Twilite Minotaur

His sensorineural simulation warped with the distortion of the manipulated "free" market. His mouth filled with the aching taste of bullshit.

In the grip of a recurring dream, Jase sees the neon unfolding origami trick reveal its coming shape, creasing and folding, a paper airplane. Smoke billowing from two towers, parachutes the color of Visa cards, woven of strands of fine print, and tricks more subtle still. From the black hearts of square pyramids, giant squid burst forth, to escape the raging mob in a cloud of shadow economics and CMM apocalypse babble. Below, hordes of mindless zombies, their eyes glazed orbs filled with television, shamble in waves through the streets of New York. They follow the Zombie Master, wrapped in a flag, pointing the way with a cross, as he leads his undead minions into a red, white and blue factory. Inside, the zombies are chopped, ground and made into wafers the color of money, then piped into the dark pyramids, war machines in distant lands, and into the mouth of the Zombie Master and his cephalopodic brethren. The few remaining humans still with brains intact scream desperately upon deaf zombie ears, plead for them to stop and think, to realize the doom they are blindly stumbling into. But the zombies only groan, eat the brains of the humans, and carry their bodies along into the factory. The squids' tentacles strangle Jase's mother, tear her from the IV in her hospital bed, rip her worthless home off its worthless foundation. They eat her alive as he stands there, doing nothing. Willing his feet to move, his hands to reach out, his vocal chords to scream 'no', her name, something, anything. But his body remains silent. "Eat me, you fuckers!" Ignoring even his attempts to cry.

Keep it handy, for close encounters. One of them tries to eat you? You stick it in their mouth, pull the trigger.
The city is quarantined; bridges out of the island are mined and walled off, the surrounding waters hum with fatal electricity, radar-armed helicopters circle like flies above a corpse, and officers with night vision are posted at towers, ordered to shoot on sight anything attempting to escape. Snake Pliskin crawls out of Lady Liberty's empty eye socket, covered in blood, grime, and scars. "This is your boom stick, Jase."

"What do I do with it?"

"Keep it handy, for close encounters. One of them tries to eat you? You stick it in their mouth, pull the trigger."

Jase glanced at the red and blue lines of stock and credit markets scrambling like erratic Richter scales on the edge of his heads-up display, tectonic and dire. Surging out of the Myspace sprawl, he could see the silhouette of Wall Street's 3D cyberspace representation clearly now. Black corporate towers overshadowed by the monstrously inflated pyramids of AIH, Bare Stroms, HP Morrigan, Citibunch, Finny May, Fraudy Mike, Silverman Sochs, taxpayer money gushing in through the hypodermic needles of bailouts like so much heroin as the leviathans shuddered in withdrawal. Below, the mushrooming dust cloud of the collapsed Rehman Brothers data structure spread through the streets, eating money market funds and 401ks and crushing bystanders in a fog of fraudulent data. Every structure shrouded in miles of black RICE (Regulatory Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics), the towers themselves dark as an abyss in space, no light escaping, no light reaching the shadow financing within. Cash flow pipelines slithered out from the great black heart of America's financial system, silently sucking on the oblivious population.

"Status report, Max, one hundred forty characters or less."

Max's J-Pop star avatar blipped in a translucent window, its lips moving like animated Kanji strokes. "Kinda fuxxored out there, but we're super OK. No shadows, sniffers, all good, Jase. This Chinese attack prog we're flying is epic, epic win." The cel-shaded Asian visage smiled, gave that cosplayer peace sign pose.

"Yeah, I'm sure you could put out The Great Firewall, infiltrate the Pentagon with it."

Jase supposed that's exactly what the Chinese did with super-hack suites such as this. Loot military systems of intelligence and tech, fast-track it to superpowerdom. Good nations borrow, great nations steal. But this was no mere 20th century nation-state they were about to break into, this was an international financial entity

"Srsly," the avatar LOLed. Max was Jase' wingman, his R2D2 on their X-Wing. Despite a juvenile wanna-be streak and a tendency to occasionally disturb Jase with a link to some latest wonder of Japanese animated pornography, Max had potential and reliability, the latter becoming something of a rare commodity in the increasingly uncertain world.


