Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Nostalgia Trip #14: FOOL PROOF

Published by the sadly defunct PLANET RELISH - Issue #27, May 2003

Arnold Wurthington XXVIIth, the richest man in the Galaxy, reached out and depressed the red button in the middle of his control panel.

On the surface of the planet below his orbiting luxury cruiser, a mountain cracked open and toppled upon a gleaming black dome.  The final screams of the men trapped inside the dome issued from an overhead speaker in the cruiser's control room.  Then there came a loud plunk!—and the speaker went dead.

Wurthington sighed and turned away from the displays.  His sadness and his disappointment ran neck and neck.  It wasn't the deaths of the men of the dome that made him sad, it was the fact they'd failed to live up to their grand promises.

"They never learn, do they, Fitz?" he said.

His uniformed butler replied, "Indeed not, sir."

"Am I asking too much?  Have I requested the impossible?"

Fitz didn't answer.  It had happened before, and doubtless it would happen again.  Take the previous group of defense system designers, who'd perished earlier that same day because they had forgotten to take earthquakes into account! They'd all vanished, screaming, into a bottomless chasm when Wurthington exploded reaction bombs and created an earthquake so powerful it shook the planet to its core.  Why didn't they understand? If Wurthington could blow up a mountain or cause an earthquake, then so could his enemies!

"All I want, Fitz," he said, "is somewhere I will be safe from those who would destroy me.  Somewhere I can relax, knowing they cannot ever reach me."  He sighed again.  “Not even the most brilliant designers and architects in the Galaxy can give me what I want, it seems."

"It is truly sad, sir."

"When is the next group due to arrive?"

"Tomorrow morning, sir.  I have instructed them to set up on the fourth planet, since the second and third planets are no longer habitable.  They requested a day in which to prepare."

"Do they understand they must be willing to test their own designs with their lives?"

"Yes, sir.  That does not seem to worry them.  Your generous offer of one million starstones to whoever can successfully design and construct an indestructible, foolproof sanctuary continues to attract considerable interest.  There is no shortage of volunteers.  Your agents are carefully vetting the applicants, however.  Only those who actually stand a chance of surviving your extremely clever tests are being permitted to proceed to the final stage."

Wurthington nodded his approval.  Perhaps someone might succeed, after all.

"I'm feeling slightly peckish, Fitz," he said, suddenly cheered.  "Some delicious cream pastries, perhaps?"

"Very good, sir."


The fortress certainly looked impressive.  Wurthington looked on impassively as his automatics attacked with nuclear missiles and orbital lasers and a dozen other unlimited tactical weapons.  The fortress survived them all, its shimmering golden walls taking everything Wurthington threw at it.  He activated his viewscreen and the face of the chief designer smiled out at him.

"Well done!" Wurthington said.  "You've come up with an extremely robust design, I must say."

"Thank you," the chief designer said, bowing his head to acknowledgment the compliment.  "Are your tests concluded, sir?  If so then we claim the prize—"

"Actually, no," Wurthington said.  "I have withdrawn my ship from orbit above the planet upon which your fortress is located.  If you turn your telescopes skyward you will see an approaching asteroid, which possesses near-planetary mass.  It should arrive in—oh, let's say five minutes.  I shall be very interested to see whether you survive."

The chief designer's face paled.  "Sir," he said, "this is really quite impossible.  Your specification stated that—"

"My specification was for an indestructible, foolproof sanctuary," Wurthington said.  "A sanctuary which would be immune to any conceivable assault.  If I can throw an asteroid at your fortress, then so can my enemies! To be blunt, sir, if your design is so flawed it cannot withstand such an attack then the failure is yours, not mine.  Call me back in six minutes—if you're still alive, that is."

Wurthington cut the link and slid down into the steaming waters of his bath.  He closed his eyes and hummed a merry tune.  The hot water relaxed him.  He floated on his back, and lost all track of time.   Only when Fitz spoke did he open his eyes again.

"Sir, I regret to inform you—"

"I know, Fitz.  Thank you."

Wurthington climbed out of the bath and allowed Fitz to help him on with his robe.

