Author's Note: This is an homage to the poem "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Amidst a flurry of multi-colored laser displays and droning bass notes, Oswald “Ozzy” Mondias strode confidently across the main stage and stood behind the podium, clicker in hand. A thousand flash bulbs held aloft by paparazzi and assorted tech and financial journalists popped in rapid succession. He posed, turning his gaze slightly upward and pouting his lips as he'd been coached to do by the publicists and consultants and makeup artists that surrounded him at all times.
At nineteen, he wore the scruffy beard of a man only recently pubescent. His hair was pulled back tightly in a bun and he wore a black hoodie, the logo of his company, a robotic head with a neutral expression and pixelated eyes, over the left breast, and tapered grey jeans. On his feet were fashionable low-top sneakers, undoubtedly one of a kind and very expensive.
He turned toward the screen behind him and raised his hands. The words “WELCOME TO THE NANOTEK FUTURE,” appeared perfectly on cue, as though manifested by nothing more than his will. Rapturous applause erupted through the massive auditorium, punctuated by hoots and hollers from the balcony and stages left and right.
King of Kings, he’d been dubbed by Wired Magazine in a cover story showing Ozzy's visage rising above the heads of other widely-known Silicon Valley titans. He’d been pleased by that title and gladly accepted it, putting it on his business card, even, though he didn’t have any need for those. Everyone knew he was: the boy wonder who had enrolled in Stanford at sixteen, dropped out at seventeen after calling his professors “know nothing morons,” and started his company manufacturing nanorobots capable of both absolute subservience and moral self-determination, programmed to do no harm, safeguard the common good, act as a vanguard against vainglory. "More like Mr. Rogers," Ozzy called his technology whenever anyone compared it to The Terminator. "Think cardigans and slippers, not leather jackets and sawed offs."
Investors had banged on his door. Wall Street clambered for his attention. With his own technology, he built in record time a grandiose headquarters in the hills east of San Jose that architects called "a modern marvel, a shape shifting wonder, fluid in both its design and purpose, but always, always beautiful." Forbes put him at number four on the list of world’s wealthiest people, but the smart money was on him rising to the top by year’s end.
For a full minute, Ozzy stood on stage mouthing “thank you” and pointing off in various directions, putting his hands over his heart in feigned modesty, taking half a dozen bows. Then he signaled for silence, and the audience obeyed.
He cleared his throat.
“I am a traveler from an antique land,” he pronounced, raising his arms victoriously. And once again, the audience roared and flash bulbs flashed. He raised his voice and began to pace casually, basking in the adulation, soaking in the moment. A heavenly image of Earth appeared in magnificent high definition on the screen behind him. “In fact,” he continued, “we all are.” He motioned toward the image. “Look at her. Behold her beauty, her glory.” Ethereal orchestral string music began to play from hidden speakers throughout the auditorium, accompanied by oohs and ahs from the gathered masses.
“But what if we look a little closer?" Another image appeared, this one of plastic bottles and jellyfish-like plastic bags circling in great oceanic spirals as gulls swarmed overhead. The music grew moodier, more minor. A video then: wildfires tearing through evergreen forests, leaping over four lane highways, transformers exploding in showers of sparks, raining down on frantic drivers. A smattering of boos could be heard from the audience. “Yeah, I remember those too,” Ozzy said, acknowledging his audience, every member playing his or her role. “Pretty scary stuff.” Then in rapid succession, flashes of a starving boy with flies in his eyes, lines of people fleeing war, marching on the side of a road pockmarked by explosions, a glacier calving an enormous sheer of blue ice and triggering a roaring wave, flocks of gulls fleeing.
“Enough!” Ozzy shouted in a voice of well practiced pain as the music and the flashes of light and the bleats from the crowd climaxed. “This company we’ve built, this grand endeavor, our project. Look at all we’ve done for them. Do they appreciate it? Do they understand what we've given them?” Jeers rippled through through the audience, growing louder as they took on their own inertia.
On the podium was a glove with embedded wires and sensors. Ozzy picked it up and fitted it over his right hand. “We’ve tried to help them, to give them the gift of creation. We grow their food, entertain them, shelter them." He waved his hand, summoning a billion nanobots, each one smaller than the tiniest grain of sand. “And what do they do?” he scoffed. “They abuse it. They fill the world with garbage and misery." A wrinkled lip, a sneer of cold command, appeared on his face. "I don't know about you, but I'm tired of cleaning up after them."
With the flourish of his gloved hand, a vessel appeared on stage, sleek and silver and bearing the same company logo on its tail fins. More thunderous applause. “Yeah, pretty awesome, huh?” He chuckled. “What if I told you that I want to build a new place? A place free from all of that, the pollution, the stupidity, the greed, the war and the pestilence and the ugliness?” On the screen appeared the Earth again, this time zooming out until the entirety of the solar system appeared, and then refocusing on Mars, spinning gently, its red surface gently reflecting the sun’s glow.
“Announcing Project Perseus,” he declared triumphantly. "A world for us, for the enlightened, the creators, the makers, the gods. It's time to leave the rest behind. Let's see how well they do with out us. Let's let them wallow in their filth!" The vessel that had stood on stage was now rearranging itself into elegant towers and amphitheaters and sprawling manicured parks, more nanobots swarming from backstage and descending from the rafters. Bigger the model grew until Ozzy was surrounded by his creation, walking amidst its majesty, marveling at its perfection. A wry smile spread across his face. "Let them perish!"
“King of Kings, King of Kings,” chanted the crowd.
“But wait,” Ozzy said, stepping out of the dense array and standing at the front of the stage. “I’ve saved the best for last.” He paused, savoring the moment, letting the tension build until someone from the back of the room bellowed, “tell us what it is, Ozzy! We can't stand it any longer!" They clambered and chanted and grunted and bayed.
“What if I told you it’s already done?” Gasps and a sudden hushed silence descended. “Can we bring up the live feed from Mars?” he asked a technician off stage. Ozzy was still facing the audience.
Behind him a barren landscape appeared, red and dusty, swirls of nanobots worked furiously, dismantling whatever had once been there. In the distance, two crumbling towers stood alone like trunkless legs of stone. Without turning, he addressed the crowd. This was his crowning moment, his moment of glory. “My name is Ozzy Mondias, King of Kings. Look on my work, ye mighty, and despair!”
There was no sound. No applause, only stunned silence. Finally, Ozzy turned and gazed upon the vacant landscape, the ruins of this grand plans. “It can’t be,” was all he could say as he gazed upon the wreck, boundless and bare. He fell to his knees, head in hands as the stage began to crumble. From the crowd came shrieks and screams as the chairs and aisles disintegrated into the basic elements from which they'd been assembled, the barely visible bots busily carrying out their coded morality. There was a panicked rush for the doors, which melted into nothing as they clambered over one another to push through.
And then he was alone, abandoned by the hangers on and the admirers and the idolizers. Around the decay, nothing beside remained but the lone and level sands stretching far away.