Artemis: The Collective - Chapter 1

Artemis: The Collective - Chapter 1

Status: In Progress

Genre: Science Fiction

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Details

Status: In Progress

Genre: Science Fiction

Houses:

Summary

In a semi-dystopian future, Earth is dying and a radical plan to save humanity is underway. The first of three books in a series.
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Summary

In a semi-dystopian future, Earth is dying and a radical plan to save humanity is underway. The first of three books in a series.

Chapter1 (v.1) - Chapter 1 - The world as it is

Author Chapter Note

This chapter sets the stage for life in the semi-distant future... 250 years to be exact, and there is a very real threat to our existence. A plan to save our home planet is being built but there are many challenges ahead.

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: January 25, 2017

Reads: 89

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Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: January 25, 2017

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Artemis: The collective

Chapter 1: The world as it is

It is a dark, and trying time for the human race, and what few remaining wild creatures have the misfortune of sharing the planet with us. Earth has given all that it can, and much a like large life giving pond on the African savannah, that was once flourishing. Has now also all but lost her last few muddy puddles, in the blazing summer heat. Many of our finite resources that humans have relied on for thousands of years, are almost entirely depleted. Now when anyone looks out of any window, anywhere in the world during a sunset, the clouds look like they are painted red as blood. The experts say this is from all of the trapped pollution inside our atmosphere reflecting against the suns fading glow. It must be true too, because during most of the day a thick smog casts a sinister shadow over every Mega-city in the world. So much so, that most people stay inside as much as they can, usually going out only to work or run important errands. There is definitely no shortage of television in 2266, and if you have insomnia or maybe just a morbid curiosity of the macabre, you can tune in for twenty-four hour coverage of "A planet in crisis." Where on every major news network top minds, and top analysts point fingers, and make bold global predictions about the future, all as the planet reacts harshly to her grave mistreatment. The stories range from patterns of increasingly strong storm fronts battering coastal cities, to massive spikes in emphysema, C.O.P.D, and other harsh respiratory diseases. All the way to crack pot conspiracy theories, and doomsday proclamations. The main debate now very public, and uncivilized, comes down to two sides of opposition. One side clambering about generation after generation making shallow "Over publicized" attempts to curb our negative effects on the planet. Things like hybrid cars, or wind power, all somewhat effective in their own way, but behind the scenes energy companies were pumping as much crude oil, and burning as much coal as during the industrial revolution. This side emphatically blames the super-rich. The ones that control all industry, and wealth in the world, known in our time as the Elites. They argue that regardless of the harm caused to the planet, and all life on it, the Elite couldn't be bothered to make real changes hundreds of years ago when it could have made a difference. This side believes the Elite were back then, just as they are today; consumed with more profit, higher returns, and our species longevity be damned. The other side, made mostly of Elite's themselves, and those on their payroll, blame apathy. Combined with most commoner's cowardice, and or unwillingness to stand up for what was right. Too demand that changes be made, with action not just empty words. The pro-Elite side stands by the statement "If you would have just stopped buying, then we would have had to make real changes." The sad irony of these debates is, it doesn't matter what side you are on, or is right or wrong. The planet is massively overpopulated, heavily polluted, and the eco-systems are crumbling rapidly. The planet is practically unrecognizable, we have ravaged the natural resources, and breathtaking landscapes of Earth like a pack of starving wolves would devour its fallen prey. It appears the end is near for all of us, and sadly humans are further from united than any time in history. I know one thing for sure, it isn't going to be the kind of end we have glorified in Hollywood productions for centuries. It sure as hell isn't going to be the rapture, so many religious pundits have falsely predicted for generation upon generation. Maybe it will be some sort of dramatic mass extinction event? You know like the meteor that killed the dinosaurs... nah, not for us. We don't deserve to go quickly, and without warning... nor do any one of us over another deserve to be saved. What a future right? If things are this bad what do people do in 2266, you must be asking. Well that answer I'm afraid is not very futuristic. There are teachers, police, business people, firefighters, scientists, and you know... standard mass manufacturers. Mass manufacturers you ask? Well you see as populations steadily increased, so did the demand for more synthetic fuels, more chemical laden products that can be sold cheap, more food cloning, and bypassing of nature to supply the starving masses. All of these things are mass manufactured in giant factories known as commerce centers. Owned by conglomerate groups of Elite investors, commerce centers recklessly billow smoke, steam, and fumes all day, and night. They are like small towns, and like small towns each factory raises generations within its walls, and sadly most who are born in the commerce centers, are doomed to inevitably