By: Karla Fetrow
Previously: When Vandeweerd attends the State dinner, the majority leader, President Ting, makes him a very tempting offer; drop the penalty imposed for increased population and increase the water quota for her support against the Federal Government’s claim to Alaskan waters. His main goal is to get the President of Russia on his side, but Novograd seems entertained by the blithe ramblings of Texan President, Troyal Barker. With Tobias absent in his attendance, it seems the only friend he has in Venezuela is the taxi driver, turned chauffeur for his stay in San Fernando. He has one agenda; the reclamation of the earth’s natural renewable resources; but his agenda is pitted against many others.
The forest was lush, thick with tall, rustling trees, dappled with sunlight and quick sprouts of colorful flowers. He walked softly. A grazing dear lifted its head inquiringly, then seeing nothing to cause it alarm, moved casually into the shadows. A flight of bright bellied birds swooped down, settling in the tree branches, then scattered off again, the synchronized flapping of their wings and their high-pitched trills the only audible sounds to his human ears.
“Good morning Congressman Vanderweerd. The time is now 6:00 a.m. You have two new messages.”
Klaus sighed and clicked off the holographic stream reel. This was how earth had once looked. The clip had been one taken off an old documentary film from the 1970’s and had been digitally enhanced, then converted into 3-D as part of a vacation entertainment package. This was what his heart longed to see; miles and miles of unspoiled wilderness, filled with indigenous plant life and creatures, fat fish in the streams and countless birds darkening the sky before dashing off to a new horizon. A world untouched by poisons, by chemical pollution, by parched, exhausted deserts baking in a radiated atmosphere.
He tamped his little silver pipe and slipped it into his manicuring kit. It had been a kief dream, a moment when you could almost believe you were in a separate reality. In fact, you could believe this was reality and the harsh conditions around you were nothing more than a nightmare you would eventually awake from. “Messages,” he instructed the monitor.
The first voice was feminine. “Hello, this is Beverley Strom from KNAK news, G-Net Enterprises. I was wondering if I could arrange an interview with you to follow a write-up I’m doing with President Barker. It would be a point counter point sort of thing on the regulation of the water industry. If you are interested please contact me at…”
“Delete message,” interrupted Vanderweerd.
“You have one new message,” advised the automated voice.
“Buenos dias, Congressman Vanderweerd. This is Chairwoman Isabella Martinez, co-ordinator for the San Fernando summit meeting. I hope you have enjoyed your stay in our ciudad hermosa, and that you have found our services satisfactory. There will be a closing ceremony breakfast at Las Palmas, located on the main floor of the convention center, from seven to nine a.m. Air taxi will commence at ten a.m. Please leave your slip key at the desk.”
He packed the last of his baggage reluctantly, and arranged it neatly together before calling the bellhop. The service had been very satisfactory, from the desk clerk to the chauffeur, the waitresses to the shop owners. It wasn’t the city’s fault that the meeting had become as hopelessly deadlocked as always, with tempers running over and reporters scrambling for news bytes. They had agreed not to penalize China by two percent water reduction in return for a contract to build a new desalination plant, thus binding China into an obligation to begin its own water reclamation efforts. In return, China cast its four electoral votes for Alaska’s sovereign land rights along the Inside Passage. However, this was not enough to offset the negative votes cast by Greater Europe, Eurasia, Burbank, Nationalist Canada, the Texas Republic and the Eastern United States. Russia, the Peruvian Empire and the Australian Democratic Affiliation remained neutral. He needed more power. He needed Russia.
The taxi was waiting, the driver once again worrying under the car, checking his vapor collector. “Ha, they got it again. I might just as well let the poor devils have it. What is the most this gadget collects in a day’s time? Half a liter? A liter? It will wash our hands or give us a nice long drink, but do you know what it means to one of the sin barrio’s? The difference between life and perishing of thirst. Five minutes of joy in an otherwise miserable existence. Am I squandering? I say, let them have their five minutes of relief.”
“It’s not squandering. It’s compassion. I’m not trying to persecute the poor, Luis.”
“No Senor Congressman. I wouldn’t imply that. I understand what you are doing. Many of us understand. In our country, we have made great sacrifices to reseed our fields, to nourish livestock, to decontaminate our rivers. We have more difficulties because we have more people, more than we can feed, but we understand. In other parts of the world, they are not so understanding. They only see that you have much and they have very little. You are faced with a hard task, Congressman.”
As they drove, Vanderweerd realized, they were no longer heading toward the convention center, but veering into a wider, less congested avenue. The buildings were farther apart, brick walls erected around their boundaries, iron gates enclosing the entrances. Although the foliage in the yards was sparse, primarily staggering clumps of grass or prickly cactus, nearly all the homes sported a bowed arboretum.
“Where are we going?” He asked, leaning forward in his seat.
“This is your lucky day. Maybe the luckiest day of your life. Queen Caridad has asked to see you. It is a great honor, Senor.”
“Couldn’t you have told me before we began this trip? I should notify Oyagek. He’ll be at the breakfast, waiting.”
“No, Congressman, I don’t think I could have done that. She asks for secrecy. Please do not use your com-link either. We can’t risk any homing signals.”
He hesitated, wondering why he should trust the cabbie. He had practically been kidnaped. Still, this wasn’t the type of area one would visualize taking a victim. They had stopped at a cast iron gate in the center of a cul de sac. A rolling hill, several buildings and a number of green houses could be seen within the enclosed area. They waited until a mechanical voice asked for identity. The cab driver bared his wrist so the infrared eye could read his com link. The gate swung open. “Welcome Senor Luis Rodriguez and Congressman Vanderweerd.”
