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Flat Earth

Chapter One

Rooters: Global Population to Level by 2090

Keep right on having babies, experts say, and it won’t make a difference to world population. A crazy claim? They have the numbers to prove it.

Growing food shortages and increasingly unfertile land will likely have less effect on population than standard of living, says Berkley think tank on world resources. The standard of living is expected to increase 15 percent in the developing world and 64 percent in the western nations. Even this small increase, claims Berkley demographer Dinni Ker, will lessen population by 30 percent world-wide even while bringing many more resources to less people. Economically, the world has never been in better shape, says Ker, who is a Department of Defence advisor to the president. In his refreshingly sincere way, he tells us all we need to do is wait and the apples that remain on the tree will fall into our lap.

 

Jamie always felt guilty about speeding. “Speed kills,” she would tell her grade eight students, if she could get them to sit still long enough to listen to her warnings. She also felt guilty about being late for work. Today—as was becoming increasingly common lately—those two warring impulses resulted in Jamie tearing down the dirt road that led from her new house to her school. “They can’t start unless I’m there. Actually,” Jamie said aloud to her complaining car, “I’ll be lucky if they don’t kill each other by the time I arrive.”

Perhaps it was because her Ford Mustang was swerving on the recently graded road, or it was just too damn early to make good observations. Or perhaps because her husband—”ex,” Jamie yelled as the car refused to go into third and she was sliding towards the ditch—had somehow found out the PIN to her bank card, but somehow Jamie didn’t notice that her world had been sheared off. The only hint she had that this Monday morning was any different than any other since she’d started at the new school was a flash in the rear view mirror and a flickering in her vision as her car ploughed up the piled debris on the side of the road.

Realising that she’d pushed too hard through the year—even her counsellor had said as much—and that she must be suffering from stress-related vision problems, Jamie didn’t swear like she wanted to. The Mustang was Jamie’s gift to herself after a reluctant divorce. Brad had been fun and the two years had passed quickly, but Jamie had seen the end of the relationship when her bank account began an inexorable and inexplicable decline. Brad’s gambling problem, which he compounded by his occasional dip into speed, had doomed them from the start. As much as Jamie hated to admit it, her mother had been right. The consolation of the Mustang had followed quickly after the divorce, although Brad had left her in poor shape to afford it.

Driving still gave her a thrill and it was a thrill she had decided to enjoy while she could. World oil reserves were rapidly running out and the only people who predicted a rosy future worked for the U.S. Geological Survey, an organisation constrained by political exigency. Cars were another reason to feel guilty. Although, by the feel of the car when she rocked it between first and reverse, it was a guilt Jamie would only feel again if she did some digging.

 

Rooters: Global Warming on Mars Points to Non-Human Origin

In a breath of fresh air today, the US Geological Survey reported that NASA’s preliminary report on the melting of the Martian icecaps is definitive proof that Earth’s global warning may have nothing to do with human activity.

“Just finding evidence of the same effect on another planet helps us all breathe a little easier,” says Rfeze Evting. “We have been hearing so much fear-mongering about our carbon emissions and consumption of fossil fuels that it’s a relief to have another player on the field.”

The sun is the culprit, says experts. With periodic sunspots having the potential to raise Earth temperatures as much as several degrees, they claim the melting of the Antarctic ice shelf should not be a shock.

Greenpeace Environmentalists, such as Elva Shinner, calls the news a “thinly veiled attempt to hide the truth.” Citing such studies as the recent report by the World Climate Watch, Shinner believes that the Geological Survey’s misinterpretation of NASA’s photos is more than coincidental. “They are in the employ of the government, which means they answer to big oil. We can hardly expect valid science out of them. After all, they’re the ones that, contrary to all contemporary research, said peak oil would not come until 2035.”

The US Geological Survey has been in hot water since their infamous statement about peak oil in the same year it was peaking, but could they be right this time? If they are, then we may look to the astronomers to tell us when the solar heatwave is going to end.

 

Wendell Yerxa never claimed to have a direct line to god, nor had he ever called himself god’s primary servant, but he had judgement to spare. “He had no business having that woman over with his wife gone. She wasn’t even of the church.”

