At the tap on his shoulder, Director of Operations Nathan Dexter, looked up from the information scrolling across his hand screen.
He raised a brow. "Yes?"
One of the opening day crew -- Ingraham, was it? -- said in a flat tone, "You wanted to be notified when the Beatles arrived, sir." A statement, not a question.
"Oh, yes. Thanks." Nathan struggled for the man's first name. "Dave."
Apparently, the memory had been correct. Dave nodded, his duty done, and resumed his seat before his assigned bank of monitors, coordinating his set of tasks with the scores of others working that day. His boss forgotten, the twenty-something employee spoke quietly into his microphone. A cascade of fresh images replaced those on the half-circle of screens he scrutinized.
Scanning the control room, Nathan moved deliberately towards an eddy in the orchestrated chaos where another Brent Corp employee perused the output from the main concert stage. Nathan laid a hand on Johnson's left shoulder by way of greeting. "How's it going, Bill?"
"Not much activity yet, Mr. Dexter." Bill's gray eyes darted to a clock face superimposed in the upper right-hand corner of a center monitor. "The band should be arriving soon, though."
I hope so, Nathan thought. We're going to need all eight hours to get this up and running right. "Dave Ingraham said the Beatles are here."
Bill spoke a command, changing cameras on the lower of the middle two screens to switch from an interior to an exterior shot. The high definition color image revealed a nondescript white stretch van parked in the service alley behind Stage One, the largest of the venues and the site of that evening's concert. A half dozen blue-suited men and women with the Brent Corp insignia of a comet crossing a guitar emblazoned across their backs milled around the van.
Nathan suppressed an impulse to micromanage. He had to trust in his people, believe they knew best how to accomplish their particular tasks. Even if, in this case, their activities seemed random and wasteful...
"Zoom in two, on the van."
The camera cropped the image and centered on the vehicle. A pair of the burly stagehands vanished off-monitor. The other four clustered around the side of the van. One -- a short, blonde -- passed her hand over the lock. Grasping the lever, she pulled down and yanked sharply to the left. The door slid smoothly out and back along its metal track.
Nathan shook his head. "No." Not for now. For the moment, he wanted only to watch.
Unaware of his action, Nathan straightened and crossed his arms, pulling back slightly as the fingers of his right hand rested lightly on his chin. His personal screen was clutched forgotten in his left. For a moment, his breath caught in his throat.
John Lennon's long, bespectacled face emerged from the shadowed interior of the van and into the harsh white light of the midday Vegas sun. Dark, polarized sunglasses protected his eyes from the glare. Brown hair draped causally onto his shoulders. Placing his slender fingers on the edge of the door and frame, he stepped unsteadily onto the concrete. Assisted by his stage handler and someone in the van unseen by the camera, the resurrected star took a half-dozen faltering steps. At a touch from his personal assistant, he stopped and waited silently for the other members of the band to join him.
First the "cute one," Paul McCartney, emulated the routine of his fellow Beatle. Then George Harrison. Finally, Ringo Starr completed the Fab Four's first appearance together in over eighty years.
"Amazing," Nathan said softly, almost reverently.
"Yes, sir. Quite the resemblance. They've done a great job."
Nathan blinked, half-embarrassed that he had spoken his thought aloud. To cover, he held up his screen, touched the surface twice and checked the timeline. Three hours before they would be fully activated and on their own. Time enough for smoothing out any last-minute bugs in the interface. A practice session. Then final preparations for the centerpiece of the night's festivities.
Nathan thanked Bill. Rolling up his hand screen, he swapped it for the phone in his right jacket pocket.
Speed-dialing the first number, Nathan allowed a faint -- and brief -- smile to play across his lips. "Good morning, Mr. Amelon. This is Nathan." He nodded once, twice. "Yes, indeed, sir." He paused, unable to resist the small dramatic gesture. "The Brent Amelon Center for the History of Rock and Roll is open for business."
Brent Amelon silenced the speaker phone and swept his gaze around the board table. The six people gathered in his office exchanged glances, some pleased, some nervous, all excited to one degree or another.
Alice Steele folded her hands on the polished oak of the table top. "Congratulations, Brent. It's been a long haul."
"Fifteen years from conception to delivery." Brent grinned. "And they said we'd never make it work." He noted the sour expression on Dean Wilson's face, as though he'd bitten into a green crab apple. "What's wrong, Dean? Still worried?"
Wilson lifted a brow and offered a lopsided smile. "As Chief Financial Officer, that's what I'm paid to do." He leaned forward slightly. "Don't forget. So far we haven't made dollar one."
Brent turned to Beverly Considine. "Bev? How's the museum doing?"
The facilities director bent her gray-tinged head to her personal screen and paged through the preliminary information. "The museum opened this morning at eight a.m. So far, we've had over two-thousand visitors."
