Chapter 51

"I’ve heard that these meteors are 15% lead." The caller said. "What are the odds of that entering the atmosphere and causing neurological damage on some kind of global scale?"

"This is a good point." The host agreed. "What about lead in the atmosphere?"

The scientist cleared his throat. "As you know, lead is a very heavy metal. It is difficult for it to stay airborne for very long. At 15% the meteors generally do not have enough mass to toxify the atmosphere."

"But what about small babies?" The host chided. "Wouldn’t any amount of lead in the air that they breathe be enough to harm them?"

"Of course." The scientist said. "Samples taken indicate less than 10% contamination. This is well with the tolerance of humans be they fully mature or in utero."

Jose smiled up at Markoff and pointed at the trucks radio. "This would be perfect for my game?"

They were sitting in the parking lot of the Taj Mahal waiting for the Japanese to finish walking around the newly remodeled structure. It was April and cold as hell. The air had an orange quality to it.

Shortly after Clara had been hit by the bus and Dan had been revealed to be a secret agent trapped in the body of a kid, an asteroid had screamed down from space and destroyed an entire country in central Africa. The area was mostly desert region however the death toll had been larger than the one that had struck Iran and Afghanistan on New Years Day. Pieces of the rock were thrown into the air coming down as far away as China and Germany.

NASA stated that the blast had laden the air with dust. Temperatures would be expect to be milder this summer in the Northern Hemisphere and almost intolerably cold in the Southern. The papers called it the new ice age. People were stocking up on canned goods.

"Did you get finished with the Forbidden City?" He asked the boy.

Jose smiled. "Almost." He answered eagerly. "I coded the food court to be filled with a giant army that the main character has to fight to get to the secret weapon. There are monsters and ninjas and all sort of bad guys now."

Markoff had been watching him as he continued to work on his game. His abilities to redesign the plans that the builder had provided him and appropriate the spaces for his own means was impressive. He’d told Myrah that he wanted the kid to see what he did for a living. This was their second trip out to a site together.

"This is the dull part." He said nodding in the direction of the shopping center. "What happens now is that they’ll come back with changes that they want made. You show them what you’re going to do but they’ll always feel differently once they see it real life."

"When will it reopen?"

Markoff thought a little. "That’s up to the Japanese."

In actuality, there was no reason that the Taj Mahal had to remain closed anymore. The courtyard had been completely refurbished and the burned out stores made new again. All that remained was for the people who were looking at it now to be confident enough in the work that he’d done to start leasing it out again.

He’d done a good job on repair the damage from the fire. The turret had been completely rebuilt.

The builder pointed over in the direction of the construction that was going on at the Forbidden City. "That over there is what I love the most about this job." He said leaning back to watch as the workers mounted beams into the foundation and hammered dry wall to their surface.

"Did you always want to build shopping malls?" The boy asked.

Markoff thought about how to answer that question. To him it was a complicated matter that had many different answers. "I think that building shopping malls is a better way to make a living that most." He said finally.

The boy sat silently looking down at his hands. He seemed to be mulling over the vagaries of his step-father’s answer.

"I guess I always wanted to do what I do." The builder continued. To him, this wasn’t a simple matter of answering yes or no. It was never as easy as just getting to build whatever he wanted to build. He had to make decisions and he was aware of where he’d comprimised. "Maybe it wasn’t shopping malls that I wanted to build but I get to build and that’s all that matters."

"What do you mean?" The boy asked.

"Maybe I had better plans for myself." Markoff shot back. "Maybe I wanted to build a professional football stadium or some big hunting lodge in the Northwest that wasn’t just another place to buy shoes. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think that I’m lucky to get to work everyday doing something that I’m good at. Most people just clock in and clock out. I guess never really wanted to build malls but there’s a need for those things. I built one of the first big one’s for you and your momma when I just met you guys. Do you remember it? It was a huge grocery store just down the street for that place that you lived."

"The apartment?"

Markoff nodded. "Your momma needed that place because she didn’t have a car. She needed somewhere nearby that she could get groceries without having to rely on other people."

