By DJ Cline
Fifty Shades Of Orange
August 10, 2012 Caligula, Ohio
Anita Gromex needed a break from the orange man. She left her sleeping client in the basement and went upstairs and out to sit on the back steps of her house for a smoke.
It was after eight on a hot, humid summer evening. The sun had set but the air conditioner near the back door was still working overtime. The machine was old when she bought the house and at this rate it would have to be replaced.
What she wanted to do was replace the entire house. It was over seventy years old and was a nightmare of lead paint, asbestos insulation, banned pesticides and other toxic chemicals. Of course, the cigarette she held in her hand would probably kill her before the house did.
In a way she had bought the house so she could still smoke. One of the official reasons she left California is that the city of Casa Diablos where she lived, had banned smoking at her job and even in her condo. It was during the housing boom and she could not afford anything else, so she moved to Ohio. She paid one hundred and fifty thousand for it at the peak. The market crashed and now it was only worth half that. She was stuck, chained to the house in a way that even she found ironic.
When she first moved in she thought about remodeling the basement to resemble her old condo’s dungeon. A general contractor took one look and said it was not worth it. The basement remained a collision of asphalt tile from the fifties, wood paneling from the seventies and mold from the nineties. For some reason her clients did not mind the seediness. In fact, they seemed to like it and they paid the bills.
Her clients had actually helped her keep her day job. It was your typical boring office job but she terrorized her coworkers to the point that one of them sued. Not one to change, she did what she had done many times before. She compromised and blackmailed all the lawyers and judges and the case was ruled in her favor. To avoid appeals she worked her way up the dark private corridors of power.
This led inevitably to the orange man in her basement. She had never seen a man drink or cry so much. To seal the deal the orange man said there would be one more client.
She finished her cigarette and picked up her phone to upload the pictures and do a web search. Finding an old station wagon should not be a problem, but where was she going to get a pet carrier big enough to hold a grown man?
August 13, 2012 Calvary Ohio
Anita Gromex had found the station wagon and the pet carrier, but her client wanted to bring a new friend. He looked like a grown up Eddie Munster and had a creepiness about him that made even her uncomfortable. She agreed but charged twice as much as usual. That air conditioner was not going to fix itself.
She was taking her third cigarette break of the morning outside the building in the suburban office park where she worked. Calvary was a small town that was gobbled up by the urban sprawl of Caligula. So far it had not banned smoking in the workplace, but Anita knew it was only a matter of time. She smoked outside, not out of consideration for her coworkers, but as a chance to get away from them.
As corporate compliance officer, they hated her and the feeling was mutual. The sad characteristics of her night job carried over into her day job. Anybody that was not in compliance with the company standards was let go. Her bosses liked it because it kept turnover high and wages low. Part of the whole scam of janitor or dead peasant insurance was to get lots of life insurance policies on lots of people. No matter how a former employee died, the executives collected the cash and cut her in on the action.
The other employees did not know this, they just thought she was, well, not a very nice person. One young woman figured out the scam. She told Anita that she couldn’t wish her into a cornfield like in an old television show. She tried to sue the company and lost.
Anita heard she had committed suicide, but did not get her usual cut. She thought the executives were mad about the publicity of the trial. They kept her on as an employee to buy her silence, but maybe they were starting to think she was a liability. Maybe the day would come when they would collect on her policy.
She wondered about how she wound up here. It was a series of decisions about her life and the lives of others. When she made the conscious decision to sell out, did she know it would be for so little? It was so hot and humid here. For a second, she wondered if she was cursed. By having the power to wish people into a cornfield, maybe she should have picked a nicer one, because that is where she wound up.
She stared out across the parking lot to a cornfield that had not been developed yet. Out in the summer heat she thought she saw something new. She walked to the edge of the parking lot and saw an old-fashioned scarecrow in the withered field. A red scarf was draped around its neck; similar to the one the dead woman had worn everyday. A raven sat on its right shoulder. She saw something shiny on its right leg as it called out and took flight toward her.
