Don't like your town? Then nuke it. By Bill Vaughn
Every couple weeks I drive twelve miles down the Mullan Road to get food and gin. I always see a building that wasn’t there on my last visit, a box store, say, or a house. And sometimes buildings vanish.
One morning when I pulled into my favorite gas station I was surprised to discover a bare lot. It reminded me of the agitated homeless man pacing the sidewalk below the office we once leased across from the old downtown Greyhound station, which had been demolished the day before. “Now where do they expect me to sleep?” he cried.
Missoulium, before it was obliterated by an angry god.
But instead of wringing my hands about future shock, or getting all weepy, I’d rather have fun with it. So I shelled out $50 for a noisy and vibrantly animated computer game called SimCity 4. This multi-layered simulation lets you build your own community, from a backwater Hooterville to a throbbing megalopolis. You can confect these places on made-up landscapes, or import terrains that exist in the real world. I extracted the Missoula Valley from a superb digital map supplied by a company called Cartesia, and fed it into the program. After SimCity 4 digested for a few minutes up popped a zany version of this topography in 3D and livid color.
There were no animals in this wilderness, and no people. There was only one god, and that god was me. I rolled up my sleeves and went to work.
First, I made some beasts. In the forests I put elk, moose and bear, along with a pair of elephants, just to see what would happen. Then I let loose a herd of wild horses. In their joy at being in the world they whinnied and thundered across the floodplains. Hawks circled. Songbirds sang. The wind sighed through the Ponderosas, lonely and antiseptic. I saw that it was good, and I named it Missoulium. Then I made a man and named him Richard Kranium. I commanded him to be Mayor of Missoulium, to spend all the days of his life serving me and my people.
Kranium’s first act was to zone a small parcel of land Low Density Residential. Four city blocks appeared in his grid, ringed by streets. Soon, the green turf was transformed into bare soil. Then, in a flurry of dust and scaffolding and a racket of saws and hammers, houses appeared--well, mobile homes, actually, and some cheap bungalows, plus driveways and small yards. Some ratty cars began to circle the streets, endlessly.
Then I saw my first Sim! She was strolling aimlessly down a sidewalk at 9 in the morning. Was she drunk? Other people began moving here and there as well, some of them in wheelchairs. The census reported that Missoulium’s population had grown to 28. Because Kranium hadn’t given them jobs, hired a doctor, or built a school these people were poor, in bad health, and ignorant. I spied on them all day, transfixed. Eventually my first Sim disappeared into a garage. Down the street the dogs were barking, and the day was getting dark. As the night came in, falling, the dogs all lost their bark. [read more]
Besides the rising and setting of the sun nothing much happened in Missoulium for several years—in SimCity time—except one guy died, reducing the population to 27. The empty lots stayed empty. I grew restless. There was something wrong. For one thing, the people never looked up. They were not known to me, nor was I known to them.
So I created some Simulated Persons from scratch and animated them and gave them names. One of my faves was Beff Brannon. I moved her into a trailer. She was 26, a Leo, and illiterate. When she discovered that she was alive she sang and chattered happily in a language that sounded like English, but wasn’t. It was Simish, which I speak. I was enthralled. She looked straight into my eyes.
I didn’t much care about the health or welfare of my Sims. But because there weren’t enough of them yet to compel Kranium to erect a House of Worship, which would fill with righteous zealots whose sole purpose was to praise me, I saw that we’d have to give Missoulium some municipal services in order to make it grow. This would be a snap. After all, the city’s coffers were brimming with almost all of the 100,000 simoleans I had deposited there as seed money. So I ordered Kranium to build a clinic, a small wind-powered generating plant, a K-6 school, and a water system. Then he zoned a wide swath of ground Agricultural. Hee-Haw Acres instantly filled with barns, sprinklers, tractors, horse trailers and apple orchards.
