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President Winthrop 1999

From: The Crowded Earth

The Secretary of State closed the door.

"Well?" he asked.

President Winthrop looked up from the desk and blinked. "Hello, Art,"
he said. "Sit down."

"Sorry I'm late," the Secretary told him. "I came as soon as I got the

"It doesn't matter." The President lit a cigarette and pursed his lips
around it until it stopped wobbling. "I've been checking the reports
all night."

"You look tired."

"I am. I could sleep for a week. That is, I wish I could."

"Any luck?"

The President pushed the papers aside and drummed the desk for a
moment. Then he offered the Secretary a gray ghost of a smile.

"The answer's still the same."

"But this was our last chance--"

"I know." The President leaned back. "When I think of the time and
effort, the money that's been poured into these projects! To say
nothing of the hopes we had. And now, it's all for nothing."

"You can't say that," the Secretary answered. "After all, we did reach
the moon. We got to Mars." He paused. "No one can take that away from
you. You sponsored the Martian flights. You fought for the
appropriations, pushed the project, carried it through. You helped
mankind realize its greatest dream--"

"Save that for the newscasts," the President said. "The fact remains,
we've succeeded. And our success was a failure. Mankind's greatest
dream, eh? Read these reports and you'll find out this is mankind's
greatest nightmare."

"Is it that bad?"

"Yes." The President slumped in his chair. "It's that bad. We can
reach the moon at will. Now we can send a manned flight to Mars. But
it means nothing. We can't support life in either place. There's
absolutely no possibility of establishing or maintaining an outpost,
let alone a large colony or a permanent human residence. That's what
all the reports conclusively demonstrate.

"Every bit of oxygen, every bit of food and clothing and material,
would have to be supplied. And investigations prove there's no chance
of ever realizing any return. The cost of such an operation is
staggeringly prohibitive. Even if there was evidence to show it might
be possible to undertake some mining projects, it wouldn't begin to
defray expenses, once you consider the transportation factor."

"But if they improve the rockets, manage to make room for a bigger
payload, wouldn't it be cheaper?"

"It would still cost roughly a billion dollars to equip a flight and
maintain a personnel of twenty men for a year," the President told
him. "I've checked into that, and even this estimate is based on the
most optimistic projection. So you can see there's no use in
continuing now. We'll never solve our problems by attempting to
colonize the moon or Mars."

"But it's the only possible solution left to us."

"No it isn't," the President said. "There's always our friend

* * * * *

The Secretary of State turned away. "You can't officially sponsor a
thing like that," he muttered. "It's political suicide."

The gray smile returned to the gray lips. "Suicide? What do you know
about suicide, Art? I've been reading a few statistics on that, too.
How many actual suicides do you think we had in this country last

"A hundred thousand? Two hundred, maybe?"

"Two million." The President leaned forward. "Add to that, over a
million murders and six million crimes of violence."

"I never knew--"

"Damned right you didn't! We used to have a Federal Bureau of
Investigation to help prevent such things. Now the big job is merely
to hush them up. We're doing everything in our power just to keep
these matters quiet, or else there'd be utter panic. Then there's the
accident total and the psycho rate. We can't build institutions fast
enough to hold the mental cases, nor train doctors enough to care for
them. Shifting them into other jobs in other areas doesn't cure, and
it no longer even disguises what is happening. At this rate, another
ten years will see half the nation going insane. And it's like this
all over the world.

"This is race-suicide, Art. Race-suicide through sheer fecundity.
Leffingwell is right. The reproductive instinct, unchecked, will
overbalance group survival in the end. How long has it been since you
were out on the streets?"

The Secretary of State shrugged. "You know I never go out on the
streets," he said. "It isn't very safe."

"Of course not. But it's no safer for the hundreds of millions who
have to go out every day. Accident, crime, the sheer maddening
proximity of the crowds--these phenomena are increasing through
mathematical progression. And they must be stopped. Leffingwell has
the only answer."

"They won't buy it," warned the Secretary. "Congress won't, and the
voters won't, any more than they bought birth-control. And this is

"I know that, too." The President rose and walked over to the window,
looking out at the sky-scraper apartments which loomed across what had
once been the Mall. He was trying to find the dwarfed spire of
Washington's Monument in the tangled maze of stone.

"If I go before the people and sponsor Leffingwell, I'm through.
Through as President, through with the Party. They'll crucify me. But
somebody in authority must push this project. That's the beginning.
Once it's known, people will have to think about the possibilities.
There'll be opposition, then controversy, then debate. And gradually
Leffingwell will gain adherents. It may take five years, it may take
ten. Finally, the change will come. First through volunteers. Then by
law. I only pray that it happens soon."

"They'll curse your name," the Secretary said. "They'll try to kill
you. It's going to be hell."

"Hell for me if I do, yes. Worse hell for the whole world if I don't."

"But are you quite sure it will work? His method, I mean?"

"You saw the reports on his tests, didn't you? It works, all right.
We've got more than just abstract data, now. We've got films for the
telescreenings all set up."

"Films? You mean you'll actually show what the results are? Why,
just telling the people will be bad enough. And admitting the
government sponsored the project under wraps. But when they see,
nothing on earth can save you from assassination."

"Perhaps. It doesn't really matter." The President crushed his
cigarette in the ashtray. "One less mouth to feed. And I'm getting
pretty sick of synthetic meals, anyway."

President Winthrop turned to the Secretary, his eyes brightening
momentarily. "Tell you what, Art. I'm not planning on breaking the
proposal to the public until next Monday. What say we have a little
private dinner party on Saturday evening, just the Cabinet members and
their wives? Sort of a farewell celebration, in a way, but we won't
call it that, of course? Chef tells me there's still twenty pounds of
hamburger in the freezers."

"Twenty pounds of hamburger? You mean it?" The Secretary of State was
smiling, too.

"That's right." The President of the United States grinned in
anticipation. "Been a long time since I've tasted a real,
honest-to-goodness hamburger."

Next: Harry Collins 2000

Previous: Harry Collins 1998

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