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From Recovery: Addams Family West: Volume I, Book 2 of Dragon Drive

Part I: The Time Machine

Leah and Paul exchanged a quick “That’s it, then” look. “Monty,” Leah said, “is there . . . is there something new, something we don’t know about?”

“Naw . . . same old same old, just like last year an’ the year before.”

“Well, then, what’s the – what’s worrying you so?”

“It’s . . . well, it’s kind o’ complicated, darlin’ . . . How far along are you in your ecology studies?”

“About as far as anybody here is, I guess, except for you and some of the people in Science and Aggie. Why?”

“You ever heard o’ somethin’ called ‘Catastrophe Theory’?”

“Of course. We got an introduction to it in systems science classes, and my teachers in sociobiology discussed it when we got to human sociology and economics.”

“Then you know how a condition can be in place for a long time, an’ nothin’ seems to change, an’ then suddenly the impact o’ that condition on the system in question hits a critical stage an’ the system tips over the edge. Like water comin’ to a boil, or toast in a toaster.”

For a moment, Leah lay there, not saying anything, gazing off into space. Then her mouth fell open. “We’ve – the Earth has hit that critical stage, hasn’t it, Monty?” she said, her expression becoming grim.

“Yes, darlin’, I think that is what’s happenin’ now. We may not live to see it, mebbe our kids won’t, but I think this planet’s had it. In a century or two, it’ll become clear that it’s goin’ to be all over – an’ if we haven’t done somethin’ by then about gettin’ back into space an’ establishin’ a true permanent presence there, especially on worlds of other stars, then we are fucked, an’ our whole world is fucked right along with us.”

“Monty –” My mouth dry, I struggled to sit up. “Are you – no, you never joke about things like this, do you?

“Oh, darling, darling,” I told him, turning to face him, throwing my arms around him. “Oh, Monty . . .”

Looking more than ever like an alabaster archangel, he gazed into space over my head, his features limned in grief, his storm-gray eyes glistening with unshed tears, walled off from any possibility of comfort by the vision that was torturing him. Still staring off into space, he added, “You can see it, right out there in the desert, all around the Keep. The soil’s becomin’ more toxic by the year, the life there is gettin’ stranger an’ stranger – where there’s any life at all. Within two centuries . . .” He paused for a moment to take a ragged breath, then continued, “Within a few centuries, the only humans who’ll be able to survive here will be those livin’ in special quarters, life-support systems, the way you’d have to on Titan or, just possibly, Venus. It’s gonna get hotter, at least for a goodly while – whether or not it goes into a runaway greenhouse effect the way Venus did is anyone’s guess. For now, I’d say prob’ly not. The Sun ain’t hot enough yet, an’ it won’t be too much time afore a comet or somethin’ dumps enough ‘diamond dust’ debris in Earth’s orbit to drop the incident sunlight to a level low enough to trigger a new Ice Age an’ abort such a runaway global heatin’ process afore it could hardly get started.

“But like I say, at least for a while, it’ll continue to get hotter. That’ll be the end o’ both polar ice-caps – they’re neither of ’em quite gone yet, but ten more years o’ this an’ they will be, an’ there’ll be enough water vapor in the air to exaggerate the Greenhouse Effect still more. The thing about that heat that really tears it is that chemical reactions go faster as heat is applied. Life is a matter o’ chemistry – chemistry with an attitude, you might say. How did Larry Niven put it? ‘Water containin’ trace impurities.’ It’s the interactions o’ those trace impurities with each other an’ the water in which they’re suspended that make life possible, make it what it is. An’ if you change the ambient temperature o’ the environment in which they take place, you change the processes o’ life they constitute – or make those processes impossible.

“An’ if you add a shitload o’ weird chemicals to that environment, you change things again, sometimes in ways impossible to predict. Consider: between the radioactive an’ chemical fallout o’ the Two-Day War an’ all the terrorist actions ever’where clustered around it, the biowarfare pathogens let loose durin’ the War, an’ the toxic waste discharged into the environment by industrial civilization over the last, what, four hundred years, but especially so in the last two hundred years, the crust an’ oceans o’ this planet are now carryin’ a staggerin’ burden o’ raw exotic poisons. We can’t even classify some o’ those toxins, ’cause they come into existence as a result of uncontrolled, unmonitored chemical reactions amongst more familiar things an’ the general environment.

