Up all night drinking stimu-brew, watching again and again that incredible disc recorded segment, has left Akeem bleary-eyed, fatigued, in no condition to go to work. He also is no closer to a solution. He had been unable to come up with a single person that he can unequivocally trust. Besides either of his parents, that is. But, he does not wish to involve them. Nor could they help.
It is not too late to destroy the recording. Put all of it out of his mind. In fact, that is the easiest, most logical way to proceed. Except for the fact that Akeem is extremely aware that should he ever turn his back it would be an act so acutely hypocritical that he could never again write from his heart.
Digitating the communication keyboard he contacts the Chronicler's mainframe and informs it that he will miss work for the next few days. Without disconnecting he interfaces with his office desk console and accesses his memory bank file to withdraw three generic columns. He requests the proofread program to judge the pieces.
Akeem's eyes close. He feels himself slipping into sleep. He opens his eyes and reaches for more stimu-brew. He gulps a few mouthfuls, sits quietly looking at the screen. Again he feels himself ready to doze off but a red pulsing error indication sends a surge of energy coursing through him. He curses. He keys in an error ID response and gets immediate reaction. Just two errors-- one punctuation, one spelling --are shown. Akeem corrects them and the proofread program machine voice announces, "E-r-r-o-r-l-e-s-s." He now goes about programming his desk console unit to forward the columns one day at a time to Natasha Adams for Editorial Approval at an appropriate time of day and, if the piece is approved, to then forward them to Broadcast Division. If any piece is not approved he instructs his work console to immediately contact him at home. This done, he ends the communication and switches his home unit to standby mode.
By the time Akeem reaches his bed he is undressed. He slides under the covers and falls fast asleep.
* * *
In his dream, Akeem runs from phantom horror. His chest heaves from exertion. His blood sings high-speed frequency that Doppler-pulses with atomic clock regularity. Sleep brain is roused, cast into real time. Akeem is tangled in sheets as he leaps from the bed and vigorously engages in somnambulant circling. He is completely disoriented. He stands still. Through his fog a notion comes to him. He rushes to bedside and reaches for the headboard panel. Like a blindman he feel-finds the alarm's deactivation switch only to realize it is in the off position. His mind still Doppler-pulses with a single singing tone.
Awareness seeps into mind. He rushes out of the bedroom to his communication console. He hurriedly enters his three-quarter circle command center, drops into the swivel chair, stares at the blank com-screen. Akeem is now fully awake, though more dazed than ever. He had expected to see his column displayed with flashing red border. The com-unit alert signal sounds. He understands at last.
Switching the unit to reception mode, Akeem sees the screen brighten with a fast fleeing image; dark again, as the communication is curtailed.
"SHIT!" hisses Akeem. For just that merest glimpse of turning retreat had been enough to identify the caller, Taro Kajaani.
He escalates each enunciation, "SHIT! SHIT!! SHIT!!!"
Suddenly remembering the card Taro had given him, Akeem is out of his chair and rushing through the apartment, madly searching through the pockets of his randomly scattered clothes until he locates the card. He runs to his com-unit hoping to contact her before she leaves-- he must check his wall clock to finish this thought, sees it is early evening, meaning she is probably on her way --for a night out.
Seated in front of his com-console, in the midst of his digitations, he hesitates. This pause lengthens. Reunited with the full impact of his unsettling discovery, he clears his entry and slumps back into his chair. His predicament weighs heavily on him. How can he think of enjoying himself with Taro until he resolves what he intends to do? He cannot. Until he thinks his problem through, he does not want to get Taro involved. Being somewhat of an Earth History scholar, Akeem knows all too well the plethora of precedents for governmental harassment of individuals solely on the grounds of guilt by association. And, if this thing explodes like he thinks it might, he could be in for some heat.
It is at this moment that Akeem faces the inevitable. He cannot keep his awesome discovery secret. It is far too important. Again he thinks of B'tswana. Again he feels too unsure to consider the man any further. Again he is left with Natasha Hearst Adams as his only hope which prompts recollections of her compromising the sacrosanct Martian tenet of total freedom from the bonds of any earthly authority.
Akeem's exasperation peaks. He reacts as he has always done when faced with mental dilemma: He writes.
Two hours later, he finishes the most impassioned piece he has ever written. It is also his most disturbing. Entitled, "Minority Farms," it tells of ETI's use and abuse, of double standard censorship, of the massive cover-up being perpetrated by Earth leaders upon the colonists. It vividly illustrates how Earth Humans are nourished on a steady stream-dose of xenophobic exaggeration pervasive in every variety of media, from commercials and ads, sitcoms and drama, to official pronouncements by so-called responsible governmental leaders.
Minority Farms puts forth the proposition that while Earth masses are taught to feel superior to the colonists, Moonlings and Martians are taught to believe they are the symbol of Human unification which breeds the same subtle sentiment of superiority. The oft-preached goals of both camps are false. The goals, in actuality, are antipodean to such spiritual synthesis. For the soldiers of each of these two ideologies have forsaken all but absolute belief in themselves as being better than the other. Self-chauvinism, in a word.
Thus have Earthlings and colonists become separate peoples. It is the devious use of semantics that has created such a truth as colonists are the symbol of Human unification, that offers as proof the solidification of hundreds of nations into but eight mega-entities. It is the willful, perverted use of double entendre by governmental leaders who believe Humanity numbers only those inhabiting Earth, that is/has always been, the veiling cloak of their cover-up strategy. For, having had millennia of experience with the powerful effect of prejudice-- found at every milieu, on the interpersonal, the intracommunal, international levels --Earth leaders have simply carried on the tradition of exacerbating differences while paying lip service to a rhetoric of harmony.
Minority Farms goes on to say that, since those days predating written history when the strongest proto-sapiens wielding the biggest club had been promptly proclaimed leader, the only thing that has changed is the instrumentality of coercion. No longer made of wood, far progressed beyond club-subtle, it is perceptual manipulation via media that leaders now wield to maintain the status quo.
Akeem reads aloud his column's final paragraph: "Yes, colonists, Moonlings and Martians alike, we are the tenders of minority farms, growing a crop for public consumption, raising a culture that is harvested by Earth leaders who use it as fodder to feed prejudice. This process is disguised, semanticized to read manna for the masses, as healthy progression towards unification.
"Oh, yes, colonists, Moonlings and Martians alike, we are truly the symbols of Human unification. The objects of Earthling hate, we symbolize difference. We are the comparative scale against which various subgroups of Earthlings measure themselves. Thus is the double entendre revealed!
"As symbols of a unified Humanity, we remain just that, symbols. Apart from, and not a part of, the Human Race. We symbolize Earthling unification, not Human unification.
"Oh, yes, colonists, Moonlings and Martians alike, we have been deceived. We have been used."
Akeem is up and pacing, on the verge of movement towards resolution. Obvious becomes the fact that if he is to expose this massive cover-up to the Martian populace he has no other choice but to use the very same weapon used by Earth leaders: The media.
He sits back at his communication console and keys Natasha Adams' office. He waits as the alert repeats itself five times. Just as he is ready to disconnect, Editor Adams responds. She is leaning across the desk, hat on, shoulder bag hoisted, leaving no doubt that she is on her way out.
"Akeem..." she says with rising inflection, smiling, her eyes showing mild surprise.
"Editor Adams...Hello. Sorry to...Sorry to bother you. I see you're on your way out of there."
"Yes, I am. No bother, though."
"What's on your mind, son?"
Natasha Adams sees the shifty-eyed look of distress on her young columnist's face but completely misreads the magnitude of his concern.
"Is this about your being sick and missing days? Because if it is, you just/..."
"No!" blurts out Akeem. "Editor Adams, I...I have to see you."
"Akeem, what's wrong?"
"I...I can't tell you. Not like this. Please, I've got to see you. It's...It's urgent. Can you come here? Tonight?"
Natasha sits in her chair. She looks deeply into the young man's worried eyes. "Well, I...I suppose I could cancel my dinner date."
Akeem suddenly recognizes a detail that must be attended to before meeting with his editor and again blurts out. "No...I...You don't have to do that. Have dinner. But, could you come right over afterwards?"
Natasha sighs. She thinks how her hopes for an evening of passion had carried her through the week. She wonders if her beau will be gallant enough to reschedule their tryst for tomorrow night. She looks at her young columnist's very troubled face.
"Okay, Akeem. I'll see you right after dinner." She manipulates a small unit to her left. "In about, oh...say, two hours...I have your address right here."
Akeem thanks her profusely, disengages from the com-connection. He immediately begins copying the disc segment from distortion to distortion. When he has completed four such recordings he programs his unit into flash-feed mode to record the entire eight hour recording at a speed ten times faster than real time playback speed.
"Insurance," he says in a soft but sure tone of voice as the recorder runs.
The sound of his entrance-request alert startles him. Paranoiac panic freezes him for one instant. But the reality that he has nothing to fear as he has yet to divulge his secret, surges through him, restoring equilibrium. He digitates his hall monitor camera into activation, watches the screen, and is delighted, dismayed, confused, caught completely off-guard by the scene displayed. He sees a full body visual of Taro Kajaani in short, satiny pink-lilac dress, bending over to pull up snug her thigh high metallic-sheen stockings of matching color. Akeem's eyes of their own accord wander up and down the lithe beauty, and up once again, lingering for a moment on her pouting mint-green lips. He switches off the hall monitor and hurries to the door.
"Taro?" he says with pleasant surprise as he swings the door open. "Come on in."
"I hope you don't mind, Akeem. You didn't come in to work today and, well...I tried to call you but I guess you were out or sleeping or...Anyway, I found myself in the neighborhood and decided to drop in."
