The assassination of The Richest Man In The World™ (TRM) was the biggest story in the world. The clip of a bullet passing through his skull, caught on a bystander’s phone as he exited a building in San Francisco, instantly became one of the defining images of the 21st century. He was dead before he hit the ground. Interestingly, it was not even to be the most startling event of the day.
That came exactly two hours later, when a handsome AI generated man in a video took credit for the murder. He informed the rapidly increasing number of viewers that an email containing information about the murder had been sent directly to the FBI and would confirm his claim to be the voice of the assassins.
He then introduced himself as George, after “another great revolutionary” and said that he spoke for The 99, an organization dedicated to addressing the wealth imbalance between the mega wealthy and everyone else. He stressed that he was neither on the far right or far left, and that this was not an ideological matter. This was a simple matter of wealth transfer. The murder of TRM, he said, was a statement of intent, a proof of concept as to their seriousness. But no one else need die.
He then published a list of the world’s 200 richest individuals, and offered a deal. If they transferred 10% of their wealth to a stated list of popular banks and micro finance charities across the world, and ordered that the money be distributed equally among every account holder with less than $1000 in their account, they would be safe for one year. As would their families.
George finished by saying that they would act again soon if the individuals did not respond within 72 hours.
The response was predictable from the rich and governments: no negotiations with terrorists etc etc.
There was further good news for the mega wealthy when the FBI confirmed it had arrested the man who had actually shot TRM. But to the surprise of many that actually made the situation more menacing. Not because he was an elite ex-special forces operator or sniper veteran. But because he wasn’t. He was a middle-aged potbellied balding middle-class accountant with no military or criminal record. And he was quite happy to confess to the crime, because he was terminally ill from colon cancer and had months at best.
He had been recruited online, trained online, and had never met anyone else involved. The gun and other equipment was shipped to him, and he was guided by phone through the entire operation, told where and when to be.
What really alarmed the FBI was when they combed his social media and browsing history. Yes, he had almost certainly been selected and groomed by The 99, but he was no extremist. He was a registered Republican who had voted for Romney and George Bush snr. His posts were respectful of Obama and Biden even when he disagreed with them. When asked why did he do it, he said he wanted to do something useful to make the world a little fairer before he died.
The FBI profilers put together their report, and it alarmed their superiors. There could be millions like him, not showing up on law enforcement radar anywhere.
The second attack involved a drone exploding and decapitating the billionaire CEO of an investment firm. But no ordinary CEO: his firm had owned a controversial day trading platform that had frozen its customers accounts when their trades threatened his firm’s investments. It had transformed him into one of the most hated men in America, and the news of his murder was widely celebrated online much to the awkward embarrassment of the traditional professional media. Such was the level of celebration that politicians tempered their condemnation of his murder with a condemnation of his actions as a CEO.
The third attack didn’t kill anyone. It involved a very powerful but unarmed bomb being delivered to the elite private school in New York City attended by the children of a number of the top 200. A direct communication by George informed the NYPD bomb squad as to the device’s delivery, and warned that as long as the children of the 200 attended any elite school, that school would be a legitimate target. Within days the parents of other children were demanding the billionaire offspring removed from the schools. When a similar device turned up at a charity event attended by a number of wives of the top 200 (Husbands of female top 200s tended not be attend such events) the message from George was the same. If THOSE PEOPLE attend, everybody is at risk.
Many of the 200, being the self-confident types they were, refused to be intimidated, and proceeded to spend huge amounts of money on security for themselves and their families. But it didn’t prevent them being socially excluded. Their children (and wives) complained incessantly about how they weren’t being invited to social events or were even attending schools.
The CEO of the family dynasty controlling a large chunk of the world’s right-wing media was awoken in the middle of the night to find his staff and bodyguards in chaos as they all simultaneously received images of members of their families in their homes, with many staff abandoning their positions to secure their own families from a potential threat. The Private Military Contractors providing his security revealed the following day that their own headquarters had been under surveillance, with many of their junior and middle-ranking staff demanding protection themselves having received images. In order to keep their own families safe, the 200 were now having to spend millions protecting the families of their protectors and staff. And it kept pushing back a layer, as their private jet pilots and ground support staff started being threatened and needed protection. Many of the 200 found staff quitting despite offers of huge salary increases.
In one day, in the Cayman Islands, Dubai and Florida, three superyachts valued to a total of $450m were sunk by mines planted on their hulls. One of the attackers was arrested in Florida, and turned out to be another terminally ill and generally unremarkable man who had been trained specially for the mission. Much to the horror of the 200 he was cheered by a large crowd as he was led away by police.
