“So, Master Screwtape, you are appreciating the sports lounge that the construction demons and I have prepared for you?”
“Indeed. Come stand next to me while I spin in this swivel chair and take in the 360-degree view.
“Such an idea! To intersperse views of the lava fountains with screens depicting our clients enjoying the exquisite variety of experiences that their contracts with H.E.L.L. have earned them, and screens of various entertainments that we have sponsored topside. The sensory overload is positively painful!”
“Your team will be …”
“I am so proud of myself for conjuring all this up!”
“Yessir. You, ah, appear to have tuned all of the topside screens to the same event.”
“Look more closely, Wormsap.”
“Ah, I see. The same type of event, but in lots of different locations. They all appear to feature automobiles, and, er, traffic lights.”
“Every second of every minute of every hour of every day topside, there’s a drag race going on for us to sit back and watch my handiwork. Remember that field trip when we inserted the notion into the topsiders that traffic light installations were for traffic control and traffic safety?”
“Indeed, Master Screwtape. I was the one who …”
“We have been together for quite an eternity now, Wormsap, and I remain amazed at the profundity of knowledge that you still haven’t grasped from my tutelage. ‘Traffic safety’. Bah! I still slaver over the heap of contracts I got for you to process on account of that load of bull.
“You build a road. You plant people, of all degrees of skill and confidence, on that road, in vehicles of all degrees of power, weight, stability, and maneuverability. They will naturally space themselves out in the most mutually advantageous way possible, limited only by the size and quality of the road and the number of people and machines on it. And it works beautifully.
“Until they have to stop at a traffic light. Which may stop them for any reason. Or none! Forty-five seconds of cars and frustrated people piled up behind a signal that’s red and no one’s coming off the side street! Because of a mindless timer or an even more mindless computer program.
“Then the light finally turns green. And the drag is on! Dudes late for work weaving around grandmothers stuck in the left lane, going way under the speed limit and not daring to move. Jackrabbit starters in turbocharged automatics running up the back bumpers of cheap old Japanese clunkers with sticky manual transmissions. Everybody trying to get around the 18-wheeler hauling rocks – and especially trying to get ahead of the school bus! It’s enough to stir the icy hot heart of Lucifer himself!”
“Maybe you should invite …”
“I have a continent full of daffodils in full bloom that says you will say not one word to the Chief about this. Got it?”
“Y-y-y-yessir. Y-y-you’d think that the r-r-road carnage resulting from disregarding the lights and other safety devices and procedures would get through to people eventually.”
“Contracts, my dear Wormsap. Contracts that state, as a condition of acquiring the deed to one of our properties, that they will incur any risk that appears to confer on them an advantage, however momentary; will boost their precious self-esteems, however illusory. You wish to know how little they care? You thought I had all the topside screens tuned to the drag races. You missed one.”
“Yessir. It appears to be a medical report.”
“On the coronavirus outbreak that I engineered.”
“That was m …”
“Hmph. As I was saying. The coronavirus outbreak that I engineered, and over which all of topside is panicking right now. Let’s see … in the past two months, the virus outbreak has killed 362 people. No word on how many of those had contracts with us, Wormsap, damn you!”
“Most of those are in Printphubar’s territory, sir.”
“No excuse. You know him well enough to double-cross him several times over. Right?”
“I-I-I-I d-don’t know what you’re talking a-about, sir.”
“Of course not. So I have to do your work for you, as usual. Three hundred and sixty-two deaths over 64 days, or between five and six deaths a day. The previous coronavirus outbreak, this SARS thing, killed 774 people over 274 days – just under three a day. All to global screams of doom and despair. I don’t suppose you have any idea how many people die on the world’s highways every day, trying to win drag races?”
“Our contract holders in the scare-mongering media, which are pumping up a relatively minor threat to humanity for the sake of their own profits, and are largely ignoring a major threat for the same reason, are fulfilling both the letter and the spirit of their contracts, exactly as specified.”
“And if they ever fail of their responsibilities, so that people see the scare-mongering for the profiteering that it is, and start ignoring such stories?”
“We release a real plague into the world, which will give your construction demons all the work that they can handle. They’d better be ready. Got it?”