Read an Excerpt
by George S Boughton
This novel puts forward new concepts in science in a fictional story. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents whether in a future context or otherwise are entirely the products of the author's imagination and/or used in a fictitious manner with no intent to cause any defamation or disrespect or any other harm to any actual persons or party whether living, dead or yet to come into being.
Copyright © 2012 George S Boughton
All rights reserved.
I knew Sashia would ‘rock’ in Hong Kong, Asia's World City, where the workplace 24/7 was anywhere ‘connected’ (and not in any communications dead–spot). This was just fine by her. Young and fresh to city life, she happily took to the open life of the streets — as a communal living room — where everyone lived, worked, mingled and shopped among café–bars, bistros and galleries, whatever the time of day or night. And as everyone else did she augmented her meagre income, from a job as a junior graphic designer, by waiting on tables or whatever else came her way — simply to pay her Lifestyle membership.
One of many such centres, Lifestyle provided large lockers for personal possessions, along with most of life's comforts — fitness facilities, changing rooms, domestic services, padded divans for lounging and sleeping on, first class airline style single and double bunks for privacy, crèches for kids, recreation areas, gardens and business rooms. Even schools were now connected with the centres, with open membership to sports grounds and other amenities. Since the explosion of ‘highly developed’ people in the 20's and 30's, with prosperity, health and longevity now shared by all, apartment living — where privilege anyway bought little more joy than sharing three or more to a room — became a faded memory to all but the truly privileged or those keen to raise a family the old way, despite crippling costs.
This city life, globalised for most of the planet's population capped at ten billion — an incredible ten–fold increase in the one billion highly developed people (out of seven billion) at the start of the millennium — meant ‘having it all’ simply wasn't possible, that is not without the outbreak of wars! To accommodate everyone to the same standard as the western half of the European Union in the 2010's, would have necessitated an impossibly huge increase in the planet's usable land of 100 to 150 million square kilometres (subject to the progress we were actually making in terraforming deserts), between Antarctica and the frozen taiga belt in the north.
According to Sashia's file, her zest for living, which still had her precariously clinging in my Marginal Prospect list, had shot this girl onto a new level, particularly when Fayez came along a couple of years back. This laid–back cockney of Eritrean Muslim ancestry, barely filling a worn beige pullover and frayed medium–size jeans, had enraptured her with his zany jazz.
Not long afterwards, a small firm of consultants, impressed by her creativity, had placed her in a team handling promotions for a mega development project. At last, Sashia worked among professionals — with an actual office to work in. The difference was invigorating. The Docks, an intra–modal transport hub, featured a man–made atoll with an eco–friendly island of wharfs in the centre.
A real spur to her enthusiasm came when the media heralded the concept as ‘a visionary alternative to the proliferation of global–warming seawalls everywhere’. Seeing the respect she gained from this made me wonder whether she was, after all, just a late starter.
Developments on this scale, driving Hong Kong's free–trade economy, with its banking institutions keeping it in the World's financial hub — alongside London and New York — secured indefinite autonomy with its Special Administrative Region charter within China. For Beijing, that role model was ideal for the super power's new colonies upside, the first of which was in the international Moon base Ecstasy.
HK's grace was epitomised by the Wan Zai district (using its Cantonese name, or Wan Chai in English). There, textured streets, which splendidly offset gleaming glass tower blocks, were brought alive by podcasts billowing about them and traditional red lamps still illuminating roadside stalls in the market area at dusk. While, in stark contrast, the all–familiar night scenes of Lok Hat Do (Lockhart Road in English) were of open–fronted bars, babes, buskers and bluster.
Twenty storeys up, appearing as a head and shoulders hologram, the crowd–stopping Saevrama Channel newscaster Jude Nade was telling all how things were in the World. Drivers, battling heavy traffic on translucent flyovers, hung happily on the New Yorker's straight–talk, “..around Earth everything's coming up rosy again this spring, with lots of blue, blue sky. Strange as that's been — but hey, go with the feng shui. Get bullish with those stocks. And party, party, party! ” It was all in the voice, soothing, uplifting, topping the weather bill 24/7, up, down, and around the latitudes. For now, she was iconic tonic to Lok Hat Do night–lifers.
