Cadet Andrews (courtesy of Showbear Family Circus and 2020)
I heard my name called, and yet I didn’t answer. For if I did, I would only hasten that which I did not want to proceed. If I didn’t, damned if I do, damned if I don’t was the current colloquialism.
The courtroom was as antiquated as I believed it would be. Old vids from long ago showed as much. I always wondered just how old those vids were if a single image remained intact. Our society did not value history. Our society treasured progress. I championed that notion and tirelessly sojourned toward that goal. Since my schooling, all I ever wanted was to make a positive contribution toward society as a whole. I saw myself as one man advancing toward PLEASANTNESS and lighting the way for others to follow. Who wouldn’t want what I offered? Who couldn’t say yes to such abundance I presented? Who shouldn’t assist in every manner possible? Every additional question I quietly asked began with who this and who that and remained unanswered as I moved closer to the stand.
My stand itself was of little consequence to the dramatic effect THE NINE presented. Each seated themselves, evenly spaced among a semi-circular altar elevated with a prestige the accused would never get. I stood with a single overhead torch light metaphorically imprisoning me in a cone. If I were to have a jury, this image would sway them toward a guilty verdict. However, I knew no jury would receive that opportunity. Today was not to be about justice. Today was to be about theatrically displaying power. Impressive, and not yet over. My guard struck the hilt of his sword against my stand to help focus my attention on my situation. And focus I did. In sequential order, from my left to right, I could view the partial faces of THE NINE when their lights projected only enough illumination for them to read from what I believe were view pads. Not the chalked tablets of the CENTRAL DISTRICT AUTHORITIES, but view pads! Once again, my mind went racing back to my classes for an explanation I knew would not come. View pads. To see one meant bragging rights. To see nine fully functioning meant something else.
“Now class, could someone please explain the symbolism of Mr. Clark Humphry’s excursion toward his judgement?” Professor Barclay knew no one cared about Clark Humphry and his story. He built a machine and saved the world by curing hunger. We celebrate his birthday every year and learn just a few additional scraps about the man who feeds all 600 million people each day. Humphry was a father to us all. Humphry fed those who could have died during the wars. Humphry did this. Humphry did that. So what! I heard this all before. Each person here heard this story all before. All 40 cadets needed this one hour lecture prior to venturing out into the world tomorrow to make our mark. And make our mark we would! Not like previous classes who promised much and delivered nothing. No! My class would make history and rise through the system for our achievements, not our failures. I would lead them. I would make General before the age of 30.
“Cadet Andrews!” I stood at attention when even Professor Barclay called upon me.
“Cadet Andrews, if you could take some time from your busy schedule to correctly answer my question, I would be so obliged.” Professor Barclay’s passive aggressiveness does not become a scholar of his stature, but he outranked me, so answer I did. “Mr. Clark Humphry’s use of symbolism illustrates to the most uneducated the dire nature of his predicament. He was to stand trial on an as-of-yet charge associated with an as-of-yet crime.” I smile the smugness of the confident only a fraction of a second before incurring the wrath of Professor Barclay.
“Insolent fool, Cadet Andrews!” He threw an antiquated book (obviously there for this sole purpose) from his desktop at me. I stood at attention as it sailed wide right. “Cadet Andrews, if I wanted a plebe’s reply, I would have found a plebe to reply.” I remained at attention awaiting my turn to spar this nuisance to my career. It never came. However, the next word did.
“Attention!” We all automatically arose when Professor Barclay gave orders. “Cadet Andrews believes I am wasting her time. Cadet Andrews believes I am the impediment to her career advancement. I should even think Cadet Andrews believes I am boring her.” Now I became worried. Being singled out does not bode well before graduation, let alone for choice assignments. Even though the Professor was my superior officer, I didn’t report to him. I reported to the Commandant, and report to him I would.
“Well class, I shall illustrate to the most uneducated the dire nature of your predicament. Cadet Andrews shall remain. The rest of the Class of 114, you are dismissed. Congratulations on your impending graduation.”
I found my blood boiling with a rage never before challenging my training. I wanted to burn Professor Barclay. I wanted him gone. But, I remained at attention and mentally prepared myself for a fight in the time and place of my choosing.
“Sit down Cadet Andrews. Remain silent. As of today, you are a woman of limited choice.” With that, Professor Barclay removed the vid disk the class had been viewing and replaced it with one he removed from a small biometric safe he removed from his desk. The opening of the safe meant the hard locking of the classroom door. “What you are about to see is for your eyes only. By the order of the CENTRAL DISTRICT AUTHORITIES, you will never speak of it. By viewing this vid, you may consider this your first assignment as an officer.” With that simple monologue, Professor Barclay and I watched what really happened to Mr. Clark Humphry.
