Some Changes are irreversible (Complete)
‘Red. I repeat, red.’
The three men sat on two large sofas. They stared at the black loudpseaker on the low table in between the sofas. After some silence they heard the voice again on the black loudspeaker.
‘Red is confirmed. I repeat that red is confirmed.’
Next to the loudspeaker an aide had placed a bucket of ice and two bottles of white Italian sparkling wine. The black loudspeaker was silent. The bottles of wine had not been opened.
‘Take the wine away,’ said Gryfen Reeve, the Prime Minister.
‘But it’s your birthday, Gryfen,’ said James Frazier, Emergency Security Chief.
‘We had hoped to find some champagne,’ said Tony Baker, the Press Secretary.
‘I can’t celebrate my birthday,’ said Reeve.
‘You should drink it,’ said Frazier. ‘Next year I doubt that we will be drinking anything.’
‘Do you think that we will ever have elections again?’
‘It’s not likely,’ said Baker. ‘The future is authoritarian I am afraid.’
‘And you want me to celebrate my birthday?’
The voice on the black loudspeaker said, ‘Red 2, Red 3 and Red 4 are all confirmed. The ferries from Poole andSouthampton and Hull to Rotterdam are torpedoed. I repeat Red 2, Red 3 and Red 4 are all confirmed.’
‘My God,’ said Reeve. ‘Do we have a body count?’
‘We have stopped doing numbers,’ said Frazier. ‘We were fortunate with Fishguard, Belfast and Liverpool. We closed those in time.’
‘I was always popular in Liverpool.’
Baker looked doubtful. The black loudspeaker was silent.
‘I can’t celebrate my birthday,’ said Reeve. ‘I am slaughtering my own people.’
‘Well’ said Baker, ‘we could just get pissed before we really get cheesed off.’
The three men laughed, it sounded like crackle from the black loudspeaker. We are beginning to imitate the damned thing, thought Baker.
‘Red 5 is confirmed,’ repeated the voice on the black loudspeaker. ‘Repeat Red 1 to 5 are all confirmed.’
‘Turn the volume down for a few minutes at least,’ said Reeve.
Frazier adjusted the remote control and the crackle in the black loudspeaker disappeared.
‘The Channel Tunnel is now demolished,’ said Frazier. ‘There is no access from the UK or France borders.’
‘Oh, my God,’ said Reeve, ‘all that money Thatcher spent, now wasted.’
‘There was a train inside our tunnel, Prime Minister,’ said Baker.
‘Oh, my God,’ said Reeve.
‘The French were lucky. They alerted their rail company in time.’
‘You realise that in our new authoritarian future I can be a dictator until I die. Tell the people about Fishguard, Belfast and Liverpool.’
‘Gryfen, even dictators need majority approval. Stalin never lost the popular vote.’
‘I bet he lost the odd Press Secretary.’
Baker stared at the floor.
‘Tony, we are joined at the hip,’ said Reeve. ‘I suppose we should open a bottle.’
While Baker opened and poured the wine, Prime Minister Reeve left his sofa and looked out of the window of the private room on the second floor of Kirkwell Town Hall. The building had been converted to the UK Emergency Communications Centre. Outside, the sky was the usual bizarre streaks of white, grey and black. Even without sunshine Orkney was scenic.
The first indication that anything had been amiss was when the birds fell from the skies. Their dead bodies soon lined roadways, urban spaces and green fields. On the advice of his military chiefs, Frazier called the day the birds died Zero 1. Today was Zero 50. Zero Days 1 and 2 the experts had believed that a mutant strain of (A) H1N1 avian flu had caused the birds to fall from the skies. By Zero Day 3 it had been established that the birds had died without apparent cause. Nests were examined and the shells that the investigators found were cracked and open. Before Reeve, Frazier and Baker had imposed the communications blackout radio stations had been jammed with daytime calls. The callers were concerned about streets filled with dead crows, rooks, magpies and ravens. Some wanted to talk about the Hitchcock classic movie. A few TV channels showed ‘The Birds’ continuously. On Zero Day 4 a report was produced that revealed that the carrion feeders had died before the others.
The voice on the black loudspeaker spoke again, ‘Fighter command has confirmed the last incoming aircraft is down. The skies are clear.’
‘No birds and no planes,’ said Reeve.
He stopped looking at the sky with the strange streaks and turned around to take a glass of wine from Baker. He sipped some bubbles.
‘I cannot tell the difference between this and champagne,’ said Reeve.
‘Oh, sir,’ said Baker.
‘I have no sense of smell.’
‘Really,’ said Frazier.
‘I have an unsophisticated palate.’
‘Really,’ said Frazier.
The fax machine confirmed the last message from the black loudspeaker. Fortunately, fax machines still worked.
Frazier read the faxed message, ‘From John O’Groats to the South coast, every commercial flight has been shot down. Heathrow, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow airports have all been cleansed by Tomahawks and drones. The navy have been shelling locations in the North East. But contact has been lost with East Midlands and Birmingham airports.’
