On the roof deck, guests mingled while nibbling hors d’oeuvres as mellow music played in the background. A-Five arrived late, and when he did, he made an entrance.
“What’s with the fatigues?”
“Hey, Buddy, you didn’t say this was a fancy dress affair!”
A-Five smiled. “Didn’t I?”
He grabbed grub from a nearby tray and snapped his fingers for a functionary to bring him champagne.
“Wait!” he ordered. He gulped one glass full, and then took another. “Go!”
The functionary quickly vanished.
“So, where’s Aileen?” Sam asked.
“She’s in Europe visiting our brother, dude. She’ll be gone a long while.”
A-Five made sure to accentuate the length of Aileen’s sojourn, to reinforce the point that she would always be unavailable to him. Deflating Sam was such easy work, like shooting fish in a barrel, but A-Five enjoyed it anyway.
His best bud Flint came up side him with a cold one in his hand.
“Champagne, son? Going Euro on us?” Euro, of course, was a synonym for queer. A-Five chuckled.
“It’s a celebration! We’re going to see a fireworks display tonight, one like none other.”
“I’ll drink to that!” Sam said. They clinked beverages. Sam pulled him aside by the elbow.
“You found them?”
“Hell yeah, we found them, son,” A-Five beamed. “Told you we would. We had the appetizers, and now we’re ready for the main course.”
They clinked again. A-Five smiled with all of his perfect teeth showing.
Most of the Flatlanders knew nothing about the strikes. The hierarchy among po’folks meant that those who lived in the city knew nothing about the lives or problems of those who lived in makeshifts. This was crucial. It was important that city folks felt superior to makeshifters; it deflected attention away from The Betters. So makeshift strikes were never reported on the news, like Harkness strikes normally were. From the perspective of city folks, the makeshifts sat not a half-dozen miles but rather light-years away.
Factory Block Five knew all too well what happened. They mourned the dead and prayed for the injured. Charlie took it particularly hard. The two strikes happened to makeshifts that he did not trust, so they did not have any of the anti-aircraft guns. They had become sitting ducks.
Thea, the First Mum, led the memorial service and soothed Charlie as best she could. But her mind focused sharp on the situation. She was their general, and she prepared to lead them into battle.
“Look,” she told the General Assembly, “this is what probably happened. Charlie, honey, you did the right thing, even thought it had an awful cost. From what we can gather from our moles, one or both of the two that got hit snitched on my family being here. And if you think about it, it stands to reason. You said you didn’t trust them. Now we see why. They snitched and their reward was the get the shit blow out of them. That’s how those Better bastards work. So now they’re gonna come for us. There are only three makeshifts left in our general area and all of them are armed to the teeth. They might know that we’re here, but they sure as hell don’t know that we’re packing big style. When they get here, they’ll find out!”
She got the reaction she wanted. Folks started clapping and cheering.
All of FB Five observed a strict lights out at night. Everyone had a set of night goggles – another bit of info gleaned from the books Aileen left behind. Charlie and his buddy Bobcat remembered them and how to put them together. The only lights allowed, kept real dim, were in Gabriel’s unit as they worked like hell to finish their special project. FB Five loyalty kept the project totally under wraps, though some folks had a hard time understanding it or believing that it would work.
Many groused, how the hell can you make weather?
It started out as an old idea from the mid 20th century. A man said he had discovered a new energy and called it orgone. He claimed, among other things, that this energy could help produce rain. The government pooh-poohed him, locked him up, and burned all of his books. His son kept his father’s work and memories alive as best he could. But mostly, orgone was dismissed as pseudoscience and ignored.
By the late 21st century, though, someone took an interest in the work, at least the aspects of it that related to the weather. By that time, the climate had changed and fertile lands that used to see ample rain saw none. What folks called the New Dust Bowl had in fact become a large desert that rivaled the Sahara in size and aridity. Similarly, the Mojave spread and overtook all of the Southland and the Central Valley. People were desperate to make rain and bring the land back to life again. So a scientist named Dr. Samantha Hoost began looking into the whole concept of orgone energy as it related to rain making. In the years since orgone had been proposed, and pooh-poohed, an energy dynamic had been discovered related to atmospheric science. Astronomers discovered it on the gas giants, both within and outside of the solar system, and stated that this new energy was partially responsible for their violent storms. In fact, the giant worlds had prodigious amounts of this weird, newly discovered energy. Though various names for the new power source had been proposed, Dr. Hoost elected to call it orgone. Most of her colleagues tried to dissuade her on this, but she refused. Dr. Hoost was a stubborn character who marched to her own drum.
