Voyage From Yesteryear
Voyage From Yesteryear
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, our guest of honor tonight-Henry B. Congreve.” The toastmaster completed his introduction and stepped aside to allow the stocky, white-haired figure is black tie and dinner jacket to move to the podium. Enthusiastic applause arose from the three hundred guests gathered in the Hilton complex on the western outskirts of Washington, D.C. The lights around the room dimmed, fading the audience into white shirtfronts, glittering throats and fingers, and mask like faces. A pair of spotlights picked out the speaker as he waited for the applause to subside. In the shadows next to him, the toastmaster returned to his chair.
After sixty-eight years of tussling with life, Congreve’s bulldog frame still stood upright, his shoulders jutting squarely below his close-cropped head. The lines of his roughly chiseled face were still firm and solid, and his eyes twinkled good-humoredly as he surveyed the room. It seemed strange to many of those present that a man so vital, one with so much still within him, should be about to deliver his retirement address.
Few of the younger astronauts, scientists, engineers, and North American Space Development Organization executives could remember NASDO without Congreve as its president. For all of them, things would never be quite the same again.
“Thank you, Matt.” Congreve’s voice rumbled in a gravelly baritone from the speakers all around. He glanced from side to side to take in the whole of his audience. “I, ah–I almost didn’t make it here at all.” He paused, and the last whispers of conversation died away. “A sign in the hall outside says that the fossil display is in twelve-oh-three upstairs.” The American Archeological Society was holding its annual convention in the Hilton complex that week. Congreve shrugged “I figured that had to be where I was supposed to go. Luckily I bumped into Matt on the way, and he got me back on the right track.” A ripple of laughter wavered in the darkness, punctuated by a few shouts of protest from some of the tables. He waited for silence, then continued in a less flippant voice. “The first thing I have to do is thank everybody here, and all the NASDO people who couldn’t be with us tonight, for inviting me. Also, of course, I have to express my sincere appreciation for this, and even more my appreciation for the sentiments that it signifies. Thank you–all of you.” As he spoke, he gestured toward the eighteen-inch-long, silver and bronze replica of the as yet unnamed, untried SP3 star probe that stood on its teak base before Congreve’s place at the main table.
His voice became more serious as he continued. “I don’t want to go off into a lot of personal anecdotes and reminiscences. That kind of thing is customary on an occasion such as this, but it would be trivial, and I wouldn’t want my last speech as president of NASDO to be marked by trivia. The times do not permit such luxury. Instead, I want to talk about matters that are of global significance and which affect every individual alive on this planet, and indeed the generations yet to be born–assuming there will be future generations.” He paused. “I want to talk about survival–the survival of the human species.”
Although the room was already quiet, the silence seemed to ~intensify with these words. Here and there in the audience, faces turned to glance curiously at one another. Clearly, this was not to be just another retirement speech. Congreve went on. “We have already come once to the brink of a third world war and hung precariously over the edge. Today, in 2015, twenty-three years have passed since U.S. and Soviet forces clashed in Baluchistan with tactical nuclear weapons, and although the rapid spread of a fusion based economy at last promises to solve the energy problems that brought about that confrontation, the jealousies, mistrusts, and suspicions which brought us to the point of War then and which have persistently plagued our race throughout its history are as much in evidence as ever.
“Today the sustenance that our industries crave is not oil, but minerals. Fifty years from now our understanding of controlled-fusion processes will probably have eliminated that source of shortages too, but in the meantime shorter sighted political considerations are recreating the climate of tension and rivalry that hinged around the oil issue at the close of the last century. Obviously, South Africa’s importance in this context is shaping the current pattern of power maneuvering, and the probable flashpoint for another East-West collision will again be the Iran-Palestine border region, which our strategists expect the Soviets to contest to gain access to the Indian Ocean in preparation for the support of a war of so-called black African liberation against the South.”
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