First Chapter of my new novel,
On Vestige Way is a fictional story of the worst case scenario for global warming. The science in this story is completely accurate. The conclusions are mine. The story takes place near mid-21st century as the world is experiencing severe consequences of climate change ultimately resulting in catastrophic environmental collapse. The story is the sequel to the first of the World Federation novels entitled On Deception Watch, the theme of which was sustainable energy. On Vestige Way carries several plot strands that follow the reactions of the World Federation (now located in Beijing), the United States, The People's Republic of China, Russia and finally the Marshall family consisting of James, Sylvia and their son Jonas. The story ends with an entirely new world order.
From the rostrum above Tiananmen Gate at the northern extremity of the plaza, Sylvia Carlyle Marshall could see a crowd of people so vast that it was impossible for her to encompass it. Never before had she experienced this kind of foreign outpouring of solidarity with the United States. She expected things to be on a massive scale in The People’s Republic of China, but she was not prepared for this. With an area of 440,000 square meters, this was the largest plaza on Earth. The crowd it could contain was simply enormous.
In spite of her winter clothing Sylvia’s teeth were chattering in the bitter cold as a north wind blew across the Square and across the thronging crowd. The hastily erected wooden walls on either side of the elevated rostrum provided scant protection against the late January winds that swept through the level and open plaza.
It is said that Napoleon III widened the Champs Elysées in Paris to its⎯for that time⎯extraordinary width not only to provide space for celebrations worthy of an emperor’s army but also the better to control unruly and possibly rebellious crowds. Tiananmen Square likewise had its similar multiple advantages. Yet it was impossible at this moment, she felt, to experience anything but awe at this vast, enthusiastic gathering of humanity, numbering in excess of a million people, moved to gather there by the death of an American general.
Viewed from her lofty vantage point along with the other dignitaries, Sylvia could see the towering column of the Monument to the People’s Heroes in the center of the plaza. Beyond the Monument, further south, was the massive and looming tribute to the George Washington of their country, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.
It still all seemed surreal to her. Sylvia looked around once again at the honored invited guests she sat among. These were the most powerful people on Earth. That General Morgan Slaider merited such honors Sylvia did not in the least doubt for even a moment. What seemed unreal to her was that she sat among these elect. Only twelve years ago she was simply a young, black, female physicist, the dependable right arm of her boss, then as now, Dr. Arthur J. Cranshaw, founder of AJC Fusion Incorporated. Her unexpected and unlikely rise to eminence, her achievements as Deputy Director of the Federation Laser-Fusion Agency, everything she became since her AJC Fusion days she owed to General Slaider. Even more stunning to her was where she now was sitting⎯in Beijing, China, eleven thousand kilometers from General Slaider’s home in Maryland, attending this second, national memorial ceremony.
Ritual has always been an essential ingredient for both the military and in politics and when the two combine, when the emotions of each intersect at one event in history, at the death of one charismatic individual, the effect on people is at once cautionary, liberating and exhausting. The tributes to General Slaider for both his extraordinary talents and boldness in the face of America under internal attack and as a political force of even now unfathomed influence…well, she could not restrain her own sobs once again at his passing.
Five days earlier, the rituals of an American state funeral reserved for presidents, vice presidents and other especially high officers of government ran their dignified and orchestrated course. All of America watched Marion Morgan as her husband’s casket was transferred from the hearse used to bring the general’s body to Washington to its position of honor atop the waiting limber and caisson. The limber and caisson then made its slow and somber way to Constitution Avenue drawn by three pairs of same-colored horses. On one horse of each pair sat an erect and solemn soldier. An honor guard escort representing each branch of the major US military forces flanked the casket. Additional military units followed slowly further behind to be followed still further back by a line of limousines led by the limousine bearing Mrs. Morgan, her son and two daughters. In the vehicle with Mrs. Morgan was Major General Roland Stanwick, ramrod and chivalrous commander of the Military District of Washington, who was Mrs. Morgan’s official escort. But most affecting and immediately following the limber and caisson with its casket was the white riderless horse named Lightning, head held high and slowly led by its bridle by a soldier from the US Army 1st Cavalry Division. In the stirrups were the general’s riding boots, reversed as if looking back at the troops he would never again see nor lead. A portion of the Marine Band, in measured steps, played muffled drums directly behind the riderless horse.
