A giant metal behemoth span through orbit at thousands of miles an hour. Moth like in appearance, the middle was a cylinder roughly the size of the Hubble Telescope and each of its wings were thin layers of absolute darkness that covered a quarter of a kilometer.
EC21-2,750 began to warm up the laser in its central cylinder. Flying through space it was the pinnacle of modern technology*, and launching the first one (EC21-1) into space had almost driven it’s developers bankrupt. Its four large solar fans could unfold 500 meters out and 500 meters wide, and during lift off literally weighed tons. Nobody knew if the firing system would be adversely affected during lift off. It hadn’t been. It had functioned perfectly, and its 27,659th grandchild was about to follow in its footsteps.
Its large onboard battery didn’t heat at all as the orbiting stating prepared to fire its laser. That would be emitting frequency in infrared, and when it emitted a wavelength the station always made sure it was much stronger than that. The onboard computer of the station recognized the location and began firing the laser, a ray so strong that the eye couldn’t register seeing it and so tight a wavelength that it wobbled less than the nucleus of a hydrogen atom. A pillar of these threads of light punched through the atmosphere relaying the power to a station on the ground.
Energy Collection model 21 unit 2,750 had deposited its power, and mere seconds afterwards, EC25-2,483,950 also deposited its energy.
*Or it had been for about 6 months, but that was a year ago, so it was still moderately groundbreaking. Not like the EC10 class. Those guys were amazingly outdated.
Amelia looked at the the flower. Its petals were brown and slightly curled, as it lay in the garden. She packed the dirt around its base, and plucked a withered leaf off it.
The rest of the garden was in a similar state of disrepair. Plants that would normally be growing well were dying, and some plants had already assumed that it was fall and started dropping their leaves. She loyally crawled through the beds of plants, pruning and letting them devote more energy to things towards new leaves rather than those already withered.
As Amelia lay back she shuddered. Even in the middle of the day, the light felt dim. Turning in disgust she left the garden and moved into her house. Locking the door behind her Amelia moved inside, turning on the lights in every room, not because she was scared but… well, not not because she was scared. Generally she didn’t. Her parents had driven it into her that she shouldn’t keep the lights on, because they didn’t like paying the electric bill. Oh, and because it would kill the planet, but nobody liked mentioning that. Of course now she had to pay the electric bills, but if she wanted to pay a little more today she could. It was a liberating feeling.
As her computer began to download a video to watch in her downtime, its screen displayed the pre-downloaded news. More incidents of crimes taking place in the dark, of pot use changing to psychedelic mushrooms due to the scarcity of marijuana, and of a government official being bribed. No one cited the massive Energy Collectors as the reason for this, but almost all of the ads were purchased by the EC. Most ads on the net were these days. She furrowed her brow at the screen, but it quickly relaxed as the video began to play.
Amelia drove to work in her electric car. The prevalent use of smart cars may have horrified cultures of the past, but it was pragmatic after a time. ‘Gas Stations’ got discounts and bought electricity through bulk purchases, and also used a higher amperage than what was used in normal electric lines. They had no qualms that the world had switched over to electric.
As she stopped at a light, she saw a V of birds flying south overhead, preparing for the winter. 3 months early. While that was strange and unnatural, it wasn’t that surprising. It felt like fall, the days were shorter and it was colder than normal. As the light stopped, she saw one bird fall from the flock fall to the ground, crashing into a sidewalk.
Amelia looked at it again. She checked her watch. She did some math. The light turned green, and she crossed the street, pulled over to the side of the road and got out. The bird flapped a little.
She looked at it. Amelia didn’t know if she wanted to get close to it. Birds weren’t the most cleanly creatures, and if it was still alive it might bite. Or peck, since birds don’t have teeth… Regardless, she just kind of squatted next to it, looking down at its once flapping body. The bird didn’t move. Amelia moved her head closer, for a better look. The bird didn’t move. She kind of nudged it with her foot. The bird was moved, but didn’t react at all.