die there. Toiling away, enslaved to the quota, and never knowing even the simple joys of life. While on the other hand fat cat Elite investor groups do things like opt for less expensive, and far less reliable liners on all commerce center retention ponds. To save a few extra million for the old retirement fund. The liners failed within months of installation, making daily life even harder to bare for most. As a result of the liner failures, ninety-one percent of our planets groundwater is now severely contaminated. Tap water is unusable, and certainly undrinkable without special filters called BioKleene filters, and at five-hundred dollars each, they are simply a luxury most commoners can't afford. The less fortunate primitively boil their water, and pray not to get sick. Once pristine lakes, and flushing rivers now idle lifeless, and stagnant; the mighty oceans acidic, and unforgiving. How the years have passed quickly since the dawn of man, like tiny blips on the cosmic radar. All the while there has been no concern about how we were treating our own planet, from those that profit from its destruction. Elites have always run things, always controlled the direction of our species, and unfortunately the planet too. Far away from the ugly truth, comfortable in their seclusion, and conceit. While the complacent consumers that all commoners have become, to one degree or another, have kept the machine not only running, but steadily growing. Very soon without help, thousands of years of evolution, and progress will be wiped away in a galactic flash. How did we screw things up so badly? I mean from core eruption to the first land walking creature, took two-hundred thousand years, and we managed to destroy the planet in a third that time. Oh, and there have been many warnings by mother earth, about our destructive path, unfortunately we never listened before, so why start now. About sixty-five years ago, a major climate shift rocked the globe, and an unprecedented storm killed seventy-eight percent of all animal species. While Humans, and their house pets, barely noticed at all. The wild animal species that did survive adapted to a life of pollution, and famine, some even mutating, and evolving to fit the harsh landscape. Creatures like man's top predator, the great wolf... and yes man has several predators in the future. The storm was so powerful it lasted almost three months, and covered seventy-percent of the northern hemisphere with snow; like a big white blanket. It thrashed mega-cities near water with quakes, and bitter winter hurricane like storms. Even after all this, the global population is currently hovering around ten-billion people, and that's just on Earth. There are another approximately fifty-thousand give or take living full time in space. The space dwellers were made possible when the space program known as N.A.S.A became a public company in 2255, becoming the single largest corporation on Earth, overnight. A short time later the company was renamed N.A.S.A world partners Inc. The once humble space program was now armed with unprecedented funding, and limitless space to discover; so they got to work on some major projects. The first was actual planet colonization; something humans had talked about for centuries, but finally realized. The Mars colony Unity was created, under the guidance of CEO Benjamin Snell. The world loved the Unity program, it brought a sense of hope for the future. It wasn't long before a humble three-hundred brave pioneers, ballooned to over thirty-nine thousand, as more people saw the success of the original colony. NWPI has built many additional Bio-complexes to accommodate the unexpected growth, and popularity, and Unity now has enough square footage to accommodate over one-hundred thousand people they say. The rest of the space inhabitants are spread out on six mega-space stations, each of which can host about five thousand people. The biggest and most extravagant "City in the sky" as they are known, is Titan. On a clear night (which is extremely rare in 2266 of course) you can see Titan glowing like a small star high above the stratosphere. Titan is owned, and operated by N.A.S.A world partners Inc. in affiliation with the United States, and Canadian governments. The awe inspiring self-sufficient space outpost acts as a secret meeting facility for major world events. Host to conferences, special project debriefing for the military and CIA, and as a full time residence for many scientists, and their families. All looking to expand the human empire, in their own unique way. Recently however, now that Earth is looking like a short term option. A plan to expand the colonies on Mar's every few years, and develop a terraforming strategy were set in motion by the board of directors. This called for Ben, and his team to build another ship, a stronger, and faster ship than Jewel. Jewel is the ship that turned Mars travel from what used to be a long strenuous mission, for only well trained astronauts. Into a one month adventure for the whole family. This was the first triumph for Ben Snell, and his executive team at NWPI. This plan was shared with the public as the only rational option, to save our species; by a board that needed to squeeze more money from the shareholders. You can probably imagine our home planet is very much divided on the subject of our future as a species, and the future of Earth itself. Many feel that we need to try and save the world we know, claiming that we cannot survive long term on another planet; it is too risky. A large number also feel that the opportunity to fix things on Earth has passed long ago; prior to the climate shift. They argue trying to save the planet will not only bankrupt everyone, but on the way to collapse we will tear each other apart, it is threatening to rip the planet in half. I mean the vast majority of commoners live paycheck to paycheck or worse