Brent spread his hands. "See, Dean? At twenty dollars a crack, that's forty-k already." He swiveled back to Bev. "Anything yet from the restaurants, gift shops, hotels?"
Bev pursed her thin lips. "Nothing firm. The hotels are booked solid for the next five weeks. Though, of course, those funds have not yet been collected." She touched her screen here and there. "Sales seem on par with projections in the retail outlets. Still too early for data from the food services. We won't begin breakfast sales until tomorrow, and we're in the middle of the primary lunch crowd. Amusement areas appear to be running at about eighty-percent capacity."
"How is the interest in our poll?"
The facilities director's expression brightened. "Quite good. It seems consumers enjoy a bit of friendly 'competition' as to which bands should be re-created and in what order. Already we've seen hundreds of thousands of hits on our Web site. Voting at the resort is also brisk."
"How are the numbers running?"
Bev checked another page of stats. "We have, of course, limited the options to comply with the mission statement of the 'History of Rock and Roll: The Early Years.' Otherwise we'd be winnowing out references to the multitude of bands and solo acts that have come and gone in past decades."
"Sure. The numbers?"
"Yes. Of course. Hmm. Somewhat surprisingly, Chuck Berry is currently running in first place."
Brent spread a hand. "There was that Berry biopic earlier this year."
"Hmm. Yes. I suspect some participants in the contest are voting based more on who they have heard about than from any special personal commitment to a particular group."
"The numbers are fluid, but... Jim Morrison and the Doors. Led Zeppelin. Crosby, Stills, and Nash. The Beach Boys. From there the numbers trail off. Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Jefferson Airplane. Cream. The Byrds." Bev glanced up. "Those, of course, are the ones for whom we either already have DNA or a signed commitment to provide."
Wilson tapped the table with a pen. "Perhaps we should place more emphasis on solo acts. Hiring human musicians for the backups is considerably cheaper than re-creating them."
Brent shook his head. "I'm not worried about that right now. We have to give the people what they want in order to get what we want. I'm not going to quibble about a few millions at this stage of the game."
Sighing, Wilson settled into his chair.
Carefully neutral, Bev said, "We already have the Rolling Stones set as our next headliner during the holidays. If revenues meet or exceed projections, by next year we should be able to achieve our target of opening a new band every two months. Eventually, we'll have sufficient numbers to rotate a different group in on a monthly basis. With ten auditoriums in the complex, we should have no trouble matching a variety of tastes. If some bands lose their audience, we can retire them as necessary."
Brent nodded. "Or at least hold them incognito until interest rises again."
"There is that, of course. I suspect the actual bookings will remain fluid."
"Estimates of total resort visitors today?"
"Hmm. Somewhere in the vicinity of six-thousand through the gates since this morning."
Brent looked inquisitively at his CFO.
Wilson held up his hands in partial surrender. "I know, I know. But our capital outlet has been...significant...on this project. You've consumed nearly a quarter of your personal reserves, not to mention the monies derived from our limited investment offering."
Brent shrugged. "A few billion here, a few billion there... What else am I supposed to do with it?"
"It's your money, of course," Wilson said, "but I'm just pointing out that the risk is considerable, both for profit and loss."
"Without risk, there is no gain. Going the 'safe' route is the surest way not to be safe. Especially in business."
Wilson's features tightened. "No need to lecture me on basic economics, Brent. I'm not one of your tour groups."
Brent slapped the table. The percussive bang caused the others to jump. "We're supposed to be celebrating here, damn it! Not rewinding these old arguments. No one forced me to tread this path. No one forced the investors to tag along behind. I have the most to lose here, and I'm not just talking money, either. It's mostly my billions, yes, but it's also my dreams and my reputation on the line. This goes south, I lose on multiple levels." Brent inhaled deeply to calm himself. "Let's just... I want to focus on moving forward here. Enough things can go wrong without wishing for more." He held out a hand to forestall his CFO. "And, yes, I know part of your job is to 'what if' the worst scenarios. And I appreciate your gloomy speculations. Really. I do. But now is not the time or place. Agreed?"
Despite Wilson's pinched frown, he nodded his head. "Whatever you say, Brent."
Brent delayed a moment for more then gestured to a pair of waiters hovering in the background.
Smoothly and efficiently, the two men wheeled over the champagne and commenced pouring the amber bubbly into the expensive fluted crystal Brent had ordered specially for this occasion.
As the president and CEO of Brent Corp sipped at the expensive, imported French wine, he let his thoughts drift towards the Beatles concert that evening and the special executive box from which he and his selected guests would be watching the inauguration of his future. Who would have thought that after so many decades of yearning, he would finally -- finally! -- get to hear a live performance by his favorite group, a band that had disintegrated the better part of a century before he had been born.
