|Chapter 81||Table of Contents||Chapter 83|
Rescued, November 20, 2059
The next day, Jon was formally charged by the IEC. they called it ecological crimes against humanity. Suddenly everyone had something to say. The media showed up. There were vloggers and agency stringers waiting for me when I left the university.
I answered a bunch of questions, many of them repetitious and silly. I had just declared, "the next person who asks me how I feel and not what I think will end the scrum," when a new stringer rolled up with half a dozen newseyes and started to ask me, "How I felt about..."
"Right!" I said. "That's it!" I got on my bike and rode away, leaving them standing there.
Besides the external pressures, I had my own feelings to deal with. I found myself having long, involved imaginary conversations with Matt. We argued about dad, about UNGETF, about Henry. I knew it wasn't particularly healthy, at least part of me did, but some sarcastic remark Matt had made would come back to me and I would get carried away.
Edie thought I was grieving and, maybe in a funny way, I was. But it didn't feel like it. It felt unhealthy, like hiding.
The next morning there was a van parked in front of the house when I got up. The logo was IE, In Extremis, a radical Gaian news agency. They had a reputation for being as subtle as a baseball bat.
When I started down the street on my bike, the van followed. I considered deking down a back lane to get away, but I didn't really feel like playing hide and seek. So I stopped and walked my bike over to the driver's window. It was tinted, but the driver, a middle aged white guy, rolled the window halfway down.
"Why are you following me?" I asked. "What do you want?"
"I just have two questions, Mr. Fontaine."
"Do you support your brother's actions?"
"Do you think the planet is doomed?"
"The planet will get along just fine without us. The question is, 'are humans doomed?' I think humans will survive out of sheer cussedness, but what state the rest of the biosphere will be in is an open question. We are a very destructive species."
"When is the news conference?"
He smiled, rolled up the window and drove away.
When I got to the university, I was met by another contingent of stringers and vloggers, who I put off with some difficulty. An email from the administration reported they had been fielding a lot of questions and asked if I wanted to schedule a news conference. I replied no, that I thought it would die down soon.
I had two classes that day. Between Jon's notoriety and the fast approaching end of term, both of them were packed. I gave the lectures and dealt with the questions as best I could.
As I was leaving my office for the day, I happened to overhear part of a conversation when I approached the stairwell. "...condemned us all. That bastard could have started a war. He should be drawn and quartered in a public square. And to think his brother..."
The conversation stopped abruptly when I rounded the corner. Two colleagues who shall remain nameless here, stared at me wide-eyed as I walked by.
I was devastated. Edie was right: Jon was hated and despised. And I was caught in the backwash.
I started for home, my mind in a whirl. It was like the last week suddenly landed on my shoulders. Instead of going straight home, I went to the lakeshore and walked my bike along the path. I had lost my last anchor. My world was turning upside down. Matt was dead. Jon was lost. I was alone. Instead of going right to the house, I sat on a rock across the road on the lakeshore. I needed to be alone to think.
I had never felt like I had a handle on what Jon thought. He wasn't like Matt always trying ideas out for size and letting you know. What Jon really thought always remained hidden. I felt like I caught a corner here, an edge there, maybe the odd point, while unseen, the crystal heart of him floated in obscurity.
Why did Jon sabotage the sunshield? I didn't know. What would make him do that? Somehow he had been twisted until he forgot what matters.
And what really matters to you, I asked myself. The sound of one of Edie's old Muddy Waters songs played in my mind's ear. "Oh yeah, oooohhhhh yeaahhh," Muddy moaned and the music thumped. I gazed at the water and lost myself in the waves and ripples, lost myself in the emptiness.
I found myself remembering one of Dad's old movies. "If this could happen to us, to the most civilized people in the world, it could happen to anybody," the anguished German judge declared in Judgement at Nuremburg. I grappled with that dilemma and the core of what was really bothering me finally emerged. Could I be as easily twisted as Jon?
I was thunderstruck. Could I? My family was falling apart. Matt was dead. Jon was acting like a nut. Was I next? I wasn't accustomed to doubting myself this severely.
What matters to me? Edie and Anna. Solving the ecological crisis. Teaching. My research. I like to learn and I like to pass that on. What else is there?
The hierarchy of needs flashed through my mind. Food, shelter, status -- the prime motivators. Was I that simple? What about sex and power? What about sex and drugs and rock-n-roll Matt's arch voice whispered. I didn't know. I didn't know anything right then.
I was so caught up in my funk I didn't hear Anna behind me. She put her hand on my shoulder and I jumped. "Come play with me," she said seeming not to realize how she had surprised me.
I felt like a man in a deep dark hole who had just been thrown a lifeline. For a second I just stared at her; then I gave her a big hug and said, "Okay kiddo, what shall we play?"
"You can be Jib Jab's daddy."
I got to my feet.
"Where are my worms?"
"I'll have to dig them up for you."
As we walked to the house, I noticed Edie at the window watching us with a strange, expression on her face --- concern, pride and something untouchable wrapped up in a wry little smile.
Excerpted from _The Bottleneck Years_ by H.E. Taylor
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Last modified March 4, 2014