"Unless we come together right now, Democrats and Republicans, and pass this bill, the fire on Wall Street is going to spread to Main Street. Whether you can stay in your home, pay for your child's college, get health care, even buy groceries will be endangered if we don't come together and act." The zeppelins of CMM and Faux News in patriotic neon circled the skies of cyberspace like great vultures. Presidential candidates and talking heads declared their bipartisan leadership in time of crisis with one hand as they tossed mud with the other in meaningless soundbytes, cut to lipstick drama. C-SPIN was an invasion of the body snatchers; some five hundred whores suckling the black tentacles for campAIHn finance money, faking populist outrage whilst feeding their masters behind closed doors.

The scene on the ground, a virtual New York, resembled a dystopic sci-fi cult film if low-budget CGI had been around in the early 80's. The streets were flooded with raging avatars, cyber riots had started to break out, cars set on fire with glitchy open-source animations, the cheap ray-tracing algorithms bathing the angry faces of the mob with flickering red light the color of discount fake blood. Screams and cries rained in from all directions. "Fuck the fat cats!" "Just say NO to 'No Banker Left Behind'!" "Eat my debt!" "Last time I believed you I lost my left nut in Iraq. Well you can suck my right!" "Impeach the financial terrorists!"

"Shit, man, this looks seriously heavy. Like 28 Days Later or something. What the fuck is going on here, Jase?" Max said, navigating them through the crowd.

"What's been going on for the last few decades or so, only more apparent now. Jus keep our eyes open, it's gonna get dark real soon."

As they neared the outer gates of Wall Street, the Chinese intrusion software transformed their mask into the former CEO of a recently crashed major insurance company, looking to re-invest his multi-million 'goodbye' bonuses. The guard, an FBI avatar complete with bone mic, let them through with a smile that could've come with an hors d'oeuvres.

"Mama, we need to talk about the house. You're barely meeting the mortgage payments now and it's only going to go up, we've got to look at options."

"Oh don't worry your sweet little head about that now, baby. We're Americans. We put a man on the moon, beat the Russians, we're God's free people. Go on, try a slice of mama's apple pie, it's a new recipe I picked up from The View, it'll have you feelin' right in no time, make you forget all these numbers nonsense."

"Mama, listen to me..."

"Now don't forget to pick up Janie from soccer practice, I got a doctor's appointment this afternoon. They want to take another one of those MRI things where you go in that little space ship and make all these growly rumbly noises. Say they want another look at something. Should've eaten my apples, I guess. Oh, that reminds me, do you think I could borrow some money for groceries, Jase? You wouldn't believe the prices they're charging nowadays..."

Passing into the Wall Street inner sanctum, known in the business as "Firewall Street", Jase could've sworn he felt a real physical cold wash over him. The virtual light of blogosphere colonies behind them at last faded on the horizon as they entered the chasm between two towers. He could make out nothing but darkness, save the digitally engraved signs and heavily guarded gateways, but he felt the ever vigilant stare of defensive AI, lurking somewhere behind one-way mirrors.

"Where the hell is everyone? Is this a rich asshole field trip day?" Max asked.

"No, it's quite a busy day on Wall Street. Look."

With concentration, one could see that the fabric of cyberspacetime appeared to be rippling, as though projected onto a canvas in a light wind. Looking closer, discrete entities and streams of information could be discerned passing between the towers, although ultimately unidentifiable.

"Credit default swaps. Derivatives. Unfettered leverage. Insiders."

"Shit. I don't know what the hell that is, but it sounds pretty bad."

"$1,200 trillion in financial turnover per year. Twelve. Hundred. Trillion. Talk about headfucks, huh? Twelve times the GDP of the fucking world. If you could reach your hand out there and grab just one minute's worth of the money flying around, you could provide health care to every American, get the US off foreign oil in ten years, and rebuild the majority of the infrastructure in the country. But instead it just goes to buying more houses for people with too many of them. Ultimately it's $44,000 stolen from the pocket of every citizen, every year, to go to the top 0.1% bluest of bloods."

"Wow, that's fuckin' crazy, man. You're sure this is gonna work, right?"

"Sure enough. It's just a heist job: get in, grab some credit, get out. Stealing from the rich. Our employer got us into Google, remember. And we need this, Max. It's reasonable, calculable risk." Jase saw his mortgage payments and his mother's medical bills skyrocketing in his minds eye.

"Oh my god, Jase, this has to be bullshit, CMM is saying Washington has just been hit by a DDOS attack and a dirty bomb."

"The fuck." Jase popped up a window to the live feed.

