Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The World Commission

Dr. Smartke sat at his desk, facing the large monitor connected to the World Bank medical database. He was staring at the screen intently as he unconsciously gnawed on his fingernails.

"So close,” Dr. Smartke whispered under his breath.

Slamming his palm on the desktop, he stood up and wandered across the room, lost in his thoughts. Not intentionally, he came to the only window the lab had.

It was around three o'clock and the sun was just coming into view through the westward window. The sun reflected off the neighboring buildings coated in their UV protectant paint. No plants could be seen in the expansive view. They either had all died or had been moved to Greeneries, large buildings that simulated "outside" where people could walk and get a breath of "fresh air." The glowing ball of gas that used to be the source of life on the earth was now the source of death. It had become a disease plaguing the Earth, and he, Dr. Smartke, was responsible for finding its cure.

"I may be onto something, Dad."

The words startled the doctor, and coming out of his train of thought he turned. There sitting at another large monitor closer to the window sat Michael Smartke, his son.

"Wha...what is it Michael?" Dr. Smartke said as he realigned his thoughts.

"These two compounds," Michael said, pointing to his screen. "In this simulation, when they collide in an atmosphere similar to what ours has become, they produce another compound that does not allow the damaging rays of the sun through for nearly seven minutes before dissipating."

Pointing to the compound he had labeled SPF, Michael stated, "I'm going to try to increase it a little, just to see what happens."

He increased the compound just slightly and again ran his simulation. Nine minutes.

"Nine minutes!" Michael said loudly. He continued to increase the SPF compound in the electronic simulation.

Twelve minutes. Seventeen minutes. Thirty-nine minutes. Dr. Smartke watched in amazement as his son continued to have success. Tears began to well up in his eyes.

Could this be it? he thought. Could my son have figured out how to save the world?

"Dad, I think we need to test this in the Machine."

The lab door swung open. A beautiful brown-haired young woman in a lab coat entered, her arms full of bottles with a variety of labels. Her bright blue eyes met up with Dr. Smartke.

"Father, could you clear me a space on that table right there to set these down?” the young woman asked.

Dr. Smartke rushed to the table and cleared a space.

"It worked Elizabeth!" said Michael. "I was inspired to have you get those compounds for me. The computer simulation is a success, and we're ready to use the Machine test. Isn't that right Dad?"

Still trying to gather his senses after all this success and excitement, Dr. Smartke’s response was a little delayed.

"Y-yes. Yes! Let's get the Machine ready. Let's physically create these compounds and let's test it!"

"The machine should be ready now," Elizabeth responded. "John has been there for two hours already. If he hasn't gotten distracted by a pair of dark brown eyes attached to the name of Rebecka, we should be able to begin the Machine test in twenty minutes."

"You knew. You two, er, three, knew this would work so well on the computer that you have already gotten the Machine ready?" Dr. Smartke said, bewildered by his childrens' actions.

"Smartke intuition, Mother always says, is hardly ever off." Elizabeth replied as she winked at her Father.

"Let's test this thing!" Michael said, jumping from his seat and walking over to help Elizabeth carry the compounds to the Machine for testing.

* * *

Dr. Smartke sat in his chair, watching his children as they interacted with one another, getting the Machine ready for the test. Their witty remarks bounced off each other as well as their intellectual thoughts did. They fed off each other so well. In today’s world, one kid was a blessing, but three! Dr. Smartke couldn’t believe his kids had turned out so well and were able to contribute so much. If this collaboration of their work was a success, he might be able to watch their children have the same relationship while they interacted outside, under the SUN, with plants and trees and even insects. To watch a bee pollinate a flower was something he hadn't done since he was a child, and because of the work of each of his children he might be able to do it again.

"The beast is ready," John said. "Is SPF 45 ready yet?"

"Yes. Almost," Michael replied.

"Last I checked, almost is still a no, not a yes," said John.

"Okay, done," Michael said as he began stepping back from the Machine.

"Keep backing up-- I don't want you too close to the beast. Elizabeth and I are far too busy to have to save your life again," said John.

"You allow your siblings to save your life one time, just one time, and they never let you live it down," said Michael.

"That's because we don't want you to ever forget that we love you and care for you very much… and because we want you to feel guilty," Elizabeth chimed in, with a smile on her face.

Dr. Smartke remembered the incident. Michael had been only eight, and it had been “fire” season, the hottest and most treacherous time of the year. But an eight-year old doesn’t always understand danger, especially when he sees his best friend about to face it. The family dog, Rex, had escaped when the garage door opened as Michael played with the circuitry to see how it worked. Michael had run outside, exposing his skin and body to the extreme temperatures, just to save the dog. He had been covered with third, fourth, and even some fifth-degree burns all over his body when they found him.

Dr. Smartke had thought his son had died. But he hadn’t died; he was right here in the room about to see the results of an experiment he had helped create, an experiment that might make their world livable again.

"It's a good thing my muscular six-year old brother and Elizabeth with her four-year old arms were able to put on their sun suits in time to drag me back inside, just before I became jerky on the driveway. Now hopefully I can repay them with my contribution to the possible success of this experiment," said Michael.

"Enough said. Let's get on with it," said Elizabeth.

"Here we go!" said John.

John stared intently at the screen in front of him to make sure the experiment stayed under control. Michael, Elizabeth and Dr. Smartke looked over his shoulder and then to the Machine as they waited in anticipation.

"So far so good," said John.

"Please knock on wood," said Michael.

"I would if I could, but there ain't no wood," responded John. "Wood is too expensive."

Three minutes passed by and the compounds were about to collide. Dr. Smartke intently watched. Everything was working wonderfully. Beyond anything he had dreamed.

