Alaini is ninety-eight years old and was born with advantages -- like being born in a screamingly dense and diverse half-city where on his daily rounds as a child (delivering bottled water in huge plastic water cooler tubs) he encountered people from every walk of life and in every state of economic advantage. He was the oldest child and so the only one for whom an education could be afforded. He studied economics and law and biochemistry. Out of university he joined the local branch Coca-Cola corporation and worked his way up to run the whole organization in South America.
Alaini had a real plot to take over the world. It hadn't originally been his idea, for he had first seen it in a children's comic book when he wasn't even ten years old, but that happened so long ago and the concept had matured and bubbled away in his head for such a long time that it stopped being clearly recognisable except in the broadest terms, and he forgot that it had ever not been his own. Certainly the old four-colour comic book writer whose idea it had been wasn't alive and around to demand a percentage of his plan. "Supervillain" would be the term, were this taking place in fiction, were there superheroes to define Alaini against. This regardless of his motivations, which count for nothing. Only poorly-written supervillains are self-consciously bad.
The problem with the chemical he devised was that there was no clear threshold for when it would take its chemical hold on a brain and while there were well-defined thresholds of withdrawal, they were fuzzy and could be messed with. A simple on-off switch would have been preferable, but there you go.
The effect of the drug (and some money) was subtle enough to pass inspections. All it did was made you want some more. It was a subtle effect. All it did was cause sales to drift upwards, slowly gathering momentum. Soon the organisation was gathering momentum and penetration. Every single person in the whole world has drunk a Coke. One isn't quite enough, but when every single other person in the world is drinking Coke, a time invariably comes when there is nothing else to drink.
Even the world's leaders have. And all their kids and electors.
The first serious demands (as distinguished from merely highly one-sided trade agreements) had been delivered by the time Alaini was thirty. The rest, of course, is World History, 20XX-21YY. And the Coke gambit was dropped by the wayside by the time it became easiest for everybody to do what he suggested.
He eventually took up residence at the Telaj Tower in Brasilia, a residence built especially for him so as to not overshadow his presence within the building with its own already-familiar silhouette. It was important that the building have a recognisable silhouette.
Do you remember the water dispute in Zimbabwe? Do you remember the Water War and how little time it lasted? Alaini told them to cease hostilities for long enough for him to visit and get personal information on the situation. He let them rail verbally against each other while he toured the water sources (which were all in Zimbabwe) and the large river that they combined to form (which was largely in South Africa). While travelling, by helicopter and jet and on foot (he enjoyed walking very much and often insisted on conversing with visiting dignitaries while walking, he said it helped his mind to work and that he liked to always be going somewhere), he would always be speaking his mind, improvising, suggesting, hypothesising. With both aggressors following him he spoke loudly, throwing out suggestions here and there, "What about a dam here, what about a dam? A hydroelectric dam? Liano, try to find a surveyor who can suggest a location where a dam could be built, anywhere around here, in either country, even if it crosses the border. What about moving the border in a beneficial way? Could we create a new, small country to contain the important stretch of river? Hydroelectricity. A jointly-owned and -operated plant. Could we bring in a third party from nearby who stands to gain nothing from favouring either of you? What do the international regulations say?
"What do you want the river for, anyway? Yes, it sounds like a stupid question. Don't you have enough water? Haven't you had enough water up until now? Has the population of this nearby Zimbabwean city risen so drastically? Could we divert the river? What about the South Africans, do they need all this water? Is this about water at all? Is this about energy at all? What were your hydroelectricity plans? Show me. What dams have you built before? Is this part of a larger programme or not? No? So you want the river, but don't want to do anything with it.
"Is there history in this region? Is this part of your border risky or prone to danger? What are the dangers? Have there been attacks? I see. I see. That is not so good.
"What do your people want?"
"Not you. Your people. Your son there. What do you want, young man?"
The young man is bored and thirsty and tired of walking and he really just wants to go home.
"I see, I see. Your country has had a tough time of it, these last few years, yes? And so has your neighbour. No no no, don't give me that, I have people who look at all of these numbers and tell me in much plainer terms."
He wants power, and he wants to see the other suffer. But they both want me to see that they are being the fairest.
"I will spend a night or two thinking over my solution and I will come back to see you when I have figured it out."
And the Solomon-wise way he figured it out, introducing another unrelated country quite willing to sell their surplus electricity and water to Zimbabwe for a nominal agreement and seeing them back down in the face of the generosity, and suggesting that South Africa could exploit the river only on the condition that the fruits of the exploitation meet certain minimum criteria which had to be distributed elsewhere, and other caveats which kept everyone happy and fair... it was a fine achievement, but typical of the man. You are all part of the same one world, so whichever way the river flows, that will be good in some way.
And with his great age all that is about to end. He smiles at everybody and never married or had children (despite the rumours). If he had he would never have handed the reins of the world to one of them, in any case.
The only way to do it was with a benevolent dictator, he realised. Arrow's Impossibility theorem and others in the same region of mathematical and game theory proved that there was no sensible way to run the world without people have more power than other people. Or something like that. The simplest, safest way to do it was to get a guy who got on with everybody, who understood everybody, who could talk to anybody at any level and understand where they were coming from and what they were going through. That empathy was the critical key. He joined his opponents on the other side of the negotiation table. "I see why you want that. In fact, you should have that! But let's consider how it would affect the others in the world before giving it to you." And the uselessness of anger at such a table.
It was a skill, he realised, borne of poverty, and of working for his whole life with people better and worse off. He knew what it was like to desperately want something and what one could realistically do without. It was the kind of upbringing you can't train somebody to have had. In the last few years, a training programme had been run to possibly select the next person to sit in his great office and take over all of the great work. Maybe he was getting irritable and perfectionist or just losing his critical faculties to senescence. Maybe it was the long-noted paradox of ambition. But nobody passed. Everybody was sent home.
There's unrest brewing to a greater or lesser extent in a thousand different regions. There's a world bubbling over. They know it won't be long and Alaini has all but come out and said "I will have no successor. Nobody is good enough." He has written books and books and been misinterpreted and mistranslated. Nobody gets it! Nobody knows how to run a planet! It's simple, all you have to do is understand everybody. Every possible human and everything in the world. Just ask them and get their perspective and people starting from the same assumptions can't disagree on the same dilemma, so the trick is to nail down the points of disagreement as quickly as possible, and then-- well, actually, the trick is to eliminate them afterwards, which typically involves giving them something that they want in exchange for abandoning what they thought was an axiom of their thought processes.
It's not that simple. It's never that simple. Nobody can rule the world. It was all some shared illusion. Alaini can't sustain it anymore.
The first bomb is thrown the last time he goes to sleep. Eventually the breathing stops, and the world wakes up and starts flexing its muscles, as if having spent half a century asleep itself.