by Bill Bowler
appear in this issue.
Hortense von Lembke, née Bottoms, was in the master bathroom applying lipstick. Her husband, the Governor, was in his bedroom, in his boxer shorts, his tuxedo laid out on the bed, practicing his speech in front of the mirror. He was scheduled to address the visiting dignitaries in formal opening ceremonies at the tower in less than two hours. A great crowd had already massed in the plaza at the foot of the steps that led to the grand entrance where the speakers’ platform had been erected.
Arnold Bottoms had already gone to the site to escort the Vice Deputy Under-Secretary General and a select group of VIP dignitaries from Earth to the observation deck on the 500th floor. The members of the delegation gasped in awe as the glass elevator lifted them from the ground floor atrium and swept them up with dizzying speed, higher and higher.
Mr. Bottoms, courteous and cordial, escorted the guests from the elevator, through the hallway, and out to the observation deck. The landscape of Golconda spread out before their eyes in all directions in a magnificent rolling vista. To the north, in the distance, the rugged rows of ice-capped mountains could be seen, their summits cloaked in purple clouds. To the south, beyond the harbor, the great green Southern Sea extended to the horizon.
Far below them, the city looked like a tiny scale model. Toy vehicles sped along ribbon thoroughfares and little ants scurried on miniature sidewalks. At the base of the tower, the colors of a motley crowd spread out around the tiny platform where the visiting delegates would soon sit and the dignitaries make their speeches.
As Arnold’s gaze scanned the horizon and looked up at the high clouds, drifting lazily by, a flash of light caught his eye, something small, silver, moving fast, reflecting the rays of our “sun,” Alpha Centauri A, which was near its zenith.
“I wonder,” thought Arnold in his last moment of life, “what that is?”
When the invasion came, the satellite defense warning network triggered the alarm and the Alpha Centauri fleet was launched to intercept the aliens. But the “invasion” was a feint; the “massive force” picked up by the satellites was made up of pilotless drones positioned away from the real threat to divert the defense forces.
A lone missile, undetected, penetrated the defense system from the far side of Alpha Centauri A, opposite the concentration of drone decoys, and locked on target.
I was at my cubicle. From out my window, I could see the magnificent tower, rising to the heavens from the central square with the massive crowd of onlookers surging around the speakers’ platform on the steps at the grand entrance to the atrium. There was a boom somewhere up in the atmosphere, then a whistling sound, which grew to a howl, louder and louder. People in the crowd pointed towards the sky; some began to scream; then panic took hold as they began to scatter, stumbling and trampling over each other as they tried to flee down the steps and away from the building.
There was a huge explosion. The upper reaches of the tower burst into a million flaming fragments that rained down in a hail of glass and metal, blanketing the screaming crowd with burning debris. Flames and smoke poured from the tower.
There was another explosion; the structure began to tremble and, with a great roaring and rumbling, as if in slow motion, the tower of Golconda collapsed on itself and came crashing to the ground, burying the crowd at its base. The magnificent gold dome, which had held the sweeping beacon at its summit, plummeted to the ground and sat askew, half buried in the mountain of smoldering rubble.
With sirens wailing and emergency rescue teams swarming to the site, I commenced calculations. The 500 stories of the tower had contained approximately forty million square feet of Class A commercial space, 1.5% of the city’s total inventory. The sudden reduction in supply would put immediate upward pressure on the fair market value of the remaining available space. This presented a highly lucrative investment opportunity and my recommendation was to reallocate a significant portion of portfolio liquidity into the Class A commercial space sector so as to realize an estimated short term capital gain in the 30% to 40% range over the next quarter.
I quickly drafted an “extra edition” of my newsletter market watch alert and circulated it to surviving Golconda Properties senior management and preferred subscribers.
The next day following the tragedy, the managing director of the Liberty Group Hedge Fund, one of Golconda Properties largest shareholders, like all Golcondans, still numb and grief-stricken by the tragic events, turned on his terminal and opened his copy of my newsletter.
He stood up from his desk trembling and the blood drained from his face. “Take a look at this!” he hissed, pointing at the screen, barely able to contain himself as his blood pressure shot up.
His secretary, alarmed by his appearance, rushed to his side, “What is it, Mr. Murdock?! Are you ill?”