The caisson paused for a moment at 4th and Constitution Avenue where the band played “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” The procession then resumed its slow progress down Constitution Avenue toward Capital Hill until it reached the steps of the Capital building. The casket was removed by the honor guard from the limber and caisson to begin its stately transfer up the steps to the rotunda of the Capital whereupon a 19 gun salute was begun, each firing at thirty second intervals until the casket was settled on its bier at the center of the rotunda and the honor guard re-established itself around the bier.
President Llewellyn had issued a presidential decree closing all government offices for the day and declaring a national day of mourning. He spoke graciously at Washington National Cathedral about General Slaider’s service to his country and about their long and close personal friendship. The president recalled the days that Sylvia remembered so well, that even though the nation knew General Slaider was fighting a brave but losing battle with disease, still the finality of death, even when it is expected and there is time to prepare, is a stunning lesson that the least among us, likewise the greatest among us are all mortal, that we take nothing with us, and that all that remains when we are gone are the seeds that we have sown in life. The President urged all his fellow Americans and General Slaider’s friends worldwide to follow the general’s example of courage, self-sacrifice, and purpose⎯to hold not a shallow and foolish vision of their lives but a deep and meaningful vision. If you want to shoot for the stars, the President said, the lesson of Morgan Slaider’s life was that you have to aim at the sky.
The President did not mention that General Slaider’s vision and President Llewellyn’s codifying a world powered by laser-induced fusion energy could not have come to fruition had it not been for Dr. Cranshaw and his team of scientists and managers. Nor did he mention that Sylvia had been the glue that held AJC Fusion together when chaos had reigned and Dr. Cranshaw’s dreams were turning to dust along with his company⎯before it became the Federation Laser-Fusion Agency. Under her direction and Dr. Cranshaw’s mentorship, the Laboratory had fulfilled the dream that former President Drummond had died for and that President Llewellyn had enshrined into law by his “arrangement” with The People’s Republic of China: cheap,
widespread, virtually unlimited fusion energy and successful exploitation of the moon’s rich supply of the rare helium isotope, Helium-3, needed for the mix of ingredients that made the fusion process work.
The US President didn’t mention these things, but they were why Sylvia now found herself in Beijing going through the same gut wrenching commemoration she endured in Washington. My god, she thought, how much this man has changed the geopolitics of the world. Sylvia listened distractedly, not caring about the translation or what was being said. She was certain it was appropriate, genuine, and moving. She looked around her in continuous amazement at the Americans who had also travelled for this historic gathering to this historic location with our unlikely partner, masters of a new world of geopolitical economics.
The United States and The People’s Republic of China had locked arms to create a new kind of world organization, an organization that displaced and replaced the old United Nations with not yet another political “good intention” but with a very real entity⎯the “super corporation.” Amidst all this, she knew that she was here among the illustrious of the world not for merely a dream come true, but rather a development beyond her wildest dreams of twelve years ago when The World Federation was created.
As she was lost in thought, the air was suddenly ripped by the approaching engine roar of five Chinese J-13 “Flanker” jet fighters flying in “missing man” formation. This formation was famously first devised, Sylvia had learned, by World War I British fighter pilots honoring the funeral of Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron. She had witnessed a similar tribute over the United States Capital as General Slaider’s coffin was being carried up the steps to the rotunda.
