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Chapter Six: Save the Earth

There are those who insist that nobody ever thinks of
himself as a villain. On the contrary, I think that villains
know perfectly well who they are. Don’t you?

The Diaries of Rosalie Frazier Ngu

“Bad enough they wrecked the natural environment of Pallas with
their illegal ‘designer’ microbes. They actually altered its rotation,
first, using nuclear weapons! Nuclear weapons! All so they could have
a 24-hour day!”

Anna Wertham Savage, recently chosen as the new leader of the Mass
Movement, finished her signature with an angry slash, taking her pen
off the page and across her desk blotter before she could stop it. She
sat in her meticulously restored Victorian office, with its mellow,
hand-carved rosewood wainscotting, tastefully figured beige wallpaper,
and embossed ceiling high overhead set off with more rosewood, signing
copies of the latest edition of her last year’s bestelling book,
Massquake!, in preparation for an enormous rally later that week in
Boston.

It was hoped—Savage hoped—that the city would ban purchase
and sales of all offworld items and materials—perhaps even outlaw
their ownership, triggering door-to-door police searches for imported
asteroid contraband. Accomplish such a thing in Boston, and the entire
state of Massachusetts would surely follow. Accomplish such a thing in
Massachussetts, and that would be a significant step toward banning
imports from East America altogether. It would probably be followed by
United Nations embargo.

She found the idea breathtakingly wonderful.

Savage felt she needed some cheering. Together, she and the guest
in her office had just watched videos from the asteroid Ceres, pieced
together by some enterprising soul from several different industrial
cameras aboard the Percival Lowell, and sold to one of the 3DTV news
networks.

Savage and her guest had seen a surface-to-air missile fired from
a crater down on the asteroid, rising on a dense column of smoke, and
rocketing past the defenseless factory vessel to explode harmlessly
thousands of yards away. Then came a lone white-suited figure, like a
cliche movie knight. His lucky pistol shot, dashing the missile
launcher to the crater floor, had also destroyed the launching party’s
only way of getting back to Pallas. At that point, the white armored
figure had fought a desperate gunfight with the colorfully-suited
laser-wielding defenders.

These videos would never be seen on East American channels. They
had originated at a commercial broadcast 3DTV station near Topeka,
Kansas. Receiving radio, 3DTV, or SolarNet signals from outside East
America was supposed to have been a serious crime. But since the
authorities would have had to admit that places like Topeka and Denver
and Houston and Omaha were no longer a part of their country, it was a
serious crime that somehow never got prosecuted, a serious crime that
everyone committed, every day, even the authorities who were supposed
to prevent it.

For a moment, Savage looked up at her visitor, lounging in the
most comfortable chair in the room, under a big formal portrait of the
eternally blessed Rachael Carson, sipping at a glass of her bourbon.
Coming from a long line of Temperance Movement prohibitionists, Savage
never touched alcohol, herself, but kept a bountiful supply for her
guests. He was a handsome young man, she thought, wearing a dark
colored lightweight turtleneck, a pale gray Armani 2000 suit, and
expensive Italian loafers with socks that matched his shirt. She’d
never seen the man unkempt, uncreased, or with a speck of lint or
animal hair anywhere on his person.

Sometimes, she wished—but on the other hand, even when she was
young, it had always been something of a struggle for Savage to remain
pressed and crisp-looking. Now, in her forties, she’d given it up. She
kept cats—and everybody knew it with a glance at her baggy sweaters
and dresses. She was a natural, prematurely gray-streaked “dishwater”
blond, with flat, stringy hair that failed to cooperate no matter what
amount she spent on it. She was also cursed with pale, watery blue
eyes that … well, she thought, they bulged whenever she got
excited. She had to be careful when she was on 3DTV. Worst of all, she
had thick ankles and no figure. Clearly, she had been meant for
something other than—higher than—romance, marriage, motherhood.

And although her feminist forebears had taught her that she wasn’t
supposed to care about any of those things, to her dismay, she found
she cared more deeply about them with every passing year, and couldn’t
help herself. Savage wanted romance, marriage, and motherhood—if
it wasn’t already too late—and felt cruelly, personally cheated by
a reality in which she’d was made so hopelessly unattactive. Sometimes
she even caught herself promising that she would someday make them
pay.

Whoever “they” were.

