The Two Planets

Third installment (see the November issue online for Chapter 2).

Chapter 3

“I was named after that great hero of our time, Acuña Deliari the First, who led our planets to prosperity as head of the first Interplanetary Ferry Commission,” Acuña thundered across the Venus Senate floor. “My namesake saw to it that both planets would benefit from the exchange of goods that neither was capable of producing on its own, and in doing so brought on a revolution not just in economic terms, but reflected in the everyday standard of living of what has grown to be close to 3 billion people. I will not allow history to view the Senate’s decision today as anything less than revolutionary in the same way!”

Excited murmurs broke out among the senators as Acuña strode back to his seat, chin high, replicating his namesake’s charisma more than anyone cared to admit. Two aides materialized next to the stage carrying a model the size of the podium and placed it so it was visible from all sides. It had two spheres, one white and one yellow, suspended several inches from each other, with a thin, white, and intricately inscribed rod holding them together at their closest point. All eyes turned to the glittering metal rod.

“The pipeline,” Acuña stated simply. “It will be constructed within forty years’ time, and all material and personnel costs will be paid by the Guildman Corporation.” He flourished a finger and pointed to the base of the rod on the yellow sphere. “The site will be at the Ferry Commission’s original launch site, at the geosynchronous point between Venus and Cyro; diameter, fifty meters. It will carry air at a rate of one hundred million cubic meters per second to meet the heating and cooling needs of the 30 largest cities on each planet. No more central cooling systems putting your districts into debt with the servicers unions. No more rationing during heat waves. We’ll even put in direct lines to each of the major greenhouses for no extra fee—Senator Bartow, your district was especially hard hit by crop failures this year, wasn’t it? And other districts will soon follow. All this, and for no extra cost to the government. The largest perennial problem in our planet’s history, solved, all we need from you is the Senate’s approval.” He spoke like it had already been done. Stunned silence followed, then applause.

“But you haven’t answered my question about the currency, Mr. Acuña,” dripped the voice of Senator Jaime Cruz from the back row of the senate amphitheater. “Let me remind you that that is the main question you were called here to answer. It seems to me that if this pipeline of yours is built, the Heat Ledger, which is based on the conservation of hot and cool air on each planet, will cease to function. Imagine, if a business wished to cool its offices so that it could employ people, but it drew on the Pipeline as a source of cool air, rather than the government’s underground cold reserves—how would we know how to tax them? How would their expenditures be entered into the Heat Ledger, and how would we know they were truthful? The only option I, or anyone else in the Freedom Caucus, will settle for is for the government to have sole ownership and control over the pipeline to ensure there is no foul play on the part of the Guildman Corporation.” These last words they spat with a sneer, and everyone in the room knew they were referring to Guildman’s century-old takeover of the Ferry ports.

“As I have told you many times, this is the one thing I cannot grant you,” said Acuña fiercely. “The Guildman Corporation will retain full control of this operation.” Then, slowly, he continued: “If I cannot convince every Senator of the righteousness of this mission, then let us finally put it to a vote.”

“All in favor, say ‘Aye,’” read out the Clerk. A dozen voices, including Senator Bartow and others from the agricultural districts said the word, impassive yet clearly shaken with Acuña’s appeal. “All opposed, say ‘Nay’,” read out the Clerk again, and a chorus of nays rang through the chamber.

“I’m sorry, Acuña,” sneered Senator Cruz through the commotion. “You will have a harder time strong-arming my caucus than you did with this Senate in the past. The new generation of voters does not see Guildman as favorably as they once did. They think you’re a bunch of greedy liars chained to old principles. Which, if you’re still following your founder’s orders, I can hardly disagree with.” Senator Cruz left Acuña standing in the doorway, fuming.

“You wait and see!” He called after them. “This is not the last you will hear from Acuña Deliari. You just wait and see.”

Chapter 4

The Cyroan House of Representatives was not nearly as obstinate as the Venusian Senate. When Akunai, Guildman’s chief lobbyist on Cyro, came to speak, the planet had just experienced a cold snap that had nearly shut down the heat generators, dropped inflation to negative double digits, and blocked inter-planetary trade for two days; Akunai convinced them on a narrow majority vote after only four hours of deliberation and without mention of the currency besides providing possible stabilization. He left that same day with three hundred signatures, and work began immediately at the Cyro pipeline construction site.

For all the Guildman Corporation’s reputation for efficiency and foresight, the pipeline project did not go exactly according to plan. The outer walls were to be made with concrete mixed from Venusian limestone, but the Venusian Senate, upon learning of their plan, promptly placed an embargo on the export of such resources as would be used to build the pipeline. Acuña of course greased a good many palms, but he admitted after everything was over that he had known all along that Senator Jaime Cruz was incorruptible. On Cyro, the Guildman Corporation was forced to found a quarry halfway around the world, having discovered that planet’s only large limestone deposit through a geological study it had conducted several decades ago. Once Guildman had proved that it was still possible to build the pipeline under the embargo, and once the dent in construction rates due to cement shortages caused the Cyro government to holler, Venus ended the embargo and took the less drastic measure of levying tariffs on heat pumps instead.

