“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose.”
— Bill Gates (1955– )
Kenneth John Abercrombie was born ambitious. He was also born feet first.
Everyone who met Ken as a child found him to be an absolute angel. From early childhood onwards, Ken seemed to know innately what he needed to do to both be admired, and to get what he wanted: he was well behaved; he was polite and considerate of other people’s needs; he was sensitive to the requirements of any situation; and from a surprisingly young age Ken regularly performed random acts of kindness for people less fortunate than himself. Even as a young boy people described Ken Abercrombie as self-assured and confident, and everyone who met him knew that he was bound for greatness.
The Abercrombie family was not well-to-do when Ken was growing up. They lived in a small, crowded apartment in a middle-income neighborhood of Long Island City, Queens. From his bedroom window—where he sat studying every available waking hour of the day and night that he wasn’t busy with school and his many and varied extra-curricular activities—Ken could see the spire of the Empire State Building. If he stuck his head out the window and leaned around to the left a little bit, he could just catch a glimpse of the shiny twin towers of the World Trade Center, completed just prior to his tenth birthday. Ken ached to live in Manhattan; he’d always wanted to live there. If he was living in Manhattan, Ken knew, it would mean that he’d made it, and making it was the only thing that was ever truly important to Ken Abercrombie.
From surprisingly early on in his life Ken started making his own life choices, all designed to ensure he achieved his lofty life goals as quickly and efficiently as possible. The year he turned ten, Ken convinced his father, Graham, that he absolutely must attend Brookhaven School for Boys—an exclusive boarding school, situated at the eastern end of Long Island, where the rich and powerful of New Eden sent their male offspring for schooling. At Brookhaven, boys would receive the necessary grounding in life to later become lawyers, judges, politicians, leaders of industry, and men of power.
At the time, 1974, Graham Abercrombie was working as an electrician in his late father's electrical business. Graham was just making ends meet in terms of supporting his family, but there was little wiggle room in the family’s budget for extravagances. A few years later Graham would make a bold career move and start a computer software firm—Computer Software of Queens (CSQ)—which, given the relative infancy of computer technology that was available in the early 1980s, was extremely prescient of Graham in targeting the booming interest in this exciting new technology. CSQ went on to become a moderately successful business venture, and for a few years the Abercrombie family enjoyed a period of real prosperity. At the time of Ken’s request to attend Brookhaven, however, Graham was barely able to afford the not insignificant school fees required for him to do so. He finally agreed, grudgingly, on the condition that Ken work for the family firm during school vacations, and that on the completion of his education Ken would become a full partner in the family business.
Brookhaven Boys was the perfect hatching ground for Ken Abercrombie. Once there he quickly started telling elaborate lies about himself, about his family’s social status, and his family’s financial position. It felt quite natural for Ken to say these things partly because it was what the other boys wanted and expected to hear, but mostly because it was simply stating how things should have been, and, of course, how they most certainly would be in the future.
Ken quickly became popular at Brookhaven; he had the knack of knowing what to say to people to make them like and trust him. Most weekends Ken would be invited to stay at estates in the Hamptons, or at various Upper East Side penthouse apartments. During school vacations Ken would regularly travel to Vale or St Tropez to ski, or cruise the Caribbean or the Mediterranean on a private yacht with one friend or another. Ken loved this highflying lifestyle; it suited the image of who he thought he should—and would—be. Graham would express his frustration at Ken for shirking his promised responsibility to the family firm, but Ken would dismiss his reprimands by telling his father that he was "building his future," and that "the whole family will reap the benefits in the years to come, just you wait and see." Ken knew that his father and two older sisters, Bonnie and Margie, could sense him becoming more and more detached from them and from his humble roots with each passing year, but there was nothing they could say or do that made even the slightest dent in Ken’s burning resolve to be successful.
Ken’s mother, Ada, had suffered severe postnatal depression following Ken’s birth. She’d delighted in birthing and raising her two daughters, and at Ken’s delivery Ada had been over the moon to discover that she’d given birth to a healthy baby boy. But the chemical neurotransmitters in her brain, under the influence of wildly fluctuating hormone levels, became dangerously out of balance just days after Ken’s birth, and she had been entirely and emphatically at their mercy. For months Ada would literally drag herself out of bed in the late morning—sometimes not until mid-afternoon—and proceed to spend the rest of the day semi-conscious on the sofa in the increasingly dirty and cluttered living room.
Ada never did bond with little Ken, and breast-feeding him after the first day of his life was entirely out of the question. Her two angels, Bonnie and Margie—who were nine and seven when Ken was born—did everything they could to help their ailing mother, including bottle-feeding Ken, changing his diapers, and bathing him in the evenings. Medication did little to boost Ada’s failing mental state and waning mood, and, after a particularly serious and prolonged bout of self-loathing, she attempted to take her own life. The handful of sleeping tablets Ada took carried her briefly into blissful unconsciousness, but Bonnie had found Ada slumped on the kitchen floor and raised the alarm before the tranquilizers’ mind-numbing effect could progress to a more permanent state of repose.