as it is, and the standard of living has dropped so dramatically over the past few decades that just survival is enough for most people. Today's commoners don't dream about big fancy houses, extravagant cars, vacations, or retirement. They certainly don't believe that they can better their situation, or become anything they choose to become anymore. It is extremely... excuse the pun, "uncommon" that a born commoner can ever become wealthy. These are things that only exist in bedtime stories about their ancestors of generations, long ago. Don't get me started with the underfunded, and overworked health care system. It is so overwhelmed, and so outrageously expensive, most families will simply care for a sick relative or friend at home until they pass away. The only people that know rest, and comfort in 2266 are the Elites, and trust me it is a purely physical comfort. They might live in fancy estate homes with manicured lawns, and guard walls. They may have perpetual gardens for growing fresh produce, and they might be able to afford all the top of the line security measures; but the Elite know that the numbers are unfavorable against them. While they may loath them they truly need the commoners. The Elites while sheltered from the harsh day to day life, this comfort has a bigger price than just credits. Elites have sold their humanity for power, and somehow the lust has never been satisfied. You see, Elites while wealthy, and perceivably comfortable are always afraid of losing their status. This fear causes them to only associate with other Elites, and most of them are very openly cynical, and highly untrusting of commoners. Who can blame them... they have after all become such a small percentage of the world over the years. They have also been so indoctrinated to believe that commoners are beneath them, that fear of becoming a commoner is the only thing that haunts their dreams. Instead of tales of heroic people fighting for good, and decency like the ones commoner children hear at bedtime. Elite children grow up with stories about proud relatives that somehow lost everything, and became commoners themselves. They tell of some lost fortunes from greed, some from stupidity, and even others as a result of poor association choices, or treachery. The tragic tales include some Elite turned commoners throwing themselves off of cliffs and bridges to end the suffering, and shame. Imagine it, privileged from birth, and told how much better you are than commoners. Only now you are surrounded by them, and considered one of the very common people you despised, and loathed. Your lifelong judgement, has now become your prison. There is one thing that commoners, and Elites share, and that is a common enemy. This enemy is known as the great wolf, one of those mutated species I told you about. It doesn't matter who you are, or how much you are worth at the edge of the city. These ravenous wild animals prowl the outskirts of Mega Cities, and lurk in the shadows... coveting the tasty flesh of a human. The Great wolf appears to be our evolutionary pay back for the selfish destruction of Earth. A Great wolf doesn't care if you are important, or if you have a family or friends, or if you are poor or wealthy. To them you mean one thing... survival. You mean another day of hope for their young, and you better believe the better you eat in your life, the better you taste. All too many a night the news broadcasts report about foolish teenagers braving the city limits. Some of them for thrills, some for peer pressure, and some sadly even peer acceptance. Only to become the newest project for the local funeral home, quickly followed by a candlelight vigil, and standard public announcement about the dangers of the city limits. How did we come to call each other Elite, and commoner you ask? Well decades earlier the US dollar had risen to global prominence, and was backing every other currency on the planet. This led to a global monetary exchange, and trade commission, which inevitably led to a cataclysmic global crash of this exchange. The fallout of which caused nations to wage war on each other over trade rights, or cash calls on back owed debt, and even perceived opportunity or weakness. It caused communities to turn on each other, and many countries became locked in civil war. Massive invasions ensued around the globe, and many people were killed, as well as many once wealthy families, and countries bankrupted in a very short time. The media dubbed it 'the war of division" because when it was over, and the dust had settled, only two class types existed. The Elites, and the commoners. All of the banks around the world became insolvent from massive cash calls by frantic members, and the remains soon fell to looting, and robbery. Worldwide anarchy spread like wildfire, and for a short time life was a complete chaotic nightmare, much like the dark ages two thousand years earlier. Our world was shrouded in darkness, until a solution was demanded of governments, by the masses dying in the streets. This led to an unprecedented global collaboration in which a single way to track, and disperse funds to everyone on the planet was created. This was the birth of World capital, the single global bank that would become the financial nervous system of our time, and bring peace to the planet once more. Now the only way this new system was going to work however, was to do away with all currencies and tracking systems individual countries used to track wealth, and identity. Then to assign a single identification, and credit card to everyone on Earth. This is how GIN (Global Identification Numbers) came to be, and the new worldwide currency became Capital credits. Welcome to the future; where humans have never faced adversity this challenging, and oppositions have never been more divided. This is the story of how one man set out to change the course of human history forever.

