The Quiet Pools
by Michael P. Kube-McDowell
From the elevated guard station at the main entrance to Allied Transcon’s Houston center, a young corpsec monitored the truck trundling up Galveston Road toward NASA Boulevard. With his televiewer, he could see that the rider cabin of the robot tractor was empty. The dull silver tank trailer bore the familiar logo of Shell Chemical.
“Traffic on the board,” his watch partner said suddenly as the truck crossed the security threshold. His watch partner was an artificial intelligence personality named Isaac, one of eight personalities making up the center’s Sentinel system.
“I’ve got it,” said the corpsec. A squeeze on the grip of the televiewer brought the reply to the station’s radioed interrogative into the finder in pale yellow lettering. “ID’s okay. Shellchem local hauler, running empty.”
“I have confirmation from the National Vehicle Registry,” Isaac said. “The registry is valid and current.”
“Okay.” The corpsec idly continued to track the tanker in the glass, trying to read the graffiti scrawled on its flanks. In the course of their four-hour shift, more than a hundred wheeled cargo vehicles would slide by on the old surface road, shuttling between Galveston and Houston. Except for the occasional burst of imagination or artistry in the graffiti, they were hardly worth notice.
Besides, ground traffic was the least of Corporate Security’s concerns. It was far more likely that someone seeking to penetrate Allied Transcon would try to hop the triple fence in a flyer; far more likely that someone trying to destroy it would lob a screamer from the forest of scrapers downtown, or from a boat bobbing somewhere on the poisoned waters of Galveston Bay.
And even those possibilities were hard to take very seriously at all—right up to the moment the Shellchem tanker suddenly veered right and roared up the ramp onto NASA Drive, accelerating all the way. At the top of the ramp, the tanker swept an unsuspecting two-seat flyer aside and hurtled down the entrance drive toward the barbican.
“Jesus,” the corpsec said unbelievingly. “It’s going to crash the gate.”
There was little else for him to do, for the silicon reflexes of Sentinel had already taken over. In less than a microsecond, the AIP declared the tanker a threat, activated the gate defenses, and transmitted an alert to corpsec throughout the grounds.
“Now sending kill-Q,” said Isaac.
A half dozen flyers were queued up in the accumulation lane outside the barbican’s tunnels. They settled to the ground as one as Sentinel abruptly took command of their pilot systems. But the tanker kept coming, its systems refusing the insistent commands. In seconds the tanker would smash into the stalled flyers and their human occupants.
“It’s stall-shielded,” the corpsec realized.
Sentinel had already drawn the same conclusion and made the only possible decision. With almost tangible reluctance, Sentinel exercised what control it had, and the flyers suddenly rose up and scattered like a flock of birds. That ended the risk to life. It also cleared the way to the gate.
“Fire authority,” snapped the corpsec. “Blow it off the bridge.”
“Road sensors show the tanker is fully loaded. There’s no way to know what’s in it,” the construct said. “Sorry.”
The corpsec swallowed hard. “Jesus, I hope they built this tower good—”
At the end of the bridge, spikes rising from the roadbed shredded the tanker’s tires, but could not halt it. The tanker reached the final concrete apron outside the twin tunnels of the barbican, now sealed by heavy doors, and abruptly slewed into a sideways skid. Moments later it slammed into the wall of steel and stone.
The corpsec grabbed for a handhold as the tower shuddered and swayed. But there was no explosion, no alarming creaking and rending. The corpsec looked toward Isaac’s room scanner with a look of relief and drew a deep breath to clear the poison of fear from his lungs.
“That wasn’t so bad,” Isaac said.
“No,” said the corpsec, going to the window. Peering down at the barbican, he saw the tanker crushed sideways against the entrance gates, bleeding a yellow-brown soup from its belly. The fast-running pool of liquid had already reached the east edge of the apron and begun to spread across the hard earth and brown grass.
Grabbing his viewer, the corpsec trained it on the spill. Wraithlike white wisps played in the air above its surface. “I don’t like the looks of that.”
“The HazMat team has been notified.”
“Should I evacuate?”
“No,” was the answer. “Remain at your station. You’ll be given further instructions when HazMat evaluates the situation.”
The corpsec frowned. “I’m not settling for that,” he said. “Let me listen to E-l.”
Emergency channel 1 came on the speaker just in time for the corpsec to hear the chatter of excited voices fade under a storm of static and then vanish beneath the clean white hum of a pirate jammer. Then a voice spoke, a solemn, sonorous male voice that commanded their attention and tugged somehow at the emotional chord labeled
“This is Jeremiah, speaking for the Homework!…”
“This is an unauthorized transmission,” Isaac said.
“Shut up, Isaac,” the corpsec said irritably. “I want to hear what they’ve done to us.”
As always, Homeworld had worked hard to make certain that the corpsec, Allied Transcon management, and as many of Earth’s eight billion as possible heard.
This is what they heard:
“This is Jeremiah, speaking for the Homeworld.
“From the first, I have been a student of history. The truth of the present can be found in the past, if you seek it. Enemies hide their evils in the mists of the past, if you allow it. The winner is the player with the longest memory.
“For more than a hundred years, the bandits of Allied Transcon have insulted the Earth, our gentle mother. The trail of Gaea’s pain begins with Allied Transcon’s sorry heritage, with names to which such shame attached that those names were abandoned and hidden.
“We have not forgotten. Rockwell built weapons of war, abetting the mindless devastation of fragile ecologies. We have not forgotten. Exxon bled the earth of its precious stores and poisoned the waters and the air with chemical wastes. We have not forgotten. Mitsubishi supplied the tools to turn once-beautiful Japan into a mechanized warren and to ravage the grand tropical forests of Indonesia and the Philippines.
“The bastard of the mating of these soulless parasites worships at the altar of the same shallow profit principle. I look on your works and weep. Thirty square miles of the Amazon Basin transformed from lush jungle to dead, sterile pavement. A dozen gigawatt power plants generating million-year poisons. An endless parade of LSD freighters ripping through the atmosphere, carrying away the riches of the Earth.
“And the worst insult of all, that all this is done only so that we might reach out for more worlds to despoil.
“Today, we have returned the insult. We returned to Allied Transcon a tiny fraction of the poisons it creates in a single day— a few seconds of death and disease. At six-fifty this morning, a tank truck emptied five thousand gallons of life-hating industrial pollutants at the main entrance to Allied Transcon’s American headquarters in Houston. We have rubbed their noses in their corporate excrement.