Monday, November 29, 2010

Torch in the Night, Chapter One, Part One

Begin with the beginning.

Chapter One


New York City, the near future.

An unmarked silver-gray jet darted across the waters of New York Harbor. The aircraft was sparkling in the sunlight like the waters of Upper New York Bay below, where the orange oval of the Staten Island Ferry dropped behind. To the west, Lady Liberty lifted her golden torch into the sky. The pilot waved a lighthearted salute to the green guardian of freedom and the rights of man. As the jet zoomed in on Manhattan, the skyline grew so rapidly that from the cockpit it looked like a fountain shooting jets of concrete, crystal, and steel into the stratosphere. The butte of Financial District skyscrapers rose on the right. The recently finished towers of the new World Trade Center soared on the left. He zipped between the skyscrapers. Whoosh — already, the executive jet had left Downtown Manhattan. Yet the jet had zoomed past the topped-out steel frame of First American Building towering above the world, cater-corner from Madison Square. Next up came the Empire State Building at Fifth Avenue and Thirty-fourth Street. The steel hat of the stepped limestone pyramid was glistening in the sun. Now, the towers of Midtown Manhattan filled the windshield of the cockpit as a solid wall. The black box of Trump World Tower, the shiny needle that was the Chrysler Building, the irregular spire of Bank of America Tower, and Condé Nast Building with its communications tower stood out. On Fifth Avenue, in the center of things, soared another black box, more than twice as tall as Trump World Tower. Durand Chemical Tower currently was the tallest completed building in the city. With her twin turbofan engines roaring, the jet homed in on the skyscraper.

Carefully, the pilot settled the General Aviatics City Hawk VTOL — a prototype designed to combine the speed and range of an executive jet with the vertical takeoff and landing capabilities of a helicopter — on the square roof of the tower. Kevin Traynor was home. It was a Monday in April, and Traynor could not yet know what was unfolding in the canyons below, what the future had in store for him and his friends.

On Tuesday, after years of research, Dr. Remington Towne found a cure for AIDS. He was naive enough to announce the good news on the website of his small biotech firm, and word spread fast.

On Wednesday, two world health police officials dressed in immaculate brown suits visited Towne in his laboratory on East Forty-second Street. They had come to discuss how to distribute Towne's invention among the afflicted poor in the most humanitarian fashion. Not five minutes later, they fled the building and sped away in their Mercedes limousine.

On Thursday, two federal government bureaucrats dropped by to back up the world health police. They wondered how Towne of all people could refuse the suffering in Africa pity. Well, whatever. The State Department wanted the world government's support for American foreign policy. So they explained to Towne America's — and particularly his — duty of self-sacrifice for the sake of the suffering around the world. When that did not fly with him, they gave him a detailed description of what a hell of suffering the federal government could cause him if he refused to obey.

On Friday, there was a reception to present Towne's discovery to the world at the world government headquarters just a few blocks from his laboratory. Towne walked east down East Forty-second Street. He entered the world government compound, which was dominated by the innocent-looking glass slab of the administration building. On the plaza in front of the administration building, rows and rows of flagstaffs flew the flags of the countries subject to the world government. The tridoveion — the flag of the world government — was fluttering aggressively above his head. The blue flag with the three white doves flying in a circle was displayed from a taller flagstaff than the others. Yet, Towne had to smile as he thought that it still was far below the tops of the skyscrapers. There were many theories as to what the tridoveion actually symbolized — like the duty to give to the third world, or the hope to sacrifice everything to avert World War III. However, to Towne it looked like this purported symbol of peace was a cruel mockery when inventors like him were being enslaved by force.

The conference room was crowded with reporters, camera crews, government employees, world government officials, and philanthropists. Muammar Ngdbdele, general secretary of the world government, was speaking — smiling under his beard and seemingly a picture of benevolence. Towne spied two of his friends, Kevin Traynor and Nick Parker of First American Corporation, standing apart from the other guests. The reception was being televised live to America, Australia, Europe, Asia, and Africa. From Tripoli to Cape Town, from Monrovia to Mogadishu, the whole continent was suffering, dying — even though the witch doctors' governments were trying hard to blank out reality. In front of television screens all over the world, in homes, hospitals, and hospices, people were watching intently to learn what selfless altruist had labored only to give his creation to a suffering mankind. What other reason could possibly have motivated his work?

Ngdbdele introduced Towne. His short eulogy presented Towne as an altruistic, selfless benefactor driven by the suffering of his African brothers. He ended his remarks with, "Please welcome my brother — the Dr. Remington Towne."

To a polite applause, Towne came forward, meeting Ngdbdele at the lectern. The scientist did not raise his voice, but he did not whisper, either. "I'm not your brother, you racist. What would you think if any blond girl referred to any other blonde as her sister, only because of their accidentally identical hair color? Jerk."

Leaving Ngdbdele standing dumbfounded, Towne stepped to the microphone, addressing the audience. "Hi!" He had intended it as a greeting, he had tried his very best — but considering the mob that crowded the room, his voice was hard and tense. It came across as a challenge — a challenge to those that populated the room, and to that which made them possible. He looked at the teeming mass of creatures that surrounded him. It was not a look — it was a slap.

From his jacket pocket, he produced a sheaf of papers, raising it above his head. "This is the only tangible copy left of my findings, including the formula that would obliterate the human immunodeficiency virus." He lifted a metal wastebasket onto a table next to the lectern, produced a lighter, set the papers on fire, and dumped them in. No one tried to stop him or to extinguish the flames. The huge majority of the audience did not believe he was serious. They believed he was up to a joke or a publicity stunt. In no time, the priceless papers burned beyond rescue or recognition, to ashes that crumbled to dust.

Read on…

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