Copyright ©1996, 1997 A.D. Sullivan
Electing a Dead Mayor
When West Potatofield elected a dead man as mayor, its critics snickered. How could any town be so stupid as to think a dead man could run a town? But in the two years since the election, great strides in modern politics have been made. Not only has City Hall managed to keep its scandals to itself (those notorious corruptions for which it is well known) but it has managed to save money for the taxpayers as well.
For those unaware of this historic event, the Good Mayor died just prior to election day in 1990 while out knocking on citizens doors. He was so laid back (ineffectual some say) that he was two weeks dead before anyone noticed. Voters, who did not wish to upset the status quo, elected him anyway, figuring he would be less corrupt dead than he was alive (financially if not physically).
While there has been some complaint about having to keep the good mayor's office air-conditioned, other advantages have compensated. Taxpayers, for instance, save on food costs and worn down shoes. Since the mayor's death, cardboard shoes and a cheap tuxedo are all he needs.
Hot weather has slowed down some of his public appearances, but by scheduling the previous summer events for winter, the public manages to have its usual access to his honor (and avoids the unseemly stench).
The first year, aides propped the good mayor up against a pole and read from one of his old speeches. Later, with the help of a walkman and a public address system, tapes of the mayor himself let the public hear his cranky old voice for themselves. Several aides tried to increase the effectiveness of these speeches by having someone stand behind the mayor and wave the arms. But the joints were too stiff and often cracked, creating more problems than it was worth. Originally, a statue was planned for the park, but to save money, the city chose to prop him up there on his off hours. This did raise objections from the town sculptor who was upset about losing the commission.
Aides have stressed the environmental benefits of such a mayor. He does not use oxygen, create trash or consume food. Most recently, his wife claims to have contacted his spirit through the use of a ouija board and consults with him on more important issues such as Republican fund raising dinners and investment opportunities. This year, in answer to state wide requests, the town council has issued a how-to guide defining the advantages of having a dead mayor, and may prove to future model for local governments throughout the nation (since many of their mayors already act as if they're dead).
The guide notes savings in health insurance -- since museum artifact insurance is cheaper, and in auto costs, since the mayor now qualifies for historic plates.
"What we have here," said the town council president, "is a wave of the future."
Man of the People
My fellow citizens:
I know there have been things said these last few weeks which bear explanation, and you have come here to find out the truth. Charges have been leveled against me that I deny completely, though some may seem to have more validity than I can deny.
Yes, I have, as my critics claim, brought many friends and relations into city hall with me, given them jobs in the sanitation and road departments and other key city institutions. But it is not favoritism as my critics would have you believe. I need and want people around me who I can trust, who will help me serve you better as I complete my term.
My critics, if you don't know by now, are those who were turned out of those same positions, or those whose views you voted against in the election. While they claim these things about me, is there any doubt they wouldn't do the same if they were in my place? Isn't it just that it is my friends here in city hall rather than theirs?
And I know they have accused me of other things as well. Like the fact I live so well and own homes out of state, that I spend as much time in those other places as I do here.
But I tell you. These people are the same jealous liberals and left wing ecological radicals who objected to our selling of the city parks to developers, who would pervert our children's values by letting them hang out in such places like common criminals rather than do what I have done in creating more tax revenues for the city.
It is initiatives like these in which I earn my money and the right to vacation as I please. What should any of you care where I am or what I am doing as long as your taxes stay low?
This, of course, brings us to the most serious charges. These same people would have you believe I have misused tax money for the advancement of my career.
This is a plot against me!
State level leftists have infiltrated our community with the idea of keeping me from seeking higher office. They are frightened of me and the kind of good I've done here for you. They do not want me spreading this good fortune to the rest of the state!
More importantly, they do not want you to have my voice speaking for you in higher government, the kind of sensible american voice of which you so highly approve.
It is for this reason they have deliberately distorted simple dinners and celebrations at city hall for wild parties. Certainly some of those who attended these events got carried away. A little too much wine perhaps, mixed in with basic human nature. But I deny all those charges of rape brought against my staff, or that any of the women were paid for their services.
Yes, some were, as reported, on the city payroll. As were many of the men. This is beside the point.
I am a man of the people. What goes on in city hall is no different from what goes on in each and every one of your homes. It is the American way, and I won't have a lot of leftist radicals perverting our living standards with their so-called morality. How can they know what is moral? None of them believe in God!
