There are some weddings where you drink because there’s an open bar. There are some weddings where you drink because it’s a pity-invite from your ex, who wants you to know there are ‘no hard feelings’. There are some weddings where you drink because the company at your table is awful.
And every once in a while, you hit the jackpot, and you get all three.
Rashid was doing his best to ignore everyone and everything around him, behavior which is, at weddings, deeply impolite, mostly impossible, and largely the best policy, particularly if there appears to be any danger whatsoever that the band might play “Sunrise, Sunset”.
He made it a point to tip the bartender for every drink; this was both a mild inhibitor on how much he drank, and a rueful reminder to himself that, like many freelance journalists, he was about two weeks away from throwing away his press pass and waiting tables. This would have hurt his pride and harmed his ability to write on a regular basis, but probably would have helped him eat on a regular basis. The combination of too many trips to the buffet, and too few empty shot glasses, left him in a state of semi-sobriety which made him unable to completely tune out his table companions. They, in turn, were such a blazing battery of burdensome boors that it really, really made him question whether the bride hated him, a lot, even more than he’d thought she hated him—or whether it was simply that he, himself, was a complete and utter boor, and the bride could think of nowhere to put him where he’d cause less social damage than at a tableful of loathsome, uninteresting, self-obsessed idiots.
They were all scientists, he was a science-writer, and at least they all shared one commonality: they all hated science writers. Oh, not all scientists, and not all science-writers; but it might be uncharitably (and truthfully) suggested that the weaker one’s grasp of a field, the more one will defend its supposed ‘honor’ unto the death, hoping that in elevating the profession, they might obscure a few failings of their own. These were sloppy, angry, bitter scientists, scientists who had all wanted to do something else, but went where there was grant money, or, more accurately, went where other people got grant money and were desperate enough to pick up the dregs of the profession. And he was about as comfortable with science as he was with discovering live moray eels in his suit-jacket; he’d fallen into science writing as a result of a few decent articles which, if he was honest with himself, were really human-interest profiles of people who happened to do physics or chemistry. But now it’s what people expected with his byline; and nobody wanted to buy anything else he wrote.
He would later recognize (in his own mind, if not in public) that it was one of the Crashing Boors who first brought up the idea: “Why do scientists who work on catastrophes together end up getting married?”
It turned out that he was not the only bitter ex at the table, and the question had arisen in the midst of some extended commentary on the tackiness of the marital couples’ attire, choice of caterer, choice of hall, vows, and general personal habits. It was the sort of sloppily boozed-up snark which makes for good conversation among horrible people, and (having expended the remains of his cash on the biggest pour he could beg out of the beleaguered bartender) his memories of eventually joining in and, in fact, having quite a good time were not, in retrospect, his proudest ones. Or his clearest ones. He awoke the next morning with the kind of hangover which makes you wish someone had shot you the previous night, out of pity; and the kind of dim recollections which make you wonder why nobody had done so.
And still he had The Question.
And it was a good question, something to keep it light following a succession of quite challenging events. It might be a good puff piece; and puff pieces were really his meat and drink. So directly after he’d thrown up some breakfast and poured a stiff Worcester sauce and soda with a dash—a drab—a splash—a fistful of whiskey—he got down to research.
It had been a tumultuous two years, and he had covered most of it; surely as much of it as he humanly could. Rains of fire, rains of fog, the absolute uprising of the Fortean society, madness simply everywhere, and if you want to talk about Stonehenge, don’t. And it had, indeed, caught the public’s eye that some of the couples were photogenic (for scientists) and also (it did appear) in love.
The wedding had been the Aliens couple, the ones who fought off that extraterrestrial attack which looked like it would be a big deal and then it was perfectly fine, minus a few thousand journalists dead.
He investigated further. The earthquake couple—oh, it wasn’t an earthquake when they got together? That part came next.
The City really only had a few top-notch scientists (I mean; how many would one expect?) and if it happened to attract an extraordinary amount of strange happenstances, it was, after all, a busy, buzzing City, a great City, a famous City; still, had anyone else ever suffered from a plague of mimes? Doctors Wesson and Winchester made a handsome couple, very fond of pie and bullets, though not simultaneously, and some might say that their solution to the mime-crime was elegant, if not without a certain cost in broken windows.
