Placebo

In a secret meeting room beneath the World Health Organisation Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland the 34 members of the World Health Assembly gathered in subdued silence. Director General Margaret Chan stood before them glancing at her notes upon the lectern.

She looked up over the top of her glasses as a chime rang for eleven pm. It was the eve of the week long assembly and once again she had to brief the members of their responsibilities even though they had all been serving the cause for decades.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen and thank you for coming,” she said in a somber voice that was projected by the microphone pinned to her lapel. “I know that you live in accordance with the rules every day of your lives but alas it is my duty to gather you all here and remind you of the importance of your continued silence. This is a big week and there will be a lot of media attention and scrutiny upon us all. Nobody can afford to slip up in any way or everything the WHO has worked so hard for over the past sixty seven years will fall apart.

“Imagine just for a second if it was revealed that any one of our drugs or treatments was only in fact a placebo. That is something from which we would never recover. Now imagine if humanity discovered that every single drug and treatment on the entire planet is simply a placebo. The general public cannot know the lengths that we have gone to in order to fabricate such an elaborate scam. If even one person found out word would spread like wildfire and not only would we be ruined but the entire platform of modern civilisation would crumble beneath our feet. Society is not only built around modern medicine and the advances that have extended and enriched our lives but it relies extremely heavily upon it to push us forward into a better and brighter future free of famine and disease.”

Margaret paused for a second to have a drink and used the opportunity to scan the faces of the gathered doctors. All of them were nodding along but had fear hidden behind their sternness. No matter how many times they heard the same speech they acted in the same way. As scared of the consequences of failure as she was. They valued their lives far too much to be blase about any of it.

“As always I am expecting you all to talk about and discuss new ventures. Of course there will also be a lot of focus on the fallout of the Ebola scare from last year. So ensure that if it pertains to your area of expertise you can effectively answer any questions without hesitation. Briefing packets were provided to you all three weeks ago which cover every point down to the smallest details. I know you all received them and have had the time to peruse the content.”

The vigorous nodding proved that Margaret’s continued decision to trust these people with her life had been a sound one. In the sixty seven year history of the World Health Organisation covering up that there were no actual cures or remedies for any disease or illness only one doctor had ever tried to take that information public. The rest knew the importance of the Placebo Initiative and how critical it was to keep it a secret.

“Finally this is in no way a judgment of any of your abilities to maintain secrecy,” Margaret clarified even though she knew it wasn’t necessary to say so. “If it were you would not be sitting where you are and preparing to present to the world the biggest lie ever constructed. I trust each and every one of you with my life and the lives of every person on Earth.

Because that is what is on the line today and has been every day since the creation of the World Health Organisation. Be certain, be positive and most importantly be calm. There hasn’t even been a passing rumour about placebo treatments and I intend it to stay that way. If nobody has anything else to add I will see you all tomorrow.”

Margaret didn’t even need to look up from the lectern to know that nobody would have anything more to say. She folded the notes she had been reading before delivering the speech and slipped them back into her briefcase. They made no mention of anything she had just talked about. Not only that but there was no record anywhere but in the minds of the Assembly members that the Placebo Initiative even existed. From every perspective the World Health Organisation was responsible for curing illness and prolonging the lives of humans. When in fact nobody knew the real reason that life expectancy was getting longer and people kept recovering from certain death.

Margaret was not willing to find out what would happen if the Placebo Initiative was exposed so she did everything she could to keep up the false pretense the WHO was built upon. It wasn’t the role she expected to land after a life studying medicine but it was the most important one in the history of mankind.

Emoticon

We come in many different shapes and forms. Although all of us have at least one thing in common, how good we are at showing our true emotions. Our help isn’t always sought or even warranted. In some circumstances it is better to simply look passed us for something of a better, more justifiable nature. But these days and the way forms of technology like texting and twitter are evolving our usefulness is going through the roof. And every now and then another one of us will pop up randomly and confuse people so much that they tend to revert back to us originals. I can’t say I blame them, my simple charm is easily brought out and in lieu of being there I’m a great substitute. In any of my many forms I can say that I’m definitely the most popular among us, much to the disappointment of that sour faced guy. You know what I mean, right, I bring a smile to your life.