Gingerly, Verne Jones maneuvered Ringo Starr through the carefully stacked equipment backstage. He kept his grip on the drummer's right forearm firm without being too tight. The last thing he wanted to do was bruise a piece of property worth hundreds of millions of dollars...and that reflected just the production costs.
Unexpectedly, Ringo turned his wide, dark eyes towards Verne and smiled.
Returning the smile, Verne felt a shiver dance along his spine. So real. How had they possibly managed to do this?
But that, of course, remained a company secret. A deep, dark, fanatically guarded company secret.
The general process, of course, had been covered ad nauseum in the various media. Articles, documentaries, or hatchet jobs: all noted how the rock stars had either been cloned from preserved DNA -- personal or from a close relative -- or sculpted via a blending of genetics and nanotechnology into a physical duplicate of the originals virtually indistinguishable from the singers themselves. Exaggerated speculation had erupted as to the sources for the precious prototype DNA...and the costs involved in obtaining it.
Verne knew only that he would never know the truth, not in his lifetime, anyway.
"Watch your step, Ringo," Verne said softly as they mounted the four stairs to the main stage. John, Paul, and George already waited silently for them in front of their instruments. Verne knew that the real guitars and drums used by the Beatles and the other stars who would one day perform at the resort were lovingly preserved and jealously secured in the museum. The reproductions the boys would play, however, differed in no substantive fashion from those aging relics.
Sort of like the Fab Four themselves... Verne clamped down on his grin at that thought, knowing that his supervisor, Kurt Williams, did not view any of this process as the least bit amusing. A lot of dough rested on a successful concert tonight. Plus their jobs. All of their jobs. If this "History of Rock and Roll" extravaganza sank into a money pit, the employees would be buried along with the mistakes.
And Verne knew that at his age he would never scrounge another career opportunity that paid anything remotely approaching his current, obscenely beautiful salary.
Verne unrolled his personal screen and waited for Kurt to finish his check list. With his boss, every critical situation demanded that they proceed by "doing one thing and only one thing at a time."
Finally, Kurt looked up at his crew. His lined face and baggy eyes attested to the strain and lack of sleep dragging at him. As head of the handlers for the main act, his ass sat distinctly on the line. "Okay. Preliminary check looks optimal. Bodily functions right on the money. Lower brain reactions meeting specifications." He inhaled a ragged breath. "I think we're ready to activate the cerebral implants."
Despite his pretense at nonchalance, Verne could not escape the thrill that swept through him like a brisk spring shower as the crucial moment approached. Of course, they had each separately practiced this procedure before with their wards. The team had also worked with the four rockers interacting together, but only in the cocooned confines of a laboratory with the safety net of the primary scientists hovering over their shoulders. The initial -- and extensive -- interaction testing that had proven the concept not only feasible but reliable had primarily been done by the doctors and researchers at the development facility -- in secret, of course -- long before each singer was introduced to his individual stage handler.
For Verne and his fellow employees, the time for the tires to hit the road had arrived, and with it, a nervous anticipation. While intellectually they realized their part in this first-of-its-kind event existed as single piece of a gigantically complex puzzle, emotionally they experienced the full weight of success or failure looming over their heads.
Kurt intruded into Verne's distracted thoughts. "Everyone ready?"
One by one, each handler responded with a subdued "yes."
"Okay. Let's see if this works as well in real life as it does in the lab. Let's make music!"
Trying to avoid fumbling his screen, Verne accessed the proper file and entered his security code and then the activation sequence. Nothing obvious happened as the encrypted signals from each handler's screen connected with its respective target. Instantly, the codes flashed through the verification process and tripped invisible microscopic switches within the neural nets of the singers' "brains." Without a noticeable lag time, each band member's fully awakened, artificially constructed cerebral cortex -- implanted in lieu of the intentionally missing brain tissues -- assumed full command.
Verne stepped back as his ward yawned and stretched.
"Bloody hell." Ringo blinked as though rousing from a long nap and arched his back. "That must have been a hell of a bender." His eyes tracked towards his handler. Displaying his characteristic mischievous grin, Ringo laughed and slapped Verne's back. "Hey, Verne! Good to see you again." He spotted the other Beatles. "All right now! Let's make some music."
As the four band members mingled, Kurt stepped in among them to discuss the play list for that evening's performance.
Verne kept an eye on his charge as Ringo slipped onto the seat behind his drum. Trading friendly insults with his friends, the Beatle picked up his sticks and gave them a twirl, almost dropping one in the process. As Ringo cursed his clumsiness, Verne's gaze flickered to the multiple feedback lines marching across his screen. A blip. Nothing serious. That was why this preliminary session had been scheduled. To warm up the act. Almost literally. So far, the blend of electronic and natural brain functions meshed well within the margin of error. Any fluctuations would smooth out -- had better smooth out... -- well before the curtain rose.