Main Street, Boonton
Residents near the Hudson foster a great illusion about Little Town, America, thinking it begins somewhere West of the Appalachians. For everyone else, it is everything between New York and Los Angeles and often little more than a skip around the block.
Boonton is one of those quaint little mountainside downs with Main Street like a waterfall running down its middle, more San Francisco in construction than New York, though twenty minutes on the highway brings you to the George Washington Bridge.
For years, it was a hang out for most of us, with Rob's bookstore situated on the lower half and a particularly good pizza pallor near the top-- an slightly aloof small town with three book stores and an educated public -- the library issuing Anne Tyler as well as Robert Ludlum, and Edgar Allen Poe as well as Steven King.
Yet for all the intelligence of its residents, a sense of exclusion remains for anyone who hasn't lived here since the barns were built and burned and the highway constructed, cold gazes glaring at new faces, at us or the more proper businessman from Parsippany.
There is always a set of eyes willing to look in on your business -- unlike the city where naked or dead bodies sprawled on the sidewalk in front of a pedestrian wouldn't raise a brow. Small communities mean intimate knowledge and the sense of peer pressure to conform to the local standard.
When American flags pop up in front of one store others follow, and those that display something as stark as a Jimmy Carter for President sign find themselves lonesome and often ignored. Unlike the fifties and early sixties, the weapon of choice is isolation. You won't find a police car sitting out in front of your bookstore when you leave -- though the town building code inspector may knock on your door, questioning your fire safety system, implying in rather subtle terms you might face closing.
The Carter sign vanishes and nothing else is said. No inspectors. No eviction. Just the usual nasty looks reserved for non-lifetime residents.
Death by Misadventure
You who condemn me know that white eyes built this tenement/reservation for his speeches of equality are as hollow as shallow as his butchering soul The daughters of Rockefeller and Trump are safe while MY child awakes with bite marks of rats, dresses in second hand clothes as worn and frayed as my weeping heart. The feeble life of the American Dream no longer placates my children. They will not stay complacent in chains. For them the memory of the slave ships is still fresh. The deaths of my black ancestors in the holds of the great masted vessels and in the fields of young America are scream on their angry tongues. The children without masters do not bow. Martin's dream and Malcolm's anger will sustain them as vengeance dances on the winds that sweep over this country.
L.A. AmericaAcross white suburban America the radios are
"It can't happen here, It can't happen here,A man tap dances amongst the rubble in L.A. as he does
I checked it out a couple of times, baby,
and I'm here to tell you that it can't happen here."
Even two years later, they still think of you as the man bubbling on the floor, the excess of your horror movies brewing out of your head, your lover, adopted son's soul hunched over your dying eyes like a slowly descending vulture, as if after your health as his fingers rifled your pockets, and me, that distant prodigal child howling like a psychic dog, feeling the moment when the alcohol finally burned the last bright cell from your brain, knowing in my heart the meaning of your passing, knowing there would never be another fuddled man like you.
The moon's surface shivered under their feet as they got ready, the dusty soil cracking in places like over-cooked pie crust, each chunk bearing the same grey color. While on the horizon, red lights burst out of black sky, first one, then a series, each silent explosion growing closer and closer as the enemy worked their way around from the other side -- working their way inch by inch along the sphere's equator.
Paul shifted his feet to keep from losing his balance, his huge boots squirming down into the inch thick layer of dust, looking as if he was standing in puddle of murky grey water, water which did not reflect his silver suit or the bright yellow flood lights that allowed him to work. With each flash, he strained to hear the rumble in the distance, the way he had heard such rumbles on Earth. But with the eternal microphone turned off, he heard only his own struggled breathing, the harsh rasp of his lungs seeking to draw more from the air mixture than his adjustment would allow. Thus, slightly high from too little oxygen, he felt almost amused amid the panic around him, people rushing towards the spacecraft in a 21 century versions of a silent film, Keystone Kops dressed for space, striving to get their gear into the ship before the explosions finally reached them.
He pressed the button on the wrist panel: ``Barbara?'' he asked.
``Yes, Paul?'' a disembodied voice said from out of the speakers in his helmet, though transmission had come from one of the other silver figures.
``We don't have much more time,'' he said. ``Can you hurry things up?''
``We're moving as fast as we can, Paul,'' Barbara replied.
``Well, you'd better be done soon, because I can't hold back from lift-off much longer.''
``I'm doing the best I can,'' the hoarse voice replied, so full of fear she might have been expressing his own panic.