The traditional media struggled to deal with the story. Treating it as a regular story of terrorism was very badly received by viewers who savaged the networks for being in the pockets of billionaires. Even the right-wing channels found they had to tread carefully as many of their viewers openly backed the actions of The 99. The CEO of the family dynasty was told by his ratings guru that he had a simple choice: come down hard on The 99 and lose viewers.
A secret meeting of two dozen of the Top 50 in Dubai was acrimonious as huge egos clashed as each tried to appoint himself leader of the group. A former director of the CIA was asked to take the security lead in dealing with the various governments, police and intelligence agencies. He had met with the heads of the FBI and CIA, and had prepared a short report for The 200. They did not like its content.
Half a dozen of them had screamed at him that the solution was obvious: they would pay to have this 99 hunted down and killed. Just given them the name or names. They “had people for this sort of thing”. He sighed and opened the report with the big headline WTF? lead: that it was possible that The 99 didn’t not actually exist. That it was in fact an autonomous AI programme created (and funded) by someone, and probably duplicating itself around the world to prevent itself being attacked and wiped out. The analysis by the NSA of its behaviour suggested it was also learning as it progressed, to the point that it was now crowdsourcing ideas from the public as to the best way to damage the 200 without injuring anybody. The destruction of the superyachts, for example, had been suggested by the public. He also pointed out that The 99 had released a letter formally claiming their destruction of 200 property as terrorism to specifically negate the insurance coverage on the assets, costing the 200 even more money.
What they found particularly alarming was how easy it seemed for The 99 to recruit ordinary people to their cause. Not everybody was willing to assassinate someone or plant a bomb, but there were plenty willing to fly a drone over a PMC corporate car park and note all the employees registration numbers for the AI to identify later. Polls showed that large swathes of the public, including a majority of Americans between 18-30 supported The 99. Even Republican politicians, having build a platform railing against “the elites”, were now having to be very cautious in taking sides, at least in public. Some even abandoned their billionaire donors because their money simply could not counter their populist voter base.
Not only can I not offer you a solution, the former CIA man told them, but I can tell you it will get worse. Whoever funded the AI also seems to have given it enough funds to be able to pay for its operations, train its volunteers, etc. Anything between five and 100 million.
The former director’s prediction came through even sooner than expected. George announced that a disgruntled employee of one of the 200 revealed that the man in question was having an affair with his wife’s sister, and had photos to prove it, which flooded the internet. By close of business the man was battling his wife’s lawyers over a billion dollar divorce settlement.
One thing The 99 adapted to was the fact that it no longer needed to physically harm anyone, now that it had the world’s attention. When George announced that they would be targeting a specific airline (to cause disruption to flights) the following week and advised any passengers booked on the flight to book elsewhere it caused the airline’s share price to tank (and others to rise sharply) and with it the personal wealth of one of the 200.
The same tactic was used to target a hamburger chain owned by one of them. George announced that they were planning to put dead rats into the roof panels of the restaurants next week, and they’d probably fall on customers and advised people to avoid the restaurant that week. It cost the company $200m in sales.
The first of the 200 to break ranks had a reputation as a corporate raider and risktaker, and made the biggest gamble of his life. He announced that he was willing to comply with The 99 demands provided they would guarantee that a group of companies he was heavily invested in would be safe for at least 12 months. When George confirmed it publicly, the value of his stock and his personal wealth soared. He complied with the 10% demand, and a major US bank and African micro finance charity both confirmed publicly that he had transferred billions to them, which they proceeded to distribute. The media was filled with ordinary people queueing to withdraw their windfall.
Within hours a number of other 200ers announced they too were complying on similar terms, much to the chagrin of others who denounced them in public, an act which caused their shareholding values to plummet and caused two of them to be fired from their own boards. Then the dam broke: as those who announced they were meeting The 99’s demands saw their holdings gain or remain stable, suddenly those not complying were seen as reckless or high risk, and the markets and their own shareholders moved against them. The holdouts saw their own nominal wealth contract violently, to the extent that two dozen actually dropped out of the top 200.
When George thanked the majority who had now complied and stated that The 99 were now focus on the stragglers it was too much for the markets, who decimated the holdouts or forcibly removed them from their CEO positions. Boards rushed out statements that they would in fact comply, and stories started to circulate that the IRS and other tax authorities were now being lobbied to allow The 99 pay-outs as tax write-offs.
That was, until The 99 announced they’d regard that as a breach of the deal.