mrcreek: Rana palustris, the pickerel frog (Default)
[personal profile] mrcreek
Presenting the final chapter of Polymer Monopoly. Everything is wrapped up, various motivations and actions get explained (hopefully satisfactorily), and you get a taste of what will happen next in the characters' lives. I hope you enjoyed the story, or, if you haven't read it yet, that you will. Soon, I plan to write a follow-up post describing some of the science/history/geography behind the story. Also, at some point, I will consolidate all of the chapters into a single final post.

(Previous chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)

(2237 words)

Chapter 10

A week later, Fred hosted a dinner in her grand mansion for the members of the Vispiliase, several of her guards, and a few homesteaders from the vicinity of Mt. Thylacoma who had lost their houses to the lava flow. She was dressed in her suit and tophat. Gao had found another cowboy hat to replace the one he had lost and he wore his injured arm in a sling. Henrietta sported earrings shaped like histidines. I was comfortable once again in my old wool coat and cedar bark hat, which of course had remained at Fred's estate throughout our entire adventure. Wilhelm arrived looking like he had been sleeping in clothes and neglecting his razor, his mind as always more preoccupied with technological design. After the rich feast of grilled salmon, Fred clinked a knife on a glass to attract our attention.

"Comrades," she began, "I have invited you here in the spirit of the potlatches that my ancestors have held on these lands for centuries. Though I intended no harm, my actions have extensively damaged our society. I hope that by giving away some of what I have, I might begin to rectify the wrongs for which I am responsible. I can explain everything."

She paused to ensure she had captured everyone's attention, then, with a dramatic flair, plunged into her tale.

"I was practically still a child when I moved to Queen City from my village and started to build triph by hand and sell it as triphmongers have long done." She nodded in my direction. "Not long after my business was established, Petrosky approached me with a design for a triph-making machine that ran on hydrothermal power. In retrospect, I think he chose me because I was young and easy to manipulate. I hired him and we scraped together what little money we had to build a single synthesizer hidden in the woods on Mt. Thylacoma. In those days the pressure inside the mountain was much less, and it was straightforward to dig a hole and install it. Even with the reduced hydrothermal power, the machine churned out triph faster than anyone could make it by hand, and our business flourished. Soon we were installing a new synthesizer every week. The money kept pouring in, and the proton pressure started to increase."

"Was it capillary action?" asked Wilhelm. "Like a towel wicking up a spill, the triph synthesizers were sucking protons..."

"Don't interrupt the story," interrupted Henry.

"Yes," continued Fred, "it was positive feedback with the proton pressure, but I didn't realize it at the time. This did make it difficult to drill and reinforce any new holes to install additional synthesizers. But we had already saturated the slopes of the valley with them and had no absolute need to build more. After all, the competition was falling away without, as far as I assumed, any direct effort on my part. I didn't know half of what was happening under my very nose. I'm still putting the pieces together, but I think Petrosky was waging a campaign of violence from the start. I suspect that Colonel Wilkin's late wife, Lily Fae, was the original inventor of the triph synthesizer, at least on paper."

"She never told me a thing about it," I said. "I believe she was trying to perfect it in secret. Petrosky somehow learned of it, stole it, and poisoned her."

"Unbeknownst to me," said Fred, "he continued to deal with threats to our business in this manner. We developed the cephalases and the rotorcraft because he insisted they were necessary to protect against intruders, but I suspect that all along he was using them to intimidate and assault competitors. Likewise, we developed the antibodies to locate the triph synthesizers if they were ever buried in an avalanche, but I think all along Petrosky dreamed of strapping them to explosives and loosing them on anyone who dared to copy our technology."

"I could have designed something better to find them, that he couldn't have abused that way," Wilhelm piped in. "It would..."

"Let me guess," said Henry, "It would be a hundred times larger and it would be able to leave the ground."

"Well, basically, yes, but that's not all..."

"The antibodies are elegant," Henry continued. "If you had faced one down, you wouldn't dismiss them so lightly."

"Stop defending your new sweetheart, foyerlips," the young man retorted.

Gao eyed Wilhelm sternly. Wilhelm grinned sheepishly at Henrietta to indicate no hard feelings and then was silent.

"If I had been more savvy," continued Fred, "I would have realized what was happening, but I was caught up in the excitement of financial success and didn't want to closely examine how it had been achieved. Nevertheless, I heard things. I started to suspect that Petrosky was not being honest with me. When I learned of the Vispiliase, I decided to infiltrate and let them help me spy on my own company. As you all are well aware, I came to learn how horribly true the rumors were. On the day of the eruption, Petrosky flew me up to the crater to show me the full extent of what we had built laid out beneath us. I think he was then trying to remind to me that he had made innovative contributions to our business and I would be foolish to let him go. I now see that he had really been controlling me that way all along. I wanted desperately to prove myself intellectually, and I always felt inadequate compared to him, that I had never created anything as impressive as the triph synthesizers."

"Cowpats!" spat Wilhelm. "The rotorcraft is the most astronomical machine I've ever seen. Well, it would be if it were just a bit bigger." He glanced at Henry, flinching in anticipation of the forthcoming reprimand.

"Wilhelm is right," said Henry. "That scumbag Petrosky is nothing compared to you."

"She has had her hands around both of you, so she should know," said Wilhelm, ducking as Henry swiped at him across the table.

