IN TWO BOOKS
INTERSTELLAR DUST TO VOLCANIC ISLANDS
And the great goddess Gaia gives birth to many offspring. Among them are the demigods known as Titans who do so much to build her legacy and ensure its permanence in the cosmic drama. But one of these Titans is the defiant Prometheus who audaciously creates thinking beings. These are new and unique creatures that on the vast template of time and by virtue of their capacity to reason become more powerful than all others. Gaia is furious and envious. She sees that she is upstaged and forever after wages war against these thinking beings—Prometheus's legacy.
From an unknown drama by Aeschylus, lost to
history until its papyrus is found in the cave
of a remote island in the Aegean Sea.
Its title: Gaia's War.
From the beginning, planet Earth had water—immense quantities of water.
This is understandable, for throughout the universe, hydrogen is the most common element with oxygen not far behind. Because each is highly reactive and bonds readily, boundless stretches of interstellar dust and gas contain water in the form of ice. Indeed, ice is the most abundant solid object. Not surprisingly then, when this dust and gas coalesce to form solar systems, certain planets and moons—if conditions of pressure, temperature, and gravity are fortuitous—trap huge masses of water beneath their mantles. Earth, due in large measure to size and distance from its sun, was one of those planets. And so it joined the other water-blessed planets and moons in the universe—they would be countless—all offspring of the eternally-repeating cosmic drama of stellar evolution.
After planet Earth came into being, a different form of evolution began. A volatile molten core seethed beneath her massive reservoirs of captured water; for more than half a billion years, volcanic eruptions broke through her crust and spewed superheated gasses high into the primordial atmosphere. Water vapor was one of those gasses. When it cooled, it condensed into rain, and the rain inundated the planet with water. Eventually, it reached a depth of more than two miles over her entire surface. Temperature and pressure maintained the water in its liquid state; gravity prevented it from escaping into space.
This was a blessing, for the water soothed Mother Earth, slaking her passion for violence until finally there was the relative quiet of a breathless potentiality. A new planet, blanketed by water, was now ready to define herself. Thales of Miletus, philosopher-scientist of Ancient Greece, could he have witnessed it, would have been taken by it all. He it was who identified water as the originating principle of everything else, as if he had somehow divined the above drama.
Subsequent acts in the drama confirmed his principle. Lightning bolts, striking the rich chemical soup of ancient ocean water, triggered the creation of a new stuff. This stuff was a fusion of carbon and hydrogen and other elements. The stuff was animate matter. Living matter. Matter that could replicate itself, the never-seen-before complexity of which would become an inextricable part of Earth's history.
Earth's animated matter was exclusively microbial for an unimaginable span of time. It was billions of years before the plants and animals evolved. But microbes had paved the way for them with atmospheric oxygen, that vital product of one microbe in particular, photosynthetic cyanobacteria. Then, as if in full circle, all life, to this day, fundamentally depends on microbes to function, survive, and thrive.
Earth's evolution was not smooth. Although relentless, it was marked by fits and starts, extinctions and re-starts. Some were cataclysmic, and the planet's ever-changing geology was a sweeping canvas for it all. But one portion of the canvas was especially significant. Cooler parts of the planet's crust were pulled downwards into the molten lower mantle, and this weakened the surrounding crust. Many repetitions led to plate-like boundaries that gradually formed giant tectonics adrift on a viscous lower layer. Later, these evolved into separate land masses that eventually merged, before breaking apart again. This happened more than once in the planet's four and a half billion years. Evidence suggests that the most recent was three hundred million years ago and was the supercontinent scientists call Pangaia—Pan for "All" and Gaia for "Earth." Pangaia's eventual breakup yielded today's continents and demarcated Earth's various oceans and seas.
One of these oceans is the Atlantic, and a small part of the Atlantic is the Caribbean Sea. This sea is a million square miles of such breathtaking beauty, that it easily rivals that of the slightly smaller Mediterranean Sea. Its depths bottom out on the Caribbean plate situated between the much larger ones of North and South America. Many islands, primarily volcanic, formed in the Caribbean Sea, products of tectonic plate movement—processes that are still at work today.