Finally at peace that the little bird wouldn’t somehow kill her, Amelia got down to looking at the details of what the little bird looked like. Sad was apparently the answer. Other than the fall having looked like it broke its wing, the bird looked completely starved, its little skeleton almost visible beneath its feathers.
Amelia sat there for a second, pondering of the strange events. The bird moving south early and the bird starving to death in the process was just strange. The bird had starved to death flying south for the winter. Except that the expectation of winter was a lie brought on by darker days, later sunrises and earlier sunsets.
She stopped her pondering to check her watch, and saw that she had to stop her pondering for a bit more time than that.
Taking out her cellphone, she snapped off a quick picture of the bird, and then on a spur of the moment decision she picked it up and put it in her trunk before going off to work.
“Ms. Smith!” Johnny said “Is this right?”
Amelia smiled down at him, if you could really call a smile that thin a “smile”. It was a grimace stretched out and curled up at the ends.
“Indoor voices Johnny” Amelia rebuked “But yes, that’s correct good job.”
Johnny smiled back, completely missing Amelia’s annoyance, and dumped all the puzzle pieces back onto the floor so he could put it together again. She made eye contact with the other teacher across the room. Mrs. Clifford looked back, and nodded. The kids were getting a bit too loud, and it was time to begin the next activity.
Mrs. Clifford stood in front of the class, and smiled gaudily.
“Okay everyone, it’s drawing time! Ms. Smith is handing out paper, make sure to say thank you, and today we’ll draw about the last time you saw a shooting star. Draw yourself and the star in one picture, and then we’ll draw what you wished for in the next one. Yes Daphne?”
“What’s a star?”
Amelia swooped in next to Daphne to handle the miniature crisis.
“Stars honey, the lights in the sky that come out at night?”
Daphne furrowed her brow.
“I don’t remember seeing lights at night. It’s just dark.” Daphne said.
“I’m sure you just go to bed too early for it.” Amelia replied and straightened to walk away.
“I haven’t either!” Said Johnny, “And I didn’t go to bed until ten last week!”
The other kids looked at him with slight awe. He puffed up his chest in pride.
“I’ve seen them,” floated the dreamy voice of Sarah from across the classroom “but not for awhile. I think they just don’t like coming out any more”
“I don’t know what to draw” Johnny complained, “can you show me pictures”
“Draw dots on the sky, with yourself underneath it.” Mrs. Clifford intervened, “And then draw your wish on another paper.”
The kids finally settled down and started making drawing.
“Do they really not know what stars look like?” Amelia
“I don’t know.”Mrs. Clifford replied.
“I know that they need to know.” She said, her mouth a smile. A tight smile.
Amelia had decided that a mass email to all of the parents at school over their children’s ignorance was bad idea, but she still could try and remedy the problem. She was about halfway through creating a website for public awareness when she found another website made to do the same thing, and she learned that she hadn’t been halfway done with her website. In fact Amelia might never have been able to accomplish what the Association Against Energy Collectors had with only the online ‘make your own website’ kit she had been using for free. The AAEC homepage was stark and annoyingly devoid of graphics; except it had a tiered forum system that allowed people to share information globally, super-regionally, regionally, and locally. Of course she joined immediately, and in a moment of weakness she used her actual name.
All of the forums had pictures of strange behaviors by animals, stories about societal breakdowns, and the question of why energy wasn’t free. Of course all forums had their share of mystics who hated Earth’s separation from the stars and people who complained about the economic plight of the Middle East in a post-oil world, but internet trolls were always a result of open discourse.
As Amelia followed the information, she realized that there wasn’t any single place that compiled all of the information. While of the forums had similar information, none had any real numbers, none stated things politely, and none gathered information about world wide similarities. Slightly annoyed, she clicked the email box in the corner of her screen and sent an email.
The information on the local forums included birds migration and crime rates, but the primary focus was on a local rally. Apparently there was a public relations department of the EC was close by, and the rally there was supposed to support civilian sunlight rights. It was important, but was really just a stepping stone for a larger rally that would be happening at EC headquarters themselves later in the year, which also was thankfully close. The thread was mostly about what signs people should carry. After a moment of thought Amelia posted that they should just carry birds in.