The secretary looked at the terminal screen and saw the banner headline: “Destruction of Tower Creates Significant Investment Opportunity.”
“Oh, my!” said the secretary, feeling faint, “It’s awful! Just awful!” And she burst into tears.
Murdock picked up the phone and put a call through to Golconda Properties.
“Nice newsletter you’ve got there!” he shouted into the receiver. “Have you people lost your minds?! You’ve gone too far this time! Someone is going to pay! You haven’t heard the end of this!”
Copies of the Newsletter were forwarded from client to client, circulated from colleague to colleague; it spread through the InfoNet and, eventually, it was picked up by the mass media, published, broadcast, and became a topic of discussion by news anchors and commentators on the infotainment networks.
One week following the tragedy, Governor General von Lembke was seated at his desk in his office in the old State House building. His mood was grim. Golconda City was physically and spiritually in shambles. In twenty minutes, he was scheduled to appear at the site of the wreckage with the commissioners of police and emergency services to be seen directing recovery efforts now underway.
The Governor’s Chief of Staff came into the office and shut the door behind him.
“What is it?”
“We’re dealing with some fallout from the tragedy.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Questions are being asked. Questions about defense planning for the tower, security issues, that sort of thing. In the media. There’s nothing definite so far. Just hints, innuendoes, that possibly security precautions at the tower were not all they might have been.
“It has not gotten to the point yet, but possibly questions are about to be raised as to who precisely was responsible for the lack of security planning, who had failed to authorize adequate security measures.”
“Well,” the aide cleared his throat, “your name is being mentioned.”
Von Lembke’s stomach churned. Who could have foreseen this? The architects, the construction firms, the security people had all given assurances. And the home planet authorities had all but guaranteed the hostilities were contained locally at Barnard’s Star. The public and press would be looking for a convenient scapegoat now to hang.
“We think there may be a way out,” said the Chief of Staff, “a way to limit the damage, even turn it around.”
“I’m listening,” said the Governor.
“You’ve heard about the newsletter?”
“It has set off a furor. We’re getting lots of mail about it.” The Chief of Staff leafed through a sheaf of papers he had brought in and began to read aloud, “Insensitive... ” “Offensive... ” “Outrageous...”
“Here’s a good one, ‘The author is a criminal. A menace to society’.”
“And look at this,” the Chief of Staff held out a clump of papers. “a petition with ten thousand signatures on it demanding we do something about the author of the newsletter. It’s a robot, by the way. The petition demands that the robot be disassembled into spare parts.”
“Well, what are we going to do?” von Lembke cried out, wringing his hands.
The Chief of Staff went on, “There’s a threat here and yet, at the same time, an opportunity. We’re suggesting a two-pronged approach, to draw negative attention away from you and towards something else. First, we need a media campaign focusing on this newsletter as an immoral affront to the good citizens of Golconda. The people are demanding justice, demanding that the author of this newsletter be held accountable before the judicial authorities and that you act on the people’s will.
“Second, we need, collectively, to heal and to honor our dead. Plans for a monument must be announced without delay, a fitting memorial to our fallen heroes. The media will be all over it.”
Stories and headlines about my newsletter began to appear in the press. The vidnews anchors and infotainment commentators worked themselves into a frenzy and demanded that the authorities pull my plug. Pressure began to build on Golconda Properties. It was a public relations disaster for the firm and the Board of Directors convened in emergency session to address the issue and decide on appropriate action.
Other stories appeared. Under the leadership of Governor von Lembke and his administration, plans for a monument to the “fallen heroes and martyrs” who had perished in the tragedy began to take shape. The square where the tower had stood was declared officially to be “hallowed space.” The leading architects on the planet were commissioned to design a monument for the site, a massive stone obelisk on which the names of every victim would be etched, so that generations to come would never forget the fallen heroes and their sacrifice.
The Directors of Golconda Properties LLC held a stormy and contentious Board meeting. As a result of the bad publicity surrounding my newsletter, two directors resigned, major clients had begun to desert, and earnings for the quarter had plunged. At the same time, there was intense pressure from the Governor and the State Authorities. The Board insisted on immediate and drastic action and demanded to know who was responsible.
