The Only Good Billionaire

The first time it happens, it's a freak accident. The richest person in the world, Hugh Stanfield, is yachting in the Azores with his entourage, yachting on the largest, most expensive private yacht ever built, almost two hundred metres long, costing hundreds of millions of dollars annually in simple maintenance. It's large enough that it comes with a fleet of support vehicles, like an aircraft carrier. It's large enough that the onboard swimming pool is large enough to have its own yachts on it. It's an extreme symbol of status. Stanfield can afford the maintenance, it's like pocket change to him. He sleeps through millions. It would be mostly impossible for him to spend all of his money.

The yacht is moored for the night off Vila Do Porto when an enormous BANG is heard. The vessel begins to tilt to one side, taking on water through what later investigation will discover is a massive hole in one side of the ship's hull. The vessel sinks astoundingly quickly, though almost everybody on board manages to make it to a lifeboat or is pulled from the water afterwards.

Only Stanfield himself cannot be recovered. A person worth north of a hundred billion dollars cannot simply disappear without causing questions to be asked. In fact, even his body cannot be found in the yacht's wreckage. A lengthy investigation into Stanfield's disappearance is launched, ultimately determining that something astoundingly improbable has happened: an intact meteoroid hit the yacht, punching a cylindrical hole directly through almost every deck and the ship's hull, causing it to sink unfathomably quickly. Stanfield is missing because the meteoroid passed directly through the bed where he was sleeping, atomising him instantly.

It is an astounding, unbelievable, billions-to-one occurrence. However, it is, apparently, completely random.

The markets reel, briefly, from the impact of the man's loss, but recover in less than a day. Stanfield was rich because he was born rich and spent decades investing sharply. He wasn't a titan of industry; he didn't own a monumentally significant corporation, just significant percentages of others'. Ultimately, nobody misses him.

*

A month later, the richest person in the world is killed, again. This time there are some double-takes. Yes, Valentine Rush, who was the second-richest person in the world until Hugh Stanfield died in that freak accident, and is now the richest person in the world, is past tense too now. Rush dies during a meeting with the board of directors, while addressing them, mid-sentence. And, astoundingly, he dies from the same freak cause: a sizeable meteoroid crashes through the building ceiling precisely where he's standing, there's a flash of red and white light, and all that's left of the man is a circle of carpet, a scorched laptop computer and a small fire.

There is pure shock among the people at the meeting when it happens, though in the immediate term, the most startled by this development are Rush's bodyguards. It takes a split second for everybody present to put two and two together. This can't be a freak random chance. Two meteoroids, striking the richest people in the world, in rapid succession? It can't be. It has to be targeted assassination.

Word spreads quickly. News gets out within minutes.

By the end of the day, the third through fiftieth richest people in the world are all reacting in various ways. Nobody gets to north of a billion dollars in net value without having a whole staff of people surrounding them, paid solely to protect them, physically, financially, psychologically, in every contingency. Almost all of them have boltholes, safe harbours, private compounds they can retreat to.

However, relatively few of them are below ground.

*

The third richest person in the world, which is to say, the third person to ascend to the vaunted position of "richest person in the world" after the untimely and wildly surprising deaths of his predecessors, considers the news incredible, which is to say, not worth giving credit to. He dismisses his staff's concerns as petty nonsense, a wild conspiracy theory, bad misreporting. He is presumed to still be holding this opinion when, while playing golf, a meteoroid falls from space and detonates him. The impact is shockingly localised. The impact to the stock market, as all of his assets are liberated, is far greater.

*

The fourth richest person in the world is no idiot and retreats to a bunker long before the third richest person in the world meets his fate. He is an oil and petroleum magnate and he can see where this is going. "Someone in space is doing this," he says. "God, or aliens, or someone with a space program. Fine. I'm three hundred feet underground. No asteroid is getting me where I am. They can try it."

He stays underground for several months... long past the time when the pattern would be expected to continue. By this time all the eyes in the world are on him and the general public is taking bets on whether he'll make it through the year. Speculation is rife and the outlook for his oil company is wobbly.

No meteoroid kills him, but a heart attack does instead. He has a team of excellent doctors, and a dedicated personal cardiologist, and somehow it still gets him, while exercising, too quickly for anybody to do anything to save him.

*

"I'm going to stop your pitch right there," says the exec, Alston. "So, we kind of get where this movie is going. In your pitch, the richest person in the world keeps getting killed. Over and over again. We've been through this loop a few times now. I already see a few problems emerging."

Joe slows down. "Okay. I'm good to take some notes."