Over the centuries European countries colonized these islands and vied for dominance. War, slavery, and imported pathogens decimated native populations, but slaves imported from Africa replaced them. Because the climate was ideal, the sugar trade prevailed, and the islands became known as Sugar Islands.
But this name disguised a curse. The sugar trade was based on a savage and inhuman scourge—slavery.
Slavery is gone, but the islands remain in the stultifying grip of coercion, albeit of a different stripe. Paternal authoritarian governments keep these lush lands stopped in time—still. The islands could be hugely prosperous, but they are not. Instead, they are typically marked by various levels of stagnation and, in some cases, outright impoverishment.
Except for a rare exception . . . .
The ship rolled over long swells of ocean under a luminous gray sky. A great hurricane was raging more than 250 miles to starboard, and the air was wet with it, even at this distance. And agitated. Sprays of water were ripped from the waves and flung into the growing tropical light—bursts of unbridled freedom. There was a wild beauty to it all, to which the ship was utterly oblivious.
Deep below deck, inside one of its containers, stowaways huddled. They were a young man and woman, recently married, and five days ago, they had committed themselves to this voluntary entombment, along with an aunt and uncle. Women's apparel filled the twenty-foot-long chamber, a soft cargo that was able to yield space to four bodies with meager possessions, though with great reluctance. Except for the aunt, whose entire work life had been with a cigar maker, all in the family had labored in the sweat shops of their island's garment industry. That was their common connection to this particular ship—and container.
Perhaps it also explained their folly. Once locked inside this tomb, they found that they were effectively buried alive. They were barely able to move and were in total darkness except for a few flashlights without spare batteries. Not a one of the four stowaways spoke of the dark claustrophobia which was little better than the impoverishment of the life they were fleeing—or of the abject terror that consumed them. It was not their way to complain. Their way was to pull together, each a source of support for the others.
Soon, however, the aunt succumbed to the oppressive heat and, the next day, the uncle. The family had been assured by their contact that the container would be above deck, but he was not speaking the truth. There was no way he could have known that. With hand drill and hacksaw, the stowaways had been able to cut vents in the reinforced walls of the container. This gave them air to breathe, but it was without the wind chill and air circulation that they would have had above deck. The heat in the ship's cargo hold was suffocating, and because dry-goods containers do not require temperature control, their battle, from day one, had been a losing one.
On this the fifth day, the two survivors were squatting on the makeshift bed that all of them had once shared. They faced each other and held hands to balance themselves against the nauseating motion of the ship. In their exhaustion, they leaned forward and their foreheads touched. Their relatives were now sealed within plastic sheets that had once been garment protection. And that dreadful task had physically and emotionally depleted them. Finally the young woman spoke. "We are on our last water bottle, my husband, and our last flashlight is nearly spent. I feel so weak. I fear for us."
"I know, my Livia, but remember our old life. We want so much more than that. Think of our new island . . . a most excellent place . . . where we can grow . . . and thrive. Rest now . . ." Still holding hands, they lowered their bodies.
The next day, the ship's rolling had lessened. Lying on their backs now, the couple could hear the beating of the diesel engines, the heart of the beast whose belly they were in. The young man spoke into the darkness. "I should not have trusted that man. He took our money and deceived us. We were supposed to be safe. I have failed you, my wife, and I have failed our family."
She did not answer. But then, "You did not fail us, husband. Our dream island . . . filled with hope . . . " and her voice trailed off. Until finally, "It was worth it, my Angel. Yes, it is worth it, Angel Ramos."
He was beyond hearing, and she feared it was too late—for both of them. But had there been light, she would have seen the trace of a smile remaining in the corners of his mouth. He was far away now, dreaming of another place, a place of unlimited opportunity—and unbridled freedom. It was a place of excellence—unsurpassed excellence.
Marek Rankl could not remember a time he did not love islands. At this very moment, in the forty-second year of his life, his yacht Oribel was approaching a small Caribbean island that he wanted to make his own. He thought of the huge number of islands in the world. Most of them originated from oceanic volcanoes, and the rest were offspring of continental shelves. More than ten percent of the world’s population lived on islands. From a lifetime of studying islands, Marek Rankl knew this.