Cautiously, Verne let himself relax. A fraction, anyway. Plus, he realized that his counterpart in the control center would be there, an invisible backup should an aberrant reading slip past his awareness and threaten to spin out of bounds.
"The Beatles are now online, Mr. Dexter."
Standing in the center of the circle formed by his workers, Nathan nodded. "Thanks, Dave." He walked the few paces to the screens devoted to the Beatles's brain interfaces. After first scanning the analysis read-outs to confirm that the parameters matched specifications, Nathan shifted position and loomed over Bill Johnson's shoulder to observe the activities on Stage One. Though the sound remained muted, Nathan could see the easy blending of the replicas that formed the centerpiece for the History of Rock and Roll resort. Laughing, playing, moving about the stage, the singers projected images that might as well have been plucked from an historical film as from a live feed in the middle of the Nevada desert.
"Movements natural. No hesitancy in instrument handling. Good. Good." He touched Bill's arm. "Give me audio on low."
The technician murmured into his mouthpiece. A riff from "Here Comes the Sun" drifted up from the tiny speakers .
"It's all right, indeed..." A pressure on Nathan's chest he had not noticed abruptly eased. Despite all the lab rehearsals, despite all the charts and figures, despite all the assurances and precautions and preparations, a part of him had not believed that the verisimilitude would be so complete, so natural, so...right.
A distracting part of his mind gave out a silent yell. His stock options would make him a rich man beyond his wildest imaginings...
Deliberately squashing thoughts of eggs that had yet to hatch, Nathan connected to Brent Amelon's private line.
"Mr. Amelon?... Yes. You said you wanted me to let you know about the shakedown cruise... Excellent. If I didn't know better, I'd swear we were plugged into a visual time machine circa 1968... I think -- I know -- we're going to wow the crowd tonight... You were wise to accept ticket sales for a month in advance. The demand will be phenomenal... Yes, sir. I will... Thank you, Mr. Amelon. I'll keep you apprised... Goodbye."
Disconnecting, Nathan indulged his euphoric mood for a delicious few seconds. But no longer. Far too much work awaited them.
Nathan confirmed that no substantive problems attended activation. He had a few acid-churning moments when John and Paul acted disoriented and belligerent before settling down into the role of rock gods. Of course, Nathan thought wryly, with those two, such disruptive behavior might simply indicate an adherence to reality that far exceeded the expectations of their geneticists and computer programmers...
If this project proved as profitable as Mr. Amelon hoped, Brent Corp would proceed with deals for the DNA of other bands to keep the product fresh. The Rolling Stones already neared their debut. After that...? The possibilities would keep them all employed -- and wealthy -- right into retirement.
The Who. Simon and Garfunkel. Elvis Presley (finally and truly back in the building...). Janis Joplin. Jimmy Hendrix. Bob Dylan. Roy Orbison. Ray Charles. The Guess Who. Creedence Clearwater Revival. Three Dog Night. Chicago. Linda Ronstadt. The Supremes. Tina Turner. Sly and the Family Stone. Steppenwolf. Santana. Elton John. The Eagles. Steely Dan. The Doobie Brothers. Jimmy Buffet. The Moody Blues. Bruce Springsteen. Billy Joel. The Bee Gees. Gloria Estefan. Michael Jackson (the middle years, at least...).
Those legends waited in the wings for their turns as modern phoenixes. The lively lunchtime discussions already debated the pros and cons of each candidate.
In the future, Brent Corp would, perhaps, research and re-create more obscure groups. Then there were crossover bands to consider. Blues and jazz greats. Country and western singers. Maybe even Swing and Big Bands, if the pendulum...swung...that way, again, in the public's fickle interests.
Opportunities for continual renewal and challenge stretched beyond the horizon. What an exciting time to exist...
And he -- Nathan Dexter -- for once in his life found himself on the ground floor of what would undoubtedly be the biggest and most famous --
"Um. Mr. Dexter?"
Nathan tore himself from his fantasies. "What is it, Dave?" he asked, a bit too harshly. He softened his tone. "What do you need?"
Dave's incongruously grim expression sent shock waves racing through Nathan.
"I think you'd better check out the latest news feed." Dave pointed to the appropriate screen which displayed a news story already in progress.
For a handful of agonizing seconds, Nathan listened to the news reader and the live footage being broadcast worldwide. Anger more than fear began to burn in his mind as the import of the report crystallized.
Shaking his head, he quietly spoke one word -- "Idiots..." -- while he dialed the man who had made the wonders of this auspicious day possible.
