The ashes of what had been known as the American Dream scattered swiftly, until all that was left of it was a thin line of dirt on the faces of people standing in line at the bus stop, or waiting to be picked up by cabs. Fragments of utopian idealism fluttered in the breeze, with no more weight than the paper and styrofoam garbage that littered the vast underbellies of the largest cities.
The revolution had seemed essential, the way a system reboot will sometimes help a computer run more swiftly and efficiently. Apathy had been kick started by some unknown event, now forgotten, into a chest-thumping pride in the ability to change. It had all happened quickly, without much real anger. It was just something to do, the way an offensive movie few people actually see or comments made by a drunken celebrity can sometimes ignite furor. It was an excuse to feel something.
But the initial joyful drunkenness of success lasted barely a week. The hangover, a lifetime.
It's hard to say what we were hoping to gain. We were dissatisfied, yes, but no more than anyone in the history of this nation. Less than some. It's questionable, really, whether our grievances were of any significance at all. But our patience, like our individuality, had been doped out of us by years of mindless television, immediate access, and escapist video games, until all that was left was a herd waiting to be led.
And we were led.
The brave new world was a bleak one. It was a world of corruption, of fear. A world where children must be closely watched, where you did not leave the house after 8:00 (unless you lived in one of the expansive corporate human resource farms, where rows of pristine houses and apartment buildings sat like crops waiting to be harvested). A world where power was closely tied to business...and this power was entirely unchecked. Government was neutered so effectively that many larger cities perceived themselves as states unto themselves, run by the wealthiest and most influential of their citizens.
For these major structural changes, you would think that some visual element would be evident, but there was none. I mean, the buildings still looked the same. The cars as well. It was not a violent military dictatorship or a charred police state that was produced by the revolution. Instead, it was a world run by corporations. And those corporations were now ruled almost exclusively by men. So there was no reason for the world to look too different...the corporations had held most of the power anyway, right?
That's not to say that you would not be able to locate difference. It would simply be slight, and easy to miss. For example, police officers would not be found in typical government-styled uniform, or driving brightly painted cars. Depending on where you lived, police officers might not be found at all. Each multi-billion dollar conglomerate had its own police force, patrolling its own area of town, where only that company's workers and the people who served them lived. If you did not belong to one of them, then you could not count on their assistance. If you were an in-house lawyer whose office was on the 53rd story, then you went home at night and felt safe. If you worked a cash register at the nearby gas station, you prayed.
There were, of course, second-rate police forces available to those who were beyond the corporate containment, but the expense and incompetence of these forces usually made them highly suspect.
The power held by the champions of business was virtually absolute. Environmental regulations vanished. Unions disbanded, or suffered for their stubbornness. Violent clashes signalling the death of workers rights movements went unreported. Little by little, the true nature of power began to be displayed: money, influence, and sex.
This became very clear in the first days, when those people labeled as enemies of change, those who had been loyal to government or were simply lied about by their enemies, were turned into slaves, given to or bought by those who could afford such luxury, and used for any number of menial, grueling, or sexual work. Some powerful businesses bought slaves to use as unpaid assistants or pleasurable rewards for their employees.
Cold winds weren't required for a chill to climb your spine, if you looked to carefully at the thing you had helped create. Most people didn't.
As for myself, I was neither opponent to change, nor a contributor. I left the revolution much the way I had entered it. This seemed to me like the path to greatest safety and security. Wrong. What I discovered was that my neutrality left me as an insignificant nonentity. I was an accountant, working for a decently sized business that was immediately purchased and shut down by a larger rival. My boss, a heavy and surprisingly large Asian man named Harold King, had been sorrowful and apologetic about the merger. He wept for the business he had built from the ground up. But there was, he assured us, little choice. After all, what protection was left to us against competitors three or four times our size?
"Tectonic shifting," he said as he poured a drink, "always brings down buildings. So let us drink to new real estate."
He promised us all good references.
