The gold peak of the hundred-and-something-floor TKI obelisk stood five phallic stories — base shaft tip. Office and living quarters of the Heir. Base node of Dynasty: TKI Technologies; TKI Systems Subsidiaries; TKI Pharmaceuticals; TKI Chemicals; TKI Dereliction Deterrent Technologies (DDT); TKI Desktop Operating Systems; TKI PYRAMID Database. Root OS of Empire. Kit ’n caboodle. TKI Tower widest tallest hive of business in The City.
Plantman was summoned to work the indoor garden.
The Heir was nervous. So much beneath. Lawyers, advisors, accountants, managers, Vice-Presidents, researchers, workers, investors. The Business, from The Heir’s vantage, ran itself. Childlike, The Heir, forty-year-old kid. Fascinated, enchanted: power, technology. His companies. His Empire. The Heir on top of all.
The Preservation Project had been years in ferment. The Heir’s great-grand-father, grandfather, father, uncle, founders of the TKI Empire, frozen after death, shrunken preserved, to prove the technology ready. More than ready: Now.
Indian Museum the beginning. Marketed Preservation to The Nation. Citizens must part with dearly beloved no more. Compressed preserved indefinite. Showpieces for home. Heirlooms, possessions, dolls. Family. Family. Family.
“Party!” commanded The Heir.
Gawky, bespectacled Pharaoh.
Huge bare ballroom. White walls, white floor, white ceiling. Rotating projectors. The Heir signaled. Darkness entered, obedient, to dance with light, transforming the naked ballroom to a colorful, banquet crowded with celebrities dead-not-forgotten. Holograms. Simulacrum.. The virtual life.
Three-dimensional, electric ghosts, smoked, drank, exchanged ironic chatter with dry laughter. 3D motion graphics and design. Virtual cocktails in the bone-white ball-room, which was now bone-white no more, but a symphony of the millions of colors and gradients TKI Technologies had managed to synthesize from half a dozen dull, primary tones sucked from raw mist of analog rainbow.
“Go ahead, mingle,” The Heir commanded.
It occurred to Plantman that that was indeed the only thing for him to do, mingle. He had arrived to a bare white ballroom and was now in the midst of rare, exotic, beautiful plants that not only didn’t belong under the aegis of Topiary Techniques, but of any organic entity at all. As Horticultural Technician he was not responsible for light projections of The Heir’s machine, though TKI was indeed a client of Topiary Techniques with replaceable units — somewhere — on the premises of The TKI Obelisk.
So Plantman mingled. Long dead celebrities indulged in pleasant banter, drank phantom champagne, smoked spectral cigarettes. Grand old time. Introductions. Elegant hands proffered. Plantman reached. Grasped nothing. The tuxedoed “musicians” played Big Band Swing.
Plantman recognized a woman. Young. Difficult to reach. He could have sliced through the crowd. The famous “guests” were only, after all, light. Illusion. But protocol inhibited, constrained. Cleaving a crowd of even illusory celebrities would be considered rude, uppity, disrespectful. Phantoms possess consciousness? Or one program spawning and directing scores of “character” threads on a single TKI system? Surely The Heir would know?
But really The Heir knew so little of the vast, intricate, System of systems, mechanisms and mechanizations that powered the spidery realm beneath the pleasure-dome his mighty ancestors decreed.
Close enough at last, Plantman introduced himself to The Missing Girl, for it was she. Numinous facsimile. Plain white frock, no shoes…like the bride in the ad for Earn Cologne. Introduced herself as The Missing Girl.
“How can you be The Missing Girl if you’re here? You’re no longer Missing then, are you?” Plantman asked.
“That’s the kind of question asked by people with no manners. Rude people who don’t go out much, especially not to parties, because no one would invite them. Is that the problem? You’ve never been invited to a party?”
“Not like this one, no. I have not.”
But he had. The Network. The Castle. Souls of icons. Manipulated by many real — though unseen — people working many machines, while this party was administered by one machine. No purpose but amusement of The Heir.
“I am The Missing Girl so far as knowledge of The Missing Girl exists. Just data in the party machine. ‘Blips on chips.’ Why delve into my ME?”
“Just curious. Like everyone else in The Nation.”
“You’re Plantman. You should know better. There’s nothing I can say that you can’t look up and find on PYRAMID.”
“Then why are you here? In the diaphanous myth-flesh, so to speak?”
“A party is only as good as its atmosphere. You can’t experience me in my wholeness and beauty scouring PYRAMID, squinting at a screen. Here, I’m projected in three dimensions.”
“You’ve disappointed. Me. I’m depressed. I thought you were really her. Here. Possibly with something new to say,” said Plantman.
“I’m not here for your enjoyment, but The Heir’s. He’s lonely at The Tip — I mean, Top. When he does have guests, and entertains them with celebrity-packed parties such as this, most of them are grateful.”
“Of course they’re grateful. They’re projections of The Heir’s machine. They’re not guests, they’re home movies. I’m neither. I’m here to tend what lives…here.”
“Shhhh. The Heir must entertain.”
Hush the muffled crowd. All eyes dead and living focused center-room, where The Heir stood solemnly in shirt-sleeves. A flesh-blood servant balanced a tray of drinks. The Heir downed one after another. A second flesh-blood servant held a large pyramidal case. The Heir announced he’d entertain. A special trick prepared for his guests’ enlightenment and clean, salubrious thrills.
The heir “warmed up:” stretching, breathing, flexing. The Second Servant opened the case, removed the shrunken, preserved corpse of The Heir’s great-grandfather, founder of TKI, and passed it to The Heir. Next, remains of The Heir’s grand-father, father, uncle. Imperious somber in tiny suits. The Heir held his ancestors in his fists. The Phantom band struck up a carnival tune. The Heir juggled his uncle’s, father’s, father’s father’s, and father’s father’s father’s shrunken remains to the wonder and amusement of nearly 100 electric ghosts. Dexterity. Élan. His celebrity guests watched, rapt.
Plantman, despite his gut distaste for The Heir, was impressed that such an apparently witless man-child could possess the drive, concentration and talent to perfect such skill.
The Heir performed until the music stopped. Sweating, he bowed. Guests, the pseudo-Missing Girl, even Plantman erupted in hoots, cheers, whistles and applause. Like painted figures on the Li’l Box of Love.
The adulation ceased at the push of a button. The party vanished, guests, musicians and all. Naked light again. Alone in the hall: Plantman, The Heir, his Servants in the vast white empty…
The Servants wrapped The Heir’s ancestors in tissue paper and returned them carefully to the red velvet floor of the miniature pyramid. The Heir offered Plantman strong drink.
“Well?” asked The Heir. “Did you enjoy?”