"Mr. Amelon?... We've got trouble."
"Goddamn it!" Brent Amelon scratched at his cheek. "I should have figured they wouldn't go away so easily. Thanks, Nathan. I'll get back to you."
Impatiently, Amelon brought up the sound on the large monitor covering the wall to the left of his desk. He hit the rewind and waited a second while the report cycled to the beginning.
The dark-haired reader -- for the life of him, he couldn't recall her name -- smiled her artificially perky smile into the camera and recited the copy scrolling across the hidden teleprompter in front of her.
"A seemingly spontaneous protest march has brought midday traffic on the Las Vegas Strip to a screeching halt. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people -- men, women, and children -- from every walk of life emerged at one o'clock this afternoon from casinos and resorts and hotels lining the Strip. Without apparent guidance or organization, the protesters moved quietly yet firmly into crosswalks...and stayed there."
The screen shifted to footage shot from the air and ground of milling bodies clogging major intersections and spilling into streets. Surrounded and immobile cars emitted angry, blaring horn blasts to no avail.
The news reader continued in voice-over. "Due to the large number of stalled vehicles and pedestrians filling the streets, Las Vegas police are experiencing difficulty in reaching what they believe is the core of the protest centered near the entrance to the newest Vegas resort, the History of Rock and Roll."
The scene cut to Las Vegas police captain Michael Jacobsen. Behind him, the camera showed a swirling, multicolored sea of humanity. "There is no need for concern," he said confidently. The flush reddening his broad cheeks did little to bolster that claim. "Our officers are arriving on the scene to restore order. We fully expect traffic flow to return to normal in short order. Until then, we request that folks remain calm. Patience is a virtue, especially on a hot day like today." His brows furrowed. "We will, however, deal appropriately with anyone obstructing the streets or otherwise interfering with official actions."
The camera cut back to an aerial few of the massive crowds.
"Right," Amelon murmured. "You got jail space for a few thousand miscreants."
The news reader reappeared. "While no single group has claimed responsibility for this protest, we were able to obtain a statement from Miriam Bullard, head of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization, Rights for Re-creations."
A head shot of a middle-aged, graying woman appeared on screen. Like a stern but caring grandmother, her dark, plump features serenely faced the lens. "We have no direct knowledge of or connection to the upstanding citizens who have gathered today in Las Vegas to protest the greed and immorality of Brent Corp. Nevertheless, we applaud these courageous souls for bringing vital attention to the critical issue of Re-creation Rights. For years, we have fought to halt the unconscionable plans of Brent Amelon. While we have urged our national legislators to ban this ungodly practice of resurrecting the dead, we recognize that as long as the heroes of our past are being re-created, we, as a society, must recognize and protect their rights as living, breathing, feeling creatures. They are our brothers and sisters who are in dire and desperate need of our protection and guidance. So far, Amelon and his political allies have thwarted our every effort to establish justice in this tragic situation. We will, however, never cease in struggling to correct this abominable form of modern slavery."
Amelon's jaws bunched. "You stupid bitch..."
Ready to kill the feed, he paused when he saw the dignified face of his public relations officer, Anthony Gonzales, replace that of Miriam Bullard. "We regret the unfortunate and unlawful behavior of this minority of citizens who are interfering with the peaceful activities of other individuals. The fact that our concerts are sold-out for the foreseeable future is, we believe, sufficient evidence to prove how out-of-touch these shortsighted protesters are. They represent the same outdated, anti-progress mentality of those who have opposed every medical and scientific advancement. Courts have ruled time and again that these re-creations are not people. They do not possess any of the higher brain functions that make us what and who we are. At their core, they are nothing more than ultra-sophisticated computers." He smiled indulgently. "I don't think any rational people are ready to give their laptops rights just yet."
Amelon killed the sound as his phone rang. He glanced at the I.D. "Hey, Tony... Yeah. I just saw it... I wish you had --... Okay. But next time, try to stall them until we can consult... I want a full frontal assault on this. Buy as much air time as you need. Contact your media friends... Get back to me as soon as you can... Right. Bye."
He punched in another number and waited through two rings for his Chief of Security, Sam Stone, to answer. "Sam... It's a concern, yes, but we can handle it... Good. I want your people on their toes. If any of those nut jobs try their crap around here, I want you to be prepared. You've contacted Jacobsen?... What'd he say?... Uh, huh... Okay. As long as he keeps them away from here... Sure. Bring in the other shifts, if you need to. I'll approve any overtime. Anything to keep those yahoos from disrupting opening night... Keep me updated... Bye."
For a long moment, Amelon sat still, his mind sliding over the branching possibilities. A grim smile curved his lips in stark counterpoint to the spreading chill stalking his heart.