In the mega city of Washington D.C. now a colossal concrete, and metal jungle, with high-rises built on top of high rises. Triple stacked freeways, and hover transport stations, surrounded by two of the world's largest, and most productive commerce centers; there was a U.N.C hearing for a new initiative. The hearing was between the executive branch of N.A.S.A world partners Inc. and delegates from each major power around the world. It was a direct legislation hearing held by the Unified Nations committee, to determine whether a bill to create a mandatory global environmental relief fund will be given a public vote. The U.N.C was created as the peaceful resolution to the anarchy, and fallout of WWIV, and now they oversee all law on the planet. Of course the Elite have no interest in a relief fund... the word fund makes them cringe like Ebenezer Scrooge. They have crafted a sinister, and selfish plan of their own. One in which they will abandon Earth, and take over the Mars colony Unity. In the process they will extradite all commoners back to Earth, and set off a massive EMP chain destroying all of the world's electronic infrastructure. The Elite scientists have made a strong enough charge to send the entire planet back to the dark ages for about twenty years. This is plenty long enough they figure for Earth, and all the commoners left behind to die. They will then be free to start a new era for the Human race; one of pure Elite blood. A new generation that knows only power and privilege. They believe one day many thousands of years later, they can return to Earth, and reclaim it. This plan is called "renewal objective one". The Elite's while power hungry, and selfish, are certainly not stupid. They know RO-1 will never legally pass through legislation, and they also know that the global relief fund will win in a landslide if given a public vote. This would effectively self-fund the end to their way of life; and they are not about to let that happen. The commoners massively outnumber the Elite, as you can imagine, and the title can be a bit misleading. It doesn't mean dirt poor, like most would think... as a matter of fact... the C.E.O of NWPI, the largest corporation on Earth... Benjamin Snell is himself a commoner. Oh yes, he lives well, but he is not untouchable, and this is what makes you Elite. The ability to change others' lives, for either good or bad with the snap of your finger. Commoner is just the name given to average people as a mass media label during the final years of the war, and Elite is simply the mainstream backlash used towards those that have always had wealth, and power. Those that continue to have wealth, and power even through the war. WWIV in fact for most Elite families meant additional profits, and expansion of their empires. The media glorified the names at every turn as you can imagine, using them in any, and all stories, forever imbedding them in people's minds; like some kind of pop culture phenomenon. Now the Elite knew if one word of "renewal objective one" or what most people would just call mass genocide; ever got out there would be worldwide outrage, and a possible war between the classes that would turn the planet upside down. The outnumbered and cowardly Elite didn't want this at all. They chose to battle using treachery, anonymity, and influence as they always have... so they sent a lobbyist to help alter the hearing. High above the city in the U.N.C main chambers, all in attendance were enthralled with a heated back and forth between global relief fund delegate Benjamin Snell, and Secretary of the interior for the United states John Henman. Head in his left hand, and looking down from frustration Ben had to say it "What do you know about the best thing for our planet?" Although this was probably a valid question it of course fell on deaf ears "Mr. Snell, you do realize that the United States has been a world leader in clean energy, and sustainable alternative fuels for over one hundred years?" Henman retorted aggressively. "Yes I do Mr. Secretary. I also know that not one minute of that time have you been involved with the progression of these industries directly. Nor do I believe you understand the actual data that has been gathered, showing it all to be... excuse me... but lipstick on a pig!" The two men glared at one another for what must have felt like a lifetime. Ben looked at the chairman "Mr. Chairman this is a standard hearing for initiative 701 I would appreciate the opportunity to present, without interruption." The chairman's gavel echoed through the meeting room "I agree, Mr. Henman please allow Mr. Snell to finish his presentation". An eager ambassador from China took his opportunity to speak. "This meeting was not meant to be about who knows what, or believes what gentlemen. We are here to discuss the initiative at hand, and if it shall get a public vote offering." Heads nodded in agreement. "Thank you, ambassador Shin." Ben said before continuing, and taking a seat at his table. "Here we sit with all the technology, and intellectual fortitude of any species we have ever known yet we argue about money not solutions. All the data collected shows the planet is dying, and initiative 701 is about trying to survive." Ben pleaded passionately. The committee muttered to each other, and everyone in attendance whispered amongst themselves. "I agree with you Mr. Snell" stated the ambassador "Yet here we are, with all of what you just stated, but don't think there is no money being spent. China has recently employed its top scientific minds to design a revolutionary new air filtration system, and in trials it has made significant progress for isolated test areas." People in the crowd chirped positively about this announcement. Ben just tapped his fingers on the table rhythmically, and reclined in his seat. "That all sounds good... the air quality of Earth is very important Mr. Ambassador, this we can agree on." He stood back up, and panned the room. "Let's be frank ladies, and gentlemen, without re-growth of trees and fresh water, the planet will not produce food, and oxygen. Two things I think you will all agree we need. The top soil is all but gone, most of the immense forests around the world have been severely thinned, and new saplings fail to grow year upon year." He paused and pinched his brow with his left hand "We have to seek alternative methods to reproduce our natural environment... synthetically... natural healing is not an option... there simply isn't enough time. Our research shows this will act like a kick start to our failing eco systems... this mixed with drastic global reform, we could..." "Mr. Snell what you propose is beyond our capabilities as a species not to mention outrageously expensive!" John Henman blurted out while jumping from his seat, and pointing a finger in judgement. "Initiative 701 is a global tax, of an unprecedented nature... people will not..." "Let's hear him out!" shouted sharply dressed, thin man with thick glasses from a far corner table. The whole room started to whisper and point in his direction. This