From what she could tell, though, the gas giants had a surfeit of orgone, but the Earth had very little. And you needed orgone to stimulate orgone, just like one needed flowers to attract bees. And just as flowers were hard to cultivate, due to the lack of water, orgone was hard to produce out of “thin air.” What to do? Well, it turned out that one of the side-effects of climate change was that the Earth now had way more orgone energy than it ever had before. Though still paltry compared to the amount of, say, Jupiter or Saturn, the Earth had noticeably more and certainly more than in the era when orgone and cloudbusting machines had first been developed. Perhaps, Dr. Hoost proposed, one no longer needed tons of the stuff to stimulate rain anymore. So she put it to the test. And suddenly, she was a rain maker. Not just a dabbler who created pleasant showers, but a hard core cloudbuster who could make buckets fall at her command. Folks were amazed. Even her colleagues took interest.
Or they did before The Betters got wind of her discovery. There was a branch of Betters known as Water Lords. They held the monopoly on all water in the country and launched wars in neighboring countries, like Canada, to get more. The last thing the Water Lords wanted was some kooky scientist producing rain for free and screwing up their monopoly. So they discredited Dr. Samantha Hoost. Orgone, as originally proposed in the 20th century, had a sexual component. Upon that realization, the Water Lords found it easy to cast Dr. Hoost as a sex-starved woman whose life as a scientist studying “orgone” was a substitution for her inability to maintain the companionship of “a good man.” That Dr. Hoost was married to a man, and was not a lesbian as the Water Lords dog-whistled, was beside the point. The damage had been done. Once discredited, they locked up her, smashed her machines, and burned her books. Most of her former colleagues quickly lost interest in her work and did not pursue it.
Most, but not all. Rexall Spanner, a close friend of Dr. Hoost’s, continued her work in the relative safety of Europe. The Betters of the Good Old US of A tended not to bother themselves with Europe – it was full of socialist homosexuals after all – and Dr. Spanner kept a very low profile. He revised and republished all of her work in foreign languages. Betters rarely spoke anything but English, so they didn’t notice. It was one of these books, published in Spanish, which Aileen got a hold of and passed on to her half-brother, Ángel.
Ángel was as good with science as he was at languages. And Gabriel’s engineering skills turned drawings and theory into a giant, life-sized duplicate of the machine Dr. Hoost built long ago in the prairie deserts of Kansas. For days, Ángel, Gabriel, and Lillian, worked continuously to bring the machine back to life. But now they felt like time ran against them.
“Anything?” Gabriel called out.
“Nothing! Nothing!” Ángel said, slamming a wrench on the floor.
His mother looked at him with concern. Ángel picked up the wrench and loosed what he had just tightened, then dislodged the module. He stared at it. Then he saw something. His little 9-year old hands could just reach inside and grabbed what he felt screwed up the module. He tightened it back into place.
“Try it now,” he said.
Gabriel sat in the control chair and pulled the lever again. “Anything?”
“Yes, yes! It’s turning red. Now blue. It’s holding at blue. Switch it off.”
“Good. Let’s reset the other modules, based on that one.”
Lillian took her own wrench and took apart one of the modules. She asked her son to help her with the adjustment. Her hands were too big.
A large boom stilled them all.
“Let’s get back to it,” Lillian said after a while.
Then the signal came from the sliding door to Gabriel’s place. They shut off what little light they had and Gabriel crept open the door.
“Hi, hon. You all, that was the first volley from Makeshift Dealership. They knocked one down.”
They started clapping.
“They’re coming pretty fast, though. Lots of them. They should arrive here pretty soon. How’s it coming with the rain machine?”
“Calibration problems, Mother. But I think we solved it.”
“Good. Keep at it. I’m going to the main gate. Good luck!”
She pushed the door closed and Gabriel sealed it so that they could turn the lights on again.
“¡Qué carajo!” Ángel said.
They looked at marvel at the blast. A-Five smiled wide and hard, until they started seeing more and more of them. It didn’t look right. Then Flint came up to A-Five and whispered to him.
“I’m getting a report that some of the Harknesses are getting shot down.”
