“To think that the earth, universe and everything was created by some unknown being with the wave of a hand is simply ridiculous”, Shane declared. He was of course an atheist.
“You are not quite right in the head if you believe the Earth is just a few thousand years old and that man just appeared”, he almost shouted.
It’s amazing what a few Jack Daniels can do to a person. Shane was not so outspoken. It was one of those rare times when he had thrown back one drink too many.
It was a cold winter night, and such a night in Minnesota calls for some alcohol to warm the body. So we sauntered off to our local for a peg or two. Usually three.
I got no second looks in the place, which would have seemed unusual to an outsider. One does not often see an Indian in a Minnesota pub. But the regulars were used to me. There was never any hostility to begin with, but an Indian seems incongruous in a place decorated with trophies of deer and pike.
We often talk about theology and the origins and subsequent multiplication of Homo sapiens. Shane is never known for mincing words when it came to genesis. He called it a crime against reason to teach it in schools. Richard Dawkins would be proud.
“Think about it,” he said, ” Isn’t evolution the only logical conclusion?”
I nodded my assent as I was too busy fighting off my drowsiness.
“Have you ever given a thought to Intelligent Design?” the voice asked.
I looked around and the only likely source of the question seemed to be a thin, middle-aged man huddled low on the table next to ours. He looked slightly grubby and not at all the sort of person who would know about ‘Intelligent Design’.
“What?” said Shane.
“Intelligent Design dude. The theory that says human development and evolution was planned by higher life-forms”, I dutifully supplied.
Before we could react, the man had joined our table. “Good,” he said, “At least you know something about it”.
Only the finest whiskey from Tennessee would have compelled me and Shane to ponder over his statement and his rude interruption of our conversation without protest.
Lowering his voice (unnecessarily, as there was no one around) he whispered, “I happen to know for a fact that it is true.”
“Come off it”, I said, “And who the hell are you anyway?”
“Dr. Dale Osborne, professor of Botany at the University of Minnesota. Well. I used to be…….”
“And we are supposed to believe that?” I asked incredulously. He looked nothing like a professor at a reputable university. Even a former professor.
“Let him speak dude”, Shane said.
Curiously enough the situation is usually the other way round. I am more likely to be interested in something someone has to say and Shane is usually hostile. An unintentional good cop – bad cop routine.
“Well its up to you to believe me or not but I assure you I know my collenchyma from my coleoptile” , said Dale with some swagger.
“Go on,” I sighed, “How do you claim that Intelligent Design is true?”
He said, ” Well, to be honest the classic definition of Intelligent Design is that the designers knew what they were doing. That they knew exactly how humans would turn out given the right circumstances.”
“Yeah, that’s what Intelligent Design sounds like”, said Shane.
“But,” Dale continued, “I found out that it was not true. The designers were, rather they are, new at this. We are nothing more than an experiment. A prototype, if you will, of the concept of Intelligent Design”.
“And how did you make this monumental discovery?” I asked skeptically. I was slightly annoyed to see Shane looking at Dale with an expression that suggested he was Albert Einstein.
“I will come to that in a minute”, he said.
“Well the basis of any experiment is that you periodically check what is happening right?”
“Oh please,” I interrupted, “Don’t tell me that all those flying saucer reports are about our ‘creators’ coming to check on us!”
“Will you stop interrupting me?” Dale said angrily. Well he sure looked like a professor now.
“Anyway, when you are running an experiment in a lab, you use some kind of recording and transmitting medium to check on the progress periodically. One does not contaminate the experimental setup and risk interrupting the progression of the experiment by coming into contact with the material.”
“Its bad enough if the experiment takes 12 hours. Imagine the risk of coming into contact with a five billion year one!”
“Irrespective of how technologically advanced The Creators are, this experiment is crucial to them. Hence they have never shown themselves.”
Well that sounded sensible enough to me. I remembered how annoyed I would get when someone forgot to connect the ammeter half way through any electrical machines experiment.
Shane asked, “What’s this about recording media?”
Dale smiled and continued, “Aah you have come to the most crucial aspect of the experiment and incidentally the point where I happened to stumble upon this astonishing discovery. After all, why the hell is a Botanist talking about stuff which would normally be associated with astrophysicists and the like?”
“In any experiment, you need the recording and transmitting device to be completely inert to the experiment. But The Creators made an error, which by a stroke of good fortune ensured that the experiment would continue as long as it had. If they had used some inorganic communication device, the experiment would never have started.”
“You see, The Creators have the most sophisticated communicating devices and those devices are completely self-sufficient. They call them The Watchers. They eat, breathe, die and reproduce and through information stored in the DNA of the original device, they and their offspring know exactly when, where and how to send their communication to The Creators”.