"First of all, if your intention here is to make a thriller or some kind of slasher flick, these kills are profoundly uninteresting. You need something grisly and visceral, and it needs to be different every time. I get where you're going where the billionaires slowly become more and more paranoid but this supernatural force keeps finding ways to get to them. But there's got to be some imagination here. Some dark comedic poetic justice. You know? These victims barely have personalities. You've got to meet us halfway here. If we aren't going into who they are, this could be a sixty-second montage, what you've described so far."

"Sure," Joe says. "Sure. I can work with that."

"Let's skip to the end. Is this a supernatural force or are they targeted assassinations by someone? A human being with lots of resources? A fellow billionaire?"

Joe looks at his script. "I had it as a rich individual with slightly less than a billion dollars in assets, clearing away his competition."

Alston shakes his head. "Nope. Doesn't compute. Doesn't work like that. Sending a mixed message. Make it a supernatural force. Stop hedging with this space program angle. Go all the way into this force of money. Another issue you seem to have here is that you've got no clue what happens to the billions of dollars when a billionaire dies. Do you want the unpleasant answer? Very little changes. It just gets redistributed. The rate at which this monster kills them off... there are more billionaires coming up, very quickly. At a rate of more than one every month or two. This thing needs to get much more serious. This isn't a practical way to solve the problem. You're looking at killing several thousand people. Do you have the stomach for that? It's just going to become repetitious on screen, if nothing else. Power concentrates, money is power, money concentrates. There are underlying structural issues to which this kind of thing isn't the answer. And, you've got one other problem. Do you remember the movie Die Hard?"

"Sure."

"Do you remember the character of Ellis?"

"...Sure."

"Describe that character."

"...I'd call him... a textbook, archetypal, sleazy business executive."

"And how about Gordon Gekko? From Wall Street."

"Same. Even more archetypal, though."

"Joe, have you noticed how that archetype has disappeared from recent popular movies?"

Joe can't say that he has, but now that he thinks about it...

"Joe, do you know how much money it takes to make a movie? You're trying to get buy-in from someone rich. You're trying to sell a story in which business executives are the villain to a business executive. You're trying to sell a story in which billionaires receive cathartic justice to a company run by more than one billionaire. It doesn't work. On paper or in practice. You should grow up a little and come up with something more well-realised. It feels like you only spent a couple hours on this. But I don't think spending more would be productive. It's time to scrap this one."

Joe looks glumly at his script, then looks directly at the camera. "Fine..."

Next: 28 Millennia Later

Discussion (10)

2020-11-12 20:14:59 by qntm:

1,619 words. Running total is 23,869 words. This started out as a movie pitch idea I had ages ago on Twitter but when it stopped working (and I was tired of writing today) it obviously degenerated into a list of reasons why my pitch was ill-thought-out and wouldn't work.

2020-11-12 20:33:30 by Jerf:

You could take the Death Note angle on it, where the story is about someone trying to figure out how it's being done and how to stop it... and if you don't like writing someone trying to save billionaires, they could be grappling with the question of whether they even want to, or, grappling with the fact they don't want to but not liking where that takes their ethics, etc.

2020-11-12 21:34:58 by skztr:

I just assumed that by the time the fourth billionaire ate it, everyone would be scrambling to not count as top of the list, and it would evolve into a thrilling tale of high-stakes accountancy and general book-keeping

2020-11-12 22:32:48 by Jumble:

When in doubt, go meta.

2020-11-12 22:50:58 by Donocropolis:

I figured it was heading towards a classic "Brewster's Millions" scenario wherein someone established the obvious pattern to get all the billionaires in the world to start rapidly distributing their wealth in order to vacate their position as the next target. Robin Hood with a Mass Driver instead of a bow and arrow.

2020-11-13 06:15:54 by Len White:

Here's an interesting "fix": create a lottery for billionaires that's run as fast as random number generation allows. The title of world's richest man will change a billions of times per second. What now? Is the meteor going to change course mid-flight?

2020-11-13 08:54:18 by JJJS:

Give Away Your Money Or Die

2020-11-13 13:35:11 by Ross:

If the sub-billionaire really had the tech to divert meteors like this, why wouldn't he take them out all at once? Or at least in batches greater than one?

2020-11-13 15:01:42 by ryankrage77:

@Len White presumably the meteor would hit the richest person regardless, having already launched before they were chosen.

2020-11-16 15:44:35 by Omegatron:

Less than a minute after Joe leaves the office, Alston is killed by a freak meteoroid.

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