Catch a Falling Star
"Catch a Falling Star And put it in your pocket Never let it fade away.” - Perry Como
“So the moral of this story is: Who are you to judge? There's only one true judge, and that's God So chill, and let my Father do His job” - Cheryl “Salt” James
A Rat-tat-tat-tat wakes Raul Escobar.
His first movements of the day send spasms of pain through his lower back. The stench of fetid, rotting human waste slaps him. His piss. Bottled in the back of his car. He wipes the gunk from his eyes. Its still dark.
A car horn honks behind him.
The rat-tat-tat crescendos into a boom-boom-boom on his windshield.
“Wake up shithead! CNN needs this spot.”
Raul rolls down the window of his Camry, releasing his stench. The man recoils.
“I'm supposed to get paid $100.” He whimpers.
“Hey, I'm not your manager.”
“But I saved the spot all night. Right in front of the courthouse. I didn't leave. Not even to---”
“Yeah, I can smell. MOVE! We gotta set up the cameras.”
Raul rummages for the courage to rebel.
The horn blares again, toppling his revolt before it begins.
Raul drives his car around the block. He watches as the other parking spot holders roll away to allow the different stations' satellite trucks to take these prime spots. He decides to doze another hour in hopes that someone can sign his timesheet.
The sun's electromagnetic radiation reaches this side of Earth and sends sweltering shocks through the city. Rain hasn't kissed the ground here in seven months. A brown soot coats the streets and buildings. Spigots rise from the dirt and spew recycled water on the lawns of mansions and businesses. But not the courthouse. The courts can't afford this. Tawny brown dirt cakes its lawn.
The light reveals teams of gofers scurrying to erect velvet ropes. The super fans who camped on the sidewalk yawn, stretch and unfurl posters, awaiting the advent of their demi-gods.
At 7:30am, a caravan of black Cadillacs bounces over the crumbling roads littered with cracking palm fronds. They park in front of the courthouse. The scene resembles a junta arriving to overthrow a failed banana republic. The drivers jump out and reach for the backdoors.
This simultaneous arrival of these stars had been a last minute coup for Chapley. Each of the plaintiffs' agents had called in the last week, sniffling about how their client wanted to be the last to walk the red carpet into court. Oozing charisma, Chapley convinced them that arriving en masse would provide the overwhelming optics to ensure their image graced the covers of magazines and newspapers worldwide.
Cameras cock and microphones flick on. Press from around the world had descended on Los Angeles for this trial. Spots advertising the court case roared like an action movie trailer.
Live feeds shoot from the satellites dishes on the vans' roofs through the stratosphere, reaching dozens of satellites that bounce these waves around the planet. From barbershops to doctors' offices, from break rooms to living rooms, a billion human eyes are transfixed by the trial's first moments.
Mousekeeter reject, Jessica Simpson, who once held ambitions of being more famous than the internet, resigned herself to covering this public affair for the Home Shopping Network. The fickleness of fame had danced tantalizingly just out of her reach. As she stood before her blonde twin, Britney Spears, she wondered why she couldn't be more irresistible. Hadn't her skyscraper scaling skills equaled Britney's? Wasn't the image of her emaciated body mopping the Confederate flag roof of General Lee with her large breasts exciting enough? She choked back these thoughts and shouted at Britney.
“Who are you wearing?!”
The pleas of “Who are you wearing” echoed in forty different languages. The dronarazzi buzz above, reporting on hairstyles. Rat-sized robotic shoe-cams scurry around the feet of the celebs, snapping photos of stilettos and boots. Milez Cyrus snarls and punts three of these roborats with their bare, callused feet.
The litigants line up in front of the courthouse steps. On the sidelines, Chapley snaps her fingers. Two strapping gofers carry a podium and place it before the waxy and well-preserved stars.
Chapley walks with a regal air to the podium. Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Raven-Symoné and Demi Lovato flank her on one side, Ryan Gosling, Justin Timberlake, JC Chasez and Zac Efron on the other side. Together, the stars form a flying V to dazzle while Chapley drives the point home.