Ada was admitted to a small but pleasant inpatient psychiatric facility on nearby Roosevelt Island. Despite its good reputation for treatment of the mentally unstable, Ada’s condition continued to deteriorate. The night before she was scheduled for electro-convulsive therapy, Ada slipped out of the low-security building when the night nurse was sleeping and jumped to her death from the Queensboro Bridge. The mystery of Ada’s disappearance was only explained two weeks later when her body washed up against a pier in Atlantic City, much to the horror of an elderly early-morning power-walker named Gloria Leibowitz and her highly-strung Pomeranian, Geordie.
By Ken’s third year at Brookhaven there was no question he was the most popular boy in the school. Virtually everyone he met became his friend, teachers and students alike. Ken Abercrombie was enthusiastic, upbeat, helpful, and most of all, charismatic. It was also clear by this time how natural it was for Ken to step into the role of leader whenever it was called for. He won every office he ran for, and he was a member of all the prestigious clubs and teams: debating, fencing, junior politics, social justice.
Not that it was all sunshine and lollipops for Ken at Brookhaven. Concurrent to his growing band of followers, Ken also developed a small following of haters. These were the boys and men who sensed Ken's bravado to be fake, and who were jealous of his good looks and seeming infallibility. Members of this minority were forced to keep their opinions to themselves, however, for fear of being ostracized by Ken’s overwhelming groundswell of supporters.
By the time he turned fifteen, Ken was taller than most of his classmates. His height plateaued out at 6’2”, finally giving his physical body the opportunity to fill out, and Ken developed what would best be described as a naturally athletic physique. As time went on, more and more people—both male and female—would comment on how handsome Ken was becoming. It was his thick, wavy, mousy-blond hair and blue eyes that were the initial focus of attention of the female students from Brookhaven’s sister school, St Helen’s of Bellport. Many girls from St Helen’s vied for Ken’s affection during these years, but he kept them all at arm’s length. Unlike many other boys at Brookhaven, Ken didn't have any steady girlfriends while he was in high school; girls and dating weren’t high on Ken Abercrombie's priority list during this period of his life.
Ken excelled in his school grades; there was no option on that front. Being so driven to succeed, Ken knew he needed a perfect school report card. He was also a strong athlete—fencing and football—though sport wasn’t anywhere near the top of Ken’s priority list either. In his senior year, Ken was voted class president as well as Homecoming King. It was at Brookhaven that Ken Abercrombie discovered that if he put his mind to something, he could achieve anything.
There was only one potential blemish on Ken’s otherwise spotless school report card whilst he was at Brookhaven, though in the end the incident never appeared on any public record.
It was during eighth grade that Ken became close friends with a new student at Brookhaven, Angelo Williams. Yes, I had a brief stint at Brookhaven Boys during junior high; I’ll tell you more about how that came to pass later. At the time, I was the sort of person who would go out of my way to be helpful and make your life easier if it meant that you’d like me. As a result, I quickly became popular at Brookhaven also. Ken was drawn to my easy amiability and helpfulness, and when he found out that I was also a high achiever academically the deal was done—Ken suggested we become study partners.
From our very first meeting, however, Ken sensed that there was something different about me. Not different in a bad way, but different in a way that he couldn’t put his finger on. Defining what it was about me that puzzled Ken frustrated him for weeks, but the big clue came when Ken finally admitted that he was—surprisingly, and most unexpectedly—sexually attracted to me.
Ken's attraction to me came completely out of left field as he’d never been attracted sexually to a ‘boy’ before. At thirteen years of age, Ken Abercrombie was mostly turned on by women’s breasts—the bigger the better. Let’s say at this stage Ken’s love of breasts was a hobby, later to become a passion, later still an obsession, then an addiction, and finally . . . an annihilation. Ken was yet to experience it in the flesh, but he knew in his bones that fondling and suckling a woman’s breasts was going to be the most pleasurable thing that he would ever do. At a deep, core place in Ken was the memory of the ecstatic pleasure he’d experienced on the one and only occasion that Ada had managed to breastfeed little Ken before her postnatal depression had set in, and her breasts had been prematurely and permanently taken away from Ken.
Apart from breasts, Ken also loved the sweet smell of a woman’s skin at close range—an integral part of the overall breastfeeding experience, to be sure—which gave him a pleasant, warm, fuzzy feeling deep inside his groin area, and which aroused him on a very primal sexual level.
“That’s it!!” Ken declared out loud as he froze, wide-eyed, in the middle of a cooking class where he and I were making peach cobbler together. Ken had leaned down to select a baking dish from a low cupboard, and as he’d turned to get back up, his head had come close to my crotch for a moment. As he’d inhaled, his primal olfactory-genital reflex had been triggered, and the realization that he was turned on sexually by my smell had finally landed.
That’s it!! Ken thought, internally this time. Angelo looks and acts like a boy, but he smells like a girl. That’s it!! That’s it!!
It’s about six months after my arrival at Brookhaven, and Ken and I are alone in the locker room after football practice. The other boys have all changed and left for the day, and the two of us are comparing answers to the week's math quiz that’s due in the morning. Ken notices that I’m rubbing my chest on and off and wincing as I do so.
“What’s the matter, buddy? How come you keep rubbing your chest like that?”
“Oh, it’s probably nothing. There’s a lump under my left nipple that’s pretty painful. It’s been there for a couple of weeks, and now the right one’s starting to be swollen and sore too.”
“Want me to take a look?”
“Sure, why not? Can’t hurt.”
