As some of you know by now, I've been working on re-editing Exodus, and it is almost ready - just a few more days to go before it's out there! In the meantime I have another little piece for you, a small sample from the final version. This is an excerpt from chapter four, in which Trevor Hayes, National security advisor, and one of the main characters from the book, meets up with someone with a dangerous idea.
The balance between freedom and security is an extremely important subject. Many of us have seen the heinous acts of terrorism a little too close for comfort, but the important thing is not to let the terrorists win by scaring us into sacrificing freedom for more security. In Exodus, that has already happened...
August 2073 ~ Near Roanoke, Virginia
It was late August. In Virginia’s humid summer air and sunny days, people usually took to the shade by day, coming out in the afternoons and evenings. Sitting on the terrace outside his friend’s cabin, Trevor Hayes could only marvel at the view. The sun was setting and cast a red-orange light that gave the lake a glow, as if the entire lake was on fire. It was truly magnificent. Mark came out and sat beside him, handing him a can of beer, fresh from the cooler.
“What do you think?” he said. “Like the view? Spent a fortune on it. Thought it would be worth it.”
Of course, they both knew it would come to an end. Mark Novak was one of the scientists brought in to work on Project Exodus. For the last few years, he’d been involved in medical research on how to sustain lower body temperatures to levels that halted metabolism. They had found that it would be entirely possible to sustain life for years, and their research had shown one of the side effects to be that the aging processes went into an almost dormant state. Aging wasn’t completely halted, but so far they were able to slow it by a factor of about one hundred. Originally this had been part of an experimental study to optimize conditions for prolonged surgery, but it had always been thought that “cryo-sleep” would be quite similar to this. Now it seemed the need had arisen for just that kind of expertise, with star flight suddenly no longer a remote possibility but a requirement for the survival of the human race.
“So what happened to that fiancée of yours?” Trevor said, and grinned; he knew Mark had a history of being quite a womanizer. Mark shrugged and faked an innocent look on his face.
“Ah, she left. I have no idea why, although I doubt she sees eye to eye with her sister anymore, if you know what I mean.” He winked, and Trevor burst out laughing. He hadn’t seen his friend more than maybe once a year or so since they’d gone their separate ways after high school. Mark had gone to Duke University and Trevor went to Harvard. But they stayed in touch, sporadically, even though it was difficult as they were both busy and ambitious. And here they were, working on the same project, knowing what few others did. Mark looked out at the lake, and he seemed to have something on his mind.
“What’s up, buddy?” Mark shook his head, which made Trevor even more certain that there was something bothering him.
“Come on, man, I know there’s something.” Mark didn’t answer. He got a different look on his face, sort of distant, but with a touch of anger at something. He still didn’t say anything as he got to his feet and went to get them both another beer. In the distance, he heard a car, and after a few seconds, he could hear it coming closer. Then, just as Trevor heard the car pull to a stop, Mark came back carrying three cans of beer.
“There’s someone I’d like you to meet. His name is Thatcher. I just heard his car; he’ll be here in a sec.” A few moments later, a man in his fifties came around the house and greeted Mark as an old friend, then gave Trevor a firm handshake as he introduced himself.
“I’m Richard Thatcher,” he said with a smile. “And I know who you are.” Trevor didn’t know what to say, so he laughed politely. Mark got another chair, and they all sat down. Thatcher had some kind of intensity about him, and it made Trevor a bit uneasy. Who is this man? he wondered.
“Mark here said you are the one to talk to,” Thatcher smiled.
“About what?” Trevor said quizzically.
“About Exodus.” Trevor felt a shiver. As national security advisor, he had a list of the names of every single person involved, and no Thatcher was on that list. His eyes narrowed, and he turned toward his friend.
“Mark, you are aware that telling …” Mark shook his head, interrupting him.
“I never told anyone, I swear. But he knows everything.” Thatcher still smiled.
“Don’t worry, Trevor,” he said. “I’m here because I think you are a good man, and being a friend of Mark’s only confirms that belief. Since you probably can’t speak about this, why don’t you let me sum up what I’ve learned so far?” Thatcher took a deep swallow from his can, and his smile widened.