Sashia, elegantly attired in a smart black jacket with thin red stripes and a matching full–length coat, stood on a pavement clutching a faded green beret. Her ‘striders’, as she called her indispensible thigh boots, were now glowing red. Half turning, she glanced up at the newscast as the refrain of bar–top–stomping Aussie AstBelters in cowboy hats floated through an open door. The singers — girls famed for their vitality, slim blonde looks and shallow, bombed out tastes — had done the tour of upside bars. They'd even entertained the Mars–based crews of robotic mining equipment on AstBelt, as the Asteroid Belt was colloquially termed.
I watched Sashia quietly absorb every sight and scene around her, including two little grey–haired Hakka ladies in oversized straw hats pushing over–laden trolleys.
Such scenes were reminders to me that time was running out for her, as it was for all our candidates. Naturally, I felt for her impending misery at being wrenched from Fayez — and upside scenes, conjured up by those AstBelters, would further aggravate that loss.
A year back, when the HK branch of the UN F–Academy had begun its worldwide enrolments, Sashia learnt from her grandma that it was a precondition of her genetic enhancement to join. All that the Academy divulged was that she, along with all the others, would train for active duty abroad. The time had now come for them to prepare for their departure.
Wistfully, she looked at the beret, Fayez's, doubtless reminiscing what a spectacle she'd made of herself at their first meeting. For fun, she had gyrated into a packed Lok Hat Do bar, where she'd immediately drawn attention to her ‘hot’ skin–tight plum–red top by instantly lengthening the heels of her then burgundy striders — no mere prosthetic appendages, but ultra–smart ones, the kind of fashion accessories girls envied for their changing colour, texture and shape, all at her whim. The pianist, Fayez, was full on her, and just slammed the electric keys. “Are you real?” he'd let slip, noting a barely discernable robotic hesitancy in her movements, and then corrected, “Are you fire?”
“Fire? Hah!” Arms stretched out to him, Sashia spun and wove her body provocatively, “Take this fire!” The now capricious girl was aching, just this once, to run with it, throw out inhibitions, go totally out of control.
“Hah, godsome!” he'd shouted, standing to hit out a rhythm so body pulsing that it sent the girl vaulting, chin out, arms high, over his wild, screaming fans. Eyes alight, with astonishing grace and agility mid air, Sashia had completed the somersault, heart pounding from excitement, by springing straight into a double back–flip and landing right at his side. From that day on, the two were inseparable.
On seeing this in her file, and imagining that zeal and pluck in my teams, I began to formulate a different view of this notable nymph. And a nymph she surely was, to look at!
She was meeting up with Fayez outside of the HK Conference Centre to attend a landmark reception. In black–tie dress, actually the more popular metallic silver–black, Fayez offered her his arm and they proceeded through the glass terrapin shaped building to view the dazzling lights of HK's Victoria Harbour.
Along with a splendidly colourful mix of Hong Kongers and other international guests, they were in plenty of time to watch Hu Ma, Premier of China, arrive and then receive King William and Queen Catherine of Great Britain and the Commonwealth of Nations. Following this, and perfectly timed, Admiral of the United States Sixth Fleet Connell Althorpe disembarked from his pristine grey launch to top an auspicious occasion the World had anticipated with optimism and about which the people of China and HK were overjoyed.
However, as the Admiral's craft began to depart, a junk fishing–boat that had arrived inconspicuously enough, now noticeably manoeuvred around it, Greenpeace banner unfurled from the mast and, hanging below, a white sheet bearing the large red rubric, ‘SAVE OUR PINK DOLPHINS’. To unified gasps from the Admiral's group, a heavily laden net then swung out to dump a large catch of dead fish on the ferry quay.
A crowd rushed forward. Immediately agitated, Sashia was soothed by Fayez, neither recognising Jude Nade near the plate–glass window overlooking the spectacle.
