Interview with an Empire


sf_gabriella_icon.gif sf_warren_icon.gif

Scene Title Interview with an Empire
Synopsis A journalist and a billionaire speak of ethics. No, really.
Date December 10, 2020

"I get asked about what I find fun fairly often, but I never answer. Do you know why? Because they want the story, but they don't really care. And if they do care, they can't really experience it."

Warren Ray's Mansion
Midtown Manhattan

10:53 am, EST

Warren's mansion is extremely modern, something out of a tech demo journal really. It's built through numerous old, abandoned underground tunnels and empty areas in New York, including the area that used to be home to another Warren, in another time and place.

His living room is incredibly white and sterile looking, with flat screens everywhere, almost like his equivalent to potted plants, all serving one purpose or another. She'll note one on the extremely modern stainless steel coffee table that just seems to be monitoring his heart rate.

But the two of them, Warren Ray and Gabriella Milos, are laying in black medical chairs that have been moved into the living room, with two doctors placing nodes on his head and getting him hooked up to some monitors that are clearly meant to read brainwaves, while another doctor is standing there waiting for her to let him do it.

"I like to think that my primary hobby is finding the truth. What exactly is out there in the world, what is under the surface of this day to day march toward death. Testing conspiracy theories and fringe science on my own dime. Today that theory is: the existence of the soul." He looks over at her, trying to get a gauge on how she's reacting to all of this.

"There are many fringe theories on the nature of the soul. I obviously consider myself a very agnostic man, so I can't say if such a thing exists or not. But a man named Doctor Francis L. Varnheimer proposed many theories that primarily only ended up destroying his reputation among his peers at the end of the day." He wears a simple red robe with silk golden pajamas under it, choosing to be completely comfortable. He told her to dress comfortably as well, nothing formal.

"Dr. Varnheimer proposed that the soul was simply a layer of human existence. What we think of as death and birth are only because this current layer of consciousness is serving some purpose that we don't actually need to be aware of in order to serve it. He calls this The External Layer of Existence." He doesn't really let up, he seems hellbent on explaining this entire thing while the monitors are turned on, and the doctors begin trying to get some brain activity images.

He appears to be quite comfortable with all of this, as if it's a normal and everyday occurrence. "The External Layer of Existence can only think and interact within the third dimension, but he believed that this was simply something like a limb to our true selves. Our true selves exist on a much higher dimensional level, doing all manner of unknown things. But he believes that they view time and the possibilities of time in a much different way than we do. Death isn't death, our higher self, something like the soul, it still exists, and it has infinite limbs.that it simply uses as it pleases."

"The important thing here is…" He holds up a single finger. "We can't perceive our deaths, we're only ever just living as whatever limb needs to be lived in at any moment, or witnessed through. Dr. Varnheimer was a fascinating man to read the books of. If any of that is true, I don't know how he'd know and have not told anyone, but who knows, maybe I'lI solve the mystery.

"What was your question, again?" Warren asks, confused due to the overwhelming distraction of his tangent.

Gabriella sits primly on the edge of her chair taking notes by hand. She also has her phone recording the interview — always best to have a copy in case she gets sued for libel later. She may know this from experience. And what her subject is saying today might have people wondering if she made any of it up.

Her notes are an illegible scrawl of some nonstandard shorthand that would make no sense to anyone but herself. Somehow she manages to keep eye contact more often than not, despite the fact her hand never stops moving.

That is, until he stops talking, which isn’t very often.

“I think you answered it,” Gabriella says a little dryly. She taps her notepad with the end of her pen twice, before asking the next question. “What was your gateway drug to conspiracy theories, would you say? The first one that pulled you into that as a hobby?”

She shakes her head to the doctor. “No, thank you.”

