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Doctor Whitman scanned his itinerary for the day's activities. At eight he had a meeting with Representative Chuikov, recognized leader of the Uncommitted Collation of States. This interview was important, without their support it would be impossible to win the necessary number of votes. He just hoped Chuikov was coming with an open mind and not to inform him that his proposal would not be supported.
Continuing to scan he froze on the appointment for ten. It read, Zan Suttir, discussion and photo-op. He had forgotten he had agreed to meet with the Honorable Zan Suttir, President of the Unified People of Faith. His religious organization had grown from obscurity to boasting ten percent of the world's population in eight short years. Whitman knew the discussion would be a lecture on overpopulation and the sins of the Second Age of Mankind.
Activating his intercom, he dryly said, "Walter, please come here."
He heard the quick reply, "Right away, Minister."
Walter Pike had been Doctor Whitman's assistant for four years. Many saw the position as a dead-end for his career, always in the shadow of the great man, but Pike saw it as an opportunity to serve under one of the most brilliant of all human minds.
"Tell me my ten o'clock is a mistake."
"No, sir, it's correct. You have allotted thirty minutes for discussion and for a few pictures to be taken."
Whitman managed a smile. "I know but I hoped Suttir would cancel."
"Sorry, sir, no such luck." Pike added, "His support could make the work ahead easier."
"That would betrue if he supported our endeavors but I don't think it fits into his doctrine."
"Who's better than you to convince him otherwise, Doctor Whitman?"
The older man smiled. "Well we'll see, but I want one thing clear. I'll sit for the pictures but I will not answer any questions from the press. Somehow the reporters at his news conferences always seem to be of the same mindset as the illustrious Suttir."
"I'll make sure of it, sir, no questions."
"Good then, and let me know before Representative Chuikov arrives. I wish to greet him in my private study. I want his visit to be as pleasant as possible."
"Yes, sir, I'll notify you know as soon as he enters the building." Pike retraced his steps to his office.
At the appointed time his guest was escorted into the study and Whitman reached his hand out to him. "Welcome, Representative Chuikov, I am pleased we could have this time together before tomorrow's vote."
"It's my pleasure, Doctor Whitman, and I am glad you agreed to meet with me here in your office. The Congress, while a secure place, has its, let's say, sources of gossip."
The two men sat down in comfortable chairs which did not face each other. To do so would be a break in proper political protocol. "Don't you think this meeting will generate its own share of gossip?"
"Perhaps, but not at the same level of interest as it would if conducted in Congressional Hall."
"I would think with tomorrow's vote, any contact with me would generate a lot of debate and scrutiny."
Chuikov smiled and replied, "That's very true so let's get to the matter of why I requested this meeting. I know our time is short. As the head of the Uncommitted Collation, my colleagues have entrusted me to make the correct decision. They have agreed to follow whatever action I deem proper. It's quite a burden and I hope to make the right one."
"I can empathize with you on having to make such a decision," responded Whitman.
"I believe you can." Chuikov looked directly at his host. "Doctor, you are respected by the leadership in Congress which is demonstrated by their willingness to allow you to speak before the vote. I too hold you in high regard. As Minister for Resource Allocation, you have taken the fiasco of your predecessor and turned it into a well run and proper arm of the government."
"Thank you." Whitman shifted in his chair so he could look into his guest's eyes. "What is it you require of me?"
"Your directness is most refreshing." Chuikov's countenance turned grave. "If we are to spend ten percent of the world's GNP for the next thirty years on this venture, I must know that it is worthwhile."
Sliding forward in his chair, Whitman offered, "The Earth is bankrupt as far as natural resources go. We have pulled every bit of metal and mineral reasonably possible from it. If it wasn't for the Spacers mining the asteroids, our society would have collapsed long ago. People have no dreams and hope is fading. Organizations like UPF have skyrocketed with the promise of an answer.
"Sending a few million humans to Plymouth will not fix the problem but it will give the people hope for the future. That hope will allow us the time to make adjustments here so there is a future. In addition, a seed of humanity will have a chance to begin anew in the Alpha Centauri System. Do I believe it's worth it? You bet I do."
