“Jesus, it’s still burning. But this time it’s 1870. The Commune?”
“Paris fighting Hessians outside the city, Parisians killing Parisians inside the city. Nothing like the French, eh? Move!”
They reached a third window. Gibson peered.
“Paris. But not burning. There go the taxicabs. I know. Nineteen sixteen. Paris saved by one thousand Paris taxis carrying troops to fend off the Germans outside the city!”
At a fourth window.
“Paris intact. But over here. Dresden? Berlin? London? All destroyed.”
“Right. How do you like the three-dimension virtual reality? Superb! Enough of cities and war. Across the hall. Go down the line. All those doors with different kinds of devastation.”
“Mexico City? I was there once, in ‘46.”
Hank Gibson pressed the button.
The city fell, shook, fell.
“The earthquake of ‘84?”
“Eight-five, to be exact.”
“Christ, those poor people. Bad enough they’re poor. But thousands killed, maimed, made poorer. And the government-“
“Not giving a damn. Move.”
They stopped at a door marked ARMENIA 1988.
Gibson squinted in, pressed the button.
“Major country, Armenia. Major country-gone.”
“Biggest quake in that territory in half a century.”
They paused at two more windows: TOKYO, 1932, and SAN FRANCISCO, 1905. Both whole, entire, intact at first glance. Touch the button: all fall down!
Gibson turned away, shaken and pale.
“Well?” said his friend Charlie. “What’s the sum?”
Gibson stared along the hall to left and right.
“War and Peace? Or Peace destroying itself without War?”
“Why are you showing me all this?”
“For your future and mine, untold riches, in-credible revelations, amazing truths. Andale. Vamoose!”
Charlie Crowe flashed his laser pen at the largest door at the far end of the hall. The double locks hissed; the door sank away to one side, revealing a large boardroom with a huge table forty feet in length, surrounded by twenty leather chairs on each side and something like a throne, some-what elevated, at the far end.
“Go sit up at the end,” said Charlie.
Hank Gibson moved slowly
“Oh, for Christ sake, shake a leg. We’ve only seven more minutes before the end of the world.”
“Just joking. Ready?”
Hank Gibson sat. “Fire away.”
The table, the chairs, and the room shook.
Gibson leaped up.
“What was that?”
“Nothing.” Charlie Crowe checked his watch. “At least not yet. Sit back. What have you seen?”
Gibson settled in his chair uneasily, grasping the arms. “Damned if I know. History?”
“Yes, but what kind?”
“War and Peace. Peace and War. Bad Peace, of course. Earthquakes and fire.”
“Admirable. Now, who’s responsible for all that destruction, two kinds?”
“What, war? Politicians, I guess. Ethnic mobs. Greed. Jealousy. Munitions manufacturers. The Krupp works in Germany. Zaharoff, wasn’t that his name? The big munitions king, the grand mullah of all the warmongers, films of him on the newsreels in cinemas when I was a kid. Zaharoff?”
“Yes! What about the other side of the hall? The earthquakes.”
“God did it.”
“Only God? No helpers?”
“How can anyone help an earthquake?”
“Partially. Indirectly. Collaboratively.”
“An earthquake is an earthquake. A city just happens to be in its way. Underfoot.”
“What if I told you that those cities were not accidentally built there? What if I told you w had planned to build them there, on purpose, to be destroyed?”
“No, Hank, creative annihilation. We were up to these tricks as far back as the Tang dynasty earthquakewise on the one hand. Citywise? Paris 1789 warwise.”
“We? We? Who’s we?”
“Me, Hank, and my cohorts, not in crimson and gold, but good dark cloth and decent ties and fine architectural school graduates. We did it, Hank We built the cities so as to tear them down. To knock them apart with earthquakes or kill their with bombs and war, war and bombs.”
“In this room or rooms like it, all across the world, men sat in those chairs on the left and right, with the grand mucky-muck of all architects there where you sit-“
“You don’t think all of those earthquakes, all of those wars, happened by mere accident, pure chance? We did it, Hank, the blueprint urban-plan architects of the world. Not the munitions makers Or politicians, oh, we used them as puppets, marionettes, useful idiots, but we, the superb hired city architects, set out to build and then destroy our pets, our buildings, our cities!”