Tag Archives: literature

340. Federated Space Service

Regular readers will note that posts now come later in the day.

A week ago today, Cyan was delivered to those who preordered from Amazon, and went on regular sale. If you’ve read past the opening segment, you know that the explorers who returned to Earth found it greatly changed.

From Cyan: All seemed well, on the surface, but something profound was happening to the people of Earth. They were waking up to reality. When interstellar exploration had begun, few had taken it seriously. Now the process was flushed with success, and that success carried the seeds of its own downfall.

Suddenly, all over Earth, people who had been indifferent to space travel, except to mutter about a waste of resources, became truly aware of what was happening. And they didn’t like it. In the vague common mind of the beast, numbers began to move in slow, painful calculations.

A few thousand colonists; billions of the rest of us.

They — the rich, the powerful, the smart, the educated, the lucky — they will go to the stars and walk the green valleys of paradise. We — the downtrodden, the ordinary, the workers, the plodders, the ones who really make things happen, the ones who always get screwed — in short, you and me. We will stay behind.

In the general elections of 2103, and in a hundred scattered elections and revolutions in 2104, the people of Earth turned on their leaders and said with a loud voice that the spacers who brought in the ore from the belt, and the workers of L-5, and especially those who were finding new worlds, were no longer heroic friends but dangerous enemies. They would no longer be given freedom to do as they pleased, but would be harnessed to the common good.

This was the Earth Darwin returned to in 2105. When Tasmeen signaled Ganymede Station, she received a taped reply.

“Welcome home, Darwin. You will find the language of this year somewhat different from when you left. When the Dog Star returned in 2088, we found that it would be best to train comtechs in the jargon of your departure year, and that is the reason for this tape.

“The biggest change you will have to be ready for is that NASA no longer exists … because after the general elections of 2103 the people of North America decided to combine all space efforts into one military organization. You are all now members of the Federated Space Service.”

Tasmeen said, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

– – – – – – – – – – –

In point of fact, on our world, the war between NASA and the Air Force began on October 1. 1958, the day NASA came into existence and began to encroach on Air Force prerogatives. We’ll look at some of those early battles this week.

Raven’s Run 134

That’s how I came to be sitting on the back bumper of the Pinto wagon with the gate up, in dubious shade. The day was hot, nearly one hundred, with an oceanic heaviness to the air that is unusual for California. Brassy blue sky, cougar colored grass, pale dusty live oaks throwing dark pools shade. I was fifty yards from the nearest tree. Under that tree was a forest green pickup. In the back of the pickup, Ed was waiting with a rifle. Further up the valley, Barton sat on a folding chair outside the panel truck with a rifle across his knees. I had talked Cabral into waiting inside, out of sight.

Davis arrived in a Lincoln Town Car. It pulled up in a swirl of dust and lurched to a stop. A lean young black man got out from behind the wheel. Despite the heat, he was wearing a 49ers windbreaker to cover his gun. He left the motor and air conditioning running and walked over to me. He circled the Pinto, looking in. I let him. Then he said, “Step away from the car.”

“Why?”

I knew why, but it was not the right time to let him think he could give orders.

“You want this meeting or not?”

Not needing to push the point, I walked away with him about twenty feet. 

He looked at me, and looked over my shoulder to where Ed had his rifle half raised. It was a touchy situation, and he was feeling it. He said, “I gotta search you.”

I nodded and he did a quick and efficient frisk. Then he said, “Wait here,” and went back to report that I wasn’t armed or wired.

In this slow, deliberate unfolding of negotiations, there was plenty of time for fear. Here was a man whose son I had killed. No matter how this meeting came out, I had business with him that would not be completed soon or easily.

The young man came back and said, “We are going to drive over by that tree. You walk over, okay?”

“No. You want to chose a spot where we won’t have a microphone planted. That’s all right. I expected that. But not out of rifle range.”

“You scared?”

“Don’t try to talk for yourself. You’re just an errand boy. Go ask your boss.”

“Look man . . .”

I spoke over him. “Don’t waste my time. Just trot on back over there and relay the message.”

He didn’t like it, but he took it, because he was an errand boy. A tough errand boy. He wasn’t scared of me. He might be scared of Davis.