“Did you know there are whole underground great lakes o’ poisons like the one underneath Southern California? There are mebbe six such reservoirs of exotic toxins under this state alone – you do not want to know how many have been found elsewhere (an’ those are just the ones we know about!). As it gets hotter an’ hotter, more an’ more those poisons are gonna interact with ever’thin’ around ’em in chemical chain-reactions that’ll ultimately reach the surface an’ play merry hob with whatever’s livin’ there at the time. How long that’ll take depends on how deep those toxic reservoirs are below the surface – some are as much as half a mile down – but I give at most two centuries afore all o’ them, all over the world, both the ones we know of an’ the far greater number we don’t know about but have to be down there, have worked their way to the surface via underground aquifers an’ porous rock an’ other avenues an’ begun turnin’ our world into somethin’ Hieronymus Bosch would’a painted on a bad-hair day.”

“Sounds like that book by those two guys Skipp and Spector wrote, The Bridge,” Leah said, shuddering. “I read that back when I was doing high-school biology – they gave it to us as an assignment, and had us critique it in terms of what was and wasn’t biologically possible. I got an ‘A’ because I said that life was a chaotic process, we still didn’t know for sure what all it could and couldn’t do, and while admittedly Mr. Skipp and his buddy Mr. Spector may have exaggerated things for effect – they were horror writers, after all, writing for a popular market – God alone knows how much of that wasn’t possible.”

“Yeah, I know,” Monty told her, a small smile back on his face, finally. “I was the one graded it, if’n you remember.”

“Oh, yeah, you were, weren’t you, Teach’?” she said, returning his smile. “– So how much of that is possible? I mean, what they had in the novel?”

“Lordy, my dear, if I knew that, I’d be God. The wisest thing I could say about it, I guess, is, ‘Mother Nature always bats last.’ How She bats prob’ly depends on the exact moment when She’s up at bat, but She always gets that last hit in. An’ since what She is, at bottom, is thermodynamics, then how we change the thermodynamics an’ the chemistry of our world will have a very large say in what She chooses to become in the future.”

“ ‘Chooses’ – Monty, you talk as if nature were a, a sort of Goddess or something,. Isn’t that a little anthropomorphic or something?”

“My darling, o’ course I believe She is a Goddess, one o’ the Elohim,.” Monty told him. “I don’t talk about it much, but I never stopped believin’ in the God who told Moses to wipe that stupid look off his face, pick up his staff, an’ bust ass an’ go back to Egypt to liberate his people. I never stopped believin’ in miracles. Miracles are what happens when the world isn’t bein’ run on automatic – which it is, most o’ the time. Run on automatic, I mean. God created this enormous universe, almost 14 billion years old, an’ at least five times that many light-years in radius, if you can say it has a radius (black holes don’t, an’ mebbe this is just one huge black hole we’re all trapped in, who knows?). God created it in such a way that, to a great extent, it could run itself, operatin’ independently o’ Him, the way your heart-beat an’ your breathin’ go on without your havin’ to think about ’em. To ensure that things stayed on a more or less even keel as far as the general run o’ things went, He built natural selection – evolution – into it, so there could be both creativity an’ stability on a biological level, without anyone’s havin’ to worry about that. An’ then He set his archangel Eris over that process, the process by which Life harnesses uncertainty an’ chaos an’ death in its own service, an’ She is Mother Nature. The first an’ greatest o’ the Elohim. Which is why forgettin’ to reverence Her is a dangerous bidness – just ask the Trojans, if you don’t believe me.” Another tiny smile.

“The planetologist James Lovelock,” Monty said, “was one o’ the first to seriously put forth the idea that our world is a sort o’ livin’ creature in its own right. He described the processes which together make up what he called ‘geophysiology’ an’ showed how they worked in concert to maintain Earth in a steady-state, preservin’ her average temperature an’ other conditions o’ state by homeostasis – the same process that keeps the body of ever’ livin’ organism workin’ more or less at optimum.