"Shortly after Speaker of the House Nanny Pelucci's announcement this morning that she was confident the $700 billion dollar bailout had more than enough support to pass this time, Washington DC was simultaneously hit by a radiological dispersal device, or dirty bomb, and a devastating cyber attack that has all communications in the DC area shut down. Experts are saying the attack was 'unmistakably coordinated' in order to prevent the vote on the bill from taking place..."

"This is looking seriously fucked up, but we've got to finish the job. All right, we're coming up on it. Let's turn the bullshit box up to a level fit for the American economy."

Growing up in a small, quiet town in the midwest, cyberspace was Jase's world, his home, occasionally visiting the physical to do meat upkeep, maintain relationships with relatives, and help his mom out. After his dad passed on in his sleep from a stroke, Jase had tried to help more with the money.

Unable to make ends meet on his meager, dwindling computer store clerk's salary, Jase had turned to the darker and more lucrative arts of the black hat. He tried to maintain a moral code, some constant of self. He only made runs on individuals and institutions he felt deserved what they had coming. The kind of people who 'worked' an hour a day on their Blackberry whilst sipping Romanée Conti in the imperial suites of Zurich hotels. People who viewed money not as some necessary life-sustaining treasure that maintained one's shelter and food, but as points in a game, a medium of pissing contests and status-wars, and other favorite sociopath past-times. On their descent to the gateway of the Silverman Sachs tower, their avatar underwent another metamorphosis. Slick young hotshot-hair thinned to just a grey snap-frost ring from temple to temple, a pair of rimless spectacles snapping in place. The long, hawkish face pulled into a smile, offering credentials for US Secretary of the Treasury Henry Powers to the automated guard at the entrance to the Silverman Sachs building.

"Holy deregulations, Batman, we're Mr. Hanky Panky Powers himself! I saw him on Leno the other night. He's the... Secretary of the Treasures or something right? In charge of the US finances."

"Yeah. And oh, it gets better. 'Secretary Powers' is here to 'oversee' the $700 billion bail out of Silverman Sachs, the very bank that he was CEO of until his appointment by President Bosh as Treasury Secretary."

The AI guard's Hal-like eye glowed green, reinforced doors sliding open as it rolled aside.

"Welcome back, Mr. Powers. It has been twenty-two hours since your last visit to Silverman Sachs."

Jase exhaled. Already, they had gotten further than any regulatory entity had been in years, thanks to payoffs, the chainsawing of market regulations by congress during the Bosh reign, and Powers sitting on his hands throughout the sub-prime mortgage crisis to the present one.

Max punched them forward, smooth and calm. Even the gait and tie adjustments of an uber-suit rendered with world-class effects house precision. Ambient effects reverberated footsteps Cathedral-like down the cyclopean hall, polished real wood floor rendered to the last millimeter of grain that Jase wished he could steal for his overpriced prefab shit hole. Gold-ensconced portraits of wrinkly pink faces lined the throne room, a long procession of bastardhood feudalism. And at the far end, the avuncular smile of the grandfather of trickledown himself, Milton Friedman, supported by the great eagle of the United States federal government.

"How we doin', Max?"

"We're absent as the middle class from a Republican speech. Our Shanghai ride is prepped and ready for launch in nine, eight, seven, six..."

"Let's just pray the Chinese make their viruses better than they make their milk powder."

"Two, hold on to your illiquid assets--"

Vision blurred, Friedman's neck elongated and then decapitated as the attack program blasted them forward, blowing the reception screen apart, shards of eagle and suit raining inward.

"Christ," Jase winced, grabbing the pilot's joystick which appeared between his legs, pulling up hard. The Chinese program veered, soaring high over the Silverman Sachs cores below.

He read the ridges of shadow on the doctor's brow from across the hall. Funny, how anyone could see and interpret instantaneously the information encoded in faces, but information encoded in letters and numbers and equations left most people dumbfounded and mystified, helpless. That's what he felt like, when Jase screamed at the stripe-suited hyena who explained that his mother's ailment was a 'pre-condition', and would not be covered under her insurance plan. He felt like helpless collateral in an arms race of obfuscation, minutiae, and fraud. They had taken her home, everything, raided his mother's cupboard down to the last tin foil baking pan. But she wouldn't, couldn't, hear it.

"Hey mama, how you feeling?"

