Corporate Man is called in to investigate reports of vile, unethical business practices at Great American Business Company. What he finds there just might destroy him (except we all know the ending to The Tragic Death of Corporate Man so it should be fairly obvious that it can't really destroy him, though it can come close).

Enslaved by the Bonus Whores is an all new Corporate Man Adventure Serial. Chapters will post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

After nearly a decade of imprisonment, Corporate Man returns to find the economy in ruins and his deadliest enemies in control of all but a fraction of society's wealth. He embarks upon a quest to set right the wrongs of the business world; a task that will ultimately destroy him.

8

The Tragic Death of Corporate Man
a hero for capitalism;
champion of the working class

by Tom Landaluce


Section 8:
Office of the Pyramid.

8.a.
“What the hell is this?” said Franklin Buck gesturing to a pool of water where the elevator should have been.  Nothing about the elevator shaft seemed quite right now that he looked at it closely.  It was too well lit and gleaming white.  Small circular lights squatted against the sidewalls and dashed an intermittent line all the way up the shaft and down below the water’s surface.  The water was a questionable glowing blue and smelled like lemons with only the faintest trace of chlorine.
“Looks like water,” said Business Woman.
“I can see that,” said Franklin Buck.
“There’s a cabinet full of inflatable inner tubes out here in the hall,” said Senior Executive as he joined them in the peculiar shaft.
“So… what?  We’re supposed to relax?  Take a cigarette break?  Go for a dip?” Franklin Buck said, his hand gestures becoming a little more pronounced.
“Don’t know about you, but I could use a soak,” said Business Woman.
“Are you serious?”
She said nothing and walked out into the hall to fetch an inner tube.  When she returned she pressed a button on the side of the device, and it self inflated.  She tossed it into the water, jumped in, and then pulled herself up onto it and floated.  A large grin spread across her face and a dark red stain spread across the water.
“This is crazy,” said Franklin Buck.
“Ah.  See now that there is what I missed you Franklin.  You were the voice of… well not reason, but whatever.  I don’t care why this pool is here, but here it is and I got blood, and who knows what else, all over me and I’d just as soon have it washed off since a good deal of it belonged to a colleague of mine.”
Franklin Buck bit his lip and looked down.  Then he walked out of the elevator room, retrieved an inner tube from the conveniently placed cabinet, and joined Business Woman in the pool.
Corporate Man, Senior Executive, and a wobbly Commander Credit did the same.
They floated in the blood darkened pool, each pretending not to notice the fabric scraps and fleshy bits that sank slowly and disappeared into the depths.  A gentle tone sounded and a pleasant robotic voice said, “Contaminants detected.  Please pardon the audio inconvenience as the water is refreshed.”
A low whir, apparently the extent of the audio inconvenience, preceded a slight agitation in the pool.  After a minute or so the water was a sparkling blue once more.
“So, Franklin,” said Business Woman.  “Where the hell did you go anyway?”
Franklin Buck rolled his eyes and said, “Down.”
“Down?  Would you care to elaborate?”
Franklin outlined his strange journey and had just recounted his bungled negotiations with the genetically altered Fat Cat when he noticed a button on the wall nearby.  He paddled over to it and, after a moment, he said, “There’s an arrow on this button that points up.  Do you think, maybe…”
“Maybe this is an elevator after all.  Push it,” said Corporate Man.
Franklin Buck pressed the button. There was a hissing thunk as the elevator doors closed and a stampede of bubbles floated up from the depths.  Then the water level began to rise.


8.b.
It’s been long suspected by the poor that the super rich live for extravagance.  This is mostly true.  And in the cases where it proves false, those in the super rich majority believe that this financially humble minority suffer from an acute mental disorder of one variety or another.
In the case of the elevator connecting the thirty-ninth floor of the Jacob Center Tower to the fifty-second floor the theory upheld by the poor proves true.  Instead of a common elevator, or even a decadent lift, executives ride on float tubes made of walrus hide.  Why walrus?  The mere whim of whichever big wig initially decided on float tubes.  And the float tubes?  Also flights of fancy.  A high powered CEO had lunch with a childhood friend, remembered times spent floating around on a lake, then proposed a pool-elevator design based on his noontime nostalgia.
The water in the pool is imported glacial run off, heated by a geothermal spring, filtered and piped across two states into this single chamber.


8.c.
“No you wouldn’t believe the things that exist in the bowels of this building,” Franklin Buck said as they slowly drifted up the elevator shaft on glacial blue water.  “There’s a weightless room, big as football field, teaming with schools of Middle Men.  I only survived cause this weird Siamese twin named Profit/Loss was in a positive mood and–”
“Was this after you escaped the boudoir of the provocative Pink Slip?” asked Commander Credit.  A wry smile curling on his swollen lips.
“Hey, shut up about her.  She had some sort of… power.”
“I’ll bet she did?” said Senior Executive.
“That’s called business acumen,” said Corporate Man.
“Quit!  Anyway, it doesn’t matter.  She fired me.  After that I found myself in a colony of mindless children.  They’re forced to watch television ads all day long.  Poor things walk around with this glazed look in their eyes and their mouths hanging open.  The whole place is run by Baron Advertisement and The Duke of Marketing.  Well, these bastards sent a whole legion of these kids after me, controlling them like drones using simple visual cues and jingling tones.  They had me surrounded.”
“How’d you get out of that one?” Senior Executive asked.
“I just started punching them.  They’re kids, you know, and kids hate getting punched.”
Business Woman shook her head and glared.
“What?  What would you’ve done?” said Franklin Buck.
“Well, for starters, I wouldn’t–”
 A hissing noise, followed by a metallic clunk, silenced the conversation.
They remained adrift on their float tubes.  Each scanning the walls for a set of doors, but finding none.  Then a seam opened in the ceiling and bright beam of light cut across the water.  Two panels slid open above them, whisper quiet.
“This could get nasty,” Corporate Man hissed.  “Be ready.”
They continued to float up to the edge of the shaft.  The bright light stung their eyes and prevented them from seeing much of anything.  A soft clicking, faint at first, grew steadily as they rose.  Then, through the haze of the blinding light, a black form emerged.  A man.  He had pale skin and dark rings under his eyes.  His hair was jet black, cropped short, and had a round shape. 
As he approached they saw more of him.  He dressed entirely in black.  His attire looked like that of a military officer by way of goth obsessed designers.  The stripes, insignias, and pinned on pendants were all black as well.
The man yawned and then polished his trim, black fingernails against his chest.  He continued to stand there as they floated up toward him.  Finally he said, in a low, disinterested voice, “That’s the problem with this pool elevator.  It saps all the drama out of an otherwise intimidating entrance.”
Corporate Man shifted on his inner tube.  There was no effective defensive position, bobbing in a small pool as they were.
“Please,” said the man in black.  “Just wait for the water to rise.  It’ll be much easier and less awkward in the end.”
“Wait.  I know you,” said Senior Executive.
“Indeed,” said the man in black.  “And I welcome you back into the fold.  Junior.”
“Apathy!” Corporate Man shouted and leapt from his inner tube.


8.d.
A word on the fifty-second floor.  It is massive.  Nearly as tall as thirteen stories its single room comprises the entire width of the Jacob Center Tower building.  In one corner is a small pool which acts as an elevator.  In the opposite corner is another set of paneled doors which open into the floor.
That set of doors is only opened on very special occasions.
In the center of the fifty-second floor there is a tiered pyramid.  Each tier houses desks or conference tables and is populated by a variety of high level executives; the upper echelon of their fields.  In order to ascend from one tier to the next, one must walk a circuit around the entire level’s perimeter to the next set of ascending stairs.  Getting to the top can be a tedious process. 
The top of this pyramid is a flat area with a pyramid-shaped pit in the center.  The reason for this pit hangs at the apex of the fifty-second floor.  Suspended at the very pinnacle of the Jacob Center Tower is a diamond shaped structure; two four-sided pyramids arranged base to base.
This diamond shape is usually obsidian black, but it’s constructed of a material that will shift to crystalline clear at the touch of a blinking red button somewhere inside.
But it’s almost always black.