Chuikov sat for a time considering the man's words. "It's a slim thread to hang so much hope on. All the people on Earth will suffer if the allocations necessary to build fifty giant arks capable of carrying two hundred thousand people apiece is made available." He stopped and shook his head. "Even when I speak of it, I am overcome by the immensity of the task and question its value."
"You're right, the thread is thin, but even a thin thread can lead one out of the darkest place. The cost will be high; I don't deny that. A world similar to our own has been confirmed just four-point-three light years away. We have the technology to send people there, but do we have the resolve?"
"That is the question, isn't it? Do we have the resolve necessary to undertake such a project?" Looking at his watch, Chuikov rose. "Our time is nearly up. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow before Congress. I am sure you will inspire us all."
Whitman shook the man's hand and as they headed for the door, he asked, "Representative Chuikov, may I ask how you will vote?"
The man stopped and looked at his host. "I honestly don't know." With that, he left.
Whitman returned to his office and wondered if he had influenced the man's opinion. He knew Chuikov was honest in his response. The effort would put a hardship on the people of Earth and for those who remained, there would be little if any return on their sacrifice. Since the voyage required twenty-three years one way, there was no chance of trade between the two planets and with the Spacers working the Sol System, no need. In essence, the only tangible results would be the colonists and their success would be far from assured. A million things could go wrong and bring disaster. The simple fact humanity could do this might reignite the fires of the imagination; perhaps this ability would show that anything was still possible with resolve and purpose.
A short buzz brought Whitman back to the present. "Minister, Mister Suttir is here."
Taking a deep breath, he replied, "Bring him in."
As the door opened, Pike stepped aside for a tall man, maybe six-foot-five, to enter. He wore a broad smile and extended his hand toward the minister. "Doctor Whitman, it is so good to see you."
Whitman reached out and took the hand. "I am pleased to see you, Mister Suttir."
With the smile still in place, the man corrected, "Doctor, not mister."
"Ah, hum, yes, Doctor," responded the minister. Directing Suttir to have a seat, he asked, "What exactly can I do for you?"
Suttir eyed him for a moment still wearing the smile. "I think it's better to ask what can we do for each other. As you are aware, our organization includes twenty percent of the world's population."
"Oh? My last numbers showed ten percent," interrupted Whitman.
"Government intelligent reports are always wrong, but no matter. We agree with most of your proposals and we admire the work you have done to correct the, let's say, the mistakes of your predecessor."
"Thank you for your words, but what can we do for each other?"
The smile grew even more, a feat Whitman thought impossible.
"As you understand, we need to reduce the world's population. As a species, we have failed miserably as good stewards for the Earth. The All," Suttir took his slightly curved hand and passed it before his face, "gave us wisdom and we have perverted it and we now pay the price for that disobedience. The price of waywardness is manifested in the actions of these anarchists. They know something is wrong with our society and strike out with violence. Mark my words, their brutality will continue to grow and the government will be unable to curtail it.
"Look at us. We live underground, while the beauties of the open areas aboveground are required to grow food and produce oxygen to sustain us. Many have never seen the stars, moon, or sun except on videos. People are driven to despair and desperate acts. We give the people bread and a circus to curb their anger." Whitman looked confused at the last remark.
Suttir explained, "Certainly you know the story of old Rome when it swelled to more than one million inhabitants with no work or food and the city became a powder keg just waiting to explode. The emperor imported bread from the outer empire to feed the people and a circus to keep them from focusing on their misery. Order was maintained but because they failed to address the real problem, Rome still collapsed in the end. Bread and the circus distracted all, including the government, from what really was going on.
"Today we import goods from the Spacers and they need less and less in exchange. They hold us in disdain for our current state. Once they were the orphans in need of a handout; today it is us who sit with empty palms begging for a morsel. It's only a matter of time before we can no longer give out free bread and a circus and share in Rome's fate."
Whitman wondered if the circus the other referred to was his proposal to build the space arks. "What you say may be true but that still doesn't explain how we can be of mutual aid."