The forgotten plaintiffs, those whose careers littered the wasteland behind Disney studios, were urged not to attend. The other Cheetah Sisters stayed home and licked their wounds. Vanessa Hudgens, Corbin Bleu and the other alumnae of East High School yielded to the promise that they were all in this together. And the other 117 members of the class action lawsuit were assured that any written testimony would be submitted before the court and any settlement or award would reach them in a timely manner.
“Don't call us, we'll call you,” became Chapley LLP's mantra.
As the flash of the cameras subside, Chapley begins.
“What we are standing for today is innocence! What we are saying is that the lives of innocent children matter! Disney has treated my clients, treated innocent children, like cogs to be used, abused and thrown away when they no longer fit. The Disney machine has warped each of them, destroyed them emotionally and left them unable to live well-adjusted lives. Disney won't push children around anymore. We won't let Disney abuse children anymore! Not today! Today we finally say---”
“Outta My Way!” The freckled, orange-armed one shoots out of the crowd and hurdles the velvet rope. The reporters mosh forward to see this one-time teenage drama queen turned hot, tough wannabe who had padded their pages and cultivated clicks for two decades. Lindsay Lohan lurches to the podium and heaves her old comrade in coochie flashing, Britney, back.
“I wanna come first!”
Chapley scoffs and resumes.
“Today, we finally say, Enough is Enough! Disney must pay for the damage its done. A child is a child, not a product to be defiled. Shout it with me!”
“A Child is a Child! Not a product to be defiled!” The fans and the well-placed plants roar with her.
In the crowd, Kip groans and shakes his head, knowing he paid for this jingle.
Her clients step forward to hit their marks, remove their sunglasses and strike a serious yet somber pose. The stars furrow their brows as far botox and facelifts allow. The women cock their hips in a careful contrapposto to slim their silhouettes. The men stand behind the women, shielding their bulbous bellies.
In minutes, the photo deluges smartphones and holowalls across the planet. Publicists race to put out a highly-photoshopped version for their star's followers to gobble up before they learn what their idols really look like.
* * *
Inside the courtroom, Katinka Ingabogovinanana flops her black leather briefcase on the defendant's table with a loud thud. She scans the room, snarling, ensuring that all come to heel before her ferocity.
Whispers spread among the crowd.
“Isn't she the former ballerina who blackmailed Putin's third-in-command?”
Katinka's slender, toned frame is full of sharp angles. Cheeks, chin, elbows and knees threaten to slice any who come too close to her. After running amok with a few too many married Russian oligarchs as a teen, she defected to the United States with a small fortune and her collection of Fabergé eggs.
She realized that her viciousness would work well as a lawyer. She gained fame for her savage winning defense of Big Oil. Big Oil was the name given to some of humanity's most profitable corporations. These slurped up the fossil residue of zooplankton and algae that had undergone centuries of intense heat and pressure to become a sludge that fueled cars and machinery. Humans grew to consume more than 95 billion barrels of this sludge daily. A side effect of this consumption was that when the fuel was burned, it produced a gas, carbon dioxide, which filled Earth's atmosphere and trapped heat that the planet would otherwise expel.
The attorneys general of California, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, New York and Hawaii cooperated to find and hold some entity responsible for their disappearing coasts. Florida had lost its Keys. North Carolina's Outer Banks had sunk under water. The beautiful beaches behind California mansions disappeared along with a billion dollars in property value.
The attorneys general claimed the largest oil companies had overwhelmingly contributed to the gas emissions, which caused the Earth's surface to warm like a greenhouse, which melted glaciers and caused the planet's sea levels to rise. The states were seeking damages for the displacement of 100,000 Americans, the destruction of towns and the costs for 12 million sandbags. The states had a good claim as these companies had not only known about the risks of global warming but had secretly funded research to discredit it. Political organizations, fronts for the energy industry, popped up and pumped millions of dollars to dilute greenhouse gas emissions--- but only as a perceived threat.
Big Oil was shaken by the prospect of incurring damages similar to the tobacco industry. The states had received the last of the $206 billion dollars from the tobacco companies for similar chicanery. The oil companies moved fast to stymie this story before it spilled. This seemed be one of the few spills the oil companies acted quickly to clean up.
