The blue and scarlet ticker tiptoed across the bottom of the massive plasma screen. The swirling molecules of xenon, phosphorus and helium were blissfully unaware of the mounting hysteria they were provoking in the mind of one of the world's richest and most influential men.
"Would someone switch that confounded news feed off!"
Daniel Bell glanced at the electronic ticker that was causing his employer so much consternation: "Iranian Premier snubs Media Baron, calls him a Global Parasite." The Senior Vice-President for Corporate Accountability clamped his lips shut lest even the hint of a smile betray his private amusement. Instead he remained standing in the wings of the luxurious suite where his volatile CEO was holding forth, biding his moment to be summoned.
"I will have that man crucified. I'll dig his grave myself. I'll make him wish he—"
"Had never been born."
"Exactly. What? How dare you finish my sentence? Who do you think you are? Get out of my sight!"
"I'm dreadfully sorry, sir. I was only trying—"
"I apologise unreservedly."
"Get your sorry hide out that door before I have security toss you out. Daniel, get over here and save me from this imbecile."
Daniel walked briskly to the middle of the room, nodding in passing to his employer's most recent personal assistant. The obsequious sycophant was doubtless wondering whether he would still have a job by the end of the day.
"How many television companies do I own, Daniel?"
"43, sir, as of yesterday and a further nine film studios."
The CEO's glare rested on his Senior VP, searching of any flicker of impertinence. Finding none, he continued, "Spot on. And then there are my many magazines, my countless newspapers, my cutting-edge Internet assets. Am I or am I not one of the most powerful men on the face of the planet?"
"Without a doubt, sir."
The chairman of the Chaldean Media Corporation bestowed a rare smile on his favourite VP.
"What if I were to say that I am indisputably greater than any man that has ever lived?"
"Then I would respectfully have to disagree, sir."
"That's what I like about you, Daniel. If I said such a thing to that toady who scuttled out of here a moment ago, he would have fallen to his knees and polished my shoes with his insipid spittle. But you're a man of integrity; in fact I think of you as my conscience."
"Thank you, sir. May I infer from your agitated manner that you're still being haunted by that particular dream?"
The old man nodded. "Every God-forsaken night. I wake up in the morning and all I can see is that wretched tree stump, capped with a disc of rough, pitted iron, alone and abandoned in the middle of a dark, brooding forest."
"And what of my suggestion, sir? Have we reached that point where you're ready to talk, where you'll acknowledge that you need to make some fundamental changes?"
"Bah, don't start with your religious mumbo-jumbo. I've had all manner of psychics and fortune-tellers interpret my dream and every one of them has a different explanation. Why in God's name should I accept yours?"
"Well, sir, perhaps because you know that it's true? God has given you a rare opportunity. You could turn round this mighty empire of yours and let it be a force that serves mankind for its greater good. I believe that's why the Lord God sends you this same dream night after night."
Daniel's entreaty was greeted with stony silence. The giant plasma screen flickered and hummed. Outside in the hall a passing security guard radioed in his status report. A computer terminal beeped to signal the arrival of an important memo.
"That will be all, Mr Bell. Thank you for your opinion. Kindly ask Marduk to step inside. We need to formulate our strategy to repay the Iranians for their insolence."
Daniel walked away without a word. He stepped into the elevator and punched the button for the ground floor. Passing through the foyer, he heard the squawk of walkie-talkies calling for medical assistance. The CEO had collapsed, possibly a stroke. He had been found writhing on the floor, clawing at the air like some demented animal. Daniel had known it was coming. The vainglorious magnate had chosen to ignore Heaven's warning. Perhaps seven years of madness would be enough to bring the foolish man to his senses.
Adapted and contemporised from Daniel chapter 4.
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