Tuesday, February 17, 2015

We Cannot Be Content

So I've begun a side project, which will become my main focus once I finished editing Resonance. The new book is called We Cannot Be Content and stems from some of the history in Embassy and Resonance (in fact, they mention it a lot in Resonance).

I wrote the first chapter a couple weeks ago, and have been adding to and tweaking it since, so here's the final version I've come up with for now.


BENEDICT – 2305, Earth

He didn’t like giving interviews. He preferred to write his own questions and answer them without the pressure of a live interviewer and audience. Posting an insightful video on Wander Enterprises’ site would do, or even a FAQ section. Both alternatives were more appealing than his current situation, staring at himself on the small monitor hanging below the camera that was focused on him and Johna Radizzo for their one-on-one interview.
The man working the camera raised his hand and counted down from five—
And we’re live.”
“Welcome back to Today in the Plaza,” Johna immediately said, turning her hips more toward the camera to open her stance. Then her voice relaxed. “Twenty years ago, we received a positive signal from the crews of the Almanac and the Endurance that they had landed safely on two exoplanets, each between six and eight light years from Earth. Scientists across the solar system lauded the mission as the greatest of humanity’s achievements since the Mars and Europa missions. Humankind had not only inhabited the solar system—it had inhabited the stars.
“Now I’m here with Dr. Benedict Drake, the current CEO of Wander Enterprises, the company responsible for those missions. We’re so glad you could join us, Dr. Drake.”
Benedict cleared his throat. “Thank you.”
“Dr. Drake,” Johna went on, shifting her posture toward him, “you are about to embark on your own tour of the exoplanets I just mentioned. You leave in two days. The question everyone wants to know is: are you scared?
He averted his eyes and attempted to laugh. “I think everyone gets scared in some way, you know, before they go on a trip of any kind. There’s always something…nagging in the back of your head.”
“Like whether or not you remembered to turn off the oven,” Johna joked.
That got a real laugh out of him. He loosened up a bit, felt some of his nerves diffuse.
“Of which I’m guilty,” he responded, even though it was a lie. He wasn’t forgetful, especially not in clumsy ways. Besides, he didn’t have an oven. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d made his own supper, because he hadn’t in years. Either way, Benedict figured that was a good time to drop a joke. Rose told him to appear more likeable, more relatable than he tended to act. Today more than ever, Benedict needed to be liked. It was a crucial part of the plan.
“Dr. Drake, you’re thirty-three years old. You’re one of the richest people alive, you own the company some of the world’s top minds say have brought about the greatest age in space exploration humankind has ever seen—and now you decide to leave Earth for seventy-five years. You say you aren’t afraid of this intergalactic trip—”
Interstellar, Benedict thought, though he didn’t correct her.
“—but what does the future hold for Wander Enterprises while you’re gone?”
Benedict bit his lip and tried to force another grin, as if the answer was a simple one. The truth was, the future of Wander wasn’t what Benedict considered secure. Honestly, it hung in the balance, and was dependent on two factors: the trip he was about to embark on, and the hope that Rose could carry out Phase 3 in his absence. They needed public support. His fortune meant nothing if the world didn’t see the value of keeping Wander Enterprises around for at least the next five generations, and Benedict knew it would be difficult to inspire the world as it was today.
“I have my assets in place,” he said. “If… If I die during this trip… I’m confident Wander Enterprises will continue to thrive.”
But not the program he was trying to implement. Benedict knew if he met some ill fate, all his work would be for naught. Less than fifty people knew about the Gateway Program, and in two days’ time, all but a few of them were boarding the same space cruiser—the Meridian—and embarking on a trip through the stars.
“Out of curiosity: do you think you will make it back?”
He tried to be funny again. “I guess that depends on if I like these exoplanets.”
