Regional Vice Presidents of the Underworld

The Phoenician, Scottsdale—Canyon Golf Course, Hole #9Creative commons

Two Regional Vice Presidents of the Underworld, Skullcrusher and Tomato, were playing golf in Scottsdale on a  sweltering day in June. They were both in a foul mood as they finished up their game and headed over to the club for drinks.

“Are you happy with work, Tomato,” he asked as they wiped off their clubs and handed them to the gofer.

Tomato’s tail flicked in surprise. ” Sure, I guess so. The pay is great, the benefits are steady, and my 401k has been through the roof lately, in spite of the economy. Plus, seeing people suffer has got to be one of the most rewarding parts of our job.”

“I agree,” Skullcrusher said, walking up the slope, “but there haven’t been many human deaths lately, is the real problem for me. I hardly have any job satisfaction, and all the blogs say knowledge workers are motivated either by knowing they have a purpose in their job or by gaining more knowledge.”

“What do you mean?  We just had a whole spate of deaths due to global warming…tsunamis, hurricanes, derechos, all over the place. ”

“I know, but since humans are getting better at disasters, we’ve been getting less suffering.  I just checked my metrics on the Human Misery Index last week and they are really down month-over-month, even in Africa and Southeast Asia. We’re underproducing and boss ain’t happy.”

“Are you saying we have to come up with something new,”  Tomato said, scratching his scull with his seventh finger. He opened the door for Skullcrusher and a cool gust of stale air-conditioned resort air hit them on their way to the bar.

“I’m saying we have to innovate on human misery,” Skullcrusher raised a claw as he sat down to the bartender who nodded and reached for the whiskey.

“Think outside the box?  That’s going to be hard,” Tomato said.

“We’re regional vice presidents, Tomato,” Skullcrusher said, sipping his Glenfiddich. “How do you expect to get to Senior VP without thinking outside the box.”

“The same way I always did? By murdering my superiors in their sleep?”

“No, Boss doesn’t like that. That’s too crude. Won’t cut it.  He likes nuanced moves.  So we have to come up with something to make the HMI go up.”

They sat for a while in silence drinking the Glenfiddich as thoughts stewed in their heads.

“I got it,” Tomato said slowly. “What if we invent a way to convince humans that vaccinations are, in fact, bad for them. It’ll get them into a mass hysteria, they’ll refuse to vaccinate, and they’ll all die out as a human species together slowly from rubella.”

Skullcrusher smiled through his fangs, but it vanished as quickly as it appeared. “No one would be stupid enough to buy that, moron. Think harder.”

Skullcrusher drummed his fingers on the tabletop, seeing his iPhone out of the corner of his eye.  “How about…how about we implant radiation into everyone’s cell phone? Everyone has a cell phone, now everyone will have radiation.”

Tomato beamed, his second floppy eye going in the opposite direction, then the smile also vanished. “But that means we’re missing out on a huge market segment in Northern Africa and Central Asia, and all the hipsters that are throwing away their cell phones so it can be like the 1990s again. Plus if you kill everyone, who do you have left to make miserable?”

“You’re right, man,” Skullcrusher said and stirred his whiskey with a mournful sigh. “If only there was something that could make people miserable slowly, over a long period of time, and not have any meaningful impact on humanity?” He flipped listlessly through his Facebook feed.

Tomato did the same.  For a minute they were both absorbed in the glow of their silver screens as the fumes from their glasses sifted upwards.

“Hey, did you see this,” Skullcrusher pointed to a post on his feed. “Looks like Fangwort is stirring up election chaos in Russia again. Now there’s a way to make people miserable for a long time.”

“Yeah but Russians are always miserable. Fangwort got the low-hanging fruit. ”

“Yeah, but nothing gets people going like politics.”

“That’s true.”

“You think we can get that going here?”

“Get what going? Politics?”

“No, I mean frustration and stress about elections.”

“But those are more than a year away!”

“It’s doesn’t matter. The earlier you start, the angrier people are going to get.  Because in the end, what’s the real difference between the parties?”

“It’s huge!”

“That’s just what they tell you at the Underworld Corporate Center training classes to whisper to people. You know both parties have about the same relationship with Wall Street, with Pakistan, with healthcare.

“I guess that’s true,” Tomato said, clinking his ice around the glass,”but what about the other stuff? ”

“Does it matter? Politicians will say whatever they want, then change their minds. It’s all in how they’re percieved. Humankind has a short memory and a lazy Google reflex. They only remember what happend yesterday, but they will be passionate as hell about it on Facebook.”

“So what you’re saying is….”

“Yes. Exactly, my friend. Endless election cycle. Start hyping people up. Have them be furiously convinced. Start brawls in the street. Get tattoos. Give their money away to political campaigns that use them on advertising. Do you know how much money people will give to make a commercial?  Instead of spending that money on any actual changes? And all of it won’t actually change anything, but it the HMI will go through the roof!”

“People are so great!” Tomato exclaimed enthusiastically.

“Yes, humanity is the best and worst thing that happened to us demons of the inferior layers of the air. ”

“And then at the end of the campaign?  Someone wins and something changes, right?  So the misery index will be really low that day.”

“Doesn’t matter. Nothing in actuality will change,” Skullcrusher mused, already doing the calculations in his head. “Half the people will be miserable that day when their candidate hasn’t won, and the other half will be miserable when the candidate they elected doesn’t do what they want.”

“And then they’ll post millions and millions of Facebook statuses about it!”

“Multiplying the Human Misery Index, Tomato. Just think. If ours is the highest. Higher than even than that blasted Fangwort in Russia! And we’re going to accomplish it with hard work. And all he does is read Twitter and LiveJournals all day and leaves troll comments.”

They clinked glasses and leaned back in satisfaction. Life in Scottsdale was good. But they had a feeling they were about to get promoted to Senior Vice Presidents, and life in suburban Washington, DC was much better.  They sold alcohol in local grocery stores there.

Apologies to Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.