The Last Trump
A fable for our times
On the top floor of the Thousand Storey Tower lived the most important man in the world. The tower did not actually have a thousand storeys, less than nine hundred in fact, but he had decided on the name, and who would dare count them? And there were people who said taller towers existed elsewhere, but they were all liars.
The master of the world loved his tower. He could look down from his viewing platform to where all the little people were leading there little lives. He could not see them (from this height they were too small to be seen by the naked eye) but he knew they were there, and that they depended on him. He employed them, protected them, rewarded them when they pleased him and punished them when they did not. On the floors below thousands toiled to fulfil his every whim and hundreds queued to receive his favour. On the roof above a helicopter waited to whisk him anywhere in the world.
His favourite room was his study. This had no windows, but each wall was occupied by an enormous screen, on which he could oversee his multifarious enterprises, and keep track of all his minions. His chair had been ergonomically designed to fit him, and covered in gold leaf. His desk was made from the wood of the last tree of a now extinct species. The screens were voice activated, and linked to a computer which could answer any question.
Every morning, before he started work, he would sit down and demand ‘Show me the most important person in the world.’
The screens would light up with his image. Then he would smile, and his image would smile back.
One morning he entered his study as usual and made his usual request, but this time a glitch occurred. Instead of his face, the screens showed the image of an unknown woman.
‘What the – you must be joking!’
‘I have no sense of humour,’ said the computer. It spoke in the voice of a young woman. He liked to imagine her wearing short skirt, high heels and a blouse with a generous cleavage. He called her ‘Pussy’.
‘A malfunction, then.’
‘All my systems are working correctly.’
He stared at the screen. For years he not allowed any woman who was not young and beautiful near him. This specimen was decidedly past her sell-by date. She was overweight, her greying hair hung limply, and her jowls sagged. Ugh!
‘Who the hell is she?’
‘Name, Ava Costner, aged 53, divorced,’ said Pussy. ‘Works as a cleaner on the 17th Floor.’
A loser. A total loser. ‘That is supposed to be more important than me? Ridiculous! There must be some mistake.’
‘I am the ultimate computer. I am programmed never to make mistakes.’
‘Than you’ve been hacked.’
Yes, that must be the answer. One of his enemies had managed to corrupt his systems. Only – he’d destroyed all his enemies, hadn’t he? It would seem not.
‘Shut down all systems and activate full security scan,’ he ordered. It was a nuisance; he would be offline for a while, but better safe than sorry. And there was one thing he could do straight away. ‘Get rid of that female. No-one that ugly deserves to exist.’
‘Yes, Master,’ said Pussy
The next morning The Master of the World re-entered his study. The screens were showing a compilation of his greatest successes. He settled into his gold-plated chair.
‘Show me the most important person in the world.’
He could not believe his eyes. Again, the screen showed, not his own familiar smirk, but a total stranger. This time it was a thin, balding man with spectacles who peered out at him.
He had had enough. ‘Pussy! I don’t want to know who this is. Just get rid of him. And from now on, every morning, ask who the most important person is, and if it’s not me, do the same to them.’
‘And now, to work. I have some factories to close in Indonesia.’
From then on, life continued smoothly at the top of the Thousand Storey Tower. Pussy made sure of that. Every time the screens showed someone more important than the Master, that person was removed. First they vanished singly, then in batches. The security services dealt with anyone who complained. If any in the security serves complained (because some of the disappeared were their friends and relatives) they were fired. He issued his orders and anyone who disagreed with him was fired. He did not care what happened to them after that. They were losers, and he was not interested in losers.
He would stand on his viewing platform and gaze out at the sea of cloud that hid the ground. His screens showed him all the news he wished to see. He stopped asking, who was the most important person in the world. There was no point, he knew the answer. He was content.
Until the day the lights went out. All the screens were dark.
‘What’s happening?’ he cried. ‘Pussy, where are you?’
There was no answer. He could hear noises from below, shouting, feet advancing up the stairs. He took his gold-plated lift to the roof, but his helicopter was nowhere to be seen. He rushed to the parapet and looked down.
The streets below were choked with people, as far as he could see. The noise of them reached him, a vast inarticulate roar of rage.
‘Get rid of them!’ he shouted, but there was no-one to hear.
Behind him he could hear the approach of the mob.
It was a long way down.