Johna laughed as if there was nothing to worry about. Of course, she’d never been to space, never flown out to Mars, or Venus, or Europa, or Titan, or any of the other settlements the Global Space Initiative had erected. In fact, the GSI was the only reason humans went beyond Mars. History proved how fickle the inspiration that drove human endeavor truly was. One great leap would be made, and people would rally around the world’s space programs proclaiming the next space age had arrived. But before long, the excitement would die, the people would forget their fragile love of the cosmos, and the world would go on, content to remain as it was.
More than anything, Benedict sought to end that contentment once and for all, but it would take more than a leap—it would take a blind lunge into the unknown.
“Yours would be the first crew to make it there and back again.”
“This is true.”
“Do you think there will be a day when we won’t need to come back to Earth? We’ve heard of plans from both Wander Enterprises and the GSI to relocate several of Earth’s species to these exoplanets. Do you think we’ll ever need to relocate humans in the same way?”
“If we have a cruiser big enough.”
They laughed together, except only Johna’s was real. Benedict faked it again, and his ended several seconds before hers, at which point he leaned forward and put his palms together.
“No, no. In all seriousness, I think that one day, yes, we’ll have to give Earth up. Some people speculate we should’ve left when we colonized Mars—however impractical the idea—and let nature reclaim Earth. We’re only borrowing it, after all.”
“Borrowing it?”
In the corner of his eye, Benedict saw the screen zoom in on his face, saw the caption scrolling under his chin: ‘Richest Man Alive is Leaving Earth. He ignored the tagline. They made him out to be some sort of celebrity, as if all his work was an overnight success, as if managing Wander Enterprises was something any kid who loved the stars could do. They overlooked the years of solitude, the painstaking work of developing faster hyper drives and crafting new cruiser designs—and it still wasn’t enough for him. Benedict was never satisfied with his work, no matter how revolutionary it was.
And that’s what drove him to organize the Gateway Program.
“There’s, what…somewhere around nine billion people alive today? Only a few thousand live elsewhere in our solar system, all of them scientists.”
Johna deliberately shrugged and faced the camera to show off her white teeth. “You’re the man with the degree, Dr. Drake,” she said with a laugh.
This time, he couldn’t even work up a smile. Anger was creeping up inside of him, boiling in his chest. He both loved humanity for its achievement, and hated it for its contentment, the plateau it reached, with only a few more small steps ever few decades. He wanted to shout at the camera. Yell at the millions of people watching his interview before their daily commutes. Stop what you’re doing and listen to me! he screamed inside his head. Have you lost your sense of wonder? Look up! We need to be out there! That’s where the challenge lies.
But he didn’t say it. His lips never moved. His eyes never so much as flickered at the camera.
“Dr. Drake, you were saying?”
“Yes.” He shook his head and looked up at Johna. “I don’t think we can call ourselves a spacefaring civilization when one hundred percent of the general population still lives on Earth. That’s like…claiming I traveled the world, when in reality I just drove down to my local Thai restaurant. Only a few humans have had a taste of the spacefaring life—why aren’t we all trying to set foot on other worlds?”
Johna looked back at the camera and raised her eyebrows in an expression of confusion mixed with curiosity.
“I’m sure there are many people wondering the same thing, Dr. Drake. We all share your dreams.”
If everyone shared my dreams, we wouldn’t be having this interview.
“Finally, we’ve all heard about MACE’s most recent rallies.”
Benedict’s muscles went rigid with hatred the moment she said the name, but Johna either didn’t notice or didn’t care. She was too busy looking down at her cue and waving her hands in the air.
“The organization has made a name for itself these last few decades, with open protests against the GSI and Wander Enterprises, causing public support of space programs to drastically decline to a historical low of thirty-eight percent—according to the latest polls. Can you tell us how you’ve gone about handling that situation?”
He began to speak, but stuttered. He hated MACE and all it stood for. The Movement Against Cosmic Exploration spanned centuries, but didn’t gain any traction until scientific settlements began popping up around the solar system. MACE sought to sway public interest away from space exploration, publishing magazines and books and airing television shows devoted to mocking astronomical discoveries and condemning space programs as worthless, flashy demonstrations to keep the people distracted from the goings-on down on Earth.