She turned and ducked. Her cigarette fell onto the bone-dry crops and started a fire that she could not put out.
August 13, 2012 Hooverville, Cascadia
Billy was not a kid anymore.
Billy Thoreau, the CEO of Netrosonics was looking out the window of his corner office on the top floor of corporate headquarters. He had been listening to a teleconference of a meeting in their Ohio office when the line went dead.
His phone chirped with a news story. A cable news channel reported an explosion in Calvary Ohio. A helicopter provided pictures of a huge fireball over a suburban office park. Apparently a grass fire ignited a gas leak from a nearby fracking operation that spread along a poorly maintained gas pipeline. Due to budget cuts, local fire departments were having trouble containing the blaze.
Billy’s phone made a noise like an old cash register. Ka-ching. It meant the head of Netrosonics Calvary office was still alive and ready to report on dead or injured employees. The Black Flag insurance company would reimburse Netrosonics for the loss of property, but the local manager was going to report on the lesser-known but more lucrative dead peasant insurance. Critics said dead peasant insurance was murder. To Billy it was just company policy.
Black Flag Insurance had moved these policies offshore. They set up a shell corporation on an island off the coast of China to collect on the deaths of workers anywhere. Now all of it could be managed with a few taps on a phone. The money piled up in secret accounts in tax shelters all around the world.
By the size of the disaster in Ohio, he expected lots of dead employees, but something was wrong. His phone was not making any more noise. What he heard was the call of a raven. He turned toward the balcony.
The raven was back.
It was the reason why he did not go out on the balcony anymore. The bird sat on the railing watching him as he moved. He sent a message to building security that said “Angry Birds.” They would come up in a minute to shoo it off. They had tried everything from poison to bullets but they just kept coming. Years ago Netrosonics had bought this land at an incredibly low price. They soon found out why.
A Native American group called the Ravens said the company was on tribal land. His lawyers said the tribe had never been recognized because they never signed a treaty. It was the Raven way. They never surrendered. They were still fighting in a way that was hard to describe. Billy couldn’t actually go to court and say his company was cursed. When the dead peasant insurance money started coming in he thought it was a good thing, but spooky things were happening more often. It was wearying with the Ravens constantly counting coup.
Thoreau was beginning to think there was something to the curse.
He kept checking his phone. What was going on in Ohio?
Flames Of Fortune
August 13, 2012 Calvary Ohio
Anita Gromex was surprised how fast the flames spread. She knew not to go back inside her building. She ran to her vehicle and nervously jammed her key in the ignition and careened out the parking lot and across the highway toward the coffee shop. That was supposed to be the official gathering spot in an emergency. The heat was so intense she could feel it through the windshield when she turned the vehicle around.
A fireball erupted from the cornfield behind the building, setting it on fire and engulfing it in smoke.
Out of a side door, she saw her boss/client Jimmy Jenkins stumble out and wander across honking traffic. She got out and met him as he astoundingly crossed the street but tripped on the curb and fell to the sidewalk.
“Jimmy, are you all right?” She asked.
Jimmy was disoriented. “I don’t know. I don’t know what happened. I can hardly see or breathe. I have to report this to headquarters. Can you help me? It’s pretty confidential so don’t tell anybody.”
Jimmy pulled out his phone and handed it to her. She followed his instructions and sent a message to headquarters. He then directed her to an app called Black Flag Insurance and gave her the password. Jimmy then passed out. She started looking through the app and saw the names of her fellow employees with large dollar amounts next to their names. The money was supposed to be directed to various executives’ accounts, including Jimmy’s.
Despite all that was going on around her, she was furious. All these years she had been collecting a mere fraction of what the company had been making off of her. She looked down at her unconscious boss and wanted to kill him. Instead, she looked up how to change the password in the app. She decided she would quickly gain control of these policies and deposit the money in her own offshore accounts. No more sweating in a cornfield. No more house payments. The worst thing that happened to other people would now be the best thing that ever happened to her.