I found myself out of a job in a world I did not yet understand. A world that did not yet fully exist. I also discovered that a great many companies were folding, succumbing to the influence of massive, ever-expanding corporations which were already well-staffed with expert accountants. They had no need for someone with four years experience and a B-average from a no-name university.
It's hard to explain how terrified and desperate my wife and I were. To be unemployed in a world where what you did, and who paid you for it, was all that mattered. I eventually found myself hiring out my services to what few small companies remained. I was usually contracted for small, short jobs. None of them could afford a full-timer accountant. Some of them couldn't afford to pay me at all, when the time came.
They were lean times. We sold the house, the cars, and eventually found ourselves in a small, cramped, leaky apartment that would probably have been torn down, if there was still anybody around to make such decisions. My wonderful wife, Tabitha, was patient and understanding.
"We'll get by," she told me the day we brought her ceramic figurines in to pawn. And then she kissed me and smiled, as though nothing were wrong at all. Her gorgeous face was framed by soft auburn hair, which always seemed to look good even though we could only afford to run the shower every other day and she had to cut it herself.
"I hope so, Tabby." I smiled, running a hand through my own thinning patch. "I've got a job with Omaha Beef Company today."
She frowned. "I thought they skipped payment last time."
"They did," I shrugged, glancing down the street and wondering what was taking the bus so long. "But they promised to pay me with steak this time."
Her eyes closed and she bit her lip. Beautiful.
"That would be delicious," she said. "I don't remember the last time we had steak."
"Have you had any luck?"
"Are you kidding me? Just more of the same."
I grunted my irritation. In the world of total information sharing, it's amazing to find out who is keeping tabs on you. Tabitha had started sending out resumes for any job which didn't require a degree, and although nobody returned her calls we soon were inundated with offers from the new, quickly-growing sex worker corporations.
The strange thing about a world built solely on competition is how swiftly is strips people of their basic human kindness, their liberality. In less than three years of the new world order, women had virtually vanished from the workforce, save for those poorly paying positions that exist in supermarkets and gas stations. Now that education was something you bought, and spent heavily on, many families were passing on school for their daughters, since their chances of employment were so nonexistent. Women's rights were being torn up from the very foundations, and for a beautiful young woman like Tabitha, the only available positions involved dancing, fucking, or serving at one of the elite clubs for people of status. And that last job was usually only a good idea for ambitious women hoping some rich fool would decide to claim her as his own.
"Well," I smiled as the bus pulled up and I took out our prepurchased tickets, "maybe something will come up tomorrow." She nodded, doubtfully. I didn't believe it, either.
But I was right.
The next day, we found ourselves looking down at a letter of opportunity from ColCorp, the very same massive operation that had purchased my previous employer. They wanted me to call and set up an interview.
"That doesn't make sense," I mumbled, staring down at it.
"Why not?" Tabitha laughed, far more excited than I. "You applied, didn't you?"
"A year and a half ago." I shook my head. "But only out of desperate hope. This company wouldn't take anybody who didn't have a degree from a well-known university, and a good deal of experience. There isn't a reason on earth why this letter should be sitting on our table."
Tabitha laughed again, and put her hands around my shoulders. "But it is, Michael! Who knows why, but it's right there!"
"What would convince them to send for me?"
She slapped my rear playfully. "Because you're great. Because everything you've done the last few years is available information, now, and somebody somewhere found out that you're the best there is."
"I'm not. I'm not even close."
Two hands gently gripped my hips. "Oh, shut up and put out," she whispered in my ear.
You would expect that an interviewee would find themselves looking up at a gargantuan tower of commerce, feeling intimidated and small. But it wasn't uncommon now for an organization to own numberous city blocks, effectively creating a compound wherein executives ruled like miniature Roman emperors. Such compounds contained jails, hospitals, schools, malls, and everything else required to make it a miniature city of its own. The living was pretty good, in those areas. But to enjoy the empire, you must suffer the emperor.