Big Red

“They call me Big Red, but my real name is Hanz. I have no idea how long I’ve been locked in this place, or even why I was brought here. What I do know is the reason that I’ll never be allowed to leave. At least once a week I commit a murder. I suppose I would be labelled as a serial killer if anybody knew that I was doing it. Fortunately nobody has realised that I am responsible.

“Not long after my first murder I thought the guards were onto me. I was in the yard with Rock and PC when they suddenly tackled me to the ground and dragged me into the air upside down. They beat me until blood poured out of my mouth in a constant stream. Just when it seemed that I would bleed out entirely I was slammed back into the ground and left with blood covering my face. I had to lick my own wounds until they decided that yard time was over. I thought that the darkness in my old cell was bad, but when they threw me into the Cooler instead I realised what Hell was like. Its constantly set to just above zero degrees and the lights turn on and off at random intervals, sometimes for only a second at a time. There’s no getting accustomed to anything in the Cooler.

“When they put me in the Cooler that first time I thought I would never come back out. But some nights I return to my old cell so I know that they have no clue what I am. At least I’m not one of the prisoners who never gets to leave the Cooler even for yard time. Some of them were put in there as soon as they arrived never to be looked at again.

“Even though they don’t suspect me the guards continue to single me out for daily beatings every time I enter the yard. As each day goes on I can feel myself fading away and losing weight, unable to recover from the continuous blood loss. It’s not a good sign of things to come.

“I can still remember the day that I arrived. I was told that I was going to be around for a long time and that my sentence would almost never end. It was traumatising because I had lived alongside my tribe since birth without ever causing any trouble. Then unexpectedly I was kidnapped and transported here with a group of people I had never seen before. Being hurled around without a care for our safety and bashing together at high speeds.

“Two of the men I met that day became my first two victims. Man Cans Sam and Coco. They were excessively cheery for what was happening and I couldn’t help but feel that something was going on. After a few weeks of snooping around in their shadow’s I made a shocking discovery. They were both getting courtyard time every morning while the rest of us were only released on certain nights. I let them get away with it for a while but when I discovered that when they got malnourished they would always come back full of life I snapped. I crept into their cells and crunched them to death, piece by piece. After that it was a landslide of cereal killing. I couldn’t help myself. Every time I wasn’t locked in the Cooler I would kill anyone who received special favours from the guards. Other than Man Cans Sam and Coco there were Iron Man, Snatch, Crack House and Piped. They were all unsuspecting victims but they had it coming. They were getting morning courtyard time everyday and were never put in the Cooler or subjected to unwarranted beatings.

“Whoa wait, I think that the guards are coming to get me. Oh, here we go its courtyard time. Upside down I go. Whack! There’s the first hit. Bam! There’s a couple more.

“After so long I just got used to it happening each day. But that’s strange, I’m not bleeding yet, I guess I do feel a little empty drained.”

“Hey Mum the Tomato Sauce is empty,” Billy said and threw the empty tomato sauce bottle across the room into the trash can.

Picture it

“Close your eyes and picture the happiest thing you can imagine,” Melanie said from outside of Harry’s study.

Harry closed his eyes and spun his computer chair so that he was facing the door. A million different images flashed through his mind as he tried to find the one thing that would make him happiest in the world. There was a meadow of bounding energetic puppies, a cuddle session with a litter of kittens, a mountain of cash, skiing in waist deep powder snow, getting promoted to CEO, and of course there was Melanie.

He settled on the image of her beautiful, smiling face ringed by shoulder length brown curls. Her prominent dimples and striking sky blue eyes. But more than her looks it was her razor sharp mind that challenged him at every moment of every day that made him the happiest. He doubted that there was another person on Earth with more in common with him. He loved everything she said, did and was. Nothing in the world could possibly make him happier than she had already made him.

“I’ve got it,” he reported, squinting his eyes to try and peer through his eyelids but saw only a blurry yellow object.

“Don’t even think about it, Mister,” Melanie barked playfully and threw something soft at Harry that hit his leg and bounced away. “No peeking.”

Harry positioned his hand over his eyes and said, “I promise.”

