Alpert (cries): Yo, people! It’s me, Mark Alpert, from Dodge the Apocalypse! Can anyone tell me—
Unidentified protester: Holy shit! These guards have guns!
Albert: I’m here to listen, people! Please calm down and say—
Oleg: What are you doing, Alpert? Get back in the car!
(Sounds of gunshots and screams. The sound of a car door closing as Alpert gets into the limo. The engine revs and the tires squeal as the car enters the spaceport.)
Alpert (panic): Jesus Christ! What is happening here?
Oleg (disdainful): You are the talking type. You started this mess.
Albert: Me? It’s Steele’s fault! Why are you even working for that bastard? He … not-
Oleg: I get paid, that’s why. And paid in K-Coins, the price of which increases every day. All right, we’re at the hangar. Go outside.
(End of clip)
Albert: I was still shaking when I staggered out and saw Eric Steele, cold as a cucumber, smiling that triumphant smile under his aviator goggles. His cocky pride focused my mind. I shook the asshole’s hand and we took an elevator up to his executive suite at the top of the hangar dome.
His office had an incredible 360 degree view through the floor to ceiling windows. The desert plain was sprawling with runways and launch pads and dozens of rockets and orbital modules in various stages of assembly. It is clear that more than a few billionaires had already made deposits; the pace of construction seemed frenetic. All I could think was: I have to stop this madness.
Steele settled into an elegant black leather chair and motioned for me to sit down as well. But I just set up my microphone on his desk and stayed there. Here’s how the interview went:
Steel: I’m really glad you’re here, Mark. I know you don’t—
Albert: Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? This space station is the worst idea you’ve ever had. It’s a fucking disaster for the planet.
Steel: I’m sorry, I don’t understand what—
Albert: I will lay it out nicely and simply. Right now, climate shit is hitting the capitalist fan. Property values in flooded cities plummet. Insurance companies go bankrupt, the stock market collapses. The filthy rich finally realize that if they do nothing quick about global warming, the devastated poor will tear them apart. But you are giving the elites an easy way out. A way to save yourself without lifting a finger to help the rest of humanity.
Steel: With all due respect, I disagree. The Sky Cove project will not prevent anyone from embarking on new adventures in terms of sustainable development and…
Albert: Don’t give me that. The trillions you plan to spend on your orbital torus? That money could instead be spent on carbon sequestration or renewable energy projects.
Steel: Please calm down, Mark. You clearly do not understand the role of entrepreneurs in our economy. We make investment decisions based on potential monetary return. As you know, I have proposed renewable energy projects in the past, but the risk/reward ratio was simply not attractive enough for investors.
Albert: You mean risk/reward? The risk now, the immediate risk, is that global warming will force billions of people to starve. It’ll be a great sight for you and your fellow tycoons to gaze upon while you’re downing champagne on your space station.
Steel: You have a real gift for high morals, Mark, but you direct your righteous fury at the wrong target. It’s not my job to slow global warming. It is the government’s responsibility.
Albert: My God, I’m going to scream! You plutocrats control the government! You can make him do whatever you want!
Steel: Now you are hyperbolic. We live in a democracy. If the public really wanted to sacrifice for the climate change mandates, they would have already voted for them.
Albert: They didn’t vote for it because capitalists like you have corrupted our democracy! You have used your lobbyists and your propaganda and campaign war chests to convince half the world that global warming is not a problem! And when that lie didn’t work, you insisted that the only solution was voluntary mitigation – and do not government rules!
Steel: Well, I think we’ve strayed from the agreed topic. Do you have specific questions about Sky Cove?
(After a long pause, the sound of Alpert banging his hands on Steele’s desk)
Albert: No, no questions. Thanks for the interview. I have everything I need for my next podcast. Can I use one of your computers to upload the audio files to my site?
Steel: Uh, sure, I guess. But I have more to say about—
Albert: No, we’re done here.
Albert: Now, dear listeners, let me tell you why I cut the interview short. During this long pause in my conversation with Steele, I was thinking about the limited power of my profession. In all my years as a journalist, I have always tried to use the truth to bring about positive change. But even the most hard-hitting investigative briefing is no match for a wealthy man determined to grab his next dollar. I could put out a hundred fiery podcasts about Eric Steele’s treachery, but that wouldn’t stop him from building his billionaire club in space. During this long break, I realized the futility of trying.
So, I decided to try something new. I left Steele in his suite, and a secretary led me to an unused workstation. But instead of removing the memory card from my audio recorder, I dug into my pocket and pulled out an old thumb drive that I had labeled “Plan B.” While the secretary wasn’t looking, I slipped that disk into the computer and downloaded the software that an anonymous source had sent me six years earlier.
Behind Steele’s corporate firewall, the software worked its magic. It automatically decrypted a message hidden in the network’s archives and forwarded it to an online forum for cryptocurrency traders. This post instructed traders how to use a mathematical shortcut to create new KierkegaardCoins almost instantly, without complicated calculations. By the time I walked out of the building, millions of new K-Coins — indistinguishable from old ones — were appearing every second. And just like that, the value of every K-Coin in circulation fell to zero.
As I walked back to the limo, I noticed workers and security guards staring in horror at their phones, which were buzzing with notifications about their now worthless crypto accounts. News of Steele’s ruin spread like a tsunami. Some of the guards abandoned their posts at the fence; others converged on the shed, probably looking to break Steele’s legs. Protesters walked through the open gate and began pounding the half-built rockets and orbital modules.
If you’ve seen the CNN coverage, you know the rest. The governor of New Mexico, a golfing friend of Steele, called the National Guard to rescue him. They stopped me at the airport and arrested me on charges of business sabotage.
But it turns out that many of my listeners are also lawyers. The next day, several showed up at the federal courthouse in Las Cruces to post my bail and file the motions that got me busted. According to the lawyers, all I did was inform the public of a loophole in the K-Coin code, and that is not a crime.
But here’s a little news you may not have heard yet. Just yesterday, German and Japanese financiers announced that they were forming an international consortium to buy – at ridiculous prices – the rocket and spacecraft parts left on the ground at Spaceport America after the bankruptcy of Stellar Technologies. They want to resurrect Steele’s original plan to build giant solar arrays in orbit. Because Germany and Japan have shut down all their nuclear power plants, they need another reliable source of clean energy to replace the coal and gas they still burn to stabilize their power grids. And this very morning, someone from the consortium called me to ask if I wanted to join them as an advisor. Apparently, they want me to “guide them through the socio-political minefields of these perilous times.”
I’m thinking. Can I work with these financiers? Overall, capitalists have an abysmal environmental record. Should I take a leap of faith and trust them anyway?
What do you think, listeners?
Let me know in the comments and be sure to hit the subscribe button to stay up to date with our latest episodes.
About the Author:
A former astrophysics editor at Scientific American, Mark Albert is the internationally bestselling author of eleven novels. His latest climate fiction book, The spectacle of the end of the worldwill be published by Severn House in October 2022.