"As you are aware, our faith regards the decline of our species as beginning with the commencement of the Second Age of Mankind in the year 1952. We believe it was in that year humanity turned from the will of the great All." Suttir made the sign before his face. "There were two billion six hundred million people on Earth at that time and now we have sixty billion. Our faith tells us that the population in 1952 is the perfect number and we should return to it if we are to have harmony with the All." Once more the man made the sign.
He continued, "I know you agree with population reduction and if you will bring our words before the World Congress, perhaps its leadership will begin to take our warning seriously."
Whitman sat back in his chair. "I agree that something must be done to reduce the world population, but from sixty to two-plus billion? Why that's not realistic. Such a thing would entail that childbirth be denied to the majority of the population. I'm not sure people would stand for it. Today we have a few radical anarchists but what you are proposing will result in a full revolt of the populace. It's just not realistic."
The smile finally faded from Suttir's face. "No more unrealistic than your fleet of arks going to a new world." The man moved forward. "We will support your goal if you will do this one thing for us. Think about it, and if you agree, before tomorrow's meeting, all of the world's representatives will receive nine billion messages in support of the arks. So what do you say?"
Whitman knew this could be the push he needed but he would not ally himself with this man or his group. "Doctor Suttir, I thank you for your offer but can only propose this in return. I will mention your organization as a supporter for population reduction but that is all I can do."
The smile returned to Suttir's face. "I will take your word in good faith and tell our people to add their voices in support of your efforts."
Whitman was taken aback by the swiftness with which Suttir had offered his support. There had to be more than a simple acknowledgement of the goals of the UPF required for Suttir's support, but he couldn't imagine what it was. There was nothing else Suttir had Whitman needed and once the organization had thrown its support behind him, he could ignore any additional request from his visitor.
Still pondering the ease of the other's concurrence, Whitman sat as Suttir rose and said, "If we could go to the foyer for photos." The two men walked side by side to the photographers. They shook hands and smiled at the cameras. Then Suttir separated from Whitman and turned to the news people. From out of nowhere he produced a microphone.
"Doctor Whitman has asked that I speak for both of us. He and I are in accord regarding the issue of population reduction. The day has come for mankind to heed the warnings of the All." Once again he made the sign. "We support his efforts to send a seed of our species to a new world and our people look forward to being a part of that journey." With that, the interview was over and after one final handshake, Suttir disappeared with the crowd of reporters in hot pursuit.
Whitman stood there red-faced with anger. He had been maneuvered into showing what appeared to be support for Suttir and his movement. It was too late for him to do anything about it now but he would get his chance to rebuke the claims.
After returning to the confines of his office, Pike brought him a cup of tea. At the sight of his assistant, Doctor Whitman exploded, "That opportunist, he maneuvered the whole thing just to get the two of us together in front of the cameras. By the end of the day, every news service on the planet will show us shaking hands and him telling everyone of our accord."
"Well, sir, he'll be made out to be a liar once you rebuke him."
The man squinted as if in pain. "That's the strange thing. He knows that. So why would he do it?"
"Maybe he's not as smart as we give him credit for."
"That's how it appears but I'm convinced Suttir didn't rise to where he is by being stupid." The older man looked at his assistant and smiled. "In any case, we have his support for building the arks." Without replying, Pike left and returned to his office.
Doctor Whitman continued to prepare for his speech before the World Congress. At six p.m., he pushed back from his desk and declared it was time for them to go home. "Walter, be sure to bring my speech tomorrow."
"Don't worry, sir, I've got it."
"Good, now go home," he commanded. Pike picked up a few items and said good bye to the minister.
Whitman remained for a few minutes longer and then headed for his quarters. As he exited, he couldn't help but notice the efforts taken to make the surroundings appear to be out-of-doors. Along the walkway, trees grew and carefully manicured grass reached up from a strip of green. Looking up, he could see the roof of the chamber some two-thousand feet above his head. It was illuminated to appear as open sky. At this time of day, the illumination was thirty percent less than at midday but Whitman had never been able to discern the difference.
The structures reached toward the top of the chamber, terminating some five hundred feet below it. Extending upward from there, large columns continued to support the roof.