“Curiously enough, and The Creators did not expect this either, The Watchers became indispensable to us and are an integral part of the experiment. The conditions on our world are such that The Watchers dispelled immense amounts of a gas which was rarely found which altered the atmosphere of the Earth beyond all recognition. What used to originally look like the home of The Creators, became what it is at present. Hence we have developed in a completely different way to The Creators and much slower than they anticipated.”
“But they seemed to be happy to let us be as we were somewhat successful as prototypes.”
We were listening with rapt attention to Dale and Shane asked ,”What are The Watchers? Do they still exist?”
Dale flashed us a smile and said, “Of course they still exist! They are everywhere! Well, some of them no longer communicate because their DNA has mutated to a certain extent but in many places on Earth they work just perfectly!”
“What do they look like?” I asked and we looked at him in anticipation.
“The Watchers are nothing but trees”, Dale said solemnly.
“Yes of course! They are the only species that have existed since as far back as our knowledge goes. In the presence of the sun, they converted huge amounts of Carbon dioxide into Oxygen which suited life here perfectly.”
We were staggered. Shane ventured, “But how do you know all this?”
For a moment he looked at us with surprise, recovered and said, “The Watchers told me.”
He said it with such simple conviction that we found it hard to disbelieve him but I was aware that he had just told us he communicated with trees.
“As part of my research I would regularly go to the most densely wooded places on the earth. It so happened that during one such trip to the Amazon rain forest, we stumbled into an area thickly populated with some of the oldest trees I had seen.”
“We started to collect samples of fungi from the trees and suddenly the air seemed to be almost electric. There was a strange squeal and like the sound made by a microphone under static, but more subtle, and all our electronic devices fell dead for exactly two minutes.”
“We tried to discover the source of this phenomenon but we did not succeed. We had more pressing work and I dismissed it as some geomagnetic anomaly.”
“I would have forgotten about it had I not experienced it exactly six months later in the Congo. I went there by sheer coincidence but the scenario played out exactly as it had six months before. I could not let it go.”
“I went back to the exact same spot in the Congo a couple of months later but nothing happened for two weeks. I returned home without an answer.”
“It so happened that around a year after the incident in the Congo, I was vacationing with my family in Redwood national park in California. The oldest tree there is over five thousand years old.”
“Suddenly I felt the static in the air and instinctively knew what was to come. My cellphone fell dead along with my watch again for two minutes. I realized that the phenomenon repeated every six months in areas which contained the world’s oldest trees and spent three years confirming this.”
“I was reluctant to share this with others because I felt I was on to something huge. Let’s just say I would have preferred it if I kept all the glory”, Dale added ruefully.
“I went back to the Redwood forest thrice after that and experienced the phenomenon each time. I could not measure anything as all instruments fell dead so I would just try to concentrate on the phenomenon itself, hoping to catch some minor detail which could offer a clue.”
“The fourth time I went and the phenomenon occurred, something felt different. The static remained in the air. And suddenly, it seemed to me as if there were voices all around. But they were in my head.”
“I felt I was going crazy when the ‘voices’ seemed to focus and somehow conveyed to me that we humans were in grave danger.”
“They told me that they were The Watchers and about our own history, about the experiment and the creators and told me that the experiment was failing.”
“Why they told me this is something I will never comprehend but I felt they wanted me to convey this to as many people as I could. That this was of critical importance.”
“They told me that the phenomenon I had experienced occurred when they sent their transmission to The Creators. The last few centuries, their reports to The Creators were not encouraging, they said. The Watchers were aware that we had somehow acquired a genetic trait which made us prone to violence.”
“We destroyed too many of our own kind, they said and we had already cut down millions of Watchers over the last few years.”
“Whatever the reason, the fact remains that the experiment is close to failure. The Watchers told me that before long, we were going to destroy ourselves and take everything along with us.”
“The next few years are crucial. It will decide whether we survive or fall. The Watchers have observed all our wars and they noticed how progressively destructive they were becoming. They said that we were following a similar pattern and that a war was near. Most nations in this coming war have nuclear weapons and are bound to use them.”
“I tried to tell my colleagues about this but they did not take me seriously enough. I even lost my job at the university. So here I am getting drunk.”
“I sometimes hope to God, strange word, that I imagined all of this. All of this was one big dream. But it wasn’t. I can feel the great war coming. Already the wheels are in motion.”
Dale gazed pensively at the bar and said, “Look. I’m sorry if I alarmed you. Don’t take me seriously if I you don’t want to. I am just upset. What has to happen will happen, so forget about it.”
He got up and paid his tab and walked out into the cold night.
Me and Shane looked at each other, not knowing what to make of it. He sounded so convincing. Was he just joking after all?
Thoughtfully, we started to walk back home.
As we passed a stately pine, I felt a tingling in the air and I stopped. Shane kept walking. For the briefest moment, I felt the hair on my body stand up as though there was static but as quickly as it started, the feeling subsided and I quickened my pace.
I stared at the trees thorough their covering of snow and the trees pensively seemed to stare back.
The Watchers….. they were always watching.