“What?” A-Five roared. “That’s fucking impossible! How the fuck could they do that?”
More and more fireballs flared in the distance as they watched from the Roof Garden on the Wallet’s mansion.
“Shouldn’t we call them back?” Flint said. “I mean, this could cost us a lot of money. . .”
“Hell naw! I ain’t backing down to a bunch of fucking piss-ons. Tell them to send more.”
“But. . .”
“Do it! Or I’ll fucking push you off the roof, son!”
Flint got back on his cell phone while A-five, stogie in his mouth, looked through binoculars as one by one the Harkness helicopters went down.
“Here they come!” Charlie cried.
“Right!” Thea brought her goggles over her eyes and aimed her cannon accordingly.
“Good luck, sweetheart,” Charlie said.
Thea gave him a kiss, then looked to the sky again.
“Ready, ready. Now! Destroy the motherfucker!”
A hail of fire went up and two helicopters went down.
“That was us! That was us!” Ángel said.
“Almost done with the fourth one. There. Is it showing yellow?”
“Still with too much green,” Lillian said.
“Damn!” Gabriel took the module out and had Ángel adjust it.
“Fire!” Thea cried, and another volley went to the sky. Three more came down. Then they heard another come down from the rear of Factory Block Five.
Charlie tapped her on the shoulder. A large shadow, visible even without the night goggles, loomed seemingly from out of nowhere. It produced a piercing sound.
“You are trespassing! Surrender and die!”
Then it let flow a stream of bullets. Thea pulled the trigger and sent out another launcher. It was a direct hit. The monster ship came down. That was the last one that they could see.
“Charlie! Are you alright?”
“They winged me, that’s all.”
“Otto! Come take Charlie to the infirmary. Willie Mae, you stand in as my second.”
Charlie protested, but allowed himself to be taken away. He did not like the thought of Thea staying behind, but knew better than to talk her out of it.
“This is one hell of a night, huh, First Mum?” Willie Mae said.
“It ain’t over yet, hon. I’m guessing that they’re just warming up.”
“It’s gone quiet out there,” Gabriel said.
“Too quiet. The eye of the storm,” Lillian said. “Let’s roll this outside now.”
“Momma, I’m coming, too.”
“No! Stay inside.”
“But you need me!”
“He’s right, Lillian. If one of those models acts up again, he’s the only one with hands small enough to adjust ‘em.”
She knew that. She also knew that they didn’t have time to take the module apart to make the adjustment themselves. Time was against them. Slowly, she nodded her head. They killed the lights and opened the sliding door. Gabriel used his car to tow the huge machine outside. They had to get to a clearing about 200 yards away so that there was at least 50 feet between the machine and the buildings.
As the monster machine with it’s flared tubes pointing towards the sky slowly crept down the darkened roads of FB Five, folks standing on the sidelines began clapping and cheering. Some bled from the first attack, but they suffered no fatalities.
“Go get ‘em, Ángel!” one of the guys cried out.
They arrived at their spot. Gabriel leapt out of his car and joined Ángel and his mother as they tried to turn the machine north on its turntable.
“Let’s help them!” someone called out.
A gang of folks helped turn the machine. Gabriel jumped into the chair behind the control panel. He started flicking switches. Dials began to glow as the flared tubes began to hum. He called out the colors in sequence.
“Blue!” he repeated.
“Problem with the blue!” Lillian called out. “Switch off!”
Gabriel switched off and Lillian began undoing the module. Unfortunately, the machine was building up to full power and the discharge took longer than anticipated. A sharp jolt snapped at Lillian and she fell backwards.
“I’m OK, Ángelito. Just stunned.”
Folks took her to the side and comforted her. Ángel stared at the machine, too scared to go near the module, as a low humming noise from the sky, and not the machine, started to make itself known.
“We got it on, A-Five,” Flint said, nervously. “They’re sending a hundred.”
“A hundred, good, good,” he smiled, much to Flint’s relief. He knew the trip off the roof was no idle threat. “Whatever my sister managed to teach ‘em, it ain’t gonna help them now.”
He turned and looked at the party crowd behind him.
“Get ready for a light show, folks, and get ready to party down!”
They began pumping their fists in the air while crying “Woot-woot! You da man!” over and over. A-Five relit his stogie and puffed hard through his smiling, clinched teeth.
To be continued. . .
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.