She looks at him with those huge, gorgeous pink eyes that exactly match her stockings and dress. Her mint green shoes, belt, and barrettes match perfectly her seductive half-smile; her teeth softly nuzzling her bottom lip. She registers as exquisite in Akeem's mind.
"I don't mind at all. Have a seat." He gestures towards the living room couch. "Can I get you anything?"
"How 'bout a drink?"
"All I have is stimu-brew and/or brandy."
"A brandy would be lovely."
Akeem hurries into the kitchen as Taro takes a seat on the couch. She peeks to make sure Akeem is not looking then adjusts the drape of her dress a few times until she gets the right look; somewhere between too high and not high enough; well-rehearsed teasing exposure without shattering the illusion of innocence. She sees by Akeem's wide-eyed expression that her strategy has been successful.
"Here you go." His voice quavers with nervousness. Yet he waits until he hands her the glass of brandy before he turns his head far to one side and discreetly clears his throat. "Ah..." he says with as much savoir faire as he can muster.
Taro hides her giggle behind the rim of her glass.
"So..." Akeem realizes to his horror that he is conversationally expended. He thinks of Editor Adams, checks his time piece. Tension mounts.
"Uhm, look, Akeem...If I've come at a bad time or something, just say so, okay?"
Her sensitivity to his emotional turmoil is a psyche massage that completely soothes him, loosens him up. And, he thinks how much he loves the way she says his name.
"Nothing's wrong at all. Uhm...It's just/I mean, well...I have, uhm, some lady, uh, from work stopping by in about an hour or so and, uh..."
Taro tries to hide her disappointment. She lowers her big pink eyes, bites at her lower lip.
Akeem thinks how he loves the way she nuzzles her mint-green lip. Only now does the gestalt of her responses register. He is deeply flattered.
"Oh, no...No way! You thought I meant/...No, it's not a date. She's coming over purely for work reasons."
Taro brightens. Her expressions unfold like a flower blooming.
"Yeah, for some important work that just can't wait. Won't be here too long. But," he hesitates not knowing quite how to put it. "Well, it is a confidential meeting and, uhm, I can't let you, like, well...You can't be here. But, I do not want you to leave. So, like, I..."
Taro's voice is soft and oh-so-inviting. "I guess I could wait for you in your bedroom if that's all right with you."
Akeem thinks how he loves the sound of her voice. He tells himself to not act like a rookie, to remain cool, controlled, even as his face turns erubescent.
She reads his blush like a barometer, letting it rise to its full color before demurely qualifying her last statement. "Oh...I didn't mean it that way. I meant that I'll wait in there until you finish your business." She pauses. "Of course, if you'd like, I could..." She lowers her head, hides her face behind her brandy, leaving the rest to his imagination.
The barometer of his agitation reddens to new hue. Akeem is totally flustered. His skin starts to itch. He desperately needs to think of some way out of his predicament. Music comes to mind propelling him off the couch towards his very familiar (and, thus reassuring) three-quarter surround of consoles and monitors. He slips into his chair and breathes much easier. He digitates the main unit into radio mode and chooses the most mellow music he can find, a Mars-based Earth classical station. He listens a moment.
"Perfect!" thinks Akeem of the mood altering substance. He returns to find a divinely reclined Taro leaning back, in the far corner of the couch, stretched to her maximum advantage.
Dormant erotica storms his mind. Uninitiated in the mysteries of tantric bliss, Akeem has nevertheless been a long time aficionado of the art d'amour via voyeuristic glossies, netpix and video produced by and for sexually sophisticated Martians. But even well-versed students find themselves a bundle of nerves at the moment of truth of first hands-on experience.
Akeem sits close but not too close to Taro and is overwhelmed with subtle pheromonal onslaught. His blood heats up, throbs through his veins. His eyes consume her. His mind swirls with drunken imaginings.
The entrance alert signal being sounded is ice on a bed of hot coals; his passion carried up and away in a hissing cloud of steam.
"Canals!" he says throatily. "She's way early. Follow me."
Akeem leads Taro through his apartment into his bedroom. The music sounds even more correct in here.
"Okay, uhm, this shouldn't take long. You can...Just make yourself comfortable. I'll be back as soon as possible."
She very slowly revolves, her eyes taking in every detail of his room. A dream come true, he thinks, as he beholds Taro Kajaani against the backdrop of his bedroom. He shudders from desire, reluctantly turns and departs, shutting the door behind him. As he races towards the entrance he slows just enough to reach over his three-quarter ring of consoles and monitors and turn up the music as a precaution against Taro overhearing and thereby getting inadvertently involved in this very dangerous situation; a situation that will surely result in retribution with only the degree of severity in question should he be allowed to go ahead and publish his piece, Minority Farms.
Akeem opens his door. "Hi, come on in. Thank you so much for stopping by."
Editor Adams crosses the threshold, nods approvingly of his taste in furnishings. He shuts the door.
"I take it you cancelled your dinner plans after all?" he says as he leads the way to his couch.
"Well, yes and no. Yes they were cancelled. No, I didn't cancel them. The bum I went out with said he wanted a 'complete' evening, if you catch my drift, or he'd prefer to dine alone. So..."
"What a creep!" Akeem is genuinely sympathetic. "I'm sorry, Editor Adams."
"Listen to me, will ya? Natasha, okay? I keep telling you, Akeem we're colleagues. Call me Natasha. You make me feel so ancient when you're so formal."
"Okay...Natasha." Akeem smiles, nods his head. "Would you care for some stew? It's really great. My mom's recipe."
"No, thank you. But I'll tell you what you could do for me. How about turning the music down a little, hmm?"
He blushes. "I-uh...Well, I've got a...an unexpected guest in...in my-uh..." Akeem hooks a thumb in the general direction of his bedroom. "This way she can't hear us. Don't want to get her involved."
Natasha Adams' eyes twinkle with glad-one-of-us-got-lucky camaraderie.
Akeem feels his blush warm up, feels it spreading like wildfire. By habit, not knowing he does so, he asks if she would like anything to drink. Natasha specifies stimu-brew which Akeem quickly fetches. When he returns he positions himself behind his ring of consoles and beckons the editor with upheld mug. She joins him and happily accepts the brandy-laced drink. Akeem sits at his console and prepares to run the recording. The in-use LED prompts him to check the timer which shows that in two minutes the fast-feed recording of the recording will be completed.
"Okay, I've got to wait a few minutes before I can show you what I have. So, let me fill you in."
He relates step-by-step exactly how and when he had come upon his discovery; the whole truth, apologizing for the transgression committed under her questioning.
"But," he adds in his defense. "If I hadn't lied, I might not have been so compelled to view this particular recording as scrupulously as I did."
Natasha's eyes betray her smile. Akeem sees that she has been stung by his lack of honesty. He swallows his regret.
She says, "I'll reserve my judgment. But, I want you to understand that an institution like The Chronicler is only as good as its communication between the likes of me and you. If we want to have an honest, trustworthy organization we must all be honest and trustworthy."
Duly admonished, Akeem hangs his head. His face reddens, but not from embarrassment. His crimson blush results from deep vexation. He tries to control himself, numbly reacts to the recorder end signal. He initiates fast return process. His doubts about Natasha's own trustworthiness overwhelm him.
"You know..." He thinks to check himself but, lets go. "I fully admit I was wrong for not telling you the whole truth. And...What you just said was a nice little speech, Natasha. I mean, so true. So, very, very true. But, what I need to know is how you can say that stuff to me after I heard what you and Vyenchenko were chatting about the other day."
Editor Adams' eyebrows arch haughtily. She stiffens.
"Believe me, it was by accident. But," He pauses, looks up at her with piercing eyes. "You allowed him to coerce you into breaking our most cherished tenet: No outside influence/..."
She completes his thought, "By any Earth authority. I know!" Her demeanor mirrors her feeling the scolded one. "You're absolutely correct, Akeem. I...I won't bore you with my rationalizations. They haven't even convinced me. I guess we all opt for the easy road now and again never realizing just how damaging our laziness can be. Always fighting becomes tiresome after too many battles."
Akeem's color returns to pale-normal. He breathes a sigh of relief. Not able to be absolutely certain, Akeem is nevertheless much more sure that Natasha Adams can be trusted. After all, she did not attempt to con him.
"Well, I sure hope you're not too tired for at least one more battle. Here goes." He flips the play switch and gets up from his chair. "Have a seat and watch."
Natasha Adams sits and focuses on the screen.
Akeem drops to one knee beside her. "You won't believe it." he says. "It starts right after the distortion."
From the moment the Z appears and fizzes into a whole different reality, Natasha is maximally enthralled and totally appalled. Her mouth drops open. Her eyes grow very round, protruding from their sockets. For, she knows the tape must be authentic; no way to hoax all the scenes and locations and commercials; too expensive; the reality, too flawless. She remains thusly transfixed even as the second Z of distortion prompts Akeem to fast-return the segment for a second showing. Her expression does not alter. Upon this completion of the segment, Akeem shuts off the unit and stares at Natasha who stares glassy-eyed at the blank screen. She slowly turns her head towards him. Her mouth moves but no sound is made.
Akeem says softly, "You see? I told you this was big."
It takes another few moments before Editor Adams composes herself. Once she does, however she grows battle-fierce, assumes command of the situation.
"You made a copy, right?"
"You better get something written to go with the video. You know, some commentary."
Akeem stands, leans over the console and digitates to bring up a file. "Already did. I titled it, Minority Farms."
"You're something else, son." She reads the piece wagging her head the entire time.
