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Chapter XVII

            The Renald Congress, sitting in its plush chairs in the Congressional Hall of Worlds---above the death and strife of the workaday world---had not been idle. They had talked among themselves; argued from the floor; been grilled by the reporters; got next to nowhere.
            Vincent Harrison was disgusted with the proceedings in the Hall; representatives were getting paid by their poor, trusting countries for nothing. "Why don't they get all the air from the other planets---the Moon, Venus, Mars, Phobos, Deimos, and those scoundrels on the Asteroids," he thought to himself, "then the world would get a much-needed reprieve. They could maybe grow plants in some other way. What about hydroponics? Why don't they use that?" He fidgeted in his seat as the head speaker, from Afghanistan, orated on the virtues of constitutional monarchy. "What nonsense," Vincent thought. "I thought that we were to make decisions about the crisis. Those addle-headed baboons think they're doing the world some good by preaching. What needs to be done is to get some action in this house." He soon got a chance to speak his mind.
            It was February, 2014. Ten years to the Day of Doom. The Congress had been in session for two years and one month with nothing accomplished---there had been some martial laws and regulations passed but they weren't even remotely connected with the crisis. Finally, on the 17th, Vincent Harrison mounted the rostrum to voice his views. He really voiced them. He blasted the delegates from their chairs with an oratory the greatness and eloquence of which had not been heard in ANY Congress since the time of Clay. "Why should we sit back and make silly little laws that won't go into effect till AFTER the Day of Doom and then there will be nobody left to obey those laws. I say we must act now, quickly, before the rapidly rising population figures compel us to change the Year of Doom again. The mutants are shoving us out of our countries. In one year they have more than quadrupled in number throughout the system. By the time the Day of Doom is here, about half the inhabitants will be mutants. Not because there will be fewer normal people---no! They will increase rapidly too. In my studies on the subject made over a period of two years, I have found that if the Day of Doom comes even in 2022, and that is being conservative---a two-year change in the estimate is small compared with the rate of increase in population---the population will be way over the TWENTY BILLION mark." The assembled dignitaries were stunned: that was almost twice the present number.
            "Gentlemen," he continued, "you highly underestimate the power of the mutants. There are more females than males born, thrice as many. They have no marriage laws---one man may live with three women---they can have twelve children in one year. Multiply that by the two and a half billion that are in existence now and you have a tremendous number. It's a crisis. It's not just a half-cocked scheme to get publicity for the scientists in the world---it's the truth, more desperate than you can imagine." Faint feelings of doubt in their supposed security began to penetrate the minds of those present.
            "My plan is this," he talked faster, impressing the delegates. "Why should we suffer alone while the Martians and Lunites live in peace. The scientists predicted the end of the world we are living on. They said nothing about Mars or the Moon. The people there are safe as long as they as they keep getting compressed air. That's what they are getting: compressed air. I'll bet my bottom dollar you didn't know that." They didn't. "A Martian scientist discovered a way to reduce the size of the oxygen atom, and how to get it back to normal size again. While it used to take a few billion atoms to get on the head of a pin, now, by a patented process, they could get over one quadrillion---bet you didn't know there was such a number---on ONE ATOM! One quadrillion---that's the same as one million billions. Take a thousand---that's simple, you have ten fingers, count those once for each finger that you have and do that ten times---that's a thousand. Go through that process the same number---a thousand---times. That's only a million---well nigh inconceivable, isn't it? Do that one thousand times---count to a million, one thousand thousands, a thousand times. Do that whole horrible thing a million times. Staggering!
            "Imagine how much air could be transported to Mars in one freighter. I tell you that there are still some of those freighters, still loaded, sitting idle in the Martian spaceports. On the Moon as well, they shipped some to the Moon. Get those dirty hoarders to get down to this Earth and bring their air with them. All of them. On Mars and the Moon. Get them down here and share their oxygen with us, their fellow men. Let them suffer---maybe die---with us. Pass a law making it necessary to come to Earth, and STAY here." He mopped his sweating brow, stepped down.
            Instantly the huge Hall broke into cheers---he was hauled aloft on the shoulders of his fellow ambassadors and paraded around the tremendous aisles, singing, shouting. Never before had there been so much confusion in that stately edifice. Soon, their energy spent, they sat at their desks, quiet once more, and started wording the new laws. Everyone had been carried away by the speech of the virtually unknown statesman. The conservative faction was drowned out, carried away. Everyone in that huge gathering had in an instant turned to radicals. They were all for the laws so rashly proposed by the avaricious embassy.
            That night, after a round of parties celebrating the change in the ideas, Vincent Harrison gloated in his room. He had done it! He had done what he had set out to do. His plans were to get more people to stop flocking to Mars and the Moon, and to migrate to his country, Transantarctica. It had only been sparsely populated and he was eager to start a land rush on the lower continent. He had all the titles to all the property and ground from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The bottom of the world was his; his to sell at outlandish prices, his to get ridiculously rich on and then spend the rest of his life in leisure. He didn't know what his fiery talk would precipitate.
            The law was carried through the House with great rejoicing. They didn't know that Vincent had only told them one side of the story; there was another side yet to be discovered; not even HE knew about it.