The planet is overwrought, overcrowded, and overcooked. Now the world looks to one, final summit of the world’s most powerful people to save humanity. Then this guy gets invited…
Professor Magnus Adams has failed at literature, at love, and, it seems, at life. After inexplicably receiving an invitation to a gathering of the world’s most influential one-percenters, he finds himself harassed by anonymous text messages from someone who seems to know his most shameful secrets. Against the backdrop of a Trumpian world sliding into irrevocable catastrophe, Magnus grapples with technocrats and terrorists, cosmic horror and crushing hangovers as he tries to discover the identity of his tormentor. But little does Magnus know that there’s much more at stake than his precarious sanity.
|Publisher:||Common Deer Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
Andrew Rimas lives with his wife and children in Massachusetts. He is the co-author , with Evan D.G. Fraser, of two non-fiction books :Beef: The Untold Story of How Meat, Milk, and Muscle Shaped the WorldEmpires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations
Read an Excerpt
The Royal Wheatleigh Jumeirah Banyan Resort & Conference Center
THERE ARE EIGHT billion people on the planet today. Tomorrow, there will be eight billion minus one. Or there will be zero. The difference depends, in the next few hours, on a solitary digit, a decimal of a decimal, a mathematical jot.
One person over eight billion seems, by any reasonable arithmetic, lopsided. If you write it out as a fraction, it takes about six seconds to sketch all the denominator's little circles, trailing it out like a child's drawing of a googly caterpillar.
1 / 8,000,000,000
And the single stroke for the numerator takes nothing at all.
I entered this equation on a winter morning three weeks ago when I opened a box of cherrywood and white satin and lifted out a black tablet embossed with the logo of the Anfort Foundation. It hummed to life and requested the honor of my presence at seven o'clock in the evening on December 28, in the Palm Courtyard of the Royal Wheatleigh Jumeirah Banyan Resort & Conference Center.
Of course, I thought it was a mistake. But when I clicked the contact link, a voice assured me the invitation was genuine.
"Mr. Anfort approved each name personally," said the voice — female, Asian-inflected, proprietary software. "Is there anything more I can do for you today, Professor Adams?"
There was not. The invitation's digital concierge already knew enough about me to select a room with a view of the pool instead of one of the golf course, and to order the short rib entrée at the gala dinner. All I needed to do was confirm my preferred seat on the flight, aisle 9B, two checked bags included, and allow a minimum of six hours for airport security screening. The World Summit on Progress and Reconciliation thanked me for my kind response.
On the airplane, I opened my antique laptop to revise the notes for my committee sessions. They were based, mostly, on the research I had been grudgingly picking at over the course of the past twenty years — a general theory on Western literary thought. But as I looked at the words on the white screen, I felt an almost dyslexic blur, with the letters swimming out of their typeface into amorphous schools of tadpoles and twirls. I closed my device and shut my eyes.
Charles Anfort knew my name. And he knew it well enough to summon me to the most exalted summit since Olympus. It didn't make sense.
The airplane beeped a sing-song chime. Behind me, I heard the clink of the trolley from the steerage section. In the forward galley, a flight attendant, her mouth tight in concentration, dropped heavy red raspberries into flutes of fizzing prosecco. She looked all business, from her blonde, sensible hair-bun to her broad, sensible bottom. Below the sleeves of her jacket, I could see her forearms striped and wrinkled with bruises and brown burns. Scars, probably, from a life of scalding coffee, hot trays, and turbulence. A worker's scars. In the seat beside me, a trim black gentleman in a cashmere jacket dozed in silence.
