The Incumbent: Chapter 31

Summary:It's an intricate web of murder plots, government conspiracies and rampant tanning. Oh, and the future of the entire nation.

'Two hundred people. What do they all do?'

Natalie could hardly hear him. He had fallen back a long way from the intercom. No matter; she said she would do her best to get everyone together. He insisted that it happen that day, even though an emergency meeting like this would normally be called with at least two weeks' notice, to give people a chance to turn up to work or travel back from their spurious 'study tours' in Europe. A sudden meeting like this could only have, at best, half the team attending. Even they would have to be dragged from local cinemas or pulled off the golf course.

On paper, at least, the VastTel senior management team seemed like an impressive group of people. Many had held senior roles before, although it should be noted that a large proportion came from the television and advertising industries, so they were of limited use to society. They did help the economy, though, by spending their exaggerated salaries on expensive cars, big houses and useless things from those direct mail catalogues that sell everything from weather vanes to authentic leather banana holders. When they became retrenched, the government would quickly move these people to a senior role at VastTel, so as to maintain their spending levels.

Not all came from high-paying jobs, however. Some were just eligible for so many government handouts that it was actually cheaper to give them a good job at VastTel. The head of Mobile Devices, for example, was a former bricklayer from Sydney's west, who had been on far too many handouts, having ruptured himself attempting to conceive his fourteenth child.

The head of Mobile Devices was a former bricklayer who had been on far too many handouts, having ruptured himself attempting to conceive his fourteenth child.

So far, the VastTel scheme had worked. People were paid money, did very little, but helped to keep money moving around the economy. Occasionally, a new appointee would accept the role and diligently turn up for work and even attempt to make business decisions. This was, of course, discouraged by other members of the senior management team. Instead, they were given smart new mobile phones and taught how to spend their days micro blogging, the easiest way to distract anyone from getting on with something useful.

Finding out what 200 senior executives were up to was a big challenge for a single meeting. Jones decided to spend the intervening time seeing what he could discover on the corporate intranet and in his predecessor's email inbox. He assumed each of his reports would have each filed weekly reports, and there would be various statistical dashboards to help him see how different elements of the corporation were performing, although a glance at the computer gave him some doubts. The machine looked like a museum piece, and there was a thick layer of dust covering the keyboard. Clearly, it hadn't been touched for years. Still, he flicked it on and waited for the familiar Brian Eno-composed notes that normally told you that your computer would be ready any day now, just as soon as it has finished downloading 47 updates off the net.

But that didn't happen. In fact, it loaded very quickly. First, the screen was black; then, a few numbers flashed up to tell him he had 512 megabytes of storage space and 8 megabytes of memory. Then the 'a:>' prompt appeared.

'DOS!' said Jones, who had read about the days when computers needed to be programmed to do anything, and were, by and large, useless. Or was that Vista?

'DOS!' said Jones, who had read about the days when computers needed to be programmed to do anything, and were, by and large, useless. Or was that Vista?

'Mr Buffet never used that thing,' said Natalie, who came in to the office with a pot of tea and a selection of biscuits. Jones had never seen such an assortment. It was one of the key performance indicators foisted on her by someone in human resources, who had been to a conference on employee measurement, and thought it should be implemented across the whole organisation. It never got beyond Natalie, and even then she had just the one indicator, related to the timely delivery of tea and biscuits. Her performance appraisal last year had focused largely on the need to improve the ratio of chocolate biscuits in the selection, and to dunk the teabag for just a few seconds longer.

'I think he got it the day he started, and he never turned it on,' she said, offering the use of her machine. 'I rarely use it myself,' she confessed. 'And besides, I've got to go shopping. We're almost out of custard creams.'

He took Natalie up on the offer and sat at her small desk outside his rather palatial one, while she tottered off down the corridor in a pair of heels that would be a similar vintage to Buffet's old computer.

There were a few hours to go before his 200 or so direct reports gathered at the Hodbrook Hotel. Rather frustratingly, he lost half that time while Natalie's computer uploaded its software updates, including a rather belated fix for the Y2K bug.

He didn't have time to wait for the computer to gradually bring itself into the 21st century, so he cancelled the downloads, and soon after a very early version of Windows loaded. As it turned out, it wasn't a smart move. The computer harboured a myriad of viruses, including one particularly ferocious one that had been waiting patiently to be reconnected to the outside world. This ancient piece of malware had been activated when someone had opened an email promising racy shots of Raquel Welch, taken many, many years before she hit menopause.

Not that viruses were anything new at VastTel. They were spreading all the time, making machines operate progressively slower. In most companies, this would have been seen as a bad thing. They might even go as far as trying to eradicate them. But at VastTel, as computers got slower, everyone just adjusted their working speed accordingly. The company was literally grinding to a halt, and no one seemed to notice or care.

Topics: Telcos


Phil Dobbie has a wealth of radio and business experience. He started his career in commercial radio in the UK and, since coming to Australia in 1991, has held senior marketing and management roles with Telstra, OzEmail, the British Tourist Authority and other telecommunications, media, travel and advertising businesses.

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