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Birth of a Green Sun, preview

Posted by Charles Gray on July 13, 2011

The prologue to my hard science fiction novella, Birth of a Green Sun, due out in the next few weeks.

Prologue:

 The beach had once been a place where families walked and played.  James could almost imagine the sounds of the kids running back and forth, the parents calling to them as their lunches were made ready, the smell of the wood burning in the fire pits scattered up and down the beach.

Not now.  Now, even with the bright orange barriers, the beach was nothing less than a toxic waste dump.  Further out, the water had a deceptively alluring rainbow sheen to it, another layer of death for anything that made the error of swimming in that oh so pretty water.  Where the waves had passed, the dark tar of the oil had left itself in a gummy mess, studded with dying wildlife.  Birds and fish alike were entrapped in the oil, a few volunteers trying to remove the avians back to cleaning stations further up the beach.  

Not that it would do much good. James had worked in oil for nearly 15 years, and he knew that in the majority of those cases, the birds were going to die, to say nothing of any eggs or young who had lost their parents.  Over the entire scene, the smell of the oil rose like the miasma of a great beast, dead and rotting.

“Which might well be the case,”  he muttered and turned to the man standing by him.  The CEO of McConnel refining, James had come out to personally see the damage, and more importantly, talk away from the news cameras.  “Okay. I’ve come, I’ve seen and now I want to puke. What’s the rest of the bad news.”

“Well, Mr. McConnel, obviously the rig is dead– even if they get the leak stopped, it’s going to be a permanent shutdown.”  The company representative frowned, looking at his paper. “But in the long term, we believe we can get production back up by using the other wells.  The amount of government interference will not be…insurmountable.”

James raised his eyebrows.  “Really?  Right now your company is sitting on top of the worst, bar none, disaster to hit the US ecology. Exxon Valdez doesn’t even show up in the running.”  Folding his arms, he stared down at the smaller man.  “Mr.  Kenan, my company doesn’t own any wells, and right now we get about 20% of our crude from you.  This is going to hurt us, and I’m concerned about the long term here.”  One work scarred hand gestured at the ocean. “You fucked up.  I’m an oil man, and I can already say that you were pushing the rig faster than you should have and the report, when it gets put out by the government is going to say exactly that.  This isn’t going to be a case where you can blame it on some conveniently dead worker who didn’t read a dial right.”

Kenan  looked around to assure himself nobody else was listening in, then spoke in a lower voice,  “True, but well, the United States needs oil.  Seriously, we’re going to take a big economic hit on this, but shut down drilling?  You know as well as I do it’s not going to happen. They handed out these permits, even though this part of the nation is in the crosshairs of half the major hurricanes we see every season. They’re not going to kill it for an accident like this. We’re just going to have to look properly chastened for the cameras.”

“I hope you’re not the one who is trying to look ‘chastened’,”  James said.

“Me?  God no.”  Kenen frowned. “Yes, it’s terrible.  Even if I was just a soulless moneymaker, the lost money would be terrible, and I don’t enjoy the fact that those men died, or that most of the news is focusing on the spill, not their deaths.”

“The spill is directly impacting people,”  James said.  “Of course they’re focusing more on it.”

“True, but regardless, Mr. McConnel, I can assure you that we’ll be able to provide your crude, albeit at a slightly higher price.”

James grunted, looking down at the ruined beach sand.  Finally, he nodded. “I’ll let my people know about that.”

“Thank you, Mr. McConnel.”

Later in the limo, James tapped the tablet he’d been using. They could pass the higher prices on to the retailers, and of course they’d pass it on to the consumers.

But there’s an end to that road,  James thought.  A consumer could keep buying until he had no more money. Then he stopped.

More importantly, a consumer couldn’t prepare for some disaster like this that exploded out of nowhere.   Oh, James was certain that there’d be dozens of people telling all and sundry how the disaster was completely predictable, but that wasn’t the case.  You could skimp on safety and press your workers a long, long time before something went wrong, and if you were say, a CEO who might not be around when the bill came due, it could be a smart move.

Shareholders, after all, seldom asked where that extra little bit of money came from.

James tapped his hand against the glass of the limo’s window, watching a group heading towards the beach.

“Well,” James muttered. I think it’s time we started looking at other avenues, because I’ll be damned if I’m going to get pulled down the next time some company screws up a rig.   Dad was still thinking about the biofuel, so James would give it a read. However, he wasn’t at all confident about it. On the other hand…

He smiled as he opened up the pad’s browser.

Sometimes, keeping track of your ex was a very good move.

Especially when she was the mad scientist type.

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