*This story will be available to read until March 11th.
THE CORVOSHAY EFFECT
(Things are rarely what they seem.)
Read 2008 on Oregon Public Broadcasting supported Golden Hours Radio
“Why does it do that?” Christine exclaimed in exasperation, checking the readout and then the settings. The settings were right. It was the idiotic readout…again!
Kenth walked into the lab. He was one of the scientists on the foreign exchange program. Well, as long as he kept his lab coat on, and wore the dark glasses, no one would suspect how foreign.
“Hey Ken, what do you make of this?” Christine called, motioning him over to the lab bench.
Kenth, or Ken, as he was affectionately called by the “local” scientists, ambled over to review the settings and readout.
“These are repeatable results?” he asked.
“For the Corvoshay Project?”
“Of course. Do you accept them?”
“I am not inclined to doubt your work, Christine. You are a more than competent scientist, and your knowledge in this area is extensive. Have you considered what these results might suggest?”
“Not really. I haven’t wanted to take it further. The deviation from expectations is enough to disturb me. Have your people encountered this before?”
Kenth straightened and turned toward Christine, his eyes unreadable behind the dark glasses.
“The next step is to postulate the implications of these readings, Christine. Do that and then I will answer your questions. Until then, keep this between us.”
Kenth left, and Christine stayed where she was, drumming her fingers on the counter top. This was not looking good at all.
A substantial shift in the Earth’s magnetic field had been expected for decades. Predictions about the result of such a shift had ranged from disturbances in bird migration patterns, to the complete destruction of the planet. After all, the magnetic field shields Earth from much of the solar wind, deflecting it like water around the bow of a ship.
The “hard” sciences had focused plenty of research on the possibilities. No one had suspected it would be a “soft” science that would uncover the danger inherent in the shift, as well as provide the means to measure what had become known as the Corvoshay Effect.
Christine stopped beating on the innocent counter top and rubbed her red-rimmed eyes. Should she continue to work with Ken in this covert manner? She was the only one on the core team who knew what Ken brought to the table; the only one who had been fully briefed. If she took her knowledge to the others they might help, or it might trigger some undesirable side effects. Worst, one of the team might talk, bringing it to the attention of the directors, who would then turn their attention on her. They might decide that she was not effective, should be removed from the project and replaced by someone else. Plus Ken could, hell most likely would, be exposed to the media. She didn’t even want to speculate about the result of that.
Deciding that inaction was probably not the safest course to take at this point, Christine signed out of the lab and went in search of Ken. No more of this enigmatic alien bullshit. This time she would get some answers or damn it, well she didn't know what she might threaten him with but she was sure she’d think of something.
As expected, she found Ken in the compound’s commissary. For someone trying to stay under the radar, Ken had a strange propensity for weird behavior. Or maybe he simply couldn’t control his addiction to chocolate.
He was sitting at a table in the corner of the room farthest from the kitchen. At this time of day the dining area was nearly deserted, though the clatter and steam drifting from the kitchen was a pretty good indicator of the crowd that would barge in once lunch hour arrived.
Christine pulled out one of the glossy yellow and chrome chairs and sat down across from Ken. She folded her hands on the table and smiled, pointedly ignoring the heaps of Snicker bars, open bags of M&Ms and impressive tower of Hershey chocolate bars on his tray.
“Wefa prdste thas fey,” Ken said, an amalgam of chocolate and hard candy shell coating his tongue in a rather disgusting way. Christine waited for him to swallow then asked, “What?”
“I said, we have predators that smile that way.”
“Yes, right before they disembowel you.”
“Meaning you have bowels?” asked Christine.
“The whole darn alimentary canal. That’s right,” agreed Ken, without missing a beat. Then he tore open a Snickers and bit in, taking half in one bite while exhaling heavily through his nostrils.
“You told me to postulate the implications of the readings and that’s just what I’ve been doing,” Christine said. “In fact, I’d actually been doing that long before I got the readings because I suspected…”
“That the Corvoshay study was correct,” Ken broke in.
“Yes,” agreed Christine. “How did your people find out?”
“Well, as you know, we’ve been keeping an eye on developments for awhile. We study the journals; we do occasional data searches just to see where you’re heading. Certainly some of my people think studying other cultures is pointless and that we can’t learn anything from, excuse the expression, primitives, but there are plenty of others who think we can.”
“Primitives?” Christine asked.
“There’s that smile again,” Ken said.
Ken did a very good impression of a human shrug.
Both Christine and Ken started at the sudden bark of the familiar voice, then exchanged glances of dismay as Paul Brockner, project manager and twenty-something wonder-child, levered his angular body into a chair at their table.
“So what are you two talking about?” Paul asked.
“The project,” offered Christine.
“Yes, of course,” said Paul, his derisive tone conveying his doubts that their conversation was in any way work related.
“We were discussing the Corvoshay Effect,” Christine said, hating how much her explanation sounded like a justification.
“Would you remind me what that is?” Paul asked, this time sounding like a teacher prompting a bad pupil in order to demonstrate her utter lack of preparation.
