Dragon's Breath Magazine, September '91

Sungone, by Colin Campbell
     Look, it wasn't my fault. Not really. It was just another demonstration at a nuclear power plant, and we hadn't been getting enough network coverage. The crowd was big, but polite. The National Guard ringed the plant and we were hundreds of feet from the gate. We were as close as we were going to get.
     I gave the nod to the dancers, and to the cameramen. Today's demonstration was going out live, I hoped, and if not live maybe we could get tape on the network news. We had a satellite relay to New York ready just in case, uplinked through a synchronous satellite.
     The old Indian stepped forward with his bag of grisly shaman's tools and something about him and his Indian mates caught the crowd's attention. The six other Indians, in elaborate costume, began a slow and complex dance. Each one passed the old man; he pulled a mummified owl from the bag and handed it to the first dancer, a pickled human fetus to the second, and so on. I was glad I didn't have to explain the fetishes to the national audience. The old man looked noble and strong despite his obvious age. The girls told me he claimed to be 119 years old.
     The dance stopped with the six dancers in an array around him. "The world is as we agree to see it," he said. "We must channel human belief into the old ways, the ways of nature."

     A brisk Santa Ana wind electrified the air and when the old man paused the silence was tremendous, a baking silence, yet when he spoke the air was translucent to his voice, and those a thousand yards away heard easily. Those watching on TV heard, too.
     "The danger is atoms changing into poison. The radiation rots strong metal, it destroys all. It is wrong to change atoms, evil. The ways of nature do not need atomic change."
     I turned to Leslie. "Where does this guy come from with the atomic talk? I thought he'd been living in the hills a hundred years?"
     "The minds of all men are the source of the universe," the old man said. "A hundred years ago there were no unstable atoms. We did not seek instability; therefore there was none. If we the people agree to it, if we decide we don't want it, we can refute the authorities, we can stop the power companies, and end the terror and destruction of atomic power."
     The old Indian rambled on, and the crowd's contact high became contagious. Dizzying forces seemed to be gathering.
     My phone beeped--it was Jenkins, the guy from the Anti-Nuke Committee who'd hired me. "Great work, Sam! We're gaining ratings on cable fast, and CNN wants to go to live coverage! Tell your crew to be on their toes." He disconnected.
     Even the National Guardsmen at the gate were becoming enthralled. There was a sense of immersion in a stupendous event. "Come on, he's just an old fart with a bag of bones," I said. The girls ignored me.

     Last night in New York I'd gotten a phone call from Jenkins: "Sam, I just talked to CNN and they say they're pulling out, they can't afford to sit around unless you can promise some action."
     "Mr. Jenkins, I told you I could bring out a big crowd. You're the one with the program to sell them. You want them to storm the gate, is that it?"
     "No of course not. We're here for a peaceful demonstration. Look, Sam, we're paying you a lot of money to make sure we get a lot of coverage for this thing--not just to bring us a crowd. I want you to get out to that site and stir things up. Find a new angle for CNN to cover--I already promised them."
     "But I--"
     "Just do it," said Jenkins, and hung up. So I flew west with a couple of the girls, Lesly and Sandra. They did all the work. Even before our private jet got out of LaGuardia they were searching the datanets for me, finding things out. All I do is take the credit--and the flak.
     We were over Colorado when they told me about an old Indian man who lived on Point Conception, some kind of local witch doctor who claimed to have successfully hexed the liquid natural gas plant that the power company wanted to build there thirty years ago. The proof was, the old man claimed, that to this day the plant has never been built. He was willing to hex the nuclear power plant, or so the girl's infonet said.
     I told the pilot to head for Santa Barbara, where President Reagan lived before he died. The demonstration was up the coast a hundred miles but I preferred to stay at the Biltmore.
     It was just dusk when we landed and we had to make something happen before noon tomorrow. I sent Leslie and Sandra scooting up the coast in a rented Toyota van to see if we could get the guy to do his schtick at the demonstration. "If all else fails, offer him a couple of grand," I told them.
     You wouldn't think it would be so hard to drum up coverage, because the media today are so antinuke. But there are lots of demonstrations. You just look at the news and there are dozens of hot spots. Three weeks ago, Surry Unit 1 blew out. Gravel Neck, Virginia, was now a ghost town, with twelve people dead and hundreds more in critical condition with severe radiation exposure. Last week, the Turkey Point reactor in Florida City vented huge amounts of radioactive steam and two workers died stopping the leak; the countryside was evacuated, and even though there were no reports of radiation exposure, it scared the poop out of the nation.
     I didn't care one way or another: that wasn't my job. Two years ago when the Vermont Yankee station conked out, I recruited hot jumpers for the power company. You didn't hear much about it because there was no spill, just internal damage, and we were able to hush it up pretty well. Luckily it happened the same day the Space Shuttle crashed and we slipped by under the more important story.
     The pipes inside Vermont Yankee were rotted with radiation and had burst and needed to be replaced. The power company had robots to weld the pipes together, but pipes had to be fetched, welding supplies on the robots had to be replaced.
     So we needed hot jumpers.It was unskilled labor and the law limited a person to 4 hours of exposure per six months. It paid good, and I set up a little office and delivered a steady stream of guys from New York, and kept it quiet. Sometimes you want to keep the media out.
     I offered guys $1000 cash plus room and board for the week they'd be there. Takes two days to train them, then they dash inside for timed forays until their four hours is used up, which is usually before the week is out.
     Some of the guys came back to see me even though their six months wasn't up yet, but they needed the money pretty bad and I helped them slip through again and again.
     It's a living.
     I really wasn't paying much attention to the Indian's speech. Now that Jenkins had told me about the network coverage I wanted to direct the cameras myself. Sandra was supposed to be the director, but she was standing transfixed. I took the control panel out of her hands and she didn't notice.
     The control panel was a slab of silicon the size of a kitchen cutting board. Right now it was divided into five small TV screens, one for each camera. The cameramen were listening to the speech, too, and the feed was coming strictly from one camera showing a medium shot of the Indian. I instructed camera 5 to pan the crowd and cut to that with the Indian as an inset. My earphone jangled instantly and New York instructed me to stick to the medium shot and quit fucking around. Yessir.

