Chapter 3


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 .”


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