“That’s right.” Thelma agreed in a desultory fashion and Wendell looked to make sure she was listening.

“I’m going over there. I’m going over there and I’m going to put him straight. His daughter’s life is at stake. Look what it did to her.”

“Don’t bring that up again, Wen. You know what that’ll cause.”

“It’s the lord’s judgement. The lord’s judgement and we had better pay attention. He broke a holy commandment and now he is punished. God is merciful. He’s lucky not to be struck by lightning.”

“Lucky. Yep lucky.”

“I know he’s your brother, but remember what the lord said: ‘even family will not win against the judgement of the lord.’”

Thelma glanced at Wendell to see if he actually believed he was quoting and then turned back to her tea, the only sure thing in her world. Mint tea that she had picked herself. “We should get out and pick some mint, Wen. The season will be gone before we get a chance and we’ll have nothing to trade at the store.”

“The lord will provide.” Wendell was in full biblical mode now and Thelma knew she’d have no sense out of him until he had confronted her brother Douglas.

“Go then. Tell him his daughter’s got gland problems and had to have brain surgery and almost died because he fooled around. Tell him that.”

“Now, Thel, you know it ain’t like that. But the way of the lord is the straight and narrow—”

“You better get over there. Before he goes to work and you have to tell his daughter yourself.”

 

Rooters: New Deposits of Methane Found on Ocean Floor

All the energy we need is on the sea bottom, claim scientists, now all we need to do is go get it. World Energy advisor to the United Nations, Oly Burn argues that energy loss is a misnomer. He says “the semantic problem hides the fact that energy does not get removed from a closed system, such as the Earth, but merely goes elsewhere.”

“That elsewhere,” says Burn, “is the bottom of the sea where tiny bacterium have been storing potential energy since the dawn of time. We have to get used to the fact that energy is not a stable source-based equation. Energy is fluid and it is only our ingenuity in tapping it that is diminishing.”

Asked how the crystallized methane could be brought to the ocean’s surface without precipitating into a gas, Burn says to look to the past. “At one time we couldn’t enter a coal mine for fear of explosion or flooding. We couldn’t pump oil because it was down some thousands of feet and we had no equipment that could reach it. If there is a market for the product, and crystallized methane has it, then the market will find a way.”

Burn, who has started his own company to investigate the matter, claims he will own 90 percent of the world’s energy by 2020. “Only Denmark and Iceland will be left using renewables, and they will be switching to ocean floor methane when their winds go away and the magma cools. We’re peddling the world’s energy future.”

 

Frank felt in his pocket for his Swiss army knife before he locked the door to his house. Amy called it a shack, and he hated remembering what Debbie called it. He knew it wasn’t much to look at, and Amy wasn’t impressed when her new friends at school asked her about living in the woods, but his shack was just the beginning. He wasn’t some rabid survivalist, digging holes and target practicing. Frank was a family man trying to provide for Amy the best he could in tough times. Food was getting expensive and already people in the big cities—and not just the usual suspects—were going hungry. At least on the land his father had left him, Frank could plant food. And if the toxins from the mill blew the other way, it might even be safe enough to eat. Frank already had plans for a house, and the foundation logs were peeled and sitting on rocks in the clearing below the shack. “Soon,” he kept telling Amy, “we’ll have a house better than anyone else’s.”

For Frank, this was a promise fraught with emotion. His wife Debbie had left enough of a vacuum behind her that he couldn’t even tell if she’d run off with someone else. She didn’t leave a note, unless leaving Amy behind was meant to signify something about the finality of their break-up. Frank’s world had crashed when he’d woken to find Debbie gone and only birdcalls responding to his yells in the quiet glade. Amy’s presence was a godsend and he tried to make it up to her that her mother had left.

Amy wasn’t sure she missed her mother, whom she mostly remembered by sharp ringing sounds of slammed dishes in the kitchen, or by how she’d pinch Amy’s thin belly. “You’re getting fat. Fat just like your Aunt Joanie. You’ll have to watch it. You’ll end up just like her.”

Although Joanie was famous in the family in terms of her mother’s stories, and Amy had no reason to doubt her existence, her mother’s troubling lack of ability to remember Joanie’s age, as well as her refusal to say who Joanie was the sister of, made Amy sceptical as she grew old enough to ask questions.

