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They Were So Misanthropic that the Only Reason They Could Tolerate One Another was Because of Their Dedication to Their Cause

Excerpt from the novel Rising Storm icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by S.M. Stirling icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

S.M. Stirling's "Rising Storm" book cover. [Formatted]


     Ron Labane entered Hartford feeling good. Not even the general atmosphere of industrial decay—the abandoned mills, some converted to glitzy malls, and the tract housing from the vanished heyday of the textile factories—could depress him. He’d turned the radio to a classic-rock station, and tapped out the rhythm of “Dreamboat Annie” as he drove.
     Things were moving along better and faster than he’d ever anticipated. There were now two Eco Party U.S. senators and eight congressmen in Washington and a lot more who were state representatives, five Eco Party governors: two on the West Coast, three on the East.
     Ten years ago they were nothing.
     It was a thrill to realize that the United States at last had a three-party system and that, in large part, it was due to his influence. The New Day show, the books, the clubs, the new magazine, all of these had changed the attitudes of millions of Americans. All because of his grand vision.
     Ron grinned. He felt better than good; he felt invincible. Just before heading out for his speaking engagement at U. Mass. he’d gotten a surprise visit from Eco Party chairman Sebastion MacMillan and his closest associates. He felt a surge of pure pleasure as he remembered the meeting.


     “Mr. Labane,” MacMillan said, “I realize that this is short notice, but I hope you can spare us a few moments of your time.”
     Ron looked at the professional gentleman at his door in surprise, and at his three associates. Then he smiled.
     “Come in,” he said, stepping aside and gesturing into his austere yet elegant apartment with its handcrafted third-world textiles and slight odor of organic sachet. “Can I take your coats?”
     “No, no, we won’t be staying that long.” The chairman took note of Ron’s small suitcase. “And you’re going somewhere, I see.”
     “Yes, Amherst, up in Massachusetts. I’m speaking at the university there.” He chuckled deprecatingly. “I don’t want to get the reputation of only speaking to the Ivy League.”
     The three men and one woman looked at him as though he’d said something profound. “Your egalitarianism is one of the reasons we want to speak to you,” MacMillan said.
     “Sit down, please,” Ron invited, and led them into the living room.
     He looked them over as they took their seats. The rumor was that the chairman had sent around copies of Dress for Success as soon as he’d taken over and had demanded that everyone in any position of authority make it their bible. Undoubtedly it had helped. These people had always looked intelligent; now they also looked professional therefore trustworthy. Ron looked over and met MacMillan’s eye.
     This is someone I could work with, he thought. He made a mental note to invite him onto the show.
     “I’ll get right to the point,” the chairman said. “In ten months one of New York’s senators will be leaving Washington for good. We’d like you to be our candidate for that office.”
     Ron was genuinely stunned. He’d assumed that they wanted him to do something for them. It seemed it was the other way around.
     MacMillan smiled warmly at him. “I’ve studied your career, Mr. Labane. It seems to me that the logical next step for you is public office. Your genuine dedication to ecological causes is both unselfish and unquestionable. To the general public you’re a hero; to those of us involved with the cause you’re a leader. We’d like to take that a step further and make you a leader with power.”
     The chairman pulled his briefcase onto his lap and extracted a slim file. “The party ran a straw poll to see how the idea of you as our candidate struck people.”
     He held out the file and Labane took it. Ron glanced at the other party members, who all nodded, smiling; then he opened the file. After a moment he looked up at the chairman, astounded.
     MacMillan smiled comfortably. “We’ve never had a result like that when we’ve floated a name.” He shook his head. “As you can see we didn’t restrict the poll to party members either. If you ran on our ticket today you’d be elected. In a landslide.”
     Ron smiled and shook his head, then he blew his breath out in a whistle. He laughed, he couldn’t help it. “This is ve-ry flattering.”
     “Don’t answer tonight.” The chairman held up his hand. “We know you’ll want to think about it. After all, this would be a big step.”
     He rose and the others followed suit. Taking a step forward, MacMillan held out his hand. Belatedly Ron rose to take it.
     “All we ask is that you consider it seriously. I honestly think that now is the time.”
     Ron shook the chairman’s hand. “I’ll certainly give it some thought,” he said. “I’m caught completely flat-footed here, I”—He shook his head helplessly—“honestly don’t know what to say.”
     “I’m hoping you’ll say yes,” Macmillan said, smiling. He started slowly for the door. “In a few years I think this country will be ready for a presidential candidate from our party.” He put his hand on Labane’s shoulder. “We need to do everything that we can to make that day a reality.”
     He stopped and smiled at Ron.
     “That would certainly be a wonderful day for this country,” Ron said, his head whirling. I’m already sounding like a politician, he thought.
     The chairman grinned as though he shared the thought. “Our contact information is in the file.” MacMillan held out his hand again and Ron shook it. “Good night.”
     The other three party members filed out behind the chairman, each offering his or her hand for a firm handshake, making eye contact and saying a polite good-bye that implied great pleasure in their brief acquaintance.
     After closing the door behind them, Ron simply sat down on the chair in the foyer and stared at nothing.
     No, not at nothing: into the future.