And looking at the records, from my dinky little desktop in my dinky little apartment…
We’d averaged about five more “unexplained but likely destructive events” per year than any city you could name. This looked suspicious.
Which meant it was excellent grist for the mill of an article about confirmation bias, a discussion of how you can take silly, if sometimes meaningful, unrelated things and correlate them together to wind up with the Kaballah, tax codes, and the rules for indoor baseball; each a series of peculiar and unlikely occurrences, all adding up to…nothing. It looked silly from the outside, and it was silly on the inside, and he could work with that. If there’s one thing readers of popularized science enjoy, it’s having a good laugh about the silly mistakes non-scientists make. Ha-ha!
It was a pity that the next event would involve him.
Science fiction has tremendous predictive powers. This is sometimes attributed to the perspicacious, foresightful, free-associating high intellect of those who read and write science fiction; this answer is promulgated, coincidentally, almost entirely by those who read and write science fiction. The same types who point out depressing logical mundane explanations for otherwise exciting supernatural events have a rather simpler answer: if science fiction is out there, putting itself in the business of writing about weird possibilities full-time, it’s fairly likely that, over the decades, some of those things will come about, in one form or another.
Still, the appearance of a large, amorphous, absorptive being one could only describe as “blob-like” seemed ridiculous, and Rashid had high hopes that he was witnessing a hoax. Part of this was because he didn’t want to attempt to learn the restructuring of biology necessary to fit this occurrence into our current understanding of how things work; part of it was because the blob-thing was between him and escape, and was heading towards the knot of terrified diners. (All Rashid had wanted out of the day was a cup of coffee and a slice of pie; he’d had only half the coffee, and wasn’t quite awake yet. It does make sense that a hungry creature would head towards restaurants; it was only every other thing about this which made no sense. A blob? Like in the movies?)
The rescue was quite anticlimactic, which is, honestly, how most of us would prefer them to be. If we’re not actually living in cinematic universes, we’d probably like our deliverance from likely death to be as simple and devoid of excitement as possible. Nevertheless, Rashid saw it with his own eyes, and he went home, not quite full of gratitude, rather more full of the question of, “Why would a pair of chemists happen to be carrying tasers?”
Hiding information in plain sight is more rare than you’d imagine from detective novels. (Why are you getting your ideas of reality from detective novels?) And the reason for this is that people don’t have to see a thing in order to trash it. Your diabolical hiding place, using the beautiful antique pepper shaker, becomes vastly more moot when someone simply swipes the thing in the hope that it has resale value; or simply smashes it out of the love of hearing crashing noises.
Once you know that it’s there—once you’ve tracked down enough disasters, once you’ve seen what scientists become media darlings, once you see how many ‘storybook’ celebrity weddings they have, once you correlate several of them and do a couple of searches—it becomes easy to track down.
The company’s PR person denies everything.
“Disasters are just a gimmick that we use in our internet ads,” she says. “We’re a respectable company,” she says. “You’re off your rocker,” she says. “We offer a highly reputable and aboveboard matchmaking service,” she says. “You’ve got no proof,” she says. “We are extremely concerned about the rise in monsters and disasters in the past two years. We offer our fullest condolences to all those affected by cataclysmic circumstances. We thank you for your concern,” she says, and she hangs up.
Rashid stares at the phone for a while. He’s got three editors interested in this story. None of them want an exposé. All of them want a cute, chatty, funny little article which will take peoples’ minds off the giant ape which is currently attacking the metropolis.
At this time, Rashid has forty-five dollars in his bank account, and a half-dozen bills coming due in the next week or so. He really doesn’t have any proof. He could write a fluffy bit of confection, make the whole thing a joke, get paid, and hang on for a bit more. It’s not like he loves his job. Sure, if he wrote the piece they want, it would effectively end up being a piece of propaganda, a misdirection, free publicity for the website, which, if ever confronted in public about the relationship between recent disasters and their services, could laugh and say, “Oh, sure, just like that article!” And then everyone would have a good laugh until the swarm of giant crocodiles landed. But at least he’d have some cash, and he could get back to working on his novel.
Rashid looks at his desktop, where he’s already composed a good lead and a rather funny first hundred words.
Then he deletes it all and begins packing a bug-out bag.
“That’s what we liked so much about you,” said the nefarious leader of the despicable secret organization. “Determination, and a desire to do the right thing as you saw it, despite the cost.”