But his main interest was in a special subset of islands, the tropical ones. Tens of thousands of them, each twelve or more acres, populated the world’s oceans. It was a tropical island of one thousand acres that had been taking shape for the past half hour, as he watched from his yacht’s bridge. He said to his captain, “Dial it back a bit, Armando. I want to approach slowly and circle it before we land.” The island was roughly trapezoidal in shape, and they were approaching it from the southwest.
As the island drew closer, its volcanic mountain, long dormant, dominated their view. It rose to over seven hundred feet, on the island’s southern coast. This coast, stretching for a mile and a half, was the longest side of the trapezoid. The Oribel then went to port to start a clockwise circuit up the western coastline.
Lush tropical vegetation enveloped the island in green. Low cliffs, varying in height, edged its circumference, girding the island against the relentless onslaught of the sea. The Oribel circled the northern tip and progressed south, down the eastern coast. At its mid-point, Rankl was struck by what he saw and said, “Let’s hold it here, Armando.”
The north face of the mountain had come into view, and a third of the way up, a cliff had been hewn—sculpted—out of the lava rock. This cliff became a long balcony for an excavated dwelling behind it, all of it made possible by the materials and heavy equipment that had been air-lifted onto the island for that purpose. Mango trees, growing directly above, provided shade, and continuous horizontal windows ran its entire length. During the day, the dwelling was visible mainly by the light reflected off the glass. It was a subtle presence, a natural part of the small mountain.
Marek Rankl spoke again. “That balcony, looking to the northern end of the island, reminds me of the bridge we are on here in the Oribel. I think we have the name of our small island, old friend.”
“Yes. Golden Beauty.”
Having completed their circuit, they headed for the pier on the south western coast. The island sloped down to it, for the cliff was lower at this point. An old man was waiting, and Rankl recognized Jorge Besosa, the owner of the island, the man he had come to see. After introductions, they headed up an incline for the lift to his home. Armando was securing the Oribel, and Besosa called back, “Join us when you finish, Capitán Rojas.”
Their conversation paused while Rankl pondered the implications of what his host had just said. They were sitting in the long living room of the dwelling, looking across the island to the Caribbean Sea and the much larger island to the north. Spacious windows ran the full length of the room and framed a medley of translucent blues and greens. Breakers approached and lost themselves against the cliffs, below their line of sight.
White longtails crisscrossed in the sky overhead, and Marek learned from his host that he had introduced this tern species to the island many years earlier, from elsewhere in the Caribbean. It had flourished.
For a full minute, the only sound was the ice cubes in their glasses. Then Besosa broke the silence. “Yes, my friend, I know what you are thinking, now that you have heard my story. What you have learned, is known to only a few. And now you have a decision to make, bigger than the one you came here to talk about today.”
Jorge Besosa had been born and raised on the much larger island ten miles to the north. As a youth, he became enamored with Caribbean revolutionaries, above all, the famed Brazilian Marxist, Chan Chan Morales. Morales was a flamboyant guerilla leader and skilled propagandist educated in leftist ideology. The young Besosa devoured all he could find on him, and his parents encouraged their son in his studies. The Besosa family had controlled the island for more than a century, and when the time came for college, they sent Jorge to London’s renowned Karl Marx Institute. He excelled there.
When he took over the reins of government from his father, Jorge Besosa was thoroughly imbued with socialist ideology. His education reinforced what his father had taught him as a youth—that capitalism is a system of cutthroat competition, a system in which one swims with the sharks or gets eaten; that capitalism is a system of class struggle where the wealthy dominate and control poor starving workers; that because socialism addresses these ills, the fact that, under it, the lives of the people belong to the state—in this case the Besosa regime—was, they were told, a small price to pay.
Early in the Besosa era, the island had gained its independence and had become a sovereign nation. But it was already largely impoverished by a history of coercion, corruption, destructive agricultural practices, and abysmal stewardship of its resources and infrastructure.
After Jorge’s ascension to power, however, there was improvement. In college, when he had studied Das Capital, he noted Marx’s statement in the preface that, historically, the productive superiority of a market economy was indisputable. And so, during his years of study abroad, he read widely in the extensive literature of free enterprise. He was greatly taken by the work of a Chilean economist, Fernando de Gama, with his emphasis on the vital importance of property rights. In addition, he studied the Austrian and Chicago schools of economics.