The crowd below looked skyward and applauded their pilots as the five jets approaching from the south streaked towards Tiananmen Square. The formation leader took the point position while two elements of two formed on either side, completing the “V”. Just as the formation was directly over the square, in plain sight to all, the left wing man broke formation rolling to the left, to the west symbolically into where the setting sun would vanish, thus honoring the missing man. On foreign land and among foreign people, Sylvia was especially moved by this gesture of respect for General Slaider by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
The crowd below was still applauding as the planes flew quickly out of sight when suddenly another rising roar of engines could be heard coming from the east. Another formation of jets was rapidly approaching. The crowd quickly turned and watched with excitement as the planes approached for what they assumed was another flyover by the PLAAF. As the fighters drew nearer a gasp of astonishment rose from a million onlookers as a formation of five clearly marked United States Air Force F-38 fighter jets, also in missing man formation, approached rapidly toward the Square.
A startled silence gripped the anxious crowd for a moment. When the formation was directly over Tiananmen Square the left F-38 Super Falcon wing man suddenly broke formation going this time into a steep vertical climb, rising up, up, up into the gray overcast sky until it could no longer be seen in its flight, symbolizing their fallen comrade’s journey into eternity. At the instant the fighter broke formation the crowd suddenly went wild, shouting and clapping and waving their arms at the American fighter planes receding as quickly as they had arrived. When all planes were finally lost from view, as if activated by an electric signal, every face turned toward the rostrum filled with dignitaries from around the world and in their million waved their little flags and sang.
It was not easy establishing a hydrogen energy economy. Even now, Sylvia well knew, the infrastructure was only in its early stages of development. She called it, when among friends, the Bullshit Stage, when almost everything that needed to be done was being done for the first time and so even among the eager and converted there was the unconscious mountain of doubt that needed always to be climbed. And the people problems were not even the half of it.
Hydrogen is the smallest molecule in nature and so is able to escape from containers closed convincingly for any other gases. Seals, joints, valves and containers all have to be “perfect.” A perfect container and transport system is to an engineer as unconventional as “unlimited” credit is to a banker. The terms were almost devoid of meaning, there being no baseline, no precedent for the concept. Yet, as had happened so often in the history of laser-induced fusion energy, throw enough brilliant minds motivated to find a solution rather than merely to study the problem forever and a way is always found.
The lumbering train of hydrogen energy worldwide was finally gaining momentum. A critical mass of countries was subscribers, franchisees as it were, and the finances of The World Federation were becoming self-sustaining. James had written a wonderful article, Sylvia thought, on the projected expansion of the number of franchise countries over the next ten years. He described for the layman the scientific achievements accomplished by the international research body of the World Federation and the challenges they yet faced. She was so proud of her husband’s contributions.
Politically, General Slaider’s expectation had been confirmed that governments would ”adjust” their governing strategies and policies in light of the need to score well on the domestic stability test in order to qualify for a franchise. As Dr. Cranshaw frequently told her, financial self-interest can become the driving agent of high-minded principles. The genius of General Slaider’s plan was to marry the two, so financial self-interest could be best served by altruistic governance. Domestic stability was the key to the door of membership in The World Federation. The surprising result was that the ruling elites of countries formerly known for intransigent autocracy discovered that with careful planning they could still enjoy the benefits of ruling while also promoting the well being of those they ruled. Besides, access to the World Federation’s technology and materiel demanded it.
After the ceremonies, Sylvia relaxed for the first time when she arrived back at the Rosewood. The Rosewood Beijing hotel knew how to cater to foreign dignitaries, to entertain them if that was what they wanted and to isolate them when that was what they needed. Right now it was the latter that she craved. The Rosewood had the most magnificent apartment suites she had ever experienced. The rooms were spacious beyond any self-indulgent expectation, verging on the absurd. Yet ironically, they were furnished, decorated and illuminated with a reserved elegance that belied the almost pointless extravagance of size.