“What are you imagining?” Melanie asked.

“I’ll tell you after I know what the surprise is if it doesn’t live up to expectations.”

“No, tell me.”

“Fine, I’m picturing that Pokemon is real and I’ve just been asked by Professor Oak to complete the Pokedex.”

“Damn that’s actually really good. But no, it’s not that and I know that’s not what you’re picturing.”

“Alright, smarty pants. What is the happiest thing I can imagine.”

“You’re thinking about me,” she said smugly and Harry could hear the pleasure in her voice.

“Pssh you wish,” Harry retorted. “It’s the Pokemon thing for sure.”

“You can’t lie to me. I can see it on your flushed cheeks that you love me,” she said, dragging out love to almost a full breath.

“Whatever. Shut up. Are you going to show me what is actually going to make me happy or do I have to sit here with my eyes closed all night?”

“You can open them whenever you’re ready.”

Harry tentatively moved his hand away from his face and opened his eyes incredibly slowly. The yellow blob in the doorway slowly resolved itself and his jaw fell open.

“Pika,” Melanie said, cocking her head to the side.

She was wearing a Pikachu onesie with the zip undone from her neck to her navel. It left nothing to the imagination and was better than anything he could have imagined. It certainly made him happier than real Pokemon could.

“Pika Pika,” he said and launched himself at her.

What is There to Leave Behind?

“You have twenty minutes to write down as much as you can on this piece of paper before we erase your memory,” the Doctor explained and slid a blank sheet of paper across the table. “It is entirely up to you how much you write. If you even want to write anything.”

“Thank you,” I said without looking up.

I placed the tip of the pen against the top left corner of the paper expecting that even though I hadn’t been able to decide what to write beforehand that it would just come to me. The Doctor left the room and sealed me alone with the stark white walls and furniture. It was as spotless as my memory would be in twenty minutes. And the paper would match it if I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to remember.

With no family, friends or relationships to speak of it wasn’t even worth a single word to talk about what had happened to them or why I was alone. Better and easier to start with a clean slate than to begin my life anew by reading about the pain and heartbreak I suffered.

What I could write about are the innumerable talents that I possess, but I can’t trust that somebody won’t read the document while I’m undergoing treatment and work out that they could use me. That will just have to be something I rediscover on my own and hopefully put to better use than I did the first time around.

I run through every memory good or bad that comes to mind and decide that none of it is worth remembering. The childhood growing up in foster homes and orphanages always on the run from something or someone. Having to fend for myself from the age of twelve because I was too clever for my own good. Being drafted into the Movement and discovering that I was not the smartest, fastest or bravest kid around. None of it was necessary for the future me to know.

As the door opened and I realised that I didn’t have any more time I wrote the only three words that I knew would help me.

I flipped the sheet of paper before the Doctor could read what I had written or see how little there was. If he was going to read it anyway he could easily turn it over, but he had promised that they were not interested in knowing any details of their patients’ lives. Past or future.

“Are you ready?” he asked, looking at the clipboard in his hands.

“What happens If I’m not?” I asked as I rested the pen in a position that I would know if it had been moved. Before I remembered that in a minute I wouldn’t know I had done it in the first place.

“We go ahead with the procedure anyway. We just ask so that you can pretend you are making the final decision before we begin.”

“Because I’ll remember that it was my decision in a minute,” I responded sarcastically.

“Some people find it comforting,” the Doctor said, heading towards the door.

“People are idiots. How can they forget that this isn’t happening by choice just because you ask them a basic question?”

The Doctor shrugged and said, “When you forget what you’re doing here read your note and then get up and follow the blinking lights on the floor and walls.”

“How am I supposed to remember to follow those instructions if I forget everything?” I asked, but he closed the door before hearing me out.

I didn’t know how the memory wipe was going to happen to me, just that I would forget everything. So while I still could I closed my eyes and took myself back to my favourite place. I held onto the memory for but a moment before I forgot what I was doing.

When I opened my eyes I saw an unfamiliar white room with a blinking sign on the door ahead of me. Read, it said.

I looked down and pushed aside the pen to uncover the blank piece of paper. I didn’t know how I was supposed to read nothing until I flipped the page over. The three words jumped off of the page at me and the strange calmness I had been feeling disappeared.