I picked up the tablet one more time, running my finger over the Anfort Foundation's familiar logo: a lotus flower with thirteen petals. It was the mark of Charles Anfort, Sultan of Silicon Valley, the multi-billionaire with granny glasses and a wood rat's haircut. The man was a legend — or, rather, he was the legend. He had lived the hero's journey of our time. Act One: a banal boyhood in Boise, college fizzle, supreme self-regard against all evidence to the contrary, and the inkling of an idea that lay, like a golden key, just out of sight of everyone else on earth. Act Two: adulthood, the first tech venture and the years of Hobbes and Darwin, enemies defeated and allies betrayed, the temptation of settling for an easy buyout, an act of hubris, a very public fall. Act Three: redemption, earthly glory, riches beyond the dreams of Mammon, the purchase of starlets, spaceships, land masses, and the corpse of Steve Jobs. Act Four: respectability, the purchase of ideas and institutes, clinics and water treatment plants, handshakes with the pope, the eradication of malaria, rumors of a private moon base.
And now the curtain rises on Act Five. The planet is buzzing about something called the World Summit for Progress and Reconciliation — W.S.P.R. I first heard of it six months ago when the press breathlessly pronounced that "Whisper" would be "the greatest congregation of thought leaders in history." Catchphrases took root and, within days, the media bloomed with hope: "Whisper is going to reset the clock," "Whisper will update humanity's operating system," "Whisper is Ground Zero for the future." And, most memorably, "Whisper will heal the world."
So I found myself seated, for the first time in my life, in the front of the plane. Charles Anfort had plucked me from my forgotten basement at Rothbard College to sit on Whisper's "Committee on the Human Condition."
"This can't be real," said the dean when I handed her the invitation. "I don't mean to be dismissive, Magnus, but don't you think it's a prank? Maybe Jerry in Technical Services? He doesn't like you."
"No. I RSVP'd, and they confirmed my flight. It's hard to believe, but this is real."
She shook her head and gently passed back the tablet, as if it might scald my fingers. "I don't get it, then. No offense, really, but why on earth would they pick you of all people?"
"I haven't the faintest idea," I said. "I've been trying to figure that out since the damn thing arrived. Wait, Jerry doesn't like me?"
"Do you think they meant to send it to someone else?"
"Only if there's another Magnus Adams in the Digital Humanities Cluster at Rothbard College."
No doppelgängers, however, emerged from the particleboard woodwork of the faculty lounge. The real oddity was that the name Magnus Adams wasn't even well-known in the prescribed circles of academia. My published work had, since I launched my half-baked theory of literature years ago, dried into a trickle and was now more of a sucking wound.
I had squandered years of energy on the works of a minor school of 19-century Romantics called the Naysayers. It wasn't a popular subject, even if their leader, a disreputable poet named Nicholas Crooke (d. 1848), had always enjoyed a modest vogue among addicts and suicides. Crooke didn't count as an important writer, or even a notably good one. He had an uneven grasp of meter. His images had the habit of melting into incoherence. But his drug binges had inspired many imitators and he had always touched a nerve with a specialty readership. A few of his poems consistently showed up in high school anthologies, namely, the juvenile, "Waking Did I Spy a Crow," and the unnerving "Succoth." But hardly anyone bothered reading his challenging material, best represented by the narrative cycle, Songs of Ivory and Horn. Sadly for my job prospects, this indifference carried over into the parched and thorny field of Crooke scholarship. It was barren ground on which a career might die.
Certainly, I never imagined Charles Anfort might count himself among the initiated. Perhaps he didn't. Perhaps, as the dean suspected, my invitation to the summit had all been a huge mistake.
Still, I dug my passport from out of a sock drawer and packed my two good suits into my one good suitcase. Two weeks later and 35,000 feet upwards, I reopened my laptop and scrolled through the latest news headlines:
HURRICANE ZIGGY CASUALTIES TOP ONE MILLION
GERMAN CHANCELLOR VISITS SOUTHERN FRONT: "NO ONE IS A CIVILIAN"
RAPTURE TERRORISTS CLAIM DALLAS/FT. WORTH "SUPER EBOLA" ATTACK
GLOBAL ELITE GATHER FOR HISTORIC WORLD SUMMIT FOR PROGRESS AND RECONCILIATION
"Would you care for a refreshment, sir?" said the flight attendant. The man in the window seat roused himself from his meditations.
"Just a club soda, thanks," he said in an undiluted Dublin lilt. He was perhaps ten years younger than me, and several magnitudes less rumpled. Even his shoes looked sleek and gleaming, like fresh-sloughed snakes.