As Amelia was just about ready to hibernate her computer and start work on a lesson plan, she received a reply from the system admin.
While we appreciate your drive, we don’t have anyone to devote to that. As a mainly volunteer organization, AAEC would be happy to post your articles, if you actually write them.
Amelia checked her watch. She had some time, and she had Excel on her laptop. She could get some work done.
Amelia checked her watch and leaned on her car. It was about an hour before the rally was scheduled to start, but she was composing herself. For the last three and a half weeks she had been posting reviews of the global condition, and for about half that time she was getting global feedback. Feedback at all was more than Amelia was expecting, but she was getting enough that she had to set up a different email account for it, and she got it to be hosted by the AAEC. The local forum had started calling for her by name whenever there was a question, and she had been uncertain on how to present herself for the rally. She had taken the safest route and dressed business casual, not how she normally presented herself, but first impressions were important.
Amelia looked up startled. A news car had appeared in front of her and a bright eyed news caster was looking at her with a gaudy grin. The joys of electric cars was like constantly opening a present, surprising but not always in a good way.
“The rally’s not for an hour. This can surely wait until then.” She said straightening herself.
The reporter froze. He looked at the news car, and the camera mounted above it, and then back at her.
“Well then preliminary comments? How about your name, and how you’re associated?”
Amelia looked at him, and sighed. This is what the whole rally was likely to entail.
“I’m Amelia Smith, and I work on the-”
“You’re the one who writes the instructional part of the website!” The newscaster jumped in “I’ve read all of your posts! Is it really true that over 100 species of migratory birds are currently starving by beginning migration early?”
“Yes,” Amelia thinly smiled “otherwise I wouldn’t have posted it. I gathered pictures from across the global forums and had 5 birdwatchers and a zoologist identify them. Four more were identified, but only half could agree on them, so they were not included.”
“And you personally are interested in this because of children?” the newscaster continued undaunted.
Amelia sighed, and began answering questions. The newscaster not only seemed to enjoy every piece of information she gave him, but ask for more. She had more though, a result of trolls on the internet asking too many annoying questions, and she used her experience as a preschool teacher to say the facts simply.
“Thank you Ms.Smith for your understanding of the AAEC, we will be back later for the rally.” He grinned. As suddenly as the newscaster swooped in, he exited.
A car pulled up, and a heavily bearded head popped out.
“Is this the rally?”
The rally had gone well.
More people had shown up than she had predicted would, and they all actually seemed invested in the cause. Throughout the event Amelia had stood in the back watching and checking to see if everything went according to plan. It did, being rather simple. Most of the protest was composed of yelling and waving dead birds on sticks (She gave all of her birds out to the others. They smelled.), but to end the protest they lit sparklers that represented the stars. They aptly burned brightly for seconds and then disappeared. Then a specifically chosen group of protesters went into press release building and had a sit in. After all, is it really a protest without a couple of arrests?
At the start of the protest Amelia had decided to be amiable, and had introduced herself to the earliest protestors. They had all already known of her, and didn’t seem too offput by her actual appearance. Nonetheless, Amelia had appreciated her business suit. As more people showed up, Amelia had withdrawn to watch and to antisocially rest. However, a crowd of people followed her. Instead of introductions taking place, the new protestors would instead introduce themselves, and meet Ms.Smith. Ms. Smith would then either start a conversation or smile a tight lipped smile at them and continue her moments of isolation. Regardless of whether she chose isolation or society, she was always able to rejoin the community the moment she wished. Being able to choose felt good.
Leaning back in her chair she smiled. It had been a good day, and proof was laid out on the computer screen in front of her. The news networks and daytime TV had latched onto the AAEC protest as a way of keeping viewers awake with their sensationalist stories of countercultural warriors. Amelia guessed that conclusion made sense. They were against one of the most taken for granted companies that existed. Energy collectors had stopped wars, started wars, and prevented global warming. A group of corpse waving fanatics that went against such a superpower could really only be seen as laughable. However, at the very least it gave the group notoriety. The local thread had just become a buzz of new greetings and moving pictures from the protest.