I almost tripped over the chair as I rushed to put my back against the wall behind me.

The three words could have been written by anyone but the writing seemed oddly familiar even though I couldn’t say why. The message however was simple and one that I knew I had to follow.

Don’t trust anyone.

Affirmative Action

As I sit on the precipice at the top of the world I feel a clear mindedness. Disconnected from society everything washes away in a breath of fresh air. The details of my next hit could be waiting in my dropbox but I won’t know until I’m ready to return to the world. Until then I can forget about the mess I made in Budapest.

I was given forty eight hours to stage an accident in a city on lockdown. Protesters marched on the streets forcing the public into hiding so there was no way to succeed without infiltrating the most secure facility in the world. Even the most well hidden military facilities in the world have an exploitable vulnerability. Not the Archimedes Institute.

Only two people ever enter, Miles Atherton – the target – and Felipe Junger – his manservant. The only way in or out is via a series of airlocks which each get flooded with a different chemical compound. Only Miles knows the compositions of the chemicals and only he and Felipe are immune to the side effects. There is no way around the tunnel and no way in without a blood transfusion. Not even a Level A HAZMAT suit is enough to protect you from three of the sixteen compounds.

So I had a choice, get through sixteen consecutive biometric scans and prove to the system that I was Miles Atherton while he was already inside, or stop a protest and get him to walk out on his own. Even with my limited timeframe it was easier to try and stop the protest. However the only way to stop one affirmative action is with another. Or with violence.

Obviously violence wasn’t an option because I needed to quell the public’s fears, not increase them. Which left me with trying to dismantle a protest about wages by splitting its numbers to a cause equally as worthy. I wrongly assumed that immigration would be that cause. Even after the influx of illegal immigrants from Syria into Hungary and all of the surrounding countries it wasn’t an issue anybody was going to protest. Unlike Americans the Europeans willingly brought the refugees into their homes and provided assistance. Which meant that the small number of people I managed to gather together were turned on as soon as their cause was discovered. Within the first two hours of the forty eight I had to complete the job I had started a war on three fronts. The police and army being the third against the battling protesters.

You would think that a battle of the magnitude I ignited would die down within two days, but it didn’t.

At the twenty four hour mark I had to reconsider waiting for peace and throw myself at finding a way into the Archimedes Institute even though I knew it was impossible. When twenty fours hours became twelve, then six and suddenly one I still had no better plan than the first one I came up with. Which was to have a truck somehow cross five hundred yards of grass and cobblestones in order to put a dent in an impenetrable door. Which would allow the tainted air from the first airlock to escape. Of course the truck would explode like in any good Hollywood movie and the entire Institute would go up in a giant ball of fire.

Like any good plan, or in this case just any plan, it never works out the way it should on paper. The truck didn’t even manage to jump the curb without blowing a tyre and slewing off into the pond faster than I could correct it with the remote controls. The truck still exploded on impact and left a rather nasty mess that was obviously no accident.

I got the hell out of Budapest faster than I’ve ever left town after a job. Which brings me up here, as far off of the grid as one can possibly get. I know that I won’t have to pay for the mistakes I made but the amateurishness of them will haunt me.

I stare off into the distance and admire the view as I take another deep breath. I’ve done worse things in my life and actually paid for it. At least this time the conflict will only ever be internal. If only that made me feel better about it.

Avenues of Terror

This is a story I wrote in 2012 for a Security summit looking to work out possible threats to Australia. After the attacks in Paris this week it is eerily relevant.

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“The numbers speak for themselves, Mister Prime Minister. You’ve had a problem since your government took over in 2009!” Carlton Maxwell proclaimed and pointed an accusatory finger at the agitated man sitting at the head of the table.

