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When I finally returned to Elias's Cozy Cottage, I was ready to triumphantly and humbly announce that I'd entered the designed virus into the data center.
Instead, Elias had greeted me with fervent congratulations.
"I don't know how you did it, Garland! The mineral rights on Lorn Mountain have been transferred back to the Emmit family. Even more impressive, they've remained there. How did you do that?"
I'm not above taking credit for things I haven't had anything to do with. I just shrugged and smiled. How in the hell had that happened? How was it even possible?
Inside, I was wondering about Freedy's strange behavior when he rejoined us, as if he knew everything that had happened to us, and had somehow influenced the result.
How? -- I had no idea. I was going to get the little thief in a dark room and beat the truth out of him if I had to.
I'd left the gold miners in Freedy's hands. The young man was proving
to be every bit as resourceful as his Aunt Tessie had been -- maybe even
more so. Charlie and the others were bound to get in trouble on their
own, but Freedy's innate conservatism might help steer them in the right
way direction, at least for a few days.
It didn't hurt
that they had an F.B.I. agent accompanying them as well, though I was
absolutely puzzled how that happened. In fact, everything that had
happened at the data center had been unexpected.
"Why do you bother with them, Garland?" Elias said, in that profound way he said anything. "It's raining" very profound; "I'm going to bed," even more profound; "The Yankees are going to win the World Series," earthshakingly profound.
"Because they -- the average citizen -- are what count in the end, Elias," I said. I knew my words wouldn't penetrate more than a few centimeters into the great man's cranium. "What the average person experiences on the Internet IS the Internet. We make all these big decisions as if we're in charge, but we're just reacting to what the Internet has already become or is becoming."
"Nonsense," Elias said. "We make the rules.'
"Do we?" I chuckled. It was an old argument, a chicken or the egg argument, that had no answer. "Well, let's just say I like to keep up with what's going on."
We were sitting in the library, while his interns played pool or wandered in and out of the room. The room had been constructed in such a way that anything said in the armchairs went only a few feet, while everything said elsewhere in the library could be heard in the armchairs. It was distracting, but Elias liked to keep track of what his young Charges were up to.
One of the interns approached. They all looked the same to me, young, handsome and bland.
"The conference room is ready, sir. Everyone is scheduled to join up in ten minutes."
The intern looked distressed. "He hasn't answered us, sir. But we know he got our messages. We've have a screen set up just in case."
"Well, it's HIS funeral," Elias said, in an Universe-shakingly deep tone.
"Indeed it is," I agreed.
I certainly hoped so. I didn't know how Josiah Secore could stand against every other major player in the game. Against every other Fortune 500 company; against every internet provider and data provider and social network designer. Between us, ninety percent of the Internet was represented.
The other ten percent? That was Secore and his minions. An impressive number, far bigger than any of the rest of us individually. He'd been there at the beginning, and had been far-seeing, staking out positions in parts of the web that none of the rest of us had bothered with. Now, all these years later, those parts of the web were becoming dominant. The Dark Lord's ten percent was going to be twenty percent within a few years.
I, for one, didn't underestimate him anymore. If he managed to corner that much, then he might very well be able to dominate the rest.
That had to stop. Today. With or without him being present.
"We should have a name for our little gathering," Elias said.
"How about the Blue Council?" I said. "You've always called our little community the Blue Wizards, after all."
Elias was delighted. I was flattering him, of course, but he was the richest and most powerful of us -- except for one -- and we all catered to him a tad. Back in the early days, a sillier and less profound Elias called us all Blue Wizards after the lines of blue light emanating from the primitive screens.
I almost winced when a few minutes later, after we decamped from the library and made our way into Elias's entertainment/meeting center, my host said in a profoundly deep voice. "I call the meeting of Blue Council to order."
There they were, peering at us from huge screens that filled the room. The greatest minds of the Internet. Only one screen was dark. No, as I looked closely, I saw that it was actually on, but all it showed was a red fire in the middle, like a burning tower.
"Welcome to all," Elias said. His voice had dropped a little when he too saw the red tower. No one had seen Josiah Secore in years. There was a rumor that Josiah had met with an accident experimenting with chemical processes that he should have left alone, and that it had left him scarred and crippled. I was starting to believe it.
"We are meeting here today so that we can decide here and now how much control of the Internet we can allow any one entity to have -- whether it be a government, a corporation, or an individual."
"That would be up the marketplace, surely," the young man who had invented a social network in his dorm room said.
"Should it?" I challenged. "I have no problem with all of us making money from using the network, as long as we don't keep others out. Competition in the marketplace is one thing, monopoly is another."
"I agree," said the man who ran what had once been the biggest computer company in the world and who had ironically been sued by the federal government for monopoly. "Equal access must be guaranteed."
"The Internet must remain open to all. No one should control it." This came from the fellow who had built his first computer in a garage, and who was as interested in the look and feel and functionality of his devices as he was in the Internet itself.
And so it went, around the room. All of us wanted an open network, because all of us had gotten rich from such a system.
"Why are we even discussing this? I don't believe it would be possible to control the Internet even by a worldwide Dictatorial Power." Said a software designer who was famous for offering his programs free.
Ah, we come to it at last.
I spoke up. "I believe it is possible, through a series of different governing industries, to indeed dominate the Internet in such a way that the content and delivery mechanisms of the Internet are controlled. The who and what and why and how and where. We must not allow this to happen."
"How are we to stop it?" Elias asked. He knew exactly what I was going to do. He'd been there from the beginning of my plans.
"I have a list here of industries that must be broken up and sold in equal shares to the members of the Blue Council. By this means, control will be avoided. I am requesting that we pay above market price for these businesses, so that no harm comes to the owners."
I put the list up on the screen for all to see.
Oh the months I'd spent trying to come up with that list! All designed so that the solution would be permanent and at the same time, wouldn't cause disruption. The prices were attractive to the sellers, but not so high that everyone would rebel.
But most of all, I'd tried to disguise the true intent and the true target of my plan. Of course, I knew that everyone in that room was smart enough to know who that was. I'd talked to each of the individually and they all agreed. But I'd mixed a variety of industries and businesses onto the list, so that no one could claim to be singled out.
But of course, the whole point of the Blue Council was to single One out.
The beauty of it, or so I thought, was that Secore wouldn't be able to fight it. I'd found his weak spots, companies which could be bought out from under him, others where majority shares could be purchased. I was convinced I had found the solution.
"I move that the proposal be adopted by the consenting parties in this room."
It quickly passed around the room. I'd even arranged a few no votes so it wouldn't seem like it was ramrodded through. It came to that last screen. The fiery tower had become alarmingly bigger, I realized.
A voice came through the speaker. A voice I hadn't heard in thirty years. It was cold, emotionless, and soft. It sent shivers down my spine.
"I vote NO."
The screens all went blank at the same moment.
The lights went dark.
A few moments later the lights flickered on when the Cozy Cottage's emergency generators kicked in.
The computer screens stayed dark, however. Which should have been impossible with all the safeguards I knew Elias had built into his systems.
"Well, that could have gone better," I heard Elias's deep voice.
For once, the profundity sounded completely appropriate.
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