The Man Who Sold the World
The man is unsure. He doesn’t know what to do. Nobody knows they’ve contacted him. Nobody knows they’ve made him an offer. If he declines nothing will happen. Things will keep going as they have been. The gears of life will continue to grind. Day to day. Month to month. The struggle – trying to make it all come together. The lying awake at night. The having enough but never more. If he declines their offer nothing will happen. Nothing has been happening for a long time.
But if he accepts. If he accepts, then all of his dreams will come true. They’ve offered him riches, buckets of money and generous profit sharing. They’ve offered him a doorway into the future, the freedom to explore vast new worlds. And all they want is this one. This world and everything in it. He will meet with them at four PM. He has three hours to decide.
He stops in at a local dive. A hole in the wall bar down by the port. The kind of establishment that survives thanks to a small exclusive clientele who drink away half of every paycheck. The carpet is old and threadbare, covered in stains and burn marks. It is a patchwork of mottled grays and black. It may have been blue at one point but it’s now impossible to tell. A couple of view screens hang from the wall, relaying the propaganda of politico conglomerates. The bar is lined with denizens of the port district. Despondent creatures of varying size, shape and color. None of them can care less if he sells the world. But they are not why he comes to these no name bars down by the port. He comes for the view.
He watches through the dirty windows at the front of the bar as the ships arrive and depart, loading and unloading vast and foreign cargos. Crews disembark for much-needed shore leave. They will skip the little no-name bars in favor of establishments with more exotic and carnal fare. They have a short time before they must board their ships and leave this planet. He sees them heading to distant solar systems; mining colonies on far away asteroid belts; planets in other galaxies. More than anything he wants to get on one of those ships and see where it will take him. But he has a meeting at Four o’clock.
He orders a whiskey & Coke and a hamburger. The drink is good, the burger isn’t. He leaves most of it uneaten on the disposable plate. He orders another drink and then turns from the window to make a thorough inspection of the clientele. In the far corner, visible through a haze of smoke and vapor fumes and the remnants of hallucinogens sits a group of strange creatures he has never seen before. They’re humanoid in shape, with dark grey skin that reminds him of a dolphin out of water. They have no ears or noses that he can see and only a thin slit for a mouth. Where their eyes might be there is a strip of waving cilia wrapping around their heads. He figures those are chemical sensors but he doesn’t take the time to find out. On another day he would. He would find out everything he could about this new race. Who they are, where they come from. That’s what he does. That’s his job. But if he accepts their offer what’s the point. These new arrivals will likely be swept aside, consigned to the void and the realm of non-existence. They’ll disappear without a trace.
Lots of things will disappear. He knows this. He knows what they’ll do. They don’t like their worlds to be cluttered. They don’t like them to be overly complex. Better to keep it simple, whittle everything down to the lowest common denominator. There will be deletion and erasure. Of that, he has little doubt.
He pays for his half-eaten hamburger and his drinks and leaves. The sun is blinding after the dim interior of the bar. He fumbles his sunglasses onto his face and inhales deeply. The warm afternoon air clears his head and he decides to take a train to the meeting. Trains always help him think. The steady jostling of the seats as the world flies by allows his subconscious to peek through and tell him what he really thinks. On his way to the station, he passes a large glass window with a glowing neon XXX sign.
Jovalian pleasure houses will almost certainly disappear if he accepts their offer. Even if they aren’t prudes they’re still prone to censorship, and the Jovalians are the most sexually explicit creatures in the known universe. The pleasure houses offer depraved, hedonistic experiences. The Jovalians will not survive if he accepts. From the grate at his feet comes the clicking sound of a commune of Grek. The Grek live in the sewers. They’re an ugly race with little in the way of culture. He wonders if they, too, will vanish.
He boards the train on its elevated tracks and is greeted by a view of the city sprawling across the surface of the planet, distant buildings blurred by a haze of smog and ozone. Someone long ago named it the City of Angels. The name stuck. In between the skyscrapers, mag leves climb into the upper atmosphere, ferrying people and goods up to waiting orbital platforms. Jet trails crisscross the sky and below them he sees gliders and air cars zipping over the city.