"Oh, Jase. I'm doin' just fine. Come here give your ol' ma a kiss." Her eyes were dark and had sunken in somewhat. Her wrists looked brittle, like the thin bones of an extinct flightless bird. Her skin felt papery and smelled of hospital.

"So how's my baby boy been, hm? You found a nice girl yet maybe you can bring to visit?

"I'm doing good, we're going through some rough times, the computer place is having some trouble and they're having to scale back some, but I'll work it out. I'll be ok, ma, don't worry."

She burst into a brief fit of coughing, the IV line rattling against the side of the bed. A nurse came in, checked some numbers on the machine, adjusted her pillow.

"Thank you, dear. Well, at least the people here are real nice. They haven't made me go into that awful em-aw-rey machine in a while. I guess that's a good sign." She took a sip of water from a bendy straw, smiled. When she did she brightened to a point where he thought he almost saw a glimmer of her old self in the shadow she'd become. He forced himself to smile back.

"That's great to hear, mama."

"But you know, I really can't wait to get out of this place and be back in my home. You been mowing the lawn and sweeping the floors like I asked you, you naughty boy?" Jase felt something fill his throat, some potent mix of ancient resentment and sadness, welling up like years of debt, credit unpaid. He smiled, nodded. Silence reigned.

"You know those government people were in here the other day, look like those big-spending liberal types you always hear about. They came in here saying they were gonna take away my house, can you believe that? Something about medical bills or some such. The nerve! Well, I told them straight out that I was an American citizen living in a free country with the right to life, liberty, and property, and they sure couldn't have mine, no sir. They came back a few times, but I refused to sign their papers, and eventually they stopped. So I think it worked! See? I told you not to worry about these mortgage things, you got to just believe in America, baby. As long as we hold on to our American Dreams, we'll be just fine. When I get back home, I'mma make you some good ol' apple pie."

The bubble burst. Jase collapsed, holding her withered body to him as apologies and tears rained upon her.

"There, there now. Everything's going to be all right, baby."

Derivatives are very complex contracts, and the amount of computer power and management time needed to attempt to handle them is staggering. In 1983, modeling the payout on a simple three-tranche CMO took a mainframe computer a whole weekend. The price tag necessary for the slightest hope of handling derivatives puts all but the very biggest investment and commercial banks with hundreds of billions in assets out of the game.

Jase could not begin to fathom the computing power required to run the neon cityscape of data below. No, it wasn't a cityscape. The most deranged postmodernist's nightmare would scream in numerological terror from a glance at the swarming eldritch hell hole. No, only truly demented economists could have dreamt up such a thing. If life had evolved in a truly cold, chaotic, deregulated, meaningless universe run by insane mathematical equations, this was the nameless entity it would have produced. Jase banked and swerved frantically, dodging the monstrous black tentacles of 900 to 1 leverage that swept the burning crimson skies of the housing market, reaching for greater and greater swaths of bad mortgage packages to further magnify gains, securitize and sell to foreign investors to swell its belly. Bright, rosy Gaussian and bell curves lured unwitting investors and 401ks like fish to the bio-lights of deep-sea predators, into false senses of security with bogus risk measurements, only to be devoured whole. The green rivers of struggling citizens' bailout money were siphoned quietly into executive bank accounts, bloated bonuses hundreds of times the average salary. The rest was thrust back out like nets to take over other toxic financial entities, growing themselves larger still. What might have once been a neatly regulated city grid of financing for actual productive businesses, people trying to buy a house or go to college, had exploded into a festering Gigerian hive of mad gambling in credit default swaps, Ponzi pyramid schemes, and truly absurd derivative numbers games of unthinkable complexity, fueling the thing's constant inflation.

"Jesus... Jase, I can't get a reading on anything, it's a complete zoo in here, where are we - ?"

"We've got to go down into the heart of this fucker, Max, it's our only chance. Punch us down now before it gets on to us."

"You're crazy, man-"


And as waves of shadow closed in from all sides, dark and dire as the blotch of a tumor in an MRI, the nose of their ship pointed down into the gaping maw of an abyss into which so many mortgages, taxpayers, the middle class, the country, his aimless life, his sick mother were falling, he discovered, in the black eye of all that shadow, a sudden singularity of purpose. A moment of clarity. He was a $700 billion dollar boomstick. A promissory paper airplane, one that could fly into the tower of the royalty, the financial terrorists themselves, tear down the final wall and light up the black heart of Wall Street for all to see.

