In recent years, a number of articles proposed mathematical models for emergent phenomena. This is the case, for instance, for the flocking of birds or the schooling of fish. In particular... a model was proposed for flocking and it was proved that under certain conditions on the initial positions and velocities of the birds, flocking occurs. In this paper we modify this model by adding random noise to it. We prove that, under conditions similar to those just mentioned, (nearly) flocking occurs in finite time with a certain confidence. – Flocking in Noisy Environments, F. Cucker & E. Mordecki, Journal of Mathematiques, July 2007. Birds of the same feathers flock together, and when they flock together they fly so high. ― Cecil Thounaojam He was flying over a sea, toward a jagged shoreline. A very few seagulls were working the updrafts on the cliffs. Away off to the north, at the horizon itself, flew a few others. New sights, new thoughts, new questions. Why so few gulls? Heaven should be flocked with gulls! - Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
The F-35 cruised southwest, its bombing run having commenced from the Vermont Air National Guard military base just north of Burlington. When briefed earlier that evening, the F-35 pilot had blinked at this mission “not requiring a passport,” as the colonel had grumbled, but had said nothing. Orders were orders.
“Fangs out,” the pilot intoned, and flipped the “Weapons Hot” switch on the side of his joystick, or “pole.” “Target will be in sight in approximately thirty seconds. Requesting confirmation to deploy ordinance.”
There was no delay. “You are authorized to deploy at your discretion.”
The HUD computed the time and distance to target, and the pilot watched the seconds count down to zero, then pushed the button to release an Air-to-Surface Missile at the compound located just moments away in northern Vermont.
He pushed the button again, waiting to hear and feel the familiar thunk and roar of a missile coming off the chain. “What the hell? Base, I’ve had a weapons malfunc–” and the pilot stopped talking.
A small grey dot appeared out of absolutely nowhere and hovered just above his console, right there in front of his eyes. Then it somehow pulsed itself to a slightly larger size, and, amazed, he witnessed a tiny bluish-pink snowflake drift slowly up out of it.
Then the F-35 vaporized in a burst of white light.
At dusk, after the First Stream, Bethany was sitting at the campfire closest to her tent with some other kids about her age and their parents, fighting the shivers against the growing night. She had been telling them of the long bus ride from Texas, and about getting robbed when she changed buses in Port Authority, which she pointed out was in New York City (something Bethany had not realized until the bus stopped there), and about walking and hitch-hiking the rest of the way. “You must have been really scared,” said a boy about her age from the other side of the fire.
“Sometimes I was,” Bethany admitted. “But everything always seemed to work ou–”
The Orchard of Shen suddenly became as bright as noon. People jumped up and looked at the sky. Someone screamed. The brilliant white light was painful and soundless for instant and was then followed by a terrible roar. The roar faded slowly while the white light vanished as quickly as it had appeared, leaving a dull red aching glow in the sky. Bethany rubbed her eyes with her knuckles and it still took a moment for them to readjust to the dim, dancing firelight. But when she could see better, she was looking directly at Michael, and he was looking back at her.
“What was that?” Bethany asked him, only then realizing the other kids and their parents who had been seated at the campfire were gone. That’s weird. Where’d they go? But then she saw them peeking out from their tents at the sky.
Michael made a shrugging beats me gesture and sat down next her.
“I thought I would see how you are getting along here, Bethany,” Michael asked.
“I’m good,” she said nonchalantly. “People here are nice.”
Michael nodded. “Yes. I know; and I know that you are more than just good. I don’t believe anyone else knows just how good and important you are. But I do.” He looked at her closely.
“Yes,” Michael confirmed, and then added: “So, I’d like you to come stay in the farmhouse with us.”
“Simon and Ellen, and Ellen’s sister–”
“Oh. Okay,” she interrupted.
“Does that sound all right to you?”
“Uh huh,” Bethany said and looked up at the strange warmth that she now felt coming from a sky that held no sun in it. “Will you tell me what that bright light was?”
“A very small amount of antimatter,” Michael said, and pinched his thumb and forefinger together indicating something tiny. Bethany thought he was kidding. Everybody knew antimatter was made-up Star Trek stuff and that Captain Picard used it to fly his spaceship, but when she looked at Michael’s face, it seemed both serious and a little sad. “Made in the shape of a snowflake.”