     A very pleasant memory. Even sitting down driving, Ron felt ten feet tall. The numbers had indicated that he would be the near-unanimous choice of New York voters.
     “Unanimous!” he said aloud, and laughed. New Mexico probably hadn’t hurt . . .
     This was heady stuff. Should I expect to hear from the Democrats next? he wondered. Not that he would accept an offer from them. He didn’t think his support would be unanimous with the Democrats.
     His support! He was definitely thinking like a politico already. Must mean this was meant to be.
     As Ron pulled off the highway and into the parking lot of the cheap motel, he frowned. I’ll have to be more careful, he thought. A lot more careful. Maybe this should be the last one.
     The last of hundreds of clandestine meetings that he’d held over the last few years. Meetings designed to give the last little nudge to people who didn’t need very much in the way of a push in the first place.
     But his presence had helped. Had helped to keep even the most aggressive and angry extremists from becoming too violent. While at the same time offering direction and ideas, ideas that had been making headlines for a long time now. Some people called it a “terrorist network,” but that wasn’t how things worked. It was more in the nature of an umbrella.
     He sat in his car looking at the cabin where the meeting was being held. Maybe he should just not show up at all. The truth was, of all the crazies he’d had contact with over the years, these people were the only ones who truly scared him.
     At least they haven’t killed anybody. Yet.
     No one that he knew about anyway. But when he looked in their eyes he could see that in their hearts they’d murdered thousands.
     Hell, they were so misanthropic that the only reason they could tolerate one another was because of their dedication to their cause.
     A cause which Ron had gradually come to see was not quite the same as his own.
     His fingers tapped the steering wheel and he felt his reluctance grow the longer he sat. Ron frowned. He was cagey enough to know that he wasn’t worried about what effect being seen with these people might have on his potential political career. He could always say he was trying to rein them in, and he thought he’d be believed.
     The problem was that he didn’t trust them. They looked at him like they hated him; even as they hung on his words and did as he directed, he could feel their loathing, like an oily heat against his skin.
     He pictured them in his mind’s eye as he’d seen them last. They were all young, all white, seven of them, three women and four men. He didn’t know their real names; they certainly weren’t born with names like Sauron, Balewitch, Maleficent, Dog Soldier, Death, Hate, and Orc. They were pale, and underfed, with stringy hair and a slightly swampy smell about them, as though they lived underground.
     Ron smiled at the thought. They most certainly did.
     And they were angry. Their bodies were stiff with rage, even though their faces were usually blank, until you looked at their eyes. There was emotion enough in those eyes all right, none of it wholesome.
     They didn’t talk about their families or their pasts, so he had no idea what forces had molded them into the dangerous people they’d become. But they spoke freely of their education. Each of them was brilliant, each had received scholarships and had attended prestigious universities.
     And each one thinks he or she is the smartest one in the group and should be in control, Ron thought.
     They thought they were smarter than he was, too. It didn’t take a genius to guess that they were jealous of him and resented his influence—on them and on other people. Influence they wanted for themselves.
     He gave a shudder and pulled the keys from the ignition with a jangle of metal. This wasn’t going to get any better with waiting.
     He strode to the door of the cabin and gave the prescribed knock. Two knocks, pause, one knock, pause, five knocks, pause, one knock.
     “Who is it?” a surly male voice demanded.
     “English muffin,” Ron said wearily. There was a peephole in the door for crissake!
     The door swung open on a darkened room and Labane entered with an audible sigh. He closed the door behind him. “May we have some light?” he asked with exaggerated patience.
     Maleficent turned on the lamp beside her chair and glared at him with what appeared to be heartfelt contempt. “You’re late,” she said coldly.
     “Yes,” he agreed. “I was delayed starting out.”
     Ron went over and sat on the bed, almost landing on Sauron’s legs, since that worthy disdained to move them. “It’s been a while,” Ron said.
     “Meaning?” Balewitch snapped in her foghorn voice, ice-pale eyes blazing. She, more than the rest, was inclined to take every remark personally.
     “Just an observation,” Ron said, his voice carefully unapologetic.
     He decided to say nothing more. They’d asked for this meeting; therefore, let them talk. The old Buddhist stuff about the power of silence had something to it; if you made the other guy speak first, you had him off balance. He waited, and waited, feeling like a mailman surrounded by Dobermans on speed. After what felt like an hour of charged silence—in reality about five minutes—Ron got to his feet and moved toward the door.
     “Thanks for inviting me to your meditation session,” he said sarcastically. “But I’ve still got a couple of hours of driving to do and a great deal of meeting and greeting at the end of it. So if there’s nothing else you wanted—”
     “Sit down,” Hate said, his uninflected voice weighty with threat.
     “No, I don’t think I will,” Ron said, clasping his hands before him. “I will give you a few more minutes. What do you want?”
     “Now you’re meeting with political mavens you think you’re too good to spend time with us?” Sauron asked.
     Ron’s head snapped around to glare at him, hiding the curdling horror he felt inside. For the first time he realized that Orc was missing. How long have they been watching me? he wondered, feeling the back of his neck clench with a sudden chill.
     Sauron sneered at him. Sauron was the smooth one; he was able to hide his feelings most of the time. He wasn’t bothering now. “MacMillan and his school of sycophants,” he drawled. “But they didn’t linger.”
     “No,” Labane agreed. “They said what they came to say and they left.” He looked at each of them. “Their arrival was as much a surprise to me as it was to Orc.”
     “We weren’t surprised,” Balewitch said. Her graying bristle-cut clean for a change, she stared at him as if he was a spot on a white wall.
     “Is that why you asked me here? To discuss their proposal?” Ron asked, trying not to let them see how disturbed he was.
     “Have you sold your soul yet?” Death asked, looking at him sidelong through a dark curtain of her lank hair.
     Ron snorted. “They offered to sponsor me as a candidate for the Senate from New York,” he told them. Even though they probably already knew that.
     “And?” Dog Soldier asked, his voice disinterested.
     “And, I’m considering it.”
     Maleficent actually hissed. Ron looked at her, one brow raised. “That’s where the evil is,” she said.
     “That’s where the money is,” Dog Soldier corrected.
     Maleficent shot him a glare that should have singed his hair.
     “That’s where the power is,” Ron interrupted.
     “The power to change things?” Dog Soldier asked, a smirk playing on his lips. “The power to right all the wrongs, cross all the ts, dot all the is.”
     “Yes,” Ron said. “Why shouldn’t I want that kind of power? Think of the good I could do for the cause with that kind of influence.”
     There was the strangest feeling then, as though, without moving, they’d all drawn back from him in disgust.
     “That’s the sort of thing someone who’d already made up his mind might say to excuse being greedy,” Sauron observed. “You already have a lot of influence with your little television show.”
     “Influence with power behind it will go a lot further,” Labane insisted. “And there’s no telling how high this road could climb. This is a golden opportunity for our cause.”
     The six of them exchanged glances around him.
     “I suspect that we have different goals,” Death told him.
     “We all want to save the planet!” Labane said in exasperation.
     Once again their eyes met, excluding Ron.
     “Fine,” he snarled. “Just forget it. I’m outta here.”
     “Ron.” Sauron stopped Labane with his hand on the doorknob. “Just in case the thought has crossed your mind, I’d like to discourage you from any ideas you might have of turning us in.” He shook his head. “That would be a very bad idea.”
     “I do know something about loyalty,” Ron said.
     “If you’re going to be a politician that’ll be the first thing to go,” Dog Soldier told him, snickering.
     “You do us the dirty and you’d better watch your back, Labane,” Death warned, her dark eyes narrowed to slits.
     “You know what?” Ron said. “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”
     “Thanks for dropping by, Ron,” Sauron called just before the door slammed.
     They were quiet for a while. Then Maleficent observed, “He’s gone over to the other side. He just doesn’t know it yet.”
     “And he never will,” Dog Soldier said. “That kind of insight takes time.”
     “Death to traitors,” Balewitch growled.
     They crossed glances again. This time they smiled.


