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Peaceful Resolution

The alarm clock never actually registered as a sound, at first. Through some somnolent semi-synaesthesia, it was a persistent pulsing of pressure, unignorable and inexorable in dragging him to awareness, but not sound. It only ever registered as noise after he was most of the way awake, clearing his eyes, sitting up. Only then did its sawtooth waves truly begin to grate and prompt him to slap it into silence.

Aaron Brown was not a morning person.

This wasn’t atypical, though. Very little about him was. In sleepy sequence he did all the normal things: showered, shaved, suited up, downed a bit of coffee, went to work. Traffic was light this morning, which was a relief.

Another of Aaron’s traits was that he was a quiet sort of person. From the moment the alarm died until greeting the receptionist at the firm, the only noises he heard were the incidental noises of moving about his condo in the well-established routine. It’s not that he was particularly trying for stealth; he just saw no reason to make any unnecessary noise. If he moved without any particular grace, it was with at least the smoothness of a well-rehearsed morning routine; very little noise indeed turned out to be necessary. Even his Prius was far too polite to bother anyone with the excitement of burning fossil fuels, most of the time.

The receptionist was quite otherwise: a cheerful young woman named Sally. Cheerful wasn’t quite the right word; the right one would have most of the denotations of ‘perky’ without the connotations of ‘annoying.’ She was bright in personality, if not in intelligence, and her friendly greeting typically spiked through his sensitized hearing in a way quite comparable to the alarm.

Today proved to be an exception: her desk was empty. This was an anomaly, but not one which particularly troubled Aaron. His only interaction with her was through the brief trivialities of greeting and parting as he walked past her twice each day. There was surely some perfectly reasonable reason why nobody was there today. As he summoned the elevator, his mind wandered to other things.

Upstairs, in the office, Milo Hammerschmidt was frantic. Milo Hammerschmidt was Aaron’s boss. Milo Hammerschmidt used to play football. Milo Hammerschmidt was now 60 pounds overweight. As he heard the rumble of the approaching elevator, Milo Hammerschmidt slammed down the telephone on yet another endless ringtone and prayed. When the doors dinged and began to open, he leapt from his desk with joy and paced directly over.

“Aaron! Thank god you’re here; I’ve had a devil of a time getting anybody in this morning! Nobody’s answering their phones; it’s as though they’ve all vanished off the face of the earth. Listen, I need you to hold down the fort here for a while; I’m going to go start knocking on peoples’ doors. We just can’t function if nobody shows up!”

Aaron was an actuary. His job wasn’t to sell insurance, or to investigate claims, or to answer calls: all of those jobs required assertive people, loud people. People people. They wouldn’t have been a good fit.

Aaron’s job was to investigate data, and determine probabilities. Conditional probabilities, chained probabilities, and expected values were his bread and butter. Black swans and white noise were his seasonings. Aaron could tell you about the difference between correlation and causation, the statistical tools to determine which was which, and the perfectly good reason why it didn’t matter to the company which one it was as far as setting rates went. When he ran out of data, Aaron was a man who could commission a study to collect more data.

Aaron was not a powerful man, but he had enough power to suit his desires.

He was happy enough in his job. Shortly after noon, he looked up from his work and realized that while he was engrossed some people had come into the office. They were a small fraction of the normal office population, and were mostly standing around the coffee machine, chatting quietly. This almost never happened. Milo didn’t tolerate it. The coffee maker was set up directly across from his office door for precisely this reason. Milo, Aaron presumed, was probably still out trying to round up the rest of the staff.

Aaron liked to eat at a particular cafe near the office. It wasn’t heavily patronized in the best of times, but the food was good and cheap and surprisingly healthy; if it weren’t for that last fact it could have been called a greasy spoon. As he walked in, and the bells hanging from the door handle jingled their greetings, he saw that the place was empty. It could be that the staff were all busy in the back. That wasn’t entirely implausible. A bit of his subconscious was ticking away, though, working out what the probabilities actually were, given the available information. The numbers it was coming up with were startling. They couldn’t be right. In the meantime, while waiting for the waitress to take his order, he sat and watched the television.