She got back in her vehicle and drove away from the chaos and went on to create her own. She had clawed her way to the middle, now she would kill her way to the top.
Shirking From Home
August 13, 2012 Hooverville, Cascadia
Shirley Loman fell asleep in her living room listening to one of her own lectures online. She awoke to the smell of her pipe burning a hole in her sofa. She quickly stamped out the flame with a pillow cushion and checked if her recorded presentation was over. Luckily she still had another five minutes to go. She looked out the back window at another gray morning and the inevitable raven perched outside.
Over the past ten years Shirley had many titles but basically the same job at Netrosonics, to do whatever CEO Billy Thoreau wanted her to do. Sometimes it was customer engagement, where she physically helped close a sale. Lately, it was giving PowerPoint presentations on Digital Information Library Data Access, a software application to make sure all company communications complied with corporate standards. She had given the same webinar so many times that no one noticed when she switched to a recording.
Working from home had its advantages. On the Internet, nobody knew she was under the influence most of the time. The stuff she was using from her West African connection was strong. Stronger than the prescribed stuff she took from her mother’s hospice after she put a pillow over the old hag’s face when the health insurance coverage ran out. She sold most of that to her usual customers during one of her rare visits to the office.
But there were disadvantages with working at home. It was difficult to use her powers of persuasion on co-workers over the phone. It was best done in person with direct eye contact. People did not even know they were pushed until it was too late. Management was aware of her abilities and kept her on the payroll but away from them. They preferred to communicate by text message. They certainly did not want her working for the competition as a sales tool or mule. Occasionally she would be trundled out as a trophy token at a trade show and then put back in her McMansion for cold storage.
Shirley grabbed and put on a clean polo shirt with company logo on it for the computer camera. Pants were optional. Appearance was everything. She could never let on that she thought other people were dupes or marks to be exploited. It was important to appear normal by liking the best selling novels, top ten music, or highest rated television shows, follow popular celebrities online. Create a warm and fuzzy mainstream façade, an act, a big con.
Camoulflage was what her wingnut father had taught her, but did not practice. This particular nut did not fall far from the twisted tree. She never discussed her father and always got nervous when he suddenly would start ranting online about creeping socialism. Sometimes people would ask her if she was any relation and she would deny it, and then send him money to keep quiet.
In fact, Shirley was a mass of extreme contradictions and hypocrisy. A fanatic of Ayn Rand and Sarah Palin, she opposed a woman’s right to choose, even though she had chosen many times. She wanted tough drug laws even when she smuggled drugs on business trips. She thought that marriage was between a man and a woman, except for Log Cabiners like her. She dittoed Rush Limbaugh even though he would definitely not ditto back. She not only bought Ted Nugent’s music, she bought his cookbook. The cognitive dissonance between her personal and public personae was not a conflict but a career. She prided herself in being able to talk her way out of anything, like the drunk driving tickets with her daughter strapped into the backseat. It was all in the spin to her.
As the online lecture ended, she stood in front of her camera. The window on her computer screen that was supposed to show the Ohio office’s conference room was black. She checked the audio but the line appeared to be dead. For a moment she thought her little fraud had been discovered, but her phone had a message about a fire at the Ohio office.
She wondered if her former lover Anita Gromex was involved or maybe even started it.
Ten tears ago they were a team. If an employee needed to be driven to suicide, you could bet that Anita was behind the wheel and Shirley would be in the backseat giving directions. While Shirley was good at manipulating people, Anita was the grand master at making things look like an accident.
Like most people, even Anita had made the mistake of trusting Shirley. A deal went south and Anita was exiled to Ohio while she got promoted to Hooverville. Shirley suspected that Anita knew she had gotten the raw end of the deal and things had been uneasy ever since.
Shirley turned on Fox News to watch a huge fireball in Ohio. A big payout like this would help Shirley’s daughter through college without resorting to her mother’s methods. Shirley would have good news when her daughter returned from her grandfather’s Idaho summer camp to cure troubled teens.