He suspects she does not think it is good enough.
She completes the article, turns to look at him with tear-twinkling eyes. "Great job, Akeem. Excellent! Perfect. I want you to go on the air with it. Read it while the video plays."
"Right away! We're going directly to Broadcast. If this isn't emergency bulletin material, nothing is!"
"But..." Akeem looks back and forth between Natasha and his closed bedroom door. "But..." he reiterates more feebly than before.
"But, nothing! Get rid of her. Let her wait here. Whatever! You and I have business to attend to. And there's no time to waste. As you correctly guessed, I was contacted by Earth authorities from the Ministry of Media."
Akeem's eyes enlarge.
"I see you're aware of that bunch. Ruthless! They're only involved with high-risk security situations. They operate with impunity. We have no time to lose, Akeem. Let's get going."
"I'll-uh...I'll just..." Akeem motions with his head towards the bedroom.
Editor Adams accedes with a single, curt nod of her head. "But make it fast. And, don't breathe a word of this to anyone!"
Hurrying to his bedroom door, Akeem hesitates at the door to take a deep breath and enters. The room is deserted. Panic-stricken he searches everywhere, exits the bedroom and races down the hall to the lavatory. When he returns to the living room he is noticeably pale.
"Sh-She's gone..." he announces. His confusion and fear is obvious. "Must've slipped behind us when we were watching the segment." His eyes gaze across the apartment, fixate on the entrance. He sees a note on the door. He runs to it, snatches it, reads it.
"Says she felt like she was imposing."
Natasha rises quickly from the chair.
"Who is she? How well do you know her? Where'd you meet her" When? Is she Martian?"
"She/I met/It's Taro! Taro Kajaani."
"Our receptionist?!" The editor noticeably relaxes. "Whew, you had me really worried there for a minute. I mean, that's how they do it, you know. Infiltrate with young good looking females. But, Taro's been with The Chronicler longer than you have. She seems like a very fine young woman. But, well, the scare has put a thought in my mind that I think we should follow through on. At the risk of being shown to be a fool for my extreme paranoia, I suggest we don't go together. If everything goes well I'll contact you. Keep the com open while I invoke my executive authority and take over, directly accessing the Broadcast Division, all channels simultaneously. I'll intro, then you'll do a live read of your column right from here."
"From here?! My system isn't good enough/..."
"The content is all that's important, Akeem. We're not going for a polished production. This is news!"
"Suppose things don't go as planned?"
Only the dilation of her eyes gives voice to her fear. She immediately deposits herself in Akeem's chair, pulls a note pad and pen from her pocket. She jots down the Executive Authority Code Sequence as well as the Broadcast Access Code. She tears the sheet from its binding and hands it to Akeem. Rising to her feet, she says, "I'll use the artery. If you don't hear from me in twenty-five minutes, you'll have to try and make it on your own. Use a different route, though."
Natasha Adams stands and holds out her hand.
Akeem removes the disc copy from his unit and gives it to her.
She looks at him with an expression unlike any he has ever seen. Unique. Their hearts beat rapidly, pounding in their chests but, they do not notice so engrossed are they in each other's gaze.
"Can you feel it, Akeem? History is in the making..." She holds up the disc. "This will change all our lives. Yours. Mine. All Martians and Moonlings. Even Earth Humans will be affected by this." She tucks the cartridge into an inside jacket pocket. "You know, I wonder if all those others felt like this? So aware of the moment. Knowing that their actions are to alter the course of history...Funny, but I had always imagined that the mood accompanying such significant acts would surge with courageousness. Not with resignation."
"Nor, with fear?" he says with a questioning rise of inflection. For, he is afraid yet, hopes he is not alone.
Natasha's oddly warm smile has heroic curve that defiantly rises against the oppressive solemnity of present reality. "No, I never imagined those great figures of the past, at their moments of truth, felt fear. But...I suspect now that they did. I guess maybe true courage is when one understands the full range of repercussions their acts will initiate, the full wrath that they will incur, to feel fear but not allow it to deter them from doing what must be done."
Akeem's eyes mist. He nods his head in affirmation. He is overwhelmed with emotion and spontaneously hugs his editor.
She, too tears up and just as spontaneously returns the embrace.
Empathic, essence-sharing moment passes timeless. This psychic union revivifies spirit, paints convictions in resolute hues. They part much stronger.
"Wait a minute," says the editor softly. "It just occurred to me. I can't let you read that column. I mean, why? Why get you involved? Risk you career? I'm old. You've got your whole life ahead of you. No. I...I can't let you do it, Akeem. After, when things settle down, when we're sure you won't be prosecuted or persecuted, I'll give you full credit. Because you know the Ministry is going to have someone's head for this. Let it be mine. Public opinion will eventually free me. And, once I'm released, I'll tell the real story. No one would dare touch you then."
Taken utterly by surprise, Akeem looks at her with queer expression molded by suspicion. "I...I can't let you do that. It wouldn't be fair. I'm already involved. We're in this together."
"Akeem," she pleads. "Please be reasonable. What purpose is served by both of us being punished? Besides, if something happens and I don't make it, you're going to have to. And then you'll be taking all the heat."
"Then so be it. Like I said, we're in this together." He leans over the console and buttons for a hard copy print out. "But, just in case they get me first..." He hands the copy of Minority Farms to Editor Adams. They walk to the entrance in silence. At the door she suggests they synchronize their timepieces. They do so. Akeem opens the door.
She steps into the hall and looks both ways before turning to Akeem. "Remember...twenty-five minutes. If I'm not broadcasting by then, well...you know what to do." She hurries out of view.
Akeem closes the door, leans his back against it and sighs mightily. His mind races. His swirl of thoughts keep him backed up against the door for what seems too long a time, though a glimpse at his wall clock shows but a single minute has passed. He begins to appreciate just how torturous the wait will be.
Dragging himself back to his console, Akeem keys his entertainment unit into action; does not care about which channel is displayed as Natasha said all channels would be simultaneously accessed. Akeem grabs and rereads the note from Taro. That she had felt uncomfortable and decided to leave is a perfectly plausible explanation. Perhaps even in the context of her seductive behavior at the onset. But, nevertheless, he is left with a contradiction, albeit fear amplified. He reacts without realizing it, his thoughts absorbed in tactical decisions.
First, he calls up a directory display. He keys a name into the search program and initiates the command to find it. While he waits, Akeem prepares a master program to circumvent his unit's normal transmission program. He readies one of the four shortened distortion segment copies for a flash-feed. Next, he programs an interface between his processor and his com-unit so, at the end of the video segment, his column will transmit itself for visual display and remain a few minutes to allow time for a full reading.
A blinking amber light informs him of positive name-search results. He gleans the com-code, keys it into his primary program and designs an erase feature to take effect, if and when transmission takes place, so that the reception point will remain a mystery as long as one party or the other disengages the com.
He finishes his master program by inserting Editor Adams' Executive Authority Code Sequence and the Broadcast Access Code at the very beginning of the transmission under the words 'ON ADAMS CONSOLE'.
Akeem checks his wall clock. Ten minutes to go. He looks at his entertainment center's screen. He watches without really seeing the newsbrief that is being aired. But when the final news item plays, his attention is sharply grabbed. His horror mounts as the video scene unfolds. Before his eyes a swarming assault by Ministry of Media agents conducted five days ago on a remote, wooden shelter at some Earth mountain-top location, is carried out with amazing efficiency. The agents' fire power is awesome and concentrated and, in less than one minute, it reduces the structure to sawdust dunes that squirm with the near-dead and buried. This is confirmed when the EMM agents start pulling blood-stained Earthling bodies from the rubble heaps. The narration proclaims the eight dead and one wounded to be members of a terrorist group alleged to have used a satellite uplink system to perpetrate, as one Ministry of Media official describes it, "...a crime so heinous and at the highest classified level that, because of security reasons, we may never be able to disclose the whole story."
What has so horrified Akeem is that close-ups of the dead 'terrorists' being put into body bags clearly show them wearing black photo-repro shirts with superimposed color pictures of the Moon and Mars, underneath which is printed the words (capitals in a rainbow of colors, small case in white): Colonists Are Humans Too.
Four letters, C-A-H-T, that pulse as one entity to the beat of Akeem's fear. For he has just witnessed the brutal murder of the signatories of that warning 'BEWARE', the very people responsible for the unedited recording segment that Natasha Adams is about to air any moment now.
His fear teeters on the edge of terror. He pushes a single thought through his frenzied psyche. He activates his master program.
Deja vu-- the nexus of not yet and already known --is a ringing gong that vibrates surreally silent, drawing Akeem's attention to his front door even as the entrance request signal sounds. His hair stands on end.
His com-unit signals connection. He looks at the screen and sees a stern looking Terence B'tswana laconically intone, "This is a holographic recording. At the sound of the tone..."
Silver electric panic rush explodes in Akeem's mind.
There is a ham-handed pounding upon his door.
B'tswana's unit beeps and begins to record Akeem's transmission.
The pounding is repeated more loudly. A burly voice calls out Akeem's full name.
His psyche sizzles with adrenaline chill that buzzes loose a single awareness: Twenty-seven minutes have passed since Natasha had left.
Greatness of purpose is what pushes Akeem to think beyond his terror, to point his com-unit's transmitting camera towards the front door and then program the unit to provide live video coverage of what is about to transpire.
"OPEN UP IN THE NAME OF EARTH MINISTRY OF MEDIA!" yells the gruff voice at the door.
Akeem's horror is validated. He screams in his mind for him to wake up from this nightmare.