“I miss her,” Amy would tell her friends, “but only on Saturdays.”

“Are you dead?” Amy used to ask the blank sky, but when no answer came and a few years went by, she began to forget.

Having woken from a disturbing dream about Emeroy—who sat beside her in chemistry and cheated off her at tests—and her mother’s corpse, Amy left for school without waking her dad. Embarrassingly, he always wanted to bring her to school in his old truck, so turning her early rising to good effect, Amy made it nearly to the big hill.

She was just beginning to regret not getting a drive when she heard his truck behind her. She turned to watch him approach, her relief mixed with guilt, when she saw the land rise. Behind her dad’s truck, in a huge fold that took up half the sky, the land was coming after her dad. Too scared to scream, Amy could barely whisper, “Watch out, Dad.”

Frank was proud of Amy’s independence, although waking alone in the empty cabin—which was small enough that the curtain around her cot was visible and showed that she was gone—was more of a reminder of her mother than he wanted. Waking inexplicably fearful, Frank was happy he had to get some nails and roofing, and had an excuse to spend the drive with Amy. The acid fears in his stomach were settling into abrupt burps when he saw Amy at the foot of the big hill, but that momentary comfort disappeared when he glanced into his rear view mirror and saw the land rising behind him. “What the fuck,” Frank momentarily slipped into the profanity he was trying to limit around Amy, and sped toward his daughter. He was hoping he’d get to her before whatever was ripping through the world tore them apart as well.


Chapter Two

Rooters: The Hottest Summer on Record: Cars Blamed

This summer promises to be the balmiest yet, meteorologists say. The combination of little precipitation over much of the continental United States, the ozone’s layer’s rapid deterioration, and greenhouse emissions has led fearful climatologists to conclude it’s sunblock time.

“The greenhouse effect is being accelerated with the growth of the car industry,” claims NASA climatologist Tumb Verde. “The combination of carbon monoxides and dioxides are accumulating faster than expected and their growth points to the recent policies of the big three automakers. Domestic energy policy combined with economic changes have led to less restrictions on auto emissions,” says Verde, “and the result is hotter days and less cooling at night. The carbon gases act as a blanket covering us, even if we’re too hot.”

It’s not all bad news, though. The summer rains that annoy the vacationer in Oregon and Washington state are likely to stay away, and Maine will see a fifty percent decrease in insect life. What’s bad for some is good for others.

 

“This is the last time,” Drew said to himself as he waved and said hello to his neighbour who parked beside him. Although its residents felt it was growing too fast, Grafton was a small town in eastern Massachusetts. Its size may have been to blame, or the conservative nature of puritan New England, but whatever the cause, Drew hadn’t felt welcome since he’d arrived from Oregon. He’d come for an IT job, writing the tediously complicated code that remotely controlled tiny satellites. “I’m working on the solution,” Drew liked to tell people. Micro tech would change everything. From energy usage to resource extraction and toxic waste cleanup. Drew hoped his claims were right.

Although Drew was liked at MIT, he had never fit into Grafton, especially the townhouse community of Riverview, the only place he’d been able to afford. “It’s something in the water,” he’d joke to his friends back in Oregon. But when he told them about the Wyman Gordon effluent of heavy metals and arsenic in the local stream, the joke palled. The people were just unfriendly. When he brought home coworkers he’d met at the lab in Boston, it became obvious that Graftonites were afraid of anyone who was different. On his way to the car in the morning, his cheery hello would be returned by a silent stare until, uncomfortable, he’d look away. The only person who greeted him was a woman whose children had disabilities. She lived in the unit across from his. Perhaps she felt as isolated as him.

“You’re a sucker for punishment,” Earl at the lab told him when he complained about the lack of response to his greetings, and Drew was starting to agree.

During his morning commute Drew had just begun to fantasize about moving, selling the townhouse and taking a loss, when his car came to a halt beside the eastbound ramp to the highway. With the occupants of several other cars and a huge truck, Drew stood by the sheared off guard-rail and looked at the blank metal. No one swore about being late for work, or cheered that the toll booth was gone, but instead, in a creepy silence, they stood and looked at where the highway had been.

