The Professor winced when he got out of his flight capsule.  He had to keep reminding himself of how crucial his assignment was, that every little bit counted.  No matter how hopeless it seemed.

“Remember, you’re doing sacred work, Henrik,” he muttered under his breath.

A rag-tag crowd of natives was already beginning to gather, gawking at his ship. A few of them cheered and applauded, but most just stared, stone-faced.

Naomi bounded out to meet him.  She looked energetic as ever, no matter how much human misery she witnessed on a daily basis.

“Thank you for agreeing to come here, sir,” she said after hugging him. “This is a rough area.”

“Rough areas are my job,”  he replied, his Swedish accent making the word “job” softer. Not all of his colleagues at World United agreed that the charity missions to Merka were worthwhile. He couldn’t blame them.  Visiting a place like New York wasn’t too bad–it was quaint with all the red brick, and the traffic-clogged streets and old-fashioned subways, but one still felt connected to civilization.  Out here, though….

“What part of Virginia are we in again?”  he whispered to Naomi.

“Western Virginia, sir,”  she whispered back.

The Merkans continued to eye him with suspicion, but they also started quietly lining up, knowing that a World United flight meant food and aid packages for them.  It was a heart-wrenching sight: a long line of silent, ragged figures, pretending to be too proud to care about the hand-out they were waiting for.

But Naomi was beaming at him. “We’ve got something very special lined up for you today, sir.”

He gave her a weary smile.  She led him carefully down the steps from the landing pad, and then down a narrow, uneven sidewalk, manoeuvering him past a large pothole.  On the other side of the street was a row of the typical small shacks Merkans lived in, holes covered with blue tarp, walls stained by the smoke from the town factory.  He could sense the residents peering at him from their doorways, but they were blocked from approaching him by a mix of local police and World United security.

They stopped underneath a flashing blue sign which read Debbie’s Cafe.

“We wanted to treat you to the best Virginia has to offer,”  Naomi said, showing him to a table on the side patio of the cafe. A server immediately jogged up with a styrofoam tray of greasy fries.

He would never admit it to anyone back in Europe, but Henrik enjoyed some of these exotic Merkan foods quite a bit. They never did switch to the health service diet over here. Of course, they never did get a decent health service, either.

Naomi interrupted his fascination with the fries when she tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to a red-headed boy who had climbed a small podium and positioned himself behind a cheap portable keyboard.

After an announcement by a community center music teacher which Henrik didn’t pay attention to, the boy began to play.

It was a halting but graceful version of the old Cohen classic, Hallelujah. As the sounds melted away into the humid Merkan afternoon, Henrik was once again overcome with wonder. It was here, among these simple people in their slums, that he could find something akin to spiritual enlightenment.  He breathed it in.

The kid was talented.  He listened for a while with his eyes closed.  After the song stopped, the teacher and Naomi clapped with great enthusiasm.  Henrik walked up to congratulate the young musician, and the gaunt and nervous mother hovering behind him.

Henrik shook the boy’s hand. “Excellent job!  That was amazing!”  he said.  “Would you please give me your contact info?  I could get you a visa for anywhere in the Northern World Region.  You could study music at a real university.  What do you think, huh?”

The boy blushed and gazed at the ground.

His mother looked even more nervous. “I don’t know about that, mister,”  she said.  “I listen to the radio news and they’ve explained all about World United.  It might not be so good for him.”

He should’ve known. He had heard this so many times before. “Surely he won’t be able to get any real music training here, is he?”

“If we work hard and we save our money up, we might be able to get there,”  the woman said.  “At least here in Merka, we have the freedom to try.  My child isn’t going to be oppressed by a one world socialist government.”

“He wouldn’t have to live there forever,”  Henrik explained.  “And he would be free to make his own choices…”

“Yeah, if he chooses to be a gay snowflake,”  the woman shot back. “Look, his teacher wanted him to perform for you today, so I let him perform.  But I’m not letting you take him anywhere. We’re still the best country in the world.  I don’t care what anybody else says.”

The professor suspected that he was getting at least some of this hostility courtesy of his dark skin. The white Merkan natives always seemed to have an issue with that.

“That’s right.”  An older man standing nearby nodded vigorously.  Henrik couldn’t tell if he was a father or a grandfather. Most of his teeth were missing, his body bent from a lifetime of grueling labor.  “That’s right.  I thank God every day that I was lucky enough to be born in Merka.”

“Living in the rest of the world is not quite the nightmare you imagine it to be,”  Henrik said.  “We lead very normal lives.”

“Nope.  Nice try, but you can’t fool us,”  the woman said. “I listen to the Han Stannity show every day.  Good man.  He gives us all the information about what really goes on over there–how they tax you to death, how the only way you can get medical care is through the government…”

Her son stared at her, wide-eyed.

“We know the truth!”  the woman finished triumphantly.

Henrik bowed to her and her son.  “I suppose if you’ve found out the truth about us, there’s not much I can do to persuade you otherwise.  I wish you all the best for your future, young man.”  For a moment, his mask of politeness slipped.  “With all due respect, though, Han Stannity is a complete moron.”

He turned and slowly walked away.

“You can go fuck yourself!  You and your country!”  He could hear the woman screaming after him. “We will bomb the shit out of you!”

That would have been a scary threat, Henrik thought. A scary threat…about fifty years or so ago.

Naomi was waiting for him, her face drawn, her hands folded together.  “That was so disappointing, Henrik. I’ll have one of the event organizers speak to them.”

