At the end of her story of tomatoes and the future, Annie believed there was no hope. But the future is not here yet.
There must be hope.
Cassie sat, transfixed by the fiendish device. Pulsing rays from the hypnotic screen bathed her face in an eerie light. On the screen was a man with a microphone. He stood in front of large cyclone wire gates. Between the gates to the factory and the reporter, was a mob of workers. They were manning a peaceful picket line, and stood about in straggling groups, chatting under banners and making cups of tea over campfires.
Toby O'Meary felt more confident behind a microphone now. His coverage of the Globe of Hope, as the alien message had been called, had earned him instant status as a reporter. He checked about him to make sure all was ready, gave "Harpic" Marx a reassuring grin and spoke.
"Our world is changing. Across the face of this Earth, people are standing up for a new future. The unprecedented wave of popular action is typified by the strike here, at the Bondi Sewerage Works. Here we see how people have changed, caught up in the tide of peace that has flowed over the world.
"Speaking for his work-mates is `Harpic' Marx." Toby turned to Harpic. "What do you want to say to the people of the world?"
Harpic cleared his throat nervously, before beginning the speech that his work-mates had helped him prepare.
"I once heard someone say that life is like a sewer." Harpic's voice firmed as he told the old yarn. "What you get out of it depends on what you put into it. Well, that's the way we've been treating this planet, taking everything it has to give us and treating it like shit in return. It's got to stop!"
Toby O'Meary was pleased with his choice of subject. The man was interesting. Slight of build, Harpic's stance suggested strength, and he had a tenacious look on his weathered face.
"If we just think for a minute we have to realize that there are better ways to do things," Harpic continued. "The wastes we process could be turned into fertilizer. If we put something back into our soil it will improve. The chemicals farmers are using now are just turning good land into desert.
"I mean, I know it's not like that everywhere, but we have to do the right thing everywhere. There are too many people for this world to support already - we have to use every piece of it the best we can. And we can't cut forests down to make farms any more.
"This morning I spoke on the phone to the President of the British Sewer Worker's Union. From tomorrow morning our comrades in the British Isles will be on strike. We will join other workers whose strikes have spread across the world.
"If there was something I could say to the people who have the power to make the decisions, it would be this," the camera zoomed in as Harpic's voice became earnest. "Your children will have to live in this world too. We are a fortunate people on a fortunate planet. To turn our back on the environment and behave as though there is no tomorrow is just plain stupid. You must make your decisions according to what this planet needs, not according to what is profitable for you.
"And I want to tell everybody not to let the bastards get away with it. If you know that something is being done wrong, tell somebody. Jump up and down until something is done. This is our planet and we're not gonna let some bastards stuff it up!"
Cassie felt like applauding as the men and women behind Harpic broke into a chorus of “The workers, united, will never be defeated!” The last few days had bordered on being unbelievable, but here was the proof that it wasn't all a dream. The bubble hadn't burst. Instead it had gained substance and spread, threatening to envelope the world with active good-will.
It was as though the people of the Earth had just been waiting for a chance to prove that they did know how to care for each other, and for the world around them. Local communities were somehow invigorated by the alien message. There were bursts of energy that made it seem as though the whole world was Spring Cleaning. While local environmental groups organized themselves, people directed their energy into cleaning up their own back-yards, and then they turned to help their neighbours.
Local government was in a frenzy. They had accepted the challenge to “Think Global, Act Local”. While they registered groups, identified trouble spots and looked for ways to reduce greenhouse emissions, higher levels of government explored all the avenues for making their country "Green". Business and industry slowed down as Company Directors joined with representatives from the factory floor to discuss the sorts of changes that may be necessary.
Throughout the world there was also an understanding that this was only the beginning. The people of the Earth looked with united vision to the changes that would have to be made in the long-term. Governments finally acknowledged the need to implement immediate changes, as well as long-term plans that would change their societies, and the world around them.
And they hesitated, afraid of the enormity of the task.
Cassie sat nervously on the dais.
The multitude that had been gathering could be seen in all directions. The gardens were swarming with people. The throng extended from the gardens and out into the streets that surrounded the government buildings. The streets of Melbourne had come to a standstill.
Industry and commerce were also virtually halted.
The organizers of the rally were rushing about frantically, talking to police liaison officers and trying to ensure that the hordes of people were being properly controlled.
It wasn't necessary, though. The people in the gardens milled about, breaking up and reforming groups on the lawns. The jazz band had parked their truck at one end of the garden, as far as possible from the rock group that had set up on the steps of the State Parliament.
The people in the streets who could not reach the gardens stood about happily. Speakers were being hastily set up on street corners so that every-one could hear the speeches. Marshals with megaphones patrolled the streets telling people to tune any radios they had to 3LO for a full coverage of the events, and keeping an eye on a crowd that was excited but peaceful.
Enterprising buskers took up stations away from the main arena and led the crowd in renditions of every protest song that people could remember. The sounds of peace and hope filled the streets of Melbourne, just as they were filling the streets of every large city in the world.