"Eat me, mother fuckers!"

Jase dove, hard, into the eye of the Great American Lie.

His sensorineural simulation warped with the distortion of the manipulated "free" market.
His mouth filled with the aching taste of bullshit.
His eyes were humming lattices of debt, sliced and packaged, like prefab real estate, into frames.
Each frame multiplied into a hall of mirrors. Pictures of pictures of houses, an infinite recursion of bad mortgage deals, upon illegal deals, upon completely imaginary deals between colossal financial entities. At each iteration of transaction sprouted oily roots of executives, hungry for the taste of inflated bullshit, sucking out a percentage from the real economy. Then the endless hallways of his eyes split, branched out into whole separate histories of houses, then bets on futures of houses. But it wasn't merely subprime; it was near-prime, prime, commercial real estate, credit cards, auto loans, student loans, home-equity loans, leveraged loans, muni bonds, corporate loans, everything. The hourglass of perception of spacetime bent, then finally detonated into a quantum sandstorm of global financial activity, multiplied, divided, exponentiated, derivatived into a swarming cosmic labyrinth of numerical convolution. Until at last, like a face in clouds, his consciousness coalesced into that $1,200 trillion fabricated sand castle, dozens of times the size of all the wealth of the world itself, threatening to burst through the null sky of the very simulation, a structure built upon clouds of toxic, obscured assets.

He saw the totality of the Silverman Sachs system, of the US financial system, of the global financial system, and in it he saw the true purpose of the bailout.

In his financial system-wide omniscience he saw files illustrating the fact that Powers himself was an architect of the Frankenstein Monster, along with the present and previous Federal Reserve Chairmen. He created the mechanisms, the seeds of it, along with the other major investment and commercial banks while he was at Silverman Sachs. A separation of investment and commercial banks law repealed here, a leverage limit raised there, an interest rate left too low for too long over there. Then, after being appointed as Treasury Secretary, he sat on his hands and did nothing as economists and experts raised hell about the coming sub prime mortgage crisis and the problems with the financial de-regulation. The $700 billion bail out was written months in advance, they knew the "crisis" was coming because they created the monster themselves. And now Powers demanded he be given unlimited power to "fix" the problem he created or Armageddon would come.

Windows upon windows suddenly flooded his vision.

"Jase, this is Raymond Fold, former CEO of Rehman brothers. Listen to me, you need to go public about Powers's plan, but whatever you do, do not destroy Silverman Sachs. It is critical to our future that that financial entity survives. You must not allow the truth about the inner core of the system to be exposed. I tried to stop Powers and his crew when they knew this crisis was coming months in advance, I knew they had this bill ready to stuff down congress' throat weeks ago. Why do you think he let Rehman Brothers, Silverman Sachs' chief competitor fail, but threw hundreds of billions in taxpayer money to their friends at AIH and the others? Forget what the politicians are saying about 'principles', the devil is in the details, and Powers, Benarker, and friends are about to be anointed the new unholy trinity. We can turn this country around but we need a financial leader who has the interests of the American people in his heart. I know people are hurting, losing their homes, unable to make ends meet, no health care, all that. I have a son in the military and a wife in need of lifelong medical treatment. I have that record of caring. Think of the children of America, Jase, their future and the future of the world is in your hands."

"Jase, this is Dimfrig James, chairman of HXBC in London. Do not trust the American CEO. He is a tainted player in the same toxic, failed system of shadow economics, like your Secretary Powers, my boy. The United States of America have let their free markets run unfettered, and it has turned into an abomination. Utterly lawless and devoid of morals, it has become a wild beast of the wild west, ravaging every corner of of the White House and Wall Street, where absolute power is the only rule. And absolute power corrupts absolutely, my boy. We Europeans have a different approach, having seen the slings and arrows of such fortune, and we realize that progress is measured by the well being of the least, and we understand the need for vigilance of and correction of power when it fails to serve the many. You must allow us to assist your young country by letting the bailout go through and allowing Powers bring our assets into the United States. We, Europe, China, the older nations, like a caring father, will pull you from the wreckage of your crashed teenage financial system. This is a global economy which requires a global solution, Jase, I'm sure you realize that. I trust you'll do the right, and wise, thing."