He also studied the history of the Aegean and became fascinated with Greece’s golden age from five hundred to three hundred BC. He resolved to develop his island and to make it a great power in the Caribbean, in short, a place of excellence. And thus, he renamed it Arête, Greek for excellence, or virtue.
When Jorge Besosa assumed control, he sought to promote market forces, the profit motive, and property rights. Improvement was rapid in many sectors of his island’s economy. And as a result, it became a haven for Caribbean refugees fleeing the impoverishment of their islands.
A family by the name of Ramos was among them, who created and then managed a new immigration program for Arête. It became well known, and Jorge Besosa, very much the driver of it all, was lauded in the Caribbean as a youthful idealist.
But the improvements did not last. To his dismay, Besosa’s mixed economy of market forces and state controls inexorably trended to nearly complete government control. His ministers found the reins of power hard to surrender. For every setback, they simply concluded that more government intervention was needed. That meant less freedom, and Jorge Besosa invariably signed off on it. Gradually, freedom was lost on Arête.
In recent years, an intensified period of calamities had beset the island. Hurricanes occurred regularly, with devastating impact on infrastructure. Outbreaks of cholera and other diseases often followed. Invariably, global climate change was seen as the culprit, and an underlying despair of the situation ever improving sapped the island’s energy.
High level government bureaucrats began to abscond with what wealth they could. Lower-level bureaucrats, too, each of them a looter in his own way, further depleted what scant island resources remained.
Seeing what was happening and helpless to do anything about it, the population fled except for the stubborn few who struggled on. Most of these owned their own homes and had a bare subsistence existence, farming or running small businesses.
The remaining few were subcontractors taking in simple work from other islands, making cigars or hand stitching colorful Caribbean accents onto garments—such as those in the Ramos’s container ship years earlier. They were a middle class, of sorts. But, gradually, they became more impoverished, and, as Arête Island limped along in this state, its population dwindled.
By the end of his story, Jorge Besosa’s creased face was etched with sadness. He looked at Rankl and saw that his final words had touched a nerve. He had no way of knowing that his guest already knew his island’s history. Nor did he know that Armando Rojas had made Rankl aware of facts not commonly known—important facts. Watching his guest, Besosa could only ask himself: Is this the man to give my Arête a new life—a man for whom it is not too late? Is this why my final words have him sitting in stunned silence?
“My remaining ministers,” Jorge had admitted to his guest, “each of them basically an honest man, is looking to get out of the whole cursed thing. Like me, Señor Rankl … like me, they are very old and very, very tired—agotado.”
The time was early in the third millennium, and the century, now in its fourth quarter, was mature. A Caribbean island was the place; it was known as Arête.
Arête City, its capital, was on the eastern tip of the island. Approaching it from the south, one was greeted by a youthful skyline.
Also, by a seawall, a major infrastructure project completed five years earlier. It started several miles to the west, where a deep coastal indentation formed Arête’s largest natural harbor. The coastline connecting this harbor to the island’s eastern tip was a relatively smooth one, vulnerable to ocean forces—hence the seawall. From start to finish, the wall was nearly ten miles long, for after curving around the island’s tip, it continued west for a few more miles before ending.
From that point Arête continued for another ninety-five miles. Overall, the island described a long curving arc in the Caribbean Sea, with a mean distance north to south of roughly eleven miles. Much of its coastline was indented, and this blessed it with a number of bays.
The seawall embracing the capital city made possible a generous avenue—an esplanade. Along its curve, on the eastern tip of the island, there stood a concert stage. The exterior wall of its large acoustic shell was on the edge of the esplanade, and a long flagpole rose up from the shell’s roof.
The stage looked out onto a spacious commons of tropical foliage, gardens, and meadows. Numerous paved paths—edged by composite benches of coral, granite, and driftwood—had been bringing Arêteans in all morning. It was a special day.
Certain journalists had been watching Arête for a decade, ever since renowned scientist and industrialist, Marek Rankl, had purchased it. But typically, they dismissed the island. As a new venture, they regarded it as another blue-sky dream, which would go nowhere.
It was little surprise then, that the pending event attracted scant attention. Two outside writers were present, however, from the City Herald of New York, a weekly magazine of ideas. They watched from the far end of the commons, away from the stage. From here they could take it all in, as could the spectators on the balconies of the nearby high rises.