The beginning remained the same. The faces of THE NINE retained their eerie glow, but now the guard did not remain for the proceedings. He did not need to. Mr. Humphry retained complete focus throughout.
The first of THE NINE (the one on the left) spoke first to me. He asked for the record; who I am, where I live, and what I do for a living. He knew the answers to these three questions before he asked them. I told him I was Clark Humphry. I live in Boston. I was an engineer. I am now an inventor. The second from the left asked what did I invent? I played along. “I am the inventor of the Molecular Entropy Device, aka the MED.” The third from the left wanted to know the purpose of the MED. “The purpose of the MED is to disassociate the triple bonds of one molecule of molecular nitrogen to two molecules of atomic nitrogen. In doing so, any viable plant can fix the readily available nitrogen in a process of self- fertilization. Unlike previous attempts, the MED is neither catalytic nor photon activated. The power source is not as important as the process. I use the term entropy as a catch all to deflect the exact explanation of the MED from the unwashed masses. Needless to say, the MED will revolutionize the world as we know it.” Now the fourth spoke clearly, “How so?” I figured I would eventually hear from each and then be sentenced for whatever crime I committed. As long as I didn’t reveal the details of the MED, I might have a few cards to play during the endgame discussions.
“By fixing atomic nitrogen to viable food plants, self-fertilization occurs. By fixing a near infinite supply of nitrogen, you grow a near infinite supply of food plants. This can feed a huge population of humans and farm animals. Areas of the world barren to agriculture would instantly convert into farms. The Great Saharan Desert could be the Great Saharan corn field. The Gobi alone could feed the billions in close proximity. Imagine the quality of life increasing because each of the 15 billion people on Earth has an abundance of food to eat. Imagine how much capital might be freed for better uses if the few remaining fertile areas need not be guarded. Imagine the aquatic agricultural boom if the few remaining fish species found ample food to eat. To whatever the nine of you call yourselves, the MED can do nothing short of turning Earth away from today’s misery toward tomorrow’s future. All I ask is the opportunity to use the MED to benefit all of mankind and not waste another moment in this kangaroo court awaiting extortion and imprisonment.
Professor Barclay hit pause for a brief discussion. “Obviously, Cadet Andrews, this vid displays the time before the wars. Analyze what you have seen. Comment when you are ready.”
I found a new level of respect from the professor and wondered if it was meant to lure me into a sense of unearned trust. Our training included mental preparedness against torture so I remained guarded in my answer.
“Mr. Humphry displays a level of conceit often associated with inventors and academics who feel themselves above the law. My comment on the fairness of the law from that time has zero merit. Only the fact he feels superior to it matters.”
After a brief eyebrow raise from the good professor for the inclusion of academics, he continued with the vid.
The fifth of THE NINE had a gravelly voice with a Baltic accent. His words came slow with an undercurrent of something hidden. I expected much and listened accordingly.
“Mr. Humphry, please detail what you will do should we choose to let you go free? How will you finance the MED? Who are you associates? What other inventions will you move from the idea phase to the construction phase? Be specific. We are all very interested in what you have to say.”
They were never going to let me go. I knew this. THE NINE knew this. It was an age old story of a few seizing power and wealth for themselves at the expense of entire populations. So for whatever they may present themselves as, this group of nine was just a bunch of thieves. Highly connected, very powerful, extremely rich, but common group of thieves. So I told them so, via gesticulation.
I expected a retort, definitely physical, possibly mental, from either them or their lackeys. I waited awkwardly for what I was sure to arrive, but never did. What I did receive was a laugh. First from the fifth, then from them all. An extended coarse laugh meant to be a painful to hear when directed at no one as it was when directed at me. For two minutes, each of THE NINE laughed at me. When it began to slow, the sixth took his turn at speaking.
“Cadet Andrews”. The professor’s voice simultaneously matched the pausing of the vid. “I spoke earlier of you having limited choices. Allow me to clarify that statement. You actually have only one choice. You may continue viewing this vid and accept the assignment associated with it or. . .” I knew what the impending OR was. I was to be privy to information few may even knew existed. I was to be part of the inner circle. Maybe even a ticket to THE NINE. I would be a fool to reject Professor Barclay’s offer; even half an offer. I went all in when I spoke the words, “I want this assignment.”
Professor Barclay smiled a crooked grin; the type of grin of someone who knows more than he lets on. He spoke of casting the die or the die was cast or some sort of archaic nomenclature. I must have been gloating when the vid began again.
The voice of the sixth began in sharp pitch dictation. His was all facts and no emotion. He spoke of Earth as it really was. He told me of the problems. There were too many people already. There were too many in prison. There were too many wars. There were too few resources. There were too many weapons. There was too much suffering. There was too little time. Despite all anyone ever did, there were too many questions and not enough answers. Nothing anyone could do helped to solve the fundamental problem facing Earth of too many people wanting to create too many more people. The rest nodded in agreement. The seventh rose and spoke in a completely different tone. He spoke with desperation. He spoke with trepidation. He addressed me personally.