Ms. Smith didn’t post anything about it in her section though. Her section of the website was devoted only to the most important global issues. Public forums would have to be enough for the bragging.
A pop up appeared in the top right of her screen. She had gotten an e-mail from the AAEC headquarters.
Amelia walked into the pre-school for the last time. Her smiles were uncharacteristically honest as she talked to the kids. They kind of fawned back, not saying any real full sentences, just exclamations tied together into something that made sense somewhere in their heads. The points sometimes got across. She smiled anyway.
Before the day really began she pulled Mrs. Clifford aside.
“I can’t be here anymore.” She told her. “I know it’s unprofessional, but I have leave in the middle of the year.”
“I’m not sure I understand. You’re leaving? When? Why?, unless it’s too personal.” Mrs. Clifford calmly interrogated, swapping glances between her and the classroom of kids. She kept a placid smile on her face.
“I was offered a job at a not-for-profit organization. AAEC, it does work that will hopefully let the kids see stars again.”Amelia responded.
“Not teaching... to help children... certainly shows a certain imagination.” Mrs. Clifford said, lifting the edges of her lips into a smirk.
“It’s temporary! When things change I won’t be needed anymore.”
“That’s not going to work.” Mrs. Clifford turned her full attention to Amelia “Lifestyle choices have the tendency to change your life. It may be possible for you to return, but… well you’re always welcome here.”
“Thank you. But I think the AAEC really needs me.”
It was a mess. The constant compilation of data that was necessary for her job made Amelia’s eyes ache. The feedback was a constant rush and even trying to reply to one in three email she received was impossible. An even bigger mess was preparation for protesting at the EC’s main headquarters.
The headquarters were in the middle of a megalopolis, and when they sent out a memo they received nearly two thousand replies. A march on the central headquarters would be the biggest thing that the AAEC had ever done. It just wasn’t equipped to prepare for it. The actual organization had tens of thousands of members world wide, but it only had about a hundred employees. Of these only a percentage were in the area, and of these only a small percentage was Ms. Smith, but she felt like she was burdened with all of the work.
She knew that she was actually only working on different tasks than the others, they just seemed infinitely more frustrating. Amelia had been tasked to be the PR person for the group. While other members would work towards finding housing for traveling members and locating parking for the locals, Mrs.Smith was gathering media attention. Apparently her part of the website was the one most heavily viewed by non-members, and she was lucky enough to have been featured on several TV shows. These TV shows generally ‘allowed’ her to also talk a little about her cause before hand, adding an extra layer of stress. She wasn’t exactly a talky person, and the media coverage added to her frequent blogging made her feel exposed and exhausted.
Except that she had a way to deal with this situation. Amelia opened her email and looked at all of the emails she was sent every day, and she felt supported.
“Where are the stars?”
‘Gone’ was the answer the screaming crowd tried to say, but when hundreds of people scream at once words stop working. A wave of sound hit the man with the microphone, but that was kind of how it was supposed to work.
Standing in the back Ms. Smith didn’t participate, but just replied to whoever talked to her. At first this meant responding to protesters who wanted to meet her, but it eventually became the news network. The biggest change was when the birds came out.
A whole mob of people carrying dead birds stinks. The air was foul with their stench. The crowd around Ms. Smith parted slightly and a cop walked up to her.
“The rally itself is fine, but having this many dead bodies around may be unsafe. I have to ask you to stop them.” The cop said, mindful of the protesters around him. In the path he caused in the crowd, cops followed him.
“We didn’t bring the birds, they already were here. Dead. They starved themselves flying south for the winter in the August. We’re merely displaying what was already around.” Ms. Smith replied.
“The reason behind them being dead aren’t my job. I’m just letting you know that the protesters need to be told it’s a safety issue for them to be held up like that.” the straight faced cop replied.
“If that’s what you have decided, then you should tell them.” Ms. Smith said
The cop looked at the crowd around him, and then at the crowd of thousands screaming closer towards the AAC headquarters. He looked at her.
“I think that you have to tell them.”
“I’m in no position of authority over them, I just raised awareness of the protest. I’m not carrying a bird. If you want to stop them you should.”