man was representing a group known as Citizen-voice. A lobbying firm that advocates almost exclusively for the Elites, all the while marketing itself publically as a firm fighting ironically enough, for the interest of "The common man". His name is Ronald Lomax, he is the director, and head counsel for Citizen-voice, he is also a former cabinet member to the president of the United States. The group is well known for launching career damaging law suits against politicians that "don't play ball" and everyone knows when they come to fight, they come to win... at any cost. Citizen-voice has heavy funding from the Elite populations around the world. They believe this allows them to drive their political agenda through a seemingly legitimate means. Secretary of the interior Henman let out an audible groan. "Oh this ought to be good." Then he promptly dropped like a rock into his chair. Ben looked across the room at Ronald Lomax, and gave a subtle glare. He was well aware of Citizen-voices allegiance to the Elite agenda, and was skeptical of Ronald's motives. "Thank you Ronald, good to see you here. I didn't know if the 'Citizens' would have a voice tonight." Ben said facetiously, as he put his hands up and made quotation marks. The crowd erupted in laughter. You see while Elite's want to believe the public doesn't know about their involvement in Citizen-voice, it is no secret at all. Ronald Lomax sat straight up, and gave Ben the evil eye before waving his right hand around as If to say 'get on with it'. Ben gladly obliged, and continued on. "Ladies, and gentlemen of the committee. NWPI has a long list of success. Our chief engineer Dr. Jack Saint created Jewel, the ship that cut Mar's trip times by seventy-five percent; and everyone said it couldn't be done. We built Titan... a space station so magnificent, that the greatest science fiction novels would be jealous. The capabilities of NWPI are limitless, and we believe we can do something about our planets circumstances as well... but it will take everyone to get involved. We have many strong ideas, and current theories... however we need to fund further research, and development." People started murmuring and the room started to sound like a den of angry snakes "What are you saying? That the world's largest corporation needs more money?" sneered the ambassador of Russia. Others thought this was comical as well, and started to snicker, and whisper amongst themselves like gossipy housewives. "Yes!" Ben shouted, silencing the entire room with one word, and the conviction from which it was thrust. "We need all the money in the world! Does that matter? This shouldn't be about money, it is about life and death! If you had a dying child you wouldn't see if you had enough money to get them medical treatment would you?!" The room was silent. "Well excuse the metaphor, but the planet is a dying child! It just so happens that we live on this child, and rely on it wholly for our own survival!" Everyone there was stunned, and sat silently motionless after Ben's passionate outcry. Ronald Lomax stood up confidently, and straightened his tie cleared his throat, and asked very deliberately. "What if you did have this money Mr. Snell, and you spent it all in a failed effort to save a planet that can't be saved, and we all die anyway... wouldn't that be foolish?" the entire room winced, and everyone quickly resumed judgement. Before Ben could respond a pompous and righteous Ronald Lomax addressed the committee chairman. "Mr. Chairman I propose a committee vote to determine whether this..." He looked back to Ben. "Excuse me what did you say the plan was called again?" Ben knew this would happen, he was just telling Jack yesterday that they needed a name for the fund... something powerful that gave it substance, and life. Jack insisted that it wouldn't matter; but at this moment Ben had a feeling it may be all that mattered. "We don't have a name for it yet, it's just an idea at this stage. It is simply called the global environmental relief fund" he sheepishly announced. "An Idea...?" Ronald said deeply, and slowly, using his attorney tricks, scanning the room purposely wearing a surprised look on his face. "You have an idea, with no name, no solid direction, and it will cost...how did you so eloquently put it? Oh, that's right... all the money in the world." Ronald questioned. The crowd of delegates, and executives collectively gasped, and started to whisper feverishly. Ronald held his hands in front of him, and smiled like a corrupt banker. "Look... that is not accurate... we..." Ben started to reply, but before he could finish the chairman smacked his gavel. "I believe a committee vote may be the only way that we can settle this matter. In two weeks I will allow each side to present their facts before the committee members, and delegates, then we will vote on whether or not to make the vote public. Mr. Snell I suggest you bring a proposal that has some hard data, not on the failing planet, but on solution. I also want a timeline for achievement, and I highly suggest a name for the project. Initial hearing for Initiative 701 is adjourned." Ben whom was already collecting his things, and turning for the door nodded to the chairman in understanding, whipped his coat on like a cape, and hustled toward the nearest exit... clenching his teeth, and glaring at Ronald the entire way. The meeting room had now cleared, and all delegates, and NWPI executives were headed back to their respective states, countries and offices. However Ronald Lomax lurked in the shadows, and once everyone was gone he found an empty office. He carefully crept inside and locked the door, and looked around to be sure that no one was there. When he felt that the coast was clear he made a phone call. "Hello Ronald." An ominous voice answered. "It is done, I forced a committee vote just as you asked. The entire panel was skeptical at best, then I made Ben Snell look like a complete idiot when I simply pointed out that he didn't have a name for his master plan." Ronald cackled. "Good... when is the vote?" the deep voice inquired. "Two weeks." Replied Ronald. "Make sure at this hearing that you crush any idea of this foolish plan to save Earth, or you will not live to regret it!" before Ronald could respond the sinister man ended the call. He looked at the screen, and shook his head. He slipped the phone back in his pocket, and looked out the window of the office building down at the Mega-city far below. "I will, oh I definitely will." He muttered to himself. A couple hours later back at NWPI headquarters in Houston, Ben walked into his office, and plunked into his chair. He sat there for a very long minute just staring at a poster on the wall with his hands together, and both index fingers pointing up just touching the philtrum of his upper lip. The poster was the christening photo of the Jewel shuttle before her first launch. He thought about that day, and it made him smile. As he focused on the poster the executive team had created upon the release of 'Jewel' the mission statement