“Mr. Clark Humphry, we need your assistance. We need the MED. We need you to use the MED. We just need you to use it in a different way.” I informed the seventh that I would listen.
“Earth is dying. Man is dying. We, THE NINE, have been able to control the death but we cannot do anything to stop it. We are not even in agreement if we should postpone the inevitable. Earth will die if we do nothing. Earth will die if we do something. The result is preordained. Even as I speak, word is spreading about the MED. With it, 15 billion will become 20 billion. They may have food. But what if they all want land? What if they all want a home, a doctor, an education, or a higher quality of life? What if they want more children? What if they want a future? What if they want hope?”
I had to reply. “I can give them that hope. The MED can give them all they desire. Why can you not see this?”
I let this sink in before I drew breath to continue. However, the eighth raised his hand and motioned for the seventh to sit. His was a voice of reason, nothing more, and nothing less. “Mr. Humphry. We have calculated the MED can do all you say it can do. But for how long? The 20 billion will soon become the 30 billion, then the 40 billion. We, THE NINE, can no longer resist the pressure of the 15 billion. Please do not add to the problem for we have a way for you to solve the problem.”
I heard all the first seven had to say. For the first time I now was dying to hear what the last two were to say. I was glad I had the time and the solitude away from others to do so.
The eighth began a proposal I knew no one could believe. It was rash and brash. It was unbelievable. And it began as such. “Mr. Clark Humphry, you are a man of limited choices. In reality, you have but one. Either you can do what must be done, or you can watch the last days of Earth.”
I told the eighth I was listening.
“Mr. Humphry, you must use the MED to reduce the human population to a more sustainable size. The ninth among us has already reversed engineered your device and knows this to be possible. What we want you to accomplish is to eliminate, to remove, to murder, to kill, or whatever your conscious requires you to name it, as many people as possible in the shortest period of time, without anyone knowing. We want you to dissociate all the molecular bonds within a human so they return to their atomic components leaving no tangible evidence.”
Playing Devil’s Advocate, I plied THE NINE for more information. “You want me to use the MED to turn people into piles of calcium and carbon off-gassing oxygen and hydrogen?” The eighth said yes. “You want me to reduce the world population under the guise of helping feed the world?” Again the eighth said yes. “Just how many people do you want me to kill?” Without a change in tone, the eighth replied, “14.5 billion people before the end of the year. When you succeed, and succeed you must, that day will be known as PLEASANTNESS and you will be known as the man who saved the human race.”
I was shocked. Who wouldn’t be? Was all this a joke? Who could devise such a plan? Forget all of the wars of history. Success for me would make me the greatest villain in the galaxy.
PLEASANTNESS my ass! I told THE NINE as such. They expected my reply. The eighth rose first then the remaining eight together. The eighth spoke for the rest. “We, THE NINE, concluded you would not be a part of this plan. We concluded you have the means but not the desire. Regrettably, it has come to this. PLEASANTNESS is already in full motion. The few remaining resources are manufacturing the MED for installation worldwide. Mr. Clark Humphry, you are not the desirable citizen capable of performing the one task you should perform. As such, we sentence you to life. Not life in prison. We sentence you to a hero’s life. We will never speak of this meeting. You can do as you wish. Wherever you go, the remaining population will greet you as the savior you should have been. The remaining ones will sing your praises and name their children after you. The suffering will be great, but, because of you, Mr. Clark Humphry, not all will suffer. Humanity will have PLEASANTNESS. Thank you for your cooperation.”
In the final diatribe, my guard returned and restrained me until THE NINE left. Then the guard left. True to their word, I was free to go. I was free to go and watch the monumental accumulation of elements wherever I went. I tried to explain. I tried to stop it all. No one listened. It was as if everyone bet they would be one of the survivors. And THE NINE were right. The survivors revered me as a god. I made the Sun shine. I returned the quality of life everyone read about in history books. And I met baby Clarks and baby Humphrys wherever I went. The Earth had the population’s PLEASANTNESS. I had the Earth’s guilt.
The final entry on the vid showed Mr. Clark Humphry committing suicide with a MED on his 42 birthday.
Professor Barclay did not have to pause the vid. He did do what he was ordered to do. In accepting my assignment, Colonel Barclay field promoted me to the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade and assigned me to visit the Hall of THE NINE. The current world population was 600 million, 100 million more than was necessary. Colonel Barclay handed me a vid on the schematics of the MED and ordered me to familiarize myself to its operation.
Much like Mr. Humphry, I had a difficult task ahead of me.