The Incumbent: Chapter 38

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

ZDNet Australia is proud to bring you a serialised version of Phil Dobbie's novel The Incumbent. A new chapter will be published here as part of his blog each week on Tuesday. You can also buy the entire book by clicking here.

Trisha Botherington was enjoying following the VastTel story. All of a sudden, this boring telecommunications company had become a hotbed of action. Missile attacks, the apparent desperation of giving the top job to a 21-year-old — even though she did find him to be quite a dish — and the broader story, the consequence of huge-scale redundancies, the like of which had never been seen before. Then there was that threat to kill the company chairman by that crazed lunatic on the Adam Willis Breakfast Show.

What was his name again? Botherington typed 'crazed lunatic' into a search engine, and, after scrolling through the names of most of the current government and the entire on-air line-up at Radio 2IQ, she hit upon the name Sydney Musson.

She typed 'crazed lunatic' into a search engine, scrolled through the names of the current government, then hit upon the name Sydney Musson...

'That's the guy,' she said to herself, and clicked through to his TouchedUp profile. It was no surprise he was there. Practically everyone on the planet had a profile on the professional networking site, showing their career history, which most people had doctored to make them sound more impressive than they really were, accompanied by a photograph that for premium members, had been airbrushed to provide a more youthful appearance — hence the site name. For a small fee, premium users could also pay for TouchedUp's automatic language agent to sprinkle their profile with words that would score well with the software used by recruitment agencies to select candidates. People could bid to have more key words included, which would increase the chances of ultimately being offered the job. Basically, between them, the computers had engineered a way that the job would always be offered to the highest bidder.

Journalists found TouchedUp particularly useful for finding people. They built networks of contacts that could help them get to the source of a story. Trisha Botherington, for example, had 250,000 people linked to her, including an entire Burmese hill tribe who used to spend their days smoking cocaine, but had now adopted a more damaging addiction to social networking.

Musson had only ever had one job, which the TouchedUp software had automatically deleted because it didn't sound impressive enough. Nonetheless, the site did contain a convenient history of his mental diseases, together with his Eton Towers address in Double Bay. She decided it was time to pay him a visit to find out why he was so compelled to kill Woodburner. Perhaps he could also explain where Jimi Jones had come from, and who was behind the rocket attack that nearly killed Twistie Buffet.

She liked being an investigative journalist, but only wanted to keep her investigations to pleasant surroundings.

The guest house, she soon discovered, was a rather drab building from the outside, but the exterior was an improvement on the damp, musty, dated interior. The small entrance lobby was largely filled by a clinically obese security guard, fast asleep on his watch. He had one foot attached firmly to the sticky linoleum flooring, whilst the other conveniently wedged open the security door, making it possible for people to come and go without waking him. Botherington squeezed past him into a corridor, which was covered with a damp, distasteful 1950s carpet that harboured a myriad of unpleasant nasal experiences. She liked being an investigative journalist, but she really didn't like it to confront her senses in such a repulsive way — particularly the design of the carpet. She really only wanted to keep her investigations to pleasant surroundings.

Halfway along the corridor, she came across a woman sitting on the floor in badly soiled trousers, her head between her knees. She looked to be in her mid- to late 20s. Botherington recognised her as a former prime-time television newsreader fallen on hard times. She wasn't the first she had seen in a place like this — cast aside after 18 months or so, as the carefully lip-sticked mouthpiece for that tabloid fiction that often masquerades as a commercial television news program. Most of the young things were convinced it was their skills as a journalist that had landed them the role — it didn't even occur to them that they were all blonde, with a light olive complexion, blue eyes and high cheekbones, the look that researchers had found most popular in focus groups. Then their world came crashing down when they hit the untenable age of 22. Cast out into the real world, they were hit with the realisation that they had been absorbed in such a shallow pursuit; enough to crush their sense of self-respect and drive them to mental institutions like Eton Towers.

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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