8.e.
The inner tube beneath Corporate Man shifted and his feet failed to find adequate purchase for the attacking leap he had intended.  Instead, his arms flaied and his torso twisted in a manner that was far from heroic.  His attempt to engage his necktie came a moment too late and he sputtered against the wall, pathetic, clumsy, and eventually submerged.
“I told you,” said the man in black.  “I said, ‘Just wait and it would be a less awkward exit.’  For those of you still on your tubes I would urge you to look to Corporate Man as an example of the forewarned awkwardness.”
Corporate Man climbed back onto his inner tube and they waited for the water to finish filling the elevator shaft.
After forty seconds, or so, Franklin Buck asked, “Apathy?  As in Captain Apathy?  My father mentioned him.”
“Yes.  But as some of you may recall.  I was promoted.  I’m a General,” said General Apathy.  “How is your father these days, Franklin?”
Franklin Buck’s face darkened and his jaw flexed.  “You know exactly what happened to my father,” he said.
General Apathy shrugged.  “Quite true.  More than you’d want to know I’d wager.  But you exacted your revenge.  Hopefully that takes some of the sting out of it.”
“What do you mean?  What revenge?”
“Your performance on the thirteenth floor.  The way you man-handled Professor Inflation.  Quite poetic.  Fit for a Hollywood movie,” said General Apathy.  When Franklin Buck looked away without responding, General Apathy continued, “You mean you didn’t know?  That’s rich.  And here I get to be the bearer of such wonderful news.  Consider your father avenged, One Hundred Dollar Man.
The water level finally reached a point where the Union could climb out of the pool without much effort.
“And I see you’ve reclaimed his gold standard,” General Apathy said as Franklin Buck pulled himself from the water.  “It would seem as though all wrongs done you have been righted.  As for the rest of you, would you like to continue on in wet clothes or would you prefer a quick dry off?  We can even have new suits here within the quarter hour.”
The Union stood staring at General Apathy, filtered, geothermally-heated glacier water dripping from their torn suits.
“So…” said Corporate Man.  “Are we gonna do this?”
General Apathy’s face took on a confused but bemused expression.
“Do what?” he said.  “Choose from the options I mentioned?”
“No.”
“Then please explain.”
“Well, fight, I guess,” said Corporate Man.  “You know… Attack each other.  Battle to the death.  That stuff.”
“Why?” asked General Apathy.
“Why what?” Corporate Man said.
“Why battle to the death?” said General Apathy.
“Well, isn’t that… I mean, I…” Corporate Man said.  “It’s kind of how this whole place has worked so far.”
“Nonsense,” General Apathy said, rolling his eyes and shaking his head.  “Who have you killed?  Who’s dead?”
“How about Fair Wage?  Supply and Demand?” said Business Woman.
“Unfortunate things occur during conflict, but the point of each exercise was not death,” said General Apathy.
Corporate Man cocked his head, narrowed his eyes, and said, “Are you saying that, after everything we’ve been through, all we’ve overcome, we’re not going to fight?”
“Precisely,” said General Apathy.  “This floor is the executive suite for the entire company.  You’ve made it to the top.  And here at International Business Corporation Incorporated we don’t fight.  We aren’t savages.”
“Then what do we do?” asked Business Woman.
“We have a meeting, of course.”
“That’s it?  We have meeting?” said Corporate Man.
“I believe my prior statement should have confirmed that,” said General Apathy.
“After all you put us through?” said Senior Executive.
“Oh, I’m sorry, but I don’t recall inviting you up to the office.  You came of your own accord and if you encountered difficulties during your trespass I do apologize.”
“So there’s no else waiting to attack us?  Mr. Unemployment isn’t going to crawl out from a floor panel when we least expect it?” said Corporate Man.
“I should think not,” said General Apathy.  “I wish I could accommodate your request but, like I said, we don’t operate in that manner on the top floor.  And besides, Mr. Unemployment is a little busy right now don’t you think?  I doubt we could get him here if we wanted to.”


8.f.
The Union decided to accept the offer of new clothes.  General Apathy spoke a command toward the decorations on his uniform and a few moments later a small staff appeared with a rack of clothes and privacy screens.  The suits on the rack were crisp clean replicas of the overworked clothing each member of the Union currently employed.
When the rack was wheeled away, three suits, two of purple and mauve, one of brown, still hung from it, swaying slow and melancholy.
They stood, facing the General.  An awkward silence hovering about them.
“Shall we?” said General Apathy after a painfully long time.
“What?  Go to the meeting?” said Corporate Man.
“Exactly.  I’m sure the Big Bossman is eager to get things started.”
“Who’s this Big Bossman?” asked Business Woman.
General Apathy gestured toward the black diamond shape at the apex of the building and said, “Why the head of the company, of course.  The man in charge of it all.  Let’s not keep him waiting.”
The General turned abruptly and strolled toward the center of the fifty-second floor and the odd tiered pyramid that stood there.  The Union followed, though with noticeable reluctance.  When they were halfway across the floor, the General tossed a look over his shoulder.
“Junior.  You’ve been quiet this whole time,” he said.
“It’s Senior Executive now.  And eat shit.”
“Hmm.  What a remarkable financial recovery.  Congratulations.  As to you latter comment, I think I will politely decline,” said General Apathy.  A moment later her cast another look back and added, “Do you think I could still call you Junior, just for old time’s sake?”
The resulting glare from Senior Executive bought a wry grin from the General.  They continued the trek across the floor in silence and when they reached the base of the pyramid structure they halted at the bottom of a set of stairs.
The pyramid stood four stories high.
“Those steps will take us up to the first level,” said General Apathy.  “A mix of top level financial advisors and corporate strategists are seated there.  Please do not interrupt their work or encourage them in any way.  It will only delay us.”
He turned, without much conviction, and walked up the steps.
Corporate Man and the rest of the Union began to follow.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said General Apathy, turning back.  “Commander Credit.  You’re dismissed.  Have some diagnostics–”
“Wait a second.  What are you–” Senior Executive started.
General Apathy held up his hand and silenced him.  “Did you think the Commander was your ally?”
“He doesn’t work for you,” Senior Executive shouted.
“Not exclusively, no,” General Apathy said.  “Technically he’s a freelance agent, but who do you think pays the majority of his salary?  Which agency was responsible for all of his repairs and upgrades?”
Senior Executive shot a look at Commander Credit.  The Commander shrugged.  Senior Executive reddened and started to shake.
“Why was he helping us then?” asked Corporate Man.  “The Crash is your operative.  He’d never–”
“What?  Work for those who employ The Crash?”  General Apathy asked.  “Think of it as a squabble between employees.  Something that’s been escalating for a decade or two.”
“I took the job to get another crack at the bastard who took my arm.”
“Yeah.  You did a bang up job getting your revenge,” said Franklin Buck.
“Beaten into unconsciousness.  That’s quite the comeback,” Business Woman said.
“Doesn’t matter,” said Commander Credit.  “My contract with Senior Executive ended on the twenty-sixth floor.  Check the paperwork.  I stuck with you because I knew what lay in wait on floor thirty-nine.  Now…  Now I’m done.”
Commander Credit walked off, strolling leisurely across the open floor.  A team of tech boys appeared with diagnostic machines on wheeled carts and began attending him.
“Ah… Such a tricky, dangerous thing to manage that Commander Credit,” said General Apathy.  “Oh well.  Shall we?”
He turned and strode up the stairs.


8.g.
The first level of the pyramid structure was wide and flat.  A stubby guard rail ran along its edges, the chief function of which was to keep the furniture, various desks and tables, from toppling over the side.  The floor was highly polished wood and a carpet runner divided the space unequally leaving twice the width toward the center as the area nearer the edge.
General Apathy led them down the carpeted path.  He gestured half heartedly at the executives who sat comfortably behind their desks or gathered around tables, and said, “The aforementioned financial advisors and corporate strategists.  Please do not pet or feed the animals.”
As they walked along the path, snatches of conversations drifted in the Union’s direction.  Corporate Man paused.
“Look,” a man at a desk said into a chrome plated phone, “it’s a surefire way to increase sales.  Yeah.  Change your label.  Go with something simple.  Lose the serifs on your font and do away with anything ornate.  Customers are having a rough go out there and an expensive looking label with just make them think you’re flaunting your wealth in their face.  No it’s true.  Focus groups have proven it.  I understand that you’ve had the same label for decades and that it’s considered iconic, but that’s going to work against you now.  Customers will see the new label and know that you gave someone a job.  You sacrificed your iconic branding to do this.  Yes.  Yes, exactly.  No, you’re the first I’m sharing this with.  Exactly.  Alright.”
He hung up the phone, consulted a list on a chrome clipboard, and crossed off an entry on the fourth page with a chrome pen.  He dialed a number from the next line down and after a moment he said, “Dick!  How’s it hanging?  Yeah, I’ll bet. Listen, I’ve got a line on something big.  It’ll boost sales through the roof.  Yep.  No, it’s simple.  Change your label.”
“Corporate Man,” General Apathy said.  “Please.  Let’s not delay too much, shall we.  No need to steal industry secrets or anything.  All will be available soon.”
They continued along the path.
More conversations wafted past them like rancid gas.
“…thinking?  I told you–  No.  No!  That whole ‘I can help you’ line is tired.  Everyone is using it now. Same with the ‘is there anything else I can help you with?’ closing.  From here forward…”
 “…the next level.  It’s time to add a big screen television on the sales floor to broadcast the game.  Everyone’s wearing paraphernalia of the local team, the TV deepens your commitment in the customer’s eyes and they will shop longer because they’ll want to…”
“…solely black and white.  No color unless it’s on a tie.  Clean and clinical, that’s what we’re going for.  Yes.  Yes.  I understand there’s an element of fashion to your industry, but try to think of your employees as displays upon which the fashionable eyewear is to…”
They turned the corner and walked down the next side of the pyramid.  There was more milling around in this area.  More tables, less desks.  Executives grouped around each other like gossiping teenagers.
Near the guard rail, each indulging in fantastically small cups of Turkish coffee, were two executives.  One said, “I told him, listen, outsourcing is good for America.  We save a ton of money by sending jobs to foreign countries.  This helps build up those country’s economies, right?  Then, down the line, when those countries have amassed a measure of wealth, they’ll want to cut some corners, save some cash, and they’ll outsource a bunch of crappy jobs that no one living there wants anymore.  And who do you think they’ll try first?  Us, I say.  So really, outsourcing is a way of creating jobs for Americans.  It’s an investment in our future.”
Corporate Man stopped again. 
The callous, shortsighted greediness.  He was about to step off the carpet and approach the two executives with his slapping hand when he felt a light touch on his wrist.
It was General Apathy.
“And what good would that do?  What would you accomplish?” the General asked.
Corporate Man opened his mouth, ready to fire off a string of benefits that his actions might bring about. 
Be he could think of nothing.
So they moved on.


