The minicab drifted down the road, meandering between the other cars as the drivers shouted at each other and sounded their horns in frustration. Great towers of glass and stone banked the road, they reflected each other and made the sprawl seem endless.
Isaac Greenfield clung to his hemp satchel as he sat in the back of the cab, gawping at the untamed wilderness around him. He had never seen this kind of place before, this was his first mission after all. He had grown up in the New Hampshire bubble where he still lived and worked, and nothing could have prepared him for the grandeur of this jungle of concrete and steel. The place was in a constant state of movement and noise it seemed, from the din of the traffic to the people bustling past each other in endless number on the pavement outside the protection of the cab. The place pulsed with life in a way Isaac had never experienced before.
He had cut his teeth preaching the gospel at the small townships and farms around his home. Those places were strange and uncultured, no doubt, but infinitely more familiar than the cities he knew one day he would have to visit if he was to make any real difference.
That day had come and now here he was, on his way to deliver the good word to true ‘savages’, though Isaac tried not to think of them that way. Ignorant, that’s what they were, still capable of change; no one was beyond redemption.
The cab pulled up and Isaac stepped out into the fray, still gripping his satchel tightly to his chest. Even the air was different there, Isaac thought, somehow thicker; as if he could feel it lining his throat when he breathed in. He remembered himself and paid the driver for the ride as he had been told to by his superiors. At that, the cab seeped back into the stream of yellow and was lost.
Before him stood the obelisk inside which Isaac’s task awaited. It was far taller than its kin and the impressive curves incorporated into the design made it stand out as an architectural marvel. The skyscraper exuded power, mirroring the bright grey sky in its surface.
With a deep breath, Isaac prepared himself. He stepped forward and entered the great doors to begin the mission he had been sent to accomplish.
Isaac took a moment inside the great doors to marvel at the foyer. It was a colossal space with pillars of marble rising to the high ceilings. Isaac could not help but stare at the people who rushed about the space, he had seen pictures of people like them before but seeing them in the flesh was a whole other experience. They wore strange clothes, monotone with sharp edges. Their faces were smooth, and their eyebrows plucked. Even the hair was different, slicked down to their scalps with immaculate precision. The people gave him strange looks as they clacked past him in shining shoes. They did not break their stride, though their eyes lingered on him as they went. Isaac suddenly realised how strange he must have looked to them in his knitted jumper, cargo shorts and sandals, with his long beard and top-knotted hair. He couldn’t help but feel a little silly to be so obviously different.
One of the people was approaching Isaac fast, hand outstretched and a broad grin spread across his face. Isaac braced himself and tried to feel confident.
‘Mr Greenfield, I presume?’ the man said in a friendly patter, ‘my name is Paul Shaman, I’m the Human Resources Manager here at Plasco and I’ll be your guide today.’
Isaac took the man’s hand and Shaman shook it fervently. The grin remained stapled to his face.
‘Pleased to meet you, Paul. Thank you so much for having me here in your wonderful building. It really is an impressive place!’
‘How kind of you to say so. It is marvellous, isn’t it? We are truly blessed to call it our own,’ Shaman said, beaming. ‘My superiors have instructed me to take you on a tour of the building until they return from the morning head hunt. They are very excited to meet you, we haven’t been graced by your kind before. You are a source of great fascination for them!’
‘I too am very much looking forward to meeting them. I believe our people can learn a great deal from each other,’ Isaac said, giving his warmest smile.
The grin on Shaman’s face twitched a little, as if a wire had snapped somewhere beneath the surface. He corrected himself and opened his body to the room behind him.
‘Wonderful, just wonderful. Shall we begin the tour?’ Shaman said.
Shaman lead Isaac from the front doors and into the foyer. He walked unnaturally upright, as if something were propping him up underneath his strange clothes. Shaman spoke with pride about the history of the building, how his ancestors had built it many years ago and how it had grown and grown as the company had done so. These were truly fruitful times for the company, they were enjoying their finest harvest in decades and the employees were awash with joy over the prosperity. Isaac listened to Shaman’s tales with cautious ears. He knew that despite their perceived success, sacrifices would have to be made if they were to be saved.
‘This is where we eat together,’ Shaman said, opening a set of steel double doors into a giant hall bedecked with tables and chairs, ‘the economy is truly good to us and we enjoy the fruits of its bounty here.’
Inside the room a few lower employees grazed around the tables. Others were doing their part behind counters at the back of the hall, portioning up rations, ensuring fair distribution for all the others.