     Ron felt better once he’d left Connecticut behind him. Being with that crowd was always a trial, but tonight! Tonight had been different. The idea that they had been watching him made his stomach clench like an angry fist. How dare those sick little bastards spy on him? How long has this been going on?
     And how far had it gone?
     The thought frightened him and the fear broke the fever of his outrage with a cold sweat. Had they been in his apartment?
     No, he assured himself, they couldn’t have; I’d have smelled them. The contempt felt good.
     Besides, he paid a premium to live in a building with first-class security. It was one thing to watch MacMillan enter his building and to guess where he was going. It was quite another to actually break in.
     His eyes flicked to the mirror to watch a car coming up behind. A little frisson of fear shivered through his belly. Was it them? Were they up to something?
     As the vehicle passed him he saw that it was one of those pickups with a complete backseat and what seemed to be an eighteen-foot bed—known in some circles as an “adultery wagon.” Ron relaxed, feeling himself loosen, almost deflating behind the wheel. Even in deep disguise, that crowd wouldn’t go near one of those things. Unless they planned to bomb it.
     He forced himself to be calm. They had no reason to be after him. He’d never betrayed them. And I don’t need to betray them now. Without him to keep them on an even keel, they’d be in police custody in a month. Most likely they’d betray one another.
     Geniuses! He gave his head a little shake. A lot of the time they had no practical sense at all. They wouldn’t last long enough to create problems for him.
     And if they did . . . well, he knew some other people, too.