8.h.
They moved across the carpeted runner, almost reverently, making their way along the perimeter.  At the end of the walkway was a staircase that would take them up to the second level.
The featured of the executives gradually took on a more porcine appearance.  Upturned noses and sweaty, slappy skin.  The frequency of obesity and abundance of refuse collecting in office-sized wastebaskets was on the rise as well.
As they neared the stairs a group of portly men hovering around a snack filled table caught Corporate Man’s attention.
“So I drafted a report for all the major banks urging them to charge heavy service fees for cashing checks, even their own checks, from anyone who didn’t maintain an account with their establishment,” said a very generously proportioned man with quivering jowls, extra chins, and a piggish nose.
“Wait.  Aren’t banks the place you’re supposed to go to cash your checks?” asked a smaller, but still body-mass-endowed man, his brow glistening with triglycerides.
“What?  For Free?” asked the bejowled man.  “Next you’ll be telling me that the banks should make change for people without getting some kind of cut.”
“Well of course,” said the small but body-mass-endowed man.  “They’re banks.  Isn’t that where the expression comes from?”
“What expression?”
“You know.  What do you think I am?  A bank?”
The bejowled man shook his head, scowled fiercely, and said, “They’ve got to pay those tellers that are making all that change and cashing all those checks.  Where do you think that money comes from?”
“Doesn’t all that interest they collect on loans pay for all that?”
“Look asshole, that money goes to the executives and the shareholders.  What makes you think–  Wait… Wait… You’re fucking with me, right?”
The small but body-mass endowed man grinned.
“Oh man.  Good one!” said the bejowled man.
The rest of the gathered portly all broke into fits of raucous laughter.
“You know what?” said Corporate Man.  “You greedy bastards need a good ass kicking.”
He left the carpet and marched over to the table of grease-sweating tycoons.  He poked one in the chest, his finger sinking deeper into the swollen flesh than he thought it would.
“Where do you want it?” Corporate Man said.
The bejowled man rubbed at his chest, his face a swollen mix of offense and utter confusion. 
“Where do I want what?” he said.
General Apathy set his hand on Corporate Man’s shoulder and said, “The bottles of champagne and the whale blubber hors d'oeuvres.  My friend here has been inspired by your… accumulation and wishes to send along his compliments.”
“Oh,” said the bejowled man.  “Thanks for the recognition.  Just have it brought to the table.”
General Apathy nodded and gently escorted Corporate Man back to the carpet and to the next set of stairs where the rest of the Union awaited him.
“How gallant,” said General Apathy.  “How pointless and futile.  I do recommend that you curb your antics and remember where you are.  Violent confrontation is nearly non existent on the fifty-second floor and I doubt those on the upper levels will tolerate such an attack.  Especially the shareholders on level three.  Do we understand one another?”
He looked at Corporate Man.  Corporate Man looked away, hissed out a breath, and then inhaled, deep and slow.
“Great,” said General Apathy.  “Please follow me.”
They ascended the next flight of steps.



8.i.
The second level of the pyramid structure was significantly narrower than the first.  The path hugged the inner wall and a rich velvet rope separated the walkway from the remaining space.  In that remaining space, standing like androids, were rows and rows of men and women in expensive business attire.  Next to each man and woman was a small wheeled cart.  It held various electronic equipment and was laden with dials and blinking lights.  Wires sprouted from these portable diagnostic machines and connected with the men and women somewhere around back.
“These are the most advanced, state of the art, high level CEOs in existence,” said General Apathy.  “The rope is for your protection.  Do not cross it, please.”
“Why?” asked Franklin Buck.  “What happens?”
General Apathy sighed and said, “Yes.  It’d be too much to ask you to just take my word on the subject.  If you cross over, the CEOs will take that as an invitation to approach and sell you something.  They will sell you until your ears bleed.  Literally.”
Franklin grimaced.  An echo of his facial expression appeared upon the faces of his economically powered companions as well.
There was a strange hum that resonated from the CEOs.  Sort of like a beehive, a dentist drill, and a live microphone all luxuriating in a post coital spoon.
When they rounded the corner of the pyramid they were startled by a freestanding CEO.  He was milling around by the velvet rope, almost halfway down the length of the path.
“Apparently we have a malfunctioning unit,” said General Apathy.  “It would be best if you avoided eye contact and simply ignored him.”
As they approached, the CEO unit looked up and appeared pleasantly surprised.  He said, “Hey.  Any of you guys from the Mind Hive?”
Senior Executive’s jaw flexed.  He stopped walking, but remained just out of the CEO’s reach.
“Oh, well don’t listen to me or anything, Junior,” said General Apathy, not turning back.  “I wouldn’t know anything.  Better to dismiss what I say.”
“Don’t sweat it.  I’ve got this one,” said Business Woman.  She slapped the CEO across the face.
“Care about the company and the company will take care of you,” the CEO said, his face flinching from a nervous eye tick.
“Try it.  You’ll feel better,” said Business Woman.
Senior Executive slapped the CEO.
“Listen.  I’ve got an idea that’s basically a license to print money,” the CEO said, leaning forward, whispering in a rushed hush.  “Do you own a clinic?”
Senior Executive’s brow furrowed.  “What?”
“A clinic, man.  A place to treat sick people.”
“No.”
“Well… get one.  Then here’s what you do.  Start running prostitutes as a side business.  Encourage unprotected sex to boost business for the clinic.  You with me so far?” the CEO said.
“You’re sick,” said Senior Executive.  He turned to walk away and the CEO grabbed his arm.
“Don’t!  You’ll be walking away from a fortune,” said the CEO. 
Senior Executive yanked his arm free and said, “What?  Treating STDs.  The people frequenting your prostitutes won’t be from the same area so your clinic wouldn’t see the benefit.”
“You’re missing the point,” said the CEO. “You develop a strain of herpes which has as its primary side effect, nymphomania.  Inject this super-herpes into your prostitutes.  This has a two fold effect.  It increases the frequency of the visits from your customers and spreads the disease much quicker.  Then, having synthesized a treatment for your super-herpes, your clinic will be the only one armed with the necessary medications for the affliction.  You patent the new herpes gene and start charging fees to all those people who body it infects.  If they don’t pay, you sue them for patent infringement, especially if they transmit it to someone else.”
A look of further disgust came over Senior Executive.
“Interesting,” said General Apathy.  He tilted his head towards the militaryesque decorations on his chest.  “Cancel tech squad order for CEO 5318008.  Unit operations appear stable, possibly at peak.  Prepare a field kit and place according to need.  Recommendations include medical field and/or sex trade.”
He turned, glanced at the Union, nodded, and they continued their journey.


8.j.
“This set of stairs will place us amongst the Shareholders.  Trust me when I say, though I doubt you will heed my warning, you do not want to have anything to do with these creatures,” said General Apathy.  “Move along at a quick, even pace.  Avoid getting too close to them and never make eye contact or verbalize any sort of acknowledgment of their existence or your own.”
He turned and ascended the flight of stairs.
The floor was made of gold, hand wrought and hammered flat with jeweler’s mallets.  The path was narrow, bejeweled with diamonds and sapphires, and hugged the exterior edge of the platform.  There was no guard rail.  A rusty chain-link fence separated the path from the space in which the Shareholders dwelt. 
Large canopies obscured the Shareholder enclosure, billowing with silk and breathing out exotic incense smoke with a undercurrent of tangy body odor.
As they walked along the narrow path the Union caught glimpses of movement in the flowing silks.  Shadowed forms that stalked the periphery.
When they neared the first corner of the pyramid structure General Apathy paused and then whispered, “On this side there is a gap in the protective fence.  This is where the Shareholders entertain the occasional, albeit very rare, visitor.  Again, eye contact is to be avoided, and stay as close to the edge of the path as you can manage.”
He turned.
And they continued their walk.
The rusty chain-link fence ended after a handful of steps and the silken canopy retreated into Shareholder territory revealing a satin-pillowed landscape.  Clusters of low, lustrous tables pocked the terrain.  Tawdry financial magazines spread themselves like dirty fans across their surfaces.
There were creatures gathered around the tables.
The faces of these things were nondescript and vacant.  Their mouths hung agape; constantly salivating.  They wore expensive, tailored suits which were pressed and immaculate.  Except for the chest.  Here the suits were pulled open, revealing bare flesh.  I looked as if a cavernous wound had punctured the center of their naked torso and, left untreated, the cavity had healed into something dented and grotesque.  Thick lines of scar tissue radiated from each wound which left their chests looking like giant, puckered assholes.
One of the Shareholder creatures stood at a table near the path, mouth breathing and swaying like a praying mantis.  As the Union approached he swiveled toward them in a slow, fluid movement.  The pucker scar in the center of his chest twitched in quivering spasms, like the ass of a dog about to shit.
The path widened into an oval at the center of the fence gap.  The Union instinctively hugged the exterior edge of the platform.
Franklin Buck glanced at the Shareholder. 
The thing jerked into a crouch and flashed his teeth with a succession of quick, shuddering tugs of its upper lip.  Franklin Buck flinched away, nearly topping from the platform edge.  He overcorrected and veered toward the low set tables in a spastic stumble.  When he caught his balance, he was less than five feet from the Shareholder, stuck in a crouching position.
There was a sound, like the inhalation of breath, almost like a lizard hiss.
The Shareholder sprang forward.  Franklin Buck tried to run but was quickly overtaken.  The Shareholder’s grappling arms wrestled Franklin back down to his knees.  Then it moved in, pulling Franklin Buck toward its chest.  The puckered scar opened and the One Hundred Dollar Man’s head disappeared into the pulsing chest-butthole.
“Back!  Back!” General Apathy shouted.  He smacked at the Shareholder’s face with a rolled up financial magazine and tugged at Franklin Buck’s suit collar.  The Shareholder fought to maintain its grip and received another battery of disciplinary smacks.
There was a wet sucking sound, like the one that accompanies the loss of an expensive shoe in an unexpected patch of mud, and Franklin Buck’s head came free of the life draining orifice.  General Apathy gave the Shareholder another solid whack and then dragged the One Hundred Dollar Man back to the path.
The Shareholder strode to one of the low lying tables and sulked on satin pillows.