It was showing the news, or at least it seemed to be. A young-looking reporter was interviewing a wild-eyed man in clerical clothes.
“The Rapture has come and gone. We are the remainders! We are, all of us, the damned.”
“Surely there’s some other explanation for the disappearances. After all, the Rapture was only supposed to take 144000 people; the most current estimates are that over five billion have already vanished. How do you explain the fact that so many more people were saved?”
“Can you question God’s grace to that extent? He promised to save that many, but through His divine munificence He’s saved the majority of the people of the world!”
“Why would he have left us behind, though? What made us different?”
“I cannot say. I’ve been searching my soul to discover why I am among the wicked to endure the Tribulation, but I cannot answer for the ineffable will of the Lord.”

The text ticker at the bottom of the screen was showing similarly apocalyptic messages:
IS THE END OF THE WORLD NIGH? VOTE ONLINE OR BY TEXTING “YES” OR “NO” TO 57668
NUCLEAR DETONATIONS DETECTED IN KOREA, PAKISTAN
5 BILLION PEOPLE AND COUNTING VANISH WITHIN HOURS. EXPERTS MYSTIFIED
US MILITARY ORDERED TO DEFCON 2: “WE ARE PREPARED TO REACT TO ANY THREAT” SAYS SECDEF
POPE IS AMONG THE MISSING
COULD THIS BE TERRORISM?
NO EVIDENCE YET OF DEAD RISING
BRITISH RECLUSE WINS 258 TRILLION EURO FROM BOOKIE FOR PREDICTION

After some twenty minutes of fascinated horror at the messages, Aaron ducked behind the counter and made himself a sandwich. He left a $20 bill on the counter without making change. It was hard to feel like it mattered.

Walking back to the office was somewhat surreal. There were people on the streets, but nearly no traffic. Occasionally a window smashed in the distance, but more people were simply walking into stores and taking what they wanted quietly. When he arrived back, he discovered he was the only person at work. He puttered for a little while, proving that using standard models the probability of current events was on the order of 1*10^(-340). Then, in the single most rebellious act of his life, he walked out of the office.

The streets were jammed with idling, empty vehicles. He walked, randomly at first, then decided to go to the park. By the time he got there, the sun was glaring blindingly golden off the glass facades of the surrounding skyscrapers. He leaned on the railing of a pedestrian bridge and looked out at it all. The trees shone verdant in the setting sunlight; the sky was a rich azure; the buildings rose haughty in the distance. The only noise was the wind through the leaves and the chittering of the small animals who lived nearby. He leaned on the railing, and became aware of a pressure in his head: the same periodic pounding which in a normal context meant that there was a signal there which his brain was refusing to interpret correctly just yet because it wasn’t yet aware enough to handle its reality. As its intensity increased, he lay back, perfectly relaxed, on a nearby park bench. He fell quietly into a painless sleep.

The scene was still but for the rise and fall of his chest. Shortly thereafter, that motion gently ceased as well. His constituent mass dissolved silently into dust, drifting lightly into the air. Only minutes after he sat down, all trace of him was gone.

Orbiting high above, in a craft no human ever detected, in a language no human would ever hear or translate, a being spoke. “It’s just hit 100%, Captain. There is no intelligent life on the planet.”
“Good job. What are the final violence statistics we’re going to have to report to the Ethics Committee?”
“Fourteen nuclear detonations in the eastern half of the major continent, though we’ve got solid evidence showing that those were aboriginal weapons. A few thousand deaths from depiloted aircraft and vehicles hitting bystanders. All told, we achieved a better than 99% peaceful resolution rate.”
“That’s excellent work, men. Stand down. Nonessential personnel are not required to report for the next three shifts.”

The captain paused, the eyes of its crew on it. “You’ve all performed above the standard for this, the most technically tricky part of this mission. Still, the hardest work is yet to come:”

“Colonization.”

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