     I wiped the TV screens off the control panel and asked for real-time ratings analysis. It was amazing: at that moment we were number one in the world, more than three hundred and seventy million TV sets were linked to us, something not even the Solar Bowl had ever achieved. And networks were still joining. There must have been a hell of a lot of word of mouth. The analysis showed me that the broadcast was being computer-translated and fed to thirty five countries in twelve languages--and those numbers kept increasing as I watched. It was building into the biggest broadcast in history.
     I still couldn't see what the big deal was, but I was glad to be in on it. The old man gabbled for another fifteen or twenty minutes and it sounded lik e the usual muddled hodgepodge, plus mysticism. He didn't lose a listener. Then he asked everyone to rise, both here and at home before their TV sets, and, as he combined in a bowl the various ingredients the dancers handed back to him, asked the audience to chant with him:
     "End radiation--let atoms be stable!"
     The chant repeated six times, growing louder each time, and with the sixth repetition the old man pulled a rabbit from under his costume and plunged a knife through the rabbit. Blood sprayed over the bowl. The tremendous sound of the crowd snapped into silence for a long moment, longer and longer, and then a shocked muttering arose.
     The old man was done. He and the other Indians methodically gathered their costumes--some parts had been tossed aside during the dance.
     I used the control panel to say to the on-site announcer, "Okay, Perry, give us a quick summary while I have Rod gather a couple of people to interview."
     Perry started to babble something but the crowd roar was rising and I couldn't see why. The old man had finished gathering his materials and was staring toward the powerplant, shading his eyes with his hand. I looked at the powerplant: the National Guard was in retreat, streaming into the gate, falling back from the fence toward the building, consolidating its force. There seemed to be frantic activity inside the plant.
     Then I understood the crowd's mutter: the power plant had shut down. The old man's hex had worked.
     ABC had a reporter inside with the plant director, and I watched on the control panel as New York tried a live interview with him. The director was whitefaced and answered no questions.
     Then New York interrupted with a special bulletin: all atomic power plants around the world had ceased to function. In fact, all radioactive materials had ceased radiating. There no longer was any such thing as atomic power. New York went on blathering about the effect on the arms race but I thumbed the controls. "Rod! Get close to that Indian and interview him, let's get this story."
     The demonstration site was pandemonium, with cheer after cheer rippling through the crowd, but Rod got to him fast. Another bonus for that boy. Not that money's any good anymore.
     The Indian seemed stunned himself; he was silent for long moments, after Rod said: "Your speech was broadcast to an unprecedented live audience of six hundred million people.
     "Not only this power plant but apparently every nuclear device in the world has ceased to operate. Was this your plan? How did it happen?"
     The old man looked at the crowd, at the cameras. "The world is as the mind sees it. Today you tell me six hundred million watched this ceremony. Their minds joined through my focus to bring stability, to re-define the way of the world. And it is good."
     He wouldn't talk any more, and the six other Indians became bodyguards escorting him away. Rod started the audience-reaction interviews, but then the interview cameraman said in my earplug, "Dammit, I'm losing light, wait a minute."
     I looked up, expecting a cloud. Instead, I saw that the sun was dimming, turning red. I found out later that it happened exactly 16 minutes after the old man plunged the knife into the rabbit. It takes eight minutes for light to get to Earth from the sun. The effect of the Indian's hex must have reached the sun in eight minutes itself--at the speed of light.
     You know the rest. The sun grew steadily dimmer. It was winter throughout the world within four months, and has remained winter for the last thirty years. The sun is a sullen red lump in a dark sky, you can look at it easily without harm at high noon. The sun's atoms of hydrogen are stable, now, and cannot fuse into helium. There is no atomic power for stars, either.
     There are still some two million people of the privileged classes; we survive in our burrows, our non-atomic burrows. We shall survive a while more.

     We managed to interview the old Indian just before the mobs got him, and he was unrepentant. "Yes, I knew the stars ran on atoms. But the day of the red man was done. The white man robbed and disgraced us. There are few Indians left; it is better to die in this final battle. And win."
     The nearby stars have started to wink out as the effect of the hex spreads at the speed of light; we have murdered the universe.

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