But there was no ka-ching sound on her phone. Just a message from Diana Lemon, the company fixer, saying Code Orange.
August 28, 2012 Hooverville, Cascadia
Diana Lemon was Netrosonics CEO Billy Thoreau’s fixer. The moment she heard about the Ohio fire, she pulled a prepared statement for release. It said the employees lost were important to the company and their contributions recognized by their CEO. It did not say the contributions would be in cash to the executives… offshore.
Except the executives did not get the payout. Nobody knew where it went. Security cameras at the Ohio coffee shop showed Anita Gromex taking the phone of her boss and driving off. She didn’t go home. She disappeared. The Black Flag Insurance offshore policy passwords were changed and then moved somewhere else in cyberspace. Whoever held them stood to collect no matter how the victim’s died.
For years the policies had been shared among Netrosonics long-term employees. As a kind of uneasy gentleman’s agreement, no one on the inside went after each other to collect money. Anita Gromex changed all that. Diana knew that Anita was always dangerous, but to co-workers not to management. Now she was unchained as well as un-hinged. They were all targets now. In the past two weeks, Netrosonics employees had been found dead in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. They all looked like accidents or health related incidents. Classic Anita Gromex. The line was moving westward toward Hooverville. Toward them.
Diana wondered how to fix this. You couldn’t call the cops and tell them a corporate supported serial killer had gone rogue and was stealing from you. They couldn’t use lawyers like Chief Legal Counselor Daniel Freid. This would be a public relations nightmare if it got out.
All this was happening in a close election year. Anita Gromex had stolen a large amount of money that was destined for campaign donations across the country. This was supposed to be the election where they got everything they wanted. All these years of lobbying for privatization of everything and now she could not call the cops when she really needed one. For now she would advise the insiders to beef up their personal security. If Anita could not be stopped, they would have to run for their lives.
Perhaps they could make up the losses by having one last fundraiser on Billy Thoreau’s converted ocean liner, the S.S. Zong. It would be safer, isolated and closed to the press. As for Anita Gromex, Diana would have to call some people she knew to take care of Anita before she took care of them.
If they lost the election, they would have to leave the country. The irony of questioning a president’s citizenship as they prepared to renounce theirs for tax reasons was not entirely lost on her. As she prepared for her own escape, Diana Lemon wished she had sent her useless children to a private school that taught Chinese rather than French.
Bad Day For A Billionaire
July 1, 2012 Point Loess, California
It was a bad day to be a billionaire.
Marsha Colton was three things, a widow, a billionaire and an engineer. The first was tragedy, the second was luck, and the third was choice. She was also the first really nice person in this story. She sat on her yacht and worried about the future. She had not been on it since her husband died last year. They used to go diving off of it on weekends.
Her father was an electrical engineer. Her mother was a math teacher. They encouraged her interest in science and she became a telecommunications engineer. She and her husband developed traffic management algorithms and became Silicon Valley billionaires. They knew that while they had worked hard, they also knew that they still owed the rest of society for creating the framework for their success.
Not all their neighbors felt that way. When the wealthy people in her city of San Diablo voted down the police tax, she had to hire her own security. When they voted down the fire department tax, she had to build her own fire suppression system. When they voted down the hospital tax, she raised money to treat the sick. She gave generous scholarships so children would have the opportunities she had. She did the math and figured it was cheaper to pay the tax than bear the social cost alone. While the wealthy did not want to attend her charity fundraisers, they were always inviting her to their political fundraisers… to pay fewer taxes, making her philanthropic work harder. She used to leave dealing with such people to her husband, but now it was her responsibility alone.
Engineering problems were easier to solve than human ones. She sat on the bridge of her yacht, the Amistad, and looked a mile away toward a ten-meter tower on the shore of Point Loess on the California coast near San Francisco. Her engineering team was about to test a new technology and had rented this old remote US Navy radio post because of the lack of radio interference.