"Anyway," said Fred, "Pretrosky knew about my drive and my feelings of inferiority and used them against me all the time. That day, I realized that he was just a fraud and I had been smarter than him all along. He then argued that the sequence of the machines was nothing, that the real accomplishment was the audacity to stuff the valley with them, which is what caused the proton pressure to increase in the first place as Wilhelm figured out. I had never considered that before, and I suspect he made have been right, but I don't think he planned it that way any more than I did. Finally, he saw that his only option was to eliminate me as he had eliminated so many others. Fortunately, my loyal guard Emmet stood up for me and first helped me push Petrosky out of the rotorcraft, then later sacrificed himself to bring Petrosky down. Of course, as we now know, encouraging the lava to flow more vigorously turned out to be far from harmless. Not only did the volcano take lives and Wilhelm's marvelous creation, but it destroyed homes," she nodded to the homesteader victims, "and most of my factory.

"Colonel Wilkins," she turned to me, "You are the rightful heir of the triph motor sequence and thus the rightful leader of Montgomery Enterprises. If you will take the helm, I will stand by your side and together we can rebuild this business and try to find a safe and sustainable way to provide triph to our customers. I have realized that it is simply too dangerous to put all the eggs - the eggs are the triph - in one basket - the mountain is the basket. We need to diversify the ways we get our energy. And it shouldn't all come from one company either. Having competitors is good for everyone."

"I couldn't take over in good conscience," I said, "but if you agree to being equal partners, I would be delighted to join you."

"Agreed. Gao and Henry," she turned to the couple, "You founded the Vispiliase and served as the watchdog my business so desperately needed. If you will join us, you could help to make sure we stay responsible."

"Thank you," said Gao, "but we did not form the Vispiliase to help us rise to corporate power. We will, though, serve as independent consultants to you and to other similar businesses. That way we can keep any abuses of power in check."

"You know," I said, "I have a client, a Mrs. Avery, who does not want to have to buy any more triph from Montgomery, or even from me for that matter. But I was thinking, when she brews beer the fermentation releases energy. You could charge triph with that energy, I think, if you built the right machinery. You should go help her out with that." They nodded their approval of my suggestion.

"I offer you then an endowment," said Fred to Gao and Henrietta, "to form an advisory council for responsible triph production. Wilhelm? What would you like to do?"

"You can keep your triph production, I'm into transportation," he declared. "If I could merge the flying ability of that rotorcraft with the power of the Locust, I could make astronomical airships that could carry dozens of people at a time all the way across the ocean! If you would supply me with some venture capital, I guarantee that the firm I found will be able to pay it back in a few years. And you can all have the first ride. In honor of the Locust, I think I'll call it the Boing Corporation."

"Agreed," said Fred. "To those who have lost your homes, I promise to build you new ones. And all those who suffered from Petrosky's thuggery, and therefore from my negligence, will be awarded reparations."

She paused again and hushed her voice in a mostly futile attempt to enhance the drama.

"And now comes my most astounding proclamation yet," she said. "To fully come clean, I need to make a very personal announcement. I know that some of you have already deduced my secret, but I expect it will shock the majority of you. In truth, I am..." she paused, "... a woman!" She dramatically flung off her tophat.

No one spoke for a few seconds. "You don't say!" said one of the guards finally, with an unconvincing tone of forced astonishment.

Fred looked mildly disappointed at the underwhelming response. "I'm sure you're all too stunned to speak. Anyway, it's time for dessert. I'll be right back."

The conversation picked up in her absence. Unsurprisingly, no one was talking about Fred's gender. The guards were asking Wilhelm about his airship ideas. Henrietta was asking the displaced families if they needed an emergency supplies. I turned to Gao. "You knew not to let Petrosky see Fred. At the Hypertonic Halibut. Then you let her go talk to the guard by herself at the factory. In fact, you got her to do most of the explaining about how the triph synthesizer worked, all while making it look like you had already figured it out. You watched her buy the raw materials for the Locust, which couldn't have been cheap. And you're a very perceptive fellow. Did you know all along who she was?"

Gao looked at me with his characteristic expression of false but believable cluelessness. "Henrietta and I founded the Vispiliase to rid ourselves of our enemy. All of my actions have been directed toward that goal," is all he cryptically replied.

"Wilkins," hissed Fred from the kitchen, "Come help me carry out the dessert." I found her overladen with delicious-smelling filbert-pear tarts. I hoisted up a platter.

"So you're real name is Montgomery, then?" I asked. "Is you're first name Winifred? It can't be, um, Ezekiel-ina?"

"Oh no, I would never go by my real name. Call me Sarah. Imagine! Using your real name as an alias. What a stupid strategy! And you?"

"My name is John," I replied, wondering how long it would be until she asked me my last name.

"Nice to meet you John," she said. "Shall we?" She motioned toward the dining room.

I followed and helped her distribute the desserts. As I made the rounds, Henry caught my attention. "Wilkins," she said. "I wanted to apologize for treating you with such suspicion. You dedicated yourself to us instantly and asked for nothing back. And you were right about Bacon."

"You had no reason to trust me. Everything you did was completely sensible."

"Perhaps, but I didn't have assume you were against us, or that you wouldn't come see things our way anyway, even if you were. I should have remembered something my husband once said, back even before we formed the Vispiliase. There are two ways to rid yourself of your enemy, he said. One is to destroy him, and one is to make him your friend."

We were interrupted by Wilhelm making a toast in memory of Sardoni. This was followed by Fred making a toast in memory of Emmet the guard. Then the guards toasted Fred, and soon everyone was toasting each other. The wine flowed and the dreams for the future were shared and the rain fell on the window panes as night descended over the polymer metropolis of Queen City.
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