New Edinburgh was the center of the world government. Like the majority of the subterranean dwellings, it carried the name of some now dismantled city from the past. Just as geographical divisions carried old national names, most habitations preferred links to a time when humanity lived on the surface, now the domain of a few. Except for the agrarians whose job it was to care for the vast mechanized farms, the rest of the human race lived below the surface in self-imposed exile from the sun. Whitman thought, This is the price for not heeding the warning of uncontrolled population growth.
Whitman mused how humans still needed continuity with the past, even when it was only illusionary. He followed a split in the walkway that went around the outer edge of the level. Peering over the rail, he could see a drop of twelve stories to the bottom of this level. Below that floor, began the next chamber and below that, a third. Supercooling units kept temperatures at nearly a mile beneath the surface at a level suitable for life.
As he walked, he thought about his conversation with Suttir and his views on the condition of humanity. It existed in many such chambers, while above great fields of grain grew to feed the billions. It had been necessary to turn the surface of the planet into farms for food and for plants designed to release high levels of oxygen. From space, the Earth looked as pristine as it did before technology had shaped it, but that was an illusion, just as the temperature, the sky, and the trees that lined the walk were illusions.
Beneath the surface, throngs of people still honored national pride, referring to themselves as French, Chinese, or North Americans. The world used its old political terms and honored illusionary national boundaries, while the real authority rested in the Congress of the United Governments of Earth. It made and enforced laws and therefore, was the real power.
Continuing his walk, he partially listened to a news-vid reporting anarchists had damaged a power grid in the Spanish Republic resulting in mass panic. Whitman disagreed with Suttir's methods but he couldn't argue that order was unraveling. Entropy would not be denied and chaos would continue to grow until order failed. He didn't know when or how, but he knew it would come.
Whitman stopped before the lift and waited for its arrival and the ride to his quarters. He was deep in thought as an arm reached around him and locked tight to his chest. Trying to break the hold, he found it like steel.
His antagonist pulled him over to the rail and flung both of them into the abyss. Whitman was stunned by the action but was more surprised by the words the man whispered into his ear as they fell, "May the All receive your soul."
As Pike entered his home, his phone beeped. Tapping its face, he said, "Hello."
"Walter, have you heard?" He recognized the voice and image of Kathie Atwater, one of Doctor Whitman's aides. He also detected a strangeness in her tone.
"Heard what? Is something wrong?"
"Turn on your vid."
He spoke in a clear voice, "Vid on." The wall became alive as the screen showed a newscaster with a group of people behind her. "Sound up thirty percent," he commanded.
"The identity of the assailant has not been determined but DNA samples are being analyzed and we will bring that information to you as soon as available. To repeat, Doctor Abraham Whitman, Minister for Resource Allocation, has been assassinated in an apparent murder-suicide. He and his attacker fell more than fifty meters to their deaths. From an eyewitness account, the assailant grabbed Doctor Whitman and forced both of them over a railing killing the minister instantly on impact."
Pike went cold, standing and staring at the screen without hearing or seeing.
Atwater shouted, "Walter, Walter, are you there?"
Slowly, he began to react. "Yes, I'm here."
"It terrible. Why would anyone do such a thing?"
He didn't try to respond but knew immediately what he must do. "Kathie, are you still at the Ministry?"
"Good, call all the senior staff. Have them to return to the Ministry for a meeting in one hour, no make that two. We've got work to do." Ending the call, Pike was overcome with emotions and as quick as they came, he forced them back. There would be plenty of time to grieve but if they were to save Doctor Whitman's dream, grief would have to wait.
Pike managed to avoid the mass of reporters at the Ministry by entering through a lower level service door. He moved quickly up the stairs and to the office area. Even though the guards knew him they challenged him at each station for an ID scan. This actually made him feel safer. It could be that they all were targets.
As he entered what had been Doctor Whitman's meeting room, Pike was greeted by eight broken individuals. Questions of how this could have happened or who could have done such a thing prevailed. He knew he needed to focus their energies and attention.
"We'll know the answers to those questions in time, but that's the one thing we don't have much of right now. If we hope to salvage Doctor Whitman's work, we must focus on it for the next few hours."
They all agreed the speech must go forward and that Pike should be the one to give it in Doctor Whitman's name. They all planned to contact certain representatives and reinforce the importance of supporting the measure. It was late when the group dispersed and Pike returned to his quarters for a few hours of rest.
