The colonel made the final adjustments to his Holoprezi and switched on the machine. The holographic image of a waterfall was illuminated on the screen mounted on the far wall of the conference room. “Please bear with us, Dr. Vasquez. A lot of Colonel Oates’ presentation will be basic stuff, particularly to you as a knowledgeable scientist. We used this Holoprezi last week with the Joint Chiefs to educate them on some of the fundamental issues affecting our military situation. As Vince Lombardi said at the beginning of each training camp for the Packers, ‘Gentlemen, this is a football.'” Secretary Morrison seemed amused by this metaphor, being used to describe a problem of vital, national interest. Cecilia glanced at her out of the corner of her eye, then at Colonel Oates, who continued to wear a straight face. With his hand on the wireless controller, he asked the Secretary “Shall we begin?” She nodded, and the first of the holoprezis appeared on the screen. The image of the waterfall faded, and a text image appeared with the heading “World Crisis: Global Fresh Water Shortages”. The usual references to the show’s creator, rank and assignment followed on the page. The colonel hastily went through the first couple of images that contained information about the history of the global warming debate. As the colonel quickly scanned through the images, Cecilia picked up a few lines here and there. “Economics and politics combined to thwart scientists’ efforts to warn the populace of the risks of global warming.” “Impacts from global warming have been felt since the late 1990’s, but GW deniers influenced politicians around the globe to believe they were normal weather fluctuations.” They even had an old cartoon to illustrate the point.
Then he began to get to the heart of the matter. The image showed the current state of water availability in the U.S. The graphic showed how little water was left in the U.S., with a projection that things were just going to get worse over the next 6 years. The next image showed the global shortage of water within the next 6 years. . Cecilia and her mother could vouch for these realities, since their monthly water bill usually exceeded the cost of electricity and gas combined. Miami’s use of reverse osmosis had increased from less than 2% of the total supply to nearly 40%, with an increase in cost of over 300%. Other municipalities in the state, as well as several in Texas and California had seen 500% increases in cost, with no indication of a reduction any time in the future. Cecilia caught herself thinking about these statistics, and not paying attention to Colonel Oates’ presentation. She refocused on the Holoprezi in time to see the slides that she guessed might be the reason for her visit.
The first image showed the graph of the use of hydraulic fracturing world-wide since 2000. The next graph depicted the quantity of fresh, potable surface and ground water. The image showed that of the 2% of the world’s water available in 2010, less than 0.005% would be available within 6 years. Then the presentation focused on China, the growth engine of the 21st century. It showed the growth of “fracking” there, and demonstrated that China would effectively run out of both surface and groundwater supplies within the next 6 years. The next picture in the presentation was a time-lapse image, which began with an aerial photograph that started at an altitude of 12,000 feet, and gradually zoomed in until it was clear what was being depicted. The viewer could see that there was a large assemblage of weapons and personnel in northeast China just below the Amur River. The text read “Intelligence Personnel predict a foray of troops and weapons from China through the relatively unoccupied portions of Russia in order to secure geography with the last remaining supplies of fresh water.”
Colonel Oates switched off the machine, and the Secretary and he turned to Cecilia. In the few seconds of silence, Cecilia realized what they had shown her was obviously classified information. She hoped her level of security was sufficient to merit this sharing, but realized they must have figured all that out before they contacted her. Cecilia said, “I have been peripherally aware of these issues for at least the last few years. But, frankly Madame Secretary – Colonel Oates – I’m still confused as to how I can help you with this situation.”
The Secretary and Colonel looked at one another, and she nodded to the Colonel. He looked at Cecilia intently, and then said “We know that you have been a close colleague of Dr. Nikolai Kardashev, the Russian cosmologist. We understand that you correspond frequently with him relative to some of the technical issues associated with your research.” Cecilia nodded, saying “Yes, Dr. Kardashev and I have been friends and colleagues for years. Of course he is much older and frankly wiser than I, but I think he enjoys our conversations both about work and also about philosophy. I suppose you could call him my mentor.” The Secretary and the Colonel looked at one another, and then the Secretary spoke to Cecilia. “We think it’s important for you to carry a message to Dr. Kardashev. In fact, the President himself would like for you to travel to Russia on his behalf to deliver this message.”
Without thinking, Cecilia blurted out “What message?” Then she stopped herself, realizing the Secretary had just said the President was interested in her going to Russia to say something to her friend the eminent scientist. The Secretary smiled indulgently. “I know what you’re thinking, but believe me: this is a message of peace, and not one of taking sides in a likely, incipient world war.” “Oh my God, Cecilia thought, chilled at the words “incipient world war.” In the nuclear age, that can only mean death and destruction on a massive scale. The Secretary continued, “We – the President and I – think Dr. Kardashev has the credibility and authority to speak to the world and potentially avert the oncoming conflict. The world needs to see beyond today and even tomorrow, to the future, and the possibility of extracting necessary supplies of water from the groundwater on Mars.” This made Cecilia frown, and shake her head. “But you must be aware that we have not solved the technical problems associated with water extraction. While we know there is a 100 year supply of fresh water at current usage rates underground in Mars, the lack of funding has hindered our ability to figure out how to extract that water and keep it from evaporating into Mars’ low gravity atmosphere.” Cecilia extracted a copy of the illustration for the groundwater quantities on Mars, showing it to the Secretary, with the colonel looking over her shoulder. “Yes, we are aware of your team’s findings in that regard. Remember who funds your research,” the Secretary said, a bit firmer this time. She continued on, pointing at the illustration. “We know that resource is available. We have the technology to get there and back in a reasonable length of time, using SpaceX rockets. But you said yourself that funding problems had been hindering your team’s ability to solve the problem of capturing the water before it disappears into the atmosphere. What if funding could come from all across the globe? What if your team of scientists from the U.S., Canada, China, Europe, Australia and Russia could explain to the politicians of the world that salvation will come, not from stealing water from one another, but from a joint effort to mine it extra-terrestrially?”
Cecilia thought the idea was audacious and risky, but given the alternatives, it certainly was worth a try. She and Nikolai had a very close relationship of long standing. She believed that Secretary Morrison was likely correct about his having the authority and presence to make the case to the world. Cecilia looked at the two individuals looking expectantly at her. “When do I leave?” The Secretary and Colonel Oates smiled. “Very, very soon,” was their response.