Beff Brannon cooed as she reported that the commute to her first job, as a fruit picker, was like a Sunday drive. She was soon reading at the level of an eleven-year-old. One evening her trailer fell over, breaking her arm. But thanks to the clinic it healed. She moved into a bungalow. When she praised Missoulium’s new doctor I knew she was actually praising me
Soon there were 55 non-believers in Missoulium, plus Brannon, Dee McFlamer, Cooper DeVille, and Hank Herringbone. Because all of little Missoulium’s lots had filled, and there was still plenty of demand for new housing, Kranium rezoned a swatch of orchard Medium Density Residential. Then he zoned a couple of pastures Low Density Commercial. A cluster of apartments suddenly appeared, and a small strip mall, where Brannon would land a new job as a fry cook at Bob’s Grease Pit.
Missoulium’s population mushroomed to 500. However, the city’s income from the modest levies Kranium had legislated were not keeping pace with the cost of city services. But when he raised the income tax two farmers promptly died. So he zoned most of the undeveloped acreage surrounding town Agricultural, and initiated a property tax. This still wasn’t enough to solve the looming fiscal problems. Plus, a lot of Sims no longer wanted to do farm work. So Kranium zoned some land downstream on the river Heavy Density Industrial, installed a water and power plant, and built a road to connect the town to the mills that instantly sprang up in a swirl of cranes and a clamour of riveting. Although the commute was long, DeVille and Herringbone were grateful to have good-paying jobs (although DeVille began complaining about hearing loss.)
Kranium also legalized gambling, which brought in some more revenue, but still not enough.
Finally, twenty years after its founding, a wonderful day arrived in Missoulium. The population climbed above 1000! And I soon had my House of Worship! I called it St. William. The peace of mind it afforded my Sims resulted in a small spike in the population. As a reward I allowed Kranium to build himself a Mayor’s Mansion. Crowds gathered on the sidewalk to cheer. I knew they were cheering for me.
During this growth spurt I noticed that whenever Kranium zoned land and brought in power and water, vehicles soon followed. I could see that traffic might become a problem. But what was the alternative? After all, Missoulium was not Venice. Also, the air above the mills was beginning to take on an unsavory pall, like the eyes of someone with jaundice. But I was having too much fun to care about these details. My efforts centered on attracting enough Sims to justify another House of Worship. Or maybe even three.
Over the next century growth was slow but constant. Missoulium blossomed from a rough hamlet into a small city spreading into each of the Five Great Valleys. My brood of personal Sims died, of course, and their children got old. The grandchildren took advantage of the amenities I had provided. There was an airport, a high school, a fairgrounds, a hospital, and even a college. Beff Brannon III was annointed CEO of Xia Publishing, and moved downtown into the luxurious Faulty Towers.
Now began a flurry of development that made it seem as if every Sim in the world wanted to live in Missoulium. I built a bus system to alleviate some of the congestion, and a library and an art museum to give my Sims some culture. And to amuse them, a television and radio station and the Roxy, a theatre. I provided parks and community flower gardens and a farmer’s market.
It seemed like much of my time was spent making my Sims happy, which wasn’t my goal at all. But when they were happy they bred like rabbits, and soon Missoulium boasted not only St. William, but Temple Grandin, Ammad’s Mosque, and a Unitarian church, plus a private parochial school. These Houses of Worship issued a palpable sense of peace across Missoulium. I savored the adoration of myself that rose heavenward.
Sometimes it was my habit to declare a moratorium on construction so I could rest from the ceaseless vigilance a burgeoning metropolis requires. During these respites I floated above the neighborhoods, watching people, listening to conversations and the honk and roar of traffic. I went out to the mills and the farms and heard the clang of fabrication, and the moo of cows. Sometimes when I went around like this I felt like a lonely ghost, although I enjoyed spying.
While Beff Brannon was getting rich I noticed that in the oldest neighborhoods some houses had deteriorated. A few were even abandoned. However, when Kranium zoned some more land Commercial or Industrial in order to provide better-paying jobs these neighborhoods usually sprang back to life. But the air got dirtier. I wondered how to give my Sims jobs that didn’t make them sick. Oh well.
