Warren Murphy: Air Raid

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    Air Raid
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DON'T BREATHE THE AIR They are tiny, genetically engineered blue seeds that mature quickly into trees that literally suck all the oxygen out of the air. They're the twisted experiment of the earth-friendly but highly secretive Congress of Concerned Scientists, and now they've been snatched its head, Dr. Hubert St. Clair. Having killed off all but one of his scientific team, he's leading Remo and Chiun on a chase through the proverbial forest. He's got enough seeds to choke off the world's oxygen supply, and the ability to create environmental disasters at will. Battling everything from acid rain to blistering heat to frigid cold, the Destroyer races to thwart double disaster in the Amazon rainforest: St. Clair is planting seeds like a maniac and a U.S. President prepares to nuke Brazil onto oblivion.

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Destroyer 126: Air Raid

By Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Chapter 1

It was only three-quarters of an inch long, but it was more destructive than a billion atomic bombs the size of the one dropped on Hiroshima. At least that's what the scientist sitting before him claimed. But if there was one thing he'd learned in life, it was that a lot of times scientists said things that weren't exactly the unvarnished truth.

"Are you sure? Are you absolutely, positively, one hundred percent sure?" Hubert St. Clair asked.

"I wouldn't say it if it wasn't true, Dr. St. Clair," replied the young scientist. The precious object was clamped snugly between the slender steel tips of a small pair of medical forceps.

When he saw the sudden withering look on Hubert St. Clair's face, the scientist suddenly remembered whom he was talking to.

Dr. Hubert St. Clair was the head of the Congress of Concerned Scientists, a group of pseudoscience worshipers that specialized in issuing dire predictions on epic, global scales, none of which ever seemed to actually come true.

"Oh," said the young scientist, offering a weak apologetic smile.

Dr. Brice Schumar was still holding his tight smile as St. Clair wordlessly pulled the forceps from the embarrassed scientist's hand. Lifting his glasses up to his forehead, he brought the tiny object close to his nearsighted eyes.

It looked like an ordinary plant seed.

The seed was a bluish purple. The two halves of its perfectly symmetrical bifurcated body were separated by a deep groove. One end was round; the other terminated in a blunted point. At the rounded end sat a fat blob of perfect azure.

St. Clair had never seen a more beautiful blue. His sour expression slowly melted back to joy. He stared, captivated by the little blue seed and all it represented. "It's magnificent," Dr. St. Clair said softly.

Squinting his right eye, he held the seed up to his left. It was just small enough to blot out his pupil. His reddish-brown iris and bloodshot white were still visible.

"It was a lot of work," Dr. Schumar replied.

The tiny seed shifted, and Hubert St. Clair's pupil reappeared. "I wasn't talking to you," he said, his look of intense displeasure returning. "And this seed coat looks tough. You better not have the same coumartling problem you had a couple of years ago."

The scientist shook his head. "Coumarin," Schumar corrected. "And there are virtually no antiauxins present at all. Didn't you, um, read my report?"

"No time," St. Clair said with a dismissive wave of the seed-gripping forceps. "We in the governing body of the CCS can't be bothered with dusty old reports. We're out there in the scientific trenches, verbally engaging the Katie Courics and Oprah Winfreys of the world. And ever since the tragic, untimely end of our latest and greatest member, we've all been pulling double duty."

Of course Dr. Schumar knew precisely whom St. Clair was talking about. None other than the legend himself, Sage Carlin. At one time the most famous scientist in the entire world. The deceased CCS elder had been an outspoken member of the scientific community and a celebrity mouthpiece for the Congress of Concerned Scientists since the 1960s. Carlin had also-to Dr. Brice Schumar's knowledge-never once let his passion for environmental issues be clouded by a single fact. His version of science was all conjecture and hope masquerading as truth.

When he was alive, Carlin had wagged a hectoring finger at the world about everything from ocean warming to dumping toxic waste to deforestation. His had been a life of easily digestible factoids and buzzwords, embraced by the ruling cultural class and fastfood, quick-fix Americans with MTV attention spans.

In his darkest heart, which he dared not reveal to anyone else within the CCS, Dr. Brice Schumar had hoped that with the passing of Sage Carlin five years earlier, the congress would abandon its former leader's love of sloppy science and turn to a more reasoned approach of addressing the ills of the world. Even though Carlin's showy claims garnered much attention, they were ultimately very destructive to the credibility of real scientists. After all, a mile-wide asteroid hadn't destroyed Atlantic City, cow flatulence wasn't depleting the mesosphere and the sun hadn't exploded. Schumar knew that this last claim of Carlin's had relied on particularly sloppy science, seeing as how it was made after he'd watched a screening of the film Superman in the CCS theater.

When he learned Carlin had died, Dr. Schumar was ashamed of the quiet relief the news gave him. His hopes for a return of serious scientific thought in the world headquarters of the CCS in Geneva were shortlived.

He couldn't exactly remember when he first noticed the trend, or who started it. He only realized what was happening one afternoon at the Swiss headquarters when he spotted a fellow scientist sporting a dusty corduroy jacket with wide lapels. In the ensuing weeks, a handful of similarly clothed men became a dozen. Then a multitude. Until nearly everyone in the Geneva labs and offices was wearing the same uniform.

It was the curse of Sage Carlin.

The world-famous scientist and activist had a unique sense of style. Dr. Schumar had always thought of it as a sort of antifashion. In addition to an omnipresent corduroy jacket, Carlin wore a thick turtleneck sweater, always in the darker shades of green or earth tones. He wore powder-blue jeans that were always hopelessly out of fashion. They were tight in the thighs and rump and wide as church bells around his sandals. The 1970s lived on into the nineties, at least sartorially, on the body of Sage Carlin. In homage to their fallen leader, his troops at the CCS adopted Sage Carlin's mode of dress.

Dr. Hubert St. Clair was no exception.

As head of the CCS, St. Clair ensured his lapels were always the widest, his bell-bottoms the biggest. To preserve some sense of scholarship, his jackets always seemed to smell vaguely of chalk dust, even though it had been a long time since the former professor had seen an actual blackboard.

In Brice Schumar's lab, Hubert St. Clair was still studying the single blue seed.

"I see," Dr. Schumar said, clearing his throat. "If you haven't read my report, then there's something that you might be interested in seeing." An anxious smile flickered at the corners of his lips.

"What?" St. Clair asked.

"Trust me," Dr. Schumar insisted, a flush of excitement rising in his cheeks. "You have to see this." St. Clair reluctantly put down the forceps and the beautiful blue seed. He allowed Dr. Schumar to lead him out into the hall.

They traveled deep into the bowels of the CCS complex, stopping outside the sealed double doors to the greenhouse.

"We know absolutely now that the problem with the last batch was overproduction of antiauxins," Dr. Schumar said as he punched the code into the keypad of the greenhouse doors. "The growth hormones couldn't be released. So while the plants we engineered grew to maturity, they couldn't reproduce without monumental help from us. In effect, they were sterile."

"No kidding," St. Clair muttered.

There seemed something more behind his words. St. Clair kept far from the door as Schumar entered the code. He eyed the panel with mistrust.

A red light above the door winked out and a green light clicked on. There was a hiss as the hermetic seal on the door popped. The two thick plastic panels parted.

"Those early trees were a learning experience," Schumar stressed as they stepped inside.

The double doors shut automatically behind them. St. Clair almost jumped out of his skin when they did. They were in a small control room. A second set of doors-this one of thicker plastic compositeblocked their path.

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