By Karla Fetrow
Previously: If Vandeweerd thought he was having problems with Oyagek, Tobias is knee deep in problems with his brother, Nathan. As Chief Engineer for Alaska Corporation, the giant water conservation and purification technology collective, Nathan is needed as a consultant for his brother’s platform on Alaska’s water policies, but Nathan has gone out on his own mission to increase Corporate profits through a little laundering. Frustrated and guilt ridden over his brother’s under-handed slate, Tobias resigns Klaus to attending the State dinner alone.
The same cabbie was waiting to take him to the State dinner. “I figured you’d come out about now,” the old guy said cheerfully. “I know the habits of all you congressional people. You’ve got to spend a little time just sampling our shops. It’s not quite the same in midtown, but what’s under that dome is our future. Every year we gain back a little more farmland. Tonight, you will be eating papayas, mangoes and bananas. One day, the whole world will be able to eat them again.”
“Are you paid to give your Venezuela sales pitch?”
“Paid for chauffeur, that is all. I pitch Venezuela all day to anyone who will listen. I do it for free.”
“Would you like to chauffeur me around this week?”
“I’ll give you my card.”
Klaus Vandeweerd transferred the information flashing through a small panel on the passenger door onto his com link, and checked the read-out. “Luis Rodriguez? You come with a pretty impressive list of recommendations. Even the Russian delegates. What do you know about them?”
“Not so much. They are loud when they drink. They like music. President Novograd has a weakness for gambling. He once lost seven hundred credits to the Peruvian Queen, Rosa de la Caridad. Now, there’s a lady. A little bit spoiled and used to getting her way, but the people love her. It is said that without her, we never would have acquired solidarity.”
“Seven hundred credits is a lot. President Novograd must have a large expense account.”
“It was to his embarrassment. President Novograd usually keeps a very frugal budget. Fortunately, Queen Caridad took a liking to him. At the end of his visit, she presented him with seven llamas to take back to Russia, telling him each llama was worth a hundred credits, so he lost nothing. I don’t know how much his country folk believed him, but to be sure, they were happy to see Russia increase its livestock potential. Here are The Gardens, Congressman. Just touch the guide beam when you wish to return to your hotel.”
The Gardens were aptly named. Even the grounds surrounding the glass dome were carefully cultivated with rose bushes, berry bushes and some small, hesitant lime trees. The fruits had been raided from time to time until now there was nothing but a few blossoms, but the roses were left alone, their flowers over-blown, the petals scattering across the sidewalk. It was a sign of blatant luxury to own roses and allow them to do nothing but bloom and spoil, their scent lavishing the air.
The inside of the dome flourished with small fruit trees, circling plots of common variety vegetables, with spaces in between for dining tables and a gazebo in the middle for live music. A doorman took his name, then led him to an area set up for the delegates. President Ting was sitting at the bar with the President of Russia, but when she saw him, she beckoned him over to a small, private table.
“Let’s not beat around the bush,” she said abruptly. “You want the federals to stay out of the inside passage. You know they can’t be prevented from going into International waters.”
“Stanton’s pirates were seen within three miles of our floating processors. Our processors are well within territorial lines.”
“Just to give you the benefit of the argument, suppose you did see Stanton near your facilities. But according to the concession, the federal US does still have legal jurisdiction over the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea assets, and sixty percent of the Arctic perimeter coastline.”
“A concession that was never ratified by Yukon, Russia or Alaska, and they all hold a claim to Northwest Passage development.”
“The catastrophe occurred before any decision could be ratified. Personally, I think it’s a non-issue. The Federal United States are weak. They wouldn’t exist at all if not for their alliance with London and their monopoly over the pharmaceutical industry. The vote can be swayed, Klaus, and this deadlock ended, but only one thing worries me.” She paused, calculating how well she was holding his attention. He looked at her steadily and waited. “Suppose we did agree that Alaska controls its Arctic coastline. Suppose the Federals were kicked out of their piece of pie. How could we have faith that you will not continue to raise the credit rating for fresh water supplies and will not reduce the percentage allotment? We need securities, Klaus. Guarantees.”
“Is that what you called me over for? I’ve made it clear, we will not give clemency to those who have not been putting out enough effort to help themselves.”
“We have three new plants, but they’ve only just begun operation. We suffered a drought this year. Without more water, our crops will be ruined.”
“Haven’t you been using the gray water program?”
“Yes, yes, but it’s not enough. We use our water so sparingly, there is not even much grey water. Drop the two percent penalty on our quota and allow us an extra one percent on our bi-annual allotment and we’ll break the Federal US hold on Alaska.”
“What did President Novograd say?”