I scrubbed my hands up over my face, pushing the sweat back behind my ears. My clothes were wet through and the sun was relentless. The driver got back in and drove up. The window on the back right went down with a low, electric whine and I got my first look at Cameron Davis. more tomorrow

Raven’s Run 133

Chapter Thirty-five

We sent a list of Cameron Davis’ properties to his house, with no note and no signature. That would get his attention. Another letter would follow, demanding a meeting. I went back to Eureka to wait. Ed got busy making arrangements to pull this stunt off without getting us all killed. Daniel Cabral flew back from France. 

Four days later, I met Ed in Garberville and followed him out of town. He drove toward the Davis mansion, then turned off a mile short and lead me by a narrow dirt road to where a panel truck was parked on a hill overlooking a broad valley. Oaks and a few redwoods were scattered across the landscape.

There was a dish antenna on top of the panel truck. A middle aged man with a rifle was waiting for us, relaxed but ready. He nodded as we approached and said, “I’m Barton.”

“FBI?”

“I’m on vacation.”

“Don’t you guys ever work for a living?”

He just grinned and motioned toward the truck. Ed and I went inside. Senator Cabral was waiting; he shook hands and said, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“I’m sure. Are you sure you should be here?”

“No. Politically, this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. But I’m not Richard Nixon. I don’t send people out to do things I wouldn’t do myself.”

I had to admire that. He had a lot more to lose than I did. But maybe he had even more to gain. “You should at least stay in the truck,” I said. “It doesn’t make any sense for you to talk to Davis face to face. We are here to use leverage on him, not give him a lever to use on you.”

“I will let you begin the meeting. If Davis sends a messenger, send him away. If Davis actually shows up, I want to see him.

“Ed,” Cabral added, “please step outside for a moment.”

Wilkes nodded and withdrew. The Senator studied me for a minute, then said, “Ian, why are you doing this?”

I shrugged. It wasn’t something I wanted to talk about. I just said, “For Raven.”

“Even though she ran off on you?”

I nodded.

“Do you love her that much?”

“God damn it, is this the right time for this conversation?”

“I am her father,” he said simply.

There wasn’t much I could say to that, except, “I love her.”

“Enough for this?”

“Enough to protect her.”

“And to live with her?”

“For as long as we could stand each other. I don’t know if that would be a week or a lifetime.”

“She needs you,” he said. “She may run from you, but she needs you. Those pasty boys she finds . . .” He made a gesture of disgust. “They are not enough for her. She needs more. She needs a genuine man; a serious man. A man of honor.” more tomorrow

Raven’s Run 132

“And then what?”

“He goes to jail. Susyn and Alan go to jail.”

“When? How soon do they go to jail? How certain are you of a conviction, and how long will it take to complete the trial? What about bail? What about hiring outside help from inside prison? Ed, what are we trying to do here? Make a bust, or make Raven safe?”

“Don’t get mad at me, Gunn. I didn’t cause this situation.”

“Then think, man. What is our objective here? Let’s keep that in clear focus.”

I stopped talking and drummed my fingers on the table. I had gotten loud. The problem was, I was getting mad. Not a quick, adrenaline anger that comes and goes, but the kind of mad that builds up over weeks and months until it gnaws away inside of you and makes you do violent things that are not normally in your nature. I wanted Skinny Alan right here in this room so I could take him apart with my bare hands. And I wanted this Cameron Davis that I had never met, who hid in the shadows and pulled the strings; who hired Chicano punks to wait for me at Jacks’ office and sent a henchman to burn me up in my sleep. And I wanted Susyn for lying to me and causing me to betray Raven. 

And deep down I was mad at Raven for leaving me.

I fought it off. It was not useful to me now. I put that anger away, deep down in the sub-basement of my soul, where so many other angers are already stored. A day will come. But not today. Today I had to find a way to let my enemies live, so that Raven could live. It would not be satisfying, but it was necessary.

But someday, someone was going to pay. Where or when, I didn’t know, but I would not forget.

“What I propose,” I said finally, “is to leave the old man in place. If we attack his position, Raven will still be in danger. She is a witness to two attempted murders. Cameron Davis might be able to avoid prosecution for that, but Susyn and Alan can’t. We’ve got to show the old man what we have, threaten to bust him wide open, and offer to leave him in place if he calls off his dogs.”

“I don’t think he got where he is by being scared of threats.”