Many people were standing in groups, quietly conversing. Others were sitting on the benches or relaxing on the ground. For the large open area in front of the stage, some people brought their own chairs, but they were the exception. Children of all ages and their parents were on blankets or colorful beach towels. Regardless of age, even the youngest were calm, as if sensing the importance of the day.
The prevailing mood was not lost on the two visitors. “Whatever we might think,” noted one of them from the side of his mouth, “something important is in the air.” He was a paunchy man wearing a garish floral shirt and a straw hat. His colleague glanced at him and saw the trace of a sneer still on his lips, a residue of the sarcasm she detested.
“I agree about something important being in the air but not with what you’d consider that something to be,” she said. He looked her way, but she had forgotten he existed. A turquoise headband held back her shoulder-length, deep-bronze hair, and her eyes were focused on a large flag in the distance. It was high above the acoustic shell. The flag was a golden flame on a rich blue background, and it was ablaze in the morning sun. It’s a real flame, the woman said to herself, as she watched it trembling in the breeze.
On stage, a conductor’s podium had been moved close to the edge and rotated to face the audience. Finally, the commons went silent as men and women, one by one, entered from stage rear and took the chairs awaiting them. They were to one side and slightly back from the podium. When they were seated, some two dozen of them, a final figure appeared and made his way forward. Everyone on stage and out in the commons stood. The man carried himself with relaxed authority. His name was Marek Rankl.
His eyes swept the audience. He paused, and his face lit with a smile. Then he spoke. “Ladies and gentlemen, and children of Arête, this morning, all of us, by virtue of our presence on this island, are witness to, and part of, a unique moment in human history.
“Today we inaugurate the Prometheus Frontier’s first sovereign nation—Arête.
“Our founders are before you on this stage. And the flag you see high above is our flag. Its golden flame, so incandescent in the morning sun, symbolizes the fire of reason which Prometheus, in the ancient Greek myth, stole from the gods and brought to mankind. We have brought the same fire to Arête, an island where human reason and freedom reign supreme.”
Our founding documents—our Constitution and the Declaration of Freedom which is both its preamble and animating philosophy—are crystal clear. Our founding documents explicitly, in no uncertain terms, banish physical coercion from all areas of human endeavor, including ,” he stressed, “any area yet to be developed.”
He then turned to his right and, with upturned palm, gestured to the sitting men and women. “To execute on this grand quest,” he continued, “the Paine Society was chartered ten years ago. Its current members are before you on this stage. Their charter— to begin the world over again —is a vision we all share.
“Executing the vision means setting priorities, financing them, managing unintended consequences, and countless other activities, performed superlatively and unceasingly. Execution is the great challenge—for the Paine Society, for all Arêteans. We Arêteans know how to meet challenges and, with reason our guide, and always learning from mistakes, we get ever better at it.”
There was a brief pause as Marek Rankl turned his head and pointed upward. “The flame you see in the flag above us,” he said, “is our flame of reason and freedom. It burns in the soul of every Arêtean. Now we are going to bring that flame into concrete existence—an actual, physical flame.
“From this day forward, through all future generations, eras, and époques, the flame we are about to light will be visible in the offshore waters of Arête City. Neither force of nature nor of man will ever extinguish it. It will be as invincible as the heroic human spirit it symbolizes. It will be the Prometheus Frontier’s perpetual flame of reason and freedom.”
The crowd stirred and the breeze seemed to quicken as a sweeping applause began and spread across the commons. Everyone was now standing. Children could be seen jumping up and down, unable to contain their energy.
Silence was restored, however, as the stage emptied and the airspace above it took on a subtle shimmering effect. This told the audience that they were about to experience what was colloquially known as an ultra-immersion augmentation. They knew that without any special equipment, other than their five senses, they would be intimately and totally drawn into the next portion of the program. They would not need to budge from where they stood.
It commenced with the low rumble of powerful engines from somewhere under the stage. As the engines slowly ramped up, the audience felt as if their bodies were being drawn inexorably toward the stage. After a minute or so, this feeling trailed off and was followed by the sensation that they had settled into an open craft on the Caribbean Sea. Salt spray filled their nostrils and found its way to their tongues as their eyes told them that they were making for Arête City, small on the horizon. While they looked, they felt the vibrating craft through the soles of their feet, as its engines closed the distance.