The problem they were trying to solve was bandwidth shortage. There was only so much electromagnetic spectrum for billions of people using their new phones. Marsha had an idea to create a technology that would anticipate where the next available frequency was going to be so a device could tune into it. It was an expensive test. The prototype antenna tower was gold plated because that gave the best signal. Once they proved the concept they would hopefully find something cheaper.
A technician typed in the start sequence. On shore, the antenna seemed to hum at a high pitch even from this distance. Suddenly a blue green sphere about ten meters across appeared around the center of the antenna top.
“Turn it off!” Marsha said nervously.
The humming stopped and the blue green sphere turned out to be seawater that splashed in a concentric wave around the base of the antenna. One of the video cameras showed a man tangled in the cables at the top of the tower. Technicians on the shore quickly drove a cherry picker truck to the tower and extended it to the top, climbing up to free the man. He was wearing a mask and wet suit and seemed to be flailing in great pain.
Marsha’s phone chirped and she got a text that totally freaked her out.
MARSHA COLTON I AM THE MAN ON THE HIGH TOWER. PLEASE HELP IMMEDIATELY. I NEED TO USE THE DECOMPRESSION CHAMBER ON YOUR SHIP.
How did he know her name? How was he communicating to her? How did he know about the ship’s capabilities? She asked her captain to dispatch the helicopter and told him to prepare the decompression chamber. She looked back at her phone and checked whom the message was from. It said Ten Kay.
Depth And Taxes
July 2, 2012 Point Loess, California
Marsha Colton looked through a small porthole at the naked man covered in tattoos sleeping in her yacht’s decompression chamber. The tattoos seemed to move on his skin in a way that reminded her of a screen saver on her phone. Suddenly they stopped moving. He sat up and hit the intercom switch.
TEN KAY: I’m awake.
MARSHA: How are you feeling?
TEN KAY: Better. I get better every time.
MARSHA: Can you tell me what happened?
TEN KAY: I was out in the ocean about ten kilometers offshore. I detected an unusual signal over thirty meters below the surface. I dived down and saw a gold tower. There was some kind of sphere around it. I got sucked in and entangled in the rigging. The next thing I know, I’m on top of the tower, all the water drains away and I’m on the surface. I did not want to get the bends so contacted you.
MARSHA: How did you know to contact me?
TEN KAY: Because I’ve been through this before. A lot. I’ll try to keep this short. You thought you were building a technology that is always looking for open bandwidth. Your software found it… a hundred years from now. You invented a time machine and I’m an early adopter, or a late one, depending on how you look at it.
MARSHA: Why a hundred years from now?
TEN KAY: Because civilization is collapsing and nobody is using much bandwidth anymore. No more blocked calls but nobody to talk to.
MARSHA: What happened? What caused it?
TEN KAY: A case of depth and taxes, but basically greed. There were billions of poor people and a few rich guys. Those guys made sure we burned every lump of coal, every barrel of oil, every fart of natural gas. It got hotter. Governments did not have the tax revenue to pay an educated workforce to deal with the crisis. A hundred years from now that tower is more than a hundred feet below sea level. That’s why I almost got the bends. Listen, for some reason this time machine thing keeps happening over and over, that’s how I know I’m getting the bends and already know who you are. I also can change things a little bit each time. If you help me I can give you access to technology that will make you rich enough to save the world.
MARSHA: Where is the technology?
TEN KAY: You are looking at it.
His skin turned completely black except for a Colton Technology Corporation logo on his chest.
July 2, 2012 Point Loess, California
Marsha Colton and Ten Kay sunned themselves on her yacht’s top deck during lunch. While she was getting a tan, he was recharging.
MARSHA: So how did you get like this?