The Director of Information Services appeared before the Board and explained that, although I had composed the ill-timed newsletter, I could not technically be held “responsible” for the uproar since I had merely been functioning according to my programming, which was real-estate specific.
The Director of Marketing acknowledged the validity of Information Services’ position, but insisted that the public relations disaster was damaging business to such a severe extent that an immediate major PR blitz was required to turn the tide of bad publicity and avoid complete financial collapse of the firm. Unplugging and disassembling one android, unjust or unfair as that might seem, was a small price to pay.
At the conclusion of the Board Meeting, a technician disabled my automatic self-preservation programming and took remote control of my functions and processes. I was escorted from the room by three corporate security officers and taken in a secure armored vehicle to the Golconda Android Laboratories facility.
While the Board meeting was in progress, across town, Governor General von Lembke was behind closed doors with the presidents and CEOs of the seven largest private commercial tenants of the destroyed tower.
The President of Golconda Development Corp. was speaking, “We all acknowledge the heroism of the fallen martyrs and the sacred duty of honoring their memory for generations to come.”
“However,” the construction executive continued, “I would just like to point out that the dimensions of the proposed monument to the fallen heroes do not necessarily have to correspond exactly to the area of the site where the tower stood. The monument could, for example, be slightly smaller than the original site. After all, it’s not the physical size but the powerful symbolism of the monument that matters.”
Several men at the table nodded in agreement.
Hiram Murdock, Managing Director of Liberty Group Hedge Fund, spoke next, “It’s important to bear in mind, gentlemen, that Golconda Tower provided 40 million square feet of commercial use space on which Golconda depended to sustain its preeminence in the competitive economic arena of Alpha Centauri. Loss of that commercial space would mean defeat for Golcondan industry and victory for the alien forces.”
The Chairman of Planetwide Sales & Rentals, Inc., concurred. “Given that the hallowed space for the memorial to the fallen heroes is largely symbolic in nature, not only its actual size, but its actual location, per se, does not necessarily depend on the location of the tower site.
“The hallowed space could be relocated, for example, on the same site vertically but, say, four or five storeys underground, perhaps adjacent to the unirail maglev station. Relocating the hallowed space would entirely preserve the symbolic power and significance of the monument while, at the same time, and this is the beauty of it, allowing commercial redevelopment of the original tower site.
“By preserving, or even increasing, the square footage available for commercial use, we strengthen the financial and economic base of the city and deny victory to the hostile alien forces.”
Such logic was difficult to refute. The Governor General concurred in the analysis, agreed to proceed on the basis outlined, and the meeting came to a close.
* * *
One year later, on the first anniversary of the tragedy, Hortense von Lembke, holding a young child’s hand, stepped out of a maglev unirail “G” Train at the rebuilt Heroes’ Square station, four stories beneath the new Heroes’ Square shopping mall. The Hallowed Space Memorial to the Fallen Heroes, originally planned as a massive obelisk, had been redesigned as a bronze wall plaque. The space itself had been transferred from the original surface site of the tower, where the new mall was now open for business, vertically downwards, underground, to the area adjacent the maglev station. Along the edge of the modest Memorial was a strip of retail outlets. One shop was a new and used robot store, with late model and also discount refurbished units and replacement parts.
As they crossed the platform, the child asked, “Where’s the memorial, Auntie Hortense?”
“It’s on the wall there next to that robot store window.”
The child gazed at the small plaque, “Where’s daddy’s name?”
Tears welled up in Hortense’s eyes. Her brother, Arnold, had been a good father and a fine man. They all missed him terribly.
“Here it is, honey. Right here,” she pointed near the top of the first column of names.
“I can’t find it.”
“It’s there, dear. Right there.”
The child gave up and his gaze wandered to the bright store display window next to the plaque. His eyes grew wide and he pointed, “Look, Auntie Hortense! Look at all the pretty heads.”
Hortense followed where the child was pointing and saw a row of refurbished android replacement cranial units on display in the window. The third head from the left was mine.
Since I don’t believe in Fate, it must have been luck. The von Lembkes’ android handyman had been off line for weeks with a burned-out circuit in the cranial processor. On impulse, Hortense entered the robot shop. That same evening, my head was swapped onto the torso of the damaged handyman, memory intact.
Copyright © 2007 by Bill Bowler