The buildings were all long one story structures, of stucco and adobe, arranged in an orderly fashion, military style. Beyond this compound was a mansion, with amazingly, several palm trees shading it and some patches of deep green shrubbery crowding in the shadows. At each end of the steeple porch was a flag, one for Venezuela and the other, the symbol of the Peruvian Empire.
Guards in full uniform met them at the door and ushered them into a comfortable waiting room. Luis seemed to know what to do. He went straight to a small service table where he poured two cups of coffee and piled a small plate with sweet bread. Handing Klaus one of the cups, he sat down and clicked on a holotelevision. A ghostly river slid around them and the bobbing tip of a canoe. “Her excellency will see you now,” said one of the guards in flawless English.
Vanderweerd stood up, waiting for Luis, who remained glued to the set. “The conversation is private,” explained the guard. They passed through several rooms used for entertainment and social gatherings, each more ornate than the last, until they entered a small alcove. Except for long silk drapes covering the windows, a thick carpet, and a number of pillows, the room was bare. He was left alone, and again he waited.
“It’s refreshing, isn’t it? The air here. It isn’t like this anywhere else in the house. It stirs. It moves. It soothes a hot, tired brow. It’s all natural. The engineers say it was designed to catch the optimum from the cool winds that rise off from the ocean, from the shadows, from the last lingering trails of twilight before the dawn. The drapes keep out harmful dust particles. I was here, in this room, the day the earth trembled.”
“I thought the Peruvian Queen would be, well… living in Peru.”
“Does a name restrict me to a location? We are many countries, but the Empire is one. This is my home. Sometimes, it is my prison.”
“Is it your prison now?”
“I have enemies.” The woman walked into the room and stood close to Vanderweerd. Her age was indeterminate; anywhere from forty to mid-fifties. Her face was handsome, nearly flawless, with rich textured skin, and dark curtained eyes. “I trust you are not one of them.”
“I have no quarrel with the Peruvian Empire.”
“There are rumors that you are a dictator. Much the same has been said about me. Do you murder or torture your people, Congressman?”
“Of course not.”
“Hmm.” She made herself comfortable on the cushions. “Indulge me.” She patted a place near her. “I think,” she said, observing him seated awkwardly, his knees up and his hands clasped over them, “you would not deprive them, either. You dress modestly, live frugally. But you do not allow the masses to enter your borders. Would this not be considered selfish?”
“If I allow them, I will deprive my own people.”
“Yes, that is the problem. To whom do we owe allegiance? To ourselves? Our family? Our race? Our global community? The great cataclysm occurred when I was a young girl; no more than twenty. There wasn’t a sound at all at first. The birds had stopped singing. Not a leaf rustled in the breeze. The horses returned to their barns. And then, there was a splintering, as though the earth had been torn asunder, and a roar, like the ocean, only incredibly darker, louder, more ominous. And it came; a huge wall that was the river, ripping, destroying ruthlessly, everything in its path. The rivers raged and the skies filled with thunder and lightening.”
She pulled out a kief pipe from under the cushions and lit it. “Do you believe in God, Congressman?”
“No. I don’t know. I’ve never had God talk to me personally.”
She nodded. “The views of many, even then, It’s convenient to either believe in a God who will strike your enemies dead, or to believe in none so you can strike your enemies without guilt. But do you know what happened in the wake of that deadly disaster, when wealthy businessmen, farmer, clergy, the rich and the poor alike were all washed in the polluted fabric of their own making? They prayed, Congressman. They prayed while dying. They prayed while picking through the rubble, and falling to disease. They prayed, and miraculously, some people lived.
I don’t know if it was God or not, but I do know this faith is what held people together. We have all worked hard, Congressman. People like you, like me, like Luis. Venezuela, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, have grown strong again.
What you see here… it seems luxurious, doesn’t it? A mansion! It is not my place alone. It is a conservatory. Here, we are taking back life, a step at a time. If people knew what we had here… animals, Congressman! Of all kinds. Anything we could save. Anything we could find. We raise animals while people go hungry and thirst for water. You understand the secrecy.”
Vanderweerd agreed. Queen Caridad rose and walked toward a window. “Look out, Congressman,” she invited. He did. The yard beyond, hidden from the rest of the compound, was virulently green. “Come walk with me.”
He hesitated, wondering how much of the open air was safe, but she had already gone out to the veranda and was waiting. She led him down a stone path, decorated with clumps of small, blue flowers. The area they were working through was like a small park, bordered at one end by a curving wall of high, sheer cliffs. Wedged between the cracks of black, violent stones, twisting into sharp pointed families, was a small, but rapid, clear water creek. As his eyes took in the wonder, he began to also notice chickens, scratching in the earth, rabbits twitching and crouching in the brush, an occasional deer appear for a few moments to stretch its neck over the small pool that collected at the bottom of the cliffs.
“Forty-five percent of our domestic use comes from our glacial recovery processes, on the Antarctic Shelf. Sixty-five percent of the water we sell comes from these deposits. In the last six months, there have been three incidents of premature glacier harvesting, resulting in excessive calving. The resulting icebergs are more than we are able to adequately recover with our harvesters. We have been losing many to the sea. Resource Management wishes to initiate an investigation into our treatment of the Antarctic Shelf, but Congressman, we are not the ones who caused those fractures. Help us to discover the pirates, and we will solidify our votes for you with the Democratic Council.”