Nothing could save the small sphere now, and it was a miracle that they had survived as long as they had with so many eyes hunting for them, eyes in the sky studying the moon's pale surface, blasting everything that looked even remotely to contain life.
Satisfied with her reply, Paul grabbed the first metal rung along the space ship's side and pulled himself up, his muscles still strong enough from earth-level exercise to lack a problem pulling up his suit-heavy frame, though his booted toes still grappled to connect with the rungs once he was high enough to begin climbing, feeling for each foothold as his hands reached for the next. Even in one-sixth gravity the ascent took time. More flashes from the horizon. More shaking of the moon. At one point, a few yards below the gaping mouth of the hatch, Paul hung, absolutely convinced the space ship would topple over with him under its belly. Then, when the shaking stopped, he grabbed the lip of the hatch and clawed his way inside, hands shaking the way the moon had a moment before. It took him as moment to turn himself around so that he could drop naturally into the bubble's seat. Then, seated correctly, he gripped the hatch lever and shoved it forward.
Several things happened at once. The vibration of the loosening latch shivered through the metal ship, telling him that the massive hatch door could now close. Pushing another lever, he started this process, catching sight of the grey metal slowly folding across the open space like the palm of a clay giant closing over an giant eye.
Inside the cockpit, straps slithered into place around Paul's chest, belly and legs, making him a prisoner in the seat. Even the seat adjusted, the plastic molding to the shape of his muscles and limbs. The vibrating electronic figures would not start until later after liftoff, massaging previous blood back into the weightless flesh. Red lights turned to yellow on the console, then to green. When the last of these had flickered on, he pressed a button on his sleeve and his helmet seals clicked open. He lifted the helmet off. The air inside the cockpit was fresher. Earth air. Never recirculated before. Meant to be used in case of an emergency.
Only this wasn't the emergency the space masters on Earth ever planned for it to meet. He laughed softly to himself and fiddled with other buttons, on the suit that loosened other seals. He placed the helmet in a small vestibule behind his head. A subdued whine sounded and the helmet vanished into the bulkhead. Then, with care, he connected the tubes and wires from the console into the outlets of the suit. One after another until the lights on his wrist turned to green as well. Now, his gaunt face looked ghoulish in the reflected glass before him, a small mouth, a large forehead, a nose that twisted and turned like a vine. An ugly man by Earth standards and he wondered what Barbara saw in him. She was smart. She could have had any of the others that inhabited the surface here, mad men, yes, for their want to live like this, but smoother and smarter and more good looking than he could ever be.
All of them dead by this time if the readings from the console indicated anything. Radiation levels spreading face across the surface like some new form of disease. He squirmed a little. Even the land beneath the bubble showed signs of heating up.
``Barbara! What's keeping you!'' he yelled as his fingers pressed a button on the arm of the chair.
Barbara's voice filled the cockpit, lacking its earlier closeness.
``I'm doing the best I can, Paul.'' she said. ``None of this is easy.''
Across the southern sky great sweeping streaks of orange indicated another round of incoming missiles, this group striking a little closer. Molten stone and metal leaped up from each impact, the light of both illuminating the dark surface with an eerie yellow glow, stones and craters taking on dancing shadows.
The ships in orbit shot blind. What did the military call it? Blanket attack? They hit the known civilized centers first, an easy cluster of bubbles forming a long line near the equator that any child with a telescope could have seen from the earth's surface. The next wave came after the feeling touch of sensors that probed at the less obvious life sources just beneath the surface of the moon: Transportation and communication tunnels as well as storage and laboratories. Again, easy prey. Now, they strapped for the deep delving miners who would be more difficult to unearth, the military hoping moonquakes would quell any urge to fight. But any fool knew that option was pointless. Fight the entire military might of Earth?
No soldiers lived on the moon, only egghead fools like himself and Barbara, and the brute-backed miners who could not find a place on the Earth to earn their trade. Paul doubted if there was a blaster among them big enough to shoot down one of their invading craft, nor a hand brave enough to pull the trigger. But Earth was thorough even if it meant overkill, and in time, those probing sensors would discover this small weather outpost set snugly into the stone of the northern pole. Then death would come, fiery and unmerciful, the punishing hand of Earth masters who needed no elaborate excuse for violence.
Paul and Barbara had spent numerous nights watching that might at work below, the carving flares of war working their way across the Earth's blue-green surface. Many in the larger community to the south believed it would never come to the moon. But Paul knew it would. The eyes of the military machine would turn to the sky once it lacked targets below, cursing them the way ancient man cursed the sky gods that seemed beyond their petty violence.