Employees had to be careful not to run afowl of their bosses. It could mean a night in jail, unemployment, or worse. Some executives, it was rumored, had even auctioned off the wives or children of failed employees as slaves. By the same token, there was a great many opportunities located in the compound for rewarding success.
Arriving for an interview at ColCorp, I was directed to a small, 10-story glass structure on the corner of the compound. Inside, a woman beautiful enough to be a supermodel sat behind a desk. She wore a bikini top and a short skirt, and smiled at me as I walked in. A waterfall 30 feet behind her fell from three stories up. On either side of the room, massive flat screen TVs looped footage of employees enjoying games of tennis, relaxing in large cushy living areas, taking trips to an unidentified lake paradise, eating at a fancy restaurant, and selecting young women to take into a back room in what was clearly a company brothel. Everything was immaculately clean.
"Mr. Young?" The beautiful woman asked me. I nodded. "Please take this name tag, and move to room 519 on the fifth floor. Mr. King is waiting for you."
I blinked. "Mr. King?"
"Yeah, hon." She winked. "Mr. King rarely interviews people. You must be pretty important."
"I, uh...I doubt it."
"Sure, hon. Sure." She appraised me in a way that said that she didn't believe my modesty, and might be willing to consider any offer I might make. As I clipped the nametag on, I noticed she had written her name and number on the back.
On the fifth floor, I found myself sitting in a waiting room with an equally beautiful, even more lightly clothed, substantially younger girl who might in another time have been starting to think about what college to attend. She barely acknowledged me, except to point to a seat when I came in. She very clearly believed that she had already been claimed by somebody with more power than I would ever have. She was surely right.
But who was Mr. King, that he was so important, yet was here to interview an insignificant accountant? I couldn't help but suspect...
The doors opened, at last, revealing Harold King, the very man who had sold his company to this larger rival. My former boss. For the first time, it occurred to me to wonder what they had offered him.
He had grown larger in his victory, obviously. His six foot frame, large for his heritage, contained a sizable layer of fat. If forced to speculate, I'd put his weight at somewhere between 240 and 260 pounds. His tailor-made suit and professional grooming made him look younger than his 50 years, however. The girl at the desk, who was probably five foot four and 120 pounds, looked at him with poorly-feigned devotion. He ignored her.
"Michael Young!" He beckoned to me. I stood, and he shook my hand firmly. "So good to see you, my man! Can you believe it?" He winked at me. "What odds roll in our favor?"
"I'm surprised, I admit, to see you, sir." I smiled back. If Harold King was in charge around here, the job was mine. My mind wandered to thoughts of beautiful receptionists with no clothes on, for a moment. Then I thought of my wife.
"Come in, come in," he waved me into a large, plush office that looked more like a cozy living room than a place of business. "I so rarely use this particular office," he admitted, "so it may not be up to the standards you were expecting." I neglected to point out that I slept underneath rusted pipes that hung from my ceiling. I simply found my seat in front of the big desk.
King dropped his massive weight on the chair behind it, and put his feet up. "I believe an explanation is due?" He winked.
"I am curious," I smiled. "Congratulations, by the way."
"Why thank you," he said. "The thing is, when it became clear that we were going to die a slow, aching death at the old place, I contacted ColCorp about making a deal. An acquisition of our size would put them above their biggest rival, and ensure domination for them. For now. I knew they would pay well." He poured two whiskeys, and handed one to me. "But the thing is, I understood on some level that power was going to mean more, in this new country of ours, and so instead of a large cash payment I requested a position of great influence in this company. I got it," he chinked his glass against mine in toast, "and spent the next year and a half maneuvering myself very near the top." He tilted his head, pleased with himself. "And now I have the ability to offer you employment once more."
I sipped my drink. I hadn't tasted whiskey in over a year. Maybe that was a good thing. "That's very kind, sir. I am grateful. But this company is....well....why me?"
He put his feet down, leaned forward, and acted like he hadn't heard my question. "How are things at home, Michael? Still married to that wonderful woman?"