“Please stop talking,” said Rashid. “It’s very demoralizing. I get it: you’re going to kill me, which is why I imagine you feel safe telling me your secrets. And it’s quite interesting, but really, I feel dreadful right now. I’d really appreciate a swift, merciful death. No need to drag out the suspense.”
“Kill you?” said the leader. Around her, assorted shadowy figures wearing face-concealing hoods and tasteful three-piece suits, looked at each other and giggled, or just laughed out loud. “Of course we’re not going to kill you. What do you think we are, monsters?”
“I think you’re people who’d release monsters and other horrifying things upon the world just to get scientists laid,” responded Rashid. “So I’m not really sure what your plans for me are, but they can’t be good.”
“It’s not just to get scientists laid,” responded the leader, archly. “It’s our goal to make a better world by creating—”
“Super-scientists? That’s a terrible idea. Do you get all of your ideas from movies, or something? Scientists aren’t like the caricatures you find in the movies! Sure, some of them are world-changing geniuses, but it’s about as rare in science as anywhere else. Most of them are just as fallible as everyone else. They usually know their own specialties, and even the most brilliant, intuitive thinkers among them still advance through slow, careful, incremental progress; there’s no reason to think that ‘scientists’ contribute more to the world than ‘plumbers’, and every reason to think you might just as well choose artists or authors, and even they…”
He trailed off. The leader chuckled.
“Of course; you’re quite right. We are, ourselves, scientists, and the descendants of scientists, most of whom made some horribly botched discoveries. Oh, I’m sure that some of them were looking for weapons, or were simply short-sighted. Induced seismicity is quite real; industrial accidents are all too real; most of the strange catastrophes you’ve seen have been the by-products of well-known technologies, special effects, and lots of money. (We don’t actually know where the giant ape came from; we still find that disturbing.) Likewise, we caught you through the simple employment of talented and unscrupulous mercenaries and significantly less surveillance technology than you’ll find in any well-funded dictatorship.
“Scientists are probably better-equipped, by their training, than, say, accountants—nothing against accountants; however would we amortize all those earth-movers and electronic siren-calls without them? But the real key, the key that our forebears lacked, was that it’s almost always foolish to have high hopes for human strength.
“No, our faith is in human weakness. In foolishness. In self-delusion. Scientists are uniquely pressured to know everything, analyze everything, understand everything, have answers to everything; like politicians, but with quieter voices and (rather by definition) intense scrutiny of their every claim.
“Now, teach a scientist that a disaster can come, and in its face, the scientists become the heroes of film and movies.
“It’s our belief that some of them will step up. Sure, right now, they join us on a whim, as a joke, and looking for a date.
“But watch them solve an impossible disaster or two, and do so whilst impressing someone who has been, if not perfectly selected (if we had an algorithm for that, we’d be wealthy enough that we wouldn’t need hairbrained schemes, eh?)—no, not perfect, but beautifully matched. People do odd things to impress potential mates.
“We can trick the scientists into thinking they know how to solve giant world-threatening problems. Do it often enough, merge enough scientists, perhaps produce a generation of kids, half of whom will rebel and go into some dead-end like being novelists, but half of whom will go out there to knock the socks off their parents’ accomplishments.
Rashid said, “That’s crazy, you know.”
“For the first time, one of the people next to the Leader spoke up. Rashid didn’t know her purpose, but from the way the others looked at her, he suddenly realized he might have gotten their hierarchy wrong.
“Certainly it is,” she said. “If there’s one thing that’s unmatchable for eliciting powerful positive primate response, it’s sheer, dopamine-fueled, unhinged insanity. That’s why this works.”
Rashid—“Doctor Thompson”, now—never really did approve of demolishing a city just to get some scientists to make out, even with the best of intentions, even with what had been, in the course of the last ten years, increasingly visible positive results.
That’s why, one of the first things he and his husband had done, after adopting their first two kids, was move to a nice place in the country. Somewhere secluded enough to let Rashid work on his novel (still not done!) but close enough that they could be in a major metropolis in an hour, if something happened to it.
No, not “if”.
My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities and create things. Every year, I put on Evil Expo, the Greatest Place in the World to be a Villain. I also write a lot of fantasy and science fiction.. You can get most of my books right here. Go ahead, pre-order “I HATE Your Prophecy“. It may make you into a bad person, but I can live with that.