* * * * * * * * *
“For that was the way of the Pimple and its pimps.”
I scratched my head, trying to put it all together. “So let me get this straight. They built an entire industrial city on top of a geological time bomb.”
“That’s right,” said the ancient Tortoiselander.
“Which they all intended to abandon at the last moment.”
“Almost right. Whenever seismic activity indicated magma flow, they’d declare and Emergency Holiday Energy Potlatch. Anything to bleed off the heat! Not only was energy-wasting permitted, it was in fact a religious duty!”
“Well, that makes sense.”
“And only plebes, wimps, and lowlife – that is, poor folk – only they would be gauche enough to cut and run whenever the V-word rumbled! The ambitious wanted to be the last to leave!”
“So what did they do?”
“To dare each other, they’d throw a big party, in a big building set right atop the Cap itself. And if you don’t attend, why then you’re not a member of their club.”
“And people attended?”
“Every time so far!”
“But that’s… stupid!”
“I mean really, truly, seriously stupid!”
“How can anyone be that dumb?”
“Politics,” he explained.
* * * * * * * * *
A hierarchical city grew over Mount Kah-Pey; the higher up, on the repressed volcano itself, the pricier the neighborhood, with the peak on the cap itself. The poor folk and the workers lived around the base of the mountain, right next to the racetracks, the industrial parks – and the escape highways.
The mountain was covered with lights and electric trams. There was a sub-orbital launch catapult, and lots of microwave power-beam emitters.
The mountain was covered with utility boreholes, all very well-lit. No smoky industry to offend delicate nostrils.
* * * * * * * * *
“But plenty of heat pollution,” said Uncle Ted. “And whenever it gets too hot for the rich folk…”
“Yeah?” I asked.
“…they just turn up the air-conditioning!”
“Wow!” I marveled. I stared at the screen. “And their houses are so big!”
The external telescopic camera was pointed at Kah-Pey, and my uncle was showing me the sights.
“Their mansions need to be covered with Faraday cages, to shield them from all the microwave energy. But it doesn’t work; they still go sterile.”
“So how do they have kids?”
“Mostly they just adopt them. Or steal them.”
“Oh.” I pointed at the monitor screen and said, “Isn’t that the Army base?”
“Right next to the weapons lab.”
“And what are those buildings for? They’re so well lit!”
“Those are casinos.”
I squinted at the screen and read, “T… &… A… Nitely. What’s T&A?”
“Well…” He seemed embarrassed somehow. “Tits and ass.”
“I see those here all the time, in the hot tub. So what?” Then I saw something more interesting. “Ooo, ooo, look at that!”
Uncle Ted said, “It’s the Mint!”
“Oh wow!” I said. “And look at all those office buildings!”
“That’s where the corporate bureaucrats work,” said Uncle Ted.” And see that building there? The one which looks like a church? Guess what it is.”
“No, it’s the Stock Market! City Hall is over there.”
“You mean there?”
“No, no, that’s the central bank headquarters! The little building’s City Hall!”
“And what’s that building?”
“That’s the Narcotic Control Division’s Evidence Warehouse #1, where the narcs keep their stash.”
“It’s huge… and what’s that?”
“The government records building. To help them remember everything, they keep a big, big superconducting supercomputer there, chilling out in a vat of liquid helium.”
“Liquid helium?! Cool!”
“The place is as cold as a bureaucracy’s heart,” said Uncle Ted. “I should know.”
“Oh, you worked there? What’d you do?”
“Well…” He seemed embarrassed somehow. “Mostly video programming.”
“You mean, photoshopping?”
“You mean… lying?”
“Cool!” I said. “And look! There’s the TV studios! And the antennas!”
“Sending and receiving,” said Uncle Ted. “Mount Kah-Pey is watching you!”
“What are those funny-looking buildings?”
“You mean the ones at the peak? Right atop the Cap itself? They’re the churches, of course. See those two domes?”
“I know! They’re the Crystal Cathedrals!”
“Also known as the ‘Family Jewels’. And do you see the Power Tower?”
“Right in between? Sure! It’s so well lit!”
“Right now all the lights are on.”
I said, “Gee. What with those two domes and the tower right in between, you know what it looks like?”
“Yes,” said Uncle Ted. “Everybody knows.”
“Well, I think it looks vaguely obscene,” Sam groused. He had snuck up behind us and was peeking over our shoulders. “And if there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s vagueness!”
I asked, “Is dinner ready yet?”
“Hot pizza and cold root beer await you in the TV chapel! So come and get it!”
We came to get it. It was a traditional Tortoiselander evening. The TV was on, and the pizza was going around. Sweet ropy smoke filled the air.
“It’s Sister Jenny’s turn to load the bong!”
“Load the bong!”
“Shh… shh… the show’s starting…”
The TV played a cheerful tune and announced, “Broadcasting From The Summit!” And the party was on!
“Go! Scoot!” uncle-cubed said to me. “Go and finish recycling the cans!”
So I drifted out to the kitchen and began stomping root beer cans flat, one after another after another after another. For some reason I felt dizzy and a bit dazed.