Ting fiddled with her hair. “He says Russia isn’t currently interested in selling water to Indochina. Instead, he’d like to sell us fish. It’s like a slap in the face. We haven’t had fish in our waters since the catastrophe. And he has enough to sell some.”
“Then your options are our prices or the Peruvians. Which will it be?”
“The majority council will not accept a reduction in rations. Give us our two percent, Klaus. It will win you more favoritism. Surely you can spare two percent more from your precious little island.”
“I’ll speak with our Greenland correspondent, but Ting; tell the Federals, if they are smart, they’ll stay out of Alaska. We will be reasonable, but we will not be threatened.”
Vanderweerd strolled over to the bar, hoping the choice of a seat next to the Russian President would appear casual and wondering exactly what to say to him. “There are some pretty girls here,” he tried out for beginnings, his eyes fastened on the barely clad waitresses, the golden skin glistening under the artificial lighting.
“Hmm,” said Novograd. “Are you a single man?”
“Yes. Yes, I am.”
“I am not. I’ve been married fifteen years. I’ve discovered during those years, it’s best not to look at pretty young girls too long.” He smiled. “They can become a liability.”
“I heard you refused to sell water to the Indo-China nations.”
“Ting can also become a liability. Three times within the last ten years we’ve complained of the illegal immigrants China has allowed to cross our borders. Ting says they are refugees from the barrens and we should have compassion. Compassion. We’ve worked very hard to re-build our eco-system. We were a dying people by the time the catastrophe occurred. Our population had shrunk to just eighty-five million. In a way, it was like a release from insufferable pain, a boil that had finally popped and bled free. Our nuclear power plants; gone. Our oil fields, flooded. There was nothing left to do but start all over. Only this time we were determined to do it the right way. We produce crops in what had once been wasteland. Wild animals prowl through our forests. Our people are growing healthy and multiplying. China has nothing for us, only its problems.”
“Alaska has also struggled to recuperate from its losses. If Ting turns the majority vote in favor of Stanton, it gives him legal rights to steal in Alaskan waters.”
“Why would she do this?”
“Because Stanton will sell her water at a cheaper price.”
“These affairs, how do you believe they concern Russia?”
“Because if Stanton has access to the Chukchi Sea, he might also encroach on Russian Territory. Allowing Stanton into the Northwest Passage weakens the Northern Alliance.”
“Weakens your alliance, little man. Russia is not so intimidated. It will not tolerate the de facto US Government to navigate Russian waters.”
“Think about it, President Novograd. You have the Chinese pressing at your borders. You have the federals pirating the inside passage. Per square kilometer, your population is no greater than ours, Alaska’s or Yukon’s. We have much in common. If the majority court breaks through the boundaries, they will over-run our resources. We must nip them in the bud, keep them on their own lands. They created their own destruction. They must find their own solutions.”
Vanderweerd would have pressed harder but at that moment the President of Texas appeared, his face affable, his voice jolly. “Well, look what we have here. Fellow conspirators? Let’s put aside our differences for the night, shall we? There’s wine, women, song, a feast in front of us. I hear Leticia Alcazar will be performing tonight. Did I pronounce her name right? That Spanish twists up all over my tongue. But I suppose it’s not as difficult as speaking Russian. I hear it takes five years for a Russian baby to learn its first words.”
“There are operations that can be performed for hearing malfunctions.”
“That’s what I always say. There’s never a good excuse not to hear. Why, we have some of the finest audiologists in the world right in Texas. Come to Austin sometime if you’d like to see. Not only do we have the finest ear doctors, we’ve got music that will keep those sounds coming in pleasantly, and the most exotic dancers on the north side of the border.”
Klaus could hear his quality time with the Russian President trickling down into mundane chatter. Novograd didn’t seem to mind the fact that Troyal Barker’s comments were a little off-center, and actually seemed amused by his oblivious remarks. Instead of discouraging him, he lead him off, listening with apparent gravity to everything the Texas President said.
Klaus mumbled a pretext about needing to leave, but nobody seemed to notice. He supposed it didn’t matter. The Russian President was biding his time, as he always did, weighing in all his choices before making a decision. They had allied with Alaska during the second great purge, when people were migrating north in droves, hoping to get away from their oppressive governments, hoping to find jobs, hoping to get away from war. They brought their war with them, and Alaska had rebelled. Six months later, the volcano, Iliamna blew, accompanied by a 9.8 earthquake. The enormous open pit mine, Pebbles, dug into Iliamna’s flank, disappeared in a bowl of jelly, the contaminants and molten lava, spewing into the ocean. The glaciers that had been melting steadily along the northern rim, calved in one fell sweep, adding their fresh water mass to the powerful tsunami.
Hundreds of coastal towns were obliterated, and the cities remained without power for months, destruction and mayhem adding to their woes. It had taken the combined efforts of the northern countries to bring these cities back to their feet. Once they had become fully functioning again, they had created a dependency on the north for sustenance.
