Previous Excerpt: Kill Order
It took a moment for Daniel's eyes to adjust. A massive fire roared in the large hearth, so distended with propellant and chemical and mineral incense that it burned in a rainbow of many colors and gave off a bewildering mixture of scents. He could make out a massive desk strewn with packets and powders and still-smoking fumedants, but there was no sign of President King. A high-backed leather chair faced the back wall. Daniel waited a moment, but the pressure in his lungs grew too much, and he reluctantly drew a breath. A cloud of smoke billowed from the chair, and it slowly turned to face him.
President Chadwick Octavian Reginald King squinted from behind drooping eyelids. His puffy lips lay slack around a burning “fumer,” which glowed brightly as the substance inside slowly burned away. The light from the fire reflected off the shiny trail of mucous left under his nose. His hair hung in limp, greasy locks from his head. His hands shook from the number of drugs coursing through his bloodstream.
The cigarette dropped from his mouth, and he stared at the figure before him. In a low, rasping voice, he spoke.
“I haven’t slept for three nights, did you know that?” He stopped with a chuckle that ended up more like a choking, rheumy cough. “Three nights, and the same cursed dream. I'm even starting to have visions of it when I am awake.” He flopped back in his chair with all the muscular control of a rag doll, and drew a long breath. “So unless you can say what no one else has--”
“Mr. King,” Daniel cut in, fighting to keep his presence of mind in the heady cloud of scents. “No technician, or dream specialist, or mystic, or psychiatrist can both tell you what you dreamed, and tell you its meaning.” The eerie eyes watched him quietly as Daniel continued, his voice getting stronger with each phrase. “But I am here to say that there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries so profound the human mind cannot even begin to conceive of them, much less a machine invented by human minds. It is this same God who has revealed to you, by your dream, a glimpse into the future of this company and the companies to come after it.” The mere mention of God in that dark, foul-smelling place seemed to invite a gust of fresh wind from some unseen quarter. Daniel felt much better as he drew another breath to launch into his presentation.
“Mr. King, I will now tell you the dream that has robbed you of your sleep for these last three nights.
As you lay in your bed, you were thinking about the future of Byblos Corporation, and--since we are at the height of our efficiency and the balance of profit--what the company might pursue in the coming years. Not even the most comprehensive prediction machine or any of those who claim to consort with the spirit world could ever tell you what would happen should Byblos ever fail--but I stand before you, able to do just that, not because of any superpower or any other kind of power I have beyond the limits of average human logic, but in order that you may know what it means, and to ease the confusion of your mind so that you can have the rest that has been denied you since the first time you dreamed.” Daniel took another breath and forged ahead.
"As you stood on the edge of a cliff, overlooking a huge valley, a terrible statue appeared, stretching from the valley floor, high over your head into the sky. At first, it seemed to be a statue in the shape of a giant man, but the longer you looked, the more it seemed to shift and change. The head, made of gold, was at first a man, and then a lion, roaring with all its strength. The arms and chest, made of silver, transformed from human form to the arms and claws of a bear."
It may have been his eyes adjusting to the darkness even more, but as Daniel watched, he could distinguish more of President King's eyes; they had lost their glassy haze, and he was watching this new recruit sharply. He continued.
"Further down, the statue had the flanks and haunches of a leopard, and the iron hooves of a goat."
The leather chair squeaked as Chad King flopped back. "Yes!" He gasped. "Yes, that's it exactly! How did you do that?"
Daniel raised a finger. "But that's not all you dreamed."
Chad nodded vigorously, pushing back the lank hair from his face. "Yes, go on."
"As you were admiring the statue and marveling at the detail, you became aware of a large stone rolling from out of nowhere, and not removed by any machine or man-generated efforts; it was something—Someone—else that cut the stone. That stone collided with the enormous statue, and instantly, the whole structure disintegrated into fine powder."
Chad was still nodding as if his head would fall right off his neck. "Yes, it just—" he gestured the explosion with his hands.
"And once the powder scattered to the four winds, all that was left was the huge stone, and as you watched, it grew and expanded till it became one mountain that took over the whole surface of the Earth."
Chad sniffed noisily and wiped the sleeve of his plush robe across his face. His eyes were so wide, Daniel almost wondered if he was physically capable of blinking anymore. He stared, mouth gaping, until his eyes rolled in his head and he slumped back in his chair. Daniel waited a moment, a bit puzzled by the response. Had he passed out? A grin unfolded over the emaciated president's face, and he opened his eyes.