"I remember walking there." Jose nodded.

"Good." Markoff smiled. "I built that thing for her and I wound up making a good deal of money off it. It worked out well. That’s when I started listening to what she had to say."

"You mean mom tells you what to build?" The boy asked.

In all their time married to one another Markoff and Myrah had never officially acknowledged to the kids that she was the one pulling the strings. She pointed out empty fields, she showed him pictures of buildings in magazines, she talked about the lack of good places along the interstate to shop. He put all of these things together for her. "Your momma is sort of my connection to what people need around here." The builder admitted. "She doesn’t tell me what to build. That’s never been her style. She just knows what to look for while I just sort of go around with my head up my ass all the time."

Jose laughed.

Markoff gave his hair a tussle. "Look son, I always thought I’d get to build a football stadium." He said smiling. "Maybe one day I will but for now I get to build roller coasters and mountains and civic centers that people can watch concerts inside of. It’s not a bad way to be."

"I guess." He shrugged.

"The shopping malls have gotten between the stuff that I’m really interested in and what I can actually do but it’s that way with a lot of things in life."

The boy nodded. "Soccer." He said as if the word left a bad taste in his mouth. "I never really liked it. I hated doing it but I didn’t know what else I could do until mom found the computer classes for me."

"Maybe soccer’s not you’re thing." The builder agreed. "You’re definitely better at the computer than you were ever going to be at any sport."

Jose frowned. The expression filled Markoff with regret.

"I think I said that wrong." He said trying correct himself. "I didn’t mean that you’re bad at sports. You’re not. You do just as well as most of the other kid’s out there."

"I’m not as good as Justine."

"No, you’re not as good as her but that’s not anything that you should worry about." The builder acknowledged. "She’s a born soccer player. You’re a born builder. I’ve seen it in your games. You know more about how to use space than I ever have.

"But you build shopping centers." The boy said looking up. His face was a mixture of pride and confusion. "You’re the one who’s actually putting these places together. I’m just making a game. All I do is take them and turn them back into what I think they should look like."

"You take the plans that I give you and you make them better." Markoff said. "You make them more real than anything I could ever dream of."

"You make them into shopping centers."

"Exactly." He nodded. "There’s no place for a Forbidden City with a Skid’z shoe store in it and the Taj Mahal shouldn’t be an outlet mall. Your momma’s right when she says that these things are tacky. A mountain village doesn’t need to exist on the Gulf Coast of Texas. It’s just a copy of a place that she showed me in a magazine which she thinks that she’d like to visit one day."

"But what’s wrong with that?" The boy asked. "I know that what’s in my game isn’t real. I mean, I don’t know how the actual Taj Mahal looks or what’s really inside the Forbidden City. All I do is I use them for what I need them to be. It’s no different than you making them into a shopping mall for mom."

"No, it is." The builder argued. "What I do cheapens the mystery of the way that she probably imagines these places to be in her head."

"But my stuff isn’t any different."

"I think it is." Markoff said seriously. "You’re the one who’s actually taking people there to see these ruins as they should probably exist. You’re making those buildings alive again in your games and you’re putting a lot of kick ass stuff inside them. They aren’t just places for people to buy clothes in. They’re real."

"They aren’t real." The boy argued. "They’re just stuff that’s made out of game code."

"But they look and feel real."

The boy looked straight ahead. From one of the avenues leading into the Taj Mahal a collection of Japanese business men began to emerge. They were wearing hard hats and waved happily at Markoff and the boy sitting in the truck.

"It passed." The builder said, waving back.

"How do you know?"

"I can just tell."

"You know that everything that happens is those games is scripted right?" Jose asked sounding a little unsure about the nature of the question. "I mean, I can tell what’s going to happen before it even happens. I wrote it so it’s not that big of a deal to me. It may look and feel real to you but its just part of my imagination. I copied your plans and used them to fit my story. It’s no different than you copying stuff to build shopping centers for mom."

"I guess it just feels different." Markoff said. He frowned as he pulled open the door to speak with the investors.

The End

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