"When does the next group arrive?" he asked.

"The day after tomorrow, sir.  I have redirected them to the sixth planet, since the fifth no longer exists, save as cosmic flotsam and jetsam."

"How poetic of you, Fitz.  I wonder what variation on a theme this new group will bring, hmm?  We'll find out soon enough.  I'm feeling rather peckish.  Some chocolate eclairs perhaps, Fitz?"

"Very good, sir."


The sixth planet was duly transformed to radioactive rubble two days later.  Wurthington was pleasantly surprised when his viewscreen lit up and the sweating face of the chief designer of the latest group grinned at him.

"Well, Mr. Wurthington, we've taken your best shot, and we're still alive," the designer said with considerable pride and satisfaction.  "Our force shields provided adequate protection with a suitably wide safety margin.  I believe we have met your every requirement.  Therefore I should like to claim—"

"There's one more little test," Wurthington said.  "It won't take long, and I do apologize for the inconvenience."

"Not at all, Mr. Wurthington.  May I ask what this test will be?  You've expended asteroids and planets against us—what else can you possibly do?"

"I've put a ring of exciters into orbit about the sun.  They are generating an intense magnetic field, creating a solar flare that will extend for several hundred million kilometers.  Fitz is feeding your computers the math now, so you can prepare for the event.  You have about eighteen minutes before the flare reaches you."

The designer studied his instruments, and promptly burst into tears.

"Mr. Wurthington, this is simply awful. Our force shield generators will overload as soon as the flare hits us.  We're all going to die.  We'll be incinerated."

"I'm sorry to hear that.  I really thought you might have succeeded where others had failed."  He cut the link, and sat back to watch the stellar phenomenon he'd created.  The solar flare licked out to consume the latest group of designers, whose force shield did indeed overload, with sadly fatal results.

Wurthington slumped into his huge chair and sighed again.  "Another failure, Fitz.  How many is that now?"

"Six hundred and seventy-three, sir."

Fitz's voice was uncommonly close.  Wurthington looked up.  Fitz stood beside him, holding a silver tray, upon which lay a SlowPost telegraph flimsy.  Wurthington hadn't seen one of these in years, not since the much faster, though infinitely more expensive hyperwave communications network had been created.

"What the devil is that, Fitz?" he demanded.

"A message for you from your accountants on Earth, sir."

Wurthington frowned.  "My accountants?  Why didn't the idiots just call me on the hyperwave transceiver?"  He snatched up the flimsy, settled himself into a more comfortable position and read the SlowPost message with mounting incredulity and disbelief.

"Fitz!" he gasped.  "What does this mean?  Tell me what it all means! Surely there's been some dreadful mistake?"

The manservant's metal face was unreadable as always, but his eyes glowed with undisguised pleasure.

"No, sir, there is no mistake.  Your business empire has been drained by the enormous expense of these defense system tests, and has collapsed completely.  Your companies are all bankrupt.  You are no longer the richest man in the Galaxy.  In fact, according to your accountants, you are destitute.  Even this beautiful ship will have to be sold to settle your debts.  May I be the first to offer you my heartfelt congratulations, sir?"

"Your congratulations—?"

"Indeed, sir! Since you are no longer the richest man in the Galaxy, your business rivals will no longer wish to kill you in order to obtain that coveted title for themselves.  They will fall upon each other instead, ignoring you completely.  Thus your goal has been achieved."

Wurthington swallowed hard.  "My goal, Fitz?"

"Yes, sir.  The foolproof defense.  I knew it would work.  That's why I continued to authorize all those tests in your name, despite the numerous objections from your accountants.  The only foolproof defense, sir, in this day and age, is to not be the target.  May I get you something to eat, sir, by way of celebration?  Some chocolate cake, perhaps?"

"No thank you, Fitz," Wurthington said gloomily.  "I'm not really all that hungry."

The End

Published by PLANET RELISH - Issue #27, May 2003
Mark Rapacioli, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief
Fiction by: Lorie Calkins, Steven Pirie, Leah Bobet, Derek Paterson

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