Sleeper Earth – Chapter One

The following is the beginning of my current novel. It’s still a work in progress and I welcome any constructive criticism or comments. Even your random thoughts and opinions could be helpful.

Chapter 1

February 3, 2965

 

 

The shouting grew to a feverish pitch outside of the World Government building as Senator William Davies and his aide, Jack, walked toward the airlock at the front exit. The muffled shouting was a daily occurrence. Whining people who made it their purpose in life to act as a Greek chorus for the ills of society instead of being part of a solution.

Jack tugged William to a halt. “Sir, I don’t think it’s a good idea to go out that way today.”

Unfazed by the crowd, William said, “Why? Are they getting violent again?” He didn’t want to be late for his lunch meeting.

“Not sure. Why don’t you stay here, sir? Let me go talk to security for a minute.”

William sighed and checked the time on his cerebrocom then waved Jack away with a roll of his eyes. “Fine. Go.”

Jack walked off with his swallowtail suit swishing back and forth — hard-soled shoes echoing down the foyer. William went up to the airlock door, curious about what the masses were complaining about this time. The gigantic windows fronting the building showed a hazy mixture of volcanic ash and man-made pollution over the cityscape.

Thirty meters away from the building, city police used barriers to hold back the crowd. Thousands of people stood in the murk, projecting signs, yelling through their breathing masks and acting like a typical mob of angry proles. Something small came hurtling toward the window to his right, and William instinctively flinched and threw up his arms. It hit the Jin field in front of the window. A flash of light and electric blue sparks rained down from the forcefield at the point of impact. He glanced around. A reporter saw his overreaction and William squelched the urge to explain himself. Little could break through a Jin field. Certainly not the rock which now sat on the ground outside.

“Idiots. Try doing something to fix the world instead of complaining about it.” It was only a mumble but the reporter might have heard him because she glided next to him. Ignoring her, William scanned the holographic signs projected by the protesters above the crowd. “No more aid to the SA’s,” blinked one. A three-meter image of the Pope declared, “Cryostasis is a sin.” Another had, “Bring back pizza!!”

“Pizza? What the hell did the WG ever do to pizza?”

A second rock struck the field and startled him out of his musings. This time, it came closer to where he stood and the sparks made spots appear. “Fucking animals.” He pressed a hand against his closed eyes — it didn’t help.

“Can I quote you on that?”

The WG New Service ID on her lapel was enough to let him know it was only a joke. The government agency reported only approved material. He shifted his face into a politician’s mask — partial smile, eyes deeply concerned. In a cheery welcoming voice, he asked, “What can I do for you Ms. Hinkle?”

She moved the remote camera hovering next to her to an angle that would capture both of them. “Can you tell us when your Future Earth Committee will announce a decision?”

“Soon.” But perhaps not soon enough.

“You’ve been discussing ideas for over two years.” Another rock hit the Jin field and her artificially implanted tail swished with excitement.

“And we’ll keep on discussing ideas until we find a solution I’m comfortable recommending to the President.”

“I’ve heard Avninder Corp made a proposal concerning cryogenically freezing everyone like the way the Frontier Marines send out the planetary colonists. Is that possible?”

William grimaced a little. “That’s one possibility.” Although it wasn’t. They had no way to freeze the entire planet’s population. But a slice — a sample — it might be done.

Ms. Hinkle took her furry tail in hand, stopping its flutter. “Dr. Ritter released a statement a few days ago with a few suggestions. Have you read his proposal?”

Was that man still alive? Dr. Ritter may have backed out of the disastrous experiment at the last minute, but it was he and Dr. Norling that caused this mess over a hundred years ago. “No. I haven’t. Nor do I think the President would appreciate any suggestions from Dr. Ritter.”

Jack returned and interrupted the conversation. “Ms. Hinkle, I told you earlier I would send out a press release statement this evening. Please don’t bother the Senator.”

“Don’t be like that Jack.” William extended his smile. “I’ve always welcomed talking to reporters.” Jack knew the script and acted admonished. “So what’s the verdict? Can we leave?”

“I called the limo service, and they’re flying it around now. Security doesn’t want us to go out a service entrance.”

William stretched his arms in a what-would-you-have-me-do gesture. “I’m sorry Ms. Hinkle, it seems I must go.” Jack quickly raised a hand to cover his eyes as two more rocks smacked into the field in rapid succession. “They need to arrest the people throwing rocks. Someone’s going to get hurt.”

