Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cornucopia by Carl Poffley

A corporate executive fails to grasp the revolutionary potential of his invention in Carl Poffley's comic sci-fi

"What's up?" Brian asked, not looking up from his book. He could tell something was wrong by the way Stuart burst through the front door, grumbling frustratedly. Stuart said nothing, instead slumping down into his chair and resting his head in his hands.

Brian gingerly closed the book. "I know you're going to tell me eventually whether I want to hear it or not, so let's just get it out of the way now, yeah?"

Stuart stood up, paced around the room a few times to clear his head and took a deep breath. "Frustrating day at work," he said simply.

"How so?"

"You know those replicators the company cooked up?"

"Those things you've been banging on about endlessly for the last month and have been featured in every scientific publication known to man? I may have heard about them..."

"Yeah, well, we got the sales numbers in today."

"Not exactly flying off the shelves?"

"That's one way of putting it..."

"Can't think why."

"What do you mean?"

"I saw how much you're asking for them," said Brian. "That... is not a small number."

"Well... no," Stuart said hesitantly. "But the things they're capable of! It's bad enough we had to lower the price the first time!"

"See, I'm not even going to ask how much they originally cost..."

"Worth every penny," Stuart sniffed. "These replicators... I actually don't think humanity has come up with words to describe how amazingly awesome they are! I am honestly not exaggerating when I say that they are one of the greatest inventions ever created!"

"Yeah, but your job is marketing them," Brian said dismissively. "Of course you'd say that."

"No, I'm serious," Stuart replied gravely. "I mean, I don't know any of the technical and scientific mumbo-jumbo, but from what I've heard from the guys upstairs, these things can replicate any matter on a molecular level. Just from stuff floating around in the air! I was there during a demonstration, and one of those scientist guys... he just punched in some numbers, and it made, like, a pie! And it was a pretty good pie!"

"Well, that's what all those scientific magazines have been saying," Brian mused. "Except for the pie part. I'll admit, it does sound like some amazing, game-changing technology..."

"Or it would be," Stuart sighed, "if we can sell any of the blasted things! Even these super-rich companies are only putting in orders for one or two each, and that hardly makes up for how much we've been set back just developing the technology to manufacture the damn things!"

Brain took a deep breath. "Why don't you just, I dunno, give them away?"

"Hmph," Stuart snorted. "Given how expensive these things are to make, we practically are."

"No, I mean, literally. Give them away."

Stuart stared at him blankly. "For free," he clarified wearily.

Stuart continued to say nothing. Brian stared back, practically jumping out of his seat when he suddenly burst into uproarious laughter.

"For free!" he gasped. "That's brilliant! Ha! I have to tell the others that one! Amazing! For a second there I actually thought you were being serious!"

Brian coughed irritably. "I was being serious."

"Hahaha! Yeah! Of course!"

"No, I meant it. I seriously meant it."

Slowly, Stuart's smile gave way to a look of pure horror as he realised that he had seriously meant it. He looked like he was about to throw up in shock. "You... you actually want us to give away our super-advanced, super-expensive miracle machines... for free?" he murmured. "You do know what that means right? It means that we'd be giving them away for absolutely nothing! Zilch! Zero!"

"I am aware of what 'free' means in this context, yes. And yet I still stand by what I suggested. Funny that."

"But you can't... do you even... how would... it doesn't..." Stuart spluttered, before taking a deep breath and regaining his composure. "You know, I wasn't joking about how crazy advanced and expensive these things are. You say that they still cost too much, but we've pretty much stuck the price down as low as we can while still making a profit. You know, profit? We kinda need to make some kind of money back from these things."

"Yes, but..."

"And besides," Stuart continued, "they didn't pop out of nothing. A huge number of people from all around the world worked on making them a reality, and I imagine they'll be wanting some kind of payment for that. I certainly do, and the last thing I want to hear is that I wont be getting my paycheck this month because the company I work for has gone bankrupt giving away their extremely expensive products for free!"

"Why not, like, give them replicators?"

"I think I can see some problems with giving somebody something worth more money than they'll ever earn in their life instead of wages, Brian," Stuart said facetiously.