Harrison Guildman, three hundred and sixty years old, stonyfaced in his grave, was unphased. Despite Venus’ best efforts to intervene in the project they believed would threaten the bi-global economic order, they were unable to prevent the successful pouring of the foundation and construction of heat distribution mains snaking like railroads between Cyro’s population centers, nor could did their entreaties convince Cyro’s government to oppose the pipeline. Akunai had done a good job of keeping Cyro on Guildman’s side; on multiple occasions the House threatened escalation if Venus continued obstructing progress, although this never came to anything more than the retaliatory use of subsidies to offset Venusian tariffs on Guildman business functions. Not once did either side make an official mention of war, though the thought lingered in the popular imagination of both planets.

The main structure of the pipe was woven, not built, from ten thousand metal strands, each a foot thick and several thousand miles long. It took a whole cargo ship to carry one cable, coiled up, from one planet’s surface to the other, letting out the line as it traveled like a spider lets out silk. It takes an enormous amount of energy, you see, just to lift the mass of the cable against a planet’s gravity, but once the ship reaches the midpoint between the two planets the additional force required is neutral, and as the cable uncoils further toward the far planet, that planet’s gravity pulls it downwards, which is really upwards, so to speak, keeping tension on the line and requiring no additional effort to keep it suspended in the air, being pulled, as it is, in equal measure in each direction.

Ten thousand such cables were crafted over the course of twenty years, and ten thousand such cables were launched and left dangling in the air, one end tied down on Cyro’s surface to a massive concrete anchor half a mile in diameter, the other end floating just inside of Venus’ atmosphere because that planet’s government would not allow them to touch down on Venusian soil. By some arcane clause in the Venusian Constitution, the boundaries of the planet’s political jurisdiction were defined as extending exactly one mile upward from the highest point on Venus’ surface. This meant that the unfinished pipeline could be left hanging from the sky like the sword of Damocles five miles off the ground and could not be legally considered to be in violation of the increasingly frustrated Venusian Senate’s ban of any and all pipeline-related activity on their planet.

Once the cables were launched, it took two years to braid them together using a massive mechanical disk that sat atop the end of the pipe and spun at sickening speeds until the strands twisted into a tight tube. Then it took thirteen more years for construction crews working around the clock to cover the metal frame with four layers of insulation inside and out and finally pour on the concrete shell that would be visible from space. There followed four years of inspections as an army of engineers walked every inch of pipe, looking for flaws or cracks in the walls. There were none.

In the thirty-nine years since the start of construction, Jaime Cruz had retired and died of old age, and been replaced by a slightly more moderate chairperson of the Freedom Caucus, but they had left as their legacy a litany of laws and regulations aimed at blocking the pipeline which future lawmakers were unwilling at first to untangle. That all changed in the course of one afternoon, when the pipeline was switched on for the first time, one year to the day ahead of schedule.

Hanging from the sky like a godly vacuum cleaner, five miles off the ground and barely visible with the naked eye, the end of the pipeline began to shudder and growl as it gulped its first breath of Venusian air. On Cyro, huge pumps at its base pulled air through the pipe at close to the speed of sound and deposited it into smaller pipes for transport to that planet’s frigid cities. Cyro was in the middle of a cold snap that was freezing crops in the fields and a recession that was freezing assets in the heat-starved banks, and within a day of the pipeline being flipped on, the greenhouses were flooded with warmth and the banks were flooded with fungible fluids. Guildman was celebrated in the streets of all of Cyro’s major cities in demonstrations that lasted for days.

Back in the Venusian Senate, Cruz’s former caucus crumbled. One faction broke from another with a cry of “How can we let Cyro benefit from air stolen at our expense when we get nothing in return? Venus too must profit from this golden opportunity!” And the cry was answered with another solemn call, which echoed through the chamber as the final vote was counted: “Let them build it! Let the cursed Guildman finish his pipe. We’ve done everything we can to try and stop them, and now they’ve given us a gift we can’t refuse. There is nothing more that we can do.”

Chapter 5

Harrison Guildman was now four hundred years old, and though dead, he was the most powerful man in the history of the two planets. The first thing he did was institute a universal basic income for all the inhabitants of Venus and Cyro. Every home in every city on Cyro that was connected to the pipeline received a steady warm breath day in and day out, delivered straight from Venus’ atmosphere, and every house on Venus was cooled to a comfortable temperature with Cyro’s humid air. These temperature gradients could, of course, be captured and bottled up tight and traded as currency food and other necessities. Everyone but the harshest skeptics clamored to attach their houses to the pipe, and connections swiftly became near-universal. Because of the way the heat was delivered, the UBI scheme only worked for people with the means to afford a home, so Guildman established the first public housing project on either planet and gave away apartments for free. In this way not a single person went hungry, nor suffered from cold or heat for a hundred prosperous and peaceful years.

It was at this point that Harrison Guildman, half a millennium after his birth, announced his resignation as chief executive and sole proprietor of the Guildman Corporation, threw himself a good-bye party as lavish as a king’s wedding to which he invited every employee of the company, current and former—all expenses paid—naming as guests of honor the dead Senator Jaime Cruz and the entirety of the Freedom Caucus which had so vehemently opposed him over the pipeline’s construction, delivered a glorious parting oration which he himself had written some five hundred years ago, took a deep bow with all the gentility and grace it is possible to muster at that age, then took one last look at the state of the world, declared it to be perfect, stepped into his grave, and stirred no more.

The several-thousand-page strategic document, which the legendary founder had written in his last living days on papyrus whose ink had by now almost faded completely, had been carried out to its very end, concluding finally with his flowing signature and an epitaph: “Harrison Guildman who, if these words are published, saw the future as it came to pass.”

End of Part 1

+ posts
+ posts

Leave a Reply