“I am not the one you should be pointing your finger at,” the Prime Minister replied calmly. “The blame sits squarely with the Al-Qaeda leadership who…”

“No! The blame sits equally on your shoulders,” Carlton exploded and slammed a fist on the table while ramming forward his pointed finger. “You came from a point of strength under the Howard government into the greatest misplacement of trust this country has ever fallen prey to. The stance Mr Rudd took on asylum seeker assistance caused this critical failure in security.” As he broke into his accusations the entire room remained silent and his mood relaxed from anger into brute confidence. “I’ve been given full oversight of your government in order to get to the bottom of this tragedy and I’m disgusted by the facts and figures I’ve discovered. In 2008 only twenty five immigrants arrived in Australia by boat. A year later 509 Afghan nationals entered Australia by the same channels that had previously been almost impossible to cross. 2009 saw 2650 immigrants from Afghanistan, 2010 had 1813, 2011 had 2203 and last year there were 2444.” Carlton said the numbers while staring at the Prime Minister. He didn’t refer to a piece of paper or hesitate as he spoke the exact numbers. “Over the four year period that the labour party controlled the government more than seventy percent of the arrivals were those Afghanis. Out of that number the same percentage were given protection visas. Afghanistan is an animalistic state controlled by terrorism. Don’t even get me started on all of the other Muslim countries that make up most of the remaining thirty percent of immigrants. How did alarm bells not ring at the highest level? At your level.”

The Prime Minister sat forward, outwardly unaffected by Carlton’s figures and spoke confidently. “Are you done?”

Carlton sat back in his chair and calmly folded his arms across his chest. He had stated his argument and was hopeful the Prime Minister would have a reasonable response.

“Firstly, every single figure you just relayed crossed my desk on multiple occasions, including much more in depth analyses. We knew better than anyone the origin of the majority of the illegal immigrants coming to our shores via these channels. Yes, seventy percent of them are Afghanis and yes we understand the country is volatile. But, what you seem to be missing is the fact that the majority of these people are running for their lives. They are victims of horrible atrocities performed by the Taliban. They are persecuted for anything as simple as not wanting to fight the infidels that have invaded their country. Every single one of these immigrants goes through stringent background checks to ensure their identity. Nobody is allowed into this country until we are fully assured that they are who they say they are and that they have no ill will against Australia. So yes, Mr Maxwell, red flags were raised at my level. But we have done everything possible to ensure that only those who required it were allowed entry. There was no way this could have happened the way Al-Qaeda claim. The immigration processing is air tight, especially with the reintroduction of offshore processing in Nauru.”

For the first time Clinton was unable to contain his laughter at the over confident statement.

The Prime Minister didn’t even break stride as he powered on with his rehearsed response. “Secondly, this goes far beyond simply allowing thousands of people into our country. This is a political issue that has been at the forefront of our countries key issues for decades and will be for decades to come.”

Carlton had had enough and decided to stop the Prime Minister before he embarrassed himself further. With a solid fist slammed into the table he silenced the man and brought the room to complete stillness. Inside his blood was boiling and even though he had shown with a single action his obvious frustration his words were calm and collected. “The politics behind this issue aside, I have to disagree with your claims that terrorists aren’t using people smuggling routes to bring their people into Australia.” He reached down to his briefcase beside his chair and extracted a stack of documents without breaking eye contact with the Prime Minister. “I have documents pertaining to the five men who carried out the attacks last Saturday. And guess what?” The documents landed in the centre of the table with a thud and fanned out towards the Prime Minister. A photocopy of an official Afghani passport landed right at the Prime Minister’s hands. “All five of those men entered the country through your supposedly airtight processing facilities over the past two years. Al-Qaeda is faking documents good enough to pass your supposedly stringent processing.”

Suddenly the room broke into a chorus of cries of outrage and Carlton just sat back in his chair with a smirk spread across his face while the Prime Minister fought to get control of the room.

After almost a full minute everyone finally began to settle down and the Prime Minister could be heard. “That is enough. We need to get on top of this situation now. The moment the media get a whiff of this we’re going to have a big task on our hands to keep the public opinion in check.”

Carlton had been resigned to let things run their course after he had dropped the bombshell, but he found himself once again unable to simply sit back and let the idiocy of the government control the situation. “Get a whiff!” He cried and pointed towards the closest wall where the media sat only metres away behind closed doors. “The media has been out there running rampant with this since the moment the first claim of responsibility came forward from Al-Qaeda leadership. Those documents will only fuel a fire that won’t be easily extinguished. The public is a fickle beast and will always buy into the media’s spin. They already believe that these terrorists entered Australia via boat like they were told by Al-Qaeda. When these documents go public with the truth there’s only going to be one way you can give yourself any hope of staying in power.”