Obstacles were made to be overcome. He and his company would never have gotten to this point or this problem if they hadn't already surmounted difficulties that had deterred scores of rivals. The "Re-creation Rights" fanatics could only target Brent Corp because it -- and he -- had succeeded where so many others had failed.
He buzzed his secretary.
"Yes, Mr. Amelon?"
"Reconvene the board. My office. Ten minutes."
"Yes, sir. Ten minutes."
"Thanks, Brenda." Amelon settled into the familiar comfort of his custom-made leather chair.
If his enemies wanted a fight, he would be only too happy to oblige.
The afternoon and early evening proved considerably more...active...than Nathan had anticipated. Thanks to Murphy and his law, he recognized that glitches would naturally arise and have to be resolved. Indeed, he would have been highly suspicious if the process had appeared trouble-free. He would have wondered anxiously what subtle issue they were missing. Any operation as complex as this had to expect a certain number of gremlins.
Ironic, though, that the band prep had proceeded smoothly without a major delay or malfunction. The re-creations -- "androids," he supposed, if Amelon had unwisely adopted science fiction terminology -- the rock stars had been more thoroughly tested than any of the pioneering space flights that had temporarily sent a handful of men to the moon. After all, Apollo had nearly lost one of its seven missions to land on the moon. Not great odds. In the stretch of time since then, quality control techniques had advanced exponentially. People grew cranky when their computers and automobiles and toys malfunctioned. The artificial brains of the singers boasted a sophistication and reliability beyond anything imaginable a century before. The crashes and freezes endemic to early systems had long ago been banished from the vocabulary of computer scientists...at least any who wanted to keep their jobs.
People, however... They could still surprise you.
Mid-afternoon, Nathan had watched tensely when a bulge of pedestrians managed to ooze its way through the police cordon and converge on the entrance to the resort. The beefed up Brent Corp security forces had swiftly surged towards the hot spot to reinforce the leaking police line. Once the media-savvy protesters with their banners and slogans touched resort property, they were detained and taken offsite to be held for official processing. The security teams -- his fellow Brent Corp employees -- had acted professionally, efficiently, and effectively. He had been proud of them and of his own role in bringing Brent Amelon's aspirations to fruition.
Real-time market research reported that the protests had discouraged some potential customers from attending opening day resort programs. Those who fell into that category split about evenly between two groups. The first was composed of those who decided they agreed with the protesters and would refuse to support Brent Corp with their money. The second group consisted of those who simply preferred to avoid the hassle of clogged streets and potentially volatile crowds. Convenience, not convictions, kept the latter at home.
Happily, that section of the customer base paled in size to those who spontaneously decided to venture out, their curiosity aroused by all the news attention and excitement. Many sensed that a milestone day had arrived and desired to claim their part in that history. Others relished the thought of conflict and turmoil, seeing battles and fights as yet another form of entertainment to break the boring routine of their existences.
Others swelling the ranks of their customers had not previously heard of the "Re-creation Rights" movement and wanted to witness the rock stars and their behavior firsthand before passing judgment. While tickets for that evening's concert had long been snatched up, Beverly Considine, the facilities director, had, in conjunction with marketing, managed to set up a closed-circuit feed that would be made available to two thousand people at half the price of the five-hundred-dollar live tickets. A full-house in both spots brought the one-day concert gross to five-and-a-half-million...
Finally, folks angered at the hyperbole and philosophy of those such as Miriam Bullard had arrived to declare via their pocketbooks that they wholeheartedly endorsed the endeavors of Brent Corp to recapture the excitement and drama attendant at the beginning of rock and roll.
In consultation with Security Chief Stone, Nathan instructed his people to watch for potential disruptions within the park itself. While face recognition in combination with their database of "Re-creation Rights" members helped them filter much of the chaff, their information could not hope to be complete. Either on their own initiative or at the direction of their leaders, many of the protesters straggled in by ones or twos or in family groups. The resort's only indication of such individuals' presence came when they engaged in a display of civil disobedience, usually in the form of loud proselytizing or physical obstruction of a building's entrances.
Most such disruptions died at birth after the swift arrival of armed resort security personnel.
Nathan paused at each of the stations and chatted with his employees, seeing how they were holding up. Dinner -- steak, chicken, and salmon with various side dishes, beverages, and desserts -- had been catered by one of the resort restaurants and set up in the conference room. No one was going home. Not that evening. Not until the last encore died in the rafters and the crowds had departed for the night.
Once he had made his rounds, Nathan pondered grabbing a quick bite. Surprisingly, though, his stomach did not offer its usual complaint when it was ignored. Nerves, he supposed. Or maybe just excitement. After all, the curtain was about to rise on the Beatles, the star attraction of the History of Rock and Roll Resort.
