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Chapter XX

            No one liked the law that had been passed by the excited Congress, but no one, except the trio on the asteroid and a few others like them on other asteroids, was in a favorable position to plead for mercy or go against the law. Rockets started a shuttle service to and from Mars and the Moon. The millions of people that had migrated there over a period of years had to be evacuated in a period of months. The Congress had consented to allow a year for the oxygen and inhabitants to get off their home-planets, and then they would take action against those who dared to resist their proclamation.
            Joyce and Larry Townsend were among the many that opposed the law. But what could a pair of newlyweds do against the power of the moguls in the Congressional Hall of Worlds? Nothing---they had to consent. A honeymoon and later a permanent residence on the Moon was what they had dreamed about before they were married; they got their honeymoon, for two days, but their house and garden on the Moon were destined not to be.
            Their hotel in the bubble near the Sea of Serenity had been abandoned long ago. The intelligent people who had had their rooms there knew that there would be a great land rush to the Earth and that if they waited too long, there might not be enough room left for all of them. Joyce and Larry Townsend didn't care one bit for the danger of scarcity of land. Larry didn't have too much money after the tremendous cost of a trip to the Moon for a honeymoon was deducted from his savings; consequently, they didn't want a large tract of land, just enough for a house---the garden was out, nothing grew on the Earth any longer. They didn't care if they ever got down to Earth; they were infatuated with the Moon and each other. They made reservations on the next-to-last ship that would be scheduled to take people off the Moon. It would depart on the last day in January, getting to Earth right before the deadline set by the Congress.
            After leaving the deserted hotel, they broke a window in a house that had been left by someone who wanted to get back to Earth before anyone else. There they lived comfortably during the long months, watching an entire satellite being evacuated.
            The emigration went rapidly at first, the ships being filled with travelers as fast as they could be set down at the ports. Then, as the population was cut in half in about one month, the stream slowed to a tiny trickle. The stores that had been set up with the idea of being one of the few on the Moon that the settlers could buy from instead of waiting for an order that they had put in via Earth to arrive, thereby making a good deal of money, were now selling their goods at a very low price so they would not have to pay the tremendous price for storage and transportation across the space between the Earth and its satellite. Heavy items, like cars and refrigerators and stoves and rugs and bedding, were selling at a price never dreamed of before. Some of the merchants, unable to sell out before their ship pulled into the port, and unwilling to pay the staggering duties---often costing more than the worth of the item itself---left their goods standing in the storerooms there to rot and decay. No one even bothered to take anything from the loaded, abandoned storerooms, as they had every chance to---the cost of transporting even one of the objects for personal use was ridiculous.
            Many men with a large chain store or a very large single store would buy their own spaceships in preference to leaving their wares to waste. Then they would proceed to get the news around that they were charging a few credits per pound less than the other companies were. The result was an ever decreasing rate of tax for the trip. Toward the end of the year's time set by the Congress, the stoves and other appliances that once were not worth the costs of shipping were suddenly in demand again. People who were silly enough, as they thought, to steal a weighty item from one of the stores suddenly found themselves with possible wealth on their hands. Storing the loads upon a cheap-running ship, they managed to get them to Earth at a loss, but then could sell them at a lower price than that on the regular market and clear up a small profit on the side.
            Speculators were in a dither trying to find a way to make the most money out of the confusion of fluctuating prices and charges. The result usually was that while they were trying to figure the most profitable way into riches; their opportunity was past and they remained poorer for the time spent.
            A sudden deluge of cheaper products from the Moon made the big corporations lower their prices so as to maybe get their cost price out of the dealings. Prices dove downward; the mutants were the ones that were eventually profiting from the lowering of the prices. They bought the necessities that they could not have afforded. The mutants were, for once, at an advantage. The income tax was stupendous from the huge sums that people were taking in on their businesses. The government even ventured to put a few rockets on the line and break into some of the as yet undisturbed stores, thereby getting a few of the items for themselves to put onto the market.
