“2150: The Year Hank Became a True Man”

Andrew Lagos

All rights reserved by the author

                                   

 

            Hank Murphy was a man, dammit. He liked his cars fast, his calzones hot, and his women intelligent. Being the son of an acclaimed coal miner father and a mother who was always on some sort of exotic expedition made him into the man he was today. His father always told him, “Son,” he’d say with a stern, fatherly look on his face, “have a healthy respect for authority. But if it gets in your way, screw ‘em.” Hank always tried to use this mantra throughout his adolescence, sometimes with success, but it mostly caused him to get into all sorts of trouble with the law. This is why he could not understand his involvement in this confidential meeting held at the White House.

             “We’ve called you men and women here on this evening for a very critical reason,” began the white haired councilman. Hank noticed how he paced unevenly among the rows of chairs that had been set up in the large office. Glancing nervously at the tapestry on the far wall behind his audience, Mr. Williams continued. “You’re all aware that you posses similar occupations, I’m sure; Ms. Smith over here leads guided expeditions into Mexican caves; Mr. Hank Murphy here has prior experience in oil drilling and has been hired as a sherpa on several trips up Mt. Everest; he is currently taking time off for, ahem, ‘marital issues’,” There was an awkward pause in the monologue. Someone coughed, and Hank stared everyone down who dared to try to make eye contact.

            Gene Carlson, Mr. Williams’s partner, interrupted the silence rather quickly. “The reason why you’re all here,” boomed his great baritone voice, “is so that we can have a suitable future for this earth. Around 150 years ago, near the year 1986, we knew that nearly 60% of ground oil was inaccessible with the archaic equipment that existed then. This form of energy has since been depleted; wind, hydro, and solar energies are the most cost efficient and abundant. However, they still have their flaws. We need something that is renewable; unlimited, if you will. Something with the sheer power and magnitude that will enable us to support the power needs this world has come to expect.” Mr. Carlson paused as the men and women, all fifteen of them, exchanged puzzled looks. “Over the past few years,” Gene plunged on, “we’ve discovered that there is a store of unlimited energy to be had by whoever can get their hands on it. This source would be able to generate enough power to fuel the entire planet for hundreds of years. Yes, folks, we’re talking about the center of the earth.”

            A general hush descended upon the room. Uneasy glances were exchanged. The crowd was unsure of how to respond to this ambitious decision. Hank already knew what was coming. “This team we have assembled here today will be the team that is responsible for the future of earth; the team that will delve to the center of this planet to save its surface.” Now the hush became a shocked silence. Nobody knew what to do, how to respond.

            Hank was friends with many of his fellow “teammates”; he knew what they were thinking. He knew who would back out and who would be willing to risk everything. With this knowledge, Mr. Murphy stood up and said in a low, barely audible voice, as was his way of speaking, “I can’t speak for certain people here, but I know that I want to be part of something that will change the world.”  Mr. Carlson and Mr. Williams grinned.

           

            Hank left the professor he lived with at home that Tuesday in March for Mexico. There were no teary goodbyes, no prolonged hugs made painful by her infidelity. A simple nod, grunt, and Hank was on his way to the center of the world, approximately 3960 miles beneath his feet. He parked his ’98 Mustang at the Albuquerque International Trainport and craned his neck to look up at the blissfully clear night sky. The lights from the station almost drowned out the stars’ glow, but he could still make out the North Star and parts of Orion. As Hank hefted his bags out of his car, he sighed and realized that this may be one of the last nights he’ll see the sky and breathe in the cool, dry desert air. This place was one of the world’s last clean sanctuaries.

            The jet train to Oaxaca was uneventful enough, giving Hank enough time for a fitful sleep. A six-month, probably one way journey didn’t do much for one’s slumber. He reviewed the team members in his head. All of them had the appropriate survival skills, and food wouldn’t be a problem. All of the radioactive waste from the industrial sector seeped into the ground over the years, causing mutations of the cave fish, bats, and deeper down, perhaps new species. All were edible. The US government supplied them with anything and everything they needed, including drilling equipment, survival gear, and a vehicle fit for traveling in extremely high temperatures, the ESE-1.

            Hank Murphy met the team in Sierra de Juárez at the scheduled time, 1800 hours. They were to camp out for two nights near Cheve Cave before their descent. Hank, although being on friendly terms with most of the crew, spoke few words, as did the rest of the team. They were aware that this was a suicide mission; survival was absolutely not guaranteed.

            The night before they were to start the descent, good omens abound. Hank saw an eagle frog, an animal resulting from years of evolution and radioactivity. It fluttered down from the treetops onto his pack, croaking the whole way. This creature was considered tremendously lucky and was extremely rare. Others claimed to see a great white albino bat, although Hank doubted that. One hadn’t been seen in decades, most likely because the bats’ heads were considered lucky as well. Hank slept well that night, thinking he was in good hands going into the expedition the next day.

           

            The team made relatively short work of the crust and upper mantle. In just three short months they had made it nearly halfway to the earth’s center with almost no setbacks. They would awake promptly at 7 am, according to their atomic watches, and start with the heavy drilling. The crew had taken carotene pills, enhancing their vision in even nearly pitch dark surroundings. They were at hard work at the lower mantle, about 3000 kilometers below the surface. Their pressures suits regulated the air so that the sulfur fumes from the lower core could not affect their way of living. It was the outer core in fact where they were headed, the part of earth’s interior made of liquid iron and sulfur and reaching temperatures of 4000 degrees Celsius.