Ten minutes later, the protective atmosphere the compounds had created still held. Thirty minutes and they still held. Forty minutes, so far longer than any computer simulation, and the atmosphere still held. An hour passed.

Oh, what beautiful children. What could I have done without them? thought Dr. Smartke.

"These readings are incredible. The atmosphere is still holding strong," said John.

Three hours had passed and few words were spoken. The atmosphere still held, showing no signs of breaking down.

"You did it," Dr Smartke said, almost in a whisper. "You did it. You kids did it."

"Father, we could have hardly done this without you," Michael said softly in return. "Thank you, Father."

* * *

"Dr. Smartke!"

Dr. Smartke's body jerked as he awoke from what seemed to be a nap. He rubbed his eyes and blinked until he could see the person who had called his name so abruptly. Didn't he deserve some rest after all they had accomplished? His eyes coming into focus, Dr. Smartke recognized the individual who had said his name. It was the bulbous bouffant-haired front desk receptionist at the lab.

"Your wife has been calling you for the past hour and thought you had died. She'd like you to call her back," she said.

"Oh, my wife! Thank you Sharon. I'll call her right away,"

"I can't believe I forgot to tell Susan about today!" He said to himself after the receptionist had left.

Pushing a button on his keypad, he called home to the woman he had been married to for the past thirty-seven years. Won't she be so proud.

"Charles, you finally called me back!"

"Sorry, dear, I was just so tired after all that had happened today. We did it, we finally did it. We figured it out. I say we, but it was mostly the kids, Michael, John, and Elizabeth. Our brilliant children did it! They did it!"

There was a pause. A long drawn-out pause. Not being able to take the silence any longer, Dr. Smartke said again, "Susan, our kids did it!"

Another pause came.

"Charles. What children?" Susan responded.

"Our children, Michael, John, Elizabeth. Our brilliant children!"

Silence returned.

"Charles. We don't have any children. Michael died long ago, and because of the World Commission to have only one child, we did not have any other children."

"Wait, what? No."

Dr. Smartke was confused, and his mind raced over the events of the day, but they were fading. Like a dream fades as you wake up from your slumber.

It was a dream. Just a dream.

Susan was right--they had no living children. Michael had died, burned to death by the sun when he was just eight. John and Elizabeth were never born. The World Commission law forbade it, and he, being a scientist commissioned to find a remedy that could cure the planet from the lethal rays of the sun, most certainly had to obey the law. This he did willingly, seeing it as a policy all humans needed to comply with. It was the only way they could bide time to find a correction to what mankind had done. Wasn’t it?

"Oh Susan, I'm sorry if I scared you. It was just a dream. A dream that felt so real, but was just a dream. Please forgive me."

"Please come home Charles, you need some rest away from the lab. You won't be able to find your universal "sunblock" without your rest, and I miss you, Charles. Please come home."

"Yes dear, I will. Just give me one more hour here at the lab. I will leave right after that."

"I'll be waiting."

The call disconnected. Dr. Smartke just sat at his desk for a moment.

Slowly he got out of his chair and walked over to the window. The specially painted buildings were still in his view, and all manner of plant life was still missing. He turned his head to see the desk where he had seen Michael sit during a dream that had felt so real. It was turned off and empty.

"I should go home," he said to himself and left.


Adele said...

What a good story. Sad, but good.

Ricky said...

I had 4th and 5th degree burns once too... but that was but a scratch... a flesh wound. GOOD JOB LIPID

Anonymous said...

A number of interesting ideas here. 1) You can accomplish a task by having chirldren who accomplish it—the idea that having a child is more than a means to provide a replacement for onesself, but a family is a creative entity that grows and improves in breadth and potency with time. I am feeling this idea as my children marry and carry on—and do better things than I have done. 2) There is the parallel emptiness of the world as described in the story and Dr. Smartke's personal life without his might-have-been family. 3) A personal world with only Smartke-ness (scientific smartness), devoid of scripturally-named Michael, John and Elizabeth. 4) A dream as an inner-reality—in this case it seems as this is what actually would have happened only if . . . 5) A warning on more than one level (the scientific sun predicamant but also the family loss) of how we should keep to the fundamental things that are a source for life. A great story I will think about for a while.

NoSurfGirl said...

Take that, all you population control advocates!

Sorry. Just a little vent. I really love how this story illustrates why human life is so precious, and why we can't think of people as numbers.

Spencer said...

Wow.. I have a blogger account. What the freak?

Bill Karoly said...

I found this story to be well thought out with a nice twist at the end. It was kinda sad.

Margaret said...

Good jorb, Poshua! I was NOT expecting the twist, but I AM thinking that a certain cancer-crusading friend of mine will LOVE this!

Nicely done!

Danielle said...

As a skin cancer "crusader", Margaret thought I would LOVE this and I do!!!

Thanks for promoting the importance of sun protection!

By the way, there really isn't anything more molecularly potent than SPF 30. To find out more about SPF, sunscreens, sun safety, and skin cancer prevention check out my blog at http://onlyskindeepbook.blogspot.com.

By the way, Sara DiGiordano says hello.

THANKS again Josh for the great promo on sun protection/sun safety!

Putz said...

i have read this before haven't i?, or one where life is so precious that to lose one so arbitrarily by a fluke sun accident, and then because of a world commisssion not to be able to have another precious life is so sad, we should be able to have many, i think of nappy who is in his 13th cycle of trying to conceive, and i wrote to him and said children are so important, of course you know that or you wouldn't try so hard to get pregnant

Daniel Barlow said...

hi dee ho dad's friend