The codes, the video segment, and Akeem's column has been successfully transferred to B'tswana's com-unit. Live coverage camera transmission begins.
Akeem's front door melts open and two, huge, muscle-bound Earthmen, with weapons drawn and leveled at the young Martian, rush through the smoldering orifice.
"Akeem Shalom O'Sullivan..." coldly snarls Jerrod Lancer brandishing official identification card and badge. "By authority of Earth Ministry of Media, I place you under arrest for seditious conspiracy."
The second agent, Dimitre Dovski, circles left. Jerrod Lancer moves straight towards Akeem with his weapon aimed, finger on trigger, a malicious smirk on his face; all, captured on camera. He says with hostile satisfaction, "You just caught yourself a lethal dose of the virus, geek!"
Both sneering Earth Ministry of Media agents let loose hearty laughter.
Overcome with fear, Akeem feels faint. He tells himself not to pass out as he may never awaken. He struggles to retain his wits even as he loses all bodily sensations. His gaze returns to the entertainment screen showing its usual fare and he deduces that Editor Adams has failed. His fast fleeing consciousness leaves in its wake many questions: Was it Taro or Natasha Adams that had betrayed, not just him, but all of Martian humanity? Will B'tswana be able to expose the sinister Earth governments' cover-up? Will he dare? Or, is he, too one of them?
Akeem wonders if he will ever see his parents again. He laments over not having called them last evening when it had occurred to him to compliment his mom for her delicious new recipe.
He barely hears the closest approaching agent yell, "HE'S GOT A LIVE COM!"
"TRACE IT!" commands his cohort.
Akeem's light of awareness dims even more, forcing him to grope in the dark of his terror for the wherewithal to complete one final thought that is a call for action. Thus does his universe condense to become but a single point of focus: The com unit's disengage button. It fills his darkening mind. And, as he begins to black out, he falls forward. His finger zeros in on that button. He makes contact just as the nearest agent grabs him and weapon-whips him into a deep, unfitful sleep.
* * *
Terence B'tswana's tapping of a rapidly repeated three fingered beat on his desk console, is manifestation of his patience running definitely thin. He has tried without success three times in the past ten minutes to reach his home com unit only to find it unresponsive, engaged in interface. His anger is suddenly stirred with the thought that someone might be pulling a prank by tying up his com unit hoping to disrupt his information gathering process. A disgruntled reader of his columns, perhaps.
"Got enough of 'em! Wouldn't be the first time some whacko tried to screw me up," he seethes.
Terence rises and paces about his office. He is tired. He wants to get home, get some sleep. But he has to reach his own com unit first. Out most of the evening as a result of an anonymous tip, tracking down new leads for the article he has just completed, he needs one more confirming source before the piece is ready to publish. That source was to have called him this evening. B'tswana had programmed his unit so that it would automatically interface with his work unit and signal him that a recorded com transmission was ready to be received. He had not guessed it would take him more than two hours to track down his sources and get their stories.
He talks aloud to himself. "Prob'bly came through when I was out. Figures...Let's see..."
He checks for a new file transmission and sees there has been no new activity. A very weary Terence decides he will get his piece ready for an IF/THEN program run-- if approved then forward to Broadcast Division --which could be triggered from his apartment eliminating the need for him to return to the office on his day off. It takes much effort to keep his eyelids from shutting as he sits at his desk console.
"All-l-l-l done..." he says in a drawl of exhaustion. "No juice left in the battery."
Slowly, Terence Woodward-Bernstein B'tswana gets up from his chair, stretches, yawns, and heads for home. Other than the ever present low-pitched rumble-hum of the life support system, the deserted, dimly lit Chronicler building is sound-proofed quiet. He can hear the shush-like crimping of carpet pile beneath his shoes with each step he takes.
The sound of a com unit signalling for attention stops B'tswana in his tracks. He cocks his head, listens for the direction of the next series of tones. They do, indeed emanate from the vicinity of his office. He pivots and fast-walks back to his cubicle, leans over his com unit console and activates reception mode. He realizes instantly that while the incoming message emanates from his home recorder, it is not his expected source confirmation. The words "ON ADAMS' CONSOLE" mean nothing to him. But when the Executive Authority Code Sequence and the Broadcast Access Code appear, Terence's fatigue is replaced with energized chill that shivers through his body, stimulates his mind. Simultaneous questions arise that he ignores as he is struck at the very same instant with the thought that he should save this influx. For Terence realizes those two codes, if authentic, carry high security ratings. He digitates the recorder into action. He watches on the edge of his seat with increasing awe. The uncensored ETI segment leaves him stunned. Akeem's column, Minority Farms, horrifies yet sobers him. The camera-caught tactics of the two Earth Ministry of Media agents, coupled with their reference to the virus, leaves Terence B'tswana shaking.
He recalls his last conversation with Akeem, how he had ridiculed the young Martian's hypothesis that there was a sinister connection between Earth governments' unanimity in regards to policy statements on terrorism and the establishment of the Martian colony.
It now occurs to B'tswana that either Akeem accomplished an impossible act of decoding or Editor Adams gave him those two classified codes which would mean she had gotten involved and is also very likely in the custody of EMM agents.
Terence B'tswana suddenly becomes aware of his own jeopardy. But decades of cynicism and paranoia regarding exactly such scenarios of intrigue as this, has inured him to out-and-out panic.
It is with cold, calculated resolve that he readies the recording he had just made to feed through Editor Adams' console. He literally runs from his cubicle through the darkened aisles, all the way to Natasha's office. He rushes behind her desk console and activates it. He opens a window, tapping into his unit to transmit the recording. As the Executive Authority Code Sequence appears, Terence keys them into Adams' console. It works. B'tswana starts to sweat. He sits in the Editor's chair. He enters the Broadcast Access Code and watches the monitor. He sees the words, "All channel emergency access program completed. Proceed..."
A sudden choking sensation renders him speechless. For the significance of this event humbles him. He sits before a worldwide audience-- no doubt by now huddling around their units waiting with trepidation for the graven image to speak --without knowing what to say. His tension worsens. There is only a few seconds before the ETI segment will begin. He wonders what he can possibly say to convey the implicative enormity of Akeem's discovery.
Unconsciously he sounds out, "People of Mars...We've been betrayed! All of reality is illusion! Watch and learn what our Earth-cestors have done..."
A line from Akeem's column comes to mind and Terence recites, "We have truly become the pariahs of Humankind."
As if on cue, the ETI segment runs. All across the planet Martians react just as Akeem, Natasha Adams, and Terence B'tswana had reacted. Shock is too tame a name for what they are feeling. By the time a comparatively composed Terence has finished reading aloud Minority Farms, the Martian population is thoroughly enraged. When the final camera-captured scene of the Earth Ministry of Media agents forcing their way into Akeem's home plays itself out, replete with its inadvertent solution to the virus mystery that has so unsettled Martians since the colony's inception, the people of Mars are in a killing mood. Every available Outpost flight vehicle is commandeered, filled to capacity, and headed towards Tri-C.
Central Authority's com system is deluged.
Mobs of shouting Martians roam the arteries of the Central Command Complex headed for Lao Iacocca Vyenchenko's office.
And, like rats in the shadows, the hundred or so Earthlings stationed on Mars attempt to reach the safety of their particular ambassadorial embassy. So, too do a couple score Martian EMM informants seek refuge in the Earthling run, policy protected, shelters.
In fact, on all of Mars, only three people sit impassively. Two of them, Editor Adams and Akeem, are unconscious prisoners of the agents whisking them in an over land vehicle to an EMM hideout. The third, Terence B'tswana, is slumped back in his seat, mouth agape, staring off-and-away but sees nothing of anything as paralysis rolls over his autonomy.
In the office doorway, Taro Paganini Kajaani returns her EMM-issued dart gun to her thigh-high holster. It had been much easier than she imagined. She had only to point and press the trigger; thiip, and it was done. B'tswana is injected. Without fuss, no mess. Her first mission for the EMM is now ended, a success. She hurries away from the scene of the crime congratulating herself on a job well done and looks forward with great eagerness to receiving her promised reward of an authentic, perfectly preserved, four hundred sixty-eight year old Giuseppe del Gesu Guarneri violin.
Little does Taro realize that the beautiful music she has always dreamed of creating is the compositional product of a beauty-filled spirit. Haunted by her betrayal and treachery she will anguish over the knowledge that even as she earned the instrument of her passion she had surrendered her chance to achieve her dream.
* * *
The sound of his whispered name filters through enormous pain that has rendered Akeem endorphin dull. Stuporous. Outside his normal stream of awareness. Caught in some circling eddy of half-conscious perception that brings him back and back again to a glimmer of influxing reality.
"Akeem..." whispers Natasha Adams a little more loudly this time; her head twisted as far as she can manage to one side as she and Akeem are bound hand and foot to chairs placed back to back. She takes minuscule comfort in the fact that his moan seems stronger.
Natasha turns her head back towards the crack of light that defines this room's closed door. Beyond it the muffled voices of her captors sound. Their sporadic fits of laughter send chills up her spine. She knows they would not be so jolly had Akeem been successful. But, Editor Adams will not allow herself to believe that. She chooses to believe otherwise until she hears from Akeem's own mouth that he had failed.
Natasha is encouraged. "Pssst...Akeem...Come on, son."
He hears these words clearly though remains confused upon opening his eyes sensing no difference. But, he can feel his eyelids sliding over his eyeballs. His head throbs and feels exceptionally heavy. He lifts it with some difficulty. He attempts to bring his hands to his face only to discover his bondage.
Natasha has listened to the steady increase in Akeem's breathing rate. She takes his last mongrelized gasp/grunt to be her cue to intervene before he yells out.