"Of course. And you, sir?"
I accepted a jot of whiskey. As our attendant arranged the drinks, the moment balanced between silence and the hesitation of first speech. Then the man cleared his throat and tipped the scales into conversation.
"It's got a pleasing look to it, that stuff," he said, nodding at my plastic tumbler. "Water of life, sunshine on barley and all that. But I can't abide the taste. I suppose color isn't everything." He laughed.
"Where in Ireland are you from?" I said.
"Lagos. But me mam was Dublin born and bred, and I boarded at Blackrock College with the Holy Ghost Fathers. The name's Jack. Jack Lekhanya."
"Magnus Adams." We shook hands.
"Great name, Magnus. Who gave it to you?"
"It's sort of vestigial. My mother's family is Minnesota Swedish."
"Well, that's highly exotic of them. I see you're a guest of Mr. Anfort's?" Jack nodded at the tablet peeking out of my carry-on, and I felt a flash of embarrassment. I had perhaps been too eager to flaunt it in public view.
"Yes. Sorry. I didn't really mean to ..."
"Not at all. I got a golden ticket as well." He fished an identical tablet out of his satchel. "I'm with the U.N. in New York. Mostly, I mess around with computer models trying to predict stuff about rice and soybeans and potatoes. At the summit, they have me on the Agriculture and Fisheries Committee."
"I'm with the Committee on the Human Condition."
"Well that's a fine thing, to be sure. So how is the human condition these days?"
"I suppose the committee ought to figure that out."
He chuckled. "There's precious little hope of that, Magnus, unless you already have the answers up your sleeves."
"Fair point," I conceded, but I didn't want to get drawn into discussing the inconsequence of my work. "I guess most people in my business would say that the human condition is the same as it's always been. Maybe a little faster and louder is all."
"We have better stuff."
"Oh, yes. But our condition is still the usual mess. First we're born mewling and puking, then we whine like schoolboys."
"'And then the lover sighing like a furnace, with a woeful ballad made to his mistress's eyebrow.' Sure, I remember my Shakespeare. Seven stages of man. Fifth form, Mr. Peters's class. Grand stuff, that. I can still recite Macbeth's dagger speech word for word."
"Very impressive. But you must know all about the state of humanity," I said, volleying the subject back into his court. "They say we are what we eat, no?"
Jack chuckled and launched into a yarn about falling global production of millet and water tables in northern China. "It's a challenge," he said. "But every problem has a solution. It's just a matter of getting people to think rationally."
I couldn't help but laugh, but then I noticed his rueful smile. "Oh, you were serious," I said.
"I'm afraid so. Generally speaking, I'd say it's in the social interest not to starve everyone to death. What Adler called gemeinshaftsgefuel. It's not like the world's inhabited entirely by lunatic monsters."
"You and I have clearly been watching different news stories," I said.
As the airplane slipped toward pale veins of sunrise, I remembered the first time I encountered a line of Nicholas Crooke's, scrolling through an outdated literature compendium as a boy, my blood inked with longing. The line read, "Fell dreams rake o'er the yielding clay of thought." This seemed a reasonable encapsulation of disquiet, and it echoed with me then on the plane as Jack snored lightly, a silk eye-mask shielding his slumber from the wink of the lavatory sign.
Fell dreams. I trawled through a stream of troubles and regrets, my thoughts catching on stubs of recollection. Faces, names, dates. Over the years, I had cordoned off whole sweeps of my cortex, purposefully committing these memories to darkness. But on that flight I drifted loose, touching on events that, like torn canvases, my past left spoiled and ripped. Then, floating up to the surface, I succumbed to a swarm of mundane niggles: unwritten papers, undialed calls, unkept doctor's appointments, the unpaid bill for my cognac-of-the-month club.
We landed some eight hours later. The glassy, gargantuan airport terminus reminded me of another line of Crooke's: "Black shadows spring from brightest light." From the porthole, I glimpsed rows of sand-dappled tanks lurking on the tarmac.