“All right. Within three years, we’ll be able to see Devastator with the naked eye. Have you thought about what that means? It’s getting closer, so every time it comes back into view, it will be like a steadily growing star in the sky. This will go on for the next eight years or so, until impact.” Trevor nodded. All this was known to him, but he didn’t say anything, as it seemed Thatcher needed to show how far his knowledge went, to prove that he already knew, and that whatever Trevor said concerning the facts would be no breach of his confidentiality.
“During the last few encounters prior to impact, there will be a lot of debris falling down on Earth, as a bombardment from space, and strange weather, although I’m still not sure what they mean by that. But a lot of debris will probably settle in the upper atmosphere, causing a worldwide drop in temperatures. The effects of all that will be bad enough. But as we both know, it is impact that we really should fear. The killer impact.” Thatcher stopped and spread his hands, as if saying there, now you know that I know. Trevor said nothing, so it was Mark who broke the silence.
“So, Trevor, how do you think it’ll be, when the bastard hits us?” Trevor thought for a second. What could be the harm of discussing that, when Thatcher already knew the rest? He knew he shouldn’t, but his curiosity for where this conversation would be going took over, so he tried to formulate an answer.
“Well, I guess there are multiple outcome possibilities, all devastating to some degree. The most probable outcome is that just a small number of people survive, by pure chance. No bunkers or shelters will do us any good here. But some will survive. To kill every living being on the planet, it would probably take the sun to explode, or the planet to disintegrate. And that won’t happen.” He paused, sipped his beer, and managed to smile, despite the grim topic.
“Now, humans are adaptable, more so than most of us think. Trust me, I’ve seen that close up more than once.” Mark nodded; he knew that Trevor had seen more than most people. Not surprisingly, Thatcher seemed to know that as well.
“Those who survive such an event will be resourceful, and I don’t think this will be the end of the human race. However, I do believe this will mark the end of our civilization as we know it. I don’t think people have thought that far yet, but the aftermath of such an event will be a long period of sheer survival—decades, maybe centuries. Then, slowly will come a period of growth and expansion, but from almost nothing.” He shook his head, thinking that this was the future they had to look forward to, if they were among the survivors. He saw that Thatcher nodded knowingly. It was obvious he’d had the same thoughts too, because before Trevor could continue, Thatcher spoke.
“In such times, knowledge that is not directly applicable to short-term survival will be deemed useless, however we think about it today. Education will be on the lowest level you can think of for a very long time, and the accumulated knowledge of human civilization will deteriorate. This will go on for a long time, until at some point the remaining population will be able to create a surplus of goods, such as food, to make trade possible again.” Trevor remembered his history lessons well, and could only agree.
“Of course. Trade is the real key” he said, and Thatcher smiled.
“Yes, it is. Trade creates all kinds of specializations. And demands. Only when trade is possible will education, science, and culture regain their place in society. But by then, generations may have passed, wars may have been fought, with sticks and stones I guess, once the armories are emptied or destroyed. The lights in the sky may have changed from stars to objects of worship. Really, who knows how far this might go?” Thatcher laughed softly, although with a hint of bitterness to his voice.
“The civilization growing up from all that may not resemble ours in the least. We may not even be remembered as being real, but as a myth, as something that future human beings consider superstition! And there’s always the possibility that our optimism on behalf of humanity is misplaced, and that we actually do go extinct on Earth …” Then Thatcher got a determined look on his face. He spoke directly to Trevor now, as Mark got up and excused himself. Then the two of them were alone on the terrace.
“So you see why we need to preserve whatever we have right now, and ship it far, far away? It may be our only chance. This civilization of ours has lost a lot of the qualities it once had, but it’s still worth saving, don’t you think?” Careful, Trevor thought, as he shot the older man a sharp look. Thatcher continued, undisturbed, although a twinkle in his eye gave away that he’d picked up on Trevor’s reaction, and it was exactly the reaction he’d anticipated.