"You okay?" she says.
"Yes, Akeem. We're being held by EMM agents. They grabbed me just as I was about to enter The Chronicler building. I...I never got to my office, Akeem. What about you? Do you remember what happened?"
He sounds distant. "Like a bad dream...Yeah, I remember. All too clearly."
"You...You didn't make it?"
Akeem's exhalation is a statement in its own right.
"That girl? Taro!"
"Yeah...She...Must've been her. Turned us in. Had to be. Only you and I knew anything. She...She must've been/..."
"Working for the EMM!"
"That's my guess."
Natasha is fuming. Betrayal by a Martian is a matter of such grave concern to all Martians, is more than she can bear. Her spirit dwindles as defeat dims all her expectations.
"But...Well, I did manage to get everything to B'tswana."
And just as suddenly, Natasha Adams sizzles with recharged hope. "And?! And?!"
"Actually I fed the stuff into his recorder."
"Beautiful! That means there's still a chance." She suddenly has a disconcerting thought. "Did Taro know about him?"
"No," he says without hesitation. "I didn't even know I was going to involve him until just before those two agents arrived."
"Probably the same two that got me. They're in the other room. Listen..."
Akeem hears the garbled conversation coming from somewhere behind him.
"They've been laughing, Akeem. That means the either got to B'tswana or Terry hasn't gotten the message yet."
A moment of silence creates reflective pause.
"Something else..." he whispers. "I turned my com unit's transmission camera on the agents. Caught the whole thing. They melted my door open! One of them said/Oh, you're not going to believe this...One of them said, and I quote, 'You just caught yourself a lethal dose of the virus, geek!' Can you believe it?! The EMM and who knows how many other Earth agencies operating up here are eliminating anybody that stumbles onto what's really been happening. And they're doing it with a virus and no one knows about it?! How is that possible?! We've been led to believe that some of our best medical researchers are studying it..."
"Yeah. I'll bet he's in on this whole thing. I heard him that day. That day he told you not to print anything about the virus in the Centennial issue. Yeah...He's in on it. This cover-up is big. Widespread. More Martians than just Taro and Vyenchenko must be involved, you can bet on that!"
"So, tell me, what happened with the agents?"
"They knocked me out."
"Obviously, Akeem! Before or after you disengaged the com?"
"YOU THINK?! YOU DON'T KNOW?!"
"Well, I...Yes, I remember hitting the button. But, that's the last thing I do remember."
"At least there's a chance then that all of it will come out. You really used your head, Akeem. Great job."
"We'll see...It all depends on B'tswana now."
They each sit in the dark, garbled silence, thinking their own thoughts for a calming while. Then each is abruptly confronted with the sound of the door being opened.
Natasha squints. Akeem watches the shadow on the floor.
A booming, accented voice calls out, "Iss okay...They wake now."
Light fills the room and they hear the sound of heavy footsteps approaching. The two agents-- one swarthy, the other a rugged blond --loosen their captives from the chair restraints and pull them to their feet. Still with feet and hands bound together, Akeem and Natasha are each made to hop into the other room which contains an old couch, a new activated entertainment unit, and loads of dust and grime.
The captives are led to the couch and unceremoniously shove-seated, sinking into the musty lumpiness of abandoned cushions. The agents each straddle an armrest and, without a word, watch the screen.
Akeem and Natasha surreptitiously eye each other, the agents, their surroundings, the entertainment unit. As they attempt to intuit their location, the significance of what is transpiring on screen slowly seeps into mind.
Report after report, each from a different Tri-C locale, shows the same picture: Throngs of angry Martians converging on the Central Authority building to demand from Board President Vyenchenko a full accounting of Earth governments' use/abuse of censorship/media and the century old cover-up of same. These massing citizens also vocalize their outrage over what is being referred to as the "Virus Scandal." The emotional intensity of the crowd is supercharged at every camera location.
Akeem and Natasha exult. They exchange smiles.
The studio based commentator exhibits none of the professional reserve customary for one in his position. Instead he is highly agitated and now launches into an impromptu editorial excoriating Earth governments' sinister, covert experiment to breed unquestioning trust in the Martian people even as they cultivated distrust amongst their own constituency, the fourteen billion humans on Earth.
During his diatribe the commentator is handed a piece of paper. He ignores it until he finishes his cathartic speech and regains his composure. The bulletin he finally reads sends shockwaves through Akeem and Natasha for it reports the condition of Terence B'tswana, found unresponsive in The Chronicler's office building, in the editor's office, at her desk. It has been confirmed that he has been infected with a lethal unknown virus thought to have been injected by way of viral-tipped dart. Because it was B'tswana who had exposed the atrocious cover-up and had seemed perfectly healthy, indeed, impassioned, vigorous, while reading Akeem's Minority Farms out loud to the Martian populace, his condition is being attributed to EMM agents operating covertly on Mars.
"Da...Iss beau-u-tiful," says the swarthy agent straddling the left armrest; his speech, an obvious RussiaNation accented English.
"What's that?" replies his right-seated comrade.
"I am saying, iss beau-u-tiful. All this..." He waggles a hand at the screen. "...Iss working like the clock."
"Like clockwork, Dimitre...Everything is going like clockwork."
Dimitre smiles. "Da...Yes, like clockwork. Just like you did tell to me. Iss impressive to have the seeing of it for the one's own eyes."
His partner laughs. "Yeah, our people wrote the book on these types of operations. Yep...It's all in the planning. And then having the patience required to stick to the timetable. Maybe for decades. Or, like this one, over a hundred years of waiting until the next phase can be implemented. Yeah, Dimitre ol' boy, AmeriNation has always been masters of perceptual manipulation."
"Should not RussiaNation be knowing better than anyone that you speak true?"
They both laugh.
Natasha and Akeem look at each other with uneasy eyes; both wondering how these agents can be so nonplused in view of the tumultuous reaction they are witnessing to their governments' stratagems, the implementation of which they are undoubtedly guilty.
Bolstered by the confirmation that the cover-up has been exposed, Editor Adams is the first to speak; her indignation overriding her fear.
"What are you two, a couple of morons?" Akeem winces. Natasha presses on. "Don't you have sense enough to know you're in big trouble? Every Martian on the planet is on to your scheme. Don't you realize you'll never get out of here? The first thing Central Authority will do is stop all incoming and outgoing flights. You're stranded, fellas. Might as well face that fact."
Akeem adds his own thoughts. "You're probably already responsible for a murder. Why compound your situation with hostage taking? Return us to Tri-C. Let us go. Then surrender yourselves to Central Author/..."
"Shut up, geek!" orders the AmeriNation agent.
"But, we'll appear on your behalf/..."
Jerrod Lancer snarls, "I said shut the hell up! By the obvious look of things I'd have to say it's you two who've got big troubles."
"Listen to him." reasons Dimitre. "My friend here is saying to you what is so. It is you...and you, that is having a pickle."
Dimitre winks at his partner who chuckles and says, "Dimitre, you crack me up, man!"
Natasha is about to launch another verbal assault on her captors when Jerrod Lancer raises his voice.
"Save it, sister! You don't have a clue to what's goin' on. So...Shhh, huh! Listen and learn."
Akeem and Natasha hear their names being mentioned by one reporter, but by the time they orient themselves to the screen, the segment is finished and a new reporter at another locale is telling her story; the same story of outraged Martians storming the Tri-C complex from every direction.
"You see," offers Jerrod. "Everything is going exactly as we anticipated. Just as your smiling skepticism now is the only response that you two can be expected to give." He turns to his cohort. "Ay, Dimitre? Their expressions...Familiar?"
Dimitre jostles from reflective chuckling. "They are looking like illustrious Russian leaders before AmeriNation makes them again be looking foolish. My sorries to you both. I am not meaning to do laughing on your tab. But..." Dimitre shrugs and renews his chuckling.
Akeem and Natasha are chilled to the bone by the agents' demeanor, the confidence they exude. Most of all, the two hostages are stung by the charge that they are naive and do not know what is happening.
Akeem and Editor Adams wonder how they can possibly be misreading what they see on the screen.
"Ah, that's better," says Jerrod referring to the captives' expressions changing. "Humility's good for the soul. Now, let me make your souls real healthy." He gets up from the armrest and walks very slowly around the room with hands clasped behind his back. Jerrod Lancer now manifests the mannerisms of a college lecturer which he once was.
"Simply put, AmeriNation is the undisputed master of media manipulation. And, we have been since the electronic age first brought radio to the masses way back in the Twentieth Century. My friend Dimitre does not exaggerate AmeriNation's success at making the old Soviet leaders look foolish. For over two hundred years we have used mass media as a tool for leverage.
"For instance, in selling the unification treaty that gave us our present political structure of eight mega entities. And, of course, in many instances, most notably those cases involving the Russians, Asians, Lats, we have used media as a weapon. History is rife with examples of our superior use of media in pursuit of AmeriNation objectives. I mean, we created the original Cold War of the late Nineteen Forties. A descriptive phrase like the Iron Curtain goes a long way when you're goal is to stir up the emotions of the people. Our group put that phrase in Churchill's mouth, wrote it into his Missouri speech back in Nineteen-Forty-Six. Just one example of why we are the masters. We know exactly how much stirring is required.
"We learned more during the Nineteen Fifties with our McCarthy campaign. Dick Nixon brought it along into the early Seventies. But, when he got the Presidency he lost himself, started to formulate and push through his own agenda. Well, that's heresy. Our people decided to make an example of him. Ever hear of Watergate? He was humiliated and let out to pasture.