‘Your people look well fed, indeed,’ Isaac said, ‘what do you call this place?’
‘Our elders called it cafeteria, a name which predates even the company itself.’
‘We have something similar where I come from, we call it a mess hall.’
A look of perplexed amusement crossed Shaman’s face, distorting the practiced smile which had hardly waned since they introduced.
‘And do your superiors feast with their people?’ Isaac said quickly.
‘Oh no,’ Shaman said, back in character, ‘no, my superiors are forbidden to dine here with the employees. That would simply not do. This way, please.’
The two walked from the hall and to a row of handle-less steel doors with little buttons on the side. Shaman pressed one and it lit up. After a short pause there was a ding and the doors slid open. Fascinated, Isaac stepped into the tiny mirrored room at Shaman’s beckoning. Inside was a panel with rows of numbered buttons. Shaman pressed one and the room jolted and began to move. Shaman seemed nonplussed by this and Isaac hid his concern. After a few moments the room stopped, and the doors slid open.
‘Here is one of our pits where the employees collect the harvest,’ Shaman said, stepping out of the little room.
In the open-plan space they stepped into were dozens of employees hunched over consoles on-top of tables. They typed furiously at the consoles and did not seem to notice the men who come into their work-space. Everyone was contributing towards the company’s prosperity. The sight was a humbling one for Isaac. Shaman looked at his wrist.
‘The elders should be ready for you now,’ Shaman said.
‘Fantastic,’ said Isaac, ‘where will we find them?’
They walked past the clacking employees and to another set of the handle-less doors which stood alone at the end of the work-space. They climbed in and Shaman pressed the top-most button on the panel. The room whirred and rose. The little buttons blinked in succession all the way up to the one Shaman had pressed. With a little ding the doors opened, and presented an incredible vista to Isaac. The glass walls of the top floor gave a view of the entire city, and Isaac realised that the sprawl was endless. It stretched for miles, all the way to the horizon, other towers similar to the one in which he stood jutting up through the canopy and to the heavens. Shaman noticed his wonder.
‘It’s fantastic, isn’t it?’ Shaman said, ‘in the city we have all we need. It is our mother and our father, our source of sustenance and our protector.’
‘It’s incredible,’ Isaac agreed, mouth gaping.
Isaac could not prise his gaze from the view as Shaman lead him down the length of the building towards a set of mahogany doors at the far end of the corridor.
‘This is the board room,’ Shaman said, ‘the elders are inside. I would beseech you to listen to them as they will to you. This is their first contact with a man such as yourself, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how important the first impression is.’
‘Of course,’ Isaac said, sweat beading on his forehead. This was it, the moment he had been preparing for his entire life. The future of these people and maybe his own too rested on his abilities now. Don’t fuck it up, he told himself.
Shaman opened the door and swept inside with one motion. The elders sat around a huge black table which stretched down the middle of the room. They each looked as if perhaps they had once embodied the lithe smartness of the younger men Isaac had seen throughout the rest of the building, though time and opulence had replaced that youthful swagger with indomitable authority. They inspected Isaac through sagging brows.
‘This is Isaac Greenfield,’ said Shaman, ‘he has travelled a great distance to deliver information which he says could be crucial to the survival of the company.’
‘Oh, not just the company,’ Isaac said, his adrenaline soaring, ‘the fate of the entire planet could well rest on your shoulders gentlemen. You must forgive me if I have spoken out of turn, but this really is of the utmost importance.’
The old men turned to each other and shared words, all except for the man who sat directly ahead of Isaac at the head of the table. He was motionless, head bowed into pyramided fingers, deep in thought.
‘Mr Greenfield,’ the man at the end of the table said, at this the others all ceased their chattering instantly, ‘I am Mr Chieftain, the director of Plasco. I allowed this visit and assumed it was purely a matter of interest for you. I hoped your visit would be a congenial one, one of learning and discovery. But if the matter you have come to discuss really is so important, I suggest you stop wasting our time with frivolous dramatics and come out with it.’
Isaac cleared his throat and prepared himself.