"It's gone!" He wheezed. "Holy Dagon, it's gone! Once you said exactly what the dream was, it disappeared out of my head!" He clapped his hands over his scalp with a huge sigh of relief. "Well?" He gestured impatiently at Daniel. "Go on, Benedict Shafer! Tell me what it means!"
Daniel took a deep breath. The words came easier now. "You are the lion, President King, and God has seen fit to cause your administration of Byblos to make it the most successful company in the world—but there will come a time when the reign of Byblos will end. Your headquarters will be absorbed by a smaller company from Nevada, and this one will be taken over by a company represented by the bronze leopard, from Arizona. Last of all, the iron goat hooves represents a company based in Utah that will completely overtake the three that came before it."
Chad's face had wilted over the course of this interpretation; the frown that had begun at the mention of the fall of Byblos only deepened when he listened to all the companies that would continue to absorb one another. "And what does the giant magic stone represent?" He demanded in a dangerous tone. He stubbed out the cigarette, but his elbow jogged a mound of powder dispensers, sending a reeking cloud into the air.
Daniel coughed and prayed that the substances wouldn't affect his system, but he finished his interpretation anyway.
"The stone is the ultimate community that will overtake all corporations around the world, will encompass all workforces of every nation, and it will change the face of employment forever, and there will be no more corporations. This, Mr. King, is the vision of the future that God has allowed you to see, and you can be absolutely certain that it will come to pass, in one way or another.”
As he finished speaking, Daniel noticed that the air, while still stiflingly hot, was not as heavy with the dizzying fumes; the flames had receded to gentle embers, and these were not the blazing, unnatural colors, but a gentle orange-golden glow. A digital tone signaled in the darkness, and the holoplast covers over the windows faded into transparency, allowing natural light to pour into the room.
Chad King sat with his eyes glued on the simple young man standing before him. Three days of every kind of dream recollection procedure known to man--and this young intern’s God had imparted every detail of the dream so vividly, that it felt like perhaps Daniel had experienced the same dream. Then, too, was the affirmation that the dream he saw did represent the future--how many fortune tellers could truly claim that? He knew their penchant for broad, general statements and vague predictions that pretended to foretell whatever eventually came to pass--but he, Chad King, had actually seen what was going to happen. True, it did say that Byblos would eventually fall… but that wouldn’t be in his lifetime, would it? Chad laid all this aside as he felt an incredible weight lifted off his shoulders. As he watched the sunlight drive away the shadows, it seemed as if he could really breathe again, after holding his breath for three days.
He stood up from his chair, feeling the soreness in his knees…. how long had he been sitting there? He blinked in disgust at the amount of drugs littering his desk, making him look like a junkie and not the president of the “most successful company in the world.” He came around the desk and took Daniel’s hand. He seemed to recall viewing that face several times in a personnel report somewhere… but he pushed that out of his mind for now. Daniel led him out of the office, and with every step, Chad felt a new strength enter his limbs. He saw the sunlight streaming, saw the fresh flowers, heard the soft twittering of the birds in his private aviary--
And in that moment, there were tears in his eyes.
Daniel wasn’t quite sure how to respond as President King suddenly threw his arms around him and sobbed on his shoulder like an addict coming very quickly off an especially powerful high--which, judging by the number of fumedants he had in his possession, was probably very true. Chad’s knees buckled, and he slid to a crumpled, kneeling position, still clinging to Daniel’s hands like a drowning victim.
“Thank you,” he sobbed brokenly, “thank you… Thank you, my savior!”
This was not at all the outcome Daniel had been expecting. “I’m not--”
“Yes, you are!” Chad jumped to his feet as some of the old, dynamic, charismatic leader returned to him. “You have saved me, and you have saved all of Byblos--this God of yours must be something amazing, if He can give you someone else’s dream and tell you the meaning like that! You have no idea how much I have wanted someone to be there for me, and do that. You have got to tell me all about Him!”
Daniel nodded, but Chad didn’t stop. “Here, come with me!” He brought Daniel over to a kiosk at the end of the hall. Placing his hand on the biometric scanner, he spoke into the microphone, “Chad King!”
