At the war room door, they were met by a bloated four-star general who tried to block their way with his bulk and a golden cross he held up at them as if they were vampires. Not only a damn bigwig but a Christer as well! The old soldier’s spring-loaded fist shot out 10 feet and sent the fat man, who was about five feet away at the point of impact, flying back into the war room, bowling over a dozen others. There were a few uniformed toughs to deal with, but the room was mostly packed out with top brass, notorious cowards who preferred to fight their wars from rooms like this, together with a few loose women and the customary clique of sleazebag politicos and corporate magnates getting their kicks out of the casualty numbers. They were quickly rounded up and herded into the war room’s on-site pet kennels, there to await their opportunity to test out some of the president’s famous inventions. Were some of them owners? They would find out.
The whole mortally damaged world was on view in the war room, shrunk onto an encircling and overarching panoply of multitudinous screens, a flickering patchwork of markets and market disturbances on nervous display. Old-fashioned pinpricked wall maps flagged the main action, with clouds of ashen spray paint indicating the dead and dying parts of the earth. You feel like you own the whole world in here, said the airman, except that it’s not so much the world as a fucking video game. What other world is there? the wizard asked, taking control of the array of touchscreens and keyboards. The marksman noted that the wizard seemed to know his way around the place. In the old days, I used to operate my drones and killbots from rooms like this, he said. A buddy of mine got zapped by one of those drones that went astray, said the blind ranger. Did you do that on purpose? The wizard shrugged but didn’t answer.
Once the wizard had things up and running, they informed the president that he was to order the removal of all the gold in the national treasury to another location. They chose a warehouse in a river town in the middle of the country where the poor lived, including an abundance of old soldiers out of work and luck. People would get wind of it, they knew, and it wouldn’t last long. Then they ordered him to sink all the ships, destroy all military aircraft and stockpiled weapons, and send the troops home. I can’t do that! the president cried. Waterboard him, said the old soldier. Give him half a bottle of schizoid pills, inject him with asthma and sinusitis, and use his own patented deep-throat techniques. I can do it, the president said with a sigh. But we’ll be at the mercy of all the rest of the world. No, we won’t, said the wizard, gleaming steel head down over the console and fingers racing. I’m taking care of that right now. If you dismantle all the armed forces, the airman asked, what will happen with all those unemployed people? I don’t know, the old soldier said. Should be interesting.
The world just went off the gold standard, the wizard announced, and its value has dropped to that of tin. Tough luck for those riverside folks. A couple of central African countries have been invaded, so cobalt may be the next marker. Or else scandium; someone just bought Madagascar. I thought they already owned all those things, the blind ranger said. This is a game, the wizard said. There’s more than one “they.” There’ll be arguments and saber rattling. Another opportunity to shoot each other and use up more of the world’s stuff. And people, the old soldier said. Like I said, said the wizard, the world’s stuff. These corporate teams are into some kind of nihilistic apocalyptic endgame with each other and are probably reveling in these new developments, as it was what they were aiming for all along. I’ll see what I can do to spread some disinformation and rattle the markets, shake a few of them out onto the streets. I’ve knocked out a few space stations and—ah, I think they’ve figured out where we are. They probably want to nuke us, but their aircraft are all grounded, all drones and bots except the ones I’m driving have been disabled, and I’ve hacked their computerized missile guidance systems and boomeranged them, so if they fire them, they’ll be blowing themselves up instead of us. Watch the monitors. Indeed, there was a lot of action there, not all of it pretty, and on the maps, which turned out to be digital whiteboards with drifting virtual 3-D pins, the cadaverous patches were spreading. There was a 3-D pin, blinking red, in the national capital. You’ve still got drones in the air? the old soldier asked. Sure, the wizard said. Since we have only a dim idea of who the other players are, personality strikes are difficult, but I’ve been able to use the whole robotic arsenal for signature strikes, targeting persons in the same uniforms, in this case business suits. My old man wore a business suit, the old soldier said, and he didn’t own anything, not even the suit. You’ll be erasing a lot of innocent people. In war, the wizard said, there are no innocent people, only numbers—oh oh! Hang on! Some of the hacks have been repaired and I’m being locked out. There’s apt to be some stiff incoming. It’s time to decamp. Fast. Where will we go? asked the airman. You own the world, what’s left of it, go wherever you want, said the wizard, his head still down, fingers flying over screens and keyboards. I’ve located your accounts and loaded them with a few billion each. Spend it while money still buys things. What about you? the marksman asked. Nah, I love this game, said the wizard. His steel head was shining, seemed almost to be perspiring. Best I was ever in. I’m staying to play it out.
At the door, the old soldier, wondering if the wizard was chasing them off to have the game to himself, turned back to take a last look at the whiteboard with its spreading ashen splotches. Old mother earth is putrefying, he said. What’ll we do with her remains, cremate them? Already done that, said the masked woman, guiding the ranger out the door by the elbow. So after the game is over, the marksman asked, will there be anything left? Sure, the wizard said from his console. The corporate logos. They’re indestructible. Like cockroaches.