8.k.
The next staircase took up the entire side of the last tier of the pyramid structure.  General Apathy stood on the third step and gestured upward.
“Right this way,” he said.  “And congratulations on making it all the way to the top.”
“What’s up there?” asked Franklin Buck, his hair oddly misshapen from his recent encounter with the business end.
“Were you not paying attention?” said General Apathy.  He pointed upward, flared his eyes in a manner that could be mistaken for nothing other than outright mocking, and said, “Up there is the top.  The Big Bossman awaits.  You should probably keep him from waiting any further.  This has all gone on long enough, don’t you think?”
They walked up the stairs.
Their feet made hollow clacking noises on each step.  The sound echoed back to them sounding of crystal, soft metal, and freshly minted paper currency.  A chill air swept down as they approached the top of the rise.  Each shivered as their flesh goosed.
When the last of the Union stopped atop the platform, all sound went out of the room.  In front of them the diamond shaped pit gaped, sidewalls dropping into the floor, meeting at a center point far below.
“Okay, so now–” Business Woman started, but General Apathy held up a finger in front of his face to silence her.  His hand moved with such speed and forceful command that it actually worked.
A low bass hum shook the room.
They could feel the vibration in the cloth of their pant legs and the short hairs on the backs of their necks.  A futuristic, pneumatic, clunking hiss erupted from the great black diamond shape at the apex of the ceiling as it drifted downward at a slow, steady pace.  Eventually, it seated in the diamond shaped pit in the top of the platform.  A pleasurable sigh exhaled from the strange shape.
Nothing happened for a painfully long time.
Corporate Man glanced at Business Woman and then at Senior Executive.  Franklin Buck glanced at no one and continued to stare at the black pyramid.
A noise shattered the pregnant silence.  It sounded like a robotic samurai sword with a crystal blade being unsheathed from a dry ice.  Lines of white light split the bottom corner of the pyramid.
Then it opened.
Two doors swung away from the corner like arms opening outward, readying for an embrace.
A man stood inside the pyramid, silhouetted by the intense light behind him.  General Apathy rolled his eyes and glanced at his watch as the man walked forward.
“Welcome,” he said as the light of the room caught his features.  “I’m glad you could make it.”
“John?” said Corporate Man.
The man did not reply, but his grin widened.
“John?  Who’s John?” said Franklin Buck.
“John Q Public,” said Business Woman.  “He’s one of us.”
Corporate Man shook his head, “I… I thought you were dead.”
John Q Public, the Big Bossman, shrugged and said, “Well you never can tell.  Can you?”


8.l.
For a long while no one said anything.
Then a bored sigh slipped from General Apathy and he said, “A most riveting dialogue.  I can’t seem to tear myself away.”
He glanced around at everyone for a brief second, shrugged, and then walked into the black pyramid office.
John Q Public stroked his luscious mustache with his black gloved hand and said, “Join me in the conference room and we’ll get under way.”
“Wait a second,” said Corporate Man.  “”You’ve got a lot of explaining to do.”
John Q Public grinned and said, “Actually, I don’t.  There’s no one on this planet that I need to explain anything to.  But, if we considered your assertion in hypothetical terms, wouldn’t a conference room be an ideal location in which to do the explaining?”
With reluctance, they walked into the black pyramid.  The corner doors sealed behind them.  It was dim except for a faint red glow emanating from several scattered console buttons.
“Set lighting.  Conference,” said John Q Public.
The office flared a brilliant, clean white though no discernable light source could be identified. 
“Through here,” said John Q Public.  He gestured to a set of heavy looking, glossy black doors with white ivory handles.
The doors opened automatically.
The room inside was black with white framed photos of blackness.  The table gleamed its own white light and black chairs huddled around it, perched on bleach white carpeting.
“Hmm.  Blatant color scheme?” said Business Woman.
John Q Public nodded and said, “Yes.  Now, please sit down and let’s discuss your future.”
“No.  How about we discuss what you did to Supply and Demand.  To Fair Wage,” said Corporate Man.
“To you,” said John Q Public.
“That’s… That’s right.  What you did to me, too.”
“Join me at the conference table and we’ll address whatever we wish.”
The Union eventually sat down.  Business Woman and Corporate Man on one side, Senior Executive and Franklin Buck on the other.  John Q Public took a seat at the head of the table.  General Apathy remained standing, towards the back wall, on John Q Public’s right.
“The future of the economy,” said John Q Public, “is fairly dismal.”
“Thanks largely to you,” said Business Woman.
“Agreed.  But now is not the time to point fingers or credit or praise.”
“Praise?  Are you nuts?” said Senior Executive.
“I assure you, I am in control of all my faculties,” said John Q Public.  “In fact, I could simply end that sentence at control.  Wait, I’m forgetting something.”
“Added nostalgia and visual drama,” said General Apathy.
“Oh yes,” John Q Public said, eyebrows lifting in allusion to some impending greatness.
An electronic strum sounded as light flared from everyone’s suits.  The flash diminished, but the seams lines on all of their clothes remained white and glowing.
“Are… Are these our old power suits?” asked Corporate Man.
“Reasonable facsimiles,” said John Q Public.
“These would have come in handy against Bear Market and The Crash,” said Business Woman.
“They aren’t functional.  Merely aesthetic for the final meeting,” John Q Public said and tossed out a wink.  “One of the reasons your clothes were stolen on the 26th floor was so these could be made.”
“That must have cost a pretty penny,” said Franklin Buck.
John Q Public shrugged and said, “Like I said, I am in complete control.  I’m the head of this global business empire.  The U.S. division of Incorporate Business Corporate Incorporated owns a majority of everything on this planet.”
“Not for long, pal,” said Corporate Man.
“Good.  Then we’re on the same page,” said John Q Public.
The Union members threw each other confused glances.
“You see,” continued John Q Public, “I’ve grown bored.  I claimed lordship over not just this company, and not simply this country, but over the world economy at the turn of the century and it’s been far too easy ever since.  I miss the old days.  The financial crime fighting.  The excitement.  That’s why I cancelled funding for the medications that kept you comatose, Corporate Man.  That’s why I woke you up.”