“If you only take into account the processes that existed in an’ around our world afore industrial humanity came on the scene, then clearly, barrin’ such things as comets an’ asteroids slammin’ into us, an’ ignorin’ the fact that inevitably, if we don’t figure out some way to move the Earth far enough out afore then, our Sun will grow hotter an’ hotter over the eons, finally turnin’ into a red giant which will bake Her to a cinder, our world ought to be able to keep Her temperature an’ chemistry hoverin’ around an optimal set-point, the way your body does its temperature an’ chemistry, maintainin’ Her life as long as somethin’ don’t throw a monkey wrench into the works.

“Well, o’ course, the Sun’s growin’ hotter will do that, too, that is, finally toss a fatal spanner into the works, but that’ll take a long, long time. Sol’s got at least another four-five hundred million years afore He gets so hot that no matter what, Earth won’t be able to support life any more, certainly not anythin’ like the sort o’ life we know. An’ Earth has been bombarded by sky-junk again an’ again over the ages – sure, a bunch of impacts around 65 million years ago wiped out the dinosaurs an’ about 50% o’ the rest of Earth’s life, but ever’thin’ else survived, an’ pretty quickly went on to diversify an’ fill all the niches vacated by the critters that had gone extinct. The worst major extinction Earth ever went through, about 250 million years ago, at the Permo-Triassic Boundary, involved a die-off o’ mebbe 96% of Earth’s life-forms – an’ yet, even after gettin’ hit by whatever cosmic cannonball was responsible for that, terrestrial life rebounded so strongly that it come up with dinosaurs, true mammals, an’ ever’ other damn thing, plants an’ animals an’ fungi an’ who knows what, life in a profusion that was inconceivable to us even a few hundred years ago, afore ever’thin’ began fallin’ apart, without lookin’ at the record o’ the rocks, Life’s great fossil signature in our world’s lithosphere. . .”

His voice was mesmerizing, utterly captivating. As he talked, still staring off into space, tears glistening like tiny stars at the tips of his eyelashes, I found myself embedded in the things he was speaking of, seeing the great dinosaurs lumbering past me, just an arm’s length away; smelling the bitter salts of a sea most of whose life had died thanks to a cometary impact on the slopes above one of its coasts; hearing the screams of meteors shooting through the air, the cries of birds defining their territories, the honks and bleats and blats of mammals and dinosaurs and amphibia and reptiles, the chorales of Medieval churches; life freezing in the snows of the Ice Ages, roasting in the tropical heat of the interglacials that followed them.

“An’ so it might’a gone for eons yet to come, ’cept . . . for us,” he said. “Homo sapiens so-called sapiens. We come along, somewheres around fifty to a hundred thousand years ago. That wouldn’t’a been so bad, ’cept somewheres in there we discovered two things: agriculture, an’ high-energy technology.

“Mind you, at first ‘high-energy technology’ meant boilin’ water or fire-hardenin’ a piece o’ wood. As for ‘agriculture,’ once upon a time that meant no more than ‘let’s bury these taro roots for a season to leach the toxins out of ’em,’ an’ ‘this batch o’ wild wheat was pretty good, let’s save some o’ the grain an’ plant ’em an’ see what comes up.’ There were so few humans, most places, an’ so much empty land an’ sea an’ sky, that humanity made little if any impact on the world.

“But startin’ about 7,000 years ago that changed, big-time. The first significant human settlements came into existence around then, an’ with ’em, the first extensive agricultural operations an’ the first significant human industrial operations, ecologically speakin’, anyways. An’ that’s when it all began to change.

“Did you know that in ice cores taken last century from Greenland you can see huge amounts o’ lead in layers correspondin’ to when Imperial Rome was goin’ strong, an’, later, Medieval European civilization? Both used a lot o’ lead in their industries, though Rome used far more than Medieval Europe did. I mean, that lead was carried by the atmosphere all the way from the Mediterranean to the Arctic Circle an’ deposited there, in the ice o’ Greenland! An’ that was just from one little semi-barbaric civilization that had barely got out o’ the Neolithic an’ into the Iron Age, an’ only covered, what, a tenth or less o’ the world at its peak.