Most had written Big Oil off. There was an expectation that they would lose the case and be forced to pay a multi-billion if not multi-trillion dollar settlement to the states. Katinka was a lowly associate at the firm of Cox, Dix and Aspwholze when the case was thrown her way. The partners luxuriated in the wealth these clients pumped in, but kicked the responsibility to Katinka and her paralegal minions.
Under her supervision, the oil company engineer-turned-whistleblower, Linda Salzberg, vanished. And along with her, the proof of industry-wide collusion evaporated. Every computer that had copies of her documents, from the FBI to a dozen newspapers, were infected with a matryoshka virus. The virus nested Salzberg's findings in eight layers of encryption. When the last layer was finally cracked, the files were gone. The prosecution's witnesses quickly recanted their testimony and went into hiding.
Katinka would have remained a shadowy background figure had the final statements not been aired live. Katinka's jet black bob and black lipstick popped on her pale, white skin. This haunting figure exuded control, uttering what speech and debate students would fumble through for decades to come.
The thrilling climax of her closing statement invoked the quintessence of the American spirit: to explore and conquer.
“The states gave us the highways. The states asked us to populate the land with cars. The states constructed the suburbs and the exurbs, the megalopolises and ultra-megalopolises. The states stripped the railroads and the trolleys, leaving us no choice but to drive. And drive we did!
“We were told to travel each and every highway. But more. Much more than this. We were told to do it our way. The states encouraged our American thirst for individualism and adventure. Should my clients be blamed for providing the power to make these dreams come true? The states connected highways from the lakes of Minnesota, to the hills of Tennessee, across the plains of Texas, from sea to shining sea. From Detroit down to Houston and New York to LA, where there's pride in every American heart, its time we stand and say.
“I am proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free.”
A wave of jingoism overwhelmed the jury, who unanimously sided with Katinka and Big Oil.
After the print dried and the headlines lost their clicks, Linda Salzberg's body surfaced in the La Brea tar pits. She had been petrified to perfection. Not a thread of her discount K-Mart clothes had been damaged. Though her family had asked the coroners not to release the cause of death, one officer squealed a damning fact. Salzberg had choked to death on a Fabergé egg.
“Katinka! Damn she's good.” Chapley leans back in her chair and sizes up her competition.
Katinka sneers at her. Her protruding incisors seem to point at Chapley. Fangs ready to sink into and feast on her kill.
Chapley blinks. Katinka chuckles as she looks away.
The room hushes as the jury enters and takes their place.
Jury selection had taken three weeks. With a culture saturated by Disney and these stars, it had proved difficult to find jurors with little knowledge or attachment to either.
America's large landscape was dotted with compounds and communes. These communities were devoted to shielding members from the outside world, including the pop culture that filled the air around them with radio wave radiation. The jurors selected included two fundamentalist Latter-day Saints, Jenedy and Mersadie, one charismatic Catholic, Athanasius, and the last surviving Shaker, Jedidiah. Four more were hippies from decades old communal farms: Moon Crag, AntiVaxx, Homeo and Detox. All the male jurors shared beards and all the women wore floor-length dresses, but that's where their similarities ended.
Rounding out the jury were America's first climate refugees. Linder was a marine biologist who had watched in horror as the Pacific Ocean gobbled up his home, Majuro Island, along with the other Marshall Islands. Metuker escaped the Koror island of Palau when the daily floods brought waves of trash into her home.
Congress had decreed that the State Department could grant special refugee status to residents of areas that were most effected by climate change. But there was a catch! The United States only accepted refugees from nations that it had a special relationship with. The terms of the law made it clear that by no means was the United States admitting guilt for emitting more than 20% of the greenhouse gases that caused the climate change that destroyed their homes. The United States merely recognized that there is a humanitarian crisis and that the nation should open its arms to a select few. There was really no need to overly analyze the origins of this crisis.
Judge Sandra Dee pounds her gavel and orders silence in her courtroom.
With the ensemble assembled, the trial began. None in the room could fathom the consequences of this trial. A beloved industry would soon fall and with it, a cornerstone of humanity would crumble.