This Crowded Earth
Chapter 3: President Winthrop--1999

Public Domain

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 call.”

“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 Leffingwell.”

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 year?”

“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.

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