The first light of the sun to reach Manhattan was pale and hardly worth watching, unless you had never seen the sun before: if you never knew its warmth or oppressive heat; its blinding incessant brilliance or the cold flux as it disappeared behind clouds; the dazzling sunsets–the growing darkness as the sun falls below the horizon or the apprehension of dwindling light as you walk home alone.
Dharma, the 22nd Warden of the Manhattan Project, stood against the railing, silently urging the aging star to pierce the newly weakened shield that once constituted the sole defense of a cautious planet. With it came protection against harmful radiation for a planet with gaping holes in its ozone layer. No one had foreseen that the self-perpetuating shield would become a cloak through which the light of the sun could not penetrate. And so, the planet fell into darkness. Ambient temperatures plummeted and a new ice age took hold. Millions upon millions–over five billion of the planet’s population died from exposure, starvation and hypothermia. Many took their own lives and just as many took the lives of others as mayhem ensued.
It took time and a manageable decreased population for humanity to adjust to its new conditions. Underground shelters in caverns heated by geothermal vents and a new, photo-gametic energy source for growing food in the deep caverns brought the situation under control. Yet, humans were not intended to live without their sun. So began the Manhattan Project, and like the first project so named, a thermonuclear device would change the course of humanity…again. This time, it really would be in Manhattan.
Each of Dharma’s 21 distinguished predecessors had labored to the end of his or her life on a project each understood would not be realized in a mere lifetime. And, lifetimes were often short because of selfless acts–each knowing the consequences and each willing to die for the sake of a frozen planet. They were the true heroes and Dharma paid them respect every day, yet it would be she who would be prominent in the telling of the history of the world’s rebirth–if this worked.
Dharma watched the growing light, amazed by the first sighting of a horizon–dim, but with promise. She chanted her mantra of the names of the 21 Wardens as the shape of the sun faintly shimmered behind the shield. Upon reaching the 21st Warden, Dharma issued the order to release the critical mass of the drone in its stationary position over the frozen ocean. She, and the gearheads who comprised her technical team, initiated their protective visors as each person’s armor auto-sealed itself and the helmets brought up the data displays.
The quiet of the frozen ocean had unnerved her but the chatter in her helmet felt calming. Dharma glanced around at the gearheads, then gripped the railing. Either this worked or they all would be dead–there was no in-between. Then they saw the flash and felt the energy as the most powerful force ever used by humanity punched a hole in the shield. Dharma spoke the password to the second drone offstage and everyone watched their helmet displays and waited. As the numbers and letters appeared the gearheads became excited…it was working. Like a virus the nano-matter ate away at the boundary of the hole. So far, the nanos had achieved homeostasis.
Dharma knew that there was a 56 per cent chance that the nanos would not be able to hold. If the nanos failed, Dharma was ready to take action with a backup : the experimental fission device would make its world début. Theoretically, it could blow the shield and possibly the surface of the planet into outer space. If the shield held, then Dharma would use her last solution: a capsule on the bedside table in her quarters and a 23rd Warden of the Manhattan Project would carry on where she left off and Dharma’s name would be added to the mantra. Dharma had been over-exposed to radiation again and the latest treatment was affecting her focus. She was spent. Dharma became Warden when she was fourteen years old. Yesterday was her eighteenth birthday….