Mich―for Nadim couldn't think of him as Shamin Nashid, or Manu Barakat for that matter―walked up behind him, the tinkle of ice on glass announcing his approach. “Quite a sight, isn't it?” he said, handing Nadim a drink before taking a sip of his own. “You'll enjoy a view very much like this one, if you want it.”
Nadim turned back to face the gigantic smartglass wall and activated a few ARLs at random, taking a sip of his drink. Shapes and arrows, icons, menus, logos, banners, buttons and effluvient avatars popped up all over the place, occluding his view of the city. Each screamed for his attention. A few of them actually received it, at least for a moment. A person has limits, after all.
Taking care of all those people would be a momentous task, he thought, wrestling with himself. But I'd be given the budget to do it. Then there's the secrecy, of course, that's an issue... But if I don't, who will?
The house AI, sensing a shift in tone, gracefully morphed the music to a semi-melodic post-ambient style.
Nadim killed his ARE and boosted contrast, studying the digitally-enhanced reflection of Mich Bodega, aka Manu Barakat, aka Shamin Nashid; a middling state functionary who absconded from the Maldives with half the fucking treasury thirty-seven years ago, used his connections to launder it and finance a takeover of SwooshCorp―making himself a rich and powerful player on the city council in the meanwhile―and then developed a conscience about it.
“What made you change your mind, after all those years?” Nadim asked the reflection.
“Age? Wisdom? Religious conversion? Near-death experience? It would be easy to tell you that I grew as a person, and give you a nice way to view me. But I've come clean so far, so I'll tell you: it was none of those things.” He came up beside Nadim, staring out at the cityscape below. “I learned I had a child,” he said. “A daughter. Her mother was a student at MNU who paid her tuition with a cleaning job at the state building. Our affair was sinful and scandalous.”
Nadim watched the reflected eyes closely. They were far away.
“Rasdhoo girl. Small village, running water, not a lot else. She wasn't raised in the capital, as I was, but she was an amazing woman nonetheless. Determined to make something of herself. I never met anyone so strong, but... She was unaccustomed to the life of the political class. Opposed, in fact. She turned my world upside-down.”
“You loved her,” Nadim said. He was still looking at the man's reflection, which still refused to meet his eye.
“I thought I did. But she didn't love me; not enough to leave the atolls.”
“Her village. Her culture.”
“Yes, but where would that culture be when the sea covered the land?”
Nadim thought about that. It was true, but still not right. “You took all that money for yourself,” he said.
“Think of the alternative, Nadim. Thousands of climate refugees fleeing to different cities, each with only a small share of the money required to survive on their own terms―they would be separated and eaten up by the FirstWorld in half a heartbeat. No technical skills, forced to take whatever mincome-level housing the bureaucracy tossed at them, losing touch with everything and everyone they know... There's no culture down that road, either.” Finally, his eyes met Nadim's. “Look, I'm not saying my motives were always good; they weren't. But when the tsunami struck in 2089, I found myself watching the reports coming out of the Maldives, the crumbling of the seawall, the evacuation efforts that came too late... That's when I saw my daughter. She was organizing a relief effort and searching for philanthropic donors. I recognized her even before the reporter said her surname; she looked just like her mother...” his voice trailed off.
“People died,” Nadim said.
“Hundreds. Maybe thousands.”
Nadim turned to face him directly. “Why me?”
“It wasn't a quick decision. I needed someone I could trust. Someone clever, compassionate, experienced, and skilled in the fine details of real estate law. Your background and psychological profile were my initial―”
“Shit! You had me deep-analyzed before I ever got the notification from HR,” Nadim said, putting it together.
“Please, that's not at all out of the ordinary for an executive position.”
“I wasn't applying for an executive position.”
“You didn't know you were.”
It was a lot to take in. Nadim finished his drink and held out the glass. “I need to think about this,” he said.
“Of course.” The CEO set both glasses down on an end-table, and a butlerbot rolled silently out to retrieve them. “I understand. It's a lot of responsibility.”
“I'll order a car to take me home.”
“Oh don't bother with that. Take my UrboHover. It's on the roof. Much cleaner than city cars, and it knows its way back.” He touched his wrist to pull up a 'face, slid a holographic icon in Nadim's direction and gestured toward a small elevator that hadn't been visible until its door slid open. A pleasant chimetone emitted simultaneously from the AR glasses and the smartglass wall.
Nadim muttered something like “thank you” and stepped into the elevator, turning around to face the room again. Before the door could slide shut he asked it to stop. It stopped. “You told me you wanted to find someone you could trust,” he said. “Someone who could take over management of the Little Maldives, take care of the people there, protect their culture and simultaneously, somehow, propel them into the future. But you were doing all that stuff already. So why bring me in at all?”
Mich, who was also Manu, who had once been Shamin, steepled his fingers and looked at the ground. “Two reasons,” he said, his syllables measured. “Firstly, I'm not really sure how good a job I've been doing. I can't very well ask them when I can't even show them my face. I'd be recognized instantly, and you can imagine how that would go.” He looked up at Nadim again. “And secondly―let's just cut to the bone here, as co-executives of SwooshCorp―I have done some bad things in my time, Nadim. I am about to do another, very bad thing. It's business. Good for the company, but bad for someone else. So bad that if it doesn't go as planned I may have to go away for a while, and I need to make sure the Little Maldives remain unaffected by whatever transpires, no matter what happens to me.”
Hit by a falling freight drone.
Nadim nodded, lips pursed, and rolled his hand at the door. It began sliding shut with a subtle bing.
The CEO of SwooshCorp, arms spread and palms open, watched him through the narrowing slit. “I am not a good man, Nadim,” he said. “But you are.”
* * *
When Nadim arrived at work the next day, Mich was nowhere to be seen. On the driver's seat was a tablet, and hovering over the dash was his vehicle control authorization. An icon flashed on the tablet and Nadim opened it.
The results of his 90-day review indicated scores in the 99th percentile in all cats, with a promotion effectively immediately to Senior Distribution Technician. His wages had doubled overnight. The “Admin Notes” column said “Either way.”
* * *