“The security officer told me they have an aerotank on the roof with a stunner field. They’re waiting for permission to knock the crowd out.”

William was about to give them his permission, even though strictly speaking he didn’t have the authority, when another rock hit, this time accompanied by the sound of cracking glass. His heart leaped. Nothing should have hit the window.

A yelp escaped from Ms. Hinkle, and Jack yelled out, “Shit!” The window hadn’t shattered, but more people were getting ready to throw. Jack jerked hard on his arm and pulled. “Come on! The field’s down.” Jack dragged him a couple of steps before he moved faster on his own.

“How did someone get the Jin field down?” The reporter shrieked from a few steps behind. A few steps too far behind. When they got to the stairwell door, a blast echoed the building, knocking them to the ground. Glass and debris strewn the foyer floor and dark particles from the outside air rushed in through the hole. Ms. Hinkle lay in a pool of blood a few meters away — a piece of glass the size of an axe jetted from her neck. Alarms rang out.

Pulling William into the stairwell, Jack forced him along. “Where are we going?” The blast had deafened him, and his voice sounded muffled even though he was shouting.

“To the roof, sir.”

“What about Ms. Hinkle?”

Jack’s eyebrows narrowed looking at the widening pool of blood. It was already too late. “We aren’t medics. Go. I’ll call someone about her.”

They stopped after reaching the second-floor. William’s body shook with anxiety. “It’s fifteen flights up! And the limo can’t go that high!”

Jack, already short of breath, puffed out, “We can try an elevator from here. I wanted to get us away from the crowd.”

They entered the second-floor hallway. “Let’s go back to my office for now. We can make arrangements from there. They aren’t getting in the building.” William hoped.

“Sir, we don’t know what else they have pl— ”

Holding up a hand, he stopped his assistant’s objections. “Security will handle them quickly enough. Give me a chance to call.”

Hurrying to the elevator, he looked for a Building Security channel number on his cerebrocom. Finding it, he called just as the doors opened.

The face of a young woman appeared to on his visual cortex. “Yes, Senator?” The name Maddie Reynolds hovered below her image.

“Ms. Reynolds, what’s the situation outside?”

“Not sure, sir.” She spoke more panicked than professional. “You should probably stay in your office for now. I think…” Someone with her in the guard station spoke to her for a few seconds. When her attention returned to William, she said, “They’re sending in a stun team now. I’ve been asked to tell everyone to stay inside. We’ll let you know if anything changes.” She ended the call abruptly.

He grumbled to himself as he impatiently waited for the elevator to reach the fourteenth floor — heart still pounding in his chest. “Jack, try calling them again and let them know about—” He almost said the body. Grim-faced, he continued. “Ms. Hinkle.”

When they got to his office, he went over to the window to look out on the grounds. “Jack, a drink please.”

“Mind if I join you?”

William raised an eyebrow. They’d always maintained a cordial but distant relationship.  “Sure, go ahead. Grab a bottle of Scotch out of that case Lalux Corp. sent over last week.” It would cost more than a case of booze to buy his support, but at least their gifts were getting more extravagant.

The roar of the aerotank taking off from the roof vibrated the unprotected windows. Still quivering from the adrenaline coursing through his body, it came into view overhead and maneuvered over the crowd. His assistant nudged his arm and passed him the drink. Jack’s hand shook far more than his own. “Take it easy Jack.”

“How can you be so calm?”

Calm? Scared out of his mind was more like it, not that he would ever let anyone see it. He gave a casual wave with the drink. “It was only a little explosion.” Ice rattled against the glass, and he turned away from Jack.

“Right, sir. A bit closer and we’d only be a little dead.”

The sickly pink light coming from the aerotank’s stunner field engulfed the crowd. It flew back and forth over the grounds ensuring everyone was knocked out. More WG military teams landed within minutes of the incident, and uniformed soldiers swarmed the property.

For the rest of the afternoon, WG soldiers ran scanners outside the building and into every office, looking for more explosives. The Jin field shutdown was still a mystery, but chemical interrogation would eventually unmask whoever was responsible. After two annoying hours of cowering in his office, they were both hungry, tired, and a little drunk by the time they left New D.C.