I peel my loose sports shirt over my head, and as my nipples are revealed Ken sees the budding breast tissue that is the cause of my discomfort. Neither Ken nor I know anything about gynecomastia, or the fact that it occurs, not infrequently, transiently in boys at the onset of puberty. Ken's mind jumps immediately—and in retrospect, illogically, although not altogether inaccurately—to the conclusion that I’m turning into a girl.
The suppressed sexual attraction that Ken has been harboring for me for the past months suddenly flashes into full blown adolescent lust, and without thinking he puts his mouth over my budding left breast. I gasp, my body tenses . . . but I don’t withdraw. We stand motionless, each holding our breath for what seems like an eternity, then Ken starts to move his mouth, little by little, sucking gently on my nipple and caressing it with his tongue; I groan with the pleasure of it.
Ken’s penis stiffens quickly and pushes against the loose fabric of his sports shorts. This is Ken’s first experience of sexual arousal with another person present and it feels overwhelmingly pleasurable. It’s also my first sexual encounter of any sort, and we both quickly become caught up in the intensity of the physical sensations of our bodies in the moment.
Oblivious to the potential danger of the public domain of the locker room, we hurriedly strip off our clothes, all the while kissing clumsily, embracing roughly, and rubbing our bodies together. We spin in circles and bounce noisily off the lockers. Ken can feel my small, erect ‘penis’ pushing against his own, and he flinches momentarily at the thought of it, but he continues exploring the pleasurable sensations he’s feeling all through his body. Ken’s own penis has grown significantly in the past years as he’s gone through puberty, and it is now quite a substantial size. He is also very familiar with its pleasuring capacity; something he practices daily in private.
Ken turns on one of the showers in the communal shower area, pushes me against the white-tiled wall, and presses his cock between my wet thighs, groaning loudly with pleasure as he does so. Then . . . I scream. Loudly. The pain in my groin is sharp and intense, like I’m being stabbed there with a knife.
Frozen, we stare into each other’s eyes at close range for a long moment, registering simultaneously the wildly disparate emotions of desire, horror, and shame. The sublime magic of the moment having completely evaporated, we look away and slump onto the shower floor with our backs to the wall, our minds desperately trying to make sense of what’s just happened. Seconds later, however, my attention is drawn away from the disquieting thoughts in my head to the pool of blood that’s rapidly expanding from under where I sit.
At that very moment, the door of the boys locker room is flung open by Mr. Preston—Brookhaven’s head physical education teacher and football coach. He’d heard my scream from his nearby office and was coming to investigate its source. Peter Preston—harboring some well repressed and entirely unexplored homosexual tendencies of his own—feigns outrage and has no hesitation in reporting his discovery to the school administration. The incident is hushed up by Brookhaven’s principal who, given the high profile of many of the families of Brookhaven’s students, is desperate to avoid the possibility of a scandal reaching the press,.
I’m secretly transferred to another school just days later with no explanation. Hushed conversations are held in the school corridors speculating about what had transpired between Ken Abercrombie and I to cause such high-level consternation. No one has the nerve to ask Ken about it directly, however, so the truth about the incident is left hanging awkwardly in the school corridors, and life at Brookhaven continues as if I’d never existed.
After Brookhaven, Harvard University was the next step for Ken. Harvard Business School jumped at the opportunity to have such a promising young entrepreneur as Ken Abercrombie attend their faculty. Ken, following his intuition that at some point in his future career he would need a grounding in politics, enrolled concurrently in the Harvard Kennedy School of Government: the prestigious political school named after one of Ken’s life role models—despite his having sat significantly further to the left on the political spectrum than Ken—John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Ken’s life really took off in college. A friend once described Ken as a human electro-magnet. “You attract everyone and everything to yourself, and everyone you meet is quickly and efficiently enlisted into the Ken Abercrombie Show.” At college Ken learned how to network efficiently, he learned how to schmooze nonchalantly, and he learned how to charm convincingly. Wherever Ken went he befriended people, and everyone loved him. There was little doubt in everyone’s mind that he was bound for greatness, and everyone wanted to be a part of that. Speculation abounded. Could Ken Abercrombie be future mayor of New Eden City? Yes!! Could Ken Abercrombie be future governor of New Eden state? Most definitely!! Could Ken Abercrombie be future president of the United States of America? Why yes, absolutely!!
It was also at college that Ken’s sexual desire for women finally kicked in. One day it had been absent, the next day it was full-blown, like a switch had been flicked to the ‘ON’ position. Ken quickly found that he only had to say the word and he could have any woman he desired. Ken was, however, extraordinarily uninterested in girls his own age or younger; he was only attracted to significantly older women. Even college seniors three or four years older than Ken seemed to lack enough worldly experience to intrigue him in any way.
Ken soon found himself going to bars and clubs in nearby Boston where older women were known to gather looking to meet younger men for casual sex. In 1983 the term cougar was yet to become established in the zeitgeist, but cougar bar's they were none-the-less. It didn’t enter Ken’s mind at the time that he was looking for a maternal substitute—that would have been bizarre and unacceptable behavior. The infuriatingly persistent urgings of his physical body, however, carried him into encounter after encounter with women who were more than twice his age.