caught his attention. It read "When the task is too great for the few, rely on the collective efforts of the many, and anything is possible!" He stared at this statement, and read it multiple times. He thought how he still really liked that quote... then it hit him like a sack of rocks upside the head. He reached for the com-screen, and tapped call, within seconds a woman appeared on screen. "Mary, please get me Jack on the line." He requested "Yes sir give me just a moment." Within seconds Jack Saint appeared on the com-screen. "Don't you know I am busy planning for life after we ditch this rock?" Jack said playfully. Ben smiled, and chuckled. The sarcasm of his longtime friend was very welcome right now. "You keep planning pal, you will have just as much of a life somewhere else as you do now; zero" he barbed. The two men shared a laugh, it felt good to release some of the tension that both of them felt over the current circumstances. "Do you remember the Jewel project Jack?" Ben asked. "This call isn't about Jewel Ben, what are you getting at?" Jack replied. "You gave a speech the day we christened Jewel, and the poster still hangs in my office. Do you remember the statement you made... the one we ended up putting on the poster?" Jack smiled "Yeah, I remember you put me, and my team on the spot yah jerk... There were many set backs on the Jewel project, and it all really came together with the collaborations at the end with the European, and Russian divisions. If memory serves I said, when the task is too great for the few, rely on the collective efforts of the many and anything is possible." Ben leaned back in his chair, and grinned wide while crossing his arms behind his head. "You said it my friend... you said it." Jack looked confused. "Said what?" Ben was frozen in time, fully content with himself. "You jackass... what already?" Jack said just slightly perturbed. "The collective" Ben said magnanimously. "That is the name of the plan that will save our planet... the one world collective." Ben finished while holding his hands forward like a picture frame. Jack looked blankly into the screen. "This is why you called me." "No I called you because I knew you would remember your speech... you were so pissed about me throwing you up there unannounced." Ben had a hardy laugh, as Jack painfully recalled the feeling. "You came through in fine fashion as you always do. That is why I am confident this time you are going to come through again... Mr. Director of intergalactic research, and engineering of the one world collective." "I'm what..." Jack was starting to reply as Ben swiped the end connection button, he then tapped Mary's extension again. "Yes sir?" "Tell Jack when he calls back to meet me at Collette's." "Yes sir." She replied dutifully. Collette's is a dive bar that Ben, and Jack frequent after long arduous days at NWPI. Jack's office was on the far south end of the NWPI complex, so Ben had plenty of time to vacate the premises. He knew that his friend would have no choice but to meet him at their favorite watering hole if he wanted answers. Down in the engineering lab Jack carefully set down his tablet after calling Mary to try and get Ben whom had left already. He pushed himself away from his desk with both hands, and stood up slowly, and deliberately. His research assistant Jonathan looked over from his computer and smirked at him. "Mr. Snell off on a tangent again Jack?" Jack smiled, and began to chuckle. "He is always on a tangent, that's what makes him great... it is his affinity for grandiose ideas that worries me." "Well I guess he wants to meet at Collette's huh?" asked Jonathan. "Yes." replied Jack, as he wondered how Jonathan knew that much about his social life. "Don't you have work to do?" He asked sternly. "See you tomorrow... mid-morning?" Jonathan insinuated playfully, quickly hiding his face behind his computer screen. "You mind your work. There is plenty more where that came from, and don't worry about me, I can hold my liquor." With that Jack threw on his overcoat, and fedora, and headed for the door. Meanwhile at Collette's Ben could barely contain his excitement about the collective. He had no definitive idea yet how it would all work, but he had a feeling that he couldn't ignore about its purpose. He pre-ordered a round of their favorite drink; Warp speed. A mixture of gin, tequila, sprite, and a splash of Chambord. An acquired concoction he and Jack created while on a serious bender during the early days of the Jewel project. He sat, and sipped the first delicious sip and thought about the possibilities of the collective. He felt warm and secure in the thought that his friend, and most trusted confidant would be the stalwart head of research and engineering. He was confident that the vote would pass. How could all the facts, all the proof earth was dying, and the real possibility of human extinction be ignored? Benjamin Snell was well known in the technology, and science industries as a pioneer, and visionary. He has worked at NWPI for twenty-two years, starting out as a junior executive before succeeding his mentor eleven years ago. In his time as acting director he has overseen the Jewel project, helped colonize Mars, and built the Space station Titan. The biggest and most spectacular ever created. He is truly revered in the space, and technology field, and is unanimously considered a man who will with great vitality complete any challenge laid before him. This is why he was chosen to be the voice for the environmental relief fund, better known now as initiative 701. Even though you couldn't convince him of these accomplishment. Ben is always deferring credit, and second guessing himself as shy genius often does. He looked at his watch, took another drink, and the door opened. There was Jack, the two men locked eyes... Ben could see that Jack had his panties in a bunch, but he knew a couple drinks would change that in no time. He waived at him to come over to the table, and waived to the server with the universal "we will have another round" hand gesture. Over Two hundred miles away in Fort Worth Texas a stretched limousine with tinted windows darker than coal pulled through a magnificently decorated iron gate, and pulled up to an immense estate house built of stone, and noticeably expensive hardware. A doorman rushed down the marble staircase, and opened the door. "Good evening Mr. Lomax." He said, as Ronald stepped out of the car, and brushed the breast of his suit to flatten any wrinkles. Ronald walked past the doorman as if he didn't exist, and the man frantically closed the limousine door, and sprinted past Ronald to beat him to the entrance of the estate. He ran as if his job depended on it, and it probably did I'm sure. He opened the large oak hand-carved front door, and waved Ronald inside. As Ronald crossed the threshold a very tall and chiseled man with thick black hair, and a true Texas five o'clock shadow approached to greet him. In a thick southern accent the man said. "Welcome to my home Mr. Lomax. I trust that your travels here were 