Impatiently, Paul flicked on the view screen. Dark shapes leaped to life on the small screen. But the picture was far from perfect. Static lines of green and blue and yellow and red broke up the picture, leaving only the silhouette of people in a room shoving small grey cargo containers into a freight elevator. The attack had come much too quickly for them to be totally ready. Paul hadn't realized Earth's abilities.
``What's holding things up down there?'' he asked.
One of the figures paused and stared up at the screen. All wore space suits so it was hard to tell who it was. But the size and shape said it was a man. Walter was the only other male in their small troop.
``Power went down in the storage bin,'' Walter said, the radio pinching off the ends of the words. ``We had to open everything manually.''
``How much have you gotten aboard?''
``Not quite half.''
Paul bit his lip. It wasn't enough -- yet it had to be. They couldn't let the sensors discover them. The launch itself would draw attention. But maybe, just maybe if Paul could move the ship quickly enough, they could break through the blockade.
Even then, he needed another miracle. The first in a series, but a key miracle. Without it nothing else mattered. Not even a shortage of supplies.
``Leave it and get everybody aboard,'' Paul said.
``We can't survive without this stuff, Paul,'' Barbara broke in, one of the shadowy figures nearest to the cargo loader, her dark shape nearly swallowed by the gaping mouth in the lower hull.
``And we're not going to survive if we wait for it. Up and in or I'll close everything down from here and take off without you.''
It was empty threat. With him the only one aboard, it was akin to suicide. Even if he survived, he would die of loneliness, out there, in the center of eternity.
``Give us a little more time,'' Barbara said. ``Let us get to fifty percent, then we'll cut it off.''
Paul didn't believe her. He knew how her mind worked. She made progressive deals in everything, always managing to shave an inch or two more room on her side of the equation.
``No,'' Paul said. ``It's now or never. Get in. I'm closing up.''
He hit the button that started the sequence. Lights flashed in the chamber below. Barbara, Walter and the third shadowy figure glanced towards the closing cargo doors. Then, dropping their loads they lunged for the door, looking like a pack of overdressed clowns. Even in the best of circumstances, it was never easy to travel in moon suits, and now, hurrying, they staggered and bumped, staging an ancient silent film comedy all for the benefit of Paul.
One by one the computer registered their life forms, adjusting its systems, turning on chambers no so different from one in which Paul now sat. Walter was aboard. Margaret. Barbara.
That was all.
It was a poor showing, but Walter had tested them and their gene pool might just serve well enough. They had the sperm banks. If the craft slipped by the sentries. If the new drive worked, then maybe, just maybe, they -- four piddling near-mad humans -- could pull it off.
``I'm in,'' Walter announced at the console lights confirmed his system activating, seat sealing around him, chamber closing against the impact of the launch, and the additional launch that would come later when indeed Paul steered them into position nearer the sun.
A red light flashed above the windscreen. A sensor had touched the fringes of the weather station. Earth for the first time in all these years now knew of their existence. The second light popped on, indicating Margaret's arrival in her chamber.
``Barbara? What's holding you up?'' Paul demanded. ``Barbara?''
To Paul's horror he noticed the indicator light for the hull door was on again, despite his having closed it. Barbara had gotten in all right, but only long enough to flip the manual by-pass. He flipped the viewer back to the chamber below. A lone shadowy figure showed in the room of cargo containers, punching out codes into the robot haulers, sending more units up into the ship.
``Damn it, Barbara. We don't have time for that.''
``We have to have time,'' Barbara barked back. ``We're not going to make it on forty percent and you know it.''
``We over-stocked,'' Paul said.
``But not by sixty percent.''
``Forty or fifty isn't going to serve us any better,'' Paul said.
``If we can't make it work on forty we won't make it.''
``That's not how you figured it when you planned out this thing.''
``No, but I didn't figure on Earth being this quick either. I thought we'd have more time to load. I never thought they would attack us unannounced.''
``God help the others.''
``If God hasn't helped them already, they can't be helped. We're all that's left on the moon from what I can see and we're not going to last long if you keep it up. Get in. There are four ships heading towards us over the horizon.''
The shadowy figure on the screen stopped, helmet rising. Paul could almost catch the startled expression behind the glass face panel.
``Fast, too. If we don't launch now, we won't make it.''
``All right,'' Barbara said and leaped again towards the cargo door. Once in, the light went out, indicating that she had closed the door manually.