Comfortably seated in a chair facing the oversized window that offered a panoramic view of the city from her twenty story high vantage, Sylvia Marshal finally had time to miss James. In the eleventh year of their marriage it was usually he who was the absent party, his job with the World Federation taking him to all corners of Earth and even once to the moon. It didn’t really matter to her now whether it was he who was absent or she. The void was there either way.
Sylvia’s thoughts returned to when she first met James at the AJC Fusion headquarters, how his skeptical view of their claims gradually abated as she escorted him through the lab and after his meeting with Dr. Cranshaw. She remembered the crazy, scary times when the country was in chaos following the attacks on the nation’s energy infrastructure, the death of the President, and finally the imposition of martial law. That was the scariest of all for her as she remembered waiting, terrified in her Brooklyn Heights apartment, for some indication from government officials that safety and security would quickly be re-established. She remembered how she felt when James unexpectedly appeared on her doorstep. Like the marines had landed, she said to him then and how she felt when they made love for the first time during those desperate hours.
She leaned back more comfortably into her heavily cushioned chair and closed her eyes. Yes, she thought, the world has changed a great deal since that dangerous year of transition. Who would have thought that the United Nations would ever be displaced and that a new form of international cooperation would be established not based on xenophobic national self-interest, but on multinational economic self-preservation? The threat of losing access to the laser-fusion technology and essential materials obtainable only through the World Federation proved to be everything General Slaider predicted it would be. A failure to obtain access to the Federation monopoly quickly demonstrated the catastrophic financial consequences to the few nations who challenged the rules and resisted the mandates for membership, who tried to go it alone. There was one major exception. The Russian Federation.
The World Federation, General Slaider explained to her twelve years ago, was not simply an organization to join but a business entity, a super corporation such as had never before existed in the history of humanity. The World Federation transcends national borders and narrow national agendas. Denial of a franchise for the laser-fusion package is tantamount to economic ruin for the rejected nation. Sylvia was convinced Russia would soon decide it had made its anger known at being left out of the charter membership club and in time would join.
Unlike the Universal Declaration of Human Rights promulgated by the United Nations, The World Federation political stability protocol would be a mandate with teeth. Political stability and the happiness of the people would be tied, General Slaider explained, to economic survival and profitability rather than to altruism and the delusion of human rights. Instead, in the economic interests of the world, in every geographic region, social stability must reign for stable economic and political outcomes. Fail the domestic stability test and you don’t receive a franchise.
Sylvia thought, with deep admiration, about Ranjit Lal, the former General Secretary of the United Nations and now CEO of The World Federation. In a few short years he has brought the vision alive of a world-governing model that actually benefitted the people while retaining the cooperation of the oligarchy. Lal’s masterful use of the carrot and the stick had changed the course of human destiny. But most amazing of all, Sylvia thought, was the cooperation General Slaider had nursed successfully from the very beginning between the United States and The People’s Republic of China. General Slaider’s vision got the teeth it needed without the threat of military force when the US and China claimed joint sovereignty, in the name of The World Federation, to the moon and it’s helium riches.
The moon was home to a bountiful and exclusive supply of the one chemical not found in nature on Earth beyond trace amounts, but crucial to an economically feasible laser-fusion process, the isotope of helium, He-3. The steady rain, from the sun to the moon, of this isotope in the solar wind was the limiting factor that made laser-induced fusion energy possible. Only the United States and China possessed the resources and power to monopolize and guard the moon from competing efforts by entities that foolishly might think to challenge their monopoly.
In creating this new world order, Sylvia agreed, the ends justified the means and the results spoke for themselves. Wherever franchises existed the living standard of the people had risen dramatically. Opposition to the power of the World Federation melted away and the conversion to hydrogen-based energy was gaining speed as more and more fossil-fuel fired power stations were being retired. Small pockets of opposition based on national rather than economic loyalty was, as predicted, proving unsustainable. A peaceful Earth was now in the offing.
In spite of all this, Sylvia wondered, why am I worried?