‘My God,’ said Reeve.
‘All those wasted free air miles,’ said Frazier.
‘I can do a communication release,’ said Baker. ‘We can praise fighter command for their exceptional effort. It will include your sincere thanks to our boys.’
Reeve put down his glass of wine next to the black loudspeaker and turned around again to stare at the strange sky.
The real panic had started when the sparrows, finches and robins dropped from the skies.
Frazier was made responsible for UK Emergency Security. Reeve chose Frazier because he had known him from Eton and Oxford. Baker had been recruited from Fleet Street before the crisis. He was loyal to Reeve but not close. Soon the cats, dogs and livestock died. Once the riots began Reeve, Frazier and Baker and what was left of his Executive were transferred out of London by Chinook helicopters. The day after they left London, the UK was being sealed and isolated. Now they were in Orkney.
‘We are not going to calm this with a communication release,’ said Frazier.
‘But what we say could make it worse,’ said Baker.
‘So what do we say?’ said Reeve.
He turned around, faced his Press Secretary and drank some wine. Baker wore an expensive suit and no tie. A spare Chinook had carried supplies and a wardrobe to Orkney but nobody had changed clothes. Frazier had advised everyone that they needed to consume produce and use energy carefully. The expensive suit worn by Baker was torn at the shoulder. It happened when he fell inside the Chinook helicopter. Baker had been popular with the journalists. They said he was a pleasant change from the previous tradition of treachery and aggression. He had endured a difficult childhood before his success but somehow this had made him patient and calm. Everybody liked Baker.
‘We could mention previous instances of mass sudden-death syndrome,’ said Baker.
‘What instances?’ said Reeve.
‘There have been mass beachings of dolphins and porpoises.’
‘Oh, my God,’ said Reeve.
‘We can say we have discovered especially strong flu strains that are capable of jumping from species to species?’
‘We can tell lies?’ said Reeve.
‘We’ve been telling lies since Zero 5,’ said Frazier. ‘The lies have been quite successful.’
‘For the moment,’ said Baker.
‘How about rabies?’
Frazier found comfort in the lies, not because he wanted to spread false hope, it helped him imagine the world and the crisis a distance away.
‘We’ll say there have been unconfirmed outbreaks of rabies in Central Europe,’ he said. ‘It sounds plausible.’
Reeve sat down on a sofa. He sipped wine.
‘You have to be careful with the British and dogs,’ said Reeve.
‘It gives us breathing space,’ said Baker.
Even without newspapers and TV there was still scope to inform and misinform. The military communicating between their far-flung commands needed to be controlled and cranks on battered CB radios, if left alone, spread unhelpful messages.
‘The story is?’ said Baker.
‘The story is foot and mouth, bird flu and rabies,’ said Frazier. ‘All that will give the military the required authority.’
‘Do we have a plan of action?’ said Reeve.
Baker sat back in the sofa, sipped some sparkling wine and relaxed. This was not his responsibility.
‘You have the file,’ said Frazier.
‘It’s a lot of mumbo jumbo,’ said Reeve.
‘Mumbo jumbo is what we have. Twelve months ago a former French foreign legionnaire called Papa ‘Bijou’ Guillaume formed a mystic cult which he named The Prepared. He was soon making announcements about how his people would all return and how the world would never be the same again.’
‘The returned?’ said Reeve.
‘The boffins call them re-animated,’ said Frazier. ‘The military call them a bloody inconvenience. Before we blew the tunnel I spoke briefly to Minister Diderot. They had captured this Papa ‘Bijou’. He was being held aboard the warship, Vérité.’
‘Does that help?’
‘Not now. The French can’t find him. Papa ‘Bijou’ escaped from the brig where he was being held by armed guard.’
‘The French should have torpedoed the Vérité,’ said Reeve.
It occurred to Baker that the conversations of Reeve and Frazier were increasingly gloomy. He only attended these conferences because there was little else he could do. Baker wondered if his too young girlfriend Jane was safe. Reeve was fortunate. His glamorous secretary Emma had followed Reeve in the third Chinook to leave London. Baker remembered being in Fleet Street and a world with newspapers.
Frazier spoke, ‘Papa ‘Bijou’ Guillaume was more than just a former mercenary. He was notorious for killing three workers. He buried them in mounds with white markings.’
‘I’ve seen the photographs,’ said Reeve.
‘The markings were made with salt. They are ancient runes and symbols, apparently.’
Frazier put several photographs on the table.
‘Vodou,’ said Frazier, ‘spelled V-O-D-O-U. Papa ‘Bijou’ dabbled in it. He was stationed in Haiti in the 1970s where he began performing Hounforts.’
‘Which are?’ said Baker.
‘Vodou services, Papa ‘Bijou’ claimed he would raise the dead to punish the French for banning his cult. They deported and jailed several of his associates.’
‘The French should have torpedoed the Vérité,’ said Reeve.
‘With hindsight, sir, yes.’
