Aphelion Issue 279, Volume 26
December 2022/January 2023
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Alternative Energy

by Mike Wilson

They will have to pay attention to this, thought Marty as he assembled his tiny explosive device. It was hard to hear oneself think with the constant noise of the auto-diggers, grinding into the ancient burial site. But all he needed do is toss the little cracker just so. He set the fuse-chip, took aim, and tossed...


The voice behind Marty almost made him jump forward into the dusty maelstrom of the digger pit. He turned, just in time to see a security-kin swing the stun-baton his way. A flash, then nothingness.


He slowly came to, in one of the security offices of Megamines, Ltd. There were several sec-kins arrayed surrounding him.

"Well, hello, fellahs...Oof!" Marty grunted as one of the sec-kins planted a boot heel in his chest.

"We will do the talking, you Waterphile scum," the kicker snarled. "What was the idea of trying to throw a cracker into the works, eh? No, we don't expect you to talk. But don't worry, we have a lot of fun things in store for you." He turned to his companions. "C'mon, let's get him to a cell. Then I can wash the stench off of me!" The head sec-kin waved his hand and turned. Several hands grabbed Marty and dragged him down a long, dirty hallway. Several blows were landed along the way. Not robots, but humans -- unusual. And they were really angry.

They threw him into a cell. The place stank. He hunkered down in a corner. The cuffs stayed on.

"Better get some rest, Waterphile. When we start in on you, you will forget what sleep is."

Marty sighed, and closed his eyes. It had seemed like such a good idea at his last group meeting. Throw a cracker into a mining-bot, create a lot of noise and damage. Then, follow up with an infonews release. People would wonder who the upstarts were. More importantly, they might listen to their message, finally. The citizens of Earth in the third millennium needed to quit mining ancient burial sites for fusion materials. They would run out, and then Earth would need to work on alternatives. But by then it might be too late!

Marty couldn't understand why people would not think about the obvious.

Fossil fuels had been formed from the remains of plants and animals of all kinds over tens of millions of years, he thought. Humans, and ancestors close enough for their DNA to be usable, had been around for a fraction of that time, and in much smaller numbers...

'But no,' they rationalize. 'Billions of bodies, all with brains. That much human cerebral DNA material should last for millennia.' But it would not last anywhere near that long at the current rate of consumption. Already, all the easy pickings had been exhausted, and now companies had to dig in more and more expensive, hostile sites. And with few exceptions, the older the site, the lower the quality of the material that could be extracted. Marty shook his head in frustration.

Three observers looked at Marty through a one-way window.

"He seems so harmless. Just a frail looking thing," noted the first, a scientist named Clarissa.

"Frail my rear. He just cost us several million credits with that cracker stunt! But don't tell him..."

"Naw, we wouldn't give him the satisfaction," grunted the third man, Carl, chief of security.

"All right, so when do we begin the questioning?" said Clarissa.

"My men would be working him over right now if it weren't for soft-hearted types," said the sec-chief, with a sidelong glare at Clarissa.

"Yes, and you would probably end up killing him without getting anything useful. No, I'm glad it is not up to you, Sargeant," retorted Clarissa. "I'll handle the interview."

They led Marty to a bare room, with a table, two chairs, and not much else. They plunked him down in a chair, and cuffed his hands behind his back. A glass of water was situated right where he could see it. He licked his lips, and looked at Clarissa questioningly.

"Okay. If I like your answers, we will give you a drink. But if I don't..." Clarissa cracked her knuckles.

Marty wondered if this woman would actually hit him.

"I can hit as well as any man, Waterphile. But somehow I don't think I'll need to." She eyed him.

"You will not need to use force on me. I am willing to be completely honest with you."

"Why did you throw that cracker into a drilling rig?"

"I wanted to call attention to our cause," said Mary wearily. "We intended to release a flash explaining our ideals and what we want to accomplish."

"Well, looks like you got your chance. Go ahead, impress me. Oh wait, here you go."

Clarissa came around the table, and picked up the glass, giving Marty an eagerly-slurped drink.

"Thanks. Now, as to our ideals: We want the energy companies to stop relying on graveyard material for the fusion reactors."

"And why should they give up on a material that is 2,000 times more efficient than any other at producing electricity, Marty?"

"Because we are bound to run out," Marty replied. "And when we do, there will be a terrible day of reckoning!"

Clarissa leaned back in her chair. "Is that it? You people are going out and sabotaging machinery just because you think we will run out of ancient brain DNA to harvest?"

Marty stared. "Don't you see? We are using up a finite resource! What happens when the ancient brain material runs out? Our society will grind to a halt!"

Clarissa sighed. "Why couldn't you people just write some damned letters?"

Marty looked puzzled, and Clarissa realized that Marty, like so many Waterphiles, was remarkably ignorant in many areas. "Oh, never mind, that was an ancient technology. Just because of your wacko beliefs, you are facing some serious prison time, mister."

Marty tried to rub his eyes, but with his hands bound behind his back, the closest he could get was to brush the side of his face against his shoulder. Sighing, he said, "You people will just not get it right. Well, you can do whatever you like to me. But we will run out of sites to harvest -- and then we will be in a worse jam that we were when we ran out of petroleum!"

"That was different and you know it," said Clarissa.

"Was it? In both cases, the resources seemed nearly limitless. But human's capacity for using things up never changes. You will see." Marty leaned his head back and fixed her with a hostile stare. He was done talking.

Clarissa got up and abruptly ended the 'interview'. She commanded they move him to a holding cell, and "no rough stuff!" That did not prevent the guards from getting in a few sharp jabs that made him gasp with pain, before tossing him into a cell.