Linda found the crowd exciting. She sometimes accompanied her mother to demonstrations, but never anything like this. There were just so many people! She held more firmly onto Morgan's arm. He squeezed her hand as they threaded through the throngs, Ang and Jason leading the way. Ang finally stopped in front of a street theatre.
Homeless youths who had been helped to settle into unoccupied buildings were repaying the community with free entertainment. Their crude pantomime told of the life they had led, and of the life they hoped to lead. Their message of hope for the future was appreciated by the crowd.
The actors took their final bows and began packing up. Ang stepped over to the huge man who helped them.
"Hi Harry! I knew I'd find you here somewhere."
"Ang. It's good to see you again. You've come with your friends, have you?" He paused as if a little overcome. "You must forgive me. It's just such a glorious day!" He looked at the people milling about, contentedly moving this way and that while they waited for the speeches to begin. "I never thought I'd live to see people care so much for one another, but I do believe it's happening. Isn't it wonderful!"
The four friends smiled and nodded. They, too, were exhilarated by the mood of the day.
"I just wanted another chance to thank you," said Ang. "I might not have been here if it wasn't for you. Thanks."
In reply, Harry administered a solid bear-hug. When he released Ang from his grip he spoke.
"Just make sure to remember how lucky you are. It's good to be here, isn't it?"
"Yes," agreed the four friends before Harry left, hot on the trail of his performers, who were seeking a new location.
Linda looked at the crowd about her, then looked at her friends, then smiled.
"It is good to be here," she said.
John and Sheila Sortilege had chosen to remain at home. So many people gathered together could be exhausting for people of their capabilities. Although this day's crowd would not have been taxing. Even as far away as their home, they were basking in the glow of good will that originated in the mass of humankind that had gathered in the city.
But they were enjoying Toby O'Meary's coverage of the event on the television set.
"It's good to be here," murmured Sheila Sortilege.
The Teachers' Unions had begun planning their festival as a demonstration of support for the actions that were being taken by other workers around the world. The response from the community turned their stopwork into a Festival of Peace. Other cities throughout the world heard, and they also organized demonstrations of hope.
Parents were eager to join their children in massive school excursions that were planned around the country. Public Transport had to put on extra services to transport those school groups who could not be moved by the fleets of buses which would be coming from all parts of the State. Families would travel to the Treasury Gardens to declare their hope for the future. Employers gladly allowed their employees to take the time off – until they realised how many wanted to take part.
When it became apparent that every-one wanted to attend, B.B. Raven set an example, giving all his employees a very public half-day holiday. The rest of the business community threw up their hands in despair and agreed to close down for the afternoon of the day. Essential industries and community services such as hospitals arranged to broadcast events so that those who could not be there on the day would feel in touch with events.
The teachers had begun their plans because of their concern for the future generation. The response to their arrangements was unexpected. Their excursion of protest had become part of a world-wide demonstration of peace. The people of Earth had realized that caring and nurture were among the most important attributes of the human species. They now demanded that these values be given more than lip-service by their governments.
In the buildings they surrounded were politicians and public servants who were anxious to join them. The bureaucrats knew that changes had to be made. Although afraid of the disruption some changes would cause, they also understood better than most that many changes would bring welcome fringe benefits. A society that cared for its environment and cared for its people would be a better place to live, for everybody.
A blast of feedback from the speakers that had been placed all over the city signalled the opening speech. Glancing a smile at Richard, Annie stepped up to the microphone.
"I am honoured," she said, trying to gauge how her voice was being taken by the amplification system, trying to ignore the faint echoes that came from distant, quiet streets. "I am honoured to be allowed to speak here today for the teachers of Victoria. I am proud to have helped to organize this day, and I have never had such a worthwhile headache." Annie paused to allow the polite laughter to subside.
"In the past, teachers have struck to improve conditions in the education system, to improve the education of our precious children. We have accepted the job the community has given us, trying to help our students achieve maturity as worthwhile citizens.
"Today the children have joined us. Today the world has joined us. Today we are trying to change the world."
Annie waited while the cheering died down.
"There is no point preparing our children for the future if there isn't going to be one!"
A shout of agreement answered Annie's exclamation.
"Today we are telling the governments of the world that they have to change. The environment must be cared for. People must be cared for. We will accept nothing less than what the world deserves.
"Standing in front of me is a sea of faces. Already many of you have been involved in community projects, helping out neighbours or working on a local trouble spot. You have already begun tackling environmental and social problems, improving your local area. Without the help of the government you have already achieved wonders. With the help of the government we can achieve miracles!"
"Yes!" the crowds shouted in response.
"The powerful businessmen who have been above the law until now, controlling the fortunes of the world, have to be brought into line. Those who have not already signed B.B. Raven's "Fair Share" agreement must be made to do so. The only reason they have the most to lose is that they have taken so much more than the rest of us, and that sure doesn’t excuse them from joining us in saving the world!"
Again the crowd shouted their agreement.
"Those in power throughout the world should take notice. They are being watched by the people of the world. They must now take up the work we have begun, because if they don't. . . " Annie paused dramatically, "we'll be back!"
Annie stood back from the microphone, breathlessly absorbing the excitement of the crowd as they cheered and shouted their applause.
