John's first word was "factory." Richard's was "book." When John was five, he began work in his father's store. When Richard was five, he began reading War and Peace. When John was ten, he sold stock in a fledgling company specializing in intergalactic travel, and made several million dollars. When Richard was ten, he awed a group of scholars with the depth of his insight into Plato's dialectic. John never went to college, and still made his way to the top of a company specializing in the biotechnologies. Richard got a scholarship to Harvard, where he majored in theology and literature and graduated with highest honors, going on to head the school's literature department.
The brothers met once a year at their parents' house for Thanksgiving dinner. Every year the great industrialist watched, silent, while his brother chatted with their parents about Sartre and Marx. Sometimes the brothers argued about God or politics, arguments that Richard always won by sheer eloquence and range of historical knowledge. John's arguments were brief and uninspiring, and it would have taken more discerning ears than his parents' to detect their logical force. John always drove a little bit above the speed limit after these dinners.
John had worked throughout his life to make contacts in every field and every industry. When a neuroscientist working in a small backwater town hit something big, John 's impeccably placed contacts found out. One decided to call him. Within days, the scientist had sold out to John for a small fortune, promised never to mention his discovery to anyone, and flown off for a permanent vacation somewhere sunny. A careful observer would have noticed a slight bump in the research and development budget of John's company around this time. If this observer was granted admittance to company headquarters, he might have wondered why access to a whole wing of the building was barred by a line of guards and fingerprint scanners. But if anyone at the company noticed these changes, they did not tell the world.
Months later, John's company released a new product. Richard was watching television over a copy of the Wall Street Journal, and happened to see the first commercial for it. Years of intellectual supremacy had stamped an unconscious half-smile on Richard's face, a smile that shriveled like a salted slug as John's steady voice narrated:
"How long does it take to read a three hundred page novel? If you're like many people, it takes about twenty hours out of your life. We want to give you those twenty hours back. The Athens implant is a safe, powerful way of learning. Instead of spending decades reading the classics, you will be able to integrate the entire Western canon into your subconscious mind in minutes. From Homer to Hobbes, from Locke to Sinclair Lewis, you will have a deep understanding of every writer that shaped the way we see the world. Call today!"
Richard never got an Athens implant. As fewer and fewer people needed an education in the humanities, Richard's department was riddled by layoffs. Those students that still bothered to attend his classes looked bored, and answered his questions almost before he asked them. Richard could not sleep, and his walk became a jittery shuffle. When he heard a group of construction workers debating the finer points of French existentialism, some barrier lifted in his mind. He climbed to the roof of a skyscraper in the center of town. He walked to the edge, spread his arms, and felt the cold wind running through his hair.