1st class all the way. I spared no expense to get you here quickly, and most of all comfortably." As he winked, and nudged Ronald with his elbow playfully. This man is Trenton Wade. A very wealthy, and highly influential clean energy tycoon. Also a major contributor to the Elite agenda funded through Citizen-voice. In 2266 there was very little that ran on combustible fuels anymore, although coal and nuclear power were sadly as relevant as ever. It was around the turn of the 22nd century when World war three erupted over astronomical gas prices, crude oil shortages, and the power struggle between top super powers over control of the dwindling supply. In greedy yet triumphant fashion Elites finally abandoned all oil holdings, and put their funds into solar, and wind-turbine energy stations; Trenton Wade was a third generation multi-billionaire from such a transition. Ronald cracked a smile and replied "I surely did Mr. Wade, the jet, the booze, the car's... Bernadette." He was blushing a little at this point. "Well son... as you were just listing off all the spoils I thought you were going to leave out poor Bernie... I handpicked her myself. It would've been an awful shame to tell her you didn't think too much of her company." Trenton flung his arm around Ronald, making his blood pressure rise a few points. The two men started walking towards the living room. "Ronald, you know what?" "What, Mr. Wade?" Ronald replied "Please call me Trent, all my friends do. I understand that you made a call as instructed, after the meeting up there in D.C." "Yes I did." Ronald replied. "I just want you to understand that we all believe in Citizen-voice. Your little firm has pushed through some great legislation for us over the years, and we appreciate it greatly." "Thank you Trent, we do what we are asked to do, and with unwavering determination I might add." Trenton looked down at Ronald still with his arm around his shoulder, and leaned in real close to Ronald's left ear. "Yes... yes you have, but that was then and this is now." He began to say softly, and threateningly. "You had better see to it that the initiative to save Earth, cooked up by that gallivanting Yankee Ben Snell never gets passed... or I will personally send you to the darkest prison, put you in the deepest cell, and if you are lucky the thoughts of Bernadette will sustain you when some brute queer is closing in for a good night kiss. Do you understand me?" Ronald's eyes were as big as coasters, and he felt a deep chill run down his spine. He understood the words coming out of Trenton's mouth, but not at all the reason for saying them. "I understand... I" Ronald started to reply sheepishly, but before he could finish Trenton bid him good evening "Thanks for coming out tonight. I will have a car outside waiting for you." Ronald was thoroughly confused, and shell shocked... after all he had just arrived. Did this man just spend what had to be twenty-thousand credits, just to threaten him in person? The two men started to walk away in opposite directions. Ronald skulked toward the front door with his shoulders slumped feeling dejected and concerned, and Trenton Wade stopped cold, turned back toward him... and said. "You think me anything but serious Mr. Lomax, and you will regret that misjudgment for the rest of your days." It took poor Ronald a minute to even fathom this was happening... then he continued to the exit. As he approached the door he felt as though something was missing. "Where is the doorman?" he thought to himself... he shrugged the thought, and reached for the solid gold door handle. He couldn't believe his eyes... there in the driveway to his dismay was a yellow hover cab. He hung his head, and slowly pulled the door to the Wade estate closed. He meandered down the elegant marble staircase now angry, confused, and frightened. He opened the door to the cab, and slid into the car almost gelatinously. There on the seat next to him in punctuating fashion was an airline ticket. One coach seat on a connecting flight back to Oklahoma. He chuckled out loud as the point was clearly made. The ticket was as cheap as they come, it was for an airline that is notorious for being economically conscious. They have many highly publicized lawsuits brought against them for food poisoning, and overbooking, almost weekly. Ronald got the point loud, and clear. The Elite can do whatever they want, whenever they want, and can make or break you on a whim. The short ride to the airport felt like hours. He stared out the window, and thought about what had transpired over the past forty-eight hours. He was first approached at his office by a representative for a very wealthy donor to the Citizen-voice fund, with a message to meet them that afternoon for lunch. When he arrived at the restaurant the entire place was empty, and he was escorted to a circular table meant for at least eight people by a team of armed goons. There waiting for him was an attractive young woman that had apparently already finished her meal, and now sat waiting just for him. She sat with a sealed envelope in front of her. She didn't say a word until he sat, and looked at her with a questioning expression. "Mr. Lomax when I leave, read this letter. You can order anything on the menu, and when you are finished reading the letter, and eating your meal, leave the letter on the table, and go back to your office." She promptly stood up and exited the restaurant. Ronald read the letter first, and when he was done with it he didn't feel like eating. He simply stood up, and left the restaurant. It was a threatening letter from the donor about 'renewal objective one' and almost mirrored the sentiments that Trenton Wade had just shared with him. It said to dial 3-1-1 after the initial legislative hearing in Washington D.C. He already knew that Benjamin Snell getting the initiative to save Earth passed would mean the end of his life at least figuratively... but now very possibly literally, considering these new revelations. He was abruptly snapped out of his daze by the cab driver "Airport!" the man shouted. "That will be $95 credits sir." Ronald not surprised the cab wasn't paid for, just sighed and handed the driver his World capital card. The driver held it up to the credit scanner then handed the card back with two fingers, and didn't utter another word. Ronald stepped slowly out of the cab and closed the door, the hover cab sped off, and Ronald lazily made his way into the airport feeling exhausted and defeated; he couldn't wait to get back home. Half way across the state back at Collette's two old friends were three warp speeds deep into a heated conversation about the fate of Earth and humanity in general. Jack slammed his glass on the table after slurping down the last drink, the table was strewn with empty plates, used napkins, and bucket glasses with melted ice as the only remaining liquid in them. He looked up and raised his finger slowly pointing it toward Ben. "You don't get it do you?" He said with less of a question, and more of a factual undertone. "I don't get what? We