A ripple of movement on the steps of Parliament drew Annie's attention. The doors had been flung open. Office workers with hastily constructed signs flowed out to join the welcoming crowd. They were followed by the senior public servants, and finally, by the Members of Parliament.
At the head of the politicians the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition walked. They had often faced one another over the table in the House. Now they held a placard between them, tentatively trying out the co-operation which they knew must become a habit. Their sign announced: "We will change the world!"
Annie joined the crowd in cheering her support. Behind her, Cassie rose to her feet, applauding. A rally organizer tapped Cassie on the shoulder and shouted a message into her ear. She nodded, and moved towards Annie. Before she could reach her, Annie spoke, offering the microphone to the Premier. From the distance, Annie could see him shake his head, but she could not hear what he shouted in reply.
The crowd took up the chant, though, and soon Annie turned to Cassie, shrugging as the crowd called out, "Cassie! Cassie!"
Cassie and Annie embraced joyfully, and Cassie replaced Annie at the microphone. She waited, her heart swelling, while the huge assembly again became quiet.
"I have just been told that the Federal Government has joined the rally in Canberra, swearing a formal oath to carry out the wishes of the people."
The crowd roared.
Eventually they were silent, waiting to hear what Cassie would say. When she continued speaking, her voice chimed with the truth of her message.
"There are two steps to saving our planet."
The crowd listened, eager for Cassie's advice.
"Firstly, governments must become actively "Green". They must ensure that within their jurisdiction the environment is not endangered. In the past governments have avoided taking the action needed – it was too hard. The changes necessary may have made them unpopular at the next election. But they can’t ignore you!”
The crowd rumbled. Everyone there knew that some of the changes would mean they may have to do without in some way, but they were prepared to sacrifice their comfort for the sake of the future.
“And in their relations with other governments they must foster friendship, so that the people of the world can work towards their goal together.
"Secondly, every human being must become an active worker for our better future. We are all responsible!
"We can volunteer our time and money to help. More importantly we are the people who are doing the damage. Are you doing something harmful? Then stop it! Is your employer making you work on immoral processes? Get help - tell someone!”
The crowd clapped their approval of her suggestions.
"We will have to change the way we live, accepting that the changes may not always be to our liking. But if we can learn to care for our world and each other, we can change the world!"
The crowd cheered, then waited for more.
"There have always been visionaries who looked to the future and saw either despair or Utopia. Despair is easy to foresee - the seeds are too evident around us.
"Envisaging an Earth which is no longer over-populated and where people live in harmony with the environment is a relatively easy thing. We can picture people living idyllically, sharing communal property happily and being content with those things they call their own. This future has no obscenely wealthy members of society to inspire envy. And there is none of the grinding poverty that afflicts so many in our world today.
"It is a simpler life, but one which gives pleasure to those who live it. Community of spirit dominates, as everybody shares, to the best of their ability, in the intellectual and political life of the global village. It is a world where it is safe to care for your neighbour.
"It is a different world to the one in which we live."
Those who heard her stood in silent shame and disgust.
"Utopia can be imagined, but not the path to achieving it. We find ourselves, as a species, facing the tough decisions. When Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge they could not possibly realize what they were doing. Today, despite our god-like knowledge of the danger we face, we have turned away, muttering, "Yes I suppose something will have to be done." Then we carried on about our business, making no more than minor changes. We failed to do anything because it was just too hard.
The crowd seemed to rise from a dream and cheer, voicing their support.
"We have begun to make the changes, but we must take care. It will take sustained, hard work to bring about the changes we hope to see. We must work together, encouraging one another, caring for one another, and always," Cassie paused, "always, looking to the future with hope."
The crowd cheered, then waited expectantly.
"We will change the world!" said Cassie.
There was a stirring in the crowd as they turned their attention to the massed choir that was lined up next to the dais. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, camped next to them on deck chairs and folding stools, began to play a haunting melody.
At first the choir sang alone. The sweet voices of children rose in the clear afternoon air, carrying words of peace, love and hope into the atmosphere above the multitude. But soon the assembly joined in. People in the crowd linked their arms together, swaying in time to the music, feeling the spirit of a dreamer whose message had outlived him.
"Imagine all the people Sharing all the world. You may say I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only one. I hope some day you'll join us, And the world will live as one."
Cassie stretched, enjoying the sensuousness of her body. She snuggled up to Zeke, fitting into the crook of his arm and draping her free hand over his bare chest.
"I forgot to ask you!" she said, suddenly. "Have they gone? The rats, I mean . . . You know."
"Yes," he answered, a shadow of melancholy passing over him.
"They won't be back?"
"But . . . You? Spock?" Cassie was unable to phrase the question. Zeke understood.
"My brain still has an illegal tenant, but nobody really knows what to do about it." He shrugged and smiled, tightening his grip on Cassie. "And nobody can take me . . . us, away from you. We're here to stay."
"After all," chimed Spock's voice in Cassie's mind, "I am a scientist. How could I pass up the chance to research the population problem on this planet from the point of view of an inhabitant?"
Zeke's laughter echoed in her mind, and Cassie was glad.