“Y’know,” Bethany said, deciding to test the weight of Michael’s invitation. “Sometimes I really don’t get you at all….well, what you’re saying, I mean,” she amended.
“You will. In time,” he nodded to her. “Now, grab your stuff.”
“Oh, I don’t have anything.”
“What about that backpack you dropped when we first met?” Michael said, and his voice was playful. “You know, the one in the lovely shade of grime?”
“Oh, that,” she said. “Yeah, it’s pretty much shot. Nothing in it but some clothes.” She stood up and held out her hand. “OK, let’s go so I can pick out my new room!” She smiled. Bethany didn’t feel cold any more. There was a pleasant, radiating warmth in the air now.
“Well, that didn’t fucking work!” the President said with false enthusiasm, glaring at General Hawkins. “Well, what now, guys? Should we just drop a nuke? Send in Seal Team Six, what?” He was supremely irritated.
Hawkins said nothing. The CIA Director suddenly found his cuticles intensely interesting.
“I say we send a division north to Vermont,” Hawkins said grimly, taking the bit between his teeth. “And take the place.”
The president shook his head. “You two geniuses said surgical. That approach does not sound very surgical to me, General.”
The interim Chief of Staff hustled into the room. He was flushed and puffing hard. “Mr. President, he made another broadcast. Except this one he put on fucking YouTube!”
“Another infomercial?” the president asked.
“No sir.” He extended a tablet out before him so the president could see it. It showed Michael Profit and a pretty young woman, both sitting on a stage and talking nonchalantly. “It’s got more than a million views already!”
“So?” The general said laconically, finding the fear that the Chief of Staff exuded distasteful. “So fucking what?”
The president shook his head at the general’s obtuseness, but it was the Director of the CIA who spoke: “It means, General, that if just one person in ten who watches that video decides to drink that vile shit and head to Vermont to join this little love-in, Mr. Michael Profit will have a multitude of one hundred thousand followers, probably before the end of the week.”
There was a moment’s silence, and the president said: “Call YouTube. Have them take the video down.”
The Chief of Staff nodded and went on his way. He didn’t need to tell the President of the United States that nothing ever really got deleted from the Internet.
“Now,” the president continued. “Do we have any idea what happened to our plane? Did it crash somewhere?”
Hawkins shook his head. “No sir. The pilot reported what sounded like a weapons malfunction just before we lost contact. I’m betting that one of those sidewinders failed to deploy and detonated while still on the plane.”
“Then there should be wreckage, yes?” The president asked. “There should be a smoking hole somewhere.”
The CIA Director shook his head. “No wreckage, no black box ping, nothing at all. We will need to do an extensive ground search to be completely sure. There are a lot of hilly woods in that area; he could have gone down where no one could see.”
The (acting) vice-president, who was also the (acting) president’s brother-in-law, entered the room. His face was very pale. “Mr. uh…President?”
“Yes, Paul?” the President asked him, and the three men all looked at his brother-in-law. He was small, pink and wrinkled like a prune. Privately, Hawkins already thought of him as the Mole.
“The Russians have reached out. I just spoke to the ambassador. They want us to know that they have not attacked the United States.
“What?” All three men said in unison.
“Yes, uhm…specifically, that they did not use a nuke on us.”
“Well, gee…that’s good to hear,” the president muttered, then his expression froze at the implications of such a statement. “Wait. Why would they say that? Unless they–”
The VP wrinkled his pink brow. “They said their military satellites detected an apparent nuclear flash and fireball over northern New England. They wanted us to know that it wasn’t them.”
There was a moment’s silence while they all considered the possibilities. Then the president looked at the director of the CIA and said: “John? Do we know for a fucking fact that Vermont even still exists?”
The director blanched and, after a moment, shook his head an almost imperceptible no. The president’s face bruised itself quickly to a mottled, pulpy purple, as he carefully enunciated each word, gradually increasing in volume as went: “Would you please go FUCKING CHECK!” Spit flew from his lips in a damp exclamatory punctuation.