Given Ken’s rapidly growing social status and burgeoning public profile at Harvard and elsewhere, the benefit of these unconventional liaisons might have seemed unfathomable to the outside world if they’d been public knowledge, but Ken kept this part of his life discretely hidden from view. For Ken, however, the benefit of these intimate interactions with older women was a strangely comforting sense of well-being when he was curled up in the arms of any one of his steadily growing stable of cougars. There he could let down his guard, put aside all the bravado and showmanship of his public life, and be small and vulnerable. On some level Ken knew that his decisions in the dating field were highly questionable psychologically . . . but it felt so good.
As time went on, an addictive quality started to develop around Ken’s romantic couplings, and the compulsion to indulge his carnal desires started to grow out of his control. Concurrently, there was an ever-increasing requirement for situations and activities to be just so to fully satisfy Ken’s sexual desires; his behind-closed-doors bedroom behavior regressed further and further back into childhood. With each successive rendezvous with one of his matronly partners, Ken would act progressively more infantile, demanding that she dominate and control him more and more. One memorable evening in 1986, with the strains of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” adorning le boudoir de puma, Ken’s playmate of the day, Lana, decided that he might like to have his bottom smacked because, after all, he was being a very naughty boy.
Ken was instantly transported to a previously unimagined ecstatic realm. “Yes!!” This was what he’d been searching for, feverishly, these past years. Ken realized that what he wanted, more than anything else in the world at that moment, was to be dominated and disciplined by an older woman. He wanted to be restrained, smacked, paddled, whipped, and told what a bad boy he was. In that moment the whole world of BDSM—and all that those four dark letters stood for—opened and swallowed Ken Abercrombie whole.
As Graham Abercrombie approached his 50th birthday, he started to forget things. Small things at first like where he’d put his car keys, or his reading glasses. Pretty soon, however, Graham started to forget bigger, more important things . . . like having signed a million-dollar contract earlier in the day. Concurrently, Graham started to develop involuntary jerking movements of his upper limbs that quickly became unmanageable. Over the course of just six months, Graham's life crumbled away to a shadow of its former self. As Graham was an orphan, he was unaware of his biological family’s genetic predisposition to Huntington’s Disease. Within a year Graham was institutionalized, and within eighteen months he couldn’t feed himself or recognize his own children.
Bonnie and Margie were at Graham’s bedside when he drew his last labored breath in the spring of 1986; Ken had been unable to find time in his busy schedule for his father's death. He did, however, manage to make a brief appearance at Graham’s funeral, though only just in time to see Bonnie, Margie, and the small handful of Graham’s acquaintances turning away from the grave after the ceremony had concluded.
The timing of Graham’s decline and subsequent death was serendipitous for Ken. He’d been starting to formulate ways to oust his bumbling father from the leadership of the family business as Graham was starting to make increasingly irresponsible business decisions that were causing the company profits to decline precipitously. In a drunken and frankly desperate moment, Ken had considered hiring an assassin to gun Graham down as he left the CSQ office one evening. In retrospect, Ken could see what a very bad idea that had been. Also in retrospect, Ken could see how his life was starting to represent a textbook case of the Oedipus Complex in action. At the time, however, none of this was clear to Ken, particularly as he kept cancelling appointments to see the psychiatrist he’d been referred to, and whom he’d been promising himself he would visit for a number of years by this time.
Despite being a year short of finishing his college degrees, Ken took over the helm of CSQ upon his father’s functional decline, and still managed to graduate from Harvard in the summer of 1986 with the highest possible accolades. Ken rebranded the company Abercrombie Industries, AI for short, and ruthlessly restructured the workforce, slashing all the defunct departments that weren't showing profitability.
Next Ken employed the best researchers in the field of information technology and molecular biology for AI’s new research and development department. Ken had a vision of where the future of computers was heading, and it was artificial intelligence. Within a few years AI was considered the leading company in artificial intelligence research worldwide, and they started to receive a lot of positive media attention after leaks of major breakthroughs in their research reached the press. Most of these leaks were bogus, however, and internally generated by Ken as the research had stalled, and, in truth, Abercrombie Industries was getting nowhere fast.
Ken’s most important coup came in 1999 when he enlisted the services of a young up-and-coming genius in the field of artificial intelligence, Bernard McCall, to work for him. There was a lot of hype in the field about the work Bernard was doing at MIT. Some surreptitious snooping by Ken had uncovered the ethics committee approval issues that were stalling Bernard's research, and Ken had used this knowledge to leverage his acquisition. With Bernard on board, Ken felt his team was complete, and he was confident that the world’s most sophisticated and exciting new technology would soon be in his hands and at his whim to release to the world . . . at obscenely exorbitant prices.
Bernard's collaborative project with Abercrombie Industries—which Ken named Augmented Intelligence Plus (AI+) ©—was officially launched in March of 2001. The excitement it elicited worldwide was unprecedented. Ken didn't really understand the details of how the product worked, but basically it appeared that Bernard, through some innovative genetic manipulation, had perfected a way of seamlessly integrating the human brain and the computer. In effect, Bernard had found a way for humans and computers to communicate telepathically, and then to function in tandem. The result was dramatically increased speed, efficiency, and capabilities of both.
The technical and financial success of AI+ exceeded both Ken and Bernard’s wildest dreams. Money started pouring into Abercrombie Industries which allowed Ken to shift the focus of his attention fully onto his most important life goal of becoming the most successful—and importantly the most popular—president the United States of America had ever known.