How long now before she got to her seat and sealed? Two minutes? Paul wondered if they had two minutes. The four ships from the south had now begun to fan out in an attack formation. He pressed in the code to launch. The computer refused: All systems are not secure. It was waiting for Barbara. Paul overrode the block. She would have to fend for herself. It would take time for the craft to launch. Maybe as much as a minute.
He watched the numbers from the two readouts. Launch time. Arrival time. It was a race of digital figures which would provide them with only a small victory. Already, reports showed other ships coming.
Paranoid Earth was coming full force towards them, believing they had finally found the center of the revolution. Of course the moon people would hide it up north, making it look like an innocent little outlying station that none of their military men had thought to look for, that Paul and Walter and Barbara and Margaret had been careful to mask during all the previous months of their research and work, but no longer masked as they brought power up for a launch.
Earth did not know the details. Everywhere there was revolution in their eyes, a misguided bureaucrat's note from the field was a revolution. A mis-uttered angry word was an act of treason.
If only they knew the truth. How these four little moon people had put together a real revolution, not one designed to overthrow Earth the way Earthmen believed, but one waiting to open the door to the universe, leaving Earth the petty power than it was.
Barbara's light came on. She was in.
The ship rocked under Paul and he grabbed the controls as they rose out of the console. This part of the launch sequence didn't need him. But later it would when he had to override the normal safety systems to make the ship do what he wanted it to do, weaving and turning in space a way such ships were never designed to do. Up the craft rose, pulling away from the surface of the moon, leaving its own molten crater behind. Paul and Walter had worked out this part, believing that the additional power was necessary.
``We won't be coming back,'' Walter had said. ``We don't have to worry about damage to the substructure.''
The computer connections, however, had detached with lift-off. Paul couldn't see anything but the glowing red spot shown in the rear cameras, a red spot where formally a dome had been.
``Good bye,'' he mumbled, feeling a heaviness grow in him and on his chest. In a normal lift off he wouldn't have felt anything. But the power was pushing passed the normal barriers, straining the system to keep these frail human forms from feeling the full impact of gravity and space. There came a point in all human machinations when the machines could not protect them completely.
He wondered about the second launch. There had been no way to calculate the impact of that. No one had launched themselves through that door before. Machines like this one designed on Earth did not deal in such terms. Earth believed hyperspace did not exist, that jumping into and through it, impossible, therefore no one had bothered to calculate what kind of pressures it would impose upon the human cargo as it pushed through with its machines.
Surviving a jump was merely a guess on Paul's part, the way the needed supplies were on Barbara's and Margaret's. This ship readied to plunge into utter unknown. If indeed it reached the coordinates Walter had computed.
The angle of the craft changed, now shifting to a horizontal plane. The molten surface of the moon showed beneath them. The computer showed the advancing Earth craft falling behind, like four small children's toys. A momentary advantage. Paul pressed a button on the console. The second stage of launch began. Not the jump. But a power surge he and Walter had instituted in case of pursuit. A brief burn that sent them into a dazzling forward rush, bringing on another race of distance and vanishing fuel.
``Save enough to maneuver,'' Walter's voice sounded over the small speaker.
Paul cut the fiery motors, then pressed the button to detach the main engines from the ship. Temporary engines they would not likely need on the other side. The internal motors would move them well enough once the jump had finished, if indeed there was a place for them to move to.
Then, finally, he leaned back, sweat dribbling down his forehead. The seat struggled to relax him, but his muscles resisted, tight up and down his arms and legs as if he was clinging to the back of a racing horse.
``Start the jump sequence,'' Walter said.
Paul hesitated, his fingers an inch from the button that would take control out of his hands, out of humanity's hands, and plunge them and their small little ark into the unknown. He pitied the people left behind, the struggling pioneers on Mars who relied on Earth for their water and would soon see themselves as victims to this insane search for revolution. He pitied the dessert travelers on Venus whose terra-forming efforts would be cut short soon by paranoid fire from the sky. He pitied Earth itself that would die the slow death, billions upon billions of starving and desperate people killing each other for lack of resources, for water, for food, for room in which to stretch their arms.
``Start it, Paul!'' Walter yelled. ``The others are coming up behind us!''
Paul stared up at the screen which was now filled with tiny dots, not stars, but the whole terrible fuming breath of Earth stretching out to crush this seed before it had time to bloom.
He sighed softly, then pressed the button.
c/o A.D. Sullivan
271 Terrace Avenue
Jersey City, NJ 07307