‘Gentlemen, I am a man of science. I have devoted my life to studying the planet and the way we as a species are affecting it, and how we can live together with the planet and ensure our mutual survival. Please do not mistake me for wishing to offend you, that is not why I am here. I have come because Plasco is one of the largest manufacturers and distributors of plastic products in the world. The way you are living is destroying the environment. The cost of your harvest is depleting our resources at an unsustainable rate, clogging the oceans with the waste, poisoning the very air we breathe. I know you are good men, you do not intend this, but you must reconsider your ways, sirs! I have learnt much from Paul here about how you live, I can see that the economy is good to you and you wish to worship the economy as you believe is the correct way to do so. But nature is the one true God, the only thing that really matters and the one thing that we should be striving to preserve. The way you are living angers nature, gentlemen, and you will incur nature’s furious wrath, which will be brought down upon us all, if you do not yield and heed my words and convert your people to a green way of life.’
Around the board-room, those sagging faces stiffened. The air had been sucked out of the room, there was only piercing silence.
‘Mr Greenfield,’ Chieftain started after a long wait, his face darkening as he spoke, ‘we have welcomed you into our building, we have offered you food and shelter, we have demanded nothing of you and expected nothing from you and yet this is how you speak to us! You deign to assume that we would follow your advice although you understand nothing of this place? At Plasco, as for every other business I know, we live by the dollar, and the dollar is good to us. What of this environment you speak of? I have never seen any proof of it! It cannot be held or touched. And our effect on the environment? How can we affect something which doesn’t exist? You say you are a man of science, well I am not. I do not share your beliefs in these forces you say can be measured and quantified. Whose measurements, I ask you? Were they merely plucked from the air or were they invented by men like ourselves? In either case I say they are meaningless. And where are the observable effects of science? I see the effects of the economy every day. I see how our worship of it brings my people food, puts the latest car in their drive and the newest technology in their pocket. Your people know nothing of the economy, you care not for the bounty it can bring for you do not see it. Nature is no god, there is no god, only the economy and what it can bring us.’
‘Please, gentlemen, you must listen to me! You are damning your people, dooming the generations to come with your greed! You cannot do this, you must relent, please, I beg you!’
At this the board room erupted into laughter. Jowls slapped cheeks which reddened as tears came streaming down.
‘This is our time, not theirs!’ Chieftain wheezed, ‘they will have their own problems to solve just as we had ours. What a ridiculous man you are, Greenfield!’
Isaac felt a lump wrench itself into his throat. Why wouldn’t they listen? Were their worlds really so far apart that these men could not see reason? Isaac opened his satchel and removed a dossier from inside. He held the document high above his head.
‘Well perhaps the Environmental Protection Agency would be interested in my findings about the way you operate! I’m sorry to be forced to resort to this, but if you will not see reason, perhaps they will force you to see sense!’
At this the laughter stopped, a grave silence overtook the room. The elders glared at Isaac.
‘It is unwise to threaten us, Mr Greenfield,’ Chieftain said.
‘I am not threatening you, I am promising you that you will see things my way or be forced to by the powers above us.’
The elders began rising from their seats, each picking up a leather briefcase which had rested beside their chairs. They moved towards Isaac as a pack. Behind Isaac, Shaman closed and locked the doors they had come through.
‘What is the meaning of this?’ Isaac said, stepping back.
‘You come to our kingdom and threaten us with the damnation of the EPA? Such a thing cannot go unpunished, Mr Greenfield.’ Shaman said from behind him, ‘you will not leave this place.’
The first briefcase struck Isaac across the side of the head and he staggered back into the doors, dazed. The next blow came and knocked him to the ground. The elders were upon him now, raining blows down upon Isaac’s head and body. One would step forward and swing, then retreat to allow another forward. Wingtip shoes stabbed into Isaac’s sides and split him open.
As the frenzy died down, the doors opened, and younger members of the company entered. They lifted Isaac’s broken body and carried it above their heads as they made for a door marked roof access. Isaac flitted in and out of consciousness as he was hauled up the concrete stairs to the roof by the men. There was no fight left in him as the men lay him onto a pile of documents which had already been laid up there in the afternoon sun. He was propped up and lashed to an old water cooler. Chieftain stepped forward.
‘Oh, great economy, giver of life, bringer of wealth, we beseech you to accept our offering to you of this heathen. We will purge him from your kingdom, we will burn his beliefs and his heresy as we send his body to you with the flame. Accept our gift, oh great economy, and know that we will never forsake you as his kind have.’
The pyre under Isaac’s feet was lit and instantly caught. Isaac screamed in horror as the flames licked his body and set his cotton jumper and top-knot ablaze. The employees and board alike watched as the flames devoured Isaac and the screams slowly crackled and died. Thick black smoke belched up from the pyre into the evening sky. Storm clouds were gathering on the horizon.