Having such high ambitions in the public arena meant that it was vitally important for Ken Abercrombie to have an impeccable public image and a spotlessly clean background history; his personal profile needed to be devoid of scandal. To this end, Ken made the inevitable decision that he must marry the perfect leading lady.
In 1993 Ken met a young socialite named Faye Polkinghorne who fitted the bill precisely. Faye was a handful of years Ken’s junior, she was from a respected conservative Partisan Party family based in Connecticut, she had a law degree from Yale, and she was as pretty as a button. Ken had bumped into Faye at several fundraisers and charity events that year, and slowly his plan had crystallized: Faye was the one. It was unfortunate that Ken was entirely unattracted to Faye physically; she was far too young to excite Ken sexually, but this was a minor detail in the overall scheme of his life's vision. Ken Abercrombie’s wife—and the future First Lady of the United States of America—needed to enhance his image, not satisfy him in bed. There was no shortage of willing volunteers to fulfil that role.
As it turned out, Faye Polkinghorne was harboring some respectable ambition of her own. She’d had her sights set on snagging Ken Abercrombie as her husband since moving to New Eden City a few months prior to their first meeting, and it’d been Faye who’d carefully orchestrated the accidental encounters at the charity events that had led to their initial conversations. When the formal invitation to a discrete dinner with Ken arrived in the mail, Faye was only mildly surprised . . . and exceedingly pleased.
Faye knew exactly what outfit to wear, how to act, and what compliments to throw around in order to bag Ken Abercrombie as her future husband. Ken and Faye both knew within minutes that they were going to be married; mutual ambition sensing its match in the other. They waited a discrete time between their first formal meeting and announcing their engagement, and eight months later were married in a lavish affair amid not insignificant media frenzy.
The obvious comparisons to John and Jackie Kennedy were raised in the press. Ken and Faye were pleased and amused by the analogy, but they both knew that they were going to blow the roof off the Kennedy’s long-reigning position as the king and queen of American politics, and the darlings of the American people, once and for all.
Eight years into the marriage the wheels temporarily fell off the Abercrombies’ political express train. Ken and Bernard’s little project, AI+, was causing problems. Big problems. Not only was the threat of financial ruin looming, but a scandal was also brewing that was potentially big enough to tarnish Ken’s reputation sufficiently that it could put an end to his political aspirations for good; Ken and Faye went into damage control.
What was becoming increasingly clear was that AI+ was out of control. The enhanced brain function achieved following injection with Bernard’s DNA-modified virus was not only starting to trigger latent psychiatric syndromes in susceptible individuals, but the virus had somehow found a way to jump into previously AI+-free people as easily as the rhinovirus spread the common cold. As the crisis progressed, Bernard informed Ken that within a year every human on the planet would be infected by his virus, and their brains irreversibly affected by AI+. 6.3 billion humans, all effectively sleepwalking zombies, instantaneously communicating telepathically with each other and with every computer on the planet, under the influence of an increasingly sentient human-computer collective consciousness, engaging in increasingly aggressive activities fueled by greed, selfishness, power, sexual desire, and the instinctual need for survival. When the facts of the situation fully landed, Ken realized not only the enormity of the disaster he’d help create, but also that for the very first time in his life he’d failed. And it was a failure of monumental proportions.
“Oh, God!! Failure!! No!! Anything but that!!”
The unfolding failure felt unbearable to Ken, like he was rotting from the inside out. In the aftermath of receiving the news from Bernard, Ken called Shelley—a particularly stern late-50s dominatrix who’d been under his patronage for some years, and who was Ken’s favorite distraction when he needed to be severely reprimanded. Shelley will make me feel better, thought Ken. Bad boy!! You’re a very, very bad boy!!
Later that night, feeling somewhat rejuvenated and with a clearer head, Ken knew what he needed to do to survive the growing disaster. He had one last trick left up his sleeve: a computer program that Bernard had inserted in the early stages of the development of AI+ that would wipe out all knowledge of the existence of the dastardly virus and of AI+ from every human mind and every computer on the globe. The entire human race, while still effectively brain-washed and asleep, would be unaware of the existence of the foreign DNA in their brains and the evolving collective consciousness that was increasingly controlling their minds and actions. No one would remember that Ken Abercrombie was responsible for the enslavement, growing madness, and probable extinction of the entire human race. It certainly wasn't an ideal solution by any stretch of the imagination, but at least Ken’s reputation would remain intact, and preservation of his reputation was always the most important thing in the world to Ken Abercrombie.
On the predicted day in May of 2003, with the entire human population under the influence of AI+, Ken activated the memory-wiping program leaving himself and Bernard McCall the only two people on the planet aware of humanity's perilous predicament.
Abercrombie Industries took a brief hiatus from trading on the New Eden Stock Exchange in mid-2003. The press announcement that accompanied this unprecedented action spoke of a change of direction: A New Vision. The future of AI—and of information technology generally—according to Ken and Abercrombie Industries was now nanotechnology and robotics. Artificial intelligence was yesterday's news.
Abercrombie Industries' ledgers showed a couple of lean years while the necessary momentum built up around their new product lines, but the magic charm of Ken and Faye soon grabbed the media's attention, and the Abercrombie express train was up and running once more.