TEN KAY: Some rich guys did not want to pay taxes. Even when they moved money to accounts in other countries they eventually got caught. They got tired of bribing politicians with campaign contributions. They decided to move all their money into international waters. They took over some drowning Pacific island nation and reflagged all their yachts to it. Then they bought a bunch of used cargo container ships and oil tankers. They turned them into fleets of factory ships. They recruited desperate workers from poor countries and stripped them of their citizenship. They were stateless persons in international waters. They slept in bunks and were worked to death. When they died, the companies collected the insurance. The owners got rich on slave labor.
Meanwhile governments could not get the tax revenue to protect or educate their citizens. They owed all their money to the guys on the yachts. They could not compete against slave labor, so governments collapsed, creating more poor people desperate to work on the boats. The fleets got so big they had their offshore drilling, refining, and fishing operations.
They also had their own navy. They picked me out of one of their rusty buckets as a kid. They trained me to fight but also to salvage wreckage along the rising shorelines of the world. They called us Nano Seals. Basically they loaded the Internet in my head so I could find and recover anything useful like names and addresses. They infected me with nano technology that your company will develop so I could work in all kinds of conditions. That’s why I’m sitting in the sun… to recharge. When I showed up here, I searched the database, identified your ship, that you were the owner, that you were on board and had the authority to act quickly enough to get me in the decompression chamber before I died.
But let’s get back to the horror story. At some point the weather got so bad that even these guys could no longer live in the style to which they were accustomed. There was not enough seafood. The ships broke down or lost in huge storms. The crews and workers finally mutinied. There was anarchy and cannibalism… but hey, at least there were no friggin’ taxes.
MARSHA: Did you mutiny?
TEN KAY: Sort of. I saw it coming and took my team to Sutro Island. It was defensible against the surviving warlords on the mainland and close to the remaining shellfish and seaweed. Then I got your antenna’s signal and I got caught up in this weird zig-zag time thing. Originally, I was hoping the signal was a shipwreck to salvage or at least some food. Only part of me is nano, I still need to eat. Speaking of which, got anymore of that sushi?
MARSHA: Here, have mine. I’m trying to lose weight.
TEN KAY: Not a problem where I come from. So here we are a hundred years ago eating lunch. The world is already well on its way to ending. How do we stop it?
MARSHA: You have a plan?
TEN KAY: I keep modifying it each time I come back. In the short term you can aggressively encourage people to vote. In the midterm I can download all the information I’m carrying around, so start renting some server farms in the cloud. In the long term you can develop it for everyone and not just a few rich guys and super soldiers.
In the real short term we need to stop the offshore yacht guys. They are having a fundraiser in few weeks and they all will be in one place. You will get an invitation. You will accept it for once. I will be your date. Wear something you can swim in.
MARSHA: I don’t like this. Are you going to kill them?
TEN KAY: Oh no. Something much worse. Got any crackers?
Polar Bear With A Gun
Nowah Gye’s Blog
October 1, 2012
The US Coast Guard is still searching for survivors and wreckage from the disappearance of a converted ocean liner called the SS Zong. The yacht belongs to Netrosonics CEO Billy Thoreau who hosted a political fundraiser this weekend closed to the press.
On the evening of Saturday, September 29th, the Zong left San Francisco’s Pier 101 for a cruise out to international waters, expecting to return late the next day. Before boarding, guests were asked to surrender their phones and cameras. This policy was in force to avoid any embarrassing videos of the event appearing online. Adding to security, most of the fund raising staffers were Netrosonics employees.
At about 9:00PM, a sailing ship called the Berg was sighted less than a mile northwest of the Zong. An anonymous donor from Ohio recently purchased the ship and donated it to a non-profit organization called Save The Icebergs. The ship was covered in organic sailcloth to resemble an iceberg and brilliantly backlit by LEDs. In the rigging, demonstrators were dressed as polar bears carrying large protest signs to be seen by wealthy donors on the Zong. By 9:30PM, sources in the Coast Guard speculate that a gust of wind caused the Berg to ram and tear a large hole near the waterline of the Zong.