"Tabby?" I asked, looking around the room at the varying expenses and trinkets. He rarely uses this office. "I am. She's the love of my life."
He grunted. "Did you see my pretty thing out there?"
"I did. She's very young."
His distinctly Asian features folded in a grin. "Seventeen!" It was a boast. "But merely entertainment, you understand. The thing is," he suddenly looked very serious, and not particularly friendly, "women can have a good many uses."
It was a strange moment, brought on by a strange statement. I fumbled for words. "Do...would you like to see my resume, sir?" I held it out.
He plucked it up and tore it in two. "Don't be silly, Michael. I'm not hiring you for your accounting abilities." He watched me over the rim of his glass as he finished his drink on one, swift gulp.
"I don't understand." My pride was hurt, but mostly I was getting nervous.
"The thing is, Michael..." he picked at something in his teeth, "I have always wanted a large family. Now, my ex-wife was sterile, and my life is getting late rather swiftly. I have acquired much, and I wish to have many dozens of children to share it with."
"Hm." He poured himself another drink.
"That's a lot of children," I said carefully, and ignored a sudden urge to get out of this place.
"It is a lot, yes." He sipped his whiskey. "But then women who are lucky enough to have the privilege of receiving my genes should be very grateful, I should think."
He said nothing for a moment, as though expecting me to respond. Then he handed me a contract.
"Sign it," he said. "It guarantees you employment opportunity here, with admittedly little room for promotion, but with a salary greater than your talents merit. I do not wish to insult," he waved his hand at my hurt look. "I only wish for you to understand that as good a man as you are, your talents alone do not earn this job."
"Then what am I good for?" I asked, flipping through the more than twenty page document.
"Isn't it obvious?" He gulped the last of his drink. "I'm going to get your wife pregnant."
I sat frozen only for a moment. Then I stormed for the door. King must have pushed a button, or something, because two ridiculously large corporate police thugs met me there. They gripped my arms painfully and lifted me up. I wasn't dumb enough to struggle, and was quickly brought back to my seat.
"Thank you gentlemen," King smiled. "You have the address and description, I believe?"
"We do, sir," one said. He was a massive black man, who made King look short and looked to be strong enough to lift us both with one arm.
"Excellent. The address is this young man's apartment. The description is of his wife. Find her and collect her. And gentlemen," he waved a finger, "she is not to be harmed any more than is needed to collect her. Have your fun elsewhere."
"Yes, sir." They left.
"You son of a bitch!" I spat at him.
"No," he stood up, "you are the son of a bitch. A stupid, stupid man who couldn't smell opportunity if it shat on his face. And now look at you....all you have to offer is your wife's ass." He grunted. "Consider this: I have been collecting the varying women who will have my children in much the same fashion I am doing now. Young desperate men who need work, who have beautiful wives. I know what I'm doing. If you refuse, my friend, you will be dead in less than twelve hours, and your wife will be given to my police force, for their own use. If you consent, you will both live a life of relative luxury and happiness, together. The only downside is that your wife will be available to me, whenever and however I choose, for as long as it takes. Once she is pregnant, the two of you will be contractually obligated to raise the child and care for it according to a set of predesignated rules. But once the pregnancy occurs, your wife's time as my concubine is at an end."
"We were friends," I whispered, deflated.
"We are friends, Micheal," he smiled. "Or I would be offering a great deal less money. Tell me this," he walked around to my side of the table and sat on the desk. "Is the offer really so bad? Is it worse than your life now? How long can you hold out before...what is her name, again?"
"Ah, yes. You call her Tabby. How long before Tabby is sucking dick or dancing on a pole just so you can eat, Michael? How long before there's no choice left?"
"Not long," I consented.
"No, not long at all, I should think. So here I am offering you a much less terrifying thought. One man, not dozens, and for a finite period of time. And instead of living in that shithole you will be a part of this glorious company. All in all, a much happier outcome, yes?"
"Yes," I wanted to cry.
"Then will you agree?"
"Tabitha never will."