“No,” I said, “not a threat. A negotiation. I’ll have to show him his alternatives and convince him that leaving us alone is the only thing that benefits him. The timing is right. Harvest is in three months. If he gets busted now, even if he escapes prosecution it will cost him millions. After harvest, we could not do him nearly so much harm.”

“How do we get to him?”

“The only way – face to face. And not we. Me.”

Ed shrugged. “It might work. Assuming he is rational.”

“Yes. There’s always that.”

“But we have to tell the senator.”

“No.”

“Yes. There is no other way, if you want my help. And you can’t pull this off by yourself.”

I just looked at him. “Then you’d better convince him,” I said evenly. “I’ve been lied to and betrayed, threatened with gun and knife, beat up, slashed, and firebombed. I’ll let that go, if I have to. But if I can’t protect Raven any other way, I’ll get a rifle and start hunting, and if I do that there are going to be dead Davises all over Humbolt county!” more tomorrow

337. The Year Without a summer

The Little Ice Age (yesterday’s post) was vague and questionable in its outlines and origin. The Year Without a Summer was precisely delineated, and there is no question of how it came about. It was the result of volcanic activity.

There is, however, a smaller mystery. In 1808, a very large eruption took place, but no westerner saw it. It is memorialized in ice samples from Greenland and Antarctica, and scientific detective work places the eruption somewhere between Tonga and Indonesia. It began a period of northern hemispheric cooling.

Then in 1815, the largest and most destructive volcanic eruption in human history took place at Mount Tambora in what is now Indonesia. The explosion was heard 1600 miles away. (Krakatoa, a better known eruption in the same region in 1883, was less intense.) Between the mystery eruption of 1808 and the Mount Tambora eruption of 1815, the second decade of the 1800s became the coldest on record. 1816 became known as The Year Without a Summer.

(As always seems the case with science, nothing is simple. 1816 fell within the Little Ice Age and was also associated with a low in the cycle of sunspots. If you really want to understand, I suggest a Ph.D. and a lifetime of study. That will give you some answers and a cartload of more sophisticated questions.)

The Year Without a Summer was disastrous. Crops, which had already been bad, probably because of the 1808 eruption, failed. Famine was everywhere in Europe, followed by typhus. There were massive storms and floods; an estimated 200,000 died in Europe.

In America, the northeast was hit hardest. Frosts continued through the summer. In August ice floated on Pennsylvania rivers. Snow fell in June in Massachusetts. Food was scarce and in 1816 there was no way to move it from less affected regions to those hardest hit. That year and shortly after, masses of northeasterners moved to the midwest, swelling the populations of Indiana and Illinois.

The event left echoes in literature. In 1816 Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, J. W. Polidori and others were storm bound together in a villa overlooking Lake Geneva. A contest of writing ghost stories ensued. Byron wrote a fragment, which Polidori later turned into the first vampire story (The Vampyre), Mary Shelley began what later evolved into Frankenstein, and Byron also wrote Darkness, a long poem inspired by the lightless days.

Here is a bit of that poem, which brings back memories of those old science fiction stories from my youth when the glaciers moved in to destroy humanity.

The crowd was famish’d by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap’d a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they rak’d up,
And shivering scrap’d with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame

Raven’s Run 131

“There is a regular complex of buildings right in the center of that three hundred acres.”

“His processing and storage facility.”

“What else?”

“You didn’t notify anybody official, I hope.”

“Don’t talk dirty. But I can in five minutes, if the senator gives the word.”

“Don’t do it. We need to talk first. And don’t contact Cabral.”

“Why not?” Ed was instantly suspicious.

“Because he has to think about moral consequences and political consequences as well as Raven’s welfare. There are things he wouldn’t do. You and I don’t have to be so careful.”

“There are things I won’t do, too,” Ed said.

“How soon can you get to Garberville?”

“Maybe four hours?”

“Meet me at my motel room at noon.”

*          *          *

I spent the morning wandering around the marina, enjoying the yachts and fishing boats, and drowsing in the sun. I tried not to think about Raven. Sometimes I succeed for ten minutes at a time. Then I headed back toward Garberville. It was a nice drive. Midweek traffic was fairly light and the road wound through heavily forested hills. I was in a pretty good mood. 

It didn’t last.