He awoke and dressed before placing the call to the President of Congress, Roberta Linstrum. "Yes, Madam President, it is a tragedy. Doctor Whitman was a great man who only wanted to do good."
"He will be missed and it will be very hard to find a replacement for him. That's why I want you to temporarily assume his duties."
"I will do what I can to honor him and will accept the role until a suitable replacement is found." Pike continued, "It's critical that his work continue and therefore, I must ask to give his speech for him before today's vote."
The president was silent as she considered what had been asked. "The representatives granted this honor to Doctor Whitman because of his service to the body. I'm not sure how they would react to you being given the same accord."
"That is why it must be done. He knew it was important for him to speak before the vote. I must ensure that his words are heard." He added a plea, "Please, Madam President, you can make sure of it, don't silence Doctor Whitman as the assassin has done."
After another slight pause, she said, "Very well, his voice will be heard."
Pike sat to one side of the speaker's platform. Behind it were the president's and the senior representative's chairs. The body had been called to order and President Linstrum rose to speak. "Members of this body," she began, "We have suffered a great loss. Doctor Abraham Whitman, one of the most respected members of this government and friend to us all was murdered by a member of the anarchist moment. This despicable act should weld our resolve to end their acts of terror." She stopped and dropped her head and then raising it continued, "But we will address that matter at a future time. First I wish to pay homage to Abraham with a moment of silence." She stopped and once more dropped her head. The entire body went silent.
Pike's emotions began to swell as they had done the night before and he forced them back once more. The next few minutes were important and he had to be in control of himself.
After the pause, President Linstrum began to speak again. "Even though he is gone, his words are still with us. He was to deliver a speech today regarding the building a fleet of arks to take humanity to a new world. The assassin may have silenced the body but not his words. Acting Minister, Doctor Walter Pike will speak for him and vocalize his thoughts and hopes for us." She turned to Pike and he rose and headed to the speaker's podium.
The silence was intimidating. There were two-hundred-fifteen representatives, their aides, and other officials in the chamber and the only thing he could hear was his own breathing. Crossing the distance to the podium, he placed the speech in its place and took a drink of water. Clearing his throat, he looked at the assembly before him. They sat expressionless watching him.
"Members of Congress," he began, "I am here with an impossible task. I will read the words and thoughts of Doctor Whitman but I will never be able to bring to you his passion and hopes for this project. I can only hope that what I say is enough." He presented the speech to the members and at its conclusion, he stopped and scanned the group. They remained without expression and Pike felt anger rise up within him. They appeared unmoved. He wasn't going to allow his mentor's to dream to end like this. If he had failed to convey the message as Whitman would have, then he would do it his own way.
"Doctor Whitman was my mentor, and he shared a hope for our future I was privileged to see through his eyes. Often, he would repeat the words of a twentieth century philosopher. 'The Earth is the cradle of mankind, but one can not remain in a cradle forever.' Doctor Whitman knew we took the first step from the cradle by colonizing our own solar system. The discovery of the planet around Alpha Centauri will allow humanity to leave the cradle forever.
"He knew we needed challenges to survive and that even beyond this, we need this new world so our kind will continue. Is the price high? The answer is yes. It is high but not as expensive as the cost of doing nothing. If we turn our backs on this opportunity, Doctor Whitman foresaw the death of humanity.
"We are moles, yes I will say it. We are moles as our space brothers call us because we have dug into the ground for our survival. Let us not bury our hopes and dreams in the sand too, leaving the rest exposed for destruction." He pointed toward the ceiling. "Hope is what drives our kind. Hope and faith in a better life is the promise of Doctor Whitman's words. That is his challenge and his legacy.
"Many claim that humanity on Earth is doomed and the Spacers are the future of our kind. Are we the Neanderthals of our species, or will we do as our ancestors did, accept the challenge and migrate to other fields? The choice is yours." He toward his chair. For a moment, silence prevailed but somewhere in the midst of the room, a clap was heard, followed by another and another until the chamber was filled with a roar. The representatives rose as Pike stood motionless by the chair.