One day I decided that although the Houses of Worship were gratifying some of the praise sounded more like sucking up. I set out to make Missoulium as big and as rich as I could. Just for the challenge of it. I dispatched Kranium on an orgy of building. But when the population hit 70,000 the government began running out of money. Kranium took out a loan, which helped for awhile. Then he attracted a missile firing range to the sprawling city, a toxic waste dump, and a high-security prison. The coffers began to fill with revenue. But only for a little while. Because of the negative impact of these lucrative but unpleasant enterprises on safety and the environment, the population flatlined.
He raised taxes, and reduced services. The reaction was not good. The teachers went on strike, then the firemen, and finally the cops. There were picket lines and ugly demonstrations with shouting. Population actually declined for only the second time in history. A ruinous fire broke out at the mills.
There was only one solution: I began filling the coffers with money, 1000 simoleans at a time. Kranium never asked where the money came from, and his finance advisor, Monique Diamond, also kept mum. They used the cash to pad the books and buy off the unions. Kranium erected a statue of himself in front of City Hall. A crowd gathered, this time to cheer. Whenever he needed more money I gave him some.
He built a water treatment plant and another sanitary landfill because the first one was plugged. Population soared for a while, then leveled off. The air pollution was becoming a serious problem. Hundreds of trees were planted, and that helped for a while. On a stealthy flight around Missoulium during a moratorium I sensed that the natives were restless. Even some of my own believers were starting to question me. Two of them, in particular, were beginning to piss me off.
I had done everything humanly and divinely possible to improve the lives of Romaine Chooser and his wife, Dotty Chou. I built them a neighborhood firehouse, and a public tennis court. I provided an elementary school for their children, and a city bus stop near the organic rutabaga farm they owned in the Valley of the Liberals. Thanks to the robust business community I had grown with tax waivers, they were making a decent living at the thing they loved, while paying a pittance in property taxes—thanks to my inventive fiscal policies. And because of the opportunities for higher education I had facilitated by removing obstacles to the expansion of Semiversity, Mr. Chooser was earning a degree in business administration.
But was all of this enough for them? No, my friends, it was not! They whined about the traffic. They complained about the pollution. They cried about the loss of open space. They agitated against our plan to build a commuter railroad from the bedroom community of Hamiltium onto which people could drive their cars and which would offer casino-style gambling and legalized prostitution. They even publicly attacked Kranium when he bulldozed a golf course to make more room for Semiversity. And they fought against projects like the stock car track and the bio-warfare lab that that would have earned the city some extra bucks. And yada yada ya.
Finally, I’d heard enough. One afternoon while these ingrates were laboring in their fields I launched a series of lightning bolts that drove them, shrieking like howler monkeys, into their barn. After I leveled the barn with another bolt they fled to their house, which I also leveled, and then to their neighborhood tavern, the Broken Record, with a ditto result. Finally, with two clicks of my celestial mouse I “evicted” them.
I was surprised how satisfying this was. But while I was taking time to make these small repairs Missoulium had reached a critical mass. I realized I could no longer figure out how to keep it growing. Unfortunately, that which cannot grow must die.
Because this land was the scene of many great “natural” disasters I could pick and choose. I considered a nice big meteor. But instead I chose a volcano, with earthquakes on the side.
In a cacophony of screaming and roaring and thundering and crashing down buildings Missoulium was wiped off the map. In the very place where I had given it birth stood a cone belching smoke.
After a few years the smoke ceased and the flanks of the volcano grew a forest. The songbirds sang again. And the wild beasts returned to wander here and there in perfect grace.
Then the hawks appeared, turning circles. Just before I turned off the game I looked more closely at them. I realized something. They weren’t hawks at all.
They were vultures.
Copyright © 2015 by Bill Vaughn