Warren Murphy: The Sky is Falling

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Warren Murphy The Sky is Falling
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    The Sky is Falling
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    Детективная фантастика / на английском языке
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The Murderous Money Machine It was hotter than sex. It packed a bigger punch than the H-bomb. And best of all, it was worth a sky-high pile of blue chips for the company that could make and market the machine that could tap the full energy of the sun. Chemical Concepts was the lucky firm, and its gorgeous VP Kathleen O'Donnell wasn't going to let a few glitches like maybe burning the earth to cinders or sparking a thermonuclear war keep her from milking the machine for all the billions of bucks she thought it was worth. Only Remo and Chiun cold stop this sexplosive lady executive from making the ultimate corporate killing - unless the dynamite O'Donnell used the burning power of the sun and the heavenly heat of her body to stop them first.

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Destroyer 63: The Sky is Falling

By Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Chapter 1

They couldn't see it. But it could blind. Normally they couldn't feel it, but it could kill. They couldn't touch it, but it could turn human skin to an especially virulent and burning cancer. It could destroy crops, flood the cities of the world and turn the earth into something that resembled the moon, a barren rock waiting for life from elsewhere some aeon hence.

That, of course, was the downside.

"There's got to be some way we can make a buck on this thing," said Reemer Bolt, director of marketing for Chemical Concepts of Massachusetts, who didn't see why they shouldn't push it through Development. "We'd have to work out the bugs, of course."

"I'd say that not destroying all life on this planet is bug one," said Kathleen O'Bonnell of Research and Development.

"Right. A major priority. I don't want to destroy all life. I am life. We are all life. Right?"

There were nods all around Conference Room A of Chemical Concepts headquarters, situated north of Boston on high-tech Route 128.

"We are not here to destroy life," said Bolt, "but to protect it. Enhance it. Make Chemical Concepts of Massachusetts a viable growing part of that life."

"What are you talking about?" demanded Kathleen O'Donnell. She was twenty-eight years old, a tall woman with eyes like star sapphires and skin like Alpine marble, white and placid. Her hair, brushed straight off her cool forehead, was a delicate reddish-gold. If she were not always getting in his way, Reemer Bolt, thirty-eight, would have fallen in love with her. Or tried. He'd tried several times, in fact. Unfortunately, there was a problem with beautiful Kathleen O'Donnell, Ph.D., MIT.

She understood him.

Reemer Bolt was glad he was not married to her. Life for a man married to a woman who understood him could be hell. Reemer should know. He had had three of them before he found himself a paranoid shrew. Paranoid shrews were the easiest to deal with. They were so busy chasing their nightmares that you really could do anything with them. With Kathleen O'Donnell, he could do nothing. She knew what was going on.

"I am talking about the basic inalienable priorities," said Bolt. "Life, living life, is important to me." His voice ached with indignation.

But Kathleen O'Donnell did not back down.

"I am glad to see that the survival of life on this planet is one of your priorities. But which priority? Number fifteen, after whether you can sell it to a Third World country or if it can be marketed in Peoria?" asked Dr. O'Donnell of those heavenly blue eyes and the steel-trap mind.

"A major one," replied Bolt. And then, in a deeper voice: "A damned major one. Damned major." Heads nodded around the conference-room table.

"Number one?" asked Kathy.

"I don't know. I said major," snarled Bolt.

"Might survival of life come after say, cost factors, general marketability, use in an oil-rich Third World country, and the possibility of an exclusive patent?"

"I certainly would not discount an exclusive patent. How many companies have poured millions into developing processes and products, only to find they were stolen by others? I want to protect all of us." Bolt looked around the table. Heads nodded. Only one remained still. That coolly beautiful troublemaker.

"Gentlemen," announced Dr. O'Donnell in an even voice. "Let me explain what we are dealing with."

She held up a pack of cigarettes taken from an executive sitting next to her. She tilted it so that the side of the package floated at eye level. It was scarcely wider than two fingernails.

"Around the earth is a layer of ozone, no bigger than this," she said, outlining the side of the cigarette pack with her finger. "It protects us from the sun's rays-the intense ultraviolet rays, X-rays, and cosmic rays. These are all rays which, unfiltered, could obliterate life on our planet."

"They also give us nice tans, comfortable weather, and a bit of chlorophyll called the building block of life, among other things," said Bolt.

"Not as we plan it," said Dr. O'Donnell. "The whole world is so scared of what might happen to the ozone shield that the only international ban ever respected to my knowledge was the abolition of fluorocarbons as propellent for hair spray."

Bolt had thought of that. He was about to interrupt with a brief he had gotten from the legal department, but Kathy continued.

"As you all know, fluorocarbons are colorless, odorless, and inert. They were the perfect propellant for hair sprays. It was a giant industry. The safest ecological substance since they combined with nothing. And that became the problem, because what we have on earth and what we have in the stratosphere are different things. In the stratosphere, these harmless, invisible fluorocarbons combined with the harsh, unfiltered sunlight that exists beyond the ozone."

Reemer Bolt drummed his fingers as he listened to Dr. O'Donnell explain how fluorocarbons produced atomic chlorine in the stratosphere. He knew that. The technical people who were always getting in the way had told him.

"What atomic chlorine does is eat away at the ozone shield which filters out all the harmful rays. Mr. Bolt is really proposing that we manufacture something that, on a broad scale, could very well destroy life as we know it on earth."

Bolt was a taut man. He wore a tight brown suit and his hair was cut dramatically short because a sales magazine had told him that long hair offended some people. He had dark eyes and thin lips. He understood the broader picture very well. O'Donnell didn't want Concepts capital going into one of his programs instead of her Research and Development.

"I said we had some problems," said Bolt. "Every project has a problem. The light bulb had more of them than you could shake a stick at. How many of you would have liked to own a share of every light bulb in the world?"

Dr. O'Donnell still held the cigarette pack horizontally. "This is how wide the ozone shield was before the hair sprays," she said. She took out one cigarette and dropped the pack. Everyone heard it hit the tabletop. The single cigarette remained in her hands. Then she turned it sideways.

"NASA has conducted experiments in outer space on the unfiltered rays of the sun. The intensity of those rays in space is frightening. But it will be far worse if those rays ever get through this side of the atmosphere with its moisture, tender cells, oxygen, and the richness of molecules that make life as we know it possible."

"What's the one cigarette for?" asked someone. Bolt could have killed the questioner.

"Because in some places this is how much is left of the shield," said Kathy. With a show of contempt, she dropped the cigarette on the table. "Thirty miles up we have, and I hope we will continue to have, a desperately thin ozone shield between all living things and what could destroy them. It doesn't grow. It can naturally replenish itself if we don't destroy it. I am not offering a choice of life or death. I am wondering why you want to even consider committing world suicide."

"Every step forward has been met with dire warnings," said Bolt. "Therre was a time when we were told that man would explode if he ever went sixty miles an hour. It's true. People believed it," said Reemer. O'Donnell was good. But competition made Bolt better. A book on sales had told him that. "I am proposing that we step into the future and dare to be as great as possible."

"By shooting holes in the ozone shield with a concentrated stream of fluorocarbons? That's Mr. Bolt's proposal."

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