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.
'All phones?' said the prime minister, somewhat alarmed at the prospect that the country was falling apart around him.
'Not all,' replied Holton-Lacey. 'Let's not exaggerate. Just all mobile phones. Fixed-line phones are working.' He suggested that people would adapt.
'If we can't get it fixed, people will see their dalliance with mobile technology as just another passing fad. Like the Rubik's Cube.'
Duff knew of the internet, but what he'd seen of it, he found disgusting.
Duff didn't realise the Rubik's Cube had gone out of fashion (he was still trying to finish one), but he did think that letting the network fall into such a state of disrepair seemed the height of incompetence, even for VastTel.
The prime minister picked up his PocketFriend 2050 and pressed the call button. There was a loud, continuous whirring noise at a frequency that could kill enough brain cells to remove the ability for reasoned thought, if you listened to it for long enough. He found the noise strangely comforting.
'The internet is intermittent,' said Holton-Lacey.
'The what?' said Duff. He knew of the internet, of course, but what he'd seen of it, he found disgusting.
Holton-Lacey moved the mouse on the prime minister's desk to reactivate his computer screen. It had been in sleep mode for the last 10 months. He went to the web browser to see if there was a connection. He wished he hadn't. It showed Duff's last-viewed pages.
'Well, that seems to be working,' he said, and turned the screen off, a little surprised and somewhat embarrassed.
'What about text messages?' Duff threw the question in quickly to deflect Holton-Lacey from thinking further about what he had just seen.
'Yes. Texts are still working as usual.' His reply was a little distant. He was wondering how anyone managed to get a horse into such a position.
When Holton-Lacey said texts were working normally, he was referring to what had become the accepted norm over the last few years. The messages went through, but you had no control over who they went to. Basically, recipients were randomly chosen, sometimes many thousands of them simultaneously receiving a single message. Phones were beeping all the time, offering arbitrary messages like 'how dare you?' or 'good idea' or 'what? In these shoes?'
'This is not good, is it?' said Duff, contemplating the breakdown of the network. 'We really are screwed.'
'Yes,' agreed Holton-Lacey, rather undiplomatically.
'I suppose if we employ incompetent people, this is what we expect.'
He knew the PM never read anything except the TV guide, and even then tended to lose interest around Tuesday.
'Interestingly, this is the fault of that youngster Jones,' said Holton-Lacey. 'We were worried that he was going to make the whole place too efficient.'
It was rather ironic; the smartest person to work in the company could also be the one who closed it down. And closure was looking like the only option. It was difficult to run a phone company without a network.
'We have little choice now, prime minister. We have to action the Redundancy Program.'
Duff was sick of hearing about Holton-Lacey's Redundancy Program. Why would it be any different to what Jones had been trying to do? Why would they want to go farther down that path?
'Then we can build this new phone company,' explained Holton-Lacey. 'We can use that as our new home for the unemployable.'
'And those people currently working for VastTel; what about them?' asked Duff.
Holton-Lacey looked at him hard. 'The Redundancy Program,' he said. 'You have read the Redundancy Program, haven't you?'
He knew full well that the prime minister never read anything except the TV guide, and even then he tended to lose interest around Tuesday.
'Of course,' said Duff, moving his hand over his mouth, making the lie even more obvious. He wished he had the power of concentration to read more than a couple of sentences at a time. As a politician, it was rarely needed, but sometimes, like now, it would have been useful.