Recognising her big chance the presenter coolly went into action. “Quick!” she instructed her cameraman, as she smoothed her trademark sleek blonde chignon. “Direct optic 1 at the pile of fish. Optic 2, at the flowing banners. Optic 3, aim there.” Her index finger targeted protestors on the junk's deck as police boats converged on them, “Cover that.”
“Hi babe,” Jude's chief was there. A little nervously she adjusted the heads–up–display of him in her glasses. Having outgrown her two–minute weather slot she had been imploring Saevrama bosses to try her out as a reporter covering ceremonies such as this. She was not exactly career driven. She simply loved the business. It also filled an emptiness she felt in her marriage since her son had grown and flown. Life had become dull. She'd become dull. This Greenpeace protest was turning an important ceremonial event into something more newsworthy. “What have we got there?” her chief encouraged, while news reporters were racing to grab the tails of the evolving story. “Is this a cut above the usual stunts from those guys?” Without an answer, Jude shrugged, knowing the backup team were hurriedly seeking archived information to feed to her.
The chief was making contact from his NY apartoffice, which was as busy as press offices of past generations. An accomplished man in his mid–thirties, he was clearly not out to make a fashion statement in his white singlet, black braces, unconcealed balding crown and wire–brush hair. Nevertheless he was the epitome of global market success. Surrounding him were ambitious girls with wild animal hairstyles — which made Jude appear marginally prim — and equally ambitious guys with wildly raked aerial styles.
“Another junk!” Jude suddenly yelled at her cameraman. Although betraying none of Sashia's girly excitement, the presenter was just as awed and puzzled “Swing optic 1 there now!”
The first junk had pulled away, chased by harbour police. Meeting mid–channel with the incoming junk, spider–like arms as tall as masts slowly extended to the sides to float fan–like white nets across the water. The converging police boats immediately hit difficulties, though possibly they were disengaged awaiting orders.
Sashia heard as Jude called out again, “Optic 2 over there.” Straight away onscreen, Premier Hu Ma, William and Catherine and Althorpe could be seen unruffled and even bemused. Jude then introduced a young woman with vivid red and green dragons on her fingers. Along with these, Sashia noticed a nasty scar on the right side of the girl's pretty face.
Having clocked in to observe Sashia's behaviour at a high prestige event, I too observed the young woman with interest that led to a considerable shock.
With welcoming smile Jude introduced, “Doctor Mei Sai Ling, of the University of Hawaii. Dr Ling i a zoology consultant to the AFCD — that's the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. I'll let her tell us what all this is about.”
Mei was not only alive but out and about, her scarring sufficiently healed for public appearances! We never discovered where she might have been taken, probably by the same intelligence body that officially cloaked our entire operation at that time. “Thank you,” Mei said, her thin smile betraying tension. “I'm here to review impact studies commissioned for The Docks.” An ashen emptiness, easily mistaken for jetlag, in eyes that once sparkled, clouded a memory so violent that, as I later discovered, counselling was still unable to bring it back to her. “We're looking into the habitats of Chinese white dolphins, affectionately known here as pink dolphins and globally as Indo–Pacific humpback dolphins. I'm a scientist. I have to study all the facts impartially, objectively.”
Both reporter and interviewee looked uncomfortable, Jude's composure probably waning faced with the doctor's right cheek twitching a little and Mei showing some embarrassment at this unexpected exposure.
I also learned later that Mei was distraught at having been taken from her research by the Hawaii branch of the F–Academy. Sadly I had to await UNNDC clearance to involve her in research coming out of the Moon digs.
“That said, I'm concerned for the dolphins,” Mei continued onscreen. “Everyone in the scientific community deplores the plundering of environments seen this millennium.” “That sentiment has been repeated over and over again in the past decades,” Jude's eyes lit up. “Isn't it beginning to be a cliché?”
“What!” Mei's look was one of disdain. “You know, there was a reason,” the station was getting the spark it needed, “for the high level of extinctions that regularly took place on Mid–Cretaceous continental shelves — violent geological activity, and I mean really violent.”