Along with the other members of the board gathered in his private box, Brent Amelon stood and added his applause to that of the ten thousand fans shouting their approval as the curtain lifted on Stage One. The simple yet invigorating music of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" erupted into the air as the stage lights revealed the Fab Four in all their doppelganger glory.
For a moment, the accepting roar of the crowd overpowered the theater's exquisite sound system. But the applause quickly subsided as those who had spent a hefty sum for this special opening settled in to enjoy their historic investment. Seconds ticked by while Brent drank in the joy evident in the smiles those who had come there to share in his world, to participate in transforming his weltanschauung into a new reality.
Letting the electricity wash over and through him, Brent sank into his plush chair.
This is going to work, he thought, grinning, as the ice encroaching on his heart gradually began its melting retreat. It is working...
His people -- his employees, his colleagues, his friends -- they had accepted his goal as their own, his long-ago demand for the best within themselves. And they had produced brilliant results. These results. With the certainty born of hard-won experience and confidence, Brent knew they had created what so few had believed possible or practical. Success had never been guaranteed, of course, but had they abandoned the attempt, failure most certainly would have been.
Song after song sped by with the abandonment of utter fascination. "Can't Buy Me Love." "Hard Day's Night." "Help." "Yesterday" "Michelle." "Yellow Submarine." "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." "Lady Madonna." "Hey Jude." "Get Back." "Come Together." Those and others flowed one into the other, rousing the listeners or calming them, in turn.
Screens behind the band projected images of the new Beatles that echoed their mythical stature in the culture, the actual bodies of the singers dwarfed by their digital reproductions.
Brent simultaneously felt a tingling restlessness and the inner peace of perfect fulfillment. He had gambled that his interests would gel perfectly with an era in which nostalgia reigned, especially when the product boasted quality of this level. While he knew he and Brent Corp had yet to reach their zenith, he also realized the momentum of this day would carry them to the top.
As the piano chords of the last song scheduled for the night echoed through the hushed space of the auditorium, Brent stood, oblivious to all else around him.
"Let It Be." Lennon's strong voice rendered the lyrics -- his simple plea -- with rich sincerity, striking an obviously responsive reaction in his audience.
On one level, Brent had always enjoyed the song. His admiration of the creative greats of the past and his efforts to preserve and revive their work gave evidence of that passion. Yet he also realized that from a different perspective, the song's message stood almost as an anti-anthem to his whole raison d'être. This very event pushed the boundaries of the possible, the doable, the acceptable. Stagnation spelled death. Only progress offered life.
When the band returned for their encore, they would launch into "The Long and Winding Road." Brent had wanted that included as exceptionally apropos for what he and so many others had endured to reach this objective. Then, to cap off the concert on a more upbeat, positive note, the Beatles would close with "Here Comes the Sun." Brent found the obvious symbolism of the title irresistible.
The band had passed the halfway point in "Let It Be" when the disturbance began.
The coldness that had released Brent's heart abruptly reasserted itself.
"No...," he whispered. "Not now. Not now..."
A line of a dozen large, heavily muscled guards stood on the auditorium floor beneath the edge of the stage to ensure that trouble did not have a chance to blossom. Both he and Sam Stone had wanted to present a show of force to intimidate anyone foolish enough to try to disrupt this premiere event. A group of five audience members, three men and two women, apparently failed to get that stern message.
With the stage brightly lit and the house lights down, Brent could not make out many details. What he could observe, though, stoked his ire readily enough. En masse, the handful of audience members rushed towards the left. The words of the protesters sank beneath the weight of the amplified sound of Lennon's voice. A few words -- enough -- managed to reach Brent: "re-creations" and "rights."
A hand touched his arm. Brent shook it off without looking to see who sought his attention.
Like a line of diminutive football players, the protesters crashed into the guards crouched before them. The nearest security personnel on either side converged on the disruption to help prevent any of the five from breaking through. Soon, two-thirds of the Brent Corp employees had piled onto the maniacally struggling intruders.
A fraction of a second later, Brent recognized the fundamental mistake his people had made. Even as he reached for his phone and speed-dialed Chief of Security Stone, he knew they would be too late. He would be too late.
Horror widened Nathan's eyes. In disbelief at the enormity of the events unfolding inexorably on the screen, he watched as a single man dashed through the opening in the security line created by the diversion of his cohorts. Even as the remaining guards climbed after him in fruitless pursuit, the protester leaped onto the stage and pulled a dark object from under his shirt.
The sound of the assault overwhelmed the single voice of the protester's target. Four shots. Four flashes of fire. Four puffs of smoke, rapidly spiraling towards the darkness.
As he realized what was happening, Lennon had jumped from his piano and begun his escape. Two of the shots struck him in the left shoulder. Two burrowed into his back. He staggered six more steps before collapsing face-down on the stage.