"Of course, the watershed of media manipulation techniques, all of which are still employed today, came into being during the Nineteen Eighties, during the Ronald Reagan Administration. Masters of illusion. They were all our people. This is when psychic or perceptual manipulation became an art form. The American masses were mesmerized into believing whatever the Administration claimed, even in the face of a contradictory reality. In every arena, from domestic economics to foreign policy, the word of the Administration stood in complete contradiction to the facts. Reality became a delusion to be wary of. It was during this era that America asserted its perceptual dominance over the Soviets.
"Yes, it was when we learned the fine art of stirring. Indeed, the fact that we recognized there is a difference between stirring and shaking is what sets us apart, at the very top. To shake is to lose control. You set too many forces into motion by shaking. No, the key to using the media to successfully forward your agenda is knowing what and when and just how much to stir up. The finesse displayed during the Reagan years is the minimum standard we strive to achieve in every one of our endeavors.
"Of course, like I said, we've been at this now for over two and a half centuries. We've refined and enhanced those Reagan techniques. Now, billions of people believe exactly what the Agenda calls for them to believe. Nothing more and nothing less. "Presently, the Agenda calls for Phase Two of this operation to be implemented. Dimitre and I have complied. This phase, however, unlike the first one which was initiated the very same day you colonists set foot on this planet, this phase should only last a month or so. This second phase was designed to start with a shake but immediately modified with application of stirring. Already, nearly one percent of your citizenry circulate rumors that we invented. They are our agents..."
Akeem is roused from his sense of helplessness. "Impossible!" he spats with prideful emphasis. "No way! One percent of the Martian people sell out to the Earthly likes of you? Never!"
Jerrod allows Akeem's pride to multiply itself, to expand to the full volume of self-confidence before he adds, "Oh, I didn't mean to imply that they were our willing agents. No...Not even on such a peace loving world as this where your courage has never been tested, not by poverty, or hunger, or brutality, not even war, would I nor anyone else expect to find so many willing traitors. But, accomplices ignorant of their complicity, as in the current case of the rumor mongers, they are easily enlisted. It's easy to find people who are susceptible to rumors. Rumors play on peoples' weaknesses. Fear. Envy. And, especially their prejudices.
"You see, people everywhere seem to need to feel superior to others. We are convinced that this need is as old as Humankind itself, that it is an elementary survival mechanism. Those half-apes back when who were the strongest no doubt considered themselves superior to others in the tribe. This sense of superiority reduces anxiety. It allows one to relax, to reduce energy draining tension which lowers the efficiency of mental and physical functioning. Of course, probably every human who ever lived considered themselves superior to somebody else. It's the nature of the beast. Some were, some weren't. But, either way, evolution was served.
"AmeriNation understood this early on. We also realized that fear is the essential ingredient of the Superiority Syndrome; the fear of not being as good or strong as the next guy. Yeah, we realized that when you get down to the nitty-gritty, all humans compete against each other every moment of their lives. Society, civilization, culture...these are the cloaks behind which that naked beast, the fear of not surviving, hides. Rest assured, the bulk of humanity will always exist on the edge of survival; preoccupied to such an extent that they will never even notice the Agenda that governs their situation. It is the way of it. The only way, really. To allow billions upon billions of ignorant humans to rule their own destiny, well...that just can never be tolerated. It will never happen because they would take us all along with them.
"Oh..." Jerrod has become glazy eyed. His expression turns transcendent. "Yes-s-s...Even we are not immune to that singular motivation. Even those of us who set and carry out the provisions of the Agenda react on behalf of our survival. To educate the masses is to commit suicide. The role of the power elite, the few, or whatever you'd like to call us, is to rule. We are the exemplars of superiority. We typify the evolved human animal. We combine strength and intelligence to a degree unsurpassed. The masses are weak and ignorant. If they are to survive they must have leaders to lead them by the hand, heart, and mind, along the treacherous path of life as it is manifested on Earth. Not like here on Mars. You Martians are babes in the woods. Scientists and technicians...Even on Earth your kind has never known the hardships of survival. You are funded. Pampered. You only know of organization and the orderly progression of your research. Well, life in the real world doesn't go like that..."
Jerrod Lancer visibly loses his connectedness to some higher plane of thought; his transcendent look transforming into one of dazed, blinking-eyed confusion that is instantly reined into a here-and-now look. He carries his authority well.
"Coercion is the name of the game. Has to be! Before the unification, Dimitre's group and our group were the models for the rest of the world. Nearly five hundred nations, each run by its own pragmatically oriented elite, all of them following scripts prepared by us or the Soviets espousing a single conservative rhetoric which appealed to the majority precisely because it was so imprecise. Definitions were lost as everyone had his or her own idea of what freedom, liberty, justice meant. Thus were such lofty concepts reduced to the freedom of one's purchasing choices, the liberty to earn sustenance by hook or crook, and the belief that justice was served if their own day-to-day turmoil of survival lasted seventy years or more.
"These results were achieved by both methods, ours and the Soviets. The difference between our brand of coercion and the more overt forms of coercion used by Dimitre's bunch, was that ours sought to create obedient perceptions while theirs created obedient behaviors. AmeriNation realized the beauty of economy in having the masses subjugate themselves by way of stirring up issues that accentuated the differences among people...Like race, religion, nationality. What's so beautiful about this is that, unlike the Soviets' strategy that could only call for ever more agents in the field or harsher forms of coercion or both in order to increase their power, our strategy allowed us to simply draw the people's attention to yet another difference among them and polarization of the citizenry would evolve by itself. We found it much easier to gauge maximum impact of any proposed issue than to try and control the actual degree of polarization among the individuals involved.
"For instance, it is obvious that nothing could be more divisive to a country than to have blatant separation along racial or religious lines. Yet, cultivating separatist movements within the host body is what power is all about. So, rather than use the extremely volatile racial or religious issues we'd put the emphasis on politics but also highlight innocuous seeming things like Male versus Female, or go to ridiculous extremes, to the edge of silliness with campaigns featuring cigarette smokers versus non-smokers, fat people against thin people, cat lovers versus dog lovers...Christ! We had the yin mad at yang! By stirring up segments here and there, and you'd be surprised just how passionate humans get over such non-issues, over such mind trash, we'd give each swirl its own spin, its own gravitous attraction which is a mesmerizing force par excellence that numbs the susceptible into totalitarian focus. In this way we struck an order of disorder, if you will. And the vital signs of the host body, whose health is our department, show it to be in excellent condition. Ironically, we have found that such multiplex stirring does indeed miraculously transform divisiveness into lubricant, chaos into harmony as long as the people are properly propagandized into mind-sets of patriotism. So focused upon survival they forget to grow. So in need of feeling superior the masses get caught up in one trendosophy or another which keeps them ignorant of the macro-view. They believe what the Agenda calls for them to believe. Nothing more. Nothing less.
"In addition, we have bombarded them with 'one people' concept while stirring up all the prejudices, hate, differences. The gestalt...the Agenda...advances more smoothly than ever before. In fact, we stand on the verge of perfect coercion. Having laid the groundwork across a span of a century, during which time leaders the world over have been regurgitating the 'one people' rhetoric that we prepared, the peoples of Earth are finally at the stage where conscience has become the 'one people' paradigm; a concept of such pure subjectivity that the needs and wants of each individual, their lustful cravings continually stirred with much vigor, defines exactly what the 'one people' paradigm is not. Each individual knows precisely, in their own terms, just how deficient they are. For, while they react to the whirlpools and eddies of their prejudices, they are battered with the message that we are all one people. Thus have we managed to elicit exactly those responses that will reaffirm in the individual that they are no closer to achieving the minimally acceptable entrance requirement for 'one people' membership, which demands they be free of prejudice and hate, which demands that differences be put aside.
"You see...The fear people have of not belonging to the group is archetypal, goes way back, runs very deep...like they inherently understand that to be the wildebeest on the fringe of the pack is to end up as meal-meat for the lions. This fear tames them. As a result, we have finally learned how to ride the human animal, making it take us, our Agenda, exactly in the direction and at the precise speed that we want to travel.
"Beautiful, is it not? So absolutely beautiful."
Eyes glazed with admiration, head happily wagging like the tail of a pup, Dimitre throatily utters, "Da...Iss beau-u-tiful."
Akeem and Natasha are stunned. They see nothing of the news reports. They sit, numb and afraid.
Jerrod Lancer allows another rivulet to flow from his stream of consciousness.
"So, you see, we have put the onus of coercion on those very ones who must bear its full brunt! My God...the genius of it is staggering. Billions upon billions of people police themselves. And, not just their behaviors. They police their own thoughts! But, when the passions roused by our stirring methods explode, the transgressing individuals are held up to their peers as examples of what does not conform to the 'one people' paradigm. Whatever that is," he says with mordacious chuckle.
"Anyway, the transgressors, which includes every human on Earth, feel ashamed of themselves which makes the need to feel superior all that much more acute. It's so relativistic, too. The beauty of this design is that it effects all humans across the whole spectrum of any demography you might apply.
"Which brings us to you and yours. The Mars as you've known it will never again be the same. For already you can be assured that Martians are putting into motion those items contained in our Agenda. Right now, those rumors we introduced are acting as fuel to propel the Martian people towards our goals. Your people will demand an explanation. These demands will be ignored. Your people will next demand that your Central Authority put into effect immediately an unconditional isolationist policy, severing all ties to Earth. This demand will be met. Either the present Administration complies or Vyenchenko and the rest will be immediately replaced by administrators who will carry out the wishes of the people. Next, paranoia and anger blends to create a sense of vulnerability which leads to clamoring for defensive measures to begin at once, which, of course, leads to some sort of weapon manufacture and probably civil defense groups requiring all Martians to participate. This necessitates coordination training among the various groups to assure that everything will operate smoothly should Earthlings invade..."