The kiosk blinked and showed the symbol of an open lock. “ADMINISTRATIVE PRIVILEGES ACTIVATED,” said the kiosk. Chad grinned widely as he beckoned to Daniel, “Here, now you put your hand there,” he pointed to the glass surface.”
Reluctantly, Daniel complied. A bright laser scanned his hand, and the kiosk instructed, “PLEASE STATE ADMINISTRATOR’S NAME.” Daniel opened his mouth to announce the President’s name, but Chad whispered, “Now say your Byblos name!”
Thoroughly befuddled, Daniel announced, “Benedict Shafer.”
The kiosk blinked again, and showed two open locks. “VOICE KEY ACCEPTED; ADMINISTRATIVE PRIVILEGES ACTIVATED FOR BENEDICT SHAFER.” Daniel drew back his hand as if the scanner had delivered an electric shock. He looked at President King. “Sir--”
Chad shook his head. “Oh no, Benny-boy! We’re both administrators now; I’ve just made you Executive Director of Human Resources, and given you a chair on the Board of Directors. You must call me Chad, and you now have administrative authority in every department in the company having anything to do with personnel and employees. No more seeking out superiors and asking permission or finding your protocols changed and privileges revoked. Now you can make your own rules! You are the superior! We’re practically equals, you and I.” Chad clapped him on the back.
Daniel felt his skin grow cold, and his head became suddenly devoid of all rational thought. “I… I don’t know what to say!” He spluttered.
“It’s the least I can do, after what you’ve done for me!” Chad said to him as they arrived at the front door. “Go ahead and enjoy your new privileges, Ben. I’m sure you’ll have plenty to do!” Chad began to walk away, but Daniel didn’t leave immediately.
“Sir--I mean… Chad?” he called after him.
Chad turned immediately. “Yes?”
Daniel tried in vain to swallow the awkwardness as he formed his request, “I would like… I mean, if I wanted to… promote some of my friends, can I do that?”
Chad smiled magnanimously and winked. “As long as I am president of this corporation, you can do anything you want, Benedict.”
Aaron was the first to awaken at nearly four in the afternoon. His glass tablet blinked with a new message. He opened it, and saw that the same message had been sent to Harry and Mike as well.
“PLEASE REPORT TO THE EXECUTIVE OFFICE IMMEDIATELY UPON RECEIPT OF THIS MESSAGE,” it said. “YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED TO DINNER AT THE ADMINISTRATIVE LOUNGE.”
Harry and Mike awoke to the frantic sounds of Aaron fumbling around the room trying to find his best clothes. “Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap!”
Harry rubbed his eyes. “Whuzzat?” he slurred drowsily. A heavy sleep like the one he’d just had was difficult to emerge from.
“Check your tab!” Aaron called from the bathroom.
Both friends did so.
“Executive offices?” Harry blurted.
“Dinner at the Administrative lounge?” Mike repeated incredulously.
By then, Aaron was already dressed. “Get moving!” he told his friends.
By four-thirty, three very nervous, but neatly-dressed young men stood awkwardly in the foyer of the spacious lounge. The hostess emerged from the main dining area and beamed at them. “Shafer, party of four?” she asked.
The three friends looked at each other. The only Shafer they knew was Daniel’s Byblos name. Aaron glanced back at the hostess. “Yeah, we know Bene--”
“Follow me, please,” she said, leading them back down an exclusive hallway. She opened the door. “Your party is here, sir,” she announced to the person inside.
“Excellent!” Daniel’s voice gave them all a sense of relief. Harry, Mike, and Aaron wandered into the room.
In this private dining space, there was only one table, and only four chairs. One was occupied by their friend Daniel Princeton. He was neatly dressed in the fanciest charcoal-grey suit the boys had ever seen.
“What is going on?” Mike demanded suspiciously.
“Where did you sneak off to while we were sleeping?” Aaron wanted to know.
“And exactly how long were we asleep?” Harry looked around the opulent room in confusion.
Daniel grinned and gestured to the chairs. “Have a seat and let’s eat, boys. Order anything you like. We have a lot to discuss now that I’m the Human Resources Director for all of Byblos.”
All three dropped as one man.
“You’re what?” Aaron squeaked. “How?”
Daniel demonstrated for his friends how to activate the digital menu embedded in the table. “Order up and I’ll tell you. There'll be promotions for everybody today.”
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