8.m.
“I assume, from your statement,” said Corporate Man, glaring at the man in the white suit and black tie, “that you’re the one who put me in that hospital and kept me an invalid for a decade.”
“Guilty,” said John Q Public.  “It’s too bad we don’t have time to go over the particulars of the Florida campaign.  I think you’d appreciate the genius of it.  But we have an agenda and I’d like to remain focused on that.”
“The future of the economy,” said Corporate Man.  “So you said.”
“Yes.  Well it’s a bit about that, but mostly it’s about your future.  Your immediate future.  And the limitations thereof.”
“Are you threatening us, John?” Corporate Man said and stood up.  His lapel seams casting a harsh glow on his face.  “I knew this was going to turn into a fight. What?  Is this office some sort of death trap?”
John Q Public held up a gloved hand and said, “Please.  Sit down.  You misunderstand me.  I am not threatening you.  When an economic forecaster predicts a price drop in a certain commodity is he or she threatening that commodity?  No.  Merely reading the signs.  And I’m not referring to the whole Union.  I’m confident that these three,” he gestured to Business Woman, Senior Executive, and Franklin Buck, “will survive this meeting and make it into that future in one capacity or another.  It’s just you, Corporate Man.  I fear for you.”
“I’m sorry.  That still sounds like a threat to me,” said Business Woman.
“The sands in the hourglass are almost spent,” said John Q Public.  “Am I at fault for noticing the impending fall of the final grain?”
“Get on with it then,” said Corporate Man.  “Say what you have to say.”
John Q Public too a deep breath and said, “You’re a fairytale, Corporate Man.  A figment of a na├»ve imagination.  There is no place in the world economy where you fit.  By the end of this meeting you will concede that point.  And you will cease to be.”
“That’s bullshit,” said Senior Executive.  “It’s bad out there, but the Union is back and we’re changing things.”
“No.  You aren’t.  You’re simply a colorful distraction.  Nothing more.  At most you’re something to give a small amount of hope to an ignorant populace so they’ll take comfort knowing that someone else is fixing their problems and will turn a blind eye and let us resume our financial pillaging.”
“You don’t believe that, John,” said Corporate Man.
“Don’t I?”
“No.  I know you.  This isn’t you.  It’s that asshole.  He’s influencing you,” Corporate Man said, pointing at General Apathy.  “Throw his ass out of here and lets all work together to fix this mess.”
“Fix it?  It is what it is.  You can no more fix the ocean from being wet than you can make our financial system into anything that benefits anyone except a select few.”
“I don’t buy that,” said Senior Executive.
“Really?  Everyone else seems to,” said John Q Public.
“I doubt it,” said Business Woman.
“Let me illustrate.  Everyone has deep seeded dreams of becoming one of the elite.  It’s not only inborn, but we foster this through various media channels.  Deep down, subconsciously, they are aware that if they fight to create or support a system which equalizes everyone then they effectively kill any chance for that dream of possible future success to ever materialize.  They cannot become rich and powerful if everyone is the same.”
“That’s irrational,” said Franklin Buck.
“It sure is,” John Q Public said.  “Let’s review a recent political conflict over a proposal to raise income tax for those earning over two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.  How many people in this country exist at an income level well below that mark?  How many of those people’s yearly income would have to more than quadruple to gain that plateau?  If your response was ‘the bulk of the work force’ then you’d be correct.  Now, in a logical world, those people would realize that if their income somehow quadrupled, taking home the higher taxed, quadruple amount would leave them far better off than hanging on to that lower taxed, meager pittance of what they currently earn.  But, oh no, in their minds, they will be rich some day and no way is the government going to take a bigger chunk of their money.  The public only considers themselves, and its not even themselves as they currently exist, but an idealized fantasy version of what they hope to become.”
For a long while, no one said anything.
“We’ve been dumbing down the populace for years,” said John Q Public.  “In an age of information you’d expect an increase in intelligence, but we flood the culture with mindless entertainments, blind them with shiny celebrities and easy to follow programming.  Children are trained to be consumers, practically from infancy.  Aggressive advertisements bombard them between television shows and those shows feature spoiled, self entitled kids whose only function is outsmart dumb adults.  The messages are clear.  Buy stuff.  The world revolves around you.  Adults are stupid and have nothing to teach you.  And, most importantly, you will be stupid when you grow up.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Franklin Buck.
“I agree,” said John Q Public.  “But that’s what we peddle and that’s what Americans buy.  We can sell them anything.  Just recently we convinced them that the word ‘retarded’ is a bad word.  And do you know why they bought it?  Not because of any serious offense that the word incites.  Any word that separates out one group of people from another will inevitably be seen as offensive simply because of its implications of difference and the unavoidable debasement involved at labeling one group normal while forcing the other to accept the inference of abnormality.  Retarded is offensive because Americans are sensing how stupid they have become and they subconsciously fear that they, in fact, are retarded.  Instead of exerting energy toward increasing their mental faculties they choose to erase a word that they perceive as a disparaging to their ignorance when it has no relation whatsoever.”
“People are not so blind,” said Senior Executive.
“Some.  I’ll give you that.  But on a whole they are willing to accept the state of cultivated ignorance,” said John Q Public.  When his statement was met with a round of head shakes he continued.  “If you’d like further proof, let’s talk immigration.”
“What is this?” said Corporate Man.  “Is this economics or politics?”
“Isn’t it all one in the same?”
“Let’s talk about us.  Let’s get to the part where we hold you accountable for the things you’ve done.”
“Oh, yes.  Let us,” said John Q Public.
“You don’t think we can?” said Corporate Man.
“Old friend.  Please.  Until we clearly define the canvas upon which I have been painting, the brushes and pigments at my disposal, I don’t think that we can judge method or technique.”
“I think we can judge effect of action.  Death of colleagues.”
“If you think you must,” said John Q Public.  “But who is to be the judge? Who is to sit on my jury if I am on trial?  I merely wish to define the pool from which we would draw.  The public.  I cite immigration as an example of the ineptitude of that public.  It’s an argument continually cropping up amongst our fellow Americans and we generally see two camps form about the issue.  Those who wish to accept border jumpers with open arms and those who fear that foreigners, Mexicans in particular, are scaling a big fence and coming up here to steal jobs from us hard working Americans.”
“That’s not exactly the–” Senior Executive started.
“Yes it is.  Because that’s the line of thinking that we’ve sold them.  The reactionaries want all the illegal Mexicans deported to protect good honest Americans yet they fail to realize the irony of the situation.  America was founded by foreign immigrants who invaded the country and stole land from the populace already living here.”
“Yeah…  I guess if you really think about it, the most American people today are the Mexicans,” said Franklin Buck.
“Precisely,” John Q Public said, “Now, if Americans are so intelligent and not the manufactured retards I claim them to be, then how come the outcry in regards to the immigration issue isn’t about the shady businesses hiring, or more accurately, actively recruiting illegal workers?  Jobs aren’t being stolen by illegals.  The good ole American entrepreneur is offering them up willingly and the dumb American public is blaming the guy who’s just grateful to have the opportunity for a decent wage.  Comparatively anyway.  We don’t stop to think or ask ‘why are all these people coming here?’  We’ve already been sold the ‘stealing our jobs’ line.  And some of the most anti-immigrant morons out there are the same dirt-bag business owners that hire illegals to pad their bottom line.”


8.n.
“Is anyone thirsty?” asked John Q Public.  Without waiting for an answer he gestured and an apparatus dropped from the ceiling.  It set out crystal flutes and filled them with a sparkling, faintly bluish water.  John Q Public lifted one of the flutes to his nose, inhaled deeply, and then drank the contents in a single swallow.
“Water.  Trapped inside veins of sapphire.  I could build three Jacob Center Towers with what it costs for just one glass of this stuff.”
Reluctantly, everyone drank.
Everyone except Corporate Man.
John Q Public’s grin widened and then he gestured toward a blank wall.  A holographic image appeared in front of it displaying a graph featuring a thick, up thrusting arrow.
“Note the chart,” said John Q Public.  “In the past ten years the increase of wealth for the rich in this country has made a steady climb.”
He gestured again and another arrow appeared next to the first.  This one sagged downward, sad and emasculated.
“This graph depicts the financial standing of the middle class during the same length of time.  What do you notice?”
“Two dicks,” said Business Woman.
“High returns are erect and obviously virile.  Diminishing yields are flaccid and underdeveloped,” John Q Public said.  “And yes, this is intentional.  Not just for the inherent humor, but subconsciously it preys upon the fears of male board members and executives.  Particularly those related to inadequacy and impotence.  In other words, if you don’t show large returns you have a small penis.”
John Q Public paused and stared directly at Franklin Buck.
“What?” Franklin Buck said.  “I don’t have… diminishing yields.”
“And there you have it,” John Q Public continued.  “This is the basic primal level of thinking that the Union has been up against all these years.  That initial drive for alpha male status.”
“What about all the women coming into high level positions?” asked Business Woman.
John Q Public laughed.  “Yes.  It’s a big problem.  Now, I suppose most of you are aware of a popular cry that is being voiced these days, calling for the deregulation of business.  It’s being pushed by us, of course, but middle class Americans are really eating up this line of thinking, saying crap like, ‘Oh, those big, greedy corporations will do right by us.  Let ‘em run fast and loose.  They’ll fix things up for us little guys.’  Sure.  How quickly they forget the prime mortgage disaster and other wonderful gifts from the deregulated sect.  They buy in deeply to the propaganda that regulated businesses are automatically stunted whereas deregulated ones will grow and prosper.  Why yes, they do grow and prosper.  At the expense of the little guy.  Pushing beyond the limits of sustainable greed at the detriment of economic health.  Worried only about the big dick on the graph.”
“But that’s you,” said Corporate Man.  “You’re doing these economically unhealthy things.”
“True.”
“So what is this?  What are you doing?  Bragging about how you put one over on the rubes?  What?”
“Illustrating a point,” John Q Public said.
“I see no point,” said Corporate Man.  “I see a lot of excuses for bad behavior.”
“Exactly.”
Corporate Man’s face pinched, “What?  Make sense!”
“Let’s look at it this way.  Deregulation of business is like a man not wanting to wear a condom.  Sure, the business is better without the hindrance of protective regulation.  But then what happens?  Oh no!  And STD or an unexpected pregnancy.  That diseased and potent business splits leaving behind an infected wreck of an economy with a huge poop machine to take care of.”
“And that poor economy used to be a sought after, hot piece of ass, too,” said Business Woman.
“Right, and Big Business is just a dirty-dick man with a dishonest tongue, hiding behind a pleasant face, maybe a sixer in the abs department, and nice twinkly eyes.”
 “And now has his eyes on some perkier, Asian fair,” said Business Woman.
“Exactly.”
“Hey!  Don’t start agreeing with him,” Corporate Man shouted.  “He’s the dirty-dick man in this situation.”
“I’m not denying it,” said John Q Public.
“Then what are you doing?”  Why are we here?” asked Corporate Man.
“Well, it seems to me that you’re wasting your time trying to stop dirty-dicked men,” said John Q Public.  “But then, what can you really do?”
“When you can’t change the pig-animals you have to protect and educate those they prey on,” said Corporate Man.
“You mean, the dumb Americans we’ve been discussing?”
“Your term, not mine,” said Corporate Man.
“And by the time you educate them, they are old and invalid.  Indoctrinated with the message that old is weak and dumb and youth is to be forever worshipped.  An entire crop of eager-beavered bimbo children conveniently awaits our harvesting.  The cycle repeats.  Maintains.”
“No!  People will only take so much,” said Corporate Man.
“Not if they’re too stupid to notice,” said Senior Executive.
“Don’t you start, too,” said Corporate Man.
“What?  It’s true.  People don’t even question anything anymore,” said Senior Executive. “Genetically modified foods.  Vaccines for anything and everything, needed or not.  Pills to counter the negative effect of other pills.  They think its good because it medical science when it’s actually shady business.  The populace at large doesn’t know how the foods we’re being served have been modified and what the resulting product might do to a person’s body.  Science magic did it.  And it’s cheap so that’s good too.”
“You know who you sound like?” asked Corporate Man.
“Who?  John?”
“No. Him,” Corporate Man said, pointing at General Apathy.  “You were under his sway once before.”
“That was different.”
“And you,” Corporate Man said, turning toward the General, “You’ve been suspiciously quiet during all of this.”
“I’m just here for ambience,” said General Apathy.
“And to distort the mental state of everyone gathered around this table,” said Corporate Man.
“I’m a part of every corporate transaction.  The phrase, ‘it’s just business,’ is rooted in apathy.  Capitalism and I are indistinguishable.”
“I want his out of here,” said Corporate Man.
“Do you think that will help?” asked John Q Public.
“He’s infecting everyone.”
“With what?  Himself?”
“Yes.”
John Q Public cocked his head slightly and said, “Two things.  One.  As he said, all business is infected with him.  Two.  This is my meeting and he stays.”
“Then I’m leaving,” said Corporate Man.  He stood up and marched toward the door.
“You’re as free to go as you were free to come,” said John Q Public.  Corporate Man halted, mid step, and then turned back toward the table.  John Q Public continued, “Yes.  I see the dilemma.  What would all of the effort have been for then?  What of the sacrifices?  The colleagues lost?”
“I should kick your ass,” said Corporate Man.
“Ah yes.  Might make right, does it?”
“That’s not what I’m saying.”
“I am.  Isn’t that what we were already discussing?  Except financial might as opposed to the physical,” John Q Public said.  He smiled without sneering.
Corporate Man sat down.