Reeve sipped his sparkling wine.
‘Is there no whisky in Orkney?’ he said.
‘We don’t mention the whisky,’ said Baker.
Frazier shrugged his shoulder and continued.
‘We have no idea which deity Papa summoned.’
‘Deity?’ said Reeve.
‘Bear with me. There are literally dozens he could have chosen.’
‘Dozens of deities, Prime Minister.’
‘Why am I sitting here listening to this?’
‘This is our latest advice. We have spoken to experts.’
‘Perhaps I should take notes.’
‘We need to be at the site. A foxhound will take us to the Ring Of Brodgar. A Brother Cornelius will perform the rite. He has a two hundred year old bible that should inspire him.’
‘It’s mumbo jumbo, Frazier.’
‘What else do we have? Brother Cornelius lives on one of the outer islands, has been there since the year dot. He claims to have met old Nick himself.’
‘Where is Brother Cornelius now?’
‘He’s out gathering salt. Brother Cornelius has considerable energy, especially for someone four feet tall. The rite requires the two hundred year old bible and as much sea salt as possible. Brother Cornelius is determined and revitalised. This morning, he has already bathed and trimmed his beard.’
‘Baker, what do you think?’ said Reeve.
‘I’m resigned,’ said Baker.
‘To the mumbo jumbo?’
‘No, Prime Minister, to the apocalypse.’
The morning sky was not as gloomy. The streaks were red and orange instead of grey and black. The lake and low hills were visible and looked close. The stones in the Ring Of Brodgar cast long sharp shadows on the ground. The landscape was treeless but green and fertile. Reeve, Frazier and Brodgar stood outside the stone circle. Other people stood nearby. Those in the island population who had assisted in building the vats to boil the sea water and had helped carry the salt to the stone circle were allowed to stay and watch. But they had to stand behind the troops whom they had helped. Emma had also wanted to visit but, despite her pout, Reeve had told her she had to stay in the Communication Centre.
‘Nobody must touch any of the stones,’ said Frazier.
He shouted this severel times so everyone could hear.
In the middle of the stone circle Brother Cornelius was busy. He finished drawing a large pentagram with the salt and then drew shapes and whorls which all radiated out to the five points of the pentagram.
‘He’s an ugly little bugger,’ said Reeve.
‘He is a thousand years old,’ said Frazier, ‘so they say.’
‘I suppose he had to witness an apocalypse eventually,’ said Baker.
‘Once you’ve met the Devil,’ said Reeve.
‘It is said that he was sailing west when he encountered Satan drifting on an ice floe,’ said Frazier. ‘Then, 800 AD, he was known as Brendan The Abbot. I have been briefed.’
Brother Cornelius previously Brendan The Abbot chanted something unintelligible. He pointed his supposedly thousand year old face towards the morning sky. From within the folds of his habit, he produced a loaf of flat bread. He tore off pieces from the loaf and scattered crumbs at the points of the pentagram. Brother Cornelius mumbled something in Latin.
The morning breeze disappeared and the air became still. The orange streaks in the sky disappeared. The green fertile land became a darker shade. Around the stone circle the ground rumbled. The stones shook and vibrated. The villagers and soldiers gasped. The sky changed colour again and heavy clouds appeared. The four feet figure of Brother Cornelius was enveloped in an eerie blue light. Thunder broke the dark clouds and the villagers and troops mumbled under their breath. Some put hands to their mouths.
Seals appeared in numbers and swam towards the coast, and the villagers pointed at the heads poking above the waves. They watched the seals slide ashore and slap their bloated bodies against the beach. Flapping their short fins, they barked and shrieked as they fell over each other. The heads of the waiting villagers and troops turned away from the seals when they heard the explosions in Kirkwell. Everybody became uneasy.
More mammals appeared. Porpoises, pilot whales and vast Icelandic orcas beached themselves onto the stony sound. The smaller creatures were crushed under the weight of the others. There were more gasps from the villagers and troops and some cried at the sight of the carnage. The beach was crowded with animal debris. Human heads came out of the sea and upright, two legged figures stumbled through the beautiful white surf. The Chinooks appeared in the sky immediately, left the dark clouds and swooped on the upright figures with murderous intent. Many of the stumbling upright figures were mowed down by the gunfire. The rest made unsteady headway onto the sand and weaved slowly through the gasping seals and whales.
Reeve looked back at the salt pentagram in the middle of the stone circle. The leather bound bible was burning and its huge flame reached high into the sky. Reeve saw in the unholy dark smoke of the old bible a small man hovering and half hidden. The man sat cross-legged. He disappeared in the smoke but not before Reeve saw the clean face and neatly trimmed white beard.
‘Oh, my God,’ said Reeve.
The upright human figures continued to stumble through the surf and sea. Their blood was already changing the colour of the water.
‘It didn’t work,’ said Frazier.
The upright figures left the beach and walked through the rocks and towards the fertile land where the crowd waited close to the stone circle.
The villagers screamed.