The problem was, the more you give, the more the dependent rely on you. Believing the north would endlessly supply them with food and water, the urban centers resumed their bad habits, squandering their precious resources for gadgets, entertainment, fashionable clothing and impressive business offices. World populations had been devastated by the cataclysm, but industrialization soon bounced back with a thriving baby market. Now the populations were splitting the urban centers at the seams once more, with nothing but the barrens to grow into.
Damn the majority council. Once the epic floods had claimed their victims, the hurricanes and tornadoes had settled down, and northern territory opened up to a sunnier, warmer climate, restraining over-population became as great a battle as building water collectors, hydro-plants, canals, filtering systems and teaching new irrigation and crop rotation techniques. They had won in their territorial divisions, but not for the water rights in the Northwest Passage. The passage was a weakness, inviting pirates from every country. Surely Novograd could see that.
Vanderweerd signaled his taxi and was relieved to see it arrive ten minutes later, relieved to see the friendly face of the cab driver and willing to listen to him ramble. Honest faces, without intrigue, without ulterior motivations. He didn’t get to be around them often. “The dinner went well?”
Vanderweerd sighed as he settled in. “I don’t know. What does Venezuela charge for its water?”
“Venezuela does not sell water. We do not have such large reclamation facilities as you have. Venezuela makes food. Everyone makes food. If we have an extra cup of drinking water, we give it to a plant. We have a saying. Feed your plant today and you won’t go hungry tomorrow.”
“But the Peruvian Empire sells water. Why don’t they sell to the Chinese?”
“You will have to ask the Peruvians that, Congressman. Here is your hotel, or is there somewhere else you would like to go? The evening is still young.”
“No. I think I’ll just take in a little holovision. The council reconvenes at nine A.M. I’d like to be at the convention center by eight.”
A few reporters were hanging about the hotel lobby and converged on him as he entered the doors. He side-stepped them, avoiding their questions, his eyes averted from the suspended scans. “Congressman Vanderweerd, is it true your country wishes to capitalize on the recent conditions of drought in the Mid Eastern countries by monopolizing the water trade and raising prices?” The voice called out shrilly above the others.
It was the brown haired girl; the one who had interviewed Barker. He looked her squarely in the eye. “On the contrary, there are many countries in the Mid East we have no problem with assisting. We have just completed the Suez Recovery Project in a little under two years, and awarded Iran a five percent decrease in their rates for their balanced nature agricultural dome. It’s not a matter of cost. It’s a matter of transformation, Ms….” His eyes roamed until they caught the name tag. “Strom. Just because you industriously succeed in generating a larger population does not mean you are justified in receiving more water.”
“But it only stands to reason if you have more people, you need more…”
The elevator doors slid open and Klaus slammed the button securing his private ride. He couldn’t talk to them; any of them. They failed to see beyond the noses in front of their faces. He was removing his jacket before he even entered his room, loosened his tie and kicked off his shoes. “Tobias,” he said without preamble, snapping open his com link. “I needed you at the dinner tonight.”
The voice came back to him, tired and muffled. “Some things came up. There seems to be a glitz in the regulators at the Noatak Reserve.”
“What do you mean a glitz?” He pressed “image” with no result.
“Save the expense, Klaus. You’ll see my face soon enough in the morning. Just a glitz. I don’t know how else to explain it. Some of the data coming in for the last forty eight hours has been erratic.”
“Possibly. Noatak lies within the claims dispute.”
“Where’s Nathan? He’s supposed to be keeping watch on these things.”
“He called. He’s trouble shooting some of the West Coast desalination plants. There seems to be a strong contamination belt between Oaxaca City and San Diego and all the plants in the area need upgrading.”
“New contamination or old?”
“Old. It appears to be part of the Code Red Sea Current, residue of the final catastrophe. We had expected it to disperse a long time ago, but apparently some of it is still washing up from the ocean floor. Nathan’s looking into some new solvents for the decontamination process.”
“Ting wants to cut a deal.”
Image suddenly opened, and Tobias was scrutinizing Klaus critically. It was a little disconcerting, as though Oyagek could reach out and punch him if he wanted. “What kind of a deal.”
“She said she would sway the Council to vote in your favor provided we re-instate her two percent quota plus an extra one percent for emergency drought assistance.”
“If we do that, it will set a precedent for other countries to make the same demands. What does Greenland say?”
“I haven’t talked to them, but Russia indicates it will remain neutral.”
“God damned Russians. Your friends one day, and the next they forget they ever met you. Listen, I’ve got a buzz coming in from the wife. Let’s see how things play out at the council meeting tomorrow.”
He clicked off before Vandeweerd could answer.