Scene 14

CHM, February 12. 0030 hours.

Half past midnight. Semper Wombat’s eyes open abruptly, as if because of a sudden, loud noise. He listens into the dark, but hears only the regular breathing of his sleeping wife. He studies the back of Margaret’s head, the long wavy blond hair in swirls cascading into the covers like a tall, narrow waterfall plunging into a crevice. He turns onto his back and stares at the onyx ceiling. His eyes get lost in the limitless void of the black surface and as his mind wanders, images appear in the void, frightening creatures. He turns onto his left side and looks out the slanted glass wall. Stars. He gets up as quietly as he can. Margaret doesn’t stir. He walks nude to the glass wall. He may be 52 years old but his body is tall, erect, thin; athletic without the bulging muscles of the compulsive body builder. He has the chiseled facial features, close-cropped dark brown hair, and hazel eyes of an army colonel. Usually his facial expression is calm, indulgent, almost kind. He makes a decision that dooms thousands of people to a horrible death with the same friendly face as when he increases people’s retirement benefits. Tonight, he is expressionless, his eyes vacant, his mind is very far away.

He looks over the vast city. Almost completely dark. The city government installed dim streetlights and ordered windows shaded from above to protect the night sky. And the stars are brilliant. They are so bright that Semper feels he can see that the larger, brighter ones are balls of fire. The Milky Way is a bright superhighway across the dome of heaven. Semper spots Capricorn, his constellation, his protector, and he feels better. When Capricorn is watching over him, he feels he will be safe.

Semper walks out into his study. Then into the kitchen. He brews himself a cup of coffee. He walks out into the living room and on into the front hall. Out the door and up the stairs. Through a set of double doors, down a long hallway. He comes to a narrow flight of circular stairs. He ascends them and arrives in a large, pyramidal room. Above, nothing but stars. Here, too, the walls are made of glass. On all sides, the city, the rivers, and on the horizon, the plains and hills.

The room has a large conference table at one end. The rest of the room, perhaps fifty meters on a side and fifty meters at its peak, is nothing but hardwood floor.

It has been quite a journey. The son of a Sears furniture salesman from Tobacco City put himself through college with no help from his family. He studied engineering and built and sold high quality ball bearings. He designed and built cogs, levers, pulleys, chains, wheels, spokes, and other machine parts. He branched out into tools and electrical motors. When his company, Wombat International, went public, he was worth $280 million. He always kept 51 percent of the shares. As good as he was at designing and building components and machines, his managerial skills were even better. While a team of engineers dreamed up new products and a team of craftspeople, computers, robots, and other machines built them, he concentrated on running and expanding the company.

He did not bother learning how to design a computer, be a lawyer, or sell groceries. But with a keen mind he learned the business dimension of each of those enterprises. Wombat International began buying other companies that built miscellaneous products and rendered miscellaneous services. He reorganized the acquired companies and formed new Wombat International divisions.  Without regard to seniority, his human resources team rooted out the deadwood, sometimes firing as many as 99% of the employees. On average, they let 35% of the people go. The team found the bright ambitious minds and put them in positions of power in the division.  If the acquired company was large and powerful, Semper would bring its keenest employee onto Wombat International’s board of directors. Sometimes that employee had been low in the acquired company.

In 2040, Wombat changed the name of the corporte megalith to Aethon Blue Incorporated.  Around this time, ABI was one of only six other sovereign corporations, which between them had corporate control over the little blue marble halfway through the solar system of a smallish sun, on one of the outer arms of a galaxy in a not very fashionable corner of the universe.

2048 A.D. It was a time of chaos in the world. Religion, political ideology, the division between the rich and the poor, profiteers vs. environmentalists, the indigenous vs. colonists, gay vs. straight, black vs. white, people found every superficial difference between others and themselves as an excuse for hostility. War was endemic. The leaders duped the people into going along with war after war, deftly manipulating them by scaring them, making them afraid of the others, vilifying the others, and by appealing to visceral patriotic instincts.

While people were occupied flailing at ghosts, the conglomerates consolidated their power. Overtly and covertly, they crept out all over the world like an oil slick. The most important victory they achieved was a fundamental shift in peoples’ consciousness. They gradually turned the citizen into a consumer, the republican into an idiot. They lulled people into believing that life is done to them, life is not something they actively live. The people came to believe that thinking for themselves was too tiring, and passively receiving media messages was more fun, satisfying, and easy. Even sex, intimacy, physical closeness to another human being, and love, became scary. When they tried it, it often resulted in pain. Fantasy was safer, and they thought, more satisfying. While arguing with someone close to them was painful, playing video games and coasting down the chute of a cyberfantasy was reassuring and easy, and bolstered the ego.

The conglomerates succeeded in severing the ties between people and people, and people and nature. Nature shrank as the companies developed more and more land. They virtualized nature as most people began to experience it exclusively through the media, for example through cyberfantasies that took the nature documentaries a step further and made them interactive. By severing the physical bond between human and nature, the companies achieved another victory. They robbed people of their souls. They cut the peoples’ roots to Mother Earth.

Then they had the people alone, individuals severed from other humans and from the Earth. Through the media, they sculpted the spiritual world people would live in. From each person’s early age, the companies molded the personality that was best suited for their purposes.

Hard workers. Dull thinkers. Avid consumers. Churners of natural resources. Worker ants. Obedient. Loyal. Quick to carry out orders. Dependent on the boss for thinking and decision making.

People did not stop talking to each other. They did not completely stop having sex and forming families. It is just that their lives, their inner lives, had been sucked into their headsets like a precious fluid into a vacuum hose.