Thrown by unexpected fury from someone talking like a radical environmentalist, Jude was now bowled over by the doctor's switch to prehistoric times, about which the presenter knew nothing and was therefore incapable of sharp questioning.
“When that eased masses of organisms in the soil, sea and air, finally got the balance of nature right and terraforming really got going. Regular extinctions plummeted from around seventeen to eight percent, by the Close of the Cretaceous and got right down to two percent in recent times, until that stability — hundreds of millions of years in the making — was unbalanced by Mankind!”
Mei's quivering ponytail was a dead giveaway of irritability. “In just a few generations, we'd slammed extinctions right back to pre–Cretaceous levels — before we eventually came to our senses and tried to protect our wildernesses.”
She was speaking of how winners and losers, as they were called, slowly evolved by Darwinian Natural Selection, while at times suddenly torn apart by what we'd termed a ‘Natural Correction’. That's where my research came in — to connect the extinction of dinosaurs with intelligence on a catastrophe, or Natural Correction, now heading our way.
“Anyway, enough said,” Mei's brows cleared. “What I'm here for are the pink dolphins.”
On safer ground, Jude responded, “We've got things under control though? WOMB collaborates with departments round the world, like the AFCD?” Mei's nodded response obviously pleased her. “They're as concerned about damage to the environment, aren't they, as the World Health Organisation is about pandemics?”
“Right. It took something as big as AIDS before WHO got the muscle to manage the mass risk of pandemics such as SARS, the Asian bird flu and so on. And it took the wider impacts of overpopulation, on Climate Change and also species losses of over 50 percent in recent decades to jolt the UN into forming WOMB.”
Just then Jude's team alerted her to a commanding–looking man, aboard the first junk. “There! Zoom in!” she commanded, taking in the youth's epic style jet–black–shot–with–red ‘snaketex’, a lightweight snakeskin–like material that moved and flexed realistically. Once online his features became clear — stubble on his longish face, slick black aerial hair dishevelled by roughing it at sea and euphoria in his eyes. “We're now looking at the Greenpeace group's leader, whom I'm told is Dr Steve Nord,” she announced, watching him take two supremely fluid strides to leap from deck to gunwale to pilothouse roof.
In an explosion of fireworks a rocket shot from the mast–top, pulling out a length of green cloth that instantly inflated into a hot air balloon. As suddenly as a dolphin shot up from the water passing right over the junk, Steve Nord grabbed its tail and rose, higher, higher, until he could jump gracefully into the balloon's ascending basket. There, on an egocentric high, he waved at a cheering crowd as the dolphin holoe splashed into a podcast on the balloon's surface of real dolphins swimming in the vicinity.
“Gorgeous Nord — but watch out! This guy's a woman–eater!” a female journalist had headlined. As one of my possible team contenders, I'd taken that as a glib observation of Steve, certainly expecting more from him than that.
Now accompanied musically by Holst's ‘Mercury the Winged Messenger’, Internet media were presenting aerial shots of the two junks, nets outstretched amid an entourage of police craft and other harbour vessels, the pair resembling huge white butterflies whirling flat on the water below the optics in the basket.
Steve looked and sounded pretty delirious over the impressive show. “So, what's all the fuss about?” came that Liverpudlian lilt, his tone not unlike that of a snide circus ringmaster. “Just can The Docks. Let the dolphies be.” Leaning out he motioned to the dolphin podcasts. “Those poor beauts aren't bothering you, are they? Course not! But they've put up with decades of your pollution — and now you want to stir up muck, build something more for us? Us! Taking up more of the planet? That's greed, pure and simple!”
What I saw in this candidate, a geologist conversant with fossil fuel bearing formations underground, was a logical match to complement Mei's specialist knowledge on the Cretaceous period. But gee — what a clash in personalities! His temerity, which had become evident in his fight to resist conscription by us, couldn't be more at odds with her not getting on with her peers. I reeled at the prospect of managing this pair.