But what she said to her guest just now was, “Oh, Paul, I can’t
imagine what my predecessors could have been thinking of. Believe me,
if it had been me in charge, if they’d had to put ten million bodies
out there, protesting in the streets, in a hundred cities, and a dozen
countries, I wouldn’t have hesitated. They should have shut Curringer
down before he ever got started, and burned his head offices to the
ground!”

There. That felt better. With a little smile, she placed the newly
signed book on a big stack on the right side of her desk, used a
handkerchief on her palms, which had grown a little damp, took another
book from a stack on her left and opened it. Massquake!: the very
book that had brought her to the attention of the expensively-dressed
men in cigar smoke-filled rooms who made decisions about the tactics
and strategy of the Mass Movement, as well as a thousand other groups
like it.

Her guest murmured, “The ‘natural environment’ of Pallas was hard
vacuum at Absolute Zero, Annie. It made Antartica—or even Mars—
seem tropical”

P.E. “Honest Paul” Luegner, Savage’s opposite number in Null Delta
Em—an organization whose absolutist rhetoric and violent tactics
she was compelled to publicly denounce at frequent intervals—set
his drink on an endtable, leaned back in the most comfortable chair in
the room, and put his manicured hands behind his head. The man wasn’t
supposed to be here; he was never supposed to be seen in Anna Savage’s
company, but he had brought important news of the recent unfortunate
events on Ceres, where his entire Environmental Defense Brigade had
just been killed or captured, not just by a boy, but by the son of
Adam Ngu.

By the grandson of William Ngu of hated memory, the Martian
revolutionary.

By the great-grandson of the most malignant capitalist in history
(second only to William Wilde Curringer), inventor-industrialist
Emerson Ngu.

“And your predecessors did try to shut Wild Bill Curringer down,”
Luegner went on. “Only the crafty old devil offered the United Nations
a land grant for an experimental agricultural collective—that’s the
way I heard it, anyway—and the UN turned right around and ordered
your people to lay off! Funny thing is, that UN agricultural colony
didn’t last long. Most of the peasants—I mean, colonists,
escaped—er, emigrated to other parts of Pallas, including the Emerson
Ngu, himself. Anyway, by the time anybody really knew what was going
on, Curringer had already liquidated or abandoned most of his assets
here on Earth, and shifted operations to his huge fleet of factory
ships, orbiting Pallas.”

Savage looked up at Luegner from the book she was signing. “Yes,
Paul, I know the relevant history, and now the disease is beginning to
spread, all over again! Do you realize this business on … where is
it? Ceres—could lead to thousands of asteroids being terraformed?
And there’s no way to stop it! William Wilde Curringer may be dead—
thank goodness for small favors—but his vile corporation just goes
on and on and on, despoiling the natural purity and balance of the
Solar System!”

Tears welled in her eyes. The whole idea was just too painful, too
infuriating, too … She broke off for lack of suitable vocabulary.
People mustn’t be allowed to leave the Mother Planet, not until they’d
solved all of their problems here. Then, of course, they wouldn’t want
to leave; they’d have no reason. Wasn’t humanity ever going to learn
its proper place in the natural scheme of things, instead of always
swaggering around like the lords of the universe? Not with men like
Curringer and Ngu to lead them into hubris and disaster time and time
again!

Gasping for her mental breath, Savage gazed out her hard-earned
corner windows across the timeless, changeless vista that was her own
beloved Amherst, Massachussetts. It was the home of the Mass Movement,
and the home of her heart, as well. It was timeless and changeless
because, sometime early in the 21st century, the voters and officials
of the City of Five Colleges had decided that progress had gone too
far—or was about to, anyway. From that moment on, nothing visible
outdoors within the city limits could appear to be from any later than
the year 2000.

The cut-off year had only been arrived at after long debate and
bitter wrangling. And in the end, in the opinion of the law’s original
advocates, the choice of the year 2000 had defeated the whole purpose
of the effort. They’d have preferred the year 1900—or better yet,
1800, with electricity and the internal combustion engine purged from
human culture.

Those who had opposed the new law altogether felt that they, too,
had been betrayed by politicians they thought they’d bought and paid
for. Thus the decision was hailed as a monumental achievement,
especially by those in media and politics to whom compromise is the
very spirit of democracy, and democracy the only real measure of a
civilization.