The horror of this scenario, this all too likely glimpse of the future, creates revulsive upheaval in the minds of the captives. Akeem swoons; stars aplenty. Natasha literally gags on the words she feels compelled to utter.
"And...you will show and tell the Earthlings only what you want them to believe. They will see every action we take as an act of unprovoked aggression." Her voice gets floaty. "Earthlings will never know about what happened here..."
Dimitre now exhibits the outward signs of the same exalted transcendence in which Jerrod Lancer is enmeshed; eyes gazing upon the Promised Land; skin pinkened with rising excitement; his psyche singing with asymptotic orgasm that brings him ever closer to coveted oneness with the creators of the AmeriNation Agenda.
Thus intoxicated, he does growl with slobbery exuberance. "Now you begin to hang on...Now you've got the catch of it!"
Natasha Hearst Adams slumps back into the couch cushions. A limp Akeem loll-rolls in beside her, his head on her shoulder.
Jerrod Lancer's voice has a brand new quality to it. Like the Agenda itself: Invincible.
"Yes, my friends...You, too have acted according to plan. But don't feel badly about it. If it hadn't been you it would have been somebody else. You can bet on that. The Agenda called for the start of Phase Two and Phase Two is operational. Perhaps obvious to you now is that, like a dense cloud-mass ready to ignite into a newborn star, Phase One established the cloud-mass and Phase Two will spark the ignition of the burning star of Earth peoples' passions. And they will be openly told that to hate the Martians is to attain at long last their entrance into the 'one people' paradigm. Unification will be achieved as we will shift our emphasis from stirring up swirls of earthly difference to stirring the one swirl of anti-Martianism. Yes, Mister O'Sullivan, your Minority Farms. By the way, quite a good analysis for someone not in the know. As a result, the Earth masses will work harder and without friction. And everyone can be whatever else they want to be as long as they hate colonists. This hate will become the common bond among all peoples of Earth. Such harmony results in eager sacrifices by the masses. And, all of this...all of this, my friends, leads to a streamlined, faster progressing Agenda.
"One final point bears mentioning which I think you may find somewhat comforting. The Mars colony will endure. Indeed, it will grow. Martians will be allowed to evolve. And, you both will go down in Martian history books as the parents of the free, independent planet of Mars. You, Akeem, will no doubt be prominently regaled. As for you," he says with an idle toss of one hand in Editor Adams' general direction. "You will be much less mentioned. Perhaps just a footnote in history. Still, more than most folks make of themselves.
"Of course, what will be different is the fact that the colonies will run according to our Agenda. Tensions will rise and subside as we deign necessary. Ultimately, when the colonists have enough numbers and weapons to make sport of 'privatized invasion forces' operating outside Earth governments' jurisdiction but with their blessings, such incursions will in fact take place. The Moon will be occupied at the very onset. Be used as a training complex for recruits. The Moonlings will quickly be herded into internment camps, of which there'll be only two ways out: Death. Or, defection to Mars. Obviously the Moon colonists are on the road to extinction.
Your people will, of course, turn back all initial invasion efforts. We will make sure of that. Then, in time, invasions will consist of larger assault squads which will also be turned back. That is when the governments of Earth will involve themselves by actively supporting, covertly at first, then quite openly, anti-Marsist movements.
"Think of the possibilities! We can escalate this scenario to all out war. Recruit billions of Earthlings. All sent to the Moon for training. Many, if not most, are then sent to the top-secret Darkside Extermination Facility, never to be heard from again. In this way, billions can be truthfully classified KIA, Killed In Action. For did they not expire in the line of duty? Oh, the hatred that will breed. And, the anti-Marsist war that everybody perceives to be the battle? Merely cover story. The real battle is significant reduction of Earth's overburdening population.
"Thus do we intend to control the effects of this 'war of convenience' on all the worlds involved; stirring three kettles, if you will, simultaneously."
The utter horror of that reality renders the captives thoughtless.
"Yes, the possibilities are endless. As we bring the Earth population to more manageable terms we will induce localized viral epidemics to augment our depopulation efforts. Once we have our numbers exactly where we want them we will be able to offer the masses a substantial raise in their standard of living. Coming in time of war it will be an unprecedented feat that will go far in entrenching a government-is-good mindset in the masses which will strengthen yet further their sense of global unification which will lead to the eventual acceptance of a 'one people' government that will, of course, be headed by a single, worldwide body peopled by an elite few; by those of us who plan and carry out the Agenda."
Akeem is forced to vocalize his question to the answer he already knows but must reject. "Wh-Why? Why are you telling us all of this?"
Jerrod Lancer's face glows. "Because. It is my life! And, I so seldom get a chance to discuss my only passion. As for you two..." he chuckles, checks himself. "Well...you're not going to be telling anyone anything." He slaps his thighs with both hands as he turns to Dimitre. "So, my friend, let us celebrate our success. We have done well. Phase Two is begun."
Natasha's revulsion erupts in angry harangue.
"How can you be so proud?! Have you no humanity?! No conscience whatsoever?! How can someone, even someone as obviously twisted as you are, possibly believe such devious scheming, such murderous deceit is justified?! You're monsters! Disgusting perversions! Mutants! You find exquisite beauty in the pain and suffering of multitudes. Life is nothing more than a chess game for you. The people are pawns which serve no other useful purpose but to be sacrificed in the pursuit of your grand strategy! How utterly inhumane!"
Jerrod's smile is compassionless. "An apt analogy, Editor Adams. Perhaps it is regrettable but, sadly, it is inevitable. Pieces, in of themselves, are worthless. They will sit on the playing board and do absolutely nothing until some grander force moves them. And, since such grander forces are never given to haphazardness we can only move the pieces according to our own stratagem.
"There are no other choices. Either accept a reality of egalitarian stagnation or create a reality that coincides with our grand vision by way of our grand stratagem. Don't forget, every great advance in the history of Humankind is ultimately attributable to the Agenda...Ever changing yet, ever the same.
"Strength and intelligence are the determinants of survival. Only a few have a plenitude of both. Universe itself dictates this reality of superiority; a power far stronger than those self-aggrandizing misperceptions of superiority like race, religion or nationalism, that are fed to and digested by the masses. It has always been this way and so it will always remain."
Akeem is struck with an error in Lancer's logic, a flaw in the impenetrable armor of his reasoning. The spell is broken. Akeem vents his anger.
"YOU MONSTROUS FOOLS! Universe doesn't dictate the reality of superiority! Nature does. Man's nature. Universe operates according to a design infinitely more grandiose than your puny agenda! You and your kind, you really imagine yourselves as gods. But your reality, your agenda, is a nullity in the universal context. You have become the pieces at rest on the board of existence. For, all you do, all your manipulations, all your planning, is irrelevant to the grand design of Universe. Because, in the end, Humanity will perish. You have stolen its strengths so Humanity grows ever weaker. You see this weakness as positive subservience. But it is a sure sign that Humanity accelerates on the downside slope of their evolutionary peak. And if you are the brain of the host body of Humankind, how can you be so unaware of the fact that you are destroying the very thing that sustains you?
"No!" flares Akeem. "You and your kind are anything but superior in the Universal context. You reign supreme only in the planetary scheme of a single solar system. And, all stars die. All worlds perish. Only an evolving intelligence can hope to integrate itself into the infinite design of Universe. You don't understand that one day an evolving species from the ranks of the masses will arise, like a phoenix from the ashes of your disastrous agenda, to make an impact on the Universal context by way of its growth beyond survival! Only then, and only in that way, a way of the many, by the many, for the many, only then will the dictates of Universal superiority be met. You, the few, your agenda, all your efforts will have been for naught. Your worst nightmare will be realized: That you are, and have always been, pieces standing idle on the playing board of Universe!"
Jerrod Lancer smiles. He begins to chuckle and is joined by his comrade Dimitre. Now Lancer lets loose with bellowing laughter. His partner openly guffaws.
Akeem's helplessness is complete. His humiliation is total.
Natasha is cold. Her mind, thoughtless, stands on a precipice at the edge of never again; futureless breeze in her face; her present and past, all behind her. Natasha Hearst Adams steeps in the reality Akeem can no longer fend off. Extinction is at hand.
Jerrod Lancer turns twinkling eyes on his captives.
"Ah...Oh, thank you...What a...What a fine laugh. The power to coerce in the hands of a few has been the ruling paradigm since the very beginning, since the time of the first half-apes. The masses have always been but the means to purely serve the needs, desires, wonts of the ruling few. The people, as you like to call them, have always been oppressed. And, they have all known it. Yet like clowns at a circus, they bicker and slapstick amongst themselves even as they toil to survive day-to-day.
"Petty hatreds do make the world go 'round. So, against this context, I'm sure you see the humor inherent in your romantic ideal of mass upheaval. The people dislike each other too much for that to ever happen. We make sure of it. Always have. Always will.
"And, as pertains to your charge that we of the Agenda are idle pieces, let me remind you that Dimitre and me are but one hand of the power that moves the pieces on this board according to stratagem. We have moved your people into a checkmate defense mode. We of the Agenda are, in fact, the movers of pieces. And we are anything but idle."
An indistinct whir-hum insinuates itself on the screen issued reportage. Jerrod's smile is caution-diminished as he stoops over the unit and eliminates the audio.
The whir-hum becomes increasingly distinct. Jerrod hurries to a shuttered viewport and tears away its obstruction.