Ken wasn’t fond of children, but he’d decided early on that children were a necessary part of the image he needed to present to the world to ensure his highest chance of success in the political arena. The people of America wanted—and indeed expected—to see children as a part of the perfect family unit. If he was going to make it to the White House, Ken knew that it was a necessary sacrifice he would have to make. The question in Ken’s mind wasn’t whether to have children or not, it was how many, and when? What would be the optimal timing of children for his political aspirations?
The Abercrombie’s draft political timeline had Ken competing in the US presidential race in 2012. Ken would then be 48 years of age—mature enough to win the votes of the conservatives and the elderly, but also youthful enough to hold strong appeal among the younger and more liberal voters.
Ken wasn’t happy when Faye announced just months after the wedding that she was pregnant. Fate seemed to support Ken’s views on the children issue, however, as little baby Adrian died of sudden infant death syndrome when he was only three weeks old. Ken was morbidly relieved and felt little if any other emotion at the death of his son.
When the correct timing for children did come around in late 1996, Faye and Ken scheduled an appointment with the top fertility specialist in New Eden City, and three healthy embryos were duly implanted in Faye's uterus. The doctor was confident that at least two of the embryos would thrive.
The Abercrombie’s had decided that two children was the perfect number. What to do if the third embryo also survived was left up in the air. Triplets would be such a nuisance, they both agreed. Twins, however, would be perfect, and twins born in 1997 would be fifteen years of age in 2012. Ken and Fay both felt that fifteen was the perfect age for children during a presidential campaign. They would be old enough to speak for themselves, but not old enough to have gotten into too much trouble by then.
Eve and Alex were delivered by emergency caesarean section a month before their due date as Faye had started to develop pre-eclampsia. The twins were delivered intact and in good health, however. When Ken arrived at the hospital to meet his offspring, he couldn't believe how perfect they were; he’d never seen anything so beautiful in his life. The room around him had started spinning, and time had seemed to come momentarily to a standstill. Ken realized he’d been holding his breath, and he let out a gasp . . . of joy. How could babies—a concept he’d previously considered simply messy and annoying, and something he’d fiercely avoided having any contact with—make him feel so unbalanced, so out of control. Is this what love feels like? thought Ken.
It was in early 2003 that Ken was invited to what he thought was to be a nostalgic reunion with one of his fellow Harvard buddies, and his closest friend throughout his university years, Edwin Knox.
Edwin was a genius; everyone agreed on that point. Edwin was also someone who was socially awkward and shy in any situation that involved actual people occupying the same space as him. People occupying cyberspace together, however, was another matter altogether, and it was in this domain that Edwin Knox came into his own.
Edwin’s chosen profession was entrepreneurship. He was a startup wizard, and in 2003 his services were much sought after by influential and wealthy people around the globe. Edwin had an unnerving capacity to be able see the structure and details necessary for a future company’s success with such clarity that it astounded most people. His success rate in midwifing businesses into the black was unparalleled.
Ken had suggested meeting at the chic and exclusive restaurant, Verité, on the Upper East Side. After cocktails were served, Edwin leaned forward and whispered to Ken, “I have a proposal for you, Ken. It’s a sure-fire winner, and I want, no need, you to be my partner on this one.”
It was well known that Edwin Knox didn’t partner with anyone on anything, so Ken’s ears pricked up immediately. He leaned forward conspiratorially, eager to know more.
“I don’t need to tell you that the internet has changed the way we all live, and it has completely revolutionized business globally,” began Edwin. “Well, there’s an opening, a hiatus, in the way we’re currently communicating that is just waiting to be filled. I can’t believe that no one’s thought of this already. Are you interested, Ken?”
Ken was gagging at the possibility of going into business with Edwin Knox on something of this scale, and he almost fell off his seat as he leaned closer and hissed, “I’m totally interested, buddy. Tell me more.”
“Well, my friend, imagine a platform where people set up a profile, where they can post pictures and videos, where they can talk about themselves, where they can connect with people who also have profiles, with friends, with family, with business contacts, with anyone who registers. And imagine, if you will, that it becomes the most popular way of communicating that’s ever existed, that allows instant connection, with real time notifications of new postings, with the ability to like and comment on what’s been posted, where you can make new friends, and which is entirely controlled by you and me, Ken. Imagine if it became the platform that the whole world relied on daily to communicate with each other and generally live their lives through. Imagine a platform that the whole world was addicted to for their daily, hourly, minutely hit of dopamine just by knowing that someone has acknowledged their existence. Imagine!!”
“Yes, I can imagine it all, Eddie, but how will it make money?”
“Simple, Ken. Advertising. Every company and individual will want to advertise themselves on it because everyone will see it. It’s genius, and it’s completely foolproof.”
“Well, my genius friend, why do you need me. Why not create this amazing platform and have it take off all on your own?”
“Ken, you’re not seeing it, are you? This could be the biggest thing that has ever existed on the planet. This could make the stock market look like an elementary school charade. This will mean global media exposure, and lots of it. Now you know I’m sharp, but I’m not good in front of a crowd. You, on the other hand, that’s your shtick, right?”
“OK. I see where you’re going and I’m liking it, Eddie. Yeah!! This could give me just the leg-up I’m needing in the political arena too. Hmm, very interesting. Tell me more.”
And so, the first conversations that would lead—within less than a year—to the launching of FaceGram unfolded. This was the encounter that would propel Ken Abercrombie, already wealthy and popular by most standards, to be the public face of the first and largest social media platform in existence. Ken used FaceGram to great advantage to leverage his own public persona to even greater heights of popularity, and it was FaceGram that would be the essential element of his future political successes.