Christine rose helplessly to the bait, unable to break a life time habit of striving for that 4.0 GPA. “The Effect was discovered by a team from the University of Queensland in May of 2004. The team was headed by a psychologist named Bradley Corvoshay,” she explained. “They spent three years reviewing global studies of schizophrenia and found there was an unaccountably high incidence of schizophrenia among male migrants. They then took all migrant studies since the 1960’s and found correlating data so strong that there was no question that they were on to something.”
“They knew what,” added Ken, “but they didn’t know why.”
“Right,” agreed Christine. “They came up with a number of theories, both biological and psychosocial. They looked at the stress of migration. They knew stress leads to post traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. They tried to find out if it also led to schizophrenia, but no luck. They looked at changes in duration of sunlight, possible vitamin D deficiency; they even looked at viruses. Migrating people may be exposed to viruses that will affect pregnant women and therefore their offspring. Again, no luck, they could not find a direct correlation. They could not find the why.”
“Why, is what our program is all about,” said Ken.
“Of course,” agreed Paul, stifling a yawn that indicated his boredom with their tedious over-working of the obvious. “By the way, you really should consider a more nutritious choice of food,” he said, poking a finger at the steadily decreasing mound of chocolate in front of Ken.
“Would you like a Hershey Bar?” Ken asked, sliding one across the table.
“The why, is what we are coming close to,” Christine said. “At least I hope so.
“Hope is for people who believe in magic,” snorted Paul. “Well, stay in touch,” he said, standing up and slipping the bar of chocolate into his front pants pocket. “Let me know if you discover anything.” His tone said he doubted they were capable of finding their own car keys.
As soon as he was gone Christine pushed herself away from the table. “I think I’d better get back to the lab. It doesn’t seem like you’re willing to add anything that you haven’t already.”
“Did I say that?” Ken asked.
“You didn’t say anything,” Christine said glumly, “I’m beginning to think you never will.”
“Didn’t I help you set up the equipment?”
“You did but I believe I might have been of some assistance.”
“You were. You are quite clever,” he said, with an arrogance that made Christine want to punch him in the nose. “Of course I was the one who showed you how to reverse the magnets and measure the disruption in the electro-chemical processes.”
“And I noticed the noise in the synapse corridors,” Christine noted. “Oh, and I notice a lot, like you need to wipe your mouth. You look like an escapee from a Willy Wonka factory.”
“The allusion escapes me but I will remove the offending substance.” His tongue whipped out and he licked the chocolate eagerly from his lips. Christine glanced around nervously, hoping Ken’s strangeness was not drawing unwanted attention.
“Maybe we should go somewhere else to finish this conversation,” she suggested. “I think it’s time you told me everything.”
“Well, if you think so,” Kenth said agreeably. He gathered up the few uneaten bars of chocolate, and leaving a pile of crumpled wrappers behind, they walked back to the lab.
Christine was confident the lab would be empty during the lunch hour and was gratified to see that she was correct. She signed herself and Ken back in and they automatically settled into their usual stations, in front of a long metal table filled with testing instruments, computer monitors and notebooks.
Christine picked up her notebook and scanned the last entry. “According to our studies the rate of schizophrenia in our test subjects increases seven to ten percent when the magnetic poles shift.
“Which is basically the very definition of the Corvoshay Effect.” Kenth said.
“Yes,” Christine agreed, “but according to our new findings, when we disrupted the magnetic field around the chimps we got an increase, but the increase didn’t stop as predicted. The more the rate of change grew, the higher the rate of schizophrenia.”
“But that shouldn’t have happened.”
“Of course not. We’ve been keeping track of the magnetic field for a long time. Long enough to have learned that instability is its norm. Just look at the North Pole. We know, that from our perspective, it has been traveling north at about 10 km a year. It actually accelerated to 40 km a year for several years in the late 90’s and early 2000’s and then slowed back down to 10. At the current rate the North Pole will reach Siberia in just a few years. Oh, and of course the whole field has weakened over time too,” she said, almost as an afterthought.
“That sounds scary,” said Ken.
“Well yes, except we know that decrease is normal too. The field increases and decreases all the time. Currently, well anyway during this era, even with a 10% decrease in strength, the field is actually stronger than it has been for thousands of years. The dipole moment, the measure of the intensity of the magnetic field, is now 8 x 1022 amps x m2. That’s twice the million-year average.
“So if everything is so normal, how do you explain the results of your tests?”
“I’ve been thinking about it and I have a theory.”
“Yes,” Ken urged.
“It has to do with life span, or more accurately cell life. We know our bodies are affected by the magnetic field. Magnets affect iron and our blood contains plenty of iron. My supposition is that our bodies, our cells, are attuned to the changes in the magnetic field. We can handle slow change, 10 km a year is no problem, oh sure we get a few disruptions, but at 40 km we see a much larger change. When we get beyond that…well, as you’ve seen, we can produce a 100% rate of schizophrenia in our test chimps.
“In your male test chimps, to be precise,” added Kenth.
“Yes,” agreed Christine, nodding thoughtfully, “Females seem immune. Their rates of schizophrenia remain constant. Which makes us believe their version is reliant on some other factor. The chemical alteration we can create only occurs in the male of the species.”