"Ladies and gentlemen, you may turn on your devices," said the flight attendant. "The local time is 6:22 am, and the outside temperature is currently thirty-four degrees Celsius with highs expected in the low forties. We hope you've enjoyed your journey with us today. On behalf of your entire flight crew, it has been our pleasure to serve you." Her cantillation ended in a crackle.
As we stewed in our seats, Jack telephoned friends, coworkers, and business contacts, volubly pleased to speak with them. I reread a batch of old emails. After an hour or two, the door clunked ajar, and we wrestled with the luggage bins. Stomping up the gangplank, we trudged quietly past ranks of masked soldiers lining the concourse. I could see the passengers' reflections in the soldiers' visors — us, bleary and greasy in nightsweat; them, silent in black Kevlar. Their dogs wore matching armor, straining their nostrils but otherwise sitting still, inhaling the instinct to lunge.
Security only thickened past Customs and Immigration, with the terminal in a state of frantic, noisy alert. Loudspeakers barked, SWAT teams beetled across the mezzanine, and armored troop carriers shuddered and gusted in the handicapped parking spaces. Above, the hot daylight chugged with helicopters.
"They're not messing around," said Jack, appearing beside me. "Do you think this is all on account of us?"
"I guess so. There are some pretty big names showing up at the summit. They must think Rapture is going to pull something."
"Of course they are. Those bastards would be mad to miss the chance. What's the guest list now? Sixty heads of state, all the richest people on Earth, Mickey Mouse, and the Blessed Virgin herself?" Then a swirl of liveried attendants stripped my suitcase away, and I found myself shunted into a gleaming black Otto car.
I had never been in such a luxurious model, a cocoon of creamy leather and polished black screen, the seats thrumming with haptic sensors, rollers, and massaging nubs. The instant the door clicked shut, the Otto welcomed me by name and peeled away from the curb. In seconds, it was speeding through a blur of colorless haze and concrete. Before the windows darkened to shield my eyes, I saw that, outside, the world looked overlit and overcooked.
We skimmed through concrete and dust-clouds for about an hour while I scanned a touchscreen for any news containing the words "Rapture," "World Summit," and "death toll." Nothing came up. Then I felt the car slow to about 90 miles per hour. From the tinted backseat window, I could see a gate like a monolith of black graphene in a 40-foot wall crowned with curls of razor wire. A camouflaged tank sat, idling lazily, by a candy- striped security post. We slowed down as the gate swung open, exposing a brilliance of green.
"We will be arriving in a moment," said the Otto. "I hope you've had a pleasant journey, Mr. Adams." Then it snaked along a red-brick road framed by fronds and creepers. I glimpsed bursts of emerald quetzals and expressionist macaws, as well as an outrageous flamingo in a patch of roadside ooze. We swung under a cyclopean limestone portico, a rough primeval ruin like the entrance of Mycenae or Jotunheim, but with security cameras and floodlights roosting in its nooks. The car door clicked open.
"Thanks," I said, stepping into a wash of searing whiteness that felt like being doused in hot bleach. The air shimmered with heat and petroleum exhaust. My stubby suitcase in tow, I plunged through a set of revolving doors, into the chill of the resort's Great Pavilion.
At once, cool air peeled the shirt away from my swampy back, and I smelled cherry blossoms on a tickling breeze. The lobby was enormous and put me in mind of one of Crooke's happier laudanum binges. A giant silicon dome blazed with starlight, brighter than a cloudless sky over a mirror-calm sea. Red-tailed comets and plumed serpents drifted through the stars like trails of bright vapor. Underneath, hologram butterflies and fire- winged swallows flitted and fell in golden shimmers among the hundreds of guests pooling around the reception stations. At eye-level, VR screens mimicked an enveloping landscape of spruce trees sighing on breezy grass slopes, while angel voices murmured, in every major commercial language, about a special credit card offer for premier level guests. A wispy young woman in a white sheath dress appeared in my path.
"Yes, that's me."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The End Note"
Copyright © 2019 Andrew Rimas.
Excerpted by permission of Common Deer Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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