Ken’s penchant for middle-aged dominatrices grew steadily after his college years in Boston. Abundantly fueled by his exponentially growing wealth, Ken accumulated an extraordinary bevvy of women that where at his disposal, day and night, for his erotic pleasure. He set up a fully equipped playroom/dungeon in a penthouse apartment in a quiet corner of the East Village to surreptitiously host these liaisons well out of Faye's line-of-sight. There was never any conversation between Ken and Faye about his extra-marital sex life, but Ken suspected Faye was aware of some of his activities in this arena. When the whole sordid secret finally came to light in 1999, however, Ken was surprised to discover that Faye had been blissfully unaware of any of it.
While the revelation of Ken’s secret sex life did change the dynamic within the Abercrombie family household—with Faye determinedly taking more control of the decision-making as well as the day-to-day running of things—to the outside world it was business as usual. Ken and Faye’s eyes were firmly on the bigger picture, on the ultimate prize of the White House, and a little sexual infidelity didn’t change that one iota for either of them.
While Faye continued to allow Ken to indulge his sexual predilections—so long as she knew nothing about the details of any of it and it was kept entirely out of the press—Ken vividly remembers the day this aspect of his life changed forever. The day he met Lobida.
It was just after 1pm on a steamy Thursday in July that Ken left Abercrombie Industries’ city offices on the 49th floor of the building directly above Radio City Music Hall. He headed east on 51st Street to his favorite street food vendor, Sam's Souvlakis, for his regular lunch fare of a falafel sandwich with hummus, tabbouleh, and extra-hot chili sauce.
The year was 2006. Life was going extremely well for Ken. He’d turned 42 the previous week, and physically he was feeling healthy and vital. Circumstantially things were back on track—after the AI+ disaster—to his achieving a life resplendent with wealth, success, pleasure, and power; Ken was confident that he had all the bases covered. Abercrombie Industries was turning a healthy profit again, and Ken was surprisingly in love with both Faye and his beautiful twins, who were now eight years of age. Ken’s political prospects were starting to take shape once more and plans to run for Congress in the mid-term elections in November 2006 were well under way.
Sandwich in hand, Ken strode briskly across W 50th Street on Rockefeller Plaza, his height helping him weave through the busy lunchtime crowd. Surprisingly, he found a vacant bench in the shade of a linden tree in a quiet-ish corner of the plaza on which to sit and eat his lunch in relative peace. He removed his suit jacket, folded it neatly and placed it next to him on the bench. As he started to roll up the sleeves of his crisp white business shirt, Ken glanced up and saw her.
Reflecting on this initial sighting, it was difficult for Ken to put a finger on exactly what it was about her that had so ferociously attracted his attention, but Ken was instantly captivated. Perhaps it was the way she moved, a perfect fusion of sass and grace; perhaps it was the confidence she exuded, and the simple way she embraced people's wide-eyed, open-mouthed stares of admiration and fear; perhaps it was the hint of corset, cinching her full figure into a perfect hourglass, showing through her light-weight flowing white cotton dress; perhaps it was the fishnet stockings covering her long shapely legs; perhaps it was the six-inch red patent leather stiletto heels she wore, which exaggerated the swaying of her ample hips as she glided through the lunchtime throng of the Rockefeller Center; perhaps it was the way her breasts seemed to defy gravity, and form the deep, inviting valley that lay between them; or perhaps it was the now familiar way that time slowed to a standstill, and Ken felt completely out of control yet simultaneously excited and peaceful.
“Oh, my God!!”
Ken couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. She was perfect. Such beauty, such presence, such sensuality, such strength. Somehow this woman radiated a light that outshone everything in her vicinity, despite the sun being almost directly overhead on a brilliantly clear mid-summer day.
Seconds later, Ken snapped out of the trance he’d momentarily fallen into, screwed up his eyes, shook his head a few times, then sprang up onto the bench to try and get a better look at her as she disappeared into the crowd. As he did so, her gaze swung towards Ken—like a lighthouse beam sweeping the surface of the ocean of people who stood between them—and their eyes met. A fluttering sensation erupted in Ken’s chest and belly, his legs were suddenly weak and unable to support him, and he had to brace himself with his arms so as not to fall off the bench. Her gaze lingered for just a moment, searing sex and sensuality deep into the core of Ken’s soul, then just as quickly was re-directed away and she was gone.
Ken was devastated. His body slumped, and he dropped, defeated, to the bench.
For a few seconds Ken sat motionless, staring at the concrete between his feet in a state of shock, then, abandoning his falafel sandwich, Ken sprang up, grabbed his coat, and sprinted after her. Who is she? thought Ken. I must find her. I must know everything about her. We have business together; I know it in my bones.
Ken pushed his way through the roiling crowd, bumping clumsily into commuters in his haste, knocking into businessmen and a woman pushing a stroller, spilling cups of coffee, apologizing cursorily over his shoulder as he ran wildly after the vision in red stilettos. Where is she? Please, please, please let me find her. Who the hell is she?
As Ken ran out onto the wide sidewalk of 6th Avenue he swiveled his head from side to side, desperately trying to determine which direction she’d taken. To his left a cab pulled away from the curb, and as it passed where he stood Ken caught a glimpse of the stockinged legs he was pursuing so feverishly. He ran into the street and chased after the cab, but the flow of traffic was in the taxi's favor, and it pulled away from him as it wove its way through the uptown flowing river of vehicles.