As ever more people rushed to the Conference Centre windows, cameras recording the spectacle and the charismatic snaketex man addressing them, the moment was building. “Now there's a protest,” said Jude the rookie reporter adjusting to being in the news spotlight and now remarkably relaxed. “It seems the atoll scheme — pitched as, ‘a boon for marine life as well as tourism’ — has angered environmentalists.” The feed kept coming in from her office, “They say the construction work will displace HK's famed pink dolphins. The site, right next to Chek Lap Kok Spaceport, is stirring up memories of when the old airport was built there in the home waters of that species.”
She bit her lower lip. “Apparently there's a real scarcity of viable alternatives to this deepwater site.” Jude instinctively paused to read something in Mei's eyes, “It's not fully resolved, is it — the environment?”
Mei hesitated for a second, “Sadly, yes. Wildlife losses can't be reinstated using seed banks, gene banks or even zoo specimens. Not when intricate balances, involving complex symbiosis, are severely disrupted. That's how badly the last few decades messed up the natural world. And we'll never get it back. That Humpty Dumpty can't be put together again.”
“It's lost, forever?” Jude's keenness to nudge on was now tempered by dismay.
“That's right. With re–terraforming we can put life back in the wild but not bring the wild back to life.” Bewildered eyes now faced Mei. “It's never as it was. Our techniques are far too crude. Sure we've restored lost hedgerows and waterways, hundreds of years in the making, in England (UK) — forests and meadows too. But we've got no hope of restoring the likes of the Serengeti or the full extent of the Amazon.”
“Yes but surely we can build anew even if it's not the same?”
“Well, we've had our failures — with invasions of alien species, bungles in terraforming arid areas and even mismanaging terra–spheres on Mars. So much for us assuming nature's time honed magic — Gaia's magic! And yet everywhere from the pre–30's era is managed for forestry, recreation, eco–tourism and whatever else. None of that is left to evolve naturally, not when farmers use breeding stock to replenish parks, lakes and even game reserves. That's the importance of the new strategic wildernesses — our only hope for the planet to heal itself with its own balances.
“It's hardly big news,” Mei added. “Civilisations through time risked overwhelming environments and often did so into collapse.”
“And the underlying cause is?”
“Basically?” Mei shifted her weight looking a little uncomfortable, “Babies. The basic human right to have them — unbridled. China, despite worldwide condemnation, was the first to do something about it. Admittedly, their initial crudely managed implementation led to widespread suffering. But there'd have been even greater poverty, suffering and strife if they hadn't tried.”
“Since 2047,” Jude threw in, “we've been capping populations with licensing births outside of the Near Earth Territories, where it will be more relaxed? Right?”
“Thankfully, yes. But that's another story,” Mei steered the subject back on track for the presenter, “Returning to the issue here, we'll ensure that our findings gain support for the dolphins. Doubtless the whole scientific community's support if there proves to be genuine concern. We can't afford to lose any more species.”
I empathised with Jude as she took a cue and closed the interview with a relieved sigh. Her first news reporting assignment was over. Covering more weighty issues and unexpected happenings had clearly surpassed merely reporting on the ceremonial event. Gratifyingly she received an approving wink from her chief. The harbour spectacle continued to anchor onlookers at windows while others mingled in the main hall listening to speeches. Both events needed coverage and Jude again directed her cameraman.
Still in the hall, Sashia was looking displeased that The Docks had come under attack and this at least told me she had pride in the project. Apparently this late starter was capable of commitment — even though she'd brusquely swept aside a leopard lock protruding from her crimson scarf and muttered, “Bloody dolphins..”
Embarrassed, Fayez tugged at her elbow. “Hey hush up! Peace!”
Her voice tailed off to a whisper, “They'll get by somehow, or move on maybe. Anyway, so what if that's the price of progress?”
Fayez cast his eyes skyward in mock despair.
I noticed Mei had overheard them and had shaken her head disparagingly. With little chance of getting her and Sashia together, I was now in no doubt — of the two, Mei was by far the more valuable.
Jude, fortuitously out of earshot was seeking out a drink when she became aware of the Admiral close to her arm. “Sir, could I..”