###

William stared absently at the skyline as the hoverlimo cut through the thick ash swirling around the vehicle. It flew over the Colorado spruce trees at a frightening speed, making maneuvers only an artificial intelligence would dare. He wanted to have Jack cancel his attendance at tomorrow’s meeting, but since he was the head of the committee, it was a bad idea. The last time he let Senator Orzo run a meeting in his absence, the man wasted an hour asking questions about the psychological merits of using female voices for the artificial intelligences instead of male.

Jack straightened his jacket. “Do you think that attack was meant for you?”

“Me personally? Nah. Just another stab at the faceless government drones that are destroying their lives.”

“You aren’t faceless.”

William cut him off. “I know. Just a joke.” He leaned back and stretched out his legs. “Ms. Hinkle mentioned something about Dr. Ritter making a statement. Have you seen it?” A shiver ran up his spine, picturing her blood-soaked body.

The Future Earth committee’s mandate was to find solutions to recommend to the WG President concerning the increasing breakdown of the Earth’s environment. The accident Doctors Norling and Ritter caused began the problem over a hundred years ago, but it had gotten exponentially worse in the past few decades. What scientists had thought of as a minor shock to the Indo-Australian tectonic plate became something more severe over time.

Jack chewed on a nail. “He didn’t send it to your office. Do you want me to find it?”

“No. Nevermind.” He didn’t need suggestions from a man so despised by the world that “ritter” along with “norg” were frequently used as curses. “The committee has been going in circles long enough. It’s decision time.”

He was sick of it. Day after day, he listened to an assortment of scientific experts and plans from their companies to fix the world. Meanwhile, entire populations died on a daily basis due to volcanic eruptions, floods, earthquakes, disease, and starvation. He spent the past year thinking he’d heard every crazy idea until someone stood up and threw another one at him.

At least thirty different companies tried to bribe him into supporting the plans only they could provide the world. Ten different lobbyists succeeded in providing him with campaign donations just so the companies they represented would be allowed to present an idea to the committee. Then there were the two lobbyists who gave him confidential investment advice to get even more companies on the list of presenters. He didn’t think of those last two as bribes. That was just an ordinary part of politics.

        Pulling a brandy bottle from the storage bin, William poured. “What’s the most insane idea presented to our committee since we started?”

Jack eyed the drink as if he was ready to ask for one but didn’t. “My personal favorite was the two billion credits Nihongi Corp. asked for so they could study time travel solutions.”

William snorted a short laugh. “Yeah, that was ballsy of them.”

“How about Dr. Nolan’s idea to build domed cities for everyone to live inside? We already have smaller domed locations.”

“Hmm.” He sipped at the brandy. “Not totally out of the question, now that the population has been cut from twenty-one, down to twelve billion. But it still doesn’t address feeding everyone or the stability of the land the domes would sit on.”

Nodding in agreement, Jack said, “Why do you ask?”

“The President will need a decision soon. We need to offer up a rational, doable, and economical solution. The longer we wait, the more people die. There will come a point when the World Government collapses and then it will be too late to do anything meaningful on a large scale.” He rolled the glass between his hands. “I think I know which one I’m going to push. However, I think if we present it to him with a few of the more outlandish ideas, it will seem more rational in comparison.”

“Seems like a great way to decide the fate of the world.”

“Don’t get snotty.” Perhaps Jack drank more back in the office than was good for him. “I want you to dig through all of the committee notes. Pick out four ideas that seem good but have an obvious flaw.”

“Yes, sir.” The ride continued for another thirty minutes before Jack finally asked, “So, which one are you planning to recommend?”

The ground zipped by while his mind wandered, considering the various implications of the question. He didn’t like to give away information, even to Jack. The man had WG security clearance, but he didn’t need to know any details yet.

“Sorry Jack, I think… I think, for the time being, I need to be closed mouthed about it. It would be too easy for someone to jump into the right companies and drive up the stock prices. When I first make my recommendation, it’s going to have to be one on one with the President. Then we can announce it worldwide if he accepts it as a viable plan we can take to a general vote.” Switching to a lighter tone, he said, “Besides, if one of your selections includes the idea I’m planning on going with, I want to hear the flaw you point out.” His assistant didn’t have the influence to merit profiting in what would be the biggest government project ever.   

 

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