"And they said, Go to, let build us a city and a tower,
Whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name,
Lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the
Holy Bible, Genesis 11.4
Commissioner Adams' hand trembled as he laid down his brief case. He hated Ben Hura's somber office. Its stark lack of ornamentation and color was daunting, like the man who occupied it. Part of his anxiety was due to the overwhelming power that emanated from this room. The entire solar system, billions of people scattered over mind-boggling distances, was ruled from here. Today Adams was especially nervous because he brought news that would have far reaching consequences for mankind. Because of the room's cathedral ceiling, darkly draped walls and sparse furnishing and his own mood, it seemed to Adams that it had an atmosphere of impending doom. Emphasizing the dictator's authority, above his dark mahogany desk was the enormous wall-sized, three-balls-on-a-triangle flag on a field of stars. The top ball represented earth, the left, the colonized planets and moons, the right, the space habitats. It made Adams feel minute. He squirmed uneasily in the straight-back, narrow, hard-as-a-rock chair which Ben Hura reserved for official visitors.
Adams shifted his attaché case around his lap and chastised himself for a fool for being intimidated. After all, he was the chief executive's Commissioner of System Relations, responsible for administering policy and diplomatic dealings with the space habitats, the planetary and moon colonies and inhabitants of the Kuiper belt. His own political power almost matched the man before him.
He worried about Ben Hura's reaction to his bad news. The despot's appetite for power was insatiable. His rise had been meteoric, first a rising young star of the World Assembly, then a power broker on the Planetary Council and finally his election as Secretary General of the Solar System Federation. Ben Hura was the architect of what many considered to be only politically feasible plan to save the world from chaos and anarchy. Once he consolidated his position as Secretary General, however, he declared a state of emergency, dismissed the Federation Council and took on dictatorial powers. He bullied the World Assembly into passing harsh new laws to save the earth from the effects of pollution and overpopulation, broadened the space program to send more people to the space colonies and exploited both the terraformed and natural planets and moons. Now, after forty years in office, at the age of ninety, still vigorous and feisty, his ambitions soared to new heights, heights almost beyond imagining. Nevertheless, the news that Adams now brought would surely halt that little secret project for a while.
As Adams waited for the great man to finish his conversation on the vidphone, his eyes darted around until they alighted on the one object in the room that always fascinated him, an electromagnetic scale model of the solar system. Every major object was represented -- the sun in the center, the planets, their moons, major artificial satellites and space habitats, known comets and the larger asteroids -- their miniature counterparts held in orbit magnetically. Each simulacrum orbited the sun or a planet on a time scale of one minute to thirty earth days as compared to the orbit of its counterpart in space. The planets and comets swung around the central sun in sweeping circles and ellipses while moons and other small bodies buzzed along in intricate spirals, performing a fascinating hypnotic dance. The inner planets moved swiftly; Mercury whizzed around the central light in less than two and half minutes, while the outer planets swung in majestic arcs. Jupiter and Saturn with their rings and many moons were especially intriguing.
This was another side of the ruthless Ben Hura, his obsession with the human expansion into space. Thus, whenever a visitor became boring or irritating, the tyrant would ignore the guest and contemplate the ever changing motions of his elaborate orrery. Although this object de art was enormous, it resided in a corner where under normal circumstances it wouldn't distract the attention of someone having an interview with Ben Hura. At this moment, however, since the dictator paced back and forth in front of this wonderful toy, Adams fell under its spell.
Finally Ben Hura finished his vidphone conversation and turned his attention to his guest. "Well, what did this illegal council of space habitats and planets have to say to my ultimatum? Have they agreed stop their foolish complaining about the new import taxes on freight entering earth? Or are they still furious about the export tax? Maybe they have a new grievance."
Adams, startled out of his reverie, cleared his throat. "They treated me coldly, Ben. They kept me waiting for hours before they deigned to see me. Then they only granted me only a half an hour to state your position."
"Of course. They were miffed that I didn't come myself. They're becoming that arrogant. They seem to feel that I should treat each little piece of space debris as a sovereign nation. But, go on. What was their response to my refusal to cave in?"
"They simply gave me a longer list of demands. And as you surmised, they threatened to stop all trade with earth and our allies if we didn't comply." Adams brought out a vid-chip. "This is their statement."
He placed the vid-chip into a portable holorecorder and started the machine. A lifelike three-dimensional image of a tall woman with gray streaks in her hair appeared in a previously empty spot in the room. Adams recognized her as Geri Weinberg, governor of Mars and chairperson of the committee formed by the rebellious planets and space colonies.
"There comes a time when the demands and oppression of a tyrannical government become so intolerable that its subject planets and habitats are forced to dissolve the political connections between themselves and their oppressor world, and declare themselves free and independent entities.
"To quote the Declaration of Independence of that ancient land, the United States of America, when it broke off from its mother country of England, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident ...'" She then recited the second paragraph of the named document and went on to list the complaints they had against Ben Hura's government and their demands for change.
"If these demands are not met by the fourth day of July in the standard year of twenty one eighty one, the Confederation of Colony Planets and Space Habitats, consisting of Space Habitats One, Four, Six, Seven, and Thirteen, the Colonies on Mar, Venus, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Titan, Tethys, Dione, Iapetus and Encaladus, Oberon, Titania, and Ceres, by the authority of the people of these planets, moons, asteroids and habitats, solemnly resolve that this confederation of space colonies absolve all political connection with the government of earth, present or future.