"No, see, the replicators create matter at a molecular level from matter in the air, so surely they could use them to make all the food, clothing and whatever they would ever need, yes? And it wouldn't just be you lot: if everybody had a replicator, it would apply to everybody as well."

Stuart's brow furrowed in thought for a second. "Well... I suppose, but still! What about all the farmers? The butchers? All the supermarket workers? People who make and sell clothes? If you gave everybody replicators like you're suggesting it would put so many people out of work it wouldn't be funny! Unemployment rates would soar!"

"Well then," Brain replied smoothly, "what if everybody who is suddenly unemployed used their replicators to make food and clothes and everything they could possibly need?"

"It... it wouldn't work." Stuart said hesitantly.

"Why not?"

"Pardon?" he muttered, seemingly having not thought that far ahead.

"Why wouldn't it work? What exactly is the flaw in my idea?"

Stuart's mouth moved as he thought long and hard about how to respond to that. "Well," he said at last, "as I already said, these things are stupid-expensive. Not just to make, but to run as well. Even if we managed to scrounge up more money than there has ever existed in order to ensure everybody has one, the cost of running so many at once would be astronomical!"

"Wow," Brian replied. "If only there were some way to replicate the materials needed to build and power these replicators."

Stuart rubbed his chin as the gears in his head spun. "Interesting... yes, I... I suppose you're right. These things are theoretically capable of replicating the materials they're made from..."

"Yes..." said Brian leaning forward expectantly.

"...So really that means..."


"...That we can..."


"...Cut down on production costs, enabling us to make an even greater profit!"

"Ye... no! No! What are you... no!"

"It's genius! And we could afford to lower the price tag a little bit more. Oh! But we still have those contracts with the suppliers don't we? Maybe we can put it in action when those contracts expire, but until then..."

Brian sighed irritably, massaging his temples. "Ok, I tried being subtle but you're obviously too dense to get it. I'm not going to dance around the issue anymore: what you lot have done is made something that has made all money obsolete. Made all economies obsolete. You've made something that could easily eliminate poverty and famine. You've made something that could change the world forever!"

"Yes, but..."

"And yet here you are, trying to figure out a way to sell it! It's like... I don't... somebody at your work must understand the implications and endless possibilities of these replicators! Somebody must be capable of looking beyond money and profit and seeing the glorious want-free utopia that is now in humanity's grasp! And yet you're treating it like it was any other run-of-the-mill product! How is it that you are all being so... so... ignorant! How is it that none of you understand? How? How?"

Brian panted, feeling better for having got that off his chest. Stuart said nothing until he was sure he was done. "And what you don't understand," he said sniffily, "is that we've made something that has the power to make us filthy stinking rich! You said it yourself, this is world-changing stuff, and we're going to make so much money out of it if only we can sell the damn things!"

"But you... I mean... were you not listening to anything I just said?"

"Yeah, I head what you said. Look, I know you've never claimed to be a business expert, but you're just so incredibly naïve. Like a child..."

"What? What?"

"Money makes the world go round Brian. It's what makes things work. Our entire society is based around it, so any alternative, well, it just wouldn't work would it? It would go against human nature or something. Maybe you'll realise that someday, but until then, just let those of us who understand these things make the calls, ok?"

"But... that doesn't... you can't.... I don't... what?"

"So yeah, I think the problem is the marketing. I think it's clear we just haven't got the message through properly..."

Brian opened his mouth to say something, but words failed him. He didn't even hear what Stuart was babbling about as he slumped down into his chair, trying as hard as he could not to burst into tears. "Yeah," he said, barely masking the despair in his voice. "The marketing. Definitely. You should get right on that."

"I think we should focus on these things as a potential money-making device. For people other than those of us selling it I mean."

"Yeah. Money." Brian sighed. "Make a worthless commodity using the very machine that made it worthless. Genius. Utter genius."

"I dunno, maybe we should focus solely on the corporate applications. I mean I don't think these things are practical for personal use. Far too much money involved, and it's not like money can just appear out of thin air..."

Brian buried his head in his hands.


  1. Thought provoking! At least Brian can see the Big Picture; that's the bright side of this human nature tale.

  2. Love the story, love the title! The dialogue is perfect to show us what is happening and the reactions of very different points of view. Very clever!