            The job description for the team was to forge a path that could later be followed by other miners with the proper equipment to harness this energy. Hank had inquired as to what sort of companies would sell and be involved with this source, whether they were out of business oil companies or old hydro companies. However, he got no straight answer from those with control over the mission. This worried him immensely; who would end up controlling the earth’s last power source? What companies would lose all of their customers?

            These questions would often keep him awake at night. Rather, what he conceived to be night; the team would sleep for seven hours at an agreed time. Their path had started as being a winded one, but once they had reached the upper mantle they were forced to find the lowest passages and drill. Now, it was straight drilling. They had to stay in the ESE-1 in order to survive the temperatures and gases, and plus it was their primary way to reach their destination.

            Five months into the mission they reached a precipice overhanging what appeared to be a river of molten metals and gases. “Friends, comrades, teammates,” hollered Hank Murphy, “this is what I like to call the outer core!” Everyone was surprised, not so much by how early they had made it, but by how animated and brave Hank had just been. Over the past months he had hardly spoken to anyone, never mind yelled anything to anyone. Just then, the precipice the team was standing on began to crumble, groaning above the bright, fiery ocean. Hank and three others on the crew who were nearest to solid ground dove for cover; there was no time to save anyone else. The rock tumbled into the void, melting even before it touched the molten metals, with most of the team on it. Hank was thankful that the suits were able to block out the odors, because ignited flesh was not a pleasant smell to behold.

            The surviving crew members shakily stood up and recounted their losses. The ESE-1 had gone down, as had most of the survival gear and mapping equipment, not to mention ten members of the crew. What had been a hopeful, morally successful situation had taken a turn for the worst and now seemed bleak. The three men and one woman stared blankly into the molten river, not knowing what they could do now. They had been used to forge a path. They were given no money, only promises. Promises the government did not plan on honoring.

            “What the devil happened down here?” shouted a gruff voice from behind them. Hank whipped his head around towards this unrecognizable voice and could not believe what he saw. A whole platoon of government commissioned troops stood before the remaining crew, insignias on their pressure suits shining brilliantly. “I asked what happened here, sir,” stated the commander flatly.

            “Our team…” stuttered Johnson Westwick, “out team…they fell down…down there,” he pointed a shaky hand into the void.

            “Brick! Stumpy!” the commander barked, “Bring these folks back up with Stewie and his men. All the equipment you need should be in that EXE-4. I expect to see you men back here in less than four months. Ten-HUT!”

            “Just what in the hell is going on here?” Hank shouted. “Who exactly are you people?”

            “Son, this is unit J, and I am Corporal Jenkins. You and your team have done your jobs, we’re here to extract you and get this area secured.”

 

            Sunshine. Hank hadn’t seen it in almost five months. Now it burned his contracted pupils, scorched his pale skin, and made his eyes tear. The remaining members of the expedition had been escorted back up to the surface via the tunnels they had created to get to the earth’s center. Because they did not need to dig their way back up, the voyage took only two weeks. As for the Corporal’s men, they were to make camp at the mouth of Cheve Cave for the night and head back down into the planet’s bowels the next day.

            “The suspend-o-copter should be here to pick you folks up here any minute,” the man called Brick told them flatly. “From here, you’ll be taken to the San Joaquin Hospital in sunny California. I want to warn you about the press, though. They’re like rabid raccoon-dogs when it comes to success stories these days.”

            Hank and his team said their thanks and departed when the suspend-o-copter arrived, which touched down whisper quietly. As they rose vertically into the humid air, Hank peered downwards in time to see a large floating tanker marked with the jagged word “Earth Center Energy.” All of his greatest fears were confirmed with those three words.

            When they arrived in California, it seemed that all hell had broken loose upon the local hospital. Press crews were running amok, seemingly with no purpose but to wreak havoc on the crowd control. A tight circle of pavement opened up for the copter to land, but as soon as the engines were shut off, the press was upon them. “Mr. Murphy, where’s the rest of the team?”       

            “Mr. Westwick, what happened to your leg right here?”

            “Ms. Weinstein, have your bonds matured yet?”

            Crowd control intervened at this moment, pushing the hounds back behind a steel enforced barricade. Aside from some scratches and bruises, Hank and the others sustained no major injuries on the expedition. The team coming to this hospital was merely for the doctors to study the effects of extreme pressure and heat on the human body, regardless of pressure suits.

            Hank could barely comprehend what he had seen when they were leaving Mexico. An energy collector had already been at the site. The companies were wasting no time. That Earth Center Energy must have been the top bidder for this energy. They were now going to monopolize the energy market from the middle of the earth, with ruthless disregard for other companies or prices. Hell, they could jack those prices up sky high if they wanted to, Hank thought bitterly.

            And jack up those prices they did. As the months passed, the hydro energy signs slowly were taken down and new Earth Center Energy signs were put up, with triple the prices. People would pay these prices too, as the energy was more fuel efficient and expelled less pollution as any other energy source. Hank “the Volcano” Murphy, as he was dubbed in the local New Mexico newspapers, refused to use this new energy source. It was a matter of principle for him. His wife, however, would not stop her raving about it. She thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. This only fueled Hank’s crusade against this energy.

            On a balmy evening, Mr. Murphy decided to pay the company’s CEO a visit. His plan was to beseech the man to at least lower the prices, perhaps offer the employees of the dying business to come work for his company. Hank also thought it would certainly benefit the economy if there were other subsidiaries under the company as opposed to just one monopoly. He took off down the main road in Albuquerque, where the head offices of Earth Source Energy happened to be. As he drove, his thoughts drifted to those of his women troubles. Just as quickly, thought, he shook them out of his head; he had to be thinking of what he would say to the CEO.

 

© Copyright 2005 by the author

All rights reserved