Chapter 4


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.

And everything that that torch represented.


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