Initially, there was no panic. Guests aboard the Zong thought the iceberg was part of the party’s entertainment. This included a closing act by a magician known only as the Great Ten Kay, who promised to make the whole ship disappear. As the ship began to sink, confusion and panic spread. One survivor, who wanted to remain unidentified, said they saw a demonstrator dressed in polar bear costume swing from the Berg to the top deck of the Zong and shoot one of Netrosonics security staff. The demonstrator took off the costume to reveal a wetsuit and then headed toward the ballroom carrying a phone that made a cash register noise.
Inside the ballroom, Billy Thoreau tried to humor the guests by having an online auction for the inadequate number of lifeboats. “Market forces will save us.” Thoreau quipped. Someone then shouted, “Smith and Wesson will.” The room went dark and shots rang out. While security guards had seized all the phones, they had let the guests retain their firearms.
By 10:30 PM the Zong now listed to starboard. The lifeboats were full of wealthy guests covered with gunpowder residue. The Berg remained afloat and rescued many from the other ship. The kitchen staff and Zong’s crew managed to escape using the new Colton Technology NanoJackets ™. Packed to the size of a credit card, a jacket not only inflates but sends out a distress signal. Liberal icon and Colton CEO Marsha Colton happened to be on board and distributed the jackets. Sources said she had planned to give out the prototypes at the event but felt compelled to help those in need. Colton was rescued with the others but unavailable for further comment.
At 11:00 PM survivors in the water saw a flash or ball of light engulf the ship and the Zong disappear. Hundreds of Netrosonics employees are unaccounted for. Witnesses wonder if the Great Ten Kay made the ship disappear after all. His last text said.
“I think it important that people live to see the future they create.”
Coast Guard experts are investigating, but say it may take a hundred years to figure out what happened to the Zong.
The list of survivors and missing are on our web page.
October 1, 2012 San Francisco California
When the Zong collided with the Berg, the first thing Shirley Loman had to decide was how to get off this boat.
She was dressed as a waiter delivering drinks to wealthy donors in the ballroom when the collision happened. Netrosonics used its employees this way to avoid leaks. She did not mind the tuxedo; in fact she reminded herself that this was practice for her future reassignment. It would prove to save her life.
After the collision, Netrosonics CEO Billy Thoreau tried to keep calm by auctioning off spaces in the lifeboats. The seats quickly went for more than a million dollars. Seeing market forces in action, she ducked out of the ballroom to the kitchen.
There she saw Marsha Colton and her date Ten Kay handing out what looked like little orange credit cards to the kitchen staff. She grabbed one as they went around. They were instructed to hold them over their hearts and tap them twice. She felt the card adhere to her shirt and then spread around her body like paint. A collar suddenly inflated around her neck. She looked down and was wearing what looked like inflated feety pajamas. Ten Kay instructed them to jump off the ship and the suits would protect them until they were picked up by the radio beacons built into each suit.
As she followed the kitchen staff outside, she heard a gunshot and thought she saw Anita Gromex in a wet suit with a gun on the front deck heading for the ballroom. Shirley went quickly over the railing and into the water. Other than the water that splashed on her face she remained dry. The crew from the Amistad cruised around in a zodiac boat picking up the kitchen staff and crew of the sinking ship. She was being lifted out of the water when there was a flash from the direction of the Zong. She looked back and saw the ship disappear. After about five minutes on deck, the orange suits turned back into little cards stuck to their chests. By morning they had turned to orange dust.
The next twenty-four hours were a haze as the Amistad brought the survivors back to San Francisco. The Coast Guard and government agents kept asking the same questions over and over. The Netrosonics lawyers showed up and freed them on the condition they never talk about to anyone about this.
Netrosonics Chief Legal Counselor Daniel Freid witnessed the signing of the confidentiality agreement and then handed back the phone she had surrendered before leaving on the Zong. There was a message from Anita Gromex that left her cold. It said:
“Saving you for last.”
What Gromex did not know was that Loman was planning the ultimate disguise.
Awful But Lawful
October 2, 2012
The plane had not crashed yet.