Semper thinks to himself:

I am here because of my hard work. My strength of character. My intelligence, creativity, cunning. Cunning, like a wolf. And because of my wife’s skills and support. I am the first man in history to rule the world. I’m up to the task. Never tired, I always know what to do. I can handle it. I love management.

I am the king of the world! I can do anything, say anything, make people do anything. I could sleep with a hundred gorgeous virgins. I can build palaces on a thousand hills. I can enslave millions. Make the people sing my praises. Humiliate people, torture people, make them worship me. I have realized my dream, the most ambitious dream a man can have.

So why am I unhappy? Do I need more power? Control over the galaxy? How much power and wealth do I need?

I have everything. Am I going to spend the rest of my life like a late Roman emperor, orgying, waiting the Huns to come down and kick my ass and rape my daughters?

What’s my next project? We already control all the people.

A challenge. If I only had a challenge that’s up to the level of my genius.

Semper gazes out the window for a long time, then stretches out on the hardwood floor, his coffee mug beside him, his hands folded under his head; and gazes at the stars until he falls asleep.

− Good morning, Semper. The folks from TyphonTek are here. Oops! You’d better get some clothes on.

Semper opens his eyes and sees his secretary, Julian, striding toward him. Julian wears a loose-fitting white jumpsuit. Semper gets up and squints into the sun, which is already a few inches above the horizon. He sinks down into his chair at the head of the table.

− Get some more coffee and some clothes.

Julian descends from the circular stairs at the far end of the hall. (The other flight of stairs leads to Semper’s family suite.) He returns with a full coffee mug in one hand and a white robe and sandals in the other.

While Semper dresses, Julian says:

− ABI stock is trading up 8 points. There has been some unrest in New Horizons Sector, but security forces had no trouble putting it down. The Cyberfantasy Division’s sales earnings are up 1.8 percent. The Feeder Division’s sales are down 1 percent.

− Did the TyphonTek guys bring Vaughn?

− Yep, he’s here.

− Good. The others are a bunch of schlubs.

− Shall I show them in?

− Yeah. Have they eaten?

− I don’t know.

− Ask ‘em if they’re hungry and bring up some fruit.

Julian disappears again. A minute later, a half dozen men and women in gray jumpsuits come up the stairs.

− Good morning, Semper. Semper gets up from his chair and strides to meet them. Handshakes all around.

− It’s good to see you all again. Jane, how is your son doing?

− Fine, he just started college.

− I know he’s going to go far. Semper motions to the conference table. Here, here, sit down.

Julian sits down at Semper’s right. The others cluster down the table. Servants in black robes bring fruit for everyone in silver dishes.

− So: What’s the good news?

− The seismic findings are fantastic! Bob says. There is so much more uranium under there than anyone dared dream. It’s not just a vein, it’s a whole fucking circulatory system.

− You’ve lost me. How much uranium is in Black Mesa?

− It’s not just under Black Mesa. There are veins crisscrossing the countryside for about 150 miles in every direction. Black Mesa is just the tip of the iceberg.

Julian takes notes on a legal pad.

− Enough uranium there to run all the world’s nuclear reactors?

− I don’t know, Semper. I’m just a seismic prospector.

− How long is it going to take to get at it?

− Some of the uranium is close to the surface, Vaughn says. Some is as much as five miles deep. We’ve done some preliminary estimating and calculating. With today’s technology, we could get 85 tons of high-grade uranium from this field in the next 20 years

− Looks like our energy future is secured. And with our plans, we are going to need a hell of a lot more energy than we can generate today. Vaughn, what do you guys need to make this happen?

− Well, there’s the issue of the people living on top of the metal. It’s under the Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations, part of it is under the Grand Canyon, part of it is under Flagstaff, part of it fans out under barren public lands, part of it is under private land.

− Easy. Put the people to work mining their own land.

− They’re not gonna like that. The Indians are a proud people. The first European settlers found out they couldn’t enslave the Indians, they had to kill them. And you know what? The white people in Flagstaff are almost as stubborn.

− Don’t worry about the people, Vaughn. This will be a special project. ABI will dedicate enough security forces to subdue the population. Human resources teams will assess the people and fit them to jobs. Those who don’t want to work, hell. Cart them off to work camps somewhere else. Or we’ll just make ‘em work in the mines come hell or high water. Police and secret police, intelligence services will make sure no rebellions brew up over this. It’ll be synergistic. It’ll be a clean operation. It’ll be efficient. TyphonTek will be able to begin mining the mother lode in a few months, that’s my commitment.

− Careful now, Vaughn says. I’ve lived in the area for years. You don’t know these people. And the Indian land, especially around this area, has a special place in the hearts of people all over. I know people are pretty out of it these days. They don’t care. They do their thing. But even as happy-go-lucky as people are, something like this could start making people pay attention.

− I’ll have a public relations campaign. Maybe I’ll make the Indians look like the bad guys in this. And I’ll remind the consumers of the benefits of nuclear power. ABI will put out some cyberfantasies that undermine people’s nostalgic views of the Indians and bolster the image of modernity. Come to think of it, I may just have the artist to create some of those cyberfantasies. Well, I don’t have her yet, but I will. Keep on prospecting and start surveying. But keep it on the down low there in Scorching Sun District. The less the people know right now, the better. Give me a couple days.

− It’s good to see you again, Semper.

− Yeah, you too. Enjoy the rest of your stay in CHM. You are my honored guests. Vaughn, I want you to come to dinner with Margaret and me tonight.

− I’d be honored.

The TyphonTek people file out.


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