Saturday, October 3, 2009

28. Nickel


What This Country Needs—

"—is a good five-cent cigar!" Secretary of the Treasury Babbinger slammed a hand down on his desk. "Would somebody please tell me what idiot came up with that?"

"It was Thomas Marshall, sir," an unwary aide said.


"Thomas Riley Marshall, 1854 to1927, vice president under Woodrow Wilson from 1913 through 1921, renowned for his wit, though for little else."

"Thank you," Babbinger said with heavy irony. "Thank you for that history lesson, young master Stewart. Our entire economy is about to collapse, and you're lecturing me about Woodrow Wilson's witty vice president!"

"To be fair, sir," another aide said, "I don't see what damage the new personal nanofactories are going to do. They'll bring prices down—that's a good thing! I dumped my old suit in my 'factory last night, and now I've got a genuine Armani for a five dollar licensing fee."

"That," said Babbinger, "is exactly the problem. We have an economic system here that is based on scarcity and want. If everybody's going to have all the fine foods and rare wines and good clothes they want for the price of rags and gruel, then who's going to empty our spittoons and clean our toilets? Who's going to do the scut-work?"

"Perhaps we should all do our own scut-work, sir," young master Stewart said.

Babbinger glared at his aide. "I'm going to pretend you didn't say that." He patted his jacket pockets. "Damn! I left my cigar case at home."

"Here, sir. Have one of mine."

Babbinger accepted the cigar, sniffed it. "Cuban. My own brand." Anger flared in him. "By God, you've been stealing my cigars. You're fired!"

The young man didn't turn a hair. "That's fine by me, sir. I've got a couple hundred bucks saved up, and that's enough to last me for years. I've been thinking about a career change anyway. I suspect a lot of people have been thinking of career changes lately."

He paused at the door. "You can keep the cigar. It only cost me a nickel."

© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure if you are still reading the comments on these, but this story is inching closer to not being Sci-Fi any more...

    Maybe not a nickel yet, and not quite cigar level (a plastic cigar?), but I'm sure it won't be long!