“Now, think about modern industrial civilization, startin’ around 350-400 years ago, with Eli Whitney an’ them. This was a high-tech, high-energy civilization that grew to cover six continents, includin’ both Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, an’ Australia. An’ by ‘high-energy,’ as you know, I’m sure as hell not talkin’ about hardenin’ sticks in the fire! I mean ever’thin’ from internal combustion engines an’ the use o’ gunpowder to nuclear an’ thermonuclear power! Heat! Heat – an’ exotic by-products o’ the chemistry o’ that civilization, most o’ which was utterly unknown to us afore then.

“An’ then,” he said, rolling over on his back, staring at the ceiling as he composed his thoughts, “another aspect of our nature came to the fore: war. We have always been territorial organisms – that’s nothin’ new, ever’thin’ is, because territory is life itself. Plants, fungi, animals, you name it, one way or another they all stake out territories, usin’ behavior or chemicals or whatever it takes, to make sure they’ve got enough to eat an’ access to mates, an’ that their children will, too.

“But with us, both territory an’ its defense goes way beyond what’s necessary to life, don’t they? It ain’t just land an’ mates an’ physical resources we define as territory – we stake out ideas, in the form o’ religion, philosophy, knowledge, Magick, all o’ that, an’ then try to restrict who has access to them, an’ get into wars over it.

“Furthermore, we like war – sure, just like Sherman said, it’s absolute Hell let loose on Earth. He was right. Well, it seems that this particular species o’ glabrous primate has a real likin’ for Hell, because we seem to love gettin’ into fights just for the pure-D fuck of it, don’t we? We produce bumper-crops o’ General George S. Pattons an’ Moishe Dayans an’ Admiral Reshes an’ Vladimir Tsepeses an’ Belisariuses an’ Alexanders o’ Macedon, people who are good at war, who like war, or at least do their jobs as generals right well an’ with satisfaction over a job well done. We have a knack for war – an’ if you think I’m pointin’ a self-righteous finger o’ blame here, guess again, because any such finger’ll have to point straight at me, too! I like war!”

Startled, Paul and Leah hung on his every word as he continued, turning back to look at them again, his expression a weird marriage of unutterable weariness and disgust mingled with fond reminiscence: “When I was in the Marines, I liked action! Yes, I did. It got the adrenaline singin’ in my veins, made me feel so alive, an’ it was the best aphrodisiac I’d ever found (up until I met my darlin’ Batrix, that is,” he said, smiling, reaching out to pull me into his arms and cuddle me close, “’cause, long as you come out of it without a bad wound, sex after a battle is about the best there is.

“Paul, Leah, I’m sure you’ve found that out from experience. An’ you also know from dojo trainin’ what that sort of adrenaline rush can do to you, to anyone. Okay, here’s the thing: we naked apes seek out that sort of excitement, we go lookin’ for war because it feels good. So good that generals an’ kings an’ presidents sometimes get to tossin’ stuff around that ends up totalin’ their own positions an’ situations an’ hopes o’ heaven, because they get so heavy into the power-trip that goes with war that they lose sight o’ common sense an’ hard reality.

“Which is why, mostly, the Two-Day War happened: a bunch of adrenaline-addicts usin’ religion as an excuse started up some recreational jihads, which provoked responses from the major powers that ended up, one way an’ another, with ever’body startin’ to toss nukes an’ lab-tailored pathogens around like confetti. We know what came o’ that: we’re livin’ in the middle of one o’ the places that took some hard blows from it – though to be honest, as far as Los Angeles County goes, the damage was all from idiots livin’ here at the time, settin’ off the Great Los Angeles Firestorm by celebratin’ the start o’ the Two-Day War with some heavy fireworks, an’ gettin’ themselves cremated alive in the process.