The professor waved his arms. “No, no, don’t.  It’s not necessary.”

He sat down and went back to sipping his beer. Now that the woman was done screaming, she and her family began making their way to the World United food and medicine distribution point.  There would also be doctors available there to give them free medical and dental exams.

He didn’t feel any anger as he watched these fiery warriors for liberty rushing to claim assistance from the institution they so hated.  He realized their fist shaking fury was a symptom of their total powerlessness.

He smiled at Naomi across the table.  “Please, don’t look so anxious, my dear.  I have never lost faith in the value of our mission.”

“It just breaks my heart that a man like you, who only wants to help others, gets treated like this.”

This would be the perfect time to hop on his return flight back to Stockholm.  In fact, it was way overdue.  He was done with this place.

“Naomi, this isn’t all about me helping them.  The truth is, these people help me.  They help me find gratitude–gratitude for what we’ve got in the rest of the world.”

And as she waved a tearful goodbye to him and he climbed back up to his flying ship, he added to himself:

“Where else could I go to feel this superior?”

 

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When America first woke up, she didn’t know where she was.

She wobbled upright on the couch, her head spinning, the stink of Old Crow and cheap beer hanging in the air.  “I’ve got to stop having these crazy blackouts,” she thought.

There was the sound of incoherent mumbling nearby.  She gingerly turned her head to look.  Oh, God.  Richard Spencer was passed out next to her, his head back and his mouth open.  Was it possible?  Did she make out with a Nazi last night?

America rubbed her face and tried to remember what the hell happened.  Nightmarish images floated back to her.  The fascist embracing her waist, whispering in her ear.  “I will make you feel like a real woman… you’re not a woman until you’ve been taken by a strong man…”  And she had let him take her, she suspected.

Her living room was torn to pieces.  Trash everywhere.  The plants on her windowsill were dead.  There were greasy spills and burns on the carpet–and a few unconscious people, most of whom she didn’t know.

She stood up on shaky legs and made her way to the bathroom.  Clutching the sink, she did her best to straighten up her hair.  The water which ran from her tap was filthy, so she gave up on the idea of splashing her face.

A noise from somewhere in the house caught her attention.  There it was again–a tiny, quiet sob.  She wandered into the kitchen and found her daughter crouched under the table, shaking.

“Oh, honey,” America said, reaching out to her.  “I’m sorry things got so nuts.”

“Mom…what did you do to our house?”

“It’ll get cleaned up, sweetheart.  I guess…I just wanted to try something different for a change.  Our lives had gotten so boring…so politically correct…”

More and more of it was coming back to her.  The kitchen table surrounded by a crowd raising a champagne toast, screaming out that everything was going to be great again.  America cheering along with them.  She would be number one again.  She would be a star again.

She snapped out of her reminiscing and looked down at her child.

“I got so damn tired of feeling guilty all the time,”  she heard herself saying.  “So I had too much to drink.  Big deal.”

“Big deal?  Mom, what about the people who got killed?”

“Someone got killed?”  America searched her mind, but she was completely blanking out on this one.

Her little girl broke down in tears again.  “The neighbors across the street…some  of the men here burned their house down…and shot them…said they were the wrong kind…”

“Really?  Huh.”  America scratched her head.  She peered back out at the wreckage of yesterday’s party.  Fuck.  What if she went to jail?

The fascist in her living room stirred and gave a loud snore.  She stared at him, her confusion turning to fear.  How would she get him out of her house?

“Shot…shot them,”  she muttered.

“Mother?”

She turned to see her daughter standing in the kitchen, a heavy backpack weighing down her skinny shoulders.

“I’m sorry, Mom.  I have to take off for a while.”

“Don’t leave, cupcake.  You feel upset right now, but it’ll get better.”

America moved in to attempt a hug, but her child pushed her away.  “I can’t stay here anymore.  It’s awful.  Our family is in debt.  The land we live on is toxic.  I have to…”

“No!  If you leave, I’ll be stuck here with…with them.”

“You shouldn’t have invited them in.”  The girl shrugged and walked out.

“Fine, go then!”  America snarled after her.  “Where you gonna go, anyway?  You don’t think the Europeans have their own problems?”

Behind her, she heard rustling and groans, much like the sound of a horde of zombies jerking into motion.

Her guests were waking up.  The party would go on.

In my continuing quest as a news junkie, I spent time this weekend trying to get more information about the Fukushima aftermath, as mainstream media reporting on this topic has been sporadic at best.  And right down the rabbit hole I went.  All the usual websites have a Fukushima conspiracy theory, and a video with scary synth music to match, talking about all the bad stuff going on in the Pacific.

But there really is lots of bad stuff going on in the Pacific.  Up and down the West Coast, starfish are disintegrating due to a mystery disease.  Sea lion pups are dying at unusual rates in California.  On land, moose in North America are collapsing and dying, and we still haven’t figured out why.  And polar bears and seals in the Arctic are losing fur and suffering open sores.

I was left with a sad conclusion–we’re poisoning our ocean and coasts.  There is no hard and fast evidence linking any of the above things to Fukushima, but it doesn’t matter if there is.  There is plenty of other pollution to go around.  Fukushima or no Fukushima, we are throwing chemicals and trash and plastic and overfishing and climate change into the mix, and sooner or later will experience the consequences.

Fukushima may still turn out to be a much bigger radiation disaster, but even if it doesn’t?  We’re doing an excellent job of killing ourselves and our world off, anyway.