A Few Things Ill Considered

The Bottleneck Years

by H.E. Taylor

Chapter 31 Table of Contents Chapter 33

Chapter 32

One Thing After Another, December 14, 2055

The next few days were just one damned thing after another. On Monday, when I walked into Ecology 550, a spontaneous wave of applause broke out.

I held up my hands. “Okay. Okay, listen I’ll make you a deal. Hold the applause until after we fix this problem and then we’ll all celebrate. We still have a lot of work to do.” My statement had just the sobering effect I wanted.

As I looked around the room, I noticed a few faces that didn’t belong. Officially the class had fifteen students. Usually about twelve showed up. “Now I have gone through the geoengineering suggestions database and I notice a few people here have outdone themselves.” I started going over the suggestions on a large screen projection.

The remainder of the class, which wasn’t very long, I gave over to answering the usual nervous end of term questions.

When I got back to my office, I learned that Jim Yablonski had died. That cast a pall over the whole department.

On Wednesday, the Secretary General’s office issued a press release stating that Group 2 was going ahead immediately. This was met by a generally favourable reaction in the media.

Edie was pleased as well and didn’t understand why I wasn’t. “You’re part of a world wide effort engaged in a major project. Why wouldn’t you be happy?” she asked.

I couldn’t tell her how skeptical I was, so I just said, “We have a lot of work to do before we see any results.”

“Oh, I know that,” she waved my concerns away. Then Anna intervened, which effectively ended that conversation.

On Thursday I got a call from a clerk in Administration who informed me that Eco550 was being moved to a larger venue in order to accommodate those who wished to audit the class. Same time different building. I didn’t care.

I was juggling my research, classes, UNGETF, and my home life with Edie and Anna. I didn’t know what had happened to Matt. I suppose, at heart, I figured he could take care of himself, although Carman loomed like the fabled albatross.

Friday morning I went to Jim Yablonski’s funeral alone. The little church was packed. The ceremony was quite austere. Jim was a green evangelical and they don’t much go in for ostentation. When we got to the graveside, we had to wait for the hearse and the congregation began spontaneously to sing old hymns. It was quite moving, a moment of true communion in shared grief.

When I walked into the new Eco550 room, I was amazed to see 40 or 50 people in the hall. Some familiar faces were sprinkled throughout the hall and sitting unobtrusively in the third row was Carman. I did my best to ignore the little grey man, but he drew my eyes like a magnet.

The students were full of worried questions.

“Why did UNGETF choose sulphur?”

“Was our work wasted?”

“What’s really going on?”

I responded with a variation on the wedges theory. “We will undoubtably use many techniques. Some will work better than others. Some will address different aspects of the problem.”

I wanted to get over the geoengineering issues quickly because we had course material to cover. This class was ostensibly about energy flows in different ecologies. I ended with that old quote about the how many flies to feed how many frogs so a person could eat one fish a day, and then I made it real by asking them to research the energy relations of the system. How much energy does a fly require? Where does it come from? How much energy does a fly supply to the frog that eats it? And so on. A stream of unhappy faces filed from the room when I dismissed the class.

Carman stood and approached me. “You know the one thing that continually surprises me in my business is how much things are interrelated. A man goes off half-cocked and kills his wife. Why that day and not the day before or the day after? A person decides one course for their life and not another? Why that way? It’s the little things that catch us unawares.”

I assumed this was a comment on Ecology, but was having none of it. “I presume you have news about Matt.”

“No. I was hoping you did.”

“Not a word.”

“Did he ever mention a company named Lee Cheung Traders to you?”

“No.”

Carman pulled out a padd and showed me a dockfront scene with Matt walking into a dilapitated old warehouse.

“That is the last time anyone saw him.”

“I guess that must be really annoying to you guys.” I said it lightly, but when I glanced up from the padd, I caught a flash of sheer fury in Carman’s eyes. I decided right then and there I never wanted to get on his bad side.

“No I’ve never heard of the place before,” I repeated myself.

“In that case, I will leave you to your delicately interwoven patterns.” He gave me a funny smile and headed for the door.

“Oh, by the way,” he paused halfway. “How are things going at UNGETF?”

“I’m going to a meeting right now. Want to come?”

“No. I’ll leave that in your capable hands. Good day.”

I was unnerved by Carman’s visit. I couldn’t see what he was doing and I didn’t believe anything he said. I walked slowly toward the MacDonald building.

At the Group 7 meeting, a couple of people were really upset with the Group 2 plan. Peter Barnes ranted. He was followed closely in intensity by Dr. Yu. Rhamaposa let them go on for a couple of minutes, then said, “I don’t like it any better than you do, but I can’t take your rhetorical arguments to the UNGETF council. Give me concrete reasons why it won’t work. Then give me some solid facts and I’ll see what I can do.”

There was a sudden, significant silence. He knew as well as anybody that the banning of geoengineering research by many nations had made facts hard to come by.

“Right then.” He looked around the conference table. “In view of the large number of suggestions received, the Council is leaving open the creation of further groups as needed. And we, Group 7, get to do an evaluation of the proposals received. You’ll notice on our website that there is now a link which will direct you to the new database.”

“I have done a preliminary cull of the proposals I thought were flaky, theories that violated the laws of conservation primarily. Dr. Yu, will you go over the culls to check my judgement, please.”

Yu assented with a nod and Peter continued. “I would ask the rest of you to sort the remainder by categories. That will be about 20 for each of you to sort.”

Rhamaposa stopped and looked around. “Well that’s all I have. Does anybody have anything they would like to raise?”

We all looked at each other, but nobody spoke. It crossed my mind how quickly and easily we had taken to holographic conferencing.

“In that case, I will close the meeting.”

This time the tech was present and the holograms all snapped off at once. I picked up my case and headed for home.

It was late afternoon, in December, a brisk winter day. I walked along the lake to enjoy the view. Across the water green, gold and crimson leaves still clung to the trees.


Excerpted from _The Bottleneck Years_ by H.E. Taylor

For further information see:
A Gentle Introduction.

Last modified March 19, 2013

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