The look on the Prime Minister’s face slowly turned from anger at the words that were being thrown at him to confusion. Eventually he spoke hesitantly, “Stop the boats?” Carlton raised his eyebrows slightly and just stared back in response. “That’s one of our key issues. If our stance on that changes we could lose the majority of our support. The media will have a field day and the public will tear us apart.”

“Are you even listening to what I’m saying?” Carlton said, rubbing the creases on his forehead. “The public has already swung. Even those who sided with you before are calling for action. Al-Qaeda has found a loophole that you never foresaw. So not only do you need to stop the boats, you have to gather every single Muslim immigrant that you’ve allowed into this country through your processing centres and reprocess them!”

“We can’t do that,” the Prime Minister blurted in outrage. “Five people slipped through our vetting process. There is no need to go to such extremes and assume that every Muslim has been provided false documents by Al-Qaeda and deport them. Not to mention the religious war that would ignite from such an outlandish act.”

“Those five men that slipped through the gaps were able to successfully launch terror attacks on key personnel and infrastructure. Forget the religious war that you think will occur and think about protecting your country. You think the Al-Qaeda senior leadership stopped when they hit the magic number of five terrorists getting into the country. No, they used their immense wealth to create documents for hundreds of people. Hell, how many Muslims have entered this country since your immigration policy changed? I’d take a wild guess and assume that there’s a very large chunk of them who are not who they say they are. Have you ever heard of an Afghani farmer having all of the documents required to enter Australia in their possession? No! I bet most of them wouldn’t even know what a passport was until it was handed to them and they were told that they were fulfilling Allah’s mission!” Carlton stopped himself before he exploded and released the pressure in his fists. His nails slowly receded from his palms. “You need to collect every Muslim and make sure that they aren’t part of a terrorist organisation.”

“That’s over ten thousand people!” The Prime Minister cried, reeling from the harsh truth that he had no argument against. “The public will never let this happen! There will be riots on the streets before the first one of them is taken into custody. We won’t be able to do this.”

“The public will not stand in your way. Those documents in front of you are already on their way to the media. The moment that they are released and the confirmation comes through that Al-Qaeda sent people to Australia via asylum seeker routes nobody will stand in your way. If they do, you lock them up under the Anti-Terrorism Act 2005 and question their citizenship status and allegiance to this country.” Carlton was building into an argument that he knew would never be able to be denied. “Now is the time to take a radical stand against the terrorists and prove to them that Australia will not cave to terrorism. Show them that you are a government not to be trifled with and if they think that they can ride on the backs of people desperate for protection they are sorely mistaken. Those people who can no longer find safe haven within Australia will understand that this is a necessary evil. It’s a forgone conclusion that the government has to do something extreme about its illegal immigrant processing and taking that process back to the start and re-vetting is just something you cannot avoid. Believe me, Mr Prime Minister, those five men were not alone. There’s a large group of Muslim terrorists who got into Australia and you need to find them before the next attack occurs. Because more attacks will occur and you better do everything in your power to stop them. The former Prime Minister would be chomping at the bit to take action if she had survived the attack. Don’t you think you should honour not only her memory but the memory of the three hundred and twelve other Australians that lost their lives? Especially since you know where the problem stems from. Let the public question you on that.” Carlton sat back in his chair and watched the Prime Minister and every other attending member realise that there was no other option.

After nearly two entire minutes the Prime Minister raised his head and folded his hands beneath his chin. “Alright, here’s what we are going to do,” he began, but never got any further as an explosion rocked the room.

They all hit the floor and slid beneath the large oak table as the room shook violently from the enormous shockwave. Roof panels dropped onto the table and floor as several of the heavy leather chairs tipped over.

Carlton caught the eye of the Prime Minister and without even having to speak a word could see a determined look that told him the attack had removed any hints of doubt that might have remained in the man’s mind. Australia would do whatever it took to become a safe haven from Muslim extremism.