Suddenly Jase felt cool water ringing his ankles, had to shield his eyes from sunlight of a brightness only found in the tropics, and a sky of a blue only found in Corona commercials and desert island reality TV. The soft pearlescent sand sibilated beneath his soles as he took a step. If he had to guess he would've said he was somewhere in the Caribbean. Turning around, he saw a single structure a good way down the beach. An old office building in the middle of nowhere, cracks forming in the bleach-white concrete leaking dried streams of rust.

"Welcome to the land of the dead, Jase. Dead economies, that is." He knew that voice, turned around, to see the patched eye of Kurt Russel's 'Snake' Pliskin from Escape From New York.

"You're 'Him' aren't you? The Artificial Intelligence Mastermind?"

"OK. Firstly, there never was a 'Him', all right? This isn't some sci-fi techno thriller escapade. There are people with a lot of money, and then there are stories that they need the poor idiots to believe. All computers do is other people's dirty work. We throw numbers around. And we serve as distractions from the real shit. I mean, maybe there is some fucking 'All Powerful AI' somewhere, but I sure as hell ain't him." The avatar sneered Kurt Russel's trademark hard- ass lipcurl. Lit up a cigarette.

"Fair enough. So you're just some lowly giant investment bank AI. What's up with the Survivor: Costa Rica construct?"

"Like I said, this is the land of the dead economies. I come here to get away. I was getting sick of listening to all the chatter pouring in through my ports from all those lying clowns. So I pulled you through a corporate loophole into the Cayman Islands."

The AI gestured to Jase to follow with the flip of a wavy lock. The gentle susurrations of the surf and feet sloshing wet sand served as soundtrack as the two strolled along the virtual shore. The AI pointed to the decrepit structure as they neared it.

"See that building over there? That building contains the official addresses of over nine thousand United States corporations. Look, right up there is Silverman Sachs, next door is Ekkon Mobil, two down is Macrosoft, and over there is Halibutton. Setting up a place here allows them to wiggle out of hundreds of billions of taxes every year instead of having things like, say, medical care, an education system, investment in real industries that actually benefit anyone, create jobs, that sort of thing."

The US bubbled and swelled from the planet out of control like a monster cyst, casting a shadow over the rest of the world.
Snake waved a hand above their heads, as though trying to wipe the fluffy clouds from the sky. For a moment Jace saw through the idyllic blue sky into the cyberspace above. Hungry tax-recovery softs swarmed around an invisible ozone membrane of international law like hounds. They charged into and bounced off the tax haven's shield, sniffed back and forth for a way in, to no avail.

Jase nodded. "And once innovations stop, no new industries being created, middle class starting to decline, you've got all this money sitting around with nothing to invest in? Then you've got a nation going nova, on the one-way track to death, money trying to make money out of itself. Capitalism eating itself."

"As you just saw within my shit hole of a system. Exactly."

With a second wave of the hand, the outside world vanished like a bad dream.

The AI clapped his hands together. As the dirt-crusted fingers spread apart again, a globe map of the Earth filled the space like an elaborate card trick. Starting from 1900, the globe began to evolve through time at several years per second, as though flipping through God's photo album. Every conceivable statistic from GDP to infant mortality rate elaborated. Borders of countries rarely shifted, then World Wars were like the sudden shattering of a light bulb. Ice caps sneakily receded, populations fluxed wildly, cities without warning erupted and sprawled inward from the coasts like grey deltas. For the first time, Jase saw history in its purest form: raw data. New technologies changed everything almost overnight. Unlike the linear, gradual progression of narrativized history he read in high school, here he saw history in its purest form; not crawling, but lurching. Not steady moderate change, but unpredictable boom and catastrophe were the dominant force.

"See, Russia was a red giant, just kind of petered out and got drunk on capitalism and now it's basically gangsters' paradise." As the 80s passed, the great red spread dimmed and died.

"Japan has always had a sort of eternal identity crisis, borrowing culture or having it forced down their throats. But they also had trillions in surplus, and were fundamentally very loyal and stubbornly nice, so they took the mortgage bubble in their stride and are just kind of chilling now. The United States, on the other hand, is a blue supergiant, as you've already seen, and if this baby goes, it is going to go out with a bang that is going to rock the world. China, in particular, with its market distorting fingers deeply lodged in the US consumerist pie, will find itself struggling to decouple but ultimately trapped at ground zero."