 

Rooters: Asteroid Strike Could Increase Species Loss

With more than a hundred satellites trained on the distant skies, NASA scientist Forbes Edwards hopes to prevent a meteor strike like the one that caused the death of the dinosaurs. “Although the chances of a meteor strike of that magnitude are quite slim, more than a 200,000 objects hit the Earth every day. And it might be thousands of years before one falls that is significant enough to kill people.”

That’s a big “might,” for those of us waiting on the ground, but at least NASA, working with Edwards and his satellites, is trying to do something about it. “We want to even the odds. If we can detect an object while it’s still distant, we can possibly destroy it in space,” says NASA spokesperson Leslie Utford.

Environmentalists say that a meteor strike is the least of our worries. Elva Shinner, with Earth Watch, says that “With the sixth extinction of species already underway, a meteor strike would surely be redundant. We have more important problems to worry about than the vague possibility that a rock from space may wipe out life on Earth. By recent reports, human activity has already decimated more than sixty percent of species in the last hundred years. Richard Leakey has quite accurately called our time that of the sixth extinction. Rather than preparing for the end, I would suggest we become part of the solution and do something about it.”

Although Shinner’s prophecies are as dark as Edwards’, at least the Earth will be prepared for the infinitesimal chance of being hit by a rock from space. Now if we can just stop throwing rocks at each other.

 

Donna had been thinking about Dave’s proposal ever since he’d made it. One of the things she liked least about the suburbs was the stereotype that housewives screwed around all day while their husbands worked. Even though Donna had no husband, and didn’t work herself—since her compensation cheque was helping her recover from an anxiety disorder—she didn’t want to fit into a stereotype.

“Dave’s a nice enough guy,” she told herself for the fifth time since she had woken up early with a headache and a rushing sound in her ears. “Maybe that’s what I need to break out of this funk.” She made a decision to ask her counsellor about it.

Donna was so proud that she’d made a decision, she almost didn’t realise how the view out her kitchen window had changed. Usually she would look at Dave’s house while she poured herself a cup of coffee, or when the school bus was due, she’d wistfully watch the kids waiting at the end of the road. Today, as though god had waxed the neighbourhood and ripped them away, the houses and kids were gone and only a sheet of burnished metal greeted her sight.

Dropping her coffee in the sink, and pouring water until the tap sputtered and dried, Donna went onto the step. Her paper was waiting for her, wrapped in the plastic she had fought both the newspaper office and the paper boy not to use when they delivered it. Donna automatically picked it up. I guess I don’t have to worry about sleeping with him anymore. Donna looked towards where his house had been. Now that she looked into the distance, the mountains were missing as well. All that was left was perhaps a few miles of porous looking metal, and a few miles away, amongst the hills and forests, were strangely shaped houses that hadn’t been there the day before.

Donna looked at her neighbour Tammy in amazement, but Tammy went inside and slammed her door. Twenty minutes later, when Donna was hesitating over her Xanax and had set it aside, she realised the change was affecting her. “Something’s happening out there. This isn’t just the end of the world I was afraid of. Unless it is. Either way I had better stay with it.” Donna talked to herself out loud—one of the privileges of living alone—and her words sounded flat in her tiled bathroom.

Neither Donna’s television nor radio picked up a signal, and when she tried to call Dave out of an impulse she couldn’t name, the phone had no dial tone. Digging through the back closet for camping gear and pulling open the cupboards for what food that was light to carry, Donna stuffed the pack she’s kept from her carefree days—as she thought of them—and set off across the metal towards a setting sun that should have been rising in the east.

 

Weekly World News: Prayer Against Pesticides

Prayer has the potential to heal thousands in the Roundup drenched waters of the lower 48, world religious leaders claim. If they’re right, then what the World Health Organisation called the worst agricultural disaster since the disappearance of the Nile may soon be history.

Father Mientras, of Holy Water and Wine Cathedral, in Missing, Wyoming, told reporters Wednesday that his prayers have healed twenty of his parishioners already this week. Fighting their way through the eager crowds of the faithful, our photographers captured images of Mientras pouring pure mountain water on the faithful while chanting the lord’s prayer and calling out for healing.