            The mutants would buy, sell, and clear a profit, but because they had so many children, they paid hardly any taxes even if they did clear an enormous profit. It was a good year for everyone. Everyone made money hand over fist and lost the same money in the same way. Enough about the economical features of the incoming rush of men to Earth and the outgoing flow of men from the Moon.
            Joyce and Larry didn't care if the Earth AND Moon dissolved about them---they had each other, that was all that mattered to them. They moved from the small cottage that they started in to a mansion on a hill overlooking the emptying city. Many such richly decorated dwellings were now vacant; the wealthy Earth people thought they could fly to the Moon and let their businesses carry on without their guidance---many of them weren't needed to keep their many factories producing anyhow. The old ones had come to the Moon to get part of their weight taken off their failing feet. As the Moon has a much smaller gravitational pull than the Earth, the old ones could walk around as they had been used to doing in their younger days on the Earth.
            Consequently, many of the frailer ancients who managed to get a longer than normal life span in the comparatively fresh air died when they set foot on the Earth. The industry-filled air was too much for their delicate lungs and the stronger gravity overtaxed their weak hearts. It was almost mass murder for the older ones to come back to the harsh Earth and start building houses anew. Of course, thought the politicians, that was better yet because the Earth was overcrowded as it was. As Scrooge said, "They will decrease the surplus population."
            Then, too, with the Earth properties selling for an unusually high price, the newcomers, rich or not, weren't too anxious to spend their savings for a plot of land and then have nothing with which to build a house. Construction costs soared upward. The smaller companies charged exorbitant prices but, since the larger companies were much too busy with the overflow of orders, they were in demand no matter what the price they asked---men had to live in homes.
            Vincent Harrison got his wish too. Transantarctica was becoming filled to its utmost capacity. He made a fabulous fortune in the first few months of the "Land-rush of Ought-fourteen" by selling at impossible fees the land that he bartered away from the dumb, misled Eskimos for a few trinkets. In fact, his country got a bit too overcrowded---as did every other existing country in the world. The newcomers did not like the rules and regulations that prevailed over the top of the world. Inevitable revolts followed. In all parts of the world governments were being violently overthrown. Bloodshed and slaughter filled the Earth to its bounds---never had one such law caused such chaos as the Reimportation of Migrants Law that had been passed by the Congress.
            The Kremlin was stormed by a mob of infuriated Russians demanding the democracy that had been set up to be torn down, the President assassinated, and the good old dictatorship set back up. They had a man in mind too, one named Dhugasvilli---ironic, wasn't it?
            The House of Windsor, reconstructed after it had been partially destroyed by bombs in 1986, was stormed and razed to the ground.
            The Peace Palace in Paris was turned into a flaming heap after the mobs, demanding a change of foreign diplomacy, were repelled by the minister that resided therein. In their anger they gathered up torches and hurled them into the windows before they could be shuttered. When the dignitaries came coughing out of the smoke, they were literally massacred by the crowd.
            The king of India was tied to two horses and torn apart in front of a jeering mob.
            Westminster Abbey was dismantled, stone by stone, by the religious fanatics that marched everywhere all over the world.
            Leaders of their countries were burned in effigy---others were just burned. The revolutions that ravaged the world continued for weeks.
            The pope of the Catholic Church was trundled away from the Vatican when the poor of Italy stormed the walls of the City, demanding that the space that was taken up by the now-dead Papal gardens should be distributed among the poor.
            Tents and rude housing projects were thrown up in the grounds of the castles in England, France, Spain, and America. There was no room left.
            It was fortunate in at least one way that the trees and plants of the tropical jungles were thrown down by the over-abundance of carbon dioxide; for the immigrants from space could move right into the dusty tracts of land that marked where the forest giants once stood.