"Someone's coming! I see the lights. Heading right towards us."
For the first time Jerrod's voice is not seasoned with self-assurance. Obviously what now transpires is not part of the grand stratagem.
Natasha and Akeem are afraid to hope yet they each hope with all their heart that a rescue attempt is underway. The sound of approach fuels their spirit which propels their souls to soaring escape from the depression chambers that had held them.
"Get into your surface suit!" orders Jerrod in raised voice of such quality as to suggest to Akeem and Natasha that he is shaken. Indeed, his psychic wobble sends out ripples of perception that are perceived by the captives as cause for hope and by Dimitre as reason to worry. The Russian's furry eyebrows take on a brooding appearance but he immediately follows Jerrod's command.
"As soon as you get that on, I want you to slip into the air-lock and get it equalized. Keep your transmitter off. Just listen. When our visitor opens the hatch, you...well, you know what to do."
Dimitre checks his laser's charge and the gauges on his left sleeve panelboard as he heads to the air-lock chamber. Jerrod swings the inner hatch open, Dimitre steps through the opening and the hatch is swung closed. Jerrod spins the wheel-lock until he grunts from the last tug. He immediately dims the room's light to a particulate photon dust that barely illumes before returning to the view-port where he stands watch.
As the whir-hum draws closer its component sounds become more individually pronounced; the whir beginning to sputter and flutter and, the hum begins to vibrate the walls and flooring of this remote shelter.
Natasha nudges Akeem and gestures with her shoulder for him to turn his back towards her. As soon as he twists around he feels her frantic hands groping for his bindings. He does the same to hers. Both pairs of hands simultaneously cease their frenzy; lingering; each with a thumb and forefinger lightly pinching the hope-dashing plasteel of handcuffs. As they disengage, fingers clasp for just a moment in a transfer of courage from each to the other. Akeem and Natasha turn their attentions back onto Jerrod at the view-port, to the much more noticeable sputtering and fluttering vibration of the approaching land vehicle.
The vehicle's engine noises reach their peak, sustain for a moment, then whine down closer and closer to silence.
Jerrod has moved away from the view-port and stands at the air-lock hatch where he switches on the monitor system. He concentrates on the small screen as he uses a joystick on the wall panel to adjust the aim of the inner chamber's camera to focus on the entrance hatch.
Dimitre, a twinge claustrophobic in the small confines of the air-lock, is further unnerved by the whirring micro-motors that position the camera. For he can hear the footsteps of the intruder at the hatch. He curses, in silent Russian, Jerrod's noisemaking at this tension packed moment of imminent confrontation.
The Russian raises his laser, aims it at the entranceway. He hears a grunt of exertion. The hatch's wheel-lock turns. Sweat begins to form on the Russian's forehead. His breathing sounds labored and loud inside his helmet. Yet, his laser does not waver.
The hatch swings slowly outward.
"Dimitre?" calls out a quiet, familiar voice.
The EMM agent's trigger finger is stayed just as the hatch is swung wide open to reveal the intruder; face-plate to face-plate.
A great outward sh-sh-shush of relief is released from the Russian. "Taro! I could've been so easy killing you!"
She stoops to enter the chamber but is able to stand tall once inside.
"What is going on?!" demands Jerrod.
"Iss fine..." responds his partner.
"What do you mean, fine? What's she doin' here?!"
Taro hunches down a bit to allow her head free movement within camera range. Her wide, pink eyes stare innocently into the lens. The sound of her voice evokes anger from Natasha, ambivalence from Akeem.
"I...I was afraid. Tri-C has gone crazy! It's absolutely scary! Dimitre told me where I could find you if I had any problems. He said I could come here and stay until things calmed down."
Jerrod turns away from the screen and dissipates some of his anger by wildly slashing the empty air. "The fool!" he spats as he stalks across the room.
Taro's conversation with Dimitre is clearly heard over the speakers.
"It's horrible," she says. "Everyone is crazy mad. I saw some Earthlings mobbed! I can only guess that they were beaten to death. The crowd is enormous. Tri-C is packed. It's reached a point where no one can move. I...I got really frightened and...well, I didn't know what else to do, Dimi. I had the dart gun on me. I knew what would happen if I ever got caught with it so...I...I decided to come here. I hope I haven't gotten you in trouble."
Jerrod breathes deeply and exhales. He walks back to the air-lock wall panel in complete control of himself. He depresses the transmit button. "Let's get that hatch secure, shall we?"
Dimitre smiles at Taro and moves to comply with Jerrod's order. As he squeezes by Taro she moves herself lower, grabs at him through his suit and smiles her most alluring smile. He responds with eye twinkle and full frontal rub as he slides his slick fabric across hers. Face-plate to face-plate, Dimitre's lips curve into a smile/leer as he feels her breasts against his chest, her womanhead against his knee. She innocently nibbles at her lower lip employing one of the best weapons in her arousal arsenal. They reluctantly complete their change of position. The Russian takes the laser into his other hand as he stoops through the opening and grabs the hatch. He swings it shut. As he begins to turn the wheel-lock with one hand he turns to Taro.
She accepts the laser and Dimitre twists the wheel lock with both hands. "Hatch secured," he says turning towards the camera.
"Pressurizing," responds the tinny speaker voice of Jerrod.
Dimitre and Taro focus their attentions on their left sleeve panelboard gauges. Half way to equalization she feels Dimitre's cumbersome glove molding itself to the curve of her posterior. The glove becomes more bold, as does Taro, by parting her legs slightly to allow-- not full, but --more access to the nether nirvana Dimitre has twice before attempted without success.
Thusly the Russian is erotically encumbered when-- the pressurization completed, the hatch swinging open --Taro discharges the laser into his brain killing him instantly. Before he hits the floor Taro bursts through the opening only to be stopped in mid-charge by a laser blast to her chest. She staggers backward, refusing to go down, firing as she goes. She hits the couch, the ceiling, the wall, Jerrod in the neck before he finds cover. He drops to the floor, dead on impact.
Taro crashes backward into the wall. Her knees buckle. She loses hold of the laser and follows it to the floor. It lands with plastic clatter and she, in a heap on her heels. Taro teeters and tips to one side. She lays sprawled on the floor, still, but alive.
Natasha and Akeem are panting in the silence. Their eyes are hugely opened, protruding, stickily ashine. She stares at Jerrod on the floor in front of the couch. Akeem twists himself around to stare at Taro. He shakes his head, in denial, does not stop.
Editor Adams thrusts herself forward, off the couch, up onto her feet. She hops, hands bound behind her, towards Jerrod. She drops to her knees and roll-sits; her back to the body. She gropes the pockets of the twitching corpse searching for the key.
Amidst his grief-stricken panic and he dully turns to face her.
"Come here! We must find the key."
"...'keem..." sounds the soft-voiced Taro from the room's speakers.
His attention is whipped around. He strains against his bindings.
"AKEEM!" Natasha exerts much effort in constraining herself both in body and mind so that her speech sounds calm, neutral, in matter-of-fact fashion. "The sooner we find the key, the sooner we can attend to Taro. Now, come on...Help me find the key, Akeem."
It works. The young columnist focuses his concentration on finding the key as soon as possible. He is up and hopping. He hops around to the otherside of Jerrod's body and flops to the floor. Akeem joins the search.
"...'keem..." Taro's voice has already diminished a noticeable degree.
Akeem looks up even as he hand searches for pockets with increased fury.
"GOT 'EM!" cries Natasha. "Hurry! Come around here. Sit back to back."
Akeem's sense of moral convention is non-existent as he rolls himself across the lifeless body to more quickly get into position.
Natasha feel-finds the lock on his restraints. She inserts the key and sets Akeem free. He immediately unlocks his leg-bindings and rushes to Taro's side. But a single look and her sad condition is obvious. Akeem cannot control. He cries. His tears patter on the face-plate of Taro's helmet.
"Oh, Taro..." He tries so hard not to sob.
"I...I never knew what they planned." She grimaces and moans and now breathes fast and shallow.
"Shhhh..." Akeem takes one of her gloved hands in both of his. He squeezes it, rubs it, holds it to his chest as he slowly rocks back and forth on his knees. He removes the glove and tries to kiss warmth into her bluish-white hand. The separation he feels is enhanced as he watches her lips move yet hears her voice issuing from the speakers behind him.
"I...I didn't know...B'tswana...The virus? I...They told me it would just make him...make him sick, for...for a little...They lied!" Her presence fades a little more. She swallows with difficulty. "Believe me...I...I never knew. They told me bad things about you, that you were involved in some horrible plot against our people. But, after I...I met you I knew you couldn't...Unh..." She swoons, recoups. "...Oh, when I heard him read your Minority Farms, 'keem...You are so good...decent...I just knew I...I'd made a terrible mistake." Tears spring to Taro's eyes. She begins to sob. "And..."
"Shhhh..." insists Akeem, himself now sobbing.
"...'keem...I...I betrayed you, our people...for...for a violin...a del Gesu Guarneri."
"Taro...What you did here...This? You did for all the right reasons. You chose right over wrong, Taro. You...You're a hero! We'll stop their plan! You just wait an' see. We'll stop the madness...Because of you, Taro...Because of you, humanity will learn about their evil...the deceit...the...the brutality. Taro...You did so-o-o-o good!"
Akeem sees the change, the conscience lifting smile that turns transcendent as she realizes her freedom from the shackles of guilt. With resplendent expression, Taro Paganini Kajaani dies.
In this abandoned shelter, hidden among the star-lit dunes of a barren Marscape, two survivors weep until they have no tears left to fall.