by William Cordeiro
“A nuclear winter is our only hope,” Senator Fleishbaum intoned to the moderator, “—our only presently viable recourse to stem global warming. Do you realize that an estimated 75% of our world’s population centers will reside within affected coastal regions if the current acceleration of shoreline deprivation continues another two and a half years without significant relocation? The sea-wall projects proved an abysmal failure. The threat of rising tides—”
Judge Whitehorse interrupted the fat-necked talking-head on the monitor. “Any yahoo knows that the Coastals would blow the whole Lower Middle West to smithereens for Chissakes just to protect their own real estate investments. Am I right? C’mon, Huxter, am I right? Who’s looking out for the common man here? Whaddya think, am I right?”
As the senator continued, I picked up the O2 compressor to sterilize it in the Lung-Cycle chamber, hooking the Judge’s air supply to the respiratory-dialysis unit.
“Huxter, where you going to, boy? Get back here and listen to this creep bloviate,” Whitehorse said.
“Sorry, Sir. I need to clean your hose.”
“Oh. Oh, yeah. Well. I’ll just give you the satisfaction to know that we’re not—I repeat not—
gonna have any more fusion-bombs coughing up radioactive sewage-storms across the deserts and prairies and tundra and the rest of layover country, out where all us honest-to-god-fearing Copacetic Faith Healers ought to be living if a few of us didn’t have to haul our asses to the District in order to put some of these apparatchik-slick yahoos back in their places. I’ll personally make sure of that.”
“Right, Sir. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” I shuffled away toward the air-locked double doors of the Lung-Cycle chamber.
I heard the door suck shut, sealing out Judge Whitehorse and the babbling monitors alike.
“Huxter, what’s up, my man?” Thaddeus said. Thaddeus was Assistant Technician Grade 2, and as Senior Tech Grade 1 my job was to act as his direct supervisor.
“Not much, Thaddeus. I’m kinda busy right now, y’know. We have two extra patients on this shift. And one of them is Judge Whitehorse.”
“Whitehorse? Fuck, that mean old cuss? It’s past time that the gork just died already so they can appoint a new Chief Justice. I mean, when the appeal comes up, he’s gonna let everyone in this muggy-ass swamp-town fucking drown. And he and his anachronistic cronies will sail away on their old-timey yachts right from the docks of their newly acquired waterfront property.”
“Political views are inappropriate to express in the work place, Thaddeus.”
“Damn, you always so uptight. Everyone will get their little sips of pure sweet air, ok?”
“Ok, let’s keep it that way. No politics at work.”
“Hell, maybe some of us have better things to waste our breath on anyway,” Thaddeus said quietly.
“Can you catalyze another batch of O2 prongs and bring me some new filtration nodes from the basement while you’re there?” I asked.
“Sure, man. Sure.” I heard the doors suck shut again as Thaddeus left.
I placed the Judge’s O2 compressor hose in the sterilization tank. Thaddeus had a point. The Judge was a hold-over from another era, a relic of the Corporocrats from the Fourth Great Awakening. The Judge, like everyone else in the cities, required Lung-Cycle breathing equipment when he ventured to the District to do his dirty work; the rest of the time, he relaxed in his private fresh air park somewhere deep in Oklatucky. He’d made sure that he had a healthy amount of stock in the Lung-Cycle company, too. Hell, come to think of it, the Judge was technically my boss.
Well, the world was going to end one way or another, fire or ice. But the fact remained, there was plenty of money to be made in the meantime: in the long run, we’re all dead. But I certainly wasn’t making much money here, just drowning in byzantine paperwork.
Then again, I had my chance to play the hero—albeit a quiet, anonymous, and relatively impoverished one—and change the tide of history. All I had to do was add two or three more milliliters of Dextrose-Phyllanol to the Lung-Cycle equilibrium filter. Nobody would know since Dextrose-Phyllanol turns to sulfur and dissipated trace elements on contact with the chemicals in air. Two or three milliliters would surely be enough to pry this gork’s tight-fisted soul from his body, and send it off to another seat of judgment. Judge Whitehorse would be replaced, the Supreme Court would rule to explode thorium bombs across the central regions to create an artificial ice age to combat rising temperatures, and the fate of billions would be altered.
I squinted in concentration as the third silvery bead of Dextrose-Phyllanol quivered from the end of the dropper.
I heard the doors suck open. It was Thaddeus. “I need to process these nodes, can you go administer the filtration dosage to the Judge?” I asked him.
“Ok, man, whatever.” Thaddeus stalked away with the mercurial chemicals in the filter.
I turned around, fiddling with the bag of fresh nodes. The doors closed. A few moments later, they sucked back open.
Thaddeus stood silhouetted in the doorframe, purse-lipped, deadpan. “Hey, Hux. I thought you should know: the Judge. He’s just keeled over in his seat. I done told you it been past his time. Natural causes, see?”
“Natural causes?” I felt the wind knocked out of me.
“Well… no politics at work. But who’s to say what’s ‘natural’ these days, huh?” Thaddeus
said, erupting in a wide, nervy grin, almost winking. I caught a gleam off his polished teeth as a platinum crown sparkled near the back of his mouth. “We wouldn’t want anyone sent to the Middle Plains SuperMax, would we?”