            The Sahara and the Gobi and the American and Russian deserts were no longer barren---houses and rude residential sections blossomed everywhere. The tundras of Siberia were relatively densely populated. Greenland and the Antarctic regions were no longer icy wastes; they were completely covered, from ocean to ocean, with a coating of brown. Huge spinners had been dropped from helicopters to the frozen wastelands, chemical reagents placed in these generators, and, in a twinkling of an eye, rubber matting, three feet thick everywhere, had been deposited over the glaciers. The ice underneath would melt eventually from the friction and heat caused by these coverings, but the rubber matting would sink in such a way that houses built on its surface would not be severely damaged by the settling of the level of ice.
            Mountain glaciers were covered in a similar fashion at terrific expense; the franchise that the Tibetan government had paid for the exclusive use of Mount Everest as an observatory was broken. Settlements, started at the base, in no time at all were straddling the summit along with the gigantic refractor that had been built there a few years before.
            As the Townsends finally began packing their lightweight belongings for their scheduled trip to Earth, the first underwater cities began to grow. The immense bubbles of liquid plastic, with modifications in it to withstand the moisture and enormous pressure that they would have to endure, were blown in mid-ocean. At first they hugged the islands that penetrated the surface of the water and the continental shelf. Soon even these became overpopulated and the dwellings started descending the continental slope into the stygian blackness and intense pressure of the lower depths.
            The mutants reproduced at a remarkable rate---even the normal population was soaring to set new records. Twenty percent increases in numbers over a decade were not unusual, the feeling began to run toward large families---an Australian family numbered thirty-one, with one set of quadruplets, eight sets of twins---five of them identical---and the other ten being single births. They adopted the extra one after their first year of married life when they thought they could not have any children of their own. The changes were really remarkable!
            Vincent Harrison didn't know how many people were living on the two alien planets; he had been too absorbed in the plans to make his country prosperous and rich to care how numerous were the foreigners. He hadn't expected it to be too great a number. He was sadly mistaken. He didn't know that in the census of 2020 the population would reach way above the thirty billion mark. Thirty billion. 30,000,000,000. When the Earth would hold its sensible capacity at ten billion---one-third of that number. The remaining two-thirds had a rough time trying to find a place to live.
            The Townsends were among that two-thirds that would find it hard to settle down. The government was kindly in one respect that we must give them credit for---if for nothing else. It would foot the bills that any of the displaced persons encountered by traveling about the world, trying to find a vacancy. It was worse than finding a place to sleep in a hotel with a visiting convention of insomniacs who stayed awake all night and spent as much of their time carousing, drinking, and singing in the halls as they did in their bedrooms. Much worse. Most of the transportation could be furnished free by the government except through a few backward countries who refused to accept the currency of the Americas. The displaced ones, upon explaining their plight to a secretary and after going through a great deal of red tape, could obtain a pass card with which they could be allowed free conduction anywhere they wanted to go. Generally, the office from which they received their passes would give them a list of probable vacancies in different parts of the country or world. It was as bad as that. You had to get a special permit to go into the underwater cities because, due to the absence of sunlight in the greater depths that the settlements had to be set up in as the Earth gradually became more and more congested by the human race, the inspectors had to have a reliable doctor examine you to be certain that absence of sunlight would not cause internal or external disturbances.
            Joyce and Larry went on their house-hunting expedition. Since they were a couple of the very last ones that been transported from the other planets before the deadline set by the Congress, they had a very difficult time finding a space to settle down in. The love of the odd and the unusual dwelled in both of them so they chose first to find a place beneath the sea. Housing projects were still going on at the lowest levels of the ocean floor to accommodate the late stragglers. However, these new domes were highly dangerous to live under because of their great distance from the surface of the water. Lower they could not go; no machine with the delicate workings of the bubble-blower, as it was called, could withstand the mass of water above it. No more could be built on the surface of the water either. This had been tried once, some years ago, and a storm came up and engulfed the unfortunate who had set up housekeeping on the pontoons. The fatality list had exceeded two hundred, not counting those whose bodies were not found, and the government, though it was stupid in some instances, refused to grant the right of construction to any firm, no matter how much it was needed.
