"Fill it in", he said.
I stared at him as if he'd just grown a new head. In the awful silence, Dudley
Simcoe reached in the small container held by his Marine guard and scooped
out a handful of pellets. Kneeling over the edge of the pond, he trailed
his hand in the water. A world champion butterfly koi gave a finny
welcome as it picked small pellets out of his hand.
"It's two hundred kilometers wide at that point, Dudley. One hundred
twenty million litres of water flow from west to east there every day!"
"That's your problem, Joe. I said fill it in, you fill it in."
Perhaps Dudley had grown another head.
This was not my first indication that Dudley Simcoe, the Scourge of
the North, was not operating with a full deck. Six weeks
before, he had told me to build a sea level canal from Washington, DC
to Prince Rupert so that he could go visit his grandmother by barge.
Let's take a step back, now. The Great Canal is a reality
to everyone; and I built it. God damn me, I built it. This
was 2090, remember. Simcoe had just finished his conquest of the
"Southern Empire" whose demonization had been his principal talent. The
fires around Houston were burning even as Simcoe made his lunatic demand
of me. I knew I had to find a way to do it.
It was one of those colossal ironies of life that had put my name right
next to Dudley Simcoe in alphabetical order during our first year at university.
The trivial fact of my sharing a dormitory room with Dudley had spared
the Mid-Atlantic and myself from the fate of the rest of the Empire, and
put me in the position I was in: Lord of the Seaboard, Chief Engineer of
the Empire. Laugh if you want when you hear that; everybody else
So for six weeks I and my senior team of engineers worked on a preliminary
design for the project. It had only been by constantly popping Surial and
keeping a steady disconnect from reality that we were able to make any
At the end, our design had been elegant. The Great Canal
would nearly follow a great-circle route 5,000 kilometers from the Great
Falls of the Potomac to Queen Charlotte Sound. A slight diversion
would take it right by Lake Simcoe in Ontario; that was a touch the Surial
told me Dudley would appreciate. Somebody shoot me now; tomorrow's
not soon enough.
And here I was in the room with Dudley and his koi, and Dudley was telling
me the plan's fatal flaw: The canal would have to cross Lake Ontario
and such a wide expanse of water would be boring to cross by barge.
The koi were probably grateful to be in the pond and not up where I was.
So, "Fill it in", said Dudley Simcoe, and so it was. Another six
weeks of Surial and two dead engineers later and we had our solution.
We didn't have to fill in the entire lake, only a mile or so around the
canal. There would be plenty of material blasted out of the Rocky
Mountains and the Canadian Shield for that. Dudley wouldn't mind
as long as the causeway had things that entertained or flattered him along
the way. Beneath the causeway, where Dudley couldn't
see them, would be huge penstock tunnels allowing the Lake to flow underneath.
Look now, I'm not trying to justify the things I did to serve Dudley
Simcoe's whims. Nor am I trying to claim I didn't know it was wrong.
I knew how evil it was, even then. At least when I let the Surial level
in my brain drop too low.
Labor was certainly no problem. Millions of starving Southern
refugees would be all-too willing to undertake this madness.
By the fall of 2091 the route had been prepared, and a railroad had
been built the entire length of the route. We had ten teams,
all digging different segments of the canal. The eastern terminus
was doing quite well; by 2093 digging had made it to Altoona.
The Western sectors had had hard going blasting mile-deep cuts through
the Rocky Mountains. 500 men had been lost during the summer alone,
and your estimate of 20,000 dead the following winter is appallingly conservative.
The winter of 2091-2092 was one of the coldest on record.
I, of course, was too terrified to tell Dudley we were behind schedule;
I sent one of my senior engineers to tell him. I heard later that
Dudley made the engineer into little pellets and fed him to his koi.
That was when we decided to speed up the process by detonating old nuclear
warheads. And tomorrow, fallout-ravaged Europe will have a small measure
of justice for that.
By 2096 the western end of the Canal had reached Dawson Creek.
Fortunately, we, thought, we were about 20 km to the north of it; Dudley
would have forced us into another diversion because his grandparents had
given him a favorite piece of candy there during a trip to Edmonton one
year. The other segments had been completed a year before; it only
remained for the entertainments and adornments to be installed.
On a sunny May day in 2098, the Canal was officially opened as Dudley
Simcoe began his first progress by barge from Washington. Everything
went as planned; Dudley was as reasonably distracted by the koi pond
in his barge as the gardens we had planted and the monuments we had raised
to his honor along the path. He never realized that he was
crossing Lake Ontario; cunningly-planted vegetation hid the edge of the
Then, of course, the Earth we had ravaged for so long caught up to us.
Not in any dramatic way, of course, no global catastrophe. I imagine
Mother Nature regarded Dudley Simcoe as catastrophe enough.
As our barge passed a mile-high bas-relief of the Battle of Cleveland
carved in a blasted mountainside by Lake Nipigon, his champion butterfly
koi bit him on the finger. An infection resistant to all antibiotics
raged through the Scourge of the North and killed him within two days.
So here I stand on the eve of my execution. A vagary of
spelling and the wish to survive brought me here. No, that sounds
too much like rationalization. I do not deny the people their right to