A mile from the island, they saw a dark rock structure take shape. Near it, buoys signaled the presence of dangerous reefs. As the vessel slowed and drew closer, the passengers saw that the structure rose seventy-five feet out of the water. From its top a great flaring funnel, carved from black granite, reached for the sky. It was a modern-day fennel stalk—that makeshift torch in the ancient myth, fashioned by Prometheus to steal the divine fire—the fire that he would then bring to mankind.
As the craft slowed still further, its engines gave way to the roar of crashing waves and the shrieking of gulls. The spectators, now fully immersed in the drama, experienced the sensation of wet skin. Their hands went to their ears to quell the raucous cries of the birds. The roar of the waves intensified and then intensified further as it blended with the visual images—the rock structure, the water exploding against it, the wind-ripped sprays of salt.
Now the vessel was crawling as it drew ever closer to the rocks—and then closer still. All motion in the commons had come to a halt. It was as if everyone, their eyes on the approaching boulders, had stopped breathing. Even the children were riveted in place.
Finally, it happened. A great blue flame burst out of the funnel and into the sky with a muted whoosh, the superheated breath of an enormous exhalation. The scent of ignition wafted over the commons. More than one viewer later reported imagining that a giant hand had brought flint down against the black granite of the torch to bring the flame to life.
No one could remember how long it took, but over the next few minutes, the great flame’s color gradually warmed. At the same time, its initial height diminished and widened into large tongues of golden flame, filling the granite funnel. Even in the morning’s radiant sunlight, the flame was visible for miles around, waving in the wind and reaching fifty feet into the air.
Finally, the audience realized that the stage had gone silent. But a large golden afterimage remained for long moments above it. Then gradually, it disappeared as well. The stage was empty, and a warm , soothing breeze caressed the commons. Another stage had been set—and lit.
The first visiting journalist immediately left for the airport. Burt Bartle was eager to file his report and be done with the island. In the Arête Aerolounge , he slumped into a comfortable chair and considered what he wanted to say. As he sipped his second scotch, he balanced a keypad on his paunch, and his stubby fingers proceeded to tap out the words. He filled his account with colorful detail of what he had witnessed, lacing it with strong doses of his trademark sarcasm. He saved the strongest of them for his concluding remarks.
“Arête Island, as so far developed,” he said, “is a monument to the hubris of one man: Marek Rankl. A paragon of superciliousness, he thought he was officiating—in his words—over a unique moment in human history. Indeed, he was. Never has this writer witnessed a greater display of human arrogance and folly. The arrogance was palpable; the folly was thinking that weak and depraved human beings can be cut loose from the only thing that keeps them from wreaking havoc on the world and its populations—namely, the coercive chains of government regulation. There is something ironic in the fact that the greatest depravity is that exhibited by Marek Rankl himself, as evidenced by his monumental wealth. Is there any activity more depraved than profit seeking,” he asked in conclusion. After a quick check, the report was on its way, and Burt Bartle ordered another drink.
His colleague, Emma Lane, who had been so taken with Arête’s flag waving in the morning sun, filed a different report. The City Herald of New York had a tradition of featuring both sides of a story. Its editor knew she would get contrasting views from her two writers. When she received Emma Lane’s report , a few hours after Bartle’s, it was as she expected. Nor was she surprised that Lane had booked a vacation rental for an exploratory week on Arête.
“Today, an otherwise unremarkable Caribbean island,” Lane opened, “going by the name , Arête, Greek for excellence or virtue , has made an entirely remarkable proclamation. It has proclaimed that the island nation of Arête is a haven where initiated physical coercion has no place. Constitutional law prohibits it—from any source, whether government or private. The only physical force permitted to the government is retaliatory force, and only against those who have already initiated physical coercion or threatened to do so.”
She then proceeded to describe the spectacular lighting of the flame. Finally, she closed her account where it had to close. “After the flame was lit,” she wrote, “Arêteans remained in place, as if too stunned to move. But at length, they resumed their lives. Most of them left the commons of Arête City—I myself was among them—and crossed the esplanade to the top edge of the seawall. There we stood in silence as our gaze was pulled over the water to a golden flame one mile away—never to be extinguished.