"Now, keep in mind, I don't actually believe in these things. But I prefer to challenge my perception of reality. I believe it's important not to take anything for granted, not even the concept of sanity. After all, what if we're all insane?" Warren asks as the computer screen is turned on, and there's a colorful representation of his brain activity. "My anonymous doctors are taking scans of my brain activity so that I can have neurologists and physicists try and research if there is a connection between brain activity and some kind of quantum phenomena. Dr. Varnheimer never truly had the money to test his theories, so why not try to give the man's soul some peace by either vindicating him or proving that he was completely insane?"

But, moving on, he crosses his hands over his stomach as he lays back, considering Gabriella's question. "The idea that Stanley Kubrick helped fake the moon landing. There are a number of people who believe that the clues are all in The Shining, that Kubrick intentionally confessed with the symbolism of that movie. Now, as I said, I don't actually believe these things. Besides, as you know, I sent a drone to the moon. The idea that the moon landing is fake is absolutely absurd. I understand the history of this country's technology better than most men."

"Gabriella, if I could confess one thing, it would be that our world is painfully boring in terms of the fantastical or the supernatural. But the American government has historically done things like create puppet governments, water barons are claiming ownership of local lakes as if indigenous tribes don't need to use them. We're selling glacier water, Bjork's water, for profit. There have been wars over bananas, perpetuated by banana corporations. Televangelists are perpetuating the blood diamond industry and making millions." He wildly lists things off, counting on his fingers as the list goes on and on and on.

"I find myself a millionaire who could be a billionaire if I were simply evil. Do you know that Kadath janitors are making thirty-five dollars an hour? I'm doing what I can. But my peers insist on sucking the world dry and exploiting the most vulnerable people on Earth." He looks over at her, straightening his glasses. "Can you blame me for wanting to find something that could prove that there is something bigger, something that could save us from the petty greed of my peers? Full disclosure, I absolutely hate your bosses, I agreed to this specifically because I like you."

Gabriella nods, indicating she’s listening, brows lifting now and then in the epitome of interested observer, while her hand continues to jot down notes. “I feel if everyone were insane, then no one is insane, because insanity is something that needs an antithesis, something to juxtapose itself against. Personally.”

She smiles though, at the admission he likes her, if not her bosses. “No one likes the media as a whole. But individually, there are good people. It’s both a noble concept and crass entertainment at the same time, and it is a business, after all. The newspaper side of it less greedy than others, at any rate. No one gets rich but the owners of a newspaper, and these days, not even them unless it’s a larger media organization.”

Her pen taps twice again against her notepad. “What would you say is your biggest weakness, and don’t say that you’re too generous or you work too hard. Those are cop out answers.” She gives him a toothy smile.

"I suppose I should consider that regrets aren't necessarily a weakness, and consider what exactly makes me weak in this world, or maybe makes me most vulnerable…" Warren seems to go into deep thought a bit, while the doctors continue to monitor his brainwaves, taking notes. "My discontent certainly feels like a weakness. No matter what I accomplish or achieve, I never truly feel as if I've achieved anything. I often wonder what exactly I'm moving toward. My only real answers are 'the truth', or 'peace'. But I don't truly know what I want or need as a person, beyond my work."

"I have a question for you." He motions a hand to her. "You've clearly done your research on me. You know what I can do, and more or less what I have. Well, what I allow people to know that I have." He turns to look at her, the mass of wires tugging with him. "If you could make me do anything, specifically for you, what would it be? And don't say 'give to my favorite charity'. That's a cop out answer, but I will do that anyway."

Gabriella’s gaze darts to the monitors, jotting down what might be a description of what she sees there on the digital array, then back to Warren, and she laughs a little at the question posed to her.

“I can’t answer that for ethical reasons. One might construe that a veiled attempt to bribe me in some way — even if it’s asked as a hypothetical, a could not will. Nor should you give to my favorite charity in any sort of show of gratitude for this interview. Thank you for the thought, though,” she says almost primly.

Her pen taps twice again, and she narrows her green eyes a little, her head tipping to one side. She crosses her legs, using the top knee for a surface on which to rest her notepad. “There are some that call you an eccentric and others perhaps something harsher — a narcissist. Obviously you are successful, so that’s perhaps a little unfair. How would you respond to such assertions?”

