The Man In The Gutter

Henry Venable checked the power left in his handheld computer; fifty percent was more than adequate for the call. He shut the clamshell machine and slipped it into his jacket pocket. The day was dawning clear and crisp. In the slowly brightening sky the thousands of new stars could still be seen, their sparkling drowning out their distant natural cousins.

Cries from the gulls by the river bounced off buildings. Henry glanced along one of the paved plazas towards the water, unable to decide where he should go to find a comfortable spot. He ran long fingers through his short brown hair as he thought. New James Park would be better, he finally decided. While the sluggish expanse of the river always offered wonderful views in the early morning, on a spring day such as this the air coming off it would still hold too much of a chill for his liking.

Dew glistened on the grass of the bank where Henry sat. He looked across the cropped lawns, weed free boarders of flowers that were just starting to bloom, trees perfectly pruned, all kept exactly as intended by genetic code implanted hundreds of years ago. A deer eyed him warily from a copse of trees. Even after so long without human contact they still remained shy. Squirrels and other rodents, much like the birds, had become less cautious, but the larger animals kept their distance preferring to roam the kilometres of the park he never ventured to.

The screen on the little computer blinked into life as he opened it up. It was that day of the week at that particular time and the machine knew what its owner wanted to do. As soon as it was able to it grabbed an uplink. The globe in the centre of the display rotated while a connection was established.

“Hey, dad, how’s it going?” Burgess’ face expanded to fill the screen.

Henry gave a half smile. “I’m okay. Things don’t change a lot round here.”

“Well you should see it up on the frontier. Things are changing yet again.” Burgess indicted something beyond the screen with a quick nod of his head. “Another six orbitals have gone live in the last few days and the first outpost has been established around Europa.”

“It all sounds very exciting.”

Burgess missed the insincerity in his father’s voice. “It is and it’s just the beginning. With the new remote miners starting up we’ll be pulling even more resources from the asteroids. There’s no limit to what we can achieve.”

“You know that’s what they said all those years ago about Earth.” Henry let a small sigh escape his lips. “Then, before they knew it, Earth had become a far smaller place. The same will happen up there.”

“You’re crazy, dad,” Burgess laughed. “This is the solar system we’re talking about. Heck, it’s probably even the galaxy. This isn’t just some crummy little planet.”

Though there was only fifty years between them (a short time when compared to their stretched lifespans) Henry felt the weight of good sense and experience on his shoulders. He looked on his son as if the man were still a small boy, an image that was reinforced by the androgynous form the younger currently wore.

“Well, we have plenty of time to see who’s right,” Henry tried by way of compromise.

Burgess carried on regardless. “You should give up the ground and come live with the rest of us. There can’t be more than a few million of you left there.” He gave a snorted laugh. “When was the last time you even met with anyone? I bet it’s been years.”

A wave of sadness washed over Henry. He knew they would never have the same outlook on life, but the distance seemed to grow each week, mirroring the physical gap that separated the two of them. He glanced up to where the sun had now risen over the trees.

“I’m going to have go,” he said. “Some cogs still don’t clean themselves, you know.”

Burgess smiled back at him. “I know, dad. You have your chores to do and I’ve got to meet up with some friends.”

“It’s not a chore. I enjoy it.”

“I’m only teasing. Speak to you next week?”

Henry sat up straight and brushed the dampness from his palms. “Yes. Same as always. You have fun up there and look after yourself.”

“Of course. No need to worry about that.” There was a slight note of frustration in Burgess’ voice.

“Okay. Bye.”

“Bye, dad,” Burgess replied, for one brief moment mirroring his father’s voice.

The screen returned to its idle state. Henry sat looking at it. If only things had turned out different, but eternal life did not drag consensus or happiness along with it. He closed the computer and stood. As he headed out of the park and into the deserted city his head lifted and he caught sight of Big Ben. That profile never failed to raise his spirits. Within a few strides his steps had taken on a bounce. Plans for which parts of the mechanism he was going to look at today began to unfold in his mind.


9 October 2009
This week the government of Mongolia finally signed a deal with mining companies Ivanhoe Mines and Rio Tinto to start excavating the massive copper reserves in the country. The income gained from this deal is expected to increase Mongolia’s GDP by more than 50%. People move to where the resources (and therefore the money) can be found. There could be, as yet, unforeseen consequences from this deal.

At the same time NASA plan an experiment that may answer the question of whether there’s water under the moon’s surface. If there is this will push forward plans to use the satellite as a staging ground for exploration of the solar system.

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