The population of Amherst began to diminish steadily. That had
suited Savage’s predecessors, although Zero Population Growth and
others like it complained that it was merely being displaced. The day
would come, Savage knew, when the cowards and deserters would have no
place left to run.

Outside, high over the city, a squadron of the Air Force’s brand
new plasma-pulse fighters snarled their way across the sky, heading
northwest.

Half a century ago, Vermont and New Hampshire—and very possibly
Maine, it was difficult to tell through the haze of propaganda and
counter-propaganda—had taken it upon themselves to imitate the
territories west of the Webb Line, and stop being part of Lincoln’s
sacred Union. The leaders of that movement had to be put down by
force.

Even so, every few years, it seemed a handful of the inhabitants
and neighbors of the “Live Free or Die” states grew restive, and it
was deemed necessary to demonstrate the futility of such an attitude,
not only for the benefit of New Englanders, but anybody else who might
be getting secessionist ideas. These days the government made a
practice of planning regular military flights across all major cities
as a reminder and a warning.

In Amherst, it hadn’t quite become illegal to dress in styles
anachronistic to the year 2000, but people would stare and frown at
you if you did. To the satisfaction of some, the new law worked—not
without an occasional bobble. Popular national restaurant chains like
Ali Wanna or Zeefo’s, compelled by local laws to disguise themselves
as parts of the quaint but long-defunct MacDonald’s or Arby’s or KFC
fanchises, elected instead to relocate, despite punitive lawsuits
threatened by the city.

The minority still privileged to drive automobiles in East America
soon discovered that they had to park their clean, efficient Ngu
Departure Electrics and Fusion-Brasilias well outside the Amherst city
limits, and rent ancient, noisy, stinking internal combustion-powered
Fords, Chevrolets, Volkswagens, and Volvos that were historically
faithful to the period. Some visitors were inconsiderate enough to
point out that this was hardly a desirable outcome. On the other hand,
vehicles of Korean, Japanese, and Malaysian manufacture were now
prohibited altogether because—in the view of the Amherst city
fathers—they never should have been permitted on American soil to
begin with.

“You’ve gotta take the long view, Annie, and not worry,” Luegner
laughed. “We’re working on young Pallatians of the third and fourth
generations right now, those who know absolutely nothing about what
their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents went through to
terraform and settle the asteroid, who take what they’ve always had
for granted. I do admit it would be a damn sight easier if Pallas had
compulsory public schools that we could move into and take over, but
they’ll be ours, eventually, and Curringer’s bunch won’t know what hit
them.”

Savage made a huffing noise. “Maybe so, Paul, but in the meantime,
while you’re taking the long view and not worrying, Curringer’s bunch
are busy terraforming another, even bigger asteroid, where millions of
people, maybe, will go through exactly the same struggle, learn from
it, and undo everything you say we’re accomplishing on Pallas. And
from there, they’ll go on to the next asteroid, and then to the next.
And on top of that, they’ll keep right on sending their tons and tons
of manufactured and raw materials to Earth, every day, threatening our
precious Mother Planet with crustal shifting and slippage that could
wipe out every—”

Luegner held up a hand. “Earth naturally receives a hundred tons
of micrometeorites every day. Don’t tell me you actually believe all
that crap.”

For a moment, their attention was captured by a colorful West
American ad for a family hovercraft. Since their de facto secession,
Westerners had let their previously tax-supported infractructure—
the part that wasn’t converted into private, profit-making businesses—fall
apart completely. Streets, roads, and highways were now merely
vegetation-covered tracks, traveled over by huge, wasteful, dangerous
350-mile-per-hour vehicles—built largely from exotic materials
manufactured in space—that didn’t need streets, roads, and
highways.

Savage reached out abruptly and shut the hated images off. Her
watery blue eyes widened and the nostrils of her narrow, knifelike
nose flared. It wasn’t a pretty sight, Luegner thought. Some women are
definitely not beautiful when they’re angry. Some aren’t beautiful
at the best of times. Of course he was accustomed to having his choice
of young, succulent college coeds on the lecture circuit, always
eager—anxious, really—to help ‘the movement’ out in any way he might
suggest.

“The people who contribute money to this organization,” she told
him, “and help keep you in caviar and champagne, ‘believe all that
crap’!”