The release of Round-up Fifty-Seven without adequate testing has ravaged hundreds of thousands of farmers and residents living in or near the Platte, Mississippi, and Colorado River basins. Although the death toll has yet to be calculated, says emergency measures operatives, it is estimated to be in the tens of thousands.

With Mientras’ faith healing helping those who can travel to Missing, and with many more on the way as national guard soldiers clear the roads, Round-up may soon be thanking god as well, for healing the sick and preventing a bankruptcy.

 

Wendell was still confirmed in his beliefs when he arrived at the road that went to his brother-in-law’s trailer, but somehow the sight of the home itself—with its depressing Christmas decorations still up after six months—made his pause. Is this indeed what the lord wants me to do?

Seeing Julie stepping heavily down the narrow steps of the trailer strengthened his resolve. She shouldn’t have to live like this, he said to himself. She was a cute little thing and look at her now, all because of her father.

“Hi, Uncle Wendy.”

She hadn’t starting screwing up his name until after the surgery. Her dad had a lot to answer for and he’d be answering for it today. “Morning Julie. Your father home?”

“Inside,” Julie gestured listlessly with one hand, and began the flatfooted walk that would take her to the bus.

On his return Wendell was less convinced of the lord’s path. His arm was bruised from the door latch where Douglas had shoved him outside, and most of his message had to be yelled from the yard, trying to compete with Douglas’ stereo on full blast.

He hadn’t quite got around to blaming the lord, but Wendell was in a foul mood on his drive home. Before he’d gone more than five kilometres his wheels began to grip like they were in quicksand. Getting out of the car to see what was happening, Wendell realised the turn in the road he’d driven a hundred times no longer led anywhere, and that in front of him was instead a vast field of grey metal. He looked back at his car in time to see it melt into the road, its gas tank puffing into sludge which the gravel soaked up, his wheels and rims and suspension disappearing as if they were eaten by acid.

Dropping to his knees, Wendell closed his eyes and prayed, hoping that when he opened them again his car would be idling on the side of the dirt road and the intersection would be back to normal.

Peeking between his eyelids as he asked god’s forgiveness for everything he could think of, Wendell was horrified to see that nothing remained of his car but a swirl of things he’d kept in the dash, a flashlight and lighter, some rolling papers and gum, as well as the miscellaneous wrappers and trash he’d forgotten. Stumbling over the trash, still not believing that his car was gone, Wendell picked up the flashlight and lighter and began the humiliating walk back to Doug’s place, planning what he was going to say.

 

Rooters: Rising Sea Levels Swamp Housing Market

Many doom laden statements have been made about global warming, but perhaps none hit the American real-estate market as hard as recent recommendations from the Department of Land Management. The DLM suggests that all citizens living within ten feet of sea level consider moving within the next decade.

“We are not making prophecies. We merely use our computer models, and the latest meteorological forecasts that imply that seaside living may not be viable for some years to come.” Meteorologist Lat Neer’s statement is not meant to be fear provoking, but thousands are deserting the popular seaside resorts and cottage sales are at an all-time low. Just when the so-called real-estate bubble has already cost billions of dollars in potential revenue, this latest panic has many realtors worried.

Even Ned Ugain, from the Federal Reserve, says “the market may have to be artificially propped up by millions funded from other budgets. The social welfarists are going to scream as usual, but in order to promote industrial growth, we have to give the major corporations tax cuts and decrease spending on social programs. This is our only choice.”

Ugain is not the only one in a bind. Canny investors find that much of the seafront property, which has been selling for one cent on the dollar, is now unavailable. “How do they expect a speculator to make a living if they just go and sew up our chances?” complains Alymer Burke. “I was hoping to turn the panic into a million homes with a beautiful view, and provide income for hundreds of workers.” In a move that has many crying foul, the Land and Resources Department has confiscated seashore property and is holding it until such time as it becomes financially feasible.

 

“Houston, Houston. I am in position. Repeat. Shuttle Atlantis is in position.” Jim Evards felt more secure now that he had arrived at his destination. Missions should go as planned and he disliked complications.