The director scuttled like a crab out of the room.
(Privately, Hawkins approved of the president’s outrage. Showed he had some balls.)
The president took a deep breath and calmed himself down. “Thank you, Paul. So, if the Russians didn’t hit us, then who did? That’s assuming that Fucknuts” – and he waved vaguely at the door the director had scuttled through seconds before – “comes back and tells us there really was a nuke detonated over Vermont tonight. And that it took out our jet.”
“Honestly, Peter…I don’t know. The Russian Ambassador was not particularly forthcoming with details. But, if I had to guess, I’d say he was scared and pretty pissed off,” the VP said.
“What do the Russians have to be pissed off about?” General Hawkins growled, his voice oozing menace and suspicion. “Though they have good reason to be scared,” he added, with even more malice. Fly the flag, he thought to himself.
“It seems the c-machines have arrived in Russia,” Paul said. “The ambassador said that they had their hands full collecting them, and had neither the time nor the interest to discuss failed illegal American nuclear warhead detonations.”
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” Hawkins said, his disgust taking him for a moment.
“And?” The president asked, waving his hand in dismissal at Hawkins, who stiffened but did not speak. “That’s it?”
The VP looked positively constipated, then delivered the real message. “While they are uncertain at this time exactly how the c-machines entered Russia, they said there is no doubt that they originated from the United States.”
“They’re blaming us?”
“He didn’t go quite that far, Peter…uh, Mr. President. I think he was just letting us know that they knew who to blame when the time comes.”
The president thought for a moment. “We need to set the record straight with Moscow and Peking…hell, the UN right now. It’s been too long already without an official stance from the U.S. Federal Government.”
“Getting your national capital flattened’ll do that to you,” Hawkins observed wryly.
The president gave him a dirty look, then continued: “Paul–”
The director marched back into the room. The president looked to him. “Well?”
“No,” the director said, meeting the president’s gaze steadily. “Vermont was not attacked. Some people have reported seeing a bright flash and roar overhead but there are no reports of damage or injury. Someone said it might have been a shooting star burning up in the upper atmosphere. Harmless.”
“I’d like to say that’s good news, but….” the President said, then refocused on his brother-in-law. “All right, so – like it or not – the Russians now have the same problem that we have,” the president summarized. “Good. Bully for them. I’m calling Moscow in ten minutes. Paul, make that happen. John?” he spun on the director, then jabbed his finger at him. “Find me a way to send someone into that camp and quietly take this motherfucker out. No jets, no bombs–”
“I still say if we move a division up from Jersey–” Hawkins interjected.
“Matt, these are just men, women and children living in a fucking tent city for crying out loud!” The president barked. “As far as we can tell, none of them has actually broken any law, but we do know that everyone of them is an American! I will not send in an invasion force up there unless I have no other choice!”
This man obviously has no idea what a pair of sidewinders can do, Hawkins thought to his own private amusement.
“Amen,” the VP said, leaving the Aspen Lodge to set up the call.
MORNING OF THE SECOND STREAM
THE ORCHARD OF SHEN
Michael tried shaking Simon awake early the next morning, failed, and in so doing, woke up Ellen. “What is it, Michael? Is everything all right?” She said, sitting up.
“Yes, I’m sorry. Everything’s fine, but we have something of a situation outside,” Michael said softly. Then he patted Simon’s cheek. “Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey, Sunshine!”
“I’m awake. I’m just choosing to keep my eyes closed.” Simon said firmly.
Ellen laughed and got out of bed. Simon opened his eyes and smiled. “New Expectant?”
“Oh. My. Yes,” Michael said sweetly. Simon got up as well and padded over to the small bedroom window, where Ellen was already standing, so pretty in her nightgown, transfixed.
Simon looked out the window. There was a huge sea of people outside, carrying entire currents of faces, all tired, all dirty and all waiting for Michael. The throng stretching back up the narrow two-lane road and out of sight. “So many,” Simon said, and Ellen added. “All these people came in the night? How many, Michael?”
Michael smiled. “The Eschaton says a little over twenty-three thousand. All who have taken the Elixir. All who have come for the Blessed Awakening.”
Ellen saw Michael’s eyes were wet.