No one else on the train looks out the window. They’re all fixed on the glowing screens in their palms or staring ahead at the information that flies across the lenses of their smart glasses. None of them see the city. None of them see the two air cars collide and plummet towards the ground, safety foam enveloping the vehicles and hardening into protective shells as they fall. He wonders, not for the first time, why he should even care. These people don’t give a damn about the vast intricacies of life. They don’t comprehend the subtle references and metaphors spread throughout the world. These people care only for what is bright and shiny and new.
The train arrives downtown and he departs, unnoticed by his fellow passengers. They stare blankly at digital imagery, ignoring the world around them. He makes his decision and heads for the building which houses their local offices. The building is coated in a solid sheet of black glass. It reflects everything, a mirror into another, darker, version of the world. It rises into the sky like the obelisk of an ancient civilization with long forgotten gods. And inside lies the future.
Their offices are on the 67th floor. The woman in the lobby says they’re expecting him. He is ushered into a conference room that looks exactly like a conference room should. There is a long mahogany table in the middle of a carpeted floor. The table is surrounded by black leather chairs. He can’t tell if the leather is real or fake. He doesn’t care. Windows run floor to ceiling along one of the walls. Through them he can see the world in all its vastness. Ships fly out of the port heading for deep space. The towering buildings of inter-planetary corporate giants are adorned in massive logos, like the livery of ancient nobility. Millions of people from dozens of planets live their lives in the slums below. Their stories take place in deep shadows where no one but him and those like him can see. Most of those stories will never be told.
There are three of them in room with him. Plastic men with flawless tans, slicked back hair, and designer suits. They all smile the same smile, showing perfect bleached white teeth. They open their mouths and say a great deal of nothing.
“Mr. Wright. So glad you could make it.”
“Can we get you anything? A latte perhaps?”
“We’re all very excited about this.”
“The beginning of a long and profitable relationship.”
“We have a number of great ideas for some minor revisions.”
“Focus group feedback all shows…”
“The studio is ramping up for production.”
“Some really big name talent.”
“All very exciting…”
He ignores them as he walks around the desk. The contract lies open to the signature page. He picks up the silver pen which rests beside it. The pen likely costs more than many people make in a day. He sets it back down and pulls a ten cent BIC from his pocket. Without looking at the plastic men he signs and dates the contract before walking back to the window. The plastic men say more of nothing.
“…and congratulations Mr. Wright.”
“…a big day for you.”
“..about a thing from here on out.”
“…have the greatest respect for what you do as an artist.”
“…only minor changes.”
“…keep you on as a consultant.”
He ignores all of this as well. His attention is on the world outside. Already it begins to fade. The mag leves which rise between the buildings like a giant cable to the heavens, go limp and slowly collapse. The ships exiting the atmosphere bound for distant moons break apart into clouds of dust. The millions of off- worlders living in the slums have their lives snuffed out in the blink of an eye, their stories erased before they are told. The Jovailian pleasure houses are swallowed up by censorship and the Gek are lost to the disinterest of some focus group. He is left looking out at a desolate and forlorn landscape.
He stands there, staring at the drab L.A. skyline. Smog still hangs above the buildings. Planes can be seen in the sky overhead – but nothing else. The traffic in the streets below moves at a crawl. Even though he is on the 67th floor behind thick glass, he can almost hear the honking horns and screaming curses of the drivers. Paper and plastic litter the gutters. Endless lines of empty water bottles trail through the landscape and everyone knows what Kanye and Kim are doing. He has just sold his world, and now, he is left with this one. He begins to despair.
And then he sees a dragon. It’s scaling the cliff face of one of the skyscrapers. Where the mag leves used to rise, iron woods begin to grow. The giant sentinel trees climb towards the sun, dwarfing the buildings which surround them. Their roots spread outwards through the city, creating warrens and wooden caverns where new races burst into being. There is magic here. A new world is being born. There will be much to explore and even more to create. It will take a long time. He smiles. This is what he and his kind do. They create worlds. Hopefully, he won’t have to sell this one to pay the bills.