“The point is, the whole world took some damned hard blows from the Two-Day War, an’ now the crust of our world an’ her oceans an’ her atmosphere are loaded with a bunch o’ weird chemicals, some o’ them radioactive, like nothin’ Earth ever had to put up with before. The thermodynamic balance of our world is changed, too, an’ no tellin’ when it’ll tip back toward normal, or how – or if.

“Somethin’ has happened to our planet that She likely won’t recover from. Oh, She’ll limp along like She has for a while longer, mebbe long beyond the time our great-great grandchildren are dead an’ buried, even with Berkeley’s life-extension treatments. But the essential chemistry of Her crust an’ oceans have changed permanently an’ radically from what they was for over half a billion years afore now, an’ as they say, you can’t go home again. So either we get the fuck off this rock, children, an’ become well-established on the worlds of other stars, or our world’s gonna die without issue, which means our species hasn’t got much longer afore it, too, goes off into the Big Dark Empty along with all the rest of Earth’s life.”

“Hey, isn’t that what Clinton and his bunch were yammering about back late last century?” Paul asked. “You’ve got to say they at least tried to do something right, just once, trying to protect the environment.”

“Oh, really? If you believe that, my dear, you are most naïve,” Monty told him. “Most naïve. Clinton an’ Gore an’ their spin-docs sure knew how to talk up a storm when it came to connin’ people into votin’ for an’ supportin’ ’em – but talk is cheap, an’ when it come down to actually doin’ anythin’ about it, that was a horse of a diff’rent color entirely.

“In the first place, Paul,” Monty said, gently turning me around so he could massage my shoulders and back, “ever’thin’ Clinton an’ his Kameraden proposed as remedies for environmental concerns always turned out to be a damned lie. The GATT treaty, which was supposed to protect Mexico from the sort of environmental problems that America’s heavy industry produced, turned out to be a way o’ cementin’ political ties between Clinton an’ various others, not to mention providin’ jobs for cronies, an’ never did any damned good for the environment.

“Furthermore, Clinton was a Socialist. Now, I have to say that a lot o’ Socialists were well-meanin’ people, though we know just what road is paved with good intentions, don’t we? But Clinton didn’t even have the good intentions. Oh, no! He wanted to take control of ever’thin’ away from the citizens an’ give it to his political allies, for his own good an’ only his. He didn’t give a damn about what Socialism would do to America, even though, durin’ the last few decades o’ the 20th century, the world saw at close hand what the results of it were when applied to any big industrial nation, when the Soviet Union was beginnin’ to collapse back then (too bad it didn’t – otherwise we might’ve avoided the War completely). However bad the impact o’ the West’s industrial civilization on its environment might’a been, it wasn’t a patch on the damage done to the various nations o’ the Soviet Union by their own heavy industry. That was because that industry was controlled by the state rather than profit incentives, an’ there was no plebiscite involved with keepin’ its hazardous wastes in hand, either. One o’ the most heart-breakin’ things I’ve ever seen was a documentary made about what Romania was like not long before the War – she had air so dirty that Los Angeles’s air was zephyrs from heaven in comparison, water so contaminated from industrial runoff that most o’ her population was sick as toad-poisoned dogs most o’ the time, an’ her soil was so contaminated by industrial pollution that much of it was a desert worse’n the Sahara ever thought o’ bein’, an’ didn’t seem that way only because factories sat on it. That is what Socialism – hell, let’s call it by its right name, Communism! – will do to a country. To its land, its air, its flowin’ waters, the gifts o’ God from the beginnin’ o’ time.

“Like I say, make no mistake, even with the best of intentions, Socialism is a sure an’ certain route to Hell. If you doubt me, in the school library downstairs there are copies o’ that documentary – as well as documentaries about places like Chernobyl, a city in the Ukraine whose name means ‘Wormwood,’ made in 2008, one year after the reactor there underwent a meltdown.”

“But – but what about all the damage that our system of doing things caused here, way before Clinton and them got in the White House?” asked Paul.