“Of course, a lot of the old western liberties, such as free speech, are now mostly illusory.” Now Trevor subconsciously looked around to see if anyone was listening. That kind of talk was dangerous.
“But even so, the ideas still live, and we still remember societies that once actually existed, where those ideas were law. And most of them were taken for granted. We even had all that, right here, less than a century ago. That alone makes it worthwhile to try to save a small piece of our species, don’t you think?” Now Trevor couldn’t be silent anymore.
“What the hell is this?” he said between his teeth, as he scowled suspiciously at the man who just by being here might prove dangerous to both him and Mark.
“Who are you, and what do you want?” Then Thatcher surprised him by laughing out loud.
“I provoked you, didn’t I?” he said after a few seconds. Trevor just nodded.
“All right, I understand. I know you are a true patriot, Mr. Hayes, and that you love this country deeply. What you need to understand is that so do I.
“I served in North Africa in the early days, you see. Before everything turned ugly. I’ve spilt blood for this country, more than once.” Thatcher stared at the lake, a shimmering black now that the sun had set.
“I am as much a patriot as you are, Mr. Hayes. But when I joined the army, I swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. I sincerely believe that the Constitution was one of the finest texts ever written. And it wasn’t just words either; every single sentence held a deep meaning, and showed us what this country should be all about.”
Was. Trevor began to suspect where he was headed, and although he’d occasionally had these same thoughts himself, he knew that was a path that led to treason.
“You think I’m talking about treason here, don’t you?” Trevor started at Thatcher’s words. It was as if he could read his mind. The mysterious man was always a step ahead of his thoughts.
“I know you think that, you don’t have to say it. But I’m not. Although I do think treason was committed when they revised the Constitution, especially when they changed the first amendment.” Trevor didn’t have an answer to that.
“You know, when they send those people away to some distant planet, they will try to create a copy of this society. President Andrews’s society. My guess is that they will make sure the colony is set up with people like Havelar, or someone like him, in charge. Maybe even Shaw. True believers. With guns to back them up.” Trevor knew there had been discussions on how to make sure the colony would be safeguarded from dissidents and subversive ideas. He had taken part in those discussions, but he’d been more concerned with the security around the selection and launch facilities, and of course the production facilities where spaceship parts would be assembled. Not to mention how to avoid terrorists getting their hands on the materials that would be used for construction of the starship, many of which could be used for making weapons of mass destruction.
“In a small population such as that one, the result will be tyranny. You see, I’m not advocating anything like overthrowing President Andrews and his regime. I’m more concerned about the future, and sad to say, that future won’t be here. No, I’m talking about making sure the colony doesn’t turn out the way this country has been going since Holloway.” Thatcher got up and stretched his back. None of them said anything for a moment, and Trevor thought hard about what he had just heard. President Holloway had started the slow descent, with his so-called reforms, such as the financial reforms. In retrospect, these reforms had built a foundation on which President Andrews later had been able to establish structures that placed all power in the hands of a few, with no checks and balances left to speak of: an impotent congress and a subservient judiciary; a press owned by a business elite surrounding the President; and mega-corporations that were deeply intertwined in a government that made every critic turn silent or disappear. Trevor sat in the middle of it all, and knew exactly what Thatcher was speaking of. He hesitated for a moment, before speaking, choosing his words carefully.
“So what is it you want, really?”
“I want them to have what we wasted. Freedom, to read what they want, and speak whatever is on their minds. To be the masters of their own destiny, not slaves to the will of a few. I want the true Constitution to come back to life. It cannot be done here. Not anymore. It would only destroy us in these few years that we have left. But there is a new world out there somewhere, and maybe this is a chance to start over. Maybe we don’t have to repeat the mistakes of the past.” He smiled again, and then offered his hand to Trevor. Trevor hesitated, and then took it slowly.
“I’ll be in touch,” Thatcher said. Trevor stared after him, while confusing thoughts raced through his mind.
Stand by for another update in a couple of days - Exodus is about to launch! :-)