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Chapter XIV

            Vincent Harrison was as busy as a kitten with two mice. That was putting it mildly. Never, he thought, had he seen so much confusion and hubbub in one place at one time. Of course, there had never been a prediction of the end of earthly life that was to any great measure really believed and trusted as this one was. He had to admit that he was not a little frightened himself. "What if I make a mistake," he thought and worried, "and pass an order that will not be favorable to my country." Transarctica was a large, new country in the throes of a violent revolution. "These Eskimos just don't know what's good for their own skins." Uneasily, he remembered that the Eskimo leader at that time had gone to Harvard and knew full well what had happened to the American Indians when the Europeans came in and took over "for their own good." He would not be fooled by any half-cocked ideas---he had a bad habit of reading, and understanding, the fine print. It was a tough spot. Vincent had been elected to the Renald Congress four years ago by the infant country of Transarctica and had been overwhelmingly re-elected each of the five following years. If there was no one capable enough of holding his ship of state on a straight and narrow path, he told himself, he would surely resign. He bent his head against the windy blasts that blew into his face.
            "Why couldn't they have the Congress meet in Panama City, instead of Philadelphia?" he thought bitterly. It was funny, he came from the North Polar regions and he was afraid of the cold. "I wonder what the delegate from Panama City thinks of us now," he thought wryly, grinning.
            After his early morning walk was over for the day, he took a helicopter to the administration building on the mall. He was not going to risk a bullet in HIS back by taking a car. Two other delegates had been shot because of their carelessness. He wasn't going to be careless.
            Plenipotentiaries were scurrying around like ants in a disturbed anthill. The administration building---frequently more business dealings were handled through this nerve center than were discussed on the floor of the Congress in the Congressional Hall of Worlds---was filled with diplomats and sightseers alike. Mr. Harrison wended his way through the halls, passed into a quieter section of the building, showed his pass-photo at the electric-eye booth, had his pockets examined mechanically, and strolled leisurely into the Congressional Hall of Worlds. It was a huge amphitheater with balcony upon balcony, gallery stacked upon gallery, seating an exact one million, covering, along with its flock of smaller committee rooms, one square mile of ground. The structure had one dozen layers of seats, each with a specially constructed glass through which the spectators could see the podium and stage as well as those in the front row could see. Banks of movie, television, and telesonic cameras were laid out before and below the level of the stage. One improvement had been made, he noted with satisfaction: the multitude of microphones and viewers that had once graced, though ungracefully, the desk on which the speeches lay were gone, replaced by a single microphone suspended from the curtains above the speaker's head.
            The vista from the balcony upon which he stepped out was magnificent. Countless chairs and their adjoining desks ranged to the rafters of the room. It was a flawless study in perspective and equality. Tier upon tier of seats arranged above the speaker's stand were darkened by the gloom that was ever present until the splendid lighting systems were turned on. Casting his eyes upward, he beheld the ceiling that had been the crowning achievement of last year's assemblies. As could be judged from the statement above, the Congress was considered a sort of a farce to let the ambassadors from the representative colonies blow off their steam. "This year will be different," he judged. "Everyone is concerned about this last-century business and there will be more laws passed in this year than in the fifteen years that the Renald Congress had been in existence.
            He gazed at the masterpiece on the ceiling of the colossus. A huge globe hung in the center. Inside this was the largest single "Eternity Bulb" that had been manufactured as yet. This was the main source of light. This globe, representing the Sun, was so far above the heads of everyone in the house, even in the uppermost balconies, that it looked small. Actually, it was over 18-1/2 feet in diameter. No one that ever sat in that tremendous auditorium since it was built would have been smart enough to understand the complex system of magnetism that held the Sun-model in the air above the heads of the delegates. Another globe, only two inches in diameter, a few feet above the highest tier, and 2000 feet from the center globe, represented the planet Earth, with a 1/2-inch representation of the Moon five feet from it. 540 feet up to the top from that was a slightly smaller ball denoting Venus. Above that, 1,200 feet from the highest disk, was posted the 4/5-inch representation of the planet Mercury. It was constructed with painful exactness as to detail and size and ratio.
            The amphitheater was divided into four more or less equal parts. The section directly in front of the podium was reserved for the tellurian embassies and their associates and translators. To the right, extending, as the rest of them did, to the ceilings, was the section exclusively for the Venusian government officials and anyone else that they would care to bring that would be of sufficient importance to sit in on the conferences. Indeed, it was not a problem of finding someone important enough, it was a case of selecting the ones that were to view the proceedings above the thousands of other eligibles that were clamoring for a seat in that Congressional Hall of Worlds. To the left sat the Martian delegates and their guests. Above and behind the speaker's stage, but clearly visible from the stage and all parts of the auditorium, was the slightly smaller section reserved for the Lunites, who rounded out the list of the known, inhabited planets. Asteroidians were permitted to sit in the Martian section if they wished---usually they did not want to claim that they lived on a asteroid. The outcasts and criminals and scoundrels from the spaceways abided there in peace. An interplanetary patrol was not as yet established---the asteroids were left alone, for the time being.
            The gigantic hall began filling rapidly as the envoys from the planets came into the room, some chattering about the current affairs, some silent and moody, wrapped up in their own thoughts. The left, center, and back sections filled in as the great portals ushered hundreds of thousands of men and women into the Hall. The right section remained vacant. It would stay vacant, too, for the planet Venus was uninhabited and its messengers scattered to the other planets. It would stay vacant until a ruling enabled the sections from the other three planets to spread out was passed; or---and it was a very faint chance, seeing the condition that the solar system was in at the time---until another planet, possibly Mercury, possibly a combined representation from the satellites of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, would do so. The speaker for the day stepped to the podium amid thunderous applause; another session of the Renald Congress had begun. It was January, 2012. Thirteen years to the Day of Doom.