Ken asked the obvious question. “Why only males?”
“We aren’t sure,” Christine admitted, “But we have several theories. The one I tend to credit the most is the one put forth by Lily Ross, a geneticist over at John Hopkins. Have you read her paper?”
“No, but I’m sure one of us has.”
“Well,” Christine continued, only a little unsettled, “Ross postulates that women have already received a genetic, well let’s call it a gift, which offers them some immunity to an altered natural state. After all, women have the capacity to carry what is basically an alien being inside their bodies. Maybe the processes that allow that to be successful also protects them from the Corvoshay Effect.”
“You know what this means?” asked Ken.
Christine nodded somberly, “It means that men will become insane if they attempt to travel too far from the magnetic field of the earth.”
“This is pretty ironic considering we were just about to help you figure out the whole faster than light thing.”
“Irony seems to be what humans do best,” said Christine, surprised at her ability to find humor in this dark moment. “Of course,” she continued, “We can always create a false magnetic field. A space ship could conceivably be built that would allow men to travel into space.”
“A short-term solution at best,” said Ken. “Cost would be high and would they ever be able to leave the ship and step foot on another planet?”
“Christine shook her head. “I just don’t have any answers.”
Ken reached across the cold, metal surface of the lab table and gently put his hand on Christine’s forearm. “The fate of history is in your hands, my friend. You’ve run your tests and reached your conclusions and now it’s time for me to come forward. You see, I can give you those answers. I am going to write an equation here,” He took the notebook from her hands and a pen from his shirt pocket.
“I want you to think hard about what you are going to do with this information. You can choose to destroy it if you like. We won’t interfere. You see, we’ve studied your history and know that women in your culture have not been treated very equitably. You can’t change the past, of course, but you may be the only earthling to have the opportunity, and the clarity of vision, to redirect the future of an entire gender. Just think, Christine, what would have happened if Christopher Columbus had been female?”
“Well she might have stopped to ask directions,” Christine said, reciting the old joke but finding little humor in it.
Kenth nodded, then bent over the notebook and began filling the page with line after line of equations. When he was finished he tore the page free and with a flourish, handed it to Christine.
She took the page, and folding it carefully, slipped it into the pocket of her lab coat. “I guess I have a few things to consider,” she said. “I think I’d better take a walk, try to clear my head.”
“Sounds like a good idea, said Ken. “I think I’ll walk as far as the snack machine.”
Christine signed out of the lab and headed to the program manager’s office. She knocked and then stepped inside. He was sitting behind a sleek, chrome desk typing rapid-fire on his keyboard. He stopped and peered at her around the edge of his monitor.
“Sir,” she said.”
"Paul," he corrected her. “Anything?”
She took the page out of her pocket and handed it across his desk. He took it from her, unfolded it carefully and scanned the lines of writing. “He’s brilliant all right but this is just random nonsense. Did he say anything?” Paul asked. “Did he even mention…?”
“No. I’m sorry. He was so much help setting up the experiment,” replied Christine. He seems to be able to function at a high level most of the time. I thought by now he’d have given us some insight.”
“I know. It’s like we have a walking, talking journal of his experiences right at our fingertips, only we can’t access it.” Paul leaned back and raked his fingers through his short hair. “I’m not sure I can justify keeping him here much longer. We're not getting the results we wanted and I feel like we're keeping the entire department in the dark."
"We are, but I thought you agreed it was the best—"
"Was the best. Now. I don't know. I'm afraid he may become disruptive to operations.”
Christine snorted, “In what way? He acts a little strange sometimes, but most of the foreign exchange people seem weirder."
“Maybe, but his weird is on an entirely different level. Come on Christine, letting him pretend he’s an alien that’s pretending to be a human, it's pretty ridiculous, and maybe even a little cruel.”
"How is it cruel?”
“For one thing, it keeps him from getting the help he needs. He should be in therapy. He should be getting some kind of drugs. He hears voices.”
“I know, but he thinks they’re his alien colleagues. They don’t seem to tell him to do anything harmful.”
“But that could change.”
Christine leaned wearily against the closed door. She'd heard this argument before. "I'm monitoring him every step of the way. Thinking he's an alien, well it gives him a sense of power; a sense of purpose, if you will. What harm is there in letting him have that for a little while longer?”
Paul sighed. "I don't know. But it can't go on forever. If he can’t, or won’t, share what happened to him those last hours I’m afraid the project is over, and Ken will have to be placed in a facility where he can get the help he needs.”
In response to her look, Paul balled up the page of notebook paper, with its lines of gibberish, and dropped it into his recycling box. “Okay," he said, capitulating, "I’ll keep playing the bad guy and you keep trying to gain his trust. I haven’t given up just yet.”
Christine nodded her thanks and took a deep breath. “I wonder,” she said, “If he would have gone if he’d known the cost."
Paul nodded. "It was certainly a lousy reward for being the first astronaut to reach the edge of our solar system," he said.
"For all of you," Christine agreed, hoping her expression conveyed the sincere sympathy she'd felt ever since their discovery that men could never safely, and sanely, travel far from Earth.
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