Clarissa knew deep down that Marty was right. They were living on borrowed time. But so many companies and individuals depended on the prodigious output of the fusion reactors. If they had to start over with inferior fuel sources, they would need to construct hundreds, maybe thousands of plants to maintain power outputs. Society could not afford it. They would be destituted, or 'bankrupted' to use an archaic term. She shuddered, and then proceeded to finish up her screenwork before departing for the day. On her way out, Carl bid her good day.

"Next time don't be so soft, Clar. Rest well."

"Right, Boss. See you tomorrow." Clarissa shook her head and walked out.

Once she arrived safely in her occu-pod, she activated her wallscreen, checking messages and news.

An energy company stock had plummeted. Apparently they had vastly overstated their reserves of cerebral DNA fuelstocks. The markets were rattled. But spokespeople from other companies assured the public they had adequate stocks to maintain powerflow. All was well...or so they assured people.

Clarissa sat in a web-chair and stared.

That freak was right! He was dead-on. This is the third time a company's supplies have been found to be overstated. And then there was the piece about more rolling brown-outs. So why are we holding him? Lies, deceptions, coverups. People just never change.

The next day did not start out well for Martin. They had strapped him into a chair. Then they began to work him over with fists.

"Who are your contacts? Tell us names. More names, Martin!"

"I told you every name I could think of. Those are all the people..."

"This is gonna be fun, making you squeal."

"Why? Why do this to me? Ahhhhggghgh," said Marty as the interrogator hit him again.

"Tell us, Marty. Names."

"I told.you...Stan, our president. Joe, my partner who was helping..."

Just then, a voice came over the comm-units of the interrogators.

"This is Clarissa. On Comsec authority, you are to cease interrogation sessions of this prisoner. You will cease now, and return him to his cell. I mean now, lieutenant!"

Lieutenant Morris, who had been leading the group torture, grunted out a couple of swearwords.

"All right then, you so-and-so." He backhanded Martin across his battered face one more time, then commanded his assistants to get him cleaned up and taken back to his cell.

Later, Clarissa and Martin were in his cell. He had been cleaned up some, and was lucid, if extremely weary.

"Just kill me, please. You all will get what you deserve in any case."

"Wait a minute, Martin. I think you are right. We are running out of the DNA reserves. There was another shortage documented yesterday."

"Oh, I'm right is it now. Well, I'm glad someone can see in front of their face..." He giggled hysterically. He was riding on the thin edge of pain, exhaustion. But a small part of him was, nevertheless, validated, and so he felt a wave of pleasure.

"This is where I say, I told you so." He looked at her with battered, bloodshot eyes, and managed to crack a grin.

Clarissa folded her arms, regarding him. "Right you are. Now I need to figure out how to get you out of here."

The executives of Inter-E, aka intercontinental energy, were gathered in a special conference room, staring at a wallscreen. Their president was talking to a distant group.

"So your excavations of the burial site came up empty? Is that what you are telling us?"

"Not really -- previously found and cleaned out. But they disguised it," said a disembodied voice.

"So someone poached it, then. Damn them. This one will really cost us."

Another voice piped up. It was the junior exec for exploration, Standen.

"Pardon me, sir. Did we acquire the rights to the Jersey tract, for the water plant?"

"I don't know. Funds have been pretty tight lately, Standen. And it will take more than one lousy water plant to get us out of this mess." The CEO glared at his underling.

Standen wiped his brow, cleared his throat. Then, said, "Well, yes sir, you are correct. But the sooner we start with alternative power-gen facilities, the sooner..."

The room was silent. Fearing a coming explosion, Standen let his voice trail off.

After fixing everyone in the room with a strange look, the CEO, Lew Chormann, let a new note drop from his tongue. The truth.

"Standen is right." Then he looked around the room, as gasps and grunts emitted all around the conference table.

"We should have started a long time ago, building alternative plants that use some other fuel, besides ancient DNA from cadaver brains for fusion pellets. But, we just had to ride the wave of profit. So we waited, I waited. And now, here we are. Needing to change, but too broke to do it." Chormann looked around grimly.

A senior VP of finance spoke up.

"We could hit the cap-markets up some, build a few plants..."

"Sure. But they would catch wind of our predicament, the stock would tank, and we would still be out of business. Meanwhile, the plants have a ten-year construction line. So, gentlemen and ladies, I would go home and make some serious, alternative plans for your futures. We will meet again tomorrow to discuss dissolution strategies for Inter-E. Good luck to you all. This meeting is concluded!" And with that, CEO Chormann walked out of a stunned meeting room. Everyone began talking at once. But there was nothing they could do. The collapse had begun.

The next day, Inter-E stock had dropped 80 %, and several other stocks nearly matched the fall. A great collapse had indeed begun. Eventually, many fusion reactors that used water and other variants were constructed. Humanity barely clung to a powered existence. We learned a lesson...for a while.


© 2011 Mike Wilson

Bio: Mike Wilson has been writing poetry and short stories since 2003. He is a member of the Iowa Poetry Association, and lives in Des Moines. His work has appeared a number of times in Aphelion, most recently The Process, June / July 2011. For more by and about Mike, visit Radical Readings, Mike Wilson's Twitter Page, Describer One helium page, or The Galactic Library discussion group. A collection of Mike's essays, poems, and stories From My Backyard to the Edge of the Galaxy is available from Lulu.com in paperback form (also available as a download).

E-mail: Mike Wilson

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