Two-Fisted Tales

Tales of Mystery and Adventure

The Earthmover
(Part Two)

By Richard K. Lyon
About the author

EVENTS MOVED SWIFTLY AND QUIETLY. That was the General's style. The launch crew at Cape Kennedy began an operational readiness exercise.  It was exactly like a prefiring countdown except that it was being done on a rocket NASA didn't own and therefore couldn't fire.

Several of the General's friends in the CIA old boy network were reminded of past favors. The General obtained the services of a highly skilled computer thief.

The crew of the U.S. EOSS (Earth orbiting space station) received orders to abandon all routine work and begin preparations for an urgent task. The task involved taking two unspecified objects in Earth Orbit and putting them together.

Money left the General's special account, was briefly laundered, and went to certain people.

The tightest security section of the Defense Department Computer Data Bank was penetrated tracelessly. The General received the information he wanted.

All this was done by close of business Monday afternoon. Monday evening the Friends of Nature held another meeting. Sentiment was strong to continue the mass demonstration against the dam on the Branga river but it was felt that the movement also needed a good lawsuit. The problem was who to sue. After several lackluster suggestions someone mentioned ERDA. The Energy Research and Development Agency was planning to take a massive load of the radioactive garbage produced by nuclear power plants and via rocket dump it into space.

By Tuesday morning the stage was set. Despite his hectic campaign schedule, President Fairborn reserved the hour from 9 to 10 on Tuesdays and Thursdays for running the country. This gave him enough time to issue a few executive orders based on the unanimous recommendations of his advisors. The number of orders he could issue was limited because he refused to sign the recommendations without first reading them. The recommendation on the top of the pile was from Banks, Margat and Chang.

It was odd; recommendations from General Chang had a habit of being on the top of the pile. The title was "Recommendation for Terrestrial Orbit Modification to Minimize the Hazards of Celestial Navigation". There was a great deal of mathematics and technical jargon but Fairborn read on until he came to the heart of the matter: Banks, Margat, and Chang stated that the project (whatever it was) fell solely within the areas of responsibility of their agencies and that it could be accomplished with surplus equipment and funds already in their budgets. Fairborn signed and went on to the next recommendation.

At 9:30 U.S. District Court Judge Harvey Wodd received a petition from the Friends of Nature. The petition asked that the Energy Research and Development Agency be enjoined from dumping radioactive nuclear waste in space. The petition alleged that such dumping posed a grave ecological hazard to whatever life forms resided in space. Further the space dumping was entirely unnecessary since ERDA not only had alternative means of waste disposal but was planning to use these alternative means as the long term solution to the nuclear waste problem. Judge Wodd did not believe the petition had any merit but obviously a case of this kind had to be heard. Accordingly he issued an order enjoining ERDA pending a hearing 90 days hence.

Sam Goldstein, Director of ERDA, spent most of the morning in a useless but necessary meeting, but at 10:30 he went to his desk to check his mail. He was appalled. It was almost as if some demon had stayed up all night devising insoluable problems to dump on his desk. He moaned and set to work. As was his habit he divided the work into the difficult and the impossible, then began to dispose of the former as fast as possible. There was a request from Margat of NASA that NASA be permitted to use idle capital equipment belonging to ERDA for their joint project with the Army Corps of Engineers. Sam marked that approved and put it in his out box. He worked through lunch and by midafternoon coffee break he could see light at the end of the tunnel. Nearly all of the seemingly insoluble problems were just a matter of people deciding they needed yesterday what they were going to get next month. Sam was less paranoid than most executives but it did seem an odd coincidence that all these people decided to be unreasonable at the same time. A second cup of coffee got his nerves back into reasonable condition, then the Marshall arrived with the Restraining Order.

It all happened so matter-of-factly that several minutes passed before Sam could believe such a catastrophe had actually occurred. His secretary didn't answer his first scream so he bolted up from his desk and stormed out of his office into hers.   As he suspected she was watching the bootleg TV she kept under her typewriter. "Shut off that idiot box and get me the Attorney General!" he yelled.

She reached across her desk, picked up the phone and dialed, all without taking her eyes off the TV screen.  The first wave of outrage past, Sam began to think again. NASA had a joint project with the Army Engineers. That meant General Chang. In a moment of haste he had okayed General Chang's use of "idle capital equipment." Capital equipment was anything which cost over $2000 which a Saturn rocket certainly did and now the Restraining Order made the rocket idle.

