The Message and the Messenger


You’d think a battering ram would make more noise when breaking down a door. NYPD, FDNY, ATF, even Governor Chico’s personal goon squad were involved. Sadly, someone on the entry team heaved when he should have hoed and the heavy beam went flying into Bernie as he got up from a nap to answer the door. He went down. Really down. A Fire Lieutenant found the “gun.” A 410 topper junior, a hair more powerful than a good air gun, never killed anything with the possible exception of a slow squirrel. But it was enough.

ATF conducted the interview with Bernie still on the floor. He wasn’t bleeding or screaming. Bernie answered all questions truthfully. He rattled off a list of New York Community Gardens involved in his vertical farm project, reciting how many gallons of Ortho would go to the control group plots. From memory he recited Title 4, section 12 of the city’s bicycle regulations. He described why it was best to use anodized aluminum tubing for this new generation of pedicabs. He was cleared on the spot. But with a broken back. And for the next year, everyone on a street in New York or getting a free ride in a Bernie-mobile (focus groups decided that name was better than Arundel) would be treated to trikes rolling by, alternately displaying clips of solutions and the insanely fucked-up assault, with split-screen commentary by Bernie in the t-shaped brace Doug, the Radical Engineers, and the medical team cooked up, on a pretty much innocent guy.

“Are you okay, Bernie? Can I get you anything?” It was the fourth time on the flight that Doug checked in on Run Silent leader.

“Doug, please, I’m fine. We’re two hours out of CAI. I’ve got plenty of chewing gum left; hopefully my ears won’t explode when we descend if I chew enough of it. Maybe we’ll fly by the pyramids. The helicopter to Tobruk is all set? Are you still insisting on a chase plane? Engineers are really something special; it’s like you’d curl up and die if you left out a detail.”

“Everything’s set on the ground, Bernie. Coffeepot has everything covered. Let’s get up and stretch those legs, get a little pressure off your back, how about it?”

Bernie and Gamal were bros from the word go, a match made in heaven. The year of Carpenter’s rehabilitation was marked by people realizing how much money they could save along with how many lives could be saved as well. Money first, though, according to the polling data. There was also, after seeing Carpenter’s take-down, a national conversation about government overreach, an investigation into how the Feds thought a tricycles and community gardens project could be mistaken for a nuclear threat. Bernie, the living martyr, was gold for Coffeepot. More than gold. He was credibility. And it worked both ways. Bernie had alternative transportation, but Yusuf had major, market-disrupting power generation. The two men shook hands and also did the three kisses on the cheek bit. Along with Doug and Gamal’s staff, they boarded the de-weaponized, cold-war era Soviet helicopter and headed to Tobruk to meet Omar and Miriam and see a demonstration of the first three stratospheric wind generators, said to be 4,500 meters high, 12 kilometers apart. The chopper easily cleared the space between the giant, well, “kites” is what they’re calling them, and set down in Al Adm, Tobruk’s airport, conveniently located behind a row of houses.

“Maryam! Omar!” The three relatives fell on each other in kisses and hugs.

“Hafinjan! Uncle! We brought gifts from America! You can listen to your favorite decadent music and see the videos and your relatives, even take meetings. It’s an Echo Show. And here, twelve pairs of Levi’s. Wear then in good health, Uncle!”

“Children, I’m sure you are missing this.” Yusuf handed them each a box of the coffee he was famous for. The inspection party took a little break from the journey, and the next morning, accompanied by the Libyan Energy Minster, they headed out to the desert to see the new Djin of the Sahara.

“Each kite is generating approximately 60 megawatts, enough for 1,200 homes. We buried the power cables in conduits under the sand and randomized their paths. Less chance of them being cut by anyone who wants to stop the project. This kite is going to make fresh water from ocean water and we can sell the sea salt; I understand that sea salt is a marketable high-end commodity in the west. The far kite is providing power for the camp doing mineral assays. The middle kite is powering homes in one neighborhood of Tobruk. Eventually, every fifth kite will be supporting a solar tower, a siphon sucking hot, ground-level air to the frigid Stratosphere. The rushing air goes through turbofans generating more power, and in principle, the planet could be cooled.” Yusuf was in his glory. “This is really going to happen. Wait! What’s that happening on Kite 2?”

Six minutes. That’s how long it took the unaffiliated commandos to bomb Kite 2’s stanchion, leaving the vertical axis Darrieus turbine literally twisting in the wind and one Libyan contractor stuck on the remains of the maintenance scaffolding. It took another 10 minutes for the party to make it to Kite 2.

Doug and Omar shouted out at the same time, “Bernie! No!” Carpenter was climbing up the swaying stanchion and finally reached the trapped construction worker and started the critical task of calming the man down so he could be rescued.

“Hi, I’m Bernie Carpenter. I’m responsible for this, and I’m going to get you down. I’m going to have to bend that leg, just a little bit, to get it free of the tie-down. No worries. Here, take this. Start chewing it. Hard.

“I am Barbu. I don’t think I’m going to make it,” the man got out around the wad of gum. “Tell my wife I died thinking of her.”

“Tell her yourself. Your leg is clear, I’m going to get some circulation going. Hey, look down there!” They both waved. Tobruk’s little press corps, mainly stringers down on their luck, was filming and reporting on the “terrorist attack.” Bernie and Barbu got down far enough for the Tobruk fire department’s ladder truck to reach them; when the excitement stopped, only one man was down. Bernie was nowhere to be seen. After two weeks of searching, the Libyan authorities called off the search and declared Bernie to be dead. There was a period of public mourning for what the press called “Half of the team that might actually save the world.” Almost everyone got the message, but not quite enough for change to go through, until Bernie started showing up in unexpected places. He had more sightings than Elvis.

“I had to do it, Bernie. You know what Rom Emanuel says, right? Never let a disaster go to waste?” Bernie just looked blankly at Doug, not believing he was now part of a plot hatched by the engineers.

“Hey, look at it this way, Run Silent could always use a little more funding. Now we’ve got portable hologram projection, size of a deck of cards. That might carry us over until the external fossil fuel cost savings start getting passed down.” Nobody could argue with that.



Andrew Paul Grell

Andrew Paul Grell lives in a park in Manhattan with Melody, his wife, and their Malti-poo puppy, Cyrus King of Persia. At 60, he is an “emerging writer,” author of the recently released science fiction novel SCAPEGOATS: The Goat Protocols. Andrew has been anthologized in American Writers Review, Surprised by Joy, Grumpy Old Gods 2, and What Sort of Fuckery is This. He also makes appearances in Writers Newsletter and is proud to be an Ugly Writer.  By day he uses mathematical models to ferret out fraud, and he gets everywhere by bicycle. 


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, January 16, 2020 - 23:11