gift. I have to admit I was excited about going. I needed the break and the Pre-K school where I worked would also be closed the same week so it isn't like I was going to lose any money. I know we were supposed to be going to do mission work but most of the kids were mostly going to do the “feel good” thing, or at least it seemed that way to me.
I was all set to go when I had a horrible reaction to the typhoid vaccine I was required to get per the State Department's travel advisory. I was over it in time for the trip but the doctor refused to release me to travel. That’s why I was sitting bored out of my skull in my dorm room when I got a call from Moshe.
“Buzz me up! Buzz me up!! Hurry!!!”
I’d never heard Moshe sound like that. I’d forgotten he was coming to visit his parents and I thought something was wrong but I had no way of knowing just how bad things had gone wrong.
Moshe was angry and terrified as he threw a large duffle bag at me. “Start packing! You can only take what will fit and make sure that …”
“Moshe! What on earth is wrong?!”
“Just pack and I’ll explain the best I can. There isn’t much time. I need the keys to your bike.” I saved gas and insurance by driving an old Harley Davidson Sportster. Moshe had borrowed the bike before and I threw the keys to him and asked again what was going on.
“Just pack! Take a week’s worth of basic clothes, all your toiletries and anything you want to keep. Do IT!!!!” he nearly screamed at me when I still hadn't started moving. Then he pulled my foot locker from under my bunk and started pawing through all my stuff and dumping it into the duffle bag all willy-nilly.
“Listen, this is serious and I don’t have time to say it more than once. Several months ago … Oh God. Look, you know that meteor conspiracy theory that was all over the place a few months ago?” At my nod he continued, “It got covered up but the truth is … the truth … the truth is that it was never a theory. Scientists had already spotted The Beast and been tracking its movements.”
“Yeah, it’s a small asteroid … but not small enough … and it is heading our way.”
“What?! What is the government going to do about it?!!”
“Moshe … they have to …”
“Emma, there is nothing they can do. This isn’t a movie. This isn’t some computer generated image. This is real. Keep packing.” I tried to neaten the mess he had made. I didn’t have much. I didn’t keep a lot of personal stuff in the dorms, I’d had some bad experiences with roommates.
“When the military got involved they hid all the movements and preparations in the war funding. Or they let people believe the activities were related to those stupid FEMA camp rumors. Everyone was and is still so bent out of shape at the terrorist events and the continued threat that more will happen that it was easy to hide in plain sight and no one questioned a thing. The thing is they can’t save everyone, that isn’t their goal. They still don’t know for sure where The Beast is going to hit because it keeps wobbling a little bit. They won’t know until it is right on top of us. Dr. Rushton was a major player in the planning process. He tried to help calculate the effect on the Earth from the impact. When things looked … well, when they finally became real … the government offered him a spot in one of the survival bunkers they’ve built. He had something on someone pretty high up and he got them to agree to Dr. R bringing his staff and their immediate families as well though it was strictly Top Secret.” His teeth chattered and he wiped tears from his eyes as he continued to talk. I did manage to catch the guilty look on his face when he said “immediate family.”
“I’m sorry Emma. I’m sorry. I kept thinking how I could work things but this morning … we were supposed to have another month to prepare but …”
“But … but what?”
“Please don’t hate me,” he begged.
“I don’t Moshe. I … I understand I think. But why am I packing? It …”
“Don’t you see? We were supposed to have more time. And then I got a call an hour ago from my contact. Someone messed up. Someone left off a zero or forgot to include Earth’s own gravitational pull or something. We don’t have a month or so, we are lucky if we have a week and they are calling us all to the bunker now. I had come to start preparing Mom and Dad … especially Dad … and to give them time to pack and do all of that stuff but …”
“Oh my God. Sarah! What about …”
“I think … I think I’ve got it all worked out. Even you. See, I … I … I lied. I told them you were adopted. I mean, you practically are. I knew a guy and got some documents forged that were good enough for what I needed them for. No … don’t ask. You really don’t want to know. Not all MIT students go to work for the good guys.”
My head was spinning and I was feeling sick. I would have thought this some huge prank except I knew Moshe well enough that he would never do anything as sick as that.
“Emma, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that there hasn’t been more time to prepare you, or for you to get stuff from your storage unit … hey, what’s this?”
“Uh … I was scanning some of my mom and dad’s stuff. I was worried that if there was a hurricane or if the unit got broken into I’d have nothing. This is the last of it, my Mom’s recipe box and Daddy’s service records.”
“You have everything where?”
“I … on this external hard drive … I …”
“Take it … and that other stuff too. There’s room enough in the duffle. And here, take this too.”