No wonder his desk had looked like the floor of an overcrowded stable; that little yellow mother had been up all night shoveling it on. Fortunately it wasn't too late. "Miss Grackel," he snapped at his secretary, "run down to the mail room and get back that letter I sent to NASA."

"Can't. It was picked up by special messenger. Here's your call to the Attorney General."

Sam stared at the phone for an instant then grabbed it. "Charlie, this is Sam Goldstein. I'm in a fix and I need some help fast. Maybe you can get the FBI to do something. The situation is --"

"What a beautiful liftoff," murmured Miss Grackel.

For the first time Sam saw the TV. The Saturn rocket soaring up into heaven like a great fire bird was indeed beautiful.

Sam staggered back into his office and for a long time he just breathed. What to do? Technically General Chang's only crime was making a fool of Sam Goldstein. It wouldn't do to say that publically, besides which punishing Chang wouldn't help get the rocket back. Nothing would, and therefore a long chain of unpleasant events must occur. Nuclear waste was produced by nuclear fuel rod reprocessing plants. He would have to notify the plants that ERDA could not space dump their waste and the alternative waste disposal system wouldn't be ready for three months. That meant the plants would have to shut down, which in turn meant --

Sam slowly began to smile. There was going to be a disaster but no one could blame him for it, and the job of straightening out this mess would inevitably go to the Army Engineers.

 *  *  *
Wednesday morning General Chang arrived at his office to find both Russian Ambassador Zarbotz and U.S. Secretary of State Klots waiting for him. It was hard to say which was the angrier. Klots spoke first.

"General, you have greatly overstepped your authority. Because of this remote comet danger, you've created an international incident. Your plans call for the United States to violate the Test Ban Treaty by detonating a nuclear device in space. Ambassador Zarbotz has not filed a formal protest only because I assured him that you could not possibly obtain the hydrogen bomb needed for this absurd scheme."

"But surely the Honorable Secretary realizes that a lunar explosion is not a space explosion and is therefore beyond the scope of the Test Ban Treaty?"

"That doesn't matter. There's also a treaty forbidding the placing of nuclear weapons in space and you can't get a bomb to the Moon without first placing it in space."

"On the contrary I can. In fact we already have our bomb."

"You're lying. It's absolutely impossible for you to have a bomb."

"This unworthy person does not wish to argue with the distinguished Secretary of State. Since we can't actually have a bomb, I trust you have no objection to our using it as planned?"

Klots sighed. "Alright Chang, how did you get this bomb and how do you plan to get it to the Moon without placing it in space?"

"Perhaps you are familiar with the legend of Atlantis, the Continent which sank long ages ago, leaving no trace on the face of the Earth? We have found what is probably the last relic of Atlantis floating in orbit around the Earth, an ancient Atlantean hydrogen bomb in a state of incredibly fine preservation. The treaty forbids putting bombs into orbit around the Earth, but we are removing this bomb from orbit which is in accord with both the letter and spirit of the treaty."

"Have you taken leave of your senses?" roared Klots. "Of all the insane fairy stories --"

"Again this unworthy person does not wish to argue with the distinguished Secretary, but how can it be otherwise? A solemn treaty forbids placing nuclear weapons in orbit around the Earth, but the bomb is there. Since no modem nation will admit to owning it, whose can it be, except the ancient Atlanteans?"

There was a long silence, while the Secretary of State and the Russian Ambassador looked at General Chang and each other with acute discomfort. Finally Zarbotz spoke. "No doubt you are correct that this object is an ancient relic but announcing this discovery might raise questions awkward for both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Instead let us simply announce that our nations are cooperating to avert the comet danger."

By Thursday the orbital maneuvers were completed, the bomb loaded and the second stage of the Saturn rocket had blasted out of orbit for the Moon as per schedule. President Fairborn interrupted his campaign to fly to Geneva where he and Russian President Kortoz signed the Treaty of Planetary Defense. In his speech Fairborn modestly gave most of the credit for this treaty that literally saved our world from destruction to Secretary of State Klots.

Part One
Part Three (Conclusion)

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The Earthmover is copyright by Richard K. Lyon and was originally published in the fanzine, Space and Time. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)