“Ever to be known as the Perpetual Flame of Reason and Freedom .”
The woman exited the condominium complex and walked out into the salt air. Turning right, she headed north on the elevated plaza. At the end, she heard the traffic hissing along the river drive three stories below, before entering the relative quiet of a waiting elevator pod.
A short distance behind, a personal guard had been shadowing her. He joined her in the pod, and the doors closed. It dropped and moved laterally, then dropped again, before opening onto a walkway to a nearby water shuttle. Boarding it, she made for the forward railing, as her guard let the distance between them grow again, all the time watching the other passengers, without watching them.
She was a slender presence, elderly, and smartly dressed. Her air was slightly imperious. The other commuters, some of them residents of her condominium complex, stared in mild annoyance. They knew she enjoyed the fact that the shuttle’s captain had kept them waiting for her to arrive.
As the vessel moved off, she leaned against the rail and craned her head back to take in the rectangular glass façade of the building she had just exited. For more than a century, its forty stories had served as the administration building of One World. But the One World organization had again taken on a new identity. It was now known as Pangaia—Greek for All Earth. Its location was different as well. Pangaia had been granted sovereignty over a 170-acre island in New York harbor. The island, very close to the tip of New York City’s borough of Manhattan, became the site of Pangaia’s world headquarters. It was the woman’s destination this morning.
Directly above, a seagull hung on the breeze. Then, dipping a wing, it was swept away. The water shuttle, as if on cue, started down river, following the eastern edge of Manhattan Island and the city that had once been the financial capital of the world.
The woman ordinarily would have used the speedier air vehicle service down to Manhattan’s southern tip and then transferred to a water shuttle for the short hop to Pangaia Island. But on days with weighty concerns, like this one, she preferred the open air and leisurely pace of the shuttle for the entire trip. It afforded her leisurely pace of the shuttle for the entire trip. It afforded her time to clear her head.
The sun was warm on her back, and the vessel passed under three aged bridges before entering the city’s main harbor. To starboard, she could see the pale green of the Statue of Liberty. Its right arm was still aloft, but it no longer held a torch into the sky. The arm now ended at the elbow, the point at which vandals had focused their laser weapons years earlier. It was the end of a fiction, she said to herself, as she looked at it. The iconic figure had not been repaired.
Then she remembered another torch, a real one, an actual burning flame more than 2000 miles to the south. The thought of it was always a nasty intrusion, but especially today. That other torch was intimately related, she knew, to the address she would be making this afternoon.
But Pangaia Island was drawing closer. As she watched it grow in size, she felt a familiar sense of power. She was Pangaia’s General Secretary.
Pangaia’s buildings varied in footprint, but they were all the same height. None of them was more than three stories, as if anything higher would have been an affront to the others. Then, to underscore the uniformity, each building had the same neutral gray sheen.
Paved walkways at ground level connected the buildings, and a grand walkway circled the entire island. A fleet of battery-powered pods handled the daily flow of commuters and tourists. Each wheeled pod, voice activated, could handle a dozen or more passengers, and the island’s control center kept everything flowing without mishap. There was no other vehicle traffic on the island.
Leaving the dock area, the woman entered a small personal pod to her destination, as her personal guard set off on foot for his office in a nearby building. Once his charge was on Pangaia Island, the island’s security system took over.
As she entered her headquarters building, she took in the familiar surroundings. A spacious, high-ceilinged chamber welcomed the many daily visitors. At this moment, however, it was still an hour before opening.
The chamber contained a profusion of sitting areas equipped with expanded-reality headsets to take visitors to any realm they wished. Hi-res displays were ubiquitous, linked to an endless stream of news, entertainment and social networks. A constant array of lively documentaries dealt with causes championed by Pangaia: climate change, environmental decline, wealth disparity, and many other evils it attributed to the existence of free enterprise in the world. Everything about this building was international in scope, including the fact, that a long passageway connected its entry chamber to a spacious International Assembly Hall.
Aerial drobots hovered here and there, ready to answer questions or take orders for the always-complimentary refreshments. The Pangaia Panini was a favorite. Surveys confirmed that the stimulation-laden experience of the building strongly imprinted itself on young visitors and often led them to Pangaia-related careers later—exactly the effect intended.