“What?” The superbly smart authority figure awaiting her words with the engaging eyes of a seasoned biker added, “Hear what I have to say about dolphins? Or docks?” His tone appeared to be in keeping with his years of rank–induced solitude. “You can put what I know about either of those subjects on a single pixel.” Her chuckle and return of his amused look, doubtless acknowledged the huge amounts of data a pixel could in fact hold. “Perhaps you would be more interested in seeing the Sixth Fleet?”
Jude offered a disarming smile that also expressed regret that his offer could not be taken up. The admiral was undeterred. “Well, come on over anytime. I'd be glad to welcome you aboard for a tour.”
A mutually pleasing moment seemed to have presented itself. And turning away, to signal her cameraman to leave them, she elicited a grateful smile from the Admiral. They were off camera now. No need to interview him, not just yet. “So,” she continued softly, while eyeing the sprightly fifty year old, “at least you'll remember this visit to HK.”
“Oh yes, I certainly will.”
“The Greenpeace guy, Steve Nord,” she offered as a conversation piece, “looked pretty determined.”
“Him? He's a peril, doctorate or not,” he responded firmly but pleasantly, while nodding and smiling toward Mei wending her way in their direction. Clearly Jude had not picked up on Steve's track record in the media, no doubt from being too focused on her new role. “The man's notorious for recklessly interfering in offshore oilfield operations. That's been his main activity, targeting the oil industry as if it's some plague to society. And each time he does that he risks lives. He's an arrogant menace, often enough apprehended by one navy or the other.”
“Off the record? I agree.” Mei, comfortable with joining mature company, welcomed the Admiral's courteous gesture. “And his girl, Carla Drew, is right now in the Antarctic. Where she's spectacularly churning up the high seas to wage war on Japanese whalers. Not that I don't admire her for that. The cruelty inflicted on those mammals should have been curtailed decades ago.” The biologist then turned to respectfully enlighten the reporter, “They're a high profile couple, ice–board champions actually, both of whom mean well and on balance do a lot of good. It's just that they're apt to draw the public's attention sensationally rather than reasoned–through scientifically. I'd say.” There it was, sparks flying. I made a note to, regrettably, place her and Steve in separate teams.
“He's got balls, though,” gravitating into their sphere Sashia impulsively braved an opinion of her own, before immediately cowering in their highly professional company. That insecurity of hers was again disappointing, I felt. Except I was surprised to see the Admiral shift his gaze, from her leathery boots — those remarkable striders — and admire her pluck.
Fayez eased her protectively away, while speaking to her softly, “No need for blood. The protestor can fight his own fights.” I felt so bad, as the pair slinked off. For I understood how much was going wrong in Sashia's life, draining her to zero tolerance, and how that was affecting Fayez too. Yet I couldn't intervene, with not knowing myself how things would turn out about keeping her or letting her go.
“I reflected on Sashia's defence of Steve, when his protest was so blatantly aimed at her precious project. Though maybe, with his having demonstrated a fluid agility she'd ache for, I shouldn't have been so surprised for her to be drawn to him. And in glancing back, Sashia's jaw dropped at seeing him on screen with a distinctive button on his collar. It was an emerald enamelled flying horse — a merit earned by somersaulting with outstretched arms from one galloping stallion to another, at dusk, all the way through HK's extensive nature reserve wetlands. Mei caught sight of it too, as a fellow equestrian, before the girls' eyes then connected fleetingly.
Out in the harbour the police had finally managed to stop the junks. And, coming to, they clambered aboard. In usual HK manner they courteously gestured for Steve to descend and accompany them quietly. They also pulled on the balloon's tether to bring it down. He twirled flamboyantly, whilst returning their courtesy with a polite bow. Then, facing the crowd, he boomed out a last disparaging word, “What'll happen is the dolphins will get pissed off. They'll hike off someplace else. Where they'll swallow oil dumped from a ship. Or they'll just get depressed at what we're doing to the planet, and beach themselves mysteriously as hundreds have in the past. Then Hong Kong will have seen the last of them. Maybe we all will. Along with so many other species that have disappeared.”