“Never cared for either, myself, but point taken, nonetheless.
Annie,” he admitted amiably, still thinking about those coeds. They
believed it, too, dear things, and saw him as a noble, romantic, even
revolutionary hero, locked in mortal combat with the evil tentacles of
capitalism.

It didn’t hurt that he looked ten years younger than his 45 years,
retained all of his dark, wavy hair, and had a livid scar across one
shoulder that he told them was where the police had shot him during an
otherwise peaceful demonstration in some always faraway city. How they
loved to run their fingers along that scar! In fact, a pipe bomb he’d
been building in Scranton had gone off accidentally and almost killed
him. It had killed the girl he’d been sleeping with at the time, whose
basement apartment it destroyed. It sometimes bothered him a little
that he couldn’t remember her name. “I certainly can’t argue with you
there.”

Savage opened her mouth to accept his apology.

“Me neither!” Savage’s office door slammed open, threatening to
shatter its carefully lettered glass, and a youthful figure virtually
leapt into the room. He wore a white “ice cream” suit currently the
rage in Amherst, and a matching Panama straw. Savage and Luegner both
recognized Johnnie “the Fish” Crenicichla, the only individual in the
world who worked for both organizations, the Mass Movement and Null
Delta Em—although his paycheck came from neither group, but from
an ancient Boston bank.

“You’ve got to stop meeting like this!” he told them in a light,
bantering tone. He threw himself into the room’s second most
comfortable seat, a short divan on the opposite side of the door from
Luegner. “You pay me obscenely—somebody pays me, anyway—to act
as a credibly deniable liaison between you. You guys should let me
liaise!”

“We do, Johnnie, we do,” Luegner told him. “I figured this came
pretty close to an emergency, and I happened to be in North America
this morning, anyway … ”

Crenicichla threw his head back and laughed sarcastically. “Damned
right it’s an emergency! The Curringer Corporation’s planning to give
that trigger-happy Ngu kid some kind of award, and broadcast it on
System-wide 3DTV!”

“Shit!” Luegner sat up straight.

“Oh, dear,” Savage muttered. It was all she could manage.

“Oh, it gets even better, folks!” Crenicichla went on. “To top it
all off, like cherries on a sundae, two of the seven of our people
that the kid took alive have offered full confessions in exchange for
amnesty.”

There was a long silence. Then: “I wasn’t aware,” Luegner said,
very slowly and quietly, “that the Curringer Corporation condones
torture.”

Crenicichla shook his head. “Amnesty. That’s what the Corporation
is claiming, any—oh, I get it. That’s our story and we’re sticking
to it.”

Luegner nodded, but said nothing else. Savage buried her face in
her hands. “I didn’t hear that. I wasn’t here. I didn’t hear that. I
wasn’t here. I didn’t hear that. I wasn’t here. I didn’t hear that. I
wasn’t—.”

“That’s the plan, then,” said Crenicichla, his usual enthusiasm
apparently restored. “And a damned good thing, too. Guess who the
stool pigeons named as their boss, Paul! Luckily, they can’t touch you
here in the Formerly United States. I checked with the Mass Movement’s
legal people before I came here. They’re the criminals—anyone who
works for the Curringer Corporation, that is—in the eyes of the
East American government.”

“Yes, Johnnie, but we can’t just react to this situation,” Luegner
objected. “We’ve got to take the offensive again, make them react.”
Unlike Savage, he knew exactly who he meant by “them”, and so did
Crenicichla.

“Stool pigeons?” Savage raised her eyes. She had never heard the
ancient expression before, and didn’t care for any of the images it
brought to mind. “They didn’t—”

Crenicichla shook his head. “No, Annie, they didn’t mention you.
You’re perfectly free to issue your regular outraged disavowal of Null
Delta Em.”

He turned to Luegner. “Paul, it’s time you got your famous and
photogenic face the hell out of this building. We’ll make some time
for planning tomorrow. Naturally, not before we check upstairs with
You-Know-Who.”

That was the way Crenicichla was in the habit of referring to the
individuals who had selected each of them in the first place, and from
whom all other blessings ultimately flowed. He reclaimed his Panama
hat.

“Take the freight elevator and leave by way of the basement.”

Copyright © 2009 by L. Neil Smith

lneil (at) netzero (dot) com

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