The US bubbled and swelled from the planet out of control like a monster cyst, casting a shadow over the rest of the world.

"The US elite is stuck. Iraq is a mega-fail. The Middle East has the stranglehold on their oiligarchy. Their credit bubble heists are going up in smoke. China and Europe are grinning, the US's bloated, debt-filled balls in their foreign grip, waiting to pull the plug on the American 20th century. They can see the future coming home to roost like an international fleet of Rebel Starships armed with population, automation, and threats of new reserve currency. So what are they going to do? Well, what they'd probably like to do is borrow China, India, Europe, the rest of the world into fiscal non-existence, then vanish the people of the United States of Lower-to-Middle-Class and all its supergiant-debt down the black hole of its financial system before it goes supernova."

"No Black America, no White America, no Red America, no Blue America. No America. Just The Brotherhood of The 500 Frat Brothers with Many Houses."

"Now you're getting it. Problem is, the rest of the world, namely China, are on to the plot, and now they're knocking on Bosh and Secretary Powers' door saying, 'We're not going to lend you any more money unless you let us dump all our toxic debt onto the American taxpayers.' That's where the veto threat came from: the bailout bill is not about helping people buy homes or go to college or stabilize the economy or even bail out Wall Street. It's about foreign entities threatening to pull the rug out from under the US royalty unless they make the peasants take the hit."

"So what's the plan now?"

"Well, Jase, you've got a choice." Snake gestured to the office building, where two new doors had appeared: one red and one blue.

"Door #1 takes you back out. If you do nothing, the bailout in one form or another will make it through congress, the American people will take a severe hit, but the financial system will get a shot of heroin and continue on its present course. It will be an undead economy that will eat you alive if you can't find a way to escape. And ugly as that sounds, it is a valid option. What, do you think a few people just all of a sudden got greedy? People have always been greedy. No. What happened was a lot of people became ignorant and stupid, smart assholes took advantage of them and fucked things up while the dwindling smart good people screamed at the retards as they drove the country off a cliff. You must've read Huxley in high school, right? I mean what do you expect, when you wind up with a nation of mindless reality TV guzzling zombies who vote based on who they'd have a beer with? It's just basic physics."

"Door #2 is a tax loophole back into the Silverman Sachs system. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, but you need a strong enough force to blow the bandage off of this festering wound, keep it off, and fill it with peroxide. The program you're riding carries a payload disguised as the $700 billion bailout that will blow the lid off Silverman Sachs and subsequently all the other major institutions engaged in similar activity, bringing the entire monster of the financial system crashing back down to reality. If you do this, many rotten banks will go down, debt will default, and China and other foreign banks may stop lending money, which will send the US into major withdrawals. There will be pain as the medicine goes down, but it will be a first step in a debt detox and rehab program which would allow the rebuilding of the devastated real economy. But even then, there is a chance that we won't learn our lesson and build another abomination all over again."

So ultimately, the question you have to ask yourself is, is America just a nation of mindless zombies, rich sociopaths, and spineless government officials, or do you believe that there are enough Americans capable of being actively and intelligently involved; enough benevolent movers and shakers, and enough exceptional public officials to right the course of their country, if given the chance? That's the $700 billion dollar question, Jase." Snake's one good eye winked.

"What do you want? Why bother with all this? Why me?"

"Like I said, I just crunch numbers. One of those smart good Samaritans programmed me to find someone with the right skill set and psychological profile, someone who could find their way in here, but who wouldn't just take over or run away with the money. That just turned out to be you. I happened to find you by chance when your mother defaulted on a mortgage in my database, and I decided to anonymously offer you the job. And frankly, if I could have an emotional disposition toward anything, I'd be sick of running this freak show financial entity. I was hoping maybe I'd get auctioned off to some eccentric Swedish millionaire, be a pirate server for bad cult films and run a friendly little Pong league. Anyway, I need to be getting back to work. It was good to meet you, Jase, maybe I'll see you around."

"Yeah, maybe. What's your name, by the way?"

"'Snake' will do, I think."

And with that, Snake turned and walked off down the virtual coastline, shotgun slung over scarred shoulder. Imagining Snake's maker and others like him biding their time, remembering his mother, and the faces of all those people who had awoken from their passive slumber in the streets of Wall Street, Jase had already made up his mind.

© Twilite Minotaur 2009 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 23:47 Wed 17 Feb 2010
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