            Therefore, due to the pressure in the water and the pressure in the Congress, there was still an acute housing shortage that Joyce and Larry endeavored to beat. Having been thoroughly poked and pinched by the examining officials, they were considered fit enough to descend to the depths of the ocean. They entered a spacious passageway somewhat resembling a subway entrance that took them below the level of the earth. The roof and side of the corridor through which they walked were transparent and they could see the water surface rise up, they passed below it, they were under the waves. It was a new sensation to both of them. Underwater tours in large, transparent compartments were a novelty in those days and no trip to the seashore was complete without a submarine jaunt. It was a very educational activity but the newlyweds didn't seem to be interested in it before. They were fascinated by it now.
            Fish swam by the windows in the hallway every instant. The water seemed to be alive with small flashing creatures. Stopping and looking down, they could see the bottom of the ocean that the tube was built on. The earth underneath was rocky and laced with coral deposits. Since they had never been down before, everything that they laid their eyes upon was new and different---but there was no plant life of any kind to be seen. The strange blight that had devastated the open-air regions had also taken its toll beneath the waters. Where seaweed and ferns and delicate filigrees of lacy green and violet once waved there was only bare, harsh rock.
            The fish that they saw on their way down seemed to be lusterless. The only type of fish that they had any experience with was the kind you could buy at times in the stores. Joyce could see, even from that, that the fish were definitely not healthy. They needed the added foodstuffs that the plants, no matter how small, afforded them. A vicious circle was also being acted out. The plants were dead, so also were the infinitesimal bits of algae and seaweed that the microscopic sea creatures needed for subsistence. There was no seaweed; the protozoa died of starvation. The fish that came in the next phyla starved and died. Some lived longer than others by showing their carnivorous natures and eating their little brothers and sisters. But it was a losing battle; they could not live and be healthy without the minerals that the plant kingdom injected. Gradually the smallest fish died, which made it a sad case for the next in line. Thus it went, on up the line. It was pitifully like the old adage: "For the want of a nail, a horse was lost; for the want of a horse, the rider was lost; for the want of a rider, a squadron was lost; for want of a squadron, an army was lost; for want of an army; a kingdom was lost---and all for the want of a two-penny nail."
            So it went: one died because its food died. The process had only been started for about a year, but it could be noted from the absence of the "small fry" that the kingdom of the fishes was sinking fast.
            Man, too, was going under for want of the plant life that they relied upon for food. The better eating in the line of fish were becoming more and more a rarity. There were no longer any fruits or vegetables or cereals or grains. Chickens were suffering, as were all the other animals of the barnyard, from the absence of corn from their diet. They were dying off by the millions. Chicken dinners were dirt cheap for a while, because the dead ones were immediately frozen, and no one knew the difference. Then they started getting scarce, and the ones who had saved their chickens, probably by putting them into the freezers that they bought for fractions of a credit when the market from the Moon was booming, were upping their price continually; the hungry people were buying them too. They couldn't have the mashed potatoes, except for a very high price from the lucky ones who had hoarded them in cans---nor the biscuits, except for very hard, very stale ones that had tried to be preserved indefinitely but it didn't quite work---nor the vegetables, unless you were lucky enough to have a garden of your own and had put some up the year before---nor even an after-dinner beer, and that was the saddest of all---no malt or barley, not even corn squeezings.
            The world was in a heck of a mess.
            By this time, they had reached the level of the first settlement. They passed through the airlocks and were ushered into the real estate office. In the submarine existence the real estate agent was more powerful and had more money than the mayor or the representative of Congress, which were about the only three positions of importance in the drastically changed world. He was always busy answering phones and saying "no," at least in this community. There were no vacancies, he told them sarcastically, as if he expected them to know already, and there wouldn't be one until someone died. He stared vehemently at them, nodded his head, and shouted a perfunctory, "I'm sorry," as if he was shocked that they asked him. The secretary in the outer office informed them that this had been the first of the underwater towns built and it had filled up in three hectic days. Ever since then, it has been that man's job to sit in his office, collect taxes, and say no to anyone and everyone that asked him anything.