*          *          *

I pulled into the motel parking lot, braked, put the Pinto in reverse, and backed out again, all in one motion. Good reflexes made it look like I had only used the place for a U turn. 

The cops who were gathered in front what what had been my motel room only glanced up, and I mentally thanked Joe Dias for keeping such dull and unlikely cars in his stable.

The place had been firebombed.

The motel rooms had been strung out in a row, single story, along the parking lot. I had only had a brief look, but there wasn’t much left of the unit I had been staying in, and the units on either side had been badly damaged as well.

If I hadn’t taken a day off to recover from my pot hangover, I would be dead.

*          *          *

Because he was FBI, Ed Wilkes had a phone in his car, so a pay phone call to Cabral’s headquarters rerouted him. I waited at the first off ramp south of Garberville, parked in the meager shade of a live oak and listened to the endless rubber hissing of the freeway. Within ten minutes, a tan Buick took the exit and rolled in beside me. I motioned to Ed to follow and went back south down highway 101. It took twenty miles to satisfy me that we were not being followed. Then I took an exit and we went into a roadside restaurant for lunch and a council of war.

I brought Ed up to date on the details of my investigation. He raised an eyebrow at my breaking and entering. The FBI can’t do things like that. At least, they can’t admit it. Finally, he said, “I don’t understand your hesitation. We have what we need. Let’s call in the troops and put him away. Him and his whole family.”

“And then what?” I asked. more tomorrow

Raven’s Run 130

I took a change of clothing and went out to the car. The world had stopped spinning, and a meal would go a long way toward quieting my headache, but what I needed most was to be in another town, seeing different scenery and thinking different thoughts. I drove north toward Eureka. 

Fifty miles made a lot of difference. Here the highway skirted the coast; the air was cool and foggy. High clouds obscured the sun and there was a smell of the sea in the air. I found a rustic motel near the center of town and checked in, then spent the rest of the afternoon and evening walking off the excesses of the night before. 

Eureka was one of those towns that had gotten rich and then lost it. It was full of Victorian houses, built during the lumber boom, that had fallen on hard times and were now being restored. The atmosphere was laid back, with an odd mix of northwoods outdoorsman and post-hippie boutique. Underlying it all was the hardscrabble economic reality of boom and bust lumbering and commercial fishing. It gave the place an edge. I liked it.

I watched the sun set behind a fog bank, then went back to the motel. I left my new number with Cabral’s office manager so Ed could find me, and turned in early.

The phone rang at seven the next morning. Ed came on and said, “Touch me, Ian, I can walk on water.”

“Congratulations,” I replied, with some sarcasm.

“I mean, I’ve performed miracles.”

“Good for you. Tell me.”

“Like you said, Cameron Davis only owns one piece of property in Humbolt county. It’s the house he lives in. Its a mansion, really, secluded and well guarded and I would bet that no one who comes near it is allowed to have even a pot seed in his pants cuff. The man really keeps himself separated from his work.”

“That’s what Johnson said.”

“I checked the surrounding counties. Just like you suspected, nothing. Then I started our troops looking for pieces of land owned by corporations. I could give you a list, but take my word for it, Cameron Davis has kept half the lawyers in northern California busy. We found thirty-two corporations which owned land and were themselves fully owned subsidiaries of another eight corporations. Those eight were all owned by another three corporations. Those three were owned by a single corporation called Davicam, which was owned by . . .”

He was in a better mood than I was. When I didn’t feed him a straight line, he finished lamely, “By Cameron Davis.” 

“There’s more?”

“Yes. Altogether, Davis owns ninety-six pieces of land, not counting the seventeen you found that his kids and in-laws own. There may be more. I’d say we’ve got him. All of Davis’ land is in small parcels except one. He owns a three hundred acre section of open oak woodland near Willits. According to topographic maps, there is only a shack near the road, but I wondered. Why own a hundred small parcels and only one with a real perimeter? So I contacted a friend of mine in the CIA. He and Daniel and I helped BTF on a case ten years ago. He got me satellite photos of the place and guess what. There is a regular complex of buildings right in the center of that three hundred acres.”

Of course today any six year old kid with a smart phone can get satellite photos. Just Google it. In 1989 only the military had that capacity. more tomorrow

*****

Obviously that last paragraph wasn’t in the original written in the early nineties, but was added for this 2016 flashback version.