Calmly, the shooter dropped his weapon. An instant before three guards buried him, he managed to shout his refrain.
"Charge me with murder! Rights for Re-creations!"
In the background, Nathan could see Lennon slowly twisting his legs, struggling to move. After a few minutes, the struggling stopped.
Before Stone could answer, Brent closed his phone. It was over. The drama -- the tragedy -- had ended. Like the joy that had seconds before filled his soul. Gone. Empty. Void.
Stunned, he leaned onto the cool metal railing and lowered his head. Closing his eyes, he ignored the screams and shouts of the panicked mob, let the sound wash over him like an element of nature.
He rocked slightly from the tsunami of reawakened old fears, old memories, old doubts that normally simmered far beneath his conscious awareness. The raging father who lashed out at his stubborn son for the smallest of reasons...or no reason, at all. The cruelty of youthful tormentors, miniature sadists whose happiness derived from inflicting his pain. The indifference of, first, girls then women to what he offered as a boy and a man.
The abandoned college majors. The blind paths. The condescension, the dismissal, the laughter...
Wearily, Brent placed a hand on his forehead. How had he managed to survive it all? Only to have it end here. Like this...
The incessant clashes with vindictive bosses more intent on asserting their power than in valuing his ideas. The bankruptcies announcing that yet another of his innovative business concepts had failed. The black hole of depression that followed in the wake of a wife who cherished her lifestyle more than the vows, the promises she made to a husband who suddenly, acutely needed her support, her comfort, her love.
Setback after intense setback. Disconsolate, discouraged, disappointed.
Yet somehow he had labored on, mentally and emotionally sloughing off each fiasco like a snake shedding a skin that had outlived its usefulness. Never dwelling on his reversals, never nursing the rebuffs like cherished wounds, never permitting obstacles to define him or his mission. Learning from hindrances, laughing at obstructions, crushing impediments he could neither avoid nor detour around.
He had climbed the rubble of a hurtful past, using it as a means to reach a hoped-for culmination, a glimpsed climax, a desired consummation in a future morphed and shifted by a context, a knowledge that adapted and adjusted as demanded by existence.
Indeed, wasn't it Lennon who said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans"?
Let it be.... Let the errors and the miscalculations and the betrayals lay buried and dead. Don't forget them, but also don't let them drag you into the muck and rot and ruin of a poison seeking to contaminate your life; an internal traitor striving to dishonor all the effort expended during those eternal, excruciating days in which the wreckage scattered about you appeared to define all you were and all you would ever be.
What is, is. What can and what should be...
Truly, Brent had tried to live by those words. Acknowledge the reality. Accept what could not be altered. But strive -- fight -- for a better world, a brighter world, a saner world.
He had done it before. He would do it again. And again, if he had to...
With an effort, Brent lifted his chin. Blinking away the brightness in his eyes, he swallowed, searching for the iron resolve that had rescued him at such dark hours in the past.
So many rock stars had died untimely deaths. Accidents. Disease. Drug overdose. Suicide.
He had no doubt that Miriam Bullard pulled the strings on this obscene operation. No doubt she believed she had won, the symbolism of the attack too stark, too brightly defined to ignore or disguise. No doubt she rested in her home, gloating over the public relations -- and financial -- nightmare facing Brent Corp.
A thought struck Brent: How had the assailant managed to evade the security procedures? Inside help? Perhaps Bullard had infiltrated his company, managed to insert one or more of her followers into Brent Corp despite the extensive background checks he implemented once he recognized the seriousness of the re-creation "rights" threat.
Brent swiped a hand across his eyes and turned to his guests, his mouth a firm line.
Dismay and blank bewilderment painted the features of some of the men and women facing him. Others blanched, the sick nausea of the jolting trauma fresh in their minds. A few collapsed onto their seats, thunderstruck by the enormity of the blow Brent Corp had just experienced.
Reaching out, Brent squeezed Bev Considine's arm. She lifted her sparkling eyes to his, held his gaze a moment, then glanced away, unable to comprehend the full import and implications of the disaster that had smashed headlong into their celebration.
Brent cleared his dry throat. "The re-creation 'rights' people may believe that with this stunt they've just prevailed in their war against us. But I know -- you know -- that this fight has barely begun. A single battle won't defeat us. I -- we -- will not surrender so easily all we've wrested from the world." And from myself...
Locking his gaze onto each of the men and women before him in turn, he continued. "Nothing any of our critics or opponents do or say will alter our course. We will rewrite the history of rock and roll."
Brent Amelon inhaled a deep breath and turned to stare across the subdued chaos floating through the air of Stage One.
When he spoke, the soft words came more for himself than for any audience. "Because in the end, we will be the winners."