Yes, on Earth. Where half the major cities on the American seaboards were partially flooded and desert regions had expanded to the temperate zones and droughts had ruined the dryer regions. Where living in areas prone to hurricanes and tornados and wildfires was a death sentence, and natural fresh water was a memory no living person had. Where more than three hundred species of animals and plants and insects went extinct every single day.
“We’re aware of the…opposition MACE presents,” Benedict finally answered, doing his best to keep his voice steady. He couldn’t let them hear the truth in it. “The reality of the situation is that we’re moving forward with our projects. My supervisors and I agree that MACE hasn’t…how can I put this?…fully come to terms with Earth’s current state.”
“How do you mean?”
Benedict wanted to gawk at her. Was this an interview question, or was she really asking him why he thought Earth wasn’t suitable for sustaining human life much longer?
“Political and foreign affairs aside… Consider our resources. More than half of all our mining is done on asteroids we’ve slung into orbit. Rocket fuels, construction material for cities, computer chips, cars, the hyperloops—most of these materials aren’t accessible here on Earth in quantities that were available in the past.”
“So you think MACE disagrees?”
He took a deep breath, hoping to calm his nerves.
It didn’t work.
“They don’t disagree. Not…not necessarily. They just don’t think we have any right to move beyond Earth. That the human race—the only intelligent civilization we’ve ever known—deserves to die when Earth dies.” He paused and looked at the feet of the cameraman. “That notion is… That…”
He shook his head. He knew what he wanted to say, but he couldn’t say it on a live stream. Not yet. It was too early. Too risky. Rose had warned him not to let his anger show if Johna brought up MACE. Now he saw why. Because MACE could use it. Would use it. Even now, they were watching, and they would know they had dug into him. If Benedict slipped too far, they could use his own words against the campaign Wander Enterprises would launch in the coming months, the campaign that would stretch three-quarters of a century until Benedict and the crew of the Meridian returned from their tour of the two exoplanets.
Johna shot him a glance. He barely caught it before she looked back to the camera, but it looked skeptical, unimpressed, as if she found his answer underwhelming, even crazy.
“It was certainly a pleasure speaking with you, Dr. Drake,” she went on, hardly missing a beat. “We all wish you the best of luck on your trip. We’ll see you when you get back in…well, seventy-five years.”
Benedict took a deep breath and grinned for the camera. One last joke to fix the mood.
“I’m sure you won’t have aged a day.”
Johna laughed, then introduced the next segment of the newscast before Benedict was allowed to leave. The cast director thanked him for giving the interview and ushered him to the exit so the crew could prepare. Benedict knew the way out from there, and soon found himself in NBC Studios’ lobby.
Outside was the rally.
People leered at him. They shouted, spat insults, cursed at him. They hoisted signs—DOWN WITH SPACE!DRAKE THE MISTAKEBECAUSE KILLING EARTH WASN’T ENOUGH! Someone had started a chant, and it was spreading. Part of the crowd shouted, “Earth to Drake!” and another part shouted, “Come in, Drake!” And then they’d all laugh.
Though the sentries were holding back the crowd, Benedict refused to look up. In the corners of his eyes, he saw they all had the small, symbolic canister of mace dangling from their belt loops, their wrists, their backpacks. Seeing those fueled his anger even more. He wanted to shut his ears, close his eyes. Then they could laugh, but he wouldn’t hear, and their efforts to enrage him would be childish at best. When they’d had their fun, they’d stop.
But he could hear them, and they knew it, so they were relentless.
The rally filled all of Rockefeller Plaza, even spilled into the Avenue of the Americas, though the ranks grew thin there. The throng of the crowd was the worst, but out here, Benedict saw signs supporting him and Wander Enterprises—though they were few.
“Dr. Drake.”
He looked up at the voice: a man and son stood at the corner of the block. The boy, who might’ve been nine or ten years old, gave Benedict a young, giddy smile and two thumbs up.
After he had passed, Benedict regretted not having smiled back at him.