have been going around about this for an hour you're the one that doesn't seem to get it my friend." Ben responded a few ticks louder than he would have if he were sober. Jack shook his head and laughed a muffled laugh to himself, and let out a sarcastic sigh "You don't get that we can't do what you think we can do. The one world collective sounds great in theory, and on paper. However it will be nearly impossible to pull off! I mean gathering natural resources from other planets..." Jack leaned toward Ben, swaying a little from his intoxication. "There is some deeply ingrained positive brainwash going on with you. It makes you overly optimistic, and through form almost completely unrealistic at times." Jack slapped his hands palm down on the table causing the bartender to take notice. "The fucking planet could explode and we could be hurdling through space on a rock the size of your car, and you would tell me that we could rebuild somehow." Ben glared at him for a while, holding back his initial thought to just unleash verbal hell on Jack, and defend himself, and his way of thinking, turning this conversation into a full-fledged argument. This was the old Ben however, he had been through enough years where his passion, and unwavering positive attitude cost him valuable team members or set projects back months at a time. He thought about all of the times that he, and Jack had conversations just like this one about things not nearly as important. He regretted not taking a more diplomatic approach, then and thought this a good opportunity to start. This was the biggest challenge that he and NWPI had ever faced, and the very fate of our planet, and our species depended on it. As these thoughts ran through his mind, his expression changed to a softened and understating look. The delay in response, and the subsequent look Ben gave him took Jack by surprise as he was bracing for the patented Snell passion speech. "Your right Jack, I am ridiculously positive. It can, and has been a fault at times. It has also been a huge asset to me, and everyone in my life; including you. Where would we be if I wasn't blinded by a can do attitude? Where would I be if you hadn't been there to challenge me every step of the way?" Jack sat back in his seat with all the air let out of his tires. Even though this wasn't a competition he felt just a bit defeated. The heated back, and forth he had come to know... rather expect when he and Ben had a huge challenge to overcome wasn't there this time, and it sobered him a bit. "I don't know my friend, we wouldn't have finished the Jewel project that's for sure." "This is bigger than anything we have endeavored, and it will not be done by us alone, but if we don't get the initiative passed to fund the one world collective than we can all settle in for a maybe twenty or thirty year final act." Ben replied sitting back in his seat, and letting out a sigh. "Well let's get out of here, I want all department heads in my office at eight AM tomorrow morning." Ben swiped is World capital card through the table card scanner, and the bill was paid instantly, with a 30% gratuity included of course. The two men pushed themselves up from the table, and could instantly tell they had been tossing them back. They both waved to the bartender, and headed out the door to catch the next glide rail. The next day at NWPI headquarters Jack and the other six department heads sat waiting for Ben to arrive. The clock read 7:59am, and he still hadn't arrived. This from the man that considered you late if you arrived any less than five minutes early to a meeting. "I am sure he will be here any minute everyone." Jack said to his team, to break the awkward silence. "What planet are we on? Ben is never late." Said Jason Henderson the head of internal systems, and on board AI. The rest of the team started to get restless, and murmur amongst themselves. When the door flung open with a bang, and Ben walked in looking as though hadn't slept for one minute last night. Jack quickly noticed he was even wearing the same clothes from Collette's. Ben dropped a box on the table that looked like it was almost ready to disintegrate before their very eyes. The box had all kinds of important looking information written on it in fading ink, and military top secret stickers tattooed on the side. Jack leaned back in his seat, and took a sip of his coffee. "Well let me guess... the answers to all our problems are inside that box?" Ben started laughing hysterically, pretty soon others started to laugh as people often do out of habit, or nerves. "I don't have any idea if the answers we seek are in this box... but I did look at the contents contained within all night... up to about twenty minutes ago." Ben said while looking at his Omni-write Raven in shock. Everyone looked at Ben like he was a little crazy at this point. Jack rubbed the bridge of his nose, and leaned forward "What is in the box Ben?" Ben looked at all of the wondering faces of his subordinates, and took a step back from the table. "I am going to get some coffee." He headed over to the kitchenette in the corner of the conference room, and pulled a cup from the cabinet, slid it under the brew station, tapped a button on the options screen that said 'large-black', and within seconds he had a steaming hot cup of plain black coffee. "Ben would you..." Jack began to say, but Ben put up his finger with his eyes closed, and took a sip of the delicious fresh brewed coffee. "Ah, that hits the spot. Now back to the box. I had just got home from Collette's where I had dinner with you Jack. I poured myself one last night cap, and was sitting on my favorite white leather chair, staring out at a particularly devilish red sunset when the doorbell rang. I went to the door, and there in the foyer was this box, and taped to the box was a note. The note read "This will help you, I want you to know Dr. Kleczka was not crazy." there was no name on the note. I took the box inside, and sat in front of the fireplace. I looked through its contents all night." A large smile came over his face, and he took another sip of his coffee. Jack knew this face, it was the same look he gave when the Russian division of NWPI sent over a new thrust equation to try on Jewel, the one that eventually worked. Ben didn't know exactly what was in the box, but he knew that Jack would. "What are you getting at Ben?" Jack asked hesitantly. "What is in this box is well beyond me, but I stared at it for nine hours as I drank scotch, and tried to make sense of it. Jack you said I guess all the answers to our problems are in here, well I need you to find out if they are, because whoever left it for me must think so." With that he slid the box toward Jack, and the box skidded to a stop about one foot short of dropping in his lap. Ben turned and headed for the door "Where are you going?" Jack shouted. "Home, I need some sleep. I trust you all will have a very eventful day today." Ben quickly disappeared through the closing door, and down the hall


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