"I don't want to bribe you, I want to see if you're the kind of person that I think you are, or maybe something more than that. I'd say that I got what I wanted from your answer. A more sensational journalist could have justified the answer on the ethical grounds that I historically don't actually care too much about being interviewed, nor particularly desire or enjoy it." Warren starts to pull the nodes from his head once the doctors express that they're done collecting data.

He stands, stretching, and motions for her to follow him. He begins to walk down a hall of tanks full of robotic fish built into the top halves of each wall. "Those fish are actually machine learning. I take them out to upgrade their bodies based on how their behaviors have changed."

There are what appear to be 'dead' robot fish. Some display hunting behavior of different 'species', There's a circular one that sucks against the glass for some reason. "I believe that we're all narcissists. What really matters is the ability to shut that part of our brain down enough to care about other people. The balance of our inherent narcissism versus our inherent ape-minded desire for altruism."

"Your desire to keep a pristinely ethical mind isn't because it would make you more famous, obviously asking me to do something sensational for you would make you significantly more famous. No, your desire to maintain your ethics is for the reader. Your ethics are inherently altruistic. It's like yin and yang for the human ego." He turns around to face her as they enter a room that at first seems to simply have four black walls with a white marble ceiling and floor. But those walls immediately turn on, revealing 3D rendered schematics and math floating all around. "Touch screens."

Gabby raises a brow at him, jotting down more scribbled words. She gives the robotic fish a passing glance, not particularly interested in them as a science and technology reporter would be. “So you’re saying my altruism is ape minded. Copy that,” she says wryly.

“I’m not sure all apes are altruistic. Some are compassionate, empathetic. You see stories of apes that care for other lost animals, but just as often, apes that kill without having needed to. Very similar to humans, all in all,” she murmurs, looking at the walls. “This reminds me of Fahrenheit 451.

She turns back to him. “So speaking of ethics, what would you say are the most important principles guiding your path, career or otherwise — Warren Ray’s top three commandments, if you will. I won’t put you on the spot for all ten.”

"I believe that it's a slider for all apes. Some of us lean more toward one side than the other. As for why, well, that's up to philosophers and their nature versus nurture debates." Warren claps his hand and a sliding door shuts behind them, which also seems to be attached to the screens. Then he makes physical gestures, and the screens all change at once to give them an immersive view of the streets of London. It's a still image, but they can look all around them. "Something I'm working on. An augmented reality prototype that I hope will allow people to experience different parts of the world, and possibly more. Right now it's only still 360 degree images, but the goal is live video. Lots of logistics to work out."

But through all of this, he's thinking of her question, giving it deep consideration. "I would say 'do no harm' is at the top of my ethics list. It's why I insist that my employees all be paid an actual living wage, even at the lowest level of the company. I keep my wages just high enough to do personal projects, but I will never be a billionaire. It requires exploitation, leeching everyone who works for me."

"Next would be 'seek the truth regardless of what the consequences may be'. Meaning, even if I lose profit from having to shut a project down, or break business ties, if the 'truth' is in the service of mankind, then I have to be more interested in that than a pretty lie." he explains as he walks over to one of the screens with a crystal clear view of the inside of a bakery. But of course the camera can't actually go inside, given that it's an impressive but also very still image.

"And finally, 'speak truth to power'. A rather common saying, but I will never play nice with fake smiles at people who I genuinely believe to be awful. This has lost me a lot of business, but the people who do business with me are loyal and trustworthy. I just made a deal with Eve Mas, though the details are still very confidential." he admits, giving her a bit of a scoop there.

She looks around, moving to another section of the room to more closely examine a vignette caught in the image, then turning back to him.

“Hold that thought on Eve Mas for a moment. We’ll circle back to it,” she says, before tapping her pen again against the pad, tipping her head thoughtfully as she looks at him.