8.o.
“You denounce our economic system for its inherent apathy,” John Q Public said.
“No.  I denounce apathy,” said Corporate Man.
“And like I said, the two are inseparable.  And it’s not just Big Business, it’s the consumers as well.  They don’t care about sustainable commodities or fair trade.  They want the most product they can get for the least amount of cost and those who suffer to make those savings possible be damned.”
“I think what he’s saying,” Franklin Buck said, “is have you ever seen a mall at Christmas time?  On Black Friday?”
“Stop supporting him,” Corporate Man said.  “That’s the problem.  People wouldn’t behave that way if we stop those that perpetuate the myth.”
“It’s not a myth.  It’s a fact,” said John Q Public.
“No!” Corporate Man shouted.  “I refuse to believe that.  If people understood they would rise up–”
“Never,” said John Q Public.  “It would never happen.”
“Oh you hope that it–”
“I could tell everyone everything.  Maybe send out one of those ‘pass it along to twenty people and it will spread across the country in three days’ e-mails detailing what’s precisely going on and pleading with everyone to do something about it.  To make and difference.  And it would do nothing.”
“I believe it would.  I have faith in the inherent good of people.”
“Faith is a concept invented to keep the ignorant blind and blissful,” said John Q Public.
“You’re wrong,” Corporate Man said, his jaw clenching.
“Fine.  How about this then?” John Q Public said, fingering an imperceptible button on the arm of his chair and stroking his luscious moustache.  “I’m sending out one of those e-mails right now.  Complete with the details of the economic rogering we’ve given the public.  And I’ll include a plea, urging them to take up arms against the financial establishment.  Let’s even set a date.  How about April 16th?  The day after taxes are due.  On that day I propose that we murder all the top CEOs of the most successful corporations.  There.  Sent.”
“You didn’t do it,” said Corporate Man.
“I did.  And you know what?  Even though a large portion of our middle to lower class citizens will be keyed up and overly stressed about getting taxes done on time and even though their anger toward the tax dodging rich will be at a feverish height and even though we American’s love our guns and our right to use them… Not a single shot will be fired.”
“You’re serious?  You sent that out?” asked Franklin Buck.
“I’ve given the order.”
“When?  I didn’t see–” Corporate Man started.
“I speak it.  It happens,” John Q Public said.  Then his eyes flared with a startled excitement.  “I’ve got it.  Amend e-mail message.  The call will be for a four day killing spree from the 16th to the 19th.  Then, on the 20th, everyone can sit back and get high and mellow out.  You know.  Tie it in to the ever present 4-20 non holiday.  We need a catchy slogan for this.  Oh.  Got it.  Light ‘em up then light ‘em up.  Have some t-shirts made.”
“You’re sick,” said Corporate Man.
“Oh it won’t happen.  So don’t worry.”
“Then why do it?”
“Well, I’d say ‘to illustrate my point,’ but I doubt you’ll be around next tax season,” said John Q Public.  “But the merchandise sales from a catchy, irreverent slogan are quite lucrative.  Note.  Cancel that order for the ‘let’s fist big business the way they fisted us’ t-shirt.  I don’t think we’ll need them now.  But save the illustration.  It’s too good to waste.”
“Aren’t any of you concerned that some maniac will take this seriously and kill someone?” Corporate Man said, standing up and glaring at his colleagues.
“He’s right,” said Senior Executive.  “Nothing will happen.”
“And if some fat cat takes a bullet I doubt many tears will be shed,” Business Woman said.
“Besides,” said John Q Public, “if someone actually killed someone we’d flood the press with stories about the evils of marijuana and pull more funding for the war on drugs.  An increased level of fear would follow, which is always good for business.  Especially advertising.  Or, if there happened to be some squeaky clean CEO calling attention to his or her charitable donations and the generous wages being paid to employees at his/her company, it might be advantageous to have him/her shot, discrediting the movement but buying it a level of infamy that would sell slogan plastered merchandise for decades.”
“This is insane!  I refuse to buy in to your insanity,” Corporate Man said.  He pulled out his PDA.  “If you can send an e-mail, then so can I.”
“And what would this precious e-mail state?” asked John Q Public.
“I’m calling upon the American people.  Anyone whose even been taken advantage of by Big Business.  All those whose money you’ve stolen.  And I’m asking them to come here.  To storm this building and tear down your financial empire.”
“Then at last we come to it,” said John Q Public.
Corporate Man stopped typing and looked at John Q Public, the Big Bossman.
“Come to what?”
“The finale of our meeting.  The reason you are here.”
John Q Public narrowed his eyes and grinned.
“Your death.”