“Maybe they never heard you.” His co-pilot Chester Rimski tended to belabour the obvious. Even worse, Chester was responsible for the tiny St. Christopher medal glued below the shuttle windscreen.

“A few more missions under your belt and you’ll see. Mission control hears everything. Even if the ground crew couldn’t pick up a transmission they—” Jim broke off rather than mention spy satellites.

“Shuttle Atlantis. Shuttle Atlantis. Deploy instruments.”

Once the confusing barrage of equipment had been released, Jim and Chester had more time for talk.

“What’s all that gear for anyway?”

“Testing the Near Earth Orbit system.” Jim was dismissive of the satellites that the NEO team had put into orbit, but he kept that to himself.

“Look at that.”

Chester didn’t need to point. Jim knew that he was looking at the smear of toxic cloud over most of the eastern states. “Yeah. What are ya going to do?” It was an effort to sound casual. Jim felt the same desperation as many of the people on Earth. Cancers were on the rise, asthma almost eighty percent in new-borns, and sterility more and more common. “At least we’re shooting blanks now.”

“What?”

“At least we’re not bringing more people into this. That’s something anyway.”

“There’s still lots of people having kids. We won’t be stopping that in a hurry. Not that we’d want to.”

“No.” Talk of population control was Firster talk, a bunch of environmental freaks who’d have people in zoos if they had their choice.

“So now it’s just a waiting game?” Chester was happy to change the topic.

“Now it’s up to the instruments. If they can’t find out what’s wrong with the NEO satellites, then we might as well go home.”

Jim paid little attention to the concerns of the astronomers who funded his mission although he knew that Houston was nervous about satellites going offline. The near object satellite line had just been completed and the bugs were compounding. Apparently the network sensed a huge object approaching, too huge not to have been seen, and moving impossibly fast. Meanwhile, other sensors, even cameras, saw nothing. Amateur and professional astronomers alike claimed that close stars appeared riffled, as though affected by gravitational lensing. NASA listened enough to send out their last shuttle before they outsourced the space game to China’s new sub-orbital space plane.

“What do you think we’re going to find out?”

“Actually I have a theory. The infrared finds something, or rather a bunch of objects. Right?”

“OK.”

“The astronomers have seen nothing. Nor has the visible light detectors. I say we’ve got a lot of small meteorites moving fast and probably broken off from a comet, picking up the heat from the sun.”

“And what happens when they hit?” Chester was getting interested in the scenario.

“They burn up in the atmosphere. More water in the upper atmosphere. Everyone wins.” Jim was pleased with the neatness of his prediction.

“And if it’s—”

“Shuttle Atlantis. Do you have a visual confirmation that the instruments are deployed?”

“The instruments are deployed, Houston.”

“Shuttle Atlantis.” There was a brief pause. “Do you see anything?”

Jim knew better than to ask Houston to define their statements, so he looked out the forward port and gestured Chester to do the same. “Houston. The space station is below the horizon. Our external tank is to starboard nearly—” Jim checked his instruments “—twenty kilometres away. Nothing else in sight.”

Scarcely five minutes later, Houston called frantically but neither Jim nor Chester were paying attention. Far below them, on the North American continent, a huge gash had opened, dividing the clouds as if with a knife. As they watched, the knife cut a slice out of the eastern seaboard.

“Houston,” Jim began. “Houston—”

“What the hell are you going to tell them about that?” Chester said.

Still watching the decapitation of clouds and tearing of the Earth far below them, they both nearly missed the ringing of proximity alarms. Almost as a reflex Jim yanked on the controller and saw a flicker, just as Chester yelled, of an immense object moving rapidly towards him. Throwing his arms up and yelling to Chester that they were going to crash, Jim nearly missed the best touchdown of his career.

The land in front of them, which reminded him of Earth except he could still see Earth in his right port, came up towards them, and then slowed. His shuttle set down on its nose, of all things, and then gently dropped on its side. Without the shearing of metal or the shrieking of the wind, somehow the shuttle had landed undamaged.

Jim looked at Chester, who was pointing out the window as the land settled beneath them, and then unbuckled his belt. Whatever happened, at least he wouldn’t be blamed for damaging the Atlantis, easily the most expensive aircraft in history.

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