Simon said, and his voice was harsh with shock. “Twenty-three thousand people? Michael, there’s no way the two of us can process–”
Ellen laughed and put a finger on Simon’s lips. “Of course not. That’s all over now. Right, Michael?”
Michael nodded. “Yes, I think so.” He turned and looked at Simon seriously. “I was never really in favor of all this identity-checking nonsense, but it seemed important to you, Simon, so I said okay. But it’s had its time; let it go. I’ve told you: We are protected. No one who has taken the Elixir will ever hurt us. Now come on: Let’s go say hello.”
And Michael went down to greet the newest members of his Flock.
Bethany was eating a bagel with cream cheese and drinking a latte macchiato when Simon, Ellen and Michael came back inside. “G’ morning,” Bethany said brightly. “Having a few friends over?”
They looked at her quizzically, which cracked up Bethany, who choked a little on her bagel. “So what else are we doing today?”
Ellen handed Bethany a napkin and pointed to a glob of cream cheese affixed precariously to one corner of Bethany’s mouth, saying nothing. Michael turned to Simon and said, “We should stream again tonight, and then once more – the final stream – at dawn tomorrow morning.”
“That’s a tight schedule,” Simon offered.
“That’s the Big Guy’s schedule, Simon,” Michael replied.
“Okay,” Simon nodded. “Good enough for me. I’ll need to construct a new YouTube account, but no worries. We’ll be ready. At dusk.”
“Good,” Michael said, and then looked at the filthy little girl eating the cream cheese off a bagel by pushing her finger through it and then licking it clean, and added: “Bethany here will need to clean up considerably if she’s going to broadcast with me tonight.”
Ellen and Simon looked up at Simon and then at Bethany, who was caught in mid-chew.
THE SECOND STREAM
THE ORCHARD OF SHEN
“Remember,” Evie said as loudly as she could, “You can get the audio on AM550 WDEV! Please pass the message along to others! WE DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH SPEAKERS FOR EVERYONE TO HEAR!”
Simon sat with Ellen, clearly uncomfortable. She looked at him and squeezed his hand. “Penny for your thoughts,” she said softly, out loud this time.
“You already know my thoughts. This is getting out of control.”
Simon waved his arms at the multitude spread around them on the hillside below the dais. “This! All this…it’s too big, I don’t know. I feel like we’ve lost control.”
Ellen laughed softly and kissed his cheek. “Si, it was never in our control.”
“Do you know what he’s going to say tonight?” Evie said, sitting down next to her sister.
“No,” Simon and Ellen said in unison.
There was a nasty crackling from the overtaxed speaker system.
“It’s like you guys are sharing the same brain or something,” Evie said, and turned her attention to the stage where Michael and Bethany sat. Then Michael was speaking.
The Parable of the Ant Farm
The Second Stream Story
as remembered by the Expectant
Along time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there lived a race of highly intelligent ant creatures. They were different from us, so their society was of course very, very different from ours as well. For one thing, it was female-dominated (as you would expect with ants); for another, it was completely non-violent. The entire planet shared the hive-mind first instantiated in the Queen. There was no war; no disease; no crime, because the super-organism that had evolved over countless millennia removed all barriers and all disputes. As the ants busied themselves with their science, their art, music and the Colony prospered, ultimately taking to the stars and populating other worlds, each knew from birth the Dance of the Colony.
These Ant Creatures came to Earth long, long ago. Long before Homo Sapiens ventured onto the scene, and there they made a startling discovery, one so shocking to the Colony that it momentarily reeled.
You see, the Ant Creatures found the earth-ants. Regular old ants like you can find in any suburban back yard. They were much, much smaller than the Ant Creatures, but they were physically very similar and were a near perfect genetic match. And most disturbingly, the earth-ants used the same pheromonal language (although the earth-ants could only express 13 distinct concepts – Ant Creatures possessed a pheromone lexicon of several million concepts).
“Food,” the Earth-Ants said.
“I am the Queen,” the Queen said, in a subtle and somewhat mildewed phrase of authority.
The earth-ants that were outside their nest foraging all instantly froze, completely overwhelmed by the Queen’s blast of pheromones. They stayed that way for several seconds, and then fell over dead.
