The Hot Tub
“I want. To use. The fucking! Hot tub!” barked the stunning woman on the fancy sofa. “Is the fucking hot tub ready? Will the fucking hot tub ever be ready?”
Mike Zipperstein looked at her out of the corner his eye. Even though he was the second-richest man on Earth, and despite the fact that his corporate creation, “Mega,” was the most-powerful communications entity in the civilized world, Zipperstein was intimidated by this woman. At heart, Zipperstein was still an awkward teen, and this lady with the fury in her eyes sent him straight back to his high-school insecurities.
Luckily for Mike, he and this famous, snarling female were not alone in the bunker lounge. There was a third person, Ben Jurion, sitting quietly in a corner, calmly watching Carly Cocoon as she glared at both men. And ranted.
Also, luckily for him, Mike knew that whenever he felt the need, he could retreat, in his mind, to the comfort of numbers and algorithms. Or to mental images of dirty pictures that people posted on the Internet.
Zipperstein owned the world’s largest collection of dirty pictures, because he and his company had access to every nude selfie ever posted by every man and woman on the planet. Even the supposedly deleted ones. Especially the deleted ones.
But his collection of naughty photos and videos was an escape, just a hobby. This angry woman on the sofa, ranting about the hot tub, was here in the flesh. Six feet away from him. She was terrifying.
Nude selfies were nothing to Carly Cocoon; she did not have a sex tape on the Internet, she had seven sex tapes on the Internet. There were hundreds — probably thousands — of naked pictures of her online. Mike had watched all of her sex tapes, but that did nothing to alleviate his current anxiety. If anything, the memories of Carly Cocoon in bed with her lovers caused him to perspire and lock down.
“Will someone please go up and find out?”
Ben Jurion sighed and addressed Carly Cocoon directly: “I checked with Montenegro this morning. He said ‘soon.’ But I’ll go up and check again.”
Ben Jurion, middle-aged, nondescript, and a filthy-rich industrialist, left the bunker’s sitting room and entered a cement-walled hallway. Not for the first time, he wondered if the hellish world above might not be preferable to the hellish world below, in which he was trapped with eight of the world’s wealthiest people.
Of course, there were nuclear explosions above, and biological terrors and chemical terrors and, worst of all, no one in control. But the fallout in this underground, New Guinea jungle hideaway, emanating from the pampered, privileged “lucky ones,” was often unbearable. He had endured weeks of it.
Ben rode the elevator to land-level, and addressed the swarthy Montenegro, who stood vigil at the main door. A computerized meter on the wall showed outdoor radiation at green, or “safe,” levels.
“Afternoon, Monty,” said Ben Jurion. He looked down at the floor and sighed. “She wants to use the Jacuzzi. She wants the fresh air. It would be a blessing to all of us if we could get rid of her for a time.”
Montenegro squinted at Ben Jurion, who was just about the only rich bastard in the bunker that he could stomach. He exhaled smoke from his cigarette and smiled at the industrialist. “Couple more hours, Mr. Jurion. Let my people make sure the locals are clear of here. Everything should be fine.”
Zipperstein couldn’t comprehend it. The bunker, obviously with limitations, and not exactly a private resort in the Caribbean, was nevertheless luxurious. It had every generator-operated convenience: gigantic televisions and movie screens, a swimming pool, a game room, a bar, a restaurant (with two chefs), and too many bedrooms to count.
And yet Carly Cocoon, despite laying claim to the largest bedroom in the shelter, was undressing right in front of him, here in the sitting room. She was stripping to prepare for the coveted hot tub, of which it was now apparently safe to use. She bent to retrieve some article of clothing from the floor and jutted her (rather large) buttocks just inches from Mike’s face.
His eyes narrowed as he examined a mark on one butt-cheek. It was a small, pink tattoo in a floral pattern. A rose, he decided.
Without turning around, she said: “Do you ‘like’ what you see, Mr. Mega? Would you like to ‘friend’ me?’”
She stood up and faced him. She winked at him.
“Do you think my ass is fat? Some people say it is.”
No reply. Also, no eye contact.
She saw he was beginning to sweat. Profusely. “Aww, you’re just a little boy, aren’t you?” She smiled and with one hand swept aside her long, brunette hair. “I like that. I like you. I want to friend you.”
Mike mustered a gulp.
It wasn’t only Carly Cocoon; everyone in the bunker wanted to use the hot tub (save Ben Jurion, who chose to remain below in the bunker). It wasn’t just the comfort of warm, bubbling water that appealed; nor the cushioned headrests and massaging jets of the Jacuzzi. It was the rare opportunity to breathe fresh air. The hot tub was an excuse. Compared to the claustrophobic confines of their underground shelter, the outdoors was a beckoning Eden. It had been weeks since any of them had experienced fresh air.
So, in the tub they all (save Ben Jurion) now sat: Zipperstein; Carly Cocoon; computer mogul Will Bates; weapons dealer Steele Dropp; Mrs. Steele Dropp; Steele Dropp’s girlfriend, the actress Ginnifer Florence; a politician none of them knew; and the comedian Phil Moseby, who appeared to be asleep.
Will Bates surveyed his companions and inwardly smiled. He was the smartest person in the group, no doubt. Will knew this because everyone always told him how smart he was for turning his little startup, MicroPens, into what it was today: MaxiPads. Computer software and hardware. He became the world’s richest man. If you were smart enough to become the world’s richest man, then you must be the world’s smartest man. That was simple logic.