“Be patient, Grasshopper, my son, be patient,” Monty said, smiling fondly at him. “My darling, our problem never was capitalism – it was not enough capitalism.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Look: what is mebbe 25% of our work here in the Keep devoted to, day in an’ day out? Recyclin’. Right? An’ we’re startin’ to see specialists in that sort o’ work spring up all over the place – Rockland Keep over in Nevada and, closer to home, San Bernardino Keep are both goin’ into that bidness in their respective bailiwicks on a large scale, an’ there are a lot o’ smaller communities an’ even some itinerants gettin’ into it now, too, pickin’ up stuff in big wagons that’re no longer wanted by keeps an’ homesteads but’re still useful in some way, an’ takin’ ’em to professional recyclin’ centers or other keeps an’ such that will pay good money for ’em. An’ San Diego Keep has been doin’ it almost since the end o’ the War, because they’re a Fleet keep, an’ the Fleet does all its onshore recyclin’ there. There’s money to be made in that bidness, son, a lot o’ money, limited only by what your imagination can come up with as far as how to put the discards to use again, okay?

“Now, think about air pollution, ozone holes, an’ the damned Greenhouse Effect, that’ve more or less rendered ever’thin’ north o’ the Arctic Circle an’ south o’ the Antarctic Circle permanently uninhabitable for ever’thin’ not protected by special life-support systems. The crud in the air that causes those last two problems is all potentially valuable, dependin’ on how you extract it an’ how you plan to put it to use. If around, say, 1985 some enterprisin’ type had come up with a scrubber for automobile exhaust systems that simply trapped the bad stuff in the exhaust an’ held it until the vehicle owner could take it in to a recyclin’ center an’ have the old pollution-trap in his car swapped out for a clean one, he could’a made one hell of a lot o’ money from those recyclin’ centers on residuals alone. Do you realize the amounts of industrially an’ medically an’ otherwise extremely valuable stuff that got farted out into God’s clean air by internal combustion engines that could’a been recycled, instead? Automobile owners could’a made themselves a nice bit o’ change for all the times they swapped out their pollution traps, the recyclin’ center owners would’a made big-time bucks on sellin’ the contents o’ used traps to industry an’ pharmaceutical companies an’ so on, an’ the guy who invented the trap in the first place would’a put ol’ P. H. Wall into the shade from the money he made on the patent.

“So, did anybody try out such an idea? – Oh, sure! If they did so, they sure never made any headway at it! Why? Because it wasn’t a good idea? No, because big industry didn’t want to bother. Because the accountants that ran the major corporations didn’t want to innovate, God damn them!

“Did the libertarians leap at this chance to do good by doin’ well? Where were the dollar-sign worshippin’ Objectivists when this was goin’ on? – You know what they was doin’? They was too busy screamin’, ‘There is no pollution! There is no ozone hole! There is no Greenhouse Effect!’ to take a hard look at reality an’ the opportunities it presented.

“Andrew sensei, down to the dojo, teaches that ever’ big change that comes along can be mapped as a 180-degree angle: 150 degrees o’ catastrophe, an’ 30 degrees of opportunity. That is, somethin’ big happens. Say, an earthquake. Okay, buildin’s fall over, people get squashed, bidnesses go up in flames. – At the same time, though, there are these guys who come to the fore, providin’ things people need an’ can’t get for themselves ’cause now it’s all under the rubble. An’ those guys make a fortunes off ever’one else’s disaster!

“Durin’ the San Francisco Earthquake o’ 1906, they say, ‘God burned all the churches down, an’ left Hotaling’s whiskey.’ At least for a while, Hotaling’s must’a done a land-office bidness there, while the churches was sorta out in the cold. Or warm ashes. Anyways, that’s an example o’ succession ecology: one organisms’ extinction is another’s radiation. Burn down a forest an’ you get a whole bunch o’ new plants an’ animals movin’ in to claim the region that might never’ve had a chance there otherwise. Smack the Yucatán with an asteroid an’ kill off the last o’ the dinosaurs an’ you get the Age o’ Mammals, in all its furry glory. To the four F’s o’ biology – Feedin’, Fightin’, Fleein’, an’ Monkey Bidness – we oughtta add the Big S: Succession. . . .

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