Inside the earth-ant colony, panic ensued, as every ant – having received a lesser dose of the Queen’s Annunciation – ran blindly about shouting “DEATH! DEATH!”
The Queen saw what her voice had done and became silent (concerning her guards, who stroked her long antennae with theirs to calm her), then called to First Daughter, who came forward to see what she already felt.
“They are Us, but We cannot speak to them,” the Queen said sadly, incidentally killing half the anthill with her words.
“They are too primitive,” said First Daughter. “They are not conscious.”
“And yet they speak, they feel, their Colony grows…” muttered the Queen. “Or at least it did.”
“I do not understand,” said First Daughter.
“Nor do I,” said the Queen. “But we shall take some with us when we go, so that we may learn about them and guide them the Long Way to become Us. Come daughter. The workers will secure our sample. Let us dine together.”
– Fin –
(He brought only two things: A new Heckler & Koch MP7 with two 30 round clips,
and a Leatherneck spring-assisted tactical knife. It was all he would need.)
“Will they try again tonight?” Simon asked Michael as they ate a late supper at the folding table in kitchen of the dilapidated farm house. The broadcast had been short, the Parable of Ant Farm left the Expectant confused and dissatisfied, which had seemed to other Michael not all. Now they were all eating like a family and Michael had just told him about the F-35 the government had sent them, and how the Eschaton had dealt with it.
Bethany listened with interest, chewing her stew slowly, watching them carefully.
“Not so soon,” Michael said. “Remember, they don’t really understand what happened yet. And they have a just few other crises going on that they have to deal with. Although they don’t know it just yet, the U.S. government is basically defunct. Elected officials keep going, sure…well, most of them, but anyone just punching a clock in a government office is already gone. Why go to work? It’s a government shutdown by the real government. And it isn’t just here in the USA, of course. There is a great and wicked slaughtering happening now in China to stop the spread of c-machines; most of the Middle East is eating itself alive. Several well-known mulahs have issued fatwahs stating that the c-machine is the work of the American Satan. And the Eschaton says that Russia has just gone dark.”
“What’s a fatwah?” Bethany asked around her stew.
“A decree. A religious order,” Simon said absently, his eyes on Michael.
“A religious leader, sort of like a priest, I guess,” Ellen said, dutifully eating her peas.
“Oh,” Bethany said. “Like a reverend. OK.” She resumed attacking her beef stew.
“You don’t seem too worried about any of this, Bethany,” Ellen said softly, watching her eat.
Bethany shook her head. “No, ‘course not. This is all happening like it’s supposed to, more or less. Right, Michael?”
Michael nodded at her and smiled, then looked back at Simon.
“Do we have a count?” Michael asked, his own place setting empty. He printed nothing to eat for himself, but everyone else was hungry.
“That’s funny. I thought you said a count,” Ellen said sarcastically. “There’s been a non-stop human herd coming into the orchard all day.” She craned her neck to look out the kitchen window at the road. “Still is. So I’ve got no idea how many–”
“Almost seventy-five thousand people now,” Bethany said, slurping stew. She had to admit, she still felt a little guilty about not saying grace before eating supper, liberating as it was.
Simon sighed, but Michael just nodded. “That sounds about right.”
“So you think we’re safe?” Simon said, a little truculence in his voice. She’s just a kid, for crying out loud.
“Safe?” Bethany said, honestly surprised. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Exactly,” Michael said. “Exactly.”
Later, the darkened country kitchen, silent now after Bethany finished her second bowl of stew and had gone sleepily to her air mattress. Evie had gone with her, having lost her voice earlier in the day from all the shouting at the throng.
Now it was just Michael. Simon. Ellen. And full dark.
“This is our last night together,” Michael said softly. “On Earth at least. How should we spend it?”
They were, all three of them, momentarily at a loss.
Then Ellen broke the spell. “If tomorrow’s going to be that big a day, then I’m for bed myself.” She stood up and looked at Simon. “You coming, Si?”
Simon was staring at Michael. “I’ll be right there,” Simon said softly.
Ellen left the kitchen, but heard Simon say as she walked out: “Do I really have to?”