"And should the government of earth reject this declaration and attempt to impose its will upon us by force, a state of war shall exist between us.
"As duly elected representative of the people of the Confederation of Planets and Space Habitats, I, Geri Weinberg, declare this a true and binding statement."
The image disappeared.
The short, husky Ben Hura opened his mouth and closed it as though he were too offended to speak. He hissed through clenched teeth, "This is outrageous. These idiots not only want to be completely independent, but are willing to go to war over what they regard as freedom. They forget how powerful we are, the vast resources at our disposal, our enormous population. What madness."
When he turned towards Adams, the light from the artificial sun in his orrery cast planetary silhouettes across his scowling face. With menace, he said, "Well, if it's war they want, the first place we'll bomb is the domes of Mars. We'll see what Governor Weinberg thinks of that."
Due to the movements of the orrey, Earth's shadow eclipsed Mars upon his leathery cheek.
"Weinberg suggested that their space fleet was superior to and more advanced than ours. She seemed to think that since they spent more time in space, their technology was ahead of ours."
"Nonsense. Well, we'll simply have to teach these rebels a lesson. Earth has expended too much effort and time building the space frontier to loosen the strings now. If the space territories are given their own head, they'd more than likely block immigration from Earth. Then what ray of hope could we offer our overcrowded citizens?"
Adams squirmed and allowed his gaze to fall on the tiny pebble that was Earth in the model. It seemed to have slowed at its perigee as though it also had to support a microscopic population that was too numerous for its size. Being an advisor to this opinionated and volatile ruler was as precarious as walking a tight rope. One had to correct false opinions without seeming critical or condescending. "Perhaps more vigorous enforcement of the birth control laws would be more efficient than colonizing planets."
The heavy-jawed ruler gave the commissioner a withering stare. "Adams, at times you have the mentality of an ape. Do you really think I don't know that babies are being born faster than we could take them off the earth? But do you realize how difficult my position would be if I tried to enforce those old population control laws? When you try to tell people not to have children, you're fooling with a basic instinct, not to mention what has been pounded into the sheep by their various religions and cultures. Such laws are unenforceable. I have enough problems with insane terrorists and revolutionaries of every stripe now. Besides, I want to go down in history as the man who pushed the space frontier to the absolute limit, not as the man who sterilized millions. Let my successors worry about overpopulation. Which reminds me, how goes Project Tower?"
Adams flushed. That damn model must have hypnotized me to make such a blunder, he thought. I should know Ben Hura's shrewdness well enough. Adams recalled how early in Hura's career many of the ills of overpopulation and unbridled industrialization had come to a head -- mass starvation, destructive climatic changes, global warming, the rising of the oceans, riots, devastating pollution, decayed, crime-ridden cities that erupted in sporadic violence, border wars and outrages between formally peaceful neighbors and a worldwide simultaneous inflation and depression. Using all his masterful political know how, Ben Hura threatened, blackmailed, cajoled and outmaneuvered the world's politicians and the major international corporations into creating a true world government with him at its helm. At this point in his career, he'd held that office for many years, during which he alleviated or held at bay much of the suffering, destruction and chaos.
At first the measures he called for, although harsh, seemed prudent. He had the assembly pass a bill that gave him extraordinary powers to suppress dissent, to bring the media under his direct control, to give him exceptional police powers, to eliminate national armies and to give the state broad powers of enforcement including the death penalty and summary trials for political crimes.
One his remedies was to pour enormous resources into space colonization. The LaGrange point habitats were built under his direction, he added new artificial satellites in the Kuiper belt and expanded the moon bases. Although Mars had been terraformed early in the century, under his direction thousands of new colonists had been sent to there. Like the ancient builders of the Egyptian pyramids and the Great Wall of China, he sent thousands to labor and die under the harsh conditions of space.
It was ironic that they and their children were rebelling against the ruler who caused them to be what they were.
Adams was jarred from his meandering by the shouted command, "Stop your damn woolgathering Commissioner. I asked you a question. How fairs Project Tower?"
He sat up straight and composed his face into an expression of attention. Although he did not recall Ben Hura asking that question previously, he replied, "Just reviewing a little history ... of the project, of course. It's going well sir, except that secrecy is difficult to maintain for an undertaking of that magnitude."
"Well secrecy won't be needed much longer. We'll announce it as soon as we deal with these rebels. If the project succeeds, the rewards will be immense."
"I don't understand. Why is Project Tower so important?"
"You dunderhead," Ben Hura roared. "If colonizing the solar system will make my name live in history, how much more the successful completion of 'Tower' will add to my prestige."
His shadow loomed over the solar system. The glare of the miniature sun distorted his face into something inhuman. It was no use talking to the tyrant once that expression came over him. A bit unnerved, Adams quietly slipped from the room. Before he eased the door closed, he glanced at the clockwork planetary system for a moment. Yes, even the Kuiper belt was represented by minute bits of metal. He wondered whether Ben Hura would be pleased if a scale model of the Tower Project were added to the toy.
Star Tower is available at Pageturner Editions and Fictionwise Ebooks.
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