            Tired from their half-mile walk down to the first level, they boarded a slow-moving train that wended its way down the tunnel, carrying mail, bringing supplies, transporting passengers and inhabitants, and doing other odds and ends for the people who lived beneath the sea. They had seen all they wanted of the pale, anemic-looking fish and bare rock seascape this far down, their feet were tired, they rode, holding hands in the semidarkness. The next three levels had the same answer to give them. "Sorry, no room here, we've been filled for months."
            It was getting dark and they could no longer see any of the sights outside the window. The ocean was reluctant to admit day into its depths, and it got dark below the waters rapidly. Intermittent lights fitfully illuminated the passageway, and they could see the locks going past outside the window---that, and nothing else.
            The construction workers had been instructed to put airlocks into the tunnel even though there would be no change of pressure between the passage and the off-branching cities. The supposedly farsighted Congressmen had thought the cities would want to have their oxygen supplies all to themselves when the time came when it would have to be rationed. It would have to be condensed to ultra-low volumes and placed in storage tanks, then be sent down in the train to be expanded in the cities for breathing purposes.
            The new chairman of the Congress, Vincent Harrison---so elected by his colleagues for his inspiring and fool-headed speech for the return of oxygen---also did not have a very clear conscience---though he DID manage to brush it off lightly---about putting on a man as operator of the train who, he knew, was just as hard-hearted as himself. It would be a very easy task, he thought grimly, to "accidentally" forget to send the daily supply of oxygen down into the shaft and maybe "forget" and lock the main gate, which could not be opened from the inside---he had made sure of that---thus "decreasing the surplus population," as the extremely popular saying went.
            The passengers---the only two, as a matter of fact---were left off finally at the lowermost completed dome. There was only one more below this and it wasn't finished. Nobody could have been expected to live in that lower level who was in his right mind. It was so far below the surface that no ray of light would penetrate from above, no matter how bright the sunlight was on the surface. The pressure was so heavy that the government feared to release the figures lest no one would feel safe at such levels.
            The streets of the city into which they entered were dimly lit. The city slept, for it was late in the night before they reached this level. A solitary guard at the airlock checked their passes and admitted them into the city. The real estate agent was asleep and would not be disturbed. A light went on in the shanty across the road and a head with hair up in pin curls peered out.
            "You, down there, yes, YOU, what are you doin' there in the middle of the night. Can't a body get some decent sleep?" They HAD been making a great deal of noise, they admitted, and apologized. They explained their predicament to the lady and asked her if she knew where they could find a resting-place for the night.
            "Just go down this street till you come to the theater---never mind ‘which theater’ there's only one down here---turn left, and the first red house on the right is your place." Thereupon the window slammed down and the shadow of a pin-curled head vanished as the light clicked off. They started off down the street.
            They had never actually seen the inside of one of the submarine housing projects. Usually they had gone into the office right down the corridor from the airlock, received their "no" and gone right back out. The side of the tube along which ran the sidewalk was facing the open sea; the side nearest the train tracks faced the bubbles above and below their position. They decided that there was no great difference between the Moon bubbles and the underwater bubbles, materially. But they could sense the different location. On the Moon you looked up and saw the Sun or the Earth, but here, under the sea, a thick inky blackness encompassed the whole of the bubble.
            Joyce and Larry were much too tired to notice many of the details of the underwater town; they simply went to the red house, gratefully received a much-worn key, and went to their room. If they were too tired to see the house and the room, they didn't miss much---at least in the room. A too-soft mattress, a couple of unvarnished wood chairs, and a meager dresser with a reasonably clean mirror completed the list of furnishings; that's all there was. However, the two of them would have been content to sleep on a rug on a wooden floor if they only had the place to throw the rug. Two minutes after entering the room they were sound asleep.