8.p.
Corporate Man leapt to his feet and took up a defensive position, raising his fists and flipping his necktie over his shoulder.  The seams of his power suit blazing bright.  He lowered his voice and said, “Alright, John.  Make your move.”
John Q Public sighed and shook his head.
“Again with the violence?” he said.  “This is high finance, not a cage in an abandoned subway station.”
“Yeah, I’ve been in that one,” said Franklin Buck.  “On one of the basement floors.”
“No, Corporate Man.  I’ve invited a few guests to our little gathering.  They’ve been listening in and I think you’ll find their opinions rather shocking.”
John Q Public held up a small white remote control and pressed the single black button that festered in its center.  The controller went red and an entire wall of the office began to rise.
“Recognize anybody?”
Behind the wall, in amphitheatre style seating, sat a group of people which, at first, Corporate Man did not recognize.  Slowly, as he studied their faces, familiar features began to emerge.
“You… You’re…. Felix?” he said, a little unsure.  “The jeweler.  And you three work at Jolene’s, right?”
“Yes.  That would be Margaret, Molly, and Tina,” said John Q Public.  “You may also remember Sally and Matt from Waldo’s.  Jed and Roger from the hospital where you were in residence.  Well, perhaps not.  And many others.”
“Why are they here?” asked Corporate Man.
“They are all individuals you encountered on your journey.  Most of whom you helped along the way.  I thought it fitting if they acted as your executioners,” John Q Public said.  He nodded toward the group with an eager, almost innocent smile.  Then he stood and walked over to the panel of guests and said, “How are you enjoying the show?”
“You’re an asshole,” said Molly, the young girl from Jolene’s.
“I know,” John Q Public said enthusiastically.  “Focus groups show that people really like assholes.  You can’t have a successful reality television show these days without a know-it-all prick.  Preferable a British one. But I make due.”
“John.  What are they doing here?” Corporate Man said, loud and stern.
“I though I covered that already.  But if you need me to prod this along…” he paused briefly, “I thought it necessary that you bear witness to all the good your labors have produced.”
Corporate Man narrowed his eyes and then, after a long moment, he nodded his head slowly and said, “Okay.  I think I see where you’re going with this now.  Though I doubt it’ll go the way you intend.  These people here have all been victims of callous, corporate greed.  They won’t side with you.”
“Oh,” said John Q Public.  “Then I guess that’s that.  You were right and I was wrong.  I’ll reform.  Maybe even start a non-profit charity or an organic farm to feed the hungry.”
Corporate Man’s face pinched into a sour, confused expression.
“What?  Just like that?”
“Sure.  Why not?” said John Q Public.  “Although… perhaps you’re right.  We should at least check with these fine folks first.  Since we brought them all the way up here.  Let’s start with Mike.  He was a security guard where you were being held.  You never encountered him, but he had dialogue with a certain lady of business calling herself Ms. Adams.  He was forced away from his post by a supervisor due to bureaucratic policy.  This allowed Business Woman access to your room.  Mike was fired.”
John Q Public strolled toward Mike and said, “So… Michael.”
“I prefer, Mike.”
“Yes, Michael, I’m sure you do.  As I was saying, do you feel slighted by the company that terminated your employment?”
“Yeah.  They bent me over for something someone else did.”
“Isn’t that always the way,” said John Q Public.  “And I understand that you’re still unemployed at this time.”
“Yeah.”
“I’m going to make you a proposition.  You can have your old job back.  You’ll get a twenty five cent increase but your vacation hours will start over as will your retirement since that was cashed out when you left.” John Q Public held up his hand before Mike could speak.  “Before you respond.  I would like Corporate Man to make a counter proposal.  Let it be reiterated that Michael, and all those seated with him, have been privy to the entire meeting thus far.  Corporate Man.
“Uh, um…” Corporate Man stammered.  “I wasn’t expecting… but…  Okay.  Come be a part of a start up business venture where employees are treated well and given a fair wage, excellent medical coverage, and a secure retirement plan.  You’ll start at twenty five percent over what you were earning before with three weeks of paid vacation.  The company will be employee owned so you’ll also receive stock benefits.”
“What’s the job,” Mike asked.
“Security.  The same position as the preceding offer, but within six months you will be in charge of your own team.”
“My!  That’s exciting,” said John Q Public.  “What will he do?  Well, Mike… What’s it going to be?”
“What’s this company you’re starting?” Mike asked.
“Doesn’t matter,” said Corporate Man.  “I have several avenues I’m going to explore once the business here is concluded.  The main goal will be to show that the wealth of a company can be more evenly distributed without sacrificing the health of the company.”
“Mike?” asked John Q Public.  “Can we have your decision, please?”


8.q.
Mike took a deep breath, exhaled, shook his head and shrugged and said, “I think I’ll just take my old job back.”
“What?” Corporate Man shouted.  “How can you opt for a corporation that has proven it will treat you like shit?”
“It’s like this, Corporate Man.  I don’t think your business will work.”
“I can make any business successful.  I’m Corporate Man.
“And that’s the other thing.  If I work for you, will all kinds of weirdos with capes and underwear come gunning for you?  A guard post would put me in the line of fire for all that,” Mike said.
“Don’t you want to make a difference?  Don’t you want to change things for the better?” asked Corporate Man.
“You already know the answer to that,” said John Q Public.  “Look into his finances and tell me what he values most.”
Corporate Man’s brow furrowed. 
“Go on.”
He held out his hand, trying to get a sense of how Mike spent his money; the direction of the flow.
“Sports package.  Sunday ticket and college ball.  Big screen TV.  Team jerseys and autographed balls,” Corporate Man said in a low monotone.  His hand dropped to his side and he shook his head.  “Really, Mike?” he asked.  “You’d sell your future down the river to watch millionaires play games?”
“It’s what gets me through the week,” Mike admitted.
“But Mike, if we changed things you wouldn’t need to ‘get through your week,’ you’d be free to enjoy it fully.  All it takes is some effort up front.”
“Look Corporate Man,” Mike said, “that sounds nice, but how many games, how many seasons, do I need to miss to realize your dream?”
“That’s irrelevant to the big picture, Mike.  I’m not asking you to miss anything, but if you’re not willing to sacrifice some trivial pleasures to better yourself and your fellow countrymen then how can you feel entitled to anything more than the scraps the corporations let fall from their plates?”
“You can’t really blame him,” said John Q Public.  “It’s the conditioning.”
“No!  I refuse to buy that!  It’s all excuses for lazy, apathetic behavior.  And why is this asshole still in the room?  I want him gone!” Corporate Man shouted, thrusting a finger toward General Apathy.
“I’m sure you’re causing more of a scene than I am,” said General Apathy.  “Deep down these people care and would like to see something done.  They just want others to do it.  If you think about it, people really are of two minds.  The individual and the group.  Usually, what one mind is willing to do, the other is not.”
Corporate Man strode toward General Apathy and threw a wild punch.  General Apathy side stepped and used Corporate Man’s momentum to fling the economic superhero to the floor.
“Stop this!  I won’t have it!” John Q Public yelled.  “Childish violence has no place in this office.  Don’t make me call in my minions.”
“He punched.  I merely dodged,” said General Apathy.
“Accept this, Corporate Man, the people you champion want their vices and nothing more.  They want the fast foods that poison their bodies so they can have more time to watch their police dramas and desensitize themselves to the suffering of others while simultaneously reinforcing their fears that violent criminals are everywhere so we better hide inside and order that fast food and… I think you can see the cycle.  And that’s just one of them.  There’s a complimentary loop with the medical industry that–”
“No.  I refuse to believe–”
“What?  That we’ve grown complacent and lazy?  That we feel entitled to our pleasures while expecting others to bring about any change that might be needed?  That we’re afraid to even try for fear of ridicule?”
“It can’t be true.  Not for all them!” Corporate Man yelled, gesturing toward the amphitheatre.
“Then search them,” said John Q Public.  “Look inside each and everyone one of them.  Tell me what you see.”


8.r.
Corporate Man’s fists were shaking and his jaw was clenched so hard that his face mimicked his hands.  He turned to the gathered group of onlookers and held his palm toward one of them. 
When he spoke, his voice was monotone and even.
“Roger.  From the hospital desk.  Daily hours at the gym for social interaction and eye candy.  Porn at night.  Margaret from Jolene’s.  Crafting supplies and home gardening magazines to occupy your mind so you don’t think about how your family never visits you.  Tina from Jolene’s.  Alcohol, violent movies, and aftermarket auto parts to furious up your fast car.  Sally from Waldo’s.  Incessant television, crime shows mostly, fast food, and the latest in home security systems.  Molly from Jolene’s.  Video games, online poke, and pills.”
Corporate Man’s head slumped and his shoulders sagged.
“None of you,” he said after a long silence.  “None of you would be willing to side with me and make a change to benefit everyone.”
After a tense moment, Molly said, “Hey, why would I have to work for you?  Can’t I work for her?”  She pointed at Business Woman.
“Interesting,” said John Q Public.  “Of course, she’s young and hasn’t had all of the fight driven from her yet.”
Business Woman stood up and said, “Would you?  Would you follow me into a shaky financial venture?”
“Well… maybe.  More so than him,” Molly said.
Business Woman held her fingers to her temples as though fighting a migraine. Then she pinched the bridge of her nose and said, “What’s… I can’t think of…”
“See!  It’s him,” Corporate Man said, thrusting a finger once again at General Apathy.
“Of course it is,” said John Q Public.  “I told you he’s a part of all business.  And she’s next in line so a great deal of his influence would be working on her.”
“What’s that mean?” said Business Woman.
“It’s like this.  More and more women are, or at least will be, achieving upper level positions in the corporate structure. Eventually they’ll be running the whole show.  I know it’s hard to see now with the male presence still so overwhelmingly strong but we, the extremely successful, and forgive me for returning to the sexual metaphor we established earlier in our discussion, are now at our most erect.”  A hologram appeared with an arrow so rigid and penis-like that any tycoon would shout “profits are up.”  “In order to get to an ultimate state of fiscal arousal the hetero male needs women and the more aroused we get the closer we come to spending ourselves.  And then it’s downhill for a while after that.  In the past we’ve had a chance to recover and reestablish ourselves, but one day women, with all their damned multiples, will move in and capture it all.”
“I think you guys spent your load in 2008,” Molly said.
“Ah yes.  We sure did.  It’ll be interesting to see if something comes of it.  Doubtful, but you never know,” said John Q Public.  He turned to Business Woman and said, “She’s a bright one.  You might want to take her on as your Junior Executive.”
“Stop!  Just stop already.  I’ve had enough of this,” Corporate Man said.  “What’s wrong with all of you?  Can’t you see the benefits of doing business in a different way?  A decent way?  My way?”
“They don’t believe in you,” said John Q Public.
“Why?  I don’t get it.  I talk common sense and prosperity for all.”
“You’re a little hard to swallow,” said General Apathy.
“You shut your tainted mouth and stay out of this!”
“Come now, Corporate Man,” John Q Public said.  “Think about it.  Who would ever believe that a man at a corporate level would ever be benevolent, generous, or fair?  If you cornered someone on the street and forced them to decide who was real, Santa or Satan, only the fools would maintain it was Santa.  A jolly old fat man giving out presents to all the good little boys and girls or a selfish prick who’s the root of all the evil that men do?  Well, we can see the constant evil everyday so Satan is the likelier candidate, wouldn’t you say?  The truth is, we can’t tolerate a selfless hero, Corporate Man.  We need someone to blame for our financial misfortunes and naturally tear down anyone who presumes to be better than us.”
Corporate Man stumbled and fell against the table.  He clutched at his chest.
“What is this pain?  Is that my heart?  Am I having a heart attack?”
“No,” said General Apathy.  “I believe that’s your spirit in the throws of a death spasm.”
“No.  No!”
“I’m sorry, but it’s true,” said John Q Public.  “You are a fiction that no one is buying.”
Corporate Man slumped across the white tabletop and pounded his fists against the cold surface.  Spasms wracked his body and miniscule moans of pain escaped the back of his throat.  He rolled on to his back, his body softening into acquiescence.  When he spoke he sounded like a hopeless prophet; a priest in crisis.
“Where are the noble business men?  What happened to the gold-hearted CEO?  The one who sold off his estate to save his subordinates from layoffs?”
“He strip-mined his heart years ago and gilt his toilet with the gold,” General Apathy said.
“No.  In my mind I see them,” said Corporate Man.  He raised his head.  “Banding together.”  His voice gained a hint of resolve as he slid off the table onto staggering legs.  “Announcing their intentions to work for minimum wage for the year.  Dividing their bloated salaries amongst their workforce.  Avoiding layoffs.  Saving jobs!”
“Fantasy, Corporate Man,” said John Q Public.  “No one would believe it.  They’d think it was some sort of stunt.  And entrepreneurs, like myself, would leak all kinds of false information to the press to advance those negative opinions.”
“This… This can’t–” Corporate Man started. Then his knees buckled and he dropped to the floor.
“Quit fighting,” said John Q Public.  “It’s a done deal.  There’s nothing you, or anyone, can do that will change anything.”
“There… is always… hope.”
“No.  There never was.  I’ve got cannons, literally, cannons full of lawyers and lobbyists, mounted on this building that I can aim at any opposition.  And the people of this country wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Corporate Man shook his head, fell on to his side, and whispered, “No.”
“You can’t deny it.  I’m John Q Public.  I am the American people.”
Business Woman rushed over to Corporate Man and scooped his head in her arms.
“Jonesy!  Come one Jonesy.  Don’t lose consciousness here.  Keep fighting.”
“Why?” Corporate Man asked.  “Do you think we can prevail?”
Business Woman hesitated and then bit her lip and looked away.
“Then it’s true.  He’s got all of you,” Corporate Man said.  He pushed her away and then struggled to sit up, wincing and gasping.  “Fine, John.  You win.  But deep down you know you this isn’t finished.  These people here are not only contributors to my demise, but witnesses to my life, my existence.  A seed has been planted in each of them.  A seed of hope.  A hope of something better.”
John Q Public kneeled next to Corporate Man, placing his hand behind the dying man’s head, lowering it gently to the floor.  He pat Corporate Man’s forehead in a dainty, patronizing manner.  Then he leaned down and whispered something.  Corporate Man smiled as though relieved.
His gaze went blank.
And he stopped breathing.
John Q Public brushed his hand tenderly over Corporate Man’s eyes, closing the lids.  He stood up, shoulders slumping, and exhaled long, deep, and slow.