“You seek the truth at all costs, you say. Does that include sharing that truth with the public? What would you do if you found out something terrible that could not be changed or altered, something with no person or organization to blame or punish,” Gabriella says, watching his expression as she speaks. “The sort of thing that telling the people might cause a panic or result in dangerous situations. Would you share that truth, or would it conflict with the do-no-harm tenet?”

"That's not a bad question at all, really. Let me propose the newspaper selling hypothetical. What if I learned of a hostile species of alien that regularly makes contact with Earth. Really, just saying it as a hypothetical is enough to cause a certain subculture of people to believe that it's true, and try to warn everyone, make podcasts, the usual." Warren seems generally calm and collected, but intrigued, like he's enjoying the discussion.

The challenge of it.

"If I knew this for a fact, if I had videos, images, a spacecraft, I could reveal all of these things to the public. There's a lot of people who would believe it, and other people who would say that the spacecraft is a manufactured hoax, the videos and images are all fake or misinterpreted. When you discover certain horrible truths, mankind will collectively reject that truth unless their government and the media as a whole accepts it." He thoroughly explains, but holds up a finger.

"However…" He steps a bit closer to her. "To more directly answer your question, I would keep the truth to myself so that I can try to find a solution, because revealing that truth would only open me up to being discredited, trigger disinformation campaigns, and only really serve to destroy my ability to do anything at all. Telling the truth sometimes puts the truth in danger."

At the mild praise of her questioning skills Gabriella tips her head and smirks a little, as if to say, ‘Gee, thanks,’ but she doesn’t speak. She continues to scribble in her shorthand while watching him, somehow able to keep eye contact for longer than she needs to look at her paper. Practice. Without looking, she seems to know she’s at the bottom of the page and flips it to the next without missing a beat.

“And what if it wasn’t something you personally could solve? What if it was something that meant inevitable destruction and death for everyone on the planet? Would you tell people so they could prepare, make the most of their time left, or would you keep it to yourself so they could live in ignorant bliss?” she asks, tapping the pen against the paper as if to punctuate the question at the end.

"I suppose I'd say that I don't feel like I would have the personal authority to make that decision for society. I would likely gather and consult with the most intelligent minds that I can reach in our society, possibly the most influential ones as well. This wouldn't be a decision that one man could make, and even though telling even a few could be a potential disaster, I don't believe that there could be a more ethical option." Warren answers this as he suddenly claps, and the room turns to a standard DVD screensaver, with the logo bouncing around between all the screens.

"I find something fascinating about the fact that you far value your journalistic integrity and desire for the truth over the prospect of someone giving you anything. Do you realize how few journalists actually have such a level of integrity?" He starts to head to the door, opening it for her.

"Granted, I believe that in such an oppressive society, the idea that someone can't get as many resources as they can from a rich person, without being considered lacking in integrity, is a bit unfair. Unless they're a politician of course. Unfair but also reasonable at the same time. A bit of a paradox. Or perhaps just a further illustration of the unfairness of our country." All things considered, he simply shakes his head. "Perhaps I'll wait until after the interview is published, then offer you a lavish gift and evaluate where that falls on the journalistic integrity scale."

Gabriella lifts a brow at his response, nodding slowly. “As fair an answer as any, I think. Many people do have the arrogance — dare I say hubris — to think they know better than most what’s best for the rest of the country, or even the world. I’ve met more than my share of those.”

She steps out of the door, shaking her head and laughing a little at the talk of her integrity and lavish gifts. “Most actual journalists have integrity when it comes to bribes. Like anything, you hear of a few who don’t, and think it means that the problem is rampant, when it isn’t, in fact,” she says, a little coolly. “For the record, even after publication, we’re not supposed to accept gifts over a certain cost. Aside from actual ethics, it’s about optics.”

Closing her notepad, she slides it into her blazer pocket along with the pen, and offers her hand to him. “I think I have enough for the article. It has been fascinating speaking to you.”

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License