The cop looked at the crowd. He looked at the 20 cops behind him. He looked at the crowd. He looked at Ms. Smith. “I never said that they should stop. I just said they should know that it is unsafe.”
And then he left.
Two days after the protests began the company let it be known that they were willing to make a deal. Of course, they weren’t going to negotiate with the whole mob, but they were willing to negotiate with twenty people.
AAEC hadn’t quite prepared for this possibility, but a crack team was quickly made. Amelia and a couple of other important public AAEC figures were included, as well as more of the actual organizers and a few members who were lawyers.
The group all walked together into the building, and were met by a man with a smile and a handshake.
“I’m Greg Wharton, the current CEO of the company. I hope we can come to an agreement. But where are my manners! Negotiations will happen at a more proper location. If you would follow me…”
Mrs. Smith turned her nose up upon entering. The Energy Collector headquarters were unnecessarily opulent, made more pompous by the CEO’s constant jabbering. It was a 10-story building with a green roof, and every floor was unnecessarily packed with electronics. The floors were TV screens, windows live streams of views worldwide, and most functions in the building were automated. In spite of the constantly working electronics, the rooms were kept cool through constantly running central air.
Energy Collector was extremely proud that their technology meant that electricity couldn’t kill the planet, and found it necessary to flaunt their power as much as possible.
Greg took the group up an elevator, and the whole entourage exited onto the green roof. Bare grass was underfoot, and Greg led them to the edge of it and looked over the fence at the gathered mob. He turned around and smiled.
“You’ve gathered quite a force. Media coverage is flocking over this mess, and we don’t like it. We are willing to acquiesce to some of your demands.”
Mr. Tarn stepped forward.
“Our organization demands more equal orbits of satellites, a recognition of people’s right to sunlight, and an effort on behalf of the company to lighting our streets after dark.”
“My company is willing to create community help programs to help after dark.”
“I don’t think you understand Mr. Wharton. These are our final demands, we can’t step down any farther than this. The people have expectations.”
“The reason I brought this meeting to the roof was to be unobserved. Because we all have pressures on us, expectations, and we shouldn’t feel the need to have all of those met at the diplomatic table.” Greg turned and made eye contact with every member of the delegation. “Most people don’t know it, but Energy Collectors operate almost completely on profit. Once a satellite is reached, it’s pretty much self sustaining. What cuts in price people have seen in electricity is pretty much superficial. It costs us almost nothing to make.
“Now what to do with all of that money… Until now, we have mostly just stockpiled our billions, knowing that they might become useful. Now we see a use for them. My investors aren’t going to be willing to create cutbacks in our programs. We can create nature reserves, create lights, fund schools; all of these options are preferable to cutting our income by a single percent. However, we are willing to make a deal with you.”
“This year, our billion dollar industry is fed by most of the world. Cars feed it, companies depend on it, and we understandably get some money. We are willing to not get all of it this year. I have talked to the shareholders. If this deal works, we are willing to take one percent out of our yearly income… and give it to the twenty of you.”
The group blanched. Amelia looked at all of them in shock, and knew that the group’s answer should be clear.
“Profit or income?” Mr. Tarn asked.
Surprised, Amelia stared at Mr. Tarn and then walked to the roof and looked at the protestors below as Wharton and Tarn quibbled. The rest of the group also became embroiled in the definition of a percent, Amelia could feel the greed radiating from the group.
As the group was starting to calm down, she called out “Mr. Wharton!”
“Yes Ms. Smith?” he asked, strolling up to her “Any specific questions?”
“What about the children?”
He blinked. “What about them?”
“Will they be able to see the stars?”
“We can set up a TV station or something,” he laughed “maybe an interactive website. Is that all?”
Amelia sighed. She lunged at him.
Greg step backed shocked, and put his hands out, pushing her away. Amelia let herself be hit, and be pushed away. And Ms. Winters smiled.
She stumbled backwards, and for a moment she felt the fence on her back. Then it gave way to a feeling of weightlessness, as the edge of the roof retreated.And the mob roared.