8.s.
“So what now?” Business Woman asked.
“Now?  Nothing,” said John Q Public.  “You’re free to go if you wish.”
“I feel dirty and useless,” she said.  “And a little sick.”
“That’s business,” said General Apathy.
“Did we seriously just watch him die?” asked Franklin Buck.
“Yeah.  And we didn’t do anything.  We let it happen,” said Senior Executive.
“That’s usually how these things go,” said John Q Public.
No one said anything for a long while.
 “Well now,” said General Apathy, breaking the silence.  “This is getting morose.  And boring.  Let’s all remember, nothing personal in business.”
“Shut up asshole,” said Business Woman.  She looked at John Q Public and said, “So how do we get out of here?”
“Oh.  Well… I was sort of hoping you’d stay.  I mean…  Do you like this building?  This office?  Cause I’m giving it to you,” said John Q Public.
“What?”
“Yeah.  This black diamond room is actually an elevator that will take you anywhere in the building.  And, up to now, I’ve pushed all the buttons.  Except one.  This one,” he said, striding over to a large, blinking, white button.  “Go on.  You push it.”
Business Woman looked at Senior Executive and Franklin Buck.  Each of their faces a mirror of similar confusion.
“Up and out,” said John Q Public.
“Are you… What?  Really?”
“No.  Of course not,” John Q Public said, pressing the white button.  All the walls on the black diamond office went clear.  “Fantasy.  You see?  All that goody good be good crap will never get you a chocolate factory.  Only in books and musicals.”
“You know,” Business Woman said.  “People may not give a crap about helping others, but stunts like that will piss them off and then you’ll get a reaction.”
“A reaction?  What?  Like a revolution?” John Q Public asked.  “This is a generation of sugar fattened pussies who we’ve retarded with mass media.  No, I’m afraid it will take decades of living like paupers to affect any kid of change.”
John Q Public stroked his luscious moustache with his gloved hand.  Then the Big Bossman turned and strode through a side door, out of the conference room.
“Wait.  What about him?” Business Woman asked.
“You mean his body?  My minions will attend to it,” said John Q Public.  He stood in the doorway for a moment and then said, “Listen.  You’re all free to work for me.  I have high level positions that would benefit from your particular skills.”
“I accept.  I don’t care what the job is,” Roger said.
“Not you, you’re due back at the help desk in the morning.  Business Woman, Senior Executive, Franklin Buck the One Hundred Dollar Man.  Regardless of your decision, you are free to go and my building will remain open to you.  If you choose to decline my offer and start a competing enterprise, you have my blessings.  I’ll even invest if you wish.  There’s no need to decide yet.  Confer amongst yourselves and get back to me.”
John Q Public nodded and left them to their decision.


8.t.
A final word on the fifty-second floor.  Particularly as it relates to the four corners of the Jacob Center Tower.  It has been established previously that four elevator shafts exist in the four corners of the building.  Two with secret entrances, one for service deliveries, and the final one for executives.  Likewise, it has also been established that there are only two access panels on the fifty-second floor, each on opposite sides of the building, one of which houses the pool elevator.  Those paying attention will have noted that the executive elevator does no exit onto the fifty-second floor.  Instead, it crests on the fifty-first floor, opening onto a secret passage that leads to a secret lift in the center of the building which grants the executive access to the black pyramid office, provided that the black pyramid office is in its lowered position.
The service elevator has no connection, directly or indirectly, to the fifty-second floor.
As for the second access panel in the floor opposite the pool elevator, it has been mentioned previously that it is only opened on special occasions.  Beneath this set of doors, rumor and corporate myth tell us, exists a giant, shaft-sized shredder for discreet elimination of substantial material that may be considered incriminating.  Beneath this high capacity shredder, it stands to reason, is an industrial incinerator to further assure that the incriminating material vanish in a very permanent manner.


8.u.
John Q Public sat in his office.  The walls were once again black and all the lights were off except for the malicious red glow of the console buttons at the desk.  A low hum buzzed and he took a deep breath.
“Come in,” he said.
A door slid open, white light poured in, and a man strode into the room.
“I have the samples,” the man said.
“Ah… Wonderful.  Let’s see them,” said John Q Public.
The man held up a t-shirt.  On it was a slogan. 
Light ‘Em Up Then Light ‘Em Up.
“The crosshairs are a nice touch,” said John Q Public.  “But don’t you think the pot leaf cheapens it?”
The man shrugged and said, “Focus groups show a twenty percent higher return on drug related merchandise and the pot leaf–”
“Yes, yes.  I know all about focus groups,” said John Q Public.  He continued to scrutinize the shirt.  “Is there any news?”
“Yes,” the man said, apparently understanding his boss’s vagaries.  “Senior Executive, as you know, has accepted and is settling in quite well.  He and General Apathy appear to have patched things up.  Business Woman has declined.  She has convinced Franklin Buck to do the same and has taken on the girl, Molly, as an apprentice of sorts dubbing her, Junior Partner.  They are currently in the old Union headquarters by the river.”
“As expected,” said John Q Public.  “No doubt working in secret with Senior Executive.  Acquire majority shares in any businesses investing in her enterprise.  Offer direct funding as well.”
“Already implemented,” said the man.
“You have my approval on the shirt.”
“Of course, sir.”
John Q Public sighed and then said, “Well then.  On to business.  New t-shirt design.  Possible poster offering.  A headstone with glasses and a tie.  Epitaph reads, “Here lies Corporate Man, the unbearable dream.  Subheading, lower case, in quotes and fancy script, to read:
           do not succumb to death, oh dream
           rebel
           subject yourself not to financial slavery
           rebel, revolt, rebel
           hold accountable the fiscal tyrants
           demand reparation with intelligent revolution
                                                        
-Don Jones
“Seems a bit long for a t-shirt,” said the man.
“Yes.  Also, spread rumors to insinuate that the previously mentioned quotation was Corporate Man’s final words,” said John Q Public.
“Is this true?”
“Undoubtedly.”
“Then you’re positive that we should proceed with this?” the man asked.
John Q Public stroked his luscious moustache, but said nothing.
“Sir?  Shall I place the order?”
Again, the Big Bossman made no response.
“Sir?”



THE END