Monday, December 06, 2010

Torch in the Night, Chapter Two, Part Two

Begin with the beginning.

There was a commotion at one of the First Am counters. Traynor turned around: He beheld an old hag in the white nun's habit fringed with black stripes and decorated with black skulls that was the hallmark of the Order of the Rotting Sores of Calcutta. He had seen Sister Sally among the mob at the world government's attempted immolation of Remington Towne. This time around, she was on his turf. The old hag was arguing with the clerk, a young, dark-haired woman with a helpless, girlish face. The bane of all airlines, Sister Sally considered herself a saint, entitled to free air transportation by virtue of her "good deeds." She was a dilemma for airlines. Either they swallowed their pride and let themselves be blackmailed into donating their services to an arrogant moocher — or they refused, risking a public relations nightmare in a time when many potential customers still believed in the morality of altruism, in the duty to give to others. To the unwashed masses, Sister Sally was a heroine and a saint. By giving to her, they could atone for the guilt of being alive that their witch doctors and pseudo-philosophers had taught them to feel.

Traynor thought that to consider Sister Sally a heroine or a saint one had to be very ignorant or very evil or both. Sister Sally had publicly vowed to increase and prolong poverty, suffering, and death with her Houses of Dying, as she called them. For him, it was the best evidence for the stupidity of the majority that they would worship such a monster as a saint. Living up to her vow, Sister Sally and her fellow moochers were no unmitigated boon to the poor of Calcutta. They picked them off the streets and fed them all right. But they refused to give them medical treatment, telling their shocked victims that their suffering was their god's will that had to be borne with prayers as the only "medicine." The sick that had the misfortune of ending up in Sister Sally's clutches usually prayed for only one thing: to be back in the alleys where they had been found. They sure preferred the relatively quick death of starvation over the never-ending torture visited on them by the sect.

Sister Sally prided herself on running the most disorganized organization in the world. Donated business machines — like computers, or even lowly typewriters — were off-limits to her enslaved nuns. They were the work of the devil. Scribbling accounts in pencil on scraps of paper erased many times over was more than good enough for her. And what should they do with other donated goods? The only reasonable option would have been to use them to really help the suffering, to help them help themselves. But that was against what Sister Sally believed to be the will of her god. So the donated goods kept rotting away in the basements of her hospices. Education was an invention of the devil as well. Neither her serfs nor her other victims were permitted to learn anything. Thinking was evil. Everything had to be left to providence. Thus, the sick and the healthy slept side by side. Infectious diseases swept Sister Sally's camps and, as medicine was considered the devil's black magic, most of her victims died in agony. If her victims were in luck, they would die quickly.

Suffering was the principal principle of the Order of the Rotting Sores. Their motto was: "God's greatest gift to man is that he may share the suffering of Christ." When her victims screamed in agony, Sister Sally would exult, "How wonderful! I wish I could trade places with you. When you are suffering, that means Jesus is kissing you." Of course, from her victims that frequently elicited the predictable answer that she could do with her Jesus whatever she wanted as long as she only told him to stop kissing. Those living in the West might fall for Sister Sally, but among the suffering she was not giving her Jesus a good name.

Traynor had also heard allegations that most of the money donated to the Order of the Rotting Sores ended up in the coffers of the pope, who somehow managed to ride around in a private jet. Donations kept rolling in even faster than they could be funneled to the Vatican. Anyway, both was beside the point. Even if Sister Sally had not embezzled donations, even if she had not administered slow torture to her victims, that would not have changed the fact that she did not have any right to bully other victims to contribute to whatever her religion regarded as good works. Her worst crime was not embezzlement or torture — it was enslaving the best of men to the worst, by reversing good and evil, virtue and vice.

Traynor walked over to do his work as First American's Vice President for Safety, Security, and Special Assignments. Arresting the hag by her thin arm, he flashed his corporate ID to the clerk. "I'll take over from here. The usual situation, I presume?"

"Yes, Mr. Traynor. Thanks for your assistance." The girl was glad to have the responsibility taken from her.

Traynor turned to look into the wizened, leathery emptiness that should have been a human face. "Listen, leech. First American is not to be blackmailed. We do not choose to contribute to what you mooching mystics believe good. If we choose to contribute to charity, we do it voluntarily, as of gift, to causes that we know to be good — not blackmailed, as of duty, to causes that regard us as evil and sinful. We who build aircraft, railroads, and skyscrapers are the good. We will no longer permit you to call our virtues vices and make us pay for them. We do not pay protection to you. We who build the world do not choose to be intimidated by the bogeyman you invented to enslave us. You worship suffering, agony, and death; we, achievement, happiness, and life. We do not care if your followers boycott us. We do not need you. We do not need them. But they need us. We think. You believe. We can build aircraft. You can't. Anybody who wants to use the aircraft we create has to pay the price we set for our services. As you don't pay, you will leave this building. You will never trespass on First American property again. Is that understood?"

She heard his words; she understood them as well. But she refused to accept them. No one had ever talked to her like this — though it was long overdue. She was too far removed from the realm of reason to think; her aborted mind functioned only along the perverted lines of her dogma. Mooch and give. Provide sufferers for the lord. No questions asked. No reason necessary. No resistance expected.

Traynor, on the other hand, always asked questions, never acted without reason, and always resisted evil. Now Sister Sally would have to learn the hard way. "Vanish, moocher."

Though he had let go of her arm, the moocher did not move.

"You're violating our property rights by remaining in this building, disfiguring it by your presence, and preying on the gullible. Move along. This is the last warning."

No answer, no effect.

Traynor grabbed the moocher firmly, dragged her out of the revolving glass door, and pushed her away in disgust. "And stay out."

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