     Labane entered the pleasant guest room—plenty of froufrou and color, to match the theme—and flung his jacket onto the tiny sofa; then he pulled off his tie and threw that down, too. Unbuttoning his cuffs, he entered the bathroom, unbuttoned his collar, and turned on the tap. He splashed cold water on his face, dried off with one of the inn’s luxurious towels, and stared at himself in the mirror.
     He looked almost as exhausted as he felt.
     Last night had run later than he’d planned, but the company had been good. Besides, he suspected that he’d been too keyed up for an early night. Then today there was the traditional campus tour, followed by the obligatory meeting with the campus’s ecology clubs, an interview with the local press, a formal dinner with the president of the college and all of the faculty and guests from the surrounding colleges—of which the area held a multitude—and then his address to the college. After which there was a mill-and-swill where some people introduced themselves and spoke with him, and more people stared at him from a distance as though he were an exhibit.
     God, it was good to be alone again. He went back into the room and sat in one of the comfortable club chairs; he wondered idly if they were Victorian. Didn’t seem likely. The chair didn’t try to make him sit ramrod straight and the cushions accepted the shape of his posterior without the apparent resentment of true Victorian furniture.
     He’d ordered coffee, and though he knew that the average guest would have been denied, his celebrity status got him what he wanted.
     Ron smiled; life was good. He was tired, but it was worth it. Seeing all those eager young faces, knowing they were hanging on his every word, shaping their lives to fit his philosophy. He closed his eyes, hands folded across his stomach, sighed contentedly. It just didn’t get any better than this.
     There was a discreet knock at the door.
     “Room service.”
     “C’mon in, it’s open,” Ron called out from his chair. “You can just put it there on the coffee table.”
     Then he realized that there was more than one person entering the room. He opened his eyes, annoyed, but smiling through it. Sometimes being a celebrity got you what you wanted, but sometimes the fans wanted something back in return; like the opportunity to show you off to their friends.
     Then he realized he was looking at Hate and Dog Soldier. The artiicial smile froze on his face, then slipped away. “What’s up, fellas?” he asked.
     Hate handed Dog Soldier a pillow from off the bed. Dog Soldier pulled out a huge gun and wrapped the pillow around it.
     “Wait a minute!” Ron said, holding up his hand.
     “Not even,” Dog Soldier said cheerfully, and shot him between the eyes.
     At least that was where he’d been aiming. With large-caliber ammunition it was sometimes hard to tell exactly where the bullet struck.
     Hate picked up the phone and dialed room service. “I’m so sorry,” he said in a nearly perfect imitation of Labane’s voice. “I have to cancel that request for coffee. I’m suddenly so tired I couldn’t even take a sip. I apologize for the inconvenience.”
     Dog Soldier watched him as he put the gun down on the coffee table.
     “Oh, thank you,” Hate said into the phone pleasantly.
     Dog raised a brow as he flung the pillow back onto the bed and took out a small box.
     “Well, that’s always nice to hear,” Hate said.
     Dog got to work on the gun, unscrewing the handgrip and carefully replacing the grip plates with those that had been handled by their mark.
     “Really,” Hate said, rolling his eyes and gritting his teeth even as he kept his voice friendly and cheerful. “All that way? Just for me?”
     Dog Soldier grinned and shook his head.
     “Well, thank you, but I really must go. Yes. Yes, everything is wonderful. Yes. Thank you. You’re very sweet. I must go. Yes. Good night.” Hate put down the receiver carefully. “I was ready to go down there and blow them all away,” he snarled. “Cattle!
     Dog chuckled. “I don’t blame you, man. People get to me the same way. Save the planet—kill all the people!”

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