“Hey! How did you get this?!”
“It was in the safe, you know that. Mom gave me the combination last year in case anything … anything happened to them.”
He was holding the jewelry pouch that held the few pieces of jewelry that belonged to my mom and dad. I had a hard time believing he had even thought about it. Then he said, “I saw it when I was getting the gold and silver coins that Mom keeps in there. Here, take these. They aren’t going to be worth anything where we’re going but they might help us rebuild afterwards … assuming there is anything to rebuild.”
“Where we’re going? But … we … we can’t leave Sarah. And what about your parents? They are in that conference in Orlando.”
“I know!!! Don’t you think I know that?!”
I was pretty shocked; Moshe had never yelled at me before.
“Look Emma, I’m sorry but … this is just really hard. I hadn’t really thought … I guess many of us hadn’t really believed … it was just an academic puzzle until this morning. Then we heard about Dr. R.”
“That professor you worked for.”
“Yeah … he committed suicide. The only explanation was a note he wrote in his wife’s lipstick on the bathroom mirror. ‘It wasn’t supposed to be this way.’ That’s all. What kind of explanation is that?!”
As confused and terrified as I was I still managed to feel bad for Moshe. Dr. Rushton had been the center of his universe. He just about worshipped the ground the man walked on. To find his idol had feet of clay and had opted out of his responsibilities must have been a terrible shock on many different levels.
“I have to get you to the connection point. Don’t ask the driver where you are going. If there is anyone else riding with you don’t talk about anything, not even the weather. Just keep your mouth shut. Not a sound of this can leak Emma, nothing. These people take national security so serious it is their religion, and their god is a harsh one. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”
Yeah, I got it. I didn’t like it but I got it. I had hours of management and human resource course work under my built. I took plenty of history and psychology courses too. It didn’t take a genius to understand that the powers that be wanted all their ducks lined up before they let the cat out of the bag.
“Sarah gets in at midnight tonight. I’ve packed a bag for her already and I’ll tie it on the back of the bike until I get to the airport. I’ve got a car rented too. As soon as she lands we’ll drive straight to Orlando. I’ll knock Mom and Dad out if they won’t listen to me and we should be able to get to the rendezvous point that is scheduled for tomorrow at noon in Mt. Dora with plenty of time to spare.”
“I’ll come with you.”
“No! I was only able to rent a small four-seater. I … um … maxed my credit card out and that is all they would rent to me. Just go with whoever shows up at the connection point and do what they tell you to. Do you have your passport? Good. Here is your boarding pass. Don’t lose this. Don’t let anyone take it from you. This is the only thing that will get you in the bunker. Do you understand? Don’t pass go, don’t collect two hundred dollars, watch the end of the world up close and personal.”
Moshe was on the ragged edge and I didn’t want to do or say anything to send him over so I agreed and that seemed to satisfy him enough that he calmed back down.
“Come on. Wait. Do you have any snacks or food or whatever? You should take that in your back pack and some bottled water if you have it. I’m not sure what the meals are going to be on the trip out, or if there are even going to be any.”
So I grabbed the backpack that I kept my hurricane and emergency preps in. I also transferred all of my memory devices to the bag and through in my iTouch, cell phone, and all the gizmos that went with both of them.
By the time I was through with that Moshe was practically dragging me out of the door and down the stairwell, unwilling to wait for the elevator.
Come on, they told me the car would be waiting at the corner and … yeah … there it is.
“Moshe, that isn’t a car, that’s a limo.”
“Yeah, like I said, there are probably going to be picking up other people. I think you are one of the first.”
As we approached a rather forbidding looking man stepped out wearing a very fake smile and said, “I’m sorry sir but …”
“Dump the act Michelson. We met at the briefing.”
“Yeah … what happened to the beard?”
“Got tired of it.” Then he looked at me warningly, “Show him your pass.”
“Emma Chapman, sister of Moshe Epstein of Dr. Rushton’s staff. Check. It’s all in order. Epstein, put her duffle in the trunk. There won’t be room inside when I’m finished picking everyone up. The pick up in Mt. Dora is being done by Hancock. You cannot be late, do you understand?”
“Yeah, yeah. I already got read the rules and regs same as everyone else.” Then he turned me to him. “I’m sorry Emma, there just wasn’t any other way. Do what this guy says, don’t talk to the other passengers, don’t use names until you’ve been given permission to do so. Straight lines Emma, no pulling a Robert Frost or you’ll get left behind. Please forgive me. I didn’t have any choice.”
From there I was summarily stuffed into the back of the limo. If I had only known … if I had only known.