Ken stopped running, turned, and standing in the middle of the busy avenue, started trying to flag down a cab. He narrowly avoided being run down by several cars, each honking their horns aggressively to let him know that he was in danger of serious injury if he persisted with this ridiculous course of action. As he dived into the back seat of the first free taxi who reluctantly stopped for him, Ken shouted for the driver to "follow that cab." The jaded New Eden cabbie casually leaned his elbow onto the seat back, turned slowly to look Ken up and down, laconically thumbed his nose at Ken, then aggressively jerked his thumb toward the curb, making it quite clear that he was not going to be a part this car-chase fantasy.
Ken was gutted. He stood motionless on the sidewalk, pedestrians flowing around him like salmon migrating up-stream. He gazed despairingly in the direction of Central Park and his lost femme fatale. He started walking, distractedly, in a northward direction, finding no reason to be anywhere else at that moment. Life suddenly felt empty and meaningless.
Fifteen minutes passed as Ken walked in a daze. He found himself wandering across 59th Street and into Central Park. On this particular hot summer afternoon, the park was abuzz with activity—joggers, cyclists, rollerbladers, pedestrians, adults, children, and an array of domestic animals on leashes. They all danced gracefully around Ken who was floating slowly along as if in a dream. What’ll I do? Where is she? Who is she? I just know she’s the one. How can I find her? Why do anything? Oh, God!!
“Well, hello handsome. Aren't you the eager little puppy, then?"
There she sat, the woman in red stilettos, seductively draped across a park bench, all bosoms, thighs, and sex. Ken froze in his tracks, then started grinning uncontrollably. He ran to the woman, flung himself down next to her on the bench and embraced her with everything he had, burying his face in her titillating cleavage.
"Hey, down boy!! Not so fast!! Let's leave something to the imagination, shall we?"
Ken lifted his head and stared into her enchanting hazel eyes, heavy with mascara and shimmering bronze eye shadow. He couldn't believe it. This Goddess was younger than he was, by a considerable number of years, yet despite this his manhood had swollen to the point of priapism.
"Who are you?”
“My name’s Lobida, doll. What's yours?"
The affair was torrid. Ken was obsessed in a way he’d never been obsessed about anything in his life before. Lobida was everything he ‘d ever desired in a woman. Ken effortlessly gave up all his other mistresses to focus his attention fully on Lobida. Every moment he was with her—and for the first time in his life—Ken felt whole, complete, happy, fulfilled.
Lobida absorbed so much of Ken’s attention that year, he temporarily took his eye off the ball in the political game, and the 2006 congressional nomination was passed on to a more available Partisan Party member. Ken didn't care. Faye, however, was furious. It wasn't until the 2010 mid-terms that Ken was finally elected to the House of Representatives, and he partly redeemed himself in Faye's eyes.
With the new lease of life that was provided by his relationship with Lobida, Ken felt invincible. Ken even let his guard down around his public image and didn't care who saw him out and about with his ravishing new mistress. The tabloids had a field day, of course, but somehow the Abercrombie brand just became more popular as knowledge of the affair spread. Life for Ken felt full and fulfilling. He had ample money, he had booming success, he had a beautiful family he was in love with, he had growing political position and power, and now he was fully satisfied sexually. Life is perfect; I do believe I’ve got it made!!
Ken rose through the political ranks with ease, and he nonchalantly insinuated himself into the upper echelons of the Partisan Party, making all the right moves to launch his bid for the White House in 2020. Even the race for the Partisan Party nomination for president that year flowed smoothly and easily, thanks to the egotistical fumbling response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests by the incumbent, President Nolan Krump. Ken Abercrombie was on top of the world, and nothing could shake his confidence and momentum.
And so, Ken’s story now also arrives at the all-important date in the telling of this tale: July 4th, 2020.
COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown in New Eden have affected Ken Abercrombie and Abercrombie Industries to some degree—a few million dollars in the red is not a big deal for Ken at this point in his life—but Ken knows how fortunate he is, with most of his business affairs being able to be carried out remotely, and sales of AI’s products showing only a modest and temporary decline. Ken’s main concern around the coronavirus pandemic is neither financial nor health-related, however. It’s about whether the press might one day announce his very illegal, and extremely immoral, involvement in its origin—a money-making manoeuvre from his past that in this moment Ken regrets more than any other action in his life to date. The money Ken had received for the illegal sale of experimental coronavirus samples back in 2003 had helped him through a potential financial collapse, but he’s now realizing with mounting horror that the mystery buyer may in fact possess even more questionable morals than his own.
The progress of Ken’s presidential campaign has been significantly supported by the unfolding pandemic, however. Pressure on President Krump because of his poor response to COVID-19 has proven fatal for his popularity in the polls, allowing Ken to launch a primary challenge; his success in this endeavor being an unprecedented historic first.
The Partisan National Convention, a scaled-down and mostly virtual version of which is being held in New Eden this year, is in its final session. Ken has officially been named the party's candidate for the presidential elections in November. The idea of attending the closing party of the convention bores Ken, so he’s planning on slipping quietly away during Faye’s convention closing speech to be with his ravishing mistress . . .