To the left, the walls contained large back-lit images of Pangaia, streaming in continuous loops. There were exterior views of buildings and the landscaping between them. Other views captured the interiors of conference centers, religious facilities, and media rooms.
There was an over-sized panel on which continually looping images slowly morphed, each one into the next, so as to accentuate their basic similarities. This had a hypnotic effect on viewers and especially delighted children. Ancient Pangaia morphed into Earth’s current continents and then slowly back to the original supercontinent before ending with a large photo of Pangaia Island in New York harbor. Throughout these transitions, the similarities in shape were vivid.
Other morph transitions made clear that the main structures on the island delineated the seven main regions of modern-day Earth: North America, South America, Africa, Eurasia, Middle East, South China Sea, and Oceana.
To the right, an alcove twenty-five feet wide curved inward to a depth of four feet. At the midpoint, there was a large oil painting. Its plate announced Herbert Henry, Founder of Pangaia. The portrait depicted a robust man in navy blue suit and a tie festooned with small gold symbols, each in the shape of Pangaia. His chin tilted slightly upward, suggesting the pose of a visionary, which was how he had always fancied himself.
A burst of white hair stood out on the square block of his head, as did his outsized ears. Otherwise, his features were quite ordinary. During his long life, he had been more remembered for his written and spoken words than his personal appearance. In the portrait, he was benignly gazing to his left, as if he were looking at the words etched into the curving wall—his words. The heading at the top read, The Social Philosophy of Pangaia, and his eyes were on Principle One. The alcove was an installation, and an authoritative male voice—his—could be heard softly enunciating the words at spaced intervals.
Only the Group is real;
individuals are like cells of the human body;
they have reality only as members of a Group.
The other side of the alcove contained smaller images of general secretaries, starting with the first. The last of them was larger, however, nearly the same size as the founder’s portrait, next to which it hung. This was the current secretary general, a youthful Galea Magre, at the start of her tenure, decades ago. The image returned her gaze as she entered her office behind the alcove, a considerably older woman with pulled-back silver hair, taut skin over high cheekbones, and a small, pursed mouth, defined by dark lip gloss.
The wall behind her desk displayed her Bachelor of Science in Economics and Master of Science in Cultural Anthropology. Both had been awarded by MSMS, the Manhattan School of Marxist Studies.
There was a framed reproduction of a Forthright Magazine cover. It featured her head and the caption, The World’s Most Influential Woman. Off to one side of her desk, there were two wooden pedestals. The first held Herbert Henry’s masterwork, Pangaia: Icon of Collectivism; the second held Magre’s biography, Herbert Henry: Magisterial Inspiration of Pangaia.
Secretary General Magre leaned forward in her chair and voiced an order. The opposite wall immediately displayed several paragraphs of text that she then began to voice edit. It was the final touches to what she wanted to cover that day in Pangaia’s Grand Assembly Hall.
Five decades ago, a new island nation was founded 2000 miles south of Pangaia headquarters. This was in the Caribbean Sea. The island, whose name is Arête, defiantly stands for everything to which Pangaia is opposed. Arête champions individualism in a world where any enlightened nation knows the individual is a fiction.
Arête champions individual achievement, ownership, and private property. But, as our great founder Herbert Henry taught us, the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself belongs to nobody. The general will, expressed by one great collective body, Pangaia, needs to rule in order to enforce equitable distribution.
Pangaia champions cooperation and sharing between all nations. Arête defiantly drains the world’s best minds from the nation’s most in need of those minds.
Arête champions freedom when the entire world knows that human nature is innately weak—even depraved. History has always taught us that to leave humans free to pursue their own interests is to doom planet Earth: its human populations are pillaged at the same time its climate, natural resources, oceans, and species diversity are steadily destroyed.
General Secretary Magre’s list continued and at the end of it, she sat pondering the final affront. Arête never sought recognition by Pangaia, and certainly not membership. She sat in her chair, in the grip of a deep loathing—a loathing for that island to the south and the flaming torch in its offshore waters.
everything that that torch represented.
Copyright Kevin Osborne. All Rights Reserved.