It was clear to Netrosonics Chief Legal Counselor Daniel Freid that Anita Gromex was behind the fiasco onboard CEO Billy Thoreau’s yacht, the Zong. In a way, it marked the end of an era. The days of eviscerating America were over. It wasn’t the Occupy demonstrators or the political reforms that were forcing companies to behave. It was the fact that they had picked the carcass of the middle class clean. There was not much left to take.
Netrosonics was finished too. Corporate raider Earl Yukon was placing his friends on the board of directors one by one. Eventually Yukon would find out all the terrible things they had done to people. By then, Freid would be out of reach in his Shanghai penthouse living off the remaining insurance policies and misdirected campaign contributions.
Tonight Freid thought he was safe aboard the company jet far over the Pacific Ocean. His phone rang. The screen said the call was from “Withheld.” Freid followed the advice of his security expert never to answer a call that was listed as unknown, private or withheld. He ignored the call. Then he received an embarrassing picture of himself. He got a second call from “Withheld” and picked it up.
FREID: Hello Anita.
GROMEX: Hello Danny boy. Let’s deal.
FREID: You have nothing I want.
GROMEX: Look outside the left side of the plane.
From behind the jet, an arc of light shot forward across the sky. A missile passed close enough to be seen.
FREID: That must have been expensive to arrange.
GROMEX: Drones are cheap. Turn over the remaining assets of the company. Now.
FREID: What I do may be awful but it is lawful. Let me explain…
GROMEX: Nope. You had your chance to do the right thing. You will live your life looking over your shoulder as everyone who gets close to you dies. The only thing I want to hear from you is the sound of your body hitting the floor.
Suddenly the cockpit door opened. The co-pilot stumbled through the door and fell to the floor. His ears, nose and mouth were bleeding. Freid went forward and saw the pilot in his seat, slumped over the controls.
It was at that point that he wished he had flown commercial.
High Tides Forever
November 4, 2012 Point Loess, California
Marsha Colton and Ten Kay sat in their lounge chairs on her yacht’s top deck during lunch.
MARSHA: Who do you think is going to win the election?
TEN KAY: It’s a coin toss. We did everything we could to blunt the spending of billions of dollars by the bad guys, but it still comes down to ordinary people voting. In many timelines this was the last election. After this, the bad guys solidified their control and created so many barriers that most people could not vote.
If that happens here then my particular future will happen. People will become desperately poor and billions of them will die. The bad guys will then turn on each other like we saw on the Zong as it sank. When the ship arrived in my future, not many people were left and they were pretty useless and very dangerous. For everyone to survive there can be no passengers, only crew.
MARSHA: How do we persuade people to vote?
TEN KAY: Well, they don’t have to zigzag across multiple timelines to see what can happen. They can just watch the news and step outside. We just had a really hot summer. The drought led to a massive crop failure. New Orleans was flooded by Hurricane Katrina. Miami and Venice are flooded at high tide. Japan is hit by tsunami and causes a nuclear disaster. Icebergs the size of Manhattan are breaking off Greenland and the actual island of Manhattan is flooded by Hurricane Sandy. That should finally get the attention of Wall Street. What more do you need to see?
We need to change and the bad guys are fighting every step. They want a government small enough to drown in a bathtub. First, who the hell thinks up a metaphor like that? Second, a government that can drown in bathtub cannot save you from drowning in a hurricane. Things will still be bad, they just won’t be catastrophic. I have to find a way to get useful information to ordinary people so they have a fighting chance.
MARSHA: I know a guy.
TEN KAY: Great! Who is he?
MARSHA: Nowah Gye.
TEN KAY: You just said that. Who is he?
MARSHA: That’s his name. First name Nowah. Last name Gye. He’s the ultimate ghostwriter. He’s written everything for everybody. He’s very discreet. He wrote my husband’s last book. No matter how the election goes, I think Nowah can help.
Back? Auschmann’s Arizona Adventure
Next? One More Soldier
After that? Recommend Pluribus 1
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