And so, Bates eventually took on politics and economics and ecology, because the world expected the world’s smartest man to solve its problems. And Will agreed with the world.
Bates looked at youthful Mike Zipperstein and smiled again. Once upon a time, Will had been like Mike, socially awkward and insecure, especially around females. In time, thought Will, you will mature, and I’ll pass the torch to you.
Zipperstein, for his part, could only summon the courage to periodically glance at the great Will Bates. Bates was Zipperstein’s idol, a man of whom he had been in awe since childhood.
Everyone seemed relaxed in the hot tub. Now might be a good time for Mike to pose a question to his hero: “Mr. Bates, how long do you think we’ll have to stay here? In New Guinea, I mean.”
Bates smiled at the young man. He looked at the others and said, “Boom chucka. Boom chucka boom.”
Everyone laughed at this, save the arms dealer, who simply stared at Bates.
“That’s just … gibberish,” said Steele Dropp.
Bates replied, “I’m the world’s smartest man.”
“You’re the world’s richest man,” said Dropp.
Bates smiled. “And the difference is?”
No one had an answer to this.
Carly Cocoon cut in: “I’m the world’s most famous woman.”
Everyone stared at her breasts.
Bates studied the brassy woman with the artificial breasts. He did not care for her. He preferred the girls who worked in his office, fresh out of college, naïve, and starstruck by him.
The woman he looked at now in the hot tub was born into wealth. She hadn’t scraped and clawed her way to the top, like he had. She had privilege and was what they called a feminist. “Feminazi,” thought Bates. Spoiled and, thanks to Instagram and Tik Tok and such, on the ascendency in American culture. One of her kind was even in Congress, representing Brooklyn or some such liberal hotbed.
It was a gradual process, but effective, rued Bates. The world was hypnotized by youth and beauty and, in the face of crumbling norms and institutions, ordinary people foolishly turned to youth and beauty to save the planet. Big mistake, Bates thought. The world needed brains to solve its problems. And everyone knew that Will Bates was the world’s smartest man.
Bates tried his best to avoid this woman in the hot tub, who had risen to prominence on reality TV. But that was near-impossible in this hell hole in the middle of nowhere.
Ginnifer Florence surveyed her companions in the Jacuzzi. She considered what they had in common: money. Certainly not their politics. Nor their backgrounds. Nor their appearance. Nor their age.
She looked at the elderly black man slumped in the water across from her. His name was Phil Moseby, and he had been a well-known comedian back in his day, long before Ginnifer’s time.
There had been some kind of sex scandal, and now the old man was disgraced. Since they had arrived at their New Guinea sanctuary, Ginnifer had never seen him awake. Right now, his eyes were shut and his chin was submerged in the bubbling water.
The man’s past did not concern Ginnifer. He appeared harmless, and Ginnifer’s good friend, the producer Marvin Bernstein, had also been embroiled in a sex scandal — many of them, actually — so that sort of thing was nothing new to her. She had been through a scandal or two of her own.
None of it mattered now, anyway. They were removed from the cares and concerns of the world because they had that one thing in common. Money.
Ginnifer was afraid that the sleeping comedian might drown. The lower half of his face kept dipping beneath the surface of the water. She turned to the others: “What’s wrong with him?”
Bates answered: “BCI implant. Didn’t take. Sometimes he’ll speak, say something nonsensical.”
“Yes!” cried Steele Dropp’s girlfriend. “He keeps saying ‘Jell-O.’”
Steele Dropp took a sip of iced tea and squinted at his latest conquest, the starlet from Hollywood. He couldn’t prove it, but he was reasonably certain that she was banging Montenegro’s son, an 18-year-old boy responsible for operating the bunker’s generators and ventilation system.
That was OK by Dropp; he was too old and exhausted to satisfy both his wife and the insatiable Ginnifer.
Meanwhile, in a jungle clearing not far from the elites’ hot tub, Montenegro conferred with a small group of Asmat tribal elders. He was showing them a video on his cell phone, in which some sort of experiment was being conducted.
“It’s called ‘the boiling frog,’” explained Montenegro in the Asmats’ native tongue. “Let me read to you from Wikipedia —
‘The boiling frog is an apologue describing a frog being slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of sinister threats that arise gradually rather than suddenly.
‘While some 19th-century experiments suggested that the underlying premise is true if the heating is sufficiently gradual, according to modern biologists the premise is false: a frog that is gradually heated will jump out.’”
“Then it won’t work!” cried one of the Asmat.
Montenegro clicked on his screen to a video, recording from a camera above the hot tub. As the elites began to grow uncomfortable from the warming water, Montenegro pushed a button and a glass lid arced down, securing all eight of them in a domed semi-circle.
“Now it will,” chuckled Montenegro.
The Asmat — men, women and children — sat on the ground and enjoyed their feast. One young member of the tribe plucked a particularly juicy slab of meat from the spit and began to chew on it.
Boiled human flesh was a delicacy, and everyone was in good spirits. The Asmat, after all, were one of the last known tribes of cannibals on Earth.
The young man gnawed his meat and said to the fellow on his right: “This is rump, I can tell. Not bad. But a bit fatty.”
The other fellow stared at his companion’s slice of steak and frowned. “What is that?”
The young man smiled and replied: “Looks like a picture of a flower.” He sank his teeth into it. “I like it.”
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